Sometimes, as he observes Dipper’s determination and curiosity about the strange and the unknown, Ford is delighted to be reminded so clearly of his younger self.
The rest of the time, his mind prickles with an elusive dread.
The sun is low in the sky, and the shadows have lengthened, by the time they return from their walk in the woods. As they make their way toward the Mystery Shack, Dipper has stopped chattering about talking trees, and started chattering about chess problems.
Ford says, “I’d be happy to play against you someday,” and reaches out to ruffle the boy’s hair. It’s been too long since he had a worthy opponent…
(“Your move, IQ. Whoa, even I wasn’t expecting that!”)
Ford’s hand freezes.
(“The last guy took a lot longer than this to learn the rules of inter-dimensional chess. I knew you’d be a quick study.”)
Abruptly, he pulls his hand away.
Dipper steps back. “What is it? Did I do something wrong?”
Somehow, thirty years haven’t dimmed the memory of Bill Cipher’s voice as he praised Ford’s intellect and curiosity. The flattery jolted him like strong coffee or the crackle of electricity, or like each new paranormal discovery. Time hasn’t let him forget how it felt to lay his thoughts bare for the demon’s perusal. Nor has he forgotten the sensation of Bill’s hand, at once so alien and so familiar, running through his hair.
(“You can trust me, Fordsy!”)
Anger and nostalgia swirl into a poisonous mix as Ford recalls their years together, before disaster and betrayal, and the terrifying, exhilarating realization that he would have done anything that his muse wanted, no matter how dangerous…
(“Dipper, do you trust me?”)
…and wouldn’t Dipper do anything that his mentor asked of him?
Ford attempts his most reassuring smile, and is relieved and sickened when Dipper relaxes visibly in response. “You did nothing wrong,” he says. “Not a thing.”