Ford couldn't breathe . Well, he could, but he also couldn't . He could but couldn't , and everything was going too fast , too fast , too fast , and he couldn't keep up, it was too much to keep up with. He couldn'the couldn'the couldn'the couldn'the couldn'the couldn'the couldn'the-
"Ford, sweetie, you need to breathe. Match my breathing. C an you match my breathing?"
The chorus of you can'ts continued inside of his head, loud and strong, too strong for Ford, but Mabel was here now, and Mabel was strong, and he could hear her , and she was Mabel and she was calm and that just sounded so much better than to keep going like this until he burned himself out.
There was a long minute where Ford composed himself . He felt the squeaky attic bed above him, felt Mabel's hand in his, knew she would never hurt him.
He breathed. For the first time in years, he lay on the ground and just breathed.
This was different than Stan talking him out of his panic attacks. After those, he had a lways felt the need to go and hide somewhere, away from the world, and he never got a chance to do it because Stan always sent one of the children after him (and never came himself).
With Mabel, it was different. Maybe it was just that underneath of Mabel's bed was the only place he had left to hide in the Shack , or maybe it was the way she smelled of cheap perfume, or her voice, so calm and collected, seeming to tell him that it was fine. That this was fine.
He wanted to curl up against her. They would climb onto her bed and sleep because it was getting late for Mabel, and Ford was so out of it today he didn't think he could do anything else . He couldn't, he really couldn't, he couldn't. It was all so much harder now than it had been before, and he couldn't.
He buried his face in Mabel's sweater and began to cry. Quietly at first, but then louder, until he had no tear s left to cry - at which point he allowed Mabel to pull him out from under the bed and lead him back to his room, where he rolled himself into a ball and fell asleep.
The obvious emotion to feel when you expect some eldritch horror to come out of your great-uncle's portal and instead find a small child in shock is curiosity .
Dipper was curious, yes, but he was also mad. Very mad. Specifically at, not Stanford Pines, but Stanley Pines, and Dipper was furious. There was a portal in the basement, an inter-dimensional portal in t he basement, and it had been there for thirty years and nobody had known but Grunkle Stan.
And Great-Uncle Ford.
They’d shortened it just to Ford, because calling someone who looks like they are five or six your great-uncle is one of the weirdest things that can happen. The fact that said six-year-old was also the author of the journals made this entire situation that much more frustrating.
Ford was small, smaller than even someone his physical age should have rightfully been. Ford said it was because he had s tarted off around four and spent two years being incredibly malnourished and sleep deprived, surviving only because he had remained solidly in one moderately safe spot and abandoned his pursuit of Bill.
He hated that that was what he had had to do, you could tell when he talked about it, for though he didn’t talk about it much (Ford didn’t talk about anything much) he spoke of it with such great fire in his eyes and malice in his voice one would’ve had t o b e b l i n d n o t t o s e e t h a t F o r d l o a t h e d t h e v e r y u n i v e r s e t h a t h a d d o n e t h i s t o h i m .
Ford didn’t particularly care for being with other people – that much was quickly gathered – but he didn’t particularly care for being away from other people either, and it had been nearly three days after the portal had opened that Ford had his first panic attack. H e had been in the kitchen with Dipper, and Mabel had turned on the vacuum.
Ford had screamed. Ford had screamed louder than he should have been able to – than any normal human being should have been able to – and hidden himself underneath of the sink. It had been Dipper who had calmed him down. Dipper wasn’t the best at calming people down (he himself got anxious too quickly), but Ford had come out from under the sink. Then he had gone into his room and not come back out for the rest of the day.
Ford reminded Mabel of Dipper, mostly. Dipper when they were with their parents, and expected to be calm and quiet, or Dipper at school, when he didn’t want to talk to anyone but Mabel.
Ford, Mabel could tell, was scared. Scared of her and Dipper and Grunkle Stan, scared of the world and what it would think of him, scared of himself and his own thoughts.
Mabel had always been good at reading people, at least when it really counted, and this counted more than anything else had ever counted before.
So, when he had walked up the stairs with his head down shortly after being told they were going shopping (Ford needed new clothes badly ), she’d taken note of it. She’d taken note of it when he wasn’t back fifteen minutes later, and she’d gone up to find him underneath her bed, hyperventilating.
He’d held onto her sleeves and wrapped his small body around her.
“Mabel?” he had whimpered, and sweet Moses she was never going to use the word whimpered around him, he would have hated that.
“I can’t - I can’t do this. It’s so much. Everything – all at once – I'm sorry, I-,”
“Don’t be sorry. You haven’t done anything wrong.”
“Not now – I can’t do this – I just, I just, I just, I just-,”
“It’s okay, Ford. It’s okay. We don’t have to go tonight.”
So far as Mabel knew, Ford slept soundly.
Everything will be fine.
Just keep breathing.
Ford was fine, he really was. He was fine, and he was tired of being treated like spun glass. He wasn’t going to shatter if someone touched him, even if it felt that way sometimes. He was Stanford Pines, dammit, he didn’t need anyone’s pity.
Still, he held to the back of Mabel’s sweater like a drowning man to a life preserver.
Getting clothes was a pain, if only for the constant reminder that he was much smaller than he should ha ve been. He was even smaller than he had been the first time he was six, but that was hardly relevant.
That was hardly relevant. That was hardly relevant.
The thought still stuck in his head. Stuck in his head like all the ones like it did, t he screams from his brain that told him he was too small and too weak to do anything r e a l l y h e l p f u l . It was as though the insides of his skull were made of flypaper.
It made him sick.
Panic. Panic. Panic.
No. No. No.
This is my fault, isn’t it?
No no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no .
Panic panic panic panic panic panic .
I can’t .
Move move move move .
Move move move .
I can’t I can’t I can’t.
No no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no .
Please please please please please please please please please please please please please .
I’ll be good, I swear.
STOP STOP STOP STOP STOP STOP STOP STOP STOP
It took a scarily long time to find Ford, and when they did, he was in horrific shape. There was a thin, diagonal gash across his face that just narrowly missed his eyes. His arms had been cut open down to the bones in several places, and long strips of skin hung from his legs and that damn triangle was carved into his chest and there wasn’t any blood why wasn’t there any blood?
Stan carried him back to the Shack, and they patched him up as best they could with shirts, paper towels, and duct tape, but when it came down to it, that wasn’t very well. Stan ran a hand through his hair.
His twin was going to be the death of him. Or he was going to be the death of Ford. The point still stood that they were killing each other in the most creative and least fun way possible, which was, of course, scaring their counterpart half to death, and eventually it would happen when one of them wasn’t at all recovered from being scared half to death, and bam, dead twin.
Stan immediately decided that the phrase “ bam, dead twin” had to be one of the single worst things in the universe. It was right up there with Bill Cipher, demonic door-to-door salesmen, and reheating fish in an office microwave.
Now that was cruelty.
Everything hurt. His head throbbed. He couldn’t take this. He couldn’t see, and if the hushed voices around him meant anything, he was certain it was that he had been left to the henchmaniacs for a second time .
He’d been close to dead, and they’d stopped. Made sure he wasn’t going to die so that they could torment him further. Of course. Of course.
“Ford?” said a voice, a voice like Wendy’s, and he was not going to fall for that, no. “You awake?”
“Oh, shut up. I know it’s you.”
Another voice, this one Mabel’s. “Of course it’s us, silly.”
“Shut up .” He’d squeaked, and he officially made the decision that death was better than this.
“Okay, so I get that it’s the end of the world, and you’re like, really badly hurt, but you don’t need to take it out on us, dude.”
“Shut up!” Ford screamed, tried to launch himself at not-Wendy, because it couldn’t be Wendy, they wouldn’t have-No no no, ow ow ow ow ow ow.
He hit on the floor hard, and not-Wendy picked him up, and she felt human, but it couldn’t be Wendy, because Wendy was dead, he’d seen her die.
He bit her, and Wendy dropped him.
“Shit, kid, what’d they do to you?”
The second collision with the floor hurt less than the first. He was prepared for it this time, and was back up almost as quickly as he had gone down, and it hurt, it hurt so much, but there wasn’t anything he could rightfully do about it now, so he had to-
“Ford-,” Mabel began.
“No, I know it’s not you, it can’t be, it can’t be, you wouldn’t-,”
“Ford, you have to trust me. I’m not going to hurt you.”
“You can’t be Mabel, they killed her in front of me! You can’t, you can’t, you can’t-,”
“They-what? But, Ford, I’m-what?”
“Maybe you even think you’re Mabel. What does it matter? Do what you want with me.”
He collapsed onto the floor. He was done fighting. There really wasn’t any point in it anymore.
Convincing him they were real took a while.
Ford sat on the porch , swinging his feet back and forth as they dangled from the bench.
“Don’t call me that, I’m older than you.”
Wendy crossed her arms over her chest. “’Ight then, Ford. You okay?”
“Of course. I’m fine. Leave me alone.”
“If this is about Weirdmageddon, I know you weren’t thinking straight, and it’s all cool, little man.”
“’Little man’ has the exact same implications as ‘kid’ does. You do realize that, right?”
“You’re not good at avoiding questions in a non-obvious way.”
“Maybe that’s a sign you shouldn’t be asking.”
“Really, Ford, listen. You can’t just shut everyone else out all the time.”
“Are too. But really, it’s not cool, dude. It’s not even like you seem happy with being alone all the time. You’re just sad and mopey.”
“Are too. Cheer up, Ford.” Wendy stood and brushed herself off . “Well, that’s the end of my government-mandated break. See ya ‘round, kid .”
Ford sat in silence a long time.
“So,” Mabel squeaked. “How’s high school?”
Ford rolled over in bed. “Pure shit.”
“Language! It can’t possibly be that bad.”
“Say it once, say it twice, say it a thousand times. Pure shit.”
“Which crush rejected you this time?”
“Nobody. I don’t have crushes.”
“Lies. Blatant lies.”
“ Lalalalala , I can’t hear you!”
“You are literally the worst.”
“I think what you mean is figuratively - and you call yourself a proper nerd!”
“I meant what I said.”
“Oof, ouch, I’m so hurt.”
“How’s New York?”
“I mean, pretty alright so far. Expensive.”
“What time is it over there? Wait, don’t tell me- Mabel you can’t stay up past three A.M.”
“And you shouldn’t be up at twelve. But you are. And I’m allowed to drink coffee.”
“Ugh, that’s got to be the worst part of being fourteen.”
“Come on! Don’t you want to be the only tall member of our family?”
“Not if it means I have to suffer.”
“It’s an experiment!”
“Based on a myth to get children asleep!”
“You need sleep, Ford.”
“Probably, but I’m going to continue pretending I don’t.”
“So, this is where we’ll be living-,”
“For at least the next two years, when I'm eighteen, yes, I understand.”
“No, I get it. I totally understand and it’s just fine.”
“I’m just... fine.”
“You can’t just live without a legal guardian, not even in-,”
“I know. What is the point of this conversation? Can we just skip to that?”
“Legally, you are under my care, and w e can’t do anything about it. ”
“I’ve already said that we’re not doing that, because it’s illegal.”
“That’s the point.”
“Ford, I’m sorry. If it makes you feel any better, I would also prefer a life of solitude, and wish Mabel didn’t have such a record.”
“If anything, that makes me feel worse. You’re very bad at this.”
“What about that she’s coming here next week for Thanksgiving?”
<3 Mabel <3: hey guys guess what
Forddddddddd: I’m in school and you shouldn’t be texting me?
<3 Mabel <3: no
<3 Mabel <3: i
<3 Mabel <3: found
<3 Mabel <3: some
<3 Mabel <3 : JORNALS
<3 Mabel <3: JOURNALS
Forddddddddd: Why were you in my room?
<3 Mabel <3: gotta make sure u arent doing drugs or soemthing
<3 Mabel <3: something
Fancy dr pines: Ford can be trusted to not do drugs
<3 Mabel <3: maybe u trust him
Fancy dr pines: why don’t you
<3 Mabel <3: but i do not
Forddddddddd : I’m perfectly trustworthy.
<3 Mabel <3: u got all ur friends suspended for 3 weeks
Forddddddddd: That was an important experiment to test the reality manipulator.
Forddddddddd : We’re not suspended anymore besides.
<3 Mabel <3: you were about to jump out the second story window
Forddddddddd : It was the 1.5th story window. Only 15 feet up. We couldn’t have died anyway.
Forddddddddd : There would maybe have been some broken bones but those heal.
Forddddddddd : It would have been fine.
<3 Mabel <3: BOI
Forddddddddd: Now I’m going back to paying attention in class.
“You ready?” Mabel asks.
Ford runs a hand through h is messy caramel h air.
“Probably not, though I can pretend to be.” He says.
“That’s the spirit!” she chirps. “Good luck, and good-bye.”
She hugs him, leaving behind the smell of cookies and toothpaste. Dipper stands.
“We’ll miss you.”
“I’ll miss you too.”
“You’ll call us?”
Dipper turned and chased after Mabel, calling out a hasty “wait!” after her.
Ford spent the rest of the wait for the train in silence.