Actions

Work Header

Five Minutes Older

Chapter Text

Loosely based on an idea by dodofiasco The events begin roughly around the time of The Last Mabelcorn and are likely to diverge from canon

Mabel, Oregon, 2012

Mabel ran as fast as her legs would carry her, wishing for the ninth time that she hadn't done this alone. When she'd seen the tape-measure time machine lying on the ground outside the shack that morning, she should have gone inside and gotten Dipper. He'd have wanted to know...this was the sort of thing they usually did together.

But Dipper was always in the basement with Grunkle Ford lately, talking about whatever weird science stuff he was mixed up in. The temptation of a time travel adventure all her own had been tough to turn down.

“Get back here!” the taller of the two time cops chasing her shouted.

“Does that ever work?” She shouted back, “does anyone ever 'get back there' just because you say that?”

Whatever reply the man had, Mabel never heard. She yanked the tape out of the time machine and let it snap back. She didn't stop running for a second as a blue light washed over her and the ground under her feet turned from dirt into hard cobblestones. Her legs were aching. Her feet had started aching six time-jumps ago, and now they were on fire. She only half-noticed the startled cries of the old-timey people around her, too tired to gawk or be interested in where or when she was. She'd been running for so long.

She heard a bzorp noise and a fresh round of screams from the crowd and knew the time police had already caught up to her. That was fast. They were getting closer and closer each time.

Not stopping, Mabel reached into her backpack and pulled out the other item she'd found on the ground beside the tape measure. It was a long, thin tube—it looked like a glow stick. Attached to it was a small piece of paper that said CRACK IN CASE OF EMERGENCY.

This felt like an emergency to her. She bent it until she heard it crackle, then snapped it together around her wrist. For good measure, she gave another yank to the tape, too. The little glow stick-looking thing around her wrist began to fill with pink light, while the now-routine blue haze engulfed her again.

“No, wait!” Mabel turned, shocked to see the time police were now right behind her. One was reaching out and nearly caught hold of her hair. Then they were gone, along with the cobblestones, the crowd, and the bright, sunny sky.

Mabel tripped, skinning her knee on the hard cement. The tape measure slipped out of her hands and clattered on the ground. For a moment she braced herself—still expecting the time police to be right behind her, waiting to feel them closing in. That moment passed, and then another. Nothing happened. Mabel began to catch her breath.

She got off the ground and dusted herself off, exhausted but relieved. She looked around....whenever she was, it was nighttime. She was in an alley between a couple of brick buildings. Past the sidewalk outside, she could faintly see the glow of neon lights.

The tape measure was lying on the ground, its case cracked open. Complex-looking circuitry was visible inside Pieces of it littered the ground in front of her, and even if Mabel didn't know how all the parts fit together she saw cracked glass and twisted metal and knew that couldn't be good.

“Oh no....no, no, no, no, no!” She picked up the tape measure, trying to hold the cracked machinery together. Maybe...maybe it would still be good for one last trip? Maybe it would hold together, just enough to get her back home?

She set the machine to take her back to 2012 and let the tape snap back inside. Nothing. She tried again and again and again.

She was stuck.

Mabel swallowed hard, staring at the broken thing in her hands. After a long, long while she took a deep breath and reached into her backpack again. She pulled out a roll of tape and wound it around the tape measure, closing the crack as best she could. Then she reached in again and took out a bag of pretzels. Cramming the pretzels into her mouth, she gathered up the tiny bits of machinery and dropped them in the empty bag.

She sat with her back against the rough brick wall and shrugged out of her sweater. It was hot---much hotter than central Oregon ever got in the summer. At least the wall behind her was cool.

Mabel wondered what Dipper would say if he were there. Maybe he would have a plan. ...Or maybe he wouldn't. Maybe they'd just be scared together.

She wrapped her arms around her knees and cried.

Stanley, Louisiana, 1979

Stan walked with his head low, glancing at shadows. He ought to be in a good mood. He'd walked away from the craps table that night with more money than he'd been able to hold onto in months. He ought to be cheering. But instead he felt paranoid. It was the look they'd given him when he cashed out. The subtle nod the cashier had given to security. It had him on edge.

But there was no way, right? If they'd known he'd been shooting with loaded dice they wouldn't have let him cash out. They'd have dragged him behind the shrimp-filled dumpsters out back and put the fear of God into him. Or worse, called the police. They wouldn't have handed him his winnings and let him walk out the front door.

He tucked the leather case he was carrying a little deeper under his arm, mindful of the cash that was in there. Maybe when he got back to the motel he'd just get in the car and drive off. Move on a little early.

No. He was tired, and the luxury of a real bed and a shower now that he could afford both for a few nights was too tempting. Tomorrow, he'd move on.

A soft, insistent sound broke his concentration. Somebody was crying.

Stan peered down the alley beside him. There was a small girl curled up against the wall a few feet down, just before the alley got dark. Sitting there and sobbing her poor little heart out. He'd seen plenty of kids on the streets before, too many. But she didn't look like a street kid. Her clothes were too new, and her hair looked like it had been washed recently.

Stan looked around, mindful of how much cash he was carrying. This felt like a setup somehow. Like someone had picked out a kid cute and clean enough to draw in sympathy and coached her to cry pitifully, just to lure saps like him into the shadows where they'd get a quick blow to the head.

The girl didn't look up. She didn't seem aware that anyone else was there. Against his better judgment, Stan approached.

“Hey, kid.” He cleared his throat. “You lost or something?”

The girl gasped and looked up at the sound of his voice. Her eyes went wide.

“You lose your folks?” Stan continued uncertainly. “I can walk you back to main street or something, maybe get you to a police station.” Though the second he said that, he realized he probably couldn't make good on it—he was pretty sure his picture was still being circulated after what happened in New Orleans.

“Gru--” the girl started to say something, then covered her mouth with her hands. She looked frightened...her eyes were so big.

Stan remembered the disfiguring wax scar he'd taken to wearing these days. “What's the matter?” he crouched down to her level. “You're not scared of this, are ya?” he pointed to the scar, smiling, and peeled it off his face. “It's not even real, see?”

The girl stared at him, eyes still leaking tears. Then she dove into Stan's arms, wrapping her own little arms around him and burying her face in his chest. Stan yelped with surprised and grappled with his case, sure now that his instincts about a setup had been right. But no one stepped out of the shadows, and the girl didn't reach for his cash. She just held onto him with a surprising strength, shivered and hiccuped a little.

“I'm so glad to see you.” she said quietly.

“Uh...okay. Great.” Stan awkwardly patted the back of her head. “I guess.” He put his hands on her shoulders and gently pulled her away so that he could look her in the face. “So what's your story, kid? Where are your parents?”

“My parents are....” she hesitated and glanced away “Someplace...I can't go.”

Stan raised an eyebrow. Clothes too new, hair washed, but she still looked like she'd been through a rough patch recently. Her legs were scraped and bruised, and her face was dirty. She had a backpack. Maybe a runaway?

“Someplace you can't go.” Stan repeated.

“Yeah...” she squirmed a little. “It's kind of...really, really hard to explain.”

“Uh huh.” Stan said. “So I'm guessing you don't want me to take you to the police station.”

The girl shook her head.

“Well, that's fine. To be honest I don't really wanna go there either.”

“...Could I...stay with you a while?” the girl asked, looking up at him with big, hopeful eyes that Stan was sure had gotten her places before.

“Bad idea, kid. Really bad idea. There are so many reasons why that wouldn't work I don't even know where to start listing them.”

“Please! I don't have...” she swallowed “I don't have anywhere to go...I don't even know where I am...”

Stan sighed. Well...he wasn't gonna let her sleep on the street tonight. “...I've got a place to stay for the night, at least. If you want, you can---”

“Thank you!” She leaped up and wrapped her arms around him again before he could finish. “Thank you so much gr---ah, stranger. Strange, strange man. What's your name?”

“You're big on the hugging, huh?” Stan stood up, extracting himself from her arms and handing her the bright pink backpack that had been lying next to her. “These days I've been going by 'Elwood Stewart.'”

“Pssht.” the girl rolled her eyes, seemingly recovered from her earlier crying fit. “That's a dumb name.”

“Hey!” Stan frowned. “...You're right though. It is a dumb name. How 'bout you call me Stan?”

“Can I call you...um...Uncle Stan?” the girl asked hopefully.

“Under no circumstances.” Stan hefted up his case and tucked it under his arm. “So...uh...what kind of dumb name do you have, kid?”

“My name's Mabel Pi...P....Ppppbth...” she stuck out her tongue and started blowing raspberries in the night air. “Pbbbt—bbt---bbttthh--th.”

Stan smiled despite himself. “Yeah? How do you spell that?”

“With great conviction.” Mabel said seriously.

Stan chuckled and ruffled her hair. “Come on, let's get out of here. This place is giving me the willies.”

Chapter Text

Stanley, Louisiana, 1979

Less than an hour later, Mabel was dead asleep in one of the motel's narrow twin beds. She'd drifted off after hardly any time at all.

Stan couldn't sleep. Not for long, anyway. He'd close his eyes and start to drift off only to wake up moments later with a start—not due to any noise or nightmare, just to some internal reflex in his mind. He stood up and paced around the room. Packed and repacked his duffel bag. This wasn't insomnia, he realized. And it wasn't him worrying about the kid, either. It was instinct, telling him to keep awake, keep alert.

He pulled out his cigarettes and sat by the window, cracking it open so the smoke wouldn't bother Mabel. He sat and smoked, trying to settle his nerves.

Through the blinds, in the distance, he saw three cars pulling in towards the motel.

That was enough for him. He wasn't going to wait and find out who was in those cars. His instincts were usually right. He stubbed his cigarette in the ashtray and grabbed his duffel bag.

Mabel, Louisiana, 1979

A half-formed dream slowly blurred into darkness as Mabel was awakened by Grunkle Stan's voice.

“Mabel?” She felt his large hands shaking her awake. “Wake up, kiddo.”

“Mmnh?” Mabel's bed felt different. She'd fallen asleep in her skirt and t-shirt. She lifted her head and rubbed her eyes...she wasn't in the Mystery Shack.

It wasn't until Stan's face came into focus that her disorientation fell away and she remembered where she was. When she was. Stan's hair was long and dark and his face wasn't lined. He looked like the pictures on his old ID cards.

“How'd you like to go on a road trip?” he asked, grinning broadly. “Like, right now?”

“Okay.” Mabel yawned, smiling. “Can we get breakfast?”

“I know a place that serves great breakfasts just outside the state line. C'mon, chop chop, time's a-wasting.” Stan took her arm, all but dragging her out of bed.

Mabel grabbed her backpack and followed Stan out the back door, down to his car. She smiled seeing it again. It had fewer dings and probably far fewer miles on it. But it was the same car that she'd rode to Gravity Falls lake in and the familiarity was comforting. She hopped into the backseat.

“Buckle up, we're about to do some reckless driving.” Stan said, steering the car around the back of the motel and through a construction barrier, peeling out onto an unfinished dirt road. Mabel made quiet little oofs as they bumped and clattered towards the highway, rolling through red lights and completely ignoring the gentle suggestions posed by speed limit signs. It was probably a good thing the roads were empty.

“What time is it?” Mabel squinted out the window. “The sun's not even up.”

“Time to sit tight and stop asking questions.” Stan said. He was nervous, she realized. He kept checking the mirrors and shifting around in his seat. The last time she'd seen him like this was when those government guys showed up at the Mystery Shack.

“Hey....” Stan's eyes fixed on her from the rear-view mirror. “Is this kidnapping? Did I just kidnap you?”

Mabel shrugged and yawned. “I dunno.”

“I feel like a cop would consider this kidnapping. Are you sure your parents aren't someplace back in town?” He gave her a stern look. “Because if they are...if you're just trying to skip out on them for fun, you need to tell me now. Because it's going to be really hard to go back there soon.”

Mabel squirmed a little under his gaze. “...My parents live in California.”

“California?”

“Yeah. But they're not there now.” She shifted. ...She couldn't tell him the whole truth. Even if he believed her...saying stuff like this to people in the past, telling them about their future, that's what got them in trouble the first time. Mabel didn't want to go to time jail. A few white lies and lies of omission wouldn't hurt.

Stan gave her a skeptical look. “How'd you get all the way to Louisiana?”

So that's where she was. Mabel shrugged and fiddled with the glow stick around her wrist. It must have been some kind of teleporter or something. It wasn't glowing any more, though---now it looked as dead and dull as any week-old glow stick would be. She suspected it was a one-time-use sort of thing.

“All right, have it your way.” Stan adjusted the mirror again, and Mabel couldn't see his eyes anymore. “Well. It's a good thing your parents aren't back there. Because we're not gonna want to go back to that town again.”

“Where are we going?” Mabel asked.

“Hmm. What's your favorite letter of the alphabet?”

“M!” Mabel replied.

“Natch. All right, we're going to Minnesota. I'm sick of the south. Did you pack a sweater in that bag of yours?”

Did I!” Mabel reached into her backpack and pulled out one of her extras. It had a ringed planet surrounded by purple stars on the front.

“Great, you're gonna need it. The heater in this thing doesn't work too well.”

Mabel yawned and nodded, tucking the sweater under her head to use as a pillow. He might look different. He might smell like smoke and old shoes and not know who she was, but she knew he was the same Stan. With him there, she wasn't alone. She tucked her head into her arms and quietly meowed herself to sleep.

Stanley, Louisiana, 1979

Stan kept checking his rear view long after there had stopped being anything interesting in it. At first he thought they might not have been followed at all. But once they were on the highway, he'd started to spot the same type of car he'd seen earlier, weaving in and out of traffic behind him—always a few car lengths back. He hoped he was just being paranoid.

He shouldn't have gotten greedy. These small-town casinos had less security, but the security they had was more watchful. And more of them were controlled by the mob. Usually he never stayed more than three days in a place like this, but he'd wanted to finish out the weekend, keep working the tables. And now he might have to pay for it.

Still...it had been a while since he'd noticed one of those cars. His fight-or-flight was no longer screaming in his ear. Maybe he'd lost them after all.

He adjusted his mirror to give him a view of the girl in the backseat. She was snuggled against the door, making soft cooing noises in her sleep. A runaway, probably. A liar, definitely. Had she really gotten all the way from California alone?

“You're a tough little thing, aren't ya?” he said to the image in the rear view mirror, wondering what he'd just gotten himself into.

Stan sighed, turning his eyes back towards the road. He could bring her to the police—but that was a bad idea. Aside from his own reasons to want to steer clear of law enforcement, he had no trust in the system to help her out. Best case scenario she'd end up in foster care. Worst case scenario they'd bring her back to whatever situation she had run away from. And not knowing what that situation was, Stan couldn't send her back to it. A kid running off because their parents wouldn't let them stay up and watch TV or made them eat peas would have given up and called home before making it halfway across the country.

Well. He'd figure something out.

At least he had some money this time. He glanced at the passenger seat, spotting the edge of the leather case he knew was hidden inside it. Maybe this time his greed was working for him. Maybe luck would be on his side.

Stan doubted it, though. It never worked that way for him.

Chapter Text

Mabel, Arkansas, 1979

“Who wants gas station burritos?”

“I do, I do!” Mabel yelled, raising both hands. Stan put a warm, plastic-wrapped package in one and a bottle of soda in the other. As he settled into the driver's seat with a cup of coffee and a package of his own, Mabel clambered over the divider and into the passenger seat.

While Stan had been getting gas and food, Mabel had changed into her back up sweater, brushed her hair and pulled it back with a headband. She'd also covered her scrapes with a couple of band aids and used a water bottle from her backpack to wash her face. She felt much more ready to face the day now.

“Oooooh....hot on the outside, cold in the middle.” she said, taking a bite of her breakfast. “It's like two burritos in one!”

“Heh.” Stan smiled at her while she ate. “So, uh, how often do kids need food again? Like, once a week? That's close, right?”

Mabel ignored the question. “Are we close to Minnesota, Uncle Stan?”

“I thought I said we weren't doing the 'uncle' thing.” Stan frowned.

“Ha! Yeah...you say lots of things.” Mabel smiled, looking knowingly back at him. Sure enough, his frown was softening into a reluctant smile.

“I guess you do make me look more respectable. Especially cleaned up like that.” He started up the car and began driving. “You ever try acting, kid?”

“I was in last year's school play. I portrayed the character of Chipmunk #7” She held her hands out like tiny chipmunk paws and bobbed her head up and down. “Chip, chip! Churrip!”

“How do you feel about pretending to be my daughter? We look alike enough to pull off being related.”

“Yeah, heheh....” Mabel laughed nervously. “What a wacky and unexpected coincidence....”

“You think you can do that? People let you get away with all kinds of stuff if they think you're a single dad.”

“Hmm....okay. But my mother was an acrobat.” Mabel said thoughtfully. “No, wait. A horse trainer. And she taught horses to dance for the circus.”

“Sure, why not.”

“And she was beautiful. I got my looks from her, of course.”

“You got your smart mouth from me.” Stan smirked. “Be glad you didn't get my nose.”

“And she died tragically saving the horses during a flood. The stable boy that she'd been having a torrid affair with begged her to go for higher ground, to forget the horses. And she told him--” she gestured angrily at the dashboard, shouting “You never understood, Fabien! You thought that you had my heart, but my heart....” she looked dramatically into the distance. “...Has always belonged to the appaloosas.”

Stan chuckled. “That's not bad. Can you cry on command?”

Mabel nodded. “I just have to think about Littlefoot's mom dying.” She stared into the distance for a moment, concentrating until tears welled up in her eyes and she started sobbing dramatically into her hands.

“Ha! That's perfect! We're gonna be unstoppable together.” Stan grinned. He hesitated. “Uh...you can stop crying now.”

“It ta-akes a few m-m-minutes.” Mabel sobbed, wiping tears and snot on her sleeve. Stan patted her shoulder.

Mabel, Arkansas, 1979

A few towns later they were sitting on a park bench while Stan explained his plan to her. It seemed overly complicated to Mabel, and she couldn't understand why it had to involve a glass eye and a violin.

“And that's when you turn on the waterworks. Got it?” Stan asked.

Mabel shifted a little uncomfortably on the bench. Joining in on one of Stan's con tricks had seemed fun when they were just talking about it, but now that it was actually happening she wasn't so sure.

“I don't know if I want to do this, Uncle Stan. It seems...dishonest.”

“What? No, no. It's like Robin Hood. You like Robin Hood, right?”

“Eh. I could take or leave him.” Mabel waved a hand dismissively. “And besides, Robin Hood gives his money to the poor.”

“We're poor! Look at our shoes!” Stan took Mabel's hand and started walking her down the sidewalk. “If you want to keep eating, we're gonna have to make money somehow.”

Mabel sighed. “I wish there was a way to get money just by asking nicely.”

“They have that. It's called begging, and we're not doing it.” Stan said, annoyed.

“Well it can't be any worse than tricking people.” Mabel took her hand back and folded her arms.

“Ha! You only say that because you never had to do it.”

“Have you?” Mabel asked.

Stan got a look on his face. Something tense Mabel couldn't identify. “That. Is not the point. The point is that panhandling is a lot more dangerous than you'd think. And it's against the law in a lot of places, including here.” he said, casually scooping the contents of a sidewalk cafe's unguarded tip jar into his pocket.

Mabel glared at him. “Aren't there laws against stealing too?”

“Big difference.” Stan held up a finger. “The whole point of stealing is to not be seen doing it. The point of panhandling is to do it where people can see you.” He looked down at Mabel, who was looking at the ground. “...Look, if you don't want to do this, it's fine. I'll walk you back to the car and you can wait there.”

“Nooooo...I want to help.” Mabel said reluctantly.

“Maybe we should keep things simple.” Stan suggested. “...Are you good at being distracting?”

Mabel smiled, nodding enthusiastically.

“Good. How about you walk through that crowd over there and keep everyone's attention on you. I'll catch up with you later.”

Mabel nodded and ran ahead, deciding not to ask what exactly she was distracting people from.

A few hours later, Stan found her back in the park. He was counting a roll of bills in his hands, and he looked pleased.

“Did I help?” Mabel asked.

“You sure did, sweetie. We make a good team.” He pocketed the money. “Ready to get something to eat?”

Mabel nodded. “Remember what you promised?”

“Yep. I'll make good on my end.” Stan reached down and patted her head. “We'll have dinner in a real restaurant tonight. I've already got a place picked out.”

“What place?” Mabel asked.

“Right here!” Stan stopped walking and gestured to the building ahead of them.

Mabel frowned up at the red and yellow walls of a McDonald's. She folded her arms and gave Stan a look.

“What?” Stan said. “This place is real. Look, walls and chairs and everything.”

Mabel glanced down the street and another building caught her eye. A familiar face smiled down from a sign out front...she didn't know that Hoo-Ha's Jamboree was old enough to be around in this time!

“What about that place?” she asked, pointing.

“There?” Stan made a face. “The place with the creepy newspaper ads? Eugh. Wouldn't you rather go, say, anywhere else?”

Mabel gave him a pleading look, the same one she'd used on her parents when they said she couldn't keep the stray cat that had wandered into their yard.

Stan sighed. “Fine. But if anyone in a costume comes within ten feet of me, it's your job to headbutt them between the legs.”

“Deal!” Mabel grabbed his hand and started pulling him towards the restaurant.

Stanley, Missouri, 1979

“You comfortable back there?”

“Mmm-hmm.” Mabel was curled up in the backseat under a couple of blankets. She was clutching the keychain-sized plush bear she'd won playing ski-ball that evening, and looked to already be half-asleep.

After they'd left the restaurant, Stan had driven them a few hours further north, enough to cross the border into Missouri. Mabel had been yawning for a while by then, so he'd looked for a safe, isolated spot to pull over. He'd learned by now she didn't sleep well while the car was in motion.

Stan felt something hollow deep in his gut looking at her, her legs curled up against the door and her head resting on a pile of clothes. He'd gotten used to living out of his car. Frankly...he'd started to feel more comfortable there than in any of the other temporary places he'd stayed. All the times he'd lost it and gotten it back, all the borders he'd driven it across...he knew every inch of it. It was home.

But now he saw it through different eyes. He saw how inadequate a home it was.

Mabel hadn't complained once. She didn't need to—tucking her into the backseat instead of a real bed sent enough of a message to him. He saw how dirty the interior was. How worn down and in need of repair almost everything in it had gotten. He saw how small and unwelcoming a home it was...and most of all, how little safety it offered her.

He glanced, not for the first time that day, at the lump in the passenger seat where the casino money was hidden. Most of it was still unspent, thanks to days like today where he'd been able to pick up a little extra. He wondered how much it would cost to put a deposit down on a small apartment in Minnesota. He'd heard there was a lot of wilderness up there. Maybe a guy like him could stay a while without being bothered by the law.

Sheesh. He thought, is this what having a kid does to a guy?

He looked back at Mabel.

She didn't have anywhere else to go. So he had to be able to take care of her. Take real care of her, somehow.

Stan stretched forward over the steering wheel, ignoring the ache between his shoulders. He'd think about it more tomorrow. There'd always be tomorrow

Chapter Text

Stanley, Missouri, 1979

He woke up to a bright light shining in his eyes. Two bright lights. ...Headlights.

Stan bolted upright immediately. There was a car—no, more than one---headed in his direction. No sirens. In the dim light the cars looked black and unmarked. Stan wasn't interested in pausing to try and figure out what kind of trouble they were bringing him. He started the car up and fled deeper into the trees.

The rough, bumpy ride over the unpaved road must have woke Mabel in the back---he heard her making surprised, confused noises. He turned the wheel sharply and winced internally as he heard a thump that was probably a little body slamming into the door.

“What's happening!?” He heard her say. He glanced back and saw her sitting up, trying to buckle herself in.

“Trouble.” he couldn't hide the fear in his voice. “Keep your head down and hold on!”

Stan turned sharply and brought the car off-road into the trees. The chassis of the Diablo shook violently under them. Stan immediately regretted his decision—the cars were still following and the rocky terrain was slowing them down. If he blew a tire now, they were fucked.

Just let me get away, he said in his mind, not sure whether he was praying or who he was praying to. Just one more time, let me get away. Let me get away with her. Just one more time.

The tree that appeared in front of him might as well have been a divine middle finger answering his prayers. Stan swerved to keep from crashing into it, sending the car spinning through the mud. He tapped the breaks, trying to keep from crashing or flipping the car. By the time he had control again the car had slowed to a stop and was lit up from all sides by three pairs of headlights pointing at him. Through the front windshield Stan saw a figure with a gun trained on him. He took his hands off the wheel and held them up in surrender.

Damn, damn, damn, damn. At least there was enough light for Stan to see who he was dealing with. He'd already had an inkling it might be the guys from the casino in Louisiana. But why would they still be after him? He hadn't taken that much money from them. Certainly not follow-him-across-two-state-lines money. Most places would have been content to ban him and chase him out of town. What were they doing here?

Stan turned to the backseat. Mabel was peeking curiously out the window.

“Get down.” he growled. “Don't let them see you.”

Mabel jumped a little, but obeyed.

“Mabel. Listen to me. Get down on the floor and hide under the blankets. Don't peek out. Don't look out the window. If someone comes up to the car, keep the doors locked and don't let anybody in. And above all, stay in the car. You got that? Don't come out until I come back, or until everybody is gone. And I mean everybody. Understand?”

Mabel nodded reluctantly. “...What are you gonna do?”

“Don't worry about that. Just...promise you'll stay in the car.”

Mabel nodded again and climbed down off the seat, pulling the little pile of clothes and blankets over her.

“Ych. Smells like socks.” she muttered, her voice muffled by fabric.

Stan smiled at that, just a little. As he opened the door he reached for the small section of pipe he kept underneath the front seat and slipped it into his sleeve as subtly as he could. Then he closed the door and walked towards the armed man, hands high in the air.

“I'm gonna assume that gun's just meant to be a warning, or else you'd have shot me by now.” he said. As he got closer, two men came up on either side and grabbed him. Stan slipped the pipe out of his sleeve and tried taking a swing at one of them, but his arm was grabbed and forced behind his back. He dropped the pipe with a grunt.

“Do I at least get to find out what this is all about?” he asked. The man with the gun ignored him, instead turning to open the passenger door of one of the cars. Someone new stepped out—a short, broad man with a stocky build that Stan recognized from his pool shark days.

“Shit....” Stan said, barely realizing that he was speaking out loud. “Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit....”

“Yeah, I'd be saying that in your position too, Andrew.” the man said.

“Sergi! Old...pal. How long has it been?” Stan tried to force cheer into his voice.

“Since you skipped town on me? Two years. Two long, slow years of working my way up from the bottom again.”

“About that, I've been meaning to tell you—what happened back there was all a misunderstanding. We're gonna laugh about this together soon, really....”

“You embarrassed me in front of my boss, Andrew. You made me lose face.” He slipped a knife from his coat and held it closely against Stan's cheek. “Well, guess what? Now it's gonna be your turn to lose face.”

Stan closed his eyes and squirmed, reflexively trying to angle himself away from the knife. He felt the tip enter his cheek, just enough to draw blood.

“So tell me, Andrew...” Sergi said. “How much of it should I cut off before I put a bullet in your head?”

Stan’s mind raced, trying to think of something, anything to say that might make Sergi hesitate. But before he could come up with a reply he felt the blade being drawn away. Stan heard screaming and the squealing of tires. He opened his eyes to see the Stanleymobile careening towards them, Mabel's head barely visible over the steering wheel. Sergi jumped out of the way while his thugs loosened their grip just enough for Stan to knock them aside and leap forward.

Stan caught the door as the car went by and hefted himself up, holding on as tight as he could. The car didn't stop or slow. He tried diving in the window and got stuck halfway. In a desperate push, he sucked in his stomach, braced his arms against the door and shoved himself in, falling awkwardly on his side in the passenger seat.

“You can drive?!!” he cried out as he righted himself.

“Nope! Sure can't!” Mabel yelled, tree branches smacking into the windshield.

“Oh. Well, move over!” Stan lifted her out of the drivers seat and scooted in, knocking aside the cardboard boxes she'd used to help her feet reach the pedals. He stepped on the gas and aimed the car for the gap between the trees. “Hold onto something!”

Mabel gripped the seat tightly as the car barreled forwards.

“What were you thinking back there?!” Stan scolded her. “What did I tell you to do?”

“Stay in the car!” Mabel said.

“Stay in the--” Stan paused, his expression changing as he realized she had done just that. He looked at her affectionately. “You're a real smartass, you know that?”

“Bad word!” Mabel said, covering her ears.

The sound of gunfire came from behind them, bullets whizzing through the trees uncomfortably close.

“Get on the floor!” Stan shouted, crouching behind the wheel to make himself as small a target as possible.

He steered in and out around the trees, branches scraping the side and roof of the car. More than once coming close to slamming into a tree trunk head-on. Behind him, he heard a crash and the sound of twisting metal, but didn't dare turn back as long as the bullets were still flying.

When the car passed the treeline and made it back on the road he chanced a look in the rear view. There was just one car behind him now, but the man hanging out the passenger window was still firing at them. With the road under his wheels again he could focus on speed.

He looked back again. The car wasn't catching up. He was getting away. Excitement and relief began to bubble up in him.

Then he turned back around and saw the deer.

Stan screamed and jerked the wheel to the side, trying to avoid the fully-grown buck that had leaped out in front of him. A bad move, he realized a second too late, given how fast he was going. The car's tires swung out from under him and they began to spin out of control back towards the trees lining the road. Stan pressed the brakes and tried to steer, his efforts likely being the only thing that kept the impact from being deadly—the car hit the treeline sideways, knocking down a pair of saplings and bringing them to a halt.

Before Stan's head could clear, the car door was being forced open and hands were grappling with him, forcing him out. Stan heard Mabel scream. There was another man lifting her out of the car by the neck of her sweater.

There was only one man holding him this time. Not nearly enough.

“Get your filthy hands off of her!” he shouted, throwing off the arms holding him back. His first punch landed on Mabel’s attacker before the sentence was even out of his mouth. His second punch loosened the man's grip and Mabel squirmed out. Stan didn't let up. He laid into the man with sudden, intense ferocity, forcing him to the ground.

When Stan was certain he would stay there, he grabbed Mabel, lifting her up.

“C'mon, sweetie, let's---”

His words were cut off. Sergi was standing in front of him, his gun only a few inches away and aimed at the center of Stan's head. He froze.

“Any last words?” Sergi asked.

“I've got two.” Mabel said, surprisingly calm. His eyes still fixed on the gun, Stan heard a pop and a strange, whirring sound next to his ear.

He didn't understand what was happening. He just knew that—to his shock and horror---the ground was suddenly flying away from him. His grip instinctively tightened on the child in his arms. Sergi was looking at him in shock from below (from far below, too far below...Far enough that in that moment Stan would have given anything to be back on the ground with the man who wanted to murder him.)

Distantly, he heard Mabel shout, “Grappling hook!”

Stan's shoulder hit something hard and the pain snapped him out of his panic, just enough to tear his eyes off the ground. Mabel was holding onto the handle of a hook that was caught on the edge of an overpass. She was holding his weight as well as her own, and her little arms were trembling. With great effort, Stan took one arm off her to grab the edge of the overpass. He held on for dear life and scrambled up over the top, reaching down to grab Mabel and pull her up once his own feet were planted on the solid concrete.

He heard shouting from below. The sun was beginning to come up, and in the dim, metallic light of sunrise Stan saw the first trucker of the morning appear on the road below him. The huge truck swerved to avoid the crashed Stanleymobile and Sergi's parked car, barreling down instead on the man standing in the street. The horn blared deafeningly loudly as Sergi desperately scrambled to get out of the way.

Stan had one eye closed, but it looked like he'd made it. A shame.

He and Mabel probably didn't have much time until either Sergi or one of his thugs recovered and started after them again. Stan picked Mabel up as she was stuffing the grappling hook back in her bag and started running. Mercifully, the overpass connected to the ground by an uneven grassy hill. They wouldn't have to try and use the hook to lower themselves down

He'd nearly made it back to the car when Mabel started moving in his arms.

“Wait!”Mabel cried, squirming out of Stan's grip. She hopped down and ran back up the hill.

“What are you doing? We need to go!” He glanced down towards his car and started running after her.

Mabel was on her hands and knees in the bushes, frantically searching for something. “It fell out somewhere here...” she muttered.

“Whatever it is, I'll get you a new one! We don't have time!”

She said something under her breath, and her eyes suddenly lit up. “Found it!” she picked up the broken tape measure that he'd seen her playing with earlier and hurried back towards him.

“Are you serious? That thing?! ….Never mind, let's get out of here.” He took her arm and they ran together towards his car.

Chapter Text

Mabel, Missouri, 1979

Five hours and about 479 miles later, the two of them were tucked into the hard, plastic booth of a Waffle House.

Mabel's energy had been drained, first by the fight and then by the long, hypnotizing hours of driving. She sat with her head down on the table, one arm periodically scooping bites of pancake into her mouth.

“You look about as tired as I feel.” Stan observed, on his third cup of coffee.

Mabel nodded distantly. She sat back in the booth, took out the tape measure and turned it over in her hands.

She had been putting off thinking about how she was going to get home since she met Stan. She'd been having fun. The more she thought about how she might get home, the more aware she was of all the reasons she might never get home. She didn't want to think about that.

Time travel...it meant she could go back to the same instant she'd left, right? So it wasn't as if anyone would have to worry or miss her. If she was safe here and they were safe there...what was the harm in hanging out with this version of her Grunkle for a few days?

But almost losing the tape measure reminded her how high the stakes might be. Finding a way to fix it would be hard enough, but getting home without it? If it were lost or destroyed....

Stan must have noticed the look on her face. He was watching her with concern.

“...It got pretty scary back there, huh?” he said.

“It's not that.” Mabel sighed. She paused and set the tape measure down on the table. “...So...I know I said my parents were someplace I couldn't go. And that wasn't a lie. Buuuut....”

“It wasn't exactly the whole truth?” Stan finished for her.

“Yeeeeeah.”

“I kinda suspected something like that.” Stan said. “...So what's the story?”

Mabel hesitated, still not sure how much she should say.

“...You can trust me. I'm not gonna run away or turn you out after you tell me. Promise. We're in this together.” He smiled at her, and she felt...a little bit braver.

Mabel took a deep breath. She slid the tape measure forward. “...There's something I have that can get me back home. And it's this.”

Stan looked at it blankly. “So...it's got, like, an address written on it?”

“...It's a time machine.”

“Right. Of course. Dumb question.” Stan laughed indulgently.

Mabel looked at him with annoyance. “Take a look at it if you don't believe me.” She pushed it a few inches closer to him. “But be careful. It's already broken as is.”

“What, is the tape jammed up in there?” Stan smiled, “I bet I can fix it for you. I'm pretty handy with---”

Stan trailed off. He'd popped open the side panel of the tape measure while he was talking, only to find it was filled with strange looking circuitry and dim, glowing lights. Even broken as it was, the complexity of the machinery was obvious.

“Huh.” Stan scratched his head, trying to absorb what he was seeing.

While he stared at the device in his hands, Mabel took her cell phone out of her bag. There was no signal, of course, but she could still go through her pictures. She carefully skipped past any photos that included Grunkle Stan, sticking to pictures of herself and Dipper.

“This is my brother.” she said, showing it to Stan. “I took a picture of him with this. It can store hundreds and hundreds of pictures inside it. I could tell you more about it but I probably shouldn't because it's about the future and I once taught a pioneer woman to high five and I had to fight a cyclocks in globnar.”

“...You lost me. Were those last things even words?”

Mabel closed her phone and leaned forward. “...I know it's all kinds of crazy. But isn't everything I'm saying maybe...crazy enough to be true?”

Stan paused, staring down at the strange machine in his lap. He popped the case back together and handed it to Mabel. “Well...I'm pretty sure I can't fix this..”

“Yeah.” Mabel took it back and cleared her throat. “Soooooooo....I dunno...do you maybe know someone who can? Someone who's good with all this...science-fiction nerd stuff?”

Stan stiffened. He didn't respond.

“Do you? I’m not hearing a no....” Mabel prodded, looking hopefully at him. She knew very well who he was thinking of, and figured he'd need a little encouragement.

“No. Well.” Stan looked away, rubbing the back of his neck uncomfortably. “Maybe. I might know one guy, but...”

“But what?”

“I don't think....he wouldn't....he doesn't like to be bothered.” Stan turned to the side, not looking at her. “Besides, he probably wouldn't be interested even if I did ask....he's not the reach-out-and-lend-a-hand type.”

Mabel hopped out of the booth and walked over to him.

This was important. And not just because Grunkle Ford was probably her best chance of getting back to her own time, but because of what things were like there.

Things weren’t so bad when it was just her, Dipper and Stan. Or her, Dipper and Ford. Which was what it was most of the time since Ford and Stan kept away from each other as much as possible. When they were together they barely spoke. Even seeing them fight would have been better than the angry silence they carried with them. It made the air poisonous. It made Mabel's stomach ache. Dipper never seemed to notice.

Mabel had to fix them.

If Stan could call Ford now....maybe things would be different for them. Maybe they could make up. Maybe....

Maybe the next thirty years could be happy. For both of them.

She looked up at Stan. “It can't hurt to try, though. Right?”

Stan looked at her for a moment, then stood up, walking to the door. “It can hurt plenty.”

Mabel followed him out of the restaurant. “Please, Uncle Stan. I can't fix this on my own.” She caught his sleeve and tugged it, urging him to look at her. “I like being here with you. But...this isn't where I'm supposed to be. I miss my brother. My parents are going to be worried.” she looked down. “I need to get back to my family.”

Stan sighed. He looked very, very tired.

“Yeah. I guess you do, don't ya kiddo.” He crouched down to look her in the eye and ruffled her hair. “Can't stay with me forever.”

He sounded so sad when he said that. Mabel almost told him that he was waiting for her too. That part of the reason she had to get back to her own time was that a version of him was there, one that would worry if she didn't return. Instead she said “I wouldn't mind that..but...”

“But your family's waiting for you.” He sighed again. “All right. I don't know if it'll help, but...I'll try calling my brother Stanford. If anyone can figure this thing out, he probably can.”

Mabel leaped into him and gave him the biggest, tightest hug she could muster. He hugged her back.

“...Hey!” came an voice from the door of the restaurant. “You didn't pay for those pancakes!”

“Time to go.” Stan said. The two of them hopped in the car and drove off.

Stanley, Missouri, 1979

Stan pulled his car into the parking lot of some long-neglected strip mall. After they fled the Waffle House, he'd driven for a few more hours, saying that he needed to clear his head. Then for a while he pretended that he couldn't find a pay phone. Anything to buy a few more minutes before doing what he knew he had to do.

He got out of the car. The phone was bolted to the wall between an abandoned video store and a still-open liquor store. He only briefly considered stopping in the latter for something that might make this call easier.

From the passenger seat, Mabel gave him a double-thumbs up and an encouraging smile. That was enough. He walked over to the phone and fished a piece of paper out of his pocket.

Mom's letters didn't always reach him, moving around the way he did. He tried to keep sending her his current addresses, but when half the time he didn't have an address to send her, it made for sketchy contact. This letter was several months old, and Stan could only hope the phone number in it was still current. He dialed it quickly, before he could change his mind. The line started ringing. His heart was pounding.

Just when it seemed that Ford wouldn't pick up, when he'd begun to relax into the thought that he could put this off another few hours, he heard a click.

A crisp, alert voice answered “Hello? This is Stanford Pines.”

“...Sixer?” Stan blurted out.

There was a long silence. Stan held his breath. Bracing himself for anger, or for disbelief....or worst of all, for the possibility that the next thing he would hear would be a click and a dial tone.

Instead, he heard Ford's surprised voice. “....Stanley?”

For a long moment, Stan forgot to start breathing again. The silence dragged on long enough for an uncertain “...Hello?” to come from Ford.

“Hey. Yeah, I'm here.” Stan said. Trying his best to sound casual. “Listen...I know it's been a while” a while since I last saw you, looking down at me from the apartment window “But there's something I gotta talk to you about.”

“....All right.” his brother said. He sounded as uncomfortable as Stan felt. Well, good. At least they still had something in common.

“I found this kid. She uh....” he hesitated, hating how ridiculous his story sounded. “She said she's trying to get home to her family. And uh....that she came here with a time machine.” he laughed a little too hard, a little too loud. “And of course, yaknow. I thought she was nuts. Just saying kid stuff. But she's got all this weird, scifi looking technology, and..... It all seemed like something that was up your alley.”

Stan waited for a reply. When none came, he continued. “I dunno, maybe the whole thing is nothing. But....maybe you'd like to take a look at what she's got? See if....you can help her?”

There was another long silence. Stan was beginning to wonder if Ford was still there. But finally, he heard. “....Sure. Of course. I'll take a look.” There was another pause. “...Do you know my address?”

Stan pulled a pen out of his pocket and wrote down the directions Ford dictated to him. They said goodbye and hung up. All in all, it was about five minutes of conversation. Five minutes more than they'd shared in seven years.

Stan exhaled and slumped down on the sidewalk. Nine hours ago, he had a knife pressed against his cheek and a psychopath was promising to cut off his face. That didn't shake him half as much as this phone call had. He felt emptied out. Like he might shake apart at any moment.

“...It's done.” he said to Mabel as she walked up to him. “He said yes.”

“Yeah!” Mabel pumped her fist in the air. She grabbed his shoulder in her little hands and shook it excitedly. “You did it!”

He smiled weakly. “I guess I did.”

“All right!” Mabel let go of him and jumped in the air. “We're going to Gravity Falls!”

Stan looked at her, raising an eyebrow. She turned to him, looking caught.

“I mean....we're going....wherever your brother lives! Because...I don't know that!” She smiled and put her hands on her hips, staring into the distance. “Yeah.”

Stan looked at her a moment and shook his head. “....I'm just gonna start ignoring all the weird stuff you say.”

“ 'Start'?” Mabel said. “When did you stop?”

“C'mere you!” He grabbed her sleeve and pulled her into him, giving her a noogie. His hands were still shaking, his nerves were still shot, but her laughter gave him strength again.

More than fifteen hundred miles between them and Gravity Falls. There'd be time for Stan to think of what he was going to say to his brother.

Chapter Text

Stanley, Oregon, 1979

A person could make the trip from Northern Missouri to Oregon in two days if they didn't mind long hours on the road. It took Stan four days, delayed a little bit by car trouble but mostly by reluctance.

Along the way he'd had to stop and pull over six times, each time telling Mabel he just wanted to stretch his legs. Really what he'd needed was a chance to find an isolated spot someplace where he could put his head between his knees and quietly panic. Where he could rock back and forth and breathe in and out until he stopped feeling lightheaded. On one occasion, Mabel had followed him and caught him like that. He'd resolved not to let her see it a second time.

He was glad to have her holding his hand as they approached the door.

Ford was clearly doing well for himself. Mom had said something in one of her letters about him getting a big research grant, but Stan still hadn't expected to find him in a place this nice. He supposed Dad must be proud of him.

Stan took a deep breath and knocked. The door swung open and Ford stuck his head out, a broad smile on his face.

“Hey pal! Long time no see!” he grinned.

“Uh, yeah. Good to see you too.” Stan balked at his tone. Ford was leaning in close enough that he reflexively took a step backwards.

“And this must be the kid with all the secrets!” Ford looked down at Mabel, and Stan heard her gasp out loud. “I hear you've got a broken time machine on ya! Why don't you just hand it over to old uncle Fordsy and I'll see what I can do about it!”

Mabel shook her head, pulling away from Ford and clutching her backpack tight against her body.

Stan put a hand on her head and smiled awkwardly. “...She's kind of shy.” he said. Though from the way he’d seen her act so far, it seemed nothing could be further from the truth. “Maybe give her a couple hours to relax first, huh?”

Ford's gaze snapped to Stan with unsettling speed, and for a split second Stan forgot that he was looking at his brother. Mabel drew back, hiding behind him.

Ford blinked and rubbed his eyes. His expression softened, and the manic grin left his face. “...Of course. Of course.” he said. “Well...come inside, please....”

Stan followed Ford inside, Mabel trailing reluctantly behind him. They walked through a little hallway, past a staircase and into what looked like some kind of study. Books and papers were lying over every available surface, which wasn't surprising considering whose house it was. Stan also noticed a lot of art on the walls of a funny little pyramid with an eye in the center. There were a lot of pyramid-shaped things lying around, actually.

“....Nice decorating theme you got here. Didn't know you were into all this hippie-dippie junk.” Stan said, trying his best to make conversation. He couldn't help noticing how closely Mabel was pressing into him, or how tightly she was gripping his hand. Being inside seemed to unsettle her more.

“It's a figure from mythology I've taken an interest in.” Ford said, a little defensively.

“Still obsessed with the weirder stuff, eh?” Stan smirked.

“That's why you called me, isn't it?” Ford's shoulders were hunched, the way he got when he was angry or embarrassed. Stan wondered if he shouldn't just keep his mouth shut.

For a while, neither of them broke the silence. Then they both tried to break it at once, Stan starting off with “so how--” and Ford saying “I've been--” both of them stopping when they realized the other was talking.

Ford cleared his throat. “...You're looking well.” he finally said. Stan doubted that was true. Ford could never look him in the eye when he was lying.

Stan looked his brother up and down, thinking of the strained, disquieting smile he'd had on his face just a moment ago. “...Yeah. You too.” he lied.

“...I should offer you something. Shouldn't I? Let me go make you both some tea.” Ford turned and hurried towards the door, presumably in the direction of a kitchen. Just before exiting his gaze snapped back to Stan and Mabel. The smile from earlier was back. “Don't go anywhere, now!” he said. Then vanished through the door.

Stan stared after him for a while, trying to process what had just happened. Mabel had let go of his hand and moved on to wrapping her arms entirely around his left leg. She was glaring at the space Ford had just occupied.

Stan wasn't sure what he had been expecting, but it sure hadn't been this.

“...You noticed it too. Didn't you?” A lightly accented voice came from behind him.

Stan turned and realized there had been another person in the room the whole time, seated at a table in the back and half-buried behind a pile of books. The stranger—a tall, wiry looking blonde man---stood and approached him.

“I said to myself—Fiddleford, if his brother can't see anything's wrong with him you're gonna have to accept that this is all in your head. But it isn't, is it? He's acting weird...and not just normal Stanford Pines weirdness either. Am I right?”

Stan glanced towards the door Ford had just exited through. “Yeah....I mean. I know it's been a while, but...something felt really off about that.”

The man held out a hand for Stan to shake. “Fiddleford McGucket. I was Ford's roommate back in college...he and I have been working on a project together up here.”

“Stanley Pines. ...I...don't know how much Stanford's told you about me.”

“Not very much.” Fiddleford admitted. “...He's always been evasive about his family.”

Stan felt a twinge at that. It must have showed on his face, because Fiddleford's tone immediately turned conciliatory.

“...I mean...it's not that I didn't know you existed.” he added, “Frankly, of all his family you're the one he's talked about the most.”

“Nothin' good I imagine.” Stan grumbled.

“...I wouldn't say that. Not entirely.” he scratched the side of his face. “Anyway, I never listen to a word he says.” he smiled. “So don't worry.”

Meanwhile, Mabel had finally pulled herself off Stan's leg and was rummaging around in her backpack. “...Mister McGucket?” she asked, approaching him.

Fiddleford smiled warmly and crouched down to her level. “Well, where are my manners? I don't believe I ever got your name, darlin'.”

“My name's Mabel. Listen....you're good with like, machines and junk, aren't you?” she asked.

“I'd like to think so, little lady.”

Mabel pulled out the broken tape measure, along with a sandwich bag filled with wires and other small parts. She handed both to him. “...Do you think you can fix this?”

“I can do my best.” Fiddleford took both of them and set them down on a nearby table. “Ford tells me you think you've got a time machine here.”

“I know it's a time machine.”

“Well, I only know about time travel theory. ...But in the past year or two I've been getting a lot more acceptin' of things I might have once thought impossible.” Fiddleford popped the case to the tape measure open and peered inside. His eyes widened and he whistled. “Oh, my. Yes, I am gonna have some fun taking you apart.” he grinned at the machine in his hands.

“Great. Just promise me one thing, okay?” Mabel hopped on the table and took Fiddleford's face in her hands. Her expression was intense in a way Stan hadn't seen before. “...Don't let your partner in there see it. Don't get him to help, okay? Keep it to yourself.”

“Well....if that's how you feel. All right.” Fiddleford nodded.

“Thanks.” Mabel closed up her backpack and hopped down. “I'm....gonna go outside now. And....you know. Commune with nature.” she shifted anxiously “Match all the squirrels up with one another so they can stop living in solitude. Bye!”

Mabel turned and ran towards the door, her little shoes pounding on the floorboards. Just before she left she paused, hesitated and ran back. She jumped back up on the table and pointed a finger at Fiddleford.

“By the way,” she said. “...You should---” She hesitated, biting her lip. “--Don't---” She stopped herself again and let out a grunt of frustration. “Aaugh, never mind!” she shouted.

She hopped down, ran outside and slammed the door.

“...Cute kid.” Fiddleford mumbled, focusing his attention back in on the little machine. He was already tinkering with it. Stan had a feeling he was going to start salivating soon.

Stan reached over and closed the case with his hand, trying to bring Fiddleford's attention back to him. With Mabel gone, he could actually say what he'd been thinking.

“...This is drugs, right?” Stan asked, jerking his head towards the kitchen where Ford was presumably still making tea, most likely avoiding him. “He's taking something?”

Fiddleford sighed. “That would certainly explain a lot...the personality changes, the manic stages. ...Even some of the stranger ideas he's been getting....”

“Just looking at him I'd guess amphetamines. Maybe psychedelics too.” Stan added, glancing around at the weird pyramids all over the room. “Has he been staying awake at night?”

“Not that I've noticed...if anything he sleeps too much. Not at all like back in college....”

“...Could just be crashing. Or maybe he's mixing it up with some barbiturates....I hope not, though. That's really dangerous.” Stan frowned. He found himself wishing he'd gathered up the guts to come here sooner. What had his brother gotten caught up in while he hadn't been around to protect him?

“I've never seen him taking anything....” Fiddleford said.

“You'd be surprised how many innocent-looking ways there are to hide a drop of acid, or a couple of cut up pills.” Stan said. “...Not that I'd know.” he added hastily.

“Right.” Fiddleford raised an eyebrow and leaned forward conspiratorially. “Look...I'm getting the impression that you might be better at sussing this out than I've been. How can I help?”

Stan considered. “Keep him distracted. He's probably gonna want to avoid me anyway. You keep him busy and work on Mabel's thing. I'll see if I can find his stash.”

“You've got yourself a deal.” Fiddleford looked down and sighed. “This might sound cold. But I almost hope it is drugs. Drug addiction---that I can understand. I can wrap my mind around that one.”

Stan raised an eyebrow at him. “What do you mean?”

“I don't know...Some of the things he says....” he furrowed his brow. “There's something sinister about him sometimes. When your brother invited me out here he said we'd be working on research that could change the world. I thought he meant for the better. Lately, I'm not so sure.”

Stan opened his mouth to reply, but was interrupted by the sound of footsteps approaching from the kitchen. The two of them did their best to act natural as Ford entered with a tray of tea.

Mabel, Oregon, 1979

Mabel ran outside, only pausing to catch her breath when she was a good, long distance from the building that she couldn't really think of as anything other than the Mystery Shack.

“All right, Mabel. Don't freak out. Just because your Grunkle is....somehow, creepily in league with a monster triangle, and your other Grunkle doesn't even know he's your Grunkle or who Bill is, and the crazy old man you know in the future isn't crazy or old but you can't warn him about how he's going to get crazy and old because the time police might come after you.... Just because you're trapped in a year where everything smells funny and you can't get to your brother, and your brother probably doesn't know what's happened to you, and if you don't get back he probably never will....Augh!” She pressed her fists into her forehead. “I wish Dipper were here!”

If Dipper were here, everything would be easier. He'd probably be freaking out. He'd be freaking out more than she was. But if he were here, she'd be calmer...and she could keep him calm, and it would make her feel strong and safe. And he could come up with a plan....

What was going on with Ford and Bill, anyway? She was sure that when he'd answered the door he hadn't been himself. When you've seen it once, it's easy to spot. Bipper had grinned too wide, his eyes were cold and his pupils elongated, and he couldn't blink both eyes at once. It was all the same with Grunkle Ford.

But then he seemed to go back to himself. And that was the really scary part--he wasn't confused, wasn't frightened....it was like Bill possessing him was...normal.

All those pictures of Bill in his house...was it possible that Ford was working with Bill? Voluntarily? The last time she'd seen him back in 2012, he'd said he was going to help protect them from Bill. He'd taken Dipper into the basement to work on something, and....

“Oh no, no, no, no, no, no, no!” Mabel paced back and forth. Dipper was alone with Ford in the future, and now she didn't know if Ford could be trusted. He'd said he wanted to protect them from Bill....But what if that was a lie? What if he was still....

“No!” Mabel turned sharply and slapped herself across the cheek. “Snap out of it, Mabel!” She slapped herself again, looking at her reflection in the side mirror of the Stanleymobile. “Now you listen! You're going to get back to your time. You're going to make your Grunkles stop fighting. You're going to stop Bill and help Grunkle Ford and and protect your brother, and you're gonna keep all the bad stuff that's going to happen from happening!” She gripped the mirror in both hands and started shaking it, screaming “You are going to save everyone, and you are going to like it young lady!”

She let go of the mirror and stared for a while, hyperventilating. She screamed a wordless cry at the sky and ran back towards the house before her adrenaline could fade.

Chapter Text

Stanford, Oregon, 1979

Ford closed the attic door behind him, relieved to be alone again. He'd had a brief, extremely tense conversation with Stan before mumbling something about fixing up the attic room for him and fleeing upstairs.

He took a deep breath of the dusty air. Talking to Stan on the phone had been jarring enough. Actually seeing him again had made Ford feel like he'd been brought back to high school. Except that when he'd been in high school, Ford had always felt comfortable around Stan. Not anymore.

He wondered why he'd said yes to this. He had too much on his mind already, he didn't have time for the sort of thoughts that were gathering in his head right now.

Well. Too late to say no now, he thought, reaching to drag an old mattress out from the corner.

Once the mattress was in place, he climbed a nearby ladder to retrieve a box of linens. As he set the box down on the attic floor, he felt something pulse behind him like a soundless explosion. A calming gray began to spread over the room. Ford sighed with relief.

“Hello, Bill.” he turned and smiled. “I thought you might have left.”

“You know I'm never gone for long!” Bill floated up above his head. “I just thought it was getting a little...crowded downstairs.” He pointed to the floor. “I think you know what I mean.”

“It's so strange seeing him again.” Ford sat down on one of the boxes scattered across the attic floor. “After all these years. I'd almost forgotten what his voice sounded like.”

“That's family for ya, can't get rid of 'em! Or so I've heard.” Bill leaned backwards, as if lounging on some invisible object. “Personally I always thought the whole concept was overrated. But hey, what do I know?”

“He looks different from what I remember.” Ford glanced back at the door.

The last time he'd seen his brother they'd both been seventeen. Only seven years had passed since then, but Stan seemed to have aged quickly. The boxer's physique had melted away...and there was something different about his body language. The way he hunched over his cup. Or the way he kept glancing at the door, never quite turning his back to it.

“...He said that he found that girl on the street, but he wouldn't elaborate on where he was or what he was doing.” Ford frowned. “....She really seemed frightened earlier. Did I do something wrong? I don't really know how to act around children.”

“People naturally fear what they don't understand. You learned that the hard way, didn't you Sixer?” Bill said.

Ford looked down at his hands. With Stanley downstairs, the familiar nickname brought up a pang in his gut he hadn't felt in a while. Before he could think too much about it, however, Bill floated down and swooped around his head.

“Look, don't worry about the pipsqueak. You've got bigger things to focus on.” Bill put his tiny hand behind Stanford's head and gestured with his cane. Ford saw the schematics for the portal they'd been working on appear in the air in front of him. “Your old pal Fiddlesticks can take care of her little machine. You don't want to be getting distracted when you're working with forces like what we're dealing with!”

“I suppose you're right.” Ford smiled a little “You usually are.”

“Well, you were right about using ionic cell dioxination to balance out the proton streams.” Bill smiled, elbowing the side of Ford's head playfully. “And hey, if it's time travel you're interested in, I've got some equations to show you that'll make that little kid's toy look like a broken stopwatch! Just be careful who you let get too close.”

Bill waved his hands and the schematics turned into an image of the portal as it currently sat in the basement. It was in its active state and a gentle blue glow came from its center.

“You've got the potential to change the world, Stanford Pines. But potential doesn't have any worth on its own. It needs to be put into work. It would be a shame if all the work you've put your potential into was undone---” The image of the portal cracked in half, shattered into pieces. “because of someone who likes to break things.”

Ford gritted his teeth, a familiar old anger tightening in his chest. “...We can't let that happen.”

“Eh, I'm sure everything'll be fine.” Bill toyed with his cane as the image poofed away. “There's probably nothing to worry about. Just in case though, you know how to reach me!” He rose into the air and glowed. “In the meantime I've got some old friends to catch up with in the higher dimensions. Catch ya later!”

Bill left in an explosion of light, and the room around Ford returned to normal. He sat down heavily on the floor and rubbed his eyes. Being in Bill's presence was invigorating, but when he left there was often a low to follow the high.

What Bill said was true--Ford couldn't get distracted now. They were so close to beginning tests on the portal. Once they could prove it was safe for a living human to travel through....

He'd worked so hard for this. This was such a pivotal moment. It was just like Stan to show up now when he needed to concentrate. Even when they were kids he seemed to take such pleasure in annoying him when he was trying to study...hanging off the back of his chair and telling him jokes or dumb stories, trying to drag him away to the movies or the beach or to explore some abandoned building he'd found back in town.

Ford felt a twinge. Stan always used to say he worked too hard. Looking back at the past few years, he couldn't say his brother had been wrong.

He remembered a few close calls he'd had back in school, when he'd been awake too long and the stress had been getting to him. Times he'd come close to badly hurting himself. He wondered how Stan would have reacted if he'd been there. If he was being honest with himself, he knew Stan probably wouldn't have let him get that bad in the first place. Probably would have made him go to bed or dragged him away to one of those stupid parties the frat house down the street seemed to always be throwing.

But Stan hadn't been there. And it was probably too late now to ask where he had been. What he had been doing while Ford was at school, while he was doing his great work here in Gravity Falls. Too late to wonder about that now. Bill was right. He couldn't get distracted.

He lifted himself off the floor and started making the bed in the corner.

Mabel, Oregon, 1979

Mabel had learned the ins and outs of the Mystery Shack pretty well over the summer. There were plenty of ways to get onto the roof, for example, and at least a dozen good hiding spots on it. She noticed as she climbed that the Shack's roof had apparently been falling apart long before Grunkle Stan took ownership of it. In 2012, there was a wide gap between the shingles just above the attic room, where a family of birds had nested. Mabel liked to watch them while she fell asleep. In 1979 the crack was smaller and there were no birds there, but the gap was still big enough for Mabel to peer inside and watch Grunkle Ford as he moved things around.

After a little while he stopped working and started talking. At first it looked like he was only talking to himself. But the longer she watched and listened, the easier it was to make out a shadow moving along the walls around him. Bill was there.

Mabel couldn't hear Bill's replies, but Ford's half of the conversation told her enough. He was talking to Bill like they were friends. They were working together. Mabel frowned while she watched him. This didn't feel right. Did this mean Ford had been on Bill's side all along?

She watched Ford look down at his hands. He seemed sad.

Bill could be tricky, though. He tricked her and Dipper into finding the code in Stan's mind by pretending to be Soos, and tricked Dipper into giving up his body. He'd almost convinced her to give him Ford's journal. Maybe he had tricked Ford too. That would make more sense than Ford being secretly evil or something.

She tried to remember the page in the journal about Bill that Dipper had showed her---wasn't there something in it about Bill being trustworthy, something that had been crossed out? The more she thought about it, the more sense it made that Ford was being tricked...but that was still bad. Still really dangerous. And she wasn't sure how to help him.

The longer she looked at Bill's shadow, the clearer his outline became---a dark triangle with dangling limbs and one huge, slitted eye visible in the shadows. While he and Ford talked, Mabel saw the eye slowly drift in her direction, until it was looking straight at her. It bent into a lipless smile.

Mabel gasped and pulled away from the gap in the ceiling, laying back on the shingles of the roof. Had he seen her? He must have seen her. He knew she had been watching. What had he been saying to Ford? This version of him didn't know her and thought Bill was his friend. What would he do if Bill turned him against her?

She should go back in the house and get the tape measure, she knew. Keep it away from them. But however hard she tried, she couldn't seem to make herself climb down. Couldn't bring herself to go into the house where she'd just seen Bill and Ford talking.

“I can't do this alone.” She said to the clouds. “I can't do this alone, Dipper. But you're not here. What am I going to do?”

She lay on the roof and shivered. She didn't want to go inside. She had nowhere to go but inside. She watched the sun slowly go down.

Eventually, she heard Stan's voice calling her.

“Mabel! ...Mabel? Where are you?!”

Mabel climbed down to where the roof hung over the porch and dangled her head down where Stan could see her. “Over here.”

“There you are.” he jogged over to her. “You scared the crap out of me....you have fun communing with nature?”

“Huh? Oh. Yeah...it was great.” Stan reached up to grab her and she reached back, climbing into his arms.

He set her down on the ground. “Well, come on inside. Dinner's waitin' for ya. Stanford's taking his in his study, but we can still eat together.”

Mabel shuddered. As much as she'd wanted her Grunkles to talk to each other, she was glad she wouldn't have to look across the table at Ford tonight. She followed Stan inside, uncomfortable at how unsafe she suddenly felt in the Shack.

Mabel, Oregon, 1979

It's the same ceiling you've been staring at for the last two months. Mabel told herself, curled up in the attic bedroom. Just pretend you're back in your own time.

It wasn't working. She couldn't get to sleep. She was lying on a cot that had been pushed into the corner that Dipper slept in back in her time. Stan was stretched out on a mattress on the floor, snoring peacefully. Mabel turned to look at him.

Maybe I should just tell him. She thought to herself. He believed the time travel. Maybe he'd believe me about Bill. If he knew about Bill too I wouldn't be doing this alone.

She lay on her side and watched Stan sleeping. He was curled up in a position that didn't look comfortable.

If I tell him, I should get him to come out into the woods. Find a secret place to talk to him about it. Not inside the house.

Mabel sighed, closed her eyes and pulled the blankets over her head. Worrying had worn her out. She just wanted to sleep.

Mabel was wandering through a forest. But it wasn't like the forest preserve that grew around her grandmother's house, or even the deep, wild forests she'd explored in Gravity Falls. The trees in this forest curled into cheerful, spiraling shapes. Light filtering through the leaves cast a pink and red glow on the ground. Toadstools the size of her house towered over her, with little lighted windows in them that hinted at someone living inside. She hadn't dreamed about this place in years.

That's what she was doing, she realized...dreaming. This wasn't real. And the second that thought entered her mind, the dreamscape began to change. The light from above darkened. The toadstools rose and grew into poisonous looking towers, and the shadows between the trees hid menacing looking eyes. Familiar, yellow, slitted eyes. Mabel stood defensively, looking around.

Gaps appeared in the canopy, and a shaft of light burned a dark shape into one of the trees. The shape's edges caught fire, spreading, making it more distinct and recognizable. With a burst of light, Bill pulled himself into her dream.

“Well if it isn't the little fly in my ointment!” Bill said, tipping his hat. “Good to finally talk face to face!”

“Bill!” Mabel stepped back, glaring.

“Nice enchanted forest you got here.” He floated casually over to one of the toadstool houses, peeking in a window where something small and furry was huddled. “But it looks like it was growing shadows long before I showed up.”

“I'm not afraid of you.” Mabel growled. She held her arms out and shouted, “kitten fists!”

With a poof, Mabel's hands turned into sparkly cat heads. But instead of firing out of her wrists at Bill they began to deform and yowl in pain. Mabel felt a frightening dissolving sensation as the kitten heads fell to the ground. Their howls distorted as their features ballooned outwards, bubbled, and melted away.

Mabel's arms now ended at the wrists, and no matter how hard she imagined hands coming back on them, they stayed that way. She felt herself starting to panic.

“So, you're from the future, huh? That's interesting.” Bill said, not acknowledging her attempted attack or her obvious distress. He snapped his fingers. “Say! Do they ever make a nine-hour techno remix of that one Tom Lehrer song?”

“I'm not telling you anything!” Mabel pointed an empty sleeve at Bill, trying to ignore how strange it felt. “I'm not gonna talk to you, I'm not gonna let you hurt my Grunkles, and I'm not letting you get the time machine from me either!”

“What, this thing?” Bill raised his hand and Mabel saw the tape measure slip out from behind her, floating upwards. She leaped up and grabbed it, grappling with her wrists to hold it against her body. She knew it was just an image in a dream, that McGucket had the real thing with him. But she felt protective of it all the same.

“No worries kid, you can keep that. Not that it's going to do you any good.” He floated past her, feigning disinterest.

“What's that supposed to mean?”

“It means that even if you get it fixed, you're not going to get back to your own time. Not anymore.” The tape measure evaporated in Mabel's arms. Bill turned to look at her. “By bringing your uncle here three years early, you've disrupted my plans and altered the timeline. Your future doesn't exist anymore.”

“Yeah? Well, I've got news for you--my future stinks. Everyone is fighting and sad and probably whatever changes I make are just gonna make it better.

“Maybe, but you're not gonna see any of it.” He held up his hands and a picture of Mabel appeared in the air. It split into two—one Mabel dressed in the sweater she was wearing now, the other Mabel wearing clothes she didn't recognize. “There's a version of you that isn't born yet who'll grow up in the future that's being made. You, on the other hand, don't get to grow up. You're a time anomaly now. A traveler from a future that doesn't exist anymore.”

“Wh...what do you mean?” Mabel asked, her voice starting to waver. “What does that mean, I'm not gonna get to grow up?”

“The timelines are in flux right now because history is being re-written. But eventually they're going to settle.” Bill explained. Two wavy lines appeared over the two Mabels, then crashed together, becoming one. “When that happens, you'll be a loose end with no past and no future. You'll be erased from existence entirely! Ha! Time travel, am I right?”

The version of Mabel that was wearing her sweater blinked, faded and vanished. Mabel stared. Her knees felt weak.

“Yup. I figure you've got maybe four or five days from your point of view before you just disappear.” Bill pulled a watch from behind his back and glanced at it. “Speaking of which, I'd better get going. Things to do, people to see!”

He cut a triangle-shaped hole in the sky with his cane and stepped in. “See ya around, Shooting Star! I mean--not for long but, you know!”

“Wait!” Mabel reached forward but he was gone almost instantly. No trace left behind.

The numbness that had settled on Mabel's wrists was spreading upwards. She looked down and saw the edges of her sleeves vanishing. Her toes were tingling, and she realized she could see the ground through her feet.

“No!” Mabel cried, turning to run.

She barely made it ten steps before she stumbled over the nubs that remained of her feet and fell to the ground. She felt herself losing her arms, losing her legs below the knee. Looking down she could see the emptiness spread up her body. She couldn't run. She couldn't get away. She could only watch as her middle disappeared., as more and more of her slowly went numb and vanished.

“No, please, no!”

She lay on the ground screaming as the nothingness entered her brain, eating what was left of her.

She woke with a gasp in the attic room. Panicked, she felt her arms, her face, her stomach and legs...desperately needing assurance that she was still there.

She curled her legs to her chest and shivered. It wasn't real. It wasn't real yet.

She was going to die. No...she was going to disappear. To never have existed. How long did Bill say she had? Four or five days?

She was never going to get home. She was never going to see Dipper again. She'd never get to see her parents again, or hug Waddles, or say goodbye to Candy and Grenda...she wouldn't get to say goodbye to anyone. She'd just go away, forever, from all of their lives.

That was what would happen if she changed the future. Her future, where Grunkle Ford had been trapped between dimensions and Grunkle Stan had been so sad trying to get him back, and Mister McGucket went crazy and erased his memories, and everyone was sad and angry and everything was awful. That future was the only one where she existed. And she'd already started to change it.

She was never going to grow up. Never going to fall in love and get married. Never going travel the world or do any of the things she wanted to do. She wasn't even going to be alive by the weekend.

“I'm scared...” she whispered into the darkness.

She curled up in her bed and cried.

Chapter Text

Mabel, Oregon, 1979

Mabel shivered in the dim light of the attic window and cried quietly into her nightgown.

Five days, maybe less. That was how long she had left. The attic felt huge and empty around her.

She didn't hear Stan getting up, didn't even realize he was awake until she felt his big arm being draped around her. Mabel startled a little, then leaned back into him, keeping her eyes down and not looking up.

“...Bad dream?” she heard him ask.

“The worst,” she whispered. Her voice was hoarse and brittle.

“Wanna tell me about it?”

Mabel shook her head violently. She couldn't look him in the eye.

She heard Stan yawn. “...Want me to turn on the lights for a while?”

She thought about it and nodded.

Stan got up and switched the lamp on. Mabel was disappointed to find that the room didn't look any friendlier in the light. Stan sat back down and Mabel scooted next to him, snuggling into his soft belly. He draped his arm back over her and leaned back against her pillow.

“Uncle Stan?” Mabel asked after a long period of silence. “...Have you ever had to make a hard choice...And you knew which choice was the right one for everyone. ...But the right choice for everyone was also really, really the wrong choice for you?”

Stan was quiet for a while. “I think I know the sort of thing you're talking about.”

“...What do you do when that happens?”

“When you gotta choose between doing the right thing and watching out for yourself?”

She nodded.

“Easy choice. You've gotta look out for number one.” he said. “This world will chew up and spit out kids like you if you let it.”

“...Even if looking out for myself means....doing something wrong?”

“Most of the time the people telling you what you're doing is wrong are just trying to get you to feel bad so they can walk all over you.” He wrapped his arm tighter around her and gestured as he spoke. “Trust me, I know. If some chump's messing with you or getting in your way, don't think about what's right for him. I want you to think about what's right for Mabel.”

Mabel looked at him uncertainly. She remembered the story he'd told her and Dipper in the basement, all those years in the future. The sadness in his voice when he talked about losing his brother. The way he stammered and hesitated when he told them about the fight they'd had.

“...Do you really mean that?” she asked.

“Mabel sweetie, I always mean one hundred percent of everything I say.” Stan said with confidence.

Mabel sighed. Stan's words didn't make her feel better. If anything, she felt worse. She snuggled into him and looked down at the floor.

“...Listen...things are already weird enough here as is.” Stan said after a pause. “If something's bothering you, you know you can tell me, right?”

“...I know.” Mabel said quietly.

“But there's nothing you wanna tell me about now?”

“No.” Mabel pressed her face into the pillow. “Not anymore.”

Mabel, Oregon, 1979

Mabel was up early the next morning. She'd somehow managed to fall back asleep curled up against Stan, but when she woke he'd already gotten up and gone somewhere. Which was fine with her...seeing him this morning would have probably only made this harder.

She tied her shoes, pulled her hair back and walked downstairs, ignoring the sounds coming from the kitchen. She left the house on Gopher Road and started walking.

When she reached the woods, she hesitated for a moment. She stood and stared at the tall, ancient trees. It was the same forest she'd explored with Dipper a thousand times in the future. A woodpecker on a nearby branched paused in its work to stare back.

“...Don't look at me like that.” she said, frowning up at the bird, ducking her head and walking into the forest. “I'm doing what's right for Mabel.”

Mabel walked straight until she couldn't see the clearing that the Shack was built on through the trees. Then she kept walking until she reached the part of the forest where the trees grew close together, and the light that came through them was all dark and green. She stood in a small clearing there and looked up at the canopy.

“Bill!” she shouted. “I'm ready to talk.”

Mabel waited. Nothing happened. Her heart began to pound.

“Come on!” she shouted. “I know you're watching. You wouldn't have told me all that stuff if you didn't want something from me, so come on out and tell me what it is!”

There was silence for a moment. Then the color seemed to bleed out of the world. She remembered this...from when she and Soos had spied on Gideon. Bill appeared in the air ahead of her.

“Hey hey, look who it is! Wasn't expecting a visit from you so soon!” Bill said “Though with what little time you have left I guess you wouldn't want to dawdle!”

Mabel wrapped her arms around herself, hiding a shiver. “...Look...you said that I messed up your plan by coming here. You want everything in the future to go back to the way it was. Right?”

“Sure would be nice if it were that easy.” Bill twirled his cane. “But yeah, you could say that I've got an interest in that future.”

“And if the future goes back to the way it was...will I be able to go back, too?”

“Don't see why not. As long as certain events happen the way they did in your timeline, you'll be able to slip right back in, like nothing happened!” Bill floated down near her. “Of course, I can't see you working out all the infinite possibilities of time-travel and causality on your own.” He didn't have a mouth but Mabel could tell that he was grinning.

“...Can you help me, then?” Mabel asked, resignation in her voice.

“Well, since you mention it, yeah. I could fix things up for ya. It'd be a cinch. All you have to do is promise to do one little thing for me, and then I'll set the timeline straight and you can go home.”

He stretched a hand out towards her. A blue flame appeared in it. “Whadaya say, Shooting Star?”

“Eww, no!” Mabel backed a few steps away, holding her hands back as if afraid Bill would grab one and shake it. “I'm not making a deal with you. I'm not stupid.” She turned and folded her arms. “Just tell me what I need to do to put everything back the way it's supposed to be...terrible. And I'll do it.” she looked down.

“Okay, that works too.” Bill shrugged, shaking the fire off his hand. “Listen up, then...this might take a while.”

Chapter Text

Stanley, Oregon, 1979

Every third floorboard in the house creaked and groaned when weight was put on it. But Stan had learned to be light on his feet, even in the worst of circumstances. He'd gotten out of bed while it was still dim outside, hoping to get a head start on creeping around before Ford woke up. He started by searching the kitchen cabinets, checking in all the obvious places---inside sugar bins and flour sacks, on the underside of shelves and behind the fridge. When that didn't reveal anything, he turned his attention to the other rooms on the ground floor.

“Let's see...” Stan muttered to himself as he wandered around. “If I were a nerd, where would I hide something?”

A bookcase by the wall caught his eye. He considered it, then shook his head.

“Nah....” he said. “Too obvious. Besides, his assistant probably actually reads these books too much for him to hide anything in them.”

But then he noticed a particular book. Almost everything in the case was a dry-looking science-y tome of some kind, but there was one slim volume that didn't fit. It was their high school yearbook. From 1972, the year that Stan wasn't in it.

No other yearbooks, no other years. Just that.

Stan smirked, reaching for the book. When he pulled on its spine, he felt a strange amount of resistance. He gave it a hard yank and it moved halfway out of its place on the shelf where it stuck with a loud click. The bookcase moved an inch or two away from the wall.

That...wasn't what Stan had expected. He'd been thinking the book might have a hollow center. But he supposed a Scooby-Doo trapdoor was worth investigating too. He pulled the bookcase away from the wall, revealing an opening that led to a staircase going down. Stan walked down the stairs and found an elevator. The floor buttons were protected by some kind of code lock. Stan tried his and Ford's birthday. He tried their parents' names. Every famous scientist he could think of.

Stan thought for a minute. That clubhouse that the two of them had made out of scrapwood, underneath the boardwalk back in Glass Shard Beach...the one they'd managed to keep for a month or two before some older kids trashed it. They'd used a password to let each other in and out, he remembered. Kind of pointless since it was only ever him and Stanford in it, but they were kids and they liked secrecy. What had that password been again? Something from a movie...he could almost picture it. The name of the spaceship...

Stan keyed in Argos, and the elevator began to descend.

“With all your brains, you still can't hide anything from me.” Stan smirked.

The elevator hit the bottom floor, and the doors opened. Stan walked into a small, dark room. The walls were lined with some kind of complicated looking machinery--Stan figured he'd have to be careful if he was gonna try to mess with any of that. There was also a desk and a window covered with a tarp, the edges of which faintly glowed. Stan walked through another door, into an adjacent room.

This room was filled with a harsh, blue light that made Stan squint until his eyes adjusted. It was coming from an enormous machine, shaped like an inverted pyramid, that stood in the center of the room. Stan stared. He couldn't even begin to guess what it was, or what it was for. It was eerily beautiful, though. The light pulsing from the central circle on the machine rippled like sunlight on the surface of the ocean.

Stan noticed some kind of runes or writing surrounding the glow, and he approached to take a closer look.

The closer he got, the more he felt a tingling in his extremities. He walked forward, still staring upwards. Too transfixed to notice that his hair was lifting up past his face. Or that the change was floating out of his pockets, and the heels of his feet were slowly lifting off the ground....

Something slammed hard into Stan's side, knocking the breath out of him. He flew backwards and rolled across the floor, coming to a stop a few yards away from the machine. Ford was on top of him, holding him down.

“Are you crazy?!” Ford shouted. “What do you think you're doing down here?”

I'm crazy?” Stan gave Ford a shove, pushing him off. “What's the big idea tackling me like some kind of tweaked-out nerd linebacker?!”

“Do you have any idea what might have just happened?” Ford snapped. “How did you even get down here?”

“It wasn't hard to find my way in. Maybe you're not as smart as you think.” Stan poked Ford in the chest. “Not as good at hiding things as you think you are either.”

Ford stiffened. “What's that supposed to mean?”

“I think you know what it means.”

“Don't try to change the subject, Stanley. You shouldn't be down here....you were this close to—” he gritted his teeth and made a frustrated sound. “Do you ever think about what you're doing before you do it? Ever? Or is life just one long series of dumb, impulsive actions for you?”

Stan flinched, gritting his teeth.

“You were standing past the clearly marked-off safety zone.” Ford continued, gesturing to a yellow-and-black line on the ground that Stan hadn't noticed. “If you'd gotten pulled in, you could have wound up anywhere...anything could have happened to you!”

“And since when do you care what happens to me?” Stan growled.

“Of course I care.” Ford sounded annoyed at the question. Stan wondered how Ford could say that so easily. As if it were obvious.

“That makes a change.” Stan said. “You didn't seem that interested in where I wound up seven years ago. Or any day since.”

Ford scowled. “That was not my fault. I didn't throw you out.”

“You didn't stand up for me either!” Stan leaned forward aggressively. “Or look for me! For four months I slept on the beach that you rode past every morning on your way to school, you didn't once stop to see if I was all right. Do you have any idea where I've been these last few years?” Stan said “Did you ever even wonder?”

“I've been busy.” Ford said, shoving Stan away. “And you weren't my responsibility anymore. Not after what you cost me.”

“You don't know the first thing about cost, or about loss.” Stan grabbed a fistful of Ford's sweatervest and pushed him towards the ground. He raised a fist “I ought to--”

“Wait!” Ford cried, holding his hands out. There was enough genuine fear in his voice to make Stan hesitate. “Wait, please, stop for a minute!”

“What?” Stan didn't lower his arm, but didn't throw the punch, either.

“Look....I wasn't kidding about this machine. It has a gravitational pull that extends out into the room around it. We shouldn't even be this close to it without taking the proper safety precautions.” Stan let go of his vest. He sat up and adjusted his glasses. “If we're going to fight, fine. But let's not do it here....”

There was a quiet moment between them. Stan looked at the machine, then back at Ford. “Right. I'll trust you on that one, I guess.” Stan stood and offered Ford a hand up. They got up and entered the elevator together.

“Please....don't come down here again.” Ford said, placing a hand on Stan's shoulder. “At least not alone. Seeing you so close to the edge scared the hell out of me.”

“Pssht. Right.” Stan shrugged off the hand, folded his arms and looked away.

“I mean it. ...You may not think I care. Maybe...” he glanced away “Maybe there's a reason for that. But I do care. And it did scare me.”

Stan didn't say anything. The anger that was white-hot in him a moment ago was already starting to cool. The two of them reached the top floor and stepped out from behind the bookcase. For a moment they stood looking at each other. Ford rubbed the back of his head.

“So...uh...do you want to go back to fighting?” he asked.

“Nah,” Stan looked to the side. “Feels like the moment's passed.” He put a hand on Ford's shoulder and looked at him seriously. “Listen Ford. I know.”

“...You...know?” Ford looked a little guarded, but mostly perplexed.

“I know enough, anyway.”

“I'm...not entirely....could you be more specific?” Ford asked

“What is it?” Stan asked “Is it Charley C? Bennies? Christmas trees? Reds?”

“I don't know what those words mean.” Ford sounded frustrated.

“I'm asking what you're on. What've you been using that's been making you act like this?”

“Wait...” Ford's confused expression broke into an incredulous smile. “...Do you think I'm taking drugs? Is that what this is?”

“Are you gonna deny it?”

“Stan, I don't even drink coffee anymore.” Ford looked like he might laugh.

Stan opened his mouth to accuse again, but hesitated. Ford seemed genuinely bewildered. Not caught like Stan had been expecting. It had been a long time, but he was still confident he could catch his brother in a lie. This didn't feel like one.

“Well if it isn't drugs, what is it? Because something isn't right here.” Stan pressed. “What's making you act so weird?”

“Nothing! It's all your imagination.” Ford turned away.

There we go, Stan thought. That's what a lie sounds like.

“Yesterday when we were drinking tea you told me that you could hear your own skin cells dying, and then you started laughing.”

Now Ford looked caught. He looked at the wall, at his hands, anywhere but Stan's face. “I was...stressed. Haven't been sleeping well. You know, a lot has changed in the past few years...”

“I 'm sure it has.” Stan looked at him sternly. “Y'know I'm not the only one who's worried. Your nerd friend told me that the stuff that's been coming out of your mouth has been scaring him lately.”

Ford paused. “...Did he actually say that? Did he say 'scared'?”

“Yes! And I don't blame him.” Stan reached out again, his voice gentle. “...I'm still your brother, aren't I? Tell me what's going on. We used to tell each other everything. Remember?”

Ford looked at him a long while. For a moment, Stan thought he'd gotten through. ...Then Ford turned away.

“I'm sorry...” he said. “But you wouldn't understand.”

“C'mon, Stanford, try me...” Stan said, unable to hide the tension creeping into his voice at the little rejection.

“Just stay out of my lab, Stanley.” Ford walked out “Stay out of my lab, and away from my experiments.”

“Fine.” Stan said to Ford's retreating back. “But this isn't over.” he folded his arms. “Not by a long shot.”

Stanley, Oregon, 1979

Stan sat on the porch, rolling a cigarette and staring out at the trees. His shoulder was still tender from when Ford had knocked him to the ground. His stomach was empty and acidic, but he didn't want to go inside to see if he could find anything to put in it just now.

He looked out into the woods, watching nothing in particular. Occasionally something would dart between the trees in the distance, in search of shelter or prey. At one point he swore he saw a chipmunk wearing a pointy red hat scamper across the forest floor, but figured his mind was playing tricks on him. As the sun crawled higher and the light turned into the deeper shade of mid-morning, Stan saw a car pulling up in the driveway--a cream-colored VW beetle with a deep scar of rust across its bottom.

Fiddleford got out and walked to the porch. His hair was mussed, he looked tired and he had forgotten to shave, but there was a wide, excited grin on his face.

“Morning, Stanley!” he called. “Beautiful day, isn't it?”

“You look like hell.” Stan replied. “Did you sleep at all last night?”

“I got six straight hours, I'll have you know.” Fiddleford smirked and put a hand on his hip, “What about you, ya big hypocrite? You look pretty rough around the edges too. How much sleep did you get?”

“Probably not that much.” Stan admitted, rubbing the back of his neck.

“There ya go. Anyway, I'm fine. I had a huge coffee on the drive up.” Fiddleford's eyes glinted and his grin grew wider. He opened up the leather satchel at his side and rummaged around. “I was up late because I was working on this!

With obvious pride, he pulled out the broken tape measure. It didn't look any different to Stan, but he had also pulled out a handful of papers covered in tiny, precise handwriting and diagrams that Stan doubted he'd be able to make heads or tails of even if he was seeing them up close.

“I don't understand it all yet, but I've been making huge progress!” Fiddleford beamed, pointing his free hand at Stan. “So how about you? What's your excuse for those bags under your eyes?”

“What do you think?” Stan muttered, jerking his head back at the house behind him.

That seemed to sober Fiddleford. He nodded seriously and put the time machine back in his bag. He walked up to Stan and lowered his voice. “...Did you find anything?”

“Not what I was looking for.” Stan glanced over his shoulder. No sign that Ford was anywhere within earshot. He looked back at Fiddleford. “...That thing in the basement...is that what you two are working on? Or has he been keeping that a secret from you too?”

“What?!” Fiddleford balked. For a moment he looked like he might fall right off the porch. “No, no...that is what we've been working on. I...I'm surprised he actually told you about it...he swore me to secrecy before you arrived.”

“...He didn't tell me, exactly.” Stan winced a little. “I sorta broke in and found it.”

Fiddleford stared at him for a moment, then he folded his arms and smiled. “Well. Aren't you full of surprises.”

“Heh, yeah. So. Anyway....” Stan coughed and shifted a little. “What's the deal with that machine? He wouldn't tell me much about it...”

Fiddleford blew air out his cheeks. “That's a tough one to explain. How much do you know about multi-dimensional paradigm theory?” He must have noticed the expression on Stan's face, because he moved on. “All right...well...it's more complicated than this, of course. But in theory it might be an entry point to other dimensions...worlds that can't be explored through normal, physical means.”

“In theory?”

“We were going to start testing it in a month...first with an inanimate dummy, then a rat in a cage...then a chimp, and finally a human test subject.”

Stan frowned. “And I'm guessing that Ford intends to be the human test subject in that chain.”

“That's the plan. It was his idea.” Fiddleford added.

Stan quietly groaned. “Of course it was. World's dumbest genius, that's my brother.”

“He's very excited about it...” Fiddleford said. “He says he wants to expand humanity's knowledge by exploring the multiverse.”

“But this is the project you were talking about yesterday, yeah? The one you said you thought was sinister....that was making you worried for the fate of the world. That's the thing my brother wants to jump into headfirst?”

“Well....” Fiddleford laced his fingers behind his back and rocked on his heels. “Basically.”

There was a moment of silence between the two of them.

“You know something, Fidds?” Stan reached out and put a hand on Fiddleford's shoulder. “You're both damn lucky I showed up when I did. You two need a little common sense knocked into ya.”

“Heh...you may be right.” Fiddleford smiled. “...I promise it's less crazy than it sounds, really, but...you may be right all the same.”

Stan let Fiddleford go and sighed. “I should probably go check on Mabel soon...Been so occupied with Ford I haven't been paying her much attention.” He was quiet for a while. “...Can that thing really travel through time?” he gestured to Fiddleford's bag.

“Well...I still don't claim to fully understand it. But...I've been trying to reverse engineer it. And most of the work I've done has been a lot easier when I assume it's some sort of time machine. So yes...I think it can. Or will be able to if I ever get it fixed, anyway.”

“...She looks like me, doesn't she? Mabel does.” Stan asked

“I suppose so...a little.”

“Does she look more like me, or more like Stanford, you think?”

“Um.” Fiddleford stared at Stan for a while. “You're...twins.”

“Right, right. Stupid question. Never mind.” He turned towards the house. “Sorry. Just trying to predict my future.”

“Say hello to her for me.” Fiddleford said as Stan headed inside.

“Eh. I'll give her a couple hours before I poke my head in.” Stan said “This early in the morning, she's probably still asleep.”

Chapter Text

Mabel, Oregon, 1979

Mabel was not asleep. Despite how little rest she'd gotten the previous night, she was alert with anxiety as she crept through the crawl space under the kitchen floor.

“We can't put everything back the way it was. Lucky for you, we don't need to.” Bill said, floating a little bit above her. “As long as this timeline's close to the original one, a few details can be switched around.”

Mabel sat on a tree stump, listening. She nodded.

“What you need is a future where you pick that time machine off the ground in Gravity Falls and go back to 1979. I can set things up so that happens. There's just a few key events that need to be in place....”

The crawl space was pretty tight, even for someone as small as Mabel. Each step she took sent a little poof of dust up around her hands and knees. She'd probably be having fun with it if she didn't know why she was crawling around down there.

She kept moving until the dirt underneath her started to feel thinner. Hollow noises came from under her hands and knees as she crawled. She felt around until her fingers caught in the edge of something, and she brushed the dirt away. There was a trapdoor in front of her, just where Bill had said it would be. She lifted it and looked down into a long, wooden shaft.

“What sort of events?” Mabel asked.

“Just a few details. You know. In your timeline, I'm guessing your uncle Ford spent a long time on the other side of that portal.”

Mabel nodded miserably.

“We need those thirty-odd years to happen more or less like they did. Of course, between the journals and Spectacles in there having his memories in place, as things stand his brother would probably get him back right away. Fortunately, if we want to we can switch around some of the details. Substitute them for similar, almost identical things, if you catch my meaning.”

“I'm not sure I do...” Mabel said, worried that she maybe did.

Mabel hooked the end of her grappling hook on the top corner of the trapdoor and started lowering herself down. She kept an eye on the cracks in the walls, where light from the basement rooms occasionally leaked through. Way down below her, she saw the blue glow from the portal room seeping into the shaft. But that wasn't where she was going.

She hesitated. Stopped halfway down.

“You don't have to do this, Mabel.” She said to herself. “You could just make the most of these next few days....have fun with Grunkle Stan. Try to warn everyone about what's coming.”

She dangled there in the dark, empty air. Trying to wrap her mind around the idea. She sighed.

“This isn't fair.” she said, and resumed lowering herself down.

Mabel reached the spot she'd been aiming for—a loose board in the wall that attached to one of the basement rooms This one was Ford' private study. With a little effort, she managed to pry it off and sneak in.

Ugh. The room was full of pictures of Bill. Huge tapestries and paintings covered the walls, and dozens of tiny little drawings filled any empty space between them. The carpet had a picture of him too. She felt like he was watching her from every surface.

“Grunkle Ford, you used to be really creepy.” she muttered to the air. Her heart wasn't in it, though. Was she any better? Working with Bill to ruin everyone's lives again? Ford didn't know Bill was evil. She did, and she was still doing what he said. Which of them was worse?

“If ol' uncle Ford got the right kind of scare into him, he'd keep the portal from being reactivated for a long, long time. Even if his brother was on the other side of it....it isn't as if he's been in a hurry to reconnect with the guy so far, after all.”

“That wasn't what you said we'd be doing!” Mabel snapped. “You said we were putting things back the way they were..!”

“Relax, kid. I could go either way. I'm just telling you our options.” Bill twirled his cane in the air. “I just thought getting the fat guy in the portal instead of his brother might wind up being easier, that's all. But it's up to you. Either way suits my purposes.”

Mabel was quiet for a very long time.

She spotted the journals on a table in the corner, all three of them At least this part would be easy. She climbed up on a chair and grabbed them all, stuffing them into her backpack. But as she was closing her bag up, she heard a loud thunk. The elevator's doors were opening. Mabel turned and hurried to get back to the shaft, but just as she was aiming her grappling hook, she heard a voice behind her.

“Ford.” she finally said. “Great uncle Ford. Put...put him in the portal. Not Stan.”

“Mabel?” Stan asked. “What are you doing down here?”

“Aaaah! Oh! Nothing!” Mabel cried, trying to remember what a normal speaking volume sounded like. “Just...you know...playing hide and seek with myself? Don't let me find out I'm down here, it's a great hiding place!” She cleared her throat. “What....what are you doing here?”

“...Also nothing.” Stan glanced at the empty elevator behind him. “Definitely not snooping around or anything. I, uh, I think I got lost looking for the bathroom.”

“Yeah....” Mabel nodded weakly. “That bathroom...sure...sure is a stumper to find.”

They stood, tensely watching one another for a moment. Then Stan shrugged. “Well...come on, I'll take you back upstairs. Unless you're still, ah, 'playing hide and seek.'”

“No. No...I'm done. You found me.”

They got into the elevator together. Mabel hugged Stan's leg on the ride up. Stan reached down and put a hand on her head.

“Don't like it here, do ya?” he asked.

Mabel shook her head.

“Yeah.” Stan said. “...Neither do I.”

“Uncle Stan...” Mabel asked. “...What....what do you think would happen if you lost your brother?”

“What do you mean, 'if'?” Stan grumbled. “Seems to me I lost him years ago. Now I'm in his house and he won't even talk to me.”

“But...you are with him now...don't you think...maybe...” she trailed off.

Stan looked at her. “...What?”

“I was just thinking...” Mabel said. “...I might not get to see my brother again. And...if I'd known the last time that I saw him might be the last time forever....or even just for a long while...I'd have told him that I loved him.”

Stan looked down at her and smiled. “...You're a good kid, Mabel.”

“Yup. That's me.” Mabel said without conviction. “Really, really good....”

Stanley, Oregon, 1979

After Stan found her in the study, Mabel ran off to do whatever it was she thought she was being sneaky about doing. Stan decided he wouldn't try to pry it out of her. She'd tell him when she was ready...and besides, he had sneaking of his own to get to.

Not that his sneaking was turning out to be very fruitful. Fiddleford had given him the code that would send the elevator to Ford's study, but all he found when he went back there were handfuls of notes about strange creatures in the woods and a lot more of those creepy pyramid things.

After ruling the study out as a useful source of clues Stan spent most of the day creeping around the house, pausing only to make himself a couple of quick sandwiches for lunch. He hadn't seen Ford since their fight in the basement—it seemed he'd tramped off into the woods to do whatever it was he did out there. Mabel had apparently disappeared as well, and the house felt big and empty without either of them. He'd spent hours looking, and turned up nothing that seemed useful.

Of course...it would probably be a lot easier if Stan knew what he was looking for.

Before he'd been searching for a stash of pills or powder. But his suspicions in that area had wavered after talking to Ford. If that wasn't what Ford was hiding, what was it? What was making him act so sketchy, what secret was he taking so many steps to keep?

Eventually, frustrated and feeling isolated, Stan wandered back to the main study where Fiddleford was examining the tape measure.

“...Any luck?” Stan asked.

Fiddleford didn't respond, engrossed in his work.

Stan didn't mind. He sat down nearby and put his feet up on a table. “Me, I've been running into one dead end after another. I dunno...Ford's acting cagey about something for sure. But I don't think it's drugs anymore.” he paused. “Maybe I'm thinking along the wrong lines. What was it you said yesterday? Something weird about the project you two were working on....?”

Silence answered him. Stan leaned over and snapped his fingers in front of Fiddleford's face. “Hello? Anybody home?”

“Hmm?” Fiddleford turned. “Sorry, were you talking to me? I'm a little busy at the moment.”

“Sheesh, you're really getting into that, aren't ya?” Stan said.

“I'm going to write a paper about this.” Fiddleford said. “Several papers. A functioning time-travel device is only the tip of the iceberg. If my guess is right, this will blow apart everything the scientific community knows about the very nature of time.” He ran a hand through his hair, pushing most of it out of his eyes and leaving a stray, greasy cowlick sticking up. “Stanford was right. I was wasting my time with that computer start-up. This is a thousand times bigger.”

“Think there's any money in it?” Stan asked.

“I think that once I publish, I'll never have to work another day in my life.”

“Well, ah, just remember. I get a ten—a twenty percent finder's fee. After all, if it weren't for me Mable wouldn't even have come here.” Stan said.

Any response Fiddleford might have made was swallowed by the sound of the front door slamming open. Ford's voice carried from the other end of the house.

“Fiddleford! Have you seen my journals? They're not in my--” Ford poked his head in the room. “Oh! Stanley....Did you see any large, red books lying around? Numbers on the cover? You didn't move them, did you?”

“I don't know what you're talking about.” Stan said. “You've got enough books for a library in here.”

“You leave those things lying everywhere, Stanford.” Fiddleford said. “I'm sure if you retrace your steps...”

“I did retrace my steps.” Ford said testily. “I had them in my study last, but they aren't there now. Are you sure you didn't see them?” he asked Fiddleford. “You're the only person in this house who could have been in there.”

“I've been working in here since I arrived this morning.” Fiddleford said, glancing at Stan a little too obviously for Stan's tastes. “You must have moved them yourself and forgotten.”

“What's so important about--” Stan was interrupted by the shriek of an alarm. The lights in the house began to blink on and off. Stanford and Fiddleford shared a look.

“...It can't be....” Ford muttered.

“What? What's going on?” Stan asked.

“That alarm is connected to the portal in the basement. It's supposed to go off in the event of a sudden and catastrophic power surge.” Ford said.

“I don't understand” Fiddleford's fingers twitched anxiously.“I performed all the usual safety checks last night.....”

“Wait, what's going to happen?” Stan asked.

“If we don't get the power surge under control, soon, the portal could overload, explode, and take the entire house with it.” Ford said, gesturing dramatically.

“House nothing, more likely it'll take out the entire town, or worse.” Fiddleford said.

“Well what are you standing here talking to me for!? Go down there and fix it!” Stan cried, grabbing both of them by their shoulders and shoving them in the direction of the bookcase. He glanced around.“Oh no...Mabel...?” He shouted. “Mabel! Where are you?! We need to get you outta here....”

Stan raced around the house, shouting Mabel's name. She wasn't upstairs, or in the kitchen. Shouting at the woods outside got him no reply. A frightening possibility occurred to him, and he ran back towards the room with the bookcase.

Racing down the stairs, Stan saw that the elevator hadn't left yet—those two nerds should have realized all those codes and puzzles would slow them down in an emergency. Stan barreled towards it.

“Hold the door!” He shouted, pushing his way through the half-open doors and squeezing his way into the elevator between them.

“Stanley, what are you doing!?” Ford demanded. “I thought you were going after Mabel!”

“I think she's down there!” Stan said. “I saw her sneaking around in that secret study of yours earlier...maybe she found the basement too...what if she accidentally messed with something and caused the power surge?”

“What!? Seriously?” Ford said, incredulous “Why is everybody breaking into my secret rooms?”

“I don't know!” Stan yelled, “Why do you make your secret rooms so easy to break into!?”

Ford glared and opened his mouth to reply, but Fiddleford interrupted.

“Stop, both of you. This isn't the time.” he said sternly. He put a hand on Stan's shoulder. “Find Mabel as quickly as you can, then take her out of here. Get in your car and drive as fast and as far from this house as possible. Ford and I will do what we can to make sure this doesn't turn disastrous.”

Stan frowned. He didn't feel comfortable with the idea of leaving Ford—of leaving either of them, really—alone in a house that might be about to explode. But he nodded.

“Don't come back until at least two hours have passed.” Fiddleford said. “By then it will surely be resolved...one way or the other.”

The elevator hit the bottom floor and the doors clattered open. Stan stepped out ahead of the others into the control room. The light from the portal room was now bright enough to penetrate the cloth covering the window, to seep through the cracks between the door and bathe everything in a shade of blue-white. Not seeing Mabel, Stan opened the door and ran into the portal room.

“Wait!” Ford ran after him. “Be careful, the gravitational pull will be stronger now!”

“Mabel?!” Stan shouted, trying to keep panic from overtaking him. “Hide and seek's over, sweetie, come on....out....”

Stan trailed off when he saw the portal. The circle of light in the middle of it was turning, spiraling hypnotically inward. A tiny spot in the center seemed to wink open and closed, like the lens of a camera. For a moment, Stan swore he saw something beyond it. Something....something that he could just barely....

“Stanford!” Fiddleford shouted from the control room. “I need your help back here!”

The shout broke Stan out of his trance. He turned just in time to see his brother shaking his head as if to clear it—he'd apparently been similarly caught. Ford glanced at Stan before going

“Be careful.” he said, turning and hurrying back into the control room.

Stan nodded, then turned back towards the portal. He had to find Mabel before she got hurt.

Chapter Text

Mabel, Oregon, 1979

Mabel had climbed up to the generator on the ceiling, and was crouched in a niche behind it. From her hiding place, she watched Stan search the room for her. It wasn't an easy thing to watch. She could tell he was scared. She wanted to say something, let him know she was all right. But she didn't, she couldn't.

She just had to stay hidden. That was all she had to do now....soon it would be over.

“Mabel?!” Stan shouted, looking behind pieces of machinery, searching the nooks and crannies in the walls. “Please come out....this isn't a joke. I need you to come out now....”

Mabel ducked her head back so she couldn't see him, and covered her ears so she couldn't hear. It didn't work—even if she couldn't make out what words he was saying she heard the fear in his voice, the worry. It was almost over. It was almost over.

“When they hear the alarms, they'll come downstairs. After that, all you have to do is hide.” Bill said

“...What happens then?” Mabel asked

“Exactly what's supposed to happen. You've already got the journals. Spectacles'll be out of the picture soon. As long as you set everything in place like I told you, the chumps upstairs will do all the real work.”

A sudden bright flash made her gasp and take her hands away from her ears. She peeked through the cracks in the generator's casing and saw that Ford and McGucket had joined Stan in the portal room. McGucket was doing something with one of the big machines on the eastern wall. Ford was talking to Stan.

“Are you sure she's even in here?” Ford shouted over the noises coming from the portal. “Maybe she's upstairs, or outside....”

“She's here. I found her hairband lying on the floor....she's just hiding. Or maybe she's hurt, or...” Stan trailed off.

“Stanley....you can't stay here much longer. We've got the power surge under control, but the portal's still extremely volatile. You can't be running around in here, or--”

“I can't leave without Mabel, Ford!” Stan grabbed Ford by the shoulders. “If it's too dangerous for me to be down here, it's sure as hell too dangerous for her!”

“Stanley...” Ford pulled away from Stan, taking a few steps backwards. Trying to get away from his brother's panic. Ford didn't seem to notice he was just a few inches from a mass of cables coiled on the floor. “We may need to consider the possibility that...if she hasn't heard you by now, assuming she's not just upstairs...maybe the worst has already---”

“Don't say that!” Stan pushed past him, heading towards the far end of the room. “She's here somewhere, I'm sure of it!”

“Wait, don't---” Ford took a step after his brother, but his legs tangled up in the cables and he tripped and fell. Cursing, he tried to untie himself.

After that, things started happening quickly.

“What's that face for?” Bill had asked her. “Don't tell me you're having second thoughts. This is what you need to do if you want to get back to that gross, sweaty brother of yours. That's what you want, isn't it?”

McGucket shouted something that was lost in the noise. A flash of light and a surge of power came from the portal, shaking the room. Whatever pull the portal had seemed to suddenly grow stronger--it ripped a piece of machinery loose from the wall. Mabel's eyes followed a path from the now loose machine to the cables coming out of it, to the tangle of cables that Ford was trapped in. She could see what was going to happen. When the portal pulled that piece of machinery in, it would pull Ford in too. And that would be that....

Ford wasn't the only thing tangled up in those cables, though. The row of huge, towering metal machines that lined the eastern wall where McGucket stood had already started to sway. He hadn't noticed yet, but if they fell, they'd land on him. Was that what Bill had meant by taking him out of the picture? ...If he hit his head, would he end up with amnesia....or was Bill planning to take him out in a more permanent way?

Mabel squeezed her eyes shut, she couldn't watch. She didn't want to see McGucket get hurt, she didn't want to see Grunkle Ford panicking and scared....she didn't want to hear Stan screaming after him or crying when he realized he was gone. She didn't want to do this....she...she couldn't....

“You're just doing what anyone else would do, and that's including your Grunkles.” Bill said. “You've gotta look out for number one, right kid?”

“You've gotta look out for number one.”

Mabel opened her eyes, and it hit her....what she had been missing all this time. She knew what she was going to do.

She looked down at the room below her. The machine that was attached to the cables had started to lift off the ground and was floating towards the portal. Ford had finally realized what was happening and cried out, trying desperately to untangle himself in time. Mabel knew he wouldn't be able to. Stan was running towards him. Mabel knew he'd be too late. McGucket, distracted by the scene, didn't notice the tower behind him was tipping over.

Mabel looked up and saw a lever. It had a number of warning signs on it, telling her not to pull it under any circumstances, warning her of what would happen if she did. Mabel ignored them and pulled with all her might.

The heavy metal platform that Mabel had been crouching on became detached from the ceiling. Anchored by a long umbilical cord of cables, it swung downwards towards the scene below. Mabel held on tight. Below her, Grunkle Ford had just begun to lift off the ground, pulled towards the portal by the cables tied around him. He was screaming, but Mabel was calm. She held her breath, aimed, then jumped down onto him.

She landed in the center of his back, knocking him breathless. The impact yanked his legs free of the cables and sent the two of them falling towards the floor. As they fell, Mabel heard a loud, room-shaking crash come from where McGucket had been standing a moment ago.

Mabel hit the ground hard and tumbled forward, rolling head over heels. When she finally came to a stop, the room was quiet. She smelled smoke and ozone, and the air was full of dust. Mabel looked around.

Ford had crashed into Stan, probably while Stan was trying to catch them. The two of them were piled together on the floor a few yards away from her, near the door to the control room. She looked towards the eastern wall. The metal platform had slammed into the row of machines, knocking them aside. McGucket was lying nearby, looking bruised and shaken, but unharmed. The room was still now. Silent except for the hum of the portal. They were safe.

Mabel let out a sigh of relief.

“M-Mabel...?” Stan began “Where have--”

“You're a liar, Stan!” Mabel shouted, interrupting him.

“...What?”

“You're a liar!” She cried, pointing at him accusingly. “You said you should always look out for yourself. But you're always looking out for other people!” Tears began to form in her eyes. “You took me with you and took care of me and made me feel safe, even though you didn't know me. Even though you didn't have any reason to. The whole time that you've been here you've been doing nothing except trying to help your brother, even though he never helps you!”

“Excuse me?” Ford said

Mabel ignored him. “If he'd fallen in that portal, you'd have done whatever it took to get him back...even if it took you the rest of your life.” She looked at Stan. “I know you would because....” She hesitated, her hands shaking. “Because...I'm your niece from the future!”

There was a silence in the room. “...My...niece?” Stan glanced at Ford.

“Your sister was my grandmother.” The tears started coming faster. “In the future I'm from, your brother got trapped in another dimension...You spent thirty years looking for his journals so you could teach yourself how to start up the portal again and bring him back!” She cried, “You gave up everything for him, and he didn't even care, and you'd still do it again. I know you would...because that's the kind of person you are!”

Mabel advanced on the two of them. “So don't tell me to look out for myself when you almost never do! And you!” she turned, pointing to Ford. “I know you think Bill's your friend, but he's not!”

“...I...what? How do you--”

“Because I'm from the future, dummy!” Mabel yelled. “He's using you...just like he was using me! He doesn't care about you or about anyone else. He only wants to use your portal for, I don't know, something really bad probably!”

“You...” Ford stammered, glaring at her, “you don't know that. Bill and I have---”

“Bill's the one who told me to bring you down here!” Mabel said “He told me how to overload the controls so you'd get too close to the opening. He wanted you to fall into the portal and get stuck there!”

Ford balked. “...What?”

Future you is smart enough not to trust Bill....because future you was stuck in whatever weird, creepy place is on the other side of the portal for thirty years because of him! He's not nice! He's mean and gross and creepy and he'll say whatever he thinks will make you do what he wants you to!” Mabel swallowed. “...J-just like he did with me. Just like he scared me into trying to hurt you.”

“And you!” She spun around and pointed at Fiddleford, still lying on the ground, rubbing his knee. “Don't marry a raccoon! You're from two different worlds, it's not going to work out!”

“Um...” Fiddleford looked at her. “...Noted.”

There was a long, still, silence.

“Mabel...” Stan said. “I don't--”

Ford grabbed Stan roughly by the collar, cutting off whatever he was going to say.

“Well. So much for the subtle approach.” Ford's eyes were cold, his pupils were dark slits, and his grin was wide and manic. “Guess we’ll have to take direct way instead!”

Before Stan had a chance to react, Ford---no, not Ford. It was Bill now---shoved him hard into Mabel, knocking them both past the yellow and black safety line. Mabel felt herself rising off the ground. She swung her arms around wildly, as if trying to swim through the air, but there was nothing to press against and nothing to grab onto. The ground was floating away from her...she was being pulled into the portal.

Before she had time to panic about the idea she felt a pair of large hands grab her and toss her downwards. As she fell, she turned—Stan was behind her. He'd pushed her to safety, but in doing so he'd sent himself flying even further backwards towards the glowing center of the portal.

The ground came back to Mabel all too quickly. She landed hard and skidded on the floor, all the wind knocked out of her. Dazed, she looked up to see Ford's silhouette looming over her, a mad, triumphant grin on his face. Then there was a loud crack, and he crumpled to the ground.

Standing behind him, holding a crowbar and looking shaken was Fiddleford McGucket.

“...I...I wasn't sure what else to do.” he said. He looked down at Ford and winced. “He'll probably be okay. Probably.”

Mabel heard a scream behind her. She turned to look at Stan—he'd managed to grab a cable that for now was anchoring him outside the portal. But it looked like his grip was slipping.

“We've got to--” McGucket said.

“Emergency shutdown, I know!” Mabel shouted. She grabbed his arm and yanked him towards the control room. Lucky thing that McGucket had long arms--he turned a key with each hand while Mabel turned the third.

Mabel raced back into the portal room, where a red button had appeared at the top of the large, central power switch. Stan had begun to slip down the cable—his feet and most of his legs had already entered the hazy blue glow of the portal. He was still holding on, but he was losing his grip and panic was in his eyes.

“Wait!” Stan shouted as Mabel reached for the shutdown button. “W-what happens if you shut that thing off while I'm halfway in it? What if it cuts me in half?!”

“Grunkle Stan!” Mabel shouted, raising a fist over the button. “Trust me!

Mabel's fist came down.

There was an intense crackle of electricity, and the portal shut off.

Stan landed painfully on the edge of circular opening, which now led only to the other side of the basement. He slid off and fell to the ground. Probably badly bruised, but whole and alive. The light of the generators dimmed and disappeared. Stan slowly sat up.

“...Ow.” He said. “Ow.”

Tears in her eyes, Mabel ran up to Stan and wrapped her arms around him. He was okay. They were all okay. The portal was shut down, and everyone....

…Everyone was okay. Everyone except....

“Hey.” Stan smiled, hugging her back. “...Looks like you just saved my life. Thanks, kid.”

Mabel managed a return smile, but it didn't last. The rush of adrenaline now past, she felt her resolve weakening. She buried her face in Stan's chest and started crying.

“What's with the tears?” Stan stroked the back of her head. “...What's the matter?”

“I....I don't wanna go....” Mabel whispered. “I don't want to disappear.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I changed the future. I stopped Grunkle Ford from going in the portal. ...Now I'm not gonna be able to go back to my future.” She pressed harder into him, as if she could hold herself in this world using him as an anchor. “Bill said that in a few days the timelines will settle and I'll stop existing. I don't want to go...I'm scared...”

Stan squeezed her tightly, clearly at a loss for words. From behind them, McGucket cleared his throat.

“Um. I....actually might be able to do something about that.” he said.

Stan and Mabel both stared at him. He pulled a crumpled sheet of notes from his jacket pocket. “From what I've learned studying that machine of yours...there may be more than one possible timeline for our world.”

“What do you mean?” Mabel asked.

“...I don't think you changed your own future when you came back here. As near as I can tell...you created an alternate future instead. An entire alternative universe.” McGucket continued. “...Give me a little time to work on that machine of yours, and I might be able to set it so that it brings you back to your timeline. The original one, where nothing was changed.”

“...You mean...” Mabel could barely process what he was saying. The feeling of hope was too intense, too overwhelming to allow for coherent thought. “I...I can go home?”

“...I surely hope so. I definitely think so...it may take me a day or two of work. We have that much time, don't we?”

Mabel nodded, a little dazed. For what felt like the hundreth time that night, tears were forming in her eyes. Stan's arms gripped her impossibly tight.

“I can go home...” Mabel whispered. A smile started across her face. “I'm gonna get to grow up.”

She turned back to Stan and nestled into him. For a long, quiet moment, the two of them hugged one another, and nobody spoke. For what was probably the first time since the portal had been built, this room was dark and quiet.

“So...” Stan eventually broke the silence, looking over at Ford's unconscious body. “What are we gonna do about....?”

“Unicorn hair.” Mabel sighed, with the tone of someone anticipating an unpleasant chore.“We need unicorn hair.”

She wriggled out of Stan's arms, shaking off the remains of her tears. She walked over to the discarded crowbar and picked it up.

“I'll be right back.” she said, walking towards the elevator.

“Hey, wait!” McGucket got up, running after her. “You shouldn't go off without an adult!”

“I'll come too.” Stan slowly started to stand, moving gingerly with what were surely injured legs.

“No....” McGucket stopped him, putting a hand on his shoulder. “I'll look after Mabel. ...You should be here when he wakes up.” he nodded to Ford.

Stan hesitated, then nodded back. “Okay. Yeah. That makes sense. Just...both of you be careful, all right?”

“Right.” McGucket hurried to the elevator where Mabel was waiting, and they ascended together.

Chapter Text

Stanford, Oregon, 1979

Ford's head was pounding. Red pain erupted at regular intervals from a spot just above his right temple. He groaned,opening his eyes slowly. Letting in the light a little bit at a time.

“Here...” a familiar, gravely voice said. “Take some aspirin.”

Ford turned his head to the side and fumbled around until he found a hand with two white pills in it. He took them, along with the glass of water that was held out a moment later. Then he closed his eyes, waiting for the pain to subside.

After a while, he felt up to looking around. He was in his bedroom, that much was clear. Stan was sitting in a chair at his bedside, casually thumbing through one of Ford's journals. Ford noticed a pink backpack on the floor nearby which had the other two volumes peeking out of it

“...Don't...” Ford muttered. “I didn't say you could....”

“...How're you feeling?” Stan said.

“Sore. Very sore...” He reached an arm out, intending to take the journal from Stan. That's when he realized his movements were restricted. “Am I...tied to this bed?”

“Yeah. Just until Mabel comes back with a solution to the whole 'possession' problem.” Stan made finger quotes around the word possession. “Not that I couldn't just hold you down if you went nuts again. But yaknow. Easier this way. Less knocking people out and throwing them around.”

Form moaned and turned away. Stan was quiet for a while.

“Everyone's okay.” Stan finally said. “Fidds, Mabel...me. Not that you asked.”

“...Was everything he said a lie?” Ford whispered.

“The guy who conned you into building some crazy interdimensional portal and took control of your body to try throwing me into it? I'm gonna say yes. Probably yes.”

“I thought I was doing great things.”

“You were always gonna do great things, Sixer.” Stan said, glancing down at the book in his hands. “You didn't need a weird slice of cheese from another dimension to help you. You just needed to get your head out of your own ass for a while.”

Ford turned to look at Stan. He was reading an entry on Bill, Ford realized. Stan pointed to a section of scribbled notes, near the bottom of the page.

“See, this should have been your first clue.” Stan said. “'The most helpful and trustworthy being I've encountered...not evil at all.' No one's all good, you know. Everyone's got a dark side. If you're not seeing it, it's because they're hiding it from you.”

“Give me that...it's...it's personal.” Ford held out a hand. “Don't you have any concept of privacy?”

Stan shut the journal and gave it to Ford. “If reading your diary's the only way I'm gonna find out what's been happening in your life, you can bet I'm gonna do it.” he said.

Ford hugged the journal against his body. The sound of his own naive words repeated in Stan's voice burned his ears and reddened his cheeks. He'd been taken for a fool. All these months, Bill had been using him...any doubts he might have had in Mabel's words had been thrown out the window when Bill forced him out of his body.

Bill had taken control of Ford's body before, but it was a control Ford thought he could always take back. It was trust. It was...just another sign of how close they were, how deeply Ford could trust Bill, and how much BIll respected Ford.

But this time, Bill had pulled him painfully from his body without any warning. Completely ignoring his protests and demands for explanation. Bill didn't even say anything, didn't even look back at Ford with his borrowed eyes. As if Ford was nothing to him. Just a means to an end.

If Fiddleford hadn't knocked Bill out...Ford might never have gotten back into his own body.

“...Of course,” Stan said, “if you'd told me what'd been going on, I wouldn't have had to snoop around in your things.”

“You wouldn't have understood.” Ford muttered.

“No?” Stan leaned back in his chair and folded his arms. “I don't know about that. I think I know what it's like to think someone's your best friend....to build him up until he's larger than life...to trust him. Then to find out he doesn't really give a shit about you.” he gave Ford a hard look.

Ford stared back at him for a while. “...Wait. Are you talking about me?”

“World's dumbest genius, your title is unchallenged. Yes I'm talking about you.”

“...Of course I care about you, Stan.”

“You've done a damn good job of hiding it.”

Ford was quiet. So was Stan. The two of them shared the silence for a while—it was at least one thing they could take an equal share in.

Stan eventually sighed and stood up. “I'll go and get you a sandwich or something. We might be waiting for a while.”

“...You were worried about me.” Ford muttered. He looked down at the floor.

“...What?”

“All the sneaking around...trying to get me to admit to taking drugs. You were just trying to look out for me. Like you always do. And I was treating you like a nuisance.” He sighed deeply. “I”m sorry.”

Stan stopped and turned. He sat back down. “Of course I was looking out for you. Someone's gotta.”

“I was a fool to have trusted Bill. ...And I was a bigger fool for hiding him from you and Fiddleford. If I hadn't kept him a secret, we might have learned his true nature before anyone got hurt.” he looked up at Stan. “This whole time you were only trying to help me, and I did nothing but push you away and make it harder for you.” he sighed. “I've been an ass.”

“Yup. Definitely.” Stan leaned back in the chair, looking a little smug for Ford's tastes “But you're still my brother. I can look past you being an ass.”

Ford smiled weakly.

“So, ah...” Ford said, after a pause. “...What have you been up to these past seven years?”

Stan was very, very quiet, for a very long while.

“That's a long story.” He said. “It's a lot of long stories.”

“...I've got time.” Ford smiled at him. Slowly, hesitantly, Stan smiled back.

Stanley, Oregon, 1979

“So she's your grand-niece.” Fiddleford said.

He and Stan were sitting on the porch, watching Mabel from a few yards away. Fiddleford had said it was best to give her space so she could concentrate.

A few hours ago he'd handed her a stack of notes that he said would help her figure out what the coordinates for her own timeline were. Now she was sitting on a stump, setting them into the machine.

“Yeah...I was way off. For a while there I was thinking she might actually be my daughter. Or granddaughter, maybe.”

“Really?”

“Well...she looks kind of like this old girlfriend of mine.” Stan said. “Well, she wasn't really my girlfriend, but we used to go out. Well, we didn't really go out. But we were outdoors together at the same location a bunch of times. That's kind of like dating, right?”

Fiddleford chuckled. “Are you disappointed?”

“I'm relieved I don't have kids...that's the last thing I need to worry about right now.” Stan said. Though even as he said it, he realized that Fiddleford was right. He was a little disappointed. “It'd have been nice to have one like Mabel, though. I guess.”

“Well, from what I've seen, I don't think you'd be half bad as a parent.” Fiddleford said.

Stan raised an eyebrow. “D'you really mean that?”

“Nope.” Fiddleford smiled cheerfully and hooked his fingers around his knee. “But I do really mean it when I say that I think you'll be a fun uncle.”

The door behind them opened. Ford stepped out and approached them both.

“From what Mabel has told me and what my own research shows, the radius of this protective barrier only extends a few feet away from the house.” he said to Fiddleford. “So until we can figure out a more permanent solution, or at least a more mobile one, I want you and Tate to stay here with us. He's still at your apartment, right?”

“Until the weekend.” Fiddleford said. “Then he goes back to his mother's.”

“See if you can get her to come too. It'll be uncomfortable with all of us living on top of each other. But I'd rather have that than see someone possessed against their will. I can tell you from experience, it isn't pleasant.”

“I'll take your word on that.”

While they continued talking, Stan slipped off. He left the porch and walked over to where Mabel was fiddling with the tape measure.

“You figure out where you're supposed to go yet?” he asked.

“Yeah.” Mabel said “Guess I'm just stalling now.”

Stan crouched on the ground, looking off to the side. “So, ah...that future you're heading back to. The one where I spent thirty years getting Stanford back. I've gotta be almost sixty there, right?”

“Probably. I always figured you were two or three hundred, or something.”

“Yeesh. I don't have, like, a bathroom full of old man stuff, do I? Like denture cream and bad cologne and Preparation H?”

“Oh yeah. All sorts of weird little bottles that say 'shark liver oil' and 'Pinkham's Vegetable Compound' and stuff like that. It's super gross.”

“Ugh.” Stan made a face and went quiet for a while. “Hey...When you get back, you give that gross old man a hug for me, okay? I got a feeling he needs one.”

Mabel smiled at him. She hopped off the stump and wrapped her arms around Stan's neck. Startled, Stan returned the hug, Mabel's tiny body vanishing in his big arms. She hugged so easily, this one. From the moment he'd found her in that alley.

Stan swallowed hard, trying to keep down the lump that was forming in his throat. He wiped his eyes the back of his sleeve.

“He always needs one.” Mabel said. “And I'm always good for it.”

“I'm really gonna miss you.” Stan replied, his voice weak.

Mabel nodded her agreement. She paused, pulling away so she could look at him. “Well....I'll be born in about twenty years....”

Stan smiled. “I'll see ya then.”

He turned. The other two were coming up behind him.

“Thank you for everything, Mabel.” Ford said. “I can only imagine what your actions averted.”

“...I don't have to imagine. I've seen it.” Mabel's smile slipped a little. “...I guess....when I go back, everything'll be the same as when I left. Nothing will be better....”

“Maybe not.” Ford knelt down to look her in the eye. “But you'll have always helped us. And that's worth something. It's certainly worth a whole lot to me.” he put a hand on Stan's shoulder.

“...Are you ready, Mabel?” Fiddleford asked.

Mabel nodded. She took a deep breath and pulled the tape out, setting it to the right date. Then she hesitated, looking troubled. Before letting go, she looked back at Stan.

“Promise you'll be okay without me?” she asked.

“Sure.” Stan knew there was no way he was going to cry. Not while she was still there, anyway. He gave her a big, broad smile. “Only if you promise the same.”

Mabel smiled, nodded, and released the tape. A flash of light surrounded her and she was gone.

Mabel, Oregon, 2012

The light faded, and Mabel was still in the forest, now alone. It didn't look very different. But then, Mabel supposed a forest doesn't change as much in thirty-three years as a person does. Straining her ears, she just barely heard a voice in the distance. It was one of the time police, she realized...he was muttering to himself about losing his gear.

Mabel quickly stuck the tape measure back behind the bush where she'd found it, ripping the glowstick off her wist and dropping it there too. She turned and ran, hiding in the trees.

From behind her, she heard the man discover his lost items. She heard a bzorp, and saw a blue flash out of the corner of her eye. She leaned against the tree and sighed, relieved. Hopefully that meant she wouldn't have to worry about any trouble from him.

While she rested against the tree, she began to hear the sound of footsteps in the distance. A familiar voice was muttering about cryptograms. Mabel bolted up and hurried after it, only stopping when she saw her brother through the trees.

“Dipper....” Mabel said, relief washing over her. Her eyes began to water.

Dipper turned, looking up from the notebook he was writing in. “Oh, hi Mabel.” he smiled. “I haven't seen you all day. Grunkle Stan just made macaroni. Wanna see how much Waddles can eat before he throws up on the carpet?”

Mabel didn't answer, she leaped at her brother and hugged him tightly, almost tackling him to the ground. “Oh, Dipper! I'm so, s-so glad to s-see you....” she felt herself starting to cry.

“Hey...” Dipper frowned, concerned. “Are you okay? ...Did something happen?”

“Ugh...there's a lot to explain...” Mabel sighed, wiping her eyes. She let Dipper go. “...Can we have macaroni first?”

“Sure, I guess.” Dipper smiled a little uncertainly. The two of them started to walk back towards the Mystery Shack. “Seriously, though...are you okay?”

“I am now.” Mabel said.

An hour or so later they were sitting at the card table, two half-finished bowls of macaroni in front of them. Mabel had explained everything to Dipper, in as much detail as she could remember. Dipper had taken it all in, interrupting frequently to ask questions or –more often-- to express alarm. Now he was quietly poking the remains of his food.

“Man...” he said. “This....changes a lot of things.”

“I know.” Mabel said. “I mean, for one thing...I'm like, almost two weeks older than you now!” she grinned.

“That doesn't count.” Dipper said defensively. “Time travel aging doesn't count!”

Mabel laughed.

Dipper sighed. “I wish you'd gone and gotten me so I could have been there with you.”

“Yeah...me too. But you were busy with Grunkle Ford.” Mabel said “...And it's over now. We can't change the past.”

“I guess not. Not if this is the sort of thing that happens.” Dipper pushed the remains of his macaroni away.

A moment or two later, Stan walked in.

“You two finished?” he asked. Dipper and Mabel nodded.

“Great dinner, Grunkle Stan!” Mabel smiled up at him as he took their plates. “Much better than gas station burritos.”

“I'm gonna pretend I think that's a compliment.” Stan replied.

“It is!” Mabel said.

“Well, good.” Stan smiled. He took their plates in the direction of the kitchen.

From their spot on the table, Mabel and Dipper saw Stan pass Ford in the hallway. The two of them shared a cold, uncomfortable look.

“Well.” Ford said. “I'll be downstairs.”

“Yeah. I'll be upstairs.” Stan said, matching Ford's terse tone. The two of them parted.

Mabel frowned and turned to Dipper. “...Should we tell them?”

“I don't see what the point would be.” Dipper said. “All this stuff that happened to them happened in an alternate timeline,. It's not like them knowing about it would do them any good.” He looked at Mabel. “It wouldn't get them to stop fighting, either.”

“No...probably not.” Mabel sighed. “It's just...I dunno. Keeping secrets didn't seem to help anything back then. It didn't help me or Grunkle Ford.”

Dipper glanced down at his hands. He looked guilty. “Yeah...I guess.”

“If I could go back again and change things so that I told everyone the truth from the start I would. I can't change the past but...I can change the present. And maybe if I learn from past mistakes...I can make the future better too.”

Dipper smiled...then frowned, and exhaled. “Well...if we're going to do that...there's probably something I should tell you too. Something Ford wanted me to keep secret.”

Mabel held up a hand, pressing a finger against Dipper's mouth. “How about instead, both of you tell me? And Grunkle Stan too.”

Dipper smiled.

Mabel cupped her hands around her mouth and yelled as loud as she could, “Family meeting!”

“Family meeting!” Dipper leaped up and did the same, running towards the vending machine in the gift shop. “Come on upstairs, Great Uncle Ford!”

“I wanna see two old man butts in these seats, chop, chop!” Mabel shouted.

“You don't have to like it but you do have to come!” Dipper added.

“I still know how to use the power hose, Grunkle Stan!” Mabel called, “Don't make me prove it!”

The two of them ran around, laughing, shouting and making as much noise as possible. They became a cacophony, a stampede, a storm. A roar of thunder. A force of nature that was impossible to ignore.