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Gotham Falls

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He had gotten the number from Ma, of course. Not that he ever asked for any of the addresses she sent. Regardless, she always sent a letter or a postcard, something with his new address and whatever small update she deemed innocent enough to give him. Sometimes, all he got was a note, no address, no number. 'Your brother is in Las Vegas, how fun!

She usually only sent letters though when there was something new about Stanley. Well, either regarding Stanley or for whatever other reason. He’d never figured that out, honestly. A slight bitter note in his head told him that Stanley would have realized, he was always good with that sort of stuff. He pushed the thought down before it could go too far though. Even when he had time he didn't like to dwell on Stanley, but lately it also seemed like a bad idea in general. Today he had a special reason not to get caught up in his thoughts. He needed to actually contact his twin today.

He got the latest postcard not long after the incident. If the whole situation weren’t so serious he would have called the timing funny, but no. It wasn’t funny. It was striking in a way that made your mind feel suddenly clear and focused, like a polished mirror or glass, if only for a moment. There was an address and phone number on the postcard this time. Ma had rejoiced at him being closer to home than before, though there was no mention of actually going to visit him. Reading the post card left a bitter note in his mouth, but any postcard with a mention of Stanley did that. Even still, it was a welcome distraction. More than just that though. Although sour, it was a distinct possibility opening up; it was something removed from Him.

Ford stood over the messy desk with the phone set atop of a rare cleared off spot, his hands planted on either side of it.

Call Stanley, that’s what he had to do.

Or that’s what he was trying to decide if he had to do. It was the best course of action, really. He’d hidden his other journals in Gravity Falls, so if he could get the final one far away from here then it really would be safe, wouldn’t it? Hell, Stan was even back in New Jersey again, back on the other side of the country. The other side of the world would have been better, but this was enough to make him actually feel like it would be safe. It would finally be safe. All he had to do was call Stan and give him the book, then maybe he'd be able to focus on a solution or better yet be left alone entirely. That second option wasn't likely, but oh how he wished it would happen. Maybe Bill would realize how futile it was trying to coerce him and give up. Maybe he wouldn’t, that didn’t matter right now though. Once he took care of his research, all he would have to worry about was the information inside his own mind. This would at least take care of the portal specific issue. He still had other issues to deal with, but on the bright side, the possibility of immediate global destruction wouldn’t be one of them just so long as he did this.

Well, this and destroy the portal, but he was just waiting to ensure the journals were safe before he did that. On the list of things to do, he assured himself. Hiding away the journals was simply more important and had to be taken care of first.


He knew he was going to call Stan for some time now. In truth he’d known the moment he had gotten the most recent postcard from Ma weeks ago. A crystal clear moment struck him when he saw the small paragraph and phone number. An instant realization that Stan was the only one. The only one removed from this. The only one he could possibly begin to…

Ford shifted his hands on the phone, holding onto the handle. He almost wished he had tried calling when he’d gotten the postcard. After all, he’d already known by that point, but what were last resources for after all? It had been such a singular outstanding moment though, he only had had a few like it, and at that only one he let himself think about. The moment Fiddleford sat up, blue light shining a short shadow to his left, and without turning around he warned him in a cryptic message. ‘The beast with just one eye.’ An obvious warning as to who. Not just that either, but the underlying intentions.

If only he had paid heed to Fiddleford's warning and his own realization in that moment. Although, if he had just paid heed to Fiddleford’s previous concerns or the explicit warnings about the summoning then he wouldn’t be in this situation now.

Both of those times, everything clicked together. Ford understood perfectly, everything suddenly in focus. Although there was a key difference between them. Seeing Stan’s number was similar to swiping off the dirt from a mirror to see a clear reflection. Fiddleford’s words had felt like cracked glass, something inherently cold and just one treacherous tap of a finger away from turning it into jagged pieces shattering out of the frame.

Yet he still brushed over the moments. Read through the paragraph at a forced calm pace. Told his old friend to get a hold of himself. He continued over them as if he hadn’t noticed them. Then within minutes he’d reasoned excuses to try to put them out of his mind. He didn’t need them, after all, so everything was fine.

They weren’t the only epiphanies he had had, but they were the ones he had smoothed over in his own mind as irrelevant or faulty the instant he had them. Believing in the rare couple he had beforehand had not left him better off though, he thought to himself. His memory dredging them up in faded still frames.

Holding onto that blue pamphlet for the first time, the one that advertised for West Coast Tech with enticing gold trim. The different studies and resources he could already see just skimming the page and the principal's words filtering across the desk.
A clean glass lit up and shining.
He wanted to go there.

Constant New Jersey Sun shining down on the beach. The boat with its mismatching wood and moth-eaten sail haphazardly lying over the side of it. The mast strung up as they wound a thick braid of rope around it together. Catching a sight blazed into his memory as they had worked around the mast in a tight circle.
The horizon of the ocean, the boat, him. Everything. Everything except for all the sand between them and the shore. The distance to the lapping waves seemed nonexistent, as if they were already out there.
A gem like lens reflecting light over everything and an image in every facet.
He was meant to go sailing with Stanley.

What a stupid-
Focus. He had to focus.
Ford let the thought slide away, not dwelling on either old memory threatening to drag him out of the present. He was going to call Stan and ask him, very simply, to come. He picked up the phone holding it to his ear and went still. The flat monotonous tone made his head buzz and scrambled his thoughts.

He sighed and set the phone piece back down onto the desk to where he couldn’t hear it, rubbing at his eyes and blinking them open again. He couldn’t even deny he was tired by this point, and he wouldn’t be surprised if he was sick too. His body felt like lead and there was so much else, but every symptom could easily be from the various conditions.

He took a breath and carefully dialed the number, putting the phone piece back up to his ear and listening to the ringing. A simple request, it was easy. The conversation wouldn’t even have to last for longer than thirty seconds. Soon enough, he heard his brother’s voice for the first time in years, crackling slightly through the line.

“Yeah, Boss?”

“...What? ” He made a face, holding onto the phone with both hands.

“Oh,” Stan’s voice paused on the other side of the line, “who is this?”

He stayed quiet for a moment, listening to the other line. It was definitely Stanley, and he could pick up on the indistinct sounds coming out of the phone as well. Wind in the receiver and rustling material. He was about to speak up when there was a quiet high pitched noise.

“Just a sec.” Stanley told him, and all the sounds were quieted, muffled up against his shirt or something, but even still he could vaguely hear Stan’s voice though he couldn’t tell any words nor the tone. He didn't sound particularly emotional one way or another though. All the background noises came back as before and his voice came out of the receiver again. “Okay, now who is it again?”

Ford swallowed before answering. “Stanley?”

There was a long pause before he got a disbelieving response. “Ford? Is- that’s not you is it?”

“Yes. I-” He couldn’t help trying to think of some explanation or excuse to ease into the conversation, ‘just calling to check up on you,’ ‘ma gave me your number,’ ‘it’s been a long time but i needed to call you.’ He decided against it. Simple. A simple conversation, no need to mention unnecessary details, this needed to be straightforward.

“You need to come to Gravity Falls, it is of the utmost importance.” He told him.

There was an initial scoff in reply. “Uhh, I’m sorry, what?”

“You need to meet me in Oregon.” He said evenly.

“Meet-Why? What’s going on?”

“I can’t explain over the phone.” Ford shook his head as he held onto the phone.

“You can’t explain,” Stan deadpanned, a second later there was a sigh.

He felt himself getting agitated, this was suppose to be simple. “It is not safe.”

“... Are you in trouble?” And there was just a tinge of- concern, disbelief, Ford couldn’t pick whatever it was out of Stan’s voice. Frankly, he didn’t care what it was. He just wanted to convince Stan to come out to meet him.

“You don’t understand who could be listening, Stanley.”

He scoffed. “Look, this line is secure, nobody’s listening to us through the wires.”

“You don’t know that. It might not even be you,” Ford muttered. Stupid, this idea had been utterly stupid.

“Okay, right. You’re the one that called. If one of us might not be us then it’s you.” Stan countered bluntly. “In fact, I’m having kind of a hard time believing this isn’t a bad joke.”

“No,” he replied harshly, “I’m being serious, Stanley. Your voice could just be a manipulation of waves to sound like you, and I don’t care how ‘secure’ this line is someone could still be listening.  Just talking aloud in of itself could be enough.”

“Okay, okay, come on. If it wasn’t me, then who else would it even be?”

Ford didn’t answer at first, definitively not willing to bring up Him. “... Any multitude of people.”

“If you don’t think it’d be me then why did you call? Hell, why are you calling me now of all times, anyways?!” Stan let the question snap out, the implied sentence unspoken in the air, but perfectly well known. You didn’t call for ten years.

“This is the only way I could reach you. It’s the only thing I have right now.” Ford admitted sullenly.

“Ford-” The sound of a door opening cut Stan off, and there was some aggressive voices and footsteps all of which were quickly muffled after a short, “Hold on.” Ford strained his ears to listen. There was struggling and the sound of shoes scuffling loudly on a smooth stone ground. He couldn’t understand anything, but judging by Stan’s tone it wasn’t anything outright concerning or dangerous. He continued to listen, but ultimately the mostly unconcerned tone of other voices settled his conscience. It’d have been preferable for nobody to be around at all, but better than- A sudden loud noise almost made Ford drop the phone, barely catching onto the slick surface and clutching it so it wouldn’t slip out of his grasp. He carefully re-positioned his hands to get a better grip to bring the phone back up to his ear.

“-rd, ya still there?” There were footsteps, clearly walking away from everyone else as the background voices were getting more distant and harder to even detect much less understand.

“Yes.” He answered quickly.

“Do you want to tell me what’s going on?”

Ford couldn’t risk it, and even if he could he didn’t want to. “... How far away are you from Oregon?” He asked.

“Doesn’t matter.” Stan said dismissively. “I’m coming on over. Whatever’s going on over there, I don’t like it.” A beat as a door closed and it was nearly silent aside from Stan’s voice. “I know you can’t really hear yourself, but trust me you don’t sound good and the whole vague not telling me anything isn’t that comforting either.”

Ford let out a quiet sigh of relief when he heard Stan’s reply. “I really can’t risk telling anything to you like this.” He insisted even still.

“Yeah, see, that? That’s like B horror movie cryptic, okay.” Stan pointed out.

“I can tell you when you get here.”

“So, you know in movies where someone gets warned about like some serial killer or whatever and get promised answers later? Then they show up or try to call again or something and oops whoever it was is dead and that first person still doesn’t know jackshit. You know, one of those really annoying parts where you just wanna scream at the characters because they could have just summed it up in two sentences and saved a whole lot of trouble?”

Stanley.

“Look, okay, all I’m saying here is that if you’re not going to tell me what’s going on now then at least stay SAFE. I’m scared I’m going to end up at your place and it’s going to be a crime scene.” He sighed. “Where are you at anyways?”

“Gravity Falls, Oregon. Gopher road, it’s the house in the woods.”

“You live out away in some cabin in the woods?”  Stan said in disbelief, “You’ve gotta be frickin’ kidding me.”

“Stanley-” Ford started, putting a hand over his eyes.

He cut him off appeasingly. “Right, right, right. Look okay, I’ll be there as fast as I can. It’s gonna take me a while, but just do me a favor and actually be alive when I get there.” He paused briefly, “stay safe from… whatever, just stay safe.”

“I- I’ll be here. You have to be careful, though, Stanley. Trust no one.”

Stan let out a slow breath. “Alright, got it,” he said, “I’ll be there soon.” The line died as Stanley hung up.

Ford slowly set the phone back down onto its holder, letting out a shaky breath. Even though he was relieved that didn’t shake off his doubts. It could very easily not have been Stan at all and even if it was there was still no guarantee he’d hold to what he had said. It wouldn’t have been the first time he had lied, he thought to himself bitterly.

Stanley had actively agreed to come though, and that meant there was at least a possibility of it actually happening. And if he did show then really how much could go wrong from there?

Have him leave with the final journal, simple and easy.

All Stan would have to do was take the book and get out of Gravity Falls, preferably the state itself. It'd be best if he went across the country again or to the other side of the world, but Ford would feel safe enough as long as it was two states away. Although, since he was coming from New Jersey there was a very good chance that’s where he would go back to.

Regardless, it was safest to assume Stanley wouldn’t show up. The more time he wasted waiting for him the more time something could happen. If he could just get the last journal out of Gravity Falls and Bill’s major realm of influence then nobody would be able to activate the portal again. He was sure of it. Hide the research and deal away with the portal; it’d be fine.

The only real problem left was getting the journal out of Gravity Falls… and even after all the planning and time spent hiding the other two he had still only thought of one option. Stanley.

Chapter Text

Ford sluggishly made rounds through his house, repeatedly glancing out windows and checking outside the front door. He’d cautiously listen from beside the door then open it and look outside before closing it with all the locks latched. It was something to do and the blast of cold air kept him awake. He'd already checked the bunker today, but all the supplies had been long since stored and organized. Although worrisome, he made a point each time to count the filled barrels off in the distance. He had rolled them far off and wrapped them in barb wire to keep the fuel as far away as possible without losing sight of them. It’d be easier to just dump them, but he couldn’t do that without hazardous effects from the radiation. There was only a few of them left now, forebodingly resting in the snow.

The rest had been emptied without his memory on the ‘trip’ days ago, similar to the times he found yet more new eerie notes written in his journal. However, the instance when he had found the door to downstairs wide open and the fuel gauge no longer empty a sharp panic had struck him square in the chest. Just another hour asleep and the machine would have been fueled and only a few switch flips and a lever pull away from disaster.

That was when he had made it a point to find industrial strength coffee. His usual supply evidently hadn't been doing enough. Since the event at the diner though he hadn't been able to get it anymore. No way he was going back inside that building again. He could feel his body struggle to stay awake with the cut back on caffeine though, now more so than usual.

Ford went back into the dining room and towards the table, heavily dropping into a chair beside it. Something… He needed to do… something…

 

He didn't know how much time had passed with him absently staring into the calming grain of the wood paneling, but eventually there was a knock on the door jerking him up in his seat. He hadn't even heard someone walk up to the door. Maybe the snowfall had muffled the sound of footsteps. He needed to be careful though, no telling who it would be. Quietly, he hurried towards the front door. He grabbed the crossbow by the door before pulling back the greased locks that slid open without a sound. He curled one hand around the door knob, figuring out how to efficiently switch his hand from the door to the crossbow without compromising himself when an electrifying thought sparked in the air. What if it's Stan?

 

He could already feel a fresh hope at the idea, but kept it in check. Even still, he opened the door a bit eagerly with the possibility at the front of his mind. It was only one possibility, though, and an unlikely one at that. He poked his head around the door, securely holding onto it with a hand. “Who is it?” He asked roughly, prepared to bring out the crossbow. There was no need though. It was him. It was actually him!



“Stanley!” He opened the door further and set the crossbow down against the interior wall of the house. He was immediately overcome with relief. He was practically home bound now, all he had to do was get Stanley to take the journal and well- the rest he'd figure out. He wasn't going to let this moment get squashed down dwelling on everything else. Very little had turned out well since all of this had started. He was going to cling onto his renewed hope and focus on this moment for as long as it lasted.



Stan smiled, easygoing and confident like he used to remember, back when they were teenagers. Stan smiling as he'd assure him to ignore Crampelter. ‘Jerk couldn't tell the difference between a screwdriver and a pen so don’t bother listenin’ to him, Sixer.

 

Ford allowed himself a slight smile, ignoring the slight edge of bitterness that came with nearly any memory of his twin. After what the other did... but he pushed it aside. He could let himself have this small comfort, just for now. When was the last time he had had positive human interaction, after all. Enjoy the moment and proceed handing over the journal so he could work on what he needed to afterwards.

 

He fully opened the door to Stan and he didn’t know what exactly he was expecting, but Stan smiled wider and took a step forward. A warning alarm was blearily going off in the back of his head, as if he was under water. Utter nonsensical nerves that-

 

Suddenly, Stan grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and pulled him off balance. Grinning, as Ford lost his footing, the tips of his boots scuffling on the ground behind him as Stan held him up in the air. Not high enough where he could get his feet underneath him, but not so low as for him to be completely on his knees where he'd be able to get up. He was forced to look up at the face merely a foot above his own, his own arms splayed out uselessly at his sides. The grin was still there, oh yes, and now he could see it. The slit eyed pupils bearing down on him with malicious excitement.

 

“Hey, Sixer!”

 

“Bill!” Ford gasped, blaming the strangled surprise in his voice on the hand choking him by his shirt.

 

He remained in the unstable position held aloft in the air, helpless to really get himself free. Too frightened to even think of how to go about it, and how could he with all these alarms. Muddled thoughts now uselessly running around his mind. All of these alarms nagging at him. Alarms that were too busy screaming at him in urgency through the thick water for him to actually know what they warned of. Bill, he was sure. He should have seen this coming, he should have been prepared. He hadn’t been careful enough.

 

“Oh, come on, Fordsy,” the fake Stan said with a roll of his not his not his not his eyes, not quite in sync, “you didn't honestly think calling your dear old brother who hates your guts was going to actually work in your favor, did you?

 

Ford struggled uselessly in the grasp, panic making it impossible for him to move his feet in any coordinated fashion that would actually get his balance back under his own control again.



Last hope. That's what this had been. His last hope, the only thing he had had left and of course it failed him. He was somehow worse off than before, and out of any options now. Out of options and time and reality was blending together at the corners of his vision. His hands pricked painfully, needles in the palms of his hand.

 

“You're not activating the portal!” Ford spat at him fiercely, voice full and hearty even as he was being choked. Another alarm. Why were there so many alarms, why. Why were so many of them muffled? Bill was here and Stan was decisively not. He was easily overpowered, and Bill had every advantage over him. What else was even left over to worry about outside of this?

 

“Oh, yeah, smart guy? You gonna stop me?” Bill taunted, laughing in his usual high pitched voice.

 

Even his feeling of helplessness was starting to get distracted by all the muted warnings from his mind. “You have to do more than just push a button, Bill!” He fired back, determined. Even if the other was undoubtedly stronger, he was still going to fight him every inch of the way. He wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he gave up, even now. Ultimately, he knew that he could be tied up or otherwise effortlessly dealt out of the way, but...

 

St- Bill seemed to smile just a bit more and it twisted his stomach to see the knowing tilt of that grin. He finally looked away from him, the imagery itself already was close to paralyzing, making his blood run cold. Of course, though, he was outside in the… and… wait, no. No, it wasn't cold. Why wasn't it cold?!

 

Ford scrambled back from the other, roughly pushing against his chest and ripping himself out of Bill’s grasp. He threw himself back onto the floor, wide-eyed. A vulnerable position, yes, but no longer important. His mind was now barraging him with a whole stream of inconsistencies, ones he instantly chastised himself for not catching as they were happening. Bill’s voice remaining the same even in Stan’s body. His blurry mind with so many warnings purposefully smudged out and turned unintelligible. The bone deep exhaustion he had had for weeks straight, now missing.

 

“Figured it out finally, huh?” Bill teased, standing over him, still in that body. “It's funny how much you've got riding on this. Pathetic, really! He's not coming to help you. Even if he DOES show up it'll just be to see how far you fell without him and laugh.”

 

Ford wanted to argue back, say Stanley was coming to help with unwavering certainty.

 

He couldn't do that.

 

Bill was right.

 

He was holding onto a thinly worn shred of hope that Stanley would come, but that's all it was. He didn't have any viable reasoning to assure himself Stan would actually show. When ever he actually thought about it it became more and more apparent that he wouldn’t come. That he had just said he'd come over to get back at Ford for letting him get kicked out years ago. For expecting help when he wouldn't have anything to do with him for over a decade. Empty thoughts pulled vacantly on his mind though, urging him again with soundless voices. Wordless warnings which he could now recognize as calls to wake up.

 

He closed his eyes and focused, trying to bring solid sensations back in and pull himself out of the floating blur of sleep. There was that pain in his hands again as well as the ache in his body slowly returning and he latched onto the feelings, dredging himself awake again, and opened his eyes. He was warm and Ford winced as he flexed his hands, it helped jar him further awake though. He looked down to see his palms covered in bleeding red marks, small holes covering it. Nothing on the back of his hands though. He then realized rather gratefully that he was still in the middle of his house. Unlike the cool damp air of the basement, it was warm and… and there was an icy breeze.

He turned slowly, following the draft to find the front door thrown carelessly open, snowflakes flying in and melting as they hit the floor of the house. He walked towards the door, but paused before the threshold to listen for anybody or anything. Considering what had just happened though he actually felt a slight comfort in that whatever Bill had tried there was nothing to do about it now and thus no lingering danger. He probably expected him to stay asleep for longer. Or maybe it was just a nightmare. There had been times like that before, where he had woken up and Bill had ultimately did nothing. Just a nightmare and his body had been left alone. Or so he thought. The times he had woken up seemingly in the same place, he'd originally thought just that. Then he started to find those notes... it made him doubt every instance that seemed like just an innocuous visit in the mindscape.

He hoped that was the case though. However, he couldn't quite identify the puncture marks in his hand. They seemed like they had been made with small needles, but the uncertainty was unnerving him.

He decided to give the inside of his house a look over first to assure everything was secure. As he went to shut the door a looming dark shape caught his attention out of the corner of his eye. He stopped, not having even grabbed the door handle yet. Sitting innocently on the porch were the three metal barrels, barb wire still coiled around them and bright red tips standing out on a few of the sharp spikes. He swallowed unevenly.

Close. That was close. They weren’t inside the house though.

He walked out, pushing the door open further with his hand, immediately regretting doing so. He'd have to disinfect and bandage the wounds as soon as he put the barrels back out. He carefully grabbed the lid of the first barrel to pull it onto its side. Rolling them through the snow would take less energy than carrying them. He hooked his fingertips over the metal edge, prepared for the immense weight as he started to pull. However, with almost no effort, the barrel tipped towards him and Ford let go of it in alarm. It clattered back onto the porch, a distinct metallic hollow sound reverberating out of the open canister. Ford leaned forward with a deep sinking feeling in his gut, looking inside to find it completely empty. Quickly checking the others as well, he found them empty as well. All empty…. which meant-

Ford didn't even bother to close the door behind him as he bolted back inside, hastening through the security measure of the basement door and downstairs. He felt a pang of relief as he saw the machine was still turned off, large room dim, though he was still far from eased. He checked the fuel gauge first, completely full, foreboding, but a good sign. If it had been activated, it would have been empty. He turned on the electronic panel to scan the activity log. Nothing today.

He finally let out a shaky breath as his hand fumbled in turning the simple circuit board off again. Ford double checked everything in the portal room as quickly as he could. As he made his way back upstairs everything locked automatically behind him. The air was colder than before, growing predictably more so as he went back towards the open door. He bitterly looked over the barrels, pulling all of the barb wire off of each of them to toss the curling metal rings into the snow. They disappeared from sight under the powdery white, as useless a precaution down there as they had been on the barrels.

Ford didn't close the door as he went back inside. The house wasn’t entirely cold yet, a fading warmth seeping into his skin the further inside he went.

A luxury he couldn't afford anymore, he concluded.

After turning the heating off entirely, he opened the kitchen window as far as the small window could. He spent an hour, opening different windows and doors in the house, assuring nothing came inside as he turned every room of the house as frigid as the outside.

 


 

 

Driving in the snow and ice already wasn’t that easy, but with the amount of driving Stan had done he really didn’t think about it. Not really. Not until he had been driving for over three hours. Save for a few instances, he never drove this far in one sitting. Not during the Winter at least. This was somehow worse than his last cross country drive, and that was saying something.

He pushed every hour, every minute, to fight off sleep and kept driving. It was just like that last drive, except nerve-wracking in a wholly different and frustrating way. He felt like he was fighting against the clock, but with no way to tell just how much danger there actually was. At least last time he could count on himself to be able to make it. Besides this, it was the first time he’d been in any sort of rush. Sure, he pushed himself to keep going because he was scared of getting recognized when he passed through familiar states. Better to keep up the pace rather than get recognized and have to hightail it out of there before someone came for him. Cops, old angry customers, those that he had, ahem, ‘‘‘‘borrowed’’’’ funds from.

Oddly enough, he wasn’t really worried about that now. Sure someone might recognize him, but he was barely stopping to rest and eat as it was. Definitely less than any of his old trips backtracking through states, and he hadn’t gotten recognized then!

Well, for the most part.

Okay, well maybe a couple times. But it had just been angry customers so that hadn’t been bad, almost fun really. 'Ya can’t blame me for you being a sucker! ’ He’d told a particularly angry man as he ran out to his car. The look on his face was priceless. Good times.

Well… for the most part.

You don’t exactly cross back into states you’ve been banned from because of good times. ‘Banned states’ should already have been enough of a hint to imply some bad times. He had almost ran out of states to get banned from though.


There were a few states scattered here and there, and he could still have gone to any of them. But hey! It’d been over ten years since he’d been in New Jersey so it’d be the best place to retrace back to, right? Even go to a different town. A city with POTENTIAL, too. Yeah, see? It was a great plan. Besides, it’s not like he’d been technically ‘BANNED’ from the state per se. Sure, run outta town by an angry mob, but you know, no official banishment as far as he could remember.

Well… you know.
...

But the state itself was a different story...! He’d go somewhere new and fresh. Who wanted to go back to some dingy beach town anyways…
...
Not Stan Pines…
That’s for sure…

Err- anyways, right, icy roads. Complete Bogus. God, see this is why driving for forty something hours with only hour naps was a bad idea, completely derails your train of thought.

Anyways, anyways. All the cold weather had made the drive absolutely suck, and it didn’t really help that he was half expecting to arrive to a literal crime scene. Then it really didn’t help when he actually made it to the town. It was a small town and while the highway was at least salted the further he went into town the more it came to a barely plowed single lane path. A snowy road with only one clear line running through it. He was willing to bet a single person was paid to plow the entire town. The plowing stopped entirely once he got on the icy dirt path into the woods.

The El Diablo turned slowly onto the path barely marked free of trees, the small curving line into the forest a better indicator than the snowed over road sign. He’d had to step out into the snow and wipe an arm over it to actually check the street name. Snow crunched under the wheels as he slowly went along, careful not to get stuck in any valleys as he was almost immediately surrounded by towering trees. He parked the car when he saw the house.

The wooden house sat silently, muted in the snow, mysterious barrels set out on the porch. A satellite that was covered in snow, and Stan couldn’t help picking out small foreboding details.
The way that the mailbox looked frozen shut with uninterrupted ice like the snow over it had melted and refroze many times over without being opened once.
The distinct lack of any tracks. Although there WAS an ice encased squirrel somehow hanging on the cable. That was almost comforting.
…. The…..
That….

That fucking barbed wire perimeter.

“Oh, yeah, no,” Stan scoffed to himself, gesturing with an arm at the house, “this isn’t worrisome at all.”

He got out of the car, shutting the door and crunching his way through the surprisingly shallow snow to the porch. He couldn't help feeling on edge, like any second some monster or goon was going to pop out at him from nowhere. The way Ford had been acting…

He couldn’t help feeling there was something nearby just waiting for him to make a new step, get into just the right position. That was ridiculous though, there wasn’t anything here… probably. He looked around behind him, you know, just… checking out the scenery.

Yup, snow… Great trees, too... Real uh... beautiful or whatever.

...Mmm, wow.... Nature... and uh, you know, stuff.

Alright, that was enough of that.

He stepped up to the wooden porch to knock on the door, expecting the wood to creak underneath his foot, but no sound came.

There had barely been enough time for him to step back before the door swung open and almost immediately a crossbow was shoved out of the door, pointed at him. “Who is it?! Have you come to-!”

Stan grabbed the weapon and pulled it down and away from himself with a muttered curse. The weapon, surprisingly, was rather than met with resistance to hold on was pushed down and into his gut taking Stan by surprise, lowering him to the ground slightly. He let out a huff of air and dropped the crossbow, the weapon thudding onto the wooden paneling. He looked up and was faced with his brother holding onto a baseball bat raised and pulled back, poised to swing, he stopped though, having to actually pause the swing that had already started by a few inches.

The two froze for a moment, looking at each other, Ford still holding the bat in the air as he quickly scanned over Stan. Weirdly focused on staring into the depths of his soul. Well, that was what it felt with the way the other was intensely looking into his eyes like that.

Oh, jeez, he needed to say something or do something. Anything.

Stan rubbed the back of his head and stood up fully, and in response Ford went to set down his bat. Good start, this was good. Take the situation down a notch from crossbow in the face and jerking said crossbow out of hands.

“Stanley, did anybody follow you? Did anybody in town see you?” He asked, glancing out past Stan into the snow storm.

“Uh, no, I’m gonna go with ‘no,’” he said, glancing back behind him. Before he could fully look back Ford had suddenly pulled him forward by his hoodie and a bright light was shined into his eyes. “Agh-! What is this?!” He grabbed the hand holding the offending flashlight and pulled it down first before pushing them both away. The other let him do so, even taking a few steps back past what was necessary for ordinary personal space. Stan rubbed at his eyes with his knuckles, blinking away dark spots making it hard to see now.

“I’m sorry, I had to be sure you weren’t-” Stanley began to actually see his brother by this point, vision returning gradually, enough to realize he was casting a suspicious glance around the room, “-ah,it’s nothing. Come in, come in.” Ford urged him.

Stan complied, taking a few steps in and turned as Ford arced around him, purposefully avoiding sweeping past him too closely as he went back towards the door, closing it and- jesus. Stan’s vision was back, and he watched as his brother slid back and turned not one lock but several of them. It was easy enough to tell which ones were originally part of the house, they were the ones actually on the door itself after all. Meanwhile, the new ones were screwed securely into the wall itself. There were five locks total, including a very sturdy deadbolt and all of them almost looked-

Ford began to turn back around and Stan quickly looked back up to his brother’s face, not wanting to be caught staring. However, Ford didn’t even look at him as he walked back around again, eyes on the floor. He swept past him, holding his coat closed with both of his hands up to his chest. “I wasn’t sure you were actually- I didn’t know if you were going to come or not.” He admitted.

He followed after his brother, quickly glancing back at the locks on the door. Yup, new locks… “Look, are you gonna explain what’s going on now that we’re face to face?” He asked, looking around at the house as he went through the room. Scattered items, a practical mess, though at least it looked semi-organized. Could have been worse. Could have been blood-splattered with the door left open.

“Yes, yes, yes,” the other answered distractedly, going towards a desk at the end of the room and fishing out a book and stack of papers, letting several papers fall to the ground carelessly. “I have to ensure that…” he paused and glanced, almost suspiciously, back at Stan, but it was only one glance and then he looked back down to the papers. He readjusted them with a journal in his grip as he turned back around, clutching them to his chest as he started walking back through the room and past Stan. “I’ve made huge mistakes and I don’t know if anybody can be trusted.”

Again, as Ford went to pass by Stan he arced around him slightly, but Stan went to catch him gently by his shoulder. “Hey-”

Before he could even touch Ford’s shoulder though, Ford had whipped around and smacked his hand away from him. He still had his right hand clutched around the book and papers, arm curled up to hold it protectively against his chest. He eyed Stan for a moment, on edge, taking a couple of steps back to be out of reach. Then glanced down at the ground between them, the slight alarm diminishing.

“Hey…” again Stan tried to reach for Ford’s shoulder, slower this time, but as he started to move his arm he could see Ford shifting backwards. He let his foot fall back to the ground and his hand to his own side. “Easy there. Why don’t we talk this through,” he suggested.

Ford brought his other hand up to the stack in his hand, holding the entirety of it securely in his grasp, looking to it. Then, determined, he looked back to Stan. “I have something to show you,” he told him, “something you won’t believe.” He used one hand to brush aside his hand for effect.

“Look, alright, I’ve seen a lot. Whatever it is, it can’t be much harder to understand than half the stuff going on in town.” Stan replied with a smile, trying to ease him down.

Instead, Ford seemed to falter, seeming taken aback. “You- what’s been going on in town? I thought you said nobody saw you.” He said, almost accusingly.

“No, no, I didn’t mean this town. Nobody here was even out to see me, besides they couldn’t in the blizzard.” He said, gesturing back. “I meant where I’ve been. Now that town, trust me, you wouldn’t believe everything going on there.”

Ford simply took just a half step backwards, seeming to go on guard, watching Stan carefully. “Like what?”

Suddenly, Stan regretted trying to play the joke, but he had already let that cat out of the bag now. “Well, there’s a lot of wackos in town. Some of the stuff, they’ve been doing, yeesh.” He laughed slightly, trying to ease Ford’s obvious tension. Stan was only met with an unchanged Ford, still waiting for him to say more. “You know,” he put his hands in his pockets, “some real nutcases, I don’t even get this one guy, but I guess no one does. There’s even some that go way overboard, like you wouldn’t believe, just pulling out big stunts to steal some cash.”

“I see.” He replied simply, scanning over Stan.

It was silent for a little while, Stan giving Ford a rather long chance to say something or voice, you know, literally anything. Some effort would have been nice. Instead, all Ford did was pensively look at Stan, which he was actually pretty sure Ford was just staring into space if he was honest with himself. “Hey, so I did really think I was gonna come over here and find you dead or something. If you wanted to tell me what’s going on or show me that thing…” He trailed off, expectantly.

“Right,” Ford said absently. Then he actually seemed to focus on Stan. “Right, yes, this has been a highly precarious situation.” He said, taking another step back. “One best handled carefully.”

“Uh, okay?” Stan said, waiting. He looked back at his brother. He had almost seemed calm, even enough to do an unnecessary dramatic (c’mon who waves their hands like that, Sixer.) Now though? Now he looked just as cautious and on edge as he did opening the door. Then it hit Stan. “You’re saying that I’m not careful?”

“This is a very important matter. I can’t just let something happen.”

Stan went to take a step forward, upset, and instantaneously Ford jumped back a foot, nearly out of the room by this point, hand going to the doorway. He watched Stan with a new sharp-eyed expectation, poised to bolt out of the room. It was oddly reminiscent of rabbits that had spotted you and went still, watching, ready for the next inch you moved.

Christ, Ford. Calm down, okay?” Stan said, trying his best to ease him. He gestured slowly, as though a quick enough motion would be enough to set something off. “I’m not gonna bite your head off or anything, I just wanna know what the hell is going on. I mean, you did call me out to the middle of the goddamn woods talking about how I just ‘had to’ come right then and there.”

“Well, I wouldn’t have called you at all if I had known- I didn’t even-” and then Ford put a hand up to his head, running it through his hair as he started talking almost to himself. “I didn’t even ask you any questions. I just called. I didn’t think-” he covered his mouth, seemingly appalled at himself.

Did he really think calling him was that big of a mistake…? “What?” Stan demanded, frustrated. “What’s the problem?! You wanted to show me something and oh just because there’s a bit of crime in my parts, SUDDENLY, you can’t show me?! There’s crime in every town, alright, pal. Besides, it’s not like it means anything.”

“It’s obviously more dangerous where you are than most towns. For all I know there could be cultists there too!!” He accused.

Stan crossed his arms, and looked aside. “Pshh, I don’t know anything about any cults. D’ya hear yourself?”

There was at least one cult in Gotham, probably a few, in all honesty. However, there was no way in hell he was letting him know about that now. Well that, among a few other things.

“You don’t understand, Stanley!” Ford immediately snapped back at him. “I only called you because I thought you’d be removed from dangerous people and apparently you’re surrounded by them!”

Surrounded was definitely the right term considering all the criminals, but, again, Ford didn’t know that. “You’re just making assumptions, I never said there was a TON of them, just some, alright! Why does it even matter though? What did you call me over here for?!”

“I needed- I’ve been hiding my research. I was going to ask you to take the last piece and go far away to hide it, but that’s out of the question now!”

“You just wanted me to come run an errand for you?!” Stan asked, almost sure he could physically feel some string of patience snapping inside of him.

“This isn’t a shopping list, Stanley! It’s extremely serious!!”

“Well, you know, it sure sounds like it. Oh, WAIT! I wouldn’t know about that because the only thing I know is that you’re terrified of something happening and want to hide some kind of research!”

“I am- I am not ‘terrified!’” Ford refuted. “I’m simply being careful”

“Oh, right.” Stan replied, words dripping with sarcasm. “Because nothing says ‘careful’ like answering your front door with a fucking crossbow.

“I didn’t know it was you!”

“Look, what’s going on. Are you getting blackmailed, threatened, what’s going on?!”

“That’s not-”

“Is that why you didn’t want to talk over the phone? Are you being watched?”

Ford froze at that, unable to keep his eyes from shifting around the room. Nail on the head.

Not that that wasn’t already obvious, but he just wanted some kind of confirmation from Ford of what was going on. If he had to throw stuff at the wall until he could see what stuck then so be it. His brother had to have messed with something big or gotten bad attention... Or he had completely gone off the rails. Seeing the condition of the house and Ford himself he couldn’t really rule out that option, but it wasn’t one he was going to think about. Although… well he couldn’t help really looking over his brother now that the thought had come up.

He was watching him, still paused in place, possibly holding his breath to keep himself from breathing. If he was actually breathing though, it had to be very slight. Clothes, a mess. Although, that coat looked like it hadn’t been washed in months, so that was more of a long term lack of hygiene then really whatever had recently been happening. Hair, a mess. All over the place and he had stubble too. Face, a mess. That was putting it nicely too, his eyes had been near constantly shifting over anything and everything, like something was going to pop out at any moment. Not to mention the very obvious lack of sleep, bags under his eyes from who knows how long he’d gone without rest. Most of all though, the way he acted, the way he moved. He was like a cornered animal that seemed as likely to scrape something up as it was to run away and not stop until it was miles and miles away from anything dangerous.

Even now, Ford hadn’t said anything back yet. Just stared back at Stanley with bright eyes full of something shiny and cold. As frozen as the shack itself they were in.

Stan took a deep breath, letting it back out slowly. “Alright,” he said, with incredible bounds of patience, “you know, I came here to help you out of whatever mess you’re in, so just tell me what I can do.”

Ford blinked back at him, and looked aside, thinking, wheels in his head obviously turning over options. “You can…” he trailed off and it took another dozen seconds for him to continue, slowly, “You can’t take the journal now…” and almost too quiet to hear, “unless maybe...”

He nodded his head to himself. “I need to think.” He said slowly, still not looking at Stan as he walked off down the hall, hunched over with the book.

Stan simply stood there, taking in a slow deep breath as he heard the steps going off down the hallway. He let all his frustration out in a quiet and long stream of curses to the floor.

Chapter Text

No.

No, this was- this was bad . This was- shit.

Ford squeezed his hands around the journal, uncaring of the crumpling paper that he let fall out from around the book. Why had he even bothered to grab it- to hide the journal? To- no, no, that didn’t matter right now. He had to spend his mental resources wisely. What was he suppose to do now? What the HELL was he suppose to do now? Ford started pacing back and forth across the room.

He barely even had a grip on reality at the moment. With all his thoughts flying around right now he was surrounded by a miasma of colors and lines trying to creep through his skin and eyes. He had to struggle for even common concepts to make sense right now.

Simple, think through the situation and lay everything out, organize his thoughts. But wouldn’t that just make it oh so easy for Him to- He quickly squashed the seize of panic. Right now, he needed to- he just had to figure out what to do.

He had… his brother. Alright, yes, good, Stanley was here. Stanley had actually willingly come along, and at the very least was not immediately possessed. Positive.

Stanley, as it turned out, was in a town with eccentric criminals. Negative.

The journal definitively needed to stay away from any eccentric people, criminals, especially. Thus, Stanley couldn’t simply take his journal back with him like Ford had originally thought and planned on.

… Not much to lay out. Alright, what did that leave him.

A journal he needed to hide. A brother in his living room. A city that Stanley couldn’t take the journal back to.... Bill, of course. Then himself, with only a little time that was already thinly stretched as it was.

He could tell how he was fraying away under the stress and distinct lack of sleep. He should have come up with a back up plan. Well, he had tried. The past weeks had been spent thinking, and coming up with very few options. Each infinitely more risky than calling for Stanley, which considering his extreme lack of knowledge about Stan’s situation meant a lot. He had assumed Stanley wouldn’t come because honestly why would he (why did he?)

...He had though. Stanley had. He had actually come to the house. A good sign…

Maybe Stanley would still take the journal and hide it…? It’d be risky, but better than hiding it himself. He had needed someone separate from Gravity Falls to hide the last journal. While he could do it himself he knew his own actions weren’t as secretive as he wished them to be.

Hiding it himself had been his ‘best’ back up plan. He was fairly certain that his travelling across several states would definitely not go unnoticed. Next along was something frankly dangerous, and he found himself just slightly worried the thought alone might not have come from himself. What better way to separate the journals than to put one in a wholly different dimension. Finally, there was taking the journals and- it- no, no, that was on the bottom rung of options, and not worth even considering right now. It was unnecessary, he could figure out something else. Besides, two were already hidden. He wasn’t going to unearth those now. Getting Stanley to take the journal even now was still the best option, but… but if some criminal got their hands on the material they could follow it back here and trouble would ensue. No… no, he’d just ask Stanley to take the journal and hide it on his way back, make a stop somewhere. Go off some lazy road in the middle of nowhere in a place nobody would even think to look.

A murky whisper made him jolt up slightly, going on edge. He swept a quick glance over the room. Nothing, of course. He always knew it was nothing he could see, but it still helped. Checking was the only thing that would throw off the feeling that something was with him, for the most part.

Alright, he decided to himself, he’d just tell Stanley to hide the journal along his way back. Just… give him the journal. Ford’s fingers flexed around the book instinctively. It’d be hidden; it’d be alright.

It’d be safe.

Give Stanley the journal and then he could sl- no. No, no, wrong, no, he still had more to do. He wouldn’t be able to rest yet, but soon, he just needed to hold off for a bit longer. You could take a nap, just five minutes would do wonders for your -" No.” He hissed aloud sharply, chastising himself. He physically shook his head, bringing the room back into focus, clutched with the journal at his chest, taking in a shaky breath.

No, he hadn’t come all this way to just let himself fall back down like that without any safety precautions. He had a proper plan of action now, granted it fell off into vague obscurity after the point where Stan would leave, but he had something to do. Ford walked back to Stan, determined. He could hear footsteps, back and forth, and some quiet muttering. Whatever it was, both noises stopped before he could get close enough. When he came back to the room, Stan had his arms crossed over chest, leaning against the wall, and looked over to him.

“Stanley,” he started, taking a couple steps towards him, still maintaining several feet between them, “There's something I have to ask you to do.”

If Ford hadn’t been certain his senses were failing he’d say that Stanley had perked up, but why would he? There’d be no point, and his voice remained uncaring. “What’s that?”

He continued his approach, stepping forward carefully, and holding out his journal to Stan, just within his reach.

Stan pushed off from the wall and grabbed the journal, looking down at it for a moment.

For a moment, just a moment, Ford thought about back then. He mentally swept it back under the rug with a frown before it could fully surface though. “This journal has information that could lead to disaster. Take it with you.” He stepped back out of Stan’s range. “Hide it somewhere on your way back, somewhere safe. Bury it where no one will ever find it!”


 

On your way back, he said.

On your way back, like it was no big deal. As if Stan hadn’t just driven hours and hours to get here just because he thought he was in serious trouble. As if, he was telling him to drop something off at a grocery store on his way home.

As if he wasn’t telling Stan to leave.

“That’s it?” Stan asked him, gripping onto the book.

Ford gave him a look, confused. “Stanley, that journal has to be hidden out of- out of Gravity Falls, far away!”

Stan scoffed. Of course, it did, didn’t it? Of course, it had to be far away from him, right? “You know, believe it or not, I actually came here to help you out of whatever mess you got tangled up in.”

This is what I called you here to help with.” He replied pointing back to the book in his hands, getting upset. “You’re the only one that can take it, Stanley!”

“Fine! You want me to take it back when I go, right?” Stan waved the book in the air.

His brother scanned him over almost suspiciously at the question. “I want you to hide it in an obscure place on your way back to New Jersey, yes.”

“Then I will,” he said, crossing his arms, “after I make sure you’re not going to get killed or something once I skip town.”

Ford bristled at that, snapping. “Stanley! I need you to HIDE my journal. I don’t have a lot of options left!”

“Well, something tells me that your problems aren’t gonna end once I just shove this journal away somewhere, are they?”

“I’ll be able to handle them once I know that journal is somewhere hidden!”

“Then I’ll just make sure nobody gets to it while I’m here.” Stan said plainly. “Now, come on, tell me what’s going on here, Ford.”

“What’s going ON is that I’m running out of time and your attempt to ‘help’ is doing anything but that!!” He yelled at him wildly, pacing back off. “You don’t understand what I’m up against!”

Stan followed after him. “Then just TELL ME! You said you would explain once I got here, and guess what, I’m here!”

Ford half turned to look over his shoulder at Stan when he moved after him, equal parts irritated and on edge. “I didn’t say that!” However, even as he objected he looked uncertain, putting a hand to his head and thinking back. “No, I-I don’t remember that.” He shook his head. “I wouldn’t have promised that.”

“Ford,” he almost pleaded this time, “that wasn’t even a week ago. You weren’t-” he gestured at him, “you weren’t this bad on the phone. What happened?”

“Nothing happened,” he said, locking eyes with Stan.

Stan maintained the eye contact, and the two stared back at one another for a long moment. He let out a steady sigh through his nostrils. Ford simply looked back at him, clearly irritated. Even still though, he kept occasionally looking around the room, scanning it for some danger. What was he looking for?!

“Alright, listen,” Stan started calmly, “you know you look awful, right? Like... yeesh, I've had my fair share of seeing people in some bad spots. I’m talking rock bottom, and you still look terrible. I don't get what's going on.”

“What is there to ‘get,’ Stanley?” Ford asked coldly.

“Uh, why you look like a panicked animal that's ready to sprint.” Stan pointed out blatantly.

Ford didn't answer.

Stan sighed. “Okay, fine, don't tell me, but I know it's gotta be something around here.” He gave Ford another chance to speak up, but he didn't so Stan continued. “So, I'm not just leaving you here to deal with the blackmail or whatever it is that's got you so paranoid.” He took a breath, covertly gathering up courage to finish. “I'm getting out of this town and you're coming with me.”

“No, I'm not.” Ford refuted, taken aback.

“YEAH, you are. That or you're going to at least tell me what’s going on so I can help.”

“You can help by taking my journal and-”

“-And burying it in some hole or whatever, yeah, yeah. That seems really helpful, Ford.”

He scowled. “It is. You don't understand, Stanley!”

“You're right, I don't! Because YOU won't explain anything!! You were going to tell me something before you knew there were weirdos in the city I came from. It’s not like I go around talking to them or something!”

“Stanley! It doesn't matter if you associate with them or not, it's the environment! If someone finds this journal they could use it for terrible things, it needs to be hidden away from here. Somewhere where it won't be around dangerous people. Dangerous people that, mind you, may very well jump after anything that could help their ambitious crimes.”

“If it's so dangerous then why don't you just burn them?”

He faltered. “I’m not burning it!”

“Well then it can't be that dangerous!” Stan fired back, crossing his arms.

“Obviously, it IS!”

“Not if your dumb mysteries are more important to you.”

“It's a safety precaution. If I just HIDE the journals then it will be fine!”

“Fine! I'll hide your stupid journal then. We're still getting you out of here until whatever trouble you got yourself into settles down.”

“I'm not done in Gravity Falls! I have to-!” Ford stopped himself suddenly, biting down on his tongue, and pensively keeping silent.

Stan briefly waited for him to continue, patience wearing thin. He had thought he’d actually understand what was going on when he arrived, but honestly? Before he had had some ideas the kind of trouble Ford had gotten into and now he couldn’t even narrow down the options.

“... What? Okay, what could be so important that you'd want to stick around when you're like this?!”

“You don't understand, Stan-”

“BECAUSE YOU WON’T TELL ME ANYTHING!” Stan shouted, frustrated. “How am I supposed to get whatever crazy mess you ended up in when all I know is that you want to hide your research which is SOMEHOW dangerous?!”

Ford took a calming breath. “Fine. Fine, you're right. I'm not giving you enough information for you to even begin to understand the situation.”

“Thank you.” Stan expectantly waited for an explanation, but Ford remained thin lipped. The two looked back at one another for a long moment. Stan frowned finally, expression darkening. “... You're seriously not going to tell me.”

“No, it's risky information.”

“Oh, right, okay. What am I going to do with it, Ford? Let's go with even a really bad case. Someone's interrogating me and they want information. They're not going to even know about you, much less whatever this all is. So, they're not gonna ask about you or even care about what’s going on over here. It's the other side of the country.”

Ford went quiet again, but this time he was in deep thought, very evidently internally debating something now. Stan waited, determined to not be the one to break the silence this time. Eventually, Ford started to talk, albeit a bit slowly, carefully picking his words. “I built an interdimensional portal, and it's too dangerous now. Someone with my research could activate it again and it could create a tear in reality that would lead to global disaster.” He looked at a wall, swallowing.

“Alright,” Stan started, calmed down significantly. Not a lot of information, but enough for him to at least partially understand the sort of danger Ford was going on about. “Why can't we just take down the portal and destroy whatever bits from this journal ya’d need for it.”

Ford shook his head slowly, not looking at him. “I can't do that.”

“Well, why not?” He genuinely questioned, with a shrug of his shoulders. “Seems easy enough to me.”

“It’s essential the research is taken care of first.”

It wasn’t that Ford couldn’t destroy it, he just didn’t want to. Stan breathed in deeply, feeling the irritation creep back in again. “You said end of the world, right?”

Ford nodded.

End of the world .”

“Yes.”

Stan looked at him for a long moment and Ford finally met his gaze. “You could have already taken care of this whole thing if you’d just burned your research instead of hiding it. End of the world and you won’t just burn up a couple of papers.”

“If I just hide it then it won't be necessary to!” Ford defended himself.

“What's it matter if it's hidden where nobody will find it or burnt. It's gone either way, Sixer.”

“It matters to ME!” Ford snapped at him, then took a breath and looked aside. “I don't expect you to understand it.” He said cooly.

Stan ran his hands over his face. “No, I get it.” He said, a bit exasperated. “I get it perfectly fine, I just think it’s a little selfish that you think your research and nerd stuff is more important than literally the entire world.”

Ford shot him a look. “I would destroy it if it was necessary.” He insisted.

“Okay, okay, whatever, right?” He waved his hands placatingly. “We’ll hide your stupid research then. I don't know why you called me when you could have just used your fancy college money to go hide it yourself, but we’ll bury it somewhere far off.”

“I can't leave, not yet.” Ford said simply.

Stan groaned. None of this was going to be straightforward was it. “Why can't you leave?”

Again, Ford clammed up, but this time there was a distinct sliver of icy fear in the way he looked away.

Stan eyed the other up, taking note of that look in his eyes yet again. He sighed. “Seriously, what's going on? You just told me you made a doomsday machine, what's got you this bad?” His brother winced guiltily at the word use, but didn't comment on it. “Who’s got you so paranoid, Sixer?”

At that Ford, snapped his head over to look at him with a panicked look and froze.

Stan slowly put his hands up slightly, not sure what it was he had said... Never could just say the right thing, could he?

“How did you know that?” Ford asked stiffly.

“Know what?”

‘Who.’ ” Ford said, leaning forward slightly, an accusing edge to his tone. He warily looked over Stan. “You asked who, I never mentioned anyone.”

Stan eased his hands down again. “Relax, okay. I can just tell. Nobody gets five locks on their door for bears, alright?” He gestured back towards the front door casually.

Ford glanced towards the doorway, and the tension in his stance went back out again as well as the manic glint in his eyes. “Oh…” He responded tiredly. It was... It was a sad moment. Not that Ford sounded sad. No, drained, sure, but definitely not sad.

The moment itself just struck him as sad, and maybe... a bit familiar. He slowly approached him to put a hand on his shoulder, watching Ford for anything, but he didn't seem to even notice the contact. The other still looked towards the front door barely in view. He pushed his fingers underneath his glasses to rub at his eyes.

“Look,” Stan started in a gentle voice, “I get it.” He put his free hand up to his own chest earnestly, before gesturing back to Ford. “You’re tired. You're thinking the moment you let your guard down something is going to happen, but you’ve got to get some sleep, Ford.”

Ford shook his head. “No, Stanley, you really don't get it. I have to stay awake.” Not even stubborn or upset, just like it was a matter of fact.

“Stanford, you can't keep yourself awake forever. At least take a nap.”

Ford put a hand up to his head, pushing the heel up against the hair. It took him a moment to respond. “I know. I know, but I'm not trying for forever. I just… Once I figure something out I'll be able to sleep, but I can't let myself fall asleep right now."

“What about this?” Stan suggested. “You go to sleep, and I'll stick by and keep watch. If I hear anything, I'll wake you right up. Or you can lock yourself into a room and I'll just make sure nobody breaks in.”

He shook his head. “If I was just worried about a simple break in I would have figured out a system to take naps.”

How long had he been awake...? Stan let out a breath, furrowing his eyebrows. “That's not why you're keeping awake.”

“No.”

“Then what is?”

Ford stayed silent, glancing around, as if for a plausible answer.

“Nightmares? Even if they're bad, you gotta sleep.”

He swallowed around a lump in his throat. “That's not it.” He mumbled.

“... Are you going to tell me?”

Ford stayed still and silent, not giving an indication either way for a long stretch before finally looking to him. “I don't know.”

Stan sighed, taking his hand off of Ford’s shoulder. Ford was going to drive himself right into the ground before Stan could even see what it was Ford was hiding from, much less actually help.

“I need to sleep,” Ford admitted slowly, not looking to Stan. He messed with the collared sleeve of his coat. “I just… I may…” His face scrunched up a bit, “sleepwalk.” It sounded like a very bad lie, and Ford himself obviously realized that even as he was saying it. He went on before Stan could say anything. “If you just kept watch to make sure I didn't go downstairs, then I could at least try to sleep.”

“You want me to keep you from going downstairs?” Stan asked slowly.

He nodded, “Or anywhere else.” He lead Stan back just enough to show him the door. Some big metallic door with enough doohickeys and continuously blinking lights that Stan really didn’t think it should just be called a door anymore.

“This is the only entrance to downstairs.” Ford told him, nodded his head towards it.

“Because you don't want to ‘sleepwalk.’” Stan said dubiously, crossing his arms. He just wanted another answer, something, he wanted something.  

Ford let out a breath, letting the air deflate out of him and avoiding eye contact. “I- I know, just- It might be safe enough for me to sleep if you do this.” He looked back at Stan again, keeping solid eye contact as he made his request, even pointing a finger out from his chest to him. “Don't let me downstairs or out of this house until you are absolutely certain I'm in my right mind.”

Stan started off with a bit of suspicion seasoned with understandable concern, but was quickly interrupted. “Why do-”

“And please don't ask me why or anything about this right now.” Ford’s voice cracked, as he squeezed his eyes shut. His hands gripped tightly onto the front of the coat keeping it closed. “I know it’s weird, Stanley. I realize what this probably looks like. If you'd just do this for me though then maybe I'll be rested enough that I won't have to worry about falling asleep while I figure something out.”

And... Stan could see the underlying desperation in the request. He didn't really know what this was suppose to look like. Weird, sure, but he couldn't understand what it was. Maybe he was suppose to see the whole thing as mentally unstable, but he had already been thinking that since he had come face to point with a crossbow. If anything the request was one of the few moments where Ford actually seemed most stable, vulnerable and maybe desperate, but close to what he'd been like on the phone. Which was a lot better than the shakily wound together bundle of paranoia and fear that was just a quick second from swinging a wooden bat into his face.

Stan put a hand on Ford’s arm, causing the other to jump slightly and open his eyes open up again. “Okay. I'll do it. No questions asked. ‘Sides, you aren't really gonna give me the best answers like this anyways.” Ford slumped a bit, looking relieved. “Come on,” Stan said, patting Ford’s arm, “let's go to your bedroom.”

His brother nodded his head and started to lead the way.

Chapter Text

Ford’s bedroom was, frankly, a complete mess. It looked worse than the rest of the house. A war zone compacted into its own room. There were a few things still shattered on the ground and the bed was covered in all kinds of objects; books, lamps, odd devices. There didn't seem to be any pattern to the things weighing the bed down, but it all felt as purposeful as the locks installed on the front door.

“Okay, seriously, when was the last time you actually slept.” Stan commented, moving over to the bed and grabbing an arm full of the stuff off the bed to set it on the ground nearby.

“It's hard to tell.” Ford went to simply grab the top blanket and pulled it off with everything on top of it crashing to the ground in a cacophony of thuds and clanks. Once everything had settled he pulled the blanket up until it freed itself from the different objects still trapping it and haphazardly set it on the bed.

Stan looked at everything on the ground now and dropped what he had in his arms, letting it fall onto the edge of the pile. It took a little bit of effort to pull out a chair by the desk, oddly one of the cleanest parts of the room, but then again knowing his brother, not that surprising. Once he had pulled it out and set it down again near the bed he noticed Ford still standing there looking over the bed uneasily. “Ford, come on. It's a bed, it's not gonna bite.”

“Right… right…” He finally went to lay on the bed, not getting under any of the covers or taking off his coat... or even his boots. He laid on his back, looking up to the ceiling and placing his hands over his chest, interlacing his fingers.

Stan sat down in the chair with a sigh, glancing over the room.

“Remember what I said.”

He questioningly looked back at Ford who still stared up at the ceiling, a bit nervous maybe a bit determined, it was actually hard to tell what but there was a mix of emotions. Already though, his breathing was slowing and his body slumped into the bed.

“Right, no ‘sleepwalking.’” Stan said, putting up air quotes with his fingers even despite his only audience not looking his way. Although, he really couldn't find it in himself to try and press on whatever ‘sleepwalking’ actually meant now. A question that would probably be easier answered when the other had had some rest.

Ford nodded his head, his eyes closing. He looked instantly asleep. Stan imagined he probably was too.

After an hour passed Stan got bored and decided to actually look around the room. It's not like Ford was going to wake up anyways, and hey he’d be cleaning up so it's not like Ford could necessarily be MAD at him or anything, right? Classic good brotherly move.

He started with the pile now surrounding the bed and his chair, actually moving it out of the way and up against a wall. He stacked the books, quickly glancing at the titles. To his disappointment, nothing besides boring textbooks and nerdy manuals or whatever. He wasn't that sure exactly. After the first few words of ‘quantum third degree calculus of-’ he lost interest to even finish reading the title. Eventually, he stopped even glancing at the titles. After he went through the books he just piled up all the other objects up against the tower of books. More interesting stuff, but he didn't know what most of it was, so it was just about as productive as going through the books had been.

The rest of the room didn't go much better. He found a few things. A half emptied bottle of scotch. Two piles of clothes, one clean, one dirty. A discarded shirt with some worrisome reddish brown stains, obviously dried blood and a lot of it, which he tossed onto the dirty pile. Shattered glass. A mirror that had been covered up. Then finally, scrawled notes that he couldn't understand. Everything was in a disarray, but nothing noteworthy outside of that. He spent a good twenty minutes trying to read the notes or find some that made SENSE, but either they had equations on them or it was in some coded message which he couldn’t figure out.

So he sat down, leaning back in the chair and waited. Stan kept himself amused with taking some of the blank papers, which were what mostly littered the desk, then folding them and flicking them between his fingers, trying to hit different goals like the poster of some mustached nerd on the wall.

This went on for maybe another hour before he ran out of paper that was either blank or didn’t look important. Folded paper triangles now littered a few spots of the room, but hey, easy mess to clean up anyways. Stan zoned out after a while, going half asleep himself, though never actually let himself fully drift off. Even if he hadn’t been a bit on edge about whatever it was Ford had gotten himself into, he still knew it wouldn’t exactly be good if Ford woke up and he was out cold. Literally. This place was absolutely freezing, made it hard to fall asleep even if he wanted to.

After four hours he had become resigned to sitting in the chair, leaning it back, with his hands stuffed into his coat pockets. Who knew how long Ford would sleep for? At least 8 hours. Definitely longer though. After all, he was sleep deprived. So, you know, probably 10 hours, maybe even 12 or 14.

Then, Ford shifted on the bed.

Or you know…. A really packed 4 hour power nap, Stan guessed. He watched Ford, keeping quiet out of the possibility he hadn’t broken out of his thus far dead sleep.

However, Ford’s eyes opened and he blinked a few times, grinning as he sat up.

Oh, yeah no, that didn’t look weird at all. “Uhh, trouble sleeping?” Stan asked.

Ford actually looked over to Stan now, and there was a slight pause before he swung his legs over the side of the bed and faced him. “Oh, hey! Didn’t think I’d be seeing you.”

Stan replied, cross his arms. “Well, yeah, did you honestly expect me to leave?”

The other continued looking at him and shrugged. “Hey, can’ya blame me? Wouldn’t be the first time you’ve done that.” It was- well, despite the wording it was surprisingly not a bitter accusation. The comment rolled off of his tongue with a pleasant note. Which was way off. He stood up from the bed, and Stan let his chair fall back down onto all fours and got up himself.

“Why don’t you go back to bed, Ford. You didn’t even get a full rest.” Stan said, only a bit irritated at the jab. He actually wanted to be a bit more upset about it because of the sore subject. The way he had said it though was unsettling enough to throw off a proper reaction for now.

He hummed, as if in contemplation, glancing into a corner of the room, even dropping the grin. Then he looked back up at Stan again, “Nope!”

“Did- Didn’t you want to actually try and get some rest?” Stan questioned.

He shrugged his shoulders and stepped around Stanley with a grin, heading towards the door. “I guess I changed my mind!” He said tapping the side of his head and glancing back over his shoulder at him. Stan could have sworn that there was a yellow tinted sheen over his eye, for just that moment.

Some weird trick of the light, he figured. There was a lot of reflections of light from glinting glass and metal. That didn’t really help the creep of caution to the atmosphere when combined with the odd behavior though. He brushed it off for the time being, following after Ford as he went through the door and started down the hallway. He kept with him, admittedly not sure what to say or even feel. The whole thing was weird, he knew that much. Ford only had a few hours of sleep and he had seemed completely out, but then he just woke up out of the blue, acting worse if that was even possible.

Ford practically fell down the steps, letting gravity do most of the work, laughing a bit as he reached the bottom. “Ha, no dizziness. How long ago did I fall asleep, brother?”

There was a spark of frustration, something to go off of. “Barely a few hours which is why I said-”

“Haha! Man, you ever realize how much your body needs sleep? Such a waste of time, but try to avoid it and all your tiny nerves and cells go haywire!”

Okay, he was definitely frustrated. “Right,” Stan started, tensely, “and you need to go back to sleep.”

Ford waved a hand, continuing on his way and heading rather clearly towards the basement door. “Sure, sure, I’ll go back to sleep, but I just got one little errand to run first.”

As he started reaching for the paneling, Stan grabbed onto his shoulders and pulled him back. “Hey! Keeping out of the basement, remember? You didn’t want to go down there.”

At this Ford frowned for the first time, seeming upset, but it passed by almost instantly. “I don’t get this chance all the time, buddy. I’m gonna make use of it while I’ve got it.”

“What chance?”

There was a pause and then Ford smiled, wrinkling up his eyes, one then the other. He put an arm around Stan’s shoulders. “Why, the chance to show my brother what I’ve got going on downstairs, of course!”

Stan was taken aback by the first actual positive contact he’d gotten from Ford since he’d arrived. Actually, come to think of it, it was the first physical contact he’d willingly made with Stan at all in over 12 years, not counting the incident at the front door, of course. He blinked a few times, looking over at Ford who continued smiling at him, waiting expectantly. When he didn’t respond, Ford continued, hugging him just a bit closer. “I mean, you haven’t seen it yet, right. Aren’t you a little curious?”

He hesitated. “I haven't… but you said it was dangerous and you didn’t really want to show me before.”

“Ah, come on, this is my project. I know exactly  what it will do. I helped make this baby and everything! Besides, I want to show you now, so who cares about before!” Then he added, the cheerful tone dropping to slyly add, “and be honest... do you really think I was in the best state before?”

“Well, no, but-”

“Exactly!” The cheerful tone was back again. “So, you can just forget whatever came out of this meat sack before and go downstairs with me!” He took his arm off of Stan, putting both arms at his side nonchalantly. “Hell, I’ll even let you pull a lever! Doesn’t that sound fun?”

Stan took a breath and put his hands up. “Okay,” he said slowly, lowering his hands again, “okay. I’m taking you back up to bed.”

He frowned. “...Why?”

Stan couldn’t help feeling just a slight edge of his nerves at the question, gesturing at Ford sharply. “Because you’re acting like you don’t have a damn care in the world and before you went to sleep you looked like you were suspicious of even the damn woodwork itself! You’re actually worse now than before you went to bed. Something is up and you’re just acting like everything’s okay! For fuck’s sake, Ford, you’re even acting like-” Stan groaned and ran a hand over his face. Ford was actually smiling at him, and sure it was creepy. Actually, the whole way he was acting since he woke up was really damn creepy. Even still though, it was lacking the underlying bitter resentment in the air coming off of him since even the phone call. Stan wasn’t an idiot either, he knew what it was about. His brother wasn’t anywhere even close to forgiving him for what happened over thirteen years ago. So for that resentment to be missing like it didn’t even happen...

“Ugh! Whatever,” he said, brushing it off. He grabbed Ford’s arm and began to pull him back with him as he walked, “you can just sleep it off until your brain’s stopped being so fried.”

“Woah,” Ford laughed a bit uncomfortably, “now, come on, don’t you want to see what’s downstairs?” He tried, lightly tugging back against the pull, testing it out.

“Big hunk of metal with glowing lights, right? I don’t gotta see it right now.” Stan dismissed. He just wanted his brother to go back to sleep again and wake up over whatever this was. Back to his resentful self, like he should be.

“It’s- haha, you know what,” Ford scoffed halfheartedly, “you’re right! What was I thinking?” He bopped the side of his head for effect. “There’s no reason to take you downstairs to see the portal, that must have been why I didn’t show it to you before.”

His mind paused on that a bit and he looked back to Ford. He couldn’t help feeling like an opportunity had just slipped him by. Sure, his brother was out of his own head right now, but would he even be willing to show him when he was fully rested. All he could get before were bare answers, if any at all, and not one of them nearly enough to actually understand the situation.

Ford spoke up again, looking aside with a slightly saddened look, the appearance of it marred by the upward curl of his lips even now. “You probably don’t even want to see it.” Like a foot casually pressed into a closing door to stop it from shutting completely.

“I do want to see it.” Stan replied quickly. He cleared his throat. “I uhh, I just thought you didn’t actually wanna show me.” Ford didn’t, of course, he knew that. Stan just wanted some answers though. He couldn’t help if Ford kept shutting him out from any possible explanation.

Ford grinned at him, almost victoriously, and grabbed his hand pulling the other back with him towards the door. “Of course, I want to show you, brother!”

Okay, Ford was definitely  out of it right now, but Stan would make sure Ford didn’t screw with anything downstairs. He watched him cheerfully enter in the code and followed after him down into the elevator.

The elevator doors opened up to a hallway that shortly led into a cavernous room, with a little side room with all sorts of gizmos inside. Even in the dark it was easy to make out the ominous triangle shape looming in the middle of the room. The towering metallic thing with odd symbols surrounding the inner rim, emitting a dull blue light. It was impressive. Of course it was though, wasn’t it... Ford had made it.

Speaking of the devil, he started out with a confident stride, taking a few steps ahead before stopping. Planting hands on his hips, he looked back at Stan. “Good-looking portal, isn’t it. Lemme tell ya, pal, it took me eons to actually get this thing finally made right! My last couple attempts did not go well. Some of those apes, huh.” He rolled an eye, the other lagging just half a second after.  “I always seem to pick the dramatic ones.” He said looking over Stan's head.

He quickly followed the gaze to see large red zeros up against the wall. Huge panels of lights to display what looked like... a countdown clock. Stan almost let out a laugh. That alone just screamed Ford. Count on him to have some huge honking numbers for a countdown instead of just using his watch. Stan looked back again at the other, who gave a shrug and had a worry free smile that was oddly unfit for his face. “It spices things up though!”

Stan’s brief amusement quickly faded away and he couldn’t help frowning. That countdown clock had his brother’s name written all over it, but there didn’t even seem to be a trace of him in the actual body twenty feet away from him. He was definitely out of it...

“So, uh, what happened the last couple of times you tried to make this thing?” Stan asked, casually walking up to him.

Another shrug. “Couldn’t make it.” Then he perked up, grabbing onto Stan’s arm and pulling him towards the middle of the room and closer to the portal. “Oh, here!” He stopped short of a lever before releasing his grip on Stan.

Stan blankly looked at the lever and back to Ford.

Ford sighed at that. “It’s the lever, kid. Now, come on, pull it so we can have some real fun already!”

“You want me to pull it,” Stan said slowly in disbelief. The same machine that Ford had yelled about having disastrous effects and now he pulled him right up to some lever for it.

“Huh, you know I didn’t peg you as this dumb before.” He turned back to the lever, crossing his arms over each other. “It would have been hilarious if you activated it, but it’ll be funny this way too!” He uncrossed his arms and started to reach for the lever, a giddy smile on his face.

Stan panicked, remembering Ford’s earlier admission, quickly grabbing Ford’s arm and pulling him away from the lever. “Woah! Ford, slow down, that ACTIVATES it?!”

He slowly looked over at Stan, smile gone, but only for a moment. “Yup. Want to see what happens?” He asked, like it was a secret to discover.

Stan balked. “Uh, NO? You told me if this thing activated it’d tear up reality! Why would I want to start it up?!”

“Because it might not! Besides, just imagine what’ll be on the other side, all sort of stuff nobody from this planet has seen before.”

Stan couldn’t help a scoff, and he started pulling Ford back to the elevator. “You know what else nobody has ever seen before? A black hole, doesn’t mean I wanna open up a portal next door to one.” No wonder Ford had told Stan to keep himself out of the basement.

Suddenly, there was a piercing six fingered grip around his forearm, stopping him short and causing Stan to look back.

L I S T E N. ” He faced the other, his attention burning the air in between them and focusing on Stan.

Stan locked eyes with Ford’s, an oddly intense gaze that held, reminiscent of times when he had found himself in over his head with the wrong person crossed. Never Ford though, even on that night Ford hadn't been like this.

Out of instinct, his arm went to jerk away from the unexpected pain, breaking out of Ford’s harsh grip after a moment. With his state, his body was just incapable of holding a strong grip for long apparently. Stan remained where he was even still, staring back at the other.

The intensity of Ford’s behavior flipped off entirely, like a switch, and he smiled crookedly. “You know, you’re gonna be a real pain in my side if you try to stick around.”

Stan let out a breath, and went to grab Ford again, carefully this time and pulled him back towards the elevator again, being met with little resistance now. “Yeah, yeah, let’s just get you back to sleep already. If you're going to kick me out you're gonna have to do it when you’re well-rested...”

He soured, keeping silent as they rode up elevator and walked back through the house. They had barely made it up the stairs when he suddenly smiled with faux innocence and laughed. “Hey, you know what, you want me to sleep? I can do that, no problem!” He snapped his fingers to point at Stan and then his eyes closed and he began to fall forward.

“What are- oh shit!” Stan looked back at Ford and scrabbled to catch him. Ford’s weight had almost pulled him down to the ground as well, but Stan managed to stop the motion before he hit the ground. He sighed heavily and started lifting Ford back up to get a less awkward and unstable hold on him. “You couldn't have passed out like thirty seconds from now, really ?”

“If I have to babysit you while you sleep again I'm piling your stupid nerd books on top of you.” He grumbled, carrying Ford back to the room.

Chapter Text

Ford felt like dead weight being carried and he didn't even so much as shift as Stan carried him into the room and plopped him onto the bed. He moved his body so that Ford’s head would actually be setting on the pillow again, but decided that was enough and sat back down. Several hours passed and he was nearly tempted to sleep himself, but again his brother’s suspicion had to be coming from somewhere. Besides, if Ford waked up and he was asleep he'd probably kick him out then and there for not doing like he said he would. He could stick it out for a little while longer.


Only a couple hours passed and Stan was honestly considering just taking a quick nap or something. He wasn’t even just tired, but there was nothing to do. He already poked around the room and there had been nothing. He could look at the weird stuff, but honestly he didn’t want to break anything. He finally decided to actually try reading the titles of the books against the wall to see if there was something that maybe was actually not some bland textbook, really he’d go for even a guidebook to bird types or something. Just anything-... Stan physically slapped a hand over his face.

The journal.

He’d honestly forgotten about it with seeing Ford and then the 'crossbow-in-his-face' thing. Then there was that whole 'getting-told-to-leave-not-even-five-minutes-after-he’d-arrived' thing.

Speaking of things, what had he actually done with the thing anyways? He patted himself down as he glanced around the room. No journal. Slight panic bubbled at the bottom of his stomach.
He couldn’t have already lost the journal. No way. Very quietly he slipped out of the room, glancing back at Ford’s sleeping form before carefully shutting the door. It had to be in the house, neither of them had stepped outside. He started scouring downstairs, but quickly found it on top of the edge of a messily covered table. He must have set it down when they had been talking and not realized. Ford hadn’t either, apparently. Small miracles.

As soon as he spotted the book, Stan let out a sigh of relief and picked it up from the table, quietly starting back towards the room. He looked over the cover, a six fingered golden hand was pasted to the front with a large ‘1’ embossed over top of it. Ford’s research.

He paused outside of the room, listening to the door before cracking it open to peek inside. Ford hadn’t even moved a centimeter. Stan shut the door again without even a click and looked over the book in his hands again. Whatever his brother was up to...

His fingers squeezed around the book slightly. It wasn’t like Ford had told him not to look inside. Besides, he HAD given it to him after all. He couldn’t have expected him to just bury the book without once looking inside just to see what was in it.

Stan opened the book prepared for blueprints of outrageous inventions and ominous machines. Instead, the random page held a drawing of a gathering of faeries with an enthusiastic description. Nearly every sentence on the page was punctuated with an exclamation point.

Stan flipped through the paper of the journal curiously, seeing drawings of different creatures and oddities rather than detailed machines. He stopped when he saw a page with extensive underlining and flipped back to see the page.

An account of merpeople in the lake, with a very detailed drawing. The words on the page gushed about the merpeoples’ existence, Ford obviously having gotten carried away. Stan smiled warmly as he settled his back against the door to read. Some of the page listed off traits one after the other alongside his theories. There were several comments scrawled across the page.

 

I knew there had to be mermaids in Gravity Falls!

AHA! Take THAT Academia!!!

I once saw a mermaid when I was little ,̶ ̶b̶u̶t̶ ̶S̶t̶-̶ Nobody thought a mermaid would come to Glass Shard Beach of all places though.

 


Ford always had a tendency of writing out his thoughts, not realizing until he was putting down the words or it was already on the page itself entirely. He couldn’t easily read whatever had been crossed out. It wasn’t about anything important, he was sure. Just some mess up that wasn’t worth the time.

Stan didn’t even have glasses in the car. He used to have a pair, but he didn’t need them that much. Besides, the nerd look wasn’t really his style. He decided to start at the very beginning after reading through the page.

The first page was a formal introduction to the research ahead and promised of wondrous discoveries. Judging by all the wording Stan wouldn't be surprised if Ford had taken a notebook and carefully constructed it until he considered it presentable. The next page over was an entirely different story. A rambling wall of text with letters slanted in haste, the ink barely lifting from the page between words.
The rest of the journal was filled in the same almost childlike excitement. Each entry enthusiastically penned with drawings on every other page. As he reached the middle of the book he suddenly flipped to a full paged diagram, a sudden interruption in the book. Rude and unwelcome, especially after all the strange creatures and dialogue that spewed out scientific notes just as excitedly as personal anecdotes.

There was so much on the page that it looked like a geometrical mess. A nightmare that didn’t belong inside the journal alongside everything else he’d seen so far. Like they should be worlds apart.

Stan thumbed the page pensively, considering the paper.


 

Hours later, Ford finally started to move again, shifting as he woke up slowly. A bit suddenly, he jerked up and opened his eyes just as Stan was starting to sit up in the chair.

“Hey, welcome back to the land of the living,” Stan said casually, lifting up a hand in greeting. Ford looked at Stan and did a quick glance over of the room. Relatively the same and then there was Stan who was now looking a bit tired himself, sitting cross armed with his legs up.

“Hey,” Ford cleared his throat, “so uhh, how long was I asleep for?”

“Eh, seventeen hours, you were out cold.” He paused. “Well, mostly, I guess.” It had been 13 hours since that whole weird thing downstairs, after all. “Not that surprised though considering it seems like you haven't been sleeping for, I don't know, days.” He pointed the last word just enough to be a slight reprimand.

Ford either didn't notice or didn't care to and picked at Stan’s wording. “Mostly..?”

“Yeah, you woke up a few hours ago.”

He watched him a bit expectantly for something more. “...Oh.”

“You don't remember?”

Ford shook his head. “No.”

That made sense. He had been out of it.... Really out of it. Ford’s question brought him back to the present.

“What happened?”

Stan glanced back and saw Ford watching him intently. There was a spark of worry and the lie came out almost automatically “Meh, nothing, really. You were pretty loopy, but I didn’t let you get past the hallway.” He shrugged, looking aside. “Dragged you back to bed.”
Ford waited a moment for Stan to say more, but when he didn’t he then asked, “And I just went with it…?”

“Eh, not really, you were acting really  weird.” Stan emphasized, pausing before shrugging again. “Pretty obvious you were ‘sleepwalking’ though. ”

“Ah, right, right.” Ford’s mind had quickly moved on and he responded distractedly, standing up and going over to his desk. He pulled open a drawer for a piece of paper and slapped it onto the table. He had started to reach for a paper on the table, and Stan was just about to say something, when he paused and asked, “Why is there paper missing?”

“What? The blank paper on top?” Stan asked, furrowing his brow.

Ford visibly seemed to be trying to focus on withholding a sigh. “Yes, there were several sheets of paper on top of this desk.”

Stan shrugged, crossing his arms across his chest. “Huh… yeah, weird, looks the same to me.”

This time Ford took a deep inhale, planting hands on the desk and breathing in. “Okay, okay, that's fine. I don't need it.” He pointedly shot an accusatory look at Stan before jotting down a few quick notes on the paper and tucking it into his coat before Stan could read it.

“What is it? Those papers were blank anyway, weren't they?” Stan asked, upset at what seemed to be yet another mistake on his part. It couldn’t have been a big deal. It was just blank paper! “Why’s it so important?”

“It's fine.” Ford said cooly, very obviously not meaning the words.

Stan wanted to say something, but Ford left him with virtually nothing to argue against. It. Was. BLANK. Paper. There was nothing written on any of it!

Then he gestured for Stan as he headed out the door, “come on.”

Stan perked up, standing up from his seat and following. Along the way Ford picked up a couple things, a pre-made pack and the crossbow primarily. He was ushered out of the door, the other out right after him to lock it up.

“So, uh, where are we going?” Stan asked, hands in his coat pocket.

We aren't going anywhere.” He said, looking at him, “I have something that I need to see through though.”

Something that felt like hope fell around him. “Wait... are you kidding me, Ford?!”

“I have something that I need to figure out, Stanley.” He hissed back, patience thin.

“Oh, oh, right. So, let me guess, you just want me to leave now, right?” He asked crossing his arms across his chest, frustration bubbling up.

“You-” Ford faltered and glanced aside, turning around and walking off the porch, boots crunching into the snow. “You can do whatever you like.” He said evasively.

“Great!” Stanley snipped back, catching up to Ford and blatantly following beside him.

This went on for nearly a minute, the two walking along to the sweeping sound of easy wind, downy flake, and crunching of snow underfoot. Ford stole half glances at his brother and Stan tried to catch his eye as much as humanly possible without tripping or running into something.

Finally, Ford stopped and Stan did the same along with him. “Stanley,” he began, fully looking at him now, “I really can't emphasize how much I need to attend to this.”

“Yeah, and?”

Ford blinked a bit looking at him, Stan just expectantly keeping his gaze on him.

“This is very important.” He insisted.

“Uh-huh.”

“I'm being serious!”

“I know you are. Now, I don't have some big degree or whatever, but if I remember right you just told me to do what I want and I want to see what it is that’s so important that you're leaving your cabin in the woods for.”

“I'm- Stanley, I have to go and figure something out!”

“Right, see someone paranoid enough to answer the door with a CROSSBOW is going outside again all of a sudden. Do y’see why I might think that's a little weird.” He paused then added nonchalantly. “Which, if you're ‘figuring out’ how to reverse some people after your life or whatever then I actually wanna see how you pull that off for future reference. It's a win-win either way.”

“And what's the win for the first scenario..?” Ford asked, a tad suspiciously.

“Actually getting some answers about what the hell you got yourself into, and I mean what you REALLY got yourself into. Because this doesn't seem like just some stereotypical ‘oops I took money from a Columbian drug ring or two and couldn't pay them back’ thing.”

Ford looked at him for a moment longer before setting off in resigned acceptance this time. “It's going to take all day.” He informed him.

Stan hummed in acknowledgement and the two continued through the forest on a half beaten trail for a good half hour before Stan spoke up. “So, you brought food and water for yourself, right?”

Ford slowed to a stop and then slung his pack onto the cold ground and opened it, looking through it, grumbling quietly, “I usually don't have to…” After a momentary search though he zipped it back up and threw it over his back again, silently proceeding forward again.

“I take it that’s a yes.”

“No.”

Stan slid a hand over his face. “Sixer.

“Look, I'll be fine without it for a few hours.” He replied obstinately. “I wasn't the one that carried the snacks and water before. Besides, it's not necessary.”

“You went hiking with someone?” Stan asked, genuinely curious. Looking through the journal he was almost certain his brother had been alone, then again things did change.

“... Yes. Yes, I did. I had- I used to have a research assistant.” Ford replied, sullenly.

“Is he the one threatening you?”

No! God, no, not him.” He defended immediately. Ford let out a breath, continuing calmly. “No, he's not a part of this. Or well, not on the offending side of it at least.” He seemed genuinely saddened and actually guilty, though above all else, he looked tired. The dozen hours of sleep hadn’t actually done anything to the bags under his eyes and if anything he looked more worn down than he had before.

Stan decided to just silently file away the piece of information for now. It took maybe another half hour before they arrived to the beginning of a tunnel system. The entrance to the cave was rather well hidden, small and unnoticeable in the forest, old vines and overgrowth covering up the entrance. Ford had to pull aside some of it to squeeze himself through. As Stan was pushing himself in Ford lit a lantern from his bag. The air inside was immediately more humid and warm than the outside was, moss or something similar growing over the scraggly walls and ground.

“Don't slip,” Ford said as he descended down the rocky slope, lantern in hand.

“How did you even find this place, Sixer?” Stan asked, “I mean I could barely get through all that.”

“There's another entrance behind the waterfall, that's where I found this initially. It has a few entrances, but most of them are like that, excluding the waterfall.” He explained.

“So, what's in here? Why was this SO important?” He asked going up beside him to see his face.

Ford glanced over at him briefly, but continued looking over the walls. “The remains of a civilization. Keep an eye out for anything - writing, possible switches, anything out of the ordinary.”

“Might as well point out the whole forest then,” Stan muttered, looking around.

The pair scoured the walls as they went, Ford occasionally pausing to push at patches of walls that he believed could be more than they appeared.

Soon enough the moss disappeared and the ground evened out. They walked for a couple hours, some paths seeming natural while others were obviously human made. They walked in a large arching circle, occasionally diverting to check down a pathway, but always going back again. Some rooms contained the remains of a person living there, very long ago, but after a brief inspection they passed on. Eventually, Ford slowed down before stopping entirely.

“What's up?” Stan asked, looking over at him.

“You uhh, you need to stay here.” He replied almost reluctantly so before glancing to look over toward him.

Stan simply gave him a dead eyed stare and fully turned towards him, crossing his arms.

“What?” Ford asked obliviously.

“You want us to split up in the middle of a creepy cave. Ya don’t see anything off about that?” He deadpanned.

Ford finally turned to Stan. “What are you talking about?!” He asked, offended. “What's wrong with-...”

Yeah.

“This isn’t a horror movie, Stanley, honestly.” He said, grimacing even still.

“Really starting to look like one. Especially if we split up when there’s only one lantern.” Stan replied easily.

Ford frowned, thinking. “Well, if we just-” he cut himself off, looking off in thought, “or-” he let out a quiet groan, running a hand through his hair. “It’ll take me an hour at least to walk you back to an exit!”

“Or!” Stan immediately voiced himself, “Or… Or, just consider this.” He held up his hands and gestured outwards dramatically and in a wondrous tone suggested, “I could just keep helping you look.”

“Stanley, this is… I was hoping that I'd find something outside of this section, maybe something I had accidentally skipped over before. That’s why I saved it for last.”

“So it's dangerous?” Stan asked, dropping the attitude.

“Well-” he hesitated, “well, yes, but not in the way you consider something dangerous.”

“How do you know what I think is dangerous?”

“Physical danger and harm.” Ford answered directly.

Stan went thin lipped, silent for a second or two. “Okay, fine, but that’s practically the definition of the word.”

“Not quite. Knowledge can be dangerous too.” He said somberly.

“... Seriously?” Stan raised an eyebrow, barely holding back a roll of his eyes.

“What?” Ford immediately questioned back. “Of course I'm being serious! This is important.”

Stan scoffed. “Okay, okay, well if you could handle it then I think I can too.”

Ford started up, and faltered, glancing down to the lantern. “Listen, Stanley, I know this might seem a bit ridiculous to you, but I have my reasons.”

“Can you at least tell me what some of them are then?”

He frowned and then decidedly looking back at him. “There's already enough risk in this as it is.”

“Oh, my God,” Stan took a breath and put his hands up against the side of his head before earnestly gesturing back to his brother, “Stanford.”

“There are scenarios where this could literally end the world, alright?!” He whipped back his voice nearly cracking and his thoughts quickly derailing. “Maybe a lot, maybe only a few, I don't know ! There's too many factors and I don't know what piece of information could tip the scale for global disaster! It wasn't suppose to turn out like this. I went along thinking it was fine and now if I mess up there won’t BE a chance to fix it!”

“Okay, okay,” Stan began calmly, waving his hands, “just take it easy, Sixer. You going on like that isn't going to keep you from messing up, it's just going to make sure you do.”

Ford looked back at Stan again and let out a breath. “I'm aware. I'm just- I’m just being careful.” Stan made a drawn out and uncertain noise in response, and Ford gave him a slight look though there was no real bite to it. “It may veer a bit excessive at times, I'll admit. Now that I've reflected on earlier, I’ll admit answering the door with the crossbow was a bit unnecessary.”

“Oh, that’s a relief. Don’t have to worry about an arrow messing up my good looks.” Stan teased lightly.

Ford’s face softening up just slightly. Then he stood up straight and looked ahead out past the fading light, thoughtfully. “I know I haven't explained anything, but once I do this I should be able to set this right. Then I'll stop keeping everything about this a secret… I- I promise.”

Stan felt his heart go lighter at that, but he quickly picked up on how Ford fidgeted a bit, not quite finished with what he was saying. Some amendment or- oh, “You still want me to stick behind for this, don't you?”

Quietly, he nodded his head. “I can uhh,” he quickly glanced around before walking towards a dip in the rocky ground, “I’ll make a fire before I go so you have some form of light.”

“You know what, sure,” Stan relented.

Ford glanced him over, some disbelief in the scan. “... Really?”

“Yeah, just don't take too long to come back and I'll wait here.” Stan promised him.

“Okay.” Ford said, relief evident, “okay.” He went about setting up a small fire, it was an emergency setup from out of his backpack, a chemical reaction that he assured Stan lasted well over five hours which was infinitely more time than he needed. He almost smiled, talking more to himself than Stan. “It won't even take a half hour, I'll find the solution, fix this, then take care of everything else.” He noted assuredly, though there was a shake in his hands that he didn’t even seem to be acknowledging.

He turned a bit to talk directly to Stan once he had managed to get the flame going. “I'll be back though, so even if it seems like I'm taking a while don't come after me.”

“Alright, but listen if I'm sitting here for over two hours then I'm coming no matter what, got it?”

Ford shrugged. “Well, there's absolutely no reason I'll be gone that long anyways, so fine. I'll be back in no time.” A final promise as he hefted his pack onto his back and left.

Stan stayed there and waited.

There was no real way to tell the time, but within a half hour he simply laid on the ground. Another ten minutes passed and he couldn't help considering what sort of things could happen to Ford.

Sure, it was a cave and they hadn't seen any drop offs in the rest of it, but what if there was one. Did caves do that? Just have random drop off points. They could anyways, he decided.
What if there were bats or something.
He had said it was dangerous right, though just the knowledge or whatever. Maybe it was like supernaturally melting your face off if you knew too much of something, Raiders of the Lost Ark style.

Actually, talking about the supernatural, there had been a few dangerous creatures in the journal. Anything could be in these caves, but Ford would have mentioned them then, right?

What was so dangerous about all of this anyways… Why couldn't Ford just tell him what was going on. Of course, maybe he just really didn't trust him and it was an excuse.

Maybe Ford just planned on ditching him in the cave so he'd be out of the way...

Before an hour passed he heard distant footsteps and listened for a moment. Once he was certain that it really was footsteps and not just water dripping he pulled himself off of the ground. As the sound came closer the glow of a lantern started bobbing into view along with Ford, obviously frustrated and on edge.

“No dice, huh?” Stan asked.

Ford passed him by, continuing without stopping and Stan had to speed up a bit to catch up with him. “No, no there was nothing new. I checked thoroughly and- nothing!”

“Okay, well uh, there’s gotta be something somewhere, right?” Stan tried to ease him down.

Instead Ford only let out an embittered laugh. “I wanted to fix this within the next two days while my mind was rested. Actually, I wanted to fix this weeks ago.”

“Then well, I don't know, maybe I could help. I mean, you gotta tell me what's going on, but still.” Stan suggested, actually leaving out a fair amount of well due frustration

“You? What are you going to do, Stanley?!” Ford practically snapped at him. “This is not exactly a problem that can be solved with a right hook. Then all my temporary solutions are just that, temporary!!

Stan put out a hand, still walking alongside the other’s fast pace, arguing. “Hey, listen, alright, just because I didn't go to college doesn't make me useless! I could help.”

Ford stopped and whipped around to face Stan, earnestly asking him. “How?

“I've tried nearly everything, Stanley!” He wildly gestured back where he had just left as he started to yell, “That was suppose to have the answer! THAT WAS MY LAST POSSIBLE RESOURCE!! The last place in Gravity Falls that MIGHT have given me something so I could finally just…” His voice bounced off of the walls, but pathetically tapered off before the end of the sentence. Ford squeezed his eyes shut and pushed the palm of his hand up to his right eye, lifting the glasses out of the way.

“I've looked all over the town, read nearly everything I could find. I haven't even been able to figure out anything even remotely new for the past month,” he said evenly, “There's no options left for me to explore, even theoretically.” He started to shake slightly.

Stan watched uncomfortably for a moment then, hesitantly, reached out a hand towards Ford’s shoulder. “Hey,” he started gently, “you're too much of a nerd for your own good sometimes, but just because you're stuck doesn't mean you won't figure it out.” He offered a smile even if Ford wasn't looking, finally going to settle his hand onto Ford’s shoulder, “You’re a genius, Sixer, just trust-”

"Don’t!

Ford venomously spat the word cutting him off, and at the same time his hand was sharply knocked away. Keeping his hand protectively near where Stan had touched him, Ford took a defensive step backwards. His short empty pants being the only sound in the tense silence that followed.

After a moment, Ford curled his free hand behind his back and avoided looking directly at Stan, quieting his breathing again. He awkwardly shifted his feet, forcing himself back into a calm stance. “I wasn’t expecting... I didn’t want to hear something like that when... not with,” he took a breath and finished lamely, “this.”

“Uh, alright, yeah…” Stan trailed off and the two fell back into another silence. Ford absently stared at the ground while Stan shoved his hands into his pockets, “So uh… now what?”

Ford glanced up. “...I don't know,” he replied frankly. “I don't know what to do.”

Stan gave a half hearted shrug. “Well, why don't we get something for us to eat?”

“Us?”

Stan faltered slightly. “Well, yeah, I mean neither of us ate today. I'll buy, you know,” he pulled out a hand, gesturing in a circle with his hand, glancing aside, “make up for that paper or whatever.” He looked back to Ford again, “...what d’ya say?”

“Uh... sure,” he pulled at the strap of his pack, “it’s something to do, at the very least.”

Stan gestured ahead silently and the pair continued back on.

They traveled through the tunnel system back until they came out of the same exit in the woods they had entered from, returning to the shack. Stan suggested, as casually as he could, they take his car and Ford agreed. Honestly, he wasn’t sure where Ford’s car was even at.

Stan quickly flipped the sun visor when he sat into the car, Ford walking around and getting into the passenger side. Suddenly, the whole thing was completely surreal. Stan coughed into his fist. “So, what's good to eat around here?”

Chapter Text

Earlier he had heard the car rolling through the snow rather than actually seen it. Even when they had left the house hours earlier they hadn’t passed the car. He saw it in the distance, sure, but being up close to it now was just odd. He floated around to the passenger side of the car suddenly feeling like he was in a dream.

A very brief panic seized up his heart at that. He was very much awake though. Cold, head pounding, sore, and drained; but awake.

He sat down in the car, the surrealness of it stronger than before. He had ridden in the passenger seat several times before. Stanley had been the one with the car, after all. Obviously, things were different now, and the car reflected that too. It still felt the same though. A cold morning ride to school with cold air blasted into their faces, it took the heater a couple minutes before warm air would actually come out.

“So, what’s good to eat around here?” Stan’s question suddenly pulled his attention back from the car.

Ford hadn’t been to Greasy’s diner since that last night with Fiddleford. After everything, it held a bit of a bitter memory now. As for that other diner, he didn’t want to even think about what happened. “There's a couple diners, but it's probably best not to go to either of them.” He glanced aside as he continued, “actually, if we’re going to stop somewhere to eat we should go outside of Gravity Falls.”

Stanley started the car with a nod, backing the car up and turning back down the path. “Should I worry about getting jumped or something?”

“Oh, no, no this is a small town. Crime is low here. No gangs.” He paused before amending, “well, a cult of sorts, but I don't think they qualify as a gang.”

“I meant- wait, a cult? Is that what's going on around here?” Stan asked glancing briefly at Ford.

“What? No. I mean- I actually haven't found their hideout, which is a bit upsetting. I don't know what their goals are either; I haven’t been focusing on them lately.”

“Have they been sacrificing like animals and stuff?”

Ford gave a heavy shrug taking a deep breath before finally answering. “I don't know.” He looked off into the woods, and not even a moment later, mumbled, “I would ask around about any missing livestock, but now hasn’t really been the time.” Ford also found in his past experiences that people didn’t really take that well to the question either.

Stan hummed. “Well, what I was asking was I don't really know if someone is going to attack us or something. You know,” he gestured between them, “because of our faces.”

“Oh… no, no it should be fine.” Ford said, though he doubted himself, surveying the street, “probably.” Almost anything could happen. There were a few cars out, and he found himself unable to realize whether or not it was actually a normal amount for the day and time or not... Come to think of it, he didn’t know which day it was.

“Okay, so not gonna beat around the bush here. That's not comforting at all, Sixer.”

“H- We wouldn't get attacked . That's definite at this current point.” He assured. “That would already have happened, most likely. We may be trailed though.” He covertly glanced over his shoulder at a car a fair distance away from them.

Stanley sighed. “So, you didn't make an enemy like that. Good.”

"‘Good?’" Almost immediately, Ford turned his head around, glowering at Stanley.

“What?” Stan asked, glancing briefly at him and keeping an eye on the road. “If we’re not gonna get riddled with bullets then that’s a positive. Cars aren’t actually all that bullet proof, ya know. ”

“Right…” Ford muttered, looking ahead, growing tense as they got closer to the edge of town. “Right, no, you don't have to worry about that today.”

‘Today?’ ” Stan immediately picked up on the wording.

“This entire thing hasn’t exactly been that predictable.” He mumbled bitterly.

Stan took a moment like he'd say something, but didn't. He just nodded his head, driving them out of town. Ford watched behind them a bit suspiciously once they actually crossed out of Gravity Falls, slowly settling back into his seat when nothing happened. He wasn’t sure what he had even been expecting.

“How about that diner?” Stanley pointed out a spot up ahead on the road. A neon green sign showed the name and had an arrow pointed down to the building as well, just in case someone didn’t catch the restaurant with bright, matching green lights lining the roof.

“Why not.” Ford said, looking ahead with a grim expectation even still. There were a lot of reasons ‘why not,’ actually. It wasn’t far enough away (would any distance be though.) Anybody could be inside. He really had not had the best luck with diners as of late either...

Stanley pulled the car into the parking lot, and the pair went inside taking up opposite ends of a booth. With nothing in front of them the silence that had been stretching on quickly became awkward. And it made looking up to see the others face rather potent.

“Is the diner alright?” Stan asked.

“Uh, yes. It is.” He replied.

The two lapsed back into silence again, much more awkward than before, though thankfully a waiter came with menus and they ordered.

Ford pensively tapped his fingers on the underside of the table, glancing over everybody else in the diner. It was rather empty for the most part, only a couple other customers were inside. None of them actually in the space between the door and where he was at right now though. Was there a backdoor though? There had to be.

Stan cleared his throat and Ford looked back to him. “Are you alright?” Stan asked, trying to make it a casual question.

“Uh, yes. Yes, I'm fine. Just thinking.” Ford replied, stopping the tapping. “... Are you?”

“Yeah, fine. Getting a little tired, but not bad.” He answered, leaning back.

Ford nodded his head, mind listlessly wandering off again. The diner would be fine, it should be at least. No, no, it was- it was fine. He had to believe it was fine. Still, there was no harm in just being aware of where everyone was placed around the building. What was he going to do after this though? Keep anything from happening with Him, of course, but... he couldn’t ward off sleep forever.




His brother had fallen back into silence again and Stan let him. He tried to relax a bit himself, but even as he tried he could see Ford warily watching the other people inside the diner. It was just a diner off of the interstate by a small town. Not exactly foreboding.

Not to mention the customers behind him were an older couple who seemed perfectly comfortable, their chattering being the only background noise outside of the workers. Old people didn’t exactly add up to ‘innocent,’ but they were no rowdy group of teenagers. The most dangerous thing here was probably the bathroom, honestly.

The rest of the time in the diner was spent in relative silence, though nowhere near as bad as before, both twins respectively thinking to themselves. Stan put his hands in his pocket as he walked out and Ford crossed his arms across his chest to brace against the cold.

Stan spoke up as they headed towards the car, his brother looking up to him. “So, uhh what’s your plan?”

Ford didn't answer initially as the two reached El Diablo. “I don’t have one,” he admitted slowly. “My options are,” his brother’s face twisted slightly at his own word usage, “‘limited.’”

In other words, he really was stuck. Stan nodded his head, rubbing the back of his neck with a hand. “Right, well, what do you think about maybe, you know, getting out of town?”

“Out of Gravity Falls?”

“Yeah,” he glanced aside with a shrug, “I mean, you're looking for some solution or whatever and you've already looked through this town, right? So, best option is to look somewhere else.” He ventured a glance back to him. “Gotham University has a pretty big library.”

Initially, all Ford did was look at him, but Stan could tell he was thinking it over. He was actually considering it. “I still have to ensure the first journal is hidden... and it’d leave the p- the machine unguarded.” He said with a glance back towards the direction of town itself.

“Then we can hide the journal on our way, sink it into the bottom of a lake if you want. Besides, it's not exactly easy for someone to get in your creepy house, much less downstairs past everything.”

“It’s not that creepy” Ford replied absently, not even actually thinking on the comment. Then he looked at Stan again, searching over his face. “You're… offering to take me to Gotham?”

He shrugged and shoved his hands into his pockets, trying to appear casual. Whatever had happened, Ford needed to get out of it. If Stan couldn’t help get rid of the issue then he had to at least get his brother away from it.

“Well, yeah, I'm driving back there anyways. No point in you hitching a ride or whatever.” Stan kept going, just the slightest hope he tentatively considered. “And if you wanted, I mean, I got an apartment. It's not a whole house or anything, but…” He trailed off, the small hope flickering out. What was he doing? He should have just kept his big mouth shut. It was too much. He shouldn’t have even tried.

Stan gave a laugh, smiling at Ford. “Heh, no, you probably don't want to live with me again, huh.” He swept the idea under the rug, looking towards the ground. “I can give you a ride though, but then again I guess you could just buy a plane ticket or something.”

“No,” Ford almost interrupted him entirely and Stan looked up, a bit surprised. Ford cleared his throat and continued, “ah, no. I mean, I could, but if you have space then I think it'd be easier if I were to… live with you… in Gotham.” He finished slowly, watching over Stan’s face.

Did... he really mean it? He had to. He would have taken it back by now. Hell, he wouldn’t have even said it in the first place. “Really?” Stan asked even still, a slight hesitant smile on his face.

Ford nodded his head, relaxing slightly. “Yes, really.”

Stan smiled more confidently now, opening his car door. “Well, then, you better get ready for a 40 hour cross country road trip, Sixer.” He said, getting inside.

Ford smiled slightly, walking around the car.

Chapter Text

Ford stepped out of the car, stepping towards the shack with purpose in his stride again. During the ride from the diner, he’d assured Stan that he wouldn’t be long. ‘ I just have to find a few things... Like a suitcase.

Every room he’d seen had been a mess though, so he didn’t quite believe that. Then again, it looked like Ford didn’t even really believe himself since he soon told him he could wait inside the living room.

“Are you coming?” Ford called back to him from the front porch, having already unlocked the door.

“Uh, yeah. I’m just going to clear some space in the car first. Move some stuff around, you know.” Stan assured him.

He nodded his head, before going into the house closing the door after himself.

Stan breathed a sigh of relief, waiting a moment before opening the car door again and flipping his sun visor back down. There, safe and sound, was the slowly aging picture. He carefully peeled off the tape holding it up and took it down.

Ma had snapped a picture of the pair of them before the first boxing class of their last year. Once he saw it, he immediately knew where to put it. The perfect spot for it. Sure, the pair of them kept maybe one or two pictures framed in their room, he could hardly remember now, but he’d wanted this one right in his car.

Boxing hadn’t been Ford’s thing, honestly. Not that he’d been bad at it, despite what he thought. The times he’d tried hard enough Ford actually packed a good punch. He had no motivation for it though, and got discouraged more times than Stan could even remember. Sometime in middle school he started to shrug and say he just wasn’t interested in it. Stan had still liked this photo though, even with Pa looming in the background. It was one of the rare photos with the pair of them as teens where both of them looked genuinely carefree and happy.

He almost tore it down more than a few times, but he’d just flip the sun visor up each time instead. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Speaking of out of sight...

Stan glanced over his shoulder back at the shack and back to his car. “Okay...” He took out the two pieces of marked paper from his coat pocket to fold around the pristine photograph. Leaning back inside the car, he searched it over for a hiding spot. Under a floor mat was too obvious, not to mention dirty. When he pulled up the fur lining in between the back seat and rear window though it made just enough of a flat pocket to slip it into.

He did push everything in his trunk up against one side to make some room before going inside the shack. He could hear his brother moving around upstairs, stuffing his luggage with whatever. Stan went into the living room to find the couch and...

Huh. Okay, that weird dinosaur skull in an over glorified fish tank was taking up the spot where a couch or a nice recliner should have gone. He went into the kitchen, the complete mess wasn’t a surprise. It matched the rest of the house, except this room also several different dirty mugs here and there, as well as at least a couple abandoned pots of coffee. In fact, the freshest thing in here looked like a metal pot on the stove with a shallow inch of some dark liquid left over inside of it. That and some wet clumps of what was definitely a couple handfuls of coffee grounds that had just been thrown into the pot without the luxury of a filter.

The chair was at least clear of anything, and even the table by it had some room. Maybe he’d read a few pages in the journal over again...

 


 


Stanley would have loved this.


Mischievous but largely harmless creatures Brownies will often sneak into homes just behind those entering, not dissimilar to when my brother and I sneaked into fairs when we were young.



I wonder how Stanley is doing...



My brother would know how to talk to these creatures. He w as always,

 


 


Ford set off looking for everything he'd need. Some basic tools, of course. The welder? Eh, maybe that was a bit much. He'd find a way to manage if he needed it. The soldering iron was an absolute necessity though. Of course, a psophometer and perhaps his Geiger counter as well. There would be the Gotham library, but there were just a few rarer books he could cross reference with... What else?

He had some minor materials from the crash site in one of the bags already. Then as unfortunate as it was, he couldn't really bring the crossbow. He had a couple defensive tools though, including the bat awkwardly stretching out of the large tool bag...Actually...

There was no harm in bringing the crossbow. Besides, better safe than sorry.

He still couldn't shake the feeling that he was forgetting something though. He pushed aside the hanging shirts in the closet to check if something may be behind them at the back of the closet. There had to be- clothes!

Clothes! He hadn’t even packed so much as a shirt yet. Ahem, right, yes of course. He was… just saving packing that for last, obviously.

After quickly packing enough clothes, he started down the hallway to find Stan. Murmurs and faded laughter came from the floorboards and walls, nothing new and yet still unnerving. He found Stan in the kitchen, catching the other looking around with a slight crease between his eyebrows. Already though, Stan was looking up towards him before Ford had even said anything.

“Stanley?” Something about the way he searched over everything distinctly picked at the back of his mind.

“Oh, hey.”

“Did-” No, no, he wasn’t going to ask. A pointless endeavor no matter the answer. “I mean, are you ready to go?”

“Yeah,” Stan said, grabbing the journal off of the kitchen table. “Come on, I’ll help you with your stuff.”

The pair carried bags out to the car, fitting them inside the trunk. Only stopping once briefly when Ford noticed Stan setting the journal down to pick up a couple bags. The idea of leaving the journal behind unguarded with the front door unlocked was unnerving.

“Here,” he said holding his hand out towards it, “my coat has a large enough pocket to fit it.”

Stan glanced at the journal and back at Ford before grabbing for it off the desk, “sure.” He handed it towards him. “So, tell me about why you ended up packing like five bags, again.”

The question distracted him from the relief in taking the book back, and he went to set it back in its pocket.

“It’s necessary equipment.”

He continued to explain while they packed the bags into the trunk, listing out tests he might have to run. He went to lock up the house as Stan started the car.

Ford briefly checked over the inside of the house with the car’s running motor adding a finality to it all. Windows closed and locked. Lights off. Front door locked. He walked out the back door, locking that as well then checking the knob for good measure. Turning around, he was faced with a clear view of the forest, his breath frosting out into air and disappearing above him.

Even with everything that had happened and his now heightened caution he still had an immodest adoration with the forest. Nobody would see him stopping here to watch the woods fill up with snow. He could allow himself this, if only for just half a minute...


 

Stan tiredly scrubbed at his face with the heels of his hands. Thankfully the car was just starting to actually push out some warm air at him. The AC might not work, but the heating sure did. It almost made him want to take a nap. He could keep going though, maybe see about grabbing a cup of coffee somewhere. Eventually, he saw Ford walking back from around the shack.

“Alright,” his twin said distractedly, getting into the car and letting in a freezing blast of wind that made Stan cringe.

He forced down a shudder and nodded his head. “Alright.” Stan pulled the stick into drive and went off, half checking Ford’s face. He knew overwhelming relief would have been too much to expect, but the conflicted and almost forlorn expression wasn't really that comforting. He drove through town, spotting something with a smile. Bingo. “Hey, I don't know about you, but some pep wouldn’t hurt me and industrial strength-”

“-No.

Ford had hurriedly cut him off, causing Stan to look over and see him quickly trying to play it off. “I mean, ah, no. No coffee for me. I don't need it right now.”

“Okay,” Stan said slowly, he glanced at the upcoming diner with its oddly mellow sign. There had to be something about this diner... “Well, I’m gonna need something to stay awake, so I’m gonna just grab a cup real quick.” Upon getting no immediate protest, he turned into the parking lot and stopped the car. “Want anything?” He offered, glancing at Ford.

“I’m really fine.” He was uneasily eyeing the people inside the diner, and shook his head, answering without looking over to him.

“Alright, I’ll just leave the car running then.” He got out of the car, briskly walking through the cold and into the diner. He only glanced back once he was inside.

Maybe he should have kept driving until he saw something else, but honestly whatever harm could be in a small diner like this he was sure he could get out of easy enough. A quick glance around showed him that it was a pretty mild scene with only a few customers, rustic being the most dangerous aspect about them.

He really couldn’t help being suspicious with how quickly Ford had refused. It wasn’t exactly like Ford hated coffee with a dying passion or anything, his kitchen was more than proof enough against that. Not to mention, he’d never actually had a chance to say ‘coffee’ before Ford had cut him off. Considering there wasn’t a whole lot of signs for industrial strength literally-anything-else it was safe to say that Ford was familiar with at least the coffee here. Or he was just jumping to a lot of assumptions.

Either way, Stan would get a cup, and, well- honestly, he hadn’t thought so far ahead with this. Ford was covering something up though, that was certain. What he wasn’t telling him - well that was just the featured question of the day. And yesterday. 

He didn’t really know what he was expecting to find in the diner though, but the completely normal scene was almost disappointing. With the way Ford had been acting, he was expecting something sinister.

The ordinary atmosphere wasn’t even creepily cheery or normal like in a horror movie. It was just like any other small diner he’d been at... which made him just the slightest bit suspicious because something had to be up. Maybe he could strike something talking to the waitress, besides, he did actually want some strong coffee so he went towards the counter. Not bothering with a seat, he rested his elbows on the high table and the worker behind immediately greeted him.

“Something to-go, hun?”

“Uh, yeah. Could I get some of that industrial strength coffee?” A split second thought. “Actually make it two cups with some cream and sugar.”

“Got a lot on your plate today?”

Stan let out a breath of air. “You know it.” As he handed over the money to pay, the cashier, stared a bit at his face, and he instantly took the opportunity. “Do I got something on my face?”

“No, you just look kinda familiar.” She said, looking his face over. “You wouldn’t happen to have a brother would ya?”

“Yeah, actually.” He silently rejoiced, playing it cool on the surface. “I’m guessing you’ve seen him around here before?”

The women made a short laugh as she handed him his change. “Oh yeah, you bet’cha. He was a regular up until a little while ago.” She turned around to pour the coffee. “You getting yourself and him a cup?”

“No, I just know I’m gonna need the second one. I haven’t seen ‘im yet.” The lie came out naturally. Thinking about it now, he didn’t really see what the harm of the truth would have been. They were leaving town anyways, not like they would be around long enough for any consequences. Whatever consequences you could get from the 20-something diner worker.

She laughed softly under her breath. “Well, be careful.” She told him over her shoulder.

“Why’s that?”

“Last time we saw him he was a real basket case.” She waved a hand over towards some table. “Made a real scene, he yelled something crazy and ran out the door. Haven’t seen him since.” She turned around and handed him the two cheap styrofoam cups of coffee. “You’re gonna need both of these.”

“What’d he say?” Stan asked, taking the coffee without taking his eyes off of her face.

“'Get out of my head.’

What. The. Hell.

The cashier smiled pitifully at the expression on his face. “Like I said, crazy. If it helps any, he was probably just keeping himself up for too long. The amount of times he was drinking this coffee... Trust me, he’s had to have gotten better sleep since without all this caffeine.”

God, was she off the mark. “Thanks,” Stan said, giving her a smile. “Yeah, he uh, he’s always been kind of a workaholic, honestly.”

“Well, if you see him make sure he’s sleeping. Take care now.”

“You too,” Stan said, taking the coffee and walking back out into the car.

Ford looked between Stan and the inside of the diner again, trying to seem calm. “You didn’t say where you were going, right?”

“No,” he said, setting the two cups into the cup holders, “that’s mine and then that one’s for whoever wants it first.” Stan told him.

Ford nodded his head, looking back from the diner and back down at the coffee.

Stan took a sip from his cup an-Oh, God, that’s strong. Like explosion-blasting-a-hole-through-a-stone-wall strong. Industrial strength was not just a pretty name. He pulled the car through its spot and back onto the road. “Forty hours of driving here we go.”

 


 

He was fully awake from the cup he’d had and it took a whole lot less time than he thought it would for both of them to go silent. Actually, neither of them had really said anything apart from just impersonal questions about stops. This wasn’t as surreal as it had originally been, but then again he’d never driven for this long back during high school. Ford seemed content with watching the scenery go by, and honestly, he felt pretty content himself. Even with the whole freaky ‘get out of my head’ thing he’d heard about an hour ago.

It was at least calm right now, and you know what? He was getting Ford away from whatever crazy stuff was going on in Gravity Falls.

... He was. Right? Sure, Gotham wasn’t great, but whatever all this was wouldn’t follow him that far. Well, he guess it could- gah, he just wasn’t going to dwell on the ‘what-if’s right now. Everything would make more sense after a little bit of time.

Still, this was kind of... nice? Boring? Eh, both.

It was kind of both. It was good to at least see Ford still conscious and less jumpy than when he’d first opened the door. His eyes were drawn over to his brother, but he pulled them back onto the road again.

The first half hour in the car he actually liked how Ford stopped looking outright suspicious of everything he saw, even if ‘peaceful’ was still far from describing him. Now though... no matter how many times he’d glanced over at his brother's expression it was the same. Some bone deep worry set in his face. Frankly, it reminded him of one of his own rock bottom moments. One of the really bad ones. The ones when he had been digging right through the bedrock itself.

Stan internally cringed. He’d spent a while, looking over his shoulder for one of Rico’s goons. Even made a couple close calls once or twice during his run.

It had made him too suspicious to actually try selling any merchandise, even with a new identity. It was scraping by while running and hiding with no idea what towns would be safe or not. He’d tried playing it by ear and yeesh.

He had looked about as good as Ford did right now, minus the nerdy glasses.

Although he did have the mullet so it evened out, he guessed. Everything else unnervingly matched up though.

The expression, the chin well past a 5 o'clock shadow, and the messy- well the messy everything. Personally, he’d only managed to actually relax once he’d gotten to West Virginia. Enough to where he stopped going to sleep with a bat in his hands. Really nice place to drive through too.

He turned on the music to keep himself from backtracking into his thoughts again.

Hours later, he could feel himself tiring out and running down. He was actually a bit surprised by how far that first cup of that coffee had kept him going, but now he was yawning and it didn’t help that it was turning dark.

“Are you tired?” Ford spoke up, looking over at him, the first time he’d really talked since they’d started this road trip.

Stan chuckled. “Yeah, I didn’t get my usual beauty rest, remember?”

“Then let’s switch,” he suggested surprisingly easily. “I’ll drive and you can sleep.”

He couldn’t help glancing skeptically over at him.

“What?”

“No offense, but… do you think you’re actually okay to drive.”

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

Stan’s lips pressed into a thin line to keep himself from saying anything. Maybe because just yesterday you looked like you were winning the world record for most paranoid AND sleep deprived nerd.

He let out a breath, and started to slow down, pulling over. He fully looked over to Ford, already having half an idea that Ford driving might not go well, then another half idea saying he probably wouldn’t exactly be up for taking a night to sleep. “Do you actually want to drive?”

Ford nodded his head.

Another breath, and Stan silently opened up his car door. Ford followed suit and the pair switched sides. “Just you know, uhh, be careful.” He nervously tapped his fingers on the dashboard. “Seriously,” he added.

“Okay...” Ford responded slowly, looking over at him, confused.

“I’ve had this car for years.” Stan told him, trying to explain. This car had survived more than its fair share of danger, and gotten him out of more than one death trap.

Ford smiled slightly. “I know, Stan. I remember when you got it.”  Then he glanced towards the backseat. “Are you sure you want to sit up here? It’d be easier in the backseat.”

Stan shook his head, relaxing back into the seat. “Nah, legs get all cramped up if you sleep in the back seat, trust me. Besides, I want to make sure you’re not gonna crash El Diablo before I actually take a snooze.”

He hummed, and focused, a bit intently, as he started to drive the car, bringing it back onto the road again and getting back up to speed. “No crashing.” He said after a moment of driving steadily.

Stan couldn’t help feeling a bit uneasy even still, but this wasn’t exactly a hard drive. A yawn worked its way out of his throat, and he tried to let the underlying worries go. “Okay, I hear ya,” He pulled up a lever, reclining his seat all the way back and stretched out his legs.

Hey, this was a lot nicer on the passenger side.

Mentally, he scoffed to himself, only took me fourteen or fifteen years to realize. He could already feel himself close to slipping away under the lull of the ride, closing his eyes. “If you start getting tired, wake me up though, we can pull over somewhere.”

“Right.” Came Ford’s reply. “No worries.”

In all honesty, he already felt gone, but he hummed back in some acknowledgement before he let himself fall asleep.

 




He'd made it through the final border, land of the free and home bound. Except he wasn’t as homebound as he thought he’d feel by this point. Rico probably had guys hounding after him right now, and the more distance between him and them the better.

Stan hopped onto the highway, zooming away in the middle of the night with no regards for whatever the speed limit might be. He looked over his rear view mirror at least every five seconds, convinced this would be the time he’d see a shimmer of light. Finally, after an hour or so of tense driving he realized that speeding away like the flash wasn’t exactly inconspicuous. He forced himself to slow down, uncurling his fingers from around the wheel.

The huge green sign ahead caught his attention. I-10 in 10 miles, Right lane eastbound. Left lane westbound.

West was the place to go, he immediately thought.

He got into the left lane, not bothering with the turn signal. “No Colombian contacts in Oregon,” he noted to himself, the last two words dying out on his tongue. He’d only been through the state once, just passed through, but that was before Ford had moved...

5 miles.

Stan’s hand flexed around the wheel, as he thought. Best state to go to, just short of maybe Idaho. He’d already been around in the Northeast, so the next farthest place inside the country was Oregon. Washington wasn’t absolutely out, but he’d still stayed there before.

3 miles.

... His best option with Rico on his tail.

1 mile.

..
Lights lit up the large green sign and he could see the two lanes ahead splitting apart up ahead.

... If worst came to worst then maybe this time he could ask Ford for-

“Nope.”

He suddenly switched lanes. “No, nuh-uh, no way.”

He wasn’t going to do it.

He almost called him once years ago, and he wasn’t going to let himself sink that low again. It didn’t matter if the damn FBI wanted him, as long as he didn’t come to a point where he needed to call his brother then he hadn’t gotten that low.

The car glided away, going east. Stan didn’t know where he’d go. Hell, not like he really had had an idea going West either, but at least this way he wouldn’t have to think about how easy it’d be to just stop by and- do what?

“What would I even do anyways?!” Stan asked himself, throwing out an arm and continuing to himself sarcastically.

“Oh, hey, it’s been a while. Just thought I’d swing by and check in and oh by the way if someone comes by and asks for me you didn’t see me.”

He scoffed to himself. “Stupid...”

No, he just had to keep going, get enough distance and he’d be safe. A state away outta do it.


353 Miles to Houston.

He drove, tired from his already long journey, but he only had just a bit longer.


300 Miles to Houston

He was fine. He even felt calm, nobody was right on his tail after all.


157 Miles... to Houston.

A nap was tempting though... just a ten minute one wouldn’t hurt. He’d just take ten or fifteen minutes... but he had told enough lies to know a convincing one even coming from himself.


112 Miles...o... H...ouston.

He was jerking awake at the wheel, over and over, constantly on the lookout for mile markers.


...110 Mils to-

Stan pulled off an exit to a gas station, luckily with enough money in his car to fill it up. He went inside to the bathroom, and stuck his head under the faucet entirely and turned it on, cold water running over his hair and face. He couldn’t stop at a motel yet though. Too close to the border. He had to keep going before he could sleep.

Walking back through the cold woke him up enough, the harsh wind freezing his still wet face.


109 Miles to Houston.

Even as the numbers dwindled down, he knew he had to go past Houston. A big city so close to the border was too dangerous.


30 Miles to Houston

He has music to keep him awake and miles to go before he sleeps.

And miles to go before he sleeps.

 




Stan could recognize the sound of driving through the haze of sleep. Laying down in a running car almost woke him up entirely. He blearily blinked and the light made him shut his eyes tight again, putting his face back down again. The sudden, oncoming stress going away by the time he even actually recognized it.

It was sunny, good, okay good. That’s right... Ford was driving. He let himself settle back into the faded comfort of a lingering sleep. He was fine.

.
.....
...
..


Again, he felt himself waking up, a moving car, but the light was easily noticeable through his eyelids. He stretched out comfortably, settling back again. Man, it had to be bright out...

Wait.

Stan opened his eyes, and pushed himself up from the seat, looking over at Ford and the road ahead which just blurred into gray. He rubbed at his eyes, and tried to focus on the sight. Empty fields with brittle stalks cut bare inches above the ground on either side of them.

Ford glanced over at him. “Don’t worry, you’ve only missed about 5 hours or so of fields,” he told him blandly.

“What time is it?”

“A little after ten.”

“Did- Have you been driving this whole time?” Stan asked incredulously.

“Of course not,” he told him, “I had to stop for gas a few times.”

Stan adjusted his seat upright again, rubbing at his face to wake himself up. “Okay, I think it’s time we switched, come on. Pull over when you get a chance.”

Ford looked to him then pointedly to the rear view mirror. Stan looked behind him to see an empty road that stretched on endlessly into the horizon, rows of raised dirt on either side uninterrupted as far as he could see.

“Oh.”

“Yeah.”

Stan looked at the road ahead of them as Ford pulled over to a stop, seeing a mirroring site, barren fields and a smudge that could possibly be a barn being the most interesting thing in site.

“Nebraska?”

Yeah.” Ford answered, stepping out of the car.

The two switched sides, Stan settling back into the driver’s seat. Ford, meanwhile, slumped back into his seat looking up at the roof of the car.

“You okay?” Stan asked, looking over at him, eyebrows pulling together, more confused than actually worried.

Ford took a deep breath. “I’m fine, it’s just these fields.”

Stan drove off, “Yeah, well you can take a nap through this if you want.”

“No, thank you.”

“You do know you just drove 14 hours straight, right?”

“No, I drove 9 hours on curving roads then 5 hours straight without so much as turning the wheel a fraction of a degree.”

“Do you really hate farms that much?”

“I just don’t like the flat landscape,” he muttered. Then he pointed up to the roof above Stan’s head. “What is that from?”

Stan glanced up and spotted the outline of where he used to keep his banned states map, now folded up in the glove compartment. Shit. Ford could open that at any point. It was a ticking time bomb.

“Uhh, I used to keep my state maps up there before I just decided to get rid of them.” If you changed the wording around a little, it wasn’t a lie.

“Ah,” Ford nodded understandingly, looking back across the disappointing scenery, that being the end of that apparently.

Gratefully, he took a quiet breath. “Seriously though, why don’t you take a nap,” he suggested again.

“Multiple reasons,” Ford replied, “for one though, I need to keep an eye out for hiding spots.”

At that Stan raised an eyebrow. Was he honestly looking for places to hide wherever they were, just in case. “Okay?” He said slowly.

“Hiding my research,” Ford clarified only briefly looking back to Stan.

“Oh! Oh, right. So uhh, what qualifies as a good hiding spot? Because if you ask me,” he waved a hand out around them indicating the corn fields.

“God, no. Not here. Whenever the farmer goes to harvest or plant they’ll see the fresh dirt. Besides, at that, it could get dug up by a plowing machine.” He cringed as he clearly thought about it. “Too many possibilities.”

“Alright, so what’s it gotta be then?”

“It can’t be close to any big city. Isolated from any city, really. Somewhere there won’t be any construction or landscaping. No rivers, and preferably not a lake either. And... somewhere identifiable.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“I mean that if I wanted to that I could find it again. Which means this,” he gestured out the window, “is a bad spot for several reasons.”

“So, what kinda place are you thinking?”

Ford frowned. “I don’t know...”

“Well, I’ll get us out of corn country first and then let’s stop at a gas station for food and fuel.”

“... Alright.”

Even though neither one of them said anything, a breath of relief swept through the both of them once they had made it past the majority of the fields and unbending highway. Evidently neither of them enjoyed the straight roads.

They stopped at one of the first gas stations they saw. It wasn’t the absolute cleanest place, but it wasn’t awful and besides there was even hot food inside. Hot dogs weren’t exactly breakfast material, but it was heated and definitely part of the better half of gas station food Stan had sampled over the years.

The two stood beside the Stanley Mobile, the only other people were otherwise inside their cars or inside handing bills to the cashier.

“Halfway there,” Stan noted.

“Right,” Ford replied absently, cautiously watching the various people around them, already having eaten his food.

Stan looked over his brother for a moment. He’d really expected Ford to be... he didn’t know, calmer? Which sure he didn’t seem nearly as bad as before, but the way he wouldn’t stop watching people…

The other looked back at him, catching his brother staring. “What?”

He shrugged, looking away. “Nothing. Just wondering why you’re eyeing up some family getting their kids candy bars.”

“I know your eyesight isn’t the best, but those are sodas, Stanley.”

He rolled his eyes, looking up to the sky briefly. “Point is, I don’t think you need to worry about some random Nebraskan people after you. We’re a long ways away from Oregon.” Stan pointed out, before taking a bite. “Also, we’re past the whole Children of the Corn thing now.” He said, indicating the way they’d come from.

“You don’t know what these people could be like.”

Stan looked at him skeptically. “Look, all I’m saying is that whatever was going on in Oregon is miles and miles behind you.”

Ford smiled ruefully at that, then a visible shiver ran up his spine, “ugh.”

“Cold chill?” He asked, raising an eyebrow.

“More like a hot flash, really.”

Stan snorted. “What are you? 60?” He teased through a muffled mouthful, before finishing his last bite and pulling out his car keys. “Come on, we’ll find a place to stash that brick, don’t worry.” Maybe, Ford would finally relax once that book was actually hidden.

His brother readily got into the passenger side of the car, still casting a suspicious glance towards the Nebraskan family now walking out towards their car. Stan drove off, rolling his eyes.

The two quickly lapsed into silence again, going on like that for a few hours. As they were getting close to the state borderline though, Ford suddenly pointed at a small sign, “There!!”

“A bead conversation area?” He asked, squinting at the sign.

“What? No. A conservation area. The Lower Hamburg Bend Conservation Area. It’s perfect. Nobody will be disturbing the ground for projects there.”

Stan scratched at his jaw. “... Isn’t it illegal to dig in those places?”

“Exactly! Secluded too, that’s why it’s perfect.”

He snorted, smiling slightly. Talk about missing the point.

“What?” Ford asked, looking back over to him.

Stan waved a hand, “nothing. Don’t sweat it. Sounds like a plan.” He could see Ford looking at him from his peripheral vision, but he didn’t say anything. Eventually he settled back in his seat again, falling into an odd silence Stan couldn’t identify. He decided to just drive to the place and leave it be. Thankfully, in the middle of the day it was easy enough to find. He drove onto a worn path, stopping at where it seemed to let into a small graveled parking area between the woods and frozen lake. Before he could even say anything, Ford was opening the car door, asking him to pop the trunk.

He took a breath, stepping out of the car and coming round with his keys to the back with Ford. Opening it, Ford immediately went to pull a hard box case out along with a shovel, a determined look on his face.

“So, where are you putting it?”

 




Ford turned to his brother, ready to hand over the two items, “Wherever-” bright yellow eyes only a couple feet from his own shook him to his core, his breath catching in his throat. However, in the time he had blinked, Stan’s eyes appeared normal again. He was looking at him quizzically even, if a bit concerned. Even still, Ford’s heart pumped antifreeze through his body and his tongue felt heavy in his mouth. Bill

“Just... wherever?” He asked, still keeping up that seemingly sincere expression.

“Somewhere... safe.” Ford replied, scanning his brother’s face as he lowered the case back down and rested the shovel against the car. It would be easy to grab onto in a moment’s notice if needed.

He should have seen this coming, frankly. He couldn’t help chastising himself for not thinking of the possibility before they had gotten this far. Miles and miles before they’d stopped at this unfamiliar and abandoned nature conservatory, it should have occurred to him. Wasn’t this just perfect too?

Nobody would be looking for Stanford Pines’ corpse in a plot of land half way across the country.

How long would it take before somebody even happened upon the suspicious rectangle of freshly upturned dirt? Stanley was surely stronger than him as well. Even if he weren’t, he knew his own body had taken a toll from the lack of sleep lately. He also had to unfortunately admit that leaving the town behind had lowered his guard. He’d let himself relax simply because of a change of scenery when the scenery was hardly the problem. No, just because he'd known Bill in Gravity Falls it didn't mean that the demon was limited to the town.

Then all the nightmares that made him expect the worst at the door. Always innocent knocks or splintering bangs against the wooden door, no in between. Or hands suddenly clawing through a window to grab him with broken shards slicing through the air.

The worst moment wasn’t guaranteed to happen with someone first arriving to the house, logically, but he’d grown to expect just that. The moment passing without harm had given him a false sense of security. How stupid.

Why in the world would Stanley have invited him anywhere with him, anyways?! No, it had just been a ploy to get his guard down enough to make this easy.

Looking at the pieces now, it was all so blatantly obvious. At his home he was too prepared to let something like this happen, so why not coax him somewhere with the promise of plausible answers. How many times was he going to fall for the same damned trick?!

Ford reached into his coat pocket finding the flashlight, and snatched Stan down by the front of his jacket. He flashed the light into one eye, causing Stan to yelp at the action, but- his pupil dilated normally. There was a hot flash of hope, but, still unnerved, he checked Stan’s other eye which also showed the same ordinary biological reaction. His grip relented, tense fear leaking out of him and making him want to just fall to his knees in utter relief.

“Agh!” Stan finally pushed Ford away, rubbing at his eyes. “Okay, seriously, Sixer. What’s up with that? First time, there was some pushing and pulling with the crossbow, I get that. Now though?” He gestured between the two of them, “Not like I suddenly appeared out of thin air or anything here!”

He quickly rushed to think of a believable lie. “An… eye exam,” he answered slowly, “because you’re near sighted.”

Oh Tesla, that was awful. That was about as believable as naturally occurring yellow snow in the form of messily written first names.

His brother’s deadpan reaction confirmed his thoughts. “Really, Stanford?” He asked, giving him a look dry enough to have made a merperson in a lake still in need of water.

Ford folded his hands neatly behind his back, flashlight clicking off in hand, looking aside. “I just ahh…” he trailed off into silence. He had nothing. Even with a second chance he couldn’t come up with any believable excuse. He knew Stan was waiting for him to finish the sentence, and after another few seconds he was positive that was the case. “I was mistaken,” he finally said, barely glancing to Stan before he went to grab the shovel and metal case.

Stan was shaking his head. “Let me guess-“

“I need to find a hiding spot.” Ford cut him off before he could finish. He couldn’t tell Stanley the truth, and frankly he didn’t have an excuse to brush aside direct questioning.

Stan only scoffed in response to that.

The original plan had been for Stanley to take the journal and hide it. He wasn’t even going to see the spot himself, but… Surely, it was truly Stan at this moment.

Still the whole moment had brought back worries and doubts that were now brought back to the front of his mind. He hesitated to hand the items over now, and he hadn’t planned for the possibility of having come out this far himself. Still though, he had put careful consideration into this plan before, it wasn't any less reputable than when he'd thought of it.

Do you really think you were in the best state before though?

...No, no that was true.

His earlier judgement probably wasn’t a very safe basis to go off of. Even still though, it’d be safer if Stanley alone hid it…

But you’ll never know what he  r e a l l y  did with it.

The thought buzzed at him. The idea shouldn’t have been bothering him as much as it was, but it was and he knew it would continue to do so. If he let Stan take it alone he’d never be fully assured the last of his research was safely hidden.

Besides, it’d be odd to ask Stanley to hide the journal while he stayed behind at the car. He debated for a few moments longer before finally deciding. “I’ll hide the journal and be back in no time.” Ford assured him.

To his surprise, Stan’s face fell slightly at that. “Uh-huh,” he said slowly.

Ford look at him curiously.

“You want me to stay behind again.” He said plainly.

Oh... Oh. “Uhh...” He thought about it for a moment. “Would you... rather come along?” He asked uncertainly.

“Are you actually offering?”

“Sure?” He shuffled the items under his arm. “I didn’t necessarily think you’d want to.” In actuality, he’d probably feel slightly better if Stanley stayed behind instead of going with him. It hardly mattered enough to press the issue though. Besides, this would make up for the incident in the caves, wouldn’t it? And maybe even make him forget about the incident with the flashlight that had just happened long enough to keep him from asking about it.

Stan shrugged. “Well it beats sitting and waiting, doesn’t it.”

“Okay,” he looked over, starting to take a few steps. “Then uh, let’s find a spot, somewhere on a hill.” He didn’t want it to get flooded by the river if it rained.

It took a little bit of hiking, but eventually they found a spot Ford deemed suitable. Actually digging the hole proved to be... a bit more difficult than he’d thought. The ground was still partially frozen, and Stan offered to take up the shovel instead, but Ford declined. It took a lot of effort; a lot less than it would have taken Stanley, he assumed; but eventually he’d made a small hole large enough for the overly large case.

Stan picked up the case, handing it over to him as soon as Ford dropped the shovel onto the ground. “Here.”

Ford took the case, setting it down and unclasping the locks to open it. It had a metallic casing with a matching interior, more fit to be a toolbox than a capsule. He almost wished he had grabbed some sort of cushion to hold the book inside the case.

It was a silly sentiment though. The journal would go through no less wear with a cushion than it would sitting inside the metal case as is. He took the book out of his coat, holding it and looking it over, a hand running over the cover.

It had to be hidden, but... he was tempted to flip the pages of the book enough to just have a passing glance at the nostalgic entries, avoiding the middle pages, of course.

These had been his early years in Gravity Falls.

Back when he couldn't go hardly thirty feet without finding something new and extraordinary. Almost every entry had been written after an exhilarating discovery. New creatures and all sorts of oddities that he’d never even dreamed of getting to see himself. There it all was though. Gravity Falls…

Stan coughed uncomfortably, and Ford came back to the present, realizing he’d turn the book around in his hands and was rather close to opening it.

“So uh, burying that thing, huh. Still uh- we’re still doing that.”

“Yes.” He said mechanically as he carefully placed the book inside the capsule and securely closed it. Nothing would be able to get past the seal, not even moisture. The only exclusion were millipedes from Gravity Falls. He was fairly certain those could pass through solid objects.

Picking up the case he set it down into the hole before standing back up and moving the dirt back over top of it. Once he’d finished the dirt had piled up higher than before.

Stan stepped over, starting to press the dirt down and spreading it out so it didn’t stand out as much. He hummed softly before singing quietly. The words sounded more spoken than sung with an actual tune, “Doop de doop, stepping on frozen dirt. Squishing it down. Not burying evidence.”  

He almost smiled, now remembering his brother’s old habit. “You make this whole thing sound...” he paused, trying to think of the word, “suspicious.”

Stan had been looking down at the now evenly distributed and flattened dirt, satisfied with it, but hearing Ford he looked over to him. “Well,” He said, finally stepping off of the barely noticeable mound, shrugging his shoulders as he looked aside. “Breakin’ the law is usually sketchy, right?”

“We didn’t-” he paused to think. Trespassing? Well that was hardly breaking the law, really. What was criminal in exploring after all?

“Digging in a conservatory.” Stan looked back at him, he pointed out, gesturing to the ground.

“Ah,” Ford shifted his grip on the shovel to carry it, exhaustion catching up to him. “Completely harmless, the dirt only moved a few inches.”

“And there’s no cops around.” Stan said with a smile, going to walk beside him.

“I think only rangers come out here, really.” Ford noted.

“Mmm, you gotta watch out for those suckers too.”

 




At the next stop, Ford suggested they just eat something at yet another gas station.

“Wouldn’t you wanna eat somewhere else? I’m not saying something fancy, but you know - a chance to sit down somewhere that isn’t the car.”

Ford only shook his head. “The sooner we reach Gotham the better.”

He could understand the sentiment, but... after hiding the journal he’d thought his brother would have relaxed.

They started taking shorter turns, driving. A couple hours at a time to make it easier, though after it hit afternoon he suggested that maybe Ford should take a nap. “Maybe later,” was the only reply he got.

Once it hit nighttime, he’d thought for sure Ford would fall asleep while he was driving. He’d occasionally glance over at Ford in the darkness, but with side glances he couldn’t actually tell if his eyes were open or not. The fingers tapping against his legs was a good enough indicator that he was still awake though.

 




He really should not have been this tired already. It hadn’t been the first time he’d had an all-nighter. Not to mention his recent sleeping habits as of late. Maybe that was actually contributing to it though.

He’d thought catching up on so much sleep would have renewed him entirely, make it a fresh start that he could stay awake through without even needing the help of coffee. He had woken up with a pounding head then hiked to the cave and covered every inch inside of it though. Then digging that hole hours ago...

115 Miles to Columbus

What was the next big city after Columbus? Pittsburgh? He didn’t even know. He considered opening up the compartment to look for a map, but remember Stan saying he’d thrown the papers away. Not that he’d even have a map of the whole country anyways. He probably kept maps when he went to a new state, but considering he was back in New Jersey he probably never even picked up a map in the first place.

Ford tapped out his fingers against his leg, doing equations in his head. He could feel himself struggling now, but once it was his chance to drive again he’d be fine. Maybe they’d stop somewhere to fill up and he’d get a couple cups to keep him going until the stop after that. An hour seemed to pass before he allowed himself to check the time.

Not even ten minutes.

It took all of his will to keep in the groan, and he pushed at the button for the air conditioning. After a confused moment he tried to turn the temperature dial to make the air coming out cooler.

“It’s broke.” Stan told him over the music.

He silently glared at the dials accusingly for a moment. “I see.” He said quietly, before starting to roll down the window. It was cold enough outside. He leaned his head over to the window, frigid air blowing across his face.

“Oh my God. Seriously, Ford?!”

He slightly turned his head to look over at Stan. “What?”

“It’s already cold enough in a car with barely any heat in the middle of winter, and you open the freaking window? You’re gonna turn us into a pair of popsicles!”

Ford considered that for a half moment. Oh, wait. “Would you like my coat to keep warm then?”

Even in the dark he could see Stan balk at that. “No! I’d like for you to close the window. I can’t drive with frozen fingers, Ford.”

He frowned at that. He... unfortunately had a point. Ford rolled the window back up, still frowning. He was having a hard time focusing even now, though the momentary cold had helped. “Can you pull over at the next stop you see.”

“What for?” Stan asked, a tad suspicious.

“I need some coffee.” He added a sudden thought, “Besides, it’s about time for us to switch.”

Stan groaned. “Sixer... I’ve only been driving for twenty minutes.”

“Oh... well that doesn’t mean we can’t switch, anyways.”

 


 



Dear. God.

If Stan hadn’t been driving he would have slammed his head into his steering wheel. The guy had been over there, nearly falling asleep over and over. He’d hoped a bit each time Ford’s fingers had slowed down to a stop that he’d finally fallen asleep this time, but no.

THEN he opened the window sucking out the little heat that HAD been in the car. And now? Oh, NOW he wanted them to switch already.  

He pulled the car to the side of the road, out of the way, and stopped it.

“Stanford,” he started as calmly as he could, “I know you’re tired so why don’t you just go to sleep.”

“Well,” Ford adjusted his glasses before crossing his arms, “I just don’t want to sleep walk again. In a car especially.”

Sleepwalking. Right. Guy had been acting like an alien trying on a human skin for fun. Honestly, after reading through the journal he could see the whole thing being the work of a fairy or something.

“What’s the worst that could happen?” Stan decided to play along at least for that second.

“I could grab the wheel and steer us into a pole.” Ford answered without hesitation.

Stan scoffed. “Cause that’s gonna happen.” He thought for a moment though. Honestly? After the guy had almost pulled the world-end-y lever last night, he wouldn’t put it past him. Ford wouldn’t, but Ford ‘sleepwalking,’ he could see it way too easily.

“You know what, fair’s fair, I guess. You were really weird last night.”

“Yeah...” Ford went into a rather mulled silence.

“You can't be doing the same thing as before though, you have to get some rest eventually.”

“You don't understand-”

“Your sleepwalking? Yeah, because we both know that ‘sleepwalking’ isn't exactly whatever that is.” Stan pointed out directly. It was either something supernatural or just really really weird.

Ford looked like he might deny it taking a breath and holding it but with no argument he let it out again. “It's... complicated.” He finally said.

He snorted. “I guess walking around possessed is complicated.”

He had mostly meant it as a joke, even if it did honestly seem that way. Cursed by fairies was honestly his second theory after that. There was some explanation, of course. The only ones he could come up with were supernatural ones, but there had to be something else, obviously.

Or obviously not.

As soon as he let the comment out Ford froze up, looking as though Stan had just reached over to wrap his hands around his throat and squeezed.

Stan took in the expression, the suddenly stiff body movement, eyes nervously boring back into his own, everything. Everything that just screamed he'd hit the nail right on the head.

Holy shit!” He whispered. His own surprise caused him to be locked like that for a moment before he recognized that he had to do something otherwise they wouldn't move at all.

“Uhhm.” He glanced ahead, soon finding the fuel gauge a perfectly reasonable excuse to break eye contact. “So...”
So, you're possessed by a ghost or something, that's cool.’ He shook his head and let out a short laugh trying to defuse the situation, smiling back to Ford.

The other had stopped watching him entirely though, and was instead heavily considering the side of the road, hand flexing on the door handle.

Stan quickly let the first thing he could out before Ford could go out the door. “So, you don't just get on people's nerves, but spirits’ too, huh.” Wait, wait, damn it! Why would he say that?! Stupid. Way to go, knuckle-

Ford laughed quietly, breaking into a smile, his hand letting go of the handle entirely to put a hand over the side of his face. “I’m not sure he technically qualifies as a spirit.”

“What is he then?”

Ford’s smile sputtered and fell away, hand dropping back down to his lap. It actually took him a moment, but he finally answered. “He’s a dream demon.”

“A demon?”

“It's more of a technical term I came up to classify him rather than anything else.”

Stan started slowly, thinking back to how he had dragged the other away from the lever. “So, I’m guessing he was hijacking your body because he wanted to jump start the portal and you didn’t.”

Something in Ford’s expression twitched, but then it was replaced by a suspicious gaze directed at him. “Why do you think that?”

He internally panicked, but shrugged, crossing his arms as his mind worked double time.

“I mean, just adding two and two together.” Stan said casually. “Portal’s dangerous, and you told me to keep you out from where it was at when you were ‘sleepwalking.’ Doesn’t take a rocket scientist or anything, ya know.”

To Stan’s immense relief, Ford dropped the sharpness of the gaze. “That’s true...”

There was a very awkward silence stretching between them. A million questions crossing Stan’s mind. A demon. An actual- okay, well a ‘dream’ demon he guessed, whatever. Technical term or not, the thing was still literally possessing his brother.

How long had this been going on? He’d think ‘demon literally haunting me’ would have been noteworthy enough to have mentioned at least once in that journal if it had been going on for that long. At least soured his mood. That or his brother enjoyed being possessed way more than anyone should, which was not at all.

So this must have started somewhere between a week ago and 6 years ago. Ugh. He really didn’t have a lot to narrow down that time range with.

Obviously, the whole demon thing had a lot to do with the portal. Ford had probably made the portal and realized it was messed up then that demon showed up? How did they even know each other? Ford probably found him, Stan guessed, chasing after all the different oddities in town.

Then... then this? He wouldn’t be that surprised if Ford had practically been advertising his soon to be finished invention to anything capable of understanding speech before talking their ear off with all the mechanics of it. Either way, this thing found out and tried to wreck the world using Ford’s machine. Didn’t the weirdo mention spending years to make this thing though? Was that an attempt at pretending to be Ford?

Stan thought back to that night Ford had been ‘sleepwalking.’ It explained how he’d been acting. Talk about creepy...
His eyes suddenly snapped open with a realization as moments sprang out from his memory.


A warm, if stiff, embrace. ‘Why, the chance to show my brother what I’ve got going on downstairs, of course!

An encouraging tone. ‘Hell, I’ll even let you pull a lever! Doesn’t that sound fun?

A foolish smile. ‘There’s no reason to take you downstairs to see the portal, that must have been why I didn’t show it to you before.

A saddened expression, ruined by the lips still turned up at the edges. ‘You probably don’t even want to see it.


The whole night hadn’t made hardly any sense when he’d thought it’d been Ford. Hell, he’d been so focused trying to see Ford inside that mess and figuring out what was going on that he hadn’t noticed the frankly obvious cons. Ford had been keeping himself awake because of that thing, and then that thing went and even tried to get Stan himself to pull the damn lever! He could feel himself burning up inside.

“Have you tried an exorcism?” He asked directly.

“It didn’t work.” Ford told him bluntly. “A lot did not work.”

“So, this thing can just hijack anybody that’s asleep?”

Ford had already seemed more than a bit on edge, but the question seemed to make him especially nervous. “He needs a few... qualifications, first,” He answered, slowly. “If you know to look out for him then there’s no worry besides him simply entering your mind.” He looked back over to Stan. “He’ll appear as a triangle with an eye.”

“What does he do?” Stan asked. Recognizing the guy was helpful, but didn’t really tell him much what to avoid.

He opened his mouth and closed it. “Tricks,” he said, waving a hand dismissively, only very briefly glancing down to the dashboard evasively. “Lies, etcetera. Just whatever you do, do not take his hand.”

Please.” The word slipped out of Ford, the depth of it catching Stan by surprise. Apparently Ford hadn’t expected the emotion out of himself either since he quickly continued in a controlled tone of caution.

“I am not sure the full range of his powers, but at the very least possession is very much within his realm. His hand will light up in a blue flame and you absolutely cannot shake it at that point, Stanley.” He emphasized strongly, turning towards Stan to look him in the eyes, making his point clear. “No matter what.”

His brother’s gaze bore down into him, and even under the intensity he could still sense underlying worry.

“I won’t. I promise.” Stan told him in complete resolve, maintaining the strong eye contact. He smiled then, only half joking. “I’m not exactly interested in anyone besides me controlling my body.”

Ford let out a short laugh, a bitter note.

He still had tons of questions, but so much more made sense now. Thank God Ford was easy to read sometimes. Other times a real brick wall, but he’d gotten the lucky read this time. “You're’ not planning on staying awake forever, right?”

“No, just as little as possible until I find something to seal myself off from him.”

Stan thought about that for a moment. “How about you take a nap? I’ll pull over if you start moving.”

Ford paused considering it, glancing at the road behind them then back to Stan. “Would you be able to tell the difference?” He asked slowly.

He couldn’t help scoffing loudly. “Uh, yeah, I think I’d be able to tell.” He started turning the car back onto the road. “Get some sleep, Sixer.”

Ford gave him a look, but settled into his spot soon letting himself drift off for the most part. He never quite stayed asleep, and Stan had to stop several times just to be on the safe side.

Finally, they got off the highway, getting onto a road leading into the city. Gotham.

 




Now this, this was... eugh okay it actually looked a bit grim. What city didn’t have an ugly side of town though? Besides, ugly or not this was a fresh start for him!

His problems were miles behind. No drug ring after his hide or nothing. He’d gotten away, mostly scot-free, as always. With it finally behind him and the fear of being found eased under knowledge of more than enough distance he could smile.

Ha, “suckers.”

Speaking of which, he bet there were some real grade A ones in this city. A place just teeming with opportunity! Give it a week and he’d be rolling in dough this time, he knew it.

...

.......



A day had passed by, and it wasn’t looking good. As was usual with long trips, he was almost out of money. It also didn’t help that this had been one of the times when he had escaped prison and THEN ran as far as he could. Definitely wasn’t as bad as the time he came back from England though. Sticking around for just enough cash, got a new identity, then jumped on the first plane he could get to America. Left him with almost nothing though.

So-

So, if you thought about it, really, this wasn’t all that bad!

He still had three dollars left, and that was more than his post-England trip had left him. About 2 dollars and 95 cents more, counting against the nickel he’d found by the baggage claim.

Still 6 days to turn this around though. Come on, 6 was a lucky number after all, he could do it this time. He would. He would do it.

 


 

 

Frankly, he knew he should have been tamping down on the hope welling up inside him, save himself the pain later on, but he let it stay for now at least. Once he saw one of the university’s library he'd make an assessment of his chances of finding anything.

It was one of the larger cities he'd been in. During his studies he'd occasionally go to a summit or present one of his papers at a gathering so this wasn’t completely foreign to him. 

The woods were still better byahem, anyways… Gotham.

It looked maybe a bit dubious, but every city had those parts. As far as cities went it didn’t look any different from the others he had seen. It only got marginally worse as Stan drove on. Not exceptionally though, and frankly the whole city may have well have been upper class buildings for all it mattered to him. The more people around was what made it dangerous.

Eventually Stanley pulled into a little parking lot beside a cramped apartment complex. Red chipping paint on the outside that had been meant to liven it up now only served to depress and now demonstrate the lack of funds available for the expenses to repaint. There were fire escapes on the side of the tall building though. That was good.

Stan’s cough drew his attention, and when Ford looked over he could tell the other was waiting for some reaction.

“What floor are you on?” He asked, focusing back on the building again, making sure to keep himself from falling into any sort of hardened expression.

“The fourth.”

“Ah, that's not bad.”

“Yeah, I was going to get one of the rooms near the top but then this lady on the fourth over- uhh went over the due date on payment, you know.”

He nodded his head. “Well, it worked out.” And he assumed Stanley was obviously not forgetting to pay the bills on time at least since he was still here.

Stan hummed. “Ready to haul your stuff upstairs?”

“The sooner we do that, the sooner I can get to other things.” Ford replied. Again, the libraries. He would probably have to find some very old documents for possible spells or wards.

Stan went and opened the trunk, Ford coming around his either side, and he spluttered a half laugh, putting his hand to the side of his smiling face.

“What is it?” Ford questioned.

He gestured towards the crossbow which had wedged itself in between a couple bags. “I forgot you brought the crossbow.” Another half laugh. “You're not going to be answering the door with that every time, are you?” He questioned, quietly cracking up.

“I- no, obviously not unless it's necessary.” He went to start grabbing a couple bags. “It's a precaution.”

Stan was still holding back a smile as he took a few bags as well. “Not the usual precaution city people take.”

He rolled his eyes, but made no reply. Maybe the crossbow was a tad overboard, but really he didn't see anything wrong with using it for home protection.

He was pleasantly surprised when Stanley had to pull out a key for the door to enter the apartment building itself. As they went up though, even he noticed that the frequency of Stan’s comments were more than simply casual.

“The neighbors are really nice, ya know.”
“And the heating actually works- well, yeah, duh. Of course it works. I just thought you might- because it looks like it's an old building, but it’s fine, really.”
“It's actually one of the newer buildings around here. Bad paint job is all.”
“I didn't really feel like moving a ton up these stairs though so not too much furniture, just so you know. But hey, gives you some room for your stuff.”
“The rooms are uh, really… functionally laid out.” 

Stan took a breath, which Ford wouldn't have noticed if he hadn't been paying attention, before opening the door to his apartment.

It was a small apartment, but Ford had been expecting that. After all, Stan lived here alo- He paused in his observation as he realized he hadn't even known if anybody else was living with Stanley. He should have asked that instead of assuming.

He mentally shook the thought away though and resumed his glean of the room. There was a raggedy couch facing a TV set up on a tiny table. Two doors across the room and a wall divider on his left. Peaking around, he saw a small kitchen present. A counter, some cabinets, sink, refrigerator, stove top. It matched the apartment, must have already been provided with the space.

He moved further in, setting down his bags against the wall. Curiously, he opened the first door on the right. Bathroom, largely unimportant, but it had a lock. Opening the other door, he noticed the window in the bedroom and immediately went over to look out it. He bypassed a closet and a twin sized bed that he hardly noticed. There was possibly a few items scattered on a pile of boxes by the bed, but he wasn’t paying attention to any of that. Stan followed after him into the bedroom, standing somewhere back by the door.

As he suspected, outside the window were metal stairs clinging to the brick building. “You've got a fire escape,” he noted pleasantly to Stan, glancing back briefly at him. The lock on it caught his eye though... He mentally made a note to purchase a window lock in addition to a couple locks for the door. Or a few.... he could feel himself starting to debate between the number and decided to set it aside for later.

Stan laughed lightly. “I wasn't really expecting that from you.”

“What were you expecting?” Ford asked, actually looking back at him.

He shrugged. “Ah, something about the couch, I don't know.” Scratching at the back of his neck, he added, “You can take half the closet for stuff. I'm only using half of it now anyways.”

Ford nodded his head. “Right. I'll worry about unpacking later though.”

“Later?”

“Well, I have to go to the library.” He pointed out.

And at that Stanley laughed, only then did Ford realized how disingenuous the one before it had been. Well- no, not that, really, but... sad? No, that was the wrong word too. Just a placeholder? He decided that was the best description he could pin down.

The earlier one had just been a placeholder to fill the silence while this one actually had heart behind it.

“Of course, you would.” He said with a smile. “Yeah,” he let out a breath, “yeah, that actually works out well because I gotta check in with someone. I'll drop you off at one of the libraries on campus.”

Ford nodded his head. "Sounds good." It saved him time from walking to the place himself, not to mention trying to search it down in this city.  

“Oh!”

His brother’s voice jogged him up from his thoughts. Stan had a crooked smile on his face. “Before I forget though,” he walked off back through the living room.

Curiously, Ford followed after him. His brother had come to a drawer in the kitchen, rummaging around in it. He proudly turned back around upon finding something, holding it hidden in his fist. Crossing back towards him, Stanley met him in the middle of the room. He silently held his fist out for him, barely restraining a smile.

Ford cautiously put his hand out underneath and a couple of mismatched keys were dropped into his hands.

“Ha!” Stanley crossed his arms across his chest. “Those’ve been laying around since I moved into this place. Rooms come with two sets of keys. Drove me up the wall to just have the extra set like that though; I almost took them back a couple times.”

Stan’s uplifting mood was a nice surprise, but he couldn't help being a bit confused. “Why didn't you?” Ford asked.

He waved a hand, starting to walk back towards the door. “Ah, I had better things to do.”

Ford hummed, going after his brother, keeping the keys in his hand.


 

 

It took a couple more trips to get all of Ford’s stuff into the room. The last one being a bit, heh, nerve-inducing. At least for Stan, it was. Ford, on the other hand, easily picked up the crossbow and had started walking with it as though it had been something as inconspicuous as one of the earlier bags. It had actually taken Stan a second or two to realize his brother was oh so casually walking back towards the apartment building with the large weapon in one hand and a smaller bag in another.

He was still surprised Ford hadn't said something about where he was going to sleep. In all honesty, he was a bit scared to point it out. Not like he'd be able to pick up a bed in the next few hours. He'd already gotten lucky with the mattress he had in his room now. He picked it up off of the side of the street and cleaned it up as much as anyone can with just a scrub brush and a bucket of cleaner liquid.

He didn't want them to immediately start off with an argument. Maybe tonight, okay, but he also didn't really have the time for it right now either. He'd already made the call earlier and promised to come by as soon as he could.

Stan pointed out the library as they drove up to it. “See that one? That's it. Probably has a sign on it too, can't miss it.”

“What kind of library is it?” Ford questioned, hand already on the handle.

He paused. “Oh, don't really know.” He shrugged.

Ford hummed, not seeming to mind. He stayed like that for a moment, then as if remembering, turned to look back at Stan again. Slowly, he started. “I'll see you… later on?”

See, this should have been a very casual moment where Ford said bye as he left, and Stan returned the saying before the door was closed on him. This was a lot more effort than just that though. This could have been simple and casual.

Except for one thing. They hadn't actually done this sort of casual in a while. They hadn’t even done any ‘casual’ with each other in over a decade so this was weird. Just like when Ford had gotten into his car again back at Gravity Falls, it was weird.

At least Ford hadn't picked up on that though. Stan had been the only one dealing with the surreal atmosphere strong enough to fill up the car and make him choke on it for a few seconds. Now, though? Now it was awkward and both of them full well knew it.

“Yeah. See you later,” Stan replied, keeping it at least semi-cool, “on the flipside.”

“... Right.” Ford glanced between the door and him, before finally opening it with a cough. “Later then.” He said, before closing the door.

Stan allowed himself to sigh once the door was closed and drove off with a honk, relieved to see Ford in his rear view mirror giving a small wave.

Yeah, he probably hadn't realized the whole sleeping situation yet, but at least they had gone through this relatively well. No fights.

... What would it be like later though?

Stan was suddenly hit with a realization like a freight train, as he drove along.

“I don't even know how long he's staying,” he whispered breathlessly. “Shit.”

Did Ford even know how he long he was staying though? Nearly everything they'd brought upstairs had been equipment. Everything except for one bag, and not that big of one at that. He'd given him the second set of keys, but it wasn't like Ford was moving-in moving in, right?

What was this going to be? Two weeks before Ford figured something out then a ‘later then’ as he went all the way back across the country to leave him behind in New Jersey all over ag-

Stan started hysterically laughing to himself, running a hand through his mullet. “‘m getting ahead of myself,” he murmured. Ford hadn't even been here for an hour yet, and he was already thinking about when he'd leave. It was way too early to think about that, and he especially didn't want to walk into work thinking about all of it either.

He turned on the radio, quickly finishing his drive pulling up behind the building. Walking briskly through the cold he made it to the door and unlocked it pushing his way in. After making it to a back room, he went inside, all winning smiles ready as he saw the figure of his ever gracious employer turning towards him along with a few others in the room.

Clad in his usual fancy attire, The Penguin greeted him with a smile, tapping his umbrella onto the plans on the table. “Stanley, welcome back, you're just in time for tonight.”

Chapter Text

As great as it would be to have just pushed the lunk into a ray of light guaranteed to burn away half his body, sleep deprivation really did do a number on Sixer’s body. He wasn’t going to win a fight with the fleshbag like it was. Let brainiac actually get some peaceful sleep this time. Okay well, he did do one nightmare, or three or eight, but c’mon! Nothing to say an all knowing being can't have just a little fun now and then. Besides, even an hour gives you a bigger canvas to work with than just some five minute window.

 

He would have plenty of time to pull the lever later anyways; that portal wasn't getting scrapped any time soon. (Good job kidding yourself though, smart guy!)

 

Bill focused on the shack, seeing from an eye out in the trees, noticing the car now missing. Maybe Ford had already kicked out Stan.

Oh, man! He'd have to check out the memories for that one, definitely worth a couple replays. Were they separated yet?

 

| . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .|

 

Hmm, nope. Good. He wanted his front row seat when it happened. Speaking of which, time to hone in to his personal radio.

 

Not in the shack... or the bunker.

 

Well, well, well, looks like someone was finally getting out for a change!

He must have been looking over the cave wall or somewhere else for ‘answers.’ The human had already ran through the town’s library ragged with shaking fingers catching onto books that he already knew would never have the information he needed. Bill gleefully reminisced. Classic desperation.

There was only one place to go after the cave wall, and Ford had considered jumping through the portal more than that option! Oh, what his meat sack would do when he completely ran out of options, he couldn't wait to see.

 

He looped himself through his millions of eyes in town.

 

...

...

.  .  .

 

H  a  h  a.   

A l r i g h t,  S i x e r. . .

 

WHERE ARE YOU?

 

Bill furiously flicked through the rest of his countless eyes, branching out from the city.

 

His frustration mounted the further out he searched with not even the faintest signal. When he eventually felt a weak tether he focused in on it, scouring the extremely dull scenery. Ugh, Nebraska .

 

Finally, he spotted something. The Stanley Mobile through the dirty glass of a gas station. Surprise, surprise.

 

Bill slipped himself into Ford’s mind, sticking to rifling through rather than actually sliding into the body. Not that going around in a physical form wasn't fun, but Ford wasn't really willing to share anymore nowadays. Talk about selfish! Mr. Oh-No-Bill-I’ll-Stop-You wouldn’t let him even have the thing for five minutes! Ugh. Well, why bother struggling for the controls when he was bound to fall asleep.

 

A little review session seemed more interesting than whatever was going on right now anyway. A Nebraskan gas station didn’t lend itself to much excitement, not that this dimension had much of a flair to begin with.

 

He sunk through Ford’s mind. He could find his way to the newer memories with his eye closed by now. Probably went out in the middle of nowhere to hide the journal, like he wouldn’t be able to find it, psh .

 


 

...

 

Bill slammed the door to the memory shut, burning the ragged blue space around him into a tarry black. “YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!!!” He flashed red, considering grabbing hold of the controls to strangle Stanley and see if Ford would be able to stop him if he tried just hard ENOUGH .

 

He'd given Ford a new option. A whole city to look for solutions, and Sixer had gone for it. His ‘last resort’ had failed him, but oh of course he'd brought along a way out for his dear old twin. Running away didn’t change a single thing though.

 

Until the end of time .
Stanford Fil brick P in es   w  a s    H  I  S .

 

He’d wait until they were both asleep then wrap all twelve fingers around his neck and make him regret every second he took to get to Gravity Falls. If Stan Pines didn’t realize how dumb he was now he would finally figure it out with just a minute left to spare!! C O N V E N I E N T,  H U H?

No. He simmered aloft outside the now blackened door, casting a spiteful eye at it again.

No. Not that the idea didn’t have merit. No, it'd be  G R E A T, but it wasn't going to fix this. Ford had already made it out too far. If Bill tried to take them back then Sixer would realize and just drive himself in the opposite direction.

 

... Oh .

 

His bright yellow color returned with an idea.

He could work with this though. A simple change of plans. They weren't just going to any old town, after all.


Gotham. Now, talk about a fun place. A place with some real  o p p o r t u n i t y.

Chapter Text

Stan Pines had maintained several truths over the years, and one of them was this - anybody who believed in New Year’s Resolutions was a chump, plain and simple.

 

‘I’m going to work out every day!’
'Oh, I’ll start my diet after my last drink tonight!’
‘I’ll quit smoking, start the new year out cold turkey.’

 

Ha! Yeah, nice job kiddin’ yourselves there. He’d seen plenty of people make them and break them in the first month. Hell, sometimes in the first day. Worst he ever saw was someone breaking it a few hours after midnight. If anything they looked more like a certain curse, but Stan knew it was just people trying to hold themselves to something they could never do.

You can try all you want to go on a juice only diet, but if you spent all last year eating anything you wanted then chances are you ain’t making the cut for long, bucko. Personally, Stan hadn’t made one in years, and the last one he had regretted.

 

I’m gonna make it big and become a millionaire!

 

Stupid. He’d ended up broke several times that year and had his first imprisonment then. Thing was he didn’t really put a lot of stock into resolutions growing up either, but he’d wanted to make some big grand resolution that year.

New Year’s Resolutions were for chumps, and Stan knew that pretty well...

Or so the smoldering idea nagged at him from the back of his head. Hell, he knew it was right. Had plenty of proof to back it up too.

Here he was though, drinking and laughing away on New Year’s Eve, which also happened to be the fifth day of Hanukkah this year. It was the best one he’d had in years. Maybe it was the afterglow from the Christmas Ball payoff, but he felt good. He’d gone out with a few coworkers to celebrate at the Lounge. He hadn’t even thought about it until one gal started egging the others on about their resolutions.

“I’m gonna get a suit, like one of them really nice ones, you know? No bullet holes or nothing.”

“Ah, I don’t got one, I don’t believe in ‘em.”

“Come on, you gotta have one. New Year, New You.”

“I gotta agree with him on that one,” Stan chipped in, “they’re bogus. Nobody ever holds to them.”

“Doesn’t matter if you hold to it not, you just gotta make one.”

“Then what’s the point of having one in the first place!”

“It’s New Years and it’s part of the fun. ‘Sides, having goals or whatever, ya know?”

“Alright, fine, I’ll give.” One said, “New Years Resolution: I’ll learn just enough French so I can sound all suave.”

Stan said nothing, relaxing back into his chair and earning a shoulder jab. He rolled his eyes. “Fine, I’ll learn how to play an instrument.”

“A real one.”

He groaned, sitting up straight again. “Okay, okay.” A few came to mind, including that one, but he pushed it aside. Then he thought of one that he could actually see, and it didn’t seem like such a pile of bull.

And at the back of his mind came the nagging that having a real resolution was for chumps. He liked the resolution though, all the same. And if he thought he could pull it off then well he’d just take the fall later. Besides, he could at least hold to it for a few months, right?

“I’m not gonna let my stuff get all fucked up this year, smooth sailing just like the past months have been.”

“You call that smooth ?”

“Hey, yaps, this is smooth, alright.”

“Well, if Gotham is smooth for ya then I wouldn’t wanna leave and see where it’s rough!”

He laughed at that. “Ha, you’re right on that one.”

It was behind him though, and the night carried on. The New Year coming with a loud and cheerful cry from the nightclub that Stan could feel vibrate through his chest. Yeah... You know what, this was gonna be a good year.

He’d been doing well for this long, so who says the resolution wouldn’t last. He wasn’t reaching for the stars here, after all. Just to keep the status quo.

He went to relax inside their private room away from the crowd, not too long after midnight. Only a half hour to rest his feet before going back out to dance, maybe get a couple drinks, who knows. The night was still young and with midnight passed it was time to actually party. He was reclining on a couch right by the window for some air when his phone rang, and he answered it without looking.

“Yeah, Boss?”

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The door opened and he looked over to see the others, one of them being half carried half dragged into the room, clearly already drunk beyond belief.

A range of varying drunk voices came out from the group in a loud medley of Not Right Now, Jesus.

“Heeey, they said I ain’t allowed to dance no more! Tell ‘em -ic, tell ‘em that’s shi-”
“He took like five shots of something or he’s a lightweight.”
“I ain’t a fuckin’ lightweight!”
“Listen, we gotta- we gotta take Mr. Suave home here.”

“Okay,” Stan started, having muffled the phone against his chest, “just-” he took a deep breath, “I gotta finish this phone call, first. I really can’t deal with this right now,” he said gesturing at them.

“Suzie, go ahead and call a cab or something. Just keep him in here until it gets here then we’ll walk ‘im out.”

“Izzit the Boss?”

“No, it’s- it’s family.” He waved a hand to deter any more questions. “I’ll be back.” He went out the exit into the night, the heavy metal door swinging after him with a loud banging sound.

Soon enough, he was clicking end with a foggy breath into the cold air. Hah, un-freaking-goddamn believable. What was that? 45 Minutes?

New Years Resolutions really were for chumps, and if Stan Pines was good with something he guessed it was awful things in record time. After all, he'd never seen someone have their resolution break in the first hour.

Chapter Text

“Mr. Cobblepot, wouldn’t miss it if I could help it.” Stan told him with a smile.

“Even still, illnesses are rather unpredictable. I take it your brother recovered?” He questioned.

“Yeah. He was looking pretty bad, but the pneumonia cleared right up.” Stan casually pointed to the map without skipping a beat. “South entrance still, right?” Just a small question to shift the focus.

The Penguin tapped at the table with his umbrella. “Precisely.”

Nothing much had changed about the plan since he last saw it. There wasn’t too much to it, really. The actual robbery was easy, it was just figuring out how to make a safe getaway that was the problem. A little hard to do when Batman could show up. The best way to get away from the Bat was to not get enough attention for him to show up, but there was no subtle way to rob a bank. So, next best thing was to set up for something to slow him down or be fast enough so they wouldn’t get caught.

 


 

Stan adjusted the edges of his jacket like it was a fine suit and with no small amount of flair, he kicked open the glass door, garnering the attentions of everyone inside the room. He grinned, one of his hands going in his pocket while the other went to the side of his mouth as if to help get his voice across the room.

“Hit the deck!”

There were a few people inside who immediately did get down. This wasn’t their first robbery.

The rest practically threw themselves to the ground at the explosions that soon burst nearby.

He beamed proudly as he stepped further into the room, letting the door close behind him. and Everyone else had now come through the busted-open side door. He could see two sneaking towards the safe door while Juan hopped up onto the counter, an intimidating machine gun already drawn.

“Oh! Gimme a sec here.” He turned towards the glass door again, giving a winning smile to the couple of incoming  security guards and putting a small bomb where the door met with the wall. A lazily blinking red light was pointed towards the outside in plain sight. Stan pointed down at it even as the pair were already skidding to a stop.

“Hey do me a favor and don’t blow through this. Seriously, it costs an arm and a leg, and I don’t mean what it takes to make the thing.” An utter bluff, but an effective one. The two guards seemed pretty keen on not barging through the door anymore so he turned back around, pulling out a handgun.

That little doohickey made an explosion about as bad as a firecracker. It sure made a show like one too, but Stan had learn you could get through a lot with just a show sometimes.

He coughed formally. “Now.”

He talked freely as he saw Juan had already gotten the security guard inside the building to the ground as well. “I can tell by faces here and there that not all of you have been inside the bank during a robbery. Let me, Sterlin Presley, welcome you to your very first robbery in that case! As some of you already know, as with any fancy bank they’ve got plenty ‘a insurance to cover themselves so if you’re worried about losing a fraction of you wealth, no worries.Heck in this city, nearly every bank goes for that extra double-bounded insurance package. So all you really have to endure is a few minutes of being pressed to a freshly waxed floor that’s cleaner than everyone in this room put together. ‘Cept maybe the employees. Banks aren’t that keen on hiring ex-cons, believe me. Speaking on their behalves though, I can tell ya, they really couldn’t care less what this bank loses as long as they don’t lose their pay and go home fine. If they’ve worked for over a year this definitely isn’t their first robbery either. They’ve probably gone through over a dozen robberies by now. More than once by us. We should really get a punch card system or something,” he mused, gesturing out with a hand.“Like a - a ‘get robbed five times and then you get something free’ card.”

He pinched at the bridge of his nose briefly, quickly exasperated at his own joke “I don’t know, I’m tired. Give ya a chair to sit in or something,” he proceeded to grumble. “We should probably do that anyway.”

Ugh, he wasn’t feeling all that bad, but his head was lagging behind his mouth. Couldn’t come up with the actual punchlines to the jokes he started by the time he needed to. If they’d done this a week or two ago he could have pulled up with tons of different lines. Sure, he’d burnt up the best ones during the Christmas Ball, but he still had one or two he could have used.

Ho ho ho, Happy Hold up everyone That’s right! This is a hold up!

See now, that would have been a great intro! How long had he been talking? Almost two minutes, right?

He checked over his shoulder briefly to glance at the security guards outside, the pair of them talking into one’s radio. They were a fair distance away from the door, and even better, distracted. From the vault door he could hear muffled zipping sounds from inside. Time to go.

“Anyways, remember, everyone,” he turned and gave a solemn nod to the room, “friendship is the real treasure.”

Then he turned around and shot at the firecracker bomb on the door.

The thing burst with a loud noise and sparking lights that made a large plume of dark smoke. Scraps of hard plastic shot out at the ground and there was a sharp smell of burning circuits.

Stan dove through the door, yelling over his shoulder as the rest of the gang silently went out the side door they’d come in through.

“So stop tipping your waiters two goddamn-dollars, ya rich cheapskates!” He grinned, seeing the two security guards out of the corner of his eye belatedly start chasing after him, taking the loud bait.

Ha, suckers.

 


 

It had turned out, in fact, that Stanley had dropped him off by a Biochem library. However, they did have a campus map so he found his way to a historical library. As much as he did adore the sciences, they didn’t exactly cover ‘demonic possession’ as much as the lore held in older texts.

Ford rounded up a few books he found in the system, but as he went to collect another one he came to a section with a locked glass door. Frowning, he went towards the librarian’s desk, sure to have his hands wrapped around the books to hold them against his chest and hide his fingers.

“Excuse me, might I have the key for the documents room?”

The librarian looked up at him. “Do you have a Staff ID?”

“Ahh, no.” He made a head motion towards the room. “There’s just a few texts in there that I’d like to see.”

They shrugged, polite enough to at least give a small consolidating frown. “Only academic staff or those accompanied by academic staff are allowed to enter that room. I’m sorry, but the Dean doesn’t want any of the sensitive documents to get hurt.”

“I’ve handled a lot of sensitive texts before.” He started, counting on an understanding.

“Unfortunately, it’s a university policy.”

Ford frowned again. There was nothing to actually guarantee anything in the entire campus had a text that could help him, but if anything could it was more than likely behind that glass. The older the paper then the more chance that there was something relating to the occult, coming from before such texts had started to fade away into obscurity or fantastical fiction.

If there was anything there then Ford would find it, and the solution to get to the documents themselves was very simple.

“There wouldn’t be any ongoing hiring for any academic positions, would there?”

The librarian blinked back at him, momentarily shocked by that. “Uhh,” they looked down at their desk picking up a stack of papers only to set it down in its spot. Then they paused, obviously thinking. “I mean, there’s always a couple professors that end up quitting at the end of the semester, but I don’t know which departments they were this year. Biology is almost always one.”

“Who do I give an application to?”

 


 

Stan ducked through a couple of alleyways, easily losing the security guards who weren’t paid enough to actually put in that much effort to catch him. One hadn’t even bothered going into the first alley. Stan gave the other a two-fingered salute over his shoulder when he saw them slowing to a stop.

He met back up with the others quickly afterwards, getting into the passenger’s side of the getaway vehicle which was really too classy for such a small time job. It was probably too fancy for any of the usual jobs they used it for, come to think of it. It was a sleek looking black car that Oswald kept on hand for them. Well, for ‘the gang’ really, he guessed. They weren’t part of the original gang and the gang now was more than just the four of them in the car right now.

Still, for a car that was well-used for crime it was really nice, probably the best getaway car Stan had ever been in, and that was saying something.

“A punch card, really?” A voice immediately greeted him.

“Look okay, you drive through Nebraska and see how your jokes hold up afterwards, chatterbox.” Stan replied easily, glancing back through the window.

“Alright, alright, alright. Not that I’m complaining. That whole being the distraction isn’t my game. I’m in the business of shooting, not getting shot at.”

“Yaps.” Stan said, looking at the driver’s seat where the other was still talking.

“I know what you’re going to say! ‘Do it right and you won’t get shot at.’ Well, here’s what I gotta say. Not everything goes as smoothly as you think. Sometimes people shoot at you. Sometimes they don’t. It’s just a grab bag of what people could do.”

“Yaps.” He said again, tired this time. Regardless, they kept talking away.

“People are only predictable to a point I tell you and let me tell you something else. You’re not all that charismatic as ya think. Sure, we love you, don’t get me wrong, but-”

Lou.” Stan said, finally getting them to stop this time. Stan gestured in front of them. “Still gotta actually get away here. Could ya talk and drive?”

“Oh, my bad, sure, sure.” Starting the car, they moved off, the group riding back with cash in tow. Lou took no time in starting back up again.

 


 

After a little bit of time - which Ford spent studying - the librarian was able to figure out which positions, exactly, were open and even included the papers he’d need to fill out. She seemed oddly perplexed the entire time, but the information seemed correct so he didn’t bother trying to figure out where the confusion was to begin with. 

There were indeed a few biology classes needing professors, as well as an strangely fair amount of other subjects. Calculus I and II, Geometry Proof and Theorems, Organic Chem, and Clinical Methodology. Aside from the psychology class, he could easily teach any of the classes.

There was only one sort of application. Rather convenient, he found. As he started to write in the wrong address, though, he paused and scribbled out the few numbers he had already written in pen.

He.... couldn’t remember the address of the apartment. He could say which number, certainly, and could navigate back, but actually recalling the street name was another matter entirely. Actually, he wasn’t sure he ever spotted the street name at all.

The frown on his face deepened as he came across the option for a phone number. He didn’t know Stan’s number off the top of his head. It’d only been thanks to Ma writing it down that he had had it at all.

Ford paused that train of thought as well, realizing something else. There hadn’t actually been a phone inside the apartment. Not unless it was hidden, but that wouldn’t make sense, really. If it rang then nearly anybody could find it. On the other hand, maybe it was an unorthodox phone and he just hadn’t seen it... But... even that really didn’t make sense. Ford wouldn’t have called the apartment completely barren, but there weren’t many knick-knacks lying around. Certainly not any that would have been big enough to plausibly be a phone.

Gah - this really wasn’t something he needed to focus on. He’d find a store and just buy a phone and plug it in at the apartment. He already needed to buy a few locks to install anyway.

Ford walked out of the library with the books he had and aimed to go out for the supplies necessary to make the apartment secure.

Perhaps, if Ford wasn’t as occupied he would have noticed the librarian belatedly calling out to him with an uncertain voice in an attempt to catch his attention.

“Sir? Sir, are you- ? I think you need to...”

She let out a sigh and rested down on the table as he continued on, completely oblivious to her and the fact that he’d forgotten to check out the books.

 


 

As the drive went on and nobody stopped them, the unspoken uneasiness started to ebb into a comfortably happy tone, with jokes thrown back and forth.

“Ya know, you couldn’t even be the distraction ‘f you wanted ta.”

“Oh, huh, yeah? Why’s that? Tell me, now. I’m all ears.”

A finger snap. “That’s a laugh, all ears. That’d be the problem. You’d be talking along, and just be so moved by the sound of your own voice you wouldn’t even realize when it was time to get out.”

“Oh, ha, ha. You’re so funny. Why don’t’cha just go and become a comedian already.”

“Come on, you know she couldn’t make a living like that.”

Stan smiled quietly, mood lifted by the friendly atmosphere around him. It was enough to make him feel a bit better since he’d gotten back. The gentle bullying was more than welcome, and easy enough to fall back into. Mocking jabs pointed at one another earning all but bitter replies.

Soon enough they parked the car outside of their base, and went inside. Once the money was secured away, they splintered off. Counting the money and splitting it up was never a good idea right after a crime. Somebody trying to go back home with a few large wads of cash the same night as a robbery was more than a little bit suspicious.

Oswald had gone right to the Iceberg Lounge once they all had left for the robbery, to give himself an alibi. Not to mention that he had to take care of all the business with the night club itself and getting intel from different informants.

Stan went to his own car, starting it up to go and meet up with Oswald for a bit. He was already driving towards the Lounge from muscle memory alone when he suddenly remembered Ford. Shit.

He’d actually forgotten. That’s right. Ford had come with him to Gotham. He was- Jesus Christ, Stanford was actually with him. Probably still at the library he’d dropped him off at, maybe back at the apartment. Actually, yeah, the library had to be closed by now, he was probably back at the apartment already.

For just half a second he worried that Ford may have been waiting for a ride back from him, but yeah, no, there was no way Ford would have been expecting anything from him.

He couldn’t really do the usual meet up with Mr. Cobblepot.

Err- well, he guessed he could. It’s not like he’d said he was going to be back a certain time or anything, but he usually ended up staying at the Lounge for the rest of the night. Stan really didn’t want to have to try explaining why he had taken so long.

...Oh man, he really hadn’t thought this through. He didn’t even know what he was going to tell Ford about what he did. He really couldn’t just outright say that he mostly worked robbing banks and galas and whatever else.

Stan stopped his thoughts to push through a deep breath, forcing himself to calm down. He’d come up with some believable lie, but he should just figure out what to do now. He had already started to drive to the club, but rather than keep driving he pulled over into a parking lot and stopped.

Okay. Time to think.

He could still go to the Lounge, but he really didn’t want to accidentally lose track of time or anything. He just needed to let Oswald know that they all hadn’t gotten caught or anything like that.

He ran a hand over his face. “Ugh.”

Alright, just.... So he’d call him to let him know, easy enough. Then he’d go back to the apartment and…?

As his thoughts trailed off into nothing, he shrugged his shoulders and leaned his head back against the headrest. “Stupid,” he grumbled to himself. He’d just go back to the apartment and exchange some stiff conversation with Ford before going to bed. That’s probably what was going to happen, he was sure. After that, who knows? He didn’t want to think about it.

Sure, Ford had openly agreed to living with him, but this wasn’t going to be for long, Stan knew that. There was no way Ford was actually going to stick with him. For all he knew, everything would blow over in a week and Ford would immediately go right back out of New Jersey all over again, to the other side of the country.

This was stupid He was just going to call Cobblepot, at the very least to let him know how the operation had gone, and get himself to stop thinking about all of this.

He pulled out the cell phone and dialed the number, waiting as it rang a few times before Oswald picked up.

“Hello Stanley, is everything well?”

“Hey, Mr. Cobblepot. Yeah, it all went through like a charm. We were in and out of there quick, didn’t even see the Bat.”

“Ah, good. No issues, I suppose.”

“None,” Stan assured him. “I mean, Lou took five years to actually start the car, but we had plenty of time. Plus, I used one of the fake bombs for a flashy step out.”

There was a slight laugh on the other line. “A little flair is good for the soul. You abuse those sometimes, though, Stanley.”

He started to feel himself relax back as he talked with Oswald. “What can I say, Boss? It’s bright and loud, perfect distraction material.”

“Did you use that one line again?”

“Which one?” Stan asked, feigning innocence.

“‘Going out with a bang.’” He could hear the curved smile over the line just through the tone.

He smiled himself. “No, classic as it is, I didn’t. I used it a few times too many before, got to use it sparingly now. I’ll bring it back when everyone’s forgotten about it. Nothing’s going to replace it though, I tell you.”

“Take caution, all the same. Classic or not it, can still grow stale. What sort of quip did you use this time, then?” Oswald asked, amused.

Stan paused for a moment. “Told them the greatest treasure of all was friendship or something like that. Not my best, but, hey, they can’t all be gold. I might workshop it.”

“The small occasions are rather safe places to try out new methods or material.”

“Smaller crowds and smaller security guards.” Stan agreed.

Oswald hummed, tone of voice changing slightly. “I have to ask, are you feeling alright, Stanley? It’s not very often I get a phone call rather than a visit from you.”

He faltered for a moment, glad Oswald couldn’t see the quick change of expression on his face. When he spoke, he covered up his tone, hand moving as he talked. “Just a bit tired from driving, is all.”

And from suddenly worrying his brother was seconds from death.

Then actually seeing his brother, paranoid as all hell.

Plus, finding out about the literal demon possessing him on the drive back.

You know. All that. That could be a part of it too. Who knows.

“I haven’t really had a chance to sit down since I got back, not sure I’d stick around for very long tonight.”

“Ah, I see. Make sure to rest up, then. To push oneself with little sleep does neither the mind nor the body any favors.”

“Will do, Boss.”

“Mr. Cobblepot or otherwise, if you will.”

“Sorry, Mr. Cobblepot, Old habits die hard, ya know.” He said. Honestly, with the amount of times Stan flubbed up he was a little surprised Oswald was still taking the time to remind him.

“One day then, Stanley. One day.” Mr. Cobblepot said, genial. “Get some proper rest now, Stanley.”

“You got it. I’ll talk with you in person, next time, promise.”

“I’ll look forward to it. Goodnight, Stanley.”

“Goodnight, Mr. Cobblepot.” He clicked the end call button, putting the phone back in his pocket. He took a breath, letting himself have a calm moment before shifting the car back into drive and turning off towards the apartment building. Better to assume Ford was already back there instead of outside of a closed library.

As he went up the stairs of the apartment, he winced at the sounds of a power tool, which only got louder the closer he got to his floor.

“Who the hell is even working on stuff this late?” He grumbled, the stop-and-go noise quickly getting on his nerves.

Once he reached his floor, it was obvious the noises were coming from the same level. He continued down the hallway, steps slowing down as the sound got worse.

...Wait a second.

Finally, he stopped outside of his room, the gratingly loud drilling sound coming from just behind the door.

 

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Chapter Text

Ford switched from the drill to marking the next spot with a ruler and pencil, hearing steps close by stopping directly on the other side of the door. He tried to ignore it. Then they knocked.

 

The first instance he’d been worried. The second or third, he’d sighed before answering. Now, though, this was just getting tiresome. “If this is a noise complaint you are only impeding your own cause by interrupting my progress. Now...”

 

An exasperated, but familiar voice, came from the other side. “Ford, ya mind?”

 

He paused, setting down the rule and pencil briefly. The doorknob jiggled and Ford checked through the peephole to actually see Stanley pulling out his key. He pulled aside one of the locks he’d already installed and stepped back from the door to let his brother inside.

 

“What the hell are you even doing?” Stan asked, shutting the door behind him and glancing about. He quickly spotted the newly installed lock and incomplete set of holes drilled beside the door frame. “Huh.”

 

“Installing security measures.”

 

Stan looked back to him raising an eyebrow. “Did you install a booby trap too?”

 

Ford let out a breath. “Locks,” he said plainly, “for when someone tries to break in.”

 

“You’re sounding really sure about that.” He said, moving away from the door.

 

As soon as he did, Ford went back towards it, rechecking his marking. “We’re in a city with a population of ten million.” He paused for a moment. Nearly four hundred times more than Gravity Falls. Ford let out a breath, and took the moment to drill into the door with a loud whir, pulling the drill back out again after a few seconds.

 

“So you're uh... you're actually staying?”

 

The question seemed to come out of the blue, but he continued installing the chained lock to the door. “Well, of course I am.” He answered.

 

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Ford continued, simple and factual. “I’m not leaving anytime soon, Stan.”

 

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There was almost an odd silence, Stan knew that, but his mind was struggling to actually think of something in response. The longer the words hung in the air the harder it seemed to be to think of anything to say to them.

 

Eventually, Ford paused to look back at him. “What?”

 

Stan shook his head. “Uhh, nothing. I just thought you would be rushing to get back.”

 

Ford gave a short bitter laugh before focusing again on his work. “No, why would I? It’s just... a town.”

 

Stan shrugged, his eyes wandering and spotting all the papers and books Ford had already scattered on the kitchen counter. Ford was paranoid, sure, but you don’t install locks at a place you’re only staying at for a week or two. A quick glance to the couch was an unfortunate reminder.

 

“So uh hey,” he started, “I don’t really have a guest bedroom or anything here.” This wasn’t exactly a two story shack with a basement. Before the regret up bringing this up with no real solution could creep up over him, Ford started to talk.

 

“Well, of course not. You’re living in an apartment in the middle of the city.” He said as though it were obvious. “I can take a spot on the floor or the couch.”

 

No huff of air with Ford saying he would have to find somewhere else. No indignant glare at the idea of being set up on the couch. Stan hadn’t even gotten to the point of trying to offer it in the best words possible. Stan cleared his throat. “I mean, yeah, take the couch. It’s gonna be a lot better than sleeping on the floor. There’s a couple spare blankets in the closet you should use too.”

 

Ford screwed a lock securely into place. “I’ll be sure to grab some when I go to sleep then.”

 

“Are you? Going to sleep, I mean.”

 

He paused what he was doing, and it took him a few seconds to say anything. “If I get tired.”

 

Stan took a breath to say something, but held it. He already felt like his night had already dodged a bullet with the whole bed situation, and you know what? Ford had slept during the car ride. He still had to be tired, but the whole dream demon sleep possession deal could be dealt with tomorrow, right?

 

What was the harm in Stan letting himself get some sleep then talking to Ford about everything else when he woke up?

 

He let the breath out again, mind made up. Definitely was gonna take a shower first though. Wiping yourself off with wet paper towels at gas stations only did so much - something he was pretty sure Ford hadn’t even tried, if his BO after burying that journal was anything to go by.

 

“Doesn’t bother me if you stay up, but, seriously, take a shower, Sixer. Full offense, you stink.”

 

Ford looked back over at him. “Well - You know, I’m not the only one that hasn’t showered in the past four days.”

 

“You’re right, but I don’t stink as bad as you, and I don’t know when the last time you showered was, but I bet you it’s been a lot longer than when I did.”

 

Ford opened his mouth and shut it again, visibly thinking something over, taking longer than just a few seconds.

 

“Oh god, you’re actually trying to remember when you last showered, aren’t you? You know what,” Stan put out both his hands, shaking them, “if you gotta think about it then I really don’t wanna know.”

 

Ford scoffed at him, gesturing with the power tool in hand. “I know I took a shower sometime in the past month, Stan, I just can’t quite remember when.”

 

“There is no way you could possibly have phrased that any worse than you just did.”

Ford took a long moment, and eventually gave a large shrug. “Well, I’ll take a shower tonight.”

 

Stan snorted. “Good.” He started to turn and walk away. “I’m gonna take one, then hit the sack.”

 


 

Ford rolled his eyes, as he went back to installing the final lock. “Good night, Stanley,” he called, without turning back around.

 

A grunt, then: “Night, Ford,” made him smile slightly as he heard Stan close himself into the bathroom. He’d probably take his own shower shortly after Stan got out so he wouldn’t forget. Possibly he’d wait until he started to have a hard time staying awake.

 

Then again, he wasn’t by the portal anymore, so it wouldn’t be the literal end of the world if he took a nap. Suddenly, a chilling thought struck him clean through.

 

What if this made Bill mad ?

 

Now that he was miles away from the portal, Bill wouldn’t be able to activate it by possessing him any more. Which, of course, was a good thing. It meant that the worst possibility was out of the way. However, Ford still had to deal with Bill, and there was no way he was lucky enough that Bill would just leave him alone now. Before now, Bill had been making his life hell just for the fun of it . Sure, his goal was to activate the portal, but he believed he could do it no matter what Ford did so he never got frustrated. Now that there was no way Bill could get back to Oregon without Ford waking up and stopping him...


He stopped wringing the handle of the power tool as soon as he realized he was doing so.

 

...Who cared if Bill was mad? Let him be mad, it didn’t matter! He could do whatever he liked, but Ford would never willingly go back to activate the portal.

 

All Ford had to worry about now was getting Bill out of his mind. Who knows, maybe the answer was in the very books Ford had already brought back from the library! He’d just spend the night reading, then take his application back to the university in the morning.

 

He could always take a nap later on when he didn’t have something to do... Just whenever the opportune time arose for it.

 


 

Eventually, Ford did get tired, so he took a shower. It didn't help his body feel any less sore, but it helped wake him up a bit. Then he went back to reading.

 

He started to drift off sitting on the couch, though. So, he opted to read the books off of the kitchen counter. Then when he started catching himself tilting off balance even while standing, he decided there was no better time than the present to submit his application.

 

Ford made sure to quietly close the door after himself as he left the apartment. It was still dark as he left the building itself.

 

Well, just because it was the tiniest bit too early for anybody to be at the university didn’t make a difference. All the better, if anything. The application would be there when the faculty arrived and after a walk out in the cold he’d be able to continue reading through the books.

 

The bitter cold of the city helped to wake him up within the first minute. The minute after that, he wished he’d brought gloves. Soon enough though, he’d made it to the campus and slipped the application through a mail slot for the appropriate personnel.

 

Now he could finally stuff his hands into the pocket of his coat without worrying about losing the papers to the wind.

 

He took his time walking back through the peaceful campus, coasting on the breeze. With nobody else out, it reminded him of back when he used to go to school. It was rare to be able to walk through a campus with nobody else around, and t made sense for it to be this empty before the semester had started.

 

During his Summer courses at Backupsmore, there were only a handful of other students so the campus felt as empty as the times in between semesters. Ford would leave libraries and labs at all kinds of hours, but there had only been three instances when he saw someone else out that late.

 

He let out a slow breath. It was peaceful.

 

This campus itself was rather pretty too. Certainly better than his own had been.

 

Ford continued on enjoying the calm, but soon stopped as he saw movement aside from the familiar swaying of tree branches - three figures near the doors of a building ahead of him. He slowly walked to stand by the edge of a short brick wall, watching them curiously.

 

There were no farms near Gotham... so why was someone in the middle of the university dressed like a scarecrow?

 

The pair with the costumed man didn’t match him, being dressed instead in suits. Then Ford saw the distinct handles of a bolt cutter in the hands of the one, and heard a clank as something fell to the ground. The man placed the bolt cutters back into a large dufflebag before the three went inside.

 

What was going on?

 

After waiting for a moment, Ford lightly jogged towards the building, reading the black sign beside the door indicating it to be the Chemistry and Physics building. Laying beside the door itself was a padlock, as he’d expected. Large, simple - and with its metal ring messily cut, of course.

 

Ford held his breath as he carefully opened the front door, grateful that it made no noise. As he padded inside and shut the door behind him, he could hear the group’s footsteps echoing down the hallway.

 

He crept after the noises in the dark, keeping near the wall as he went. When he heard a door opening, he hurried to the corner in time to see them going through a set of doors and up a flight of stairs on the other side. He went to the doors and slipped through quietly, gently pressing the door close after himself. Still hearing them going up the staircase, he went to the railing and looked up through the thin space separating the multi-level stairwell.

 

Someone was using the railing as they walked up the steps, gloved hand coming in and out of view every time it moved back to hold onto the thinly painted metal. He stayed down on the bottom step, keeping track of the hand.

 

Passing the second floor... Third floor...

 

Another set of doors was loudly pushed open, and Ford climbed the stairs as the noise from the doors echoed in the stairwell. Once he reached the third floor, he could hear the warble of a voice from down the hall.

 

Peeking out the doors, he saw no one, so he carefully closed the heavy door after himself before continuing after the voice, trying to catch up enough to properly hear him. He could hear talk of leaving or something possibly about directions, then a definite mention of ‘Gothamite police.’

 

Some paper on the ground made his foot slip, and he stopped, holding his breath.

 

The man continued talking though, not pausing for even a moment.

 

Ford picked his foot up off the paper and continued in careful, albeit slower, steps. He checked around the corner and stopped, waiting for the group to move around another corner before turning down the hallway himself.

 

Just as Ford was considering himself lucky enough to have remained undetected, the footsteps he’d been following stopped. He quickly glanced at his surroundings in the middle of the hallway. It was dark, but that alone wouldn’t hide him forever. There were rooms, sure, but he wouldn’t know if the doors were unlocked until he tried them.

 

He was starting to take a couple half steps back the way he came, just to be safe, when a loud banging of a door echoed over and over in the nearly-empty hallways.

 

Ford quickly continued to the corner. He looked just in time to see a double set of doors closing after them down the hallway. A light from inside the room flickered on, shedding light through the doors’ windows and shining out onto the smooth waxed floor.

 

He continued down the hall towards the room, pausing a few feet away to read the placard. Thankfully with the light he had just enough to see this was... ‘Lab 318.’

 

... Huh. Alright, well just because it wasn’t specifically labeled as the ‘Highly Contagious and Deadly Diseases Lab’ that didn’t necessarily mean Lab 318 wasn’t used for examining such diseases.

 

He let out a careful breath before silently moving closer towards the doors of the lab. Through one of the small square windows, he could see the lab inside.

 

It was quite an advanced lab for a seemingly generic university building. There were several high top benches, each of them with the same set of no-doubt expensive technology. All of that, however, was being perfectly ignored in favor of the large chemical refrigerator in the back of the room.

 

There were two relatively larger men in suits holding onto duffle bags and a third man who from this distance was now undoubtedly wearing a scarecrow outfit. He had hay coming from out of his sleeves and a large-brimmed hat atop his head. An almost-unnerving detail was that instead of make-up he wore a sack over his face. Besides some possible stitching at the corners of the mouth, Ford couldn’t see any details with the frustrating angle the man had taken as he directed the muscle with him.

 

At the very least, the man in the scarecrow costume wasn’t bothered with any pretense of keeping quiet. He freely listed off various chemical compounds, occasionally pointing them out when he saw them so that one of the men would grab it.

 

“No, no, no! The Bufotenin is to your right , Anthony.”

 

“Uh, sorry, Boss.”

 

As he continued to list out what seemed to be a mentally prepared list, which he even proceeded to repeat, Ford focused on keeping track of them himself and committing them to memory.

 

Some of them were rather basic components for most chemical experimentation, but most were oddly specific. Judging by his list, he was creating something pharmaceutical, but what exactly, Ford didn’t know.

 

There was no telling if he was putting all of this into one product or multiple ones.

 

He was leaning towards the later option, but he realized most of that could easily go into one. It would create a truly terrifying cocktail of a drug, though, considering the ingredients.

 

A pale yellow blur in the corner of his eye caught Ford off-guard and he quickly turned to look. At the nearby intersection of hallways there was a beam of light carefully sweeping straight down the perpendicular hallway with a slight bounce. He could see it getting brighter as the source was approaching the corner.

 

Ford stepped away from the light and urgently made to take quick stock of his surroundings for some place to stay out of sight. Unfortunately, after looking inside the well-lit room for so long, his eyes had to adjust back to the dark again. All he could see was a small radius of the hallway that the light from the room illuminated, then, past that, the vague shapes and lines of the hallway.

 

The moving light grew gradually brighter.

 

In less than a dozen seconds it would come around the corner.

 

Focus . The lines of the walls were straight, with no sections cut away even for a water fountain. One hallway had someone coming down it. The other- Ford quickly checked behind him and immediately realized it was too far. He wouldn’t make it without getting spotted even if he ran flat-out.

 

The doors, check the doors. He moved towards the closest one, which was another set of double doors on the other side of the wall. He was already trying to open the doors even as he saw the expansive space of a lab through the small windows - a locked lab.

 

He quickly moved to the next set of doors, only ten feet away from him. The door jammed with a set of dull clacks. Locked .

 

His hands slipped off of the cold handles as he fearfully checked both directions, a slight pounding in his ears.

 

He was only ten feet from the occupied lab, and significantly farther than that from the hallway intersection behind him.

 

A supply closet-! Nearly twenty or thirty feet further away.

 

Ford didn’t even try to calculate if he could make it inside before the unknown person would turn the corner.

 

He sprung towards the small door as the light continued to bounce in his peripheral. He grabbed for the handle before he’d even stopped in front of it. As he turned and pulled the handle, his shoes scuffed on the ground in front of the door. There was a familiar, unsympathetic dull clack as the door remained shut.

 

The light in the corner of his eye brightened, then disappeared almost entirely. With his hand still on the handle, Ford looked back down the hall. There, at junction of the hallways, was someone with their flashlight currently pointed down the opposite way.

 

As soon as he saw them, the light swung 180 degrees in his direction.

 

Ford slowly let the spring of the door handle put it back into its previous position, stuck as the circular light slid up the hall towards him... then stopped as it reached the light pouring out from the lab. After a short pause, it continued back down along the other wall.

 

As they started to approach, the light stayed close to their feet, swaying with their steps.

 

Why... The light- of course. In a completely dark hallway, he would have been spotted immediately. However, compared to the bright light from the lab, he was harder to notice in the dark and even further away from them.

 

Ford stayed still regardless, only very slightly changing his stance as he let go of the door handle. He may have gotten lucky in not being noticed so far, but if he moved, that could be it. He persuaded himself that his best bet was to be as still as a statue. Even still though, he couldn’t help edging backwards slightly as he heard every footstep as the person got increasingly closer.

 

Their flashlight clicked off once they started to get close to the lab, and without the glare he could finally see more than just a figure. It was a woman wearing what he could only assume was the Campus Security uniform.

 

“Hey, who’s in there?!”

 

He couldn’t move. She’d see him.

 

She moved with a purpose and a a focused frown towards the lab’s doors. Just as she was about to reach them, though, her eyes seemed to pick up on Ford and she stopped a foot or two short. Oh no... Ford took a couple of half steps back, his heels lifting off of the ground.

 

Before he could run, one of the doors to the lab swung inwards, grabbing his attention. It also grabbed the attention of the security guard who looked over in time to be met with a large cloud of red gas shot into her face. She coughed and closed her eyes, stepping away as she tried to wave away the gas.

 

As she was coughing, the door fully opened, light pouring out across the floor with a long shadow in the middle of it. Stepping out of the frame of the door was the scarecrow man, evidently holding no weapon.  

 

The guard blearily blinked, her eyes open again, faced towards the man. As she opened them, though, they widened suddenly and she dropped her flashlight to the ground. “No, n-no, there’s too much smoke, I can’t-” She coughed again, weaker than before, “can’t breathe!”

 

She looked around the hall, backing up on suddenly shaky legs. She choked on her words, but her voice was still as clear as it was before. “It’s burning.. Everything’s burning...!”  

 

With a hand, she reached up to her own throat, the other hand splayed out ineffective at her side. And- And for as much as she looked around, she didn’t look back at Ford even once despite spotting him earlier. Not to mention her odd focus on the cold walls around her.

 

Pulling her shirt up over her mouth, the guard turned to run back down the hallway she’d come down, almost falling once on the smooth floor as she ran.

 

The disguised man laughed to himself, watching her flee with glee.

 

Ford was hyper aware of the chill in the air now, and without thinking about it he started to take creeping steps backwards.

 

What was that? What was that ? An aerosol, obviously, but he already knew that. Something hallucinogenic. Possibly something to do with the chemicals the men were stealing? It would certainly fit considering the list had quite a few chemicals with hallucinogenic properties. How highly concentrated was it though to have such an instantaneous effect...?!

 

His mind wound back to the present again when the man called into the lab, gesturing at the pair inside with a hand.  

 

“Hurry up, you dolts, we’ve spent long enough here already.”

 

He set a clawed hand on the door that had remained closed, and checked down the hallway the guard had ran.

 

Then he looked back in Ford’s direction, and paused.

 

Ford didn’t register the moment he’d apparently turned around and sprung from the spot he’d been standing on, because suddenly he was running. In one instant he was paralyzed, and the next he was already moving. Feet pounding, head pounding, heart pounding. His sight was one of the few senses that wasn’t being disrupted by the pounding. It was hard to separate the noise from the feeling itself and thus the entire thing was suddenly blending into a jumbled mess.

 

He ran around the corner, and although he couldn’t see it yet he knew the set of doors near the end of this hallway were for the stairways. Even still, there was a short pang of relief once he saw them.

 

As Ford pulled open the door this time, he let it slam shut behind him and ran down the steps.

 

Between his own slamming footsteps and the clanging door the stairwell became a swirling cacophony of noises all around him, making his head spin. He used the railing to swing himself around at every platform he reached, unwilling to lose his momentum even if it made him dizzy and he couldn’t tell which direction was which. He didn’t need to as long as he kept his hands on the railing.

 

He swung off of the final platform and could see the bottom of the staircase, but his legs gave out from underneath him before he reached the floor. With a hand already on the rail, he caught himself from falling though his mind certainly didn’t seem to think so.

 

He weakly clung to the railing with his arms as a wave of nausea hit him and was rolling him over despite the grip he knew he had on the metal bar that couldn’t be moving. He panted heavily against the railing, feeling the moisture his own breath was already creating on the cold metal. He leaned his head forward enough to press against something solid and tried to anchor his world back to that again so it’d stop moving as he worked to bring his stumbling feet back under himself again.

 

All the while the pounding kept going, and Ford felt certain that may very well have been his headache acting up.

 

Going down steps could be dizzying if done wrongly, he admitted, but even still he shouldn’t be having this much trouble. Along with that he shouldn’t be feeling this drained of energy already. Then again, maybe he should. He’d been sore since he dug the hole for the journal, but he’d underestimated just how exhausted his body actually was.

 

He hadn’t rested very much since then either. His naps near the end of the car ride had been restless and inconsistent. He had also spent most of the night standing as he worked. He let out a particularly shaky breath.  

 

That’s why his legs had started to buckle. Or it could have just specifically been the lack of sleep.

 

Ford ran a hand through his hair which was soaked with sweat. Wait- when had he last had water again? Or food?

 

Somewhere above him, he could hear slight noises and his body kicked back into action with his mind lagging only a couple seconds behind. It didn’t matter the specifics of why he was having trouble, he’d just deal with it later.

 

He stumbled back down the few final steps and immediately pushed himself out through the stairwell exit and into the freezing air. The cold air was a shock to his system which, though it caused him to falter and lose a grasp of his surroundings for a few seconds, was well worth it. The winter air was a relief against his overheating skin and it cleared his head of some of the dizziness.

 

Only now did he spared a glance back to check for pursuers, before continuing to jog away from the building. He had a fair distance away from anyone now, so he just had to keep quiet enough to stay off of the radar without getting caught again.

 

He didn’t know what the nearby building was, but he cut through the grass around it, and once he was on the other side, he slowed down to a walk. Ford caught his breath, continually looking over his shoulder and every which way. The pounding in his ears had to be his headache acting up.

 

Before even ten seconds could pass, Ford saw red and blue lights moving off to his right. His heart sank with dread as he realized they were definitely heading into the campus.

 

Oh no. No, no way. He couldn’t get involved with the police. Especially not something like this where they may very well try to hold him. He wasn’t going to be trapped for something that he wasn’t even a part of.

 

Ford started jogging again, keeping an eye on the lights and what he could now belatedly tell were sirens in the air. He broke out into a run rather quickly once he realized that, dodging around buildings so there was no possible line of direct sight.

 

He spotted figures somewhere off to his right at some point, and only continued running until he was a block away from campus. Even despite having gotten rather far away, Ford continued to keep watching around himself. Outside of the campus there were no patches of grass to cushion his feet, and the steps on the hard ground were starting to hurt.

 

When Ford had his head turned to look across the street, he ended up falling onto the sidewalk and scrapped his palms with a stinging pain that made it harder to think. Admittedly, he hadn’t been thinking very thoroughly the past ten minutes now.

 

He pushed himself off of the cement and now kept to a jog. Running outright was suspicious. At one point he had to pause for a few seconds to let some godforsaken car go by before crossing the street.

 

He had to keep going. He could already tell if he actually stopped even for a breath that he may not be able to get back up to this speed. He had to get back to the apartment as soon as he could. Now, though, it wasn’t because of the possibility of the police.

 

The bigger issue that Ford was realizing now was that his body was exponentially weaker than usual. He had easily ran much farther than this back in Gravity Falls on multiple occasions. The fact that his body had been having issues before even reaching the bottom floor back at the Chemistry building was very telling. Frankly, he didn’t want to think about just how extremely vulnerable he was right now.

 

He went back to a run again, but very quickly found that he couldn’t keep it up for longer than ten seconds at a time before his lungs started to burn and he got tunnel vision.

 

Ford felt like he’d gotten a breath of fresh air when he saw the apartment building. He fumbled with the key to open the building’s door, feeling an immense sense of relief as he shut it behind himself.

 

He stumbled back a couple steps looking outside before turning and continuing to the staircase... which he now had to climb up.

 

Ford made it to the first landing, shaky, but fine. By the time he was almost to the second landing, though, it was as if his legs knew they were close, and thus decided to practically give out altogether. He had to liberally use the wall to push himself up the steps, the second half of the journey taking nearly unbearably long.

 

By the time Ford reached the fourth floor, his knees were buckling at nearly every step and every few inches took concentrated effort. It took him several attempts to get the key in the door, his hands shaking beyond his control. Shutting the locks on the other side of the door was actually easier than unlocking from the outside had been. He stumbled to the couch, gripping the arm and allowing himself to slowly fall to the cushioned seat.

 

Staring up at the ceiling, Ford realized a couple things. One, the world was still tilting even now, though it was very slight. Two, his breath was incredibly hoarse as he took shallow breaths. Then finally, it appeared he had spots in his vision which, he supposed he must have missed in the dark of night.

 

Ugh, his entire body felt like it was made of lead molecules right now.

 

That’s okay... he would get up in a little while. The adrenaline had already ran out of his system though, and now that he was certifiably somewhere safer the exhaustion nearly put him into a deep sleep.

 

That thought alone made him start with a realization. If he fell asleep then there was a possibility he’d see Bill.

 

He was in no way prepared for that. Not whatsoever. He wasn’t. He needed a few minutes at least. Just another few minutes, please. Even just one minute, he’d take one minute.

 

In a renewed desperation to stay awake, Ford shifted in an attempt to sit up, but his arms barely budged with all his effort. There was a spike of fear with the lack of control over his body, and he was immediately ashamed of the knee jerk reaction.

 

For a dozen seconds or so, he strained to keep his eyes open using his last conscious seconds to mentally prepare himself. It’d.... be fine. There was no portal. It’d be fine... it had to be fine.

 


 

.

.

.

.

The distant sounds of the guard’s feverish get away left him with a lingering smile as he looked down the now empty hallway. He turned to check the other way as well, and there near the wall was a man wearing a trenchcoat.

 

He’d expected the possibility of a guard, but Jonathan was admittedly surprised to see someone else, and couldn't help pausing. Nearly as soon as he had looked over, though, the man had quickly raced off, disappearing around the corner.


For the briefest of moments before the man had turned, Jonathan could have nearly sworn that he had looked like Oswald’s recent right hand, Stanley.

Chapter Text

He was in the dark.

That wasn’t Stan being poetic, no. Sure, he guessed in general he was in the dark in the figurative sense too. He had more questions than answers on the whole situation with Ford, after all.

Right now though? He was more concerned about literally being in pitch black darkness.

He moved carefully on the uneven and bumpy ground. Great. There was no telling where he was and he couldn’t see a damn thing.

Stan reached out with his hands as he moved in the complete silence, trying to find a wall or anything. His forearm hit into something solid and rough quickly enough, and Stan stopped to feel whatever it was. The scraggly surface was easy enough to recognize, especially when he was able to pull a piece off. Bark from a tree…

Something about it being this dark and finding a tree… didn’t quite make sense, but it was like something was blocking his brain from connecting why that was.

There was a sound of chittering and something quickly skittered onto his hand and was just starting up with his arm when Stan immediately pulled back and shook it off with an undignified yelp that echoed slightly.

“Ugh!” He wiped a hand on his arm to make sure there was nothing still on him. There had to be a wall or something for his own yell to echo back like that.
 

Only then did he notice the quiet and occasional drip of water, something he would have sworn hadn’t been there before. He reached down to touch the ground and felt a cold and wet stone. Wait-
 

He moved his hand back towards where the tree was, but instead his hand touched on a rocky wall.
 

...Okay, well, screw this.

He stood up and moved along the rock wall, just picking a direction and sticking with it. He didn’t know if it was the right direction or not, but he wasn’t getting stuck in some weird and clammy cave for the rest of his life.

Stan kept along the slightly uphill slope, moving relatively quickly. For a brief moment he thought back to the cave system in Gravity Falls. Was that where he was at? Had Ford actually ditched him this time? Gah, he’d just get out of the cave then worry about that.

Soon enough, he did see some light ahead, and Stan moved off of the wall entirely. There were some chittering sounds ahead, maybe some crickets outside. The closer he got towards the light though, the louder the sounds got.

After a few seconds of jogging, the walls themselves seemed to start having large black patches. Stan slowed down when at a certain point the black patches covered the walls entirely... and were endless shifting around. He didn’t need his glasses to be able to tell what it was. Ceiling to floor was absolutely covered in 7 different types of dark bugs, crawling over top of each other and all the chittering noises combined into something like a staticky TV with the volume cranked all the way up.

A few stray ones moved in his direction and he took a few steps back. Very gross, but there was a dim light coming from ahead which meant out.

Stan took a moment, scanning the ground ahead for any clear spots. There weren’t any, but he half expected that. He took a breath to himself before accepting his destiny.

“Alright, uglies, yer blocking the road!” He yelled as he ran ahead and took striding leaps to avoid the living carpet as much as he could. The less to be said about the crunchy noises each time his feet hit the makeshift ground the better. That went double for the textures.

As he ran, he was surprised by how long the bugs kept going. Then the light seemed to drain away entirely, leaving him in the dark and completely surrounded by the loud sounds of the chittering and clicking.

Just keep moving. Just keep moving, Stan. Moving, moving – there’s only so many bugs in the world. It’s fine. Just keep- ‘ crUNCH’ - oh God, that one was big  – Keep moving.

He didn’t stop for a second, letting any bugs that may have crawled onto his shoes in the brief seconds get flung back off as he ran. The light started to appear again, going around some bend in the cave system or what, Stan honestly couldn’t care less. It was there, and that’s all he needed right now. He freely grinned as his steps eventually landed back directly onto the rocky ground again.

Stan laughed back at the mile of bug-central, victorious and smug, before turning back around again and finally making it out of the mouth of the cave.

Out of the woods and into the-!.... and into the actual woods this time.

At least he was out of that cave now. He sighed loudly and ran a hand over his face. “Christ, this is just irritating.” He grumbled, checking his surroundings.

A few dozen feet away from him, standing close to a tree, was his brother looking perfectly at ease writing into a journal.

“Ford!” He jogged over the short distance to him, and jerked a thumb to gesture behind himself. “Hey, so whatever you do don’t go into that cave. Seriously, I easily smashed like twenty different kinds of roaches alone.”

The other hummed, but didn’t look up.

Stan let out a breath. “What are you even writing? There’s nothing around here.” He asked, checking the direction Ford was facing. The only thing that way was more woods though, nothing special.

Despite the question, Ford didn’t even respond, simply continuing his writing.

Stan waited a moment, before trying to look at what the other was writing. Regardless of how he tried though, oddly enough it seemed like he could never quite keep an eye on the page. Even when he did spot the words he couldn’t read a single one of them. Ford wasn’t even outright trying to hide the writing, but Stan was still having a nearly impossible time getting a look.

“Earth to Sixer, you mind? Come on, put the book down. We’re out in the middle of the woods at night.” Stan said, getting irritated as Ford didn’t so much as pause. “Could you look at me for five seconds!” He finally snapped at him, grabbing Ford’s shoulder.

Ford stopped writing only to push away his hand. “I know you’re there, Stan, I just don’t care.”
 

Stan couldn’t help stopping at the icy response which apparently gave the other time to go back to writing. As soon as Stan realized, his irritation flared right back up, and he went to shove Ford. Somehow though, he missed, and Stan stumbled a bit ending up behind the other. He turned, a bit embarrassed, but mostly just angry. “You and your research.” He gestured an arm straight out. “Why are you even out here?! Being out in the middle of the woods at night is a recipe for getting murdered!”
 

Was he even listening to him?! Stan walked back around to Ford’s side pointing to the book. “Knowing what a tree fairy eats isn’t exactly material worthy of getting stabbed by some hermit lunatic. So, come on already!”
 

Why wasn’t he saying anything?! He didn’t even so much turn his head to listen to him. All he did was focus on his book, only occasionally looking up to the woods. Still nothing.
 

Stan walked so he was standing directly in front of Ford, keeping his eyes on his face. “Stanford, look at me.”
 

The pen in Ford’s hand stilled, and Stan held silent. After a few seconds though, he only continued again much to Stan’s aggravation. He’d also stopped checking the woods now too.
 

All Ford had to do was just look at him. He didn’t even have to move his head a single inch. He was standing right there and Ford couldn’t care less.

Stan went to give Ford a full shove this time, this time though he connected with a satisfying force against Ford’s shoulders making him stumble back a few steps.
 

Ford’s voice came over through the air, though the actual man did nothing. “Give me one good reason why I should even bother with you.”
 

“What kind of fucking question even is that?” Stan fired back. There was a small part of him that was grateful Ford was responding, but it was easily buried underneath how pissed off he was at him. “I’m the one bothering so that you’re not standing around in some creepy forest all alone.” He continued, ranting at him now. “You wanna know what else too? I didn’t have to answer my damn phone for you. Much less go on a whole forty hours driving here just to make sure you weren’t a corpse lying on the floor!”
 

“I came to help YOU, Stanford so no!” He jabbed an accusing finger at his chest. “No, you don’t get to make me out to be the one giving you trouble. I’m the one bothering with you.”
 

There was a faltering grin that finally spread out across Ford’s face. Wrong, wrong – something in the back of Stan’s head was telling him that that thing in front of him was wrong. He couldn’t care less right now though, too fed up with his twin. Jerk wanted to smile so much then he could knock the smug look right off of his face if it bothered him too much.
 

Ford’s voice quickly changed into something oddly high pitched, but lowered back down to his normal voice. “That’s rICH, Oh.” He laughed lightly, closing the stupid journal. Then finally. Finally, Ford look at him. “You helped me? Really?”
 

“Let’s look at how you helped me,” he continued. “You took me all the way to Gotham, Stan. That’s not exactly a city that screams ‘safe,’ is it? You couldn’t even go and hide my journal like I asked you. Oh,” he said, bitterness then creeping into his tone despite the still present grin. That smile wasn’t his, it just wasn’t - it was wrong.

“Oh, let’s not forget how you ‘helped’ me when you trashed my science fair project and forced me to go to some B grade college.”
 

It was an accident. It had just been a dumb accident! “Stanford-“
 

“Dad was always right about you, you know.” Ford interrupted him, the words completely stopping Stan dead in his tracks. “You’re just some cheating grifter that settled down in Gotham only to get a job robbing banks. Ten years and you’re still the twin that’s never done anything worthwhile.”
 

Something inside of Stan cracked, he almost felt it in his ears. It didn’t matter that Stan had thought the same thing more than a few times about himself, both drunk and sober. Ford didn’t get to say it.
 

“Fuck Pa and fuck you, Stanford!! You don’t want my help then fine!” He shouted throwing his hands up in the air. “Go wherever the hell you WANT! See if I care!”
 

Ford’s smile almost seemed to grow, and Stan didn’t even care a single bit how much his own mind was screaming at him. Wrong, wrong, wrong. He internally mocked the words that kept bursting up like air bubbles – who cared?! Not him and definitely not the jerk three feet in front of him. 

His twin shrugged, bringing out his book again. “Well, good. The car ride alone with you was suffocating enough.”

Stan stomped off past him to leave him behind in the woods. “Have the time of your damn life then, Stanford, because I’m out of here!” He didn’t need him. Not a single bit. If the jerk wanted to get hurt because he was too good for help from Stan then let him.

He continued walking, even as woods turned to some dusty Arizona landscape and even as thoughts continued to pop up as he simmered.
 

Wrong. Wrong. Not Ford.
 

Eventually, the landscape led way to familiar faces and familiar guns. Often the wrong faces in the wrong places though. He never saw the Washington gang in Arizona. Then the mob from Texas always used rope and duct tape to tie people up, not chains. Details didn’t match up, but it didn’t matter. Stan kept scrambling along for safety.

It finally clicked for him when Jorge told his goons to break his legs and leave him in a canyon. Rico was the guy that wanted people to suffer for what they’d done. Jorge would would have just shot him to get him out of the way. These were all just nightmares.
 

Nightmare after nightmare kept piling up though. Stan kept forgetting they weren’t real, and even when he was aware it still didn’t keep him from getting scared. He tried waking up, but he couldn’t do it.
 

After an eternity of different Hells, Stan was finally in one of the worst ones – burning in a car trunk, bound and gagged so he couldn’t do anything.

He woke up in a sweat, sheets tangled up around him. Panting heavily, he quickly kicked everything off of him to get to the cold air.

Stan had had some bad nightmares before, but Jesus Christ. That had easily been over six nightmares in one night, and nearly all of them had been damn ‘11’s on the horror scale.

At least other nights he’d wake up after the first or second one. Not to mention, he rarely had any that got that bad. He let out a slow breath as he caught his breath, glancing over to the clock.

He might already be heavily reconsidering sleeping at all the next night and currently felt like absolute shit, but hey. At least, he’d gotten ten hours of sleep.

He lied on the bed, letting himself cool off for a while before he eventually rolled off and headed to the bathroom. He was completely drenched in sweat so he took a quick rinse in the shower before walking over for some food. He stopped in the middle of the living room though when he saw Ford on the couch, thoroughly knocked out.

He would have thought Ford would have kept awake for all the fuss he’d made about falling asleep. You could only stay awake for so long though. He guessed it didn’t matter all that much now.

What’s the worst that dream demon could do here anyways?

Stan went over into the kitchen, checking through for something for breakfast and realizing there wasn’t really well… anything. He’d just go and snag some food. After all the nightmares, right about now he just kind of wanted to be around some people who wouldn’t outright be trying to kill him.

As he went for the door, he was surprised to find every single lock undone. Even the basic one on the knob. He paused at the door, looking back over his shoulder at Ford asleep on the couch and back again to the locks.

After a moment, that in his opinion lasted too long, Stan finally brushed aside the worry. He was just paranoid from all the nightmares. Going out the door, he quietly closed it and used his key to lock the door.

 


 

Ford woke up quickly. Immediately pulling himself up from the first loose strands of consciousness. He jerked up on the couch, still in the same spot he’d been when he’d fallen asleep. Was it a trick?

Cautiously, he got up and the immediate soreness was enough to convince him otherwise. This was real.

He sneezed and tugged his coat around himself. He glanced around the room briefly, eyes sticking onto the TV as he got an idea. He turned it on and changed it to a news channel. Maybe something about last night would be on.

To his disappointment, though, the immediate story was something about a possible new vote on the security policies at the local asylum. He lost interest as soon as he realized it wasn't related to the campus at all.

He walked around the room, moving along with just a bit of effort to check on the various books. He kept an ear on the TV as the journalist wounded down on the story, starting up on some new breaking story about the court house. He really couldn’t care less - more of his attention was placed on double checking his memory that none of the books had been moved or pages turned. None of them seemed to have been touched though which was good.

The journalist was now earnestly talking about some clown prince and Ford snorted to himself at her urgent tone. He turned back towards the TV to turn it to a more serious news channel that might-

What the Hell?

 


 

When Stan came back to the apartment, he used his key on the door and pushed only for it to stay shut. Ford had apparently gotten up and used a couple of those new locks.

“Uh Ford,” he knocked on the door with the back of his knuckles, holding a couple grocery bags in his other hand, “it’s me.”

He only had to wait a few seconds before all the locks slid back and the door opened. He moved into the apartment to shut the door after himself with an elbow. The TV filled up the room with some background noise which actually made walking inside more comfortable.

“Hi,” Ford greeted him, moving to put all the locks back once Stan had taken a couple steps away from the door.

“Hey,” he said, heading around the wall to the kitchen. “So, I ended up getting some food.” The books were still unsurprisingly taking up half the counter space, but there was plenty of room by the toaster so he set the grocery bags down there. “Didn’t realize how low I was on it ‘til this morning.” He said, looking over as Ford walked near him.

His brother was stopped in the middle of the kitchen, simply looking at him with his coat pulled tightly around himself, seeming outright tired and a bit agitated.

Of course, he’s mad. “Okay, what is it?” Stan asked flat out.

“What kind of a city is this?” Ford just asked, his nose sounding a bit stuffed up.

“What?” Stan’s face scrunched up. “What do you mean what kind of-“ He finally glanced over to TV, realizing it was on a news channel. “Oh.” Right… He’d kinda forgotten to fully tell Ford about Gotham’s special brand of criminals. “Yeah, I’m guessing you saw something, huh.” He said, looking back at Ford.

Ford scoffed. “Do you-“ he stopped, exasperatedly gesturing at the TV with one arm.

He squinted at the image on screen. “Uhh, yeah, looks like Joker tried to literally gift wrap the courthouse.”

Ford slowly lowered his arm back down, lethargic. “Yes, the news said it was the courthouse’s anniversary so essentially its birthday.” He told him. “Apparently, he was tying up those inside with ribbon and was trying to do the same to the building itself when ‘Batman’ stopped him.”

Stan couldn’t help rolling his eyes, turning back to the bags on the table. Of course Batman stopped the lunatic. Joker was literally putting a bow on a building, guy always went way over the top and got caught.

“Stanley-“

“Look,” Stan interrupted him, not even willing to hear whatever remark he was going to make about what sort of city he’d taken him to or what kind of lowlife he was for living here, “you can’t be saying how ‘I didn’t tell you’ or whatever because I did tell you there were some nuts in my town.” He said, turning and waving a loaf of freshly stolen bread at Ford.

“What? No, that’s not it.” Ford refuted to Stan’s surprise, walking over to him now. “It’s unreal, Stanley. These people dress up in literal costumes to commit crimes. You have to tell me, that’s unusual.” He finished in disbelief.

“Yeah, it is.” Stan admitted. ‘Unusual’ didn’t even cover it, really. “It’s like being smack-dab in the middle of a comic series with a bunch of supervillains.”

“Exactly!” Ford agreed, perking up. “Yes, that’s exactly what it’s like!”

Stan couldn’t help smiling at Ford. “Ha, I know, right?” He pulled out a couple slices of bread to put into the toaster. “It’s super crazy. You actually get kinda used to it though.” He said leaning his forearms onto the counter. “I mean, sure, sometimes one of ‘em does something extra crazy.”

“Like gift wrap a building?” Ford asked.

Stan held out a hand, “ehh, almost.” He shrugged, letting his hand back down to the countertop. “Joker always does something ridiculous like that though.” He said, looking at Ford. “Honestly though, Sixer? That guy is a serious psycho. A good chunk of those people aren’t actually that bad, but with that guy? He’s as likely to shove a pie into someone’s face as he is to use a bazooka on a car then call it a hot rod.” Joker would laugh just as hard either way though.

“Plus, he’s a jackass.” Stan added, grabbing his toast.

“How many people are there like that?” Ford asked, going to pull the groceries out of the bags and look at them.

He shrugged his shoulders. “Kind of a lot criminals have some kind of gimmick, actually.”

“What about a scarecrow?”

“Oh yeah, Scarecrow is up there too. He’s- wait,” Stan stopped, standing back up straight to check on the TV. He couldn’t see anything besides a reporter in front of the courthouse. “Wait,” he said again. “Did they lock Jonathan up again?” He was suppose to meet up with Oswald this week.

Ford faltered, briefly checking back at the tv as well in confusion. “No? He was locked up? How’d he get out and- Wait, ‘Jonathan?’”

Shoot. Stan gave a large shrug, turning for the fridge. “That’s the guy’s name. All these people dress up, but for the most part everyone knows who they actually are. Once they’re caught the first time it gets splattered all over the news.”

He started to list off phony headlines in an equally phony journalist voice, complete with a waving hand. “Terrifying Scarecrow, actually ex-professor, Jonathan Crane."
"Poison Ivy is Gothamite botanist, Pamela Isley."
"Harleen Quinzel, turned from helping patients to joining one as newest jokester, Harley Quinn.”

Pulling a nearly empty jug of juice from the fridge, he closed it again with another shrug. “You wouldn’t believe how often everyone breaks out though. Whether it’s the asylum or prison, they always find a way back out.”

Ford raised an eyebrow. “How do they keep breaking out? The whole point of a prison is to keep the people inside.”

That was a very easy question to answer from personal experience, but he just crossed his arms. “Ah, who even knows. Hey, you feeling kind of sick? Because you’re really looking and sounding like it.” He said, pointing to Ford.

Before Ford could say anything though, there was a phone ringing. Stan froze for just a half a second before it registered that the ringing was coming from a few feet to his right instead of his pocket.

In fact, Ford walked right over where Stan now noticed a phone that was shoved into the corner behind a few notebooks and loose paper that was already engulfing most of the counter over there.

He picked the handle up, holding a relatively short conversation. “Hello…… Yes, I am,” Ford’s body went rigid for a moment in an obvious cringe, “Oh well, of course, I do.” He answered stiffly. “Yes?.... Right, yes, I couldn’t agree more…… Mm-hmm, I’ll be there…. Have a nice day.”

Stan watched as Ford hung up the phone. First off, he didn’t even realize that phone was there, and he wouldn’t have even considered Ford would have gotten a phone of all things. He wasn’t exactly the most sociable guy. Not to mention, how he was talking about manipulated sound waves or whatever when he’d called him. Second, who would Ford have already given the number to? He hadn’t even been in the city for a full 24 hours yet.

He was ready to ask the biggest question of who, but when Ford turned to the side he had a hand up to his own mouth, confused. He looked into space, a crease formed between his eyebrows.

“What?” Stan asked.

Ford finally turned back to him, “What month is it?”

Chapter Text

“January. It’s- Ford, it’s January.” Stan told him in disbelief.

His brother nodded, taking in the information. “I see...” Then there Ford went, obviously thinking about it. He honest to God had had no idea.

People forgot what day it was all the time. Even the right week, sometimes, sure. The month entirely though? Even after all the times he’d been imprisoned or went off the grid, Stan had never forgotten which month it was. Maybe near the end of a month he wouldn’t be sure if it was April or May for instance, but that didn’t really count.

“Ford,” he started, putting a hand out and getting his attention, “listen, you’re killing me here. Who was on the phone?” A thought hit him. “Tell me ya didn’t already find a cult or something, tell me that at least.”

“What? No.” Ford said, waving a hand. “No, although,” he looked down briefly, “now that you mention it, that’s not an entirely bad idea.”

Seriously, Ford?

Ford shook his head then to Stan’s own relief, continuing, “but no,” he said, “that was a call from the university.”

Stan relaxed. “The university? They got a book or something for you?”

“Oh, no. It’s an interview.”

“What?”

“Well,” Ford explained, “there were some books locked behind a case for staff use only. So, naturally, I applied for a couple open positions.” He frowned, letting out a nasally breath. “It’s really unusual to be looking for professors with only a dozen days before the first week of class though.”

“Okay.” Stan said. “Okay. So,” he pressed his hands together, “let me get this straight real quick.” He separated his hands back again. “There were some books on lockdown so you just decided to get a professor gig? You know you could probably have just broken the lock on the case and taken what you needed, right?”

Ford pulled his head back slightly to give Stan a look. “Why would I do that when they can just give me the key? Additionally,” he said with an effort to pull his coat to cover himself more, “I’ll have access to other Gotham U resources this way.”

He then frowned, looking off to the side. “Unfortunately, I’ve never precisely led a course before and more importantly they’re apparently expecting a lesson plan.”

There were a couple things to really tackle in all of that, but he just decided to go for the last bit. “When do you gotta come up with that?”

“Two hours from now when the interview takes place.”

Stan snorted. “Two hours? Dean’s really streamlining the hiring process. I guess after losing so many professors, she’s gotta though.”

“They lose a lot of professors?” He asked, eyebrows furrowing together.

“Yeah, don’t worry though. It’s mostly just people new to town that get scared back out because of Gotham itself.” He assured him, hesitating after his own words hit him. It wasn’t a lie. That was the main thing that scared new professors. If the whole of Gotham didn't scare them off though, Jonathan's visits on campus usually did the trick.

“I’ve got more important things to worry about than the crime here, even if it is really odd.” Ford said, completely nonplussed.

“Right,” Stan said, looking back at Ford, not realizing his gaze had trailed off until he’d heard Ford talk. “Just don’t stop worrying about it entirely, crime hits you whether or not you care about it.”

Kind of pointless to say considering who he was talking to. Ford had always had a paranoid streak, but now it was just through the roof thanks to some literal demon.

“Ya want a ride to campus?” Stan asked. “Less walking in the cold while you’re sick.”

“I’m not sick.” Ford said, the slight yet consistent stuffed up quality of his voice already saying otherwise. Stan just raised an eyebrow to look at him and Ford quickly relented. “I may be getting sick.” He admitted.

“Yeah, I’m guessing that’s the reason I woke up finding you passed out.”

“Well-” Ford started and stopped.

“Well, what?” Stan looked at him.

Ford stayed silent, obviously thinking. After a moment or two, he eventually concluded with a shrug. “Well, in all likelihood, it was probably a long line of things which includes the sickness if I was sick by that point.”

“Yeah, you did stay awake for most of that ride.” He agreed. “Here, come on, I’ll drive ya before I swing by work.”

“I should probably take a shower.” Ford noted, less than enthusiastic.

“... Wanna just rinse your face and spray some air freshener stuff on yourself?”

Ford considered that for only half a second. “Do you have some?”

“Yup.” He nodded.

“Then yes.”

 


 

Ford didn’t look that great, but he wasn’t actually moving that slow or anything. He’d probably be fine for the next few hours. It wouldn’t take all day for whatever cold he’d gotten to really catch up to him though. Stan would have to remember to pick up some medicine for him while he was out. Ten bucks said Ford wouldn’t even think about getting himself anything.

First things first though. After dropping Ford off, he went and parked nearby the lounge, somewhere empty for right now.

Stan checked around the parking lot before getting out of the car. He opened the door to the back seat and leaned over to reach the stash he’d hidden way back in Oregon. Bending back the fur lining, he got a hold of the paper to slip the whole thing out. Leaning back against his car, he unfolded the paper to separate it from the photograph.

In one hand, he had the photo of Ford and him just before boxing practice.

In the other, the pages with Ford’s research for the portal.

One was aged and familiar.

The other was wrinkled, ominous, and some super dangerous research for a doomsday device or whatever. The messy rip on the side of both papers didn’t match up with the precise lines written down. Even outside of the book, just standing on their own, the pages just gave off this vibe that this didn’t belong here.

Or maybe it wasn’t a vibe and Stan just really didn’t like it. He didn’t really care either way. Point was he didn’t like it, and it shouldn’t still be here.

You’d think with the whole apocalypse deal that this stuff would have been shredded a while ago, but oh no. Ford wanted to just hide this stuff instead. He couldn’t just get rid of the two stupid global-destruction-y pieces of paper. It didn’t matter that hiding it was just tempting fate.

Who cared, right? Not like a certain someone had been harping on about the end of the world or anything like that. Yeah, no, not at all.

Well, Ford wouldn’t do it so Stan would just burn the pages himself.

Just don’t let Ford know about. As far as he knew and saw, the journal wasn’t missing a single page. If it happened to come up and someone got the journal then that just proved Stan had made the right choice.

Just burn the pages and rest easy knowing there wasn’t going to be a random plot twist down the road with some mad scientist. Avoid the eventual goose chase that would only happen in the first place because Ford was too stubborn to destroy some paper.

Just take the lighter from his pocket now and let it go. He could even just tear it apart and let it scatter in the wind or toss it into a soggy trash can.

Just... come on, anything.

Stan scornfully looked down at the offensive paper.

It would be easy. It wouldn’t even take ten seconds.

He sighed to himself, looking over the pages. The paper had creases all over it from when he’d first shoved it into his coat pocket. There were a few places where the paper had the barest centimeter of a tear.

Just take Ford’s hard work and destroy it all over again.

He scowled, hand bunching the paper up a bit, making more wrinkles. “Stupid,” he muttered to himself.

He’d ripped the pages out so he could get rid of them like Ford should have. Fat lot of good that did though. He had the paper in his hands and a dozen ways to ruin it, but he couldn’t get himself to get rid of it either.

Frustrated, he lifted the fur lining up again and shoved the paper back in hiding. Whatever. It wasn’t like some wacko trying to figure out a portal would be checking his car anyway.

He let out a sharp breath through his nose, standing beside the car as he looked to the photo in his remaining hand.

Okay, so...where to put this now.

He started to put it towards his pocket, but stopped. It wasn’t big enough, he’d just end up wrinkling it. Maybe if he put it in the car door’s- no. No, he couldn’t do that. It could fly out from the wind then he’d have to try to stupidly chase it back down. Or worse he wouldn’t notice and then it’d just be gone. What if he stuffed it somewhere like the head rest? Shoot, no, what was he even thinking? It’d get mangled just by him trying to shove it in there.

Stan ended up staring down at the photo, tapping it into his other hand with a huff. It was nostalgic, sure, but now it felt outdated. Not that it wasn’t already outdated before, but the difference was that now it actually felt like it. Maybe because he was actually seeing Ford again. All of this was really hammering in how far behind the photo actually was.

It was the only photo Stan even had of them from before though. He couldn’t just... let it go.

What was he going to do with it though? Put it in a frame inside where Ford would see it? Slide it into a photo album he didn’t have? Heck, it’s not like he had a place for memorabilia. It didn’t belong anywhere, but here Stan was, still holding onto it like an idiot.

Stan tore his eyes off of the photo and got into his front seat before flipping down the sun visor and opening the small mirror on the other side of it. He caught a glimpse of himself and the long hair reaching his shoulders. Ugh.

He put the photo against the mirror and flicked the plastic cover closed over top of it before pushing the sun visor back up for good measure. There wasn’t a reason for Ford to drive again so it’d be fine there.

He let out a long breath, now looking at the empty side of the sun visor where the photo used to be. Not like he’d really moved it. It was still there. He’d just covered it up.

He started up the car to drive over to the other parking lot. Alright, he’d split up the cash and take care of a few errands. Ford was going to take a few hours at least, so he had plenty of time. More time than he really needed.

Stan pensively threaded a hand through his hair with a sigh. He was going to cut this mess off after New Years. It was about time he actually did it.

 


 

All things considered, the interview had gone well. The dean had seemed maybe a tad rushed, but he really didn’t mind that. She barely glanced at the lesson plan and she’d been happy with it. The interview had actually turned from just that to Ford getting hired rather quickly.

The meeting had noticeably changed after an exchange in which she’d asked what was on his criminal background and he’d told her there was nothing on it. She then asked about petty theft, which Ford assured was not present in his history. Then after that, she’d listed several misdemeanors to which Ford assured her, yet again, that his criminal background was nonexistent. After the final assurance, she’d immediately asked about his schedules and started getting him to pick out the classes he was willing to take.

It would have been concerning if he hadn’t already known why the university needed professors so badly. He was actually glad the process was going by so fast since he had gone from feeling cold to absolutely burning up by the end of the interview. As much as he’d have preferred it to not be true- he was indefinitely sick and that was obvious by the time he was walking back to the apartment.

He had issues going up the stairs, exhausted by the time he’d reached the fourth floor... for the second time in a row, he grimly realized, remembering last night. This really needed to stop.

Ford set the newly acquired papers and information down on counter near the phone, reading it over as he set it down. She’d been explaining as she handed him the papers, but he’d missed the details through a combination of her hurry and the effects of his own fever.

Different buildings. What to do in cases of emergencies (just in case, of course, she’d tried telling him before spending a rather fair amount of time on it). The resources available to him, he’d look over this again later. Fellow department professors. General expectations. So on and so forth.

After his hands were empty again, he checked his pockets for the miscellaneous items. A pen with the university’s name. A small card with a list of emergency numbers to call. A key to the office that was now his for the time being.

His hands paused on it, the photo, his presence of mind instantly coming back. He’d just been mindlessly checking all his pockets. He wouldn’t have checked this pocket if he’d just been paying attention though. Without thinking, he carefully pulled it out to look at it.

He didn’t normally carry photos on his person. Certainly, he didn’t make it a habit to carry any photos of Stanley and himself. He’d only picked up the photo on a whim months ago.

Yet here Ford was, still holding onto it like an idiot. The photo, very clearly, depicted Stanley and himself when they were kids posing on the Stan O’ War shortly after finding it. He swore he could feel the New Jersey sun beating down on him now, burning him through.

This had been before everything had started to go wrong... whenever that had even been. Ford didn’t know. At what point had it changed without him realizing? He always realized those sort of things far too late.

Ma had shipped over quite a few boxes after he had moved to Gravity Falls. She claimed her and Pa had needed the space and Ford should have some of the boxes, anyways.

Sometime since he found out the truth about Bill, he’d taken the photo out of one of the boxes. Again, he didn’t normally carry photos on his person. This wasn’t a common practice. He’d never done this previously- or rather, he didn’t- Well.

This wasn’t a common practice, Ford assured himself whilst sternly keep his mind on the present. He was a man of science and reason, not sentiment. It was simply just... he had taken the photo in the middle of a particularly hard night when everything had felt particularly out of control.

There hadn’t been any sense or reason as to why, really. He had gone into the storage space, pushing aside boxes until he’d found the one with all the albums crammed inside, then sought out the photo. He didn’t know why he had taken it with him instead of putting it back inside the photo album. He didn’t even know why he’d felt the need to take the photo out of the album itself to begin with.

None of it made sense. It didn’t even particularly make him feel happy. In fact, every time he looked at it he was immediately hit with unarguably negative feelings. It made him feel small and, frankly, sad. Then childhood memories would stir up and after they died back down he would feel even worse than before.

There wasn’t any point in looking at the old photo. There wasn’t a point in looking inside any of the decrepit boxes from back then. There was no point in missing old ghosts.

There was a spot for this photo in an album from that dusty box just in the storage room. Logically, he fully well knew that, but even still that didn’t feel right. It didn’t belong there, but yet that’s where it was suppose to be. It was confusing and ultimately, very frustrating.

However, every time he considered the photo he got caught up looking at it. In no time he would remember that moment as Ma had taken the photo. He remembered it. He could remember thinking nothing could stop them.

Damnit. He tilted the photo down just a little.

It really didn’t matter. This photo was too far in the past for any of it to matter at all now. There was no reversing the clock. Not after what Stan had decided to do. There was no going back to...

Christ, this was just wasting time. What was Ford doing here? What was he doing?

What was he doing with him now?

He was... He didn’t know. Stan had brought up the apartment in Gotham and a few possibilities. Then just as quickly as he did he had started retracting the offer, and Ford had rushed to talk before Stan took it back entirely.

Ford had just... He had just wanted...

The photo in his hands was starting to bend slightly and Ford consciously relaxed his grip on it again, his vision blurry. It had to be the fever.

He slipped the photo back into the inner pocket on the left side of his trench coat. As always there was the illusion of the slight weight of it in the pocket as he set it inside, but he knew that’s all it was.

Ford looked at one of the open pages left from one of the books he’d set out, but after 15 minutes of trying to read the same sentence he finally stopped. Maybe he simply needed to eat. He hadn’t had anything since this morning, after all.

He went for the same bread Stan had used earlier, not even bothering with the toaster, eating a few pieces. After taking a drink from the faucet, he ended up slashing his face with the water as well.

As he was drying his face on his shirt he heard knocks and stood up straight, looking over at the door. However, he calmed back down when he heard Stan’s voice from the other side. Unlocking everything, he let Stan inside and turned all the locks back again.

“Hey,” Stan said, “how’d it go?”

“Good. I’m hired.” Ford told him looking back to Stan.

“That’s good news, hope you don’t have to go in for anything soon because you’re looking pretty sick now.” He said with a frown. “Here.” Stan pulled something out of a bag and tossed it to him.

The small item bounced off of his chest and his hands before landing on the floor. Ford let out a breath, before bending down to pick it up and look at it. It was a small bottle of pills, but... what were... the side effects...? “Is it drowsy?” He finally asked, after a dozen seconds spent fruitlessly searching the bottle for his answer.

“Maybe. Even if it’s not, you gotta sleep. Heck, sick or not, you do have to sleep.”

“I’m really fine-”
“-You’re really not.”

Stan cut into Ford’s baseless claim, and Ford couldn’t even find it in himself to try to argue.

“Alright,” Ford admitted, letting his shoulders drop, “I’m not ‘fine’ persay. I’d rather avoid sleep for at least a bit longer though.”

“Why?” Stan asked raising an eyebrow.

Worries about Bill taking over his body. Of course that was always true. In all honesty though, that wasn’t the driving reason right now.

“I’m tired of the nightmares, Stan,” Ford admittedly openly. “I’m tired, and the chances he’ll let me have a peaceful sleep are very low.”

Stan stopped at that, caught a bit looking at him.

Waiting for whatever Stan had to say next, Ford finally noticed Stan's hair was no longer reaching his shoulders. It was trimmed short again. “You got a haircut.” Ford noted, speaking the obvious.

“Yeah... mullet lifestyle wasn’t exactly what I wanted.” Stan rubbed the back of his head, glancing off briefly. “Hey, Sixer?”

“Hmm?”

“Listen,” he said, “I’m not sleeping anytime soon so why don’t you. I’ll be around to make sure he doesn’t try anything, and how about this.” He pointed to him. “If you start moving in your sleep from a nightmare, I’ll wake you up.”

Ford thought about it for a moment, looking down at Stan’s finger. He was exhausted, and this was possibly the best setting he could even really hope for at this point. He slowly nodded his head. “That assistance would be much appreciated.” He finally said.

Stan breathed out a short laugh. “Even sick, you’re a nerd. Alright, go ahead and take a couple pills and change. I’ll find a blanket.” He walked past him, putting a hand out to clap him on the shoulder, but apparently thought better of it.

He hummed, taking a breath before opening the pill bottle as he walked over to the sink. After some effort of finding proper pjs, he changed in the bathroom. When he walked out Stan was over by the sink running some water over something.

Ford simply went over to the couch, settling down on it and grabbing the blanket. He leaned against the corner of the cushion and the arm rest rather than laying out across the whole couch. Shortly after, Stan walked by, handing him a wet rag before sitting down at the other end of the couch.

The shredded cloth was a blessed cold compared to his skin. He didn’t wait, placing the rag over his forehead, and letting out a sigh of relief at the cool sensation. His eyes closed, and he heard the staticky sound of the TV turning on with the sound quickly muted.

Something about it all was- somehow comforting, even if he was burning up and felt as sick as he evidently looked. Ford couldn’t place why that was though, but he didn’t bother trying. He could think about it later. For now, he was going to let himself fall asleep, regardless if it would go well or not.

 


 

 

Ford came to in the mindscape, and his gut immediately curdled, if not from his surroundings then from Bill who was already in front of him and staring. It was fine.

 

“You really tried booking it, huh!” Bill said, his fists against his sides, the tone suggesting he wasn’t bothered in the slightest although Ford knew better. “I gotta be honest though, you didn’t pick the smartest direction here, smart guy.”

 

“Get out.” Ford directly told him. Would he listen? Unlikely, no, but Ford didn’t care in the slightest to even entertain a conversation with him.

 

“Relax, it’s just some constructive criticism, and sure, you’ll figure out later that you made a big mistake, but hey!” He continued with a squint to his eye. “That doesn’t mean I can’t let you know ahead of time!”

 

Ford didn’t let the obvious threat faze him. “The research is hidden and I’m far away from the portal so you may as well go.” He emphasized with open contempt.

 

Bill waved a dismissive hand, rolling his eye. “See, here’s the thing about that.” His eye refocused on Ford, his pupil eerily thinner than before. “Just because you tried to run away that doesn’t mean I’m   d o n e.” He stretched out an arm. “Ohoho, no. Not by a long shot, Sixer!”

 

“You can’t activate the portal from here and we both know that, Bill.” He countered, as though it were an argument. There a small hope inside of him that said if Bill only realized how fruitless it would be that he’d just leave entirely.

 

“Oh, look at the brain on you.” His voice lilted patronizingly as his form gradually grew. He slowly doubled in size, the ordinary rounded angles now sharpening to points. He wasn’t only taller than Ford now, but also taking up a substantially larger space floating in front of him.

 

The inherent fear was rising up, but Ford tried to let it go without focusing on doing so. He’d learned the more he tried to mentally tackle or acknowledge the feeling, the more aware Bill became of the effect his tactics had and resolved to crack whatever calm Ford had managed. Or if he had managed none then just to exacerbate the fear even further.

 

It was far better to try ignoring it and gamble on the chance that Bill would focus on something else rather than actively work to send him into a panic. Unfortunately, his mind completely blanked on anything to say.

 

“Well, you can’t.” Ford emphasized.  

 

“Did you ever think that, just maybe, I had more than the one plan?”

 

Wait, he- Of course, Ford had worried about other possibilities and other plans. However, he’d never actively tried setting up any measures against anything outside of the portal.

 

“That’s a no then!” Bill answered himself. He leaned farther into Ford’s space, a bit to his own side which Ford responded to by taking a couple steps back.

 

Space may have been- No. Space in the mindscape was completely irrelevant. Distance meant nothing here. Even so, he couldn’t quite stamp down his discomfort at Bill even just being on the edge of his personal space.

 

“Look,” Bill said, closing his eye, then waving a hand as he opened his eye back up to the normal slit as he looked off. “Am I upset? Sure!”

He pointed to Ford as he looked back at him again. “Am I going to take that out on you? Definitely!!”

He finally concluded with a liberal amount of air quotes. “But that doesn’t mean you ‘foiled’ my ‘chaotic’ and ‘cataclysmic’ plan.’”

 

He then leaned back again, hands back on his side as he shrunk down to a less intimidating size. “Sure, you picked a bad direction for you, but for me?” He gestured to his front. “When I say you couldn’t have picked a better town, I really mean it.” He said, earnestly sincere. “Trust me.”

 

Immediately, Ford snapped at him. “I’ll find something to keep you out soon enough, whatever your other plans are!” His sharp anger completely knocked the underlying fear away. 

 

“Well that depends on if that library really is a bust or not, huh? If I were you though, I’d worry more about not getting yourself killed!” He said, gesturing at him. “I mean, jeez, you already met Scarecrow. At this rate, you’re bound to end up with a gun to your head within the week.” He casually inspected his, nonexistent, fingernails. “It definitely doesn’t help that your twin brother is hand in hand with the worst of it all.”

 

“What are you talking about?”

 

“Your brother. He’s a real criminal, practically right up there with the rest of them. The only thing he’s missing is a costume!”

 

What an absolutely opaque lie. “No, he isn’t.” Ford replied dryly.

 

“Why not?” Bill asked, looking at him. “You think he’d actually tell you the truth?”

 

There was a sting to that, the answer plain to see, but he ignored it. “I don’t believe you because you are the one saying it.” Ford told him.

 

“Don’t say I never tried telling you.” He said as his arms shrugged up and back down his sides. “It won’t take too long before you find out yourself though. Would have saved yourself a bad night down the way, but I’m not the one going to complain.”

 

A few embittered thoughts swirled around Ford’s head, but he didn’t bother voicing any of them. All of them were par for the course whenever he talked to Bill or even really just thought about him.

 

“It couldn’t be any worse than a night consisted of having to be around you.” Ford countered factually. Alright, well.. He didn’t bother voicing most of the embittered thoughts swirling around his head.

 

“Just remember that when you’re getting held at gunpoint, IQ.” Bill said pointing to him, snapping a finger and pointing to him shortly before disappearing with an identical snapping sound.

 

Gone.

 

Ford took in an imaginary breath of air. Thank Tesla. Being in the mindscape still made him feel uneasy, but at least Bill was gone now and he didn’t have to-


Without any warning, Ford was abruptly falling with wind furiously whipping around him. It didn’t take a genius to figure out why. Coinciding with his mind’s instinctive fear of falling was the instantaneous and wordless irritation which more than abundantly outweighed it.

Chapter Text

Stan was flicking over channels before finally settling on one, idly watching. He’d turned on the captions so he could know what was going on. Not even ten minutes later though, Ford was starting to move in his sleep.

“Hey,” he pushed on his shoulder until the other woke up.

Ford blearily started blinking, squinting as he glanced around the room.

“You good?”

“Fine,” he mumbled in response, sitting up just a bit. “What’s on?” He asked, nodded his head at the TV.

“Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai or something across the 8th dimension.” Stan told him, settling back into his spot and watching the TV again. “It reeks of the 80s.”

Ford hummed, but said nothing else.

After a short while, Stan checked back over at Ford who had fallen back asleep.

The rest of the night went by pretty slow. He woke up Ford a few more times, one time he stayed up for a half hour watching TV with him, but the rest he’d fall back to sleep within two minutes.

The next few days while Ford was sick went all about the same way. Whenever Stan came back to the apartment, Ford switched between his books and sleeping. He decided to stick on the couch with Ford when he slept.

He couldn’t say that he wasn’t a little nervous himself for a repeat of a couple days ago, but the last thing he needed was becoming a wreck because he wanted to avoid sleep. They both managed through three nights pretty easily though. Stan didn’t get so much as one nightmare, and if Ford did then it apparently wasn’t enough to deter him from sleeping.

....

Stan walked into the Lounge and right to Oswald’s private room. He knocked and waited for a responsed before walking in to find Oswald looking down at some newspaper with a sour look.

“Oh, hey, you’re looking chipper.”

“Undoubtedly - have you seen this yet, Stanley?” He said, pointing down to the paper.

“No, what is it?” He walked over to scan the paper. “Blah, blah, blah, ‘new city law being proposed’... ‘break up the monopoly plaguing our night life.’” He finished, frowning at the problem.

“As always, spearheaded by Wayne Enterprises too - ‘ break up the monopoly .’ Why, they’re the biggest monopoly of them all in this town!” Oswald said, his flipper tapping the paper.

“I’ll say, it’s getting hard to turn a block with a building that isn’t funded or owned by that place.” Stan agreed,  before pointing down at the paper. “This though? We can bypass that, easy.”

“How so?” Oswald asked, looking over at him.

“Start turning your other clubs around.” Stan explained, as he used air quotes. “‘Sell’ the clubs to the managers there as tenants, let them become their own businesses name-wise, then set up partnerships to keep everything connected. It’s gonna be a truckload of paperwork, but by the time the bill passes you’ll already be in the clear.”

He hummed, thinking over the idea. “Split apart the operations and put them under different names.”

“Yup. They tried pulling this same monopoly buster number on pubs a few years back in the UK when I was there.” He nodded.

“Well, better to take care of this now before the bill inevitably passes. Thank you, Stanley.”

“Don’t mention it, b--er, Mr. Cobblepot.” He barely caught onto the slip this time.

The man folded up the newspaper again. “Would you go wait by the front door. Jonathan is coming by today.”

“Bring the Professor back here like usual?” Stan asked, already taking a few steps back.

“Precisely.” Oswald confirmed.

Stan gave a salute back, one hand casually set inside his coat pocket as he spun around on his feet to head back out the door towards the open room of the nearly empty club. Jonathan probably wouldn’t be coming by for another half hour knowing him.

Not that Jonathan didn’t ever really seem to care about having someone when he arrived. Throwing out the first couple times he’d greeted him, the guy didn’t even bother pausing for him, heading straight for the backroom. Oswald liked all that though. Proper invitations, proper greetings, that sort of old class jazz.

Stan actually didn’t have to wait that long, the redhead coming by soon enough. Stan started a couple steps towards him, preparing to turn around with him as per usual.

Jonathan seemed to pause for a half second when he saw him though, but continued on his way. Then he actually stopped in front of him.

He  turned his foot back when the other just stopped. “Hey there, Doctor Crane, always good to see you swing by.” He greeted the other.

“I don’t easily cancel plans when I have the choice.”

“The asylum, yeah, I get what you mean.” Stan said, with a crooked smile. He gave a small gesture ahead before, turning and starting off with Jonathan walking beside him.

He couldn’t help noticing that he was eyeing him over. Which was mostly because Jonathan wasn’t doing a single thing to hide the damn fact. Definitely wasn’t the detached manner he’d had around Stan the past months either.

“That haircut is new, isn’t it.” Jonathon commented lightly.

“Uh, yup, sure it. I got it cut a few days back or so.” He replied.

Jonathan hummed. “You got back rather recently, didn’t you? Oswald only mentioned it in passing, he didn’t quite say where or why you were gone. A week is quite some time though.”

Okay, was he purposefully trying to skeeve him out? Not that Stan wouldn’t put it past him honestly, but why? Maybe just a smidge out of spite, Stan put on the most comfortable smile he could. He hummed affirmatively as he looked over to Jonathan, casually gesturing with one hand. “I went to see family, you know.” Then without hesitating. “They’re in Nebraska, it was a bit of a drive.”

“Oh, really, what part of it?”

“Syracuse actually. You ever been, doc? It looks pretty dead this time of year, but it’s still nice.” They were going up the steps now, away from the rest of the club.

“Not Syracuse, no. You have to be careful where you wander though, you know, Stanley.” There was no change in his voice, but the next part stuck out all the same as though there had been. “Or where you conduct your business.”

“Oh, of course, yeah. I agree completely. Oh!” Stan stopped by the door, feigning mild shock. “What would you know, we’re already at the door. Nice chat though, let’s do it again sometime.” He said smiling broadly to him before turning his attention to the door and knocking.

“Come in.” Oswald responded.

Stan opened the door, politely holding it open for the other whose attention finally switched to Oswald as the other greeted him inside.

Stan closed the door, letting out a silent breath through his nose.

 


 

As Ford got better, he started to actually think that Bill was staying away for now. Not something he’d been expecting, if he was honest. There were a few nightmares, but judging by the abstract content and how easily they faded away from his mind they were likely from his fever.

Bill had said he had other plans, but... Ford was suspecting that the dream demon actually hadn’t thought so far ahead. At the very least, he didn’t actually have anything prepared for the possibility of Ford moving to Gotham.

It didn’t even seem like Bill had possessed him once since he’d left Gravity Falls. Stanley had spent nearly every night beside him on the couch. He’d once offered him the bed to sleep in while he was sick, but Ford declined.

If he was honest with himself, having Stanley by while he slept was comforting, even if the other was asleep as well. He felt certain that if Bill possessed him that Stan would wake once the other stood up from the couch. It was the only reason that he felt any certainty whatsoever that Bill actually hadn’t possessed him during his sleep so far.

Of course, he was also certain Bill would possess him again. It was just a matter of time. However, for now he actually had time. He could figure something out without risk of the portal activating because of one misstep in the night.

He was currently standing beside Stan in the small kitchen, keeping a blanket wrapped around his shoulders even as he put bread in the toaster and the pair of them were debating.

“It’s juice though.” Stan gestured at him with the plastic jug.

“Yes, I know, but that doesn’t automatically mean it’s healthy.” He pointed to it. “There, just look on the side, Stanley. There’s an immense amount of sugar in it.”

Stan rolled his eyes, pulling out a plastic cup and a chipped coffee mug from the cabinet. “It’s Orange juice. It’s good for ya, builds up your immune system or whatever. Next, you’ll be saying none of the juices are actually good.”

“Well, technically speaking-”

“Oh my God, Sixer.”

“I’m telling you. The sugar , Stanley-” A distinct ring cut him off, rather than coming from the phone he’d installed though it seemed to be coming from Stan himself who had paused.

“Is that a mobile phone?”

Stan cleared his throat, setting down the jug of juice and pulling out the large phone from his coat pocket. “Uh, yeah, I got it for work.” He said before checking the screen with a slight exhale. He walked off and answered the phone. “Hey, Lou... Whaddya want and how’s likely is it to break?”

Ford oddly watched him, listening to as much of the half conversation as he could hear before Stan went into his room. He turned his attention back to the juice on the counter and poured some juice into both of the cups before setting it back into the refrigerator. He tapped his fingers on the counter, staring at the toaster before needlessly checking on the pot of soup warming up on the stove.

There was just a slight feeling of something being off, but... he was just being paranoid as he had been whenever Stan mentioned work since Bill’s ‘warning.’

Sure, pagers were much more common for job practices, but this was just a phone. In retrospect, it made sense now why he hadn’t already found a phone inside the apartment before.

When Stan came back, he noticed both cups filled up and picked up the plastic cup to take a sip. “Orange juice, huh,” he pointed to Ford’s mug of orange juice with the hand holding onto his own cup, “you know that stuff is packed with sugar, right?”

He couldn’t stop a snort from coming out of his throat, and out of the corner of his eye he could see Stan smiling as he took another sip from the cup.

 


 

The week finished out, which even when Stan started sleeping in his own room there still seemed no instances of possession. Rather quickly the next week filled up as Ford spent time on campus, getting into the resources he had now. There were also some papers and other job responsibilities he would get bothered with. Soon, it was even time for his first class, something he’d frankly not been thinking much about.

He uncomfortably introduced himself briefly before starting to talk about derivatives and turning towards the board. When he turned back around though, he noticed a student with a hand already raised.

“Oh, uh, yes?” He pointed to them.

“Professor,” they started, “what about the syllabus?”

“Oh.” He’d never made a syllabus. “....Well, of course. Everybody get out a piece of paper.” Ford quickly recovered, walking to the other side of the chalkboard to write out quick and important points. Class time. Scheduled office hours. Then the smaller essential notes. No attendance grade. Allowing multiple retakes on tests. Extra credit opportunities.

He had the ideal class syllabus down within five minutes. Ford allowed students time to catch up as he repeated himself concisely. Afterwards, he walked back to the other side of the board. “Now, I remember how irritating syllabus day was for me, so no worries. We aren’t going to be wasting the whole class on that. We can get through a chapter if we keep on track. Now, back to derivatives!”

After a few classes, he found it all to be- well, he wouldn’t say comforting, but he settled in the familiar atmosphere.

It also felt like he was getting a definitive chance to breath again. There was no possession lately, and he could handle any of the nightmares.

Ford had even moved all his books and papers to the office provided to him. It was small and he found the remains of some supplies from the previous teacher.

He had to assume this office was regularly rotated over newly hired professors that left after their first semester. To his surprise though, the small office was not nearly as cramped as he had expected. It even had a window that looked out over a small area of campus. Additionally, it was in close proximity to the building where his classes took place.

There was a desk with drawers and a table beside that with file cabinets crammed underneath it. The chalkboard against the wall, he half suspected had been stolen from some department. This was nicer than the last time he’d been on a campus. Gotham University was far more -ahem- funded than Backupsmore had ever been. Everything here was understandably better in comparison.

Not to mention, the resources he had free access to now. Thankfully, the library kept a record of books checked out. Which meant if Bill tried to erase important information that he found then Ford could just find another copy of the book. He had to bring back the books he’d initially taken due to this rule. Apparently, the librarian had forgotten to check him out that night.

The classes too, although it did eat up a fair amount of time, the subject came to him so easily that he could go off of his memory. As well, he just continued his own research into possible demon wards during office hours, which he could just pause on if a student knocked on his door.

Ford was in the middle of a chemistry lecture when a fire alarm went off. Some students immediately stopped and rushed to grab their stuff, while others leisurely took their time.

“Remember, the fire exit is down the hallway and out the double set of doors. That’ll be it for class today.” He was almost a little irritated. Trying to reign class back inside after the fire alarm stopped would be more trouble than it was worth. He’d continued talking about molecular structures next time though.

He herded all his students out of the room, before going back to grab his own things. All things considered, he wasn’t that worried. The room wasn’t far from an exit. Besides, this was probably just a drill. Slinging his messenger bag over his shoulder, he walked out into the nearly empty hallway. A few students lingered despite the blaring alarms. Unusual, but they were all close to one exit or another so he couldn’t be too concerned.

He was walking to the exit, planning out the rest of the day, when there was an unexpected shift of noises in the hallway behind him that caught his attention. The fire department, possibly. He stopped to turn back, tensing up at what he saw.

Just turned around the hallway was ‘Scarecrow’ with the same two men from the night before.

The one student that had been walking stopped and inched back to the wall. Another crossed the hallway and into an open classroom. Anyone who hadn’t noticed the men before certainly did now. Even the calm students stopped what they were doing to uneasily watch them.

Should- Shouldn’t the students...? None of them were leaving. Even the one that had ducked into the classroom, was still peeking out the door. He didn’t understand why none of them mad an effort to leave, especially the one leaning right beside an exit.

Scarecrow surveyed the hallway’s occupants, his gaze stopped straight down the hallway in Ford’s direction. “Nigel,” he snapped his fingers and pointed right at Ford, “there.”

Oh, no .

One of the men started his way- and every single person scattered through the hallway looked over at Ford.

Ford turned, pushing the door open and sprinting out. There was a distant crowd to the left of the building, and no building close enough to provide cover. He jumped over the railing of the small set of steps, and ran around the corner of the building to at least get himself out of a direct line of sight.

He could already hear the door bar clacking as it was pushed open again. His mind quickly compiled a frustratingly small list of everything he knew about Scarecrow. Real name, Jonathan Crane. Ex-professor, likely at this university... Stole hallucinogen drugs.

Why hadn’t he asked Stan more about him?! Why had the masked man singled him out? He’d have to assume he recognized him from that night. What was he originally here for though? It was a chemistry building, but all the labs were in another building entirely.

He heard some yells not terribly far behind him, but ignored them in favor of turning around another corner to the back of the building. Straight ahead was a chest high platform with a railing at the top, to the left was a street and a couple buildings he knew nothing about.

Ford pushed himself up onto the platform and swung himself over the railing without missing a beat. There was a set of stairs at the other end, but if he ducked back inside he could get into a classroom without notice.

He was heading straight for the closest door, his hand reaching out for it when it burst open, the loud ringing spilling out into the air along with the second man who immediately spotted him.

Ford leaned back to stop and turned around, only to see the other man that had been originally chasing him, now coming from that end of the platform.

Jump! He barely got his hands onto the railing before he was roughly pulled back by the collar of his trench coat.

“Woah, woah, not so fast there!” The man’s hand stayed gripping onto his coat even after he moved him away from the railing.

Ford envisioned himself jumping over the railing, but he logically knew it’d be unsuccessful. He needed to calm down, think sensibly.

“Nice catch,” the man, Nigel apparently, said as he casually walked the rest of the way over.

Meanwhile, Ford breathed through his nose trying to figure out the situation between his very limited knowledge. His mind quickly ran over the worst possibilities, most of which involved Bill, of course.

Then the door opened again, blaring alarms coming at full volume as Scarecrow came out.

“Hey Boss, we caught ‘im.” The one moved him a bit for example to Ford’s extreme distaste.

He was half tempted to attempt another lunge for the railing. He forced himself to stay focused on Scarecrow though, something he almost regretted as he did it. Frankly, he didn’t know which was worse. The obvious manner in which the masked man looked him over, or the eye contact established shortly afterwards.

Ford folded his hands behind his back while still looking back at him. All his nerves were either screaming at him to run or to check every potential threat. “If you do not mind,” he started professionally, lungs straining for larger breaths of air that he didn’t allow himself, “I would prefer to go now.”

There was a slight change in his behavior that Ford couldn’t pin down. His best guess was his response had taken him off guard, but the reply didn’t display that in the slightest.

“I would think you already understand that’s not quite happening.” He said before turning for the stairs. “Nigel, get the car.”

Ford’s heart clawed its way into his throat as he was pushed along after Scarecrow. Vaguely, he noticed the other glancing back at him, but he had to figure out a way out while he still could.

Nigel walked past his boss and down the stairs, and Ford looked ahead to see the only car in sight which was parked in the single lane road. At their current rate, Nigel would take half a minute to reach the car.

He could try to make a break just before the stairs and go over the other side of the railing, but he’d have to get free first. The hold on his coat held tight and the man had nothing else in his other hand. If Ford pulled his bag over his head and moved out of his coat in one movement to run then there was a plausible chance he’d break free.

Scarecrow was right in front of them though. Nothing in his hands, but the last thing needed was to get hit with a hallucinogen spray. He could have it hidden on him. Getting captured seemed a worse alternative though, so he’d just have to move fast and try not to breath anything in.

Distant police sirens rung in the air, but they weren’t close enough.

Another five feet would give him his best shot at- the man holding him was pulling something out with a metallic click then Ford felt something hard press against his upper back.

All his thoughts evaporated from the abrupt knowledge that a metal barrel of a gun was pointed at his vital organs.

The details of his surroundings blurred as he let himself be lead down the steps and into the car. He was pushed into the backseat, and he had a half-finished thought about going out the other door that he let go as the man got in beside him and the car started off.

A minute into the ride Ford belatedly realized he should have focused on the car’s turns. He looked over at the window, but it was hopeless. They could have been anywhere in the city and he wouldn’t know it. The rest of the ride frayed at his nerves as he failed to focus on what the purpose of this likely was.

They soon stopped at some sort of nondescript warehouse and the man beside him got out of the car. “Come on.”

Ford climbed out of the car, thankful he wasn’t immediately grabbed again and quickly understanding the likely reason why. The only thing behind them was an open parking lot and the only escape option was the warehouse they were already walking towards. The inside of the warehouse was predictably rather dark, but there was some light filtering in through a patchwork of holes in the high ceiling.

Scarecrow started talking now, to him apparently. Or, honestly, just to himself. Ford had a hard time telling. “A bit rushed, yes, but waiting around there was hardly an option.” He dismissively waved a hand as he continued. “Those bumbling police may be slow, but they’re not that slow.”

“What do you want?” Ford asked directly.

He paused, looking back to him. “Oh, I’m not planning to kill you if that’s what you’re worrying about. Perhaps introductions would help.”

“I would really rather not.” The last thing he needed was to get involved with- well anybody.

“I suppose it’s not necessary.” He replied nonplussed. “You’re new at the university, I assume. ‘Stanford Pines, right’?”

The man already knowing his name just pushed this situation into the far worse category of possibilities. Ford folded his hands behind his back and locked his arms in place. “What do you want?” He asked him again.

The mask must have been fitted to his face in some manner because he could tell that he was smiling now. “I’m not planning on directly harming you either, you know.” He added jumping around the question as though Ford didn’t already feel uneasy enough.

The door was pushed open to a relatively small room. Inside there was a man sat down at a table fully set up with a teapot and some nicer cups.

The blond man had a large top hat with a card tucked into its band as well as a comically large bow tie. The collar of his green shirt was popped up so high that it nearly reached his ears. He brightly regarded them as they entered, happily standing up from his seat.

“Oh! You took less time than I expected.” He said to Scarecrow before looking over at Ford, interesting springing up on his face. “Oh, hmm,” he walked around the table with the express purpose of looking at him. “Isn’t that curious?” He asked Scarecrow.

“What?” Ford questioned.

The man looked back to him. “Oh, don’t sound so wary. It’s unexpected, but not unpleasant! Quite the opposite, in fact, I assure you.” He told him sincerely. “My name is Jervis, come, come - sit down.” He said, going towards him to grab him.

Ford took a couple steps back, but Jervis disregarded the obvious attempt to avoid him. He pushed him towards the three chairs crowded around one corner of the table and into the one on the left before seating himself in the middle chair. He busied himself with pour tea, humming a few bright notes.

Quietly as he could, Ford scooted his chair away to have something more substantial than the partially invaded elbow space he currently had.

The two larger men stuck beside the door they’d come through... which Ford quickly realized was the only door this room had.

“How sweet do you like your tea?” Jervis asked him.

“I don’t need any tea.” Ford told him.

“Nonsense!” He objected. “You can’t be at a tea party and not have tea!” He dropped a cube into the cup nearest to Ford. “Jonathan? One cube or two?”

“Two.” He answered, going to sit down in the remaining chair on Jervis’ other side. He removed the mask, keeping it on his knee and reveal his distinct red hair.

Jervis dropped a couple cubes into Jonathan’s cup as well as his own, before pushing their respective cups towards them.

The man had put him into this specific chair. Could the cup have been lined with something..? It hardly mattered, he decided, he refused to drink the tea even if it wasn’t poisoned.

“Are you new to town? Or well-hidden?” Jonathan questioned, picking up his own cup.

Ford ignored his tea, watching Jonathan. “Obviously, I wouldn’t be well-hidden if that were the case.” He replied neutrally.

“New to Gotham then.” Jervis helpfully concluded aloud, taking in his own tea.

“Then you’re a new professor there, Stanford.” Jonathan said.

Ford ,” he corrected him, “but yes. I suppose that’s where you were previously employed.”

“Ah, so my reputation precedes me.” He said. “I’m curious, tell me, what did you hear?”

Frustratingly little, Ford thought to himself. He wished he’d asked Stan more questions. “Not very much. I know your name and that apparently you frequently escape imprisonment.”

“Well, I’d prefer it to at least be known that I was a professor of psychology.”

“You didn’t teach Chemistry?”

“I majored in both, but my doctorate was in psychology.”

“What is it you teach?” Jervis asked him.

“Calculus and Chemistry, but neither are my primary fields.” He eyed the table over for anything that one of them could potentially pick up. The worse thing was just a heavy teapot, it seemed.

“Well then, what fields?” He took another sip. “I specialized in neuroscience, myself.”

“I- wait, you did?” Ford asked, looking over to Jervis.

He hummed. “Yes. I was a researcher for Wayne Corporations until Batman ruined everything for me.” Jervis finished with a sour look down into his tea.

“What sort of research did you get into?” Ford asked, growing curious. Frankly, he hadn’t been expecting the man to have been a researcher of any kind, though admittedly he didn’t have any reason to believe he wouldn’t.

“I was developing a piece of hardware to control others.” He tapped at his hat. “With a band around the head and chip placed against the subject’s head - I can manipulative their brain waves and puppet the other.”

“Oh! I created something-” he stopped himself from mentioning the ties, later than he would have liked. He coughed, quickly trying to continue. “I ah, I created a few diagrams once for a similar idea.” He finally said.

“Diagrams, did you? I should like to see them at some point. Although, I assure you, only out of curiosity.” Jervis perked up more then. “Is neurology your speciality as well then?”

“Sorry, no. I didn’t major in it at all. It was for an old class assignment, I don’t have the papers with me anymore.”

“That’s a shame. Do you remember the design?”

“It was largely circuitry-based, I couldn’t tell you too specifically.” Ford dismissed, though he could easily recreate it, he was sure. “Essentially though, I matched up the somatic nervous systems to one another so that one person controlled both simultaneously.”

“Interesting. I originally tested on rats so I hadn’t considered a direct link.” Jervis commented. “You see, my design evolved around influencing the mind and implanting suggestions as guidelines without actively controlling the other’s actions. I can even control multiple subjects at will.”

“Do you have to maintain focus on the subjects or will the suggestions stay regardless?” Wait- none of this was even relevant. He was getting utterly sidetracked. He glanced to the cup of tea.

“The suggestions stay as long as the chip does.” Jervis answered shortly before motioning to Ford’s cup encouragingly. “Try the tea before it goes cold.”

“I’m really more of a coffee person.” Ford said plainly. “The last time I had tea- I stopped drinking tea a while ago.”

“All the more reason for you to try it then. At least a sip to see if you like the flavor.” He insisted.

“I’m really quite fine.” He declined again, purposefully pushing the cup further away by its saucer. As soon as he was pushing the cup away, Jonathan looked down to his hand.

Ford pulled his hand back and put it underneath the table, suspiciously glancing at Jonathan, but saying nothing.

“What were your degrees in again?” Jonathan questioned.

He hesitated. “I have a few, but Chemistry is one of them.”

“Are you a doctor of any?”

“All of my degrees are doctorates.” Ford answered simply.

“Really?” Jonathan smiled slightly, sounding impressed. “Well, you’re a bit of surprise.”

Ford pushed down a slight satisfaction, trying to ignore it’d even cropped up in him int he first place. “How is that?” He asked warily, keeping his guard up.

“That’s not a comment to worry about, you know.” Jonathan started, ignoring yet another question. “You seem highly suspicious. Is that normal for you or were you warned?” He continued casually. “Both times I saw you, you were very quick to run.”

“Consider the fact that I am currently a hostage, I would say my lack of trust would be considered understandable.” Ford replied icily. “The situation warrants suspicion. Especially considering the lack of straightforward answers.”

Jonathan took the comment in stride, finally answering the question. “I simply wasn’t expecting someone so educated, I suppose. You’re smart, professor.” He took a sip from his tea before plainly adding, “and you’re not a hostage.”

“Kidnapped then.”

“Yes, although, had I known more beforehand, I may have done this differently.” He said, unashamed. “Surely, you can understand my suspect though.”

“What do you mean?” Ford asked him slowly. “Did-” No, either Bill was involved or he wasn’t. He couldn’t just go asking anyone about him. “ Why did you kidnap me?”

Jervis was the one that answered. “Well, he thought you were Stanley.”

Ford’s hands curled up on his knees, tension rising in his shoulders. “What?”

“When I saw you initially, it was dark and I’d mistaken you for your- you two must be twins, surely. It’s always suspicious to find someone having trailed you, of course. Especially so when it’s seemingly a friend’s employee disguised.” Jonathan openly told him, scrutinizing Ford as he talked. “Oswald didn’t tell me anything so I could only assume there was a plot.”

His mind jumped full force to Bill’s warning, the one he’d been pushing to the back of his head this whole time. Ford hated that Bill had been telling the truth, even if only because he knew Ford wouldn’t believe him. Actually, that made it feel like Bill had played him again which made him feel like he’d been even more oblivious.

“Oswald who ?” He pressed. “Who’s Oswald?”

“You don’t know?” Jonathan asked, seemingly genuinely taken aback.

Ford simmered, glancing to the table and away. He’d never even asked Stan a single question about his job. Nothing aside from when he would go or come back.

His hands clenched into fists on top of his knees. With a breath, he focused back on the table again. “Whatever is going on- I am not involved in it.”

“Then why were you trailing me that night in the first place?” He questioned.

“I saw a scarecrow man breaking into a campus building when-” he let out a frustrated breath, “It was odd so I wanted to see what was going on.”

Jervis put out a hand. “You should take a cup even if you don’t care for it, tea soothes the nerves.”

Ford barely bit down on a sharp comment, instead pushing down on the table with a hand to stand up. He couldn’t see them, but he knew that standing up had very likely earned the attention of the men by the door.

“Apologies,” he said curtly, “but I believe I should take my leave now.”

“It’s a shame to leave a tea party early.” Jervis said.

“Well, if one can’t be at a tea party without having tea then by that logic I wasn’t at the tea party at all.” Ford said.

Jonathan watched him for a long moment, Ford watching him right back.

“You aren’t a hostage,” he said, “although I thought you would at least want an answer to your question.”

“I’ll figure it out on my own.” Ford said neutrally.

“Good luck then, professor.” He finally said.

Ford removed his hand from the table, a tense worry dissipating slightly. “It was nice meeting you both.” Ford said, purely as a leeway so he could walk off.

“Do come to the next tea party!” Jervis called after him as he walked off.

Ford folding his arms behind his back as he got close to the door, uneasily watching the two men. However, neither one attempted to stop him as he went through the door. He only looked over his shoulder once he heard the door shut to ensure nobody had sneaked out the door after him.

Letting out a sigh, he ran a hand through his hair, pulling at the strands before briskly walking back to the exit.

Chapter Text

Due to recent kidnapping developments, Ford was currently rifling through the Journalism Library’s archived newspapers.

He had left early that morning, partially to avoid Stan, but mostly to get some much needed information. He couldn’t risk winding up in another situation like yesterday again, caught completely unaware.

Whoever Oswald was, he had to find out, as well as a general knowledge of the other criminals. There was no telling who exactly knew Stanley, but he could at least find out enough to keep himself out of avoidable danger.

The library had an excess of newspapers archived, several of which had crime-related front pages. Not a surprise. He found himself pausing at the third or so newspaper he pulled out though.

Scarecrow Causes Asylum Riots with Gas Leak Then Escapes

The black and white picture showed patients swarmed into the halls of what had to be the Asylum.

He started reading the article with a frown, but stopped and set the newspaper aside. He could read specifics later after he’d picked out enough newspapers. Ford resumed scanning through the titles, picking up a fair amount as he went.

Arson… Joker… Burglary… The Riddler… Oswald-

Ford quickly pulled out the paper the instant he saw the name, holding it in his hands as he voraciously read through the article.

Oswald Cobblepot Buys Out Club Competitors

‘Ex-criminal’… recently bought out three more clubs under fishy circumstances… one can only suspect ulterior motives… notoriously suspected of continued heists despite Penguin’s claims of ignorance… states that recent deals were part of a “strategic business move”… one can only wonder which business he means.

This had to be him.

Ford set the paper on the small stack before searching for more again. No stopping, just pick them out based on skimmed titles.

Once he left the library his book bag was filled solely with newspapers of various crimes scattered over the last couple years. He went through the office door, locking it after him before organizing all the papers into piles. Unsolved crimes, cooperative crimes, then finally all of the named criminals. Penguin, Scarecrow, Joker, Poison Ivy, and so on. He had to pile the newspapers over his research to have enough room for it all. His eyes kept flashing onto the pile for Oswald the more it grew.

Finally, he flung the last paper onto its pile and grabbed the papers about Oswald. He mentally compiled every important detail he could find out about the man as he read through.

Oswald Cobblepot was primarily referred to as the Penguin. Although there was no direct explanation, seeing a picture of the portly man in a black and white suit was enough to understand the alias. Thankfully, it also explained the horrendous number of fish-related puns.

He was an old money businessman that ‘had been’ a criminal. There were even a couple of articles from the supposed end of his criminal phase only a year and half ago or so. His crimes seemed to have hinged upon various heists and robberies.

As of currently, he owned a club called the Iceberg Lounge along with a few other establishments. There were some brief mentions of him supposedly associating with various criminals, although none of it was entirely confirmed. All things considered though, Ford fully believed the claims.

He was almost a bit disappointed that he didn’t see Stan’s name pop up even a single time. Then again, newspapers didn’t quite feel the need to mention an employee by name. Much less when the story was actually noteworthy enough to be talked about. He began to read through the stack about the Joker, skipping over Jonathan’s articles for the time being. He didn’t get very far through the stack before it was time for his chemistry lecture though so he decided to bring a few with him. It wouldn’t be that hard to double task.

With a few minutes until class he walked into the room and down the steps past the seats to the front of the class. There seemed to be a lot more murmuring than usual, though that could have been due to anything. Students murmured to one another all the time, Ford reminded himself.

Noticeably though, one student nudged his classmate on the arm to cause the other to look back. As Ford passed by, he saw one of them handing cash to the other with a frown. Even putting aside the knowledge of the brief moment of one of Bill’s eyes being present, that exchange was still unsettling.

Ford set his stuff down at the front of the class, attempting to read a newspaper as he waited the last few minutes. He couldn’t stay focused though, especially once he realized that only half of the class had apparently bothered to show.

He picked at the grain of the wood, barely waiting. He started the class calmly, mentioning where they left off before immediately asking the question. “Does anybody know why there’s significantly fewer of you than usual?”

There was a few stunted seconds of silence before someone spoke up. “I think everyone kinda thought class would be cancelled today.”

Ford glanced to the student that spoke up, confused. “What? Why?”

She made a slight face, hesitating. “Well, a bunch of us saw one of Scarecrow’s guys chasing after you and… figured you quit after that.”

“You saw-” Then Ford vaguely recalled the small crowd outside the building, waiting for the fire alarm to stop so they could go back in. Maybe if he just ignored that they'd think it wasn't him- or oh! He had it! Ford purposefully rolled his eyes before talking. “Well, class isn’t cancelled so it’s a good thing you showed up.”

A hand near the middle of class and Ford reluctantly called on them. “Yes?”

“Hey, so what happened? Did you just outrun the guy or were there some police around the corner or what?”

Ford immediately stalled to think. “What’s your name?”

“Uh, Reggie.”

“Reggie,” he said, “you can’t always trust what you hear from others.” Ford paused, glancing off momentarily in thought. “Actually, you shouldn’t trust what you hear in most cases. However, that goes even more so for rumors.” Granted, in this case it was true, but he would rather avoid confirming as such. He doubted very many of the students here had criminal connections, but the last thing he wanted was to draw any attention to himself.

Ford saw another hand raise and quickly tapped at the board, pretending to not have seen it, quickly evading. “Now, today’s lesson.” 

 


 

Stan wasn’t an idiot. Well- he wasn’t an idiot when it came to people.

Ford and him both had weird schedules, so it wasn’t that not seeing him for a day or two was necessarily off. However, he had a feeling Ford was avoiding him lately. The actual kicker was how ford was when they were both in the apartment again. There was Ford being quiet, then there was Ford being quiet wholly because he was upset.

He didn’t outright ignore Stan though so that was at least something. Stan made small comments here and there, nothing that needed actual feedback though. With how sour Ford seemed, he wasn’t expecting anything.

“Stanley.”

“Yeah, what’s up?” Stan checked over to see his brother not even looking at him.

Ford was frowning slightly, though it almost looked more out of concentration than anything else. “Do you-” he stopped. For a stretched out second, he seemed on the edge to say something. Then he let out an almost imperceptible breath. “Do you know of any occult in Gotham?” He finally asked.

Oh… right . Well, figures that Ford had already found out about the cults. “Uh, yeah, actually.” Stan answered, glancing briefly away from him.

“Wait, really?” Ford finally looked at him, surprised.

Okay, Ford didn’t need to be this shocked that he admitted to the cult thing. “Heh, not personally, but yeah. There’s one or two cults here.”

“What kind?” Ford asked without hesitation.

One side of Stan’s face scrunched up. That was a good question. “Not really sure on that.” He told him honestly. “General spookums stuff, apparently they hang out in this one building at the east side of town. Then I think there’s one with…” he struggled to recall. “I don’t know,” he gestured noncommittally, looking back at him, “something to do with cats, if I’m remembering right.”

“Wait a second,” Ford said, a realization striking, “you said a cult in Gotham was ridiculous!”

So... Ford hadn’t actually known about the cults apparently judging by his reactions. Probably was just asking the question offhandedly or something. “Well, not to split hairs, but I didn’t say that exactly .” He had definitely implied that though.

Ford just started at him, letting his shoulder slump and looking fed up just from the one excuse.

Stan relented, leveling with him. “Okay, look – you were pretty off your rocker that day. You did almost shoot me with a crossbow, Ford.” He reminded him, leaning against the counter. “No offense, but no way in Hell was I about to go and tell you about some underground cults.”

“Well, now would be a good time to tell me anything you didn’t back then, wouldn’t it?” Ford said, almost a bit too quick for it to not be pointed at something .

No, he was probably just irritated about the cult deal. Or his recent sour mood was kicking in. Admittedly, Stan probably should have told him about the cults considering the whole demon deal going on. “Okay, okay,” he said, thinking for a second.

Immediately, the one popped up, letting Ford know he was a little involved in the criminal side of things. Definitely not high on the list of what he wanted to tell him, but it was at the top on the list of things Ford should probably know while he was here.

Of course, he was more than 'a little' involved, but he’d gradually work up to most of the truth later. At least enough of it to where Ford knew who to avoid. AKA all government officials entirely, and just to be safe- most of the criminals too.

He could feel Ford staring at him though, so he shrugged. “Not sure there’s much else to tell you.” Later… he would tell him later. “There’s a bunch of wackos here, it’d take a long while to list every one of them out.”

He still considered telling Ford, just for half a second. Instantly, he realized just how amazing well his brother would take it though. Especially considering he was already upset over something. “You’re giving me a real broad range here.” Stan said to him. “Again, there’s all the major criminals then a couple cults. Whadya want to know exactly?”

Ford held his breath, watching him for a moment, before glancing off. “Just anything, I suppose.”

“Well, keep an eye on the news. Or pick up a newspaper. Really though, as long as you stay out of shady places and walking at night, you’ll be fine.”

His face twisted into a bitter expression. “Right,” came a short reply.

“Okay,” Stan finally said, “what’s got your panties in such a twist?”

Ford looked over at him, tapping on the counter. “Nothing, absolutely nothing.” Before Stan could get a chance to call Bull, Ford continued, “What specific building is the cult in?”

“Aha, what ? You’re kidding me, right?” Stan asked, already fully well knowing for a fact that his brother was completely serious. “You’re-“ he stopped for a breath and ended up letting out a short laugh.

“What?” Ford asked him, eyebrows pulling together.

“You want to just walk into a cult’s place.”

“Yes.”

“Why?” Stan asked him.

“So, I can see if they have anything on demons.” Ford answered matter of fact.

Stan couldn’t help making a face. If anybody in the city had something on demons, well... it’d definitely be a demonic cult. “Shouldn’t raiding a cult be, I don’t know, more of a last-ditch idea? Don’t you have access to all those ancient books now?”

“I do, but libraries don’t really prioritize ‘demonic warding’ texts very much.” He answered, nonplussed. “Either the cult is worthless and there’s no real danger, or they do have something that could help.”

“Third option,” Stan said, pointing at him. “Their thing is actually ghosts and sacrificing trespassers. Just saying... it is a cult.”

His brother shrugged. “Well, it wouldn’t be potentially promising if it wasn’t. So, where is it?”

Stan snorted. “I’ll show ya, but I’m not key on you going lone wolf then getting caught and killed for trespassing their ‘sacred domain’ or whatever.”

“What-“

Literal cult, Ford.”

Ford pursed his lips.

“Literal cult,” Stan said calmly this time, with both hands gesturing out from himself.

His brother sighed through his nose before murmuring quietly. “…Alright.”

 


 

The pair of them walked from where Stan had slyly parked the car and towards the building he’d pointed out.

“I can’t believe you came with me to find cult materials.” Ford muttered.

“Completely high-roading ya here, Ford, but you were the one that wanted to find this cult’s stuff in the first place.”

A fair point. One, which, he wasn’t going to vocally acknowledge. “Are you sure there’s actually a cult in here?” He asked, side-eyeing the building as they looked for an entrance. “It doesn’t seem very… secret.”

Stan shrugged beside him. “Hey, most people don’t even know this cult exists.”

Interest sparked up. Sure, cults weren’t often well known, but he still wondered just what was going on exactly. Of course, finding anything about warding or demons was key above all else. However, if they happened to find out something about the cult along the way then that would obviously be good to know.

Ford spotted a door off in the distance and moved around Stan to get to it.

 


 

Overall, Stan was pretty happy even if they were walking into a pretty stupid situation. Ford hadn’t really stayed pissed with him about the whole ‘actually there IS a cult ’ thing. He was still walking with a slight sour air, but that had faded a lot from what it had been.

Maybe there wasn’t even a cult here, after all. So, less dangerous, still not a great idea.

They quietly checked the derelict door. Half the hinges were broken, but it wasn’t actually locked, just hard to open.

“What even happened to this door?” Ford hissed quietly as they slowly pried open the door. Once there was just enough of an opening, he held it for Stan and waved for him to go through.

“Honestly? Knowing this town, someone dramatically kicked it in.” Stan replied once he was through.

It’s a metal door.”

Stan pressed his lips into a thin smile. “Yup.” He said, putting a hand on the door to keep it propped open.

Ford rolled his eyes before moving through the small opening. “Do people kick open metal doors that often here?”

“I’m positive it happens at least once a week.” Stan replied, letting the door go once his twin was through.

With short halting movements, the door fell back closed. The accompanying sound of rusted metal scraping made both of the twins cringe. Thankfully, it wasn’t all that loud though, just super unpleasant and creepy.

It took a few seconds for his eyes to adjust once the door had shut. When it did… he could see they were inside an ordinary hallway like that of an office building. One point for the ‘there’s actually no cult’ theory.

“Left is longer,” Ford whispered quietly before turning down the hallway.

“So cults like long dramatic hallways, huh?” Stan asked.

Ford didn’t respond but he could see the other looking back at him, and his own lips curled into a smile as he shrugged.

There wasn’t anything for a while, but when they turned a corner there was a door that Ford lightly jogged towards.

Ford tried the door handle, then slowly pushed it open. His head peaked into the room before he pushed it open further, holding it just long enough for Stan to reach the door.

Once Stan got there, Ford started off into the room which… looked incredibly similar to a cleared out office space with scattered trash here and there. Another point for the 'No Cult' theory.

Stan checked a table, but hardly bothered actually looking. Not exactly cult-y material here.

It took almost a half hour of searching through boring rooms and halls before they saw something. In a stairwell, there was a low light coming from below.

Stan glanced to Ford who had just looked at him, catching eye contact before moving down the steps. “Okay,” Stan whispered quietly, following, “cult stuff or bust.” He almost scoffed when he reached the bottom of the steps though. Someone had put lights up sure, but it was some sort of tacky plastic lights made to look like ‘tasteful’ candles.

Ford didn’t even pause though, heading straight away for a door nearby. He put his ear up to it for a moment, listening, before pushing it open.

The inside of the room had similar lights to the one just outside, but in a smaller space it was light up better than the hallway. There were some desks and shelves which had books and papers scattered on them. There was also a shady knife sitting with a bunch of weird tools right next to some… Okay, his gut told him that bowl of dark purple liquid had to be poisoned grape koolaid, and his mind wasn’t offering up much to argue against that. What other liquid did cults put in big bowls besides poisoned drinks? There were a couple of large, kinda elegant drapes hanging from the walls that pulled the room together.

Okay, the hallway may have been laughable, but the more details he saw inside this room the more serious it actually looked. Even the ‘koolaid’ was getting him creeped out. The only thing missing here were some ominous blood stains.

With no other entrances into the room, Stan relaxed a tiny degree. He didn’t want to stick around, but they hadn't spotted anyone on the way in so they had a good chance of being fine. Still in a cult’s hideout, but fine if they were using Gotham’s definition of the word.

Ford, meanwhile had gone straight to the books and was pulling one out to look inside.

“Okay, go ahead and…” Stan trailed off as he actually saw Ford.

Surrounded by creepy stuff galore, his brother looked as though he was in a corner of a library picking out interesting books from the shelf. The sour mood completely dissipated. 

Chapter Text

He had worried that this whole underground cult wouldn’t have anything substantial for him. Or that it would be centered around something so unrelated to anything about demonic creatures that coming here would be pointless. The few books that were here proved otherwise though!

The titles etched into the spines of the books already mentioned subjects like otherworldly beings and- oh! Was that a book on planes of existence? Interesting,although he suspected it wouldn’t be of too much use. Then again, it could have something akin to the mindscape inside of it. The room had a warm glow from the candlelight, giving him enough light to read.

He tugged at the top of the spine to pull the book out of its place. It was more of a crude handmade journal than anything else, interspersed with fanatical speech. He frowned. It seemed to be more about other dimensions than actual planes of existence. Not that it wasn’t interesting, but he could look at it later.

The next book promised ‘Ethereal Beings ’ which gave Ford a fair bit of hope. There were several mentions on ghost-like apparitions. The author was attributing them to being some form of lost souls from alternate dimensions, torn across space. That could be likely, though it wouldn’t account for every single ghost. He could see it being a likelihood though for at least some spirits. It’d certainly explain a few stories. Nothing on actual demonic beings though, besides brief mentions about ‘demonic’ being used as an adjective. Really, you would think it wouldn’t be hard to find something about demons in a room like this.

Ohh! Ford smiled to himself as he stopped upon one page. Oh, but was this an account of a doppelganger? An overdone story, but this had an interesting explanation tying back to the spirits. Not a fae changeling of sorts, but rather something from an alternate dimension-
“Hey, Ford. Buddy.”
-that had gotten wrongly displaced into our world, sometimes phasing in and back out, potentially connecting the worlds like a needle and thread. There was quite a distinct lack of any sort of scientific explanation for it, unfortunately, but he tucked it under his one arm as he picked out another book.

Ford .” Stan said again.

Ford hummed distractedly back to him. How odd, this one looked like pages from various textbooks glued into a makeshift binder. They went over a lot of theories, though a fair amount of reasoning behind some of these had already been disproven, he knew.

Was this a wiccan book? There certainly seemed to be quite a number of wards and spells inside of it. It seemed a bit of an odd fit, but he noticed some of the dogeared spells had to do with planes of sorts. It must have tied into the cult’s ideas on other worlds.

“We are in the middle of, you know - a cult hangout here .”

“I know. Isn’t it gr-” He turned to look at Stan, his words stopping a bit short as he noticed the less than enthusiastic expression on the other’s face.

Stan had his hands pressed up together in front of his face, and he was watching him. He lowered his hands, pointing them to Ford, as he talked. “Cults aren’t exactly the best group, here, okay. Or anywhere else for that matter. They’re not really all that great .”

“Right, of course, of course.” Ford said, looking back to the books. “No. It’s just it’s good to see something is actually here, I mean.” Granted, it was rather limited, not even thirty books, but nearly everything here was actually something . He frowned a bit seeing a particular book, Doctrine of Life , and pushed it aside. He really didn’t care too much for the religious aspects of the group. He had a couple books under his left arm by this point, but he didn’t want to miss anything too important.

“Yeah. It’s not a bust, I know.” Stan said.

Oh - an entire astrophysics book? At the very least it looked more recent than that patchwork binder of textbook pages from before. He curiously flipped it open, a bit disappointed to see that no notes had been marked in the margins.
“This is still not great as a whole though. For us.”
Well, there were some starred passages, but that was it. He wondered if they had another notebook to expound upon some of their theories with the information from the textbook. Really, it should be right beside this book for a reference. Speaking of, for so few books there really was no excuse for the poor organization system in place here.
“Our super ‘sacrifice-able’ selves here...”
Huh, so they did have at least one book on fae.
“Ten feet away from a ritual looking kind of knife... with dried blood on it...”
He was starting to think they wouldn’t at all. There were actually some notes in here-

Ford!

He jumped. “Ah!” He cleared his throat, looking back to Stan. “What, yes?” Shoot, he’d been saying something, hadn’t he? “What is it?”

“Underbelly of a cult. Bloody knife on a table. Intruding on their secret base .” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder to the door. “A.K.A., just grab some books and let’s get out of here already.”

Ford rolled his eyes, gesturing to the books he had under his one arm. “That’s what I’ve been doing.” He said, waving a hand and glancing back over the book’s various titles. “Besides, a bloody knife isn’t that uncommon. There are some spells that call for animal sacrifices.”

Stan scoffed. “Not that comforting, okay.”

“They’re very anticlimactic actually, all things considered. A mess too.”

There was a slap of skin, and Ford looked back to see that Stan had slammed a hand over his eyes. He deigned to not question it, and just turned back to the books to open up another one. His attention was drawn short though, and he turned to look back at Stan with a quiet sigh.

“Okay. So, you’ve done an animal sacrifice for whatever totally sane reason. What I meant though, was that we’re in the middle of a city. So, I really don’t think they’re picking up goats from the local farm.” Stan said, crossing his arms.

“First off,” Ford started. “I had my reasons, and it turned out to be an utter waste of time so I wouldn’t do it again. Especially for-” He gritted his teeth momentarily, spitefully pushing on, to look back through the last book he’d picked out. He just needed to scan for demonic entities or parallel planes. He nearly forgot to continue with his next point. “Secondly, even if they do utilize sacrifice humans, we’re not staying around for that long. I’m almost done here.”

Nothing in this book. He flipped through another, and as he put it back he began to hear an irritating tapping sound behind him. He elected to dutifully ignore it and focus.
This book was on supernatural beings, potentially useful.
Tap... tap... tap....
A time space centric book, skip... A book of rituals, that would explain
Tap. Tap. Tap.
That would explain the knife . It could have something-
TapTapTAP
-something useful

“Can’t just pick a few books...” Stan muttered.

Ford ground his teeth. “Maybe,” he started, looking over his shoulder at Stan who was incessantly tapping his fingers on a table, “if I had just thirty seconds to look in peace, I’d be done already.”

“You call that thirty seconds?”

He turned to look at him. “So, it was a couple minutes, that’s still hardly any time.”

“A couple minutes?” Stan raised an eyebrow. “Seriously, poindexter, try more like fifteen.”

There was a click from the door handle then, an audible warning that barely gave Ford enough time to shove the thin books under his arm into his journal pocket before the door opened. When it did, there was an oddly plain man at the door.

Yes, he’d really only seen one cult, and they wore dramatic red robes, but even still. He just looked too inconspicuous to be in a cult. “What are you two doing in here?”

 


 

Oh, this was just his luck. 

Stan turned, already putting on a sheepish smile, rather than a guilty look. That usually kept people from outright attacking on the spot.

Ford opened his mouth then. “We were just-”

“Trying to find someone to talk to about joining!” He quickly interrupted. “And in no way whatsoever breaking into your inner secret sanctum.” He said with a wave of his hand.
“No front door to knock on around here, you know.” He joked, not that they would have knocked anyways.

“Right... yes, exactly that.” Ford agreed, a tad hesitantly.

Stan slowly let out a relieved breath as Ford went along with it. He was about to go on with a whole explanation to help keep the guy from trying to stab them, but he actually seemed to have already bought it.

He lightened up, relaxing, a smile starting up on his face. “Oh, well of course! I completely understand.”

Wow, this was a lot easier than he thought it was going to be. Maybe this was just some half-baked cult. “Right,” he smiled back at him. “But, you know,” he shrugged, “I mean, we get if this isn’t the best time.” He pointed over the man’s shoulder to the hallway, starting to take a couple steps. “We can just swing back later, no problem. Don’t want to interrupt anything.”

He shook his head, though. “Oh, no. No, no. Absolutely not. Don’t be ridiculous.” He said, moving towards them and effectively blocking the way to the door, the candlelight causing his shadow to flicker on the ground behind him. “Please, this is a great opportunity.” He put his hand out to Stan. “I’m Father Do.”

Great . A ‘Father.’ He was probably the cult leader. Couldn’t have even gotten caught by some Brother Marshall or Sister Bonnie. “That’s great. Yeah, thank you there, Father Do.” He shook his hand. “I’m Sterlin, and this is my brother, Jessie.”

Do smiled. “It’s nice to meet you two.” He put his hand out towards Ford next.

Ford, however, hesitated, as he drew hands back slightly. His brows furrowed, as he moved a half step backwards. The only sound in the room, came from the sole of his shoe sliding on the linoleum.

“Ha,” Do’s small smile stayed even at the obvious sign of suspicion. “Not a handshake guy, don’t worry. Pretty smart of you, they do transfer a lot of germs after all, you know.” He turned his hand over, holding it in a fist towards him now.

There was a silent beat, Do keeping his fist out, looking perfectly relaxed in the tense silence.

Ford curled up one of his hands then, and fist bumped the man. “It is one of the easiest ways to spread a disease, thank you... It’s nice to meet you too.”

Father Do smiled easily, but Stan swore there was still something odd in the air. “Ah, it’s no trouble. You have to take care of your vehicle, after all.”  He happily began to urge them out of the room and down the hallway then. “Here. This way. This library doesn’t give off the best first impression.”

Stan nearly asked if every room had a bloody knife, but managed to keep the comment from slipping out. “So, uh, where are we going exactly?” Having a cult leader right behind them, pushing them somewhere wasn’t really comforting.

They passed a corner and when Father Do stepped around to lead them, it was almost a relief. He half considered just grabbing Ford and booking it, but there was no telling how many rooms of cultists they’d have to pass by to get to the stairs now.

“Just down the hall a bit more.” He said, calmly waving a hand. He glanced over his shoulder at them then. “So, what would you two like to know?”

“Oh, well whatever you’re willing to tell us. We didn’t get to hear much before. Just thought we could see what you guys were all about here!” Stan answered with a big smile. “We don’t want to take up too much of your time though, Father Do. I’m guessing you’re really busy with your whole c- your whole club here.” Stan said, expertly avoiding calling it a cult right to the guy’s face.

“There’s always time for two souls like yourselves.” Father Do insisted warmly.

He half suspected the guy was just buttering them up long enough to get to some kind of ritual room by this point. The further they walked, the more uncomfortable he got, honestly. If the guy just wanted to take them to a more welcoming room, he could have found one by now.

“Besides,” Do continued, looking back ahead, “the least I can do is give you all enough to actually consider the possibility.”

“The possibility of what, exactly?” Ford asked.

Father Do put a hand up to his chin, thoughtfully, before he started. “It’s odd, don’t you think? How there’s so many ghost stories and myths, even today, when everyone says they’re not true. Of course, I’m not saying they’re all true,” he said, “but why would we have so many for so long if they didn’t come from something?

“Oh, yeah. Definitely. No, we definitely know there’s supernatural stuff out there.” Stan agreed, glancing back down the hallway as they passed around another corner, keeping track of where they were.

“That’s great!” Father Do said with a renewed happy note in his voice. “You two can listen to reason then. Mother Ti and I have found the seed of truth to those stories, to the odd things that nearly everyone just blatantly ignores.” There was a creep of something in the air alongside Do’s words.

“You all think it’s linked to a parallel world.” Ford said.

“So, you’ve heard about that. What did you think about it?”

He had no idea how a parallel world was suppose to tie into ghosts and everything. “Oh, uh, well it sure does explain a whole lot.” Stan answered, figuring it was probably hogwash.

“It’s more so a wormhole situation,” Ford said

Stan gave him a pointed look. Was he really gonna correct Cult Leader McGee here?

At the look, Ford tacked on more. “I mean, that’s just what it seems like, of course. It’s not something one would know .” He said, purposefully glancing back at Stan for the last sentence.

Stan still kept the judgemental look on his face. He also knew Father Do was wrong, but he wasn’t going around correcting the guy in the middle of Cult Central.

As Father Do turned his head, the pair looked back at him before he could spot the looks they were exchanging. “You’re a bit of a scientific man, aren’t you?” He said, a finger pointing towards Ford.

“‘A bit’ is an understatement, but yes.”

Father Do laughed. “Well, here, you’ll like this then.” He said, before finally stopping at a door to open it. “Everything here is based off of real findings, they’re not fanciful ideas pulled from nothing.”

The room had an odd mix of technology and... of all things there were cubes of dirt and other stuff placed around the room. They both peered into the room, taking in the equipment and sore lack of stuff someone would probably use for a human sacrifice. From what he could see, there wasn’t anything all that suspicious this time.

“You all actually run tests...?” Ford asked, not quite tearing his eyes away from everything in the room.

“Of course, we do.” Father’s Do hand settled against the door frame near Ford, and Stan’s attention was immediately drawn to it. He pulled his gaze back to the room again, to watch Do from the corner of his eye.

“It’s not easy to test on,” he continued, watching them. Scanning over their faces, Stan was sure. “However, there’s another world running alongside this one.”

Stan pretended to look inside the room still, even nodding a bit. Ford, on the other hand, was probably genuinely scanning the room.

“There’s more to it than just these worlds running along each other, you know.” Father Do said.

Here came the crackpot theory. Stan let himself finally look head on at the guy.

“What do you mean?” Ford asked, raising an eyebrow as he looked at him.

Father Do paused again. “Well... Tell me something.” Oh, like Hell they were...
His face scrunched up a bit, an empathetic look in his eye. “Have you two ever gotten this feeling... like you’re not quite suppose to be here? Like even in your own hometown... you’re some kind of stranger?”

Ford discreetly folded his hands behind his back, and Stan felt something spike up in him, going through his nerves.

He nearly wanted to just stop with the act entirely by this point, but he kept on for at least a few more seconds. “Uh, yeah. Yeah...” This guy...

Father Do nodded his head. “It feels like no matter where you go, you’re always different somehow, from nearly everyone you talk to.”

Do was a classic conman .

Stan would know. All the buddy-buddy smiles, and everything else. He was even throwing out those vague catch alls. Everyone felt like they didn’t belong, or that they were the odd one out in town. It was a classic move. Vague enough it could mean anything, but phrased so it felt like it was hitting on something specific.

Course, it was just luck in that it fit them a bit more than the usual person. Everywhere Stan had gone, he was literally the stranger in town. He hadn’t felt like he belonged anywhere in years, because he hadn’t belonged anywhere in years really. Even here, something was still keeping him from feeling like he got in. Of course, he was pretty sure that had to do with the super criminals dressing up around here. As for Ford...

He glanced briefly at his brother who was tightly holding his hands behind his back, out of sight of Do.

“There’s a reason for that.” Father Do continued gently. “You’re not the only ones. You’re not alone.” Stan clenched his jaw, as he watched the cult leader make his pitch.

“Mother Ti and I felt it too, and we thought - maybe there was a reason for it. The world running along parallel to ours? We’re not supposed to be in this world.” He explained. “Some of us accidentally slipped through from the Next Level.”

“Oh, so what, we’re aliens now?” Stan couldn’t help quipping, crossing his arms.

Do frowned slightly, like he was just a little disappointed at him. “Not quite in the usual way. You see, these parallel dimensions have split into one another.” The fingers of his hands intersected for show. “We just happened to come into existence at an intersection and landed here.”

“And how exactly do we get back to what? This Next Level or Higher Plane or whatever? Mass suicide from a bunch of purple rat poison? ” Welp, there went the act. He was tired of waiting for The Great Father Do to just get to whatever his crazy point was already.

Father Do only sighed at the aggression, and it just served to piss him off more because he knew what kind of game Father Do was playing now. It was a typical ‘you belong here with us’ plot for whatever. Probably to get a bunch of free labor all in exchange for feeling safe and welcome.

“No. We’re going to split the dimensions apart and ride the strings back to our world.” He said.

“Then why haven’t you already done it?” He questioned him immediately, an open edge to the question.

“Because we want to find as many of us as we can before we do it.” Father Do said easily, the no doubt frequently used excuse already prepared. “I couldn’t bear to leave someone behind in this world so alone and isolated.... That constant rejection, for just inherently existing.” He finished a tad quietly, with a look over to Ford.

That’s when Stan finally took his eyes off of Father Do.

Stanford glowered, his eyes fixed on some random spot of the wall while his hands slowly twisted behind his back.

Something ice cold split up through Stan’s spine. He needed to get Ford away from this guy. Now.

He cleared his throat, putting a hand on Ford’s shoulder, unintentionally already tugging him in a direction away from Father Do. “Well, that’s great. Really . You’re a super caring man, I can tell.” He said, his tone not matching what he was saying in the slightest. He was done even just pretending to buy the guy’s schtick now. “Our minds are just absolutely blown here. Gonna have to really go home and take it all in, you understand.”

“Well, it can certainly be too much for some people.” Do said with a kind smile to Stan. Where Stan had put all his aggression into his tone, Father Do here was obviously letting his words do the talking while he kept his voice as welcoming as ever.

“Think about it as much as you want,” he said warmly looking to Ford, managing to grab his attention now. “If you have any questions you can always come back and ask. If you feel like it’s not for you then-”

It’s not .” Stan interrupted him harshly. “No hard feelings, but go and try this on someone else, pal.” The guy could call out for his cult goons to chase them down for all Stan cared now.

He tugged on Ford’s shoulder, pulling him back a step away from Father Do, before turning around to leave, taking a couple steps. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”

“Good night.” Ford said in an even tone to Father Do. Then Stan sensed some aborted movement behind him, the sound of Ford’s shoes turning around on the ground stopped with the slightest rustle of clothes.

He turned around, not sure what it was, but way more than ready and willing to punch Do’s lights out of the situation could technically be solved that way.

Father Do, had grabbed Ford’s arm, to stop him, though the grip didn’t look iron tight by any means. More importantly though, he was whispering something to him.

Stan had only managed to get one step back towards them, when Father Do let go of Ford though.

Ford turned away from the man, a scowl etched into his face as he strode away from him.

Stan glared daggers at Do before turning to walk with Ford, only shooting a look over his shoulder back at Do who hadn’t moved from the spot yet, simply watching them.

“Talk about creepy...” Stan muttered dissentfully, not caring if he heard or not.

Ford though, didn’t comment, or even so much as look at him. If anything he just looked frustrated.

Stan figured he’d wait until they were out of the building to say something, but his patience ran out by the time they reached the stairwell. “That guy was off his damn rocker, you know that.” He blurted out.

“What?” Ford looked over to him.

“Father Do-Re-Mi-Actually-A-Friggin-Alien down there.” Stan said, gesturing back down the stairs as they reached back into a hallway again. “Talking about coming from a parallel world.”

“There are parallel worlds, Stanley.”

Something cold twisted his stomach. “Ford. He’s a literal cult leader. Do I need to remind you-”

“I’m just saying there are parallel worlds, Stanley.” He said, gesturing out with a hand. “It’s a simple fact.”

“Stanford, he’s just making up something that sounds good. Everything about that was ten kinds of crazy.”

“It’s not crazy.” Ford stopped in the hall to turn towards him.

“That guy plays people like a fiddle, Ford!” Stan told him urgently. “That’s how he gets people around here, he smiles and makes them think they belong with him in his ‘big and happy’ circle.”

“Would you let me talk?!” Ford asked irately.

“Would you stop and listen to what I’m saying?!” Stan nearly shouted back at him, the air around them winding up tighter and tighter. He ground his teeth together. “That’s what I’m talking about. You’re getting suckered right into-!”

“I’M NOT JOINING THE DAMN CULT, STANLEY!” Ford snapped at him suddenly, shaking his hands in front of him for emphasis.

Stan finally paused, as the words cut through the rising tension of the air.

Ford rushed to talk before Stan could, his voice back at a normal volume. “It’s a plausible theory that would have some merit if their scientific basis wasn’t rooted in disproven theorems!” Ford huffed out, catching his breath, and slowly continued walking again. “It’s not crazy.” He explained, calmer now. “ They’re just very wrong .”

He breathed for a bit, his gut finally starting to stop trying to curl in on itself as he walked alongside his twin. “That’s not a ‘ they’re wrong but if I came by to help them’ sort of thing, right?” He checked, keeping a skeptical eye on Ford.

He shook his head. “No. Well-” he paused. “Technically speaking, I could, but I don’t care to.” He discreetly checked their surroundings before quietly adding with a look back to Stan. “I’m not exactly wanting to spread info about interdimensional physics around as of late, if you remember.”

Stan nodded his head. “Yeah... okay, yeah, that’s fair.” He said, waving a hand. For all he’d known though, he could have been fine with it. Just not with making any sort of portal again. “That Father Do guy was just giving me the creeps, you know. Especially when he was trying to win you over with the whole ‘no rejection’ thing.”

Ford scoffed, folding his arms behind his back. “So, you thought I’d just-” He stopped mid sentence though, but Stan knew what he was getting at.

He shrugged. “Look, okay. You were getting all excited over those books, then with how he was talking too... Aliens, dimension, all that stuff. So, yeah, sue me, but I thought he might have been reeling you in with it. You were always big on conspiracy theories.”

He let out a short, bitter laugh. “No. Everything out of his mouth was...” Ford tensed up again, and ran a hand through his hair. “Very frustrating.”

Stan grunted, pushing out of the final door to outside. “Yeah, no kidding.”

It was probably a good thing Ford hadn’t voiced any of his frustrations. He pretty much knew the guy wasn’t going to try anything on them when he thought he could still get Ford, but if he thought otherwise they could have been facing a knife. Then again Stan was willing to bet he could have handled Father Do easy.

Ford sighed, as they got into Stan’s car. “Let’s just get out of here.”

“Don’t gotta ask me twice.” Stan said, turning El Diablo on.


 

He felt pretty good once they’d gotten out of that abandoned neighborhood and back to the apartment fine.

Ford pulled out a few books, setting them onto the counter.

“Nice catch.” Stan said, looking over the books. “Any of them actually worth anything?”

He shrugged, flipping one open. “They’re legitimate at the very least. That’s more than most of the books at the library.”

Stan nodded his head, opening the fridge for something to drink. “Hey, what’d he say to you anyways?”

“What?” Ford glanced over at him.

“Father Do.” He said. “...Right before we left.”

Ford hesitated. “Hardly matters.”

And Stan... he knew it was fine now. It really was, right? Ford had already said he wasn’t joining, after all. Stan couldn’t let it go though. “Okay, but what’d he say?”

“It doesn’t matter, Stanley.” He replied with just a slight edge to his words, and he belatedly bit down on his tongue.

“Okay, yeah .” Stan said. “Yeah, doesn’t sound like it mattered at all there.”

Ford pinched the bridge of his nose, looking down at the book again. “He was just saying more of the same sort of things.”

“Which explains why you’re not willing to tell me what it was.” Stan countered.

Ford gave him a look. “Maybe I’d rather just leave it and move on from that whole repugnant encounter. Why do you even care about it? I’m far from willingly stepping near Father Do again.”

“Maybe because I’m just a little tired of this whole fun trend where you don’t tell me what’s going on?” Stan replied, more honest than he had really meant. Ford just kept piling up secrets from him though.

Ford practically spun to look at him, instantly incensed like he’d just flicked a switch on something. “ Really, Stanley? You want to talk about what’s going on?” He asked him sharply.

He was surprised at the sudden reaction, but he didn’t back down. “You know what? Yes . Yeah, I do, Sixer!” He pointed at him. “I get you like keeping the door shut, but this kind of stuff backfires.”

“Since when?” Ford asked derisively.

“Uh, since you had a demon that could possess you and you didn’t even friggin tell me.” Stan answer readily. “How about that one, Stanford.”

Ford pinched his lips into a thin line. “Nothing even happened .”

“Yeah, cause you were lucky!” He didn’t even know how close it’d gotten down in that basement. Stan had let that go too close... but it wasn’t his fault! He wouldn’t have let Bill out of even the bedroom, if he’d know it was a demon bent on worldwide destruction and not Ford just going a bit loopy.

“You try to look me in the eyes and tell me there wasn’t a hundred ways that could have gone wrong.” Stan said.

“Well, what about you?! ” Ford demanded, gesturing out at him.

“What about me?”

“How about the fact that you’re in a gang and you didn’t think to tell me, Stan!”

Stan stopped, his feet stuck to the ground.

Ford huffed out a breath letting his hand fall back to the countertop, continuing in a leveled voice. “What about that one, Stanley? Why don’t we talk about that one?

“I was gonna tell you about it when you stopped being in such a bad mood.” Stan defended himself. “It’s more complicated than just ‘a gang’ either, okay.”

“Of course, you were. Were you gonna tell me about it before or after some cops tried to pin me for robbing a bank?” Ford asked him.

Stan gritted his teeth. “Well, obviously, that didn’t happen. Besides, I would spring you out if that would have happened, anyways.”

Ford scoffed, purposefully turning back to the book.

He let out a frustrated breath, tapping his fingers against his arms. He hadn’t expected Ford to pull out a high ground like that out of nowhere. Actually - what was he thinking? Of course, Ford had. He should have been expecting something like that. If it wasn’t the crime thing, he would have just come up with something else.

Stan looked away from Ford, pouring himself a glass of juice. “What was it anyways?”

“...Are you honestly asking what Do said again.” Ford replied, flipping a page over.

“No. I meant- the crime thing.” God, he was regretting even asking.

“Why don’t you ask one of your boss’ great friends?” He said evenly.

... Oh, no. “You’re kidding.” He looked over to him.

Ford only briefly glanced at him, before turning his eyes back onto the page. He wasn’t. It’s not like he would have joked about anything right now, anyway.

Stan ran over all of the people Oswald talked with, which was frankly - a ton of options. However, one immediately stuck out to him. Jonathan had acted odd before, then... Then hadn’t Ford even asked about a scarecrow?

He ran a hand over his face. “You met Jonathan.”

Ford didn’t answer, but he really didn’t need him to.

Damnit. He would have warned Ford ahead of time if he thought the other was going to run into someone this quick! Seriously, what kind of luck even was this?

He opened his mouth to ask what had happened. “What,” but even with just one syllable out Ford was already hunching over the countertop so he stopped himself. “Mmm.” He rubbed a hand over his face again, and just walked out of the small kitchen.

If he tried asking Ford anything now, it was just going to turn into a fight, and as it stood right now he didn’t have a leg to stand on. He had plenty of points he could make, sure, but there was way too much that could have happened with Jonathan that Ford could easily hold above everything.

In all honesty too, he wasn’t quite ready for the specifics.

Chapter Text

He honestly wasn’t surprised that Ford was already gone by the time he’d woken up. Since he’d gotten over being sick, he’d moved his nerd stuff over to the university pretty quickly. Chances were he was there taking notes from the cultists’ books he’d nabbed last night. Or teaching class. Did he have morning classes? When were any of the classes Ford taught?

Actually, forget the time they were at… what was he even teaching? And were any of them inside the Chemistry building? If he was that close to one of Scarecrow’s usual spots…

Stan shook his head. There was no point trying to figure out how Ford and Jonathan ran into each other right now. Point was – it happened, and it couldn’t have been all that great. Especially if it was while the guy had the mask on.

Ugh, he still didn’t even want to think about it. On the bright side, Scarecrow shouldn’t have tried to kill Ford or nothing. Short of that though, Scarecrow didn’t have a whole lot of reservations about what he’d do. Jonathan was one of Oswald’s better sets of friends, but seriously – guy could go way over the top when he went all Scarecrow.

Hell, Oswald himself had even made a half-joking comment to Stan early on about not taking things from Jonathan, fear toxin or whatever not being all that rare coming from the guy. Later on, not joking at all, Oswald had told Stan to call him if he’d ever seriously thought he might have gotten hit with some of the toxin.

… What if Scarecrow had hit Ford with a dose?

Stan immediately dispelled the thought. No way. No. He would have noticed. Hell, Ford probably would have barricaded himself into the apartment with his crossbow on hand.

Whatever happened, it wasn’t bad enough for Ford to have gotten hit with the usual fear toxin, but it was also long enough for them to talk apparently. At that too, talk long enough for Oswald to come up.

He sighed, and scrubbed at his face, moving back to his room to grab some clothes. He needed to tell Oswald about this. Hopefully, Jonathan hadn’t already tried asking him about it.

Stan wasted a few minutes walking around the living room before actually leaving for the lounge.

Oswald greeted him cordially, as always. It was a calm night, nothing much to do, which just meant sticking by Oswald. Stan nervously waited for a lull between people coming by to talk with Oswald before saying anything.

It’s not like he’d lied to Oswald about anything though. Well, okay, he had. If you wanted to get technical about it. It wasn’t about anything that important though. It’s not like he’d ever outright said Ford hadn’t come back with him. Or that his brother wasn’t an identical twin.

It just so happened that Stan hadn’t told his boss about either of those! Heck, if Oswald had ever asked Stan those oddly specific questions then you can bet your bottom dollar he would have told the truth.

After a few minutes without anybody there, Stan finally spoke up. “So, uh, Mr. Cobblepot. I found something out and I figured you oughta know.”

“Ah, so that’s why you’ve appeared so nervous since you came in. I was wondering.”

“Heh,” Stan put on a half-hearted smile, “yeah, you know me.” He uncrossed his arms, not quite looking over at him. “So, you remember how I had to check on my brother ‘cause he was sick? Well, I actually had to bring him back here to help him recover.” He paused for a quick second. “But, y’see, he’s my twin and we’re identical and I’m pretty sure good ol’ Jonathan met up with him.” Stan finished, giving Oswald a smile to try and keep it casual.

All things considered, pretty useless since he now realized Mr. Cobblepot was intently watching him. “You’re saying you just found that out?” Oswald asked in a cool voice, the cut and dry tone making Stan’s smile freeze in place for a moment.

“Honest, Mr. Cobblepot.” He insisted, staying calm as he gestured out with a hand. “My brother didn’t even outright tell me. He just said something last night and I pieced it together.”

“You didn’t think it might be imperative to tell me you had an identical twin who is now inside Gotham city?” Mr. Cobblepot asked simply.

It felt like there was a chunk of dry ice in his throat. He’d never even thought about it. Ford had practically been a hermit back in Oregon, and Stan had kind of expected him to just hole himself up while he was here too. At least Stan had thought he’d have more time before anything like this could have happened.

Mr. Cobblepot scowled. “This would certainly explain Jonathan’s suspicious attitude from when he visited.”

He remembered Jonathan’s odd intention to talk with him last time. The comment about his haircut, really weird back at the time, was thrown in a whole different light now. With his hair cut short again Stan looked just that bit more like Ford. Of all the damn times for a haircut to matter… “Did he say something?” Stan asked.

“No, but he acted as though something was amiss.” Penguin lightly tapped his cane against the ground and continued, keeping his eyes focused on Stan. “He believed I was up to something, and I have more than a fair guess as to why now. So Stanley, what happened exactly?”

“I… don’t know.” He admitted.

You don’t know?

“I just know they met, and they must have talked. Enough at least that my brother knows that I’ve robbed a couple banks.” This info was practically nothing, and Stan was painfully realizing that now. He wished he’d gotten even just the tiniest sliver of something more from Ford about what had happened before telling Oswald about Ford. “I should have told ya earlier, and I was going to soon. I just…” He glanced away for a split second, and immediately forced his gaze back on Penguin again, fully realizing how guilty that must have looked. “Honest, I didn’t think he’d meet anyone . The only place he even goes out to is the university. Sometimes the grocery store, but that’s it.”

Penguin held the intent look at him for a long moment, before sighing and turning his gaze off of him. Just like that the tension left the room, and Stan finally had room to breath again.

“This could have turned out very badly , Stanley.” Oswald said, calmly though sounding a bit tired. “It may still even now, depending on how much Doctor Crane has prepared for whatever he believes is going on. You realize that, don’t you?” He asked, looking back at Stan.

“Yeah. Yeah, I do, Mr. Cobblepot.” Stan nodded. “Trust me, if I could I would have gone back and told you about it, day one.”

“Why didn’t you?”

He shrugged. “I wasn’t sure he was going to actually stick around, at first.” He admitted. It wasn’t just that though, was it? Right off the bat, he’d lied and told Oswald that Ford had gotten pneumonia. It was definitely part of the reason though, so he kept going. “Then he was, and I guess I was just hoping for things to settle before telling you.”

“If there’s one thing about this city, it’s that it never allows things to rest.” Oswald said with a short, uneven smile. “Tell me everything now, though, before anything else can happen.”

“Well, he got a job as a professor at the university. Strong guess is saying that’s how him and our dear Professor of Fear met.” Stan told him. “Still trying to figure the specifics out outside of that.” Not everything was matching up. Ford’s mood hadn’t changed until about a week ago, but he knew Ford had asked about Scarecrow before that, and that was too much of a coincidence to be nothing.

He hummed, flippers tapping on the cane. “What’s your brother’s name again?”

“Huh? Oh right, it’s Ford. Stanford.” He answered. “Jonathan should have been able to tell he wasn’t me once they talked though. He’s completely different.”

“How so?”

Stan snorted. “Where do I even start?” They were practically polar opposites. “He’s a real nerd, to be honest with you, Mr. Cobblepot. Not a people person either, I’ll tell you that. I’m surprised he even got a teaching job, before I found out why he did it.”

“Was it the pay?” Oswald guessed, rather easily.

“You’d think so, wouldn’t you, but no.” Stan waved a hand, shaking his head. “Nah, not Ford, though he probably thought it was a good bonus. But no, ha.” He settled his hand back down again. “He wanted to get his hands on some books from the library, but they were for Professors only. So, what’s he do? Apply for a job right then and there like that’s the easiest way to do it.” His face broke out into a smile. “Half-sick for the interview too. Good thing they didn’t give him a staff ID after the interview. Knowing him, he would have gone straight over to get into the restricted books and nearly passed out instead of waiting just the few days until he felt better, heh...”

“He sounds like quite the dedicated reader then.” Oswald said, with a bit of a smile.

“Always was,” Stan agreed.

Oswald returned to the subject, then. “If something else happens though, I need you to tell me right away, Stanley.” He continued, emphasizing on the point. “As soon as you’re able to. Even if you’re not entirely sure whether or not it may be important. Needless to say, something like this would have been much better to know back when I last talked with Jonathan.”

“I will, I will, I promise.” Stan assured him. “There’s really not much else to… tell though.” He faltered in his words, remembering the cult.

Oswald immediately noticed, watching him silently and giving him an opportunity to talk.

“It’s a long story, but we did check out that one supposed-cult on 7th street.” Stan told him.

Oswald paused, taking that simple piece of information in. “Why, if you don't mind me asking?”

“My brother’s really into ghosts and stuff like that.” Not necessarily a lie. “He thought there might be something there.” A separate statement that also wasn’t a lie, but definitely misleading from the specifics. “There’s more to it, but he’s a real private sort of guy. Long story short, though, there’s definitely a cult down there. We got out of there really fast, but we met some Father Do guy. Honestly? It’s pretty typical cult stuff, don’t think they got a lot of members though. Not like they’re doing anything either.”

Oswald asked him a few more questions about the cult - what was down there (creepy stuff), what Do was like (slimy), and more. Thankfully, he didn’t press on the specifics of Do’s pitch. Stan really wasn’t in the mood to talk about that.


 

Admittedly, Ford couldn’t help being agitated as he taught. He’d been tempted to read one of the books as he taught class, but he hadn’t wanted to risk one of his students catching sight of the odd book.

Besides today was the Chemistry lab for the week, and that required him to be more hands-on than usual.

“Yes, Miss Jackson - that’s very good, keep the centrifuge going just that speed.”
“Stop- Stop, yes. Yes, you.” Ford went over to someone at a bunsen burner and twisted the crucible loose enough to lower it until it was just touching the flame. “Don’t forget, the crucible needs to be right here to properly heat.”
He turned and rested against the counter, scanning over the students. Ford sighed upon seeing one of them half slumped against the table and nearly asleep. “Mister Grayson, please.” Ford tapped nearby on the table to wake him up. “I understand if you’re tired, but it’s a safety hazard for you to sleep in this area - thank you.”

He felt like he was buzzing around the room. Supervision wasn’t quite to his tastes, but today it was perhaps better than a lecture would have been. It had taken him a substantial amount of control to not breeze past the explanation of the experiment today and go at a pace that he knew was still a tad fast for the students. He probably would have prevented a lot more mistakes and questions from the students if he’d gone slower, but he had barely been able to stand going as slow as he had.

As he dismissed the class, he didn’t even bother to wait for anybody that may have had questions. If nothing else, they could come to his office hours if it was that pressing. It would be fine.

He went to his office, locking the door after himself, and immediately went back to his seat with the books and notebooks still opened on the desk.

Plenty could be said about Father Do, little of it kind, but at the very least the books in the library had some substantial material to them. There was plenty for him to test through.

Hopefully something would work. There were certainly quite a number of wards. Most of them had requirements regarding flesh and blood though so perhaps it would be best to test those particular ones later. He continued reading through the book, marking down notes on a nearby notepad for possible solutions. He skimmed past most of the material that couldn’t help against Bill. One or two things made him stop though.

The first was their planar theory. Two realms side by side with each other, dipping through each other at certain points. It was definitely interesting, but it presented a whole host of issues. If something like that were to happen then it’d create areas with high risk for dimensional tears with enough of the right activity. He’d considered a similar idea at one point, back when he was in Gravity Falls. That was before he’d confirmed they were just simple wormholes though!

Then - he just had to read the passage about the doppelgangers in full this time. It was admittedly a fascinating idea, even if it was practically pulled out of thin air. He had to admit how unique the concept was though. Individuals across realms being the force to help tie them together, as opposed to gravitational fields or anything similar. It was as unique a theory as it was fanciful.

Eventually, Ford did decide to leave. He didn’t quite want to go back to the apartment, but so much of the information in the books was unreliable that he’d have to check through some of the equations as he went. Plus, he already had plenty of wards and similar anti-possession methods he could try out. He could work on figuring out how to get all the supplies now, and double back on the rest later.

He’d start testing out the simpler stuff first. Definitely. He didn’t need to think about the animal blood until later.

When he got back to the apartment, he saw the light from the kitchen and paused before turning around the wall and seeing Stan leaning against the countertop.

“Hey.” Stan said, looking very much as though he was about to talk quite a lot. Quite a lot, and, additionally, if there had been a chair nearby that he would have pulled it around and sat on it in the opposite direction that it had been designed for.

Ford glanced back at the door, which was undoubtedly the easiest way to avoid this particular conversation.

“Hear me out, for just a second,” Stan said, getting Ford to look back at him. His brother had a hand reached out halfway towards him, before he pulled it back. He put his hands together up near his face before lowering them back down again. “Alright,” Stan said. “Okay, so yeah.” He gave a shrug. “I didn’t tell ya about my job.” He said point-blank, not giving Ford the chance to make an excuse and walk away. “I figured you’d freak out about it, which you did.”

“That may have been due to how I found out about it, Stanley.” Ford replied, not letting that comment just slide by. If Stanley wanted to talk about it, he wasn’t going to just let him talk about last night like it was some overreaction on Ford’s part.

Stan grimaced. “I was really underestimating bad luck around here.” He said, hands going back to the countertop. “You wouldn’t believe this place sometimes.” He tapped his fingers against the counter. “Should have told ya a bit more ‘bout Scarecrow at least, with the University and all.”

Ford paused, waiting for the other figurative shoe to drop. Waiting for the inevitable excuse as Stan crossed his arms, uncaring, to say something about Ford’s own (necessary) secrecy as though it validated keeping Ford in the dark about everything.

“So, alright.” Stan began.

Ford scowled,fully prepared.

“Ask me whatever you want to know.” Stan told him.

Ford paused, at that. “...What?”

Stan waved a hand. “Look, I wasn’t looking forward to bringing up my job being a little illegal here and there. You already know that though, so everything else is water under the bridge or whatever.”

Ford frowned, although he couldn’t help pausing out of disbelief. Was Stan just preparing to get all the lying out of the way? What’d be the point, though? Still, he asked. “Who do you work for?”

Stan made a face. “Don’t’cha already know that one?”

“I want to hear it from you.” He had heard it from nearly everything and everyone besides Stan, or at least that’s how it felt - between Bill, Jonathan, and all the newspapers. Even a couple of people at the university. He just wanted to finally hear it from Stan this time. He tensely waited, half-expecting a lie even though he knew it would be an utterly ridiculous one by this point.

Stan rubbed the back of his head. “Okay, I work for a guy called Oswald Cobblepot, at the Iceberg Lounge.” Stan said. “It’s kind of half-legitimate club business and half-crime.”

“Half crime - that’s candid.”

“You know, technically speaking - I never lied about it or nothing.” Stan pointed out.

Ford openly scowled at him.

Stan shrugged, looking off. “I mean, you friggin’ met Jonathan, I’m not saying it turned out to be a good thing.” He paused, bringing up a short smile. “Although... if you think about it, could have been a lot worse. Yeah? So, not the most awful situation here.”

“That still means it wasn’t a good thing.” Ford firmly pointed out, even though Stan had already said so himself.

Stan sighed and crossed his arms. “It’s called not being a sour-puss, Ford.” He shook his head. “Look, okay. I was gonna tell ya,” he shrugged, arms going out, “I wasn’t looking forward to tellin' ya that I’ve been robbing banks, but between half the crazy people here that recognize my face and the felonies I’ve committed in this town alone - that’s kinda something that’ll blow up eventually. Especially in a town like this. I’d have to be a special brand of stupid to risk never telling you.” He crossed his arms back over again.

“It already blew up, I’d say.”

“Well, yeah! But this could blow up about five more times! Between Oswald’s friends, his partners, my guys,” he started listing on his fingers, thinking, “a few gangs we stole from, the bank crime ring, that one suit shop I first tried to work at... that one gang I accidentally joined then left...” he looked down at his fingers before muttering. “Cops are a given. Feel like I’m forgetting someone, though.” Another moment then he looked back up to Ford. “Point is - there was no way this was gonna be a ‘never tell ya’ thing.”

Ford tried to take in all the information. “What happened at the suit shop..?”

“One thing led to another, and they were gonna fire me for no good reason so I went and stole a three piece on my way out.”

It was awful, but Ford found himself breaking into a smile.

Stan half smiled himself. “Picked out a fancy brand one too. One of the ones with real class, you should see it.”

“Don’t tell me you wear it to rob banks.” Ford said, the imagery already in his head like a scene out of some movie.

“No. No, no way. Listen, I save that baby for the nice stuff, like Galas and fancy parties.” He waved a hand then. “For the record though, I don’t just rob banks all day long or anything.”

“What do gangs do all day then?” Ford asked him.

Stan took in a big breath before saying. “It’s really not a ‘gang.’ Not that much of one, at least.” He said before explaining. “Look, Sixer. Most of my job? It’s actual nightclub business. That’s what I do. Yeah, we plan stuff here and there, but if we robbed a bank every day I’d be in jail more often than not.”

That was... actually better than he’d been thinking. It did make sense too. “What about threatening rival nightclubs...?”

He let out a laugh. “Yeah, no. Can’t really say we do that. Not unless someone’s already out to threaten us or something like that. Believe it or not, Cobblepot’s a sort of classy guy.”

“Classy for someone organizing bank robberies, I presume.”

Stan waved a hand. “No, I mean it. He likes pulling some illegal stuff on the side, but nothing too bad. Mostly it’s getting back at the same rich jerks. He’s a real gentleman though. More trustworthy than half of Gotham, easy.”

Ford paused for half a second, the description oddly settling down at the bottom of his stomach . “Why would you say that?”

Stan made a face. “‘Cause he is." He answered as simply as though it was an infallible truth. "This town is full of shady people so not like I have to take a poll with questions like ‘would you steal an orphan’s bicycle’ and see where Oswald lands on the scale.”

“He talks with criminals and is infamous for shady deals, isn’t he?” Even Ford realized pointing that out was... being a bit oddly suspicious of a man he had never met, but he couldn’t help it. The man just struck him as exceptionally untrustworthy. Besides, there had to be some truth to the newspapers he’d read about the man.

“Hey, he’s better than the politicians in town.” Stan said, pointing at him. “I know he looks shady, and he talks with a lot of shady characters, but he’s the best one out of all those types.”

It’s a bad idea to trust him like that. Ford barely bit back from saying that out  loud. A part of him felt insistent on making sure Stan at least heard it, but he knew he had absolutely no basis to put anything behind the words. Even if he had met the man, he really doubted Stan would listen to him either. He cleared his throat. “Who’s the worst then?”

“Still Joker.” Stan answered, with a shrug. “You really can’t hardly expect what he’ll do either. That's the big thing about him. Could turn out completely fine or he could kill you where you stand. Most everyone has something you just avoid though.”

Ford focused back onto the conversation. Stan seemed to be truly offering honesty to his questions, and considering what had happened with Jonathan, he wanted to know enough to keep himself safe and off anyone else’s radar. “So.. who knows you again?”

“Cops around the banking district, a couple gangs, again - that suit shop. If anyone calls you Sterlin, just get out of there, honestly.” He waved a hand. “And nearly everyone Oswald talks to.” Stan told him. “I help him out with a lot of the stuff, so a lot of them know my face. Which can really help out here and there, you know.” He said lightheartedly pointing to Ford. “They’re not looking for a fight with Oswald so they’re not gonna go looking to hurt you if they think it’s me. Like Jonathan - he’s on good terms with him.”

“They put a gun to my back.” Ford said, without even thinking about it. Just a simple fact in response.

Stan stopped at that and there was a long beat of silence that Ford had to be the one to break.

“I wasn’t shot.” He added.

“Did he hurt you?” Stan asked.

Ford actually had to think about that for a second. He had been so worried the whole time that something was going to happen... but in retrospect it never did. “No,” he said slowly. “The kidnapping wasn’t appreciated though.”

Stan rubbed a hand over his face. “Of course he-...Jesus.” He pulled his hands down to look at Ford. “What happened?”

 


 

Ford blinked as though Stan had just asked him an odd question, and Stan went thin-lipped. He hadn’t really meant to ask right now, while Ford was probably still mad at him. He really hadn’t been expecting Jonathan to have put Ford at gunpoint though.

“It’s... a little bit of a long story.” Ford said.

Stan didn’t say anything, waiting, and in the meantime thinking through if he could get away with punching Jonathan in his face. He could definitely do it, guy was a string bean and definitely wouldn’t see it coming. Hell, Stan was half-thinking of just doing it anyways.

Ford started. “The first night I was here-”

“Christ, really?

Ford paused, looking at Stan.

Stan quickly waved a hand, “Keep going - go on, first night here.”

“The first night I was here, I decided to take my application to the University and slip it in the mailbox.”

Stan nearly asked what time, but it had to have been when he was already asleep, which meant ... a time Ford really shouldn’t have just been walking out in Gotham alone without knowing a single thing about it.

“While I was there, I saw three men breaking into a building on campus, one of whom was dressed as a scarecrow. Jonathan, of course.” Ford told him. “Naturally, I followed to see what was going on.”

Stan half choked on air. “Uh, what?

“What?” Ford gave him a confused look. “I didn’t know he was a criminal at the time.”

“You don’t - you don’t just follow someone in the middle of night.” Stan replied in a tight voice. He was really starting to get a new understanding of how Ford could have gotten in so much trouble before. A few memories from their childhood came to mind, and Stan nearly couldn’t believe he’d forgotten... Ford was always the one to turn right into an abandoned cave or follow after something just because it was mysterious. Sure, Stan was right there with him, but it was because he wasn’t scared of whatever trouble they’d get into. Ford, on the other hand, never seemed to realize any danger was there until it was already on them.

 

“I wasn’t going to confront them.” Ford waved a hand, as though that made it perfectly reasonable. He continued, starting to describe the rest of the night. Scarecrow had been gathering stuff for his fear toxin, and then some poor campus security guard had come by. Ford said when Scarecrow turned towards him, he hadn’t been sure if he’d even been spotted, but now he knew better, and that by that point he’d ran off and back to the apartment.

“... So, he spotted you and thought it was me.” Stan said. It made sense with the way Jonathan had been acting that one week. Whatever he was thinking exactly, who knew, but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who wouldn’t think being trailed like that wasn’t suspicious.

“Undoubtedly. He even confirmed as much the next time.” Ford replied neutrally.

“What happened the next time?” Stan asked, even if there was a part of him that still didn’t want to know. Whatever stupid reason Jonathan had had for pulling a gun on Ford, he wasn’t going to like it.

Ford told him, barely hesitating. He described being caught and walked to a car at gunpoint - calmly telling the story in contrast to Stan who tensely stayed still as he listened.

Ford’s voice took on a sour note near the end though. “It eventually led to Jonathan saying he’d mistaken me for you in a bad disguise. He mentioned Oswald’s name, and when I asked who, he realized I had no idea what was going on.” He finished the story in a clipped tone. “I told him I wasn’t involved, then left. The next day I looked into who Oswald was precisely and found plenty on the matter.”

So, Ford had read a whole lot of newspapers talking trash about Oswald. That at least explained what had been up with Ford earlier when he’d talked about him. “Yeah, Oswald said the professor had seemed pretty suspicious about him when they’d talked.” He withheld a sigh. “Normal person could have just confronted ‘me’ while under cover, but hey - can’t expect that here.”

“Well, he doesn’t really strike a normal impression.” Ford crossed his arms in front of himself. “What does Mr. Cobblepot know about me?” He asked, a bit suddenly.

Stan took the suspicion-laced question in stride. “Barely anything. Up until today, he didn’t even know you were in Gotham.” He explained. “When I took off work, I told him you had pneumonia and that I was just taking care of you while you recovered.” He then remembered. “Oh yeah, heads up, I also said you lived in Nebraska.”

He looked at him in genuine surprise and confusion. “Nebraska?”

“Yeah, that one was kind of on the fly. If I told him Oregon, he’d know I was only there for a day or two. Kind of suspicious to go all the way across the country to take care of someone with pneumonia, then only spend a hot minute actually there.” It also didn’t hurt to have a place nobody in Gotham knew about.

Ford thought over that before asking. “... Why Nebraska though?”

Stan shrugged. “Who’d take a trip to Nebraska?”

“Fair point.” Ford conceded.

“Exactly.” Stan said. “All he really knows is that you’re a professor at the university. That’s kinda public knowledge though.”

Ford slowly nodded his head. “That’s...not bad. That’s fine.”

Ford wasn’t actually seeming to focus on the crime stuff, so Stan was feeling pretty relieved by this point. Yeah, Ford was probably upset about it still, but at least not to the point of being as mad as he’d been last night.

Stan figured the crime stuff would have his brother with his nose up high looking down at him for days. Well - it was still too early to call that one out just yet.

Stan waited for another question or something, but Ford seemed like he was already off in his own thoughts. Stan let him be for a few seconds before pushing away from the counter. He needed to call Oswald. “I gotta make a phone call, but if you wanna know what banks to avoid or whatever else, just ask. Banks are all a wash though, if you ask me.”

His brother glanced up to him as he talked, and he hesitated before asking something. Or rather, tentatively said something. His tone was some confused mix between asking him versus telling him. “You’re not telling Mr. Cobblepot about the portal?”

“What?” One side of Stan’s face scrunched up for a second. “Sixer, no. You kidding me? No.” He waved a hand. “Even if Oswald was into that kind of science stuff or wanted to know, I wouldn’t go telling him about it. Last thing this town needs is another doomsday device.”

“Technically speaking, it wasn’t designed to...” Ford wound up closing his mouth though, letting the sentence go, waving a hand. “Regardless, even so.” Then, unable to breeze past the wording. “ ‘Another?’

“Yeah, it’s been tried a couple times here.” Stan said with a shrug, internally cringing. Bringing up doomsday devices right now probably wasn’t a good idea.

“What happened?” Ford asked curiously.

“I’m not sure, but we’re still here so I’m gonna go with either they didn’t work or the Bat stopped them.”

Ford stopped. “... That’s a little concerning.”

“Yeah, you’re telling me.” Stan agreed, going to step out. “If we’re lucky there won’t be another one.”

Chapter Text

Ford’s chin thunked against something hard. He startled awake, glass-shattering laughter fresh in his mind. Scrambling up, his foot slipped on some loose papers and he fell backwards against the chair. It tipped backwards and stopped mid-descent before getting set back down on all fours, safe again.

“Nice one, Poindexter.”

Ford readjusted his glasses and glanced over his shoulder, scowling.

Stan stood there with a cheesy smile and waved at him. “Morning, sunshine.”

“You did that on purpose,” Ford immediately accused, pointing at him.

Stan shrugged. “I got no idea what you’re talking about, Stanford,” he said with a self-satisfied smile, gesturing out. “Your elbow just slipped out from underneath ya out of nowhere.”

“And you just so happened to be standing nearby.”

At the very least it looked like Stan had actually avoided stepping on any of the papers that had since fallen to the floor. Ford leaned over, to grab the scattered papers and place them back on the makeshift table in front of him.

“Happy little accidents.” Stan paused then, rubbing a hand under his chin in mock thoughtfulness. “Or, you know, ‘something something the dangers of falling asleep at a desk.’”

Ford rolled his eyes, going back to organize his notes. “So I wasn’t expecting to fall asleep.”

“Come on, the couch isn’t even ten feet away.”

Ford didn’t bother looking over. “Well, if it had been within my ability, I wouldn’t have slept at all. This isn’t some inconsequential project that I can put off. I’m going to keep a steady pace on thus until I’ve figured something out.”

“Ford,” Stan said, serious now, “it’s been a month.”

The words hit. Ford said nothing, dutifully trying to ignore the fact as he picked a sheet of paper to look over.

“You can’t keep doing this, Sixer.”

He tried for a moment to read, but his mind refused to comprehend the concept strung together by the words. He paused in his attempt of working to respond. “Actually, I very well can, and already have in the past.” Ford told him, matter-of-fact. “Under much worse conditions for considerably longer.” How long, he wasn’t sure, but he knew it had been much longer than the few weeks he’d spent here in Gotham.

Stan sighed heavily and reached over, closing the book over top of the notes in front of Ford. “Yeah, that doesn’t make this great in comparison.”

Ford looked back over at him. “It’s hardly bad.”

“You know you literally sleep more at the desk than you do the friggin couch, right?”

“Okay. Fine. I’ll make sure to stop falling asleep in the chair then, I prom-”

“No, I mean all of it.” Stan interrupted him. “You’re not racing against a countdown and yeah, it sucks, but at this rate you’re gonna wind up dying in your forties with gray hair.”

“I’m not going to be working on it that long.” Yet, Ford suddenly didn’t feel truly confident about that, and stopped himself from thinking about what another decade like this would be like. He wasn’t going to acknowledge that possibility, he wouldn’t. “The sooner I figure out a solution the sooner I can relax.” Excluding the chance of Bill’s anger aftwards. Maybe-

“Yeah, and maybe the sooner you wind up getting hit by a bus because you walked into traffic after going a third damn day in a row without sleep.” Stan said, throwing a hand up.

Ford closed his eyes, and pushed his glasses up to rub at the marks on his nose. Stan had a point, and Ford didn’t like it, because he was right.

“Has anybody died in the past month?” Stan asked.

“Several people-”

“Uh, no, try again.”

Ford let his glasses back down. “...Not that we know of.”

“So, no. Pretty sure he’s the kind of guy that would let you know just to mess with you.”

That actually calmed Ford down a bit. Bill definitely could have, but... Stan was right. Bill probably would have delighted in letting Ford know what had happened, purely out of knowing the turmoil it would cause him.

“Any big bad doomsday devices here?”

“According to something you said, previously - possibly.” Ford replied lightly.

Stan waved out a hand, prompting him. “So..?”

He paused, conflicted. “There’s still any number of other things Bill could do or has already done.” He said, though no longer arguing as much as he was just voicing the concern now.

“Well, whatever it is, it’s nothing too bad you can’t bounce back from. I mean, look at me,” Stan said, gesturing at himself proudly. “I got warrants out for my arrest and I’m doing great!”

“...You have warrants out for your arrest?”

Stan stopped. “... No?”

Stanley!

Stan put his hands up, unconcerned. “Hey, nothing’s out for ‘ Stan Pines! ’ Without a doubt, hundred percent, mostly.”

‘Mostly ?’”

“Can’t exactly go asking at police stations to double check or nothing, you know.” He explained nonchalantly.

Ford laughed weakly, and Stan patted his shoulder.

“...You gonna dial it back?” He asked, eventually.

Ford didn’t want to. “I should.” He really didn’t want to. It wasn’t just the possible dangers, or the nightmares, though of course those were a factor too. It was knowing Bill still had access to everything and... There was just a lot to it that made his skin crawl, to put it simply. He wasn’t going to think about it. As long as he had material he could try to work off of it for a solution. This was only a temporary situation, but continually having to remind himself of that as more time went on was... it also felt temporary, to a certain point, and he didn’t know when that reminder would eventually start ringing more false than true.

“I could be close.” Ford said, but he already knew that wasn’t true.

“Look,” Stan said, “I’m not saying stop. Sooner you can put that jerk in the rear-view mirror the better. You being tired all the time isn’t helping you out, though. Plus, you know,” he waved a hand, glancing away, “if something winds up happening you’re not exactly gonna be able to get that far running off of two hours of sleep for the whole week.”

Ford sighed, running a hand through his hair. “You’re right,” he conceded, though he wished it wasn’t the case. He wished he was only a week or two off from being done with this, but... he really wasn’t, and this wasn’t going to help him.

Stan shifted slightly, hands going into one of his pockets. “Sorry, what’d you say?”

“I said you’re right, Stanley. In actuality, this is at a point of impeding my current progress, and frankly my physical condition... at the moment is...” Ford slowly trailed off, getting distracted by the oddly mischievous grin on his brother’s face. “Why are you smiling?”

Still beaming, Stan shrugged. “Ah, maybe it’s just nice to know I’m not going to find you asleep at a desk every day.” He wasn’t even trying to make it sound like that was the real reason behind his smile.

Ford watched him suspiciously for a moment more before Stan gestured for him to go on.

Ford continued, albeit distracted and wary. “I’m not in the best physical condition, and even if I was in a less populated area it would still be an unnecessary risk.” Really... he didn’t know why hadn’t he thought of this back when he was in Gravity Falls. At least, in the brief period of time when he thought he had enough safety measures up around the portal. Yes, he had been wrong about that, but he should have been taking advantage of the sleep available at the time. “I’ll allow myself to properly sleep.”

“You better or I’m dropping a bucket of water on ya next time I see you sleeping here.” He said picking at a paper.

“Do not , you’ll destroy all my notes.” Ford warned.

Stan shrugged. “Ah, don’t worry. I’ll just make sure to get it all on you.” He let go of the paper. “Any of this cult stuff looking like anything?”

“Well... It’s a lot of good material. I ruled out a couple of methods already, ran them through to no success.” There wasn’t very much applicable material left for him, though it would require a lot of testing. “I still have more to try out, though. I’ll experiment on this last set of sigils next. I’m just working my way through the safer and more straightforward ideas first.”

“Oh, that’s real comforting.” Stan told him sarcastically. “Don’t get yourself killed trying some voodoo or whatever it is.”

“Sigils.”

Anything you’re trying.” He said.

“I’ll be fine.” Ford assured him. “In regards to earlier about sleeping though... are you a light sleeper?”

“Ford, we can move the couch into the bedroom if you’re really worried Bill’s sneaking out when you’re asleep.” Stan said lazily.

“I was going to say if he attacked you, actually.”

Stan blinked, like he hadn’t been expecting that, taking a moment. “Uh, yeah, I’d wake up. It looks like you haven’t been getting into any fights or anything like that after you sleep anyways, so the guy isn’t really getting a lot of fighting practice in.”

He could still get in with a gun . “As long as you put something in front of your door that will make a sound when it opens, then he can’t surprise you. I could also add a lock on your door.”

“Christ-” he put a hand over his face, “look, I really don’t think we need any more locks in here.”

“I’m just saying, it wouldn’t hurt.”

“Do you wanna look over and see what you did to the front door again?” He asked, jerking a thumb over his shoulder.

“Yes, I vastly improved the door’s security. I don’t think that was by any means a bad idea.” He could install some locks on the bathroom door as well... Really there was no sensible reason to not install new locks on the doors and window inside of the apartment.

“I’ll put a bottle or something in front of my door when I go to sleep, if that makes you feel better.” Stan said.

“Every night?”

“Every night,” he promised.

“Good.” Ford would still install at least one lock anyway, to be on the safe side. The locks inside the knobs could be turned with even just the edge of a coin or a fingernail. “Are you really not going to tell me why you were smiling?” He asked, changing the subject.

A small smile edged back onto Stan’s face. “Sorry, I don’t know what you’re talking ‘bout.” He said with a shrug.

“Stanley-”

“Sorry, Ford!” He said, snatching his keys out of his pocket to hold out. “I gotta be a responsible employee,” he said with a hand to his chest, “and go set up the club for tonight. Boss wants everything purple or close to it and lemme tell you, purple stuff isn’t that easy to find for Valentine’s Day.”

“You’re avoiding the question.”

He shrugged, happily as he stepped backwards. “Guess you’ll just find out when you find out.”

Comforting .” Ford replied sardonically.

Stan pointed at him with his index fingers. “Now you know how it feels to be on the other end of ‘vague and cryptic.’” He turned around then. “Hey, you could always go out and try to meet someone.”

“I’ll pass, thank you very much. Worst day for that.” Ford said, rolling his eyes. “I’ll just be glad once the day is over with.”

Stan smiled, pulling at an imaginary bow tie with a small dance as he made it to the door. “Suit yourself, more for me.”

Ford let out a huff of air with a small smile, finally getting out of the chair and stretching his stiff back. “Good luck on the decorating.”

“Good luck on the nerding.” Stan said with a two fingered salute as he went out the door.

 


The Iceberg Lounge wasn’t the only place in town that wasn’t glitzed out in pink and reds, but it had to be one of the best damn looking ones. The purple hues livened up the room from its usual blues, and in comparison to the red sea floating around almost everywhere outside the door it was a refreshing change of scenery.

Ice-like pillars and formations throughout the club helped illuminate the room, with purple lights spread around. Suzie and Juan were putting up more decorations, the only thing left was some more cable work on ‘speakers,’ (cough bugs cough) and the flowers which Lou was taking forever on. Not for nothing, but hey, the club was looking pretty great.

The doors let out a quiet beep, only loud enough to be heard when there wasn’t any customers around or music playing, and Stan turned to see a cart full of flowers getting wheeled through the door.

“Took ya long enough, Lou. What? Were you trying to get a date with the florist?”

An incoherent mumble came from behind the cart and Stan leaned his head around to see Lou, who was half bent over.

“Hey, something going on?”

“No,” they said, with a strained voice, pulling themselves back up straight, “stomach’s just a lil wishy-washy right now.”

“Okay, then-”

“Just like, I dunno butterflies, ya know? Florist was kind of a jerk. Not the one with a lazy eye. That one, though - man, feels like it’s following you through the store. Might be, too. Think he can control that like some kinda- some kinda camera or something, you know?” They stopped to breathe, wheezing quietly on each inhale. “With a... lil’ remote... control?”

Even completely out of his breath, they still couldn’t stop talking. “They don’t even got an electric security system, Lou, he’s not gonna have a camera in his fake eye .” Stan said. “Just catch your breath then get the flowers set up.”

They gave a thumbs up, opting for a quiet, “you got it.”

Stan walked off to carry the usual decor to make room for the Valentine’s Day decorations and was shoving it into the back of the coat check in. He wasn’t even thinking about Lou until he heard Suzie yelling over to them from back out on the main floor.

“Yaps! You gonna come help out anytime soon?” She shouted over to them.

No response, none he could hear.

“Yaps?”

Stan came out of the closet and spotted Lou still over by the flowers. They held a hand up, and once Stan got close enough, he could hear them still wheezing . Heck, if anything it’d gotten worse.

“Hey uh... think I’m allergic,” they said in a rasping voice.

“Hell of a day to realize you got a flower allergy,” Stan said, gesturing for them to move. “Get away from the flowers, you’re gonna keep breathing it in and getting worse.”

“What’s going on?” Suzie yelled out.

“They got some kind of flower allergy. You’re on flowers, set them out and make sure Yaps doesn’t get near any of ‘em.”

She smiled, jogging up to grab the abandoned cart. “Don’t gotta tell me twice to take the easy job.”

“Just do the downstairs for now, and put ‘em in water.” He turned back to Lou. “Go upstairs, find some allergy medicine and fix up the private rooms, got it? Nothing around the flowers.”

“Got it.” Lou answered, pushing off of the wall.

Stan checked back, making sure they were headed up the stairs before he went over to a phone, making calls and checking on entertainment for the night.

Less than an hour passed and he was hanging up on a call with some new act for the night when he heard more quiet wheezing. He groaned. “Lou! Seriously, what part of stay upstairs-!” He cut himself off when he looked up and saw Suzie instead.

She had a hand leaned on the wall. “Think I got sick from Lou.” She told him, with a rattling breath.

Oh, damn it. “You can’t catch allergies.”

“Yeah,” she wheezed. “No shit.”

“You don’t get sick that fast either. Okay.” Stan rubbed his face, aggravated, thinking. “Okay, okay,” he said, pulling his hands away from his face and getting up to look around the room. It had to be the flowers, there wasn’t anything else Lou had brought back besides them. “Follow me and don’t touch anything.”

Stan walked to the break room near the back wall, avoiding passing any more of the flowers. “Alright, sit down and don’t move . Flowers are friggin’ poison or something, I don’t know . I’m checking on Lou, and if you don’t see me in five minutes then you don’t gotta worry. Juan’ll get yous guys to the clinic.” He went over to the fridge and chucked a water bottle over to her, hardly waiting.

He doubted Ford was going out of his way to buy flowers, but considering their luck Stan had to make sure he got to Ford before any of this mess did.

 


Despite spending the majority of his time in Gotham thus far in his office at the university, Ford didn’t actually know his own office hours. Although, perhaps it was because he was here more often than not that he hadn’t bothered to remember them. He didn’t have to worry about making sure he was here for them if he was going to be there regardless.

Knocks at his office door were starting to become more frequent now. Even though students stopping by did interrupt whatever he was currently working on, he was actually surprised to find himself enjoying the brief and unexpected breaks from his own work. After hours of untangling possible solutions out of a book with no certainty there was even a single reliable sentence inside of it, it was a calm respite to spend a half hour walking something through concepts he already knew such as covalent bonding or Newton’s laws. Last week, he’d even had a chance to help a student with a higher level biology course they were taking! They only mentioned briefly having difficulty understanding and Ford had immediately offered to help. He had a degree in it, after all, he was perfectly qualified to offer help even if it wasn’t for his class.

Ford was currently in his office with a student explaining the creation of ammonium. He had flipped over the chalkboard beforehand and was writing on the other side of it now. He stopped with quiet concern at the whining wheeze that came from the table. He curled the chalk in his hand, looking away from the unfinished steps in balancing the chemical equation.

The source was the student, leaning in towards the table with a page of notes beside him. “Sorry,” the student apologized, “‘m fine.”

“No,” Ford said, “it’s quite alright, but... are you sure you’re okay? Is it asthma?”

He shook his head. “I don’t have asthma. I’m pretty sure it’s just nausea and allergies. My-... my valentine got me flowers today.” He half-heartedly smiled.

Ford frowned. “That is sweet, but...is this what your allergies are like ordinarily? Nausea is usually more indicative of food allergies.” Not to mention that it was rare for a singular allergen to trigger both respiratory problems and nausea. “Did you eat anything odd today?”

“Ha, I didn’t eat anything for breakfast.”

Begrudgingly, Ford let it go. It was odd, but it didn’t sound like anything dangerous. He continued his explanation, making no further comment on the wheezing. After the student left, Ford took out the cultists’ Ethereal Beings book out, flipping it back to the page he’d left off on. There really wasn’t anything that fit Bill’s description, but well... he could just try any preventative measures for beings mentioned in this book and hope it applied to Bill.

Even what really didn’t apply to Bill was at least interesting. The way the book described some of these beings definitely made him curious as to what they actually were. Angel-like beings that were actually from other dimensions appearing in forms that couldn’t quite comprehend them. Their form appearing to shift over each other like multiple forms tangling to exist where only one was expected.

He got pulled out of his thoughts, hearing a slightly muffled high-pitched wheeze. Curiously, Ford went to the door, opening it and seeing his student not even five feet away on the floor, sitting against the wall.

He gave Ford a small wave. “Hi, Professor.”

“You-” Ford didn’t know his name. He checked his watch. “You left 20 minutes ago, what are you still doing here?”

“Uh... breathing, mostly,” He answered, between breaths.

“Were you unable to walk?” Ford asked cautiously. Nausea and shortness of breath were an odd combination, but anything more and it could be a sign of something dangerous.

“Only...a little... mostly I just got kind of dizzy.”

“Does your chest hurt?” Ford moved over to him, kneeling down only close enough to be able to check his eyes. Pupil size matched, but they were highly dilated considering the lit hallway. “Do you feel like you have a fever?”

He blinked, watching Ford and seeming confused by the two simple questions. “Uh... nothing hurts.”

Less likely to be a heart condition. “Are you burning up?”

“No.”

“... You need to go see a doctor.”

The student started taking noticeably shorter breaths, an attempt to stop wheezing perhaps. “I can’t really afford that, ha.”

“The school clinic will at least see you for free.” Medication and actual treatment was another matter, but first he had to know if he had a serious condition or not. “Do you need help getting up?”

“... Could I just lay down here instead?”

“No.” Ford helped him up, making sure the student was stabilized long enough for Ford to have a chance to walk back into his office. He took a loose piece of paper to write a note on and pulled off a piece of tape before walking back out into the hall again.

He stuck the note onto the front of his office door and locked it before turning back to the student and urging them along down the hallway, a hand hovering near the backpack he was wearing in case the student lost his balance.



You gotta be friggin’ kidding me ...!” Stan knew how to get to Gotham State University, but he hadn’t known the campus was going to be this much of a maze. He had gone to three different buildings to find the right place and now-?!

Office Hours cancelled due to medical emergency. At campus clinic. ’ Ford’s handwriting was hastily scratched onto a loose piece of paper taped to the door’s glass window.

With a groan, Stan turned back for the stairs again.

Sure, at least he was at a clinic. He didn’t know what this disease or whatever was though - or what it was going to do!

There hadn’t been absolute chaos on the streets when he drove here or anything. Some concerned faces, or people having trouble breathing, but Stan had still seen people walking around with flowers, so the whole city hadn’t really gotten what was going on yet. He told Oswald what had happened, so hopefully if Oswald would call him up if he found out anything more about what was going on.

Stan stopped in the middle of the hallway when he saw an open door leading into a small staff kitchen area with someone standing beside the coffee machine. He knocked on the door frame and stuck his head inside to ask what building the clinic was in, then followed signs until he finally made it to what better like Hell be the clinic. Out of breath from running around, he slowed down as he made it to a stainless steel door with a red plus sign above it.

Pushing open the door,  Stan found himself in a relatively big room that was half-full of young-looking students, most of which all looked to be in about the same condition as Lou had been. He caught a glimpse of the familiar color of Ford’s trench coat in the crowd, his back facing Stan as Ford was turned towards some kid beside him.

“Ford!”

Ford turned, surprised and Stan could see him with two fingers pressed to the kid’s wrist and his watch held up in front of him. “Stanley? What are you doing here?”

“What do you think I’m doing here?! I went to find you in your office and you weren’t there.” He walked over to him.

Ford stood up to talk to him. “Did-? Are you okay?”

“I had to run to a gajillion different buildings here to find you.” Stan gestured out widely. “ What’s a school even need this many buildings for?

Ford shook his head. “It’s a campus.”

“Hey... I’m not dying, right?” The kid wheezing behind Ford spoke up.

“Oh- No. Definitely, not, no.” Ford turned to tell him, and soon after paused for just a moment with a flicker of uncertainty on his face. Stan could just read the silent ‘ probably ’ Ford didn’t add on, but at least he had kept that to hims- “Most likely.” Never mind.

Stan put a hand on Ford’s shoulder to talk to the kid. “He’s joking. You’re going to be fine.” Probably . “Ford, come on, time to get out of Poisoned Central before we get whatever’s going on.”

Ford glanced back at him, a question on his lips that he pulled back on before talking to the kid again. “They’re going to call your name to see you at some point, don’t leave before then. I’ll see you in class once you recover, James.” He hesitated slightly on the name.

The kid looked at him, confused and quiet for a long beat. “... My name’s Jeremy.”

“Yeah, that’s what he said,” Stan said, before tugging on Ford’s shoulder. “See ya kid, stay away from plants.”

Ford shot him an odd look.

“Like... drugs?” The kid asked slowly.

“Yeah, sure those too.”

“Goodbye, Jeremy.” Ford waved as Stan pulled him out of the clinic and they started walking down the hallway.

Stan let out a breath as they got out. “One of your students or something?”

“Yes, he was at my office hours and exhibited some concerning symptoms. Now- Plants ? What’s going on?”

“Don’t know who did this or what this even is, exactly, but it’s getting spread around with flowers,” Stan told him.

Ford perked up, pointed back down the hallway. “He mentioned getting flowers today!”

“My two friends from work started getting sick-like after being around the flowers. Thought it was just allergies at first ‘cause of the wheezing.”

“Everyone seemed to have the same symptoms.” Ford began, thinking out loud. “Chest tightness and a nervous stomach advancing into difficulty breathing, nausea, confusion, and drowsiness. Dilated pupils, odd sensations in legs and fingertips. Slight discoloration in veins and mild cyanosis.”

“What?”

“It’s-” He breathed in, running a hand through his hair. “It’s just when your skin turns blue due to a lack of oxygen in the blood at the surface. The vein discoloration is such an odd symptom, though! Jeremy’s veins took on a green tint. I’ve never even heard of that before. I’ve heard of green blood, yes, but only under extreme conditions.”

Okay , so at least it’s not green blood. What’s the worst we’re talking here?”

“The most extreme condition I’ve seen thus far has been vomiting and passing out, but we need to find a direct source of the allergen or infectant.” Ford walked with a renewed energy, speeding up. “If we find an infected flower, then I can analyze it in the chemistry lab!”

Stan grabbed onto Ford’s sleeve, to pull him back. “Hey- hey slow it down. I’m not exactly keen on messing with some flower and puking my guts out a few hours from now.”

Ford stopped in the hallway, staring at him, completely dumbfounded. “You... don’t want to find out what’s happening,” he said slowly.

“What?” Stan had expected- well, he’d expect Ford to get upset or try to insist, but he hadn’t expected... whatever this was. It wasn’t even a sad expression as much as... Ford just looking lost and Stan didn’t know why.

They fell into a long silence, both of them struggling to find a place to even just begin to understand the other.

What was he even supposed to say to that? It was like the possibility that someone wouldn’t want to chase down some weird mysterious disease for the fun of it was completely beyond Ford. It should have been pretty straight forward. Right?

It was dangerous and it didn’t make sense. If they just played it safe they could get through this scot-free without catching some virus. Sure, it wasn’t fatal, plus there’d be a shot or pill for it before the end of the week no matter what. He guessed it could be fun, but...

All at once, he came to a startling realization, and all of his confusion was redirected at himself.

What was he even saying...? Here they had the perfect chance to run around on something fun with almost no consequences and his idea... had been to hole themselves up and wait for it to pass? Why? Just to play it safe? Since when had he become was he the ‘play it safe ’ guy??

Worst case scenario, they got sick for a week. That was nothing. Heck, he didn’t even have to worry about how he’d make it through the week if he got sick. Not like Cobblepot would fire him for it so he’d still have his job.

He’d never been in a better position to get sick, not since he was a kid! He could afford to be reckless and, if you really thought about it, in a way, he actually owed it to himself to take advantage of the cushy living situation while he had it!

“Stan?”

He came back out of his thoughts to realize Ford was still staring at him, looking at a loss for how to continue.

“You know what? I don’t even know where that came from.” Stan let go of Ford’s sleeve. Maybe it was all the babysitting he wound up doing at work. That sounded right. A bad habit picked up having to make sure nobody screwed up too much during a robbery. “We don’t exactly have anything to lose here, chances are we’re both already infected anyways.”

Ford noticeably relaxed, shoulders dropping and that expression on his face finally changing. “Depending on what it is, we may be fine. It seems to be relatively fast-acting.”

Stan hummed. “Took maybe a half hour before Suzie started wheezing from the flowers. Hey,” he hit Ford’s shoulder, “you got bags and gloves?”

“What kind?”

“You know, like medical ones so we can grab the flowers without instantly getting the Valentine’s Day stomach flu.”

Ford turned to look back. Stan followed his gaze down the hallway in the direction of the clinic.

 


“Excuse me, step aside, important doctor business coming through.” Stan strode through the swinging set of doors into a hallway of patient care rooms and around into the first open room with so much as a pause. “Hey, you. I need gloves for Doctor Pines, STAT, where’s the storage closet?”

 


“Is this a scalp retractor ?”

“Yeah, I got really into character while I was back there. Got a couple of weird scissors and a chest tube looking thing too.”

“Oh, I can use the scissors,” Ford said, pulling one out of the bag and carefully cutting a purple latex glove as Stan drove. In one glove, he cut a hole in the latex at the crux between two middle fingers then on another all the way down the side of the pinky finger. He put a hand into the latter glove, his pinky finger and edge of his palm uncovered, then stuck the hand through the remaining glove, slipping one of his gloved fingers through the small hole between fingers. It looked a bit awkward with the extra material, but it successfully covered his entire hand and he did it like he’d done it a million times.

“You always do that?” Stan asked him.

“Normally, no. I have safety gloves that fit, but I left them back home in ‘Nebraska,’” Ford said, starting on the gloves for his other hand. “Do you remember where you left the flowers?”

“They were on the table when I left, but I called in a couple of the club staff early to clear it out. Chances are, they’re out back.”

Ford peered over when they reached the club. “Is this where you work?”

“Yeah.”

He paused. “It looks... really high-class. And legitimate.”

“Ha, and you thought it was going to be a bad cover where criminals hang out at.” Ford had never said as much, but Stan could tell it wasn’t what Ford had been expecting at all. “Joke’s on you!” He gloated. “It’s a fancy schmancy night club and a cover where criminals hang out.”

“Alright, yes, I was expecting it to be smaller and maybe not quite as fancy,” Ford said, barely admitting anything.

Stan scoffed, still smiling. “You should see the inside next time.”

As the car pulled around to the back, there were the flowers on the wall opposite of the building, with some caution signs set up around them.

With masks over their faces and sleeves rolled down, they walked over to the dumpster. Stan held out a large bag for Ford as he carefully set a bouquet inside, then walked over to a dumpster and took off his gloves to toss them in.

Stan zipped the bag shut, walking over to dump the face mask he’d used for all of one minute.

One short drive later, and running up a few flights of stairs, leaving Stan out of breath, they were inside a classroom with hard black countertops and sinks.

“This where you work?” Stan asked, between breaths. “Looks real nice and legitimate.”

Ford was pulling out equipment onto the nearest table in a rush of activity. “Is that because of what I said about the Lounge?” He said, glancing over just long enough for Stan to flash him an innocent smile and shrug.

“Usually clubs don’t look that big!” Ford defended himself with a bad excuse.

“‘Legitimate?’”

He waved his hand at Stan and handed over another face mask, and a pair of safety goggles for good measure. “Just let me analyze this.”

Stan let it go for now, grabbing a chair. He pulled himself up to the counter and leaned on it to watch Ford work. The goggles on his face didn’t take long to start hurting and the face mask was almost immediately like breathing in a stuffy room without a window.

Ford took a flower from the bouquet and disassembled the flower for samples, taking it apart to get thin pieces to set between microscope slides. Various petals, leaves, stems, and smaller pieces from the center of the flower - it reminded Stan of high school all over again, except he wasn’t tossing wadded-up paper balls across the room when the teacher wasn’t paying attention.

“Jeez, I don’t think I’ve been in a classroom in years. I think I remember why I didn’t like labs.”

“Because they didn’t want us to burn anything for fun or education.” Although Ford’s face was hidden there was still the glint of a smile in his eyes.

“Ha, that too.” His stomach knotted up. “You remember Miss Brock?”

“I do.”

“Remember her eyebrows?”

Ford pulled back from the microscope with a snort, laughing quietly.

“Best damn accident that whole year.” Stan grinned.

“Well, it would never have happened if she’d taught us herself how to properly use a bunsen burner.” Ford said. “Why didn’t you like labs?” He asked, lowering his eye back to the microscope to look between slides.

“These nerdy things,” Stan said, tapping at his own face. “Goggles never fit, and this mask is even worse. Might as well be a paper bag.”

“Oh, no, the goggles are worse.”

“You gotta be kidding me.”

“The masks barely even do anything,” Ford said.

Stan scoffed. “For you, maybe. Me, I feel like I can barely breathe in this thing.” ... Oh, wait.

They made eye contact then, both realizing at about the same time.

“Take a deep breath...?” Ford suggested.

He struggled, already a bad sign, and when he breathed out there was a distinct wheeze. He groaned loudly, the guttural noise barely getting past his throat. “How come I’m the only one that got it?!”

“Don’t say that, I’ll wind up getting it next.” Ford said, focusing back on the slides, working at a faster pace this time. “Did you ever touch any of the flowers, even indirectly?”

Stan thought back and shook his head. “No, there’s no way. Besides, you were the one in a clinic full of sick people.”

“If there wasn’t any tactile contact with the flowers then it has to be some sort of inhalant.” He moved aside and gestured for Stan to look.

Stan leaned his eye down to the microscope and... “Oh, wow. Dots.”

“I can’t believe you still don’t wear your glasses.” Ford said, nudging him back again. “Alongside the pollen and mites, there’s been the same type of particle, but only on the outer layers of the plant. Some kind of allergen that was likely sprayed onto the flowers, although I don’t know how any of the florists made it past morning without all becoming afflicted.” He disposed of the flowers and began to clean the equipment.

Stan wheezed, taking off his mask. “Ugh, that’s gonna get annoying.” At least it was a little bit better to breathe without the mask. Not a lot, but it was still something. “Well, I guess I got twenty minutes before I sound like I work full-time as a squeaky toy.”

“Well...” Ford pulled off his goggles, adjusting his glasses and rubbing the marks out of his face. “Well, we could always go to the source and see what we find. Since flowers are still being distributed there’s a chance there could be something there to negate the inhalant.”

“Probably’ll find that, plus someone with a vendetta against Valentine’s Day and a lot of time on their hands.” He joked, briefly, before wheezing in a breath after the long sentence. “Actually,” he said, “might find that.” Hey, it was Gotham city.

“... Do you think they’d still be there?”

Stan hummed. He did have twenty minutes. “Wanna see how quick we can find out?”

 


Ford let out a breath, even with the mask on, worried about breathing too much. On the bright side, Stan’s condition hadn’t progressed beyond a rather consistent, but quiet, wheezing sound as he breathed and a twisting stomach. He’d stopped raising his voice above a whisper even with nobody around.

“Remember,” Stan said, arm crossed over his gut, “if anyone asks, you say we’re flower inspectors... here for a mandatory inspection.”

“If they know what they’re doing, wouldn’t they try to lock us into a closet or similar so we didn’t alert any authorities?”

“.. You know what, scratch that... if anyone asks, run.”

That seems like a worse idea actually.

“Not if you run fast enough.”

Ford held back from pointing out Stan’s condition, partially for the sake of conversation and partially because, for all he knew, Stan’s symptoms wouldn’t progress any further as long as he didn’t breathe in any more of the inhalant.

It turned out there was only one large plant nursery in Gotham and that they distributed the majority of flowers out to the various retail stores. There were a good number of independent greenhouses, but, really, the Green Thumb Nursery had a frighteningly strong monopoly over the flower market inside the city.

At the moment, they were sneaking around on an upper level that overlooked the majority of the greenhouse. Workers on the lower level would occasionally enter with carts to grab a large number of flowers, then exit back out large warehouse doors to take a cart of flowers back to their vans. Nobody looked up, so they weren't  really hiding per se. ‘Investigative observation’ really had to be the most accurate terminology for what they were doing right now.

“Not to jinx it...” Stan started, “but there’s no muscle around here.”

“I can’t tell if you’re saying that’s a good thing or a bad thing.” It sounded good, but Stan didn’t seem thrilled. Although, that could have just been the nausea and insistent breathing troubles.

He shrugged. “Might mean whoever did this... is outta dodge. Or. This wasn’t a team effort.”

“You think it might have just been one person?” He supposed it wouldn’t be too hard, all it would take was sneaking in and covering the flowers with the allergen.

“If it is, that rules out a few people.”

He wished he could question Stan over all the possibilities of who it could be, or who it might not be, and more about them so he could look out for the signs, but it just wasn’t an effective use of time and Stan’s breath.

“If it was only one person, then they would either have to be down there spraying everything they could, which we haven’t seen, or they would have to have figured out a way to spread the allergen en masse.”

Stan pushed up from the railing and snapped his fingers, croaking at a normal speaking volume, “The sprinkler system!”

Ford perked up. “You’re right! If it was one person, then that had to have been the most effective way to spread it. Even a team of people should have used the sprinkler system, as that number of strange faces would raise suspicion among the ordinary workers.  If that’s the case, there could still be supplies somewhere along the water main .”

They turned to look back to the ground floor as the large door opened again, allowing a worker to push cart through.

Stan pulled on Ford’s trench coat and croaked, “Come on.” which was all the encouragement Ford needed. He had to force himself to slow down in his eagerness, more than once getting a few feet ahead of Stan before realizing and backtracking to reach him again.

The greenhouse itself didn’t have any water system directly underneath. After some searching and Stan jimmying the lock into a short building nearby they found the water system. Inside was a metal floored interior and large water pipes running along the wall.

Ford pulled the mask down from his face. When he set off, his footsteps reverberating against the metal loud enough that if anyone was still down here it would alert them. He had to slow himself down to a near-torturously time-wasting pace.

Finally , they reached a series of stairs that led down to an intersection of pipes. The sound of rushing water loudly thrummed within the circular room. On the floor below there were platforms here and there. One of them had several bottles and what looked like lab equipment strewn about on top of it.

“Ha!” Ford shouted victoriously, his voice echoing in the room and getting quickly drowned out by the thrumming noise. “Come on, Stanley!” He said, already headed for the stairs.

As soon he reached the ground floor he went over to all the equipment. He remembered only a bit late to pull his face mask back up, but it should be fine.

There were a few small spray bottles on the platform with blue-tinted liquid inside of them. A portable beaker carrier was beside them, with the majority of the glass vials emptied out. The ones that weren’t empty were filled with a distinct, nearly neon-green liquid that reminded Ford of a prop from some low grade horror movie like the ones he watched during his childhood. So many of them had some toxic liquid glowing bright green. Sometimes it was alien blood, sometimes something radioactive, but no matter what it was always the most dangerous and exciting thing in the movie. Everything else on the table varied between tools that were likely made for botany and leftover, unlabeled chemicals.

“Any idea which one of these isn’t poison?”

“Uh...” Ford scanned back over every item he saw, but nothing was labeled and there wasn’t so much as even a scrap of paper to give a hint as to what anything was. “ Hm .”

“‘Hm?’ That’s always good.”

“Well, I could tell you that one of them is the ‘poison.’”

Stan walked up beside him to get a look at everything. “Mad scientist’s russian roulette then.” He struggled to get through the ‘r’s. “ Got it .”

“We can just take all of them back with us and see what works,” Ford reassured him. “Either one of these is the antitoxin or it is the toxin and I can make an antitoxin from it.”

“You can do that?”

“I have a keycard that works for every door within the Chemistry and Physics building on campus, I can do a lot of things.” It wasn’t the best security measure for a new professor to have that much access, but,well, he wasn’t going to point it out to anyone. “We should probably do something about the sprinkler system, though. The water running through it is likely still infected and it’s going to continue spraying the inhalant onto more flowers.”

One broken sprinkler system later, Ford collected enough samples and disposed what remained into the small gaps of the grated floor. There couldn’t be much of anything down there, so he assumed it should be fine.

Stan let a pipe drop with a metallic clatter, fondly looking at the busted mechanisms. “Ah, good ol’ property damage... I’ve missed you.”

“This would definitely count as defensive, right?” Ford asked. “Temporarily shutting down the sprinkler system.” Someone would fix it eventually, so it did count as temporary.

“Oh, definitely, definitely.” Stan wheezed.

An angry voice suddenly yelled out in the room behind them. “YOU!”

Book it! ” Stan shouted hoarsely, turning and facing the only direction they had left.

When Ford turned, he saw a figure in a red and black harlequin-styled jumpsuit stomping towards them from out of what they had thought had just been a small storage closet, but apparently was not. He recognized her from the few black-and-white photos accompanying the newspaper articles he had read weeks ago, though he only remembered one thing about her.

Harley Quinn, right hand to the Joker.

He took a couple of fleeing steps, but was quickly jerked to a stop when Stan grabbed on to his trench coat.

“Don’t book it- she’s got hyenas!” Stan whispered.

What?!

Sure enough, when he looked back, as if on cue, two gray-coated hyenas were coming out of the door behind her, drooling from open and sharp-toothed mouths. Hunching shoulders led up to muscled necks adorned with thick red collars on both of them.

“How?! How does she have hyenas ?!” Ford whispered back. “ We’re in the middle of a city in New Jersey, Stanley!

Stan waved a hand at him, and pulled his mask down to talk to her. “Hey, HQ! Good to see you.” He couldn’t quite reach his normal volume to talk, and the longer his sentences went on the more out of breath he sounded. He slowly nudged the recently-used pipe out of sight. “Now, look - I don’t know what’s going on,” he said, with an appeasing smile, “but let me promise it’s not what it looks like.”

The hyenas ran up to them, excited, snapping their mouths. “Yeah,” Harley said, “‘cause it looks like you’re destroying the evidence for some scheme, pal! Where’s Penguin, me and him I are having a talk! Right now!

For some reason, Stan eased up. “Oh, wow, it really isn’t what it looked like. Broken clock or.. something, huh.” He uselessly tried to clear his throat which just sounded painful. “Hey, we didn’t do this, okay? We were gonna host a whole romantic special for couples at the Lounge... jack prices up, flowers went and got us sick.” He breathed. “Him and me just got here, to figure out what was going on.”

Harley got right in his face, eyeing him up and down critically. “Oh yeah?”

He put his hands up. “Promise.”

She scrutinized him for a second more, lips puckering out, before looking over at Ford.

He quickly turned his hands up too, pulling down his face mask. “We were destroying it to stop it,” he defended immediately.

She leaned back down, at some point having gotten on her tippy toes in order to stare them down. Arms crossed, she finally relented. “Okay, so you didn’t do it.”

The hyenas snapped a bit closer to the twins and Harley snapped at them. “Babies, SIT!!” They both sat down with whines and Harley lovingly petted their heads, a hand for each one. “Good babies,” she told them in a sweet voice before turning back to Ford and Stan.

She cleared her throat. “Sorry about yelling at you.” She put her hand out. “Name’s Harley, nice to meet you.”

Ford shook her hand slowly. “Nice to meet you.”

She waited for a second, not letting go of his hand, then... made a face at him.

“What?” He asked, pulling his hand out of the handshake.

“You’re not real good at meeting new people, are ya?”

“Excuse me?”

“When you meet someone, you tell them your name too!” She put her hand out insistently. “Here, try it again.”

“...Okay.” Ford hesitated, but put his hand back to shake hers again. “Hello.”

“Hey! Name’s Harley, Harley Quinn. Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you, Harley. My name is Ford.”

Harley smiled brightly. “There ya go!” She let his hand out of the handshake naturally this time. “See, wasn’t so bad, was it?”

Not since the hyenas had stopped snapping at them, though he found he wasn’t actually concerned about them now. They did seem fairly trained, and at the very least Stan knew this woman and they seemed to be on relatively good terms. “No, not at all,” he agreed.

She nodded her head, satisfied, before slapping Stan on the arm. “Hey, how come you didn’t tell me you had a twin?”

Stan shrugged. “Never came up.”

“I didn’t even know you had a brother working with you for Penguin though!”

I am not working for Cobblepot ,” Ford quickly corrected.

“Yikes,” Harley commented, “not even your boss and you don’t like him.”

Ford briefly glanced at Stan. “N-No. No, that’s not it. I just didn’t want the misunderstanding.”

“That’s okay. I just figured, ya know,” Harley, unexpectedly, grabbed one of Ford’s arms to point at his fingers as she talked, “I mean with your weird hands and his weird not-hands it just made sense you’d-!”

Ford jerked out of the grasp, causing her to stop. “I would rather you didn’t touch me, actually,” he told her, folding his arms behind his back and out of reach.

Surprisingly, she actually seemed, well, regretful. She laughed nervously, index finger hooking at the edge of her mouth. “Heh, sorry,” she apologized, with a small anxious gesture of her other hand. She took a step back, exiting out of Ford’s space and shrugged both hands out then. “Wasn’t thinking.”

He felt Stan put a hand on his shoulder, though Stan talked to her. “Personal bubbles too, Harley, come on.”

“Heh, yeah.” She stuck out her hand again, a nervous smile on her face. “Can we get another do-over on meeting again?” She asked.

Ford hesitated, and Harley rambled on for a moment.

“You know, you got one and now I get one? Third time’s the charm?” She tried, hand still stuck out.

For some reason, it got a short laugh out of him, and his arms unwound from his back. “Ha, I’m actually not a fan of that phrase,” he said amiably, going to grab her hand for the handshake, although still a degree slow and uncertain still. “Hello, I’m Ford.”

She started to smile, quickly becoming less nervous. “Nice to meet you, I’m Harley Quinn!” She said, shaking hands with him and letting go once more. Then, with an excited smile she stuck her hand out yet again. “But if you don’t believe in third time’s the charm, then how about one more for good luck?”

Ford smiled, laughing quietly, and took her hand again, shaking it for a fourth time.

She smiled brightly now, clasping her other hand over his as well. “Nice to meet you. I’m Harley Quinn, but you can call me Harley!”

“It’s very nice to meet you, Harley. Please, call me Ford,” he responded, with a shake.

With both hands clasped over his, Harley brought his hand up as high as their faces, then all the way back down before letting go this time. “There! That one was perfect, right? Or we could do one more if you wanted!” She suggested comically, slowly stretching her hand back out again with a playful smile.

Ford waved his hands. “No! No, no more. That one was perfect.” He agreed.

“You sure?”

“Positive, thank you.”

“Alright, if you’re sure!” She pulled her hand back, standing up straight again. “So if this wasn’t you or Penguin and you ,” she asked pointing to Ford, then Stan, “then who did this?”

“We ah, actually didn’t figure that out.” He’d actually been content not knowing, although now he wondered what kind of person created the toxin.

“Yeah, we were just-” wheeze “-about to get out of here.” Stan jerked a thumb over to point at the stairs.

“Is that so...?” A new voice interjected from above.

At the top of the stairs was a red headed woman, her hands planted on the railing overlooking the three of them with a nettled look in her eyes. She wore a pleasant green with gloves that had a texture that looked like unruly weeds growing at the end, up her forearms.

“Hello...?” Ford greeted her, uncertain.

“Did you two shut down the sprinklers?”

“Ahm...” Ford avoided looking back at the temporarily broken sprinkler system.

And where are all the vials I left down there?

Don’t answer that. ” Stan whispered out of the side of his mouth, swaying slightly on his feet.

RED! ” Harley yelled up at her, arms clenched against her side and walking towards the staircase to meet her at the bottom. The hyenas bounced excitedly, padding alongside Harley.

Ivy put a hand up to her head, grimacing, as she made her way down the stairs.

“Who is that?” Ford whispered to Stan.

“Poison Ivy. Loves plants, hates men.”

“... We’re not starting off on a great foot here.”

No kidding .”

Harley tapped her foot, barely waiting for Ivy to reach the bottom of the steps.

“Harls, please, I’m-” She started, tiredly, but was quickly interrupted.

“You ruined my whole day! Mister J and I were going to have the most romantic day - a nice dinner, sweets, stolen jewelry,” Harley listed out on her fingers. “But now! Now, he can’t even sit up, much less go out on a date!”

Ivy paused, surprised. “He got you flowers?”

“Well-!” She momentarily losing steam momentarily to explain. “He hadn’t yet. First he was getting flowers for his suit, you know, to make himself look good for the day for me, but he didn’t get that far!”

“He uses living flowers for his suit ?” Ivy asked, shoulders hunching up. “ That-

Nuh-uh! This was going to be our first good Valentine’s Day! It’s the first year neither of us’s been imprisoned or in Arkham. I finally think I’m going to get a romantic Valentine’s Day with my Pudding, but then your wacky flowers give him stomach cramps! Why couldn’t you have picked any other day?”

“Valentine’s Day kills thousands of defenseless flowers every year. Instead of getting taken care of properly by the couples that buy them for one another they die within days when they could have thrived for much longer.”

Harley threw her arms up into the air, and angrily shouted, “why couldn’t this have been the year you tried to kill Christmas for all the pine trees?! Trees are bigger than flowers anyways, and it’s a bigger holiday!”

“Just because there’s something worse doesn’t make Valentine’s Day any less a despicable-!”

“This was important to me, Red!!” Harley cut her off, voice coming back down to an ordinary level as she crossed her arms in front of her squeezed her fists in towards herself. “But, no.” She sniffled, running a fist underneath her nose and pacing aside with a sweep of her arms. “No, you had to go and make this one of the worst Valentine’s Days of my life. Thanks,” she finished sadly.

Ivy watched, chewed down on her lip as Harley stood silently. Ivy made short frustrated sounds. “I was just- mmMF -” She finally groaned, pushing her palms up against her head. Sighing, she let her hands fall back down to her side, hair in her face. After taking a deep breath in, she pushed her hair back. “ Okay , fine. If it’ll make you happy, I’ll give you the antitoxin to give to that miserable , toxic, two-faced li-”

Harley latched onto Ivy, squeezing her with a big hug, a quiet smile lighting up her face. “Really, you mean it? Even though you don’t like him?”

“If the only way you’re going to be happy tonight is if he can give you chocolates or go out somewhere with you, then, sure .” She looked pointedly at Harley. “You have to make sure he starts using plastic flowers for his suits from now on, though.”

“Deal!!” Harley smushed her face into Ivy’s shoulder, squeezing her in a tight hug. “You’re the best, Red!”

“There’s just one issue.” She said, before side eyeing the twins. “ Someone smashed all of my samples, so it’s going to be a bit difficult to create the antitoxin.”

“We didn’t smash any of your science junk,” Stan denied, oddly slow.

Threw it away, then .” Ivy accused.

“...I didn’t throw nothing away.” He started to teeter over dangerously, and Ford snatched a hand out to pull him back upright with a spike of concern.

Stan gave a thumbs up, righting his balance. “Slipped.”

Ford cleared his throat, keeping a hold on Stan’s sleeve. “I took a few samples.”

Ivy looked over at him skeptically. “How many is ‘a few?’”

“One of each. I had planned on figure out an antitoxin, which is beginning to become a bit of a necessity.”

“It’s not a necessity.” She said. “It does wear off eventually.”

“How long would ‘eventually’ be?”

“It depends. Now, give me the red one.”

Ford hesitated. He’d really rather just take it back to a lab and make the antitoxin himself.

She continued at the short delay, impatient. “You said you had them.”

“Which one is the red one?” Ford asked, suspicious.

“Hey,” Harley waved her hands for attention, “here’s an idea,” she suggested. “Why don’t both of you go over and use all the doo-dahs to make the antitoxin?”

They both responded at the same time.

“I don’t want any help, Harley.”
“I could figure it out myself fine.”

“See! You’re already in sync and everything. It’ll be fun!” She encouraged.

Ivy groaned quietly. “The sooner we fix this...”

“The sooner I can get back to my Pudding for the rest of Valentine’s Day,” Harley finished the sentence, both a purposeful reminder and a plea. “Right?”

“... Right .” Ivy said.

 


They didn’t precisely work together on creating the antitoxin so much as Ivy barely tolerated his presence as she went through the steps. At most, Ford passed her a tool or did a minor procedure which he would ask about before doing. Anything he could do to speed up the process without aggravating her, really.

He would have preferred taking the sample back to a lab himself, but she had made the toxin herself, so reasonably she was the best person to make the antitoxin to it.

Stan and Harley were sitting on the floor cross legged, and Ford kept glancing back just to ensure he was alright. Stan didn’t seem to be doing much talking, likely due to the confusion and drowsiness. Harley seemed alright with that though, telling some story that Ford couldn’t hear very well. The hyenas had since settled down and seemed content, laying down beside her, each with their heads resting on her lap.

Ivy released the tube of gas into the mixture made. “Once this finishes dispensing, Harley can take this back and make her ‘Puddin’ feel better.” Ivy said.

“You really don’t like him.” Ford noted.

“Let’s just say that if Harley didn’t like him still, I would have poisoned him by now with something much worse and more permanent than this.”

I see ...” Saying she disliked him was apparently an understatement. “What did he do?”

“He’s a creep and he treats Harley as nothing more than a doormat. Everyone can see it except for her, and good luck talking to her about it. It’s all ‘ my Puddin ’ this and ‘ Mistah J ’ that. I’ve tried, but she just refuses to see it. And ,” Ivy continued, “he has no respect for plant life whatsoever.”

“... I’m sorry,” Ford said after a while, unable to come up with anything else to say.

“You’re sorry .” Ivy eyed him suspiciously.

Ford crossed his hands over each other uselessly. “It just sounds like a difficult situation, that’s all - watching a friend suffer without being able to do much about it.”

Ivy said nothing in response, returning to stare silently at the dispensing canister in front of them and Ford took this in a sort of relief, afraid to say anything that might provoke her (and definitely avoiding any discussion regarding plants).

“Have you met him?” She asked after a long silence.

“No. At this rate, I probably will though.” It would be just his luck.

“Believe me, you don’t want to meet him.” Ivy warned him.

“I didn’t want to meet anyone in Gotham, actually.” Ford replied. “Regardless, though, it seems to keep happening.”

Ivy’s expression shifted into a smirk, and she nearly looked amused. “You shouldn’t have gone into a city if you didn’t want to meet people.”

“This wasn’t my first choice. I used to live in a house isolated away from everyone.”

“Well, if you ever get tired of meeting people you could always move back.”

“In theory.” Ford’s hands faltered for a moment. “Why do you stay in Gotham?” He asked, genuinely curious. “There isn’t much plant life in the city.”

“Not much, but it’s still important. If I don’t stay here to protect them and keep them from getting trampled on, nobody else will.” She answered, momentarily glancing back to where Harley sat beside Stan.

Chapter Text

The antitoxin, or at least what Ford hoped was an antitoxin, didn’t take very long after his short conversation with Ivy. He wouldn’t dare to say it out loud, but truthfully Ivy could have been making a worse toxin this entire time and he wouldn’t have known. He was familiar enough with the process of making an antitoxin, and nothing Ivy had done thus far seemed out of place from the process. 

This was her own designed toxin though, and while it was incredibly impressive, it was also incredibly concerning. It could only be a few small changes for the process to create an even worse toxin as far as he knew. It was Poison Ivy’s creation and he truly knew little about it while she knew everything about it. 

The only solid assurance he had that Ivy was truly making the antitoxin was knowing that she seemed tied into making one for Harley’s 'puddin’.' As long as he made sure Ivy gave them the same substance, it had to be safe. Granted, she definitely didn't seem to like Joker at all, but it was clear enough that she cared about Harley.

Ford watched as Ivy took two vials and poured the liquid into both. “Do you have any syringes?” Ford asked, passing over the caps, leaving them on the counter for her.

“Do you know how to do an intravenous administration?” She asked back, casual enough for the most part although Ford could pick up the doubt in her voice.

“Yes. I used to work with some, ah, poisonous creatures.” He said, going to pick up one of the capped antitoxins. The liquid's original red coloring had since developed to a warm purple.

“I don’t have any here.” She said, picking up the remaining vial and turning away from the table. 

Ford turned as well, tucking the vial into the safety of an inner pocket of his coat. 

Harley seemed to have already perked up where she was sitting cross legged on the floor with Stan and cheerily waved at both of them as they started to walk over. 

Stan meanwhile kept himself leaned against the railing and gave a much smaller wave of acknowledgement.

“See,” Harley said, getting up and actually patting them both on one of their shoulders, “fun science time together!” She stood up straight, hands casually set on her hips. “Now was that so bad?”

He glanced over at Ivy who glanced over at him at the same time to share a brief look of understanding. They broke eye contact to look back at Harley once more.

Aside from the constant undercurrent of worry over Stan’s condition, it really hadn’t been bad. Even Ivy’s palpable distaste for his presence had become something less pronounced and more neutral after some time. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d worked alongside someone on some strange experimental process. Or more accurately, when he had last ‘assisted.’ Certainly it had to have been alongside Fiddleford... 

“It was... enjoyable.” Ford focused on his current circumstances rather than linger on the past. “I’ve never seen a crossbred toxin like that before.” He added in genuine admiration, feeling Ivy glance at him for a very brief moment out of the corner of his eye. 

“It wasn’t a ‘fun science time,’ but it was fine.” Ivy said diplomatically to Harley.

“Just perhaps not the best circumstances.” He treaded lightly. 

With a glance past Harley, Ford now saw Stan who was in the middle of using the railing behind himself to stand up, hyenas standing curiously nearby. Ford stepped around Harley. “Excuse me.” 

Stan didn’t even seem to notice Ford was right there until he was grabbing Stan’s arm and helping him up. “Hey.” Stan said in way of acknowledgement. His breathing was shallower than before, and a small worry wormed its way into Ford’s heart that Stan’s airway could close up. It shouldn't though. 

When Ford had been inside of the campus clinic, he’d watched the young man he’d brought with him get worse over time as well as everyone else in the waiting room. He’d seen nearly the entire range of the toxin. From the vague confusion on strangers’ faces to others that began to vomit and pass before being taken out of the lobby. If it got any worse after that, he didn’t know about it. Maybe it did advance to a point that completely restricted someone's breathing though.

Standing here wasn’t doing anything to help him either way though. Ford cleared his throat, hyper aware of the slight sway in Stan’s balance even while his brother stayed leaning back against the railing. “Needless to say, but we’re leaving.” 

“Me too.” Harley said. “I gotta get back to Mister J. He’s probably getting lonely.”

Ivy’s face pressed a couple fingertips to her temple momentarily. “And so you’re not here when Batman shows up.” 

“Oh. Ha, yeah that too.” Harley said, pointing to Ivy, only slight concern crossing her face.

Ford was thrown off. It felt so alien, to be worried over getting found by some vigilante. Ford hadn’t even considered anything Stanley and he had done today as criminal, but all at once it felt that way now. It wasn’t, as far as he was concerned, but he also didn’t need to get involved in some misunderstanding simply because they were here. “How long does he usually take to show up to... one of these situations?”

Harley hummed. “Well sometimes he shows up in the middle of it.” 

Wonderful.” Ford said, his throat strained now.

“I wouldn’t particularly worry about it if I were you.” Ivy pointed out with the slightest of a bitter note before following it with a detached shrug. “Besides, you have someone obviously infected with you.” 

“A fair point.” Ford conceded. “Regardless, we'll just avoid him.” Stanley was still technically a criminal, after all.

Stan snorted, amidst the wheezing, which just came out odd. 

Ford cleared his throat, though it didn’t help the muscles there relax at all. Facing two people in costumes and a couple of hyenas, he was suddenly struck by how odd this should have been. Instead it felt like something entirely else. He couldn’t quite identify what though it tugged at something in his heart.

A feeling hardly necessitated any analysis though. Especially now, they needed to go. Typically he would say. ‘It was nice to meet you two?’ However, meeting both of them had been concerning, but he didn’t think they would particularly enjoy hearing that. 

“Well... ah, goodbye.” Ford said.

“Thanks.” Ivy said blandly, for whatever reason.

“Don’t worry, Red. I can always bust you out.” Harley promised her, putting a hand on Ivy’s shoulder with a smile that seemed infectious enough to cause a corner of Ivy’s lips to turn up. “Good luck with Batsy!” She said, starting to bound towards the door, the hyenas jumping after her. She twisted her body around to wave back at Ford and Stan. “See you around, and nice to meet you. Promise I won’t sic the puppies on you next time!”

In spite of his own worry, Ford smiled. He waved back at her before she went through the door. 

When he looked back Ivy was already walking towards her table of equipment. Ford freely moved with Stan towards the staircase. He paused at the top of the stairs, glancing back to see Ivy gathering items into a large black bag. He half considered yelling a final 'good luck' to her, but decided against it.

He continued down the metal and stone lined corridor and back to the car with Stanley. Worry seemed to settle down and spread into Ford’s chest even once he’d used a syringe from the bag of stolen- Ah, a syringe from the bag of necessarily facilitated medical supplies to administer the antitoxin into Stanley’s arm.

Ford let out a sigh of relief, once he’d placed a small piece of gauze over the small wound, putting all the supplies back in the bag and starting the car. “At the very least you shouldn’t get any worse, though it will take some time for you to get better.” He checked around the abandoned side road as though someone was going to rush up on them just now that they had found a moment of safety. There was no one though, so Ford check on Stan. “Do you feel like you’re going to puke?”

Stan nearly smiled. He had leaned back in the passenger side seat, head slotted into the space between the headrest and the door. “Not here.” He said, his hand aimlessly patting against the middle console. 

“So that’s an ‘after you get out of the car’ then.” Ford smiled wryly. 

Stan made a short, abrupt laugh that roughly escaped his chest. It sounded painful, but if it was then Stan didn’t let it show on his face. 

At that point, there was a ringing that filled the car. It stopped for a second, then rang once more. 

“Shit.” Stan said, clumsily trying to extricate the cell phone out of his coat.

Ford reached over after a second, and pulled it out for him.

Stan gave a brief nod of thanks, and leaned back again answering the phone, evidently trying to quiet his wheezing. “Hey Boss.”

Ford abruptly tensed at that, watching Stan. He could only hear one half of the conversation and not a very enlightening one at that.

“Mmm.” Stan murmured.

Then after another moment. “Yup.” 

“No.” He quietly breathed, voice coming out taxed for the continued lack of minimal air. “The clinic.”

A long pause before Stan finally spoke. “Long story.”

He straightened up in the seat a bit. “Yeah.” Voice pitching in appeasement. Was Cobblepot getting upset at Stanley?

“Uh...” Stan trailed off, confusedly glancing around then his gaze caught onto Ford’s face. “Hold on.” He said before simply holding out the phone to Ford.

Ford’s chest froze up into a solid brick of ice as he looked at the phone for a moment.

“Ford...” He said plainly, keeping it out in the air between them. “can’t talk.”

Hesitatingly, Ford took the phone and held it up to his ear, dreading the presence that he knew was on the other end of the line. “Hello?” He spoke into the phone, fingertips pressing into the seam at the side of the hard plastic.

An inquisitive voice, responded. “Hello.” Though fairly grainy across the line, it was still composed in a very precise manner. 

It immediately brought Ford back to the practiced, polite formality ingrained into the voices he heard at scholarly conferences from the more seasoned and reputable scientists. Every note carried just so with an absolute, natural ease as though they had never spoken any other way. An inimitable result from countless meetings and intellectual discussions with fellow scientists for several years. 

The voice had always filled Ford with a quick and easy reverence before, knowing what had been behind those perfected tones. The same voice from Cobblepot filled him with an icy and unerringly certain wariness of the man. Oswald Cobblepot had not been active in legal business for long, his activities as The Penguin, however, stretched back many years in the newspapers. 

He may as well have been talking to a literal mob boss. He bitingly though to himself. Then Ford realized, that's what he was actually doing. Ford could practically see the man, standing deceptively civil beside a wooden desk as his fingers calmly flexed around a black phone held to his ear.

“Stanley-" Ford began, "with his current condition, he can’t speak very well. Nor breathe or walk very well, for that matter.” Ford looked back at Stan, mutely beseeching him for what he wanted communicated so Ford could just end this call already.

Frustratingly, Stan just frowned at him with clear confusion.

He couldn’t fault Stan for it in the slightest, but the entire situation was already making him feel like his skin was prickling all over. “What did you ask him?” He spoke into the phone, feeling his jaw working unnaturally. His voice didn’t sound disjointed or similar despite his own feelings otherwise, thankfully. It felt like it was coming from something besides himself.

Briefly, there was a cold silence from the other end. “I asked where he was.” 

“He’s with me.” Ford answered, immediately regretting the phrasing since the next logical question would be ‘who are you,’ and frankly, Ford didn’t want to answer that question. “I’m taking him back to his apartment. He’s been infected with a toxin from some flowers that he handled earlier today, and he’s in no condition to do anything.” 

“I see.” Cobblepot started, like he had hardly considered what had been said. Ford immediately felt a flare up of resentment as he expected Cobblepot to tell Stanley to come in all the same, and he nearly missed what Cobblepot actually said. “Please, let him know to call me as soon as he feels well then. If I don’t hear back from him, I’ll be sending someone to check on him.” 

Someone to check on him? “I understand.” Ford said. “Goodbye.”

“Goodbye.” The word thankfully echoed back to him, and the instant Ford heard it he ended the call before Cobblepot could possibly decide to ask anything else.

Swirling resentment circling his mind, Ford handed the phone back to Stan who took it easily.

“Hey.” Stan’s voice pulled Ford out of his thoughts. When Ford looked over he noticed Stan had put the phone back up to his ear and had been talking into it rather than to him.

Caught off guard, Ford just stopped to watch Stan.

Even after a few seconds, Stan’s expression didn’t change and he didn’t do so much as check the phone itself or say anything else into it, still keeping it held up beside his ear.

Ford had to force himself from breaking the silence.

After nearly an entire minute, Stan’s expression finally changed and he turned the phone around to check the screen. 

Stanley.” Ford said, starting off in a tone that even he could recognize was rife with concern, but thankfully Stan was surely too gone to notice. “Stanley, how aware are you of your current surroundings? On a scale from one to ten.”

Stan had looked back at him and answered without hesitation. “Ten.” 

Ford crumpled his fingers across his face, pushing his glasses up into his hair as he took a thin breath inwards. He allowed himself a second, before putting his glasses back in place and beginning to make sure Stan was actually buckled before driving. 

“Confusion is one of the symptoms, Stanley. You, I have to mention, do not have that much awareness right now.” He supposed that wasn’t too bad considering it was actually a fairly minor symptom. He wasn't so sure why exactly that, of all things, was what nearly sent him over the edge. Maybe it was because he was only just now realizing that Stan had been pretending to be better than he was and Ford had no idea for how long he had been doing that. He didn't even know how bad Stanley actually was at this very moment! He should have known! 

Ford squeezed his hands around the steering wheel, and took a quick glance at him. Stan had his hands crossed across his stomach in what looked like a casual position. “Nausea is too.” He pointed out plainly. “Antitoxin cannot get rid of toxin that has already attached to your tissue, what your body has already absorbed.”

“It doesn’t fix the already developed symptoms or sustained damage.” Ford continued to explain. “It only neutralizes the remaining poison so you can start to heal.”

Your body has to do the rest.

Ford let out a breath. “For all we know, you could be like this for a long while.”

There was a palpable silence that felt like it was clustering thickly in the air.

“... What?” Stan finally asked.

“Your body-" Ford nearly felt himself curse. "Your body has to fix itself still, of what has already been messed up.” At whatever stage it was at when the antitoxin entered Stanley's bloodstream.

Stan nodded his head slightly. “Okay.”

Ford tried to shake off the nerves. He'd given Stanley the antitoxin. The only thing left that could even help was just allowing him to recover. Actually. The fact that there was so little that could even be done to assist the process was beyond frustrating.

Stan’s voice unexpectedly pulled him from his thoughts. “Hey.”

“Yes?” Ford quickly glanced over at Stan who was pulling himself up a bit. “What is it?”

Stan shook his head. “The antitoxin...”

Ford gave a single nod to let Stan know he was listening. 

Stan wheezed between nearly every other word. “Gotta give that to the clinic.”

“The... clinic?” 

After a fair bit of back and forth, and wheezing, Ford found out that Stan was talking about the Memorial Free Clinic which was somewhere on Park Row. Specifically, he wanted Ford to give the antitoxin to Thompkins, who Ford hoped was a doctor. Why this precise person at this clinic, Ford didn’t press for the literal sake of Stan’s breathe. 

Stan had mentioned ‘the clinic’ during his short portion of the phone call with Cobblepot, which he suspected was somehow apart of this. He doubted Cobblepot told him to do this since Stan definitely hadn’t been able to communicate that they even had the antitoxin. Maybe it was just to get the antitoxin off of their hands which Ford didn't need so much of. It shouldn't take any time and it would help more people at a medical clinic. 

Ford parked the car alongside the road nearby the clinic, not particularly surprised to see the name ‘Wayne’ attached to the clinic’s name. Apparently it was the last name of some family with enough money to support multiple buildings, organization, scholarships, and who knew what else. He swore every campus building had some ‘Wayne’ room or wing.

Ford took another moment looking over Stan, scanning him like he might catch something important that meant Stan shouldn’t even be left alone even for a short minute. All he had to do was just tell the person at the counter to give the item to Thompkins though, it wouldn’t take any time. “How close are you to vomiting?” He asked, carefully pouring a small portion of the antitoxin into another vial to keep with them, just to be safe.

Stan waved him off. “I’ll be fine.” He insisted. 

Stan wasn't fine. Ford frowned, carefully putting the smaller capsule into the cup holder.

“‘m just laying down.” Stan insisted, voice thin, but really he did seem to be slightly better than he had been before. At least speaking wise.

Nonetheless, Ford took the medical bag in the back seat and emptied the contents out before handing the plastic bag to Stan. “This is for if you need to vomit. Do you understand?”

Stan took the bag, holding it in his lap. “Yup.”

“Okay.” Ford stressed, promising perhaps more for his own sake than Stan’s. “I will be right back.” 

Stan gave a brief wave to show he heard as Ford got out of the car and locked it.

Ford kept a fast pace as he walked towards the building, only barely pausing after pushing through the door. There were several people inside the small waiting lobby, but the check in counter seemed to only have a couple of people in line. As he started to walk towards it though, a relatively loud voice to his left within the quietly wheezing room caught his attention.

“Eyyy! There he is!”

Without thinking, Ford quickly stepped around the counter entirely, going right through the door beside it. Thankfully, it led into a hallway rather than a bathroom or small room. He shut the door cleanly behind himself, briskly walking down the hallway. He kept an ear out behind him for the door to open, on edge and restraining himself from actually running. When he finally made it around a corner, he paused for a second to collect his thoughts and properly hear any noises coming from the direction of the waiting lobby. He could vaguely hear a voice in the distance, but otherwise nothing.

He only just now registered how he had, within seconds, further complicated this short drop off.

He couldn't just stick around in that lobby though! Who knew who that had been?! It had to have been someone mistaking him for Stanley. He wasn't going to risk finding out if it was someone friendly or not when Stanley was still virtually immobile on his own. Even if Stanley was safe somewhere, Ford didn't want to meet anyone else today! Not today!

Ford’s eye caught onto someone in scrubs and a mouth mask walking down the hall, and he turned to catch their attention. “Excuse me,” his voice sounded thin and hasty, though he quickly got it back under control. “I’m looking for someone named Thompkins.”

“Sir,” the man said, caught off guard, “did you check in?”

“No. I’m not here to check in. I just have to deliver something to them.” When the man’s expression didn’t ease up, still cautious, Ford actually pulled out the vial itself for show. “Sincerely, I just need to deliver this.”

As soon as the man saw the vial of purple liquid his demeanor completely changed. Far more than Ford had actually expected consider his own admittedly, suspicious introduction. “She’s right this way.” The man said, turning and leading Ford back down the way he had started with a quick stride.

Needless to say, Ford wasn’t a fan of the overly accepting behavior. Surely, Stan wouldn’t have sent him to deliver the antitoxin somewhere dangerous though. At least not to someone directly dangerous themselves.

Only a few doors down, the man urgently knocked on a door. “Doctor Thompkins?”

“Yes?” A voice answered on the other side of the door, before the door was opened by a fairly older women behind it. Her gray hair was tied up into a bun at the back of her head and she wore a white lab coat over her outfit. Her gaze flicked to the man then back at Ford, who she looked at for a second longer than seemed normal, before looking back to the man.

“You’ve got a delivery?” The man said to her.

“Of course, thank you.” She said without a single hesitation as though she had already known about him. Ford quickly glanced down the hallway. No glowing red exit sign.

Doctor Thompkins turned back briefly towards the inside of the room, and opened her mouth and frowned a bit. There was the sound of splashing liquid into something plastic. “Just stay there on your side, please. I won’t be long.” She told the unseen patient, before exiting and closing the door. “Come along then.” She said to Ford, urging him to walk alongside her, “my office is clear.”

Alright.” Ford said stiffly, trying to keep his distance with the woman who seemed to stay at a pace so they would be side by side. 

She didn’t say anything along the way, before coming to a door that indeed seemed to lead to a homely looking office which she gestured for him to enter. After he stepped inside, keeping a cautious eye on her, she entered as well and closed the door after herself.

“Do I get to ask why you’re in disguise?” She started, a small amused smile, of all things, on her face. 

“What? No, I’m- This isn’t a disguise.” He told her. “I’m not who you think I am, I’m his brother.”

The doctor looked him up and down for a moment, not suspicious, but Ford couldn’t tell if she still believed him or not. “Alright then.” She said. “What’s the delivery?”

It took Ford a moment to recalibrate himself to his situation all over again, not knowing what to make of Doctor Thompkin's ready acceptance. Ford pulled out the antitoxin and held it out for her. “It’s an antitoxin for the current outbreak,” he explained. “One milliliter is one dose which should work when the symptoms are farther along. St- My brother told me to give it to you.”

Doctor Thompkins brightened up almost immediately. She took the antitoxin from Ford, looking it over for a moment. “Thank you.” She said, looking back up at him. “How long ago did you take a dose?” She asked.

“Well I- I didn’t.” He answered. Immediately, he became hyper aware of himself. His slightly thin voice, his tight throat and chest, his ‘anxiety’ symptoms that had been a constant for the past half hour. It probably said something that such symptoms hadn’t stuck out to him as odd. Well, it either said something about him or his experiences this past year. He didn’t care what that was though either way.

“Ah.” Doctor Thompkins said with a small pause. “Did you know you’re in Stage 1 of the outbreak already?”

“I’m just now realizing that, yes.” He said. “Apologies, but I believe-”

“Don’t worry, I’ll get a syringe, you stay here.” She told him with an appeasing wave, heading off into the hallway. It only took a couple moments before she returned, and began instructing him to sit in a chair. 

Ford knew this woman was very unlikely to mean him harm, but he tensed up in the chair, regardless. His mind immediately throwing possibilities of what she could be injecting into him instead of the antitoxin. He rolled up a sleeve, enough to allow access for the injection.

“You need to relax your arm.” She told him, after using an alcohol wipe for the area, holding the syringe in hand. 

An image flashed through his mind of Doctor Thompkins with yellow eyes and her hand arched back with the syringe, winding it back to plunge into him. Several other scenarios flashed after that in the back of his mind in response to it, and he shifted tightly. “Right.” He said, quickly thinking how he could just administer antitoxin to himself once at the apartment. He forcibly pushed the idea back though and relaxed his arm.

While Ford was still in an inner debate with himself if his fear was irrational or not, she pushed the syringe in. It immediately incited a knee jerk reaction, a spike of panic crossing him as he looked at her face expecting a sudden expression change. Not even half a second later though, she removed the syringe and was putting a bandage over the spot. The injection was so quick that it was over in no time at all. She was already disposing the trash and putting the supplies aside on her desk for the time being.

Ford stood, rolling down his shirt sleeve then shrugging his arm back through the arm of his coat. He couldn't help thinking about the possibility that he had just been injected with some poison or anesthetic that would just take a few moments to kick in. However, that- surely Stan wouldn't send him to someone that would so readily do something like that. Although, he wasn't even entirely certain of that. All the same, he tried to keep the idea at the back of his mind as much as possible. 

“I appreciate it.” He said, standing up.

“It’s no problem at all. It’s what I do.” She said, turning towards him again. “Is Stan alright?”

Maybe she really did believe he wasn't Stanley. “He got the antitoxin half an hour ago, but he had developed most of the symptoms by that point, unfortunately.” Ford told her. “I apologize, but I need to go and take him home.”

She didn’t take any offense whatsoever, and even agreed, giving him a brief and very fast list of what to do for him until the absorbed toxin wore off. He tried not to think of the care instructions as an attempt to stall for enough time for drugs in his system to take effect. She was going through the list faster than she could have been.

As they exited into the hallway, Ford nearly forgot the person from the lobby room, but remembered just as Doctor Thompkins had told him goodbye. “Excuse me,” he interrupted her leave, “but which way is a back door, please?”

She paused. “The back door?”

“Ah... yes.” 

“You know, there is a front door.” She said, a smile reaching her kind eyes.

He smiled briefly, though it was significantly less funny on his end of things right now. “Yes, but there’s some people there I would rather avoid.”

“You haven’t been here before, have you?” 

“No? Why?” Ford asked.

“This clinic has a very strict no violence policy.” She told him.

“Ha." He chuckled. "I’m sorry, but I don’t really think a policy is actually going to stop certain people. Especially considering how extreme certain people in this town seem to be.”

“It does when this is the only clinic that treats everyone free of charge and confidential. That last part is important to a lot of people.” Doctor Thompkins replied easily. “If a known criminal gets shot, this is the only place in the city they can get treated for that without getting turned into the cops.”

Ford processed that for a moment, curiosity getting the best of him. It actually made enough sense to be plausible. "And it works?”

“Believe me, it works. In the past ten years, less than a dozen people have ever broken the policy. Less if you don’t count the ones who weren’t conscious enough to know where they were.”

She continued amiably, nodding her head down the hall. “Some people still like taking the back door though. Take a left and go down the small set of stairs.” She told him. “And make sure to tell your brother I said stay out of trouble.”

“I will.” Ford said, too antsy to feel grateful. He’d be appreciative later, provided he didn’t begin passing out before making it out the door. “Good luck, Doctor Thompkins.”

"Stay safe." She said, turning away with a purposeful stride.

True to her word, the back door was after a set of stairs, leading out into the alleyway behind the building. When Ford made it back to the car, Stan was still in much the same position as he had been when Ford had initially left. 

“How are you feeling?” Ford asked, putting the keys into the ignition. 

“Kinda... better.” Stan said. There was no signs that he had done anything other than perhaps shift to get more comfortable.

“Good.” Ford responded, “Don’t forget you’re still poisoned though.”

Stan shrugged as though it was just a trivial fact by this point. Considering Stanley was already improving, it could be, if actually wasn't worse off than he seemed.

All in all, the drive back was calm and it stayed that way up until the point when they entered the building and Stan made a loud groaning noise at the sight of the stairs. Ford would have been lying if he said he hadn't been initially concerned. Stan's petulant and grumbling nature though put him at ease. It was the most himself he had seemed since Ivy had showed up.

The pair moved in tandem, making their way up the stairs together. By the time they reached the second set of stairs though, Ford really might as well have been carrying Stan. It was partially Ford’s own fault as Stan’s pace had only been slowing down and Ford had, in response, just picked him up more rather than taking only two steps at a time. Finally at the door, they were both wheezing.

Getting Stan to his own bed was easy and thankfully Stan didn’t seem at all concerned about how Ford had messily tossed the blankets over him since Ford didn’t quite have the energy that would require pulling the blankets free from under Stan before covering him up. He'd pulled a bucket out from under the sink and gotten a cup of water to put beside the bed for Stan.

By the time that Ford's own breathing had evened back out, he'd finally come to accept that Stanley really wasn't pretending to be in a better condition than he truly was. Stan's wheezing was actually going down now, even from what it had been before the two of them had climbed the stairs up to the apartment.

Ford let himself relax for a moment then went rummaging for a shirt in one the dresser’s drawers that was now considered his. As he did, he pulled out a dark cloth from the bottom of the drawer that turned out to be a black tracksuit with orange accents. 

“Stanley, you put your track suit in my drawer.” He said, holding it up for him to see. 

Stan lifted his head off the pillow, squinting at the tracksuit for a long moment before letting his head fall back down again. “No, I didn’t.” He said.

Ford rolled his eyes, turning back to the drawer and balling up the suit and returning it back into one of Stan’s drawers. After retrieving a clean set of clothes, Ford did a final check on Stan to make sure he was fine. Then he took a shower and changed.

He set the different vials from Poison Ivy onto his makeshift desk in their- in the living room. Belatedly, he realized that he had just brought concentrated toxin into an apartment building full of people. Not particularly the safest thing to do, but he would take it to his office at the university tomorrow. 

Ford had to admit that Ivy’s toxin, crossbred from a variety of plants, was very interesting. It was the most interesting chemical substance he’d had a chance to examine since well- since a while. The lab experiments of his own classes were simple and straightforward to him. He had done several variations of these same experiments before. They were all familiar, which was relaxing, but that also meant none of it was new to him. 

Poison Ivy’s toxin had been the first truly new chemical compound he had encountered since his anomaly research. He hadn’t fully realized just how much he had missed it until now, when all he could think about was seeing what he could find out about it. What it could react to? A thousand questions and possibilities, that would already have him leaving for the campus laboratory even despite the possibility of toxic inhalants from stray flowers if it weren’t for his worry over Stan’s condition overshadowing his curiosity.

Ford glanced over the notebooks on the desk. His hand went past the ones filled with research and possibilities about what to do with Bill and hovering over the blank ones. 

He pulled out one of the few hard backed journals. It was a red violet, a slightly more purple hue than his research journals of Gravity Falls had been. He set it down on the desk and began to sketch Ivy’s lab as they had originally found it, leaving space to write in later. 

Soon after starting though, Ford paused, lifting the pen back from the page.

 


 

Stan laid on his bed, an empty bucket and water sitting near his face as most of his confusion lifted. He had started getting kind of hazy about the time they’d gotten to the greenhouse and it kept getting worse.

He remembered sitting on an uncomfortable metal floor and realizing that if he needed to get out of there that he wasn’t able to do that on his own anymore. Heck, he hadn’t even know what way was out anymore. And Ford? Ford could just leave him behind, he knew it. Ford would leave. 

He’d only managed to relax because Harley was by him. She’d notice if Stan couldn’t keep up with them if they started moving. He’d bet that she’d even help him at least long enough to get somewhere safe. 

From there, it got a lot harder to keep track of. Stan finally getting back to his car, recognizing it as soon as he sat in it. A call from Oswald that he'd passed off to Ford when it got too complicated. He'd say it was a miracle he remembered the rest of the gang were still poisoned, except he was pretty sure Oswald had asked about them and it had just taken Stan a while to piece together that they could drop the antitoxin off where they should be at. Telling Ford where to take the damn stuff felt like it took forever though.

Ford had gotten frustrated too, probably because his ideal evening didn't involve getting slowed down because he had to drag Stan around. 

Eh, getting poisoned wasn't really Stan's ideal evening either. It wasn't getting stabbed though. 

Just as Stan was deciding he might as well sleep, he heard footsteps heading towards his room and the door opened. 

Ford entered calmly, pausing for a moment and looked at Stan like he was trying to scan something off of his expression. He wasn’t wearing the trench coat and he had some book in a hand at his side, his other hand stayed where it was barely touching the door knob. He hesitated for a moment before walking over.

To Stan's surprise, Ford walked to the dresser beside the mattress and sat down, his back against the dresser, not looking at him.

"What are you doing?" Stan asked.

He held the book in his lap for a moment before he answered, beginning to adjust. "...Sketching."

Ford settled into a more comfortable position then opened the book up on his knees. He flipped to one of the first pages and from where Stan was at he could see the right page, blank, and the left where there was an unfinished sketch. Ford uncapped a pen, holding the left cover of the journal steady with a hand hand as he carefully began drawing.

Stan watched the sketch develop for a minute or two, before eventually closing his eyes. Listening to the quiet and familiar sound of a pen softly scratching across paper, he started to fall asleep. 

 


 

Black shoes on a metal railing gave way as Robin, drenched from head to toe in water that turned the bright colors of his leotard dark, gracefully dropped into a sitting position on the edge of the small water tower that fed into the Green Thumb Nursery. The cape, however, fell to the metal with a loud thwap and with zero grace to speak of. He grimaced slightly at the sound, the expression deepening when the communicator on his belt beeped. Lightly dripping, he picked up the communicator and pressed a button on it.

“Robin here.” He answered.

To his surprise, Alfred answered rather than Batman. “Are you in a position to talk at the moment?” The butler asked calmly. “You sound a bit out of breath at the moment, sir.”

“No, I can talk.” He glanced around the ground, but didn't spot anything. Not a surprise, really. Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn had to have been long gone by now. “Is Batman okay?”

“I’m afraid since you left, his condition has worsened. However, I called you to inform you of another matter.”

“Is it a good other matter?”

“Would you consider robbery a good matter, sir?” Alfred asked with a barely there sarcasm.

Robin groaned, running a hand over his face.

Alfred continued. “It seems that Wayne Laboratories has just suffered a break in.”

“When did that happen?!”

“Roughly thirty seconds ago, sir. Judging by the security footage it seems the culprits were three individuals wearing black.”

“Alright, I’m on it!” Robin stood up and walked over to the ladder, sliding down it to the ground.

“Might I inquire as to what happened with Poison Ivy?”

“Uhh...” Robin trailed off.

“Well I'll leave you to be the one to tell Master Wayne once he has recovered, seeing as it won't be anytime today. Do be careful, Master Dick.”

“Will do, Alfred.” Robin promised before placing the communicator back into his belt again.