Stan wakes up the morning of the kids' birthday party before anyone else. He doesn't mean to, but he keeps hearing a squeaking noise, and it's driving him crazy.
He searches the Shack starting at the attic because weird cutesy noises have a good chance of being Mabel-related. The kids are both fast asleep, though. They're sprawled out on the floor between their beds, looking like they fell asleep talking to each other. Stan ignores the pressing matter of annoying noises to just stop and get a good look at them.
Today they leave. Stan knows he's made a few mistakes with them this summer, but they seem pretty fond of him anyway. If he’s being completely honest, which he never really feels comfortable doing but he can about manage it in his own head without feeling exposed, he's going to miss them more than he has words for.
The squeaky noise is gonna kill him, though. It’s not here, so time to check if Ford’s dissecting a gnome or something.
Stan goes through the house. The noise is weirdly hard to track down. It seems to come from everywhere. He’s about to go check in the basement when he spots something kinda glowy through the window of the den.
Stan walks out of the house in his underwear and slippers and finds a giant glowing baby floating in the yard. It’s playing with a stuffed frog that squeaks with every squeeze.
“Welp,” he says. “So much for not totally losing my mind.”
“STANLEY PINES,” the baby says with a voice like getting your head shoved into an amp at a rock concert.
“Yep, that’s me,” Stan says. He’s already over this. One week of normal is apparently too much to ask the universe. “What did I do this time?”
“YOU HAVE DONE TIME BABY A FAVOR BY BESTING A MOST OBNOXIOUS FOE.”
“Time what?” Stan frowns, rubs the back of his head, and feels something float to the surface in the opaque soup of his mind. “Time Baby? You’re that god thing that give Soos the pizza, right?”
“INDEED. YOUR SOOS USED HIS GIFTED TIME WISH WITH WISDOM BEYOND HIS YEARS.”
“Yeah, okay. What’re you doing in my yard? Your… Time.. Baby... Lord-ness.” What exactly is the proper address for a giant floating baby, anyway?
“I AM NOT A LORD. I AM A BABY. THOSE GUYS ARE DOODOO-HEADS, AND I AM HERE TO HONOR YOUR BRAVERY IN THE FACE OF ANOTHER DOODOO-HEAD.”
“Which doodoo-head? I meet a lot of ‘em,” Stan says with a shrug, because apparently this is happening.
“THE DOODOO-HEAD KNOWN AS BILL CIPHER. HE FORCED ME TO REGENERATE MY EXISTENCE AND THAT IS VERY ANNOYING. I DO NOT LIKE DOING IT. ONE THOUSAND YEARS IS NO SMALL HURDLE EVEN FOR ONE SUCH AS MYSELF.” Time Baby punctuates this by pounding his fists on his floating carrier thing and you know, sparking lightning out of his eyes. The lightning dies back down after a moment, and Time Baby looks at Stan with confusion. “WHY ARE YOU COVERING YOUR EARS?”
Stan winces, caught. “Uh, it’s nothing. Just, your voice is a little… ear drum shatter-y?” he says.
“OH. YES. I HAVE BEEN TOLD THIS BY MY SUBJECTS BEFORE. WOULD YOU LIKE ME TO USE MY ‘INSIDE VOICE’? THOUGH WE ARE NOT INSIDE.”
“I mean, I don’t want to tell you what to do, Time Baby, uh... sir, but if you don’t mind.”
“I CAN HUMOR A HERO. HOW IS THIS?”
Only marginally less terrifying. Still somewhere in the nightmare range. “Great, great,” Stan says. “Perfect inside voice. Thanks. For that.”
“YOU ARE WELCOME. NOW, LET US DISCUSS THE MATTER OF THE REWARD I WISH TO GIVE TO YOU.”
“You really don’t have to do that,” Stan says. He’s usually not one to turn down rewards, but he’s feeling like maybe he wants this gigantic baby out of his yard as soon as possible. Kinda freaking him out. “I did it for my family, couldn’t have done it without them anyway, so...”
“YES. THIS IS HONORABLE. I WILL REWARD YOU FOR THIS. BILL WAS A JERK.”
“You really don’t have--”
“DO NOT DARE TO ARGUE WITH ME, THE OVERLORD OF TIME. YOU WILL ACCEPT THIS REWARD.”
Stan huddles down, covering his ears. He’s proud he doesn’t piss himself. “Okay! Okay! I will accept this reward! Sheesh!”
“GOOD.” Time Baby squeaks his frog toy with a satisfied air.
Stan straightens cautiously and says, “So… what’s the reward? Is it pizza? I’ll be honest, too much cheese gives me gas these days.”
“IT IS NOT PIZZA UNLESS YOU WILL IT TO BE SO. IT IS A TIME WISH.”
“And a Time Wish is?”
“A SINGLE WISH THAT ALLOWS YOU TO CHANGE ANYTHING IN TIME WITHOUT PARADOXICAL CONSEQUENCES. IT IS A FORCE OF EXTREME POWER.”
Stan blinks. “Anything in time?”
“Shit,” Stan says. His brain, soupy as it is even after a week of being reminded about the whole of his life begins bubbling with the possi--
“YOU MAY NOT USE THAT KIND OF LANGUAGE IN FRONT OF BABIES, EVEN IF YOU ARE A HERO,” Time Baby says. An old jam jar with ‘Swears Are for Squares!’ written in marker on it appears by Stan’s shoulder. “ONE TIME COIN.”
“I don’t have ‘time coins’.”
“ONE ERA APPROPRIATE COIN WILL DO.”
Stan searches his person. Even in just his sleeping underwear, he’s got a couple gold coins sewn into the waistband because he’s not a moron. Normally, he’d try getting out of this or finding a penny somewhere, but geeze. He’s not going to go ticking off another cosmic force creature at his family if he can help it. It’d be kinda awkward this time. Stan’s willing to punch a baby if he has to, but the kids might take that the wrong way.
“Here,” Stan says. He drops the coin in the jar with a clink, and the whole thing winks back out of any existence that he’s aware of. “So, you’re saying anything in time is mine to change?”
“That’s--” Amazing? Wonderful? Everything Stan’s ever wanted? ...Terrifying? “A lot to take in,” Stan says, eventually.
“IT IS A VERY SERIOUS MATTER,” Time baby agrees with a regal nod.
Stan rubs his face with both hands. He feels a little dizzy. He asks, “Can I phone a friend here?”
“YOU WISH TO MAKE A PHONE CALL?”
“No, I mean, can I consult someone else? Get advice?” Stan’s not sure why Ford and the kids haven’t coming running with all the bowel-shaking yelling. He thinks it’s probably Time Baby’s doing. “You doing something to my family to make them not hear you?”
“I HAVE SET ASIDE THIS TIME SLIVER FOR YOU AND I TO TALK. I CAN ALLOW THEM TO ENTER IT, IF YOU WISH TO CONSULT THEM.”
Stan thinks about all the times he and his brother have screwed up by not talking to each other. All those decades apart. Stan’s not even sure yet if Ford will want him around once the kids are gone, saving the world or no. It’s gonna kill him to say goodbye to the kids and possibly to Ford at the same time, but he hasn’t had the guts to check yet.
Then he thinks about the kids making the same mistakes, but working through it, asleep on the floor together. Stan thinks about falling asleep with Ford in the living room a couple nights ago, home movies playing quietly.
“Yeah, I’d like my brother here,” Stan says. “He’s the smart one, anyway.”
“VERY WELL.” Time baby picks up a duck toy and slams it down three times. He begins squeaking his frog toy again with the other fist. “STANFORD PINES. YOU ARE SUMMONED TO THE PRESENCE OF TIME BABY.”
Stan turns around to face the door. He wants to see Ford’s reaction. Sure enough, when Ford comes out a few moments later, he stops just outside the door and stares, but it’s kinda anti-climatic.
“Oh. Time Baby,” Ford says. Stan tries not to be too miffed that he doesn’t sound that surprised and is still somehow more dressed than him. Does he sleep in the trench coat outfit? That’s just sad. “To what do we owe the honor?”
“I HAVE COME TO THANK YOUR BROTHER FOR HIS BRAVERY IN DEFEATING THE EXTREME DOODOO-HEAD KNOWN AS BILL CIPHER. HE HAS ASKED FOR YOU TO ADVISE HIM ON THE MATTER.”
Ford looks from Time Baby to Stan, and then looks Stan up and down. “You couldn’t put on a robe?”
Oh, for the love of god. “Don’t make me smack you in front of a baby, Ford.”
Ford walks off the porch and comes to stand by him, perfectly within punching reach but like he’s not at all worried about that. More fool him. “What do you want my advice on, exactly?” he asks.
“Apparently I’m getting a ‘Time Wish’? Change anything from any point in time. No destroying reality by accident,” Stan says, and watches his brother’s face very carefully.
There’s the surprise he wanted. Ford’s eyes go wide, and he looks back and forth from Stan to Time Baby. “Oh,” he says.
“That’s definitely something.”
“You want me to tell the cosmic baby with power over time itself, ‘Hey, thanks for the honor, but I’m not dressed properly’?”
Ford narrows his eyes. “It was just a thought, Stanley.”
“Stupid thought,” Stan says. “I just told him your were the smart one, even. Maybe I should ask for the kids instead.”
“If they’re so used to you wandering around undressed that it wouldn’t warrant a comment, that says more about you than it does about me. They’re children.”
“What? It’s not like I’m walking around with my junk out, you weirdo. Some of us don’t wear turtlenecks and trench coats in the middle of summer.”
Ford takes a breath, inflates like an angry parrot, and begins , “Well, some of us--” only for Time Baby to slam his fist down again.
Stan and Ford both startle and look away from each other to Time Baby, who says, “I HAVE ALL OF TIME ITSELF AT MY COMMAND AND EVEN I DO NOT HAVE TIME FOR THIS, PINES BROTHERS.”
Stan winces and says, “Sorry.”
“Sorry,” Ford agrees. He doesn’t sound it, but Stan’s gonna let that slide. The jerk.
“So I’m thinking I can fix something,” Stan says instead of arguing further. “And I think I know what you’d want me to fix, but I figured I’d check in with you before altering reality.”
Ford frowns. “I’m not sure what you’re talking about, Stanley.”
“The he- ...ck you aren’t. I’m talking about that stupid machine of yours in high school. Fix that, you go to your dream school, everything’s great, right?” Stan says, his hands palm up toward Ford like he’s presenting the idea physically and not just in speech. It seems really obvious to him, but Ford’s big brain does weird things, sometimes.
Like now for instance. Ford doesn’t jump at the offer. Instead he makes a very serious face and says, “We have no way of knowing the consequences of that, Stanley. Even minor changes in recent time could potentially change life as Earth knows it. We’re talking about something that happened fifty years ago.”
“So what if it was fifty years ago? You telling me you’re over it?”
Ford pauses, his face twitches just slightly. He recovers quickly. “Stanley, you don’t know what you could be doing if you choose that,” he says, but it’s too late. Stan caught him; some part of Ford wants it.
...He does have a point though.
“Time Baby sir?” Stan asks.
“Is there any way I could get a preview? A ‘try before you buy’ deal?” Stan’s actively fought against offering customers those deals, but the hypocrisy doesn’t bug him in the least when they’re talking about all of reality. “If you’re giving a guy like me this much power, it might be good to see what could happen first.”
Time Baby hums thoughtfully. He even brings one tubby fist up to his chin and strokes it. It’d be cute if he wasn’t all-powerful and terrifying.
“THIS IS AN INTERESTING THOUGHT,” he says after a moment. “I AM INTRIGUED. THIS IS NOT A NORMAL PART OF THE TIME WISH BESTOWING, BUT AS THE DEED YOU HAVE DONE TO EARN IT IS NOT THE USUAL ACT OF WINNING GLOBNAR, I MAY BE WILLING TO MAKE AN EXCEPTION.”
Stan grins smugly at Ford. Ford still doesn’t look happy, but whatever.
“YES,” Time Baby continues. “I HAVE DECIDED THAT THIS IS HOW I SHALL SPEND MY TIME BEFORE NAPPING. I DO LIKE TO WATCH CAUSALITY IN ACTION. STANLEY PINES, YOU WILL HAVE THREE PREVIEWS AVAILABLE TO YOU BEFORE YOU MUST MAKE YOUR PERMANENT WISH. EACH PREVIEW SHALL LAST THE SPAN OF ONE DAY’S TIME WITHIN THE WORLD THAT RESULTS FROM YOUR ALTERATION. DO YOU FIND THIS ACCEPTABLE?”
“Absolutely, Time Baby sir. That’s very gracious of you,” Stan says, delighted to have gotten three chances, though he doesn’t think he’ll need them.
“YES. I AM A MOST BENEVOLENT OVERLORD,” Time Baby says smugly. He squeaks his duck and frog toys for emphasis.
“I’m coming, too,” Ford says stubbornly. Then he seems to remember he’s talking to a being that could crush him like an ant and adds more humbly, “Please. Stanley did ask for my advice.”
“VERY WELL. YOU MAY ACCOMPANY HIM IN THE PREVIEWS.”
“So you get to watch me fix things. It’ll be great,” Stan says. Ford just sighs and crosses his arms.
“NOW, STANLEY PINES.” Time baby says solemnly, holding a rattle like a scepter or judge’s gavel. “WHAT IS THE FIRST WISH YOU WISH TO TRY?”
Stan takes a deep breath and looks at his brother. Time to fix everything, huh? Even if Ford’s going to be a jerk about it, Stan will still do it for him.
He holds Ford’s gaze and says, “I wish I’d never broken my brother’s science project.”