Let's Pretend - Happy End

A Gravity Falls Fanfiction by Aoikami Sarah

Note: Stanford Pines has died protecting his family and world. Mabel, Stan, and Dipper will learn, as they grieve for him, just how much he sacrificed by devoting his life to his research. Inspired by Truth Ache, Legend of Korra, What Dreams May Come, and the "Beyond the Portal" comic by sammymationsart.

Stanley and Dipper were arguing again. Their voices increased in volume until they were interrupted by the door to Stanford's room flying open.

"What did I tell you? No fighting!" Mabel glared at them with red-rimmed eyes. They both looked away in shame and muttered apologies to her (but not to each other).

Not to be defeated, Dipper cleared his throat and spoke softly. "Stan, I would prefer it if you would not throw away all of Great Uncle Ford's stuff without letting me take a look at it. There might be something that's important to…"

Stanley clenched his fists and tried to do the same. "And I'll tell you again, you little brat, it's none of your business what of my brother's crap I toss or not."

As they started their dance again, Mabel looked down at the crap in question. Most of it was clothes, odds and ends, but there was also a box with a few books and notepads close to where she stood. She squatted down and rummaged through it.

Dipper's voice increased in pitch. "I put it to your that it is my business as he told me himself that he was glad I was carrying on his research."

"His research is in the damned bunker and the labs. You have all that. Whaddaya want with his old shirts? You got a fetish, kid?"

"A fet- what? No! Gross! There are papers in there, Stan," he growled, forgetting in his anger that his sister was there. He looked down and saw her flipping the pages of one of Stanford's handmade books. It was a bit smaller than the journals, but thicker. The pages didn't appear to have any illustrations, just line after line of the Author's cursive script. "See!" Dipper shouted and pointed to the book. "That could be important!"

"It's just prose," Mabel said, softly. The somber tone to her voice reminded them that they were not the only ones affected by Stanford Pine's sacrifice. It calmed the old man and boy back down again. She stood up and read a few lines for them. "She was standing on the kitchen counter, elbow-deep in the top cabinet, scrubbing away at the shelving when she heard the door. "What would you like for lunch?" she asked, pulling her head out and tossing a disgustingly dirty sponge into the sink. "We're low on cold-cuts and we need something for dinner so I thought I'd head to the-" she started but stopped when she realized she was speaking to the wrong man." Mabel looked to her brother and great-uncle with the same melancholy pout that had yet to leave her face for the last week. "I'm taking this. If you find anything else like it, give it to me." She turned and left, but paused before she reached the door. Her voice quivered. "And please, stop fighting."

Mabel read well into the night but was asleep before Dipper returned to their room. When she woke late the next morning, she saw him sleeping, snoring lightly with his back turned to her, curled tight under a blanket. His shoes and vest were on the floor, but she could see that he not only didn't get into bed properly, but that he was still fully clothed as well. She shushed her pet pig, Waddles, picked him and the book up, and quietly left the room.

She found her great-uncle sitting at the table in the kitchen, reading a newspaper and pushing soggy cereal around with his spoon. He heard her come in and offered a soft grunt in greeting. Waddles grunted back as he headed for his food bowl. Mabel poured herself a bowl of off-brand Cheerios but didn't reach for the milk. After a few moments, Stanley noticed a distinct silence, looked up from the paper, and immediately regretted it.

"Grunkle Stan," she said. Her eyes were tired, brows arched, mouth pouting slightly. "What ever happened to Fern?"

"What?"

"Who," she correct him. "Fernanda deSilva."

"This a test or somethin'?" he asked, shaking the paper open again. "Never heard of her." Just before he turned his gaze back to the news, he saw her jaw open in shock.

"What?" she whispered, lifted up the book she had in her lap and clutched it to her chest.

Stan's heart sank. His brother's book. The one she picked out of his things yesterday. That's right, she read it. He panicked and his brain auto-piloted through a half-dozen good stories to cover, to evade, to keep her from harm. "Well, the thing with that is…" he began, the classic Stan-the-Conman grin-mask descending like second nature. He froze. "No," Stan frowned and tossed the newspaper aside. "I said I wasn't gonna lie to you anymore and I mean it, even if the truth hurts. You read about my brother falling for this Fern in that book, didn't you?"

She nodded.

He took a deep breath and looked her straight in the eye. "She's fiction. He made her up."

Mabel made a rasping gasp of a sob. The tender, innocent story of her great-uncle falling in love had kept her up for hours the night before. It was written in such a way that she was sure it had been real. "He never found happiness?"

Startled, the old man got up from his chair, quickly crouched beside her and gave her a hug. "No, sweetie. He had to write himself happy."

Mabel cried into the shoulder of Stan's bathrobe for a little while and he didn't let her go until she had quieted. Stan straightened his back slowly, keeping any comment on how much it hurt to himself and sat back down across from her. He pushed the now inedible bowl of cereal away from him and folded his arms on the table. Stan pursed his lips and let out a slow breath. "He had-I dunno what you call it these days-he was a social retard, ya know?" Mabel chastised his word-use softly. "Sorry, social-handicapped person. Better? He hated parties and crowds and stuff-made him nervous. And forget about girls. I'd set him up with someone and he'd clam up, or shout weirdly, or stutter, or try to play cool and look like a jackass. So he made girls up. Wrote stories about 'em. None of 'em gross or perverted, just cutesy and innocent almost, but they always had a great plot. It was never simple. She was really a mermaid in disguise, or, her family was in the mafia and he had to avoid getting killed by her dad, or something. He read 'em to me when we were kids and I remember liking them because they always had some twist or intrigue. This Fern was probably like that, right?"

Mabel nodded and put the book on the table. She ran her hands over the fabric cover and her eyes unfocused on it as she recalled the story. "She was the housekeeper you hired when you were living here."

It was Stan's turn to gasp. Mabel's eyes shot up to his face. "I did?"

"Yeah. You needed someone to clean the place up. Was that fiction, too?"

"He…" Stan was trembling. "He wrote about me? And I lived here with him?"

She nodded. "After you got divorced."

His vision blurred as his eyes welled with tears. "Were we happy? Stanf…" Saying his name for the first time since his brother had passed felt like swallowing a knife. "Stanford an' me?"

Mabel nodded and was already on her feet when Stan broke down. Any shame he might have felt at exposing his raw feelings in front of his young grandniece were washed away in his torrent of grief. He let her wrap her arms around him and they both sobbed loudly. Stan was nearly incoherent, spouting how much he missed his twin and regretting that Stanford was gone and he was still here and how he thought that after their falling out that he hadn't wanted anything to do with him. When he'd finally calmed down, Mabel still clung to him, her arms around his neck and her head on his chest. He hiccuped a little and stroked her hair. "Sweetie? Can I read it? I'll give it back, I promise."

She released him, stood, and picked the book up off the table. "It cuts off," she said, opening it to about two-thirds of the way through and showed him the last page. Mabel bit her lip. "He didn't get a happy ending. Not in life and not in here, either."

Her words cleaved him to the point of physical pain. "Well, maybe you can write one for him. A good fiction love story with heroics and intrigue where he gets the girl."

The twelve-year-old girl's eyes lit up and she hugged the book to herself. "Grunkle Stan, you're a genius!" A little of the old, happy, optimistic Mabel finally shined through. "The blank pages-we can fill them in! Will you help me?"

Stan beamed at her and wiped the tears from his eyes. "You bet!"

.x.

It didn't take long for Stanley to get through what his brother had written and after lunchtime he emerged from his room with the book. He looked very tired, but Mabel saw relief in his puffy eyes. "Ok, kiddo. I got some ideas," he said opening the book to one of the chapters. "There's this scene with us arguing. It sounds like I was up to something, er, he was making me be up to something. Check it out." He cleared his throat and did his best imitation of his late brother as he read his dialog.

"What the hell were you thinking?!" Stanford shouted at his bleary-eyed brother.

Stanley sat on the edge of his bed, rubbed his eyes and groped for his glasses. "What's goin' on, Ford? It's the middle of the night..."

"You let a stranger live here?"

"Stranger? Oh, Fern? She's ok."

"Ok? I cannot have someone untrustworthy in this house twenty-four-seven!"

"Have you seen the kitchen?"

"What?! Stan, I don't care if I can eat off the floor! If she's working for someone who…"

"She checked out with the SOHM, she's clean. You think I'd let her stay before I did that? She's just a gal in need. Jeez, Ford, you're wound too damn tight. Now quit flyin' off the handle and trust me. And get some sleep. You look like a crazy person." Stanley grunted and flopped back down to sleep.

Stanford gaped at him for a moment, then slammed the door shut on his way out.

"I think we can have it so that I hired her because I wanted to find him a girl. He describes her as being curvy with long dark brown hair. What a nerd! Couldn't possibly be a blond bombshell, could she?" He sighed melodramatically. "So maybe I was pullin' the wool over his eyes a little in order to hook 'em up."

"Ooh, that's good!" Mabel agreed. "But hey, what's the S-O-H-M?"

"Uh…" Stanley blanched. "I won't lie to ya, but…" he played with the belt of his bathrobe as he tried to think of what he could tell her. "That's something that's best that you don't know about. In fact, we should probably edit it out. He didn't think anyone would ever read this."

"Now I really want to know." Mabel said, her eyes sparkling.

"Well, you're not gonna. Just cause I won't lie to ya, don't mean I gotta reveal things to ya that might hurt ya!" Mabel winced as he raised his voice. "Sorry, Sweetie, but that's the truth and that's that. We can change it to say 'FBI' or something. Same thing, except knowing about the FBI won't get you disappeared."

"Yikes! Ok. Done asking about whatever that was."

Both of their attentions were diverted to the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs. Mabel greeted her brother and he gave her a half of a smile, raised a hand in a small wave and hurried out the back door, letting it slam behind him. Mabel made a face. She told Stan that she hadn't spoken more than a few words to her brother in the last few days. He assured her that he'd come around and sincerely hoped that he would.

.x.

In the early afternoon, Dipper was hungry enough to return to the shack for something to eat. He tip-toed in and raided the fridge. Mabel and Stan were nowhere to be found, and he noted that the Stanley Mobile was missing. "Good, they're in town," he said and breathed a sigh.

"Hey, Dipstick," a familiar voice made him jump and have to juggle the soda and snacks he had retrieved from the fridge.

He cried out in alarm. "Pacifica?! What are you doing here?"

"Your gift-shop servant let me in. I…" she looked around furtively. She held a large blue box in her hands. "I heard about your uncle. I came to give you and Mabel my condolences," she said. It was the proper thing to do, even though being in the Mystery Shack made her skin crawl. "So yeah. Sorry for your loss."

"Yeah," Dipper said, his brows coming together. He suspiciously eyed the large rectangular box she carried. "Thanks. That all?"

Pacifica shot him an annoyed look. "Uh… yeah?"

"Ok. Bye." Dipper walked around her, out of the kitchen and toward the back door.

She spun around as he passed. "Where's Mabel?"

"I don't know. Bye," he said, nudging the door open with his shoe and jogging off into the woods behind the shack with his armload of junk food.

"Ok! Bye!" she mocked him, shouting. "What the actual flip was that all about?!" she shouted, turned around and saw Stanley and Mabel coming towards her from the Gift Shop. "Whoa, what, how, you…? Aren't you…?" Pacifica stammered pointing at Stan. "Dead?!"

Mabel had to calm her down and explain that as it turned out there were two Stan Pines. She was a little confused, but accepted it. They had still experienced the loss of a family member. "I brought you some chocolates. Happiness in a box." It was wrapped in a blue silk ribbon and said 'Moonstruck Chocolate Co.' on the cover.

"Whoa! High end stuff!" Stanley raised his brows.

"Yeah, duh. Anyway. Mabel, I am so sorry. I didn't know your uncle, but still. This has got to be hard for you guys."

Mabel nodded. "Harder for Dipper."

"Tell me about it," she said, flipping her hair over her shoulder. "Little creep just blew me off."

"You saw him?!"

Pacifica raised a brow. "Yeah, but after the way he treated me, I don't think I want to again any time soon."

Mabel pouted, looked to Stan and made up her mind to have a heart-to-heart with her brother-whether he wanted to or not.

.x.

By the following day, Dipper had successfully avoided his sister and great-uncle for another twenty-four hours. Stan and Mabel took their time crafting the plot of the romance they were writing. After lunch, Mabel tapped the pages of loose leaf paper on the kitchen table neatening them and cleared her throat for dramatic effect.

"Stan!" cried Stanford's voice, a reedy wheeze from the back door. "Stan! Stan!" His brother bolted from the easy chair and ran to the kitchen. Stanford's shirt was torn, he was dirty, battered, and bleeding from a gash on his left arm but the most shocking aspect of his appearance was the purple tinge his skin was taking. "Century-pede. Antidote. Yellow cabinet under C. Hurry," he huffed. Stanley cursed at him and ran to the elevator. Stanford fell into one of the kitchen chairs and tried not to panic as his throat closed ever tighter. He had felt close to death a few times before, but for some reason this time scared him much more than before. "Oh wait," Mabel interrupted herself and grabbed the pen. "We said 'before' twice-it sounds weird. Let's get rid of the first one." She crossed it out and repeated the line. He had felt close to death a few times, but for some reason this time scared him much more than before. "That's better." He didn't have long to wonder why as Fern jogged into the room and stopped in her tracks. The look of horror on her face made his stomach turn. She reached for the telephone and he stretched his right hand out toward her and tried to tell her not to call 911, but fortunately at that moment Stanley returned and slapped the phone from her hands, barking simply "No!"

"What?!"

"You deaf? No!" he shouted as he made for the sink. His hands flew, adding a little water to dark orange lumps in the mortar and pestle he carried up from the labs.

"He needs to get to a hospital!" she screamed.

"We got this, happens all the time." He ground it up, added more water, quickly poured it into a plastic cup and pivoted to his brother. Stanford grasped the cup and sucked the disgusting smelling contents down then started to convulse. "Get a bucket!" Stanley shouted at her. Fern only stared helplessly at Stanford. "Bucket!" Stanley demanded of his housekeeper. "Now!"

Fern snapped out of it, scrambled for the broom closet, dumped the things she kept in the bucket on the floor and threw it to Stanley. He held it under Stanford's sagging head just as he started retching a black, slimy-looking substance. "Better get another one ready," he said. "Gonna be a while of this. Century-pede bite is no fun. Antidote ain't much better!" Stanley grimaced as he watched his brother vomit again. With the antidote working, he relaxed a little. "Seriously, Kid, you got another bucket somewhere? This one's gonna fill up fast." When Fern didn't respond he turned and saw her standing with her back against the wall and a hand clamped over her mouth. "Kid? Oh, crap. Listen, Fern. This is weird, I know, but you gotta trust us. I just gave him the antidote, it'll work. See, he's already less purple! The puke's black 'cause the antidote is orange and the poison is purple and…" She closed her eyes tightly. "Hey, hey. It's ok. Really."

Fern took a few shuddering breaths and glared at him "How? How is that ok?" she screamed. "He needs a hospital!"

Stanley frowned and gave his semi-conscious sibling a sidelong glance. "We take him there, we lose him. You think if someone found out about what he's up to they'd just let him go?"

As if in agreement, Stanford wretched again, nearly filling the plastic bucket.

"Just what is he up to? What is going on here?!"

Stanley made a face. "Look, Kid. I don't know how long you were in Gravity Falls before you came here, but weird stuff is not only real, it's everywhere around here. The Century-pede? It's a seven-foot centipede that can live for hundreds of years. I got clobbered by one back in '77. Got me here," he said, rubbing his lower back. "I was way worse off than Ford is now, but we had to figure out an antidote and make it before I was cured. Christ, I still can barely drink from a straw without remembering that makeshift trache' we threw together! My throat closed right up!" he laughed a little and gave her what he hoped was a reassuring look. "We've been there done that with this stuff. He'll be ok." There was an awkward silence. "And I'm serious about the second bucket. Unless you wanna mop this stuff, you might wanna get on that."

"Woo!" Stanley exclaimed. "That's good!"

"Right!?" Mabel chimed. "Ok, next scene!" she continued.

Fern relieved Stanley in the early morning hours and allowed him to get some rest. She gave him a pile of chocolate chip cookies which delighted him so much he could barely string a sentence together. When he'd gathered himself, he instructed her to watch Stanford's temperature, which was down but could spike, and make sure the purple tinge to his skin continued to fade. It was almost normal after seven hours of sleep, but if he hadn't gotten enough of the antidote down, the poison could resurge. When Stanley was poisoned back in '77 they'd had to dose him three times, but he was pretty far gone by the time they got the antidote made. "Almost lost me that time!" he laughed. Fern took her seat at Stanford's bedside. Stanley smiled on her and thanked her again for relieving him and for the tray of cookies and headed off for a nap.

Stanford's chest rose and fell rhythmically and a light snore accompanied each intake of breath. A jury-rigged IV drip attached to his right arm kept him hydrated. His glasses lay folded on the nightstand next to the drip and he was shirtless save the large bandage they had plastered to his left arm. Fern stared at him and worried. Stan seemed to be confident that he'd pull through, but the idea that a hospital couldn't help him troubled her. She took a deep breath and sighed. "Oh, no. No, Fern girl, no," she whispered. "You can't do this." She reached out and put her hand on his forehead. It was cool and he didn't flinch; he was out cold. She stroked his hair back. It was surprisingly soft. She frowned. "Oh hell," she whispered. "I can't let this happen, but here it is happening." He groaned a little and Fern quickly pulled her hand back, but he was still quite unconscious. Several minutes passed. She couldn't help herself. She put her hand over his and cautiously felt the strangeness of the extra digit. Just as she suspected, his skin was chilly, so she got up and found an extra blanket in his closet. "You can yell at me for going through your stuff later, Stanford," she whispered and spread the blanket over the top, uncovered half of him. A few moments passed and he took a deep breath, letting it out slowly and she swore she saw his expression soften just a bit. Fern sat back and watched him sleep until dawn. "You wanna read this part?" Mabel asked and handed him the draft.

"Sure." Stan took the papers from her and tilted his head to peer through his bifocals. Stanford groaned as he woke a little after six that morning. The blinds were drawn, but enough light filtered in that he could see the woman seated at his side fairly well. "Fern?" he croaked.

"Watch the IV," she cautioned as he tried to reach for his glasses.

"How long have I been out?" His voice was rough from all the abuse to his throat the night before.

"About twelve hours."

He groaned again, decided to forgo seeing properly and relaxed against the pillow. "I feel like I got hit by a truck."

"Or a gigantic centipede?"

"Yeah, or that." He turned his head to face her and squinted. "So, yeah. Did Stan explain any of that to you?"

"He did, yes."

"Ah." He made a face. "So. I guess you'll be leaving soon, then, huh?"

"Leaving?" Fern gasped. "Why?"

"You- you're not freaked out?"

"Oh my god, yes I so am! But more because… you were..." she stumbled over her words and tried to keep herself from admitting something she had spent the last few hours repressing. "You were purple. And then the black throw-up-holy mother of god that was disturbing. But that wouldn't make me want to leave. I love it here." She clenched her hands into fists. Too close.

"You do?"

Fern nodded. "I feel needed. It's a nice change."

"You are!" he blurted. "I mean, you saw this place before you came. We'd be lost without you."

"Right! You totally would."

For a beat they stared at each other before Fern got up, gathered her book and glass of water and stretched. She excused herself and slipped out of the room quietly. He nodded and watched her go. When the door closed he reached for his glasses with the hand not stuck with an IV needle and noticed the blanket covering his chest. Startled, he put his first two fingers to his pulse and laughed quietly. "Well, good to see I'm still alive." The moment passed quickly and he pouted. "Too bad she'll never know."

Mabel finished the scene, paused for a beat and then startled Stanley by letting out a sort of growl. "Argh! Grunkle Stan! My feels!"

"Your what?" he asked, concerned "Are you ok?!"

"Yes!" she cried and hit him with a chair cushion. "This is gonna be so good!" He laughed and agreed with her. "Ok, so, our outline says next up Fern's former roommate delivers her a letter from her aunt in Brazil who has finagled her a faculty position at Berkeley. She tells them this and Stanford doesn't argue because he's still convinced that he's too weird for some like her to actually like him since she hasn't show him any real affection at all. So he's cold toward her, but not mean, so she decides there's nothing keeping her here and plans to go to California."

Stanley waved his index finger then opened another Pitt Cola. "Yeah, and she's all packed and ready to go. I tell him I trust her to be able to handle the truth and that I think Ford does too, and he might as well tell her if she's gonna leave anyway!"

"Right. So what's the big dramatic climax? What's going to get these two precious cinnamon rolls to realize they're perfect for each other?" She clicked her pen rapidly, stopped, glanced down at her hand then quickly put the pen down.

Stanley took a sip of soda and contemplated this question for a moment. "The truth. Only if they trust each other will they ever really be able to love each other." Mabel blinked up at her great-uncle, mouth agape in wonder. "Too much?" She screamed in delight and assaulted him with the cushion. Stanley laughed and took the 'abuse'. He told Mabel to start cooking up something with that in mind and excused himself to use the bathroom. He hadn't been out of sight for very long before Mabel had a rare Dipper sighting. He hurried through the house and was clearly heading for the back door with no intention of so much as looking in her direction. Mabel jumped out of her chair.

"Hey, Bro-bro!" she cheered, "Maybe you can help us!"

He stopped short of the door and put his hands in his pockets. Something inside one of them jingled as he did so. "With what?"

"Grunkle Ford was writing a story and Grunkle Stan and I are finishing it for him."

The boy raised a brow and took a few steps toward the kitchen. "He what?"

"He wrote a love story," she said, unearthing the book out from under the pages of their epilog. She skipped over and handed it to him. "It's about a girl he dreamed about but he never finished it so we're going to give him a happy ending."

Dipper grimaced as he flipped the pages.

"It cuts off around the time when he would have fallen into the portal so maybe you can help. What would he do if he didn't fall in and get lost?"

"What? Mabel, that's stupid, he did get lost."

"But he won't!" she insisted.

"Mabel, fiction is pointless. It can't change the truth."

"It is not pointless!" She stopped trying to cajole him into cooperating and put her hands on her hips. "It's therapeutic! It helped me and Stan grieve-wow do we cry buckets! You should give it a try!"

He clenched his jaw and shoved the book at her. "I've already grieved, Mabel. You're the one who needs to let go."

"What? No way! I will never let go of my feelings! I loved Grunkle Ford and I will never forget what he did for us. Why should I?"

"You are in denial!" he shouted

"You are!" she shouted back. "I know he's dead, Dipper! I am doing something with that so that I don't hurt so much anymore! What are you doing?!"

Her brother glared at her with intense, angry eyes. "I'm getting back to work. We don't have much summer left," he spat and stormed off through the back door.

When Stanley returned, he found her standing, hugging the open door frame and watching her brother go. He put a hand on her shoulder. "You can give him time, Mabel," he said softly. "Just a little more time, but don't you let him go."

.x.

Down in the bunker, not far from the house but deep underground, Dipper jogged to a metal locker and pulled a set of keys he'd just found in Stanford's room from his pocket. His hands shook as he tried one after another, growing more nervous with each failure. This locker was the last door he'd found still closed to him and speculation as to what might be inside consumed his every thought. The fifth key fit and the tumblers rolled easily. He let out a held breath. Opening the locker door, he felt a chill run down his spine. Inside were three books. "No way…" he breathed, took all three out and put them on the table next to the locker. "No flipping way." Each was marked with the Roman numerals I, II, and III. He placed 'I' on top of the stack and flipped the cover. "Property of Stanford Pines," he read, voice trembling. "June 18th, 1976. Sunny. N-W four M-P… Oh, northwest wind, four miles per hour. 72 degrees. Arrived in Gravity Falls. Travel was easy. No incidents. Kind of boring, perhaps for the anticipation of what was to come. Staying at the Smiling Valley Motel. I hope not to remain here long, but construction of the cabin will probably take a few months. Meeting with the builder, a young lumberjack named Corduroy!" Dipper shouted and smiled at the mention of "Manly Dan" Corduroy. "...in the morning. He's a bit dense, but his work precedes him in town." Dipper's shoulders slumped. "What is this, a personal journal?"

He flipped to another page. "February 14th, 1977. Alone again. Go figure. I hate this stupid 'holiday'. It's all just marketing, anyway. I'm not sure I'd change my mind about it even if I ever did have someone to share it with. Ooh! That gives me an idea! Off to write!" He raised a brow and flipped again. "March 10th, 1977. Cold 38 degrees. Light rain/snow will probably change to snow as temp drops. Grey. Looking forward to summer. Made a little progress today with experiments 36, 42 and 105. Nice and warm in the lab, anyway."

Feverishly Dipper closed book I, opened book III and almost tore a page as he leafed to the last entry. The handwriting switched between sloppy cursive and print, unlike the neat, thoughtful examples from previous years. "Fiddleford quit the project. I am all alone again." Dipper slowed and paused for a moment, taking in the gravity of Stanford's words. "Or rather I am without a friend again. The nightmares persist. I am not certain 'he' can't see even this. There is no place that I am safe. Not even in my fantasies. He's even corrupted my precious Fern so I've lost her forever. I am in too deep but I still feel that I need to finish this in spite of what may come. I wish I could…" Dipper gasped. "I wish I could see Stanley again to tell him…" The next several lines were crossed out so heavily that they were totally illegible no matter which way Dipper held the book and tried to discern them.He swallowed, almost choking on the words that followed. "...and even if the portal works as it should, which I am now in serious doubt that it will, I do not think that it will get any women to talk to me. I wish things had been different." A few more words were crossed out. "...but it's too late for that. Happiness will never be something I get to enjoy outside of the pretty fictions I play in my mind and my mind is coming undone." Dipper's breathing became more rapid as he read along. There were only three sentences remaining. "At least I've recorded my work. Perhaps someone will discover it after I am gone and make something useful of it. Or maybe Stanley will find it and hock everything for cash."

"No!" Dipper shouted. "That's not it at all! Your work is… and Stanley didn't… and…!" he shouted at the dead man. His voice echoed off the metal-plated walls. "And I'm here. And you're gone." He put his face in his hands and his shoulders shook as he tried not to cry. It was futile. Knowing there was no one to hear, Dipper tilted back his head and bawled like a small child for several minutes. "You're gone… and I'm… still here, and I'm doing the same thing." He wiped his face on his shirt. "I laughed at Mabel's idea and hurt her. I turned my back on Pacifica when she was just trying to say she was sorry we lost you. And Stan… He lost his twin!" he cried. "I was such a jerk. But even still, they want to help me." He traced his finger over the line 'Happiness will never be something I get to enjoy outside of the pretty fictions I play in my mind...' "Ok Grunkle Ford. I'm gonna learn everything I can from you. I wish I could still have you here," he choked up again and spent a few moments weeping quietly. "And I wish I could stop doing that! But I will learn. I'll do what you couldn't." He remembered his sister's admonition that he needed to grieve and chuckled a little. "Well, I think I'm there. If this isn't grieving that I have no idea what is!" He put the personal journals back in their cabinet, deciding that they were a bit too much to handle for the time being, and locked the door.

.x.

Stanley looked across the table, tried not to smile too wide and nudged Mabel, silently urging her to see what he saw. "Dipper!" Mabel cried. "You are lucky, Mister! I was about to break down the tree and drag you out of there!"

"Sorry," he said, head bowed, a small apologetic smile on his lips. His puffy, red-rimmed eyes and the expression on his face told her all she needed to know. Mabel flung her arms around her brother and squeezed him. Dipper squeezed her back. "You needed some help with that story?" he asked.

.x.

The following day, Dipper had caught up to where they were in the story and had some ideas to share. He didn't want to tell them about the personal journals he'd found in the bunker, but as he got more involved, it became too hard to hide what he'd learned. They were both shocked to hear about the personal journals' existence but agreed that they could stay locked away for a while longer. Besides, they weren't going to copy the end of story into Stanford's books right away. Dipper agreed and started obsessing about proof reading. Stan had to give him a light smack on the back of the head to snap him out of it. "Focus, fanboy," he teased.

"But seriously," Dipper said. "Look, there's no cross-outs, no spelling errors." He opened the book to prove his point. "He must have drafted over and over before he copied it in."

"Nah," Stanley shook his head. "Ford was just that good."

Dipper smiled sadly and agreed with him. "You know, I was thinking we could do all these crazy plot twists and stuff, but I think all we need to do is establish that they made a connection. That they stopped being stupid and got together. Grunkle Ford said in journal 'III' that Bill had taken Fern from him by poisoning his dreams, so he stopped writing about her. I think if we can give her back to him, that's enough."

Mabel was sufficiently choked up that she pursed her lips, put a hand on his shoulder and nodded. "Let's do this."

Stan put a pen to paper and looked from Dipper to Mabel. "Ok. So, she got the letter from the aunt. She's going to California, even though I tried to get her to change her mind, and tried to push Ford to say something to her before it was too late. He blew me off 'cause he's all sad that he's too much of a nerd, yaddada yaddada. Which brings us to…"

Dipper and Mabel said in unison "the phone call."

"Ah!" Mabel squealed with joy and hugged Waddles who squealed as well. "I can't believe we're writing this scene, finally! Ok. So, the reader knows Fern left Princeton because she was being stalked by her ex, Bob, who ran her out of town, but now she's got this great chance to get back into academia and Ford wants her to take it, but he doesn't know she loves him!"

Stan grinned. "And Poindexter doesn't tell her he loves her because when it comes to feelings, he's thicker than a bowl of oatmeal."

"So, Bob hears from a colleague at Berkeley that Fern will be working there and gets a hold of your phone number and calls her," Dipper continued. "She talks to him and he threatens to expose her at Berkeley and to tell the man who answered the phone who he thinks is her new boyfriend about how sleazy she is. Even though it's not true, she's never been able to defend herself before, so she thinks that Stanford will think she's a terrible person. Bob threatens to call again if she doesn't send him five hundred dollars in a week."

"But she doesn't have the money!" Mabel added. "So a week goes by. Every time the phone rings she runs for it, but when Bob finally calls back, she's not fast enough."

Stan pointed at the phone on the kitchen wall. "And Ford gets to it first!"

By the time they were ready to write the last scene, it was time for dinner. After a hasty meal of mac and cheese, they got right back to business.

A week before, no one ate anything that night, whatsoever. A week before, they stood graveside and said nothing as a tiny box with Stanford Pines' cremains were lowered into a tiny hole next to a temporary plastic grave marker. A week before, they were not speaking to each other. A week before now seemed a lifetime away. As summer drew to a close, the Pines family was deeply wounded, but healing, and the scar tissue formed unbreakable bonds between them. A week before, they never thought they would be happy again, but tonight, with the sound of crickets as their soundtrack, Stan, Mabel, and Dipper did their best to give Stanford back the happiness that had been robbed from him.

"Ok, guys, this is it," Dipper said solemnly. He read the words they had written together. Fern froze mid step and watched Stanford pick up the telephone receiver. His back was turned to her. She opened her mouth, but no words would come to her.

"Hello?" Stanford answered the phone and his posture straightened as he heard the creepy voice on the other end.

"Hello, good sir," the caller said brightly. "I'm glad I caught you!"

"Who is this?"

"This is Fernanda's friend Bob from back east."
"Oh?"

"Yes," Bob continued. "I want you to know something about her, you see, she's not the nice girl you think she is."

"Really?" Stanford asked, pushing a piece of the wall next to the phone with his free hand. It slid open revealing a small keypad and an LED screen. He pushed a few of the buttons and squinted at the display.

Bob's voice grew tremulous. "Indeed. She was well known for being a really fun gal, if you know what I mean. She was a real goer if you catch my drift."

"I don't believe I do."

"She was cast out of the academic community for the harlot she is. Doesn't that shock you?"

He raised a brow. "Do you have anything else to say?" he asked and pushed a final button.

Bob hesitated and his voice dropped an octave. "She's a whore, is what I'm saying, sir."

"Sounds like a pretty strong opinion. Is that all?"

"Is that…?" he stammered. "That doesn't make you angry?"

"It makes me angry that you won't leave her alone," he replied, voice raising. "And if you contact her one more time, Robert J. Truben of 325 East Sycamore Lane in Princeton, New Jersey, I'm gonna fly 'back east', I'm gonna strangle you, I'm gonna put you in the ground, then dig you back up and clone you so I can strangle you again!" he shouted and slammed the handset down on the cradle so hard that it jangled the bell. He'd exerted himself so much he coughed a bit and had to clear his throat. Slowly, Stanford turned to face her and his shoulders relaxed. Fern stood, hands at her sides, mouth agape. He took slow steps towards her. "Is this what you were so worried that I'd find out about?" he asked.

"Yes!" she cried, startled by her own voice. "Yes. I slept around. I only did it out of desperation I was just an adjunct and I was working part time on top of it and I couldn't afford rent or food and so I had to rely on men who… I… Oh god you knew this whole time that I was hiding something?"

"Yes, the signs were all there," he said matter-of-factly. "I recognized them because I was doing the same." She flinched as he…" Dipper made a face. "Ugh. Mabel, you read this part."

"Ok!" she chimed and took the draft from him. "She flinched as he took her hands in his and stood face to face, looking down into her widened, hazel eyes. "I'm working on an interdimensional portal-a gateway to Myriad Worlds. I didn't want to tell you for lots of reasons but mostly because I thought you'd think I was a lunatic and would run screaming. I didn't want you to go, so I kept the truth from you. Did you do the same to me for the same reason?"

Fern nodded slowly.

"Fern, I don't want you to go. Please stay with me."

"You…?" she asked, her voice barely coming out at a whisper. "You still want me around even knowing that I'm a horrible person?"

"Oh please, so you slept with some jerk who's been stalking you ever since because you were desperate. Before you and my brother came along to ground me, my hubris could have brought about the end of the world! My actions in the past do not define who I am today or who I will be in the future and I want my future to have you in it!" he asserted and gave her hands a firm squeeze. "Fern. I'll protect you from that jerk. Please don't go."

Fern closed her eyes, leaned forward and fell against him, sobbing and shaking. Stanford folded his arms around her, one across her back, the other cupped her head against his chest. He said nothing, just let her cry and clutch him tightly.

Stanley hugged his niece and nephew around the shoulders and sighed. "And they lived happily ever after."

.x. Epilogue .x.

He had no idea how long he'd been in the void. Time, as well as all of his senses did not seem to function as they should, but he was aware of himself. He was Stanford Pines. He had tried to solve the world's problems by meddling with powers he only thought he comprehended. And now, here he was. But where was here? His memory was a little fuzzy. He struggled, for how long, he did not know, to get a hold on even a small thread that would lead him to the answer. Suddenly, to his surprise, there was a thread, an actual thread-red in color-hanging down before his eyes. He stepped back, examined it, and looked up where it led, but saw no end to it. So he pulled it. As he reeled it up on his left hand with his right, his memory returned. The gravatic pulses, measuring their intervals, racing back to where the house had been, uncovering the basement and frantically clearing the way to the portal room. Then the waiting, the calculating, the timing, until finally it opened to reveal that his twin brother, now an old man, was the one who had saved him; meeting the children, Dipper and Mabel, so much like he and Stanley had been at that age; a few days of peace, and then…

Stanford gasped and clutched his chest. It was wet. Pulling his bloody right hand away, his body shook with fear. It didn't hurt, but unlike the hallucinations he'd previously experienced, Stanford knew that this was real. He'd been killed trying to save them. No. He saved them.

"I'm dead," he stated and his head spun. The void became a grey, foggy, undefined landscape with no ground and no horizon. The red cord around his left hand started spooling off as it fell to his side. The line went slack. He felt weightless and started to curl up into a fetal position and let the fog take him where it would.

"Wait!" a voice cried out, echoing, reverberating in his bones, stinging the wound in his chest and putting his feet back down on the ground. "Don't go!" He recognized the voice and his head cleared almost instantly. A figure pulling the other end of the red thread appeared before him as if stepping out of the fog. "Don't go, Stanford!"

He squinted at her. She appeared to be younger that he remembered; her dark brown hair was long, loose, and not at all grey.

She smiled a wide, relieved smile and nodded. "It's ok. Don't go. This is a safe place."

"It's you? But…" Stanford narrowed his eyes. "How do I know this isn't one of His tricks?"

She looked on him sympathetically. "I don't know. I'm me. I've been waiting for you. I don't know for how long."

"One year and three months," he answered quietly. "You've been gone one year and three months. But how can we both be here when you were killed over there?"

"I don't know, I…" She made a face. "What do you mean, over there?"

Stanford winced. "I went home. Stanley got the portal working. But shortly afterward I was…" he put his hand up to his chest-wound again. "Now I'm stuck in the Mindscape with what is either a dream come true or soon to be my worst nightmare."

"This isn't the Mindscape," she said and spread out her arms. "It's the Spirit World."

"It's nothing but a grey void," he insisted.

She shook her head. "Close your eyes and accept that it is what it is. You'll see. Trust me."

Stanford hesitated but she was as patient as she had always been. He was dead. He had protected his family and now he either had a chance to reclaim the brief happiness he'd found when in the other world he encountered a living-breathing version of the woman in his dreams, or it was another of Cipher's tricks and he'd fall into his trap. The odds were exactly fifty-fifty. He looked down at the blood on his right hand, then back up at the beautiful, curvy, olive-skinned woman before him and made his choice. He closed his eyes.

"Ok, open them."

All around them, the landscape teemed with life. Translucent salamanders with wings flew overhead. Short, yellow, turnip-looking bipeds ambled by on a glittering blue path that led into a copse of purple and yellow trees. Everything seemed to glow. A sort of fuzzy insect buzzed his head and he instinctively waved a hand to swat it away. It was tumbled by the motion and made agitated noises as it flew indignantly away. Her hair lilted in the breeze. The dress she wore, moments ago grey and non-descript was now one he remembered her wearing once in happier times: long, flowing and purple with stars and moons dotting the fabric. "Better?" she asked.

"This is the Spirit World?"

She nodded. "There are so many different beings and landscapes here. I've met spirit creatures and a few beings that used to be living humans but we appear to be kind of rare. It's still dangerous, but you can't be killed and according to one guy, you can't age."

Stanford looked down at his bloody hand and was startled to find it clean, and looking a lot less wrinkled than he remembered. His hair was brown and the hole in his chest gone as if it never happened.

"Fern, I…" She held out her hands in a familiar gesture and he took them in his, pulled her close and embraced her. "You saved me. Again."

She buried her head in his chest and hugged him tightly and they stood like that for a long while. "Come on," she said, released him, still clutching his hand. "Let's explore. Together."

END

7/19/2015