Wish I May…

by Aoikami Sarah

Chapter Nine

.x. Friday afternoon, Piedmont, CA .x.

They sat in the Stanley Mobile for a few moments after Stan turned the engine off. He'd pulled it up to the closed, left-side garage bay of a pale blue mid-sized ranch house on Garden St. The right bay stood open and empty. He contemplated this for a moment, wondering if someone was out, but said nothing. Ford got out and slowly circled in front the car. He watched her move, trying to calm his racing heart. Ford walked with her chin held high, just as she had always done, nose in the air as if she found everything around her interesting. She ran one of her precious hands down the strap of the small messenger bag she was using as a glorified purse. Stan watched the wrist glide, the fingers guide the strap over her shoulder, between her breasts and breathed deeply. "God, you're perfect," he muttered.

She stopped in front of the driver-side door and opened it for him. "Come on, Stan," she said, gently. "It's almost over."

"I know," he said and hesitated a moment before climbing out of the car. Stan stood facing her and looked up at the house he'd only visited a handful of times in his life before: a Thanksgiving or two, and one horrible Christmas many years ago, back when his mother was still alive and had just moved from New Jersey. She had been so far gone by then that it was easy to conceal his identity from the rest of the family when she kept calling him 'Stan'. He frowned as uncomfortable memories filtered in.

Ford reached out with her right hand and touched the tips of his fingers, startling him. "I know you could use a hug more than anything, but I also know you don't want me to do that right now."

He nodded. If she did hug him, he wasn't sure if he'd cry or not, but didn't want to take any chances.

"So, just imagine that I'm hugging you tight," Ford said kindly. "It's going to be ok. They love us."

"I know," he repeated, took her hand and they marched together slowly up the walk to the front door.

Ford rang the bell and in moments the door swung open. Dipper and Mabel Pines stared up at the two adults on their doorstep with confused looks on their faces.

Ford wore a pair of black leggings with an overlarge purple turtleneck sweater with black flats—an outfit that Stan had remarked that morning looked like something Mabel might wear. Stan wore jeans, Converse sneakers, and a blue and white letterman-style jacket. Ford waved then lowered a six-fingered hand and Stan laughed nervously. "Heya, kids. Long time no see," he croaked in a slightly-younger but yet unmistakable voice. Even if they hadn't been expecting them, there were enough clues to tip them off.

"Grunkle Stan?!" Mabel shouted.

"Great Uncle Ford?" Dipper asked.

"That's us," Ford replied, giving a shy, hesitant chuckle. "May we come in?"

The younger twins parted, allowing them to pass into the living room, then followed them in. Ford seated herself quickly on a long, blue, modern-looking sofa and Stan plopped down next to her, leaving a small space between them. He leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees, hands clasped tightly together. Dipper sat on an ottoman and Mabel flopped down on the floor and sat Indian style and they both stared their relatives down, hard.

"It is you!" Mabel marvelled at them, noting the dimple in Ford's chin and her extra fingers. Dipper extended his right hand toward his sister and made a grabbing motion at the air. She rolled her eyes, pulled a ten dollar bill from the pocket of her skirt, and huffing a sigh stuffed it into her brother's hand.

Stan raised a brow. "What was that for?"

Dipper snapped the bill a couple times, flaunting it. "We saw you in the driveway from our room and I bet Doubty McDoubterson here ten bucks that it was you." He tilted his head to one side. "So what the heck happened?"

Ford laughed lightly and looked around. "Well, uh… where are your parents?"

"Oh man!" Mabel guffawed. "Dad chopped his finger off and mom took him to the hospital!"

Dipper shook his head. "I do not know why you find that so funny," he muttered. "He was slicing onions for dinner with a mandolin slicer and cut off the tip of his middle finger. They probably won't be back for a while."

"Oh, perfect!" Ford exclaimed with some relief. "I mean, that's terrible about his finger, but, at least we can talk to you about this, truthfully."

The teenagers glanced at each other both wondering but not asking why that was.

Ever how many times Stan and Ford had gone over what they would say and how they would say it when asked 'what happened?', they now found answering the question daunting when the large eyes of their thirteen-year-old twin niece and nephew were trained on them. Ford asked Stan if he'd like her to explain and he simply nodded. She started by mentioning that McGucket had also been reduced in age as Stan had, and she tried to dance around some of the more adult aspects of that night in September when they had wished upon a blue fairy star (yes, like in Pinocchio). Stan and McGucket had wanted to 'start over' and Ford had wanted…

"Oh my god," Mabel put her hands to her face and her eyes glistened with stars. "You are in love with each other!"

"Wait, what?!" Stan shouted. "How did you know?!"

Ford's mouth hung open and she blinked at the girl seated on the floor at her feet.

Mabel raised her left arm and made the same gesture that Dipper had made earlier. He looked from her to them a few times, then sighed and handed the ten he'd won back to his sister. "Mabel called it, like, the day after Ford came out of the portal," he admitted.

Stan had no words. He stared at the proud little girl on the floor, flashing her ten dollar bill and muttering sweet nothings to the 'ten dollar bill guy'. His other half, however, was shaking.

Ford couldn't help it. She tried to clamp a hand over her mouth, but the laughter erupted. "Sorry! I am so tired and that is incredible! See, Stan, you were worried about nothing!"

"Heh, yeah. Nothing," he said and shifted his weight, crossing his left foot over his right knee. The foot tapped the air rapidly.

Ford sobered quickly as she noticed his tension did not ease. "We, eh, we were concerned that if you knew that we felt the way we do about each other, it might be a bad influence for you, and we didn't want you to have to go through the same pain that we endured as young people."

"We had the talk," Mabel said, glibly. "Dipper had to analyze the whole thing and we…"

"Mabel!" Dipper cried, voice cracking.

"What? Dipper!" she mocked him. "They just admitted that they're a couple, I think we can tell them that we…"

"Nonononono….!" Dipper shouted, leapt up from the ottoman and ran from the room.

"That we experimented and kissed and that it was gross!" she called after him.

"You did, eh?" Ford leaned toward Mabel, a keenly interested look on her face as if the word 'experiment' had a pavlovian effect. "That's a relief. If you were in love with each other, you'd know it. We knew quite early, didn't we, Stan?" He simply nodded and didn't meet her eyes. "Stan? Are you ok?" Ford put her hand on his knee. To her relief, he didn't shrink from her touch. Dipper slowly returned to the living room and stood just to his sister's left.

"Kids, uh…" Stan began softly. "We were worried about what ya might think of us, bein' an item and all, you bein' twins yourselves, like Ford said. Soos was totally ok with it and Wendy came around after a while, so that was good. And I'm glad you're ok with it, too. Means a lot. Ford did some tests and she doesn't have the same DNA as us anymore, either, so that's good. I don't think having to tell you about us was the hard part of all this."

Ford's brows pinched together. "Stan? There's something that's been making you upset and you didn't tell me?"
"Yeah…" he admitted.

She retracted her hand, recoiling as if he had hurt her. "I've been wondering why you were so tense, but I thought it was just about this. If that's not it, then what is it?"

He pursed his lips and gave her a mournful look that tore at her heart. "Having to tell them, that with the Tokens…the old us are…"

Ford gasped lightly as she realized what he was getting at. She rubbed her hands together and once again offered to do the explaining. Stan simply nodded and Ford calmly, and as pleasantly as possible, told Dipper and Mabel what Book of Life Tokens were and why they'd purchased them. She explained that these magic items had the ability to insert an identity into the world back in time and forward so that she, Fiddleford, and Stan could have social security numbers, yearbook photos, and legal driver's licenses. She told them about the crazy old crone who'd delivered and administered the tokens and lastly, the changes they would make to their lives.

"As you know, Stanley Pines 'died' in a car crash in eighty-two," she said, making air-quotes. "Stan is now Stanley Junior—his own son. Fiddleford is also his own son, Fiddleford Junior. Old Man McGucket became young man McGucket, as it were. Stan had already taken my identity thirty years ago, so this world already thinks that Stanford Pines is Mr. Mystery, and so Stanford Pines is…" she got to the very point that had made Stan so sick with worry and it turned her stomach as well. It had been a hard decision for the two of them to make, but the taboo nature of their relationship had seemed to the pragmatic Ford to be of more concern than the disposal of two old personas. Having to explain it to the children, Ford now understood fully why Stan felt so nervous about it. She took a deep breath. "Mr. Mystery is ill and he's going to pass in his sleep next Saturday. His nephew, Stan Jr. will take over the Shack." Stan squeezed her hand so tightly she lost feeling in the tips of her fingers.

Dipper's mouth hung open, but he seemed to be processing and understanding what he heard. Mabel's mouth screwed up into a heavy pout and tears glistened in her eyes. "So, Great Uncle Ford doesn't exist and Grunkle Stan is gonna die?" she asked.

"Mabel… Sweetie…" Stan choked. Before he could manage to reach out for her, she leapt up from the floor and sprinted down the hall. Stan relinquished Ford's hand and chased after her.

Dipper blinked a few times, but did not overreact. He clenched his hands into fists and stared down at the young woman on the couch. She shifted her gaze from her departing mate to the colorful Ikea rug under her feet and tried her very best not to cry.

"Ford?" Dipper asked, and her eyes shot up to meet his. "Is there gonna be a funeral?"

.x.

"Sweetie?" Stan whispered from the doorway of the room his niece had run into. It was windowless and shadowy, the shapes of clutter and boxes only suggested themselves in the darkness. Mabel sat on her knees facing a shelf and was feverishly flipping the pages of a book. Stan flipped the light switch to reveal a messy craft room, complete with sewing machine and a table covered with gaping boxes of glitter tubes, bits of felt, and colorful pipe cleaners. Mabel sniffled and stopped flipping pages. "I don't understand…" she said softly. "Why do things have to change? Look, Ford's missing. I know he was in this picture, but now there's a space." She held up the book and pointed to a photo of Dipper seated at the table in the living room, pouring over the journals. He was smiling and his mouth was open as if to speak, but there was now no one seated to his left to converse with.

Stan clutched the doorframe with his right hand to steady himself as he was presented with evidence of their actions. His brother, whom he had fought for so long to get back, was missing, but also sitting in the next room, worrying about him.

When he had asked that same question 'why do things have to change', weeping over the steering wheel a few days after being kicked out of his childhood home, there was no kindly father-figure nearby to reassure him. He wanted to tell Mabel everything was going to be alright, reflexively lie the pain away, but this wasn't some rube, or even himself—this was his Mabel. She deserved better. They both had to swallow the bitter pill of their new normal and hopefully come out healthy. "Life's funny like that," he said, thinking of all the hundreds of times his life had been changed forever in the almost sixty years of his existence. "Things change. Old men die."

"You weren't that old!" she sputtered.

Stan's blood ran hot. "Sweetie, ya gotta understand, if I don't bury the old me…" He knew it was a poor choice of words as soon as it left his mouth and he cringed.

"Everything was fine!"

Stan clenched his fists but took a deep breath. "Not for me and Ford, it wasn't." When she hung her head, he joined her on the floor-the flexibility of his young joints still a surprise to him. He took in the shelf in front of them, already packed with a dozen or more scrap books, protruding with photos and studded with sequins. The spine of one of the books read 'Summer Romances', another 'Braces Selfies: 2011-2012'. "Mabel," Stan said softly. "Bad things happen—sad things, hard things—but good things happen, too. People fall in love, friends come together, babies get born…" he added, but it didn't seem to be sinking in.

Mabel slapped the book in her lap closed and hugged it to her chest. She glanced up at him, heartbroken tears staining her face. "Ok, fine, but why do you have to die?"

Stan's own heart burst and before he could think about what he was going he reached out and pulled her into his lap, a little awkwardly, but she just melted into him and sobbed. When she calmed down a little, he kissed the top of her head and released her. She sat back down on her knees just in front of him, still hugging the scrapbook close. "Oh, Honey, I hope one day you love someone so much that you say to yourself 'I would die for you'. Then maybe you'll understand how I feel about Ford. When I lost him—when he fell through the portal—-I killed myself off. You remember the clipping, 'fiery car crash'?" He made quote marks with his fingers. "I died for Ford then and it was easy because I didn't think I was worth anything. Literally no one missed me. Not even my family." Stan paused. "It's been eatin' me up inside, havin' to tell you and Dipper this 'cause I knew how much it'd hurt you and that's the only reason it's hurtin' me. I know you'll miss your old 'Grunkle Stan', but frankly, I'd die a hundred more times for Ford if I had to."

Mabel sniffled and her eyes widened. "That is so sweet," she said softly.

"Make sense?"

She nodded.

"And hey, I'm right here! Not goin' anywhere anytime soon, and in thirty years, you'll get to see the old Stan again!"

Mabel laughed and rubbed her eyes.

"You ok now?" he asked.

She pursed her lips and made a 'thinking' face, then nodded.

"Wanna go back out?"

"Yeah." Stan stood and gave her a hand up. Before they left the craft room, Mabel grabbed two more scrap books and a big box of fancy colored pencils. She bundled them under one arm and took Stan's hand with the other and beamed up at him. "I got an idea!"

.x.

Ford blinked at Dipper. He stared into her large, brown eyes with such intensity it was hard to look away, and when she did, Ford felt a chill and hugged herself. "I don't know," she replied. "He… Stan hasn't said anything about it."

"Are you kidding?" Dipper asked, alarmed. "You're gonna kill Grunkle Stan off and you don't even know if you're gonna have a funeral?"

She bristled and before she could stop it, Ford snapped back. "Actually, it's Stanford Pines who's gone-whose body will somehow magically appear in its grave next week. He took my identity, so it's me, not him. He killed himself for my sake thirty years ago!" Tears came to her eyes and she clenched her fists tightly, angry at herself for losing control and frightening her nephew. Her lip trembled and she looked away, out the window at the neighboring houses. "There's a tombstone and everything. Did you know that?"

"No," Dipper replied, taken aback. He rubbed his elbows nervously. "I—I didn't. I'm sorry. I…"

Ford turned back and noticed his contrition. "Oh, Dipper, I'm sorry… I'm just overtired and I…" The tears flowed unchecked and she shook her head. "You must be so disappointed."

"What? No! Why would I be?"

"Your Great Uncle Ford is gone and this mess is left in his place." She wiped her face on her sleeve and gestured emphatically to herself. "Stan thinks I make a good girl, but this weeping business is just too much!" she sputtered.

Dipper leaned forward, unsure if he should touch her, if it would help or just make her cry harder. "Hey, that's not true, you're still Ford, right?" he asked, hesitantly. "You have your memories and your education and stuff, right?"

She nodded. "Well, yes, but…"

"So you cry now? That's ok," he said and got a box of tissues from an end table on the other side of the room. "I'm not disappointed. If anything, I'm sort of excited that instead of having a couple decades with you, I get most of my lifetime!" He handed her the whole box. The morbid desire to know if they would hold a memorial service for Mr. Mystery clung to him, but he pushed the impulse aside. His former-great-uncle didn't need him prodding her about that right now. He knew from experience, from upsetting and then comforting his sister, that hurt feelings needed to be patched before a troubling issue could be properly handled. There would be a time and a place to discuss it, but perhaps today was not it.

Ford blew her nose then smiled. "You certainly do. And I hope you and Mabel will still come back to visit us every summer. Oh! And Fiddleford and I are going into business together!" Ford beamed, her sadness fading by the moment. "We're calling it 'Ford Squared'."
Dipper smiled, pleased to see that he'd succeeded in smoothing her out. "That's awesome! How's he doing?"

Ford waved her hand. "So-so. His son rejected him, unfortunately. But he has us. And we're going to build him a house of his own on the property!"

As they were chatting, Stan and Mabel emerged from the craft room. Ford got to her feet and walked slowly across the Ikea carpet to meet Stan. She furrowed her brows and pouted at him, but wrapped her arms around him and hugged him tightly. He was a little taken aback at the public display of affection, but reciprocated and stiffened when she whispered in his ear to never ever hide his sadness from her again. He agreed and squeezed back until a piercing squeal broke the spell. Mabel was fangirling just as badly as Dipper had done when Ford emerged from the Portal and mentioned his journals.

"Oh my god, kiss!" she demanded.

Dipper tried to calm her down, but it was useless. Stan shrugged, said that he probably owed it to her anyway, and asked Ford for permission (to which she sputtered, flustered and embarrassed by the notion, but she didn't exactly say no). He curled one hand around the back of her head, one around her waist and gave her a deep, but not overly racy kiss that melted the young woman. She clutched him to her and reciprocated with gusto while Mabel cheered as if her team just had won the World Cup.

The couple seated themselves, hips touching, on the couch and chatted with Dipper and Mabel while waiting for their parents to return. Dipper and Ford made plans for that summer's exploits and Mabel colored in her scrap book. "There!" she chimed, and turned the book to face them. "Better!"

Seated in the chair to Dipper's left in the photo at the living room table, she had drawn a very good likeness of her old Great Uncle Ford. "Since that token-whatsis took him out, I'm putting him back in!"

Ford beamed at her work. "Very nice!"

Mabel told her she was taking art classes this year and the teacher was really good, but Ford insisted that she had a gift. Stan smiled and leafed through the pages of a scrap book marked 'Old Stuff'. "Holy Moses!" he shouted and pointed to a picture from a Thanksgiving long passed. "Would ya look at that!" He turned it around to show the others. In a typical family gathering snapshot, Shermy, his son Alex, and brother Stanford Pines (wearing his trademark Royal Order fez) were hamming for the camera, drinks in hand. Just behind them, Deb was chatting with…

"Stanley?!" Ford cried. "That is amazing!"

A young 'Stanley Jr', the man sitting to her right, was in the same photo as 'Grunkle Stan'.

The kids were delighted by the image, but it was clear that the one most relieved to see it was Stan. He put a hand around her and gave her a squeeze. "Guess we got our monies' worth, huh?"

Ford put her head on his shoulder and smiled. "You bet."

.x. Epilogue - Five Years Later .x.

On a lazy Saturday afternoon, Ford leaned in the doorway to the 'museum' and felt the sun on her back. Dust motes danced in the wake of a half-dozen tourists gathered before her husband, Mr. Mystery, in rare form today. He pointed to the tired old antelabbit and made a crack about copyright to a patron who wondered why it wasn't called a jackalope. Ford smiled softly and took a deep breath of the fresh air that blew in behind her mingled with mothballs, dust, and tourists. Any and all traces of the forward room she had built back in 1976 were long gone, and she wondered if one day the museum would also have served its usefulness. Would Stan give it up? He would miss being Mr. Mystery if he did, she thought, but maybe not that much. Ford watched him lead the tour from station to station, collecting extra fees here and there. Occasionally, she caught his eye, a glance up toward the door, a bemused smirk danced across his face, but he was still deep in character. Not until the tour was over and the guests filed past Ford heading for the gift shop did he remove his fez, lift up his eye patch, and give his wife a squeeze. "What's goin' on?" he asked. "You been drillin' holes through me. Somethin' wrong?"

"Not a thing," she replied softly. "Just preserving memories."

Stan cocked a brow. "Oh?"

"I wanted to remember what things were like before everything changes forever," she said simply.

All the color fell from Stan's face. "Holy shit, Ford, what's goin' on? Are you ok?"

She laughed, knowing full well how irritating she was being. "I'm great," she answered, put her arms around his neck and kissed him softly. "I'm pregnant," she whispered.

When Ford drew back, her pupils were large and her look soft. Stan froze in place.

"You...you are? You—we're—"

"—Going to have a baby. Or babies if we're lucky. It's too early to tell."

He chuckled, dumbstruck for a beat. "You serious?!"

Ford laughed. "Yes, you knucklehead!"

He pulled her close and kissed her deeply like a soldier returning from a tour of duty before shouting at the top of his lungs "I'm gonna be a father!"

END