When I'm at the pearly gates
This will be on my videotape, my videotape
Mephistopheles is just beneath
And he's reaching up to grab me
-Videotape by Radiohead
• • •
"It's all gone."
Mabel was inconsolable. The scrapbook fell to the floor and she cried and cried into Stan's arm until the sleeve was wet—and cried harder when he pulled away.
Soos wasn't in the room anymore. Dipper's gaze was on the floor, though he wasn't really looking at anything.
The people of Gravity Falls brought flowers. To so many of them, Gravity Falls just wasn't Gravity Falls without the Mystery Shack. Without Stan Pines.
The children didn't want a birthday party. Ford tried to at least order a celebratory pizza for them, but no one was hungry except for Stan. He asked what was wrong with everyone when he realized they were all just watching him eat like an animal they were about to put down.
When the time came to say goodbye, Ford squeezed his grand neice and nephew hard. Such a short time he'd known them and yet he felt his heart, broken so many times before, nearly shatter.
"You'll take care of him, won't you, Grunkle Ford?" Mabel asked, eyes already overflowing again.
"Yes," Ford promised. It took a great deal of effort to mask the tremble in his voice. "I won't leave his side."
Mabel lifted Waddles, wiping her wet cheek on her sleeve. "Waddles, you take care of him too, okay? Help him remember. You gotta."
Finally Ford turned, looking to Stan who stood to the side awkwardly holding the sweater Mabel had made him, still not understanding why he needed it in this weather.
"Come say goodbye," he called, still fighting the damned lump in his throat. "We won't see them for awhile."
He almost wished he hadn't said anything. The way the children crumbled when Stan blinked at their emotional hugging was painful.
Even the bus driver felt the overwhelming grief in the air, but didn't ask questions.
As the bus disappeared, Ford felt more and more like collapsing. But he pushed forward, as he had every agonizing day on the other side.
"Stanley," he said.
Stan was squinting into the woods.
"Stan," Ford tried again, louder, trying to ignore the realization that he still didn't recognize his own name.
Damn it all.
He wanted to scream that it wasn't fair. Stan deserved so much better.
But Ford didn't and he knew it. He knew this was exactly what he deserved for his mistakes. This was his responsibility. He'd been stupid and brought danger to this dimension and in the end his smarts meant nothing. He had been powerless.
And his brother had paid the price.
It was the ultimate punishment.
Get your life back. Save the world. Lose the one person at the center of your own.
When Stan was asleep, Ford stabbed at a painting of Bill, bile burning a hell rose in his heart. The knife sank into the eye, dragged down through the middle. Cut, cut, cut.
Nothing but aged golden flakes on six-fingered hands.
Slipping through like the memories Stan would never get back.
Dust in the wind.
Ford had long ago stopped praying.
Not because he rejected God. But when you spend half your life in various dimensions, the ideas your own had about deities and angels and the divine... start to feel silly.
Maybe silly wasn't the right word. He had met so-called gods. As much as he hated himself for it, he had worshipped one like that. Many of them had been terrifying, but most were nothing like they were portrayed in mythology.
But back in his dimension, late at night when Stanley was asleep, he spent several nights in a row on his knees because he didn't know what else to do.
"Please," he cried. "Please. Bring him back. Punish me all you want but bring him back."
He had no idea that so many years earlier, his twin had begged for the same miracle.
The photographs were as foreign to Stanley as the man across the table. He set one down and went to the next.
"This is us?"
Ford nodded tiredly. No sleep for the guilty.
Stan furrowed his brow. "I'm not the nerdy one, am I?"
They'd been over this before.
Ford startled him by grabbing his wrist a little too quickly. He held his brother's hand up, and put his own against it almost forcefully.
"Count them, Stanley."
Stan yanked his hand back. "Alright, I get it! Six fingers. Right. So... that one's you."
Ford nodded, eyes closing for a brief moment of rest.
"What if our hands are covered?"
Well, he'd meant it to be longer than that.
One night, he couldn't pray anymore. All he could do was curse. Curse himself, curse his stupidity, curse Bill.
He ripped tarps down.
The journal named Four was the only thing he could trust in.