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The Time Wish

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Stan was not pacing around; he had far too much experience for something like that. But he was filled with a kind of nervous energy he just couldn’t seem to quell and it was driving him crazy.

“It’s going to be fine,” Ford told him for the third time that morning.

“I know that,” Stan insists. “I just hate waiting for things.”

And he did know that. His first tour was a disaster for the first half when he was showing them the actual nerdy science stuff they claimed to want to see (even if he didn’t know what any of it did and made no effort to give a good performance. And he never had figured out why Ford had a Hawaiian shirt just lying around. It really wasn’t his style) but he had kept trying and eventually the Mystery Shack had started making the tourist guidebooks. And he’d had bad events before. The ‘free pizza’ wax Stan one, for one. And the fact people continued to fall for it when he hadn’t given out anything for free to anyone who didn’t happen to be related to him in his life was just another one of life’s little mysteries.

He wanted today to go well. But it wouldn’t change anything if it didn’t. And he was practically an expert at this kind of thing by now, even if there was only so far he could go if he intended for Ford to still be speaking to him by the end of the day.

“You always did. Still, this is a big day. The opening of the Mystery Shack.”

“1983 instead of 1982,” Stan said. “I can’t believe I’ve been here a year.”

“Neither can I,” Ford said. “Though honestly I keep oscillating between feeling like you just got here and feeling like you’ve always been here.”

“Me, too,” Stan said.

He had gotten used to being his old and in much better shape younger self again, even if getting back into the habit of actually trying to take care of himself properly was hard. There were some days he woke up and forgot that Ford wasn’t still trapped on the other side of the portal. He had never quite gotten used to that before coming back here and still hadn’t quite accepted that it hadn’t happened and wasn’t going to happen.

Ford wasn’t having any problems letting go of a terrible alternate timeline he hadn’t lived through.

“I mean, I didn’t see you for ten years. Ten years. And it was a change, at first, but then I got by and barely even noticed you were gone,” Ford continued.

Stan snorted. “Yeah, thanks.”

“I didn’t mean it like that. But ten years is a long time. People can get used to just about anything in ten years.”

He had never gotten used to not having Ford in his life for ten years. Never gotten used to being Stanford and having his brother lost to some sci-fi nightmare. Maybe he just wasn’t very adaptable. You’d think he would be, all the things he’d managed to survive, but frankly he kind of had his doubts.

“And then you came back and it’s like the last ten years never happened,” Ford said. “Maybe it’s the twin thing?”

“That or the ‘I am hell-bent on making this work’ thing,” Stan said. “You know, I never did actually hide that journal."

Ford gave him a look. "I know."

"Whoops. Ah, well, I'm sure it'll be fine. Hey, so, this wasn’t actually the Mystery Shack until 1989.”

“What was it before then?” Ford asked.

“The Murder Hut,” Stan replied. “But some annoying parents kept getting on my case about this maybe not being ‘family friendly’ and I didn’t really care what they thought but I decided they might have a point about families not stopping by. I did start to get more visitors after the name change.”

“Why would you call it the Murder Hut in the first place?” Ford asked suspiciously. “You said you got your start because everyone was so fascinated wondering what I was up to.”

“Well, yeah…”

“Stan.”

“I’m just saying, maybe people really seemed to think that you were some kind of serial killer and some people were already calling it that and so I was really just going off of what was already working.”

“A-A what?” Ford couldn’t believe it. “If I was a serial killer why weren’t there any reports of disappearances? Well, I mean, I guess there are occasionally some because this is Gravity Falls. But why wouldn’t they try to investigate or something? And why would people pay money to go into the home of a supposedly still-active serial killer?”

“Well, people are idiots,” Stan said. “And the local law enforcement is notoriously terrible. And I might have told everyone that I had retired and was now just giving tours and recreating my former glory.”

“Recrea-oh my God, Stanley, what were you doing up here?” Ford demanded.

“Well, I wasn’t murdering anyone if that’s what you’re thinking,” Stan said.

“I, uh, wasn’t,” Ford said, giving him a strange look. “But you’re going to need to elaborate.”

“I might have, oh I don’t know, reenacted the deaths of my supposed victims in front of the crowd and then had the place haunted or something, I don’t know,” Stan said, shrugging. “I had some really cool effects, too! But apparently it wasn’t ‘decent’ or ‘fit for the eyes of children’ or whatever so I transitioned into more of the ‘look, I glued antlers on a fish’ thing. I kind of preferred the old thing, to be honest, but this is easier. And it lets me update every so often which at least spices things up.”

“And this is how you want to spend your life,” Ford said, sounding honestly confused.

Stan nodded firmly. “It is. I could ask you some questions about why you want to continue studying the weirdness of Gravity Falls and figuring out the source of it given what happened the last time you tried that. But if you can keep doing that, I think my desire to continue a thirty-year-long career that I am, frankly, amazing at is pretty understandable.”

“I suppose so,” Ford said, in a tone of voice indicating he really didn’t understand it at all but he was just going to go with it. Probably for the best. “I just wish Fiddleford could be here for this after months of hearing you going on about this place.”

Stan shrugged. “Yeah, well, he promised he’d come take Tate up over spring break. I’m sure he will love it.”

“Which one?” Ford asked.

“Fiddleford. I’m not convinced Tate’s capable of expressing any emotion.”

Ford rolled his eyes. “You’ve never even met him. He’s a perfectly normal kid.”

“I know him better than you do,” Stan countered. “Man has a subscription to Stoic Monthly. I’m not so much surprised that a magazine like that exists as I am that there’s actually an audience for it. And Tate McGucket is like the poster child for that magazine.”

“Maybe he will be, or would be, decades into the future after he had to watch what became of his father,” Ford said. “But the Tate I know is a good kid. He loves his family and I’ve never noticed any trend towards stoicism in him.”

“I hope you’re right,” Stan said.

“I know this is what he wanted. What he should have had if I hadn’t dragged him into my mess. Still…” Ford sighed. “I was sorry to see him go.”

Stan had been, too. Fiddleford was a friend and, even now, he never had so many that he didn’t mind losing them. Not that they weren’t still friends but he lived hours away now so it wasn’t the same.

Ford had wanted to see if Fiddleford would be willing to start research again, nothing connected to the portal, but he knew that there was every chance he wouldn’t want to do anything connected to Bill or what had happened to him. And Stan thought that maybe he could have gotten back to that and been happy but he also remembered that laptop the kids had found. He remembered hearing how Fiddleford might have been another Bill Gates or Steve Jobs if he hadn’t been sidetracked. And sure, he had lost a little time, but there was still time enough to get in on that. Maybe he could still get rich and make a name for himself. It was an apology, of sorts, and Fiddleford seemed to be doing well out there.

Part of it was something Ford couldn’t understand, even if he had tried to explain it. How wrong it felt to see him still in Gravity Falls. How much, despite his ongoing recovery and full admittance that the memory gun was a terrible idea, he still had this irrational fear it would all fall apart again. He saw Fiddleford in Gravity Falls and couldn’t shake the image of Old Man McGucket. It wouldn’t happen this time, not that way. He knew that. And yet it felt right that Fiddleford had moved on.

And who knew what the future held anyway? Certainly not him. Not anymore.

“Hey, you never know. It might be useful to have a rich friend one day,” Stan said. “Who am I kidding? It will always be useful to have a rich friend!”

Ford snorted and shook his head. “You and your money thing.”

“Yes my ‘money thing’,” Stan said. “I will not apologize for wanting to have cash. It is a beautiful thing and being poor is terrible and I’m not quite bitter enough to wish that on you but you really don’t get what a nightmare that is.”

“No, I do get that,” Ford insisted. “But you’re kind of a money hoarder.”

“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” Stan said. “When the end comes, you’ll be glad one of us is burying our gold.”

“I thought the whole point of all of this was that the end wasn’t coming,” Ford said.

Stan shook his head. “No, no, the point is that we didn’t cause the end of days. If I spent all this time preparing and it just never happened…I mean, it would be good, obviously, so I’m pulling for that or something. But it would be a bit of a let-down, don’t you think?”

“Not even slightly,” Ford said. “Have you considered not preparing for the apocalypse?”

“I did,” Stan said. “But that seemed downright irresponsible in the fact of our probable end of times scenario, you know?”

“I give up,” Ford declared.

“We’ll see how long that lasts.”

Ford went over the window and peeked outside. “There’s a huge crowd lined up. Are you sure you don’t want to let them in or go out there or something?”

Stan shook his head. “Nah. I saw Willy Wonka. That…that came out, didn’t it?”

Ford rolled his eyes. “Stan, that movie came out when we were in high school. You are terrible at this.”

“I resent that but it’s probably true,” Stan said indifferently. “Was it that long ago? Huh. Anyway, the point is that letting them wait is good for them. It makes them want it more and it, I don’t know, teaches patience or whatever. What’s another twenty minutes? Are you sure you want to be here for this, though?”

“I’m pretty sure you’ll accidentally set something on fire while you’re waiting if I don’t,” Ford said. “So I’m waiting.”

“You spent so long insisting you didn’t want to be associated with this,” Stan protested, not entirely sure why he was trying to get Ford to change his mind about being here. A part of him had always wanted to share this with his brother.

“And I don’t,” Ford said. “I’m not part of running this and it’s not taking place at my house. But I can stop by for a visit, can’t I? I’m a member of the public.”

Stan gestured towards the door. “The public waits out there.”

“I’m family. And aren’t you the one who sweetened the deal for the crowd by promising to have a question and answer session with me?” Ford asked rhetorically. “All without asking me first, of course.”

“It’s better to apologize than ask permission!” Stan said brightly.

“And you rarely do either.”

Stan shrugged. “I was giving some advice, not taking it. And that’s where you’ve got this whole thing all wrong.”

“Oh, do I?”

“First of all, I don’t know that I want to get people into the habit of expecting me to actually live up to the things that I promised.”

Ford stared at him. “But…why on Earth wouldn’t you?”

“Because then I have to do things.”

“Then stop promising them in the first place!”

“But if I did that I’d get less of a turn-out,” Stan explained. “Still, they always hold out the littlest bit of hope that this time there really will be free pizza. So, besides that, I promised them a question session. Not a question and answer session. So technically you don’t have to answer a damn thing. Or even be there. They can ask you questions. You just don’t have to ever receive the questions. Maybe we can write them down or something and promise that you’ll read them eventually. And then you won’t. There’s all sorts of ways I can spin this.”

“Well, I suppose I could answer a few questions,” Ford said slowly. “Just to support you and help get those last few holdouts to realize that I do exist and I’m not your clone or whatever.”

“Hey,” Stan said, holding up his hands innocently. “I had nothing to do with that!”

“See, I didn’t think you did but then you go denying all these things…” Ford trailed off.

“Force of habit?”

Ford just shook his head. “I mean, it’s just a few questions. This isn’t going to be a part of your regular tours, right?”

“Definitely not.”

“Then how bad could it be?”

Stan laughed. “Oh, you should never ask that! You’ll always find out and the answer is always ‘worse than you think.’ Besides, you don’t know the people of Gravity Falls and you certainly don’t know tourists. I’m pretty sure we’re going to have to explain the concept of twins to someone today and if they see your hands we’re going to get ‘but if you’re twins why do you have six fingers’ and all that crap.”

Ford frowned and looked down at his hands.

“Well, I mean, if nothing else we know no one’s coming to a place like this to make fun of someone that has an extra finger or two,” Stan said.

Ford sighed. “Yes, that does sound reasonable. But I’m not sure…no, actually I am quite sure. I don’t want to be another anomaly in this place.”

“You won’t be,” Stan said fiercely. “People in Gravity Falls never notice the really weird things – not that having an extra finger is really weird! – and if anyone’s an asshole I’ll take care of it. If you think this will be the first time, or even close to the first time, I’ve had to punch a customer then you would be wrong. Besides, the way people usually respond to my attractions, they’ll probably say something stupid about how you’re clearly faking having an extra finger.”

“It will be fine,” Ford said firmly, sounding as if he were trying to convince himself.

“It’s not too late to change your mind,” Stan said.

“No,” Ford insisted, shaking his head. “I want to be here for this and do this for you.”

“You don’t have to-” Stan started to say.

“You’re always telling me I don’t have to do anything and you’re right, you know. I don’t have to do anything. But I want to. Don’t think I haven’t noticed how you’re never thrilled to go chasing after supernatural creatures that could kill us and yet you’re always willing to go with me.”

“It would be irresponsible to let you go alone,” Stan said. “I mean, not to rub it in but Bill? Or those soulless unicorns? I prefer to be on hand so I can do the ass-kicking right then and there instead of having to hunt them down later.”

“See, that’s what I’m talking about. I’m sure you’d be just as thrilled to never have to see another creature again,” Ford said.

Stan snorted. “Yeah but that would drive you crazy and you love that stuff way more than it annoys me. I’d never want to take it from you.”

“And I wouldn’t want to take what you care about away from you,” Ford said. “Even if the pursuit of wealth and tricking the gullible is never something I will understand.”

“You don’t have to,” Stan said. “And I don’t have to understand your thing. Because while I have picked up a lot of weird knowledge over the years, it was always with a point. Learning for the sake of learning is just not me and it never will be. It might be better if we don’t get it, actually.”

“Now you’ve lost me,” Ford said. “How could it possibly be better if we don’t understand each other?”

“Because it’s easy to support something that you get. Take our reunion for example. All you wanted was to protect the world from the mistakes you made. Once I knew what was going on, I understood that. The first time around all I wanted was to reunite with my family. The second time, I just wanted to protect you from a terrible fate. And you can understand both of those motives. We may not always agree about how we try and carry them out or which to prioritize but we can get it. It makes it easier. Accepting things that you don’t understand? That’s harder. That’s a sign that we’re finally on the right track.”

“Stan,” Ford said, fondly exasperated. “We’ve been on the right track for months now. Nearly a year. One of these days you’re going to have to wake up and believe it.”

“One of these days I will,” Stan agreed. “I’ve got time. Thirty years worth of time.”

“You always go back to the thirty years,” Ford said. “And yes, I know that’s when you came back from but unless you’re planning on just dropping dead then, you have a lot longer. 58 isn’t all that old, really. And I have it a from a terribly unreliable source I’m going to make it to 92, anyway. I can’t imagine you won’t still be there with me every step of the way.”

Stan smiled. He liked the sound of that.

The clock chimed.

He took a deep breath and pasted on his best showman grin. “Well, here goes.”

He opened the door and let his public in.

The Mystery Shack was back in business!