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The postcard had been annoyingly vague: “PLEASE COME!” it had demanded, with an address in Oregon scrawled beside it. But Stanley fortunately hadn’t been banned from Oregon, and things weren’t really looking great for him where he was, and it was Stanford. Stanford wanted to see him. So of course he jumped at the chance to make things right, and skipped a few meals and a few nights of sleep to make it to Gravity Falls as fast as possible.

And of course he had let himself hope that Stanford was maybe going to apologize for letting their dad kick him out, or ask Stanley if he was doing okay, or say that it was good to see him again. So of course he had gotten his stupid heart broken when his brother had instead handed him a book and told him to disappear with it off the face of the earth. That’s what happens when you open your heart: blood comes out, and you die.

But if there’s one thing Stan is good at, it’s getting angry. And getting angry feels a lot better than getting sad and feeling bad and crying and all that mushy stuff that just makes it easier for people to hurt you more. And maybe Stanford really didn’t understand what Stan had been through. And maybe Stan was hoping for something--sympathy, maybe?--when he started listing the shit that had happened to him, the shit he had had to do all because Stanford was too selfish to see how much Stan was suffering.

“I’m selfish? I’m selfish, Stanley? How can you say that after costing me my dream school?! I’m giving you the chance to do the first worthwhile thing in your life, and you won’t even listen!”

The angry retort died in Stanley’s throat as the comprehension of what his brother had just said sunk in.

“Is that really what you think of me?” Suddenly the anger drained out of him as he was transported back to that night when they were seventeen, Pa’s angry words bouncing off of his expertly-built defenses as he was tossed out into the street. That was fine. Yes, of course, his father’s constant criticism had permanently shaped his self-worth, and everything he did was in an attempt to get some glimmer of approval, but it was fine, really. He was used to it. But the way Stanford had looked at him? The way Stanford had turned away and closed the curtains, like he couldn’t even bear the sight of him? Yeah, that hurt.

Ford didn’t really feel that way about him, though. That was just a misunderstanding, right? Sure, Stanley could be a little selfish and impulsive, and maybe he had trouble reading people sometimes, but Ford understood that about him and loved him anyway, right? Sure, nobody liked Stan, but Ford liked him, and Ford was enough and Ford was Safe and would never hurt him. But then here was Ford again and maybe Stan had let himself get his hopes up and think that things could be back to normal but Ford was shooting him right in that weak spot like the dragon in that nerd book that Stanley had maybe even kinda liked hearing Ford talk about, the dragon who was perfectly protected by his scales except that one spot on his belly where there was a scale missing, and the whole dragon came tumbling down.

“You really think I’m worthless, after everything we've been through?” Shit, his voice came out as a squeak even as he tried to summon the anger again and he was turning around and rubbing his eyes before Ford could see but his vision was already blurred (okay, more blurred than usual because glasses were for nerds) and his face was already wet and he couldn’t let Ford see him like this, maybe when they were kids and Ford was Safe but now Ford was a Stranger and Not Safe Anymore.

“Stanley, you don’t understand. I don’t have a choice!” Stan felt the weight of a hand on his shoulder and was pulled back into the moment and his mind was already thinking get out, get out, get out like it had so many times in the past 13 years and he was remembering where the exits were without even consciously thinking about it and he had to get past this guy and get to the dumb elevator (seriously, who builds an elevator in their house?) and get out of there so this guy couldn’t hurt him anymore.

“Get… get away from me.” And Stan’s defenses were back and there had been so many times he had wanted to cry in the past 13 years but if there’s anything he’s learned it’s Don’t Show Weakness and he could pull himself together even now, even here, in this dark basement laboratory with the triangular portal looming ominously over them like a monster. And he could do this, he could be calm, he could take that stupid book in his hands and walk past this concerned and exhausted-looking stranger in the shape of his brother (seriously, Ford, the things you do when I’m not looking out for you) and walk to the elevator and back through that creepy lab and gather his things and leave.

“You were planning to stay here?” Ford asked, breaking the stony silence between them as he followed Stan towards the door, seeing him tug his beanie back on and zip the journal into the duffel bag that Ford had just noticed he had brought with him.

“It’s not like I have anywhere else to go.” Stanley’s voice was quieter than usual and his face was blotchy and pale but he wasn’t crying anymore, thank god. “Serves me right for trusting people, huh?” and here was a Stanley he could deal with, good old prickly Stanley with his defenses back up. And Stanford realizing far too late, as usual, that other people had needs like eating and sleeping and not freezing to death in Oregon in December.

“Well of course you can stay the night,” Stanford blundered, trying to grasp at some way to fix this situation. How could he have been so wrong? He had thought Stan would be happy to help him. Only now did Ford take the time to really look at his twin as he yanked on his mittens, his face turned away: the face identical to his own, with a similarly haunted look in his eyes; the stained and threadbare clothing and stale smell of someone who’d been living out of his car.

“Thanks for the sympathy, but it’s a little late for that.” And they were fighting again, fine, if Stanley wanted to fight, they could fight. It was better than being forced to directly address the hopelessness and desperation Ford was finally starting to notice in his brother.

“There’s a foot of snow out there, Stanley. You can’t drive anywhere in these conditions. I won’t allow it.” Please let me do this for you, Stanley. I don’t know what you need me to do but I can at least do this.

“Oh, now you care about my safety? I’ve been living on the streets for 13 years, Stanford.” Okay, ouch. “Not all of us were living in our bug-free dorms and our fancy spooky cabins in the forest and getting money for our dumb research. I’m not a kid. I don’t need you to take care of me.” and Stanford could hear the ghost of the end of that sentence, “anymore”. And of course Stanley wouldn’t even stick around to try to listen to reason, so he had slung his bag over his shoulder and left before Stanford could think of a better response than I’m sorry.

 

As a rule, Stan never said anything bad about the Stanleymobile.

Four-wheel drive would have been nice, though.

“Shit.” Stanley killed the engine after several minutes of futile tire-spinning. He sat in the freezing darkness for a moment, staring catatonically into the space in front of him. He couldn’t imagine a way in which this night could have gone worse. What was he expecting, really? “Oh, Stan, I’m so sorry for abandoning you all these years. Of course I forgive you for your huge mistake. Now I have a problem that I can only solve with your help, and it involves treasure and babes and going back to the way things were before you ruined everything.” How big of an idiot was he? Losers like Stan didn’t get happy endings. Happy endings were for people who “worked hard” and “stayed focused” and “had realistic goals.”

Stan pushed the driver’s seat back and pulled his knees up to his chin. He reached into the back seat and grabbed a musty wool blanket, draping it over his head like a hood and wrapping himself up like a burrito the same way he had done as a kid when things had become Too Much. He buried his face in his knees and cried.

 

WHY THE LONG FACE, SIXER? YOU FINALLY GOT WHAT YOU WANTED.

“Get out of here!” Ford whipped around to glare at Bill, but the demon was already gone, if he had been there at all. Ford must have fallen asleep on his feet for a moment, although he had been hearing that voice in his head for so long that he suspected his mind was starting to replicate it on its own, whispering and shouting his own insecurities back at him. He continued pacing back and forth in what had once been his living room before it had gotten overwhelmed with his notes and specimens (he had to admit that it had gotten pretty bad since Fiddleford’s departure…. how long had it been now?), occasionally stopping at the window to squint in the direction Stan had gone, trying to see if he could spot his brother’s car through the falling snow. He thought he had heard the engine revving earlier, but he couldn’t be sure.

He was still putting together the pieces of the puzzle, trying to figure out what had gone wrong with their interaction. He supposed that they were both tired and had both said some things that they didn’t mean. The two of them had argued before, of course, but those arguments always ended with the two of them getting into their respective bunk beds at the end of the day, Stanley’s mumbled “G’night, Poindexter” from the bottom bunk, followed by his loud snores carrying Ford off into sleep.

He still remembered how badly he had slept that first night after Stan had gone; he had been furious, of course, and worrying about where his brother was spending the night, but most of all his room was so quiet. Most of Stanley’s things were still there, but there was a Stanley-shaped hole that was ordinarily filled with his brother’s assorted Stanley noises; his incessant singing and humming, his running commentary on every thought that popped into his head, not to mention his long-winded stories about anything that Stanford himself hadn’t been present for. That was one thing that Ford had always appreciated about his brother: he was a completely open book. He just didn’t know how to be any other way.

BUT HE BETRAYED YOU. For the millionth time Ford’s mind ran through the incident, the way he had imagined it happening. Stanley sneaking into the school, a malicious glimmer in his eyes as deliberately destroyed Stanford’s only ticket out of New Jersey. Then, satisfied with the knowledge that Ford’s dreams had been crushed forever, he rode his bike back home, where he proceeded to somehow talk and brush his teeth at the same time as he updated Ford on the guy in his boxing class and his enormous cyst.

“It’s the size of a golf ball now, Sixer, I swear,” he had mumbled around his toothbrush. “Right here.” He used his right hand to show where the big lump was on the side of the guy’s nose. Ford had nodded politely as he moved aside for his brother to spit in the sink, not realizing that this was the last time they’d be getting ready for bed together in their apartment’s cramped bathroom. Sure, something about that image didn’t add up, but Ford had chalked it up to just another layer to Stan’s deception: lulling him into a false sense of security by acting completely normal.

Maybe it really was an accident, though. For the first time, he allowed himself to really consider that thought. It was so much easier to be angry if he assumed that his brother’s actions had been intentional. So much easier to justify 13 years of radio silence as Stanley did who knows what just to survive. But he had to admit that deliberate betrayal and deception wasn’t exactly Stanley’s forte. Ford reflected on the time Stan had broken the display case in their father’s store, and then tried to pin the blame on the Jersey Devil. Clumsy mistakes followed by cover-up attempts were definitely more Stanley’s speed.

But that couldn’t be true. Because that would mean that the Stanley at whom he had been angry didn’t really exist. That the boy who’d been thrown out into the night, the man who had disappeared into the Oregon winter with tears drying on his frostbitten face, wasn’t a monster at all but was simply his brother, who made mistakes and lost his temper and didn’t think things through sometimes. His brother who would do anything for him, with the loyalty and clumsy earnestness of a large dog. His brother, whom he might never see again, and it wasn’t all Ford’s fault, but it was approximately 50% Ford’s fault.

Well shit.

 

The thing about crying is that when it’s over, not only are your problems still there, but now you have new problems like your face hurts from rubbing it and you have snot coming out of your nose and everything is wet and your throat hurts from screaming and your body is exhausted from the sobs racking your whole body and you’re thirsty and you still feel like you might start crying again at any moment. Not that Stan would know, just, you know. That’s common knowledge and everything.

Stan uncurled himself from the fetal position to rummage around in the glove compartment, grabbing some napkins to blow his nose for not-crying-related reasons, a pack of smokes, and a small bottle of Wild Turkey. He’d been saving this particular Wild Turkey for a special occasion, but heck if “I drove from New Mexico to Oregon to help my twin brother with a mysterious problem after not speaking to him for 13 years, only to realize that he never wants to see me again and also have him confirm my deepest insecurities” wasn’t enough of a special occasion for Stan.

When he heard a knock on the passenger side window and saw his brother peeking in and awkwardly waving at him, Stan was just drunk enough to open the door.

“Stanley, it’s freezing in here,” Ford said as he settled into the seat beside him, shivering and holding his trench coat closed with his hands.

“Again with the charming salutations,” Stan mumbled as he pulled a cigarette out of the box. The alcohol had sent blood to his extremities, rendering his fingers warm enough to use and sending a warm blush to his cheeks and nose.

“Got any more of those?”

Stan turned to his brother and raised his eyebrows, lit cigarette hanging from his lips. “I didn’t know you smoked, Poindexter. Ma must be so disappointed.”

Ford laughed, blushing a little and glancing down at his fidgeting hands. “She doesn’t know. Besides, I only smoke when I’m drinking.” He held his hand out expectantly, and Stan rolled his eyes while stifling a grin, handing Ford the box of cigarettes and the bottle of bourbon.

“Real smooth, Sixer. You must be a big hit with the ladies.”

“I, uh.” Ford took a quick swig of bourbon and winced. “I’m not.”

“I know, genius. I was joking.”

“Oh. Right.”

The two men sat in silence for a while, passing the bottle back and forth between them. Now that he was in the car with his brother, Ford wasn’t really sure how to proceed. He knew what his end goal was--find some way to apologize, get Stanley back into the house, and think of another plan to defeat Bill--but he didn’t quite know how to get there. Ideally, he would be able to just say exactly what was on his mind, but years of experience had taught him that Stanley sometimes had emotional reactions to things that Ford didn’t completely understand. He worried that if he was too blunt, he might accidentally say something to make him angry, or worse, make him cry again.

He examined his brother, hoping to get some idea of what to do. Ford’s mind was fuzzy from lack of sleep and the effects of the mind-altering substances he was consuming, and he suspected that Stan was feeling the same way, which would hopefully make this conversation easier. He suspected that his brother had been crying again--the knees of his pants were darker than the rest of them, which was consistent with his brother’s former habit of crying into his knees. Furthermore, although he was flushed from the alcohol (as Ford suspected he was himself), Stanley’s face seemed to be raw, and the area around his eyes slightly swollen. Ford didn’t detect any signs of anger, although that didn’t mean that his twin wouldn’t jump into an angry mindset if the situation arose.

Stanley stubbed out his cigarette into the ashtray with a hand that was becoming gradually less shaky. He suspected that, as usual, he would be the one to break the silence. That was okay. Stan had spent his entire life learning how to diffuse a tense situation. Sure, sometimes his attempts ended with him being chased out of town with forks, pitch- and otherwise, but what was life without a little risk?

He turned to his brother, already feeling a smile spread across his face. “Hey, Sixer. Didja hear that corduroy pillows are gettin’ real popular?”

Stanford appeared startled by the question, but quickly recovered and seemed relieved at the chance to jump to his normal analytical mindset. “Corduroy pillows? That’s a strange combination. Isn’t corduroy usually used for pants and jackets?”

“Yeah,” said Stan, grinning now and almost squirming in his seat in his excitement to deliver the punchline. “You would think so, but corduroy pillows are really makin’ head lines.”

Ford looked confused for a moment, and Stan could see the wheels in his head turning. Then he burst out laughing, burying his face in his hands.

“Stanley…” he gasped, between peals of helpless, high-pitched laughter, “You are the absolute worst.” He laughed for much longer than was strictly necessary for the humor of the joke, and Stan found himself laughing along with him, mostly in relief that he had been able to create a positive interaction between them. Eventually Ford was able to catch his breath, his face still stuck in a grin and rubbing tears from his eyes.

“Whew,” he said, wiping his glasses with the smooth material of his necktie and settling them back onto his nose. Now that the silence had been broken, he found it much easier to speak. However, he figured it was still best to keep the topic light. He had also been reminded of something, about which he felt the sudden and intense desire to know Stanley’s opinion.

“Stanley,” he said, settling his face into a serious expression and making eye contact with his brother, his hands folded in his lap. “Have you heard of leg warmers?”

“You mean those things like big socks without the foot part? Yeah, I love ‘em!”

“You… you love them?” Ford was thunderstruck. He and Fiddleford had had long discussions on the topic of leg warmers, and both of them had formed relatively unshakeable opinions on them: Fiddleford thought that, at the end of the day, leg warmers clearly served some sort of function, and who cared what people wanted to wear, anyway?

Ford, though? Once he had formed his opinion, he had dug his claws into it and refused to budge. Stanford Pines hated leg warmers. Yet here was his brother, his identical twin, genetically the exact same person as him (aside from whatever genetic mutation must have happened after the splitting of the egg, which resulted in Stanford’s polydactyly, and upon which Ford could deliver a college-level lecture if necessary), completely unwaveringly professing his love of leg warmers. It was possible that Ford’s judgement was being slightly impaired by the alcohol, but he was finding it difficult not to jump straight to an argument. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and focused on his intellect, as he always did in times of stress.

“Sure, bro, have you seen Jane Fonda in those things? What a babe!”

Ford’s eyes popped open, and he snapped to attention.

“Jane Fonda?” he said incredulously. “The actress??”

“Yeah, Sixer, the one from Barbarella. Remember how mad Ma was when she found out that we’d snuck into that movie? Of course, it was all your fault
she found out.”

My fault? I believe that you’re the one who wrote the comic Li’l Stanley Meets Barbarella. I was just the one who was caught reading it.”

“Hey, should’a been reading it with a flashlight under the covers like everybody else!”

Ford waved him off with a six-fingered hand. “That’s beside the point. You have to admit that leg warmers are completely impractical. Why would anyone want to exclusively keep their lower legs warm? And furthermore, why wouldn’t they just wear pants?”

“Range of motion, Sixer. Besides, they look great with my roller skating outfit.”

“I’m sorry, your…. your what outfit?”

“Hey, how do you think I’ve been getting babes to love me all these years? It’s not my good looks and charm, that’s for sure.” The two of them shared a laugh. After a moment, Ford cleared his throat, awkwardly shifting in his seat to better face his brother.

“I. Uh. I want to apologize, Stanley. For what happened that night. And tonight. I was angry, and disappointed, and…. scared.” Ford was clearly uncomfortable, looking at his hands and kneading them together. “I thought that I would never have another chance to prove myself. To leave Jersey and become a scientist and make Pa proud. I was wrong about that. Despite what happened, I was still able to meet incredible people and learn incredible things, and the only person who ruined that for me was myself. And maybe if I had bothered to listen to you, I would have made better decisions and none of this would have happened.”

“Oh, pshaw.” Stanley exaggeratedly waved Ford’s apology aside, although his brain was buzzing warmly and a blush was creeping up his cheeks. “I’ve
always been the dumb one. Look at the decisions I’ve made! I was a disaster without you, bro. Nah, I would’ve just dragged you down.”

“Stanley, no. Don’t say that.” Stanford was suddenly gripping him by the shoulders, staring intently into his eyes. “I was a disaster without you. We’re…. we’re a team. You don’t even know, Stanley. You don’t even know how brilliant you are. Even when we were kids, you understood better than anyone. Nobody can navigate this world alone. We need to trust each other. We need to be there for each other. You were always there for me, even now, even after what I’ve done. After all the mistakes I’ve made…”

Stan felt the lump unexpectedly rise in his throat again, and before he knew it, his lower lip was quivering again and he was crying like a little girl. It had been so long since anyone had had anything nice to say about him, and now here he was, somehow being told exactly what he needed to hear from the exact person he needed to hear it from. He looked down from the intense gaze of his brother, but Stanford’s hands remained on his shoulders, preventing him from turning away. He didn’t need to ask if Stanford really meant what he said--his brother always meant what he said. When Stanford said that Stanley was worthless, he truly believed that Stanley was worthless--or at least wanted to believe it. But when he said that Stanley was brilliant, he meant it just as much.

“You…” Stan cleared his throat and swiped at his eyes. “You know I would do anything for you.”

“I know,” said Ford. “Why do you think you’re the one I turned to? I’ve always known.” He chewed his lip nervously, considering the next thing he was going to say. “I’m going to hug you now, Stanley, because I love you. Is that okay?”

In lieu of an answer, Stanley pulled him into a bone-crushing hug. Stanford tried to hug him back just as hard, although his body was awkwardly draped across the center console of Stan’s car, and he was never as good of a hugger as Stanley was. He felt his twin’s body shake as he cried silently into Stanford’s shoulder, and soon Stanford was crying too.

“I’m sorry our father was so awful. I’m sorry I didn’t protect you from him. I’m so sorry.” Stanford couldn’t remember the last time he had been touched, and he was so tired, and he had made a terrible mistake that could possibly cause the end of the world as they knew it, and his brother was finally here. Before he knew it he was telling Stanley everything--about Fiddleford, and Bill, and how he had possibly compromised everything just because of his stupid ego.

“Okay,” Stan said finally, gently pulling out of the hug to consider his twin and drying his eyes on his sleeve. “So you accidentally created an interdimensional portal that can destroy the universe. Everybody makes mistakes. Did I ever tell you about the time I got married in Vegas?”

Ford leaned back in his seat, startled once again by the sudden change in topics. “No,” he said carefully, ignoring the obvious answer we haven’t spoken to each other since high school.

“Well,” said Stan, already in storytelling mode, “that marriage was the best six hours of my life. Of course, she was only in it to steal my poker winnings and my car, which I was able to get back as you can clearly see…” and Ford had already settled in to hear the story by force of habit, his chin resting on the palm of his hand and his elbow resting on his knee. A smile spread across his face as his eyelids softly closed, and when his brother finally shook him awake and the two of them stumbled through the snowy night back toward the house, Ford had the bizarre half-awake thought that Bill Cipher hadn’t entered his dreams at all. And if Stan’s charm wasn’t enough to permanently banish Bill Cipher, maybe his stories were just boring enough to scare him away for awhile. And maybe they would need to figure out a new plan tomorrow, but for tonight, that was enough.