The truth of the matter is that Ford doesn't deserve Stan. No Ford does but especially not this arrogant, childish Stanford Pines, face still unwrinkled and soft around the edges, who is so devoted to the cold mistress of science (so beautiful and wonderful and powerful; so like Stan).
It's ridiculously easy to seduce himself; he’s forgotten how easily he fell prey to praise. It's been decades since he's been so naive, but even he remembers the shame of the extra fingers and obsession with the strange. It’s only easier when the young Stanford notices his elder's twelve fingers. The boy is under the impression that the two of them can bond over this, frankly, minor difference that sets them apart from the other, ten fingered population.
Ford doesn't integrate himself into the boys’ school; he can't stand all of those hormonal juveniles falling over each other in pointless competition and petty squabbles. He chooses instead to remain a steady, subtle presence on the polluted shores of Glass Shards Beach. He brings Stan with him sometimes, when Stan is grounded enough in reality to be trusted beyond a locked door. But, as time goes and Ford becomes more and more familiar with the boys, it becomes more and more painful to wait hopelessly for any spark of recognition in Stan’s eyes as they slowly wonder their childhood haunt.
Ford starts to leave his brother behind.
Ford observes the young twins working away on the original Stan-o-War. Well, the young Stanford works. Stanley, himself, seems content to stare openly at his brother in naked want that seems as obvious as Ford’s sixth finger. Ford wonders if his Stan ever looked at him like that. (It doesn't matter now, Ford tells himself.)
“She's coming along wonderfully,” Ford says, making both of the twins jump. Stanley quickly makes himself busy, shooting unsubtle glares in Ford's direction.
“Thank you!” Stanford quickly clambers from the boat, flushing under the praise and no small amount of his own unsubtle infatuation. “We're hoping to get her seaworthy by summer.”
“Oh.” Ford feigns surprise and looks over the craft. He knows that the boat will never leave the beach. “I thought you were working on that science fair project. What was it again?” Ford leans in, just enough. Stanford flushes darker, hands fluttering nervously.
“Oh, ah, the. Yes, the perpetual motion machine. I mean, it's far fetched but…” Stanford rubs at the back of his neck shyly.
“Eh. We don't need that sci-fi stuff!” Stanley launches himself on his brother, a possessive arm going around Stanford's shoulders. “After this year we're outta here! Right, Ford?” Stanford looks away and Ford knows that face. Stanford is already considering a life away from Stanley (who is the best thing that will ever happen to him, the arrogant fool). Stanford smiles tightly.
“It'd be nice to try, though,” he says. Ford forces his face to relax into a smile.
“I could help. Possibly. It's been a while since I've worked with theoretical physics but it would be a nice challenge.” Stanford's face is like a lighthouse. Stan is a thundercloud.
Ford is finally alone with Stanley when Stanford is sequestered at the school, obsessively tinkering away at his project. Ford recognizes that ferver from so many years ago (he might even encourage it, stoked it until it has all but consumes the boy).
Stanley is alone at the swings. He looks miserable, and Ford's heart aches to comfort him. Ford approaches quietly, and Stanley nearly jumps out of his seat as he shouts in surprise.
“Apologies,” Ford says with a smile. Stan mumbles a curse and glares at him.
“Hell ya doin’ here? Thought ya’d be nerdin’ it up with Ford.”
“Your brother is... quite focused. I doubt he'd even notice my presence,” Ford says. (It's a lie. Stanford has been fawning over him and in another world Ford would bask in the warmth like a lizard.) Stanley snorts and hunches into himself.
“No kiddin’,” he mumbles and kicks the ground, making the seat sway.
“Did something happen?” Ford asks and takes the open seat. He’s a bit too big for it, it’s made for a smaller Stanford but, Ford makes it work.
“What'd ya care?” Stanley glares at him, round face tensing. “Yer just some creep stalkin’ Ford. You don't give a damn about me.” Stanley clenches his hands into fists around the creaking chains of the swing.
“That's not true.”
“Hell it ain't.” Stanley’s eyes light up and he shoves himself off the swing to stand. The seat jerks in the air behind him. “Everythin’ was great until ya showed up!” Ford stands and raises his hands in surrender.
“Stanley, I'm not sure--”
“We were gonna sail away and get rich! We were gonna be somebodies and then ya show up and now Ford-” Stanley's voice cracks over his brother’s name before he shakes himself. “You convinced him I wasn't good for nothin’,” Stanley says lowly, like he doesn't want to say it aloud. Like saying it will make it real.
“Oh, Stanley,” Ford says, hurting for this young and soft version of his brother.
“It's yer fault.” Stanley says darkly.
“I'm sorry, Stanley.” Ford reaches out to touch, but lets his hand fall when Stanley pulls instinctively away. “But your brother, he...” Ford hesitates. “Ah, no,” Ford shakes his head. “Nevermind.” Stanley looks at him shrewdly, accusingly.
“Ya got somethin’ to say?” Stanley draws as tall as he can, squaring his shoulders. He has a few more years to reach Ford’s height, though neither of them are very tall.
“Did you ever consider that your brother might be…” Ford hesitates.
“What?” Stanley demands and curls his fists.
“If your brother might feel...uncomfortable alone with you?” Ford finishes softly, but Stanley flinches all the same, as if struck.
“What--the fuck does that mean?” Stanley shifts self consciously, fists curling and uncurling at his side in a nervous tick.
“Your brother is not as unobservant as he seems,” Ford says carefully. “I know you care for him, Stanley, but,” Ford gives Stanley his best sympathetic look. “I don’t think your brother...feels the same.”
“What? N-no.” Stanley stammers as his eyes flick to the rough glass-and-sand gravel of the beach. “You’re right. He’s got that fancy college. Doesn’t n-need big, dumb Stanley Pines anymore.”
“Stanley,” Ford chides. “You know that’s not what I meant.” Stanley stares at him, eyes widening in panic, shiny and bright.
“Fuck off.” Stanley says and turns to leave (running) but Ford jerks him back by the arm. Stanley wastes no time whirling around, aiming to punch Ford in the face. Ford easily catches Stanley’s fist. “Get off me!” Stanley wrenches his hand back and Ford lets him; he watches Stanley stumble back.
“Y-ya come around and--and start with all this bullshit!” Stanley shouts. Ford looks around, but the beach is fortunately deserted in the twilight.
“Stanley!” Ford hisses.
“What did ya tell him?” Stanley pushes into Ford’s space, retreat forgotten now that he knows what Ford knows.
“You need to be quiet,” Ford says and stands his ground, almost pushing into Stanley’s flushing face, resisting the urge to grab his white shirt.
“What did ya do to my brother?” Stanley shouts and lunges, throwing his entire body into Ford. Ford only falls because he does not expect it.
Stanley isn’t fighting like a boxer; he isn’t going to pull back at first blood. Stanley is fighting like a cornered back alley stray with nothing to lose, going for the most sensitive areas of the body, the most damaging. But, Stanley is young and soft and has never had to fight for his life. He’s too wild and underestimates the aging nerd that Ford appears. (Though, he does land a blow to Ford’s gut that winds him and Ford definitely has a bloodied nose. He’s almost proud.)
The fight is over when Ford slams his head forward into Stanley’s (the metal plate makes it particularly effective) and shoves him back and Stanley falls. He’s stunned, blinking away tears as his brain recovers from being slammed suddenly into his skull. Ford quickly straddles him, a loose hand curls gently but firmly over his exposed throat and the other stays steady against Stanley’s shoulder. Stanley shakes his head, only making the disorientation worse. Unable to see or focus, Stanley starts to thrash wildly, his arms come up to try and push Ford away.
“Stanley, calm down!” He barks down at the boy who just snarls back. “You need to be quiet!”
“Fuck you!” Stanley has both hands wrapped around Ford’s wrist, trying to dislodge it.
“I mean it,” Ford warns, leans just slightly on Stanley’s throat.
Stanley’s eye widen when Ford squeezes his neck (just enough that he can feel the carotid artery and jugular vein move like undulating worms under his fingertips; can feel the hard cartilage of Stanley’s trachea push against his palm). Stanley claws at his arm but, between the trauma and the hypoxia, Stanley’s brain is simply too weak to function after even a few seconds. Stanley doesn’t go completely limp as his eyes lose focus and saliva gathers at the corners of his gaping mouth, but his body becomes yielding. (Ford is almost disgusted with himself at how erotic the sight is; Stanley drooling as he tries to gasp for air, his eyelids fluttering.) Ford carefully and slowly relaxes his hold, raises his other hand to cradle Stanley’s face as he gasps for air and adjusts to his brain flooding with oxygen rich blood. “Take deep, slow breaths.” Ford rubs a thumb along Stanley’s neck, attempting to soothe. His hand rises and falls with a thick swallow.
“F’ck.” Stanley glares limply at Ford. Ford smiles gently at him.
“I never did anything to your brother, Stanley.” Stanley tries to turn away from Ford’s hand on his cheek. “I never told him anything.”
“G’ off,” Stanley says after a long moment. Ford draws back but continues to sit on Stanley’s hips, to keep him from running and doing something regrettable.
“Your throat is going to be sore,” Ford says. “Be careful when you stand.” When Ford feels that Stanley won’t run, Ford carefully gets up, making a show of rubbing his knees. Stanley tries to rise quickly behind him, but stumbles. Ford catches his arm before he falls; Stanley tries to pull away, but just stumbles again. Ford frowns. “Let me see your eyes.” Ford doesn’t wait for consent, grabs Stanley’s face and looks carefully over Stanley’s squinted glare. Ford sighs when nothing seems worse than expected.
“Lemme go, psycho.” Stanley pulls away again and Ford lets him. “I’mma call the police.” Stanley rasps and Ford doubts that he really would.
“You have no reason to,” Ford shrugs. “Though, I think you could do with something for your throat. The Juke Joint isn’t too far.”
“‘M not grabin’ a drink with ya.” Stanley rubs his throat and coughs. “Ya tried to kill me! Yer gonna drag me off an-an’ finish me off!” Stanley tries to shout, work himself into a rage but just coughs painfully. (Ford might have overdone it.) Ford places a bracing hand between his shoulder blades and feels his powerful movement of his ribcage.
“Don’t be ridiculous.” Ford snorts and starts to guide the two of them to the boardwalk. “I do apologize though.” Ford pauses to consider what to say. “I...don’t do well being startled like that.” Ford looks at the stars briefly, remembering.
“So ya go fuckin’ apeshit?” Stanley scoffs and Ford smiles tightly.
“It’s saved my life more than once,” he says. Stanley looks at him suspiciously, but there is a small seed of curiosity.
(He doesn’t call the police.)
When Stanford leaves for college, Stanley becomes morose. He’s surly and miserable, but he is also lonely. Filbrick pressures him to get a job and Stanley is obviously losing his spark in the chafing monotony. But, he's more accepting of Ford’s attention, now, without Stanford to bolster him.
“Fuck off,” Stanley mumbles from where he's slowly nursing a can of cheap beer in the not-quite-abandoned Stan-o-War.
“Hello, to you as well,” Ford offers drily. It’s become a game between them: Stanley tries to drive Ford away, and Ford easily ignores his juvenile fits. Stanley glares at him, but it’s softened by his alcohol flushed face and lack of true heat. Ford takes a seat beside him.
“Said: fuck off,” Stanley pouts, taking another long pull from the can before crumpling it and tossing it away to thunk quietly against the wooden hull before dropping to the ground. There a few cans in the boat, already. Some are older than others, rusting and fading, while other still leak potent hops and malt into the air.
“Stanley, what are you doing?” Ford asks with honest curiosity. He doesn’t stop Stanley from picking up another can.
“Gettin’ drunk, genius,” Stanley settles back against the hull with a huff. Ford says nothing and they sit in a silence Stanley can’t keep. (He never could stand the quiet.) “Miss Ford,” he whispers, hugging an arm around his knees, beer dangling from the other hand.
“Ah,” Ford nods. “Separation is...difficult.”
“Like ya’d know.” Stanley snorts and closes his eyes. Ford frowns at Stanley and then the ground.
“I...lost my brother a very long time ago,” Ford offers quietly. He sees Stanley look at him from the corner of his eyes.
“...was that...over there?” Stanley asks cautiously. (Stanley has come to the conclusion that Ford is a veteran of the war, and Ford has made no move to correct him.) Ford nods. “Sorry.”
“It was inevitable,” Ford says. “The two of us were so different.” Stanley hunches forward before he changes his mind and chugs his beer. He burps loudly and Ford wrinkles his nose in disgust. Stanley’s head thunks against the hull and then rolls to look at Ford. At Ford’s hands. Ford holds one out. “His hands were different than mine. Only five fingers each,” Ford wiggles his fingers for emphasis. Stanley nods and hesitantly grabs the proffered hand.
Stanley’s hands are soft and warm, pinked and slick with the watery condensation that sweats from the beer can. Ford does not shiver at the sweet sensation; he relaxes and lets Stanley hold his hand, let’s him turn it one way and the other. Stanley gets bolder and starts to run thick, clumsy fingers along the many wrinkles and scars.
“...he’s gonna look like this.” Stanley murmurs; he traces a scar at the base of Ford’s thumb. One of the too many to count that Ford has. Stanley’s face scrunches up in thought and he looks at Ford’s face like he’s a puzzle. Ford doesn’t move, barely blinks, just smiles softly. He isn’t sure what Stanley finds that causes his young face to become unreadable, but the young man deflates ands falls heavily into Ford’s side, still holding his hand. “Is he gonna come back?” Ford's breath hitches at the warmth, the closeness, the long wanted trust. (He's missed his brother like this, missed this solid feeling of being whole.)
“I don’t know,” Ford says when he recovers. Stanley chuckles and squeezes his hand.
“I got you, though, huh, Sixer?” Stanley mutters. Ford makes a noise like a gasp. It has been too long since this man (boy) has called him by that name and it lands through the air and against Ford’s very skin like slap; like a punch. He is reeling, but centered, when he squeezes Stanley’s hand back.
Stanley is different after that. Still surly and bitter, but affectionate, in his own way. He touches Ford when no one is around to see; he holds Ford’s hands, leans into his side, even falls asleep in his lap after too many beers. (And it’s wonderful to carefully run his fingers through Stanley’s hair and trace lines over his acne scars and make up constellations.) When Stanley wakes up with Ford carding his six fingers through Stanley’s lengthening hair, Stanley calls him a “fuckin’ creepazoid,” or something else ridiculous, and shoves Ford away.
It can’t last, of course. Stanford still exists in this dimension. And Standfords and Stanleys always make their way back to each other with tireless momentum. Ford, however, is an unpredicted outside force.
He will interrupt this nonsense.
“Ford's comin’ back!” Stanley charges his way into the Stan-o-War and trips over Ford's outstretched legs. It's a small, but pleasant mystery that Stanley seems to know when and where to find Ford when he is waiting for him at their now secret spot. (Though it’s possible that he frequents the landlocked vessel when Ford is busy and away, too.)
It's a testament to Stanley’s excitement that he twists to land on his ass, smiling. Ford raises an eyebrow, silently prompting him to continue. “School's letting out for Christmas and Ma got Pops to pay for tickets!” Ford frowns at the news, and Stanley’s lack of a jacket. He shrugs off his coat, content in his sweater.
“How exciting,” Ford drawls and drapes the jacket over Stanley’s shoulders like a blanket while Stanley tries to bat him away.
“Geroff me ya creep,” he says with a smile as he clenches the coat closed around him. He starts to shiver as the exertion of running leaves his skin unusually warm in contrast to the chilled air.
“There is snow on the ground, Stanley.” Ford shakes his head. “It'd be a shame if you were ill while your brother was visiting.” Stanley frowns. It's the frown he gets when Ford has said something true that Stanley agrees with, but won't admit it.
“Well,” Stanley shrugs, grinning again. “Then we'll just laze around all week.” He looks around the empty hull until he finds a sparse bottle of vodka. (Ford has never been described as “responsible” with alcohol, even in college, drinking to sleep and drinking to stay awake. The vodka was a gift to himself and the young Stanley, after a particularly unpleasant night. It is a cheaper investment than the numerous beers.)
“He might have more to do than lie in bed with his brother,” Ford says. Stanley scowls over his shoulder.
“That again? You're a twisted fuck, Sixer.” Stanley shimmies his way to Ford's side and uncaps the bottle. The smell is as potent as ever (Ford's heart rate picks up in anticipation). Stanley lifts the bottle in a mock toast before he takes a pull and starts coughing. “That's fuckin’ cold!” Ford takes the bottle while Stanley catches his breath.
“I'm not sure what you expected,” Ford drawls around a smirk and drinks his own share. It is, indeed, really fucking cold. Stanley glares and snatches it back and drinks again like he's proving a point. His face is already flushing (capillaries expanding, blood thinning and rising to the surface) when he narrows his eyes.
“You ain't gonna try nothin’ on Ford, right?” Stanly asks and scowls harder when Ford laughs.
“I have no interest in your brother, Stanley. I never have.” Ford reaches for the bottle, something to wrap his mouth around to keep quiet about Stanford, but Stanley pulls the bottle closer to him and out of Ford's reach. Ford sighs and leans back. It's honestly better for him to remain sober, though he enjoys the solidarity of shared intoxication.
“You actually a queer?” Stanley asks suddenly. Ford laughs.
“I don't often find people, regardless of appearance, attractive or arousing,” Ford answers with a careless smile. “But, if I do,” Ford catches Stanley’s too-bright eyes. “I see no harm in indulging.”
“Yeah, but, can't you just ignore it?” Stanley asks, looking a little hopeful, for his or Ford's sake, it's unclear.
“I have tried.” Ford looks away from Stanley and at some long, distant time when he tried so, so hard to be what he thought he needed to be. “It isn't a houseplant you can ignore until it dies.” When he looks back, Stanley looks dejected. Too open with his feelings and alcohol-loose. Ford takes a gamble and shifts until he's sitting next to him. This time when he reaches for the bottle Stanley lets go. “Sexuality isn't shameful, Stanley.”
“I ain't a fag,” Stanley says to his lap. Ford sighs around the lip of the bottle.
Ford doesn't see Stanley the next day. That’s normal; he's probably hungover or trawling for employment. (Stanley can't seem to keep a job for more than a few weeks for one reason or another.) It gives Ford time to do some things he's been neglecting.
His brother, the grizzled man that once followed Ford screaming into the world, has not been content to sit in the cheap motel Ford rents for them. As children, grounding Stan had been a Herculean task that neither Filbrick or Caryn were willing to suffer. Many bedsheets were lost to the wear and tear of being made into improvised ropes to be hung out of bedroom windows. Ford, being an accomplice to nearly every childhood escape, has found a new appreciation in adulthood for his mother's apathy as a warden.
The motel door is open when he arrives at the “Clamped Clam,” though the temperature of the room indicates that it hasn't been opened long. Ford grumbles as he drops his bag of groceries by the door. He looks around the room, trying to gauge what kind of mental space Stan might be occupying at the moment. (It seems to be a more lucid mood; Stan's jacket is missing.)
Ford doesn't bother with putting anything away. He pats down his pockets, ensuring that his gun is present, before he turns on his heel and leaves, locking the door. If Stan wonders back to the room, he'll have to wait for Ford to let him in.
Stan is easy to find, his deteriorating mind follows the deep ruts of Stan's subconsciousness to the ocean. Ford walks quickly, but not hurriedly, along the sidewalk until the cracking cement gives way to warping wood. The fading twilight makes it a little more difficult to see, but Stan's shock of white hair gleams like a wave cap where it bobs at the end of the pier. At the sight, a part of Ford that had wound itself into brittle anxiety relaxes.
Ford slows his approach; like himself, Stan can be volatile if startled and, though Ford is confident of his abilities, he does not want to fish his brother out of the water tonight.
“Stan,” he calls. Stan doesn’t turn or respond beyond a tensing along his shoulders and a sudden stillness to his minute rocking. Ford feels a furrow dig between his brows as he gives his brother another glance over. “You left the room.” Stan shifts, not relaxing but rearranging his tension into something less obvious. Ford can see Stan twisting his red knit cap in his hands, thumbing a loose, fraying thread.
“Past check out time,” Stan says. “Don’t wanna overstay my welcome.”
“We have the room through the end of the week,” Ford steps closer to Stan. He considers sitting down next to his brother and watching the fading sunset, but it is cold and he simply doesn’t want to. “And the week after that, I imagine.”
“Yeah?” Stan asks. There is a hesitancy in his voice that makes him sound vulnerable. “That's, uh, pretty generous of you.”
“Yes,” Ford agrees carefully. “We should get back. I didn't get the chance to put the groceries away.” Stan jumps when Ford puts a hand on his shoulder.
“Jesus! Gonna give a guy a…” Stan finally looks at Ford and his eyes widen, words stalling in his throat. “Uh.” Stan is rigid; his gaze flits rapidly over Ford before it seems to lose focus and Stan stares, slack and vacant, at nothing. It is an unnervingly familiar expression.
“Stan? Come on,” Ford squeezes Stan's shoulder. “You need rest.” Stan blinks a few times before he sluggishly looks up at Ford. “Do you know where you are?”
“You got an extra bed?” Stan asks, ignoring Ford's question. Ford fights to keep his expression friendly, if not at least neutral. (Ah, he thinks. It is one of those days.)
“No,” he says, truthfully. “But, the bed is big.” Stan's small grin becomes brittle before he looks back over the sea. “And, I don't sleep much,” Ford adds. Stan shakes his head and chuckles.
“Sure, sure. Just, gimmie a minute,” Stan's face softens as he watches the waves knead the water. Ford carefully counts out the seconds in a minute, but before he can say anything Stan sighs in a loud burst and shakes himself. “Alright! So, you gotta room. You got food?” The Stan that grins up at Ford is still too scripted and brittle to be the brother Ford remembers, but he is still preferable to the ever-threatening vapidity of Stan’s complete amnesia. Ford smiles, genuinely charmed, if saddened.
“Dinner had been the plan,” he says and steps back to let his brother stand.
“Oof,” Stan groans and twists his spine until it cracks in several places. “Damn, not gettin’ any younger.”
“And I’m sure the weather isn’t helping.”
“You got that right, sheesh,” Stan rubs at his arms and nods at Ford. “Lead the way, mister.” Ford shakes his head and watches Stan hesitate at the end of the pier. “So,” he drags out the ‘o’ and shoves his hands in his pocket. “Where, uh. Where are we goin’?”
“Not too far,” Ford easily overtakes his brother with a few brisk strides.
Leading Stan back to the motel is a bit of a challenge. Despite the short walk, Stan is distracted by everything shining and neon and Ford nearly has to hold his hand to keep him from wandering into every shop.
“Stan, stop that!” He finally snaps after snagging Stan’s collar for the fifth time to keep him on track. “You can’t be seen!” Stan is somehow stiff and pliant at the same time as he lets Ford drag him away.
“What’d’ya mean?” He asks, shrugging out of Ford’s grasp and rubbing at his neck.
“It’s just not safe,” Ford explains as he finally ushers Stan into the motel room and locks the door. Ford huffs loudly and turns to look sternly at his brother when he hears a muttered: “yeah?” from Stan.
“I’m trying to help you,” Ford snaps.
“Yeah?” Stan asks again. His voice is still low and almost husky as he looks at Ford from under his lashes. “Gotta wonder why.”
It isn’t the first time Ford’s been met with this version of Stan; Ford’s brother never flushed at him so delicately. Even in those final moment in the Fearamid, Stan’s flush was more passionate. Part of Ford demands that he close the short distance Stan has made between them; it demands to cup Stan’s cheek and to bring their lips together until they are as breathless as they were in the womb. (And, one day he will question Stan; he will pursue this prostituting instinct to its source. One day Ford will understand.)
“I’m getting food,” Ford says instead of saying any of the thoughts wrestling like young brothers in his head. He tries to ignore the bitterness leaking into his mouth when he catches the quickly smothered relief in Stan’s face.
“Sure,” Stan shrugs.
“You’re filthy,” Ford says. Stan frowns, an honest expression, and looks down and over himself. “I’ll be back in a half hour.” Any moment in the motel room is ruined when Stan lifts his arm to delicately smell himself. “Take a shower.” Ford says and locks the motel room door as he leaves.
When Ford returns, the door is still locked, and the bags of supplies have been haphazardly unpacked. Stan is at the small table shoved to one side of the room, staring at his hands.
“I have food,” Ford says when Stan doesn't acknowledge his entrance. Stan startles, his eyes snap up and hook into Ford before he relaxes.
“Took ya long enough,” Stan says and leans back in his chair, nervous eyes flitting over Ford a final time before they settle on the small, paper bag in Ford’s hand. “What ya get?”
“Chinese,” Ford says and sets the bag on the table. “Or, so the sign assured me. I doubt the authenticity.”
“Food is food,” Stan pulls the bag toward himself and pulls out the paper box of noodles that has been leaked through. Stan licks his fingers free of what Ford hopes is sauce. “Salty.”
Stan is obnoxious as he eats. As he talks, bits of food drop from his mouth to his plate, and then travels back to his mouth again in a display of cyclical inefficiency. He wipes his hand over his mouth when he catches Ford's wrinkled look of disgust.
“Uh,” Stan licks his lips and rubs them again. Ford watches him. “Thanks for the food,” he says. “And the room.”
“Of course,” Ford says.
“So,” Stan stands up from the table; he looks at Ford and the room. “Yeah,” he says to himself.
“What are you thinking?” Ford asks. Stan shifts in place, lose anxiety in a tight container.
“I'm thinking,” he starts. “You're the brains of this operation, right?” Stan deflects suddenly, almost defiantly. “So, you tell me.” Ford holds his brother gaze and sighs.
“I don't know,” Ford stands to match his brother; he closes the space between them and slowly lifts his hand to cup Stan's face. Stan only flinches a little. “That's why we're here, Stan.”
“Stop calling me that,” Stan's voice dips low. Ford runs a thumb over the blush high on Stan's cheeks.
“No,” Ford says. “Not until you remember.”
“Remember what?” Stan slaps his hand away and Ford quickly reins in the urge to retaliate.
“I can't tell you that,” Ford huffs, temper rising to match the redness diffusing over the rest of Stan's face. “The possibility of you fabricating something-”
“Look, pal,” Stan shoves Ford back and he stumbles in surprise. “All I know is you want something from me, but you ain't sayin’ it, and in my experience? That doesn't end good.”
“I want my brother!” Ford snaps and shoves Stan back..
“What's that got to do with me?” Stan shouts back, fist balling dangerously at his side.
“Everything! Everything, you idiotic--” Ford cuts himself off with a snarl. “Just!” Ford’s teeth click shut on his words like a steel trap and he can almost feel them struggling to escape. But, Ford has been dealing with a surly, unruly teenaged Stanley for months. He sucks in a breath and hisses it out. “Stan, just. If you won’t remember, then,” Ford sighs and tries to deflate. He still feels too full to relax, but he tries.
“There is nothing to remember!” Stan shoves him again, and Ford can’t stop his hand as it snaps out to grasp Stan’s wrist and squeeze on instinct.
“Stan,” Ford’s voice is flat and cold.
“Stop! Calling me that!” Stan, the old man in Stan’s body, pulls at Ford’s grip, but something in Ford is furious and reactive. (He is a still pool under pressure and erupting; he is a geyser.) Ford follows the momentum Stan doesn’t expect and takes them both to the ground. When they land, Ford slams his head into Stan’s on instinct. (And it looks so familiar; the dazed eyes through cracked lenses; Stan’s brown eyes staring up furious and pained at Ford; no recognition.) Stan’s hands flail wildly for purchase.
“Just remember!” Ford fists his hands in Stan’s shirt and pulls him up to shake him, but Stan is bewildered and falls hard, slamming his fragile skull into the hideous, mold-green carpet.
“Uh,” Stan grunts, breathy and primitive as his brain tries to recover. He goes lax in Ford’s grip in a way hat has Ford oscillating sharply between furious and terrified.
“Stan? Stan, shit!” Ford drops his brother’s shirt to grab his face instead. It is one thing, to concuss a young Stanley, still growing and healing with ease. It is another, Ford gropes through his pockets for his slender flashlight, to shatter the delicate psyche of an already fragile Stan. Ford frantically checks Stan’s eyes; the uneven dilation that is even slower than the last time.
“Huhg,” Stan’s groan is guttural.
“Stan,” Ford strokes a thumb over Stan’s eyebrow, smoothing it to the right from where it’s been mussed by Ford’s fussing. “Sh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean--I mean.” Ford stumbles inelegantly over himself.
“Sh,” a heavy hand lands clumsily against Ford’s arm. “Y’okay?”
“Stan?” Ford searches Stan’s face for recognition; for a place to start damage control.
“Buddy, y’okay?” Stan asks again. His eyes are unfocused, but concerned.
“I’m--are you?” Ford pulls back; he is straddling his concussed brother (again). Stan blinks slowly at the cieling and then pushes himself up to his elbows to look at Ford.
“Y'look sad,” Stan slurs. Ford shakes his head. He feels many things in his head and chest that swell and push and burn. Ford can feel the emotions building behind his teeth and clamps down until he can nearly feel them pop.
“I miss you,” he whispers.
“’m’ere,” Stan says. There is no spark of recognition in his eyes, but one shaky hand comes up to rest against Ford’s face. Ford wraps a hand around it, holding it in place against his cheek.
(Ford wants to scream; he wants to tear Stan apart. He wants to beg Stan to remember.)
“Do you love me?” Ford’s mouth moves distant and separate from himself. Stan’s white brows furrow as he looks at Ford thoughtfully. “You love me,” Ford answers for him.
“I…” Stan starts, squinting hard and pulling up a fist to rub at his eyes. “Yeah. ‘Course.” Ford nods. He feels hollow, exhausted.
“Come on,” Ford rocks back until he can stand on his feet, towering over Stan. Stan looks up at him, bewildered but trusting. (It's the first time and a long time that Stan has looked at him like that.) Ford offers Stan his hand.
“Woah,” Stan’s hand hesitates where it’s about to take Ford’s. “Er, ah. I mean.” Stan hurries to grasp Ford’s hand and grins up at him.
Ford wonders how many times he will have to watch Stan discover his six fingers.
“You might have a concussion,” Ford says. “...Again,” he adds, more for his own benefit; a reminder to be more gentle with Stan.
“Heh,” Stan lets Ford pull him up. “Yer a real...knockout, huh?” Ford frowns and Stan's grin widens.
“Stan,” Ford looks at his brother seriously, still holding his hand. “Are you attracted to me?” Ford asks. It's become a worrying pattern of behavior: Stan forgetting himself and flirting with Ford. Ford wonders if it's genuine or defensive.
“Uh,” Stan blushes and tries to wrench his hand free. Ford doesn't let go. “Weren't you lookin’ for someone?” Stan flinches when Ford's hand grips him harder. “Hey, easy.”
“You're right,” Ford forces his hand to relax and lets go. “Are you?”
“Lookin’ for someone?”
“Attracted to me,” Ford corrects. Stan shrugs.
“Don't know why else I'd be here.” Stan rubs his hand, possibly rubbing out any soreness Ford has caused by holding him so fiercely.
“Of course,” Ford's emotions, frazzled as they are, complicate further. He thinks he feels miserable, possibly relieved.
“...You maybe got ice?” Stan ask, hand carding through his hair and tenderly poking his forehead.
“I'm sorry,” Ford starts. “The motel might.”
“Yeah,” Stan agrees. “Where's the john?” Ford points Stan to the restroom and his brother slowly makes his way there.
“I'll,” Ford hesitates and clears his throat. “Get ice.” He watches Stan look in the mirror and grimace. “I'm sorry,” Ford says, again.
“Not yer fault,” Stan waves him away and then mutters something under his breath. Ford doesn't catch it; the door to bathroom is already shut between them.
Since the incident at the motel with his old, amnesiatic brother, Ford has scraped together enough funds to rent a small apartment. It does not seem that Stan will remember anything anytime soon, and Ford can admit that staying in Glass Shards Beach 1960-something has more appeal than living on an incarnation of the Stan-o-War that Stan would never recognize.
Besides, here he can watch over the younger Stanley; protect him from a Stanford that doesn’t know his worth.
The apartment is Spartan and clean with a dated kitchen, hideous orange carpet, a single bedroom down the squat hall, and the bathroom just before that. It's practical and cheap, but Ford admits that he indulges sentiment when he rents the apartment for the large window that faces north east and lets the pale morning light reflect off the ocean and into the small area that is both common area and kitchen. He has an old, stuffed chair there, perfect for an old man watching the waves and gulls and the boats. It was left behind by the previous tenants (along with a stained mattress that Ford begrudgingly sleeps on when he does sleep. It helps that he always has company and the bedroom door had a lock.)
It's not grand, and it's often suffocating, with Stan's volatile mood and memories, so Ford tries to spend as little time as he can there.
Ford travels to the unfinished Stan-o-War everyday and, once, even sees Stanley and Stanford loitering against it’s fading hull. Stanley sees him and quickly pulls Stanford away with a vicious glare pointed at Ford.
Ford decides to pay the boys a visit.
It’s evening when Ford finds himself on the front steps of Pines Pawns. He hasn’t been avoiding it, per se, but he is cautious. Putting his aged face by his father’s has risen some unanswerable questions.
(“Ford thinks you’re our Pops,” Stanley drawls in one of those rare moment in which he lets Ford gently pet his hair as Stanley rests his liquor-flushed face against Ford’s shoulder. Ford tenses; he feels like he’s met the eyes of a Gremloblin. Stanley rumbles a laugh that catches a little in a snort. “Hands an’ shit. Surprised Pop’s ain’t asked yet.” Ford’s brain starts buzzing with a thousand different excuses, a thousand divergent repercussions for saying the wrong thing. “But, he don’t care,” Stanley continues and Ford can barely hear him over the buzzing in his ears. “Probably be relieved, or somethin’.”
“I'm not your father,” Ford says. Stanley snorts into Ford's shoulder; a too-warm hand still soft with baby fat lands on Ford's to pull it into Stanley’s lap.
“That'd be fucked up,” Stanley turns Ford's hand over to run his fingers over the scar at the base of Ford's thumb. “You bein’ a perv an’ all.”
When Ford finally knocks on the door to Pines Pawns, it’s Stanford who answers the door. He doesn’t look happy about it until he sees Ford.
“It's you!” Stanford's face lights up. Ford smiles at him, and though he finds this version of himself frustrating at best, it is refreshing to see such open enthusiasm.
“Hello, Stanford. I heard you were back in town.” Ford holds out his hand and Stanford gladly shakes it with both.
“I have so much to tell you! The university! There's so much I didn't know!” Stanford is practically vibrating with excitement. Ford carefully extracts his hand from the young man's fervent grip.
“Hey, Pointdexter! Yer gonna miss the best part!” Stanford frowns when Stanley trundles into the hallway. Stanley’s teasing smile dims when he sees Ford.
“Look who's here!” Stanford turns to his brother, gesturing toward Ford. Stanley scowls and walks to the door to sling a possessive arm over Stanford's shoulders. Stanford doesn't seem to mind at all.
“Yeah, well, movie’s on, Ford.” Stanley says. Stanford rolls his eyes.
“The movie can wait. I haven't been able to catch up with you.” Stanford addresses the last part to Ford.
“I wouldn't want to intrude.”
“You're not! Not at all!” Stanford rushes to assure him. He doesn't catch Stanley's wounded look.
“Well, if you have time, I could meet you at the diner? I'd love to hear about your studies,” Ford offers. Stanford beams and Stanley scowls.
“That would be perfect! I have so much to tell you,” Stanford gushes again.
“Awesome! Been a while since I had a shake.” Stanley gives Ford a significantly antagonistic look.
“Oh. Uh, actually. I don't really think you'll have fun.” Stanford smiles nervously at his brother
“It will be academic,” Ford adds and Stanford nods. Stanley looks away and shrugs.
“Whatever, I guess.” Stanley mumbles. “Talk your nerd stuff. Probably talk about how sexy numbers are.” Stanford squawks and slaps his brother lightly on the chest.
“I'm sure it won't be so salacious. Your brother's numerical virtue is safe from me.” Ford winks, amused by the shade of red Stanford turns. Stanley goes red, too.
“Are you free tomorrow, Stanford. Ten ‘o clock?” Ford asks before he can provoke Stanley further.
“Sure,” Stanford says, almost coquettish in the way he looks down, still flushing.
“It's a date, then.”
“G’night.” Stanley grits out before he closes the door on Ford’s face. Ford hears Stanford’s indignant scolding before he turns and leaves with a smile.
Stanford is flustered. Instead of confidently charging ahead into long winded explanations and exclamations he starts and stops, blushing and bashful. He preens under Ford's compliments and is starry eyed when Ford casually corrects him. (There is an undeniable humor in Ford's narcissism. He is not only attracted to his genetically identical brother, but that this young man is also enamoured with his ownself, even if he doesn't know it.)
“And the professor--well, he's crazy, but! He has so many theories--they’re actually his theories, and! Multiverse theory.” Stanford looks so pleased with himself and excited, but he dims when he sees Ford's frown. “It's, ah, this idea that--”
“I'm familiar with multiverse theory,” Ford leans back cooly and taps his lukewarm coffee mug. Stanford brightens again, incandescent.
“Oh! Then you know all about--”
“What are you looking for, Stanford?” Ford interrupts him.
“I- I don't--”
“What do you think is out there?”
“I...well that's what we'd find out.” Stanford nervously sips his coffee.
“Stanford, do you remember Pandora’s box?” Ford asks.
“Of course,” Stanford replies slowly, confused and then almost annoyed. “It's not the same. We can't just punch a hole in reality and release a bunch of weird, horrible monsters hell bent on destroying reality.” Stanford scoffs. Ford doesn't know whether to scream or laugh.
“Stanford,” Ford sighs and looks into his dark coffee. “Just remember that there are some realities better left alone.” Stanford gives him a look.
“It's just a theory,” he grouses down at his own coffee.
“How's your brother by the way?” Ford asks. (He doesn’t want to talk about this anymore.)
“He's....fine.” Stanford says. “Why? I thought you were still friends.”
“Merely wondering. He missed you.”
“He hasn't left me alone,” Stanford complains.
“I'm sure. He was miserable without you.” Ford takes a sip from his coffee before continuing. “Like someone had broken his heart,” he says casually and watches the mix of wretched guilt and frustration war on Stanford's face before frustration wins out.
“Always had a flair for the dramatic,” Stanford mutters.
“He cares about you.”
“Well, he could give me some space. Sometimes,” Stanford fiddles with his coffee, thinking. “Sometimes it's suffocating, isn't it?” Stanford's voice lilts up toward the end, less a complaint than a question. Ford hides his grimace behind his coffee. It's cold now. “I just…” Stanford trails off. Ford pities this young version of himself. For all that he will lose. For all that Ford stands to gain.
“You want to find yourself,” Ford offers. Stanford looks at him, nodding earnestly. “It's...difficult to be two of a kind,” Ford leans over his coffee. “You want to know what you're capable of.” Ford hesitates. “What you can do without him holding you back.” Stanford recoils away from him, shocked.
“He doesn’t-” Stanford stumbles. “Stan's a little...but he doesn't…” Ford puts his hand over Stanford's. He watches the tangle of emotions in Stanford's face.
“You need to learn who you are. And maybe Stanley should learn who he can be, too.” And there it is, the flash of discontent. The distaste for the idea that Stanley could exists without Stanford as his centering force, his focus. It smooths away.
“It would be good for him,” Stanford slowly, reluctantly agrees. Ford squeezes his hand gently. Stanford startles and blushes.
“But that's maudlin,” Ford says with a final pat of Stanford's hand. “Now, tell me about this eccentric professor of yours.”
Ford says goodbye to Stanford after another “date.” Stanford is awkward and shy but startles both of them with a hug that's too long and too short. He's pink and flustered, clearly nervous of passing into a too intimate territory. Ford smiles indulgently at him, grasping one of Stanford's hands between two of his and wishes him good luck.
Ford knows Stanford is well and truly gone back to school when Stanley corners him in the Stan-o-War, where Ford has been waiting for him. He punches Ford hard enough to send him to the ground. Ford easily rolls to a crouch, spots Stanley shaking in the doorway.
“Most people just say hello.” Ford grunts when he stands. He waits for Stanley’s next move.
“Ya did something,” Stanley accuses, dark and flat. He's furious and Ford can see in the hazy light of a setting sun that Stanley’s eyes are red and shiny.
“Stanley, what happened?” Ford moves forward, unsure what to do with his hands, moving from defensive to concerned too fast, adrenaline tangling with anxiety. Stanley shakes his head and shoves at Ford's chest. Ford doesn't move.
“You! Every time you're around he leaves me! We're twins! We're supposed to be together!” Stanley fists his hands in Ford's sweater, eyes furious and heartbroken.
“Stanley…” Ford slowly raises his arms to risk settling his hands on Stanley's back.
“I ain't nobody without him.” Stanley’s voice is thick and tremulous, but he doesn't cry.
“Don't say that,” Ford hugs Stanley, pulls until Stanley’s rigid posture collapses. Stanley lets his head fall forward to rest on Ford's shoulder.
“He don't need me,” Stanley mumbles into the tight space between himself and Ford’s sweater.
“Stanley, I'm sure that's not--”
“Said we gotta--we gotta not be so. Said he needs to figure out who he is.” Stanley pulls back to glare desperately, furiously at Ford. “He's my brother! My twin!” Stanley beats a fist against Ford's chest, over his heart and it hurts. “Why don't he wanna be that, huh? Ya show up and Ford don't wanna even see me!” Stanley shoves at Ford again, trying to get away but Ford just holds him tighter. Stanley struggles and then goes slack, grabbing his sweater again.
“I'm sorry,” Ford says into Stanley’s hair, and he is. He's sorry that this had to happen and he's sorry that it hurts Stanley so deeply. He's sorry that he never realised how much Stanley needed him.
“What ‘m I supposed to do?” Stanley asks miserably.
“Stay with me,” Ford says. Stanley pulls back to look at him suspiciously through the unshed tears. “I've always found drinking good for a broken heart.” Stanley chews his lip, considering, but Ford knows what he will choose.
“Don't try nothin’,” Stanley mutters, but when the two of them settle in their usual spots Stanley lets Ford cover both of them in his trenchcoat.
Before long, Stanley is slurring his words in a smear of sounds and his body is as pliant as a doll.
When Stanley slumps into him, heavy and soft, Ford feels fuzzy from something that isn't alcohol. Stanley grabs his hand, just turning it over, rough thumb rubbing over the scar at the meaty base of Ford’s hand.
“Why’d ya--dammit, Sixer.” Stanley brings Ford's hand to his face. The subtle bumps of pubescent acne make something in Ford clench at just how young he is.
“Come on,” Ford makes to stand, wobbly and a little dizzy. Stanley doesn't do much more than slump into the wall. Ford has to grab him and pull him up, grunts a little at just how much of a dead weight he is. (He can't let the boy go home like this.)
The apartment is thankfully close, but even so the journey over the broken glass of the beach is perilous, and Stanley nearly drags them both down more than once.
“Wher’m we goin’?” Stanley slurs. “S'not…” He trails off, head falling and nearly taking Ford down with it.
“Stanley, focus,” Ford gives the boy a jostle that makes him groan miserably. “We're almost there.” Stanley blinks at him, unfocused.
“Bu' where?” Ford sighs, adjusts his grip.
“My home. You're in no state to go to your own.” Ford says; the apartment is in sight. Stanley gets quiet beside him. When Ford look over, Stanley is staring at him; his eyes are bright and shiny and his face is screwed up in thought.
“‘Kay.” Stanley nods to himself after his moment of contemplation.
“Well, now that you've decided.” Ford carefully climbs the one set of stairs. It's an agonizingly slow ascent, one rise at a time until Ford gives up and nearly dislocates Stanley’s shoulder to drag him bodily up the last few steps. Stanley groans in protest, slumps hard into Ford as Ford struggles to get the keys into the door and get the two of them into the apartment.
There isn't really a good place to put Stanley, being that the apartment is so bare. The only place for him is the chair. (And given that it's best to keep someone with possible alcohol poisoning upright, the chair is the logical choice.)
Ford pushes Stanley into the chair, takes a moment to check his eyes. They're hazy and unfocused, squinting at Ford as if narrowing his field of vision will make the details of his surroundings easier to discern.
“I'll get you some water,” Ford says, taking the few steps to the kitchen and returning with a chipped mug.
“‘S shithole,” Stanley informs him. He can't seem to hold the mug without help so Ford carefully guides Stanley’s hands. They're hot and Ford knows under better light they'd be red.
“That's not very nice,” Ford says lightly.
“Don’ want water,” Stanley says instead of drinking and Ford winds up pouring a good portion on Stanley’s clothes.
“Stanley,” Ford sighs. It's difficult in the low light, but Ford can just make out the darkening patch on Stanley’s jacket.
“Your fault,” Stanley’s head lolls back, exposing the stretch of his neck, the bulge of his Adam's apple. Ford remembers how it felt to have that throat under his hands.
“Come on, Stanley,” Ford says and grasps Stanley’s jacket by the zippered hem. “Let's get this off.” Ford pushes the jacket so that it bunches against chair back and around Stanley’s shoulders. Stanley seems to still (though he was barely moving before), then he lifts his head and looks at Ford.
“Fine,” he says after a long moment. Ford ignores the feeling that he has been judged. Instead, he slides an arm under Stanley’s jacket to rest between his shoulder blades, pulling him forward as the other hand pushes away the jacket. Stanley’s help is minimal, but Ford doesn't mind. It's wonderful to let his hands wander over Stanley’s body, to draw him close in what is almost an embrace.
Ford drops the jacket to the floor carelessly. He is too warm and wanting to care about wrinkled clothing.
Stanley in his thin shirt and jeans looks small in the chair. Vulnerable without the extra layer between him and the world. Ford feels the dual impulse to protect and ravage. (Though, he supposes that he can do one and the other. Ford knows better now; he can protect this young version of his brother.) He must be staring, one hand still braced on Stanley's shoulder, thumb brushing against his neck, because Stanley gives him another look. Anxious but resigned. He watches Ford and slowly wraps his hand around Ford’s. Ford watches him curiously, intently as Stanley rests his head on their hands.
“Stanley?” Ford asks. Stan looks tired in a way that’s more than the depressant nature off the alcohol.
“Are ya gonna fuck me?” Stanley asks quietly, eyes skating low and shy before rising to meet Ford’s. Ford inhales sharply. Stanley swallows, Ford watches his throat move.
“Do you want me to?” Ford asks as he leans closer, heart beating faster. (He doesn’t know what he’ll do if Stanley says no, now that he has put the idea into Ford's head. He doesn’t even know if Stan will remember this in the morning.)
Stanley’s lips draw tight.
“I,” he stops and looks away. “I dunno,” he says finally. His other hand comes up to join the first as he nearly nuzzles into Ford’s hand. “Wan’ Ford,” he says, blinking rapidly and soon Ford can feel the telling drips of tears creeping into the crevices of his fingers as Stanley begins to cry.
“Look at me,” Ford says as he crowds into Stanley's space and forcing the boy to look at him by grabbing his chin. Stanley sniffles, tries to tug away. Ford kisses a cheek, tastes the salt of Stanley’s tears and sweat; he feels the flinch, the way Stanley’s eye screws shut. “God,” Ford murmurs, kisses the scrunched wrinkles next to Stanley’s eye.
“Ford,” Stanley says, lets go of Ford's hands to push at his chest. Ford half kneels on the chair; he grabs the hand pushing him away, brings it to his face. Ford holds Stanley’s hand in place as he wraps his lips around Stanley’s blunt fingers. They are salty, too.
Stanley’s eyes are still tense; his fingers twitch in Ford's mouth and Ford moans. Stanley's breath stutters and he tries to pull his hand away, but Ford's grasp is firm. Ford pulls off, doesn't bother with the spit that sticks to his face as he begins to suck on the inner skin of Stanley’s wrist.
“Ford,” Stanley says again, voice hoarse with emotion as he tries to pull away again. Ford moves his free hand away from Stanley’s face to rest on his shoulder and then chest and then: “Nng!” Stanley bucks against the hand Ford's pressed between his legs before trying to draw his legs shut. He is stopped by Ford's knee. His hand, the one Ford isn't sucking a hicky into, is clumsy when Stanley tries to push Ford away. Ford rubs against the rough denim again. “Stop,” Stanley tries to pull as tight against the chair as he can, tries to escape Ford.
“Hush,” Ford murmurs. He releases Stanley's hand to rest a hand on Stanley’s chest, to brush over the nipples that have risen in the cold. Stanley bows over himself and shudders, pushes weakly at the hand between his legs and the one on his chest. “You're already hard,” Ford says and squeezes the bulge in Stanley’s crotch for emphasis. Stanley's head slams back against the chair in surprise, a strained “ah!” escaping him.
“Sto-ah,” he gasps as Ford forces one knee to rest fully on the cushion, slides it to replace his hand between Stan’s legs. He knows Stanley wants him; he knows now that every iteration of Stanley Pines wants Stanford Pines. (Why else would they keep asking?)
Ford cradles Stanley’s head, broad palms on the hot, soft roundness of Stanley’s face. Stanley can't turn away, but he shuts his eyes again, nostrils flaring with each rapid, shallow breath. Ford makes a choice and gently kisses Stan’s forehead.
“I'm not going to fuck you,” he says and grinds his knee into Stanley’s crotch, relishes the way Stanley gasps against his face and bucks away and into Ford leg. Ford's grasp on Stanley’s face becomes hard when Stan tries to jerk away. “I'm not a monster,” Ford slides one hand to rest on Stanley’s neck, moans softly when he feels Stanley's throat working to swallow; he feels the manic, thick rhythm of his blood. “I want you to enjoy this.” Ford kisses the corner of Stanley’s mouth. “I know you will.” Ford drags his fingers over Stanley’s lips as he moves his hand down, down until it’s on Stanley’s hips. Stanley shakes his head. Ford shushes him and moves his knee as he urges Stanley to thrust. “But, another time,” Ford says hotly into Stanley’s ear. “Now, come on,” Ford moans before he latches onto Stanley’s neck with a fervor. (Ford feels a perverse thrill that he is most likely leaving marks all over this young version of Stanley. If Stanley doesn't remember this in the morning, he will certainly have questions.) Stanley starts to move his hips, little stutters accompanied by distressed whines. The hand on Stanley’s hip slides down and back until Ford can grab Stanley’s ass and bodily pull Stanley forward to meet Ford and then Ford starts to move, grinding into the cushion and against Stanley’s straining erection.
“Fuck,” Stanley whispers and starts to thrust tentatively into Ford's leg. Ford releases Stanley's neck to palm himself, finally paying his patient dick some attention. Stanley's hands have been fisted against the armrest but move to grab Ford's hips instead, pulling himself up higher, faster.
“Good,” Ford hisses, bowing over Stanley and burying his face in Stanley’s neck, pulling surprised gasps out of Stanley with his tongue and his teeth.
“Ford, fuck,” Stanley muffles himself in Ford's neck. Ford shudders, pretends Stanley is moaning to him in conflicted ecstacy. “Ford!” It’s disappointing how fast Stanley comes in his jeans, hands scrambling to clutch something, like he’s afraid of falling. But Ford remembers being young and he knows:
“First?” He smirks into Stanley’s neck. He can feel Stanley’s scowl before he regains the sense to smack Ford on the back.
“No,” he grumbles, and squirms to push Ford away. Ford complies with a bite that pulls Stanley’s flesh until it snaps away and Ford’s teeth click shut. Stanley makes a sounds like repressed snarl.
“Of course not,” Ford smiles down at him, still pushing into his own palm. A few more thrusts prove that even though Ford’s dick is interested nothing will happen anytime soon. Ford sighs and steps back until he’s no longer bracketing Stanley into the chair. He looks at Stanley and can’t help the fond smile; he takes in the sleepy droop of his eyes, that self conscious fold of his arms over his stomach. Stanley chews his lip until Ford brushes a thumb over his chin. Stanley twitches.
“Fo...” he starts, pauses as if to gather his thoughts. Ford kisses his salty, sweaty forehead.
“Sleep, Stanley,” Ford whispers and pulls away. He’s stopped by a weak grasp at his wrist.
“Please,” Stanley murmurs. “Just,” his voice is thick with emotion.
“Stanley?” Ford pushes a hand over Stanley’s forehead and through his hair, tries to comb it the way his mother did. Stanley shakes his head. “Okay,” Ford says. Stanley’s face is tight. Ford retrieves his long outer jacket to drape over Stanley as a blanket. Stanley flinches, but accepts the jacket once he understands what it is. He doesn’t settle so much as deflate into the chair.
“Stay,” Stanley mumbles. Ford stills hesitantly where he stands, unsure what Stanley means. “Don’t,” Stanley sighs, shifts in the chair and curls tighter into Ford’s jacket. “Stay,” Stanley peeks at him with thin, sleepy eyes that are so young. “Ford,” he says. A lump moves under the jacket that manifests as a hand poking out of the jacket’s mantle. Ford takes the proffered hand, surrounding the five fingers with his six.
“I'm not your brother,” Ford says softly. Stanley forces his eyes open to regard Ford sleepily.
“M'not stupid,” Stanley mumbles and when he closes his eyes, they don't blink open again.
“Of course not,” Ford agrees. He holds Stanley's hand until he's sure the boy is asleep. Then, he gently untangles himself, looks around the room a final time. He checks over Stanley sleeping in the chair a final time before he retreats to the only other room in the apartment: the bedroom.
The door is flimsy and the hinges scrape. Ford has to jiggle the handle to make it latch fully shut and for good measure he locks it, as well. There's no need for young Stanley to barge into this place.
The room, like everything else in the apartment, is sparsely furnished. There's the stiff mattress in the corner, piled with patchwork blankets and a large duffle bag, unzipped to reveal several journals, jars, and flasks.
Ford doesn't bother to remove his boots, or undress much at all, other than placing his glasses safely on the windowsill. The blankets move as the body under them stirs and Ford, on a whim, Ford checks for a pulse. It’s steady and slow, as always. Ford slides into place beside the man, one arm wrapping around the broad chest and a leg hooking over the man’s ankle. As he pushes flush to the man’s soft sides Ford realizes that his erection hasn’t fully subsided. He rolls his hips curiously and is pleased when his body responds, perks up at the renewed attention. Ford sighs as he begins to thrust into the body.
“Hm?” Stan hums, starting to slowly wake. Ford pulls back enough to one handedly unbutton his pants and shimmy them down. “S'at you?” He tries to lean up but Ford tightens his arm around his chest.
“Don't,” Ford says into Stan's neck. The man wiggles a bit in protest. Its pleasant when Ford presses into it. “Go back to sleep,” Ford murmurs, kissing gently. Stan grumbles and rolls over so that his back is to Ford. Ford takes the opportunity to grasp the man's hips, leg still over the man's ankle. Stan mumbles some more but starts to relax, barrel chest rising and falling evenly.
Ford starts to thrust against the man's ass; it's flat and his hips are bony, but Ford finds relief in it anyway. Stan makes a noise of discontent that Ford ignores to grasp his hip a little more firmly, to get a little more leverage. He realizes, distantly, that he is humping like a dog but it feels softly wonderful.
He debates pulling his briefs down as well. Stan is only wearing boxers and it's wouldn't be too rough. Or, he could pull down those boxers and have warm, soft skin to rut into instead.
That sounds much more pleasant.
Ford shimmies his briefs down enough to get his dick and balls out, squeezes briefly and sighs. When he hooks his fingers under the band of Stan’s boxer and pulls, Stan hums in his sleep but doesn't stir. And then, Ford has that flat, hairy ass exposed and he takes a moment to just feel it, adipose tissue giving easily under the sagging skin, each of Ford's fingers leave a fleeting dimple. He slides a hand over a hip to curiously grope at Stan’s groin. Stan is flaccid. Ford doesn't mind, though the idea of getting his brother, the brother he was born with, off in his sleep like a secret just for Ford is tantalizing. He shudders at the thought and files it away for another day. For now, he grabs Stan’s hips again and thrusts.
He bites his lip to stifle a low moan as his dick presses into Stan’s naked skin. It’s a drag, Stan’s skin it dry and the hair is scratchy, but Ford knows that his precum and a little spit will be enough to ease the slide.
He sucks his fingers into his mouth (they same fingers that had been in young Stanley’s mouth) until they are wet with saliva and carefully drags them through the crack of Stan's ass until it's only slightly tacky.
It’s not as good as fucking, but it’s better than his own hand.
Ford goes slowly, quietly. He has no reason to hide what he’s doing, Stan wouldn’t stop him if he was awake (Stan expects this, though Ford has never accepted his offer), but there is a thrill in this. It’s that anticipation of being caught that urges Ford to rut harder, burying his face into Stan’s hair when Ford’s cock drags just right and he wants to fuck his brother so badly.
Ford finishes quickly after that, takes satisfaction in the way his cum lands on Stan’s ass and smears it down until he can rub it around Stan’s hole. Ford hums into Stan’s hairy shoulder, the one with Ford’s brand on it. He pecks at the mark and Stan begins to squirm, little discontented murmurs. If he wasn’t so old and spent, he’d work up to fucking Stan tonight, pushing into that warm and moving so, so slowly. It’d be agonizing and wonderful.
Ford wonders if he could get Stan to come that way.
Ford comes to slowly. He feels that usual disorientation and headache after a night of drinking, blinks the spots from his eyes. He represses a grumble, not wanting to bother Stan when he notices that the mattress is empty. The room is empty, too.
Stan is nowhere to be seen.
Ford rushes to stand, ignores the dizziness of his blood unable to keep up with his sudden ascent. He tries the door, finds it unlocked and bursts through it.
“Stan!” He calls, looks around to find Stan in the kitchen with a glass of water, hair mussed by sleep and broad shoulders drooping under a maroon bathrobe. He looks happy and domestic in the thin morning light and smiles when he sees Ford. Ford’s heart clenches in fondness before he sees that the young Stanley is with him, looking less rested, filthy and hungover (and standing next to Stan, in the same room; they might have talked).
“Mornin’!” Stan calls, voice rough and eyes squinting without his glasses.
“What are you doing out of your room?” Ford asks. Stan rubs the back of his neck, looking at Ford and then to Stanley. (Seeing them side by side hurts something in Ford, like the before and after of a disaster.)
“I heard the kid knockin’ around and thought-”
“Go back to your room,” Ford snaps, suddenly needing these two people apart and separated. He pushes away from the door. Stan frowns, looks down and then back to Ford.
“I just got up,” he says and Ford watches his jaw squaring like he's getting ready for a fight. Ford bristles, face darkening.
“This your brother?” Ford's head snaps to pin the younger, dirtier Stanley. “Cause you said he was dead.”
“I never said-”
“I'm not his brother,” Stan says, frowning as both the young Stanley and Ford frown at him. Stan's set the glass aside on the counter to cross his arms.
“Yer twins,” Stanley says. Ford sighs. One stubborn Stan is bad enough, but two is too much.
“Nope,” Stan says.
“Yer obviously twins!” Stanley repeats, crossing his own arms. He looks at Ford and back to Stan. “You look the same!” Stan snorts, shakes his white head.
“You're just saying that ‘cause we're old.”
“Enough,” Ford cuts in ad rubs at his temple. “Go sit in your armchair, will you?” Ford looks at Stan and nods to the chair. For a moment he thinks his brother is going to fight him on this, but instead he grumbles and makes his way to fall into his chair with a loud, dramatic sigh. Ford takes the few steps to the kitchen, stands beside Stanley, who's leaning against the counter looking queasy and frustrated. Ford pushes the glass of water to him.
“Drink this,” Ford says, scrubbing his fingers through his hair. It's stringy and leaves his fingers feeling greasy. “I’m taking you home.”
“You said your brother was dead,” Stanley says again, hoarse and accusing.
“I never said he was dead,” Ford repeats, watches Stanley eye the water wearily. “You'll need something in your stomach to vomit later.”
“Bastard,” Stanley mutters but drinks tentatively. “Why ain't ya sick?” Ford shrugs.
“When you finish that, we're leaving,” he says in lieu of an answer. Stanley snorts into the emptying glass of water.
“Yeah, gotta wonder what I'm doin’ here,” Stanley mutters, sets aside the empty glass to cross his arms. Ford registers that Stanley is wearing his jacket.
“You were hardly in any state to go home,” Ford says and places the glass in the sink.
“Yeah,” Stanley says. He looks at the armchair by the window, at the pale tuft of hair peeking up over the top. He narrows his eyes, brows pinching in thought. “He’s your brother.”
“Yes,” Ford says, follows Stanley’s gaze.
“What’s with him?” Stanley asks. His face slacks, less suspicious and becoming almost soft. “Somethin’ from over there?”
“Yes,” Fprd says finally, softly. Stanley’s frown deepens and before Ford can stop him Stanley makes his way to stand next to the armchair, to stare down at what he doesn't know is one of a thousand possible futures. Ford swallows the bitterness and guilt with a scowl. “What are you--”
“What's your deal?” Stanley asks, making Stan in the chair jump.
“Jesus, kid, warn a guy,” Stan says as Ford quickly strides over and grabs Stanley by the arm.
“I said we're leaving!” Ford hisses as Stanley tries to yank his arm free but Ford just tightens his grasp.
“Hands off, perv,” Stanley tugs again, glaring viciously at Ford who just glares back as hard.
“Hey,” Stan says, watching the exchange with concern. “You kinda look familiar.” Ford pauses in his removal attempt, looking skeptically at his brother, who in turn is watching Stanley. “What's your name?” Stan asks. Stanley squints suspiciously at the old man.
“Stan,” he says.
“Now,” Ford's pull is gentle.
“Huh,” Stan says, squints at Stanley, gears slowly turning behind furrowed brows. “Huh.” Stanley frowns, looks at Ford. He seems to realise that Ford is still holding his arm.
“Get off.” This time Ford lets him pull away; he is willing to see this play out.
“That name sounds familiar,” Stan taps the armrest, hums low in his throat as he scrutinizes the young man in front of him.
“It's your name,” Ford says quietly. Stan grunts.
“So you said,” Stan says, still regarding the young man in the room. Ford bristles and the old man laughs. “Geez, relax, Sixer.”
“What’d you call me?” Ford asks. Stan ignores him and addresses Stanley instead.
“He calls me Stan,” he says, thumbing at Ford. “And, uh. Sorry. ‘Bout the Sixer thing.” Stan rubs the back of his neck. Ford shakes his head.
“No, it’s...fine,” he says. Stanley looks between them.
“Huh. Yer Stan. I’m Stan.” The look Stanley gives Ford is dark. “What’re the odds?”
Ford clears his throat, uncomfortable with the tension coiling around the young man.
“Yes, well, it’s time for you to get back. I’m sure your family is worried.”
“Yeah, they’re real sorry their kid got snatched by a creep.” Stanley scoffs.
“He’s not so bad,” Stan says genially and looks Stanley over again. “You...really look familiar.” Stanley opens his mouth to speak but Ford quickly talks over him.
“Really, this is enough. As you said, it’s unseemly for you to be here.” Ford gestures to the door, hands itching to grab Stanley and bodily remove him.
“Never stopped you before,” Stanley mutters, but shoves past Ford toward the door. “Nice to meet you, old man,” Stanley calls over his shoulder before he slams the door.
“Weird kid,” Stan says. “Kinda a knucklehead.”
“Yes, well. He just needs some guidance.” Ford makes sure that Stan is comfortable in his chair; his hand lingers on Stan’s head, just feeling the warm, soft hair. Stan hums and closes his eyes. “I’ll be back later. I might even bring you a treat.”
“I’ll be a good boy, Ford,” Stan says and rolls his eyes. Ford represses the shiver as his gut clenches with something hot while his chest squeezes hopefully. Ford doesn’t say anything else, just turns and leaves. He is careful to lock the door.
He's already on the street when he realizes that Stan remember his name.
Ford considers letting Stanley run off but in the end he probably needs to so some damage control.
Stanley has made some distance, already stomping awkwardly through the gravel of the beach. Ford doesn't quite jog to catch up, he walks briskly and quietly until he can see every tense line of Stanley's body.
“Stanley,” Ford says. Stanley ignores him, walks faster so that Ford has to grab his shoulder to at least slow him down. Stanley, predictably, snarls and jerks away. Unpredictably, Stanley levels Ford with a venomous, furious, wounded glare.
“Don't fuckin’ touch me,” he growls, takes a step back to put distance between them, his hand makes an aborted movement toward his shoulder. “Don't ever--” Stanley's voice wavers as he pales and promptly vomits. Ford sighs as Stanley retches, water and acidic liquor splashes onto his shoes. He jerks violently away when Ford tries to place a comforting hand on his back.
Stanley tries to snarl at Ford again but gags instead as he dry heaves violently, spitting up yellow bile with a groan. The fit seems to pass as Stanley wipes viciously at his face. Ford briefly regrets not bringing water with him for the poor boy.
“Better?” He asks. Stanley sniffs and spits at Ford's feet. Ford quirks a brow at the insult. Stanley grunts and pushes away, trembling slightly. Ford huffs and follows, listening to Stanley groan softly to himself.
“Go ‘way,” Stanley picks up his pace again when he realises that Ford will not leave him alone.
“We should talk,” Ford says, voice light and casual.
“I got nothin’ to say to ya.” Stanley grunts. “Now fuck off before I break yer face.” Ford can't help but scoff at that.
“That would be ill advised,” Ford says and watches Stanley's shoulders crawl higher and higher.
Ford expects a punch, Stanley is still so explosive, but he doesn't expect the full body tackle, the unsure footing of the ocean-smooth glass, and he goes down with a grunt.
“Bastard!” Stanley takes advantage of Ford's momentary surprise. “You fuckin’-” Ford easily rolls them over, Stanley swears and struggles, face paling with nausea.
“Calm down,” Ford huffs when Stanley tries to buck him off. “I know you're upset-”
“Get off!” Stanley's face has fallen from outrage into something bordering on terror. “Off, off!” He thrashes violently, upsetting gravel and attracting the attention of an elderly couple enjoying an early morning stroll.
“Be quiet,” Ford hisses, hand twitching to silence Stanley himself. “You're causing a scene.” Stanley stills for a moment, looking sick and frightened and almost guilty.
“Get off!” Stanley screams, explosive outburst renewing. Ford dodges the clumsy blows, nervously watches the elderly couple stop. The women grabs the man’s arm and points at them.
“Shut up!” Ford hisses again, tries to think of a way to salvage the situation as the man begins to make his way toward them.
“Stop!” Stanley’s voice takes on an edge of hysteria that doesn’t seem forced as he thrashes and kicks and the old man keeps getting loser. “Don’t touch me!”
Ford snarls in frustration. Stanley grunts as Ford slams him into the ground, using the boy’s shoulders as leverage to push himself up and away. He doesn’t sprint away even though every part of him wants him to run. He walks briskly, head high, ignoring the old man shouting in his direction.
Ford hasn't seen Stanley at the Stan-o-War in nearly a month. At first, Ford found small traces of Stanley’s presence: snack wrappers and crumpled cans. After a bout a week, the trash stops appearing and Ford doesn't know where Stanley is.
Ford goes as far as to ask around and it’s evident that Stanley has all but skipped town, flashing in and out of sight.
Ford worries that, perhaps, some stages of their lives, no matter the dimension or decisions, will be the same. He worries that he has driven Stanley to become a vagrant, if only to avoid any chance of seeing Ford. The thought makes Ford’s gut twist with sour heat.
It chaffs, not having the young man, but Ford finds ease in his Stan's minute recoveries. He still drifts in and out like the tides, but his mind is stronger, even if it seems to focus on his younger counterpart.
“Nice kid,” Stan says with a sigh, eyes soft around the edges. “Hope it worked out with his brother.” Ford reaches down from where he’s leaning against the back of Stan’s chair. He doesn’t know where to touch, only that he wants to catch the soft light highlighting every coarse hair that Stan missed, because today he remembered how to hold a razor.
(“You know,” Stan muses as Ford watches him, refusing to be anxious but hyper-vigilant as the blade rasps against the thin skin of Stan’s throat. “I remember,” Stan rinses the blade, lather and hair swirling around the drain. “First time I almost cut my face open.” Stan chuckles before he drags the razor over his face again. Ford smiles tightly; he had forgotten about that.
“You used hand soap,” Ford says. “And a straight razor.”)
Ford rests his fingertips against Stan’s throat, feels the swallow and sigh; the shiver as he drags he fingers lightly up to cup Stan’s cheek.
“Don’t worry about him,” Ford says.
“We should have him over again,” Stan muses, tilts his head back to look up at Ford with an open, childish smile. “His brother, too.” Ford sighs, scratches gently at Stan’s stubble.
“His brother is not in town,” Ford says. “He’s in college.”
“Well, huh.” Stan frowns, looks back out the window and away from Ford. “More reason to have the kid over! He’s gotta be lonely.” Stan winces when Ford’s fingers twitch a little more violently than necessary. “Easy, tiger.” Stan bats at Ford with a playful huff. Ford chuckles and pecks a kiss into Stan’s hair to cover the unpleasant guilt that passes like a shadow over his soul. Stan makes a loose circle with his fingers around Ford’s wrist.
“I’m not sure what a young man would find so interesting about two old geezers,” Ford leans forward to stroke down until his hand is splayed over Stan’s chest. Under his thin nightshirt, Ford can feel a muted rhythm of his heart, feel the deep rise and fall of Stan’s chest. Ford’s gut coils warmly when he gets to experience Stan’s gruff chuckle.
“Maybe,” Stan agrees, his warm fingers are still loose around Ford’s wrist. “Feel like...I dunno. Think he likes boats?” Stan shifts his head to let Ford tuck his chin into the space between Stan’s neck and shoulders. Ford’s breath catches in a sharp inhale. “You okay?”
“Fine,” Ford says quietly. “Yes, I...I do think he likes boats. Actually,” Ford gets an idea-he hasn’t tried it again since the first bitter failure but some trials are worth running more than once. “Do you think you’d like to go to the beach?”
The look Stan gives him is so bright it makes his eyes hurt.
Stan is too old to frolic as they make their way along the beach but he definitely has a spring in his step, grinning at every small thing and even commenting on what he finds amusing.
“Hey, how many kids ya think get to canoodlin’ under that boardwalk, huh?” Stan elbows Ford in the side with a wink. Ford coughs to cover a juvenile chuckle.
“That's crass, Stan,” Ford chides affectionately.
“Prude,” Stan waves his hand carelessly. “Oh, hey.” Stan looks at Ford with a thoughtful frown. “I think I'm starting to like that.” Stan’s frown breaks into a smirk. “Not as macho as Hal.”
“What's not macho?”
“Stan,” he says. “I mean, it's kinda like your name, so it's nerdy.” Ford frowns.
“It’s your name,” he says, feels frustration pinching his face. Stan scoffs.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever. Point is, it’s growing on me. Like this thing.” Stan points to a mole on his hand. “I think it’s gotten bigger.” Ford makes a noise in the back of his throat and grabs Stan’s hand, stopping them both in their stroll.
“Stan!” Ford brings the hand closer to his face, squinting at the brown anomaly. “You should have said something!” Ford says as he prepares to scold his brother but is stopped short at Stan’s fond expression. “What?”
“If you wanted to hold my hand,” Stan says and turns their hands so that they are palm to palm. “You just had to ask, Sixer.” Ford finds that he can’t breathe, the air around him is too thin. Stan yelps as Ford crushes his hand.
“Stan?” Ford asks, hating the desperate, vulnerable edge to it. Stan winces and tries to shake out of Ford’s unyielding grasp.
“Yeesh, watch it! You break it you buy it, pal,” Stan yelps again when he’s yanked forward, stumbling to catch his footing. “Ford, fuck--”
“Stan.” Ford grabs either side of Stan’s face and stares into his eyes, clouding with age behind smudged, dirty glasses. Stan is squinting at him.
“Yeah,” Stan pushes at Ford’s shoulders. “You okay there, buddy?” Ford blinks a few times, shakes his head.
“I’m fine,” he lets go and resumes walking at a brisk pace.
“Jesus,” he hears Stan mutter before calling for him to slow down.
Ford doesn’t dare to hope, but Stan called him Sixer again. One meeting with the younger Stanley and Stan seems to be remembering, just enough.
It justifies the wedge he’s driven between the younger twins, the isolation he's forced upon young Stanley. Ford realises that he needs to see the younger Stanley, again. Or, rather, he needs the younger Stanley to help Stan.
“What’s got you so happy?” Stan asks him. Ford fights the grin that threatens to split his face, but he can’t. He turns to his brother.
“I’m just happy to be here with you,” Ford says. He grabs his brother’s hand; they are in public, but Ford suspects that no one will care much what two old men do. Stan scoffs and blushes red. It’s charming and makes Ford smile wider. “You asked earlier. You want young Stanley to visit again?” Stan perks up immediately, eyes sparkling with excitement.
“Sure,” Ford shrugs and swings their hands. “Now that I think about it, the company would be good for you.”
“He’s a good kid,” Stan says. Ford nods.
Ford knows he’s being selfish. He knows he doesn’t deserve to get his Stan back, and he certainly doesn’t deserve the younger Stanley, either. But, Ford also knows that of any Ford in this timeline--in this entire dimension--that he is the best for the two of them. The younger Stanford has already proven to be selfish and Ford is loathe to make the younger Stanley wait the decades and heartache it will take to soften young Stanford’s heart.
Losing Stan was a steep price for Ford’s own hubris, but the fact that he has gained two Stans, one to nurture and grow into the man he should be and the other to heal into the man he was to Ford, means that Ford must be doing something right.
Ford isn't sure where to start looking for Stanley; he thinks of asking Caryn, but he is uncomfortable with putting himself so close to the woman, or some version thereof, that birthed him.
The issue is moot when Ford passes by the decaying Stan-o-War and sees movement. He feels relief followed quickly by irritation. He gets close enough to see the head of messy brown hair ducking into the boat.
“Stan…” Ford stops himself when the young man in the boat jerks to turn and face him, guilty and defensive. “...ford. Stanford, I didn't know you were back.”
“It's you!” Stanford's posture shifts immediately from nervous to excited. “I, uh, yes! I am! Back, I'm back.” The young man has shed some of his softness; his jaw is squared and his shoulders are broader, his back is straighter. His eyes are intent and gleaming behind his glasses.
“Where is your brother?”
“You don’t know?” Stanford frowns, confusion furrowing his brows. “I thought--well, the two of you are so close.”
“When did you get back?” Ford clasps his hand behind his back. He casually glances around the boat for hint or clue. Stanford follows his gaze.
“...this morning,” Stanford says, for some reason he seems suddenly shy as he rubs the back of his neck. “I kind of wanted to surprise Stan, but Ma says he’s working. I thought she meant the boat, but,” Stanford shrugs and gestures to the boat around them. “I thought it would be finished by now.”
“Not yet.” (Never.)
“Do you know where Stan works?” Stanford asks after a long silence in which the two of them catalog all the ways in which the Stan-o-War has begun to decay.
“No,” Ford says again. Stanford stares at him, confused and expectant. “I didn’t think he had a job.”
“Oh,” Stanford seems genuinely surprised, possibly bewildered. “Well,” Stanford shrugs again. “It wouldn’t be the first time Ma’s lied for Stan. Does he have,” Stanford’s face flushes slightly and he looks away from Ford. “A girlfriend?”
“No,” Ford says harshly. He feels like a broken record of denials and even Stanford seems to sense Ford’s souring mood.
“Oh.” Stanford sags. “Well, I guess,” Stanford hesitates. “You really haven’t seen him?”
“No,” Ford says, a final time. “I haven’t. I’ve been looking for him, too.” Stanford chews his lips and nods. He looks dejected and Ford hates it.
“Do you want to get some coffee? I haven't slept in 30 hours.” Stanford asks shyly, hands starting to tangle over his stomach.
“Of course,” Ford reluctantly agrees after a long moment.
“Excellent! I can't wait to tell you about school!” Stanford closes the distance between them, nearly grabbing Ford's hand to pull him along. Ford takes a last look around the Stan-o-War before following.
Ford doesn't remember getting this excited about computers as a young man. They were fascinating, of course, but as an undergraduate, he had only been allowed around computers with such minuscule operating power that he found them completely pointless.
“And, honestly, what is the average man going to do with a computer? They would have to start teaching entire classes to children!” Stanford retracts his arms from where they’ve been gesticulating wildly in the air and grasps his steaming mug hard enough that his fingers turn as red as his face. “A minicomputer!”
“There are merits to compressing technology,” Ford says. Stanford scoffs and takes a sip of his black coffee.
“Well, certainly,” Stanford concedes. “Making computers small enough to free up lab space and, could you image, be mobile? A mobile computing device? I’m not arguing against that,” Stanford says, though his eyes are bright with a challenging fervor. “But, a home computer? There’s a man in my class that thinks he can sell them! To average people! Could you imagine Stanley with a computer?” Stanford laughs, but there is a brittle and forced edge to it; the broadness of his shoulders is stiff against his neck. “Probably teach it to play poker.” Ford laughs, genuinely and loudly enough that a young woman wiping down a booth close to them jumps and eyes him warily. Stanford startles as well, but he melts under Ford’s laughter and grins back.
“He would,” Ford says, finally, and wipes at his eyes. “If only to bet against.” Stanford laughs with him until they both taper off.
“I missed him,” Stanford says, suddenly. “I didn’t think I would, but. I did. I do.” Stanford looks down at the table top. “I worried that he wouldn’t be okay. I guess that’s pretty selfish.”
“Well,” Ford shrugs. There is something awful about seeing this Stanford, so eager only months ago to be free of his brother and explore the world as a unique and powerful entity, so nostalgic and almost sad. “He missed you.”
“I hope he comes home,” Stanford says. “I won’t be in town long. I’m actually just passing through.”
“There’s a symposium in New York,” Stanford admits quietly. “I told them it was cheaper to let me stay here, but, honestly,” Stanford shrugs. “It’s childish to miss your family, isn’t it?
“No,” Ford reaches out and, for the first time, he grabs the young man’s hand with genuine warmth and solidarity. “No, my boy, it is not.”
Stanford leaves for his symposium with the promise to visit Glass Shards Beach before he goes back to school. Ford feels a bitter bud of hope for this young man who is brilliant in science but interpersonally remedial. Ford is not yet willing to entrust the young Stanley to this version of Stanford, but Ford is willing to possibly share.
Stanford’s symposium is set to last a week, starting Monday.
It is Wednesday when Ford starts awake to banging at his apartment door.
“It’s okay!” Ford forces Stan to lie flat against the mattress as muffled cursing filters through the walls. “You’re okay.”
“Shit,” Stan whispers hoarsely under him. “He’s found me.”
“Sh,” Ford shushes and carefully rolls to crouch over his brother, smoothly drawing his weapon. “I’ll take care of it,” Ford says darkly.
“I don't have the money!” Stan hisses at him, eyes gleaming terrified in the low light.
“Sh,” Ford shushes him again. His handgun takes a moment to whir quietly to life as the elements heat up. Stan's already pale face is bleached in the blue light that radiates softly from Ford's hands; each wrinkle and crag is black as India ink. Ford takes a moment to rest his hand against his brother's face, ignoring Stan's flinch. “I'll take care of it,” Ford feels the tension in Stan's jaw; he can feel Stan's swallow against his pinky finger where is rests against Stan's throat. Stan nods.
Ford quickly stands. He unlocks the bedroom door and relocks it behind him. The banging at the apartment door doesn't stop; it is joined by shouting from the neighbor.
“...the cops, I'm not kidding!”
“...the door, right now! I know yer home, ya fuckin’ creep!”
Ford feels almost dizzy with how quickly his muscles relax when he recognizes the irate voice of a young Stanley Pines shouting drunkenly at his door in the middle of the night.
He closes the distance to the door, ready to open it, but unable to replace his gun in its holster. There is a part of him that insists that he can’t be sure that this Stanley until he sees his eyes, even though Ford has long since put that demon to bed. (And, rationally, Bill hasn’t been summoned in this timeline, not yet, and Ford plans to keep it that way.) No amount of rationalization can force Ford’s hand to unclench around the gun, even as he pulls the door quickly open and a startled Stanley stumbles through the doorway. He’s helped the rest of the way in by Ford’s hand fisting in his jacket and pulling him rough so that the boy stumbles to the ground.
“Thank God, someone shut him up,” a voice calls from another door down. Ford slams the door in response and whirls on Stanley, who’s scrambling to right himself. He snarls up at Ford before his face falls in slack terror, eyes training on the gun still in Ford’s hand. The gun Ford has leveled at Stanley’s chest (because the head is to small a target and he has the potential to do nonlethal damage to the torso).
“Woah, hey, hey,” Stanley falls to the ground as he raises his hands in surrender. “I-it’s me! It’s just me.”
“Where have you been?”
“Around! Just, shit, don’ shoot me!” Stanley’s voice has taken a slightly whining lilt to it; it grates on Ford’s already excited nerves.
“Oh, shut up,” Ford snaps and he holsters his gun. “Get up.” Stanley shakes his head and scrubs an arm over his face.
“Jesus,” he whispers hoarsely to himself. “Just, fuck.” Stanley pulls himself to stand, arms wrapped around his middle in a subconscious display of vulnerability. He looks young with his shaggy hair hanging over his forehead and hiding his eyes as if he is waiting to be scolded.
“Where have you been?” Ford asks again. Stanley sniffs and clears his throat loudly.
“‘Round,” he glances carefully up at Ford, eyes skittering over the gun at his hip. “Coulda killed me.”
“Hardly,” Ford scoffs. “Unlike you, I have some self-control.”
“Oh, yeah?” Stanley perks up, innervated by something in Ford’s words. “Real control, huh, perv?”
“This again?” Ford rolls his eyes. Stanley’s shaking fists ball at his sides.
“Ford ain’t in town a minute before yer all over ‘im!” Stanley’s voice cracks as it raises, as brittle as his composure.
“Have you been watching me?” Ford’s own voice is incredulous.
“No! I’m not--Ma called me an’ when I showed up, you was already all over Ford!” One of Stanley’s hands flies to point accusingly at Ford. “What’s yer fuckin’ problem, anyway? What’s yer deal?”
“Your brother was happy to see me,” Ford eyes Stanley’s finger. “He was looking for you.”
“Shut up,” Stanley snarls, inching closer. Ford doesn’t budge, but his muscles coil as if compressed. “Shut up, Stanford, just!”
“You’re drunk,” Ford says, flatly. Stanley snarls wordlessly and draws back as if to strike. He hesitates though, when he catches Ford’s answering twitch of readiness, and pulls viciously at his own hair, instead.
“No, shit!” Stanley shouts.
“Oh, fuck off! Jus’, yer always like this! Why are ya--what’s yer deal?” Stanley closes the distances between them suddenly, but instead of punching or pushing, he grabs Ford by the front of his sweater and tries to shake him. “What the fuck, Stanford?”
“Stanley,” Ford carefully wraps his hands around Stanley’s wrists, to still them. “I’m sorry you didn’t get to see your brother,” Ford starts.
“Bullshit!” Stanley shouts again. Ford hears the beginnings of disquieted neighbors. “I’m not an idiot, Stanford!”
“Stop lyin’!” Ford almost laughs at the hypocrisy of a Stanley scolding a Stanford for lying. “Ya been lyin’ since day one and I thought: ‘well, shit, Stan, ya got no proof. Yer just goin’ crazy!’”
“Stanley,” Ford tries again, genuine concern growing in the face of Stanley’s raving.
“But, no!” Stanley yanks on his wrist to wave Ford's own hand in front of his face. “I was there! When ‘e got this.” Ford's hand slacks, too bewildered to respond and Stanley takes the opportunity to unfold Ford's hand and point accusingly at the scar on Ford's hand. Ford feels himself begin to pale in dawning realization.
“It's not--” he’s quick to deny, but Stanley talks over him.
“Ya needed stitches, but Pops said no! Changed it for ya every day for a week until--” Stanley stops, eyes too-bright. “It's you. Stanford, it's,” Stanley makes an odd choking sound. “And the old guy. That's me. What happened? Stanford, what happened?”
“I'm sorry,” Ford says after a long, tense moment. “I can't.” Stanley’s face contorts furiously before it crumbles.
“Why?” The grasp on Ford’s hand is crushing and sweaty. “It's you, so, just.”
“I’m so sorry,” Ford’s free hand, forgotten in Stanley’s rapid grasping, gently cups and holds the young man’s trembling face. Ford feels light-headed again, with how quickly his emotions have turned. His irritation has all but evaporated, and in its wake is a deep ache for the man, barely more than a child, that is pleading with him in this tiny apartment by a beach of broken glass.
“Don’t! This is all yer fault!” Stan shoves at him, but he doesn’t fight when Ford grabs his shoulders. “I told myself: ‘Yer crazy! Ford would never.’ But, ya did.” Stanley shakes his head. “Ya left. I coulda...all the weird shit, and. Ya left, Ford.”
Ford expects the punch, but it still startles him.
“Shut up!” Stanley screams over him, and for once, Ford's muscle don't scream at him to hit back. His arms jerk up to cover his face, but a well has opened in Ford; draining all of his energy into its depths and out of reach. He wants to stop Stanley, this tantrum is pointless, but Ford is suddenly paralyzed with just how much his brother has suffered (had suffered, will suffer).
Stanley disappears with a startled shout and it takes Ford a moment to realize that the older Stan has yanked the younger one away. He rolls to stand.
“Get off!” Stanley lashes out at nothing; Stan had already backed away the few feet out of punching range.
“Kid, what’s your problem?”
“Him!” Stanley rights himself enough to point at Ford.
“What about ‘im?” Stan asks and shuffles his feet; he moves just slightly between Ford and the young Stanley.
“He's playin’ ya!” The young man spits. “He's--he's usin’ ya!” Ford opens his mouth to argue, finally rising to stand, but Stan scoffs loudly and says:
“Obviously.” Both Ford and Stanley pause: Ford’s frown deepens as Stanley’s face slacks in surprise. “Everyone uses everyone. But, he treats me nice,” Stan adds nonchalantly.
“He's a jackass!” Stanley recovers from is shock enough to close the distance between them and get into Stan's space, ignoring Ford completely. “And a perv and a creep! What'd ya see in ‘im? Why'd ya stay?” Stan must see something in the young man's face that Ford can't from this angle because instead of shoving Stanley back, he lets him crowd close enough to grab Stan's thread-bare sleep shirt. “Huh? Why’d we stay?”
“Hey,” Stan’s voice drops into a deep rumble Ford can barely hear; it makes his heart skip and his skin warm. “Hey.” Stanley seems to shudder and dissolve; he collapses like a sandcastle into the older Stan.
“‘S not fair!” Stanley whines into Stan's chest. “I don’ get it!” Stan’s old, wrinkled hands settle over the younger man's shoulders.
“Take it easy, big guy,” Stan's large hands rub down Stanley’s back. “This, uh. ‘Bout your brother?” Stanley shudders in the old man’s grasp, and Ford worries that the boy might start sobbing, but Stanley just shakes his head and looks up, over Stan’s sloped shoulder and somehow finding Ford’s eyes in the dark.
“Pretty stupid,” Stanley says. His teeth gleam in a smile, but his voice is hoarse with bitter emotion. “Real dumbass knucklehead.”
“Nothin’ wrong with missin’ your brother,” Stan says. “But, uh. What’re you doin’ here, kid?”
“He’s staying with us,” Ford decides. “Unless you’d rather stay with your parents? Until your brother comes back?”
“Really?” Stan asks, looking over his shoulder, and now Ford has both versions of his brother looking at him: Stanley young and bitterly suspicious where Stan is surprised and hopeful.
“Yes,” Ford says and walks around Stan to put a heavy hand on Stanley’s shoulder. Stanley moves as if he wants to jerk away from Ford, but he’s boxed in by Stan and can’t do more than shudder. “I told you I would invite him over. He just got in late,” Ford lies, isn’t really sure why he’s lying, but it forms like an equation in his mind, variables and constants stringing together into something organic, but controllable.
“Uh huh. And punchin’ is just how young people say hello now?”
“The inebriated can be belligerent,” Ford says, face flushing slightly. Now that Stan has reminded him, Ford does feel soreness in his cheeks and across his nose. “You know people can get violent when they’re confused.” It’s a low blow; Stan hasn’t had an episode in over a week.
“...yeah,” Stan agrees, stepping back and looking away from the two of them. “Anyway, don’t got an extra bed, so. Guess it’s the chair.” A shadow passes over Stanley’s face, a flinch that lingers in a grimace. “Don’t make that face; it’s a comfy chair,” Stan chides, clapping Stanley sharply on the shoulder so that for a moment the boy is a conductive point of contact between them. At that moment, a fragment of a second, Ford feels something like muted lightning. Ford feels it in his blood; in his hands as they heat, in the swelling on his face. He can feel it pool in his gut and collect like a static charge.
The boy must feel it too; he shivers.
If Stan notices, he says nothing.
“I’m old,” he says, instead. “I’m goin’ back to bed.”
“Whatever,” Stanley mumbles and shrugs aggressively enough to dislodge both Stan and Ford. “I’d rather sleep in my car.”
“Shut up, kid.” Stan stops his retreat to glare over his shoulder. “Just--go home or take the damn chair. Ain’t everyone as lucky.”
“Like ya’d know,” Stanley snaps back.
“Enough,” Ford moves to interject, but Stan turns, old, craggy face deepening into something cold and bitter enough to mirror his younger counterpart. “Stan, go to bed,” Ford says. Stan’s jaw clenches hard enough that the muscles of his face bunch and jump. “I’ll take care of it,” Ford lays a hand on Stan’s shoulder. Stan’s body snaps with tension then, the way it did months ago when Ford was still a stranger to him.
“‘Course,” Stan’s mouth moves with autonomy, his eyes start to go wide and glassy.
“Go to bed,” Ford repeats, gently but firmly. Stan nods after several long moments and finally turns. His movements are slow and over-careful. Ford watches him until Stan opens the bedroom door, it sticks a little in the frame and closes it behind him. It doesn’t latch fully shut.
“You can stay,” Ford says.
“Yeah, thanks for the offer, but,” Stanley starts, but Ford turns on him, suddenly furious.
“You will stay,” Ford growls. “You owe him an apology.”
“It’s not my fault!” Stanley snaps back. “The fuck is his problem, anyway?”
“Nothing you need to know about,” Ford sighs and rubs at his eyes, upsetting his glasses. “If you’re lucky, you will never know.”
“Again? With the mysterious bullshit?”
“There are things you will never know, Stanley Pines,” Ford’s voice drops low, his hands twitch by his side. The electricity in his gut ignites and heats his blood; Ford’s body feels on fire. “This universe is vast and cruel. I have done my best to protect you from it, and now the only thing that stands to destroy you is yourself.”
“Ya sayin’ I do that?” Stanley points to the cracked bedroom door and the man within. “Me? What, is it drugs?”
“You!” Ford advances, his body moves like an involuntary spasm. He is suddenly forward. “Arrogant, selfish--” Ford bites the last of his words; they hiss between his teeth in a snarl. “No,” he says. “I wouldn’t be so lucky. No.”
“I am!” Ford snaps, his fists tangle into the open front of Stanley’s jacket. “Everything that can ever go wrong in your life is because of me, Stanley.” He yanks the young man forward until he can see the flecks of his own saliva land on Stanley’s soft cheeks. Stanley panics and lashes out; Ford blames the dark and his own exhaustion that Stanley is able to land a second blow on him that night. It connects with his temple. Ford throws Stanley away; one hand flies to his head to assess the damage. He hisses, but his hands aren’t dark or wet with blood. “Stanley--” Ford starts but stops when he hears a door slam shut. He looks to the bedroom, worried that Stan may have emerged to assist him again, but the door is still just slightly ajar. When he looks for Stanley again, the boy is gone. “Stanley?” Ford tries. He opens the front door and peaks into the gloomy hallway.
“I called the police,” A voice calls down the hall. Ford slams the door back shut, ignoring the shouting. He is too furious and confused to address the empty threat. No one in Glass Shards Beach ever really calls the police.
The formatting gets weird. Be warned.
“Kid go home?” Stan asks in the morning. He looks exhausted and Ford knows he didn't sleep well, regardless of how patiently Ford tried to soothe him to sleep. (Ford, by extension, also slept poorly. When Stan’s heart races, a restless part of Ford can never be still between worrying over the unseen threats and the guilt.)
“I don't know,” Ford answers honestly. “I didn't notice him leaving, to be honest.” Stan snorts.
“Not surprised, what with the grapes you got for eyes.”
“Don't exaggerate,” Ford grouses, but he self consciously feels along the bruising of his face, fingers deftly but pointlessly trying to gauge the severity of the damage.
“Stop pokin’ it, you'll make it worse,” Stan chides gruffly as he sits across from Ford at the tiny table Stan had insisted they “borrow” from a sidewalk cafe.
“Unlikely,” Ford quickly wraps his hands around his coffee mug to keep them still.
“Kid got you good,” Stan nods, agreeing with a sentiment Ford didn't mean to imply. “Need work on his right hook.”
“His left was always his strong point,” Ford says.
“Heh,” Stan settles around his own mug. “I think--yeah, I was like that. Right’s ugly, you know?” Stan says. “I used to box,” Stan adds for Ford's benefit. Ford smiles tightly.
“Heh, yeah. You're a real fan of these guns,” Stan flexes his arms, shameless of the wrinkles and scant adipose that cling like saran wrap to his wiry muscle. “But, yeah. Right hook. Instinctive, but sloppy. Now, leftie,” Stan nods to himself; the fingers of his left hand clench and relax. Ford watches the play of the tendons under the paper-thin skin and faded-ink blue veins; tendons bound up by the flexor retinaculum like a lace bracelet at the wrist. “I remember looking over my shoulder jus’ to make sure...see, I practiced. Figured out how to get the best angle.” Ford nods politely, but Stan isn’t looking at him. He’s looking somewhere over Ford’s shoulder and years away. “Kids’re dumb, huh?”
“Usually,” Ford agrees. He isn't following Stan's winding path, but he has found that it is sometimes better for him to let Stan wander.
“Never even,” Stan shakes his head. “Don’t think the kid ever looked up from ‘is book, you know? All that time tryin’ to throw a pretty punch.” Ford’s heart skips a beat. It’s hubris to think, even hope, that Stan is talking about him.
“He never said anything?” Ford ventures.
“He?” Stan stiffens for a moment before his eyes dart from one side to the other and settle. “No, h-he... I don’t think he did.” Ford frowns into his mug; his reflection is dark.
“I’m sorry,” Ford offers.
“Ah, whatever,” Stan shakes and finally looks at Ford. “Didn’t know what he was missin’, right?”
“No,” Ford says, too quickly and earnestly, judging by the slight climb in Stan’s white brows as they quirk. “Certainly a fool.”
“I got you now, though,” Stan reaches across the tiny table and hesitantly grabs Ford’s arm. He looks at Ford as if asking permission and pardon. “Right?”
“Of course,” Ford cover’s Stan’s hand with his own.
“Hey, Sixer,” Stan starts hesitantly. “I think that Stanley kid’s in trouble.” Ford allows himself an indulgent moment to revel in Stan, his Stan, calling him Sixer; the old moniker like a balm.
“Trouble?” Ford asks.
“Yeah, it’s. He’s a knucklehead, but, I think he needs help, you know?” Stan offers, shrugging. Ford takes a deep breath; he grounds himself to the present and away from the dangerous nostalgia in Stan’s memories.
“Drugs?” Ford asks, echoing the young man's words from the night before.
“Maybe,” Stan shrugs. “It seems silly to care so much about such a knucklehead. I mean, look’t you,” Stan gestures to Ford’s purpling face. “But, he just...seems so sad. ‘Bout his brother.”
“Brothers,” Ford echoes. He feels like a parrot. “You think he needs his brother?”
“Wouldn’t you?” Stan asks. (It’s one of the most painful things anyone has ever asked him.) “I think everyone would be happier with a brother.”
“Do you wish I was your brother?”
“Hell, no!” Stan laughs, a hand falls like a blow flatly against the table. “Whatever we are, Sixer,” Stan says. “Brothers seem illegal.”
“When has that stopped you,” Ford replies, impulsively. Stan seems to hesitate and then laugh. It’s strained at first before whatever tension in Stan gives way and he laughs, fully and freely.
“Okay!” Stan cackles and shakes his head. “That’s fair.”
“It wouldn't stop me,” Ford says, he strokes over the wrinkles and hair or Stan's hand, the one still holding gently to Ford.
“It probably should,” Stan says softly. Ford can feel the minute twitches of Stan's metacarpals and tendons.
“I love you,” Ford's caress becomes a grasp, squeezing Stan's hand. “Nothing would stop me from loving you.”
“Easy,” Stan’s free hand pats Ford’s once. “Don’t make it weird.” Ford laughs.
“We've always been weird, Stan,” Ford says. Stan hums, not agreeing with Ford, but making noise to fill up the space around them.
“The kid,” Stan tries to pull his hand free; Ford reluctantly lets him. “You said he's in New York?”
“Ah,” Ford shakes his head. “No. His brother is in New York.”
“For the science gig, yeah, I remember,” Stan flaps a hand in Ford's direction. “Hate that place.”
“New York?” Ford asks. “I would have thought you'd like it.”
“Oh, love it,” Stan agrees. “But, uh. Pissed off a guy there once. Twice.” Stan's wrinkly face scrunched further as he thinks. “Five times? Dunno. Either pissed of a lot o’ guys or just the one a lot. Either way, hate that place.”
“I see.” (Ford doesn't.)
“Free tip: don't hit on a girl if her boyfriend has ‘connections.’” Stan quotes the word with his fingers and Ford feels his eyebrows crawl up his face. “She wasn't even that hot.”
“You pissed off the mob over a girl?” Ford feels an incredulous smirk at the corners of his mouth. Stan scowls.
“Not the whole family. Just the one guy. And his brother. And the bartender.” Stan looks down at his coffee. “I, uh. Had a talent for pissing people off.” Ford chuckles, softly. It occurs to him that this is the most Stan has ever remembered about his past. He feels something gather in his chest, an enormous feeling and a tightness. He suddenly, desperately needs to touch Stan. “You okay?” Stan's brows furrow in worry. He jumps when Ford stands abruptly and circles the tiny table to grab Stan's face and kisses him.
It's desperate, Ford will admit. But, he wants Stan. He wants his brother; he wants to be close to him. He wants to reach back through the years for the young man that crossed the mafia and kiss him; to tell him that he doesn't need any woman or anyone, but Ford.
Ford can't say that, so he tries to bite it into the corner of Stan's mouth, instead.
“Jesus,” Stan's hands grab Ford's shoulders. Ford thinks Stan might be trying to push him away, but he can't leave, so he buries one hand into the lengthening hair at the nape of Stan's neck. He doesn't pull, he doesn't want to hurt Stan, but he holds Stan still so that Ford can pull back to kiss his neck. “This about the girl?” Stan asks, his voice is low and his vowels drawn out or clipped as he begins to pant. “You got better legs.” Ford grins into Stan's neck; he can feel Stan shiver against his teeth.
“Do I?” Ford's own voice is getting rough; he feels breathless.
“Yeah,” Stan's hands release Ford's shoulders to trail down his back and grab his ass. “Much better ass.”
“Hm,” Ford jumps a little at the unexpected groping, but he presses a grin into Stan's temple. “Go on.”
“Vain,” Stan chuckles. “Pretty sure your cock is bigger, too.” Ford chokes on a laugh. “But, I should check.” Ford moans low in his throat when Stan’s hands slide to the front of his pants to grope him.
“Yes,” Ford isn't sure what to do with his hands. The one in Stan's hair twitches, making Stan grumble, while the other brushes over Stan's face, scratching into his stubble and feeling his lips.
“Easy,” Stan says against Ford's fingers. Ford ignores him and slides two of his fingers into Stan's mouth, muffling whatever disgruntled noise he makes. Stan tries to pull back, but he has nowhere to go, trapped between Ford's hands. Stan stops groping him, hands grabbing Ford's hips instead. Ford reluctantly pulls his damp fingers away to open his own pants. “Want me to suck your dick?”
“Elegant,” Ford snorts. Stan’s ears color redder as he scoffs.
“Yes or no,” Stan grumbles. Ford chuckles, he stops what he's doing to pet his fingers through Stan's hair.
“I wouldn't mind,” Ford says. Stan hums to himself and shakes his head.
“So long as it ain't a chore,” Stan’s hands pick up where Ford's left off, unzipping him and maneuvering his pants down around his thighs. It's not comfortable in the least, but Ford prefers the slight constriction to the awkward, dangerous puddle of fabric around his boots.
“You're hardly a chore, Stan,” Ford says softly. It's not always true, there are days in which caring for Stan is on par with keeping an uncooperative and mistrustful dog with a tenancy to bite. Those days are far less frequent now.
Stan pulls down Ford's briefs instead of answering. It's only enough to get Ford's erection free, but that is exactly enough to get Stan’s rough hands wrapping around Ford.
“Hm,” Ford hums. He blinks languidly as he thrusts gently into Stan's hand. Stan makes a noise in his throat. “Don't spit on me,” Ford warns. Stan looks up at him and swallows.
“Prissy,” Stan mutters. “Got a whole mouth made o’ spit.”
“Then use it,” Ford tugs at Stan's hair, coaxing him closer.
“How's that different?” Stan resists him; Ford frowns and pulls harder.
“Are you going to use your mouth for something better than inane questions?” Ford asks sharply. “Or am I wasting my time.”
“Hey, woah,” Stan lifts his shoulders and raises his free hand, the one not holding Ford's cock. “Just teasin’.”
“Well, stop,” Ford grumbles. “I--oh.” Stan is evidently done teasing as he shoves his mouth around Ford's cock. Ford can feel the moment Stan goes too far and gags; when he looks down, both hands firmly in Stan's hair, he can already see saliva glistening around the corners of Stan's mouth. Ford pulls back an inch and thrusts back in, forcing Stan to gag again and drool. Stan makes a noise that might be dissent, but the physical feedback of the vibrations around Ford's cock is glorious. “Relax,” Ford warns before he pulls back and thrusts until he hits resistance at the back of Stan's throat. It's tight and Ford has a moment of worry when Stan grunts and coughs. The involuntary spasms of Stan’s throat allow Ford to thrust the last few centimeters until Stan's pharynx constricts almost painfully around Ford’s glans. He can't stifle the loud moan that tumbles from his throat, and he barely hears the irritable thump of his neighbor against the thin wall. He cares even less.
“Oh, Jesus,” Ford's hips jump without him when Stan’s throat vibrates around him again. “God.” When Ford looks down again, Stan is already a mess. His eyes are screwed shut behind his glasses, saliva catches on the patchy stubble of his chin and gleams. “I love you,” Ford breathes. Stan grunts, his fingers dig into Ford's hips. His eyes open and water and his nostrils flare. Ford pulls back enough to let Stan breathe, resting his cock in Stan's mouth until he pulls at Stan's hair again. Stan sighs, closes his eyes again and starts to move.
Ford thrusts into Stan's mouth even as Stan tries to bob his head. It makes Stan gag wetly, makes the slide of Ford's cock into his throat filthy and slick and tight. Ford removes one hand from Stan's hair and reaches to wrap it around Stan's throat instead, to feel him from the inside and out. He feels the way Stan's throat vibrates with a groan around Ford's cock; he feels the shift of trachea as Stan tries to swallow something that keeps getting pulled back. When Ford squeezes, he can feel Stan's racing pulse.
Ford groans like he's hurt, and he loves Stan like this some much it does hurt.
“God,” Ford thrusts faster, almost senseless as everything he is, is reduced to this creature of pure feeling. His heart thumps loudly and thickly in his ears; his balls feel heavy and tight. He’s overwhelmed.
“Fuck!” He grits his teeth and with a few more violent throats that has Stan pounding at his thigh, Ford stumbles back and cums over Stan's face and chest. Stan doubles over, one hand going to his throat as he almost wretches from coughing.
“F-hck,” Stan’s other hand wipes at his face; it smears semen in a lewd streak across his face and glasses. He glares at Ford, mouth opening to speak, but wheezing instead.
“Sorry,” Ford says. He isn’t; he can’t be sorry when Stan’s eyes are bright and passionate when Stan’s face is flushed red and shining with sweat and saliva and semen. Ford wishes he could fuck Stan like this, but he is too old and Stan seems angry. Ford turns around, instead. “I’ll get you a towel.”
Ford waits until Friday to visit Pines Pawns, to follow up with Stanford, to learn what advances this young man makes with the world at his fingertips and no demons at his heels. It is too early in the day for Caryn to be awake after working the phone lines late into the night, as Ford remembers her doing. It's too late in the day for Filbrick to be anywhere but the pawn shop, so Ford is confident that when he knocks on the residential door to the home that Stanford will answer.
“Stanley?” Ford freezes when he hears the distantly familiar, rough and nasally voice. The door creaks open and Caryn Pines is there, thin and almost gaunt with dark shadows under her eyes reflecting the garish, smudged paint over her eyelids. She has a cigarette in her hand. The smoke wafts toward Ford and he is struck by the sense memory of smell, of being a child and knowing he was home by the acrid stench of stale Winstons burned to their filter. (Different from the sweet, cloying smell of thick, unfiltered cigars burned down to broad fingertips.)
Caryn looks exhausted. Her bright, reddened eyes dim when she looks up at Ford, not down at Stanley. Ford resists a flinch when he catches the distant look of surprise and curiosity.
“Who’re you? You a cop?” She asks, stance shifting so that she leans against the doorframe. It's an affected carelessness that hides her trembling and displays her vibrant, red nails. “Told ya, ya got your statements. Leave my boys alone.” The absurdity startles Ford out of his fugue, the years melting away until he can clear his throat and casually fold his hands behind his back.
“I'm not law enforcement,” Ford's word catch roughly in his throat. He clears it again, loudly until he is sure that his voice will continue evenly. “I'm looking for Stanford.” Caryn's face twitches, her body shudders, and her eyes well up wetly.
“Stanford,” she breathes into her palm where it's come to rest over her mouth. “Ya from that school?” She asks, looking over Ford. To her credit, no tears spill over her cheeks, but Ford can see the flaking smudges of her cheap mascara where it has run tracks down her face before.
“I…” Ford hesitates. He was never to one to comfort their mother when she cried. It was typically Stan pulling some tomfoolery to exasperate her out of misery, or pilfering some trinket from the pawn shop to try and dazzle away her tears. Ford knows that even now, Stan would know what to do. (Stan would do something. But, Ford doesn't know what to do, so he doesn't.) “I'm his mentor.”
“Mentor?” Caryn's smeared cat eyes narrow shrewdly at Ford, looking him up and down. Taking in the dirty boots and trench coat. “Like a teacher?”
“...after a fashion,” Ford says. “Yes.”
“Were ya there?” Caryn asks, wiping delicately at her eyes. “When it--were ya there?”
“I'm sorry,” Ford resists the urge to hold up his hands, to gesture Caryn into calm. He grips his hands harder, instead and shrugs. “I don't--”
“Nobody says they saw nothing,” she continues, voice rising.
“What they did!” Caryn's voice rises in a wail before it lowers to a hiss. “What those bastards did to my boys,” Ford, against reason, can feel the heat of her snarled words. He can taste the smoke in the air like the hate in Caryn's swollen eyes. “They're good boys, don't matter what nobody says, my boys are good boys.” An accusing finger like a viper strike hits Ford in the chest; he barely restrains himself from breaking her wrist when his hand snaps out to grab it. “Let go of me!” She shouts and tugs. Ford releases his hold. As she stumbles against the doorframe snarling, Ford takes a step back.
“I'm looking for Stanford Pines,” Ford repeats himself, hands folding neatly at the small of his back to remain still.
“Then ya shoulda been here a week ago,” Caryn snaps. “Else, try Merryview General! All the good it'll do ya,” her voice cracks and she sags. “My poor baby,” Caryn's tear are black against her reddening face. “He's a good boy, he don't deserve this!” Ford takes another few hasty steps back, anxiety climbing furiously at the enigmatic response and Caryn's growing hysteria.
“Caryn?” A gruff voice calls from behind Caryn's crumpling form. “What's all that racket?”
Ford doesn't even register that he's moving, almost running, as those five words echo over and over in his mind like mechanical white noise. He is nearly a block away before he looks back over his shoulder, Orpheus-like anxiety spurring him to look until he can see the distant silhouette of Filbrick's fedora and the glint of light off his ever-present sunglasses before the door to the Pine's residence slams shut.
Ford forgets all about Caryn's cryptid words as it settles upon him that even now, older physically than Filbrick in this time, Ford hears his father's voice and runs away.
Ford gathers himself quickly, he shakes his head and rubs at his eyes under his glasses. His eyelashes are surprisingly wet.
Ford and Stan, as young men, spent only a few memorable visits to Merryview General, their mother preferred her family doctor, an aging man with hands that were never warm and eyes that never stopped watering. It was only the broken bones than packed the Pines family into the creaking, black sedan and toward medical bills the family could barely afford.
Ford doesn't remember how to get to the hospital by foot, he doesn't know if he ever had to, but he's able to hail a taxi that takes him there. He is so distracted by the noise and sheer confusion of the moment that he doesn't even argue with the cabbie over the price.
He doesn’t really gather himself until he is at a chest-high desk, facing a nurse that looks both concerned and bored.
“Sir?” She asks impatiently. “Do you need something?”
“No,” Ford replies automatically, then: “Yes, I’m looking for Stanford Pines.”
“And you are?”
“Family,” Ford offers after a moment. “I’m...we’re related.”
“Uh huh. You got ID?” The nurse holds out a hand expectantly. Ford clears his throat and reaches into his jacket, searching for the vague identification he had forged. When he passes it to the nurse, she makes a noise in her throat.
“Oh! The kid with the fingers!” Ford blinks at her, face crumpling into a puzzled, offended frown when she flaps her hand dismissively. “Nah, you’re alright. You taking the brother? Kid’s been driving us crazy.” The nurse stands and grimaces when something pops. “Jesus, I need to move. Hey, cover me!” She calls over her shoulder. “Come on,” she says to Ford and gestures for Ford to follow her past the desk into down a green and white hallway. “Kid’s in ICU. He’s not supposed to really have visitors, but,” she shrugs. “Damage is done. And he shouldn’t be alone, you know?” She chats casually with Ford as they walk.
“Yes, how bad is it?” Ford asks, trying to match her tone and stride.
“Poor kid. Yeah, don’t know what they told you, but head trauma isn’t pretty,” she squints ahead of them and takes a sharp left. “Okay, I can let you in, but be quiet, okay?” She pushes open two wide double doors into another wide hallway. “Some people are in mourning.” She puts a finger over her mouth as she talks. Ford frowns, but nods. “Your boy,” she continues, only marginally quieter than before. “We didn’t see him the first time, but he seemed fine when he got here. Pretty messed up, but he was walking okay. Then, he falls asleep and doesn’t wake up. Or, that’s what I heard. He’s not too bad now, but, you never know with these kinds of things,” she grabs a clipboard from where it rests beside a door. “Fracture...swelling...polydact--here! Here we go, sir!” She replaces the clipboard. “Remember: be quiet. It’s okay to talk to him and all, but,” she shrugs and gestures helplessly around them as if Ford will understand. “And tell the kid to stop smoking in the ICU! He can do that in the lobby.” She pats Ford’s arm as she leaves Ford standing before the door. He looks around, takes in the bustle of nurses he barely registered as he had followed his guide here. He’s already lost her.
No one notices him taking the clipboard from its rest and slipping into the room.
The room is surprisingly well lit. Despite the two beds, only one is occupied. Ford approaches that bed quietly, though from what he understands from what he’s heard and his own brief glance over the patient’s file, the young man is comatose.
He is, Ford agrees, a mess. There are bright white bandages around his head like a scarf, made more vibrant and disconcerting by the dark swelling around his eye and over his nose. His lips are chapped and split under the oxygen mask. Ford’s eyes slide over the damage and catalogs it: fractured fingers and ribs, possible skull fracture as well, extensive bruising and abrasions. When Ford looks up to the young man’s face again, he’s startled to find his eyes open.
“Hello?” Ford asks. The young man blinks at him. “Stanford?” The boy doesn’t answer him. “Are you responding to sound, or are you aware?” Ford asks. He doesn’t expect a proper response and he doesn’t get one. He feels something thick and terrible build in his gut; it spreads in spidery threads like frost and makes his heart clench. He approaches the man in the bed, each new wound lands like an insect bite against Ford’s composure until he is carefully restrained fury.
“The hell are ya-” Ford jumps when he hears the gruff, furious voice behind him. His defensive turn is interrupted by Stan shoving past him in a rush of smoky air.
“Ford? Hey, Ford! Ford, it’s me. It’s me, Stan,” Stanley drops a bag by Ford’s feet, headless as he rushes to his brother. “Hey, buddy. You big nerd.” Stanley carefully grabs Stanford's hand. He’s surprisingly gentle and mindful of the IVs. “Welcome back.” Stanford slowly rolls his eyes to look at Stanley, but he doesn’t seem aware. Less an intelligent creature and more a mess of nerves responding to stimulus.
“Brain damage,” Ford says. He watches the way Stanford's eyes slowly slide back to him, looking at Ford blankly over Stanley’s climbing, tense shoulders. “Stanley,” Ford asks, low and hard. “What happened?”
“What’re ya even doin’ here?” Stanley snaps back. He glares over his shoulders and Ford gets a good look at his exhausted, red face. “Get out.”
“Stanley,” Ford starts, but stops, looking down at the file instead. “Head trauma. Obviously. How bad is it?”
“Look at ‘im,” Stanley answers softly. “It’s better. He wouldn’t wake up at all. He opens his eyes now, but,” Stanley shakes his head. “It’s like he isn’t there, ya know?” Ford purses his lips, hides his eyes by staring at the papers in his hands.
“I...yes. I know,” Ford turns the page over, looking at previous notes.
“I had t’ send Ma home,” Stanley continues. “She don’t usually cry all that much. Nurse was gettin’ on her case about smokin’.” Stanley clears his throat and Ford politely ignores the sympathetic thickness in his own throat. “He’s gonna get better, right? Yer okay, so. He’s gonna be okay, too.”
“I don’t know,” Ford answers honestly. “He’s recovering quickly, but he could still suffer long term brain damage. Especially with medicine in this timeline what it is-”
“Well, could ya help?” Stanley turns to look at him, eyes bright and mouth thinned but trembling. “Yer a genius, right? Ford’s always a smart guy, so, ya gotta know something.” Stanley’s spare fingers skirt over the bandages and tubes until he finds a stretch of skin that’s safe to touch. With that second point of contact, he seems to ground himself. “Ya fixed up yer brother okay, right?”
“I am a genius,” Ford starts. “But, the human mind is complicated, Stanley. I wouldn’t even know where to start without knowing what happened.” Stanley’s face crumples, sagging for a moment with grief before he takes a deep breath.
“Don’t tell nobody. Don’t--they don’t have t’ know. But, there was these guys in New York-”
“The mafia.” Ford realizes.
“Shut up! Shut up, okay, just. It’s my fault, right? If I’d known Ford was gonna be there, I woulda. I dunno, I would warned him not to play fuckin’ tourist.”
“They thought he was you,” Ford says. Stanley nods miserably.
“I didn’t know. He wasn’t supposed to be there.” Stanley leans against the bed; it shudders under his weight.
“I’m sorry,” Ford says. He steps forward, looks down at the limp body of Stanford Pines and sets the clipboard of patient notes on his still knees.
“It’s my fault,” Stanley says thickly. “If he doesn’t get better, it’s my--” he shakes his head as if trying to banish the thought. “What’ll I do?”
“You know who did this?” Ford asks.
“No,” Stanley replies mechanically. At Ford’s look, he shrugs. “I mean, it don’t matter.”
“It does,” Ford grabs Stanley’s shoulder and gives him a gentle shake. “Stanley, your brother is in a coma.”
“No, he’s just--”
“This is a coma. I don’t know if the medicine in this time calls it that, but he’s in a coma. He’s not conscious; he’s not in there.” Ford catches Stanley’s eyes. “Are you honestly telling me that it doesn’t matter who did this? That you don’t care?”
“If he doesn’t come back,” Ford spares a look at the young man watching them blankly. “Do you want them the get away with it, Stanley?”
“No!” Stan answer vehemently. “No, but, it don’t matter! The cops ain’t gonna do anything.”
“When has that stopped you?” Ford demands, shakes the young man again. “When has the law ever mattered to you, Stanley?” Ford asks the second time that day.
“Listen to me,” Ford leans close into Stanley’s space until he can smell a familiar brand of cigarettes clinging to his filthy hair and jacket. “I never got a chance to--to protect my brother. What happened to him, it happened because of me.” Ford reaches up and grabs Stanley’s broad chin, to keep him from looking away. “If I had even half the chance, I would--the thing that did this to him. I would burn him alive, Stanley. I never got the chance, but you do.” Ford rubs a thumb over Stanley’s stubbled chin. “You can’t do anything here. But, you can make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else.” Stanley wraps a hand around Ford’s wrist.
“But what if he don’t come back?” Stanley’s voice sounds the smallest Ford has ever heard it.
“Then he’s in good company,” Ford says slowly. “My brother. Stan would like the company.” The Stanley in front of him chokes.
“Don’t think about it,” Ford urges softly. “Think about the people who did this.” Stanley chokes again; his entire body shudders. “Sh,” Ford pulls him into a hug; Stanley wraps his arms around Ford and squeezes him. Ford turns his head to rest on Stanley’s hair and kisses it softly. “Just imagine how good it will feel,” Ford says, as he watches Stanford watch them. “To see how pitiful cruel men are before they die.”
Happy Valentines Day (':