Caryn and Filbrick Pines had not planned for twins.
The newborns had spent nearly a week squeezed too close and squirming before their father had finally found a decent deal on a second bassinet. Feeding an additional miniature black hole of a mouth had required some clever maneuvering by their mother and enough emergency formula runs for a lifetime. They were happy parents, though unspeakably relieved that they had started off with Sherman instead of these two.
It was however true just the same that the Pines felt a sense of deep unease, one that had wormed in on that first night of the birth and stayed.
Caryn remembered in broad brushstrokes of emotion. Filbrick, on the other hand, knew what he saw; no more, no less. Neither recalled the truth.
They had driven home from the hospital in companionable silence, the pair exhausted and faintly nauseous. The new parents, however, smiled like they were ten years younger.
There had been well-needed showers and several bites of lukewarm lasagna before they both gave up and went upstairs to get some sleep in before the crying inevitably started back up. A rather standard new parent experience, all things considered, until the proud parents awoke to find two squalling children in the bassinet where they had left one.
Caryn and Filbrick Pines had not planned for twins.
Up until that first morning, they had not needed to.
The hospital confirmed with them as Filbrick paced in the kitchen, as Caryn clutched the phone in a single bloodlessly clenched fist, that they were the proud parents of two newborn boys.
One born five minutes after the other, both had taken home last night swaddled in identical cloth bundles. It was all there in the system, every form neatly completed, every i dotted. There were even readable photocopies of each certificate securely attached, a minor miracle. The new parents had picked through the documents numbly under the disbelieving gaze of what felt like the entire hospital.
"For Pete's sake, man," the on-duty nurse had said at last, clearly exasperated, gesturing to the impossible Stanley or Stanford Pines. "Just look at 'em. Either they're both yours or neither of them are, because those are twins if I've ever seen them."
In the panic and disbelief that had followed the discovery of their new son turning into twins, neither Caryn nor Filbrick had looked hard at the child that had shown up overnight. Now they did, they knew the man had spoken the truth. The two infants were mirror images of each other, the same twist of nose and identical wisps of brown hair.
Caryn and Filbrick drove the whole way home without speaking a single word to each other. Maybe it is embarrassment, maybe it is shame. At the core of them, there was the same fear.
Their minds had played a trick of them. It must have, because the alternative was too terrifying to consider - that something else did.
Caryn had known the old stories, but of course, those had always been about losing children and not gaining them. It was to this fact that she clung to like a port in a storm, as rattled as she was. She had lost nothing, merely gained. Eventually, she found that she could not bring herself to remember exactly which child of her's had come first.
Filbrick never quite managed to forget.
Stanford Filbrick Pines was eight years old when he realized he didn't want to be human.
It wouldn't explain everything, but it would explain a whole lot. That was far more than what he's got right now.
Stanford had always had an unfortunate talent for being always one step ahead and one step behind. He felt false and foolish mimicking the faces people made at him, always just a beat too slow. He never knew the right thing to say. In Glass Shard, New Jersey, Stanford was all square peg in round hole.
No wonder he had always found himself pulled along in Stanley's wake. He enjoyed it at first, just being along for the ride. But on a much deeper level, one that his college-provided therapist would one day describe as 'existential', it terrified Ford that everything he had and was belonged also to his brother.
Maybe that was why, out of his many obsessions over the years, it had always been his interest in the strange and impossible that defined him. Stanford spent his childhood summers reading about vampires and werewolves and changelings, and realized he envied them. They had an excuse to be different. He was just a freak.
Logically speaking, Ford knew that he had to be human. He was a twin. If Ford was anything other than human, so was Stanley. And that, he could not help but think as his brother casually ate a booger beside him, was possibly laughable.
...Though being a werewolf might explain just how hairy the two of them have been getting from the latest few years of puberty. Hm.
There was also the unfortunate fact that Ford had never actually ever transformed into an animal, drank blood (on purpose) - or for that matter, showcased any particularly inhuman behavior other than a terrible aptitude for social interaction. Eroded by years, his one-time revelation shifted slowly into an impossible daydream, then into not much at all.
Stan left, one day.
Ford could not bring himself to think about it as anything other than that. He remembered dimly that night when everything had gone to pieces. Stan had sabotaged Ford's science fair project and ruined his future. The specifics were much more elusive for him.
All Stanford recalled was the inexplicable chill in his gut, the impossible knowledge that the night had been a long time coming. The ending of something that had started long ago, something Ford did not know enough to understand.
His brother's bag had already been packed, and not by him.
There was a hard look in Filbrick's eyes when he stared Stan down and said, "I shoulda known it was you, all along."
Something shadowy passed over his brother's face. "Sir," he said, the way Filbrick had taught them to call him as children who needed to learn respect.
"Had your fun, did you?" Filbrick's voice was calm, conversational. "You finally headin' back to where you came?"
Stanley met his father's stare with a face like stone.
"It wasn't like that," he said.
Ford did not understand. Another night, maybe he would have been more curious, slightly more forgiving.
But after the crushing humiliation of his performance at the science fair and the way Stanley had dared to joke about him losing his only shot at a full-ride at West Coast Tech, all he had energy for was to shut his curtains and clench his eyes shut into his pillows.
(He dreamed, that night.
Ford was looking through the curtains, and he knew impossibly that hours and hours had passed and it was now closer to the dawn than the night that came before.
On the other side of the street, his brother was standing. Stanley had been waiting for him. He could see it in his too-dark eyes.
Then Ford blinked, and there was no one.)
Bill didn't know that he had a twin brother. It was a bit funny, in hindsight. His muse had no trouble identifying the exact knuckle his arthritis would start in, but when Ford had finally, reluctantly mentioned his twin, he had broken out into disbelieving laughter.
"Good one, Sixer - I almost believed you!"
Stanford had been too startled to correct him, and after a while, it just seemed strange to bring up again. Besides, why waste his valuable - and finite - time with his muse talking about past mistakes that neither of them could change?
But it was the first thing Bill did that struck him as off. It would not be the last.
The truth was: when Stanford wrote his brother for help in the winter of 1982, he didn't know what address to put down.
That may be somewhat expected, considering he hadn't been in contact with Stanley for a decade. He really could be anywhere in the world at this point. But he knew how to do his research, even driven half out of his mind from fear and sleep-deprivation, and he found nothing at all.
As far as the records went, his brother never existed at all.
That started his uneasiness, but it was only when even his shadow government contacts came up with absolutely nothing that Ford gave up and called his mother.
"Don't be silly, Stanford," she told him, just a tinny voice coming out of the phone speaker. "Of course your brother's alright."
"Then where is he?" Ford demanded, breathless with the force of it.
Thousands of miles away, Caryn Pines thought back to that long drive home thirty years ago. She briefly considered telling her son that his brother was currently in a motel somewhere in the middle bits of Colorado and didn't want to hear from him again.
It would be a kindness in comparison. He would never have know.
"You won't find him," she told him instead. "He went back home."
"What?" Ford's voice sounded high and strange to his own ears. He laughed, just a short startled hitch of breath. "But he never came back, I never -"
"His home, sweetie."
Ford was quiet for a long moment. "I don't understand."
"Stanford," his mother said. "Listen to me. You said you checked the records. You saw that he's gone."
Ford had. He had, and forced himself to forget. "Missing paperwork," he said dully, a placid mask over his helpless, undirected rage. "I'm sure it happens all the time."
"They brought him the night after you were born," she said gently.
No matter how hard he tried, Ford could not get enough breath in his chest.
"He went back to them, that's all."
"What are you saying?"
"I'm so sorry, sweetie," she told him.
The worst part was that she meant it.
Ford hung up, and disconnected the phone for good measure.
That night, he read the old stories of his childhood. He could not understand why he had ever wanted to live them.
The next day, he sent the postcard off to his brother.
The truth was: when Stanford wrote to his brother for help in the winter of 1982, he didn't put down an address.
Stanley came anyways.