Stanford looked up from his notes when the phone rang. He started to call to Fiddleford to get him to answer it, but then he remembered he'd taken a week off to spend some time with his family. The phone continued to ring and Stanford huffed. Might as well answer.
He dug out the phone from under some papers and picked up. “Hello?”
“Is this Stanford Pines?”
“Yes, who am I speaking to?”
“Hey ho, Pinesy.” The speaker sing-songed and Stanford recognized him immediately. “This is Freddie Fredrikson, from college. Remember me?”
He rolled his eyes heavenward. “I think it's safe to say you're impossible to forget. You went down in history for that stunt with the dean's office alone.”
“And they couldn't prove a thing. Ah, memories.”
“Quite.” Stanford's tone was as dry as the desert. “How'd you even get this number?”
“I called the university, I heard you'd gotten a grant from there. They had your number on file.”
“Good to know you're not stalking me.” Stanford's replied and leaned one elbow on the desk. “What do you want, Fredrikson? I'm certain you didn't just call me up to reminiscence.”
“Straight to business as always. You haven't changed at all, huh? I bet you still have that grumpy stick up your ass as well, don'cha?”
“That's cute, Fredrikson.” Stanford sat up straight, and looked back to his newest project. “Unfortunately, contrary to your apparent idleness, I am extremely busy. So goodb-”
“That's where you're wrong, Pinesy. I am also extremely busy.”
“I can tell by this phone call.” Stanford tugged one of his schemata closer.
Fredrikson ignored him. “I'm a respectable doctor now. Medical degree and everything.”
“Congratulations.” Stanford put the design down and traced the pad of one finger against his calculations. “Is there a point to any of this?”
“I'm currently doing my OR rotation, and you won't guess who I've had as a patient today.”
Ford rolled his eyes impatiently. “Who, the Greek Head of Parliament?” The dimensions of the side still looked a bit off.
“That's way too specific, but no. You.”
“Me what?” Perhaps there should be a point five here, he thought to himself.
“My patient is you. Except this you is beefier than I remember you being.” That caught Stanford's attention. “He also has only five fingers on each hand. Ring any bells?”
Ford's throat felt tight, as if there was a hand constricting his airway. He swallowed thickly and cleared his throat. “Y- yes. Yes, that should be my brother, Stanley.” When they'd been younger, it had always been a horror to get Stanley to the doctor's. Now he was in a hospital and required surgery? It had to be serious. Stanford's free hand clenched into a fist, fingers rubbing together nervously.
“I knew he wasn't you. The biggest give-away was that he's unconscious right now, and I'm currently speaking with you.”
“Unconscious? What's wrong with him?” Stanford pushed the schemata to the side and pulled the receiver closer.
“Ah, Pinesy. His injury list is long and varied. As a confirmed next of kin, I can give you the long version or the short version for your convenience.”
Stanford's breathing hitched. He should pick the short version. In fact, he should just hang up all together. He was much too busy to waste time on Stanley. They'd been estranged for seven years now (my God, had it really been seven years since he'd last seen his brother?). And besides, Fredrikson had been a capable student before they had kicked him out for that incident with the cafeteria. Stanford was sure he was just as capable a doctor. Whatever was wrong with Stanley, he was in good hands.
But Stanford couldn't remember a single instance in his life that Stanley had needed to be hospitalized. The worst he'd had was a cold and the occasional broken bone from, well, being Stanley. For him to be in a hospital and unconscious? It couldn't possibly be good.
So, against his better judgment, Stanford demanded, “The detailed version.”
“You sure, Pinesy? It's not pretty.”
Oh God. “Was he in a car accident?”
“Nah, this look more like a pissed off someone had bashed him in with a baseball bat and a knife.”
“A kni- he's been stabbed?!” Stanford's voice turned in a shrill yell.
“Ow, Jesus, keep it down, I don't need to be deaf!” Fredrikson barked, then his tone softened. “Yeah, he's got three stab wounds to the gut. In the side and abdomen. One of them caught his liver, bled pretty bad.”
There was too little air in the room, and Stanford had to sit down. He was already sitting, but he still felt like he needed to sit down. “Is... is he-” He couldn't say it. 'Unconscious', Fredrikson had said, not in a coma. Stanford clung to that difference with everything in him.
“He's stable, for now. We've stopped the bleeding, the surgeon who performed the operation says he should pull through.”
Ford slumped back in his chair. He felt limp, like a puppet with its strings cut. “Thank God.” He gasped, eyes misty with tears. He's alive, he's alive. Stanley's alive.
“I should've started with that, huh?”
“Yes, you should've,” Stanford swallowed thickly and wiped a hand across his eyes. “You said...” he paused and looked to the far wall, steeling himself. “You said there was more. Something about a... a baseball bat?”
“You sure, Pinesy? The stab wounds were bad enough, you sound like you are going to faint.”
“I'm not...” But his hands were shaking, Stanford noticed. Stanley had been stabbed and beaten, and his hands were shaking. “I need to know.”
So Fredrikson told him. He told him about the concussion, the seven broken bones (ribs included) and the dislocated shoulder and hip. He explained the cracked cheekbone and the missing teeth, reassured him that the lacerations and bruises won't leave much scarring.
By the end of it all, Stanford was shaking and was extremely close to vomiting all over his desk. It was a miracle Stanley was even still alive.
“So, Pinesy, that should be everything.” Fredrikson concluded. “You got any questions?”
Ford drew in a shaky breath. “What's his prognosis?”
“Too early to tell, but like I said, it looks good. His vitals are strong and steady, so he should make a full recovery. Or at least close to how he'd been before someone took that bat to him.” Fredrikson paused. “That is if he stays in the hospital long enough to recuperate.”
“What do you mean?” Stanford asked, rubbing a hand across his face. He caught sight of the family photo he'd never had the heart to throw out, tucked away behind one of this physics theory books. He pulled it out now, his expression melancholy as he looked at it. They'd been so happy then, content that all they needed to be happy was each other. When did that change? Because he was sure it had changed before that horrible night when Dad kicked Stanley out.
“Look, Pines, your brother was brought in with a false ID. I've worked here long enough to know that those with fakes disappear as soon as they can stand without falling over. Hell, I personally saw one dude with both legs broken limp out as soon as his casts were dry.”
“He...” Stanford shook his head, confused. “What do you want me to do? Is this about the medical expenses?”
“Those we can deal with without you, don't worry none. The one thing I want from you is to convince your brother to stay put until the holes in his gut heal over. I can get the phone to his room once he's no longer sedated, you'll talk to him then, right?”
“I'll come.” slipped out before Stanford even realized that was exactly what he had to do. He got up and looked around the lab. He needed to pack for the road.
“Pinesy, I'll just get the phone to him, that'll be easier for everyone involved.”
But not for Stanley. And not for Stanford. He needed to see Stanley breathing on his own, or else he'd actually vomit. “I said I'll come. Just give me the address to the hospital he's in.”
“And if he wakes up and decides to split before you get here? If he's able to, I can't stop him.”
“Tell him I told him to stay put. He'll obey then.” Stanley always did before, at least. He'd trusted Stanford to always know better.
“And if he doesn't believe me?”
Stanford raked a hand through his hair, trying to think of something that Stanley would hopefully recognize no matter the state he's in. Wait. “Refer to me as 'Sixer'. He'll believe you then.” Stanford was sure of it. “Now what's the address?”
“Fine, fine.” Stanford jotted the details into one of his journals and hung up. He was packed for the trip and out the door within ten minutes.
“Doctor, quick!” A nurse bellowed at him, and Fredrikson nearly dropped his coffee. Damn it, never a quiet moment. He put down his cup and went to see what was the hubbub this time.
He followed the commotion to the room of his newest patient. Sure enough, the long lost twin had woken up from anesthesia agitated. Two nurses were holding him down, trying to calm him from whatever panic he was in.
“Sir, you're in a hospital! Sir!”
“Calm down, you've just had surgery!”
“You can't take my kidneys! I paid, I paid!” the patient yelled, still struggling. Fredrikson let out a frustrated huff. Great, he's not fully awake then. Those were a nightmare to deal with. What was that name Pinesy told him to use? Oh yeah.
Fredrikson pushed one of the nurses aside and grabbed the patient's flailing arm.
“Sixer says stop it.” He said, loud and clear.
To Fredrikson's absolute surprise, it actually worked. The patient froze and fell back onto the bed. He stared at Fredrikson with wide eyes, breathing labored. “S- Sixer?” He croaked.
“That's right. Sixer. Ol' Stanford Pines from New Jersey. Remember him?”
The patient nodded jerkily. “Ford...”
“Exactly.” The patient was still staring at him with wide open eyes, so Fredrikson used the chance and shone a light into them. The patient flinched away, but Fredrikson persisted. “Sixer says hold still.” He said, holding his head immobile. It worked again, and the patient lay still with a pained grunt. “Nurse, make a note. Pupil dilation has improved, both are reacting normally.”
“Wh- where am I?” The patient asked, slurring slightly.
“You're in a hospital.” Fredrikson explained, but he doubted the patient would be able to process it yet. “Can you tell me what happened?”
“Where... I don't...”
Right. Still out of it. But standard questions had to be asked. “Can you tell me your name?”
“Where's... Stanford?” The patient asked, looking around the room. “Sixer?”
“I've notified him, he's on his way. Might take him a day or two, but he swears he's coming.”
“Wh- where...?” The patient asked again, lifting his head as if he was trying to peer through the door.
“He's coming.” Fredrikson repeated, enunciating each word clearly. He hated dealing with groggy post-ops. “Sixer is coming. So you lie down and stay put. Sleep some. The more you sleep, the quicker Sixer will be here.” He curled his mouth into his well-practiced reassuring smile. It worked, as it tended to, and the patient settled back onto the mattress.
“Will you stay put for him?” Fredrikson asked in an amiable tone.
The patient blinked and nodded. “Yes. Yes.” He looked up and stared at the ceiling. “Stay put.” He repeated, more to himself than anyone else.
“Great, that's a good boy.” Fredrikson patted the patient's less damaged shoulder. “Now lets see how much of our work you've undone with your little panic tantrum.”
“The casts on the leg and arm look good, Doctor.” One of the nurses informed him.
“His chest will need to be re-wrapped.” The second nurse stated.
Fredrikson nodded and pulled the blanket and gown aside to check the stab wounds. “And his bandages are soaked through. He must've popped a few stitches.” He rolled his eyes with a sigh. “Perfect. Nurse, please page the attending surgeon and bring the suture kit. Might as well fix him back up before he bleeds out.”
“Not my kidneys.” The patient muttered.
“We won't take your kidneys, I promise.” One of the nurses assured him and put a motherly hand on his forehead.
“'Kay.” The patient gave her a groggy smile and closed his eyes. Good, it'll be easier to fix his stitches while he's out. Less chatter, for one thing.
It took Stanford the better part of nine hours to get to the hospital. The lady at the reception directed him to the third floor, where the post-op patients were. Where Stanley was. Fredrikson's shift had already ended, but the attending nurse was thankfully still there. She was kind enough to answer all of Stanford's questions. Stanley was stable. His condition was serious, but not critical. His prognosis was good, unless he ends up back on the street (what). There was some damage to his liver and his intestines from the stabbing, so he'll need to be on a special diet for a bit. He'd suffered a concussion, but the swelling was receding, and the threat of brain damage had lessened. They still needed to test his cognitive functions, but that had to wait till the sedatives wore off. Kidney function was normal, and his blood work looked promising. He seemed to have a chest cold, probably from living out of his car, but he was on additional antibiotics for that. “He kept asking for you, Mr Sixer. Every time he came to briefly, he asked about you. He'll be so happy you're here now.”
That last part brought tears to Stanford's eyes, and the nurse was kind enough to let him sit with Stanley. They didn't usually allow it on the post-op ward, but they could make an exception as Stanley was doing okay. Stanford would first have to thoroughly wash his hands, though.
Stanley was in a two-person room, but the other bed wasn't currently occupied. Stanford walked in slowly, hands clasped nervously at his front. The only sounds in the room were Stanley's raspy breathing and the steady beeping of the heart monitor. Stanford bit his inner cheek and edged closer to the bed. Stanley looked awful. He was covered in bruises and cuts. Half of his face was swollen badly, and everywhere Stanford looked there were bandages and casts and wrappings. As he stared, Stanley's breathing hitched and Stanford flinched. He was stable, he reminded himself. Stable and in no immediate danger.
Stanford took a deep breath and stepped closer. There was a chair in one corner of the room, and Stanford placed it by Stanley's bed. He didn't sit though. Instead, he grabbed Stanley's chart and started reading. Much of it he didn't understand, he wasn't a medical doctor after all. But what he did understand sent a chill down his spine. It was a miracle Stanley hadn't suffered some kind of permanent damage. A baseball bat to the back could cripple anyone, and Stanley had extensive bruising there. He had extensive bruising everywhere. Stanford blinked back tears and collapsed onto the chair.
What kind of life had Stanley been leading? No, that wasn't right. What kind of life had Stanley been kicked out into? What kind of life had Stanford abandoned him to? He stared at Stanley's arm, lying limply on the blanket. There was a long white scar running along the forearm, all the way to the elbow. It looked rough, and Stanford feared to know what had made it. Hat it been a knife as well? Or something worse?
Now that he was looking, he could see many more scars on Stanley. Some small, some long. A few round ones, tiny burned circles, and Stanford wanted to cry.
He sniffled and traced a careful finger along the scar on the elbow. As he did so Stanley turned his head towards him, and Stanford jumped in surprise.
“Sixer?” Stanley croaked, blinking blearily. “Sixer?”
Stanford cleared his throat. “It's me, Stanley.” He stood up and leaned over the bed so that Stanley could see him better. “It's me.”
“Sixer.” Stanley smiled brightly, and the scab on his lower lip cracked open. “It's you. You came.” He sounded so genuinely happy to see him, Stanford felt a lump in his throat.
“He kept asking for you, Mr Sixer.” The nurse had said.
Stanford looked down at the scar. It looked old. Most of them did. “Why didn't you call me?” He asked, concentrating on keeping his voice steady. He didn't want it to sound like an accusation. “When it got so bad, why didn't you come to me?”
Stanley squinted at him, and his lower lip quivered. “You hate me. You hate me.”
“I don't.” Stanford shook his head. “I really don't, Stanley.”
“But I ruined your life.” Stanley protested, words slurring a little. “And I haven't earned the millions to make it up to you.”
“I don't need millions, Stanley.” Stanford traced the scar running up to his brother's elbow. “I'm a successful scientist.” He smiled. “I've earned renown for my work and findings. I'm researching things that fascinate me, in a field that I love.”
Stanley blinked at him slowly and grinned, lips curled into a goofy smile. “That's awesome. My brother the scientist.”
Even doped up on drugs, Stanley was still proud of him. And god-damn him, that made Stanford feel all the better about his accomplishments. His brother was proud, ergo Stanford was definitely a success. Where did that leave Stanley?
There was a burn scar by Stan's collarbone, small and round like from a cigarette. It looked red, as if it was still fresh.
Where did that leave Stanley?
“When you're well enough to travel, you'll come live with me.” Stanford declared, slipping his glasses off and wiping his eyes.
“Yes.” Stanford put his glasses back on and attempted a reassuring smile. He wasn't sure whether he succeeded. “I have a house in Oregon, there's plenty of room for both of us.”
“Really?” The hope in Stanley's face was so prominent, Stanford felt something in his chest clench up.
“Of course, Stanley. I wouldn't joke about that.”
Tears spilled from Stanley’s eyes, but he kept smiling. It took visible effort for him, but he managed to lift one hand off the bed. “High six?” he offered.
Stanford clasped it with both of his. “High six.” He answered. A moment passed with them smiling like goofballs at each other, then Stanford brought their joined hands up to his face. He pressed his cheek to Stanley's fingers and sniffled. He'd missed this. He could admit that now. He'd missed his brother.