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National Cherry Turnover Day

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"What're you up to today?" Stan asks from the foot of the stairs. It's about eight, and Ford's on the floor in the den, carefully writing something in a notepad.

"Don't have much planned, honestly. Any ideas?"

Stan startles at being asked, and with warm pleasure, he thinks about it. Well, there is one thing… "You wanna go to the lake with me and the kids? Get some fishing in?"

"I'd rather not. It's too hot, there's an excess of mosquitoes, and I'm not particularly fond of freshwater fish," Ford says without looking away from his notepad. "I'm sure there's better things to do today."

"Suit yourself," Stan says, abandoning the thought with absolutely no real regret for an idea he only just had. None at all. What lake? Stan's never heard of it. Lakes are dumb anyway. "I'll be making coffee if you need me."

***

Someone's pounding like it's the end of the world on Stan's bedroom door because apparently saving the world wasn't enough to maybe like, sleep past 6:30 in the morning.

"What," Stan grunts when he pulls the door open to find Ford's distressed face on the other side.

"Stanley, what day is it?"

"What?"

"The date. Do you know the date?"

Stan looks around like his room is gonna hold some answer to what's going on. It doesn't. "Why?"

"You're not being helpful. What's the date?"

"Uh, the twenty-eighth?" Stan offers, scratching the back of his head. "Kids' birthday is in--"

The noise Ford makes is best described as a growl, but not the sexy kind. The "Circus bear's gonna have a chomp on your leg" kind. Stan's sadly more familiar with one than the other.

"This is ridiculous!" Ford shouts at him.

"What the heck did I do? I didn't make it be the twenty-eighth. What's your--"

Ford storms off down the hall. Stan watches him go, too startled to be angry about it.

"Yeesh," he says instead, and he goes back to bed.

Stan doesn't see Ford for the rest of the day, though Dipper checks on him in the basement at one point and reports back. Apparently, Ford's doing some science thing about time and reality or whatever. He's welcome to it.

***

"What're you up to today?" Stan asks from the foot of the stairs. It's about eight, and Ford's on the floor in the den with papers spread everywhere and several gadgets whirring away ominously.

"Attempting to find any trace of the energy signature this kind of reality manipulation should leave," Ford says. "I think I've successfully ruled out any side-effects of the reality rift or Bill's reign of terror, but that's not nearly specific enough."

"Uh, right. I'll be making coffee in the kitchen if you need me."

***

"Grunkle Stan?" Dipper says. "Is it just me or--"

Ford manages to stub his toe on the wood-chopping stump while throwing his hissy fit in the distance, and he begins yelling obscenities, the likes of which Stan has refrained from all summer long. A few are new even to Stan.

"It's not just you, kid," Stan says. He takes a sip of his Pitt Cola and shrugs. "No idea what this is about."

"You two didn't have a fight or anything, right? You were doing so well. It was, I don't know, sweet," Dipper says.

"No fights that I'm aware of." Not that Stan would necessarily be aware of every possible thing he could do to set Ford off, but this time he's pretty sure he hasn't done anything. At least, not on purpose.

Ford picks up the wood ax and throws it into the woods. A lone gnome pokes its head out from behind the bush the ax flies over and stares in horrified shock. Until Ford starts shouting at it, that is. Then it scurries. Stan snickers.

"Should we talk to him or something?" Dipper asks. His word choice says "we," but his tone says "you."

"I figure I let him wear himself down first," Stan says. He drinks more of his soda and wriggles down into the porch couch a little more. "Could be a while."

"Right," says Dipper, and he makes Stan proud by walking around to plop himself down on the other end of the couch. "It's almost like he's speaking another language at this point," he says after a moment of enraptured watching.

"Strictly speaking, you're not supposed to hear this kind of language," Stan says. He says it with an utter lack of fucks, though. Kid's faced demons and the end of the world; he can handle a few damns and hells.

Then Ford starts in on the, er, anatomical sorts of swears, and Stan winces. "Okay. Maybe you should go inside."

Dipper hesitates, but soon Ford shouts to the heavens some very specific activities to do with one's mother. The kid caves. "Yeah, okay. I'll be in the den if you need me."

Stan waves him off and then sits and waits. Ford's taken to simply punching and kicking the air around him. Stan's never seen him this physically, violently angry before short of an actual fight, and there's something almost fascinating about it. Maybe even a little hot, in a scary way.

The flailing about with intent to do the atmosphere harm lasts for an impressive time. The sun's high in the sky when Ford finally slumps in place and sits on the ground, looking lost. He might even be sniffling.

Stan can't handle that, so he grabs another couple of sodas from the cooler by his feet and walks over to see if Ford can be reasoned with.

"Hey, buddy," he says cautiously. "You okay there?"

"I don't understand," Ford says. He's staring at his own hands like they might explain whatever it is he doesn't get. "I've gone through every cause I can think of, isolated every variable, I've built a series of machines that should be capable of at least puncturing the fabric of spacetime--"

"Hey, it's okay," Stan says. He kneels, puts down the sodas on the ground and pats Ford on the shoulder. "Whatever it is--"

"'--your family can help you out.' Yes, yes, you've said it only a dozen times, Stanley," Ford says.

"When did I ever say that?"

"Yesterday. Today. Probably tomorrow, too, though they're all today, so what's the use in differentiating? It's all one miserable, neverending slog that doesn't even end with death."

Stan says, "Yikes. You uh, wanna come inside outta the sun? There's soda, bacon, pretty sure Mabel's made some nightmare juice."

"I'm sick to death of bacon," Ford says miserably. "And I don't want anything with caffeine; my sole consolation comes when I'm sleeping. Or dead."

"Er," Stan says. He looks around, kinda hoping some magical feelings fairy will pop up and tell him how to handle this. No such luck. "You need to talk about something?"

"You know what a time loop is. You saw it in a movie on a date that didn't go too well because you spilled buttered popcorn all over her and didn't pay for her ticket. You're going to suggest talking to the kids and seeing what they say, Dipper's seen it in speculative fiction and will suggest essentially the same approach I've been taking to eliminating the variables, and Mabel's going to ask if I need to find the true meaning of Labor Day or Rosh Hashanah or National Cherry Turnover Day," Ford says. "And none of it has mattered the last eight times I bothered explaining it to you."

Stan blinks. "Huh," he says. He looks around, and there's still no feelings fairy, and there's nothing about this that feels like the latest in a long line of repetitive days. What does he know, though? "Okay, so. How many of today have you lived?"

"This is the twenty-seventh twenty-eighth," Ford says flatly.

"Oy."

"I thought I had it yesterday! The kids kept saying I needed to have the perfect day, so I made it perfect. I woke up early, made everyone breakfast--"

"You can't cook."

"I can cook!"

"Not well."

"I can cook well enough. I've had a week's worth of practice inside my month of psychological horror; shut up."

"Alright, alright. You made breakfast. Congrats," Stan says, hands up placatingly. "Then what?"

"Then I used what I'd found out about everyone's idea of a perfect day to create it. I had Dipper help me with a bunch of over-complicated Rube Goldberg-esque machines that formed a mini-golf course for the children and their friends to play together while you and I watched, eating candy, drinking beer, and occasionally throwing water balloons at them to make it harder to play," Ford says in an agitated rush that ends with a sigh. "Then there was karaoke and junk food and letting you tell ridiculous stories around a campfire until the kids fell asleep. It met all the requirements for the perfect kind of day."

Stan stares. Something dangerously like sentimentality bubbles up in his throat, so he swallows it down. Sentimentality is for losers. "At least you had it," he offers carefully.

"But I'm still stuck," Ford says. "I'm at my wits' end, Stanley." He looks it, too. Stan's seen him crazy before; he should know.

"Hey," Stan says. He puts his arm around Ford's shoulders. "How do you feel about pizza?"

"Pizza isn't going to help me get out of this."

"Well, no, but it'll make you feel better, and I'm hungry." Reluctantly, Stan pulls back from the half-hug to give Ford a smile. "C'mon. The kids'll love it."

"My caloric intake has been below standard today," Ford admits. "I'll do better thinking with appropriate blood sugar levels"

"And who knows, you might actually enjoy it or something," Stan says with an eye roll. "Look, maybe you'll figure it out. Maybe you won't, and you'll be stuck like this, but my money's on you figuring it out."

"Thanks, I guess," Ford says, and he lets Stan lead him back to the house. The kids are suspiciously innocent-looking when Stan and Ford walk into the den, which means they were definitely spying. Stan's not gonna bother pretending that bothers him, though.

"Pizza time. Everybody in the car while I put outside clothes on," he says, and he gets dressed, drives his family into town, and they all have a nice, quiet afternoon eating way too much food.

It's a good day, really. Whatever's going on with Ford, it's gotta turn out alright.

***

"He's not down in the lab," Stan reports, coming into the kitchen with a worried frown. "Any luck?"

"Checked every door I could find," Mabel says. "Maybe he went into town?"

"I texted Tambry who texted basically everyone, and no one in town's seen him," Dipper says. He's got a map spread out on the kitchen table. "Or at the lake, the graveyard, or the bottomless pit. Soos jumped into it."

"Geeze," Stan says. He sits down at the table and looks over the map. Dipper's gone and marked out the places he just talked about. Some sickening feeling is welling up in Stan's stomach, and he doesn't think it's the runny eggs Mabel made for breakfast.

"Maybe he's out looking for fairies or something," Mabel says. "Or maybe he just needs some alone time. I'm sure he's fine."

"Yeah," Stan says, lying. "I'm sure he's fine."

***

"So, I've been trying suicide," Ford says conversationally. "I'd died once by accident already, car crash, but I wondered if intent would make any difference."

"How would you have known if it had? You'd be dead," Stan says, hands up and heart twisting.

"I was willing to take that chance. It seemed a small one. Clearly, it hasn't worked yet, though that may be a matter of method. Any suggestions?"

The... fucking gall. Stan's willing to accept this time loop nonsense, even though he doesn't feel like he's been living the same day over and over. He's not sure what that would feel like, is the thing, and weirder shit's happened. This he can take. Ford offing himself, on the other hand, is a new kind of bullshit.

"You can't do it again, you asshole," Stan says shakily. He can't help it. His heart's all twisted up like a bread bag without a tie.

"You certainly can't stop me. Restraining me will just delay it another day."

"If it had worked any of those other times—"

"It didn't."

"—where would that leave me, huh? Screw you. I didn't spend thirty years trying to get you back just to lose you like that."

Ford pauses, soda halfway to his mouth. He says, "I appreciate your concern, but I'd rather take any out available at this point."

Stan punches him in the arm and gets off the porch couch with his insides all boiling in anger.

"You're not even going to remember this. Don't bother getting angry," Ford tells him, all haughty and condescending. More so than usual, even.

"But you will, so remember me telling you to go to hell."

"Well, it's not like I've had the luxury of forgetting the other times you've said it."

Stan slams the door on his way inside. One of the hinges pops out of the wood, but who cares? Apparently, it'll just be fixed in the morning anyway.

***

"Grunkle Stan?" Mabel says quietly, but from very, very close. Stan opens his eyes and finds Mabel's face about half an inch from his, hovering over him like a creep. "Oh good, you're awake."

"I am now," Stan says. "Why're you being creepy, sweetie?"

Mabel pats his face. "We need your help. Also, you're definitely the creepiest," she says, taking his hand and pulling him upright in bed. Stan's led in his underwear and undershirt out to the back porch where Ford's staring off into the distance. Dipper's standing to the side, chewing worriedly on a thumb. His own thumb, thankfully.

"What?" Stan asks.

"He's been like this for at least an hour. Found him when we woke up," Dipper says.

Mabel lets go of Stan to wave a hand in front of Ford's face and flick his nose. None of this gets a reaction. Oh boy.

"Hey, Ford," Stan says. He tries waving his own hand in Ford's face and flicking him in the nose, because even if Ford's willing to ignore Mabel doing it, he should at least bristle at Stan doing it.

Ford does react, but it's only to slowly raise his own hand and listlessly push Stan's away. At no point does he stop staring into the distance. "Stanford? Sixer? Bro?"

Nothing. Stan grimaces.

"Either of you do something?" he asks the kids.

"No, we were wondering if you had," Dipper says.

"Not me. Soos been around?"

"Not that we know of," Dipper says. Mabel climbs up onto the arm of the couch and starts repetitively patting Ford's face, and he does nothing to stop her.

"Kid, get me the hose," Stan says.

"Are you sure that's--"

"Do it, Dipper."

"Alright, alright."

A minute later, Ford's on his hands and knees spitting out water onto the porch. He sputters and shakes himself, and Stan says, "Well that's what you get for being a freak and scaring everybody."

The next thing Stan knows, he's on his back on the porch with his whole body in pain, but especially his face. Ford's on top of him, punching him repeatedly. The kids are yelling, and the last thing Stan sees after Ford wraps his hands around Stan's neck and crunches is Mabel grabbing Ford around his own throat with the garden hose.

That's his girl.

***

"I apologize for crushing your throat and possibly killing you," Ford says over breakfast that he made. "If it's worth anything, I think the kids killed me, or at least they incapacitated me to such a degree I didn't wake up again during that iteration of the loop."

Stan stares with a forkful of pancake almost into his open mouth. After letting the words sink in, he puts the fork down. "I mean, it does kinda," he admits. "Good kids."

"They are, yes," Ford agrees before eating his own pancakes. Stan watches him carefully cut squares out of the perfect circles with an actual knife and pities him.

"So what's your next plan? If you're going to go after the kids, I'll shoot you now," Stan says jokingly even though he's not joking.

"I have no idea. I've gone through everything I, you, and the kids can think of, and I even sat and let Soos share some of his. I won't be repeating that mistake." Ford continues eating for a few more bites, then pauses and then frowns. "And of course I won't be going after the kids. I'd rather be stuck in this veritable hell than hurt them."

"Good. Just checking," Stan says. He goes back to his own pancakes. There's no hair in them or anything. "These are good," he offers.

"It took a few tries to make them palatable with the poison I chose," Ford says lightly. "Finally got it right. Almond extract helped, I thi— Vomiting won't help. It's just disgusting."

"What the hell?!" Stan shouts from the sink where he just forced himself to puke.

"Well, like I said I can't be sure we both died the other day, and this was at least more of a skill challenge than just shooting us both. I needed that distraction. Don't worry. I chose something painless and tested it out on myself first. You might as well finish—" The frying pan connects with Ford's head with a satisfying ka-THUNK, followed by an oi-oi-oi-oi-oing of a ring. Ford goes down like a sack of potatoes.

Stan's standing with a bloodied frying pan over Ford's body when the kids walk in.

"He poisoned me," Stan says in horrified shock to the kids' equally horrified and shocked faces. "He—"

Stan's knees give out, and he hits the floor, like another sack of potatoes.

***

Stan walks down the stairs at about eight, and there's a fairy floating by the back door. Kinda waify, kinda pretty, but mostly just annoyed.

"Shoo," Stan tells it. "I'll swat you if I have to."

"Look, I had no idea it would be this complicated!" the little fairy says in a high-pitched, non-gender specific voice. "I thought it would take him like, maybe two days to get it right. How was I supposed to know he was crazy?"

"Who's crazy?"

"Your brother!"

"Well, I coulda told you that."

"He's impossible! And I can't even undo it until he does get things right, so I'm going crazy, too!" The fairy pulls at its own glowing hair and gets right up in Stan's face. It's getting time to swat, he thinks.

"You're telling me this like I have any idea what you're-- Do you hear something?" In the distance, Stan hears an engine revving. It sounds familiar. "Is that my car?"

"Who cares about your car? I need your help!"

"Look, you got a problem with my brother, talk to him," Stan says, opening the door to the porch to look outside.

The fairy says, "I tried! He shot me on sight!" right before the Stanleymobile comes crashing through the porch and into the house, crushing Stan and the fairy in the process.

***

"'I have gone to the airport to take that first plane that I think looks interesting,'" Dipper reads aloud from the note left on the kitchen table. "'Don't worry. I'll just be back tomorrow!!!!!' Wow. Five exclamation marks."

Stan, through a haze of hurt anger, snorts. "Well, that's what he thinks. His name's the one on the No-fly List."

"Does he know that?" Dipper asks.

"Well, he's gonna," Stan says with bitter, resentful satisfaction, and he takes his coffee into the den, where Mabel's curled up in pajamas in his chair, watching something. "Scoot over, honey."

Mabel blows a raspberry at him but does as she's told, making room for him to sit next to her. Soon after, Dipper comes in and sits on the arm of the chair. He's got a pitying look.

"I'm sure he's doing something important," he says.

"Yeah, yeah," Stan says, and Mabel shifts around to tuck up against his side more thoroughly. "What're we watching?"

"Wolfman's First Wife's Second Son," Mabel says. "He's a skateboarder."

"Huh," Stan says, and he lets himself stare resentfully at the screen until he's too numbed by the movie to be angry.

This is when the broadcast fizzes out and the Gravity Falls news banner starts scrolling.

"We interrupt our regularly scheduled driv-- I mean, programming, to bring you breaking news," Sandra Jimenez says with a gleam in her eyes she only gets when there's real news to report. "Local hero Stanford Pines has hijacked a plane from the county airport."

Stan stares, though less out of resentment now and more out of confused shock.

"Oh boy," Dipper says.

"What the heck?" Mabel asks. She looks at Dipper who shrugs helplessly back. "Why would he—"

"Wait, wait," Sandra says on the screen. She's been handed a new piece of paper and is reading from it. "We have reports that Pines is headed for the center of town, and the local authorities have asked everyone to evacuate as a precaution. Radio contact with Pines has suggested he intends to crash the plane. I repeat, he intends to crash the plane into the center of—"

The channel cuts out. The movie doesn't come back. In the distance, Stan thinks he hears sirens.

***

"To heck with all of you!" shouts a fairy floating over Stan's bed a little before eight in the morning. It laughs in a way that can only be called unhinged. "You're all crazy!" it screeches in Stan's face, so he hits it with a slipper.

The fairy goes flying into a wall, and it doesn't move again even when Stan prods it with another slipper.

"Oh," Stan says. "Oops."

He's burying the gnome that saw him burying the fairy out in the woods so Mabel can't find out when he hears an explosion in the direction of town. When he comes out of the trees enough to get a better look at the skyline, he finds a mushroom cloud hanging over what must be town.

"Holy shitballs," he says, before running for the shack to check on the kids.

***

Ford's crying on the back porch while Mabel pats him on the shoulder. Stan stands in the doorway and watches, too shocked to know what to do.

"There, there," Mabel says gently. "It's okay, Ford. Whatever it is, we'll help you."

"Yeah, anything you need," Dipper says, gently patting his other shoulder. "Did Stan do something?"

"Hey!"

"What? It seems plausible."

"It has to be me," Ford says miserably. "But I don't know what. I don't know."

"There, there," Mabel says again, and over Ford's bent head she gives Stan a look that says, without actually saying it, "Come the heck over here and help your brother. Now."

Stan does as he's not-told and kneels in front of Ford's feet. It puts their heads on level when Stan reaches up to hug him. It's strange to be allowed it, and a sick, pathetic part of Stan takes some pleasure in that. Ford may be miserable and crying, but he's letting Stan hold onto him.

"Look, whatever it is, whatever you've done or not done or I've done or not done," Stan says. "We're here, okay? Need a ride outta the country, I got it. Show me where the body is and I'll hide it."

In Stan's arms, Ford relaxes. Or maybe the better word is "slumps". Either way, he grabs onto Stan's undershirt and clings like he's never done before. Stan pats his back and keeps holding on. From either side, the kids join in.

***

"I can't believe you blew up the town," Stan says to Ford while staring at his own bedroom ceiling. He woke up this morning to Ford plopping himself down, face-first onto Stan's bed and neither of them's moved since as Ford's tiredly explained his situation.

"Why is that more unbelievable that any of the rest of it?"

"What if the kids had gotten caught in the blast?"

"They didn't. I knew what I was doing. I've blown things up before," Ford says to the mattress. "You're not surprised about the murdering, suiciding, and murder-suiciding, though."

"I mean, not really," Stan admits. "You offing yourself would be basically the worst thing you could do to me, but killing me? That I can picture. Easily. I ever get you first at any point?"

"Once. I held a gun on Dipper to-- ow! It wasn't even armed, Stanley. I just needed you to think it was. Stop ki--" Ford grabs Stan's foot and holds it in place. "Stop it. He was never in danger."

"Better not have been," Stan says.

"It wouldn't matter anyway. Nothing has. I've exhausted as many possibilities as even my brain can come up with." Ford's still got his face pressed to the bed, so he doesn't see Stan roll his eyes. "And Mabel's, Dipper's, Soos's, Wendy's, Susan's, the rest of the Corduroys, the sheriff, his lover-slash-deputy, that strange man with the hat--"

"Okay, okay, got it. So what haven't you done?"

"If I knew, I'd try it."

"Have you tried not doing anything at all?"

"Yes."

"Tried--"

"Can you just assume anything you're about to suggest, I have tried?"

Stan puts his hands up and drops them with a sigh. "Okay, fine. Now what?"

"Well, frankly, I'm just here to whine and be petulant. You're going to have to kick me out if you want me gone. Today will be a day of doing absolutely nothing because nothing matters."

Stan tilts his head up to stare down at the side of Ford's face. It's pretty miserable, for about a fourth of a face. Stan puts his feet on the small of Ford's back and makes a choice. "Okay," he says. "We're doing nothing."

"You're not required to participate in the non-participation."

"Like I'm going to get up and let you have all the laziness? Please." Stan wriggles into the mattress a little more and closes his eyes in contentment. "You're stuck with me for the day."

"Fair enough," Ford says after a moment. He knocks Stan's feet off him, though.

Some nebulous time later, Mabel sticks her head in to see if Stan's alright and if he's seen Ford anywhere. When she sees them, Stan in bed with Ford flopped over the foot of it, she coos, and Stan tells her it's a lazy grunkle day.

"You and the dipstick can order a pizza if you like and join," Stan says.

"I am so on it."

Stan extracts himself from under the pillows that have been piled onto his stomach for Dipper to rest on only once, to go to the bathroom and grab a can of soda. It's sunset, and he pauses to have a sip and look at the clouds outside the kitchen window, all pink and purple and just… lovely. Then he goes back to bed.

***

"What're you up to today?" Stan asks from the foot of the stairs. It's about eight, and Ford's on the floor in the den, reading a book.

"Catching up on the last thirty years of reading material. Science has held no answers thus far, so science fiction it is."

"Think you can manage that in a day, huh?"

"Well, given enough todays, sure," Ford says without looking up. "Managed it with the movies and television."

"Right. Well, I'd offer you coffee, but I don't think you need it," Stan says. He carries on into the kitchen and lets Ford have his reading time or whatever.

***

"So," Ford says. "It's likely that my initial attempts at creating perfect days, prior to the bout of murderous insanity, failed to address the real issue. Pass the popcorn please, Dipper." Dipper hands Ford the bowl from his place on the floor in front of the t-rex skull. Ford continues. "They were technically perfect days in all ways I could manage, save for one variable."

"Which is?" Mabel asks from the other side of Stan on the chair. She reaches across Stan to make a grabby hand for the popcorn bowl and receives it.

"Me, obviously. While there are many time loop plots that seem to revolve around fixing a wrong or undoing something that wasn't meant to be, there's just as many that are caused by some flaw or flaws in the main character that an outside entity, either obscure or defined, has decided need to be made right. Though I can't imagine what entity I've managed to upset this time."

"Maybe it was a feelings fairy," Stan says with a snicker.

"Don't be ridiculous," Ford says with a dismissive wave of his hand. "In any case, the name of the game seems to be self-improvement."

"Right, like being a nicer person or whatever," Dipper says.

"That was the plot of the movie I saw on the date with the curvy redhead," Stan agrees. On screen, the wolfman's second-nephew does a snowboarding trick that he's been failing to do for the last forty minutes, finally impressing the Sportlympic judges. Now his girlfriend isn't speaking to him, though.

"I've gathered," Ford says. "So, I appear to be the problem. What would you three say my biggest flaws are? Please be candid. Honesty will be more helpful than sparing my fee—"

"You don't trust us enough," Mabel says immediately. "You don't let your family in because you think we're too stupid or something."

"You had to know Stan didn't mean to hurt you and you still wouldn't talk to him for all those years," Dipper says, a little less enthusiastically but without any apparent shame. "You're not very good at feelings or talking to people about them, even when you've hurt them. Popcorn me." Stan grabs a handful and drops it onto Dipper's open mouth. Most of it doesn't make it in, but Dipper seems content to eat the fallen kernels off his own shirt.

"You're kinda arrogant," Stan says to Ford. "And by 'kinda' I mean 'super'."

"Well. That's... certainly a list to start with," Ford says with a quiet sigh.

Stan turns away from the screen to find him looking pretty miserable, even though he said to be honest. He did ask, but Stan reaches over the arm of the chair to pat Ford's arm anyway.

He says, quietly under the dramatic movie music, "But, hey, if you change too many of your flaws, you'd stop being you. Wouldn't want that."

Ford looks back at him with a little bit of a smile. "Sure, Stanley," he says.

"I mean it." Stan squeezes his arm to make the words stick. "Wouldn't trade you for any--"

"Oh!" Dipper says, and Stan looks back to the screen. The wolfman's second nephew has had a horrible snowboarding accident, snow and fur everywhere as the crowd gasps and screams.

"Ooh," Stan says in sympathy. "Yikes."

"That seems physically improbable even for a werewolf," Ford says. In the dark, his hand comes down on top of Stan's and pats it. Stan laughs a little awkwardly and pulls back. To distract himself, he puts his arm around Mabel on his other side.

The movie girlfriend's crying in a hospital waiting room that looks like someone's apartment hallway when Stan notices that something's off. He looks back over and finds Ford staring at him oddly like Stan's a problem to solve. It makes Stan nervous.

"What? I got something on my face?"

Ford blinks and then shakes his head. "Nothing, Stanley."

He's sad, though. Definitely. Stan couldn't explain how he knows since Ford's eyes are dry and he's not even frowning. Somehow, he still looks it. Stan puts his hand back on his arm.

"You'll figure it out eventually," he says, though he still doesn't think this feels like a time loop.

"I'm beginning to truly believe I won't, Stanley," Ford says. Then he smiles and shrugs. "Maybe I deserve it."

"I don't believe that. Point me at anyone who says you do, and I'll take 'em out. Watch me."

"That I do believe," Ford says. He puts his hand back over Stan's, and this time Stan doesn't pull it back.

"Oh, what?!" Dipper yells. "Lame!"

"See? Told you she was pregnant!" Mabel says to something on the screen, and Stan looks back to see what all the fuss is about. He keeps his hand on Ford's arm until the credits roll, after the wolfman's second nephew has made his girlfriend an honest woman.

***

"What're you up to today?" Stan asks from the foot of the stairs. It's about eight, and Ford's on the floor in the den, legs crossed and hands resting on his knees.

"Meditating on the smallness of my existence in order to lose my ego."

There's no stopping the snort that comes charging out of Stan's nose, so he doesn't even try. "Right. How's that working out for ya?"

"Not well, so far, but these things take practice," Ford says with determined peace and tranquility.

"Well, have fun. I'll be making coffee in the kitchen if you need me," Stan says, and he goes to do it.

About three minutes later, Ford comes in and sits down across from him at the kitchen table.

"I don't especially think meditation is for me," he admits, taking the mug of coffee Stan's been drinking out of and draining it himself. "It's… well, it's boring."

Stan snorts. "No shit, genius."

"How would you feel about getting really high later instead?"

Well, that's new. Stan's not necessarily adverse, but… "Uh, with the kids around?"

"They can join if they like."

"That's not funny."

"What? It's not going to-- Oh, right, I haven't explained it today, have I? I'm stuck in a time loop, like the movie with the date with the popcorn you saw, and I've been trying for, oh, I don't even know how many days now, to get out and nothing's working, etcetera, etcetera." Ford's hand spins in the air as his mouth rambles on, and then he holds both hands up like he's presenting the suggestion in physical form. "Drugs?"

Stan stares. "You been into them already?"

"Not recently, though I did overdose one of the times I-- Oh, forget it. I'll explain it better tomorrow." Ford gets up and walks out of the kitchen.

Stan doesn't see him for the rest of the day, but by noon there're some strange smells coming up through the floorboards from what has to be the lab below. Some of them are pretty familiar.

"Grunkle Stan, why does it smell like the Woodstick festival in here?" Mabel asks in the afternoon. Stan sighs and puts down his soda on the t-rex skull.

"Who wants to go get pizza and then stay at a hotel for the night so I don't send you kids home unable to pass a drug test?" he asks.

Dipper asks, "Do you for some reason expect us to be subjected to drug tests?"

"It's the principle of the thing," Stan says. He's never been a great guardian, but a man's gotta draw the line somewhere. "Get dressed."

***

"Okay, but you gotta admit this sounds like something a druggie would say," Stan says. He's on the floor in Ford's room, staring up at the haze of smoke near the ceiling, feeling pretty chill. The kids have gone to hang out with Soos, and time loop or not, Stan doesn't have any immediate cares. "Can you blame the other me?"

"No, admittedly," Ford says next to him. He's all relaxed and soft-looking in his sweater and stubble, and Stan's had to avoid staring at him too much. He might do something he won't even get to remember to regret. "It's why I didn't bother arguing."

"Heh. Maybe you are growing," Stan says. "Not arguing with me about something? Wow." The word "wow" feels so nice in Stan's throat that he says it a few more times, just to enjoy it. "Wow, wow, wow…"

Eventually, the back of Ford's hand comes down over his mouth in a lazy drop to stop him. Stan mouths at the back of it for a little while before realizing what he's doing, and mind-altering substances or no, he's not dumb enough to keep it up. He stills his lips.

"Stanley," Ford says, sounding a little choked.

He doesn't finish the thought, so Stan lifts up his hand to clear his mouth and ask, "Yeah, what?"

"Do you… If there was something, something I haven't done because it's just not done, and I've been unwilling to face the potential, though at this point only remotely so, consequences of the action, that undertaking it could theoretically cause--"

"What could you do that's worse than murder and terrorism?"

Ford's quiet for a long time and Stan's nearly asleep when he says, "Well, when you put it like that…"

***

Stan wakes up to breakfast in bed. As in, he opens his eyes and Ford's staring down at him with a breakfast tray, looking incredibly creepy about it.

"Morning, Stanley," he says with forced cheerfulness. It just makes him look creepier. "Crepes?"

"Where'd we get crepes?" Stan asks. "And why are you in my room with them?"

"I've done some cooking practice, and I'm trying to be nice."

"Neither of those things sounds like you," Stan says. He gets a plateful of crepes dropped on his head for it.

"Nevermind! This is stupid anyway. You're not a romantic," Ford says, stalking out of the room.

"I'm not a what?" Stan calls out. He gets no answer.

The crepes are pretty good, if a little hairy from being on his head. Stan has no idea what that was about though. He doesn't see Ford for the rest of the day to ask.

***

"What're you up to today?" Stan asks from the bottom of the stairs. It's about eight, and Ford's on the floor in the den, reading a book.

"Reading lurid fiction novels on the topic of incest," Ford says easily.

Stan stares and says, "Uh. Why?"

"Inspiration. Are you making coffee? I'll take some if so."

"'Inspiration,'" Stan says. "Right. Okay, I'm off to Soos's, and I'm taking the kids with me."

"Oh for crying out loud, not the intergenerational kind, Stanley. Don't be ridiculous!" Ford calls after him, but Stan can't handle this conversation, so he doesn't.

***

"Okay, I literally don't understand how this is possible," Stan says. He shakes the attic door handle harder, and still, it won't turn. It's like the whole thing's been welded shut. "And the kids aren't even up here. You sure you heard them calling?"

"Yes, I'm sure. Maybe this is a practical joke, or maybe they already left before I had time to collect you from the kitchen. In any case, we now seem to be sequestered in this attic. Oh dear..." Ford says flatly. Something in his voice sounds pretty self-loath-y. It's a sentiment Stan's familiar with.

"Uh, you okay there?"

Ford looks around the room with a cringe; then he shakes his head. "This one was particularly stupid, to be honest," he says, pulling his weird zapper gun out of his pocket. "Stand back."

The door goes to tiny, smoldering pieces before Stan's eyes. He gapes at the hole.

"Well, that seems like overkill," he says as he watches Ford climb out.

"It'll be fine tomorrow. You'll forget it ever happened."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Stan asks, but Ford's already off down the stairs.

***

"Did you lose a bet?" Stan asks from attic doorway. It's about three in the afternoon, and Ford's on the floor of the attic with Mabel and Mabel's two gal pals. He's braiding Mabel's hair while Candy explains a magazine article to him.

"You must find activities that interest your man," Candy is saying, pointing to a list on the page. "Sporting events are popular, it says, but so are outdoor activities like fishing and hiking."

"I'm bonding with my grandniece, Stanley," Ford says. Under his hands, Mabel's hair is taking on some crazy pattern of smaller braids, like a complicated tree. "Go on, Candy. What else does it say?"

"Men like to feel appreciated for their ideas, even when they are dumb ones."

"Especially the dumb ones," Grenda says with a great deal of certainty for a pre-teen. "It's why I let Marius think I like bike polo. I mean, you leave both the horses and the boys in swimsuits out of it? What's even the point."

Stan says, "You enjoy yourself there, Ford," and leaves him to it.

***

"What're you up to today?" Stan asks from the foot of the stairs. It's about eight, and Ford's on the floor in the den, carefully writing something in a notepad. When he sees Stan, he puts the notepad down with a sunny smile.

"Don't have much planned, honestly. Any ideas?"

Stan startles at being asked, and with warm pleasure, he thinks about it. Well, there is one thing… "You wanna go to the lake with me and the kids? Get some fishing in?"

"Good idea," Ford says, to Stan's surprise and, if he's being honest, boyish delight.

"Yeah?"

"Yes. I'll start packing while you get the kids."

The kids don’t even object, at least, not the lake thing. They kinda object to being dragged out of bed by their feet and dropped onto the floor as a wake-up method. They can cope, though.

Stan's barely gotten them up and dressed when he goes out and finds that the Stanleymobile is packed, Ford having apparently done it in record time.

"Wow, that was fast. What's all the extra--"

"I thought perhaps we could camp at the lake?" Ford says. "If you're interested."

"Is that even a question?"

It turns out the lake is too hot to enjoy, the kids get sunburnt, and the moment the sun starts dipping past noon, the mosquitos come out in full force. No fish even have been biting, but… but that's not the point. It's the time that's the point, and Stan's loving it.

The kids and Ford even seem to like it, too, and when the sun does go down, Stan gets to sit around with his family, eating slightly burnt hot dogs and listening to Ford tell stories from the other side of the multiverse. Everyone's covered in aloe and itching cream and bug repellent, and it's perfect.

Eventually, though, the kids start nodding off under the stars. Stan sends them off to their tent. His heart tries to pop out of his chest and do something like a tapdance out in the open for everyone to see when Mabel gives him a kiss on the cheek before going.

Once the kids are out and in bed, Ford pulls beers from somewhere and says, "Can I interest you?"

"Absolutely," Stan says, and he sits on the same log as Ford to drink a beer and watch the fire die down.

Two beers in, Stan feels better than he has in years, ages, and he tells Ford as much. The smile he gets makes it even better still.

"I'm glad, Stanley. I wanted you to have a good day, and, well," Ford says, scooting closer on the log until their sides are pressed against each other in the cooling night air. "There was something I was wondering."

Stan leans into the warmth a little because he can't help it. He says, "Shoot, Sixer," and some desperate, sad part of him hopes that being out together on the fishing boat has maybe reminded Ford that this is something they could do together, with a real boat…

"Well, I suppose I was wondering if… you…" Ford trails off and leans even closer. His nose is nearly touching Stan's now. It's almost like they're about to kiss or something, but Stan's an old hat at ignoring all the fucked up feelings he has about Ford. He leans back away and takes a swig of his beer.

"Wondering if I need another of these? Nah, I'm good. Should probably get some sleep, don't you think? We're old, there's the drive back to the Shack in the morning, and wow, I'm tired after all that fishing," Stan says in a rush. He makes a show of rotating his shoulder, to show how very exhausting sitting with a pole was all day. "Night."

He gets up and goes to the big tent he's supposed to share with Ford, figuring Ford will let him have the time alone to skivvy down and get into his sleeping bag. This, it turns out, is not what Ford does.

"Okay, wait, Stanley," Ford says, barging in while Stan's trying to get out of his fishing shorts. Stan stumbles back and ends up falling in a tangled heap on one of the sleeping bags, half undressed and slightly whimpering.

"What?" he squawks.

"Look, I was about to kiss you just then, and I'm wondering what went wrong so I can get it right next time," Ford says. He sounds so matter of fact about literally the weirdest thing he's ever said to Stan that Stan doesn't even understand the words at first. Once he does, he barks in laughter.

"K-kiss? Hah! Haha, that's funny. Good one. You're hilarious."

"Spare me the desperate attempts at feigning innocence. I know you want me to, but I don't know what went wrong there."

"I have no idea what you're--"

"Stanley, please don't insult my intelligence. It's all I have," Ford says wearily, pinching the bridge of his nose and looking… really tired. More tired than a day at the lake should leave him. Stan's tapdancing heart stumbles and falls, and it leaves Stan staring.

"Are you serious?" he asks.

"Dead serious. Though, admittedly, I've died enough times by now that I should probably think of a better phrase."

"What the hell does that mean?"

Ford comes and sits on the sleeping bag next to Stan's half-clothed legs. "I've relived today too many times to count because I'm stuck in a time loop. I've tried everything from killing myself to killing you, to ending the world, to making a perfect day, to doing nothing, to sitting and eating enough cherry turnovers to make myself vomit. It's all come to nothing, but I thought… Oh, I don't know. I don't know what I thought, Stanley," Ford says, putting his head in his hands. "Ignore me."

Stan looks around the tent like it's going to help him figure out what to do with this information. The tent is unhelpful, no magical feelings fairy pops up to help him, and Stan's heart is still twisting and falling like it's been thrown down the world's longest flight of stairs.

"I don't want to ignore you," Stan says carefully. "I just… Okay. If you're telling the truth and not just going crazy, I think I saw a movie about this once on a date--"

"I am so sick of hearing about this stupid date, Stanley," says Ford with a shocking amount of venom. "She was probably hideous even before you spilled popcorn on her. You have the worst taste in women and always have."

"Hey, my taste in women is fine," Stan lies. He's perfectly aware an undue number of the women he's dated have turned against him, but he feels like that's not the issue here. Their looks were never the problem.

"Well, maybe I just personally hate all of them I've ever met or heard of then," Ford says, head still in his hands.

"Yeah, maybe," Stan says. He sits up from his ungainly sprawl on the sleeping bag and pokes Ford's in the shoulder. "Look--"

"Forget it, Stanley."

"I don't want to forget it. I mean, I can't believe this, but I think I want to talk about--"

"No, Stanley. It doesn't matter. You'll just forget about it anyway."

"Maybe," Stan says. This doesn't feel like a never-ending time loop, but what does he know? "But… Ford, did you mean that? Or are you just trying anything you can think of to get out of this time thing?"

Ford shrugs. Stan pokes him again, harder this time. "Both, I guess," Ford admits. He drags his hands down his cheeks and lifts his head. "It's not like I didn't know, though."

Stan laughs. "What?"

"I always knew you… Oh, to hell with it. I always knew you wanted me. I'm not stupid."

Now Stan's stomach gets in on the twisting act. It's a deeply unpleasant feeling to have his organs all jumping about inside him. "Always?"

"Since we were young, even," Ford says, and now it's Stan's turn to put his head in his hands.

"Aw fuck."

"I didn't say anything for… what're probably obvious reasons."

"Aw fuck."

"Stanley, you don't have to--"

"Fuck, Ford. Why would you-- If I'd known you knew, I wouldn't have hated you so much for pushing me away. I'd have pushed me away, what--"

"Oh, stop it. You're being ridiculous. Why would I try to kiss you tonight if I was that horrified?"

"Because you're going crazy inside a time loop thing and need a way out of it, even if it's terrible?"

"Well. Granted," Ford says. "But that doesn't necessarily--"

"Could you kill me again? That's kinder. I will beg you for a mercy kill right now," Stan says miserably. His hands are yanked away then, and he's forced to look up with Ford's fingers under his chin.

"Stanley, shut the hell up and let me say something," Ford says, and instead of actually saying anything else, he kisses Stan.

Which, okay, is saying something. Yelling it, even. The tongue's as good as an exclamation mark.

Ford pulls back and asks, "Is that clear enough?"

Stan watches his lips form the words and says, "I uh, I've got bad hearing these days. Maybe you should repeat it?"

Ford smiles. He says, "I suppose I could repeat myself for your benefit, but please pay attention this time."

The second kiss is better, harder, and Stan wraps his arms around Ford's shoulders. He pulls and lies down with Ford over him on the sleeping bag as the second kiss turns into the third turns into the fourth. The fishing shorts just get in the way, so Stan wriggles out of them and tangles his legs in Ford's.

Between kisses, Ford gasps out, "You're probably not going to remember this."

Stan says, "So just kiss me again tomorrow, genius."

"You won't be able to appreciate the relationship progression the same way I can."

"So what? It's not like I can get more crazy about you than I've always been."

"I guess not," Ford whispers, moving to kiss Stan's ear. "I think I went a little crazier about you because of this, though, if I'm being honest."

"Yeah?" Stan asks the roof of the tent. He slides his hands down Ford's back to hold on even tighter, keep them pressed even closer. "Keep going, then. You got catching up to do."

For once, Ford does as he's told and progresses to biting Stan's ear. If Stan's being frank, it's frankly embarrassing how loud he moans at that.

It's also really kinda unfortunate.

"What was that?" Dipper's sleepy voice asks in the not nearly distant enough distance. Stan and Ford freeze in place.

"Wha wa wha?" Mabel asks, sounding even sleepier.

"I heard a really strange sound, like an evil, dying goose or something." Dipper sounds excited now. Shit. "Maybe it's some undiscovered--"

"All geese are evil, Dipper," Mabel says. "Go back to sleep."

"Fine, fine, but if it happens again--" There's a thump, very specifically like a stuffed animal being swung hard into a big head. "Hey!"

The ensuing scuffling lasts so long that Stan's forced to admit that he's probably not getting laid tonight. In the dark in the tent, he whispers to Ford, "Make sure we're alone tomorrow, genius."

"On it," Ford whispers back, and he settles next to Stan. He falls asleep there, on top of Stan's arm, sending it to sleep as Stan's heart floats.

***

"Awwww!" says Mabel, and Stan opens his grimy eyes. "Dipper, get the camera. This needs scrapbooking."

"Wha?" Stan asks, he tries to sit up and finds his arm is held down by the weight of a sleeping Ford. He's thankfully fully clothed, and any kind of messy leftover from making out in a tent has been subsumed into bedhead and sleep-wrinkled trench coat.

Still, Stan doesn't have his shorts on.

"Mabel, wait--" Stan says, only to be blinded by a camera flash. "This isn't--"

"Sleepy bro cuddling," she says, and Dipper, hanging into the tent door from the side, says "Aww," in a way that's about fifty percent mocking, fifty percent sincere. Stan doesn't know which is worse.

"Look, he just took my arm in the middle of the night, how could I know?" Stan says, grabbing gratefully onto the opportunity to play it off like an embarrassing sibling thing. "Lay off."

"You two are just the cutest," Dipper says, which Stan can't stand for, so he yanks his arm out from under Ford's head and goes crashing out of the tent. The kids split off in different directions, and while Dipper definitely needs to pay for the mocking, Mabel's the one with the camera.

Or so Stan thinks. When he catches her several minutes later at the edge of the lake, she's empty-handed.

"Ha, Dipper's probably hidden it someplace you'll never find it!" Mabel crows victoriously, so Stan tosses her in the lake.

She pops up, sputtering but still smug. Stan stands at the edge of the lake in his underwear and sighs.

"Why can't you just let a man live, Mabel?" he asks her.

"Because I love you, and I want to remember this forever. Duh," she says back. It's kinda sweet, so Stan only pushes her back into the lake once more before letting her finally climb out.

"Let's get breakfast, you total br--"

"STANLEY! KIDS!"

Stan's head whips about back in the direction of the campgrounds. He heaves a soaking wet Mabel up over his shoulder and runs for the camp.

Ford's there swanning around touching everything, pulling gadget-y things out of his trenchcoat, and generally looking like a total loon. Stan remembers the time loop thing of course, but it's not like it had ever felt real for him, personally.

"What days is it?" Ford asks Dipper, who's standing on the other side of the camp looking worried and confused.

"Uh, the twenty-ninth?" Dipper says, more of a question than a statement. "Is there something--" Ford picks him up and hugs him. "Oh! Okay? Uh…" he says. Over Ford's shoulder, he gives Stan a questioning look that Stan responds to with a shrug before setting Mabel down.

"Probably something to do with the time loop he's been stuck in?" Stan says. "I mean, it never felt like we were in one, but he says he was."

"Time loop?" Mabel asks. "Like, he's gotta learn the meaning of--"

"Yes, yes," Ford says, finally putting Dipper down. "Could everyone spare me the reactions I've gotten the last fifty times I've explained it? I'd like to enjoy some new things for a while."

He softens the griping by coming over and giving Mabel a hug of her own, which she returns in all her soggy glory. Stan's own underclothes are all wet from her dripping on him as he carried her, and it's gonna bug him even though it doesn't for the moment.

"I'm going to put some clothes on," he says. It's possibly indicative of his guardianship that neither kid thought for a second there was anything unbrotherly going on just because he was in his underwear, but if it saves him having to talk his way out of the accurate interpretation of the cuddling, he's fine with it.

What's not fine is the tent. There's a fairy in it when Stan walks in. It looks waify and pretty, but mostly it just looks disgusted.

"This was not my intent," it tells Stan with an eye twitch that Stan's brain automatically labels "Unhinged."

"Uh, what?" Stan asks.

"I just thought there was an interesting tangle of emotions to sort out," the fairy says in what Stan thinks might be a high-pitched voice even for fairies. "Just thought, oh, hey, these two have complicated feelings and could use a nice do-over day. Little did I know…" The fairy shudders.

"Could you get out of my tent? I have no idea what you're talking about. The three outside are better with the strange and, uh, crazy," Stan says.

"Oh, I'll get out. I'm getting out of the whole business! I should have listened to my mother and become a fairy of tree stumps and toadstools, but nooo, I thought I could make the world a better, more caring place! Instead I just facilitated ince— Hey, stop that!"

"Look," Stan says, holding the fairy by the wings. "This ain't my bag. You can deal with my brother." He pokes his head out of the tent and holds out his hand. Ford looks up from making breakfast, which is its own kind of weird. The kids appear to be in their tent.

"Ford, you can deal with this. Says it knows something about do-over days," Stan says, holding out his tiny captive.

Then, suddenly, he's not holding a tiny captive anymore, just a pair of silvery wings that smoke slightly where they were previously attached to a… previous fairy. Ford lowers his zapper gun. His eye is twitching in a way that Stan's brain also labels "Unhinged", but it's a better look on Ford. Kinda hot, even.

Stan looks at the hole that's been shot through the tent beyond his hand to the smoking tree behind it. There's a gnome in one the upper branches looking horrified, frozen in place until it shakes itself and scurries off. Stan drops the wings and says, "Well, that seems like overkill."

"What was that noise?" Mabel asks, poking her head out of her and Dipper's tent. Inside, there's a bit of struggling noise before Dipper pokes his own head out.

"Was that a blaster?" he asks, climbing out past Mabel to look around the camp in a shirt that's on the wrong way and his underwear.

"Giant mosquito," Stan says immediately. "Big as my head. Ford took care of it."

"Aw, dangit. I would've liked to see that."

"I'm not sure about that, kid. Go finish getting dressed. Your shirt's on backward."

Once both kids are back in their tent, Stan carefully picks up the fairy wings from the ground and tosses them into the fire. They burn with a burst of sparkles.

"You're gonna have to fix the hole in the tent, though," Stan says. He claps Ford on the shoulder and leaves his hand there.

"Right," Ford says, covering Stan's hand with his own and sounding only moderately crazy. The normal amount for a Pines these days. He laughs faintly. "Well, I can do that tomorrow."