If Stan's got one thing to say about this, it's that this is all Ford's fault.
Stan knows he's done a few things terribly wrong in his life. Obviously. But this one's all on Ford. It was Ford that said, "Well, that's a strange plant," with a curious head tilt, it was Ford that decided to dig it up, and it was Ford that grew it in a pot in the boat, all of three feet from the coffee maker.
Most importantly, it was Ford that called out, "Stanley, the plant's doing something! Come observe!" as the tiny buds on the plant began to open for the first time.
And that's how Stan winds up on his back on the deck with his brother grinding their dicks together. Stan has his legs wrapped around Ford's waist and his fingers digging into Ford's back, and he keeps moaning and begging, and if he had any thought beyond "Closer, more, harder, closer," he'd be embarrassed. As it is, Stan's brain is essentially offline when he digs his fingers between the boards of the deck and comes with a cry. He hardly even notices Ford rutting against him until he shudders and adds to the mess, except, that's a lie. He definitely notices.
Afterwards, flopped in both a figurative and literal puddle, Stan says, "This is your fault."
He doesn't get a reply. Ford's on the deck next to him, staring up at the overhead in slack-faced horror. Stan's not there yet, to the horror. He's still in orgasm-muted shock, but it's only a matter of time until the reality of the situation sets in. He just had sex with his brother. That's, y'know, objectively disgusting, not just the normal kind of base level disgusting women like to accuse him of.
Eventually, Stan can't take any more of being slowly glued to the deck, so he pushes himself back up on his hands and knees. He can't stop the groan that causes, and it's the groan that apparently gets to Ford.
"Oh god, Stan," he says. He almost sounds like he's going to cry, and no way in hell is Stan dealing with that.
"Plant," Stan says. He sits up. Wetness drips down his thighs, and he doesn't think about it. At all. "Plant did it. Weirder things have happened. Not gonna happen again. Kill the plant," Stan says firmly.
For once, Ford doesn't argue. He meets Stan's eyes only briefly and then jerks his gaze away like he's been electrocuted. "I'll remove it from the growth medium and preserve the specimen as a dried sample in a hermetically sealed unit," he says, and then he's up like a shot, pulling his pants back up, grabbing the plant, and getting as far away from Stan as possible on a boat.
Stan watches him disappear down the ladder to the lower deck and kinda feels a little, tiny bit like crying himself. He keeps it together, though, and instead looks down at the mess of himself and the decking. If Ford's handling the plant, Stan can deal with this. Clean up the deck, then clean himself up. Easy.
It's mostly easy.
Shame's an old friend, so it shows up without knocking first when Stan's in the boat's tiny shower. Stan does his best to wash it down the drain with the rest of the evidence, but it sticks around all the same. It's one of those things shame and glitter have in common.
...The kids would be horrified. They're never gonna know, though. It's okay. It's fine.
Weirder things have happened. It'll be okay.
It's not okay.
Not at first. At first, Ford somehow becomes invisible. Stan doesn't mean literally invisible. If anything, it would be comforting if it was Ford fucking around with some strange artifact or gadget, but he's not. He's just doing a frankly impressive job of avoiding Stan without leaving the Stan o' War, which is significantly smaller than the Mystery Shack. It shouldn't be possible to go a whole day without seeing Ford, only catching sight of the edge of his coat swishing around a corner, but that's how the rest of the day post-incest-fucking goes. Ford finds somewhere to sleep that isn't their shared sleeping quarters, even, probably huddle in his little workshop.
The next day, though, Stan wakes up miserable and still aching in various places beyond the normal, and he finds Ford sitting with two cups of coffee at the small table built into the side of the boat's upper cabin. He looks… determined.
"Uh oh," Stan says.
"Stanley," Ford says, and he gestures at the seat across from him.
Stan looks at him, the coffee, and the seat. He considers running like a coward. It's really tempting, but Stan's a grown man. He's faced monsters and the end of the world and the kids' disappointment. He can handle this.
He definitely can.
He absolutely can…
"Stanley, please sit," Ford says when Stan stays frozen in place too long. Stan musters all his courage and takes the seat. He knows from a personal close call that an electric chair is less intimidating, though.
Stan grabs the coffee mug in front of him for something to do with his hands. It's a mug Mabel painted for him, covered in stars and rainbow-colored puppies. He loves the mug. It helps.
"We need to talk about what happened," Ford says.
"Do we really, though?" asks Stan. "I mean, look. That was weird, but it was a stupid plant from the start, and you dealt with it, right? No more little pollen bombs to the face."
"Yes, I've neutralized and contained it," Ford says. He's got his hands wrapped around his own mug from Mabel. Stan can't see the letters through Ford's fingers, but he knows it says "Co-Greatest Grunkle" in sparkling, puffy balloon letters.
This is messed up. Stan's beginning to think maybe weirder things haven't happened.
But he doesn't say that. Instead, he says, "Then what's there to talk about?"
"What fallout?" Stan asks. His eyes dart over to the place on the deck where he had sex with his brother. It's perfectly clean. Stan wiped it down himself, and if anything, it only looks different from the rest of the boat because it's cleaner. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"The emotional fallout."
"Emotions are for wimps."
"The psychological consequences.”
"Consequences are for wimps.”
Ford sighs. He says, "Well, then I'm a wimp, I guess! There, I'm the wimp. Can we talk about it, now?"
Stan shrugs. He means it to say, "Sure, I guess," for him, but when Ford stays silent Stan looks back to find him staring down at his own mug. Stan takes pity and says, "Yeah, okay."
"Because we need to talk about this."
"And it's no good to simply sweep it under the rug and pretend it didn't happen."
"Because that only leads to worse and worse communication and probably a fight further down the line."
"So we need to talk."
"You said that."
"Yes, well, I was expecting you to argue about it more," Ford snaps, putting his forehead down on the tabletop. "I had an outline for this conversation, and you acquiesced too soon. You've thrown me off."
"It's not funny, Stanley."
"No, it's not," Stan agrees, through bubbling laughter.
"You're impossible," Ford says.
"Hey, it—" Stan stops to get himself under control, but still, a few chuckles escape between his words as he says, "It's your fault, Ford."
"I am aware of that, thank you," Ford tells the tabletop, and Stan laughs harder.
He laughs so hard he has to put his own head down to catch his breath and cool his forehead on the old laminated table. He thinks his hat brushes Ford's hair on the way down, and that makes him laugh even more.
Ford says, "You realize you're not actually finding this humorous and that this is just a coping mechanism on your part, right?"
"Yes, Ford," Stan says. "So shut up about it."
"As long as you're cognizant of that fact," Ford says, and then he falls silent.
Stan enjoys that for a little while, lets his mad laughter die down to occasional chuckles. This is crazy, he knows. Utterly, completely crazy, but… It's not the worst thing that's ever happened to either of them, and it's far from the worst thing that's ever happened between them.
Sure, it's gross, but at least it was an accident. The dumb plant did it. This isn't even really Ford's fault.
"What did the rest of your outline say to say?" Stan asks, feeling like he's letting a weight off his shoulders. This isn't so bad. It isn't.
"That it's alright to be uncomfortable and disgusted. Those feelings are natural, and if you'd like some space to recuperate, I'm happy to give it to you, and even if you feel that you can no longer travel with me—"
Stan kicks under the table. His boot connects dead on with Ford's shin. Ford says, "Ow! Stanley, I have to offer it even if I don't think you'll take it."
"Damn right I'm not taking it! I've waited my entire life to go sailing with you, and you think I'm letting a little sex stop that? Not a chance."
"I think trivializing the matter does us a disservice."
"I'm not trivializing. It's just sex. One time. It's not even close to the worst sex I've had," Stan says, and then that's such a dangerous, stupid thing to have said that he keeps pushing past it and hopes Ford doesn't think to question it. "I can cope. Can you?"
"I've coped with worse," Ford says without pause. Stan lets that go purely out of self-defense, but some part of him, the part that considers his best purpose in life to be punching things that hurt his family, takes a mental note.
Without letting that come up, Stan says, "Okay then. We can cope. Great. Is that all?"
"I did intend to ask whether you were… inconvenienced."
The sound Ford makes then couldn't even be called a sigh; it's more the sound of a leaky pipe groaning in the winter. "Whether you are physically incapacitated by any of yesterday morning's events."
"Are you asking if I'm hurt?"
"Not obvious. Not…" Stan sighs and sits up to rub his forehead and drink his goddamn coffee, though now it's a bit cold. "Not obvious, and no, I am not inconvenienced or incapacitated. Mostly."
Ford tilts his head so that it's just his chin on the table. He looks up at Stan with narrowed eyes. "'Mostly,'" he repeats. "What does that mean?"
"Stanley, if you— if your— if while — in any way caused damage to certain—"
It's almost funny watching Ford try to spit this out, but overwhelmingly, it's just painful. Time for mercy. "I have a splinter," Stan says.
"Under my fingernail, from trying to hold onto the deck." Stan presents his right ring finger to Ford. "Splinter."
"Did you try tweezers?" Ford asks, squinting at Stan's fingernail.
"Couldn't get it with my left hand."
"Oh. Well," Ford says, straightening his glasses. He stands up and goes to the first aid kit mounted on the bulkhead near the navigation array, and he comes back with an alcohol wipe and a pair of tweezers. From inside his coat, he pulls out some magnifying eyepiece, like a jeweler's glass. "Hand," he says, holding out his own.
Stan obeys, and it's the first time they've touched since the incident. Stan hardly feels nervous about that at all, and Ford doesn't even seem to notice.
"That's certainly lodged in there," he says, examining Stan's finger like it's a strange new find. "How'd you put up with it this long?"
"You were avoiding me, what else could I do?"
"I'd have helped," Ford lies, and Stan knows it's a lie, but he thinks Ford might genuinely believe it. It's almost nice.
On his, Ford's steadying hand is warm and firm. He holds Stan's finger in place while he comes at the splinter with a pair of pointed tweezers, and with minimal fuss, he pulls out the piece of wood in one go. Stan hisses, even though it doesn't really hurt, just for something to do.
"There we are," Ford says. He holds up the splinter to inspect it briefly with his eye thing. Then he sets it aside. He's still holding Stan's hand firmly in his, and he uses that grip to carefully clean under Stan's fingernail with an alcohol wipe. He blows gently on Stan's hand afterward, which is…
"Good," Stan says. He's proud of himself for not choking. He pulls away from Ford and smiles. "Thanks. And are we… good?"
Ford looks down to carefully pick up the splinter and tuck it and the alcohol wipe in the wipe's wrapper. He puts the eyeglass away and says, "I'm good if you're good, Stanley. At least, I will be if you will be."
Stan nods with his blood pounding in his ears. "Okay. Then we'll be good. What do you want for breakfast?"
Ford says, "I think we're down to the brown meat and canned olives at this point. We need to make a supply stop soon."
"Brown meat and olives it is," Stan says, and he gets up quickly, but not too quickly, to dump some things in a frying pan.
He's careful to make sure his crotch can't be seen as he does this because it turns out they may be not so good as Stan's hoping.
So, Stan keeps getting turned on by Ford.
Stan hesitates to call this Ford's fault, but it kinda is. A little bit. Predominantly, though, this has got to be on the dumb plant again. There's probably some after effects, lingering lust, and it'll clear up if Stan waits it out. It's only been two days.
What's really tripping Stan up is the weird stuff that his chemically-induced attraction focuses on, like Ford's hands on the navigation wheel or his shoulders under his sweater. Even his voice is—
Not something Stan should be having those kinds of thoughts about. At all. Ever.
At least when Stan's brain goes flatline as Ford leans over the railing to get a look at the boat's hull —they've got a slightly terrifying barnacle colony forming, and Ford's been curious if any of the strange shit they've encountered so far has had an effect— and his ass goes up in the air, that's actually a normal thing to get distracted by. Even if it is his goddamn brother.
"Are you alright?" Ford asks, coming back up and looking at Stan with a startled frown.
"I'm fine. Why do you ask?" Stan lies. He was busy staring while he was supposed to be fishing for dinner until Ford turned around, and now Stan's feeling a little like jumping off the side of the boat and letting the fish or possibly-mutant barnacles eat him.
Ford's looking at him like he's lost his damn mind. "You have a fishhook in your hand, Stanley."
"Yeah? What of it?" Stan asks, only to look down and realize that Ford doesn't mean that he's holding a fish hook. At some point during his ogling, Stan lost track of what he was doing with his line.
"Aw, shit." Stan tries pulling the hook out of the skin of his thumb only to find the barb stuck. "Fuck!"
"For heaven's sake, don't—" Ford says, and he comes up to grab Stan's wrists. "Stop! Let me get the kit before you do more damage."
"Ow!" Stan tells him, face to face.
"Well, obviously!" Ford says back.
Then Stan's at their little table while Ford performs first aid again. This involves holding still while Ford cuts off most of the hook and then carefully wriggles out what remains with the tweezers. Stan has to sit through the muttering the whole time; it's worse than the actual pain.
"What were you even doing? How did you not notice? You're lucky this isn't into the meaty part of the thumb pad. How long have you been fishing, again? Your entire life, was it?"
"Oh, like you've never made a mistake," Stan snaps when the iodine dropper comes out.
"This one's just carelessness, though," Ford says. "Why weren't you paying any attention to a metal barb digging into your hand?"
"That seems like an understatement. Did something…" Ford's hands pause in wrapping Stan's thumb. "Was it me?"
"What? What're you talking about, I have no idea what you mean, why would—"
"If you're uncomfortable—"
"I swear we had this conversation already. Stop. I'm fine."
"Would you tell me if you weren't?"
"No," Stan says. "Because even if I wasn't fine, I'd be worse if some dumb plant made me lose you again."
"Would you just—" Stan tries pulling his hand away, but Ford grabs his wrist and holds him in place. "It's only been two days, okay?"
"If you need space, you have to tell me,” Ford says while holding onto Stan.
"Pretending you're fine when you're not is only going to make it worse."
"Managed it for thirty years," Stan says. Ford winces. Stan regrets saying that, but he can't undo it.
"And that's not even— Look, is there…" Stan swallows and slumps in his seat. "Could there be any… lingering stuff?"
"After psychological trauma? Certainly. It's a whole diagnosis of its—"
"No. Not what I meant. This isn't even top fifteen for trauma. I've been more upset over a wax figure." Stan pinches the bridge of his nose with his free hand and says, "I meant, is there any chance I could still be… feeling the effects of the plant? Maybe?"
"Oh," Ford says hollowly. "You, too?"
And Stan says, "Goddammit, Ford."
"If you're about to try taking me to task for not saying something, I'd like to point out you didn't either until just now," Ford says. He yanks Stan's injured hand back into place and finishes his job wrapping the wound. "It's hardly the kind of conversation I want to start with someone who might already be dealing with—"
"If you say 'trauma,' I'm punching you."
"—the burden of being forced into a new variety sexual encounter," Ford says smoothly, though Stan's more than half sure he was going to say "trauma" originally. What he's said instead, though, makes Stan laugh.
"Wait, is that why you're treating me like a frightened puppy? You think I haven't slept with a guy before?"
Ford frowns at him and says, "You've always been very vocal about liking women, and up until this conversation, I've never had reason to think you were omitting anything. Clearly, you're about to correct that assumption."
"Joke's on you, I guess." With his hand now free again, Stan pulls it back look over the bandage with a shrug. "Obviously, women are the first choice, but a hungry man doesn't turn down a sandwich just because he likes steak, y'know?"
And a really hungry young man of, say, nineteen and living in a car, doesn't turn down the chance of a hot meal just because it comes attached to an obligatory blowjob, but Stan's not going to admit that one. He doesn't especially feel shame about it, but chances are Ford would get weird and pitying.
Without knowing any of this, Ford says, "Well. I wouldn't necessarily consider women the steak. For my part." He coughs awkwardly, and Stan rolls his eyes.
"Explains a lot, I'll be honest, Ford."
"I'll refrain from questioning what that means." The bits of broken hook and first aid supplies all get carefully picked up, and as he rises to put them away, Ford says, "Let's do some blood work on you."
"Think you got enough on that mess to run any tests?"
"It's contaminated. I'll need a clean sample."
"Worth a try," Stan says to himself, and he's led below deck to what used to be the engine room until Ford replaced the monstrous old engine with his own design the size of a toaster. These days it's a tiny workspace for Ford, with a worktable and a small mountain of gadgets. Mounted on the bulkhead are shelves with various specimens floating in liquid or sealed in air-filled bubbles. Some of them stare with an excessive number of dead eyes.
Stan ducks in feeling incredibly strange. Now that he's admitted it to Ford, the unnatural lust seems both less scary and at the same time more immediate. He's not just being a freak; Ford's feeling it, too.
But also: Ford's feeling it, too. Stan's brain's sticking on this as he leans against a worktable and presents his right arm for a blood draw. Ford takes his wrist and uses it to bend his arm as flat as possible, to clean the inside of his elbow with an alcohol wipe that leaves his skin chilled, to push a needle into Stan's vein with a bite of pain that somehow feels exciting.
Ford fills three sample tubes, holding Stan's wrist all the while. His thumb rubs absently and the soft skin on the inside, and Stan risks another dumb splinter by gripping the edge of the worktable too tightly. When the blood's all collected, Ford pulls the needle free, covers the wound with a little pad of gauze, and makes Stan fold his arm up over it.
"Stay here," he says, and he lets go to carefully place the blood samples in a little rack next to the scary microscope that Stan sometimes suspects Ford loves more than him. Stan holds his arm in place until Ford comes back and unfolds it to put a bandage over the little puncture wound. "There," he says with his fingers still on Stan's skin.
It's the plant's fault that Stan kisses him then, and it's the plant's fault that Ford kisses back, Stan's sure.
"Maybe we just need to get it out of our systems," Stan says when they break apart, only for Ford to grab his head and yank him back to a kiss that hurts.
"A workable hypothesis," Ford says the next time Stan breaks away to gasp. "Let's test it." He pulls Stan back by his hair, and Stan doesn't even care until Ford starts turning the pulling in to pushing down.
Stan hits the deck on his tired old knees and is brought face to face with the tent in his brother's pants. Well.
"You could have asked," Stan says to Ford's clothed cock. He's willing to roll with this anyway, but there's the principle of the thing to consider.
"I thought we were in agreement."
"Well, generally, yeah, but maybe we could discuss the specifics of—" Ford's freed one hand from Stan's head to undo his own fly with an impressive one-handed twist and flick, so Stan closes his mouth on the rest of his protests. He opens it again on the tip of Ford's dick.
Dick tastes like dick. There's no getting around that or romanticizing it, but Stan doesn't really mind. Instead, he focuses on kissing the slick head and licking the precome away. Ford's hands on his head are gentle for a while, petting Stan's hair and running fingers along his jaw. Stan opens his mouth wider to let Ford into him, his lips sliding on the shaft.
Then the gentle touches turn to grabbing Stan's ears, pulling his hair. Stan'll give him credit; Ford does ask, "Do you mind?" and allows Stan a chance to pull away.
Because pulling away would be the cowardly thing to do, in Stan's book, he doesn't, good as permission. Then Ford starts fucking his mouth.
All Stan can do is hold onto Ford's thighs and try to keep his jaw and throat relaxed. He doesn't even get to apply any skill to it, what little he's got, because this has gotten well away from a blowjob in an alley. Ford thrusts in and out of Stan's lips, slick and fast but not deep, and it's way too hot. Uncomfortable as hell, but Stan reaches down to rub himself through his pants because he's got to admit, he likes this.
When Ford comes, he gasps softly, though his grip on Stan's head is fairly brutal. Stan swallows because he has to or die, but something about that gasp makes him wish he could hear it a hundred more times. Maybe a thousand.
Ford pulls out and pets Stan's abused scalp gently, and then he sinks to his knees in front of Stan to kiss the corners of Stan's mouth, his cheek, his ear. Stan gulps down air and undoes his fly, shoves his underwear out of the way to start stroking himself with both his hands. Ford keeps kissing him slowly and softly, like it makes up for the roughness before, and it absolutely does.
"Can you—" Stan starts to say, but he has to stop to clear his throat and lick his lips. In that time, Ford gets the picture anyway and reaches down with one hand, the other still gently sliding through Stan's hair.
Stan lets go of himself to hold onto Ford's shoulders, and it's only a few strokes later that he comes in Ford's hand with a grunt, shaking and seeing little sparkles behind his eyes like the shame glitter's come back to dazzle his vision… or something.
That was a stupid thought, Stan knows. He's feeling kinda loopy, so he pulls away from Ford to flop back onto the deck, where he cracks his head on the leg of the worktable.
Later, Stan's sitting in Ford's work chair and following a light back and forth with a world of annoyance and no small amount of embarrassment.
"I'm fine," he says for the tenth time.
"I have to check. You have a bump the size of a cantaloupe," Ford says, though he puts away the light and shakes his head. "This is ridiculous."
"I said I'm fine."
"Not what I'm referring to." Ford leans back against the work table, crossing his legs. "This is ridiculous." He gestures back and forth between himself and Stan before crossing his arms.
"Oh," Stan says. "Yeah, I'm with you there." He can't help himself. "Heh. 'With you.'"
"For heaven's sake, that wasn't even funny. Are you sure you're—" Stan glares. Ford pulls one hand from his crossed arms to rub his face.
"Let a man get what laughs he can outta this."
"It's not— You know what? Fine. If you are as fine as you can be under the circumstances, you should probably attempt to secure our dinner without injuring yourself further. I'll be attempting to study the chemical compound. Maybe I can come up with a counter agent."
"Here's hoping," Stan says. He stands and punches Ford's arm on his way out of the workshop, but in a friendly way.
Without any further injuries, though with a lot of waiting and cursing, Stan catches a bass for dinner, cooks it, and eats his portion before he sees Ford again. Ford climbs up with a grimace. He sits down opposite Stan at their table and says, "We may need to go back to the island."
"If I'm to understand this, I may need a live specimen."
Stan groans. Ford puts his hands up in a shrug before grabbing his own plate of fish.
"This is good," he says after a few bites.
"No problem," Stan says. He's stayed in his seat despite finishing, mostly because it's late and there's nothing else to do, but partly because he likes the company. It's March, they've been traveling together since September, and now there's the whole "Sex plant made me fuck my brother" thing, but still. Still, Stan's just happy to be here with Ford.
Maybe Stan's got a backlog of missing his dumb, ridiculous brother to get through before he can get sick of him again. Should only take thirty, forty years.
"You promise this isn't gonna split us up?" Stan asks because he's weak.
With a mouthful of sea bass, Ford blinks and then rolls his eyes. "If you won't let me worry about you," he says after swallowing his food. "You can hardly turn around and do it yourself."
"I'm a hypocrite, so what?"
"So you can hush," Ford says. He kicks Stan's shin under the table and goes back to eating.
In the morning, Ford charts the fastest course back to the tiny, rocky island the plant came from while Stan heats up more brown meat. The plan has to include a supply stop, but Ford says it should only take a few days.
Over a meaty breakfast, Stan says, "That's good. You got any other ideas for a cure faster than that?"
"I'd hesitate to suggest anything that could interact chemically with the compound until I know more about its initial composition. In the meantime, I'd suggest drinking more water than normal. The human body is quite adept at clearing toxins from itself, and water certainly wouldn't hurt."
"Water," Stan says.
"I don't yet know how it will react with anything else, and testing on random barnacles doesn't give me reliable information on human subjects."
For the sake of being blunt, Stan says, "Water's not gonna make me stop wanting to fuck you, Ford."
Ford puts his fork down. "Your suggestion didn't work."
"It's a better suggestion than water."
"It still didn't work."
"Well, maybe we need to try again," Stan says.
Which is how he winds up on his back on his bunk with Ford riding his dick.
Well, actually, there were a few steps in between, and Ford getting so annoyed with the way Stan tried doing things that he decided to do it all himself was inexplicably both ridiculous and hot. All the stubbornness and the arrogance that normally makes Stan's blood boil works better when it's in the form of, "You know what? How about you just let me ride you."
Stan lies back and lets Ford do it all himself. It's... It's pretty nice, all weirdness and grossness aside. Like everything else so far, Ford clearly knows what he's doing and what he wants, damn anyone else, and what he wants is to ride Stan like a seasoned professional —Stan's taking all kinds of mental notes lately about how very much he doesn't want to know certain parts of Ford's travels— while scratching the hell out of Stan's chest and stomach until Stan arches up and comes with groan that Ford muffles with one hand, the other still pinching Stan's nipple hard enough that it might just pop off.
"Lick," Ford says when Stan's still seeing stars, and he's far enough gone that Stan licks Ford's palm without questioning it or even thinking to argue about that bossiness.
Ford then uses that hand to jerk himself off all over Stan's face. Stan really should have questioned it or protested, but fuck if he can muster more than a groggy, "Gee, thanks."
"Oh, you're fine," Ford says, lifting himself off Stan's cock with only a little wobble. He stands up from the bunk and looks down at Stan, who looks back up at him with only one eye because the other's got come over it. Stan's too fucked to bother wiping it off yet. "Hm," Ford says, and he manages to look sheepish. "I may have been a little too rough. I'll get the first aid kit."
"For my face? I think a towel'd do."
"For your chest," Ford says, and he walks off, bare-assed to get the kit. Stan watches him go —plant, plant, definitely the weird sex plant's doing it— before tilting his head up enough to look at the scratches covering his chest. They're a bit more than just pinkish. Some of them are bleeding, and Stan sighs.
Ford does get Stan a wet towel to wipe his face off with while he cleans off the worst of Stan's scratches, at least.
"Do you do this with everyone or is this an 'I'm being forced to feel attracted against my will so I'm taking it out on you' kinda thing?" Stan asks that night. He's in the head to clean himself up from the handjobs they just exchanged in the kitchen after dinner, and there's a pretty hardcore bite mark on his neck now. Stan examines it in the mirror over the sink. "I feel like you shouldn't be taking this out on me."
From the shower, Ford says, "I'm not taking anything out on you; it's just a hickey, and as I recall, you were the one demanding I stop being 'so frickin' gentle, Ford, I can take it.'" Stan can hear him rolling his eyes.
"That's different. I'm pretty sure vampires leave nicer hickeys."
"It didn't even break the skin, Stanley. What do you want, me to kiss it better?"
Stan grips the edge of the sink and doesn't say anything.
After a moment, Ford sighs and says, "Oh, just get in here already. You're not fooling anyone."
And after quite a few more moments, Ford tapes down the little pad of gauze he's been holding in place over Stan's eyebrow and says, "Shower sex always sounds better in theory than it works in practice, I think we can both admit. Probably just a terrible idea all around at our age.”
"If you're trying to kill me, this is the weirdest way you could possibly go about it," Stan mutters. Ford pushes down harder than he probably needs to, and Stan hisses.
Strangely, though, Ford does lean in and drop a small peck on top of the bandage. It catches Stan so off guard that he doesn't even manage to come up with a joke or any other kind of comment about it, and so he's left sitting on the closed toilet with a warm feeling he can't ignore.
To avoid any kind of interaction that might lead to sex again, Stan spends most of the next day hanging outside on the top deck. It's been beautiful weather, and Stan sits around to enjoy it. He can't fish with the boat going so fast as it is, but they're planned to make a stop in the evening for supplies.
Stan considers calling the kids on the satellite phone, but not only would he have to figure out the timezone, he'd have to answer questions like, "What're you guys up to?" and "Found anything cool lately?" and there's no way Stan can answer that honestly. He doesn't mind lying to the kids about some things, but he's more worried than normal that he might say something stupid. Who knows, he's been drugged up by a sex plant.
Stan puts his feet up on the railing and leans back in his fishing chair. Not even sex plants can ruin this feeling, sitting at the stern of the boat he's using to travel the world with Ford. It's un-ruinable.
Somewhere around ten, Ford comes out to wordlessly hand Stan a mug of coffee before going back inside, and even that's not ruined. Neither is going in himself around noon to cook up the last of the brown meat and walk down with Ford's half to the workshop.
"Hungry?" Stan asks Ford, who's viciously scribbling out something in his latest journal with a frown.
Ford grunts. Stan flicks him in the ear and gets a swat to the stomach for it.
"Eat," Stan says. He puts the bowl of meat on the worktable with a clack and leaves.
It's well into the afternoon when Ford comes back out to lean against the railing by Stan's feet. "Thank you for lunch," he says, which is nice.
"Thanks for the coffee," Stan says, leaning back with his hands behind his head, feeling pretty good all things considered.
"We should be reaching our pitstop by five-ish, so keep an eye out for any other ships, would you? Autopilot can only do so much. You'll have to take over."
"You gonna stay huddled down in your workshop?"
"Haven't found anything useful yet," Ford says with faint bitterness.
"Get some fresh air. Clear your head."
"What do you think I'm doing right now?"
"Stay for a little longer, at least," Stan wheedles.
Ford's shoulders droop slightly but not in a bad way. "If you insist," he says. He stays leaning against the railing with his hair blowing in the wind, sun on his face. He's wearing his hooded sweatshirt rather than his coat, and somehow the whole effect makes him look like a handsome fisherman in a show or movie...
Stan swallows and looks away. Apparently, the plant can inspire things other than lust.
The little island they reach about five-ish is busy and full of friendly faces. Stan recognizes the look of predatory friendliness, though, and sure enough, the place seems to be a hotspot for scuba divers and tourists looking to get away from it all. "It all" in this case, like many others, means "successful lives that leave you with cash to burn on souvenirs and food."
"Nice joint," Stan says, looking around form the dock. "Wonder how much they bring in every year."
"Stanley, please," Ford says. He hands Stan a paper list and a wallet full of the local currency. "Get these and meet me here when you're done."
"Yes sir, boss sir," Stan says with a sarcastic salute that gets him four middle fingers in response, which was kinda what he was aiming for. He listens, though, and heads off down the nearest street in the opposite direction as Ford.
The list is basic food supplies, rice, vegetables, and the like. At the bottom, in Ford's careful handwriting, is the sentence, "You should, of course, use your best judgment in this matter."
Near the start of this journey, Stan probably would have taken that as an insult, "Don't be stupid" or something. Now, he thinks it's more likely Ford means it to be permission to ignore the list if he likes. A vote of confidence that Stan appreciates.
Stan gets most of the things on the list, using the little translator Ford made for him when necessary. Apparently, they speak something like Dutch here for reasons unknown to him, but a good third the people seem to know some English. Better to sell things to tourists. Stan changes the list a little, grabbing more canned goods and having to heave them all around the open air market in a backpack.
He doesn't let the crowds of people wandering around stalls sway him into looking for souvenirs. The kids have gotten packages of junk from just about every continent so far, and there's only so many weird things Stan's willing to send to Soos for displaying at the Shack, but on his way back to the dock, he picks up some jellybeans from a convenience store.
Ford's not at the marina when Stan gets there, so he waits on the dock for a few minutes before carrying the supplies he got back to the Stan o' War. He packs them all away in the cabin, locks up, and goes back to wait. The weather's nice still, though now the sun's dipping lower and painting everything the kinds of colors that belong on a postcard. Stan spares a thought for the camera back on the boat, but he doesn't have the skill to take a worthwhile picture, he knows.
Ford's still not back by the time the sun sets out of sight.
Stan tries not to worry about this. Ford's a grown man, he's traveled the multiverse with nothing but a frown and a curious mind, and there's no reason to think he couldn't handle a supply run on a little tourist trap island. There's nothing to worry about. Nothing at all.
"Where the hell have you been?" Stan snaps when Ford does get back.
"Getting supplies and—"
"You're not carrying enough for it to have taken that long," Stan says. Ford rolls his eyes.
"Getting supplies and testing a hypothesis," he says like Stan's the asshole here.
"What does that mean?"
"I tried finding someone to have sex with," Ford says bluntly. He takes his pack off his shoulder and hands it to Stan. He's extremely casual about the whole thing, and Stan stares even as he lets himself be burdened with the pack. An emotion scarily like jealousy rises in him, and he has to shove it down.
"Did you?" he asks, his voice odd.
"Yes. It's not like it's hard," Ford says. Which, okay, Stan can ask what the hell that means later. "However, I only ended up proving my hypothesis correct, I'm afraid."
"It's a bad thing to prove yourself right?"
"In science, yes, and in this case especially. Finding a partner was easy enough. There's plenty of lonely people on vacation, but as I suspected, I didn't have any particular interest in pursuing the encounter to its logical conclusion."
Stan shakes his head and says, "So, you found someone willing to sleep with you and then you didn't go through with it?"
"That's what I said," Ford says. "How was your shopping?"
Stan shrugs, feeling so unsettled he can't even begin to pick his thoughts apart. "Fine, I guess. Didn't try picking anyone up, though."
"Not even some beautiful woman in a bikini?"
"Well, that's its own result then, now isn't it?" Ford says. He starts walking back to the boat. Stan follows him with the backpack and punches him in the shoulder before they climb aboard. Not in a very friendly way.
"I can focus, you jerk," he mutters.
"I didn't say you were incapable," Ford says. He sounds surprised.
"Apparently you are," Stan says. This gets him a strange look that he chooses to ignore. He dumps out the supplies inside the upper cabin and without bothering to pick them up, climbs below deck.
"Stanley—" Ford calls after him.
"I got back first and put my stuff away, so I get the shower first," Stan calls back.
It might not actually be possible to use up all the hot water, with the way Ford's modified the boat's water tanks, but Stan gives it a try anyway. The hot water loosens up the remaining tape over his various injuries from the last few days. He peels it all off and finds he's more or less intact now, just a little scabbed. He stays in the shower until he starts feeling too sleepy to be angry anymore.
Then he opens the shower door to find Ford waiting outside with his arms crossed, and the anger comes back like a rubber band snapping.
Stan pauses, naked and dripping everywhere. He shakes off the surprise and wraps a towel around his waist. "All yours," he says, jerking his thumb to the shower.
When he tries to leave the bathroom, though, Ford doesn't move out of the way to let him.
"Can I get by, nerd?"
"Can you? Certainly," Ford says, not moving.
"If you're going to make me say 'May I,' I'm going to have to strangle you with a towel," Stan says flatly.
"You're angry with me."
"You're not letting me out, so kinda, yeah."
"Not about this," Ford says.
Stan glares. "About this, yes. Nothing else to be angry about, is there?"
"We're not in a relationship, Stanley."
Fuck, Ford's actually going to try talking about this. "No shit."
"You have no expectation of exclusivity."
"Obviously," Stan spits out.
"You have no right to be angry that I tried and —not that it matters— failed to find someone who's not my goddamn twin brother to have sex with," Ford says.
"I said there's nothing else to be angry about, didn't I?"
"But you didn't mean it."
"Don't tell me what I do and don't mean, Ford."
"Don't treat me like an idiot who can't tell when you're angry with me."
"Have you considered it's not that I think you're an idiot? Maybe it's that I hope you're decent enough to drop something I don't want to talk about with you, genius." Stan shoves Ford away from the doorway. He just wants to go to bed already.
Ford, because he's an asshole, grabs Stan by the arm. "Stanley, you're being—"
"Don't you dare say ridiculous or unreasonable or whatever else. I didn't bring this up! You did!" Stan says, jabbing his finger at Ford's face. Ford smacks it away, so Stan twists his other hand free and does it with that one. Ford smacks that one away.
Things devolve quickly after that into the kind of slap fights children have, only they're grown men in a tiny boat doorway, and Stan's in nothing but a towel. Stan recognizes this is stupid. It's almost unbelievably stupid, but it's all Ford's fault.
The kiss, admittedly, is on Stan, but Ford doesn't exactly push him away either. In fact, he grabs Stan at the hips and shoves him back into the bulkhead. The towel gets lost in the movement, and Ford's thigh pushes between Stan's to press against his cock. Stan grinds against the fabric and moans into Ford's mouth, his fingers clutching at Ford's shoulders.
"You make everything so difficult," Ford growls against Stan's cheek.
"Me? Have you met yourself?" Stan asks, but the fact that he wraps one leg around Ford's hip to get him closer probably undercuts it a little. He can't help it. He wants this so bad it hurts to not have it more than any injury he might get in the process.
One of Ford's hands slides down past Stan's waist to grip his raised thigh hard enough that Stan'll probably have six faint bruises there. Ford's other hand shoves between them to undo his own fly with the same practiced flick Stan's getting attached to, and then he's holding their cocks together, stroking them in one hard grip. Stan whimpers and presses his forehead to the side of Ford's neck until he comes with a sob.
The next morning, Stan wakes up before Ford to the sound of heavy rain. He sits on his bunk and watches Ford's chest rise and fall as he sleeps in the bunk opposite, and there's too much happening in Stan's own chest. He wants to take the two steps separating them and lie down together. He wants a whole mess of things he can't have because he's not supposed to. Some fucking plant.
When Stan gives up on staring at Ford and goes to take a piss, he finds he does have six little bruises on one thigh, and he pauses to press his thumb against each.
It turns out "heavy” doesn't begin to describe the rain situation; it's pouring rain. Stan hears it before he goes topside, and then when he climbs up he finds it almost deafening. He stands by the table and looks out through the glass, and he can barely see any of the other boats in the marina. Well, so much for leaving this morning.
Stan makes breakfast with fresh eggs and bacon, leaving a portion for Ford if he wants it. For the first time in months, Stan seriously regrets the lack of room on the Stan o' War. Ford has his workshop, but Stan doesn't have much space of his own. The best he can do is sit in the corner by the maps, facing away from the hatches and fiddling with a tangle of fishing supplies, hoping Ford leaves him alone.
It works, even. The only appearance Ford puts in for the morning is to silently take the food Stan left on the table and put on a pot of coffee. The next time Stan turns around, his mug is sitting filled on the table where the food was. They're not exactly fighting, Stan thinks.
The afternoon comes and starts going, and Stan's up to cook some soup when Ford does finally reemerge from the workshop and let Stan see it happen.
"Oh," he says when he sees Stan, and he starts disappearing back down the ladder.
At the last moment, Stan says, "Could use some clean bowls."
There are clean bowls in the cupboard. Stan could grab them in under two seconds. Ford pauses in his descent, and Stan wonders for a moment if he'll just keep going.
"Well, alright," Ford says instead, and he comes back up to grab the bowls from the cupboard, setting them on the counter next to the stove. "Spoons as well, I assume."
"Unless you feel like drinking it," Stan says, shrugging; he doesn't mind either way.
Spoons clink into each bowl. Stan keeps stirring the soup. Rain keeps pouring.
"I'm sorry I didn't explain my plans beforehand," Ford says.
The carrots aren't done enough yet. Stan sighs and puts the wooden spoon he's been stirring with down on the unused burner. Ford's gonna bitch at him about stains later, but Stan can live with that.
"You were right that I didn't have the right to be angry about— about the sleeping with someone else part."
"I didn't even succeed in that."
"But I think going off with some stranger and leaving me waiting for hours is kinda worth getting a little angry over, just a frickin' bit."
"Well, fair, but in my defense, you usually aren't so efficient when it comes to wandering around new places. You always find something to be distracted with. I didn't realize you'd be done so quickly."
"We're on a schedule," Stan says, mimicking Ford's voice.
"We're always on a schedule of some sort," Ford says, sounding tired. He doesn't rise to the mocking, and that takes the satisfaction out of it.
"You wouldn't drop it, either."
"You don't do quiet resentment well," Ford says. "It was talk about it or let you stew until you bubbled over." He reaches past Stan and picks up the wooden spoon from the burner to stick a napkin under it.
Stan rolls his eyes, but he's faced away from Ford. It doesn't matter. This has all gone so far past what Stan's willing and able to handle that he's left sighing and frowning at a pot of soup. He doesn't know what else to do.
"What hypothesis was that even?" he asks, feeling tired himself now. "You think the plant made it specifically us?"
"Something like that," Ford says. "The prevailing hypothesis now is..."
Stan waits. And waits. Eventually, he has to pick the spoon back up to stir the soup and test the carrots. They're softer now, but a little longer wouldn't hurt.
"You gonna finish that thought anytime soon?" Stan asks.
"I'm not sure you'd want me to," Ford admits. His voice is so strange that Stan finally turns around and looks at him. He's leaning against the bulkhead, arms crossed and staring at his own feet.
"What's wrong?" Stan asks. Then, as the silence continues, he's forced to say, "Ford, c'mon."
"What if the plant doesn't do what we thought it does, Stanley?"
"What if the effect it has on us isn't that of an aphrodisiac?"
"What the hell else would it be?"
"I..." Ford says, and he closes his eyes. "I couldn't say for sure. It doesn't appear to have any effect on the parts of the brain that experience arousal or the limbic system in any way. Anything else right now is… speculative in nature."
"Isn't every theory 'speculative in nature'?"
"Some more so than others," says Ford, and then he clams up. Stan watches him until the soup starts bubbling over.
"Dinner's up," Stan says after he's turned off the burner. He fills the bowls and carries them to the small table.
Ford takes the seat opposite him in silence. Eats in silence. Takes the empty bowls in silence. Washes them in fucking silence. But it's not like Stan tries talking to him either. He guesses that's on the both of them.
"Night, Ford," Stan finally says, lying alone and achingly tired in his bunk later.
"Goodnight," Ford says, lying in his.
Stan wakes up after Ford the next morning, and there's an absence of sounds. The rain has stopped, and the engine's not running. Stan heaves himself out of bed to see what that's about; Ford should have wanted to get them out of here as soon as possible.
Ford's not topside. Or in the head. Stan calls down to the workshop. He gets no answer, and when Stan climbs down to open the door, he finds the space empty.
When he returns topside, he looks around more thoroughly and finally finds something of an answer. There's a plate of toast with eggs next to a note on their little table.
"Testing another hypothesis and need another human for it. -Ford," the note says, and then at the bottom it adds, "P.S.- Not sex."
Stan stares at the note, and then the stare turns into a glare. Goddamnit, Ford.
The toast and eggs suck. They probably sucked when they were warm, but by now they're cold, and Stan can't even finish them. Fucking Ford. He thought they were over this kind of "Poor dumb Stanley won't understand so I'll do it without him" thing, but the last couple days have really been some of the old bullshit.
Stan gets himself so worked up over it, that eventually he's reduced to pacing in the cabin, muttering to himself about how much an asshole Ford is. Oh, sure, go ashore without saying anything, go test something on another human, and just because Ford says no sex, how does Stan know? Fucking—
Fine. If Ford's gonna be that way, Stan can, too. He slams out the top cabin, locks it, and climbs off their stupid boat to go talk to someone, anyone that isn't an asshole, and he doesn't leave a damn note about it either.
Stan's stomps along the scenic and cheerful waterfront until it takes him back to the same market he got supplies in. Checking his coat, he even finds the wallet's still there, so maybe it's time to blow some cash on something that'll piss Ford off. Stan doesn't have any ideas yet, but he figures he'll know it when he sees it.
Gradually, Stan slows his stomp to a stroll and lets his face relax from a scowl. The weather's back to being intolerably nice, like the rain never happened, and the sellers in their stalls still smile at everyone who passes. Stan bypasses most of the food and winds up wandering past tchotkes of familiar quality.
He's carefully considering a gigantic stuffed dolphin in a scuba mask —"Why does the dolphin need a scuba mask, Stanley?" Stan can imagine Ford snapping— when he notices a stall just to the left. There's a teenage girl sitting in it, glued to her phone and not giving a damn about talking to anyone, but an angry woman with an unnaturally pointy nose is standing in front of the stall, going on about something or other. Life ruined, how dare you, where's your manager, whatever.
The man selling the dolphin flinches. Stan leans over and asks, "What's all this about?"
"It's nothing," the man says, lying poorly. "You want the dolphin?"
"I'll take the dolphin if you tell me what that's about," Stan says. He was gonna take the dolphin anyway, to send to the kids if nothing else, but if he can satisfy his curiosity at the same time, so be it.
The man looks back and forth from Stan to the next stall. The woman is still griping, and the teenager still hasn't looked up from her phone. Stan's reminded faintly of one of Wendy's friends, but darker-skinned and possibly even less invested in caring.
"Her mother sells…" the man starts to say, and then he says a word that Stan doesn't understand and even the translator won't work on.
"Say that again," Stan says, but the word still won't process. "No idea what you're talking about," he's forced to admit.
"It's a tea, made from some plant she gets out at sea," the man says. "It's supposed to be a kind of cure-all for the mind. Fix everything."
The woman's still yelling. Stan wonders if she's going to hit the girl in the stall at this rate. "I take it that it didn't work for the lady with the temper."
"I'm afraid it probably did," the man says. He leans closer and tells Stan, "Not everyone is happy with being cured. I personally think the mother is some kind of witch."
"A witch? Nice," Stan says, and for half a second considers telling Ford. Then he remembers that he's pissed off. "How much for the—"
The woman, not getting whatever she wants out of the girl, tries climbing over the stall's front table, scattering little pouches of what must be tea everywhere. Stan likes to see teenagers get what's coming to them —in theory. In practice, he ends up intervening. He grabs the woman by her shoulders and lifts her back away from the table.
"Whoa there," he says, and he gets a slap to the face for it. It's not even close to the hardest one he's ever had, so it barely fazes him.
"That little witch has ruined my marriage!" shouts the woman. Her accent's somewhere from the US south if Stan had to guess. Tourist.
"You ruined it yourself, lady," the teenager says, also in English, though more locally accented. She's finally looked up from her phone to glare at the woman. "All we did was give your husband the method to find out."
"Do you have any idea how much trouble you've caused me? And what if he had taken it poorly? The things he could have done? Do you ever think of that?"
"We don't sell to assholes," the teenager says. "And believe me, we know them when we see them." She gives the woman a pointed look. Then she drops her gaze back to her phone.
"I'm reporting you to the police," The woman snaps. "You sell a drug."
"We sell an herbal tea, lady."
The woman growls with about all the menace of an angry gerbil and stomps off, but not before giving Stan one last slap. He watches her go and calls out, "Nice meeting ya!"
"She's a serial adulterer," the teenager says.
"I was being sarcastic, kid. Also, how do you know that?"
"Read the sign, gramps."
Stan looks up for the first time. Above the stall, there's a painted sign in English that says, "Truth Tea! Find your inner truth! Secrets revealed with one cup!" Which is dumb but admirably so. It's kind of hokum that rubes'll gobble up —or gulp down— if sold with the right amount of vague mysticism. Stan wouldn't otherwise pay it a bit of mind, but in the corner of the sign, there's a painting of a plant.
It's a very familiar plant.
"Hey," Stan says. He points in mild shock at the sign. "What's that?"
"Yeah, no—" Stan remembers at the last second he's talking to a teenager. "No sugar. But what kind of plant?"
"Truth plant," the teenager says. Then she says the word the translator won't pick up, followed by, "How we make the tea."
Stan takes a few steps closer to the stall. He looks around and asks, "You got a parent or something?"
Stan glares. The girl doesn't even look up. "Okay, you got a parent nearby I could talk to?"
"Nope. My day to run the stall. Stuck with me."
"Okay, then…" Stan looks around and finds the man with the dolphin watching with mild interest. "You, you know about this?"
"I know I don't want to interfere with anything that girl or her mother does," the man says bluntly. "Are you going to buy the dolphin or not?"
"Yeah, sure." Stan hands over a wad of cash without really counting it, since the point was wasting it anyway, and then tucks the giant stuffed sea creature under one arm before looking back to the girl. "Okay, you say the plant is a 'truth plant'—" He does air quotes. "—but is it anything else, maybe?"
"The truth plant is a truth plant. Shocking, I know."
Stan considers climbing over the stall table, but he reigns himself in with a massive showing of willpower. "Okay, and when you say 'truth', do you mean like, facts or do you mean something else?"
"What else would it mean?"
Stan opens his mouth to say, "How about wanting to fuck really inappropriate people," but he catches himself. "Something that's not like, objective, inner secret truth, and honesty," he says instead.
"You sure about that?"
"I breathe and drink this stuff every day of my life, gramps. I'd notice if it did something else."
The girl does seem oddly not inclined to fuck anyone except maybe her phone. Stan's not ready to give in yet, though.
"Is there a plant that looks like this one that does something else?"
"Could you be, I dunno, immune to it or something?"
"If I was, you think I'd be sitting here on a Saturday? Got found out and grounded for going to someone's party. Wasn't even worth it. DJ sucked."
Stan desperately wishes it was literally anyone but him doing this right now. Teenagers are worse than monsters in his opinion. He's out of luck, though, so he rubs his face and asks, "Maybe some people react differently to the plant. It doesn't make them enlightened, it makes them… excited. Or something."
"Everyone's truth is different," the teen says. "That lady's was that she wanted to bang her boy toy lover, so that's what she went and did, and husband got the dirt."
Well, so much for trying to play innocent. "And that's the only way this tea would make you want to bang someone. If that was what you already wanted to do?"
"Yep. Sorry if you're looking for a roofie, gramps." The phone gets tilted up and makes a camera noise. "Putting you on my feed with a warning."
"What? I literally just saved you from getting slapped around by Botox just then," Stan says.
"I could have handled it my—" The phone pings, and the teen frowns at it. "Is your name Stan Pines?"
Stan blinks. "Uh... why?"
"I've got a mutual in the States who says you are. 'Don't worry. Just Stan Pines. Not as much a creep as he looks.'" The phone pings a bunch more times. The teenager tilts her head. "And a bunch of people from… Oregon? Are liking that reply now. You a local celebrity or something?"
Stan sighs heavily. This would only happen to him, he's sure. "This friend of yours, purple hair?"
"Yep. People really like the dolphin," she says, sounding almost pleased. She even looks up and smiles at the man who sold, who in turn says, "Aww."
"Of course they do," Stan says with the distinct feeling that this international insult on top of the 'apparently my brother and I just want to fuck each other on our own' injury is a bit much, even by the standards of his life so far. "Say 'hi' for me, I guess."
"Oh, one sec," the teen says, and she grabs a little pouch from the table, climbs out of the stall, and comes to stand in front of Stan. She holds up the pouch like she's giving it to him and raises the phone with her other hand to take a picture. Stan's caught staring dead-eyed in the flash, and he doesn't even want to think how bad the picture looks. The teen does actually hand him the pouch then.
"Call it a promo," she says and goes back to her phone, which begins pinging like crazy a few moments later. "I've been telling Mama we ought to ship internationally."
Honestly, Stan respects the opportunism too much to be angry, and the thought of Gravity Falls suddenly having a bunch of people caught out in their bullshit soothes some petty piece of his mind. He says, "Tell 'em even Ford —F-O-R-D— studied it. That'll get 'em."
The girl taps away at her phone. More pings. "Nice," she says.
"You're welcome. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go have a breakdown and see how much of my lifelong dream has been ruined."
"Have fun," the teen says absently.
As Stan slumps away, a thought occurs to him, and he turns back around to ask, "Okay, wait. Why not call it Honest-Tea or something?"
"Trademarked," the teen says. For a moment, she actually seems to be a human affected by human emotions and says, "Yeah, I was disappointed, too."
When Stan reaches the dock again, Ford's still not back. Stan climbs aboard the Stan o' War and then into his bunk, the dolphin in tow. He stares at the bulkhead where he's got various pictures taped —Dipper and Mabel, the Shack with Wendy and Soos, more of the kids, the little goodbye party the town threw when Stan and Ford left. There's a picture of Ford sitting with Mabel on his knee while Dipper shows him something on a notepad that's Stan's favorite. It's all aggressively wholesome.
The worst thing is that Stan's not even that surprised, not for his own part. There's been a creeping worry, just a niggling little thought in his brainpan for a couple days, and now he's got the proof of it. There's no excuse. He just wants to have sex with his twin brother.
Actually, the worst thing is that Ford probably knows. It's probably been the 'prevailing hypothesis' ever since he tried to get laid, and Stan can't even fault him for not explaining it. How the hell do you say that? How the hell is Stan supposed to tell him he knows now?
Stan mopes around in his bunk until he gets hungry. It's the afternoon already, and what little breakfast he ate sucked, so he goes topside and makes himself a sandwich. He considers calling the kids, just wanting to hear some friendly voices, but he's not sure what time it is in California now, and he feels too… ashamed.
Stan goes out onto the top deck to sit and eat. He slumps in his fishing chair and watches ships and little dive boats come and go. When he's finished the sandwich, he stays in place and tries to enjoy this for however long he's got it.
The actual, real, truly worst thing is that even if this has all been Ford's truth, too, that doesn't mean he'll want to stick around. There's having unnatural urges and then there's acting on them, and the gap there is pretty wide. Ford never actually promised he wouldn't leave or kick Stan off the boat for this. Stan couldn't even blame him if he did, not… not logically, but he knows he'd be angry, be hurt, be miserable if Ford left him all over again.
Stan waits on the top deck for as long as he can stand, and then when nerves and worry take over, he locks up the door and climbs back down to the dock. He has vague thoughts about looking for Ford all over the island if he has to, and they're cut short when he sees a familiar figure sitting with his feet dangling off the edge of the dock, all of fifty feet away from the boat.
Well. Alright then.
"How long have you been here?" Stan asks, walking up to stand about five or so feet away. He doesn't know if it's that he wants to be closer and is scared of putting Ford off, or if he doesn't want to be this close at all. His head's a jumble. Maybe he should have brewed himself the damn tea sample.
Ford looks up and shrugs. "Oh, probably only an hour or two," he says.
"Spare a thought for the brother you left hanging?"
"All my thoughts, in fact," Ford says, turning back to the water. "I'm afraid I have some developments in the matter of the chemical compound from the—"
"It's like a truth serum," Stan says.
Ford stops, and then he sighs and puts his fingers under his glasses to rub his eyes.
"I went out to the market earlier," Stan says. "And wouldn't you know, some teenager with a phone addiction was working a stall selling 'Truth Tea: Find your inner secrets!'" He looks around the mostly empty marina, and when he finds no one nearby he takes the last few steps to stand next to Ford. "So that was my day," he says to the water.
"Mine was finding a random sap to blow a faceful of preserves pollen onto," Ford says.
"Possibly, but by that point, I was already mostly convinced it was related to honesty rather than attraction."
"So whose life did you ruin?"
"No one's," Ford says. "Did it to some woman who was being rude to a waiter, but apparently her truth was she's been desperately in love with him since they were children and was scared of her parents finding out. They eloped."
"It took me as long as it did to get back because I had to be a witness," Ford says, and he pulls out a polaroid. He hands it up to Stan, who examines it and finds his brother standing in a courtroom full of strangers, looking dead-eyed and uncomfortable while a man and a woman make out in the middle. Ford's holding a sad, wilting bouquet, like from a grocery store. Stan snorts, and then he busts up laughing.
The picture is pulled from his hand as he's doubled over, and Ford says, "Not that I wanted to ruin anyone's life, but it certainly wasn't what I expected."
"Geeze, Ford. You're horrible," Stan says, wiping his eyes. He sits down on dock himself.
"I waited until I found someone awful, at least," Ford says. "Apparently, she was more repressed than anything."
That's worth a snort, so Stan does. "No idea what that's like."
"Yes, well the waiter wasn't her twin," Ford says bitterly, so apparently they've moved past the deflections.
"I did make extra sure there wasn't any other way the plant could work," Stan says, feeling exhausted by this conversation already. "I don't suppose we can pretend this never happened."
"Exactly how well do you think that would work?" Ford snaps.
"Better than losing my brother again. How would I get you back from this?"
"It's not as if I wanted this to happen. I just… I can't pretend that well, even if you can.” Ford shakes his head and puts his face in his hands. He sounds and looks lost, and what little anger Stan still felt about today dies away.
"So, what do we do now?"
Ford considers for a moment, and when he speaks again, his voice is back under control. Careful and proper. "The smart thing to do would be to part ways."
Stan's stomach twists, though he's not surprised. "Call the world reunion tour off, huh?"
"You could take the boat," Ford says. "I— I wouldn't mind if you did. In fact, I'd prefer you still had the chance to be—"
"It's not about the boat, Ford."
"It has never been about some stupid boat," Stan says. He rubs at his own mouth, looks down at his feet over the water and says, "If you're not on it, it can sink for all I care. Me with it."
A long pause follows, and then Ford quietly says, "You love me."
"What? Of course I do, you're—"
"Not what I meant."
Stan stops. Cautiously, he tries to think about it. Not just lust, not even the world-ending love he feels for his brother, but the kind of love that makes someone elope with a waiter. Thinking about it ends up like trying to remember where a wrinkle in his reflection came from. It wasn't always there. Hard to say when it started, but it's there now and it's really not doing Stan any favors. Well, shit.
"Maybe," he admits.
Ford's silent for too long after that. Stan considers getting up and leaving, downplaying it, or maybe just jumping off the dock. There's gotta be a shark he can convince to tear him to pieces somewhere in the area. Instead of doing any of those, though, he stays sitting, gripping the edge of the dock, and waiting.
Eventually, it pays off, and Ford says, "Honesty is such a dangerous thing. I heard Mabel tried the truth teeth out on you once."
"She meant well." Stan shrugs. "But I've been trying to tell people lying's the superior option for years," he says. It's not funny, but he laughs. "You could have left this alone, too, Ford."
"I don't think I could have," Ford admits. He sighs heavily. "But fair's fair, I suppose."
"Maybe I love you, too."
"Wouldn't that be something," Stan says.
"You don't think I do?"
"I don't think anything's ever worked out that well for me," Stan says, though something small and determined is growing in his chest, like a strange little flower on a rocky island. It probably called "hope" or some other sappy, dopey thing. Stan doesn't examine it too closely. Who knows what it could do?
"Well, if I did, morally speaking it'd be an abomination," Ford says consideringly. "So it still wouldn't necessarily be working out for you. Even if you were determined to be a pessimist —which I find hard to believe you could maintain— I could still possibly love you."
"Maybe," Stan says with a shrug.
"Maybe," Ford agrees. His shoulder bumps into Stan's and stays there's too long to be accidental. In fact, it just keeps staying there until Stan realizes Ford's leaning against him on purpose. Huh.
Stan doesn't know how long they sit on the dock with their feet dangling over the waves below, but Ford's hand is lit by moonlight when he holds it out to Stan and says, "Let's go back to our boat."
There's no way Stan can say no to that, so he puts his hand in Ford's and lets himself be pulled up and along the dock to the Stan o' War.
At the door to the cabin, Ford pauses, staring at the lock, and says, "In all honesty, Stan, I think I'm going to kiss you once we're inside. Is that going to be a problem?"
"Not for me," Stan says. He trails one hand down Ford's arm from his shoulder to his elbow. "You?"
"I'll live," Ford says with a little laugh, and he unlocks the cabin door.
Inside, he does exactly what he said he would. His hands come up to either side of Stan's face to hold him still for a kiss so gentle Stan finally believes Ford was telling the truth when he said, "Maybe I love you, too.” Maybe it's not even really a maybe.
Stan wraps both his arms around Ford's waist and lets himself be kissed as fingers card through his hair and trail down his neck. He shivers under the touch and laughs at himself.
Ford pulls back and asks, "What?"
"I'm being silly," Stan whispers back. He rests his forehead against Ford's. "Ignore me."
Ford's fingers reach underneath the collar of his shirt, rub the skin there, and Stan sighs happily. "You don't have to be so gentle, you know," he says in self-defense. It's not that he doesn't like it; he just doesn't think he can withstand it.
The reaction he gets is an annoyed scoff, and Stan pulls back to see Ford's face twist up in frustration.
"Could you make up your mind?" he says, at normal speaking volume, but after the whispers and kisses, it feels like a yell. "You recently accused me of trying to kill you for something you did to yourself, but now it's 'don't be so gentle'? Honestly."
Stan snickers and gets flicked in the ear for it. So he snickers harder.
"This is a serious question, Stanley," Ford says, sounding like he's about to pull all the way away and sulk any second now, and Stan can't have that, so he shakes his head and rests it in the crook of Ford's neck.
"Let a fella like more than one thing, okay?" he suggests.
"So which thing now?"
Stan gives it roughly a second's thought. "Fuck me into the deck?"
"I'm honestly a little tired of the sex on hard surfaces thing, and don't think I haven't noticed your knees bruising. We're not young enough for this."
"Fine, a mattress then."
Ford kisses Stan's neck. "Better," he says, and he pulls Stan along to the ladder.
In the dark sleeping quarters, Stan pulls off his clothes and leaves them on the deck; his heart's pounding already, and it's different now. Not about a plant. Ford wants him and god, does he want Ford. That's on both of them.
"Stanley," Ford sighs, kissing Stan's neck even as Stan toes his socks off. Then Ford's lips freeze and his head lifts away. "Stanley," he says again, this time drastically different.
"What the hell's that?"
"Huh?" Stan turns his head. The dolphin plushie grins at him from his bunk, its gigantic eyes leering from behind the scuba mask. "Oh. Hah, yeah. Bought that at the stall next to the tea girl."
"For the kids," Stan lies smoothly. "Well, Mabel more, I guess. Should find something for the boy."
"What's it doing in here? And why does it have a scuba mask?"
"I dunno. It's nice."
"It's deranged," Ford says, like Stan knew he would. "I'm not doing anything in front of that."
"Oh fine," Stan says, laughing, and he picks up the dolphin to put it outside the door. "There. Better?"
"Better," Ford admits, and then he grabs Stan by the back of his neck and brings their mouths roughly together. Gone are the sweet kisses, and Stan's more than content to see them go for now. The tongue shoving into his mouth can keep him company instead.
"Fuck," he pulls back and says when Ford grabs his dick to give it several tight pulls. He shudders hard and says, "Yeah, baby."
"Get on the bunk," Ford orders, and Stan spares not a damn thought to objecting. He lies down on his back and gets the pillow comfortable under his head as Ford watches. Maybe if they hadn't been having sex all over the boat already, Stan would feel self-conscious under that attention, but if Ford was gonna wuss out because Stan's out of shape, he would have by now.
"You gonna come over here?" Stan asks.
"Give me a moment," Ford says, and he turns to leave. He stumbles over the dolphin on the other side of the door and curses it; Stan has to cover his mouth with his own elbow to stop the snorts that causes.
Ford comes back with the first aid kit, though, and that's when Stan says, "What now?" as he looks himself over to find what prompted this. He's a little scratched up and a little bruised, but out on the ocean, saving the world all the time, when isn't he?
"Getting— ah," Ford says, having pulled something from the kit. It's a tube of lube that Stan's pretty damn sure wasn't in there last time the kit came out.
"Where'd that come from? Why's it in the first aid kit?"
"I restocked on medical supplies day before last and it was in with the lot," Ford says. "Hand lotion's fine but—"
"Please don't tell me you got that for your little affair plan."
"Aff— Oh, for heaven's sake, nothing even happened, and it's not like we were in—"
"—a relationship, yeah, yeah."
"At the time anyway," Ford says. It's a little bit of a gut punch. But in a nice way.
Stan swallows. "Would you just come fuck me, already?"
"Not if you're going to be a child about it," Ford mutters, but he comes over to kneel on the bed between Stan's legs. Stan lets his thighs fall wider apart and enjoys the stretch. It's going to get even better, hopefully. "Let me know if you change your mind again," Ford says with the tiniest of glares before shoving two cold, slick fingers up Stan's ass.
"Fuck!" Stan yelps, and then he's got to grip the pillow underneath his head and clench his eyes shut. He angles his hips on the penetration and tries, fails to not make embarrassing noises as Ford lubes him up roughly. He's not even trying to loosen Stan up, apparently, just adding more slick each time he pulls his fingers free.
In fact, Stan gets too used to that, fingers thrust in and yanked out, that he's startled into another yelp when it's not fingers that push in next. The head of Ford's cock enters in one quick push, and Stan whimpers.
"Fuck, yeah," he says as Ford rocks in harder and harder till he's all the way in, Stan's ass against his hips, and Stan's dignity probably somewhere back on the top deck. Maybe out to sea. Who needs it?
Ford pauses to put Stan's knees over his own shoulder while Stan wriggles and pants, but then he grabs Stan's hips hard enough to bruise all over again and fucks him. Stan tears at his own pillow with his fingers and rides the feeling.
He's so screwed, in at least two meanings of the word, because each harsh thrust has him grunting out pained breaths. There's no way he could give this up, if Ford changed his mind. Please don't ever let him.
"You gonna stay with me?" Stan asks, feeling pathetic but not enough to stop himself, and Ford doesn't falter. He keeps thrusting in as he slides one hand up Stan's straining body to grab Stan's wrist.
"Yes, I am," Ford pants, and he squeezes Stan's wrist, rubbing the inside with his thumb as he keeps pushing harder and faster into Stan's body, hard enough to hurt but fuck if that isn't the point.
"Yeah, but, damn it, wait," Ford says, and he pulls all the way out. Stan sighs and his free hand tries to reach for Ford's hips all on its own. "Turn over."
"Are you kidding me?" Stan asks weakly.
The hand not on Stan's wrist comes down with a sharp slap on the side of Stan's ass. "Honestly, it's not asking much."
It's asking the goddamn world of Stan to coordinate enough to roll onto his stomach, but because it's Ford, he manages through some unknown reserve of willpower, accidentally —"accidentally”— managing to smack Ford's face with an ankle in the process. Stan pushes the pillow from under his head to under his hips and settles down on it so his cock rubs against it with every movement.
"There, that wasn't so difficult," Ford says, and then he's spreading Stan open with his fingers and rubbing the head of his cock at Stan's hole. "You want this?"
"Do you want me to beg? Is that it? I'm not saying please." Stan tries lifting his ass to push back and get Ford into him again, and Ford laughs.
"Just checking," he says and then he presses all the way back in. Stan yells, just a little, and then every thought he has about Ford being an asshole gets pushed from his head. There's no room for it in the tangle of "God, yes" and "Yeah, like that," and maybe, possibly even a "Please."
Stan comes by rubbing himself off on the pillow and clenching down on Ford's cock. He moans and squirms, arching his back, and Ford just keeps thrusting into his ass. Stan sobs in relief.
"Fuck, fuck, Stanley," Ford groans. His rhythm is breaking and now some thrusts are shallow while others slam in deeper and harder. Even spent, Stan has to moan on those, until finally Ford gasps softly and comes inside him with helpless shudders. Stan wishes he was back on his back so he could wrap his arms around Ford, but he's not exactly going to cry about feeling it this way.
Ford pulls out once he's stopped shaking, and Stan feels wetness slide out with him. He kisses Stan's shoulder and asks, "Are you alright?"
Stan lifts one hand and lets it drop with a wordless, yet positive noise for an answer. It's probably for the best he doesn't try talking. It would end up a whole embarrassing stream of "I love you" and "I love you" and also, "I love you," and Stan's just not feeling that level of honesty at the moment. He sticks with, "Mm-hm.”
About a week later, the kids call on the satellite phone while Stan's sunbathing on the deck. Yesterday he got eaten whole by a sea serpent and had to hang on to the inside of a gill until Ford could stun the bastard, so Stan thinks he's owed a little downtime while Ford alternates between trying to scan the area for more and coming out to check on Stan for the billionth time. He never says that's what he's doing, but it definitely is.
When the whole swallowed alive thing happened, Ford said dismissively, "You've been through worse, I'm sure," but then he spent all night waking Stan up at two-hour intervals to check his lungs for water, —"Secondary drowning is a very real danger, Stanley"— and today he keeps coming out to pat Stan on the head or offer him coffee. The last time involved a bag of toffee peanuts Stan didn't even know were on the boat. Sleep deprivation aside, he's enjoying it entirely too much, so he answers the call in a pretty good mood, out at sea with his favorite person and about to talk to his two other favorites. What's better than this?
"Hey, kids, what's hap—"
"Stan?" Dipper says, sounding his usual high-strung self. "You broke Gravity Falls."
Stan sits up. "Uh, come again? We're nowhere near Oregon. I don't think." He lowers the phone and yells in the direction of the cabin, "Ford! How far to home?”
From inside, Ford calls back, "A week or more! Why?”
"Just checking,” Stan answers; then he raises the phone again. "Whatever it is was probably not us.”
"Do you remember endorsing some stupid tea thing like, a week back?" Dipper asks. Stan blinks. "Well, everybody ordered some, and now the whole town's in chaos."
"Oh." Stan winces while also suppressing a laugh. It's a mixed kind of emotion. "How bad?"
"Not that bad," Mabel says from further away. "I think some of these are kinda cute—"
"Mabel, would you stop looking at the pictures?"
"Oh c'mon, we're teens. This is what we do on the internet."
After sorting through the context, Stan's eyes widen. He says, "It's just an honesty plant. What— Sweetie, what're you looking at exactly?"
"A beautiful expression of love," Mabel says with a dreamy sigh.
"Something that definitely violates the content restrictions on school computers," Dipper says, probably with a nervous expression and growing sweat stains under his arms; Stan misses him. "Would you close that already?"
"Mabel, listen to your brother. Dipper, how much trouble would you say I'm in, overall?"
"Let's just say Wendy wants to kill you and may also have a new stepdad," Dipper says. "Look, that's not even— I think the mayor hooking up is the least of anyone's worries. That's a town full of secrets and now they're all spilling them. Why would you do this? You like lying. Lying's your favorite!"
"Maybe I learned a lesson about being honest with the people I care about and wanted to share that."
"Yeah, right," Mabel says, while Dipper says, "Stan, please, that sounds nothing like you."
"Hey, you never know."
"You're literally lying right now," Dipper says, and Stan can't argue with him there. He doesn't even feel inclined to, because Ford's walked out again, wearing his red sweater and carrying yet another cup of coffee. He comes to lean against the railing in front of Stan and tilt his head curiously.
Stan smiles at him, and to the phone, he says, "Okay, so the town's in complete chaos, and it's all my fault. What's new?” just to watch Ford sigh about it.