It wasn’t until they set off on the Stan O’ War II that Stan started to suspect anything had changed.
...Well, that wasn’t entirely true. There was that one moment during the reconstruction of the Shack, when a falling shingle seemed to almost swerve in midair to avoid hitting Soos’s head — not to mention Ford’s little pyrotechnics demonstration at Dipper and Mabel’s birthday party. The fact that that had gone off without a hitch should have been more than enough to tell him that something was different.
But it really began one otherwise peaceful morning, a bit less than a month into their trip north, when Stan’s attempt at making coffee was foiled by a sudden force slamming into the side of the boat. It knocked the pot clear off the counter and onto the floor, and rivers of precious caffeinated beverage seeped into the cracks between the planks, disappearing forever as the boat continued to shake.
“Alright,” Ford growled, pulling out his gun and bolting for the steps to the deck, “this is war.” Before Stan could warn him to be careful, or ask if he even knew what they were dealing with, he was out of sight.
“Damn it, Sixer,” Stan muttered as he fumbled around for a weapon, “every time you rush in like this, you end up needing me to save your ass…”
Sure enough, not thirty seconds later he heard Ford yelling. At first, it was the savage cry of a man determined to avenge his coffee, but it quickly morphed into a shout of surprise, and then the familiar “Stanley! Help!”
Stan sighed. “Called it.”
He grabbed a harpoon gun, and charged upstairs to his brother’s rescue, only to find himself staring down… the most obnoxiously bright yellow duck he’d ever seen, like a bath toy come to life.
Even ignoring its ridiculous wide-eyed expression, the color alone made Stan want to puke — hell, even Bill Cipher himself had been downright aesthetically pleasing compared to this abomination. And of course, that couldn’t be all. It just had to also be surrounded by two dozen massive squid-like tentacles, all of them the same bright yellow and one of them wrapped around Ford’s chest and hoisting him several feet above the deck.
“Quick!” Ford yelled, gasping for breath. “The Rubber Quacken’s weak spot is just — just below the bill! Kill the foul creature, before I —”
Making a split second decision to comment on the monster’s horrendous name later, Stan aimed the harpoon gun as best as he could. It was hard to even look directly at the duck for more than a few seconds, much less take an accurate shot —
He saw Ford turning purple and futilely thrashing about in his peripheral vision, and before he realized what he was doing, his finger squeezed down on the trigger. No monster this ridiculous is going to take away my brother.
The shot should have gone wide. He saw it pointing far above the duck’s head, nowhere near the angle it was meant to fly at. But the harpoon spun in midair like some invisible hand had deflected it, plunging downwards and somehow embedding itself just below the duck’s bill.
The creature let out an enraged squeak, and withdrew in an instant, deflating tentacles dropping Ford down on the dock. As Stan rushed to his side, he managed to set up and rub his ribs.
“I’m alright,” he assured Stan. “Nothing a few alien healing-packs can’t fix.”
Stan just sighed. “You fight one of these things before or what?”
“Yes, a slightly smaller one found its way to the lake in Gravity Falls somehow back in ‘78. Just be grateful we didn’t meet its close cousin, the Hawktopus.”
“Why? What does it do, just fly away with the world’s most reckless geniuses before their brothers can save them?”
“What? No, they’re actually quite harmless. Just objectively the stupidest creature in this dimension, and the screech they make gives me headaches.”
Stan groaned. “Way to miss the point, Poindexter. Can you just, I dunno, try and be a little more careful next time? Eventually you’re gonna run out of alien drugs to fix your broken ribs and I’m gonna run out of dumb luck to save you with the first place.”
Ford narrowed his eyes. “Stan, with you, nothing is ever random dumb luck. You’ll always find some way to rig the universe in your favor.”
“You’re changing the topic!”
“Alright. I promise.”
For a month or so after that, nothing particularly odd happened — at least, nothing more out of the ordinary than anything ever was for the Pines. Yeah, the weather was miraculously much nicer than forecasted when they sailed down to California to see Dipper and Mabel for the holidays, and yeah, Stan beat a bunch of selkies at poker without even needing to cheat, but those were just a couple of coincidences. The same went for the Stan O’ War II escaping unscathed from so many monster attacks — it was just dumb luck, and as welcomed as it was, it would run out sooner or later. Right?
But when Stan and Ford went wandering through a winding maze of caverns in search of treasure, things got odd, unusual, and statistically improbable once again. First it was Stan tripping and finding the entrance by complete accident, then it was their flashlights holding out for hours without needing to change the batteries, and then it was the slow realization that no matter how many times they had to choose from one of several branching paths, they never seemed to hit a dead end.
That was, not until they squeezed out of a particularly cramped tunnel and found themselves in a high-ceilinged room, crystals on the walls glimmering and an ancient-looking treasure chest waiting for them on a stone pedestal, just like something out of the most fantastical adventure story.
“Holy Moses!” Stan exclaimed, practically sprinting across the room to get a better look. “This baby looks like it’s made of real gold!” He gave the lock a shake, and began to lift the heavy lid —
“Stan, no!” Ford shouted. “It could be —”
Stan opened the chest before he could process Ford’s words. “Holy shit, these look like real diamonds! Ford, we’re rich!”
He turned around, expecting to see an excited look on Ford’s face, but instead, he was met with an infuriated glare.
“You idiot! It could be cursed! You keep telling me to be more careful, but you — you might have just given yourself some fatal and incurable disease, for all you know!”
His voice grew uneven in a way that was distinctly un-Ford-like as he went on, and Stan realized he wasn’t so much angry as he was frightened on Stan’s behalf.
“Shit, I — I didn’t think. How do we know if —”
From his backpack, Ford pulled a simple black rod, and held it over the treasure chest for a few seconds until it lit up purple. He breathed a sigh of relief.
“Alright. Alright, we’re… we’re safe. There once was a fairly powerful curse on this treasure, but it’s been… neutralized, apparently. Nothing but harmless magical residue here.”
“Ford, I’m so sorry,” Stan told him. “You’re right, I am a hypocrite. I just got excited about the treasure, and…”
“It’s okay,” Ford replied. “I… I sounded like I was angry at you, didn’t I? I didn’t mean to — I was just worried.”
Stan nodded, and a smile slowly spread across Ford’s face. “So what if we’re both idiots with no sense of self-preservation? That’s why we have each other.”
“Ah, you’re such a sappy old man,” Stan said, but he raised his hand for a high-six, and Ford obliged.
“I am curious how the curse was neutralized, though,” Ford pondered as he and Stan sorted through the haul of precious gemstones. “Assuming the spell was in effect when it was hidden, as is true for most treasures, it wouldn’t make sense for anyone to come down here and remove the curse but leave the jewels.”
He turned to look at Stan and rubbed his chin. “Unless you accidentally neutralized it yourself, somehow.”
“Ha, me?” Stan scoffed. “Look, Ford, I have a lot of weird talents, but magic isn’t one of them.”
“I’m honestly not so sure,” Ford replied, and with the poor lighting of the cave masking his expression, Stan couldn’t tell if he was teasing or serious. “We do seem to have experienced quite a streak of good luck lately, with everything from the weather to even finding these caverns in the first place…”
“Oh, come on! What do you think I am, some kind of walking good luck charm? Did one of my feet turn into a rabbit’s foot? Do I have four-leaf-clovers growing out of my ears?”
Ford snorted. “No, Stan, you’re right. I’m just looking for connections where aren’t any to be found.”
“Yeah, you don’t need to tell me that. I always just assume you’re overthinking shit until proven otherwise.”
“Touché. Now help me lift this thing and see if it fits through the exit.”
Stan was sitting at a table in a local restaurant, flirting with the waiter as he waited for Ford to get back from the restroom, when he noticed a man glaring at him from a few tables away. His hair was going gray and his face looked far more worn and beaten than Stan remembered, but the intricate serpent tattoo on his neck told Stan everything he needed to know — and none of it was good news, least of all not the other three equally rough-looking men sitting next to him.
Stan excused himself as quickly as he could and rushed towards the restroom, thankfully bumping into Ford on the way there.
“We gotta go, Sixer. We gotta go now.”
“What? Stan, what’s wrong?”
“Biker gang,” Stan hurriedly exclaimed, pulling Ford by the arm as they headed for the exit. “Really bad history. No time to explain.”
“I do have a gun on me,” Ford whispered as soon as they were out the door of the restaurant. “Worst comes to worst, I can —”
“Yeah, and there’s four of them, and they’re all gonna have their own guns. I don’t like your chances. We gotta make a break for the boat.”
Ford grunted his agreement as he broke into a run besides Stan.
“Pinefield!” a low voice bellowed from the direction of the restaurant. “We just want to chat!”
Stan didn’t dare turn his head around to look, but he heard the sound of several motorcycles being revved in the distance —
And then, a sudden and jarring boom just like a clap of thunder, followed by a string of curses that made Ford’s alien swears look uncreative. Stan didn’t need to turn around to know that someone’s engine had just failed in incredibly spectacular fashion, and that he’d just dropped a lot lower on the list of the gang’s priorities.
He looked at Ford, only to find his brother staring back at him with the same unspoken question clear in his expression — did you do that?
“Ha! Natural 38 again!” Stan cheered gleefully, sending sheets of graph paper flying as he smacked the table. “It’s over, ya stupid dragon of vector cross products!”
“Yes, that’s quite impressive,” Ford murmured as he scribbled notes down on a page hidden from Stan’s sight. “Are you sure you aren’t cheating?”
“Seriously? You still don’t trust your own brother not to rig the dice? Honestly, Ford, I’m starting to think you’re just jealous about me being better at your nerd game than you are.”
Ford frowned, and picked the D38 up off the table gingerly, as if it was some sort of scientific specimen. “Actually, Stan… I ask because I weighted this die. To favor lower numbers.”
“Who’s the smart twin now — wait, what?”
Ford placed a piece of graph paper in front of Stan, listing all his rolls from the night’s session. “And yet, you’re still scoring consistently higher than random chance would suggest even for a normal die, much less a rigged one. Something’s going on — something not just abnormal, but supernaturally so.”
“Wait, you’re serious about thinking I’m some kinda magic good luck charm? How — how would that’ve even happened in the first place? I —”
Ford frowned. “Well, it’s debatable if it can really be called luck when it’s something that happens consistently and with an identifiable cause — but for simplicity’s sake, yes, that’s what the data seem to represent. Though I suppose there’s always a miniscule chance of it having all been truly random…”
“Again, Ford — how does something like this even happen? Because trust me, this definitely hasn’t been going on my whole life. I woulda gotten kicked out of a lot more casinos, for one thing — not that I didn’t get kicked out of a couple anyways.”
“I have no idea,” Ford told, and then hurriedly added. “Although for the record, I don’t think it’s a Bill thing. Good luck is the complete opposite of what he would cause, even if he did come back…”
He snapped his fingers. “Except, this might be the result of Bill’s death itself, rather than his continued existence! Maybe, because you destroyed a demon, you have a sort of aura lingering about you that wards off harm and evil!”
Stan snorted. “And lets me kick your ass at dice games?”
“Well, maybe it just gives your general luck a modifier of sorts. Hold on, I have an idea.”
Ford stood up from the table to rummage around in one of the boat’s closets, and pulled out the black rod he’d used to check over the treasure chest. “I’ll admit I’ve never actually used this on a person, but I can’t think of any reason why it would be inaccurate. You should hold still just to be sure, though…”
He held the device over Stan’s head for a moment, and then lowered it so Stan could see the results. From end to end, it had lit up light blue.
“Protective magic, and a highly powerful form of it, too. No wonder the curse on that treasure got neutralized instantly. It’s confirmed — you’re a walking ward against bad luck.”
For a moment, they both just let the silence hang in the air. It felt like the type of realization that should have a certain degree of gravity to it, the type of thing that would seriously alter one’s worldview… but at the same time, they’d both seen weirder.
“Huh,” Stan finally said. “Well… what do we do now?”
Ford shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe go get kicked out of some casinos?”
“Hey, we should go someplace where there’s a bunch of different ones, like Vegas, and have a race to see who can get kicked out of the most in one night!”
“That hardly seems fair, what with you being magical and all.”
“Hey, you’re the one who’s always bragging about getting kicked out of the gambling dimension for counting cards! I wanna see how good you really are.”
“You know what, fine. But all this little race has as a prize is bragging rights; I’m not doing anything for you when you magically coast to victory!”
“Deal?” Stan asked, raising his hand for a high-six.