The first time it happens, it’s a bright Tuesday afternoon in the Pacific ocean north east of Kiribati, and Stanford Pines is almost done recording the readings of his instruments. Ford is checking the pH number of the oil sample they obtained from an anomalous fish when he hears a thump that sounded like it came from the main cabin.
He thinks nothing of the thump until he hears a flurry of footsteps running out of the cabin. It’s unlike Stan to run around like that unless he heard something outside, so he decides to put the notebook down and investigate.
The main cabin doesn’t seem very abnormal, with exception of the knife on the floor that Stan must have been using to clean the fish for their dinner. He picks up the knife and puts it back on the counter, before leaving the cabin.
On the main deck, he sees Stan at the row boat, frantically removing the tarp and moving it into lowering position.
“Stan? What’s wrong?” he speaks up. Stan flinches and turns around quickly. His eyes are wide and hard like he’s ready for a fight. The moment Stan sees Ford, his eyes soften and becomes a sad, confused look. Ford decides he hates that look on his face, it’s so similar to the moment Stan looked up at him in the forest after weirdmageddon. When a screaming and crying Mabel was pulled away from a man who didn’t even recognize his own niece and nephew, then met his own twin whom he also didn’t remember.
“Stanford?” Stan said breathlessly, knocking Ford out of the memory he was reliving. Stan remembers now, he reminds himself.
“Stanley, what are you doing?”
Stan steps towards him.
“Ford.. what happened to you?” Stan hesitantly touches Ford on the shoulder with a feather touch of two fingers, like he’s touching a glass statue he can only faintly see.
“what do you mean? I was just doing some numbers-“ Ford begins to say.
“Stanford, how are you’re so old?” Stan interrupts.
Ford feels cold suddenly. He also feels like the air has been sucked out of him. Cold and breathless, Ford tries not to cry.
“Hey wait, it’s okay.” Stan moves his whole hand onto Ford’s shoulder in a placating manner “Ford, I just don’t understand; where are we?”
The next breath Ford exhales is almost a sob. He holds it together, barely.
“We’re on the Stan-o-war…” Stan startles. He takes a deep breath, the knowledge that Stan at least remembers who each of them are helps steady him “Stan, what do you- what year is it?”
The look on Stan’s face is shifting too fast for Ford to distinguish the individual emotions that cross over his face. He’s not sure which if those emotions is causing the tears to gather in Stan’s eyes, but he’s definitely sure of the confusion that overpowers the whole moment.
“The Stan-o-War? But I-“ the hand on Ford’s shoulder is shaking slightly.
“I know,” he interrupts, “it’s hard to understand, but right now I need to know what year you think it is, Stanley.”
“wait, am I in the future? Is that even possible? Is that why you’re so much older?” Stan looks around, then runs a hand through his hair, exhaling. He stops suddenly, with his hand on the back of his head.
He had a mullet, Ford distantly remembers
“Stan, you-“ Ford begins.
“What happened to my hair?!” Stan exclaims, trying to pull his hair into his eyesight. He releases his hair when he catches sight of his hand. He brings both hands up to chest height held out from his body, examining them. “What happened to my hands?!”
“Stan! You’re having a memory lapse. I-“ he remembers the scrapbook in the cabin “I have an idea, we might be able to jog your memory like we did last time. Come with me.” Ford grabs Stan’s hand and leads him back towards the cabin.
“Last time? Memory lapse..?” Stan stops walking with Ford, forcing him to stop too. “Ford, how many times has this happened? Do I- have I been having memory problems?”
“Stan.. something happened, and you-“ Ford shuts his eyes against the memory. “you got hurt. We were able to make you remember just about everything, I don’t know why you’re having problems now. It’s been weeks since you’ve had any problems.”
“So it’s only been the one time?”
“Yes. It’s only been then and now.” With that, Stan allows himself to be led into the cabin.
Ford let’s go of Stan’s hand and goes searching for Mabel’s scrapbook. Or well, a copy of Mabel’s scrapbook. Mabel was frantically making a copy right before they left before Dipper suggested using the magic copy machine in the Shack. It had been invaluable in reversing the effects of the memory gun, as had the boxes of memorabilia that Stan had at some point gotten from their mother. It was nearly impossible to return the memories of the years in between Stan getting kicked out and Ford calling him to Gravity Falls.
The years that remained lost, according to Stan, were nothing worth remembering.
It seems like some memories can come back with a vengeance.
“Stanley,” Ford says, the scrapbook in hand “what year is it for you?”
“1978. I think it’s September…” Stan sits opposite him at the table, and fidgets with his hands. He opens his mouth a few times, seeming to be looking for his words, before coming out and saying it: “when did we… fix us?”
Ford sighs. “It… took a long time. A lot longer than it should have.” Ford thumbs the corner of the scrapbook. “from your perspective, I’ll contact you for help in about four years. I’ll send a postcard.”
From there, Ford starts explaining what has happened over the years. Stan remembers much faster than he did when they did this the first time. It’s still slow going, but it’s much faster than the weeks it took them to work through his memories last time.
By the time they’re done, it’s nearing midnight, and his throat is sore from the sheer amount of talking he has had to do.
“Do you know what made you slip?” Ford asks, before drinking more of his water. “I found the kitchen knife on the floor before I found you. Were you thinking about something? Maybe you jogged a memory so suddenly it made you regress?
“I was cleaning a fish…. I think I-“ Stan exhales a hard sigh, “I think I thought about something said to me by a guy I had bad run in with a long while back.”
Ford fidgets with the glass in his hands. He’s never been good at this stuff. “…do you want to talk about it?”
“long story short,” Stan says, having a staring contest with the floor, “he had a knife, and wanted to quote: 'gut me like the fish I was'”
With that, Stan got up and went to their bedroom.
Ford stayed up a bit later than he wanted to. At first, just to write down everything he remembered about Stan’s relapse, but then, he couldn’t fall asleep, thinking about men with big knifes going after scared fishes.