Never before had Stanford Pines been so relieved to see the tacky neon lights of the mundane household he called home. Still somewhat shaky, he let himself in, basking in the underwhelming, familiar surroundings. He had decided that he was never setting foot outside alone again without consulting his brother for some social advice beforehand.
After the short rush of relief had passed, Stanford found himself returning to the confused, dismayed state he had been in before his brief victory of returning home. A simple glance down at his extra fingers and melancholy ensured, it always had to be his abnormalities that mucked things up. He shook his head with a sigh, and hauled himself up the stairs, avoiding his parents and thus the inevitable questioning of his whereabouts this afternoon, instead heading straight for his and his brother's room.
It was nearing sunset so a lot of the room was already draped in shadows, though Lee's half of the bedroom still held onto the fading light. It was just bright enough to let Lee see the text in the book he was reading - Ford frowned inwardly - that was a rare sight. Upon Ford's entry, Lee hurriedly shoved the book into the darkness under his bed, pretending nothing had happened. Well whatever, Ford wasn't in a questioning mood at the moment, he could care less about his brother's suspicious book, so instead he just slumped down onto the semi-comfortable mattress.
"Uh, hey , you okay? You're looking kind of down," Lee asked.
Ford simply shrugged, and then with a deep sigh asked, "Do you think there's any correlation between not understanding romance and having a sixth finger?"
Lee laughed, a little confused. "What? Give me some context, bro."
"Well - ok - I think, I'm not sure but, I think I was... out on a date?" Ford began clumsily. After a deep breath he tried again. "Joyce Smith, a girl in my math class. She's an interesting young woman, so I thought why not ask her out? We have similar interests and she's nice enough to me - so I went for it and she actually agreed. I - well I wasn't really sure what to do on a date, which I think is fair considering it's my first one, and she didn't seem too fond of how I went about it."
"Oh shit, what did you do?"
"Nothing! I mean, nothing wrong I don't think! We talked, well, I talked for a good while and -"
"What did you talk about?" Lee sounded sceptical.
"... I asked for her opinion on some topical issues in the field of physics and mathematics." Ford admitted, not sounding completely confident.
Lee groaned, laughing a little. "Well I can tell you your first problem."
"No she seemed into it! She's just like me in that sense - she's very intelligent and she knows her stuff! I honestly don't think it was that alone that ticked her off." Stanford sighed, continuing. "So yes, we talked about that for a while but out of nowhere she just cut me off and demanded to know why I asked her out to date at a coffee shop."
"Yeah! She said I should be holding her hand and buying her drinks, and, oh what was it she said - something along the lines of 'Stanford if you wanted to discuss string theory with me, we could have just done it in school'. But I thought we shared interests, so we might want to talk about them! That's what people do on dates, right? So I explained this to her and - well she had an expression similar to the one on your face right now."
Lee then paused for a moment, thinking. "Did the two of you do anything, you know, romantic."
"Well that's where I get confused, see. Though, she did - uh - kiss me."
Ford bit his lip, bashful. "It was out of nowhere! I was trying to explain why the date was going wrong; because I didn't know what made a date romantic, and well, she just... kissed me. I was still confused so I - I asked her why she did that, and apparently that was really the wrong thing to say because she just downed her coffee and left. The barista seemed to have been watching it all because he came over, I assume in an attempt to comfort me, explaining that I really needed to work on my 'romance skills'. And - oh god Stanley I'm just so confused."
After a few seconds of silent pondering, Lee spoke. "Okay, weird question but how did the kiss make you feel?"
Ford quirked an eyebrow at the psychiatrist-esque question but answered nevertheless. "Well I mean, it just felt like what it was; her lips on mine, it was just wet. And I mean, I was freaking out and conscious of how close she was and how sweaty I was. It was by no means enjoyable."
"Gross man, gross."
"You're no better!"
The two shared a moment of laugher, and Ford was so relieved he could get this all off his chest to someone, at least he always knew Lee was there and would at least try to understand. He looked up at his twin to find him rummaging under his own bed, and pulled out the book he'd been reading when Ford walked in. "I have an idea," Lee announced, flipping it open to a dog-eared page.
"You? A book?"
"Shut up. I needed to... research something. Thought I'd take a leaf out of your book, y'know? And the stuff you've just said reminds me of something I read earlier." Lee said, and then began reading aloud from a passage. "'An aromantic is someone who may experience very little or no romantic attraction towards others. Aromantics typically find romance very hard to define or understand, and generally have no desire to be in romantic relationships. Many people on the vast aromantic spectrum can find it difficult to distinguish between sexual, platonic, aesthetic and romantic attraction.'"
There was a pause.
"Holy shit there's a name for it!?" Ford's eyes were wide with relief, and he couldn't help but let a grin slip across his face. "Other people feel like that too!? Enough that they give it a name and a definition!?"
At Ford's burst of happiness, Lee felt a little triumphant and let a matching grin spread on his own face. "So you think you being aromantic could explain this all?"
"Well, I mean - I don't really know but, it's certainly comforting to know that me not understanding romance, or really feeling it, isn't just one of my weird and freakish qualities, you know?"
Lee smiled a little sadly at his brother. "Ford, you're not a freak. Here, carry on reading it you big nerd." He offered the book up to him. Ford took it gladly and everything was silent for a few minutes as he read avidly, a small smile still lingering on his face as he absorbed the knowledge.
Ford then finished the section, and thus came the inevitable question that Lee had been trying to avoid. "So, I'm assuming you got this book from the library? Why'd you get a book out on sexuality and gender?"
Cue awkward thumb twiddling and bad excuses. "Well I mean, I was doing some research."
"Yeah I'm fairly confident you said that before. What exactly did you need to research?"
Lee frowned, Ford would get this out of him eventually. "Okay so, remember last week, I asked you what you did when you didn't understand something, and you said you read about it. So, well I went to the library and checked out this book. For a while I guess I - I've been wondering a little about, um, what gender I might be interested in, or genders, should I say. I - well - okay ever since all that stuff on the news when we were kids about the Stonewall Riots, I just, I've been pretty sure I'm not straight. And it was really buggin' me so I figured I should go and research it."
Ford nodded, completely unphased. "So has your research been fruitful?"
"Wha- you're not even bothered by me admitting I'm probably not straight?"
"Stanley we just discovered that I probably can't experience romantic attraction, I don't think it's anything to get worked up over. Besides, I don't think I'm entirely straight either, romance issues aside."
A little dazed, Lee simply nodded, surprised at how easily that had gone down. He'd figured coming out would be this big and scary task that would be near impossible, but to be honest it was quite anticlimactic. "Okay, that's a relief, I think. Research, though, yeah I think I found something that fits me?" He flicked through to find the page. "Pansexuality. It means like, you don't distinguish between genders and stuff, like, it just doesn't matter, you like all genders." He shrugged. "I think it's nice."
"... Actually I feel like I might be able to apply that term to myself," Ford said, "Perhaps it's a twin thing. So, can I ask how you would define romance? What do you look for in a romantic partner?"
"Oh man that's a hard one. I mean, I know I feel it but it's really difficult to put into words. I guess, for someone I was romantically interested in I'd have to be super comfortable around them - I don't know, I'd like, want to chill out with them in kind of a friendly way, too? Like, talk about stuff we like and work on projects and stuff and - I dunno, just, being able to spend time with someone?"
"That's pretty much everything we do." Ford deadpanned.
"Y-Yeah but I mean like, with more kissing and hand-holding and stuff! Romantic stuff like that." Lee laughed weakly, a little flustered.
An awkward silence followed, though it wasn't unbearable. Both twins had things to mull over, and the silence provided an opportunity for such pondering. In all honesty, Lee was incredibly proud of himself at this point; not only had he managed to come out to his brother, but he had been the one educating Ford for once. This was such a rare occasion Lee could practically feel the confidence swelling within him.
The sun had fully set by now, and Lee was conscious of how dark it was. He got up to switch the lamp on, and then sat on the bed next to Ford. He bit his lip, watching his brother's unfocused shadow on the murky walls. "So, uh, Ford," Lee tried to ignore the awkward crack in his voice as Ford looked up, curious. "Can I just check something? You said your kiss with Joyce was kind of underwhelming, right?"
Lee bit his lip, running on thrilling mix of confidence and adrenaline. "Okay so, um," he leant down somewhat hesitantly, and pressed his lips gently against Ford's, only for a second before pulling away. "How does that compare?"
Ford blinked, looking at his brother somewhat blankly. He ran a finger over where their lips had met, giving himself a moment to take in what had happened. Though he was unsure again, he found he was strangely very okay and calm about it - this was different to the confusion caused by Joyce's kiss. After a deep breath, Ford decided playing along would be the safest option. "Well, I mean it was like your lips were touching mine - it was wet."
The sudden drain of confidence was clearly visible in the panic that flashed across Lee's face. "S-shit sorry, no I shouldn't have done that. Forget that ever happened. That didn't happen, nothing just happened then. At all."
"Stanley shush, stop, don't jump to conclusions," Ford said calmly, patting his brother's shoulder comfortingly, composing himself. "No, I don't object to it - it wasn't a bad feeling - when Joyce kissed me, I don't know, physically it felt quite neutral, but emotionally it felt awful, it was just so weird that she was the one kissing me. But that was different because that was you. I suppose what I'm saying is, if I could experience romantic attraction that certainly would have been enjoyable in a romantic sense. I liked it."
At Ford's words, Lee very visibly calmed down, his shoulders loosening with a light exhale. A moment later he had flung his arms around Ford, a little awkwardly due to the angle, it was very strong and it hurt a little but neither complained. Ford had to rearrange Lee a little so's they were both lying down and a lot more comfortable. Once they settled, Ford smiled, closing his eyes and curled into Lee closer, perfectly content and peaceful. Neither mentioned the elephant in the room, and as far as Ford understood this silent agreement of theirs; if he didn't mention this being weird or wrong, neither would Lee. And that was fine. It was only the pair of them that would ever know, and if Lee wasn't bothered by it, then neither was Ford.
"Lee?" Ford said, muffled by Lee's chest. "When you kissed me, is that because you like me? In a romantic sense?"
Lee flushed with a little colour, averting his gaze. "Well, I mean - uh. I don't know if I'd phrase it like that - " Lee didn't battle for long though. "Who am I kidding? Yeah I guess I might have a bit of a... liking for you in that sense. But I mean it's just so weird! I didn't really know how to go about it so -"
"No, no, that's okay. It's not weird, not to me." Ford assured him. "I mean, it's like you said before, the things you look for in romance are exactly what we do but with 'kissing and stuff'. Personally I have nothing against adding in a little physical interaction of that sense..."
Judging by the strong squeeze he received off Lee, his brother was very pleased by Ford's words. Ford couldn't resist a little smile and squeezed Lee back, nuzzling deeper into his chest. Lee ran his fingers through Ford's hair gently, and Ford closed his eyes again, basking in the attention. Was this a sensual attraction he was experiencing right now? It confused him just thinking about it, holy shit attraction was complicated. He'd think about it later. But suddenly a thought occurred to him.
"God damn it I'm so blind - Lee I've just realised - you're romantically attracted to me, yes? So, surely you enjoyed that kiss in a romantic way?"
Looking embarrassed, Lee shrugged and nodded, averting his gaze. "But I mean, no pressure or anything - seriously just do what you're cool with-"
He was cut off by Ford pressing their lips together in a rare surge of confidence. It was a messy kiss to say the least; their noses pressed together awkwardly, Ford's glasses had fogged up and were pressing between them uncomfortably, and their teeth clacked together here and there. But neither cared; they were both as bad as each other, their chaos was almost harmonious.
Ford pulled away, panting and grinning. "That totally changes it! If I know you enjoy something that gives me a reason to want to kiss you!" He pecked Lee's lips again, smiling. He'd never felt this confident in such a situation, and it felt amazing to be so in tune with both his and his brother's feelings.
Lee couldn't hold back a grateful smile. "But seriously Ford, don't push yourself into doing things for my sake, especially if they make you feel uncomfortable."
Ford shook his head. "It doesn't make me uncomfortable at all, it just feels a lot better knowing you get something out of it."
"Thank you, Ford," Lee kissed Ford's hair, and the two resettled into their half-cuddling position, leaving room for movement for the occasional chaste kiss placed on a nose or a cheek here and there. The scene its self could be seen as something very romantic, though it gave Ford a reassuring rush of confidence to know that there was no pressure for romance between them, and it was perfectly natural and okay.
"Just don't start pestering me for my opinion on string theory or whatever that stuff's about." Lee grinned.
"You want me to give you a quick crash course on string theory?" Ford waggled his eyebrows, taking off his glasses to make the snuggling easier.
After a pause, Lee grinned. "You know what, yeah. Fuck it, teach me physics. I won't get it, but I taught you about aromanticism today, so you can teach me about this nerdy bullshit. I might fall asleep though."
Ford grinned, "That won't be a problem it just makes the cuddling more intimate. Okay, so string theory is basically a theory that questions what everything is made out of..."
Ford's explanation was wonderfully detailed and passionate, and though most of it went over Lee's head, he enjoyed watching his brother chat on and on about something he loved so much. The 'brief' physics lesson soon dissolved into further kisses, each one clumsier than the last, which then developed into laughter and teasing, and then into quieter cuddling and more kisses. Finally, as Lee had predicted, he was first to drop off to sleep. Ford smiled, watching his brother snoring lightly and pulled them both under the covers, curling up next to him, too lazy to turn the lamp off, and dropped off to sleep himself.
Today had been a fruitful day, Ford thought to himself as he stretched, getting out of his chair. He'd managed to put a big dent in the work he had to do for his research, and was generally satisfied. The only way to properly finish such a productive day would be to get himself a relaxing hot chocolate before bed.
He was in the kitchen, debating whether he should be a little cheeky and even get some whipped cream out on this hot chocolate when he heard a little rustling from outside. He frowned, suddenly uneasy. It was just an animal, surely. It was late, it was entirely probable that it was just a fox or something equally harmless causing such rustling sounds.
Though flashbacks of his time in the other dimensions made Ford grab a torch and cautiously creep outside to ensure that the rustling wasn't some deadly creature set on destroying the Shack and murdering his family.
A little nervous, he opened the door and took a cautious look around with the light of the torch. It had yet to illuminate the source of the noise until - wait, was that Dipper?
Ford walked over to the boy, who was sitting on the bench outside sadly. "Dipper what's wrong? It's very late, shouldn't you be in bed?"
"I know - I'm sorry Grunkle Ford it's just," Dipper sighed, not meeting Ford's eyes. Concerned now, Ford sat down next to Dipper, inviting him to continue. "Well, Mable and I we were - it's kind of embarrassing -" Dipper suddenly then seemed to change his mind. "No, it's, it's nothing important. I'll go to bed, sorry for disturbing you."
Gently, Ford pressed a hand to Dipper's shoulder, not letting the boy leave just yet. "Dipper, you can tell me anything. I understand up until now it must've been quite hard for you to talk about certain topics around here; Stan and Mable are both very understanding, caring individuals, but there are some topics that are just impossible to discuss with them, and I've experienced that first hand. You and I are more alike, I'd be more than willing to listen to any problem you feel you need to share, Dipper."
That seemed to convince the boy, as he shuffled back down onto the bench and with a little more gentle coaxing from Ford, he continued slowly. "Well, we were talking about, you know, summer romance and our crushes and stuff - it's stupid I know - but, well we were talking about how none of our summer crushes have gone right for either of us. So, Mable started asking me what I liked about Wen-- err -- the girl that I liked, and when I'd finished explaining, Mable just pointed out that's usually what people feel like about their friends, or people they want to be friends with." Dipper shook his head, "It's nothing important really, but I just started trying to figure out what it is that I like - did like - about this girl that was different than in a friendly way and I just got really confused. So, I figured I should come outside for some air."
Ford let Dipper finish, and though he felt very sorry for the boy and his confusion, he couldn't help but bite back a smile at how familiar Dipper's words sounded. "Is it almost like, you were so sure about these feelings for this young woman, but then when you really started to think about them, it all started to break down and seem even more confusing, and you start to question what romance and love and friendship - everything akin to those topics - actually are?"
Dipper looked up, wide eyed. "That - That's exactly what I did."
Ford held back a chuckle, and patted Dipper's head. "You know Dipper, you and I really are alike. I experienced the exact same confusion when I was a little older than you. I was out on a date with a girl I thought I really liked, but when it came down to it I didn't understand what romance was at all. It was only when I came to your Great Uncle Stanley for a little help did he tell me there was actually a name for this lack of romantic attraction; aromanticism."
"Wait, Grunkle Stan knows about all of this stuff?" Dipper frowned, confused. "Huh. He really doesn't let onto it. I never figured he'd be the one to inform you of it." He then shook his head furiously. "That isn't what I should be focusing on! There's a name for it!? What did you say it was again?" He'd brought out a notepad and was posed to begin frantically taking notes.
Ford smiled, "'Aromantic: Someone who may experience very little or no romantic attraction towards others.'" He quoted Lee from all those years ago, slowing down a little to give Dipper chance to write down what he was saying. "I have a book that goes over it, and other elements of sexuality and gender, in a little more detail if you would like to borrow it?"
Dipper's eyes went wide with glee and he clicked his pen compulsively. "That would be amazing, thank you Grunkle Ford! I just can't believe there's a word for it -- and - and that someone like you is that! It's - it's just so great that we share more in common! Is it okay if I ask you a few more questions?"
Ford nodded happily, understanding the burning curiosity Dipper was experiencing. A few questions wouldn't do him any more harm.
Though, about seven lengthy questions later, Ford was beginning to regret being so willing to answer questions. It was late and though he'd be very willing to do this when he was wide awake, he was running on pure willpower right now, and really needed to sleep. There was no end to Dipper's flow of curiosity, so Ford had no choice but to pick the kid up mid-question, giving him a piggy back ride into the kitchen.
"Dipper, it's time for us both to get some sleep, I think," Ford said, the tiredness showing in his voice as he plodded up the stairs to the attic.
Judging by his quieting down, Dipper seemed to get the message as to how weary his uncle was at present. Ford let him down off his back when they reached the top of the stairs, ruffling the kid's hair gently. "We'll carry this on in the morning, yes? I apologise, I'm just incredibly run down after all of today's work."
With an enthusiastic nod Dipper bid Ford a goodnight, and a thank you for his time, and disappeared away into his room. Just as Ford headed back down the stairs, he heard Dipper waking Mable up excitedly, explaining to the half-asleep girl in a rushed whisper about the encounter he'd just had and that there was a name for his weird friend-crushes.
Ford smiled, regretting being so tired that he couldn't go and join in. He headed back down to the basement, reflecting on how that final encounter had incidentally made his day even more productive. He smiled, satisfied.
He'd have to remember to thank Stanley at some point for being the one that discovered the term that made him, and now Dipper, feel so much more normal.