Stan runs his fingers over the life vest that he’d painstakingly strapped himself into. It was brand new, it still had the stale smell of the outdoorsy supply store they bought it in and all. He tightens the straps and a lopsided grin slowly spreads across his face -- fits like a glove. It was like one of those - what were they called - man girdles? Yeah. Man girdles. He stares at his reflection in the window, indulging himself in a manly man pose like one of those professional bodybuilders before the door to the room flies open without so much as a courtesy knock.
He knows he’s caught, but for a long, long second nothing is said. Maybe it was a draft? A really strong draft. A really strong draft that could turn a doorknob.
But no, there’s that ‘hey, I caught you doing something embarrassing’ throat noise just a moment later. “You know we’re on dry land still, right?”
Stan turns around with a laugh. “Yeah, well. I was just...ya know. Trying it on. Have to make sure it fits.”
“And the flexing?”
“Stress test. Don’t worry about it.” He grins and starts popping off the clasps. His twin shakes his head and drops a stack of papers on the warped motel desk, gaze turning to the window. It was slightly ajar, and he stares past the space that once held Stanley's reflection to look towards the horizon.
Stan doesn't know what his brother is staring at. He guesses the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean, but he knows stuff like that probably doesn't dazzle his twin brother like it does someone who hasn't traveled across multiple planes of existence. He clears his throat after a long minute of staring at the uncharacteristic stubble on his twin’s broad chin. “Found us a boat, Sixer?”
Stanley cocks an eyebrow but Ford doesn’t elaborate. Sighing, he tosses the vest to one side and lowers himself onto the small bed that was nearest to the door, pulling two postcards and a pen from an inside pocket in his jacket. He sets one down on the floral bedspread and turns the other over in his fingers, chuckling quietly at the image of a frowning crab.
Don’t be crabby, you’re in Maryland!
Dipper would roll his eyes, but Mabel would appreciate the joke. He squints as he begins to scrawl them a note, singing a little ‘writing a postcard to my family’ song. If Ford’s annoyed he doesn’t say anything, but he does eventually shuffle along to join him on the bed.
He picks up the first postcard. “Maryland: we’ve got the good kind of crabs. Stanley!” He sighs in disgust and Stan just laughs. He knew it’d ruffle his feathers.
“Don’t worry, this one’s for Dipper and Mabel.” He waves the postcard currently in his hand. “That’s yours, Sixer. Two-for-one down at that tacky tourist shop across the street.” Of course he didn’t pay for them, but Ford doesn’t need to know that.
And ah god, the visit to the shop made him ache for the Mystery Shack. Being surrounded by kitsch of his own design, making up all those lies, taking money from dupes, but his life is so much grander than that now.
He watches as Ford’s face softens. “Mine?” His twin raises the postcard back up for another close inspection, as though the realization that his brother had thought enough to get him something had changed his mind about the dirty joke. And then he smiles. “Thanks,” he says.
He’s been saying it a lot, that word. Stanley’s been counting. There’s a little mental tally sheet inside his brain of every gracious word said by his brother since they patched things up. Even things as insignificant as thanking him for passing the salt don’t go unnoticed now. He revels in the word the way a person who was wronged might, as a sort of vindication for a lifetime of hurt, but Stanley doesn’t collect the thank-yous for any reason but proof that Ford cares. He doesn't know how to put the feeling into words, except that he feels more...whole. More complete.
And he knows it’s all weird, and not the kind of weird that fascinates his brother, so he keeps it to himself.
“You’re welcome,” he eventually replies. His attention is then quickly back on the postcard to the younger twins. “Dear Mabel and Dippy,” he begins to read aloud, laughing because he can already picture the stinkface that Dipper will make, “Ford and I finally made it to the East Coast. We sold the camper and yesterday we bought our supplies -- all we need now is a boat. I was thinking either an olde-timey pirate ship or a giant yacht.”
He glances up at his brother. “Anything to add?”
Ford shrugs. “Anything I’d want to add would be better suited to a letter.”
Stanley grabs his pen again and scribbles on the postcard. “Ford says hi.” He adds a line in there about keeping themselves out of trouble, then signs his and Ford’s names. He pauses, then doodles a little heart. For Mabel’s sake. The postcard and pen then go back into his jacket, and he lays back on the sinking mattress with his hands behind his head.
“Do you want to see the boat I have in mind?” Ford asks quietly.
“Does it look like the one we went to see yesterday?” Stan questions. Ford opens his mouth to answer and Stanley cuts him off. “Because you’re starting to get too picky, Sixer. Does it float? Will it be big enough for the both of us and all of your equipment? If yes, then we buy.”
Well, haggle until the price is reasonable, but that’s implied.
“It has to be perfect,” Ford objects. His voice is firm, but he says it in such a way that Stan has to strain to hear him.
Perfect. As though Stan might laugh at him for thinking so. As if he isn’t thinking the same thing, needing this boat to be as glorious as he’s always imagined it to be. Occasionally flashes of those moments in his past will surface, the ones spent staring at the wheel of his car when he felt cold and lonely and lost, still trying to hold desperately on to the Stan O’ War and how things should have been. This trip meant the world to him, though what surprises him now is what it apparently means to his brother too.
He wonders briefly if it’s always been the case, if Ford had always been so passionate about sailing around the world. His gut tells him that it can’t be possible; he’s having one of those Senior Moments he’s been experiencing lately. Stan’s brow furrows and he tries and tries to recall why he’d clung to the dream of the Stan O’ War and Ford hadn’t. Ford had been angry, that much he recalls, but why? Something about a machine…and football? A football machine?
No, that’s stupid, that can’t be it.
Eventually it comes back to him in pieces. Ford couldn’t have been dreaming of sailing away with him; he was too busy building himself a life without his twin. It’s only now that everything has to be perfect, but the reason is probably less sentimental and more because Ford is just exact and demanding.
It’s okay though. His brother may not be sentimental, but he still cares. He has forty nine ‘thank yous’ to prove it.
He snorts and very carefully, very slowly, raises himself back up.
“Let’s go see this boat.”
Despite all the healing done in the weeks prior to the cross-country trip, information still occasionally blurs about the edges of Stanley Pines’ mind. Ford knows this, even if Stanley won’t admit it. His brother is so prideful, so quick to cover up a falter, but he sees when the gears just won’t turn. He knows when he’s having trouble remembering. And for his part Ford is protective, though it seems odd now to be so delicate with his brother. Stanley, after all, has always been the powerhouse of the duo.
He finds himself watching him, studying him, charting his responses out of concern. It worries him when he doesn’t respond immediately to things, especially when he’s expecting some kind of smartass retort, but now he knows Stanley’s memories can be coaxed back if necessary. He just wonders if Stan will remember everything on his own.
Rather, he hopes he does, desperately so.
When Stanley acquiesces to his suggestion of having a look at a boat, Ford smiles gently and nods. He doesn’t know what his brother had forgotten this time, but it all seems to be okay. “It’s on the smaller side, but I think you’ll like it,” he explains.
Out of all the places he’s traveled to and all the ones he’s dreamed of since, none occupied so little space in Stanford’s mind than Maryland. But Stanley’s less-than-savory past makes it difficult for his twin to travel, so there they are, staying in a run-down motel in a quiet, little beach town that could have been a stand-in for Glass Shard Beach. So much of this reminds him of childhood, which is equal parts appropriate and heartbreaking. He can’t help but think of how tremendously happy and then how horrifically sad he’d been in that place, or how inadvertently cruel he’d been to his brother.
Ford inhales the salty air and exhales, and moments later Stanley does the same to tease him. They laugh together, Ford’s heavy heart temporarily soothed. Did Stan know that the guilt was eating him up inside?
He glances at his brother, who’s trying to point out potential rubes he’s spotted heading into the hokey tourist shops. No, he thinks. He probably didn’t know.
When Ford presents the old fishing boat to Stanley he immediately begins to rattle off the dimensions. He wants Stanley to know everything, to like the boat as much as he does, and so he tells him the capacity for speed and storage, the potential for sailing if they learned how to rig it properly, the power generator they wouldn’t even need to purchase, where he’d place the antennas and his telescope. He talks and talks until he’s sure he’s made his case, and then inhales and he turns around from his position on top of the cabin to get his brother’s opinion.
Instead he finds himself looking his twin squarely in the ass.
Stan’s practically slung over the railing, peering down at the side of the boat intently. As intently as Ford’s ever seen his brother observe something for that matter, besides maybe a potential mark. He creeps up beside him and leans over as well, his hands clasped behind his back. “Everything alright, Stan?” To his very well-read eyes it looks as though nothing was wrong with that particular area of the boat.
Eventually Stan points to a slat in the boat’s side, head turning to look up at his brother with a wide grin plastered to his face. “That’s where Stan O’ War’s going to go. Right there.”
Ford nearly decks him, he’s so pleased (and more than a little relieved). “You like it?” he asks, just to be sure, and in response Stan gives him a withering look.
“Are you kidding me? I love it!” Stan declares, standing tall once again and reaching out to embrace his brother. “She’s floating and isn't falling apart! You did great!”
“Thank you,” Ford replies, the laugh that then rumbles out of his brother surprising him.
Later, when they’re lying in the two tiny beds provided by the motel, Stan still mourning the loss of all that money they were about to just give away and Ford responding with a not-so-quick lesson in how commerce works, they decide that the boat can’t be the Stan O’ War. Though the first Stan O’ War never got to sail with the two of them on it, out of respect for the old boat’s memory it was best to retire the name.
The Stan O’ War II, however, will do perfectly.