Two Hearts

by Aoikami Sarah

Chapter 5

When Stan had disappeared, Stanford cried out "Don't go! Stanley!" and watched in horror as he vanished before his eyes. Left alone, again, Stanford stood dumbstruck by his own reaction and ran a trembling hand through his hair. "What the hell was that?" he asked himself. "He'll be fine. We probably just got woken up again which has drawn him to consciousness and therefore out of the subconscious. It stands to reason…" He folded his arms and stared at the ground. "I need more information. This is maddening! If I was on the outside before, will I return? If so, when? Do we go in shifts? It was about six in the morning. The sun was rising." Stanford began to pace. "What did Dipper see or hear when the change happened? And why don't I know that? If we share my body, why do I not have access to memories made with my eyes?!" he shouted, turned away from the ocean and summoned the halls of his memory.

Behind a towering classic Grecian portico fronted by dozens ionic columns of glistening white marble, Stanford Pines housed his memories. The tall, iron doors in the center of the edifice swung open for him and he strolled down the long, crooked hallway past doors, windows, stacks of books, darkened corners, and brightly lit library desks. The memories he'd made with Stan just today were being filed by enormous owls. They hooted softly as they worked and passed him the memories he requested, but of those from this morning, he found only the desolate hours he spent at the beach on the swings, crying and staring out hopelessly at the ocean until Stan arrived. "No! Where is his conversation with Dipper?!" he barked, throwing a manila folder labeled "Six Hours of Tears" into the air. Sheets of letter-sized paper fluttered to the ground. The owls had no answers, so he stormed off further down the hall.

Stanford's pace slowed as the lighting dimmed and a cacophony of voices and ambiance filled the hall, spilling over from the doors on either side of him. He gritted his teeth and hugged himself as he progressed. From one door he heard derisive laughter, from another—gunfire, his own agonized screams and the crack of a whip from yet another. Stanford ran, further and further down into his memory. Soon, his father's voice, unintelligible and coarse, barked from a few of the doors. Finally, he found what he was looking for: a rough cackle of a laugh and the call of a sea gull. Stanford opened the door.

"Let it rain!" Sixteen-year-old Stan grinned. "See if we care!" His face was round and fleshy, smattered with blemishes. He wore a white t-shirt, jeans with the cuffs rolled up, and his bare heels dug into the sand on either side of his brother's legs. They sat on a blanket on the sand under the boardwalk, both facing out at the ocean. Stan pulled another blanket over his shoulders and wrapped it around the both of them. He rested his chin on his brother's shoulder and closed his eyes. "I didn't wanna work on the boat today, anyway."

"Mm," Stanford agreed, passively. He held a newly released book in his hands—The Double Helix by Watson—and was reading intently. His eyes widened as his brother's hands slid around his middle. "Stan…"

"What? I'm cold," he said and put his nose against Stanford's neck to prove it.

"So put some shoes on."

"I don' wanna."

"Stanley…"

"No one's gonna see us. It's rainin' on the beach. No one's here. 'Sides, 's'not like I'm gonna kiss you out here or anything."

"Ok, fine," Stanford huffed and tried to get back to reading. "But don't say I didn't tell you so when we get grounded for two months again."

"Screw them. There ain't no law against huggin' your brother."

"Stanley, you know darn well the way you hug me isn't normal."

"Well, you ain't normal—therefore it's ok," he stated.

Stanford sighed, exasperated.

"And I love you. So there," he added and snuck a tiny kiss on the nape of Stanford's neck.

Stanford's face went crimson but rather than push him aside, he did his best to hide the bashful grin he couldn't suppress. "Stan~!"

His brother chuckled and promised to behave himself, hugging him a little tighter and doing no such thing.

Fifty-eight-year-old Stanford Pines watched this sweet memory and shook his head. "But you were wrong, Stan," he said. The boys in the memory, just a play-back of events long passed, did not hear him. "It wasn't ok. It isn't ok. It will never be ok. I'm too broken. It's too late. What am I going to do now that you're stuck with me forever?"

He pulled a commercial-grade metal shutter down over the scene as he saw the police officer's feet approach their hiding spot, walking slowly, the sound of his footsteps in the sand muffled by the rain. He would drag the boys out by their collars and escort the two of them back to Pines Pawns to tell their family what they were doing. They would be grounded for three months and the beating their father gave them would leave them sore for weeks. Stan would rarely touch him at all after this day for fear of ever greater punishment.

Stanford Pines trudged back through the halls, past years of fear, loss, anguish, and betrayal. The sound of Bill Cipher's laughter, Fiddleford's shouting, Stan screeching—begging their father to punish him and him alone, echoed around him. When he emerged, the beach was grey yet again and dark clouds gathered on the horizon.

.x.

"Stanford!" Stan called as he re-entered the subconscious. He'd remembered to age down to a comfortable twenty-five and selected a green and grey wool starter jacket to combat the chill in the air. Rather than GSB for Glass Shard Beach, the letters on the breast were GF. The wind whipped a bit and the beach was grey and desolate. "Stanford?" he called again and at last saw his brother materialize a few yards away. He gave a small wave, but didn't move to meet him. Stan frowned and jogged over to the hard-packed sand and stuffed his hands in the pockets of his jacket.

"Hey, I took a nap," he began, searching his brother's eyes. They were dull and furtive. "You ok?"

"Yes, fine. Has the sun set yet?"

"No. Seven-fifty-two tonight. 'Bout an hour to go. You think we tag out with the sun?"

Stanford nodded.

"Yeah, Dipper thinks that's the deal, too."

"Excellent. When I'm awake I'll work on correlating my circadian rhythm to the rotation of the Earth. Then we'll know when to expect the change."

"Sure. Sounds great, Sixer. Dipper wants to say goodbye to ya, so I set an alarm for nine. I gotta put 'em on the bus tomorrow, early."

Stanford raised his brows. "Oh. Yes. Summer's over."

"Yep. And that's not all, I wanted to ask ya somethin' before you switch out with me," Stan began cautiously and put a hand on Stanford's shoulder. "I…uh…I took a shower, and…uh…"

"Oh." He pulled away from him and pushed his glasses up his nose. "I see. I'm sorry that you had to see all that without warning. Let me guess, you want to know about my leg?"

All of the color fell out of Stan's face and his soft, plaintive tone disappeared. "No! Don't tell me! I don't wanna know!"

Since they were young, Stanford had delighted in being able to make Stan squirm, not just for the slightly sadistic rush it gave him, but because it was such a challenge. There was so little that squicked his twin out. Having hit the nail on the head, Stanford smirked, a bit puzzled as to why this was an issue, but happy to exploit it. "It's no worry. Here," he said and with a flick of the wrist the yellow couch emerged from the sand. He motioned for Stan to have a seat and morphed his pants into shorts.

"Oh jumped up Christ that's... ugh!" Stan covered his mouth and dropped down onto the couch as his knees gave out.

Stanford paused for a beat before erupting in raucous laughter. At last his brother's horror made sense. "You think it's a cadaver leg!" He guffawed and held his sides while Stan glared at him indignantly from the safety of the couch. "Oh, Stan! No, I'm not walking around with another man's leg. I cloned it!"

"You cloned your own leg?"

Stanford wiped a tear from his eye and calmed himself. "Yes, yes. I lost mine in a particularly grisly antimatter experiment in dimension fifty-three-asterisk. Fortunately, they were well versed in some incredible megical science."

"'Megical'." Stan repeated, brow raised.
"Medical-magical." Stanford grinned, the joy of explaining things to his brother paired with his adorable unease made him practically giddy. "See?" he said, pointing at his left, paler thigh. Stan recoiled in disgust and tried to bury himself in the couch cushions. "Stan, if you understand it, it won't be so frightening."

"Who says I'm scared? That's' friggin' gross!"

"Well, it's your body now, so you'd better get used to it. See this here?" Stanford continued and pointed to the silver staples that ringed his leg. Stan peaked with one eye but didn't get any closer. "An alloy of silver and elven tears. The sigils on each staple are part of the spell as well. It will never come off, never become infected or be rejected by my body. They had amazing megical technologies that could clone a part of the body and grow it to the size needed in a matter of weeks. I got a new ticker there, as well," he said, straightened his spine with pride and tapped his chest. "You would choke at the expense, but I think it was worth it." With a whim Stanford put his pants back on. "Anything else I can illuminate for you?" His brother averted his eyes. "Want me to guess again?" He waggled his eyebrows, hoping he'd ask about the nasty chemical burn on his arm he'd gotten in dimension thirty-three-sigma. That story would be sure to nauseate him good and proper.

Stan shook his head and took a deep breath. "Your back."

"Would you like to see it?" Stanford asked, his voice firm, cool, and matter-of-fact, and sinisterly provocative. Stan nodded weakly, so he conjured a wooden chair which he flipped around and sat in backwards with his back facing his brother. He pulled his shirt off over his head and exposed the entirety of his back to him.

The shock wasn't bad as Stan had remembered from seeing it for the first time in the bathroom mirror, but stomach-wrenching just the same. The marks were raised, whitish, shiny, and numerous. "Jesus…" he whispered.

"Thirty lashes with some sort of barbed thing," Stanford said over his shoulder with a dismissive wave of his hand. "Twenty-two years ago. I wasn't very strong and I was taking much bigger risks. I got caught in a dimension that was rather fond of corporal punishment. Ha. I'm lucky they didn't execute me!"

"Wha'dja do?" Stan asked, breathlessly.

"Grand larceny. Long story, really, I—."

His facade was tall and wide, but crumbled in an instant as he felt Stan's touch in the center of his back. Stanford flinched and leapt from the chair, knocking it over. He spun around to face his twin.

Stan stared at him with a lost, sad expression. "I thought we were past this…" The older man peered back at his twin's dark brown eyes and fell to his knees. Stan vaulted off the couch and grasped him by his bare shoulders. "Stanford! Are you ok?"

He didn't reply, rendered speechless by the flood of emotions that his brother's touch against his skin had unleashed. Unlike the hugs they'd exchanged earlier, his tender touch short-circuited his brain. The clouds that had threatened on the horizon swept in and darkened the sky. The waves roiled and a storm rushed in, lightning flashed and thunder cracked. "Are you doing this?!" Stan panicked and shook him. "Stop it!" Realizing that he could do nothing to change the psychic storm, Stan furrowed his brows and did what he could to protect them. The boardwalk spiraled up and over them, shielding them from the rain. Stan sat behind his brother, covered his scarred back with his body and held on tight. A red-and-black plaid wool blanket from their childhood appeared, wrapped around them, and warmed his skin. "Hang in there, Sixer. Hang in there! I gotcha!"

In a few minutes, the storm passed and Stan focused on the environment, doing his best to force as many happy, cheerful elements into it as possible. The sand beneath them dried and he could smell cotton candy and hot dogs coming from somewhere down the boardwalk. The Stan-O-War bobbed on the waves, bright and shining as if it were brand new. "That's better. It's ok, now." He wrapped his arms around him and hugged him from behind—one hand curled around the front of his shoulder, the other across his belly—and rested his cheek between his shoulder blades. Stanford shuddered but didn't move to escape. He squeezed his eyes shut and the dam opened. He bawled like a child and just let his brother hold him for several minutes.

"I'msorry," Stan whispered, after his sobbing had calmed to a few hitching breaths.

"For what?" Stanford's voice rasped.

"I pushed you into the portal. This storm, and these scars, they're all because 'a me," he said and squeezed him a little tighter.

"Stan," he said quietly and put his own trembling arms over Stan's. His voice was soft, tired. "None of that is your fault. We can't keep blaming each other or even ourselves for the things that went wrong in the past. Hell, I'm still not totally convinced that Cipher didn't have something to do with half of our misfortunes."

Stan's brows furrowed. "The triangle?"

Stanford nodded. "He possessed a time-traveler. It stands to reason that he could have gone back and done things to trip me up, to break us apart, and send us on the trajectory that would unleash his master plan."

Stan shuddered. "Shit. Then if you're not mad at what happened, what was this all about?"

Stanford's brows pinched tightly together. "I'm…" he almost apologized but caught himself. "The storm…my reaction…having you this close, it's hard for me, Stan." He gripped brother's arms tighter and a few more tears splashed down on them. "Even though you're right here, on the inside I'm just as scarred as my epidermis. It's hard to open back up after I spent so many years so carefully sealing you away," he muttered, "and you had only just started to unlock my heart—your smile was finally starting to penetrate the darkness when you died in my arms."

"Stanford…" Stan breathed against his skin. "We got time, now, right? I ain't goin' nowhere and I'm not gonna let you go." He rubbed his stubble against his brother's back lightly, nuzzling him. "This right here, reminds me of that time the cop caught us, you remember that?" He shuddered in reply. "But look, Stanford. It's sunny out there, and thanks to you no one's ever gonna come between us or tell us that we're wrong, ever again."

He nodded a few times and took a cleansing breath. "Will you have patience with me, Stanley?"

"Whatever you need, Sixer." They sat like that for a long while, listening to the gulls and the surf and calming down until their breathing was even and their hearts were lighter.

"Stanford?"

"Mm-hm?"

"Can we sleep in here?"
"I highly doubt it"

"Then why am I so sleepy?"

"Your psyche needs a rest. You want to lie down?"

In reply, Stan released him. Stanford stood, aged himself back down to about twenty five and crawled out from under the boardwalk. Stan joined him in the sunshine and looked to his brother hopefully. "Only if you'll join me? If that's ok?"

Stanford shrugged. "Sure, that's fine."

Stan extended his index finger just as he'd seen his brother do before and willed a large, four-poster bed with dozens of pillows and a fluffy comforter to appear before them. It looked incredibly out of place on the beach. Stan marveled at what a good job he'd done, and Stanford gave a shy grin.

"Do you want big spoon or little spoon?" he asked.

Stan's eyes twinkled with happiness. "Big spoon!"

The brothers snuggled into bed, Stan a sleepy sprawling happy mess and Stanford a bit awkward, shy, and a little hesitant, but willing to try to be comfortable. They settled in and in moments he understood what Stan meant when he said he felt sleepy.

"Hm…" Stanford hummed, his mind calm and reflecting back on what had sent him down the path that lead him to this point.

"What?"

"While you were gone I looked around for your memories but I couldn't find them."

"Whaddaya mean?" Stan mumbled.

"I know where mine are, but if you've brought yours with you and you're making new memories while you're awake, where are yours?"

"Only you would wonder about that."

"You don't?"

"No." There was a pause, then Stan scoffed a little.

"What?"

"You'll laugh at this, I hope. Get this—earlier? I had a hard time with pronouns."

Stanford gave a soft, rolling chuckle and Stan snuggled closer. "That feels so good," he said, feeling his brother's body shaking with laughter. "Like what it musta felt like in the womb."

The chuckling stopped abruptly and Stanford went stiff.

"Oh no," Stan panicked. "I say somethin' wrong again?!"

"No," Stanford said firmly. He twisted in the bed and turned to face his twin. "You said something so, so beautiful."

A dopey grin spread across Stan's face and he took Stanford's chin in his hand. To his delight, his brother closed his eyes and tilted his head and for the first time in forty years, the two most star-crossed of lovers kissed.

Epilogue:

Stan Pines operated the Mystery Shack, entertaining tourists and making people happy (and less wealthy) by day and Stanford invented and experimented and made the world a better place by night. He wore a timer cleverly disguised as a Timex easy-reader watch synched to the movement of the Earth in relation to the sun. When it chirped in public, he made sure his eyes were closed for the few seconds it took for the change to happen, hiding the ethereal purple glow.

A few days after his one hundred and twentieth birthday, he was giving the last tour of the day and someone remarked about how fit he was for such an old man. He laughed, then clutched his chest.

In the few moments remaining, Stan held his brother's soul close to his. "So this is it, huh?" he asked.

"It would appear so."

"You scared, Stanford?"

"No," he replied. "I'm with you."

.x.x.x.

He knows (he knows)

There'll always be a special place in my heart for him

He knows, he knows, he knows

Yeah, he knows (he knows)

No matter how far apart we are

He knows, I'm always right there beside him

We're two hearts, believing in just one mind

Beating together till the end of time

.x.x.x.

END