A Happier Time
By Aoikami Sarah
Somewhere around three in the morning, Ford woke from an uneasy dream. As he mulled over its surreal contents, he was pleasantly reminded that the dream was his own and that Bill had nothing to do with it. A vague and quickly fleeting vision of a tea party with people that looked like stuffed animals of themselves complaining about cold tea quickly dissipated. To his left, his brother sawed wood, seemingly unaffected by having to sleep on the floor. Ford stared at the ceiling and listened to Stan's breath, measuring it against his own and relishing each loud, obnoxious, glorious inhale. 'The only thing I got is protecting my family. Deal with it!' Stan's words echoed in his mind. He had been so angry, but at the same time desperate to continue to protect him.
A month ago when he stepped back through the portal, Ford had found himself extremely disconcerted by being thrust back into his old life. There were days when he wished he could jump back in-to run away from the agony of facing his brother with a heart clouded by the poison of anger and resentment. But the world needed saving. It had been a good excuse to ignore his own feelings for an entire month. Now, the world was saved but Stan was the hero. What was he? The problem. The error. The extra digit. His own overinflated hubris had brought about Weirdmageddon-for was it not he who first summoned Bill? He who had put his own ambition and curiosity above all else? What could he destroy next, if he'd already had a go at the entire universe? Stan would never have done such a thing. Stan knew what was important. Why Ford was still so important to him after everything he'd done, he could not fathom.
Ford's thoughts spiraled out of control and he felt his eyes start to burn and his breath shorten, but just then Stan turned in his sleep, uttering a much louder snore than before and it snapped him out of it. His brother wanted him there. His brother wanted to protect him, even still. Even as the bad memories were returning. Because Stan loved him.
"Ford, you ok?" Stan asked, sleepily.
"Thought I heard you cryin'." He sat up and rubbed his eyes.
Was he fully awake? Was he just remembering a scene oft-repeated in their younger days? He wanted to lie and tell him no, to go back to sleep, to never mind him, but instead, Ford rolled over. "Stan? Do you remember what I did to you?"
"What you did to me?" he asked. "Pretty sure it was the other way around."
Ford smiled wide, the tears really flowing now. "Stan?"
"I'll never turn my back on you again. I promise."
He heard a quick gasp coming from the man on the floor. "I know," Stan said sweetly. "Go back to sleep, Sixer."
Stan woke a little late and let his brother sleep on, nestled comfortably, his mouth slightly open, gently snoring. He put on his robe and slinked out the door, slowly closing it behind him. Just before he clicked it shut, he looked up and down the hallway to make sure it was clear and whispered 'love you' to the lump in his bed.
With a goofy grin on his face, Stan ambled toward the kitchen where he heard the voices of his niece, nephew, and handyman, already up for breakfast.
They greeted him happily and Stan ruffled their hair and wished them a happy thirteenth birthday. When he asked them what they were going to do on their big day, they said they had been invited to their friend Pacifica's house at eleven for lunch and would be back by two. Stan waved a hand and suggested maybe they could throw something together for them and suddenly Soos cut him off, offering to cook breakfast for him. Stan frowned and swiped the spatula out of his hand, grumbling that he wasn't an invalid and he would cook for everyone so sit down and shut your yaps about it. He then hummed an off-key tune and started the pancakes. Soos sighed with relief to see his boss back to his old self, and, as an added bonus, happy. He offered to take the kids over to Pacifica's when they were ready and Stan didn't protest.
Soos dropped the kids off at the front steps of Northwest Manor and said he'd be back at two sharp, then peeled out of the driveway, leaving rubber tire marks behind. They laughed at his antics and ascended the steps where they were surprised to find Pacifica herself opening the door. "Yeah, I know," she said, letting them in. "There's a lot going on right now."
The halls of the manor seemed vacant. Not one servant attended to them as Pacifica led them toward the kitchen. She explained that her father had lost a huge amount of his wealth thanks to a bad investment deal spurred on by Bill, and although everything that Weirdmageddon had ruined was restored, because the deal was made directly with Bill, it stuck. The manor would be put on the market tomorrow and she would live with her parents in their three-thousand-square-foot 'bungalow' on the other side of town. The Pines twins were shocked to hear it, but Dipper thought that it made sense. The Shack had also not been restored when it the battle was over and had to be repaired manually, perhaps because of its interaction directly with Bill himself.
"I can't have someone make you lunch because we had to let all of our staff go. We have to get it ourselves, but I wanted to see you," she said and opened the door to a massive commercial-grade kitchen full of gleaming stainless steel appliances and countertops. "I've literally never been in here before," she explained. "I hope there's food. I don't know where it's kept, though…" she said and looked around.
Mabel pointed with her thumb toward the large, steel unit behind her "You could proooobably start with the fridge," she explained, awkwardly.
"Really? That's a refrigerator? They don't look like that on TV…" Pacifica folded her arms and looked away.
Realizing that her words had come out a touch snarky, Mabel stepped close to her and put a hand on her shoulder. "Yours is industrial-sized, that's why. It's ok. You don't know much about normal-people things, we know that."
Dipper nodded. "Yeah, your parents kept you sheltered, is all. You'll figure stuff out, eventually."
"Oh my god, you guys," Pacifica said, clenching her fists. "This is exactly why I needed to see you." She hung her head and took a deep breath. "I wanted to apologize to you."
Dipper and Mabel looked to each other, puzzled, and Dipper chuckled uncomfortably. "Why?"
She scuffed a ballet slippered foot across the unglazed tile floor. "Mabel, you've always been so kind to me even when I was horrible to you."
Mabel grimaced, exposing her braces and tried to gloss over the confession. "Yeah, what was up with that? I mean, I'm amazing!"
"You are. And I'm jealous of you."
"What?!" the twins both shouted.
Pacifica lifted her head. "It's true! You're comfortable with who you are, you have true friends, and a family who loves you. Bullies just want to make themselves seem better than the person they're jealous of. I see that now, and I'm sorry."
Mabel whispered her name, astounded and unsure of what to do or say in response.
"And Dipper, you believed in me when I didn't value myself at all, even after I mocked you and treated you like you were nothing to me. You stood up for me and gave me strength. You two are my only real friends. What am I gonna do without you?"
Mabel pursed her lips and looked to her brother. He nodded. "Keep growing. You've come a long way, Pacifica, and we're only a skype session away until next summer."
Mabel nodded. "What he said!"
Pacifica's lower lip trembled and tears streamed down her face. "I will! I want to be the kind of person who deserves to have your friendship!"
In one clumsy, awkward motion, they both launched themselves at her. "You are!" they said, hugged her tightly and Pacifica bawled into their shoulders for a good while.
When she had calmed and Dipper found her some paper towels to blow her nose with, Mabel told her to 'cop a squat' and that they would make lunch for her. Dipper made sure to vocalize what he was doing as he built a ham sandwich, something she'd never seen anyone do outside of the movies. He suggested she give it a try and she recoiled and said she'd just watch. "It's such a simple, stupid thing," she said, fidgeting on her stool. "This is going to sound so dumb, but I'm actually... scared..."
"No it's not!" Mabel cried, sort of slamming the plate of completed sandwiches down on the table. "Life is scary! It's ok to be scared!"
"Yeah, but over a ham sandwich?!"
"Your ham sandwich is just as valid as anyone else's!" She shouted. "Do not let anyone make you feel that you shouldn't be scared-that you should be stronger. You will be stronger, but in the meantime, things are scary. The unknown, a new life, a new house, making a sandwich for the first time ever, having to leave your friends behind, or your friends leaving you behind, it's totally terrifying. It's ok to be scared." Mabel smiled. "I'm scared as all get-out about the future, but I know it'll get better."
Dipper blinked at the two of them, stunned for a moment by the intensity his sister displayed. "Mabel's right. I've got my share of 'ham sandwiches', too." He picked up a half of one and took a huge bite. "But I'm workin' on it!" he mumbled around it.
Mabel beamed at her brother then mimicked his action, stuffing almost an entire half in her face and mumbled excitedly "Yeah! Take that, sandwich!"
Pacifica looked from one twin to the other, blinking in disbelief for a moment, then burst out laughing. When she recovered, she demurely took a bite. It was the best tasting ham sandwich she had ever had.
Promptly at two, Soos honked his horn and Dipper and Mabel said goodbye to their friend, promising to text, email, and skype (and Mabel suggested they astral-project to each other as well). The distance to the shack wasn't long, but the drive seemed to go on forever. Mabel sighed and leaned against the window.
Dipper put his hand on her shoulder. "Hey, why don't we drop in on Grenda and Candy?" he offered quietly.
Soos opened his mouth to protest, but Mabel groaned and knocked her head against the glass. "That's right, you don't know… When I went around inviting folks to our party, they said they weren't going to be here! Grenda's sailing the Mediterranean or something with Maaaariuuuuuus and Candy's parents shipped her off to band camp!"
"Oh man, that sucks!" Soos said loudly.
"You bet your Sweet Aunt Bippy it does!" Mabel agreed. "I did get to hang out with them while we were fighting, so that's good?" She made an uncomfortable face. "Not really the last thing I wanted to do with my besties, though. I really wanted our thirteenth birthday to be special." She slumped down on the bench seat until she was practically on the floor.
"Aw come on, dudes, I bet we'll have a sweet time anyway!" Soos chimed as he turned onto Gopher Road. "I'm sure we can get a little something together. Ya know, not anything major-rager, but awesome and fun, with like, balloons and cake and stuff? 'Course, I can't come close to being as awesome to you as you were to me. You gave me my birthday back, and I'll always be in your debt for it."
"Aw, Soos," Dipper blushed a little. "It wasn't that big a deal…"
"Dipper. We fought in Globnar for him, remember?"
"Oh, heh. Right."
Soos grinned to split his face as they approached the Mystery Shack. "Well, I hope this comes close, anyway."
As the truck pulled into the driveway, Dipper and Mabel gasped and leaned forward, stunned by the sight. The shack was decorated with balloons and streamers, and practically everyone they knew was gathered around the museum entrance waving and cheering. Mabel screeched with delight and launched herself across the seat at Soos, hugging and play-hitting him fiercely. Her brother was caught between them and he laughed as he struggled to avoid being pummeled. They all spilled out of the truck and the crowd assembled cried 'happy birthday' in greeting.
"Candy?! Grenda?!" Mabel screamed and tackled them. "Soos! You are the best!"
He pumped his fist in victory. "Yyyyyyus! Nailed it!"
Dipper scanned the crowd of friends and acquaintances and raised a brow. "Pacifica?!"
"Yeah, I was totally in on it." She winked at him. "I meant what I said, though."
Their great uncles stood at the top of the steps in front of a birthday cake Soos had run to get after he dropped them off at Northwest Manor and watched the children greet their friends. Stan sniffled and Ford noticed. "Are you alright, Stanley?" he asked.
"Yeah," he answered, sheepishly. "There's somethin' important I can't remember, but I think I know why."
Ford turned to face him and his heart twisted with sympathy. Of all the times for a bad memory to come to the surface. "What is it?"
"When's our birthday?"
Ford clenched his jaw but adhered to his promise. "June eighteenth."
Stan took a deep breath and looked out at the joy around them. "This is the first time in forty years I've looked forward to that day." He smiled.
Ford briefly rested his hand on his back. "Me, too." When Stan turned to face him, his eyes lit up, even brighter than they had been observing his precious niece and nephew enjoy their party. Ford nodded, silently making up his mind. He opened his mouth to ask Stan a question but was cut off as Soos brought the kids up to the deck to cut the cake. It wasn't until a few minutes later, after Dipper and Mabel had given their sweet little speeches and were digging into unwrapping a pile of presents, that Ford found another opportunity.
While everyone was distracted with cake, Ford put his hand on his brother's shoulder and asked him to speak with him, privately, explaining once they were around the corner of the shack and out of hearing range that they had a problem.
"Weirdmageddon has been contained, but I'm detecting some strange new anomalies near the Arctic Ocean. I want to go investigate, but I think I might be too old to go it alone…"
"Are you sayin' you need someone to help you sail around the world on the adventure of a lifetime?" Stan raised his brows, hopefully.
Ford reached into the inner breast pocket of his coat. "I don't just want someone to come with me, Stanley… I want it to be you." He handed Stan a torn photograph of two little boys on a derelict sailboat. Two boys from a happier time with nothing but high hopes for a future of fun and wonder for them to discover together. His voice softened. "Will you give me a second chance?"
Stan took the photo in both hands and stared at it, wide-eyed.
"Stanley?" Ford repeated.
When he looked up, Stan's eyes glistened with tears. "Ford…" he breathed. "Me and you… Are you sure?"
"Quite. I never want to be without you again."
Stan's lower lip trembled and a picture crystallized, made up of bits of memories that had drifted on the edges of his mind for the last few days. A six-fingered hand, fingers laced through his five. His chin brushing against soft, brown hair. The creak of deck boards under their weight. A nose, lips and lightly stubbled chin nuzzling into his collar and warm breath whispering his name. As the picture became clear, Stan swiftly pulled his brother into a tight embrace, but Ford stiffened and gasped. 'Oh, no,' Stan thought in a millisecond. 'Was I wrong? But these are memories, aren't they? We made them, together, didn't we…?!' He released him and began to apologize, but Ford's eyes were half-lidded, heavy with relief and happiness. 'We did!' Stan couldn't help himself. He took his brother's face in his hands and planted a firm kiss on his lips.
Ford's eyes squeezed shut as his endorphins ignited. He leaned in and reciprocated, pressing harder, tongue reaching out, meeting Stan's. The passion of the kiss seemed to startle them both until the more sensible of the two came to his senses pulled away and blinked a few times.
"Whoa," Ford breathed.
Stan grinned deviously. "So I am remembering that right."
Ford nodded. "Yes, yes you are," he said quietly, gave a small, crooked smile and blushed. "But perhaps not with the best timing." He nodded toward the sound of the crowd of people on the other side of the building.
"Heh, right. Don't wanna scandalize the guy married to the woodpecker." Ford laughed and Stan smiled so hard at the sound that his face hurt. He and his brother were going to go adventuring together and after forty long years of waiting, his dream was coming true. He could certainly wait a little longer to kiss him with abandon. "So, we're ok now, right? No matter what else comes floating up from the past?"
"And we get to be happy?"
"You think we'll find treasure… and babes?" he asked, arching a cheeky brow, quoting his nine-year-old self, certain that his soulmate would get the reference.
Ford gave a slightly exasperated sigh but laughed, grinned and lightly punched his arm. "I'd say there's a high probability."