As you climb out of bed at the break of dawn, you keep thinking of last night, of the magical experience you had with Stanley, and the frazzled buzz of butterflies that haven’t left your stomach ever since.
You walk — though you swear you’re floating — into the kitchen and head straight for the cabinet with the oatmeal (it strikes you, somewhere in the back of your mind, how odd is is for this place to have become so familiar in only a few weeks - You’re just going through the cabinets like it’s nothing, like it’s a home) when you hear a not-so-subtle and gruff clear of a throat behind you.
Ford is at the table, and admittedly you had completely missed him, lost in your reminiscing of your lovely evening with Stanley, but you’re taken out of your lovely daze by the glowering scowl aimed your way.
What has him in a mood?, you think to yourself, but you decide to be diplomatic enough and greet him. “Good morning, Stanford.”
“Morning.” His reply is curt and he shovels a bite of frosted flakes into his mouth, not breaking eye contact to even blink. You think about the things you’ve heard of his long disappearance. Is this intimidation method something he picked up while he was gone? You adjust your collar uncomfortably and break the glare war you seem to be engaged in and turn back to the oatmeal, and pour it into a bowl.
“Did you have a good evening with my brother last night?” His words are innocuous enough, but there’s an edge to them, and you suddenly wonder if this has become an interrogation.
“It was lovely,” you reply, and you really can’t help the giggle that escapes your lips afterwards at the thought of it.
You sit in silence for a couple of minutes, as your oatmeal rotates in the microwave, and when you turn back to Stanford, he takes another bite of the cereal and lets out a heavy sigh.
“You know,” he starts, meeting your eyes again. “Stanley’s been through a lot.”
The weight with which he delivers the words touches you, and you lean against the counter. “Yeah,” you reply. “I know.”
Stanford’s look becomes a full-on glare. “Do you? Do you really?”
“I know what he’s told me,” you say. “And from what I know, he’s a really strong person.”
A joyless chuckle escapes Ford’s lips and he looks away for the first time, takes another bite of cereal. “He is. More than any of us could ever hope to be.”
With another sigh he rises from the chair and stands a few feet away, still holding his cereal. “But, strong as he is, he doesn’t deserve to put up with any more pain than he’s been through. It’s been a long 30 years for him.” He places his bowl against the counter. “A long 40 years, really.”
You think of the snippets you’ve heard from Stan, you can imagine as such. You swallow and nod, not breaking eye contact.
“I’m not saying that my brother can’t handle what life throws his way. If he can handle homelessness, the mob and, hell, even a Kracken, ” Stanford says, leaning against the counter beside you and staring out the window as he speaks. “He can handle damn near anything… Maybe even heartbreak.”
Finally he turns to you, and the glare he sends your way is hardened in the way that only someone who has fought the unfathomable for decades can deliver “But I will do anything in my power, as long as I am still able, to make sure that he doesn’t have to.”
Ahh, you think. That is what this is. And in normal circumstances, you might find this streak of older-brother-protectiveness adorable. But not with those eyes, eyes that have stared down dream demons and lived to tell the tale (and eyes that have cried at the loss and retrieval of a brother at the end of the world), staring you down.
“And if it ever should happen,” Ford says, stepping closer, with his fist clenched at his side and steel in his voice. “I would hope that the person at fault knows that I have traveled through 30 years worth of hundreds of hells, and I have made countless beings suffer for countless lesser reasons than the happiness of my twin … Not that I would ever kill anyone,” He tacks on, with a dark smile. “There are worse things out there, things that I have seen … and the experiences have left me rather inspired.”
You shudder and nod. “I understand.” You say.
His face brightens and suddenly the cloud of misfortune and the atmosphere wrought by promises to rain down hell have evaporated. He grins and places his empty bowl of cereal in the sink. “Oh, goodie! Anyways, have a fun time with Stan today.” And with a pat of his hand a squeeze of your shoulder (delivered with a strong, stony and threatening grip) he walks out of the room.
You look at your oatmeal, suddenly a lot less hungry.