Fiddleford has made plenty of visits to the Mystery Shack over the past couple of decades, and gotten plenty of signals that he didn’t belong. He never let the stares or the eye-rolling bother him much, though he could have done without being chased away with a broom.
As greetings go, he much prefers the smile on the Corduroy girl’s face when he walks in the door, and Mabel’s delighted cry of “Mr. McGucket!” is even better. She runs toward him with her arms open, and he accepts her enthusiastic hug.
“Hey, sugar muffin.” He holds her at arm’s length. “Looks like you did some growing, this past year.”
“That’s what everybody says,” she giggles. “Grunkle Ford took Dipper and Candy on a creature walk, but they’ll be back for lunch. I don’t think everybody’s going to fit at the table, so we’ll have to eat outside.”
“You didn’t go with them?”
“Overslept,” Mabel explains as she leads him into the kitchen. “Do you want a smoothie? There’s plenty for everybody. Don’t worry, the glitter is edible.”
They sit at the table and drink glittery smoothies, and Mabel pulls out her phone to show Fiddleford pictures from her eighth-grade graduation. She explains that she made her own dress, which is about as colorful as it’s possible for a piece of clothing to be, just for the occasion. “Dipper’s tie matches,” she says proudly. “See?”
She asks after Tate, and Fiddleford tells her about their weekly dinners in the fancy house that his inventions bought him. Then he moves on to describing the devices he’s built to help Candy, Grenda, and Pacifica with their paranormal investigations. “I finagled them up some camera glasses, and water skis that don’t need to be attached to no boat. Candy and I are working on a pair of mecha-wings, but they still need some of the bugs worked out.”
Mabel grins. “She says she’s already crashed twice.”
“I still dunno what she told her parents.”
“It sounds like most of the grownups are still pretending like nothing weird ever happened,” Mabel says. “I know it’s what the mayor and the cops wanted, but it’s kind of creepy.”
“I don’t disagree,” Fiddleford admits. “Still, I don’t blame them for wanting to bury the truth. I buried plenty of truth myself, for years and years. And there’s them in Gravity Falls who’ve been hurt much worse by the monsters than I ever was.”
“I don’t think anybody is keeping score on who got hurt the most,” Mabel points out. “At least, that’s what Grunkle Ford keeps telling Dipper and me.”
“I don’t know how much he’s explained to you about the work we did together…”
“He told Grunkle Stan and me the whole story after Weirdmageddon,” Mabel says softly. “So I know what…” He nods to show her that he doesn’t mind hearing the demon’s name. “What Bill did to both of you.”
“For a long time, there was a lot that even I didn’t know. Pretty sure there’s a few surprises still kicking around in here.” Fiddleford taps his forehead.
“When you and Grunkle Ford were working together, did you ever see…” She plays with her straw and with her dangly earrings, looking everywhere but at him. “I mean, did Bill ever…”
“You’re asking if I ever noticed that Stanford wasn’t himself,” Fiddleford guesses. This girl always says exactly what’s on her mind, so if she needs him to help her find the right words, something must really be off-kilter. “I never put all the pieces together – least, not as far as I know – but I sure suspected that something was wrong, that he was playing with forces he shouldn’t.” He thinks back to the hours that he and his old friend spent together at the end of last summer.
“I reckoned that you’d be angry at me for taking away your memories, Stanford.”
“I felt many things. Anger… was definitely one of them.”
“I thought I did what was right and necessary. I was wrong. I hope you can forgive me.”
“I can, and I will. We both gave in to dangerous temptations.”
Fiddleford shakes his head. “Once I knew what was really going on, the things I saw made a lot more sense: them candles and prisms he kept around, the equations that didn’t seem like anything from Earth, the blood in his eye… sorry,” he adds quickly. “Didn’t mean to frighten you.”
She waves it off. “It takes a lot more than that to frighten me.”
“And there were moments when we’d be talking to each other, and suddenly, I’d be staring at something that looked like Stanford, and wore his clothes, but…”
“…didn’t move like him, or talk like him,” Mabel finishes, “and you thought maybe his eyes looked different – yellow, with funny pupils – but it could have been a trick of the light.”
“You ain’t wrong,” Fiddleford says slowly. “No, I don’t think you’re wrong at all.” He pauses. “You saw it your own self, didn’t you?” She nods. “You want to tell me?”
“He got Dipper to make a deal,” Mabel says, her voice somber. “I didn’t even realize that Bill had taken him over, and he wasn’t, you know, being subtle.” She shudders, and her voice trembles. “Bill could have hurt him much worse – and everybody else, too – and I was wrapped up in my stupid little problems and stupid little plans.”
The girl’s fists are clenched, and her sparkly purple fingernails dig into her palms. Fiddleford doesn’t know exactly what’s happening in her head, but it’s probably not unlike the thoughts that used to make him pull out his own hair. “Go easy, darlin’.” He touches her wrist. “Whatever happened, it don’t seem to have messed up your relationship with your brother too much.”
“If I hadn’t figured out what Bill was doing, and he’d managed to actually…” Mabel places her hands flat on the table, like she’s trying to keep them from doing something else. “…Maybe I would’ve wanted to forget, too.”
“You know that it don’t solve nothing, in the end,” Fiddleford reminds her. “I know what it’s like to have the past weigh you down, truly I do. Stanford and I had to forgive each other for a lot of mistakes, but we also had to forgive ourselves.”
“I’m trying.” Mabel squeezes his hand. “Thanks for talking to me, Mr. McGucket. And for listening.”
“Darlin’, you and your brother can go ahead and call me Fiddleford. The way I see it, more family ain’t a bad thing.”
She beams and waves her phone at him again. “Hey, do you want to see a picture of Waddles in a graduation cap? He wore it for, like, a minute, and then he tried to eat it.”
Stanford, Candy, and Dipper burst into the room a few minutes later, carrying their notes and samples. Mabel flings one arm around her friend, and messes up her brother’s hair with her other hand. Stanford smiles warmly and wraps his own arm around Fiddleford’s shoulders, and Fiddleford has never been more certain of where he belongs.