There’s something broken in Grunkle Stan, since they pulled Great-Uncle Ford through the rift.
It’s a small thing, a shadow behind their Grunkle’s eyes at the mention of time passing, or the sadness that chokes his voice when he talks about his brother.
Mabel doesn’t think anyone else notices it. But she does. She’s always been good at reading people, working out the best ways to make the people around her happy.
And somehow, despite working hard for it for over 30 years, reuniting with Great-Uncle Ford didn’t make Grunkle Stan happy. She’s got a hunch it’s more to do with Great-Uncle Ford's behaviour than Grunkle Stan's. So while she’s excited to have another Uncle, she tries to stick close to Grunkle Stan.
“Grunkle Stan?” She tells him one day, when Dipper’s disappeared, most likely down into the basement with Great-Uncle Ford. “Teach me how to lie?”
Grunkle Stan startles, staring at her in surprise. “You hate lying!” He points accusingly at her. “Remember the golden dentures? I remember the golden dentures.” The last part is a muttered old man grumble.
“Pfft.” Mabel shrugs, her tone breezy as she waves her hands dismissively. “It’s in the past. I’ve grown up since then.”
It’s not a lie. They’ve done things, seen things, experienced things that she could have never imagined when they’d first arrived to the Mystery Shack.
This summer has changed them all. Mostly for the better.
Grunkle Stan continues to give her the stink eye, rubbing his chin as he mulls her request over. It’s one thing she’s learned from him, when to push and when to wait when it comes to getting something you want.
“Alright.” He finally agrees. “I’ll teach you some of my con-man tricks. But mind you, I’m trusting you to know the time and place to use them. Which means not on family.”
It’s a little hypocritical of him, given the way he’d kept her and Dipper in the dark about Gravity Falls, its secrets, and the portal below. But she understands his reasoning. If she hadn’t already experienced the gnomes, and the magic, and all the other weird stuff in Gravity Falls before they’d known about the portal, she probably wouldn’t have understood.
She’s still not entirely sure she understands everything, but she’s got the gist of it. Family’s the most important thing to Grunkle Stan, and to her.
She’s a little concerned about how much Dipper is like Great-Uncle Ford, concerned more with mysteries and finding the truth. It seems like a lonely existence. And she’s not sure that Great-Uncle Ford is the better for it.
“Agreed.” She says solemnly. Grunkle Stan gives her a long look, like he knows better. Which he does. But even with all the letters home she’s written, Mom and Dad aren’t going to believe everything that happened here, and someone needs to run damage control if they want to be able to come back next year.
And chances are, Dipper won’t be that person.
“Alright.” Grunkle Stan finally sighs, then leans back in his armchair, getting comfortable. “The first thing to know about lying is that you’ve got to tell the truth. Most of it anyway. Makes it easier to remember the details later, if someone questions you.”
Mabel climbs up onto the T-rex skull and sits next to him, watching the light go on in his eyes as he talks about the cons and the lies he’s pulled off.
They’re totally against her morals, but it’s worth it, to see him happy and enjoying himself again.
And the stories aren’t half bad.
“Grunkle Stan?” Mabel asks one quiet day. There’s no tourists coming in, and no buses scheduled. She’s pretty sure that Wendy’s asleep with her eyes open, the older teen hasn’t turned a page in ages.
Soos isn’t much better. He’s just standing with his face to a wall, snoring.
“Teach me how to cheat at cards?”
“You mean how to play cards?” He asks, one eyebrow rising up.
She already knows the basics of a lot of card games. Gin Rummy, Poker, Black Jack. At least in theory. “No.”
He thinks about it for a moment, then looks around the empty Mystery Shack and shrugs. “Sure. Why not?”
The four of them gather around in kitchen, Grunkle Stan teaching them all how to play poker, and then how to cheat outrageously. Soos isn't very good it, but she and Wendy get into competitions over who can bluff better, which has Grunkle Stan laughing his head off, because neither of them can stop giggling as they try to maintain their serious faces.
Eventually it gets late enough that Wendy and Soos have to go home, dividing the gummy worms and potato chips between them. Technically, it was more Wendy’s pile, because Soos kept eating his few winnings.
It’s a lot easier to bluff and switching cards when Wendy’s not there. Grunkle Stan’s still the master of it, but eventually she manages to look innocent while bluffing to pull one over on him and catch him by the surprise.
He laughs, the rough rumble that comes from deep in his chest when he’s really happy. “Oh, I can’t wait to see you in five years, when you get to college. You’re gonna be cleaning all those frat boys outta their pocket change!”
Mabel laughs weakly. She can kind of see that happening, but she hasn’t really even thought about college. They’re not even in High School yet, college is, like, eons away.
“In fact, I should teach you how to drink before you get there.” Grunkle Stan slaps his knee, amused by the idea. “Little sleight of hand, a little working on your liver. Tell ya what, the summer before you start college, come on back to the Mystery Shack and-”
The words cut off abruptly, Grunkle Stan’s expression shifting and fading to one of that of deep sorrow.
“Grunkle Stan?” Mabel prompts, growing concerned as he seems to age before her eyes. She’s almost afraid that he’s just going to keep ageing, turning into skeleton, then ashes, and drift away.
“Nothing, kiddo.” He rustles up a smile for her, but it doesn’t quite reach his eyes. Nor most of his face, just a little uptick in one corner of his mouth. “Just remembered something, that’s all.”
He’s lying. She knows his tricks now, his deflections. He taught them to her after all.
It’s on the tip of her tongue to ask what could put such a look on his face, when the explanation hits her with the force of a hammer to the skull. All the times he’d kept from mentioning the future, inviting them to return.
They weren’t coming back to the Mystery Shack.
The Shack belonged to Great-Uncle Ford. And other than as an audience to show off for, Great-Uncle Ford didn’t really seem to care if they were there or not. He wasn’t the one to make sure they were eating, or weren’t getting into trouble, or getting them out of trouble.
That was Grunkle Stan.
And Grunkle Stan didn’t think he was going to be in the Mystery Shack in the future.
She stares at him, mouth open, unable to think of anything to say, her stomach all tied up into knots. It is unthinkable, the Mystery Shack without Grunkle Stan.
Without Grunkle Stan, would there even be a Mystery Shack? Or would it return to being a research outpost again, all the wonder, mysteries, and curiosities going away?
“Hey.” Grunkle Stan’s voice jolts her. “Hey. Don’t worry about it, okay?”
“But…” She can feel the whine building in the back of her throat and tries to choke it down. “This is your home.” Has been his home for 30 years. For longer than Mable and Dipper had been alive, combined. Longer than Great-Uncle Ford lived in it for sure.
And what would happen to Wendy? To Soos? This was their home too. Kind of.
“I know.” Grunkle Stan says, his voice heavy as he stares at the cards in his hand. “I’ll figure something out. I always land on my feet, you know that.”
“No butts.” He snaps. Grunkle Stan shifts uncomfortably in his seat, staring at the cards in his hand for a moment, before adding in a slightly gentler tone. "And don't tell your brother."
"But-" Dipper's better at figuring out some things than she is. They're a matched set, they don't keep secrets from each other.
Except that's not true anymore, is it? Dipper spends hours with Great-Uncle Ford, and he never tells her what they're up to, other than 'Sciencey Stuff'.
"Look." Grunkle Stan sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose, right under where the glasses rest. "I'm the adult, alright? It's my job to protect you two. And the two of you require different kinds of protecting."
Her protest fades away, replaced by confusion. "Huh?"
"You kids are stronger than you realise. But it's different kinds of strength. Dipper's a lot more fragile than you, in a lot of ways. And it's your job, as his sibling, to protect him. It's bad enough you guessed, but you’re strong enough to carry that. Dipper... Might not take it so well."
The fact that his ‘Golden Idol’ might not have their best interests at heart would crush him.
"So I should lie?"
"It's the only reason to lie."
He holds her gaze as the thoughts rumble, clash and echo in her head, but she finally nods in agreement. Family comes first.
Grunkle Stan nods, turning away as if uncomfortable. “Now are we playing cards or what?”
It takes her a moment to get her mouth moving again, to close her jaw. She wipes the tears from her eyes and nods, knowing that he won’t talk about it anymore.
And this isn’t about her. It’s about him. And he’s hurting a lot as it is, without her rubbing salt into his wounds with her questions.
She swallows and nods, going over her cards, the best play she can come up with. “Hit me.”
“Grunkle Stan?” Mabel requests. “Teach me how to steal?”
“Now why would you want to know that?” The answer is sharp, almost biting in its suspicion.
“Cause I think it’ll come in handy.” She says truthfully. “And not everything can be solved through fighting.”
“Valid point.” He agrees. "Let's start you off with the basics of pickpocketing."
He teaches her sleight of hand, how to move without looking like you’re moving, how to spot an opening, and when to pass on what looks like an opportunity. She’s got nimble fingers from years of knitting and years of noticing things from art, and takes to it like a merman in water.
She steals Dipper’s book from him without him noticing, and gives it back again, tied up in a bow. Dipper’s confused, but that’s okay.
He teaches her how to pick locks, putting her candy behind chains, padlocks and combination locks. She learns that she can hide lock picks in her knitting cases among her needles and no one looks twice. Lock picks make great jewellery too.
She can drive the Golf Cart already, but he instructs her on the differences of driving various cars, and the different ways to hot wire one in a pinch. His skills are useful on the older cars, the new ones with built in security are harder, and she can see where he hasn’t need to use it for years.
It’s the same with security systems, but sometimes old fashion works best, and it’s not like Gravity Falls has ever needed the high end technological protection.
But he glows with pride when she picks up his skills, even the ones rusty from disuse, and she loves learning from him. She takes his knowledge and makes it her own, adding her own twists to things.
Sheriff Blubs and Deputy Durland wake up from a nap while attempting to catch speeders one afternoon dressed in sweaters they hadn’t been wearing before, and Grunkle Stan laughs himself sick before wandering around with a broad smile the rest of the day.
She just smiles, fiddling with the rainbow coloured friendship bracelet made of unicorn hair around her wrist.
Morality is relative.
Grunkle Stan is family.
She doesn’t know how she’s going to do it yet, and the end of summer is coming in fast, but somehow, she’s going to steal back the Mystery Shack.