I do not own Gravity Falls.
Slight spoilers for The Last Mabelcorn ahead.
When the hands on the clock struck two in the morning, Stanford knew his attempts to try and sleep were a lost cause. Heaving a soft sigh of irritation he sat up, allowing his blanket to slide down his body and crumple to the floor. Resting his elbows on his knees, Ford pressed his fingers together as he stared into the darkness of his room.
It had been quite a while since he'd last seen Bill Cipher, and the sudden reappearance of the triangle demon sent his already-frayed nerves on edge. It didn't help that the kids seemed to be well acquainted with Bill, and what he gathered from Mabel's off-handed remark about Bill turning Dipper into a living sock puppet, the boy had already been possessed.
Ford grimaced. Perhaps it was his fault that Bill suddenly had an interest in the Pines clan-no, it was most certainly his fault. Not even he could rationalize his way out of that one. He made the initial deal, and once he discovered Bill's intentions it was his frantic efforts to close the portal that no doubt made it personal.
Good thing I installed that metal plate, he thought humourlessly. At least he knew he would be protected from Bill's mind games. And so long as they stayed in the magical shield that surrounded the Shack, they would be fine. The outside world, however, was another matter entirely…
Grunting, Ford stood up and left his room, striding down the hall. If he spent all night theorizing and trying to predict Bill's next moves, he would drive himself crazier than he already was. Bill was unpredictable, and all he could do was keep a watchful eye out for Bill's next pawn.
As he neared the living room he spotted the slivers of light shining out from underneath the bathroom door. It was slightly ajar and he could hear the sounds of rushing water coming from inside. He would have continued on his way, had his sharp hearing not picked up the whimpers.
Concerned, Ford moved towards the door and pushed against it. The light flooded into the hall and blinded him until his vision adjusted. He was immediately greeted with the sight of his niece standing at the sink, both her hands stuck underneath the water. Steam clogged the small space, and he saw instantly that the tap was cranked to the hottest setting.
"Whoa," he said sharply, moving swiftly behind the girl and reaching over her. He turned the tap in the opposite direction so that cold water would gush out. Mabel hiccupped slightly, tears staining her cheeks and body trembling.
"Grunkle Ford?" she croaked, trying to crane her neck backwards to look at him. But he had one hand firmly on her shoulder, preventing her from moving. With the other hand he ensured she did not take her hands away from the cool water, which was streaming down the bright red flesh.
"Keep your hands under there," he ordered, eyes sweeping the bathroom in search of a towel. He spotted one folded neatly on the shelf near the bath and he went to grab it. Mabel turned her head and watched as he grabbed the fluffy green towel off of the rack.
"What are you doing up so late?" she asked softly.
"Couldn't sleep," he answered shortly. He went back over the sink and nudged her hands aside so that he could soak the towel thoroughly. When the material was weighed down with water, he wrapped it securely around Mabel's hands.
"They're like towel handcuffs," she remarked, experimentally tugging her hands to opposite sides. But the towel wouldn't budge, leaving her hands bound together.
"Don't remove it," instructed Ford. "You're going to leave that on for the next five to ten minutes." He turned the tap off and flicked off the bathroom light. "Come with me."
Obeying, Mabel followed after Ford. They crossed through the living room and out onto the porch. Ford dropped down onto the old couch and motioned for Mabel to sit beside him. She hesitated, but knew that there was no avoiding the following conversation. Heart pumping with fear and nervousness, she lowered her small form beside him.
They sat in silence for a moment. Ford leaned back a bit, folding his arms across his chest as he glanced down at the girl. She was staring at the wooden planks of the porch, nibbling on her bottom lip. Her eyes were following the small water droplets as they fell from the edges of her towel and splattered to the wood.
How to approach this… thought Ford wearily. He didn't know Mabel all that well, but from their short time together he knew she wasn't a girl who did things like this. She was always in a cheerful mood, with bright smiles and high-pitched laughter. He couldn't fathom what suddenly drove her to such a drastic and worrying action.
He thought, for a very brief moment, that perhaps he should let Stan deal with this. Then his stubbornness reared up, refusing to admit defeat to his twin brother. If Stan had been able to take care of the kids for this long, then surely he could help the girl with her problems tonight.
Besides, it wasn't often he got to spend one-on-one time with the sociable girl. Perhaps this could help strengthen their bond.
"Are you going to tell me what that was about?" he finally asked.
Mabel peeked up at him. "Um…will you believe me if I say I was just washing my hands?"
Ford snorted. "All these months with Stanley and that's the best lie you can come up with?"
A tiny smile formed on the girl's lips. "I could probably do better." She leaned back against the cushions and took a soft breath. "Remember when you said unicorns are frustrating?"
"Well…I kinda got scammed."
Eyes narrowing, Ford sat up straight and asked. "How so?"
Mabel sighed, looking out at the dark landscape stretched out before them. The cool breeze ruffled her brunette strands and she moved her feet up onto the couch, tightening into a ball. "We met a unicorn. She said that in order to have one of her hairs, I had to be pure of heart, which I wasn't. I spent all day doing good deeds, but then she told me that I did those deeds for myself and not anyone else. I was so upset. What defines me as a person is that I'm super sweet and kind. And here was a unicorn, my greatest love, telling me I'm a bad person."
She trailed off, swallowing thickly and glaring at the ground. Ford rested a hand lightly on her shoulder, a soft expression on his face. "That's not all, is it?"
"No," she said bitterly. "My friends got angry and tried to take the unicorn hair by force. They knocked her out with fairy dust, but I caught them and stopped them. I woke the unicorn up and she thought I did it. Her friends came, telling her to stop scamming us, and I learned that the whole 'pure of heart' stuff is just made up to keep humans away from them."
"Well, that explains a lot," muttered Ford, his opinion of unicorns dropping dramatically.
"She taunted me, saying she would never give me her hair and asking what I was going to do about it. I got so mad…I punched her right in the nose. I gave her a nosebleed, and before I knew it, we were all fighting-my friends, her friends, and her and I."
Tears welled in her eyes and she let out a soft sob. "I've never fought before-not like that. I don't fight bullies. I fight for my life, to save me or my loved ones, but never for the sake of fighting. I'm not that kind of person. But I did-I ripped out a chunk of her hair and even her eyelashes. I fought her so much that she started crying. But I didn't care. I got what I wanted and I was so happy that I could give them to you. But then all the adrenaline wore off, and now I feel so guilty. I don't like hurting people or animals. I love the world. But I did something horrible today."
The tears trickled down her cheeks, and with her towel-bound hands she could not wipe them away. She shifted slightly in surprise when Ford gently brushed the clear tears off of her face. "So you tried to distract yourself by running hot water over your hands."
Mabel burned with shame. "I didn't mean to worry you. I couldn't sleep, I couldn't stop thinking about it, and I just wanted the thoughts to go away."
"That's not the way to do it, ever. You know that, right?"
Mabel nodded hard. "I won't do it again, I promise."
"Good." Ford looked up at the starry sky, expression thoughtful. "So you think you're a bad person because you beat up a unicorn."
"A little bit," admitted Mabel softly. "She's a jerk, but she didn't deserve a full beat down."
"In all your twelve years of existence, how many times have you beat someone up for the sake of it?"
"Just today," said Mabel instantly.
"Does anyone else think you're a bad person?"
"I don't think so," said Mabel slowly.
"How about the people who matter most to you?"
"Definitely not," she said, now sure of herself.
"There you go. I meant what I said earlier, that you're a good person." Ford smiled warmly down at the hopeful-eyed girl. "And I mean it now. I don't think I've ever met someone as kind-hearted as you."
"Really. What you did today was a bad decision. If you define yourself over one bad decision, you won't be able to see yourself for who you truly are. And believe me, your Grunkle Stan and I know quite a lot about making bad decisions."
Mabel tilted her head to the side, studying Ford carefully. "You're not a bad person, either. You or Stan. You're both great. You just went through a whole lot, that's all. Things people don't understand."
Ford chuckled, using his hand to push some strands of hair away from the girl's face. "Thanks, kiddo. But I have my regrets, as Stan has his and this will be yours. We all have our regrets in life. But it's how we overcome them that matter."
The invisible weight that had burdened Mabel's shoulders was no longer there. She felt at ease and relaxed, no longer distraught or fearful. She was not proud of herself for what she had done, but she would not let it mark her. Perhaps, after some time had passed, she would go back and apologize. Or write a very sparkly apology letter.
"How are your hands?"
Blinking, Mabel manage to wrestle her hands free from the towel. The redness was pretty much gone, with a few spots lingering. "Better," she declared. "They're not tingling anymore."
"That's a good sign." Ford stood up and stretched. "Come, it's time for bed. I'm sure Stan won't be happy to see you up so late."
Mabel stood up on the couch, her bare feet sinking into the cushions. She looked up at her great-uncle with a bright smile. "Okay. Thank you, Grunkle Ford. Good night."
She kissed him sweetly on the cheek and then scampered off, running back inside the house. Ford blinked after her in astonishment for a minute, fingers lightly tracing over where she had pecked him affectionately. A slow smile spread across his aged face, a warm sensation spreading through his chest, a sensation he had not felt for a long time.
"Heh. Goodnight, Mabel."