Stan quietly closed the door to the little side room and leaned against the wall, letting out an inward sigh. It seemed like the only time he got to do family stuff anymore was when he got called down for a funeral. First Stanley's own funeral, which had been all kinds of wrong: all those people who had no trouble telling Stan to his face that he was nothing more than a worthless screw-up going on about how tragic it was that his life had been cut short, and all of them mourning Stan when he was standing right there and Ford was one who was gone (but not dead, never dead, just lost on the other side of that portal and Stan was going to save him). Next had been Pa's which Stan almost hadn't gone to except, well Ma had never been the best mother in the world or anything, but she had tried, and she deserved to have her son there when she needed them. She deserved Ford, but Stan had done his best. And he was glad that he had five months later when he had to go right back out to New Jersey for her funeral. Then Stan's nephew and his wife, killed in a car accident, and now California again four years later for Shermie. Holy hell, this was all so messed up.
After double checking that the door was closed, no lock unfortunately, Stan carefully peeled his gloves off. He stretched out his newly freed fingers and gave a few absent scratches to the side of his hands on the spots the cotton ball stuffed six finger holes rested. Part of him wondered why he was wearing these things at all when there was no family left to fool. But that wasn't entirely true though, Stan was pretty sure he had spotted Aunt Imogene earlier. Of course he didn't place great odds on Aunt Imogene remembering that Ford was supposed to have six fingers, or even who Ford was, but no reason to take chances. Besides, Shermie might have mentioned his six fingered brother to one of his friends out there.
A faint sound brought Stan to full attention, ready to hastily pull his gloves back on. But after listening for a minute, he realized that the sound didn't seem to be coming from someone about to open the door from the other side. Actually, it sounded like it was coming from within this room, like someone was… crying? Not that crying was a weird thing to hear at a memorial service, but Stan had been pretty sure the place was empty when he came in. He slowly walked across the room, following the noise until he was crouched in front of a large cabinet that seem to be the source. "See," said a light, high voice. "Almost as good as Scarf Town." Stan pulled both the doors open and was confronted by a wide-eyed little boy hugging a little girl with a jacket draped over her head. Shermie's grandkids.
There had been exactly one instance in the past twenty-odd years where Stan had seen his family without someone having died first: when these two little rascals had been born. Mabel and… the boy was going by some ridiculous nickname nowadays, wasn't he? What had Shermie said it was? Dipper, that's right, Mabel and Dipper. They had to be, let's see, they had been born right about the time Stan was freaking out over whether he'd need to find a way to Y2K proof the portal, so summer of '99 which would make them about five and a half now. And these two little kids were just about the only family Stan had left. Not counting Aunt Imogene because she was basically senile and had always been a real piece of work anyways, definitely like sister like brother. (And not counting Ford because Ford wasn't dead, he just wasn't around right now.)
"Hey kiddos. What're you two doing down here?"
"Grandpa Shermie!" Mabel cried, throwing the jacket off her head. Her red-rimmed eyes immediately watered up again. "You're not Grandpa Shermie."
Well, that was the first time he'd ever been confused for that brother. "I'm afraid not. I'm his brother, your great uncle."
Dipper looked up at him, his face screwed up in confusion, then cleared with sudden comprehension. "Great Uncle Stanford."
Long years of practice kept him from reacting outwardly at being called by Stanford's name, but even well over twenty years later, he still winced inwardly every time it happened. "That's me. Although, yeesh, that's a mouthful, ain't it? Why don't you kids just call me Stan?"
"Great Uncle Stan," Mabel said, which, eh, close enough. Although she kind of slurred together the words great and uncle so it almost sounded like she was saying 'grunkle.' "Do you know where Grandpa Shermie is?"
"Ms. Joann said he went to the same place as our mom and dad, and Aunt Karen says he's not coming back and that's why we have to go stay with her in Alabama, remember?" Dipper said.
"Aunt Karen is a lying poop," said Mabel.
Most likely, Mabel was just emotional and lashing out at her aunt when she said that, and maybe, probably even, Stan should gently remind her that kids weren't supposed to talk about adults like that, and no one should talk about family that way. On the other hand, Stan had never met Aunt Karen – his nephew's wife's sister, he thought, since no matter how out of touch he'd been with the family, he would've heard about it if Shermie had had another kid – so maybe she really was a lying poop. And even if Stan's livelihood and his whole life were built on a mountain of lies, he wouldn't ever penalize a kid for telling it like it was. So he ignored that part of it and focused on what was really the bigger issue anyway.
"Your brother's right. Shermie's…" Stan's voice caught in his throat and he swallowed reflexively, "Shermie's gone. And he can't come back."
"But he has to come back," Mabel protested. "Grandpa Shermie takes care of me 'n Dipper, so he has to come back."
"If he could, he would, I promise you that sweetie. But sometimes things don't work out the way you planned, no matter how much you want them to."
Mabel's lower lip trembled and then she started sobbing again. Dipper scooted in closer to her and hugged her tightly, glaring at Stan like it was his fault. Hell, maybe it was. "Hey now don't…" Don't cry, but what kind of jerk tells a kid not to cry when the grandfather that basically raised her just died? "How can I help?"
"I want my scarf," Mabel wailed.
"I can do that. Where did you leave it?" Stan asked, hoping she wouldn't say she left it at home. Not that that would stop him from hopping in his car and going to get it for her.
Stan's tone must've been getting through to her, because her crying slowed, and she let out a large sniff. "Aunt Karen taked it."
"Mabel was wearing it and Aunt Karen saw and putted, put it in her bag," Dipper explained. "She said it wasn't respeckful of Grandpa Shermie."
"But Grandpa Shermie liked my scarf. I knitted it all by myself with help from Ms. Joann and Grandpa Shermie said it was really good. He said, Grunkle Stan!" Mabel insisted, and Stan was pretty sure she had said 'grunkle' on purpose that time.
"Alright, I believe you. We'll just have to go get it from Aunt Karen then," Stan said.
Dipper frowned. "She won't give it. We already asked."
"Ah, but your uncle Stan hasn't asked yet. Trust me kids, I can be very persuasive," Stan said, giving them the Mr. Mystery grin and wink.
The kids looked at him, then each other, and finally Mabel gave a single solemn nod, and got down on her hands and knees to crawl out of the cabinet. Stan stood up, both to give the kids room, and to pull his gloves back on, seeing as he'd being needing them if he was going back out to the main room.
"Grunkle Stan," – great, now Dipper was calling him it too – "how come your gloves have six fingers on them?"
Stan held the one glove he hadn't put on yet up in front of his face and made a show of inspecting it before pulling it on. "What do you know, they do have six fingers. Good catch kid. But let's keep this our little secret; it'd be pretty embarrassing if it got out that I bought the wrong kind of gloves."
Dipper looked pretty skeptical of the idea of someone somehow accidentally buying gloves with six fingers, and admittedly it wasn't Stan's best lie, but who would've thought a five year old would be less gullible than a bunch of tourists?
Luckily for Stan, he didn't have to try to come up with a more convincing story, because right at that moment, Mabel let out a "Grunkle Stan" of her own. Stan turned to her to find her standing with both arms held up in the air and an expectant look on her face. That was a bit unexpected – didn't kids have to like you before they went around asking to be held? – but Stan had to admire a woman that was clear about what she wanted. So he picked Mabel up and settled her on his right hip.
Mabel placed her head on his shoulder and gave a weirdly conspicuous sniff. "You smell like gross old man."
"Uh, sorry?" Stan said, not entirely sure why he was the one apologizing when Mabel had insulted him.
Mabel shook her head. "It's okay; Grandpa Shermie smelled like gross old man too." She nestled her head in closer to his neck and then placed the jacket she was still holding in her hand over her head. Which was also weird, but hey, if Stan dealt with losing his twin brother (not dead, not dead, not dead) by trying to fix up the sci-fi portal that was hidden down in his secret basement, she could deal with her grandfather's death by sniffing him and wearing a jacket over her head. Whatever worked for you, right?
"What about you; you want up here too?" Stan asked, turning back to Dipper and shuffling his hold on Mabel a bit so he had a free arm to hold Dipper with. He was just barely in his early fifties, he could carry two five year olds – surprisingly heavy five year olds, holy Moses, was this kid carrying around rocks in her pockets?
"Nuh-uh," Dipper said. "I'm a big boy."
Stan didn't see as how that had to do with anything, but he wasn't going to undermine the kid's independence if that's what he wanted. "Okay. Though I got say you're handling this surprisingly well."
"Mabel needs me," Dipper said, sounding defiant. In other words, he was just as messed up about it as Mabel was, but he was hiding it so he could take care of his sister. A kid after his own heart.
(Who was he kidding? He'd lost his heart to these two from the moment he first held the two sleeping babies in his arms. He was just now realizing he'd never bothered to get it back.)
Stan reached his free hand over to Dipper's left shoulder and pulled the kid in close, getting a confused look from Dipper. Stan smiled down at him and said, "You're a good kid."
After a moment Dipper returned Stan's smile with a shaky one of his own, and then he suddenly grabbed Stan tight with both hands and buried his face in Stan's jacket. If a wet spot happened to form right about where Dipper's eyes were placed against the fabric, well Stan wasn't going to mention it. It made a nice match for the wet spot that was forming on his shoulder anyway.
It was a bit difficult to walk with the two kids clinging to him like lemmings, but somehow Stan managed to get them out of the little side room they'd been in and back to the main area of the funeral home where the memorial service was being held. Course, once he got there he had no clue how to find Aunt Karen since he'd never see the woman in his life. Luckily, he hadn't been looking for long before a meticulously made up woman with a good couple of decades less on her than most of the other people at the service spotted him and made her way over, looking like she would be pissed off, if she didn't think that kind of emotion was petty and beneath her.
"There you two are. What did you think you were doing, running off and making me search all over for you? And now hanging all over this nice man. I'm terribly sorry about all this," the woman, who had to be Karen, said, her voice going incongruously sweet on the last sentence.
Mabel was right: Karen was a lying poop. Well, Stan guessed he didn't know for a fact that Karen was a liar, but he'd seen her type before at the Shack on occasion. They usually got dragged in by someone else, and spent the whole time talking bad about the place and whoever had forced them to come along and see it. They were honestly one of Stan's favorite type of tourists, because even though they were extremely irritating and at least twice as hard to con out of their money than most people, every single dollar he got them to waste on some cheaply made piece of junk felt like a good deed; it was karmic retribution for being a horrible person, delivered by Stan Pines. And this was who his niece and nephew where supposed to go live with? In Alabama? Hell, that was almost worse than Jersey. No way was Stan letting that happen. Luck for him, years of practice meant that Stan knew exactly how to deal with this kind of person.
"Don't worry about it, kids will be kids. You must be their Aunt Karen. I'm Dr. Stanford Pines. Sherman was my brother," Stan said, putting his best impression of Ford's intellectual mannerisms, with a layer of New York City upper class snob on top of it. Stan felt a huff a breath against his neck, which might have been a laugh, and Dipper, who had somehow maneuvered himself so he was standing behind Stan, shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other. Stan gave the kid a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder, before letting go to offer his hand for Karen to shake.
There was a faint flicker of disgust on Karen's face when she caught sight of Stan's six-fingered glove, which had him just barely suppressing an instinctive reaction to punch her, but other than that she seemed pretty taken in by his performance.
"Karen Reed. It's a pleasure to me you, Dr. Pines. I confess I didn't realize my sister's in-laws had a doctor in the family."
"Oh I'm not a medical doctor," Stan told her. "I used to feel bad calling myself a doctor, actually, but after my fifth Ph.D. I told myself 'Stanford, you've worked hard for these degrees, you deserve that title.' Of course, that was 7 Ph.D.'s ago." That might have been laying the bragging on a little thick, but she looked impressed. Now time to bring it back to the kids. "So Dipper and Mabel tell me you're the one you're going to be the one watching after them now?"
Karen smiled tightly. "That's right. It's going to be a bit of an adjustment, but I'm sure we'll manage to figure it out," she said, sounding more like she was talking about moving some furniture around than talking about taking two little kids who had just lost the closest thing they had to a parent and moving them clear across the country to live with a relative that they liked even less than the gross old man who, as far as they could remember, they had only met ten minutes ago. "Won't we kids?"
Her false cheery expression faded quickly when she took a closer look at Mabel. "What is that on your head?" Stan stepped back quickly, nearly tripping over Dipper, and managed to keep Karen from snatching the jacket right off Mabel's head. Mabel tightened her grip on his neck.
Yeah, okay, he was done playing Mr. Nice Guy. Turning the hose on the jerk tourists was always more fun anyway.
"Kids, I need to talk in private with your Aunt Karen for a minute," Stan said.
"About us?" Dipper asked suspiciously.
"Yes," Stan said bluntly, clearly taking Dipper by surprise. "So why don't you two go play a game or something."
Mabel pulled the jacket to the side so she could peer at Stan with one eye. "Do you have Pretty, Pretty Princess, Grunkle Stan?"
"Mabel, I'm not playing Pretty, Pretty Princess!" Dipper objected. "Grunkle Stan tell her I don't have to play that."
"Hey, hey, I'm sure we can find a game you both can enjoy. How about, uh…" Stan patted at his pockets with his free hand and came up with nothing but his keys. "… who can find Grunkle Stan's" – and now he was doing it – "car. It's out in the parking lot somewhere and if you can find it before I get there, then you win."
"What do we win?" Mabel asked, pulling jacket the rest of the way off her head and sitting up straight. "Ooo, can we drive your car?"
"That sounds like a horrible idea," Stan said. "How about I teach you to drive a golf cart instead?"
"Deal!" Mabel decreed, slithering down Stan to join her brother. Stan considered the two kids carefully for a second, then handed the keys to Dipper as the one slightly less likely to lose them somewhere.
"No, I don't want you two running around the parking lot unsupervised," Karen interrupted from behind him, and the kids deflated instantly.
Stan didn't see what the big deal was; he and Ford had been running all over Glass Shard Beach back when they weren't much older than Dipper and Mabel were now. How much trouble could the pair of them really get into in a parking lot? Then again, thinking about the things he and Ford had gotten up to while they had been running around, maybe a quick safety check might be in order. "They just need to be careful, is all. Okay kids, how do you behave in a parking lot?"
The two looked at each other, then quickly clasped their free hands. "Hold hands and watch for cars," Dipper said.
"And if a stranger tries to talk to us, I scream real loud and Dipper punches him in the no-no place," added Mabel.
"And then we come get you, or a policeman," Dipper finished.
Heh. These two had definitely been raised by Shermie, all right. "See, they'll be fine," Stan said, dismissing Karen. "Now remember, if I get there first, then you lose and nobody's driving the golf cart but me, got it?"
"Got it!" They chorused, then Mabel took off at a dead run, dragging her brother along with her.
"You know, I don't think I appreciate being undermined in front of the kids like that," Karen said, all full of righteous indignation, and Stan felt the smile drop off his face as he turned back to look at her.
"That's funny, because I know I don't give a crap what you think," Stan said, and he could tell she was shocked. Those types, with their perfectly polite razor-edged smiles and their so very reasonable way of talking down to anyone they think of as less than, they were always shocked when Stan got blunt with them. "Those two kids are the only family I have left in this world," (NOT DEAD!) "and I'm not about to let them be sent to Alabama with some harpy who couldn't care less about them."
Karen crossed her arms and raised one finely sculpted brow. "Is that you volunteering to take care of them instead?"
"No lady, that's me telling you I'm taking the kids, no matter what you think about it," Stan told her.
"Yes, well as much as I'd love to see you try and get away with kidnapping, congratulations, you've got the job." That was really not how Stan had been expecting this conversation to go. And it must have showed on his face, from the smug, superior look Karen was giving him. "However little you might think of me, I do have a sense of familial responsibility. I'm sure we've all heard our share of horror stories about the system, and I wasn't going to abandon my sister's kids to that. But I do not now, nor will I ever want kids. You're their family, they seem to like you, you obviously care about them, and, despite the fact you just let them go play in traffic, if you've got twelve Ph.D.'s you're probably smart enough to figure out how to handle two kids. So if you want the job, then go get me the papers for legal guardianship and I will happily sign them over to you."
"Adoption," Stan corrected.
"You're going to sign over the rights so I can adopt the kids. You're right, I don't think a lot of you, and I'm not going to leave an opening so you can decide in a year from now that you actually do want them after all." Especially since if she tried to take him to court over it, his extensive criminal record would not be doing him any favors.
"Fine, whatever. Just get the paperwork together and you can mail it to me to sign. Here, let me give you my card," Karen said, reaching into her purse and pulling out her wallet. She placed a business card in Stan's outstretched hand, then frowned when he kept holding it out. "I don't have any of their things. I only just got into town and picked them up to bring them here a few hours ago. You'll have to talk to the neighbor woman they've been staying with."
In fact, he already had talked to Joann earlier to get the spare key to Shermie's house, so Stan could start sorting through his brother's things, though he supposed he should probably let her know that he was taking the kids now too. But that's not what he was waiting for right now. "Mabel's scarf," he prompted.
"Oh for the, here, have the tatty thing," Karen said, digging around in her purse before depositing what looked like a rolled up lump of yarn into his hand. And yeah, even Stan could tell it was amateur work, but little five year old Mabel had made it (mostly) all by herself; that was pretty impressive. "Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to see if I can't get the airline to exchange my ticket for the next flight out of here."
And good riddance, Stan thought as Karen walked off messing with her cell phone. He briefly considered going to find Joann to let her know what was going on, but he decided he could do that later. Right now, he had to get Mabel back her scarf.
Stan walked outside and smiled to himself at the sight of Dipper and Mabel, still holding hands, standing on the sidewalk by the front of his car, parked in the handicapped spot right near the front doors.
"Grunkle Stan, we finded your car!" Mabel called waving her free hand – Dipper having put his jacket back on, which Stan hoped meant Mabel was feeling a bit better – in the air, like she thought he couldn't see them standing fifteen feet away.
"See, the picture on the key is the same as the one on the car," Dipper said, holding the key up to the hood decal. "And then we tried the key in the lock and it worked."
"You're a couple of smart kids, aren't you?" Stan observed. "Smarts like that deserve a reward."
"My scarf!" Mabel cried, dragging Dipper over so she could take the scarf Stan was holding out, and then she buried her face in it. "Thank you, Grunkle Stan."
"You're welcome, sweetie."
"You said we could drive a golf cart too," Dipper said.
"I did," Stan agreed. "But that's going to have to wait a couple of days. I don't exactly have a golf cart on me right at this moment."
The two looked at him with identical crestfallen expressions. "But we have 'ta go to Alabama with Aunt Karen," Dipper protested.
"Yeah, that ain't happening. What I mean is," Stan said, getting down on one knee so he could look the kids in the eye, "your Aunt Karen and I had a little talk just now. I know no one could ever replace your Grandpa Shermie; he was a great guy. But I was thinking that both of you could come back home with me to Oregon and I could take care of you from now on. That sound good to you guys?"
It was just lucky the kids were both so small, otherwise they might have knocked him over leaping to hug around his neck like that. "Yes, yes, yes," Mabel cried. "We love you Grunkle Stan."
"You're the best," Dipper agreed.
Stan wrapped his arms around them both and squeezed tight for a moment before letting go. "Alright, enough of this mushy stuff," Stan said, discreetly wiping one finger under his eye. "Come one, we've got to start looking at getting all your stuff packed up."
Stan knew there would probably be a lot more crying from the two kids, heck, from all three of them, before it was all said and done. But for the moment, they were all smiling, and, for the moment, that was enough.
AN: This fandom spawns named and developed AUs like the Yugioh fandom spawns pairing names, and I LOVE it. Here is my contribution, which I am titling Elementary Falls (sorry Sherlock/Gravity Falls fusion fans, you'll have to figure something else out. Might I suggest Reichenbach Falls?). I have a whole lot of thoughts about the canon for this AU, though we'll see how much of it actually gets written. And if anyone else wants to play in this sandbox, then please do and be welcome!
The rest of the stories for this AU will be collected in "With Great Love" (Story ID:12076363)