Chapter 10: Trip to the Woods
Emma let out a grumble and rolled over in bed. "What…?" she groaned.
Henry was standing beside her bed, poking her. A lot. Grief. A flash of lightning lit up the room in a subdued light, filtered through the curtains.
"Henry…" Emma muttered, still half asleep. "It's just a storm, go back to sleep…"
"I'm not afraid of a storm!" said Henry, sounding rather offended.
Emma let out a sigh and pushed herself up. Why had no one ever told her this was going to be so hard? "What then?"
"It's Ben. He snuck out about half an hour ago. He said he was going to tell his father who he was, but I think he's…"
Emma shot out of bed and flicked on the light. Big mistake. It gave her a blinding headache and she was squinting so much she still couldn't see. She managed to find her jacket. "He's gone?"
"Yeah… he said not to tell you. But I thought it was rather strange he thought the middle of the night was a good time to tell Rumpelstiltskin…"
"He isn't telling him. He's lying. He's…" Emma trailed off. She couldn't tell Henry it involved the Knife.
"Go back to bed. I'll bring him back, I promise." She ruffled a hand through her son's hair, then dashed down the hallway and out the front door before he could protest.
"Oh Ben, what're you doing…"
Ben doubled over and drew in a ragged breath as his world spun about him. Pain wracked his middle. Ben grasped onto his father's hands to gain some support. His stomach burned, and though he tried to keep upright his knees were bending beneath him under the sudden, immense weight of his own body.
"I told you to stay away!" Rumpelstiltskin pulled the Knife free with a vicious yank. He shoved Ben away.
Ben cried out and stumbled back, coming to rest with one hand against the car, his other pressed to his stomach.
"Rumpelstiltskin…?" Belle's voice wafted down from the house. "Are you…" The soft sound was cut off by a crack of thunder.
Belle! Ben gathered a shuddering breath into his lungs and called out: "Be… Belle!" His voice was ragged and weak.
Rumpelstiltskin glanced behind him anxiously, before turning back to Ben. "Shut up!" He grasped him by the jacket and pushed him back, opened the passenger door to the car and tossed him inside.
Ben collapsed on the seat, gasping and struggling for air. He looked down at his middle. His hands, trying so desperately to keep himself together, were covered in blood. He pressed them back against his middle, partly with the thought of stopping the blood flow, partly to try and lessen the pain.
The driver's door opened and Rumpelstiltskin climbed in and started the engine.
Ben reached out a hand, but quick as a cobra his father whipped up his cane and slapped it across Ben's arm, then pushed him up against the passenger door.
Ben whimpered as his head struck the window. "I… just…"
"I don't give a damn!" Rumpelstiltskin snarled. He stomped his foot to the floor and the car reversed out the driveway, tyres squealing. He threw it into first gear and turned up the road.
Ben struggled to push himself upright, keeping himself up against the window, and away from his father's cane. "Please… you have to listen to me."
Lightning flashed, thunder cracked, and it began to rain. Rumpelstiltskin turned on the windscreen wipers. He paid Ben no mind, staring out the windshield with a cold anger and determination in his eyes.
Ben drew in shuddering breaths. They were speeding away from Storybrooke. All he needed was enough air in his lungs to make his father hear him. He gathered his strength, almost losing it all as a sob made it past his lips. "Papa… I'm your son. I'm Baelfire!"
His father's head whipped around and he stared at Ben wide eyed, his expression unreadable.
Ben felt his chest shuddering, his body was shutting down. Tears started to form in his eyes.
"Liar!" Rumpelstiltskin snarled, turning his attention back to the road. He jerked the steering wheel suddenly; apparently they'd nearly veered to the side.
"Why… why would I lie?" Ben struggled out. He was hurt, his strength fading fast, but he had to get this out. And so he put everything he had into forcing out the words. "I'm your son!"
"Baelfire would never use the Knife like that!" his father snapped.
"I didn't mean to! I just… wanted to get it away from you. It was…" He gasped. "An accident."
His father slammed on the brakes. The car jerked to a halt and Ben was thrown against the dash. "Get out!"
His father waved his hand, and the door opened of its own accord. Then he picked up the cane again and pushed Ben out the open door.
Ben sprawled to the side of the road. They were outside Storybrooke, somewhere in the woods. It was wet. He was almost immediately soaked by the rain. He had to convince his father. He got his legs under him. One hand on the side of the car, one still holding himself together, he pushed himself up shakily.
The driver's side door slammed and Rumpelstiltskin came around the front of the car. Lightning lit up the sky. Rumpelstiltskin held his cane in one hand, and a gun in the other.
Ben stumbled back, losing the support of the car. He was too scared of the man the stood before him. Tears blurred his vision, mixing with the rain as they ran down his face. "Papa, please…"
"Stop calling me that!" Rumpelstiltskin took another step forward, and Ben was forced to take a shaky step back, closer to the embankment at the side of the road.
"I'm not…" Pain wracked his body again, and it was only with every inch of willpower that he forced himself to go on. His life depended on it. "I'm not lying. Why would I…"
"Because I'm about to kill you," Rumpelstiltskin said. "That seems like pretty good motivation to me!"
It was hopeless, Ben realised. He slumped forward, doubled over. "Why? I'm not a threat," he panted. "Not now."
"You knew about the Knife. I don't know how and I don't know why. And nor do I need to. I don't need to know any of that to take care of you. All I have to do is put you down." He stepped towards him, and Ben didn't even have the strength to back away.
He shuddered and closed his eyes. The cane hit him, and he tumbled down the embankment, sprawling in the wet leaves. Ben forced himself to look up.
His father stood at the side of the road, at the top of the embankment. The cars headlights cut out his silhouette, shrouding his face in darkness. He now leaned on the cane. He had the gun pointed straight at Ben.
Ben could feel himself fading. But before that happened, his father would kill him. He'd been unable to convince him. Of course not. He'd pushed it too far, and then done the unthinkable. He'd had no hope in hell of his father believing him, and it was all his own fault. Ben let out a sob and dropped his gaze, unable to look at his father in his final moments. "Papa…" he said, his voice barely audible even to himself. "I'm sorry."
There was a blinding flash, and then a crack. Ben's strength completely left him and he slumped motionless in the damp leaves.
Emma drew to a screeching halt on the wet road, outside Rumpelstiltskin's house. She climbed out of her sheriff's vehicle and slammed the door. "Ben!" It had started to rain on the way over, and she was instantly wet, but she couldn't worry about that now.
She saw a shape in the front yard, then lightning lit the sky and she realised it was Belle, holding an umbrella to keep dry. She came to the curb.
"Belle, where's Rumpelstiltskin!?" Emma demanded.
"He just left in the car…"
"You were calling Ben. He was here?" Belle asked. She fixed Emma with an intense look.
"Yes. I shouldn't have let him keep doing this…"
"And I should have told Rumpelstiltskin about Ben when I had the chance, but we can't change that now. Emma, if he was here, I think Rumpelstiltskin… I don't know what he's done. But we have to find them."
"We…?" Emma began, but, as another flash of lightning lit up Belle's face, and she saw her determined look, she realised she'd be anything but a hindrance. "Where do you think they went?"
"He went up the road that way… I'm guessing into the woods."
Emma winced. Woods definitely didn't bode well. She turned back to Belle and nodded to the passenger door. "Alright, get in."
The last blinding flash of lightning and the crash of thunder had been directly overhead, but it did not startle Rumpelstiltskin as he stared down at the man who claimed to be his son.
Ben had slumped down, possibly unconscious, maybe just too weak to keep himself upright.
Rumpelstiltskin had left in such a rush, to avoid Belle finding out, he had barely thought this through. And Ben had angered him so much when he dared to claim to be his son. As the words had left the man's mouth, it had startled Rumpelstiltskin so much he'd almost believed him. The thought that he had stabbed his own son… He had been unable to handle it. It was a good thing it wasn't true.
This man was no threat now. Rumpelstiltskin lowered the gun, unfired. When had he gone soft, he wondered? But no, there was just no point in wasting the bullet. Guns were more complicated than a sword; he'd found out previously they could be traced. The man would be dead within the hour; he'd be unable to trouble the Knife again. Unless Emma Swan came looking for him… That possibility crossed his mind, and again he lifted the gun up to point at the unconscious man.
He let it fall to his side again. So what? He'd live, but the chances he would try to chase down the Knife again were slim. Perhaps it was a risk, but somehow Rumpelstiltskin could not bring himself to fire the weapon.
He got back in the car. He was wet, and the inside of the vehicle stunk of blood. Ben had smeared some up the window. That could be cleared up with a bit of magic, and if not, there was always hydrogen peroxide. He was too flustered to deal with it now, but he'd have to keep Belle away from it until he did.
Rumpelstiltskin drove down the forest road. It was raining harder now, he could feel the car ever so slightly losing traction and then regaining it. It briefly crossed his mind that, in weather like this, there was no hope for the man he'd left at the side of the road.
His thoughts were interrupted by the glare of headlights on the road ahead. He slowed down as he caught sight of the blue and red flashing on the approaching vehicle's roof. Rumpelstiltskin slammed on the brakes as the sheriff's car swerved in front of him, its horn blaring, and forced him to the side of the road.
"That's his car… wait!" Belle didn't seem prepared for Emma's reaction to this piece of information. "Careful!"
"He's fine…" Emma muttered, bringing her car to a halt such that it blocked the nose of Rumpelstiltskin's, should he try to take off. She expected he wouldn't. But she had to make sure Ben was alright and she meant to make sure Rumpelstiltskin knew she meant business. What frightened her was the thought that she might already be too late. After all, Rumpelstiltskin was driving back from wherever it was he had been.
Emma slammed her car door and stomped out into the road. Rumpelstiltskin had also exited his vehicle, coming to stand beside it in the pouring rain. Emma briefly had the urge to grab him by the collar and pin him to the car's door, but then she remembered he now had magic. That may not be the best approach. She settled for coming within inches of him, glaring into his eyes. "Where is he?"
Rumpelstiltskin seemed to study her, unfazed by her display of anger. But Emma didn't back down. She was just about to shout at him again, when he let out a sigh and shook his head. "He's up the road. Just past the sign."
That had been easy. Emma frowned at him.
"You'd better hurry, Miss Swan." He didn't elaborate. He didn't need to.
"You bastard," she spat at him, before turning away.
"Maybe if you hadn't had him doing your dirty work…"
Emma spun on him.
"Was it your idea? Or his? To pretend to be my son?"
Emma shook her head. "You idiot… I bring a man to town after going out, specifically, to find your son… who the hell do you think it would be?!"
Perhaps she imagined it. The briefest flash of uncertainty broke through Rumpelstiltskin's steady gaze. Then she saw that Belle had climbed from her car. Perhaps that was why. "You explain it to him!" she snapped. "I have to help Ben…"
Emma climbed back into the sheriff's car and tore off with a screech of tyres. Let Belle explain it, she thought, as she tore up the wet road at a far from safe speed. She didn't have the time to make Rumpelstiltskin regret whatever it was he had done. She just hoped she wasn't too late.
"What are you doing here?" Rumpelstiltskin sighed and shook his head. Wonderful. What was she going to think of him now?
"Rumpelstiltskin," Belle rushed over to him, holding an umbrella which she put over both of them. It did little in the driving rain. "Emma's right…"
"Ben is Baelfire! He's your son!"
Rumpelstiltskin felt himself grow angry. So they had been telling Belle these lies too? "I know that's what they told you, but it's not true."
"How do you know…"
"I think I'd know my own son!" he snapped out, louder than he'd meant to. He drew in a breath, calming himself. "He tried to…" He couldn't think how to explain it without mentioning the Knife. "That man is not Baelfire!"
Lightning flashed in the sky overhead, and Belle was looking up into his eyes. "Emma brought him back! And Ben didn't tell you right away who he was, because he wanted to find out what sort of man you'd become; whether you'd changed. Don't you think he may have changed too? He's a grown man, Rumpelstiltskin! And after he made that deal with you and you went back on it… that had to have hurt, and if it resulted in him being left here all alone, I know you didn't mean to let him go, but…"
Rumpelstiltskin didn't hear anything beyond Belle's mention of the deal. The one deal he had broken. He had never told Belle that. And no one else should know. He suddenly felt cold, and it wasn't from the rain. "Who told you that!? About the deal we made…" he grasped onto her hands.
Belle blinked. "Ben…"
Rumpelstiltskin could feel his hands shaking. The whole world seemed to shift about him. Belle was the only solid thing, and so he held onto her.
"Rumpelstiltskin!" She must have said his name once or twice already, before he was able to look back into her eyes. Her eyes that looked at him with a pity he felt he could never deserve. "What did you do to him?"
What had he done? To his son. The despair was almost too much, but Bae could still be alive. He had to go back for him. He looked at Belle, gripping her hands around the umbrella, because she was the one thing that would give him the strength to do so. "I hurt him. He might be… Belle, help me."
She squeezed him back. "Come on, we'll go get him."