Chapter 3: Storybrooke
The road trip took nearly seven hours. Emma had managed to fill most of that with explaining to Ben what had transpired the last few months. There was a hell of a lot to tell. He'd asked questions, though grown quiet whenever she mentioned some part his father had played. Emma had only just managed to cover everything briefly by the time they were barely an hour away.
It was then that Ben had turned to her, and looking her straight in the eye said: "You can't tell him who I am."
"I beg your pardon?" Emma stared at him. "I've spent the last month trying to find you… which is very difficult, might I add, seeing as you weren't even born in this world!"
"Oh, that's going to make it hard for you?"
Emma sighed. "I'm sorry. I'm a little stressed out. Storybrooke has gone crazy, and Rumpelstiltskin has been harassing me endlessly to get this done… why don't you want him to know who you are? Don't you want to, I don't know, ask him why he dumped you here…"she trailed off and shrugged.
Ben studied the paper coffee cup he'd picked up from the last service station, spinning it in his hands. "He still has magic. He may have brought it here intentionally. Some of the things he did… some that he did for me… Look, if he knows who I am he'll do anything for me… but if he doesn't, well, he could do anything to me. It might be the only way for me to find out if he's changed."
Emma gave him a sidelong glance. "That could be very, very dangerous."
"Alright," Emma agreed. "It is your call. We'll have to think up a cover story for you though. Outsiders never used to come to Storybrooke, and there's not much reason for them to start now. If they did, they'd probably freak out and leave in no time. Everyone's going nuts…"
"I could be someone who came over with the curse?"
Emma shook her head. "No, I'm pretty sure Rumpelstiltskin knows everyone in Storybrooke, as well as exactly how much they owe him…"
Ben sighed. "Sounds like he's enjoying himself…"
"I've got it!" Emma pulled out her phone. "Just let me run it by my son; he'll have to be in on it too. In fact, he'll love it, make it part of 'operation cobra'."
Half an hour later, Ben's new alias was assured, and they were pulling into Storybrooke. "We're here." The statement was unnecessary. They had pulled up in Storybrooke's main street. It was obvious where they were. But Emma felt as if she had to say something.
"Seems like any other sleepy little town…"
"Yeah, until someone decides to start a sword fight…"Emma muttered. She drove slowly down the main street, eyes roving over both sides of the sidewalk. Thankfully, it seemed no one had been misbehaving whilst she'd been gone. Only last week she'd been distracted for all of two hours on the computer, finding out where this Ben Thatch worked, and someone had decided to ride a horse down main street, over the top of several cars, and through one shop. Apparently they'd remembered they were a great horseman, and had just managed to get hold of a beast. There didn't appear to be any such incidents today.
Emma pulled up a few buildings down from Mr Gold's pawn shop. "Stay in the car. I think I just saw…"
At that moment Rumpelstiltskin walked out of the shop. His car was parked right outside and he paused at the car door as retrieved his car keys from a pocket.
"Wait… that's him?" said Ben.
"Yup," said Emma, not without some contempt.
"He's wearing a suit…"
Emma glanced over. "Hey! Don't hang out the window!" She grabbed Ben by the sleeve and dragged him back in. "He's not an idiot…" She looked back out the windshield. Oh shit, he was looking this way! They couldn't really successfully lie to him if Ben was showing so much interest. "You're not his son, remember! You can't be that…" She looked forward again. Rumpelstiltskin was still looking in their direction.
At that moment the shop door opened again, and a young woman with red brown hair skipped out. She breezed up to Rumpelstiltskin and threw her arms around his neck.
"Who's that?" Ben asked. He had stopped hanging out the window, but was still bobbing about in the passenger seat for a better view.
"Belle," said Emma. Also, thankfully, a pretty effective distraction.
Rumpelstiltskin seemed briefly miffed by the attention, but then smiled and his lips moved as he spoke to Belle. It looked like he was convincing her to let him go, but he seemed to be enjoying himself. They were nearly nose to nose.
Emma made a face.
"Well… I certainly didn't expect to see him with… someone… I hope I can take that as a good sign."
Emma didn't trust herself to reply. Belle certainly seemed to love him; it didn't look like she was under some sort of spell. Though she'd only appeared recently; apparently Regina had her locked up in the mental asylum under the hospital. And she'd escaped, straight into the arms of Rumpelstiltskin. Talk about out of the frying pan into the fire. Well, perhaps it was better that Ben saw his father doing something like this, rather than something sinister. It may have been uncharacteristic, but Emma was sure he'd see the man's true colours soon enough. "Come on, let's get out of here before you give yourself away."
The little yellow Volkswagen pulled away from the curb and chugged off up the street.
Rumpelstiltskin had spent a good part of the day chasing up rents, mortgages and unpaid loans. It still amused him, especially now, how when people saw him they got this panicked look on their face, even when they owed him nothing. It was like they thought he could turn them into a toad on a whim, which, technically he now could. And they were now aware of it, which just made them all the more nervous. It was also a little annoying. After all, he wouldn't turn anyone into a toad for no reason, not anymore. Unless turning them into a toad somehow benefited him, of course.
It had been just after midday when he'd stepped out of his shop, having stopped through to see how Belle was doing in her new job manning the pawn shop, when he'd spotted Emma's personal car.
He'd known she'd left Storybrooke a few days before. He knew most of what was going on in the town; he made a point of it. And it hadn't been too much of a stretch to imagine it was to do with the 'request' he'd made of her. But Rumpelstiltskin didn't want to imagine. He'd learnt long ago that there wasn't much point in hoping for something good to happen. Often, it didn't. On rare occasions, it did. And if you weren't hoping for it you couldn't be disappointed.
Still, when Emma Swan had pulled up in her car and he'd briefly caught sight of the man beside her, he couldn't help but think that maybe she'd succeeded. But then she'd driven off, and he hadn't seen her since. Of course, he quickly assured himself that he was probably mistaken. He'd already thought once that a strange man in Storybrooke was his son; even convinced himself his personality was familiar. He'd been wrong. At least all it had cost him was finding a new hiding place for the Knife.
Eventually, when Rumpelstiltskin had completed all had to do, he decided to go visit the Sheriff's office. He was just going to see how Emma was progressing, he told himself, nothing more. If she had completed her task, she would surely let him know.
"Still hard at it, I see."
"Shit…" Emma had been staring at a desk covered in sheets of paperwork. She jumped, knocking a few loose leaves to the floor. "Don't sneak up on me like that!" She retrieved the fallen paper. "What do you want?"
"Let me see, you've just been out of town for a couple of days…"
Emma sighed. "You want to know if I've found your son yet. Same question you asked four days ago."
"Yes, but four days ago you weren't parked in front of my shop with a strange man…" Rumpelstiltskin swallowed, forcing himself to slow down. He moved his cane in front of himself and leaned heavily on it. He didn't really need it as much as he used to. If he took an hour or so to sit down and work out the magic, at least, how he'd have to do it in this world, he could get rid of the limp for good. He just hadn't gotten around to it. And he'd grown just a little bit attached to the cane.
"What are you, my mother?" Emma sighed. "Okay, I'm sorry. I can see how that might look. But I've been doing some digging concurrently with my search for your son…"
"What do you mean?"
"I got a bit distracted. It's true, I left town because I was chasing up a lead on your son, but I also went to find someone else. That man in the car was Ben Thatch. He's Henry's father."
Rumpelstiltskin frowned. "He was showing a fair amount of interest in either me or my shop, Miss Swan. As were you."
"I was warning him about you. I don't want to bring home my son's father and have you do something to him because he upsets you. Besides, if you don't want people staring, perhaps you shouldn't be canoodling in the street with your new girlfriend!"
Rumpelstiltskin huffed. Wonderful. Emma Swan still had an inclination to toy with him, even though he was fairly sure her wariness had increased. "That's not what you were supposed to be doing."
Emma shrugged. "You're not paying me, you know. I'm doing this on my own time."
"You already got your part of the deal. Don't make me go back on it."
"I didn't say I wasn't working on it," Emma said quickly.
Good, he'd scared her, if only a little.
"I will still find your son, I promise. God knows, I'm sure you could have asked for something far worse. Rumpelstiltkin, you want your son back, that's something I can understand. I'm not going to screw you with this. But you have to give me time."
"Oh, I'm sure you won't, if you know what's good for you," Rumpelstiltskin sneered.
Emma rolled her eyes. She still wasn't as scared of him as Rumpelstiltskin would like her to be. But it didn't really matter. She didn't seem to have any qualms about finding Baelfire, except for the time it was taking her. If he could just keep some level of pressure on her, though not too much, she might eventually come up with a result. "Let me know as soon as you turn up something," he said, turning to leave. "And now that you've found your lost lover, no more distractions."
"Rumpelstiltskin…" Emma called after him. "I don't know what happened between you and your son… but I know what it's like to suddenly have someone in your life who you want to look up to you. Are you sure, when I find him for you, that Baelfire's going to like what he sees?"
Rumpelstiltskin felt himself bristle. "I hired you to find my son. Not…" He shook his head. He didn't need to explain himself. But he couldn't stop himself from thinking that perhaps Emma Swan had hit a bit closer to home than he would have liked. "Goodnight, Miss Swan."