Chapter 4: New Job
He looked rather comfortable, just lying there on the sofa. Henry frowned, turning his head to the side as he studied the sleeping man. He knew the man wasn't his real father, but just for a moment he thought he'd consider the idea. His frown deepened. This was Rumpelstiltskin's son. What sort of man could he be? Well, enough of one that Emma had brought him home, so he couldn't be that bad. But he wouldn't find out anything more just by staring at him as he slept.
"Wha?" Ben snorted and sat bolt upright as Henry poked him in the ribs.
"Woah!" The boy jumped back. "Hello…"
"What? Hi…" Ben blinked. He pushed himself to a sitting position, rubbing at his eyes. "You must be Henry."
"That's right." Henry sat himself down. "And you must be Ben…"
"Yeah. Sorry. I must have fallen asleep. I didn't sleep so well last night."
"I can bet. So, Emma tells me you're going to be my father…"
"Not your real father," Ben said quickly.
"I know," Henry nodded. "But the sooner we start getting into character the better. If you're going to try fool Rumpelstiltskin you can't have any slip ups. Though I'm not sure if I should call you dad. I don't call Emma, mom…" He frowned again, thinking it over.
Ben stretched. "Yeah, maybe not. To tell the truth I'm not sure how good a father I'd make…"
"I'll just call you Ben," Henry decided. "So, Rumpelstiltskin's your father?"
Ben gave a funny sort of half smile, almost a wince. "Yeah."
"No wonder you don't want to let him know…"
Ben sighed. "Everyone really thinks that way of him?"
Henry winced. "Sorry, I didn't mean… you probably know him better than me."
"I'm not so sure about that. And don't apologise, it's probably his own fault. Maybe I've got good reason to hide from him."
Henry looked at the man. He certainly wasn't like Rumpelstiltskin. Not creepy at all. He just seemed a little confused. "You're not hiding though. You're just gathering intel first. That's what I've been doing! It's not hiding; it's just using your brain instead of rushing into things."
Ben smiled. "Thanks. I guess so."
"So," Henry scooted closer on the couch. "What's our plan of attack?"
"Yeah. You must have a plan."
"I haven't thought about it much yet. Your mother only found me a day ago; I'm still trying to take things in. But I guess that I need to find out what my father is like, if he's anything like the man I left behind. And I need to find out how he reacts to me if he doesn't know who I am… I have to remain an unknown."
"Well," Henry nodded, "that much is covered. Emma and I will just act like you're my dad. But you'll need a way to get close to him, or at least talk to him. I've got it! You've just moved here… you can look for a place to rent."
"That eager to get rid of me? Emma's said I can stay…"
"Yeah, but no offence, it's getting pretty crowded in here. I think Miss Blanc… Sno… my grandmother. She doesn't like me calling her that… Snow's getting a bit annoyed whenever we all leave a mess. It's pretty crowded already. Not saying you should go, just that it might be a good way to talk to your father."
Ben smiled, and seemed a bit more lively than he had since Henry had met him. Of course he could now just be fully awake. "Yeah, that sounds like a plan. You're pretty smart… got any more words of wisdom?"
Henry thought for a moment. He was sure now that he liked Ben. He was just trying to find his father; much like Henry had gone to find Emma. It was just unfortunate that whilst Henry had been so lucky as to have someone like Emma for a parent, Ben was stuck with Rumpelstiltskin. "Yeah. Be careful. If you cross Rumpelstiltskin and he just thinks you're some guy he barely knows…"
Ben exhaled. Briefly, Henry saw him shudder. "Yeah, I know. Emma's warned me already."
The very next day, Ben took Henry's advice. He'd been rather impressed by the intelligence the boy had shown. With him and Emma backing him up, he felt he stood a good chance of pulling this off. He'd always done things alone after coming to this world; counting only on himself. It was nice to feel like he had a bit of backup.
That didn't stop him from briefly panicking as he'd approached the pawn shop. He wasn't a procrastinator, usually, but he found himself desperately wanting to do something else first. Buy a newspaper, or a coffee, or anything. He pushed the urge down, steadied himself and walked into the shop.
Rumpelstiltskin wasn't there. Ben was greeted by the young woman he'd seen the day before. "Hello, need some help?"
"Um…" Ben was briefly distracted by the contents of his father's shop. Here was stashed all sorts of things, many of which looked like they could have come from the old world. Nothing jumped right out as unearthly, but with his faded memories Ben could just tell they didn't belong here. Funny, he had never thought of his father as a hoarder. "Ah… yeah… I was looking to talk to Rumpelstiltskin. I was looking for a place to rent… I was told he was the person to talk to."
"He's not here right now, but I can let him know to contact you…" The young woman trailed off, looking at him with a slightly quizzical expression.
"Oh, sorry…" Ben extended a hand. "Benjamin Thatch. Ben."
The woman smiled and took his hand. "Belle. You're… I don't recognise you… I assume if you want to rent you're new to Storybrooke?"
"Yes. I came with Emma, just now. We were together… before… Henry's my son. Just learnt I had a son, came here to take responsibility and all that."
Belle nodded. "Well, I'll let Rumpelstiltskin know you called."
He could have left then. But Ben suspected that if he was to find out anything good about his father, taking into account what he'd seen yesterday, this was the woman to talk to. "This is a nice shop you've got here. There's lots of…" he gestured to encompass the whole place, "everything."
Belle smiled. "Well, it's mostly Rumpelstiltskin's stuff. I've only been here about a month, well, I was in Storybrooke… I'd been…" she paused, "locked up."
Ben had heard as much from Emma. "Emma's been filling me in on everybody. It's a strange little town you've got here. But I guess she really wanted me to stay, so she told me all about the curse…"
"Sure she wasn't just trying to scare you off?" Belle seemed to be warming to the conversation.
Ben laughed. "No. Besides, I don't scare easily. No, she wants me to stay, and that's what I plan to do." He shrugged. "A town of people from a different world, or dimension, or whatever you want to call it isn't going to frighten me away. In fact, it could be interesting. But yeah, she did mention you, and what Regina did. What she did to you. And some of the other people here. She doesn't sound like a very nice person."
"No, not at all."
Ben had picked up a trinket from one of the shelves. A bracelet or piece of jewellery. He turned it over in his hands. "She also seemed a bit worried about me going through Rumpelstiltskin to find a place to stay. She seems to think he'll screw me over or something."
Belle folded her arms. "Yes, well, he's not really that bad. Is that what this conversation is about then?"
Oops. Ben placed the trinket back on the shelf. "No. Sorry, I was just thinking aloud. Besides, I've always found that it's best not to judge someone you don't know that well. Best to get to know them for yourself. "
Belle frowned at him for a moment, and then unfolded her arms. "Fair enough. I'll let him know you want to talk to him."
"Thanks," Ben nodded. "It was nice to meet you," he smiled.
Belle still seemed slightly annoyed by his question, but she relented enough to give him a small, but genuine smile. "Nice to meet you too, Ben."
That taken care of, Ben wandered out along the main street. A good enough start. He would get an audience with his father, even if it was under false pretences. And Belle seemed nice enough. It was encouraging to see his father had hooked up with someone like her. She'd even been rather eager to defend his honour. Ben frowned. Of course, that could mean that it needed defending. Belle hadn't outright denied that Rumpelstiltskin might screw someone over. Or worse. Ben sighed. This was going to be harder than he thought. He certainly couldn't figure his father out just with one visit to his girlfriend, and the possibility of talking to him in the future. Perhaps he'd have to think up another excuse to visit the pawn shop. He still thought Belle would be a good source of information; he just might have to be more tactful. All to do now though, was to wait for his father to contact him. Until then, he might as well take a bit of a look at Storybrooke.
As Ben walked down the main street he noticed that a few of the town's inhabitant's looked at him for longer than perhaps necessary. He decided that just must be because he was an outsider, or maybe word had gotten around that he was with Emma. He shouldn't be the one getting stared at. A smile briefly crossed his face as he passed a man dressed as if he thought he was supposed to be a pirate. The explanation probably being that he was. Someone also walked past with a scabbard swinging from their belt. Now he knew what Emma had meant about the sword fighting. Talk about a strange town. Ben's pace slowed and he frowned to himself. The 'strangeness' of Storybrooke should have been familiar to him; he had after all been born in the world that all these people came from. But very soon after he'd arrived in this world Ben, then Baelfire, had made a conscious decision that he had to fit into this new world. He knew he was never going home. He'd changed his name, or rather, made sure that Benjamin Thatch was the only name that had been recorded on those papers, a process that still made little sense to him. He'd gotten work as soon as he'd been legally allowed to. Ben had dug himself into the system of this world, whilst he had still never really understood it. Survival had been his only motivation, because it was really all he had left. He'd built himself a life. Whilst it wasn't much, especially compared to some of the impossibly wealthy he'd seen both himself, and on television, it was far more than he'd had back in the old world. Except, of course, family. That was the one, the only, thing he hadn't had. He hadn't even tried to build his own.
Ben looked up the street, and his melancholy briefly vanished as he spotted a mechanics shop. Now that was familiar territory. Technically, he'd been in this world longer than the other, and this was the one place he'd been able to really ground himself in. He was a good mechanic; he loved his job. He had a good reputation. In fact, now that he thought about it, the only thing he'd done wrong was leaving his old job without notice, for obvious reasons.
There was a fair amount of cars parked outside. Perhaps Storybrooke's mechanics were having a bit of trouble keeping up. So, without hesitation, Ben wandered into the main office with the intention of applying for a job.
It appeared he'd have to wait. There was already an older woman yelling over the counter at the man there. "My car has never broken down before! I've had it for twenty eight years! All I've had to do is take it here for regular services. You've never found anything wrong with it … and now suddenly everyone's car is breaking down… what sort of racket are you running?!"
It took fifteen minutes for the man to calm the woman, and promise to fix whatever was wrong with her car. Ben waited patiently through all of it. Eventually, she left and he sauntered up the counter, now more than confident.
"Can I help you?" the man was about in his mid-forties, and looked rather stressed out. "We're a bit overloaded at the moment I don't know if we can take any more cars today…"
Ben couldn't help smiling. "How about a new employee?"
Ben left that afternoon covered in grease, and with a rather smug grin on his face. It had been almost too easy. For some reason, Storybrooke's mechanics had absolutely no idea what they were doing! Apparently vehicles didn't really break down here, well, not until recently. It seemed it had something to do with the curse. Emma had said something about time freezing, and Ben had noticed every vehicle he'd seen was at least twenty-eight years old. With the curse now broken, it seemed things were catching up on the old clunkers. Ben couldn't be happier. He tossed the rag he'd been using to wipe the majority of the grease from his hands into a nearby bin and turned to head back to the apartment.
Ben froze. Until a few days ago, he'd never thought he'd hear that voice again. Ben closed his eyes briefly, drew in a deep breath and tried to calm the pounding of his heart. He turned around, thrusting his hands into his pockets so the shake that had come over them was not visible. "Yes?"
His father stood before him. He was wearing a suit, as he had been the day before, and leaning on a rather expensive looking cane. He looked Ben up and down in a slightly disinterested manner. "I hear you're new to Storybrooke; looking for a place to rent?" He was also shorter than Ben remembered. You idiot, Ben, you've grown.
"Yeah… Yes," said Ben, thankfully finding his voice. "I am."
"Well, I don't have a lot of time on my hands. I take it you're aware of Storybrooke's rather… interesting history? I don't want to waste my time showing you a place and then have you leaving in a few weeks."
"No, of course not. I'm definitely looking for somewhere permanently. I'm Henry's father and Emma and I…"
"I know who you are, Mr Thatch," Rumpelstiltskin cut him short. "Though I am glad to see Miss Swan isn't wasting any of her time on finding a place to rent. She's a very busy woman and it's good to see she's got you pulling your weight. I think I have one place you might be interested in." He handed over a piece of paper.
It took Ben a brief second to realise he needed to take a hand out of his pocket to retrieve it. He did so, and then pushed his hand back in his pocket along with the piece of paper without even looking at it.
His behaviour didn't seem to faze his father in the slightest, if he even noticed it odd. "You can meet me there at three tomorrow to see if it meets your standards. Don't be late." With that the man turned around and headed back up the street without a backward glance.
Ben watched him go, frozen to the spot, and suddenly realised he'd been holding his breath. He let it out in one great huff, and quickly found a nearby street lamp to lean on.