Chapter 7: Confrontation
Ben left the mechanics, tossing the rag he always seemed to forget he was carrying in the last bin on the way out. There was so much to do, and he'd even been asked to work overtime. Ben would have dearly loved to. With his head under a car, tinkering with all the bits and pieces that no one else here seemed to have a clue about how to fix, he could lose himself. But as soon as he was finished, he found himself thinking of the task at hand. He could've worked the overtime, but he wanted to visit Belle. Even though it frustrated him. Each day he came expecting to have her change his mind, but he was always disappointed. Finding out about his father, even just talking to Belle, was starting to take its toll.
It was five days since he'd promised Belle he'd tell his father his true identity in a week. Two days away from his deadline, he was still as terrified of telling him as he'd been when he arrived. No, not terrified; just not ready. He didn't know enough yet, even after all his chats with Belle. What he was terrified of was that he'd reveal who his was, his father would open his heart to him, but Ben would find out his heart was as black as he'd feared.
So what was the point of finding out the hard way? Did he want the option of turning tail and running if he found he didn't want to know his father? Ben shook his head. No, that wasn't it either. He knew he wouldn't run. He might be afraid, but he had never backed down from anything. Funny, he thought. He hadn't inherited his father's cowardice. It was almost the opposite. Maybe Emma and Henry had been right, he was about to get himself into trouble.
It was on that thought that he looked up and spotted Rumpelstiltskin standing right outside the pawn shop. Exactly where Ben had been heading; exactly where he'd been heading after work for the past four days. Ben almost faltered. He'd been right on the money; apparently he was in trouble.
His father was leaning on his cane, just waiting. Ben knew he was waiting for him. He'd been far too punctual in his visits to Belle. Well, so be in. Ben took a deep breath and picked back up his pace. Though he hadn't actually spoken to his father since viewing the house, he blamed him for all the frustration he'd built up over the past few days.
His father had spotted him. "Mr Thatch," Rumpelstiltskin said as Ben reached him. "I was wondered when you were going to show up." He wore a slight smile, and Ben couldn't pick up any hint of fear from him. In fact, he seemed perfectly in control and just a little bit pleased with himself.
Ben was tense. Rumpelstiltskin had figured out something, or he was about to do something horrible to him. Still, Ben couldn't work up any fear towards his father. He wasn't sure why. He knew he was dangerous; knew this meeting might prove so. But he didn't think his father had realised who he was. He wouldn't be looking at him with that smug smile, with just a hint of contempt, if he had. "I take it you want to talk to me?"
"You haven't turned in your contract. I was wondering if you still wanted the place. I can't hold onto it for you if you won't give me an answer."
This couldn't be the real reason Rumpelstiltskin wanted to talk. He was playing with him, Ben realised. Fine, let's play. "You're not telling me you've got potential tenants caged up in your backyard, are you? I'm pretty sure there aren't a lot of people looking to rent in Storybrooke at the moment, if ever."
His father shifted his weight. Slightly annoyed? Good. "That's not the point."
"What is the point, Rumpelstiltskin? I really don't think it's about the house."
"The point, Mr Thatch, is that you haven't turned in your contract, and yet, you've been visiting my pawn shop for the last week. That makes me wonder what exactly it is you're up to."
"It's an interesting shop." Ben said flatly. He was enjoying this too much, he realised. His father was frustrating him; well he'd see what happened if he annoyed him. Perhaps he'd push his buttons and see what that brought out.
"You're not scared of me, are you?" Rumpelstiltskin puzzled, looking him over.
"Does that bother you?"
"No. You haven't been here very long."
"But you want me to be scared of you?" said Ben. His father wasn't scared now. No. He was in control of this situation, or thought he was. That much had changed, Ben realised. When Ben had known him he was only just starting to figure out his power. Now, he was in control of it, and knew exactly how much of it he had to exercise in order to pull someone into line. He'd become used to the power, the magic. Ben almost felt sick. "You know, the way I see it, people who try to bully or frighten others usually just don't want it to happen to them. From what I've heard, deep down, I think you're a coward."
His father was still smiling, but now that smile seemed forced. Ben had hit a nerve.
Ben almost wanted to strangle him. But at the same time a part of him wanted to tell his father who he was, and throw his arms around him. Right now that was impossible. All could come up with in his current state of mind was antagonising his father further, and seeing the reaction he got. Maybe if he went too far and his father didn't kill him, well, perhaps it was the best result he could hope for.
He shrugged. "Maybe I just like talking to Belle. She's a very pretty woman." That had come out with barely a thought, and Ben realised he'd let his anger get the better of him. Well, he couldn't take it back now. He watched his father carefully.
Rumpelstiltskin looked at him, eyes narrowed. Then he broke into a smile and laughed. "What sort of fool do you take me for? You don't think I know the real reason you're here?"
Ben felt his blood run cold. If his father knew… why was he treating him with such contempt? "I…"
"Sherrif Swan really picked up a prize, didn't she? She's got you running around doing all her dirty work."
Rumpelstiltskin lowered his voice. "Is it really that much of a problem that I'm taking up all her time getting her to help find my son? Don't look so surprised. I know she's told you. Or is it just that she's worried about what it is I can do now? Is she looking for a weakness? No, you're not here for Belle, and I wouldn't have to worry if you were."
"That's not the reason…"
Rumpelstiltskin took a sudden step forward, and Ben actually had to resist the urge to back away. His father looked up that extra couple of inches into Ben's eyes. He lifted up his cane, holding it so the handle was inches from Ben's face. "Stay away, Mr Thatch. From this shop. From Belle. And from me. Or I promise you, you'll find a reason to fear me soon enough."
Ben's vision actually clouded, so great was his anger. It wasn't that his father threatened him; he'd pretty much asked for that. But that his father felt he had to act this way for so small a trespass. Even if he was snooping, what did it matter when Rumpelstiltskin had so much power?
When he managed to pull himself back into reality, his father was no longer in his face, but getting into his car.
"I mean it, Mr Thatch," Rumpelstiltskin said over his shoulder. "Have a nice day."
Ben scowled, watching the vehicle pull away. He was overcome with the sudden urge to find the car and slash its tyres, or do something less obvious and more frustrating. He knew he was being immature, more so than when he'd let the comment slip about Belle. Was his father really getting to him that much?
As the car drove up the street and around the corner, an idea formed in Ben's mind. He smiled to himself. No, damaging it wasn't the way to go, but that didn't mean he wasn't onto something. Certain Rumpelstiltskin did not expect him to call him on his threat so soon; he ducked quickly into the pawn shop.
"What was that about?" Belle asked. "Did he…"
"Apparently, I'm not to talk to you anymore."
Belle's eyes narrowed. "He did what?"
For the briefest of moments, Ben almost wanted to play on that. But no, he hadn't come in here to get his father into trouble with his girlfriend. "No, not like that. Although I… never mind. He thinks I'm snooping on him, and…"
"But you are…"
"Not like that!"
Belle sighed. "Ben, you need to tell him…"
"I just need you to do one thing."
Belle closed her eyes briefly. "What?"
"His car… does he let you drive it sometimes?"
"I need you to break it."
"What? I wouldn't know how to break it!"
"If I can get in in the shop…"
"I know what you're getting at," said Belle. She shook her head. "I just don't know if it'll work. I have broken it already… and he spent an hour working out how to fix it with magic. He went a bit funny about taking it in to the mechanics."
Ben huffed. "Everyone in Storybrooke is funny about their cars. They don't understand they can break because of that damn curse… anyway; you don't have to break it. Just when you have it, say you broke it, and bring it in. That's all you need to do."
Belle folded her arms. "You did make me a promise."
"I should go."
"Alright! Bring the car in. I'll tell him then."
He'd lied. Well, he was worried it was going to turn out to be a lie. He'd actually sat down with Henry and worked out an elaborate plan to further string Rumpelstiltskin along. He wasn't going to use it, of course. He'd just been 'bonding' with Henry. The kid was so excited to help him out he couldn't say no. Now he was worried he'd actually bail on his promise to Belle.
Settle down, he told himself. You've never run before, you're not going to start now. But, Ben had to admit, he had been doing a lot of procrastinating.
Now, he was forced to wait for Belle to hold up her end of the deal. It meant he could concentrate on his job; he'd even taken a couple hours of overtime. Waiting on someone else, and not his own procrastination was almost as bad as the frustration he'd felt before. Ben was confused. Well, he'd been dumped in another world and was now figuring out how to reconnect with his father he'd thought he'd never seen again. He was allowed to have a few issues working the whole thing out.
He'd muddled around the mechanics for the last couple of days, just waiting. He was almost at the point of daring to bug Belle again, when she pulled up in the vehicle, looking a little apprehensive.
"He's going to kill me, you know," she said as she handed the keys over, reluctantly.
Ben smiled. "I'm glad you're confident enough to say that figuratively."
"Good luck, Ben."
No one else at the mechanics would touch the car, and Ben was quite happy with that. They probably had good reason to be scared. In fact, Ben would have been perfectly happy if they didn't touch any of the cars.
So it was that Ben settled down to tinker with this father's car. There really wasn't that much wrong with it, but he needed to hang on to it. He knew it wouldn't be for long. He announced that he'd need to fix a few things, and could hang around and complete the work as overtime. There had been no problem with that; everyone wanted Rumpelstiltskin's car out of the shop as soon as possible.
The only problem with that, Ben found himself thinking as his boss bid him goodnight and left the shop, was that he had pinched his father's car and had now been left alone.