Chapter 8: Car Trouble
Rumpelstiltskin walked home, swinging his cane out in front of him. It looked like his rather frank warning to Benjamin Thatch had hit home. The man hadn't visited Belle since he'd spoken to him. It appeared he'd been working a lot, and then just going home.
Belle hadn't said anything to him about the visits stopping, though she did seem disappointed and a little sad. That made him feel bad. He knew that she didn't get a lot of people to talk to, and he also knew that was a direct result of her relationship with him. He could handle the town's fear, and the seclusion it resulted in. And actually, Belle could too. She'd been stuck in an asylum for twenty-eight years! But that didn't mean she should have to.
If setting her free had been as easy as telling her to take a walk into town and not come back, he would have done it. But things didn't work quite the same in this world. She had free reign of the town, but would still be lonely. Short of kicking her out, he could think of nothing that would help. Besides, she'd just come back. A faint smile crossed his lips. He would not make the mistake of doing that again. Belle hadn't died, as the Queen had so cruelly told him. But tossing her out back then had led to her being imprisoned in this world. He would not forgive Regina for that, and if she ever dared to come out of hiding…
Rumpelstiltskiin pushed down those thoughts. There was no point thinking about that now. It would just cause him unnecessary angst.
Besides, he had done the right thing by stopping Ben's visits, even if it compounded Belle's loneliness. It was highly likely that the sole reason that the man had been speaking to her was to dig up some dirt on him. Rumpelstiltskin scowled. So it was better he wasn't harassing her anymore.
It hadn't taken him overly long to figure out what is going on, after the man had shown up to view the house. Why he'd been asking such strange questions, and about the magic… It had puzzled him for a few hours. He'd even briefly wondered, yet again, if Emma had brought actually back his son. But then it hit him. She'd been harassing him about what he'd done with the magic she'd retrieved for him. She probably suspected he'd brought the magic back to Storybrooke. And that had been one of the questions Ben had practically asked.
It was a good thing the man was an idiot. He'd been visiting Belle like clockwork and that had made his intentions obvious. Rumpelstiltskin sighed. Well, it wasn't a problem now. With any luck Emma would give up on that avenue and concentrate on finding Baelfire.
Rumpelstiltskin felt the familiar ache in his chest as he thought of his son, and swallowed hard. It wouldn't be long now, he told himself. Even if Sheriff Swan was distracting herself, she had said she didn't have any issue with finding his son, and Rumpelstiltskin believed her. Thank the gods, he thought, he'd figured out Benjamin Thatch before he'd let himself be fooled. Again.
He'd reached his house now, only a little worn out. Belle had asked to borrow the car and he hadn't had the heart to say no. She'd learnt how to drive, with only a few close calls. Some of which had left Rumpelstiltskin terrified. But she'd stuck with it, and now it was only with mild apprehension that he let her use it. Besides, it was one form of freedom he could actually offer her.
Rumpelstiltskin approached the house, and then frowned. It was nearly dark. Belle should have been home by now. The car was nowhere to be seen. But then he saw a light on on the front porch. Suspicious now, he climbed the stairs, and found Belle sitting on one of the chairs, reading.
She looked up at him as he approached, and gave a timid smile. "Hi…" It was the same look she'd worn when she'd broken his teacup.
Rumpelstiltskin felt his blood run cold. His felt his whole body tense, his hands gripping onto his cane. "Where's the car?!" he snapped out. He knew the answer already.
Ben dropped a spanner and muttered a curse. Perhaps he'd just do that piece up again and leave it. His father could walk in at any moment and he didn't want to have any bits of hose loose when he did. He'd probably end up taking off in the car fairly quickly and the last thing Ben wanted, despite everything, was for him to have an accident.
He'd had thoughts of tinkering with something he shouldn't. Giving his father some mechanical problem that would be difficult to fix, or even find without some mechanical know-how. But he'd pushed the thought aside. Annoying him was one thing, but messing with the car was downright horrible, and possibly dangerous. So, instead, though he could find little wrong with the machine, he'd replaced all the filters as well as the oil.
This was what sons were supposed to do for their fathers in this world, right? Ben let out a huff. Rumpelstiltskin probably wouldn't notice the gesture but at least in Ben's mind, it might make up for stringing him along for so long.
For the first time since he'd arrived, Ben felt a shred of confidence in the inevitable conversation he was going to have with his father. He wasn't stupid. He knew Rumpelstiltskin might not believe him right away. He was probably going to get shouted at, but his father would eventually have to come around. If Belle was to be believed, and Ben was sure she was, as soon as Rumpelstiltskin was convinced this was his son before him he'd be accepted with open arms.
It'd be rocky. They'd have a lot to talk about. Ben certainly wasn't pleased about his father bringing magic over, or in letting him go down that hole all alone. He'd definitely have a few things to say about that. But they could work it out. It'd take a while, but it could be done.
Ben allowed himself a faint smile as he dug a hand down beside the car's engine. Where had that spanner gotten to? He reached behind another component, thinking it might have gone further back and felt something sticky. He frowned. Duct tape? Grief. So apparently whatever Belle had broken his father had needed more than magic to fix. He sighed. So there was something in there that might need fixing.
He shifted around to the side of the car and pulled a flashlight out his pocket for a better look. Yup, duct tape. He could see a wad of it stuck right down in the bottom on the inside of the car's body. But what on earth had his father been trying to fix? He leaned in and tugged some back. This wasn't a car component. He'd taped something here. Ben reached in and tugged off a whole strip, then pulled his hand back with a yelp. Fresh blood glistened on his fingertip. He wiped it away. The cut was clean. "No…" Ben leaned in, shoving the flashlight down again. A glint of clean, polished metal gleamed back at him. No metal in this car should have shone that brightly, not even if it had been placed in some time recently, not even under all that tape. This metal was protected by something other, not of this world, and it did not tarnish or corrode.
Ben's hand began to shake, the beam of the flashlight wavering as it picked out the tip of a blade, on its surface etched the last four letters of his father's name.
Ben dropped the flashlight to the concrete floor. He snatched at the bonnet, and slammed it down to block the sight of that damned Knife. He could still see it, in his mind. Ben stared at the vehicle, hands balled into fists and shaking. Right then, he knew it for sure. His father had not changed.
Rumpelstiltskin's heart was pounding as he approached the door to the mechanics. There was only security lighting on in the front office, but he thought he could see a light on in the back of the workshop. Benjamin Thatch was here, he knew it. He had taken his car for a reason, and it wasn't just for an oil change.
That Belle may have had something to do with this rattled him to no end, but surely she didn't know what the man was about. He must have just told her something was wrong with the car and she'd believed him. Rumpelstiltskin hadn't told her about the Knife. If he had, he knew she wouldn't have let the car go for anything. But that had been for her protection, not his. He'd told Baelfire everything about the Knife, and look what a mess that had led to.
Surely this man couldn't know about the Knife! But if he poked around in there too much… Rumpelstiltskin thrust the end of his cane through the glass door, the shattered glass plinking as it fell to the floor. He could have used magic. It would've been quieter, but would have taken longer. He'd become too used to this approach in his twenty-eight years here, and he was too rattled now to think straight.
He thrust open the door and marched through the office and into the workshop as quickly as he could. As he rounded the corner he caught sight of his car, and then Benjamin Thatch, turning from facing the vehicle with a rag in his hands.
Rumpelstiltskin felt a wave of rage build up inside of him. He was close enough now to feel the Knife. Ben didn't have it. If he did, he would feel a wall stopping him from willing harm on this man. He wanted to hurt him and nothing stood in his way.
The Knife was safe. But this man would still pay for daring to come so close to it. A ravenous, angry smile twisted Rumpelstiltskin's lips and he stepped towards Ben without hesitation.
Ben heard the glass shatter and knew his father was here. His heart still pounded from finding the Knife. He was angry. It barely registered in his thoughts that the weapons presence might make being in possession of the car all the more infuriating to Rumpelstiltskin.
He turned around, pressing a rag against his hands to at least hide the blood.
His father stepped into workshop, the picture of rage. He paused briefly as he spotted Ben, but then moved towards him.
He should have been scared. Storybrooke's most feared man was feared for a reason, even more so now. Still, he felt nothing but contempt. All of it, it was all just bluster! Even behind the rage, the rage itself; his father was only angry because Ben had almost come into possession of the Knife.
Ben threw the rag aside. "I've got something I want to talk to you about."
Rumpelstiltskin came to within inches of Ben's face and looked him right in the eye.
Ben stared back at him, unblinking. Rumpelstiltskin was looking for fear, but he wouldn't find it here.
"Oh really?" his father sneered. "Well, let's talk shall we?"
It happened so quickly that Ben was on his back before he realised what was going on. The back of his knees stung, and his head rung from where he'd struck it against the concrete. It took him a moment to realise that Rumpelstiltskin had tripped him up with the cane in one swift movement, and with surprising strength. This thought barely clicked into place when the cane was thrust into his left shoulder, pinning him back down to the dirty concrete floor.
Ben hadn't fought often. He had avoided it, the few people who'd tried to start fights with him only reminding him of the soldiers who'd harassed his father before he got his powers. And, after that, his father himself. But he'd defended himself when he'd needed. He wouldn't hurt his father, but he wouldn't let him push him around.
He grabbed at the cane and thrust it away, rolling himself back to a sitting position, keeping a grip on the cane. A sudden burst of, something, went through the cane and burnt his hand, sending it numb. Ben let out a grunt of surprise.
Rumpelstiltskin freed the cane from Ben's grip and pinned him down again. Ben saw purple smoke twist down the cane this time in a rush, and then it was in his shoulder, bringing a wash of pain before the numbness set in. He slumped back to the floor and let out a gasp, breaking out into a sweat.
Rumpelstiltskin kept the cane in his shoulder, though the flow of magic had stopped. "Are you going to stay down, dearie? Or do I need to 'raise my voice' again?"
Ben gasped in air, unable to reply. He glared at his father with a cold fury. "I… really did… need to talk to you…" he managed to get out.
Rumpelstiltskin smiled, though he still appeared angry. "You confuse me, Mr Thatch. I'm starting to wonder if you have a death wish."
"It's just a car…" Ben growled. He was starting to recover a bit. He might be able to get the cane off again, but he now knew he couldn't really fight back.
"I told you to stay away from me. That includes my car. Or do you require a comprehensive list?"
"You're nothing but a coward…"Ben growled.
Rumpelstiltskin leaned on the cane. Even through the numbness, Ben could feel enough to let out a grunt of pain. "You stole my car. I would say that is an act of cowardice. But I'm not so much interested in moralising with you. I'd like to know what it is you want from me?"
Ben looked up at his father, drawing in deep breaths. He could tell him now. But did he deserve to know? And would he believe him? Ben suddenly realised he was afraid. Well, that was a turn. But he'd been afraid before, he'd just never expected he'd be able to fear his father. But he knew now for certain that Rumpelstiltskin could and would hurt him. How much would he hurt him, knowing how close he'd come to the Knife? If he started claiming now to be his son, Rumpelstiltskin would probably not believe him, and the only other explanation he might be able to come up with was he'd been after the Knife, specifically. "I took the car because I wanted to get your attention."
"I've gathered that much."
Ben had proven absolutely hopeless at thinking on his feet. He'd winged this whole thing, and it had landed him here. But Henry had given him something. A plan. The boy was full of them. Now he could use the one he'd thought of as only entertainment for the boy, and it might just save his life. "I've heard you're the person to talk to if you need something done."
"I'm the person to talk to for a lot of things. Be more specific!" He lifted the cane and slammed it down on Ben's shoulder.
Ben felt that, and let out a muted cry. "Damn it! I… I want to make a deal with you!" he burst out. "I have another child. A daughter. I had… a… I partied a lot when I was younger. I need someone to help me get her back from… her mother."
Rumpelstiltskin didn't reply right away. He studied Ben carefully and then lifted his cane. "You want to make a deal? And just how much are you willing to give me so that I can find this child for you, and take it away from its mother?"
Ben pushed himself up to a seated position. He felt dirty, and it wasn't because of the grease and oil in his hair. "I'd give you anything. I heard that sort of thing doesn't bother you."
His father smiled. "No, not at all." He slammed his cane on the concrete floor, the sound echoing around the empty workshop and making Ben jump. "So this is why you wanted my attention. There are easier ways, you know."
"I guess I didn't know what I was getting myself into; guess I'm not too bright like that."
Rumpelstiltksin studied him, still seeming not entirely convinced. But the prospect of a deal seemed to have piqued his interest. Henry had been right on the money.
"Alright, Mr Thatch. I'll see what I can do for you. And you will owe me a favour, anything I ask for. Do we have a deal?"
Ben sighed. "Yes."
"Good. So where's this daughter of yours?"
Ben nearly panicked. Henry hadn't planned this far ahead for him. Then he felt a twinge in his shoulder, making him shudder. "Do you think… do you think we could discuss this tomorrow? I've just had the shit beaten out of me."
Rumpelstiltskin smiled. "I can live with that. Meet me outside the pawn shop tomorrow, two o'clock." He paused, seeming to think for a moment and then hefted his cane up so he held it closer to its base. "And one more thing…"
Ben saw it coming this time, but was too dazed to get out of the way. The heavy handle hit him in the side of the head, sending him sprawling onto the concrete and into a puddle of oil.
"When I say stay away from me, I mean it! When we meet, it will be at my direction!" He stepped towards his car, and opened the driver's side door. "And if I ever see you messing with my vehicle again… I will kill you, dearie."