"Alright we should really get out into the woods," Emma insisted, picking up on the cue to go before either she or Hook changed their minds.

"Hey, maybe you should stay home," she glanced over to see David exchanging a worried look with Mary Margaret. She turned her back, choosing to examine the straw that had given her more hope than she'd ever thought possible rather than eavesdrop on the Charming family. Especially when, given Mary Margaret's new size, she agreed with David.

"Me?!" she questioned. "I'm the best tracker here!"

"I-I know," David insisted, "but we'll manage. Remember what Zelena said, you need your rest." Zelena? Who was Zelena? Oh, the woman. The woman that had been by yesterday and said she was helping Mary Margaret with her baby. Her name must have been Zelena.

"Belle," she turned to see Emma still in the back room as her parents had left. "Thank you for your help," she stated. "Don't worry, we're going to find him."

"Okay," she muttered, suddenly feeling like she should have felt more worried than she actually was. It was hard to feel anything other than joy, knowing that he was out there somewhere, alive. But so was the witch, and as it was he hadn't come right back to her when he'd been freed. Worried should be what she was feeling. There was more than enough to be worried about. "Thank you," she smiled reaching out for Emma's hand and giving it a friendly squeeze. There was plenty to worry about, but they'd get him back. Or he'd come back to her. She was sure of it. Frankly, the only thing making her stomach turn at the moment was staring her straight in the face.


The moment she heard that bell chime their departure and they were alone, the room instantly felt too small. She stared up at the tall man dressed in black and couldn't help that her stare turned into a glare. He was here. She couldn't stop it but she didn't have to like it. And she certainly didn't have to acknowledge him. For her own sake, and for Rumple's, she turned away and toward the task at hand. The spell books, the ones that she'd been using to help her search for Neal days ago now served a new purpose. She began to go through them, trying to find an explanation, a theory, anything to explain what had happened! But she found nothing. Book after book after book. Nothing. She widened her search, every story had a small grain of truth to it, in this case she'd take a fairy tale, a myth, even a ghost story just a small inkling to suggest how the Dark One had managed to return from death, how he had come back from the one thing that should have been able to kill him.

Nothing. The books barely mentioned him, and when they did it was in passing. The Dark One was responsible for creating this, or The Dark One spent centuries crafting that, The only one to ever safely and correctly master this spell or that potion is the Dark Oneā€¦. She slammed the last one closed and looked around. There had to be something somewhere. It wasn't possible that a witch from Oz could figure out how to outsmart the Dark One all on her own. She sighed as she spotted another few books she'd missed sitting on a top shelf. It was a long shot, but it was something. Better than the useless pacing and curious glances Hook was throwing around the shop.

She didn't like it. It would have been irritating if it was anyone, but it was Hook! He was as antsy as a tiger in a cage, something she knew amply about as she'd been in too many cages to count! And the flapping of the cloak with each turn, the creak of the wooden floor...it was driving her absolutely mad!

"Don't sit there," she ordered, when she watched him bend his knees to rest on the cot. He sighed and cast her an annoyed glance, but honored the request and moved away. It was childish, she knew. There was more going on here than just her and Hook, she'd managed to remember that once before, but she'd never had to let him into their private space or deal with him all on her own! She'd let him stay to "protect her", but as far as she was concerned that was about as cordial she was going to get. And she'd let him sit on their cot over her dead body.

"You know," he muttered finally, "perhaps I could be of more assistance if you actually let me help you." She raised an eye-brow and glared. Hook, help her?! The last time he'd helped her she'd ended up unconscious in her cell chained to the bed. "I am here to help after all," he added as she turned back to the book she'd been paging through.

"Like you 'helped' me out of my cell in the tower or over the town line?" she questioned. Hook opened his mouth but quickly closed it again as a sly smile spread over his face. Speechless. That was just fine with her. "And you're here because Emma wants you to be," she informed him, glancing back down at the book before her just for an excuse not to look at him, "not because you can help or protect me, not that you would if you could."

"Ah," he breathed, "now that's where you'd be wrong, love."

"Don't call me that," she corrected sharply. She didn't care if it was a turn of phrase, she didn't want it spoken about her. "And I don't know what you could possibly help me with...last I heard pirates weren't exactly known for their literacy."

"Well for starters," he sighed ignoring her comment, "I hear you've been looking for Baelfire, Neal."

Her head snapped up at his words. He'd caught her attention and she wished she hadn't been so obvious about it. That smug look on his face only made her want to clench her jaw together and keep quiet. But she couldn't, for Neal's sake, for hers, for Rumple's as well. "Where did you hear that?" she asked quietly, uselessly intrigued.

"Word gets around whether you are on a small ship or in a small town," he answered in a cocky voice. "Have you had any luck in finding the boy?"

She paused, unhappy at the answer she'd have to give. She'd had a plan but obviously the search for the item to help search for Neal had to be put on hold. "No," she admitted. The room suddenly seemed to have gotten far too quiet, she felt as though she could hear her heart racing at the anticipation of what he'd say. Was it possible to find Neal and discover Rumple was alive all in the same day? She hated to ask for help, to use Hook for anything more than she had to, but this was about Neal, Rumple's son. If he knew something then she owed it to Rumple to find out what it was and if it would be significant in the search. What exactly did the pirate know? "I don't suppose you have any information that I could use to find him?"

"If I had any pertinent information then I wouldn't need to be asking you, would I?" She shook her head and let out a snort as she turned back to her book to ignore him again. She didn't know what bothered her more, that he'd gotten her hopes up knowing he would crush them or that she'd let herself believe Hook could be helpful. "But I would like to offer my services to help find him, in any form that you should need." Nothing. More help. Help like he was helping now. She could live without it. And with Rumple alive, with him on his way back to her, there was no reason for Hook to be concerned with Neal. They'd find him together. He'd done it once before, he could do it again, this time with her by his side.

"He's Rumple's son," she concluded without a thought, closing her book, and glancing around for the step stool to reach those other books. "He's my concern not yours. I'll find him."

But as she turned to move the stool that she'd located she suddenly felt the thin metal of his Hook wrapped around her elbow. Her heart hammered as she did her best to move away from the man, frustrated that she hadn't been listening for him to move better than she had been. No matter why he was here, Hook was first and foremost a threat. "Don't let your excitement make you forget. Baelfire was the son of the Dark One, it's true," he hissed through clenched teeth. "But there was another person in that equation as well. He was just as much the son of Milah as he was the son of the Dark One."

"She left him," she reminded the pirate as she finally managed to pull her arm free of the sharp metal.

"And she regretted it every night thereafter! More so after she discovered what became of the boy," she could think of a million reasons, responses, sentences she'd like to throw back to the pirate. But she couldn't. The voice in her head, the one that had reminded him in the first place that Milah had left Rumple and her son, was a tricky devil. It sounded like her, but it wasn't her own. It was Lacey's voice, her boldness, her unsympathetic demeanor. The stress of having Hook around, the powerlessness to make him leave, her over protective nature toward Rumple and his son, at some point during the conversation Lacey had pushed her aside and taken over. The realization was like being doused in cold water.

She couldn't blame Hook for Lacey completely, but his actions had certainly helped contribute to the path she'd taken to get there. She wasn't going to allow anyone, least of all Hook, to get to her in that way ever again. She wouldn't allow Lacey to take away her emotions, her compassion again. Even the little that she possessed somewhere for Hook and Milah...because whether or not she liked it, she did have compassion for them. It wasn't a lot, but it was there.

"Rumpelstiltskin is not the only one capable of making mistakes and living to regret them afterwards," Hook insisted.

She wouldn't say she was sorry, she couldn't. If she was sorry for what had happened then she'd have to be sorry that he ever ended up in her life and she just couldn't bring herself to do that. It wasn't Lacey's selfishness, that was her own. She needed him like she needed air in her lungs and didn't want to even imagine what her life would have been like had he never showed up to take her away from her former life. But now that she'd felt the physical pain of losing him, whether it was recent or not, she couldn't say that she didn't feel sorry for what the pirate had gone through with Rumple and Milah. The conclusion was the same as it had been when she and Rumple had arrived back in this shop what felt like ages ago, after they'd gotten the shawl back and left Hook a bloodied mess on his ship. The entire situation was a mess, and there was no way to clean it up.

But there was a way to move forward, to accept what it was, acknowledge what had happened, and move on with their lives. She'd never be friends with Hook. Never. But that didn't mean that she had to be part of the feud, standing opposite him on the other side of a clear line. There was no clear line, it was blurred, and as much as it soured her stomach to admit it, Hook was right in a strange way. Probably not in the way that he'd meant to be, but he'd made a good point. She was connected to Hook through Baelfire. And the truth was that he had about as much claim to Neal through Milah as she did through Rumple. Remembering that might be the best place to start working around the mess their lovers had created for them.

"You can start by helping me with these books," she concluded coldly, ignoring the way his angry face was fading into shock. Instead she left him there, moved the step stool over to the shelf with the books and climbed up before looking back at the man, expectantly. She'd done what she could, extended a hand, despite the churn it caused in her gut. The rest was up to him. There were two choices. He could take her up on her offer, put the conversation they'd just had behind them, and she could go back to work. Or he couldn't, he could continue to pace nervously, and ignore her while she went back to work. Either way at the end of the day there was still more than the two of them going on, and one way or another she would find her answers!

Suddenly the pirate gave a heavy sigh, then turned and offered another of those false sarcastic smiles. "It would be my pleasure," he lied gallantly.

So Hook and Belle. The answer seemed simple to me. They were working together in the pawn shop but neither of them looked happy about it. So, I didn't have to make them happy about it. I just had to give them a working relationship. A conversation that allowed them to say "Yeah I don't like you very much but I can work with you". Don't get me wrong, Hook is still one of my least favorite characters on the show. But alas, what I've created means I have to work with what the show gives me whether I like it or not. So...how did I do?

Thank you, thank you, thank you Meredith Pechta, Sara K M, Raizen Yusuke, Katido, Onlyinyourdreams77, Deweymay, LaurieAHancock, and Grace5231973 for your reviews on the last chapter! Yes! The greatest compliment that you can give me is that you didn't know where my work ended and the shows work began (or vise versa of course). That means that I've done a decent enough job with keeping everything in character! Winning! Peace and Happy Reading!