Disclaimer: Still own nothing, nada, zilch, zero.

Paranoia, a sixth sense, maternal instinct-call it what you will, but when Gothel had come across that palace horse in the forest, she had known something was wrong. As she had raced back to the Tower, she had desperately tried to convince herself that she was mistaken. It hadn't even been half an hour since she left, how could misfortune have struck in so short a time frame? That is what she had told herself, but when she received no answer in return to her pleading calls for Rapunzel to let down her hair, it was as if the icy hand of death was already choking the life out of her.

Ebony curls flying wildly around her shoulders, she had desperately torn down the stone wall that she had built several years back to hide the only other entrance into the Tower. By the time she had scrambled up the steep, spiraling staircase, her breathing had turned into a near pant more out of fear than out of physical exertion. Still, the girl was nowhere and sight and wasn't answering her mother's cries. A frantic search of the girl's bedroom and the rest of the Tower yielded no results, instead only confirming Gothel's deepest fear: Rapunzel was gone.

Her head was spinning as she clutched at it, her fingers shaking as she raked them through the thick locks of her hair. Hair. The hair was gone. The magic was gone and with it went her hopes of eternal life. She could almost feel her joints begin to ache; the weight of old age bearing down on her shoulders, causing her to stoop; the black fading to white. An image flashed before her eyes, that of her impending grave, and she couldn't suppress a muffled mewl of despair. She was going to die.

Suddenly she caught a flash of light over by the stairs out of the corner of her eye, bringing her back to herself and to the present. Her brow furrowing, she made her way over, discovering that one of the boards had been lifted, something stored underneath. She quickly pried the loose board away, uncovering a brown satchel that she had almost certainly never seen before. The contents of the satchel, however, proved to be more unsettling than the item itself. First there was the tiara, glittering and splendid, which Gothel quickly recognized as the one that had been intended for Corona's missing princess, Rapunzel, in truth. The realization caused her to drop the offending object with a gasp, as if it had burned her.

Then there was the poster; a 'Wanted' poster similar to the ones that had been plastered all around the kingdom. It depicted a man, a thief, by the name of Flynn Rider. Suddenly the thought came to her that perhaps Rapunzel hadn't gone willingly; that Mr. Rider had stolen the crown and scrambled into the Tower, thinking it a place to hide. Perhaps, upon finding it occupied, he decided to stash his treasure there and take his unexpected witness hostage. The possibility, a very strong one at that, made Gothel's blood unexpectedly boil, and her manicured fingers began to clench, crumpling the poster within their grasp.

For it wasn't about the hair any longer, although at another time Gothel might fail to admit it, it was about the girl. It was about the fact that her daughter-yes, her daughter-was in the hands of some wanted criminal. God only knows what he'd do to her! The child was so naïve, so trusting that he'd probably be slitting her throat before she realized something was wrong! But not, she thought out carefully, as she moved into her own room and opened a drawer, extracting a silver-handled dagger, if Gothel slit his first.

"Don't worry, my darling," she murmured darkly, running a finger lightly over the sharp blade, "Mother will save you and then we'll be together again."