Blood. Her blood. On his hands.

He can't move, can't breathe, can't think. Because she is staring up at him, and there is no familiar glint of recognition in those eyes. Because there is a bullet lodged in her shoulder, and he knows without immediate medical attention, she could bleed out from the gunshot wound. From the wound inflicted by the man he hates most in any world.

There is nothing he can do but hold her broken body close to his as she starts to fade into unconsciousness. "Stay with me, Belle," he whispers over and over. "I need you." At least that's what he thinks he says. Because he can't hear anything over his own blood pounding far too quickly in his ears, as if his black heart is beating twice as fast to cover the beats her own will miss. Beating for her to live.

Her brow furrows, and he thinks the pain must really be getting to her, his hands soaked almost completely in red warmth, which means he will have to get past Hook somehow. To get her to safety. To get her help. But before he can act, she asks, "Who's Belle?"

The question is so innocently posed, naive curiosity crushing every ounce of strength he has left. He crumbles inward, frozen as her eyelids slowly fall over orbs that had once sparkled with delight upon his arrival—to the library, to Granny's, to the shop when she wished to surprise him. Air rushes forth from his lungs faster than a deflating balloon's. No one has ever managed to defeat him this way because he had lost everything he loved after he thought he'd lost Belle the first time. He had been miserable, but invincible once, long ago. And his world—obliterated, demolished, destroyed, ruined, forgotten in mere seconds—effaced from existence. Again and again. By the same bloody pirate who mocked him now.

"Now you know how it feels, Crocodile." Hook's mouth continues to move, the sound of clomping boots echoing loudly off the tree trunks surrounding them as he steps closer, smiling his devilish smile, the one reserved for dealmaking in another land, gun held loosely between his weathered fingers. He waves the weapon around casually as he speaks. "Ah, I've just remembered something. You love her, don't you? Which means you can't leave her here to fend for herself. What kind of a man would leave the woman he loves to die just to save his own skin?" The pirate captain kneels at his side. His anger sparks to life when cold steel meets the underside of his chin, forcing his head back. He glares defiantly up at Hook, who is predictably left to answer his own query: "A coward."

The world turns abruptly and violently to fire and Hook is blown backward by an explosion of flames he can't remember conjuring from his palm. The fiend lands in a crumbled heap yards away as the gun clatters noisily to the pavement, and with the aid of magic, he pulls it to him. He wraps Belle up in his arms, holding the firearm in one hand. Then a phone is pressed firmly to his ear by the other, and he swallows once, twice. He hears a voice mumble something unintelligible on the opposite end, but he recognizes the tone all the same. "Sheriff Swan," he breathes, desperation smothering the relief in his voice. Because he has magic, because he is feared, because he is Rumpelstiltskin, he does not ask for help. But for Belle, he would do anything.

"I need your help."