It was during one of Teynte's night shifts in the woods that the text message arrived. Hook woke up from the sound and half-sleeping took his phone to read the one word on the screen: "Glow."
In an instant, his mind and eyes cleared, and he prodded at Ariel with his toes. "Hey. Wake up, darling, I need a ride."
Ariel buried her face in the pillow and made no answer, unless the uncoordinated slap she sent his way was one.
"Sweetheart," he said, "it's an emergency."
At "emergency", she sighed deeply and raised her head.
"You have to drive me into the forest," he said, rolling out of the bed to put his trousers on. "It's time."
She became a little more awake at this news, but not much. While Hook got dressed, Ariel started towards the bathroom, and he had to pull her back. "No time for that. Take a piss if you have to, but then get dressed." If they were to wait for her morning routine, the sun would be high in the sky before they made it out the door.
Even half-sleeping, with her hair coming loose, Ariel was a quick driver. Perhaps it would have been better for their safety if she hadn't been, but Hook was grateful for the speed. Only when they'd left the car at the edge of the woods and continued on foot did she lag behind, as he rushed towards the trap and the pair of pirates watching it.
The glow Teynte had spoken of had turned to fire and ash and left a burned, smoldering circle behind, with only broken twigs and strings remaining of the spell. That mattered little. He turned to her and asked, "Do you have it?"
Teynte opened the backpack she was holding and showed him its content: a single egg, the size of a human head and the colours of fire and smoke. "Here you are, Captain. Careful, it's still hot."
Despite the warning, he couldn't resist reaching out to touch the smooth surface, just a gentle prod before he took the backpack from her hands.
"This is it," he said softly. "I finally have him."
"Give him hell," Teynte said, her voice thick with emotion.
"Congratulations, Captain," Andie said, giving him a beaming smile as she squeezed her wife's hand.
With great care, he closed the backpack and hung it over his shoulder. Leaving the remnants of the trap behind, they returned to the path, where Ariel waited. Her face was tense and thin-lipped, and when he arrived she caught his gaze in hers, giving him a slow headshake and a shrug. Hook realised that she'd left her phone behind on the bedside table, but her expression was clear enough.
"I am more certain than I have ever been in my life," he assured her with a quick kiss. "Don't worry. This will be a day of legends."
They returned to Soeng's shop, where Hook made the preparations for the attack, calling everyone up to get them in place, allowing nothing to disturbe him. He barely noticed when Ariel went home, or when Skylights and Jukes showed up.
When Teynte entered the room, though, something about her demeanour made him still. He looked up, seeing the trouble on her face before she spoke.
"Gold has opened the pawnshop," she said. "He's got Prince James in there now."
"At this hour?" Hook said, annoyed. While he could handle the prince without problem, an attack now might alert that entire do-gooder family and their friends, which was a hassle he didn't need. "Fine. We'll hold it off until evening."
Teynte gave him an apologetic smile and left to deal with her civilian duties, while the others started getting the shop ready to open. It was too mundane, too normal, and made Hook itch all over.
Jukes had been sweeping up some leaves by the door, and was now hauling out the vacuum cleaner, but stopped and told Hook, in a low voice, "It's funny... I mean, it's not funny. But it feels so strange. I was just a lad, when Milah came on board. And now I'm ten times older than she was."
"Hmm," Hook said morosely, remembering the little runt of a cabin boy Jukes had been before his growth spurt. Milah had taken to him, spending all the pent-up maternal feelings and guilt she couldn't express elsewhere. In the end, he'd had to explain to her that a pirate, no matter how small, should never be mollycoddled.
"I've got Cassiopeia in a terrarium in my flat. You can have her, if you want."
Hook waved that away. "No. Keep it. But thank you."
All the waiting made him restless, but he didn't have the patience for anything else. Once he'd sent word to everyone to stand down but stay ready, he returned to the store-room, to get the egg out of the backpack and into something more secure.
The backpack was open, which gave him pause, but the egg was still there. Maybe the zipper had undone itself – one of his new pair of trousers had always done that, and in the end he'd had to trade them in for another.
Hook arranged some hay in a box and put the egg in there, sticking the box at the back of a cupboard. Then, just to make sure, he went out and asked Soeng, "Did you look in my backpack?"
Soeng was just about to roll up the steel door, but paused and said, "Of course not. Why, is there something wrong?"
"Probably not. Jukes? Did you?" Despite his many years in Neverland, Jukes still retained his boyish enthusiasm, which among other things included an above-average curiosity.
"Not me, Captain," Jukes assured him, mop of hair rising from the shelf he was stocking. His face showed surprised innocence, and Hook rather thought it told the truth.
"Hm." Hook brushed away the unease, chalking it down to the frustration of being so close to his target, yet unable to fire the cannon. He returned to the back room and started up the computer, figuring he might use the spare time to read up on this world's naval history. Maybe there was something he could learn.
About an hour later, though, Soeng came in and asked, "Have you seen Skylights? He went for coffee and never came back, and I can't seem to reach him on the phone."
Hook looked up. "No, I can't say I have." Skylights wasn't the kind of chap you noticed, but he'd been missing for quite some time, hadn't he? He'd come in with Jukes in the morning, but been gone before the shop opened. Before the incident with the back pack, and Hook hadn't thought to ask where he went. Skylights wouldn't dare to steal the egg outright from his captain, but to pass on information, if pressured... Hook stood up.
"Has anyone been to his home?"
"No," Soeng said. "You don't think..."
"Send Jukes. Do it now."
Waiting for Jukes's call, Hook returned the egg to its former place, secured the knife in his boot, and packed one of the Storybrooke guns for safe measure. He tried to reach the men guarding the pawnbroker's, but they didn't answer their phones, and so he ordered Starkey to check up on them, instead.
Jukes was the first to get back to him: Skylights was not in his apartment, and neither were his clothes. Hook cursed under his breath and called Starkey, who reached the pawnbroker's as they spoke.
"The men are down," Starkey said. "At least the ones in the alley, and it looks like the ones on the roof are too. Hang on, they're sleeping, not dead. Drugs?"
"A spell, more likely," Hook said. "All right, clear out, I'm going in."
"Are you sure you don't want us with you?"
"If he knows we're coming, we won't win him over with manpower. I've got a better chance alone, less distractions. Get the men out. Wake them if you can."
"Aye, aye. Good luck, Captain."
"Thanks. Oh, and if he should happen to kill me, burn that damned place to the ground."
"It will be my pleasure."
Hook finished the call, took the backpack, and headed out. In a way, he preferred this turn of events. The Dark One might think himself prepared, but Hook still had his protections in full force, and nothing would stop him from breaking the egg over that imp's face.
The street outside the pawnbroker's was empty, as was the shop itself. Hook stalked through it into the office, wondering if Rumpelstiltskin would be so cowardly as to run and hide.
But no, there he was, sitting in his chair with a book on his lap.
"Ah, Captain," Rumpelstiltskin said lightly, letting the book drop. "I was wondering when you'd show up."
"Quivering in your boots, I'm sure," Hook said, taking the egg out of the backpack so that it was held in the circle of his hook and cradled by his hand. "Or have you been scuttling around your little den, trying to find a counterspell for the phoenix? There is none."
"I'm not so worried about the phoenix, seeing how it's still in there," Rumpelstiltskin said, pointing towards the egg. "And there it will remain."
Hook scoffed at that and raised the egg to throw it.
"Now would be a good time, dearie!" Rumpelstiltskin called.
A soft yet unmistakeable melody could be heard from the shop, getting closer, and Hook knew it for what it was a fraction of a second before he discovered that he could no longer move. The music was beautiful, enchanting, but it filled him with dread. There was no use pretending that it could be anything but the song of a siren. All he could tell himself was that there were, to his knowledge, at least half a dozen such creatures in this town, and that there was no reason to fear the worst.
Yet the smug satisfaction on Rumpelstiltskin's face told him a different story. Hook couldn't turn his head to see the owner of the approaching voice, but he knew what face he would have seen, though he'd never heard her voice before, never thought it possible.
"Ariel, please," he mumbled through stiff lips.
The voice wavered, but did not fall silent.
"You know what they say," Rumpelstiltskin said, carefully taking the egg and cradling it in his hands as he ran some sort of a spell over it before he put it away. "If music be the food of love, play on! It's great irony, isn't it, one love putting you out of my reach and another returning you to it."
Ariel was now within view, and Hook managed to get his eyes closed, refusing to see the look of sorrow on her face even as her voice kept betraying him. Whether her actions were the result of fear or a desire for her voice he could not tell, nor did it make any difference; she had left him helpless in the hands of his enemy, unable even to die bravely in battle.
"That damned protection spell," Rumpelstiltskin said, and though Hook could not have moved his arm an inch, he felt the man's odious hand circle his wrist, and opened his eyes again to glare at him. "I'm going to have to take this off. Oh, just the spell, not the hand, that would be cruel. Or maybe I should?"
There was a glitter in his eyes that deepened as he spoke, and Ariel stopped singing for a moment, her face in utter shock. Hook took the opportunity to lunge at Rumpelstiltskin, who hissed, "Keep singing!" So she did, leaving Hook once again in stasis.
"Yes, maybe I should," Rumpelstiltskin mused. "It might be quite fitting, after all. Teach you what helplessness and loss truly feels like."
A trickle of cold sweat ran down Hook's back.
"Oh! Oh, that frightens you, doesn't it? More than death. More than her death, treacherous little wench that she is. Or your crew. You're attached to them, but not quite as attached as you are to this." Rumpelstiltskin turned the hand over, running his thumb down the length of the fingers. "Really, though, so much fondness for a mere limb. But then, you're all about the brawn, aren't you? It wouldn't do if you had to rely on your brain."
Ariel was crying now, and he hated her for it, hated that she showed regret even as she kept hurting him more with every passing second. His body might be unwilling to respond to his own commead, but it was malleable to his enemy. Carelessly, Rumpelstiltskin placed Hook on the floor and chained him to the radiator.
"Face it, Jones, you're nothing. A two-bit crook with delusions of grandeur. You're not even worth the trouble of breaking that egg over you to take that spell of yours away. Not when it's so much easier to just hand you over to your other little lady love."
With a wry smile, Rumpelstiltskin fished his phone out of his inner pocket and made the call. "Hello, sheriff? Your pet pirate has just made an attempt on my life. I'd appreciate it if you came to pick him up." Still smiling, he told Ariel, "Shush, now, dearie, and run along. You've been wonderful; I hope you enjoy your side of the deal."
Ariel fell silent, which granted Hook some range of motion despite the shackles – enough that when she passed by him, he could turn his head the other way.
"Did you even have a plan?" Emma asked, locking Hook in the cell once again.
"Of course," he said, lying down on the bunk. "I was to strip him of his magic and leave him vulnerable."
"But it didn't turn out that way."
"So, strictly speaking, this was the nonviolent option I asked for," she said, "except that you were going to kill him afterwards anyway, weren't you?"
"Yes." There were stains on the ceiling, some of them of a shape that with a bit of imagination could be some sort of animal or other creature, like a cloud.
"Wouldn't it be better for you just to leave this vendetta behind and move on with your life? It doesn't seem to bring you anything but more trouble."
"Is listening to your pontifications part of my punishment?" he asked. One of the stains was definitely a dolphin. "If not, I'd just as soon skip them."
Emma sighed, but didn't try to engage him further.
He'd have to try again, of course. Make a new plan, maybe even find that rumoured dagger that he'd dismissed once he learned that he'd have to take over as Dark One if he used it, and be vulnerable to anyone wielding it. Right now, even that seemed like a promising option. He couldn't give up, that was an impossibility – but just as impossible was the thought of making any sort of plan just then, or even leaving the bunk. The Dark One had bested him, humiliated him, and done it all with Ariel's help, and now here he was in jail, locked up for what might be a very long time.
The door opened, and Emma said, "Hi!" sounding surprised.
"Can I see him?"
There was no magic in Ariel's voice now, only a touch of the same accent her grandmother had, but Hook recognised it right away.
"Uh... yeah, sure," Emma stammered. "You... you're... you can..."
"She can speak again," Hook said, sitting up. "That's quite a lovely voice you have there, sweetheart. I hope it was worth the price."
Ariel stepped up to the cell, her hands trembling by her side. "No, that's not..." she said, her new voice on the verge of breaking. "Please, listen, I couldn't leave without explaining to you, because I don't think you understand."
"Of course I understand," he sneered and approached her, grabbing at a bar to stop himself from punching her in the face. "Given the chance, a deal like that, I might have gone for it too. But one thing I wouldn't have done is come crawling back expecting forgiveness."
"I know. It was awful, and I'm sorry, but I had to..." She'd started crying again, and he broke her off.
"Do you think I care how sorry you are? How much it pained you to sell me out to that demon? All that bleeding heart, won't eat heads, won't watch people get killed. Well, you picked a hell of a time to learn how to be selfish, didn't you?"
She had tried to cut in several times, but at this, she snapped enough that her voice finally overpowered his.
"Screw you, Killian!" she screamed, her face going red with the effort. "How dare you – you, of all people – lecture me on selfishness? You don't give a fuck what I do unless it gets in the way of your precious revenge! And you won't even listen...!" Choked up, she fumbled in her handbag, and he knew the gesture, had seen it so many times before – she was searching for her phone, to write a reply. Before she'd found it, though, she stopped searching and simply turned on her heel, running out of the room.
"Wow," Emma said after a moment's pause. "That was... what happened?"
"Isn't it obvious?" he asked. "She sold me out to Rumpelstiltskin for a new voice."
"It seemed like she was trying to say that wasn't the reason."
"I don't really care about her reasons." With slow steps, Hook returned to the bunk and flopped down onto it again. "You know, it's funny. I was so prepared to be stabbed in the back. I didn't trust any of my men, even after three hundred years of loyalty. Not to mention you. Oh, the loops I had to go through with you. But her..." He threw an arm over his face. "She completely blindsided me."
"Yeah," Emma said, her voice tinged with knowing sympathy. "I'm sorry. That's a godawful feeling."
Even in his dulled mood, the cold, calculating part of him registered this evidence of past hurts, but he just didn't care.
Emma left him well enough alone for most of the day, until late in the afternoon when she was called away for an hour. Once she returned, she headed straight for his cell.
"Hook," she said. "Hook, sit up, I want to talk to you."
He sat up, taking in her serious, pale expression.
"Adam Janssen, electrician, was just found murdered near the town border. Hanged from a tree, right beside his car, and with the word 'snitch' carved into his forehead. Do you happen to have any explanation for this?"
Adam Janssen was Skylights' Storybrooke name. Hook frowned. "What's a snitch?"
"It's a person who tells secrets."
"Well, that's your explanation, then."
"Did you order a hit on this guy?" she asked, and when she saw that this was another unfamiliar expression, she snapped, "Did you tell your men to kill him?"
In some ways, she did think like a pirate, though the reasoning was still not quite right. Hook sighed and shook his head. "I wouldn't have to," he told her. "Treason is punishable by death, it's in the code, every one of them knows it. His life was forfeit the minute he started passing information to Rumpelstiltskin."
A thought struck him, and he leaped up and grabbed for her through the bars, panicked. "Give me your phone."
"I don't know what you think you're playing at here."
"Who's playing? Give me the damned thing, or do you want another murder on your hands?"
Clearly stricken by his urgency, she handed the phone over, and he dialled Starkey's number, fumbling so badly that it took him three tries. When the posh, drawling voice picked up, he started speaking immediately: "This is the captain. Tell the men that Ariel is sacrosanct. Got it?"
"What happened with Ariel?" Starkey asked, and Hook realised that the full story wasn't out yet. Maybe, then, it wasn't too late.
"Never mind what happened. Tell them that they're not to touch Ariel in any way. She's to be left alone. Tell all of them, and do it now."
"Aye, aye, Captain."
"Thank you," he breathed, ending the call, and leaned heavily against the bars. "Thank you," he said again as he gave Emma the phone.
She took it and gave him an odd look. "Do you know who killed that guy?"
"What guy? Oh, Skylights. No, of course not. It could have been any one of them, they all know what he did."
"And any one of them would have killed Ariel, but you stopped them."
"Is there a point to this?" he asked tiredly.
She stuck her hand in her pocket, hesitated, and then took out the keys and unlocked the cell. "Go."
When a jaildoor opened, only a fool didn't leave. Hook stepped out of the cell, but then halted and gave her a piercing look. "Why?"
"Strictly speaking I don't have proof you tried to kill Rumpelstiltskin, only that you tried to un-magic him, which isn't illegal and may even be a pretty good idea. And I know you didn't kill the other guy, because you were locked in here."
He shook his head. "That's not the reason."
Avoiding his gaze, she said, "I know what it feels like to be sold down the river by someone you thought you could trust. To be feeling like that, and still want to save her life, I figure, there's got to be something good in you. Something that's worth encouraging."
"Thank you," he said.
"Don't prove me wrong, though," she warned him. "I'm tired of seeing you in here."
"Does getting drunk count as proving you wrong?"
She smiled a little at all. "Not at all. Go get drunk, just don't end up in any fights."
"Your wish is my command, Sheriff," he told her, and left.
Between the liquor shop, restaurants, and stay-in dates, Hook had never really had to think much about which bars were available in Storybrooke. Teynte's place, because of the clientele, was obviously out of the question, and so with her help he ended up instead in a place called The Rabbit Hole. In accordance with its name, it was located underground, but was a great deal bigger and cleaner than an actual rabbit hole, though Hook didn't care much for the table cloths. Whether the owner had ever been a rabbit or not was hard to tell, but he did scare as easily as one, only suggesting once that Hook should take his liquor diluted with soda water before he relented and brought a bottle of the strong spirits known as vodka.
Hook was slowly but surely working his way through that bottle when Ariel slid into the seat next to him and told the bartender, "A Cuba Libre, please. I'd buy you a drink," she told Hook, "but you seem to be covered."
"You think buying me a drink would make everything fine?" he asked, taking another good long swig from the one in front of him.
"Not really, no." She took a chilli coated peanut from the bowl on the counter and nibbled nervously on it before going on. "I didn't do it for my voice. I know you're mad, and you have every right to be, and I wasn't going to bother you ever again, but I talked to Andie and I realized that I can't let you think I did it for my voice, because I didn't. I wouldn't."
"Yeah? He fixed your legs, too?"
"No." She bit her lips and tried to continue. "That's not... no."
"So you got nothing out of it except what he needed from you in the first place?" Hook's smile was as wide as it was false. "That's beautiful. A perfectly rubbish deal, but then, so was your first one, wasn't it?"
"I got your life," she said, cutting through his tirade. "He was going to kill you."
"He was going to try."
"No, Hook, he would have killed you." Her blue gaze held his, and there was only a hint of tears along the lower lashes. "He knew about the egg. I didn't tell him, I swear! He already knew."
Her fervour told him that she didn't think he'd believe her, which he actually did – Rumpelstiltskin would have heard about the egg from Skylights. He didn't see any reason to tell her that, however. Why should he reassure her about anything?
"He promised he would never kill you," she said. "Not just for tonight. Ever. And whatever you may say about him, Gold always keeps his promises."
That was a considerably better deal, to the extent that he was surprised that she had managed to get an agreement from Rumpelstiltskin, but then, with the powers of the Dark One there were plenty of other ways he might take out Hook, if he ever decided to use that phoenix egg. The enchantments Hook had semi-flippantly mentioned to Emma were one way, as were those threats of further dismemberments.
A shudder ran through Hook at the memory, and the rage that had started to dissipate came back in full force.
"And did you think my life was so dear to me? That I would want to keep it and lose everything in it, to be at his mercy, whichever form he chose to give me? That I should leave my Milah unavenged, as if she was a mere trinket for him to throw away at will? Is that what you think I wanted?"
"No," she whispered.
The bartender put down a brown drink with a slice of fruit before Ariel, but quickly hurried away to the other end of the counter when he saw Hook's glare.
"Damned right it's not. Should I show you gratitude? Forgive you everything, because you may have stabbed me in the back, you may have stood there singing and let him threaten to take me apart, but I have my life. Do you take me for such a coward, to value my life above all else, regardless of what form he gives me? My life, which is already longer than yours will ever be, that you found worth saving, but not the revenge I've lived for? Did you think I would thank you for that, mermaid?"
"No." She was crying now, ugly crying with blotches on her face.
Something about her expression was familiar, so familiar that it scraped at his memory and wouldn't let go, despite his anger and hurt. Like a blow to the chest, the truth struck him, and he saw exactly what angle Rumpelstiltskin had played, to win her cooperation.
For the first time, he felt a pang of sympathy for Prince Eric.
"No," he said, more quietly. "Of course not. You did what you always did, you turned the whole thing into your private martyrdom, except with me as the prince this time. Well, that's a terrible role, darling, and I'm not a good fit for it. Oh, I can see it now. He had you all convinced you had to give me up to save me, didn't he? Played you like that fancy fiddle of yours. Damn it, Ariel, can't you see a bed of nails without getting the urge to throw yourself upon it? Have you ever even stopped to ask if there's another way? Why can't you love like a normal person?"
This made her laugh bitterly through the tears, and she gestured towards the people in the bar. "What's normal around here?"
"For starters, you might have told me he had come to you. Did that occur to you? To just say, 'game's up, we need a different plan?' Do you realise that if my men had found out sooner what you did, they might have killed you before I had a chance to stop them?"
"I don't care," she said, the corners of her mouth drawing downwards like on a pouting child.
"You should care."
"Well, in that case, so should you!" She pushed her hair aside – it looked terrible, like she'd kept the night-braid all day without remaking it, which was probably the case. "I value your life, even if you don't! And maybe that is selfish of me, because I don't give a damn how ready you are to throw it away, I don't want to lose you. I know you don't love me, but..."
"Who says I don't love you?" he demanded.
She stopped short, staring at him. "You did. That was always the deal."
"Yes, well, I'm a liar," he said and reached out to take the back of her head in his hand, patting down her hair with fierce caresses. "I love you, and you love me, you little fool. We have to come up with a better way to handle that, because self-sacrifice is not a safe habit to keep around pirates. You need to – and I may be the worst person in the world to tell you this – you need to aim for a happy ending."
Very slowly, a smile broke through on her face, and despite the puffy eyes and bad hair, at that moment she was more beautiful than he had ever seen her. "I'd like that."
"What about your revenge?"
"I'll think of something." That might mean having to find that dagger, but if Rumpelstiltskin was anything to judge by, even Dark Ones could love, and in any case, the decision could hold for a while. Milah would just have to forgive him the delay.
"But... aren't you angry at me?" Ariel asked, bewildered.
"I am so angry," he told her. "I am so angry you wouldn't believe, but I love you." He kissed her on the forehead. "And Teynte told me there's a thing in this world called make-up sex."
She laughed, and cried, and kissed him hard on the lips.
"Oh, so you know it," he murmured, leaning his head against hers. "Have you had it before?"
"No, but let's have it now. Uh, not here."
"It doesn't strike me as that kind of establishment," he agreed. "How about the pool?"
"I should hope so."
Her eyes lit up in understanding. "Right," she said, getting ready to go.
"Finish your drink," he reminded her.
She lifted her glass, but stopped before drinking and raised it instead in a toast. "To make-up sex."
"To make-up sex," he said, lifting his bottle of vodka, "and a happy ending. One way or another."