The Charmings walked to the park since it was only three blocks from their loft. David and Snow headed in different directions once they got to the park to help set up their respective booths. Emma and Henry stood by the small fountain in the center of the park and waited for Neal, Belle, and Rumple to show up while looking around at everyone rushing around getting their booths ready.
Emma saw them first, and waved at Neal while he was scanning the area. He waved back with a smile, and went to her. Neal gave Emma a kiss, and then playfully ruffled Henry's hair in greeting.
"Morning, Emma," Belle said with a smile.
"Hi, Belle. Paul." Emma said.
With a grin, Henry said to Rumple, "What do you want to see first?"
Rumple sighed. "Whatever you want to see is fine with me."
"Aren't you excited to see any of it?" Henry asked.
Unable to fully explain how mind numbingly dull this festival would be to him, Rumple simply shrugged. He'd been around for hundreds of years. He'd seen other worlds full of magic. There was nothing new or exciting about seeing Geppeto's 'new' puppets, the nun's 'new' candles, or Granny's 'new' baked goods. In fact he could have seen all of those things at a festival when he'd actually been a boy.
Scowling at the lack of enthusiasm, Henry looked around at the booths to figure out what he wanted to see. He noticed his friend Grace, and her father Jefferson walking towards the festiva, and decided Grace would be much more enthusiastic about the whole thing. He turned to his mom, pointed at Grace, and said, "Can I go say hi to Grace for a few minutes?"
Emma saw Grace and Jefferson, and had to really think that one over. Jefferson was not to be trusted, but she didn't want to deny Henry time with Grace, because the little girl was very sweet, and she was one of Henry's only true friends. "Alright, but you need to stay where I can see you, okay?"
He rushed off as he said, "Thanks, Mom."
Neal looked down at Rumple, and noticed him glaring at Jefferson. Rolling his eyes he said, "Hey Paul."
Rumple turned his scowl to Neal.
"I'm sure Belle would like to see the school's booth. They're selling off a bunch of old library books."
Rumple's frown melted when he saw Belle's entire face light up.
"Really? That's fantastic." Belle said with excitement. "What do you think, Paul? Would you like to go see that booth?"
With a genuine smile he said, "Of course, Belle."
"The park isn't that big. You two stay together, and I'm sure we'll find you at some point before lunch." Neal said. "If not we can meet back here at noon."
"Is that alright with you Paul?" Belle asked.
"Sounds perfect," Rumple said, realizing he certainly could enjoy the festival by witnessing Belle's excitement and joy.
Emma and Neal looked at each other for a few seconds before Neal said, "Alone at last." She giggled as he leaned down to give her a deeper kiss than the one before.
The rest of the people and the sounds of the festival faded into nothing, and for a few seconds it was just the two of them lost in their own little world. When the two of them broke apart breathing hard, Neal said, "I love you."
"I love you," She said, meaning it with her entire soul. Then she cleared her throat, straightened her shirt, and tried to get her wits about her. "But if we make Henry wait much longer, he's gong to pout."
Neal grinned, and said, "You're right. Come on." He held out his hand to her and they both headed towards Jefferson.
Emma scanned the area a few times, and got an uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach. "Where's Henry?" she asked, gripping Neal's hand tighter.
# # #
Henry had been talking to Grace for a few seconds when he caught a glimpse of flowing purple in the corner of his eye. He turned to look between the booths, and saw Cora materialize next to a large oak tree.
Over the past month, Cora had rarely ventured out of Regina's house. She'd only been present twice when he'd gone to visit Regina, and for one of those two times, she'd only stayed for about five minutes. It seemed extremely odd for her to show up at a public event like this when ninety percent of the town held a grudge against her. When Cora started moving around the outside of the booths instead of heading into the festival, Henry knew he had to see what she was up to.
Grace was in the middle of telling him how she'd saved up to buy one of Gepetto's little puppets, when Henry cut her off and said, "Sorry, Grace, I hear my mom calling." He took a few steps back and added, "But maybe I'll see you later and you can show me which puppet you got."
"See you later." She gave him a big grin and a wave, before taking her father's hand and heading towards Gepetto's booth.
Henry ducked down in between the two booths, about to go track Cora, but then froze. He thought about what had happened the last time he'd wandered off and cringed. He looked back at his parents, and saw them kissing. They would clearly be busy for a few minutes, so he figured he could risk it. If he didn't follow Cora now, they might never know what she was up to, and he wouldn't be gone for very long, anyway. The festival was becoming crowded now that most of the booths had opened up, so if they said they couldn't see him, he could claim that he'd seen them the whole time.
Having made his decision, he rushed behind the booths to see where Cora had gone. He saw her in the distance, and ran to catch up.
# # #
Cora hid behind a tree and surreptitiously watched her daughter and Hook walking towards the festival. The two were holding hands, smiling, and talking as they headed her way. At the edge of the fairgrounds, one of Regina's staff members saw her and pulled her away to get ready for her speech. Hook gave her a kiss and watched her go with a grin.
He turned to go the other direction, towards the growing crowd waiting to hear the speech, and came face to face with Cora. After getting over his surprise, he smiled and said, "I'm glad you changed your mind about coming. I'm sure Regina will be pleased to see you." He gave her a tiny bow and held out his arm for her. "Would you like to watch your daughter's speech with me?"
"Not this time," she said, and waved a hand in front of his face. Some purple smoke circled in the air around his head.
Henry was hiding behind a tree in the distance, and put a hand over his mouth to keep from gasping and drawing attention to himself. He kept watching, waiting to see what she'd done to Hook.
When the smoke dissipated, Hook blinked a few times, shook his head, and put a hand to his temple. He glared at the woman and said, "What did you do to me, witch?"
"I've restored your memories."
Hook's face contorted in confusion while the thoughts and memories of the past month slid into place alongside the memories of his entire life. He glared at Cora and said, "Why?"
"Why what Killian? Why did I give you your memories back, or why did I take them away in the first place?"
"Yes!" he hissed, while taking a menacing step towards her.
"Mostly for Regina."
That gave him pause, and he looked in the direction Regina had gone.
"She likes you," Cora said. "Maybe loves you, but you needed time to focus on her instead of your vengeance, and you never would have done that if I'd let you keep your memories. This way you had time to see if you were a good match. And you do seem to be."
He ran a hand through his hair, not sure how to respond. He had certainly enjoyed his time with Regina. In fact, he was hard pressed to remember a better month in his life prior to Milah's death.
"But also," Cora said after a moment, "I wanted to enlist your help to bring down the Dark One."
Scowling, Hook said, "I was trying to kill him when you did this to me!"
She waved a hand at him in a shooing gesture. "You were on your way to getting stuck in prison for the rest of your life. The Charmings and Neal would never have let you kill the Dark One while he was in the body of a child, and you were so full of hate, you couldn't consider anything other than a direct attack. No finesse whatsoever. But if you could talk Regina into helping, I know the three of us can come up with a solid plan."
"To what end," he asked suspiciously. "So that you can become the Dark One?"
"Better me than him," she said defensively. "I won't abuse my power the way he has."
Henry was about to run back to his parents to warn them what had happened, when Hook surprised him.
"No," Hook said with finality.
"No?" Cora asked. She wasn't clear on exactly what Hook was saying no to.
He looked back the way Regina had gone before turning to face Cora. "No. It's hard to believe, but I think… no I am in love for the first time in over a hundred years, thanks to you, and I'm not about to ruin that. What we've got here in this town right now, this peaceful coexistence is perfect just the way it is. Regina loves Henry, and I've become quite fond of him myself. I've gotten to know Baelfire as an adult, and the crocodile is quite harmless as a child. I'll discuss it all with Regina, but I won't lie to her or go behind her back."
Henry's eyebrows went up in shock. He wouldn't have guessed that Hook would side against Cora with his memories back, but the man had sounded sincere. Henry didn't wait to hear what Cora had to say. He turned and rushed back to the festival to warn his family.
# # #
Henry darted back between the booths into the main part of the festival, and looked for his folks. They weren't where he'd left them. A tinge of worry hit him as he scanned the area. He saw them walking away from him towards the area where the speech was about to start. Henry called out, "Mom!" and rushed up behind them.
Emma and Neal spun around at the same time. Their dual worried expressions gave Henry pause, but he didn't have time to worry about what it meant, because Emma knelt down and pulled him into a fierce hug.
"Where have you been?" She held him at arm's length to check him over. "We've been looking everywhere for you."
Henry's stomach sank, and hoped his news would distract them. "I saw Cora walking behind the booths, and I wanted to see what she was up to, so I followed her."
Emma and Neal exchanged an alarmed glance.
Henry started to speak again, "She went over to…"
"Wait a minute." Neal said, holding a hand up in a stopping gesture. "Let me get this straight. Your mother told you to stay in sight, but instead you purposely followed the most dangerous person in Storybrook without telling anyone where you were going?"
Swallowing hard while his stomach churned, Henry decided getting to the point quickly would be an excellent idea. "Uh… Cora gave Hook his memories back."
Neal's face registered shock for half a second, before he whispered, "Papa." He started to frantically search the immediate area, and said, "We need to find Rumple and Belle."
Emma immediately stood and scanned the area as well, while keeping one hand on Henry. "Over there," she said, pointing towards a booth in the distance.
Neal ran, while Emma and Henry followed behind.
Rumple was enjoying Belle's enthusiasm for the books she was looking at with Snow at the school's booth, when he saw Neal rushing towards him. He barley had time to register alarm before Neal was picking him up in a hug. After half a second of hesitation, he hugged Neal back and said, "What's wrong?"
Neal looked at Belle, and knew he needed to get her out of the way so they could talk without freaking her out. He said, "Could you do me a favor, and go tell David to come see us for a minute? He's at the sheriff's booth at the other end of the festival."
"Of course," she said with a worried expression, and headed in that direction.
"What happened?" Snow asked.
"Tell us what happened," Neal said to Henry while putting Rumple down.
"I saw Cora behind the booths, and she hasn't been out of Mom's house for a long time, so I wanted to see what she was doing. I followed her, and she went to talk to Hook. While I watched she did some kind of reversal spell and gave him all of his original memories back."
Rumple's eyes started darting around the area, and he unconsciously took a step closer to Neal.
Henry continued. "She tried to talk him into siding with her and Regina to kill the Dark One, and take his power for herself. But Hook refused."
"He refused?" Neal asked, not quite believing that.
With a nod, Henry said, "He said he loved Regina, and he said he liked me and Neal, so he wouldn't help her."
"He's a manipulative, lying pirate," Rumple said. "We can't trust him. Maybe he knew you were there."
They all heard Regina's voice booming over the park through a microphone. "Welcome residents of Storybrook to the third annual Art and Music Festival in the Park."
While Regina was talking David jogged up to them with worry on his face. "What's wrong?"
Neal saw Belle a few feet away walking towards them, and said, "Snow will fill you in. We need to go see the crowd at Regina's speech. Whether Hook is lying or not, he's probably watching Regina. Let's head that way, and see if we can spot him before he spots us."
Belle caught up to them and put an arm around Rumple to protect him, even though she wasn't sure why everyone looked so worried.
The group headed towards the speech with Snow and David in the back so that Snow could whisper the situation quickly in his hear.
Neal scanned the crowd. Hook wasn't hard to spot up near the front, apparently enraptured by Regina's dull speech. Cora was nowhere to be seen. He turned to Emma and said, "You all stay here and let me go talk to him alone first." He turned to David and said, "If he attacks, get them all to safety."
"Bae…" Rumple said with worry, not liking that idea at all.
David shook his head. "I'll come with you. Help you fight him off if he does attack."
"Why would Killian attack you?" Belle asked. "He's always been nice to us."
"He found out some information that might make him angry." Neal said, trying to keep it vague and simple. He turned to David and said, "I don't want him to feel threatened or backed into a corner if we both confront him. And the two of us have unresolved history anyway. I'd like to talk to him alone."
After a short pause to think it over, David looked at Snow, who nodded. With a sigh, he said, "Okay."
"Be careful," Rumple said.
Neal nodded, gave Emma a quick kiss, and went to go talk to Hook. He made sure to walk up front and approach Hook from the side so that he didn't startle the pirate. To his utter amazement, when Hook saw him coming, the older man grinned, walked into his personal space, and pulled him into a hug.
"Baelfire, it's been a long time." Hook said quietly.
Confused, Neal slowly put his arms around Hook and patted his back once, indicating the hug should end.
Everyone noticed when Regina's speech faltered, and people turned to look at what was distracting her.
Hook let Neal out of his embrace, but put an arm around his shoulders. He noticed the quiet first, and then realized everyone was staring at them. He looked up a Regina and gave her a wink and a smile. "Finish your speech love, we need to talk."
Regina shook herself out of her stupor, and gave the crowd her professional smile, made a light joke, and continued her speech.
Neal raised one quizzical eyebrow and said, "Hook?"
"Yes, it's me. Cora gave me my memories back just before the speech. I remember my past, and I remember what has happened this last month." He squeezed Neal's shoulder and added with sincerity, "Milah would be so proud of the man you turned into. Hell, even I'm proud, and I had very little to do with it."
A warm blush spread across Neal's face, and he didn't quite know how to respond. He shrugged and said, "You probably had more to do with it than you think. I was only on your ship for a week or two before you sold me out, but… you don't know how many nights I spent wishing I could go back to the ship."
"Aye, lad, probably as many as I spent hating myself for selling you out, and begging Milah's forgiveness in my prayers."
Neal felt himself tearing up, and took a deep breath to contain it.
Regina wrapped up her speech, and the crowd cheered. Hook took his arm off of Neal to clap enthusiastically against his prosthetic hand.
Realizing he was out of time, Neal cleared his throat and said, "Killian, my father is…"
Hook turned to Neal and said with a subdued smile, "The Dark One has nothing to fear from me when he's in the body of a child, you have my word." He looked up at Regina on stage. "I've more important things to think about." He turned back to Neal, held a finger up and added, "However, if he gets his adult body back, I make no such promise. I can say that I won't start anything, but if he does start something, I'll finish it."
Neal nodded, thinking that was more than fair. "Thank you."
Regina started walking off the stage, and Hook said, "Sometime soon, maybe tomorrow, I'd like to get a beer with you and catch up, but for now," Regina walked up to them with a fake smile plastered on to cover her worry. "Regina and I need to talk."
"Of course," Neal said, "I'll see you both later." He headed back to his family with a relieved smile.
"What's going on?" Regina asked Hook.
Hook glanced around at all the people and said, "Do you have anymore obligations right now, or can we go home for a little while to talk."
Looking distinctly worried, she said, "We can head home."
He took her hand in his, and some of her nerves settled as they walked toward her house.
Once they were a block away from the festival, Hook said, "Cora confronted me right before your speech."
She gripped his hand harder. "What did she say?"
"She gave me my memories back," he said gently.
Regina gasped, and stopped walking. "You… you remember…"
"Everything." He let go of her hand, and cupped her face with his hand. "I remember everything. Who I was, who I've been this past month, and who I am now."
She searched his eyes, looking for anger, but didn't see any. "What now?" she asked.
"Now I can tell you that I'm hopelessly in love with you. Not just my alter ego, but every part of me is in love with you." He leaned down to kiss her, and wrapped his arm around her waist to pull her close.
She kissed back enthusiastically. He pulled back and said, "Now the question is how do you feel about me being… me, and how will this change our relationship?"
She pulled him down for another kiss, and then said, "I'm glad you're back to the real you, and I like our relationship just the way it is."
"Me too." He raised an eyebrow and said, "Shall we consummate this new facet to our union back at the house?"
"Absolutely," she said with a grin.
While Regina and Hook were having their discussion a block away, Neal was busy reassuring his family that Hook wasn't going to be a threat. He wanted to get into specifics, but left it at that since Belle was with them.
David took the hint and said, "As long as there's no immediate threat, I should head back to my booth."
Understanding immediately, Snow smiled at Belle, and said, "I need to get back to my booth, too. Would you like to come with me, it didn't look like you were done when we got pulled away."
Belle looked at Neal who gave her a nod. "Go ahead. I'll bring Paul over there in just a minute."
"Alright," Belle said with a smile.
Snow and Belle walked away, but David stayed next to Emma and Henry to hear what else Neal had to say. Once Belle was out of hearing range, Neal said, "Hook has all of his memories back. He knows exactly who he is, and he's still in love with Regina, so he's not going to cause any problems." Neal made eye contact with Rumple and said, "He swore to me that he wouldn't harm you while you were in the body of a child. He said once you become an adult again, he won't start anything, but if you start something, he will fight back."
"Pirates are notorious liars Bae," Rumple said, "and Hook is the worst of the worst. You can't seriously be taking his word on that."
"I don't see that we have much of a choice." Rumple opened his mouth to protest, but Neal held a hand up to stop him. "I'm not saying that we trust him, and we will take precautions. We'll keep a close eye on him, and on you, to keep you safe, but we can't just lock him up because he might hurt someone."
Neal looked to both Emma and David and said, "Unless you guys think I'm wrong."
David shook his head. "No, I think you're right. Until he does something, we should leave things as they are."
"He tried to kill me! He shot Belle!" Rumple said, "Doesn't anyone here remember that?"
"Love changes a person," David said simply.
Rumple scowled. "That's a platitude, not something any rational person should take into account while making logical decisions about a problem."
"Papa," Neal chided. "That was uncalled for. Apologize."
Rumple crossed his arms and glared at Neal.
Neal glared back and said with authority, "Apologize or we can find someplace private to have a discussion."
Rumple blanched and shook his head no.
Neal continued, "Love does change people. It changed you. So apologize."
Glaring daggers at the ground, Rumple muttered, "Sorry."
Neal nodded and then turned to Henry, "Speaking of private discussions, you and I need to go have one since you ran off on your own again to follow Cora of all people."
Henry gulped and stepped closer to Emma while shaking his head. Emma put her arm around Henry's shoulders and said, "Neal, you know how I feel about that."
He took her free hand in his and said, "Emma I love you. I love Henry, too, and I want to be a real father to him. He needs boundaries, or he's going to end up getting himself killed, and you know that your parents agree with me."
"We do," David assured them.
Neal continued, "It's not going to be abusive, it's going to be a few smacks on his backside. If you don't believe me ask my father if he thinks I'm abusive when I deal with him."
Wincing Rumple muttered, "Could this day get any more humiliating?"
"Please say no, Mom," Henry said, hugging her middle.
Neal kept his eyes on Emma and said, "I guess the real question is; do you trust me to be Henry's father, or not?"
Emma bit her lip and looked to David. He nodded at her. She looked down at Rumple. He glared and said with exasperation, "My son is many things, abusive isn't one of them."
She looked down at Henry, who shook his head no.
"Cora could have hurt him today," Neal said.
Emma closed her eyes and finally nodded. "Okay."
"Nooo," Henry whined loudly.
"Sorry kid," Emma shook her head, "but I've talked to you about running off on your own so many times that I've lost track, and it hasn't done any good."
Neal said to Emma, "Thank you for trusting me. Can I use the loft for a few minutes?"
Emma looked at David, who said, "Go ahead. It's unlocked."
"Thanks." Neal turned back to Emma and said, "Can you make sure Rumple gets back to Belle? I don't want him alone until we've gotten to know this new Hook better, and know how Cora is going to react to his rejection."
Neal hooked a finger towards Henry and said, "Come here."
Henry shook his head and backed up a step.
"This is happening, so unless you want me to carry you across the festival, I suggest you do what I say."
With an exaggerated pout, Henry slowly slunk over to Neal's side.
Neal put a hand on the kid's shoulder to guide him, and started walking towards the Charming's loft while David went back to his booth, and Emma took Rumple back to Belle.
During the walk to the loft, Henry tried pleading his case, but Neal wasn't swayed. Once they were inside the loft with the door shut, Henry couldn't keep the tears at bay any longer.
"It's not fair," he whined while tears rolled down his face, "I was trying to help."
Neal walked to the kitchen table, turned one of the chairs around to face the living room, and sat down. "It is fair," he said. "You knew what the consequences were for running off on your own, and you did it anyway. Hopefully I'm going to convince you that it wasn't worth it." He gestured Henry over with a wave of his hand.
Still crying softly, the boy walked towards his father, but stayed out of reach.
Neal stood, took his son's arm, and pulled him to the chair and over his lap. Once he had the kid secured with an arm around his waist, he said sternly, "You don't disobey your mom. She told you to stay in her eyesight, and you purposely left the area where she could see you." He raised his arm, and gave the boy eight firm slaps.
Henry yelped loudly with each smack, kicked his legs, and broke down into loud sobs once they stopped.
Wincing at his son's crying, Neal paused for a second. He wasn't smacking all that hard, so he knew the tears were more about Henry's emotions than actual pain, but he still hated hearing them. He reminded himself that Henry could be missing or worse right now if Cora had found him following her, and reluctantly said sternly, "When you see a potentially dangerous situation you come and tell an adult about it, you don't go investigate the danger on your own." He brought his hand down on the kid's rear end eight more times before he stopped.
"Okay, it's over," Neal said while pulling the boy up to sit in his lap. He wrapped his arms around Henry, and kissed the top of his head. Henry immediately burrowed into his father's chest, and cried himself out. A couple of minutes later, when Henry was down to sniffles, Neal said, "Ready to go back?"
Henry shook his head against Neal's chest.
"Okay, we can stay here a few more minutes, but not too long. Your mom is going to be worried about you until we get back."
"I don't even want to go to the festival anymore," Henry said.
Neal could practically hear the sullen pout that accompanied those words. He rubbed Henry's back and said, "I'm sorry, but it's a family activity, and you don't get to skip it just because you're not in the mood anymore, especially since you brought that on yourself. Your only option now is to decide what kind of attitude you're going to go back with. You could be grouchy and unhappy for the rest of the day because you got spanked, or you could try to accept it, put it behind you, and enjoy the rest of the festival."
Henry didn't respond, and Neal could tell he was still pouting. He hugged Henry close one more time, and then pushed him to stand beside him. He put his hands on Henry's shoulders to keep him in place, and looked him in the eye. "Your choice kiddo. Personally, even when it hurt, I always preferred a spanking to being restricted to the house for days. If I hadn't just spanked you, how long do you think your mom would have grounded you?"
Henry wiped at his face with his hands, glared at the floor, sniffed loudly, and shrugged.
"Take a guess."
"All weekend," he said softly.
"Right. So instead of dwelling on the pain that'll be gone in an hour or two, think about all the fun things you're going to get to do this weekend since your punishment is over and done with."
Henry shrugged again, but Neal could tell that his son was thinking that over. Neal patted his shoulder before letting his hands drop and said, "Okay, go blow your nose and then we're heading back."
While Henry went to clean up, Neal stood and put the chair back, hoping that his son would cheer up sooner rather than later, so they could all enjoy a little bit of the festival together.
# # #
Emma finished painting a cat on the arm a five-year-old girl visiting the sheriff's booth, gave the girl a sticker, and then sighed as the girl went back to her parents. She craned her neck around to look behind the sheriff's booth towards the sidewalk that led to the loft and frowned with worry. A hand on her knee startled her out of her thoughts.
With a sympathetic smile David said, "He's gonna be fine."
She had her doubts, but gave him a small nod, and focused on the three-year-old boy who was walking up to the booth. By the time she'd finished painting a 'doggie' on the little boy's cheek, she could see Neal and Henry in the distance walking towards the festival. She handed David the paintbrush and said, "I'll be back at noon to relieve you."
He pulled her into a quick hug, and gave her a kiss on the forehead. "Want some fatherly advice?"
"Sure," she said with a smile as he let her go.
"Don't undo what Neal just did by coddling Henry the rest of the day. Henry deliberately chose to disobey you. He needs to stop doing that before he gets himself seriously hurt."
"I know you're right," she said, "but it'll be tough not to."
"And remember, no matter how bad or guilty you feel for letting it happen, Neal feels twice as bad for carrying it out."
She hadn't thought about it from that angle before, but she instantly knew it was true. She nodded solemnly. "Thanks, David."
With mock offence he said, "What? I don't even get a 'Dad' when I give you fatherly advice?"
She chuckled. "Thank you, Dad."
"Better." He gestured towards the approaching pair and said, "Go on. I'll see you at noon."
She walked down the street to meet them. She pulled Henry into a one-armed hug, and then looked closely at Neal's face. She could tell he was on edge, ready to defend his actions even though he felt bad about what he'd done. To his shock, she leaned in and gave him a quick kiss while she kept an arm around Henry's shoulders.
"What was that for?" He asked slowly with a furrowed brow.
She shrugged. "You looked like you needed it." She looked down at Henry who was quietly pouting. "Hey kid?"
"You know I love you right?"
"Yeah, I know."
"Good. If you run off on your own again and put yourself in danger, you're going to be grounded for a week, whether your dad spanks you or not, because you've done this too many times."
Henry winced at her pronouncement, and glared at the ground while Neal's eyes went wide with surprise.
After a little pause she prompted the kid. "You got that?"
Keeping his eyes down Henry nodded.
She kissed the top of his head and said, "Alright then, let's go see the festival."
An hour later Emma was watching Henry animatedly talking to Grace while sharing his cotton candy, and marveling at how quickly kids bounced back to normal.
# # #
Hook and Regina walked back to the festival, grinning at each other like teenagers in love. A block away from the festival, one of the townspeople saw them coming, and quickly picked up her child and rushed off in the opposite direction. Regina's smile faltered, as she wondered exactly how long it would take for the citizens to forgive her for her past misdeeds. She hadn't done anything evil in over a month, and some days that had been truly difficult.
Hook immediately noticed her change in mood, and knew what she was thinking. Just before they stepped into the park from the sidewalk Hook stopped, pulled her in close, and whispered in her ear, "I love you, Regina, all of you. I love the good and pure parts of you, the evil nasty parts of you, and everything in between. We're two of a kind, you and I. We've done our share of evil, and we've done our share of good. I love you both ways, my queen. You never have to be ashamed of your past though my eyes."
He leaned back to see her face, and knew he'd said the right thing.
She put a hand on the side of his face and said with sincerity, "I love all of you, too."
He gave her a quick kiss, and said, "Let's go make nice with the locals, and prove that I'm not a threat."
"Are you a threat?" She asked, searching for the answer in his eyes.
"Only if you want me to be," he said with a wink. She grinned, and they walked into the festival hand in hand, ready to face any opposition together.
They spotted Neal, Emma, Belle, Rumple, and Henry halfway through the festival.
Henry saw them first, and was about to rush over to Regina to say hello, but then thought twice about it when he remembered Hook had his memories back. He remembered the hatred he'd seen in the man's eyes when he was trying to attack Rumple, and stepped back towards Emma.
Neal noticed them next. He put a protective and restraining arm around Rumple's shoulders, and then waved the pair over. He wanted to get this confrontation out of the way quickly. He leaned down and whispered in Rumple's ear, "We're going to talk to Hook. Try to be civil so we can all live in peace. If he attacks, you run to the blue fairy for help."
Rumple scowled up at his son who wasn't paying attention, and then gave the pirate a death glare.
Emma said tentatively, "It looks like the two of you worked everything out?"
With a genuine smile Regina said, "We did."
"I'm happy for you both," Emma said.
"Me, too," Neal added.
Completely ignoring the look Rumple was sending his way, Hook focused on Henry and said, "I'm sure your father has told you that I have my memories back now, yes?"
"I want you to know that I remember everything we've done together over the past month, and I find that I genuinely enjoy your company. Maybe the next time you visit your mom, the three of us can take the Jolly Roger out for a spin around the harbor."
"Really?" Henry asked. "That would be awesome."
Instantly worried that they'd sail off into the sunset with her kid, Emma put a hand on Henry's shoulder and said, "We'll see."
Hook gave Emma an overly polite smile and added, "You'd of course be welcome to join us, Swan, along with Baelfire." He glared at Rumple and said, "But the little crocodile will have to stay home."
Rumple hissed, "As if I'd set foot on the ship where you and my wife used to…"
"Paul!" Neal said sharply, trying to alert him to the fact that Belle was staring at them all with confusion and maybe a little fear.
"Crocodile?" Belle asked, but no one was listening.
Hook scowled down at the man in a child's body and said, "As if I'd let you set foot on the ship where you murdered her."
"Okay, that's enough!" Neal said, glaring first at Hook, and then down at Rumple. "That was a long time ago, and we're all moving forward, not dwelling in the past. Both of you have found love with other people. She was my mother, and thanks to the both of you I grew up without her. If I can forgive you both, you should be able to live in the same town without slitting each other's throats. I think you both owe me that."
Both Hook and Rumple had the decency to stop glaring at each other and focus on Neal.
"I don't understand what's going on," Belle said. "But someone needs to explain it to me, right now."
Regina flicked a hand towards Belle, and the confused woman put a hand to her temple.
"I… I don't feel well," Belle said, right before fainting. As she started to fall, Regina reached out a hand to magically lower her to the grass gently.
"What did you do!" Rumple yelled as he shoved away from Neal's arm and rushed to Belle's side.
"Calm down, I'm trying to help," Regina said with exasperation. "You all seem hell bent on arguing about things she can't remember and doesn't believe, so I put her to sleep for a few minutes. When she wakes up, she'll think it was all a hallucination or a dream, and you guys won't have to make up some ridiculous explanation. You're welcome."
Rumple had Belle's head in his lap, and glared at Regina. He wanted to rant at her and demand that she never use magic on Belle again, but at the same time, he knew how difficult their argument would have been to explain, so he settled on just glaring.
Belle stirred and blinked her eyes. "What… what happened?" she asked as she sat up.
"You fainted," Rumple said while holding her hand.
"I fainted?" Belle asked.
"It must be the heat," Neal said, leaning down to help Belle stand. "Maybe you should take a little break and sit down." He gestured towards a bench by the fountain in the center of the park.
"Yes, I probably should sit down for a moment." She accepted his help, and soon had her situated in the bench, with Rumple hovering at her side.
"Are you alright now?" Rumple asked anxiously. "Did you hurt yourself in the fall? How is your head? Does it hurt? Do you want to go home?"
She smiled at him gently and brushed her fingers through his hair. "I'm perfectly fine Paul, don't worry, nothing hurts. Your father is right, I probably just got a little too hot from all this walking around. And I didn't eat much breakfast. Once I'm rested, maybe we can get some lunch. That should help."
"Yes, of course. We'll go look at the food booths as soon as you've rested."
While Rumple was busy with Belle, Neal walked back over to Emma, Henry, Hook, and Regina.
Hook immediately said, "I'm sorry, Bae. I should have done a better job of keeping my temper in check."
"It's okay. My father has that effect on a lot of people." Neal turned to Regina and said, "Thanks, by the way. I do appreciate your help with Belle."
Surprised, Regina said, "You're welcome."
Neal put his arm around Emma's waist and said, "What do you say, Emma? Should we all go sailing on the Jolly Roger sometime next week?" He looked over at Hook and said, "While Belle keeps Rumple at home of course."
Hook nodded at him.
"Can we, Mom?" Henry asked hopefully. "Please?"
With some reservations, Emma nodded. "I suppose we can do that."
Hook smiled at Henry's enthusiasm. "Maybe we should buy a couple of the wooden swords at the toy booth. I can show some moves while we're at sea."
"Sure, but Dad's already teaching me to sword fight," Henry said with pride.
Hook raised an eyebrow. "And who do you suppose taught him?"After a small pause, Henry said, "You?"
"Aye. But I only trained him for a few weeks. If I train you, you'll be able to best him in a fight within the month."
Neal laughed and said, "We'll see about that." He looked back at Rumple and Belle and said, "We should probably go make sure she doesn't remember anything suspicious."
"Go ahead," Regina said.
Emma turned to walk away with Neal, but instead of following them, Henry went to Regina and gave her a quick hug. "Thanks for helping, Mom."
Surprised by the sudden affection, it took her a moment to hug him back. She held him tight and said, "You're welcome."
He pulled away, gave Hook a wave, and ran back to Emma and Neal.
Hook saw the hurt in Regina's eyes and put his arm around her waist. "Give it time. They'll all come around, and then we'll get him fifty percent of the time." He leaned in to whisper in her ear. "In the meantime, how do you feel about working on our own little bundle of joy?"
Shocked she leaned back to look at his face. "Are you serious?"
"Aye. Wouldn't you like more children?"
"Well… yes, but… isn't that too fast?"
He shrugged. "It's not too fast for me. I know what I want, and I want a family with you. But I can wait until you're ready too."
"We aren't even married."
"We could remedy that," He said with sincerity. Then he smirked, "But we are evil, so maybe we should give the town a scandal to gossip about. It might take their minds off of some of our… more violent past deeds."
She just stared at him, not sure how to respond. But deep in her heart, she already knew she'd eventually say yes to him.
"Come my queen, let's see what they're selling for lunch at Granny's booth. I'm ravenous."
He led the way towards the food booths, while Regina's mind raced.
# # #
The festival was winding down, and most of the people were packing things up, and shutting down their booths. Neal was pleased to see that Henry had apparently fully recovered from their 'talk', because the kid was running around the mostly empty park playing tag with Grace while Rumple stood aside and looked on with disdain.
Emma walked up to Neal and said, "Sheriff's booth is all put away."
He put his arm around her waist, and looked towards the school's booth in the distance and said, "Looks like Bell and Snow are almost done too."
"Do you guys want to have dinner with us?" Emma asked. "Afterwards, you could drive Belle home while I practiced magic with Rumple."
Neal was about to say yes when Henry ran up to Rumple, slapped him on the arm and called out, "You're it!"
Rumple scowled, "I'm not playing your ridiculous little chase game, Henry."
"Don't be such a grandpa," Henry taunted as he slowly backed away.
"Come on, Paul, it's fun," Grace yelled from several feet away.
Rumple rolled his eyes and was about to say no when Henry said, "Afraid you can't catch us?"
Rumple glared and darted towards his grandson. Henry squealed in delight and ran away from him.
Neal and Emma looked at each other, and burst out laughing at the kids' antics. Once their laughter died down, Neal pulled her in for a kiss. When they pulled apart he said softly, "You should marry me."
Emma's eyes opened wide with shock, and a split second later, Neal's opened wide with shock too as he realized the implications of what he'd just said in the spur of the moment.
"Are you serious?" Emma asked carefully.
Neal recovered from his shock almost instantly, and gave her a grin before getting down on one knee in front of her.
"What are you doing?" Emma asked in a panic, even though she knew very well what he was doing. She blushed and looked around at the people left in the park, and realized some of them were already watching. "Oh God," she muttered, not sure if she wanted this to happen or not.
Neal cleared his throat, and took her left hand in both of his. "Emma Swan, I've loved you for over twelve years, even if we spent most of that time apart. I don't want to waste anymore time. I want us to be together for the rest of our lives. Will you marry me?"
A hush settled over the park as everyone waited for her answer.
"I… I…' Her eyes darted around the park, looking for an escape or an answer to the question. She found Snow's eyes in the crowd, and her mother gave her an encouraging smile. David was next to his wife, and gave his daughter a slight nod to let her know he approved. She sought out one more pair of eyes before making her decision. When she saw that Henry was grinning at them, she had her answer.
She looked back at Neal, who was starting to look distinctly worried, and said, "Yes. Yes I will."
A loud chorus of cheers went up around the park, as Neal stood, pulled Emma in close, and gave her a lingering kiss in front of everyone.
# # #
Over the next three hours Rumple's mood steadily deteriorated. The one-month anniversary of the magical mistake that had made him a child again had been just as torturous as he'd thought it would be. The festival had been excessively dull and routine, the simpletons he'd forced himself to be polite to made him seethe with hatred, but the thing that really stuck needles in his heart were the happy couples. Hook and Regina made him livid to the point where the only thing that kept him from lashing out was picturing himself as an adult ripping Regina's heart out while forcing Hook watch. Then watching his son propose to Emma only highlighted his own lack of romance.
He tried to be happy for his son. He understood that being happy was the emotion he was supposed to feel, but instead all he felt was crushing jealousy and depression. Literally everyone he knew had now gotten their happy ending, and he was still miserable; stuck as a child with no magic, no romantic love, no autonomy, and no future to look forward to.
Neal and Belle, the only two people who might have improved his bad mood, were too caught up in the excitement of the proposal to notice, and he tried to fake some cheer for their sake.
He'd suffered through a dinner with the Charmings where the talk had centered on the engagement and future wedding plans. Then after dinner Neal had taken him aside and explained that he was going to take Belle with him to help pick out an engagement ring while he left Rumple with Emma to practice magic. That only served to remind Rumple of how little progress he'd made with Emma.
Now he was in the backroom of his store trying to teach Emma how to magically light a candle for what felt like the millionth time.
Emma looked away from her candle leaned back in her chair, and said with a sigh, "Maybe we should call it a night."
Rumple slapped his hand down on the desk near the candle. "No! Do it again!" He snapped his fingers and pointed the candle. "Focus!"
With a frown, she took a deep breath, sat up straight, and focused back on the wick of the candle.
"Good." Rumple had repeated these words too many times to count, but he said them again anyway, "Feel the heat at the core of your body radiating away from your body. Visualize the heat as a red aura all around you. Gather that heat with your mind, and focus it onto that wick with your eyes."
She glared at the little wick, and tried to follow his instructions. But yet again, after five minutes of staring, nothing at all had happened. Her shoulders slumped, and she looked at her watch so she wouldn't have to see his irritated face.
"Neal should be here any minute now," she said.
"Yes, but he isn't here yet, so you will try it again."
Frustrated, she glared at him and stood up. "Look, I don't know why I'm having such a hard time with this particular bit of magic, especially since levitation came so easy to me, but doing the same thing again and again isn't working. We need to try something else."
Rumple pursed his lips and said, "I don't think the problem is with the exercise I've given you, I think the problem is with you. Levitation came easily to you because you were actually focused on learning magic instead of your hormones."
Taken aback, she said with confusion, "What do you mean?"
He scowled. "I mean, Miss Swan, that maybe if you'd concentrate just a little more on what I'm trying to show you, and a little less on bedding your boyfriend every night like a wonton whore, you'd actually be able to light the God damn candle by now!"
Both Emma and Rumple turned to see Belle standing in the doorway with a very cross look on her face.
"Belle?" Rumple was surprised to see her there, because Neal was the only one who ever came to pick him up.
Without another word Belle walked up to Rumple, grasped his upper arm to hold him still, and gave his rear end four very firm spanks.
"Belle!" He squeaked, and looked up into her angry face with shock.
She let go of his arm, and wagged a finger in front of his nose. "Don't you dare speak to Emma that way, young man. I can not believe the filth I just heard coming out of your mouth. Your words were cruel and completely uncalled for." She put her hands on his shoulders, turned him to face Emma, and said, "You go and apologize this instant." She urged him forward with another solid smack to his behind.
A tiny "Ah!" escaped his lips, as he was propelled forward a step. He looked up at Emma, and his face turned bright red. A couple of tears slid down his cheeks as he said, "I'm sorry Miss Swan. I was angry and I took it out on you. I didn't mean it."
Extremely uncomfortable with what had just happened, Emma refused to look at Rumple and muttered, "That's okay Ru… Paul. I know it's frustrating, and I accept your apology."
Rumple tentatively looked back at Belle.
She gave him a curt nod and said, "That's better."
Emma caught Belle's eye and said, "Are you here to pick up Paul?"
Belle nodded. "I came to tell you both that Neal is waiting for you at the loft. You go on ahead Emma, Paul and I will be there in just a couple of minutes."
"Sure." Emma rushed out as quickly as possible.
Rumple sniffled, wiped the tears off his face with a sleeve, and rubbed his bottom while feeling very sorry for himself. If Neal had just swatted him in front of Emma, he would have been livid, but because it had been Belle, the sweetest and most loving woman he knew, all Rumple felt was ashamed of his own behavior.
Belle quickly took the step that separated them, and knelt down so she could be at his eye level. She put her hands on his shoulders and said softly, "Do you want to tell me what that was all about?"
He bit his lip and shook his head. He'd love to talk to her all about his frustrations, but it wouldn't make any sense to her.
She sat down on her heals, and gently pulled him down to sit on her lap. She wrapped her arm around his shoulders and ran her fingers through his hair.
"Is it about your dad asking Emma to marry him? I thought you liked Emma."
Rumple leaned into her, pressing the side of his face against her chest, and closed his eyes. "I do like Emma, and I am happy for Bae."
"Then why were you so upset?"
With his eyes closed, surrounded by the smell and feel of her, he could almost imagine his life the way he'd always dreamed of. "I want to be an adult, so I can be with you," he confessed, knowing she wouldn't understand.
Her movements stilled as she processed that information, and Rumple immediately tried to turn the truth into a plausible lie.
"I mean, if my dad marries Emma, then he won't need you to look after me anymore, but you remind me of my mother, not her. I don't want you to leave."
She hugged him tight, and he knew his lie had worked.
"Even if your dad decides he doesn't need me to help out at the house, I'd still want to be a part of your life," she said. "Spending time with you is the highlight of my day. I love you."
Belle leaned down and kissed the top of Rumple's head. She opened her mouth to tell him that he needed to at least give Emma a chance to be a part of his life, but before she got the chance, the boy's entire body tensed, and a gasp of pain escaped his lips.
She leaned back to look in his face, and said, "Paul? What's wrong?"
He could feel his body changing, and knew the spell had been broken. Before the pain of his rapidly growing body overtook him, he leaned in and kissed her on the cheek. "I love you too, Belle."
He pushed himself out of her arms, lay down on the ground, threw his head back and screamed. His body writhed in pain as he grew thirty years in the span of one minute.
While the boy grew into a man right before her eyes, a deluge of memories came flooding back into Belle's head, making it impossible to give her full attention to either event. Paul wasn't Paul, he was Rumple, but Rumple was a man not a boy, and now the boy was no longer a boy, but a man. She shook her head, trying to process it all.
Rumple lay on the floor panting for a few moments once the metamorphosis had stopped.
Once he was able, he croaked out the word, "Belle?"
She shook her head again, and focused on his eyes. "Rumple?"
"You remember?" His eyes opened wide with shock, and he struggled to get himself into a sitting position.
She helped him to sit up, and moved closer to him.
"I do. I remember everything."
"Everything?" He ran his fingers down her cheek, and searched her eyes for the truth.
She leaned in and kissed him the way they used to kiss, before she'd forgotten who she was. He pulled her closer, and kissed her back desperately.
When they pulled apart he said sincerely, "I've missed you."
She put her hand on the side of his face. "I'm here now, and I have no intention of leaving your side."
He pulled her into another kiss, pouring all the love he felt for her into it. She reciprocated for a few minutes, but then put a hand on his chest, and gently pushed them apart.
"Plenty of time for that later. Right now…" she looked down at the clothing that had ripped as he'd grown, "…we need to make you presentable, so you can go show your son that you're back."
"Bae…" he said, switching focus. Him and his son had a lot to talk about. He looked down at his tattered clothes and said, "I have more than one change of clothes in the closet over there." He pointed to the door on the far wall.
"You take those off, and I'll find you something," Belle said.
# # #
Neal waited impatiently for Emma to open the door to the loft. He held her engagement ring up, so she could see it first thing, while the rest of the family stood back by the table.
"Does it seem to be taking longer than usual?" He looked back at David, Snow, and Henry.
"Yes," Henry said emphatically while bouncing on the balls of his feet.
Snow smiled and put an arm around the boy's shoulders. "That's only because you're excited. It's not taking any longer than usual."
Neal sighed and turned back towards the door just as Emma rushed in.
She stopped short when she saw the gorgeous diamond ring that Neal was holding up. He grinned and said, "Ready to make it official?"
"It's beautiful," she whispered.
He took the step that separated them, slid the ring onto her finger and said, "You're beautiful," before leaning down to kiss her.
When they pulled apart, Henry said, "Do you really like it, Mom?"
"I love it," she said as she admired the ring.
Neal looked back at the door and said, "Where's Rumple?"
Emma winced slightly and said, "He's gonna be a few minutes." She looked over at the rest of the family and said, "We should probably talk in the hall."
"Okay," he said with some concern.
"We'll be right back," Emma said as the two of them walked into the hall.
"What happened?" Neal asked once they'd shut the door behind them
For the next couple of minutes, Emma told Neal how Rumple had been behaving during the entire training session, how he had snapped at her in the end, and how Belle had responded.
Neal went from irritation at his father's impatience, to anger at his father's horrible insults, and finally to awe at the story. "She actually swatted his butt?"
Emma nodded. "Pretty hard by the look of it."
"Wow, I wouldn't have thought she was capable of it." He shook his head. "But I'm glad she did. He seems to respond much more sincerely to her censure than to mine." He kissed his fiancé on the forehead. "Hopefully it will be enough to keep him in check the next time he's around you, because if he doesn't he'll be answering to me."
They both heard a noise coming from the entrance to the building, and turned to see Rumple and Belle walking in.
"Papa?" Neal said.
Rumple grinned as he walked towards his son. "It's me, Bae." When he was close enough, he pulled Neal into a strong hug.
"But… how?" Neal asked as he tentatively hugged his father back.
"True love's kiss," Rumple said, as he patted Neal on the back and let go. He wrapped his arm back around Belle's waist and said, "Henry was right. Belle kissed the top of my head, and broke my spell. Then before I changed, I kissed Belle's cheek, and broke her spell."
"You have your memories back?" Emma asked with joy.
"I do!" Belle said with a grin.
"That's fantastic news!" Neal said.
Emma grinned. "We should tell everyone."
"I'd say this calls for some Champaign," Neal said.
"That sounds lovely," Belle said while looking at Rumple.
"I couldn't agree more," Rumple said, and they all went into the Charming's loft to celebrate the good news.
A couple of hours later, after the Champaign was gone, and Henry was asleep on the couch in spite of his excitement, Rumple said, "I think we should be getting home."
"Oh, right…" Neal frowned. "I guess I should get my room back at Granny's."
"Nonsense, Bae," Rumple said. "You should stay with us until the wedding."
"Yes please do stay with us, Neal," Belle added. "The house is huge, and it will feel empty without you."
Neal wasn't sure what to say. On the one hand it seemed weird to be staying at his father's house now that the man was an adult, but on the other hand, he'd gotten used to living there.
"At least stay tonight," Rumple said. "It's late, and you drove us to the festival this morning in your car. Besides, we all need some time to adjust."
"Alright, I'll stay tonight at least," Neal agreed. He knew he'd need to have a conversation with his father about what their relationship would look like now, and that would be easier to do if he were already there in the morning.
They all said their good nights, and soon Neal, Rumple, and Belle were in the car headed for home.
# # #
Later that night after a slightly awkward discussion on sleeping arrangements in which it was decided that Neal would stay in the master bedroom for the evening, while Rumple stayed in Belle's room with her, everyone said their good nights and went to bed.
The instant the bedroom door was shut behind them Rumple and Belle made up for lost time, stripping off clothing as they kissed and made their way to the bed. Soft words of love and affection accompanied their bodies coming together as one, making Rumple feel truly whole again for the first time in months.
After they were both sated and Rumple was just about to drift off to sleep with Belle in his arms snuggled against him, she said, "Rumple?"
She propped her head up on her hand so she could look him in the eyes to talk. "This isn't something that you're going to want to hear, but it's something that we need to talk about."
Not liking the sound of that, he opened his eyes and gave her his full attention. "What is it, Belle?"
"I have loved spending time with you this past month. Part of that is because I love you, no matter what form you're in. But another part of that is because Neal was forcing you not to act on the Dark One's impulses."
His eyes narrowed, but she forged on anyway. "I think that needs to continue between me and you."
"You want to… to…" he couldn't bring himself to say it.
"Spank you when you're out of line?" she supplied. "Well, I don't really want to, but I think I should, yes."
She propped herself up even further so she could look straight on into his face. "It's not ridiculous. I want you to think long and hard about our current situation. Life is good in this moment. Neal is here in town, and he wants to spend time with you. Henry is here, and he likes spending time with you too. I'm here, and we're together. Hook, Regina, and Cora are going to be so busy with their own lives, that if you don't antagonize them, we can all live peacefully in this town together for years to come. With Neal and Emma getting together, maybe you can be a grandfather all over again."
When she paused, he said, "Yes, I agree with all of that, but I fail to see how that has anything to do with you spanking me."
"The Dark One influences you to follow your anger and act irresponsibly. I didn't realize how much that was true until I saw the change in you over this past month. One impulsive act by the Dark One could end the peace we have in this town. All of the hope and joy for the wonderful future we have in front of us could be ruined before you even realized the Dark One was in control. But if you knew there would be consequences for that, you'll be less likely to follow through on it. If I can stop you at the first signs of anger, it will never get to the point where you do something big that you later regret."
He frowned in thought, and then shook his head. "Even if I agreed with you, and I don't, the only reason Bae could control me when the anger took over was because he was so much bigger than me when my body was younger. If I was truly angry, there's no way you could stop me mid-rant."
"I could if you gave me your dagger."
"My dagger?" He was so surprised, he could barley formulate a response.
She leaned down and kissed his cheek. "I would never use it against you for any other reason my love. Only if I saw the Dark One take over, and you refused to listen to me."
Rumple shook his head. He could never give that much control to anyone, not even the love of his life. "I can't."
She lay her head on his chest again and snuggled into him. "I love you, but I won't live with you if you let the Dark One run amok. We can try this arrangement without the dagger, but the first time you refuse a spanking that I think you deserve, you're either going to give me the dagger, or I'll be moving out."
He glared at the top of her head. "I didn't agree to any arrangement."
"You will," she said with confidence. "Everything you've ever wanted is within your grasp. Think about the choices you've made in your life, and the things you regret. Don't make this moment one of those regrets. Take the night to think it over."
"I am not going to let you spank me!" he hissed, angry with her presumptuous attitude about the entire discussion.
She sighed with regret. "Then I'll move out in the morning."
"You can't move out!" His voice went up as his anger built. "I won't let you!"
Moving as quickly as she could, Belle tossed the covers of them, sat up on her knees, and used all of her adrenaline-fueled strength to roll him onto his stomach. He gasped in surprise, and before he even thought about fighting back, she had grabbed his right wrist, shoved his arm behind his back, and then straddled his upper back and sat down facing his lower half to pin him.
"Belle!" he protested. "What are you doing?!" This behavior was so out of character for his girlfriend, that he found it difficult to process.
While keeping a tight grip on his right wrist with one hand, she used the other to start smacking the naked butt in front of her as hard and as fast as she could.
"Ah! Belle, you can't!" He tried to shove himself up with one arm, to dislodge her from his back, but she yanked his captured wrist further up his back in response. "Ow!" he hollered, and stopped trying to push himself up.
She stopped spanking for a moment and turned her head to the side so he could hear her. "Don't you dare move until I'm finished spanking the Dark One into submission. My sweet Rumple would never threaten to keep me prisoner, especially after my time in that psychiatric ward. Only the Dark One does that."
All of his protests died, along with his urge to fight back. She was right. He sincerely didn't want to admit it, and he hated that she was right, but deep in the center of his heart where some good still remained, he knew that the real Rumple would never threaten to hold her hostage.
She turned back to his rear end, and started spanking again.
Without his anger to keep him company, he was left with nothing to focus on except the pain and his own remorse. He tried to remain stoic but that only lasted for a couple of minutes. After a month's worth of getting spanked as a method of correction, the apologies were almost automatic.
"I'm sorry! Ow! Belle, I'm sorry! You're right! That was the Dark One, not me! Ah! Belle, please listen! I'm sorry!"
She stopped, and for the next few seconds, the only sounds in the room were of the two of them breathing hard from their exertions. Once she'd caught her breath, Belle let go of his captured wrist and said softly, "I hate doing this to you." She started rubbing the reddened skin in front of her. "It goes against my nature to hurt you because I love you, but I refuse to watch you self-destruct when the Dark One takes over."
Some tears slid down his face. "I'm sorry," he whispered.
She got off his back, sat beside him on the bed, and rubbed his back. "I know you are, and you're forgiven."
"No," he said, but then shook his head. "I mean yes, I am sorry that I threatened you, but that's not what I was talking about." He wiped the tears off his face, and rolled onto his side so he could look at her. "I'm sorry that I'm like this, and that you have to go against your nature to…" he looked away and frowned in distaste, "…to keep me from letting the Dark One take over."
She lay down on the bed, pulled the covers back up over them, and held out her arms. He lay his head on her chest, and wrapped his arms around her waist.
"It sounds to me like you agree to this arrangement between us?" she said once they were comfortably snuggled together.
He winced before answering. "Yes."
"We'll need to come up with some kind of warning signal for when we're in public, a code word or a gesture to let you know that you're starting to get out of line. Then a second word or gesture that lets you know you've stepped over that line, and are due a spanking the instant we're alone."
Blushing with shame, he nodded against her chest.
"The very first time you refuse to take a spanking when I think you deserve it, we'll have to talk about the dagger."
He shook his head.
She ran her fingers through his hair. "I know it's a terrifying thought for you, but tonight I had surprise on my side. I won't be able to physically force to take a spanking if you know it's coming."
He knew she was right, and even though he hated the thought of her being able control him, he hated the thought of the Dark One taking over and destroying his potential happiness. With a regretful sigh he said, "You won't need the dagger."
"Rumple," she chided, "We both know that isn't true."
He pushed himself up so he could look at her. "No, I mean you won't need the dagger to control me against my will." He took off his pinky ring, and held it out to her. "I can do a spell on this that will give you temporary power over me. It will only last for about fifteen minutes at a time, but that should be plenty of time for you to help me realize the Dark One is taking over."
"That's perfect." She put both her hands on his face, and pulled him up to kiss her. "And very brave of you." She kissed him once more, and then guided his head back to her chest. "We'll do that tomorrow. For now, I think we both need some sleep."
He slipped the ring back on his finger for now and said, "I love you."
"I love you, too."
# # #
Neal was making some coffee when his father and Belle came into the kitchen the next day.
"Good morning, Neal," Belle said with a smile.
"Morning, Belle, Papa." Neal acknowledged each of them with a nod and a smile, and poured them each a cup of the coffee.
Belle said, "Why don't you two sit down and talk while I make us some breakfast."
Both men sat at the kitchen table, and after a few seconds of increasingly awkward silence, Rumple said, "Bae, I…" Rumple shook his head and said, "Neal, I'd really like for you to stay here with us until you get married."
Neal's eyebrows shot up. That was the one and only time he could remember his father calling him Neal when it was just the two of them. He'd wanted his father to call him by his chosen name for a long time, but now that the man had offered that up, he wasn't sure he liked the way it sounded. He looked down at his coffee with a frown.
"Papa?" Neal said, uncertain if he was about to make the right decision.
Rumple put a hand on his son's shoulder, "What is it?"
Neal looked his father in the eye. "You can call me Baelfire. Neal doesn't sound right coming from you."
"Thank you, Bae." Rumple squeezed Neal's shoulder once before letting his hand drop. "What about living here?"
"Are you sure?" Neal asked. "I mean isn't it kind of… awkward after everything that happened between us this past month? I'd understand if you needed some time and space to get past all that."
Rumple shook his head, leaned forward, and grasped Neal's shoulder again. "I'm absolutely positive that I want you to be here with me, Bae. I don't want time or space away from you. Is it awkward to think of you spanking me just last week? Yes, absolutely. But I understand why you did it, and I love you for taking care of me when I was small, even if I hated it at the time."
Feeling close to tears, Neal said, "Thank you, Papa."
"I love you, Bae, and I want to build a new relationship based on trust and mutual respect." He gave his son a quick smile, "So you'll stay?"
Neal grinned and nodded. "Yeah, I'll stay here for a month or two before the wedding, but you and Belle have to take the master bedroom. I'll take the one you were sleeping in when you were smaller."
"Excellent." Rumple stood, pulled Neal up with him, and gave his son a tight hug.
While in his father's embrace, Neal said, "I love you too, Papa. It's good to have you back."
Rumple hugged him even tighter.
A few moments later, Belle cleared her throat from across the room, and the two men let each other go to look her way.
"Who's ready for some scrambled eggs?" Belle asked as she walked to the table holding a bowl.
Soon the three of them were eating breakfast together, and enjoying each other's company.
Author's Note: Thanks to those of you who stuck with the story even though it took me well over a year to finish it.