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fish and other dead things

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They let him out on good behavior, as good behavior as a pirate can have—meaning he doesn’t try running again, and someone foolishly thinks a kindness showed is a kindness owed. That’s mostly Snow’s doing, Hook knows, because everyone knows that it was Charming who stabbed first and asked questions later. Snow’s of a more subtle nature than that, but then she’d had to be, keeping her hood up to avoid the ravenous eyes of a vengeful queen.

It’s not freedom, though, and he feels the shore chaff against him, squashing him, suffocating him. The Jolly Roger is anchored, and destitute with it, and Hook swears he can almost hear her mournful cries, straining against her bonds for the inviting sea. More nights than he cares to admit Hook finds himself disquieted by the stillness of his bed, grown too used to the rock of the waves, the cradle of it, and finds himself drawn to his window, head hanging outside it to suck in the faint taste of salt in the air. Being this close to the sea and unable to dive into it, that’s true torture, more than those days locked and chained in Lancelot’s dungeon had ever been.

His hook is strictly off limits, locked up tight in that fortress Sir Lancelot calls a hut, and so Hook has to make do with a prosthetic hand he’d had commissioned by old Geppetto some time ago—a fair trade, that; and one he’s particularly proud of because not just anyone got on Pleasure Island and off in the same state. He likes the hook, especially it’s intimidating quality (always a must in his line of work) but Hook always dressed to the occasion and there were times where a deadly, curved hook was not attire appropriate.

His crew mostly keeps to the small tavern, as pathetic as it is, isolated from the rest of the villagers. No love lost there; pirates have never been anyone’s favorite and really villagers have never pirates’ favorite either. So everyone just avoids everyone, and Hook avoids any mention of fairy dust. Queen Snow White seems to think, in time, he’ll come around and his better nature or something will prevail and he’ll uncover that cache he’s been secreting. Lancelot and Mulan have the better idea of it, in reality, which is to say just kill him and be done with it. He’s in no hurry to take anyone to that hellhole of a distant shore, and no amount of cajoling can make them see that the dust would do them no good anyway—it’s fairy dust but it’s not the mined kind, carefully measured and weighed by the Blue Fairy and her ilk; it’s wild and unbridled and operates by its own rules, a near sentient being with no concern for anyone caught in its magical weave. The world’s better off without it, in Hook’s opinion and since he was the one to bury it, his opinion is really the only one that mattered.

Most day he wanders, making slow, looping circles around the village. He’s not allowed outside the perimeter, and the guards set up on the lookout towers are more than willing to remind him of it, with their crossbows pointed at his head. Hook usually answers with a bow and continues on his way.

Queen Snow White and Sir Lancelot are out, doing something nobly heroic Hook is sure, and his crew is singing bawdy songs in the tavern much to the disgust of the residents as a whole. Hook’s had his fill of ale, and bland, overcooked meat so he makes his typical circle around the village.

He stumbles across Mulan at the back end, a succession of targets propped up along the wooden wall. Emma reclines against the railing of the armory, in her typical stance—arms crossed, pretty face set in a scowl, and hair piled up on top of her head. Hook tips his head in greeting as he nears, since he likes Emma best of all. She has the makings of a pirate, he’d told her, and Emma had grinned while Queen Snow White had looked ready to gut him.

“Pull,” Mulan says, voice clear and commander. The little elfin thing in front of her obeys. An arrow thunks into the wall far above the target, and Princess Aurora releases a soft, frustrated groan. Mulan’s grieves go to her hips. “You’re thinking too much.”

“Thinking too much,” Princess Aurora mimics, “Not thinking enough. I can’t win.”

Hook laughs, drawing their attention. He hasn’t seen much of this little slip of princess, but that’s because Mulan guards her like a dog with a bone, a pirate with his booty, a dragon with its nest. It’s as admirable as it is funny, and since that first rather unimpressive attempt at escape Mulan hasn’t thought much of him, and has seemed to have enforced a twenty-foot radius between him and the princess.

“Think you can do better?” Emma asks, leaning forward, arms crossing over the railing of the makeshift armory. Hook’s walks have not been as innocuous as they’ve seemed, but he’d never be able to smuggle out enough arms for he and his men to reclaim their ship.

“Without much effort,” he says, and personally thinks that they’re remiss in not teaching Her Highness swordplay, but any disadvantage for them is an advantage for him and his inevitable jailbreak. They’re off their rockers if they think they’ll keep Captain Hook chained up for long.

He meanders over to Mulan and the princess, the former scowling at him like he’s a nasty certain something she’s discovered on the sole of her boot. Hook bows extravagantly to her, knowing it’ll irritate her as much as everything else he does—like breathing. Mulan is normally his type of girl, the feisty kind that’ll try to cut him navel to nose before considering anything else. Normally, but his eyes are already sweeping over the warrior woman and landing on the elfish girl hidden just beyond her shoulders, looking for all the world like she wished his heart was her target—and not in the romantic way.

“Relax, Your Highness,” he says, hands up in a show of mock surrender. “Just going to offer some pointers.”

“An archer, are you?” Princess Aurora demands, doubt laced through her words.

“No,” he admits, “Can’t make that claim—though from the looks of it that doesn’t matter much. You can use all the help you can get.”

The look she shoots him is murderous. “I don’t need your help,” she snaps, punctuating it with a pivot on her heel. A quiver of arrows has been propped up in the ground, and she notches one with impressive speed. She isn’t wearing breeches today, just a confection of wispy purple, but it doesn’t deter her stance.

Hook bounds the rest of the way over to her, curling one arm at her elbow. The princess jolts and Hook has the pleasant sensation of that lithe, little body all but folding into his. Of course, this is overlaid by the sound of Mulan’s growl. Before Hook’s head goes flying off his shoulder, he lifts his prosthetic hand in a sign of peace.

“My motives are entirely chaste, madam, I sure you.”

The look Mulan gives him is virulent and dangerous, obviously not all relieved by his assurances.

“Relax,” Emma calls, face more intrigued then concerned. “He’s right. We’re sucking at this. Besides, Aurora can take him.”

Yes, Her Highness certainly could. His bollocks draw up at the very memory. Perhaps that’s why it feels like she’s wheedled under his skin. Hook isn’t used to people slipping out from the neat little spaces of existence he assigns them; he’s always been such a good judge of character. In Lancelot’s dungeon he’d seen a sad little sprite, a princess spoiled by nature and by design, and hadn’t given her much more thought. But she has wildness underneath her gloss, a shocking amount of pragmatism, and sadness that has been whittled down to a brittle, biting edge that she had used to leave a deep jagged scar down the inside of his thigh. He can see why men had died on the thorns for her—Mulan hasn’t told her about the others, the other daring princes who had failed to reach her barbed cradle; Hook isn’t sure if he disagrees with that decision.

“She certainly can,” he says, and turns back to the princess. He catches a mouth full of hair and inhales something sweet—some exotic fruit perhaps, a flower that bloomed in only the most well-maintained garden, “Can’t you, Your Highness?”

“I thought you were a gentleman,” Aurora snaps, and releases her arrow. Her elbow slaps hard into his side and this time the arrow lands in the dirt, kicking up a brown wall of dust.

“I am. Relatively speaking,” he points out. “I could do any number of things but instead I’m teaching you how to properly shoot me in the heart if I act up.” He bends at his waist, curling two fingers around the feathered end of an arrow, notching it for her. “Now, you’re problem is you keep seeing the arrow hitting the target—you need to see the trajectory instead, imagine the path you want the arrow to take.” His hand moves up to the jutting bone of her elbow, adjusting the curvature, his foot gently knocking hers farther apart.

The fletching brushes against the slope of her cheek, and Hook hunches over by her shoulder, his mouth near her ear, still inhaling the luscious scent of her. “The end isn’t what’s important,” he explains to her, “it’s about the path it takes—you see, if you release it on the path you want it to go down, then it will land where you want it to land. Simple, in concept, though in practice a bit more difficult—we like to clog it up with ifs and whens and maybes when we just need to let. Go.”

She does. The arrow sails through the air with a low whistle, and embeds in the target only an inch above the center. Emma gives them a low whistle, impressed, and when Hook turns Mulan has a grudging look of concession on her face. He grins; he’s never been one to not enjoy his victory.

The princess steps out of the circle of his arms to fetch her arrow, yanking it free with a mild huff of exertion. She clenches it tightly, tight enough so that he can see the wood begin to splinter—one delicately long line up its middle.

Hook doesn’t know what to name that dark look she levels at him, but he does recognize just how well and truly caught he may be.