He has demons, but she drowns them.
There’s an old story about hell, a road, and good intentions—but that was in another world, and Hook’s doesn’t have intentions, good or otherwise, and Aurora’s mouth is too filled up with grief and rage, pouring out of her like nightshade blossoms.
The hook has become a part of him, skin fusing to the stump, like his own growth of ivy, winding around the hook to hold it securely in place. His heart beats a steady rhythm of revenge, a staccato of hate. It hasn’t blackened his heart—he’s a pirate, after all, and he thinks his heart was never a color lighter than black.
The princess sits meticulously across from him, hands pressed into her lap, stiff and straight, a governess’s spirit just at her shoulder, repeating the long monotone chant of perfection. There are fissures and cracks in the carved porcelain of her skin, but Hook is largely not interested—in her, or her companions.
He has feasted on hate and starved his soul for it. If there is a way to stop, he does not know how—and he does want to. The worst of it all, he barely remembers Milah’s face anymore. Just her hair, as black as tar, as black as the sea in a storm. He only remembers the magical pulse of her heartbeat in Rumpelstiltskin’s palm, crushed to indifferent dust.
The princess hums a song from another life, when kisses broke spells and happily ever afters came as easily as a sword through the gut. The remnants of childhood dreams cling to the edges of her hair, and her bones sing the hymn of magic.
What he sees—something corruptible.
Her fingers move through the ends of his hair, winding, like she’s trying to anchor him to solid ground. He wants to laugh, and instead bites her shoulder, tastes the sweet, slick flesh of innocence.
“Trying to save me?” he asks.
“You can’t be saved.” Her voice’s breathless, panting, her little fingers moving through his hair and she should not be so tender, because he does not feel merciful. He will devour her whole, a ravenous wolf—but there is no fear in her eyes.
In another world there is a story—a girl on the cusp of womanhood with sunlight tangled in her hair, briars of roses and daisy chains, a girl who never knew anything but sunshine, and a dark, dead thing who had watched covetously, who thought to snap her in its jaws, carrying her far and away, a slave to its selfish ways, a creature who knew only its own nature, and subscripted to a power no higher than its own.
Hook would not recognize the tale, if you told him.
He presses his fingers to Aurora’s lips, and she opens them—like an offering of fruit.
He thinks he’s leaving his imprint on her, dirty, grubby fingers on her skin, an indention on her soul—dragging the pieces of her he wants out for himself, hoarding the best of her away, so no one else can look open it. He wants to know, to feel, like he still has that solidity, the ability to weigh something down. Neverland saps your weight from you, saps your memory too—they have been leeched from him the way color has been leeched from this world, the way everything is muted and tremulous.
But she’s wrapping ropes around his ankles, and dragging him to the bottom of a river and like any dedicated monk, driven with divine purpose to his task, he doesn’t notice.
Would you, could you?
She whispers it against his skin like a death sentence.
The hook is for skinning, and he intends to wear a pelt of human skin until it rots on his back. The phantom sensation of fingers kissing his cheek goodbye will not let him rest. If he has a soul, there is a clamoring in it. A pirate never leaves a debt unpaid, and his is long due.
Aurora held a knife to Snow White’s heart, and he nearly asks her why didn’t you pull your knife across that throat, nothing’s easier—and it only gets easier after that first time; easier but it’s never sweeter. We have called that chasing the dragon. But he already knows why—it slipped too easy from her fingers, and there’s not enough devotion in her soul. She’s too soft, and too gentle, and her lips taste like something sweet. Revenge curdles on her tongue, melts away.
“You’ll kill him,” Aurora asks.
“Of course,” Hook says, because that his stipulation, that’s his prize. Crocodile skin. His mouth waters with need and want.
“And you won’t stop?”
“I’ll damn the world for it, if I have to.” He cannot remember Milah’s face, so blurry and overcolored in his memory, but he remembers the sound her body had made hitting the waves, and remembers the pain of his severed limb. He remembers blood oaths and blood debts, and remembers scales glowing green on cheeks.
Aurora’s fingers dig into his chest, and he drags her against him. She’s so quiet, because Mulan sleeps only yards away and he wants to drag that scream out of her—he wants to drive his hook into her heart, untouched and immaculate.
“Trying to save me?” he murmurs against her breast, fingers slipping between her legs, into the shadowy cleft, where she’s wet and where legs fall open to let him in. Let him in, but not let him in, you see.
“No,” she answers, voice wispy and she sighs when he forges into her. Not gently, he’s no time for gentleness and even if he did, he wouldn’t, not with her—because that’s what you should do, with a princess.
He leaves stubble-burns and thin, red lines over her body, his atlas so he remembers his trajectory, his course, along her latitude and longitude. If he could have left deeper rivets inside her without being decapitated by Mulan, he would have.
She’s not trying to save him—you can’t be saved—and somehow Hook feels sick with the knowledge, to know himself to be unworthy of her, to know that she knows him to be unworthy of her.
But I will drag you down, into the mud of the river that slogs in my boots. You will know the grit of it in your teeth, the way I do.
But that tale never asks—what of the girl, with sunshine in her hair. It doesn’t speak of her, because it wasn’t about her—it was about winter and summer, at war, and how love poisons and grief destroys.
If the girl who tilted her face like a cup to the sun ever felt her feet sink into cold winter and wondered, it never says.
She finds him at the shoreline, and sees the red-rim of revenge in his eyes.
“What if Rumpelstiltskin is the only way to fix our world?” she asks, voice as a soft a psalm—hers is a body of cautionary tale, something about death and martyrs with their eyes gorged out, presented on a bloody trey to an unmoved deity that will always demand more. “What if he’s the only one who can heal our land?”
Hook laughs, and laughs. That she would think to ask, that she would think he would care, that some part of her, even now, naively believes in some higher calling to righteousness.
“Then the world dies,” he says, and his shoulders shrug away the heavy burden of humanity. “I’ve never had much use for it, anyway.”
High tide is moving it, sloshes around his jackboots in a whirlpool. She shoves him, two little hands at his back. He falls face-first into the salty water, mouth open and eyes burning. She kneels on his stomach when he turns, holding him under. Her voice face, watery, in front of him and he should buck her off, there’s no reason not to.
No reason, except for that brief, wrenching moment when he lets it in. Why not? The waves crash over him, her fingers around his neck, her nails digger far deeper into him than he ever had into her. She’s left her mark, and her imprint, subtle as a rebounding echo.
Hook lifts a hand, maybe to her face. There’s a touch of cold water, cutting across her cheek, and he doesn’t know if it’s the splatter of waves, or the slash of tears. But he thinks, I’ll remember you. He lets her in, and she kisses him with her fingers pulling the air out of him.
He sinks to the bottom with a heavy thud and a borrowed grace, the prodigy son come home at last. Aurora never lets go, and he hadn’t thought her a liar—she said he couldn’t be saved, but she gives it her most valiant effort with the waves crashing over him and the outcropping of rocks playing the part of pallbearers, a baptism and a funeral all rolled into one. The water in his lungs burns akin to something holy.
He has demons, and she drowns them.