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Straight on 'Til Morning

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Hook brought up his left arm to cover his nose and mouth as he nearly gagged from the smell. Rancid was too kind a word to describe the stench of decay that came rolling out from between the heavy vines and brambles surrounding the castle. Behind him he could hear Smee, and the two other crewmembers he had brought with him, gagging. It was as though the entire castle had begun to rot from the inside out. Lifting his right hand he drew his sword and began to cut through the dense vegetation. The twisting, thorned branches were at their thickest by the gate to the castle. Directly above the pirates the first portcullis hung, its heavy spikes and chains wrapped tightly in leaves and vines. As they moved past it became quickly apparent that the second, and heavier of the two gates, had been lowered as the castle was abandoned. With a quick curse Hook stepped back so that Ravello, a barrel-chested man with a baldhead and a fondness for birds, could move in front of him. Faced with the impediment of the gate Ravello raised the large ax he had clutched in his hands. Almost as one, the three other pirates took a step back as Ravello swung the ax down at the heavy wooden latticework.

The sharp metal of the ax head crashed into the wood with a heavy splitting sound but when the ax was pulled back, it revealed that it had barely made a dent in the wood. It took Ravello nearly an hour before he was able to cut a hole that was large enough for them to squeeze through. Thorns and twigs tugged and tore at their clothes as they crawled through the opening. Inside the outer ward the smell only got worse. Glancing around Hook noted the bodies of guards lying prone on the ground, their flesh slowly rotting away. The story had said that the so-called good fairy had put all of the attendants and servants in the castle to sleep, so that they would be there when the princess awoke, clearly something had gone wrong. This didn’t come as much of a surprise to Hook because with magic, something always went wrong. From behind him came the uncomfortable hacking sound of Mr. Smee’s delicate stomach at work. It was a sound Hook and the rest of the crew were familiar with, as it had taken the round, fidgety man weeks to get his sea legs and even longer to get his cloud legs.

With a sniff Hook pulled a cloth out of his pocket. Shaking it out he brought it up and, using the hook to brace it, tied it around his face. It wasn’t ideal but it kept some of the stench out. Pushing forward he headed for the second gate and the inner ward. The fat Duke had said that the girl lay sleeping on a great stone altar in the center of the courtyard, that she had been laid out like some dead king of old in his tomb. Hook had thought that it seemed like a fitting royal burial, she even had all her servants with her, for all the good they would do her now. The inner gate had been left raised, possibly to make things easier for whatever prince was supposed to come or maybe they just never believed anyone would get this far. To get to the courtyard, it was merely a matter of chopping through the vines that had grown across the entrance but with every swing of his sword, Hook heard the hanging portcullis above give a groan. When he had finally made a hole through the plants, the chains that held the gate, which had long ago begun to rust, finally snapped. Free of vegetative interference the gate came crashing down towards Hook.

Hook dived out of the way as the rotting wood and corroded metal slammed into the ground behind him. He heard the others shout and try to move out of the way. A pained scream let him know that his companions weren’t completely unscathed. Rising from his prone position Hook dusted some dirt off his coat and walked back to the gateway. Smee was curled in a ball just past where the gate had fallen, shivering. Ravello was sitting Parker up and trying to look at his wound. Parker, a slight man with a phobia about cannibalism, was clutching at his leg. A piece of wood nearly the length of Hook’s arm jutted out from it. Yanking down his impromptu mask Hook frowned at the sight. Pulling off one of his belts he passed it to Ravello.

“Wrap this around his leg and then drag him out of here. Smee and I will get the girl and follow along presently.” Turning on his heel Hook went back to the gate but paused for a moment next to Smee. “On your feet Mr. Smee, our work here isn’t done, yet.” Snapping the words at the trembling man Hook strode through the wreckage and into the inner ward. Grinding his teeth together Hook had to keep reminding himself that any chance for information relating to the death of the crocodile was worth any sacrifice. Besides, Parker would probably live, probably.

Inside the courtyard, just as the Duke had described, was the altar. It was clearly something that had been added to the castle later on and almost looked out of place in the design. A great rising construction with a dome built over top of it to protect the sleeping princess from the elements. The courtiers, guards and servants he had already passed, might be rotting corpses but she looked untouched. Hook approached the altar cautiously, treading on each stair that led up to it as lightly as a cat. Inside the courtyard, the castle looked nearly untouched. It appeared to Hook that the fairy’s enchantment was breaking down on the outside and working its way in. The few servants nearby had the look of the recently dead and the surrounding walls looked less worn and aged by time.

As he reached the top of the raised dais Hook took a moment to gaze at the scene. The princess was laid out like she was some sort of flower to be plucked. From head to toe she was all pale skin and lavender fabric. No cloth covered her but a bed of pillows and quilts had been laid out below her. Around the edges of the pillows there was the slightest hint of fraying. Time was starting to work its magic here as well. Momentarily entranced by the sight Hook reached out his good hand and fingered the soft material of her gown. The sound of Smee shuffling up beside him broke the spell and he jerked his hand away. Always curious, and often not very bright, Smee immediately went to touch the dress. Without even thinking about Hook smacked the other man’s hand like he was a naughty child.

“No, she’s not for you.” Hook chastised. Technically she was for him but Hook didn’t really want her. Still, he felt a strange sense of ownership. She was after all the treasure he had come to claim.

With his good hand Hook reached down and grabbed a pouch from his remaining belt. It was a small, black leather pouch with a star embroidered on it. Opening it carefully he revealed the glowing contents within. Mindful to only take a small punch he sprinkled just a tiny bit of the dust on the girls face. Leaning down, with more ceremony that he intended, Hook pressed a soft kiss to the girl’s lips. He was surprised to find that they were slightly warm. Pulling away Hook tucked the pouch away. When nothing happened immediately afterwards Smee began to fidget and mutter about the Duke being a liar. He even went so far as to begin to lean towards the girl’s face on the pretense of trying to see if she was breathing. Nearly nose-to-nose with the girl Smee let out a squeal of surprise and horror when her eyes suddenly shot open.

Hook bit back a laugh as he pushed Smee away. Leaning down Hook smirked into a pair of hazy blue eyes. “Good morning Princess, time to wake up.”

A confused, “What?” was all the girl could get out before her eyelids fluttered shut again.

The Duke had warned Hook about this. He said fairy dust could help break the curse but that it would take some time for the girl to truly wake up. Curses like this were notoriously temperamental and the caster of such a curse would not want to make it easy on the curse breaker. As they had parted the Duke had also muttered something about mixing spells and curse contamination. Shaking his head Hook slid his arms underneath the princess’s body and heaved her off the stone slab. He didn’t have time to worry about that sort of thing.

“Come along Mr. Smee, we have a chaplain waiting for us.” Hook let out a small laugh then and carried the girl out of the remains of the castle.
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Her eyes opened slowly, like the two heavy doors of a treasury finally sliding open to reveal the secrets within. Gently, she swallowed and tried to get the uncomfortable dry feeling out of her mouth. From head to toe her body ached and her eyes fought against the light. This was the second or maybe even the third, then again, it could possibly be the fourth, time she had struggled to wake up. The curse still seemed to hold sway over her body and refused to let her go.

Aurora had vague memories of her initial wakening. There had been men, two of them. Their faces were blurry but she could recall a great black shape and a wobbling red one. Rubbing a hand over her face, she tried to shake the cobwebs from her mind. The sensation of the world moving beneath her distracted her from her musings. An accompanying sound of boards gently creaking and a soft breeze made wherever she was seem quite pleasant. Almost like she was hanging from some great arbor in a wooden basket. Sitting up slowly Aurora tried to get her bearings. Wherever she was, the place was completely foreign. It was a wooden room decorated with foreign fabrics, strange treasures and paper. There was, quite literally, paper everywhere, maps, books, charts, posters and drawings. All manner of knowledge that could be shoved into various chests, rest on shelves, cover any sort of flat surface or be tacked onto a wall. It was like a library gone horribly wrong.

Swinging her legs over the side of the bed Aurora attempted to stand for the first time, in who knew how long, but her legs refused to obey. In her mind she could see the spindle and she remembered the terrible choice. There was the terrible drumbeat of Maleficent’s threats and her parent’s gentle promises of safety. Lifting her hand she stared at the tiny wound on her index finger. Even after years of sleep it was still there. Grimacing she slammed her hand down on the bed. She didn’t want to think about that, not now. She needed to get up now, she had been prone for so long and she just wanted to stand.

Digging the heels of her hands into the bed she tried to lever herself up into a standing position. With legs as unsteady as a newborn colt’s she began to shuffle across the gently rolling floor. After only a few steps, her atrophied muscles gave out and she went crashing to the ground. A soft cry slipped past her lips and Aurora found herself just lying on the floor, struggling to get up and try again. Her fingernails carved little marks into the wood as she tried to force her body to obey. It refused and no amount of sheer force of will on Aurora’s part, seemed to make any difference.

The horrible smacking sound of flesh against wood must have gotten someone’s attention because only a few moments later the door to the room swung open. Aurora brought her hand up to cover her face as the bright light of day came racing into the room. Her eyes felt ill adjusted to anything more than the minor illumination from the small round windows about the cabin. The sound of heavy booted feet stomping in made Aurora lower her arm just a bit. Tilting her head up she stared up the length of a tall figure dressed all in black. Even though she didn’t recognize the man, she knew it to be the black figure from her strange waking dream. Something deep within her soul curled up and turned cold in his presence.

“So you’re awake then?” The man squatted down in front of Aurora, his arms resting on his knees. He had a casual air about him but casual in a wary fashion. Like an animal trying to convince some small creature it wasn’t thinking about pouncing.

It was as she lifted her head to get a better look at him that Aurora first spotted it. The man’s left hand was gone and in its place was a sharp, glittering hook. Gasping Aurora’s eyes shot up to the man’s face. He wasn’t an old man, younger than she thought he should be, with a scruffy beard and dark hair.

“You’re not a prince, are you?” Instantly Aurora wished she could have taken the words back, for it was stupid thing to say but there was nothing to be done.

Tossing back his head the stranger let out a great bellowing laugh. Shaking his head he flashed Aurora a cruel little smirk, “No, Princess but you are going to make me a king.”

“A king?” Aurora squeaked. Her mind was still hazy from sleep, her body hurt from disuse, and its rather hard introduction to the floor, and this man was clearly mad.

Nothing made any sense to her in this moment and she almost wished she could go back to sleep. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. Maleficent and her fairy godmother had said a prince would wake her one-day with a kiss, that it would be a prince brave enough to withstand the trials of the curse. Actually, Maleficent had implied that many princes would die and ultimately fail in this endeavor, while her fairy godmother had seemed to insinuate that the whole messy business would be over rather quickly. Neither one of them had talked about this eventuality.

“Yes, there will be time for an explanation later. The chaplain has been kept waiting long enough and he is a nervous little fellow.” Grasping one of her arms with his good hand and carefully curving his hook around her wrist, Hook tugged the princess to her feet.

“But I thought, I thought a prince…” Aurora trailed off as the man half dragged her, half walked her towards the door. She knew she sounded stupid, she felt stupid saying it, but she just couldn’t seem to process what was happening to her.

“Turns out you don’t have to be a prince, it just helps. Come on, we have things to do.” Hook gave the princess a small smile and a somewhat gentle shove out the door.

Stumbling Aurora nearly fell out onto the deck only to be caught by a fat, little man with a wobbling red hat and a scruffy beard. The man smiled at her in what he probably thought was a warm or possibly comforting fashion, but it just seemed unnatural. She narrowed her eyes at the little wobbly hat and the memory of the dancing red shape came back to her.

“Who?” She had only just gotten the word out, when once again, she was grabbed by the man in black and swung around. Aurora found herself face to face with a thin, old man who looked deeply uncomfortable. The image of an embarrassed crow flashed in Aurora’s mind and she thought it appropriate.

“This is the,” the old man coughed awkwardly into his hand. “Um, bride?”

“Yes, can’t you see we’re madly in love?” Hook gestured between himself and the princess, a grin on his face. It wasn’t a nice grin. Really, it was the sort of grin that promised harm to the chaplain if he didn’t get on with it.

Clearing his throat the old man produced a book from deep within his shoddy gray robes and opened it up. Thumbing through it to a dog-eared section, he gave the couple one last suspicious look. He was used to girls of high standing running away with unsuitable young men to have clandestine weddings but the bride looked, just as confused as he was, by the events currently taking place. Not one to judge, or question a ship full of pirates, the chaplain just cleared his throat again and began the service.

“Dearly beloved…” He had only gotten a few words in before the captain cut him off with a wave of his hook. The chaplain’s eyes followed the hook nervously and his throat unconsciously tightened.

“None of that, we don’t need any of that. Just get to the important bits and whatever I need to sign.” Hook made a gesture that indicated the chaplain should hurry it along, to emphasize how serious he was. Incidentally, the gesture also implied the chaplain might become intimately acquainted with the hook if he didn’t hurry it along. It was a very powerful and multi-faceted gesture.

“Right, sorry, do you,” the chaplain paused and looked at the captain, the man had never told him his name. A bead of sweat dripped down the side of the chaplain’s face.

“Captain Hook,” the captain helpfully supplied, even as his bride gave him a disbelieving look.

“Do you Captain Hook take,” again the chaplain paused and looked at the girl. Another bead of sweat joined its brother on the journey down towards the chaplain’s neck.

When she didn’t say anything the captain gave her a gentle shake. “Go on and tell him your name girl,” Hook said with a gentle squeeze to the princess’s arm.

Aurora narrowed her eyes at the man and pressed her lips more tightly together, refusing to speak. She had, had enough. Waking up from the curse had been bad enough but this madness had to stop. She was not going to marry some strange man, on a strange ship, with a somewhat damp looking, little chaplain presiding over it while wearing the same dress that she had been sleeping in for who knows how long. It was just too much and she was putting her foot down or rather she was silently protesting. The foot part could be considered metaphorical.

The man, who called himself Captain Hook, leaned down and hissed in her ear. “Now listen here princess. I woke you from that curse with a kiss and per the deal set out by said curse, whoever awakens you, weds you. Now you’re not going to go back on that deal, are you? After all, how do you know that the curse won’t put you right back to sleep or that I might just throw you overboard for a being more trouble than your creamy hide is worth?”
Eyes wide Aurora looked carefully at Hook. There was a sort of barely restrained annoyance flashing in his eyes and the grip on her arm tightened ever so slightly. In that moment she believed that he really would throw her into the ocean first chance he got if she did not behave. Turning her head slightly to the side, she really took in her surroundings for the first time. She was indeed on a ship, surrounded by a large group of very unsavory looking men, a few of them were even leering at her in a way that suggested something terrible would happen to her before she met her watery grave. Swallowing Aurora looked back at Hook who just jerked his head towards the chaplain.

Feeling dejected but lacking any real choice she opened her mouth and tried to use her dried out vocal cords, “Princess Aurora of the Kingdom of the Sands, Lady of the Golden Palace and Guardian of the Pearl Chalice.” Raising her chin ever so slightly Aurora tried to brush off how wretched her voice had sounded by looking imperious.

The chaplain stared at her for a moment, not really believing that all of that had come out of her mouth, before finally continuing on, “Princess Aurora as your wife?”

“I do,” Hook gave the chaplain his best crocodile grin, just so he could watch the other man fidget.

Averting his eyes the chaplain looked to the princess. “And do you Princess Aurora take Captain Hook as your husband?”

Aurora let her eyes flit to Hook, a unsettling smirk and a slight squeeze to her arm, as her only response. Sighing she croaked out the words, “I do.”

“Then I now pronounce you man and wife, you may kiss the bride and please sign the registry.” Reaching into his long coat the chaplain drew out another book. He flipped to a blank page and held it out towards Hook.

Hook smiled and turned towards his bride. The girl looked deeply uncomfortable and not completely well. Taking a brief moment of pity on her, he bent down and gave her a quick, chaste kiss not unlike the one he had used to awaken her. His crew whooped and shouted behind them in celebration, not particularly concerned with how innocent the kiss may have been. Letting go of the girls arm Hook took the registry from the chaplain. Smee appeared immediately at his elbow holding out a quill and taking the book to steady it so the captain could sign. The deed done Hook pressed the book back into the chaplain’s hands.

“Smee, pay the man and see him off my ship. We have some celebrating to do.” At the mere mention of celebration the crew began to cheer again.

Grinning Hook grabbed his bride and swept her up into his arms. The cheers of the crew only grew louder as he carried her back to his cabin. Kicking the door open he stepped inside just as the crew launched into a bawdy song about a bride on her wedding night. Nudging the door shut with his foot Hook crossed the cabin in a few quick steps and tossed the girl down onto his bed. The princess hit the bed with a squeak but recovered quickly and immediately scurried to the corner of the bed farthest from him. With a laugh Hook shed his jacket and tossed it onto a hook that jutted out of the cabin wall. Collapsing into his favorite chair, Hook rubbed his good hand over his eyes. It had been an exhausting day and in a bit he would have to go out there and celebrate with his crew, when what he really need was a good rest.

Aurora sat curled up in her corner of the bed. From outside she could hear the sounds of the crew singing and cheering. Periodically voices would drop off, probably a sign they were busy drinking something. Everything hurt, and even though she had slept for so long, she felt so tired. Nothing about this day made sense. Swallowing carefully she screwed up her courage and spoke, “Excuse me, Captain? Are you, are you going to.” She had to stop before she could try again. “Are you going to be exercising your marital rights?”

Hook let out a quick bark of laughter at the question and opened his eyes. He took a moment just to gaze at the girl and she was a girl. She barely looked old enough to be married and her reactions thus far suggested she had very little familiarity with men. Shaking his head he threw the girl one of his more roguish grins, “If I were ever to exercise my marital rights, as you so delicately put it, it would be with a bride who was a woman and not a damp little girl. Don’t worry princess, your virtue is safe for now.”

With an indignant gasp Aurora sat up in her corner. Rolling back her shoulders she glared down her nose at the man, “I am not a damp little girl.” For a moment all her exhaustion was forgotten as righteous anger flowed into her. This man, this beast, had the nerve to call her a damp little girl. Not only did he insult but he had kidnapped her, dragged her around, bruised her person and forced her into some bizarre pirate ship marriage. She would not take it.

Laughing Hook leaned back and rested his boots on his desk. “Oh but you are. A scared little flower who has never been far from her palace walls.”

“Then why come and take me? Why all of this,” Aurora waved a hand as she searched for the proper word to describe the day, “This, madness.” She snapped the word at him and immediately pouted. The word had been bobbing around in her head and it was starting to feel tired.

Smiling Hook tapped the fingers of his good hand against his leg. “I might as well tell you, I have nothing better to do. I have a reputation to maintain after all.”

“A reputation?” Aurora squeaked out. She had a guess as to what that might mean but she really didn’t want to know. Sheltered as she had been, her parents hadn’t been able to stop her from overhearing all the palace gossip.

“Let’s just say, that, you would leave this cabin well satisfied and bow legged.” Smirking Hook tilted his chair ever so slightly back. “But to answer your other question, there is a Duke. He has an interest in rare royalty, in particular queens. Curiously enough, when I asked him how I could acquire someone like that, he mentioned you. The poor little sleeping beauty, a princess with her own castle and now that her parents are long dead is in fact a queen. Which means that if I were to awaken and wed you, I would be King of the Sands and all that other nonsense you listed off and you would be a rare Queen.”

The comment about her parents being dead hit her hard but at the same time left her unsurprised. While she didn’t know for precisely how long she had slept something inside of her had told her not to hope. She had prepared herself for this, even before she touched the spindle and she would have time to mourn later. Right now she needed to focus on the problem before her, the pirate. Narrowing her eyes Aurora shifted into a more comfortable position with her back still pressed firmly against the cabin wall. “What could be so important that you would go through all this trouble to get it?”

Hook sat forward and made his chair legs smack into the wood of the deck. Dropping his legs to the ground he gave the princess a nasty smile. “That is none of your concern. All you need to worry about is smiling when we go to see the Duke tomorrow. Get some sleep, you look haggard.” Rising from his chair Hook went over to one of his shelves and pulled off a book.

Flipping through the pages he began to studiously ignore Aurora as he tried to waste some more time. He hadn’t been lying when he said he had to protect his reputation. His men expected him to take full advantage of his rights and to not do so would raise concern. The idea left Hook feeling strangely cold inside, he did after all have his own code and fucking a sobbing, frightened girl did not to stiffen his cock, so he was going to leave her alone. When he went outside later he would put on a good show, talk about her smooth skin, her pert little breasts, tell them all she was tight as a vice and that she begged him for it.
On the bed Aurora watched him like a mouse might watch a hawk. Slowly it became clear that he really wasn’t going to talk to her again. Sliding down in the bed Aurora slipped underneath the covers. Pulling them up high, she wrapped herself tightly and tried to fall asleep. The raucous noise from outside kept waking her up but eventually she was able to drift off.
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At first she was cold and then she was falling and finally, she hit the floor. Aurora let out an angry little scream as the side of her face made contact with the hard wood. Rolling her head to the side she discovered a pair of black boots were right next to her nose.

“Rise and shine princess, we have things to do.” Hook tossed down a wadded up length of fabric and it landed heavily on top of Aurora. The man looked far too chipper for someone who had spent the evening carousing with a group of pirates.

Pushing herself up, Aurora tried to untangle herself from what she discovered to be a blue dress. Lifting it up she looked at it curiously and then raised her eyes to stare up at her new husband. “What is this?” She shook the dress at him.

“We’re going to see the Duke and seeing as how you are now a queen, you should look the part.” Grinning Hook went over to his chair and threw himself down in it. Leaning back he held up his hand and hook in a gesture that suggested she get on with it. Hook was prepared to enjoy the show, whatever sort of show it may turn out to be.

“You want me to put this on? Now?” Aurora looked around the room but saw they were alone but with no way for her to have any sort of privacy. The thought of changing in front of this man felt strange, a man who previously professed to having no lustful intentions. Yet, here he was, grinning at her like he was going to enjoy the whole thing quite a bit more than he should.

“Yes, now, we don’t have all day. Just put it on and we’ll be on our way. Look, I’ll even close my eyes,” Smiling Hook closed his eyes and waited for the sounds of rustling fabric.

With a grumble Aurora rose from the floor. Turning around, at least if he opened his eyes then he wouldn’t see all of her, she quickly began to undo the laces on her dress. It proved difficult and there was much muttering with the occasional curse thrown in as she wrestled with the dress. Her governess would have been horrified to hear such words slip past her lips but it occurred to Aurora that her governess was probably dead so it didn’t matter. All of a sudden she felt something cold and metallic against her back. Nearly jumping, she whipped her around. Standing directly behind her was Hook. Her eyes widened as the man slowly and almost clinically began to untie all the laces along the back of her dress. He used his hook and fingers together in a dexterous little dance. When he was done he took a couple of steps back and closed his eyes again.

“Let me know when you need to me to the tie other one up.” There was laughter in his voice and it made Aurora’s cheeks burn with embarrassment.

Shucking off the old dress Aurora kicked it aside. Toeing off her shoes she nudged them towards the dress. In just a couple quick, efficient movements she shed her stockings and added them to the pile of dirty clothing. Something inside of her rebelled at the idea of ever wearing the lavender dress again. It had been her burial shroud and then her wedding gown, now the only thing she wanted to do with it was burn it. The cold, damp of the cabin made her hiss and quickly redress in the long blue gown. It was a fine thing made of lace and silk with delicate patterns embroidered all over it. When she went to lace the ties in the back she found she couldn’t reach. Letting out a frustrated sigh she turned her head and looked back over her shoulder at the captain.

The man was still standing there, eyes closed, with a smirk fixed firmly upon his face. Seeming to sense her gaze, his eyes snapped open and he looked straight at her. With a widening grin Hook stepped forward and with that same tactile grace he had previously demonstrated, quickly laced her gown. Stepping back he spun her around and looked her up and down.

“You’ll do but you really should do something about your hair.” Shaking his head Hook gave her once last appraising look. Walking over to the door he picked up a pair of dainty slippers he had left there. “You can wear these. You have fifteen more minutes to finish readying yourself before we have to leave.” With that final word Hook strode out of the cabin and back onto the deck.

For a moment Aurora felt her lower lip quiver. Yesterday had seemed like an awful nightmare. The day something she dreamed up deep in her tortured curse sleep. Today though, with fresh sunlight and new clothes, it was just made all the more awful. Sniffing she slid her feet into the shoes and was surprised to find that they fit comfortably. Bringing up a finger to rub at her nose she made her way over to a looking glass that hung in the cabin.

Considering her reflection in the mirror Aurora reached up a hand and picked at her hair. She really did look like a mess. The dress was beautiful but her face looked tired and her hair looked as though all the creatures of the forest had been nesting in it. Very carefully Aurora picked up a brush, it was a curious thing, it looked like the sort of item that belonged to a lady but here it was beside Hook’s more masculine items. Setting the brush back down she began to the slow process of untangling the various jeweled ornaments from her hair. When she was done she selected the brush again and slowly began the familiar, comforting motions.

She had never really done her own hair before, there had always been maids, and she didn’t know what to do with it. Once she was satisfied the tangles were out of it she picked up a ribbon that had been lying there beside the brush and tied her hair back. It made for a strange juxtaposition, the hair that made her look so much younger and the dress that made her look so much older. In that moment she longed for Flora, her little maid, who always used to do the most wonderful things with her hair. It had been Flora who readied her hair that final night. The realization hit her like a sudden storm. Flora, was likely dead. While she had understood what Hook had said about her parents being dead and she knew logically that meant her governess was dead, the thought of everyone being dead was just too overwhelming.

A wave of grief washed over her. Yesterday had been so strange and dreamlike that she hadn’t even stopped to think about it. Now it consumed her mind. The sound of the door crashing open covered up the first sob from her mouth. Hook strode into the room took one look at her and let out a bored sigh.

“I can’t have you crying now. Save your tears for when we’re done.” Grabbing her wrist Hook hauled the princess along behind him.
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Hook had procured a carriage for the ride to the Duke’s palace. Aurora didn’t ask where he had gotten it from and she wasn’t completely sure she wanted to know. The ride over did give her time to compose herself and Hook, oddly enough, helped. Every time she would start to sniff or even if she looked like she might cry he would let loose an aggravated sigh that immediately made her stop. Some part of her instantly rebelled against him and wanted to prove that she could be strong. This man, who treated her like some kind of strange doll, needed to know that she was a person and that she wouldn’t take this for much longer. At least, that was what she kept telling herself.

By the time they arrived, Aurora felt like she could take on anything. When the carriage door opened she stepped out with all the grace and bearing of a Princess, nay, a Queen. Later she would cry for everyone she had lost, for now she would be a Queen and get through this ridiculous charade Hook had orchestrated. The man in question followed her out of the carriage and smirked at the footman who held the door. The Duke, of what Aurora still didn’t know, was a lesser noble famous for his peculiar and eccentric tastes and his palace reflected this. The entire building looked like some sort of strange dream carved out of sugar and gold leaf. A smartly dressed butler coughed to catch her attention and then proceeded to lead them inside.

The inside of the palace was no less impressive or surreal. They were lead through marble hallways with massive gold covered and painted decorations. Aurora had wanted to pause and study some of the decorations but Hook’s hand on her back kept urging her forward. Something about them made her deeply uncomfortable. When she did look up at Hook she noted that his face was solemn and his eyes were fixed firmly ahead. She could only assume that he had stopped to study them before and found them to be deeply displeasing. At the end of one of the hallways was a large red and gold door. With some considerable effort the butler opened it and ushered them into a drawing room covered in purple silk and silver filigree.

Bowing deeply the butler backed out of the room. A strange giggling noise made Aurora and Hook turn around. Standing by a side table was a fat, balding man with more chins than Aurora thought one man could possibly possess. They each jiggled of their own accord when the man giggled a second time.

“Forgive my butler for not introducing you but I so deplore those boring trivialities,” the Duke had a high pitched little voice. It crawled over Aurora’s skin and made her want to shiver. With one bejeweled finger the Duke gestured at Aurora. “I take it, that this is her? Did you bring any proof?”

Sighing Hook reached into his pocket and tossed a little item at the Duke. The Duke caught it, somewhat inexpertly, and held it up to the light. At the sight of it, Aurora gasped.

“That’s mine…” was all she managed to get out before Hook fixed her with a dangerous looking glare.

“Yes, yes it is yours Princess or should I say Queen. No, your highness, yes it is yours, your highness.” The Duke smiled and seemed to ooze over to them. Picking up Aurora’s hand he slowly slid the ring onto her finger. As the Duke pressed a kiss to her hand Aurora had to resist the urge to shudder and pull away.

Looking up the Duke met her eyes and grinned. “Yes,” he said as he stroked her hand. “She is lovely, lovely and untouched.”

“Isn’t she though?” Hook leaned down so his face was near the Duke’s. “A fair trade I’d say.”

“Oh yes, more than fair,” The Duke picked up Aurora’s hand again and slathered it with kisses.

“My book?” Hook prompted the Duke not wanting the man to get too far off the track.

The Duke merely nodded dreamily and pulled away from Aurora, his fingers lingering for as long as possible. Walking over to the side table, where he had first been standing, the Duke picked up the book and carried it back to Hook. The pirate took it with a smile and flipped through it checking its authenticity. As he examined his prize the Duke slid closer to Aurora again, one hand trailing up her arm. Biting down on her lip, Aurora’s eyes swept over to Hook. The man seemed completely engrossed in his new tome and oblivious to what was going on. When Hook did look up he just gave Aurora a little smile and a wink. Waving the book at the Duke one last time, Hook tucked it into his coat and turned, heading back for the door. Opening her mouth Aurora went to object but no sound came out. He was leaving her here. The awful bastard was leaving her here with this creepy little man.

Aurora felt a rush of anger fill her chest just as the Duke began to speak. “I’ve never had a Queen before, noble virgins are so hard to find these days, they’re all so,” the Duke paused before finally spitting out the word. “Dirty.”

Just at the door Hook paused and turned back around. “Did you say virgin?”

“Yes,” The Duke had a dreamy smile on his lips. “I do so love them. Untouched, pure.” The Duke brought up a hand and stroked it over Aurora’s cheek. Aurora recoiled from the touch, a grimace sliding across her face.

“Well, strictly speaking, she’s no longer one. Was she supposed to be?” Hook had an innocent expression on his face as he looked over at the Duke.

In an instant, the Duke withdrew his hand and took a large step backwards. His beady little eyes jumped between Aurora and Hook. “She’s not?” The Duke pointed an accusatory finger at Aurora.

“You never said and well, she was my wife. What kind of pirate would I be if I hadn’t claimed that treasure?” Grinning Hook leaned against the great big doors. “You know if you really want to make her scream you should get yourself one of these.” Hook held up his left hand and wiggled the implement at the Duke. “She really has a thing for hooks.”

The Duke blanched and for a moment looked like he might be ill, then he started to shriek. “Go! Go! GO!” Jumping up and down the Duke waved his arms. “Take her with you! Take her away! Awful, dirty, evil, lying child, take her away! Mortimer, MORTIMER! I touched her, I have to be cleansed.” Looking like he might start crying the Duke began to wave his hands about. The doors burst open, or as close as they could come to it, and the butler came hurrying in.

Hook took the opportunity to grab Aurora by the wrist and pulled her out of the room. The two raced through the palace halls with Hook laughing all the way. Aurora had to wrap her dress up in her free hand so that she would not get caught in it. Her heart pounding the entire time they dashed down the hall. Whistling at the coachman and footman they practically leaped into the coach and were on their way before the coach doors had even closed. Aurora collapsed onto the bench on the far side of the coach her heart thudding in her chest. For a few terrible moments, she had believed that Hook was going to leave her there with that fat little man. On the other side of the carriage Hook was wiping at his eyes his laughter still subsiding.

“Did you see his face?” Hook snickered and wiped at his face again. “I’ve never seen a grown man turn that color before.” Shaking his head Hook leaned back against the carriage.

“That was your plan all along?” Aurora stared at Hook her mouth agape in shock.

“That fat little bastard sent me on some merry little treasure hunt and marriage scheme just so he could fuck a virgin queen, like I was some common errand boy. He had it coming.” Smirking Hook crossed his arms over his chest. “You played your part very well, you do dumbstruck princess perfectly.”

Like a volcano blowing its top Aurora launched herself across the coach at Hook. “You awful, horrible, deceitful, cruel, conniving…” The litany of foul terms was never ending as Aurora jumped on top of the pirate and began to beat on him with her fists. “How dare you! I am the Princess of the Sands! My kingdom is one of the largest in the realm! I am worth more than some joke and a dumb book,” Aurora hit Hook particularly hard around the ear.

With only one good hand it was difficult to wrangle a struggling girl but Hook was a strong man and had some practice. Getting both her arms behind her back Hook held her wrists in one hand. They were tiny wrists, dainty. Trying not to laugh, he locked eyes with the princess as she glared at him with the full force of her rage, her chest heaving.

“Now, now princess. Don’t get too worked up. Besides, this has all worked out for you. I woke you from your curse, I didn’t let the awful little Duke have his way with you and now you’re free.” Hook smirked at the girl.

“Free?” Aurora said the word like it was some strange concept. It even sounded foreign on her lips.

“Free. Do what you want. Go back to your castle, build a new castle, find yourself a real prince. I promise not to tell him you’re already married.” Laughing Hook let Aurora go and pushed her back to her bench. It seemed like she wasn’t going to hit him again. Just in case, he kept his hand at the ready.

“Go?” Aurora had never thought of going anywhere before. No one had ever told her she could just go before.

“Wherever you want,” Hook said with a grin.

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Hook watched Cora leave the beach. They had completed their business and he was glad to see the back of her. She was a necessary evil and unfortunately, had a place in his current life. The sound of boots crunching over sand made him turn his head to look at the newcomer. A woman approached him, moving gracefully across the beach. She was slight, barely reaching his shoulder, and dark-haired. Dressed in leather and glimmering fabrics, her hair adorned with ribbons and beads, she looked like some sort of fairy creature that had escaped from the deep woods. The woman, who in appearance could better be described as a girl, laid one small hand on his shoulder and studied Cora’s retreating form. A thoughtful frown creased her mouth.

“She can’t be trusted.” The words had a haughty quality to them. It didn’t matter how long she sailed on a pirate ship, there just seemed to be certain things that she could not shed. Every word that she spoke always seemed to carry the weight of a decree.

“Who said that I trusted her?” Turning Hook smiled down at his companion.

Bringing a hand up he cupped the back of her head, the fingers of his good hand threading loosely through her hair. He loved her hair, the scent, the texture of it against his skin, all of it called to him on a visceral level. There had been an incident, involving the Lost Boys, where a good chunk of it had been cut off it and he had mourned until it grew back. She did not have a face for short hair, hers was a beauty that was meant to be framed by long curls.

“You’re putting a lot of faith in her.” There was a petulant, distrustful quality to the words. Jealousy was not of unheard of between them but this was a new thing. This reeked of a kind of discontent that had simmered between them for ages.

“Don’t pout princess. She is merely a means to an end. Once,” pausing in his speech Hook turned more towards his companion. Tilting Aurora’s head up he leaned down towards her. “I have skinned my crocodile, you and I shall finally have our happy ending.” They were words he had said before and it was a promise that had long gone unfulfilled.

“Back to Neverland?” The girl raised an eyebrow. This song was an old one and it was a tired one.

“Wherever we want to go, maybe even somewhere in this new world of Cora’s.” Bending down Hook pressed a hungry kiss to Aurora’s mouth. She didn’t fight the kiss but she pulled away quickly, not allowing him to linger.

“Do you really need to kill him? To go through all of this?” Aurora waved a hand in the direction Cora had left. In one hand gesture she seemed to imply revenge, blood lust and dead love. It was an impressive hand gesture, after all, she had the finest tutor in expressive hand gestures available.

“I have to. I can’t let him live after what he did to me.” Hook released his hold on Aurora and leaned back away from her. “I have spent centuries planning this, I will not give up now.”

“But this quest of yours has only ever brought you pain. Can’t you see that?” Holding out her hands Aurora went to embrace Hook but the man just pulled farther away.

“It brought me you,” Hook slowly looked Aurora up and down as though to suggest she was both something more than pain and a physical manifestation of all his pain.

Swallowing Aurora laid a hand gently on his arm. “Killian, vengeance only brings more vengeance. You’ve let it rule your life for so long. This could be our chance to be free of all of it. Instead of killing your crocodile we could go somewhere in this new world. Begin a new in a place that carries no bad memories.”

These were words she had said to him before, this scene an old one, well rehearsed but they seemed to keep coming back to it. Even now she tried to persuade him away from the path he knew they had to take. For a moment Hook looked like he might consider it. It wasn’t often Aurora used his true name, and for this reason, it always carried a strangely heavy weight.

In the end, he shook his head. “No, I can never be free until I kill him. I owe that to her.” Pausing Hook bit down on his lower lip. “Go change, we’ll be playing the merchant and the young wife. You look too much like a pirate.” Hook shook Aurora’s arm loose and turned away from her.

“You used to say I looked like a princess,” Aurora shot back at the man before spinning on her heel and stalking away across the beach back to their encampment.