Their first meeting had been a passing moment – one of a million. They were two lost souls, one without his heart and the other without his freedom, and they wandered blindly into each other. They shouldn’t have been intrigued by one another; they shouldn’t have found each other.
David despised doing Snow’s dirty work. It was work that should have been done by many in much lower rank than him. Unfortunately, she knew of his distaste and enjoyed forcing him to do it. It was why he stood at the docks now, a list in his hands. Strong men carried crates onto the docks from the large vessel. The sun baked the air around them, and David might have pitied the men if he wasn’t in such a foul mood.
“Hurry up!” David barked. “Queen Snow is expecting those boxes to be-.”
He was cut off as someone ran into his back. He snarled, turning around swiftly, and found a man cowering behind him. He had dark hair and a grimy face. His blue eyes were watered and flicking around David, as if he was planning to make an escape. He quickly stammered, “I-I am so sorry, s-sire.”
David grunted. On any normal day, he might’ve struck the man down, ordered him away. Today, however, David sought entertainment from this dull work. “Who the hell do you think you are?”
The man flinched as if surprised at being further addressed. In the same blubbering voice, he said, “N-No one, sire, I’m nobody, I-.”
“Your highness.” David glanced over his shoulder in disdain. The ship’s captain, Blackbeard, was approaching him. David detested pirates, but Snow insisted they work with them. Something to do with bought trust, and how only she could offer the best prices. When Blackbeard was close enough, he bowed with a flourishing hand, all mock and no respect. David clenched his fist. “I hope my deckhand wasn’t giving you any trouble.”
“He wasn’t,” David said, quick and stern. And he hadn’t. David found himself not the least bit annoyed by the man. He wasn’t even sure why he was still picking on the deckhand. He glanced back to him. The man appeared even paler now, eyes flicking nervously between Blackbeard and David. “What’s your name?”
The eyes finally settled on him. “I’m sorry?” As an afterthought, he barked out a quick and scared, “Sire!”
“His name is Hook,” Blackbeard huffed, voice filled to the brim with humor and contempt. The deckhand winced, eyes falling to his feet.
David wasn’t stupid; he understood where the nickname came from. The man had a shiny, metal hook in place of a left hand. David wondered to himself where it had gone; he wondered if Blackbeard had anything to do with it.
“I asked him,” David said calmly, carefully putting an edge into his voice. Captain or not, Blackbeard was tiptoeing a very fine line; David was quite known for his temper. He nodded pointedly to the deckhand.
His eyes widened considerably, and he blurted a quick, “Killian, Killian Jones…sir.”
“Hm,” David hummed, surveying Killian Jones closely. Blackbeard seethed at his side, and David reveled in it. Eventually his eyes met Killian’s again. “Watch where you’re going next time, Killian.”
Killian nodded frantically. “Yes, sire, absolutely, sire, it will never happen again, I-.”
“Get to work, Jones!” Blackbeard shouted. The deckhand flinched again and quickly climbed back onto the ship. David watched as he grabbed a bucket and brush and ducked to the ship deck, beginning to clean. In a gruff voice, Blackbeard muttered, “Apologies for him, your highness.”
David grunted, stepping away from Blackbeard. He paid no mind to the men still working as he stepped off the docks. He ordered a nearby dwarf to take his place and shoved the list into his hands without waiting for a response.
David walked away and ignored the pained cry of the innocent deckhand.
Killian didn’t know why he was here. If Blackbeard learned that he’d snuck away during his duty, he’d have Killian’s head. Killian couldn’t even drink alcohol, so there was no reason for him to be at a pub in the port anyway. But some of the men had invited him along, and they had never done that before; Killian had felt welcomed. Of course, he shouldn’t have been surprised when they immediately abandoned him upon entering the pub. He stood up from his barstool, preparing to leave, when a careful hand landed on his shoulder.
Killian glanced behind him to find a young woman. She was wearing an apron over her worn dress, and her hair was a sad mess atop her head. Killian instantly pegged her as a barmaid and waited patiently until she said, “The man in back wants to speak to you.”
Killian’s eyebrows knit in his confusion, but the barmaid only shrugged before walking briskly over to a few shouting men demanding a refill. Killian frowned but decided it best to do as the barmaid said; he didn’t want to get on anyone’s bad side, stranger or not.
When Killian reached the very back of the pub, he was able to exhale a short breath of relief. The back of the pub was shadowed and quiet. This relief was instantly banished when he realized who had called upon him.
While Killian wasn’t exactly sure what title the man held, he knew David Nolan was a man of great power. He was Queen Snow’s right hand, and he came with the personality to prove it. Cruel, vindictive, and unpleasant, David was a man that haunted dreams of both children and adults.
“S-Sire,” Killian stammered, head bowed and eyes averted. Killian had expected his first interaction with David from a couple of days ago to be his last. He wasn’t sure why David had requested to see him again, but Killian had to hold his hand behind his back to hide its shaking.
“Sit down, have a drink,” David said. His voice was low, leaving no room for objection.
And yet, Killian stayed standing. “I-I cannot, sire.”
He winced when David’s jaw tightened. “And why is that, deckhand?”
He practically spat the word, so Killian was quick to say, “I’m allergic!” A confused frown replaced David’s scowl, and Killian was jarringly reminded that David was, in fact, human. He muttered, “I’m allergic to alcohol…can’t touch the stuff.”
David’s lips quirked to the side, but his eyes were still narrowed; his face was still dark. “Sit, Killian.”
The fact that David seemed to remember his name jerked Killian into action. He quickly fell into the seat next to David and squirmed uncomfortably. The barmaid from before approached their table, and she nodded respectfully to David. “What will it be, your highness?”
“Rum,” David told her. “And…?”
He glanced at Killian, clearly expecting him to finish the sentence, and Killian told the woman, “Goat’s milk…if you have it, ma’am.”
The barmaid nodded, and Killian tried not to perceive her glance to him as a pitiful one. “Of course.”
“I’m surprised you’re still in town,” David said gruffly. He wasn’t looking at Killian. Instead he was focused on something in his hands. Killian recognized it as a small knife and a stump of wood; who knew that the Evil Queen’s hound fancied himself a whittler?
“Yes, well, uh, Captain Blackbeard as some unfinished business,” Killian swiftly informed him. “We’ll be setting sail again in the morning to acquire more supplies for her majesty.”
David’s face twitched back into a scowl for a moment, but he softened it again into an emotionless, intense expression. “Don’t do that.”
“I-I’m sorry?” Killian murmured, heart leaping into his throat. Had he said the wrong thing? He should’ve lied and said Captain Blackbeard was planning on leaving that night. If word got to Captain Blackbeard that Killian had sold him out to the Queen, he’d have more than just Killian’s head. He was about to stammer out more apologies when David said,
“Don’t talk about work. Don’t talk about the Queen, don’t talk about Blackbeard, and don’t talk about shipments.” David glanced at him in a flash of pale blue. “Just…make something up if you have no other way to respond.”
“I don’t…I don’t understand,” Killian admitted nervously.
David shrugged one shoulder. “Say you ask me what I do for a living. Instead of informing you that I belong to the Evil Queen, I’d say that I’m a sheep herder in a nearby village.” His eyes landed on Killian again, but this time they didn’t flash away. “Now it’s your turn: Killian, what do you do for a living?”
“I, uh,” Killian stammered, drawing a blank. What was this? A game? Was David toying with him? Was he trying to make fun of him? What was his goal in all of this?
David sighed, eyes turning away and focusing again on his chunk of wood. “You’re taking too long, Killian.”
“I’m a fisherman!” Killian blurted, thinking of the first thing that came to mind. He’d always wanted to be one as a kid. He’d love to run to the docks with his brother, Liam, early in the morning and watch the boats slide lazily into the sea, nets hanging off their sides.
David’s eyes slid back up, an eyebrow slightly quirked up. Killian continued, “I live in the village, by myself. Sell food at the market every Sunday. It’s not much, but…it’s my life.”
Surprisingly, David’s eyes crinkled together. Killian took it as a smile that didn’t require the use of his mouth. David nodded, glancing back down to his lap. “Sounds like an interesting life. You like the sea?”
“Yes,” Killian said instantly. He knew that David knew he wasn’t lying. Despite the bad things in his life practically revolving around the ocean, Killian did truly love it. “It’s absolutely marvelous. Have you ever been out on the open waters?”
This felt strange. Talking to David this casually felt wrong and disrespectful. And, yet, he didn’t stop. He and David talked for hours. David only had his first glass of rum before changing to goat’s milk like Killian, so they both remained fairly sober throughout the ordeal which is why it was so strange that David just kept talking to him. He’d figured the royal would’ve gotten bored, eventually.
He got David to smile once and even give off a bark of something that seemed like laughter. They’d both relaxed into their seats, lulled into comfort by the dim lighting and quiet atmosphere filled only by their voices and the distant chatter of the front of the pub. By the end of the night, Killian had even been able to find himself with his guard completely down, something that hadn’t happened in a while.
Eventually, Killian noticed the sun peeking through the shutters of a nearby window. He nearly yelped in surprise, leaping to his feet. “I-I have to go or else Captain Blackbeard will have my head.”
When he glanced at David, he found a frown on the man’s face. If Killian wasn’t mistaken, he almost seemed disappointed. “Right. Go quickly then.” Killian turned to walk away, stopped only by David’s voice quietly asking, “When will you return?”
Killian glanced over his shoulder. “A month’s time…I imagine.”
David nodded curtly. He wasn’t looking at Killian now, and instead his eyes were in his lap. Before Killian could begin to leave again, David got to his feet as well. He stretched his back and stepped close to Killian. He reached down, took his hand, and pressed something warm, smooth, and hard into it. Without another word, David nodded again and walked away.
Killian opened the palm of his hand and glanced down. The little, wooden ship was beautifully detailed for such a small piece. He had to bite down a small grin as he tucked the craft into his pocket before rushing out of the pub into the cool, morning air.
“Why do you follow Captain Blackbeard if you despise him so much?”
They were sitting on the docks now. Killian had arrived in the kingdom the day before, and David had quickly found him in the same pub, glancing around the back with a bit of a hopeful gleam in his eyes. He’d brought Killian to the docks, claiming to require a change of scenery.
It had only been when David had asked him to sit next to him that he noticed the limp in Killian’s step and the small winces whenever he turned his torso too quickly. He’d been tempted to call for a doctor but figured Snow might start asking questions if word got back to her.
And word always got back to Snow White.
Even though David wasn’t looking at him, he knew Killian was frowning. He could hear it in the hushed tone of voice; see it in the way Killian’s legs stopped their swinging next to his. “I don’t follow him by choice.”
David nearly laughed. Choice. What did Killian know about choice? He was merely a simple deckhand for a-.
“My father sold my brother and I into slavery when we were young,” Killian murmured. His legs had resumed their swinging, but it seemed more absent-minded now and lacked its former vigor. “Captain Blackbeard just happens to own my contract at the moment.”
David frowned. “Slavery is illegal. Even Queen Snow does not allow it.”
Killian’s tone was bitter now. “When have pirates ever played by the rules?”
I could mention it to her. Negotiate your freedom. He almost spoke the words. They were on the tip of his tongue, ready to slip out into the cool, night air. But he couldn’t because it could never be that easy. He could ask, yes, but then Snow would question him. She’d ask, Why this one, David? It would put both his and Killian’s lives at risk. It would be stupid and only conjure false hope in Killian’s life, and if David had learned anything from Snow, it was that hope was a useless virtue.
“W-Why do you follow her?” Killian asked quietly at his side.
The question startled David. He actually looked at Killian and was unsurprised to find him looking away from David and instead focusing on the bobbing ships. His jaw was twitching; his hand was curling and uncurling in his lap. He knew his question had been risky; he knew it’d been stupid.
“I don’t have a choice,” David murmured, looking away as Killian glanced at him, quickly becoming the startled one. It was clear he’d expected David to ignore him – never answer him. “She has my heart.”
He didn’t say any more, but Killian seemed to understand.
“Don’t we make quite the pair, then?” Killian’s voice was not bitter this time and instead rueful. David still wondered things. What had happened to his brother? Why didn’t Killian even try fighting for his freedom? What would Killian do, if he had it?
Instead, he smirked. “Yes, I suppose we do.”
“Will you teach me to swordfight?”
Killian shouldn’t have been surprised when David frowned at him.
They were in an open field, not too far from the kingdom. David had snuck Killian into the stables, acquired some horses, and had been forced to quickly teach him the basics of horseback riding before leading Killian there. The horses now stood near the border of trees that surrounded the field, grazing peacefully.
“I’m sorry?” David asked, but he had a small grin on his lips which told Killian that he’d heard exactly what Killian had said. His face was washed with moonlight; his pale blue eyes shimmered in it.
Killian glanced away.
“I mean, I am a pirate, right? I figured I ought to have a bit of sword fighting skill under my belt…right?” When he’d thought this out in his head, it had gone much more smoothly than this.
David was shaking his head. “Shouldn’t you be asking one of your shipmates for these kinds of lessons?”
Killian shrugged. “My shipmates don’t really like me. Plus, they think a one-handed man is better for chores anyways. They think I’m useless.”
“You would be,” David said. He glanced at Killian only to find him frowning. “At sword fighting, I mean. You have the balance and grace of a cow, Killian.”
Killian couldn’t help when the frown turned into a pout. “You don’t know that! I could be a natural!”
David’s laugh was so loud that the horses’ heads jerked up in investigation. He laughed so hard he fell onto his back, flattening the grass beneath him. “Good one, Jones.”
Killian huffed and rolled his eyes, trying to ignore the small smile that was creeping onto his own face. “Whatever, David.”
“Where do you disappear to every night?”
David glanced up, mildly surprised, when Snow spoke. They sat across from each other, each silently poking at their food. What he hadn’t realized was that Snow had been staring at him the entire meal, intense and calculating.
David shrugged and looked back to his food. “I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean.”
“Come now, Charming,” Snow said, voice drawled in a bored tone. “You don’t what this conversation to get messy, do you?”
“No, your majesty,” David said through clenched teeth. He sighed, still refusing to look back up at Snow. “I met somebody.”
Snow frowned, and her voice turned sharp. “I certainly hope I’m not being replaced, Charming.”
David fiercely shook his head. “No, of course not. It’s just…”
“Speak!” Snow snapped, and David was hit by the force of her command, compelled to obey whether he wanted to or not.
“I’m lonely,” he snapped back. “This is not exactly what one would call an easy life. He keeps me grounded.”
“He?” Snow questioned, and her voice had gone coy, no longer loud and snappish. She smirked. “Interesting.” She turned back to her food. “You may keep your play thing, David.”
“Thank you, Queen Snow,” David muttered, going back to his own food.
“But,” Snow said softly, voice both delicate and hard in only a way Snow White could manage, “if this man gets in the way of your duties, you will kill him.”
David shuddered. He knew an order when he heard one; he felt an order when he heard one.
“Yes, your majesty,” he replied through a clenched jaw.
“We could steal it back from her, you know.”
Killian glanced at David out of the corner of his eye. David wasn’t looking at him; instead his eyes were focused on the sky above them, twinkling with stars. He had sand in his hair and his clothes were still slightly damp. The ocean rolled onto the beach in waves, lulling them into a comfort easier than either of them had felt in decades.
Killian looked away as David said, “You know, it’s treason to suggest that.”
Killian hummed slightly. “Yes, perhaps.”
He didn’t move as a warm hand curled around his own.
“We would die trying.” His voice was soft, and if Killian were a fool, he’d say it was because David was scared. Scared of the prospect; scared of voicing his dreams, wishes, hopes.
“It’d be worth it.” Killian’s voice had never been surer.
The hand tightened. They remained quiet and instead listened to the waves, to the breeze in the trees, to the unvoiced words that meant just as much as the ones that were said.
David didn’t understand what was happening. A trespasser boy who’d released the crazy woman from the tower with the aid of a one-handed pirate. Of course, when he’d heard that his mind had instantly gone to Killian. But no, not Killian. Killian wouldn’t do that; Killian was only brave with him, no one else.
But then they’d found them and there Killian had been, a sword in his shaking hand.
Then Snow had given the order to kill, and David had been given no choice.
He was pleased to acknowledge that he’d been wrong; Killian was a natural. He was winning, and David found himself glad that he was losing.
But then Killian turned his back, and no, no, Killian, never turn your back. He should’ve taught Killian to swordfight; that would’ve been their first lesson.
The dagger sliding into Killian’s back was the same one the slid into David’s chest, through a heart that no longer resided there.
Killian’s pained breath matched his own as he muttered, “I never did like pirates.”
Killian Jones had never been just a pirate.
He stepped away from the body as Killian slumped to the ground. Vaguely, he realized that the other two were getting away. Snow would be furious.
He’d been so brave. He’d been a hero, if only for a moment.
David wouldn’t be surprised if the next time Snow showed him his heart, it would be in pieces.
“Charming!” Snow snapped. “Go after them!”
He couldn’t move. His legs weren’t cooperating. All he could do was stare down at the person he’d destroyed; everything he touched withered.
David’s head snapped up. He clenched his fingers around the hilt of his dagger.
“Go kill them!”
David stepped over Killian’s body and walked away with his head held high.
He only hoped Snow didn’t see the tear slipping down his face.
They were two lost souls in a dark and twisted land. One had no freedom; the other had no heart. They wandered through the world with no hope, as the Queen’s law decreed.
And yet they found one another. Their times together were short and brief. They left things unsaid and, in the end, nothing could conquer the darkness.
But for a moment, for just a passing moment, they’d created light that outshone the brightest of stars.