It’s weird, the sudden shift in the sky from light to dark as they arrive in Neverland, but Emma has bigger issues to think about. Though of course Henry’s safety is always at the forefront of her mind, it’s not just that, it’s snapping at Mary Margaret and David. It’s having parents from a fairytale land the same age as her.
Most of all, it’s herself. Henry is her son. She should have been able to protect him. She should have been able to save him, and now he’s all alone on an island that has both Hook and Gold grinding their teeth whenever its name comes up.
“I thought I’d find you here.”
Emma gives a little sigh at exasperation at the sound of his voice, before turning her head. “Why’s that?”
Hook shrugs. “We may be in a different realm, but you’re still an open book.”
The ship creaks while traveling towards its destination. Everyone has retired to one of the cabins for the remainder of the trip. Mary Margaret and David are probably talking about her, what to do about the daughter who doesn’t believe in good always wins. Her jaw clenches.
“I’m really not in the mood for this,” she snaps. “You better not have turned your ship around hoping for some chance to—get together with me or whatever, because it’s not happening.”
Hook has the audacity to look taken aback.
“You think that’s why I returned?”
“Why else?” She really can’t think of another reason. At the docks he said she reminded him he could care about someone other than himself. Who else could he have meant but her, the one he’s been flirting with the most? It certainly wasn’t for the runner-up Mary Margaret.
His tongue darts out to wet his lip. She fights to keep her eyes trained on his.
“I rescued a boy from drowning in these waters once,” he says, apropos of nothing.
“Okay,” she says flatly, hoping this is not some attempt at looking good for her and that this is actually going somewhere.
“He spent quite some time on my ship,” he continues. “I taught him to sail. I…” He swallows. “I would have given up my revenge for him if only he’d let me, but he couldn’t see past what I was.”
Hook’s laugh is surprisingly self-deprecating.
“A pirate,” he says, emphasising the word, taut and harsh. “After he reminded me of that I proved him right and betrayed him.”
Despite herself, she’s being drawn in by the story. Given that ending, it’s clearly not what she thought it was.
“Why are you telling me this?” she asks softly.
He matches her volume, soft blue eyes gleaming with eyeliner. “The boy was Baelfire.”
Her eyes widen. Realization dawns. “That’s how he knew how to sail your ship back from New York.”
“Aye,” he says. “He is… was… Henry’s father. I turned my ship around because I didn’t want to betray his boy the way I did him.”
Relief floods through her. Hook isn’t here for some misguided attempt at trying to get with her, he’s here for himself—in a good way, this time.
“You want to prove to yourself that you can be a good person,” she says. When he blinks at her, Emma can’t help but smile. “I’m not the only open book here.”
He grins briefly before it fades. She finds herself mourning its disappearance. “Aye,” he admits. “I wasn’t always a pirate, you know.”
She nods, editing her previous sentence. “You want to prove that you can be what you once were.”
Hook nods back, his gaze lingering on her for a second longer than necessary, before he gets out his flask and pops off the cork with his mouth.
He offers it to her. She accepts and takes a swig. The burn of the rum travels down her throat, before she gives the flask back and he takes a drink himself.
She lets out a long and drawn-out sigh. The alcohol settles in her belly, warm and inviting, the exact opposite of what Henry must be feeling now. Hold on. We’re coming for you.
“Thank you,” she says. “No matter your reasons, if you hadn’t returned, I wouldn’t have been able to go after Henry. So thank you.”
Oddly, the usual pirate swagger is absent when faced with a genuine compliment. In fact, he seems almost baffled, before modestly saying, “Of course.”
It’s not endearing. It’s not.
“Really wouldn’t have expected you to,” she says, words flowing more freely after the rum. “I mean, back when you were in that car accident after shooting Belle, I couldn’t have imagined that, in the future, you’d turn around and help us.”
“Neither did I,” he says, voice low. “Back then, I thought I’d be dead by now.”
She startles. “What?”
He doesn’t seem to notice her shock.
“Well, you know.” He waves a hand dismissively. “I kept trying to provoke the crocodile into killing me. It would have been revenge, in a way. Show his new love he hasn’t changed at all. But the clever girl saw that and convinced him not to kill me… Until I took her out of the picture, that is.”
Suddenly, all Emma can see is Gold despairing over an amnesiac Belle, not even aware of the nemesis that had been hit by a car—until Hook began to taunt (provoke) the Dark One. Until Gold kicked him and strangled him and…
“You wanted to die?”
His brows draw together in a frown while he considers her. “Aye,” he says after a long pause. “I did. But I’m glad, now, that it didn’t come to pass.” He averts his eyes, focusing on the ocean instead. “I’m glad I’ve the chance to make up for my mistakes.”
She’s glad he’s still here, too, is Emma’s first thought.
She says gruffly, “Well, we haven’t done anything yet.”
He looks at her again. “True enough. When we arrive in Neverland, we shall rescue your boy.”
God, she hopes so.
“We will,” she says with confidence, because even if she doesn’t know that they’ll save him, she does know that she’ll do everything in her power to try.
Just a lost little girl who didn’t matter and didn’t think she ever would.
It rattles around her head long after she admits it. The explanation for why, when night falls, she hears the cries of the lost.
Something she feels she is, and according to Pan, what she’ll be once this is over. Even the thought of that smug menace has her growling. Hook wasn’t kidding when he called Pan a demon.
After they make camp, it seems everyone falls asleep easily—everyone except her. The crying of the lost ones tear through her soul. What if Pan was right? What if, when they find Henry, it’ll be too late and Henry’s cries will be joining this discordance?
She won’t let that happen. She can’t let that happen.
She switches sides again before giving up on sleep entirely. It’s impossible with the noise of crickets and lost boys and worry for Henry. After she gets up, however, she notices someone missing.
He hasn’t gone far. When she finds him, Emma asks,
To his credit, Hook doesn’t startle. He just turns his head so he can look at her, eyebrow lifting. His eyeliner is not even the least bit smudged, the jerk, while she’s sweating her ass off in this goddamn jungle.
He gets something that’s not quite a smirk, but not a smile either. Something in between. “Not with the ruckus, no.”
“You can hear them?” she asks without thinking.
“That I can, Swan.”
She hears the underlying meaning, knows that only one type of person can hear these sounds.
Just who are you, Swan? he’d asked after she unlocked the map.
She’d teased, Wouldn’t you like to know?
And he’d replied with a far too sincere, Perhaps I would. After which she’d walked away hastily.
Now she finds herself wanting to know his story. Ironic, or something. It’d make for a great distraction from the noise, if nothing else. But something in his expression gives her pause. Besides—it’s not like she’s been offering up any of her life’s stories, she can’t expect him to do it either.
“You’ve lived here for centuries,” she says, “and you never managed to find a way to deal with the noise?”
“Alas, I didn’t. Neverland is quite the unpleasant place.” And he never wanted to return. But he did, to help save Henry.
“Yeah, you can say that again,” she says after scoffing. “Too bad I didn’t have time to pack some earplugs.”
“Earplugs?” he repeats slowly, his accent heavy.
An involuntary smile enters her face. “They’re exactly what they sound like. You put them in your ears and they’ll muffle sound.”
They lapse into silence. Thoughts start creeping back into her head, about Pan’s words and her own confession to Mary Margaret. Filled with an urge to end their silence, she adds, “Some can even play music.” At his awe, she teases, “You do know what music is, don’t you?”
He rolls his eyes. She feels satisfaction at making him be the one to feel exasperated for once. “Of course I bloody know what music is.”
She grins. “Yeah? You got some secret musical background you’ve been holding out on?”
He lifts an eyebrow. “I am a sailor. You think I’ve never sung a sea shanty before?”
She laughs. “Now that, I’d like to hear.”
He pretends to be offended. “And what is that supposed to mean? How do you know it won’t be a balm to your ears?”
She stifles another laugh. Of course he’s going to be arrogant about his singing voice, too.
“Anything is, compared to this.” Though, the cries seemed to have muffled somewhat into background noise, during this conversation. It’s actually bearable now.
He seems to have noticed it, too. “We should try and get some sleep. Being well rested is important if we’re to take on Pan. You’ll have to hear me sing another day, I’m afraid.”
“Alright,” she says, feeling lighter for the first time since that conversation with Mary Margaret. “But I’m holding you to that.”
His eyes twinkle with mirth. “I wouldn’t dream of depriving you, love.”
She rolls her eyes, but she’s smiling.
It feels better now that they have a plan, a way in thanks to Tinker Bell—and yeah, that still feels weird, meeting yet another popular fairytale character—but it’s their pursuit of trying to find a way out that’s bothering her. They try to get an exit plan by studying Neal’s cave.
It’s fruitless. The only one who can help them is gone.
They’re walking back, Regina far in the front, unusually subdued ever since she and Tinker Bell talked. Behind her are David and Mary Margaret, exchanging banter that Emma is not going to subject herself too, thank you very much. It leaves her to walk behind them next to Hook.
Emma’s jaw is clenched, her teeth are gritted, and she’s sure her eyes must be reflecting the thundercloud brewing in her mind while she stalks through the unbearably hot jungle, shoving at the plants in her way.
Tentatively, Hook asks, “Something on your mind, love?”
His extreme hesitation would be funny if she wasn’t so angry.
(She’s not really angry, the rational part of her mind knows. She just covers up feelings of hurt and upset with an emotion that’s far, far easier.)
“Other than saving Henry from a maniac?” Her voice is brittle. “No.”
He doesn’t let her tone deter him. “It must have been strange, to see your Neal’s past so clearly etched onto the walls of the cave where he lived as a boy.”
And that’s it, the final straw. Not only is the way he can read exactly what’s bothering her—even if it’s just a part of it—infuriating, but also—
“He’s not mine,” Emma snaps. "He never was.” To her horror, her voice breaks a little. But he doesn’t seem unnerved by that at all.
“I didn’t mean to insinuate anything.”
“He’s dead, that’s what he is,” she says, making sure to keep her tone hushed so Mary Margaret and David don’t hear. “And I never even got to—“
She cuts herself off. There it is. The other part of what’s bothering her.
And he reads that, too. “You never got closure.”
“No,” she admits, and after that, more words spill. “He left me, and then he came back, and I didn’t…”
This is not the time or the place to discuss this. Oddly enough, the person she’s discussing it with doesn’t appear in that list.
“You didn’t get the chance to make him understand your hurt,” he says. It's easy, to talk to him. He understands her. It's why she should stay far away.
“He was gone before, but I was angry at him, then.” Angry, but not really. She wipes sweat off her brow. “And he wasn’t...really gone. Now he is. For good.”
He’s silent, and she wonders if the broadcasting of complicated feelings for another man has scared him off, finally. Then, he speaks.
“You’ll fall in love again, you know.”
Her cheeks burn, because how can he tell? That’s she’s afraid—that she put all the romantic love she could give into Neal and now that he’s gone, he took it all with him?
She can’t raise her voice because then the others will hear this conversation and that’s the last thing she wants. Her voice is a rasp as she tries anyways, through an undignified whisper. “With you?”
“Well, a man can hope,” Hook grins before sobering. “No, Swan. With anyone.”
“I don’t need to.” It sounds more petulant than intended.
“No one needs to. But it’s nice, isn’t it? To have one person there for you, always, through everything.”
She looks off to the side, perplexed by the color that still lingers on her cheeks as she swallows. “Yeah, well, you can’t know that it’ll happen again. Unless psychics are real, too.”
“Actually, seers do exist, but thankfully I’m not one. I wouldn’t like to see the future,” he says cheerfully, before considering her and speaking, far too knowingly, “It won’t be replacing him.”
Her pace slows. Alarm bells are ringing in her head, this is dangerously close to the territory of feelings, but she has to know his explanation. Breathlessly, she asks, “How’s that?”
“Simple. The love you feel for him will never feel the same as love for another, but still more love will come,” he murmurs. “It shall be novel and marvellous, yet never the same."
She lets out a measured breath. She’s not looking at him, but can picture gleaming blue eyes, the same way they did as when he’d said perhaps I would. She can’t help a small moment of yearning with the way he describes it, his accent giving the words an even prettier coat.
The moment passes and she’s herself again, eternally abandoned Emma who slayed a dragon and still doesn’t have enough belief.
And Hook sounds like he knows from experience—which is a can of worms she’s not interested in opening, ever.
She falls back on levity. “Wow. You know, if you ever decide to quit being a pirate, you’d make a decent poet.”
He gives her this look to let her know he’s aware that she’s deflecting, but answers nonetheless. “Flattering as that is, I like my ship, leather and eyeliner far too much to quit.”
“Pillaging and plundering not in that list?”
Surprise flickers in his eyes, but fades quickly.
“Of course there’s a certain invulnerability to the pursuit of conquest,” he says. “But what is that worth, in the end?”
“Being invulnerable prevents you from getting hurt,” she points out.
“That’s not the only thing it prevents.”
Unbidden, words her mother spoke once echo in her head. Your walls keep out pain, but they also keep out love.
They’re the last to arrive at camp, which earns them a snide comment from Regina before they all try to make a new plan.
Her walls do keep out both of those. Sometimes, that’s a good thing. Neal certainly caused her a lot of heartache, and after shielding herself she hasn’t gotten hurt that way again. But—her mind flashing to the way she connected with Henry, with Mary Margaret, David—it’s not always good.
As they discuss their next move, she feels Hook’s eyes on her. Her eyes shift to meet his.
Occasionally, someone will manage to slip through her defenses.