It was stuffy below decks, the damp heat of Neverland clinging to her skin though she knew they'd put miles of sky between them and the god-forsaken place. She should be asleep – everyone else was – but despite the smoothness of gliding over the clouds, every groan of the wood made her jump.
After so many frantic days, it was nearly impossible to still her thoughts. She wanted to go check on Henry, again, because even though she logically knew he was all right, she didn't quite believe it. Everything, everyone, that she'd ever loved had been taken away from her, and there had been a few dark moments where she'd been certain she would lose Henry, too.
Not to mention Neal. And her parents.
She hadn't lost any of them, in the end. Not yet. Not really.
But it didn't mean that she could shake the cloud of gloom from her heart. There had been so many terrible confessions inside Echo Cave, but to hear her mother say she had been cheated out of Emma's childhood…what about Emma? She was the one who grew up in foster home after foster home, unloved, unwanted. She'd lost so much in those early years, so many chances for love snatched out from under her nose.
And Neal…Neal who she told she wished he were dead, he was never going to stop fighting for her…now. Now, after she'd spent a year in prison, pregnant, alone. Now, after she'd given up her child and closed her heart to the world, now he wanted to fight.
With a growl of frustration, Emma sat up in a rush, reaching for her boots and tugging them on in sharp jerks. She wasn't going to sleep with her thoughts so tangled, but maybe fresh air would help.
The deck was empty, but there was a strong, cool breeze that pushed her hair off her shoulders. Goosebumps ran down her spine as the wind hit the damp skin at the back of her neck, and her hands rose reflexively to rub over her arms.
She squeezed her eyes shut against his voice. As softly as he'd spoken, maybe she could pretend she hadn't heard him. The way her thoughts had been headed all night, Hook was the last person she wanted to see.
She didn't want to think about how his faith in her had never wavered, didn't want to think about how she really had hoped Neal was dead – and that a tiny sliver of that had to do with that kiss with Hook.
She really didn't want to think about that kiss.
"I know you can hear me, love."
She could – she could hear the soft thud of his boots on the boards, the creak of his leather jacket, the gentle lilt of his voice.
He came to a stop beside her, leaning over the rail. She expected him to needle her, to bring up Neal or some other topic she didn't want to discuss, ever, but he remained silent, gaze on the clouds. And while she knew she should walk away, the thought of closing herself back up below the deck was too much to bear. Besides, Hook wasn't doing anything. He was just standing there, the faint scent of rum and leather drifting over to her on the breeze.
In the end, she was the first to speak.
"Thank you," she said, her voice so quiet the wind nearly drowned it out. The shift of his weight was the only sign he'd heard her, and coward that she was, she kept her eyes on the vast expanse of white rather than his expressive features. "Not just for the ship, but for helping me get Henry back. I know going back to Neverland couldn't have been easy."
He was silent for another long moment, but the air between them shifted, and even before he spoke she had the strangest feeling she'd hurt him. "No. But I would do it all over again to see your boy safe."
She did look at him then, his jaw tight and his brow furrowed. She had the unfathomable impulse to trace her fingers over the hard lines and smooth them out. But touching him was crossing a line, and she'd already crossed enough. She'd meant it when she told him and Neal that she chose Henry – there wasn't room for anyone else to love in her life. Not when it came with the blind terror of possibly losing them.
"I may be a pirate, love, but it was not a lie when I said I believe in good form. I've my share of sins, but to abandon a child…" He swallowed, his throat bobbing with the action as their eyes finally caught, old scars reflecting back at her.
Understanding flooded through her, and before she could think better of it, the words escaped her. "An orphan's an orphan," she said, watching as his eyes widened in momentary recognition of their conversation so long ago. "You weren't talking about the lost boys. You were talking about yourself."
He turned away abruptly with a shrug, the flask emerging from one of his numerous pockets. Taking a healthy swig for himself first, he offered it to her, rings glinting in the moonlight. Against her better judgment, she took it, swallowing down the strong liquor in one burning gulp that left her sputtering.
"Easy, love." His hand landed between her shoulder blades, rubbing gently as she coughed. She'd abandoned her sweater below, and her thin tank top did little to stop the heat of his skin from bleeding into hers.
Push him away. Tell him to get his hands off you.
Emma took another sip of the rum, tightening her grip on the flask to keep herself from doing something stupid.
Hook shifted slightly closer, his hand moving higher on her back beneath her snarled hair. "All right?" he asked, concern lacing the question.
"I'm fine." His fingers curled around the base of her neck, his thumb pressing against the tense muscles and hard knots left behind after days of constant worry and sleeping on the ground. Emma bit back a groan as he worked, leaning heavily on the rail and dropping her head in silent permission to continue.
"It's over, love. We'll have you and Henry home safe in no time."
"Mmm," she mumbled, words beyond her grasp. He shouldn't have been touching her, and she shouldn't have been allowing it, but some part of her was tired of fighting it off – tired of fighting the fact that she didn't really want to drive him away.
She just felt guilty about Neal.
She shouldn't. He'd left her, and in pretty shitty circumstances. She didn't owe him anything, contrary to what her mother kept implying. But it still seemed awfully wrong to be standing so close to Hook, wondering if that kiss and its magic really had been a one time thing, with Neal only feet away.
"Relax. I've got you." Hook's hand stilled for a moment, almost as if he were questioning his own actions, but then he resumed his kneading, and this time, Emma couldn't keep the soft noise of pleasure from escaping.
Beside her, Hook breathed in sharply, the rhythm of his massage faltering. To his credit, he didn't make a joke or throw innuendo in her face like she expected. "Is this helping?" he asked instead, a simple question filled with hesitation and insecurity.
It was the insecurity that had her straightening and turning to face him. He was much closer now, the scent of his skin heavy on the air as Emma searched his face for a trace of cunning or deceit.
Almost as if he could read her thoughts, he reached for her, his hook settling against one hip as his hand curled around the other. "Love, you must know, I would never intentionally hurt you." There was something earnest about his expression, an open honesty in his eyes that usually remained so guarded when the others were around.
But never when they were alone.
Caution be damned, Emma lifted her hand as she'd wanted to since he walked out on deck, tentatively brushing her fingers along his stubble-covered jaw. He held perfectly still as she continued her exploration, and Emma wasn't even sure if he was even breathing as she whispered back, "I know."
Raising herself onto her toes, she tugged on the collar of his jacket, bringing him close enough to press a soft kiss to his mouth. Their first kiss had been all impulse and desire, but this, this was something else as he pulled her closer and deepened the kiss with a sigh. She lost herself in it, the taste of rum on his tongue, the heat of him, the way he overtook her senses so completely she almost didn't hear the sound of someone approaching until it was too late.
Pushing back abruptly, Emma put a solid foot of space between her and Hook, resuming her earlier pose on the rail. She resisted the urge to touch her tingling lips, willing her racing heart to slow and blood to stop rushing quite so loudly through her head. What the hell was she even doing kissing Hook? Did she lack all decency and self-control?
Hook adopted a similar pose, and that was how Neal found them. The change in Hook was instantaneous, his hard smirk firmly back in place as he squared his shoulders and grinned tauntingly at Neal. Whatever vulnerability he'd allowed himself alone with her was gone.
She didn't have the stomach to watch them get into it again, not when she could still taste Hook on her lips – not when Neal's gaze fell on her like lead and she wished he hadn't interrupted them, that the kiss could have gone on and on. She turned away, ignoring the knowing look from one and the soft plea from the other.
No, Hook would never hurt her intentionally. But the road to hell was paved with good intentions, and she would do well to remember that.