We Dissolve in Stars
Of course, the loud thump isn't what makes Aurora look around and spot the figure of a familiar man lying on the ground. It isn't the almost silent moan. It is the bizarre feeling that he would simply be there that makes her turn before any of her companions notice his presence. Intuition, she tells herself as she runs to him.
Emma is a fool for leaving him behind. A fool with a terrible paranoia. And damn me if I watch another man die in front of my eyes.
"Hook!" Aurora yells and kneels next to him. Behind her, she can hear the other women approaching.
"What happened?" Snow White asks worriedly.
"Cora..." the pirate rasps. "... thought I'd betrayed her... ripped my bloody heart out..."
"And you're still alive?" Emma asks incredulously as she crouches next to Aurora. Then something very dark mars her features and she says no more and stands up. Aurora turns to look at the daughter of the queen-warrior and glares daggers at her. This is all your fault, she roars privately at her. The princess turns to look at the fallen pirate and his blazing blue eyes pierce hers. He smiles.
"How come it's always you who is finding me, princess?" Hook asks. Aurora feels a blush warming its way on her cheeks and finds it difficult to continue looking at him.
"I don't know, pirate," she says and as an amusing afterthought, adds: "I seem to have a flair."
"What are we going to do about him?" Mulan asks from behind.
"We're taking him with us."
"I agree," Emma says, quietly. "Here," she says, as she offers her hand to help him up. "I'm sorry... for however little it is worth."
The pirate raises up a bit on his elbows but does not take the outstretched hand. "And what makes you think I want to go with you, ladies? You've proved to be extremely... untrustworthy." Good, Aurora thinks, if he's able to be quirky then he is not on the verge of dying.
Mulan opens her mouth to say something reasonable but Snow White speaks first: "How can we trust you?" she asks with belligerence. "You could be lying to us, or- or you could be Cora and Killian Jones - long dead."
Hook sighs dramatically. "You and your daughter both have a worrying amount of trust issues."
"With reason!" they both reply in unison.
"Oh, well," he says. And opens his shirt to reveal a recently closed wound. Without thinking, Aurora leans into his chest and listens for a heartbeat. Coldness engulfs her as she says, shaken: "I don't hear anything."
"There is something I don't understand," Mulan carefully begins, after a while: "If Cora thought you had betrayed her, why didn't she kill you on the spot?"
"There are fates worse than death, oh, wise one."
Mulan awkwardly looks away and Aurora's eyes stare very deliberately on the ground. "You're coming with us," the princess tells him in an odd, stiff voice.
"And why would I do that?"
"Because you're still weak and you'd be an easy target." His expression actually turns indignant at her words.
Fifteen minutes of arguing not worth mentioning and Hook stands up (on his own).
"Fine," the pirate says in gruff voice. "But I'm not talking to her." He looks at Emma. "She tried to kill me." The blonde remains thankfully silent - the group cannot deal with fifteen more minutes of yells and accusations. "And I'm not talking to you." He points at Mulan. "Because I don't like you. You unnerve me with your zen stoicism and seriousness." The female general simply rises an eyebrow and turns away from him. "See, that's what I'm talking about."
They go. Stars are scattered around the sky like silver dust by the time they light a fire and sit down for a rest. It is oddly uncomfortable but Snow White and - interestingly - Mulan attempt to fill the silence by discussing the recipe for the soup they have made from roots and boiled water. Unsurprisingly, Hook chooses to sit next to Aurora. Mulan however has different plans than letting a pirate try to corrupt a naive princess but in the end settles for sitting on his other side and glaring at him threateningly whenever she can. When the time for sleep comes, the matters become even worse when the Chinese warrior declares that she would not fall asleep just in case the pirate decides to do something funny.
It is almost as awkward on the second day of their reunion. Even more so, when Aurora expresses her desire to bathe in the near lake. The other three women look at her as though she is raving mad - they seem to have forgotten the importance of personal hygiene. In the end, Mulan agrees to let her go (as if Aurora needs allowance!) but only if she accompanies her and only if Emma and Snow supervise the dubious captain Hook.
The water - although cold- feels unimaginably good on her dirty, sweaty skin and her now positively greasy hair. When she feels sufficiently clean - Mulan is frowning at her a bit by the time - Aurora washes her clothes - Mulan is already growling at her - and even allows herself to swim a little (or at least try to swim - she has never learned before).
As mentioned before, the water feels really nice. Aurora may blame the lack of sleep later, but it actually is the pleasant feeling that lets her guard fall down and prevents her from noticing the disturbance of these waters until it is too late. "Aurora," says a trembling voice that makes her heart quench. The princess slowly, disbelieving, turns to look at the face of the man she loves.
"Philip!" she cries and runs to him through the waters of the lake. He embraces her tightly and spins her around happily. "Philip! You're here!" He slowly lets her down. "Wha- How?" Aurora stutters, smiling at him. She turns to look for Mulan, who is gone, oddly. But never mind her.
"I'm here now. Does anything else matter?"
"No. No, it doesn't," Aurora murmurs and raises on her toes to kiss him. Her heart has missed the feeling of his presence, the sweetness he had brought to her. Her prince eagerly returns the kiss. "We have to go and tell everyone!" she exclaims in excitement and takes his hand. Philip stiffens.
"You can't," he tells her.
Her prince cups her face with both his hands, lowers himself a bit so that they can be on the same eyelevel. "Because I can't ever leave this lake." He stands tall again, turns around and begins pulling her by the arm into the deeper parts of the lake. "Come with me!"
"Come with me and we will never be apart again!" Water is already on the level of her chest.
"Philip! I can't! I can't live here!" He continues pulling her still. "I have to go back to the others! Philip!" It is so deep now that her feet no longer touch the ground. Aurora continues to plead her love to stop pulling her in but he doesn't listen. She is beginning to drown and her lungs are screaming and her nose is breathing in water, along with air.
This is it, she is dying. Such a sad, strange notion. At least it is because of love, however twisted it might be.
"Wake up, princess!" Aurora feels a great hit on her chest and some of the water leaves her lungs. She starts coughing heavily. Somewhere in the blur, she sees Snow White's benevolent, alleviated smile.
As soon as she is able to properly think again, she looks around to see the man who had spoken. "Hook?"
"The one and only," he smiles and there is relief written on his face so delicately, it might have just been an optical illusion. Soon he is pushed away by Mulan who begins mothering her like an odd, stiff version of mother hen. Frankly, Aurora is the one who should be asking questions - she's got no answers to the last five minutes which were admittedly confusing.
The Chinese warrior finally speaks: "You fell victim to a dark limnade - a creature that dwells in the lakes. Usually they are good but this one was corrupted after the curse. She caused you to become delusive and dive deeper into the lake. You began drowning and I had to swim to save you." Mulan looks around and Aurora follows her gaze. For the first time, she notices golden ashes a few meters away. "Hook... he and the others came by the time I brought you back to the side of the lake. Snow tried to get the water in your chest out, but you still wouldn't wake. The pirate was the first to realize that this was because a creature of the night was controlling you- he found the nymph and killed her. By the time he came to your side, you were already waking up."
Aurora is silent for a few moments but when she musters the strength to speak again, she looks at each of her companions and thanks them. "Did... Did I say anything while I... while I was in this state of delusion?" she finally asks. Mulan holds her gaze.
"No, you didn't utter a word." This overwhelms Aurora - it feels too much like she is still under the curse and has no control over anything. Even if she shouts, if she yells - no one would hear for she would still appear as calm and serene as if sleeping.
"But it's over now, don't worry about it," Hook reminds her. "Although I'd advise you to try to suppress your imperial biddings next time around. These lands have become more twisted and dangerous than any of you - bar you, oh, harmonized one," -he nods to Mulan - "can ever fear to imagine. I assure that a bath can't possibly be more important than your life." Aurora rises her head in arrogance and indignity at his comment but can't find a proper retort and then promptly looks down.
They all return to the camp. It is late night already and even the full moon has hidden behind a dark cloud. Slowly, everyone else fall to sleep. Except Aurora. Her heart is still tearing itself into shreds and her mind is still breaking because she has lost Philip again. Because she has lost him again, in her mind. In addition to her grief, the looks her companions were throwing at her before they succumbed to sleep made her feel even guiltier, if possible, about her foolishness.
Even when she manages to doze off a little, she has nightmares. When she opens her eyes again, no more than twenty minutes could have passed. Even the fire is still burning merrily. Her head is heavy and dizzy and an unexplainable sadness which she somehow knows isn't related to Philip fills her. Aurora desperately needs the comfort of someone's words but none of her companions is available to give it to her. Even Mulan is snoring faintly from her place. She stands up and decides to walk around a little - not far off, just around the camp. She has already learned her lesson.
When she passes by Hook, he stirs. "Wha're y' doin'?" he mumbles sleepily. Aurora stops.
"Pacing," she calmly replies.
"I can't sleep."
The pirate gasps a yawn and sits up wearily. "Stay on one place at least - you're going to wake the others up."
"How very noble of you, pirate, to think about the others' well-being," Aurora says irritably.
"A rare act of selfless thinking, doubtlessly caused by the lack of sleep, I assure you," Hook informs her. "It's just that they were worried about you so much they wore themselves - I think they deserve some rest."
The princess bites her lower lip at the veiled accusation and turns to go back to the place where she is supposed to be laying but the man stops her. "Wait," he says - as if in regret. "What were you dreaming of?" His words come out softer now. Into them there is an invitation weaved, for her to sit next to him. She accepts it.
"I dreamed of the sea," she whispers honestly. His interest piques, at the mention of his (perhaps) one true love.
"The sea?" he murmurs wistfully.
Aurora nods. "I've been dreaming all kinds of nightmares since after the curse but this one has accompanied me for nearly half my life. It caused me to hate every basin bigger than a dam lake."
"Whatever can be so frightening that you've been scared into hating the sea?"
Aurora gathers her thoughts for a moment, weaves the threads of the tale in her mind, and quietly begins: "It is very confusing - there is always a man that I know I love. But then there is the unruly sea, and I am waiting for something, or someone on a great cliff. The waves are so enormous and I see a ship crashing beneath me. And I always wake up feeling a grief unlike anything before or after."
Hook looks at her with something akin to awe. "You've had this dream repeatedly for years?"
Aurora nods again. "The royal soothsayers told me I was dreaming of my past life. I told them they were mad."
"Why should they be mad?" Hook says unexpectedly after a minute, sounding lost in thought. Aurora's eyes look up to him curiously. "I once dreamed of my future. This is a land full of magic, after all."
"You dreamed your future? How is this possible?" she asks. "Hm... maybe you are a sorcerer and you just don't know it yet."
Hook laughs quietly, dryly. "Believe me, if I had an ounce of magic that was mine alone, and not stolen, I would have found out. It has had all the time of the world to manifest itself, but-" Hook waves his good hand dismissively. "-nothing."
"What was it about?"
"The dream. What was it about?"
Hook's eyes - looking bright aqua by the moonlight - meet hers. "I dreamed of the sea, as well," he tells her. "But it wasn't a bad dream. I dreamed of a gypsy on a ship who told me that if I become a sailor, I'd find great treasures that no man alive or dead has ever dreamed of. 'Sail straight on 'till the morning's dawn', she said. " Aurora is about to ask what does it mean, when the pirate answers: "Of course, she meant Neverland. The first time I visited it, I was barely a fourteen years old lost boy who had forsaken fortune, name and nobility for a good adventure."
"What was the treasure you uncovered in Neverland?" Aurora asks, her voice still hushed so that she wouldn't awake the others. Hook looks up to the stars - the clouds have passed and now the night is as clear as the surface of the very lake that had almost taken her life - and lays on the ground.
"Time," the man replies. "Neverland gave me all the time in the world." Aurora looks down, to his face and states bravely:
"It wasn't the only treasure."
"It might have also given me friends - although they were every bit as lost as I was." Aurora wants to ask him many more things but she sees in his face that he has recognized this as a moment of weakness. His features harden a little, but she is not in the mood to move to her improvised bed. Actually, this is the first time in years that she feels so truly comfortable and wistfully pleased. There is a strange kind of yearning in the chilly air of the night, calling her to go. But go where? Do what? She has no idea.
Instead, the princess decides to lay next to the pirate and gaze at the sky. He does not make a comment on her action and she does not explain herself. There, in the warmth that radiates from his blissfully near presence, she finds the feeling of safety that has been so sourly missed before. When she wakes up, Aurora finds him gone. She would have been surprised if he still had laid next to her, for everyone to see.
As soon as the others get up, Mulan expresses her intentions in teaching the princess a few lessons on fighting.
Between Emma's frustrated sighs: "This compass is only leading us in circles!", Snow White's reassurances and Hook's odd silence, Mulan is explaining to her the basics of sword are using sticks instead of swords but it doesn't really matter since the princess is a very poor student at anything that isn't involving arts or languages. And Mulan, for all her zen demeanor, as Hook has so nicely put it, is really unfit for a teacher.
"You aren't doing it right!" the warrior bewails impatiently after Aurora's hundredth failed attempt on holding the stick the way a sword should be held. In the end, Mulan gives the princess her own weapon, hoping that this would prompt her to wield it in the way it should be wielded. The iron turns out to be almost too heavy for Aurora and she drops it after a few seconds. Mulan mutters something under her breath and Aurora can't take it anymore. Not only that she is feeling like the useless, spoiled princess that she fears she is, but having the woman who loved her dead fiancé chide her like a little girl is just insufferable.
"Well, excuse me! I seem to have lost my shape while I was cursed to sleep for the last thirty years!"
"Now, now," Hook gently says, as if appeasing. "Come, let me show you how it is done." He bends to get the sword from the ground.
"Absolutely not!" Emma says indignantly.
"You'll only get this close to a weapon the moment the ocean freezes over!" Mulan adds.
This seems to anger the unruly pirate. "It's a good thing that ocean has been frozen for the last twenty eight years then, isn't it?" he replies, irritably, and picks up the sword. The other three women move to get him, but Aurora stops them.
"Let him," she orders. "... I trust him not to be foolish enough to try something impetuous." Wordlessly, she turns to stare at Hook who looks a bit sheepish; he clears his throat to gather more confidence.
He rests the sword in her hand which he places in his own good one. "You really need to practice on just bearing the weight of the sword. I could feel your wrist give a crack in my hand," he murmurs softly. Aurora nods but her breath has caught. At his closeness and his attractive scent that had has lulled her to sleep the night before, something breaks inside her and pulls at her strings a grieving melody.
The party has no luck in finding the portal this day as well and they are all in a foul mood by the time night has settled into the remains of the Enchanted Forest. Fortunately, the warmth of the fire betters the atmosphere and Hook and Aurora sit side by side again. Emma, Mulan and Snow discuss their next course of action (without even noticing she is not with them).
"You know, princess," Hook says huskily, as he looks at the gestures Emma and Snow are making in the distance. "I find that I can really relate to your situation the more I think about it."
Aurora coughs a little. "My situation, pirate?"
"We are both out of our elements and from the voice of command we've turned into its ear. You are far from your palace, your people are cursed into another world, and you bitterly miss the comfort of having a home. So do I."
"You said that the ocean has frozen..." the princess murmurs in remembrance. "You haven't been able to sail away."
"No other reason you'd see me this long on dry land. Not to mention that my crew is gone as well and no journey seems worth it when you are alone." Aurora chooses to say nothing. What can she say? No words would bring back his people, or hers. Unless they are magic, but she knows none of it.
That night she has nightmares again and wakes up her crying. Mulan, who is awake, asks her if she is well (the warrior woman seems to suffer a terrible case of insomnia so she doesn't mind having to watch over the camp during the whole night). Aurora mutters that she is alright, but she briefly turns to look at the sleeping pirate, imagining his arms around her in a comforting fashion. What am I reduced to? the princess thinks dizzily. If he continues to show such kindheartedness to me, I might begin caving in... If I have not already.
Yet, it is so strange that to the others he behaves so arrogantly and haughtily, and to her he is always the perfect gentleman. She can almost imagine him as a Duke at her court.
During the next few days, the party begins recognizing Hook as a trustworthy (for the time being) fellow and starts giving him more liberties. Aurora, after carrying Mulan's sword for a few days, feels herself getting stronger. Although nights are still terrible she becomes accustomed to waking up in the middle of the night with sobs and gasps. She stubbornly promises to herself to become stronger and tougher. Her life is not kind, and it probably would never again be, and she needs to learn how to survive in this new, twisted world.
"Come with me, Aurora," Hook murmurs one morning. The princess yawns tiredly and looks around to see what the others are doing. They are still sleeping - even Mulan has dozed off a bit, her head tilting a little into her shoulder.
"I spotted a rabbit so I decided to officially invite you on a hunt. Bring the bow and the quiver with you." Archery is the only weapon Aurora seems to show true affinity to and Hook often jokes that it is because she must have some elven blood in her veins.
Excited, the princess raises up, gets the weapon and follows him into the thicker part of the forest.
"Why are you so silent?" she asks.
"Shhh, you should be too," he hushes, as he leads her deeper into the forest. "You'd scare the poor animal otherwise and what will we feast on?"
Aurora winces. "You're terrible, Killian." But her hungry stomach agrees with him so she falls silent.
That is, until minutes pass and they still don't catch a sight of any movement. "Where is the rabbit?"
"Oh, I believe it is right here," a new voice says and Aurora turns around. Hook looks nervous and disturbed at the woman's appearance but quickly regains his wit and asks:
"... Now will you give me back my heart?"
Everything in Aurora's body freezes and melts as Cora smiles. "Oh, I promised I will, Mr. Jones, and I always keep my word. You have deserved it back after all, haven't you?" the witch says.
The princess turns to look from one to the other, feeling like from the hunter she has become the prey. Hook's eyes are unreadable and that helps nothing with her sudden desire to crawl them out. "You... you traitor!" she yells. "How dare you betray us?!"
And then everything turns black.
She feels her knees begin to give in but the stubborn streak in her tells her that if she loses consciousness right now, she might not regain it again.
Aurora uses what little strength she has to open her eyes and to stay up. Her heart is beating so fast she cannot hear what Cora and Hook are saying, her breaths come out too short. Her eyes are focused on the man who has betrayed her. "Why?" is the only thing she manages to choke. Hook doesn't reply or look at her.
"No need to trouble that little head of yours, girl," Cora says as she nears Aurora. "You won't live long enough to understand." And the witch's hand pierces her chest. The princess feels a pain she can only relate to Philip's death and the mornings she wakes up from her saddest nightmares. "So cracked," the woman murmurs, her lips twisted upwards. "So frail. Your heart will break before it even leaves your chest, without me having to put any pressure at all."
"Please," Aurora sobs. "Please, stop it!"
"Leave her alone, Cora, " Hook drawls, coming closer to them. "She doesn't have to die for you to fulfill the plan. I'll make sure she doesn't do anything... impetuous." The Evil Queen's mother smiles innocently.
"My, Mr. Jones, have you grown fond of this princess?" she asks.
He smirks, but his eyes are dark and nervous. Aurora wonders if Cora can see it as well. "You might say it. Now go, before our little party decides I've - God forbid - abducted her."
"What are you planning to do?" Aurora asks, her voice painfully close to crying. She stares at the hand in her chest, oddly transfixed as she watches it become paler, softer, smaller. When the princess lifts her gaze, she sees a reflection of her so accurate and clear that for a fraction of a second she thinks a mirror is positioned before her.
"It is rather simple," her reflection replies with her own voice. "I'm replacing you in the search for the portal." She then withdraws her hand. "And I will have that," the witch adds as she takes the medallion containing the Wraith and Philip's soul, and turns away. Aurora falls on her knees. "Goodbye, Mr. Jones. I will call you when the portal is found."
"Ahem," the pirate draws back her attention. "I rather think you are forgetting something." Hook outstretches his hand, grins widely and without humor, and adds. "My heart, if you please."
Aurora's reflection smiles as if she's been caught red handed. Then a small wooden chest materializes in her palm and she hands it over to Hook. "You know, Mr. Jones, I find it rather odd that you seem to have become a better hearted person with the real thing gone. Strange thing, what women can do to a charming man like you." And then she starts walking away.
"No!" Aurora shouts, stands up by sheer adrenaline rush and goes at the her. Very quickly though, Hook pulls her by the arm.
Seeing that her feeble attempt failed, the adrenaline rushes out of the princess and she loses balance again only to fall next to the pirate as Cora disappears into the woods.
Get away from me! she wants to scream and to push him away but she is far too shocked to do anything. All is lost. Mulan, Emma and Snow will probably be murdered like pigs on slaughter before the week is over.
"I hate you," she states brokenly and looks at the horizon, so suffocated by trees and bushes.
"I know," he replies and with the corner of her eye she sees him burry his face in the palm of his hand.
Then something breaks free- rage and brokenness, and she thinks that the witch did break her heart just moments ago. "They will find out it's a trick! They'll realize it and they'll look for me and when they find you... To think I trusted you! To think I..." She gasps a sob and looks away in disgust.
Aurora stands up very suddenly then, and shoots away like an arrow. The trees' branches and the bushes' thorns tear her dress into rags and Aurora runs blindly until she realizes she is lost. Unfortunately Hook is not and as the princess steps into a particularly dark part of the forest, he catches her in his arms from behind. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, 'Rora," he murmurs in her hair but it sounds empty to her.
"If you really were sorry, pirate, you wouldn't have done this," she says vehemently.
"I just wanted my heart back, princess. And I do realize it's not really a worthy one but it's mine and without it I feel dead."
Aurora laughs bitterly as she looks at the chest he has put in a small, leather bag on his shoulder. "What's in a heart if it is not beating inside a man's chest?"
"Better in a box than at the mercy of a cruel woman's hands," Hook replies darkly and looks at her in a way that makes her shiver. "Come."
By the time the night has fallen, they are already out of the forest. They don't blink a sleep even as the morning dawns and the clouds blush at the sun.
Although she doesn't talk to him, in the next few days Hook brings her with him while he hunts and he always helps her whenever they have to cross a particularly hot part of a desert or a field of thorns.
He leads. She follows.
What else does she have left to do but this and dreaming?
"My love," her husband murmurs and kisses her cheek. Aurora leans into his lips and looks through the window with her peripheral vision.
She stands up. "I'll go check on our daughter," she says and wordlessly slips through the corridors without awaiting the reply of her husband.
In her warm bed, the little girl is playing with a wooden ship. Her blue-green eyes follow the ship's movements with an intensity that runs in the family. "Hello, my treasure," the queen says and sits next to her. She stays in the room well until midnight, when it starts raining. "Wake up, princess, wake up. We're going on a trip." The small girl opens her eyes sleepily looks around. Aurora catches the small hand of her daughter and dresses her in a warm, water-proof cloak.
"An adventure?" the bright-eyed beauty asks with a thrill.
"A mighty one. We're leaving this place."
"Where are we going to?"
They silently sneak out of the castle and go to the haven but the ship is nowhere in sight. Instead there are enormous waves each with the size of a house. "See there?" a man yells. "It's a ship, I tell you! A ship's caught in those waves!" Aurora's heart flutters at those words and she directs her gaze to the horizon. A lightning illuminates the sea and she sees... Surely, it couldn't be. There is a small cliff near her and she takes her daughter in her arms and hurries to climb it for a better view.
"Mummy!" the child shrieks through the thunder and her little fingers point at the ship. "It's crushing into these rocks!"
Aurora looks at the view before her impassively, but it's her heart dying out there and her soul turning blacker and blacker. The queen tightens her hold on the child into a hug.
She can't breathe, she can't think, she can't, can't...
"No!" Aurora wakes up screaming. "No! Not again! Don't take him away from me again!" She realizes now that it was a dream but it felt more real than ever before and it really was, or will be, and her tears won't stop falling.
Strong arms encircle around her and it doesn't matter than he has betrayed her, that he is a pirate or anything else but the fact that she needs his closeness now. "Shh, it was only a nightmare..." Hook mumbles and caresses her hair in a soothing fashion.
"It wasn't. It really wasn't." She leans into the heat of his embrace a little bit more and allows him to tuck a stand behind her ear and impulsively kiss her forehead.
"What was it then?"
"...I don't know."
"I'll chase away all the monsters that haunt your dreams," he promises.
"You can't chase away the sea," Aurora tells him, her voice trembling. Hook doesn't reply but he does sit up and leans on the tree behind him. She falls asleep on his lap, her head using his shoulder as a pillow. Aurora's next dreams are of fairies and lavender fields lit by fireflies. She dreams of the gardens at her home. When the dawn wakes her she finds the handsome pirate still sleeping, his head buried in the crook of her neck.
You can escape now, you know. He won't notice. You can leave him here, and search for Mulan and the others...
Very, very carefully and slowly Aurora removes her weight from him, stands up and hurriedly leaves.
But how can she know where the others are? Surely they wouldn't be in the same place... although the compass was leading them in circles before so that must mean the portal is roughly around the place they had been last wandering about. Three days away from where she is now. And that is if she is lucky enough not to get lost too much.
Still, it's worth it. I can't just stay with Hook and wait for Cora to come back after her job is done.
Aurora promptly ignores any sense of loss that creeps in her heart for the one man who is separated from his own.
She doesn't stop till the sun is gone and she has threaded into a forest. The princess thinks about starting a fire but the thought of Hook finding her because of some petty smoke makes her think twice and she rejects the idea.
Aurora sits on a beautiful little meadow, by now fully forgotten what was the original colour of her dress, and lifts her face to the sky. She is called back to reality by the not- distant-enough howls of some unnamed creatures that seem to be tightening a circle around her. Wolves, her mind supplies in a shuddering, panicked voice. Wolves. Aurora stands up quickly in alert.
If she runs now, they'll just follow. If she stays in one place, they'd most surely eat her alive. If she climbs on a tree... actually climbing isn't a half-bad idea - she can wait for them to grow tired sooner or later; the princess can be a rather patient person when her life is involved.
Climbing on a tree isn't a half-bad idea indeed, if only she had ever learned how to properly do it.
Aurora follows her most primitive instinct: she runs. Of course the animals sense her fear and see her dash into the opposite direction. As if given some cue, they launch and follow. The battle already seems lost even before they have reached her - the princess has never been especially athletic and her chest is aching but her instincts keep her going at lengths she has never thought she would see herself running.
Just when she feels like she is about to collapse she sees someone appear, a rather long blade in hand. The figure of a man beckons the creatures to come at him and they do - full force. The next few moments are ones of utter chaos and Aurora can only watch, petrified.
Finally Hook wounds one of the predators, kills another and the rest decide the humans are not a worthy pray and back off, possibly in search of some other, less dangerous animals. Aurora breathes a sigh of relief but it is cut short as she sees that her savior is also wounded. She wants to yell his name and rush to him to see if he is alright but the knowledge that this wound is because of her makes her keep her mouth firmly shut and her approach more apprehensive.
He hisses in pain and grips his left leg very tight. At her closeness, he looks up into her eyes and she sees just what she expects: anger, pain and ferocity. Aurora flinches. "You're a bloody fool," is the only thing he says, to her surprise. Then: "Let's go."
She is actually surprised by his lack of yelling and threatening but she supposes it is because he is in too much pain to think about it. Yelling and threatening would come later. They set off in silence.
"We have to bandage the wound," Aurora quietly murmurs a few hours later. It has become rather cold and all she wants to do is to sit down and warm herself near a fire. Hook grunts in agreement and a few drops of rain fall on Aurora's cheeks. They find a sheltered place - a shallow cave - but there are no dry woods anywhere near them. Aurora sits in the deepest part of it and watches Hook as he wraps a piece of cloth around the place where the wolf had bitten him.
The princess watches his silhouette as he runs a hand through his wet hair and turns to look at the rain. She is lulled to sleep by the sound of his breathing.
When she wakes up, he appears to be still sleeping. Aurora slowly stands up and goes to wake him up, but the pirate is motionless and pale. "Hook!" she says his name in a worry, placing the palm of her hand on his still, oddly peaceful-looking face. His skin is damp and hot. "Killian!" His real name makes him stir and he slowly opens his eyes and looks around in confusion. "Do you know if there is a refuge somewhere near?" Aurora urges. "We have to take you- you're burning. You have to see a healer."
"'Rora?" he slurs.
"Refuge," she repeats. "Do you know if there is one anywhere near?"
He nods. "The closest one is two days away from here... Close the haven where the Jolly Roger last anchored."
Aurora helps him stand up. "Come on. Let's go."
It's a hard path. She doesn't deem herself as a strong woman and with a heavy pirate captain having to lean on her, their journey is not shortened. Still, she persists. The young woman finds a strength within her that surprises her.
The night becomes her personal enemy they are forced to stop. And Hook isn't getting any better.
"Just... just leave me here, princess," he tells her in the morning. "I'm not going to make it, I can feel it in my guts. Leave me here, find the camp, start a life there and forget about the silly pirate, the evil witch and the companions who never once thought about you."
Aurora blinks at him for a second. "Are you barking mad?" she asks crudely. "Once your temperature lowers, you are going to kick yourself for saying such inadequate things."
"No! I've left too many times, been abandoned too many times to leave you now! Brace yourself, captain Hook, because I won't give up on you ever again!"
He looks at her in bewilderment, then manages a half-smile through his pain. "You're an odd bird, princess," he says finally. "But I do adore your spark."
"Talk to me," she says steadily, after he almost loses balance. She has to keep his mind busy.
"Ask anything, princess. If I die today, it wouldn't matter anyway."
"Why did you side with Cora?" is the first thing she thinks to ask. It takes a while for him to answer.
"Because we both have the same goal - get to Storybrooke. "
"Why do you want to go there?"
"...It's the place where the man who took my hand and killed the woman I cared about resides."
The princess doesn't say anything for a while. "... I'm sorry."
"You've also lost the one you loved," he comments. Aurora slowly nods and looks ahead.
"Do you think Cora has killed the rest?"
"Cora only kills people after she has used them most thoroughly. Emma and the others are probably still living under the delusion that you're happily following them like a lost puppy."
"The witch..." Aurora murmurs. "Snow told me that she is one of the reasons why the Evil Queen turned so wrenched. She murdered her true love right before her eyes."
Hook stops for a second and the princess can't quite figure out the expression on his face. "... I didn't know that." Then they are moving again. "But Cora is as heartless as that - and I do mean it literally - I heard she ripped her own heart out because this would make her unbeatable, as long as no one knows where to find it."
"Then she is a true monster," Aurora states.
By sunset, they reach the refuge but Hook loses consciousness as soon as he sees that people come out from behind the gates. Aurora hurriedly explains that they need help, the man was bitten by a wolf and he has to see a healer immediately. Two of the guards carry him away and she wordlessly follows the third - a man with an auburn hair - as he accompanies her inside the camp and into a tidy one-roomed hut with two beds. As the two guards rest Hook upon the second bed, a dark woman enters. "Your sailor is badly wounded, girl," she says in a voice with a very thick accent as she nears the pirate. "It would be such a loss for the sea if he never sails away again." She lays a hand on his forehead and looks up to Aurora.
"Will he be alright?" the princess stutters.
"Not if I don't heal him. Now leave- all of you." The three men and Aurora obey her command.
"So what's your story?" the redheaded guard asks as they all stay awkwardly in front of the door. Aurora gathers her lies for only a second.
"Me and my... husband," she begins, coldly ignoring the way the other two men leer at her before she says this. "Were looking for another refuge as our first one was destroyed by the ogres -we were the sole survivors. My husband said that he'd been here before and we decided to come but on our way we were attacked by wolves." The men don't look like they buy her story completely, but it is all she has and they don't say anything more. "Who is the woman who heals him? She seemed oddly..."
"Intensive?" one of the man finishes for her. "That's Calypso, the sea witch. She and Killian - we remember him from before, of course- they were on... friendly terms before another woman named Cora came to the camp and stole him away. Are you completely sure about him? He's from the type who doesn't stick around too much."
"He changed," Aurora defends flatly, ignoring her sudden headache.
"Jim, that's quite enough," the redheaded man says. Aurora decides she likes him. "The princess here doesn't appreciate you speaking about her husband in such way, while he is writhing behind this door." Then he turns to her. "Which kingdom are you from, princess?"
Aurora splutters. "H- how did you know what I was?"
"My mother," the redheaded man begins. "She was a princess; a queen, later on. I'm sure you've heard of her - Ariel was her name. And there was something in the way she carried herself that reminded me of you. Of course, you are wearing a tiara too so it isn't that hard to figure you out."
"I'm Aurora, princess of the Sand," she finally murmurs.
"Nice to meet you, Aurora of the Sand," the redheaded man says. "I'm Sebastian, prince of the Sea." The man that she already knows to be Jim also introduces himself, as well as the third, gruff man who turns out to be a Charles.
"Well, Aurora," Sebastian says. "We have a duty to attend, so... I suppose I'll see you around. Along with Killian, hopefully."
And then they go. Aurora knows that she still cannot return, so she decides to wander around the camp. The people stare at her with open interest wherever she goes and many come to greet her. Among them is a serious-looking woman who decides that she should be her guide around the refuge.
"My name is Tiana, by the way," the woman adds. "I'm here with my little daughter ever since I lost my man and my son to the curse." Aurora nods and suddenly she feels very weak, physically, and almost slides down on the ground. Luckily, Tiana catches her by the arm. "Are you alright?" she asks anxiously. The princess shakes her head. "When was the last time you had eaten?"
"...Last night, I think."
"You should have said! Come with me, I'll make you a dinner," Tiana says. "I'm a really nice cook, you know." Aurora manages to smile thankfully and follows the older woman. Her small, one-roomed, wooden house has a really cozy atmosphere and the princess sits on one of the chairs as Tiana starts preparing dinner. "Eudora, my daughter, is outside playing with her friends but she'll be back by the time the food is ready. Always has impeccable sense of smell when food is involved. Hey, don't worry about your husband," the woman tells Aurora at her continuous silence. "I'm sure he will be alright. Callie has healed things no doctor can ever hope to heal. Must be because she is a witch, I suppose."
"A witch?" Aurora repeats, vaguely remembering that someone must have mentioned it while she was too busy feeling faint and worried about Hook. "Is she dangerous?" Princesses generally don't have good experiences with witches.
"Of course she is dangerous! She could once control the whole sea," Tiana exclaims. "But she isn't dangerous to us. She's a friend."
Soon the meal is ready and, as prophesied, a little girl comes inside the house, shyly introduces herself to Aurora and sits next to her. Tiana is a fantastic cook indeed, Aurora muses on the first bite.
"Tomorrow," the woman promises. "I'm taking you to my friend, Charlotte - she is a seamstress and you appear to be in a dire need of a new attire." Aurora feels nervous because of the woman's expeditiousness but she has to agree with her.
Just as they finish eating, someone knocks on the door. "It is I, Calypso."
Aurora hurries to open. The sea witch smiles at her anticipating expression. "You needn't worry - your sailor is fine, girl. He will be able to walk again in three days' time."
Aurora raises her eyebrows in surprise. "So soon?"
"I'm a witch, am I not?"
"O-of course," the princess agrees.
"And besides, your man lacks something that most of us have. The absence of this something makes him half immortal."
A heart, Aurora thinks in realization. Just like Cora, his heart is outside of his body, in that chest.
She clears her throat. "Will I be able to go to him now?"
The woman nods and Aurora turns back to Tiana. "Go," the cook says with a warm smile. Aurora smiles back, bids them all goodbye and goes.
When she finally finds herself before the door of the small hut, the princess suddenly feels nervous. Very carefully, she enters. She heaves a long sigh as she sees that the pirate is sleeping. The small candle next to the bed bathes his face in a yellow light. The room smells of the sea and, as she nears Hook's bed, Aurora notices a bundle of sea salt.
Maybe he will get better faster this way, when he breathes in something that reminds him of his home, Aurora thinks with a small, bittersweet smile.
She sits on the chair next to his bed. "I'm sorry - I was the one to get you into this mess," she whispers. "But I did the right thing by trying to escape - you are still a villain, after all, captain Hook." She bends down and kisses his forehead. "Get well soon."
"I would have done the same thing, you know," she hears him rumble. Aurora startles and draws back only to see him grin. "I would have tried to escape. I don't blame you, love."
"You're awake!" she exclaims.
"What, did you expect me to be asleep as you pledged your deep regret about my unfortunate situation?" he asks. "It would just be... so-"
"You were right, you know," he tells her.
"Me wanting to kick myself for telling you to leave me. Spot on, this one," he mutters.
Early on the next morning, Tiana arrives and brings with her breakfast for Aurora and Hook. After that, she unceremoniously takes the princess to the seamstress. Charlotte's workshop is in her own place, and it's full of all kinds of cheap fabric. The dressmaker takes measures from Aurora and excitedly announces that her dress (among other things such as her lingerie and corset) will be ready by tomorrow. To this, Aurora adds that she doesn't want only a dress - but a pair of pants and a shirt too.
"But Killian can come when he is fully recovered and I will take his measures then. It's a risky thing to be working on something without having taken measures first," Charlotte says.
"I know that. He told me that he would come when he is well enough. I was talking about myself."
The woman looks at her in confusion. "You want a pair of pants and a shirt... for yourself?"
"Yes," Aurora answers firmly. "I've learned that wearing a dress all the time can be rather inconvenient... especially during travels."
Tiana and Aurora stay for a while longer, chattering with Charlotte. Since the young woman is feeling nervous at first she rarely says anything unless asked directly. Then the cook takes her for lunch and - when she tells her she can't cook to save her life - Tiana attempts to teach her a few simple dishes, scandalized by her ignorance.
"Well, Killian is the one who always volunteers to cook," Aurora defends herself. It's true - and the pirate takes immense pleasure in this fact, the braggart. Although, oddly enough, Aurora really finds that the meals are indeed very easy to cook, and extremely delicious.
After that, she brings Hook some of the things she made and he likes them, much to his own surprise. "Not bad," he says. "Not bad at all. Maybe now it will finally be you who's cooking and cleaning, princess. Welcome to the real world!" he cheerfully says and pats her on the back.
"You're terrible, pirate! I bet that from now on you'll be wanting to exploit me as if I'm some sort of a common... peasant!"
Hook winks at her. "I don't want to gamble with you, 'Rora. You're right and I'll only lose my money."
On the next day, Aurora receives her clothes - a long, cotton dress in a casual green, brown pants, white shirt and a fawn vest as a gift from Charlotte. What a nippy girl, the princess thinks.
On the third day, Hook begins moving around (with the help of Aurora, initially). First he has to lean on her for support but after fifteen minutes he can manage on his own, albeit a bit clumsily. He makes Aurora his goal each time and when he comes to her, swaying and a large, wolfish smile on his face, he embraces her awkwardly and she giggles. Each time.
They decide to go outside and breathe some fresh air (Hook says he 'goddamn missed it'), and just as the sun caresses them, they feel hit by something akin to a colorful wave.
For a moment they just stand there, blinking and still. "...What was that?" Aurora asks.
"I think this was a curse breaking," Hook replies.
"Do you think that Mulan and the others...?"
"I don't know. I'd make a guess that the remains of the Evil Queen's curse have been broken."
"Then this might mean that the bridge between our world and Storybrooke is open! Maybe it won't be Emma and Snow going there - maybe it will be our people returning," Aurora exclaims. "Do you think that Cora's killed them? Mulan, Emma and Snow, I mean."
"I only know that it can't be Cora who's broken the curse - witches don't break magic; either they make it, or magic breaks them. I suppose that we'll just have to wait and see."
A few days later, word comes that the portal between the worlds is indeed found and that people long lost have been returning.
"What are you going to do from now on, pirate?" Aurora asks him as they watch the sunrise. Hook looks at her with fondness and leans on the frame of the door.
"I'm going to hunt down a crocodile. And you?"
"I'll probably return to my kingdom and restore it. It will be hard, especially for a princess. The people will need a king, not a little girl."
"You're hardly a little girl," Hook replies and the way he looks at her makes her believe him. "You've really grown, during the last few weeks. I'd be a happy man if you were my queen."
"I suppose we'll have to part ways soon," Aurora says sadly.
"I suppose," Hook agrees, wistfully looking at the dawn and for one short, mad moment she wants to ask him to steal her away.
It doesn't last long.