Beta/Edited by PeaceHeather
Cold like she's never known before penetrates her clothes, her skin. Nothing natural is as cold as she is right now.
The shock stops her heart, stops her lungs, stops even her brain.
The not-water—because water doesn't grip, it doesn't grasp or pull or push or press, and whatever this is, it's doing all of that and more—drags her deeper into its icy clutches. There is no light here. No hope. There isn't even the welcoming embrace of death to end the torment.
Emma screams and it steals her voice, too. It slithers into the wound in her shoulder and takes even her pain. All it leaves her is despair, thick and dark and choking. Every failure, every regret, every humiliation, every moment of her life when she has felt alone or abandoned or miserable, fills her mind and her heart until even her soul feels as if it will be crushed under the weight of it all.
... She is three and the only mother she's ever known is informing her that she's being sent away because they're going to have a real baby ...
... She is five and the social worker is shaking her head as she picks her up from the latest in a series of homes. She doesn't understand why none of the mommies want her ...
... She is twenty-eight and her little boy is laying in a hospital bed because she was going to run away and she didn't believe him ...
... She is sixteen and failing school and no one cares. No one even notices when she runs away. No one comes looking for her. No one ...
... She is twenty-four and spending Christmas Day staking out the rented house of a bail jumper, and watching the family in the house next door celebrating around their tree, together. They have a little boy who is about the age her baby is now and she pretends for just a moment that that's him and she's watching him opening his gifts. Her coffee is cold ...
... She is nine and she's got detention again because she beat up Millie Parker for calling her an unwanted orphan. She sits at her desk and readsPeter Pan and cries when Peter tells how his mother shut him out and she realizes that Millie was right and she is a motherless orphan after all ...
... She is eighteen and walking out of prison, and all she has is a bag and a set of keys to a stolen car and some clothes that don't really fit, and there is no one to meet her and nowhere to go ...
... She is ten and too thin and hungry, and she runs away for the first time. No one notices for two days. It's a cop who finds her living in a hollowed-out tree in the park who eventually returns her home. She's moved to another home, after that ...
... She is twenty-seven and she's spending her birthday alone in front of her TV, watching The Princess Bride and drinking rum alone ...
... She is twelve and she's got her first period, and she's so so so scared that she's dying so she screams and her foster sister bursts in on her in the bathroom and sees and starts laughing like it's the funniest thing she's ever seen ...
... She is twenty-eight and there's this guy, and he's kind and funny, and handsome, only he's dying in her arms and she can't stop it ...
... She is seventeen and ten seconds ago she was in love and going to Tallahassee with twenty-thousand dollars and starting a new life and ten seconds later she's going to jail and the man she loved is gone and he left her. And she is terrified and so so so alone and angry and no one wants her. No one needs her. No one loves her ...
... She is barely eighteen and she is laying in a hospital bed, in the prison infirmary, and after just over eight hours of grueling labor she can hear her baby crying. She wants to hold him, but they told her it'd be better if she didn't. His cries are going away, out of the room, and she can only lay there and sob while a guard watches dispassionately by the door and a nurse finishes cleaning her up like she's a mess someone made. How would she take care of a baby anyway? She's too young, too stupid, and broken. He should be somewhere where he's wanted the way she never was. There's someone who wants him out there, who will love him the way she never could, and take care of him the way she never will. And anyway she signed the papers three months ago, and he's gone and she doesn't even know his name—
His name, she thinks, with sudden clarity, is Henry.
And he wanted her. He had loved her. Believed in her when no one else ever had. When anyone else, looking at her, only ever saw a broken thing. An ex-thief. An unwanted kid. A lonely, damaged woman. Henry had taken one look at her and seen a hero.
And then Mary Margaret, who had believed in her when Emma couldn't believe in herself. Who had called her family before they knew they really were. Who had loved her even before she'd known that Emma was her daughter.
Emma has a family. She has her son's love, and her parents' love. She's not alone anymore. And maybe it's selfish, maybe it's greedy to want more, but she does.
She's here for Killian.
And if this is her despair she's drowning in, she can only imagine that his is a hundred times worse. To be driven so far to darkness, to have wandered as alone and lost as he has for so long ... Something Neal said to her, back in New York comes to her now—how, if he'd come straight to her world from the Enchanted Forest, he'd be a couple of hundred years old by now. And if Milah was Gold's wife, and Killian had loved Milah, how old does that make Hook?
Just how long has he been alone?
No wonder he's gone off the deep end.
All it takes, sometimes, is for one person to love you. To reach out a hand, or hop on a bus, to look at you with hope in their eyes and that certain, unwavering belief that you are the hero they've been waiting for all along, even if you don't feel particularly heroic. One person who, when everything is dark and you're lost and alone, is willing to find you, no matter how dark the place you might be.
When she looks in Killian's eyes, Emma can see the sort of man he once was. A heart that could love as deeply as his has loved can't be all bad. There's still good in him, buried deep. It's unreasonable, impossible, but it's why she's here. Because sometimes your heart just chooses, and Emma's, against all logic, has chosen him.
Magic explodes from her, sending out ripples through the not-water. Whatever it is, it recoils from her, its grasp on her loosening enough that she can claw her way back to the surface and from there, back up on land. Her hands touch the rough surface of the shore and her skin seems to freeze to it, but she hauls herself out anyway, soaked to the bone, ice already forming, cracking as she moves. Emma crawls out of the water, her hair a freezing, heavy weight on her back. She forces herself to touch the stardust, even though it cuts her palms and fingertips when she digs them into it, hauling herself further onto the shore, until she's entirely free of the ocean of despair.
Slowly, Emma rolls onto her back. Prying her eyes open, she stares up at the empty void of the sky, her lashes heavy and rimmed with frost. Her lungs don't appear to be working; everything in her feels frozen solid. The weight of her clothes alone is almost crushing. If this were her world, she'd be a meat popsicle.
On the bright side, she thinks, it's warmer out of the water.
And she's not dead. Or dying. Yet. So. There's that.
"There's no escape that way. Believe me, I've tried."
It takes a supreme effort of will for her to turn her head to look at him. Hook is standing a few paces away, sword still in hand, watching her warily.
Emma suddenly coughs. Water—or whatever this hellish stuff is—burbles out of her nose and mouth; it feels like she's choking on needle sharp icicles. Her stomach heaves, and this time she rolls over onto her side in a fucking hurry, heaving up lungfuls of black liquid. When it doesn't freeze, but pools together like mercury and runs back down to merge into the ocean, Emma wants to vomit all over again.
"What the ... hell ... is that stuff?" Her voice is a hoarse rasp in her own ears, and each breath wheezes in and out of her lungs. "And why ... why would you go in it on purpose?"
"For the same reason you did, I imagine," he says. "Escape."
"Yeah, well ... you were ... trying really hard to kill me," she gasps. "Sorry if I wasn't ... exactly cooperating."
"Who says I'm done trying?" His voice is quietly ominous.
Emma closes her eyes, exhausted now beyond the telling of it. Her lashes are probably going to freeze together, but right now she couldn't care less. "Could you just ... just give me a minute or two? And can we please ... move this cage match ... away from the fucking water?"
Hook is silent, so she takes that as an affirmative. She knows he won't kill her right now, while she's down. For all that he's gone over to the dark side, there's still that streak of honor in him that won't let him stab her in the back. Although, she's equally certain that if she doesn't get back up again soon, he'll pluck her off the ground and set her on her feet, whether she likes it or not.
The brief reprieve gives her a moment to think, but her thoughts are slow and muddled. This is wrong, all wrong. Emma had thought, when she kissed him, that it would be easy. Killian would wake up, and then ... well, probably not happily ever after or anything, but something good would have happened. On the other hand, she also knows that sometimes just breaking the curse isn't enough to fix everything. If that were the case, everyone in Storybrooke would be back in the Enchanted Forest right now and she'd have never even met Hook.
The fact that that thought makes her heart ache only confirms the realization she'd had a few moments ago. He may not want her; hell, he mightnever want her. He may still be in love with the ghost of a dead woman, but Emma's heart has chosen him. So she's going to save him.
Whether he likes it or not.
Somehow she's got to get him to listen to her, to believe, but she's so frozen and clumsy there's no way in hell she's going to beat him in a swordfight.
Time to use the other weapons in Emma Swan's arsenal.
"Okay," she says, tiredly. "Let's get this over with."
Her first attempt at sitting up is an epic failure—she's frozen to the ground. Ice cracks, and she manages to get her right arm free, but the rest of her is stuck fast. A second try frees her left arm and one leg, but she can't get enough leverage to pry herself up any further. She rolls her eyes in Hook's direction.
"Don't suppose you could play the gentleman one more time, and give a girl a hand up?"
He bows slightly at the waist, mocking. "Of course." But he doesn't put away his sword. He takes two steps toward her and bends down, offering her his hook to help her up.
Emma reaches up with both hands and grabs it. The minute she feels herself start to pull free, however, Emma locks her hand around the brace. With every ounce of her weight behind the move, she simultaneously yanks on his arm, catches his left boot with one leg and brings her outside leg up to slam her knee into the back of his.
Caught off balance, and with the choice of breaking his arm at the elbow or impaling himself on his own sword, Hook goes down face first. Without releasing his left arm, Emma rolls half on top of him, plants her knee in the small of his back, and then twists his hook free of its locking mechanism. While he's making out with the ground again, she manages to stagger upright and put several yards between them.
When he gets back to his feet, he's furious.
"You'll regret that, demon." Hook's hand tightens on his sword and he crouches slightly, ready to charge.
"You take one more step and your hook is gonna be a sinker," Emma says. She cocks back her arm, ready to throw it out into the black water. He immediately freezes, just as she suspected he would.
"You're bluffing," he says.
"Do I look like I'm bluffing?" Her fingers are numb, and she's frozen to the bone, but she's got enough determination in her right now that she bets she could pitch this one right out of the stadium.
Hook studies her warily, then seems to realize that she's really not kidding. He takes a step back slightly, rocking down onto his heels. "Emma," he says placatingly, an insincere smile plastered on his face. It's only marginally better than the last one and she still wants to punch him for it. "Let's not be hasty."
"Oh, so now I'm Emma? A minute ago I was a demon."
"You're still a demon," he sneers. "Give it back."
"Not on your life, pal. Not until you hear me out. I see you even twitch in my direction, and I will throw this out so far it'll take you a hundred years to find it."
"I've got the time," he says, dryly.
"Yeah," Emma says, and she can't help the sadness that tinges her voice. "But now I know what's waiting in there, and you and I both know if you have to go swimming again, you'll never come back out."
"Cozening wench," he snarls. She has no idea what that means but she gets the general drift.
"Well, what did you expect? You've left me no choice!" she says, and realizes she's shouting. Not that she cares. "I'm freezing! I'm miserable. I'm bleeding! I just had to relive a lifetime of failures. I am not going to add you to my list!"
"That hook is all I have left!"
"No! It's! NOT!"
Her shout is loud enough that somehow it seems to break the sound barrier. Even Hook looks momentarily taken aback. A layer of ice breaks off of her and shatters on the ground at her feet.
Finally Hook retreats a pace, glaring at her with such malice that, if looks could kill, Emma would be nothing more than dust herself.
"What do you want?" he asks quietly. She rolls her eyes.
"I want to go home. I want to be warm again. I want to be laying on a beach someplace hot, sweating my ass off in a bikini, and drinking the world's biggest margarita. I want Regina and Mr. Gold to stop acting like childish assholes. I want you to stop being so freaking stupid. I want a happy fucking ending! But we don't always get what we want!" Emma's grip on his hook tightens reflexively and he quickly puts away his sword.
Then she sighs. "However, I will settle for you just listening to me. Hear me out, that's all I'm asking. And when we're done, I will give you your hook back."
For the first time, his face shows an emotion other than cold fury. "Why do this?" He stares at her, confused.
Emma takes a deep, painful breath and lets it back out again. "Because I came here to save you, you idiot. It took me forever to find you. And I'mnot leaving without you."
She waits, staring him down, letting him see that she is dead-fucking-serious.
Hook's jaw flexes, and he closes his eyes briefly. Then he looks back up at her through the shadows of his thick lashes.
"Well, then. I'm listening." He crosses his arms over his chest and strokes his frost-silvered beard, and Emma, who has a fucking PhD in reading body language, knows that he may be listening, but he's not willing to hear her. Not yet.
Emma lets her arm drop anyway, but makes sure she's still in a position to toss his hook into the water if he decides to stop listening. Her shoulder hurts like hell where he stabbed her, but she's so cold it's mostly just a numb ache. She ought to be half-dead from hypothermia, or more likely frozen completely solid, but apparently the rules of this world are a little different. Eternal suffering, isn't that what the Blue Fairy had said? Freezing to death would probably defeat the purpose of the punishment.
Unlike him, the ice that cracks off of her doesn't reform, and although she can't see her face, it doesn't feel like it's covered in frost. Her hair, on the other hand, weighs a metric ton. Emma shakes her head and feels the ice shatter and fall silently around her, hopefully not taking her hair with it. Vanity isn't really one of Emma's sins, but she loves her hair, and the last thing she needs right now is to end up bald.
Hook's mouth seems to tilt up at the corner in spite of himself. "Ice queen is a good look for you, darling. Perhaps you should wear it a bit longer."
That's half the problem though, Emma thinks. They ice themselves over, wear it like armor; wall themselves up, shut everyone out, and in doing so, they never seem to heal properly. Their wounds go numb until they can't feel them anymore, except for that empty ache that nothing seems to fill.
Even though she knows it will hurt like hell, Emma thinks that maybe it's time to thaw.
"I meant it, you know," she says. She holds up his hook. "This isn't all you have left."
"The crocodile destroyed my love," Hook says. "When he tore out Milah's heart he might as well have taken mine. Instead he took my hand and my happiness, and left me with nothing but pain and fury. I picked up that hook and stabbed him with it. He only laughed in my face. I swore that I would shake his hand with my hook, then tear him with it, limb from limb. So, yes, it is all I have left."
Emma's own heart aches for him, knowing how much he's lost. She takes a deep breath, steeling herself, and then lets herself do what she's wanted to do almost from the moment she met him.
"When I first came to Storybrooke," she says, her voice quiet, "there was ... this guy. Graham. He was ... he was one of the kindest men I've ever known, and I think ... I think if we'd had more time, if ... if he'd had more time, that I could have loved him. He made me feel ... hope. Hope that, even though my heart was ... even though I was broken, that I could learn to love again."
She turns the hook over in her hands; the metal is freezing to the touch and her fingers, cold as they are, actually seem to warm it slightly wherever she touches it. Frost crawls back over her fingerprints, but for a moment, she can see her dim reflection in the metal.
"One night we were at the station, and ... he kept saying that he didn't think he had a heart. That someone—Regina—had taken it. I thought ..." Emma feels tears welling at the corners of her eyes, and her throat tightens around the words.
"I thought he was ... I don't know. Drunk. Or joking or ... I didn't know. I - I didn't know that hearts were something that could literally be stolen. And then ... then one minute we were kissing and the next ... he just ... he just collapsed in my arms. And he died, right there on the cold floor. I think ... I think Regina must have crushed his heart because she didn't like that he wanted someone other than her. That he w-wanted ..."
Emma chokes on the word. This is hard, harder than fighting a dragon or facing an ogre. But she makes herself do it, because she thinks, maybe, he needs her to. When she looks back up at him, he's dropped his arms to his sides, and his face is carefully neutral. She's crying, but the tears are freezing on her cheeks, hard as diamonds. Emma sniffles and makes herself keep talking.
"And it hurt. It hurt so much. Because for a moment I was really, really happy. For a moment someone had chosen me. And afterwards ... Afterwards, all I could think was that it was myfault. That if it hadn't been for me, if I hadn't ... If I'd just believed him, or trusted him or ... if I hadn't come to Storybrooke at all ... then he'd still be alive. And that ... I just wanted him to be alive. To live. Even if it wasn't with me."
A sob breaks free and she has to pause to sniff again and wipe her numb nose on her ice-crusted sleeve.
"I hate Regina for what she did to him. For what she did to everyone. For the curse, and my family and everything that she has taken from me. But ... if I give in to that hate, then what makes me so different from her? She tore apart worlds to get her revenge, and never mind what it's done to us, all it's gotten her is pain and more misery. And if I were to try to get even with her somehow, Henry would never forgive me and I can't lose that. I can't lose him." A sob wells up in her throat even at the thought, but she forges on. "Killing her would gain me nothing, and I would lose everything. Revenge, vengeance—no matter how much you can justify it, no matter how much the other person might really, really deserve it—it leaves you with nothing. Just ... this."
Emma waves her hand at the empty sky and the beach of shattered hopes and the sea of despair. "Just this. So you're wrong. This hook? It's not all you have. You're alive. You have your heart, even if it's broken. You have your memories and even though she's gone, you have the knowledge that Milah loved you. You had that, and you could have it again. You have a chance to heal. But you can't do it if you're bound and determined to stay here, to cling to all of this."
Hook doesn't respond. His eyes are as black and dead as a shark's. But he's still, so still that she thinks maybe he's iced where he stands.
Emma wipes the frozen teardrops from her face and wishes she had a tissue or something for her nose. She hates crying; whenever she cries she feels like she's releasing all the tears she's pent up for months or years, and this is no exception. She's crying right now for Graham and Henry, for all the time she's lost with her family, for Neal, and even a little for Regina. But most of all she's crying for Killian, because he's lost, just like her—only she's afraid that maybe he doesn't want to be found.
That maybe Gold was right, and Hook doesn't want to be saved.
"Could you, I don't know, say something?" she demands, finally.
Hook's chin jerks infinitesimally, and when he speaks, his voice is tightly controlled, as if he's holding back some huge emotion. "Are you finished?"
She thinks about it, but in addition to the tears she feels like she's just let out all the words she's stored up for the last year, too, and now she's running on empty. Emma nods and takes a ragged breath, getting herself back under control.
"My hook then, if you please," he says, holding out his hand.
Sighing, Emma crosses the space between them, swiping at her eyes to get rid of the last of her tears. When she's within arm's reach, she hands him his hook. He takes it from her and reattaches it, though his eyes linger on it contemplatively for a moment. Emma sighs again and turns away from the water, wanting to put as much space between herself and it as possible.
Hook moves so fast she doesn't even register what's happening until it's almost done. He's grabbed her and twisted them both around, so that she's leaning dangerously far backward and his hand fisted in the collar of her jacket is literally the only thing holding her up right now. Her feet scrabble on the ground for purchase and she can feel the ends of her hair dipping into the sea.
Worse, he's got his hook against the left side of her throat, its sharp, ice-cold point pressed like a promise in the soft hollow just beneath her ear.
Emma looks up into his black, black eyes, and all she can see is her own terrified face staring back.
Notes: I am a feels pirate. I am here for all your emotions. Hand them over and no one gets hurt...