on the Jolly Roger, circling Neverland, Emma reminisces to Hook about the day Henry found her.
"Well, thank God you had the sense to pack energy bars. I'm so glad that your Odwalla bar has a tracking spell."
"Regina, that's not what I'm saying, I only meant that—"
"No, Mary Margaret, you don't need to defend yourself to her. Regina—"
"I agree with Regina, dearies. Sitting idle isn't—"
"We're not sitting idle, buddy, we've been circling the damn island for a full day. If you think—"
Bloody hell, Hook thinks to himself, leaning into the wheel. He presses his palm into his cheek, sighing loudly. As if hearing him, Emma, at the fringes of the group, snaps her gaze up to his, her eyes lingering with a glare left over from arguing.
Everyone is being ridiculous, he says silently with a raise of his eyebrow.
I know, she agrees with a nod of her head, eyes softening.
Emma exits the deck and climbs the helm, her absence not even noted by the still squabbling group below. She tucks her hair behind her ears and leans against a taunt rigging, eying Hook carefully. "I know you've got a plan," she says finally, "I can tell. You wouldn't just have us aimlessly circling without a reason."
He digs his tongue into his cheek, straightening. "Right you are, lass. We're looking for the Picanniny's port. It's the safest place to drop anchor, if we can barter our dockage. Your mother's packed sustenance may prove useful, actually."
A small smile slips over Emma's face, which she hides by looking off over her shoulder. Composing herself, she turns back to the pirate. "Looking for it? Don't you know where it is? Weren't you here for, I dunno, centuries?"
His lips twitch. "Indeed I was, Swan, but the Picaninny's are nomadic. They pick up and move every dozen or so years. And even then, they keep their location well concealed, for there are those on the island who…they do not have a good accord with."
"Like you?" Emma tests, narrowing her eyes. "In every version I remember, you guys didn't exactly get along with each other. Something about Tiger Lily?"
Hook shoots her a sly, knowing smile. "Ah yes, Tiger Lily," he muses, his eyes glazing over. "Lovely…lovely lass, if you follow."
"That's not funny," Emma snaps, and she doesn't know why it bothers her. It's not exactly like Hook has painted himself as the picture of purity.
"Wasn't meant to be," he replies smoothly, smiling as his eyes flick down to her clenched fists. He inhales sharply, nearly rolling his eyes. "Worry not, Swan, as pretty as Tiger Lily was, your beauty far surpasses that of any Picaninny maid."
"I—" Emma starts, her cheeks flushing wildly, "That's not—"
He holds up his hand to silence her, a wild grin threatening to break across his face. "That said, despite the spare altercation here and there, the Picaninny's and pirates have no reason to fight amongst each other, not with far more malicious forces afoot."
Emma arches her head back, narrowing her eyes. "Yeah, you keep saying stuff like that, all ominous and whatever. What do you mean?"
Hook turns his eyes out to sea, swallowing. "I mean that Neverland is not the place you seem to think it is. It's the place between wide awake and dreaming—it's purgatory, darling. It's governed by the shadows and unseen eyes." At this, he bows his head into his chest, glancing at Emma out of the corner of his eye. She's frozen, wondering if he can hear the hammering of her heart from where he stands.
He continues, pivoting towards her, "Neverland is never more deadly than when it is beautiful, because it never wants you to leave. The sea is far safer than land, and if we're to start combing the island we must have a secure place to drop anchor because we must be back on board the ship by nightfall. These are mermaid and all-manner-of-beast-infested waters, but the Picanniny's know the safest bays."
"Why haven't you said any of this until now?" Emma asks after a beat, feeling breathless.
"No one has asked me," Hook replies, shrugging. "You've all been more bloody invested in squabbling amongst yourselves than learning about Neverland. I planned to tell your family once I found port."
"Hey," Emma says, surprised at how soft her voice has gone, "you're part of this too. If you've got something to say you should say it. I—we owe you a lot." His eyes scan her face, and she forces herself to look at him. "Thank you. I know it's not easy for you with…Gold on board."
"Henry is more important," Hook says finally, his voice suddenly very low.
Her heart threatens to leap out of its chest at those words, but to her credit, Emma manages to keep her face calm. But she can't help the smile that has begun blooming over her lips. "He is," she agrees quietly.
She steps up next to him and joins him at the wheel, leaning against it like he is. She turns to him over her shoulder. "It's only been a little over a year, you know. Since he found me."
Hook's eyebrows raise, but whether it's at her proximity or the fact that she's opening up, he doesn't know. He stays silent, prodding her on.
Her eyes have glazed over with reminiscence, going back to that moment. She laughs softly. "He showed up in my apartment right after I'd finished a job—I worked as a bail bonds-person, or, er, you may know the term bounty hunter—" Hook's eyebrows shoot farther up, where it possible, "—and…and it was my birthday. I was alone, but I'd bought myself this stupid little cupcake and candle. And I wished…"
She trails off, suddenly feeling self-conscious. She'd told this story before, she doesn't know why telling it to Hook is so much harder. "You wished for what, lass?" She still isn't used to the softness of his voice, a gentleness that she didn't know he was capable of.
"I wished I wouldn't have to be alone." She looks at him in that moment. The two of them stand, their backs to the deck, necks turned over their shoulders, eyes locked.
"I know the feeling," he says after a moment.
"I know you do," she agrees. "But you don't have to be. Henry found me and gave me something to fight for. We'll find something for you to fight for, too."
Hook says nothing for a few painfully silent seconds, his head bowed down in thought. Slowly he raises his head, and meets her gaze again, their eyes the color of the sea and storm.
"One can only hope."