"There are only two types of animals born in these gutters, lad: Rats and Cats. Now, a rat, you see, well he doesn't last very long. He takes sick with the plague, or he starves quick as a wink. But a cat? Now there's a canny creature! A cat is a survivor, Killian. The same things that kill a weaker thing—hunger, sickness, someone's knife at their throat—give the cat a reason to live. Cats are faster; they hunt down the rats, and the mice, and the fleas; and a cat can steal the cream from a dairymaid, and she'll keep him around because she's none the wiser. Cats hide in plain sight, my lad, and no one knows to be wary of 'em."
For as long as he could remember, his Da had said the same thing after every job. After they worked a market day or the annual fair—Da dressed and made up as a blind beggar, and Killian carefully filching trinkets from ladies' purses; after a night of climbing over the roofs of town, keeping his Da limber and fit and teaching the boy how to quietly creep over slate and stone and thatch; after every such adventure, his father would drink deeply of whatever was bought cheapest and share the thief's trade, the pickpocket's code with his son. Their life was easier when they lived in towns; but there was also more danger of being caught, and King Rodrigo was not known to deal kindly with thieves.
By the time he was ten, Killian had lived in and moved from the portside town at least three times. By far, it was his favorite, not only because it was so large, so vast that a man and his son could disappear in it for much longer; but also because of the sea. Towns by the sea may occasionally smell of fish and brine, but they never stayed hot and stagnant for long. Breezes always cleaned the air, made it fresh and pure to breathe. And those same winds always brought with them ships and sailors with many a strange and exciting tale to be told by the light of a tavern fire. By this time, Da was working as a barkeep, maintaining a front of respectability and sending Killian out at night alone to scout their marks.
But that night before leaving for "work," Killian sat by an old sea dog, listening to a story of mermaids and an angry, vengeful goddess who calls up all storms. Will Jones watched the boy's face change in excitement, fear, and an ever-present joy as the sailor spun out his tales. He caught the gleam of envy, and perhaps a flinch of pain, as his son asked after the tattoos. Will glanced over at another man who gave a slight nod of his head to indicate his need for another glass. Jones filled a mug with the cheap, thick ale and walked it over. Before he could set it down, a hand flashed out from beneath the table and grabbed his wrist in a bruising grip. He heard the metallic click of a pistol's hammer and froze.
"D'ye know who I am, Will Jones? D'ye know why I'm here?"
Jones knew alright. The first time he had come here with Killian, it had been not too long after the death of the lad's mother. The boy had been five, old enough and strong enough to begin his apprenticeship. A job had come through that was too important; Will would have had to have been a fool to refuse. But taking the job had come with a lot of risks—risks that had kept them from staying in one place for too long and which Jones had thought that he had outrun. He swallowed before nodding his head once. "Aye"
"Then ye know that ye're a dead man now. Ye've been a dead man since the moment ye decided to steal from me and mine, but now ye know it. I've come to see yer debt paid up."
Slowly, Will Jones lowered himself onto the bench across from the sailor. "I had hoped to never be found out, but I guess that's so much water now, isn't it?" He swallowed harshly again. "You know that I didn't have a choice? My boy—the Dark One said—"
"Aye, I know exactly what made ye steal from me, and I know that ye were given little choice in the matter. But the fact remains… ye owe me. I'm a reasonable man; a gentleman of fortune." Jones snorted weakly, then quietly cried out in pain as his wrist was wrenched back viciously. "Easy there, Will, or I might forget my manners. Now, since I am such a reasonable and kindly sort, I'm willing to make ye a deal of my own…"
[[ ][ ]
Though they had lived in the port town before, Killian had never had the chance to actually get on one of the many boats or ships in the busy harbor. But now, he and his Da were going on another adventure, this time leaving the kingdom altogether. Killian ran about, asking everyone what that rope was for or what they called that sail. Will followed slowly, looking a bit green from sea sickness and telling the boy to mind where he was walking and not to bother the sailors. "You'll know all there is to know soon enough, lad. We haven't weighed anchor yet—takes time to learn anything worth knowing."
Killian thought he would never fall asleep from the excitement of the day. Watching the sailors in the rigging unfurl the sails, all as one, had been the highlight of his young life. Until he raced to the prow and watched the ship slice through the green-blue water, sending up pearly white spray that stung a little and smelled salty-clean. The captain had even let him near the helm, explaining how the wheel operated the rudder, and so forth. He asked questions until he could think of no more questions to ask. And that night, swaying slightly in his hammock, he shared with his father everything that he had been told, his voice getting fainter as he slowly drifted to sleep.
Will waited several minutes, listening for faraway, slight snores before rising up out of the hammock. At the cabin door, he turned and looked at the boy one last time. He trudged up the ladder and onto the main deck.
"Don't look so glum, Jones! At least this way, the boy doesn't hang with ye. And besides, I'm giving ye a full day's head start before the merciful King Rodrigo sets his dogs on ye!"
"Aye. Rodrigo would have gladly seen the lad swing, but now I've got my own skin to think of and no apprentice ready to train. That boy was my ticket to an easier life, Read! So don't pretend you're doing me any favors." With that, the fight drained out of Will Jones and he looked exactly like what he was—a tired, old criminal.
Captain Read smiled, gloating over the thief's predicament. "Don't go telling me ye've gone soft, now Jonesy. We're settled now, and ye can go." With a dismissive flick of his right hand, several of the sailors grabbed hold of Will and forced him down into the row boat. "The lad will wake up soon enough and know ye've left him behind. Anything ye want me to say to 'im?"
Jones glared at the pirate, but then his face cracked into a wicked grin. "No. If my boy is a cat like you, like me, then he'll find a way to survive. Cats always manage to survive."
  
Emma Swan stands at the prow, staring out at the night-darkened ocean. Her body, her mind, and her spirit are beyond exhausted, yet she cannot find the strength to do the one thing she needs to do most at this moment: sleep. Her muscles are screaming at her, but she remains on her feet. She has refused to sleep since they came through the portal—right into the heart of a terrible storm. She's glad Hook and Gold warned them to brace themselves, because otherwise they all would have been swept overboard within heartbeats. Rain whipped across her face, stinging like a hundred needles; waves flooded the deck of the Jolly Roger, soaking them all to the skin. Then came the crashes, the wild bucking and plunging of the entire ship over the furious water. She could see Regina and Snow screaming, saw David's lips moving, but she could only hear the angry, bellowing roar of the sea and the furious crack of lightning and what sounded like pieces of a strange, haunting melody. The ropes quickly became slippery, so she wrapped more of it around her arm and searched desperately for a foothold. Her left shoulder is still sore from being wrenched around, from being unable to keep any semblance of balance. It didn't take long for her to mind to stop worrying about everything else and focus on staying alive. That night, like this night, seemed endless.
The storm blew itself out, eventually. The rain drew back like a curtain and revealed a glowing red sunrise. But even the calm and the morning didn't bring any real relief because then there was an education that needed to be acquired as rapidly as possible. None of them had ever bothered learning how to sail, and since the ship couldn't command itself… Being deemed the most physically fit, she and David had climbed up into the rigging, bringing in and letting out sails according to the Captain's shouted instructions. Time and space and thought narrowed to the canvas and hemp in their hands and the narrow yard arms under their legs. Once satisfied with the set of his sails, Hook ordered them down to tie knots. Regina and Snow had already been working under the pirate's direction; Snow excelled in particular, having lived off the land for some time and only needing to remember old skills.
Then had come a quick bite to eat and a division of their group into watches. Snow, Gold, and Regina slipped quietly below to find bunk space and rest. Emma and David clambered back up among the sails when ordered, or remained on deck to practice knots. The watch changed, and Emma watched her father and the Captain take their turn below decks. Gold kept his distance from the pirate as they traded places, and Emma could tell that the two exchanged words—while he may not have liked it at this particular moment, Killian Jones' ship was magically enhanced, and it took someone who knew her or knew magic to captain her. Of the two evils, it said a lot that he viewed Rumplestiltskin as the lesser. But he didn't remain below for very long. It was hot and humid, so their previously drenched clothes were as dry as they were going to get. Emma imagined that as the only person on board with spare clothing, he was probably making the most of it. But he was soon back topside: climbing into the crow's nest or out among the sails, attempting to calculate their location.
She had come up front, since it wasn't her watch, and endlessly played with the short piece of rope in her hands. Tying knot after knot after knot, letting her mind focus only on that bit of hemp sliding between her fingers. Or trying to, at any rate. Neal is dead. Henry is gone. Hook came back. A loop of words and thoughts and feelings that keeps time with the knots in her fingers. Until the moment David takes it away from her, and she drops her hands onto the rails in front of her. He says nothing, just stands by her side and stares at her for a while, offering her silent comfort and agitation with his presence. But even her father has only so much strength to watch her suffering, and he finally walks away with a sigh. The watch had changed hours ago and is about to change again. Neal is dead. Henry is gone. Hook came back.
It's the last of her thoughts that takes up most of her time. Why is she fixated on him? Is it easier to think about than the kidnapping of her son, or the death of her son's father? In a way, it's the hardest problem facing her right now, not the easiest. When someone does exactly what's expected of them, you never give it a second thought. But when that constant alters course…? A person willing to change, a person willing to give of themselves freely in order to help others is a person deserving of respect and a second chance. And honestly, what had Neal ever done to deserve his second chance? She shakes her head at this last thought. There was never going to be a second chance for her and Neal, and not simply because he had fallen through a portal to his death. She hadn't lied when she told him she loved him—part of her would always love him, if only because he gave her Henry. But loving someone because of the child you made together and being in love with someone are two separate things. A person you can fall in love with comes back to you, and in her mind's eye, all she sees is a pirate, a man who returned at precisely the moment she needed him most. A selfish bastard who's suddenly her greatest ally in helping her find her son.
  
The Jolly Roger should have its captain's undivided attention, but Killian Jones watches her. Since her father stopped her maddening fidgeting with that rope, she stands as still as a statue except for the noticeable sway of her body when the ship slices through a particularly rough wave. She seems immoveable, unshakeable, but if there's one thing he knows about Emma Swan, it's that appearances can be deceiving. He doesn't even need to see her eyes to read the grief, the anger, the despair, and loneliness that she's feeling right now. She's always been an open book to him, but now her whole being all but screams the truth of her misery at him. He barely knew Baelfire, but Killian remembers how agonizing it felt to watch Milah's son be taken away from him. He had lost her before he ever met the lad, but it felt as if the last piece of his love, his woman, had died that day. If any flicker of hope had still remained in him, any remote chance of a family—it was gone in a moment. He had had a living, breathing reminder of her, and he let that slip away.
And he also knows what it's like to be helpless as you watch your soul mate die. Emma and Baelfire may not have had the years together that he and Milah did, but they had Henry—a piece of each of their souls forged together by their love to make a new life. How could they not be bound to each other? Killian more than understands her pain—he lives it every day. Which is why he stays at the helm. Despite the fact that every nerve in his body is afire with the need to hold her and offer her words of comfort, he knows that what she'll cherish and appreciate most in these moments is solitude. And so, he watches over her. A flicker of movement on the left reveals to him that Snow has come up on deck. Her gaze is drawn immediately to her daughter, but she reluctantly climbs up by the helm when he calls her up. "Let her be, milady."
Snow's eyes light up, snapping in anger. "She's my daughter. I have to do something to help her! She needs—."
"You'll have to forgive me, but she damn well does not need you coddling her like a bloody child. Emma is your lass, aye, but she's stronger than you're giving her credit for. She's used to being strong because that's all she or that world have ever allowed her to be. And just because she now has a Mum and Da to hold her does not mean she wants to break down and have a good cry with you. Let her handle it. Leave the lass in peace to do her grieving, and then be ready for the storm."
"The storm?" Snow glares at him, curious and confused.
"Aye. Once she's done her grieving, your lass is going to rain fire and hell down on those who dared lay a hand on her boy." He says all this without ever really taking his eyes off Emma and with something that sounds like satisfied pride.
A gleam of understanding comes across Snow's face and a disbelieving awe can be heard in her voice. "You didn't come back to save the town… When she said that you could be alone, or you could be a part of something?... You came back to save Emma. You came back to be with Emma."
Killian keeps his eyes averted and says nothing; her words hang heavy in the air between them for a long moment. "I know a thing or two about having your loved ones taken from you is all. Swan is a rock; she just needs a bit of time to remember that. And I came back because she was right—I've been alone for too long, and to be offered the chance to be a part of something…" He dismisses her with a shake of his head. Snow walks away, but can't stop herself from looking back at the Captain, who can't stop himself from watching over her daughter. She knows that Hook—that Killian Jones is right, that Emma needs time alone and space to think more than anything else. She shakes her head at David, who has been waiting by the ladder for her return.
"I know. You were right. Let's give her some breathing room." She slips her arm around her husband's waist, and they awkwardly go down the ladder together. Once again, only the ocean waves and the wind in their sails make any noise. Killian guards Emma's silence, helpless to do anything, except wait for it to pass.
  
Despite his body feeling ready to drop from exhaustion, he prowls around his ship to check for damage. It's a nightly ritual anyway, but even more vital since they sailed through that storm. Neverland itself is still leagues away, and they can't afford to be slowed down by a problem that can be more easily fixed now. He repeats these things to himself over and over, but he knows that his restlessness truly stems in part from leaving the Roger in the Crocodile's hands and mostly from the sleepless beauty up on deck. Somehow, it's become important to him to maintain vigil with her, and again, he tells himself that it's because he pities her. No one can lie to themselves quite like a pirate can.
His ears have become so attuned to his ship over the centuries that any sound out of the ordinary instantly alerts him to any changes. And while the sounds coming from the hold are familiar, they are certainly not ordinary for this voyage. He moves quickly and quietly. He tells himself that he's simply being cautious, in case he's dealing with a stowaway. But in his gut, he knows exactly who and what he'll find. And why. Clearly, Emma has been searching for something because crates and trunks have been shifted around and stacked upon one another. He has no idea where the lass found the strength to move most of them on her own, exhausted as she must be. Now, she has a crowbar in her hands, all but attacking the lid of one of the crates.
"Something I can help you with, love?" Emma looks up at him through her eyelashes, the look deadly, menacing, and anything but coy. He's leaning up against the doorway, arms crossed over his chest. "If you fancied a drink, Swan, all you had to do was ask." He flicks his head to the left and walks through the door, back to the main hall of the lower decks. He hears the metallic clank of the crowbar as it hits the floor and her boot-steps starting to follow him. He enters his quarters, leaving the door wide open and motioning her to the desk with his hook. He goes to the cabinet he built into the walls, pulling out a bottle, tucking it under his left arm, and grabbing two cups with his right hand. "Take a seat."
She eyes him warily, but all his focus is on retrieving the wine and other than the nickname, there's no hint of his usual flirtatious self. She practically drops into the chair across from his, and he doesn't miss the wince and pained sigh she lets escape. Bloody hell, but she's determined not to stop moving, not to show him any weakness; but the fact that she's here with him, seeking comfort in her cups is proof enough of how desperately she's clinging to her control. He pours a healthy dose into a cup and puts it in front of her, then does the same for his before he puts the bottle down. Faster than he can raise his cup in a toast, she's wrapped her hand around the bottle neck and begins gulping the contents down. If it weren't killing him to watch her do it, he might laugh or think that it's the most sensual, erotic thing he's ever seen her do. "If your plan is to drown yourself, lass, there's an entire ocean on the other side of this hull. You can spare yourself the dreadful, aching head in the morning, and maybe I'll get to keep some of my stores, aye?"
She barely manages to place down the bottle and grin before her face crumples and she collapses onto the table, fast asleep. "Well, suppose I'll be hiding my best then." Killian sighs, puts down his own cup, and mindful of his hook picks her up into his arms. Thank the gods she left the door to his cabin wide open, otherwise he would have needed to put her down in order to turn the knob, and he finds that he enjoys the way her body feels next to his like this. In sleep, she's relaxed and all of her fences and walls are down. She looks so young and innocent, even though worry still shows itself in the lines of her brow and the tightness of her jaw. Fearsome innocence—that's his Emma. He shakes his head to clear it, banishing the thought; obviously, the lack of sleep is getting to be too much. He finds the cabin she's sharing with her parents, and sends another prayer of thanks to the gods for ensuring that the prince is fast asleep and unable to see his daughter carried in by the pirate.
After laying Emma down as gently as he can, he reaches down and fumbles with the zipper on her boots. Several tries later, he manages to get one of them off her foot and then the other. Other than this, he leaves her clothes be. He stands beside her sleeping form for several moments, just looking at her, just watching. He reaches down to brush a lock of hair back from her face, then turns and heads for his own cabin and his own sleep. That night, he dreams that it's just him and Emma on the Jolly Roger, continuing their lessons on how to tie knots.