—and love dares you to care for the people on the edge of the night
The Piccaninny had moved.
Hook cast about the empty site for some sign of life, some straggler, some outcast, maybe, who had been reduced to living with the ghosts of the tribe — but there was nothing, and, judging by the state of the settlement, hadn't been for a long time.
He cursed under his breath and glanced at his companion, and the reason he was here; Henry stared at the site, looking as lost as Hook felt.
"Wait, where are they?" he asked in a small voice. "They're supposed to be here."
"They've moved," he replied, pulling the boy back up from where he'd slackened at the sight. "They're nomads, I shouldn't be…" he trailed off in frustration, and indicated to one of the still-standing structures, a small but sturdy wooden house. "But they might've left us something useful," he said gamely, with more confidence than he felt. "Come on, just a bit further."
Hook had visited the Piccaninny on a few occasions, mostly for trade, but he had, once, been forced to call on the aid of their medicine woman after a run-in with the Lost Boys and the Lost Boys' poisoned weapons had left his first mate hemorrhaging black blood; no healer could match her skill, short of a mage (and even then, only perhaps).
He'd been hoping to call on that aid again, after the group had been scattered by Pan's shadow and its minions, for lack of a better word — other shadows Pan had stolen over the years and now used as a miniature, incorporeal army — and he had been unfortunate enough to stumble across the Lost Boys themselves en route back to the ship. The boy, Henry, had been among them, although clearly not willingly, as well as his kidnappers.
In the ensuing (painfully one-sided) fight, the boy had been shot by the woman, who may or may not have been aiming at Hook — it was hard to tell, between the chaos of the thunderstorm and the Lost Boys' tactics in general, if they were trying to keep Hook from taking Henry, or to kill Henry — and he had been forced to grab the boy and run. Luckily, he was the only person who might possibly know Neverland better than Pan, or at least had more experience in evading hostile enemies, and they had lost them some time before. He hoped.
Hook winced as he pulled Henry into the abandoned house, and pressed his arm hard against his side. "Lay down," he said, indicating to a long-vacant bed. "With any luck, they've left some form of — ah-ha!" Opposite the bed, beside a blackened fireplace, was a chest; he pried it open with his hook, trying to move his torso as little as possible, and rifled through the contents. "Finally," he said cheerfully, glancing back to the boy, and holding up a handful of herbs, "something goes right for us."
(He wasn't entirely sure it was a coincidence that the medicine woman had left a cache of medicinal herbs in her house when she went — she had always left him with the uncomfortable impression of knowing, as a seer would. He had never been able to learn for certain if she did see the future or if she was just terribly good at reading people and predicting their actions, but this seemed to suggest the former.)
He crushed the herbs in a mortar, and used them, his shirt, and rainwater to create a makeshift poultice. "Technically," he said, trying to maintain a cheerful facade even as he saw how bad the boy appeared to be faring; his bleeding had lessened to a trickle, but the wound was already inflamed and Henry was losing color, fast, "I should be heating this up, but given the circumstances…"
"I'll take it," the boy replied, with a decent attempt at a grin. "What about you?" he asked, pointing to Hook's side. He ignored it.
"I'll live," he answered shortly, putting his coat back on to hide his own injury.
The herbs he'd used to make this poultice were the only ones the medicine woman had left behind.
Henry took several deep, ragged breaths, watching with wide eyes as he bandaged his wound. "Why are you helping me?" he asked quietly. Hook blinked, and refused to meet his eyes.
"I've seen too many children die," he answered darkly. "It's something I never wanted to see in the first place and have no intention of witnessing again." He finished bandaging Henry's wound in silence, standing when he was done and glancing back outside. "I don't know if I can get you back to the ship before nightfall," he said honestly; fatigue (and blood loss) were beginning to set in. "This is a safe enough place to rest," he started, but the boy cut him off.
"You won't be able to get me back to the ship, period," he snapped, and Hook turned to him in annoyance. "You're still bleeding! Waiting out the night will just make it worse!"
"And what, precisely, would you have me do?" he sneered, a bit nastier than he'd really meant to.
"Light a signal fire," Henry answered, unfazed. "Someone will come."
"Pan will come," he countered, but couldn't think of a better idea at the moment. Loath as he was to admit it, the boy was right: Hook wasn't getting all the way back to the ship without help. A signal fire, made with wet wood, would send up plenty of smoke, sure to be seen from the ship, or wherever Swan and the rest of them were, and she, at least, would be smart enough to come investigate. But it wouldn't just be Swan who saw the smoke, and he didn't like the thought of Pan and the Lost Boys finding them when he was no longer in a state to hold them off; they'd kept Henry alive thus far, but the woman had shot him, and Hook wasn't sure it was an accident. "Do you think you can run?" he asked slowly, and Henry glanced down at himself.
"Yes," he answered, but it was clearly a lie — he had barely more color than a corpse, and was struggling just to sit up. Hook glared at him until he winced. "Probably not," he admitted unhappily.
He sighed. "It seems we've little other choice," he muttered, raising his hand to run it through his hair but stopping at the last moment — he was covered in blood, and he wasn't really sure whose. "I'll light a fire," he said grudgingly. "If it is Pan who responds, I want you to hide, and do not come out regardless of what happens," he warned. "With any luck, I can buy your mother enough time to reach you."
He left the house before Henry could reply — if he was anything like Swan, he would be indignant at the thought of hiding and even more indignant at the thought of another person sacrificing their life for him, and Hook was in no mood for an argument — and gathered as much wood as he dared. Luckily, the rain had eased off and it took less time than he'd feared to light the sodden wood; he waited to make sure it had caught, and was, as planned, smoking like anything, before returning to the boy.
"All right," he said quietly, taking a seat against one wall and stretching so that his feet would block the door if it opened, "fire is lit. Now, we wait."
Henry rolled over onto his side, facing Hook. "What's your real name?" he asked, and he raised an eyebrow.
"Killian," he replied, slightly confused at the question. "Killian Jones."
The boy grinned. "Like Davy Jones?"
"No," he answered, snickering, "but that is the story I used to tell. Word of advice: if you ever decide to become a pirate, give yourself a mystical lineage. Pirates are superstitious creatures," he explained with a smirk.
"Killian," Henry repeated. "I like it."
"Means war," he said, shrugging, "or strife. Not the best name to give a young lad."
"So?" the boy said sleepily. "It sounds cool."
It wasn't long before someone responded to the signal fire.
Whoever it was, they weren't bothering to be particularly quiet, giving him enough time to struggle to his feet and draw his sword (as though he'd be able to do much with it — even gripping it sent shivers of pain up his arm), preparing to gingerly open the door. Before he could, however, the person spoke.
"Hook?" Emma called out tentatively, and he relaxed, sheathing his sword and opening the door. She spotted him immediately and he motioned with his head for her to join him.
"Come on, lad, up you get," he said softly, nudging the sleeping Henry into a semi-awake position and glancing at his wound with a little more anxiety than he usually allowed himself. The poultice seemed to have helped some, but he needed more medical attention than Hook was capable of.
"Hook, what — Henry!" He winced at Emma's shout and barely managed to move aside before she was at the bed, grabbing her son by the face. "Henry, are you okay? Henry?"
"'m fine," he mumbled, blinking heavily, and Emma glanced at Hook, who refused to answer the question she wasn't asking.
"We need to go," he said firmly. "You won't be the only one who saw the fire, and it's getting late. We need to get to the ship."
"Right," she replied, pulling Henry up to his feet, but he staggered and fell against her, so she picked him up instead, cradling him in her arms. "Let's go."
Hook glanced at her, and shut the thought down before it could start — if we're attacked —
They left the abandoned settlement, fire still burning in the hopes that it would lure the Lost Boys to the site and force them to waste time hunting for them, and made for Cannibal Cove. Hook made sure to walk behind Emma, both to cover their retreat and keep her from seeing his own injury.
Pan's damn sword must have been tipped with some sort of poison, probably involving deer's tongue; the gash it had left against his ribs hadn't stopped bleeding. It had slowed — small favors — but it was showing no signs of clotting or scabbing. He tried to judge the distance to the ship against the amount of bleeding he'd already done, and didn't like his odds.
And, to make everything worse, the sun was setting.
"Where is everyone else?" he asked, and she glanced at him, readjusting Henry in her arms.
"I don't know," she answered. "Back at the ship, hopefully."
"If they've any sense," he muttered, but then, she hadn't gone to the ship — instead, she'd gone looking, apparently, for him — and that didn't bode well for the sensibilities of the rest of the group, her parents especially. He looked up, this time judging the distance to the ship against the time before the sun set entirely. They might make it, if they kept this pace up.
He stumbled, catching himself on a tree, and cursed under his breath. No, he thought, Emma might make it, if she kept this pace up, and left him behind.
She turned in alarm, and for a moment, they just looked at each other. He raised an eyebrow. "I know I was forced to sacrifice my shirt to your son's bandages, but please, love, this is hardly the time."
Unfortunately, Emma wasn't fooled. "You idiot," she hissed, coming closer as though she could actually check him for a wound with her son in her arms. "You — this whole time — dammit!"
"It's nothing," he lied, and she scoffed.
"Shut up," she snapped, looking around. "We'll never make it to the ship, not with you injured, we have to find somewhere to stay the night."
He leaned heavily against the tree, torn between annoyance and relief and the deep, rising fear of Emma being forced to stay the night on land. "No, get to the ship," he said shortly. "I know this forest, I'll — "
"I swear to god," she growled, "if you're about to suggest that I leave you here to bleed to death, I will punch you in the face."
He opened his mouth to respond, but closed it again. That was a first: Emma Swan, not only refusing to leave him behind, but angry at the prospect. He wasn't sure how to interpret that, so he settled for his usual response: "I haven't grown on you, have I?" he asked cheekily, trying for a roguish smirk but accomplishing something only slightly better than a wince; she glared.
"We have to find a place to stay the night," she repeated. "You said you know this forest, is there any kind of shelter anywhere nearby?"
"There are a few caves further along toward the mountains," he admitted, a bit grudgingly. "Usually hard to find by anything other than accident, though."
"It'll have to do," she muttered, turning toward the mountain ranges and indicating for him to lead the way, which he did, albeit in something closer to a drunken stagger than a proud march.
They found a cave right as the sky was turning more black than purple, and she stumbled in after Hook, laying Henry gingerly against the wall — he had slept the whole way, and any time she had asked Hook about him, he'd changed the subject; all she'd gotten out of him was that Tamara had shot him — and turned to the pirate, jerking his coat off before he could even sit down.
"Not that I'm complaining, but your son might not appreciate — " he started weakly, but trailed off at her death glare and sank into a sitting position against the wall of the cave next to Henry.
It wasn't good; even in the dim light, and even to Emma's untrained eye, Hook was in bad shape. His whole side was bloody, and the gash — not especially deep or long — was still bleeding slowly, at least an hour or two after the fact. "I need light," she muttered to herself, and Hook indicated to his coat.
"I have flint," he said, voice hoarse and far weaker than she liked. "If you feel it's worth risking a fire."
"I don't exactly have a choice," she replied, rifling through his coat in search of flint (finding along the way an old blue gemstone, a deck of cards, a vial of what was probably poison, and a pouch of what she would swear was pixie dust). When she had it, she dashed outside and snatched a few branches, setting them up as far toward the back of the cave as she dared go.
Actually making the fire was another matter entirely — her hands were shaking, and slick with Hook's blood, and she'd never made a fire with flint before but what the hell it wasn't supposed to be thatcomplicated, and the wood was wet, to boot. "Son of a bitch," she snapped, striking the flints together hard and finally — finally — making a spark that caught. "Should've just brought some goddamn matches," she grumbled, and he snickered behind her.
At least it meant he was still alive.
She told herself that she was concerned because he was their guide and the only person who could handle the Jolly Roger, but it fell flat, even to herself. Since they'd been here, Hook had, through sheer exposure and force of personality, become her friend, and she'd never had very many of those.
His wound looked worse in the flickering firelight, and she bit her lip anxiously. "Do you have anymore of those… whatever you used on Henry?" she asked. He shook his head.
"There was only enough for one," he replied, like it was nothing, "he needed it more."
Emma had no response for that, and she refused to examine it in any depth because it made something inside of her keen and she couldn't tell why.
She wracked her brain — while she could tear her clothes up to make bandages like Hook had for Henry, her clothes were drenched and muddy whereas his had been protected by his coat, and would likely just make it worse; she didn't have any herbs or medicines, and wouldn't know what to use for him even if she did; and she didn't know why he hadn't stopped bleeding or what to do about it.
In desperation, she thought of Gold healing Belle's shoulder, and held her hands over the gash, at a loss as to what to do. She glanced up at him, but he'd closed his eyes, breathing ragged and clearly pained; she looked back to his ribs and tried to summon power to her hands.
She just had no idea how.
For several moments, she sat like that, hands hovering uselessly over the still-bleeding — god, it wasstill bleeding, that wasn't natural — wound, with nothing happening. How did she just make magic come to her fingers? Gold and Regina made it look so damn easy.
"Fuck," she cried, clenching her jaw and glancing up at him again — he opened his eyes and raised an eyebrow, but it looked difficult — and tried to think of something else.
"Name the time and place," he drawled quietly, and she almost laughed — just like him, he was dying and — and — and he was dying because she didn't know how to use her magic and this wasn't fair, this wasn't right, he'd found Henry and saved Henry's life and she wasn't enough to save him now. This was wrong, it couldn't end like this, she had to do it, she had to —
Emma felt it before she saw it, a cool green glow under her fingers highlighting the gash as it knitted itself back up.
"It worked," she breathed, and he glanced down, touching his ribs with his hand. "I actually did it."
"Brilliant," Hook said softly, hand falling into his lap.
"Hook," she cried, alarmed, grabbing him by the shoulders, and he looked back up at her, blinking rapidly.
"I'm all right," he murmured, closing his eyes and leaning back against the wall. "Just give me a moment, love."
"I don't want you to fall asleep until I'm sure you'll wake up again," she said, with altogether more feeling than she really liked.
"Don't worry, darling," he replied, with a weak, but sincere, smile. "If there's one thing I'm good at, it's surviving."
She watched him warily for a long moment, before nodding and moving around to sit beside him, pulling the still-sleeping Henry up off the cold ground, into her arms so he was laying against her chest. "Thank you," she said quietly. "I… owe you. A lot."
She glanced at him incredulously. "You saved my son's life."
"And you've saved mine," he replied, sounding oddly annoyed. "We're even."
"Hardly," she countered. "After everything I've — "
"Emma," he snapped, and she turned to him, surprised. He was pale, clearly exhausted, and yet had summoned up the energy from some deep well to be angry about this. "You owe me nothing." For a moment, he was quiet, before he went on. "I've enough blood on my hands for several lifetimes," he explained quietly, looking away in what might have been shame. "You're the first who's given me an opportunity to clean some of it off."
She didn't know what to say, so for a long time, they just sat in the dimly-lit cave in silence; when she glanced back to him, his eyes were closed again.
"Still," she whispered, "it means a lot to me."
But if he was still awake to hear it, he didn't respond.