"It's only officers up here, darling," said Hook, his forearms resting easily on the helm.
Emma shot him a look. She'd come to the quarterdeck to get away from the bickering below; Henry's family took the term "dysfunctional" to whole new levels she would never have imagined possible. When they weren't sniping at one another they were giving each other sidelong glances and eerie stares, need and mistrust swirling together like cream in coffee.
She was pretty sure Hook knew all of that, and knew damn well that she needed to get away from it before she strangled someone.
"You sure they're not just avoiding you?" she asked instead.
"Afraid not, love," he replied. "Quarterdeck of a ship is always reserved for officers. Off you go," he shooed lazily, "unless you've a commission I haven't heard about."
"Well, take your pick then, because I can be a major pain or a general nuisance."
"And don't I know it." Emma smirked at him, but he only smiled affectionately. "Unfortunately those are army ranks, not navy, so even then you'd have no authority here. However," and his smile changed to something else, looking her over in frank appreciation, "if you were my first mate…"
She tried, she really did, but Emma couldn't stop herself from laughing at that, just a little. "God," she said.
"You mean you honestly didn't see that coming?" His smile faded, but Emma couldn't tell whether the concerned expression that replaced it was genuine or mocking. "Now I know you're not yourself."
She blew out a sigh. "No," she admitted, "I'm not. I just – needed quiet." Needed to get away from the crazy, she didn't say; Hook already knew.
He didn't say anything, though, just nodded, and with a deep breath she let the quiet take over; only the noise of wind and waves surrounded her, and it was bliss.
It was several minutes before Hook spoke again. "Come here," he said quietly, and Emma opened her eyes – surprised to realize that she'd closed them in the first place.
"You and your mistrust," he muttered. "Just come here, darling."
Emma approached warily. Her eyes narrowed when he stepped away from the helm, keeping one hand on the wheel but otherwise opening his arms like he was about to hug her. Or ask her to dance, maybe. "What are you doing?"
"Come and see," he said. Tapped his hook against the wheelhouse just in front of the wheel. She could see letters carved there with a zigzag gouge running through them, all the edges worn smooth with time. She glanced back at him, eyebrow raised. "Port," he said, gesturing off to the left. "Starboard. Some ships mount a compass just here," he went on, sliding the tip of his hook along the little arrow design, "and if I told you to maintain a south-by-southwest heading you could just look at it and adjust accordingly." He stepped back and the wheel began to spin slowly, aimlessly.
"Wait, what are you –?"
"Go on," said Hook, "take her."
Bewildered, showing him her are-you-completely-nuts face, Emma stepped forward. Hesitantly, she put her hands to the spokes of the wheel.
"She's not going to bite, you know," he said and she could hear the grin in his voice. "And surely you've realized by now that I will, but not until you ask."
Emma refused to dignify that with a response, but she tightened her grip on the wheel anyway.
"Now," he said, "when I let go we turned off our course, so bring her back around, if you would. Three notches to starboard ought to suffice."
Biting her lip, still not completely sure what Hook was trying to pull, Emma started to turn the wheel. It was harder than it looked, the waves trying to push the boat in one direction while the rudder was aiming in another. She leaned her weight into the wheel a little, adjusted her feet, and tried to steer. One notch, then two, then three, the wheel turned.
She heard Hook make a little noise behind her. "What?" she asked, over her shoulder.
"Look at your feet, darling," he said, an odd note in his voice.
Emma glanced down and blinked. Decades of use had worn smooth spots into the wood of the deck, where countless helmsmen's feet had shuffled about and braced against the wheel. In the midst of the lighter-colored wood were two shallow depressions, and Emma's feet were perfectly centered in both of them.
"Um." Why did she get the uncomfortable impression that she was standing in Hook's own footprints, literally following in his footsteps? And what was she supposed to say to that? "Huh."
"Looks like I was right," he mused. "About you making a hell of a pirate."
"Yeah, well, don't get your hopes up," said Emma, but Hook was standing beside her now, and from the corner of her eye she could see this weird little half-smile on his face. "All right, what's this about?"
"Well, it's officers-only on the quarterdeck, as I've already said," he explained, "so congratulations, I've just promoted you to helmsman-in-training."
She blinked at him for a second before she got it. The quiet, escape from everyone else's issues; he was giving that to her, along with something to do so she wouldn't go crazy, something that wasn't meaningless busywork but actually had a purpose…
It might have been the nicest thing anyone had ever done for her. Emma swallowed, looked out at the horizon stretching ahead of them, and took a deep breath.
"I don't do morning shifts," she said finally. "Seriously, don't even try it, you wouldn't live long enough to regret it."
Hook just chuckled, letting it grow into a full, genuine laughter that she realized she hadn't heard once in her world, and not at all since the beanstalk. Since he'd called her brilliant and looked at her like she'd pulled off the impossible.
"And I'm not calling you 'Captain'."
"So noted, darling."
I wrote this last night while trying to survive FFnet's brief downtime when nobody could get in. Just for fun, I had it come out to exactly a thousand words before I posted it to tumblr. I've thought about going back in and fleshing out some of the thin spots, but I like it well enough as is to leave it be. I hope you do as well.
Historical fact: the quarterdeck really was restricted to officers only. In fact the entire ship was set up by rank, including sleeping quarters, with officers to the stern, regular sailors in the bow, and "midshipmen" living, well, amidships. In the original Peter Pan there's a section toward the end, where it says that after Peter and the lost boys take over the Jolly Roger, the boys all end up "living before the mast", ie, to the very front.