I need some sleep, it can't go on like this
I tried counting sheep, but there's one I always miss
everyone says I'm getting down too low
everyone says you just gotta let it go
you just gotta let it go.
Killian chose not to remember the last time he'd slept through the night (three days after her death, so strung-out and strung-up and mad with every kind of pain, collapsing into the too-big and too-cold bed to fall into what he had hoped would be a dreamless sleep) and, judging by the color of Emma's face when she joined him on deck, she had made the same choice sometime recently.
When she'd started hanging around at night, it would be several hours after everyone else had gone to bed before she'd turn up, but over the past few weeks, she'd been coming up sooner and sooner, and this time apparently hadn't even tried to sleep first.
He wanted to ask, but he wasn't sure he wanted to know.
It was more than her son's kidnapping, and more than her ex-lover's death, but those reasons were enough for everyone else and he couldn't quite pin down why they weren't enough for him. Half of him said it was just wishful thinking — that he could have some insight into her that others, who had known her longer, didn't — but the other half remembered that every time he'd made a guess about things she wasn't saying, he'd been right.
He glanced sideways at her; she was standing at the railing only a handful of feet away from him, hands clutching the guardrail like a lifeline, eyes distant and glancing from him to the sea and back, unconsciously biting her lip.
"What is it?" he asked, almost in spite of himself. She turned to him, expression never changing, so he went on. "You came here to ask me something. What is it?"
She stared at him and through him for another moment, mouth half-open, before turning back to the sea. "Would…" she started hesitantly, but paused for almost long enough to make him think she'd lost her nerve. "If someone had… had told you… God, this is stupid," she sighed, running a hand over her face and refusing to look at him. "I don't even know why — it's not like it changes anything, I just — "
"If someone had told me what?" he interrupted sharply, and she took a deep breath.
"If someone had told you that you were… getting in the way of — of Milah's destiny," she started again, and he tried not to be surprised that she even remembered her name, "that she… couldn't become who she was fated to be as long as you were there… would you have left?"
He blinked, and answered before he could think about it. "What kind of excuse is that?" he asked incredulously, and with more than a little contempt. "I was under the impression that the meaning of destiny is that it will happen regardless of circumstance, including people in your life."
She almost managed to hide her flinch, and he cursed himself internally.
"But if you were… if it meant you were a danger to her," she offered.
He wondered who she was trying to convince; he wondered if she really wanted the truth.
"I would've stayed to fight it, help her if I could," he finally answered honestly. "There is nothing anyone could have told me that would've made me abandon Milah."
"Right," she said softly. "Because you loved her."
There was something under her words he didn't want to examine, but heard anyway. "Aye," he replied, matching her volume. "Because I loved her."
Emma fell silent.
(Maybe he should have lied.)
"So that was his reasoning, was it?" he asked in a low voice, and she laughed mirthlessly.
"Yeah," she answered, voice taut, "yeah, that was… that's why he did it. I just — I wanted to know why, for so long I wanted to know why and then I find out and it…"
"Lacks something substantial," he finished for her. She ran her hand over her face again, visibly shaking.
"It's stupid, this whole thing, it's so — so stupid."
"You keep saying that," he drawled, "but I've yet to hear you say anything remotely of the sort."
She was quiet again for a moment, leaning heavily on the railing, as though it was the only thing standing between her and utter despair. "I just…" she breathed. "I came up with all these possibilities," she explained, barely above a whisper, "over the years, maybe he'd done it because — because someone had forced him to, or had threatened me, or… or maybe he really was just a worthless, greedy liar, or maybe…" she trailed off. "Even now, I thought — well, it's a crappy reason, but he thought he was doing the right thing, he meant well, and he said… maybe he really had…"
She didn't finish the sentence, but didn't need to.
"I thought," she whispered, and then caught herself, "I wanted to think — he — I hadn't — " She couldn't seem to make herself say the words, and for once he couldn't tell what it was she was trying to hide. He waited for her to continue, and regretted it when she did. "But I was wrong," she went on, voice deliberately even. "I was twenty-eight before anyone really loved me."
He watched her for a moment that lasted just too long to be played off as casual.
"It isn't you," he said finally, startling her, but continued before she could comment. "Whatever his and everyone else's reasons for leaving you are, I assure you, it has nothing to do with you. It's their failure, not yours."
The look she gave him stung something in Killian that he thought he'd buried centuries ago. "Thanks," she said flatly, unconvincingly.
"I mean that," he snapped, genuinely annoyed. "You're a remarkable woman, if I could — " he cut himself off at the look on her face — simultaneously don't and please — and decided not to finish that sentence. "If he couldn't see that, he was blind," he said instead, a bit lamely.
She turned back to the water. "I don't know why I care," she breathed. "It was years ago, and he — it shouldn't be like this — it's all in the past, I can't do anything about it, I — "
"You hate him, and yet you still love him," he said, a statement of fact rather than any kind of question. "You never got a satisfactory reason out of him, and he died before you could make him give you one, or hurt him like he hurt you. He died before you could make him understand the magnitude of his mistake," he went on, deliberately not looking at her, volume dropping in the vague hope that she wouldn't hear, "and he died before you could forgive him. It's left you hollow, and you've nothing to fill that space with."
For a moment, she didn't react; when she did, it was with a breathless laugh. "How — " she choked, finally turning to face him, no longer using the guardrail like a crutch. "What happened to you, how do you know that?"
He'd hit the mark, perhaps a little too perfectly.
There wasn't anything for it but the truth, a tale he'd only told once before.
He ran his hand through his hair and turned away, seeking solace in the water like she'd been doing all night. "My mother was a noblewoman," he explained quietly, "and my father… well, I was led to believe he was a merchant, but the point is, I was illegitimate and my mother was the only person in my family who didn't openly loathe me. I was ten when she died, and at her funeral, my grandfather told me I no longer had a home." He laughed a little in memory of the cruelty, and the irony in how much like his grandfather he had unwillingly become.
"But I was spared," he went on brightly, "by my father. He took me in, told me that we would travel the realms together, and I… I had always dreamt of adventure, and of him, and I thought… like you, I thought he loved me," he said finally, with more self-loathing than she'd used. "I later discovered that my grandfather had paid him a rather large sum to take me off their hands, and when he was out of the country and I was of no further use to him, he left me at a brothel and disappeared.
"I didn't see him for five years," he said, looking at the water, sight unseeing. "When I found him again, it was the night before he was hanged — murder, theft, treason… other crimes," he muttered darkly. "He begged me to help him escape, once again he said we could be a family. I refused."
He paused, unable to look at her; Killian — Hook — had done a lot of terrible things, but wasn't sure he'd done anything worse than this.
"Did you regret it?" she asked. He took a deep breath.
"Not immediately," he replied honestly. "You have to understand, he had hurt me deeply, left me to die in the streets mere weeks after the death of the only person who'd loved me. I blamed him for…everything, I felt he deserved it. No," he said thoughtfully, and a little bitterly, "I didn't regret it for a week, until I went around to the city square again and found…" he hesitated, unwilling to remember. "They had left his body on the gallows. A warning to other criminals." He heard her wince; clearly, she could imagine what a week-old body on a hangman's noose looked like. "If there is one image I could burn out of my memory," he murmured, "it would be that one.
"The point is," he continued sharply, more of a reprimand to himself than anything else, "I realized then, too late, that what I wanted had never been his death. I wanted to make him answer for what he'd done, explain to me why he thought me so worthless, force him to respect me, love me, want me… and I let him die without getting any of it. He owed me more," he said, perhaps a bit viciously. "He owed me a reason, or at least half a moment's concern, but at the wrong moment, I chose petty vengeance over mercy and because of it, I'll never know the truth."
It would become, he thought but refused to point out, a habit.
"You were… fifteen, sixteen?" she asked slowly, and he glanced at her.
Emma nodded, glancing away. "I was adopted as a baby," she said quietly, apparently apropos of nothing, "but when I was three, they had their own kid and sent me back to the orphanage. I… If it helps," she said, glancing at his hand on the railing, her own twitching like she might've wanted to take it, "if it had been me, facing them, in your position, at fifteen… I think I would've done the same thing."
Neither of them spoke for a long moment; he wasn't sure why she'd opened up to him, except that maybe she was going mad with the strain and the grief and the hurt and the fake smiles, and, like she'd said, they understood each other — and he might have been the only one who did — and more than that, he wasn't sure how she'd react in the morning. Draw away, like she had on the beanstalk? Pretend this conversation hadn't happened?
"What is it about us, that makes everyone leave?" she asked, voice hollow. "What's wrong with us?"
He laughed harshly. "Well, I'm a heartless bastard who's done it to himself," he admitted. "You… you've simply been spectacularly unlucky, I suppose. I deserve it, you don't."
"You don't deserve it," she said quietly, "and you're not heartless. If you were heartless, you wouldn't even be here, and if you deserved it, I wouldn't be."
He refused to take heart at her words.
"You'd be the first to think that in a very long time."
"Maybe," she replied simply. "But for what it's worth, I still think you're wrong about yourself."
He would like to be. She would have wanted him to be. He had tried to be, in the past, and failed, for the same reason his father had failed.
The last time someone had put this much faith in him was when Milah had thrown the bean, knowing he would catch it and keep it safe. When Milah had begged him to take her back home so she could reunite with her son, so they could be a family.
When Milah had wanted him to be her son's father.
"No," he said darkly, trying to banish the memories of how very wrong she'd been. "I'm not."
She looked at him like she could see right through him, and laid a hand over his. "You can be," she murmured. "You're off to a good start," she continued after a moment, a little louder, removing her hand and stepping back like she had suddenly realized how close she was to him. The absence was sharp and cold, and colder because he was half-trapped in memories too sweet to be anything but poison. "You've helped me."
He tried, and failed, to smile.
"That's not much."
She held his gaze for a moment that went on just too long to be ignored, before finally — and abruptly, like she had once again realized where she was and who she was looking at — turning away and making for the officer's quarters. "It's enough, to me," she said without looking back at him, and left before he could reply.
"It shouldn't be," he said anyway, to no one.