all young lovers know why nightmares blind their mind's eye
your rube is young and handsome, so new to your bedroom floor
you know damn well where you will go
stay with me under these waves tonight
be free for once in your life tonight
The restaurant she'd picked was as fancy as she could reasonably pretend to afford; it was the sort with a string quartet and candles on the tables and a black-tie dress code. Reservations were taken at least a month in advance and the meal could be expected to cost more than the GDP of several third-world countries.
It was a sleaze magnet, as far as Emma was concerned — any man who enthusiastically agreed to meet her at a restaurant like this one was definitely either a criminal or a bore.
Besides, the food sucked.
She found the mark easily, a young boy with a round face and a hook for a hand, who laughed when she sat across from him as though she'd said some joke, and maybe she had; the conversation was white noise, the wine the color of old blood, the knives more dagger than butter. She reached out a hand for the boy to take and dance with her and when he took it, she noticed his rings.
Proof that she had been right.
When she turned back to him on the dance floor he was taller, older, a stranger's livid blue eyes in an old lover's face, a rough hand in hers and a dance that felt more like a fight. As she moved closer, his expression became condescending, and then threatening with a smile; when she touched him, her hand came back red with blood.
It was a gunshot wound, or it was a knife wound, and he was collapsing in her arms in a sheriff's station and he was falling into a black hole and he was laying in a forest clearing and he was laying on the edge of a beach and he was laying in a bed and each time she tried to save him and each time she begged him to stay and each time he fell anyway —
"I have to say, for all the myriad ways I've imagined you on top of me, Swan, this I didn't expect."
She jolted up at the voice, stumbling backward and landing hard on the floor beside the bed, and shook her head to clear it.
"I don't remember falling asleep," she said blankly, before the meaning of her wake-up call sank in: Hook was, albeit with apparent pain, sitting up. And also smirking at her like nothing whatsoever had happened. She wondered vaguely if it had all been a dream — but no, his abdomen was still bandaged and —
The discoloration was gone.
"Surely you can come up with a better excuse than that," he drawled, but Emma didn't even care; she jumped up and pulled at the bandages to check the wound. "What — is that one of my shirts?" he asked incredulously. She ignored him.
It was gone. The wound was gone.
She glanced at her hands — the last things she remembered were trying to use magic to heal him, failing, getting frustrated, getting angry, getting sort of hysterical, hitting him a few times like that would improve the situation, and, and… maybe it worked? Her memories were all muddled from the stress and the lingering effects of the coma, and she'd had such a vivid dream that — while the haze of sleep was still clearing — she couldn't quite distinguish it from memory.
Had she ever danced with him? Had she found him on a beach?
Had she cradled him in her arms?
"It worked," she said, and he looked down at himself, the confusion finally setting in. "It worked, how did it work?"
He touched his abdomen slowly, then looked up at her, deep in thought. "What did you do?"
"I — " she started, blinking hard and trying to sort everything out. No, she'd never danced with Hook, she'd only fought with him in a swordfight that almost felt like foreplay. No, she hadn't cradled him in her arms as he died, that was Graham. Yes, she'd found him on a beach where he had fallen, trying to return to her like none of the others had. "You were… as good as dead," she breathed. "You were out there for… I don't know how long, it had gotten infected, there wasn't anything we could…" she trailed off, looking at her hands again.
"You have magic, yes?" he suggested, in a dangerously neutral voice. "Product of true love, and all that."
"I know I healed you," she snapped, too strung-out to be relieved, "I just don't know how I did it." She ran a hand through her hair, frustrated. "If I knew how to control this stupid — power, this whole thing could have been avoided! I could have just — I don't know, set them on fire or something, instead of being stuck trying to fix everything now."
"Love is a shield," he replied with a wry look whose meaning she didn't want to interpret, "not a sword."
"Fat lot of good a shield did then," she muttered darkly, running her hand through her hair again. She needed to wash it. She didn't know why she focused on that fact. "You almost died."
"Yes, but I didn't, did I?" he countered, still watching her strangely. "How did I get here?"
She sighed. "Well, you were… out there a while," she admitted, wincing, but it didn't seem to faze him. "Apparently, Gold refused to do anything, and Regina supposedly actually did look, but couldn't find you, and my parents… well, they decided to stay with me."
He didn't say anything, but it hung in the air around them — Emma was the only one who actually cared whether he lived or died. Although Regina had made noise about not completely trusting Gold's knowledge of Neverland and needing Hook to find Henry, but even she had only gone looking once before giving him up for dead.
"So, again, how did I get here?" he asked, in that same dangerously neutral voice; he could be hiding any emotion behind it, but mostly what she heard in it was bitterness, a vague regret.
"When I woke up, we went looking, me and my parents," she answered slowly. "It was pretty dark, and we had to track you all the way from the clearing — "
"You went into the forest at night?" he snapped suddenly, startling her. "After everything I've warned you about? What the devil possessed you to do that?"
She paused, a hundred answers coming to mind and then immediately flying away. "Why didn't you just stay at the clearing and wait for us to find you? Your chances were better if you stayed still, so why did you waste the energy?" she snapped back, but the questions were meant to be the answer she couldn't say out loud.
I went back for you because you came back for me.
"D'you have any idea how lucky you are to be alive?" he hissed, and it struck her that he was genuinely angry that she had gone looking for him at night. Angry.
"I saved your life," she cried, offended at his offense. "I risked my life to find you!"
"And why the hell would you do that?" he shouted. "After everything I've done to keep you alive, you'd throw it away that easily? Never risk your life to help me," he said in a low voice, just on this side of self-loathing.
"I would do it for anyone else," she growled, but his expression didn't change.
"I don't give a damn what you would do for anyone else, my life is not worth yours."
And like that, they were at the heart of the matter, and at an impasse, because, ultimately, they were too damn similar: she could list at least three reasons off the top of her head why keeping Hook alive here, in Neverland, was more important than keeping Emma alive.
"You saved my life with that antidote, and stayed behind so I could get to safety," she said slowly. "And then you nearly died to get back to the ship. And you're gonna sit there and tell me that you're worthless?" He didn't respond, but he also didn't seem to be able to look her in the eyes. "No. You know what? No, I'm done with this," she hissed, causing him to look up at her in confusion. "No more sacrifices. No more people dying for anyone else, none of it. We all came here, and we are all going back home with Henry and I don't care what I have to do to make that happen, but I am not losing anyone else.
"I don't give a damn what you think you're worth," she went on sharply, hands clenching into fists. "You are not going to die for me. I am sick to the goddamn death of people thinking they have to throw themselves on the sword to save me! All it's ever done is left me alone, and I'm not putting up with any more of it!" She was shouting now, standing, tears she refused to shed in her eyes.
Everyone seemed to think that it was better to leave her than to risk hurting her, but she had thought that Hook — Killian — of all people would have understood how wrong they all were. He had said he wouldn't have left Milah! He had said he would have stayed to fight with her, for her! How could he —
For a long moment, he just looked at her with those impossibly blue eyes piercing straight through her, face unreadable. Finally, he said, quietly, "No more sacrifices, hmm? A tall order, that."
"I don't care," she replied, and her voice came out thicker than she liked. "Promise me," she started, and something in his face flickered like he'd been struck, "promise me that you won't do it, you won't die for me, you won't get yourself killed to — to save me, or protect me, or — or any of it."
He was looking at her in the exact same way he had when they were climbing the beanstalk, just before he'd dropped that bombshell of you don't want to abandon him like you were abandoned — open book.
"I should've lied to you," he murmured, startling her. "I should've said I would have left her."
"Probably," she answered quietly, because maybe he was right, maybe she wouldn't feel this strongly about this if she thought he would have done like Neal, like her parents, like August, like Graham, like everyone she'd ever loved, and chosen her over themselves and, because of that, her happiness. He probably shouldn't have told her that he'd never have a reason good enough to leave someone he loved.
"That's the heart of this, isn't it?" he asked softly. "You're desperate to find someone who will fight to stay with you and damn the cost rather than give you up to keep you safe." And then, even quieter, so soft that maybe he was trying not to be heard, "You'd rather die than be left alone again."
She clenched her jaw against the truth of his words, thoughts she'd never allowed herself to give voice to. "Yeah," she replied, after taking a moment to regain control of her voice. "Yeah, I would."
He nodded slowly, thoughtfully, eyes never leaving her face. It was like standing naked in front of an artist, nothing hidden and nowhere to retreat.
They were too damn much alike. No one should be able to read her like this.
"I won't promise that I won't make that sacrifice if necessary," he said, and she felt like she was falling, but then he went on. "But I will do everything in my power to ensure that it isn't. And I will not abandon you," he added softly, the crucial clause hidden in the footnote. "On any condition."
Trusting that promise was a dangerous gamble; every time she had, the person had broken it. But if anyone could understand the gravity of that sentence, it was him, and she doubted that he made promises like that off-hand. She wanted to trust him, needed to trust him, needed to believe that someone, somewhere would treat her like being with her was the most important thing in the world, that she was worth holding onto no matter what would happen because of it.
Emma needed someone to be selfish enough to refuse to let her go.
And if anyone was that kind of selfish, it was Hook.
She was acutely aware of the hour, the place, the color of his eyes and the dark fear in her gut; she wanted to run, out the door and back into her cabin where she was comfortably, if coldly, alone; she wanted human contact, physical and emotional, to reach out and touch him and let him in and let him stay.
It wasn't until she felt his stubble under her fingers that she realized she'd raised her hand to his face; his eyes closed and he tilted his head just slightly toward her hand.
It was just fingertips.
She'd never been so afraid of such a little thing.
He wondered if, this time, finally, she would actually take the chance; she had believed in him when no one else had, this leap of faith was so much smaller.
Or maybe not. Trusting someone with a life was so much different than trusting them with a heart.
Killian knew he'd pushed a little too far when he'd said she would rather die than be left alone, knew he'd struck a little too close to the heart, but he hadn't been able to keep it in. He knew that feeling too well, and how agonizing it felt to still be left alone anyway.
No one should ever have to experience that, but Emma least of all.
And his company wasn't ideal or probably even very good for her when they got right down to it, and she deserved better, but for some reason she thought him worth her time and he'd gone too long in the dark to be selfless and push her away to save her from him.
But he didn't expect her to take the chance on him now, not when things were such a wreck and they were both recovering from near-death experiences, so he was surprised when her lips brushed against his.
He recovered quickly, sliding his hand into her hair, around the back of her head, and standing so he was only inches away from her and pulling her closer. One of her hands flattened against his chest, right over his heart, as the other ran over the side of his face, thumb brushing against his cheek as he tilted his head to deepen the kiss.
It would only last a moment.
She would run. The instant one of them broke the kiss, she would run because he had gotten too close too fast and she had been burned too many times to play with fire again. His fingers tightened in her hair, maybe a little desperately, because he hated the fact that she was going to run away from him again and he needed this moment to last.
And run she did, just like he knew she would: she only lingered for one brief second after she pulled away, and then the atmosphere shattered when she opened her eyes.
She looked up at him, searching his face, but either she didn't like what she found or she hadn't wanted to find it in the first place, because in the next second she was turning away and his hand was slipping from her face. "I — should get some rest," she said hastily.
He almost made some quip about a bed being right here, but she was the wrong sort of uncomfortable to be helped with humor. "Aye," he replied instead. "You've had a long night."
She glanced at him from the door and opened her mouth to say something that might have been an apology or a plea, but thought the better of it and left before he could see through her again; still, she hadn't run quite fast enough.
She had run because she felt it too.
If she didn't care for him like he did her, she would have stayed and let things progress further, played on the sexual attraction between them rather than the emotion, because giving him her body would have been safer than giving him her heart. If the two didn't go hand-in-hand, she would have stayed. Instead, she had run, left him cold and alone, blood itching with what might have been.
But at least it meant she would come back.