I am not going to do the insecure rambling thing here.
What I am going to do is warn you that I was legitimately falling asleep while writing the ending of this, and though I reread it a couple times, there might be a few weird lines or something from that.
Also once again whatever plan I hate went out the window.
In the dream, there's never any question about leaving. It's not a matter of abandoning her family or running away or anything like that, maybe it's something she has to do or maybe it's something she just wants to do. None of that matters.
What matters is this: Emma grew up alone, without anything familiar to hold on to. She had a blanket and a book, and the book didn't survive foster home number four. She didn't even have any caseworkers who stuck with her for more than a year or two. She certainly didn't have any family or friends, and she certainly didn't have a home. That was never even a possibility.
What matters is this: she has never once in her life thought of a place or person as home until Neal and Tallahassee and a year of jail and two years of waiting and a shattered heart.
What matters is this: Emma intended only to bring Henry home. Then she intended only to stay the night, then only the week, then she intended to stay as long as her son might need her, however long that could last. She did not pack anything to take with her – had a couple boxes delivered, but that was it. She did not clean out her apartment. She did not lose anything she cared about, or even much she didn't, because there had always been a duffel bag of essentials in the trunk of her car and no one missed her once she was gone.
What matters is this: she left, and she could leave, and it was easy.
What matters in the dream, what matters most of all and has her waking hot with fear, is this: Emma is standing at the Storybrooke town border. She is staring down at the white paint marking the limits of the town, her toes rocking against the edge.
And she cannot cross the line.
"Hook!" Emma snaps, banging her fist against his cabin door. "Hook! Wake up!"
She's just about to bust on in regardless of the fact that he hasn't answered her yet, when the door swings open in front of her. Hook's clearly just woken up: his eyes are bleary, his expression confused. The shirt he's thrown on isn't buttoned, and his hair is extremely messy. For a moment Emma wants nothing more than to tangle her hands in it and shove him right back into bed.
But, no. That's not why she came.
"Emma – what's going on?" He yawns, and Emma laughs. She is aware of how false it sounds; the sound clearly gets Hook's attention. He straightens, repeats her name sharply. "Emma?"
"Nothing's going on," she says, so blatant a lie he doesn't even bother to look skeptical. "I just. I have the day off. And I want to spend it – I want to go sailing. With you."
Hook blinks. For a second, Emma wonders if she's pushing too hard. This… thing they've got, it's not really at the level of romantic day-trips yet. It's not at the level of much of anything really, no one even knows about it and they don't spend any more time together than they did before she kissed him. They've kissed a few times since, but nothing more – they always seem to get interrupted.
Then he starts to smirk, he bites his lip a little and his fingers reach out to graze against her shoulder before combing through his hair. "Eager, aren't you?" he asks smugly. "I should've known you couldn't get enough of this."
He's started to button his shirt, and gently nudges past Emma to head up to the deck. It's barely dawn, but Hook doesn't seem to care. He takes a deep breath of the salt air, and his grin is so relaxed that Emma can feel her shoulders loosening despite herself.
"This?" she asks skeptically.
"This! The Jolly Roger," Hook gestures at the ship, as though there was never any other possible meaning to his statement. It's so utterly devoid of innuendo for once, and he looks so pleased with Emma for her presumed devotion to his ship, that she can't help but smile. "Fastest ship in all the realms."
Emma joins Hook in untying the ropes that keep them attached to the docks, but quirks an eyebrow at him. "You know, we've got boats with engines in this world that would outrun this old thing any day."
The face he makes at that has her laughing out loud, and it's easy to fall into Neverland's routine, securing ropes and adjusting sails and basically doing whatever Hook yells at her. It's simple: menial, mindless and Emma really likes that sometimes. Soon they are setting out to sea, grinning into the rising sun, working together with an ease that has always been unnervingly present. They pick up speed pretty quickly, leaving Storybrooke behind. They sail out into the ocean, falling silent, and for at least one or two hours don't say a word to each other.
Emma breaks the silence first, but only because she knows Hook is waiting for her to do so. If he weren't expecting some sort of heavy conversation, he would have made a lot more innuendos by now. Besides, it's not as though her behavior today hasn't been transparent enough for anyone to figure out, nevermind the one who claims to be able to read her like a book.
"Thanks," she says, leaning over the railing and staring down at the water rushing past. It's turning out to be a clear, sunny day, but there's still enough of a wind for them to get up to a pretty good speed. "I needed this, I think."
Hook doesn't reply for a while; when Emma glances up he's heading down the stairs towards her, having secured the wheel so they don't blow off course – if they even have a course, but whatever.
"How could I ever deny a lass her longing for the sea?" Hook settles in next to Emma with a wink. "It's the pirate in you, Swan."
Any other day, Emma would scoff at that. Today, she smirks faintly and muses, "I always have preferred to live near beaches."
They lapse back into silence for a bit and it's – nice. Weirdly so. Emma wouldn't have expected Hook to be the kind of man one could share a silence with; he always seemed like he'd need to constantly keep pushing for more. Not sexually, necessarily, but just – more conversation, more information, more prying about her past and secrets and everything, really.
To be fair, that impression was formed climbing the beanstalk with him, when he had little else to do besides pick her apart, but somehow it's still a pleasant surprise to Emma every time he's so… patient, so calm with her.
It's also hugely annoying, because it somehow gets her to open up every time, and she's sure he does that on purpose.
"I just... needed to get away," she admits when she can't stand the quiet any longer. "It's – I've never actually stayed in one place this long before, let alone with a bunch of people who care what I do, and I just – I get claustrophobic, sometimes."
Hook looks – honestly, a little smitten, when she glances his way, and he nudges closer, casually insinuating an arm around her waist. His fingers stroke against the edge of her jeans, and Emma has to bite back a smile because even though it's all so obviously practiced, there's this little hesitation to his movements until she relaxes into the touch, this tentative edge that collects sparks in her gut.
"Gods, woman, it's like you were made for m– for my ship." He mutters, shifting so he's partially behind her and can lean his head over her shoulder, nuzzling at her neck. His embrace is hot and close around her, his scruff burning lightly against her skin, and Emma relaxes with a slow sigh. She's still holding on to the railing, but leaning her weight back into him, tilting her head to give him better access as he places small kisses along her neck and shoulder and jaw, and it's all so… slow, so unhurried and just nice. It's – this is lovely, not a word she'd ever have associated with Hook, but it is. There's not even any expectation of this going anywhere right now, not really, he's just – he just wanted to kiss her like this – and so he did. That's all this is, it's a, it's such a simple, important thing, like how David will just grab Mary Margaret and pull her into a kiss sometimes, a long slow aching one, and then he'll smile and she'll smile and they'll just continue on with whatever they were doing, and that's – this is something very much like that.
It sends Emma's stomach swooping. She feels seventeen, giddy and reckless in a way she's learned not to be and –
"What if I said I wanted to stay – on your ship, that is?" Emma asks. "You're always saying I should've been a pirate, what if I took you up on that offer?"
Hook pauses, obviously well aware of the trap in her words, and she can feel his smirk against her skin. "I must say, darling, I doubt I'd be able to turn you down. If you were willing, I'd aim us towards the horizon right now and we'd be gone, simple as that."
She must stiffen up or something, because he chuckles and places a light kiss against the corner of her jaw before he goes on: "But don't taunt me love, you'd never go for it. Not while you've got Henry."
"What if I did?" Emma says, feeling at once relieved and oddly defiant. She pushes out of Hook's embrace and turns around to meet his eyes. "If I – sometimes I want to just leave it all behind, just go, and Henry's – he has his grandparents, and Regina, and Neal now – so what if I said let's go?"
Hook's smile twists, bitter at the edges. "You wouldn't," he repeats firmly. "I know you wouldn't, I possess a certain… familiarity, with this conundrum. I know you would never leave your son, nor would you take him with you and separate him from the rest of his family. But make no mistake – if you ever asked, I'd take you in a heartbeat."
The last sentence has got an edge of threat to it, a darkness that's the vengeful Captain Hook at his finest. Emma should take that as the warning it obviously is, should back off, back away, maybe even tell Hook to turn this ship the hell around now, but she doesn't. Instead, his words are a relief, somehow.
"That'd be pretty selfish of you," she notes mildly, resting her elbows on the railing behind her.
"I've never pretended to be otherwise," Hook shrugs. "I am an eminently selfish man."
"You are," Emma laughs, and that swooping feeling is back, her breath feeling tight in her throat because she's never had someone who would be selfish with her before. Someone who would freely admit their willingness to be selfish if she allowed it, to actually help her leave everything behind if she ever wanted. Someone to give her that freedom so easily – and for such a reason. "Thanks. For… for the option."
Hook arches an eyebrow, but doesn't ask. Emma steps forward and pulls his head down to kiss him – long and slow and aching – and then slips neatly away, going over to a barrel and pulling out two swords.
"I'm sure you've missed telling me how terrible my form is," she calls out, tossing one of the blades his way, and Hook's already grinning, snatching it out of the air with a flourish.
"Oh, you've quite the stunning form, love," he leers, before pressing forward so suddenly and with such strength that Emma stumbles backwards across the deck, "it's your stance that needs work!"
She snarls and fights back, and that's how they spend the day. It's… this should feel weird, Emma came here trying just to get away from everything, just to prove that she could, but instead she's falling in further. She came looking for an escape – and he gave it to her but she feels like she's making promises instead of taking the out, like she's settling in for the long haul.
She came expecting – anything but this, really, they fight until the sun is high and they're both sweaty and exhausted, and then they wander down to the galley for a lunch of overripe apples and stale bread (Hook's been eating out mostly, "sampling your realm's variety of cuisines", he defends at her sharp glance, and if she'd known she would've brought sandwiches or something), and then back to the deck. Hook takes her about the ship, explaining everything they had no immediate need of or time for in Neverland, all of it intertwined with tales of life at sea and Emma listens with fascination. She climbs to the crow's nest and stares out at where the sky curves into the sea, and Hook yells up at her to get back down and keep him company.
They kiss, too. Everywhere, almost compulsively. Against the mast after she finally climbs back down, among the barrels of rum and wine, over the wheel, on the stairs, on the deck, in the hallway, everywhere. Sometimes it's hotter, wetter, Hook gripping under her ass and lifting, stumbling forward to sit her on a crate where they can press closer and devour each other; sometimes barely-there and lingering, more the feel of his hand cupping her cheek and his breath mixing with hers, her eyes dragging shut and then slowly open again – but all of it has the same sense of giddiness. There's something unreal about all of this, an innocent haze of simple pleasures.
Emma has never been the type of girl to take things slow. Sexual foreplay was one thing, but she'd never bothered with a long courtship, not even with her first boyfriend. Not even with Neal. She highly doubts Hook has either, and maybe that's why they let themselves have this, just today. God knows, at some points she wants nothing more than to drag him to the nearest comfortable bed – and judging by the way his tour covered everything but his quarters, he finds the idea equally compelling. But there's something juvenile and ridiculous and heartwarming about just this, and while 'taking things slow' will probably only last for this one day, Emma wants to make the most of it while it does.
When they're navigating their way back to Storybrooke, Emma notices Hook is using the compass they took from Anton. She has no idea how he got that – he must have stolen it from her apartment, probably before they even went to Neverland – but she laughs and kisses him and steals it out of his hand while he's distracted. And it's simple and childish and silly, because that's what today has been for, something slow-paced and sweet for once, and she doesn't want it to end. She knows it will end, she knows that all of this – this slow and easy, simple and fun – all of it, it's not really them. It's not really real. She knows that. She's all too aware that this is a once-off experience, and she knows better than to cling to anything about it all that much.
They dock at dusk but Emma wants this to last so much longer.