A/N: I originally wrote this during NaNoWriMo, but only posted it on Tumblr. My usual fandom doesn't have horses. And it was sort of killing me that I never get to write about them. Hook on a horse seemed like the natural solution to my problem. :)
Horseback Riding in the Enchanted Forest
Not once — not even in her most fevered childhood dreams — had Emma Swan imagined that she would one day find herself traveling through the Enchanted Forest on horseback with Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Mulan, and Captain Hook. Yet here she was, half focused on the big, brown horse underneath her (Mary Margaret had called it "bay," but it looked brown to Emma) and half on keeping an eye out for ogres in amongst the trees.
And this wasn't even the strangest thing to happen today.
When had this become her life?
"Looking a little stiff there, darling," Hook said from behind her.
Stiff didn't even begin to describe it.
Up until today, Emma had never so much as touched a real, live horse. Let alone ridden one. Mary Margaret had given her a quick lesson, blasting her with bits of advice like "keep your heels down in the stirrups" and, for some reason, "hold the reins in your left hand, not your right." There hadn't been time for much more than that. It had been a stroke of luck that they'd come across the horses at all, and they needed to put as much distance as they could between themselves and Cora, who would be coming for them with a vengance once she discovered that Hook had betrayed her.
Emma glanced over her shoulder at him.
He had the reins looped around his hook and his good hand resting casually on his thigh.
"You need to relax your hips," he told her, a suggestive smile curling his lips. "Loosen up and move in rhythm with your mount. Smooth, rocking thrusts."
Hook could make anything sound dirty. But horseback riding gave him ample opportunities to throw words like "mount" into his ceaseless flirting, and it was beginning to drive her crazy.
Really, insanely, wildly crazy.
God. Why hadn't she just left him up on that beanstalk?
She'd thought about it. With visions of Neal swirling through her head, she'd fully planned to chain him up in the giant's keep and run. Because after only a few minutes in his company, he already had her pegged, able to guess at things she'd never told anyone. Plus, it had scared her the way that her heart thundered when he'd bandaged her hand, pulling the scarf tight around her wound with his teeth. For a moment, she'd thought he might even press his lips to her fingers. Then up her wrist. Maybe even go full Gomez Adams on her. And it had been kind of…well, exciting.
She knew that she couldn't afford to feel that way about him.
Inevitably, he'd betray her.
He'd already betrayed Cora the moment it suited him.
So, she'd fully intended to leave him behind.
But the feeling that he'd told her nothing but the truth nagged.
He genuinely wanted to be on their side, not Cora's. And he'd meant it, heart and soul, when he'd called her — oh God, what had his words been, exactly? Bloody brilliant.
Going against everything she'd ever learned about dealing with men, she'd decided to trust him. For the moment, anyway.
The compass that would guide her back home to Henry sat heavy in the pocket of Emma's red leather jacket. It was too hot to wear comfortably, but she was loathe to take it off with Hook so close. He rode just behind her, bringing up the rear on a black horse that he looked positively dashing on top of.
"I take it you've had precious little practice at riding?" he asked, one eyebrow shooting up rakishly.
She tried not to look at him. "This isn't exactly something I learned in P.E."
He nudged his horse forward so that he was riding beside her.
"Hold on with your knees, love."
She sighed and did what he asked.
"There you go. Don't be afraid. Squeeze him. Nice and tight, darling."
Dear, sweet, Jesus Christ.
He clucked his tongue. "Now you're tense again."
Up ahead of them, Mary Margaret looked back and shouted, "Everything okay, Emma?"
"Everything's fine," Emma called back, annoyed.
The exchange must have set off some mom-sense in Mary Margaret, because she gave Hook the sort of narrow-eyed "I'll kill you if you touch her" look that Emma thought only fathers could pull off. It still unsettled her to see shades of the outlaw princess Snow White showing up in the gentle school teacher Emma had known for the last year. Coming to the Enchanted Forest had made Emma realize that she didn't really know this woman at all.
"We should pick up the pace," Emma announced. The sooner they got back to Storybrooke, the better. For her sake, they'd kept to little more than a gentle lope. And only that for short distances.
"The horses aren't inexhaustible," Mulan replied, as unwaveringly cool and logical as always. "They need walking intervals to recover their strength just as much as we do."
The leather of Hook's coat and saddle creaked as he leaned close. "Take it easy, Swan. Riding all day is already going to leave you sore in places you didn't know you had." His gaze flickered down to her lap and back up again.
Honestly. She didn't know how much more of this she could take.
"Maybe I'm tougher than you think."
"Oh, I don't doubt that." He smiled. "But you're a bloody terrible horseman. Better suited to performing other tasks with your legs and hips, I gather."
She wanted to be unaffected by him. It felt so adolescent to actually be turned on by a man making jokes like these. But holy hell. He was unreasonably handsome. And it had been a long time since someone had focused this intensely on her. Even longer since she'd taken a leap of faith like this for someone. The thoughts he kept putting in her head couldn't help but stir up feelings.
Emma Swan did not want to have feelings.
Certainly not about Captain Hook.
"The horses will be fine," she said. God knew she wouldn't if they didn't get moving. "So let's go. Giddy up, or whatever."
Hook sent her a cool grin. "You couldn't handle it, darling."
An arrow whizzed passed his head then, loosed with terrifying accuracy from Mary Margaret's bow. It startled him, and his reaction startled the horse even more. The black mare threw its head back and bunny hopped away from the arrow shaft now sticking up out of the dirt behind it.
Emma saw Hook's blue eys go wide a split second before he lost his seat, slipping backward off the horse's rump to land with an oh-so-satisfying thud on the ground.
Reining in her horse, Emma turned to tower over him, leaning over the front of the saddle.
"You know, seeing as you're the one flat on your back and I'm way up here…still on my mount…" She sank her teeth into her bottom lip and grinned, loving having power over him for once. "Perhaps you're the one who couldn't handle it."
She had expected him to be angry at her for besting him. Again.
But he wasn't. He looked, if anything, intrigued. Even aroused.
"Get back on your horse, Hook," she said, sitting up straight, working hard at bringing herself back under the tight control she'd mastered for years. "Wouldn't want Mary Margaret to have to shoot you again."
He brushed himself off, then extended both arms out in a brief, mocking, but almost-very-nearly sincere, bow. "As you wish."
She turned away so that he wouldn't see her smile.
Definitely should have left him up on that beanstalk.