Author's Note: Simple one-shot of Hook and Emma that takes place during an undetermined time in the current story line, though I suppose it could also be considered slightly AU. I tried to keep them as in-character as possible, so let me know if there are any irregularities in their habits or quirks. :) Constructive Criticism is always welcomed.
Disclaimer: I do not own Once Upon a Time, its plot or any of its characters. I simply borrow them briefly for amusement.
Hanging by a Moment
"Holding up alright there, Swan?"
"I've been better," Emma admitted through a slight grimace as she tried to again shift her shoulders into a more comfortable position, but the knots tying her arms tightly behind her back wouldn't budge an inch.
"I don't know about you, love, but I think these could have been tied tighter, don't you?"
She glanced back over her shoulder with the briefest of smiles and caught his own wince as he traveled behind her. Emma stumbled slightly when one of her guards shoved her with a growling, "Face forward."
"Easy on the Lady, gents," Emma heard traces of warning in her fellow captive's voice.
"I'm fine, Hook," she assured him. She could feel the ever-perceptive blue eyes of his roaming her features, searching for his own answers until, satisfied, he nodded his head curtly.
The pair had been off scouting through this section of the forest when they had been set upon by the Wicked Witch's henchmen.
Damn flying monkeys are hard enough to deal with individually, let alone an entire flock, Emma thought bitterly.
Severely outnumbered Hook and Emma had been forced into an exhausted surrender after fighting tooth-and-nail for what felt like hours, but had probably been only thirty minutes or so. They could only struggle uselessly as they were quickly trounced, tied up and led further into the dark shadows.
They'd been walking for so long now that Emma had lost all sense of direction – every blasted tree looked like the one before it. She could only hope that if no one came to find them that at least Hook had been in this area before and could lead them out. Judging by his searching expression and the slight crease between his brows, however, she wouldn't bet money on it.
The first thing that alerted Emma to something being different was the increase in light – the trees were beginning to thin out before her.
All too quickly now they marched through the creeping ivy and long-leaved ferns that seem to coat every available surface in-between the trees until at last Emma was led, blinking and stumbling in the sudden onset of light, into the brilliance of a late afternoon sun.
Blinking water out of her eyes as they struggled to adjust to the new overabundance of light, she glanced around and felt her breath catch. If the situation wasn't so precarious, the view would have been stunning. She glanced quickly to her side to see Hook looking about him in much the same manner.
They stood in a small clearing of vibrant grasses and blooming wildflowers that ended in a sheer cliff straight to the open ocean below. The sea's brilliant blue depths sparkled in the sunlight, as if inviting the pair to join it in its play as its waves crested and fell in a never-ceasing, undulating rhythm.
The teasing breeze brought with it the smell of salty waters and fragrant buds. The sun's embrace gave Emma a chill after the cool, dank forest they had trodden through.
The breath-taking sight only increased the anxiety growing in her belly. She wasn't necessarily afraid of heights, but the only thing standing in their way between solid ground and a free-fall through the sky was a large, ancient oak tree situated right at the cliff's edge, its branches hanging out over the open air as if trying to eternally grasp the sun with its wooden fingertips.
She caught movement out of the corner of her eye and turned to see some of the Witch's shape shifters now digging about through their sacks, while others were scattered about bringing in dried sticks and other pieces of wood.
The creatures collected the wood and piled it underneath the great oak before setting it alight after a couple of tries with flint they had procured from one of their sturdy sacks.
"I don't know about you, love," Hook's voice caught her attention and her eyes slid to his, "But I don't much fancy a picnic with these ones."
Emma's answering tone was grim, "I think they're more likely to eat us than serve us."
"Bring the witch forward," a deep, grumbling voice came from one of the creatures, apparently the one in charge.
"Witch?" Emma snorted. "That's a bit rich, considering who you serve."
The sound of shouts and hisses surrounded them, but Emma held her ground with a glare. Hook shifted closer to her, his lips close to her ear. "Try not to antagonize them lass, will you?"
Emma pursed her lips but held her tongue. She felt herself suddenly yanked off-balance as one of the creatures grabbed her by her hair and brought a knife to her throat.
"Do not insult our mistress," the deep voice hissed in her ear.
Emma fought for balance even as instinct automatically had her leaning backwards, away from the knife's biting edge.
"Let her go!"
Emma looked up to see the pirate Captain struggling towards her even as he was held bodily back by several of the animalistic minions.
"Hook! No!" She tried to discourage him, all the while knowing it was futile until she was flung bodily to the ground. Emma felt her head connect with the dirt and grass below her, disorientation setting in for a moment as she heard a voice growl above her.
"Watch over the girl! And string him up!"
Emma shook her head until she registered the presence of a different winged-ape towering above her, this one with a long, pointed spear hovering near her face. It was always difficult to tell with the creatures, but this one seemed to be looking at her with challenging eyes, as if daring her to make a move against it until she was distracted by a string of cursing worthy only of a sea-faring man.
She angled her head so that she could keep an eye on the sharp point that seemed intent on skewering her through the eye if she attempted something stupid and giving herself a better vantage point to the rest of the clearing. What she saw had her heart stopping in her chest.
"What are you doing?!" Panic and shock shot through her system causing her tone to ratchet up a few notches as she watched several of the Witch's henchmen holding a still-struggling Hook to the ground while a couple bound his legs together with a few smart knots. They then threw the excess rope dangling from his bound ankles up into the air as one of the winged-creatures caught it and flew into the branches of the oak tree.
Immediately the hairy minions on the ground released their captive as several others flew to join their companion in the tree's branches. Together the group began tugging on the rope, pulling the pirate Captain closer and closer to the edge of the cliff.
"Stop!" Emma shouted, the cry torn from her lips in horror. "Leave him alone!"
Her guard placed a heavy foot on her back, restraining her in warning as she began trying to thrash about for all the good it would do either of them.
She could only watch, horrified, as they began pulling Hook's rope higher and higher until the Captain began to lift bodily into the air, even as he drew closer to the meadow's rim.
"You could kill him!" Emma yelled in desperation.
"That's the idea," the creature who seemed to be in charge leered at her from where he stood at the base of the oak, observing his work.
With an almighty yank the creatures in the tree hoisted the pirate Captain off the ground and dragged his rope sideways until he swung out over open air and sea, twisting the rope around the sturdy branch several times, and finally making their way back down to the ground again, anchoring the free end into the ground just beyond the fire pit Emma had already forgotten about.
She felt suddenly nauseous as her gaze fixated on the dancing flames now, her ears filling with the pop and crackle of burning wood as the flames stretched high from their birthplace to tease at the rope just barely out of their reach. Emma knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that those flames would only continue to grow as they matured until they latched onto the rope above and began to devour it with single-minded cruelty until it could withstand the weight on the other end no longer and released its prisoner.
A small corner of her mind was impressed with the set up – leave one captive to dangle uselessly over the cliff's edge while the flickering flames act as a clock, whilst the other prisoner lay prone, unable to do anything but cooperate in a desperate attempt to save the other in time. The larger part of her was horrified.
"Hook!" She shouted, unable to curl back the panic and desperation lacing her tone. "Hook!"
"Fine, love," Hook assured her through gritted teeth. "I think it's just the blood rushing to my head, but this isn't such a bad view."
She rolled her eyes even as the tiniest curve began to tug at her lips even as panic continued to surge through her.
She winced when the foot on her back pressed her further into the dirt and grasses and a hand grasped her hair to pull her head up. Emma felt her body protesting at the contortion but only bit her lip to stifle the sound of pain. Without a doubt she knew if Hook heard it he would begin to struggle anew, and she didn't want to give him any more reason to slowly whittle away the line that was literally tying his life to this world.
"Tell us where the rebel base camp is and we'll cut him loose," the head creature growled above her.
Emma glared back at the minion in response, "So he can freefall into the ocean? I don't think so."
Lips pulled back from teeth with a snarl and the creature brought his face closer to hers. Emma did her best not to gag when it opened its mouth from the stench that reached her nose.
"Our mistress knows all about the bond you two share," it hissed. "True Love always finds its other half?" The hairy creature made a screeching sound that Emma realized with a jolt was twisted laughter. "Try finding your Love from hell – the only place he'll be when we're through with him, drowning at the bottom of the cold, dark ocean because the woman he loves was too selfish to do anything but save her own skin in silence as she watched him fall to his death."
Emma's eyes held the promise of swift retribution as her lips curled back in fury. "Go to hell yourself," she spat, refusing to comment on the True Love bit. It was a road she had yet to reconcile the possibility of with herself still, and she'd be damned before she'd discuss it with these – these creatures first.
The Witch's henchman glared at her before holding a hairy arm up in command. "Cut the man loose," it snarled.
Emma's eyes grew wide as one of the winged-monkeys flew over to the rope and began sawing through the sturdy strands.
"No!" She cried. "Stop!"
"Give up the location of the enemy base," her tormentor demanded.
"Don't give it anything!" Hook's voice called from the cliff and Emma looked over to see how red his face had become, the blood pooling toward his head, as he tried to hold back a wince at what was surely the pounding of his heart in his ears. He looked up briefly and Emma read in his eyes all that she needed to know to make her decision.
"You're not going to die this way; you're not going to leave me here like this," she bit back and his eyes widened fractionally in surprise. Emma broke his gaze, looking back at the hairy creature with its firm grasp still in her hair. She could feel the fine strands pulling at their roots and bit back a wince. "I'll tell you what you need to know, just leave him alone."
The creature's crooked expression could only be categorized as triumphant in its twisted maniacal leer. "We won't touch his rope again," it promised.
Emma heard the truth in its words, but her gut told her they were far from finished with their plans for the pair of them.
"Swan! Don't you dare – it's not worth it!" Hook yelled his breathing labored as he struggled to find a position that released some of the pressure in his head.
Emma grit her teeth at the sound of his pain and met her captor's eyes with a steely gaze of her own. "It's an hour east of the bluebell meadows," she spit out, dragging each word through her teeth like a physical pain, her stomach roiling as she divulged the information.
"Emma – no!" Hook shouted in horror.
Emma closed her eyes, unwilling to see the glee in the creatures faces as they began to crow in delight.
"Thank you Savior," the shape-shifter mocked before leaning in close once more. "In gratitude for your cooperation, my mistress asked me to give you this gift – a few, last precious moments with your Love."
Emma's eyes shot open wide in horror.
"Those with hearts are always easiest to exploit; say your good-byes while you have a chance," it sneered before signaling to its companions. "String her up with the pirate!"
"What?!" Emma yelped in panic, her struggling renewed as the human-like monkeys converged on her, lashing her ankles together tightly and dragging her across the meadow's grassy surface.
She screamed obscenities at the creatures that only seemed to enjoy her resistance now as they threw her excess rope over the oak's branches and trussed her up next to the pirate captain, anchoring her rope over the greedy flames of the merrily burning fire before taking off in droves without a second-glance back.
Emma huffed noisily as the creatures departed; already irritated with the swinging of her rope and the disorientation she was beginning to feel.
"Well played, darling," Hook's strained voice sounded from alongside her and she glanced over to see his trademark grin in place. "Couldn't have done it better myself."
Emma shrugged, which felt a little awkward when hanging upside down, as if her body was working in the wrong direction. "It wasn't wholly a lie, so it was easy to keep a straight-face about it." Her gaze swept over the ropes above her in the branches. "Good thing we abandoned that place this morning." Her eyes studied the flames already beginning to lick away at the ropes closest to the fire's reach. "Knowing my parents, they'll have a scout in the area keeping watch just in case. As soon as the monkey mayhem begins they'll know something is wrong."
"Do you think they'll make it here in time?"
"No," Emma's tone was flat. "But hopefully we won't need that."
Emma began twisting her body, causing it to swing until she bumped lightly into Hook and grasped ahold of his sleeve. She felt around by touch until her fingers grazed his own.
"Didn't know you were so keen to hold my hand, Swan."
Emma could feel the tease in his grin and she felt herself flush slightly. "Don't get any ideas Hook," her voice gave no hint to the tingle that shot throw her limbs at the meeting of their hands. She wriggled her fingers around until she found the knot tying his hand and namesake together.
"Why Swan, if I didn't know any better, I'd think this was your version of footsies – or handsies as it were."
Emma rolled her eyes, even as she began to feel the blood rushing toward her head, and shifted to try and relieve the pressure. "Then it's a good thing you do know better."
"What's in your head, love?" He asked through gritted teeth.
Emma winced already sick of the head rush and imagining how he must be feeling after enduring it longer than her. "If I can just get these knots to loosen…" she trailed off as she concentrated.
To her surprise the pirate Captain kept quiet to let her feel her way around his knots, though she wondered if the blood pounding in his head had more to do with it than anything else.
After a few precious moments Emma grinned in triumphant, "Got it!" With a tug she undid the last knot and Hook groaned as he was able to stretch his arms past his head.
"That feels a mite better, I'll admit," he winced as his protesting muscles tingled with the rush of blood flow. "What now?"
"See if you can get mine."
Hook shifted his rope from side to side until he was able to maneuver closer to her, grasping a hold of her bare arm when he swung close enough. Emma shivered at the feel of his fingers ghosting over her arm.
"Sorry, love," he apologized. "The sea breeze is a bit chilling on the hand."
Emma nodded back, unwilling to trust her vocal chords at the moment lest she give anything away. To keep her mind as far away from the feel of his nimble fingers working in synch with his hook to undo her knots Emma kept her gaze focused on the seemingly endless ocean spread out before and below her.
"Everything all right there, Swan?" Hook asked after a few minutes of silence.
"Just thought I'd take the moment to admire the view now that we're not being threatened with our lives by the Witch's hairy henchmen," she answered.
Hook glanced down at the glittering waters below. "Aye, the sea's a tantalizing mistress, but I personally prefer to be sailing upon her, not plunging headfirst into her depths from high heights." A smile that more resembled a quiet grimace graced his face as he worked his way through Emma's knots. "Don't get me wrong, I love the thrill of adventure as much as the next gent, but I don't think I'd like to repeat this one in the future."
"Well, you know what they say, it's not the fall that hurts but the sudden stop," Emma quipped. She felt a sudden last tug and her arms dropped free from their bindings as her eyes watched the rope fall gracefully to the waters below. She sighed in relief even as she tried not to think about how soon that piece of rope could be reunited with her.
"What now, love?"
Emma groaned. "Now comes the fun part."
Hook's eyebrow rose in question. "More fun than hanging from a tree awaiting a fall to our imminent deaths?"
Emma didn't bother to comment as she steeled herself before reaching up with her arms to grasp at her knees, her abdomen screaming in protest. "I need to work out more," she muttered between clenched teeth as she held the position, searching for the next place to grab ahold of to pull herself up.
"Feel free to grab me anywhere you'd like, love," Hook's cheeky voice sounded from just below her and Emma rolled her eyes.
Muttering under her breath when she realized she really didn't have any other choice – she was no contortionist and her stomach muscles were already beginning to shake from the held position, she grabbed a hold of the pirate Captain's leg and slowly began to pull herself up.
The strain in her arms was palpable as they worked desperately to hold all her body weight as she struggled higher.
"So grabby today, aren't we Swan?" Hook's teasing tone was muffled slightly by his extended time hanging upside down, but the playful banter kept her mind off the struggle as she inched painfully slower toward the tree branch.
"Enjoy it while you can," she grit between her teeth, perspiration beginning to coat her skin from the exertion. "Like you said, I don't plan on repeating this adventure again."
"Swan, you wound me! And here I thought you were finally beginning to give into your desires for me. I know how hard it is for you to keep your hands off me."
If Emma had had the energy to retort back she would have, or at least, that's what she was telling herself. Her infamous lie detector warned her that it wouldn't have been the entire truth. And knowing that insufferable pirate dangling below her, he would have read her like the open book he claimed she was.
She simply grunted in response as she stretched her fingertips toward the branch, slick fingers grasping desperately at the roughened wood. Her nails scratched at the bark for a moment until she managed to hang on with one hand, tentatively releasing her hold on Hook's booted ankle to grab the branch firmly with both hands.
With a last surge of energy Emma pulled herself bodily onto the sturdy branch and collapsed against it for a moment, relieving her shaking arms. She huffed out an exhausted breath against the cool, rough surface touching her cheek.
"I didn't hear a protest, lass," the insufferable pirate called from below.
"Shut up," Emma groaned against the wood. She swore she could hear his answering grin. She glanced over at the fire pit to see the flames had greedily begun to eat away at their ropes and with a stifled moan she pushed herself up with shaking arms to balance herself on the branch before moving quickly to untie the knots around her ankles.
Feeling the pressure of lost time rapidly slipping through her fingers, Emma's body began to tremble in her frantic pace to undo her binds.
"Easy, love," Hook called up at her when she momentarily lost her balance in her haste. "There's still time."
Not nearly enough, her panic laced thoughts swirled. She fumbled one of the easier knots and growled, earning a chuckle from the pirate captain below, though she could hear the strain in the sound. With a hasty jerk she ripped the lost knot from its bind and tossed it aside, her limbs finally free. She gathered her legs beneath her and perched upon the branch, studying her next move.
Emma bit her lip. She couldn't pull Hook up straight from her position; he was too heavy with the deadweight, and if she slipped they'd both go tumbling into the ocean below.
Hook watched the way her teeth worried at her lips and he met her gaze with a solemn one of his own. "It's okay, lass," he assured her quietly.
Emma glared in response. "No," she told him firmly. "You don't get to say that. You of all people."
"Me of all people?!" He sputtered.
"Aren't you the one who's always telling me I can accomplish anything I set my mind to? That you have yet to see me fail?" She scowled even as her eyes glanced over everything around her desperately. "So no, you do not get to tell me I can give up now. Now that it's your life hanging in the balance."
He was silent for a moment before, "A man could well die of happiness with such a passionate speech from you, Swan." His lips curved in a grin before a worry replaced it. "But I don't see that it changes our situation much."
Emma's vibrant green eyes fixated on the pirate captain's earnest blue – the moment suspended out of time until they heard it – the straining snap of too taut twine releasing its tension.
Her eyes widened in horror as she saw Hook's rope, already weakened from the cuts the winged-creature had made beginning to snap with the added flames devouring of what was left. Without a second thought Emma all but threw herself from the tree, rolling with her momentum as her feet made contact with the solid ground – a flare of pain sending shock waves through her heels. She scrambled to her feet and grasped out almost blindly for the rope above her head, her senses filled with the scent of smoke and burning hope as the rope's strands snapped one after the other.
With an almighty wrench Emma felt her arms nearly pulled from their sockets as the rope broke free of its earthly anchor and most of Hook's weight transferred to her. She gasped at the strain, digging her heels in the ground as she felt herself dragged slowly back towards the cliff's edge.
Her boots connected with a raised root and Emma dug her heels in, dropping her own body weight as close to the ground as possible to keep the pirate captain from inching further toward his freefall.
Her already over-strained muscles immediately began to shake as fresh perspiration broke out along her body. Too quickly she was nearly consumed by the burning pain of her muscles but she simply grit her teeth and put every thought into maintaining her hold.
She could hear Hook yelling at her to just let him go, but she only shook her head in stubborn refusal. He cursed, muttering loudly about obstinate women and her answering grin came out as a grimace.
The agony of her over-taxed muscles was only outweighed by the new sensation of the rope beginning to rip at the soft skin of her hands. Each minute movement tore at the already tender area, and all too soon her blood began to trail down her palms and seep into the rope she desperately held onto, making her tenuous grip slip further.
Emma convinced herself the water in her eyes was the sweat beading on her forehead.
"Help's coming," she gasped. "Just hang in there a little longer."
She heard a strained chuckle, "Not the best joke, lass."
Her lips quirked up at the jibe, trying to stifle the quiet groan of her body's protest – whether from exhaustion and pain or the thought of what she might lose should this be the time she failed, she didn't know.
All Emma knew was that her entire being was focused on tethering that rope to the ground, of keeping him here with her.
And then she felt it.
Emma's eyes widened as the rope began to slide, slowly but surely from her slick, bloody grasp.
Horrified green met resigned blue.
It's not the fall that hurts, it's the sudden stop, her mind quoted back to her, and Emma understood in that moment the double-meaning behind the phrase more acutely and excruciatingly than anything she had felt in years. Before, with a horrified gasp and the briefest blink of her eyes, the rope was torn from her grasp.
Emma would never know which hurt most in that moment – the physical pain of the palm of her hands being ripped to shreds on top of her abused muscles or watching his body freefall past her vision into open air.
Just as she'd never be sure which scream was the loudest – the one torn from her lips or the cry of something much deeper inside her.
She managed to scramble to the meadow's edge and peer over, her gaze fixated on the plummeting figure; her eyes unable to tear away even long after it had disappeared beneath the unforgiving waves.
Emma eventually sat back on solid ground, her arms hanging uselessly in her lap, the blood welling in her palms for a little while longer until her body's natural defenses kicked in and stanched the flow – attempting to heal. The wind teased at her hair, first tossing her blonde curls in her face then pushing them back behind her shoulders. A few strands caught in the tear tracks on her face as she sat, unblinkingly staring out at the setting sun.
It was breathtaking. The dazzling array of pinks, oranges and purples painting a living tapestry before her – so full of life and vitality as the sun began its descent on the horizon.
Words eventually began to formulate in her mind as her ears caught sound of a voice calling her name. For one desperate moment the male timber sent her heart racing, but when she caught the title inserted before her name, her heart sank further in her chest.
"Emma! Princess Emma!"
The sound of crunching footsteps sounded as the person crashed through the trees behind her. Emma's body tensed, survival instinct kicking in as harshly as ever as she glanced warily behind her.
"There you are!" A face Emma struggled to recognize made its way toward her through the growing shadows. "I've been looking everywhere for you. You have to come with me – quick!"
She stared at the vaguely familiar man before her, her mind desperately seeking a distraction as it tried to place him.
"Ariel dove in after him," the man continued in a rush, trying to catch his breath as he laid his hands on his knees.
Ariel? Her mind caught the name. Oh right, The Little Mermaid. She took in his keen features – dark hair and fair eyes and felt a twinge where her heart should be.
"Emma," the man insisted when she only continued staring blankly back at him. "We heard a report about the Witch's minions ransacking our old base camp – you and Hook were the only ones unaccounted for at the time. Snow and David sent everyone out looking for the two of you."
"He's gone," the words whispered out unbidden between her lips and she swallowed convulsively to fight back her thrashing and reeling emotions and shove them back behind the hollow emptiness she so famously guarded herself with.
The man was shaking his head. "Ariel and I were combing the beach below this cliff. We saw you – Ariel dove into the water the moment the rope snapped. She thinks she can get to him in time."
Emma blinked once, then twice as her mind tried to wrap itself around the man's words. Her heart fluttered in hope, even as cool, tempered logic overrode her thoughts. If the impact with the waves didn't kill him, there was sure to be broken pieces of rocks below the surface, and failing that the currents could have long spirited him away.
The man seemed to read her thoughts, leaving the voice in her to scold her for letting her walls crumble so far that even an almost stranger could perceive what was in her mind.
"The currents are strong around here, but mermaids are the strongest, most nimble swimmers in the seas. If anyone has a hope of bringing Hook back alive, it'll be Ariel."
Prince Eric, her mind finally supplied for her after dredging through her list of childhood fairytales and finally making the connection between Henry's favorite book and the man standing before her. As the name finally settled her mind, it opened itself up to processing his words.
Ariel and Prince Eric – True Love's couple between a mermaid princess and a prince of a sea-faring kingdom, her mind pondered idly. She recalled the story of Ariel pulling her mother out of the sea after Snow had jumped in to escape the Evil Queen's guards and felt her heart stop. Ariel – mermaid – Hook!
Before her mind had time to process it, Emma was already on her feet and staggering toward the prince, her hands gripping his shirt sleeves almost desperately.
"Where?" She stumbled over her words in her haste to get them all out at once. "Where? Which beach? Where are they?"
Eric's shocked expression at her sudden lunge toward him was nothing compared to the one about her death-like grip on his forearms. His brows rose slightly in surprise at her reaction, but shunted his musings aside as he grasped her hand in his and immediately began pulling her back into the woods to traverse the trail he had made on his way up toward her.
Emma stumbled after him with nothing but sheer willpower against her still aching and protesting muscles. She saw Eric glance at their joined hands with a frown, his eyes widening as he saw the bloodstains on his shirt, noticing for the first time, her raw and bloody hands – the crimson liquid beginning to run anew as she pushed aside branches and leaves in her haste to trek down from the cliff, tearing away the healing process.
"Emma! Your hands –"
"Later," she bit through her teeth, pushing aside any and all of her discomfort as forcefully as the damned tree limbs in her way, her heart pounding painfully with the hope that had sprung forth inside against her will.
He frowned but didn't protest, the pair making good time as the picked their way over tree roots, fallen branches and loose stones.
Emma had to bite her lip more than once to not scream out her frustrations at their pace, but knew that a broken neck would do no one any good.
Trees gave way to rocks and sand, and Emma was nearly tripping over her own feet as she picked her way over and around the physical barriers. As the two cleared the outcropping of stones, Emma's boots sank into sand and she immediately broke for the water's edge, her gaze searching frantically amongst the waves for a red-headed mermaid.
All she could see was blue, broken only by the cresting white of the waves that made their way toward the shore. She felt her shoulders sagging under the crushing weight of fleeting hope when Eric gave a shout.
"There!" He pointed out into the sea's waters, but try as Emma might, she couldn't see what had caught his eye. She fixated her gaze out in the general direction of his finger, searching back and forth amidst the ever darkening ocean as the last rays of the sun's fingertips dazzled their eyes.
Emma was forced to close her eyes against the brilliance until she heard it, the lilting sound of a female voice above the crashing off the waves. She shielded her gaze and finally spotted the dark red hair bobbing above the surface, a dark figure floating beside her as she struggled to pull it closer in the ever-shallower waters.
Without another moment's hesitation Emma plunged into the waters, Eric right on her heels as they helped Ariel pull the unconscious pirate toward shore. She ignored the searing pain that tore through her hands as the saltwater bit into her newly opened wounds, and tugged the waterlogged captain higher up the beach.
"He's not breathing," Ariel informed them as she reached into the pouch at her waist, pulling out the magical bracelet that would give her back her legs.
Eric was already feeling along the inside of Hook's wrist. "His pulse is slow, but it's still there."
Emma immediately tilted Hook's head up and covered his lips with her own, breathing air into his lungs. She alternated between breaths and chest compressions, her mind focused solely on the man beneath her.
"Come on," she muttered, keeping count inside her head as she recalled all she could about CPR from what she had heard, having never taken lessons herself.
"You're just going to leave it like this?" She told his unconscious figure. "After all the damn innuendos and taunting? After Gold and Cora and Pan? After Neal's return? After freaking Neverland and now the damned Wicked Witch? After all that shit you're giving up now?!"
She vaguely realized she had a silent audience to her ministrations as Eric gathered Ariel close to his side where they stood in silent vigil as the Savoir worked to save her Pirate Captain.
Emma placed her lips back over the unconscious man, willing with everything inside her, that he would just open up those infuriatingly blue eyes and give her a teasing grin – annoying the hell out of her like he always did, getting under skin in a way no one had been able to before in her life.
She felt his chest expand with the air and suddenly she felt a twitch of movement beneath her and she jumped back as the man rolled over, coughing and sputtering out lungful's of seawater, gasping raggedly for air before rolling onto his back again with a groan of pain.
"Hook?" Emma ignored the desperate hope in her voice.
"If you wanted another kiss, love, all you had to do was ask," his lips quirked up even as his brows furrowed in pain as he worked to regain more oxygen than water into his lungs.
Emma hovered over his prone form, one hand resting gently on his chest, the other ghosting over his face, as if unsure where to settle.
Finally – finally! – He opened his impossibly blue eyes and met her frantic green.
"Hey beautiful," he smiled up at her, biting back a wince at his abused body's protests of movement.
Emma was brought back to a rainy night what felt like ages ago, with him lying nearly as bruised and pained upon the side of the road.
This time however, she smiled back softly. "Hey yourself."
"I don't know about you, love, but I think we need to stop meeting like this," he groaned as she helped him to sit up after checking to make sure there were no broken bones or gashes from his trip into the drink. "People might begin to talk."
"Mmm," she agreed, "We couldn't risk damaging your fearsome reputation any further, can we? The infamous Captain Hook either bested or saved by the Savoir time and time again."
"If a kiss is your idea of a rescue, Swan, you can save me anytime." He grinned cheekily at her and Emma didn't bother fighting the smile this time, even as she rolled her eyes.
"Come on Sailor," she said as she helped haul him to his feet. "If you're well enough to flirt you're well enough to help put this cursed beach behind us before we're caught out in the open again."
Emma pulled Hook's arm over her shoulder before sliding one of her own around his waist, the two supporting each other. She waved away Eric and Ariel's motions to help and instead waved them on ahead with a simple, "I got him. Lead the way."
The couple looked like they were going to protest, but after a quick glance at each other and a knowing look they simply smiled quietly and turned back in the direction of the new base camp.
"Thank you," she heard a quiet mumble beside her ear.
Keeping her gaze concentrated on their footfalls Emma didn't look up as she answered back just as quietly, "For what?"
"For proving me right."
She glanced at him sideways to catch him staring at her with such intensity that she had to quickly shift her focus to her feet again lest she stumble and send them both crashing to the ground. She could only be grateful that the darkening twilight was enough to cover her flush.
"You're the one who always keeps saying it," she muttered back. "Always insisting that I had yet to fail at something, pushing me to challenge myself so that I maintain that title everyone's so insistent upon."
"No – I –" Hook cut off his own protests with a small shake of his head, changing what he was going to say. "Not many would fight so hard to save a mere pirate."
Emma was quiet for so long that Hook gave up expecting an answer until with such a soft voice he almost missed it, she responded. "I've gotten used to you hanging about, and I'm not – comfortable with the idea of you not being around to poke and prod at my defenses, getting under my skin… I've lost enough in my life."
Hook's smile was soft as he read between the lines of her words as easily as one would read through the pages of a book. "Aye, I believe we both have, love. Enough for a lifetime."
And if he held her to his side a little closer as they picked their way along the trail after the mermaid and her True Love, well, Emma thought she'd allow it this one time. Because, if she was being honest with herself, while the fall had scared her senseless, she now knew that it might just be possible to survive the sudden stop intact.
If there was one benefit to falling, it was giving someone the opportunity to catch you.