Nodus Tollens: The realization that the plot of your life doesn't make sense to you anymore.
When a young boy dressed in a night shirt and boots runs smack into Killian Jones, just back from 300 years in Neverland, the fearsome Captain Hook finds himself on a quest to rescue a princess, save a kingdom, and return all the happy endings—including his own. (CaptainSwan, rated T)
Disclaimer: I do not own any part of Once Upon a Time. This is story is not intended for profit, just as a tribute to the amazing writing, characters, and intricate plots therein.
A huge thank you to my wonderful beta, Willofthewisp! Her help has been invaluable, and working on making this fic the best it can be helped us both to wile away the summer hiatus between season 4 and season 5. Thank you!
Chapter 1—The Boy
Some things never changed. The shoreline was different, but the lower-class docks remained a constant, even after more three centuries. The wood was perpetually damp with half the boards in various states of rot and disrepair. The air reeked from a potent perfume: the odor of dead fish, the high, almost sweet note of human and animal waste, the bitter tang of sweat, and the musk of damp wood. Gulls flew above, calling jeers at the humans below. The shouts and bellows of the dock workers—burly men, uncouth, gruff of manner, and generally lacking even a rudimentary education—created an organized cacophony of sound. It was all familiar, even if none of the men here recognize him or his ship on sight.
Probably for the best, that.
Killian looked down at his first mate. Dumpy little Smee was looking about as if this little piece of squalor was the prettiest sight he had beheld in ages. And truth to tell, it was. Neverland had been nothing but dense jungle surrounding a high, rugged mountain. There was one cove, but it had been irrefutably claimed by the mermaids. Only the foolhardy had gone there, and he'd lost six men to the mermaid's siren song and subsequent messy deaths.
And to his left, his quartermaster, Mr. Starkey, darted his shrewd eyes around the shops and stalls lining the main thoroughfare. Killian could hardly call it a street; it was more a swath of dirt with patches of filthy mud. Starkey was a trial at the best of times, but his little gimlet eyes always spied the best deals, and it had been a long while since the Jolly Roger took spoils. Their funds were limited.
Killian paused a moment and looked about. "Right. Smee?"
"You take some time and do what you do best while Starkey and I find provisions." He leaned in to meet the little man's watery blue eyes. "I want to know everything we've missed while we've been gone. What kingdom is this? Who's in power? Who are their allies? Who are their enemies? And most of all, does the Crocodile still live, and where can I find him? Got all that?"
"Aye, sir." Smee nodded vigorously. "You can count on me."
"Of course I can," Killian said, smiling as if he never had a doubt. "Afterward, you can meet us at that charming little pub over there with the stuffed mutt mounted at the door."
"Aye, Captain. I'll meet you by sundown with the information."
"Very good, Mr. Smee. Mr. Starkey? Shall we?" Killian waved his quartermaster onward. He would allow his second to lead the way in this endeavor.
The next few hours passed in a tedious repetition of haggling and making delivery arrangements. Killian found his attention wandering often. It had been a very, very long time since he'd had a woman. For perhaps the first half-century in Neverland, he had spent his nights missing Milah. If he had felt the urge at all, he imagined her face when he used his fist to complete his business. But eventually, much to his shame and frustration, Milah's face began to fade. The details of her body blurred in his memory like an image seen through a smoke haze. And as much as he hated himself for it, the last dozen decades or so, he'd been inventing fantastical women of unlikely skin tones, excessive mammary features, or exceptional contortion abilities for his daydreams out of sheer bloody boredom. When even the men aboard ship started to look like visions of loveliness, Killian decamped to spend time on the island hunting Lost Boys, playing mind games with Pan—which were at least diverting—or getting drunk with the pixie. He'd even propositioned Tinkerbell a few times, but she'd always turned him down. Asexual little twits, fairies.
The women along the docks were hardly the women of his fantasies. They were too thin from hunger. The teeth that weren't crooked were missing. Their hair was dry and thin. These were ladies who serviced men out of necessity, and likely carried the taint of those affections in more ways than one. Killian had no desire to find himself itching and burning in his trousers a week out of port. Much as he longed for the comfort of a much-needed release, he intended to be a bit choosier.
Though the low neckline of the redhead winking at him from the upper floor of the tenement across the way was testing his resolve.
Finally—bloody finally—Starkey said they had enough to make it long enough to get a decent haul with the next plunder, and they had guarantees of delivery the next day. The sun was setting behind the tall evergreen trees that encircle the open space of the dockside town. The shadows between the buildings were getting darker, and the looming forest outside of town released bats and assorted night birds to take the place of the seagulls and pelicans now bedding down for the night. Their duty fulfilled, the two men headed off to the Three-Legged Dog tavern for a well-earned pint or ten.
One particular whore, a woman whose hair might once have been dishwater blonde before she tried to lighten it, and was now a patchwork of shades between white and sulfuric yellow, seemed to have caught Starkey's eye and refused to let it loose. If the man kept licking his lips like that, they were going to wear off entirely. Killian eventually had enough of walking next to a panting hound distracted by the easy quarry in front of him.
"You might as well go get her, mate, before someone else does. She doesn't look like the discriminating type."
With another swipe of his tongue over his already lubricated mouth, Starkey nodded and gave a perfunctory, "Thankee, Captain," before he was off after the woman. Killian shook his head watching the ritual of price negotiation for time spent, and moved on. Had he been looking where he was going, he would have seen the boy come running out of the alley to his left.
The sudden impact of the lad caused Killian to stumble back, cursing. His arms windmilled ungracefully as he struggled for balance. He heard a grunt and the thump of a body falling to the ground.
When he finally managed to see what hit him, Killian found a young boy, maybe ten years old, sitting in a heap in the dirt. He wore a thick blue woolen bed jacket over a long white nightshirt with a touch of lace at the neck. On his feet were a pair of very fine boots, for all they were made small enough to fit his young feet. And while he was skinny, it was the lankiness of youth, not malnourishment. Clearly, this was no dockside boy.
"Ow," the lad muttered. He looked up at Killian with dark eyes and a startled expression.
Before Killian had a chance to do more than frown and open his mouth to berate the boy, the sound of jingling tack at heavy hoof-falls came from the forest, claiming the lad's attention and leading Killian's to listen closer as well. Squinting, he could just make out the appearance of mounted soldiers in full armor. Neither the faint remaining sunlight nor the weak torchlight along the lane reflected back from the blackened armor.
A choked sound drew his attention down. The boy pulled his knees up and got his feet under him. He looked around quickly, presumably for a place to hide.
What was a well-off lad like this doing hiding from knights?
The boy looked up at Killian again. He watched the boy's expression begin in panic before a gleam of frantic hope flashed in his dark eyes. The boy gulped and grabbed two fistfuls of Killian's long coat.
"Please? Hide me?" he begged.
Killian had spent the last few centuries becoming unfortunately acquainted with how conniving and vicious young boys could be. This could have been a trap. The lad could have pilfered what he now wore. Hell, the lad could have killed someone. The Lost Boys were proof that age alone did not define who was capable of murder.
But his instincts told him otherwise. This boy was truly frightened of the knights now breaking the tree line and making their way into town. Besides, who would steal nightclothes? And if he had killed someone, it would have had to be someone even younger than he. The boy was a slight thing. Even a knife needed some force behind it to sink deeply enough to kill.
His hesitation caused the boy to grip his coat even tighter, frantic.
He was so young his voice didn't even break. And there was something about his eyes, his shaggy mop of hair that reminded Killian of Baelfire. And the next thing he knew, he had extended a hand down.
"Up," Killian commanded, extending his hand. The boy grabbed it, and Killian pulled him up, twirling him as if it was a dance into a small crevice between a rain barrel and the wall of one of the shops. "Curl up. Cover as much as the white shirt as you can. Don't move. Don't breathe too loudly."
The boy complied, curling tightly into a ball, pulling up the long nightshirt, and wrapping the wool robe around himself. He even tucked his head down so that his pale face was hidden by his dark hair. Smart boy.
Now a diversion was needed. Killian scanned the streets, and as luck would have it, a lovely young lady with dark curls spilling from a haphazard twist at the back of her head and a very low neckline advertising her most alluring assets had just stepped out of the doorway of the bawdy house across the way. He caught her eye and smiled, leaning back against the water barrel and providing the boy with more cover. The woman returned his smile with one of her own and sashayed across the dusty street, skirting a murky divot along the wheel-ruts.
"Good evening, lass."
"G'd evenin', yoursel'," she greeted him, sidling close and looking him right in the eye.
"What's your name?"
"Sara," she said, tilting her head invitingly.
Quickly, he glanced up the street at the knights all done up in black: black tunic, black breeches, black armor, black boots, black cloak, black helm, and even the bloody horses were black or at least a very dark brown. He appreciated the color scheme, but even Killian was known to throw in some reds and blues. They had dismounted and had begun to accost the locals to interrogate them. They weren't far, but it would take them a few moments to reach him. He needed them to question him, dismiss him, and then go away, so Killian had to keep Miss Sara talking.
"Tell me, love, how is it a…stunning creature such as yourself hasn't been claimed yet for the night?" he asked, reaching out to twirl a lock of her hair around his finger in emphasis.
She stepped right up into him, gazing up through thick lashes that might have only been slightly enhanced with lampblack or kohl, if she could afford it. Her hand landed on his chest, right above his heart, and she licked her lips. (She was good. No wonder she looked better fed than the rest of the professional ladies on the street.)
"Per'aps I 'aven't found anyone who I liked, yet," she purred.
"Do you like me, love?" he purred right back.
"I'm starting to."
"Why don't w—"
Finally, Killian thought. Took you long enough, mate.
He looked over to find the knight standing, waiting for their attention with one hand on the grip of his sword. Now that he was close enough, Killian could see the ridiculous, feather-like decorations on the helmet the knight wore. It looked like a rooster had been hit by lightning. If the man hadn't been so large and clearly capable of busting heads if not actually dueling them, Killian would have been tempted to laugh right in his face.
"Can I help you?" he asked the knight, giving the slightest impatient sneer to his question.
"I'm looking for a boy, ten years old, brown hair and eyes, last seen in his nightshirt yesterday evening," the knight reported. "Have you seen anyone matching that description?"
"Afraid not, mate. But then, I've been focused on company of the more adult female variety," Killian said, grinning and casting an indicating glance at his companion. Killian noticed that the beauty at his side had become noticeably quiet and tense as soon as the knight appeared.
"Are you certain?" the knight pressed. "His mother is extremely worried about him. There will be a reward for anyone who helps to return him to her."
Killian thought about it. But something didn't seem right with the picture this man was presenting. The boy didn't look like he was particularly interested in going with these men. It could very well be a lie that there was a doting mother waiting for the lad at home. And if there was a mother and these knights were returning him to her, why would the boy be so adamant about not being found by them? More likely, the knights were the reason the boy was on his own and on the run. And the mother, if she was still alive, probably wasn't the sort you returned a child to.
"Sorry, mate. Don't know what else to tell you. Haven't seen him."
The knight glared at Kilian as if willing the truth out. Since he had no intention of giving it to him, Killian just smiled.
"Can I get back to this now?" he said, tipping his head in the girl's direction.
The knight huffed. "Very well. But if you do see him, let one of us know. As I said, there will be a reward for finding him. And punishment for keeping him from us."
"Duly noted and quaking, I assure you," Killian said with a tight smile. When the knight stalked off, leaving Killian and his bird alone, he turned to Miss Sara and offered her a more natural grin. "Well, that was irritating."
She was still watching the knight walk off to accost someone else, and didn't answer.
"That happen often around here?" Killian asked.
"The Black Knights showin' up, or them lookin' f'r someone?" she asked, still subdued but now trying to shake off the experience.
"Either," Killian said. "Both. Take your pick."
"Yes," she answered. "And yes. The Evil Queen's knights come t' the docks on occasion t' make sure we all know whose kingdom we live in, as if we could forget. They don' gen'rally look f'r children, but they always find who they are lookin' fo'. An' you don' ever see the poor bastard again, unless it's their head on a pike."
"So not the friendliest people, I take it?"
Sara took a deep breath, causing the round tops of her bosoms to rise and fall distractingly, and visibly cheered herself. She gave him a big, brave smile and went back to stroking his chest. "Unfortunately, no' all men are as friendly as you. Want t' be friendly t' me upstairs?"
Killian smiled back at her. "In a bit, love. I'm meeting my crew at the Three-Legged Dog for drinks. Care to join me?"
He leaned forward and gave her a soft, promising kiss on the mouth, slowly pulling away. Her eyes were closed and she licked her lips before those long dark lashes fluttered open. Oh, yes, she was very good.
"You go on in, lass. Anyone else tries to claim you, you tell them you're waiting on Captain Hook—you got that?"
"Hook?" she asked, raising her brows.
Killian lifted the hook for her to see, prompting the second show of real emotion on her pretty face.
"Oh!" she blurted. Her eyes widened in surprise as the light gleamed off the polished metal. Thankfully, she appeared more startled than disgusted. Plenty of sailors and dock workers had injuries that the accommodating ladies of the area were no doubt used to overlooking.
"I'll be along shortly." He nodded for her to head on into the tavern. "I've a bit of further business to attend to."
She smiled at him and nodded. He breathed a sigh of relief as she went. Killian gave her a moment to get inside, casting one last flirtatious look behind her, before he scanned the street again to make sure the Black Knights were no longer close by. The street clear, Killian stepped away from the rain barrel and looked down at the huddling figure on the ground.
"They've passed us by for the moment, lad. Care to explain why the so-called 'Evil Queen' would send her knights after you?"
The boy carefully unfolded himself and stood, still using Killian and the barrel as a blind between him and the street. "It's kind of a long story. Thanks for hiding me, and for not telling them I was here. That Sara girl was right. The Black Knights would hurt you if they found out you lied to them."
"Then they best not find out," Killian said.
He studied the boy again, trying to figure out why the Queen would want him. The brute who had questioned him said his mother was looking for him. Now that he had a moment to breathe, Killian wondered: was the boy's mother the Queen? And if so, why was he hiding from her? True, the title of "Evil Queen" was a good enough reason for most to want to hide from her, he supposed, but her own son?
Killian again considered that this was a ploy on the lad's part. This could all be a ruse for the boy's enjoyment: gain someone's trust and then sell them out; watch them get taken away and executed for some sadistic pleasure. But he didn't think it was that. Killian trusted his instincts, and they currently told him the boy knew better than to play the kind of game that would get innocent bystanders killed.
Of course, knowing better and caring were different things. Pan was a boy, but he quite enjoyed playing games that ended in someone else's death. Some of his mistrust must have shown on his face because the boy scowled at him—a surprisingly adult expression on his young face.
"I didn't do anything wrong!" he insisted. "I swear it, on my honor." Then the indignant, mature look fractured and the scared child reemerged. "But if the Queen gets hold of me…it would be bad."
Killian believed him. He wished he didn't but he did. A long-buried sense of decency he thought he'd smothered to death when he sold Bae to the Lost Boys in return for a brief amnesty from Pan rose up and poured words into his mouth.
"There's nothing else for it. You'll have to come with me, at least for a bit. I can drop you off at a safe harbor down the coast."
The boy's eyes widened and his mouth popped open a tad. "R-really?"
"Aye," Killian said. Then he paused to think a minute. He couldn't take the boy back to the Jolly Roger now. He was supposed to meet Smee to hear about what the first mate had found out what they'd missed in this realm, and he couldn't bring the boy into the tavern with him, and he couldn't leave him out here to wait, not with the Black Knights still combing the streets. Besides, that idea brought back memories of his own childhood, waiting with Liam outside another tavern or inn while their father, on shore leave, drank and gambled and spent the money that was supposed to go toward fixing the leaking roof or paying off the credit their mother had used to buy food while he was away.
And then another tavern, another boy, another parent, another time rose steadily on the heels of his own boyhood memories, but Killian pushed those thoughts away even faster than the others.
No, he needed to get the boy off the streets, fast, and tuck him away where he wouldn't be found. The Jolly Roger was the only option. But without the captain there to tell the second mate that the boy had his permission to board—and possibly threatened him not to tell the knights still patrolling the town of the boy's presence—who knew what Mr. Bright would do? Killian open and closed his fisted a few times just to feel the restriction and rub of the rings on his hand while the pondered the dilemma.
He looked down at his hand. The rings. His crew knew his favored trinkets well enough to recognize the pieces on sight. Killian removed the thick gold ring on his index finger, the one with the ruby almost as big as his thumbnail. Milah had given him this ring after her first successful sacking of a merchant's frigate. "Here, take this. Go down to the docks and find my ship, the Jolly Roger—got that?"
"Yes, sir," the boy said, tucking the ring tightly in his little fist.
"Wait until the knights have already searched it—I'm sure they will—then go aboard. My second mate should be on deck. Give him the ring and tell him I gave you leave to board and you're to be taken directly to my quarters. Do not touch anything. Tell Mr. Bright that I'll be back before morning, and he'll be compensated for not going to the Black Knights with the information of your whereabouts. And if he even thinks about it, remind him of when Felix wanted Bright's own whereabouts, would have given me a dram of pixie dust for the knowledge, and still I hid him. He owes me."
"Jolly Roger. Wait for the Black Knights to leave. Give the ring to Mr. Bright and remind him about Felix. Go to your quarters and don't touch anything," the lad recited. "Got it."
The boy made a move like he might hug him, but Killian caught his shoulder. "None of that, now."
The lad's smile was bright and grateful. "Thank you, sir. Captain Hook. I'll never forget your help, and you won't regret it, you'll see."
"Mm," Killian hummed skeptically. "Just keep out of the knights' sight while you make your way. If they catch you, I'm still coming back for my ring. I'll say you stole it."
The boy had the audacity to look like he was trying not to laugh. "Yes, sir."
And with that, he was off, slinking into shadows and carefully making his way to the docks. He'd done this before, obviously.
That matter settled, Killian finally entered the Three-Legged Dog tavern, its taxidermied namesake standing at the door to welcome patrons, to await Smee and to reunite with…Sally? Sara! That was it, Sara. Bad form not to at least try to get her name right. He found her standing beside the bar, nursing a tankard and subtly fending off the attention of two other patrons without driving them away entirely, in case Killian didn't show up. She smiled when she saw him enter and he insinuated himself between the woman and the men attempting to steal her. One good glare and the men departed.
"Hello, love. Sorry it took me so long."
She snuggled into his side as he wrapped his left arm around her, careful of the hook. "I'm glad y' found me."
"Always, love." He signaled the barkeep and ordered a flagon of whatever the house brew was—probably watery, barely-fermented barley water, but that was fine with him. Later he would purchase a few bottles of rum and whatever else they had hiding, waiting for the few high-paying customers that might stumble into this little dive, and take the bottles back to the ship to get truly pissed in private. For now, he was loath to let his guard drop that much in the presence of strangers in a land he no longer knew.
With his own tankard in hand, and his left arm still around his lady for the night, Killian led them to the table already inhabited by several other crewmen. A game of dice was being played against a few other customers of the Three-Legged Dog, and the men shouted and cursed at every roll. His crewmen made room for them on the benches, and Killian was just about to ask to take a turn himself when Smee sidled into the tavern. Killian had to keep himself from rolling his eyes at his first mate. The man never simply walked anywhere, much less strode or—heaven forbid—sauntered. No, Smee always seemed to sidle or skulk or scurry, as if he was just waiting for someone to throw a shoe at him and make him leave. Not a single ounce of self-determination in that one.
"Smee!" Killian called out, waving the man over. As soon as the first mate took a seat, he asked, "What have you learned?"
"Well, Captain, we're currently in the kingdom of Saint-George," Smee reported, leaning in and ducking his head deferentially. "They mostly trade in timber and fur, though they used to have a deal with the dwarves in the Seven Mountains for gems. That trade agreement was broken about a decade ago. The kingdom has gone through two coups in the last thirty years. The first time, King George VIII was defeated by his own son and the Prince's new bride, but no one was complaining. Apparently King George had driven the kingdom deeply into debt. He liked an extravagant lifestyle, according to rumors. I heard one tale that the Prince himself was cut from the same cloth as his father before he nearly died fighting a dragon. Then he met his wife, Snow White, the princess from Terrapomuria who was on the run from her step-mother at the time, and he turned himself around. People loved King James and Queen Snow White as rulers."
"Snow White?" Killian asked. "Is that actually her name?"
"I…I'm not sure, Captain," Smee answered, smiling a bit in hope he won't be blamed for not having the information.
Killian grunted and waved him on with the story.
"Well, the new king and Snow White managed to get the kingdom out of debt and ruled for about twenty years, but then they were overthrown by Queen Regina of the Northern Kingdom, also known as the Evil Queen, when she allied with the deposed King George... who for some reason had been let live after he was defeated. Things have been pretty bad around here ever since."
"I met some of her knights earlier," he said.
"King George died shortly after the overthrow—some say murdered by the Queen when he outlived his usefulness, and she's been ruling Saint-George and Terrapomuria as protectorates of the Northern Kingdom ever since. She has a tentative alliance with King Midas, who had a spell placed on him that anything he touches with his bare hands turns to gold."
Killian raised his eyebrows at that. "I like gold."
"Ain't as wonderful as you'd think," Sara interjected. When he looked at her, she shrugged. "Y' can't eat gold."
"Ah. True, lass, true." He nodded. "I'm assuming that King Midas's gift is a boon for the upper class, but not much for the lower classes?"
"Sounds right," Smee agreed. "His kingdom is rich in metal wealth, but poor in food. They're surrounded by high, rugged mountains on all sides, and the valleys are mostly sandy, rock-strewn, and pine-filled. They have to trade for food, and not much trickles down to the peasants. I've heard some say that the kingdom awaits the day Midas dies and his daughter Abigail and her husband take over, hoping they will be more benevolent."
"Mm. Any other allies or enemies?"
"King Thomas the Elder of the Eastern Kingdom is one definite enemy of the Evil Queen. The Prince, Thomas the Younger—who the Dark One kidnapped somehow—and his wife were good friends with Snow White and King James, and the Eastern Kingdom has done its best to oppose Queen Regina ever since she took over. Same thing with Queen Aurora and King Phillip in the Great Western Kingdom. They have their own problems with an evil sorceress, and they're doing everything they can to keep the Evil Queen from expanding further than she already has."
"All very interesting, but let's move on," Killian said. "Tell me about the Dark One."
He felt Sara stiffen at his side, pulling away slightly, more frightened now than she was of the Black Knights. Killian can almost hear her wondering just who she had engaged for the night.
"It's actually pretty interesting," Smee said. "The Dark One was here, in this kingdom, trapped in a cell converted from an old dwarven mine for almost the entire reign of King James and Queen Snow White. They managed to capture him somehow."
Killian loosened his hold on the girl and leaned across the table, wanting to get as close to this information as possible. He felt his heartbeat start to pick up, and his mouth hardened. "Locked in a cell—is he still there? Why didn't he break out? I would have thought no power in all the Realms could hold the Dark One if he didn't want to be held."
"No one knows, sir," Smee reported, shaking his head. "The old man who told me about it just said that he was tricked, somehow, and he spent years locked away in a cell that dampened his magic. But during the Evil Queen's coup, he escaped and he's kept a low profile since, except for a vicious running feud with the Queen."
Killian hummed in thought, his thumb running across his mouth. He was now in something of a conundrum. The enemy of his enemy would normally be his friend. But the Evil Queen (he was starting to like the moniker; descriptive and dark) was also sending knights after a small boy that Killian had decided to take in. A dilemma, indeed.
"Anything else of interest?" he asked Smee.
"No, sir, not much." He shrugged. "There was one rumor that the Dark One briefly had a housekeeper—some princess taken as payment in one of his deals. But there are a few different stories about what happened to her. Either way, she hasn't been seen since before the Dark One was captured. Nothing else, Captain."
"Fine," Killian said. "Well done. Enjoy your night." He turned to the ladybird beside him with what he hoped was a charming smile masking his internal frustration and bloody-minded rage. "And I will enjoy mine. How about we go upstairs now?"
Sara smiled back and stood, pulling him up with her, and led him out the door.
Author's Note: If you've noticed, most of the kingdoms in the Enchanted Forest never get a name on Once Upon a Time. King Leopold, in 3.18 Bleeding Through, does mention that Princess Eva, to whom he is betrothed, is from the "northern kingdom." I've decided to use that as the kingdom's name, i.e. the Northern Kingdom, and then just made up names and general locations for the other kingdoms, so those kingdom names are not canon. Just clarifying.