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Chapter Four

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They had been on the Fylde some six months to the day on the day that Hook walked into the village proper, without Smee at his side. He had a paper bag Smee had rubbed with mint leaves and epinephrine rustling quietly in his breast pocket, and although scarce anyone seemed to notice the sound at times when Hook was in conversation with other people, he was hyperaware of it, and it seemed to him the loudest sound in all of creation.

It had become customary, in these past weeks, for more people in the village to visit at the house, now that Hook was further along in his recovery and far more likely to be fit to entertain. He didn’t know how he felt about it, in truth, all these people stopping at the gate and speaking with Smee or Hook himself over the fence, and a few people – the Aspens, particularly, and Doctor Bell had been by twice on social calls whilst going out to further parts of the village’s outreaches.

They met more people in the village proper, of course, and it seemed to Hook that Smee was personally acquainted with every shopkeeper, farmer, servant, and craftsman in all of the country, let alone in Bispham-with-Norbreck.

It was impossible to walk anywhere without Smee being created by name and greeting whomever it was that greeted him in turn – and more than that, Hook himself was often greeted by name, from those who knew him by his description alone.

Mr Chambers, who lived in the big house some ways to the north, and was apparently an astonishing romantic, had come by with his wife in, of all things, a motorcar, and had begged that Captain Hook and Mr Smee treat the household by attending a dinner with them Saturday next.

Smee had all but gotten on his knees pleading that they should go, and in the basket under Hook’s arm, there was a letter in Hook’s own handwriting accepting the invitation.

He didn’t know what it was that made it easier to face the people of Bispham-with-Norbreck than it did his own crew – perhaps because they had never seen him as he was now, thin and small when he looked at himself in the mirror, eternally sleepless. It made the people who visited them uncomfortable to look at him, he was well aware, when he lost control of his breathing and took a moment to excuse himself that he might collect what was left of his lungs together again. Smee was good at it, he knew, good at attracting everyone’s attention so that they didn’t seem to notice that Hook couldn’t even string three sentences together without beginning to wheeze, some nights.

It had always been the case that they had shared communication, that the two of them acted as a unit of sorts – Hook and Smee each knew how to tailor a speech to a different audience, and no matter that Smee was quite literal at times and occasionally a fool, he was good at people. Not at ascertaining their motives, perhaps, and not always at seeing where they were meaning to be unkind or sharp with him, but that was more the best for Smee: there was something deeply lovable in a man who could not imagine the existence of your blade, let alone that you were pointing it at him.

Of course, that was only a metaphor – Smee knew very well what to do with a blade, and Hook had grown rather fond of watching him kill people with it, though he supposed he would likely never see Smee wield Johnny Corkscrew – this being the affectionate name Smee had for the weapon in question – again.

They couldn’t balance communication as they once did.

Smee did almost all of the talking now, and while people were quite rapt when they listened to Hook speak, he didn’t though that he would ever be able to tell a story the way he’d once been able to, didn’t know that he could ever become heated and sharp in debate, didn’t know—

James Hook was a man who no longer knew anything.

The grocer – Philip, whose wife was named Hydrangea, a painfully loud name bestowed on a painfully loud woman, although Philip himself was louder and even more so – had Smee’s order waiting for them, and Hook arranged fresh fruit on top of the two magazines and the side of bacon he’d picked up from the grocer’s.

“Need help carrying owt, Captain?” roared Philip, and although Hook felt his eye twitch at the awesome volume of the sound, he did not allow his face to fall.

“Thank you kindly for offering, Mr Cole, but I shall fair quite adequately myself,” said Hook. His chest felt tight, and he wondered if Philip could see the strain in his face, keeping his back straight, trying to keep the basket away from his side that it not influence the muscle of his diaphragm in the slightest.

“D’you miss the sea, Captain?” asked Philip mildly.

“Not particularly. There’s a great deal of it outside.”

Philip’s laugh was like a roar of thunder. “Aye, aye, true enough,” he said, and slammed the till shut as though he were trying to slam it through the opposite wall. “See you, Captain!”

“Goodbye, Mr Cole,” said Hook, and he took a moment upon stepping outside to let his ears adjust to the comparative silence of the out of doors – this was an error on his part, as apparently the schoolhouse had just released its inmates, and half a dozen of them accumulated around his feet like moths around a flame.

“Good afternoon, Captain Hook!” said young Harriet Aspen brightly, the apparent leader of this troupe of troubadours, and as Hook began to walk back down the village path, Harriet kept at his side, skipping slightly to slow herself to level with Hook’s own gait. The other children Hook distantly recognised, although he knew none of their names, as other children from the village. He didn’t know that, upon being prompted, he would be able to correctly match each child’s face to that of their parents, but he flattered himself he might approximate their home addresses.

“Good afternoon,” said Hook crisply.

“You’re very tall, Captain Hook,” remarked one of the children.

“And you’re quite short,” said Hook.

The child, a snub-faced boy with freckled cheeks, frowned. “I’ll grow!” he said.

“Are you certain of that?” asked Hook. This made the children laugh, and Hook, long-since made to be unsettled with the laughter of children, stifled his frown, his gaze forward on the road. His chest was feeling slightly tighter by the moment, making it feel as though a balloon were inflating in his chest and stifling his lungs. His every breath was audible, and his throat whistled upon his inhalation, a wholly ugly sound.  

“My father is very tall,” said the boy.

“As tall as me?” asked Hook.

“No.”

“Well then.”

“My name is Michael,” said the boy.

Hook glanced at his face and compared it, without really meaning to, to every other Michael Peter Pan had brought to Neverland – Michael Darling was the most recent, another round-faced boy with freckled cheeks, a rare survivor who, to Hook’s knowledge, had been returned to London. The others had not been so lucky – Hook had run one of them through himself, a little boy who could not have been more than nine, when he found him creeping to Smee with a short blade in his hand, chest already spattered with blood; another had been five or perhaps six, and Hook had come upon him dead from eating mushrooms in the woods.

Pan had teased him into it, said he was a coward if he didn’t eat them – Hook recalled the strange and haunting song the remaining children had created to taunt one another with. The child had been tragic to look at, blue-lipped and glassy-eyed, picked at by animals here and there.

That had been a long time ago indeed.

“Good afternoon, Michael,” said Hook, and for no reason that he could entirely grasp, extended his hook. “How do you do?”

Michael stared at the iron shine of his polished hook, lips parted, and with a sort of wondering uncertainty reached up and shook it as he might a hand.

Before Hook could turn to continue walking, another of the children, a girl with braids down to her shoulders, took his hook in hand and shook it too. “My name is Isobel, Captain,” she said earnestly.

The last child, a tall boy with pale features and red hair and a birthmark shaped like a heart on the side of his jaw, hesitated. He looked as though he wanted, like the others, to shake Hook’s hand, and yet he hesitated.

“Your father hasn’t taught you manners?” asked Hook.

“My father is dead,” said the boy.

“You haven’t learned them by osmosis, then?”

The boy regarded him suspiciously, his lips twisting and his nose scrunching up. “Aren’t you supposed to be all sorry that my father’s dead?”

“Well, I hardly know,” said Hook, and took a few moments to catch his breath. “Are you— Hell’s bells… Are you—” He inhaled strongly, hearing the wheeze, feeling red-faced and slightly dizzy. The children looked at him as raptly as though he had taken a dramatic pause in a stage play. “Are you sorry for the death of mine?”

“How long ago did he die?” asked the boy, the sort of rapid riposte one might respect were it not for one lacking in oxygen.

“Oh, some hundred years ago or so now,” said Hook.

“Well, mine only died last year.”

“Then he ought have— ought have taught you some manners before,” he wheezed in an ugly breath, “before departing, then.”

“I think he has you beaten there, Phaestos,” remarked Michael.

“Beaten by a mile,” agreed Isobel.

“Is it sharp?” asked Phaestos.

Hook, breathing quite laboured now, abruptly feeling extremely hot, opened his mouth several times and could make no answer, but the children made it for him.

“It’s only sharp if you take it by the tip,” said Harriet, more gently than Hook was planning to, and the boy called Phaestos reached for his hook and shook it gently.

“My name is Matthew,” said Phaestos. “How do you do?”

“Not Phaestos?” asked Hook. He was aware he must be pale, and that there was sweat on his face, because Harriet Aspen gently picked up basket’s handle and eased it off of his arm, and the girl Isobel offered him her opened back of sweets, which he declined. His knees felt weak, but before he could cast about for a bench, Michael pushed a wood crate from outside the tobacconist’s underneath him and Hook collapsed on top of it.

“We call him Phaestos being as he holds a mark of Aphrodite,” said Isobel.

“It’s short for Hephaestos,” said Harriet.

“I didn’t know,” Hook said shudderingly, “that the children… of the Fylde were such… such keen Homerian scholars.”

“Have you any medicine, Captain Hook?” asked Isobel anxiously, and Hook ignored her, sitting up straight and doing his best to breathe deep breaths, although on every inhalation his attempts stuttered and started.

“He’s not meant to be making a noise like that,” remarked Michael. “Is he?”

“No, idiot, he’s got a palsy of the lungs,” muttered Phaestos. “Don’t you know what that is?”

“No,” said Michael irritably. “I just thought he had asthma.”

This made Hook laugh, which was very unfortunate, because immediately after he began to cough like a stoppered engine.

“Hold this,” said Harriet to Michael, passing him Hook’s basket, and rushed off into the other direction.

Hook winced, certain he was to be humiliated with a street visitation from Doctor Bell – luckily, they were a little ways out of view of most of the windows, and he was obscured from view by the fact that he was sitting down, the children crowding about him. His hand was trembling as he reached into his pocket, and when he lost his grip on the paper bag Isobel picked it up and shook it open for him.

It hardly offered the same relief as the atomiser Smee foisted on him a few times a day, the atomiser that Hook was regretting being too stubborn to keep in his pocket – although it wasn’t exactly designed for a one-handed man’s use alone – but it did help as he inhaled the mint and the sharp tang of the epinephrine, feeling the strong scent and the actual medication force a little of the mucus out of his thick throat and lungs.

He felt even dizzier for a few moments, head burning with the epinephrine as his veins opened much like his lungs did, but that passed and left a strange throb behind his eyes and in his head, soothed by the fact that there was now oxygen working its way into his lungs.

“Here, Captain,” said Harriet, coming with a mug in hand, and Hook glanced at her as he kept breathing in and out of the bag, looking at it with perplexity and suspicion. “It’s coffee, sir. That’s good for you, isn’t it?”

“Should I go to the tobacconist’s and ask for them medicated cigarettes?” asked Phaestos.

Isobel started, “Should I—”

“Hush,” said Hook. They let him be a few minutes more, letting him breathe, and then he set the bag on his knees and carefully took the mug of hot coffee from Harriet’s hands, sipping at it. He realised in a dim, distant way that he would never ordinarily take a foodstuff or drink a child offered him, as it would surely be full of poison.

Hook drank it, and tasted its bitterness on his tongue.

“Thank you,” he said.

“Do you want for one of us to go for Mr Smee, Captain Hook?” asked Michael.

“No,” Hook said.

“Will you tell him you had an attack?” asked Harriet.

“No,” said Hook. “That wasn’t an attack, that happens every other day.”

“I think you ought to tell him,” said Harriet.

“I think you ought… ought mind your business,” replied Hook, and this made the other children laugh, though Harriet frowned. The pain in his chest was duller now, less painful in its pressure, and he drank more of the coffee, inhaling from the bag with the caffeine set to speed it on its way.

When he stood a few moments later, Harriet did not return the mug to the Egg and Swan but held it to her chest, and when Hook tried to take his basket back, Michael kept tight hold of it, gripping it to his chest as he walked alongside him. Isobel and Phaestos made up the outer part of the fleet.

“We’re sorry about your chest, Captain Hook,” said Isobel.

“As am I,” said Hook.

“And your hand,” added Michael.

“There we differ.”

“But didn’t you lose it?” asked Michael.

“No,” said Hook. “It was taken from me. But my… my hook is better than the hand I had.”

“But it was your right hand,” said Phaestos.

“What of it? I write and carry a sword with my left.” He stood still a moment to catch his breath, and Harriet passed the mug back to him. Hook drank from it, feeling raw and strangely observed, but something stopped him telling the children to hurry along and leave him be.

“Who took it?” asked Harriet after they began to walk again.

“What,” Hook corrected.

“Who took it?” asked Harriet again, and Hook, lips twitching, repeated his response: “What.”

“Does asthma block the ears?” asked Harriet.

“What took your hook, Captain?” asked Phaestos, and Harriet, realising she’d been caught out, laughed as though delighted. Something about that made Hook’s skin feel too tight, as though he’d been burned or spattered with venom.

“A crocodile,” said Hook.

“No, it didn’t,” said Michael.

“Oh, yes it did,” replied Hook.

“No, it didn’t,” said Isobel.

Hook’s smile felt like someone else’s as he replied, “Oh, yes, it did.”

* * *

When Hook had returned home yesterday afternoon with a gaggle of children about his waist, each of them nine or ten, Harriet Aspen among them, Smee was quite surprised. When he realised that one of them, a pudgy young lad with freckled features named Michael, was carrying Hook’s basket for him, and that each of them was chattering with stories and that Hook appeared to be responding with dry comments now and then, he was very surprised.

When Hook opened the gate, stepping through to where Smee had been pruning the roses, and Smee saw the slight smile hidden under his moustaches, Smee was stunned.

“Hullo,” said Smee brightly.

“Hullo, Mr Smee!” said Harriet Aspen cheerfully, and Smee took the basket from the boy Michael.

“Smee, several local pests appear to have followed my trail,” said Hook idly. His blouse was stained with sweat, some of his hair damp as well, and Smee resisted the urge to reach out and touch him, to put his hand on Hook’s body in front of the children, to test that his heart was beating as it ought, to listen to his lungs.

Hook was breathing slightly heavily, looked exhausted, but the smile was there nonetheless.

“Where’s my atomiser?”

Smee smiled at him, which made Hook give him a foul look, but he’d never actually asked to have it before, and ordinarily he had to be cajoled into using it when he needed it. “On the kitchen table, sir,” he said. “Why don’t I pour these kids some lemonade?”

“Why don’t you put out breadcrumbs for the rats, as well?” was Hook’s retort as he disappeared inside, and Smee had gotten them each to sit down for a bit as he’d poured them something to drink.

He’d never much liked kids, before coming to Neverland – he’d been one of the youngest in his family, and he’d never much got on with any of his brothers, had never bothered to play much with any of their kids. He supposed he didn’t see kids any different from adults, in most senses – they were smaller and didn’t know as much, but they could be just as lethal as any man could once you put a sword in their hands, and over the past century or so, he’d seen children holding weapons more often than not.

It was strange, seeing these kids with no weapons to speak of, most of them probably with nothing more lethal on them than the whittling knife they had for the Scouts, none of them with an eye for killing neither, none of them ever able to dream of it.

They weren’t no different than any kid Pan would pick up, not at heart, but things were different in Neverland – things were different with Pan. It was a place for games, when you were a kid, a sort of dreamland, and they didn’t know it was any different until the pain was real and the sickness was too, and they got killed by the end of it.

The kids told him what had happened with Hook, after they’d come from the schoolhouse and seen him leaving the grocer’s, said he’d taken the medicine in the bag Smee had made for him, that he’d been ill, that they’d walked him back.

The boy Phaestos had said, “And we all tried to keep talking, so’s he didn’t have to say as much.”

It was funny, these kids. Meeting them in Neverland, Smee’d never learn their names – he’d no doubt kill them soon as look at them, to save them killing any of the crew, or trying to come at Smee or Hook.

Neverland had been a game for the kids – for Smee, for Hook, for the pirate crew, for the natives, it was the real world, as much as they could make it.

“Won’t he come out and sit with us?” had asked Harriet.

“No,” Smee had said. “No, I expect the captain’s gone down to sleep a while now. Thanks for looking after him. He’s a man needs looking after at times, though he don’t take well to it.”

“Have you always looked after him, Mr Smee?” asked Isobel.

“And him me,” said Smee. “Since we’ve known each other.”

“But you’re not sick,” said Harriet. “What does he need to look after you for?”

Smee had considered the question before he answered, “I suppose a man just needs a certain connection at times. You’ll understand it as you get older – it’s a line of being vital, I suppose I’d call it. People in your life who don’t shift or go away.”

“Like an anchor?” asked Phaestos. “You being sailors?”

“No, no, lad,” said Smee. “A man needs an anchor, but he needs to weigh it and make sail again. Me and him, I suppose we’re more like rigging – a line strung between the masts, keeping ‘em both standing, separate, by being taut. If he went down, I’d follow soon as, just as he’d suffer for the lack of me, I expect.”

“He seemed to think you were a nuisance,” said Phaestos, and Smee had laughed.

“Aye,” he said. “But I’m not so bad a nuisance as he is. We fit in the gaps of each other, you see – take our glasses, for instance. I can read easy enough without mine, but show me a target, your faces even, and I can’t see you at all – and his glasses is the opposite of mine exactly, bend the other way. Eagle-eyed until you put a page in front of him. Some meetings’re ordained by God, seems to me – that’s not to say they’re good or bad. Just that they have to be what they are, and can’t be broken.”

The children were very quiet for a moment, and so was Smee, because he hadn’t expected he would say all that either. He glanced back to the house, wondering if he would see the captain in the window, but he didn’t.

“You’re very queer folk, Mr Smee,” said Harriet. “But you make fine lemonade.”

That was all yesterday, of course.

Hook had slept a great many hours in the aftermath, and though the rest had helped, he’d been a little sickly the night through, had barely been able to keep much down. The epinephrine made him feel bad and giddy as much as it improved the work of his lungs, and although he hadn’t been retching, he’d been unusually quiet and almost doleful, which was different to his usual melancholy.

Smee had learned over the years to distinguish carefully between Hook’s degrees of unhappiness, unhappy being the captain’s natural state, in much the same way Hook had learned to distinguish the opposite in Smee himself.

He’d at least come down from his bed today, and although he was dressed it was only in his shirt sleeves with his dressing gown overtop. He was feeling the chill very keenly although the day itself was fine, and although he slapped Smee’s hand away when he tried to put a blanket in his lap, Smee noticed that it had moved there from its place on the arm of his armchair when he came back into the room a few moments later.

Smee let him to his musings to work outside, finishing up the roses – Hook had his reading glasses on and was picking through one of the periodicals he’d picked up in the village when Smee left him alone.

“What are we doing here, Smee?” Hook asked as Smee came into house, already having washed his hands, for the captain became quite incensed if Smee had filthy hands in his presence, and always had done. His magazine was resting in his lap, and as it often did, his chin rested on the curve of his hook, his gaze far away. The firelight glinted off of his glasses, and when Smee reached out to gently remove them from his face, Hook didn’t push him away, but glanced up at his face.

“Well, I’ve been pruning back the roses, Captain, and the—”

“Not in the garden, Smee,” Hook said. “In this house.”

“Well,” Smee said, “The last day I rehemmed the curtains in the—”

“Smee.”

“Captain.”

“I entreat you to understand me, Smee,” Hook said, sounding impatient. His eyes were shining brightly in the firelight, not with wetness, but with their forget-me-not colour brought out by the flame.

“I’ll try my best, Captain,” Smee said, without much hope, as he set the glasses down.

“I am a man without occupation, Smee. I can no longer captain a ship, for I know not the way of these modern ships, and even if I did, I would not be fit to with such ailing lungs as these. Look at me, aching in every part of me for having walked not thirty minutes from my home and back, and with a day’s rest besides.”

It made Smee pang, the way he said it, the resignation in it, and yet somehow Smee felt it couldn’t possibly be only his illness that brought this sadness on, this strange glumness that lacked the sharpened edge Smee expected in his feelings.

“You aren’t coughing, sir,” Smee pointed out. “And your breathing is scarce ever a wheeze of late, even when you are belaboured, so long as you take your medicine.”

“Oh, my medicine,” grumbled Hook.

“There’s no reason you can’t go to sea again,” said Smee. “Not saying we can ever go back to Neverland, but—”

“And were I an officer on a ship, and in the heat of some emergency, I was to have some manner of pneumonic attack, and faint? What then, Smee?”

Smee sank down into the chair beside Hook, and put his hand over the captain’s. His fingers were slightly cool – he’d always run cold even before losing all this weight, and it was worse now.

Hook’s fingers flexed under Smee’s, but he didn’t, as Smee expected him to, push Smee’s hand off of his own, didn’t tear his hand away. He just moved his fingers, as though to check that he still could, and Smee squeezed his hand.

“I thought,” said Smee, “I might open a carpenter’s shop.”

“Oh?”

“Aye. You know, making things from wood and that.”

“… Yes, Smee, I am familiar with the concept.”

“There is always some need for a skilled man at his trade, and I learned the trade from my father and uncle as I’ve told you afore, before I went to sea. You know yourself I oft-assisted Mr Hayden, when my own affairs was in order, being the rigging and all that.”

“Yes, I know, Smee, I’m asthmatic, not amnesiac.”

“I am a capable carpenter, Captain.”

“You are, Smee,” Hook said lowly, without tone. “You are very skilled.”

“I mayn’t be graceful, but my work is.”

“I agree.”

“You do not seem comforted, sir.”

“I am not, Smee. But I should be very pleased indeed that you might return to such an occupation.”

“I can’t make head nor tail of numbers, sir,” Smee attempted. “But you were a ship’s accountant, before you first laid hand upon a sword.”

“So I was,” Hook said dully.

That was before, Smee knew, he had ever been a pirate – that was whilst he was still a young officer with pink in his cheeks and no hair on his face, but for the beginnings of his moustaches.

The captain had often told the story on dark nights, the lines of his face strangely illuminated by firelight: when their ship had been boarded by pirates, he had slaughtered some six of the enemy crew before he had come sword-to-sword with their captain, who had been delighted that Hook did not flinch when the blade was put against his throat.

Often Smee had imagined Hook like that, young and spattered with blood, with the fierce light of bloodlust in his eyes, standing against a man twice his size with no fear showing in him whatsoever. That was the core of James Hook, it seemed to Smee – a man who didn’t flinch from any fight he thought he could win.

The captain had asked what Hook’s position was upon the ship, to which Hook had remarked: “Hostile.”

He had laughed, and bid Hook answer him swiftly, for he should slit his throat either way, and Hook had answered him true. Thoughtful, the captain had withdrawn, looking down at the corpse between their feet, and declared that he had been their accountant, that he should be pleased indeed if Hook would replace him – if his choice were between serving his majesty as a dead man, or serving a pirate crew as a living one, surely he would make the right one.

Hook had.

Smee very much liked that story. He hoped he would hear his captain tell it again, one day.

“You might do the books, Captain,” Smee suggested, “for the shop.”

“Is that what I am reduced to?” Hook asked, seemingly of the ceiling – or perhaps God Himself – instead of Smee. “A woodworker’s accountant? The scourge of the Seven Seas was I, the only man Flint ever feared – he being the only man Blackbeard ever feared – and the nemesis of that dastardly creature, Peter Pan, and now… An accountant.”

“You needn’t, sir,” Smee said anxiously. “I shall learn to have a head for numbers, if you would not put yours to them. You might— you might pen books, perhaps, or be a gentleman idle. That is appropriate, for a gentleman of your standing.”

“Were I satisfied with being idle, Smee, I would never have gone to sea.”

“I wish I knew what I could say to comfort you, sir,” Smee said regretfully, and Hook sighed, heavy and long. His eyes closed, and Smee looked at the thickness of his dark lashes, thought of the sad, blue pools hidden beneath.

“I rather wish you did too, Smee, but no one can comfort me. Except, perhaps, whatever saint stands at the gates of Hell, to usher in its victims.”

“Captain, you are not soon to die.”

“More is the pity.”

Smee did not squeeze Hook’s hand this time, but pinched it, and Hook hissed in pain, giving Smee a frosty look like a cat spattered with water.

“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” he said. “Pinch me like a nanny scolding her charge.”

“I wish you didn’t force me to,” said Smee, “saying all this maudlin nonsense about being soon to die. All this effort I’ve gone to keep you from dropping dead, and you’re here wishing all of it undone.”

“Well, perhaps you oughtn’t have gone to such effort, if it so tortures you to have done so.”

“Don’t torture me none,” Smee said. “All that tortures me is seeing you unhappy, as well you know.”

“Then I shall torture you so long as we both shall live,” said Hook. “And I shall be tortured by being alive.”

“Good,” said Smee. “That’s fair, then.”

Hook, for the first time Smee had seen from him today, smiled, although he did his best to hide it, turning his head away from Smee. Smee looked at the curve of his handsome jaw, the glint of his eyes, the bounce of his curled hair as his head moved.

“You are ridiculous, Edmund Smee,” said Hook.

“As if I’m any more ridiculous than you are,” said Smee, and sat back in his seat, putting his own feet in Hook’s lap. Hook jumped, as Smee had known he would, and he saw the fury on the captain’s face, saw his lip curl back in a snarl, before he realised that Smee had already taken his boots off, and that he had a lapful of striped-sock feet, no dirt in sight, even on the hems of his trousers.

Shooting Smee a cutting glance, Hook laid his magazine on top of Smee’s ankles, and put out his hand for his glasses back.

“Will you read to me?” asked Smee.

“If you like,” said Hook as he took his glasses back. “It’s an essay discussing the Golden Ratio. The sort of thing that might interest a carpenter, I wouldn’t wager.”

“What’s that when it’s at home?”

“Well, there’s a sequence of numbers named after Leonardo of Pisa—”

“DaVinci?”

“No, not DaVinci, this was Fibonacci, the mathematician. The Fibonacci sequence goes such that each number is the sum of the two numbers preceding it, and given that this is a constant-recursive sequence—”

“Changed my mind,” said Smee, sitting back.

 Hook looked at him flatly. “I haven’t even explained how Fibonacci’s sequence relates to the golden ratio.”

“And here I am, sir, begging you not to start.”

“You are an idiot, Smee.”

“Things worse than being an idiot, Captain.”

“Oh, yes? And what’s that?”

“Mathematician, for one.”

Hook chuckled at that, a sort of half-smile, but he didn’t go to his reading immediately. The curve of his hook resting on the paper for a moment, he looked down at the printed text but didn’t seem to read it, his eyes remaining static.

“Smee,” he said softly as Smee made himself comfortable, fitting to doze beside him, and Smee looked at Hook over his own glasses. “Don’t you think sometimes that perhaps we both ought be dead?”

“Well,” said Smee, “We’re owed a letter each from the crown for our hundredth birthday, so maybe so.”

“That’s not what I mean,” said Hook. “For our sins, I mean. All the lives we’ve taken, all the damage we’ve wrought.”

The captain sounded remarkably sober, and Smee looked at him with quiet alarm, not knowing how to respond to all that at all. “Don’t know that there’s much point worrying about all that, sir. All them lives is gone – we’re still here. Confession’s the answer for having done sins, not dropping down dead.”

“And when did you last go to confession?”

“More recently than you did.”

“Well, yes, Smee, I should hope so, not being a Papist myself.”

“It’d make you feel better about sinning,” said Smee.

“No, it wouldn’t.”

“No, it wouldn’t,” agreed Smee. “Wouldn’t it have been a jape if I’d gotten you in on that lie alone, though?”

Hook exhaled a powerless laugh, shaking his head.

“What makes you think of all that?” asked Smee. “We’ve not done no harm to nobody, being here – seems to me we shouldn’t ever have to again.”

“Did we have to?” asked Hook woodenly.

“Maybe not,” said Smee. “But it’s all done now. And I’d go to pieces if you died, sir. Hope you realise that.”

“Oh, I do, Smee,” said Hook quietly, looking at the page. “It’s the only thing that keeps me here, at times.”

“I wish you wouldn’t say things like that, Captain,” said Smee.

“Sorry, Smee,” said Hook, absently squeezing Smee’s knee, and Smee almost asked which bit he was apologising for, but elected not to draw it out any longer. He just sat in place, napping in the afternoon warmth beside the fire, with the sound of Hook’s slightly reedy breathing and the turn of his pages beside him.

Thank you so much for reading!
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