Chapter 9 – A Drunken Shooting Star
Hook had only visited Ashanti once since they had taken her away. It had been four days, last he checked, and his crew was getting impatient. He knew he would have to set sail soon.
The doctors had told him she had a fifty-fifty chance. As far as he could tell, she had some pretty bad burns, and some broken bones from hitting the hull of the other ship so hard and quickly.
But a fifty percent chance of life was better than no chance, right?
Presently he was pondering just that, sitting on the edge of the lake he had killed the croc in. He was planning on setting sail the next day, with or without Ashanti. He shook his head miserably. These past four days had been terrible. They had managed to find a good ship, but Hook wasn’t getting more than about two hours of sleep every night. Thus, he was extremely tired.
He took a deep sigh and stood up, turning around only to be tackled by someone very short and warm and extremely happy to see him.
“Did you miss me?” Ashanti asked softly, hugging him around the middle. He stood very still, wondering what in the world had just happened. She pushed herself away, smiling brightly. Her skin looked moderately healthy. Parts were still bandaged, but most of it looked good. He tipped his head, examining her closely. She was wearing a small, slightly beaten and sheer white sundress, apparently given to her by the hospital. He lifted a hand and ran it through her silky soft blue-gray hair. So it was real; she was here. He put his arms around her head and buried his face in her hair.
“Only more than anything I’ve ever lost,” he said weakly. She closed her eyes and hugged him tighter, sighing. They stood there for a while, until finally Hook pushed himself away. “Why did they let you out?” he asked, “It’s only been four days.”
“Yeah,” she said, giving him a suspicious smile. “Miracles happen.”
He leaned down and hugged him around the middle, picking her up and spinning around with her.
“Aye,” he said, setting her down again and ruffling her hair. She looked up at him. “We’re setting sail tomorrow, love,” he said, “And you get to come with us… I’ll never break another promise to you…” He hugged her again. She closed her eyes. It felt good to be back in his arms, and he felt the same about her. Suddenly she pushed herself away, looking confused.
“If… the ship blew up… how are we setting sail?” she asked. He licked his lips.
“We got a new one. I’ll show you,” he said. She slid her arm around his.
The new ship was a big one. About the size of what the Jolly Roger was, and was fashioned the same way. The first thing Ashanti noticed was that the whole back wall of the captain’s quarters was made of glass.
“A big ship again!” she said, “Thank goodness.”
“I know, love,” he said, “I was getting sick of that little one. Of course, this means that we’ll need a bigger crew, but that will be easy to find. There are a lot of sailors around if you just search.”
She said nothing, simply enjoying his company. She moved closer to him. “Did you get your scarf?” she asked, “Or was it destroyed?”
By this time they were on the empty deck. The crew was out, of course, getting prepared for the voyage. Hook pulled the washed, patched, beautiful scarf out of his pocket and put it on her head like a bandanna. “I’ve got it, love,” he said softly, pulling her closer and pressing his lips against her bandaged forehead.
“That’s a relief,” she said after he had pulled away. She tied it around her head, creating a hat.
“Somehow that thing always ends up with you,” he said. She shrugged. “Thank you for saving it all the time.”
“You really should just keep it with you,” she said.
“Or maybe you should keep it with you,” he said.
“But it was given to you,” she said.
“Well, maybe I’ll just pass it on,” he said.
“To whom?” she asked, smirking accusingly.
He was silent. Slowly, he turned a shade of rosy pink. She burst out laughing, and pulled him into her arms once more.
It was completely silent, except for the creaking of the ship. She opened her eyes. The sun was just beginning to rise. She touched her head and rubbed it a bit. She could clearly hear the waves crashing against the hull of the ship and seagulls above her. She looked up. There was nothing but sky. She looked around, still lying down. There was ocean all around her, behind the balustrade of the ship. Why was she on the deck?
She looked over to her left to see Hook, sleeping soundly, a slightly troubled look on his face. She sat up. They were drifting on open water, moving very slowly. She grabbed Hook by the shoulders and shook him around.
“Captain, wake up!” she cried. Hook waved his arms about as he sat up, struggling to open his eyes.
“What?” he mumbled, looking around, “What’s happened? Smee?” He narrowed his eyes at her. “You’re not Smee,” he said.
“Ahoy there, mates!” called a voice. They looked up at the wheel. Someone else was steering Hook’s ship… But upon closer inspection, they realized this wasn’t Hook’s ship. They stared at their captor. Dirty blonde hair framed his rugged, tanned face. His clothes looked as though they hadn’t been washed in months. His boots were covered in mud, so no one knew what colour they really were. His eyes were bright, unnerving green, and they glittered with secrets. He wore a nice leather hat, complete with a black-and-white feather. “My name is Captain Joshua Starfield!” He removed his hat and waved it at them. Hook and Ashanti stared at each other.
“Not good,” Hook murmured. He stood up and ran up the stairs. “What is this, mate? I’m the captain around here,” he said.
“Sorry, mate. This is my ship, so that makes me the captain,” Joshua said. Hook stared at him.
“What? No! I’m the captain,” Hook said.
“You’d like to think that, wouldn’t you?” Joshua asked, smirking at him.
Hook gave him a blank stare. Ashanti ran up the stairs. “Where is this ship heading, anyway?” she asked.
“Aye, well, I’ll tell you,” Joshua said. Hook shoved him aside and grabbed the wheel.
“It’s heading back to the last town,” he said, turning the wheel so sharply that Ashanti and her kidnapper fell to the ground. Once they had regained balance, Joshua shoved his way back to the wheel. He kicked Hook to the ground, keeping him there with in the form of a boot on the chest. Ashanti made a mad dash towards her captain. Joshua grabbed her by the cuff of the shirt and held her there.
“Let me explain the rules of my ship to you,” he said. Ashanti kicked around, as did Hook, but to no avail. “First and foremost, I am the captain of this ship, and therefore, you will follow my orders from here on out, and you will refer to me as ‘captain’. Second of all, there will be no violence on my ship, unless we run into enemies. Thirdly, you two need to keep it child-friendly here. That means no kissing at all, nor anything else of that sort.”
Hook struggled against the boot planted on his chest. Joshua just smirked. “Fourthly,” he said, “I trust you’ve realized by now that you’ve been confiscated of all your weapons, including that hook of yours.” Hook glanced at his hand, shocked to find that there was nothing there.
“So… what, you took off my shirt just to remove my hook?” he asked.
“We put it back on,” Joshua said, “Besides, I can’t have you running around with a weapon attached to your arm.” He gave Hook a nasty, cutthroat smirk.
“… Sir…?” Ashanti asked. At length, Joshua turned to her.
“It’s ‘captain’… love,” he said. Hook thrashed about, enraged.
“Could I at least ask why you brought us here?” she asked, glancing at Hook with apologetic eyes. Joshua didn’t answer. “Captain?” she asked through clenched teeth.
“I’ll show you,” Joshua said. Ashanti fell silent. At length, Joshua let them both go. Ashanti ran over to Hook and brushed some of the dirt off of his shirt. He stood up, glaring at his new captain. Joshua gave them a tip of the head, then looked towards the sleeping quarters for his crew. “Come on out, boys and girls!” he yelled. Hook and Ashanti stared at the door, expecting to see their crew.
But it was exactly the opposite. Instead, a large number of children, all around ten-years-old, ran out, cheering and screaming. Hook’s eyes widened. Yes, this was going to be Hell for him… All of the children stopped and looked up at Joshua.
“Who are these kids?” Ashanti asked.
“This, love, is my crew,” the new captain replied. Hook stared at him, blinking.
“That’s it?” he asked, “You brought us here to be babysitters?!”
Joshua smiled at him, then nodded. “Yeah, pretty much,” he said. He turned to the kids. “These children were all orphans, gathered from various towns around this world, all given the chance to be free for once.” Hook stared at them. True, they all looked very happy, talking amongst themselves about their new caretakers, but Hook still didn’t get why this man chose children for his crew.
“Have they seen any combat?” Ashanti asked.
“Aye, and they’re amazing fighters. Trained by the harsh elements and the bandits out there on the cruel streets,” he said, “I haven’t ever lost one.” He smiled at his young crew. “They do what I ask with good speed, and then they’re free to play and all that.”
“So why do you need us?” Hook asked.
“Because I just keep picking more and more up, and so I don’t have time for them all. Now, with you two, you can keep them entertained while I take care of the ship,” the captain said.
“… That’s all?” Hook asked.
Joshua nodded. “Aye. Have fun with them,” he said. He waved his arms around. “Children, meet your new caretakers.” He gestured towards them.
They were silent for a moment. “Uhm… I’m Ashanti,” she said, waving slightly.
Hook gave a slight wave, as well. “You can call me… Ho--”
“James! This is James,” she said, patting him on the shoulder. The kids just stared at them. “So, uhm… What do you want to do?”
Still they stared, until they all cheered at the same time: “COLOUR!!” They all ran up and grabbed Ashanti and Hook by the arms, pulling them down the stairs and cheering loudly. Ashanti glanced at Hook, who looked like he was about to cry, then glanced at Joshua, who once again waved his hat at them.
Ashanti was bombarded by the kids, whereas Hook was sort of left on the outskirts, although not much. They were all lying on their stomachs, drawing with some crayons.
“Look, Miss Ashanti, I drew a starfish!” said one of the kids, holding up his piece of paper.
“Nice,” she said, smiling, “I drew a dolphin.” She turned her piece of paper around so they could see. They all cheered. She crawled over to Hook. “What did you draw… James?” she asked, giggling. She looked down at his paper to see a picture of Josh standing there, his head at his feet, blood everywhere. Ashanti slapped a hand over his paper, as all of the kids were trying to see. “Uhm, well…” She gazed around all of the kids’ eager faces. She ripped his piece of paper off and stood up, pulling Hook with him. “I’ll be right back, kids,” she said. She pulled him out of the room to the kitchen. “What is wrong with you?” she asked.
“Gosh, love, let me think. Oh yeah, I hate all of this,” he said.
“But I thought you wanted kids to like you,” she said, putting her hands on her hips.
“Not kids of the enemy,” he said.
“Well, who else is going to let you near their kids?” she asked.
“What is that supposed to mean?” he asked.
“Nothing in particular, but why don’t you at least try to get along with these kids? They’re nice!” she said.
“Not to me,” he said, “They’ve been rejecting me.”
“No they haven’t,” she said, “You’ve been rejecting them!”
“No, I haven’t,” he said. She sighed, staring warningly at him.
“Fine, whatever,” she said, “I’m going to keep playing with them, and you can go be alone, like you want to.” She walked away, instantly happy when she saw all of the kids waiting for her. Hook stared at her as the door swung shut. He turned around and kicked the wall, then headed towards the door. “Stupid girl…” he grumbled. He kicked the wall again, only much harder, then left the room, slamming the door closed. Joshua was at the wheel, singing some kind of pirate-chantey. Hook ignored him and walked towards the edge, glaring out at the sea.
“Oy, mate!” Josh said in a concerned tone. He ran down to the deck and grabbed Hook’s arm. “What are you doing here? Why aren’t you with the children?” he asked. Hook yanked his arm out of his new captain’s grip. “Sorry, mate, you’ve got to go back with those kids, or you’ve got no food on your plate tonight.”
Hook grimaced, pointing at Joshua. “Listen to me, you idiotic, narcissistic, sorry excuse for a captain. I’ll let you boss me around, I’ll play with those stupid kids, I’ll even call you captain, occasionally. But if you lay one drunken finger on that woman, I’ll cut it off.”
With very little hesitation, Joshua shoved Hook to the ground and once again planted a boot on his chest. “Don’t you ever think you can get away with threatening your captain like that again, mate,” he said, smirking, “I’ll do whatever I want with whoever I please, and you can’t do a thing. Because if you try,” He unsheathed Hook’s sword, which was on his belt, “Your own sword might end up running you through.” Hook tried to sit up, which proved difficult, as Joshua increased the pressure, and slid his boot up to Hook’s throat. “And the same rules apply if you ever call those kids stupid again.”
“Rules, rules, rules,” Hook gagged.
“Aye, mate. You’d better start following them,” Joshua said, “Now get back to those kids.” He shoved his boot into Hook’s throat very hard, his eyes glistening maniacally. “And you say, ‘aye, captain,’” he said.
Hook choked out the words, and Joshua strode back over to the wheel. Hook sat up and put a hand around his throat, gasping for air. He glared at Joshua, who glared back, then stood up and walked back to the room where Ashanti was, closing the door quietly and standing there. Ashanti looked up, as did all of the kids. The laughing and talking quickly ceased, as they stared at their caretaker.
“Look whose back,” she said, still slightly angry about their earlier conversation, “So… are you ready to colour with us?” He walked over to her and collapsed, burying his face into her back and not answering. She stared at him, then went back to colouring, thinking it best to just leave him be.
The next few days were terrible for poor Hook, but at least the kids were complete angels. Even after Hook refused to play with them, when they went onto their next activity they would ask if he wanted to join. Ashanti participated in all of their games, completely in love with them. She knew all of their names, all of their ages, their back-stories, where they had come from, how long they’d been on the ship, and quite a lot of other things, whereas Hook knew nothing except that they were extremely nice and they were all around ten-years-old. The only time he ever played with them was when Joshua was watching them, but other than that he just watched.
There were two things he hated: He had to take orders from someone younger than him, and he couldn’t show affection to Ashanti anytime except nighttime. But even then, he never got to talk to her, because she was so exhausted she went straight to sleep. In fact, the only time they ever talked was when she would ask him to do something and he would reply with ‘alright’ or ‘aye’, or whatever it was he was supposed to say. He knew he wasn’t imagining it – they were growing apart.
With every passing day he hated Joshua more and more, even if he saw him only forty percent of the day – ten percent at each mealtime, and ten percent whenever they would do work around the ship outside. He ate meals with the crew, and the whole time he and Hook would glare at each other. More than once, Hook found himself under the captain’s boot, being scolded for ‘not following the rules’. And Ashanti never noticed. She was always too preoccupied with the kids.
Hook was really starting to hate this lifestyle.
Presently he was being woken up by one of the kids. After making sure he was going to stay awake, the little boy went and got dressed. Hook sat up and looked around, listening to the kids talk to each other. He blinked a few times, then turned to wake up Ashanti. But she wasn’t there. He looked around, finally locating her at the end of the room, talking to the kids who were dressed already. He rubbed his head, looking around again.
“Oh, you’re up,” she said, making her way over to him, “There’s no work today.”
He looked at her. “Why not?” he asked.
“It’s Sunday,” she said, “There’s no work on Sunday.”
“Ah,” he said. Her smile faded and she looked concernedly at him.
“Something wrong?” she asked. He looked at her.
“No,” he said, forcing a smile, “Nothing’s wrong.” She smiled again.
“Alright,” she said, and stood up straight, “Come on, kids, let’s go outside.” The kids cheered and followed her out to the deck, leaving Hook in the room alone until he followed her, as well. He found them gathered around on the deck, playing duck-duck-goose. She was sitting up straight looking as eager as all of the other kids. Hook walked over to her and sat down.
“Where’s ‘captain’ Joshua?” he asked.
“How should I know?” she asked.
“Goose!” cried one of the children, tapping her on the head. She took off jogging, picking up the kid and nuzzling her face into his stomach. There was giggling everywhere. She put the boy down and walked around, tapping the kids one-by-one, saying ‘duck, duck, duck…’ until she came to Hook. She slapped him on the back of the head.
“Goose!” she yelled, and dashed to the other side of the circle. Hook reluctantly stood up, slouching. Ashanti stopped on the opposite side of the circle, smirking. “You silly goose,” she said. The kids giggled, as did she. “Play with us! I’m tired of you being so anti-social!” Hook stared at her silently. The kids all watched, eager to see what he would do.
“Fine,” he said, “You want to see me play?”
“Yes,” she said, nodding quickly, and the kids chimed in as well.
“Fine, I’ll play,” he said. He took a step towards her. She took a step, as well, smiling. He gave her an evil smirk. She giggled, as did the children. He blinked slowly, faking a run. She took off at a run towards him, stopping short when she realized he was tricking her. But it was too late. He was close enough to touch her. But that’s not what he did. Instead he tackled her to the ground. The kids cheered loudly.
“Duck-duck-death, love!” he yelled, wrestling around with her. She laughed loudly as if being tickled. And she might have been. It was hard to tell. Finally she had Hook pinned, sitting on his stomach.
“Alright, alright,” she giggled, pushing his arms down to the deck. Suddenly she stopped. He smiled at her. She stared at him. Silence took over the whole ship. She leaned forward, but he pushed his head to the deck.
“No affection, love,” he warned, “It’s the rules, you know.” She stopped, her eyes softening.
“Aye…” she said. She stood up and went to the center of the circle, sitting Indian style. “You’re it,” she said, “Choose someone to be a goose.” She gave him a sweet smile, which he forced back. He stood up and walked around the circle, tapping the kids on the shoulder in turn, saying, of course, ‘duck, duck, duck…’ until finally he decided to hit one of the kids as goose. They took off running around the deck, Hook purposely getting tagged, and switched places with Ashanti.
After they were done with that, they decided to play musical chairs. They had no music, so they had one child who didn’t want to play sing. Of course, Hook and Ashanti were the last ones standing, with one chair left. Joshua still hadn’t shown up, but they had forgotten all about him. The child sang her little sea-chantey, deciding on her own terms when she would stop, and when she did, neither Hook nor Ashanti moved. The kids, sucked into the musical action, all held their breaths. Suddenly both of the adults dashed for the chair, smashing into each other and again getting into a wrestling match. It finally ended with Hook as the winner, sitting on the chair with Ashanti on the ground, each with a few bruises.
Finally it was the end of the day. For once, Hook was exhausted. Joshua didn’t turn up for the whole day, but Hook considered that a blessing. He wearily collapsed into bed, closing his eyes. He watched Ashanti crawl into her bed and turn away from him to sleep. For a while all he did was stare at her, then he got off his bed and walked over to her, climbing on her bed. She turned and watched him, a bit concerned as to what he might do, but he just settled in beside her. She sighed, waiting for all of the kids to fall asleep. She could barely keep her eyes open herself, but she wanted to talk to Hook.
“Was today so bad?” she asked him after she was ninety percent sure the kids were asleep. He sighed.
“No,” he said finally, “I have to say it wasn’t.”
“See? You’ve just got to give these kids a chance,” she said.
“Aye,” he said, as though he hated to admit it, “I hate this all, love.”
“What?” she asked.
“I’ve barely spoken to you since we arrived on this accursed ship,” he said, putting his arms around her, “I miss you…”
She was silent. He could barely see her in the darkness. But he could feel her chest heaving up and down and her warm breath on his neck. He stroked her cheek, giving her a smile, even if she could scarcely see it.
“I wish I had a real bed,” he said, scoffing. She smiled. He felt her hands on his waist. She moved closer, nuzzling her head into his neck. He blushed.
“But at least this hammock is big enough for the both of us,” she whispered, closing her eyes. He leaned his head down so his chin rested on the top of her head.
So this was what it was like to be loved…? To have someone to snuggle up with when he was feeling lonely. Besides the rather cruel captain, Hook had actually gotten some of the things he always wanted. He had the love of Ashanti, he had the love of all these kids, even if he didn’t fully notice it. Although he didn’t know where in the world his crew was, or what had happened to them, but that didn’t bother him so much right now. There was nothing he could do about it, anyway.
He sighed and hugged her close, closing his eyes, then fell asleep.
He slept like a rock, and it was difficult for Ashanti to wake him up. “Hey!” she said, shaking him. He blinked a few times, then stared at her.
“What?” he asked.
“Morning!” she said, smiling, “You slept like a freaking… sloth, or something.”
“Well, maybe if you hadn’t kept me so warm…” he said, sitting up. She smiled.
“You’re cozy,” she said, winking. She pulled him up and towards the door. He pulled her back, into a warm embrace. “Ah!” she cried, “No affection, remember?”
“Never said we couldn’t hug,” Hook said, his voice soft. She blinked a few times, then put her arms around him.
“True,” she murmured.
He buried his face in her hair and tightened his grip. “… I miss you, love,” he said slowly, muffled by her head.
“Hm? Why?” she asked.
“We never talk,” he said, pushing her away and smiling, “These kids are always… They always want your attention.”
“Well then, play with us,” she said, “You get my attention then, don’t you?”
“But… but not that way…” he said, grimacing, “Ugh, I hate this ship. I can’t believe I’m not allowed to give you affection.”
She just stared at him.
“What?” he asked at her expression.
“Well… it’s kind of a nice change…” she murmured, scratching the back of her head.
“What are you talking about?” he asked.
“Well… you sometimes just… overdo it…” she said, smiling apologetically. His face fell.
“Oh…” he murmured. She put her hand on his face and the other interlaced with his fingers.
“But we can still talk to each other, and we’ll get off this ship sooner or later, right?” she said.
“Of course,” he said, giving her a small smile. She smiled as well. He leaned forward, and she darted away suddenly, still grasping his hand. She opened the door and walked out to the deck. He pulled away slightly, but she kept a firm grasp, giving him a cheeky smile.
“Holding hands is plenty child-friendly,” she said. He strode up beside her.
“Aye,” he said, smiling again.
Unfortunately, that ‘sooner or later’ turned out to be ‘later’. A few months later, in fact. Hook and Ashanti hadn’t succeeded in getting enough privacy to have any kind of intimate moment together, nor did the kids ever grow tired of them. Whenever Joshua and his crew would go out, Hook and Ashanti would be locked in separate rooms on the ship; somehow it didn’t matter whether kids were in the vicinity or not – they had to be ‘child-friendly’ all the time. Either way, it still didn’t seem to be too terrible… except for Hook’s increasing anger at Joshua…