Chapter 10 – The Sweet Smell of Freedom
It was very early one day, but the captain had wanted to get an early start, so they were all out swabbing the decks and tending to the sails in a groggy mood. Hook and Ashanti were standing idly near the balustrade with a few of the kids with nothing to do except stare at each other. Suddenly one of the kids pulled on Ashanti’s shirt.
“Look, look, Miss Ashanti!” he cried, pointing to the water. She looked down into the murky ocean. There was something very small and shiny drifting around.
“Thank goodness!” Hook cried, “Rum!” Immediately he grabbed the nearest fishing pole and handed it to Ashanti, seeing as how it was very difficult to fish with one hand. She carefully lowered it into the water and managed to catch the rim of the bottle. She pulled it up and Hook grabbed it, examining it, disappointed. Instead of rum, it was full of sand and leaves. “What are we supposed to do now?” he asked irritably. Ashanti grabbed it and looked at it.
“My message?” she asked, mostly to herself.
“What are you talking about?” Hook asked angrily. She smiled and looked at him.
“It’s my message!” she said. She pulled out the leaves and poured out a bit of sand until she found a spare bit of parchment. Hook, who had climbed onto the balustrade with one leg on each side, leaned forward.
“A message in a bottle!” he said. She rolled her eyes and pulled out a dry, scratchy piece of wood. She handed it to Hook, smiling.
“Here,” she said in a tender voice. He stared at her.
“A piece of wood?” he asked.
“A piece of the Jolly Roger,” she said, her smile growing. He shook his head.
“I don’t get it,” he said. She backed away a bit.
“Remember when we were caught in that storm?” she asked, “The one that sunk the Jolly Roger?”
“Ugh, don’t remind me, love…” he muttered. She shrugged.
“Well, I mean, when I washed up on that island I made a message and put a few pieces of the Jolly Roger inside the bottle,” she said.
“So… what is this?” he asked, gesturing to the wood in his hand.
“A piece of the hull!” she said, and pulled out a small scrap of cloth, “And this is part of the flag.” She put it in his hand. There was a distinct mark between where the skull and crossbones had stopped and the black flag had started. He smiled.
“Aye,” he said, looking up at her, “What’s the message?” He nodded towards the bottle. She pulled it out and unfurled the parchment. All that was written on it was ‘Hello!’ in large yellow letters. “That is very uninteresting,” he pointed out.
“Well, all I had was this tiny piece of paper,” she said. He stared at it.
“What did you use to write with?” he asked. She looked up at him.
“Probably your blood,” she said, “It was on my shirt.” He smirked, then took the piece of paper from her.
“That seems kind of strange… Kind of… you know…” he said, looking at the feeble greeting on the parchment. Suddenly she grabbed it and stuffed everything back into the bottle as Joshua came over.
“Everything going okay?” he asked.
“Aye, captain,” Ashanti said, saluting so that the bottle was behind her back. Joshua smirked at her, then glared at Hook, then walked away.
“That was stupid,” Hook muttered. He sighed and turned towards the inside of the ship, squinting a bit in the sunlight. Ashanti looked around, then stared at Hook, her eyebrows drawn. She put her hand on his head, tipping it back. “… Love?” he asked. It looked as though she was concentrating. She ran her hand horizontally across his face, from his eye to his hairline. She blinked. “What is it, love?” she asked.
She was silent. What she did say finally wasn’t really of any real significance, seeing as how he was only around twenty-five-years-old. But it did point one thing out that frightened him a bit: Time was moving again. It pointed out a fact that he had never had to deal with while on Neverland, and it made him want to go back, which was very abnormal, seeing as how terrible things had happened to him on Neverland. But was taking risks such a bad price to pay to stop time? Hook didn’t think so after what she said…
“A wrinkle…” He blinked.
“What?” he asked.
“It’s a wrinkle,” she said softly. Suddenly there was Joshua’s voice, blaringly loud over the silence on deck.
“Hey, you two! Step away from each other!” he yelled. Ashanti stepped back twice – once for her, once for Hook, as he was sitting on the edge. Hook cautiously looked over the edge of the ship into the water to stare at himself, but it was too far away. Hook suddenly realized something else he hadn’t thought about for a while. Neverland seemed so far away… His past was his past, now. It felt strange to think about it now. He blinked as Ashanti leaned over as well.
“What are you thinking?” she asked, looking at him. His eyebrows were furrowed.
“Love… I suddenly realized something…” he murmured. She blinked and looked into the deep, blue water.
“Hm?” she asked.
“I want to go back to Neverland. I want my crew back. I want my Jolly Roger back…” he mumbled. She moved a bit closer, smiling optimistically at him. He looked at her. She smiled again.
“We will,” she said, “Soon.”
“Hey! You two!” Joshua yelled somewhere behind them. Hook rolled his eyes and turned around to face his captain, who was striding towards them. As soon as he saw Ashanti step away he stopped. “Stay away from each other, alright? I mean it. That’s the last warning,” he said, looking extremely serious. Hook grimaced.
“You’re all talk, mate,” he said loudly. Ashanti looked at him, worried. “If you want me to stay away from her so badly, take action.” He pulled Ashanti closer to him. She cringed.
“Wait… what?” she asked. Joshua stepped closer.
“I said step away! Get away from her!” he yelled, his voice suddenly getting much more commanding. Ashanti looked at the few kids standing next to them. They seemed to be shuddering a bit.
“Don’t you dare tell me to get away from her!” Hook yelled, lowering his head. He took a step forward. “Don’t you dare tell me what to do! Ever!” Ashanti stepped back towards the kids.
“… James…” she muttered against the urge to call him ‘captain’.
“If you’ve forgotten, James, I am the captain! You follow my orders!” Joshua yelled. Hook took another step forward.
“Shut up! You’ve crossed the line this time! Ashanti is mine, and if I want to be near her, then I’ll be near her!!” he yelled.
“James…” she said.
He just continued moving towards Joshua, who stood his ground.
“What right do you have to order me around?” Hook yelled.
“Every single one! I’m the captain!” Joshua yelled back.
“Not anymore,” Hook grumbled, moving right in front of Joshua. For a moment, Ashanti could almost see fear in her new captain’s eyes, but he quickly regained strength.
“Back away,” Joshua muttered. Hook didn’t budge. “Back away or face the cat.”
“James…” she said again.
“Not on your life, mate,” Hook said through clenched teeth.
“I said back away!” Joshua said, “Move away! Somebody get the cat!”
“I said no!” Hook yelled. The kids nearest Ashanti ran into the Captain’s Cabin to fetch the ‘cat’.
“James, just move!” she yelled.
“No!” he cried, “I’m done taking orders! I can’t take this anymore!” He grabbed Joshua by the cuff of the shirt. “I’m done with this ship!”
“We’ve got the cat, captain!” said one of the children, who didn’t look any happier than Ashanti. Joshua took it and stepped away from Hook, opening the bag it was in and pulling it out.
“The cat’s coming out of the bag, mate,” he said, “This is your last chance. Step away from me this instance, or you’ll be very, very sorry.”
“Never…” Hook said.
“James, just follow the captain’s orders, for goodness’ sake!” Ashanti screamed. Suddenly everyone froze. Hook turned around towards Ashanti, smiling apologetically.
“I’m sorry, love. It just doesn’t work that way,” he said, beginning to unbutton his shirt. “I’d rather suffer at the end of a whip then stay away from you, Ashanti. And believe it or not…” He looked up at her, pulling off his shirt completely, “I’ve had much worse injuries.” He leaned over one of the cannons. “Fire at will, captain,” he said bitterly. Joshua glanced at the whip in his hands, then to Hook, then to the kids, then to Ashanti, then smirked.
“I will, thanks,” he said. Suddenly he sent the whip crashing down on Ashanti’s shoulder, across her front, to her ribs. She was sent down to the deck, crying out in pain.
“Agh!” she cried. Hook stood up straight and stared at her. There was a short, deep gash in her front. He looked at Joshua, who looked satisfied. He ran over and grabbed his captain by the throat.
“You sick, twisted lunatic!” he screamed, shoving Joshua down onto the deck. Right as something climactic was about to happen, Ashanti spoke up.
“Stop it! STOP IT, NOW!” she shrieked. Hook shoved down onto Joshua’s throat, harder and harder, as his captain gasped for air. Ashanti staggered over to Hook and shoved him off of the captain. “I SAID STOP IT!” she screamed, as loudly as she had in quite a while, “No more violence!” Hook stared up at her, then at the gash in her shoulder.
“But… Ashanti… I--”
“No…” she muttered, “Just… stop…” She stood up and strode away below deck. Hook sat up and watched her. Suddenly there was a burning, sharp, quick pain in his back accompanied by a loud snapping noise. Then again, and again, and again, and again.
Hook hunched over onto the deck, his back viciously in pain. He could hear Joshua returning the cat to its bag without even cleaning it.
“Don’t you ever cross me like that again,” the captain snapped, and strode to his cabin. Hook groaned and pushed himself up. He walked to the door that Ashanti had disappeared through and followed her. She found her sitting in the kitchen trying to tend to her wound. After watching her struggle and cry for some time, he walked over and sat in front of her. She cringed.
“Go away,” she moaned, “I’m not in the mood for your stupid excuses right now.” She began to move away, but he grabbed her by the arm.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “I’m sorry, love.” She glared at him.
“Why didn’t you listen to me?” she asked. He sighed.
“I just…” He looked down to a dribble of blood running down her chest. “I’m sick of this… So… so… sick… I just want to be my own man again… But I want… you… I don’t want to be told what to do and when to do it. I don’t want to be told that I can’t be with you. I want to do whatever I want, whenever I want. I miss it so much,” he said. She sighed. “I don’t care anymore,” he said suddenly. She looked at him. He grabbed the bottom of her shirt and pulled it up, taking a roll of gauze off the table nearest. With some difficulty, he tore some off and helped her wrap up. “I’d rather be whipped a hundred times then be without you.” She flinched in pain as he pressed the gauze into place. He secured it there and she pulled her shirt back down. He turned around and she could see the five deep wounds on his back. She gasped and quickly grabbed the gauze, and put it on his back.
“I understand,” she said softly, “But we just have to wait. Something good is going to happen in a few days. I know it.” He turned his head a bit so he could look at her. His face broke her heart. It was one of pure brokenness, of a desperate man just wanting to hold onto his past a little bit longer.
“Ashanti…” he mumbled. She turned his head away so she could continue wrapping his back. “How can you stay so optimistic like that?”
“From things back home,” she said, “Whenever it got bad, I’d go to my mother and she’d tell me to stay optimistic because something good was going to happen sooner or later.”
“Mm…” he said. It was silent. Ashanti sighed and finished wrapping Hook’s back. But he didn’t move.
“… I miss my mother,” she said. He looked down at the bench he was sitting on.
“What’s it like?” he asked hesitantly.
“What’s what like?” she asked. He scoffed.
“Just… having a mother…” he said. After looking around the kitchen to make sure no one was there, she grabbed him under the arms and pulled him back, so that his head was in her lap. She began stroking his hair.
“It’s magnificent!” she said airily, “Whenever you’re worried… Whenever you needed someone… mother was there. Whenever something went wrong, mother was there. Mother’s the one you could go to when you got scared in the night. Mother’s the one you’d go to if you fell and scraped your knee. Mother’s the one…” She looked down at Hook, who looked up at her with a strange face. She put both of her hands on his face, looking apologetically at him. “I’m sorry…” she said. He smirked and sat up straight. Or at least, he tried to. She kept him under the arms, his back leaning comfortably against her. “I hate this, too… Just so you know,” she said. He sighed and let out a soft chuckle.
“Well, good,” he said, and sat up. After a moment, he stood up and put his hand on her head. He gave her a sweet smile and left. She followed him out to the deck and found her message in the bottle. She picked it up and looked around. Hook was at the balustrade, watching the horizon. She watched him, then stared at the bottle in her hands. She sighed and walked into their sleeping quarters. She set the bottle on their hammock and walked back out onto the deck, where Hook was beginning to climb to the Crow’s Nest. Ashanti watched him till she got dizzy from looking up, then looked towards Joshua, who was at the wheel, whistling as usual. He seemed to not notice anything other than what was in front of the ship. She walked up to him, her arms crossed.
“So…” she said, snapping him out of his trance. He looked at her.
“Ah… the little lassie is up and taken care of, I see,” he said, smirking.
“Shut up,” she muttered, “Why did you flog Hook like that? He was just defending himself.”
He glanced from the horizon to the wheel, then to Ashanti, then back around again. “Lassie… There’s something very important you need to know about this ship. And that is: it’s a pirate ship.” He went back to the wheel. She stared disbelievingly at him.
“What? That didn’t answer my question at all,” she said.
“Well then, let me rephrase that: On this pirate ship, there will be order, no matter what the consequences,” he said.
“That still didn’t answer my question!” she said, “Why did you flog him?”
“Because he broke the rules. I’m sorry, but if you find following rules hard, that’s your own problem,” he said. She sighed and gazed around the ship, then slapped him hard across the face. Immediately he grabbed her by the wrist and glared at her.
“Want to try that again?” he asked.
“Actually, yes. I think I could handle a few more whips,” she said through clenched teeth. He blinked.
“Ah, no, it wouldn’t be a whipping,” he said.
“Really? What, then?” she asked.
“Something else… Something… worse…” he said, moving very close to her and smirking. She ducked down a bit, then whipped her hand away.
“Stay away from me,” she snapped, “Don’t ever touch me again… or…”
“Or what, love?” he asked.
“… Or I’ll… slice your… hands off… or something…” she said angrily. He scoffed and shook his head.
“Very, very weak,” he said. He chuckled. At least, until she punched him so hard in the face a few of his teeth fell out. Then he stopped, of course.
“Fine, then! I might not slice your hands off, but I’ll kick you where it hurts, next time!” she yelled, and stomped away. Joshua spit out one of his teeth, watching her.
“Mental note…” he mumbled to no one, “Careful for that…”
Ashanti grabbed the first wooden wrung of the ladder that led to the Crow’s Nest, glancing at Joshua. He smirked and shrugged, and returned his gaze to the horizon. Ashanti rolled her eyes and continued up the ladder. When she got to the top she found Hook and one of the kids, Marcus, talking.
“No, no, it’s a rock,” said Marcus.
“For the last time, it’s a ship,” Hook said, sounding slightly amused.
“But it doesn’t look like it has any sails! Wouldn’t a ship have to have sails? And a mast? That thing doesn’t even look like it has any masts,” Marcus said.
“What is it’s a longboat?” Hook said.
“It’s too big to be a longboat,” Marcus said. Ashanti climbed up.
“Hello,” she said. Hook turned.
“Ahoy,” he said, smiling slightly.
“Miss Ashanti,” said Marcus, “C’mere!” She walked over and leaned over the balustrade.
“What?” she asked.
“Does that look like a rock to you, or a ship?” he asked, pointing out to a faint silhouette on the water. Ashanti squinted.
“Looks like…” She tipped her head left and right. In the faint haze it was hard to tell. “… A rock.” She nodded.
“Thank you!” Marcus said. Hook shook his head.
“No, it’s a ship,” he said, pointing to it. Ashanti smirked.
“It’s a rock,” she said. He looked at her.
“I’m the pirate captain. I know the sea,” he said, “It’s a ship.”
“It’s a rock,” she and Marcus repeated. Hook shrugged.
“Whatever you say,” he said, smirking. He went to the other side of the Crow’s Nest, leaning against the rail, watching Ashanti. She gazed at him, then to Marcus, who looked a bit confused.
“Marcus… why don’t you go down to the deck and get a snack or something?” Ashanti asked, nudging him towards the ladder. He nodded.
“Alright… sure…” he mumbled, and climbed down. Once he was down on deck, Ashanti walked over to Hook.
“Stay optimistic,” she said. He gave her a slight smile.
“I know, love. But I was thinking…” He looked down towards the deck, where a few kids were playing a game. “When we manage to get out of here… What about the kids? Do you think they’d want to come?” She looked down.
“Maybe… If they want to, they could,” she said. She sighed and looked at him, smiling slightly. He leaned forward towards her. She backed away hesitantly. “Rules, rules,” she said. He smirked.
“To Davy Jones’ locker with the rules, love,” he said. She looked worried and set her fingers on his lips.
“I’m sorry, but…” she whispered, “I don’t want to watch you get flogged.” She smiled apologetically at him, then hugged him around the neck. Hook sighed angrily. Would he ever get to kiss her again…?
His answer came late that night. He and Ashanti were just drifting into sleep when someone came barging into their room. Hook sat up, only to be thumped in the head by something or other. Ashanti sat up, as well.
“Hey, what’re you--” And she, too, was thumped in the head.
When she woke up she was tied to the mast. She felt the kids on either side of her. She shook her head.
“Wh… Where am I?” she mumbled. She looked around. Hook was nowhere in sight. Some of the other kids were yelling to be set free, and Ashanti was baffled that they were so calm. None of them seemed afraid. She looked around again. She realized that she was on a different ship, and right across from her she could see Joshua’s ship, with the captain tied to the mast. He was struggling violently and screaming angrily for freedom.
“LET ME GO!! LET ME GO NOW, AND I’LL FIGHT YOU, YOU COWARDS!!!” he screamed.
“Shut up! You’re still on your ship, aren’t you?” Ashanti yelled lazily.
Joshua suddenly burst out cackling. “You’re on the enemy ship, Ashanti!” he yelled, pointing out the very obvious. She rolled her eyes.
“I can see that…” she yelled. He just continued laughing. She sighed irritably, starting to wonder why he was on that ship and why they were on this one. Suddenly a stout, chubby pirate ran out on the deck. Ashanti could do nothing to hide the giant smile that spread across her face. “Smee!” she cried. He looked at her, smiling nervously.
“Good to see you, lassie,” he said.
“Where’s Hook?” she asked.
Before Smee could answer, there was a soft thumping noise somewhere behind them. She tried to look back, but the mast was in her way. Suddenly she saw a dark figure walk up, smirking threateningly, clad in a beautiful burgundy coat, a large hat, polished, black leather boots, and, sparkling in the moonlight, an iron hook in place of a right hand.
Ashanti smiled. “CAPTAIN!!!” she screamed triumphantly. He smiled at her.
“Thank you, love,” he said, striding over to her. She leaned forward as far as she could as he pressed his lips against hers.
“So… Why am I tied up, again?” she asked.
“It wasn’t me who tied you up. I don’t know.” He shrugged. He turned back towards Joshua’s ship. “Now that my mates have helped me out and brought me back to my ship, do you know what I’m going to do with you?”
“You’re going to fight me to the death, aren’t you?” Joshua said lazily.
Hook burst out laughing. “Wrong!” he said, “Look down!” Joshua did so. In the dim light he could see a dark line across the ship, leading to a rope, which Smee was handing to Hook. He looked around and saw that barrels were set up around him. He struggled. “If you guessed that that line you see is gunpowder, you’re correct! I’m going to blow you and your ship up to the sky!”
“Fine! Do what you want! But you ought to let the kids choose if they want to go with you!” Joshua yelled.
Immediately there were panicked cries from the kids to let them stay on Hook’s ship. Hook shrugged.
“Then I guess that means you die alone!” he said. Ashanti stared at her real captain. She didn’t know him too well, but she knew him well enough to know that dying alone was his own fear.
“I do not!” Joshua yelled, “A captain dies with his ship!” Hook smirked.
“Not me,” he muttered, “Smee!” Smee ran over.
“Yes, cap’n?” he asked.
“Get me a match,” he said. Smee pulled a match from seemingly nowhere and brushed it against the ship. Surprisingly it lit, and he handed it to Hook. “Say hi to Davy Jones for me, will you?” he asked.
“An empty favour if there ever was one!” Joshua screamed. Hook chuckled.
“I thought you’d say that,” he said. He held the rope and the match over the ship, lighting it. It traveled up the rope towards Joshua, who hid his worry quite well. As soon as he could, Hook dropped the rope in the water. He immediately ran for the wheel and began sailing away. He got barely out of range when there was a huge explosion. It rocked the boat terribly and huge wave splashed over the edge. Debris shot past them, and wind caught in the sails. Ashanti had to close her eyes because, against the dark night sky, the explosion seemed ten times brighter. She took a deep breath. Hook walked over and sliced the rope bounding her to the mast. She sighed.
“Whoo,” she mumbled. Hook, who had walked back down to them, whistled.
“That was not as small as I thought it would be,” he said, putting his hand on his hip. After staring at the large, billowing pillar of smoke for a moment, Ashanti lunged into Hook’s arms. He buried his face into shoulder. After she had moved away, Hook glanced at the kids.
“I’m going to say this for you. There aren’t as many rules on this ship as there were on Joshua’s, but you still have to follow them. Also, if you want to leave the ship, tell me and I’ll port at the next town,” he said. None of the kids spoke up. “You can go to Smee to ask about the rules. Also, he can show you around the ship. I have to steer the ship.” He walked back up to the wheel. Ashanti looked around at the sudden hustle-and-bustle around the ship, then ran up to Hook.
“Glad to be off that ship?” she asked. He laughed gruffly.
“So much more than you know, love,” he said, shaking his head. She chuckled.
“Well, I’m glad to know you’re happy,” she said in a strange tone. Hook blushed. “So, where are we headed?” she asked.
“First of all, away from here. Second of all, wherever we want,” he said. He turned the ship away from the explosion site. “I was thinking that perhaps we should go back to Neverland.”
“Seems… okay to me…” she mumbled. He glanced at her.
“Obviously it doesn’t seem okay. What’s wrong?” he asked.
“I just… kind of like seeing the world…” she said. He smiled a bit.
“But as long as we’re out of Neverland, we’ll keep aging,” he reminded her. She gave a slight shrug.
“Well… I know… but… Erm…” She shrugged again, “I don’t care…” He chuckled.
“It sounds to me like you do,” he said, setting his hand on her shoulder, “Alright, love,” he said gently, “We can keep traveling, if you want to.” She gave him a sneaky smile and sidled up to him, stroking his chin.
“I think you know what I want…” she whispered mockingly. He blushed.
“Er… I think… Uhm…” he stuttered. She moved closer and closer, then stepped away.
“I want to change out of these dirty clothes,” she said, and went down the stairs towards the Captain’s Cabin. At the last second she turned and winked at him. He blinked and took a deep breath.
“Darn that woman,” he muttered.
Ashanti came back up a few minutes later dressed in some new, clean clothes. They were very basic. Just an elbow-length cream-coloured shirt, black knee length pants, and tough leather boots. She immediately flew into action, helping the crew out with the ship, ignoring the fact that it was around two in the morning. Hook had said he wanted to get away from here, and he was the captain (Thankfully) again, so she followed his orders.
She was moderately tired by the time four o’ clock rolled around, as well as everyone else. The kids, at least, were asleep, but the crew was lagging. Hook tried to motivate them, but it did very little good. Finally he told them they could sleep, and they all eagerly went to their own quarters.
Ashanti walked up to him, smiling eagerly. She pulled his bandanna off of her head, which she had not done since she arrived on Joshua’s ship. She sighed.
“Man, it’s good to have that off…” she mumbled. He rubbed his head. She put it around his neck, smiling sweetly. “I think that I’m heading to bed, as well,” she said at length. He looked slightly disappointed, but nodded all the same.
“It’s been an eventful night,” he said. She smirked.
“Yes, it has,” she said, kissing him on the neck. He blushed again.
“I think that you’re teasing me,” he said. She tipped her head.
“Maybe I am,” she said. He chuckled nervously.
“Or maybe I’m just saying goodnight,” she said, moving a bit closer.
All he said was “Heh…” again.
Her voice lowered to a whisper. “So… goodnight,” she said, kissing his cheek. He blushed deeper.
“Uhm… Goodnight…” he mumbled. She kissed him again and walked away towards the crew’s sleeping quarters. He sighed and shook his head, as he did every so often.
“… Whoa…” he muttered, and walked to the Captain’s Cabin.