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Alone and Unloved no More - Part 11

Four more!!!


Chapter 11 – A new day


            The next day, Ashanti woke up in her hammock with almost all of the kids cuddling with her. She was very, very hot, and she had to try and move out of the hammock without waking them. They stirred a bit, but they were too tired to wake fully, and just cuddled with each other instead. Most of the crew were awake and out on deck or getting ready, but a few of them were still sleeping. She stretched hugely and stared at the kids. It was kind of funny, seeing as how she had gone to sleep alone. The kids must have been scared or something. She nodded a bit and went out to the deck. Hook was lounging on the stairs, his eyes closed, laying as comfortably as he could while on a staircase. A few other pirates, including Smee, were sitting on the stairs watching the other crew do whatever they pretty much wanted. She walked over and sat on the stairs next to Smee.

            “Morning!” she said happily. Smee jumped.

            “Morning, lassie,” he said.

            “Morning,” came a chorus of pirates. She raised an eyebrow, then looked at Hook, who didn’t stir at all.

            He was sleeping.

            Ashanti kicked him in the shoulder to wake him up. He moaned, rubbed his shoulder, and rolled over, terribly uncomfortable but trying to sleep all the same. She descended the stairs and stepped over him to his front, tipping her head.

            “Mooorning,” she said, smiling brightly. He opened one of his eyes. “It’s morning,” she said.

            He groaned and sat up straight. “I can see that,” he mumbled, rubbing the back of his head. She leaned back.

            “Are we sailing today?” she asked.

            “Of course we are,” he said, blinking in the fresh sunlight. She sighed.

            “When are we setting off?” she asked. He looked around at the bored crew, then stood up.

            “Right now,” he said. He began barking orders to his crew. Ashanti stood up and flew into action.

            The next few days passed quickly, with no sign of land. Not that that was a problem quite yet, but with the edition of the hostage children it was going to be one in a few days. For the most part Ashanti was very happy, but Hook’s mood seemed to be slipping. Although somehow that didn’t surprise her. Since he had told her they would be traveling he seemed a little less bright. Ashanti was trying to figure out a way to make him feel better, but there seemed to be none, except to go back to Neverland. Ashanti cringed every time she thought about it. For some reason or another she didn’t want to go back, even if she knew the rest of the world looked the same.

            The more she thought about it, the more cornered she felt. Where else did they have to go? She sighed, perched on the balustrade at the very front of the ship and staring out to the horizon. Nowhere. They had nowhere to go. They had no objective. The only thing that had mattered to Hook when they left Neverland was killing Peter Pan (At least, as far as she knew), and now that didn’t seem like such a bad target. At least it would give her something to do. She shook her head.

            Coincidentally, as fate would have it, there came a call from the Crow’s Nest at that moment: “Land ho!”

            Ashanti looked up, then around.

            “Where to?” called Hook.

            “Straight ahead, cap’n!” called the crewman. Ashanti carefully climbed up the bowsprit to the end, clasping tightly to the hot wood. Sure enough, out on the horizon, she could barely see a speck. Surely through a telescope one could tell if it was land? She tipped her head, then slipped back down towards the ship. She stepped off of the bowsprit to the deck and made her way to the wheel, where Hook was eagerly steering toward the island. Ashanti walked up and stood next to him, shielding her eyes from the sun to her right.

            Now that she looked around, she noticed that she had never actually seen anywhere this pretty before. The sky was completely cloudless, except for two or three in the distance. The sun was shining brightly, but it wasn’t too hot. All around them was open, clear, turquoise water, completely flat in all directions, except for a few rocks speckled around. Ashanti looked over the edge and saw schools of fish, and dolphins, and she thought she might have seen a shark once. To her, it was amazing.

            “Captain,” she said, looking at him. The ship was moving at a steady pace as it clipped across the water.

            “Aye, love?” he asked.

            “Anything, captain?” she asked, “Any job needs done?” He looked up, then around.

            “No,” he said, “I don’t think so…”

            “Aye, captain!” she said blissfully, and decided to go up to the Crow’s Nest. But right as she grabbed onto the ladder, the ship stopped with a terrible, loud crashing noise. Everyone on board tumbled forward, including Hook, but luckily he had the wheel to grab onto. As soon as they could, everyone ran to the front of the ship and looked down. Hook was the first to spot it.

            “An island?” he asked.

            “What?” Ashanti cried. Everyone squinted. As Hook said, a just below the water was a white-sanded island, completely flat and hidden rather well by the water. Suddenly it became apparent to everyone that the back half of the ship was lowering into the ocean. “Ah!” Ashanti exclaimed. This seemed odd, as there was no damage on the back half of the ship, but gravity is quite strange sometimes. Hook grabbed Ashanti by the arm and ran for the crew’s sleeping quarters.

            “Help me wake up the kids!” he said urgently. She nodded. “Everyone else, get off the ship!”

            The crew didn’t need telling twice.

            Hook and Ashanti woke up all the kids and any of the crew who were still sleeping, and they all managed to get off the ship well before it disappeared under the ocean.

            “That was actually kind of weird,” Ashanti said, scratching her head as they all stood on the island watching the last of the bowsprit sink away. Hook cursed himself for not seeing it ahead of time, but decided not to blame his crew.

            “That’s… what, the third ship I’ve watched go under?” he asked himself.

            They all stood looking around for a while until suddenly a head broke the surface of the water. Hook, Ashanti, and the kids stared in disbelief.

            “Joshua?” she cried, almost accidentally stepping off the island. Sure enough, it was good old Joshua Starfield, who was blinking and spitting water around. He shook his head and swam over, climbing onto the island and collapsing. Hook and Ashanti stared at him, as the kids all watched from a few feet back.

            Finally he pushed himself up, coughed up some water, and looked up at Ashanti and Hook.

            “Ahoy, mates,” he said, smiling jovially, as if nothing at all had happened a few days earlier. Hook put his boot on Joshua’s shoulder and pushed him back into the water.

            “Goodbye,” he said angrily, watching as Joshua flailed about like a fish out of water. Or rather, like a cat who has just been put in water. Ashanti kneeled down and grabbed him under the arms, pulling him back up. Hook looked like he was about to throw up. “Don’t pull him back up!” he cried. Ashanti ignored him, dragging Joshua farther onto the island, slapping him hard across the face.

            “How the crap did you get off your ship?” she cried. He laughed, only causing him to spit up more water. He sat up straight and Ashanti stood up.

            “I’m sorry to say, but your captain, or whoever it was that tied me up, did a terrible job. As soon as your ship was turned away from me, I sidled around the mast and untied the knots! Come on, they were just double knots, like the kind children use to tie their shoes,” he said. Hook walked over and kicked Smee, who had, in fact, been the one to tie up his enemy, in the shins.

            “You idiot!” he yelled.

            “Aye, cap’n! ‘M an idiot, cap’n!” Smee said, leaning down and rubbing his legs.

            “But how did you get onto our ship?” Ashanti asked, looking back to Joshua. He stood up and adjusted his clothes, which were very dirty.

            “I swam,” he said.

            “Swam?” Hook asked, laughing in disgusted disbelief.

            “Aye, I swam,” Joshua repeated, glaring at his old crewmember, “It wasn’t that hard. After I jumped ship and hid under the water, I swam to your ship.”

            “That’s not even possible!” Ashanti said, putting her hands on her hips.

            “You think what you want, and I’ll think what I want,” Joshua said, imitating her position.

            It was silent for a few moments, then Hook suddenly noticed that everyone was looking at him. He shook his head. “What are you staring at?” he asked.

            “You’re the captain,” said Ashanti, as Joshua opened his mouth. He nodded.

            “That I am,” he said.

            “What do we do?” she asked. He looked around, then towards the sun.

            “Well… we need to find some higher ground, because the tide will be coming in, I suppose. So let’s walk that way,” – he pointed – “but be careful, as the island might end suddenly. Don’t walk off the edge, and watch where you step.” He took off past Joshua, shoving him back to the ground as he passed. Ashanti stepped over him and walked up to Hook’s side.

            “What do you want to do with Joshua?” she asked.

            He twitched. “Just leave him. He can tag along if he wants, but I’m still the captain around here,” he said. Ashanti nodded and glanced back at Joshua, who was conversing with the kids. Hook wrinkled his nose and pounded his forehead. “I can’t believe he got off his ship…” he grumbled, “I’m never letting Smee tie anyone up again.”

            She shrugged as a reply. “At least it’s still a nice day,” she said, shielding her eyes. “And the water isn’t too deep.” In fact, it was only up to her ankles.

            He scoffed, and it quickly turned into a sort of maniacal laugh. “Aye, well, it’ll get deeper. Much deeper, in fact. Probably around sunset.”

            “Oh…” she said.

            “But that’s not for a while,” he said, shrugging slightly.

            “Oh…” she said. He looked up. The island was still a tiny speck on the horizon. He shrugged.

            “Oh, who am I fooling? We’re all doomed, and you know it, Ashanti,” he said. She looked back at the pirate crew following them, then looked back to Hook, who pulled his hat to one side, keeping the sun out of his eyes.

            Joshua suddenly appeared behind them. “Alright, alright,” he said exasperatedly, “You hate me, and I hate you, but I’ve got an idea,” he said. Ashanti crossed her arms and looked at him.

            “What is it?” she asked.

            “If we wait for the tide to come in, maybe a longboat will wash up,” he said.

            “Brilliant,” Hook said sarcastically, “And apparently since you’ll still be alive, you can pull all of our dead bodies onto the boat and row to that island all the way out there!” He pointed to it.

            “That’s stupid,” Joshua said.

            “Then wh--”

            “Whoever said I was pulling your body aboard, mate?” he asked, putting his hand on Hook’s shoulder. Hook cringed.

            “That’s it!” he cried, and tackled on Joshua. The crew spent the next few minutes watching the two pirate captains beat each other up. Finally Hook had Joshua pinned, his hand on Joshua’s throat and his hook at the opposing captain’s chest.

            “Hey!” cried Ashanti.

            “Don’t interrupt me, love!” Hook yelled, dragging his hook across Joshua’s shirt. Joshua yelled out in pain. The clear water suddenly started clouding over a ghastly red colour, and that’s when Ashanti noticed it. The tide was starting to rise. It was up just above her ankles, now.

            “Hey!” she yelled again. Hook just continued dragging his weapon down Joshua’s skin. He had now formed a large ‘X’ shape across the opposing captain’s front, and it covered his whole chest, from his shoulders to his ribs. “Hey! LISTEN TO ME!!” she screamed. Hook ignored her, preparing to slit Joshua’s throat. “THE TIDE IS COMING IN!!” she screamed. Hook suddenly looked around. After some hesitation, he stood up and looked around. Joshua stood up, sopping wet. “What do we do?” she asked.

            He was silent. He clearly had no idea. “Run for it,” he suggested.

            “Sounds like a plan to me,” she said.

            “Come on, men! Hurry!” he yelled, and took off hopelessly running for the black dot on the horizon.

            It was the children, of course, who lagged first. The water was coming up to their knees, and now the pirates had to help the kids across the deepening water. Ashanti had one on her back, and Hook had the smallest on his shoulders. A few other pirates were carrying or supporting the kids as well, and Joshua had one on his shoulders and his back.

            Ashanti never figured out if that was for showing-off purposes or if he really cared that much for the kids.

            The water was rising at an alarmingly quick pace, and it was now at some of the shorter members’ (Like Ashanti) thighs. Suddenly Hook dropped off the side of the island, as well as Ashanti, and a few others, until they finally noticed they had reached the other side. Hook immediately clambered back up to the island and helped Ashanti up.

            “So what do we do now?” she asked. Joshua walked over and pulled the kids off of him, setting them on the surface of the water on their backs. They floated there.

            “Problem solved,” he said, leaning back and letting the water hold him. Ashanti and Hook stared at each other.

            “As much as I hate to admit it,” Ashanti said, “I think it’ll have to work for now.”

            “Aye,” Hook said, leaning back. Ashanti leaned back, as well. After a long while, as in, more than a half hour trying not to fall asleep, Ashanti looked around. She swam over to him and then, with some difficulty, returned to her back.

            “So what do we do now?” she asked. He sighed.

            “I have no idea,” he said. The sky was almost completely dark now, except for a faint orange sliver way out in the distance. He sighed again. “No… idea…” Ashanti got off her back and looked around. The dot on the horizon was fading quickly with the night. She blinked some sea-water off her eyelashes, then looked back at the kids, who were still trying to get the hang of it. Joshua was trying fruitlessly to tell them to ‘trust the water’. She turned her gaze to the pirates, who might have been sleeping. She didn’t know. She shuddered suddenly as the water seemed to get colder. She returned to her back.

            After a while, when the kids finally managed to get on their backs, Ashanti again got off her back and looked around for any sign of a ship. What she got instead was a thump in the back by something hard and solid, and quite heavy. She quickly swam away from it and looked at it. It was a raft. And a pretty large one, at that. It had a pole towards the front, from which a lit lantern hung. It also had a mast and sail on it, but there was no wind, so it was going nowhere. From what she could tell, there was no one on it, so she climbed aboard. Hook, hearing the splash, got off his back and looked around. She was on the raft, crawling around it. Hook swam over.

            “Where did this thing come from?” he asked.

            “I have no idea, but there’s no one on it,” she said. He got up on it and rested. Slowly, all of the crew noticed, and Joshua, who, of course, had something to say.

            “I told you people that a raft would wash up,” he said. Ashanti pushed him off the raft.

            “You said a boat would wash up,” she said. He struggled in the water for a moment before pulling himself up.

            With everyone on the raft, it was completely full to the sides, yet still somehow managed to float. Whoever was free had a kid or two on his (Or Ashanti’s) lap. There were no oars, or anything like them, so they couldn’t go anywhere. All they could do was wait. And none of them got any sleep, either. Any time one of them on the edges would drift off, they would roll forward and hit the water, thus quickly waking up and getting back on the raft. Every once in a while they started conversations, but they lasted barely a minute long.

            After a long, long, seemingly endless night, the black sky finally turned a shade lighter, and the lantern suddenly flicked off. Ashanti looked around, blinking hard and rubbing her eyes. Suddenly she noticed something. On the sides and front of the raft there was a slight rise in the water, accompanied by a splashing noise. She looked up at the lantern, which was swinging as though the raft was moving. She looked around. They were moving! Towards the little dot, as well! She grabbed onto whichever kid she had, and looked at Hook.

            “We’re moving!” she said, rather wearily. He looked down at the water.

            “Would you look at that? We are,” he said, leaning back a bit. They were steadily picking up speed, and everybody began noticing.

            “But how?” Ashanti asked.

            “The sail,” Hook said, looking up, “We’re heading to our island!” He pointed towards it. It continued picking up speed. So much so, in fact, that they had to hold onto whatever they could to not fall off. Ashanti looked over the edge, where she could see a dark shape forming. Her stomach took a lurch.

            “What’s that?” she asked cautiously. Hook looked over the edge. It was moving away from them, but it was still getting larger, and closer.

            “I… don’t know…” he said. Suddenly Ashanti could make out what it was as it moved to the surface.

            “A whale!” she cried, a note of panic in her voice.

            “Aye!” Hook said. Suddenly the whale broke the surface of the water and a fountain of water sprayed up. Ashanti ducked, but got sprayed all the same. She laughed. Hook was ducking as well. Suddenly more shapes made their way up, and broke the surface, as well. The crew got sprayed more than once by the giants on their way to the island, which was finally taking shape, and getting bigger.

            Soon enough they reached their destination, an island that looked remarkably like Neverland, yet a bit… different. When they reached the beach and got off, they pulled the raft aboard and looked around. They were on a tiny white-sand beach, and behind them was a rock wall, about four feet tall, then it was all forest. Once everyone had taken in the surroundings and regained some energy, they all walked to the rock wall. They helped the kids up the wall and then climbed up themselves. Hook put his hands on his hips.

            “I suppose we should find some food and water first,” he said. Joshua walked over to the edge of the wall and to his right. There was the location of a river flowing into the ocean. He pointed to it.

            “If we follow this upstream, we’ll probably find a waterfall, or a spring,” he said. Ashanti glanced at him, then at Hook, who nodded.

            “Aye,” he said grudgingly, “We need to find water. So let’s go. Careful where you step.” And with that, they followed the shallow river. Ashanti noticed that it was a slightly uphill walk, and that even if it was getting thicker, there wasn’t too much foliage.

            After a while they stumbled into a clearing, where they found a gigantic waterfall, which was flowing into a pool. They all looked up. The waterfall must have been fifty or sixty feet tall, and was traveling down a steep rock wall. Hook walked over to the spring and put his hand in. From what he could tell, it was very clean water. He quickly drank some, inviting his crew to do so, as well. They all drank for a while, then sat back and plotted their next course of action.

            “This place is good for a campsite, for now,” Hook said, “It’s big enough that we can all sleep here. We need to find food, and we need to explore a bit. Anyone who wants to explore this side of the river can go with me, and anyone who wants to explore that side of the river can go with…” He glanced at Joshua, then Ashanti, then Joshua again. “Joshua. Ashanti, you stay here with the kids.”

            “Aye, captain!” she said happily. She and the kids both agreed that staying here sounded a lot better than exploring for now. Hook and Joshua stood up. The crew immediately went to Hook, who had to divide them up between himself and his enemy. Joshua and his men hopped over a narrow part of the river and went on their way, and Hook went on his way, bidding Ashanti goodbye.

            Now alone with the children, Ashanti looked around. Finally she decided that they could bathe in the spring, and the waterfall would wash away the dirt. So they did. One by one they went into the spring as Ashanti cleaned their clothes in the waterfall. She went in last. By the time the crew got back the kids were all much cleaner, and the spring was quickly clean as well.

            Hook and his men were the first to get back, with their arms full of fruit. Hook dropped it on the grass, looking around. Their haul consisted of mostly mangos and bananas, and some coconuts.

            “You all took baths, I see,” he said.

            “Yes,” Ashanti said, taking the fruit down with the kids to wash it, “And I see you haven’t. This fruit is covered in dirt.”

            “Aye, well…” He rubbed the back of his head sheepishly.

            “This spring is still clean. When we bathed in here the waterfall washed all the dirt away,” she said. They walked back up to the crew and sat down.

            “Love, you can’t give them fruit!” he said, watching her hand each of the children whichever fruit they asked for. “We have to wait for the others to get back.”

            “I’m only giving the kids something to eat. You can wait if you want, but the kids have to eat first,” she said. The kids each ate slowly, probably to savor the taste of fresh food, which they hadn’t tasted in weeks. Ashanti sat down and watched them. Hook scowled and walked over to the spring, purposely falling in. He was surprised to find how dirty he had been.

            Ashanti watched him disappear beneath the surface, smiling a bit to herself. Suddenly her gaze was pulled from the water to the trees, where Joshua was emerging, holding as much fruit as he could. He glanced down at the spring, then walked over and jumped to the other side, where Ashanti was. He dropped the fruit there and sat down, immediately eating one of the clean bananas. Ashanti raised an eyebrow, then rolled her eyes. After a few more moments, Hook emerged from the water, spitting and shaking his head. He took off his coat and hat and put them on the bank, then splashed the dirty water down the river. As soon as it was clean enough, he went back under. Ashanti scoffed, as did Joshua, but they had scoffed for completely different reasons.

            She turned back to the pile of fruit, her stomach beginning to ache. She reluctantly grabbed a banana and a mango, then walked over to the edge of the spring. Hook came back up without a shirt, and he put it beside his coat. He swam back over to where Ashanti was.

            “Ahoy there, love,” he said, giving her a slight smile. Blushing, Ashanti held out the fruit.

            “Which do you want?” she asked.

            “Whichever,” he said. She tossed him the mango, which he barely managed to catch. She sat down and peeled the banana.

            “So what are we doing next?” she asked. He shrugged, his shoulders breaking the surface of the water as he did so.

            “Whatever we want. If we want we can go back to the beach and keep a lookout for a ship, or we can explore some more, or we could see what’s on the other side of this wall,” he said, pointing up to the peak. She looked up.

            “What? Is that possible?” she asked warily.

            “Aye,” he said, “I’ve climbed walls like that before. And believe it or not, this hook actually helps.”

            “Well… I suppose it would be kind of nice to see what was over there…” she said. He smiled.

            “Aye,” he said again. She set the peel on the ground beside her, licking her fingers. Hook smiled at her. She moved closer and put her toes in the water, then leaned over and put her hand in. After a moment, she leaned back. Hook, having finished his mango, disappeared under the water again. Ashanti smirked and stood up as Hook splashed out of the water and shook his head. She smiled at him, then walked back over to the kids. He shrugged and disappeared again.

            It was around sunset, and several times Joshua tried (And failed) to climb up the wall. Finally Hook scoffed. “Move out of the way,” he said, walking away from the camp a bit and grabbing a high rock with his hook. After testing it, he pulled himself up. He grabbed another one and pulled himself up. He pulled his leg up and grabbed another rock, again pulling himself up. Soon he was about ten feet up. He grabbed a rock with his hook and tested it. It crumbled and fell on his head. Ashanti gasped. “… Ow,” was all Hook said, and continued.

            “You alright, mate?” Joshua asked flatly. Hook didn’t answer. He pulled himself up to another level. He was now around twenty feet up.

            “Our cap’n can do anything!” cried one pirate.

            Joshua flinched.

            Hook allowed himself a chuckle. “You’re too kind, men,” he grunted, pulling himself up again. Ashanti shook her head.

            “You’re crazy!” Ashanti said in admiration. Hook sighed and kept going. He was around thirty feet up now.

            “Only twenty more feet, mate,” Joshua said in a low, mocking tone. Hook stopped and caught his breath for a few moments, then pulled himself up again, refusing to look down. Ashanti held her breath. A fall from that height was surely enough to kill him… It didn’t take long for him to climb up the rest of the way, and once he reached the top, he wasted no time in catching his breath. He took off his hat and dropped it down to the ground on his crew’s side. After a few moments he looked around. To his left a fifty-five foot drop to his death. To his right it was slightly uphill, as before, but the forest was much, much thicker. In front of him was a violent river, which led to the waterfall. He looked down.

            “What do you see?” Ashanti yelled. Hook shrugged.

            “Not much,” he said, “It looks pretty much the same as down there…”

            Nobody below said anything.

            “But… the forest is a lot thicker up here…” he said. He shrugged to them.

            “So you’ve discovered nothing!” Joshua said. Hook glared at him.

            “You were the one who was trying to climb up here first, you ingrate!” he called, spitting. It barely missed Joshua, who stepped away. Hook stood up.

            “How are you going to get down?” Ashanti asked. He looked around, then walked over to the waterfall, staring down it. He sighed.

            “How deep do you judge that water is?” he asked.

            “Not very deep,” Ashanti said, “Probably like… ten feet?”

            “Deep enough,” Hook said, and without waiting for anyone to say anything, jumped off the edge. Ashanti gasped.

            “Idiot!” she yelled. He hit the water on his back with a huge splash. The crew ran over, eagerly awaiting their captain. After what seemed like hours Hook splashed up about four feet away from the waterfall. The crew ran over as their captain climbed onto the bank, choking and spitting up water. He stood up. Ashanti ran over and hugged him. He shook his head, trying to get hair out of his eyes. She moved away.

            “Exciting,” he said, chuckling.

            It was late. The crew was sleeping, crowded close together. Ashanti woke up very suddenly. Nighttime on the island proved to be very nice. The moon cast a bluish glow around, and there were fireflies – something Ashanti had only seen once before in her life.

            Presently she looked around, taking a silent headcount. Everyone was there (Including Joshua), except for Hook. She stood up and walked around, whispering his name. Finally she found him on the beach, huddled up and tossing rocks into the ocean. She sighed and walked over, sitting in the sand next to him.

            “What are you doing?” she asked, thankful she didn’t have to whisper anymore.

            “I couldn’t sleep,” he said flatly, throwing another rock out to the sea. Ashanti looked around. The raft was still there, it’s strange lantern flickering in the darkness.

            “Why not?” she asked.

            He took a long pause, then threw a rock into the ocean with a great amount of force. “I was lonely,” he said softly. She tipped her head a bit.

            “Lonely? How could you be lonely with all those people around?” she asked, picking up a small, smooth stone.

            “It’s… a different kind of loneliness,” he said slowly, readjusting himself. She stared at the stone she had, at a loss for words. He threw another rock into the ocean. “It’s the kind of loneliness I felt before you came to Neverland,” he said gently.

            She looked at him. “What?” she asked, “Why are you lonely?”

            He smiled, closed his eyes, and shook his head. “I don’t know…” he muttered. As he opened his eyes the moonlight flashed against them. Those brilliant forget-me-not blues. Now that she thought about it, she hadn’t seen them red for ages. The look caught in them was one she had seen only once or twice before, and it was when he talked about Peter Pan. She blinked. He threw a rock almost directly in front of him. It hit the water with a surprisingly large splash. “I don’t know…” he grumbled, a bit louder. She put her hand on his arm, looking concernedly at him. He glanced at her.

            “Can I help?” she asked just above her breath. He sighed, then gave her a heartbroken smile, moving closer and pressing his lips against hers. He gingerly touched her back. He pulled away.

            “More than you know,” he said, resting his forehead on hers. She scanned his face, then gave a cautious smile, touching his cheek. He smiled and closed his eyes, returning his lips to hers.


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