Chapter 3 of my continuation of the fanfic set in an AU of the Author’s AU in Once Upon A Time.
Charming had his hands in Jones’s hair, getting the last of the soap worked through the mess of it, when someone knocked on his outer door.
The pirate had been bathed, in a manner of speaking, a few times since he’d been jailed, but at no point since that first time when he’d first been taken to Snow, had, as far as Charming could tell, soap been involved.
It was amazing Snow had been willing to bear the stench of him in her chambers. Although, Charming had to admit, he didn’t stink nearly as badly as he ought.
He dunked his hands in the bathwater to wash them, grabbed a towel, and strode to the door. He would not call “come in” just to have someone find him massaging the pirate’s hair.
He was unsurprised but pleased to find Dr. Talisman standing on the other side of the door, her medical bag in her hand. She was wearing a crisp, clean, white apron, so she had taken the time to change from her last patient.
“The staff tell me you have a patient for me.”
The woman was tall, nearly as imposing as Snow but for entirely different reasons. Under her apron, she was dressed in a simple gown, nothing too rich, and her sleeves, too, were covered with white linen.
Her hair — silver, like her gown — was twisted up in an elaborate chignon. Charming had heard rumors it was longer, down, than the doctor was tall.
Which had no bearing at all on this. “Come in.” He remembered when Snow’d had long hair, not down to her feet, but long.
He remembered brushing it, washing it.
He wondered when that had been.
The doctor strode in, then stopped abruptly at the edge of the tub “Ah. This is — this is the pirate?”
“Pleased to make your acquaintance, ma’am.” Jones sounded nearly insouciant. “I’d stand, but -“
“No, please stay as you are for now. Let me see. You have damage to your leg, to your chest, a black eyes, that’s not that surprising, and-“
Jones cleared his throat. “My back. Ma’am.”
“Let me see, if you can?”
He grunted softly and leaned forward. Charming left the two of them, giving them the semblance of privacy, while he went out into his antechamber. He couldn’t leave them, not when the pirate was unchained, but he could lounge in here, pretending to read a book, and stay out of their way.
He’d gotten through a chapter of pretending — the book was surprisingly engrossing — when Dr. Talisman called for him.
Jones was out of the tub and looking mostly clean, sitting on the chair with a bandage around his shackled ankle, another around the other thigh, and bandages around his whole torso.
“Now, with the poultice I’ve put on these,” the doctor told Charming, “he should be healed in a day. If you can keep him from being damaged for that long, it would be better. I will be vexed if I have to come back to repair this work. Try to keep the bandages dry and clear of agitation — put the shackle on the other ankle,” she translated, “and if he can, he should sleep on his stomach or on his left side. I’ll be back in three days to look him over, but the potion — that was a good idea.”
She patted his shoulder. Charming thought he saw something almost pleased in her expression. He wasn’t sure that was a good thing.
“I can’t promise anything on his well-being, but I’ll try.” I won’t beat him myself, he didn’t say. But I can’t stop Snow.
“I understand, of course.” The doctor bowed. “I’ll see you in three days, Lord Charming. Do try to keep him from falling down any stairs in the meantime.”
He saw the doctor out and returned to the pirate. Bathed, a towel around his hips and all those bandages on him, he looked less like a drowned rat, but he also looked far too pale.
He turned the chair — with the pirate in it — until it was facing the bed, sat on the bed, and scooped up the shackle. The state of the inside of it made him growl. The piece was rusty, corroded, and rough on the inside. His dungeon shouldn’t have things like that. They were meant to be a clean dungeon!
“Stay here,” he snarled. The pirate gulped audibly.
He stalked to the supplies he used to maintain his weapons. Some things were kept in the common armory, but again, Charming wasn’t quite just an ordinary warrior. He laid out a clean rag on his bed and then laid his files, a jar of oil and some other tools on the rag.
Hook seemed to be doing his best to move backwards without actually disobeying.
“It’s rusted,” Charming explained. He wasn’t sure what the pirate thought he was going to do, but the look on his face suggested whatever he thought would probably disobey Dr. Talisman’s rules.
Jones laughed, high-pitched, shaky and uncertain. “I’m sorry my blood rusted your shackle, your lordship.”
“No wonder your ankle’s in such bad shape.” He pulled another rag over his lap and started working the roughest file over the inside of the shackle, then a smoother one, and then a finer one. The fourth one was made of diamond and enchanted by dwarves, a gift only because he was one of Snow’s favorites.
It was like working on his weapons or, when he was particularly stressed, the garden tools (his favorite gardener liked to joke that she had the sharpest shovel in all of Misthaven.
He forgot about the pirate. He forgot about his heart, somewhere in a box. He forgot about everything but getting the shackle as smooth as possible.
He might have even forgotten Jones was there if the pirate hadn’t come down with a coughing fit just as he was rubbing the polishing cloth around the joints. He growled softly. Everyone knew not to interrupt him when he was working. Everyone but, of course, Snow.
He jerked his head up to glare at the pirate, only to find that the man had his hand over his mouth and was otherwise trying to hold absolutely still.
“Water,” he snapped at the pirate. “Pitcher, there, on the table, mug next to it. Drink as much as you need. The pitcher refills itself. Now,” he added impatiently.
The pirate damn near squeaked. He also got up, almost fell over, but got himself to the table without falling on his face.
Charming couldn’t lose himself in the work again, but he continued anyway. He’d cleaned all the rust off; now he had to oil the whole thing. Not just the hinge, which needed quite a bit of oil, but then the whole piece, inside and out, and then where the chain joined. “Surprised this didn’t rust out,” he muttered. “Leave you wearing an uncomfortable piece of jewelry and nothing else.”
“Oh, well, I was imagining eventually either the leg would fall off or the shackle would.” Jones was clutching the mug. “But I suppose you don’t want that sort of thing happening. Not as pretty.”
Charming couldn’t even blame him for the bitterness in his voice. “I don’t like prisoners rotting in my — in the palace dungeon. I want it to be clean and orderly,” he snapped. He tried to bring his attention back to the oiling. He wanted to make sure it wasn’t going to drip all over the place — there’d be no help for either of them if Jones’ shackle got oil stains on Snow’s rug — but that it wouldn’t get rusty with, say, a little more blood on it.
“I’m sure that’s quite a comfort to your prisoners, to be held in a clean-” Jones trailed off. “You know.” He sipped his water. “I take it back. It is something of a comfort, to be held in a cell with clean water and a clean bed and chamber pot. I’ve stayed in inns less clean than your dungeons down there.”
“Some of Snow’s prisoners are being held for ransom. They’re royal. They will return home — likely — and they will tell tales of Snow, who is hard but not unreasonable. That’s important. To be hard and reasonable is to be someone who can be negotiated with. To be unreasonable and cruel is to someone who has to be dealt with.”
Charming stared at Jones, willing him to understand. The pirate looked back at him and cleared his throat.
“Right,” he muttered. “Can’t have a bad reputation for your queen who tor-” He shut his mouth. Then, a moment later, tacked on sir. He sounded bitter about it, tired.
Charming didn’t blame him. He felt tired, too.
“Get a handkerchief out of the drawer in the table there, a clean one. Then come over here.”
He wanted this done with. He wanted to be able to stop thinking about the damn pirate for a minute.
The pirate moved slowly towards Charming, either because he couldn’t move faster or because Charming was glowering at him. Charming interrupted the thought and their view of each other by tossing Jones a pair of trousers.
“You can get these on yourself, right?”
The pirate smirked. “And here I thought the point was to get my pants off, your lordship.”
“Mmm. One thing at a time.”
No, that wasn’t what he wanted to say, but from the look on the pirate’s face, he had said it. “Put the pants on,” he snapped.
The pirate managed tolerably well with the trousers, leaning against the wall for parts while clearly tried to hide that fact, having more trouble getting them on than getting the fly buttoned. Well, he’d been one-handed for a while, hadn’t he? Charming imagined he’d had to adapt.
“Sit down.” He didn’t quite snap it this time. “Then give me your foot.”
Jones sat down and stared at Charming as if he’d been speaking in a foreign language.
“Give me your foot,” Charming repeated. “Put it on my leg, here.”
The pirate lifted his foot slowly — the one with the wounded ankle — his eyes on Charming’s tools.
“The other foot,” he corrected. “Come on.” Did the man, who had begged for his fist to please Snow — really think that Charming was going to file his foot off?
Very slowly, so slowly that he barely seemed to be moving, the pirate put his left foot on Charming’s lap.
“The handkerchief.” He held out a hand, feeling a little snappish. Seriously? He’d just bathed the man.
The handkerchief — good, it wasn’t one of the ones Snow had given him, just a rather plain but clean piece of linen — was handed over with possibly more caution.
“The shackle chafes,” Charming explained.
“I’ve noticed. And rusts. We discussed that.”
“We did.” He folded the handkerchief into a suitable width before wrapping it carefully around the pirate’s unwounded ankle. “The smoothing ought to help a lot. This is an extra layer of protection. Remind me, if at all possible, to take this off before we’re called before Snow again. Or you do it, you might have more time.”
“Don’t want her majesty to know that you’re being nice to me?”
“Something like that.” He didn’t have the patience to explain more. “Or you can risk her deciding she needs to remove the skin under the shackle.”
Jones had turned paler, if that was possible. “I — I’ll get it off. You sure you shouldn’t just leave it off?”
“Give it a day or two, if she doesn’t call for you before then. You’re a mess. She likes making bruises on clean skin, not beating up people half-dead.” He should know. The way she’d drawn lines of blood down his back just to hear him whimper, just to see the blood.
“Good to know you have a reason for cleaning me up.”
He looked the pirate in the eye again. “Just so we’re clear. I have one reason for everything I do: Snow wills it so.”
Even as he said it, he knew there were things he did because Snow didn’t will it but also didn’t will anything contrary to it. Riding, for one. Maintaining the dungeons as he did.
He was suddenly tired. He locked the shackle around the pirate’s ankle hurriedly. “I’m going out. If you wreck so much as one thing in here while I’m gone, I will hurt you in ways that will not ruin any of Dr. Talisman’s hard work but will still leave you wishing for another bruising. Understood?”
The pirate sketched a bow. “As you say, My Lord Charming. I shan’t move a thing.”