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in my own simple way, i think she wants me only. she says 'come over right away.'
but she's just not that way, her little soul is stolen. see her put on a brand new face. 

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"Wow," Emma said, deadpan, walking in and tossing her jacket and keys on the desk. "I'm impressed."

"That I'm still here?" Killian replied, leaning forward against the bars. "Why is that? You're giving me free lodging, exciting foreign food, and excellent company." He grinned at her as she rolled her eyes. "Why would I ever want to leave?"

"We have got to think of a better place to keep you," she muttered, pinching the bridge of her nose; 8:03 AM, and he'd already irritated her into a headache. That had to be a record somewhere.

"Wouldn't do you any good," he said cheerfully, and when she glanced up, he shot her another megawatt smile. "You know I'd just come back. I could weather any prison sentence in the world if it meant waking up to seeing you every morning."

She sighed and threw herself into the office chair, idly looking over a file that meant absolutely nothing except that it gave her something to do that didn't involve talking to Killian Jones. He wasn't exactly a prisoner, since he hadn't officially committed any crime (in this world) (yet), but it was the only place she could think of where she could stash a pirate without Mr. Gold hearing about it immediately.

Logically, it was a great decision. In practice, it was the worst idea she'd ever had.

"I can't fail to notice," he started, louder, forcing her attention to him, "that this is the — what are we on now, fourth? fifth? — time you've chained me, handcuffed me, or otherwise tied me up to something."

Emma glanced over the top of the file. "And?" she asked, a second before it hit her. She went ahead and covered her face with her hands.

"I just want you to know, I'm fully on-board with a little bondage, so long as you let me tie you up every now and then, too."

If she didn't counter him, he'd just keep coming up with increasingly audacious conversations engineered to piss her off. With the adage 'fight fire with fire' in mind, she quirked an eyebrow, leaned easily back in her chair, and, laughing in false mockery: "What exactly makes you think I'd agree to that? I mean, I was a bounty hunter… now I'm a sheriff. Obviously I only like men when they're in chains."

The wicked grin he gave her made her wonder if she'd made the right decision, but then yesterday, his game of verbal chicken had escalated well past the point of no return well before 9 AM; getting into a discussion about fetishes was probably the least of several evils.

"Ah, that's even better. A challenger for the position," he said, eyes the color of a mortal sin. "Care to find out who wins?"

She looked at him for a long moment, like she was seriously contemplating it, until his grin shifted into something a little more serious, but just as deadly.

"No," she replied finally, with no expression, and picked up the file again to rifle through it. He was quiet for a single second, and then he laughed.

"You'll come around," he countered, trying to save face. It seemed like, since they'd cut the deal that got him on their side, they'd fallen into an increasingly-damaging battle of wits, fueled by stubborn pride. Emma refused to be the first to back down, but she was reasonably sure that the words "restraint" and "Killian Jones" had never, ever crossed paths.

"When you finally drive me insane, maybe."

"Well, it seems I have a new goal then," he replied, just as fast, and she rolled her eyes.

Not that he made much of an effort to hide it, but at least ninety percent of Hook's pick-up lines and romantic or sexual declarations were just hot air, which was one reason she wasn't really opposed to playing chicken when it was just the two of them.

He just… didn't limit it to those times. "Anytime I'm near you is fair game, love," he'd said, after dropping a line that had forced her to explain to Henry what the word "masturbation" meant, an act she didn't think she'd ever forgive him for.

It wasn't that he couldn't be gentlemanly and tactful, it was that he turned it on and off at will, whenever he felt like it, discretion be damned. Either he suffered from severe ADHD… or he was up to something, keeping an ace of spades up his sleeve and manipulating them into giving him a royal flush.

It was the second. She was sure of it.

He'd spent who knew how many years in Neverland plotting how to kill Rumplestiltskin, and he was definitely not an idiot, and — although he did his damnedest to make her — she couldn't forget that he was a ruthless pirate with a well-deserved reputation. Emma doubted that anything or anyone was going to get in his way now, or that he considered anything sacred.

She was beginning to think she might be a chink in the armor — not because, as he claimed, he was perpetually distracted by her beauty and wit, but because he paid so much more attention to her, and went out of his way to make it seem absolutely sincere; it gave him away. Emma could see through him, which meant that she was his biggest threat. He couldn't (or maybe wouldn't) kill her outright, so he had use another method to neutralize her, and for that, seduction was probably his go-to trick.

He was good at it, but there was too much he didn't know about her to make it work. She hadn't played in a long time, but she remembered all the rules to that game; the only difference between them was that Hook had let the wound fester, while she had eventually stitched hers up and hidden the scar.

"Honestly, though," he said suddenly, interrupting the glorious silence. She checked the clock: he'd been quiet for a full ten minutes. Bad sign. "You can't stop me by keeping me locked up here."

"I never said I planned to," she replied, with false absence.

"I kept my side of the deal," he warned, and she finally looked up, examining him for a moment before getting up and walking over to the cell.

"I was wondering when you'd drop the act and get to the point," she murmured. "Tell me, how much do you know about Mr. Gold?"

"You mean Rumplestiltskin?" he shot back caustically. Emma shook her head.

"No, I mean Mr. Gold," she answered, leaning forward and dropping her voice further. "They're two completely different people — both awful people," she added quickly and honestly, "but different. The way you'd attack Rumplestiltskin is not the way you should attack Gold."

He leaned back, with a carefully careless shrug. "'m all ears."

"He owns this town," she explained. "He hardly ever uses magic to get what he wants here, he uses debts and money. The way I see it, you have two options: work out a new plan to take him on here, or go for broke and get him back to the Enchanted Forest, where you already know everything you need to but he's got all his magic."

"Exactly how would you expect me to do that?" he challenged through gritted teeth, and she shrugged.

"Honestly, I don't. It's too risky, and too far-fetched."

"And so the point of this conversation is…?" he snapped, finally losing his patience.

She checked the clock again. "The point is, I'll be going to lunch around noon, and you've been here a few days, long enough to have figured out where I keep all the files on all the shadier characters in this town, and conveniently," she added, leaning in a little closer, "you've been such a good prisoner and haven't tried to escape at all, even though it would be really easy and hardly anyone even knows you're here, so I could be forgiven for thinking it would be okay to leave you alone for a bit. After all," she went on conspiratorially, "it's not like you have anywhere to go, or any allies in this town. Understand?"

He grinned malevolently, seething into a dark chuckling. "One day, you'll have to tell me how a sheriff learned so much about being a criminal."

"Wasn't always a sheriff," she replied coolly, backing off and stalking back over to her chair. "Just because I don't do it anymore doesn't mean I've forgotten how to manipulate the system."

"Oh, do tell," he insisted, suddenly shifting from Captain Hook back into Killian Jones. It was eerie how good that facade was. She wondered which one came first.

"Why should I?" she asked, crossing her arms. He thought on that for a moment.

"You tell me how you know so much about the criminal mind," he started, and then paused, "no… you tell me how you know so much about my mind, and I'll answer any question of your choosing, in whatever degree of depth you wish."

She laughed a little. "What makes you think I know so much about your mind?"

"It takes a liar to know one," he answered, maintaining eye contact in a pointed way. "You see through my ruses, you look at me like I'm familiar. How, and why?"

"That's two questions," she countered quickly, stalling for time to think. If he was asking questions about her that openly, he was getting desperate to get her out of his way. "You only get one."

He paused, searching her face, calculating and curious and straddling the line between his two masks, before finally settling on, "Why."

She cursed internally; that was the one she'd been hoping he wouldn't say. Her answer to 'how' was all planned out — a(n incomplete) list of the subtle tells that gave away when he'd been lying — but all she had in response to 'why' was the truth.

"I… I see through you because I used to be you."

Emma meant to stop there, tried to stop there. She failed; she'd never talked about it before and probably never would again, and she was beginning to see that stories demanded to be told — that the past, left to simmer, would boil over if disturbed.

The words tasted like ash, but sparked into fire on contact with air.

"Obsessed with revenge, I mean," she went on, dropping her voice and stepping around to the other side of the desk again. "It's all you think about, isn't it? It's all you see and touch, you breathe it, you dream about it. You'll do anything, say anything, make any deal and work with anyone, if it can get you another step closer to him. Nothing is too far, nothing is too expensive. Nothing else matters. You don't even see people anymore," she added, just above a whisper, "just faces on stepping stones.

"And then it gets to the point where it's more about him than it is about — " myself  " — her," she muttered darkly, and paused, but the last words tumbled out before she could catch them, so soft that she hoped he couldn't hear them: "Do you even remember her face?"

He had leaned back from the bars again, straightened up, tensed like he was about to fight, guarded but still calculating; he was about to deny it, and badly, or he was about to get angry, and violently.

It took him a long time to answer, but when he did, it was neither: "The man you may have been in love with once," he declared, and her face must have given something away, because he stepped closer again. "It was him," he said, a little louder and a lot surer, words meant to cut but too hastily made to break skin. Before she could deny it, he headed her off with a cynical smirk that was a half-step under a snarl, "Transparency goes both ways, darling."

They both fell silent for a moment, pride making them emotionless, until something in his face shifted. "What did he do to you?" he asked softly, like he cared, probably-false empathy in the words.

She hesitated, but just for a second. "You only get one question," she replied quietly, and shut the conversation down entirely, picking up her bag and her jacket and making for the door. "You know, I feel like I need a late breakfast," she said pointedly, glancing back at him with her own mask firmly in place. "You want anything?"

"I'm all right, but thank you," he answered, still watching her like she was a puzzle that had suddenly changed into a completely different picture.

.

Hook did exactly what Emma had suggested he do, but his thoughts were slow and livid and numb and still, even though he was alone, uncomfortably exposed.

He couldn't fail to notice that she hadn't bothered to ask him anything in return.

.

He was the ultimate con artist. The only people who'd ever caught him in a lie had done so because they were lucky, or had outside information he hadn't been able to account for. No one got the upper hand against him, ever. He was transparent tono one, it was a skill he'd spent his entire life — including the time in Neverland — perfecting. She must have been cheating, she must have been some kind of seer, that was the only explanation.

.

How. He should have asked how.

He knew better than to ever ask why, reasons didn't matter, intent didn't matter, it was how he needed to know, how she did it so he could counter it. He should have asked how, why did he ask why?

.

And then to suggest that it wasn't even about Milah anymore! Who the hell did she think she was?

No, who the hell did she think he was?

She knew nothing — nothing — about him. Nothing about what he'd done, nothing about what had been done to him, nothing about what he was capable of, nothing about him at all. Nothing.

Emma knew nothing about Milah, what she had meant to him, how she had been able to cut him open with words like that and she had — or, she hadn't, not — not like that, not like Emma had, he'd been different then, easier to read and farther from the edge — he'd been — she had been able to — had been — he —

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— couldn't remember the color of her eyes.

 

 

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pull the shades, razor blades, you're so tragic. hate you so, love you more, i'm so elastic.
things you say, games you play, dirty magic…

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Emma fully expected — feared, but expected — to be called into a murder investigation within forty-eight hours of Hook's "jailbreak." That, or she just wouldn't ever see Hook again because he'd be buried somewhere or incinerated or at the bottom of the ocean or whatever Rumplestiltskin did to the bodies of people who'd pissed him off.

She didn't like thinking about it. She told herself it was because he could be a valuable ally, and she needed as many of those as she could get, and after all, he was pretty damn funny when he wasn't being an asshole (and, fine, okay, sometimes even when he was), and she didn't think he'd ever really forgiven her for the beanstalk thing and she didn't like the thought of him dying thinking she'd hated him, and sometimes when they'd been talking at the station she had thought they would have been friends, or maybe even more, in another life.

But she never got a call that someone had died, and then, suddenly, after about five days — right when she supposed it was getting time to accept the truth — he showed up at her apartment.

"You're alive," were the first words out of her mouth, and he leaned against the doorframe.

"What, thought you were finally rid of me?" he teased, looking like nothing bad had happened to him since he'd left the station. She was… relieved, and suspicious.

"I hadn't heard anything for days. I kind of assumed the worst," she replied, and after a moment of awkward silence, remembered her manners. "You wanna come in?"

"No, I was just thinking how much I enjoy chatting in doorways," he said cheekily, following her in and looking around curiously. "You live here?" he asked, disbelieving.

"Yes," she answered, hackles rising. "I live here. What, did you expect a mansion?"

"No, I expected… things. Furnishings, at least."

She rolled her eyes. "I just moved in. I'm working on it. I have enough for right now."

"You and I have very different definitions of the word 'enough,'" he remarked absently, inspecting the only picture on her mantle. "I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume your boy painted this." She glared at him until he must have felt it on the back of his neck, because he turned innocently, and then grinned.

It was like their entire last conversation simply hadn't happened. He was entirely Killian, no trace of Captain Hook.

"Yes, he did," she replied, storming over to him and snatching it out of his hand. "He made it for me."

He wouldn't stop grinning, but held up his hands (well, hand-and-hook) in supplication. "I meant no offense. It's a lovely painting, truly." He paused for comic effect, and she knew what was coming. "What, pray tell, is it?"

"It's a cake," she said quietly, and he quirked an eyebrow in amused confusion. She didn't expect him to understand — honestly, no one else had understood. The picture Henry had painted for her was a cupcake like the one she'd had when he found her, complete with its little candle, except it had three more cupcakes around it, one much tinier than the others. He wasn't much of an artist, but he'd poured a lot of time into making it for her twenty-ninth birthday, and it had made her cry. "It's — personal. It was a birthday present."

"Ah," Killian replied easily, full-on baiting her, "so you are… four years old now?"

"I am not laughing," she snapped, setting the painting back on the mantle with enough force to get her point across. The grin instantly disappeared.

"I'm sorry," he said, sounding genuinely contrite, "I'll stop."

"Thank you," she conceded, albeit through gritted teeth. She glanced at the picture one more time before turning and walking purposefully into the little kitchen. "Would you like something to drink?" she asked with forced politeness.

He clearly realized he had seriously overstepped a line. "Let me buy you one instead," he offered sincerely. "As an apology."

She hesitated, but then, her only other plans for tonight had been to sit in bed and reread the Princess Bride while contemplating the possibility of Westley being real (again), so… "Fine, okay," she replied, a little grudgingly. "Let me get a jacket."

When she came back, he was standing at the mantle, looking at the painting again, and her blood pressure shot up — but before she could snap at him, he glanced back at her. "It's your family, isn't it?" he asked, bringing her up short.

"What?"

"The four cakes," he said, gesturing to them. "One for each of you. The particularly small one gave it away, although I've never known a child who would give himself the smallest cake."

Emma couldn't help but laugh a little at that, a little amused but mostly surprised. "Henry isn't exactly… a normal kid," she admitted, walking over to the mantle. "It… Henry found me on my twenty-eighth birthday," she explained. "I was alone, and I didn't have anyone to share a real cake with, so I got myself a little cupcake and a candle and…" she trailed off for a moment before continuing quietly, "made a wish that I wouldn't be alone on my birthday."

She felt him watching her, but refused to turn and look at him.

"Well, now I feel like a terrible human being for poking fun at that," he said tightly, rubbing the back of his neck and wincing.

She paused, and then turned to him in (semi-)mock confusion. "You… don't feel like a terrible human being all the time?"

He laughed. "There's different kinds of terrible, love," he replied, leaning in closer. "Mocking an object precious to a — " he hesitated for a half-second " — friend is not the sort of terrible that I will accept being."

"Thanks," she said, watching him uncertainly, "I think." He smiled again, still looking one-hundred-percent sincere. She was starting to wonder if he'd somehow erased his memory of the hour before he left the jail; it made more sense than their current conversation.

"So," he declared, placing his hand respectfully high on her back and guiding her toward the door, "drinks."

.

The instant she walked through the door, she regretted it.

Ruby was sitting at a table in direct sight of the door and jumped up to come say hi, which, in and of itself, wouldn't have been a bad thing, but: "Emma! I didn't expect to see hello who are you?"

"Killian Jones," he replied, playing the charming gentleman card for all it was worth (naturally), complete with kissing the back of her hand; Ruby's expression made it abundantly clear that he could kiss anything else he wanted. "And who do I have the pleasure of meeting?"

"Ruby," she answered, but glanced to Emma just as Emma was turning her best eye-rolling-unamused-look at Killian, and sighed. "I'm a friend of Emma's."

"Well, that doesn't tell me much about you, does it?" he asked, the absolute picture of interest. Emma was overcome with the need to either throttle him for being such an obvious lech or grab Ruby by the shoulders and scream at her to run, as far and as fast as she could. She settled for shoving him in the shoulder.

"Don't you owe me a drink — " she started, and caught the sly smirk on his face, so she went on forcefully " — for being such an asshole earlier?"

He finally released Ruby's hand, but didn't stop smirking. "Don't worry, love, I hadn't forgotten. Any preferences?"

"Double Crown on the — " she began, but Ruby cut her off.

"No, get her a vodka martini," she said quickly, and Killian raised an eyebrow as Emma turned to her, silently demanding an explanation. "You are coming here to have drinks, not get drunk. Straight whiskey is what you drink when you want to pass out as quickly as possible. It's not a social drink."

Emma paused for a moment before saying, in her best deadpan, "You seriously underestimate my alcohol tolerance."

Killian laughed out loud. "Remind me, Emma darling, a double what on the rocks?"

"Crown," she replied, and he nodded, still grinning as he walked away. Ruby stared unashamedly.

"Where did you find him and how can I get one?"

She snorted. "Please," she snickered, "you can have him."

"Can I get that in writing?" she asked faintly, but then dropped the act and grinned. "I'm kidding," she said kindly, like it was an excuse. Emma stared at her.

"We're not — an item," she said, trying to make it clear through her tone and expression that Ruby was really crazy for thinking otherwise even though, objectively… she really wasn't. She had, after all, shown up here with an undeniably attractive man, who insisted on calling her pet names (which, she had already noticed, he did far more often when other people were around), for the explicit purpose of having him buy her a drink.

The girl… couldn't exactly be blamed for drawing that conclusion.

Ruby nodded, completely disbelieving. "Uh-huh, sure. Look, I'm not judging, this is actually a really good thing," she went on, linking arms with her and making for a semi-free table.

"How is that?" Emma asked uncertainly, and Ruby gave her a look.

"It's been a really tense time here, for everyone, but especially you," she explained, placing a hand on top of hers. "I'm worried about you. You can't keep going like this, you'll crack." She hastily started to explain at least some of the situation, but the other woman just refused to let her. "You need to vent some of this frustration and tension. That man," she added, leaning in and pointing in the vague direction of the bar, "is a really good way to do just that."

She dropped her head onto her arms; the worst part was, Ruby was entirely sincere and honestly speaking out of concern and not wrong. "Why am I friends with you?" she groaned into the table.

"Because I give fantastic advice."

"Such as what?" Killian asked, barging into the conversation without a shred of innocence but with her drink, and took the seat beside her. She didn't pick her head up.

"Such as… Emma should dye her hair red. It would be hot," Ruby said matter-of-factly, causing Emma to look up sharply, incredulous.

"Red?  Really?"

"No," Killian mused, looking at her intently and fingering a lock of hair. "Blonde suits her so well, wouldn't you agree?"

"Oh, yeah, absolutely," she agreed, with a little laugh, "but she should mix it up sometimes. Come on, you can't tell me red highlights wouldn't be killer on her."

"Can you guess what Ruby's favorite color is?" Emma asked drolly, sipping her drink and glancing at Killian.

"Green," he replied immediately. She snickered.

"Actually, it's purple," she countered, and he shook his head.

"Damn. I was really positive about that, too."

"Whatever, at least I'm consistent," Ruby said, with a smug, knowing look on her face, before making a point of glancing around the room. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I see tonight's true love at the bar."

"I don't think you can actually go home with a whole bar," Emma called after her, the best parting shot she could think of (she got flipped off in return), and used it as an excuse to look around to make sure no one was close enough to hear anything she said. When she was satisfied, turned back to Killian. "Now, what the hell is going on with you?"

As expected, he feigned ignorance. "I'm having a drink with a lovely woman and her… lively friend," he answered, and she couldn't stop herself from snorting at the way he said 'lively.' "Is something wrong with this?"

She stared at him for a moment, wondering if he would actually answer anything serious she asked him right now, or if he might have taken the conversation to a public place specifically so she wouldn't. She decided to compromise. "Where have you been?"

"Missed me, did you?" he countered, grinning and warning at the same time. She only gave it a second of thought.

"Well, you know," she replied, shrugging and taking another drink. "Henry has started to ask me about sex and I need someone to hurt for planting that seed in his head."

His reply to that was an evil laugh. "It had to come eventually, dear," he teased, leaning closer. "But if it makes you uncomfortable, I'd be glad to have that talk with him in your stead."

"I'm gonna start gagging you anytime you're in the same room as him," she said coolly. And then quickly, before he could drop another innuendo, she went on: "And leave you with Regina."

"Now you're just being cruel," he muttered.

She let the amicable silence linger, savoring her whiskey. Usually, when she drank, it wasn't the higher-priced liquor that she sprung for, so this was something of a treat for herself, and the fact that it was on Killian's dime (or, more likely, on the dime of whoever he'd stolen it from) made it all the more sweet.

"Seriously, though," she said softly. "Where were you?"

He glanced at her with that calculating look he'd worn at the station, halfway between Killian and Hook. "Why do you care, I wonder?" he countered, matching her tone.

Because she needed allies who were willing to do whatever they had to do, even if it wasn't the most morally righteous path. Because she didn't want him to die before she could explain why she'd left him with the giant. Because she wanted him to prove her wrong. Because she needed to know if she hadn't been. Because he made her life interesting. Because Henry liked him. Because he made her laugh at things she wasn't supposed to laugh at.

Because he was like something salty after being fed nothing but sweets for months. Because he was her only ally who couldn't judge her for anything she'd done in the past. Because he was her only ally who she could even tell some of the things she'd done in the past. Because she didn't like leaving dangling strings and unanswered questions lingering in her head.

Because maybe they could be friends, and maybe she still wasn't used to that word.

"I don't want you to die," she replied, like it was obvious, because it was true, if meaningless. "I was starting to get worried I'd have to dredge the creek."

"If that's all, then why does it matter where I was?" he challenged, and she almost flinched; transparency goes both ways, darling.

She took a long drink to stall for time, to come up with a decent, pride-saving reply, but nothing came. "All right, fine," she grumbled. "I was worried about you."

He smirked, shifted fully into Killian again. "And, tell me, love, exactly why is that?"

"Why did you come to my apartment?" she countered, like it was an answer, and he turned in his seat to face her.

"Do you mean to tell me we're on the same page?" he asked, implying with a grin and a tone what was written (or drawn) on said page.

"You came to my apartment because you thought one of your friends might be dead in an alley somewhere? That's very… specific," she replied, and he leaned away again, snickering.

"And that is why I like you," he declared, raising his glass in a toast she made a point of joining reluctantly. "You keep up."

"And here I was, thinking it was because I'm the only person here who'll agree to put up with you."

He paused like he was considering it, and then conceded with a shrug. "Yes, that as well."

.

They were halfway back to her apartment, pleasantly buzzed, when the thought struck her. "Hook, where are you sleeping tonight?"

"How charitable do you feel?" he asked immediately, grinning. She stared.

"I don't even have a couch yet," she replied, and he slowed down for a moment to examine her.

"You would actually let me stay the night in your apartment?" he mused, stepping closer and sliding an arm around her shoulders. "I told you you'd come around, didn't I?"

"I retract the offer," she answered dryly, trying to shrug him off her shoulder. When that failed, she shot a pointed glare at him, followed by a pointed glare at his hand. "You wanna have two hooks?" she warned, but with little venom, and in one fluid move, his hand went from one shoulder to her opposite hand, which he kissed with a wink.

"Thank you very much for the offer," he said, looking like he was trying to stop smirking, and failing badly, "but I already have lodgings. I'll keep your apartment in mind, though. I find it… interesting that the only upholstery you have is a bed, and yet you offer regardless."

"I don't have a couch, but I do have a floor," she snapped, jerking her hand away from him and stalking ahead before catching herself and pausing to let him catch up, something he took his sweet time to do.

"What, no longer storming off in a huff?" he asked with maybe-mock disappointment. "Pity. I was rather enjoying the view."

"That's why I stopped."

"Emma, my dear, you are much too tense," he said quietly, conspiratorially, walking too close to her for comfort.

"And this is where you offer to help me loosen up, isn't it?" she said, and he shrugged.

"It is something I'm good at," he confided, but they were at her apartment building, so she didn't bother to come up with a retort.

"Well, here I am," she declared, nodding back towards the building, already pulling her keys out even though her apartment was several floors up. "Thanks for the drink."

"Is that all?" he teased, and she rolled her eyes.

"I had fun," she replied grudgingly. "That's as good as it gets."

Hook smirked, a quick flash, like she'd bizarrely said exactly what he wanted her to, and dropped into a quick bow. "Until next time, milady," Killian intimated, with an almost-trademarked wicked smile, and left.

.

Emma locked her door and set her keys on the counter distantly; something didn't sit right, and she couldn't think what. The whole evening had been… odd, but in a pretty straightforward way — he was determined to act like he'd always acted around her, to fool her with his facade — right up until that last second, when it had slipped.

She didn't know how he could still think seduction could work on her, but at least it made sense.

What didn't fit: he hadn't made any kind of move on Gold, and in fact, he hadn't seemed terribly concerned with staying under the radar, either. And that something else, nagging at her thoughts like the tune of a half-forgotten song. What was it?

It wasn't adding up. He was acting like a romance novel's hero, reckless and shameless and wholly, completely focused on her — not like a man hell-bent on revenge, who would stoop to any level necessary to kill his enemy. He hadn't mentioned Rumplestiltskin once during the entire night, or anything but her, as a matter of fact — maybe that was it?

The tune wasn't right, but the real melody wouldn't come, either. She got ready for bed only half-aware, idly thinking that she'd almost like to have furniture she could stub her toe on, that would snap her out of this paranoid scrutiny of his motives. After all, he had two faces; maybe one of them really was just captivated by her?

She snorted at the thought, and crashed into bed.

.

3:47 AM; eyes open, a single bolt of electric revelation waking her up sharply.

He had never told her where he'd been the last five days, manipulating her into forgetting about it with all the flirting and the innuendo and the almost-inappropriate touches. Distractions, throwing her off and spinning her around so fast she got disoriented and — and keeping her completely in the dark, no matter how many times she tried to light it up.

What the hell was he playing at?

.

Where the hell had he been?

.

The girl from the bar the night before was working at the little diner when he came in to try whatever might pass for coffee in this world, and he was finding her rather entertaining. She kept flirting with him, but in the benign way that he flirted with most people — because it was fun to see their reactions, not because he was actually interested.

He glanced up at the sound of the bell and smiled brightly as Emma walked in, stifling a yawn and stretching in a way that told him she hadn't seen him yet. When she did notice him, she shot him a strangely annoyed look, and leaned against the other side of the bar.

"Hey Ruby," she said, a little hoarsely. "The usual, except — " she made a hand motion to say much larger.

"Sure thing," Ruby replied, with a sweet smile. Emma stayed on the other side of the bar for another moment, and then walked purposefully over to him.

"So," she started sharply, "where were you?"

Son of a bitch.

He raised an eyebrow. "I have a room at the inn, if you're so keen on seeing it."

"That isn't what I meant and you know it," she replied in a low voice.

"Why does it matter so much to you?" he asked, selling false confusion hard.

"Why won't you actually answer me?" she snapped back, a fire in her eyes that bit at his blood and deeply worried him, for entirely different reasons.

He took a deep breath. "If you must know," he answered in a low voice, looking straight into that fire, "I don't answer because I promised I wouldn't lie to you."

"And the truth is too much to ask?" she countered, stepping away from him like a surprisingly cold breeze. "For someone who keeps telling me to trust him, you're really going out of your way to be suspicious."

"Discreet is the word I would use," he disputed. "If you honestly don't know anything, you won't have to lie when the authorities ask."

"I am the authority," she challenged, and paused to take her coffee from Ruby, who looked like she wanted to stay far out of this conversation. He didn't blame her; he felt much the same way. "Thanks," she said quietly, "I'll be up to pay in a second."

"Take your time," Ruby replied quickly, backing off.

"Like I said," Emma continued, turning back to him like she hadn't been interrupted, "I am the authority, and trust me, half this town would help you skin that man alive and the other half would cheer you on."

She went silent for a moment, contemplating, until he got impatient. "Well, spit it out," he snapped, and it came out colder than he meant. She didn't flinch, which relieved and annoyed him in roughly equal measure.

"You don't have to worry about me getting in your way," she said quietly, and left before he could say anything else.

He wasn't sure if he hated how well she understood him, or if he found it refreshing; Hook couldn't manipulate her, and that had started off a nice challenge, but, while he enjoyed those, it was the succeeding part that he really loved. He was beginning to think he couldn't win this game, but he'd be damned if he let her win, either.

At least she'd dropped the question this time, rather than let him lead her around it just to turn around and ask again. Or maybe that was worse.

 

 

.

i should know better than to think i'd reach inside her. it's all a cloudy kind of daze.
she's not so sweet today; she mocks me, i'm no fighter. it all just seems like such a waste.

.

"Back again?" the barmaid said, lips twitching into a smirk. "If you keep hanging around here, I'm gonna be forced to assume you're dropping Emma for me."

He gave her a devious grin and took a seat at one of the little tables nearest the bar, lounging in the booth like it was a throne. "Lovely as you are, I'm afraid my heart is still captivated by the Lady Swan," he lied smoothly, with little intention to actually fool. "Although were it not, I assure you it would be set on you."

Ruby snorted. "You are so full of it," she accused on top of the laughing. "What can I get you?"

"Gin, in whatever form you like, and a bill of fare."

"It's 'menu' in this world," she informed him for the seventeenth time, filling a glass of ice. "Just in case you ever, you know, eat somewhere else."

"Why would I ever do such a foolish thing?" he asked, and she rolled her eyes.

He'd been haunting the diner over the last fortnight; although everyone else in the town seemed to live in the place, it was one of the rare buildings that Rumple — Gold didn't frequent. The man knew he was here, probably had since he'd left the jail, but instead of making any kind of move, he'd simply joined Hook in circling the fighting ring, never speaking to him but never taking his eyes off him either. But he wouldn't make the first move, and Hook was waiting for a certain sign before he lunged.

He was pissed off. And it had nothing to do with his hand or with Milah or even with Rumplestiltskin. And because it had nothing to do with any of them, he couldn't vent it; he could barely even focus on it.

The bell on the door rang and Emma walked in, running a hand through her hair in annoyance. "I wish it would just rain, instead of mist like this."

"Yeah, clouds, let's stop flirting and get to the good stuff," Ruby replied impishly, and Emma smirked. "Or the bad stuff, if that's what you spring for," she added, drawing a little laugh out of her friend.

"Can I just get a menu?" she asked, snickering, and leaned against the bar, finally seeing him; he could actually see the oh what the hell? in her face as she came over and took the seat opposite him. "You're getting pretty cozy in Storybrooke," she said ambiguously.

"Are you saying you want me to leave?" he challenged, fitting his best mask on to cover the spike in blood pressure her comment had caused.

She hesitated, and then shrugged. "Nah. I mean, what would this town do without its resident pirate-slash-petty-thief?"

"I'm sorry, but I don't recall you ever arresting me. Something about not having sufficient proof?" he teased smugly, sinking a little more comfortably into his seat, knot of tension in the back of his skull starting to loosen.

"Stealing nondescript clothes, that's a good one," Emma conceded. "I used to do that all the time. Weird, though, how you happened across perfectly-fitting clothes at the same time David — who, correct me if I'm wrong, is right about your size — finds several articles of clothing missing."

"Coincidence is a funny thing," he replied cheekily, and she tried to glare at him, but couldn't keep an entirely straight face.

"You're lucky you only took things he didn't really care about," she warned, crossing her arms.

"Well, a thief unable to leave would be foolish to do otherwise," he countered, smirking. He wasn't as angry when he was teasing Emma — she was a distraction and, at this point, a much-needed one — but he didn't think she quite trusted him, still. She was convinced he was running a con, manipulating her into helping him, completely unfeeling under all the charm.

She wasn't… entirely wrong. But he wasn't trying to con her — anymore, at least, since she'd said she wouldn't get between him and Gold and had apparently been sincere — and while he certainly wasn't the dashing romantic that some of the more imaginative members of the town thought he was, he honestly did enjoy her company.

She — well, she had been right at the beginning, but seemed determined to never change her opinion of him. It was a little disheartening, if he was being perfectly honest.

"I have no idea what I want to eat," she mused, resting her head on one hand and looking at the menu like it owed her money.

"I have no idea what most of these dishes entail," he said, matching her tone. She looked up, with that tiny quarter-of-a-smile on her face.

"You could ask, you know."

He wrinkled his nose. "Of course I could, were I a coward who had no sense of adventure."

It became a half-smile as she turned back to her own menu; he almost wasn't thinking about it anymore. And then the bell rang as a man darted in from the rain Emma had wanted, brushing it off his coat and looking around anxiously. His gaze stopped on them, and Killian raised an eyebrow as he walked over, tentatively, like he was coming up on a dragon.

"…Emma?" he breathed.

She froze, still and solid like a statue, color draining out of her face. Killian shifted from lounging to sitting up fully, arms crossed at the edge of the table; he knew trouble when he saw it.

"I… I found you," the man went on, like he couldn't believe it, but didn't come any closer. Slowly, Emma raised her head, and turned to look at the man in stages — eyes first, then head, then finally the rest of her body, visibly tensed either to fight or to run like hell.

"Neal," she said coldly.

The diner's activity slowly rippled to a halt as Ruby stopped to stare and the people in the booths around them started to stare and caught the attention of the rest of the room. On the other side of the diner, he saw Snow stand up hesitantly, waiting in the wings in case she was needed. It seemed like everyone else knew trouble when they saw it, too.

The man — Neal, whoever that was, although he was starting to form a guess — ran a hand over his face. "Can we talk?" he asked, and glanced around the room. "Somewhere else?"

"No," Emma replied. Neal winced.

"Please, I need to — " he implored, reaching out to touch her as she jerked away.

"I don't care," she snapped, standing sharply. "Don't touch me."

He stepped back, hands held up in supplication. "I just want to talk, please."

"No," she repeated. "I have nothing to say to you. Get out of here."

His theory gained traction — maybe I was, once — and with it, a bitter taste in his mouth — what did he do to you?

Neal looked hurt, but not surprised. Snow was on her way over, slow and wary but getting more concerned with every step, followed closely by her husband, and Hook had, almost without thinking about it, risen as well.

"Please — " Neal begged, and tried to say something else, but she cut him off.

"Get out," she snarled, voice cracking the thick air like a lightning bolt, and started to leave. Neal looked up to the ceiling, face twisting like he was holding back both a scream and a sob, and followed after her, catching her by the arm.

"Emma, I swear I loved you. I — " he started, desperate. Everyone saw it coming, just a second before she whirled around and hit him with everything she had across the jaw, hard enough to make him stagger to the floor, where he stayed, staring down at it in something like shock.

"Don't. Touch. Me," Emma hissed, and stormed out of the diner, doorbell clattering in the silence.

"Are you — okay?" Ruby asked slowly, walking around the bar as he touched his jaw gingerly and stood up on unsteady feet. She started to help him and stopped herself a couple of times, but he didn't need it anyway, gripping a bar stool and using it to support himself.

"I'm fine," he replied finally, in a thick voice. "I deserved that."

"Well…" Ruby started, but apparently didn't have anything else to say.

Snow, on the other hand, did. "Get out," she said softly, a dangerous undercurrent in her voice that probably would have made even Hook get the hell out of her way. Neal closed his eyes.

"Can you please — just tell her I'm sorry. I never meant to hurt her," he pleaded, but when Snow didn't respond, he sighed heavily and finally left the diner.

Charming, or David, or whatever they called him, stepped forward with the confusion and surprise that was on everyone else's — except his and Snow's — face. "What just happened? Who was he?"

Maybe she could tell; she glanced over to him and met his eyes, and, even though he hadn't really needed it, his theory was confirmed in her expression.

"I will explain later," Snow replied, and almost beat Killian to the door.

.

He knew where Snow would go looking for her: alleys or her apartment or an empty store — hiding places. It made sense. Emma was a very private person who had just made an unwanted, highly emotional, and extremely public scene; it wasn't unreasonable at all to think she would have gone somewhere to hide until she calmed down, and hell, maybe she had. Maybe Snow was right and knew Emma better than he did, but he doubted that.

Snow had known her longer, and was her best friend and apparently mother, and probably knew more about her than anyone else, but Snow White thought like Snow White and would look for Emma in places where Snow White thought Emma would go.

Killian went to look for her in the place he would have gone.

He tried to ask himself why he cared, just because he kind of wished he didn't already know that answer — he cared because Emma had cared when he'd disappeared, and because he was starting to think of her as an actual friend, and it had been a long time since he'd had one of those.

It was not a fun walk through the woods, in the rain and the steadily-darkening gray sunset and the sharp frost beginning to set in, but it paid off.

He heard her before he saw her; loud, chaotic thuds, wood cracking and splintering, sharp cries right before each strike. When he came up on the clearing, he saw exactly what he expected to: she had a sword, and she was mutilating a downed tree with such fervor that he could almost see the imaginary Neal that she was attacking instead.

When she paused to catch her breath, he took the chance to speak: "I could be wrong, but I don't believe trees are any more dead in tiny shards than they are all together."

She seemed to deflate as she turned around, and he gave her the benefit of the doubt, that it was just rain on her face. "Go ahead," she shouted, dropping the sword. "Gloat."

"You lost me," he said, walking into the clearing. "What exactly would I be here to gloat for?"

"I acted like I was better than you," she cried, just shy of hysterically, choking on the words, "like I was all over my — like I don't — still — still hate him like you hate Rumplest — like — like I was above you — it."

His chest hurt. "I didn't come here to gloat, Emma," he said quietly, leaning against the nearest tree to her.

"Then why are you here?" she snapped, voice breaking on the last word.

A ringing silence fell heavy in the air; the wind picked up; the rain began to ease off. He shifted and looked away, hitting the tree with the side of his fist. "I was spying on him," he started, falling back and looking anywhere but at her.

"What?" she choked.

"Where I was," he explained, "when I left the jail. I went to his home and I watched him, and when he wasn't there I broke in to see if I could figure out something — or someone — he cared about that I could kill like he did Milah."

Curiousity had calmed her some. "What did you find?" she asked in a hoarse voice, and he laughed without a shred of humor.

"What did I find?" he repeated caustically, hitting the tree again, and again, harder, hard enough to hurt. "I found that hewasn't Rumplestiltskin — not the one I knew," he added, just as she started to deny it. "You were right, my Rumplestiltskin and your Mr. Gold are two entirely different people. He's nothing like the — the thing that killed her." He had to pause to dredge the words up, acidic and hard and cold on his tongue. "I spent almost three hundred years in Neverland," he said, voice low and taut. "Three hundred years plotting how I was going to kill him and I finally get the chance and it's not even him anymore.

"Killing him wouldn't mean anything. I get to the end of this road," he declared, viciously, mirthlessly laughing, "and find that I've wasted three hundred years hunting for something that's already gone." Probably alone out of all the people he knew and had ever known (with one possible exception), Emma looked at him with empathy; no one else would have cared, or even tried to understand. "I came here because this time I've been you," he explained, and paused, shaking his head slowly, sight unseeing. "So I know it hurts like all the fire in hell."

For a long, drawn moment, she looked away and the tears in her eyes were undeniable but didn't fall. And then all of a sudden, she collapsed down onto the largest still-remaining part of the tree, with a small, choked sob and covered her face with one hand.

"He was a con artist," she said tightly. "I met him when we both stole the same car, I don't know why I thought — " she cut herself off and changed tack. "I was almost seventeen, and I'd been — I didn't have a family, or friends, or — anything," she explained catching on the words, "and then this — this man falls into my life and he cares about me and he doesn't abandon me and — and we were partners in crime, he was the con artist, a con — " she repeated, and winced, turning away.

"He was the distraction, he did all the charming and the looking-out and I was the burglar, I'd break in or slip things into my purse or sleeve or shirt — a couple of times I even faked pregnant so I'd have a place to hide everything," she said, running her hands over her face and using the nervous tic to subtly wipe tears away.

(It began to make sense, exactly why she'd left him with the giant.)

She swallowed hard. "There were — watches, this box of really high-end watches, worth twenty thousand easy. He had stolen them sometime before he met me but he — he was seen, so he'd stashed them in a train station and ran," she explained, wringing her hands like she didn't know what to do with them. "And we — we were gonna skip town and go to —" she laughed a little like he'd laughed earlier, at the cruel irony. "We were gonna go to Tallahassee, right on the beach, life of luxury. But then he found a wanted poster, for those — those stupid — those stupid watches and he said we couldn't go, he had to leave the country, he had to leave me, it would be too — I forget, too risky for both of us to cross the border, I don't know."

She covered her face with both hands. "I was — I was so in love with him," she whispered, "so I said — god, I was so stupid— "

"You were in love," he cut in, watching her carefully, "and you were young. We all do stupid things for reasons like that."

Emma laughed again, harsh and cynical and toeing the line between self-defense and self-destruction. "I told him," she declared, sounding like the mirror image of himself minutes ago, "I told him — well, they're not looking for me, I'll go get the watches and we can sell them and go to Tallahassee and change our identities and it'll be even better because we'll beso rich." Killian winced, hard. Stupid things, indeed.

"He gave me one of them," she continued, and he winced harder, turning away, "why I didn't catch on then, I don't — we had a time and a place to meet, but instead of him it was the police who came to me. He had — " she said, still with that dark laugh, "He had placed an anonymous tip that I'd be there with one of those — watches, waiting like an idiot."

She hesitated for a moment that almost went on long enough for him to think she was finished. "But you know the worst part?" she asked quietly, and didn't wait for an answer. "It wasn't that he got me sent to prison, it was that he — he had meso convinced that he loved me. I thought he was the first person in my entire life to love me, but it was just a lie."

The quiet that fell after that hit the ground like a brick. For a second, he hated someone else more than he hated Rumplestiltskin; it was the crack in her voice when she talked about love. No one deserved that, but especially not someone like Emma, who cared about people even when she swore she didn't, who had already had too much go wrong in her life to be hurt like that.

He had no illusions about himself, and he had done a lot of terrible things to people who probably or definitely hadn't deserved them, but that was a personal betrayal, the sort the deepest circle of hell was reserved for.

It was one of the very few sins he refused to commit, under any circumstance.

"You hunted for him," he prompted. "Like I did."

"Oh yeah," she replied with relish. "I was gonna make him pay — I spent about two years traveling around the country trying to find the bastard so I could — " she didn't say it, but he could guess what she had planned to do to him, and shifted accordingly. "But I never found him," she finished unnecessarily.

"Then why did you stop looking?" he asked slowly, and she finally looked up to meet his eyes, taking a deep breath.

"I woke up one morning and realized that I had wasted two years of my life hunting for someone who wasn't worth a second of my time," she explained evenly. "I thought I put it behind me then."

"I'm starting to believe there are some things that people such as you and I can't move past," he muttered, and she let out a short, breathy laugh.

"I was fine," she insisted, despite all evidence to the contrary, "but now he comes back and he has the — the nerve to say he wants to talk? And that he loved me?" she shouted, before pausing, energy draining. "And… and — not — I'm not sure I think he was lying," she said, voice dropping with every word, and they were at the heart of the matter, just like that.

Killian had let it burn him up inside only to find that the man he'd sworn to kill wasn't the man he'd hated anymore; Emma had let it fester under her skin only to find that the reason she'd hated him so much might just be wrong.

"What a pair we make, eh?" he remarked. That half-smile came back out.

"Yeah," she said quietly, "yeah, we make a hell of a team."

They both looked up as lightning flashed above them and thunder followed distressingly soon after; he winced and Emma closed her eyes, waiting for the axe to fall. It did, when the clouds burst and the rain started up again, harder than before.

It was the look on her face and the way she was nodding like naturally this would happen, that shattered the heavy atmosphere, and he tried (and failed) to stifle genuine laughter into his fist. Her eyes snapped open and she started to say something probably scolding, but instead started snickering along with him.

"I am never gonna wish for it to rain again," she grumbled, face buried in her hands.

"Look on the bright side," he said, deliberately cheerful, "you're wearing a white shirt."

"I will hurt you."

.

"You know," Emma said conversationally, walking back into town through sheets of rain, "I was in a rush to get home so I could dry off, but now I really don't see the point. It's not like we're gonna get any wetter," she grumbled.

"Well…" he drawled, smirking at her, because opportunities like that should never be passed up. She pinched the bridge of her nose.

"I walked into that."

"Yes, you did," he replied, relishing the moment. "But honestly, there are plenty of ways to be far more drenched than this. Try navigating Cannibal Cove at the height of the wet season if you don't believe me."

"Yeah, let me get right on that," she countered, sardonic, and he threw an arm around her shoulders cheekily.

"If it bothers you that much, my room at the inn is much closer than your apartment," he suggested, fully expecting a nasty (but hilarious) response, but he had apparently underestimated how frustrated and cold she was.

"Seriously?" she asked incredulously, raising her voice against the storm. "Why didn't you say anything earlier?"

He paused, surprised, but adapted quickly, leaning in a little closer. "To be perfectly honest, I thought you would hit me for the suggestion."

"Not when it's this cold."

He watched her out of the corner of his eye; she gave herself away with subtle, compulsive glances around the streets as they walked. It wasn't about the cold, or the rain, or even about him, probably; she was trying to avoid Neal, both physically and mentally — to use this excuse, and maybe even use him if she dared, to scour the emotion from her skin.

It didn't bother him. She wasn't the only one who wanted to escape tonight.

The front desk of the inn was empty when they walked in, and Emma fell against the door heavily. "Finally," she sighed, shivering harder, and looking around. "Oh, god, what if they're organizing a search party?" she groaned, louder, which apparently got the attention of someone in the back room — Ruby.

"Emma!" she cried, coming around the desk and giving her a big hug in spite of the rainwater. "You're okay! What happened? Where were you? Snow is freaking out."

She hesitated. "I just — had to get out of town for a bit, I guess I lost track of time. Killian found me and dragged me back here."

"It was the least I could do," he said lightly, and Ruby turned to him, grateful.

"It's a good thing he found you when he did," she gushed, stepping back and glancing at Emma with a badly-suppressed but fond smile, "even though you didn't quite beat the rain. It's supposed to get a lot worse. We need to catch them before they run off into the night to find you." But then Ruby looked her over and glanced back to him, and it clicked, visibly. "Actually, I will," she said seriously. Emma watched her warily for a moment and then glanced back to him like Ruby had. He shrugged, playing dumb.

"No, I should — " Emma started, but she couldn't keep the exhaustion out of her voice, and Ruby cut her off.

"No, will," she repeated. "It's a long walk to the apartments and you've already been out in the rain for a long time. You need a hot shower and a bed, a-s-a-p. Just let me get you a change of clothes, okay?"

When she had disappeared, Emma turned back to him, but he didn't let her ask any questions. "It is a long walk to your apartment, darling," he said conspiratorially. "And it is exceptionally cold and wet out there, recall the reasons you insisted upon coming here?"

She was still looking at him suspiciously when Ruby returned with an armful of clothes. "This is a change of clothes?" Emma asked incredulously.

"I know it looks like a lot, but it isn't. It's just a towel, a nightshirt, and something to throw on tomorrow morning," she replied, ticking them off as she handed them over to Emma, who inspected them and looked up to scold her for something, but Ruby shoved on before she could, already halfway to the door. "Now, I'm gone. Sleep tight!"

For a moment, she glared at the door while he tried, with increasingly dismal results, to keep from laughing outright at her, which failed entirely when she turned to glare at him. "I like her, she's entertaining," he declared, and she rolled her eyes.

"I don't care anymore, I just want to get out of these clothes and so help me if you crack a joke at that…"

"I have no idea what joke you might be referring to," he lied airily, leading the (dripping) way up the stairs. "It is terribly cold in such wet clothing."

She tossed the clothes on a chair when she walked into the room, and glanced at him with a smirk at the state of it. "I never would've pegged you for a neat freak," she remarked, quirking an eyebrow, and he pretended to think hard on that for a second

"Really? You never would have guessed? Tell me, how many pirates do you know who have all of their teeth, wear complete sets of clothing, and don't smell like dead fish?" he countered incredulously, indicating to himself, and she gave him about three-quarters of a real smile.

"I don't know any other pirates, but that's a good point," she conceded, picking up the towel Ruby had given her, followed by what he guessed was intended to be the 'nightshirt' (and the obvious source of Emma's glare at Ruby when she'd left). For a moment, he indulged in the hope that she'd actually wear it, but of course she tossed it aside and instead took one of the shirts he'd stolen from David. "You don't mind if I shower, right? I don't think anyone actually asked."

"Yes, I mind very much," he replied immediately. "I have a policy, if there's a naked woman in my quarters, I have to be in the same room."

She gave him her unamused glare, and he gave her a winning grin in response. "Too bad for you, then, but I'm a rulebreaker," she said, walking into the bath and locking the door behind her.

.

She came out of the shower surprisingly quickly, still drying her hair, and ignored him — which, honestly, was quite all right with him, because the shirt left all of her legs exposed — to look out the window. "It's still pouring," she muttered.

"How disappointing," he replied lightly, grabbing a towel and a pair of pants for himself, "you have to stay for a bit in a warm, well-furnished room with an attractive man — " she shot him a dirty look " — instead of going to your apartment alone."

"It must be so difficult to live blinded by all that ego," she quipped, crossing her arms.

"It is a heavy burden," he countered, walking into the bath and leaving the door unlocked.

There were a lot of quirks in this world that he found distasteful or bizarre or downright incomprehensible, but the concept of the shower made every negative thing disappear; when (if?) he got home, he would work on finding a way to install one on his ship, and damn the cost.

If Neal was still in town — and he was almost positive he was — he would be at the bar, drinking off the memory of the diner.

Emma might be making noise about going home tonight, but she was already dressed for bed and seemed to have little intention of leaving, considering she was wearing one of his stolen shirts to sleep in — if she honestly planned to go home, she would have changed into the real clothes Ruby had given her.

She'd had a long day; when she fell asleep, she wouldn't be likely to wake up easy.

The bar was open until two hours past midnight, still a long way off.

Emma was still at the window, or back at the window, when he walked in, and her glance lingered on him too long for her to pretend she wasn't staring. "Like what you see?" he asked, smiling, and she made a show of feigning disinterest.

"Pretty obvious move there," she said sardonically. "Don't bother with a shirt or toweling off? Subtle."

"Pretty obvious move there," he shot back, crossing his arms and leaning against the door. "Take one of my shirts but conveniently neglect to pick up a pair of trousers from the stack next to them. Subtle."

She glanced back at the bureau, holding up a finger. "I didn't see those," she insisted. He waited for a long moment before going in for the kill.

"I can't fail to notice that you're not taking advantage of this revelation."

She looked back out the window purposefully. "I think the rain is letting up," she pointed out hastily (and, judging by the noise, untruthfully).

"Is it?" he asked, like that was terribly interesting.

"Yes," she replied, "so I can…" she trailed off and shook her head. "Oh for the love of — who do I think I'm kidding?" she asked herself, looking over at him again. He raised an eyebrow, waiting for her to make the first move.

"Not me," he answered honestly, with false sympathy, as she walked over, "but don't feel bad, I am good at — "

"Just shut up," she snapped, and kissed him.

.

Killian kissed her neck, right where it met the shoulder, and waited; she was asleep. He ran his fingers lightly over her arm, lingering for just a moment before slipping out of the bed and getting dressed in his clothes.

.

Neal was sitting alone in the darkest corner of the bar, exactly where he thought he'd be, nursing something on the rocks, far away from the door and the light and anyone who might have witnessed the scene in the diner. Hook waited for him to drain the last of his drink before walking over and sitting forcefully and cheerfully in the seat opposite him, leaning forward on his right arm, leaving the left hidden.

"It's Neal, yes?" he asked conversationally.

Neal looked at him warily for a long moment, then nodded slowly. "Yes, I'm Neal. Neal Cassidy," he answered through gritted teeth, hesitant and a little sour.

"Killian Jones," he replied, and held out his hand to shake, which the man stared at like it was covered in poison. "Now don't be rude," he added in a low, compelling voice. Neal shook his hand tentatively for a single second, then pulled away and sat as far back in his seat as he could; if he'd been uncertain moments before, now he knew he was on dangerous ground.

"You were at the diner with Emma," he said, eyeing him over in precisely the same way every other man who'd found their lovers or wives cozying up to him did. "What are you, some kind of pirate?" he asked, trying to regain his footing and some control of the situation with an attempt at lighthearted mockery.

Hook shifted again into the cheerful facade. "What gave it away? It was the earring, wasn't it? It's always the earring."

"Can I ask what you're doing here?"

"In good time," he replied, still friendly and likable. "Let me buy you a drink."

"Thanks," Neal answered, without thanking him at all, "but I was just about to go to bed."

"Ah, my timing is lamentable," Hook said easily, dramatically. "Then allow me to make this brief: Emma does not want you here."

Neal slowly rubbed his jaw, where a nasty bruise was beginning to form. It was a wonder she hadn't broken it. "I'm aware, thanks for the heads up," he snapped, but then the sarcasm dropped into melancholy, "but I'm not going. Not until — I need her to forgive me."

"If you plan to stay until she forgives you, boy, I'd suggest you begin by finding the fountain of youth," he answered coldly, and with more than a little satisfaction. Neal didn't seem to find it any more offensive than anything else about him.

"She has — I need her to understand, I did what I thought was right," he pleaded, like that could ever be enough.

"Intent is meaningless," Hook spat. "The only important fact is that you had her sent to prison for your crime. Seventeen-year-old girls don't generally have an easy time in prisons," he added, striking at the artery like a snake; Neal flinched as though he'd been physically hit. Neither of them knew if the implication was true, or anything about how her stay in prison actually went — but it was possible, and that was all that mattered.

"I know," he said softly, eyes closed, head in his hands. "I thought — I was told — that I had… I just need her to know that I never meant — I did love her, I — I do — "

"You're a bit late," he snarled. "If you loved her like you say, you wouldn't have thrown her to the wolves, for any reason," he hissed, leaning further in as Neal leaned further away. "You have no right to tell such a lie."

This man chose to break Emma, to betray the woman who loved him and whom he claimed to love; he didn't deserve even the chance for forgiveness.

"Is that all you came here to say?" Neal snapped, looking viciously angry and deeply wounded at the same time. "Thank you for the insight, but this has nothing to do with — "

"You may have noticed," he cut in, dropping the temperature to match Neal's, "or you may have been told, that this town is full of storybook characters."

"Yeah, that's what everyone tells me," he replied, half-desperate, crossing his arms. "I don't know if I can believe that."

"Well, luckily for you," Hook said sardonically, bringing his left arm up to the table, "it doesn't matter to me whether you believe it or not."

Neal stared, and then laughed a little, like he wasn't sure how to react. "You're supposed to be Captain Hook? Like in Peter Pan? That's the most ridi — "

"You're focusing on the wrong detail of this conversation," Hook interrupted matter-of-factly, and Neal sat farther back in his seat again. "The point is not that you've read stories about a foolish pirate with a hook for a hand, the point is that I have an extremely sharp hook for a hand, and the proclivity to use it on men who have hurt people I care for."

Neal went silent and still, eyes locked on the hook resting malevolently on the table between them, so he went on, articulating carefully, so that every word would sink in: "Now, my understanding is that Emma wants you to leave immediately, but I would prefer you stay here tonight, lying in bed, thinking… intensely on the words gutted like a fish."

He didn't expect a response, but didn't wait for one either. "Have a good evening, Neal Cassidy," Captain Hook said with a slight bow, and left.

 

.

 

pull the shades, razor blades, you're so tragic.
hate you so, love you more, i'm so elastic.

.

Emma left before he woke up — or at least, she assumed he was still asleep because he didn't so much as move while she slipped out of bed — she noticed that he hadn't wrapped himself around her like a lot of them did; it seemed to be something else they had in common, the need to touch but refusal to hold — dressed, picked up her still-damp clothes, and snuck out like a ghost.

It was barely dawn, gray and cold and misting just enough to be really uncomfortable, and the walk back to her apartment seemed longer than she remembered it.

She felt like she should regret the night before, but… didn't. She'd had a good reason to be there, or at least a good excuse, and her gut said he'd probably had similar motives: it wasn't really about her, like it wasn't really about him. It was all about forgetting.

And anyway, he hadn't been lying when he'd said he was good at relieving tension.

So there was that.

She almost went straight up to her own apartment, but hesitated on the stairs and ended up knocking on her mother's door; even though Ruby had surely told her not to worry, she needed to talk to her anyway. To reassure her, and to explain at least part of why she'd hit Neal.

The door opened almost immediately, and Snow heaved a huge sigh of relief as she jerked Emma into a tight hug. It looked like she'd barely slept.

"I'm sorry," her mother said, stepping back, leaving Emma confused for a second, "I should have stepped in earlier, but I —"

"It's fine," she replied, letting Snow pull her into the apartment that still felt like home. "If anything, I should be sorry, I meant to come back last night but it was so — "

"No," Snow countered firmly. "I'm glad you stayed with Ruby — " Emma made a mental note to thank the hell out of the girl later " — with how hard it was raining, and how cold it was out there, it really wasn't safe and why were you in the woods?"

She winced, sitting at the kitchen island and stretching over it. "Have you made any coffee?" she asked tightly.

"Yes, but I didn't make a big pot. Let me do that."

"I can — " she started, but Snow shot her that the queen is not amused look, and Emma wondered briefly if facial expressions could be inherited. She didn't say anything else until the coffee started brewing; with a worried glance around, she leaned forward a little further and whispered, "Is Henry here, and is anyone else awake?"

"Yes, and no," Snow said, and held eye contact for a second. "Wanna take the coffee up to your apartment?" she offered, but didn't really have to ask; Emma nodded anyway, trying to decide exactly how much explaining she planned to do.

She couldn't tell her everything, and even if she'd still thought of her as Mary Margaret, she wouldn't have been able to. There was too much that she was too ashamed of to admit to almost anyone, mostly about her livid hunt for Neal, and it would break her mother's heart (even more) to hear the exact reason she'd been so much more hurt by what he'd done than another person would have.

(She told herself that Killian had caught her at just the right moment to get the whole, nasty thing out of her, and maybe that was almost the truth.)

They took their coffees upstairs a couple of floors and down a couple of halls to Emma's still-sparse apartment. She'd invested in a set of chairs and a good crop of kitchen appliances (but still no coffeemaker, which was sort of intentional) and even a couple of paintings and trinkets, but it was still pretty depressingly empty. She had the money to buy more, but she was saving up for something in particular, something she hadn't told anyone else about, which would cost a pretty penny.

Snow looked around when she walked in, and Emma pretended not to see the sympathetic glance she gave her at the starkness. It didn't look, and it didn't feel, like a home, but she'd gotten so uncomfortable with the thought of staying at her parents' apartment that she'd moved out the day after they'd solved all the mess from the Enchanted Forest. Neither of them had liked it, but it had been pretty crowded, especially since Henry was almost constantly there and it had originally been meant for one.

"I like that painting," she commented with false cheer and badly-hidden impatience.

"Thanks," Emma replied. "Belle gave that to me, said she'd found it in a back room and thought it would look good on my wall. I didn't ask what back room," she added, a little defensively. "What I don't know can't hurt me."

Snow laughed a little, sitting at the island like Emma had and watching her intently.

She stared into her coffee; something inside refused to let her look her mother in the eye. "You already know who he was," she sighed, and Snow nodded.

"I'm almost positive."

"You're right," she said evenly. "Neal is Henry's father, and I don't want either of them to meet each other. It would be bad for everyone."

"I… understand," Snow conceded slowly, hesitantly, "but that does seem kind of… dishonest."

Emma didn't comment on that. "And you know I had Henry in jail, and I went there because of his father," she went on, vaguely hoping that she could pretend there was nothing about the story her mother didn't know. She nodded again, and Emma went for the plunge. "I… had helped him pick up a box of watches he'd stolen a while before, that were supposed to be worth a lot, but when I got it for him, he went to sell them and instead told the police where I'd be and that I'd have one on me." It took a moment for it to sink in, but when it did, it crossed visibly over her mother's face.

"He told the police where to find you?" Snow cried incredulously, rising from her seat in secondhand fury. "I thought — I thought he'd just… left you at the scene of a crime or something, but he actually — "

"Yeah," she said, sighing and taking a big, scalding gulp of coffee. "I had been with him for a while, and I was in love with him, so it was… especially painful. But I hadn't seen him since then," she continued quickly, like that made it better, "and I had gotten over it… or I thought I had."

"That — that asshole," her mother snarled, and Emma flinched at the force behind the word more than the fact that she'd actually cursed. "He knew you were in love with him?" she asked, without any question, and went on before she could even start to respond. "And he still sold you out to the police? And — " she added, with an unholy anger, like it was just occurring to her, "he comes here to apologize?"

"Hence… why I punched him," she replied hesitantly; she had honestly never seen the woman so infuriated before. "And I went to the woods because I had to get out, just — just get away. Somewhere no one would hear me or… get hurt."

The anger in Snow's face slowly drained out into anguish. "I am so sorry," she whispered. "You never should have gone through that, ever."

She sighed, and shrugged a little. "It's in the past. Or… was."

"I am going to hit him so many times…" she muttered, and Emma almost laughed.

"Don't. It won't change anything."

"Oh yes it will," she countered firmly, voice quavering and tears in her eyes. "He'll be in pain."

"He isn't worth it," she insisted. "I just want him to leave, that's all." When her mother started to say something more, she added softly , closing her eyes, "Please."

Snow was quiet for a moment, and then asked, a little petulantly, "Can I at least put the fear of me into him?"

She actually laughed a bit at that. "If he's still around, and you see him again, sure."

.

He was there, the living embodiment of awkward, when she stopped by the diner to pick up lunch, and she almost expected him to be angry, but all he did was salute at her and smile.

"Oh, don't let me forget," Emma said suddenly, as Ruby walked back from putting her order in, "your clothes are still at my apartment."

"Cool," she answered, leaning on the bar, "I'll pick them up after I get off work." The look in her face added on the rest of the sentence: and you are going to tell me everything.

"Okay," she replied, "If I'm not there, check downstairs."

"Sounds good," Ruby agreed, very pointedly.

Emma was reasonably sure that sitting next to Killian and chatting about the weather would be less awkward.

She put it off for about a minute, but it really was the most uncomfortable experience in the world, standing at the bar on the opposite side of her most recent one-night-stand — she'd known she couldn't avoid him forever, but she had thought a day or so wouldn't be unforgivable; with a tiny sigh, she gave in and walked over to sit next to him until the food came out.

"Are you not hungry?" she asked, to break the ice, glancing at his nearly untouched plate.

"I find it's not my favorite," he replied, wincing.

"What is that, a BLT?" She looked at it, and then back at him. "I could've guessed that wouldn't be your thing."

"It sounded interesting. I seem to have misunderstood the concept of bacon," he explained matter-of-factly, and then shrugged. "But such is life. It isn't an adventure if there isn't any chance of it going horribly wrong."

"That is true," she agreed, surprised by how quickly the awkward atmosphere had disappeared. Of course, he had to ruin that.

"Feeling any better today?" he asked cheerfully.

She paused, mostly for effect. "The smug look on your face compels me to say no," she replied dryly, but it just made him grin.

"Which is simply an innovative way to say yes," he teased as he stood up to leave, leaning in a little closer. "Don't be shy, love. Anytime," he whispered, with a wink, and headed for the door.

She laughed out loud, once, and called after him in amused shock, "Arrogant much?"

He turned around with that infuriating smirk on his face. "I prefer the term self-aware," he quipped, and left before she could reply.

"I have no idea what to do about that man," she grumbled as Ruby brought her lunch.

"Tear his pants off with your teeth," she replied immediately, straight-faced. Emma stared at her for a moment, outwardly unamused.

"You're not helping."

"Didn't think I was."

.

Neal caught her halfway back to the station, and she almost screamed. "Today was going so well, too," she growled, and he held up his hands as if to stop her without touching her.

"Please, this doesn't have anything to do with — us," he started, looking desperate and kind of worried.

"Neal, why are you still here?"

"Look, I will leave, as soon as I'm finished talking, if you just listen to me." The fervent way he said it made her hesitate; he was talking in that I have to leave the country tone, a half-step under panic.

"Okay," she replied, crossing her arms. "Talk."

"That — that — that man you were at the diner with, the one with the — the," he held up his left hand, apparently unwilling to say the word.

"Hook?" she supplied impatiently. Neal winced.

"Yeah, him," he said quickly, "listen, he's — he's dangerous. I mean — he's psychotic. I don't want — I don't think you're safe around him." He sounded completely sincere, and completely terrified for her.

"Yes, Neal, I know," she sighed, running a hand over her face, but then the thought struck her — when had Neal and Hook actually spoken? "I know exactly what kind of person he is, and I can take care of myself."

"No, he — he threatened me," he insisted, and Emma tilted her head.

"With what? And when?" she asked slowly.

"Late last night," Neal replied, "with the — the hook."

"Hmm," she said, not really sure what she was feeling at the moment. A lot annoyed, a little offended — late last night,seriously? — kind of disappointed, a bit sheepish because she shouldn't have thought he'd somehow changed his entire personality even though she hadn't seen the other side in a while, curious, vindicated, cruelly satisfied, horrified, guilty. She almost asked exactly what he'd threatened to do, but decided against it.

"Listen, Emma," Neal implored, "I know you hate me, you have every right to hate me, and you don't believe — anything I've said, but please. I — I do care, and I've been worried as hell for the past — eleven years, and you know, I'm kinda happy that you hit me," he admitted, and she raised an eyebrow; half his jaw was dark purple and her own knuckles were bruised, "because it meant you were okay, you — you were okay," he repeated, like there was more he wanted to say but wouldn't. "But this guy — it's not safe, you're not safe."

Goddammit. He wasn't lying. It almost made her want to hit him harder.

"Thank you," she conceded reluctantly, "for telling me, and for being concerned. But I fight my own battles. And I'm not blind. I know him, and I know what he's capable of," she added in a low voice, and then, meaningfully: "It's not like he's the first criminal I've been involved with."

He didn't look satisfied, just more worried. "I really don't like it."

"You really don't have a say," she snapped, a little colder than she should have, but he'd ripped this wound open again and it hurt almost like it was fresh. He looked away.

"Do you at least believe me when I say I loved you?" he asked in a low voice. She stared at him for a long, sharp moment, and almost said yes as he closed his eyes tightly like he was in pain; but then he started talking again, "Please, that's all I need, just — I loved you, I wanted to go to Tallahassee, but I was told — I couldn't, I had to — I had to leave you."

"Then why didn't you just leave me?" she countered, a venomous whisper. "Why did you go to the police?"

He hesitated for a long moment, staring at the pavement. "So you wouldn't follow me," he replied hollowly, slowly, shamefully, finally; the one question he'd clearly been hoping she wouldn't ask. Emma waited for him to say something else, something that would neutralize that sentence and maybe stitch the wound over again instead of cut it deeper, but he didn't, and it turned her stomach.

"I almost believed you," she answered, whisper more hollow than harsh. "Get away from me."

She ignored the tears on his face as she left him behind.

It was only fair.

.

After she got off work, she didn't go back into the woods. She went to the bar and ordered a drink to make her pass out as quickly as possible.

.

He hadn't seen her yet, and she wasn't sure how long he'd been sitting there; the only reason she noticed him at all was that a few people between them had left and she could actually see the rest of the bar for a second.

She wasn't quite drunk enough to have this conversation, but not quite sober enough to stop herself from doing it anyway, and so she slammed her empty glass down beside him so hard he jumped. For a moment they stared at each other, Emma trying to pin down exactly what she needed to say and Killian confused as hell at the look on her face.

Finally, she landed on something decent: "So, what did you threaten to do to Neal? Also, hunting him down 'late last night'? Really?"

Comprehension dawned on his face, followed by a total lack of contrition. "First, you were dead asleep, and he deserved it. Second, I didn't threaten him, I only suggested that he think carefully about some of the things he had said."

"What things?"

"His… intentions for being here, and that he would not be able to earn your forgiveness with lies," he replied easily, and even half-drunk, she could see he was leaving something out.

"And?"

He looked away for a second and then back to her, leaning in a little closer and saying, with intensity, "Don't ask questions you'll regret learning the answers to, love."

"I want that answer," she snapped coldly, and he took a deep breath, turning around so his back was to the bar and leaning against it casually.

"I also suggested that he should re-think the stories he'd read about Captain Hook," he explained, something floating under the surface, but either he was hiding it too well or she was too close to drunk to tell what it was. "And a certain phrase that I felt would convey my point more clearly. Perhaps a more truthful answer would be that I merely implied that bad things would happen to him were he to stay."

She gripped the nearest chair tightly. "What made you think I needed your help?" she hissed.

"Not a thing," he answered immediately, startling her. "I did it for me."

"What?" she asked incredulously, with a small, breathless laugh. "You can't attack Gold, so you go after Neal?"

Maybe she had crossed a line; his jaw tensed and he took a moment to reply, in a tight voice, "Neal Cassidy threw away what I had stolen from me." She leaned back a little, unsure how to respond to that. "As though it was nothing… as though you were nothing. Callous disregard for the person one claims to love infuriates me."

It didn't have to be said, but whiskey chased it out anyway: "Like he did Milah."

He shrugged, a small agreement.

She didn't know how she felt again. Prisoner 7196 wanted to throw her arms around him and thank him, but she was small and muffled under a decade, even if Neal had unintentionally drawn her out again; Sheriff Swan wanted to slap him and curse him and leave him alone to drink both of his hers out of his mind; Emma understood too completely to blame him.

"You never answered me," she started softly, glancing at him and unsure if she was asking in concern or malice. "Do you remember her face?"

It took him a moment to answer, and longer because he drained the rest of his drink to stall for time. Finally, he slid the glass toward the bartender with a fill it up to the brim look and turned back to her. "No," he replied, bitterly matter-of-fact. "No, I don't. I gave up everything to avenge the death of a woman I hardly recall anymore at the hands of a man who's changed so completely that he's worthless to me." He gestured to the drink the bartender was pouring. "Hence the alcohol." And you, he didn't say — or maybe not. Maybe she just wanted to hear it. It was hard to tell what was going on under all of his masks.

"I let him break my heart twice," she said emotionlessly, handing her own glass over and finally sitting next to Killian (or Hook, she wasn't sure at this point). "I'm just so sick of being angry," she muttered, shook her head firmly, and, louder, "I'm just so sick of love."

"I'll disagree with you in the morning," he remarked, with a disconcerting and (almost) unwanted glance at her, "but I'll drink to that tonight."

She gave a short, cynical laugh as she took her drink from the bartender, which she held up with a bitter smile to fight off the uncomfortably serious look in his eyes. "Cheers, then."

Killian smirked as bitter as her smile. "Cheers."

 

.

 

things you say, games you play
dirty magic

.

Her arm was wrapped tightly around him when he woke up the next morning.