"I – that didn't come out right," Swan stammered. "It wasn't even – I was thinking to myself, I didn't realize I'd said anything."

"But you did," he cut her off, voice low and tight with anger he was barely keeping in check, "and now I suggest you explain yourself."


His grip on her arm tightened; Swan winced, and then he saw anger rising in her own eyes in response. "And I suggest you let go of my arm before you find out what a broken nose feels like," she warned. Jerked her arm away from him with a little grunt and took a step back. "And I'm sorry it came out that way, but it doesn't make it any less true."

"True? That Cora has a leash on me?!" he exclaimed, even more furious because, damn her, it hurt to think she saw him that way. "You're calling me her dog?"

"No!" she yelled. Threw her arms up in the air. "I'm saying that I've had just a little bit of experience being manipulated by people and having decided to never let it happen again, I learned how the game is played!"

She stepped in close to him, that fire in her eyes again, and Killian found himself helpless to look away. "You want revenge on Gold – Rumpelstiltskin," she said. "Fine. You have your reasons – fine. I can respect that. But you've gotten so completely focused on him, it's like you can't see anything else." She scoffed, shut her eyes and shook her head a little. "Believe me; I know what that's like." She looked up at him again and went on, voice softer, "Your vengeance is such a hot button for you, that all anybody has to do is say his name and you stop thinking. And then they can use you however the hell they want."

Killian scowled at her, clenching his jaw so hard his entire head ached. "Do not presume," he said, "to believe that you know the first thing about me."

"What, like the way you don't know anything about me?" she retorted, eyes narrowed, lips pressed into a thin line. "You're with us now because as far as you're concerned, we're the better option to get you to Storybrooke. Before you ran into us, you were working with Cora, because she was your better option – hell, she's the one who sent you to find us! I may not know much about Cora, but I know she has power and I know she knows how to use people; she probably promised you that she'd take you with her if you just did this one little thing for her. Only I'm willing to bet that 'one little thing' became one more, and then another, and another, and she's been drawing the noose tighter around your neck every single time. And you've let her, because she keeps promising you a shot at your vengeance, she keeps dangling that little carrot just out of your reach."

Everything in him wanted to howl a denial, but there were so many possible responses that they were choking him – and in the end, he was unable to say a single word to refute her.

But Swan wasn't finished anyway, no, she had to twist the knife just a little bit further. "I'm also willing to guess that you didn't start with her," she went on, "that she became your better option after you were working with someone else and they sent you to Cora. Because they promised you that they could get you to Rumpelstiltskin if you did… something." She paused for breath, blew a strand of hair out of her face. Well? her expression seemed to say. How did I do?

He couldn't stand it anymore, couldn't stand to meet her eyes. Killian forced himself to look away, to look anywhere else, instead of attacking her, knocking her to the ground and – It wasn't her place to see such things, he was the one who got under people's defenses, he wasn't the one to be read like –

He stalked off toward the entrance, breathing heavily; so angry, phantom pains were telling him that he was clenching both fists as he fought the urge to turn around and scream at her.

Even an idiot would have seen how furious he was at that point, would have kept their mouth shut. Anybody who had ever heard of him, his reputation, would have known they were taking their life into their hands. But not Swan. No, not her. "Anybody – anybody at all – could come to you right now and if you thought they had a better offer you'd turn on us in a heartbeat," she called after him.

Killian had her pinned against a wall, his fist on her collar and his hook at her throat, before he was even aware he'd moved. The girl had reflexively brought her hands up to cover his wrists, but was at least smart enough not to struggle. They were both breathing hard now, her eyes wide but unflinching, his narrowed to slits.

"What – exactly – do you think you're doing," he said to her, voice low and deadly. So close he could feel her breath, warm on his mouth.

Swan blinked a couple of times, rapidly, and he felt her throat move under his knuckles as she swallowed. "Something new," she said, voice thin but determined. "It's called trust."

Killian froze.

"I know, all that, about you," she said slowly, deliberately, "and I let you go anyway. I could have left you chained up here, and been halfway down the beanstalk by now, but I didn't. Instead, I not only let you go, I went ahead and told you things I didn't want to say, things I have never spoken aloud to another living soul. And then, I went ahead and told you things that you don't want to hear, even though you need to."

He was pulling back now, to get a better look at her face, his grip slackening as his eyes widened. "Why?" was the only word he could say, the only thing he could find in his head. "Why?"

"Why what?" she returned.

Why let him go? he wanted to say. Why tell him her life's story? Why provoke him nearly to the breaking point, and Fortune help him, why the hell throw her lot in with him after pointing out all the reasons she had not to?

He shook his head once, hard, trying to silence all the buzzing thoughts. "All of it," he rasped. He let go her collar and stepped back a pace.

Emma cocked her head at him, but seemed to understand what he meant. "Because of the dreams, a little," she said. "Because you might still turn on us if I let you go, but if I left you behind, here, you definitely would. Because… if I'm being honest with myself, you haven't done anything – yet – to put you in the same category as… Henry's father." She ducked her head, huffed a little laugh. "Because I don't want to disappoint my mom," she said, and why exactly did he find that so charming? "And because of something you said, just a minute ago. The thing about using the information I had."

Now it was Killian's turn to cock his head, and an eyebrow. This should be entertaining… He looked at her through his lashes, gestured elegantly for her to continue. "I'm all ears, love."

Her expression grew pensive, staring off into space past his shoulder. "It was the using part," she said after a moment. "Um… how do I put it. A bunch of different ideas, I guess. About using information. About having the information you need, so that you can use it. About being used, yourself. And I was asking myself, what did I have, what could – what could I use…" She shook her head. "It's all jumbled together. Like I said – I didn't mean to say anything out loud, it was just… part of all that. The way Cora is using you, and what she might want. I mean – have you thought about that? About why it benefits her to help you, at all, much less bring you to Storybrooke?"

Killian looked at the ground for a moment, thinking. Stepped back another pace, indicated the entrance with his head. Turned away from her and began to walk, more calmly this time. He waited for Swan to catch up and fall into step beside him before bringing himself to admit, "Perhaps… not as much as I ought to have."

She nodded, didn't look at him. "And then that got me thinking, what could we use against her, if – if we could take the way she's using you and turn it around…"

"I must say, darling, that phrase grows no sweeter with repetition," he said evenly. Stepped over the tripwire, held out his hand to assist her across. Of course Swan ignored it.

"Yeah, well," she sighed, "it's like I said. I know what it's like to have a really big blind spot around something… painful." She rubbed her eyes tiredly. "Believe me when I tell you it makes a person pretty easy to manipulate."

"I suppose you think I should simply walk away from it, then," he said. "The need to avenge myself. Avenge her."

"That's not for me to decide," she said. "What I do think is that when you focus that intensely on something, it's easy to forget that you need to stop, look around, see the rest of the world once in awhile. And not even in a 'stop and smell the roses' way, either. More of a, 'wow, did they really think I wouldn't notice that trap they're setting for me' kind of way."

He considered that for a moment. "Something to keep in mind, love," he said, "– walking away is not going to happen. I will do whatever is necessary to end him. I will do what I must."

"Hard to do that when Cora or whoever keeps saying, 'oh wait, not yet, you need to do this first,'" she said mildly.

"Yes, all right, Cora has been stringing me along like some puling whelp," he snapped. Took a breath to steady himself. "Does it please you to keep rubbing that in?"

"No," she said immediately. "And I'll stop, now that I'm sure you really see it. The question is – just like you asked me – what are you gonna do about it?"


Obscure vocabulary time! "Puling" (as opposed to "pulling") and "whelp" really are words and are right in line with Hook's supposed time period and speech mannerisms.

Sad news time! I've been able to update daily at this point because I'd written these six chapters before publishing any of them. But I am still working on what will become Ch 7, and in addition, Real Life (tm) has me working on another project with a very tight deadline. So... no more daily updates, I'm afraid. You should hear from me within a week or so, though.

Cheers to everyone who has reviewed, followed, or favorited. You are the reason I keep writing.