—jewel of the sea
There really wasn't anything for it: they were going to have to split up.
The Lost Boys had several 'home bases' scattered through the forests, and while Killian knew where they were (or at least, where they had been), they couldn't afford to take the time to carefully search each one-by-one as a group — particularly since their presence would quickly become noticed and they would be followed. The only way to have a chance was to separate into three groups of two.
He had initially suggested that the groups should be Snow and Charming, Regina and the Dark One, and himself and Emma — on the basis of that being roughly the only grouping that might not end with someone dead at an ally's hand — but the so-aptly-named Charming had vehemently disagreed with the thought of Emma alone with him, and then Snow had brought up that the only people with any experience in Neverland were himself and the Dark One, and Emma had said that they should have at least one person with magic on each team just to be safe, and on and on and on the argument had gone.
Finally, the rest of them had settled on Regina and himself, the Dark One and Snow, and Charming and Emma — a set up that Killian was not happy with.
"Look, I know I don't have any real experience and my books have been wrong about a lot, but they've been right about a lot too," she argued. "Just coach me in what to look out for, we'll be all right."
"It doesn't make sense!" he snapped. "Not to disparage you, love, but you're the least experienced magic-user here by a long shot. The safest path is to pair you with the most experienced in Neverland!"
"And leave another group without any experience?" she countered loudly, and he winced, both at her volume and her argument.
"I think the Evil Queen can take care of herself," he growled, still annoyed at the prospect of venturing alone into the woods with Regina. "And that would pair her with your father, who I assure you, is a perfectly adequate warrior in his own right. It's safer my way."
"Yeah, for me!" she shouted, and he swallowed a groan as it clicked, visibly, on hers and everyone else's faces. Shit. At the very least, she didn't look pissed-off or offended or disgusted, just suddenly terribly self-conscious. Charming took on all the anger, offense, and disgust for her, though.
"Right, now that's settled," he said sourly, placing a hand on Emma's shoulder, "let's start moving. You got any real advice for us?"
Killian glared at him. Of all the people in the group, he would've expected her father to be most on his side regarding her safety… on the other hand, he clearly believed she wouldn't be safe at all with him, experience be damned. It pissed him off — after all he had done and was doing for them, the man still refused to trust him, to the point of taking stupid, unnecessary risks to avoid putting any faith whatsoever in Captain Hook.
He growled under his breath and ran his hand over his face, trying to force the anger down, remind himself that Charming had a lot of reasons to dislike him and they all had the same goal here and no one wanted to see Emma get hurt and both he and Charming were used to being leaders and damn it all but he was going to kill that bloody arse if he didn't lighten the hell up.
He pulled out the map and flattened it against a tree trunk, motioning for them to join him (Charming didn't let go of Emma's shoulder as they did). "This is the safest route," he grumbled, indicating to the far western one.
"But it grazes the Mermaid Lagoon," Emma said nervously; good, she knew enough to be wary.
"That it does," he replied, "which is why it's the safest. Everything and everyone avoids the mermaids if they can help it, you're far less apt to run into trouble."
"Except the mermaids themselves," Charming snapped, stepping forward and pointing to another route. "What about this one? The terrain is even, we'll have the best view of our surroundings and it'll be hardest to ambush us."
"Trust me," Killian replied in a low, dangerous voice, "traipsing through the thickest woods of Neverland is nothing like doing so in the Enchanted Forest. The only way to survive that path is if you've already done it before."
Charming looked like he was about to continue arguing, probably for the far eastern path, but Emma cut him off. "So, the mermaids," she said shortly. "I know they'll try to drown us, and they can put people under a trance. How do we get around that?"
He had to think about that for a moment; his plan had involved sending the Dark One and Regina down that path — even the mermaids would leave Rumplestiltskin alone — and he didn't have anything that could —
Propping the map up with his hook, he felt around his pockets — he knew he had it in this coat somewhere, he always brought it with him when he came onshore, it was the very last thing he had from the days before he'd been a pirate, if he could just remember which…
"Here," he said gruffly, pulling the stone out of an interior pocket. It was a beautiful, but — taken on its own — rather worthless (and thus incongruous), jewel, a smooth oval aquamarine that he had, in some year long past, attached to a gold chain.
(He had done it when he'd given it to Milah, he recalled. He tried to banish that.)
"What is this?" Emma asked, accepting it from him and peering at it curiously.
"An artifact I procured many years ago," he replied tightly, turning away from it — a flash of understanding crossed her face when he did; the meaning of the motion was not lost on her. Sometimes, he really didn't like how well she understood him. "Wear it, it will protect you from their song."
"How do we know you're telling the truth?" Charming asked harshly, stepping so he was half-shielding Emma from him, and a spike of vicious fury struck him like a lightning bolt.
"I have had entirely more of your — " he started, hand clenched into a fist, but Emma stepped in.
"David," she snapped, pushing him back. "Thank you, Hook," she said softly, and put the necklace on. It did little to ease his nerves — the gem would only protect her from their music, not their claws, and they would certainly be out for her blood. Especially if…
"Don't let them see it," he told her hastily, and she raised an eyebrow. He tried to grin, but doubted it looked convincing. "They'll recognize it, and they'll want it back." It wasn't, strictly speaking, the truth; they'd recognize it, that was a certainty, but even though they knew he'd stolen it, it wasn't the theft of the jewel they'd be attacking her over.
(Above all else, the mermaids were jealous creatures.)
"Right," she said, tucking it under her shirt and hesitating for a slightly-too-long moment, holding eye contact like she had in that diner, until he turned away.
"If you're all done with the soap opera," Regina called out, and they all turned, "can we please get moving? We are on the clock here."
Killian took a deep breath. "Too right, your majesty," he replied acerbically, with an acidic grin.
"We'll all meet back here at dusk," Charming said, making him twitch at being given orders. "Come on, Emma," he added, in a lower voice, but she didn't move immediately.
"It belonged to her, didn't it?" she murmured, so only he could hear. "When this is over, I'll give it back, I promise."
"Keep it," he answered, at the same volume and carefully without emotion. "I have nothing to fear from the mermaids."
"But still — "
"It was a gift then, and it's a gift now," he snapped, pushing past her and making for Regina before she could protest. "You're the only one I'd see it on, anyway," he muttered, and hoped she hadn't heard.