Fandom: White Collar
Characters/Pairings: Neal/Peter, Mozzie, Jones, Diana, Cameos by Hughes and June
Word Count: This Part - 6177
Beta Credit: elrhiarhodan, firesign10
Summary: Archeologist Peter Burke has recently uncovered an amazing - and history changing - fresco on the walls of an ancient ruin on the Aegean island of Santorini. Neal, a prince from a long-hidden kingdom, spies Peter during a forbidden visit to the island. As their feelings grow, danger lurks, threatening both men's lives.
“Jones, can you get me a trowel?” Peter Burke stood and stretched, his back twinging as he grabbed a bottle of water from the cooler. Cracking the cap, he took a long drink before surveying his work area.
Ancient walls rose two and three stories high. Amphorae and clay pots lined the edges, some still with traces of the pressed olive oil that had been stored inside. Layers of ash and pumice protected the secrets that had been hidden for thousands of years.
Akrotiri – the city believed to be the inspiration for Plato’s Atlantis story.
He couldn’t believe they were really here. That the university had actually gotten the funding to be part of this team of archeologists, discovering new information about the Minoan society that existed here with every building they uncovered.
Peter gazed at the rock walls defining the homes and shops and imagined what it must have been like when the town was thriving: children playing in the streets, townspeople going about their daily tasks, traders selling their wares. Ordinary people leaving their imprint for future explorers like him to find.
They were lucky. The South Building, where they'd been assigned, was fairly untouched – most of the excavation had centered on the Delta Complex. Peter had gotten the area in the Xeste 4 sector sectioned off a few weeks ago, and he and Jones had made progress on two of the walls.
The air from the ventilation system kept kicking up little swirls of dust every time it turned on, but Peter was grateful for the structure that had been built to cover the dig site. It kept the sun off them and allowed them to work through the occasional rainfall.
“Here you go.” Jones handed him the tool he'd asked for. “How’s it going?”
Peter grinned. “Good. I think I found something under the west wall just now. Let’s go check it out.” Peter crouched down next to the area he’d told Jones about. Using both the trowel and a soft brush, he began clearing away the dirt and ash.
Slowly he revealed the treasure underneath. It was a fresco – the blues and yellows and reds emerging from the dust. Peter began to uncover what looked like images of people, animals, and ships exposed for the first time in over a millennia.
Peter lost track of time as they worked at clearing away the ash that had covered the town over three thousand years ago. Hours later he stepped back and put his hand on Jones’ shoulder.
In front of them was the fresco, a small corner revealed, its colors as vibrant and strong as though it had been created yesterday. Two groups of people were facing each other. Beads, cloth, and foodstuffs were in the hands of several of the individuals. There were clay jars at their feet, echoing the actual jars stacked against the walls of the excavation. They were dressed in shades of red and gold. Images of lilies and crocuses edged one side of the fresco, their blooms bursting with color.
The other group was framed by dolphins jumping the crests of the ocean waves, tall stands of kelp, their deep green hues practically lifelike. They had offerings from the sea surrounding them. Oysters with pearls of every color, a multitude of fish, what looked like carved coral art. Peter was awestruck at the vibrant colors of their garb. They were dressed in robes of deep blue and purple – a color that reflected royalty – with edging that looked like gold thread. Necklaces, cuffs, earrings – all reflected a rich culture that the locals were trading with. One that Peter was sure he had only seen evidence of in his research in one place. Alexandria.
Peter’s heart started racing. The references in the scrolls that he had Diana studying had mentioned a mysterious sea-based culture that had traded with the inhabitants of Akrotiri. This could be what he’d been looking for.
“Peter, it’s a…”
“…a trading party.” Peter finished Jones’ sentence. He gingerly stepped over the debris from the rockslide to get a closer look. Reaching out a hand, he stopped just short of touching the fresco. The colors were even more vibrant up close. His eyes were drawn to a figure in the royal grouping.
Dark hair, deep blue eyes, slender build. The figure was ethereally beautiful. Peter couldn’t take his gaze off the young man on the wall. He felt a low level buzz of arousal pooling in his belly and chuckled. He’d been spending way too much time on dig sites if he was getting hard just from looking at a painting.
“Peter.” Jones’ voice broke him from his thoughts.
“Take a look down at the bottom.” Jones pointed past Peter’s shoulder to an area that was still partially obscured. “Down there.”
Peter crouched down and examined where Jones had pointed. He could make out words above the spot. Ancient Minoan.
“Με τους αδελφούς μας κάτω από τη θάλασσα , μοιραζόμαστε γενναιοδωρία μας. Όλα χαλάζι στην Ατλαντίδα , αιώνια φίλους.”
The words were placed right above a small panel of the fresco depicting the ocean waves and figures swimming amongst the dolphins. But there was something off about the body shapes.
With rising excitement, he motioned to Jones. “Hand me a brush!” He grabbed the item that Jones held out to him. Working quickly but carefully, Peter removed the dirt from the area. What he revealed made his heart leap. He translated the ancient words in a low whisper. “With our brothers under the sea, we share our bounty. All hail to Atlantis, eternal friends.”
“Peter, that’s not a dolphin.” Jones’ voice was hushed, disbelief in his tone.
“No, Clinton, it’s not.” He grinned at his partner. “It’s a mermaid.”
Later that evening they Skyped Diana to fill her in on their discovery of the day. He couldn’t help but grin as he set up the connection. He knew she would be as excited as he was. As he waited for her to answer him, he uploaded the pictures he took that afternoon to the secure server they used.
“Hey boss, what’s up?” Her voice sounded tinny over the connection, but her smile was as bright as always.
“Oh, nothing much. Just checking in. Seeing how things are going.” Peter intentionally made his tone blasé, knowing full well that she would pick up on it.
“Uh huh. What’s going on?” She sounded skeptically amused.
“What? I can’t call my favorite research assistant just because?” He chuckled at Jones’ snort.
“Right. I heard Clinton laughing behind you. Besides, you never call me with that tone of voice just because.” He could hear her inhale. “You found something!”
“We found something. Go check the server.” He popped the top off a beer and waited for her reaction. .
“Oh my God, Peter!” Her excitement radiated through the phone. “These are incredible.”
“They are.” He’d sent her several overall photos as well as close ups of the portion of the fresco with the mermaids. Mer people, he corrected himself.
“Peter…” The tone of her voice shifted from simple excitement to something else. “Peter…I think I’ve seen these before. Or something close to them.”
“What do you mean?” Peter felt his stomach drop. “Di, nothing like this has been published before. We’d have known it.”
“Hang on.” She left her chair, the camera pointing to a blank white wall. He heard her shuffling books and papers, a thud and a loud curse, then the sound of the old scanner she had in her apartment. She was back, a huge grin on her face. “Things have been so busy here that I haven’t had a chance to call you. You wouldn't believe what Blake just sent from the library excavation. He thought you might be interested.”
His email chimed with an incoming message. When he opened it, he found several attachments labeled ‘scroll pictures’. He opened the first one to find a shot of a papyrus. Faded and crumbling, the center of it was a drawing of a group of boats. The people on them were relaxed, their garb celebratory. A pleasure cruise.
Surrounding them were individuals swimming, some with legs, others clearly had tails. To the side of the drawing were rocks complete with Mer people sunning themselves.
His excitement rising, Peter clicked on another picture. This time there were Mer people framing a passage written in what he was sure was ancient Greek. The words were faded to the point that he was having trouble reading the segment Diana sent him.
“Diana, do you have a better shot of the words?”
She chuckled. “I knew you were going to ask that. Check out the next picture.”
He clicked on the third image and brought up a high-resolution capture of the passage. Perfect--and he didn't even need his damned Liddell-Scott to translate it.
It was a contract. A trading contract. Between the inhabitants of Akrotiri and the Mer people. Descriptions of items only available from the depths of the ocean, woven goods from the Minoans, jewelry and art similar to what Peter and Jones had seen on the fresco.
He read further, marveling at the intricacies of the terms, how often they traded and for what items. The language was lyrical as it reflected the honor and respect between the two different races.
Peter's brain stopped as the full impact of what he was reading hit him. No one made such detailed trade contracts like this with beings that only existed in their mythology.
The Mer were real--or they had been in the age of the Minoans. And now he had proof.
Court business was boring. Neal shifted in his seat, trying unsuccessfully to stifle a yawn. His father, the King looked over at him with a frown and a subtle shake of his head. Neal straightened up and put on an interested face as the emissary from the North Sea droned on and on about the two-legged and their insatiable need for albacore tuna.
His father returned his attention to the presentation. Neal was happy it was not his responsibility yet to have to make a decision on this matter. He watched his father look interested and ask questions and marveled at his patience. King Reese was definitely a master at the art of court business.
Neal sighed to himself and looked around for Mozzie, his personal advisor. Maybe if he caught his eye, Moz could come up with an excuse as to why he had to leave the council room. No luck. The little man was nowhere to be found. Neal let his mind wander again, this time thinking about the two-legs.
All his life he’d heard stories of the humans who lived above the water. Of their art, their music, their cities that reached up towards the sun. Of their ability to fly in the air, their creations of iron that allowed them to travel across the ground.
The one time he’d been part of a trading party was a moment he treasured. His father spoke a few words in the old tongue and instantly their tails had transformed to legs, and they had been able to walk on solid ground. Listening to the music, watching the joy in the human faces as his people traded items only available in the depths of the ocean. Tasting their food, playing with their children. Learning about their culture.
Neal was startled by his father’s voice. “What do you think, Neal?”
Oh gods. Neal had no clue what had been said or what question he was supposed to reply to. He pasted a big smile on his face. “Oh, I defer to your experience, your Majesty.” Hoping that would cover the fact that he had not been paying attention again.
“Hmmm.” His father gave him another, more piercing look before turning to the man in front of them. “Emissary, I’ll take your concerns under advisement. I think that’s all for today. Council is adjourned.”
Neal rose from his chair, intent on escaping as quickly as possible.
“Neal.” The King put a hand on his shoulder. He turned to face his father, knowing full well he was going to get the lecture about not paying attention and how he needed to be part of the day to day workings of the court.
“I know, I know. I need to pay attention,” he said, wanting to forestall the discussion. “But tuna? Really?”
His father chuckled. “You should know that some parts of ruling are less interesting than others, and I have to admit, that was one of them.” They exited the council room. “However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t give the boring parts the same respect as the exciting ones. The emissary comes from the North Sea, which is one of our allies, and we have to play nice, no matter how dull it can get.” The King slanted an eye at Neal. “Understand?”
“Yes, sir. No more yawning in the council room.”
“Exactly. Now if you would, go tell your mother that the emissary will be staying for dinner and is allergic to sea moss.” The King smiled. “And no, you don’t have to attend.”
“Thank you!” Neal mock bowed to his father and quickly flicked his tail as he headed in the other direction. There was no way he was going to make it through dinner if he’d had to listen to more of the emissary’s mundane opinions.
He swam through the corridors looking for Mozzie, ignoring the admiring glances the court’s Angelfish were giving him. Their flirty smiles and coy looks were as artificial as their coloring – designed to entice in hopes of catching his attention. He’d learned long ago that there usually was no substance to their shiny scales.
Unfortunately, there were times when he couldn’t avoid speaking to them, especially when it was the wife of one of his father’s advisors, her insipid children in tow.
“Your highness! I was hoping I’d run into you today!” Lady Prunella coasted up to him, her son and daughter trailing behind like strands of dead seaweed.
“Lady Prunella.” He inclined his head, trying to keep a polite tone of voice, wishing he’d managed to turn the corner before she saw him.
“I wanted to ask you about this weekend’s festivities. Do you plan to attend?” She clutched his arm, fingers tightening like an octopus tentacle.
“Um…I haven’t decided yet.” Frantically Neal looked around for some way to escape, but there was no one around that he could claim he was meeting. “I’m not sure what my schedule is like.”
“Oh but you have to!” She gripped tighter and Neal winced as her nails dug into his skin. “Marissa and Endicott would just be devastated if they were unable to have a dance with you.” Lady Prunella leaned in to whisper. “As would I…” She batted her eyes and giggled.
Neal shuddered at the thought of dancing with her. He was just about to speak when he heard Mozzie’s voice behind him.
“There you are, your highness! I’ve been looking for you. You’re late for your next appointment.” Mozzie swam up and bowed. “Lady Prunella, I do apologize, but the prince has somewhere to be.” He deftly untangled her hands from Neal’s arm. “Court business and all that.”
“Oh, of course!” Lady Prunella waved a hand. “Go, go. But I hope we will see you this weekend.” She simpered and giggled again.
“Oh I’m sure you will…” Mozzie answered over his shoulder as he led Neal away. “…not,” he muttered to Neal as they quickly turned the corner.
“Oh gods, thank you!” Neal leaned against the wall and sighed in relief. “Since I turned down her daughter, I was afraid she was going to offer up her son to me.”
“At least she didn’t start laughing. I swear she sounds like a constipated sea cow when she does that.” Honking, Mozzie imitated her, sending Neal into peals of laughter.
“Stop!” Weakly, Neal waved at his friend. “Oh gods, that’s too funny.” Gulping, he calmed himself. “Let’s get out of here before she decides to come back.”
They hurried through the main wing of the kástro, side-swimming servants carrying baskets of food, pages on their errands and soldiers guarding the various dignitaries.
“I need to let my mother know that the emissary is staying for dinner, which we don’t have to attend.” Neal knocked lightly and entered his mother’s chamber. The Queen was seated at her desk, dictating correspondence to her secretary.
“Neal, darling.” She rose gracefully, her fins iridescent in the glow of the bioluminescent lights. “And Mozzie.” She dismissed her secretary with a wave.
“Your Majesty.” Mozzie bowed as Neal kissed her cheek.
“Mother.” He hugged her. “Just came to give you fair warning that the emissary is coming for dinner, he’s allergic to sea moss, and the King gave me a pass.” He grinned slyly at her. “So unfortunately, that means you have to listen to his big fish stories without me.”
The Queen sighed. “He is insufferable. I’d add the moss to the salad if your father would let me get away with it. I heard that he turns into a sunfish if he consumes even a morsel.”
“I’d stay for that.” Neal chuckled.
“So what do you have planned, since you don’t have to suffer through dinner?” The Queen glided over to the armoire and flipped through several outfits.
“Not sure.” Neal shook his head as she pulled out a black tunic trimmed in red and held it up for his opinion. “I think Mozzie and I will grab something from the kitchen and head out to the square. Get away from the palace for a while. That one,” he said, pointing to the emerald green outfit she chose next.
“Be careful, dear. And make sure you take a guard with you.” She put the clothes on the bed. “Now shoo…I need to speak to the chef about the menu.”
They said their goodbyes and left the Queen to her planning.
As they headed to Neal’s quarters, he could feel Mozzie looking at him, silent until they were behind closed doors.
“We’re not going to the square, are we?” Mozzie walked over to the wine cabinet and chose a veloúdino kókkino. He uncorked the deep red wine and poured himself a glass.
“Nope.” Neal removed his Court attire and changed into a simple linen shirt and vest.
“And we’re not taking a guard wherever we are going.” Mozzie made that a statement, not a question.
“Nope,” Neal said again, swimming over and accepting the glass of wine Mozzie had poured for him.
“Do I want to know?”
Neal chuckled at Mozzie’s tone. He swam to the open balcony doors and leaned against the frame. Turning to his friend, he grinned and pointed up. Mozzie looked confused for a moment before his eyes widened and he started to shake his head frantically.
“No! No way! We are not going to the surface. Neal, you know it’s not allowed. You're royal and only allowed to go to surface once.” Mozzie gulped his wine and filled his glass again. “If we get caught…”
“We won’t get caught, Moz.”
“Yes. Yes we will.” Mozzie took off his glasses and started cleaning them frantically on the hem of his shirt. “We will get caught and I will get thrown in the Trench. No one ever comes back from the Trench, Neal!”
“Relax, Moz. We won’t get thrown in the Trench because we won’t get caught.” Neal pushed himself off the doorjamb and put a reassuring hand on Mozzie’s shoulder. “It’s just a quick trip to the surface. Up and back. No one will know.”
“Yes they will!” They always know!”
“They won’t. Trust me.” Neal grinned at his friend. “Have I ever steered you wrong?”
“There was that one time with the Siren…” Mozzie began.
“Hey, I didn’t know she was married.” Neal set his glass down on the table. “Other than that?”
“No..,” Mozzie said slowly. “But I still think this is a bad idea. There’s a reason why your father’s banned trips to the surface after you've made your rite of passage. It’s dangerous for the humans to see us.”
“I’ll be careful, I swear. We’ll surface somewhere that’s not obvious. And we’ll go tonight during the dinner. Everyone will be occupied then. C’mon, Moz, it’ll be fun.” Neal’s voice was coaxing. “Please?”
His friend sighed and Neal knew he’d agree. “Okay, fine. But only for a short trip and only this once.” He shook his head. “And we disguise ourselves.”
“Thank you!” Neal squeezed Mozzie’s shoulder. “Meet me here at eight and we’ll head out through the tunnels,” he said, referring to the sub-basement in the palace. “And be thinking of a spot to go visit.”
“The things I do for you,” Mozzie grumbled as he headed out into the hallway.
Neal smiled as he shut the door. He lay down on his bed and considered their evening’s adventure.
His single trip to the surface was enough to give him the desire to go back, to see the humans and learn about them. He didn’t understand why his father had put a ban on visiting the two-legged. The punishment was harsh – time in the Trench.
But he wasn’t going to visit them, really - he just wanted to see them. Watch what they did, how they moved. He didn’t plan on actually interacting with them. So he wasn’t technically going against his father’s orders. Just bending them a bit.
Neal thought back on his visit, remembering the laughter and the joy that seemed to be the hallmark of humanity. The pride they showed in their creations – even those that were so destructive to the Mer and the rest of the creatures of the sea. His eyes closed as he relived the sounds of their music, the taste of their food and wine, the laughter of their children.
Sleep took him as he dreamed of yellow sun, blue skies and green hills.
The breeze coming in over the ocean brought a hint of cool as Peter and Jones finished their dinner. Peter grabbed the last of the loukoumades, popping it in his mouth and licking his fingers clean of the honey and walnuts that the fried pastries were rolled in. He groaned as he stretched. “I can’t eat any more.”
Jones chuckled at him. “You sure about that? I think Madame Gianakos might have some leftover moussaka in the kitchen.”
Peter gave him a mock glare. “You are an evil man, Clinton.”
“I can’t help that she’s sweet on you.” Jones tilted his head towards the hotel office where the woman in question was working.
“She’s not staring at us is she?” Peter hesitated to look. Ever since they’d checked in, the owner’s sister had gone out of her way to put herself in Peter’s path. From extra towels to specialty foods and wine, she’d shown her interest, even though Peter told her brother that he wasn’t attracted to women. Mr. Gianakos had just laughed and told him that his sister swore she could change his mind.
“No, you’re in luck this time. She’s checking in a new guest.” Jones poured himself a fresh glass of wine and motioned to Peter’s glass. “A man.”
Holding it up for a refill, Peter chuckled. “Is it wrong to hope that the new guest captures her attention?”
“Nope,” Jones replied with an answering chuckle.
Peter sighed and sipped his wine. Looking out over the darkening ocean, he felt a sense of peace wash over him. What they had found today at the site just confirmed his theory that mermaids – Mer people - actually existed at some point in time. Maybe not now, maybe not for a long time, but once. He couldn’t wait to get back to work tomorrow and uncover more of the fresco.
“I know that sigh. What’s on your mind, Peter?” Jones picked at the remnants of his spanakopita.
“Just thinking of the fresco. What it means historically.” Peter leaned forward, his face excited. “Clinton, we may have just proved all the fairytales and sailor’s stories true.” He thumped the table lightly. “Can you imagine – definitive proof that Mer people were real. That Atlantis was real.”
“Plato got it right after all.”
“Yes, yes he did. And we get to tell the world!” Peter raised his glass. “A toast.”
“To Plato, mermaids….” Clinton began.
“To Atlantis…” Peter added.
“And to re-writing the course of history.” Clinton finished the toast.
“Amen!” They clinked glasses and Peter drank deep.
“And with that, Peter. I have a date.” Jones checked his watch. “I have just enough time to get to the bar.”
“Going out with Phaidra again?” The look of happy embarrassment on Jones’ face made Peter chuckle. His partner had spent most of his downtime with the professor who was working at the dig with them.
“She promised me she’d show me her research.” Clinton pushed back his chair and stood up.
“Is that what they’re calling it these days?” Peter grinned at Jones’ snort.
Jones straightened his shirt. “Don’t wait up for me.”
“Hadn’t planned to.” Peter waved his hand. “Go, have fun.”
“What are you going to do?”
“I think I’m going to enjoy a quiet walk on the shore and then try to avoid Madame Gianakos.”
“Good plan. See you tomorrow then.” Peter finished his wine as he watched Jones walk off towards town.
Sighing, Peter stood up and headed for the shore. Stepping off the stone stairs, he heard the lava crunching under his feet. He paused to pet the ginger cat that seemed to have taken a liking to him before making his way to the deck chairs. Peter sat to take off his shoes and roll up his pants legs before gingerly walking to the water’s edge.
The waves nudged the shore, breaking around his feet. Grinning, he wriggled them, enjoying the warmth of the water as it wrapped around his toes. Peter waded in a bit more until the water was up to his ankles. He breathed deep, the sea air filling his lungs.
The sun was sending its last rays across the water, tipping the whitecaps with a golden hue. Peter gazed out over the ocean, a small smile playing across his face, letting the crash of the waves play a subtle soundtrack to the thoughts in his head.
He pictured a small trading party waiting at the water’s edge, waiting in anticipation for their counterparts to rise from the sea. In his fantasy, the waters stirred as the group appeared, sluicing off their perfectly toned physiques. Peter imagined them passing him on their way to the shore, dark hair like seal pelts drying in the warm breeze. He raised his hand as though he could actually touch them, then paused – he didn’t want the illusion to shatter.
The humans greeted their guests with bows. They provided majestically woven robes with images of the Mer and sea creatures trimmed in gold thread as well as comfortable footwear along with dried fruits and canisters of wine. They would be familiar with each other, Peter was certain, having traded many times in the past.
One of the Mer people in his invention came into focus – young, smiling and beautiful. He reminded Peter of the man depicted on the fresco. Dark hair, pale skin, blue eyes. The man stepped forward and offered the leader of the humans a parcel wrapped in sealskin. The human smiled as he took the package, unwrapping it to reveal - .
A movement from the rocks off to the side caught his eye, breaking Peter’s reverie. Squinting, he thought he saw a figure backlit in the setting sun. The mist of the waves hitting the rocks obscured his vision, but he could swear it was a man. Maybe one of the tourists had made their way over from Red Beach.
As the sun fell over the horizon, Peter saw the form move; flipping what he swore was a large tail, its sapphire scales catching the last bit of light before disappearing into the waves.
He shook his head, trying to comprehend what he saw. It must have been his fantasy coupled with the last of the wine from dinner. There was no way it could have been a Mer.
The sun was gone and all he could see was the whitecaps breaking against the rocks. It must have been an illusion. He really needed to get to bed.
Slowly making his way out of the water, Peter dried his feet on the cushions of the lounge chair and slipped into his shoes. Walking back to the hotel, he turned and looked out over the ocean, searching – for what he wasn’t sure.
He saw nothing. The sea was calm, silent, sharing none of her secrets.
Chuckling quietly at his fantasies, he headed to his room to get settled. Tomorrow was going to be a long day.
Neal dove down, his belly brushing the underwater sand, his heart pumping. The two-legged saw him! Steadying himself, he searched for Mozzie in the dark depths.
He found his friend swimming back and forth in agitation. “Neal, what the hell did you do?” Mozzie stopped and stared at him in horror. “He saw you! The two-legged saw you!”
“No, he didn’t.” Neal hoped he didn’t. “We’re fine.”
“No, we are not fine. A human saw you, Neal. Now all the rumors are going to start up again. You saw what happened in Israel!”
Neal frowned, remembering the debacle of the sightings in Kiryat Yam. His cousin thought it would be a good idea to go sunbathing on the rocks. One sighting and several videos later, the humans had put out a million dollar reward for video or capture of a Mer, and his father had sent her to the Trench for months.
“That’s not going to happen since no one knows we’re here. Plus I don’t think he saw us.”
“But you don’t know for sure.” Mozzie began to ramp up. “He’ll tell someone and then they’ll come looking and it will be a disaster of epic proportions!”
“Calm down, Moz. It won’t get that way. Trust me.” Neal started swimming towards the palace, motioning Mozzie to follow.
“You don’t know that!” Mozzie’s voice took an ominous tone.
“Okay fine.” Neal stopped and waited for his friend to catch up. “Use your connections and find out who he is, and if he tells anyone that he saw me. Saw a merman." Neal was one of the few who knew that Mozzie had a secret network of informants that provided him with information to pass on to the King if needed.
“And how do you expect me to do that?” Mozzie frowned at him. “We weren’t supposed to be at the surface to begin with. And besides, how am I supposed to get that information about someone if I don’t know what he looks like.”
“I’ll draw you a picture. Just please do it, okay?” Neal wasn’t above begging in this case.
Mozzie sighed. “Fine. But I want to get back to the palace before anything else happens.” He swam off, tail pumping, leaving Neal floating in the warm sea.
Sighing, Neal followed, knowing his friend was upset. He knew he shouldn’t have gotten so close but he couldn’t help it. The sound of the music, the smell of the air, the lights on shore – it had drawn him close to the beach like a Siren song.
Then he’d found the human at the water’s edge, the setting sun casting light and shadow on his form, making him look almost surreal.
Neal couldn’t tear his eyes away.
His dark hair, ruffled in the sea breeze. He’d been dressed in some sort of soft fabric – linen Neal remembered it was called – a russet shirt and off white pants, highlighting his long legs and wide shoulders.
He’d rolled up the pants and was standing in the ocean, letting the water wash over his feet. He’d looked serene, gazing out onto the water.
But it was his smile that left Neal breathless. Glowing, a promise in his upturned lips. Neal wanted to know what was going on in the man’s head to put such a look on his face. He’d watched, fascinated, as the human turned, his body shifting like he was seeing something. Something that was only in his imagination. His hand raised as though he was about to touch something – someone?
Neal had leaned in to get a better look when suddenly the rock under his hand had shifted and he’d slid forward. The human’s head jerked up and he’d turned towards Neal’s hiding place.
Ducking down, Neal had flipped and plunged into the waves, praying that he’d not been seen. Wanting desperately to go back, knowing it would be the absolutely worst thing that he could do.
He was jolted out of his thoughts by Mozzie’s “We’re here.”
Looking around, Neal realized they were in the tunnels underneath the palace. He had no recollection of how he’d gotten there.
“I’m going to change and while I’m gone, you should probably sketch the two-legged for me.” With a flick of his tail, Mozzie was gone, leaving Neal alone in the tunnels.
Sighing, he navigated the passageways until he arrived at the hidden door closest to his chambers. Slipping through the entrance, he let himself into his rooms and headed over to his art supplies.
Quickly he sketched the human’s face for Mozzie to take to his contacts. Putting it aside, he pulled another piece of drawing paper closer and started another sketch.
This one was more detailed. He worked to capture the sun in the distance, the human’s face in a half smile. Neal closed his eyes, imagining the curve of his jaw, the wideness of his chest as the wind pressed his shirt against his torso. He wondered what it would feel like to run his hands against the human’s body, so different from the ones he was used to seeing.
Neal shaded in the human’s eyes, crinkling at the corners, created the clean lines of his arms and tried not to think about them wrapping themselves around him.
When he was finished, he looked at the drawing, his mouth dry. The human was beautiful and Neal realized that no matter what the risk, he was going to see this man again.
Hiding it between half-finished sketches of a sea anemone and a sunken galleon, Neal went in search of Mozzie, his mind planning ways to sneak to the surface so he could see the human - his human – again.
The next morning Peter and Jones were able to uncover more the fresco. As each bit of color was revealed, it provided more and more certainty that the ancient inhabitants truly believed that they were trading with Mer people. The edging around the main image highlighted underwater scenes of everyday life: families eating together, young men engaged in athletic sports, workers in fields of seaweed and kelp, and what looked like a throne room where a thin grey-haired man was holding court. Next to him was the dark-haired man from the trading image.
It looked like the figure - merman? - he’d seen the night before. Peter shook his head and chuckled. He was letting his imagination run away with him again
“What’s so funny?” Jones paused from where he was brushing off a section of wall.
“Nothing…” Peter gazed at the fresco again. “Just...thought I saw something last night. When I stopped by the water’s edge.”
“Don’t laugh, okay?” Peter took a deep breath. “I thought I saw a mermaid.”
Jones snorted. He grinned when Peter glared at him. “Not laughing, Peter…just. You sure it wasn’t the Ouzo?”
“Yes, I’m sure it wasn’t the Ouzo.”
“So what happened?” Jones sat back on his haunches and wiped his forehead with a bandana.
“I decided to take a walk down by the shore,” Peter began, and shared what had happened the night before. “It could have been the light, but I swear I saw something.”
“Could have been a dolphin. They’re rare around here, but I know they’ve been spotted occasionally.” Jones grabbed two bottles of water and tossed one to Peter.
“Yeah, or a swimmer from Red Beach.” Peter uncapped the bottle and took a swig.
“True.” Jones grinned at him. “But the real question is, was he pretty?”
Blue eyes, dark hair and a muscled chest flashed through Peter’s mind. He grinned back at Jones. “Something like that.”
“Well maybe one day you’ll get lucky and find your own little merman and live happily ever after.”
“Yeah, right.” Peter pointed a finger at Jones. “Disney never made THAT movie. Besides, I was always partial to Sebastian. He had the best songs.”
Jones’ laughter echoed throughout the dig site as they went back to work.