Fandom: White Collar
Characters/Pairings: Neal/Peter, Mozzie, Jones, Diana, Cameos by Hughes and June
Word Count: This Part -
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.
Peter was sure his life was perfect. During the day, he and Jones uncovered more and more evidence of the interaction between the Mer and the people of Akrotiri. At night, he and Neal would have dinner on the patio, and discuss art and music and ancient history.
He never overtly said what they had found at the dig site, but Neal seemed to pick up on it and would steer their conversation to literary references about the Mer, spinning tales that captivated Peter. When he asked Neal how he knew so much about the Mer, Neal shrugged and told him they were a hobby. Then he kissed Peter, led him to his room and they made love until Peter couldn’t remember his own name.
Peter started walking around with a grin on his face, which amused Jones to no end. Jones even teased him about it, telling Peter that making a history-altering discovery and having sex with what could possibly be the most beautiful man on earth really agreed with him. He should have known that things wouldn’t continue to run so smoothly.
They were finishing clearing up a section of wall when a shadow fell over their workspace.
“Excuse me, you’re blocking the light.” Peter turned and held his hand up above his eyes to better see the offending person, who was backlit from the halogen lamp they’d been using.
“Hello, Peter.” The clipped British accent sent his stomach plummeting. He hadn’t heard that voice in over ten years. Peter stood up, straightened to his full height and looked down at the man in front of him.
“Woodford.” His voice was emotionless.
“What? No pleasantries?” Alan Woodford smirked. “Aren’t you glad to see your old partner?” He held his hand out for Peter to shake.
Ignoring Woodford’s gesture, Peter responded, “No, not really. What are you doing here, Alan?”
“Oh, didn’t you hear? The University asked me to consult on the Delta Complex.” His smile was nothing short of oily. “I assumed they would have told you.”
“I must have missed that email.” His voice flat, Peter moved away from where Jones was working so he could keep Woodford from seeing the fresco. He didn’t trust the other man – not since their time in Kerameikos. He still got angry at the thought of Woodford looting the site to make a profit.
“You must have.” Despite Peter’s movements, Woodford walked over to the fresco. Short of manhandling the other man away from the wall, there was nothing Peter could do. “My, my. This looks interesting.” Woodford bent closer to examine the image. “Very nice.”
Jones stood up and blocked his view. “This portion of the site’s not open to visitors.” Peter tried not to chuckle as Jones planted his feet and crossed his arms.
“Ah but I’m not a ‘visitor’.” Woodford curled his fingers around the words. “So I don’t think that applies to me.”
“You’re not authorized, so that’s close enough for me.” Peter snorted at Jones’ reply, causing Woodford to turn back to him.
“You think that’s funny, Peter?” Woodford’s tone was clipped.
“I think it’s hilarious.” Peter walked over to stand next to Jones. Studying Woodford, he tried to determine the man’s endgame. Failing to suss it out, Peter asked acidly, “Why are you here, Alan?”
“Just wanting to catch up. After all, it’s been years.”
“And there is a reason for that.” Peter’s patience was wearing thin. “This is a restricted area. If you want to see the excavation, you can buy a ticket like everyone else.”
With a sigh, Woodford turned to go, pausing to lock eyes with Peter. “It’s a shame, Peter. Here I thought we could mend fences.”
“Well, you thought wrong.”
“Obviously. Fine. I’ll respect your work space, as I’m sure you’ll respect mine.” With that, he walked off.
“That man doesn’t respect shit,” Jones grumbled.
“You’ve got that right.” Peter nodded in agreement.
“What’s his story, Peter?” Jones took a seat on the cooler. “You clearly know him.”
Peter sighed. “Alan and I were work partners several years ago. He was always a gloryhound – looking for the accolades and the money more than the historical significance of archeology.”
He paused, considering how much he should tell Jones. “We were working on a dig outside of Athens. There’d been some looting on the site, so I stayed late one night to see if I could find out who was stealing from us.” Peter ran a hand through his hair in frustration. Even now the incident made him angry. “I caught Alan trying to sell some antiquities to a known black market fence. He tried to convince me that he was just studying them, but it was obvious he was making a deal.”
“What did you do?” Jones leaned forward, clearly fascinated.
“I told him that I wouldn’t turn him in if he returned the antiquities to the site and excused himself from the dig. He wasn’t happy, but he did it.” Peter shrugged and looked at Jones. “We haven’t spoken since.”
“So what are you going to do now that he’s here? You obviously don’t trust him.”
Peter’s voice was firm. “Watch our site. And our backs.”
The excavation site was dark and still as Alan Woodford slipped past the entrance doors. Convincing the guard on duty that he’d forgotten his wallet at the Delta Complex was simple – the man was getting paid minimum wage and could care less about old rocks and jars.
Woodford made his way past the main area back into the section where Peter’s excavation was set up. His visit to his old partner had set off all sorts of flags. Burke was concealing something – he was sure of it.
Back when they were working together, Burke could never hide his excitement whenever they uncovered a lost treasure or artifact. He’d go on and on about its historical importance, and how it revealed a new facet of whatever civilization they were studying.
Woodford could care less.
He was in it for the recognition and the wealth. Oh, maybe at first it was about the historical significance, but when he found out that history didn’t pay the bills, and the black market did, that sealed the deal. A sculpture here, a piece of jewelry there. No one noticed what was missing in the midst of the locals helping themselves.
That was, until Burke caught him in the middle of a deal.
Burke’s holier-than-thou self-righteous act – saying he wouldn’t turn Woodford in if he just returned the antiquities and excused himself from the dig – still infuriated him.
Ever since then, Woodford had kept Peter on his radar, waiting for a chance to undermine him, to steal the glory from him like he’d done to Woodford. And this might just be it.
He’d heard through the grapevine that Burke was on to something big – something that would turn the archeological community on its ear.
Stepping over the low rope divider, Woodford approached the wall that Peter had tried his best to keep him from. He shined his light on the fresco, illuminating different parts as he studied the image, trying to determine what had Burke so excited.
As far as he could see, there was nothing spectacular about the ancient art. It was an illustration of a trading company, a typical image for the Minoans at that time.
As he moved closer, his foot brushed a tarp that was blocking a part of the fresco. Moving it, Woodford crouched down to see what the plastic had been covering. He inhaled deeply when he read the inscription at the edge of the image. “My God…”
Placing the tarp back in its original position, he stood and pulled out his cell phone. Tapping in a number, he waited for the transatlantic call to connect.
“What did you find out?” No greeting. There was no need. The man on the other end of the phone was an information gatherer – nothing more. Woodford listened, a triumphant smile on his face. He hung up and turned to the fresco again.
“Atlantis…” he murmured. “Peter Burke found it.” Woodford placed a reverent hand on the fresco. “Too bad he won’t be seeing the credit.”
Quickly he made another call. As before, there were no pleasantries. “This is Woodford. I have a job for you.”
Peter was dining solo – a rare thing nowadays. Jones had another date and Neal had left him a note saying he had family business to attend to but would see him tomorrow. So there he was, sitting on the patio, enjoying a glass of red wine and a plate of Souvlaki.
Lonely as hell.
He mentally shook his head. It had only been two weeks, but it felt like Neal had been in his life forever. It was to the point that Peter almost physically ached when the other man was not with him.
He didn’t want to think about what would happen when this dig was over. He’d go back to New York City and Neal would go back to…wherever Neal’s family was. Peter realized that he had no idea where Neal lived. This thing between them had happened so fast that they’d skipped over the introductory dance that most relationships began with.
Relationship. Peter paused at the realization, his wine glass halfway to his mouth. He was in a relationship with Neal Caffrey. For the first time, he could see himself settling down with someone. The thought both delighted and scared him.
His musings were interrupted by the two men who sat down at his table. The one to his left looked seedy in his nondescript suit and tie. His partner was bigger, filling out his suit like a linebacker. Peter didn’t recognize either of them.
“Can I help you?” Peter put his glass on the table and planted his feet under his chair, his fight or flight instinct ratcheting up.
“Peter Burke?” The bigger one asked with a smile – one that came nowhere near his eyes.
“Who wants to know?”
The seedy one answered. “Julian Larson and Ryan Wilkes, UNESCO. We have a few questions to ask you about your current project.”
“You won’t mind if I ask for your ID?” Peter didn’t trust them, not without some sort of proof.
Larson handed over his ID and motioned for the other man to do the same. Peter examined them. The names on the cards were of the men who introduced themselves. He’d heard those names in reference to UNESCO before but had never met the men, and something about them seemed off. Looking at the identification cards a little closer, he realized that ‘United’ was spelled incorrectly. His hunch was right. They were not what they seemed. Stalling for time, he handed back the IDs. “So, how can I help UNESCO?” He was pretty sure that he could bluff his way through whatever questions they wanted to ask, while he figured out what to do.
They asked him a few general questions about the dig, the accommodations for the workers – especially the locals – and then starting grilling him about security. Suddenly, Wilkes stood up, looming over Peter, and said, " “I think this would be easier if we went to the dig site.”
“And what if I don’t think so?” There was no way that Peter was going anywhere with these two men. He glanced around, gauging if there was any possibility for help if things got nasty. He felt something hard poke him in the side. Glancing down, he saw the brushed black metal of a pistol. It made his blood run cold.
“I’m not sure you really have a choice.” Larson leaned in. “Now get up, and walk over to the parking lot. Don’t try to get anyone’s attention, because I have no qualms about shooting you or any of them.”
Peter rose slowly and began walking towards the lot. He knew that there was no way to escape these two men – not without innocents getting hurt in the process.
There was a bustle and he heard someone call his name. “Mr. Burke, you forgot to pay your bill!” It was Andros, his server. He looked at Larson, who jammed the gun into his ribs and shook his head.
“I have to go check on the dig site. Emergency.” Larson pushed the gun deeper into his side. “Just add it to the room charge.”
They stopped at a beat-up Jeep, where Larson gestured for Peter to get into the back. He slid over and contemplated making an escape through the other door until Larson climbed in next to him and pointed the gun at his chest. “Don’t be stupid, Burke.”
Peter kept silent as Wilkes started the vehicle and drove out of the parking lot. They took the road that led past the excavations but didn’t stop. Peter was not surprised. Trying not to attract attention, he reached into his pocket for his phone.
“You’re really trying my patience, Burke.” Larson held out his hand. “Your phone.”
Sighing, Peter gave it to him and watched as he tossed it out the window of the moving car. “Can I ask what this is about?”
“No.” Larson’s voice was sharp, his tone indicating that he wouldn’t be forthcoming.
Peter looked around, trying to figure out if there was any way to break free, but he realized it was a lost cause. The road was winding too perilously, and they were driving too fast for him to jump out of the vehicle. He turned back to the men in the car. “So, doesn’t he speak?” Peter nodded to Wilkes. “All I’ve heard him say is one sentence.”
Larson smirked. “Let’s just say that Wilkes has his own way of communicating.”
That statement sent chills down Peter’s spine. “Look,” he tried desperately. “I think it's pretty obvious you're not really UNESCO agents. Just tell me what you want and I’ll get it for you.”
“We don’t want anything, Burke.”
That was not the answer Peter wanted to hear. “Then why did you kidnap me?”
“You’re a job, Burke. Nothing more.” Larson shifted. “And I really wish you would stop talking.”
Peter was past caring what the man would think. “I want to know what the hell is going on! What do you mean ‘I’m a job’?” He faced Larson, anger in his eyes. “Tell me, damn it!”
“Fine. We were paid good money to make you go away. Now will you shut up?”
Peter froze. “Who? Who paid you?”
“Does it really fucking matter? You’re going to disappear so it’s not like you can do anything about it.”
That was the tipping point. Larson’s comment told Peter that they were going to kill him. And he didn’t even know why. He had to do something.
The car took a tight curve at that moment and Peter used it to his advantage. He lunged towards Larson, grabbing the gun and using surprise to turn it away from him. It was short-lived, however, as Wilkes jerked the wheel and Peter lost his balance.
The last thing he remembered was the pain of the pistol as it smashed against his temple.
Peter was jolted to awareness by someone shaking his shoulder. He groaned and opened his eyes to see Wilkes standing over him.
“Get up.” Wilkes’ voice was dark.
“He speaks,” Peter shot back, grimacing as he raised himself up. The rocking of the floor told him he was on a boat and his heart sank. He was a good swimmer, having been certified for underwater excavation, but not with a head wound.
Wilkes motioned for him to sit on one of the benches. Slowly Peter did, looking out over the railing to see how far they were from the shore.
The lights on the land were pinpricks, which meant that they were far into the caldera. The click of a lighter got his attention and he turned to see the glow of a cigarette. Larson took a puff, tilted his head and blew the smoke out into the night sky.
“Welcome back, Burke.” Larson leaned back with an oily smile. “Glad to see you’re back amongst the living – at least for a bit.”
“Can’t say I’m glad to see you, Larson.” Peter touched the side of his head, wincing at the pain. His hand came away with blood on his fingers. “I know you’re being paid to kill me. Can you at least tell me why? And for who?”
Larson looked out over the dark waters and shrugged. “I don’t see why not. There’s no way for you to escape.” He took another drag off the cigarette. “Seems as though whatever you’ve discovered digging in your sandbox is very interesting to my employer and he wants it.”
“Your employer?” The realization hit Peter. “Woodford. He hired you?”
“Got it in one.” Larson finished his cigarette and flicked the filter into the ocean. Turning back to Peter, Larson said, “Woodford paid us to get rid of you.” He gestured to the water. “This is the easiest way.”
“So you’re going to shoot me and dump me over the edge?” Peter steeled himself for the answer. He was going to die – he should know how.
“No guns. Woodford wants you to suffer. We were told to tie you up and weigh you down.” Larson motioned to Wilkes. “Get the ropes. I’m tired of talking and want this done.”
There was no way Peter was going to die without a fight. If he could escape the boat, he might be able to swim to the closest shore. He lunged towards the railing of the boat, only to be tackled by Wilkes. They grappled, each trying to fight for dominance, until a right hook to Peter’s jaw followed by a bruising punch to his ribs had him splayed out on the deck, gasping for air.
Wilkes had him trussed, the weights attached to his feet, before Peter knew what was happening. The two men grabbed him and hauled him halfway over the rail.
“Goodbye, Peter Burke.” They shoved him over the edge.
Peter hit the water with a splash, a single breath taken before the ocean closed over his head. He twisted, trying to loosen the ropes, but knowing it was fruitless. Images of his parents, of Jones, Diana – all flashed before him as he sank further into the depths.
Peter’s lungs burned, the instinctive need for air fighting with self-preservation.
He thought of Neal. His smile, the way he laughed, his kiss, the way he gave himself fully to Peter every time they made love. He would miss that. Missed the fact that he would never be able to tell Neal that he was falling in love with him.
Peter knew it was over when his mouth opened and seawater rushed in. Black spots dotted his vision, and he felt his heart beat frantically against his chest.
As Peter began to lose consciousness, he felt something bump against his legs. Once, twice.
Something fastened itself over his mouth and Peter greedily sucked in the air that was being pushed into his lungs. He thought he was being pulled up towards the surface, but he was too disoriented to tell.
His eyes opened, the salty ocean water burning, to see a figure in front of him. Dark hair, pale skin. It looked like Neal. But not Neal. This Neal was dressed in a gossamer tunic that glowed in the water. This Neal smiled and leaned in for another kiss, breathing air into Peter’s mouth. This Neal wrapped his arms around Peter and propelled him to the surface, his tail pumping.
This Neal was a Mer.
Peter’s eyes fluttered shut as he lost consciousness.
Peter woke up with a gasp. Looking around wildly, he saw dingy white walls and medical monitors that were beeping out of rhythm with each other. He tried to sit up, grimacing at the pain, and found Jones seated next to the bed.
“Easy, Peter.” Jones put a hand on his shoulder. “You need to relax."
"Where am I?"
"You’re in the hospital.”
“Hospital?” His voice was a croak. “How?”
Jones opened a bottle of water and gave it to him. “Drink slowly.”
Peter sipped, the cool liquid easing the ache in his throat. “How did I get here?”
“Someone reported finding you unconscious on the beach. They brought you here and called me, since I’m your medical contact.” Jones studied him. “Peter, what happened? You were beaten up, and the medical staff said you were half-drowned.”
“Woodford.” Peter’s voice was clipped.
“Woodford? What does he have to do with this?” Jones looked puzzled.
“Woodford hired men to kill me.”
“What the hell?” Jones gasped at Peter’s statement. “What do you mean, he hired men to kill you?”
“Here, take this.” Peter handed the water bottle back to Jones. “Help me sit up better.” Jones adjusted the bed and put a pillow behind Peter’s back. “How long have I been here?”
“Overnight. They found you about three in the morning.”
“Okay.” Peter ran a hand over his face, trying to put together a timeline. “Okay. Last night two men pretending to be with UNESCO kidnapped me and knocked me unconscious. They took me out on a boat, tied me up and tossed me in the middle of the caldera to drown.”
Peter continued before Jones could ask questions. “Before they dumped me over the side, the guy who called himself Larson told me that Woodford was interested in what we’d found at the dig site and had paid them to make me disappear.”
“That son of a bitch!” Jones comment was growled. “He was sniffing around the site yesterday when you were out at the truck getting more supplies.”
Jones tilted his head. “Wait - how’d you manage to get out of the ropes? They didn’t find any on the beach with you.”
Peter sighed. “Honestly, I have no clue. Someone must have rescued me and pulled me to shore, but…” He trailed off, the image of Neal as a Mer filling his thoughts. He shook his head, certain that it had been a hallucination due to oxygen deprivation.
“We need to tell the police about Woodford.” Jones stood up. “They’ve been waiting outside your room to get your statement.”
“No.” Peter grabbed Jones’ arm. “We keep Woodford out of this.”
“Because I don’t want to draw attention to the fresco. At least not just yet.” Peter shifted, getting more comfortable on the bed. What he wasn’t telling Jones was that he wanted to confront that bastard Woodford on his own. Not let him weasel his way out with the police.
“Peter, are you sure…?” Jones looked skeptical.
“Yeah. I’ll tell the police about the abduction – call it a mugging or something. You know, rich tourist, yadda yadda.” He nodded to the door. “We should probably let the doctors know I’m awake.”
Jones stood and stuck his head out the door, asking a nurse to get Peter’s physician. Moments later, the doctor came and the room began to bustle. The medical staff checked Peter’s vitals, examined his head wound, and confirmed a slight concussion. The doctor mentioned an MRI, but Peter nixed that, promising to return if he developed any further symptoms.
“So when can I get out, Doc?” Peter didn’t want to stay any longer than he had to.
“As a precaution, we want to keep you overnight for observation.” The doctor made some notes on Peter’s chart. “I understand that the police are here to take your statement. I’ll make sure they know not to exhaust you.”
He left, and the police entered the room. Peter made up some story about being mugged. When they asked how he managed to get to shore, he honestly told them he had no idea. On their way out, they promised to follow up with him if they found any leads on his assailants.
Peter sighed, glad that they were gone.
“So what now?” Jones regarded him with a questioning look.
“Now – I’m stuck here. You, however, are not. Check in that drawer to see if there’s paper.”
Jones rooted around and came up with a notepad and pen. He handed it to Peter.
“I’ve got a few things I need for you to do. If you can pick up some clothes for me for tomorrow that would be great. Also, go to the site and secure everything you can. Put it in my hotel room if you have to.” He handed the list to Jones. “Oh, and leave a note for Neal at the hotel letting him know where I am.”
Jones chuckled. “Maybe one of his minions can deliver it.”
Peter huffed. “Yeah. This is just another reason I need to convince him to join the twenty-first century and get a damned cell phone.” He looked at his partner. “Thanks, Clinton. Be careful. I don’t trust Woodford not to go after you, too.”
“What about your safety here, Peter? You’re basically a sitting duck.”
“I’ll be fine. Woodford’s goons won’t try anything in a public place.” Peter yawned. “Go. I think I need to take a nap.”
“I’ll be back tomorrow to get you out of here.” Jones left with a wave.
Peter settled back on the pillows, his mind turning towards what had happened. The fact that Woodford had hired men to kill him chilled him to the bone. He knew his former partner was cold, but he never would have thought he would stoop to murder. He needed to figure out a way to keep Woodford away from the fresco and keep himself safe at the same time. For a brief moment he thought about hiring private guards, but dismissed that as too expensive. Plus, the university would have questions. Besides, he wouldn’t even know where to hire them.
Maybe Neal could help. His family might have local connections.
That thought morphed into the image of whoever – whatever – pulled him out of the depths of the ocean. Peter searched his memories but only came up with flashes of skin and scales and blue eyes and dark hair. Like the image on the fresco. Like the Mer people on the border.
His eyelids suddenly heavy, Peter fell asleep to images of the Mer dancing among the waves.
“Lunchtime.” The nurse bustled about; making sure Peter had everything he needed. She winked at him. “I added an extra dessert.”
“Thank you.” Peter smiled back at her. He looked at his tray in amazement. Bacon wrapped asparagus and carrots, some kind of beef with a mushroom sauce, salad with feta, and two desserts: lemon cake and galaktoboureko – Greek custard pie. The American hospitals had nothing on this.
It tasted as good as it looked. Peter wolfed it down, earning a chuckle from the elderly man in the next bed.
“Our food…it is good?”
“Definitely,” Peter grinned. “Even in here.”
“Good, good.” The man leaned forward and extended a hand. “I am Stavros.”
“Peter.” They shook, and Peter sat back eyeing his food.
“Eat.” Stavros gestured at Peter to finish. “You need. Keep up your strength. For the gorgóna.”
“Gorgóna?” Peter blinked, confused at the man’s reference.
“Yes. How you say in English…” The man paused. “Mermaids. Yes. For the mermaids.”
“I – I don’t understand.” How could this man know he’d discovered a possible connection to the Mer? “What do you mean?”
“You. You have kissed a mermaid.” Stavros stated this with a proud smile on his face. “You have the mark.”
Mark? “What do you mean? What mark?”
“Look.” Stavros motioned to the small mirror on the opposite wall. “On your shoulder.”
Peter moved the tray table aside and stood, careful to keep his hospital gown closed. Still slightly wobbly, he made his way over to the mirror and pulled the neck of his gown to the side.
There was a bruise on his collarbone – dark and bluish. Studying it, Peter realized it resembled a trident. He turned to the old man. “You mean this?”
“Yes. The mark.” Again Stavros smiled at him.
“It’s just a bruise.”
“No, the mark of the Mer.” The man was insistent. Peter didn’t want to agitate him, so he played along.
“Why do you say that?” he asked, returning to his bed.
“Why are you here?” Stavros countered with his own question. “In the hospital.”
“I…” Peter paused, deciding the filter the truth. “I almost drowned.
“And a mermaid saved you. Kissed you.” Stavros lifted his hands in an expansive shrug, as if to say ‘that was that’. “Just like the stories.”
“Stories?” Peter’s ears perked up. He knew the typical fables about mermaids - Hans Christian Anderson, Disney – but he didn’t remember anything about being marked by a mermaid. “Tell me.”
“My father learned from his father who learned from his father…” the man began, telling Peter about sailors and unlucky travelers who fell overboard, then were miraculously rescued by beings with tails that ‘kissed’ them by breathing air into their lungs. Subsequently, they were marked with the sign of Poseidon.
Peter touched the bruise as Stavros continued his story.
“The peoples, they are now connected with the mermaids, and if they are lucky, they can go live with them in their palaces under the sea.” The man winked at Peter. “Maybe you are lucky and can go live with your mermaid?”
Peter had to laugh. “Who knows. Maybe I will be.” Again, an image of Neal flashed in his mind – standing on the beach, then underwater, his majestic tail swishing back and forth. Peter banished the thought, chalking it up to the concussion.
He was about to continue when Jones entered the room, followed by Neal, a concerned look on his face.
“Peter, are you okay? Jones told me what happened.” Neal sat on the edge of the bed and took Peter’s hand. “I should have been here.”
“I’m fine, Neal. Just a bit sore and bruised.” He smiled at Neal, trying to reassure him with his gaze that everything was okay.
“Did the police find them?”
“Not yet, but I doubt they will.” Peter hated to lie to Neal, but he didn’t want him to be involved. “It was a mugging gone bad, and those usually don’t get solved.”
Neal didn’t look convinced, but seemed to accept Peter’s explanation, much to his relief.
“I checked at the nurses’ station and they are getting your discharge papers ready.” Jones handed Peter a bag. “Here are the clothes you wanted me to get. I’m sure you’ll be happy to get out of that hospital gown.”
“You have no idea.” Peter headed to the bathroom and changed into his street clothes. It felt so good to get out of hospital attire. When he exited, he saw Neal sitting on the other bed, speaking softly to Stavros. Neal murmured something to the old man - it sounded like Greek - but not the modern tongue. The old man replied and Neal laughed, lightly patting Stavros on the shoulder before getting up.
The nurse came in with Peter’s discharge papers before he could ask Neal what he was doing. “Are you ready?”
“Past ready.” Peter signed on the dotted line, and gathered his few belongings. “It was a pleasure meeting you, Stavros, although I wish it had been under better circumstances.”
“You too, Peter. Be safe.” The old man looked at Neal with a secret smile before returning his gaze to Peter. “And good luck with your mermaid.”
“I have to take you to the car in a wheelchair. Hospital rules.” Jones’ comment interrupted Peter’s thought. “Sorry about that.”
“That’s fine. Let’s get out of here. I want to check the site.” Peter climbed into the chair and let Jones wheel him out of the room and towards the entrance. He couldn’t wait to get out of there. He needed to make sure the site was secure.
And figure out a way to deal with Woodford without getting killed.
Jones helped Neal settle Peter back in his hotel room. Neal cringed in sympathy as Peter eased himself down onto the bed with a wince. Neal asked, “Are you sure you should be out of the hospital?” but it only earned him a glare from Peter and a chuckle from Jones.
“Yes, I’m sure. I can recuperate just as easily here as I can in a hospital bed.” Neal watched as Peter leaned forward to unlace his shoes, but hissed at the pain.
“Peter!” Neal put the bag of prescriptions on the end table. “Let me help.” He bent to assist Peter with his shoes, but got another glare.
“Neal, I’m fine.” Peter waved him off.
“No, you’re not. Your ribs are bruised and you almost drowned! You are not fine!” Neal knew he sounded petulant; but Peter’s injuries had shaken him to the core.
“Yes I am.” Peter opened his mouth to continue, but Jones interrupted.
“You two sound like an old married couple.” Jones headed to the door. “Neal, Peter is a stubborn pain in the ass when he’s hurting. Don’t let him get away with it. Peter, Neal is just trying to help and you know you need it. So let him, okay?” He paused at the entrance. “Get some rest and I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“See you.” Peter sighed and looked at Neal. “Jones is right. I’m a bad patient.”
“Then let me help you.” Neal smiled at Peter, accepting the unspoken apology. “Please?”
Peter sighed and glanced at Neal. “I guess I could use some help with my shoes.”
Neal knelt at Peter’s feet and gently removed his shoes and socks. Placing them off to one side, he stood and began unbuttoning Peter’s shirt. “Think you can slip into a t-shirt with my help?”
“Maybe, if we move slowly.” Peter shrugged out of the button-down.
Neal sucked in a breath at the mottled bruises that covered his body. “Oh, Peter…” He lightly touched the one on Peter’s chest.
“It’s okay. I’ve had worse.” Peter took Neal’s hand and brought it to his lips for a kiss. “Besides, I have you to take care of me.”
“One day you’ll have to tell me that story,” Neal responded, walking over to the dresser and pulling out a soft grey tee. “C’mon, arms in front of you.”
He helped Peter into the shirt, settling it on his shoulders and pulling the hem down. “Okay, stand up now.” Peter obliged. With a smile, Neal unbuckled Peter’s belt and unbuttoned the waist of his jeans.
“You know I can take my pants off myself, right?” Peter’s voice was wry.
“Oh, I know.” Neal kissed him softly and unzipped him, tugging the jeans down to Peter’s ankles. “Step out.” Peter complied, leaning on Neal’s shoulder for support. Neal tossed the jeans on the nearby chair. “Okay, now you’re going to get under the covers.”
“I’m not tired.”
“Humor me, okay?” Neal flipped the covers back and motioned for Peter to climb in. He noted Peter’s grimace and went to the minifridge to get a bottle of water. Twisting off the cap, he handed it to Peter and shook two pain pills out of the medicine bottle.
He held them out to Peter. “Take these.”
“I don’t...” Peter began, but hissed as he shifted on the bed.
“You do.” Neal’s voice was firm. “Doctor’s orders. Rest and pain medication, and if you get worse, it’s back to the hospital.”
“I’ll take them on one condition.” Peter sounded like a little boy bargaining with his parent. Neal couldn’t help but think how adorable it was.
“That you lie down next to me.” Peter looked at him hopefully.
Neal smiled. “I can do that.” He handed the pills to Peter and shed his own clothes until he was down to an undershirt and boxer briefs. Neal waited until Peter swallowed the medicine before slipping into the bed next to the other man. He gently pulled Peter close, spooning him as they got comfortable. “Is this okay?” Neal asked, wrapping his arms around Peter. “I’m not hurting you, am I?”
“No, it’s perfect.” Neal felt Peter relax as he settled into Neal’s embrace. Neal captured Peter’s hand and rubbed his thumb across Peter’s palm.
They lay like that for a while – enjoying the muted sounds of the ocean outside the window.
“I was so scared.” Peter’s voice was so soft Neal barely heard it. “Between the helplessness of being restrained…the water…not being able to breathe…all I could think of was never seeing you again…” Peter trailed off and Neal felt his body begin to shake.
Neal gently turned him over, tucking Peter’s head into the crook of his shoulder. The dampness of his t-shirt told him that Peter was finally reacting to the whole event. The shuddering sobs wracking Peter’s body tore at Neal’s heart and all he could do was hang on as Peter worked through his catharsis.
Soon it was over. Peter’s breathing calmed, his body riding out the aftershocks. He pulled back, wiping his eyes with his palm and gave Neal a watery half-smile.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know that was going to happen.”
“It’s okay.” Neal kissed him. “I would have been more surprised if you hadn’t reacted. You needed that.”
“Yeah.” Peter paused, then began to chuckle. “You know what’s kind of funny about the whole thing?” He shifted to get more comfortable in Neal’s arms. “If there can be a funny thing.”
“Right when I thought it was over and I knew I was going to die, you were there.” Peter smoothed Neal’s t-shirt over his chest almost as if he were soothing himself.
“Really?” Neal didn’t move, his thoughts whirling. He hadn’t been able to ask Peter what he’d remembered during his time under water. He’d hoped that Peter would write them off as hallucinations from oxygen deprivation.
“Yeah, you were right in front of me, smiling. And you had a tail – like a mermaid. Then you leaned in and kissed me.”
Neal inhaled sharply. Peter remembered their kiss. He remembered seeing Neal as Mer. Telling himself he had to keep calm, he regulated his breathing. “And?” he asked, hoping he sounded normal.
“And then I woke up in the hospital.”
“So it was just a hallucination then.” Maybe he could convince Peter that that’s all it was.
“I guess so.” Peter glanced up at Neal. “You know…Stavros, the old man in the bed next to me…he said I’d been saved by a mermaid.”
“Yeah. He said the mermaid kissed me and now I’m marked.” Peter pulled his shirt collar down to show him the bruise. “He said now we’re linked.”
“Interesting story.” Neal kept his tone even, hoping that Peter couldn’t feel the racing of his heart.
“Yeah.” Peter yawned. “So I guess that means you’re my mermaid.” His eyes fluttered shut and soon Neal could feel Peter’s breathing even out.
My mermaid. Neal gazed at Peter as he slept, and came to a decision. Neal would have to tell him the truth. He lay wide awake, Peter’s head on his shoulder, as the sun slipped below the horizon. Tonight, he would transform.
He just hoped he was doing the right thing.