Fandom: White Collar
Characters/Pairings: Neal/Peter, Mozzie, Jones, Diana, Cameos by Hughes and June
Word Count: This Part – 7,825
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.
The room was dark when Peter woke. He reached for Neal, but found the bed empty, the sheets cool to the touch. He rolled slightly and saw Neal sitting in the corner chair, his body in partial shadow.
“Hey.” Peter’s voice was gruff. “How long did I sleep?”
“A couple of hours. You needed it.”
“What are you doing over there? Come back to bed.” Peter patted the mattress.
“Actually, I’d like to take a walk if you’re up to it. I need to show you something.”
Peter frowned. Something was off. Neal didn’t sound like – Neal. He sounded tense. “Sure. Let me get dressed.” He pulled on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, glad that he wasn’t feeling as sore as earlier, then slipped into a pair of boat shoes. “Where are we going?”
“Just down to the beach.” Neal didn’t say anything else, and again Peter was struck by his odd tension radiating from him.
Peter locked the hotel room door and they strolled across the patio. He saw the table where Larson and Wilkes had abducted him, and it sent a shiver down his spine. Neal noticed and took his hand, squeezing it in silent reassurance.
They made their way slowly to the shore, until they stood at the edge of the water, its color obsidian black, the waves breaking into pristine whitecaps. Peter took a deep breath, then another, repeating “It’s just the ocean,” over and over in his head.
“It’s just the ocean, Peter.” Neal caressed the back of Peter’s neck. “It didn’t do anything to you – the men who abducted you did.” The back and forth movement of Neal’s thumb calmed Peter. Neal was right – Larson and Wilkes were responsible, not the sea. He turned and wrapped his arms around Neal, pulling him in tight.
“Thank you.” He rested his head against Neal’s. “Is this what you wanted to show me?”
“Then what?” Peter frowned as Neal stepped away from him and began shedding his clothes. “Neal, what the hell are you doing?” Peter hissed. “Someone will see you!” He looked around to see if there were any guests loitering.
“It’s fine, Peter. No one else is around. This is what I wanted to show you.”
Neal had placed his clothes on one of the lounge chairs and stood naked before Peter. His skin glowed alabaster and perfect in the dim light spilling from the hotel. Peter watched as he walked into the waves, a reverse Venus returning to the sea.
When the water was waist high, Neal turned and faced him. “I was going to tell you this, but I think showing you would be better.”
Tell him? Tell him what? “Neal, what are you talking about?” Peter was confused. “What’s going on?”
Neal rubbed his ear and murmured some words too low for Peter to hear. He stood tall as though he was waiting for something. Peter felt clueless about what was happening.
“Neal…” he began, his words cut short as Neal collapsed into the water. Peter watched, horrified as the ocean churned around Neal’s body. Standing helplessly on the sand, he saw Neal’s anguished face, his mouth open in a silent scream as a large scaled animal breached the surface, plunging Neal underwater. The man and the animal writhed together, the sea roiling as they twisted around and around, going further out into the depths.
He rushed forward, only to be brought up short by Neal’s guttural. “Stop!” before the other man sank beneath the waves again.
Peter halted, scanning the slowly calming water for Neal. “Oh god, Neal!” He couldn’t see anything. Kicking his shoes off, Peter waded into the ocean, frantically searching for any indication of where Neal was.
Peter was preparing to dive when Neal launched out of the sea, soaking Peter with the wake. “Neal.” He reached for the other man, grabbing an arm to keep him above water.
“Okay….I’m okay…” Neal was breathing hoarsely. “It’s over.”
“What’s over?” The words had just left his mouth when he was nudged by a large animal. Glancing down, he saw scales, muted in the water as it passed by him.
“Neal, look out!” Peter scrabbled back, pulling Neal with him.
“No, Peter, no. It’s okay.”
“Neal, there’s something in the water!” Peter looked around frantically but couldn’t see where the creature had gone.
“Peter, look at me!” The force of Neal’s voice had Peter locking eyes with him. “Peter, that’s not another creature. It’s me.”
“What?” Neal wasn’t making sense. “You?”
“Let go of me and I’ll show you.” Peter released Neal’s arm and the man drifted away from him, moving closer to the shoreline.
As Neal headed into shallower water, Peter saw what looked like dark bruising beginning at his waist. It moved down his body, shimmering in the low lights from the land.
It was scales. On Neal’s body.
Neal turned to Peter and smiled, flipping up what only could be a tail, fins translucent.
“It’s me. What you saw.” Neal stretched out, showing Peter more of his tail. “I’m a Mer.”
Shocked, Peter stood still as the waves pushed against him, almost coaxing him to move closer to Neal. Suddenly it all made sense. The fresco with the image that looked like Neal, his in-depth knowledge of Mer fables, the look that Stavros gave him in the hospital…
“You saved me.” Peter blurted out the first thing in his head. “From drowning - that was you.”
“Yeah. That was me.” Neal replied simply.
“How did you know I was in trouble?”
“I didn’t. I was coming back to see you and I heard your voice on the boat. I saw them toss you overboard. You were sinking. I had to do something.”
“And the mark that Stavros told me about? Is that story real?”
“Yeah.” Neal ducked his head. “When a human is kissed by a Mer in their true form, it bonds them.”
Peter tried to process this information, but his brain was not cooperating. This had to be another hallucination brought on by the concussion. “Can I touch you?”
Neal’s voice was sad. “I’m still me, Peter. Just with a tail. Of course you can touch me.”
Peter reached a hand out and brushed it against Neal’s scales. They were warm and almost velvet-like, not cold and fishy as he might have expected. He could feel Neal’s muscles shudder under his fingers. He moved lower down Neal’s side, towards his tail and looked up at Neal for permission. Neal nodded and Peter splayed his hand over the tips of his tail fins, running them through his fingers.
Neal let out a whimper and Peter snatched his hand back. “Did I hurt you?”
“No.” Neal chuckled. “Let’s just say that the Mer like having their tails played with.”
“Oh.” Oh. Peter blushed even though he knew Neal couldn’t really see him. “So…um…can you move to shallower water so I can see all of you? You won’t get stranded will you?”
“Not if I stay in the shallows.” Neal moved to the shore and flipped over, leaning back on his arms and looking up at Peter with a grin. “How’s this?”
“Good.” Peter gazed at him, cataloguing the subtle differences that he’d missed while he was trying to wrap his head around Neal being Mer. Neal’s skin was paler, lustrous, with an inner glow that definitely indicated that he wasn’t human. His eyes were slanted, and the look in them was ancient, something he’d never revealed to Peter before. His hair, always thick, was longer and curled against his neck.
But his tail – the blues and greens radiating across his body, the inherent power at rest – it took Peter’s breath away. Neal was beautiful and terrifying and it was all true.
The Mer were real. And Peter had found one.
“Like what you see?” Neal’s amused comment brought Peter out of his reverie.
He chuckled. “Yeah.” He could admit that with no problem.
“Actually, you’re taking this better than I thought.” Neal flipped himself back into the water and swam close to Peter. “Most humans freak out.”
“Yeah, well.” Peter gestured at Neal. “I think I knew you were ‘you’ before you became ‘you’ if that makes any sense.” It didn’t really make any sense to Peter, but he hoped that Neal understood what he meant.
“Frighteningly, it does.” Neal paused. “So where does this leave us?”
Peter knew what Neal was asking. Now that Neal had revealed his true self, what did that mean for their relationship? “Honestly, I don’t know,” Peter replied. “Part of me is like a kid at Christmas and the other part wants to run screaming in fear.” He looked at Neal. “Can I have some time?”
“Anything you want, Peter.”
Neal looked resigned and Peter knew that he’d hoped for a different answer. But there was too much that Peter had to think about and he didn’t want to make a rash decision. “Thank you.”
“Okay. How about this.” Neal paused, obviously running something through his head. “I have to go home, but I’ll be back in two days. One hour after sunset. We can meet then.”
“Home? And that would be…?” Peter raised an eyebrow.
“Atlantis,” Neal replied sheepishly.
“Atlantis.” Peter commented. “Of course. That’s real too.”
Peter looked at Neal. He could see uncertainty and hope in the other man’s gaze. So he did the only thing he could think of to do. He wrapped his arms around Neal and softly, he captured his lips with his own.
They tasted salty from the ocean mixed with the familiar taste of Neal only more. It was heady, and for a moment Peter was willing to agree to anything. He pulled away reluctantly, resting their foreheads together.
“Neal, I’m not saying no. I’m just saying I need some time. Okay?” He felt Neal nod. “Two days. We’ll meet back here in two days.”
“Okay.” Neal kissed him, the gesture a paradox of confidence and desperation. “Two days.” He slipped from Peter’s arms and with a splash he was gone.
Peter stood in the sea for a moment, searching for Neal in the black water, knowing he wouldn’t find him. Sighing, he turned and made his way back to his room. He knew he’d get no sleep tonight.
Larson watched from the shadows as Peter entered his hotel room. He still couldn’t believe what he’d seen. Burke had found mermaids. And the bastard was sleeping with one, if that kiss was any indication. Larson flipped through the photos he’d taken once he’d gotten past his shock and chuckled. He knew exactly what to do with them. Woodford would pay well for this, as well as the conversation he’d overheard. Lighting a cigarette, he sauntered to his car and drove away, plans already running through his head.
Two days later Peter was at his wits end. Time had never moved so slowly before. He swore to Jones that his watch was ticking backwards every time he looked at it. Jones just laughed and teased him about being twitterpated.
He and Jones were staying past the regular working hours simply because Peter needed something to do so he wouldn’t go crazy. They didn’t do any actual excavating, just straightened up the dig site and cataloged some of the artifacts they’d found near the fresco.
Peter kept glancing at the art – at Neal. It helped knowing that every moment brought Peter closer to seeing him again.
Finally there was nothing else that they could do that didn’t constitute starting a new project. “Okay. I’ve kept you here long enough, Clinton. Let’s go. I can figure out what to do with myself for the next hour or so.”
“You sure?” Clinton finished wrapping up the extension cords. “We can go get a beer or something.”
“No. Go on and have fun.” Peter grinned at the speed at which Jones stowed the cords.
“I will. And Peter? Relax. You have nothing to worry about.” Jones clapped Peter on the shoulder on his way out.
Peter knew he was right. He was just anxious to see Neal again. He looked around the dig site and saw a few tools that still needed to be put back in their places. Gathering them up, he placed them in the bins in the supply area.
Taking a look at the fresco one last time, he walked through the gate - a new addition since his accident – closing it and making sure the lock was secure. He had only taken one step away when he heard a loud crash and cursing.
“Jones?” Peter shouted, running towards the area where he’d heard the crash.
“Peter!” Jones called back. Peter could hear pain in his voice. “The walkway collapsed!”
As the dust settled, Peter saw Jones on the ground, pieces of the wooden walkway scattered around him. Jones was grimacing, holding his ankle.
“What the hell happened?” Peter crouched down and pulled Jones’ hand away from his leg. His leg was scraped up and Peter could see swelling beginning over the top of his boot.
“I don’t know.” Jones hissed as Peter gently touched his ankle. “I was headed up to the exit and I felt the supports give way. I jumped off to the side and felt my ankle crunch.”
“Yeah – I think it’s broken. We need to get you to the hospital. Can you walk?” He began to put his shoulder under Jones’ arm but the other man waved him off.
“Check the supports first.” Jones pointed to the wooden posts. “I think they were tampered with.”
“Tampered with?” Peter looked over to where Jones was pointing but couldn’t see anything from where they were. “How do you know?”
“I used to work construction in college. I can tell when something’s been messed with.”
Peter stood up and walked over to the area that Jones had indicated. On first inspection, he didn’t see anything, but as he looked closer, he saw cut marks and what looked like light burns.
“You’re right. It looks like someone cut the posts then put something on it to burn it so it would collapse when someone stepped on it.” Peter moved back to where Jones was sitting and helped him up. “We need to get your ankle looked at.”
Slowly they made their way to the parking lot using an alternate route. Peter got Jones settled in the passenger seat of his truck, and drove towards the hospital, each man lost in his own thoughts.
“You think Woodford did this, don’t you.” Jones broke the silence.
“Yeah….I’m certain of it.” He was. Very certain. It had Woodford’s stench all over it.
“But there was no way he would know when you would be on that walkway.” Jones shifted, hissing as his ankle bumped against the console.
“Doesn’t matter. I think he just wanted to shut down our portion of the dig. You know, to give himself more time to figure out how to get me out of the way. If it had been me it would have just been perfect.” Peter swerved to avoid a couple on a scooter and winced at Jones curse. “Sorry.”
“That’s okay. So what are you going to do?”
“I need to call Dimitrios,” he said, referring to the site manager. “He needs to know what happened.”
“Are you going to tell him the truth?” Peter could feel Jones’s gaze on him. “About Woodford?”
“I have no proof. All I can tell him is that the site was tampered with.” Peter sighed. “I don’t know...”
Their conversation halted as they pulled up to the Emergency room doors. Peter got Jones situated in a wheelchair and checked him in. “Are you okay here for a bit? I need to let Dimitrios know what happened at the site.”
“Yeah, I’ll be fine. There’s gonna be a wait anyway.” Jones chuckled. “And I’m not going anywhere.”
“Okay.” Peter stepped outside of the Emergency Room doors and pulled his phone from his pocket. Dialing quickly, he waited for Dimitrios to pick up the phone. When he did, Peter explained the situation, reassuring the man that Jones was not severely injured.
When he told Dimitrios that the walkway had been tampered with, the other man began shouting and the only way Peter could calm him down was to tell him he would go back to the site and wait for the police. Disconnecting the phone, he walked back into the waiting room.
“Dimitrios wants me to go back to the site.” Peter ran his hand through his hair. “I told him that you hadn’t seen a doctor yet and I didn't know when that would happen but it didn't seem to matter. He wants me back at the dig to deal with the police until he can get there."
“Don’t worry. I figured you needed to get back and deal with the site so I called Phaidra to come babysit me. She’ll be here in a few.”
Peter huffed a sigh of relief. “You’re okay with that?”
“Go. The sooner you get this all wrapped up the sooner you can go see Neal.”
“Shit!” In all the chaos he’d completely forgotten about meeting Neal. Peter looked at his watch. Nine thirty. If he’d calculated correctly, he had about 45 minutes before sunset.
Jones chuckled. “Go,” he repeated. “I’ll be fine.”
“Thanks. Call or text and let me know what they say.” Peter headed out of the Emergency Room and climbed back into his truck. He knew he was taking the roads a little too fast, but he wanted to get back to the dig site so he could get things under control before he had to meet Neal at the beach.
Peter chuckled ruefully. Before, when he couldn’t get ahold of Neal, he cursed the man’s refusal to carry a cell phone. Now he knew why. His mind wandered – how did they communicate in Atlantis? Just another question to ask Neal.
That conversation was going to be interesting. Peter knew he was going to say yes when Neal asked him if they could be together – the two days without him had shown Peter that he needed the other man in an elemental way that he couldn’t explain.
The theory excited him. The execution – not so much. Peter wondered if there was even a way for him to visit Atlantis with Neal. He supposed so. After all, Neal had a way to be on land. Surely they had something that would give Peter the ability to live under water.
He pulled into the parking lot of the excavation and turned off the motor. The police were waiting outside the main gate, the light bars on their cars flashing blue and red in the night. Peter squared his shoulders and got out of the truck. Jones was right, the sooner he dealt with this, the sooner he could get to the beach and see Neal. Being together was the most important part – they could figure out the logistics of everything else as they went.
Four hours and an irate site manager later, Peter was finally able to break away. Dimitrios was livid, cursing in a mix of Greek, English and some sort of Cretan dialect about how the vandals were lower than low and deserved to be fed to rabid dogs.
Peter had given his statement numerous times as the higher ups kept appearing asking for information. He wasn’t sure they believed him when he told them that he had no idea who might have sabotaged the walkway. Frankly, he didn’t care. He just wanted everything to be over with so he could head to the beach and meet Neal.
He glanced at his watch as he slid behind the wheel of the truck. Technically he was two hours late. He knew that Neal had said he would try to make it, but Peter hoped he’d been successful and was waiting. He gunned the truck as he headed down the hill to the hotel parking lot. Kicking up gravel, Peter stopped at an angle, threw the truck into Park and grabbed the duffle with Neal’s clothes that he’d rescued from the beach two days before.
He all but ran to the beachfront, scanning the tides for any sign of Neal, but he was nowhere to be found.
“Relax, Burke,” Peter told himself as he settled on one of the chaise lounges. “He said he might not be able to make it.”
His phone buzzed in his pocket. Pulling it out, he saw a text from Jones.
Ankle busted. Getting a boot. What’s the update?”
Peter texted back. Done with police. Not sure they believed me when I said I didn’t know who did it. Waiting on Neal.
Did you check the hotel?
Peter mentally slapped himself. He should have called just in case Neal had gotten tired of waiting at the beach. A quick call confirmed that Neal had not checked back in yet. Peter left a message to call from his room when he arrived.
Sighing, he leaned back on the chaise and closed his eyes, trying to relieve the headache that was threatening to explode. The rhythmic ebb and flow of the waves soothed him and he felt his body start to relax.
Peter woke, stiff and sore, as the sun peeked over the horizon. Shit! He’d fallen asleep waiting for Neal. He sat up, wincing at the tightness of his muscles. Looking around, he saw no sign that Neal had returned during the night.
Peter was not going to worry. Neal had said he would try to meet Peter last night, not that he would. Something probably held him up. Still, Peter was disappointed. He’d wanted to see Neal’s face, his smile, when Peter told him ‘yes.’
Standing up, he found a thin piece of driftwood. Up in a lea of some rocks, he dug into the sand and wrote ‘Missed you. Come find me when you can.’
Satisfied, he headed to his room to shower and start his day.
The shower was exactly what Peter needed. The pounding of the water eased the stiffness of his muscles and sluiced away the dirt and grime left over from yesterday’s work at the fresco. Feeling sufficiently clean, he stepped out of the shower and dried off, wrapping a towel around his waist.
He stopped short at the sight of Larson sitting in the chair by the window.
“Hello, Burke.” Larson looked relaxed, one leg crossed over the other.
“Larson. What the hell are you doing here?” Peter glanced around the room, looking for some sort of weapon he could use to protect himself. “Planning on tossing me overboard again?”
“Not this time.” Larson shifted, showing Peter the pistol he had in his hand. “I’m just here to deliver a message.”
“From who?” Peter didn’t move. He knew that Larson wouldn’t hesitate to use the gun if need be. And being in just a towel left him at a distinct disadvantage.
“Woodford. He wanted me to invite you to his home this afternoon.”
“Why the hell would I go to see Woodford?” The invitation made no sense.
“He said it had to do with the fresco…oh and to let you know that your new friend would be there.”
New friend? “Who are you…” Peter’s breath stopped. Neal! Woodford had Neal. “You son of a bitch! If you hurt him…” Peter lunged forward, only to face the barrel of Larson’s gun.
“Relax, your friend is fine. And he’ll stay that way as long as you keep your cool. Woodford wants you there at noon. Don’t show up any earlier, don’t bring any weapons and don’t try anything funny.” Larson stood and walked toward the door. “And at the risk of sounding cliché, Burke, don’t call the cops. It will just make everything messy.” With that he was gone.
Peter slumped on the bed, head in his hands. Everything made sense now. The sabotage at the site. Neal not showing up for their meeting on the beach. Woodford must have kidnapped him. Helpless, he ran a hand over his face, his mind racing. Why would Woodford abduct Neal? He didn’t even know who he was. Peter stilled, his body going cold and his stomach rolling with nausea.
Woodford didn’t know who Neal was, but Peter was certain he knew what Neal was. Somehow he’d found out that Neal was a Mer.
Peter quickly got dressed and rushed out the door. He needed to find a way to save Neal and he needed to do it fast.
Peter called Dimitrios on his way to the beach. The site manager told him that the police were no closer to finding out who had sabotaged the walkway but that they had given him permission to repair it. Peter reassured Dimitrios that the university wouldn’t sue and commented that he needed to update Woodford on the matter and did Dimitrios have his address. He hung up after getting directions to where Woodford was staying.
The beach was surprisingly bare. A few guests were lounging on the beach chairs and a short bald man with glasses was ankle deep in the waves. As Peter got closer, he heard the man muttering to himself.
Peter saw his message to Neal tucked into the area of the rocks. He quickly brushed it away – no one needed to see it now that he knew Woodford had Neal.
Moving to the waterline, he looked to see if there was any indication of how Woodford’s men had captured Neal. Maybe that could tell him if Neal had already transformed before they’d abducted him.
“Where is he!” The voice took Peter by surprise. He turned and was confronted with the short man. “What did you do with him?”
“Neal.” The man poked Peter in the chest, knocking him back a step. “Where is he?”
“You know Neal? How?” Who was this person? “Wait. Are you a Mer?”
“Keep your voice down!” The man grabbed Peter’s arm and pulled him off to the side. “I’m Neal’s advisor.”
“Why would Neal need an advisor?”
“Because he has court business.” The man’s tone was dismissive.
“Court business?” Peter paused, thinking. “Wait, that would make Neal a -”
“A prince,” the man interrupted. “He’s the crown Prince of Atlantis. He was supposed to come see you, then come back to the palace for an event. He never showed.” The man glared at him. “What did you do with him?”
“I didn’t do anything with him. Neal was kidnapped.”
“What!” The man’s screech drew the attention of the sunbathers.
Peter shushed him. “We need to talk somewhere privately. Come on.”
He herded the short man up to his room. “Sit.” He gestured to the chair. “Okay first. What’s your name? I need to call you something.” The man sat down and looked at Peter in silence. Peter sighed. “Really? Look, you’re a Mer. I’m not about to go stalking you on Facebook.”
“You can call me Mozzie. And I have a different username for Facebook.” Mozzie took off his glasses and wiped them on his shirt.
Peter shook his head in disbelief. “I’m going to pretend you didn’t say that. But we’ve got a problem.” He filled Mozzie in on what details he knew about Neal’s kidnapping and the events leading up to it. “And so I have to be at Woodford’s house at noon which is - ,” he looked at his watch, “ – in an hour and a half. And I have no clue what I’m walking into.”
“I can help.” Mozzie grinned.
“How?” Peter had no idea how this man was going to aid in freeing Neal.
“That’s for me to know.” Mozzie walked over to the door. Opening it, he stepped aside, letting in the ginger cat that had been so friendly with Peter. The feline jumped on the bed and rubbed itself against Peter with a purr before sitting down and looking expectantly at Mozzie.
The short man began to make strange noises that, to Peter, sounded like hissing and meowing. The cat replied, chirruping and flicking its tail. The conversation was brief, ending with the feline hopping off the bed and making a beeline out the door.
Mozzie turned back to Peter. “In deference to your limited ability to speak anything other than human languages, I’ll translate.” He gestured to the open door. “Nix is going to round up some of her connections and case Woodford’s house.”
“Her connections?” Peter was puzzled. “What do you mean by ‘connections’?”
Mozzie sighed. “The feline community. How else do you think I get my information?” He shook his head, muttering, “And Neal said you were smart.”
Peter chose not to take offense at that comment. “So you’ve been having her spy on me?”
Mozzie’s expression clearly said ‘duh’. “No one pays any attention to the cat population on the island. They’re the perfect network. In our case, they can do recon at Woodford’s place and give us an idea of what we’re up against. They may even be able to see where he’s hiding Neal.”
Though he didn’t want to admit it, Mozzie’s explanation made sense to Peter. “So what happens after we get the information?”
“We’ll free Neal.” Mozzie’s reply was simple and confident. “By the way, we’re going to need your assistant. Jones, right?”
“Yeah, but he broke his ankle. How is he going to be able to help?”
“He can drive the getaway car.”
“A Mer.” Jones looked over at Mozzie with a bemused expression. “As in fins and sea witches and Disney princesses?”
“Ariel’s voice was overrated,” Mozzie commented. “She just had a good publicist. But yes, that’s the general idea.”
“And Neal is a mermaid?”
“A Mer.” Mozzie corrected, muttering ‘heathen’ under his breath.
Peter smiled slightly. He knew Jones was poking at the other man while he tried to wrap his head around what Peter had quickly told him.
“And Woodford kidnapped him because he found out.”
“Yes!” Mozzie huffed. “And we have less than an hour to get to his house and rescue Neal.” He snapped his fingers at Jones. “Get past the incredulity and get with the program. Time’s wasting!”
“Fine, I’ll want proof later,” Jones said, smacking at Mozzie’s hand. “What’s the plan?”
Mozzie actually had the grace to flush. “We’re waiting on intel,” he said.
“From who?” Jones looked puzzled. “Do you have someone on the inside?”
Peter rubbed the back of his neck. “Um…not quite.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Mozzie has a – network – of locals scoping out Woodford’s house. We should hear something soon.” A stern ‘mrow’ interrupted him. Peter looked down to see Nix pacing back and forth, her tail twitching in agitation. He leaned back to let her leap up onto the table.
She placed herself in front of Mozzie and let out a yowl followed by hissing and baring of teeth. Jones’ face was a study in disbelief.
“Your information source is a cat?”
Peter shrugged. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Clinton, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. This is one of them. Just roll with it.”
Mozzie interrupted. “It’s worse than we thought. Woodford has Neal in a tank with a band around his fin. He can’t transform.”
“What do you mean he can’t transform?” Peter stared at the short man.
“Nix said Neal has a band on his fin. I’ll lay you odds it’s platinum. It’s the only metal that affects us. We can’t wear it because it keeps us in our Mer form. Somehow Woodford found that out and is keeping Neal trapped.”
“Shit!” Peter clenched his fist. If Mozzie was right then rescuing Neal just got a whole lot harder.
“And it gets worse.” Mozzie rubbed his face in agitation.
“Once the band’s exposed to air, if it doesn’t get taken off almost immediately, it causes our lungs to swell and we can’t breathe.”
Peter’s chest tightened. Mozzie was right. In additional to rescuing Neal, they had to cut him free quickly or he would suffocate. He turned back to the men seated at the table. “Okay, so what’s the plan?”
“I have an idea.” Mozzie pulled out a notepad and pen. “Here’s what we need to do.”
Ten minutes later they had something and were headed on their way to set it in motion.
Peter just hoped it worked.
Peter hesitated at the door to Woodford’s house. The plan they’d hatched was totally beyond the realm of reason, which was why he thought that it would be successful. The element of ludicrousness and surprise should work in their favor.
Squaring his shoulders, he knocked on the door. It creaked open, reminding Peter of a grade B horror flick. Peter cursed Woodford under his breath. It was just like that bastard to create melodrama to feed his ego. He stepped into the foyer, looking carefully around to make sure there wasn’t a trap of some kind.
“I’m in the house.” He spoke quietly into his collar. Mozzie had inserted some kind of mic in the seam so they could communicate. When Jones had asked where he’d gotten it, the little man’s answer was ‘Russian surplus.’ “No one in sight yet.”
Again Peter felt like he’d been thrown into one of the old horror movies that he’d watched as a child. Except that the bad guy’s guns were real and if this didn’t work, someone would get hurt – or worse, killed.
“I see you made it on time.” Woodford’s voice startled him. Peter turned and regarded the man in front of him. Woodford was smirking, a smug grin on his face that Peter wanted to wipe away with his fists.
Calming himself, Peter replied, “I’m here aren’t I?” He stepped away from the door, pushing it closed but not engaging the latch. His ‘army’, for lack of a better term, needed a way in.
“Now, now, Peter. No need to be rude. We’re all friends here.”
It was all Peter could do not to snort. “Your opinion, Allen, not mine.”
Woodford sighed. “Won’t you come join me for a drink?”
“Where’s Neal?” Peter was in no mood for Woodford’s pretend civility.
“Always cutting to the chase.” Woodford turned and headed into the library. “You know, a bit of decorum would go a long way, Peter.” He poured himself a glass of whiskey and took a sip. “It would make this all the more pleasant.”
“I’m not here for pleasant. Where’s Neal?” Peter breathed in deeply, trying to control his anger.
Sighing again, Woodford put his glass down. “Fine. Right to the moment, it seems.” He gestured to Peter. “Follow me.”
Woodford led Peter to a room in the back of the house. It was large, paneled and had chairs set up with auditorium style seating. Video cameras were spaced around the area, all pointing to the curtained wall behind the podium.
“What the hell is this?” Peter whirled and glared at Woodford. “For the last time, where is Neal!”
Woodford picked up a remote and pointed it at the curtain. With a click, Peter heard a whirr and the velvet parted to reveal a large tank.
He gasped. “Neal!”
Neal was imprisoned behind the glass. He was pale, his body bruised. Peter saw the band cinched tight around his fin. Hurrying to the tank, he placed his hand on the glass. “Neal, are you okay? Can you hear me?”
Neal nodded. He matched Peter’s hand with his own and Peter could swear he felt warmth seep through the glass. He turned to Woodford. “What the hell are you doing?”
“It’s actually very simple, Peter.” Woodford smirked again. “In approximately -,” he checked his watch, “- one hour, this room will be filled with some of the richest men and women from around the globe. Each of them will be bidding on the opportunity to own a real, live mermaid.”
“You’re selling Neal?” Peter froze at Woodford’s statement. “You can’t. He’s a living being -”
“He’s art, Peter. Living, breathing art. And there are those that will pay millions for the ability to own that art.” Woodford gestured to something behind Peter. He turned and saw that Larsen and Wilkes had entered the room. “Misters Larsen and Wilkes will be your – companions – shall we say, during the auction. Just to make sure you don’t do anything stupid.”
Peter saw his two former kidnappers standing at the door, guns in hand. Larsen smirked at him while Wilkes stood, stone faced and dangerous.
He turned back to Woodford, glancing at the clock on the wall. Twelve-ten. He had five minutes to stall while Mozzie’s crew got into position.
“Why I am here, Allen?” Peter was certain he knew the answer to that question, but he also knew that it would rile Woodford up just enough to get him talking. “You could have sold Neal and I would have been none the wiser.”
“Because I want you to feel what it’s like to have something you want snatched away from you!” Woodford’s voice was angry. “Just like you took from me in Kerameikos , I’m taking from you now!”
“I didn’t take anything from you, Allen,” Peter said, moving away from Neal and a bit closer to the door. He needed to be in a better position when he gave Mozzie the cue. “What you were doing was illegal. If it hadn’t been me, it would have been someone else who found out. And they might not have given you as much of a chance as I did.”
Woodford crossed the room and got into Peter’s face. “You self-righteous bastard! You thought that was a chance? It took me years to build back my reputation! All because you had to play the good guy!” In his anger, he shoved Peter. “I hated you – watching you rise up the ladder like some, some prince! Taking what was mine. Well now it’s your turn to watch me.”
He spun back towards Neal with a laugh. “And once the sale is over, you’ll disappear and I’ll be there to pick up where you left off.”
The sound of the clock pinging caught Peter’s attention. Twelve-fifteen. Time for the code word.
“You know he’s a prince, right?” Peter saw Neal’s shocked look at his statement and hoped he would forgive him. “The crown prince of Atlantis. They’ll come looking for him.”
Woodford was about to speak when there was a commotion coming from the front of the house. Barks and yowls and screeches filled the air as dozens of animals poured into the room.
Dogs howled and snapped at Larsen and Wilkes, knocking them down to the ground. Cats raced around the room, jumping on furniture, climbing up drapes, knocking off books and knickknacks. Birds few in circles around Woodford, cawing and pecking at him.
Peter grabbed the pistol that Lawsen had dropped when a dog had bitten him.
“Neal, move to the side!” Peter waited a hair to make sure Neal was as far away as he could be and began firing at the glass. It took too many bullets, but the tank shattered and Neal washed out onto the floor with the water. Peter dropped the gun and rushed over to Neal.
“Are you okay?” Peter checked Neal over, looking for any wounds.
“I’m fine.” Neal’s fin slapped lightly on the floor. “Just sore.”
“Good. We need to get you out of here. I need to carry you to the car. Mozzie’s there with something to get this band off you.”
“Mozzie’s here? How?”
“Long story. Tell you later.” Peter hoisted Neal up over his shoulder and made his way to the entrance. The animals were still causing havoc, giving them an opportunity to escape.
Peter rushed through the entranceway and out the front door as gunfire began.
His truck was in the driveway, engine racing, Jones behind the wheel. Mozzie was in the truck bed, gesturing frantically for Peter to hurry. Peter flipped Neal over onto the blankets they’d placed in the bed to protect Neal’s scales and hopped into the back with them.
The gunshots got louder. “Jones, go, GO!” Peter shouted as he saw Larsen and Wilkes tumble out of the doorway, surrounded by their animal attackers.
Jones floored the gas and the truck shot forward as the two men shot at them, taking out a side mirror. Bullets were flying as they drove down the gravel drive.
As Peter turned to Mozzie and Neal he felt a burning sensation in his side. Instinctively he touched it then brought his hand away, bloody.
He’d been shot.
He turned to see Neal’s horrified face as the world greyed and disappeared.
“Peter!” Neal shouted as Peter slumped against the side of the truck bed. “Mozzie, he’s hurt!” He flipped over onto his front and tried to pull himself towards the fallen man.
“Neal! You need to stay still or I won’t be able to get this band off you and you won’t be able to help Peter!” Mozzie pushed Neal’s shoulder so he would lie back in place and pulled out the cutter to remove the band.
“But Peter…” Neal couldn’t breathe. Peter was pale, his skin gray. The side of his shirt was red, the stain growing.
“I’m fine, Neal.” Peter’s voice was reedy and his eyes were still closed. “It’s just a graze.” Neal saw him put a hand to his side and wince. “Mozzie needs to get that off you.”
“We need to get you to the hospital, Peter! The band can wait.” Neal’s chest was tight and he felt like he was about to hyperventilate. He tried to gulp in air, panicking when the more he tried the harder it became.
“No we can’t.” Mozzie’s voice was tight. “The platinum is reacting to the air. If we don’t get you back into salt water soon, you’re going to suffocate.”
“But Peter…” Neal said again, his voice trailing off. He knew Mozzie was right – he could feel his chest constricting with every breath.
Peter opened his eyes and gave Neal a small smile. “I’ll be fine, Neal. Promise. We need to get you to the ocean.” He closed his eyes again.
Neal couldn’t focus, the lack of air making his thought processes blurry.
Mozzie made the decision for him. “Jones, turn left here! It’s a straight shot to a deserted beach!” He turned to Neal and put his hands on Neal’s face. “Breathe with me.”
Neal followed Mozzie’s breath pattern – in…out…in...out – and slowly felt the tightness ease. Within minutes they were at the beach. Jones pulled the truck up into the water.
Mozzie scrambled off the end of the truck and Neal watched dimly as he shook Peter. “Peter, we need to get Neal into the water. Can you help me?”
Peter opened his eyes. Neal saw a look pass between him and Mozzie but his brain was too fuzzy to make sense of it. Peter nodded, slowly getting out of the truck bed. He and Mozzie wrapped their arms around Neal and prepared to lift him out of the vehicle.
“Peter, are you sure?” Neal spoke softly, his breathing shallow.
“Yeah…I can do this.”
Neal felt himself being lifted and carried into the shallows. Peter and Mozzie set him down, the seawater sluicing over his fins. Suddenly, he could breathe again. Neal gulped in the air, grateful for every breath.
“Neal…gotta sit down.” Peter’s voice was faint. “Kind of woozy…”
Neal watched in horror as Peter collapsed face first into the surf.
“Peter!” Neal flipped over and grabbed Peter, pulling his face out of the waves. “Oh gods, Peter!”
Peter opened his eyes and looked at Neal. His breathing was shallow and Neal could see threads of crimson drifting through the water. “Neal…”
“No, no, no! Stay with me, Peter please!” He looked frantically at Mozzie. Mozzie, do something!” But he knew there was nothing his friend could do. “Peter…”
“Love you, Neal. Never forget, okay?” Peter began to cough, specks of blood darkening his lips. He smiled, a mix of pain and happiness. “Thank you…for showing me…”
Neal watched, tears streaming down his face, as Peter’s eyes lost focus and his face smoothed out.
“Peter…” Neal gathered him close, rocking Peter’s still body against his. The sun slipped behind a cloud, throwing the beach into shadow as Neal succumbed to his grief.
Neal didn’t know how long he sat there holding Peter’s lifeless body, his tears mingling with the ocean spray. At some point he recalled that Mozzie tried to uncurl his fingers from where they were clenched around Peter’s form. He shouted at his friend and clung tighter to Peter as if letting go would cause Peter to disappear. Mozzie retreated and left him alone in his sorrow.
“Neal.” The voice was soft and gravely. “Neal…son…you need to let him go.” Neal turned his tear-streaked face up to see his father. The king stood next to him, his form silhouetted by the setting sun.
“He’s gone, Neal.” His father knelt down in the surf. “Let me take him.”
“No!” Neal gripped tighter. “You have to fix this. You can fix this!” He pulled Peter closer, feeling the chilled skin against his own. “Please…fix this…”
“Neal, I can’t -” his father began, but Neal cut him off.
“You can!” Neal shook his head. “Please...”
“Neal…” The king started again.
“Your highness.” Neal heard Mozzie’s voice, low and urgent. “There’s one way. It’s not optimal but it could work.”
“Theodore, you know I can’t guarantee its success. And there are other ramifications.” Neal’s father sounded sad.
“What is it?” Neal looked at both of them. “What are you talking about?”
The king sighed. “There’s an old spell that might work to bring your human back. But there’s no guarantee. And Neal, you need to know-”
“Do it.” Neal’s voice was hoarse. “Bring him back.”
“Neal, you need to know what it entails.” Mozzie repeated what Neal’s father had started to say. “It’s not all starfish and anemones”
“I don’t care! Bring him back!”
“Neal. If I do this, you can never see your human again.” The king’s voice was solemn.
“Peter. His name is Peter.” Neal whispered. “And if this will save him, then do it.”
“Will you at least allow me to tell you how the spell works?” His father put his hand on Neal’s shoulder. “I won’t cast it unless you know.”
“Yes. Fine. Tell me.” Neal didn’t care. As long as Peter was alive, he’d suffer through anything. When his father was finished explaining, Neal nodded his head. “Do it.” He leaned down and kissed Peter’s cold lips, knowing it would be the last time they touched. Closing his eyes, he prepared himself for the pain he knew would come.