"I really have been rubbed out, haven't I?" Simone asked the stranger who had just gotten him off. He couldn't see him at all, everything was pitch black for him. But he felt him, and he was cold as death.

Though it was certainly a weird thing to think of Death giving him a handjob. But who was he to say what the underworld contained?

The stranger replied to him in an odd lilting language that didn't sound like anything he had heard before, then pulled away. Simone heard a splash, and then nothing. He was alone, wherever he was. Sitting up, he ran his hands along the wet stone, rough and uncut, clearly a cave of some sort.

Simone fumbled for his box of matches, but quickly discovered that they were waterlogged, like everything else on his person. He shivered, wondering if dead people could catch colds. Deciding not to risk it, he unbuttoned his suit and peeled off the wet layers of clothing. He groped around until he found the dryest rock to lay them on. Feeling unsettled, as if eyes were watching him, he blindly explored the cave with his hands.

Three sides of it were made of walls too steep for Simone to scale, and the other end sank into shallow water that suddenly dropped down. His heart stopped as his hand encountered nothing but placid water, and he scrambled back quickly, unwilling to find out exactly how deep it fell.

Sighing, he sat down onto the dry part of his prison, wondering what he was going to do. He was in the dark, with no food or light, and surrounded by seawater. If he didn't find a way out soon, he was dead. Even if he got out of here, he was dead. His family would find out he was still alive and put a contract out on it. It'd only be a matter of time before someone iced him.

His mind wandered to Lucian, with his deep blue eyes and his warm hands. He thought of that easy-going smirk as his lips pressed against his own, the nights of passion that they spent tangled between the sheets of the small house he owned. He thought of the easy conversations, and the just as easy silences between them. Simone had thought they had something special, something that was worth keeping.

Apparently Lucian valued other things more than him.

Simone reached over and took a small jewelry box out of his pants pocket, feeling an odd wave of relief that it wasn't gone forever. He opened it, fingers running along the simple metal band. His shoulders hunched, and he pressed the box close to his chest, wishing it'd stop the ache.

Sighing, he put the jewelry box back in his pocket. He had other, more desperate, things to worry about currently, like how to get out of this cave. And how to survive after he got out of the cave. That is, if he was even alive to begin with. For all he knew, he was already dead and this was his punishment for all the crimes he committed in his less than scrupulous life with the mafia.

With those unsettling thoughts, Simone curled up in the corner of his watery prison in a vain attempt to keep warm, and drifted off into an uncomfortable sleep.

Nileas came back around dawn, and entered the cave once more, a bag slung over his shoulder. As he swam through the network of tunnels, he saw no sign of Isqa, much to his relief. While he didn't want to think ill of the strange ithae, he could not help but feel uncomfortable around him. There was something about those impassive eyes of his that he couldn't trust.

Not that ithae were very trustworthy in the first place, according to his father. He always said that they were always scheming to take over the mer lands, because they thought everything belonged to them in the first place. While this one seemed to disdain his brethren on their attitude of magic, that didn't necessarily mean he had let go of their other beliefs.

His thoughts wandered from his father to his implacable aunt. Apparently even leaders could not escape being treated like a small child at time. Liril had given him an earful when he returned, even despite his insistence that he was doing reconnaissance. By the time she was done with with her lecture, Nileas was much too sulky to even want to tell her about the human he had had rescued. Instead, he went to play with Liril's promising apprentice, Pia, to make himself feel better. After Pia was sent to do her chores, Nileas had packed a small satchel before setting out for the cave.

When he surfaced in the air pocket, he noticed that the human had taken off his clothes and was curled up in a corner. Inching forward silently, a closer examination revealed that he was in a fitful sleep. Nileas watched him curiously for a while, taking in the man's exotic features in once more. The lines on his face were nowhere near as harsh as they were when he was awake, making him seem almost childlike. He marveled at the pale skin of his that had few gradations and markings. However, his attention was soon drawn to the clothes laying on a large rock beside him.

Now dry, the suit was a lighter grey. Nileas picked up the coat, looking it over curiously, rubbing the fabric between his webbed fingers. Giving in to the urge, he set down his satchel and put on the suit jacket. He smiled broadly, smoothing it against his body. He enjoyed the feeling, although he wasn't sure exactly how practical it was.

The human stirred and Nileas remembered why he had come back. He rummaged through the satchel and brought out a glass jar filled with a pale magical light and set it on the ground, then brought out food: kelp, and fish. He hoped humans weren't too different on the inside.

He took out the last item, a small piece of coral carved in the shape of a starfish tied onto a cord. It was a charm enchanted by his father to communicate with the sea creatures, and Nileas fervently hoped that it could communicate with surface creatures too. He had no magic of his own, and he wasn't sure that Liril or Pia would help him in this regard. He put the charm around his neck, and watched the human wake up.

His soft brown eyes opened, then widened as they saw Nileas. He scrambled up, watching him warily, a bit of his dark hair falling over his eyes. "Don't be afraid," Nileas said soothingly. He set the fish and seaweed before him. "I brought you some food, I hope it's all right."

"What are you?" the human asked, still huddled watchfully in his corner. He eyed the offering of food rather dubiously.

Nileas smiled, heart soaring. It worked! "I am mer. You may call me Nileas. I'm the one that saved you from drowning."

The human scooted forward, inspecting him a with penetrating gaze that made Nileas's heart skip a beat. "I am Simone," he answered. The name sounded almost musical to him. "Why are you wearing my suit?"

"Oh!" Nileas twisted and fumbled out of the suit jacket and set it carefully back on the rock sheepishly. "I'm sorry. I never saw human clothes up close before, and I wanted to see how it felt." He glanced shyly over at Simone and saw amusement in his eyes.

"It's all right," he assured Nileas. Taking advantage of the light, he looked around in his surrounding. He froze when his gaze fell upon the end of the rock shelf as it dropped into the deep crystal clear waters leading to the rest of the underwater cave and gulped nervously.

"Is something wrong, Simone?"

"N-nothing, nothing at all," he said, running a hand down the length of his face. He seemed paler now, but Nileas wasn't sure.

"You should eat, then. Keep up your strength," Nileas said.

Simone eyes the kelp and fish again, frowning. "Do you have anything to make a fire with?"

He blinked slowly. "Fire?"

"I guess cooked food was too much to hope for," he sighed. "Anything to drink, then? I'm really thirsty."


Nileas was beginning to realize that some things about human and mer were quite different after all.