The fire crackles and Kaldur is short of breath.
“Kaldur,” Roy says after a wheezing cough of his own. “Look, I need you to just hang in there, ok?”
Kaldur is ‘hanging in there’. Kaldur has been ‘hanging in there’, and he counts himself lucky that the two of them have managed to survive the explosion of the bomb they didn’t manage to disarm in time – lucky that they even managed to get all civilians evacuated from the premises to begin with.
Roy sorts through the few arrows he has left – or at least, that’s what it sounds like from where Kaldur is laying on the basement floor, with the majority of his senses going in and out. The clinking of Roy digging through his quiver sounds frantic, and even while half-incapacitated Kaldur knows that trick arrows typically don’t do much for situations where impending structural unsoundness is the main threat.
Roy makes an angry tsk-ing sound with his tongue, exasperated yet defiant to their currently abysmal situation. “Nothing left but arrows that’ll destabilize this goddamn crumbling building on our heads faster.”
Kaldur feels like he’s slowly suffocating under the oppressive heat and black smoke. “Everyone is out…?”
Roy tsks again, and a thump-clang resounding through the basement sounds like he’s thrown his quiver aside. “Yeah, they’re out of this burning deathtrap. We did good.” Kaldur tries to crack a smile, because it sounds like Roy’s trying to optimism – but Kaldur is also trying to force little breaths in and out with strenuous dedication. The smile falls flat, and Roy stays silent for a moment.
“Hey, but I told you,” Roy says, and now he’s much closer, moving right on the edge of Kaldur’s wavering vision. “To just hang in there. Don’t worry. We’ll…get out.”
“We contacted the team right when this went…” Kaldur pauses because his vision grows increasingly spotty; Roy mistakes this for a loss of words.
“Yeah, when the whole deal went sour – I know. They’re late.”
If Kaldur was not so incredibly near delirious, he would find Roy’s hand and layer his own on top of it. As is, he gasps in the dry air and tries to focus on the blurred outline that is Roy kneeling over him. “They will come,” he eventually manages to say, though very weakly.
It turns out he does not need to find Roy’s hand; Roy finds his and carefully curls his fingers around Kaldur’s wrist. “Yeah I know,” Roy says gruffly, desperately. “Jesus Kal – I’m sorry.”
Kaldur coughs, shudders in a labored breath, and doesn’t know where Roy is going with this. It is neither of their faults the corporation head they have been tailing for weeks tried to lead them into a bomb trap. If anything, they did well to sniff out the explosives set to blow in this five star restaurant – did well to disarm four of the five bombs and get the civilians out even once the corporation bodyguards got directly involved and instigated a firefight in attempt to take them out.
“Shit,” Roy keeps on talking, fingers growing more and more vice-like around his wrist with every word. “Shit, I’m sorry. And when we get out of this, I swear I’ll stop dragging my feet on – on all the things I’m supposed to get done. I promise. Seriously – Kaldur, hang in there.”
Under normal circumstances Kaldur would maybe smile, definitely do something to defuse Roy’s panic. But as is he is barely keeping up with what it even is Roy is trying to say here. As is, Kaldur gasps out, “Stop talking like I am dying.”
Roy makes this wounded noise that perhaps should be a laugh. “Yeah. Yeah, sorry. They’ll come. And we’ll get out of this. And I’ll shape up. Promise.”
Kaldur is not sure when precisely it is that the team does indeed come to their rescue, but then he also is not sure of when exactly he loses consciousness completely – though it is not before he feels the questioning, gentle probing in his mind that is M’gann searching out their location and making sure they are alive still.
Here we are, Kaldur thinks at her faintly, relieved, even though the rest of him is hot and hurting and being gathered in Roy’s arms as he fades from the world.
If there is one thing working this job has taught any one of them it is this: no matter how soul-rattling intense the mission and the injuries, the aftermath is usually jarringly quiet and still. Kaldur has learned to breathe in these moments, because ‘quiet and still’ is not a thing that ever lasts for long, and one can come to like it – even in all of its out-of-placeness.
“So how’s the body?” Raquel asks lightly, almost jokingly, at his bedside, looking up from her book.
“Have I been out for long?” Kaldur asks, not at all surprised at how his voice rasps. His body is sore everywhere, which is also not a surprise since he had more than likely been bruised up from all the concussive force of being caught up in a bomb explosion.
“Yeah,” Raquel answers immediately, tone still easy and light – perhaps a bit too laidback. “And just your luck that you come to while your boy is, for once, not keeping vigil over you.”
Kaldur tilts his head, just a little, at that. “Roy?”
Raquel snorts and nods, then begins to make batting motions with her hands. “We’ve had to beat him off with a stick to get him to still be productive around here. Though, to be fair, we’ve all kind of…been a little worried about you.” She closes and holds up her book. “And I can’t really talk about anyone until I stop bringing lit homework here and working in the infirmary as lovely bedside manner, huh?”
And Kaldur realizes that her flippant light tone is just her hiding her worry. They are all soldiers in a war for the greater good, they have all learned how to compartmentalize to certain extents, for better or worse.
“Have I really been out that long?” Kaldur asks again, slightly astonished. He experimentally flexes and tenses all of his muscles, trying to see where the damage has set in the worst now that he is not numb from shock. His back has been scorched the worst – which makes sense, as he turned away for the blast for a million little reasons like basic common sense, to shield his face, and to try and protect Roy – and the pull of his muscles under the burned skin makes him wince.
Raquel shoots him a warning look. “Cool it, hero. A couple of days of unconsciousness, a ton of IVs, and a visit from your royal court healer,” the way Raquel spits out those words tells him it is a foreign concept that she can’t quite grapple just yet. “Have done you wonders, but you’re still basically jacked.”
Kaldur makes a hummed, non-committal noise of acknowledgement and carefully checks his breathing. It’s not nearly as labored as before, but his lungs ache and his gills feel raw. His mind catches on the words ‘royal court healer’ and his thoughts whirl frantically – if Raquel thinks it strange, it is nothing compared to him. Where she and the others might assume it a normal ‘Atlantean thing’ Kaldur knows that it is not – not for a royal court healer to come to the Surface to his aid instead of a prestigious military or civilian healer, as would be more typically appropriate. He has a feeling that this breach in formalities has little to do with his current connections to the king, which while giving Kaldur a certain weight of favoritism did not allow for blatant misuse of resources without good reason.
No, this was much more likely the king and queen moving ahead with their plans for ensuring the safety of the Royal Family – and the role Kaldur, as well as Tula and Garth, were meant to play in those plans. And – and while there had been conversations, discussions of coronations and the nature of titles and ceremonies and duties, Kaldur had not been convinced this plan had actual plausibility of being allowed…and Tula had been reluctant, while Garth nervous but insisting he would go along with whatever the Royal Family decided was best…
Raquel clears her throat loudly, bringing Kaldur out of his tangled thoughts, and crosses her arms while shifting in her chair and crossing her legs. “So…do you, uh, wanna talk about what exactly went down that night?”
Kaldur lifts an eyebrow at her and feels a little lost, still caught up puzzling out the intentions of his monarchs. “What do you mean?” When she does not reply, only gives him a knowing look, he is simply confused further. “Hasn’t the case report been submitted yet?”
She shrugs. “Yeah, but Roy seems to be walking around as the human embodiment of guilt. And between that and snapping at people, he’s also been strangely…busybody-esque. It seems like a weird aftereffect of a mission that was totally A-OK, you know?”
Kaldur smiles a little at that. “Well, I did almost die on him, I suppose.” There is also the whole how they got to that point that is probably contributing to Roy’s apparently strange behavior, but Kaldur will avoid mentioning that part if he can help it.
Raquel hums thoughtfully. “That is a bit of an extreme turn for one’s typical date night cum scouting mission to take, I’ll give him that.” But she does not seem convinced. With good reason: the number of times they have all almost died means they are well accustomed to one another’s usual ways of dealing (or not dealing) with trauma. If the others find Roy’s current state stranger than usual, then they deserve to know why that might be.
Kaldur laughs softly, though he quickly finds himself short of breath, in an attempt of preemptive lightening the mood. “I protected him from the blast,” he admits quietly. “We were too close to the bomb when it went off and – ”
The way Raquel’s eyes widen makes something in Kaldur’s chest tighten, and his words hitch. He knows Roy likely blames himself for the extent of Kaldur’s injuries, and how personal Kaldur’s latest excursion near-death might seem to Roy may set it apart from the others. Kaldur hopes to talk about that with him when the time comes. “With that and the subsequent fire and the building falling down on top of us, I suppose the mission was not all that much of a success from Roy’s point of view. Nor from mine, truth be told.”
Raquel, to her credit, is rather talented at reading people. She bites her lip and looks down at her lap. “Not true,” her words are light again, belaying the wide eyed stare she was giving him not even ten seconds ago. “It’s way easier to infiltrate and extract information without getting caught when their corporation is preoccupied with exposé pieces from the Daily Planet and threats of lawsuits from Wayne Enterprises for hiring hitmen under the table to take out their CEO.”
This time Kaldur laughs loudly, the sound bursting out of him to his own surprise – to the point that he winces only a little in pain, and hides it because Raquel immediately looks back up at him with a faint smile amongst her surprise. “So we did you a service,” Kaldur says teasingly. “Getting ourselves blown up?”
Raquel’s smile grows wider, relieved, and she winks and throws him a thumbs up. “You did real good, kid.” And she laughs too.
They lapse into a comfortable silence, one that Raquel is kind enough not to mention is vaguely disrupted by Kaldur’s occasional wheezes or coughs. She reads her book, and he recounts carefully what he’s been told since he has woken up. What he’s been told in addition to what he knows – and Kaldur is not sure what Raquel means by ‘busybody’, but he knows enough about Roy for it to not sit entirely well with him.
“You think Roy is acting strange?” Kaldur tries to breach carefully, but Raquel looks up with suspicious set in her eyes anyway.
“Yeah?” She says benignly, giving nothing away while trying to make Kaldur give away his intentions first. Kaldur sighs and flexes his hands experimentally, fidgeting. Stalling.
“He may have said some things back when he thought I was going to die in his arms a few days ago,” Kaldur says, still fidgeting though he does not break eye contact with her. “Some rather…insistent things.”
Raquel’s eyebrows both rise high on her forehead. “Oh?”
For a moment Kaldur thinks she is going to wait his silence out in attempt to get even more from him, and in that moment Kaldur has no clue what he is going to do. But instead Raquel leans forward and brings one hand up to cradle her chin, as she balances her elbow on her knee. “There’s of course the whole walking around with guilt seeping off of him, and being more snappish than he’s been in months,” she volunteers easily. “Which we figured was his way of worrying – it’s pretty typical of him, after all.”
Kaldur nods in agreement. Maybe not so much excessive guilt usually, but it is not as if they all expect the exact same emotional responses every time something disconcerting happens.
Raquel’s mouth twists into a not-quite-grimace. “But once we got the news that you were essentially in the all-clear, he started…digging through files about League of Shadows’ recent activity spots, flagging espionage leaks in Southeast Asia, asking Artemis about her sister…” Raquel shrugs and leans back in her chair. “I don’t know. You tell me: is that weird?”
…Oh. Kaldur is very careful to school his face into something blank. “It is definitely, as you said, busybody-esque.”
Raquel squints at him, not fooled by his stoicism, and then scoffs disbelievingly. “Right. Well, if whatever it is he’s doing gets out of hand, just let us know if we need to beat some sense into him.”
Kaldur shakes his head. “No need. I will, ah, handle this.”
Raquel just rolls her eyes. “You will be on leave and bedrest for a hot second after you’re discharged, and we will be on standby if you need us. So let us handle your hard-headed boy if you get tired.”
She smirks at the way Kaldur lets out a long heaving sigh. “Orrrrr we could just let it go its way and run its course until Batman decides to step in?”
Kaldur attempts to shoot her an exasperated look, but he finds himself instead laughing at her persuasion tactics. “Alright. As much as I do not appreciate barely veiled threats – ”
At that, Raquel smiles winningly and flutters her eyelashes at him as she opens her book again and flips through the pages. Kaldur rolls his eyes this time, “I will keep that in mind.”
The silence returns, comfortable and jarring all at once, and Kaldur’s mind races with thoughts about Roy trying to reach out to Cheshire.
And so Kaldur goes on leave. He may be stubborn and strong headed, but he is not in the least stupid – and attempting to function on the team as he is now is useless and dangerous. Once the general unawareness from lengthy unconsciousness and anesthesia wears off, he is aching and feeling all over the pain of coming back from the brink of near death. Going home is relieving in its own way: hurting in a familiar bed is better somehow.
Once home, however, there are still things to deal with. For one, and somewhat most pressing, is how Roy failed to visit Kaldur while in the infirmary after waking up, during the few days he remained laid up at the base. Kaldur would usually chalk this up to nothing beyond Roy being tied up in some other affairs, but after all what Raquel divulged on Roy's behavior it feels…contradictory, and very intentional. Almost like Roy knows Kaldur has heard about his strange behavior and instead of having to answer for it (because Kaldur…has an idea about what it is he is doing), is trying to sidestep around potential fallout. Except that confuses Kaldur: what had been Roy's plan had he woken up during Roy's apparently frequent bedside vigil? But then again, that is assuming Roy is thinking straight and clearly, something Kaldur is attempting to avoid doing. Kaldur nearly died in his arms after all.
(That is also laboring under the assumption that Kaldur would have known about Roy’s behavior had Roy been the one there when he woke up, and Kaldur does not like entertaining the possibility that Roy would have simply kept his actions a secret from him…however likely said possibility is.)
Roy's hands are steady and careful as he helps Kaldur climb into bed and get comfortable, but that does not mean he is calm on the inside. Kaldur racks his brain, trying to gently open up this conversation.
“Are you alright?” Kaldur finally carefully attempts at the matter. It is not creative, but that is not his main concern here.
But Roy shoots him a highly incredulous look, and Kaldur knows the point has gone over Roy's head, as indicated by the fact that his next words are, “Seriously you're not allowed to ask that until you’re off bed rest – that's something I should be asking you, geez."
And Kaldur clears his throat a little to stop a tiny dry cough, so he can instead say, “That is not what I meant.” He was not asking about Roy’s physical injuries, which for the most part healed long before Kaldur even regained consciousness – smoke inhalation and heat exhaustion are not as dire things for him to recover from they are for Kaldur. And Kaldur took the brunt of the explosion for the both of them.
Kaldur, however, is still attempting to figure out how to foray into an intelligent conversation concerning Roy’s desperation and terror from that night, concerning what Kaldur thinks is the real brunt of the issue here, when Roy squints suspiciously at him and says, “So? What do you mean, then?”
And Roy is absolutely exuding defensive energy and Kaldur doesn’t know how to approach this without having Roy either blow up or clam up on him. So he just…goes for it, without any of his usual caution. “I am speaking of your panicking the night the restaurant exploded while we were running an undercover job in it.”
And there Roy flares up, bristling and fumbling for words. “Oh I’m sorry, was my reaction to what I thought was your imminent death not appropriate?”
Kaldur swallows another cough, throat still raw, and feels impossibly tired. “Roy you are derailing – on purpose. I meant you were panicking and now potentially are harboring some guilt and I just – ”
“No no no,” Roy cuts in. “Okay yeah, I’m gonna derail you here too, then. But don’t you dare psychoanalyze me based on rumors from the kiddie team.”
You are on that team too, Kaldur wants to point out, and I highly doubt they are just rumors – but he is not feeling well enough to throw barbs that might lead to bigger issues, bigger fights. Instead he takes a deep – and shuddering – breath. “I am only worried about you. You always accuse me of being in my head too much, but – ”
“Yeah yeah, we’re both headcases,” Roy says, a little more gruffly than Kaldur is used to from him. Roy must hear it too, because next words are less rough. “But I promise you, I’m fine.”
Roy pins Kaldur with such an impassionate and unfaltering look, no defensiveness and instead just bare determination, that Kaldur cannot question it. Roy is convinced that whatever it is he is doing – because Kaldur has no doubt that the strange behavior Raquel has told him about is Roy taking some matter into his own hands and trying to do something – is the right thing to do.
“Alright,” Kaldur concedes, still thinking over what he knows and what is faintly worrying on the back of his mind, trying to make sense of it all. “But you do know you do not have to protect me all the time, yes?” Kaldur chose to take the explosion for Roy. Kaldur can choose to make selfless-yet-selfish sacrifices to protect Roy just as much and just as well as Roy.
And Roy understands what Kaldur’s really saying with those words, scoffs and throws a stray pillow in Kaldur’s lap. “Yeah okay, talk to me when I don’t have to princess-carry your body out of a burning building.”
Though it is a light joke and a good sign, Roy’s smirk doesn’t seem entirely genuine. Kaldur sighs and leans forward to grab Roy’s hand, trying to find the right problem to mollify. Roy makes it incredibly hard sometimes. “You are not weak for being upset over what happened,” Kaldur says, looking Roy straight in the eye. “And you are not weak for struggling to deal with how you feel.”
Roy scoffs again, incredulous and sardonic, but his expression is soothed as he locks eyes with Kaldur. “Why is it,” he says as he climbs into Kaldur’s bed, their hands still intertwined as Roy throws a leg over Kaldur’s and hovers over him in an impromptu sort of straddle. “That I’m always making you take care of me – even when I’m trying to take care of you?”
Kaldur only hums lightly as Roy carefully presses a tiny kiss to Kaldur’s forehead. He may not have cracked the mystery of Roy’s strange behavior in what are surely attempts to contact Cheshire, and maybe they have not even really begun to make progress on talking about the entirety of Roy’s freak out. But that Roy spends the night in Kaldur’s bed, nestled in Kaldur’s side as he loosely clings to Kaldur in his sleep, is reassuring enough to soothe Kaldur’s remaining worries for the time being.
Kaldur, having been on leave an extraordinarily high number of times in the past year – and leave not being a necessarily a novel concept to begin with – is opposed to staying on bed rest and doing absolutely nothing. Kaldur knows, with the looming changes in Atlantis that seem to be coming whether he likes them or not, that he should revel in this time off no matter how reluctant he is to take it. But he cannot relax when he instead feels as though he is slacking off with important things still needing to be done.
He manages to talk Roy into being his proxy in convincing the team to allow him a comm while he is off duty. Seeing as his proffered reasoning is that he needs it to settle affairs of his own in Atlantis and keep in the loop as the team finishes up the illegal business takeover case that had been the reason Kaldur and Roy ended up trapped in a burning building, they agree to let him have it. Kaldur is very certain that Roy – out of spite – tells them it will make it less likely that Kaldur will completely disregard bed rest and show up before his leave is up, and while not true Kaldur lets it slide because he gets his comm in the end.
“You’re still doing too much,” Roy grumbles, not looking up from whatever it is he is scratching down in his files. Kaldur thinks it is endearing that Roy has a dedicated preference for keeping paper copies of all the data files concerning his cases.
“Hold on a moment,” Kaldur says in Atlantean to Tula and Garth, with whom he is discussing the reasons for delay in his next return to Atlantis. He looks over the edge of the bed and down at Roy, eyebrow raised defiantly. “I do not want to hear that from someone who is breaking the bringing home work rule, Roy.”
Roy rolls his eyes and gestures at the files and stacks of paper he has managed to spread across the floor. “Yeah, well I have to get this done even if I’m cutting back on work hours.”
“…Which I also am not pleased about,” Kaldur says pointedly. Roy, in response, pointedly pretends not to hear him – which in one way means it is a win for Kaldur. But since Roy successfully avoids the issue, Kaldur views it mostly as a loss.
Kaldur sighs and leaves him be, only because Tula carefully says, “Kaldur? Your thoughts?”
And Kaldur sighs again, but for completely different reasons. His foresight to obtain a comm has proven as necessary as he feared it would. Looming changes are no longer looming, but instead have descended upon him while he was not looking. “My thoughts…” Kaldur pauses, stalls for a moment while he gathers diplomatic words, an indifferent acceptance of duty. He struggles, then remembers who it is he is talking to, so gives up and answers truthfully. “Are blank, besides that the chosen date is rather close.”
“It is not too late to back out completely, if you want?” Garth offers tentatively, but all three of them say nothing about how they know this to be untrue because they honestly had very little say to begin with. The king and queen care about their opinions, but they are also ruling a kingdom – and have already expressed their preference for this solution they have created.
“There is already backlash about the decision,” Kaldur finally points out tiredly. “If we back out now, it undermines the king’s hard work and makes it look like he cannot stand his ground against criticism.” Or three young adults’ reluctance. Tula and Garth hum unintelligible murmurs of agreement: they will undergo coronation, whether or not they object to it. Best to get used to the idea and take the path of least resistance.
“Everything okay over there?” Roy asks from his place on the floor, now watching Kaldur carefully.
Kaldur brightens at him, switches back to English and says, “Everything is fine.”
The two of them are lying in little tiny ways to each other. Roy has been taking work off to watch Kaldur, but occasionally tiptoes out for long periods of time when he thinks Kaldur won’t notice; Kaldur has yet to divulge the full extent of his affairs back in Atlantis, beyond La’gaan dropping in on the link to say hello and talk about his upcoming graduation and his friends telling him about Prince Orin’s new developmental achievements as a one year old.
But for every purposeful silence he keeps with new information about Black Manta’s expanded territory and the officiating of a planned coronation that will grant Kaldur actual political power and presence, Roy trades him increased sneaking around and hushing up of his attempts to, in Roy’s own words, ‘shape up’.
This too is reassuring in its own way – or at the very least familiar enough a thing in their business of constantly saving the world from sure evil in less sure ways that they both know how to function with it in their relationship.
Or is it more that they are functioning around it, Kaldur wonders suddenly, when Artemis stops by after she gets out of school with well wishes – and some burgeoning question she barely keeps silent and to herself.
“ – and as much as Robin’s been absolutely loving leading the team in your stead,” she tells him over tea, all while nervously fidgeting and acting like she is not and nothing is wrong. “I personally like it much better when us girls split off and make what I like to call ‘Team Alpha’.”
She pauses to take a sip from her cup, and Kaldur smiles a little at her words, amused. “Team Alpha? That is – not actually a bad idea, since our team is a little bigger and we have been discussing recruiting again…maybe we should start practicing breaking the team up into smaller specialty teams.”
She looks surprised but encouraged, fidgets a little less. But there is still a nervous air surrounding her. “Really? Cool, maybe we can do it more when you’re back in charge to facilitate it – but for now, you might want to hurry up and come back before we just permanently split off into two teams forever.”
And Kaldur knows she is joking, but there’s something off about how she is holding herself and engaging with him. Something is weighing on her, and she’s dancing on the edge of whatever it is she really came here to see him about. “…Alright, what is wrong?” Kaldur says, holding back a sigh at how he really is always prying information out of everyone.
Artemis’s eyebrows shoot up, and she grimaces. “Uh no, not that Robin’s a bad leader – and I’m mostly joking, you know – it’s just.” She looks down at her cup and fiddles with it. Kaldur waits.
Artemis’s hands leave her cup as she gestures in the air meaninglessly. “There’s just a difference when two teammates are vitriolic bros, and when the team leader and a teammate are bros. Like, ‘I’m gonna slap the two of them upside the head in the middle of covert ops if they don’t stop getting on my last nerve over the comm and mind link’ kind of difference.” She rolls her eyes almost violently at the mere thought. “There’s like 70% more interaction between the two of them we all have to endure now – probably more for me because Wally talks about having to suffer under ‘Robin’s tyranny’ all the time, but it this annoying ‘I’m so proud of him’ kind of way – and I didn’t think that was possible.”
This time Kaldur does sigh. He will try to talk to Robin and Wally about that, or at least try to get to them before Batman – or, actually more likely, Black Canary – steps in. But that is not the problem right now that he is worried about. “Not that – is there something else bothering you, Artemis?”
And Artemis squints her eyes in a brief scowl, before her face is schooled into an impassive expression. “Not really. And, uh, a non sequitur here, but how are things with Roy?”
Kaldur tilts his head a little at the change in topic – and at how her voice lilts into something almost song-like at the question. She is trying far too hard to be casual about it. “…They are fine… Artemis – ”
Artemis scowls, no longer hiding it, and shakes head vigorously. “No, Kaldur, it’s nothing. Seriously, don’t worry about it.” And before he can say anything else she busies herself with downing the rest of her tea, despite the steam still floating from the cup.
It is a pointless thing for her to say – because of course he is going to worry about it. And if it is Artemis, and it has something to do with Roy, then the implications there potentially lead to Cheshire. And it is not as if Kaldur did not already have suspicions, but…there is something more concrete about the whole thing if Artemis is clearly unsettled by the issue.
Which…well, to Kaldur is worrisome enough that he needs to do something about it – confined to bed on leave or not.
It turns out that Kaldur does not have long to worry about the things Artemis did not and would not say, nor does he have long to ponder over how to take matters he knows nothing about into his own hands – because Cheshire makes an appearance of her own shortly afterwards.
Cheshire picks the lock on his window in the middle of the night, which has Kaldur awake an instant and sitting up before she has it open and slips in. She stays crouched on the window sill.
“Cheshire...?” Kaldur says warily, trying to feel out the turn of events. He does not think she is here to do anything drastic, because he knows she is not like some television show bad guy that does bit crime for kicks and giggles – most if not all of her villain activity is precise and purposeful, the benefits in her favor weighed out.
He understands her a little, that she is doing what her skill set has prepared her for, working where she fits in. But he also understands that no amount of heart and revelations and soft spots for her family will change that, at the end of the day, she is trying to eat and support herself and survive just like the rest of them. She may do the occasional good deed and often stay neutral in many of the alliances she makes, but Kaldur knows the reasons for that cannot be confused or misconstrued as because of the goodness in her heart. There is a lot about how everyone in this field of work, good and bad, owes favors and in return like to be owed in a strange form of networking that helps Cheshire's decision-making as well.
She gives him a playful wave, her usual flirty self. “What you think I’m gonna assassinate you in your sleep? Calm it down Fishboy. You’re not important enough to be ranked in my hit paygrade.”
And it speaks to how bizarre Kaldur’s life has become when it comes to Cheshire that the only thing he can think to say in response is, “Please do not call me that.”
Cheshire jumps out of her crouch, off the window sill, and straightens into a lounging slouch against the window's partial wall behind her. “Oh? How about Jellyfish? Little Manta.” That one has a particular bite to it and Kaldur is not entirely sure why – but she is not done yet. It escalates to a very nasty and biting finale of, “Or maybe sister-wife?”
So now Kaldur is getting a better idea of what she is here for. “I assume you are referring to Roy and my agreement on relationship arrangements – ”
She holds up her hand to cut in. “I. Don’t. Care about your arrangements. Wherever Red got his idea that I’m interested in joining a little orgy convent and be his side-fling while you gallivant for months along the ocean floor, tell him to cool it.”
And…Kaldur senses something may have gone awry in Roy’s pitch of polyamory to Cheshire.
“That is not how it works,” Kaldur attempts to say, but this only sets her off once again.
“How the two of you even began to think I would be willing to be domestic and side-fling material…” She scoffs, bewilderment evident under the coolness of her tone.
And Kaldur already does not know Cheshire well enough to navigate her anger and soothe it back from biting and expansive. He cannot even begin to attempt it while flying blind on why she is mad, as well. So he tiredly sits up even more to lean against the headboard behind him. “Cheshire,” he says. “What do you want from me? To pass the message along to Roy that you decline his offer – whatever it was?”
She taps her foot and refuses to answer for a moment. “Look. What I want you to tell that idiot is that he is an annoying, aggravating little punk who needs to get out of a fantasy world where him and I date like normal people – especially when he is already committed to a relationship. And especially when he keeps tracking down my location and compromising me.”
Kaldur tries not to let on the alarm he feels at that. Is Roy being that persistent…? “I will pass the message on. Though you may be wondering,” and at this he pauses and eyes her carefully. “With your take on the situation, why is it that I am not angry. And it is because the arrangements do not work the way you seem to think they do.”
She scoffs. “No no, I’ve got your number, Red made sure to mention how this is all your little brainchild.”
It is already getting somewhat…irritating having to reiterate how polyamory is not nearly as big a deal in Atlantis as it is here. But he understands that this is not necessarily anyone's fault and it is just the way it has to be. So he does so again to hopefully clear up Cheshire’s anger. “It is rather commonplace in Atlantis for groups to be involved in a relationship and watch out for each other.” Here he hesitates, because he is not sure what it is Roy has said versus what it is Roy is attempting to accomplish with Cheshire. Kaldur knows Roy appreciates Cheshire’s help and finds her interesting and enthralling, but Kaldur does not know if Roy – or Cheshire for that matter – understands that the spectrum of relationships can include emotionally intense but asexual ones. Humans, it seems, have incredibly stark and rigid views of relationships, and Kaldur keeps having to adjust to how far that rigidity of view extends.
"Perhaps," Kaldur tries to explain shorthand. “Perhaps, what Roy is attempting to propose with the two of you is something more akin to a...team up? To, as I said, watch out for each other. Check up on one another.”
Cheshire just looks at him, and it almost makes Kaldur wish she did not have the mask on just so he could see the kind of face she is making at him.
She doesn’t say anything still, so Kaldur tries again. “I am aware cannot speak in his place – and I do not know what it is he did propose to you – but I can assure you that Roy and I are both solidly aware of the reality of the situation and how a relationship with you would work.”
She tilts her head in just the slightest, and Kaldur takes it as her interest in what he is saying – so he continues along that train of thought. “And trust me when I say it would less be an expectation of your involvement with all other members in the relationship, and more your and Roy’s own relationship – in addition to the other relationships he is involved with.”
She does not move further or say anything, so Kaldur fears whether or not he has overstepped his boundaries. “If that is what you choose,” he adds tentatively. “If you agree to become involved with Roy at all.”
And Cheshire finally laughs. “Well well, this certainly is some weird shit you’re into down under the sea.”
Kaldur smiles a little at her callousness, and gently makes one last suggestion – if it is too forward of him or too much, that is fine. So be it. “If you are not interested in all of that, maybe the two of you should just work on being friends?”
At this her posture becomes more defensively offensive, chin and chest jutted out as her arms stiffen at her side. Ah, maybe he went too far after all. “I don’t need anyone to tell me how and who to make friends with,” she says sharply. “And if Red needs a formal agreement to that kind of thing, when I am already putting up with him and helping him, he’s a bigger idiot that I thought.”
Kaldur cannot get another word in, because she spins around and slips back out the window, conversation over. Not that it matters, because how revealing Cheshire’s tone had been left Kaldur too shocked to come up with anything substantial.
Kaldur coughs a little as he lies back down, thinking about what it is that has just happened. He is not entirely sure, but he thinks Cheshire at the very least has admitted to a soft spot for Roy.
Those two, he thinks, are nursing what should not have to be the entirely too complicated relationship that it is.
Issues unresolved on all fronts (in fact Kaldur neglects to ‘pass on the message’ as promised because approaching the issue is so…complicated that he does not know where or how to begin), Kaldur’s medical leave comes to an end. Kaldur is relieved despite the lingering questions over the state of his relationships, not sure if continued time off really would help the issue. There is little to be done when he does not have privy to what exactly it is Roy is attempting to accomplish – and so Kaldur resolves not to worry about it. At the very least he cannot worry about it until it culminates into something tangible again, like Cheshire’s visit or Roy talking to him instead of needing to have information pried out of him – something Kaldur can deal with.
As is, Roy is reluctant to let Kaldur return to his duties, and gives Kaldur a kiss and a fierce hug before he leaves for his part time job. “Be careful, you hear me?” Roy says warningly – as if he really has a say in Kaldur getting pulled from the team if he gets injured again.
“Stop worrying,” Kaldur reassures him carefully but firmly. “We have both been doing this job for years.” We have had near death experiences before and we will have them many more times before we will be finished in this business, Kaldur does not say, but his tone probably conveys it anyway. Roy’s continued bouts of overprotectiveness undoubtedly stem from his way of dealing with his lingering guilt and trauma, and Kaldur can only hope they lessen with time.
“Yeah yeah,” Roy says, still reticent, and he kisses Kaldur again, longer and deeper this time, before finally heading out.
Kaldur leaves later in the evening for his own work, and though Black Canary only puts him through light drills, it feels good to be back and grappling on the mats. The good news is that with the last big case having been only recently solved they are still being informed on the next mission, and Kaldur is able to join in on briefing with little problem.
“Shutting down a new drug cartel? No problem,” Robin says flippantly after Batman dismisses them and heads out to the Watchtower. “That’s, like, a typical Wednesday for us.”
“Well, don’t get cocky, then,” M’gann says, an amused smile tugging at her lips. “That’s usually when the entire mission goes incredibly wrong.”
Robin scoffs. “It’s not being cocky, it’s assured confidence in the abilities of our team.”
The words have no sooner left his mouth when Raquel chokes on her stifled laugh and Zatanna shoots him an incredulous look and tells him, “Oh my god, stop.”
“Assured confidence in our team to have to have a mad scramble to salvage a mission back together after everything falls through,” Artemis says. “Sure, I can agree on that.”
Robin clicks his tongue at all of them, and Kaldur has to swallow his own laughter at how affronted their youngest member is. “You all are the worst, I swear. You have to believe in yourselves.”
“You have to be joking,” Conner says, looking at him carefully. “You must be.”
Robin shrugs, neither confirming nor denying – though Kaldur is very convinced that he simply wants to give them all the run around for a laugh with the overly confident act.
“Well,” Wally says lightly, and Kaldur should realize that the amount of forced unaffectedness in his tone – along with the fact that he is not playing along with Robin – means something about what he’s going to say. “Worst case scenario we just have Roy and Kaldur’s new girlfriend give us tips on how to infiltrate.”
Wally’s words cut right into the atmosphere, changing it to something thicker and weightier. Kaldur frowns at the shift, as Robin and Artemis both groan.
“Right now,” Artemis hisses at Wally. “Really? Right now?”
Wally shoots her an exasperated look. “Well you’re worried about it, aren’t you? Might as well get it out there!” And Robin just groans again, louder this time.
There is a sense that this has been a large elephant in the room – a hovering, impending question – that, until this point, has been invisible to only Kaldur. He cannot do much more than delicately breach the subject. “Excuse me?”
Raquel snorts and looks at the ceiling while shaking her head. “I’m not touching this. Nope.”
M’gann chews her bottom lip and points out carefully, “It’s not as though he has been particularly discreet about it though?”
This is also one of the reasons, though more minor, why Kaldur hates being on leave: the amount of socializing catch up he has to do with the team is devastatingly painful, most times. “Is anyone going to properly explain anytime soon? What is wrong?”
“You’ve been out,” Conner sympathizes. “You’ve missed a lot.”
“A lot a lot – Wally’s take on it is kinda presumptuous, though, honestly.” Zatanna says, also apologetic. Raquel only sighs audibly and shakes her head more, still looking up at the ceiling.
“I know I have missed a lot,” Kaldur reiterates, now a little agitated. “So please tell me something I do not know and fill me in.”
Artemis sighs for a very long time and puts her hands over her face. “Basically,” she finally begins. “Roy is trying to track down my sister. Like. Very apparently. And very obviously.”
Kaldur goes for unaffected, though all he wants is to follow suit and palm his face as well. He already assumed that, and it had been clear the others had been working out the details for themselves all the way back when he first work up in the infirmary…but the fact that it is so painfully obvious is… Kaldur sighs himself, and tries to affirm the things he has assumed but does not in fact know. “You mean numerous times?”
“A lot of times,” Raquel pitches in finally, maybe feeling responsible for telling him the details she did not – maybe could not – share back when this all started. “Like, I thought he’d chill on it after you woke up and very clearly weren’t dying, but. Yeah. No.”
“Okay yeah, so MY question,” Wally says. “Presumptions aside, is this like. A cheating thing? A, uh. A sex thing? Because if it was a mission thing – ”
Artemis cuts in, hands still over her face, though her voice is more level and less tinged with mortification. “She already helps him with his freelance missions, and we all already understand that she’s not necessarily…she’s not exactly a good person.”
Kaldur understands precisely what Artemis is saying here, that Cheshire is a whole lot of ambiguous with where she stands half the time, and sometimes she falls out of the gray and distinctly in line with forces opposing what they stand for. None of them depend on her so much as occasionally solicit her help if the timing is right. Roy…probably more than the rest of them. Which is where the problem lies, apparently.
Artemis removes her hands from her face and she shoots Kaldur this tired look. Kaldur can relate, honestly. “All I’m saying is that he’s going to get her killed if he keeps blowing up her location and forcing her to move around. Because that’s what he’s doing.”
Which Kaldur knows already, Jade’s told him as much. “I…but why have you not brought this issue up with Roy?”
“Uh, because none of us can tell Roy anything,” Raquel says, still looking at the ceiling and finding her inner calm. “He brushes us off as ‘kiddies’ – and if he’s in a bad mood, storms out of here sometimes.”
“And if he’s in a good one,” Robin says. “He just avoids the subject and says it’s a Speedy thing he’s working on.”
“It’s not,” Kaldur retorts immediately, flatly. “At least not entirely, I think.”
The curious looks he receives in response to that indicates that they will not be satisfied until he expands that answer and explains – which is hard for Kaldur to do when he is still working out the details himself. Though the pieces are coming together gradually, and it is very evident to Kaldur that Roy’s guilt over not necessarily facilitating certain relationship duties are coming to head along with his guilt for Kaldur almost dying for him.
“Want to explain that a little better?” Conner, for all the blunt edge his tone carries, really is asking and not demanding.
And Kaldur inhales deeply, exhales slowly, and allows silence to reign for a very long time while gathering his words and resolve. “I…the two of us have potentially been pursuing a more…open relationship than what is considered the norm. Polyamory is rather common in Atlantis – ”
Zatanna’s eyebrows shoot up as she interjects with, “Wait, you’re trying to get with Artemis's hot villainess sister too? Both of you?”
“No.” There are reasons Kaldur has been avoiding this conversation with the entire team, and he vaguely curses Roy in the back of his mind for forcing him into this situation before he is ready for it. “It is complicated, and on my part more involves my friends back home. We are working out the details and – and well, Roy has been somewhat discomforted with the idea and avoiding the necessary communication aspects for the past few months and…well my near-death has apparently jumpstarted his interest in the matter. And in Cheshire.” This is a bad explanation. This is Kaldur throwing all the pieces together as he is figuring them out, this is him giving his teammates half explanations and half insights to relationship issues from months ago – but because they are becoming increasingly relevant to what is happening now and why Roy is doing what he is doing.
Predictably, however, Wally makes a long suffering groan in the back of his throat and throws his hands up in the air. “I don't get this.”
Artemis too looks unsettled and confused, though understandably as it is her sister they are talking about. But still, Kaldur is not at all sure how to deal with their unease – only M’gann and Conner seem mostly unbothered, only curiosity on their faces, and it is not hard to understand why.
“…Well,” Artemis finally says while rubbing the back of her neck, breaking the awkward silence that has settled among them. “I’m not…I can’t really meddle in your personal affairs?” A certain amount of resolution returns to her expression. “But really, talk to Roy about how he’s endangering my sister and his crush’s life – because I know he’s usually smarter than this, when he’s not a huge ball of trauma and poorly dealt with survivor’s guilt, jesus.”
“I will talk to him about it tonight when I see him,” Kaldur agrees solemnly and resolutely.
He is vaguely confused how his getting injured weeks ago has warped into Roy callously approaching the building of their relationship arrangements – when he has been so careful in the past to avoid doing as much as having explicit conversations about polyamory in practice. Kaldur understands Artemis’s exasperation and the team’s discomfort with the sudden throwing of this violation of their cultural norms in their face, but he also feels they assign him too much responsibility for Roy. If Kaldur could even remotely control him like the others assume he can, these conversations about their attempts at polyamory would have been happening under distinctly different circumstances – both the conversation between Roy and himself, and the conversation between Kaldur and his team.
(Later that night, Roy takes the news about Cheshire rather well, only rolling his eyes and grumbling, “Well, if Jade would just come around a little better about it…” And Kaldur does not…know what to say to that, or what to think of that aside, wants to let Roy handle his own relationships in his own way but...suspects. Suspects certain things are not going to work out as neatly as Roy intends or hopes.)
Complications of his personal life aside, time moves on. Mission briefings are sorted out and, Kaldur now healthy once again, must travel back to Atlantis and begin settling even larger affairs into order.
Kaldur is not entirely focused on the state he has left his team, or even Roy and their increasingly complicated relationship, while his attendance to armor fittings and general planning meetings are necessitated in Atlantis. There is so much going on beyond the coronation itself, no matter how much the ceremony attempts to overshadow things such as the slow creeping of Black Manta into Ocean-Master’s old territories and hideouts as well as the persistence of the ugly purist ideology beyond Ocean-Master’s goading and mobilization. There are also happier things of course, such as the nearing of the Conservatory’s latest class graduation – Kaldur even stopped in to see La’gaan, for congratulations as well as apologies for how likely it would be that he would not be able to attend the ceremony – and the recent passing of the Prince’s first birthday.
However, just because Kaldur and Garth and Tula are acquiring sudden regency and royal council seats does not mean that they can rest on the laurels and commands of the king – that they are going to be insulted and suffer backlash and criticism is inevitable. So they prepare as much as possible for that inevitable by learning about and staying current with legislation and city-state relationships and economic power struggles and the like, all in order to make their seats on the council as meaningful as the others – at the very least in order to avoid confirming any negative rumors concerning how the three of them have acquired their positions through favoritism and the damage such biased appointments will incur on the kingdom.
These general meetings run over voting block histories and city-states’ annual account reports, recap current events and treaties, and even bring up relationship charts between the council members themselves as well as between many of the Atlantean dignitaries. Anything relevant to the three of them coming to new political power is discussed, be it proper procession stance or breaking down attire requirements for council meetings – thousands of little details crammed into two weeks of nonstop preparation. It is in one of these meetings, one of the firsts when legal titles for what the king and queen want the three of them to become for the prince are drawn up and the necessary processes and political actions to make it happen are explained in detail, that Kaldur finds out his ancestry and biological connection to Black Manta. It is also in one of these meetings that he is told the urgency for them to keep said ancestry a secret until, at the very least, after the coronation – if not longer.
(It is one of those things he deals with by not dealing with it. Though Garth and Tula watch him nervously and carefully after they all suddenly find out the shocking and well-kept secret, ready to catch him if he falls into an emotional breakdown, Kaldur simply refuses to process the new information and do as much. He tucks it away to examine in greater detail and have an existential crisis over later, when there is not a coronation right around the corner and procedures, names, tax reform codes, and more that he needs to memorize. He has a tie to Black Manta, but he has parents in his mother and father – and when this is all over they will have to sit down and talk about this. Beyond that, Kaldur does not think about it.)
With these sorts of precedents, one of the last things Kaldur assumes King Orin is going to say to him during one of the final few general meetings is something as benign as the concern of relationships. And yet, as the meeting draws to a close in its last few minutes, the king clears his throat expectantly and waves the head overseer of Poseidonis exports out. When she leaves with a bow and a quick exit, he then casts the three of them a look tinged with dread, before his eyes settle on Kaldur. “Kaldur’ahm,” he begins, tone heavy and dragging, as if he does not wish to say what is on his mind. “It has come to my attention that you are, apparently, ah. Engaging in inappropriate behavior…with your covert operation teammates?”
Tula starts a little at the unexpected turn in conversation and Garth frowns, startled and confused – they had just been discussing the possibility of drawing up trade treaties with nearby Surface countries and which dignitaries would fall where on the issue, and the change in subject is indeed jarring. Kaldur himself is blindsided, and then confused by the meaning in his king’s words. He takes a moment to try and understand what is going on, to no avail. “…Excuse me, my king?”
King Orin clears his throat again, this time less commanding and regal and instead discomforted. He is not happy about what it is he needs to say. “There are rumors amidst the hero community about polyamory and open relationships among your team? And, while it is a norm in Atlantis…” Here the king pauses again, the lull filled with sympathy. Kaldur feels growing horror in the pit of his stomach, while Tula and Garth look at him – Tula wry and Garth curious.
The King, for all his soft spots for them, draws a line between emotion and duty when need be. His expression grows sterner and he continues. “It is both less acceptable on the Surface and not fully appreciated by many of your teammates’ mentors – that is occurring without their permission. I am not saying you must stop, and would hate to impose upon your personal autonomy and happiness – ”
If Kaldur was not as trained as he is from military academy in keeping a stoic face when absolutely necessary, he would be giving in to the desire to cover his face and pretend this conversation was not happening.
King Orin continues on regardless. “But as you are coming into a political position that will inevitably require interaction with the Surface, such rumors are unacceptable. They must be dispelled and quieted – and if that means that you must respect certain wishes of certain mentors – ”
Kaldur feels like those young adults in those films the team sometimes watches together, where the guardian attempts to talk openly about sexual education with their ward. But Kaldur also feels the beginnings of a headache, at the thought of how warped his words to the team have become.
“My king,” Kaldur cuts in, unable to bear this one-sided conversation further. “There are no illicit affairs or open relationships of that extent among my team. I believe this is a case of a misunderstanding and the rumor mill passing along misconstrued words and information. If you can assure the other mentors of this, I will handle the root of the problem.” His current planned method consists mainly of straightening out the misinformation with his team and talking to, or potentially yelling at, Roy. Kaldur is getting tired just thinking about it.
That slight weary annoyance must work its way into his expression, because the king, Tula, and Garth all burst into laughter – and Kaldur eventually joins in, if only because of the sheer ridiculousness of it all.
(“They certainly have a hard time understanding something so simple,” Garth says, still frowning though now thoughtfully, later on as the three of them lay tangled in bed together. Kaldur cannot deny or explain that easily, so simply leans in to kiss Garth carefully and ease the lines in his brow. Tula scoffs, and though she moves to press closer into Kaldur’s side with a content smile, she stays quiet. Something so simple indeed.)
Once back from Atlantis – a brief return for little more than a week to allow him to address and tie up any pressing matters on the Surface – Kaldur cannot find an appropriate time to take the team aside and confront the issue. It is not until they are on the bioship returning to the base after the completion of the drug cartel infiltration mission that Kaldur, on a whim, blurts out, “I think we need to talk about what I discussed with you before. About Roy and my…open relationship.”
There is some reluctance toward the suggestion. “What, right now?” Conner says, eyebrow quirked, inquisitive and disbelieving.
Zatanna huffs. “I am pretty sure, what with all of us being completely covered in grime of unknown properties since we had to escape via sewers, that everyone kind of just wants to takes a shower and go home.”
“I for one,” Artemis says. “Will be crawling into bed immediately.”
Kaldur tries not to emanate his disappointment too noticeably, but M’gann shares a glance with him anyway, picking up on it. She then looks around – tiredly but meaningfully. “Everyone, come on, let’s just hear him out. Please?”
There is still a low level grumble, most noticeably from Robin and Wally. But Kaldur reminds himself: this is important and actually bigger than him and the things he wants (like understanding from his friends). So he steels himself and says, “Please. It is actually very crucial concerning certain political occurrences back home. Though it can wait until after we have showered.”
Raquel is the second to speak up for him. “Oh come on, we can spare that much attention to our leader and his relationship issues. We gossip about it enough, anyway.”
Which is completely the problem, but Kaldur keeps that thought to himself.
When they are all freshly showered and in their civvies and have gathered in the living room, Kaldur clears his throat and looks around at all of them – they are his teammates, and his friends, he reminds himself. They will come to understand, eventually. But still, the hardest part is deciding how to break into the topic.
“So,” he finally works up the nerve to say, deciding on something casual. “You say you all gossip about my relationship?”
“Dude,” Wally interjects, before Kaldur can really even get started. “It’s just a bit freaky, to find out you’re so. You know. Freaky.”
Kaldur sucks on the inside of his cheek and bites it, trying to keep his calm. “This is partially my fault. I did not explain it sufficiently – I was caught off guard at the time.” He had not been ready to have this conversation with them – still is not ready, honestly. But he is trying his best. “But do any of you actually understand what polyamory is?”
“Swinging?” Artemis throws out immediately as a suggestion.
Kaldur sighs, at the immense task of breaking down something so natural and normal for him into understandable parts. “It can be. But polyamory is based on communication and agreements and trust, it is not inherently…as debased as I presume you all are assuming.”
“Sex with three – no wait, five you said you included your two childhood friends – people isn’t at all kinky?” Robin inquires lightly, though more than likely entirely for incendiary effect – he has been increasingly instigating these days. “How does that work, by the way? Logistics-wise.”
“You’re not actually asking, are you?” Zatanna questions, horrified by his potential crassness.
“There is more to polyamory than sex,” Kaldur forcefully cuts in. “It works just like a usual relationship - like between M’gann and Conner, and with Wally and Artemis.”
Despite how common knowledge their coupling is, the four of them begin to fidget and blush and become flustered. Kaldur rolls his eyes at them, and tries to maintain a distinctly level, calm tone. “Again, there is communication. Dates, holding hands, talking – it is not all orgies, if that is not what the group decides on. It is a relationship.”
They all seem to be understanding, or at least listening attentively and nodding along and attempting to understand. Good signs.
“Furthermore, polyamory does not always pair up all the individuals involved.” Here Kaldur pauses. He grasps for a way to explain the way building a polyamorous relationship should go – not that the way Roy has been running around and attempting to all but coerce Cheshire into a relationship is a prime example for the proper protocols (something Kaldur intends to fix very soon).
“For instance, Roy and I are the initial main pair. I want to also involve my two friends. I am involved with them, and Roy agrees to meet with them occasionally to form a friendship between the three of them.”
…Not that Roy meeting Tula and Garth has actually occurred or come to fruition yet – despite the tentative agreement between all four of them that this kind of arrangement would be for the best. It is another result of Roy's dragging his feet and reluctance to actually participate in polyamory.
“He is friends with the two that I alone am romantically involved with. Then, let’s say he and Ch – Jade successfully establish the boundaries of their romantic relationship.” Kaldur pauses again to make sure everyone is keeping up with his explanation. No one interjects, though Artemis pulls a displeased face at the idea of Roy with her sister. Kaldur resists the urge to laugh a little at her antics, and continues as calmly and somberly as before.
“I will get to know her to be familiar with the outlier of my romantic relationships. The chances are that she and my friends, all of whom are outliers to the main pair of our relationship, most likely will never meet or become acquainted to the point of being friends – never mind romantically or sexually involved.” It does not sit right with him, the way that might sound as if he and Roy are gatekeepers in the relationship, and tries to hurry and address it. “Not that it is a must that outliers do not interact with one another – it can happen in some polyamorous relationships. But with Jade, Tula, and Garth I…doubt it is a plausible scenario.”
With that, Kaldur cannot think of much else to explain…though he is sure there is more. A silence hovers between them as he thinks of where to go from here.
“…So when you say ‘romantic relationship’…” Conner says with hesitation, his head is tilted as he tries to make sense of this new information he has been given. “And that it’s not all sex, you mean the five of you do things like go to the grocery store, make dinner together…go to the movies, all that?”
“Not all five together,” Kaldur corrects. “But yes. We do normal things like that.”
“Wow. It’s uh, kind of…boring and domestic, when you break it down like that,” Wally mumbles. Then he is sucking in a pained breath when Artemis elbows him in the side with a glare.
“This is all really informative and kind of reassuring,” Artemis says, looking up from Wally’s hunched over figure to look at Kaldur. “But why is it so important? You said something about politics?”
Kaldur is not so sure if telling his team about the looming coronation is a good idea, not when they are already grappling with this one huge thing of polyamory. He can be vague enough to convey the point, though. “Atlantis is a kingdom, and as a close acquaintance with the king there are certain responsibilities I hold.” And he leaves the necessary context at that – he will explain when the time is right, and they can better keep sensitive information secret.
He continues to the real matter at hand, “The issue is that there are apparently rumors going around within the greater hero community concerning my apparent fondness for large group relationships. And those rumors are twisting into something stating I am involved with the entire team – which holds certain…problematic grooming issues and abuse of power dynamics into question.”
Zatanna and Raquel look equally stricken by this news, while M’gann and Conner have questioning and uncertain expressions. Robin is covering his mouth, though his snickers are audible, and Artemis is full out glaring at Wally.
“That’s why we said keep it in the group!” She yells at him. “You don’t go and talk about how weird and kinky you think your team leader is with your uncle!”
Wally bristles right back at her. “Hey, I never said he was sexing us up, I have no idea how it got to this point!”
“Maybe next time,” Kaldur says sagely and stoically, all to make the point stick. “You will all be less judgmental and will refrain from talking about people behind their backs?”
The entirety of the team looks properly abashed and contrite (“I’ll tell Batman to spread the word and clear this up,” Robin even sighs out apologetically), and Kaldur allows himself a tiny satisfied smile at that.
Victory and confidence still coursing through him, Kaldur decides to confront Roy as well once at home.
“Hey Kal,” Roy greets Kaldur when he comes in at near two AM and covered in soot for reasons unknown. He leans in to kiss Kaldur, then pulls back and shoots him a quizzical look. “Is there a reason you’re sitting on the couch waiting up for me?”
Kaldur clears his throat. “Yes actually, there is. We need to talk.”
Roy frowns slightly, but sits down on the couch next to Kaldur, wordlessly and immediately. He looks at Kaldur with a mostly inquisitive though slightly worried expression, and waits.
Kaldur, in turn, takes a deep breath and hesitantly starts. “I have been worried about you. About what your solution has been to the fact that you have not been particularly accommodating to my relationship needs in the past. And about how you have been approaching it. And about you.”
Roy scoffs and runs a hand through his hair. “Hey, if this about the emotional freak out I had, I’ve worked through that – since, you know, you’ve managed to keep yourself alive and well since you went back to work.”
And that is, for the most part, true. Now Roy only sometimes sleeps in Kaldur’s bed with him, tightly pressed into Kaldur’s side while he dreams – and that may be more a new step for them, a new thing in their relationship, than leftover survivor’s guilt and panic.
“It is only partially about that,” Kaldur admits. “I have not seen or talked to Jade in a while, but I worry about your approach to her – and to polyamory in general – from some of the things she said to me last time we met.”
Roy’s expressions are a little hard to make out with all the soot on his face, but the one he is wearing now is definitely one of bewilderment. “What do you mean? There’s definitely something there, and I just – I’ve had to lay off tracking her, but I just need some time to set things straight with her and – ”
Kaldur raises a hand to stop him. “No. Roy, you spent the last few months of our relationship making empty promises and then turning around and avidly avoiding discussion or commitment to a polyamorous relationship.” Roy shifts uncomfortably at the reminder, but surprisingly stays silent. “And now, after I almost died for the first time after we became involved and while saving you, I think…”
Kaldur usually might pause here and look for softer ways to say his words. But one of them needs to be direct, because this game of running around what they really mean has been going on long enough.
“You feel like you owe me and need to make up for that lost time – and ‘shape up’ and work on making out polyamorous.” It is not that Kaldur is trying to throw Roy’s own words back in his face, but Roy winces all the same.
Kaldur briefly touches Roy’s knee reassuringly. “But Roy, it is okay if you want us to stay monogamous. I can do that. But to force and hurry polyamory, and to try to convince Jade without even being comfortable with what kind of relationship you want with her…it is not going to work.”
Roy rapidly blinks at Kaldur for a few moments, before he groans and, balancing his elbow on his knee, cradles his chin in his hand and stares at the floor. “I really want it to work. I. I like her. She’s…amazing, and she helps me with a lot of Speedy stuff and. And we definitely connect on a certain level. But – ”
And Kaldur reaches over, places a careful hand at the nape of his neck and runs a gentle thumb over the top ridge of Roy’s spine. “You need to talk to her. I already explained polyamory a little bit to her. You…you two can focus on being friends before trying to initiate her into a romance, Roy. And you certainly cannot expect her to make date nights beyond always squatting in our safehouses like they are her own …nor can you constantly track her down – not with her lifestyle and our lifestyle, and how they occasionally are diametrically opposed.”
Roy barks out a short laugh. “Trust me, I was out of my mind with the tracking thing – that was seriously a dumbass move on my part. Won’t happen again after you and Artemis and Jade all chewed me out about it.”
Kaldur hums unapologetically over it. “You deserved it.”
Roy laughs again, but it tapers off as he continues to stare at the floor. “Y’know…I knew all this, everything you just said, in my head. I just…couldn’t sort it out straight and stop trying.” He tilts his head a little, squints at the nothing he is staring at, and there is frustration in his voice. Kaldur keeps running his finger in tiny circles over Roy’s skin, hoping to soothe him.
“You nearly died and I had been acting like an asshole for the past month because the whole polyamory thing was so…sudden and weird for me when we actually tried to put it in action. And I hadn’t been able to wrap my head around it and just…got embarrassed and tried to avoid it.” He laughs once more, at himself. “And I had just been an asshole and then you almost died. That…messed me up, Kaldur.”
“You are repeating yourself,” Kaldur cuts in softly, trying to subdue the agitation in Roy’s tone, the tenseness in his body. “And it is fine. I am fine. You were not that bad – and I understand.”
Roy is looking at Kaldur, intensely and sincere and Kaldur wants to laugh at how ridiculous they are, always giving each other the most absurd emotional obstacle courses over things that can be so easily talked out, if they set their minds to it.
“I want to try, though,” Roy murmurs, shifting out of his hunched over posture to move closer to Kaldur and wrap an arm around his waist. “Even if me and Jade don’t manage to work out – though romance or no, I think she’s gonna keep copping our safehouses and supplies like she owns them in exchange for getting me intel – I know how important Tula and Garth are to you. I really want to try, for real this time, and we can work out those two and me going out on a bonding date or whatever, just like you wanted.”
Kaldur smiles a little, relieved to at least get this out in the open regardless of how it is going to work out in the end. “Alright. But talk to Jade – really talk to her, about all of this and the nature of your relationship, next time you see her.”
“I got it,” Roy says, now a little annoyed. “Kaldur, really, stop worrying about it, I’ll handle it. You handle you, you’ve got enough going on, right?”
Something in Kaldur’s chest twists at how Roy gets that – that yes, Roy cannot help how he messed up, tried too hard and in the wrong ways and messed up. But he understands that, regardless of his intent, Kaldur stressed out about Roy’s mess ups anyway. And Roy is trying to alleviate his stress, trying to do better and take care of Kaldur in a way that is not overbearing. And that really – for some reason Kaldur is suddenly overwhelmed with how much he loves this man.
Kaldur takes Roy’s face into his hands and pulls him into a kiss, hurried and deep and sloppy. “I have a coronation coming up in Atlantis,” Kaldur gasps out in a rush as they break apart. “Tula, Garth, and I will be crowned regents-in-waiting and will be granted political power and it is a very politically controversial move, but it is in case the king and queen are assassinated so we can safeguard the prince’s power.”
“Wha – ” Roy looks blankly at Kaldur, trying to gather his wits and catch his breath. There is spit shinning on Roy’s bottom lip that is distracting Kaldur as well, as he waits for Roy’s reaction. The bitter taste of soot weighs heavy on his tongue.
“What?” Roy finally gets out, shocked. “Kaldur what?”
Kaldur breathes a little slower, and whispers out, “I thought you might like to know.”
Roy rolls his eyes and reaches up gently swipe his thumb across Kaldur’s mouth. He is wiping soot away, and when he is done, he whispers back, “You gigantic idiot.” And kisses Kaldur again, softly.
“You should probably tell the team,” Roy says as an afterthought the next time they pull apart. “Just so everyone can adjust to not letting you shoulder everyone’s responsibilities for them.”
"It is not supposed to be public knowledge on the Surface until after it happens,” Kaldur admits. “I really am not supposed to tell anyone about it.”
“So tell them that it’s a secret,” Roy says pointedly. “Kaldur. Tell them.”
And Kaldur…silently acquiesces – there will eventually need to be a reordering and shift of responsibilities on the team because he will have to return to Atlantis more often for his new political duties, and it is better to get started on such issues sooner rather than later – but Kaldur will not say as much out loud. Instead he wipes some soot off of Roy’s face and asks, “Why are you filthy?”
Roy brightens at that question. “Oh, man. So I ended up crawling through an incinerator, and it was actually one of the unrealest things I’ve done to date.”
Kaldur’s face twists into something unbelieving and awed, and Roy only laughs at him.
Sitting the team down and telling them why he is once again going to be taking leave and returning to Atlantis so soon is not at all the hardest thing he has done as of late. A few days ago he had to sit them down and explain polyamory – telling them a national secret, in comparison, is vastly easier.
Kaldur also learns from past mistakes – and though they do too, he cannot tell them the news and believe in an implicit understanding for the need of secrecy.
“So you’re gonna be a prince?” Wally asks, first and foremost, once Kaldur lapses into a wary silence. His silence is mostly shared by the others – who are wearing varying expressions of shock or intrigue or deep thought.
“No,” Kaldur insists.
Wally only quirks an eyebrow and smirks, flinging himself into a full sprawl out on the couch. “Right.”
Kaldur worries, reminiscences to the last time their team had a disastrously misunderstood talk. “No, really, my new position is not at all the same as prince. And at the risk of sounding redundant, I will again remind you that I need you all to promise me you will not tell anyone about the coronation before it occurs. It is a matter of national security – and public image.”
“Yeah yeah,” Robin says, insistent and yet somehow dismissively – though Kaldur knows Robin is not one he needs to even remotely worry about underestimating the importance of discretion. This possibly explains why his tone sounds so flippant, as he is used to these types of things. “We totally understand all that, okay, but what are you going to be, then?”
The others are, thankfully, patient and quietly waiting for Kaldur to answer, instead of engaging in the usual conversation pile-on as they all try to speak over one another. Kaldur has no problems with answering any of their questions of course, but he is not entirely sure how well he could handle their usual derailing chattiness when it is so important once again that his point is well understood.
“I explained what the political situation is, correct?” Kaldur says, slowly, looking to see if any of them are confused. Artemis looks a little iffy on the subject, but when they lock eyes she nods, a motion for him to continue anyway. “You cannot just induct people into the Royal Family – unless you want extreme backlash. We have factors of democracy, but the Royal Family is an important political figure. And if the backlash from the actions that have been taken are any indication – ”
“Kal,” Raquel says. “Buddy, I love you, but you are getting off track – like I’m having trouble following you – and working yourself up.”
Artemis’s words sound like a rough joke, a callous barb. “You need a bag? Just take a breath and work it out.” But Kaldur can feel the sincerity emanating off her.
Wally holds up his hands in a non-threatening way, looking worried and apologetic. “Yeah, dude, sorry if I freaked you out – I’m listening this time. I know this is important. Not a prince, got it.”
“You already told us all about the political atmosphere – that they’d lead a coup d'état if you three were made prince and princess.” Conner says, carefully, as if Kaldur is the one in need of cautious handling. Maybe he is. “And Atlantis has been on edge since one of the royal princes turned out to be its worst enemy.”
Zatanna has her chin tucked in her hand, and she calmly echoes the question he has been asked, “So what will you be?”
And Kaldur thinks he was wrong to worry they would not understand his additional duties and need for leave. It was wrong for him to think leading the team through this conversation would be painful and complicated – they know when things are serious, and how to support one another. “A regent-in-waiting,” he finally answers. “The purpose is to protect the royal prince and be on standby in case the circumstances arise, if the king and queen die before he is of age, that his ascension to the throne needs protecting.”
Kaldur’s insides complete seize up and jump, startled, when M’gann leans over and layers her hand over his. He looks down at their hands, and then up at M’gann.
“It’s alright to be nervous, but you’ll do fine,” she says gently. And maybe he has been projecting too strongly for her to ignore, or maybe she has skimmed his mind and emotions a little – he has always been much less uneasy and instead comforted by her use of telepathy in her interpersonal relationships – but all that truly matters is that he is calmed by her words.
“Thank you,” he says, pleased that this has gone so smoothly. “I can answer any questions you may have. I am fine.”
Robin’s hand shoots up in the air first, and he says with a thoughtful frown, “So, say the prince comes of age and you never get to use your regency…”
And a smile tugs at Kaldur’s lips, as the others sigh and roll their eyes at Robin getting his word edged in first per usual.
Of course, Kaldur actually setting his affairs completely straight is an impossible thing that he has begun to stop thinking is possible.
“I am going to need you to not make this a constant habit,” he says the moment he opens the door to his bedroom and realizes the window is open. “I would really enjoy not needing to start setting up alarms and traps around here.”
“Then move back to the ocean, where it’s quiet,” Cheshire – or rather Jade, as Kaldur has been getting into the habit of calling her, though perhaps not to her face – says, standing out of her crouch in the shadows. “Anyway, I’m surprised – still trying to build a little harem, and yet you two aren’t even sharing a bed. Might want to sort out how you two are going to do the deed, before attempting the orgy.”
Kaldur sighs, because he thought they worked through all this already. But Roy is the one she needs to talk to, if that is her reason for being here. “Cheshire, what do you want? Roy is in San Diego on business.”
She shrugs. “I know. I’ll catch him later when I want him – we just talked the other night. You, however…” She crosses her arms and shifts her weight. Kaldur has never seen her look out of place before, and he feels this might be the closest thing to it.
She recomposes a moment later. “Me and Red worked out some shit. And I just wanted to make sure you understood not to get your hopes up.” When she simply stops there, Kaldur stares at her, waiting.
“…I don’t get my hopes up?” He repeats questioningly.
She huffs. “Look, I don’t play house – I still don’t get how Red got it in his head that I would even be interested in the first place. I’m really not all that riveted by the idea of dating him, even if he wasn’t attached to you and who knows who else. Because I’m not interested in dates and relationships – I’m interested in being free agent, getting my work done, and doing what I have to do to stay alive.”
“I can understand that,” Kaldur says, relenting. But his next words are meant to highlight the extents of his leniency. “However, I also understand that there needs to be enough certain trust here in this relationship of convenience that we know it is safe for you to duck in on us and know where our safehouses are. And for you to know that you are occasionally welcomed to make use of our resources, if you need to.”
She scoffs, and twirls a sai in the moonlight. “Oh, stop acting like Red and I have some deep and meaningful relationship that’s led to me squatting in your weapon caches a couple of times. He traded it for information for his quest, and I have some connections.”
“That does not explain why you keep pulling leads for him without Roy offering anything new to you.”
“Says you. There’s plenty ‘new’ he’s got to offer for me.” She stops twirling her sai and sheathes it suddenly, putting the previously occupied hand on her hip. “And we both can stop pretending that there’s not the slightest amount of sexual tension between me and him. I’d climb him like a tree if, you know. His warped sense of commitment he’s got going on there wasn’t an issue.” She laughs darkly. “Anyway, I feel like if I tried it the two of you would take it as a go ahead for you to induct me into the sister-wives pack. No thanks.”
Kaldur raises an eyebrow, slightly amused by Jade’s coarseness. “I am not particularly worried about how sexually attracted you two might be to each other – I doubt any one of us have an impaired sense of self-control.” Jade clicks her tongue at that, potentially amused by his lack of reaction.
“And anyway,” Kaldur continues easily. “If either of you change your mind on what exactly you want to be doing with each other and nature of your relationship, we can have a conversation about it.”
Jade snorts. “As if, Jellyfish. I already told you – I don’t play house.”
Kaldur only shrugs. “Respecting the importance of communication is hardly ‘playing house’, I would think.” Kaldur blinks, frowns, and tilts his head. “And I do not know why you keep throwing that in my face – if I recall Roy was the worst offender when it came to ridiculous expectations. And he has…seen the error in his ways.”
“Yeah, him running around like a chicken with its head cut off really was the worst part of this whole thing,” Jade says fondly, her tone conveying the exact opposite. “Anyway, I just dropped in to let you know that I’ll be around now and again. Red was recruiting me to pick up the slack on his ‘Speedy expeditions’, since you’re doing your whole duties back under the sea thing.” She shakes her head while laughing, low and under her breath. “And also, I presume, since he is so horrible working with legitimate bad guys. Did you know he tried to get me to agree to a no-kill policy?”
Kaldur does not doubt it. Anyone’s relationship with Jade is not one he is ever able to make full sense of – but he supposes the most rudimentary basis for understanding is that once Jade takes a liking to someone, she lets them get away with more than most. Kaldur has the strangest feeling that he is slowly warming her up to him, somehow, even without him trying particularly hard. “No, but it is not surprising. Did you agree?”
Jade tilts her head, and with the mask it is not easy to tell – but Kaldur thinks she is amused. “I’m an assassin. And this isn’t a game.” She pauses and then shrugs. “Red seemed to like that answer, though. Just said ‘fair enough’ and helped me track my hit – some new drug lord trying break in the political scene.”
Kaldur frowns thoughtfully at the mention of such cooperative teamwork between the two. “So…you actually will be around more than every now and then – ”
She shakes her head. “No. I’m not all about that hands-on approach with his detective work, and we’re nothing more than occasional partners.”
And Kaldur is much more used to dealing with Artemis than with Jade, but he thinks it might be possible that there are some similarities in the ways they both go about not-asking for invitations and acceptance. “Jade,” he says, stepping out of what few boundaries he knows to stick to when it comes to Jade. “You really are welcome to come around for things other than an occasional safehouse and to help on a case. If you want to.”
And Jade stays silent for a moment, aloof and contemplative before replying in one of the most honeyed and lilting tones Kaldur’s heard from her yet. “Maybe. As long as it’s understood that I’m not interested in settling down and turning good, or anything like that. And anyway you two,” she points an aggressive finger at Kaldur at this. “Are in charge of my sister. I’d have to drop in every now and again to make sure you’re taking care of her anyway. I might as well get a meal out of it.”
He is not going to get anything softer out of her than this – and Kaldur keeps in mind the distinct possibility that this is not so much him offering as it is her manipulating him to this point. Because when it is all said and done, she’s not as similar to Artemis as he sometimes tries to pretend. “Understood.”
Jade jumps up on the window sill, but pauses once more. “You know, I like you, Jellyfish. You’re actually a lot like Artemis.”
To have those words said to him – Kaldur is not at all sure what to say or how to react.
Jade laughs and waves. “Well, good luck with the underwater responsibilities and the dad, then.” And she’s drops out of view.
Kaldur starts, belatedly, at the mention of his heritage – which is supposed to be secret, but wait he suddenly remembers her making a dig about it back before he knew – and then the rest of her words click into place and start to make sense. Good luck and what essentially had been you remind me of my sister.
Kaldur cannot set his affairs straight when so many of them are tied and tangled to other people, but this encounter is actually a little clarifying when it comes to Jade. If Roy wants her help and her friendship – and if she is willing to offer it in the first place – then Kaldur feels like he can come to like her more.
Kaldur returns to Atlantis with very little time to spare before the ceremony. His ceremonial armor’s finishing touches are finally completed, and it is crated away in a chest, awaiting the day.
The day. Kaldur shivers in fear and anticipation when he thinks about the big event itself.
“So then, the guests and dignitaries will be in place, and King Orin will proceed in – and you three, will be positioned right where you are right now, at the mouth of the hall,” the director of the ceremonies instructs from where he stands at the foot of the throne steps. “Everyone will be standing. The king will get to the throne itself, turn around – don’t worry about him, he knows what to do, he has sworn people in before – and that will be your cue to proceed in.”
They are walking through the day, and Kaldur does not mind so much, swimming in the slow, official tread down the long lengthway to the throne in the immense but near empty room – there are people working on the hall decorations, and they are focused on their job, not on the three of them essentially playacting through the ceremony. The instant he begins to try and imagine how it will look when filled, however…
He shivers again, and decides not to think about it.
They reach the steps. “Right,” the director says. “You will go up the steps to the king.” So up the steps they go, until he stops them hovering right on the second topmost step.
“The guests will be seated, and he will swear you in on the steps. Then you three turn around,” he waits for them to obediently do so. “And the guests will stand again, and we will watch Queen Mera proceed in with Prince Orin II. She will pass you on the steps, get to her throne seat, you turn around again…” He waits, and they do as they are told. “And she will read you your duties.”
He pauses, this time for effect. “Right. Then she, with the prince, and the king will sit, you go up three will take your places on the adjacent to the queen’s throne and keep standing – but turn around again – ”
The three of them have been through enough military academy to stay stoic, but Kaldur knows the other two, just as Kaldur, would like nothing more than to crack a smile at the ridiculousness of this procedure, at the absurdity of the director’s assumptions that they would think to stay with their backs to the rest of the throne hall. But they know their duty, and how serious the ceremony procedures are, so they hold their tongues and still their faces and do as they are told.
The director nods. “And now three or four of the older dignitaries will come forward, stand in front of the steps, and give speeches and words of wisdom. Then, once the music starts, all the chancellors and viceroys on council will file to go to the inaugural council meeting, so you will follow after the last one leaves the hall…” He gestures for them to start proceeding back out the throne room, so they begin to descend the steps. “And King Orin will follow you. You do not need to worry about the rest, just follow the council members to the inaugural meeting – and afterwards, you will officially be regents-in-waiting. Congratulations.”
That is another worrisome part of the day – the council meeting, the first of many for them. But there will be no dress rehearsals, nothing more than the king’s plying words and the queen’s insistence that the council cannot speak or act out of turn or step with the Royal Family. Kaldur understands that confidence, but he does not share it; as controversial as this political move is, he feels it may be for the best that he does not outwardly convey overbearing confidence that may be misinterpreted as impudence and presumption.
The director of the ceremonies looks the three of them over, when they finally reach the throne room doors. “Good. Take a five minute break – I need to sort something out with the décor – and review what I have told you.”
Kaldur sighs and relaxes his posture and facial expression immediately, and Tula and Garth do the same. The director waves a dismissive hand at them. “When I return we will run through the event in real-time, reading through the speeches that have been submitted…” The man’s face turns sour, and as he exits the hall he calls out to one of his assistants, “Speaking of, someone talk to Dignitary Vulko about his lack of adherence to protocol, and get him to submit his planned speech!”
Tula holds in her groan until after he has left. “Real-time? So we will be standing around and imagining people are standing up, sitting down, and turning around in circles for the next hour?”
“Maybe two or three,” Kaldur says casually, watching the workers setting up the decorations throughout the throne room. “Four dignitary speeches? That may drag on.”
Tula laughs. Garth smiles, even as he says, “Oh play nice, you two.” His efforts at berating are wasted, as he immediately follows it up with, “And you heard that Dignitary Vulko is doing his usual and undermining authority – his would be the longest of all, more than likely.”
Tula playfully shakes her head at him. “Oh Garth, behave yourself,” she says, imitating his tone, and Kaldur rolls his eyes at the both of them.
Between hours of rehearsal and last minute adjustments, the coming days are looking stressful and the slightest bit frightening. Everyone is simply trying to get to, and through, the day without incident or losing their mind. And Kaldur is not sure, as the three of them try to calm their slowly mounting nerves with little jokes and stoic obedience when it comes to the preparations, if it is working.
The coronation is upon them of course before anyone knows it – or is entirely ready for it. It looms, in all its pomp and tradition and ceremonial obligation, and Kaldur is not sure how they are going to survive it.
“You will all do fine,” Queen Mera tells them, early in the morning as they are escorted to their fitting rooms for preparations. “Do not worry.”
Kaldur knows the queen means well, but somewhere in between adorning chainmail made of linked gold over his wetsuit as his undermost layer and finally fitting his golden ancient rune-inscribed helmet on as the last piece of armor, he cannot help but grow anxious. It is the first time he has had the entire wardrobe on at once, in all its heavy extravagance and suddenly Kaldur is worried about how he will move gracefully, properly, in these clothes.
His worries are not helped as the woman fitting him treads backwards to get a good look at him, as a completed picture. “Hm,” she says after a moment, tapping at her bottom lips. “Not quite…”
Kaldur looks at himself in the mirror: the golden helmet imbedded with shells and scales, the bronze chained sling sheath with his xiphos leafed sword, the cuirass upper armor made of gold and ornately engraved with ancient runes, his white gold on gold greaves, and the large golden hoplon shield with an artistic depiction of the creation of Atlantis – straight out of a children’s history book – in black figure art. It is all that he remembers being part of his outfit, back when the commissioned blacksmiths carved and wielded and pieced together their armor.
She sighs, and turns to another chest in the room, an additional one that is not where his ceremonial armor has been stored. Kaldur looks back to his reflection, eyes searching for what she sees. It becomes apparent where her dissatisfaction lies, when she turns back to him with something golden and heavy in her hands, and Kaldur’s stomach sinks with the realization that it is a collar necklace. Typical formalwear is detailed and usually excessive, but it draws the line at the more overindulgent accessories such as jewelry. But as Kaldur is fitted with the neck cuff, as it wraps around clicks into place and hides his gills, Kaldur realizes that he is not ‘typical’, that this is one source of contention that he cannot expect to be overlooked.
“There we go, now you are ready,” the woman beams. All Kaldur hears is now no one can tell, and he is escorted to the holding room with impossibly escalating nerves.
“You look absolutely wonderful,” Tula says in awe to him, swimming up to him for a brief and awkward hug – the metal of their armor clangs together and does not give.
“I could say the same to the two of you,” he replies easily, settling into his usual coping methods for the feared unknown: if he plays at impassive, he will eventually convince himself that he really is calm. “Pearls?” He gestures to her greaves.
She flutters her eyelashes at him with mock coyness. “Well, it is certainly better than Garth’s heavy copper adornments, much more suited for a female warrior, you know.”
Garth shoots her a tired look, and it lets Kaldur know that she has been bringing up her distaste for what must be the words imparted on her by her fitter – not of Neptunos’s production of copper – for a while now. “I do not think Kaldur’ahm was asking about your pearls in distaste,” Garth says. “They look beautiful, Tula. Besides they are Poseidonis’s prime export – and you are a capital city girl.”
Tula smiles, but both Garth and Kaldur see its edge and know what is coming. “Thank you,” she says. “They are beautiful. They are also much better than Kaldur’ahm’s white gold. Pearls are lighter, you see. We cannot have me falling out in the middle of ceremony.”
“Tula,” Kaldur points out slowly. “We all are wearing gold armor, the weight on our greaves does not make much difference. And we do not underestimate you.”
Garth nods. “Besides, our fitters were asses.”
Kaldur’s eyebrows shoot up at the sound of Garth cursing. A careful glance tells him that Garth is indeed on edge, but has forced himself to remain calm. “Garth…my friend, what was said to you?”
“Nothing too bad, only the typical accusations that Neptunos is nothing more than a crude, out of the way city-state filled with uneducated and backwards people. And that I am lucky to have manipulated my way into the King’s good graces.” Garth says far too lightly. Tula takes his hand and squeezes, and Kaldur is quick to put a comforting hand on Garth’s shoulder.
“You are right,” Kaldur says, looking Garth straight in the eyes. “Our fitters were asses – but this is only the beginning, and we are doing this for an important reason, come what may.”
And out of the corner of his eye, he sees Tula carefully looking him up and down, feels how her eyes linger on the oppressive clasp around his throat. But he focuses on Garth, instead, on the words he must say. “Snide but baseless remarks are the least of the backlash we are going to get, especially from the council. But we are going to get through this. Together.”
Even though Kaldur truly believes every word out of his own mouth, he cannot help but still feel ridiculous and ashamed at the insults left to him by his own fitter – the lack of outright malice, unlike the other two, makes it somehow a little harder to share and yet a little worse of a sting.
“And what,” Tula says, eyes locked on the jewelry around his neck. “Kaldur, may I ask, what was said to you?”
Kaldur shoots Tula one of her own brands of flashing looks at her, not entirely wanting to throw his own insecurities up on display. He tugs at the collar, irritated at how it makes him feel closed in and short for breath, and whispers – echoes, “Nothing too bad.”
He is fooling no one: neither Tula nor Garth have excess accessories, beyond the overly-jeweled weapons sheathed and hanging from their sashes. The purpose of his collared necklace is quite apparent to all three of them.
Nonetheless, his friends approach the subject carefully. Garth leans in closer, hand reaching slowly for Kaldur’s throat. “And what is this…?”
Kaldur smiles slightly. “Ah, well, she said it was ah. For the best. It is still white gold, so represents Shayeris – ”
Tula bristles and Garth furrows, and Kaldur guesses the sentiment is worse than they thought – perhaps the innocuous remainders of the purist movement, despite all that has been done to uproot Ocean-Master, are as striking to them as it is to Kaldur.
“Do not try and excuse it for her,” Tula says with a harsh scoff, obviously disagreeing with the woman’s words, as she reaches for his neck as well. “For the best…? Ha.”
Garth just stays stonily quiet, and in that moment Kaldur thinks Garth strengthens his resolve to move heaven and earth to make this ordeal worth it, his silent fury is so immense and shaking.
“It is not that big of a deal.” Kaldur tries to comfort and deflect anyway, because old habits die hard. They both ignore his weak words and carefully unhook and remove the heavy collar, and Kaldur’s gills flare out thankfully, unhindered.
“If anyone has a problem with any of us,” Garth says, leaning in closer still to press his cheek against Kaldur’s and murmur these words into his ear. “They will have to take it up with our king and queen.”
Tula propels herself to float above the two of them, places her hands on the tops of both their heads and leans down to press a kiss to both their foreheads. “Or with us ourselves, the cowards.”
Kaldur laughs at that, and reaches up to pull her down so he can throw his arms around the both of them in a thankful embrace. “Alright,” he says with a smile as Tula tucks her head into the crook of his neck and Garth turns his head to press his lips to right above Kaldur’s gills – and Kaldur’s next words, they are more Roy’s than his own. Inspired by Roy’s way of regarding situations larger than himself, they are a reminder to Kaldur that he can get through this.
“Then let’s go give them hell.”
They find an alcove in a quieted and empty hall after it is all said and done. The capital is not in celebration after the ceremony, because this coronation is nothing like that of King Orin’s, or anything like the royal wedding or the prince’s birth – and there will be controversy over this particular coronation for a while still. However, the workday has been cancelled, and the extravagance of a ceremony has put most of the populace in a good and social mood, and many people are out and about. The three of them, however, have been ‘out and about’ since early morning and have had plenty of excitement for the day.
“I cannot even believe how the council meeting went,” Garth says, leaning against the smooth wall while picking at the buckled-straps of his copper plated greaves. “Do you think they will always be that…hostile?”
Kaldur is not sure, not in the least, and so all he can settle on is a careful, “I should hope not.”
Tula lets out a single choked laugh. “You should think not! Eventually they will have to go back to getting some semblance of work done, instead of protesting us ‘children’ sitting in on their precious council with passive aggression.”
Her words are not as light as she probably hopes for them to be, and even she hears it. With a sigh, she starts to fiddle with the sling of the decorative xiphos. “Oh, never mind them,” she says quietly. “I refuse to stay in this ridiculous clothing any longer than we already have.”
All the decorative metals and excess armor is tiring to swim in, and Kaldur himself is about ready to never carry a hoplon ever again.
“It is not required that we dress up like this for actual council meetings, is it?” Garth asks tiredly. “The jingling of all the gold and bronze alone…would be disruptive, yes?”
“It should not be a requirement, normally. Everyone was only in formalwear for the coronation – and it was our inaugural council meeting.” Kaldur says, matter of fact, but then he pauses. “…However, as Tula said, with their issues of us being mere children to them, I would not be entirely surprised if it suddenly became a requirement.”
Garth sighs tiredly. “All this fuss, for doing our civic duty as soldiers? Unbelievable.”
Tula pulls off her helmet and throws it at him, which he catches easily. “You know perfectly well it is because the extents of our civic duty are being taken further than they usually are for soldiers. And you would have been better off simply becoming a royal nanny rather than a royal regent-in-waiting.”
Garth lifts an eyebrow at her, while running his fingers over the scales embedded in her helmet plating. “Are you trying to wound me, or simply stating facts…?”
Tula huffs and balances her chin on her knees. “I am no longer sure. I am tired.”
“We all are,” Kaldur says. His gold chainmail is getting heavier by the second and the straps on his shield are beginning to chafe on his arm. “And tomorrow is not another day off…should we head home?”
Tula huffs again. “Home? Our home here in the capitol is on the outskirts of the city, and I would rather not be stopped every other minute by inquiring civilians wondering about our intentions for the throne as we try to head there.”
Garth is still messing with the scales on the helmet, but he frowns thoughtfully. “Well, we can check to see if the nursery room is open?”
Tula scoffs, through her entire posture is drooping with the exhaustion setting in. “We have been relieved of baby duty, so Queen Mera may be in there. Or will eventually go in there with the prince – the day is still young, and I aim to take a very long nap.”
Kaldur realizes, his own exhaustion beginning to settle deep in his bones, that he wants to decompress and not feel like he is still caught up in all the buildup to this day. Atlantis is still home in a sense, but here in the capital he is now a regent-in-waiting, an important political figure. And Kaldur is sure all three of them will get used to that; they quickly became used to sticking out among their peers due to their constant closeness to the Royal Family, after all. However right now, for just a moment, Kaldur does not want to make do and deal with his discomfort, discomfort that will get worse before it gets better: he wants to be selfish – after all, he has been told time and again that he is occasionally allowed to let others shoulder his responsibilities.
“I think,” Kaldur says, slowly and deliberately and Tula and Garth both look at him. “I know a good place for us to go – and not be under scrutiny.”
Though Garth looks at him with dull skepticism and Tula with tired intrigue, they both follow him with little question, as he takes them to the zeta tube.
There is no one in the training hall when they arrive, nor is there anyone in the living room – which is where Kaldur takes them before calling it a day and all but collapsing on the couch. Only when they both, Tula first and then Garth, follow suit does Kaldur realize that he perhaps should have offered a change of clothes: they all still have on their formal wear.
Now that he is down, however, he does not feel like getting back up. He looks over to Tula, as she shifts on the other end of the couch, using Garth’s chest to support her back. “We have not changed out of our induction armor…”
She scoffs – though the dry air causes her to cough and clear her throat a little afterwards – and pokes him in the shin with her toes. “I am down for the count and fine with it – it is too late to change.”
“Perhaps, but you do not have another person in armor on top of you,” Garth grumbles. It is evident in how tired he is with how he does not offer this sentiment with any amount of good-nature. “The embroidered gold on your skirt is cutting into my thighs.”
Kaldur laughs, as Tula bristles and shoots back, “Well your breastplate is digging into my arms!”
Despite the initial complaining, they quiet down and longue for a few minutes before taking any steps towards removing their outer armor.
Kaldur starts removing one of Garth’s greaves while Garth and Tula each take one of Kaldur’s legs and start on both of his at once. “It was tiring getting to the day,” Kaldur says. “But rather grand, yes?” He finishes Garth’s one leg, throws the greave on the pile of their helmets and shields and sheathed swords that were the first to be discarded, then moves on to one of Tula’s greaves.
“I would have liked it more if it had been just a private affair,” Tula admits, attending to the greave on Garth’s leg that Kaldur has left undone. “Broadcasting it to the whole kingdom…it was almost like boasting and confirming everyone’s fears of a political takeover.”
Garth runs his fingers reassuringly over the back of Tula’s neck, on his way to the shoulder clasps of her cuirass. “It would have been worst if it had been private – then there would be claims that it was too secretive and quickly done to not be an attempt at power mongering on the king’s part.”
Tula sighs, and reaches behind her to unhook the one shoulder clasp on Garth’s armor that she can reach, as he does the other. “I suppose. The ceremony was extravagant…but nice.”
Kaldur unhooks Tula’s other greave, just in time as she has to shift and half lift herself so Garth can try and slip out of his own cuirass. He gets stuck halfway, and Kaldur leans forward – as Tula ducks between them – to help tug him out of it. “What was also nice,” Kaldur says quietly as Garth comes free with a small grunt, and he discards the armor on the floor with the rest. “Was how the king went after the vice-chancellor of Shayeris for bringing disparaging purist comments to the inaugural council meeting.”
Garth frowns furiously at the memory, and Tula pauses in pulling her cuirass off to pull a face. “The nerve of him, right at the beginning too.” Tula mumbles, words muffled with the armor over her head.
Garth sighs and gestures for Kaldur to lean in so they can remove his chest plating as well. “It is a shame King Orin cannot always be at the meetings with us,” Kaldur hears, though Garth’s words become echo-y as the armor goes up over his ears. “But we will get better at playing their games.”
The armor comes off and then the three of them are left, sitting on the couch, in gold glittering chainmail and black wetsuits.
“Play their games?” Tula repeats with a troubled expression. “I really would like to just do the duties I’m much more suited for…”
Garth quirks an inquiring eyebrow. “What, like being in the midst of battle? We have to sit on council and understand the politics, or else what is the point?”
Tula groans and looks ceiling-ward. “I understand that, I would just rather not.”
Kaldur understands her anxiety, as he too is not comfortable with the political aspects of possibly becoming royal head in the worst possible situation. And Tula is looking slightly ill at the thought, while Garth has gone serious with this talk of the necessary evils of their duty – so Kaldur intervenes best he can. “Tula is very good at battle, you cannot argue the sensibility of her being more comfortable with the guarding aspects of our positions as royal escorts – ah, regents-in-waiting.”
Tula sighs and stretches until she can poke Kaldur in the stomach with her foot. “I do not need you to come to my rescue from Garth. He is arguably the only one of us looking forward to our sudden introduction to the world of politics – let him gloat.”
Garth sighs as well, and reaches up to ruffle her hair. “It is not gloating – and at least one of us is not entirely put off by our council positions.”
“Of course. You can be the politically savvy one, then,” Tula says with a wave of her hand.
“You might be joking, but that would be for the best,” Kaldur says slowly, considering the possibility. “I am split between my work here and in Atlantis, and Tula really is much more suited as a soldier.”
Tula winks at him in appreciation. “Top of the class in offensive magic, short and long range, after all.”
Garth rolls his eyes. “Well, the second in class is right here.”
Kaldur bites his lip to hide his smile, and Tula reaches behind her to pinch Garth. “Second in class in all studies, including useless things like politics and penmanship. You have been destined for boring administrative work from the get go.”
Garth may sigh and neglect responding to that, and Tula hums triumphantly while nestling her back against his chest, but as the three of their legs tangle where they meet in the middle of the couch Kaldur is glad the three of them are breaching this new unknown-ness together. “We will cover each other’s weaknesses, like always,” he says calmly, settling his back against the chair arm. To a certain extent, Kaldur believes in speaking things into existence. “And protect the prince while the king and queen rule until an old age, and our regency is never put into use.”
They both smile somberly at him, and the conversation turns less directed and serious for a time.
“ – and it was amazing timing to have the ceremony coincide so closely with the new recruits’ graduation from the academy,” Kaldur says, thinking of La’gaan in particular, his pride in wearing his graduation armor tangible. “It was a nice touch to have them in uniform and lining the aisle.”
Tula hums a gentle agreement. “It did not entirely discourage any incidents, though…”
Garth frowns in thought. “What do you mean? If there had been violence – ”
Tula shakes her head. “Not violence, just…unrest. You were more than likely too focused on the procession to notice, but did you know the head of the Tritonis government forbade his entire courtly house from coming? Their section was completely empty, other than Viceroy Pletus.”
Kaldur’s eyes widened. “Is that why King Orin gave him the cold shoulder during the council?”
Garth rests his head against the couch back. “I was not so single-minded as to miss every instance of people behaving out of turn. Did you see, when Dignitary Vulko actually pulled a face at one of the council dignitaries from Lemuria who tried to sit during Queen Mera’s procession?”
Kaldur smiles at the memory. “He stood up, did he not?”
“Never mind that,” Tula interjects. “What about when Dignitary Vulko straight out insulted the current Poseidonis councilman – though not by name, of course – as ‘a boastful coward unfit for his position and frightened by those in their youth from outshowing him – not that it would be hard to do as much’?”
“During his ceremonial speech, nonetheless?” Kaldur points out, with tired amusement. “It incited the biggest, forced non-reaction I have ever seen – everyone tried to pretend – ”
Tula laughs and cuts in, “Right! That he was not insulting someone, and that we all did not know exactly who.”
Garth runs a hand through his hair and laughs as well, though it sounds slightly exasperated. “Something only someone as old and prestigious as Dignitary Vulko could pull off…and even then I was worried.”
As Tula exclaims, “King Orin’s face twitched!” Kaldur suddenly takes note of Robin creeping in the shadows – which means he’s been there for at least a little while – right before Wally’s there all of a sudden.
“Dude, I thought I heard Atlantean when we zetaed in – you’re back!”
Kaldur barely has the chance to raise his hand in acknowledgement, before the rest of the team follows into the living room. M’gann squeaks and is immediately flying over the couch back to hug Tula fiercely. “It’s been so long!”
Tula laughs. “It has,” she agrees, words slightly stilted as she shifts to English, and pats M’gann on the back. Garth only carefully nods at the rest of the team, more reserved, though he quirks a slight smile at Conner that is returned at once.
“So this is where you ducked off to,” Zatanna says offhandedly to Robin, before waving at Kaldur and then heading into the kitchen.
Raquel rolls her eyes and gives a little mock half bow of apology, “Sorry, her majesty is hungry, and therefore incredibly rude, so I’ll say hello on both our parts.”
There is a petulant call of, “I waved, I didn’t want to interrupt!” from the kitchen. Raquel just shakes her head, waves herself, and heads for the kitchen as well – though she pauses for the briefest of moments to wink at Kaldur, in this surreptitious and congratulatory way that makes his face flash hot.
“So you all are completely decked out,” Artemis says, impressed. Artemis nudges M’gann – who takes the hint and floats off Tula and instead sits cross-legged and mid-air above the carpet – as she leans over the couch to experimentally touch Kaldur’s chainmail. “Is this gold? Like real gold?”
“Yes,” Kaldur tells her levelly, and laughs how Artemis rolls her eyes and punches him in the arm.
“You’re ridiculous, this is ridiculous,” she moans, throwing herself on one of the armchairs.
“Okay, wait you were even more decked out,” Robin says, by now crouched by the pile of armor in the middle of the living room floor and shifting through it.
Wally’s by his side in a second, snatching one of the greaves out of his hands. “You should definitely ask before you touch,” Wally berates immediately.
Conner wanders over to the pile to look at the armor as well, sitting down on the floor as Robin completely ignores Wally and picks up one of the xiphos sheath-slings and hands it over to Conner. M’gann floats down until she’s sitting in Conner’s lap, and they study the sword together, and the expressions on their face tell Kaldur they are having a conversation over a private mind link between the two of them.
Meanwhile, Wally blanches as he gets a good look at the detail of white gold leafing on the greave in his hand. “…Even if this stuff looks like it’s encrusted with friggin’ shipwrecked gold, jesus christ.”
“It is,” Garth puts forth hesitantly, immediately lifting an eyebrow in confusion at the wide eyed stares he receives in return. “Those are Kaldur’ahm’s, and Shayeris has a great many sunken ship sites – as well as manganese fields, thus the white gold?” The stares do not let up, so Garth fumbles for further explanation. “Our armor has adornments that pay homage to our home cities.”
At this, Raquel leans against the bar counter from inside the kitchen area and pins Kaldur with a glare. “Okay, I think I speak for us all when I say you need to tell us the details. Spill them, now.”
“All the details,” Zatanna agrees, putting her bowl of cereal on the counter as well, pausing to eat a spoonful. “Every nitty, gritty, extravagant one you’ve got.”
“I thought you were too hungry to interact? Because apparently you’re Wally now?” Robin pokes fun at her, and Zatanna wrinkles her nose at him while Wally makes a noise of complaint at the barb.
“It was very extravagant,” Tula offers slowly, in agreement with Zatanna, looking to Kaldur for help on navigating the situation. “Tell them about how long it took to get the armor custom made and fitted to our bodies,” she says to him in Atlantean.
Kaldur obeys dutifully. “It took weeks for that armor to be made; we had to wear it while they shaped it to our bodies and pieced it together.”
“So of course yours was the last to be done,” Garth murmurs laughingly in Atlantean.
“Such a busybody elsewhere,” Tula agrees wryly.
Kaldur rolls his eyes long-sufferingly, “You are the one who brought the subject up in the first place!”
The others do not mind that their conversation has slipped into a language they cannot understand. Wally has handed off the greave to Artemis and he is now carefully studying the shield with Robin. Conner experimentally lifts one of the cuirasses with one hand, before asking, “Aren’t they uncomfortable? And heavy for you?”
Garth frowns thoughtfully and crosses his arms over Tula’s midriff. “Over a long period of time, yes. But why would that matter?”
Zatanna sucks on her spoon and makes a begrudging sound from across the lounge. Raquel appears to share the sentiment, “Well there’s your drawback to having royal duties, then.”
Tula is also confused. “Is discomfort that much of a deterrent for humans?”
Artemis kicks her legs rhythmically, hitting her heels against the chair she is sitting in. “Not so much, but if every time you have to get armored up it’s in what’s essentially an uncomfortable, gold gilded weight trap…”
Kaldur tilts his head slightly as he tries to work out the misunderstanding amongst his friends. “This is not our official battle-wear – it is far too impractical,” he says slowly. “But for important ceremonies, tradition and extravagance are usually more…crucial in the armor design.”
A low murmur of understanding ripples through the others, though M’gann has the bubbly outburst of, “Oh, how amazing.”
Like this, with careful words and Kaldur translating what Tula and Garth do not know how to say, with the rest of the team listening and prodding and asking their questions here and there, they slowly recount the numerous preparations and the event itself. It is peaceful and enjoyable, though Kaldur keeps in mind Tula and Garth’s occasional rasped cough – they are not used to staying dry for so long. He prepares himself to cut this short, if need be, in order to retire with them into the saltwater pool once they have had enough – but their excitement of interacting with his team has not yet waned, and the light conversation continues effortlessly.
Kaldur is trying to describe the council room when Roy comes in.
“It is a giant room with an antechamber and a peristyle connecting the two,” he says, watching Roy out the side of his eye. Roy is in his casual clothes, which means he has probably come in straight from his part time job to suit up and start herowork. “Inside the room there is a table in the middle of the room that is made of tellin shells.”
“It is minimalist, though,” Tula says. “Tell them that. That it does not have very much decoration or extravagance.”
Roy passes by the couch arm, close enough so he can slowly trail his hand along the back of Kaldur’s neck and the line of his shoulders. “I know – ” He tries to say in response to Tula, distracted in more ways than one.
“Explain that it is because the council room is for important work, not ceremony,” Garth adds. “The city-states report in to the capitol and discuss issues and potential policy for the improvement for Atlantis as a whole as well as in its individual cities – ”
“It is not very decorated, though it is big,” Kaldur says, cutting into Garth’s ramble. His mind is more than partway focused on the way Roy’s fingertips slowly leave his skin, and Kaldur turns his head towards Roy to both acknowledge the tactile hello and watch Roy sit in the unoccupied armchair. “The council room is not really seen or shown for any reason, and the people who meet in there are supposed to be focused on discussing the politics of Atlantis…”
“How often does the council meet?” Robin interjects. “Like, I get it, Aquaman is the king of the whole country or whatever, but he can’t rule it all – so it’s micromanaging, and having the other guys report in to him.”
“It depends on the state of the kingdom, but if it is peaceful there are only monthly meetings.” Garth answers in his stead, so Kaldur keeps watching Roy. Roy folds his legs up into the armchair, tilts his head back to rest it on the chair’s back, closes his eyes, and visibly unwinds and settles in.
Raquel is stealing bites of Zatanna’s third bowl of cereal, but she swallows and asks, “So you guys have to go to every meeting?”
“Protocols have not been established,” Kaldur admits, and at the sound of his voice the corner of Roy’s mouth twitches up a little into this serene smile. Kaldur’s heart skips a beat, but his words do not falter. “But with three of us, as long as one is free, it should not be a problem.”
“The king does not – and cannot – make it to all meetings.” Tula points out.
Artemis sits up at that, with an alarmed expression. “But what does that mean for you? You said these jerks don’t like you!”
“Which is totally messed up,” Wally says. “Like, what’s not to like? Plus your guys’ king supports you, so they’d better just suck it up.”
“Will you have to go without him?” M’gann asks, eyebrows furrowed with worry at the prospect.
The team has become surprisingly invested in Atlantis’s state of affairs in a relatively short matter of time, something Kaldur is more than a little grateful for.
“More than likely,” Tula replies. “They would have to answer to the king if they tried to act differently from usual protocol.”
Conner scoffs. “Won’t stop them from trying anyway, I’ll bet.”
Garth hums slightly and says nothing more than a conceding, “Perhaps.”
“We will be fine, once the routine is set and they realize we are not going anywhere,” Kaldur assures them.
“It’s weird, but a kingdom functions completely differently than I thought it would,” Zatanna says thoughtfully. “I guess it’d have to though – all my knowledge of kingdom politics are from fairytales and Disney movies.”
M’gann brightens at the mention of Disney movies – her and Conner have been marathoning them as of late. “Wait, but do you all ever have balls or dinner functions?” Conner perks up a little in curiosity at the coming answer, and balances his chin on the top of M’gann’s head.
And though Wally and Robin chorus a groan together, Tula tilts her head, squints in confusion and answers, “Yes? Do you…not?”
“No wait, but this is of utmost importance,” Zatanna says, deadly serious. “Are they huge and super formal, and absolutely royal?”
Tula keeps squinting at them all. “Yes sometimes, if the occasion calls for it. Again, do you not have events up here?” She looks to Kaldur in wary confusion, and Garth also seems lost – and Kaldur may have to jump in soon, if the line of inquiry continues this way.
Raquel easily waves the question off. “Of course we do, it’s just nobody’s royal – or rich – around here.”
Wally starts snickering for some reason, and Robin elbows him in the side, and Kaldur gives them a warning of, “Do not start you two,” before it can escalate beyond that. They stop, for now, and the others keep talking over it, too used to these two and their antics to pay them much mind. It is all very familiar and calm, and Kaldur basks in it.
Of course this downtime will not last forever, or even for much longer. The others have come in right after school for a reason, and Black Canary or Red Tornado or Batman will show up soon to start training or to assign a mission. And Roy always has things of his own to take care of, might be here to lend the team a hand or to prep for his own mission. And come tomorrow Kaldur, Tula, and Garth have a whole new set of responsibilities to handle and balance, with Kaldur’s commitments in both Atlantis and here on the Surface.
But right now, in this perfect moment with the din of voices of people he cares about and Roy looking at complete peace, Kaldur can take a deep breath and be at peace too.