"It's our wedding day. Kiss me again."
The prince was gentle with her, this princess, as he obeyed, a little in wonder that she would want such a thing. But they were alone, reining over their sinking kingdom, with no one else to comfort them.
Death or life. Either one would be an answer.
He could feel her mouth, but as a pressure without sweetness or warmth. He had given up on feeling long ago in this body of death he'd never been able to escape from. For years. For centuries.
She kissed him and suddenly there was warmth in the kiss, life flooding back inside him in a way he'd forgotten how to feel. He pulled back, startled, and looked at her in the last rays of golden light.
"Are you all right?"
Water was taking the gardens, waves washing over the shore outside. The answer was death. He was as certain of it as the tingling in his flesh that should be numb.
He touched her cheek. "Yes, my princess."
They did not die. The inexorable sea claimed them at last in its cold embrace, tides pouring over their faces and hair, never seeking to separate their tightly bound hands or wound fingers.
Mede gasped one last breath and he watched the water flood over her head, felt it filling his lungs, and knew that this was the end.
The sea claimed all it touched. A hawk once wheeling about outside, seeking escape from the fallen land, sprouted scales along with its remaining feathers, legs fusing into seaworthy fins, gills slitting its throat and sides.
The prince breathed -- and breathed in water into his lungs, heart beating rapidly as he saw Mede breathing too with widened eyes as the changes made themselves known in their own bodies.
Death gave way to life, a gift of the sea he'd never expected, pillars rising once more in the dark, people spreading out from their quiet waiting places, freed by the prince's wedding. The skeletal shapes were no longer monstrous, half-dead, but lithe and flowing with the currents of the sea as if they'd been born swimming them, tails and fins inking the sea behind them.
"Are you all right, my princess?" he asked, because there was fear glimmering in her eyes to match the surprise in his own breast.
She held his hand tighter, looking around in wonder as his kingdom--their kingdom became something other than it had been, as Atlantis was claimed by the sea.
"Yes," she said quietly. "I'm all right."
They waited out the tides. Sometime in the long night as the sea poured in, he'd found her leaning against him as they watched and placed his arm around her to hold her. She'd not objected but rested her head on his shoulder as though it was only natural for her to do so.
She was more of a princess than any he'd met before.
She was half asleep when he kissed her temple and caught her blinking out of sleep.
"Not yet, my queen."
Not princess. Queen. It was a startling realization for her, but one he was certain of now that life had come with the evening and made clear that Atlantis would not die beneath the waves.
"The people are coming to see their queen."
She straightened with the dignity of royalty, reaching hands to straighten skirts before realizing the unecessary nature of the gesture. She nodded and shyly allowed him to take her hand and lead her to the window.
Below was a reef of faces, upturned as the shouts began as though this was his first wedding day, the one that should have been happiness and feasting and peace. He raised her hand in his and greeted his people.
"Your rooms, my queen."
"I thought--" She turned toward him abruptly, spinning in the water, hair gently floating around her face before she shook her head and turned back to look into the rooms. They were still lovely, and light burned from hanging lamps as though they were not completely submerged.
Mede reached out a graceful hand to touch the shade of one, then looked at him again from under dark lashes. She was the exotic princess he'd once dreamed about, but though long bitterness had worn the shine off such thoughts, he found something achingly familiar in the look in her eyes.
She'd never chosen this. It was chosen for her to come to him. Yet, somehow she'd chosen to stay.
It made him wish to be kind to her, to make the strangeness easy for her. He'd seen such changes before. There was no answer to this.
"The sea changed everything," she said softly.
She looked at him harder then, eyes narrowing a little as if trying to read him. He'd been very quiet since their mutual realization of exactly what was happening. "Is it an answer?" she asked. She raised her hand to their watery kingdom around them. "Is this what you want?"
What he wanted... He smiled sharp edges, familiar bitterness chipping away at his insides. "It is an answer. What I want is unimportant."
He could read the slight trembling in her shoulders and face. Not fear, but something he'd once inspired in many princesses. Not his queen.
He reached out a hand without touching her. "I am grateful, Highness."
It was more difficult to read the expression that crossed her face after that. But after a long moment, she spoke, seemingly satisfied. "It's our wedding night."
That it was.
He shook his head. "We should rest tonight."
Their bodies were new. Their entire world was new. There would be time in the days ahead to explore that world together.
"You are brave, Mede," he told her, using her name at last.
She looked at him with eyes that were gentle, that did not show him still the monster she had once meant, and he felt a little less like the monster. He would not bring her terror.
"Goodnight," she said and curtsied as gracefully as once she'd done with legs.
He bowed his head in return, in deference to her strength. "Goodnight."