Arthur isn’t really into the whole “king” thing. He saved the day, prevented global war, and got to kiss a pretty girl while underwater in magical fish armor. That’s a win, yeah? So why people keep pestering him about other crap is beyond him. As if he’s remotely qualified to be making any decisions about a place he’s only just now seen because he has a shiny gold trident.
Which, okay actually does make him qualified by their laws, but damn, those laws need some serious updating, because that’s how people get executed for falling in love and making bi-species babies.
“Look, can we just like, party for a few days? Put a pin in all this King stuff? I think we deserve it, don’t you?”
They’re in Orm’s battleship, rocketing back towards Atlantis with the remains of the armies trailing behind them at a slower pace, licking their wounds. Orm is in the brig, and the soldiers all around them in their eerie white and blue armor look at Arthur with a compliance that makes his skin crawl.
It’s Vulko at his elbow who smiles thinly and says, “Unfortunately, as king, there are duties you cannot divest just yet.”
“That’s becoming obvious.”
Also becoming obvious is the absence of his mother. Who not only knows how to rule Atlantis, but is actually the queen. “What about--”
As if reading his mind-- which, for all Arthur knows is totally a thing that people do here-- Vulko says, “Your mother has left for the surface. Nothing could slow her.”
Arthur snorts, and down here that apparently means a bubble erupts from his nose. Charming. Far be it from him to want to imagine his parents sex life, but he gets it. 30 years is a good long time to wait; he’s not sure he’d want to stick around for all this pomp and circumstance either if the love of his life was standing on a dock with a hangover waiting for him to come home.
“Yeah. So about this king thing. Can we work it out so it’s a part time gig?”
Vulko winces and then motions for the rest of the entourage on the bridge to leave. They swim out in total obedience until the door closes and it’s just him and Vulko floating in his half-brother’s shitty war machine.
Vulko tisks at him once they’re alone, and suddenly Arthur is ten years old again, standing on a beach and watching the odd little friend of his mother’s show him how to be a man of the sea. “You have known, dear Arthur, what your fate held for a long time. You have saved Atlantis from itself, and the surface world from Atlantis. And now you have the chance to build something unique, to do something no other king or queen in our history has done. I did not think Atlanna’s firstborn to be so cowardly as to run away.”
“You’ve been saving that one up, haven’t you.”
“For quite some time. Arthur, you are the rightful king, and as such your word is law. I cannot stop you from doing what you will with your mandate, but I can urge you to not waste it.”
“Seriously? Anything I say is just... law? No wonder this place is so fucked up.”
“No, seriously, no. How’s this, by my word as King of Atlantis, I declare today and the next entire week to be free time. Bury the dead, fix the broken shit, and just chill. Actually, that’s a good question. How do you bury your dead? How does that even work?”
“Festivities are a good idea; you should be welcomed with grand ceremony, it will mark the end of an old age and the beginning of a new one.”
“That’s not really what I meant, but okay. Let’s party.”
The party is more of a ‘clean up the broken wasteland that was once Atlantis’ shindig, than a sex and rock’n roll thing, which is too bad, but makes sense. Once they arrive and park the warship Vulko has the science corps retrofitting the kamikaze little ships into trash collectors, which is pretty sweet.
But even with an emphasis on civic duty, it’s still not a half bad shindig. He gets a crown, which is just as ridiculously gold as his trident, and a herd of the mermen variety of sea dwellers serenades some sort of play that Arthur doesn’t understand.
Then there’s the after-party, which is not the sort of after-party that Arthur is used to. There’s a lot more ‘let’s talk about how to successfully manage your regime change’ and a lot less ‘you look really hot I love your tats.’
Vulko sits him down on the throne, but it’s thankfully empty but for the two of them.
“We must speak of your brother.”
“What about him? I figure we sit on him until he figures out he was a megalomaniac and then... well I hadn’t figured out what then. But I figure we have a few years before he gets his head out of his ass.”
He remembers all of his lessons from Vulko. The man had been mythical; this being that arose from the sea just as he was realizing he was different from his peers, who taught him the things his dad couldn’t. They’re thousands of feet under the surface of the water here in Atlantis; the only light is from the bioluminescent jelly that lights the city in a glittering glow. And yet he is as comfortable here as he is sitting in the sun with a beer.
He often wondered how his mother felt on land those three years she was with them; he was born of two worlds, but she wasn’t. She chose. He’ll have to ask Mera, but he settles on Vulko for now.
“How was it, for you on land?”
This startles the advisor, which is a point in Arthur’s book. Getting one up on him is not easy. “I beg your pardon”?”
“I didn’t ask Mera. Was it comfortable? Air currents on your skin? Dry air in your lungs? I know “high born” can breathe air, but is it the same? Also, let’s circle back to “high born” sometime soon because that’s not awesome as far as class distinctions go.”
Vulko does the sea dweller version of pacing, swimming back and forth in little motions of impatience. “It was not, no. But it was far too important to be bothered about.”
“No, I get it. You chose to be up there, thanks for that by the way. Growing up is hard enough, not knowing why I could talk to sharks was rough. Dad telling me I was special didn’t really help, even though he tried. But Orm wouldn't be choosing to be on the surface, would he.”
Vulko smiles, wide and predatory. Arthur’s never kidded himself; Vulko might be his weird ocean uncle, but the man is focused and canny like no one else.
“Yes. Yes, that could work. You will need a regent. I assume you mean to be Orm’s guard?”
“My mom. And Mera, when mom is on the surface.”
“A wise choice.”
“Cool. Don’t blow the place up while I’m gone.”
Orm says, “You have got to be kidding me. I’m a prince of Atlantis, even if not a king. This is preposterous,” and Arthur kinda wants to kick his ass all over again. But he’s family, and one teaches family when they get stuff monumentally wrong.
“Nope, come on little brother, we’re going on a road trip. Oh, actually that’s not a bad idea. But let’s start small.”
Arthur takes Orm to the lighthouse and announces their presence loudly, starting at the dock. He’s taken the liberty of stripping Orm of his armor and he’s down to the thin body suit that Atlanteans seem to favor, and the man stands awkwardly on land as the water streams off him at the edge of the dock. Arthur, shirtless and happy to be so, strides towards home.
“Dad! Mom! Got a visiter.” To Orm he says, “Walk slow. I’ve never walked in on my parents banging before and I don’t want to start now that I’ve gotten mom back, got it?”
Orm simply looks blankly at the lighthouse and says, “I cannot believe this is happening.”
“Yeah, brother, this is what happens when you try to destroy the world. Let’s be real, you got lucky. Most people convicted of war crimes get executed, not happy hour with their step-dad.”
Their mother rushes out of the house and down to the dock, clad in an ephemeral and glittering robe and not much else. His dad follows a few minutes later, thankfully fully dressed.
“My boys, my beautiful boys,” she says, hugging them in turn. “Why are you here? Is everything alright?”
Arthur grins at her, still delighted by the existence of her face, alive and unhurt and in his life again. “Peachy. Orm is getting rehabilitated. Isn’t that right, Orm?”
Orm says nothing, but stares into his mother’s eyes, searching for something intangible.
“Oh, how wonderful,” their mom says.
“Yup. We’re gonna get coffee. Then maybe go for a jog. I bet Orm here has never run on land before. It’ll be great.”
“You boys have fun now,” his dad says. “And maybe don’t rush home.” He plants a kiss on Atlanna’s forehead and Arthur steers Orm away before they forget that they have an audience.
“This is coffee.”
They’re in a coffee shop inland a ways. They hitched a ride in and Orm was horrified at the concept of upholstered seats, and Arthur was delighted at Orm’s horror.
“You drink it while it’s hot. And this is pie. It’s delicious. Also, don’t eat flowers, even if they’re pretty.”
“Why would I eat flowers?”
Arthur blinks. “Nevermind. Drink up, bro, then we’re going running. Trust me, pack all this in, real tight. It’ll be good.”
Orm vomits before the end of the first mile, and Arthur laughs so hard he almost falls over.
“I never thought about it. What happens when you blow chunks under water? Does it just get everywhere? Does it cover you?”
Gagging, Orm hisses at him like an angry cat. “We do not vomit.”
“This is horrible. How do you people live like this.”
“It’s a burden,” Arthur says, grinning at the sky. “But we manage. Here,” he sits down and pats the sand next to him. “Pop a squat. Look up. Tell me what you see.”
Orm, still green around the mouth, scoots away from his sick and sits somehow both too near and too far from Arthur to be useful. So Arthur scoots over until they’re a foot apart. “Don’t be a dick, bro.”
He looks up. Arthur has been waiting for this moment, and he isn’t disappointed. Orm has been so sucked into his own world he hasn’t noticed the sky. The clouds are striated today, and the sunset is licking the edges near the sea, setting a starburst of orange and pink across the horizon. The sky above is blue and purple where it bleeds towards the sea, and the view is breathtaking.
Just as beautiful as Atlantis.
Orm blinks and inhales. And blinks again.
“Good enough for day one, I think. Now let’s keep jogging. Sometimes runners piss themselves, and I wanna see if you’re one of them. Bet that’s not an issue in the ocean either, but it sure is here.”
He stands and pulls Orm up, too.
“Gravity, right? Total bitch.”
And, as if the floodgates have opened, Orm speaks and does not stop. “It is horrible. I feel weak and heavy, my scalp itches with the dryness, my eyes refuse to stay hydrated, and my lips hurt. How do ones lips hurt? How is that possible? This entire world is made of misery, and I can see why you have brought me here; there could be no worse punishment.”
There is a beat of silence.
“Are you done? Good. ‘Cause you know what, you’re wrong. Like, really wrong. Know what’s worse? Murdering you in front of our mother. Or chucking you down a trench full of carnivorous monsters. I made you do a run that we have ten year olds do in school, and fed you coffee and pastry. What this is? This is not punishment. This is family. Our mother chooses to live like this, because of love. Everything you feel, she feels, too. So suck it up, Orm.”
They stand there, and the sun falls deeper into the sea as they watch.
“I would have killed you.”
“Yeah I know. Atlantis is kinda fucked up, hence the rehabilitation. We’ll do coffee tomorrow, too. Also, I’m gonna change a whole bunch down there. Apparently all I have to do is say something for it to become law. Pretty neat right? Also I’m totally stealing your girl, but in, like, a not-creepy way. She kissed me first.”
Arthur claps a hand onto his brother’s shoulder.
“Now let’s go home.”