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Disastrous Beginnings

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Disasters like this aren’t his usual gambit, but someone had to do something and this isn’t the first spill he’s stopped. Granted the last wasn’t on this massive scale but Tony is nothing if not determined and he happens to know a lot about oil. His grandfather, for a time, had been in the business before going bankrupt and hadn’t much liked that Howard went into tech. He’d tried to get Tony interested in oil as a kid but it hadn’t worked, technology has always been his first love, and he has never had an interest in nonrenewable sources because there’s no challenge in that. Of course he hadn’t had an interest in weapons either, not until Howard beat it into him, but he’s sure his grandfather would be pleased that he’s putting his knowledge of oil and how it works into effect now.

What he doesn’t expect to find at the bottom of the gulf where the pipe has burst is Aquaman, whoever that is specifically. How these people manage to keep their identities secret is beyond him- he has no energy for that. He’s been surveying the damage to do a proper risk assessment when a blast of water hits him, not that it matters given that the suit is currently keeping him stable so the gallons of oil spilling out doesn’t sweep him off, when he spots the guy. He’s not doing too well, swimming somewhat awkwardly and coughing underwater, probably unusual given that Tony has it on good authority that he can breathe under water. He tries to swim closer but the closer he gets to the oil the more he seems to be affected.

Tony sighs, pulling a piece of his suit and swimming over and stuffing it in the guy’s mouth. He frowns at Tony for a moment before he must try breathing to find it works. There were a few people stuck in the spill, Tony had accounted for running into them in the middle of a disaster.

Aquaman, whom Tony notes at a rather inconvenient time, is actually pretty attractive even with all the squinting he’s doing to try and keep the oil out of his eyes, gives him a ‘what the fuck’ look. Well, there’s the theory that he lives on land confirmed. And he’s probably from a Western nation, likely North American, if he’s using body language Tony is immediately familiar with. Not, he supposes, that that’s set in stone. He doesn’t know what sea races look like, assuming they even have that kind of thing underwater, but by Tony’s standards he’s certainly not white. Strange, if he comes from the deep sea of rumored Atlantis, but maybe that’s because he spent time on the surface. Can fish people tan? He has no idea and that’s not relevant now so he swims back over to the pipe, feeling more than seeing Aquaman follow behind, and pulling a few more tools off his suit.

He doesn’t really expect Aquaman to do much, he’s not even sure what the hell a marine species is trying to do in the middle of an oil spill at all, but he sticks around to watch Tony work anyway. It’s clear he’s taking damage from it even with his new ability to breathe through the oil but he watches anyway, occasionally moving close to see, or attempt to given his constant squinting against the oil, what Tony is doing. He eventually manages to get his shit together and when he gets the nanos to the right area they spread out across the hole in the pipe, closing it effectively. That’s not a permanent solution but for now it’ll work. The nanos will spread it they need to, finding weak spots and plugging them as well but there are only so many of them. They won’t stretch themselves too thin; they’re designed not to, so if something else on this line breaks he’ll need to come back with more.

Tony pushes himself back, assessing things from a little further out but it looks fine, minus all the oil that’s already escaped, for now so he swims up to the surface and exits the water. People have gathered at the edge of the bay, obviously anxious as he lands, but when he does he climbs out of the suit and sighs. “Its stable, for now,” he says and they look relieved not that they should. Whatever damage that oil will do hasn’t even happened yet. A loud splashing sound alerts him, and the crowd, to Aquaman, who immediately doubles over, spits out Tony’s breathing device, and throws up a bunch of oil. He winces, walking over and awkwardly patting him on the back while he tosses his cookies and ignores the splatter on his pants.

When the poor guy finally regains his composure he straightens and points out to the probably now ruined body of water. “We need to do something about that,” he says.

He has an unusual eye color too, but Tony wonders if that’s part of sea adaptation or no. Not that it matters at the moment. “Yeah, no shit. What the hell were you even doing in there? I’d assume Aquaman wouldn’t do well in an oil spill,” he points out.

His companion, lacking a mask Tony notes, rolls his eyes. “Well I couldn’t do nothing. I figured I’d make a solution when I got there,” he says in a somewhat lofty tone that Tony knows from experience is to hide his knowing he’s totally out of his element here. Unusual, considering he had been in the water and that’s normally where he does best.

Tony sighs, “well, rumor has it you can talk to fish. You might want to tell them to beat feet. Or fin, I guess,” he says, frowning a little to himself more than Aquaman.

“Yeah, already did that. Mera’s at the gulf’s edge keeping the water in this area in particular but like… I don’t know what that’ll to stuff, ocean flow is probably important but also the water has oil in it,” he says, squinting a little.

He can see the concern there under the attempt at humor, recognizes it because he does the same. “Well, that’s a start I guess. I’ll warn you though, oil cleanup technology is shit. We might recover maybe eight percent of what’s in there with current technology.”

Aquaman gives him a funny look. “Then make something new, dipshit. That whole eco system will be fucked with a bunch of oil in it,” he says like Tony doesn’t already know that.

*

Tony doesn’t expect the news story the next day to be Aquaman throwing up oil but it does paint a pretty picture. The guy once stopped a tsunami from eating Hawaii but oil? Can’t beat that, apparently. It’s a nice switch from the usual bids covered in oil that people see all the time. Awful, of course, but its not new and Tony happens to know new gets a lot more press than not.

“Did this actually happen?” Peter asks, trotting up to him looking sleep mused and a little confused. He always does for the first hour after he wakes up.

“You know there’s videos of it online,” he points out.

“People can doctor stuff. So it happened?” he asks and Tony nods. Peter looks down at his tablet with a new appreciation for the story. “Of all the stuff he can do and he can’t deal with oil of all things?”

“Well, he does live at least part time in the sea. Sea creatures don’t handle oil well and everyone has weaknesses,” he says. Apparently Aquaman’s weaknesses are the same as other marine species though he suspects that his tolerance is much higher than other sea creatures.

“Then what was he doing there?” Peter asks, frowning.

“Winging it,” Tony says. “And not too badly either.”

*

The next big story that hits is the storm and what it does to the oil. Or more accurately what it doesn’t do to it. Aquaman had said Mera, whoever that was, had been at the edge where the gulf hit the sea to keep the oil in but she must still be there because the oil, despite the storm, doesn’t make it past her when it should have spread pretty far given the severity of the weather. Tony’s impressed, if concerned given the amount of effort that must have taken her. She won’t be able to keep that up forever.

He’s thinking over designs in his head in addition to the few he’s currently testing in the water when someone grabs his hips from behind and shakes him a little. Tony yelps, turning around and clocking whomever it is but he regrets it immediately when his fist yells at him for hitting what feels like steel. “Holy fuck, ouch! What the hell, man?” Tony asks who he assumes is Aquaman incognito, which literally means wearing a coat, but he grins.

“Hey, what’s up, your attempts at cleaning oil suck and that storm just about fucked Mera’s efforts so like. Figure stuff out faster,” he says. “The fish want to go home.”

The fish? Shit, the people want their home back too. Unsurprisingly the entire town has come to a stop while people from the oil company assess damage Tony has already done more to fix than they have. Sure, he’s only managed to recover three percent of the oil but they haven’t recovered any and dozens of people found themselves out of jobs given that anyone who worked for the company is now fucked at least for now.

“I’m doing my best here but this isn’t my usual area of expertise. And I hope you have more than one Mera hanging around because weather is constant and she must be exhausted. Also, the fish can wait- if the birds have to wait then the fish have to wait.” Not that a bunch of birds aren’t currently in their dishwater liquid being cleaned but still.

Aquaman, Tony really needs to get his actual name because that is the single stupidest name he’s ever heard since Batman, squints at him a little. “Fish can’t wait, that’s where they live,” he points out.

“Well I’m assuming they’re still in the same general area, tell them to hold on a hot second while I figure out how to make the water not toxic. Or mostly not toxic,” he amends given that he’s sure he won’t be able to pull all the oil from the water. But he can do his best to get most of it anyway, enough that the fish can go home mostly safely.

“Or work faster, you’ve done impossible shit before,” he points out.

“And my most notable achievement took me three months,” Tony adds.

“Yeah, but you were being held captive by terrorists and tortured and stuff while you did it. No terrorists, should take half the time,” Aquaman reasons.

“Then come back in a month,” Tony tells him, turning to walk away and Aquaman lets out a small noise of frustration.

“Okay that was me being an idiot, I’ll give you that, but come on. You must have something,” he says.

“I have prototypes and I don’t know how effective or not they’ll be. It occurs to me that potentially disastrous technologies in already toxic waters might be a bad thing,” he says. So for now he’s running tests, trying to figure out weak points and solving them before they go into the water and potentially screw more shit up.

“You know what, can’t be worse than the oil- get whatever you have in the damn water because no one else is doing anything about this. Which, if I may,” he says sarcastically, “is totally horse balls.”

Yeah, Tony agrees with that too but he’s learned from experience both on behalf of his own mistakes and the mistakes of others that holding companies accountable doesn’t happen unless those companies chose to allow themselves to suffer the consequences. If not well, his company alone has cause irreparable damage let alone every other shady company with good lawyers and no incentives through law or otherwise to not be a bunch of fuckheads.

“You have a name?” he asks instead of saying all that.

It throws his companion for a moment but he recovers fast, “Arthur,” he says and Tony snorts.

“My son used to love that show,” he says, laughing as he walks away and Arthur makes another annoyed noise.

*

Prototype One goes into the water just as the lawsuit starts hitting the news and unsurprisingly Arthur is there watching and Tony expects a lecture or ten as he releases Prototype Two so he can test which one works better but instead Arthur appears to be pissed off about the people instead of the fish. “What the fuck is this company doing, trying to throw out a lawsuit they earned. If they did their shit right there wouldn’t be oil everywhere!” he says to Tony instead of company executives for… no reason, really.

He sighs, “do I look like I’m the guy to rant at about bad company practices?” he asks.

Arthur considers it then nods, “yeah, but like, not with this event specifically. But you know stuff about businesses so what the fuck?” he asks.

“People are dicks,” he says because that’s the best he’s got.

“That’s like… the worst answer ever. Come on man, you’ve got something better than that,” he says.

He doesn’t, not for this particular problem, so he decides to give Arthur something else to focus on. “I don’t know anything about your Mera, but I figure holding water into this area in particular is exhausting so I made a net of sorts, nanobots, that should hold the oil in this particular area. Might as well keep the cleanup effort as smooth as possible,” he says.

To his credit Arthur nods in appreciation, “nice. She’s gunna be pissed though, don’t say I didn’t warn ya.”

Tony frowns because he’s not the problem here but there’s something to Arthur’s tone that suggests he’s missing something in the equation so he leaves it be.

*

Peter happens to show up as Mera climbs out of the water coughing, covered in oil. Turns out her efforts are, indeed, exhausting and Arthur isn’t nearly as good as she is with whatever water powers she has so she didn’t get much in the way of breaks. “You damn humans, always tossing your toxic waste into the water! Can’t you find some way to stop all this?” she snaps, focusing on Tony likely because he’s the one standing in front of her Arthur settles a hand on her shoulder and pulls her back some.

“So far he’s the only one doing anything about this,” he tells her. Odd, considering he’s been on Tony’s ass since this all started but sure, he’ll take it now.

“Your brother was kind of a dick, but he sort of had a point when he threw all our garbage at us,” Peter says.

Arthur considers this for a moment before shrugging. “I mean a little, but seriously he was a real bag of dicks. Kinda hope he grows out of that but with that hair cut,” Arthur winces. “But you know, little brothers.”

Peter frowns, “I don’t think little brothers trying to wage war on people living on land is a normal sibling thing. But um, hey sea people. Sorry about the oil and stuff,” he says.

Mera looks ready to fight for a good moment before she seems to lose steam and she sighs. “Do you at least have something to get this disgusting oil off of me?” she asks.

That, thankfully, they do have.

*

“Is that actually going to work?” she asks as Tony pours a bunch of dish soap over her long hair. Its an unusual shade or red to say the least, not a shade that occurs naturally in humans, but apparently Disney guessed right on Ariel’s hair color being an achievable one in the sea.

“If it works on the birds it’ll work on you,” he tells her. He picks up some of her hair and scrubs at it gently, watching as the oil falls free surprisingly easily. She does too, because her hair is long enough to do that, and when she decides the soap is sufficient enough she sits back in her seat.

“Do all sea people have glorious hair?” Peter asks Arthur. “Minus your brother, I guess,” he adds, remembering Arthur’s comment about Orm’s hair too late.

Arthur grins, “nope, that’s just me and Mera. We’re special that way.”

Peter slumps a little, “I wish I had glorious hair,” he mumbles.

“You might get some when you stop being a zygote,” Arthur says and Tony snorts and starts laughing.

“Leave the kid be, he can’t help looking so small.” Peter’s a slight kid, always has been and always will be. That’s just how he’s built.

“I’m not small!” Peter says, trying miserably to defend himself.

“Ah, don’t be upset you come by it honestly. Tony’s fuckin pocket sized,” he says. Tony glares at him and Mera rolls her eyes.

“Men,” she mumbles. “Can we worry about my hair first?”

“Women,” Arthur mumbles back, shaking his head.

“You three are whining about being small and I’m worried about oil ruining marine life, myself included. Lets not act like those things are comparable,” she says.

“I’m not that small, I’m average!” Peter insists. Arthur looks down at him and the height difference is almost hilarious. Peter shrinks a little, wilting under the obviousness of his small stature.

“Why do you wear heels if you live underwater?” he asks Mera to break up the argument.

“Footwear where I’m from needs improvement,” she mumbles.

*

Prototype Two works better for cleanup not that anyone minus the couple scientists that have now shown up cares. Well okay, the people in the town care obviously on account of them relying partially on fishing and especially on tourism to keep themselves afloat, but other than that? Next to nothing. Its not even that the public doesn’t care, its more that people aren’t reporting much on it to begin with and people can’t care about stuff they don’t hear about. After the initial shock its like the news hasn’t bothered to report more on the subject for whatever reason.

Arthur, however, is clearly keeping up because he manages to find Tony outside of SI, scaring the hell out of him because Tony hadn’t been expected to be accosted by random sea people, looking mighty pissed. “They’re making the town prove there were damages?” he snaps. “What, do they not have eyes? Wait, scratch that, blind people know there’s damage too so do they not have common sense?”

Tony sighs, “Arthur. I’m not the one making a town full of people prove an oil spill is causing damages, why are you yelling at me?”

He considers this for a moment and nods, “good point, I’ll be back,” he says but twenty minutes later he still hasn’t come back and Tony has things to do and he trusts that Arthur can find him again. He’s managed to do so more than once already.

The last thing he expects is for Peter to come into the kitchen the next morning laughing, “have you seen the news?” he asks.

“You know I don’t keep up with the news all that much,” he says. Generally on account that he’s usually living the headlines so there’s no need.

Peter hands him the tablet and he reads over the headline and sighs.

Aquaman Throws Oil Executives Into The Ocean

“Well, guess I shouldn’t be surprised,” he says. There’s a picture of Arthur too and he looks right pleased with himself.

“He’s my new personal hero,” Peter says, pulling the tablet from his grasp and Tony frowns.

“Rude, you can’t replace your father. Unless you think I suck as a dad I guess- a pet rock would have made my hero list long before Howard,” he amends.

“You’re a given,” Peter says, “but there’s always room for more and anyone who literally throws people into the ocean is my hero.”

Yeah, alright, Arthur’s smug face has kind of won Tony over too because that makes tossing top level oil executives into the ocean funnier. “Next time you see him you should get a picture. You know, for bragging rights,” he tells Peter.

He grins, “don’t need bragging rights when Iron Man is my dad,” he says before he runs off to do teenage shenanigans that, until recently, Tony didn’t know were the superhero type. Then he found that sorry excuse for a suit, yelled at Peter, and gave him a new suit that would actually do something to protect him. Not that he knows its in training wheels mode at the moment. He’s on a need-to-know basis.

*

Arthur finds him again leaving a meeting with a town full of people he doesn’t even know, really, still looking pretty pissed. “The fish want to know how long this is going to take,” he says and Tony sighs.

“Tell the fish to find new homes, theirs is fucked. Also that’s the ugliest outfit I’ve ever seen,” he says, nodding at Arthur’s ugly knobby shirt thing in an even uglier shade of gold but maybe also bronze? Whatever, it’s a travesty of design is what that is. This is why he doesn’t let the Avengers design their own shit. Natasha would just wear black things, Clint would probably look like he throws up purple, Steve would end up wearing jeans, and Thor probably wouldn’t even wear clothes.

He looks down at his suit and frowns, “what’s wrong with it?” he asks.

“Aside from the fact that you look like you have a disease? Everything. Color scheme, materials, that ugly little symbol thing that’s placed way too low on your hips so it kind of looks like you have a little V but also maybe an upside down U almost right over your dick for some reason, and what is with that cup? Look, I’m all for protecting genitalia, that’s an important thing, but there’s no way your dick is so big you need a cup large enough that aliens can see it. Its awful,” he says.

“This is ceremonial armor,” Arthur says, glancing down at his ugly outfit with too upset of an expression. He damn well knows its ugly, anyone with functioning eyeballs knows its ugly.

“Atlantians need taste,” Tony tells him. “But what’s got you so pissed this week?” he asks to get to the lecture portion of these lovely encounters.

Thankfully it distracts Arthur from his armor distraction and he goes back to looking pissed off. “What the hell is with this damn oil company? First they have to prove that an oil spill is causing damage and now the town has to prove that the oil spill is why tourism and fishing is at zero percent? Fucking obviously that’s the reason! And how are these people going to deal with all this bullshit law stuff? They don’t have money, or if they do they aren’t going to get any any time soon on account of the damn oil spill,” he points out.

All true, of course. “Is there a reason you’re yelling at me about this instead of throwing more oil people in the ocean? Because this isn’t my fault,” he points out and Arthur deflates a little.

“Yeah, I know. I’m just frustrated and you don’t get flustered easy. If I said anything about this to Atlantis they’d go Orm again and I don’t want to deal with that, and the fish are sad, and those oil guys are total dicks,” he says, shaking his head.

So Tony knows. “The good news is that people do have money- I know what these companies are like, what arguments they’ll use and what tactics they’ll try. I’m in a much better position than anyone else to see this all through, and these people have enough to worry about without costs and lawyers too.” The clean up efforts, at least, have gone better than almost any other oil spill though it irritates Tony that he’s the one picking up corporate responsibility for some other company’s mess. All the scientists they sent have started reporting to him now because apparently he responds.

Arthur frowns, remaining silent for a long moment before he speaks. “You’re paying for all of this?” he asks like Tony hasn’t been paying for it the whole time.

He shrugs, “someone has to and its obviously not going to be the people you threw in the ocean. Which was hilarious, by the way.”

“Doesn’t have to be you, either,” Arthur points out but Tony shakes his head.

“Guaranteed no one else will unless Bruce Wayne shows up,” he says. Occasionally he will, working with Tony or simply taking over efforts as needed. He’s almost as fond of children as Tony though Tony at least limits himself to the number of children he keeps around. Bruce has an entire fleet of Robins hanging around at all times. Not, he supposes, that anyone knows Batman is Bruce Wayne, which he realizes too late when Arthur frowns.

“Since when does Bruce Wayne care about this sort of thing? Doesn’t he usually kiss babies and stuff?”

Yes, he does, and then probably brings five home to grow into more Robins. “He has other interests too,” Tony says, skirting the subject a little. “Sustainability is one of them, so technically this loosely falls into that category.”

“Huh. Want to get cupcakes?” he asks and Tony swears he’s going to get whiplash from Arthur’s moods.

*

Tony doesn’t intend to bring Arthur home but it does occur to him that he probably knows more about the cleanliness of water than Tony does, and the ecosystems in any given body of water since he isn’t relegated to fresh or salt water he can do both. So that’s why he drags him home, to run data over with him but when they walk into the penthouse the first thing they hear is a loud pterodactyl like shriek coming from Peter’s area of the apartment. Arthur frowns at him when he doesn’t seem to react and Tony shrugs, “teenagers,” he says in the way of explanation.

That only seems to confuse him more. “Your kid screams like that on such a regular basis that you don’t even react anymore?” he asks and Tony sighs.

“Look, teenagers these days are weird. One time Peter showed up in my lab at three a.m and yelled ‘canons’ and then left and he and his best friend still dissolve into tears every time I bring it up. Its probably a meme.” Once Peter stood in a T pose staring out the window for almost two hours because there was a blinking green light across the way and he thought it’d be funny to combine memes and The Great Gatsby for entertainment purposes. Tony has no idea how the kid manages that, but his ADHD somehow prevents him from actually reading The Great Gatsby. Thankfully Ned functions as a live SparksNotes book so Peter doesn’t fall behind.

“Hey!” Peter yells from his room, “grill me a cheese!”

Tony rubs his temples and sighs. He can’t even cook grilled cheese right; it always comes out burnt so he doesn’t understand why Peter likes them so much. “Uh, room service?” Arthur calls, confused.

In the distance there’s a crash, no less than four swear words, and the sound of Peter running into a wall before he bursts out from his space looking horrified. “Oh my god I am so- hey, you’re not the maids!” he says when he spots Tony. “Oh hey, Aquaman! Love what you did with those oil people, that’s hilarious. Why are you in my house?” he says in a flurry.

“He’s your new father,” Tony says without thinking, used to Peter’s weird sense of humor but thankfully Arthur laughs.

“Yeah, call me daddy,” he says. Peter and Tony gag in sync and Arthur starts laughing harder, “oh man, you guys are way more fun than Atlantians. I keep having to explain my jokes because they don’t know stuff about the surface.”

“Daddy jokes are banned from this house,” Peter says, looking distressed.

“What right do you have to ban daddy jokes when it was your generation who ruined the term?” Tony asks.

“Wasn’t us, it was the millennials! He did it!” Peter says, pointing at Arthur.

“You guys ate Tide Pods so fuck off with that,” Arthur says.

“Wait, you’re not a millennial?” Tony asks, frowning. Since when? Wait, what generation is he in? Fuck, these stupid rules keep changing and he refuses to be a baby boomer he doesn’t give a fuck when he was born. If he falls into that generation. Which jackass made this system again?

“I’m gen Z,” Peter says. “And it was his generation that stuck soap in all our mouths when we swore so like who taught us it was okay to eat soap?” he asks, pointing at Tony.

He rolls his eyes, “every generation sucks, we get it. Arthur, to the lab so we can clean the water.”

Peter frowns, “what kind of weird sex thing is that?” he asks. Tony swears he feels his soul leave his corporeal form as he sighs.

“Wait, you’re gay?” Arthur asks and Tony shakes his head.

“Bisexual. Thanks for outing me, Peter.”

“Did not, you aren’t even subtle and people have been reporting your gay panics for years,” he points out.

“Yeah, but no one ever confirmed it,” Arthur points out.

“I did, several times, but ‘local celebrity admits point blank to being bisexual and is annoyed that people don’t understand attraction to more than one gender and jump straight to gay immediately’ isn’t a very sellable story,” he says. “Now, the water. I assure you its much more interesting than my child.”

Peter looks offended about this, “is not! I’m interesting!”

“Yeah, but the ocean is cooler,” Arthur says.

“Is not, there’s terrifying things in there and the things that are from the sea need to stay there,” he says, looking haunted. He must be watching nature documentaries again.

Arthur squints at Tony. “Does that count as discriminatory?” he asks.

“Unlike blobfish and also giant squids you’re hot and not terrifying so you’re okay,” Peter says.

“You haven’t seen anything yet, you should see what hangs out in Mariana Trench,” Arthur mumbles. “That’s the stuff of nightmares.”

*

Arthur proves fucking useless with the water so instead he sends Mera, who is much more helpful and also must have a soft spot for kids because she spends way more time entertaining Peter’s questions than his. Tony doesn’t mind because he still manages to learn things even if he also spends a bunch of time chasing after Arthur, who’s chasing after the bots, and all of them are ruining his lab space.

“Peter is right, the things from the ocean need to stay in the ocean,” he mumbles to himself as Arthur accidentally breaks the third prototype for Natasha’s new Widow’s Bites today.

“Well, until the things from the land stay on the land we’ll do as we please,” Mera says and Tony sighs.

“Alright, I’ll give you that. We’re more destructive than Arthur.”

Mera considers him for a moment before wincing, “eh. You guy’s could have kept him too honestly.”

Tony raises an eyebrow, “what? Atlantis didn’t want him?” This is news to him, but so is Atlantis so yeah. Turns out they’ve been fucking with human exploration of oceans for years and no one knew about it. Hence no one knowing about them and also, probably, being located in an unexplored area.

“No. As far as they were concerned he was nothing but a half breed, but it was him or Orm and he brought back Atlan’s trident so the choice was obvious,” she says like that explains anything.

“They decided to overlook sea racism because he had a big fork?” he asks, squinting.

“I mean, they thought the trident was a myth,” Arthur says, overhearing their conversation.

Tony frowns, “so they decided to overlook sea racism because you brought back a fork they all thought was fake?”

Arthur sighs, “I mean yeah basically.”

“Surface dwellers are awful,” Mera mumbles but there’s no real heat in it.

*

Arthur pops out of the ocean looking far too attractive for a fish boy. “Its not actually too bad in here,” he says. “Still nasty, but like, passably nasty. Like living in a dirty house but the dirt is a bunch of papers and scarves and stuff.”

Tony nods, “and breathability?” he asks.

“Fish seem to like it okay. They can all sense the difference but they aren’t like… dying or whatever.”

Yeah, they probably wouldn’t see the effects of that kind of damage for some time anyway. “We’re going to need to monitor this area heavily. I’ve still got some clean up efforts going but all things considered I think we did okay,” he says.

Arthur pulls himself from the water and he looks much better shirtless than he does in his gross Aquaman uniform armor thing. “See something you like?” he asks, too cocky.

“The tattoos- that your human heritage or whatever is happening at sea?” he asks. Looks like some of the stuff he’s seen on Polynesian people but its not really a subject he knows anything about.

He looks down, surprised, “human. My father is Hawaiian. He uh, keeps a lighthouse now, it’s how he met my mom actually.”

Of all the weird lighthouse stories he’s heard that’s probably one of the weirdest. “So uh… has it occurred to you that your parents reenacted The Shape of Water before Del Toro made The Shape of Water?” he asks.

“You know what, that fish man was romantic okay, I stand by him.”

“You should watch the movie again, learn a thing or two from the fish man,” Tony says.

Arthur gives him a mock offended look. “I am the most romantic fish man you will ever meet,” he says.

“The most romantic thing I’ve seen you do is jam two cupcakes into your mouth at once,” he says. “Which was mostly just weird and a little gross.”

“Well you know what, I’m totally romantic and I can prove it to you,” he tells Tony.

*

Peter manages to track Tony down to a coffee shop he likes and given the fact that Aquaman, name Arthur as Mera has informed him, is a fucking mountain person, fish person, person who is part fish- whatever- they aren’t hard to locate inside. Mera follows behind him, still confused about cities he’s guessing and she thinks they’re ugly. He can’t really argue there, they are kind of ugly. Well, New York is okay, but other cities are ugly.

“What is this?” she asks, hands on her hips as she glares down at Arthur.

“I’m trying to prove I’m romantic,” he says, grinning.

This is the best day of Peter’s life Ned was right.

“This is totally like The Shape of Water except the fish man is hot!” he says excitedly. “Your sex tape could be Grinding Nemo!” he says and he’s pretty sure he may have killed his father with that line but he doesn’t care, its funny so he had to say it.

“I’m sending you to live with your aunt May,” he mumbles, holding up his hand between Peter and his face like that’ll block all of Peter’s embarrassing teenage comments.

“You’re not romantic, Arthur. Are the fish okay?” she asks.

Arthur shrugs, “fish are fine, happy to be home, and I am so romantic and what is with everyone bagging on the fish man’s looks? Ugly fish men deserve love too,” he says. “This is discrimination!”

Mera rolls her eyes. “You, what’s the fish man from this movie look like?” she asks. Peter wonders how much she knows about movies but pulls up a picture anyways and shows her. She makes a disgusted noise and holds her hand to her heart, “that looks like one of the things from the trench! Ugh!”

“He does not!” Arthur says, offended on the fish man’s behalf.

“Wait, if this is you proving you’re romantic is this a date?” Mera asks, frowning like this doesn’t quite compute.

Arthur squints; shaking his head like this is an absurd conclusion. “No, this is me proving I’m romantic,” he says.

“Does that mean ‘date’ in human culture too or is this some strange surface thing like McDonalds?” Mera mumbles at him.

“Nope, reads the same here as it does underwater I guess,” he tells her.

“Nope, not doing this, we’re changing the subject,” Arthur says.

Peter grins and leans forward in excitement, “why’s your brother look like that guy from The Conjuring except with a Hitler youth hair cut?” he asks.

“Jesus, Peter, you can’t just ask people why their brother looks like he belongs in a horror movie and also has a haircut belonging to a group of people who committed heinous crimes against humanity! I raised you better than this!”

Arthur takes the question with ease. “Because he didn’t have his big brother around to teach him how not to look like a giant twat,” he says.

“What’s a twat?” Mera asks Peter.

“Female genitalia,” he tells her.

She frowns, “that’s rude, Arthur. I don’t believe twats have earned a comparison to Orm.”

*

Tony squints at Arthur, “your father walked out to the end of the dock every day for like two decades just in case your mother, whom he had it on good authority was dead, came back to him and your sorry attempts at romance involve coffee? Sir, that is the most romantic thing I have ever heard and your son clearly did not learn from your example,” he says to Arthur’s father.

He sighs, “well, there’s only so much you can teach him when he doesn’t retain any of it.”

“I retain stuff! And lighthouses are romantic!” Arthur says in his own defense.

Tony rolls his eyes, “someone hasn’t heard about the Flannan Isles,” he mumbles.

“Pops, lighthouses are romantic, right?” he asks, looking to his father for help.

He shrugs, “they’re kind of isolating and creepy, especially in the winter. If you give him time his wooing will get better, I’m sure,” he tells Tony.

“What wooing?” Arthur asks and that only gets him a pained look from his father before he walks away. “Hey, seriously, what wooing?” he asks.

*

Pepper and Peter sit at another table watching as Arthur desperately attempts to prove himself romantic while Tony mostly smacks down his attempts at it. “Its like watching a bird documentary, except the birds are gay and one doesn’t realize he’s into guys, and the other bird is only half interested in him but he’s doing just enough to have him stick around,” Pepper says.

Peter nods. “They’ve gone on like five dates this week and he still doesn’t know. He’s met the parents and Arthur still hasn’t caught on. Even Mera has given up on explaining this to him. And she refuses to give him wooing advice.”

“Well,” Pepper says, “I suppose it doesn’t help that Tony actually is quite romantic so Arthur’s bumbling attempts are pitiful at best.”

“We should convince them it’s a competition because Arthur will get schooled and also he might catch a clue and figure out he’s a gay bird,” Peter says, excited about his new idea. It would be great, people would report on Aquaman and Iron Man betting together. His classmates will be jealous. This is good; he needs to make this happen.

The memes that would result.

“Yes, we should. It’s been a long time since I’ve used reverse psychology on Tony to get him to do something funny. Last time was a painting I rather wanted that he’s now stuck in your room. Honestly,” she says, shaking her head. “No appreciation. How do we go about this?” she asks because she’s all sleuth-y and whatever.

Peter, not so much, so he walks right up to them both and leans into the table. “Dad, ten bucks says you can’t out do Arthur’s bad romance attempts,” he says.

Arthur looks offended, “I’ve been doing a great job!” he says.

“No the fuck you haven’t. I hope you have no plans tonight because you’re going to go see some glow-y jellyfish at night,” Tony says and Arthur swears.

“Damnit, that’s so good. I’m the fish guy, why didn’t I think of romantic jellyfish?”

He returns to Pepper and grins. She nods, “very good, Peter. And the jellyfish, great start for Tony, and a nice personal touch for Arthur given his origins. You should give him some advice, we don’t want Arthur to lose too early in the competition,” she says. “Suggest taking Tony to a museum on technological development. Bonus points if its in Atlantis.”

Peter looks on at her in awe, “you’re a terrifying woman,” he says. Pepper holds her head high, proud of her ability to think up something genuinely romantic for Arthur to do.