Chapter 2 - Arthur Curry
Sometimes Arthur feels as though he's got the entire planet rested squarely on his shoulders. Most days thats near enough to the reality. He's the King of Atlantis, Atlantis encompasses all the worlds oceans, and the worlds oceans take up seventy percent of the planet's surface. It's a heavy responsibility, but it's his to bear, even if sometimes he needs to get away, to remember that he's not just King Orin, he's Arthur Curry, too.
That's just what the Amnesty Bay lighthouse is for. For years it's been his haven, the only place on earth where he can truly relax. In the house he grew up in, he's not the King of Atlantis or the superhero Aquaman - he's simply the son of the local lighthouse keeper.
Or at least that was true before the invasion of Metropolis. Darkseid's arrival changed everything. It may not be the first time Aquaman has appeared on the surface to help, but everything that had happened before was on a smaller scale. Ships lost at sea or creatures from the deep harassing coastal towns. Never anything like what happened in Metropolis. While his name might of been whispered in jokes or hushed whispers, he's never been as famous, or more realistically, infamous, as some of the other heroes were.
It's all different now. When fate banded them together to stop Darkseid, they became some of the most famous people alive, even he, the least loved of all of them. It's unclear how they found out that he lives in Amnesty Bay, but people have been swarming the lighthouse ever since, just hoping to get a glimpse of one of the so-called Justice League, not that it really exists.
He doesn't know why they even bother. It's been made very clear what most of them think of him. He's the superhuman joke, the punchline, the fool who talks to fish and thinks he lives in a mythical city. While his reputation amongst the surface isn't really important to him, being the butt of every superhero jokes is more than a little irksome.
He sighs when he hears a car door slam shut outside, the third one today. He hears heavy footsteps rapidly scraping on the gravel outside his front door, followed by hands slapping against his window with a loud thud. He starts ranting excitedly to whoever he's with.
Arthur decides its better if he stays in the kitchen until they leave. If they manage to catch even one glimpse of him, they'll hang around for hours. Since there's nothing else to really see, hopefully if they can't find any evidence of him they'll just assume he isn't home and leave.
He listens with his enhanced hearing as the boy who'd been looking through his front windows storms over towards the cliffside, his footsteps heavy. When he starts to talk, his tone is angry enough that Arthur slowly walks through his house to cautiously peer outside, just in case a fight breaks out.
He can see them, right on the edge of the cliff, a bulky blonde-haired boy yelling at another, who has his back turned to him. The other boy turns to face his assailant, and Arthur can't help the gasp that passes his lips when his eyes land on the boy.
He looks just like me.
The resemblance is incredible, almost every detail being the same as Arthur when he was that age, the same golden blonde hair, same sort of build, even if this boy is perhaps a little on the thin side, same shape of the face. The only difference he can see is the colour of his eyes. With his enhanced vision he can see that the boy's eyes are a bright vibrant green, rather than the ocean blue of Arthur's. They look familiar, as though he's looked into those same eyes before, but he can't quite place who it had been.
Arthur's eyes widen when the bulkier boy shoves the smaller boy, who tumbles over the cliffside with a look of complete shock on his face.
He leaps into action, his front door exploding into splinters as Arthur smashes through it shoulder first. He hears a thin rake of a woman scream as he sprints past her with a superhuman burst of speed. He dives off the cliff after the boy, cringing when he sees the splash when the boy collides with the water.
Please don't be dead. Arthur hits the water in a graceful dive.
He sees the boy immediately in the water, and his first thought is that he actually is dead. He's in the water completely unmoving, until he starts blinking rapidly, looking down at his body in shock, most likely wondering how on earth he managed to survive.
Arthur can barely believe what he's seeing. The boy doesn't seem at all hurt, not a single mark on him, nor any evidence that he's feeling the slightest bit of pain. If that weren't miracle enough, even stranger is that he doesn't seem to be struggling for breath. His chest slowly heaves up and down with steady breaths, something that should be completely impossible for a regular human in water.
Arthur swims forward and puts a single arm around the boy's waist. He pushes the two of them through the water and towards the rocky shoreline, careful not to go too fast and give him any further shock.
"Are you alright?" the man asks Harry as he helps him to his feet on the shoreline, small waves lapping at his feet.
Harry's not sure about the best way to actually answer the question, simple enough though it may sound. His mind is still working overtime to process what it is that actually happened. He was pushed off the cliff by Dudley, that much he recognises, but how did he survive unscathed? That mystery is still eluding him. The best answer he can come up with is that his heightened emotional state brought on a bout of accidental magic.
And yet surviving the fall isn't the only thing he's trying to process. The bigger mystery is the man who had dived in after him, the man that looks outrageously like himself, albeit an older version of him. More than just the man's startling familiarity, his presence is stirring a strange feeling within him. He has the strangest feeling that he's met the man before, like he ought to know him for some reason that's escaping his notice. When the man had dived in after him their eyes had locked, and the image of him is seared into his brain, just behind his eyes like a sunspot.
With his mind already working overtime, there's even more confusion that threatens to bring on a killer of a headache. It's true that he's never been submerged in water in more than a simple bath, but people aren't supposed to be able to breathe underwater, but Harry felt as though it wasn't an issue whatsoever. Perhaps it's because he hadn't been under long enough? It certainly didn't feel like that. In fact, Harry felt better under the water than he's ever felt before.
"Hey," the man grips Harry's shoulder, turning his body to face him. "Are you alright?" he repeats.
Harry blinks. "Uhh, yeah. I think I'm okay."
Harry steps back automatically when the man's brows draw together to form a crease between his eyes. He looks straight past Harry and further up the shore, frown still firmly in place. When Harry follows his gaze, it's clear why. Vernon is thundering down the rocks towards them, Dudley and Petunia hurrying behind him.
"Boy!" Vernon roars when he's a little closer, still charging straight at him. Harry lets out a small sigh, knowing he's about get the berating of a lifetime. Before his uncle reaches him though, Harry's view is concealed by his rescuer moving to stand between them.
"Get out of my way, pretty boy," Vernon snarls. Harry leans to the side to see. He sees Dudley hide behind Vernon, peering around the large man to see as well.
"Dad… that's him!" Dudley whispers, staring at Harry's rescuer with wide eyes.
In the movie Harry had watched, Aquaman's character could only be seen from a distance, but there's no doubt Dudley is right. Maybe that explains why he seems so familiar?
"No, I don't think I will," the man calmly answers Vernon, no hint of fear in his voice at all.
Vernon scoffs and tries to reach past him for Harry, but his wrist is grabbed midway. "Are you his," the man cut's off mid-sentence to turn to Harry, with a firm grip still on Vernon's wrist. "Sorry, what's your name?" He asks kindly, not even straining to keep a hold of Vernon, who's trying to reef it back to freedom.
The man smiles back at him. "Arthur."
Arthur turns back to face Vernon. "So are you Harry's guardian?" he asks. His voice is eerily calm, and absolutely at odds with the angry aura he seems to exude.
"What's it to you?" Vernon growls, still trying to pry his wrist away from Arthur's steely grip. Finally Arthur lets go, causing Vernon to fall back and land awkwardly on his behind.
"I'd want to know what kind of piss poor guardian tries to punish a boy who has just been pushed off a cliff by the other in his care." Arthur looks towards Dudley, who, now that he can't hide behind Vernon, instead scampers behind Petunia, who looks as white as a piece of paper.
"My son didn't push the boy; the clumsy idiot fell!" Vernon argues, bright red with both rage and embarrassment. He climbs slowly back to his feet. "Come on boy, we're going."
Arthur sticks his arm out in front of Harry to prevent him from moving. "Harry stays with me. If I decide it's safe for him, I may return him to you later."
Vernon waves a fat finger in front of Arthur's face. "Listen here! You can't just-" he cuts off as Arthur's nostrils flare, his calm expression disappearing in favour of a much angrier, much more threatening visage.
"Fine," Vernon says quickly. He turns around and scurries back up towards the lighthouse, waving Dudley and Petunia along with him. Harry can't blame him for fleeing. True Gryffindor though he might be, if Arthur levelled such a look at him, he'd probably run too.
"Seems like a great guy," Arthur comments sarcastically, his anger all but dissipated as soon as Vernon is gone. "I don't reckon he's your dad… there's no resemblance at all."
"Uncle," Harry replies smoothly, wondering what the hell he's going to do now. What if Arthur decides not to return him to the Dursley's? He can't explain it to Arthur, but if he doesn't go back, the blood protection charm will fail, at least according to what Dumbledore has told him. Merlin knows what that would mean for his future.
"Relax," Arthur says, clearly reading the panic on Harry's face. "I meant what I said, I'll take you back to them if you want to, but he was way too angry for me to let you go with him now. Besides, I want to make sure you're all right. That was a pretty hefty fall."
"Oh… Thanks," Harry says uncertainly.
"No problem. So are you sure you're alright? It's practically a miracle that you didn't die, let alone escape completely unscathed," Arthur says in an odd tone.
Harry lets out a nervous laugh. He can understand why Arthur is suspicious, but there's no possible way he can explain himself without breaking the international statue of secrecy. As it is, his display of magic, accidental though it might have been, could possibly have him in trouble with the American ministry. That's about the very last thing he needs right now.
"What can I say? I guess I'm a statistical anomaly," Harry says, thinking it'll probably be most believable if he leans into acting like it was pure luck. Arthur probably won't believe it, but there's not a whole lot he can do to dispute it.
As expected, Arthur looks unconvinced, but he doesn't press any further. He looks Harry up and down. "We should get you inside and into some dry clothes, there's a chill on the air today and I'd hate for you to get sick."
Harry nods and follows Arthur when he moves back up towards the house. They reach the top just in time to see the Dursley's car round the corner off Arthur's gravel driveway and back on the road towards Boston.
Harry raises an eyebrow at the pieces of front door strewn around the driveway. "Please tell me uncle Vernon didn't just do that," Harry says. It wouldn't surprise him too much if he did. Vernon has always been incredibly unpredictable when he's angry enough.
"No, that was me," Arthur says simply, stepping over what remains of the door, a simple strip of varnished wood hanging from a now very bent hinge. He did that? Just from looking at him it's clear that Arthur looks after himself, with fairly large biceps and broad shoulders, but still he must be a lot stronger than he looks if he's able to do this much damage.
"I'm so sorry," Harry says. "I'll pay you back, I promise."
Arthur laughs. "Don't be silly, I can fix it easily enough." At Harry's doubtful face, he keeps talking. "Honestly, don't worry about it. I'm not." He waves Harry onwards through the broken door and through the house. It's not very big, or very flashy, but it's well kept and organised. It has a very homely feel that Harry's not quite used to, with family photos lining the walls and atop tables and benches.
"Here, I should have some old clothes from when I was about your age that might fit you," Arthur says. He takes Harry into a small room with a window that overlooks the ocean. Harry would give anything to have a bedroom like this, to wake up to such a beautiful view every day. More than just the view though, he'd give anything to live in a home like this, obviously filled with so much love and happiness - what a true home is meant to be.
While Arthur searches through a cupboard for some dry clothes, Harry's gaze is drawn to a framed photo on the small bedside table - a photo that for a brief second he fully believes is of himself. It's uncanny how much Harry looks like Arthur. Aside from the eye colour, it could so easily be a photo of Harry. Of course it's not though. There's no photos of Harry that look like this. This photo is of a young boy and his loving father, just outside this very house, their faces so clearly full of love and joy.
"I love that photo," Arthur says, stepping up besides Harry. "Everything seemed simpler when my father was around." He stares for a moment longer before turning to Harry and holding out a shirt and jeans. "These should fit. There's a shower just down the hall."
Harry murmurs his thanks, suddenly sad and wistful from looking at the happy photo. They might look the same, but from the photos and just the feel of the house itself, Arthur's life has been completely different from the one Harry has led. He finds the bathroom easily enough and has a quick shower. When he steps out of the bathroom, he hears Arthur call him from down the hall.
"Oh good, they fit," Arthur says with a quick glance at Harry. "So, if you're hungry, I thought we could talk over lunch," Arthur says seriously, looking Harry dead in the eye.
Probably about to ask me a thousand questions that I can't answer…
"…Sure," Harry says, cautiously moving to sit opposite Arthur at the kitchen table.
"Sorry if my sandwiches aren't very good. I don't ever really have to cook for myself," Arthur shrugs apologetically. But Harry's already stuffing his face with the first of them. It's hard to care if he's being rude or not when all he's eaten for the past three days are snacks out of a vending machine. Arthur lets out a short laugh, and Harry feels the blood rush to his face when he sees Arthur raise an amused eyebrow across the table from him. "Don't stop on my account," Arthur laughs. "Plenty more where those came from."
Arthur tilts his head to the side. "What are you apologising for? I made them to be eaten, and you're obviously hungry. Does your uncle not let you eat or something?"
He's definitely fishing for answers… Harry doesn't want to lie, especially to someone who's being as nice as Arthur, but he needs to make Arthur think that things are as normal with the Dursley's as possible. No way will he believe that Harry is completely happy there, but if Harry reveals too much, he might try to prevent him from going back, and the consequences for that could be far-reaching indeed.
"No, I eat loads. Growing boy and all that," Harry bluffs. He catches Arthur once more looking him up and down, probably thinking about his thin stature. It's a poor lie, but again there's no real way for Arthur to prove that Harry is malnourished, other than his appearance. But he's not so starved that he looks too unhealthily thin - really, he could probably just pass it off as his natural build.
"I hope you don't mind me saying, but your uncle seems like a real piece of work. Certainly doesn't treat you very well. Your aunt didn't really try to stop him, either," Arthur says after a few more moments.
Understatement of the century.
Harry shrugs. No way can he lie about that, not after Vernon's performance on the shore. "No, they're not very nice people," he admits. "But it doesn't matter. I have to live with them."
"Can I ask why? There's always options, always somewhere you can go if they're… abusive."
Harry actually laughs. "Abusive? They might not be the nicest people around, but trust me, they'd never get away with laying a hand on me."
"So you at least have someone who looks out for you, then?" Arthur asks. "I don't mean to pry, but I'd hate to think I took you back to them knowing you'd be going back to a miserable life."
Harry shakes his head with vigour. "No, I'm not miserable at all. Sure the summer is the worst part of my year, but the rest of the time I'm at boarding school, and I have good friends there, and the teachers look after me, too."
Arthur looks anything but relieved. "Still, you should be going back to a happy home, not somewhere you're treated the way your uncle treated you earlier."
Harry lets out a steady breath. He's not going to let this go. "I know that you're thinking that they abuse me, but it's not really like that," Harry says.
"Maybe not physically, but there are other ways… like emotional abuse," Arthur interrupts.
Harry shakes his head again. "It only counts as emotional abuse if I get emotional. That would mean I care what they think about me, which I definitely don't. Honestly, today is the most time I've spent with them in a long time. We tend to just stay out of each other's way, usually." From the look on Arthur's face, Harry can tell he's not really helping his situation. "I know you're just trying to do the right thing here, but I swear, me going back to England with my aunt and uncle is the right thing."
Arthur still looks anything but convinced. It wouldn't even take much action on Arthur's part to cause them real problems. One call to the authorities about suspected child abuse would be all it would take to hold them up in the United States until they've investigated. Not to mention that Harry would be forced to lie and defend his uncle in order to get home and make sure the blood protection stays active, and lying for a man like Vernon is the last thing he wants to do.
"Well… if you say so," Arthur says slowly, still clearly unsure. Some of the tension leaves Harry's body, and he leans forward to take another sandwich.
"If you don't mind me asking… why do you live with them?"
Harry shrugs with one shoulder. "My parents died when I was a baby. I've been with them ever since."
"I'm sorry. What were their names?" Arthur asks, reaching for his glass of water.
"My dad's was James. My mother's was Lily."
Arthur says nothing in response, but his eyes widen and he leans forward to stare at Harry like he's seeing him for the first time. His eyes are gazing right into Harry's own, as if he's trying to see straight through him.
"…What's wrong?" Harry asks slowly. Still, Arthur stares, and Harry's not even sure if he heard. He looks as though he's far too deep into his own thoughts to be listening to anything said to him.
Arthur shakes his head once, and his eyes lose their focus. "Sorry, I remembered something important that I have to do," he says, getting out of his seat. "I'll have to take you back, now."
Harry immediately gets to his feet. "Of course. Thanks for lunch, and for, you know, saving my life. Uncle Vernon should have calmed down by now."
"I'm sorry to have to take you back so soon. Just… something has come up," Arthur says apologetically. His expression looks sad, and Harry can honestly believe that he doesn't want to have to take him back.
"Don't apologise, it's completely fine. I'm glad I met you, Arthur."
"I - I'm glad I met you too."
Arthur cuts through the ocean water like a bullet cuts through the air. Normal humans might move slower in the water, but it offers Arthur no resistance, and even after so many years of swimming in the open ocean, Arthur relishes in the feeling of it practically pushing him along to where he wants to go.
He's headed straight to the Science Centre in Poseidonis, the major seat of all scientific research in Atlantis. At it's entrance is a glowing blue barrier, the same sort of magical barrier that guards the entrance to all the buildings in Atlantis, to protect their interiors from the outside pressure and cold, as well as the water itself. Arthur swims straight through it, landing gracefully on his feet on the other side.
He's been here many times, and he finds the small laboratory he's looking for after a couple of minutes walk through the hall. In it he finds the exact man he's looking for.
"My King," Vulko says in reverent surprise, lifting his left arm across his breast in Atlantean salute. "What brings you here? I had thought you would be on the surface a few more days."
Vulko is the perfect man for what Arthur needs right now. He's the chief scientific advisor to the King, and one of only a handful of people that Arthur would trust with his life. He's an old man, withe white hair and a short white beard, but one of the brightest minds Atlantis has ever seen, not to mention one of the most wise.
"Vulko," Arthur greets, repeating the same salute back to him. "I had intended to stay in Amnesty Bay a little longer, but something's happened and I need…" he trails off. He lifts his hand to show Vulko the glass of water that Harry had drunk from at lunch. It's encased in a magical barrier, the same sort as the ones which serve as the entrances of Atlantean buildings.
"I need you to test the DNA on that," Arthur eventually says. Vulko takes the glass and removes the barrier with a wave of his hand.
"May I ask whose it is?"
Arthur hesitates slightly, but manages to stammer out an answer. Vulko is watching him with a strange look, probably because he's never seen Arthur stammer before. He's normally the very picture of confidence, but he's also never been in a situation quite like this, either. "I think it might be my-" he cuts off when someone enters the room behind him.
Arthur turns to see Mera stalking towards him, embracing him tenderly when she reaches his side. "Arthur," she says gently. "The guards told me of your return. What brings you back so soon?"
"I needed to have some DNA tested," Arthur says, turning to give Vulko a serious nod. The elderly scientist walks away with a slight bow, moving towards the back of his lab to begin the test.
"Oh? Whose is it?"
Arthur lets out a nervous breath. "There was a boy today. He fell from the cliff outside the lighthouse."
"Neptune's beard," Mera breathes. "Is he alright?"
Arthur nods. "Completely unharmed."
"Really? Quite remarkable for a surface human, I admit, but perhaps not enough to warrant a DNA test. Was there something else about him?"
Arthur looks deep into his wife's eyes, ocean blue like his own. "He… He looks just like me when I was that age. Almost exactly. He fell from a height like that and was unharmed, and on top of that, he didn't seem to struggle for breath in the water."
Mera takes a step back and averts her eyes. "You think he might be yours?" she asks quietly.
Arthur lets out a sigh. "I do. Years ago, when I was just barely a man, still a teen, really, I spent the night with a woman named Lily. I never saw her again but… he has her eyes. Her eyes in my face."
Mera still won't meet his eyes, and there's a deep crease between her eyes. I can't lose her over this… but I can't lie to her, either. He doesn't want to lie to her, either. Mera keep him grounded. Without her, he would suffer, and Atlantis would suffer just as much.
"Mera?" he asks softly.
At his prompt, she finally looks back at him, her eyes large and focused. She takes a step closer and reaches out to rest a hand gently on his waist. "If he is yours, you must go to him. He would belong here, with his family. If he is yours, Arthur, then he is the rightful Prince and heir."
Arthur pulls her close and wraps his arms around her back. "I know this isn't what we planned, and it must be difficult for you, but he really is a remarkable boy. He seems kind, and bright, and just good."
"It sounds like you want it to be true," Mera says, more curious than hostile.
Arthur hesitates for a moment. "The circumstances aren't what we would have wanted, I know, but after meeting him… yes, I do hope it's true. I could just feel this connection with him, so instantly. It almost killed me sending him back to his uncle, and I barely know him! Isn't it strange that I feel so protective over a child I barely know?"
Mera slowly shakes her head once. "No, I don't think it's strange, but only because I also think you don't really need a DNA test to know the truth."
And that's true. Harry's mother was named Lily, and he'd spent the night with a young woman named Lily close to fifteen years ago. Harry looks tremendously like himself, and Arthur had felt a connection with him, straight away. He knows deep down that it is the truth. Harry is his son.
"I don't know what I would do without you, Mera," Arthur says. As always, she is perfect. He would've understood if Mera was upset. It can't be easy to hear that he has a child with another woman, especially when they want to start a family of their own, but Mera has always been understanding, and she has always stood by him.
"The day shall never come when you have to find out," she answers softly, lifting a hand to his face and planting a brief kiss on his lips.
"I've done as you asked," Vulko says, walking back over.
"He's mine, isn't he?"