Tom Curry woke with a deep sigh. The time spent bent over the generator last night had not done his back any favors. Rolling a shoulder, he got himself out of bed and into some real clothes. He had a full day ahead of him.
First, he switched on the coffee to get it going before heading down to the docks. It was late autumn and still fairly warm in the morning. It would be a while before he needed a jacket for the mornings. Sammy, his faithful companion for 7 years, wagged his tail as Tom passed him.
Usually Sammy would have been up in Arthur’s room, sleeping at the bottom of the kid’s bed, however some mornings he got restless before Arthur woke. Once he saw Tom heading down to the docks, he always headed back up to Arthur’s room. He was a good sentry. No one got past him. Not even the men who had attacked Atlanna that day.
Shaking such thoughts from his head, Tom continued his daily trek down to the docks. He took note of a couple boards he would need to replace soon, and of the railing leading down to the little boat he took Arthur fishing on sometimes. He added the repairs to his mental schedule of the week.
As usual, the end of the dock came soon. Tom stood there, looking out at the water as the sun rose fully into the sky, bright and warm. He let out a slow breath, shoving his hands into his front pockets. His right hand stung a bit, the ink fresh from his new tattoos. He had only just started getting them done when he met Atlanna. She had found them fascinating and wanted to know all about them.
Arthur had begun to ask about the markings on his daddy’s arms and chest, wanting to know if they hurt, what they meant, why he had them, when Arthur could get them. Tom wasn’t sure his son would ever be able to share these with him, considering he already had skin too hard to get regular immunizations. That was going to be a problem soon. Initially, Tom had been able to tell the school that Arthur had gotten them and use the information for a pediatrician’s office that had burned down a year ago. Now, they were bugging him about getting a new doctor to see Arthur and do his boosters.
Tom waited a while longer, not ready to give up yet today. Arthur’s classmates had been bullying him a lot more lately, Sammy had more white than gold on his face these days, there was always something breaking at the lighthouse, and the truck was making a strange noise when he went in reverse. He wasn’t ready to go back to the real world just yet this morning.
He quietly said a prayer into the wind. A prayer in his father’s tongue, asking for the swift return of a loved one. He hoped that someone was listening and would soon send Atlanna back to them. Arthur needed his mother and Tom needed his sea queen.
“Until tomorrow, my love.”
Tom made his way back a bit slower than he had come, carefully taking the stairs that had the last remnant of moss covering the shaded areas. The kitchen greeted him with the smell of strong, hot coffee and the sound of the news playing on the little radio he kept in the kitchen. The announcer mentioned a storm they believe would hit land by mid-day tomorrow. That meant they needed to batten down the hatches.
He was about to start making breakfast when he heard Arthur laughing and calling Sammy’s name, then heard the sound of something non-breakable hitting the floor in Arthur’s room. He smiled. Just another day in the life of a lighthouse keeper.
Tom cracked his shoulders and back as he sat up in the bed, not bothering with the derelict old alarm clock at his bedside. He shoved a plaid flannel shirt on over his long sleeve shirt, pulled on his faded jeans, slipped his belt on, and grabbed for his shoes. He was met with a wet nose holding one of his shoes.
“Hey, Prime. Where’s Arthur?”
The dog dropped Tom’s shoe and turned, looking up at the wall between Tom and Arthur’s bedrooms. Prime was only a couple years old but smart as a whip. Arthur had found him when he was a puppy, hiding behind a boat after some of the neighborhood kids had chased after the then-10Ibs puppy. The little guy had been filthy and had more fleas than a cheap motel.
Now, the golden retriever-mutt mix was a strapping, brownish-red furball of 70Ibs and fiercely loyal to his rescuer. Which meant that Arthur must have had a pretty restless night to have sent Prime running from the 10 year old’s bedside and into Tom’s room to guard his shoes.
“Did he keep you up with his tossing and turning?”
Prime made a little noise with his snout, shaking his head and shoulders as if shrugging.
“I’ll try to drug him with some milk and a peanut butter and jelly sandwhich before bed, tonight. Then you can both get some sleep.”
Prime turned to nuzzle Tom’s knee. Sometimes he wondered if dogs had some level of psychic or telepathic abilities, allowing them to understand humans better than even other humans understood.
“Go take care of Arthur. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
The mutt did as instructed, allowing Tom the chance to put on his slightly drooled upon shoes, head down to the kitchen to start the coffee, and then make his way down to the dock. Winter was coming soon. It was a particularly brisk walk, though no less beautiful for it. When he reached the end, Tom stood.
The railing needed replaced soon. He and Arthur had treated the boards over the summer, after replacing two bad ones. Tom sighed as he looked to the rising sun over the graying waters.
“Atlanna, wherever you are, come home soon.”
Nothing. Not even a seagull’s call. He shook his head.
Sometimes, he thought that he ought to accept Atlanna was never going to return. There were a couple women in town who fancied him enough, or were desperate enough, to look his way for companionship. Even one of the mothers from Arthur’s school, had expressed interest.
However, his heart would not hear of it. He simply was incapable of giving up on her. He was not ready to accept the possibility that Atlanna might not come home.
Turning, he strode back up to the house and to get started on breakfast. He had noticed Arthur was very quiet last night, which had seemed off. Then Prime had abandoned Arthur’s room in favor of Tom’s, indicating Arthur having had a rough night.
Usually, after any sort of trip, he was a chatterbox. He would talk all about what they saw on the trip, who made the teacher yell, who fell and spilled stuff on themselves, and the like. Then, he would pass out as soon as his head hit the pillow. Last night Arthur said nothing about the trip unless prompted, and then just before bed, he had given Tom a note from his teacher.
Tom went back over to where he had it sitting on top of the fridge and re-read it. Two boys had been bullying Arthur again and there had been some sort of freaky incident with sharks and fish, scaring the employees at the aquarium. At the moment, it seemed they thought Arthur had frozen in fear at the weird actions of the animals and they were concerned he might have nightmares and that Tom needed to talk to him about the bullies.
Tom knew the truth. Arthur had commanded the marine life, in some way, to back him in a fight. Even when he had been very little and was playing in the water with Atlanna holding him, the fish and other creatures interacted with him.
The day was coming, far too soon for Tom’s liking, when Arthur would need to live up to all of Atlanna’s dreams. King of Atlantis, Master of the Seas, bridge between two peoples, a living legend. Tom worried. Arthur was Tom’s little boy, no matter how seemingly indestructible the kid was.
Tom barely had gotten the eggs cracked in the pan when he heard Arthur coming down from his room. He was moving pretty slow. He was probably still half-asleep.
Arthur slid into his preferred kitchen chair and bent to tie his shoes. That wasn’t part of Arthur’s usual routine, not the least reason being that the boy hated shoes.
“Where you going, son?”
“Then why are you putting on your shoes? Prime doesn’t need his walk yet.”
“Thought you’d give me chores, since I called the fish yesterday.”
Tom lowered the heat on the eggs and turned to Arthur. The boy might have had his coloring and his grandfather’s nose, but the worried look as he awaited a lecture, was pure Atlanna. She used to get that look when she thought she had embarrassed Tom during one of their trips into town.
“You were upset, maybe even scared. I think accidentally calling the critters in the tank, can be forgiven.”
Arthur looked up, surprised.
“You mean… you’re not mad?”
Tom let out a breath. He crouched in front of Arthur, smiling up at his little boy.
“You know how we’ve talked about all the things your mom could do, that the rest of us can’t?”
“One of the many, many things she could do was talk to the sea animals and she always said there was a strong chance that you would share that ability. Just… in the future, try not to do that when there are other people around, okay?”
“Good.”, Tom said as he moved to ruffle his son’s curls.
Once Arthur was smiling a little, Tom turned back to the stove. The eggs were a little over-done on the one side, though it wasn’t burned. He flipped the eggs in the pan and moved to throw some bread in the toaster.
Tom woke with a slight groan. He had a fever and chills the night before and had gone to bed early to try to sleep it off. Thankfully, Arthur almost never got sick so Tom did not have to worry so much about Arthur catching whatever Tom had. He still worried, just slightly less than most parents.
He shoved a shirt on, then dragged on a pair of pants. Standing, he let out a breath. His head was pounding and his stomach was a little shaky about its contents. No matter how bad he felt, however, he would still make his morning walk.
Every morning, Tom Currey got up, got dressed before the dawn, and made his way down the docks. Every year, his hair thinning and his son growing, he never wavered. He went down every, single morning
This morning would be no different. He put on the first pair of boots he found, tucked in his shirt, throw on a sweater, and headed to the kitchen. The coffee was already brewing, as well as some canned chicken noodle soup.
“Arthur.”, Tom half-whispered as he moved to get his rain coat.
When he stepped out, the sea greeting him with a wet breeze slapping against his face and jacket. He sighed, then coughed, making his way forward. The walkway was always too short, another dose of missing Atlanna. This morning, it was long and swaying.
He glanced back to see a newly-minted teenage-Arthur looking down from the window. The same window Tom had been standing at years ago, when he saw a beautiful woman washed up on the shore. Tom waved to let Arthur know he was alright, before continuing down the walkway, holding tightly to the railing.
Arthur worried as he watched his dad. Last night, his dad had been fevered and had gone to bed with chattering teeth and a slow, lumbering walk up to his bedroom. This morning, his dad didn’t look any better.
Despite how bad his dad’s health seemed last night, Arthur had known what the morning would look like. His dad would still make his morning walk to see if Arthur’s mom had returned. Every day, the same start.
For as long as Arthur could recall, he woke in the morning to find his father either standing at the end of the little dock or coming up from it to the fresh pot of coffee he had waiting. Then his dad would fix their breakfast and it would be off to school, work, fishing, training, or repairing the lighthouse. Until the next morning, when Tom would wake, dress, start the coffee pot, and make his way down to the end of the dock
Arthur used to be eager to see his dad every morning, hopeful of good news. Or his mom walking in with his dad. Then, every single morning he was met with his father’s attempted-OK face and an empty space beside him where Atlanna should have been. Every morning.
Arthur had given up. Mornings nolonger meant a hope for a different sight at the breakfast table, of his overjoyed dad and returned mother. In school, Mrs.Henry had defined Insanity for them. Repeating the same actions over and over, yet hoping for a different result.
Once more, his father came back into the kitchen with his attempt at looking like he wasn’t heart-broken, alone. Except today he had puffy dark circles under his bloodshot eyes, he was covered in a sheen of sweat, and he was dragging along enough that Arthur would know his dad was sick even if he couldn’t smell the sick-sweat coming off his dad.
Arthur moved, getting a chair for his dad while his dad pulled off his coat. He smiled over at Arthur, then dropped into the chair. Arthur got his dad’s coffee for him then moved to start making himself breakfast since his dad never ate breakfast when he was sick.
“I can do that, son.”
“No, I got it.”
He caught his dad’s smile in the reflection of a pan lid.
“All grown and taking care of himself. Pretty soon you won’t need me anymore.”
He joked before coughing. Arthur wanted to growl. He barely, just barely, suppressed the urge.
“What’s wrong?”, his dad rasped before drinking some coffee to soothe his throat and clear the frog.
Arthur let the pots and utensils drop and he let out a long breath. He tried to collect his thoughts like he knew his father did, and the way Vulko was trying to teach him to do. Then he thought of his father’s face, every morning when he came back alone.
“She’s not coming back, dad. She left. She’s never coming back.”
Arthur turned around and glared at his father. Why his father couldn’t see what so plain. His father’s face turned a big sad and… Arthur did not know what.
He had expected anger, for his father to roar back that Arthur had better never say that again. He had even worried his father might cry and storm off. Arthur didn’t expect his father to just nod and look like he wasn’t surprised at Arthur’s statement.
“She’ll come back, someday. But it’s alright if you lose faith sometimes, son. I’ll keep the faith going for both of us.”
Arthur threw a dishtowel across the room, startling Prime. His old dog had been sleeping peacefully on his preferred couch cushion of their battered sofa. When the towel went flying, Prime made his way up the stairs to the bedrooms.
“Why can’t you accept the truth, dad? She’s left us and she isn’t coming back for us.”
His dad reached for Arthur. Arthur wanted resist, to storm off or push his dad away. He couldn’t.
Moving, he let his dad fold him into the solid, warm comfort of the hugs only his dad could give. A beefy hand rubbed up and down Arthur’s back, just like when he was little and woke from a bad nightmare about monsters eating his mom when she tried to swim home to them.
“It’s alright, son. It’s alright to be angry. You’re allowed to be upset that she had to leave and hasn’t come back yet. You’re allowed to be angry at me for not-giving up. And you’re allowed to be sad that she’s gone, to miss her.”
Arthur nodded. His father just knew. He knew what Arthur was feeling without Arthur ever actually having to tell his father.
Arthur felt tears forming and he didn’t want to cry. He didn’t want to admit how much it hurt to know his dad was going to be disappointed every morning, then come back in and pretend he was fine to keep Arthur from worrying. It wasn’t fair that his dad had to do all this.
“She wouldn’t have had to leave if it weren’t for me.”, Arthur muttered into his father’s shoulder.
His father pushed him away and Arthur let his head hang, trying to hide his tears. Tears his father would never, ever shame him for. Just the boys at school.
“Arthur, look at me.”
He looked up through his eyebrows. His dad waited. Arthur finally raised his chin to look right at his dad.
“What you are is not on you. Your mother and I knew there was a risk in our being together, and we took that risk. None of that is yours to feel guilty about, Arthur. None of it.”
Once more, his dad pulled him in to hug him.
“I’m sorry she isn’t here. I’d give just about anything to have her back, anything but you.”
Arthur nodded into his dad’s shoulder, hugging his dad as tightly as he dared. From an early age, he had understood he could hurt his dad if he wasn’t careful. When he had been five, he had accidentally bruised his dad from hugging him when he came to comfort Arthur after a nightmare. He tried to hide the bruises but Arthur had seen them.
When his dad released him, Arthur skipped breakfast. It was a Saturday. He went back up to his room and pulled out the small photo album he had. Copies of photos his dad had of his mom from when she first arrived, when she first had Arthur and was rocking him or feeding him, and some photos from the final days before she left.
His favorite was a photo where his mom was teaching him to swim. She was in a pair of dark shorts and a sleeveless top, her hair in the breeze, a huge smile on her face as she looked up to where his dad was taking the picture. Arthur was sitting in a floaty thing that looked like a diaper with an inflatable donut attached to it, slapping the water with his hands, and his mom was holding his waist to keep him in place.
They looked so happy and he knew his dad had been. If he thought really hard, he swore he could almost hear his mom laughing. A couple years ago, he had worn out the only tape his dad had of his mom, and she laughed once in it.
From the kitchen, Tom looked at the wall of photos he had put up for Arthur. He had promised Atlanna. He wouldn’t let Arthur forget her.
At the center, he had a multi-picture frame up, filled with photos of Atlanna. Many of them showed her holding, singing to, playing with, rocking, and teaching Arthur, one was just her a few weeks after she came to live with Tom, and in the one corner was a picture of Tom and Atlanna sitting on a bench at the bay. A friend had taken it for them, the night before Atlanna informed Tom she was pregnant.
In his own room, he had a similar set of pictures. Ones to make sure he also never forgot Atlanna. Sometimes he forgot how much Arthur likely ached for his mom. He seemed so strong and confident most of the time.
Tom wished, with all his might, that Atlanna would come home soon. Their boy needed her. Tom needed her. He just hoped se really would come home soon.
Tom rose from his bed, dressing before making his way to the kitchen. He found Arthur stretched out on the new-ish couch, sound asleep with Ghost laying across the boy’s long legs. The fact that Arthur so often fell asleep while studying on the couch was why Tom had bought such a long one.
Ghost raised his big white head up, looking at Tom. Tom smiled and gestured for him to lay back down. The pup was just about six months old and was still learning. Arthur had brought him home from a session with Vulko, after finding the white puppy hidden behind a broken crab trap that had washed ashore.
The pup obediently laid back down across Arthur’s legs. The vet thought he might be at least half great Pyrenees. Tom had been glad to see Arthur happily hugging a puppy again, after losing Prime last year.
Tom started the coffee pot, before taking his morning walk down the dock to greet the dawn and look for his beloved. The dock was sturdy below his feet and the railing finally at the perfect height. The sea was quiet, the sky almost cloudless, and the sun shining brightly as he sipped his black coffee. It was a perfect morning.
At the end of the dock, Tom waited and watched. No ships, no sail boats, no dolphins, no high waves. It was clear and calm as far as the eye could see.
“Good morning, my love.”, he whispered in his father’s tongue.
It was peaceful as he stood with his coffee. He could get used to this, but he knew better. He had lived on or near the sea for enough years to know the sea was the ultimate unpredictable force.
When he had finished his coffee, Tom turned and headed back up to the house. He had a lot of things to get done today before Arthur got back from his lesson with Vulko. There was a big school trip Arthur was going on tomorrow, for a 4-day weekend to New York City, in order to see some museums, the library, and possibly the Statue of Liberty.
All day, Tom stayed busy. He packed Arthur’s bag just to make sure the boy took socks for each day and sneaking a few snacks in since Arthur was nearly always hungry. All teenaged boys were, yet Arthur had also inherited the Atlantian metabolism.
Once he was done with Arthur’s bag, he had to repair a couple fishing nets, then he needed to vacuum through the whole shared space. He liked to pick a day, once a month, to do a clean-out of the house. Ghost watched, until the vacuum came out and then the mutt ran for the bus stop.
Tom just chuckled at the retreating dog as he unwound the chord for the old vacuum. It had come from Sears, when he first moved to the light house all those years ago. Just as he was about to get behind the couch, he heard the front door burst open.
When Tom turned, he found Arthur standing in the kitchen, eyes red and whole body shaking. He hadn’t looked this upset since the outburst shortly after his thirteenth birthday, almost four years ago. Instantly, Tom was ready to murder whomever had hurt Arthur.
“It’s my fault.”, Arthur said in a broken voice.
“What? What happened? Where’s Vulko?”
Tom moved towards his son, looking over his shoulder for the royal tutor. When he reached Arthur, his son backed away from him, still shaking.
“Arthur? What happened?”
“Mom is… dead. They killed her, dad. They killed her because of me!”
Arthur started to move to the stairs but Tom stepped in his path, wrapping his arms around his son. Arthur could have flung him off with little more effort than Tom used to remove his coat, yet he didn’t. Instead, Arthur crumpled.
Tom followed his son to the floor, crouching down with him and holding him close as Arthur cried silently. It was as if his pain choked him while his tears flowed freely. Rubbing a hand up and down Arthur’s back, Tom did his best to soothe his son as Arthur’s heart shattered.
Arthur clutched at Tom’s shirt, shaking as he filled Tom in on the details. The King had learned the full details of Atlanna’s life at the lighthouse. For the crimes of loving a surface-dweller and birthing a child with him, she was sentenced to death in someplace called The Trench. Vulko had assured Arthur that it was impossible to survive the Trench.
Tom stayed with Arthur until the boy had cried himself into exhaustion. Maneuvering his son onto the couch, he called Ghost and left him with Arthur. Like his predecessors, Ghost was a good watch dog.
With a heavy heart and busy mind, Tom headed down to the dock. When he reached the end, he crouched, reaching to run his fingers along the surface of the water. It was like some colossal, cruel joke.
A mere mortal finding and falling in love with a warrior queen, having a child together who they had hoped would be a bridge between their worlds, only for his mother to face a death sentence for this love and the child it produced while Arthur had to hide who he was among Tom’s fellow surface-dwellers. Tom did not, for the space of even a single breath, believe Atlanna was truly gone. A warrior queen who sat quietly in a lighthouse for five years and then in less than five minutes took out an elite squadron with a giant fork, was not easily killed.
Vulko had to have been mistaken about the impossibility of surviving the Trench, whatever it was. Atlanna could survive it. Tom was sure she had.
“Atlanna, please come home? Our boy needs you.”, he leaned closer to the water and whispered, “I need you. Come home.”
Standing, Tom took one last look at the sea and turned back to his home. Except Vulko was standing there. The tutor seemed ill at ease, unable to maintain eye contact.
“I was supposed to protect her.”
“So she once said.”
Vulko let out long, somewhat stuttered breath.
“When did they send her to the Trench?”
“Four years ago.”
“How come no one has come for Arthur?”
“Atlanna lead them to believe that when she returned, you took him somewhat far from the sea. That you were scared to have him anywhere near where the King might touch Arthur. She swore me to secrecy and to protect Arthur however I needed to. I have sewn seeds to keep them guessing for years, and to keep them far away from Prince Arthur.”
“Good. We have to protect him, Vulko.”
“I will protect you, you will raise him to be the man Atlanna knew he could be. The man she knew you could shape him to be.”
“Do you really think she’s dead, Vulko?”
The royal tutor, advisor, and bodyguard looked away. That was all the answer Tom needed. Vulko believed it.
“She’ll come back.”, Tom assured before he headed back up to his son.
Tom paced at the docks. It had been all over the news. The Superman was back, alive, and causing problems at his memorial site.
Then, of course, Arthur had gone in with his new friends. The Batman of Gotham, the Amazon, the fast guy, and the one the news had dubbed Cyborg. They were all going to try to handle this Superman guy, plus these aliens that were kidnapping people and causing problems in different parts of the world.
On the one hand, Tom could not have been more proud of his son. He had taken up part of his birthright, taking Atlanna’s trident in order to go defend the whole of Earth. On the other hand, that was his son risking his neck against creatures that could actually do him harm, let alone Superman now that he seemed to have lost his marbles.
Tom tried to call his son. No answer. Half the time, Arthur shorted out phones by taking them in the water, or he forgot to charge them up. It was maddening to wait without word.
Manu, Tom’s faithful companion of almost three years, let out a plaintiff noise and began to spin. Arthur. That was his greeting for Arthur and Tom.
Tom stepped out and was greeted with Arthur popping up from the water at the end of the dock. He looked unharmed, wearing an Atlantian suit of armor, his mother’s Trident in hand as he rushed down the pier towards Tom. Tom ran to meet his son, wrapping him tightly to Tom’s chest.
It had been a long while since he had been larger than his son, whom he now had to look up at to meet his eyes. Stepping back, he continued to look Arthur over for any sign of injury.
Arthur gave a short, dark chortle.
“Not even a bruise.”
“Good. Come on, I’ll buy you breakfast.”
It was good to have his son back, to see that he was beginning to do what his mother had dreamed for him, even if those dreams had often been nightmares for Tom. Arthur was living up to his name, both a force of nature like the hurricane and protecting a people with a mythic weapon like the legendary figure. Atlanna would be proud of him.
Arthur swam up to the shore, looking for Mera. He had to get to her. The figure in white had dragged her off in the dark of the Trench, which she was only in because of him. He would get her back. He would not lose another person to the Trench.
“MERA!”, he called out as he made his way to her, watching the white-clad monster looming above her prone figure.
The figure stopped, removing a headdress to reveal a wild tangled mane of white tendrils. He thought, maybe, the figure was female. Then she turned.
He knew that face. He knew that white suit, or at least, the suit it had once been. She seemed frozen as she looked back at him.
Arthur was sure his heart had stopped. She walked forward, her eyes never leaving his. Arthur was stone still as she came closer.
For a long moment, maybe a day or a breath, they just stared. He took in the changes between the woman in front of him and the woman in all the photos his father had treasured. The bright eyes, the shape of her chin, her proud bearing.
That voice. He remembered it. In 1,000 dreams over the past thirty years, he had heard it singing lullabies and telling him stories of legendary warriors.
She reached, cupping his cheeks with her cool, strong hands. They traced the shell of his ears as she looked over his face. He wondered if she was pleased with what she saw, if she thought he looked like his dad or if she saw anything of herself in him.
Then she pulled him into a hug and Arthur melded to her, fitting right into her embrace. Her fingers curling into the hair at his nape, cradling his head almost like he was still a babe. He held her tightly, for the first time able to freely hug someone. He could not hurt her the way he could break his father’s less durable frame.
He leaned into her, smelling the sea salt, seaweed, and sandy scent his father described when he sometimes felt more nostalgic. And his mom’s grip was as tight and strong as his own, able to keep him in place without great effort. He had not felt this since he was still in diapers.
His mom was alive. She had not died in the Trench, but had survived to save he and Mera from the very thing Arthur had seen for years in his nightmares. She was alive and still in fighting shape.
As was his usual practice, Tom rose, dressed, started the coffee maker, and made his way down to the pier to watch the sun rise. Arthur was off fighting his half-brother to protect the surface world from Atlantian threat, who had a personal score to settle with Arthur. It weighted on Tom’s mind as he made his way down the pier.
Tom turned to look as he reached the bottom of the stairway, to look down to the dawn. Instead, there was a sight more bright than any star. Atlanna.
She was there, waiting at the end of the same pier she had dived from thirty years ago. Beautiful, smiling, and alive.
He moved forward, hardly trusting his legs to carry him the short distance to her. So many things swam through his mind. Was she back forever, had she seen Arthur, did she still love him, would she be happy to see him after all this time, and if she was still the Atlanna he remembered and ached for.
As he rushed to her, he saw her smile brighten as she met his gaze and ran towards him. Part of him was sure this was a wonderful, torturous dream yet he ran to her. They collided, her arms wrapping around his neck and shoulders just as they had so long ago.
She was here. Alive. In his arms. Still breathing, her shimmering suit cool and slick under his hands, her hair carrying the smell of the sea, a light laugh escaping her as she held him close.
Tom shook as he held her close. She was every bit as beautiful and powerful as he remembered. And she was back, for real, in his arms.
He was flooded with a rush of thoughts and emotions. She was back, she wasn’t dead, she was home, she hadn’t forgotten them, she was in his arms, she was home.
“You’re back. You’re back.”
He smiled, “I can’t believe you’re back.”
She stepped back, her hands cradling his face as her eyes roamed over him. Tom stood for her inspection, his breath taken away by Atlanna and also worried she would be disappointed at what she found. The years had not always been kind to him, and he was a mere mortal.
She moved, pressing her forehead to his in the familiar exchange they had once shared almost hourly between them. He could remember the first time he had touched his forehead to hers, and the time he did it and she finally asked about the gesture as she noticed no one in town did it.
Then, she kissed him. Tom was sure he had either died and gone to heaven, or he was in the middle of the best dream he had conjured in years. Either way, he did not want it to end. His beloved had returned to him, whole and bright.
After a while, though Tom had no idea precisely how little or long a time, they made their way back up to the house. Atlanna held his hand, letting him lead the way up. Tom got the door for her, showing her in to where Manu lay on the cushion that had once been Sammy’s place. A fish tank held blue fish instead of goldfish.
Atlanna took in the house that had been her home, thirty years prior. The TV was wider and shallower, though it sat just where the one she destroyed had once stood in the corner. The couch was new, longer than the old one and in a shade of green she found suited the room.
Turning, she found something that brought tears stinging to her eyes. On the wall were several multi-photo frames, holding various images. One seemed to chart Arthur’s growth from the time she left until he first reached manhood. She smiled, despite her tears, as she followed the progression. His chubby little face and dark curls morphing to sharper features and a lone mane of hair.
The next group of photos showed Tom and Arthur over those same years. Pictures of them fishing, cooking together, and boating together. A few showed Arthur with different dogs. He was smiling and happy in all of them.
The third truly tore at her heart. It helped explain how Arthur had so quickly recognized her on the beach after the Trench. This frame held photos of her.
It was a display of those beautiful two and a half years Atlanna had gotten with Arthur and Tom, as a family, before she had to return to Atlantis. Teaching Arthur to swim, watching his chubby baby hands slapping the water and the fish teasingly swimming around his ankles. Singing to him and telling him stories of Atlantis, showing him with his teddy bear and a fork how a king would handle his trident, while the center held the photo of she and Tom holding the infant Arthur when he was only a few hours old.
She reached, tracing along the edges of some of the photos. It was not the same as seeing it with her own eyes, not nearly the same. Yet, it was good to have some glimpse of what had transpired in the three decades she had been gone.
She felt Tom’s warm presence as he moved closer, wrapping his arms around her middle from behind, his chin resting on her shoulder. She let herself drift back against him, her arms crossing to cover his.
“He is beautiful.”
“Takes after his mother.”
She smiled, tilting her head to rest her cheek against the side of Tom’s smooth head. She had pictured him all these years, with his old head of hair just grayer and perhaps a little thinner. Atlanna had not pictured him shaved-clean yet she liked the look on him.
“Come with me.”, he whispered as he reached, gently taking her hand in his own.
Atlanna followed him up the stairs on the familiar path to what had been their bedroom. When they stepped inside, Tom gestured to the wall opposite the headboard. Atlanna turned, looking where he directed.
The wall was covered in individual photos. Many were the same as in the collages downstairs, yet several were different. One photo that caught her eye was of herself, standing on the walkway around the light of the lighthouse, with a blue blanket over her shoulders as she reached to catch a snowflake in her hand.
She had never experienced snowfall before coming to live at the lighthouse with her beloved Tom. They were delicate and beautiful. Like happiness.
Another photo showed her cradling her swollen belly as she looked out the window. She could recall when Tom took the photo. She had been daydreaming about what their child might be like, if they would have a son or daughter, how much of each of them would be inherited by their special baby. Her thoughts had been disturbed by the click from the shutter.
There was a photo of she and Tom, sitting on a bench out in town. She had been in a dark blue sweater and jeans while Tom wore a battered leather jacket over a gray shirt, her head on his shoulder, his arm around her back, both of them smiling. Shortly after it was taken, she had informed him the true reason for the smile she had been unable to wipe from her face for days.
There was one last photo that caught her attention. Her, sound asleep with her hair all over the pillow. Arthur was perhaps a week old and sleeping soundly in her arm, Sammy laying at the bottom of the bed with his little furry face atop Atlanna’s lower legs, the first rays of the sun bathing the room in a warm glow. She did not recall Tom taking that picture.
“That’s one of my favorite pictures. You were so tired after Arthur spent most of the night fussing, then Sammy had curled up with you and Arthur once Arthur quieted. I went to make you some tea and came back up to find the three of you all sleeping peacefully.”
She watched as Tom traced a finger along the edge of the photo. She leaned into his side, pressing a kiss to his temple.
“You did a wonderful job. Arthur is such a good man. He’s everything I hoped, and more.”
“We did a good job.”
“For a while, then you finished it. Thank you.”
“We each did our part, Atlanna. You protected him, I sheltered him, and we loved him.”
She smiled, her eyes watery. Tom hated to see the pain in those blue depths. He moved, kissing her soundly, lingering as long as he could.
“I missed you so much. I ached for you in places I never knew were there till you weren’t.”
She nodded, tucking her head into the crook of his neck.
“I ached for you every day, Tom. My Thomas.”
Atlanna pulled him close, pressing her forehead to his for a moment before kissing him slowly. His hands were warm and firm against her waist, falling to her hips to pull her closer. She had missed this, missed him, missed his touch, his smell, his way of smiling against her lips between kisses.
They broke apart and Atlanna drifted over to the closet. Inside, there were still outfits she recalled wearing. Her button-up blouses in several pastel shades, her old jeans and shorts, a dark blue sweater Tom got her for Christmas the first year she was at the lighthouse.
“You kept all of my things.”
She turned, her eyes wet again.
“You truly never gave up hope that I would come home to you?”
He smiled, his eyes a little wet as well.
“I’m a lighthouse keeper. Hoping against hope is… well, it’s what we do. Holding out hope is part of the job description.”
Atlanna moved over to him, pressing a kiss to his temple, his nose, then his lips. She held him close, breathing him in.
“I’m never leaving you again, my love. Not ever.”
He held her tightly, his body molding to her own. At last, she was home. All the years of waiting, and now she was home.
As they sat at the table, eating their dinner of cooked fish and potatoes, Tom could not take his eyes off of Atlanna. Aside from looking over at the photos of Arthur and occasionally reaching to rub Manu’s ears, Atlanna rarely looked away from him. He almost couldn’t believe she was back, wearing a set of her old clothes, her hair long dry and crown tucked away upstairs, and sharing a meal with him in his simple kitchen.
When the meal was finished, Atlanna moved into the living room to cuddle on the sofa with Tom. She was tired after the last two days and she did not yet wish to sleep, she wanted to be close to Tom. As they sat, she noticed there were no tapes yet Tom was able to begin a film with the press of a button on the very small remote.
“Where are the tapes?”
He seemed confused for a moment.
“Oh, the VHS tapes. Well, they phased them out a few years back. DVDs were all the rage, still are pretty popular but people use something called streaming, to get their films. I’ll have to explain it to you later, when we’re both a little more with-it.”
She chuckled a bit. Tom seemed to shift a little in mood as he looked over at the cabinet that had once been full of tapes.
“I had one tape of you. Clips I had filmed of you with Arthur when he was little. Singing to him, telling him stories of Atlantis’s greatest heroes. He watched it so many times that he wore it out. Back then, they didn’t have the machines to switch movies from VHS to DVD, so once the tape wore out… well, it was a bad day. For both of us.”
Atlanna reached, cupping Tom’s cheek in her hand. He leaned into the touch, despite how cool she knew her hands would feel to him. His free hand moved, cupping the outside of her hand as he turned to press a kiss into her palm.
“I’m sorry, I would have returned to you sooner but,”, Tom cut her off with a shake of his head and holding up his one hand.
“Atlanna, I know you would have come back sooner if you could have. And you can tell me, everything you want to, but please… don’t feel like I blame you, or that you have to explain yourself. You did what you had to in order to save our son. He might be practically invulnerable to what most of my world could throw at him, but he was just a baby and as you said, he was viewed as an abomination by many of your people, and they could easily kill him.”
She looked away, still angry that she had left Tom alone for so long, to raise their Arthur almost entirely without her help. Tom leaned closer again, his hand moving some of the hair away from Atlanna’s face.
“I know, if the situations had been reversed, you would not hate me for doing whatever I needed to protect Arthur. So why would I be anything but relieved now? You’re back, Arthur is safe, the world is not about to be destroyed in an epic battle between Land and Sea. And now, we can stay here in our lighthouse, together, and let the world pass us by.”
She smiled, coming closer and cupping his face in her hands. He had a few more lines, the skin where he shaved was a bit rougher than she remembered, he was a bit broader in some places, and he had shaved whatever hair remained, but she loved him no less than she had in 1985. In fact, seeing how well he had done with Arthur and seeing how he had never lost faith, she thought she may have loved him more fiercely now.
Atlanna kissed her beloved lighthouse keeper with a smile. Just as he said, his job had been to keep the light burning, to continue to hope when all hope was lost. In the years she had spent alone, after surviving the Trench, she had often wondered if Tom still went to the pier to wait for her.
Sometimes, when she would be hunting for a meal or coming back from her latest encounter with the Karathen, she would swear she could hear Tom’s voice. Sometimes it was a whisper, other times it was more like a prayer. He was ask her to come home, reminding her that Arthur needed his mom and that Tom needed his Sea Queen.
“I love you, Thomas Curry.”
He smiled broadly, making her heart hammer in her chest.
“I love you, Atlanna of Atlantis.”