When Diana went to Themyscira to return one of the mother boxes to her people, she took Arthur with her.
She hadn't planned it so. But he had come back to them after the wave, the great rebellion of the ocean in the face of its misuse—he had come back to them after facing Orm, and he'd been strange and serious, looking too old to be so young, or perhaps too young to be so old, with his shoulders tensed as if against a great weight.
"So my mom's alive," he had said to them.
"What?" Barry had said, blinking at him, beaming. "Dude, that's awesome!"
"Yeah," Arthur had said, without quite managing to smile in return. "Also, my brother tried to kill me."
"Oh." Barry had glanced at Victor, at Clark, as if they might know better what to say. "Uh—"
"And I'm king now," Arthur had added, as if an afterthought, and then had walked out before any of them had had a chance to speak.
He'd stayed with them.
None of them had expected it, but it was so. He had gone to see his mother and father, happy together now in Maine, and Diana had thought perhaps he wouldn't return, perhaps then he would go back to Atlantis; but he hadn't.
He had come back, and he had stayed.
In time, someone had come for him. A woman, tall and beautiful, with long red hair and a steady fierce look on her face. She had spoken with him, quietly at first, cautious, uncertain; and then she had argued with him, louder, uncomprehending, insistent.
He had not yielded. The woman had stalked out again, frustrated, unhappy.
And that evening, Diana had finally drawn him aside.
It had been late; he had been prowling the corridors of the Hall, restless and discontented, unable to find anything to which he wished to turn his attention. When she had stopped him, he had glared at her.
"Save it," he'd snapped.
"Save what?" Diana had inquired evenly.
"You think I ought to go back," Arthur had muttered, vicious with resentment. "You think I'm being stupid. Selfish. That I've got a duty or whatever—"
"The true meaning in a duty lies in choosing to accept it," Diana had said, "not in having it forced upon you. No, Arthur, I only wish to know whether you would come with me."
And he had looked up and met her eyes, and for the first time since he'd returned to them, she'd seen something open, something tentative and willing, in his face.
She had laid it all out for him. No one would come looking for him on Themyscira; no one could. It was only the power of the mother box that would permit the two of them to reach the island—that would permit Diana to set foot upon it, after everything. No one else could achieve the same. And yet, if he sent word to his people, to Mera, there could also be no objection: to renew ancient alliances was the work of a king if anything was.
And he had listened; and then he had accepted.
So: when she returned to Themyscira with the mother box, Arthur was with her.
She didn't press him. Not when they arrived—the box glowed white-hot for an instant, as she set her foot on the sand, and then went quiet in her hands, and she stood on Themyscira, permitted. After that, she was, in all earnest, too busy, laughing and crying at once, reaching out at last to embrace her mother again for the first time in a century.
There was a whole crowd, a procession, there to greet her. She embraced all of them, one at a time, and gladness and sorrow both worked upon her heart, seeing so many dear faces again but discerning at the same time those who were not there, whom Steppenwolf's assault had brought low.
They were invited to the great pavilion that overlooked the training grounds, and took refreshment there, and she said nothing to him about it then, either. She picked out foods he might like, and then one he wouldn't, for the joy of laughing at the look on his face when he put it in his mouth; and he scowled at her and elbowed her almost off her seat, but she could tell he wasn't truly angry with her.
By the time they were finished with food and drink, it was midmorning. Philippus was general, now, and she believed as firmly as Antiope ever had that it was never too early in the day to run drills; the training grounds spread out before them were already filled with Amazons, sparring against each other and riding, shooting, wrestling.
Arthur could not stop watching them.
"All right, come on," Diana said to him, and took him by the arm, drew him up and pushed him along.
Arthur had been alone for a long time, before the League had formed. It came easily to him to be among strangers, for he had so much practice at it; the thing he did not know was how to step in along with them and try to become part of them.
So Diana did not make him. She took him to one of the wrestling rings, and then leapt at him herself without even a moment's warning.
"Oh," he huffed, with her arm braced around his throat, "so that's how we're playing it, huh?"
"Indeed," Diana said, and laughed; and then he twisted in her grip and jammed his elbow into her gut, and she grinned and tried to force him to the ground.
After two bouts, he had forgotten they were somewhere strange to him. He was warmed up, quick, pale eyes alight, and when he at last secured Diana beneath one knee with her arms wrenched up behind her, he laughed, too.
"Good," Philippus said from beside them, where she had been watching them, and Arthur jerked; he had not known she was there. But Diana had. "Can you ride a horse?"
Arthur glanced past her, at where Acantha and Orana were taking turns shooting at swinging targets as they threw themselves from the backs of their horses and flipped in midair.
"If it means I get to try doing that," he said, "then yes."
She picked out a bow herself, next, and stood shooting for a time—it was good practice, relaxing, after she had spent so long using sword and shield so much more often. She felt the warmth of it in her arms, her shoulders, and her aim wasn't quite what it had once been, but steadily improved again as she kept at it.
And Arthur—Arthur could ride a horse, as it turned out, or at least given ten minutes and an opportunity to speak quietly in the horse's ear, he could approximate it very well. Horses were not fish; but Arthur had reached out to understand what was not like him often enough that he could do it even without his powers, if he tried.
He rode, and rode, and rode. He was thrown only once, and that once not wholly his fault. And of course even a hard landing on the rocky soil of Themyscira could do him no harm. He was up within a moment, reaching out and murmuring apologies, waiting for the horse to come back to him—which she did.
He had no practice with archery, so he didn't get as far as Acantha and Orana. Not in a single day, at least. But with Philippus barking instructions, corrections, as he tried again and again and again, he learned to hang each way from his horse's saddle, to reach down with his long arms so far he could trail his fingers against the grass as he rode; to climb up and stand, and from there to leap and land on his feet, and he added the first flip in by himself after three or four tries simply because he wanted to and knew he could.
Every time he fell, he laughed. It was good to hear.
Diana switched from archery to spears, after a time. She found herself facing two Amazons whose names she did not know—brand new, sculpted from stone by Mother's hands and brought to life, and it was a pleasure to be reminded that where there were endings, there were also new beginnings. She smiled and introduced herself, and learned that they were Euanthe and Thaïs; and they knew of her, and were intrigued by this princess they had never met, but they spared no effort to impale her on their spear points, and that was just as she wished it.
The three of them fought, all against each other, in a whirling circle, spear blades flashing. Diana felt warm smooth wood beneath her fingers and the sun hot against her back, the stretch and flex in her ankles and thighs as she dodged and lunged and spun, and it was good, good beyond all words, to be back here.
By the time they all agreed to yield, it was late in the day, and the sun had begun to drop low. Diana set aside her spear with a smile, stretched her arms and stood quietly; closed her eyes, and tilted her head back, and breathed in the breezes of Themyscira, and was at peace.
And then she opened her eyes again and turned and looked for Philippus, and discovered that Arthur was gone.
Not far, as it turned out.
He had left only a little while before, and had been truthful about where he meant to go: Diana found him at the summit of the highest of Themyscira's stony piled-up hills, just where Philippus had said she must look.
He was seated there by a spring, with his feet, his legs, dipped into the cool water that pooled and then flowed away down the hillside; and he was looking out, watching the sun begin to set over the wide gold-flecked expanse of the ocean.
She wondered, drawing closer, whether the water of the spring was enough for him to feel soothed—or whether it only made him more aware of how much he preferred the salt of the sea.
He glanced sideways; not all the way over his shoulder at her, only partway, acknowledging that she was there. "Hey," he said.
"Hey," she repeated, studious, and came and seated herself beside him, drawing her sandals from her feet. The water was clear and very cold, but of course Arthur didn't mind that, and neither did she.
Arthur's mouth quirked.
"Nice secret magic island full of badasses you got here," he said.
"Thank you," Diana said soberly. "I'm rather fond of it myself."
Arthur gave her a wry look. And then he turned his face away, lowered his hand to the water and flicked his fingertips against it. "Good to see your mom again, huh?" he said quietly.
"Yes," Diana said. "Yes, very good. Beyond any words I could use to describe it. She was—she was not happy with me, when I left. I hurt her deeply by it, and at the time I didn't understand how deeply." She paused. "At first, I was almost glad there was no way for me to come back, so my resolve to go couldn't be tested; I had done it and it was over. There were no more choices to make. But it hurt me, too. And there was no one to blame for the hurt except myself."
Arthur was silent, for a long moment. The sun sank lower; the pink and gold blaze of the sky was mixed now with red, with indigo.
"I told you my mom's alive," he said at last. "And it's true. But it's not because I was wrong about what happened. They threw her in the Trench for having me, for loving my dad. It just didn't kill her, that's all. But they still did it." He stopped, and bit at his mouth, and shook his head. "She was—there's another ocean down there, deeper than any of the others, inside the earth. She'd survived there, hunting dinosaurs, making weapons and armor out of their bones."
"She sounds strong, and clever," Diana said.
Arthur looked at her. "She is," he said, chin tilting up, proud. "And I'm glad she's okay. I'm—" He stopped again, with a rueful sort of slant to his mouth. "You were right. There aren't really words for it. But she's okay because of her, not because of them. I'm king of that whole place, and I still fuckin' hate it half the time."
The words came out harshly, torn from him; this, Diana thought, this was the thing he hadn't been able to say to Mera, to the rest of the League, the thing that had been trapped inside him with no way out.
"Orm," Arthur was adding, "he hates me. He wanted me to kill him. He told me to. He expected me to, because that's how it works down there. Half the time I'm glad I didn't, that I proved I wasn't like that—I want to tell him I just want a fuckin' brother, goddammit. But the other half of the time—"
He stopped again. His throat worked.
"You wish you had," Diana said for him. "It would have pleased you, viciously, to end his life after all that he had done to you, all that he had tried to do."
"Yeah," Arthur said, very low, and then laughed just a little, a harsh huff through his nose that was not born of amusement. "So I guess maybe I really am an Atlantean after all, huh?"
"Arthur," Diana said.
"Sometimes I want to be the best goddamn king they ever had," he went on, "just to rub their noses in it. That I got the best of them, and I didn't do it by being a murdering shithead. And sometimes I want to tell them to go fuck themselves, that they made their beds and they can go lie in them and leave me the fuck alone."
Diana reached out and closed her hand upon his shoulder. And he sat there, and let her.
"I know," he said, as if he felt she meant to speak, to tell him he was wrong. "I know that's not how it should be. I know that's not what I should do." A shadow crossed his face, dark and bitter with guilt. "I know leaving people to drown and telling yourself it's not your problem doesn't fix anything," he added, very softly. "But I still—I still want to, sometimes. I wish I didn't. I wish I was better than that. But I'm not."
Diana moved her hand from his shoulder, found the nape of his neck beneath his wild tumbling hair, and leaned in to press her forehead to his temple. He did not move away.
"You want to be," she said. "You will try to be. That is as much as anyone can ask of you, Arthur. It is enough. You are enough."
He went still against her, beneath her hand, and said nothing.
"They are lucky to have such a king: a king who strives to be a better man, to help the drowning because he can and because he knows it to be right, not because they have earned it. They would have killed your mother, they would have thrown you away; they do not deserve you. But—" She stopped, and smiled just a little, though he couldn't see it. "But it isn't about what they deserve. It is about what you believe, what you will choose to do. What you love, and what you value, and who you wish to be."
He let out a slow breath. "Yeah," he said at last, soft, unsteady.
"And," Diana said, and straightened up—only to take him by the shoulders again, to urge him to turn toward her where he said, and he did it. She reached out, and clasped him by the forearm, and he met her eyes and returned the clasp. "Whatever you do or don't do, whatever it is you choose, I will always be here for you, and would be glad to call you sister."
She said it with deliberate gravitas, earnest and serious, and was rewarded by the sudden unforced quirk of his mouth.
"Sister, huh?" he said, after a moment.
"Okay. Okay, yeah." He cleared his throat. He had begun to flush, just a little. "Cool. Thanks."
"Of course," Diana said.
And then he looked at her and narrowed his eyes a little, and moved his grasp from her gauntlet to her palm, gripped her hand and twisted it so that—so that it was pinned to his knee.
"So that is how we're playing it," Diana murmured, smiling, and wrenched upwards, so that they were then arm-wrestling in earnest.
They were not angled well for it, they had nowhere to put their elbows; they fumbled, and laughed, and then Arthur switched tactics and with his free hand swept a great wave of icy springwater over her, so that she had no recourse but to tackle him into the pool and force his head under.
When he came up, he was smiling, shaking his wet hair out of his face—and she grinned at him and said, "Here, there is a place I know along the cliffs, a great height from which we may dive into the sea. Would you like that?"
"Sure," Arthur said, "let's go," and when she pulled herself up out of the water and then turned and reached out to him, he gave her his hand.