Dream Fish

Author: Cloudtrader
Artist: Inkwraith
Contact: Author's LJ is "cloudtrader" and Artist's LJ is "inkwraith" Recipient: Caia (LJ is "caia_comica")
Character: Aquaman (Arthur Curry, King Orin of Poseidonis)
Request: "Shirtless and kingly would be nice."
Notes: Well, I got the shirtless part in, but I'm unsure if I pulled off kingly.
Continuity: I like Pre-Crisis continuity, so some of that shows up, but timeline-wise I'm thinking this is set round about "Time and Tide" for the framing bits and just after the 1989 Griffen/Fleming 5-issue miniseries for the flashback bits.

Illustration provided by Inkwraith.

King Orin was not a nervous or flighty man. He was not given to jittering or excessive random movement. Rather, his mannerisms were strong, bold, and powerfully full of the arrogance that came from knowing it was his destiny to rule the waves. Therefore, the way he was currently tapping his pen restlessly on the large ledger opened to crisp, white pages ready to be filled up with words and the look of fathomless pain as he stared off into space were unusual, to say the least. His hands tightened and tightened on the pen he held, the pen which was NOT writing anything in the purple and brass ledger that contained the chronicle of Atlantis in it, until finally it snapped in two.

"Eh," Arthur said, looking down at the broken pen that had finally snapped him out of his contemplation. Several drops of ink had stained the once-unmarred pages of the chronicle and the rest was staining his hand black. He stared at the mess disgustedly before sighing and moving to clean it up.

After washing his hands and retrieving a new pen, Arthur determinedly set it to the now no-longer pristine pages. After all, random, senseless stains were as good a starting point as any for this tale. With an only slightly wavering hand, the King of Atlantis set pen to parchment and set down the story that was lurking in his memory.

Not long after the defeat of the giant, evil, intelligent jellyfish who had enslaved Atlantis, he wrote (without a single thought as to how ludicrous that sounded, by the way), I retreated from my city to live in my wider kingdom – the open sea. I could not bear to take up my duties to Atlantis again as if nothing had happened. My wife and… the accusations that I had caused the death of our son, before she left, well. I know that she was unbalanced, but in my heart I believed them. And so, for a time, I was full of despair, and it was then that I came upon a school of dream fish where none should have been…

As he clung to the great whale, Arthur took a moment to reflect on the irony of his position. Many times had he called up his whale friends to come to his aid in battles against villainous foes. Many times had he ridden their backs and used the sheer massive power of a whale's presence to back up a threat of violence. Yet here he was now trying to overcome violence in one of the great, gentle whales he often asked to commit violent acts that were against their normal nature.

The whale that he was desperately trying to subdue was thrashing about in the water, trying to dislodge him with every turn – definitely NOT the usual behavior of this, or any, type of whale. And he could not get through to her, either. Her mind was racing with images and colors that tasted like lemon screams and she didn't heed any of his mental commands. Fortunately, the other sperm whales in the area still did.

'Keep pushing her toward the rocks,' he called to them as she tried to buck him off.

It was a close thing, but in the end it was the whale that ended up rammed against the rocks and not him. Once stunned from the impact, he and the other whales maneuvered the sick one into a holding pen where she wouldn't hurt herself or others anymore while he tried to figure out what was wrong.

'Okay, now, does anyone know what caused her to become unbalanced and attack those boats?' he asked the other whales once she was safely confined.

'Yummy octopus,' they told him, 'also ate strange fish by mistake. Strange fish not good.'

'Strange fish, eh? Hm. Show me!'

"Well, J'onn?"

The green-skinned Martian regarded Arthur through the view screen thoughtfully. The Martian Manhunter's face was often inscrutable, but Arthur had worked with him enough to tell that he was intrigued by the proceedings, his detective's interest piqued.

"The sample you sent is most interesting. A rabbitfish, you say?"

"That's what it looked like," Arthur replied easily, "but the whales said that it was strange, somehow wrong. And while rabbitfish can sometimes cause humans to have terrifying hallucinations, I don't see how it could have had the same effect on a sperm whale. Also, this is the wrong region of the ocean for rabbitfish. I'm thinking that someone poisoned these fish for a reason. What did the computers tell you?"

"I did detect some ichthyoallyeinotoxins, but you're right, a giant sperm whale should not have been affected to the degree that you described. And the analysis of the fish's structure was very anomalous, almost like the fish had been created by someone who didn't understand how fish work. I don't even know how it could have swum – its internal organs were all wrong."

Aquaman nodded grimly. "So it definitely wasn't a natural fish, then?"

"I do not see how it could be," the Martian Manhunter agreed.

"Well, thank you for your help, J'onn," Arthur said and reached over to turn off the view screen.

"You are most welcome, old friend. Do you require any more assistance? I would be happy to come and help you. You know that the Justice League is always ready and willing to come to your aid. And we still have your spot on the team open should you decide to return…"

"I know," Aquaman said shortly and then disconnected the communications signal. "I'm just not ready yet," he whispered to himself, thinking of Atlantis and Garth and Mera and little Arthur Jr.

He shook his head abruptly, shaking off those unwanted and painful thoughts and dove into the water. He had some fish to find.

In the end, it wasn't too hard to track the strange school of rabbitfish down. He just followed the path of drugged or oddly-acting sea creatures. The school seemed to be swimming in aimless circles, not even attempting to find food. There were a couple dozen of them and while many appeared to be rabbitfish, some were not. They were all sorts of colors, too, many of which were not native to any kind of fish that he knew about – and he made it his job to know about all aspects of the sea. One or two of the fish seemed to have plaid patterns, one looked like a Jokerfish with a big, grinning leer, some of them looked like they were plastic toys, yet they moved and swam with the others just the same.

Aquaman didn't know what to make of it.

He swam into the school, but none of the strange fish took notice of him, so he sent out his thoughts, trying to make contact, to command them to tell him where they came from. At once, as one all of the fish stopped and turned to stare at him. He couldn't gain anything from their thoughts except a chaos of feelings which were much too advanced to be from fish. Then, they moved towards him… and into him.

As a general rule, fish do not scream. But when a person absorbs a school of unnatural fish into their body and their body begins to melt into a new form, screams are warranted.

Mera, his beautiful Mera (who is Mera? who is he?), she was laughing and dancing on glass, no it was water, the ocean spun into stars, but it was sharp sharp sharp and she was falling down down and the ocean was dark with her blood, but no. It was his blood (who is he?) and his blood was swimming away from him and he would lose it in the purple dandelion ocean – he had to catch his blood or he would die. Except that he was already dead and Mera was eating him gleefully. He cried out in pain as she sliced into his tale fin and popped it into her mouth. Delicious!, she cried and he smiled because he liked making her happy except that he couldn't, he couldn't – there were great sea anemones waving at him, then stinging him and they looked like the Justice League and the dark glittery one was Batman and the red one that felt like stars tasted was Superman and the one with sharp gold polka dots was Wonder Woman and they stung him, they stung! (what is the Justice League?) He had to get away. He had to find Arthur, little Arthur (who was Arthur?) he had to find him, except Arthur Jr. was dead, was dead, Arthur was dead…

Aquaman came to himself slowly, his mind a jumble of confused sensation. He was on land. The sun warmed his skin and damp sand clung to his naked body. A soft breeze was washing over him, bringing with it the smells of a nearby city. He could feel that the ocean was nearby.

"Ughuh," he groaned. He mouth was dry. His body felt strange and achy. With another groan he opened his eyes and tried to sit up. He squinted against the sun. There was a large brown dog sitting next to him.

"About time you got up," the dog said.

Arthur blinked. There was a dog talking to him and he remembered dreaming – hallucinating – horrible things. It seemed that he was still dreaming, because dogs didn't talk.

"I just wanted to apologize to you before we left. For the whole turning into a fish thing and all," the dog said. "Completely my fault, I turned my back for one instant to smell an interesting tree and when I turned around again she was gone."

Arthur realized that he and the dog were not alone. Sitting on the other side of him was a girl. Her long, boney legs were outstretched in a V and she was playing in the sand. She looked strange – all that torn fishnet and dyed hair should make her look like a punk (or a baglady), but instead she looked strangely vulnerable. Which was at odds with the feeling he had that she was possibly the most powerful being he had ever met.

She looked up at him and her odd, mismatched eyes caught him like a dolphin in a tuna net. "Barnabas is a good doggie," she said earnestly, "but sometimes he gets lost and I have to find him."

The dog – who he supposed was named Barnabas – snorted. He didn't know dogs could snort. This whole interlude didn't feel like a dream, but Aquaman wasn't quite ready to rule it out yet. Talking dogs were a bit much. However, previous to this he had fought off giant, intelligent, evil jellyfish, so he supposed that talking dogs and punk girls that appeared to have the ability to turn sand into chocolate bunnies – make that cannibalistic chocolate bunnies, as they seemed to be trying to eat each other – weren't stretching things TOO much. Maybe.

"Um. What happened?" He wasn't sure who to address, the dog or the girl, but it was the dog who answered.

"Del fragmented a bit and I couldn't go after her in the water, but then she went inside of you – or, well, pieces of her went inside of you, anyway – and you became a fish, but apparently a suicidal one because you beached yourself, but that was okay because it meant I could pull her out of you and then she changed you back."

Arthur blinked at the dog, trying to process that.

"Okay," was all he could think to say. "My clothes…?"

"Er, sorry about that," Barnabas said.

Suddenly, the girl was much closer and she was looking him up and down. It was really disturbing and he really wanted his clothes. "You were much prettier when you had scales. They were shiny and green with orange. Are you sure you don't want to be a fish again?"

He held himself still. It wouldn't do to act scared of the lunatic. "No, I'm quite fine as I am, thank you."

"I don't think you are," she said. "My big sister has her hooks in you, she does, and she never throws any of her fishies back voluntarily. You have to fight the hook and line before she reels you in and its too late. Bad things happen because the universe is built of straw and there are many big bad wolves and we're all just like the little Red Riding Hood with knives in our hearts and gravedust under our nails. It wasn't your fault that he died."

Arthur's heart constricted with pain and he felt a lump rise in his throat. His beautiful baby boy. All he could remember of Arthur Jr. was his tiny, broken body and Mera's cries of anguish. He looked away from the girl – her gaze was too much to bear.

"Okay, Del, that's enough, we're done here," Barnabas said. "How would you like to go have a tea party with Death?"

"Oh, yes, lets!" the girl exclaimed and stood, twirling in wild excitement. "And we should have hats and mice that make rhymes and you can wear ribbons in your hair!"

"Right then, let's go."

They were leaving and Arthur was relieved. He needed some time to come to terms with what he had just experienced. But then the girl was turning back to him and she scooped something off of the beach and thrust it at him. He took it before he thought to stop himself.

"Here," she said. "Something to remember me by. And him, too." Then she and the dog were suddenly gone.

Arthur looked at the lump in his hands. It was a hard lump of dark grey ambergris. He brought it up to his nose to smell, but instead of the sweet fishy perfume he was expecting, he smelled baby powder and milk and the fresh scents of a new born. He smelled his son.

Naked on a beach in the middle of the day, he finally allowed himself to grieve.

The king set down his pen and closed the chronicle. That was enough for tonight. He would continue his mother's task later. Arthur stood and stretched, then went over to his wall of trophies. Behind a harpoon gun he had taken from one of Ocean Master's henchmen was a simple wooden box. He took it down and opened it reverently. Inside was a lump of ambergris. He raised it to his nose and inhaled. There were tears in his eyes, but he was smiling. There would always be pain in his heart over the death of his son, but Despair no longer had her hooks in him and he was thankful for the gift the girl and her dream fish had given him.