characters: Black Manta | Kaldur'ahm
summary: Memories will fade and photos will decay, but the pain remains as fresh as ever.
author's notes: Written before Complications.
---In your personal quarters, tucked away in the lower shelf of the desk is a yellowing photo you had sworn never to look at again, of a baby just hours old. You had missed his birth, plundering the oceans of its treasures and returned to the sub to your then small crew frantically tripping over itself because it didn't know how to deal with the events that had transpired when you were away. You passed the room that contained your wife, barely glancing inside to notice your second in command sitting at her side, but hadn't given it a second thought as you continued to the next room where your son was being cleaned up. The first thought that had crossed your mind was how tiny he was (of course David, he was a baby after all). And how much he looked like Sha'lain'a. That was when you had taken the photo. Of this tiny child with pale green eyes, soft wisps of blonde hair and tiny webbing between the fingers of his small hands. You noted every detail in the way that you do and cataloged everything about him in your mind's eye. You wouldn't forget your son for as long as you lived. The memories of those few precious days and that one photo were what kept you sane in the years to come. Watching from afar as your son grew from that small child into a young man, and began to look less like the woman who had taken him away from you, and more like his true father, like you. Helpless as he was enlisted in the Atlantean army that you had fought all these years. Furious as he became the protege of the King, the man who had known all along who he was, yet had offered to him anyway. Your son, the sidekick of your worst enemy, wearing his sigil when it should have been yours. The thought of it made you sick. And it only got worse from there. With the forming of the sidekick team, it brought your son to the attention of your new bosses. You bit your tongue as you were assigned to missions you knew would bring him into conflict with you. You couldn't even appreciate that he had become leader of this team, because he should have never been there in the first place. YOUR SON SHOULD HAVE BEEN WITH YOU. WITH HIS FATHER. Every time he suffered, so did you. Your son was a kind gentle soul who didn't hold things against people. But you surely would. And you took out your frustrations on his team mates whenever you could. You almost broke the archer's leg once. You blasted Aquagirl as hard as you possibly could without killing her (no, that would come later, but not by your hands). Though you could never hurt your son too much when you fought. Years passed, and eventually he came to face you once more. It had been mere weeks since Aquagirl's death and righteous anger burned inside him. It both surprised and pleased you. And you became careless, dare you might even say, you had underestimated him. You were almost glad when he managed to loosen your helmet, revealing the truth that had been hidden from him all those years. In the midst of your fight of both words and punches, of unspoken anger and unshed tears, you offered to him the chance to join you. He refused. You had expected as much. But it still angered you all the same. It made his sudden acceptance not much later all the more surprising. Looking back you should have been more suspicious of his change of heart and while you acted like you were for your bosses sake, you accepted it all the same. No, you wanted to accept it. You wanted to believe, and how foolish was that? That Black Manta, notorious underwater pirate and mercenary, would have shed his misconceptions and blindly believed such a fabrication. Though you would never admit it, the months that followed were some of the happiest you had had in a long time, despite how distant both you and him were. The mentality drilled into him from a young age was both a blessing and a curse. He was a perfect soldier in battle, yet an emotionally stunted young man out of it who wouldn't open up to you. You became accustomed to watching from afar again, noting the odd glances he would give you as you reached out to him, and the changes in his personality as the months passed. Again, you cataloged these things about him, and watched him succeed in every mission. Which eventually lead to the Cape Canaveral mission. And how your kind and selfless son had become a brutal angry murderer. So just like you then. And yet why did that fill you with such sadness? You struggled to give him such meaningful advice with each encounter, you didn't want your son to lose himself in the desire for both his revenge, and yours. You suppose, in the end, you got that half-hearted wish. The months that follow blurred into each other. The introduction of your son's right hand, Tigress. The Martian Witch's attack. The nights spent by his bedside, in the very room he had been born in two decades previously, pain and anger blending into this mass of pure rage that you couldn't quell. The Martian's capture and subsequent fixing of your son. Sportsmaster. Cheshire. Artemis. And how the obvious deception hurt far more then you would ever admit. Your son, who bent over backwards for people who had mistrusted and broken him, but never for you. ("I am sorry.") Why couldn't he see how much you cared for him?! ("I never meant to hurt you.") Why did he have to be so selfishly selfless? ("But I cannot follow you.") A father only wants what's best for their child ("No, you want what's best for you.") but he would never want that for himself. ("I am my own person, defined by my own choices. Not Aquaman's. And not yours.") And that brings you to the photo that remains hidden, that you can't bring yourself to look at even as memories start to fade. Perhaps because deep down you know you should have never taken it. Because your son was never yours in the first place.