It is a beautiful ceremony.
Atlantean weddings are not unlike those on the surface world – they have a bride and a groom and a promise and a kiss, followed by a lively celebration; families and friends of the betrothed gather, and music is played, and the occasion brings about great joy, at least for most.
There are differences too. Most Atlanteans do not call upon any god to bless the occasion, and the one officiating the ceremony need not be a member of any religious order – in this case, it is Queen Mera presiding, with great pride. Furthermore, formal dress is different in Atlantis than it is up above. Tula wears no sweeping gown of heavy fabric, but a gossamer shift of cerulean the very shade of her eyes, cinched with an intricate golden belt at her slender waist; her arms and feet are bare, and the rich yellow ribbons upon her wrists and ankles trail through the water to create delicate shapes with the shifting currents. Garth wears a simple tunic of deep blue. They both look stunning.
Kaldur wears his old military uniform, the only formal Atlantean garment he still has after so many years on the surface. He stands at Garth's side and watches Tula's father escort her down the shell-strewn aisle, returning the cautious smile she offers him with a reassuring nod. He has told them many times, and it is true: he is happy for them.
As the ceremony proceeds, Kaldur finds his mind drifting. At one time, these were his best friends in the world, the only two he trusted with his doubts, his dreams, his secrets, but time and distance and the life he leads have pulled him away over the years. He knows his role in their wedding is more than a formality. But all the same, he can't help but feel removed from it, as though he is spectating from within, looking in on something that is happening in some distant reality completely unrelated to his own. He hardly notices when Mera finishes her final speech, when his friends embrace one another and share their first kiss of married life; only the cheers of their families and friends pull him from his reverie.
At the reception, Garth seeks him out, claps his shoulder, thanks him yet again for taking the time away from the team to be with them on this special day. Kaldur reassures his old friend that it is a welcome respite, and congratulates him for what feels like the thousandth time. But when he urges Garth to go join his bride in greeting their many well-wishers, the dark-haired boy (no – a man, not a boy any longer) turns to him and hesitates.
"You seem withdrawn, Kaldur," he says at last, frowning. "Is…something troubling you?"
Kaldur forces a smile, realizing he is not playing his part correctly.
"Forgive me," he says. "My thoughts are straying, when they should be here with you and Tula. It is nothing."
Garth is silent a moment, watching Kaldur's face as if deciding whether or not to say something.
"If…if you still harbor feelings for – "
" – I do not," interrupts Kaldur gently. He looks Garth in the eye to convey his sincerity. "It has been a very long time since those days, my friend, and my happiness for the two of you is genuine."
"I am glad to hear it," says Garth, the relief visible on his face; Kaldur wonders how long he has been worrying about this. Garth lays a hand on his shoulder and and smiles. "I'm sure the woman for you is waiting just around the corner, Kaldur'ahm."
"We will see," Kaldur says with a small smile, lowering his eyes. "But tonight is your night. You should be with Tula, old friend, not with me. Go on."
Garth clasps Kaldur's arms gratefully and disappears back into the throng to rejoin his bride at the edge of the dance floor. Kaldur watches him reach her, sees him sweep her onto the floor as the music begins to well up, hears the crowd go silent in wordless appreciation of the meaning of this first dance, and feels a pang when he realizes that this silence will never fall for him.
Atlanteans are a traditional people, even more so than surface-dwellers, who have fear and hatred enough for what they don't understand. If any of the people gathered here tonight ever learned of what he has done, of what he has become, he would doubtless be banished from Atlantis without a second thought. The crowds that bear witness to love like Kaldur's are angry and violent, not loving and supportive like this one. No, Kaldur knows better than to tell his friends or his king or his mother or anyone the truth.
So from the edge of the crowd, he watches Garth's hand on the small of Tula's back, firm and gentle and guiding as they move through the dance, and he thinks of Roy's fingers, callused and strong as they trace his body in the safety of the darkness, the shrouded harbor of the night.
He watches Tula's eyes, shining with love and emotion as she clasps her groom close and moves with him, and he thinks of Roy's gaze, calculatedly cold as they lock eyes from across a room of people who will never know what such a look means.
He looks around, sees all these glad-faced people brimming with happiness for the young couple, and thinks of the way Roy still seeks out Jade every so often, still kisses her and brings her home to lie with her in their bed so that no one will suspect he and Kaldur are anything more than friends and flatmates. He thinks of the many hours he has spent lying awake in the room next door and trying not to hear the rustling of the sheets or the groaning of the bedsprings or Jade's breathless gasps through the thin barrier of the wall.
Turning away from the dance, Kaldur slips away and disappears into the crowd. These people are mostly strangers to him now, after so much time away on the surface; no one stops him as he makes for the exit, leaving the party behind.
Or perhaps everyone is a stranger to him these days. That is the price of secrets, after all, and Neptune knows he has enough of them.
But every time Kaldur tries to imagine life without those scattered moments of hushed tenderness – deep kisses stolen in empty rooms, passion shared in the dead of night when the blinds are shut and the neighbors are sleeping, loving words exchanged in a murmur when the television is loud enough to mask the sound – a frigid emptiness takes him, and all color seems to drain from the world. He would give it up if he could, but while they can still play this game and fool everyone else, he cannot bring himself to walk away.
A hand descends on his shoulder, startling him. He turns back from the doorway to see Mera's kind face, sympathetic and knowing.
"Don't worry, Kaldur'ahm," she tells him as both their glances trail back to Garth and Tula, who are finishing up their dance. "You'll find her soon enough."
Kaldur smiles a perfectly-acted smile, bows to his queen.
"Patience is a virtue, Your Majesty," he says, and slips away into the open ocean.