Jewels of the Sea

by Kayla

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Disclaimer: While the Buffy gang isn't mine, this universe is. Or, as the books say, "The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to events or people, real or fictional, is purely coincidental." ::snerk::

Notes: Yeah. Ok, you remember 'Sweet Memories' and how I said I wasn't going to do a sequel? And how I said I might expand on some of the past lives? Well...this is one of them.

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X'an deftly plucked the little octopus from its hiding place. With a swift movement, he partially crushed its head with a rock. The creature spasmed a few times, then died. X'an swam with his catch to a large flat rock that was mostly concealed by gently waving fronds of seaweed and ferns.

He settled himself on the rock, tail curled beside him. With a sharp claw, he plucked an eyeball from the octopus and chewed on it thoughtfully.

He felt odd. The pod was in its usual yearly frenzy, and things wouldn't settle down until one of the males finally caught and mated with the matriarch. And B'fi wasn't making the chase easy.

He didn't see what all the fuss was about, personally. B'fi was nice and all, but why such a commotion just because she was in season? X'an shook his head, confused. He nibbled on a tentacle, grinning as a small school of bright silver fish zipped by him. They were safe for the moment; the octopus was enough to slake his hunger.

Sensing movement in the weeds behind him, X'an jerked around. His eyes scanned the covering of plants, trying to pick out what had alerted him.

There. A flash of red. X'an tensed. With a flick of his powerful tail, he launched himself off of the rock, streaming with the fluid grace of a predator through the weeds. This section of the ocean floor was practically a jungle, overgrown with a lush abundance of plantlife. Colorful anemones waved gently at his passing, and he slipped through an opening in the coral.

He pulled up short, fins fluttering to hold him in place. "Hello?"

The smaller male, obviously not one of X'an's pod, bared his teeth, chittering threateningly. His tail moved stiffly, sending him back a few lengths.

X'an's eyes widened at the long, thin scratches that wound their way across the stranger's chest. They crossed over his gills, and disappeared into the bright red of his tail. "Are you...are you all right?"

The merman glared at him, shaking his head to send a cloud of his black hair covering his body. "Go 'way," he rasped out.

"I'm not going to hurt you," X'an said softly, drifting closer to the skittish male. He halted when the spines along the merman's flanks lifted in warning. Then he looked closer. Several of the spines appeared to be damaged, shorter than normal and not tapering to their usual dangerous points. Like they had been broken. "What happened?"

The red and black male gave a high pitched, keening cry that made X'an wince and back away a bit. This only steadied his resolve, though. Determinedly, he began to move in again. This time, he noticed how the other merman's eyes followed the movements of his hand. He looked, realizing that he still held the octopus. Tentatively, he held it out. "Are you hungry? I don't mind sharing."

The male twitched, his mouth dropping open a bit to taste the water. With halting, jerky movements, he drew closer to X'an, drawn by the promise of food. X'an tore off a tentacle and held it out, watching in bemusement as the smaller male snatched it and began to gnaw at it desperately, gulping it down in only a few bites. "More?"

A hesitant nod met this query, and X'an held out another tentacle. "What's your name?" he asked as he watched the second tentacle disappear as quickly as the first.

Cool blue eyes studied him carefully as the last bite was swallowed. "S'ke," he answered after a long moment, then held out a somewhat shaky hand. X'an grinned. He handed over the rest of the octopus, then drifted to the seabed. "I'm X'an," he said. "Why don't I find us something more to eat? And then I want to hear all about where you come from and why you're here."

Still eating hurriedly, S'ke watched the blue-green male swim away, already stalking the unlucky lobster that had scuttled by.

X'an eagerly hunted another treat for the newcomer. He felt rather bad for the strange male; it was obvious he had been on the losing end of some sort of fight. Those scratches weren't from any shark, though. X'an just hoped that it hadn't been one of the other males from his pod, in a rage over the being bested for the matriarch's attentions, that had done the damage to the almost fragile-looking red.

X'an gave a tiny flick of his powerful tail and sped from his hiding place, snatching the lobster and easily digging his claws through the creature's head, killing it. With a triumphant little clacking of his pointed teeth, he bore his prize back to the other merman.

S'ke twitched nervously as the currents warned him of the approaching merman. He moved slowly back into the scant protection of the waving sea ferns. Again he raised his spines, knowing that they wouldn't be much of a deterrent considering the condition they were in.

He relaxed only fractionally when the seemingly friendly blue merman came into view, holding out his freshly caught meal.

X'an approached the rattled S'ke slowly, holding out his peace offering. "You can have it," he said reassuringly, "I don't mind."

S'ke's gaze flickered back and forth between X'an and the delicacy he was offering. His fins waved a bit, propelling him the slightest forward just enough to grab the lobster before it could be snatched away.

X'an watched in amusement as the lobster was quickly and efficiently devoured. It was a matter of seconds before the lobster was gone, nothing but bits of broken shell left floating desolately to the seabed.

S'ke peered up at his benefactor. "Thank you," he whispered, still somewhat leery of this uncharacteristic generosity.

With a shrug, X'an replied, "You looked like you could use it more than me. What happened to you."

S'ke scowled, not looking at X'an. He settled an open patch of seabed, digging his tail into the sand and burrowing a bit. He rolled, wincing a little as the sand ground against his open wounds but relishing the way it scoured his scales clean. He stilled, reaching for a handful of sand and rubbing at the patches he'd missed.

Feeling no animosity over being so casually dismissed, X'an propelled himself towards S'ke. He paused as eyes the color of the lid over Drytop fixed him with an intent gaze. "I can help if you," he volunteered. "I don't think you be able to reach everywhere, not with those wounds." Amazed, he watched as those unusual eyes sparked with bits of color like that of the shimmering little brightfish that darted about in the shallows.

S'ke cocked his head, considering. Finally, he gave a somewhat reluctant nod. He knew it would be difficult to groom properly until he was fully healed. Still, he would be ready should X'an try to cause him any harm.

Slowly, X'an came to a rest beside S'ke, wary of the still-hackled spines. He picked up a handful of rough sand and began to carefully burnish the dull patches of scale along the back of S'ke's tail. He smiled in delight as a deep, almost iridescent red was immediately uncovered.

Endless moments passed as the two worked to groom S'ke, the red eventually becoming more at ease with X'an's attentions. It didn't last for long, though.

"X'an!"

X'an jerked slightly at the imperious call, and he quickly lifted up and swirled around. "A'yo," he said with a sigh. He turned to reassure S'ke, only to find the other merman had vanished, leaving only a trail of lazily waving ferns in his wake. With another sigh, he turned back and swam back to his pod.

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"You shouldn't go off by yourself like that," A'yo remonstrated the sub-male. "One of the elders might catch you and mistake you for a rival. You're not strong enough to fight any of them. And you *know* how R'li gets when he thinks someone is challenging his reigning claim on B'fi."

X'an rolled his eyes. "I wasn't anywhere near the courtship grounds," he responded in annoyance. "I'm not interested in all of that. Besides," he shrugged, "R'li is the dominant. I'm just a sub, not even an elder yet. He knows I'm not a threat."

"I still don't want you going out alone. It's...odd. You should stay with the rest of the pod."

X'an frowned. "I don't want to," he muttered petulantly.

A'yo glared. "You have to stop acting so strange," she informed him crossly. "You should try to fit in better. You don't want to end up a loner with no pod to call home, do you?"

X'an shrugged and taunted a small hermit crab, sending the creature huddling inside its shell.

With a sigh, A'yo gave up the argument. "Come on, the others are going to play tag-the-shark, why don't you come," she cajoled.

X'an shook his head. "I'd rather stay here," he said. "I might go talk with G'lis for a while."

"Fine. Be like that." With a pout, A'yo spun and swam away, flicking her tail dismissively at X'an.

~~~~~~

S'ke huddled in the small cave he'd found, prodding at the broken tips of his spines. He should probably be safe here for a while, and there was a small growth of edible anemones nearby that should sate him for a while. He might even manage to catch a few of the sluggish eels he'd seen moving listlessly through the grasses outside the cave.

He'd be fine as long as the others didn't find him.

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tbc...