The oceans, even for those born there, were considered vast and could be terrifying and dangerous. For Tony, however, the exploration and danger was part of the excitement. He knew he wasn’t the only leviathan to exist and he wasn’t the only Touched out there, either.
The goddess of the oceans hadn’t Touched many, but there were enough of them to ward what they were tasked to protect. For him, that was a large swath of waters that would eventually minimize when he found a mate.
He was sure that somewhere there were others like him, others protecting Her waters and the many creatures living in it, but he’d not met many.
He didn’t know if that was because they’d chosen to avoid him, or because they’d been separated by such a vast distance. He simply knew - knowledge of that was buried deep in his memories, from a time before he really existed and was aware.
So he explored. He hunted. He searched the depths and the shallows alike, though he wasn’t entirely sure what he sought. A mate, he often thought. Someone to ease the burden of loneliness in his existence. Now and then he thought he’d found someone but something usually went wrong.
It had been like this for a long time. He couldn’t speak to how old he was precisely as the concept of age became irrelevant after a point, but he knew it felt like forever that he’d been hunting and searching like this.
This hunt brought him somewhere colourful and lovely. It was shallower there than many of his destinations - warm and bright, and full of delicious, sparkling little fish that would serve as an enjoyable snack. But tiny little snacks as they were, they weren’t going to be of any use to ebb the hunger that had begun to gnaw at him. What caught his attention was a larger mammal a little ways away from its pod - a dolphin, chasing some fish of its own.
The abyss cradled the wild beast in its solitary expanse, the glow of a verdant scape beyond the stray mammal almost silhouetting it as Tony drew closer, his presence masked by the veil of the depths.
Not only had he been blessed with a fine meal, but he'd also found something even more exciting than that. A trove amidst the murky depths, a kingdom by its own definitions as brilliant colours sundered the murky blue and brilliant hues of bright aqua and green splashed with schools of red and magenta - all colours of the rainbow combining to form a life-giving and prospering reef.
Here was food, and beyond that lay hope as he stalked the mammalian closer to the reef's edge where schools of bright chromatic fish in numbers of thousands flitted with the waves of the tide. Onward he ventured from the dark depths, creeping up the side of the walls, his dark red and black form slinking undetected as he blended in with the dark crag, all the bright rich creams and cyans of his palette cloaked against the crag as he ascended nearer to the surface.
Fans of ornate coral, round and fibonaccian-fractal inspired orientation in nature, plumes of anthropocene spires bubbling from the depths down below neighboured by bright orange sponges and clownfish littered the reef the nearer he crawled.
This was the most life he'd seen in decades, and as he peeked over the ridge to follow the dolphin's vector, he realized the cluster of blooming land almost seemed to stretch for miles.
Tony was the largest of the creatures here, by far. His body a blunder alongside the delicate sea life that he almost felt guilty about interfering with as he ripped through it. Regardless, he dispatched himself from the ground and as the dolphin caught sight of him he gave chase.
The leviathan launched himself through the currents, weaving into the miniature slipstreams that bolstered his speed and in mere moments he surrounded the dolphin, the tentacles wrapping around the poor mammal and he sunk his teeth into it.
A cloud of crimson bloomed in the reef and the dolphin let out a shriek as it breathed its last breath and the leviathan began to feast, tearing into it's mottled and oily flesh.
A light caught his eye briefly through the cloud of blood and he was nearly too late to respond when the light seemed to shoot towards him through the water, leaving him to twist quickly out of the way, temporarily abandoning his meal to seek out his assailant. His own cape of tentacles twisted towards the assailant only for a sharp pain to spike through it as it seized, retracting in against his body in agony as Tony tried to get a better look at what had attacked him.
His remaining tentacles caught the creature but his eyes were dragged away from sorting out what had attacked him by a pair of fascinating glowing lights. He knew what it was, he knew what it was doing to him as his vision blurred, but it still took him time to shake his head and fill the water with ink as he retreated away into safety.
The lights were considerably duller and less trance-like hidden away in the ink and Tony took a moment to collect himself before feeling a sharp pain in his arm - he was still too close to the creature that had attacked and apparently the ink hadn’t quite prevented his assailant from locating him. He continued to shift away in the water, watching the lights carefully as he held to his arm and attempted not to make any noise that would signal his discomfort, but it sure fucking hurt!
He needed to finish this quickly before whatever had attacked him got any more bright ideas. He was lucky he had as many appendages as he did or he would’ve been dead in the water for whatever the hell this thing was. It took a little time to summon up mucus and maneuver himself, but he caught the creature in the slime, watching the pale, gently glowing form writhe and wriggle in the membranous sheet of webbing and give an alarmed noise as the wriggling caused the snare to hold him tighter.
“Gotcha,” Tony chimed, content with his work, though the moment he moved in towards the creature’s neck it called out.
The pain coursed through him suddenly and violently. It felt as though he was being torn in two and his blood was on fire. He curled tightly into himself, bundling his tentacles in a protective cocoon around his body as he whimpered in pain.
Tony clenched his eyes shut, the vision of what he saw only strobed visuals in his head as all he remembered explicitly was the bright glowing body of the creature that had stung him senseless.
He couldn't move, muscles tensed to the point where he thought they would either shatter his bones with how violently they seized or the muscle itself would melt right off. He howled in agony, twitching and growling.
"W-what the hell..." He croaked attempting to open his eyes once more but the pain was simply too much.
"What are you doing in the reef?" A deep voice that belied the bright figure spoke and Tony couldn't muster up the vocal capacity to respond. He simply grunted as the pain grew worse by the second.
"You don't have long to live, I suggest you speak now," the voice commanded again but Tony couldn't manage more than a whimper and the start of a rasped out whisper.
He couldn't take it, it was too much. He sat there suspended in spot for minutes longer in silence, not a word more from his assailant as everything around him began to go black.
The last thing he felt before that happened was an inferno lighting up his bloodstream and the faint sensation of being moved or tugged along by one of his tentacles before he lost complete and absolute cognitive abilities and passed out from the searing pain.
Something kept prying at him, trying to unfurl him from his tightly wound ball but all he could feel was pain, sand, and the pressure of whatever was trying to expose him. He didn’t want to unwind. Everything hurt. Everything burned and he hated it.
“You have to let me in,” a gentle voice whispered as hands soothed over his tentacles, trying to convince him to come out of his ball. “I can’t get the poison out unless you let me access the wound…”
He didn’t know if he did what was asked or not before the blackness overtook him again.
The next time he sensed anything he could swear there were lips against his flank, kissing and sucking at the spot that seemed to continue to burn agonizingly. It might’ve been nice if everything didn’t still hurt, but he hid his torso in his tentacles and whimpered despite himself as the darkness took over again.
The leviathan's vision blurred, he looked down and saw that familiar light where gentle fingers handled his tentacles as he let them go slack, the large leathery appendages moved from his torso to reveal his cream-coated chest.
"Heh, my lips are over here if you want a taste..." Even in pain the leviathan still managed to crack a joke. As those lips continued to, what Tony could assume, siphon out the poison. He was able to get a better view of the pastel-coloured creature at his side soon enough.
The other figure seemed to pause, looking at him and frowning at the comment.
This had to be a Touched, Tony was sure of it. His instincts were firing and telling him that this was somehow something he'd been looking for as the slightly focused figure seemed to become clearer.
"I've removed most of the poison but there's still much in your system," the voice spoke softly just above a whisper, it was soothing and helped to take the edge off of the pain.
"And why didn't you get the rest?" Tony grumbled, a tentacle idly trying to wrap around his core out of instinct.
The other figure moved it aside again and he groaned, feeling helpless, he hated it
"I don't trust you," came the words from the other Touched.
"If I help you, how do I know you won't try to kill me or eat me?"
Tony grimaced. "I won't, just get this poison out of me-"
Tony growled out of frustration at the demand, in too much pain to keep fighting, and something hovered in his peripheral with pensive movements.
"Alright, I promise - help me, just..." He groaned and as he went to curl back up, he was once again forced to lay down flat.
The other figure seemed to hesitate a moment despite the admission.
“You… were the one who attacked me…” Tony felt the need to remind the other as he hissed in pain some, wincing at the glow of the other’s veil in his face. The other’s frown deepened as the Touched shifted anxiously in his spot, looking at something outside of Tony’s line of sight before sighing heavily.
“Remember. You promised,” the Touched responded before he bowed his head again to press to the wound, spitting out some of the tainted blood moments later. “It will take some time. Rest as much as you can.”
“I can’t rest. Everything hurts. And you keep talking,” the leviathan grumbled as he tried to get feeling into some of his weakened, numb limbs.
He felt heavy and it was a struggle to move anything in particular. Rest sounded great, but without being in so much pain he was passing out, it was considerably harder to rest - and he still hurt everywhere, even the pleasant sensation of the stranger’s lips on his skin didn’t come without aching.
“You gonna tell me your name?” he inquired of his captor and the other raised his head to spit out the tainted blood once again, giving him an unimpressed look.
“I think saving your life is a more important thing I ought to be doing with my mouth than introducing myself.”
“... I mean, I could think of a few other things you could be doing with it…” Tony mumbled to himself, and the Touched rolled his eyes before lowering his head once again. “Laying like this isn’t comfortable…”
The other didn’t respond to that as he continued his work, before sitting up and rubbing a salve over the wound he’d been working at, giving Tony a look of annoyance. “Do you ever stop talking?”
“... when I’m hunting.”
“So when you’re quiet I should anticipate an attack. That’s good to know.”
“I promised I wouldn’t attack you,” Tony whined a little, wincing automatically as he saw the glowing tendrils that surrounded the Touched rise.
“Relax. I’ll help you sleep.”
"A name-" Tony grumbled defiantly. "If it makes you feel better, I'll have trouble killing something with a name," he tried to quip.
"You already gave me your word," the Touched narrowed his eyes, he once again seemed to be trying to communicate with something out of his periphery.
"I did, but this is insurance," Tony offered, the corner of his mouth weakly turning up into a wry smile.
"If it gets you to cooperate and shut up, it's Stephen," he reached for what looked like some sort of leech or sea-slug and gently placed it over the open wound causing Tony to yelp a little.
"I think I liked your lips better than whatever that is," he hissed, regarding the leech on his leg. "I'm… Tony."
As if that was all the leviathan was holding onto before finding respite he seemed to relax some. He didn't know why but the lights on Stephen's tendrils all the sudden seemed that much more alluring as they swayed above him. They lit up, flickering softly, his eyes following them, glued to them and before he knew it he was once again falling into darkness. Body heavy, breathing evened out, eyes shut and this time his tendrils lay slack all around him like withered plants.
The leviathan seemed to be stabilized, the leech suckling at Tony's flank as he slept. As it gorged itself until sated, it was replaced with another until Stephen removed it and applied a salve. The process would need to be repeated, to draw up the poison and have it coagulate. When Tony woke, the blood would circulate properly and he would need to go through the motions once more, and again until the toxins were completely removed from his body.
Stephen glanced at Levi, looking over the sleeping Touched with a sigh. “I’m not entirely sure what I’m supposed to do with this,” he gestured to the sleeping leviathan with a frown. “I wasn’t going to just let him die.”
His fingers dug into the sand around them to gently layer some of the warm, soft grains over Tony’s tail, tucking him in and building a little nest around him to help him stay comfortable as he examined the creature uncertainly. “I would’ve felt bad. I already feel bad I didn’t get to the dolphin in time to save her…”
The massive ray that he’d been conversing with seemed to shake in his spot, displeased by his response before he settled over Stephen’s shoulders and simply draped there protectively, allowing the scarred, shaking hands of the Touched to brush over him gently. “Thank you for coming to my aid, regardless. I had no idea what his intentions were, there was just… blood in the water.”
His tail curled around him some as he looked the sleeping man over, tilting his head as he watched the other breathe. “I hate the idea of letting anything die, you know that. If I could just dump him off somewhere else as he was and know he wouldn’t be torn apart, I would. But that’s as good as killing him.”
The ray shuddered around him and Stephen simply shook his head and shuffled over to where his own temporary nest was. “I’m trusting you to keep an eye on him while I rest. It won’t be long, I’m sure but… in case he wakes before I do.”
The leviathan woke once again, this time to a dark cave. It was night in the ocean, barely dusk and Tony managed to crawl himself up along the wall. It had been a restless night of cold, weaving in and out of consciousness here and there and he had to run a couple of fingers over the sting mark in his flank. His body no longer ached and his blood felt it was likewise no longer on fire, albeit the wound was still sensitive and burned just as strongly when touched.
The bright blue mark on his chest shone brighter and he looked around the dwelling first to notice he'd been buried up to his tail along with his tendrils. Someone had covered him in the sand, built him a nest, and he could only assume it was his 'captor'.
Speaking of which-
Tony turned to seek the glowing touched out, turning and dusting the sand off of his body only to be face-to-face with the giant stingray. It hovered quietly and motionlessly in front of him, but there was no doubt the thing was watching him like a hawk. He caught a glimpse of the Touched slumbering soundly behind the ray, his beautiful, almost ethereal frills flowing like cloth in the wind as it caught the tiniest movements of the ocean currents around it.
The leviathan craned his neck to look beyond the ray but it moved to even divest him of gazing at the slumbering Touched.
"Jeez, I'm not going to do anything, I get the point," he spoke quietly, minding the other who he could only assume was sleeping. There was no response from the ray as it hovered closer.
"You mind backing up? There is a thing called personal space you know," Tony tried to move around Levi and the ray reared back and lifted its stinger.
The leviathan let out a sigh. "I guess I must have you to thank for this handiwork." Tony gestured to his flank. "I've been searching the waters for others like me, and I've found one, a strong one at that. You have to imagine a little ol' leviathan like me gets lonely from time to time." There was no response from Levi as Tony yammered away at the ray.
"One of the strongest Touched, by far… I plan to make him mine." He grinned a little impishly, "and I'm not going to let you get in the way pal." Tony jabbed a finger into the ray's belly and it nudged the stinger closer to him as if warning him once more.
Tony knew he couldn't be heard by the Touched, he also knew the ray had been instructed not to harm him - why else would he have been recovered, and who else would Stephen have been talking to while he was incapacitated about 'not killing him.'
Though if the ray decided to act of its own accord, regardless of the other's wishes, it was an entirely different story altogether.
The ray continued to watch him, not limiting his movement entirely but twisting in its spot and adjusting to block him from almost any view of the other Touched he could try to get. It was nearly half an hour of bickering with the thing and trying to outmaneuver it before a quiet noise drew the ray away from him as the other creature in the cavern woke, and the ray draped itself over his back like a cloak as he sat up.
The Touched didn’t seem to realize Tony was there, running his fingers over the leathery flesh of the ray in a gentle greeting. Stephen gave off a gentle, comforting glow that seemed to pulse a little, illuminating the area some now that he was awake.
“Good morning, dear friend,” he greeted absently, nestling against the ray without worry. “How is our company doing today…?”
As Tony watched from a spot near the ceiling, the Touched glanced at where the little nest he’d been in was before sitting up swiftly and with alarm, shooting a look around the cavern before spotting him, his body immediately becoming considerably tenser.
“... better, I see.” The warmth had left his tone, filling with something less friendly as he watched the leviathan as though he was some kind of predator.
Which was fair. But Tony wasn’t after him. Not like that.
"Not entirely," he responded with a matter-of-fact tone. "My tail is still in pain but I think I'm mostly recovered." Tony started as if expecting Stephen to come back over and suck on his flank again. "Good morning to you too by the way," he added after the fact.
Stephen continued to remain tense, slowly making his way over as if dutybound to check on the leviathan. There was a moment where the two locked eyes and Tony watched, waiting for Stephen, the ray on his back looking like it was ready to dislodge itself at any moment to attack him.
"Thank you, by the way," the words almost sounded a little sarcastic. He could have chosen to be more aggressive considering he still felt some resentment for the sting but this was the best outcome possible for the situation.
Stephen didn't say anything as he leaned over to inspect the sting mark on Tony's flank, pressing his lips to the wound to draw out more of the poison that the salve had pulled to the surface. The Touched seemed focused on his task as Tony lightly reached out to him out of habit to touch the veil on his head - soft, jelly-like, just as expected.
Stephen immediately withdrew giving him a look.
"What?" Tony furrowed his brows.
"I expect that you'll be on your way once you're better."
"Unlikely," the Leviathan responded with a grin.
"You said you would-"
"I know what I said, but I never agreed to leave."
"What could you possibly want from staying around the reef?"
Tony's grin widened. "Well, food for one - I'm famished because I haven't eaten since you and your lovely companion here stung me until I almost died." The Touched didn't respond.
"And a mate," he added confidently.
“A mate.” It wasn’t a question as the other echoed him, watching with suspicion as he withdrew out of tentacle-reach and narrowed his eyes some beneath his veil. “I doubt you’ll find anything like that here. There are no other Touched in this area. I may be able to at least find you something to eat, but I won’t continue to provide for you once you’re well. This reef is mine to protect and if it isn’t clear, I don’t take kindly to strangers, or blood being spilled in my territory.”
"I've already found one." Tony hinted playfully and he moved a little closer, though he made no attempts to reach for Stephen, giving the other his space. "You’re a strong, beautiful specimen… I don't expect you to provide for me, but you are impressive and you are exactly what I've been searching for. I've been scouring the depths for someone like you."
“I would highly recommend that you continue scouring the depths. Elsewhere. I’m not looking for a mate,” Stephen stated blandly, though there was no missing the way the Touched scanned him quickly, analyzing the leviathan thoughtfully before looking away. “And you don’t know anything about me to make any such assessments.”
"I know enough that you are a formidable adversary, beautiful in every way that I can see, nurturing... You would make a fine guardian for my spawn, we would raise strong healthy brood together. I, on the other hand, can offer protection, affection, kinship - I've scoured the vast oceans far and wide and I won't be turned away so easily." The leviathan stated proudly. "I could help you guard the reef..."
“You’re a terrible listener and don’t take others’ wants into consideration,” Stephen retorted, the gentle, slow, soothing pulsing of his lights seeming to become a little more frantic. “I don’t know you and there are a variety of reasons I would be of no use to anyone as a brood mother.”
The pale Touched watched him for a few more moments before he shook his head. “Now rest. Get well. When you are, you’ll have a long journey ahead of you, I’m sure. Away from here. I’ll bring you something to eat shortly,” he added as he turned and made his way out of the cavern that had served as a sleeping spot.
"You should take the chance to get to know me, then it won't be as much of a concern, maybe not be so much of a stranger!" The leviathan commented, staying exactly where he was told to.