Dance was in the water ahead of Seung, swimming hard in the other direction away from the truck, back up toward the clinic dock.
Seung wasted some moments getting his ribs to work again, whooping for air, and then he was after Dance, driving that tail as hard as it would go and scraping his way through dead branches he would have gone around before. He roared, coming up for air.
Dance was out of the water, on the dock.
He flung himself up on the dock after Dance so hard that he overcompensated and rolled off the far side, diving all anyhow into the water again. When he got his face up and spluttered away the water and got some air again, he saw Dance’s shadow on the dock, and he heaved himself up on the boards with a push of his tail, panting. Dance stepped back, pivoting, and Seung saw other people crowded back behind Dance, as if he was protecting them from Seung’s temper, which only made him angrier. He roared at Dance, which made the other naga flinch at the punishment to his ears. Dance said something, but Seung was so deafened by his own racket he couldn’t hear any of it. Seung flunt out his tail, and didn’t even feel the impact when Dance’s tail parried it and slipped by, whizzed past it, tapped him on the back and overbalanced him over into the pond again.
When he came up again his mouth was full of algae and flat, muddy pond water, and he spit it out with a grimace, and breathed hard, hanging onto a piling. Now Dance was down there in the water with him, too, poised behind him, as if he was going to draw Seung away from the people up there above by any means he had to. Seung couldn’t hear any of them, even though they were all yelling. Well, everybody except Dance himself. He turned, glared at Dance.
Seung didn’t even feel the jolt in his muscles as he started to move. He was lunging at Dance. What he did feel was Dance’s tail shifting and his weight arching up perfectly, rolling both of them up and backward. They crashed awkwardly in the water, thrashing together, and they banged into tree branches, thumping around.
Then Dance was limp in his grip, dangling loosely.
A heartbeat, two, and Seung was dragging the other naga to the surface, pushing the man’s head up for air. Dance responded. Dance took a big gasp of air. But that was all. His body hung loose. His eyes rolled unfocussed, he was dead weight in Seung’s arms.
“What is wrong?” Seung demanded, and his brother’s eyes just blinked at him, mouth open. But Dance was breathing all right. “Blink twice for yes, once for no. Did you hit your head?”
Dance blinked once.
There was movement, and Seung looked around, and then he relaxed.
Drin had swum up tot he nagas. The big freckled guy squinted at Seung, swiped water out of his eyes, then his ears, and gestured a question at Seung.
Drin made finger-counting gestures with his free hand, and tapped his ear. He repeated the counting gesture. He seemed to be asking for them to wait until they could hear again.
Judging from the silent glare he got from Dance, somebody was going to be having a heated little discussion about all that when everybody got back home. Drin drifted over closer, arm outstretched until he can reach them. “Did you hear something odd?” Drin asked, grasping a branch near them.
“No,” Seung said.
Dance blinked twice.
“You are making me very angry,” Seung said in the rudest possible Russian, and Drin smiled a little, as if he’d heard plenty of those words before.
Then Drin frowned, cupped his hands together with part of them in the water, and he made a soft whistling sound. Then another one, and still another. With great concentration, he slowly whistled a series of notes.
Dance’s body arched up backward in Seung’s grip, and then he curled up forward in a fetal position, and he started gagging, and Seung hastily shoved him over so Dance could hold onto to the support of a branch while Dance heaved up everything he ate that morning.
When he recovered a little, Dance gasped, blinking at them both. “What the hell–“
“Those are generic control notes. That last bit was a variation on the handler’s release.”
“You can–” Dance panted, “You can just knock me down–”
Drin smiled at him. “Yes, I can. If I can get to you in time. As fast as you guys are?”
“But I not fall down,” Seung objected.
“Yours will be different,” Drin said.
Dance said a few rude things in Korean which made Seung blink at him in surprise.
“Yeah,” Drin said.
“Why–” Dance said, still breathing hard.
“I didn’t realize until I’d done it,” Drin said. He put out his hand toward Dance. Dance deflected it with an angry swat of one hand. Drin let go of the branch, and swam away in that human-slow crawl that he used. He headed off away from the dock. Dance drifted along in his wake, looking furious. Seung followed them too, while Drin led them far enough away from the dock that people there wouldn’t hear them if they spoke quietly, and it took him long enough that by then their hearing had finally recovered enough for whispers.
“Any turtles or gators along here?” Drin panted, hanging off a log protruding out of the muddy bank.
Dance wiped his hair back out of his eyes. “I don’t feel any close. There’s a big wallow by that tree right under your feet, but the big snapper is gone right now. All the yelling, maybe.”
“Shit,” Drin said, curling up his knees to his chest as close as he could, and making a wry face.
“I’ll let you know if it comes,” Dance said.
Seung drifted up, tail gripping a branch underwater. “You not worry, we not hurt you. I not hurt you,” he said to Drin, with dignity.
“Thank you,” Drin said, with equal dignity, and that made Dance grind his teeth, which somehow pleased Seung.
Seung said, “You do it to stop me. You make me think Dance is hurt. We fight under this water too long, yes?”
They both blinked at him.
“Yeah,” Dance said, rubbing his skull with one hand. Then he smacked Drin, pushed him. “You can’t help it either, yes? I am betting you have that– that stuff built in.”
“Probably,” Drin said.
“Is the vomiting also?” Dance said, still furious.
“I assume so, to slow you down.”
“Not stop me go killing Mike,” Seung said flatly.
“You must not. It would be murder, and Tee has him in custody now. We have got to get answers out of him,” Drin said, just as flatly, meeting Seung’s gaze.
The flush of rage along Seung’s shoulders, down his spine, along his arms, made him want to strike out. He bared his front teeth and snarled.
Drin held up a hand, palm flat. “I know, believe me, I do. I’ve got to think past it myself. We have to ask the smart questions, get Mike to roll over on the guy giving the orders.”
Seung roared, and felt something pop outward in his head, and then he shuddered to a halt, looking his clone in the eye, with their tails locked together.
“Please not fighting, Older Brother,” Dance said quietly in Korean. “I beg you. Please.”
Seung gripped hard on the other man’s tail, feeling no fight there, only passive resistance. He jerked away, releasing Dance’s tail, and roared again.
Dance winced, tail tip and hand cradling his ears while the other hand gripped tree branches. He looked like he had a bad headache.
“You stop me,” Seung said to Dance. “Not good.”
“You meant to chase the truck and take Mike out and tear him to little pieces,” Dance said, a little too loudly, and Drin made a hushing gesture with his free hand, dripping.
“Ye-eessss,” Seung said, puzzled.
“Tee is a sheriff,” Dance said.
“Yes,” Seung said, still puzzled.
“You can’t just– you must not take a prisoner away from him!”
“Why not? Mike not a prisoner. No chains. No duct tape. He sit up. He talk. He not prisoner. Prisoner not able go on arguing.”
They both looked at him.
“Well, shit,” Drin said. “If that’s how things go where Seung’s from– yeah, I get it. We aren’t letting Mike get loose, I promise.”
Seung just shook his head. “Mike talking.”
“Because Tee Pom doesn’t beat up his prisoners,” Dance said impatiently.
“Oh?” Seung said, with a wealth of disbelief in his voice.
Dance pointed a finger at him. “You’re different. And he didn’t beat you, I did. I only beat you up to help, you know that now.”
Seung snorted, making a face. “Some help!”
“You’re welcome,” Dance said sarcastically, glaring at him.
Seung glared right back.
There was a moment of silence, and then Drin smiled unbearably at them both. “No killing each other, boys.”
There was a harmony of snarling nagas for a moment, silly hissing and snarling growls like tomcats, only louder, which made Drin turn away to hide his smile.
“You know Tee Pom picked up Mike in official custody in his truck,” Drin said, sobering.
“Why did he have to drive past right there?” Dance demanded.
Drin wiped off his wet face with a wet hand, gave a shrug that he didn’t know why, and sighed. “God, this pond tastes bad.”
Both nagas looked at him flatly.
“Okay, it tastes really horrible,” Drin said.
“Oh, this isn’t bad compared to–” Dance waved off southeast, int he general direction of the sea, and New Orleans.
“Is pisshole,” Seung said.
Dance looked at him. “So what happens when Tee drives back to hand him off to Fozzie again? You know Fozzie’s the only one who’ll stand bail for Mike around here–”
“–and then God knows what he’ll do with him,” Drin finished it, grimly.
“Fozzie is his boss, his great friend,” Seung snarled.
Drin looked at Seung. “Oh no. No. Mike betrayed his trust. Mike betrayed everybody when Mike handed you over to bug troops. Fozzie has to show everybody exactly what happens when you do that. It was Fozzie’s crew who ran Mike to ground, and Fozzie handed him over to Tee Pom for arrest.”
“But why? Why did Fozzie do that?” Dance asked then, frowning.
“He probably didn’t want to lose his temper and kill Mike. He probably wanted somebody new to ask questions, to keep up the pressure on Mike, make sure Mike didn’t rest,” Drin said, dryly. “Fozzie has a bad, bad temper when you really roust him like that. As in, old-fashioned logging camp bad temper, not police rules and regulations like Tee Pom has to go by.”
Seung looked at them, and for some reason he believed them. Frustrated, he bared his fangs. “Kill Mike! He should die.”
“Oh, stop being so impatient,” Drin said, and his eyes were the coldest tiger-yellow predatory eyes that Seung had ever seen in his life.
Even Dance looked a little surprised, eyebrows lifting high. “So you think Fozzie is not letting Mike die that easy–”
“No. Oh no. Well, Seung doesn’t know Fozzie that well. So let me lay it out, here. Seung, if you attacked Tee Pom and took his prisoner away, and the guy died during the escape, yeah, Mike will die. Big deal. I’m sure that’s going to happen, one way or another. If Fozzie gets his way, Mike’s going to have a long rough ride first. Tee’s a brave guy, he knows the risks hauling Mike around the bayou. Lots of people pissed off right now. Somebody might shoot Tee Pom trying to get at Mike. But it doesn’t have to be you doing it,” Drin says, glaring into Seung’s eyes. “You hurt or kill a local sheriff? Out here? Do you want Keisha and Peach to live on the run the rest of their lives? That’s what will happen.”
Seung stared at him, shocked. “No!”
“Think about it,” Drin said, with those cold, logical eyes. “All right, you got the picture, lecture done. C’mon, guys, let’s get out of the water, get cleaned up.”
Seung shook his head violently, arching up higher in the water, ready for an argument. “I want to kill Mike! It is nothing, nothing!” he told both men.
“I think Keisha’s calling you,” Drin said quietly.
Seung jerked his head around, horrified. He’d been hearing her voice. He just didn’t notice it before.
That shocked him cold. He pushed away from the branches, dropped lower in the water, driving his tail in s-curves, to get to her and hug her very hard, soaking her shirt and shorts.