More people stood by the houseboat rail, staring and pointing. Emma was out there with her mouth open–talking–and Keisha was just watching, grinning her widest grin.
Seung said, “I’m hungry. Show me simple things here. Mudbugs, yes?”
Dance nodded. “Back this way, wave hello to the nice ladies. Don’t stop.”
Seung waved, and let his tail push his body in lazy s-curves. “Swim feels good,” he yelled up at the people leaning far over the railing.
Next to Dance, something long and thin and dark whipped up out of the water very fast; there was a splash behind them, and he heard Emma yell. “Faster?” Seung said.
“Now, yes,” Dance giggled, and took off.
What distracted him from diving after Dance was the splash of a different, bigger body coming into the water. Drin surfaced and gripped a dock piling midway between them. He was reddened from sun in some places and pale as an oyster in others. He gave a whoop and started swimming.
“Your spanking is coming after you.”
“Worth it,” Dance said, looking back. “Okay, I let him catch up.”
“Hungry,” Seung reminded him.
Dance looked at him, nodded towards the pale man plowing along vigorously toward them, and then pointed at brush hanging over the water. “Wait for the fish. Your skin knows. Don’t think too much. Just listen with your skin.” The sleek dark head dropped lower in the water, and he moved off a little to one side. “Can you hear me moving?”
Seung thought about it. “You are beating grasses underwater.”
Dance grinned. “Excellent. There. I’m driving bottom fish.”
Something brushed, tickled his skin. His tail snapped through the water, and then he got his fingers buried in the thing’s eyes, and the body was flopping violently in the coils of his tail, and he was squeezing down thumbs under the big plates of the gills. It had huge steely scales and a weird mouth and even weirder tail–
“Sturgeon,” Dance said, rising up in the water, and smiling. “Hit the base of the head to mercy-kill it.”
But Seung had already done that very thing, faster than Dance could say the words. His tail tip punched upward, he raked his hands apart. The fish split along either side of the spine as neatly as a filet, the muscles still twisting, and the viscera dropped into the cradle of tight loops of Seung’s tail. His tailtip curled daintily, yanked out the raw spine, and flicked it off tidily into the water. Slowly, he held out the viscera toward his brother. Seung panted, watching Dance’s eyes darken.
Dance was breathing hard too. He jerked his head away, took deep breaths. He waved one hand at the water. “Cook it first,” he said harshly.
“But you want raw right now,” Seung whispered.
Dance flung up both hands. “There’s plenty, they just stocked the pond. I’ll eat.”
“But you never get the right things, you’re always hunting,” Seung said.
“I need more as I’ve got longer,” Dance said, sinking back down in the water.
“As you got longer,” Seung said, shaking his head. “Does it feel weird to say that?”
Dance nodded, looking down at the water. His eyes sought fish movements, tracking shadows automatically. “What feels weird is to be swimming in this bayou grabbing fish with my bare hands. Grabbing nutrias and rabbits and squirrels.” In English, he growled, “I’m a musician, dammit, I play Bach and Mozart and Vivaldi–”
“And you’ll eat rats if you can get them,” Seung said.
“Or anything else,” Dance said wryly. “Radishes, salad greens–”
“Fry it for me, please,” Seung said, and held out the viscera.
Dance’s tail swirled up the mess in some coils, there was a brief puff of smoke and the stink of burnt liver. Then he tumbled it into the coiled bowl of Seung’s tailtip. Seung ate it off his own tail, mumbling a little as he held out the raw fillets to Dance instead.
“Good, huh?” Dance said, eyes still watching the pond.
“It was eating mud and frogs,” Seung said, ecstatic. “This thing is big!”
“Yeah, I didn’t know there were any sturgeons down here. And I don’t know how something that big got past me and Estania. We usually fish this hole pretty bare.”
Dance fried the filleted halves of the sturgeon, too, each in turn. After he handed them back to Seung, Dance licked the crispy burnt leftover parts off his own scales at the lower curves of his own tail. It was something like watching a guy picking crispy bits out of the bacon pan. Or like watching a cute little housecat grooming itself. Too much like Peach. He did not want to think about Dance like that while his brother was talking about the different fish he might catch in this pond. Dance’s accent was so funny. Seung’s style of speech eroded Dance’s fussy old tutor’s precision in Korean, but he sounded still pretty goddamn prissy.
Dance was talking about gar and croppie when he stopped talking, and turned around, frowning, listening to something that Seung couldn’t quite hear yet. What he did hear was the rumble of truck tires on the levee road above. It got loud, vibrating into the water of the pond. The force of it made Seung’s tail jerk in pain.
Dance grimaced. “That doesn’t get better,” he said, and then he was looking up. “Oh fuck–” Seung saw him move, saw Dance come at him in giant hug, but Seung stood there, puzzled, while the smaller naga wound around him like a constrictor.
Seung watched him, concerned, once Dance had his tail wrapped tightly around Seung, pinning his arms to his sides, and crimping Seung’s tail up against his legs.
“Come, explain,” Seung growled, making no movement to use his own tail to peel off the intrusion.
“You’ll get it–” Dance said, glaring up at the bank.
They both heard two familiar voices, shouting at each other in the cab of the truck as it rumbled past.
Tee Pom was yelling at somebody to shut the fuck up.
Mike’s voice persisted in arguing. It was a very distinctive voice.
Seung opened his mouth, and Dance tapped him on the face warningly, making a hushing gesture. His finger pointed for Seung to stay quiet and listen. “Mike,” Seung growled. “Mike who gave Keisha and Peach to bugs–“
Dance nodded, made the hushing gesture again, pointed at the near bank, and when Seung nodded, the other man’s longer tail released Seung.
“My kill,” Seung growled, crouching as he followed Dance.
“No killing yet,” Dance whispered. “Listen first.”
That was when Dance’s human reached them, his slow crawl-style swimming stroke finally brought him level with them. He blew air noisily, he sputtered, he grabbed a branch and reeled himself in to the bank near them, and hung in the water resting.
As the truck drove up, the horn honked, and Drin grinned up and waved at it. Waved at it!
It kept going, rolling dust clouds over them as it passed.
Seung was already moving, his tail driving him up the bank, a good hard push and he had jumped past the line of riprap and broken concrete that stabilized the bank at the waterline. He was up onto the crown of the road itself, running barefooted in the gravel without even caring what it did to his feet, when something long and hard and incredibly strong whipped around his chest and his waist and down onto his hips and jerked him off his feet and slammed him down onto his side like a roped calf, knocking the air out of him.
He twisted around, grabbed onto the cable, and realized that it was alive. Dance was up standing on the bank below him, jerking him back off his feet again, before he tried to tear that damn cable around in half to get free.
“Get Mike– truck– I get him–“ Seung mouthed, unable to get air, and felt Dance’s tail tightening on his ribs every time the air exhaled. His lungs struggled. His own tail was wrapped up in coils, he was counter-squeezing down on the cable that was extended out past him, but it didn’t let go.
“No,” Dance said, quite softly, and they both listened to the truck rolling away, heading off down the bayou road, and away.
“Get him–“ Seung mouthed, with little black and white sparkles dancing over his eyesight.
Dance’s tail jerked under the pressure of Seung’s, and then Dance braced himself, the base of the tail pushed into some boulder. His tail lifted out all that weight and uncoiled, whirling Seung in a spin, and dropped him into the bayou.