A flash of light speared his brain; Seung shut his eyes once more and kept them that way. Everything hurt. He couldn’t remember ever feeling like this, hot and chilled at the same time, every joint either throbbing with a dark ache or painfully on fire. Someone told him to stop screaming for fuck’s sake and take this, which he did, washing down the single pill with a tumbler of blessedly wet water, and he went back to sleep again.
The next time he woke he cataloged the sounds of water hitting a fiberglass hull, frogs and crickets, people talking nearby in a lilting dialect, a buzz of activity. There was only a dim light burning, and through his carefully slitted eyes he could see the beginnings of dawn light outside the window.
“…coming in, got about five more minutes on the road, Tee Pom says,” a woman’s clear voice remarked. “Dance, can you.. thank you, lovie.” The scent of the other one– the snake– came to his nostrils, and with it a flood of saliva. He swallowed past a raw throat.
“Older Brother,” Dance’s upper class Korean, “Our outriders are coming back with your friends, will you wake for them?”
“Women?” Seung mumbled.
Dance repeated it in English.
“Yes, your women,” Emma said. “Tee Pom says they are a little bit hurt, he’s bringing them straight here.”
“My women hurt!” Seung tried to sit up at that, struggling with his restraints. “Let me–”
“Older Brother, be calm,” Dance said. “The doctor will attend them, here in your presence. You must rest and grow strong once more.”
The snake man honored him? Seung drew in a great, gasping breath and lay still, listening to the rushing of his own blood in his body, and listening for the diesel engine.
“Get her head back,” the doctor’s voice came from outside. “You ignorant sonofabitches, back! No, no, let her go– let go, give her a minute, you sorry bastard.”
“What is happening?” Seung asked the snake man.
“Your woman is a scrapper,” Dance said at the window, and charged out, his tail whipping once against the doorjamb as he went. It raked a vivid scar down into raw wood.
The doctor’s strident voice was going on. “Never try to restrain someone in convulsions like that. What the hell are you thinking, she’ll tear her own muscles apart! Dance, thank God you’re here…” The voices sank to mumbles, but Seung heard Peach now, her growl rising and falling rhythmically, and he felt choked with frustration.
He heard movement in the next room now, the creak of cot springs. A sad little meow from Peach ripped a bellow through Seung’s throat, leaving him coughing. And the next thing he knew was a warm furry weight landing upon him, Peach’s dry-grass fragrance and her glass-blue eyes inches from his. “Seung!” she said. “Seung, Keisha, Seung!”
“What about Keisha, dushka moy?” he croaked out.
Dance came to the door. “She’s well, Older Brother, only dehydrated. She will be with you in only a few more moments. She was convulsing and is now not awake, but you will have her quickly, I promise.” He said into the doorway, “Bring the whole cot in, we’ll get her fluids hooked up in here.”
“Who died and made you the doctor?” the doctor groused, but Dance only laughed, and and Seung heard the gurney casters protesting as Alexander and Emma wheeled it into the room, maneuvering it into place next to him.
Keisha lay limp, dark against the white sheet. There was a thin crescent of white showing under her eyelids, which hadn’t completely closed, and Seung wanted badly to stroke them shut. Her skin was ashen. Doctor Alexander, muttering, shuffled into the cramped space with a glittering bag of saline to hook up to her arm; Peach all but leapt at him, growling.
“Hey! I’m not hurting her, kitty, swear it.” Doctor Alexander said. It was, Seung realized, the first sentence the man had said without swear words. He spoke differently, talking to Peach. “C’mon, little girl. Lemme do my work.”
“Only I hold Peach,” Seung said, and rattled his restraints. Doctor Alexander looked over, measuringly, nodded at Emma, who reached over and unbuckled the leather bands on Seung’s bedframe.
“My dushka, you come here now,” Seung ordered. “Come.” And Peach actually did so, nuzzling into his armpit, licking his face frantically. Wads of shed fur came off her. Seung wrapped grateful arms around her, crooning. “Little love, little love…” Together, they watched the doctor clean wounds and wrap white bandages around Keisha’s hands. “What did that?” Seung demanded.
“Keisha hit house.” Peach whispered. “Hit door, hit wood house, many hits. Kick lots.”
Seung was surprised into a bark of laughter. He reached painfully across, rested his hand on the dark, soft skin of Keisha’s shoulder.
“Tee Pom says she was that close to breaking right through the wall,” Emma said. “She’s a fighter, your woman.”
“Is good, my woman,” Seung said. The saline bag shifted as it emptied, trickling its lifegiving fluids into Keisha’s’s bloodstream. Contentedly, he watched the steady rise and fall of her breathing, and held Peach close.