Chapter Thirty-Four: Nootau
A warmth surrounded Nootau. A pleasant hum of heat keeping him warm and content. He wanted to stay curled up and never leave his nesting spot. A dull pinprick needled at his consciousness telling Nootau he should be up, moving, doing something. But he'd been running for so long. Didn't he deserve a break? Hadn't he earned it?
A large copper body curled around him, protecting Nootau from the dark.
Who? Nootau turned, nuzzling against the hide. Sturdy. Resilient. Warm. The Firedrake.
A warm blast of fire curled around him.
Sleep, walker. You have been through much. Time to rest.
"Okay," he replied and pressed against her. She reminded him of someone. Someone important. A human. A strong, willful human who loved. But Nootau couldn't remember why that was important. Too tired to get his mind working to figure it out.
All he wanted was the warmth, so he took it.
* * * * *
The hospital room was nicer compared to the few Edwige had experience with. Light yellow walls. Sturdy beds for Nootau and Aegeus, able to hold both of their lanky frames. There was a flat-screen TV between the closets, and the bathroom had safety rails and call buttons in all the right places.
The reclining chair even flattened out to a make-shift bed, which was good because Edwige had barely left the room since Aegeus and Nootau had been moved into it. Only popping out when Aegeus was in a deep sleep to check on the others of their party. Aegeus had moments of clarity and alertness, waking here and there from the surgery three days ago, but he fell back asleep every time, not remembering he woke before. Each time he woke, Edwige had to watch his heartbreak over Nootau again. She almost asked to put them in separate rooms, but that was too much for any of them.
Over the past twenty-four hours Aegeus had gained more awareness. His moments more lucid. That was something, more than they'd gotten from Nootau. He had barely twitched since Bernard cut off the skin-share. The surgeons said everything was repaired, but Edwige wasn't so sure. Physically, maybe. The only movement from his was his breathing. Nootau's mind? That was another matter.
At least he's breathing. Edwige had to remind herself.
The lack of windows were problematic. If only the sun could shine down over them. The spell the castle witches used wasn't bad, but the warm glow didn't compare to how the real sun warmed the air and lightened the spirit.
A knock sounded against the door jam. Edwige looked up to find Gian waiting. The subtle tones of his make-up projected his mood, like he was in mourning. All dark hues and whispy lines. Guilt hung on him. The tension-lines around his mouth, his beautiful eyes.
"Hey," he said and motioned inside the room. His bracelets jangled, loud in the quiet hum of the room. "Mind if I join you?"
The big bear of a man walked in, eyed the other square chair in the room, and huffed. No way would he fit.
"I'll be right back."
When Gian came back, he had a large rolling chair for a desk. Looked like one of the nurses's stations chairs. He set it down and shrugged, then placed a bag down on the floor next to it.
"How're your boys?" Gian asked, tapping a dark blue finger nail against the chair arm.
"Aegeus is getting better," Edwige replied. "We had a talk this morning. He's starting to remember things we've discussed. I didn't have to tell him about Nootau again."
There was that small grace.
Gian nodded before his gaze slid to Nootau. "And him?"
"He's breathing," Edwige said, because she needed to hear it.
They fell into silence. Gian tapping a fingernail against the chair arm. Edwige stuck between Nootau and Aegeus, one hand over each of theirs. The cut along the top of her chest pulled, but she wanted both of her men to know she was there. It went from the center of her neck, along her clavicle, all the way to her shoulder. The doctors had stitched her up as best they could. The scar would never fade completely.
And that was okay. As far as Edwige was concerned, it showed her devotion, it was the moment Nootau came back. It meant he could do it again.
"You should be resting," Gian said, breaking the background whir of the heating ducts.
"You're not fine, Edwige. You're exhausted."
"I will be fine. As long as I'm here," she insisted, then added, "With them."
"Okay, sweetheart. Okay."
With nothing more to say, they lapsed into silence again. Gian pulled a Nintendo out of his bag and started to play a game, leaving Edwige to watch over her boys again. She was afraid to look away. Like if she did they would disappear.
Maybe they would. Maybe this was all a dream made up by her so she didn't have to deal with the reality of her husband being shot and their lover driven to the brink, ready to die. Edwige's mind might be trying to process the horrific events by putting her loves back together in a hospital room, when in reality she was ensconced in her own room having a mental breakdown.
Another knock came on the door jam. Edwige blinked, pulling herself back. She noticed Gian frowning at her. Okay, time to reel it in. Her men needed positive energy, not the morose shit she was thinking. Gian lifted his chin, indicating the doorway. Edwige turned, finding Bernard this time. He held a bouquet of flowers in front of him.
"Guten Tag, Frau," he said. "I see you 'ave company. You wan' more or should I go?"
"You're always welcome, you know that."
"Maybe, Frau. Maybe." Guilt coated his gentle response.
So much guilt. Carried by all of us.
But Bernard came in anyway. He, too, frowned at the tiny square chair. He handed over the bouquet. Edwige placed them on the nightstand between the beds.
"Maybe one of the nurses be willin' to share. One minute," he said, leaving the room.
Bernard came back with a rolling chair identical to Gian's. The large bear scooted, giving Bernard some room to get situated. They were all packed together tightly between the beds. Both of the men showing the strain and wear of the past few days or so just as much as Edwige if not more.
"You boys all right?" Edwige reached for her pack. Maybe she had a relaxant that could help.
"Fine!" they said together, then shared a smile. The amused response lightened the mood in the room.
"If you're sure," she prompted, her hand still hovering near her pack.
They nodded then Gian spoke up, "We're more worried about you, Edwige. We're the reason the three of you are in this room."
"A little, yeah, but you're not the only reason we're here." Edwige sighed, and pulled Nootau's hand into hers. "Dario, Nils, Waban, and the others involved in the walker selling. They started this."
Bernard and Gian flinched in unison.
"Something you gentlemen want to share?"
They motioned back and forth to each other before Gian spoke up again. "About Waban."
"What about that bastard?"
"You know how Nils turned tummy, right? Squealed and handed over their contacts?"
"We've caught some of the network, but there are a lot of the guys who ran. Waban managed to give us the slip."
The news knocked Edwige on her ass. She breathed in deep through her nose, blinking the tears back. All that work, that sacrifice, for not a whole hell of a lot. That bastard—the one who raised Nootau, his friend Ahanu. Of everyone, he deserved a special place to burn.
"But!" Bernard jumped in. "But Akemi won't stop looking for them. We've managed to grab a some clients too. Surveillance is up at some other places. You jus' need to give her some time."
"And why isn't she telling me this?" Edwige demanded. She sounded angry. Not herself. Maybe she was tired.
"Because, Frau." Bernard gathered upped Edwige's balled up hands in his. "There is a lot of fall-out from the investigations and the fighting. Real high up stuff too. Our poor fox is running her tail off trying to keep the damage to the minimum."
That made sense. It did. Still hurt, but it did.
"We are sorry, Frau," Bernard said.
And Edwige knew he meant it. She could feel his sorrow, his regret as much as Gian's. They had done the best they could under difficult circumstances. All of them wished they'd done better. Maybe they all needed some healing right now.
"Any good news?" she asked.
Gian smiled, his blue eyes danced with excitement. "Akemi offered Mal a spot in the Rubrum Lux, here at the castle."
"Yes!" Gian leaned forward in his chair. "Right after his dragon pounced him, too. Akemi brought his boy to our stables as a bribe. I'm pretty sure of it."
Edwige laughed, feeling better than she had in days. That was some good news. Possibly. She hoped Nidhogg had given Mal a "happy bounce."
"I have some cards," Edwige found herself saying. "You boys know how to play Dragon's Keep?"
"For sure, Frau." Bernard smiled then patted her on the cheek. Edwige didn't miss the pleased glint in Gian's eyes as he watched Bernard. "We play any game you wan'."
"You're welcome," he replied.
"No, I mean it. Really. Thanks." And she did. Edwige would have to be patient. She'd have to wait. But they would heal. All of them. She refused to believe otherwise.