Chapter Five: Nootau
Waban turned his head and waved his hand to the left. "On the chair, over there."
It took a great deal of effort, but Nootau limped over to an extra chair pushed up against the kitchen wall. His clothes were on the seat, laundered and folded, though they looked a little worse for wear. The box sat on top of them.
Nootau picked his shitty crap up and sat down. The movements took too much effort. Then again, he'd transformed and taken several bullets. The memories were coming back slowly, and with some effort, but it'd take time. Even then he might not remember it all. Time was something he didn't have anyway. Nootau needed to keep moving. Unfortunately his energy reserves were shot. Ha. Nootau needed sustenance.
"Do you have anything to eat?"
Waban grunted. "There is soup on the stove."
"Thank you." But he didn't have the energy to get up. Or try and get his clothes on. The idea of lifting his legs held no appeal. Nootau let his head rest against the wall and he closed his eyes. "I'll help myself in a few minutes."
"Your stubbornness is the only reason you're moving."
"At least pull the chair to the table," Waban said, quickly followed by the sounds of movement—his feet shuffling against the floor, a lid being lifted up, and soup being poured into a bowl.
Nootau yawned. Gods, he was bone weary. He could sleep for days and still probably feel tired.
"It was a close call this time, Nootau."
A thud came from the bowl being placed on the table.
"You were lost in the spirit. Consumed by it."
An arm wrapped around his shoulders. Nootau opened his eyes. Waban's weathered face was above him. A frown marred it. A great sadness seemed to fill the old soulful gaze.
"You should not transform into anything else for a while."
"No, I don't think I should."
"I have always prayed to the Gods for you to learn control for your sake. To be able to balance the spirits within yourself."
That'd be nice. Even Nootau had things he liked about his human spirit—like Waban's soup—sex, and opposable thumbs. Thumbs made the world so much easier.
Nootau allowed the old medicine man to move him to the table, braid his hair back, and shove the soup down his gullet. The rabbit meat had been cooked to perfection. The spices and vegetables brought out the flavor. He groaned in appreciation as he chewed. No one made rabbit stew like Waban.
The lack of conversation between them disturbed Nootau, but he had dropped a bomb on Waban. Not to mention Nootau was busy eating--so good. Hopefully they'd come up with a plan of action and be able to erase the progressively pinched and haggard expression off the old medicine man.
Nootau picked up the bowl and gulped down the remaining broth. Warmth curled around him and he sighed, refreshed. He pushed the empty dish away and smiled at Waban.
"Let's get these clothes on," Waban said, holding them up.
"Do I have to?"
"Can't I borrow some pjs and just curl up on your couch—"
"You need to leave, Nootau."
"Don't be like that, Waban," he replied, laughing nervously. "We have to find a way to get Ahanu's evidence out there. Let the tribe know what's going on."
Nootau didn't hear what he thought he just heard, did he?
"It would be better for all of us if you just left it alone."
Nootau shook his head, utter horror running right through him. How could Waban be okay with what was happening in the camp?
"To protect the many we must sacrifice the few."
The words hit him hard in the gut. The scary part was he looked serious too. Waban was going to turn a blind eye and had every intention of kicking him out. After all the affection he just showered on Nootau. After fixing him up. What if it was Nootau being sold? Or Ahanu? Would he have fought for them? How many times had he and Ahanu hid here, listening to his stories and skipping their chores? Or spent the night practicing their transformations under his guidance? He'd been like a grandfather to the both of them.
"How can you pretend this isn't happening? How?" Nootau asked. "The tribe would support us if you asked."
"I am thinking about the tribe, Nootau. Unlike you," Waban replied, his voice barely loud enough for Nootau to hear. "And if you can't think of the tribe, think about the rest of us. We as skin walkers are already under such scrutiny. The last thing we need is to draw more unfavorable attention to ourselves."
"What if they had taken Ahanu? Sold him?"
"Or me?" Which was really what Nootau wanted an answer to. "What if they were after me?"
"My dear, Nootau, they already are."
For a few moments a stunned silence as Nootau stared at Waban. What did that even mean?
"You have little time before the SWG arrives, Nootau." Waban stood and put the bowl in the sink. "Do you think they wouldn't check the reservation for a hurt skin walker?" He scoffed and shook his head. "Your naivety is surprising, Nootau. You need to get dressed and be gone before they arrive. I don't know how much longer I can stall them. Your status endangers us all, and we have already lost so much."
Betrayal cut through Nootau like a hot poker—slow and excruciatingly painful. It burned him from the outside in until it had wrapped around his heart. The ache from Ahanu's death grew bigger inside him.
"You're really kicking me out?" Nootau asked.
"Yes." Waban answered. "I have done what I can for your wounds, but you have endangered us all by coming here—the Algonquin and skin walkers alike. If you care anything for your tribe I suggest you leave and never come back."
The words were a sucker punch to Nootau's stomach. Nausea roiled inside him. his throat scratchy, raw and dry.
"Please, Nootau. Think of the rest of us," Waban whispered. "Let Ahanu's soul rest."
"His soul will find peace when I figure out who's buying walkers and stop it."
"Nootau." The censure in Waban's voice stung.
Despite his energy reserves being depleted, Nootau stood. By the time he had pulled on his worn clothes his breathing was labored and choppy. He needed rest, recuperation, but would get none.
"Are you hoping I'll make it off the reservation before I collapse?"
"What about this?" Nootau placed a hand on the box.
"Probably best if you left it." Waban sighed. He looked so tired but the haze of anger coiling around Nootau made it hard to care. The man who helped raise him, teach him was turning his back in the most unimaginable way. Waban motioned with his hands. "Give it here. I can burn it."