Chapter Thirteen: Nootau
Friends in Low Places
A part of him felt they should head back to Edwige's and Aegeus's apartment. Another part of him wanted to run—as far away as possible. So much had happened in such as short amount of time. The idea of someone killing people to keep some kind of underground Being trafficking, of them selling walkers, to have the Bureau of Skin Walker Affairs be involved in the shipments, and for all of it to be running efficiently—since when did any government organization run smoothly?—it all blew Nootau away.
The scope of exacting revenge for Ahanu had been so much smaller than the myriad of information and people involved in the trafficking. Nootau hadn't signed up for something so-so complex or... big. So many people were involved, and the numbers were likely to grow. Nootau saw where all the information was taking them.
Requisitions. Accounts. Orders. All being processed on a global scale through the face of the Bureau. The company doing business with them, All the Bits and Pieces, had a website. A beautiful professionally made website. They were an international company who touted herbal medicine and magic treatments for ills and sickness.
The revelation made Nootau's world turn. A sickness overwhelmed him and he couldn't just sit. Nootau also didn't want to be the sole bearer of such awful information. The idea of carrying it on his shoulders, the implications of what was going on, how could people be so cruel?
A hand on his shoulder made Nootau jump. He swung around, fists up, only to meet Aegeus's disappointed gaze. He swallowed and put his hands down.
Aegeus gave a quick, pained smile. "Understandable."
"I know, Nootau. Me too."
"This is bad." So fucking bad. "I can't do this. I can't. This is... " So much bigger than me. But who was he going to turn to? Not the government. They were definitely at the bottom of the barrel.
"It's pretty horrible is what it is."
How would he keep his promise to Ahanu?
"But we'll figure this out."
"What?" Nootau responded immediately. Fear took hold of his heart, squeezing it hard.
"The Underground will have to put some feelers out—" Aegeus started as he reached for Nootau again. But he held a hand up and stepped back. Nootau ignored the wounded flinch from Aegeus. He stopped, lips pursed together, brows drawn. "Is there a problem?"
"You guys can't do this either."
"This is so much bigger than me, than you, than the Underground." Nootau huffed, shaking his head. "We can't do this."
The disappointed expression Aegeus wore struck Nootau hard.
"Going after something like this, people are going to end up hurt. The Underground, you guys need to be there for the walkers who need help. You guys get involved with this... It could end you guys."
Somehow, when he said the words, Nootau knew it to be true. The whole situation smelled like dead rot. Warning bells, sirens, a voice telling him danger told Nootau to run. He'd learn to trust those instincts. Revenge would have to be exacted another way, but Nootau also knew he'd gotten Edwige and Aegeus too involved as it was so he had to find them an out. Or kick them out for their own good if they wouldn't leave. Aegeus had a stubborn tilt to his demeanor.
"No," Nootau said immediately. "The Underground will fall apart if they get involved. You guys have helped enough. You've helped me like you said you would. Now we go our separate ways. You help walkers on the run. I-I-I'll figure out the rest."
Nootau only hoped Aegeus took his kiss off speech to heart. Unfortunately it didn't look like it by the unimpressed head shake he got in return. The added weight on his shoulders nearly made his knees buckle, but he couldn't appear weak now. Not if he wanted Edwige and Aegeus safe in their own little lives.
What a mess. One huge stinking mess.
A quick retreat and regroup was necessary. Maybe Waban had been right. They needed to worry about Camp Stone and the tribe, and not worry about the rest. Someone bigger, better than them needed to fix the problem. He could hurt the men directly responsible for Ahanu's death and... And have completely obliterated any promise he made to fulfill Ahanu's wishes.
Nootau sighed, looking up. He had thought he was willing to follow Ahanu in death while exacting revenge. His heart had said he was. Now that danger had become a real possibility Nootau found he lacked the courage to face it. Again. He always ran. Always.
But he couldn't. Not this time. Ahanu's life had been snuffed out because Nootau had been a coward. He'd lost the gentle soul who helped him stay tied the the physical realm. Remember his humanity, but a Being such as himself only had so much, didn't he? How long would his mind stay intact without Ahanu there to help him find his spirit again? Who would get hurt if he couldn't control his duality?
One look back toward the computer told Nootau who.
Aegeus and Edwige stood together, leaning against each other. Two pairs of warm, welcoming eyes held worry, the lines around their eyes giving them away. Trouble had come knocking on their doorstep. Trouble they gently held, and were now ready to take on something much bigger than they asked for. Kind gentle souls, like Ahanu. Happy human and Being alike. The idea of smashing their nurturing home tore at Nootau's conscience.
For a night, Nootau believed. A tiny fragment of him allowed the well-built walls to come down. It had been enough to soothe his wounds, but new deeper ones were taking their place.
"Aegeus... I can't allow you to get hurt. Either of you. And the Underground is too important for others like me to get dismantled. Please... Please understand. So much has already happened. Things you don't know about. The only person who has to make this right is me."
Edwige sniffled, lifting her head up. "Bullshit."
"Do you even believe the bullshit coming out of you mouth?" she asked, her voice tight and angry.
"It's not bullshit."
"It is, and you know it."
Why did she have to argue with him? Edwige fought Nootau at every turn. "So the decades of work the Underground isn't important? All the walkers relying on your help to stay safe will just have to figure it the fuck out for themselves? Do you guys even have the funds to help something like this? A trafficking ring for walkers?"
Edwige sniffled again. "What we lack in funds we make up for in people power."
"Which makes it all the more important you aren't involved."
Plus then Nootau wouldn't have to worry about them getting hurt, or worse. The worse scared him more than anything.
"You both are... " Nootau paused, gathering his thoughts. "Kind and loving. This—whatever this is—will most likely end up in a very bad place. I don't want the memories of your deaths, or the pain this may cause you, on my shoulders."
"So you do care." Edwige smile completely baffled Nootau. "For a minute there I thought I was going to have to beat the crap out of you."
"Thanks for not kicking my ass?"
Aegeus sat back down at the table, pulling the tablet in front of him. "So as long as the Underground isn't directly involved, and Edwige and I don't die, we're good to go, right?"
"That's not what I said," Nootau protested.
Edwige sauntered over to Aegeus and put a hand on his shoulder. "But how are we going to get where we need to go? We don't have the coin to drop on last minute travel."
"Are either of you listening to me?"
"We heard you," Edwige replied. "And whether we have to follow you or travel with you is up to you."
"You're going whether or not I say you can, aren't you?"
"We are," Aegeus said. "Someone has to stop this monstrosity from continuing."
"That's what I'm—"
Edwige turned to Nootau, her eyes bright. "What you're doing is trying to get yourself killed. You don't think we saw your wounds? How you flinched? The guilt on your face? Whatever is chasing you has made you think it's okay to die! And it's not! It's not okay!"
Tears rolled down Edwige's cheeks.
Somehow Nootau made her cry more often than not. Probably more than she did at any other time. And that's the last thing he wanted. Truly. He may be a bastard, but he he always tried to treat his bed partners with some respect.
Edwige sniffled and glared.
"Then accept that we're coming with you."
He nodded, because what else could he do? Somehow he'd have to find a way to shake them, send them back to Chicago. Until then, Nootau wouldn't fight them.
Aegeus sighed before pushing back from the table. He rubbed his head. "Flight costs are horrendous!"
Maybe Nootau had a way to shake them after all.
"I guess we could use our credit card."
"It would max us out, though." Aegeus sighed again. Edwige walked back over to him and gave him a hug. "We'll figure it out."
Guilt welled inside Nootau. He couldn't let them bankrupt themselves like that. "Ah..."
They turned to him, their gazes weary.
"Do you know anyone who is good at forging documents?"
Aegeus frowned. "I don't see how that will help us. We're not going to steal from—"
"No! Not that!" Nootau shifted from one foot to the other, looking past them. "I mean one that could forge some documents for a private dragon and a Rider."
Aegeus's frowned deepened but Edwige's face brightened, her beautiful smile brightening her face. In the back of Nootau's mind worry ate away, doubt lingered, but the ache in his chest eased at seeing how happy Edwige was. He really hoped he wasn't about to fuck it all big time.
"We'd still need to find a dragon," Aegeus said, picking up the tablet. "That still cost—"
"No, you won't," Nootau responded. Edwige's smile widened, though his stomach churned uneasily.
"Oh, you happen to have one up your sleeve?" Aegeus groused, tapping away.
"We're not stealing a dragon."
"I'm not suggesting that."
Aegeus looked up, brows furrowed, a frown still marring his handsome face. "Then what are you suggesting?"
"Borrowing a piece of dragon hide." Gods, Nootau couldn't believe he was even suggesting it.
A full minute ticked by as Aegeus stared, his eyes wide in disbelief.
"It doesn't have to be much. Just a small piece."
Aegeus coughed then cleared his throat. Edwige's smile hadn't faltered the entire discussion. In fact, she seemed to be vibrating with barely contained energy. At least one of them was excited about the idea. Nootau certainly had his doubts. Stupid kept lolling around in his head.
"Are?" Aegeus's voice cracked. He shook his head, then tried again. "Are you suggesting what I think you're suggesting?"
"If you're guessing me transforming into a dragon, then yes, though it'd have to be a small one. A bigger breed would make people think I'm a hatchling and raise questions. Probably still will, but it'd be worth a shot."
Aegeus stood. Stark disbelief clouded his face. "And you've done this before?"
"And how'd that go?"
"Never piss off a mother dragon."