Chapter Nine: Nootau
Hand Over Fist
Edwige reached for him but stopped. "We won't turn you in."
"No." He'd deny it all day long.
"That box. It came from a Camp," Edwige said.
Poor Edwige gave a strangled scream and threw up her hands. Aegeus' low hum grew a little louder. If it weren't for the circumstances, it'd actually be soothing. Nootau battled against the lulling sound. If he wasn't careful, he'd slip.
"Are you going to give any answers besides no or so?"
Yeah, Nootau had been reduced to one syllable answers. Edwige glared at him. Her pretty lips pulled into a frown. He wanted nothing more than to wipe the look away, but he couldn't. Nootau learned the drill long ago. Never ever admit who he was. To anyone. Ever.
Edwige knelt down in front of him, grabbing Nootau's hands. Her big eyes were rimmed with tears, so open, so wet. The night before she had a completely different look in her eyes when she serviced him so eagerly. Gods, not what he needed to think of at the moment.
"Nootau, please. We want to help."
Then let me leave.
"You're obviously running from something. We can help."
Nope. Not falling for it.
"Please." Edwige sat back on her heels, her hands cupping his.
Why was she trying so hard? It was her insistence Nootau had trouble comprehending. Aegeus barely said two words the whole time. He either watched Edwige with worry or gave Nootau daggers with his eyes.
Edwige sighed. "Did you know Camp Stone had a wolf attack recently?"
The question threw Nootau for a moment. A fraction of a second really. But it had been enough for him to tense and Edwige to notice. She squinted at him, those eyes obviously seeing more than they should. The question really was why did she know the attack happened? What was the news saying about Nootau's incident?
"It wasn't long after an inmate died in what the authorities called 'an accident,'" she continued. "They think it was a wolf, but the timing was close together so they're not ruling anything out."
Fuck it all.
Nootau pushed her back and stood, ignoring the crestfallen expression on her face. He couldn't pretend he didn't see the murderous scowl from Aegeus. It made him fucking flinch. Fuck. This was so not how he thought the morning would go. He went for his pack.
Honestly, the moment he saw the box in their hands he should've high tailed it out of there. Nootau just didn't want to, though. They had deserved better. They were the ones who shared with him, trusted him first. If only he could've done the same for them, but that was asking the impossible.
Everything had been so good until that fucking moment.
Now he had to worry if they would turn him over to the authorities because of their suspicions. Part of him wanted to believe they wouldn't. Another, louder voice said they would, because all outsiders eventually did. Nootau sighed as he pulled on the last of his clothes and coat. Running would've meant a yes, so he'd stayed, tried to convince them otherwise. He had wanted them to part with happy memories. Unfortunately, Edwige was a dog with a bone and wouldn't let it the fuck go.
Staying had been a mistake. Leaving would've been the smart choice.
I should've ran.
"So you're going?" They were the first words Aegeus had spoken in a half hour.
"Just like that?
Edwige's plea to Aegeus nearly tore Nootau open. "Don't let him leave. Not like this."
"If he wants to go, then we have to let him go," Aegeus replied softly.
"He's hurt, and not just emotionally. Nootau needs someone to look after him."
Mother of gods. Nootau paused in strapping his pack to his back.
"Edie, he doesn't want our help." Did Aegeus' voice crack?
How much of a scum did that make Nootau? A pretty big fucking scummy bastard.
"You can't help people who don't want it."
Ouch. Truthful, though. Nootau finished buckling.
A small sob escaped from Edwige before the sound of her running out of the room followed, along with a door slam that rattled Nootau's teeth. It shouldn't hurt this much. But it did. They had given him so much.
"Tell Edwige—" Nootau swallowed hard. "I'm sorry."
"Because you don't have the courage to face her yourself?"
Now that he could answer honestly. "Yes."
A grimace escaped Nootau when he met Aegeus' hardened face. He really knew how to fuck shit up. Mother of gods. He had to get out of here.
"I am sorry," Nootau said. "To you too."
Nootau ducked out of the kitchen-living room area and went to their apartment door, but was stopped by Aegeus as he reached for the doorknob.
"Listen, I don't know what has you running, but you are. You can't convince me otherwise." Aegeus tugged on Nootau's shoulder. He turned around reluctantly and wouldn't meet Aegeus' eyes. "But let's say you have a friend who could use some help. Take this—"
Something was pressed into Nootau's hand. "To the Field Museum any time between noon and five the next couple days. Find a guy named Bern. He can help your friend."
Nootau opened his hand and stared at the coin in his hand. At first glance it looked a lot like a talon, the copper gleaming under the light. But there were differences on etching. Subtle ones. Nootau brought it up closer for inspection, his stomach dropping out when the marks clicked in place. Some were shared with the ones on his box from Ahanu.
It took a couple tries, but he finally managed to push the question out. "Are you part of the Underground?"
"If we are?"
Nootau closed his eyes for a brief moment, working hard to squash the part of his brain that screamed not to trust Aegeus or Edwige. Sometimes the only thing anyone had was a chance. Was he brave enough to take it?
"Then you're who I've been looking for."