Chapter Thirty-Six: Nootau
Moving, talking, sitting up, and all the bullshit that went with being a normal person weren't happening. Not like they should. Nootau was less than a man. He shouldn't even be alive, and yet, here he was in the Rubrum Lux's physical therapy center trying to walk.
All he had to do was put one foot in front of the next. That was all. Except he couldn't.
Gods Above and Mother Earth Below. Give me the strength to get to the fucking chair.
"Nootau, love? Why don't we take a break?" Edwige put a hand near his on the rail and smiled. She wouldn't touch him. Not because she didn't want to, but because Nootau freaked out when anyone put their hands on him.
Hands scared him. Terrified him. The idea of someone touching him made Nootau nauseated just thinking about it.
"When I get to the chair," he replied after struggling to regain his composure and willing down his lunch. Giving Edwige time to move her hands away. They were so close. Centimeters aways.
"Okay. Then let's—"
"I can do it!" The muscles in his arms trembled. The exertion of holding himself upright was taking its toll. Nootau needed to get to the chair before he fell. "Move your hands!"
Edwige jumped back with a pained gasp. Her mouth pinched closed and her hand came up to her chest. Tears rimmed her eyes. For a moment it seemed like she might turn and leave, but she didn't, instead her chin lifted in a defiant cant. All she moved was her hands and took a couple steps back.
At least their skin wouldn't touch. Relief swept through Nootau and threatened to relax him to the point of collapse. He flexed, pushing up, then threw his right shoulder forward—letting go briefly with his hand—before catching himself back on the bar. The hit to his palm jarred Nootau but he kept up the movement. A frustrated huff came from his right. From Edwige. Without looking he knew her arms would be crossed.
Frustration had no way of covering how Nootau felt each time he threw a shoulder, felt his knee barely lift and foot drag across the mat, then have the jolt in his arms from the bar bring him back down. Lava ran through his veins, pounding at his heart and mind with each failed step. A deep-red anger bubbled and popped in his chest.
I shouldn't be here. I shouldn't have to do all this fucking shit. I should be in the ground.
Away from Edwige's and Aegeus' reach. Where he couldn't hurt them. Continue to hurt them.
The chair was a step away. Right at the end of the bars. Sweat poured off Nootau. His breath choppy and loud. He only needed to take one more step, then he'd get relief. Stop the pain. The disappointment in his failed body. Except his arms were too sore, too tired. A fine tremor ran through them as Nootau held himself up. If he let go again, he'd fall. His legs didn't have the strength to hold him.
Nootau's body shuddered when he tried to take another breath. His palms hurt and felt slippery. Chancing a glance down he found splotches of red along the bars. His wrists bent at an uncomfortable angle.
"Nootau." Edwige's voice came softly. "Nootau, honey."
"No." Knowing what she wanted, to help him sit, wouldn't take away the moments of shear terror of being touched. The amount of weight he'd need to put on her—Nootau's stomach rebelled at the though of nearly full body contact.
But his arms couldn't keep him up any more.
"I can't," he replied.
"What if I wore gloves?" she asked, sounding too hopeful. "I have some, with me."
Nootau shook his head a fraction and spat out, "Fuck no."
Another one of those small, pained gasped escaped Edwige. One that cut him. Made Nootau feel guilty. Made everything worse.
It wasn't that he wanted to hurt her. He just... couldn't. Couldn't turn it off and 'let them help.' Edwige and Aegeus weren't ever going to make this better for him. They needed to accept that. No matter what they wanted, he couldn't magically fix himself for them.
There was no 'fixing' Nootau. Not really. The doctors said some of the effects were physical, some magical. They didn't know, wouldn't know, how much could be... 'managed.'
Nootau tried to move his arms, but they were locked. Too stiff to move. Too weak to stand. He was going to fall.
"Look. I've got them on," Edwige said with a cracked plea.
Nootau closed his eyes briefly, praying he wouldn't have to see her pain again.
It was always the 'please' with her that caused him to cave. Every time.
Edwige stood steps away from him. Tears stained her cheeks pink, her eyes red. Her head was still held up in defiance. White gloves covered her hands. Crystal clean and utterly immaculate gloves. Nothing like someone as dirty as him. And if she touched him—Edwige would get infected. No matter how clean those gloves looked.
Pride, terror, humiliation—all of them propelled Nootau forward. He threw his shoulder, tried to take a step, but he collapsed, keeling forward.
"Fuck, ow!" His head bounced off the edge of the seat, easier than it really ought to, then hit it again harder. "Fuck!"
Pure, white agony ripped through his skull, a piercing thrust boring through his head, then his shoulder and chest, all the way down to his legs and knees. A loud, clattering noise skittered away from him then Nootau hit something hard and unforgiving.
Two deliciously warm arms wrapped around Nootau, pulling toward an even hotter source. His brain kicked in, then his stomach. Nootau immediately began retching—heaving and loosing what was left in his stomach, all over Edwige's pretty new spring dress. But she didn't let him go.
Nootau drew in a raspy breath. "Lemme go."
"I have to—"
"Lemme go!" he shouted but more bile came up—and the stench and the pain overwhelmed him.
* * * * *
Edwige rolled Nootau to his side the moment he began seizing and puking. Last thing they needed was to have him choking to death on his own vomit. She pushed back to tears and focused on trying not to be in the way as his body rejected her touch. It stung. Being denied so completely. She tried not to let her heart feel the twist of pain, but she couldn't help it. All her training taught her that Nootau's reaction wasn't about her, she knew it logically, except her heart wouldn't listen to reason.
The jerky movements slowed to a stop. Edwige checked Nootau's vitals before pulling him farther away from the therapy bars. He stank of piss and vomit, and was out cold. And it was her fault.
"What happened?" Aegeus asked, surprising Edwige.
She looked up as he walked into the room, his pace picking up when he saw Nootau on the floor. He slid down next to them. His hands hovered over Nootau, switched to her then back. Her poor love unable to figure out which one of them to help first.
"He wouldn't let me help, then he fell, then... then I tried to help him sit up."
"Oooh." Aegeus replied, his voice dipping and drawing out. "I see."
"Nootau... isn't getting better."
"The doctor's said it would take time, my love."
"He won't even let us touch him!" Tears crested in Edwige's eyes. She sniffled, trying not to let them fall.
Aegeus must have decided she was in more urgent need because he pulled Edwige into his lap. "Nootau... Nootau is strong. So strong. So are you. And you care so much, my love. So, so much. I love you both for it. But we have to let him determine his timetable."
"I know!" Edwige hated the bitterness in her voice. How sharp it sounded. It felt like a slap.
"Breathe, just breathe," Aegeus said, rocking Edwige.
"I'm trying. I am."
"You are. We are. We just gotta give it more time, my love."
Aegeus kissed her temple, squeezed, and set Edwige down next to him. He began the process of cleaning up Nootau, grabbing a towel from the counter nearby and wiping him down. They cleaned up the floor, tossing the dirty towels in the bin. It stank, cloying and dreadful, so Edwige put a call into staff services to give them a heads up.
"They want us to wait?" Aegeus asked.
"'K." Aegeus secured the towel more respectably around Nootau. "I'm going to get him back to our rooms before he wakes up."
Nootau's non-responsiveness worried Edwige.
"He'll wake up, my love."
"How can you be so sure?"
Aegeus hefted Nootau in his arms, cradling him close. "Because despite his abrasive personality, he loves us."
"Why else would he be so scared to touch us?"
The question caught Edwige off guard. No, it was an assertion. But it made no sense. Edwige and Aegeus were safe. Had been safe. Until... Edwige glanced up. Aegeus' patient smile was waiting for her.
"He's been through things we'll never understand. Ever. He's been lost in other people's bodies. Taken over by them. Nootau will find his way back. You just need to remember that." Aegeus kissed her temple again and strode out the door with his bundle, leaving Edwige alone in the PT room.
Her heart said to go after them. To make sure Nootau was all right for the afternoon. Her head said wait. Somehow she had to get her heart to listen to her head. Maybe distance would be the best medicine.
Instead of taking a right back to their quarters, Edwige took a left and found one of the elevators up. She needed the sun, to smell the flowers and earth. To warm herself since she'd been left so cold.
Up top the sun shone bright and unrelenting overhead. A wave of heat rolled over Edwige. She breathed it in before climbing up a foot path to a clearing in the trees beyond the castle. A spot Jariah had shown her. A mediation bowl sat nestled in a tree nook near the entrance. Crystals were placed in strong power points of the dark spaces. Blessed string circled several trees in weaved patterns above them. A web connecting the magic within the clearing, amplifying the power.
The effect of the clearing was almost immediate. Stepping into this cleansed space helped Edwige relax just by being there. The sore muscles in her shoulders loosened. The crick in her back stopped complaining so much. And the spikes in her feet dulled to a tolerable ache.
Edwige recovered the metal bowl with its wooden rod and found a sun patch to soak in. She sat, crossed-legged, with the bowl settled in her lap with one hand while she held the rod with the other. First she filled her lower lungs followed by another breath which stretched out her mid-section and opened her ribs, then a short breath through her nose before pushing it all out in one slow breath. After several times, Edwige picked up the wooden rod, hit the edge of the bowl, and began circling it with the rod, letting her eyes lose focus as she breathed purposefully.
Letting all the ugliness from the last few hours go.
A hum filled the clearing. A pitch-perfect tone filling the hurt spaces as the bowl sang. The sound relaxed Edwige, the ring alleviating the ache her heart and mind. Warmth washed over her, a snug positive feeling from between the dark spaces.
Small vibrations from the bowl pushed against Edwige. The sound waves danced around her, wrapping her heart and shielding her from the pain.
When the heat and song peaked, Edwige took one last breathe and set the bowl aside. She lay back against the grass. The tone dimmed, the ring softening to a dull hum petering out to nothingness.
Edwige floated, wrapped in oblivion, and let go. Tears crested and fell. Sobs she'd held back broke free. The anger and frustration of everything that had happened since, well, since they'd met Nootau came bubbling forth. Her pain for Nootau—the suffering he'd been through, was going through, and how he tried to carry it all on his own—throbbed and pulsed, taking on a life of its own life. It centered in her core before breaking free in a beacon of light, shooting out of the clearing.
No longer burdened by the weight of everything, Edwige allowed the sun to bathe her in its warmth and dry her tears. Her mind felt refreshed and clearer than it'd been for days. She was able to breathe again. Not be on the verge of tears. The ache remained but was no longer overwhelming her. The wind blew through the treetops, rustling the needles. Birds tweeted. And Edwige dozed, letting the rhythms of life comfort her.
A voice pulled Edwige out of her reverie. "Will you still love him?"
After blinking a few times, Edwige slowly opened her eyes to find Jariah standing over her, a blanket in one hand.
"Will you love Nootau if you can't touch him?"
"Of course!" Edwige pushed up. The peace she had dissolving into anger until she saw Jariah's expression. Had something happened? Edwige reached around looking for her medicine bag before remembering it was in their rooms. She stood. "What?"
"You know he's scared?" Jariah asked as she caught Edwige's arm. "That you will reject him after everything."
"But we're here! Trying to help!"
"What about in five years, or ten, or twenty? What about a lifetime from now?" Jariah pulled Edwige back into the sunny patch and sat beside her.
"Can you be sure?" Jariah interrupted. "Can you really say you will still want him in twenty years or thirty if he can't still stand being touched?"
"No," Jariah answered firmly. "It may never change. You may believe he will be able to touch again, but only Nootau will be able to get past his aversions, his pain. And if he can't, will you be able to still love him? He already feels like half a man. Can you love someone who's practically a ghost?"
The wind rustled through the pines. The sun beat down overhead. Edwige wasn't even sure she was breathing. The thought of Nootau never wanting to be close again broke a piece of Edwige's heart. She couldn't, wouldn't—then she looked into Jariah's brown eyes. And something inside her broke all over again.
"He loves you. Loves Aegeus. But you both love to cuddle and touch. He can no longer be a part of that," Jariah said calmly, looking out of the clearing. "Can you find a way to include him in a Triad that physically only involves two? Can you show him the love you have for him without touching him?"
"I don't know."
"And that's why he's scared. So much has torn apart his spirit. He's afraid of bringing the good parts down with him."
"But he is good!" Edwige protested.
Jariah frowned, picking at a blade of grass before speaking slowly, picking her words. "Nootau has been to a dark space. Darker than we will ever understand. Full of hate and anger. Full of death. The loss of himself. It's a stain he will always carry on him. Do you honestly believe his aversion to touch is just about him?"
"But..." Edwige knew he was good. Knew his heart better than anyone. She said as much.
"And if you stop believing in those things? Stop wanting him because he can't stand to touch anyone? What do you think it will do to him?"
Edwige opened her mouth to protest yet again, but stopped.
"He's been alone so long," Jariah said, hugging her knees close. "To have touched the warmth, only to know you might lose it again, is a scary thing indeed."
Edwige felt Jariah's urgency, her grief. She looked at her questioningly.
"My mom," Jariah said by way of explanation. "Was hard to watch her fall apart. When she died, it was almost a relief. Special woman, my mom. But special people have a way of having troubled lives. All I'm asking is think hard before you promise a life-time commitment."
Aegeus' voice cut through the clearing. "We will."
Edwige turned to her love.
"I promise." Aegeus settled into the sun spot with them, and pulled Edwige into his lap. "We will do our best."
"That's all I ask," Jariah answered and pushed up, grabbing the bowl. "Take your time in the clearing. Both of you could use a break."
They sat huddled together in the warmth, basking in silence as Jariah left them. Edwige wanted to shout or scream or something... but she was just tired. Exhausted really. All this time she felt like she was losing Nootau, and... and what? They still could. Jariah wasn't wrong.
While she and Aegeus would be hurt, how would Nootau fair?
"I don't want to lose him," she said, leaning her head against Aegeus' chest.
"What do we do?"
"Talk. Somehow we all have to talk."
Edwige let out a bitter laugh.
"Don't be like that, my love. It won't be easy, but we should put some expectations in place? What will and will not happen?"
"You think you can get Nootau to talk?" Edwige rubbed her head against Aegeus' chest.
"Love, my dear." Edwige brought her hand up to his jaw, stroking her thumb over his chin. "Jariah wasn't wrong. We can't guarantee anything."
"But, if we have a plan. It can help with any fallout."
"Plans help, but they also go array. Did we ever expect to find out about a secret organization controlling Being and human affairs from the shadows?" Edwige let out a heavy breath. She would have to do another cleansing ritual after all the problems brought back down. "I believe Nootau is the Third we've been searching for. The one I've needed. But Jariah is right. I can't fix him. You can't fix him. We can love him, but we have to be able to love him under his conditions."
"And if they stay as they are?" Aegeus prompted her.
"And if Nootau can't ever touch us again, we have an incomplete Triad. He may feel excluded." Which Edwige never wanted. "We may feel he's not being demonstrative enough. There are so many scenarios, we can't plan for them all."
And to admit that much broke her heart. Love wasn't always enough. Relationships were work and communication. Respect. Fear and worry drove wedges deep and created divides. They both knew that.
"We are looking at long-term PTSD from a spiritual event. Nootau will never be the same. He will always be the person we fought for, but..."
Aegeus kissed her. "Can we adapt and change? Rolls with the punches of this new Nootau?"
"Out of all of us... Nootau is the most vulnerable. After all of this, he's still the one we need to worry about."
Aegeus leaned in, cuddled Edwige close, and smiled. "This is why I love you."
"Because I'm questioning our relationship with Nootau?"
"Because you care enough to think how it will effect him," Aegeus replied before he followed up with a kiss.
The firmness of his lips echoed with a gentleness of his arms. The two sensations caught together, complimenting one another. It had been so long since either of them had touched like this. Loving one another. Giving reassurance that everything would work out. That somehow they would find their way.
Edwige clung to Aegeus, taking in his strength. The tears came again, and she did not try to fight them because she knew Aegeus would catch her. Hold her. Love her. She wanted to give those same promises to Nootau, but she finally understood.
Loving someone with a lot of boundaries wasn't easy. And they needed to decide if they could accept those boundaries.
Even as Aegeus worked off her blouse, as he kissed her nipples and moved farther down, his hands trailing over Edwige to entice her, a part of her was wishing for Nootau's touch. His warmth. His passion. How much he loved.
Edwige and Aegeus might never feel those things again.
And when the tears fell this time, Aegeus did have her. Loving her, consoling each tear with a kissed and murmured nothings as they held each other close.
* * * * *
Beautiful would never be the right word to describe Edwige and Aegeus. Neither would exquisite or dazzling or bewitching, which Edwige very much was all of those things. So was Aegeus. Their hearts were so good it pained him. Nootau never wanted their naivety to be sullied with someone like him.
The voices might not haunt him any longer, but the memories resided inside him. Entwined with his spirit. There would never be escaping what he saw, what he did.
How could he be so selfish as to want them still?
"It's amazing what a person can do when properly motivated," Akemi said, startling Nootau.
After a cursory glance, Nootau pulled himself away from the fox.
"How did you manage to get to the clearing?"
Nootau refused to answer. Gian and Bernard would probably rat him out later. He was more than willing to let Akemi stew for a while. "They're beautiful together."
"They are," the response came out forced, with a twist of pain.
A sigh escaped Nootau. "I can't complete them anymore. I never could."
"Are you so sure?" Akemi asked. "They seemed to balance out your morose behavior."
"They were a fling I picked up." But the words sounded hollow, even to Nootau.
Akemi let out a dignified snort. "Flings don't nearly die defending each other."
It was true, and exhaustion hung on Nootau, familiar as an old friend. He didn't even bother arguing. What was the point?
"They're obtuse at times. The world has been rather kind to them? Should I say? Edwige leading with her heart, and Aegeus trying to fix everything," Akemi said, she glanced down at Nootau. "You're the first. They can't just make you better. But they want to. They want to be by your side. You really want to give that up?"
"I am so..." Soiled? Ruined? Filthy? Tainted? Definitely tainted.
"Stubborn," Akemi finished for him. "Something I know a little about."
"You are that," Nootau agreed before pausing. Her drive felt relentless. "You won't find Waban, despite your desire to. He's gone, probably parading as someone else by now."
The others from the selling ring she had a chance of getting. Had gotten some, in fact. But Waban would never be seen again. Nootau had to find a way to accept that as well. It helped knowing Waban would always be looking over his shoulder, never truly free to be himself again.
"Eventually someone will see the tattoo. He'll slip up. Beings like him always do."
"So sure the Rubrum Lux can ferret him out?"
Akemi gave him a wide smile, one like the predator she was. "Ja."
Nootau thought about telling Akemi there were ways to remove the magically etched tattoo. Not exactly something a walker wanted to put themselves through, but there were ways if one was determined. And had the right coin. Except Akemi felt so certain Nootau didn't want to burst her bubble, so he said nothing.
Maybe she would get lucky.
Instead Nootau turned back to watching Edwige and Aegeus. A bit voyeuristic, but he had to be sure they would be okay. They worked in synchrony, making love to each other. A part of him couldn't get enough of seeing them together. Entwined. Happy. Sad. Loving. It was the first time in weeks he'd seen them be so affectionate to each other.
It hurt, but made him happy too. They were going to be fine. Maybe not him, but they would be. That was the important thing to remember as he watched from the outside looking in.
"Leaving them would be a mistake," Akemi said softly, putting a hand on his shoulder.
"Don't!" Nootau jerked away, nearly toppling over himself. Desire to scrub the spot she touched him overwhelmed Nootau. He struggled not to rub it. She had only touched his T-shirt. Not him. But still. Fuck. His stomach wanted to dance, and not in the fun way.
"Sorry. I'm sorry," Akemi said. She withdrew and took a step away from him. No longer crowing Nootau's space. That helped. "I just wanted to say... It's rare in the world, to find such devotion. A fool like you should be thankful you have it."
"Know a little something about that, do you?" Nootau said it, meant it to tease, to remove the attention on him, but Akemi's expression was so serious his bravado faltered.
"Ja, I do."
Akemi's comment was soft, her expression gentling. Something Nootau wouldn't have believed if he hadn't seen it for himself. Baiting her felt like it would backfire on him. The whole conversation had curtailed into her control, and it honestly grated on him something fierce. But Nootau kept his mouth shut. Fear kept him from lashing out. Her words could cut if she wanted them to.
"I know you're weary of us, ja? But Rubrum Lux is here to help balance the world. Some of us are. We all should be. Every organization has its problems," Akemi said. Her jaw ticked with the admission.
Nootau snorted. Walker parts being sold counted as a major problem to him.
"And I admit, all of you, every single one of the people who descended upon my castle, will be on our radar."
"We could out you, the Rubrum Lux," Nootau asserted even though he knew the chances of being believed were slim. But he had to put it out there. The nine of them against something so large would be a near impossible feat. He'd like to believe they could do it.
Akemi gave him a side-long look. "You are determined."
But they both knew what the outcome would be. It would ruin them, not Rubrum Lux.
"But we have no plans in interfering in your lives, though we will some medical and health support for you, and the others if they need it. No worrying about that."
"Trying to buy us?" Nootau asked.
"A little bit, ja," Akemi admitted with a shrug. "But also because we need to know what's happening here with you. You're a danger."
One of her long fingers tapped the side of his head.
Akemi wasn't wrong. Nootau might have argued with her point in the past, but he couldn't anymore. The memories, the scars, were there to stay. All of the others were going back to their lives, was it fair to ask Edwige and Aegeus to stay in a holding pattern? To give them hope when he might be nothing more than a shell? A shiver wracked his body, and he wrapped his arms around his stomach. The cold was unforgiving.
"But—" Akemi said and drew back up to her full height. "I do believe there is something that could keep you from falling."
"And what's that?"
"Them." She gestured toward Edwige and Aegeus. "The fact they're worried they will hurt you, about how you would be effected by their love or lack thereof, says everything I need to know about their commitment to you."
Nootau gazed at his lovers again. A small beacon of hope flared. "I don't know if I can stand being touched."
"Does it make you angry you aren't with them? Physically?"
"Are you enjoying? The watching them?"
"Yes." Very much so. He could believe anything was possible when Edwige and Aegeus loved on each other.
"Then find a way to make it work."
"You think an order can make it happen?" Nootau retorted.
"I do," Akemi answered with a smile.
Nootau sighed and looked out over the clearing again. They were beautiful. So bright. Did he really want to sully their union?
"Be grateful. Every day."
"I can do that."
"You aren't dirtying them. They're bringing you out of the dark spaces and giving you light."
"Can I ask a favor?" Nootau said. He used a tree branch to help shift his position in the dirt. He wanted Akemi's full attention. "Can you bring me out to them? And... and if I ever lose myself again, will you kill me? Or at least give the order to? I never want them harmed."
"Technically that's two favors." Several minutes ticked by as Akemi stared. Nootau almost began to regret saying anything when she answered, "Yes, of course, to both."
"The blanket!" Nootau said, pulling on it frantically when she reached for him. "Just wrap me up. If you could."
Akemi dipped her head, and between them they managed to get him covered up. The layer between them created a tolerable barrier.
Once shielded from Akemi's touch, they were able her arms under Nootau and she lifted him. A part of him felt disconcerted at the ease in which she could do so, but he wasn't about to tell Akemi that. He felt he'd pushed far enough for a lifetime.
A chuckle—a real one—escaped Akemi. Shock kept Nootau's anger from flaring and he asked "why" instead.
"Now I understand why Bernard and Gian wanted burritos for supper."
"You know how creepy that is, right?" The offhand remark certain gave Nootau shudders.
"A little, ja."
When Akemi placed Nootau down by his lovers, they startled, momentarily stopping in their lovemaking. Sweat adorned their skin. Love bites scattered about both their chests. A halo ring encompassed their bodies.
They lay breathless, eyes wide open, in what Nootau assumed was a state of shock.
No one expected to be dropped in mid-lovemaking, clearing or not.
"What—" Edwige began.
"Is he—" Aegeus started as he moved his hands off Edwige's hips, pushing her back.
Akemi held up a hand before addressing Nootau. "Don't fuck it up... more."
Akemi winked then strode off back out of the clearing, back straight and unwavering. Nootau might not be crazy about the fox, but he respected her. And she had her shit together. Unlike him. He was a walking disaster. But for some reason, the two people beside him, entangled together, gawking at him, wanted Nootau.
"Please, don't stop," he said when he could finally talk, breaking the silence.
"Stop?" Edwige and Aegeus asked together.
Nootau wriggled free of the blanket and motioned at their personage. "I like it, watching you together. It's the first time in weeks I've been able to relax."
Edwige opened her mouth, but Aegeus covered it with his hand. She glared at her lover until he removed it with a chagrined shrug.
"I've missed seeing you two together," Nootau pressed on. Had his voice always sounded this desperate?
"You have?" Edwige asked.
"Yes. Very much."
Neither of them moved at the admission. Not at first. But then Edwige started placing small kisses over Aegeus' chest, licking and nibbling as she worked her way down. Their hips found a rhythm again. A hard and frantic pace. Gasps and murmurs fell from them both, as did tears.
Edwige took Aegeus' hands in her own, pushing them out and away from their bodies. A breath away from Nootau. He laid down, one elbow tucked under his head as he watched them undulate together. Their cries sharpened. And the fear, the worry Nootau been holding in, went with them.
As his lovers found their release, falling together as Edwige collapsed over Aegeus' chest, Nootau felt a surge of happiness. The first real spike of genuine positivity he'd felt in weeks. He pushed out his free arm, his fingertips a centimeter from theirs. They might not be touching, but he felt a connection thrumming between them. Edwige and Aegeus were facing him, breathing hard, their eyes bright with uncertainty and anticipation intermingled together.
"Can this be enough?" he asked, hoping, praying it would be. His voice caught a couple times before he could make it come out right. "This right here. Can it be enough?"
Tears crested like perfect diamonds in Edwige eyes again, but she was smiling, so was Aegeus. That had to be a good sign, right?
"Of course it's enough," she answered. "And if that's all it ever will be, it'll be enough then too."
Nootau closed his eyes briefly, almost disbelieving of the relief sweeping through him.
"Our girl's right," Aegeus agreed, his soothing voice washing over Nootau. "It will always be enough for us."
Unable to speak, Nootau opened his eyes and let the tears fall. Let his lovers see them as his broken heart rejoiced. His spirit sang, though that might be because of Aegeus' hum. Nootau didn't miss that little extra push. But he took the comfort as it was meant, with their love.
Nootau stared at the space between them, knowing despite it, loved filled the emptiness between them. And that was enough. Would always be enough.