Chapter Twenty-Seven: Nootau
Always Plan on a Bad Day
The rain wouldn't stop. Nootau wished it was snow instead, but Spring was rearing its head. For nearly two weeks the Knights had been coming, poking their noses in everyone's business. Asking for copies, pushing for information, bringing photographs and information in for them to to go over.
Akemi hadn't lied about getting to the bottom of the dragon business, but they had yet to resolve anything with the walkers. No connection had been found whatsoever, but then neither had any connection to Tibo's information. In fact, Akemi was starting to believe his problem was a Guild issue, but wasn't a hundred percent certain. The only thing for certain was it did seem Ashe's and Mal's information were connected in a roundabout way. The bastards involved with the dragon breeding were about to get fucked sideways by Akemi no matter what.
The good things they had come out with were names and evidence. Even if Dario and his husband Nils were total bastards, Nootau held the knowledge their network was about to get brought down. Tibo might not get that satisfaction. Nootau wasn't certain their testimony would do any good, but Akemi seemed certain the order would do something, and if need be, investigate further. As Aegeus said, "Hope isn't a bad thing. It means having something worth fight for." A snort escaped Nootau. Hope was indeed an awful thing to have. He should know.
"Nootau?" Edwige's voice called out.
A shudder ran through him. Her voice was liquid silk to his broken spirit.
"You in here?"
Here was a small nursery room on the third floor. Nootau found it not long after Akemi showed up and shared the Firedrake project with them. Filled mostly with fables and children's stories. A chest of toys had been carefully placed in one corner while a small table and chairs sat across the room from it. A closet held dress up clothes. The north wall had a working fireplace with a rocking chair next to it. It was a comfortable rocker with pillows and warm blanket to snuggle in.
The room was a refuge from everyone. Here the quiet soothed him. Everywhere else had too much noise. It hurt. Nootau could barely stand being in the same room as Edwige and Aegeus anymore. But sitting in the rocker, surrounded by all the warmth of the room, made Nootau feel better. Then he wouldn't think about how he'd have to leave his lovers. Or why they would leave him.
Because they are good.
Unlike you, soul stealer. You are filth.
"Did you just tell me to shut up?" Edwige asked with a sharp twist to her voice.
"Not you," Nootau said, closing his eyes. "Never you."
Footsteps came into the room, right in front of Nootau. He refused to open his eyes. Too see the disappointment in Edwige's face again, Nootau's stomach couldn't handle it. Not that it could handle much these days.
"Do you need something? A draft of anti-nausea medication?" Edwige's warm hand went to his forehead. "Think you could drink some water and keep it down?"
"Yes." For her Nootau would.
Because you want her dirty like you.
"Is the infection back?" she asked.
"No!" Not the one from his stupid stitches at least.
Edwige's hand traced down to his jaw. She pressed her palm against the side of his throat. "Maybe you should talk to Akemi's Healer again?"
"I'm fine," Nootau said. "There something you need?"
Edwige didn't answered immediately.
"Or just saying hi?"
Why would she want to see your worthless face, walker?
"Just wanted some time with my guy," Edwige answered softly.
Nootau finally opened his eyes and met her sorrowful gaze. So much pain resided there. "Aegeus is downstairs in the study with Mal."
A quick, in-drawn breath told Nootau how much the words cut Edwige. The tears threatening to fall from her eyes did too. You're a bastard, walker.
"I meant you." Her words came out with a wobble.
A knock interrupted them. "Edwige? Nootau?"
The good doctor Jaxx stuck his head into the room.
"Ah." Edwige wiped at her cheeks. "You need something Jaxx?"
His smiled faltered briefly but he recovered fast. "Yes, Akemi is here. She wants to know our answer. She's down in the study."
Edwige nodded and headed for the door after Jaxx's shadow. When she got to it, she called back without looking, "You coming?"
"Yeah." And Nootau pushed the blanket off him and stood. His bones cracked and moaned, protesting the movement. He did his best to straighten up. Last thing he needed was for the doctor or Edwige see him limping.
Happens when you rot from the inside out, walker.
* * * * *
Aegeus settled onto the loveseat they moved into the study. He and Mal had been over the shipping receipts from the Guild and Rubrum Lux one last time to be sure the operations from the aerospace lab were in fact separate.
At least we can confirm Dario and his husband Nils are working through their own network.
The thought wasn't really comforting but knowing who was caught up in what helped clarify what was going on. The clusterfuck nearly made Akemi lose her cool on a couple occassions. Just little ticks to her jaw, but Aegeus was pretty sure those meant she was seething underneath.
When Jaxx hurried through the door with Edwige stomping behind him, Aegeus pushed off the loveseat only to have her murderous glare sit him back down. What had their third done now? Only Nootau could make her look so... hurt. Aegeus opened his arms and Edwige flew right into them, burying her face in his shoulder.
More than a few people shot a troubled look in their direction.
"Where's Nootau?" Akemi asked, not looking at Aegeus and Edwige.
Speaking of the devil. Aegeus frowned as their third, distant as he may be the past couple weeks, walked stiffly into the room.
Nootau didn't avoid them entirely, but he left space between them on the loveseat. He wouldn't meet Aegeus' eyes either. Something definitely happened. Gods Above and Mother Earth below he was breaking Aegeus' heart along with Edwige's.
Akemi walked back over to the fire place. As always over the past few days, Gian and Jariah flanked her like overprotective guard dogs. Their protectiveness over her was warranted. They'd found some nasty information.
Information that had caused many more fights between them. More than one person sported a black eye in the room. Knights and them alike. Gian's had a particularly nasty one from Ashe. Though the purple went with his new make-up scheme. The knight knew how to rock eyeshadow really well.
After a loud, harsh breath out, Akemi turned back toward the room, facing their party. All of them had their attention fixed on her.
"Well?" she said. "Have you decided?"
Aegeus looked over to Rolly, Jaxx and Mal. They nodded. He felt Edwige nod against him as well. "We'll come in."
Akemi's flawless composure almost broken when she smiled. "Good."
"But we have a few conditions," Rolly threw in.
Jaxx nodded. "We want to bring our own transport."
"We're keeping copies of our documents or files," Mal added.
Akemi frowned but nodded. "Anything else?"
Smart fox. That had been a deal breaker for most of their party.
Edwige twisted around in Aegeus' lap. Normally that did nice things to his crotch, today though, it didn't. "Can you really guarantee our safety until the investigations are finished and prosecutions go through?"
"Not 100 percent, no," Akemi answered. Her jaw ticked. "I wish I could, but we'll do our best to protect you until then."
"You do realize how much this has affected all our lives, our jobs?" Edwige pushed hard. Anger laced her voice.
"You will be compensated," Akemi said. Her gaze lingered on Mal then moved back to Edwige. "In fact, I hope some lasting relationships occur out of this. We need some new blood in Rubrum Lux."
Aegeus glanced over at their friend. He wondered what that was about.
"Okay!" Akemi clapped her hands together. Another of the knights, Lea, pulled out a computer pad and a projected image of the castle popped up. "We have some guidelines to go over."
"Guidelines? Why do we need guidelines?" Tibo asked. He crossed his arms. Aegeus could almost see the cloud of discontent rolling off him. Tibo sniffed. "Think we're going to trash the place?"
Akemi did the best eye roll ever in response. "No, but I always plan for a bad day. I prefer to know you will get in and out safely."
Aegeus decided to start humming. The agitation in the room was palpable.
"Why can't we give our evidence over now, then?" Ashe asked. He put a protective arm around Jaxx's shoulders.
"We still need your testimony."
Ashe shook his head. "Can't we just do that here? I don't want Jaxx hurt."
Jaxx huffed but didn't argue. Aegeus felt for Ashe. He understood exactly. Putting loved one in the line of fire took years off a person's life. Or felt like it anyway. Aegeus just wanted the whole ordeal to be done and over. Maybe then they could help Nootau find a way back to himself again.
"I have some of my superiors coming in to hear this and look at the evidence," Akemi answered. The tick in her jaw got that much bigger. "We have to go through official channels to be able to have the precedence for action to be taken against those in our investigation. I have their ear, but without testimony and the evidence official sanctions can't be brought."
"And how are ye going to keep us safe?" Rolly queried.
"Each of you will have an armed escort in and out of Rotlicht. They will be stationed outside the investigator rooms while we get your testimony."
"We're just coming in for our statements and bringing our evidence," Kaden said, pressing against Mal. He threaded his fingers with Mal's. At least someone was on good terms with their lover. "Why would we need an armed escort?"
"Like I said." Akemi sighed. "We have a few big names in this mess. I'm not sure who to trust besides the men and women I have brought on personally. Caution is our friend."
Aegeus couldn't agree more. "Yes it is."
"How many rooms are we getting put in?" Edwige asked.
"Four, so figure out who goes with who."
Aegeus laughed. Like Akemi didn't know how they would split. At least she pretended to let them have some control over the situation. He rubbed his chin over Edwige's head and gave her a squeeze.
"Well, when do we do this?" Aegeus asked.
"I'll have cars waiting for you tomorrow at noon." Akemi smiled, showing a little fang. "Time to nail the bastards."