Niall stared at Irial in shock. While he had had his suspicions - really there hadn’t been that many options to begin with - but he was still thrown to hear Irial admit it. Especially after he had danced around it before.
“It’s you,” he said, watching Irial. Next to him, Keenan had turned into a statue, only staring at Irial. “You’re her father.”
“You should see the looks on your faces. Priceless,” Irial replied, still grinning. “Yes, she is mine.”
“Why didn’t you tell me before when I asked?” Niall said, starting to get irritated.
“It was more important for you to rescue Maeve from the clutches of the Summer King,” Irial said, his gaze falling on Keenan. “Really? You were going to trick her into joining the court? Haven’t you learned by now that that never works the way you intend?”
“I was doing what I thought was right,” Keenan said, defending his actions. Irial started towards him, fury entering his face.
“She is my daughter, you imbecile, and if you hurt her-”
“But… why?” Niall asked, stopping Irial before he attempted to get into a fight with Keenan.
Now that he was no longer the Dark King, he wasn’t nearly as strong as he used to be. And despite everything, Niall didn’t want him to get hurt. Irial met his gaze again.
“Why what?” he asked in reply. “You’re going to need to be more specific if you want the answer you’re seeking.”
Niall took a deep breath, about a million questions filling his mind. Where to start?
“Why didn’t you take care of her?” Niall asked. Irial sighed, for a moment a look of regret coming over his face.
“I tried,” he said simply.
“Yea, well you didn’t try hard enough,” Niall said firmly. Irial looked down at the ground, looking far more regretful than Niall had ever seen him. It was confusing. And unexpected. Irial never regretted anything he did, no matter who it hurt. “Do you not even know how hard it’s been for her?”
Irial looked up, meeting Niall’s eyes.
“All I ever wanted was for her to be safe,” he said. “And I thought that she would be as long as she was far away from me.”
Niall was stunned at the confession, unable to reply. Irial then shook his head and started walking away from them.
“These are all things best said in the company of my daughter so I don’t have to repeat myself,” he said, walking past them. “Come now. Think it’s time I introduced myself.”
Niall and Keenan looked at each other and then after Irial. Sighing, they both turned to follow him as Niall pulled out his phone and texted Seth. Best if he were there as well.
This was sure to be a trying morning.
Maeve rubbed her face as she sat at the island. Ash had come over shortly after Niall left and was currently making up a pot of coffee, promising to explain everything. Maeve had pulled her hair up to get it out of the way, now seeming to no longer be worried about who saw her scars.
Christ, she had started getting naked in front of the entire Summer Court. She supposed it didn’t really matter who saw them now. For the first time since the accident, Maeve was dressed in a pair of cotton shorts and a short-sleeve t-shirt - no cardigan or scarf.
Aislinn sat a mug down in front of her, moving to sit on the other stool, her eyes fixed on the scars that ran down Maeve’s right side.
“Does it hurt?” Aislinn asked cautiously. Maeve glanced at her and then down at her arm and leg.
“No,” she said. “It doesn’t hurt. Only my leg did. But then Niall healed it.”
Aislinn’s eyes widened as she looked back up at Maeve’s face and then back down at her left knee, seeing the surgery scars still there.
“That’s how you could dance last night,” she said. Maeve nodded.
“I didn’t ask him to do it… he just… did it one night,” she said, her cheeks turning slightly pink as she remembered what had happened afterwards.
“Ah… so I take it you learned about that little side effect,” Aislinn said softly. Maeve nodded, but didn’t say anything more. “Look, about last night… I swear, I didn’t know that Keenan was going to do that. And I would have stopped him if I had known.”
“What exactly did he do?” Maeve asked, turning to face her, her brow furrowed. “I mean, I know he was trying to get me drunk, but I don’t really understand why. Or why it was such a big deal.”
Aislinn swallowed and took a deep breath before meeting Maeve’s eyes.
“He thought that if he got you to join the Summer Court, it would make me happy,” she said. “The party was supposed to try and convince you to join us. And he, um, already started the process to turn you into a full faery.”
Maeve’s mouth dropped open as she was rendered mute.
Turn full faery? That wasn’t even on her radar with everything else going on. Niall had mentioned it was possible before, but she hadn’t really given it much thought, being more concerned with finding her father and figuring out just what was between her and Niall.
And now this.
“I… can it be stopped?” she asked softly. Aislinn shook her head.
“No… I don’t think it can,” she said. She reached over and took Maeve’s hands as all the color drained from her face. “I’m so sorry… I didn’t know he was going to do that. I wanted you to have a choice - to decide if you wanted to be part of this world or not. To decide what court - if any - you wanted to join. And then he took part of that away from you.”
Maeve looked over at her cousin, seeing the tears fill her eyes. She still couldn’t bring herself to speak, too shocked to form any sentences. She was going to be a full faery whether she wanted to or not. She realized in that moment that it didn’t really matter what she wanted right now.
This was happening. She was going to be full faery and all that entailed. She’d live forever. But then she’d have to eventually say good-bye to her mother. Her job. Couldn’t work at the dance studio when she never aged, could she?
And then there was the whole overwhelming idea that she would have to choose a court. Go Dark and be with Niall, but potentially cut herself off from Aislinn. Or go to the Summer Court and potentially lose whatever was growing between her and Niall.
God, this was starting to become too much. Everything she knew was about to change. And she hadn’t gotten a say in it at all. Maeve couldn’t help as anger toward Keenan began coursing through her.
That bastard, she couldn’t help but think, surprising herself with the viciousness behind the thought. But at the same time, how could Aislinn have ever willingly chosen to be his queen?
“I can promise you that it’s going to be okay. Whatever happens, I’m going to be with you the whole time. I’m not going anywhere,” Aislinn vowed. “Even if you don’t want to join the Summer Court, I’m still here for you.”
“Okay,” Maeve finally said. “This is… this is a lot. And… yea. I think I just need to process…”
“It’s okay. You can take all the time you need. You actually have a lot of it now,” Aislinn replied. Maeve snorted softly.
“I have all the time now,” she said, still a bit stunned. “Oh god, how am I going to tell Mom?”
“We don’t have to do that right away,” Aislinn said. “In fact, it’s probably better to wait on that…”
“That’s true,” Maeve replied with a sigh.
She reached for her coffee, but just as soon as the mug touched her lips there was a knock at the door. She looked over at it and then stood, walking over.
“You expecting someone?” Aislinn asked.
“Probably Niall. He said he was going to speak to someone about something and then come back,” she said, realizing that she still hadn’t told Aislinn about what was going on with Niall. They would get to that.
She opened the door, her eyes wide as she saw Seth standing there.
“Niall told me to come over-”
He stopped speaking as he stepped into the kitchen and saw Aislinn seated at the island, looking just as shocked to see him.
“Hey Ash,” he said.
She didn’t speak, just nodded. Maeve sighed and started to close the door, thinking this was about to get all sorts of awkward when there was another knock. She stared at it a moment, before pulling the door back open.
Standing there was the faery that had been following her. He just grinned as Maeve’s mouth fell open. Just behind him stood Niall and Keenan, the two shooting glares at each other.
Of course, his grin faded as he took in her scars. There was a look of shock, then anger. But then he seemed to gain control of himself.
“You really do take after your mother now that I see you close up,” the faery said, meeting her eyes. “She always was rather beautiful. Though you are far more beautiful, I should think.”
Maeve couldn’t speak or move as he stepped into the apartment, Keenan and Niall following.
“What are you doing here, Irial?” Aislinn said, scowling at him as a wave of heat rolled off her.
“Can’t a father come visit his daughter?” Irial asked.
The mug that had been in Maeve’s hand fell to the floor, smashing into pieces and spilling coffee everywhere. This faery. This was her father. Irial turned to her, though didn’t move any closer to her, keeping his distance. Sadness entered his eyes as he once again studied her burn scars.
“I’m so sorry that I could not be there for you in the way I should have been,” he said, his voice soft. “I should have… stepped in sooner.”
“Who are you?” she asked softly, the only thing that she could think to say. He met her eyes again.
“I’m Irial. Your father,” he stated.
“What the hell?!” Aislinn shouted, though her scowl had turned to a look of confusion.
“I suppose this makes us family, doesn’t it?” Irial asked, looking over at her. “In a way, at least.”
Maeve just stared at him, not quite believing that she was finally meeting him. Standing face to face with her father.
Where had he been all these years? Why did he stay away from her and her mother? Why was he here now - of all times?
“Why? Why did you stay away?” she asked, settling on that question first.
Irial turned back to her, his previous look of amusement now giving way to one of guilt.
“It wasn’t safe… for me to be around you,” he said. “If any of my enemies had found out about you, they would have used you to get to me. I had to make sure that didn’t happen. But I did my best. Did you not get the money I sent? I created the account for you, so that you and your mother would want for nothing. Gave you that charm to hide you from others… to bind your powers so you couldn’t hurt anyone unintentionally.”
Maeve just blinked in response, her hand going to her neck, even though she wasn’t wearing her necklace. Had left it upstairs.
“Her mother couldn’t access the account,” Niall said softly, though his face was stormy.
Irial looked shocked for a moment and then back at Maeve, as if to confirm this. She nodded.
“I had to work two jobs in high school just to make sure we got our bills paid,” she said softly. “What’s more… I had to look out for her more than she looked out for me. Because of you.”
It was as though all the years of resentment overflowed and began pouring out of her. All the anger at him for abandoning them. For making her mother the way that she was. For not caring to look in on them, instead just throwing money at the problem, thinking that would fix everything.
It hadn’t fixed a goddamn thing.
“It was because of you that she was so messed up she could barely take care of me,” she shouted. “She spent more time obsessing over you than giving a damn about me!”
Irial frowned and shook his head.
“That… that shouldn’t have happened,” he started.
“Yea, well, if you had taken the time to check in on us, you would have known! She’s currently in a treatment facility - will probably have to be institutionalized for the rest of her life! Because of YOU!” she shouted, moving towards him. Irial just stared at her a moment. “And why now!? All this time and you suddenly decide to show up now?! WHY?!”
Silence reigned in the apartment as everyone watched the father and daughter. Maeve’s nostrils flared in anger as she glared at him, faint shadows suddenly appearing and beginning to swirl around her in anger. Niall’s eyes widened as he watched them a moment and then looked around the room, seeing that everyone else was just as surprised to see them. Irial stood still, meeting her gaze, though a few different emotions flinted across his face.
“I couldn’t stay away any longer,” he finally said, his voice calm.
“Still doesn’t tell me why,” Maeve retorted. Irial glanced at Niall and back at Maeve.
“It’s because I can see what’s growing between you and Niall,” he said. Harsh laughter left Maeve’s lips.
“Oh, I see. You’ve decided to step in and finally be a dad, have you? What? Are you going to warn me about him too?” she asked, crossing her arms in front of her.
“No. Quite the opposite. I intend to encourage it,” he said. Niall’s eyebrows flew up as Maeve’s eyes widened.
“Why?” she asked.
“Because I know what is going on,” Irial said.
“Care to enlighten us?” Niall asked. Maeve and Irial both looked over at him and he stepped over to Maeve’s side, placing an arm protectively around her waist. A hint of a blush came over her cheeks, though she returned to glaring at Irial. “Since you seem to have all the answers now.”
“At first I thought it curious that you seemed to have moved on so quickly,” Irial said. “But then I saw who she was - that it was my Maeve - and it suddenly started to make sense.” No one dared to speak, wanting him to get to the point. “You wonder why you both feel a pull to each other?”
“You said it was because she was your daughter,” Niall said.
Maeve glanced up at him and then looked back at Irial. She was irritated by Irial’s sudden possessiveness, calling her his Maeve. She didn’t belong to anyone. But she also didn’t want to derail him now that they were finally getting some answers.
“It’s more than that,” Irial said, starting to smile. “That power you both feel when you’re with each other, there’s a reason for it. It’s because she’s meant to be your queen. The Dark Queen.”
Both Maeve and Niall froze - yet again. As did everyone else. Well, everyone save Keenan, that is.
“That’s impossible!” he roared. Irial casually turned to look at him. “There’s never been a Dark Queen!”
“I assure you, it’s not. It’s very much possible,” he said. He then looked at Seth. “You’ve seen it, haven’t you?”
Maeve, Niall and Aislinn all gaped at him. Though for Maeve, it was because she had no idea that Seth knew something else was going on. How could he? And why wouldn’t he say something about it? She thought they were friends. She couldn’t help as a bit of betrayal ran through her.
“I saw the possibility that they would be together. I wasn’t completely sure of the outcome,” he admitted. “What it could lead to. There are still a lot of possibilities to that end.”
“Why didn’t you say something?” Niall asked as Maeve reached up and rubbed her temples.
“Wait a minute - you can see the future?” she asked, closing her eyes as she felt a headache coming on.
“Sort of. I can see possible futures, but I never really know which one will come to pass. I didn’t want to push it one way or another,” Seth replied. “Figured it was best for you two to figure it out on your own.”
“You encouraged this!?” Keenan shouted at Seth as he pointed at him.
“Don’t get angry with him!” Aislinn shouted, jumping to her feet and stepping in between him and Seth. “It’s not his fault! He just saw what could happen!”
“Don’t you get it!? We can’t let this happen!” Keenan shouted at her. “We can’t let the Dark Court gain more power!”
“The way I see it, you don’t have a say in the matter!” Aislinn retorted.
Niall and Irial watched Maeve, concern on their faces as Keenan and Aislinn continued to shout at each other.
“EVERYONE, SHUT UP!” Maeve finally bellowed, succeeding in getting the two monarchs to go silent. “I want everyone out! Now!”
“But-” Aislinn started.
“OUT!” Maeve shouted, directly a stern glare at her cousin. “I can’t think with all of you shouting and this… God, I need to process all of this right now. It’s bad enough that you dropped that whole bomb on me about Keenan turning me full faery.”
She directed a glare in his direction, which was followed by one from Irial, though he didn’t say anything. Seth just stared in shock at him a moment, before also frowning.
Aislinn sighed and nodded, walking to the door and roughly pulling Keenan with her. It was obvious that those two were going to pick up their argument wherever it was they ended up going. Aislinn cast a sad look towards Seth, but then continued out of the apartment.
Niall pressed a kiss to her head, then turned and left as well with Seth at his side. Irial started towards the door, but Maeve reached out, stopping him.
“No. You stay. We’ve got a lot to talk about,” she said firmly. He nodded.