Niall stood just outside the large factory-turned-apartment building seeing the lights still on in one third floor apartment. The windows were large and uncovered, but he still couldn't see into it from this angle. He wasn't exactly sure why he was there. This was the Summer Queen's cousin, which would place her firmly off limits once Aislinn found out that she was back in town. Probably put her under their protection immediately, though Keenan would end up caring less.
There was an uneasy peace among the courts for the time being, but who knew how long that would last.
"Was wondering where you got off to," Irial said lightly. Niall turned, watching as he sauntered up to him with his usual smirk. While it had been awhile since he had shown up, Niall wasn't completely surprised to see him. His shadows danced happily around Irial, making it clear how they felt about his presence.
"Just wanted to get some air," Niall said, looking back to the windows. Irial followed his view and then looked back at his successor, a grin appearing.
"What's this? Found another one so soon?" he asked. Niall frowned.
"No," he said quickly. "Just… checking in on her… she's… intriguing." Irial chuckled as he pulled out a cigarette and lighter.
"How so?" he asked before lighting it. "Pretty? Witty?"
Niall thought for a moment before answering, remembering the small bit of flesh he had seen on her neck. Maeve had tossed her head back in laughter, her dark hair falling away while the scarf had slid down slightly. It was just a glimpse, but he had seen the discolored flesh. As she was in another long-sleeve sweater and he knew that she was in a car accident, he deduced that it must cover most of her body.
He then thought to her dark blue eyes, the hint of pain and grief that still clung to them though she was smiling.
"Different," he said finally. Irial's eyebrows rose as he looked back to the windows.
"Must be interesting if she caught your fancy. Though you do always go for the broken ones," he mused.
"Not much room for you to speak," Niall replied, not looking at him.
Part of him couldn't help but think that Maeve wasn't broken. Despite what he had sensed in her and had heard about her, there was also an underlying strength. That she had survived whatever horrors she had seen and come out on the other side. Not broken, but stronger.
Though how he sensed any of this in someone he just met was anyone's guess. Irial sighed and nodded.
"Suppose that is true," he said. "What's her name?"
"Maeve. And she's the Summer Queen's cousin," Niall said. Irial laughed loudly.
"You have a death wish, my friend," he said, causing Niall to look over at him. "Mortal and related to the Summer Queen… I highly doubt she will like it if you take up with her cousin after what happened the last time."
"I have no intentions of doing anything with her cousin. I just… I'm curious to know more about her," Niall retorted. His shadows moved closer to his side. "And you were the one that did the most harm to Leslie." Irial stopped laughing, a rare serious look coming over his face.
"I thought we had moved on from that," he said softly.
"I thought so as well," Niall replied, a pensive look on his face as his eyes were once again drawn to the windows. He wanted just one more glimpse of her. Then he would leave.
Almost as though she sensed his thoughts, Maeve appeared in the window, looking around the street. She had lost the scarf but was too far for him to make out the scars on her neck. She then turned and walked away again.
Irial looked up, only seeing a bit of her hair as she walked away and then the apartment went dark.
"Well… shall we take our leave?" Irial asked. Niall nodded and turned, walking away from Irial in the opposite direction. He wasn't in the mood to spend more time with the former king that night. Though he couldn't help but glance back at the dark windows one last time.
Maeve woke up feeling more rested than she had in years the next morning. Perhaps it was being back home or meeting up with Seth and Niall. She wasn't completely sure, but a newfound strength was running through her as she dressed and had her morning coffee.
She decided that it was time to drop by and see Aunt Elena and Aislinn.
Maybe it was fear that she would lose her nerve, but she headed out shortly after, not even bothering to call. She knew her aunt would be there. She was always there. And she would no doubt be happy to see her again. She hoped Aislinn would as well, though she wasn't completely sure as she had long ago stopped answering her calls and texts.
Whatever. The past didn't matter to Maeve anymore. Or at least she told herself that. Now was time to make amends and reforge ties. Spending time with Seth last night had shown her that much. If she could pick up her friendship with him, surely, she would be accepted back into the only family she wanted in her life.
Maeve found herself humming softly as she walked through the city, ignoring the various faeries she came across. For the most part, they left her alone though she got a few curious glances here and there. It didn't worry her. She had her necklace on, so there was no way they would know anything. To them, she was just another random human walking down the street in a city full of random humans.
She stopped for a moment in front of the building where her aunt and Aislinn lived then walked in, her left leg aching slightly as she went up the stairs. While she did her best to keep up her dancer's body and form, her injury made it more difficult. But she pushed that aside as she made her way down the hall and stopped in front of her aunt's door. Making a face at the steel design, she reached up and knocked.
While it didn't really affect her that much, she found that she wasn't too fond of the metal. Granted it had proven hard to avoid in the city.
"Coming!" she heard from within as she stepped back. She glanced around the hall and then whipped her head around as the door flew open. Elena looked very much the same, her gray hair in a braid that wrapped around her head. Her eyes widened in surprise, but then she broke into a large grin.
"Maeve!" she exclaimed as she reached out and pulled her into a strong hug. "My goodness, why didn't you tell me you were here for a visit?! Where are you staying?"
"I, actually, I moved back," Maeve said, reveling in the comfort she got from the hug. Elena let go of her and stepped back, staring at her a moment.
"You've moved back?" she asked, her eyes questioning. "Well… come on in and you can tell me about it. Just got some tea ready."
Maeve followed her into the apartment and looked around, finding it still the same as it was before. She then sat on the sofa as Elena bustled into the kitchen and returned with two mugs of tea.
"How long have you been back?" Elena asked as she settled into her armchair.
"About a week," Maeve replied. "I wanted to come by sooner, but I was taking care of my apartment and new job." Elena nodded. Maeve could sense the worry in her eyes. She was concerned that her mother had something to do with it. "Mom's in a treatment center the next town over. She… doesn't know that I'm here."
Elena smiled softly and reached over patting her on the knee.
"Probably for the best," she said soothingly. Maeve nodded and looked down at her mug. "I'm sorry Ash isn't here. She's always popping in and out nowadays."
"She moved out?" Maeve asked, looking back at her aunt. An odd look came over her face.
"Yes, some time ago. But she still likes to come over and stay the night occasionally," Elena said, covering her look with a smile. "So, tell me about this job."
"Oh, just teaching at Frederick's," Maeve said easily, wishing that Aislinn were there.
"I'm not surprised. They are the best studio in town. And you were their shining star," Elena said. Maeve winced as she thought back to her dancing days.
"Yea, they were happy when I contacted them and said I was looking to move back," she replied. The concern was back in Elena's eyes.
"So what brings you back?" she asked softly. Maeve sighed.
"Just… needed to get out of the city. Go somewhere else. Try and start over. I'm not sure why I felt the need to come home, but… couldn't really think of anywhere else to go," she said honestly.
"You know that you'll always have a place here with us," Elena said. "You're family."
"Thanks," Maeve said, smiling at her.
"So, have you started classes yet?" Elena asked, steering them towards less touchy subjects.
"No. Start on Monday. They were kind enough to give me some time to settle in," Maeve replied. "Got a nice place over on Hunt Street."
"They've been rebuilding that part. Got a lot of nice little shops and cafes," Elena said.
"Suppose that's why I chose it," Maeve said. "And it's close to the studio. Just a 15-minute walk."
"Well… I'm sure Ash will be happy to have you back," Elena said. "She's missed you. We both have."
"You know… it's actually good to be back," Maeve said, finding that she truly believed it. "Though… seems like a lot has changed…"
"That it has," Elena said with a sigh. "But some things are the same."
"I can see," Maeve replied glancing around the apartment. Elena chuckled.
"I'm old. I'm stuck in my ways," she said.
"Not that old," Maeve said, scoffing slightly. "You don't look a day over 30." Elena laughed loudly.
"Please, we both know that's not true," she said, rolling her eyes.
"Either way, still look good for your age," Maeve quipped.
"Maybe. But you definitely take after my sister, god rest her soul," Elena said.
"Thank goodness for that," Maeve muttered as her thoughts turned to her mother. Elena was quiet a moment before reaching over for her hand.
"I know she wasn't the greatest mother, goodness knows I wouldn't have been able to handle it if I were you, but... there was a time when she wasn't so bad," she said softly. "I see her goodness in you. And your grandmother's. Now she was a strong woman. And kind. I see all of that in you."
Maeve smiled and nodded, feeling the tears prick at her eyes.
"Ah, but wasn't Gramma also a bit of hellion? I do remember some of the stories you told me," Maeve said, turning yet again to a lighter subject.
Elena only chuckled as she launched into a story about her sister that Maeve had heard a million times before, but still loved. After about an hour, Maeve was starting to think that Ash wouldn't come by and was about to suggest she head out when the door opened and shut. She looked over as she heard Aislinn call out for her grandmother.
"I'm in here! And we have a visitor!" Elena shouted. Maeve began to smile as she stood from the sofa. Aislinn came into the room and both of them froze. Though while Aislinn broke into a wide grin and bounded over to hug her, Maeve was reeling from shock.
Thankfully Aislinn had gone through enough physical changes that she could blame it on that. But it was the other changes that had her freeze. Namely the ones that she could see lying just under her glamour.
The light that seemed to shine from just under her skin. The vast field of flowers in her eyes. The heat radiating from her entire body.
Seth wasn't lying when he said things were complicated. And he wasn't the only person who had turned faery. Maeve forced herself to smile and hug Aislinn back, though the heat from her skin was beginning to burn her. That only brought on other dark memories, and Maeve struggled to keep herself in check and under control.
She couldn't lose it. Not in front of her aunt and Ash. They didn't know that she knew. The full truth about her. And now they couldn't.
Stay away from Summer faeries… they'll destroy you as soon as look at you… they can't be trusted…
"When did you get back? How long are you staying?" Ash gushed as she let go of Maeve and stepped back. The older woman couldn't help but be grateful for the years of ignoring things that were right in front of her. As her cousin stepped away and sat down, it was easier to hide her true thoughts.
"I moved back a week ago," she said, a tight smile on her face. From the look Ash was giving, she could tell that she was starting to slip. "But actually… I was just about to leave. I've got… something I need to take care of. But maybe we could catch up another time?"
Maeve quickly stood and gathered up her purse, only pausing to look down at Aislinn.
"Uh, yea. Sure," Ash said, obviously disappointed that Maeve was leaving so soon.
"Great. Just give me a call," Maeve said before rushing out of the apartment, not even bothering to hug either of them good-bye. It was foolish, but Maeve couldn't help as the overwhelming desire to get away took over her.
It was easy to ignore everyone - faeries and humans - as she nearly sprinted home, her thoughts whirling. It wasn't until she got back to her apartment and locked the door that she took a deep breath and slowly let it out, willing her heart to stop racing.
You cannot let them know who you are. The Summer Court will kill you…
Maeve dropped her purse on the stand next to the door and yanked off her scarf before beginning to pace around the living room despite the pain starting to radiate up down her leg from her knee. But she couldn't bring herself to sit down.
While she had always taken her mother's ravings with a grain of salt, every single thing that she had ever said to her growing up came rushing back into her mind. All the horrible things about the Summer faeries. How evil and vile and selfish they were.
But surely that couldn't be true. Aislinn was now one of them - a powerful one if what Maeve saw was anything to go by. She had always been so kind growing up. Surely, she wasn't selfish or bad or evil. Surely she wouldn't hurt her. They were family. Family didn't hurt each other.
Of course, they do. Look at your mom. Look at your father - whoever he is, a voice in her head said.
Maeve stopped pacing and groaned in frustration. She was starting to get a headache from the rollercoaster of emotions she had been through in not even two days. She needed to talk about this with someone. Get some answers. For a moment, she thought to call her mother, but quickly dismissed that. Outside of the fact that they had taken away her phone, she didn't necessarily trust whatever she had to say.
She then thought about Aislinn. The right thing to do would be to be upfront with her. Finally tell her the truth and ask her what happened. But she dismissed that one as well. She still wasn't completely sure that her mother hadn't been right.
Then one name entered her mind. One person who would be neutral. Someone who could be a confidant. Someone that she could finally share her secret with.
She looked over at her purse and walked over, retrieving her phone. Yes. Seth would help her make sense of all this. He was once close to Ash and seemed to be aligned with the Dark Court.
She could trust him.
Aislinn wanted to call Maeve right away and ask what was going on, but instead found herself at the loft. She then thought about calling Seth, but stopped, remembering that they were no longer together. Sighing in frustration, she began pacing as heat radiated off of her.
"What's going on?" Keenan asked, drawn to the room by her presence. She stopped and looked over at him. It seemed as though he was the best choice she had at the moment for a confidant.
"It's my cousin. Maeve. She's back in town," Aislinn said quickly.
"So… I take it you want a guard duty for her," Keenan said, already moving to call his advisors.
"No, I mean, probably. But that's not it," she said, still not sure just what she had witnessed. She knew that Maeve had been through a lot the last two years. Had been through a lot her whole life. Part of her felt guilty for not keeping in touch, but with everything going on here - becoming Summer Queen, Leslie, the courts on the verge of war - she just hadn't thought about it. Not to mention, it wasn't as though Maeve had answered many of her calls or texts either. But now she was here. At possibly the worst time.
Keenan walked over to her, the concern evident in his eyes.
"What's going on?" he asked. Aislinn sighed and shook her head.
"It's weird… she's never mentioned having the sight, but when I walked in and she saw me… it was like… she really saw me," Aislinn said, meeting his eyes. "I suppose it could be possible… we don't know how Grams, Mom and I had the Sight. Maybe it just runs in my family and she got it too?"
"What did she do?" Keenan asked.
"It was like… she was afraid of me," Aislinn said. "And… when I hugged her, I could feel her tense up. Like she was in pain. But… why would that happen? I wasn't doing anything…"
"Maybe she does have the Sight… and she was just confused? Overwhelmed?" Keenan offered, trying to remember this Maeve. Aislinn hadn't really mentioned her at all in their time together. Aislinn sighed and walked over, sitting on the couch and running her fingers through her hair. "You haven't ever told me about her…"
"She's older than me… about four years. And she moved away in high school to attend this big dance academy. Became a professional dancer. And she was good. Really good," she stopped speaking a moment and looked over at him. "I mean… everyone just knew that she'd make it big and never come back here. And I was happy for her even though I missed her. She had a bad life before… but then… two years ago she was in a bad car accident. Her fiance died and she couldn't dance again... I went to see her a couple times, but then… we just… stopped talking."
Aislinn couldn't help as memories from the one visit to the hospital she had made with her grandmother. Seeing her once strong cousin lying in a hospital bed, covered in bandages. The dead look in her eyes. It was enough to break anyone. And then she had cut off contact completely. Aislinn spent a lot of time back then worrying about her, hoping she was okay. Maeve had sent the occasional letter or card to her grandmother, so they at least knew she was still alive. But they knew little more than that.
She had been relieved when she walked in and found her sitting on her grandmother's couch.
Keenan moved to sit next to her, though kept a bit of distance. Even though he had broken things off with Donia for Ash and she had broken things off with Seth, things still weren't completely settled between them. But he still cared for her and when his queen was upset, he was as well.
"What can I do to help?" he asked softly. Aislinn shrugged.
"I honestly don't know what to do," she admitted, looking at him.
"Perhaps you should try talking to her? See what exactly it was that spooked her. If she does have the Sight then, we need to put her under the protection of the Summer Court," he said. Aislinn nodded.
"Yea. She's already been through so much… I don't want her caught up in this, but we have to do everything to protect her. And if she does See, even more so," she replied. She then sat up and nodded, seeming to come to a decision. "I'll talk to her."
Keenan smiled brilliantly, happy that Aislinn was happy. Or at least happy with her decision. He didn't really care one way or another about this mysterious cousin - or any of Aislinn's mortals - but he would do whatever he could to make Aislinn happy. And if that meant taking one more mortal into their fold, then so be it.