Dermot bowed his head. I didn’t know if he was keeping his eyes down so he wouldn’t provoke Niall or if he was concealing rage or if he just couldn’t think of where to begin.
Being related to Niall, even at two removes, was not easy. I couldn’t imagine having a closer tie. If Niall’s beauty and power had been united with a coherent course of action and a nobleness of purpose, he would have been very like an angel.
This conviction could not have popped into my head at a more inconvenient moment.
"You’re looking at me strangely," Niall said. "What’s wrong, dearest one?"
"In the time he’s spent here," I said, "my great-uncle has been kind, hardworking, and smart. The only thing that’s been wrong with Dermot is a bit of mental fragility, a direct result of being made crazy for years. So, why’d you do that? ‘He defied me’ isn’t really an answer."
"You haven’t got the right to question me," Niall said, in his most royal voice. "I am the only living prince of Faery."
"I don’t know why that means I can’t ask you questions. I’m an American," I said, standing tall.
The beautiful eyes examined me coldly. "I love you," he said very unlovingly, "but you’re presuming too much."
"If you love me, or even if you just respect me a little, you need to answer my question. I love Dermot, too."
Claude was standing absolutely still, doing a great imitation of Switzerland. I knew he wasn’t going to chime in on my side or Dermot’s side or even Niall’s side. To Claude, the only side was his.
"You allied yourself with the water fairies," Niall said to Dermot.
"After you cursed me," Dermot protested, looking up at his father briefly.
"You helped them kill Sookie’s father," Niall said. "Your nephew."
"I did not," Dermot said quietly. "And I’m not mistaken in this. Even Sookie believes this, and she lets me stay here."
"You weren’t in your right mind. I know you would never do that if you hadn’t been cursed," I said.
"You see her kindness, and yet you have none for me," Dermot told Niall. "Why did you curse me? Why?" He was looking directly at his father, his distress written all over his face.
"But I didn’t," Niall said. He sounded genuinely surprised. Finally, he was addressing Dermot directly. "I wouldn’t addle the brains of my own son, half-human or not."
"Claude told me it was you who bespelled me." Dermot looked at Claude, who was still waiting to see which way the frog would jump.
"Claude," Niall said, the power in his voice making my head pound, "who told you this?"
"It’s common knowledge among the fae," Claude said. He’d been preparing himself for this, was braced to make his answer.
"According to whom?" Niall was not going to give up.
"Murry told me this."
"Murry told you I had cursed my son? Murry, the friend of my enemy Breandan?" Niall’s elegant face was incredulous.
The Murry I killed with Gran’s trowel? I thought, but I knew it was better not to interrupt.
"Murry told me this before he switched his allegiance," Claude said defensively.
"And who had told Murry?" Niall said, an edge of exasperation in his voice.
"I don’t know." Claude shrugged. "He sounded so certain, I never questioned him."
"Claude, come with me," Niall said, after a moment’s fraught silence. "We will talk to your father and to the rest of our people. We’ll discover who spread this rumor about me. And we’ll know who actually cursed Dermot, made him behave so."
I would have thought Claude would be ecstatic, since he’d been ready to return to Faery ever since entrance had been denied him. But he looked absolutely vexed, just for a moment.
"What about Dermot?" I asked.
"It’s too dangerous for him now," Niall said. "The one who cursed him may be waiting to take further action against him. I’ll take Claude with me … and, Claude, if you cause any trouble with your human ways …"
"I understand. Dermot, will you take over at the club until I return?"
"I will," said Dermot, but he looked so dazed by the sudden turn of events that I wasn’t sure he knew what he was saying.
Niall bent to kiss me on the mouth, and the subtle smell of fairy filled my nose. Then he and Claude flowed out the back door and into the woods. "Walked" is simply too jerky a word to describe their progress.
Dermot and I were left alone in my shabby living room. To my consternation, my great-uncle (who looked a tiny bit younger than me) began to weep. His knees crumpled, his whole body shook, and he pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes.
I covered the few feet between us and sank to the floor beside him. I put my arm around him and said, "I sure didn’t expect any of that." I surprised a laugh out of him. He hiccupped, raising reddened eyes to meet mine. I stretched my free arm to reach the box of tissues on the table by the recliner. I extracted one and used it to pat Dermot’s wet cheeks.
"I can’t believe you’re being so nice to me," he said. "It’s seemed incredible to me from the beginning, considering what Claude told you."
I had been a little surprised myself, to tell you the truth.
I spoke from my heart. "I’m not convinced you were even there the night my parents died. If you were, I think you were under a compulsion. In my experience of you, you’ve been a total sweetie."
He leaned against me like a tired child. By now, a human guy would have made a huge effort to pull himself together. He’d be embarrassed at displaying vulnerability. Dermot seemed quite willing to let me comfort him.
"Are you feeling better now?" I asked, after a couple of minutes.
He inhaled deeply. I knew he was drawing in my fairy scent and that it would help him. "Yes," he said. "Yes."
"You probably need to get a shower and have a good night’s sleep," I advised him, floundering for something to say that wouldn’t sound totally lame, like I was coddling a toddler. "I bet Niall and Claude’ll be back in no time, and you’ll get to …" Then I had to trail off, since I didn’t know what it was Dermot truly wanted. Claude, who’d been desperate to find a way to enter Faery, had gotten his wish. I’d assumed that had been Dermot’s goal, too. After Claude and I had broken the spell on Dermot, I’d never asked him.
As Dermot trudged off to the bathroom, I went around the house checking all the windows and doors, part of my nightly ritual. I washed and dried a couple of dishes while I tried to imagine what Claude and Niall might be doing at this moment. What could Faery look like? Like Oz, in the movie?