SOOKIE POV CONTINUED
Niall looked momentarily confused at my outpouring of anger.
“I do not mean to suggest that Claudine’s death was ‘good’ in the sense humans generally think of the term,” he said conciliatorily. “I meant that Claudine died for something she believed in. She was fighting for you and for me at the time—and trust me when I tell you that she truly believed in the fight against Breandan.” He paused. “Do you not realize that ours was a fight against genocide? Claudine fought next to me on many a battlefield. Claudette, too, fought beside me when called upon. By contrast, Claude was never one to let a little thing like ethnic cleansing bother him too much.” He shook his head disapprovingly. “I have tried to understand Claude, but I have failed again and again. And—in truth—I resent him to a certain extent.” He sighed. “In a very tangible way, he separated Claudine and Claudette from me.”
“How?” I asked.
“The only reason why my granddaughters settled in this realm for so long was because they wanted to try to maintain a relationship with their brother. Trust me when I say that Claude didn’t make it easy for them either. He didn’t understand why either of his sisters would sacrifice anything for a cause they believed in—especially when he couldn’t see how it would benefit them. Or him. He thought Claudine was foolish for protecting you, for trying to carry on the Brigant bloodline, and for wanting to be an angel. Claudette was not nearly so caring as her sister, but she was fierce, and she aspired one day to become a general within my army. Claude held her back, and he ridiculed her dream—just as much as he ridiculed Claudine’s aspirations.”
“I tried to be Claude’s family,” I said after a few moments of silence. “I wanted to be. Maybe I wanted to make up for my guilt. Maybe I was hoping that he and I would really become—I don’t know . . . .” I trailed off.
“Like brother and sister,” he supplied.
I shrugged. “Yeah. Maybe. But I would have been okay with cousins—you know? When he wanted to stay here after Claudine died,” I said, my voice cracking a little, “I’d hoped that he wanted for us to become close.”
“You always wondered why I did not wish to become closer to your brother,” Niall said after a few moments.
“Yeah,” I responded. “I did.”
“It is not because of his lack of a spark. It is because Jason reminds me of Claude.”
“What?” I asked with a startled chuckle.
“Their similarity is not in their sexual preference, of course,” he replied with a smirk before becoming more serious. “The similarity is in attitude. They are both self-absorbed to a great extent. Both could use their charisma to do wonderful things, but neither has. While Claudine and Claudette bent over backwards to be a part of Claude’s life—to show him their love for him—he took that love for granted. Or, worse, sometimes he mistreated them—ridiculed them for their love.” He paused. “From what I have discerned—and from what Claudine told me—Jason treats you in much the same way. He often takes you for granted or he completely discounts you as he becomes enmeshed in his own life. And—other times—he does things to harm you.” He frowned. “The episode when you had to break the werepanther’s hand comes to mind; I know that that must have gutted you to do.”
I could only nod in agreement. It had gutted me.
“Meanwhile, I know that you have risked yourself for your brother more than once,” Niall finished.
“Jason does his best,” I defended, but then deflated a little. “With Michele, his girlfriend now, he’s doing better. She’s helped him to not be so . . . .” I paused for a moment. “So Jason.”
“Well—Claude has never committed enough to one paramour to allow himself to be changed by him,” he sighed, looking quite sad. “He believes I disapprove of him because he prefers men to the extent that he won’t even take a mate short-term in order to try to increase Fae numbers or the Brigant bloodline.”
“Is there truth to his belief?” I asked with challenge. I wasn’t about to imagine that Niall had suddenly become unselfish in his own motives—despite the things he’d said and the insight he’d demonstrated about Jason’s involvement in my life.
“There is truth in it,” the fairy admitted. “I have tried more than once to convince Claude to return to Faerie and take up a role with me—though I will admit that, until recently, much of my motivation was getting Claudine and Claudette back, since they were determined to stay in this realm as long as their brother did. And—yes—I asked Claude more than once to help to carry on the line.”
“You shouldn’t have tried to make him get married to a woman,” I chastised lightly.
Niall shook his head. “But I did not. I realized—even when Claude was a small child—that he would not want such a thing. But there are many Fae women who just want to carry children, and their husbands lack the ability to procreate.” Niall laughed a little, though the sound was melancholy more than anything else. “That is why Fintan recognized no moral dilemma at all when he made his offer to supply your grandmother with children.”
I left that topic for another time.
“But Claude—uh—wouldn’t want to be with a woman in any capacity,” I reminded.
“I know,” Niall sighed. “But you must understand. In the fairy culture, homosexuality is acceptable. It is not seen as a sin or as abnormal—as it is by many in the human world. It is simply a preference, and for longer than I have been alive, male and female fairies have cohabitated with or married whichever gender they preferred, but the duty of proliferation is seen as something that can occur outside of a relationship—outside of love.”
I frowned. “So lots of fairies have affairs so they can produce kids?”
“Yes,” he responded simply and a little too casually for my sensibilities. “Humans would see such a thing as infidelity, which is frowned upon by your society, but in the fairy realm there is not even a word for ‘infidelity,’ though some mates do choose monogamy. I am afraid that I did not understand Claude for a long time. I did not recognize just how adverse he was to the idea of having sex with a female. In addition—once humans came up with artificial insemination and fairies adapted the practice—I am afraid that I pushed Claude again to try to father a child.”
“You can’t make someone be a parent,” I said.
“No. You cannot,” he agreed. “But I never asked Claude to take on fatherhood in any emotional sense. Essentially, I asked that he be a sperm donor—first physically and then later into a cup.” He shook his head. “And—honestly—I still neither understand nor agree with his refusal to do this. Our race may very well die, Sookie,” Niall conveyed sadly. “Every year, fewer children are born. It will take time for the Fae to completely die out—unless we can come up with a solution—but it will happen if we fail to increase our rate of proliferation. I would never force my people to mate, however.” He closed his eyes tightly for a moment. “Claude has always had his choice. And I have tried very hard to love him despite that choice. Perhaps, the difficult thing for him was to feel that I disapproved of his decision—which seems to me to be derision for all Fae-kind.” He shook his head. “Honestly, I don’t know how not to disapprove of his choice—especially because contributing to the Fae no longer even involves him physically being with a female,” he added, his voice sounding somewhat tortured. “The Brigant line is fading from the world, and Claude seems glad about that.”
Niall held up a hand when I went to speak. “Before you say anything, please don’t think that I blame you for my line diminishing—or your brother.” He sighed. “There is so little Fae blood in you—only one-sixteenth. Yet you—Sookie—are Fae because of your spark.”
“So I could have little Fae babies?” I asked.
“If you mated with a fairy.”
I was shocked to see the image of a face I recognized shimmer quickly through Niall’s thoughts. I rarely picked up on any of my great-grandfather’s thoughts, but this time, there was a sense of longing in them—a “wish” of sorts.
“Preston Pardloe,” I said with a hazy kind of recognition.
“Your telepathic reception has gotten stronger—I see,” he observed evenly, though I could see some guilt in his eyes.
“How do you know him?” I asked of the Were I’d had a one-night stand with. In truth, the whole encounter had begun to seem like a dream to me—something I’d imagined or that had been created by drinking too much on that lonely Christmas Eve.
“Wait,” I whispered as I grabbed onto Niall’s memory and took a better look at the “Were” in Niall’s thoughts.
For one thing, I now knew with certainty that he hadn’t been a dream. And I also knew something else: Preston Pardloe hadn’t really been a Were!
“Preston has pointed ears in your memory,” I gasped.
Niall sighed. “You don’t want to know about this, Sookie,” he warned.
“Oh—I do want to,” I returned, trying to be angry, but it was almost as if I couldn’t be.
Niall seemed to sense and understand my frustration.
“I felt that you were lonely that Christmas Eve. Preston is a fairy who can shape-shift. He was my gift to you. Afterwards, the magic used ensured that you felt only unburdened pleasure about the situation,” Niall conveyed somewhat reluctantly.
“A gift!” I gasped, still trying to latch onto my anger. “Was Preston trying to get me—uh—pregnant?” I followed up, though the question was difficult to speak out. It was almost as if the night of Preston’s “visit” was a topic that I could barely access or feel anything about—other than a casual sense of happiness.
A false sense.
“Yes. A gift,” Niall responded. “But, no, Preston was not trying to impregnate you—though I will confess that I thought about the benefits of such a pregnancy—but only briefly. I realized that you were not ready for a long-term relationship at the time. However, I admit that I would have approached you about the possibility of dating fairies like Preston if the political situation had been less volatile at the time. And, of course, later—when Breandan was gone—it was clear that you were with the Viking again. And it was just as clear that you loved him. So I didn’t introduce the possibility of your mating with fairies then either.”
I closed my eyes tightly as the all-too familiar feeling of having sex with a man who was only manipulating me weighed me down.
“I’d hoped that you would never learn of Preston. When Claudine found out, she was terribly angry with me. And she explained my error to me.”
“Claudine knew?” I gasped.
“Yes—I saw no reason to hide it from her; plus, she would have recognized Preston’s scent, and I didn’t want her to worry. In retrospect, I know that I should have never sent Preston to seduce you like that. But I wanted for you to have some happiness, and your heart seemed to be crying out for love.”
“Love yes! But from Eric!” I yelled out, my anger finally being “allowed” to escape a little—as if from a fissure in my body. I remembered that horrible time. It was after Rhodes, but before the takeover by Nevada and Eric’s reclamation of his memories. Quinn had killed Andre in the rubble of the Pyramid of Gizeh, and he and I had recently broken up, but my longing was for Eric—my Eric—as it had been since the witch’s curse was lifted. Of course, back then I’d been too scared to call Eric—to talk about the situation with him—even though we’d recently completed our bond. Instead, I’d wallowed in my misery and confusion—and, yes, my loneliness—and Niall had apparently decided to help me by becoming an “f-in” pimp!
“I am sorry,” Niall said, looking truly ashamed—though for only a moment. “I did not mean you any harm.”
“I don’t even remember the details of it all! I slept with a guy, and I can hardly recall his face!” I shook my head. “That’s not me!”
“There was a great deal of magic in the air during Preston’s visit,” Niall said. “I wanted you to have pleasure, but some of the magic was also preventing you from facing any consequences regarding that night—including a child.”
I frowned. “But there are always consequences, Niall! One is that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to trust that you could even know what my best interests are—let alone act on my behalf.”
He sighed loudly. “Then I regret my error even more than I already did. I will endeavor to earn your trust in the future—if circumstances allow for it,” he promised contritely.
“I don’t know if I want to have you in my life anymore, Niall,” I said, feeling suddenly drained. “Surely, Claudine told you how Bill manipulated his way into my life and into my bed—how because of that I could never be certain what was real and what was fake during our time together. And—even though I didn’t know the full extent of it at the time—Quinn did something similar. He insinuated himself into my life and passed along information about me and the vampires I cared about to Felipe. And—now—it seems as if three out of the four men in my sexual experience have been with me only because they were sent to seduce me,” I added, completed deflated.
I had to push down my insecurities and remind myself that Eric was different. No wonder I had such a hard time trusting Eric!
“I am sorry you feel that you cannot trust me,” Niall said. “If it makes any difference, Preston would have pursued you if it wouldn’t have been too dangerous for you at the time.”
“It doesn’t make me feel better,” I said flatly. “If Preston had come back as a Were, it would have just compounded the lies. And if he had come to me as a fairy, then I would have felt the pain of being manipulated just that much sooner. No—any real interest he had in me wouldn’t have mattered because I wouldn’t have believed him after what Bill did.”
Again, there was silence between us, but I did nothing to alleviate it.
“I regret many things when it comes to you, great-granddaughter,” Niall said tiredly.
I closed my eyes tightly. “There’s a lot to regret,” I agreed.
“I will ask Claude to come back to Faerie with me,” my great-grandfather offered after even more silence.
“Thanks,” I responded, trying not to sound quite as bitter as I felt. “That would be for the best. If Claude leaves, it will likely save his life.”
Niall nodded. “Yes. And if he will not leave, I will have him watched and will alert you and your vampire to any information that pertains to you. Perhaps, I can begin making up for my shortcomings.”
I nodded in return, but didn’t vocalize an answer. Even if Niall was being sincere about alerting us to any plans Claude might make against Eric or me, that would mean that he was betraying his own grandson in the process. I could admit that Niall was in a difficult situation. He would have to betray one of his kin to help another. But that idea was a reminder that Niall would betray kin if he felt it was right. And I just didn’t trust my great-grandfather’s moral compass at all anymore.
Of course, Claude would certainly be making his bed if he insisted upon a vendetta against me. Eric would see to that! But I knew that Eric would put his own people in place to keep track of Claude’s movements if he stayed in the human world. And I sure as hell trusted my bonded’s methods more than I trusted Niall’s!
My great-grandfather rose to leave. His expression conveyed regret. And I imagine that mine did as well. I recalled the hope I had felt after meeting him the first time—the happiness I’d felt in having more family that wanted to know me.
Yes—regret was what I felt now when I thought of my great-grandfather.
Mountains of it.
A/N: As I told Kleannhouse when she beta’ed this piece of the story, one of the most disturbing parts of the SVM narrative for me was the Preston incident. CH insisted that she wrote the short story “Gift Wrap” (the Preston one), in part, to tell readers something important about Niall. What it told me about Niall was that he was willing to be a pimp for a granddaughter that he hadn’t bothered to know at all. If he had bothered to know her, he would have known that she would have never wanted a gift in the form of casual sex. Did Sookie tend to sleep with guys “early” in relationships? Arguably. But she wouldn’t have slept with someone without any kind of relationship. Preston remarks that he used magic, but not a lot to get Sookie agreeable to the sex. That was because she was incredibly vulnerable! This whole story left a bad taste in my mouth. But–just to be clear–I did not judge Sookie for this. Even if she had CHOSEN the one-night-stand, I wouldn’t have thought less of her. But I hated the thought of her being manipulated AGAIN by the men in her life, and that that manipulation included the price of her sexual being. Anyway, that being said, Niall is such an ambivalent figure. Is he “good” or “bad” or “clueless?” I’m left unsure in this version of him. But I do know one thing: Sookie is better off without him in her life.
At least that’s my two cents as this point in the SVM books.
I hope that you liked the chapter.
Many thanks to Kleannhouse and Sephrenia, dear friends and helpers.