We were headed back to Shreveport a little after 9 pm. Eric was suffering in the passenger seat of my Prius, which was clearly not designed with Viking height in mind. But mostly he lamented the fact that I seemed unwilling to let him drive my brand new car back home. When he'd asked I'd had visions of his weaving in and out of traffic on I-20 at about 90 mph and thought, no, thank you. We tried practicing my German and he commented that he really thought I was improving. Eric had been telling me for weeks that I should go back to LSU or continue my classes online. He'd gotten all my classes dropped the previous year when I left for Ireland in early October. I could go back without any problem. I was thinking about it but my work schedule seemed to make it difficult. But maybe…
I wondered if anyone offered Irish Gaelic classes in Louisiana. Before we left, Victor had offered to speak Gaeilge, Irish Gaelic, with me by phone, and even write to me in Gaeilge, so that I could surprise Eithne with my progress. He made of big deal of out Irish Gaelic being different from Scottish Gaelic. Sadly, he was teaching me mostly curses at present, however. His favorite for me to learn so far was Loscadh is dó ort! which, roughly translated, threatens scorching and burning. It was just a perfect one for me to use, he said with a chuckle. The other ones he'd taught me were really, really bad. Although the funniest one, which made Mrs. Hodges laugh, was translated 'may the cat eat you, and then may the devil eat the cat'. I drew the line when he started using certain phrases to describe my husband, however. Eric caught him at it and said something in Old Norse that I was sure was very, very vulgar from the look of enjoyment he had in saying it to Victor.
Mrs. Hodges had insisted that I had to have dinner before leaving. She'd roasted chicken breasts, with vegetables from the garden. Polly and I sat chatting over dinner while Victor, Eric and Betty Jo talked nearby. Betty Jo was bringing in a couple of vamps from Memphis who could fill in the ranks for Victor until he had found replacements for a number of the vamps who had been 'removed'. Betty Jo might be a Sheriff but she was still really his second from what I could see. She seemed as if, apprehensively, she would be giving it a real try. Michael Cheney was arriving tonight, I overheard.
As I'd finished my wine, my thoughts returned to the people I knew in Bon Temps who had seen me that week I helped out in Merlotte's. That sometimes you don't want to see what's right in front of you because it's just easier not to. Victor might be my part fae cousin, but he was definitely a vampire. Fourteen vampires had been killed in his library for being assassins or for just not being loyal enough to his regime. As far as I was concerned, the bloodshed I'd seen in my vision was probably less from the attack than from its aftermath. It was The Takeover, Part Two, or 'cleaning house', as Victor called it. I'd call it a bloodbath. It was hard to pair the image of the person capable of such things with a love of gardening. I wondered if Victor's bad reputation would shift to just being ruthless rather than being the kind of person who'd sell you out at the drop of a hat. It might actually keep him safer if that was the case. Well, if I could overlook some of Eric's inherent violence, I should certainly do the same for my cousin, I told myself. Really I didn't have much choice. And the Fae aren't much better anyway, I told myself.
I hugged Mrs. Hodges goodbye and she smiled up at me as she took my hand warmly. I had the sense that she was a curious blend of power and loyalty, bound by choice to Victor's service. I had come to see that she was part of keeping him safe. He had made so many enemies on his route to this stately house. Uneasy rests the head that wears a crown, as they say. Part of me thought that Victor's sense of the risks in his operation had really been Mrs. Hodges' perceptions. She was a loyal caregiver for Edward's 'child'. He was lucky to have her. I knew she would not return to England.
I hugged Polly goodbye and she told me that she would keep in touch with me. Then Victor gave me a long hug, pressing his cool cheek against mine. Although he said, audibly "Thank you so much, for everything, Sookie," what he beamed me with all his heart was his love. After centuries of feeling like the Brigant black sheep, my love and friendship with him had finally made him feel like he truly did have family again. It meant so very much to him, but it was far beyond his ability to put any of it into words. The look in his eyes said more than enough.
I thought about Bill and his unlikely attachment to the Bellefleurs. Sometimes you cling to family even when it doesn't want you. Maybe if you held on long enough, just like Victor had, it eventually would want you. I thought back to that night in Memphis when Victor and I had danced together and he said I was a friend worth having. He'd already known then that I was his family and he'd chosen family over vampires and even over his own benefit that night. He so easily could have parlayed his knowledge of my staking Rasul into personal advantage or blackmail. It would have been force of habit, really. Eric had discounted the significance of it, but now I could see just how much of his bitterness Victor was able to set aside for the hope of family. Could I be any less forgiving than that?
When I got home, I knew that I'd call Niall and tell him I forgave him and that I loved him for all the care he tried to take of me, even though some of it was very seriously misguided care. I knew that I would visit Naoise when I was next in Ireland and try to be forgiving even if it was very, very hard. I'd tell Claudine and even Claude that I could never thank them enough for all the love and kindness they had shown me. I'd call Victor every week and tell him I hoped he remembered his promises to me and laugh at his Gaeilge curses. I would try as hard as I could to love Jason as he is and think of how much like Fintan he probably was. And I'd gather Eric and Pam close to my heart as my beloved chosen family.
Family could hurt you grievously. Family could heal you. I still felt I was quite lucky to have family, imperfections and all.