Nine and Niko spent their first American Thanksgiving in the hospital. Hero had surprised them with it, cooking up mashed potatoes, steaming vegetables, and even making them a small turkey. It was the first time she’d ever made Thanksgiving dinner. She showed up to Nine’s antiseptic-stained room with a few bags of tupperware and the beginnings of a pregnant waddle.
Spencer kept overflowing with emotions. He and Niko had been there as early as allowed and would “stretch their legs” from time to time to give Nine quiet and space to begin healing all over again, often on the doctor’s orders. In reality, Spencer would find someplace where she couldn’t hear him cry and Niko would eventually find him and they would hold hands and hug and talk until he could face his goddaughter’s sheared body again. When they found Hero setting up plates in Nine’s room, the tears immediately rolled down his face. Spencer’s height and vulnerability conflicted with one another but they could somehow coexist when Hero stepped over to embrace him. Niko took over her serving duties and smiled to his sister as he dumped a scoop of mashed potatoes on her paper plate.
Nine looked much better than the first time she escaped Bade. Her color was fuller, though still paled, she smiled from time to time, she talked, and her eyes remained present. The first time, Niko didn’t even really believe she was there. Not just because of the impossibility of her survival but because her eyes unfocused and she always looked straight through him. This time, Nine seemed to make extra effort to notice everything around her, breathe it in, sense the world in its full luxury, before turning her head back to the pillow and sleeping.
A little down the hall, the Whitefield family was gathered in Clem’s room. The hospital had released Jason the day before, his hands now one finger short of the full ten, and Niko had seen him return with his own set of Thanksgiving food earlier that day. Despite their shared ordeal, the families hadn’t crossed paths much since their arrival at the hospital since visiting was restricted. The two spared a moment to tell each other that their respective sisters were doing as well as could be expected, maybe a little better, before saying their goodbyes.
Niko had just returned from an interview with the police when he and Jason saw each other. It was the first out of what would probably be too many to count. They needed another review of events and since Niko was the one with the fewest injuries and the first to get out of the hospital, he was the one. He didn’t know how to do anything but be honest and sometimes he found talking about it helped him get past the nightmare. The police spent a while circling around the fact that he hadn’t told them his suspicions or that he had busted into what he believed to be the dwellings of a serial killer without really even telling his godfather. Niko didn’t say much about that besides that nobody would believe him and that Jason hadn’t even believed him until the cashier had told them about the person in the mask and when they continued to ask him he merely shrugged, ticking off the time until he got to be with his sister again. They didn’t keep him for more than a half an hour, probably because they wanted to go home too, but any time away from her aroused his anxiety. Time felt thickened with danger.
Bade had escaped. Nobody knew how, but he had somehow gotten himself uprooted from the wall so when the police showed up they found nothing. There wasn’t even a trace of his blood left to sample. A few police guards were stationed at the hospital, posted outside of Nine and Clem’s room, just in case. Spencer bought them coffee and other refreshments periodically throughout the day. Niko mostly steered clear. He’d never enjoyed the presence of governmental authority.
Quietly, their small family sat down around Nine and began eating. They didn’t say what they were thankful for as it was too obvious and Niko also believed Spencer would burst into tears if they said such a thing. Instead, a bite into dinner Nine told Hero, “These mashed potatoes are the best I have had.” Another ten tears flowed from Spencer’s face and he kissed Nine on the forehead. They ate peacefully and Niko asked Hero about what her family used to do for Thanksgiving which soon turned into Hero and Spencer exchanging stories of their best and worst Thanksgivings. Niko and Nine exchanged raised-eyebrow glances and Niko rolled his eyes when they full-on kissed on the mouth.
Her giggle brought the sun into Virga City for the next few hours and he replayed it in his head endlessly, his entire present weaved together with her squeaky harmony.