And just like that, Natalie and the Sensor left, leaving behind them four Nobodies.
“She saved your life,” Claire murmured.
“She saved yours,” Nix murmured back.
“She’s just a little girl.”
“She’ll be fine.”
Beside them, Nix’s brother and sister whimpered, like puppies torn away from their litter.
“Natalie,” the little boy said.
Nix knelt in front of them. “Natalie had to go away,” he said. “But you’re going to be okay. You’re going to be perfect.”
All other worries, all other thoughts, paled in comparison.
“No one will ever hurt you again,” Nix promised. “You’re mine now. Ours. And we will live happily ever after.”
Nix picked them up and settled one on each hip. Claire wrapped her arms around him, around the children. He leaned down to press his lips to hers, heat and power and overwhelming knowledge spreading from the kiss through his veins, to every inch of his being.
It wouldn’t be easy. He had no idea where they’d go. What they’d do. How they’d survive, four Nobodies against the world. But at that exact moment, with his lips pressed against Claire’s, with his flesh and blood in his arms and in hers, Nix didn’t care.
They’d find a way to make it work. They would live happily ever after.
Nix believed it, and he put every ounce of that belief into the kiss he gave Claire. Fireworks exploded. Rivers roared. And one by one, the four Nobodies faded, a surge of light against an infinite expanse of darkness.
Six months later …
Once upon a time, the little girl’s name had been Nix, and she had lived in a small, small, small room with another Nix and the nicest, sweetest, most wonderful girl in the whole wide world. But now she wasn’t Nix anymore, and the little room was gone. Now she lived in a big room, in a big old house that had been onthemarket for years and never ever sold until everybody forgot about it just like that. She and her brother and her other brother and Claire called it home, and the little girl who wasn’t Nix anymore loved rounding her lips into that long O sound.
The other place, the bad place, got smaller and smaller in her mind each day, as new things pushed the old memories out.
New things like a big brother, who carried her around on his back.
And a Claire to read her stories.
And food and games and everything that a little girl could want and that four Nobodies could sneak out of a store.
Once upon a time, when she was Nix, the little girl couldn’t breathe. Now she could. Now her name was Olivia because she loved the Olivia books, but Claire called her Livvie. And Livvie’s brother’s new name was Max, because he was a Wild Thing, and every night, Claire and the big Nix, the only Nix now, read to Max and Livvie, and they fell asleep and woke up in their very own beds in their very own home, where their very own family loved them best of all.
Livvie was happy.
And then one day, the four of them were out walking, running, blurring, shopping—when Livvie saw something. On a television, in a store. And it made her happy, too. It made her stop. And then Max stopped and Nix stopped and Claire stopped.
Livvie pointed at the screen, her memory rearranging itself, working its way through the haze. “Look!” she said.
“It’s the girl.”
The sweetest, nicest, most wonderful person in the world. Livvie remembered her. She didn’t remember the little room too well, but she remembered the girl.
“Natalie.” Max remembered even better than she did. He was a wild thing.
Livvie tilted her head to the side, and she remembered the small, small, small room and the blood and trying to breathe underwater.
“Natalie,” she repeated.
“Vice presidential nominee Quentin Burrows, a longtime supporter of family values and child welfare, has put his money where his mouth was, with what appears to be an impromptu adoption.…”
Livvie looked up at Nix. Nobodies didn’t ask questions but—Livvie did. “What’s adoption mean?” she asked.
For a moment, Nix didn’t say anything, and Livvie wondered why he looked like he’d swallowed a big ball of dirt. Claire—Livvie liked saying her name as two syllables, Cuh-laire, because one just wasn’t enough—must have noticed that Nix looked funny, too, because she did that thing where she touched him, lightly on the arm and it was like she was talking to him, only without words.
“Adoption means that Natalie has a new family,” Claire said carefully.
Livvie looked at the screen, and then at Max, and then back at Nix and Claire. “Like us?”
Nix picked her up. Nuzzled her face. Made her giggle.
“Like us,” Max said, even though he didn’t know what the word meant any better than she did.
Livvie squinted back at the screen and then nodded. Adoption was like a fairy tale. Like happily ever after.
It was good that Natalie had it, too.