The one Thanksgiving that Mal follows Alex home. (An extra scene for you readers, set sometime after Enemies Like These.)
After the fight, I go home. It’s been years since we did a proper Thanksgiving and mom will kill me if I missed this one. She’s not going to take Pitchfork set giant mutant turkeys on the District as an excuse. Good Guy did his job and Alex has to suffer the consequence.
I land by the bus stop almost a mile away, struggle into my street clothes and start walking toward the house. The prosthesis isn’t in great shape, but I grit my teeth and keep the slow, steady pace. When I’m only a block short, Mal skids into place next to me. “You busted your leg,” he says barely even out of breath. “You busted your leg and you didn’t even bring it to me. Come on dude, you remember the deal.”
“I didn’t sign up for any deal.”
“You have any idea how much work I put into your peg-leg? You get the alignment off and it’ll play holy hell on your stub. Before you know it, X will be chasing me with guns because you’ve gone and died of a blood infection. Now gimme.”
I laugh, limping down the street. “It’s in use. Later.”
Mal folds his arm over his chest, huffing in annoyance. He’d ditched the costume post-fight, same as me, but his hair is windswept, and the slightly red outline of his goggles draws a line through his freckled cheeks. There’s a streak of grease on the tip of his nose. I’d rather not try to explain him to mom.
“Where the hell are we heading anyway?” Mal asks, spinning on his heels as if just realizing his surroundings.
We’re south of the city proper, almost two miles past the river, the place where the rougher areas start to smooth into the suburbs. The houses are small, but the lawns are well-kept. The faces of the people on the street are not quite friendly, but at least familiar. “We’re not going anywhere. You’re going home.”
“Alexander!” a voice calls. And there she was, sitting on the porch waiting, a book in her hand. “You didn’t tell me you were bringing a friend!”
I glance to Mal only to see his face split in a toothy grin. “I totally forgot it was Thanksgiving. Pitchfork throws a killer Turkey Day, don’t he?”
“I’m going to kill you if you say Turkey Day again,” I mutter back, and then raise my voice. “Hey, Mom. This is Malcolm Quick. I think you might have met him while I was in the hospital.”
Mal jogs the few steps to the gate to shake my mom’s hand. “It’s Mal, ma’am. I’m sorry about the short
notice, but thank you for having me.”
Mom, to my horror looks just short of charmed. It gives worse when Mal reaches into his coat and produces a bottle of red wine. Meaning he’d planned this. Bastard.
I sign and follow him up the steps, giving mom a kiss on the cheek. “Sorry,” I tell her.
She reaches up to ruffle my hair. “It’s always good to meet your friends, Alex. We have more than enough food.”
We don’t have more than enough food. Mal’s post-fight calorie regimen is a frightening thing to behold. Mal runs chronically underweight, but it’s not for lack of effort. His metabolism had been kicked into high gear when he got his speed. I’ve seen him demolish three pizzas in a little under ten minutes. At least today, he’s dialed back his pace of consumption, waiting patiently as mom goes back to the bottle Mal brought and pours herself a second glass of wine. I cover my glass with my hand and Mom pours Mal a portion instead.
“Mal, aren’t you still under twenty-one?” I say.
“Twenty as of September,” he replies unapologetically. “I got a good fake ID. Don’t even need to beg Alex to supply me. Not that he’d do it, too much of a Good Guy.”
I flick a pea at him. Mal catches it before it hits his face, raising an eyebrow as he pops it into his mouth. Provoking him would open a whole host of problems that I don’t want to deal with at Mom’s house. Mal must read the concession in my face because he raises his glass like he’s hoisting a trophy. Mom watches the two of us, a smile playing on her lips. “How did you meet? Seems like there’s a story here.”
Mal grins. “I was robbing a bank. Alex here managed to talk me down.”
“That’s…” I falter. “Very nearly true.”
“You two are both messing with me.”
“I skipped a few grades,” Mal says, waving a fork full of mashed potatoes. “We had a class together when we were both freshman. Ran into him again end of last semester when he decided to get his peg-leg. I majored in robotics and well, I’m really only in it for the prosthesis at this point.”
“Oh my god,” I mutter. “If you want to work on the leg, I promise you can work on the leg after dinner. Forgive me for wanting to walk here.”
Mal blows me a kiss. “Thank you dear.”
Mom leans forward conspiratorially, her face flushed from the wine. In an exaggerated whisper she
says, “You know, if I’d have known losing the leg would get him smiling again, I’d have torn it off for him
“You don’t know how many times I offered, Ms. Manners,” Mal says. “We could have kicked him out of that angsty phase years ago.”
“You two are both horrible,” I say.
A few hours later, Mal’s crouched over the coffee table with a screwdriver and my prosthesis. Mom and I sit at the kitchen table. There’s a football game on the TV in the next room, but no one’s paying much attention. “I like him,” Mom decides.
“Like who? Mal?” I glance to the other room. “Half the time I’m not sure I like Mal.”
“Alexander,” she says gently. “I haven’t seen you smile like this in years. Not since before Brooks died. With what happened to you last spring, landing in the hospital again, losing your leg, I was so afraid you were going to get worse. But instead, I get you smiling. Don’t think I don’t see the reason either. That kid moves a million miles an hour, and I can’t imagine trying to keep up with him for more than a day, but he’s good for you.”
I fight the urge to laugh. “You know he got kicked out of school for blowing up a lab, right?”
“No,” Mom says succinctly. “And I don’t think I want to know anything else. Don’t let him drag you into any of his messes, but if he keeps you smiling, keep him around.”
Eventually, Mom finds a few blankets and a pillow. She hands them to Mal over protests that he could easily take the bus home. Then she begs off to her bedroom for the night.
“I think I’m in love with your mom, dude,” Mal says as the door closes. “Or at very least her turkey. I really wasn’t planning to stay the night.”
I shrug. “It’ll be fine.”
“I know you didn’t want me here, but thanks.” The blankets seem to swallow his slight frame. “You know, for not kicking me out.”
“We used to do Thanksgiving with Brooks and his dad,” I say. “I don’t think either me or my mom like it being just the two of us. Besides, I owe you for the assist with Pitchfork today.”
“Pay me back in turkey anytime. This is the first time I felt full since I got superpowers. Been thinking maybe I could use it. Haven’t really talked to Mama Q since she kicked me out. Home’s only about two hundred miles west.”
“And you could be there in what ten minutes?”
Mal shakes his head. “It’d take about an hour. Could probably cut it to forty minutes if I pushed.”
“So why don’t you go?”
“Trying to get rid of me?”
“Nah,” the combination of turkey and the familiar setting has made me too comfortable. “It’s good to have you here. You’re my favorite pain in the ass.”
“Don’t think I’m up for the run. I’ll fall asleep. Besides, first time back I’m going to need some kind of buffer. Mama Q. doesn’t like to yell with an audience.” The corners of his mouth quirk up. “What do you say, you in?”
“Sure,” I agree easily. “So long as we’re not actively trying to kill each other, that sounds like a plan.”
[Hope you all enjoy the holidays.]