Everything was pitch black around Margo. She glanced around, wondering if this was heaven or not. She tried to take a step forward, but her foot didn't want to move. It was glued to the ground beneath her...or was she standing on ground at all? It was getting hot in here...her face felt like it was burning up. She suddenly heard a noise behind her and spun around, but all there was to see was more blackness. Her heart was pounding furiously. She was finally able to lift up her foot and place it in front of her, but there was no foothold. Her stomach lurched as she fell forward, screaming, calling for Gru...
And then her eyes sprang open, her vision flooding with light as she gasped for air. She was laying down, and yet she was moving. She was beginning to wonder why her eyes were taking so long to adjust, but then she realized that her glasses had disappeared. However, she did figure out that she was lying on a hospital bed that was being pushed by two doctors down a long hallway. She struggled to sit up, but a jarring pain in her feet and hands shot up through her body and she fell back onto the blue sheets. Her body was shaking uncontrollably, no matter how hard she tried to stop it. One of the doctors placed a hand on her forehead.
"Don't move, sweetie," she said as they gently turned a corner.
"W-where am I?" Margo asked in a voice she hardly recognized as her own. It sounded like she was gargling a mouthful of rusty nails.
"You're in the hospital," the doctor replied as they came to a stop and three more doctors joined them. "You have hypothermia, so try not to strain yourself."
Margo's heart jumped at the sound of that word – a word she had read in her health book at school and had seen on countless Discovery Channel episodes. She never thought that that word "hypothermia" would be applied to her. Doctors were bustling around the bed now, rolling in trays of tools that made Margo nervous. They were all mumbling things to each other under their breaths, positioning themselves around the bed. Then, they all began talking to her at once.
"All right, Margo, you're going to feel a little pinch in your arm here..."
"...we have to hook you up to this IV, Margo. This may sting for a moment..."
"...brace yourself, dear, I need to draw some blood..."
About four things were happening at once to Margo's body, and they all stung like mad. She bit her tongue and tried to be brave, but a loud whimper escaped her lips anyway. She wanted to kick these doctors in the faces – especially the one jabbing her left arm with a scary-looking needle over and over, trying to find a nerve. Her head was spinning, her eyes were watering, and as fuzzy as her brain was, she tried to think about what had happened and how she had gotten here.
When it seemed like the doctors were finally finished prodding her and Margo was just about to let out a sigh of relief, four buckets were placed on the tables next to her, slightly steaming. Margo's wide, fearful eyes caught the attention of one of the doctors, who explained as the others finished setting things up.
"Now, Margo..." he said it so calmly, and it actually scared Margo more than if he had just told her they had to cut her head off with a saw. "You have second-degree frostbite on your hands and feet."
Margo instinctively glanced down, and nearly jumped out of her skin when she caught sight of her right hand. Her fingertips were a dark blue and slightly puffy, rimmed with bright red and slightly yellow skin. She lifted her head up to glance at her feet, and her toes seemed to match her fingers. Margo opened her mouth to say something, but the doctor cut her off.
"The way we cure frostbite is by thawing out the infected areas. This is a very painful process, but we will make you as comfortable as possible as we..."
"N-NO!" Margo couldn't help but shout. She knew all about thawing frozen body parts – and she knew that the people on the Discovery Channel screamed bloody murder every time it happened. Tears streamed down her cheeks without her consent, and she shook her head every time someone would try to comfort her. She didn't want these strangers pretending they knew how alone and scared she was feeling right now.
"Margo? She's awake?"
Margo lifted her tear-streaked face to glance at the doorway, where a man dusted with snow was speaking to a doctor. It was easy to distinguish him with his long nose and bald head, but the look on his face made Margo do a double-take. The dark circles under his eyes hinted at many sleepless nights, and his eyes were so wide with apprehension, Margo flinched when he looked directly at her. Part of her wanted to hide under the sheets so he wouldn't look on her with disappointment and scold her for being so careless. She had really screwed up this time – she did not deserve anyone here with her. They stared at each other for a couple more seconds, the doctors all silent since Margo's outburst, until Gru's composed face broke and he rushed to her side. He wrapped his arms around her tiny frame gently and muttered over and over, "Margo...oh, my little girl..."
It didn't take Margo long to give in. She buried her face in Gru's chest and let out shoulder-shaking sobs, saying over and over again, "I'm sorry...I'm sorry..." Gru stroked his girl's hair, shushing her, and kissing her head repeatedly. They sat like this for a few minutes, while the doctors waited around, exchanging glances until one mustered up the courage to tap Gru on the shoulder.
"We're glad to see you're finished with the paperwork, Mr. Gru," he said, clenching and unclenching his fists worriedly. "And we're happy to see you two back together. But we really need to start thawing out the girl's hands and feet before..."
Gru waved the doctor away with an annoyed look, and leaned down to speak to his daughter.
"You are so brave, my warrior," he whispered, wiping the tears away from her streaked cheeks. "And I will be right here, all right?"
Margo hesitated, then slowly nodded, leaning back down onto the sheets and allowing the doctors to take her hands and feet. Gru stroked her forehead and laid a hand on her shoulder to keep her stable. She liked the feeling of his strong hand securing her, and shut her eyes tightly as her limbs were dipped into the warm water.
"Is it Christmas yet, dad?"
Gru blinked and stopped in the middle of his reading, setting down The Night Before Christmas – which he had found on the shelf across the room – and glanced at his watch. "Not yet. There are still a few more minutes until midnight."
Margo sighed in her hospital bed, trying to wriggle her feet wrapped in gauze, but giving up when she realized how weak she felt. She winced at the pain.
Gru gave his daughter a warning look. "What did the doctors tell you about moving your hands and feet?"
Margo rolled her eyes and turned her head to see out the window. "To not to," she recited. She hated how it hurt her throat to talk, and talking was one of her favorite things to do. Margo tried to clear her throat, but instead let out a series of hoarse coughs that shook her body. Gru stood up suddenly and grabbed the cup of tea sitting by her bedside table. He forced her to drink "at least two sips." Margo didn't care much for green tea, but she didn't complain as long as it was hot. Gru helped her to sit up, which was a struggle, and brought the mug to her lips. When he was sure that she was finished, he lay her carefully back onto the sheets and picked up the book, beginning to read again.
Margo rested her droopy eyes on her dad, watching him. She realized how much she loved his long nose, his shiny head, and his soft blue eyes scanning every word in the book. She had even missed his thick, Hungarian accent, which always made story time a lot more interesting. She listened to the sound of his voice, telling the story of Santa Claus flying through the night delivering gifts all over the world. The snow fell quietly now, looking so innocent and harmless behind the window. Lights of green and red twinkled outside, creating a warm, fuzzy feeling in the pit of Margo's stomach. She felt warmth creep through her limbs and fill her chest as she glanced back at Gru, who still continued to read. Suddenly, tears filled Margo's eyes, and she could not explain why. Just gazing on her dad's face caused her throat to tighten up. She watched his lips move, his eyes blink, his hands carefully turning pages...
He finally seemed to take notice of her laying there, softly sobbing. Gru's brow wrinkled in surprise and concern, and he hurried to her side. He held her face in his warm hands, brushing stray tears with his thumb. His presence only made Margo cry all the harder. She closed her eyes, wishing she could wrap her arms around him. He obliged her, though, and held her tightly against his shoulder.
Hours seemed to drift by as Margo continued to sob, unable to stop herself. The sobs shook her whole body, which hurt her aching limbs, and only made her cry all the harder. Gru stood patiently, stroking her brown, scraggly hair, shushing her. When her heaving sobs turned to soft sniffles, he kissed her forehead and smiled down at her puffy, red cheeks.
"I'm sorry, dad," Margo choked, forcing herself not to burst into tears again. She hated how her sickly voice sounded right now. "I just...I just wanted to see you...for Christmas. People see their families on Christmas, and...I..." She trailed off, knowing that she sounded childish and stupid, but that's what she had been feeling all these weeks. That feeling of someone clutching her heart and not letting go – that tightness and worry that followed her every day leading up to Christmas. Other kids talked about the gifts they wanted for the holidays, who they were visiting, who was coming home. She wanted him to come home. And maybe she was being incredibly selfish. Maybe there were some dads who could not be home at all. But she had never known what it was like to have a Christmas with a family of her own. That, she realized, was all she really wanted.
Gru sat in silence for a moment, seeming to contemplate Margo. His eyes softly scanned her face, and Margo feared he was not going to answer. Finally, he spoke with a slight smile playing at his lips.
"My kitten," he muttered, tucking a stray hair behind her ear. "There is nothing to be sorry for." He scratched the back of his neck. "I suppose this is my first Christmas with my family, too."
Margo looked up, a puzzled expression on her face. What about Grandma? The minions? Uncle Nefario?
Gru seemed to read her mind and chuckled out loud. "Grandma doesn't count."
For the first time in weeks, Margo burst into giggles. She loved Grandma, but there were always hilarious stories to be told about her disposition with Gru. Margo stopped laughing and looked up apologetically, but Gru only smiled.
"That's the Margo I know."
Margo blinked, smiled, and rested her head back onto his chest. His warmth made her forget about the stinging in her hands and feet. She wanted to sit like this forever.
"Merry Christmas," Gru said.
But Margo was already fast asleep. Her pale skin contrasted with her dark hair, still falling on her face. Her eyelashes rested against freckled cheeks, and Gru's heart swelled. She looked like an angel.
Gru decided not to wake her up and tell her that the others had called to wish a "Merry Christmas." Edith, Agnes, Nefario, the minions, and even Grandma had left a lengthy message, saying how much they loved her and couldn't wait to see her bright and early in the morning, no matter how much snow had fallen. But for now, Margo belonged to Gru on this Christmas night.
Their very first.