This Eastern Promises fan fiction was written for the Yuletide Treasure fic exchange in 2009.

Soft and Bright

Cousin Shelley


Nikolai watched Kirill from where he sat at the table that was reserved for him always now. He watched Kirill fill balloon after balloon, and felt strangely light, almost as if he could float, too. It was a strange feeling. A new one, or perhaps an old one that he'd forgotten.

The idea that someone like Kirill would even want to fill balloons made Nikolai wonder how he would retain the cynicism he needed to do his job.  It seemed there was no place for such a simple contradiction in his life. A killer filling a red balloon, a yellow one, a blue one. Kirill rubbed a pink one on his little cousin's head until her hair stuck to it, and they both laughed.

A killer, playing with children and blowing up colored balloons.  Pretending, that was what he and Kirill were best at. But this, the delight on Kirill's face, that was real.

A little girl in a party dress came skipping through, Alena, Nikolai realized, the birthday girl, another cousin of Kirill's. She stopped and bent over, and Kirill sat in a nearby chair. "C'mere, baby," he said with a gentle voice that Nikolai knew was reserved for four-year-olds Kirill loved, and Nikolai.

Kirill pulled her onto his lap and talked to her while he buckled her patent leather shoe, then he tickled her and made her giggle. Nikolai watched this, and when the angel-faced little girl ran away as Kirill pretended he was going to chase after her, Kirill looked up.

Instantly, his smile disappeared. He looked down, went back to the helium tank, and filled another balloon, his whole manner now stiff as if it were an unpleasant chore.

Nikolai stood and approached the table, understanding that it was necessary to again show Kirill he was not his father. He would not look at him with disapproval for showing affection to the child, or filling balloons when there were people who were paid to do such things. He would not look at him as if he were weak because he could find delight in a party for his family, because he could find joy in a soft, bright moment.

Nikolai took the balloon from Kirill's hands, and worked at the tight knot he'd made, while Kirill shifted left, right, wiped his hand over his nose. "Nikolai . . . ."

"What? You can make new balloon."

Kirill shook his head, not understanding. Alena came back, her other buckle not quite right, she claimed, and Nikolai, having gotten the knot loose, put the balloon in his mouth, sucked, then told her he was going to get her and give her a birthday spanking in his high-pitched cartoon voice, which sent the little girl running away, screaming with laughter.

Kirill laughed softly, then stared at Nikolai, a half-smile on his face. He blinked a few times, then swallowed hard, took the deflated balloon from him with a steady hand, refilled it and retied the knot. Nikolai took it, his fingers closing over Kirill's for a moment before letting go. He smiled at Kirill as the bright balloon floated to the ceiling.