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we leave through the fire

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The soldier doesn’t remember his son’s birth or how he came to be. He doesn’t remember bedding a woman and watching her belly swell, but they said the boy was his.

The soldier first met him after being shoved into his cell and finding a tiny mat lying beside his cot. A small boy of two years sat atop it, playing with his toes. He looked up at the soldier, unafraid. His expression was filled solely with innocent curiosity.

“This is your son. Peter. His mother is dead,” The handler grumbled before slamming the metal door shut, leaving the child in the care of the soldier.

The boy’s curly brown hair, doe eyes, and rosy cheeks looked nothing like the soldier. The one similarity was the boy was unkept. Dirt splattered his face and clothing like he hadn’t been properly bathed in some time. They all smelled here; the guards, the girls, the air. Dirt, sweat, and gunpowder seeped into their skin, heavy musk coating the walls. This boy would fit in fine.

The solder was still clad in his mission wear, full of guns and leather and a face smeared with black paint. They usually dismember him, take apart the weapon before storing it away, but not today. Today he could kill the boy in a second if he wanted to, just as he had a prime minister some hours ago. He didn’t know of which country. He was following orders.

The guards stared at their cameras in stifled amusement to see when the soldier would react violently to a small pest invading his home like the rivals watched Daniel in the lions’ den. They covered their mouths and giggled like school girls, one shushing the other as they watched.

The lion never attacked. He observed the boy silently. Even though the solder looked like a monster, burly and tall and stone-faced, the little boy beamed at him.

The soldier approached him as carefully as he would a bomb. He sat down beside the mat, leaving three feet between them. It was to no avail. As soon as he was seated, knelt with his thighs resting on his ankles, the boy smiled and crawled into his lap.

The soldier tensed, all muscles cramping as the boy got comfortable and took the soldier’s face between his tiny palms. His little eyebrows scrunched down.

“Your face is dirty,” His words were mushed up Russian. Simple baby talk.

The soldier raised his eyebrows, “So is yours.”

Peter giggled like popping bubbles and cuddled against the holster strapped across the soldier’s chest. It held two guns and three grenades. The boy didn’t notice.

***

“Petya.” Papa murmured, crouching down to Peter’s level, “what are you doing?”

“Playing.” Peter smiled, casting another blanket off Papa’s bed and watching it float down. They didn’t let him have toys here and it looked beautiful like it was flying, like a plane or a bird maybe. He hadn’t seen outside in so long.

He had once tried to build a fort out of these blankets, but papa had tsked and put them back on the bed. The blankets were for sleeping, as the nightstand was for storing and the guns were for shooting. None of these were toys.

“You cannot do that,” Papa said, calmly picking up his blankets and folding them back up.

Peter whine softly, pouting as his toys were taken away until his father lifted him up and kissed his cheek. Peter tucked his face into his father’s shoulder and closed his eyes even though there was still ash across papa’s skin and he smelled like fire.

If Peter could not play in the room, maybe he will play in his dreams.

***

The cell was boring unless Papa was there, too.

There wasn’t much in it besides the mats for them to sleep upon, a corner with a toilet and a sink, and a small night stand with some children’s clothes for Peter. There was the box above the door with a blinking red light that sometimes talked, but the voices were always crackly, loud and mean. Papa said they had to be careful what they say around it. Someone was always listening, and someone was always watching.

There were bits of black charcoal left in the soldier’s pockets from a small fire he started in the middle of a Siberian winter. Peter used those to draw and practice the Cyrillic alphabet.

He was a smart boy for three. He already knew how to write his name, papa, home and Hydra. Though the soldier had to hold his hand and trace the words a few times before Peter mastered it, he was quite intelligent. Papa said he absorbed information like a sponge. Peter thought Papa was funny.

“He is too young to be learning such things,” An agent hissed to one of the handlers, but the soldier paid them no mind. They were upset his son knew things. It didn’t matter the age. Just as they were upset the soldier remembered enough to teach him.

They couldn’t play games, really. Papa told stories of walking across the Appalachian trail and flying in helicopters miles above the earth. How small the trees were, how green. He never said why he was there. Those were stories for when Peter was older. And when there weren’t stories to tell, there was food to eaten and sleep to be had.

There was once a grey mouse that scampered across the floor. Peter watched in awe, laying on his belly on top of the mat, head hoisted upon his hands.

He had some biscuit left from dinner. They always biscuits and mush. Papa said the mush was good and helped little boys grow strong. Peter was already too strong, and he thought it tasted awful.

He peered over his shoulder towards Papa, who was laying on his cot with his shiny arm lying over his eyes. He turned back towards the mouse and tore a corner of his biscuit.

“Petya,” Papa grumbled, startling Peter to twist back and look at him. His arm was still covering his eyes, “We do not feed pests.”

“I am not!” Peter protested. Papa lifted his arm to give Peter a look through the side of his eyes. Peter huffed and pouted.

“How did you know? Your eyes were closed.” Peter groaned, flopping his arms down so he rested completely on his bed. The mouse ran back through the tiny crack in the wall and Peter would probably never see it again.

The corner of Papa’s mouth quirked, “Papas see everything.”

The next day Peter asked Papa to teach him how to write “mouse” and Papa laughed enough the box over the door crackled with a voice ordering them to be quiet.

***

“Papa,” Peter started one morning as his father washed him with a sponge and bucket, “why do they put you in a chair? Is it like time out?”

Papa chuckled, scrubbing dirt out from under Peter’s fingernails, “No, Petya. It’s to heal me.”

“Then why do you scream?”

Papa sighed, dropping the sponge into the bucket to look Peter in the eyes, “There are some things that young boys aren’t meant to hear. You will not understand until you are much older. Until then, I want you to cover your ears.”

The next time the agents slammed open the door and dragged Papa out of the room, Peter climbed onto the cot and crawled deeply beneath the covers. He pressed his father’s pillow over his head, but the hoarse screams flooded into the room and seeped through the pillow.

Papa shrieked like a slaughtered pig, gasped like a dying man and shrieked again. The lights above Peter brightened and cracked like they would pop and shatter and the box above the door screamed. Peter pressed the pillow tighter against his ears.

Then, it stopped. The lights fell back to their normal brightness and muffled voices replaced the wretched screams. Eight words followed by three, in a garbled voice that sounded nothing like Papa, but Peter knew it was him.

The room buzzed in silence. Peter didn’t move for hours, two hands holding the pillow above his head until he couldn’t breathe. Until the guards threw in his tray of dinner, barking at him to come and eat it before they take it away.

***

They always send Papa somewhere far after the chair. Peter wouldn’t see him for days, weeks even.

When Papa was gone, the agents would sometimes bring Peter to the training room and let him run around on the mats and watch the girls who stayed in the rooms beside theirs train and fight.

There was four of them. Papa called them the new widows.

“There was a program very similar years back,” Papa explained once when Peter first saw them. They walked between guards, shoulders pulled back, hair tied up and faces very firm, “They aren’t here to play with you.”

It had been so long since Peter had seen children, but he didn’t remember them being so serious. He thought they were all fun like him. These girls did not have fun. They never talked, even though they could speak many languages, and they never smiled. Peter never learned their names.

One had hair so fine it looked white and a scar above her right eye. Another had spots on her skin and a crooked nose. The third had two different colored eyes and led with her left hand while the last, the least favorite, get yelled at a lot for standing with a slouch.

They seemed so much older, like teenagers. It was years later when Peter learned the eldest was then eight.

They fought with such fluidity and grace that it seemed too much like a dance, but they’d always end bleeding.

“One day, you will train like this,” A lean and bald agent, they called him the trainer, stated while Peter watched the fight in awe. He couldn’t wait. He had to until he was older, four years old perhaps.

They’d bring him back into his room at night when the girls were stored away as well and give him his tray of mush and biscuits. He’d dress himself for bed, lay in his father’s cot and retell himself the stories of papa’s adventures.

Papa would come back before long. Each time he was gone felt shorter and shorter. Peter was always excited to see him even though he came back cold.

He’d observe Peter like he had that first day, quiet and startled like he’d forgotten Peter would be there. Like he forgot who Peter was. He wouldn’t acknowledge Peter for some time; would move around the room like he was there alone and dart his eyes anywhere that wasn’t near his son.

Until something would click. His eyes would widen, his back would straighten like a coil wound tight, his breathing would get loud and quick and he’d suddenly look at Peter for the first time in days, but he wouldn’t move towards him.

He’d stare at Peter and Peter would stare at him, silently pleading that yes I am your son, yes you are my papa, please talk to me, I don’t want to be in the quiet anymore.

And Papa would deflate like a balloon.

“Petya.” Papa sighed, and Peter ran towards him, wrapping his arms around his father’s legs and pressing his face against his thigh.

Papa would run his fingers through Peter’s hair and pick him up.

He’d say it was the chair. He’d say it was the mission. But there was always something that made him forget.

“I don’t mean to, Petya,” Papa whispered frightened into Peter’s hair, “But I can’t help it.”

“It’s okay, Papa,” Peter said but it was muffled from his face smooshed into the leather of his father’s jacket, “You always remember.”

***

They did something to Peter’s hand while the soldier was killing politicians in Moscow. He was already strong, bending metal at three as if he were playing a game. Now at four, he could crawl up the walls like they were covered in sticky paper.

They called the soldier into a training room where he saw his son hanging upside down on the ceiling.

“Hi Papa!” He cheered, waving with a big smile even though the soldier never gave one back.

“Look, Soldat, your son is a miracle.” The trainer cackled, yellow teeth shining in the fluorescent lights, “crawling the walls like a little spider!”

That night, Peter sprinted across one side of the room to the other, crawling up the walls and hopping down before running again. The soldier observed while sat on the cot, hands over his mouth and eyes calculating.

“Papa, look!” Peter laughed, climbing up high on the wall and backflipping off, then ran to another wall, “Did you see me, papa? Did you see?”

The soldier slowly stood up and plucked Peter into his arms, holding him as gentle as a glass figurine, “That’s dangerous, Petya.”

Peter pushed his little hands against the soldier’s chest to look him in the eyes, “No, it isn’t! The guards had me do it all day! It’s fun and they all laughed!”

The soldier swallowed the bubbling sensation of rage down his throat. If he let himself get mad, he’d do something reckless and they would take Peter away. Make his son live in by himself with no one to care for him and Peter’s heart would be too soft to take it.

The soldier looked over at the box above the door; always listening, always waiting for the soldier to say something he shouldn’t have so they could beat him. They’d laugh then, too.

He pushed Peter’s head towards his, whispering close and carefully into his ear. Peter got very silent and still.

“Sometimes the guards make you do things for their own enjoyment. Sometimes their laughter isn’t nice at all.”

Peter twisted to look at his father, little face scrunched in confusion. He opened his mouth to ask a question and the soldier gently placed his hand over. His questions would be too loud, and they’d cause more questions to arise from the other end of the ever-listening box.

The soldier dropped his voice into a near silent hiss, “Do not trust the things they do. There is never kindness behind their smile. Only bad intentions. If they find out you’re having fun, they’ll put you in your own room.”

Peter looked at his father in horror. He didn’t want to be put in his own room. He wanted to stay here with Papa.

He nodded, too serious for a little boy, and didn’t climb the walls of their room again.

***

Papa was right when he said the guards weren’t kind. They had always been so nice to Peter, laughing at things he said, teaching him new tricks like how to throw a knife or tie a noose, ruffling his hair even though Papa would grip his shoulder very tight and pull him a little closer.

One morning, four guards woke Peter by crashing through the door and storming inside. He thought they were going to take Papa to the chair, but they grabbed him by the collar and dragged him out. He screamed and twisted and bit but they didn’t let go. A guard lifted him and tossed him over his shoulder as if he was a sack of rice. It knocked the wind out of him and hurt his ribs.

Papa tried to attack them, grabbing the nightstand and smashing it against the back of a guard’s head. He knocked the guard out before another grabbed him and a third shocked him in the gut for too long. His knees gave out and he fell garbling to the floor.

Peter screamed over the guard’s shoulder as he watched his father twitch on the ground and foam at the mouth. He was shocked again for Peter’s outburst. Peter pressed his hand against his mouth to stay quiet.

The guard threw Peter into the training room with the girls who stood in a line at attention. They barely glanced his way before snapping their gazes forward again. Peter's stomach churned like he had swallowed ice and suddenly he realized this time he wouldn’t be watching.

“It is time,” the trainer informed Peter with grin like a sneer with rotting teeth and bad breath. He grabbed Peter’s arm and shoved him onto the mat.

Peter was big now, four years old, and he had to start fighting. They made him train with the girls daily. And they were cruel.

They’d throw Peter to the ground, stomp on his feet, punch him in the eye. Peter would fight back, sometimes getting in a few good shots, but it was sloppy. He was stronger, but they knew how to fight.

He used to blame the girls until he realized the guards and trainer were always the ones laughing when he fell, cheering the girls on and screaming at them not to stop. They’d tell Peter he was their favorite because he had something the girls didn’t. He had the serum of the soldier. Veins pumped full of the same medicine the soldier had pulsing through his.

“Again,” The trainer demanded with a smirk, stood with arms folded and legs spread. He’d say it over and over even when Peter was bruised and sore and crying.

“I want papa!” He wailed on the ground and the guards would huff and shake their heads. Even the girls would cross their arms like they were disappointed.

“This is the only time, Soldat. He must learn,” The trainer said as the soldier sat with a sniffling Peter in his lap. The soldier nodded but kept smoothing his hand over his son’s hair until he stopped crying.

Peter looked up across the room towards the widow he had been fighting, the one with the slouch. She wiped her hand across her bleeding nose, smearing blood on her forearm before dropping it stiffly to her side. She watched Peter and the soldier coolly, not looking away even when Peter met her eye.

It occurred to him suddenly, like when he noticed his father’s arm was metal and a gun could kill him, that she had no one to wipe her tears or kiss her wounds. None of the girls had. Maybe that’s why they never cried.

Peter cuddled his papa a little closer.

***

Peter did not cry during training anymore. He was five and too big for tears. He could pin the girls to the ground and dodge their hits. He could jump and climb up the walls and attack them from the sides. He no longer felt bad when they bled.

The guards cheered, and the trainer stood proud, grinning and ruffling Peter’s hair after every fight.

“You are my favorite,” He would say, crouching down and looking Peter right in the face. Peter held his breath not to gag at the smell of the trainer’s tongue, but his chest swelled with pride.

They were so proud of the work he had done and the progress he had made. They gifted him a toy. His very own toy. One that Papa could not tell him not to play with because it was attached to his wrist.

“See papa? It shoots webs from my fingers!” Peter squealed in excitement as he blasted a string to the top of their cell.

Papa stood against the wall, staring hard at the mess on the ceiling.

“That’s great, Petya,” Papa said, though he looked quite angry.

“What’s wrong?” Peter asked, all excitement escaping his voice. His arms dropped to his sides and shoulders slumped. He thought Papa would be proud the way the trainer was.

“They’re mocking you.” Papa growled through gritted teeth, eyes still on the web, “The little spider.”

“No, they’re not!” Peter yelled, and Papa moved his glare to him. Peter ducked his head and twisted his feet. He knew better than to yell at Papa.

“I’m sorry,” He whispered, breath hitching like he might cry but he doesn’t do that anymore. He’s five. He’s too old for tears.

Papa sighed, and his face softened. He walked to Peter and gently lifted his hand into his, examining the toy attached to his wrist, “You cannot take it off?”

Peter shook his head. Only the trainer could take it off. Only he knew how.

Papa breathed deeply and nodded, releasing Peter’s hand and declaring it was time for bed.

The next time Peter was brought into the training room, three guards whistled the tune of “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider”. He stuttered in his step. They cackled with their yellow teeth and eyes staring down at Peter like he was a joke.

He held his chin up high. He held the serum of the soldier. He was the trainer’s favorite. He would not be mocked.

***

There was a man of great importance who came to the compound. He was American, old and only spoke English. Papa regarded him with high respect, but Peter saw that he was afraid of him. Peter was six now and very observant.

“When we meet him, you just stand still and be quiet. If he talks to you, don’t look him in the eye,” Papa warned quietly while they laid in the dark the night before the meeting.

“But papa, I don’t know English,” Peter whispered, voice frantically trickled with fear.

Papa turned over in his cot, blue eyes breaking the dark as he peered down at Peter, “He will know. And you will learn. Don’t worry so much, Petya. You just go to sleep.”

The guards collected them early in the morning. Peter was dressed in his finest training gear, one without rips, tears or blood stains. Papa wore his leather uniform without the weapons.

They were brought to the training room that was swept clean and polished to perfection in the days prior. They were pushed towards the wall and made to stand at attention for a long while. Until Peter had to stiffen his legs so they wouldn’t tremble and remind himself to push his shoulders back.

The girls weren’t there, but the man didn’t ask to see the girls. They were not important. He had seen them last time and was not impressed. The only reason they were still alive was to train the soldier’s son and weasel into missions that needed small bodies.

The man of great importance walked in with three American agents and his head held high like he knew of his title. He had a pressed suit, grey hair, and a sickly-sweet smile. All teeth and no lip.

“Alexander Pierce,” The trainer said, then gave him a smile of pressed lips, hiding his hideous teeth, “Project Beta 3 is making amazing progress.”

“Really? I’ll believe it when I see it.” Pierce said and looked at Peter with his beady eyes. Peter stopped himself from hiding behind his father’s legs. He was six now. He was brave. But he wished he understood what they were saying.

The trainer barked at Peter to run the course. He did so efficiently, having practiced every day leading to this. He snapped into action, disarming two agents, climbing up the far wall and jumping off to snap the neck of another. He swung from one concrete pillar that stood in the middle of the room towards the front wall, backflip, jump, climb again and shoot three hanging targets that looked like children. He finished in fifty-three seconds.

Papa observed, remaining at attention and face emotionless.

He had seen Peter complete the course the previous night. He watched the trainer grin and ruffle his boy’s hair. When Peter walked up to him, he smoothed his hand over his son’s head and brushed through the hair with his fingers to straighten what the trainer had mussed.

Peter tilted his head up and grinned, two gaps in his teeth from where they’d fallen out and asked if the soldier was proud of him.

The soldier bent at the waist, arms crossed and looked Peter in the eye. He spoke very slowly, “Petya, I am your papa. Do not call me soldier.”

Peter’s smile fell.

This time, he didn’t look at his father when he finished. Instead, he looked at the trainer who grinned closed mouthed with pride. His bald head gleamed in the light like a fluorescent bulb.

Pierce didn’t look impressed. His lips stuck out and downward, wrinkles worsening on his face.

“Fifty-three seconds? You think that’s impressive?” He mocked. The trainer’s smile fell, and he stood straighter, shifting on his legs.

Peter tried to silence his breathing. He can’t sound exerted or he will look weak. He can’t look weak or he’ll be shot.

Pierce looked at Peter, lips curled up like a rodent and walked over to him. He didn’t crouch to look at Peter’s face like Papa and the trainer would. He stood tall above him, peering down his nose like Peter was dirt. He felt very small.

Peter looked at the ground under his feet at the scuffed blue mat that couldn’t be buffed. Don’t look him in the eye. Stand still. Be quiet. Don’t look him in the eye.

“Do you think that’s impressive, Beta 3?”

Peter looked to the side, quickly bringing his frightened eyes up to stare at his father. Papa still stood at attention, his face void of emotion or care but his fingers twitched.

“Why isn’t he answering me?” Pierce snapped over his shoulder to the trainer.

“He doesn’t speak English, sir.” The trainer responded, looking like he wanted to swallow the words right back into his mouth. They were meant to get the boy fully prepared for the missions and that meant teaching him English.

“What does he speak?” Piece seethed, his mouth barely moving.

“Only Russian, sir.”

Pierce exhaled in angered annoyance, jerking his arm towards the boy, “Translate then!”

Peter caught the gasp in his throat before it spilled out, sucking in his lips. He didn’t understand why this man was so upset. He thought he had done well. The trainer was always impressed when he finished under a minute.

The trainer nodded frantically and spoke to Peter while looking at the back of Pierce’s head. It was the first time Peter saw fear in his eyes.

“Peter –”

Pierce scoffed in disgust, “You named it?”

The trainer cleared his throat and answer affirmatively in English, “It was his mother’s wish.”

“His mother is dead,” Pierce stated with venom and rolled his eyes. He gestured for the trainer to continue.

“Did you think that was impressive?”

It was the first time since coming into the room that they spoke a language Peter understood, but the question didn’t make sense. His heart slammed against his ribs and sharp tears bit the fronts of his eyes. He couldn’t cry. He was six. He was too big to cry.

He looked at Papa and his heart beat harder when he met his cold eyes. Did he not care? Was he not listening? Peter didn’t understand anything.

“For God’s sake.” Pierce mutter before marching up to Peter and slapping him across the face with the back of his hand. It stung like bees and knocked the tears out of his eyes. They spilled onto his flushed cheeks.

He’d never been hit by an adult unless they were training. Those never hurt as much. This burned his face and his stomach, embarrassment and confusion seeping like acid through his core.

Pierce barked something sharp, snapping off his tongue like a whip and the room was set into motion. A guard grabbed Peter’s bicep too rough, too tight, and dragged him out of the room. Papa was escorted out with a hand pushing at his back. He kept his face forward while Peter kept twisting his head up to look at him.

They were shoved one by one into their room and the door slammed shut with an echoing bang before the room fell into silence. Silence besides Peter’s heavy breathing. He would not cry. He would not cry. He would not –

“Why didn’t you do anything?!” Peter screeched, rounding on his father with hot tears spilling down his beat red face, “Why did you just stand there?”

The soldier stood at the corner of the room, face still set cold but eyes a little wild. He did not scold Peter for yelling. He didn’t do anything.

“Tell me!” Peter screamed but it fell on deaf ears for his father did not answer. His face felt like fire and was just as bright. His throat felt scrubbed raw and his chest achy as sobs fell through his mouth.

“I hate you!” Peter bellowed so loud it rang through the room like a gong. He twisted around, turning his back to his father. His arms folded tightly over his stomach like he was hugging himself or holding back vomit and he sobbed like a babe.

The soldier quietly stepped forward, one foot at a time walking as if he were on glass. He picked up the charcoal from their nightstand and sat cross-legged in the middle of the floor.

Peter’s shoulders shook as he cried, holding himself firmly and not turning even as he heard his father move around the room.

“Petya,” The soldier spoke, voice calm and smooth, “come here.”

Peter didn’t move except to hold himself tighter and push his head down lower.

“Listen to your papa. Look, I have something to show you.” The soldier said, voice firming just at the edge. Anymore and Peter wouldn’t turn around at all.

Peter unwrapped his arms to scrub a hand across his face, wiping off his tears. He turned around with his eyebrows pressed down like he was trying very hard to seem furious, but his lip was trembling.

He stomped forward and sat clumsily on the ground, kneeling beside the soldier. His muscles were tense, looking like taunt rope under his small arms.

Papa gently wrapped his hands around Peter’s stomach to lift him and place him on his lap. Peter went with a body like jelly and leaned his back against his father’s chest.

Papa grabbed the charcoal and began to scribble a word on the ground, “What does that say?”

Peter almost pushed away because he knew this word. He’d known it for a long time. He knew that Papa knew that he knew this word. He didn’t understand the point of reciting knowledge he’d absorbed long ago.

“да.” Peter answered, voice watery.

“That’s right,” Papa praised lightly. He drew an arrow next to да and beside the arrow wrote ‘yes’. He tapped it with his finger twice, speaking the word out loud for Peter to repeat.

“Yes.” Peter stated, English choked with Russian accent, but he pronounced it well.

“Good,” Papa said, then underneath wrote нет. Peter read it aloud and Papa drew an arrow, beside it writing ‘no’. Peter said it aloud and Papa nodded.

Beneath that, Papa wrote папа and then dad. He tapped his chest twice with his palm.

“Dad.” He said in a voice Peter hadn’t heard before. It sounded similar to Pierce’s tongue, the accent maybe. Peter would learn years later his father was American.

“Dad,” Peter repeated.

Papa tapped his hand against Peter’s chest twice, “сын.”

Peter knew this one well. He chewed his lip and repeated, “сын.”

“Son,” Papa said, tapping his hand again.

Peter couldn’t repeat it. Water flooded his eyes and he could no longer see his Papa’s writing. His lip wobbled, and sharp tears cut down his cheeks once more.

“Papochka,” He hiccupped, masking his eyes with his little hands as he cried.

“Petya?” Papa’s voice laced heavy with worry. He leaned down to look at Peter’s face, “What’s wrong?”

Peter twisted in his father’s lap and wrapped his arms around his neck, pressing his eyes into his father’s shoulder and wailed.

“I’m sorry, papa. I don’t hate you! I don’t!” His watery words clanked around the room while his hot tears pooled on papa’s neck.

Papa took a breath so deep it rocked Peter. He rubbed his hand on Peter’s back and let him cry. He never yelled at him for tears.

“I know, Petya. There is no room in your heart for hate,” He soothed, swaying the boy slightly from side to side. He kissed Peter’s injured cheek even though the wound had long since healed.

“It’s alright. Stop with these tears now. It’s alright.” He murmured as he rubbed his knuckles up and down Peter’s spine, but his tears did not cease. He shushed and rocked the boy until he was asleep.