A/N A deleted scene from Night Falling, chapter 11. Enjoy!

After the movie, the four of them returned to the Pappas' apartment building. Once inside, Marissa and Ari ran ahead up the stairs, but Niko caught Rick's arm and held him back. "Listen man, you can come up if you want, but if I were you I'd cut out now. All my relatives are packed in up there and it's going to be crazy."

Rick looked up the dark stairwell and heard a rumble of conversation and laughter. "Is there food up there or not?"

Niko grinned. "Yeah, there's food. Really good food."

"Then why are we standing down here?" Rick took the stairs two at a time, the other boy pounding behind him.

Niko hadn't exaggerated. They had to nudge a fat man ("My Uncle Alex," Niko said, patting his Uncle's stomach affectionately) out of the way before they could even open the door wide enough to slip inside the apartment where a maelstrom of Greek and English assaulted their ears, and then they could only make inching progress as they picked their way around a trio of older women ("My Aunts Sophia, Agatha, and Eunice," Niko explained and Rick had to shake hands and get his face clucked over by each one), and forced a path through the small children that seemed to pop out of even the tiniest space ("Cousins," Niko grunted, detaching a small boy from his leg and shoving in the direction of the aunts).

They had almost made it to the food table when a tall girl chattering furiously in Greek suddenly grabbed Niko's elbow and hauled him away. Rick found himself alone in the middle of the crowd where everyone obviously knew everyone else and had a thousand things to say. He felt an odd tightening in the pit of his stomach, and he suddenly wished he had taken Niko's advice and skipped the last part of the party.

"Rick, you must eat!" a voice exclaimed in his ear, and Mrs. Pappas was suddenly shoving a plate into his hand and piling it with tiny kabobs, grape leaves, falafel, baklava, and half a dozen other things he didn't know the names of. "You are too skinny," she told him sternly, crowning the pile of food with an orange. "So you eat." She firmly guided him to a spot against the wall and refused to leave until he had stuffed his mouth with a spinach and feta pie.

"Hey, you're the guy who skates on his face," someone said, and Rick turned to see a stocky guy with Niko's curly hair and broad grin.

"That's me," he admitted, swallowing his mouthful. "So are you Niko's cousin or uncle or what?"

The other guy laughed. "His brother, Hector."

"I'm Rick." He shifted his plate so they could shake hands. "Do you play soccer too?"

Hector shrugged and made a face. "I play when I can but … work. Plus night school. It's a drag, but what can you do? Hey, did you catch the Brazil/Argentina game last night?"

They talked about soccer until a loud clanging brought everyone's conversations to a halt. Demetrios stood on a chair behind the food table, and he kept banging the saucepan as his mother lit the candles on a large, sticky looking cake.

"Enough!" she exclaimed, snatching his metal spoon away and swatting his backside with it. Demetrios jumped up down and his father stepped forward and set Ari on the vacated chair. She had changed into a frilly pink dress and wore a crown on top of her curls. The room burst into what might have been a version of "Happy Birthday," although there were a lot of Greek phrases thrown in and nobody was in the same key. Hector covered his ears and bellowed along, but Rick was laughing too hard to do the same.

When the song was over, everyone surged forward to get their piece of cake and a chance to kiss the birthday girl and put a present on the floor by her chair. When it was Rick's turn, he dropped the wrapped scarf he had bought (tissue paper much the worse for its journey in his pocket) onto the pile and said, "Hey, thanks for inviting me."

Ari pouted. "Aren't you going to kiss me? It is my birthday."

Rick rolled his eyes and leaned forward, but instead of kissing her cheek he whispered, "You're a brat."

She giggled and whispered back, "Be nice to me, or I'll tell Skatz."

Shaking his head, Rick moved on to take his piece of cake. "Thanks a lot, Mrs. Pappas. The food was really good."

She took his face in her hands and placed a sound kiss on each cheek. "You can eat here any time."

It took him five minutes to squeeze his way to the door, and part of the cream filling of his cake ended up on the tip of Aunt Sophia's fake fur stole, but at last he was free and hurrying to the ground floor. Outside, Niko sat on the steps along with Marissa, Demetrios, and a few cousins.

"Hey, Rick, you leaving?"

"Yeah, I gotta get home."

Niko got up and walked down the block with him. "You really didn't have to stay for that."

"And miss your mom's cooking? Besides … your family's nice."

"Right. They're so nice they'll trample you to death on the way to the baklava."

Rick just laughed and shook his head. "I'll see you later."