"Nikolai," Alina hissed quietly as she watched him clamber over the fence. Not even ten steps away a sign hung, spelled out in bold letters: No Trespassing - high voltage.
"Yes, my dear? Are you coming or not?" His grin was so, so insufferable. She wanted to grab his face and pinch the expression off.
"We could get arrested for this!" She kept her voice down to a low murmur despite her outrage, glancing up and down the quiet trail they were on. The black snake of asphalt wound its way between a small field full of round, flat structures built into the ground and a rich neighborhood that Nikolai lived in with his parents. "I can't believe you would just… just…"
"Climb a fence with a high voltage sign hanging on it?" He laughed, his fingers hooking into the chain link fence as he leaned casually on it. "Dear Alina, you don't think that the city would ever actually put an electric fence so close to a residential area, do you? The amount of pets and small children living around here would have that shut down in a matter of days. Now come on, there's no cameras on this side, no lights…"
"What are you planning on doing here, anyway? Starting a cult or something?" She grumbled to herself, but finally walked up to hook her own hands into the fence. It had been strung tightly enough that it would be an easy climb, even for her own scrawny teenage self. And the only electric shock she felt was when he brushed his fingers over hers.
But Nikolai only laughed at her words. "Come on, and I'll show you."
So, with a roll of her eyes, Alina hauled herself up. She wasn't very fit, and never had been, but she'd spent enough time in gym class to at least get herself to the top of the fence and throw her leg over.
And then she paused, staring out at the nearly black field that laid below her. A warm summer breeze tickled her hair and she almost sighed at the feeling - summer was her favorite time of the year, if only because of the nighttime. There was something infinitely calming about it, at least to her. She wished that the same calmness could follow into the daytime, so she could enjoy the warmth of the sun as well.
But eventually she swiveled in her spot, the toe of her shoe momentarily stuck in one of the links of the fence. She gulped a breath, feeling her balance waver for a moment, before swinging her other leg over.
"Do you want me to catch you?" Nikolai called up to her, and she could imagine just the kind of smirk he had.
"And give you the chance to be Prince charming? I don't think so," she grumbled, tugging her foot out of its trap.
Nikolai chuckled. "Alright, alright. Is it rude, to think that you would want to be my princess?"
"What if I wanted to be a barbarian? Dropping onto you from above, strangling the life out of you before you could react."
He sighed, the sound almost sickeningly dreamy. How did he always manage to find the exact way to be so perfectly annoying and endearing at the same time? "What a way to go, though. I don't think I'd have the heart to fight back, with such a pretty face so close to my own, equally as pretty face."
"That almost could have been cute. Almost." Alina's feet touched the ground and she sighed. "Until you ruined it with your Saints forsaken ego."
"Gotta make sure I don't seem too perfect, my dear. Otherwise people will start to think I'm some sort of god." She turned to see him mimic the motion of tossing his hair back with a serene sigh, a mischievous look on his face.
"As if." Alina rolled her eyes.
This was the banter the two had kept up ever since they met, or almost that long at least. They'd met in high school, as sophomores in their shared history class. They'd been assigned seats that were right next to each other, and despite his insufferable attitude Nikolai had helped her pass her history class with flying colors. A thing not easily done - history really wasn't her best subject, and never had been until Nikolai helped her along with it.
And somewhere along the way she had found out that his father was the mayor of the city. And that Nikolai had a habit of getting drunk on weekends when no one was around to hang out, no matter how furious it made his father. It was mostly to deal with his father anyway.
She also found out that Nikolai, despite all his posturing and posing and insisting his independence, was a very lonely boy.
So what had started as a casual classroom friendship had bloomed into something closer. She'd met Genya, the girl that worked as a servant for Nikolai's family, and Tamar and Tolya who acted as partial, in training guards for the youngest son. She'd made friends through him, and soon enough the entire group was as close as could be.
But on a drunken night, Nikolai had called to tell her he loved her. His words hadn't been slurred, he hadn't cried or whined.
It had been a near silent call. Somewhere in the background she could hear his father shouting, probably at his mother, and after the second time she had said his name, asked if everything was alright, his voice had come out as an almost mournful murmur.
"I love you, Alina. And I don't know what to do about that."
That had been last year, their junior year. When Alina had still been with Mal, who was jealous when she made friends through a rich kid that had an ego the size of a Boeing. Mal who had never trusted Tamar or Tolya when one of the twins walked her home late at night from Nikolai's house after studying. Mal who had finally blown up, nearly forced her to cut ties with all her friends before she took the plunge and broke both of their hearts.
Now Mal was gone. Transferred to another school with plans to join the military.
And right now Nikolai was taking her hand, leading her into this small field surrounded by small shrubs and trees that mostly cut out the light from even the main road that ran by the other side.
Now everything was dark and quiet, and Nikolai climbed onto one of the low structures, his footsteps ringing when he stomped down with a childish grin. Whatever they were on, it was hollow below them.
Alina cautiously followed him, sitting on the edge of it. "What are these things, anyway?"
"Oh, Alina. Don't you know? These are our water containers, they supply water for the entire city of Os Alta. It's a rather genius thing, too, if you really want to hear me ramble about the science of it." He sat down before laying on his back, staring up at the stars with a smile. "But that's not what we're here for tonight…"
Following his gaze, Alina stared up at the sky and smiled, pleasantly surprised. The stars shone bright in the sky, brighter than they did when she tried to look for them on the streets of the neighborhood. She glanced down only enough to move so that she was laying beside Nikolai, and then her eyes were focused on the sky again.
He pointed out constellations to her, tracing the lines between stars with an idle, happy grin that made her heart do tricks in her chest.
The normal constellations that most everybody learns - the big dipper, the North Star. Then Cygnus, the swan following the swath of stars that made up their galaxy. Then the Andromeda galaxy, Scorpius, Draco.
She nearly drifted off listening to him. It was peaceful, despite the uncomfortable concrete below her. But then Nikolai fell silent, and when she lazily rolled her head to the side to look at him, his lips lightly parted in preparation to speak, a light turned on somewhere in the neighborhood behind them.
They both froze for a moment, Alina convinced she was waiting for a cop to shout at them, for the two of them to get up and either accept their fate or start running. But no shout was heard, no sound actually breaking the peaceful silence. When Alina dared to raise her head to look in the direction of the light, she found it was a porch light on the back patio of one of the massive houses. Likely one with a motion sensor, a bug having flown in front of it.
"Well that was anxiety inducing," Nikolai said, sounding entirely unruffled.
Alina glanced at him, his face now more illuminated with the porch light. His eyes came into stark focus, the light cutting across them and making the hazel color stand out. His gaze froze on her own and the two of them stared at each other, caught like bugs in sticky sweet honey.
They stayed like that until finally, the light went out on its own.
“Alina…” Nikolai’s voice was no more than a whisper. Was this where he would ask her for more than friendship? Would he kiss her here? She’d been waiting for it for a while at this point, she had to admit. She wanted it, though she was still a bit too tender and shaken from her last relationship to do anything about it herself.
So she closed her eyes, finally. “Yes, Nikolai?”
“You were definitely staring,” he said, and suddenly she could hear the smirk that was undoubtedly curling his lips.
Alina cursed Nikolai Lantsov for every single penny he was worth. Because he was playing it safe, knowing that she would never admit to staring. Not in a million years, because it was part of their banter. It was part of their normal patterns, this back and forth, vague and false flirting that never went anywhere no matter where he might wish he could take it.
“You have a big fat zit on your nose, Nikolai,” she grumbled.
He gave an exaggerated gasp, slapping a hand to his face. “Are you saying that my flawless skin is anything but perfect? I’m offended, Alina, I thought you knew better than to lie!”
She laughed quietly, her eyes opening and again returning to the stars. “Mhm. Sure. I’d love to see your early junior high photos, I bet you were pimply as all hell just like everyone else.”
“Now, I’ll admit that I did have a few breakouts here and there in my eighth grade year…”
“Do you really think that my mother would allow her actually attractive son go to school with anything but a pretty face?” Nikolai’s grin was surely wide now. He might be an illegitimate son, but as he joked all the time - he’d rather be a bastard than have his father’s looks.
Alina simply sighed, a cooler breeze finding them. She shivered with it, more from a simple sense of pleasure than anything, but Nikolai laughed quietly and tapped her shoulder a couple times to get her to move.
She did so hesitantly, not sure what he wanted, before he was sidling closer to her until she was tucked against his side, her head on his shoulder.
“Better?” His voice was a whisper once more. On the main road a car went past, its lights dim.
Alina nodded slightly. And as they watched the moon slip by, the stars rotate with the sky, she decided that she was done with her heart being broken. “Nikolai…?”
He hummed his response, a wordless question.
“Do you want to… do something?”
He looked over at her, eyes somewhat tired with the late hour. “What do you have in mind, sunshine?”
“Kiss me.” It was barely a whisper, barely a breath. She was breathless, after all, somewhere in between uncertain and too far in barrelling forward.
Nikolai’s breath caught for just a moment, his hand coming to brush over her cheek. “Are… Alina?”
She swallowed hard and nodded. Once, he had told her that he would only kiss her when she wasn’t thinking of someone else. That he wouldn’t be her way to forget, he wouldn’t do that to himself - he wouldn’t do that to her , take advantage of her mess to get what he wanted.
“Do you still…?” Do you still want me? Her mind supplied the whisper.
He seemed to understand, as he turned them around to hover over her, arms half curled around her and holding him up. Lips just a few inches from hers. “Of course I do, Alina. I’ve always… I’ve always wanted to.” And then his lips pressed to hers, chaste, and she melted.
It wasn’t mind blowing. It wasn’t earth shattering. It didn’t make her body tingle and burn up with need, with lust.
But it was perfect. It was pure, it was sweet and soft and spoke of a quiet need to be close, to stay just as close as Nikolai could get to her. It made her want to snuggle closer, to tuck her face against his throat and fall asleep pressed up against his warmth.
It made her feel like she was floating.
Then that kiss ended and was taken up by another kiss, and another, a sweet tease of more behind the feeling as Nikolai shifted slightly to lay beside her again, pulling her along so that their lips didn’t break contact. Slowly, they grew hungrier. He made her want to laugh, to spend the rest of her precious breath pulling breathless sighs out of him.
He made her feel incandescent. Like she could glow with warmth and her heart could race on without her lungs because she didn’t need to breathe when she had him. She didn’t, she didn’t - she only needed the air to breathe his name between the seam of his lips, when she had the moment to steal little puffs and gasps of night breezes.
His kisses made her blood feel like it was nothing more than neon in her veins, lighting them up. Gas zipping through her, her heart the spark that made it glow hot pink to illuminate the whole street.
And then a light flicked on again, and the two of them startled apart. Someone stood at the fence they had hopped over, holding a flashlight. “Hey, you two aren’t supposed to be in there!”
Alina exchanged a glance with Nikolai, whose eyes glinted with mischief. She groaned quietly.
“Run,” he murmured, before launching to his feet with her in tow, running for the opposite fence.
A laugh bubbled out of her, tossing her head back as they sprinted away from whoever it was. Cop, passerby, it didn’t matter - she was with Nikolai, her heart pounding.
And she was in love with a fox too clever for his own good.