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         "Okay, which one should I wear tonight?"

         Mila held up two outfit choices in front of her laptop's web camera so that her best friend Sara could see them over their FaceTime chat. In one hand was a flirty hot pink dress; in the other, a pair of black leather pants and a sequined top.

         "Hmm, depends," Sara said on the screen, tapping her chin as she considered the two options. "How do you want the night to end? With a good night kiss or a good night fuck?"

         "Sara!" Mila exclaimed with a laugh, fake scandalized. It wasn't too long ago that Sara wouldn't even say the word "fuck", much less talk about it, despite being several years older than Mila. "It's only the first date."

         "So? That's never bothered you before."


         She had no moral qualms about sleeping with someone on the first date – or even before any date, on a couple of memorable occasions – but she wasn't sure how Otabek felt about it. Though he gave off sexy bad boy vibes, his actual personality based on what she knew from Yuri and her own interactions with him seemed much more reserved and respectful than his appearance indicated, so she didn't want to make any assumptions about where the night might lead.

         (Although she was very much hoping for the second possibility.)

         "Wear the leather pants," Sara said. "Your butt always looks amazing in them."

         "Is that the 'kiss me' pick or the 'fuck me' pick?"

         Sara wiggled her eyebrows. "You'll have to let me know later."

         Mila shook her head, laughing again as she laid both sets of clothes on her bed. "Okay, okay. Leather pants, it is."

         Might as well play up her best asset. She worked hard for that butt, after all.

         Giving no regard to modesty, she let the towel wrapped around her fall to the floor at her feet and grabbed a pair of her sexiest panties from the dresser, slipping them on. It didn't hurt to be prepared – just in case. She didn't bother with a bra, though, walking back to the bed to pick up the sequined tank. With a chest as small as hers, she rarely did, finding the need for one pretty much non-existent.

         "Now, you choose." Sara held up three bottles of nail polish in strikingly different colors. "Lemon Dream, Red Hot Mama, or Royal Flush?"

         After pulling down her shirt, Mila moved closer to the screen to better see the selection. "For your toes? Go with the yellow. It's fun."


         "So, any plans with Emil tonight?" she asked as she sat down on the bed and began tugging on the tight-fitting leather pants.

         Sighing, Sara dipped the wand into the yellow nail polish and swiped off the excess before bringing it to her pinkie toe. "No, he and Mickey already made plans to go to the movies. That new Valentina Ricci flick, I think," she said. "Emil said he might try to sneak over later, though, if it's not too late."

         Mila couldn't resist rolling her eyes. She'd spent nearly half of her recent Greek vacation with Emil and the twins distracting Michele so that Sara and Emil could get away for some "alone time" – a favor for which Mila was expecting a big payback. She tolerated Michele for Sara's sake, but keeping him company on her own was not her idea of a good time, especially since in Sara's absence, he'd taken to scaring away any guy or girl who tried to approach her until she threatened to kick him in the balls if he didn't stop cockblocking her. As it was, she managed only one all-too-brief make-out session with a pretty Greek girl she met on the beach, which had been interrupted by the sudden appearance of her irate girlfriend. (At least Mila assumed that's who she was. Her Greek was limited to "hello", "good-bye", "thank you", and a couple of pick-up lines she thought might come in handy, so she hadn't been able to understand a word of the heated argument that followed.)

         "Seriously, just tell Mickey already," Mila said. "You two have been dating for over a year. Even someone as dense as your brother has to realize you're sleeping together by now."

         "I think you underestimate just how dense Mickey can be, Mila, especially about sex. Sometimes I think he still believes babies are delivered by storks."  Sara shrugged, moving onto her next toe. "Besides, it's kind of exciting in a way, sneaking around."

         "I think Emil's thrill-seeking is a bad influence on you," Mila teased, standing back up and zipping up her pants.

         She was happy for them, though. Sara deserved a wonderful romance after being forced to suppress her desires for so long, and Emil really was a good guy. Even Michele had accepted his best friend's feelings for his twin without too much fuss – a bonafide miracle in Mila's book.

         Turning away from the laptop so that she could rummage through her jewelry box for her favorite pair of earrings, Mila frowned. She was happy for them, she was, but… She missed being in a relationship. She hadn't dated anybody seriously since Andrei, her hockey player ex who had cheated on her with a pair girl who skated at Mila's rink over a year ago. Being single and playing the field had been a lot of fun at first, but at heart, she was the type of person who enjoyed being someone's girlfriend. It was hard to trust someone again after Andrei's betrayal, though.

         "Mila, you still there?" Sara's voice called out over the speakers, breaking Mila from her thoughts.

         Mila quickly located the earrings she had been searching for and walked back in view of the web camera. "Sorry about that," she said, slipping the small silver hoops through the holes in her earlobes. "How do I look?"

         Sara motioned with her free hand for Mila to spin around. "Hot. Like, super-hot. So hot that even I want to do you."

         "Emil might have something to say about that," Mila said with a laugh as she caught sight of her reflection in the full-length mirror next to her dresser. "Damn, my ass really does look good in these pants."

         "Told you!"

         At that moment, Mila heard a buzzing sound coming from the intercom in the living room. She glanced down at the time displayed in the corner of the computer screen, surprised that it was already seven-thirty. Otabek was right on time.

         "That's him. I gotta go," Mila said, blowing Sara a kiss. "Talk to you later, babe."

         "Ciao! Have fun."

         She ended the call, flipping close the lid to her laptop, then headed to the living room to answer Otabek's buzz. "Be down in a second," she told him.

         It was a pain to bring a purse while clubbing, so she got some cash and her I.D. from her usual bag, stuffing them in a pocket along with her phone and apartment key. At the last moment, she remembered to grab a condom from her stash, too. She found most men she went out with carried their own, but should the opportunity arise, it was better to be safe than sorry. When she was satisfied she hadn't forgotten anything, Mila left the apartment and took the elevator down to the lobby.

         She saw him the moment the elevator doors slid open, Otabek casually leaning against the wall directly across from it, arms crossed over his broad chest.

         Mila inhaled a sharp breath at the sight of him. Damn, he was hot, dressed all in black save for a hint of a familiar cobalt blue pendant peeking from behind the neckline of his button-down shirt, his sleeves rolled up to his elbows to reveal his toned forearms – a secret weakness of hers. A part of her wanted to forget all about the date and drag him into the elevator with her, to drop down on her knees and unzip those snug jeans of his –

         Oh, man, it had been way too long.

         Control yourself, Mila, she lectured herself, squaring back her shoulders as she walked over to him. "Hey, Otabek. Sorry for the wait."

         Otabek straightened his posture, bringing his arms down to his sides and greeting her with a slight smile. "I don't mind. I wasn't waiting long," he said, his eyes roaming down her body. "You look great."

         Mentally thanking Sara for the fashion advice, Mila took his arm. "You don't look so bad yourself," she said with a wink before pulling out her phone. "The club's not far, but it's still a bit of a walk. Should I call an Uber?"

         "No need." He tilted his head toward the front door of the apartment building. "Come."

         Curious, she followed Otabek outside.

         Parked next to the curb in front of the building was a motorcycle. "Oh, wow, is that a Kawasaki Versys 650 ABS?" she gushed, running a hand over the seat. She knew Otabek was a biker, but she hadn't expected him to have one in St. Petersburg.

         Then again, he had somehow gotten his hands on one that time in Barcelona, when he had saved Yuri from a pack of his adoring "Yuri's Angels".

         "I rented it," he said, answering her unasked question. "And, yes, it is." He smiled. "You know bikes."

         "Some." She shrugged. "My papa's a mechanic. When I was younger and still lived at home, I used to help out in his shop on weekends, so I picked up a few things here and there. I learned how to change the oil, replace a flat tire, and jump-start a car all before my thirteenth birthday."

         "Impressive. Have you ever ridden before?" he asked, slipping a helmet over his head.

         "No, but I've always wanted to." Her mother forbade it, saying it was much too dangerous, though Mila suspected it was more because it was considered too "unladylike" in her mother's book – whatever the hell that meant.

         "Then this is your chance. Here." He handed her the other helmet before grabbing the handles and smoothly swinging his leg over the seat to mount the bike. "Hop on."

         He didn't have to ask her twice. Mila placed the helmet on her head, then mounted the bike behind him. Once again, she was grateful she had decided on the leather pants; the dress would have made a terrible choice for riding a motorcycle.

         "Um…" Staring at Otabek's back, she wondered where she was supposed to put her hands. On his shoulders?

         "Wrap your arms around my waist and keep your feet on the footpegs," he said, apparently reading her thoughts.

         She did as she was told, hooking her arms around him and holding on tight. Pressed up against his back, Mila inhaled the musky scent of his cologne, a pleasing combination of lavender, spice, and wood that seemed very…him.

         "Try not to shift around too much back there, okay?" Otabek said as he revved the engine. "Ready to go?"

         "Ready!" she said, letting out a thrilled shout as they hit the road.

         The ride to the club was far too short.

         When they arrived, there was already a long queue formed at the door, waiting to be admitted inside St. Petersburg's most popular nightspot. Otabek started to head for the end of the line, but Mila grabbed his hand, pulling him toward the entrance.

         "Mila, what –?"

         "Just watch," she said with a wink over her shoulder.

         Luck was on her side, as Maksim was the bouncer on duty that night. Though he looked tough and imposing, with large muscles and a shaved head, eyes hidden behind sunglasses he never took off when he was on the job, Maksim was actually a huge figure skating fan – and in particular, a fan of hers. He never missed the opportunity to attend any domestic competition at which she competed, always tossing her teddy bears on the ice dressed in mini-replicas of her costumes, handmade with care by his long-time partner.

         "Hey, Maks," she greeted him, walking straight up to him with her brightest smile. "Long time, no see! Still as bald as ever, huh?"

         "Mila, my queen!" After waving a group of women inside, he wrapped his arms around her in one of his famous bear hugs, lifting her feet several inches off the ground. "Where have you been?" he asked upon setting her back down. "It's been forever since I've seen you around here."

         "Oh, I know. With all the touring and publicity I've done since the Olympics and Worlds, I've barely had the time to catch my breath."

         "Well, you deserve to enjoy every bit of success," Maksim said. "Watching you win that world title in Milan was one of the happiest moments of my life. I only wish Kostya and I could have been there in person."

         "Aw, thanks! How's Kostya, by the way?" she asked.

         "He's doing good. Looking forward to seeing what gorgeous costumes you're going to wear next season."

         "In that case, I hope I don't disappoint."

         "You? Nev…er…"

         At that point, Maksim finally became aware of Otabek's quiet presence behind her, and Mila swore she saw sparkles sprouting in his eyes – never mind the fact that they were covered by his sunglasses. If Maksim was a huge fan of hers, he was downright fanatical about the Hero of Kazakhstan. "Mila, tell me – am I still alive, or have I suddenly died and gone straight to heaven?" he asked, bringing a hand to his heart.

         She giggled, latching onto Otabek's arm. "No, you're very much still breathing," she assured the bouncer. "Otabek, I'd like you to meet one of your biggest fans, Maksim Tokayev."

         "Oh, my god, it's such an honor to meet you," Maksim said, holding out his hand to Otabek.

         He went on to say something else to him, speaking in a language Mila didn't immediately recognize. She assumed to be Kazakh, however, when Otabek answered him back, a kind smile on his face as he shook Maksim's hand.

         "Maks, I didn't know you spoke Kazakh!" Mila said when they had finished their brief exchange.

         "My mother is originally from Astana," he explained. "I was just telling Otabek how proud we are of him, to achieve such success as a skater from Kazakhstan, and that we will always love and support him."

         "Thank you," Otabek said with a nod of gratitude. "I hope I continue to make the people of Kazakhstan proud."

         Behind them, the line of people waiting to get into the club began growing restless, a few shouting profanities at Maksim, who sheepishly rubbed the back of his shiny bald head. "Damn, I would ask for an autograph, but I really should get back to work," he said, unhooking the rope in front of the entrance and waving them inside. "You two are free to go in."

         "Thanks, Maks," Mila said as they passed by, giggling when she glanced over her shoulder and saw Maksim mouthing the words "So hot!" as he fanned himself.

         Otabek raised an eyebrow. "Something funny?"

         "Oh, no, it's nothing." She would have to remember to ask Otabek for an autograph later on Maksim's behalf. He really might die and go to heaven if she got him one. "Thanks for that, by the way," she said as she hopped up on an empty stool at the bar. Despite the long line waiting outside, the club wasn't too crowded as of yet, although Mila knew from previous experience that it wouldn't take long for business to pick up. "I think you just made Maks's year."

         Otabek took the stool beside her, signaling for the bartender to take their drink order. "It's always nice to meet a fan, although I must confess I still find it strange at times to think someone like me actually has fans."

         She found that hard to believe. "What are you talking about? You're an amazing skater, Otabek – one of the best in the world. Of course you have fans!"

         "Beka," he corrected. "I mean… You can feel free to call me Beka, if you want. That's what my friends call me."

         "Okay…Beka." Mila smiled, liking the way the nickname sounded in her mouth. She knew that was what Yuri called him, but she hadn't wanted to overstep her boundaries by being overly familiar without permission. "In that case, while we're on the subject of names, I'm just Mila," she informed him. "If you ever dare call me Ludmila…" Her eyes narrowed. "Well, let's just say it's in your best interests not to, Beka."

         "Duly noted," Otabek said with a chuckle as the bartender finished with her previous customers and came over to take their orders.

         Otabek wasn't much of a talker, but that was okay, because Mila talked enough for the both of them, Otabek listening to her every word with a fond look on his usually expressionless face that until then Mila assumed was reserved only for Yuri. Though she was disappointed to learn that Otabek wasn't much of a hockey fan, the two of them shared a love of music and travel, so while they drank, they exchanged music recommendations and swapped stories of the various countries they had visited over the course of their lives, Otabek telling her about his dream to one day go on a road trip across Europe, just him, a backpack, and his bike, and Mila pulling out her cell in order to show him the photos she had taken during her vacation to Greece with Sara, Michele, and Emil.

         "Wow, it's a beautiful country," Otabek said as he swiped through the photographs. "Which was your favorite spot to visit?"

         "Hmm…" They had seen so many incredible landmarks over the course of their vacation, it was tough to pick a favorite. If she had to choose, though… Mila plucked her cell out of his hand and scrolled through the camera roll until she found the photo she had been looking for. "Here – Kallimarmaro, or the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens," she said, handing the phone back to him.

         Michele had taken the picture displayed on the screen, showing her, Sara, and Emil standing on the podium located in the center of the stadium with the stands in the background. As the only one of them possessing an Olympic gold medal (albeit in the team event), Mila had snagged the top spot, with Sara in silver position and Emil taking the lowest tier, the three of them pretending they were taking part in a mock medal ceremony – complete with Sara fake-sobbing, goofy Emil waving his hands above his head to the non-existent crowd, and Mila pretending to take a bite of the gold heart pendant she wore around her neck.

         "The site of the first modern Olympic Games – very cool. Is it true that the entire stadium is made out of marble?"

         "Yeah. It's a simple design, but absolutely stunning. It was awe-inspiring to visit the place where everyone's Olympic dreams began. You should definitely put that on your list of places to visit when you do that tour around Europe." Mila frowned. "Now that I think of it, I probably should have bought you something from the gift shop instead of that mati necklace…"

         Otabek reached for the distinctive blue-and-white eye design of the pendant Mila had given him as a souvenir, rubbing his thumb over it. Though it was just a cheap piece of jewelry, something fun she had picked up in Santorini when Yuri reminded her that Otabek was coming to their rink to train for a few weeks, he had worn it every day since she gave it to him upon her return to St. Petersburg.

         "No, I like this necklace," he said.

         "I'm glad. But speaking of 'evil eyes'…

         Behind Otabek, she noticed a couple standing a few feet away, the man checking his watch while his date none-too-subtly glared at them.  Following her gaze, Otabek glanced over his shoulder, spotting the couple as well.

         "Well, we have been hogging these seats for a while," he pointed out with a shrug, setting his empty beer bottle on the counter and sliding off his stool. "Wanna dance?"

         Mila grinned, taking the hand he offered and hopping down. "Hell, yeah!"

         She took the lead, guiding Otabek to a spot near the DJ booth. More people had made it inside the club, but it wasn't yet at full capacity, the night still young. To warm up the crowd, the DJ stuck with mostly upbeat songs that everybody knew, occasionally slipping in a slower number to let people catch their breath. It was during one of the slow-paced songs that they joined the fray, the two of them falling easily in step.

         To her surprise, Otabek was actually a pretty decent dancer. On the ice, he wasn't known for his grace and flexibility like Yuri, possessing more of a strong athletic style, but he had a good sense of rhythm, probably due in part to his deejaying hobby. He had little trouble keeping up with her, which was great because Mila loved dancing.

         Ballet, jazz, ballroom, Latin, contemporary, hip-hop – she had practiced all of them at one point or another. She'd even been inspired to take a class in pole-dancing after witnessing Yuuri Katsuki's now-legendary boozy striptease at the Grand Prix Final banquet in Sochi a couple of years ago. Mila knew how to move her body both on-and-off the ice, managing to capture the attention of many of the other dancers around them, but it was Otabek's gaze she sought the most, adding extra flirty moves whenever she became aware of him staring more than dancing.

         Within an hour, the club was absolutely jam-packed, the temperature of the room rising from the combined body heat of the crowd. It became difficult to walk, much less dance, but Mila couldn't say she minded the excuse to "accidentally" rub against Otabek's body as much as possible. The small grins he gave her whenever she did suggested he didn't mind it so much, either. 

         "Break?" Mila suggested when the current song came to an end, transitioning into another fast-paced number. As much fun as she was having, the heat was starting to get to her, strands of her hair sticking to her cheeks and forehead. At least her buzzed undercut kept her neck somewhat cool.

         "Yeah, sounds good," he said – or at least that's what she thought he said. With the pulsating music pounding in her ears, his words were almost impossible to hear.

         Grabbing her by the hand, Otabek began leading Mila through the throng of dancers to a less crowded area of the room. They almost got separated a couple of times along the way, jostled around by inebriated people not paying attention to where they were moving, but Mila tightened her grip on his fingers, keeping as close to him as possible until they broke through the most congested section of the dance floor.

         "You okay?" he asked. As they were no longer as close to the DJ booth, it was easier to hear, although Otabek still had to shout a little to be understood.

         "Yeah, I'm fine," Mila said, pushing her sweat-matted hair back off her face. Getting away from the thick of the crowd helped.

         "I'm going to get a drink. Want anything?"

         "Yeah, hold on…" Mila reached into her pocket for some cash, but Otabek shook his head, holding up a hand.

         "I got it this time. Just tell me what you want."

         "Oh, thanks. Um, rum and Coke?"

         "Sure. Be right back."

         "Wait, I'm going upstairs," she said, pointing up to the mezzanine level. "If you can't find me, text me."

         He nodded his understanding and walked over to the bar.

         While he was doing that, Mila made her way through the mob of reveling dancers and headed upstairs. It wasn't as crowded up there, Mila staking out a mostly deserted spot near the stairs so that she could look out for Otabek's return. She leaned forward against the glass railing, watching the clubbers on the floor below and shaking her hips in time to the awesome remix the DJ was currently playing.


         Otabek's voice startled her. Turning around, she accepted the glass he held out to her and smiled in gratitude.

         "Thanks," she said, immediately bringing the chilled glass to her sweaty forehead. "Oh, that feels so nice… You didn't have any trouble finding me?" So caught up in the music, she had forgotten her original plan to keep an eye out for him.

         "You're easy to spot in a crowd."

         She pointed to the top of her head. "Because of my hair?" Red did tend to stick out, although perhaps not as much in a club filled with people sporting hair dyed with every unnatural color of the rainbow.

         "Among other things," he said, the corner of his lips quirking into a small smile as he joined her at the railing, Mila turning back around as well and taking a sip of her drink. "You really do love to dance, don't you?"

         "Guilty as charged."

         "You'd make a good contestant on that show… What do they call it here? I know it's Dancing With The Stars in America. Leo's a huge fan."

         "Tantsy so zvyozdami, so basically the same thing," Mila said. "I love that show! It's my dream to one day be one of the celebrities on there." She sighed. "Maybe when I win Olympic gold…"

         Otabek unexpectedly let out a laugh, causing Mila to frown. She never realized the idea of her winning a gold medal at the Olympics was so hilarious – especially since she had been only three points away from the top spot on the podium in Pyeongchang. Granted, with the news that some of the upcoming juniors were beginning to land quads and triple axels in practice, it might be tough to even make another Olympic team, much less win a medal, but still…

         He seemed to realize his mistake, quickly holding up a hand. "No, wait, I didn't mean it like that," he said. "Sorry. I laughed because you reminded me of Yura. You both seem to forget that you already are Olympic gold medalists."

         "Oh, right. The team event." She honestly had forgotten, even though she was just as proud of that team gold as she was of her individual silver. Mila shrugged, taking a sip of her drink. "Winning that gold was incredible, but you know that's not the gold every skater grows up dreaming of winning."

         "Yeah." He held up his glass. "Here's to winning gold medals, Olympic and otherwise."

         Mila could drink to that. "And future Mirrorball Trophies," she added, clinking her glass against his. "Densawlığıñız üşin! … Um, is that how you say it?" Knowing that they were going drinking and dancing, she had looked up the Kazakh words used during toasts online in an attempt to impress Otabek, but she hadn't been certain about the pronunciation, even after listening to several different audio clips.

         Otabek grinned. "Yeah. Densawlığıñız üşin!"

         A comfortable silence fell over them as they enjoyed the music and nursed their drinks. After a while, though, Mila noticed Otabek had stopped drinking his whiskey, staring down at the amber-hued liquid in his glass with an unreadable look on his face. Concerned, she placed a hand on his upper arm, giving it a light squeeze.

         "Hey, something wrong?"

         His grip tightened on the glass, Otabek remaining silent for a long moment before he closed his eyes and exhaled.

         "I'm in love with Yura."

         "Oh." Mila blinked, pulling her hand away. "Okay."

         That was definitely not what she expected to hear.

         "So…you're gay?" she asked, trying to make sense of his sudden confession. Had he misunderstood her invitation and thought that they were only going out as friends? She had thought she made her intentions pretty clear, though, unless she was just completely off her flirting game.

         He shook his head. "Bi."

         "Me, too, actually," Mila admitted with a small smile. Nudging him with her elbow, she asked, "So, if you're in love with Yura, why are you here on a date with me instead of him?"

         After taking a large gulp of his drink, Otabek sighed. "He doesn't feel the same way."

         "Do you know that for sure? Have you ever told him how you felt about him?"

         "Don't need to. I already know."

         Mila frowned. She liked Otabek – a lot – but if his heart was really with Yuri, he ought to tell him. It was possible that Yuri secretly felt the same way, although it occurred to her that she didn't even know if he was attracted to guys. Gay, straight, bisexual? Yuri's orientation was a complete mystery.

         Maybe Otabek assumed Yuri was straight and that was why he felt he didn't have a chance?

         It was strange, though. In all the years she had known him, Yuri never once mentioned having any sort of crush, and she never really noticed him checking anybody out. In fact, he seemed put off by anything even slightly romantic in nature. A late bloomer, perhaps? But he was already seventeen…

         "Anyway, I thought you deserved to know before we took things any further," Otabek said, spinning his half-empty glass in between his hands, ice cubes clinking together. "Does it bother you?"

         She wasn't sure. Otabek's confession had blindsided her, although looking back, she probably should have realized it sooner. Hell, after hearing the story of what happened between them in Barcelona, she had teased poor Yuri for weeks, calling Otabek his boyfriend and making kissy faces whenever Yuri mentioned his name until he finally told her in no uncertain terms to knock it off, that it wasn't like that between them. Maybe it wasn't for him, but it was like that for Otabek, and she…

         She didn't know where she fit into all this. Of course if what Otabek said was true and Yuri didn't have any romantic feelings for him, he deserved the chance to move on, to find someone who did love him back, but was that even possible when Otabek was still harboring such strong emotions for Yuri? And what if, despite what Otabek thought, Yuri secretly was in love with him, too? If Otabek's feelings were actually reciprocated, Mila wouldn't want to stand in the way of their happiness.

         Even if it meant denying her own desires…

         "Why did you agree to go out with me, Beka?" Mila asked, rephrasing her question from before. "Am I, just, you know, a substitute for Yura?"

         "No." He turned toward her, looking at her for the first time since he dropped his bombshell. "No, I genuinely like you, Mila."

         Her breath hitched in the back of her throat. "You do?"


         Hesitantly, Otabek brought a hand to her face, caressing her cheek. His dark eyes met hers, and it was as if everybody else around them disappeared, the music becoming static in her ears. He traced the outline of her lower lip with his quivering thumb, a soft breath escaping her mouth as her heartbeat began to quicken in anticipation.

         "May I kiss you, Mila?" he asked in a low voice, his mouth right next to her ear so that she could hear him over the music that still sounded like white noise in the background.

         Wanting nothing more at that moment, Mila nodded her consent, eyes falling close as Otabek's lips gently pressed against her own.

         It was, without a doubt, the best first kiss she ever experienced. Soft and undemanding, he kissed her with an unexpected tenderness that chased away any doubt in Mila's mind that he was only after her body.

         As they broke apart, Mila reached for the glass Otabek still held in his hand, setting it and her own on a nearby table. She then brought her hands up to the sides of his face, pulling him down to kiss her once again.

         Their second kiss was even better than the first, No longer burdened with their forgotten drinks, their hands were free to explore, Otabek's sliding down to rest on her hips as Mila wrapped her arms around his neck. She pressed herself against him, encouraging him to open his mouth by licking his lips. He got the message and allowed her tongue entrance, Mila enjoying the faint trace of whiskey she tasted in his mouth as the kiss deepened and grew more ardent. Her skin once again became feverish, a small fire building inside her that burned hotter with every passing moment she remained in his arms.

         "Wow," she said when the kiss finally ended, breathing heavily. They continued to embrace each other, their foreheads touching as they stared into each other's eyes.

         Otabek was in a similar state, unable to even speak. All he could do was nod his agreement.

         They stayed like that for several more moments until they managed to catch their breath again.

         "So, um, maybe this is a bit forward," Mila began, feeling weirdly nervous as she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, "but do you want to maybe leave…and, you know, go back to my place?"

         Otabek smiled. "Yeah, I'd like that," he said almost immediately, much to Mila's relief. "I, uh, just need to call Yura and let him know I won't be back when I said I would."

         Oh, right. Yuri – the boy he was in love with.

         "O-Of course. Go ahead," Mila said.

         "I should probably wait until we get outside. It's too loud in here to make a call."

         "Okay. You can go on ahead. I need to go the ladies' room to freshen up. I'll meet you in front."

         Otabek nodded and started heading downstairs, Mila making her way to the upstairs restrooms. For once the ladies' room wasn't crowded. She bypassed the stalls and went straight for the row of sinks, splashing some cold water on her sweaty face. She then tore off a couple sheets of paper towels from the nearby dispenser, patting her face dry as she stared at her reflection in the mirror.

         This is a dumb idea, she thought. Otabek liked her, but he loved Yuri. She had gotten caught up in the heat of the moment, letting her hormones override good judgment.

         Yet… Mila brought two fingers to her lips.

         Yuri and Otabek weren't a couple. If Otabek's suspicion was correct, then they probably never would be a couple. In that case, it was silly to keep obsessing over all the "what ifs". She liked Otabek, and he liked her. Wasn't that enough for right now?       

         Decided, she threw back her shoulders and went to go look for Otabek.

         Otabek must have broken all the speed limits on the way back to her apartment building because it seemed like no time passed at all before they were alone in the elevator, hands all over each other as they impatiently waited for it to reach Mila's floor.

         When the doors finally slid open, they were greeted by the widowed woman who lived in the apartment directly across from hers.

         "Oh, um, hi, Mrs. Efimova," Mila said, Otabek promptly removing his hand from underneath her sequined top and taking a few steps back to keep the elevator doors from closing. "We were, uh, just –"

         "Hello, dears." The old woman stepped inside, giving them a knowing smirk. "Lovely evening, isn't it?"

         "Yes, it is. In fact, I was just about to show Beka the view from my balcony, so…"

         "Oh, don't let me keep you. I have a 'balcony date' of my own," Mrs. Efimova said, pointing upwards. "Mr. Bukin in 519, you know."

         Mila, in fact, did not know, but she had to give Mrs. Efimova some respect. Seventy years old, and she still had it – impressive! "Well, have fun with Mr. Bukin," she said, taking Otabek by the hand as they left the elevator car, Otabek politely nodding in acknowledgment.

         "You, too, sweetie!"

         The doors slid close behind them, Mila giggling behind her free hand as she led a chuckling Otabek down the hall to the door of her apartment.

         There, she fished her key out of her pocket, almost dropping it in her hurry to get inside and resume where they had left off before Mrs. Efimova's interruption, but as she unlocked the door and started to turn the knob, Otabek reached for her elbow.

         "Mila, wait."

         "Something wrong?" she asked, letting go of the doorknob to turn back around.

         "No, it's just… There's something else I haven't told you yet." He stuffed his hands in the pockets of his jeans. "You know this thing with Coach Feltsman is only a try-out, right?"

         She tilted her head to the side. "Yeah?" She didn't see what that had to do with anything. Of course she already knew Otabek had come to St. Petersburg on a trial basis. Everyone at the rink knew that.

         "Well, I'm probably only going to be here for a couple more weeks, so…"

         "Oh," Mila said softly, realizing what he was getting at. "Right."

         Even though she knew he had come just for a try-out at their rink, the possibility that Otabek wouldn't choose to stay had never really crossed her mind. Yakov Feltsman was the most influential and well-respected figure skating coach in the entire world, already considered a legend in the sport who had trained numerous skaters to World and Olympic medals, including Viktor Nikiforov, arguably the greatest competitive skater of all time. The fact that Yakov had even extended an invitation to Otabek to train with him in the first place was a huge honor, one that few skaters would ever think of declining unless they simply didn't want to win.

         But the way Otabek was talking… It sounded like he was thinking of doing just that. Because of his feelings for Yuri?

         "I wasn't lying when I told you that I liked you, Mila. I do, but I'm not really looking for anything…permanent, at the moment," he continued when she didn't say anything more. Slipping one of his hands out of the pocket, Otabek rubbed the back of his neck. "I'm sorry. I probably shouldn't have…Well, I thought you should probably know, in case you were hoping for something more."

         "Yeah…" She pushed a strand of hair behind her ear, trying to hide her disappointment. "Um, that's good to know."

         And it was. Mila appreciated his honesty, because deep down, despite everything, she had to admit a part of her had been hoping for more.

         "I should probably go," he said after a long pause. "I promised Yura I would help him search for his new short program music when I got back." Otabek chastely kissed her cheek. "I had a great time tonight, Mila. Thanks."

         "Yeah, me, too," she said, forcing a small smile. "Good night, Beka. See you around."

         "Good night."

         With that, Otabek turned to leave, Mila watching his back as he walked to the elevator at the end of the hall. She sighed, her shoulders dropping as she lightly banged the back of her head against her apartment door.

         Letting him leave was for the best. Even disregarding his feelings for Yuri, if he wasn't planning to stay, then there was little point in pursuing anything with Otabek. Long distance relationships were a no-go in her book. She tried one with Riley, the Canadian hockey player she hooked up with in Pyeongchang a few months ago, and it had been a disaster. Without the daily sex they had grown accustomed to during the Olympics, they both quickly got bored and lost interest in each other. Some couples might be able to handle it, but Mila knew it just wasn't for her. She enjoyed the physical side of relationships too much.



         Otabek's footsteps came to a stop.

         "You don't have to go…if you don't want to."

         It was a bad decision.

         Mila knew it the moment the words left her mouth. He was in love with the boy she considered her little brother in spirit and he was probably going to leave in a few weeks anyway. There were so many reasons why she should let Otabek walk away, to protect herself from the inevitable heartbreak, but…

         "Are you sure?" he asked, turning back around.

         "Y-Yeah." She pushed herself off the door, taking a deep breath. "Casual is fine," she said in a more decisive voice. "I can do casual."

         She had plenty of practice, after all.

         "Oh, thank God."

         Otabek quickly made his way back down the hall, taking Mila by surprise when he crushed his lips against hers, her back once again pressed against her apartment door. Even more intense and passionate than the kisses they had shared up till then, Mila moaned into his mouth, bringing one hand up to tangle in the longer hairs of his uppercut as she used the other to feel around for the doorknob somewhere behind her.

         It took her a few clumsy attempts until she managed to wrap her fingers around the knob, the two of them almost falling into her apartment when the door opened. It occurred to Mila that she probably should have cleaned up some before their date, but Otabek didn't even take the time to notice the mess in the living room, still kissing her as he kicked the front door closed with his foot and followed her backwards lead to her bedroom.

         She had left the door ajar when she left, so with only a brief pause to flick on the light switch, they made their way to the bed, Mila falling back on the mattress and pulling Otabek down with her. She could already feel his growing arousal through his jeans, pressing against her as they grinded their hips together.

         "Clothes off," she ordered breathlessly, managing to tear her lips away from his. "Now."

         Otabek didn't need to be told twice, rising back on his knees and fumbling with the tiny buttons on his shirt. While he was busy doing that, Mila kicked off her heels and unzipped her leather pants, lifting her hips in order to push them downwards. As awesome as her butt looked in them, for the first time that night she began to regret her choice as it was a struggle to take them off with any sort of grace, several swears escaping her mouth as she tried. By the time she wiggled them past her knees, Otabek's shirt had already been tossed on the floor, along with his belt, shoes, and socks.

         "Need some help?" he asked with a cock of his eyebrow.

         Groaning, she let her head drop back to the mattress and ran a hand through her hair. "Please."

         Otabek reached for her pants, pulling them the rest of the way down her legs until they were free and throwing them aside. After pulling a condom out of the pocket of his own jeans and setting it down on the mattress, he then moved to position himself in between her spread legs, bracing his arms on either side of her head as he looked down at her.

         "Mila, are you really sure you want to do this?" he asked one more time. "We can stop if you want. It's not too late."

         Her eyes locked on his, Mila brought her hand to his bare chest and began slowly sliding it down his torso until she reached the waistband of his jeans, Otabek visibly swallowing when her fingers tugged down the pull tab of his fly.

         "Yes, I'm sure," she said.

         Mila had only just begun to drift asleep when she sensed Otabek climbing out of bed, the mattress dipping underneath them. He was trying to be as quiet as possible, moving at little more than a snail's pace as he pushed back the comforter and slid his legs off the side, so she didn't say anything, pretending to still be sleeping even when he muttered what she suspected was a Kazakh swear under his breath upon stumbling into something in the darkness.

         Still, the temptation to open an eyelid was too hard to ignore. With only the moonlight coming through the window to provide illumination, she couldn't see much, but if she concentrated, she could just make out the outline of his muscular body as he walked over to where his discarded jeans laid in a heap on the floor. Mila bit down on her bottom lip as he bent over to pick them up, Otabek digging something out of one of the pockets.

         Forgetting her resolve to keep quiet, a flirty remark was on the tip of her tongue when Mila saw the glow of his phone in the darkness.

         His lockscreen was a photo of himself and Yuri in Pyeongchang, taken during the Opening Ceremony. She was technically in the picture, too – well, her fingers were, as she had playfully given Yuri bunny ears – but it didn't take a mind-reader to know the reason why he had chosen that particular picture.

         "Expecting a message from Yura?" she asked instead.

         Otabek froze for a moment, then relaxed, turning back around to face Mila. "You're up," he said, running a hand through his tousled hair. "Sorry, I didn't mean to wake you."

         "I don't mind." She sat back up, wrapping her arms around her knees. "So? Did he send you a text?"

         "Do you have a spare charger I could borrow?" Ignoring her question for the second time, he held up his phone. "My battery's at twenty percent."

         "Yeah, sure." Frowning, Mila reached over to turn on the bedside lamp and began digging around in the drawer of her nightstand. It was a disorganized mess as always, and she made a mental note to remember to clean it out one of these days – though she would probably forget again by morning. "I know there's one in here somewhere…"

         After a few more seconds of searching, she finally located the charger, nestled way in the back of the drawer. "Here it is," she said in triumph, pulling it out and handing it over to Otabek. "There should be a free outlet on the other side."

         "Thanks." He made his way back over to his side of the bed and kneeled down to plug the charger in. "I want to get back to Yura's early to get ready for practice, so is it okay if I set the alarm for around six?"

         "Yeah, that's fine. That's when I was planning to get up anyway."

         "Good." Otabek sat back down on the bed as he tapped on his phone screen to set the alarm. When he finished, he placed it face-down on the nightstand, then crawled back underneath the sheets, kissing her briefly on the lips before laying on his side facing Mila. "Good night."

         "Good night."

         After turning off the lamp, she lay down as well, mirroring him. Her eyes remained opened, however, staring at Otabek's handsome face in the moonlight.       

         Casual was fine. She had made her peace with the idea that this was nothing more than a fling. Spending the next couple of weeks having amazing sex with a sweet, talented guy wasn't a bad way to pass the time, even if a part of her still wished things could be different between them.

         The fact that Otabek refused to do anything about his (potentially) unrequited love for Yuri, though, bothered her, especially the fact that Otabek was so willing to give up the coaching opportunity of a lifetime in order not to deal with his feelings. Otabek truly was one of the best skaters in the world, and Mila had no doubt that under Yakov's tutelage, his skating would become even stronger.

         Besides, if he kept such a huge secret from Yuri, it was bound to affect their friendship eventually. In truth, it already was, if being in Yuri's presence for an extended period of time was hard enough that Otabek didn't even want to stay in St. Petersburg. Yuri had so few friends in the first place; she would hate for something like this to tear them apart.

         "You know…" she began, Otabek's eyes blinking back open at the sound of her voice, "If you want, I can do a little investigating, find out how Yura really feels about you."

         If she could get Yuri to admit whether or not he liked Otabek, maybe it would be easier for Otabek to confess – or at least know for certain that he had no chance. It was worth a shot.  

         He frowned. "Mila, don't. I told you. I already know Yura isn't attracted to me like that."   

         "How can you know for sure when you haven't even given him the chance to tell you otherwise?"

         "I just do," he insisted.

         "Is he straight? Is that it?" she asked, remembering her initial suspicion.

         "No, I don't think he's straight."

         One piece of the puzzle solved. If anybody would know, it was Otabek. "Then he is into guys. That's great! That means you have a chance, right?"

         "No…" Otabek let out a sigh, pushing back some hair that had fell over his face. "Look, it's complicated, okay? I don't think Yura even realizes it himself yet."

         "Hasn't realized what? That he's into men?" Mila propped herself up on her elbow, speaking in a softer tone. "Is that why you're keeping your feelings for him a secret? You don't want to pressure him into coming out?"  

         "It's…complicated," he repeated again. "Please, I've probably said too much. Just forget what I said and let it go. I've already accepted it."

         "But –"

         "Mila, please."

         Sighing, Mila laid back down. "Fine," she said, fingers crossed underneath the blanket where Otabek couldn't see them. "If that's what you want…"

         "I do."

         Mila flipped over on her other side, pulling the comforter tighter around herself. She didn't understand why Otabek was so certain Yuri would never fall for him. Even if Yuri was still struggling with his sexuality, it was clear that Otabek meant the world to him.

         Well, whatever. It was probably none of her business, anyway.

         A couple of minutes later, the mattress shifted again, only this time due to Otabek moving closer to her, wrapping an arm around her midsection as he spooned against her back. "Thanks, though," he said in a low voice, kissing her shoulder. "For offering. You're a kind person, Mila."

         She wasn't so certain about that, but she smiled anyway, craning her neck for another good night kiss before falling back asleep in Otabek's arms.