Alexey and Mikhail ~ Chapter 3: Home Comforts

Mikhail woke early as light poured through the high sash windows of the apartment he now shared with his partner Alexey Baranov. Although they had known one another since childhood, Mikhail had only recently moved into Alexey’s spacious apartment in the centre of St Petersburg and he could still hardly believe how much his life had changed for the better.

Mikhail’s decision to move from his small rented room and join Alexey had been taken very much on impulse and with limited understanding of the nature of the relationship Alexey was offering him. Mikhail was always inclined to act without giving much thought to the consequences of his actions and on this occasion he'd followed his instincts, relying on the trust he had always had in his childhood friend. Mikhail reflected with affectionate amusement that, despite Alexey’s general disapproval of rash decisions, everything had turned out very much for the best when he'd committed himself so impulsively to his partner. He thought about pointing this fact out to Alexey the next time he was in trouble for some ill considered action but finally decided that the observation might not be well received.

He shifted in bed to gaze at his sleeping partner, remembering with pleasure their intense lovemaking the previous evening. In repose Alexey’s face had all the appeal of a baby’s with long dark eyelashes curling on the smooth skin of his cheeks. Mikhail knew, however, that those closed eyelids hid dark eyes which seemed, on occasion, to look right through him. He smiled in painful memory of the few times he'd tried to hide something from his top or tried to avoid sharing some unpleasant truth. Alexey had an uncanny ability to spot Mikhail’s guilt. Concealing or withholding information amounted to lying in Alexey’s book and the penalty for such offences was always swift and unpleasant for Mikhail.

Mikhail reached to gently brush Alexey’s dark hair back from his face without waking him. It was a gesture expressive of deep love and trust. Without really being able to articulate his reasons, Mikhail knew that he needed the structure and discipline Alexey had brought to his life. He was now eating well even if, as he ruefully acknowledged to himself, he was now required to do more than a half share of the housework and washing up while Alexey taught him some basic cookery skills. He was also sleeping well, totally relaxed and warm in Alexey’s strong arms. His dancing was improving too as he began to enjoy classes and rehearsals under the exacting direction of Victor Nikolaevich Pavel, the renowned director at the Mariinsky Theatre where they were both members of the corps de ballet.

This morning was a rest day for the dancers and so both young men could afford to enjoy the unaccustomed luxury of a lie in. However, Alexey began stirring as Mikhail was allowing himself to slip back into a light slumber, cocooned in the warmth of the duvet and the comfort of Alexey’s body. Alexey soon slipped out of bed and headed for the bathroom for a shower before returning with a towel around his waist to sort clean clothes from his wardrobe, picking his way round the cases and boxes of Mikhail’s belongings which still littered the floor of their bedroom.

Dressed in casual clothes and clutching his jacket, Alexey gently shook Mikhail awake again.

“Goodbye, love,” he said, kissing Mikhail’s cheek. “You need to get up now. Remember I’ve got an appointment with the physio this morning and we agreed that you would spend the time finding a place for all your things. Would you do the washing up too while I’m out, and then I’ll bring back something nice for our lunch?”

Mikhail grunted his acknowledgement but then burrowed back under the bedcovers as he heard the front door close. In the silent apartment he fell back into a deep sleep and when he next woke up it was nearly half past ten. Mikhail had been looking forward to spending the morning on his own in this flat which was still sufficiently new to him that he enjoyed walking from room to room savouring the magnificent views across the Neva River. He was cross now that half the morning had gone and he would have to spend all the time on the boring chores which Alexey had assigned to him. Once washed and dressed, he looked with irritation at his stuff piled up on the floor of the bedroom and couldn’t face the job of putting it all away.

They had discussed the task together the night before. It had been some weeks since Alexey had helped Mikhail haul all his belongings across the city from his tiny rented room in the suburbs. Mikhail didn’t think he possessed a lot of stuff but it was surprising how much it amounted to when packed in boxes and suitcases. Alexey had found time to clear enough space in the wardrobes and cupboards of his immaculate apartment for all Mikhail’s clothes, shoes and personal belongings but Mikhail claimed that the schedule of dance classes and rehearsals had been so tight he hadn’t had time to unpack.

As Mikhail searched daily for clothes and other items he needed, the contents of the cases and boxes had become strewn about the floor. Alexey had said nothing and just waited for Mikhail to deal with the mess. Last night he had pointed out firmly that he liked the apartment to be kept tidy, Mikhail would have time to sort out his belongings that morning and the task was to be completed while Alexey was seeing the physio. The instruction was kindly given but there was no missing the firmness in his tone.

Mikhail went in the kitchen to make himself a cup of coffee and saw with annoyance that not only were Alexey’s breakfast things on the counter but the dishes from dinner the night before had been left on the table when the two of them had made a hasty exit to the bedroom. It had indeed been his suggestion to leave the washing up until morning but he had conveniently forgotten that fact until confronted with the evidence. He ran hot water into the sink and piled the plates, cutlery and saucepans into the bowl to soak off the encrusted food debris.

In the meantime he hunted out one of his CDs. He loved playing his music in Alexey’s apartment as the speakers were so powerful. He selected a favourite heavy metal band and turned the volume up loud. Mikhail was a dancer and his natural response to music from the earliest age had always been to move in time to the beat, although there was nothing balletic about his dance this morning. He lost himself in the rhythm and pulse of the music and was only dimly aware when some time later the front door bell rang.

He turned the volume down a little and went to answer the door. He didn’t recognise the woman standing on the mat who introduced herself as Irina Bykova, the owner of the apartment below. She looked irritated.

“I’ve put up with the thumping as long as I could this morning but I can’t escape it anywhere in my apartment. Can you turn the volume down? Alexey is normally such a considerate neighbour,” she added. “Is he home?”

She gazed curiously past Mikhail and seemed about to step into the apartment. Mikhail almost closed the front door to block her access to the entrance hall and said angrily, “No, he’s not home and what business is it of yours anyway?”

“We keep an eye out for one another in this apartment block, and that includes treating our neighbours with respect. I hope we’re not going to start experiencing problems here.”

“The only problem I’ve experienced in this apartment building is with nosy neighbours!” Mikhail responded tartly as he closed the front door in her face.

However, Irina Bykova’s intervention had broken the spell induced by his dancing and Mikhail turned off the music, glancing hopelessly at the clock as he realised there was now no chance of completing the jobs he was supposed to do before Alexey got home. He stomped angrily into the kitchen to make a proper start on the washing up and when he finished he flung the tea towel onto the table in a fit of temper, accidently sweeping the two crystal glasses he had just dried onto the floor where they smashed into a shower of fragments.

Mikhail stood motionless with horror. His anger evaporated totally to be replaced by shock and despair. These were Alexey’s best glasses which they had used to toast one another during dinner last night. How could he have been so careless? He had been so looking forward to a morning alone in the apartment and now everything had gone wrong. Alexey couldn’t trust him to be left unsupervised. He had caused damage in Alexey’s lovely flat and hadn’t even made an attempt at clearing up his own mess in the bedroom.

As he began to contemplate what Alexey would say when he returned, Mikhail began to imagine the worst. ‘He won’t let me go on staying here if this is what happens,’ he said to himself. ‘Alesha made clear at the very outset that he expected the apartment to be kept clean and tidy and I haven’t managed to live up to his expectations.’ As he thought about the untouched mess in the bedroom he realised that Alexey had been waiting to see what he would do about it. ‘It was a test,’ he concluded, ‘and I’ve failed.’

No longer able to think clearly, Mikhail grabbed his coat and headed out of the flat. Tears blurred his vision and he had no idea were he was headed. He did what he did so often when things got too much for him to handle. He just ran off without any plan of action. The clamour in his head drowned out all prospect of rational thought.

When Alexey returned clutching a bag of luxuries from the delicatessen, he called to Mikhail from the entrance hall. Not hearing an answer he glanced into the bedroom on his way to the kitchen and suffered a jolt of disappointment as he saw Mikhail’s clothes still strewn over the edge of the packing cases on the floor. He had been so sure that Mikhail had understood the importance of dealing with this matter when they discussed it the previous evening. He didn’t wanted to spoil what was going to be a relaxing afternoon together but there could be no ignoring this act of disobedience.

As he entered the kitchen, he saw the shattered remains of his best crystal wine glasses scattered across the floor. He put down his shopping and went to get a dustpan and brush to clear up the mess and some old newspaper to wrap the broken glass safely. By now it was clear he was alone in the apartment and he took his time ensuring that he had swept up all the tiny pieces of glass before he made himself a drink and sat down to consider his best course of action.

He had no idea where Mikhail would have gone but he knew him well enough now to be sure that he must have fled in a panic. He had no close friends in the city and Alexey suspected that he was just walking the streets. Alexey tried his phone without much hope of a response. It was either turned off or Mikhail wasn’t answering. He decided that a text message might get through to his frightened partner when voicemail might not. After some thought he texted: I love you. Nothing you can do will ever change that. Come home and everything can be sorted out. Love, Alesha.

He then sat down to wait. As time slipped by, Alexey tried phoning again and left a message when he heard that the person he was calling was not available. He spoke firmly in a tone he knew always got Mikhail’s full attention. He made it quite clear that he expected his partner to come home immediately and that they would be dealing with the consequences of his disobedience and of his running away. But he ended more softly, “I love you Misha. Come home to me. I’m waiting for you. I’m here for you. I’ll always be here for you.”

There was nothing more he could do but stay in the apartment and wait. He had looked around for Mikhail’s possessions. His lover had taken a coat and Alexey hoped his phone was in the pocket. Alexey had not heard it ring in the flat but he had found Mikhail’s wallet beside the bed. Apart from the small change he had in his pocket, all his money was still at home. He couldn’t travel far and he couldn’t take a hotel room. He was bound to come back sooner or later.

Alexey was finally coming to the same conclusion himself. He was tired, cold and hungry and he was unsure how far he'd walked. He had followed the canals which crisscrossed the old city and gave it the title: the Venice of the North. On this cold day, however, the water in the canals was dark and murky. He stood on one of the bridges, leaning on the balustrade, and gazed unseeing along the length of the waterway as he pondered his situation.

It always took him a while to get to the point of acknowledging that his troubles were largely of his own making and he was beginning to be overtaken by guilt at his misconduct of the morning. If only he had got out of bed when Alexey had called him. He realised that he had deliberately closed his eyes and gone back to sleep rather than get on with sorting out his possessions. The truth was that he didn’t really know where to begin with a task which just seemed too overwhelming. The late start meant that things had gone from bad to worse and his own ill temper had been a major contributory factor in the final outcome.

He wanted someone to comfort him and he realised that the only person he wanted was Alexey. Would Alexey really throw him out for the mess he had made of the morning? Mikhail began to think he may have overreacted when he feared that their relationship was at an end but he knew Alexey would have plenty to say about his behaviour and it wouldn’t make pleasant listening. Suddenly it didn’t seem to matter that he would be in trouble when he went home. He just wanted to tell Alexey how sorry he was and he wanted things to be right between them again.

Alexey might already be home, he thought. He glanced at his watch and realised that Alexey had probably been waiting for him back at the apartment for some time. He reached into his pocket for his phone and turned it on. As he battled with himself about the advisability of ringing home, his phone bleeped a notification of missed calls. He glanced down to see that Alexey had been trying to ring him and that he had a voicemail message. He decided that he didn’t feel able to speak to Alexey on the phone just then but he had nothing to lose in picking up the voicemail message. It might not even be from his partner, he reasoned with himself, although he wasn’t seriously expecting to hear from anyone else.

He listened to the message from Alexey, hardly taking in what was said, but the tone of voice told him all he expected to hear and all he needed to know. One: you are in deep trouble. Two: everything is going to be all right. It was all that was necessary to convince him to turn for home. Realising that he had insufficient money in his pocket to use public transport, he resigned himself to a long walk back.

With the decision taken he walked rapidly, working out the most direct route home from landmarks on the city skyline. Firstly he made for the colourful onion domes of the Cathedral of the Spilt Blood and from there he was able to see the golden dome of St Isaac’s Cathedral which was close to home. But as he neared the apartment he began to worry about what he was going to say to Alexey and so he headed instead for the gardens on the embankment. There he sat looking at the bronze equestrian statue of Peter the Great pointing out to sea that always seemed to inspire him. But this time he couldn’t seem to get his own motives and intentions sorted out in his head and his shoulders drooped in exhaustion and despair.

Meanwhile, Alexey couldn’t sit still doing nothing in the apartment any longer. Although he had little hope of being able to find Mikhail, he wanted to get out on the street and start looking. He made sure he put his fully charged mobile in his pocket and he wrote a brief note in big letters and stuck it up in full view from the front door: Have gone looking for you. Ring me if you get home first.

Knowing Mikhail’s love of the river he headed up to the embankment rather than towards the shopping district. Soon he spotted a familiar, slumped figure sitting on a bench beside the statue of Peter the Great. He got very close to Mikhail before the bowed head lifted and the fugitive realised that his lover was standing right in front of him. Alexey did not miss the flash of relief and pleasure which lit up Mikhail’s face on first seeing him, to be speedily replaced by a remorseful expression as the reality of his situation returned to the forefront of his mind.

“Have you been sitting here long?” Alexey asked casually.

“Not long. I was on my way home but I stopped here to think for a bit. I like this statue of Peter the Great. He’s pointed me in the right direction in the past… but perhaps not today,” he added ruefully.

After a pause, Alexey asked, “Did you pick up my messages?”

“I listened to the voicemail message and then I started walking home.”

“What about my text?”

“I haven’t checked my texts.”

“Read it now.”

Mikhail fumbled with his phone and recovered the message which he read slowly and continued to gaze at for a long moment. Then he slipped his hand into Alexey’s and said, “I love you too, Alesha. Let’s go home now, please.”

And the two men walked back to the flat in companionable silence. On arrival, Alexey turned up the heating and made them both a hot drink which they sipped sitting quietly side by side on the sofa. Then Alexey broached the discussion with a question that Mikhail hadn’t expected.

“Have you any idea how it felt to get back here at lunchtime and to find you gone?”

Mikhail was unsure how to answer that so he didn’t reply. Instead it dawned on him for the first time that he may have frightened Alexey by disappearing without a word.

“Nothing is ever so bad that we can’t deal with it together. I’m distressed that you were so afraid to face me that you had to run away.”

This time Mikhail couldn’t respond quickly enough, stammering as he hastened to reassure Alexey that he wasn’t afraid of him and he hadn’t run away from him. “Everything went wrong… I thought… I was afraid you’d tell me to leave… I didn’t know what to do. I panicked.”

“I can’t imagine what you must have done if you thought I would tell you to leave!” Alexey smiled at him reassuringly. I think you had better tell me what exactly went on here this morning.”

“I’m not sure where to begin.”

Well, it’s clear you never made a start on putting all your belongings away, as you agreed to do last night. And I’ve had to sweep up the breakages in the kitchen. So how about you take it from there.”

“I never meant to break your stuff and leave such a mess. It just happened.”

“Things don’t just happen, Misha. You have to take some responsibility for your actions. What did you do when I left you this morning?”

There was only one possible answer to this awkward question and it explained a lot of what followed. Mikhail took a deep breath and told the truth.

“I went back to sleep and by the time I got up it was too late to get everything done… and a lot of things went wrong… and I lost my temper and… I broke your best wine glasses.”

“I’m sure you didn’t break them on purpose. Tell me exactly what happened.”

“I really didn’t mean to do it but I threw the tea towel because I was angry at having to do the washing up and I was running out of time. The towel just caught the glasses and knocked them on the floor. I’m so sorry. I’ll replace them for you,” he added in a rush.

“Thank you, Misha. I think it would be a very nice gesture if you were to replace them. Now tell me what happened to our plan for you to put all your belongings away.”

“Well, I ran out of time…”

When it was clear that no other explanation was going to be forthcoming, Alexey prompted a little more firmly.

“You never even started Misha. What went wrong?”

“I didn’t know where to start. I don’t know where to put things. It's your flat. I’m not good at sorting things out. I didn’t know how to do it.” Mikhail was getting upset and his eyes were filling with tears.

“Calm down Misha, calm down. What do you mean you didn’t know where to put things? I’ve cleared space for you in the wardrobe and emptied drawers for you. I showed you where you could put all your things. You only had to ask if you were unsure. I would have helped you if you’d asked but I didn’t want to interfere if you were planning on doing it yourself. I don’t understand your problem.”

Mikhail hadn’t really understood the problem either. He had been putting off the day when he had to tackle the job because it just didn’t feel right to put all his things away in Alexey’s flat.

“It’s your apartment, Alesha. I love being here with you but I haven’t dared let myself believe it will be a permanent arrangement. It doesn’t feel right putting my belongings in your cupboards and drawers. This is such a lovely apartment and I’m just going to mess it up. I have messed it up today.”

“Stop right there, Misha. This is our apartment. You pay your share of the rent. You have just as much right to keep your belongings here as I have. This is more than a shared flat, Misha, this is our home. You have made it a home for me. We’ll start finding a place for all your things tomorrow. We’ll do it together. I hope that will make the apartment feel more like home for you.

“And I’ll tell you what else we can do. We’ll go out together and choose some new wine glasses. You can buy them and they will be your first contribution to our joint home. I didn’t like the old ones very much anyway; they were a present from an elderly aunt when I left home. I think this apartment requires a more contemporary style of glassware, don’t you? There are some lovely designs in Bohemian crystal.”

It was so like Alexey to be turning failures into opportunities, Mikhail thought. Why hadn’t he trusted him instead of running away? Alexey echoed Mikhail’s thoughts as he brought the conversation firmly back to the question of Mikhail’s guilt.

“Anyone can oversleep, Misha. Anyone can accidentally break glasses. What we have to deal with here is your loss of temper, your failure to follow instructions to put away your belongings and the fact that you ran away rather than face up to the consequences of your actions. It seems you need a very firm reminder of the importance of thinking before you act and of the need to take proper responsibility for yourself. I think you definitely deserve a spanking for your behaviour today. Is there anything you want say or to add?”

Alexey always asked for Mikhail’s input at this point. He was always given the opportunity to state his case and Alexey would listen sympathetically to any mitigating circumstances. Mikhail had agreed that Alexey would punish him when he deserved it but he was always treated as an equal partner in their relationship. He was never forced into a spanking or held against his will. It was something to which he consented. On this occasion, however, Mikhail was faced with a dilemma which had never arisen before.

There was one other aspect of his conduct which Alexey should really be made aware of. He had been insufferably rude to the neighbour who lived in the flat below. How well did Alexey know Irina Bykova? Would she come and tell him what Mikhail had said? If so, it would go very much for the worse for him if he didn’t tell the whole truth now. But it was extraordinarily difficult to accuse himself. Mikhail hated to be spanked and Alexey set great store by good manners and moderate language. He wouldn’t be pleased when he heard what Mikhail had said and done.

The silence dragged on and Alexey waited without comment, realising that Mikhail was engaged in inner debate.

Unsure whether or not he was acting from entirely worthy motives or out of fear that Alexey would discover the truth from another source, Mikhail finally muttered, “There’s something else.”

“Tell me.”

In a rather surly tone of voice which covered his embarrassment, Mikhail said, “I was rude to the lady who lives downstairs.”

“To Irina? She’s a good neighbour. What on earth did you say?”

“She came up here to complain about how loud the music was. I… I called her a nosy neighbour and shut the door in her face.”

There was an awkward silence as Alexey absorbed the significance of this admission.

“So, despite all you’ve said about running out of time, you did find the time to listen to music and at excessive volume too.”

There didn’t seem much to say to that so Mikhail remained silent, just inclining his head slightly in reluctant agreement.

When we’ve got your spanking out the way you can sit and write a formal apology to Irina which you will deliver to her in person in the morning. Is that clear?”

Mikhail nodded miserably.

“Let’s get this over with then. You know the score Misha, jeans and underwear down and bend over my knee.” Alexey moved back on the sofa to make a firmer lap but left Mikhail to prepare himself for punishment. So far Alexey had always helped by undoing his trousers, guiding him across his knees and lowering his briefs. That was bad enough but now Mikhail was being asked to take full responsibility himself. He struggled to obey the instructions, feeling more ashamed than he could have imagined at having to pull down his pants in front of Alexey. It wasn’t at all the same as undressing in their bedroom. Mikhail felt his face flushing and he kept his eyes firmly on the ground as he slowly unbuckled his belt, pulled down his zip and lowered his jeans. Alexey said nothing to hurry him up and made no move to assist him. He just waited patiently until Mikhail was ready with his jeans and underwear below his knees and then lifted his arm as Mikhail lowered himself onto his lap and then shifted forward to rest his upper body on the sofa.

Alexey pushed Mikhail’s tee shirt up his back and ran his hand once over the upturned buttocks which clenched in nervous anticipation. He then began to spank fast and hard, concentrating on the centre of Mikhail’s bottom until the skin was fiery red and Mikhail’s breathing was coming in audible gasps. Alexey then turned his attention to a wider area until the whole of Mikhail’s buttocks and upper thighs were glowing, in stark contrast with the white of his back and legs.

Mikhail was finding it hard to remain in position and his legs were scissoring in a vain attempt to counteract the burning sting in his backside. Finally, he could contain himself no longer and began to beg, “Stop, stop, please Alesha. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Please. Stop.” But Alexey felt that this spanking needed to make a lasting impression on Mikhail. Their future as a couple depended on Mikhail understanding that he couldn’t just run out when things got difficult. He had to learn to take responsibility for his actions. Alexey continued spanking hard until he felt sobs begin to wrack Mikhail’s body which finally slumped across his lap in exhausted submission. Only then did he cease the punishment and lift his chastened brat into his lap. Mikhail flung his arms round Alexey’s neck and cried penitent tears onto his shoulder.

“I’m so sorry, Alesha. I promise I won’t run away again. I’ll try and do better. Please forgive me.”

“Of course you’re forgiven. I’m so happy you’re back here with me. We’ll make a new start and you’ve a lot of good things to look forward to.”

He continued reassuring and comforting Mikhail until he calmed down and then he placed him back on his feet saying firmly, “You haven’t eaten all day and I brought back some tasty things for our lunch. It won’t take me long to put together a nice dinner for us.”

Mikhail had been about to say that he couldn’t eat a thing but he realised that he was hungry and felt he might be able to face a light meal. He followed Alexey into the kitchen and sat down at the kitchen table on a thick cushion which Alexey kept for just this purpose. Alexey then produced a pencil and notepad and suggested that Mikhail begin drafting his letter of apology to their downstairs neighbour. Mikhail made a face but bent his head to the task, pausing frequently to chew his pencil and make numerous crossings out until finally he was ready with his first draft and showed it to Alexey.

“Courteous and generous,” he approved, adding one or two minor suggestions. “I am sure that will mend relationships.” Why don’t you go and get some of our best writing paper and make a fair copy. Then you will be ready to go and deliver it personally first thing in the morning.”

Cheered by Alexey’s praise, Mikhail went willingly in search of a pen and writing paper and produced an elegantly written letter which he showed to Alexey for final approval before sealing it in an envelope ready for the morning. He felt much better now that he had made a start on putting right some of his errors.

Meanwhile, Alexey had been busy preparing a meal which did not need much cooking. To start with he laid out a plate of blinis and best beluga caviar with a bowl of soured cream.

“I was planning a special lunch for us to enjoy together today. We can just as easily enjoy it this evening. Luckily, the first course should always be accompanied by vodka and I have a couple of shot glasses. I’m afraid we can’t have any wine with our meal tonight… unless, that is, you're happy drinking it from a mug!” he added in a teasing tone to which Mikhail responded with an embarrassed smile.

Although clearly relieved and untroubled, Mikhail remained shy and quiet throughout the meal and the remainder of the evening. Whenever their eyes met Alexey smiled reassuringly but otherwise continued with his own mundane occupations around the flat without attempting to draw his brat into conversation. He knew that Mikhail was shaken by the events of the day and, although he no longer felt guilty, he needed a little time to regain his confidence and natural spontaneity.

When they finally climbed into bed Alexey wordlessly pulled Mikhail onto his chest where he settled with a deep sigh, his head resting on Alexey’s shoulder. Alexey’s arms encircled his body and they lay together for a long time, reestablishing contact and luxuriating in the comfort and reassurance of one another’s presence. Nothing was said but both were reliving their fears when separated earlier in the day and both were experiencing heartfelt relief that they were back in one another’s arms.

Alexey began to run his fingers through Mikail’s thick, blonde hair, brushing it back from his forehead. He whispered words of endearment and began kissing him slowly, first on his eyelids, then on his earlobes and finally on his lips. His hands moved to gently massage the remaining tension from Mikhail’s neck and shoulders. Initially Mikhail lay relaxed and unresponsive but gradually he began to return the kisses and his arms crept around Alexey’s neck.

Looking deeply into his lover’s eyes, and grinning as his mischievous nature reasserted itself, Mikhail said, “Isn’t there a tradition that you smash your glasses after drinking a toast, to signify lasting love?”

“Do you know, I think there is,” came the calm response. Alexey had transferred his attention from Mikhail’s neck and shoulders, and his fingertips began to lightly caress his lover’s chest. “From now on we’ll smash our glasses after every toast and you can buy all the replacements.”

Mikhail snorted in feigned annoyance at Alexey’s provoking response. He struggled to think of a smart riposte but nothing sufficiently impudent sprang to mind. It didn’t matter though; he was soon rendered incapable of further speech as Alexey’s caressing hand moved lower and all thoughts of glassware were banished.