Alexey and Mikhail ~ Chapter 5: Pas de Deux

Mikhail was usually quick to recover his good humour and sense of fun after a spanking. Initially he would be rather subdued and shamefaced, clinging for comfort to his top, Alexey Baranov, and seeking an assurance that he was loved and forgiven. But once he'd calmed down, enveloped in Alexey’s strong arms, his customary enthusiasm for life soon resurfaced, even if the lingering soreness in his backside acted as a temporary reminder to think more carefully about the likely consequences of his actions.

This time, however, Mikhail appeared withdrawn and unhappy, although he was polite and cooperative whenever Alexey sought to draw him into conversation. Alexey did not probe, hoping that, given time, Mikhail would share his worries or get over his disaffection. It was true that Mikhail had recently received a severe spanking for a practical joke which had gone very wrong. It was the first time he had been introduced to Alexey’s paddle and Alexey knew from personal experience what that felt like. The intense burn of each stroke gave way to a longer term ache which was way beyond the pain inflicted by a hand spanking. On the other hand, Alexey felt that the punishment had been fully warranted and Mikhail, who knew he always had the right to query Alexey’s decision if he felt he was being unfairly treated, had given his unquestioning consent to the paddling, despite his very apparent trepidation.

Mikhail Galayev had always been a practical joker and Alexey remembered some of his more outrageous stunts from their school days together at the Kiev-Ukraine Ballet School. Looking back, he now felt the jokes had sometimes been staged in attempt to gain the attention of the older boys, of whom Alexey was one. If so, the attempts had been successful and Mikhail had provided plenty of entertainment, although he had often finished up in trouble with the school authorities. Alexey wished ruefully that he had been a better friend to Mikhail at that point in their lives instead of encouraging his wildness by laughing at his exploits. It seemed that Mikhail had not grown out of his love of japes and this was the root cause of his recent troubles.

Alexey and Mikhail were both young dancers in the corps de ballet at the world renowned Mariinsky Theatre. It was a very demanding profession physically, and tension had increased recently as the company prepared to open for a new season, the first in which Mikhail would perform. Perhaps it was underlying stage fright which prompted Mikhail to hatch a daring scheme with the technical crew at the theatre: something which Mikhail thought would be a good laugh but which had backfired.

The first Alexey heard of it was when he and Mikhail were in the male dressing room getting changed for the usual morning ballet class. The other dancers were chattering about one of the cleaners who had been injured. Apparently she'd had to be taken to hospital to have a very bad gash in her leg cleaned and stitched. Everyone expressed their concern and a discussion ensued about sending flowers to her home as a get well gift from the dancers. Eventually it emerged that she'd fallen over the carpenter’s toolbox which had been left on the floor in a dimly lit corridor backstage.

As this piece of information was shared amongst the dancers, eliciting comments about the poor quality of the backstage lighting and the danger of leaving obstacles in narrow corridors, Alexey was conscious that Mikhail had stopped putting on his dancewear and was standing very still.

“Well, Dmitry’s going to be in trouble for this,” said one of the dancers confidently. “It was his toolbox she fell over and I heard him being called in to see the theatre manager. You know how hot the manger has been recently on clearing the corridors and ensuring backstage safety!”

Dmitry Stolyarov was the popular chief carpenter who had a cheerful word for everyone and put his heart and soul into building the sets for the Mariinsky stage. When he heard Dmitry was in trouble Mikhail turned frightened eyes towards Alexey who knew at once that his brat was culpable in this matter. He placed a hand under his elbow and inconspicuously steered him into the shower area which was unoccupied at that time in the morning.

“What have you done?” he enquired quietly.

“Nothing,” replied Mikhail hastily. “It was a mistake. I just forgot, that’s all.”

“Dmitry has been very kind to you. Now we hear he’s in trouble with the theatre management. Do you or do you not know anything about this matter?”

Mikhail stood in an agony of indecision. He couldn’t let Dmitry take the blame for something which wasn’t his fault but he didn’t want to tell Alexey the truth either. At least not just at this moment, with Alexey gripping his upper arms and looking at him with such intense focus.

Alexey helped him reach a decision very rapidly. “Do you want me to spank you right here?” he asked.

Mikhail looked at him in horror. The other dancers were all still in the dressing room. They were bound to hear a spanking. Alexey never embarrassed him in public! But Mikhail took one look at Alexey’s resolute expression and knew that this was no idle threat. He started talking rapidly.

“I left the toolbox there. I didn’t mean to. I’m so sorry a cleaner got hurt. I just forgot to put it back in Dmitry’s room.”

“And why would Dmitry let you borrow his tools anyway? I have never known him let them out of his possession.”

“Well, I was going to take them back but things went wrong and I just forgot.”

“Answer the question, Mikhail. Why did Dmitry lend you his toolbox?”

This was exactly why Mikhail had wanted to postpone this discussion. Alexey never let up on the relentless questioning until he had ascertained all the facts. And he had an uncanny knack of asking the most awkward questions.

Mikhail knew there was no way he could avoid incriminating himself now. He took a deep breath and whispered, “He didn’t lend me the toolbox. I took it from his room. But I meant to return it, really I did.”

“So let’s get this clear. You entered the chief carpenter’s room, to which you have no right of access, you took his toolbox without permission and for a purpose we have yet to ascertain, and you abandoned it in a dangerous position causing an employee to suffer an injury. Correct?”

When no reply was immediately forthcoming the question was put more forcefully, “Is that a correct statement of the facts, Mikhail?”

There was only one possible response and Mikhail whispered it with his eyes fixed on the floor, “Yes, sir.”

“In which case, you need to speak to the theatre manager as soon as possible. Dmitry is being accused of something he didn’t do and you need to get in there and tell the truth. We can talk about how you got yourself into this situation later on.”

Mikhail nodded in silent agreement but when he made no move Alexey placed a firm hand on his shoulder to propel him towards the door. The physical contact brought Mikhail firmly back to reality and he turned impulsively towards his top. Yes, he was in trouble. Yes, there was no doubt in his mind about the punishment he had coming. But there was one thing he was quite certain about. He wanted Alexey beside him when he went into the manager’s office, Alexey who would always be on his side, who would always be there to support and help him.

“You will come with me, won’t you,” he begged.

“Of course, I will. You know I wouldn’t let you face this on your own,” came the reassuring response.

The interview with the theatre manager was brief and unpleasant. The only respite came for Mikhail when he saw the relief on Dmitry’s face that his protestations of innocence were being confirmed. It was indeed correct that the manager was taking a very firm line on safety issues and Dmitry had feared for his job. When the carpenter was dismissed from the office, with an assurance that the matter was now closed as far as he was concerned, he smiled his thanks to a very chastened Mikhail.

That left Mikhail to face the consequences of his actions. It was made very clear that he had entered an area to which he was not permitted access, had taken equipment without permission and had left it in a dangerous location causing injury to a theatre employee. The manager did not probe too closely into Mikhail’s motives, for which the young dancer was very grateful. Instead the manager made clear that he would need to speak to Victor Nikolaevich Pavel, the ballet director, to discuss how the theatre was going to handle Mikhail’s misconduct.

“Make no mistake, Mr Galayev,” the manager stated firmly, “we take a very serious view of behaviour likely to lead to injury. I am suspending you with immediate effect. You should leave the theatre now until summoned back to attend a disciplinary hearing which will fully examine your conduct.”

While Mikhail began changing back into his outdoor wear, Alexey went to have a brief word with Victor Pavel which resulted in both young men being excused from the morning rehearsal. They walked home together in silent thought, giving Mikhail time to reflect on his irresponsible behaviour and contemplate his forthcoming punishment. He was glad that he had avoided implicating the technical crew who had joined him in planning his escapade. It hadn’t come off and there was no need for anyone else to be blamed for the injury to the cleaner. He knew that Alexey would want to know more about what he was doing with the carpenter’s toolbox and he resolved to tell the whole truth. In fact, as they neared their shared apartment Mikhail was beginning to feel very distressed about the entire affair, heartily regretting his misconduct.

From childhood, Mikhail had always had difficulty in facing up to the consequences of his actions. His first instinct was to repress uncomfortable truths about his behaviour and thus save himself from having to take responsibility for his mistakes. However, there was an innate honesty in his character which brought him, sooner or later, to acknowledge his guilt and then he became very upset with himself as he contemplated the thoughtlessness of his conduct. Then he needed a way to atone for his transgressions and an assurance that he was forgiven and loved. Alexey understood this better than Mikhail understood it himself and he knew just how to handle his brat in situations like this.

When they got home Alexey took Mikhail and sat him down at the kitchen table.

“How about I make us a cup of tea?” he asked calmly.

Mikhail accepted gratefully and they sat together in silence, each wrapped up in their own thoughts.

“Well, I think I have a pretty clear picture of what went on back at the theatre,” Alexey said finally. “How about you tell me now why you felt it necessary to take Dmitry’s toolbox in the first place.”

It was the question Mikhail had been expecting and he was ready with his answer although he knew it would not be well received. “I… we… that is… some of the techies and I were planning a joke. I know it wouldn’t have been funny. I do know that now. But it seemed like a good idea at the time. We were going to loosen the fixings on that canopy. You know, the one that comes down at the end of Act 3. We thought it would be a great laugh if all that fabric came billowing down on the company… only at the rehearsal, I mean, not during an actual performance.”

He ground to an uncomfortable halt as he saw the expression on Alexey’s face.

“Did you give any thought to how we would feel trapped under all that?” he asked sternly.

Clearly Mikhail had not given any such thought to the matter at all. In the absence of a response Alexey went on, “So tell me why we were all spared your idiotic joke.”

“We couldn’t loosen the catches, that’s why I went to get Dmitry’s tools… and some of the fixtures were placed too high to reach… and Vladimir said it was a bad idea anyway and… and… we just gave up.”

“So let’s sum up the position then. You and some of the technical crew planned to sabotage a piece of scenery. You entered a private room, effectively stole a toolbox and then just left it in a dangerous place, causing an injury to one of the cleaners. Oh, and you finally abandoned your madcap plan, not because it could frighten and endanger your colleagues but because you couldn’t manage to loosen fastenings which you shouldn’t have been touching anyway. Do you accept that as an accurate statement of the case?”

“It wasn’t like that,” countered Mikhail miserably.

“What was it like, then?”

“You just make it sound so awful. It was only a joke.”

“A joke with serious consequences. Quite apart from the poor lady you have injured, you are now facing a disciplinary hearing at work. You may have put your whole career as a dancer in jeopardy. We don’t know what management will decide. The best you can hope for, I think, is a suspension or a fine and we can ill afford to lose some of your income at this time.”

Mikhail’s head drooped, the justice of Alexey’s words finally hitting home. Alexey put a hand under his chin.

“This is a serious matter, Misha. You’ve got yourself into this situation through sheer mischief and thoughtlessness. You could have damaged your reputation as a dancer and you may well suffer a financial penalty because of this. I am going to teach you to think before you act and if I have to use the paddle to get the message through to you, then that’s what I’ll use. Take off your trousers and underwear.”

Mikhail hadn’t expected that. He heeled off his shoes and slowly removed his trousers, folding them over the back of a kitchen chair. Then he took a deep breath and pulled down his briefs, balling them up and dropping them with his shoes. In the meantime, Alexey had taken the paddle from one of the kitchen drawers and pulled a chair into the middle of the floor. He lifted his arm and Alexey went to him without anything being said, bending himself uncomfortably across Alexey’s knees. In this position, his toes just touched the floor and he was taking the weight of his upper body on his hands, the fingers of which were splayed out on the tiled floor. Alexey lowered his arm and secured Mikhail with a hand over his back. He knew this wasn’t a comfortable position for Mikhail but he didn’t intend keeping him there very long. This paddling would be over much more quickly than a hand spanking and Alexey intended it to have much greater impact.

He brought the paddle down full force, following up immediately with the second stroke. Mikhail didn’t make a sound but he wasn’t trying to be brave; he just couldn’t catch his breath. Alexey sensed rather than heard him gasping for air and waited just a fraction longer between swats. The third stroke made Mikhail cry out and from then on he found it impossible to remain silent, punctuating the rest of his punishment with yells which eventually turned into sobs as he struggled to absorb the intense, burning sting.

The paddle’s coverage was evenly distributed from the upper curves of Mikhail’s bottom right down to the sensitive skin at the top of his thighs. The powerful swats turned Mikhail’s buttocks a deep, angry red and he squirmed and kicked in Alexey’s firm hold without managing to shift position across his partner’s strong thighs. His fingers scrabbled helplessly on the cold floor and, when he flung his head back in response to a particularly painful blow, his tears splashed onto the tiles.

Finally Alexey put the paddle down on the table and lifted Mikhail bodily round to sit as comfortably as possible on his lap. The chastened young man leaned for comfort against his lover’s body, resting his golden head on a broad shoulder where he sobbed out his shame and remorse. Alexey rocked and caressed him until he calmed down, although his breathing took longer to return to normal and his body still occasionally shook with the aftermath of his sobbing. After walking him to the bathroom to wash his face, Alexey suggested that Mikhail lie down for a while on the bed to rest. He sat beside him quietly and was not surprised to see that Mikhail fell quickly into an exhausted sleep.

When the phone rang Alexey rushed to answer it, anxious that Mikhail shouldn’t waken. It was an administrator from the theatre offering an early evening hearing for Mikhail. Alexey briefly considered asking for an appointment the following day but then decided that they would both prefer to know the official sanction as soon as possible. Having established that he could be present as Mikhail’s supporter, he confirmed their attendance.

He left Mikhail to sleep, knowing that the less time he had to worry about the forthcoming meeting the better. He awoke mid afternoon and Alexey made them both a late lunch which Mikhail ate standing up at the counter in the kitchen. Mikhail was so subdued it was difficult to judge his reaction when informed of the meeting at the theatre but he went off as instructed to shower and to change into a suit for the occasion.

When they were finally shown into the theatre manager’s office both Victor Pavel, the ballet director, and Tatiana Gergiev, the artistic director, were present as well. All three were seated on one side of the desk and two chairs were placed on the opposite side for Mikhail and Alexey. Mikhail sat gingerly on the hard wooden seat but could not suppress a wince which he felt had not escaped Victor Pavel’s attention.

Victor was seated in the middle of the disciplinary panel and was clearly in charge of proceedings. He opened the meeting by describing the procedure to be followed and outlining Mikhail’s rights. He then got straight down to the crux of the matter.

“We all know that you didn’t mean to cause any injury, Mikhail,” he said kindly, ignoring the theatre manager’s snort of disapproval. “However,” he continued more firmly, “you have behaved in a way that put your fellow workers in danger and by going into areas of the theatre which are out of bounds to dancers and taking equipment which you are not authorised to touch, you are in breach of your contract of employment here.”

Mikhail gazed at him white faced. This sounded like very formal language and he wondered if it was the prelude to dismissal. He didn’t know how to defend himself but he didn’t need to. Alexey responded formally on his behalf.

“Mr Galayev does not deny the accusation and accepts full responsibility for his actions. He would like to apologise to the theatre management for his conduct and, in particular, he would like to express his sorrow that a fellow worker has been injured by a thoughtless action on his part.”

The other two panel members visibly relaxed as it became apparent that it was going to be a straightforward matter to bring this case to a close. Victor, who had been confident all along that Mikhail and Alexey would cooperate fully, nonetheless wanted to know a bit more about the circumstances leading up to the offence.

“What were you doing taking Dmitry’s toolbox anyway, Mikhail?” he asked.

Anxious only to protect the identities of the technical crew who had aided and abetted him, Mikhail replied on his own behalf this time.

“I was planning something stupid, Victor Nikolaevich, but in the end I didn’t do it.”

Victor looked at him intently and this time Mikhail knew without a doubt that the significance of his red eyes and discomfort on sitting down had not been missed. Acutely conscious that Victor had spanked Alexey in the past, he knew that the significance of his next comment would not be lost on two of those present.

“Alexey has discussed the matter with me very fully indeed,” he said with emphasis, “and I can assure you I will not make the same mistake again.”

Victor nodded in acceptance and exchanged a brief, understanding glance with Alexey. He then turned to confer in whispers with his fellow panelists before he gave out their decision.

“Mr Galayev, you will be suspended from your post for three days and today will count as day one of your penalty. You will forfeit three days pay and you will not come onto theatre property during your suspension. This decision will not affect your position with the Mariinsky Ballet in any other way and you will dance on the opening night as scheduled. Thank you for your attendance today. I look forward to the rapid resumption of our fruitful working relationship.”

As they walked home Alexey spoke reassuringly to his partner. “That wasn’t too bad, was it? When your suspension is over you’ll be able to put all this behind you. Victor will certainly not hold it against you. All things considered, he was very kind to you today. But there was no need to tell Victor that I spanked you. I take it that was the message you wished to convey. You know I would never ever tell him, or anyone else, how we conduct our relationship, and you were under no obligation to do so.”

“Oh, I know that,” responded Mikhail calmly, “but I’m sure he knew the minute he looked at me that I’d been over your knee and, given the history that we both have with him… well, it just seemed the right thing to do.”

“It may well have been, but it took some courage nonetheless. I’m proud of you.”

Mikhail felt his heart lift at Alexey’s words of praise and his tension began to melt away, although no further words were exchanged until they got home. Then Alexey said, “As you have two days at home — and I mean at home, Misha, you’re not setting foot outside this apartment — let’s plan what you’ll be doing.”

Mikhail made a face but sat down without complaint to write out the extensive list of household tasks with which he was to fill the next two days. In the course of what he privately termed his house arrest, the whole apartment underwent a spring clean, all the laundry was done, all the cupboards and drawers were tidied, and Alexey came home each evening to a cooked dinner.

Alexey was amused to note that his brat appeared quite proud of what he had achieved, insisting that his partner take his shoes off at the front door and complaining if he put any of his belongings down on the newly cleared and polished surfaces. He certainly didn’t appear to be resenting his punishment, even if he still took care to have a plump cushion in place before sitting down.

He was back at work for the final rehearsals before the opening night and was swept up with the excitement which affected them all, no matter how many seasons they had done at the Mariinsky. For Mikhail, of course, it was his first and, although he only had a minor role in the corps de ballet, he expected to remember his first night in that famous auditorium for the rest of his life. For Alexey too, the opening night was going to be a very special occasion as he had unexpectedly, and at very short notice, been offered the opportunity to dance a short pas de deux. One of the soloists had suffered a muscle strain and Alexey had understudied the part with no expectation of performing. Now he would be out on the stage with one of the company’s leading ballerinas. Although he felt sorry for his injured colleague he couldn’t help but rejoice that this could be his big break, the first step on the road to becoming a principal dancer. He put in extra practice time on his own and concentrated on the all important lifts in rehearsal.

With hindsight, he wondered whether his excitement at getting a small solo part and the extra time spent in the practice room had blinded him to Mikhail’s unhappiness. He had thought that the whole business over the cleaner and the toolbox had been dealt with; forgiven and forgotten. Certainly no one at the theatre had made any further reference to the incident and the cleaner was back at work. Mikhail had sent her a huge bouquet of flowers — that was entirely his own idea — and he had apologised personally on her return to work. She had made it quite clear that she did not blame him in the least and took the opportunity to have a moan about penny pinching managers who wouldn’t provide adequate lighting behind the scenes.

Nonetheless, Mikhail seemed very subdued and his good humour had deserted him. He joined in with the first night celebrations but in a very lack lustre way. What should have been a memorable night for him was clearly overshadowed by some concern. Alexey could only surmise that his recent punishment had upset him more fundamentally than had been initially apparent. Mikhail never sulked, he had not voiced a word of complaint about his spanking, although Alexey acknowledged to himself that it had been severe. He had accepted his penalty from the theatre management and had performed his additional chores in the apartment with good grace. On this occasion his brat’s distress was incomprehensible and Alexey determined to watch him carefully to see if he could find some clues. Otherwise, he would have to challenge him outright.

When they were dancing at night the company had the afternoon off and that gave Mikhail the opportunity to slip out of the theatre early one day without telling Alexey where he was going. But Alexey had been keeping an eye on him, without being too obvious about it, and so on this occasion he managed to collect his own belongings and follow his partner at a distance. He was surprised to see Mikhail enter St Basil’s Cathedral which they passed every day on their way to work. It dominated the St Petersburg skyline, with its great golden dome, but they were both so used to seeing it now that it rarely drew their attention. As Alexey followed a group of tourists into the vast, echoing space of the cathedral, he was conscious of the quiet murmur of hundreds of visitors but he could not immediately locate his partner. In the dimly lit interior it was some time before he finally spotted the familiar, bright golden head bowed in unaccustomed but reverent worship.

Mikhail had been kneeling on the stone floor in the side chapel reserved for private prayer until his knees were beginning to ache. He felt tormented by guilt which he didn’t know how to get rid of and so he had decided once again to try the power of prayer. The last time he had been in here he had prayed fervently that he would be allowed to remain with the Mariinsky Ballet. He supposed his prayer had been answered and he remembered, with a sense of guilt, that he had never returned to give thanks. He tried to do that now before turning his thoughts to the issue which was troubling his conscience and asking for God’s forgiveness.

His concentration was broken by the arrival of another worshipper who knelt quite close beside and slightly behind him and he caught the flash of movement as the newcomer crossed himself and then bowed his head in prayer. Mikhail did not allow himself to be distracted and continued to focus all his attention on silent supplication until eventually a deep and much loved voice whispered, with just a hint of amusement, “Whatever sins you are confessing to God, I warn you, my boy, you had better be planning to confess them to me.”

Mikhail’s eyes opened wide with surprise and he looked round ruefully, responding to the laughter and affection in his lover’s tone. In the circumstances he could hardly deny that there was something on his conscience and it was a relief to acknowledge it openly.

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned,” he responded in an amused undertone. “I promise I’ll tell you the truth when we get home.”

They both stood up, crossed themselves again, queued respectfully to kiss the icon displayed for veneration and then lit candles before leaving the cathedral to walk back home, comfortably silent in each others’ company. Mikhail began to feel a sense of relief on the short walk back to the apartment, knowing that he couldn’t hide the truth any longer. However, once he was seated beside his lover on the sofa, cradling a glass of wine, Mikhail struggled to explain what was worrying him.

“I’m just so ashamed to tell you.”

“Misha, my love, I can’t imagine any problem that we can’t sort out together. Tell me what you’ve done.”

“I haven’t done anything. This is about you. That’s why it’s so embarrassing. I couldn’t tell you.”

It was Alexey’s turn to falter, “Don’t tell me you’re planning to leave me.”

“Of course not. How could you think that, Alesha?”

The expression on Mikhail’s face, and the love and trust in his beautiful grey eyes, reassured Alexey more effectively than any words.

“Then everything is all right. Just tell me what’s making you unhappy and we’ll fix it together.”

“You can’t fix this. Oh, Alesha. It’s me. I’m just so jealous. I was so looking forward to the opening night, we’d be dancing in the corps de ballet together… and then you got a solo part…” he trailed off; he couldn’t go on.

Alexey didn’t need to hear any more; he understood everything. He took Mikhail’s wine glass and put it down on the table, wrapped his arms round his partner and held him tightly.

“Misha, I love you so much. I’m so very sorry you’ve been upset. There really was no need. It’s my fault for neglecting you. I should have seen this coming and helped you. No, no,” as Mikhail tried to stem Alexey’s apology, “I’m so sorry. There’s no need for you to feel guilty. What you’re feeling is entirely natural; you have the ambition and hunger for success that’s needed to make it as a dancer. Of course you’re going to wish that you were in my shoes. But remember, this is my first opportunity and I’ve been with the company two years longer that you. Your chance will come. Victor has said you have the makings of a great dancer. This is your first season; your time will come.”

Mikhail relaxed into Alexey’s arms feeling an immense weight lifted from his shoulders. Not for the first time he thought that he could have saved himself a lot of heartache if he had gathered his courage and just told Alexey the truth at the start.

“Are you going to spank me?” he asked in a small voice.

“Of course not. What have you done to deserve a spanking?”

“I’ve been very stupid.”

“Well, yes. I suppose you have been very stupid,” Alexey echoed in tones of affection which turned the words ‘very stupid’ into a term of endearment.

The loving response did not lessen Mikhail’s concern. “So what are you going to do?” he asked insistently.

Alexey recognised the anxiety behind the question, reflecting Mikhail’s distress that he had hidden the truth about his feelings from his top. It would be necessary to deal with this in a way which would enable Mikhail to forgive himself and stop feeling guilty. Alexey took a little time to consider an appropriate penalty as Mikhail watched him anxiously.

“I think that writing three hundred times – I need to share my worries with my partner – might help you to remember an important lesson, don’t you?”

Mikhail grimaced. He didn’t like writing lines and three hundred was quite an undertaking. But he had to admit it was a fair and appropriate penalty.

Later that afternoon, as Alexey watched the blonde head bent over the task, with occasional breaks to massage a sore hand, he felt himself overwhelmed with pity and affection for his brat. When the task was complete and Mikhail shyly handed over the sheaf of pages, Alexey complimented him on his neat and elegant handwriting. The flashing smile he received in return signalled Mikhail’s pleasure at the praise as well as his recognition that the matter was now closed.

Much later that night, when they returned to the apartment after the evening performance, Alexey was ready to fall into an exhausted sleep as soon as they got into bed but Mikhail reached out to him and began kissing him. His kisses were hesitant at first but soon he started to run his hands possessively over Alexey’s body which began to respond, despite his tiredness. Mikhail then knelt up and straddled his lover’s hips, reaching back to stimulate him further before slowly impaling himself on Alexey’s erect penis. In this position he was able to dominate his lover, controlling his response by the speed of his movements.

Alexey lay back and savoured the experience, recognising that Mikhail felt confident again to initiate and control their coupling, whereas he had been passive and unresponsive when consumed by guilt. Mikhail continued riding his lover until he felt Alexey convulse beneath him. Unsatisfied himself, he whispered his desires shamelessly to Alexey who willingly used his hands and his mouth to bring his partner to climax.

Lying in a state of relaxed exhaustion in each other’s arms, Alexey smiled and whispered, “You were on good form tonight, you sexy devil. You must be feeling better.”

Mikhail hid his face in embarrassment against Alexey’s shoulder but then recovered enough to say cheekily, “It must be the guilt-relieving effect of writing all those lines. Do you think if I wrote out three hundred times — I need to take the place of another injured soloist — it would have an equally speedy result?”

Alexey didn’t reply. He just dealt one playful swat across the exposed buttocks beneath his hand.