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"It's just to hand out candy," JJ says. "My parents used to rent out my side of the duplex and the tenants always gave out amazing candy. We owe it the kids to keep up the tradition." He slides over on the locker room bench and hooks an arm around Otabek's neck. "Come on, Beks. You don't have to wear a costume."

Otabek thinks about the Mars Bar JJ made him eat last week when he went too hard on his roadwork and started crashing out. Sweet, odd squishy layers, a little gooey. It made Otabek's teeth hurt but, ever since, he's been wanting another one.

He turns his head and looks at JJ, searching his face for signs of an ulterior motive. And then, because no one else is in the room, leans up and kisses JJ instead of answering his question, fingers on JJ's face, just a few flaring seconds before they have to spring apart and head out to the ice.


It's only been a few weeks since they stumbled from a few words off the ice to hanging out, then from hanging out to hanging out. Since JJ went from irritating to irritatingly hot. Otabek can't keep from thinking about him, from reaching out to touch him, and he's stopped trying.

He doesn't know how much JJ knows about him, what his Google searches have turned up, and Otabek doesn't like a fuss, even from JJ. But maybe that's why Halloween is a good thing. He remembers it from last year in the US: everyone talking about their costumes and all the parties he was invited to were not for him.


"I got your costume!" JJ says as they're setting up in the weight room. "You're going to look awesome! But it's a secret, so you'll have to wait to see until you come over."

"I thought we were just handing out candy." Otabek pulls on his gloves. He's seen the costumes people wear for Halloween. He's seen the things JJ thinks are cool.

"You have to dress up, otherwise the kids will be disappointed." JJ drops his jacket on top of his bag and lies down on the bench. "Don't worry, we won't match."

Otabek moves over to spot. He looks at JJ's bare shoulders, at the ink distorting over his biceps as he flexes and takes the bar in his hands. At the half grin that's always tugging at his resting face. Maybe the costume won't be too bad. Maybe the doorbell won't ring too much and they can be alone.

JJ lets go of the bar and brushes Otabek's belly with his palm. "Do a little extra ab work this week, that's all I'll say."

Otabek flexes without thinking and can't help smiling back when JJ laughs.


Even though it's near freezing, JJ's chest is bare when he answers the door. He's dressed like a boxer: red satin trunks, boots that look like they've seen some actual use, and a red gown that Otabek is sure has JJ's own face on the back.

When the door closes behind him, Otabek slips his hands inside the gown, up onto JJ's bare back as they kiss. Maybe there won't be many children out tonight and they can just be alone.

But the doorbell rings before Otabek can even get JJ back against the wall.

"Your costume is on the bed," JJ says and lets go. "You're going to love it!"


It's a matching costume. The boots are new and the trunks are bright blue. There's no gown, just a pair of boxing gloves tied together so Otabek can sling them around his neck.

He looks around the room as he changes: at the posters of JJ on the walls, a t-shirt hanging out of a bureau drawer, some free weights in the corner.

On the cork board by the desk, alongside tacked up schedules and magazine articles, there's a photo of Otabek and JJ, a printed out selfie. JJ's arm is around Otabek's shoulders and he's smiling, gold-medal bright. Otabek's heart squeezes and he wants to lock the front door and push JJ down on the couch, on the bed.

As he's lacing up the boots, he hopes for a blizzard.


"Hot!" JJ yells when Otabek comes back out but there's no time for anything else before the doorbell rings again.

There's a steady stream of children to the door, costumes half visible under coats and hats. JJ poses, JJ Style, for every group. He tries to guess their costumes and he gets it right nearly every time. Otabek drops candy in pillowcases and plastic buckets.

He eats one mini Mars Bar, much too sweet and oozing caramel all over his fingers, then a second. He's toying with the wrapper on a third when JJ's family rings the bell.

"Take our picture, Beks!" JJ poses with them, the kids in what are probably super hero costumes and JJ's mother as Holtzmann in earmuffs.

Then she takes pictures of JJ and Otabek, JJ's satin robe brushing Otabek's back. Otabek feels so awkward with all of them here, in this room where he's been sliding his fingers under the leg of JJ's trunks, where JJ has been kissing Otabek's neck while they wait for the next batch of kids.

"Come for dinner tomorrow," she says. She looks like she'd hug him if the gloves weren't in the way.

"He for sure will," JJ says.


By nine the doorbell is only ringing occasionally and Otabek relaxes. He throws away his chocolate bar wrappers — four, too many for even a special occasion — and stops across the room to watch JJ flexing in the front hall mirror.

"Do you want to watch a movie?" Otabek says. They've streamed Deadpool twice now but Otabek still hasn't seen the ending.

"A few of my friends might drop by!" JJ says. "Don't worry, it's not a big party."

Otabek's heart sinks. All JJ's friends, not as loud as JJ, but still loud enough, crowding into the small rooms. Last time Otabek escaped into an Uber before it was even 10:30, no text from JJ until an hour later to ask him why he left.

"Grab some chips, k?" JJ flashes his grin and Otabek is filling bowls in the kitchen when the door starts banging and voices start chattering.

He decides he's going to leave. He'll change while everyone is raising their voices higher. He'll slip out while JJ is turning up his terrible music.

Maybe he shouldn't be here at all.

He dodges between a pirate and a Jedi and sets the chips down on the coffee table. JJ is in the middle of a crowd, as usual, most of them strangers to Otabek. It's a big party. He's not going to even notice Otabek is gone.

But JJ turns his irritatingly hot face. "Beks!" he calls. "Come here!"

Otabek shakes his head but his feet move without his consent, light in his boxing boots, and this time the crowd makes a space for him under JJ's arm.

"Now!" JJ says. He turns Otabek to face the living room window. A girl pulls a cord. A banner falls open. Everybody cheers.

It says: Happy Birthday, Otabek!

And the rush of irritation Otabek expects to feel doesn't happen, just his heart expanding in his chest until he thinks his body will crack open. He turns to JJ, to that smug beautiful face, and he can't stop himself. He can't fucking stop himself.

So he kisses JJ, full on his irritatingly hot mouth, boxing gloves pressing between them while everybody else hoots and cat-calls.

"I knew you'd love it," JJ says. His face is flushed and his fingers tighten on Otabek's shoulder.

"I do," Otabek says.