Impaling the Sky

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Chapter 9: Earth to Grow On

Humans aren’t so different from the forest it seems; we also need earth to grown in. Simon abruptly moved all of my things to his unfinished flat without consulting me, but what I found more irritating than his self centered need for control was that he had put my bed on the wall completely opposite to his. It could have been temporary, as Simon has a tendency to hoard strange little meaningless things and had filled the flat with all kinds of junk. However, instead of assisting in the clean up, I sat sulking in the only empty chair and watched him suspiciously.

“I can probably paint the walls next week,” he said, pausing in his sorting and looking around at the patched up but quite beautifully antiquated walls.

“I really don’t care what you do, Simon,” I muttered and stood to haul away what he had designated as garbage.

He gave me a very hard stare, flexing his jaw in anger. Then he started throwing just about everything in his reach into the hallway as he grumbled, “So you don’t want to live with me anymore? You don’t make any sense.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“Sometimes, you really are like being with a woman, you know that?” As someone with my past, this comment stung more than it was intended to, but I tried to take it in stride.

“What kind of bizarrely misogynist insult is that supposed to be, Simon?”

He rolled his eyes. “I just wish you would stop sulking and just say what you fucking mean for once!”

“Why are you so freaking angry about nothing? Did you take too much testosterone or something?” I mumbled and he stood up, balling his fist in intense anger.

“Sometimes! I really could just kill you!” he growled and threw an empty box at me.

“I was only joking!” I threw the box back, and he threw it at me again, so I threw a cup at him, so he threw a shoe at me, so I threw a water jug at him and it smashed all over the place, so he threw a box of papers at me and they exploded all over the room. I looked around for something else to throw at him, but I couldn’t find anything suitable and we both just stood there staring at each other and seething in childish anger.

Then Simon suddenly took a few steps toward me and pushed his hand behind my head as he bent down and kissed me roughly on the mouth.

“God, are you frustrating!” he growled and pressed my face into his shoulder.

“You’re worse." I relaxed with a sigh and then so did he.

I pulled his head down for a kiss, and then he buried his face in my neck again. I wished his shirt were off and pulled at it a little, but he either ignored it or didn’t understand the signal.

“Take off your shirt, Simon,” I whined, but he still ignored me, and I had to move myself away to get his attention.

“Not right now. We don’t have time to get all undressed.”

“Why don’t we have time? What do you have to do?” I pushed him away completely.

“I just have a lot to get done today. I’m already really behind.” He came towards me, but I held up my hand between us. He was avoiding my question, and I was suddenly angrier than ever.

“Why won’t you tell me what you’re doing? What kind of work?”

“Avery. Not right now.”

“Then just leave me alone.”

“Fine,” he growled and pulled off his shirt, trying to kiss me again.

“No,” I said, putting a hand on his chest. I looked at his face, and for some reason I just wanted to do anything I could to hurt him. So very casually I said, “Take all of your clothes off, Simon.”

I can vividly remember the sad shock of pain that flashed over his face before his eyes hardened, and he just stared at me, chewing his cheek in a flushed rage. Then he picked up his shirt without looking at me, already walking out the door as he slipped it back on.

I immediately emptied a large closet Simon had filled with his junk and shoved my bed inside of it. He did not end up coming home again until very late, and since he hadn't turned on the electric, I was sitting in the dark letting my bitterness and insecurity tumble around in my mind.

Simon turned on the lights with a few switches, immediately staring right at me in annoyance. He'd shown me how to turn them on at least five times, and he shook his head and muttered something to himself as he sat down at the large table he used for a desk. There were odd maps and things scattered all over it, along with a large box that he usually kept locked. He unlocked the box and started looking through the papers inside. I squinted my eyes at him again with dramatized suspicion.

“So where have you been all day?”

"Working," he grunted and did not look at me.

"Oh? I thought we were taking a construction break because of the rain? So then, what kind of work were you doing, Simon?"

“Just… stuff! The same thing I've always been doing, years before I even met you. So, what's it matter?” He finally snapped and looked at me.

“Christ, Simon! Why won't you just answer my question?!”

“Now just isn't the right time.” He balled his fist and turned away again. “And you never asked me before. Why do you have to know now?”

“Nicolaus knows, doesn’t he?”

“This has nothing to do with him.”

“Then why won't you tell me? Lerato already told me you're a smuggler; what exactly do you smuggle? Drugs or something?”

“Uh, sometimes,” he sighed and slumped his shoulders forward a bit.

“I don't care what it is; I just want to know.”

“I smuggle whatever is asked for. Nothing too terrible, mostly just medicines, hormones, information, or bits of technology.”

“Technology?”

“Yeah.” He turned to me with a very hard stare and continued, “I smuggle things from the Middle and the Center.”

“What?” I blanched and just blinked at him, not sure what to say to that. I had vaguely heard of people doing such things, but I never imagined that Simon was involved in something so secretive. Or had I? There was a sinking, guilty feeling in my chest and stomach. “So then you know how to go to the Middle?”

"Yes."

"Then that means..."

"I could have taken you home anytime I wanted to.” I looked at his pale, blank face, not sure who was staring back at me. My image of Simon, my entire world really, had changed very suddenly, and a dark, twisted mistrust buried itself deep in my heart.

“Then why did you make me stay?”

“I thought you’d be better off here. It’s better here.” He blinked his eyes very slowly and turned away again. “Avery, I’m sorry. I just, you were so young, and I didn’t want you to make the wrong decision.”

“I was sixteen, not a child! And I, do you have any idea what it was like in that camp? Or how these past three years have been for me? Or what they did to Guy? You could have just taken us all home, couldn’t you?!”

“No, there was no way to get you all back after they met the soldiers. And I never thought that you would be unsafe here. I’m sorry that you had to go to the camp. I’m sorry about what happened to your friends. I’m sorry about everything all right! It wasn’t supposed to be like this!”

“I, I would have chosen to stay here. I don’t understand why you didn’t give me the choice.”

“You wouldn’t have chosen to stay here. I just, I wanted you to stay. Ok?”

“I think that is the most selfish thing I’ve ever heard you say.”

“Selfish? I just couldn’t bear to send you back to that empty life in the Middle!”

“It wasn’t your decision to make!” I yelled at him and finally stood up.

“This is why I never told you. I wanted to, but I knew this would happen! It’s not like I can change anything! I didn't plan for our village to be ransacked, I didn't even plan to fall in love with you, I just, I just couldn't give you back to them."

It was only later that I realized what he said, as I was still seething about his deception. “You didn’t think I would ever notice, huh?”

“You never noticed before!”

“Yeah, well I’m not a teenage boy anymore, Simon! I just ignored all the signs because I trusted you. I don’t why I did, but I did. Absolutely, with everything I trusted you. I, I can’t believe you've been lying to me all this time!"

“Avery, I really was going to tell you so long ago but everything went crazy.”

“You know lately I really, I don’t think you’re the person I thought you were, Simon.”

“Yeah, well I can definitely say the same about you.”

“I’ve never lied to you,” I said defiantly, but there was an instant sinking in my stomach. I didn’t know what the lie was, but I felt like I was lying about something important.

“Avery, you don’t care about my actual thoughts or feelings at all do you? As long as my attention is totally on you and you can dictate my actions, you have no interest in what I’m thinking or any of the reasons for my actions.”

“That’s ridiculous Simon. You're trying to change the subject.”

“You don’t even remember what you said to me back then do you?”

“Remember what specifically? I’ve said a lot of things to you.”

“You know, it doesn’t matter. Just forget it. I’m leaving; I have work to do. And I can’t do it with you bitching at me all the time. We can finish discussing this later.” He gathered some papers and was out the door with a slam before I could say another word. The sound of the door felt like it was still vibrating in my blood long after he’d gone. I didn’t know if I was angry or about to cry, so I went to my closet and slammed myself inside, throwing myself on the bed like a miserable teenage girl.


Simon did not return until the following evening. I pressed my ear to the crack of the closet door and listened, making out a few familiar voices. Simon barely spoke at all, and when he did he was too quiet for me to hear what he was saying. Apparently he and a few of the others were preparing to go on a mission to the Middle.

There was a lot of paper shuffling, and I thought I could hear them skidding maps across Simon’s large desk. Maps. How could I be so stupid? I knew. I knew, but I just didn’t want to believe it.

I was getting a bit bored and depressed by the time the conversation seemed to be winding down. I guessed that most if not all of them were transsexual men like Simon, and I was sure of this when the conversation took a very specific turn from some type of new guns to new surgeries.

“Yeah, the technology in the Center is really amazing these days.” The loudest voice sighed. “Have you heard about the newest doctor doing reassignment there? He’s got a new way for doing a phalloplasty. It’s like practically a natural penis.”

“What’s so different about it?” Nicolaus asked.

“Supposedly it gets hard without outside equipment.”

“What? How?” Nicolaus laughed.

“Blood vessel or nerve reconstruction, something like that.”

“Sounds impossibly expensive,” another added. “If it can even be done at all.”

“Something like 500,000,” the loud one laughed and they all groaned.

“No one has that kind of money,” the third speaker sighed.

“Simon does,” the loudest said immediately. There was silence for a long time. “You should do it Simon. You’re so tall already. No one would even know you’re trans anymore.” My heart sank through my feet and fell through the floor before it raced back up and stuck in my windpipe.

“Mmmmm,” Simon’s voice rumbled and my heart dislodged itself.

“It’s a waste of money, Leo,” Nicolaus added to break the tension. He really was such an obnoxiously agreeable person sometimes. “Besides, some of us are fine this way. I like my genitals just the way they are. Not all of us need to be your idea of normal."

“God, are you insane. I would give my left, and maybe my right arm too, to be normal. I think Simon should do it if he get’s the chance.”

“Shut up already.” I could hear a little bit of Nicholas’s temper rising. “Just drop it.”

“Why? I think...”

“Drop it, you’re getting on my nerves.”

Simon’s voice finally came in. “It might not be so terrible.” He was very quiet, and sounded quite odd to me, not at all like himself.

My heart ached so badly that my hand inadvertently pressed to the center of my chest, just from listening to the sound of his voice. Does it really make him so sad, to be as he is? How can he hate himself so much, when he’s so beautiful to me? Is being normal really so important? Is it my fault he doesn’t like himself? I could feel an intense, confusing guilt worming its way into the front of my head. I had spent so much time loving Simon as he is, that I'd almost forgotten to consider how hard it might be for him. Maybe he didn't want to be any different from other men? How important is physical form to him?

“Come on. We’re done for tonight. Let’s go get a drink,” Nicolaus suggested, and they all started filing out of the flat.

I laid in my bed for hours, thinking about their conversation. Would I find Simon less sexually attractive if he changed? Would I love him less? God, I doubted it. I am so obsessed with him that I wouldn’t even know what to do with my mind if it couldn’t focus on my intense desire for his presence.

And then suddenly I had an overwhelming sense that I needed to just get up and leave. Not the closet, but the house, the city. I needed to be away from Simon for a while before I smothered the both of us. But this was a terrifying thought, and it made me wonder if human beings are really capable of love at all. Or is it just desire to please one’s self? How can I love something completely separate and uncontrolled, this thing called a someone else? There’s no proof that other people even exist in the same way that the thing inside me called ‘I’ exists. Maybe this is all in my imagination and the world is just a twisted reflection of a desire to no longer be separate and existing?

I wrote a note on the back of a drawing of the moon I didn’t remember making, and put it on Simon’s desk before I started cleaning myself up and packing a few things. All the note said was, “Simon. I’m leaving. Love, Avery.” I had gone for a shower and was all packed, but decided to rest for a bit on my bed. I probably didn’t plan to leave at all really, as just the preparation seemed to have appeased my uneasy desire for action

I fell asleep for what seemed like only a few seconds, but I was awoken by the sound of the door opening and closing, followed by the loud thugs of Simon throwing his boots in the corner.

“Avery?” he called out, but I was still angry and just rolled over. “Where the hell have you been all day?” He muttered to himself and sat down at his desk. I rubbed my eyes a moment, and then when I realized that he would find my letter, I sat up with a start.

I got up just as I heard the paper sliding off the desk and into his hands. There was a long silence, and then I could hear him crinkling the paper in one violent grab. Stillness returned, and I had just about gotten the courage to show myself when there was suddenly a loud crash of glass shattering all over the room. I didn’t have much time to dwell on the sound before there was another crash, and another and another. He turned his desk over and scattered and kicked the papers, then threw what I took to be the chair so hard that pieces of it ricocheted off the walls and slid across the floor.

It amazed me that so much anger could come out of Simon, and I was too afraid to show myself, unsure what this lunatic would do to me. Everything in the flat seemed to be pretty thoroughly smashed to pieces by the time he started to settle, and I was brave enough to peek out of the closet. I found him sitting slumped over on top of the overturned cupboard, forearms resting on his knees and hair covering his face as he stared down at the floor. He was in only pants and a white undershirt, still heaving a bit with pale, scarred arms covered in sweat and bits of dust and paper.

I stared at him, sure he couldn’t see beyond his wild jumble of hair. And as I watched I remember how two quick drops fell from the mess obscuring his eyes and into the chaos below his feet. Then he sniffled and roughly wiped a hand over his face. The hand remained over his eyes, breaking the stillness only when his whole body jerked into itself as a light sob racked through it. He tensed and curled his back as he tried to push down this sudden and intense barrage of sobs, but it didn't seem to help and they only increased.

And for some reason this moment inspired a strange revelation in me. I had promised that I would never try to make him do what he did not want . I’d been so dramatic and childish back then; how had I gotten so demanding and resentful toward the man I am supposed to love? Because he’d left me alone. All of his lies and infidelities paled in comparison to that. But I also understood in that moment that I wasn’t the only one who’d been abandoned. Maybe he really did need me as much as I needed him? Perhaps, despite the way I have been treating him, Simon does love me?

I crawled out of the closet on my hands and knees, almost on my belly I was so low to the ground. He didn’t seem to see me, and I inched closer, not sure what he’d do but not really caring about the consequences. If he wants to beat the hell out of me or something then so be it; I deserve it. I had gone way too far. I touched his leg first and he flinched, looking at me for the shortest moment before looking away again as if I weren’t there.

“I’m sorry, Simon,” I begged, trying to touch more of him but he only shrank away. “I’m sorry I broke my promise. I’m sorry I’ve been trying to hurt you I just, I lost my mind. I won’t do it again, I swear to…” I didn’t get to finish before he suddenly grabbed me up against him so violently we almost fell to the floor.

“Stop talking,” he said, pressing my face into his shoulder.

“But I…”

“Shhh, it doesn’t matter. Don’t leave. Just don’t leave me.”

“I’m not leaving. I was mad because, because I wanted you to need me as much as I need you.”

He laughed and tightened his grip on my hair. It hurt but also felt strangely, amazingly good. “You really are kind of an idiot aren’t you?”

“Yes,” I gasped, and he let go of my hair. I buried my face in his chest, and his fingers just loosely played with my curls. “I’m sorry Simon. I won’t ask you to take off your clothes, or leave Nicholaus, and I won’t pretend to leave ever again. I promise, I promise.”

“It’s not your fault. I’ve lied to you so many more times than you have to me.”

“That’s not important. I would have just stayed here anyway.”

“I, I know it’s probably too late now but if you want me to, I’ll take a letter to your family or something.”

“No, you’re my only family, Simon. I don’t even know those people.”

“Still. Next time I go, I’ll take them something. Anything you want.”

“Will you take me back then?”

“No, they can’t have you back now,” he half laughed and squeezed me tighter. God, it really was an amazing feeling, to realize that he loved me so much. I looked around at the smashed chaos in the flat, and I clung to him, wishing that I could just keep pushing and pushing until we were never and in no way separate again.

I pushed him away and used my shirt to wipe the tears and snot off his face.

“I’m sorry,” he laughed. “I had a bit of a break down there.”

“It’s all right.” I kissed him lightly on the nose and brushed his hair away from his face so I could see it better. It was already red, but the color deepened as I kept staring at him.

“What?” He laughed and looked away.

“Nothing. I just like your face. You know that,” I replied seriously and made him turn back to look at me.

“I’m sure I look just fantastic right now.” He rolled his bloodshot eyes, but didn’t turn away again. “I probably smell like vodka too.”

“Yeah, you might be a little bit drunk,” I laughed, and he did too. I captured his smile with my mouth, and he sort of melted backward until I was top of him, pushing the kiss deeper.

“Simon, will you sleep in my bed with me tonight?”

“I think that’s my only option really,” he laughed and motioned toward his thrown apart bed, covered in bits of glass.

“I don’t think we need two anyway.”

“Probably not.”

“Definitely not, you mean?” I teased and licked the freckles on his nose and cheek.

“All right. Definitely not.” He laughed and wiped away my saliva. “You’re a weirdo sometimes, Avery.”

“Be honest Simon, you know I’m a weirdo all the time.” I kissed under his jaw, behind his ear, his forehead, and then his mouth.

“Well, I didn’t want to be rude.” He was looking at the smears on my shirt and running his fingers along the back of my arm. “You’re so cute.” He kissed my forehead, then pulled me so close that he was pressing his mouth into my neck. "Let's go swimming," he whispered.

"It'll be dark," I laughed, but Simon was already standing.

“No, it’s almost dawn.” He held his hand down for me, and I let him pull me to my feet. Then he grabbed a lantern and slung a blanket over his shoulder, all the while never letting go of my hand, almost as if I'd run away from him again if he let go. I found it amusing and strangely, intensely satiating.

It was still dark, but he did not light the lantern and pulled me along behind him like we were two children stumbling out on an adventure.

I remember when we got to the little lake that it was even colder than I expected and eerily quiet, with thick fog lulling over the ground and white steam rising lazily from the water. Simon took off his shirt easily, but I just looked at him skeptically, already a bit chilled.

I watched him unbuckling his belt, but moved my eyes away as I heard his pants dropping to the floor. I could barely see him from the corner of my eye but could tell by the unbroken outline of white that he’d taken off all of his clothes. Still, I slowly and rather inadvertently began to stare at him as he walked to the edge and stood there completely white and naked, looking down into the steam.

The moment reminded me of the mists I’d seen when I looked at the Outer Rim from the Middle, and some of the soft silken fabric wrapped itself around Simon’s ankles as if it would twist up and caress his legs. His red hair and a light blush to his skin were the only brilliant colors to be seen, and for a moment I was sure that nothing was real, and I had only painted this image for my own eyes. But then Simon turned his head, looking at me from over his shoulder. “Aren’t you coming?” He laughed. And the beauty of the nervous warmth and excitement in his colorless eyes moved me far beyond the power of any image.

I didn’t answer for a moment, and he turned away again, slowly stepping into the water. I finished taking off my clothes and approached the side of the rocks, looking down at the water the way Simon had. From nowhere his hands burst from the mists, snaking over my ankles and up my calves.

"Come in here with me cutie,” he said, pulling on my legs.

After a few failed attempts to escape his tickling hands, I finally laughed, "Okay, okay I'm coming," and climbed into the water.

Simon was swimming around in the mists, and I just waded in the shallow end, enjoying the heavy feeling of the water running through my fingers.

“Go under the water,” he demanded with a laugh again.

“I told you, I don’t like being underwater,” I groaned, but he came over and suddenly pushed me under completely. I choked, but once I caught my breath I made sure to punch him before he could get away. “You’re so obnoxious. I'm going home.”

“No you aren't,” he teased and pulled me back against him. Having Simon’s naked body suddenly pressed against me sent my mind into an instant whirl, and I suddenly believed wholeheartedly that I in fact did not want to go home and was actually very much enjoying myself.

“Does this bother you?” He whispered in my ear and sucked some water off my neck.

“Now who’s being an idiot?” I laughed, trying to push down my sudden and intense flush.

He reached around and touched my erection, making it impossible to hide my pleasure. “I guess you really do like my body, huh?” he teased.

“I do. I’m sorry. I know you probably don't. I’m, I'm sorry I’m a pervert, Simon."

“Who ever said I don't?” He laughed.

“When you were talking with your friends a while ago, I thought you said you wanted a surgery that would change your genitals?"

“You were listening to that nonsense?” He laughed again.

“I mean, I won’t mind if you want to have surgery. It's your body. I do like you the way you are, but it's not about what I want. You should do what makes you feel comfortable being you."

“You've been hanging around too many transsexuals,” he laughed and shook his head. "You know exactly what you’re supposed to say, don't you?"

“Hey! I mean it!" I pouted and pushed him away a little.

"You worry too much." He pulled me back and kissed my head. "But I do appreciate the effort."

"Well, even, even though I'm feminine I don't know what it's like to be uncomfortable with my body the way you do. I just don't want to hurt you anymore, Simon." I took his hand and gripped it to my chest. "Tell me what to do, and I’ll do it."

“Avery can be a girl’s name, did you know that?” He replied.

“Would you rather I was less girly, Simon?” I laughed at his sudden change of subject.

“No, I enjoy feminine men.”

“None of your other boyfriends were feminine,” I pouted and looked at his face for a moment.

He had his eyebrows raised like he would laugh again.“Well, sometimes I fail at getting what I want." He used the fingers of his free hand to rub the back of my arm, and his face became mostly serious as he kissed my neck and asked quietly, "Avery, have you ever been on the bottom before?”

I just blinked a few times, wondering about his intentions as his hand went down from my arm, over the small of my back, then around and under the cheeks. ,

“No, I, it, it seems like it would hurt.”

“Don’t worry. I’m good at making it not hurt.” He laughed and pinched me a little.

“Right now you want to do it?” I laughed and squirmed. I was extremely nervous and a bit afraid, but there was also something equally exciting about the idea of Simon penetrating me.

“Yes,” he laughed and pulled me close again, rubbing my shoulders instead. “You don’t want to?”

“Maybe I just need a moment to think about it.”

“You have two minutes.”

“Hey, what kind of moment is that?”

“I don’t know why I’m asking at all. I thought you said you’d be my slave?” he laughed and started walking me toward the edge of the pool.

“Hey, I only said I would be your slave if you married me.”

“Fine, I declare us married. Now you’re my slave.” My back finally reached the rocks behind me.

“I was hoping for a better wedding than that.”

“No time.” He rose his eyebrows and turned me around. “Now put your hands on the side like this.” He had completely trapped me against the side by putting his hands on the rocks, his arms pressing mine together. I did as I was told, shaking a bit as I placed each of my hands down by his one at a time.

“Good.” Simon removed his arms, leaving me feeling strangely vulnerable without them. “Now widen your stance a little.” He put his hands on my hips, moving them back a bit and making me bend forward slightly. He laughed and kissed the back of my neck. “Don’t be scared. I’m not going to hurt you.” His gravelly voice speaking against my skin was almost as lulling as it was sinister.

“I think you might,” l laughed nervously as he kissed down my spine.

“You want me to stop?” I looked back at him and just shook my head. He smirked and used one hand to stroke me gently from the front, the other slowly gliding between my cheeks, massaging all the way down to my testicles and back up, skimming over the opening. It already felt so strangely, alluringly good, and I could feel myself giving in more with each stroke.

“Mmmmm, so cute,” Simon growled and kissed the back of my neck again. He spent more time around the opening, pressing and tickling it, making me burn with new, intense pleasure already. Then he took his hand away from my front, running it up my neck and making me straighten a bit as he brought my face up for a kiss. “Does that feel good?”

“Maybe,” I laughed and moved my head away from him, bending back toward the wall.

“You brat.” He finally pressed a finger into me, and I tensed nervously, making it slightly painful.

“That hurts,” I complained, but he just laughed.

“I bet it does. Relax into it more.” He took it out, stretching the opening more softly. “You are seriously cute right now Avery. Like a little blushing virgin.”

“Shut up,” I gasped as he pressed in again. This time it was much more pleasurable, and the slight pain even added a bit to the thrill of it. Finally, he curled his finger and brushed over an extremely pleasurable spot inside, making me gasp and loose a bit of the power in my legs. “Oh my god.”

“Right there then?” he teased and did it again.

“Don’t do it so much. I feel like I’m already going to…”

“No you won’t. Come on, straighten your legs,” he demanded, and I complied.

“I can’t. It feels too good,” I laughed and hid my gasping, moaning face in my arm. It was such a strangely embarrassing thing to let him do to me; and even though our bodies weren’t touching all over, it also felt extremely intimate.

“Are you ready to come?” he whispered against me.

“Yes, yes,” I practically begged. Simon took his fingers out and turned me around, pressing me against the rocks as his hand moved quickly, gripping me so tightly I was ready to explode in a matter of seconds. He held me up as I lost power in my legs, kissing me so that my moans echoed in his mouth as he pushed his tongue inside of me. My mind went blank for a few moments, and then I was finally finished, loosening my grip on his arm as I settled. I looked at Simon's face, and he had his eyebrows raised in amusement.

“You’re the cutest when you orgasm. You should hear the sounds you make,” he teased while I was still half delirious.

“Shut up.” I slapped him, and he just laughed and kissed the top of my head. “I can’t believe I let you do that,” I laughed, and hid my face in his shoulder.

“It felt good though right?”

“Maybe.”

“It didn’t sound like maybe a few minutes ago.”

“All right, it did feel pretty good.”

Simon laughed and then for some reason bent towards my face and rubbed the tip of his nose against mine.

“Good.” He wiggled his eyebrows and continued suggestively. "When we get home I have something that will really make you good."

"What do you mean?" I asked stupidly.

"So you'll really know what it feels like to be on the bottom." He poked me in the nose, and I blushed, finally understanding his suggestion. The moment was starting to feel all too familiar, but I was determined not to end this encounter as the only one to receive pleasure.

“But Simon…” I was tracing through the hair on the arm that was holding me up.

“What is it?” I was just looking up at his face, but decided to straighten my legs and remain serious.

“I think it’s your turn now,” I said and kissed him, wrapping one arm around him and feeling down his back and over one of the soft, smooth cheeks. I still wasn’t quite sure what my limits were, so I did everything very slowly and carefully. “Simon, where do you want me to touch you?” I asked, and he took my hand and brought it to the front. “Are you sure?” I asked again and he just nodded before I started touching him between his legs. I gently massaged the slick head of his clitoris turned cock, pushing the skin back on the hard little shaft before I rubbed my finger over the newly exposed flesh, pressing on all the sensitive areas.

His breath increased, and he put his hands on my shoulders to hold himself up, rubbing up and down my neck. I was surprised when he pushed my hand lower, making me penetrate him with two of my fingers. I pressed and rubbed various places until he told me where to stay, then used my other hand the keep massaging his very hard shaft. He was totally covered in sweat, biting his own hand as I seemed to be bringing him closer and closer. I loved watching and feeling the pleasure coursing through his body. But I wanted to give him more.

“Simon,” I said, and he cracked open his already shuttering eyes to look at me. “Can I, do it to you with my mouth?” He rose his eyebrows. “We don’t have to...”

“Do you really want to?” he laughed.

“Definitely yes. I like making you feel good. If you like that kind of thing, then please, please let me do it.” I gasped and kissed him on the neck, already extremely aroused by the idea that he might let me.

“You’re so cute,” he laughed and kissed the side of my head.

“I’m not just trying to be cute,” I complained and looked at his face very seriously as I said, “I want to suck you, Simon.”

He blushed very brightly. “Ah, well then, I guess we have to get out of the water?”

Simon got out of the water first, and then held his hand down to help me out. I took it, and we ended up stumbling into each other as I climbed out. I also remember that he held onto to my hand continuously as he led us to a flat area of ground, again as if I would escape. The air was cold, but the ground beneath our feet was actually quite warm and a bit muddy and soft. Simon stood there sort of looking at the ground, and I brought his arm up next to me and kissed him on the shoulder. He looked down at me with a nervous smile, bringing his hand on to the back of my head and making me stand in front of him.

“You know something,” he laughed, touching my face. “You’re really cute.”

“How many times are you going to say that?” I laughed too. “All right, no more joking.” I kissed him on the chest, and he gripped my hair as I started to sink lower. “Is it still ok?”

“Yes. You know, I had a dream like this before.”

“Oh?”

“But it was when you were much younger. It was much less appropriate then.”

“Oh trust me, when I was younger the dreams I had about you were far worse. Now, stop trying to distract me. If you don’t want me to, I won’t do it.”

“I’m sorry. It’s just, I thought I couldn’t have you for so long. It seems so strange, so much easier than I expected it to be.”

“Why did you think it would be hard?” I touched his chest, tracing over his various scars.

“I don’t know. Before you were so young. Then I just… I don’t have a lot of self confidence, Avery. Even though I pretend to.”

“I know,” I laughed and kissed his shoulder again.

“I know you know, but I just wanted to say I’m sorry. You’re really patient, and I’m sorry I couldn’t just trust you before. I promise I won’t do that kind of thing to you anymore. I won’t tease you and push you away.”

“I didn’t really feel like you were being mean to me or anything.”

“But I was. And what I’m trying to say is…” He was blushing very brightly, and even used his hand to cover my eyes so I wasn’t looking at his face. “You don’t have to ask every time. You can do whatever you want to me.”

“What?” I laughed a little, my heart beating in my throat.

“Don’t make me repeat that, you little brat.” He slapped my arm and then put both hands on my shoulders. “Now weren’t you in the middle of something?” I smiled and kissed down his stomach again, not hesitating as I took him in my mouth, tongue twisting and pushing in the places he seemed to enjoy.

“Oh my god,” he gasped immediately, gripping my hair. Then he pulled me away a bit roughly, looking down with his eyebrows raised. "Where does that Naoki boy live again?"

"What?" I laughed and freed myself.

"Because I may have to kill him. You've obviously had a lot of experience doing this."

I just smiled at him and went back to what I was doing. It wasn't long before he was ready to orgasm, gripping my hair so tightly it was giving me rather delightful pain. He had a hard time standing as his body shivered, so I put my hands on his thighs to steady him, his other hand pressing down on my shoulder. After a few orgasms in this position he pushed me away, making me fall backward as he tumbled on top of me.

“If you do it anymore I’ll die,” he laughed into my hair

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize, you idiot.”

“Was it good then?” I asked, and he just laughed.

Then he kissed me on the nose and flicked me on the neck. “So how many times have you done that exactly?"

"Simon..."

"I’m just extremely jealous. I shouldn’t have waited so long.” He laid his head on my stomach, and I started playing with his damp hair.

I loved that he was completely drenched in sweat, still heaving a bit, and I was somehow more satisfied and yet aroused sexually than I’d ever been in my entire life.

“I guess you enjoyed doing that?” he teased and pressed the excruciating hardness between my legs.

“Watching someone orgasm is my favorite, remember? And you’re my favorite. So I can’t help it.”

The way we were lying meant that my hardness was pressing into his upper abdomen, but he suddenly sat up on top of me, squishing the top of my penis very close to where I’d just been pleasuring him with my mouth. “Want to do it like this?” he asked with a smile, rubbing against me. All I could do was nod, and he took hold of my erection and pushed his hips toward me, the whole thing suddenly engulfed in maddeningly tight, wet, warmth. He groaned in pleasure as I penetrated him, his whole body shivering like he was already having a small orgasm.

“Simon,” I gasped, pushing myself up so I could look at his flushed face. My mind was totally blurry as we started to move, and I felt like my whole body was going to explode with that wonderful feeling.

“Do you like it like this, Avery?” he teased and kissed me on the mouth.

“You have no idea,” I think I replied. “I like that I can see so much of you. And I can see your face when you feel good.” He kept looking at me as he increased speed, closing his eyes as he arched his back in pleasure, flinching and moaning on top of me until he seemed unable to move. It was enjoyable being still inside of him, but also somewhat excruciating, so I sat up and kissed him until we were falling backward with him on the bottom. He looked at me with raised eyebrows, feeling over my arms and shoulders and back.

"God, you're cute," he laughed, but I just kissed him and pressed back inside.

It only only took a few moments of intense movement before I was coming, pushing to stay as deep as I could possibly be. I tried not to collapse, holding myself up and looking at him.

“You’re gorgeous, Simon.” I finally let my arms down and kissed him all over, taking deep breaths of his smell, sucking some of the salty sweat from his neck.

“Avery…” he sighed, running his fingers over my back.

“What?”

I looked at his face again and he covered my eyes as he laughed, “That felt really good.”

“I agree.” I joked, and we shifted so that my head was lying on his chest and he was wrapping his fingers into my still damp hair.

“You don’t find it weird?”

“No, I’ve been fantasizing about it for years. It’s totally normal to me.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re a weirdo. Cause you know, I do kind of... really do like sex like that.”

I rose my eyebrows and then stretched up and kissed him on the nose, making him blush and squirm. “Anytime. ” I teased, and we laid there with him playing with my hair until the cold was just too intense to bear.

We lazily went back to the water to rinse off and warm up before we started putting our clothes back on for the walk home. I was watching Simon dry his torso, when for some reason I started wondering about the burn on his side.

“Can I ask you something? About your past?” I blurted, and he looked at me a moment before he just shrugged. “How did you get that burn on your side?”

“This?” he said softly and ran his hand over it. I can vividly remember the sorrowful sound of his dry voice as he touched it, and I instantly regretted my rash questioning. “My mother spilled oil on me.”

“I’m sorry. An accident like that had to be so scary.” I replied nervously.

“It wasn’t an accident. She was angry with me and… Are you sure you want to hear this Avery?”

“You don’t have to tell me.” My heart was racing in strange embarrassment. I hadn’t meant to hurt him; and I quickly decided that I was going to have to be more careful about how and when I asked Simon about his past.

“Sometimes she said she just couldn’t stand to look at me, so she’d beat me or throw me out." He closed his eyes and laughed a little. "But one day she was boiling oil for one of her medicines, and she was going to pour it on my face, but I fought to escape and it just spilled onto my side right here. It was the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life. Took months to heal.”

I didn’t know what I could say or do. I just shook my head, and took Simon’s shirt out of his hands. Then I pulled it over his head and down over his torso, lightly kissing the scar before I covered it.

“Avery?” He looked distressed, so I took his hand and just started walking.

“Come on. Let’s go home. I’m tired, and it’s going to rain again,” I sighed, and for some reason he laughed at me.


When I woke up I was not alone, my head pressed against the scarred muscles over Simon’s heart. I listened to it for a little while, and to the light wheezing of his breath going through his nose. Then I slid away softly, being as quiet as I could while I left the closet. I cleaned up a little of the mess in our cooking area, and put the legs back on a table and two chairs so we’d be able to sit. We didn’t have much food in the house, but I cut up some potatoes and onions and started frying them in a pan. Then I added the two eggs we had, and some spices. It wasn’t the most delicious breakfast, but the smell of the cooking was enough to bring Simon to the table rather quickly.

“How long have you been awake?” he asked, wrapped up in just my blanket.

“Just a little while.” I piled some of the potatoes and eggs on his plate, and he started eating them immediately.

“God this is good,” he sighed after he swallowed about four bites. “I’ve really missed your cooking more than anything.”

“More than anything?” I laughed, and he just nodded and kept eating. I ate a little, but wasn’t terribly hungry. I toasted us some stale bread, and we sat at the table just chatting about cleaning up the mess and getting new furniture for the bits that were completely destroyed.

“Do we have coffee?” Simon started going through the food scattered all over the floor.

“I don’t think so. There was tea though. Maybe over by your desk. Ah, here it is.”

“God, it’ll take weeks to clean this up. I’m so sorry,” he sighed once again.

“Don’t worry about it Simon. I’ll clean it up; I’ve got nothing else to keep me occupied really, until I get a job.”

“You're going to get a job? Like a regular job?” He laughed and started heating up water.

“Yeah, maybe a city laborer or something. A friend of mine in the union said he could help me get in. What's so funny?”

“Nothing, just I haven’t had a proper job in, well, I don’t know how many years. I can't even imagine. Why don’t you just work with me?”

“But I, I don’t really know how.”

“All you have to do is blend-in in the Middle. I think you could manage that, don’t you? But if you don’t want to I understand. I know it will feel odd to go back to your old home.”

“I already told you. I had no home there.”

“What about your family?”

“I haven’t seen any of them since I was nine. Though my sister did try to take custody of me when she became an adult, so she’s really my only family.”

“Would you like me to find out how she is?”

“Could you do that?”

“I could try. But her surname probably changed. Do you know it?” I thought for a moment and just shook my head. "I could probably go through your record, but that could be suspicious."

“It's not that important," I sighed but was secretly a bit disappointed. Then a question that I'd been pondering for years suddenly came to me. "Hey, did you know that I don't actually know your surname?"

“I use the name Sotha." He looked at the water he was heating instead of at me.

"Hmmm, that sounds familiar. Maybe I did hear it before."

"It's Nomakhaya's name." He said and laughed a little. I just looked at him with my eyebrows raised. "I was married to her sister."

This news was quite shocking, and I just stared at him for a few moments. I knew that Simon had been living in Laseine around the same time Nomakhaya had told me that her sister was killed by some kind of politician. Simon's part in this story, however, had been completely omitted.

"Is that why you don't go to Laseine? Because she died there?"

He let out a small dry laugh and still did not look at me. "No, I don't go there because I shot the man that killed her. Six times in his gut, on a public stage in front of like half the damn city." He looked at me with his eyebrows raised and laughed again, as if it were a joke. But I knew he couldn't possibly be more serious.

"So was it revenge for killing your wife?"

"It sounds so strange when you put it that way. I mean, I was about sixteen or so, and she was my friend. We did get married but really we used the marriage certificate to trade names." He laughed again and glanced at me. "My name used to be Anna; hers was Simon. I don't know. Even though we weren't really intimate, I loved her and she did not deserve to die for nothing. So I killed that man because as someone who passed as a white male I had the power to do it. Nomakhaya was going to, but they searched her because she had her hair covered, and the distrust people of her religion. She was able to slip me the gun before they took her out of the line, and despite what we knew would happen if a white person shot this pro integration black leader, I did it anyway. I did it because he deserved to die, and our Anna did not. And the city of Laseine needed to know that. That even if we change our sex, we are still just as human as any other." He was finally completely serious. "I was even able to escape in the chaos."

"How did you get out of the city?"

"Well, Lerato and I had been working with smugglers. I used our routes, and then I went straight on to the Center to find my father."

"Your father lives in the Center!? Did you find him?" I was completely rapt in this tale of his life.

"To go to the center you have to have the right DNA. Do you know what that is?" I shook my head. "The right blood, be related to someone there. So I was admitted, and despite his reluctance I found my father. But it did not work out as I planned."

"What happened?"

"I really just went there to get money from him. Nothing else. But he made me stay..." Simon paused and looked at the ceiling. "And he tried to make me more feminine. I stayed for a few years, and I studied medicine, various feminine crap, a bit of engineering, and a lot about computers." He stopped and looked to the side, finally a large smile spreading across his face. "And I stole millions from him."

"What!?" I gasped, and he laughed again.

"That bastard had the money to spare. Took him months to even realize it was gone!"

"Aren't you afraid they'll come looking for you?"

Simon shook his head and shrugged. "He never pressed charges. I suppose it was a small price to pay to get rid of a rather embarrassing accident."

"How did someone from the Center meet your mother anyway? Was she from there too?"

"No, I was born in the outskirts area. My mother's people are a bit nomadic, but they have very old, and very good, medicinal skills. My father was a physician from the center who came to study us, well, exploit what they could from us and then leave."

"Oh, I see why you don't like him."

"What I hate most about him is his arrogance. He married my mother in our tribe, but he did not consider himself bound by our 'primitive' traditions. And my mother dragged me all over this world, and lost her mind in the process, trying to find him." He seemed lost in thought for a moment but then shook his head quickly. "That's enough about me for now. Let me ask you some questions."

"Like what? You already know everything about me." I laughed a bit uncomfortably.

"Oh there's lots of things I don't know about you. Like say, who was your first love?" He seemed to want to change to a more playful tone.

“Sam I suppose.”

“Oh yeah, but you were so old by then, weren’t you? No one before that?”

“How do you know when I met, Sam?” I stared at him, wondering how he knew about Sam at all. I was sure I'd never mentioned him. Perhaps he read it in some of my scribblings?

“Oh ummmm, that's another thing I was working on telling you.” He looked at his tea. “I kind of sort of… knew him.” He smiled, but at the same time looked a bit worried. My heart jumped again, and I was starting to feel a bit overwhelmed with the conversation.

“Are you serious? Why didn’t you tell me?” I gasped.

“Well that was going to be part of my explanation about going to the Middle.” I just stared at him and waited for a continuation. “I was the one who took Sam from the Middle. Do you remember? Of course you don’t remember me, you maybe saw my shadow for a second but…”

“That was you!? All this time you didn’t tell me that!” I was angry for a moment, but when I looked at his exhausted, disappointed face, it completely subsided. “I remember your voice a little. Is that why you thought I wanted to stay in the Outer Rim?”

“Partially yes. I recognized your face when I saw you, and instead of following your friends I followed you down to the river. That’s why I was there to fight the soldiers that were chasing you, but one got away from me and almost killed you.”

“It makes sense. A lot of things that didn’t make sense before all make sense when I know that you go to the Middle. And that face you made when we were standing outside the store and you burned my hat, I remember thinking that you seemed to recognize me.”

“Are you mad?”

“No. I wouldn’t trade one day of this life for any of the comforts of the Middle.” I looked at him, and he was smiling, his eyebrows raised in amusement. “What’s that face for?”

“Nothing. You’re just crazy as hell. Anyone else would be even more furious with me.”

“But I love you, Simon. You still don’t believe me?” I sat in his lap, and he spilled some tea on both of us. “Tell me more things about you. Like, what did you want to be when you grow up?"

“Want to be? I didn’t really think about it. As long as it was a man I didn’t really give a damn.” He laughed. “Well, maybe a pirate. And I basically am a pirate. Even have an eye twitch these days. Probably will need a patch for it soon.”

“You’re such a fool. I get another question because that wasn’t a real answer.” I laughed and pulled his hair. “Who was your first love then?”

“That’s hard. I wonder who it was? I moved around too much to really get to know any other kids. But I do know the worse crush I ever had was a boy I only saw once, didn’t really know him at the time. And he was way, way too young for me.” He rose his eyebrows with an odd smile, as if he were waiting for me to notice something.

“What?”

“It was you, stupid. I thought it was the sweetest, the way you ran to protect you friend, to save Sam. Remember, I said I’ve loved you longer than you ever loved me.”

“Oh. You know I remember you saying that before. I thought you meant Guy and Mora.”

“I meant all of them. I was going to tell you then, but I couldn’t. I was too afraid of how angry you’d be.”

“Are you just making this all up?” I looked at him with playful suspicion. “Sounds a bit crazy Simon. And a little pedo; I hadn’t even really gone through puberty yet."

"Don't remind me,” he laughed, blushing brightly. “And I couldn’t help it; you were so cute, even if kind of a little kid. How do you think I felt when you just landed in my lap at only sixteen?"

"Oh, you are more devilish than I ever would have suspected."

"I love the way you talk sometimes," he laughed and tried to kiss me, but I laughed and escaped.

“Simon, what do you find most sexually attractive?”

“Your voice.”

“That’s not an answer.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean like what kind of men? Dark hair? Light hair? Short, tall, muscular? I’m just curious.”

“Hmmm, it can vary really. You probably don’t want to hear this, but personality is most important. But I guess I do like darker skin and hair. And people who are at least kind of masculine in body. Hair on a man’s face and chest, muscular arms. But a bit chubby is good; all muscles is definitely not my thing.” He looked at me with eyebrows raised. “Curly hair is a big plus too.”

“Do you like beards?” I teased and ran my hand over my morning stubble.

“Avery, if you grow a beard, we won’t be able to leave the house for at least a solid week.”

“I think I will then.”

“I will not object.” Our serious conversation seemed to have started to take a quick turn towards sexual playfulness, but I was not ready to let go of the opportunity to talk openly with him.

“Nicolaus also has a beard, doesn't he?” I sighed, and he frowned. “Simon, why are you in a relationship with him?”

“Nicolaus made me feel safe. It’s just… it was very easy with him.”

“Just that? I can do that!”

“You? I feel like I’ll be following you and your insanity off a cliff someday.”

“I’ll try to tread more carefully then.”

“No, please don’t do that.” He kissed me on the head. “I’d rather walk off a cliff than in a circle for the rest of my life.”

“So, you’re not going to sleep with Nicolaus anymore?”

“Who ever told you I was sleeping with him?” He laughed and pinched my nose.

“I’m serious Simon. You’ll break it off with him right?”

“Yeah, sure will.”

“When?”

“I already did weeks ago you silly boy, when you first came back.”

“What? Why didn’t you say anything!?”

“I was too proud to admit that you’d beaten me.”

“I so did, didn’t I?” I laughed, and he pulled my ear.

“Stop gloating.” He was running his hands through my curls forwards and then backward, forwards and then backward, making them get puffy and stick out. Then he kissed the top of my head again and said into my hair. “I love you, Avery."


The first thing I learned about traveling between sectors was why years ago Simon had warned me to stay away from the trees. Much of this ancient forest grew above intricate, subterranean tunnels that usually followed along waterways. Some of the passageways were quite dark and terrifying, but others, especially the ones under the Salzen Lakes, were built of deep, cyan tinted glass.

It had been several months since I started working with Simon, and on my first long term assignment I was posing as a university student, along with a few other young men. My only problem blending in seemed to be the same problem I had when I left the place, as I had serious difficulty not staring at Simon too familiarly. I also remember the stiff blue blazer I wore was very uncomfortable, and on the train to our hotel I was lazily leaning over with my forearms on my knees, staring at him in a daze. He wore a nicely cut, charcoal grey suit with a crisp white shirt and a black tie. Seeing him in the Middle I almost felt like he was my childhood fantasy come to life, not only his looks but also his careful movements and the sharp, intense mind hidden behind the reflections of a world passing by at the speed of a train. I was very pleased to see he was wearing his silver rimmed reading glasses, and I couldn’t get the teacher and student role play fantasies out of my mind. I wanted him to push me to my knees still in his suit, loosening his tie and taking the glasses off slowly. Another in our group kicked my foot lightly, and I looked at the ground, bouncing my legs in fortunately appropriate nervous anticipation.

In order to play his role as a school administrator, Simon at first had the insane notion that he was going to cut off all of his hair and dye it dark brown. However, after many long, exhausting laments from myself he resolved that it would just be cut shorter. I gave him the haircut, so in the end it wasn’t all that short and looked a bit more liberal than his part in the plan really called for. However, I actually found that I very much enjoyed his short hair, and despite his protests I was constantly exploring the texture of it against my newly de-callused hands. But I hadn’t been able to so much as touch his arm for days.

As the only one with actual medical studies, combined with his quick thinking, and general charm, it was decided that Simon would play the administrator in charge of taking us on a tour of the local hospital. It really was a drug smuggling assignment, and he said it carried minimal risk. But I could still remember the smell of his blood scraping against my hands and a metal washboard in freezing, pinkish brown tinged water.

When we got to the hotel Simon booked joint rooms for the students and a single one for himself. He put one of the keys to a joint room in my hand, but at the same time I felt the weight of another falling into the pocket of my blazer. It was amusingly scandalous; and somehow, oddly, exactly as I had pictured my future in the Middle. How could I resist a secret rendezvous in a hotel with an older man?

We did an actual tour of the hospital, but eventually four of us secretly broke off from the group, and found ourselves trying to haul away an immense, rusted metal door in the back of an old wing. It felt odd watching two of my comrades pulling on the old metal shell in their clean, tightly stitched blazers, like a bunch of schoolkids skipping class. The door barely moved for them, so we took a turn at trying to push the filthy sheet of metal, then they took another, and finally we took another. All of us were covered in sweat and rust by the time we actually got it pushed away, and Simon was standing on the other side holding a gas lantern, his eyebrows raised in amusement.

“Took you boys long enough,” he said with a smile, and while we glared at him for the comment it also made us laugh a little.

He walked us down a large, dark corridor, and we emerged in a smallish room with no windows or lights but three other lanterns sitting on top of large crates. There was a sun tanned man in a white doctor’s coat sitting at a sparse table, staring at his hands.

“Well, you’re out of time. Where is the rest of it?” Simon asked him, and the man just kept staring at his hands.

Finally he stuttered, “This, this is all that’s coming.”

“Excuse me?” Simon’s voice was very sharp, and as he curled his hand toward the door of the room, two of the students immediately closed it. “You were already paid for quite a bit more than what is in this room.”

“This is all I could manage.” He was a middle aged man, a little bit chubby, with thinning dark hair and thick black glasses. “There is nothing to be done.”

“You don’t take us very seriously, do you Mr. Price?” Simon’s voice was very calm, and yet the intensity of it frightened me the moment I heard it. It reminded me of the sword fight in the village, and I knew that something terrible was about to happen to the man in the white coat.

“I can’t get more.”

“You signed a contract. Are you telling me that you plan to break it?” Simon stood behind the doctor and put his hand on the back of the man's neck. The doctor closed his eyes and took in a sharp breath the moment Simon touched him. “Do you remember the consequence?”

“I…” he was looking at his hands intently. “If you give me another month. And I’ll get you stuff that’s not imprinted, not traceable.”

“Do you think I'm a fucking idiot?” Simon squeezed the man’s neck and quickly pushed his head into the table. The doctor’s composure broke completely, and in a panic he tried to escape Simon’s grasp while two others grabbed his flailing arms. My heart was instantly racing in my throat, but I could do nothing but stare.

“Nicolaus,” Simon said suddenly and looked at me, then tossed his eyes towards the door.

“Avery, we’ll wait outside for the truck.” I felt Nicolaus’s hand on my elbow, and I quickly stepped away from him.

“Why? It won’t be here for sometime.”

“Avery!” Simon growled, still holding down the struggling, half crying, doctor. “Out!” I stared back at him defiantly for only a moment, but his black eyes didn’t even show a glimmer of retreat. Irritated with him both for his cruelty and the way he babied me, I turned away and left with a sigh of disgust.

“It has to be this way,” Nicolaus was saying as we walked blind down the corridor. I could hear a few loud thuds, and the man began screaming fiercely.

“I’m not a fool; I am aware,” I growled and leaned against the outside wall. It felt like it might rain soon, and the dirt and concrete were a bit damp in patches. “What’s he doing to him?”

“Breaking his hands," Nicolaus said and leaned on the wall with me.

“He’s a doctor.”

“A surgeon. He’ll never be able to work again. Probably not even hold a cup for a long time.”

“I can’t imagine Simon actually doing that.” Nicolaus laughed the moment I said that, and I glared at him before looking back to a grove of trees and weeds that grew not far from us. They were so still and calm, a little bit of morning sun glittering down through the small, fresh leaves. “He’s going to be so unhappy.”

“That man has put all our lives at risk giving us traceable goods. Simon can’t be soft with him, or they’ll all do it to us. They don’t care if people in the Outer Rim live or die. They take our gold and our oil and expect us to be grateful for what little they give us in return.”

“I’m only mildly concerned for the doctor. He’ll live off social benefits anyway, about two thirds his salary as a surgeon. A fortune.” I sighed. “I don’t mean to say that he doesn’t deserve to have his hands broken. I just, I, Simon shouldn’t have to do it. Shouldn’t have to do something so violent. He’ll be so unhappy.”

“This isn't exactly the first time he's done this, you know.” Nicolaus stood up and then took out a cigarette and lit it. “But I suppose you know him better than I do.” I wasn’t sure if he meant that sarcastIcally or not, nor did I really care if he did. I just considered asking him for a cigarette, but decided I wouldn't like it as much as I thought. “It’s strange though you know. I thought I did know him.” I had been dreading this conversation for months and just shifted uncomfortably. “Like there was always strange trouble that he has in his eyes, you know?” He looked at me as if he expected an agreement, but I could only look away. It made me strangely jealous to know that I was not the only person to notice it. “You know, I thought it was just, like, I don't know, just there for good. So I never tried to break through it.” He puffed his cigarette deeply. “I don’t know how you did it.”

I thought about what he was saying, but for some reason all I could think of was the way the Salzen lakes looked on quiet nights, almost as still and hard as black stone. And while I enjoyed their beauty, there were also restless nights alone when I would go mad breaking the smooth surface with little pebbles I’d collected in my pocket.

An unlabeled white truck was already approaching, and Nicolaus waved it towards us. We established the contact information of the driver and immediately got to work readying the truck for loading. We could only rest a few moments more in awkward silence before the doors opened, and the others came out carrying large crates. Simon calmly and efficiently directed where to put what and how to stack the crates inside the truck. Once we had loaded the truck completely Simon drove off with the driver and another appeared. We loaded this one the same as the other, and after a few hours of this intense labor we were finally free to return to the hotel. I had no idea what they did with the doctor.

Despite being rather filthy and covered in sweat, no one seemed to take notice of us on the train. I suppose it was normal for men our age, but I was very anxious, perhaps partly because I had to keep my sleeves rolled down to cover my tattoos, making me feel like I was suffocating.

I ate a simple dinner at the hotel with the others, but instead of returning to the room with them I excused myself early. I feigned that I was going to the restroom more for any eavesdroppers than my actual companions; they knew where I was going.

It took a bit of luck to enter his room unnoticed, but I believe I managed it, or at the very least to genuinely look like I was trying to hide it. The sun still hadn’t set, and there was a dull gray cast over the completely white dressings of the room. I locked the door behind me as quietly as I could and apprehensively took a step toward the large bed in the center. Simon was already undressed and lying on his stomach in the middle of the bed, but I couldn’t tell if he was awake or asleep, his face turned away from the light and facing the wall. On the surface of my mind I was a bit disappointed that he was no longer in his suit, ruining my playful teacher fantasy. But my heart had also sunken low, worrying about the troubles stirring inside of him.

I approached slowly and stood at the end of the bed, pressing my knees into the thick mattress as I took off my collared shirt. He was only wearing a pair of small black trunks, and my eyes lingered on his thighs for some time. The reddish brown hair thinned as it got closer to the trunks, and the fabric was lightly stretched over the mounds of soft flesh above them. I rose one leg, sliding it carefully up on to the bed.

As I got closer I could tell that his eyes were closed, but I knew he wasn’t really asleep. My movements paused when he stirred a bit, but once he was settled I crawled closer, holding myself above him with slightly shaking, sweat drenched arms. I stayed there for some time just looking at him¸ wondering if he would ever wake up and acknowledge me.

“Simon,” I finally whispered, running a finger along his hip.

“I filled the bath for you,” he said the moment I made contact.

“Are you saying I smell?” I laughed and moved closer, making him smile.

“A little bit.” He opened one eye, and then closed it again with a light laugh.

“I thought you liked the way I smell?” I laughed too, and let myself collapse on top of him. He resisted, but I held him down, jokingly kissing his neck and shoulders.

“Not quite that much,” he laughed and gave up.

“Come with me then.” I ran my hands over the smooth skin on his side.

“I already took a bath. I’ll wait for you here.”

“No, take another one with me,” I complained, now running my hand through his short, clean hair.

“It’s too small. Just don’t take long,” he sighed, and I finally rolled off of him. A little disappointed again, I just pouted a bit and went into the adjoining bathroom alone. At first I planned to just rinse off quickly, but as I let my body slip into the deep, hot porcelain tub, I never wanted to leave. The bluish water also had a pleasant, lavender smell to it, and the heat and soap instantly relaxed my sore muscles. I had almost forgotten what it was like to take a real bath. The rust and dirt clinging to me slipped off smoothly, leaving my bronzed skin soft and glimmering beneath my own caressing hands.

I’d spent perhaps half an hour in the bath, and when I came back to the bed Simon really did seem to be asleep. A white towel was wrapped around the bottom part of my body, and I was using another to dry my hair as I watched him sleep. He didn’t seem to be too upset, but then again he was asleep before dark. I threw both of the towels to the side and carefully crawled in the bed behind him, wrapping one arm around his middle.

“Now you smell good,” he sighed a few moments later. “I fell asleep.”

“Sorry. I was a bit tired from loading the crates.”

“It’s alright. That’s why I had the bath ready. I know it’s a lot of work.”

“I’ve had to do worse,” I sighed and pulled myself closer to him, pressing my face against his back. “Are you alright, Simon?”

“I’m fine,” he laughed dryly.

“Are you sure?”

He was silent after that, and I almost wondered if he’d fallen asleep again by the time he said, “Sometimes, I wish I weren’t born human.”

“What else would you be?”

“I dunno. A plant maybe. Then I wouldn’t have to make decisions. I wouldn’t have to interact with the world at all.”

“Are you saying you don’t want me around?” I had to joke because the seriousness of his voice was frightening me.

“You, well you can be the earth that I’m growing in. How’s that?”

“I think that sounds kind of racist, Simon. Are you saying that because I’m brown?” He finally laughed and turned so that he could wrap an arm around me instead.

“But your eyes really do look like earth. Live earth,” he said, playing with my hair. “I don’t know why. But sometimes you seem so much more unshakeable than I am.”

“Hardly. But you know, we can pretend if you want. For right now. We can pretend that there is only me and only you.”

“But the world is right outside the door, Avery. And the things we’ve done, and the things we’ll do, seem to always be threatening.” He buried his face in my damp hair.

“Nope, only me and only you.” I pressed on the back of his head even though it seemed painful, and his closed eyes pressed into my neck. He took many slow, deep breaths, still pressed into my skin. Then, he suddenly put his large hands onto my upper arms, pushing me back and swinging his leg over until he was sitting on top of my lower abdomen. There was a strange emotion on his face as his fingers traced down my neck, along my collarbone, down over each of the tattooed mounds on my left arm.

“You’re so cute, Avery,” he sighed and smiled, the seriousness of his expression melting away as he blushed and shook his head. Then he sort of looked at the ceiling and sighed, “I wonder what it would be like to have a normal job?”

“Where did that come from?” I laughed, partially distracted by his gorgeous thighs.

“I’ve been thinking about it for a while now. What do you think? Do you think it might be better to just stay in the Outer Rim and you know, maybe find another way to make a living?”

“Is this because of what you had to do to that doctor?” I sat up on my elbows and looked at his face, but he was mostly looking to the window and I could just see the bottom of his jaw.

“Only partly.”

“Well, I’m not sure Simon. I’ll go wherever you want me to, you know that.”

“Yeah, I know. Lately, I just, I’m not sure if I’ve made the right decision for us.”

“We can try the other way of living if you want.”

“It’s not really so simple."

“Would it make you feel guilty to stop smuggling?”

“Maybe. Sometimes I feel like its my responsibility for certain things. You know, like getting hormones and surgeries for other people like me.”

“No one else can do it?”

“They can.”

“Then why does it have to be you?”

“Well, it has to be someone.”

My head was starting to hurt, and I just crinkled my forehead and lay back. “I’m sorry, Simon. I don’t know what to do. It’s up to you.”

“So you don’t have a preference either way? Do you like coming to the Middle?”

“It’s kind of fun. But it’s dangerous and a lot of work. Sometimes it makes me sad too, but when I’m with you I’m not sad. Ummmm, I think they’re even. But it seems like you don’t want to do it anymore. So stopping would be better.” As I was speaking I finally realized that Simon was just trying to get me to agree with him.

“Are you sure? Cause it’s not that bad really I…”

“Shut, up,” I laughed and tickled the backs of his legs.

“Oh, you know I hate that!” He laughed and punched me. “You want know one thing that always made me want to come to the middle?” He laughed playfully, slowly coming out of his depressed funk.

“What?”

“I have actually always found guys from the Middle really, very hot.”

“You moron,” I laughed. “I don’t even look like I’m from the Middle anymore.”

“It’s mostly the way you talk. Hey, we all know your fetish now you know mine.”

“I don’t have a fetish, shut up,” I said quickly, almost seriously. “I always thought yours was mixed race guys. You’ve dated a lot of them.”

“Coincidence. And you know I don’t care if you have a transman fetish dummy.” I lifted my legs so he fell forward and had to hold himself above me with his arms.

“Hey, mine is coincidence too. It really just started with Sam, and you knew him so I met you, and you’re the best.” He just laughed at me.

“Well, I like the way guys from the middle talk, and you seem to be able to talk forever.”

“Weirdo. Other people say I’m quiet. I only talk all the time to you.”

“As it should be. You have an especially cute voice. I don't really like to share." He kissed the center of my neck, and it tickled but also made me flush with bizarre embarrassment.

“I thought you just liked the things I say. I had no idea it was just all about sex.” He kept kissing me and touching my arms and back.

“I don’t know how your brain can remain so innocent, when you’re really a huge pervert,” he laughed and pressed the hardness already developing between my legs. “I thought you were tired?”

“Never that tired,” I laughed, already rubbing his thighs.

“Man, you’re hopeless. I guess that’s what I get for dating someone so much younger than me.”

“I hate when you say that, Simon! We’re not freaking dating!” I complained and pushed myself up quickly. “We are married, you fool.”

He rolled his eyes despite my seriousness. “Fine,” he growled and just pushed my head back down. “For marrying someone so much younger than me. I’m just used to saying it like that. You know I love you, even though you’re still kind of a stupid little boy.”

He suddenly leaned over and grabbed his glasses from the nightstand, putting them on as he sat back down. Then he smirked and straightened them, looking down at me with mock disapproval. He had apparently suspected my plans for a student teacher fantasy.

Then he sat back slowly, rubbing the growing hardness between my legs against the dampening black cloth between his own. “Maybe just for a little while then. Only you and I are reality?”

“I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

“Nobody else? Ever?”

I assumed he was teasing about open relationships again and pinched him. He just laughed and squirmed against me before slipping my erection into his pants.

"Wait, Simon didn't you say you wanted to start using..."

"Too late," he laughed, pushing until I penetrated him. I could no longer think after that, and it wasn't until hours later that I realized what he meant. And the whole of the earth seemed to shift beneath us.




















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