by Noberu Izari (叙いざり)
“We are from the Outer Regions.” The discordant recitations of rows and rows of school children can still be heard in his mind. He remembers being one of them, small and dark-skinned, his frame enveloped in hand-me-downs. He had struggled with his collar, trying to keep it away from his mouth so that his voice would not be muffled. They had to say it clearly, had to say it proudly, even. This was the chant of the Outer Regions. It was what they knew best.
“We are not their equals.” His family had been poor, and despite his later accomplishments, he had never been able to pull them out of their poverty, out of the Regions that he had grown up in. Instead, he had been moved to a Middle Ring, his profession pulling him away from his family. He had two younger brothers, a mother who looked much too old for her age, a father who was nearing his time of death, and a handful of older sisters and brothers who had left for greener pastures and promises of wealth and happiness. If they had found it, he thought, they had not come back to share it with the rest of the family.
“We fight for our lives.” At every recitation, every assembly, every important school event, there would be one of them. There would always be a fair-skinned, light-haired Inner Circler marching through the aisles and rows, inspecting and scrutinizing. Those who did not match up to their standards were picked out of the lines and taken who knew where. It was strange, he had always thought, as the schools tried so hard to make sure everyone was prepared before the inspections began. Still, there would always be a few who were picked out and taken somewhere else.
“If we are worthy, they will save us.” He remembers despising them as a child. It was, however, a curious hatred. Most of them, from what he had seen, had long, elegant fingers that ran themselves over his creases, round pink lips that frowned at him disapprovingly, bright eyes that stared at him with either kindness or contempt, and loud voices that spoke so properly that he could hardly believe they were speaking the same language.
“They are of the Inner Circle.” He also remembers long legs, striding past. He remembers neck pains from staring up at these magnificent beings who were so much better than he was. He recalls the differences between this man who could stand up to his full height and his own father who had long been bent by the harsh work the Outer Regions were known for.
“We worship them.” He had wanted, as a child, to be among them. He had desperately wanted to be seen as an equal by these elegant, extravagant, shining Gods.
That was why, when he reached the still-young age of eighteen, full of ideals and immaturity, he had ignored his parents’ pleas and joined the military. He would find equality there, he soon realized. However, it was not the kind he had been looking for.
There is no happy medium for the Outer Regions, he discovers in the military. There are the ascended Inner Circlers, the ‘humble’ Middle Ringers, and then nothing. In the military, he finds that his position never gained him respect. He works and works, and in the end, the only thing he manages to accomplish is escaping the Outer Regions, and abandoning his family. For the first time, he regards his other siblings in a more caring manner, giving them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they were dragged away too, he thinks.
He falters in this forgiveness, however, when he first goes out into the town. He is practically lost as he stumbles through the Middle Ringers, trying not to lose sight of his fair skinned guides, who are much more knowledgeable about the surrounding area. However, it is difficult as he tries not to make too much contact with those around him. At the same time, his eyes wander. Like a young child, he is staring upwards. It is freezing cold at this time–the rainy season is halfway through its course, and the rain will soon become snow. Still, the lights of the city flicker on in an instant and then slowly diffuse to wash everything in a warm, yellow glow makes him unable to look back down.
By this time, he is an officer. By this time, he is wandering. He feels that if he continues on, he’ll eventually collide with something, and he does not know if it will be a hard brick wall or salvation. He thinks about this as he turns around to face the numerous, blurring faces of people rushing past him. It would not make a difference if he got lost now.
A hand grabs him by the shoulder, and for a brief moment, he is surprised. He feels embarrassed, but quickly regains his composure. He leaves with the rest of the group.
He is sprawled on the ground when he first meets the Inner Circler. He has always seen them, the people that he was always taught to look up to, but he has not really interacted with them. He always thought that when that day came, he would be able to look them in the eye, to stand at their level. However, he feels as if nothing has changed since the days of his childhood. He is still looking up at them, watching in awe as the man gives him a once-over.
Picking himself up with a wince, he wonders how he’ll live this down. He is an officer of the military, but he was the only one to fall when he ran into the other man. How has he missed someone so big? Broad shoulders and long legs, all neatly wrapped in a suit that speaks of money and elegance. The other also has white gloves, which he notices just before he realizes that the Inner Circler hasn’t moved from where they had crashed into each other.
He hesitates, wondering if he has annoyed the other man. Glancing at the briefcase in the other’s hand, he thinks that the other must be a lawyer or a businessman. He cannot afford to annoy an Inner Circler.
“I apologize for my actions, sir. I cannot understand how I was unable to see you, but I hope you would find it in your great capacity to forgive me.” There is a touch of bitterness in his words, although he tries to keep himself neutral. He keeps his head bowed as he does not want to look the other in the eye.
The man fixes his gloves, and that is what he focuses on. White gloves are a sign of the distinguished upper class.
“What is your name?” The voice shakes him out of his thoughts, though he is still staring at the white gloves. They move, emphasizing the statement in gestures and smooth motions through the air. The other’s voice does not seem angry, he thinks. It is deep, quiet, and the other has such amazing diction that he finds his own slurring speech crude.
“I’m Lieutenant Adil from the 51st Company.” The people in the Outer Regions do not have last names, and though many of those who joined the military quickly corrected this, he found that he could never find one that he thought suited himself and his given name. It is an easy way for others to recognize him, however, as a poor ‘barbarian’. Though his darker skin and hair are already a clear sign of that.
“Lift your head.” One of the white gloves is gesturing for him to rise while the other is extended towards him. He is unsure of whether he should take it. The gentleman might take offense either way. What finally makes him decide is the graceful ‘come hither’ movement of the hand that is held out in front of him, and he finds his hand slipping easily into that white glove. The texture of the cloth is rich and smooth, and the hand it encases is strong as it closes around his and pulls him up.
He still looks down as he rises, however. Suddenly, he is afraid to look the other man at eye level, although he has struggled so long to stand here.
“You may call me Galen.” The voice is soft and gentle now, so he risks a glance, peeking from between his bangs. His gaze makes contact with bright green eyes and he quickly looks elsewhere. He does notice, cannot ignore, the white glove that is slowly running its fingers through the curls of his hair.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Though he is not so sure about his statement, and his voice wavers a bit. That’s when he feels the peculiar texture of the other glove, the one that is not still inspecting his curls, on his chin, and he instinctively raises his head back. He does not understand what this does until he finds himself staring into the face of a man who smiles at him, politely, almost unnervingly kind, and he feels embarrassed to be flustered in front of this person.
“The honor is all mine, Adil.” His name is smoothly engulfed by those lips and tongue, and he shakes so hard that he is really trembling at the mental image. Those white gloves that float in front of him cannot possibly be there because they are slowly climbing up his back, sliding over his spine and making him shiver. “Are you busy right now?”
This is not how things are supposed to go between the gentlemen and the officers, between the residents of the Inner Circle and the inhabitants of the Outer Regions. He is not so sure about how he should take this. So, he figures, he should tell the truth. “I have to go deliver some papers, sir, but I believe I am free afterwards.”
The gloves let go of him, and disappear into the Inner Cicler’s pockets. He is not sure he is still standing at this point, but if he is, he is then not sure how. He tries not to think about it as the gentleman draws a card from a pocket and holds in front of him. He accepts it with both hands, trying to force himself not to tremble, and as a result, shakes even more. He thinks he hears the gentleman laugh at him. “Then go to the address on that card. If it is after noon, you should have no problems. If it is before…” White teeth and white gloves, like distinguished animals, but he cannot help but be mesmerized as the other’s lips contort into an inappropriate smirk. “Well, then I will handle any problems.”
He finds himself feeling a bit guilty, as he regrets the fact that the gloves leave him. The man himself smiles at him one last time, a bit more sincerely, and then the gentleman and his company disappear around a corner. Still shaky on his feet, he holds onto his folder with a tight grip, biting his lip as he tries to remember where he is supposed to go. The card is tucked discreetly in one of his pockets, and he stumbles a little every time he remembers that it is there. He has not heard of this happening before. He does not know what this means.
He finds himself on the steps of a house an hour before noon. He had originally planned on waiting, wasting his time somewhere to save both of them trouble, but he is afraid that if he goes anywhere else now, he will not have the courage to actually meet the gentleman, and he still has not decided whether it’d be more dangerous to meet with the other or to stand the man up. That is why he is standing there, awkwardly fumbling with the card that he moves back and forth between his hands.
He does not want to look suspicious, so he stands there for a moment more before finally ringing the doorbell. It sounds, a melodic chime that seems gentle, but it is heard all the way in the street, and people turn to look at him. He tries not to make eye contact, hoping that his officer’s jacket gives him enough dignity and importance to be standing there. This is what he preoccupies himself with until a man appears at the door, a fair-skinned man dressed in finely tailored clothes, but he wears no gloves over his hands.
The man seems surprised, and he, himself, panics. Thrusting out the card that he was playing with earlier, he hopes that it explains everything. It does, it seems, as a knowing look spreads on the man’s face, followed shortly by what could only be described as a mischievous grin. It is foreboding, but the man steps aside and gestures him to enter, and he does.
Then he is led around the house, or so it seems, as they pass by a number of salons and parlors in which he sees other people from the Outer Regions working. They stare at him, he tries not to look, and it seems like a long time before he arrives in a room with a large round table. There are men and women situated all around it with plates of miniscule snacks and tea cups in front of them. It is snobbish and somewhat too stereotypical for him to be satisfied with. Everyone who sits there has the fairest skin, and so they must be the elite of the elite. They are what the hateful inhabitants of the Outer Regions refer to as ‘tarnished silver’, and are the object which everyone snipes at. Even other residents of the Inner Circle cannot handle these ‘superior’ beings.
He cannot stand them either. He does not like the way they look at him, in a manner that he only knows is bad, but why it is so, he could not say. Nor does he like the way they are so assured in their evaluation, and it makes him uncomfortable as he is almost convinced that they are right.
“Galen? Tell us earlier if you are going to have guests.” Short, quiet laughter comes all at once, and he does not like the way they laugh either, but a man is slowly backing himself out of his seat, and he can see the white gloves from earlier.
“I did not expect him so early, but it should not be a problem. We have talked long enough, have we not?” Galen speaks in smooth words that are exactly calculated to get the man his way and nothing short of it. Such is the talent, the skill, of the elites. He feels completely overwhelmed as a white glove finds its way to the small of his back. He finds it admirable that he does not jump at it, but he is a bit paralyzed by the fear that those colorful eyes, staring at him from every point of the circle, evoke in him. “Madam, must I ask?” Galen continues, the question sounding much too ambiguous, but a woman sitting directly across from where they stand holds up her hand and laughs into it.
“Must you ask? The best room is the one next to mine.” He does not like the way she says this, but the white glove is gesturing him away, to the stairs. He follows dumbly, a bit ashamed at being so speechless, but a bit relieved that he is getting away.
“Are you scared?” Galen asks him, halfway up the stairs, and he looks at the other for the first time. Not his gloves, not the floor, but at the gentleman leading him to a place he has never had the desire to know before.
Those who live in the Inner Circle are truly beautiful. Long, strong legs, elegantly curving lips, and broad, solid shoulders, he sees. The gentleman has a face framed by neatly cut blond hair, so brightly colored that he realizes his own dark hair is clashing with this man’s. He feels more lost than ever. He does not know why he is there.
Is he afraid? Certainly it is fear that runs through his veins, for he is walking much too fast. They arrive at an empty room much too quickly, and he is still bouncing up and down, anxious. Galen is smiling at him, looking at him as if he were a boy who has no idea what he was doing. He has no idea what he is doing, he realizes. Why is he in a room with this man, who, as is taught in every school from the Inner Circle to the Outer Regions, should look down on him? There is no place where they stand equal: Not in the courthouse, not in the Congress, not in the military…
“Sit down.” He would be stupid to listen, he would be stupid to not leave the room immediately, running for his life. He should go outwards, outwards, to the Outer Regions where he comes from, where his family would be waiting. There is no reason, there is no logic; he must run.
He sits down. The bed moves under him, and he tries to focus on the white gloves, on Galen’s white gloves, and then he tries not to think.
There is no place where they stand equal. Not in the courthouse, not in the Congress, not in the military… He remembers a voice yelling, from a corner. A woman from the Outer Regions clad in a ridiculous outfit that was altogether too revealing to be comfortable. It had been a cold day, and he had watched as the woman was assaulted, verbally, physically. She had held onto her belief. “There is only one place where we will stand equal to them, and really, you do not stand on a bed.”
Oh, he thinks. Oh, he thinks, and it does not take much before he is on his back, staring up at the other again. He cannot avoid the man’s face this time, and so he takes in the image of the strong jaw, the perfect lips, and the teasing green eyes. Yes, he thinks, it makes sense now. “… Your name’s Galen, right?”
The other man cocks a fine eyebrow at him, and he cannot do anything but smile quietly in return. He can hear his diction going, and his words slurring together. This is how he really is, not forcing the perfect pronunciation. He is from the Outer Regions, he slurs and mumbles and swears. It is crude and imperfect, but the gentleman looks pleased, raising one of his hands to the soft lips, and he feels a gentle kiss brush his knuckles. It is sweet, he thinks, and so strange.
“I like your gloves.” It is the only thing he can think to say, and it causes the man to break into a fit of laughter that comes from somewhere deep inside him, and streams out as a low, rumbling chuckle that he can feel as the gentleman moves to trap him against the mattress. He does not panic, to his surprise. He feels as if this is undeniably natural, and that it has been coming ever since he found himself sprawled on the floor, looking up at this man.
Like the way he is looking up at him now, and he closes his eyes in surprise when the other drops down to kiss him. It is a strange motion of the lips that automatically works to force his mouth open. He feels warmth from the other, and while it should have been obvious, it still surprises him, and his head rises as he gasps. The gentleman moves his lips, contorting them into an amused grin that imprints itself against his mouth, before backing away and moving a hand to the top of his officer’s jacket. “Then, I won’t take them off.” The abrupt statement shakes him out of something, and he only just realizes that Galen is talking about his gloves before he feels his jacket being undone by deft hands. He can only look down in a mixture of shock and curiosity as experienced hands draws his jacket away from him, and it falls to lie beneath him like a beaten, but still proper, shadow. These same hands begin to unbutton his starched dress shirt before he is pressed back again, and the satin lining of his jacket hot through his shirt. He ignores it, instead looking at the gentleman hovering above him, kneeling between legs that were subtly nudged open and are now spread in what can only be considered an indecent way.
Galen is not a man who talks, anonymous in spite of his name being known, those gloves are known, and those lips are quickly becoming very familiar. He thinks that this enigmatic man likes his dark skin as green eyes never leave the tanned surface, and those grinning lips keep brushing over his collarbone and shoulders.
He fidgets uncomfortably, unsettled by this attention, feeling a bit awkward as the man leaning into him is triggering something in him that makes him arch upward to meet the gentleman. He is assured, however, that this is not anything new or strange, as the man only smiles at him more, his eyes whispering encouragement that his mouth is too busy to bother with. This is smooth, soft, sweet, and slow, but something about it is tugging at him, and a voice at the back of his throat seems to cry a low whine for something more.
This only amuses the man, whose eyes change, and who finally moves his hands over the darkened skin that can’t resist pushing itself up against those white gloves. They stand out, awkward handprints on a bare chest, but are covered up by the gentleman as he leans forward and kisses the officer on the lips. For him, it is awkward, but those hands continue to move, sliding down until it reaches the smooth fabric of his pants. He looks away as they’re undone, and moves, directed by touch, as he is completely stripped. This is not something he should be doing with an Inner Circler, he remembers, but his thoughts are disturbed by the smooth feel of the gloves stroking the inside of his thighs, a devious grin, and a tongue that is moving across his chest in patterns that he does not bother to keep track of.
The residents of the Inner Circle are very intelligent and talented, he thinks, as the man in front of him distracts him by biting and sucking areas of red, wanting skin across his chest before continuing to move downwards. At the same time the gentleman reaches for the nearby drawer and rises to do something that he cannot see. He ignores it, as a glove moves to rest next to his head, and he presses his cheek against it as if they are not strangers. He is a bit surprised to not be slapped away, to feel that gloved hand stroke his hair, and so he relaxes as Galen smiles. He tenses again, however, as the man begins to speak in an academic tone, explaining what he is about to do.
Galen’s white glove is covered with something that feels cool and slick on his skin, and that guides fabric and flesh into him so that he arches up. One, the man counts, evidently enjoying the face he is making as his body tries to adjust around the awkward feeling. Two, and it is uncomfortable because it is not something he is used to, but he feels a bit assured that he knows where exactly those gloves are, and exactly why they are making him shiver and writhe. Three, which seems to signal the end of the count, and he no longer feels ashamed at looking up at the Inner Circler. Instead, he focuses on the digits that stretch him and his comfort zone. He has never felt so vulnerable in his life, and he has grown up knowing that these people own his existence, but he has never known it in such a way.
He is not ready when the hand is withdrawn, the offending glove and its partner wrapping themselves around his hips. He moves with instinct, hooking his legs over the man’s and around his waist. He is given a short nod of approval before the man–or the gentleman–rather, Galen, moves and the sharp thrust ends somewhere that registers as pain, but the feeling travels all the way to other parts of his head, and he has never made such noises in his life. Still, they seem to satisfy Galen, and the thrusting motions are repeated. He is amazed that his body takes them, constantly moving to meet an impact that hurts as his muscles make room for a friction that is undeniably pleasurable. He feels it going to his head, pleasure overriding his thoughts as his body aches and accepts that the slow, humming pain is a want and a need rather than anything harmful.
The speed quickens, and he realizes his body is exerting effort to keep up with Galen’s thrusts, that a slick, satin glove is wrapped around him, and that pressure can be a wonderful feeling. He does not feel it is awkward this time, when Galen thrusts particularly deeply, knocking him flat against the mattress as the gentleman is reduced to a person who is not below bruising his lips just to steal whatever breath he manages to keep. He feels his life pulsing brilliantly beneath the surface, and if he closes his eyes, he thinks he can see it and feel it in the way that Galen is moving inside of him and in the other’s mouth that descends upon his chest again and again. He is screaming at this point, and it does not occur to him that there are people downstairs, and it does not seem to be an issue that this is obviously a common act in this house and probably in this room, because he is much too close to someone and something he has never even considered before.
His military jacket, spread out beneath him, is uncomfortable, the satin hot and sticky, and the sheets that tangle around and between them do not help either, but it doesn’t matter as he arches up from the bed, into the gloved hand that is still teasingly running him over, up and down, and into the thrust that sends him over, up and up, and he is screaming something that he cannot hear.
When he finally lies back, falling out of his pleasure, his head tilted on his side as he watches the man continue to thrust inside him, a rougher pattern than before. He notes the barbaric look on the other’s face and feels like laughing. Galen really is a gentleman. The thought does not stop the surprise when he feels Galen release into him and pull out. It is such a strange feeling that it wakes him out of his reverie.
No, he should not be here. He should grab his clothes, dress, and run. He should forget that this has happened. It does not need to be this way. Nothing needs to have changed. He cannot ignore, however, the weight of Galen’s arm thrown over his chest, and the frighteningly peaceful look on the man who has dropped down next to him in fatigue. Galen is, barely, barely, still awake, and he does not know what he should say or what the arm that is securing him to the bed and to the man should mean.
“I like you.” A gentleman speaks with apathy, and if he hadn’t known this, he would have been offended by the detached way Galen had said it. However, he does know, and he knows that Galen might mean it, if the look in those green eyes mean anything. He stares at the glove closest to him.
“Then I’ll stay,” he replies, which seems to be enough. He watches Galen fall asleep, briefly worrying about how he will get his uniform cleaned up before going back to the base, wondering for a moment whether the military would allow him to stay in such a house with such a man, but he finally figures that an explanation is the most important thing.
He thinks he knows, now, why those who leave the Outer Regions never come back. He is sure that there are many unique reasons out there, but this is the one that has made him forgive all of his siblings who left with promises that hung in the air like words never spoken. He does not want to do the same thing, and even if the words are not what were expected, he thinks he needs to speak them.
So, he decides, he will write a letter. He will think of some kind of message that he hopes his younger siblings will never understand, but that he hopes his parents will. He decides on something, and when Galen finally wakes up, he asks about it.
The gentleman pauses over his tea, smiles at him with something he has never expected from an Inner Circler, a gentleman, an elite, and that causes a feeling that he hopes his parents have felt before and that he hopes all of his siblings will feel one day as well. This gentleman who sits across from him, staring at him directly in the eye, takes another sip of his tea before elegantly pulling off his new pair of white gloves. By the time they reach his parents’ home in the Outer Regions, he will have already been completely enveloped by his role as a gentleman’s officer.