Well, David's home again, but there are still one or two issues that need to be resolved: how will his experiences in Africa change the way he behaves in England? What is he going to do about Michael: has the last six months changed the way he feels about sex with other boys? This final chapter should hopefully make everything clear.
David rang the doorbell – he supposed that either Brahim had taken his keys with him or, more probably, they had been thrown away at the palace – and waited. He wasn’t sure what he would do if there was nobody home, but this was Saturday evening, and there were lights on, so probably someone was in. He wondered if they were eating, though it seemed a little late for that.
And then he heard the lock being undone, and the door opened, and he found himself looking at Joe. It came as a bit of a surprise to find that he was looking down at Joe: before he had gone to Africa there had only been three or four inches between them; now it was closer to eight or nine. Apparently he had grown while he was away – that, or Joe had somehow shrunk.
“Yes?” said Joe, unable to see who was there: it was dark outside in the porch, and he hadn’t turned the hall light on.
“Can I come in, please, Joe?” asked David.
Joe stared, reached to his left and turned on the porch light. “Gerbil?” he said. “Is that really you?”
“Well, it’s most of me,” said David. “And…”
Joe interrupted him with a whoop and threw himself into David’s arms.
“We thought you were dead,” he said, hugging him and then stepping back to look at him properly. “Wow, you look different… apart from being taller, I mean. Have you been sunbathing?”
He didn’t give David a chance to answer, just grabbed his hand, pulled him into the house, shut the door and yelled, “Hey, everyone – Gerbil’s back!”
Tim and Molly emerged from the living room, Mrs Devlin came running out of the kitchen… and David’s mother came out of her office, took one look and ran across the hall.
“David!” she cried. “Are you alright? Where have you been, for Heaven’s sake? We’ve all been so worried…”
David wasn’t entirely convinced about that – after all, he hadn’t seen hide nor hair of his mother between Easter and the beginning of July. But still, she was here now, so maybe she really had been concerned.
“I’m fine,” he said. “But I’m tired – it’s been a really long journey. Can I just go to bed, please? I’ll talk to you all properly in the morning.”
“But you can’t just walk in and not tell us where you’ve been!” his mother protested.
“I’ve been in Africa. Look, it’s a really long story, so can we do this tomorrow? Please?”
“Well… I suppose so. But…”
“Thanks, Mum. I missed you – all of you – and it’s really good to be home.”
And he hugged his mother, something he couldn’t remember doing in recent months, or maybe even years, and headed for the stairs.
“Can I get you something to eat before you go to bed, Master David?” asked Mrs Devlin, and David hesitated.
“Just ‘David’, please, Mrs Devlin,” he said. “But… yes, please. Have you got a couple of plain biscuits and a glass of milk? I don’t think I’ll be able to eat anything too rich for a while.”
“Go on up,” said Joe. “I’ll bring it up to you.”
“Thanks,” said David, gratefully, and he picked up his bag and went upstairs to Joe’s room, removed his jacket, pullover and shoes and sat on the bed, though he stood up again straight away and went and sat on the chair instead: the bed felt far too soft for comfort.
Joe appeared a couple of minutes later carrying a tray that held a small plate of biscuits and a glass of milk, and David took a biscuit and nibbled at it. And, as he had half expected, he had barely taken a sip of his milk when Tim and Molly came in and sat on the bed.
“So, what happened?” Tim asked.
“I got kidnapped,” said David.
“Yes, we know about that. I meant, what happened afterwards?”
“Hang on – how do you know I got kidnapped?”
“Your friend told us – the one with the curly hair and glasses. See...”
And Tim explained how Brahim had promised to bring him back if Jordan and Julian could find twenty people to speak up for him.
“You'll have to ask Curly how he got seven kids at your school to speak up for you, but Joe rounded up a lot of the cubs, and your friend Michael, and in the end Dhif was so impressed he said he'd go straight home and make the phone call to bring you back. Except he got hit by a van before he got home, and he's been in a coma in hospital ever since, so the call never got made. So how did you manage to escape?”
“I didn't escape, they let me go. I had a bit of luck and managed to change Brahim's cousin's mind, and so they had me flown home. But... if you lot knew it was Brahim who kidnapped me, how come you didn't go to the police – or did you?”
“No. I thought we should, but Michael said it wouldn't do any good, because nobody knew where you were except Dhif, so even if we told the police they wouldn't have any more of an idea as to where you were than we did. He sounded out Dhif's father carefully and was convinced he didn't know anything, so we decided to wait for Dhif to wake up. Except he still hasn't. Mind you, the police have been looking – your mum came home about a week after you vanished and got a really big search going. She got a load of important politicians in London to push the police, and they did a massive search. But I don't think they had any idea you'd been taken out of the country, and nor did we – nothing Dhif said made us think you weren't still in England somewhere. So how did you get to Africa?”
“I don't know, because I was unconscious all the way. They stuck a needle in me in Cheltenham and I woke up somewhere in Africa. But I'd guess they flew me there, the same way as I came back.”
“There's going to be some people who want to know you're okay,” Tim told him. “You'll need to make some phone calls tomorrow.”
“I will. Look, I'm really pleased to be back, but I'm knackered. Is it okay if I go to bed now? I'll be able to talk a bit more sensibly in the morning.”
“Yes, okay. Sorry, Gerbil,” said Tim. “And... tomorrow I'll help you move back into your own room.”
“No, you don't have to do that. In fact, I'd like to sleep in the attic tonight, if that's okay? I'm not used to proper beds and windows.”
“Sure. We'll leave you in peace,” said Tim, standing up. “Give Joe a shout if you need anything.”
“Okay. Hey, Tim... I've missed you, you know,” said David, getting up himself. “And you, Molly. Come on, I'd better have a wash before I go to sleep.”
“I think you can probably manage on your own from now on,” she said. “You seem to have grown up a bit since we last saw you.”
“Thanks.” David took his shirt off and walked through to the bathroom for a wash. Hot water was a rare luxury – the slaves' wash-room only had cold water - and as for toothpaste... he was afraid he'd need to see a dentist before too long, because washing his mouth out with salt water, as he had done in the palace, or cleaning his teeth with a chewed green stick, the way Tahnu had taught him, had probably done a pretty inefficient job.
He dried himself, walked back to Joe's room and found that Tim and Molly had gone, and Joe was putting the ladder up against the hatch.
“Hey, Gerbil... would you mind if I slept with you up there? It's just... well, now we've got you back I don't want you disappearing again.”
“I don't think I could manage to escape through the roof,” David told him, “and the hatch is the only way out. But... actually, I wouldn't mind not being on my own tonight.”
“Great! I'll leave the light on down here, then – and maybe I can welcome you back in the morning by giving you a good fuck.”
“And maybe you can't. Anyway, right now I just want to sleep. Should I take my clothes through to Molly's room, or can I just leave them here, do you think?”
“Just leave them on the bed.”
“Okay.” David began to take the rest of his clothes off, folding them up and putting them in a tidy pile on the bed. He slipped his pants off, put them on top of the pile and turned towards the ladder.
“Bloody hell!” gasped Joe. “What's happened to your cock?”
“I got circumcised.”
“Wow! It looks weird... and you're a lot bigger, too. You're growing up, Gerbil. And what's that mark on your hip?”
“That's my slave brand.”
“Oh, my God! Flaming hell, Gerbil... you mean, they burned that mark into you?”
“That's right. I've almost forgotten about it, to be honest, but it hurt like hell when it was done.”
Joe came and ran a finger carefully over the brand mark, and then gently cupped David's penis in his hand and examined the circumcision scar.
“That looks really sore,” he said. “And they didn't do a very good job, either – look at that little bit on the top! How did they miss that bit?”
“It was intentional – it was done by a couple of boys, and the aim was to hurt as much as possible. And if it hadn't been for a servant being decent and helping me, it would have been a hell of a lot worse. Look, let's go up to bed, Joe – you can have a proper look up there if you want, but I want to lie down.”
So they climbed the ladder into the attic and turned the light on, and then Joe went back down to turn the bedroom light off. But he had to go back down a second time because he'd forgotten that they'd taken the sleeping-bag back to the bedroom, and in fact he decided that it was cold enough in the attic to bring up a second sleeping-bag and a couple of blankets. He zipped the two sleeping bags together, put the blankets on top, and then got undressed and wriggled into the sleeping bag with David. Finally he reached up and turned the light off.
“Does your cock still hurt?” he asked, cuddling up close so that they would keep each other warm.
“Not now. It took over a month to heal properly, but it's okay now. And it still works – I've got some sperm now, Joe.”
“Really? You'll have to show me in the morning.”
David snuggled up close, glad Joe was there to help keep him warm: it had been over twenty degrees when he had left the palace, but now it was only a degree or two above freezing. And he really was tired, too – though he wanted to know more about how Jordan and Michael had managed to round up twenty people to speak up for him. He wouldn't have thought that was possible...
He slept well, probably better than he would have done in a soft bed, and only woke up when Joe shook him gently.
“Morning, Gerbil,” said Joe. “How do you feel?”
“Okay, I suppose.”
“Good. So let's have a proper look at your cock, then.”
It was a bit warmer in the attic now because the hatch had been left open, allowing heat from the bedroom to rise into the attic, but it still felt chilly to David when Joe opened the sleeping bag, and he said so.
“Sorry,” said Joe, doing the bag up again. “I suppose you're used to being somewhere hot. I'll just get you nice and hard first, and then I can have a look at it without getting you too cold.” And he started to caress David's penis. David didn't argue, even though he thought he was probably strong enough to beat Joe in a fight by now: after all, this did feel quite good. Soon his body was responding, and then Joe started to stroke up and down his erection, but very slowly.
“You really are a lot bigger,” said Joe. “I can get hold of you properly now, using my whole hand. I used to have to use one finger and thumb, you were so small. Okay, let's have a proper look...”
He opened the bag again, wriggled down so that his head was just above David's groin and began to examine his genitals.
“Your balls are a lot bigger, and they hang down properly now,” he reported. “And... blimey, Gerbil, you're actually getting some hair – there's a few proper ones on your balls, and some very fine stuff at the bottom of your cock. And you're way bigger than last time I saw you – you might even be bigger than me now.”
“So I should be. I'm fifteen and you're only nine.”
“I'm ten,” said Joe. “You missed my birthday – it was at the end of July. And you didn't give me a birthday present, so I think I'll have to fuck you to make up for it.”
“Okay. But... can we go down to the bedroom? It's probably warmer down there.”
“Well... okay, then. But we'll have to get a heater put in up here – I like doing stuff to you in the attic.”
So they moved quickly down to the bedroom, where it was a lot warmer, and Joe played with David a bit more and then held his penis alongside his own.
“Nope, I'm still bigger,” he said. “But not by much. I reckon you'll get bigger than me in a couple of months. So I'll have to make the most of being bigger by fucking you every day until then.”
“I don't think so,” said David. “I don't mind you doing it occasionally – after all, I did sort of promise. Though I'm probably going to have to leave the cubs – I think I look too old now.”
“I suppose so. It's a pity – I'm sixer now, because Benny went up to scouts after the summer camp, and I'd enjoy bossing you around. But you're right, we can't really do that any more. And I know I won't really be able to do it to you every day, because I expect you'll get your own room back now your mum's around, and then I won't get the chance.”
“I'm not sure I want my old room back – I wouldn't know what to do with all that space. I'm used to living in a really small room, half the size of the attic. If we can fix up some heating up there I'd prefer to stay there for now, and then sort of gradually get used to being in a proper room after that. So I'd like to start off just sharing with you, and once I'm used to being sort of normal again, maybe then I'll ask for a room of my own. But I don't want to throw Tim out – he's grown up enough to be wanting to invite girls round before too long, and he can't really do that if he's sharing a room with you.”
“Don't be silly – if he wants to get off with a girl he'll take her to our old house, where there aren't any grown-ups to worry about and where nobody is going to interrupt him.”
“I suppose so. But I'm sure there are other ways we could do it - like I could move into the guest bedroom, and come back to share with you if my mother has anyone to stay. As long as you don't mind sharing with me, of course.”
“Of course not – I really missed you, and not just because I couldn't fuck you when I wanted to, either. It was nice just talking to you and being sort of friends.”
“Only 'sort of'?”
“Well... sort of friends, sort of brothers. That's what I told Dhif when I was explaining why I wanted you back.”
“Did you really say that?”
“Yes. And I was really happy when he said he'd bring you back.”
“Thanks, Joe. Come on, let's get back into bed – it'll be warmer there.”
So he got into Joe's bed, and Joe squeezed in with him, and pretty soon they were nice and warm again.
“I won't really fuck you any more,” said Joe, quietly. “I did miss you, and I don't want to piss you off now I've got you back. We can just be friends now, if you don't mind being friends with me.”
“Of course I don't mind. I thought about you sometimes when I was on my own in the cupboard I lived in. I missed you a lot, Joe. And I don't mind if you fuck me sometimes, honest. I think I'd like to feel really close to you like that again.”
“Yes, really. See, I... I got fucked while I was a slave, and I had to suck a lot, too. And if you and the other Reds hadn't got me used to it before, I think it would have driven me mad. It's because of you lot, and especially you, that I was able to get through it. So I don't mind you fucking me sometimes, and I won't mind sucking you sometimes, either, if you'd like me to. I had to do it while I was a slave, so I don't mind choosing to do it for a friend.”
“Oh, God, Gerbil... was it really horrible?”
“It was at first. But I think in the end the boys who fucked me started liking me, and after that they were a lot more careful and tried not to hurt. But they were really big, about Benny's size, or maybe even bigger, so the first few times it hurt really badly. And some of the older ones had lots of spunk, so when I sucked them it all came out in my mouth and made me sick. But after a bit I got used to it and I found I could do it without it making me ill. I still didn't like it much, but I got good at it, and perhaps once I've settled back in I'll do it for you and show you what I learned. But right now, if you still want to fuck me, let's do that.”
So Joe went and found a bottle of shampoo in the bathroom and used it to lubricate his erection, and then poured a little more onto David's anus.
“Your hole looks sore,” he said. “There’s a sort of bump on one side, and it looks like there's a little crack on the other. Are you sure I can do this without hurting you?”
“I'm sure. You're a lot smaller than the twins. Just take it slow.”
So Joe took it slow and then drew out the fuck for several minutes, lying still on top of David every time he thought he was getting too close, and only finishing up because he thought it was getting a bit late and that other people would start getting up shortly. And it was obvious from the noises he made at the end that he enjoyed it. David had felt quite good, too – he hadn't actually experienced an orgasm, but he was thoroughly erect.
Joe got out of bed and cleaned himself off and then wiped David's bottom, dumped the tissues in the bin, got into bed again and cuddled up close.
“Thanks, Gerbil,” he said. “That was brilliant – I'd forgotten how amazing that feels. I'm really, really glad you're back...”
After breakfast David had to give the official version of what had happened to him, so, bearing in mind what Tim and Joe had told him, he simply said that he had been grabbed off the street, drugged, and woken up somewhere in Africa.
“But who did it?” his mother asked. “And why?”
“I don't know. I think they just wanted someone with very fair hair, and I was the unlucky one.”
“But what happened while you were there, wherever it was – and how did you get away?”
“Well, I was a slave. I spent most of my time scrubbing floors, polishing furniture and mucking out horses. It could have been a lot worse – after all, they fed me – quite well, if I'm honest - and gave me somewhere to sleep – I even had a proper mattress. And I sort of got used to it, and then a few days ago I managed to stop a snake from biting my master, and he was so impressed that he set me free. But they drugged me again to bring me home, so I don't know where I was exactly or how I got back – and I don't care, either, because now I'm home.”
“Yes, but... we have to do something! I can get the police to try to extradite whoever was responsible.”
“But I don't know who it was or even which country I was in. I know it was somewhere in the north, because most of the people had light brown skin and they spoke Arabic, but that could be anywhere from Morocco to Egypt. I suppose it could even have been somewhere in the Middle East, but I don't think so because there were mountains, or at least some very high hills, and some of the servants were black, too. But I just want to forget it, Mum – just tell the police I'm back and leave it at that, otherwise they'll go on asking questions for ages and I'll never be able to get back to normal.”
“Well... if you're sure that's what you really want. But we're going to see the doctor tomorrow – I want you to have a complete check-up. God knows what sort of diseases you could have caught...”
David finally managed to stop the inquisition, and then he was able to go and use the phone. He knew Michael's address and so he was able to look up his number in the book.
“Could I speak to Michael, please?” he asked, when Mr Stagg answered the phone. “It's David.”
“He heard Mr Stagg calling for his son, adding that 'someone called David' wanted to talk to him, and then Michael's voice came on.
“Hi, Mikey,” he said. “I'm home.”
“David? Is that really you? Oh, God... are you okay? I mean, how did you get back? Never mind – I'll come over straight away...”
“No, I'll come to you, as soon as we've had lunch,” said David. “I'll borrow the Devlins' keys, then we can talk in peace. God, Michael – I thought I'd never hear your voice again...”
“Me, too. I really missed you... so, are you okay?”
“More or less. Look, Mikey, Tim's told me about how you lot all tried to talk Brahim into bringing me home, and I'd like to call Jordan Fielding, too, but I don't know his address and there are too many Fieldings in the book. Have you got his number, or has Julian?”
“I've got it. Hang on...”
Michael went away and came back a minute later. He gave David Jordan's number and said he'd meet him at the Devlins' house at three o'clock.
David called Jordan's number, but his mother said he was out but would be back that afternoon, and could she give him a message?
“No, thanks – I'll call again after lunch,” said David.
And after lunch – and David couldn't eat more than a little of what he was given, because he'd got used to living on food that was a lot less rich – he caught the bus into Cheltenham and walked round to the Devlins' house. Because there was nobody living there full-time – though the children still used it after school some days and Mrs Devlin went in to clean a couple of times a week – the heating wasn't turned on and it was quite cold, but David turned on the electric fire in the living room, and by the time Michael arrived half an hour later it was nice and warm.
Michael's face lit up when David opened the door to him.
“Oh, God, it's really you,” he said. “You've grown, David.”
“So have you, I think.”
“Yes, but not so much – there's probably only about three inches between us now.”
He stepped inside, pushed the door shut and then hugged David hard, and David returned the hug happily.
“Come on,” he said, “I've got the heating on in the living room.”
He pulled Michael into the living room, moved the sofa a little so that it was right in front of the fire, sat down and pulled Michael down next to him, keeping his arm round his waist.
“Like I said, Tim's told me all about you lot and Brahim,” he said. “Thanks, Mikey – it must have been really hard to find twenty people to speak up for me.”
“Not really. The whole of the cub pack would have done it if we'd needed them to, and Jordan found enough people at school without even asking Garrett or Blackman, and he was fairly sure they would both have said something if he'd asked them to. I'm not completely sure who he got – you'd have to ask him.”
“I will. I'm going to speak to him later if I can. So, is Brahim still in hospital?”
“As far as I know. I went in last week and he was still there then. His friend Southgate is sure he's going to wake up soon, but there's no sign of it so far.”
“I'll have to go and see him this week, then – maybe if I tell him I'm back it'll help: perhaps his subconscious is scared of waking up because he didn't rescue me like he promised, or something.”
“Maybe. Anyway, never mind about him – what about you? Are you really okay? Tell me what happened. What have you been doing for the last six months?”
“Well... I've been a slave. Brahim's got an eleven-year-old cousin called Ali who runs his own household – more or less, anyway: his bit is a sort of annexe to his father's palace... well, it's not a palace in the Sleeping Beauty sense, just a big house. And Brahim gave me to Ali to be his slave, and Ali gave me to a couple of black twins – they're his personal bodyguard, or will be when they all get a bit older – as their slave, which he thought would be funny, because Brahim told him I was a racist.
“And at first it was really horrible, but later it wasn't so bad – I managed to prove that I wasn't a racist any longer, and gradually I started to fit in and even make friends. But early on I wanted to die – I missed Cheltenham more than I would have ever thought possible, and I missed the Devlins and the cubs... and I missed you most of all.”
“And I missed you, too... I was afraid you'd never come back...”
“You want to see my suntan, though – I look like I've been spending the last six months lounging on a beach in the Bahamas, or something. And it goes all the way down, too.”
“All the way?”
“Every inch, because I wasn't allowed to wear any clothes. I'll show you.”
And David stripped off everything except his pants, and Michael was impressed with the tan – and then he noticed some marks on David's back.
“Shit, David – are those marks what I think they are?”
“Huh? Oh, yes, I got whipped a few times. It doesn't hurt any more now, though.”
“Right. So, do I get to see if the tan really does cover all of you?”
David hesitated. “Okay,” he said. “But I should warn you, there are a few more scars.”
And he took his pants off, and Michael gasped, staring at David's suntanned bottom, and at the fading whip-marks.
“God, David, someone really sorted you out, didn't they? And... what's that mark at the side?”
“That's my slave brand. Pretty, isn't it?”
Michael stared at him open-mouthed, and then David turned to face him and his shock increased.
“Oh, God, what have they done to you?” he gasped, staring at David's mutilated penis.
“Well, it was an Islamic household, so I had to be circumcised,” he explained. “A couple of the slaves did it, and they didn't like me very much at the time, which is why it's not a very smooth job. But that doesn't hurt any more, either – and have you noticed that it's grown?”
“Obviously – and quite a lot, too. And you're getting some hair at last. Not as much as me, of course, but still...”
“Yeah? Prove it!”
Michael grinned at him and threw his own clothes off, and the contrast between his very pale skin and David's deeply tanned body was striking. Michael's pubes were a bit thicker, and his penis had grown a little, David thought, but he still had no hair anywhere else on his body. And then Michael started to get an erection, and so did David, and they grinned at each other and moved closer so that they could fondle each other and then compare sizes (and Michael was still an inch and a quarter or so longer, and slightly thicker, though his balls were now not much larger than David's), and then they hugged and lay down on the sofa, holding each other.
“Michael,” said David, seriously, “there's something you need to know: while I was a slave I got fucked, two or three times a week, by the twins – the two black boys I told you about. And I had to suck all the other slaves, too. So... I'll understand if you don't want... you know, to... well, to do... things with me any more.”
“Did the bastards hurt you?” asked Michael, angrily.
“Only at first. Later they got to like me and after that they were much more gentle. But what I mean is... well, now that I've been... you know, now I've had that done to me so much, I...”
“You mean you don't want me to do anything like that with you?” interrupted Michael, looking disappointed. “That's okay, David, I won't ever suggest it again – I don't want to hurt you.”
“No, that's not what I meant at all. I want you to do it... that is, I mean, if it doesn't bother you, me having been... done by black kids?”
“Of course it doesn't! It wasn't like you suggested it, is it?”
“Great! Then, if you still want to... I mean, I'd really like it if... that is, could we... could we have sex? Please, Mikey?”
“Are you sure it's what you want?”
“Yes, I'm sure. I wasn't sure before I went away, but I've learned a lot since, and I missed you so much – and now I want us to be together – properly together. Joined. So... will you? Please?”
“Oh, God, yes! Yes, please, David!”
“Right. Then I need to find a towel and something slippery – I forgot to bring any Vaseline or anything. Stay there.”
And David ran to the bathroom, where he scavenged a small towel and some shampoo, and then he returned to the living room. He put the towel on the edge of the sofa, knelt down so that he was lying on it and spread his legs.
“Go on, then,” he said. “Let's see if it feels as nice as it did the first time.”
Michael applied the shampoo to himself and to David, lined up and pushed carefully, and David, who by now knew exactly how to do this, pushed out to open himself up and allowed Michael to slip inside. And Michael started to move, very slowly, against him, wrapping his arms around him and holding him tight.
“Is it okay?” he asked, nervously. “I mean, it's not hurting you, is it?”
“No. Don't worry, Mikey, it feels really nice.”
And it did, too: physically it felt as good as when Madjid had done it (and that had felt really good, good enough to make him almost reach a second orgasm), but this time there was a feeling of genuine equality that David really liked: he felt that Michael really cared about him and how this felt to him, and that he wanted David to take as much pleasure from it as possible.
“Mikey, that feels so good,” he said. “Please don't finish too quickly – I want this to last.”
“Me, too.” And Michael hugged him some more, and David managed to get his hands on top of Michael's to make sure he didn't let go, and Michael moved against him slowly, stopping whenever he thought there was a risk of him losing control. And David's own enjoyment grew and grew...
“Mikey, I'm almost there,” he said. “Please can you keep going now?”
“What? You're almost there? You mean, this is getting you excited?”
“God, yes – please, Mikey, don't stop!”
So Michael kept going, and David was pushed over the edge, gasping and tensing up every muscle in his body – or so it felt to Michael. It took Michael another half minute or so to reach his own climax, which felt even better than it had the first time he had done this with David back in the summer.
“Thanks, David, that was amazing,” he said, when he got his breath back.
“For me, too. It was worth waiting six months for, anyway.”
“I'm glad you enjoyed it,” said Michael, moving back and then standing up. “But how come it made you feel good? I didn't know that could happen.”
“Nor did I until the first time you did it to me. I mean, even if it didn't I wouldn't mind doing it with you sometimes to make you feel good, but as it gets me excited too, we can do it whenever you like.”
“Are you sure? That might be quite a lot of times.”
“Good,” said David, smiling at him and leading him upstairs to the bathroom, where they cleaned themselves up and then went back down to the sofa, lying down on it, still naked, as they had before.
“So, are you coming back to school?” Michael asked him.
“I suppose so. It's going to seem a bit strange after six months away, but I suppose I'll have to. They might make me stay back a year now that I've missed a complete term, though.”
“I'll help you catch up – if we work together over the holiday and then you come home with me a few times a week for the first couple of months I reckon you'll catch up.”
“Or you could come home with me.”
“Or we could take it in turns. But you'll have to work pretty hard, because we got quite a lot done this term.”
“I'm sure I'll manage, especially if you help me. Thanks, Michael... except... why? I mean, I've been gone for six months, and now you're prepared to drop everything to help me, even if it takes up loads of your time. How come?”
“Because you're my friend, of course. Don't you know that?”
“I don't deserve you, Mikey.”
“I think you deserve better than me, but you'll have to manage with just me.”
“That won't be any trouble,” said David, smiling and hugging him. And Michael hugged him back, and then somehow their faces were drawn together, and then their lips... Michael kissed him tentatively, and David returned it, and Michael kissed him again, and David burst into tears.
“What's wrong?” asked Michael, anxiously.
“N... nothing. I'm j... just happy,” sobbed David.
“Well, that's okay, then,” said Michael. And he kissed him again.
When David got back home he phoned Jordan again, and this time he was there, and like Michael he was delighted to hear that David was home and wanted to know all about it.
“I'll be coming back to school in a day or so,” David told him. “I'll tell you all about it then.”
Then he went up to Joe's room and took his bag from under the bed: he knew there was a change of socks and underwear in it, which was good, because the pair of his own pants he had put on that morning were now too small for him, and he needed a presentable pair to wear to visit the doctor next day. In the bag he also found two envelopes, one of which proved to contain his keys and the money that had been in his pocket when Brahim had kidnapped him – so clearly Ali hadn't thrown them away after all. And the other contained a piece of paper with Ali's address on (in both Arabic and Roman script) and a set of photographs, clipped to which was a short note in French that said 'In case you meant what you said about friends, here's something to help you remember us'.
He took the clip off and found himself holding a set of portrait photos, one of Ali himself and one of every servant and slave in the palace. He flicked through them, smiling as he recognised each one, and actually laughing when he came to the one of Madjid, who was grinning broadly and holding up the little box containing David's foreskin.
He put the one of Ali himself and the one of the twins on the bookcase so that he could show Joe and Michael what his masters had looked like and carefully packed the rest of the photos away in the envelope. Then he sat down at the desk and wrote Ali a short letter.
'Hello Ali,' he wrote, in French. 'I got back home safely on Saturday evening. Everything here is good, and I'm starting to settle in again, though it'll be a long time before I'm ready to sleep in a normal bed. My friends – the ones I've seen so far – are happy to see me.
'Thanks for the photos – I really do want to remember what all my friends there look like, though I hope to be able to visit next year – maybe even at Easter – so I won't really have time to forget. That's a nice photo of you, but maybe you should get Nacer to take one of you next time you're downstairs – it would be funny to see you like that again. I hope Nacer's working out okay!
'Best wishes to everyone, and thanks again for sending me home. Even if you think the snake balanced it out, I will still always be your friend, and if I can ever help you, please let me know.
'Ever yours, Cockroach.'
He got a reply to this letter about three weeks later. 'Dear David,' it said, 'I'm glad you got home safely, and that you liked the photos. Nacer is absolutely amazing, and you wouldn't believe some of what he does when we're downstairs. I'm not going to write it down, and I'm certainly not going to risk sending a photo through the post, but he thought using a camera was a really good idea, and now he takes photos while we're there, and next time he says I have to borrow my father's video camera. We've found somewhere to hide the photos, and he says I have to show them to you next time you're here. He also wants you to come and watch when you visit. I don't know why I find it so exciting doing this stuff, but I do....
'Anyway, Rafik is going to move to the main palace in two weeks' time, and I've decided to make Madjid my new personal servant, like you suggested – well, I know you didn't say to do it straight away, but anyway... My father says Rafik can help him part-time for the first two or three months, and after that I can still ask his advice if I need to, but I hope Madjid will turn out as good as you think. If he does we won't need to keep bothering Rafik for too long.
'I'm learning English now, and Madjid will be too once he becomes a servant, because my father is talking about sending me to school in England in September. It's not definite yet, but if he does we'll probably come to Cheltenham, because my uncle and Brahim are already there, and of course you are, too, so we might be able to see each other quite often if you still want to. I'll probably have to stay with Brahim, but if my father can find somewhere for me to live on my own I'll need to bring a couple of servants and slaves, too, and obviously Madjid will have to be one, and Nacer, too, so you might get to see them again, too.
'I really hope you can come to visit in March or April – I can tell you more then, and you can tell me a bit about where you live. And it'd be nice to see you again, too.
'Best wishes, Ali.'
On Monday David's mother took him to the doctor. She wanted to stay during the examination, but David pointed out that he was fifteen and a half and so had the right to a little privacy, which mean that at least she didn't get to see the whip marks, the brand or the evidence of the amateur circumcision. The doctor did, but he seemed confident that everything had healed or was healing without complication. He took a look at David's anus, and that did worry him a bit, not because he didn't think it would heal in due course, but because of the implications of being on the receiving end of unprotected anal intercourse. So he took enough blood to run a full set of tests for the sort of diseases one might catch, either through being fucked or simply through being in Africa, promising to send the results to David personally as soon as he had them, though he said that if there was anything wrong he would be obliged to tell David's mother.
“Don't worry,” said David, “if there's anything wrong I'll tell her myself.”
Next his mother took him to the school for an interview with the headmaster. Mr Weston wasn't sure that David would be able to catch up with the work he had missed and suggested keeping him back a year, but David promised to work hard, pointed out that he had a friend who was willing to help him catch up, and eventually persuaded Mr Weston to let him stay in the fifth year until Easter, when the mock O levels were due to be taken. He agreed that if his mocks were not satisfactory he would be prepared to repeat the fifth year. And, although term was due to end on the Thursday, he also said that he would like to return to school the next day.
Finally Mrs Villiers-Gore took him shopping to buy some new clothes, since he had outgrown everything in his wardrobe. He'd have been quite happy just to wear a robe, or nothing at all, while he was indoors, but he supposed that wasn't really acceptable.
So on Tuesday morning he went back to school. His appearance drew some interested comments from the rest of his form, but now he responded happily to everyone, though he didn't go into a lot of detail about how he'd spent the last six months, just saying that he'd been kidnapped and had been working as a slave somewhere in Africa. And when one of the boys expressed a certain scepticism David removed his blazer and shirt and showed him the whip marks, which shut him up straight away and actually drew a lot of sympathy, which – considering how aloof he'd been with the rest of his form previously – David found unexpected but nice.
At lunchtime he went and found Jordan, who was delighted to see him back in one piece. Jordan explained how he and Julian had found enough people to speak up for David and then gave him the list of names.
“Osterley? Pope? And Collins, for God's sake?? But I thought he hated me.”
“Me, too. But Dhif said he'd counted him, so he must have said something nice about you.”
So David went to find them.
“Hey, it's the Rat,” said Little Collins, who was in the usual place talking to Osterley. “Thought you'd gone for good.”
“I gather you tried to make sure I hadn't gone for good.”
Little Collins shrugged. “Ian said I ought to be grateful to you for making us friends. But that doesn't mean I've stopped thinking you're a bastard.”
“I know, and you were right. But you still did it, so I really owe you – both of you. If you ever need help, tell me and I'll do anything I can, okay?”
And he was so obviously sincere that even Little Collins was impressed.
“That's okay,” was Pope's reaction. “You gave me and my mates a lot of fun, so I didn't mind speaking up for you. Of course, if you want to thank me properly, you could always let us all fuck you again.”
“Well, maybe not. But I might be prepared to let you – just you – do it. Or I could suck you again, if you prefer.”
“No, I'm just kidding. It was a laugh, but I don't want to do stuff like that with a boy again. I've got a girlfriend now.”
“Wow, really? Well done! I had no idea there was a female lunatic asylum in Cheltenham – or is she from the Blind School?”
Pope grinned at him. “Maybe I should fuck you again after all,” he said. “But I know you're just jealous, so I won't.”
“Seriously, Pope, good luck. Bet she doesn't suck as well as me, though.”
“I'll be really happy if she does, but we're not going to do anything like that for a long time yet, I don't suppose. When she does, I'll let you know how you compare.” And Pope grinned at him and walked away.
On the Saturday, which was Christmas Eve, David went into town to do his Christmas shopping – his mother had been saving his allowance for him, so he was quite well off. But before he started shopping he went to the hospital to visit Brahim. He found his way to Brahim's room and discovered that there was already a visitor there.
“Oh,” said Paul Southgate, “it's you. What are you doing here?”
“I've come to visit Brahim. I know he wanted to bring me home, and I thought if I told him I was back okay anyway he wouldn't have to worry about it. Is it okay if I talk to him for a bit?”
“Of course. Do you want me to go?”
“No, you might as well stay. I don't suppose you'll understand me, anyway.”
He pulled up the second chair and started to speak to Brahim in Arabic.
“Hi, Brahim,” he said. “It's me – the Rat, I mean, or the Cockroach, if you prefer, though really I'd rather you just called me Villiers-Gore – or David, which would be best if you don't mind calling me that. Anyway, I know you wanted to get me back but you didn't get a chance because of your injury. Well, I'm back anyway – Ali sent me home. So it's okay, you don't have to worry about it any longer – just come back. Ali and his father are worried about you, and I know they want you to come back too, same as I do. And... I'm sorry I was such a bastard to you before. I've learned a lot better now – the slaves showed me I was wrong, and so did the twins, and so when you wake up I'd like us to be friends.
“Your friend Southgate is still here, by the way – Michael and Jordan both told me he's been here every time they've come to visit you, so he must more or less live here, I think. He really wants you to wake up, too – same as we all do. Maybe if you wake up soon, next time we can go to visit Ali together. I'd like that.
“Anyway, I've got to go and do my Christmas shopping. I know you don't celebrate Christmas, but... well, Happy Christmas, anyway. And wake up soon, okay?”
“I didn't know you could speak Arabic,” Paul said.
“I learned while I was away. I think there were quite a lot of mistakes in that, but I hope he'll get the message, anyway.”
“He will,” Paul said. “And he's going to wake up soon. God told me so... well, actually it was a second-former called Barnett, but I think God sent him. Sort of. Anyway, thanks for coming. Happy Christmas.”
“Same to you,” said David, and went to buy his presents.
David had a good Christmas at home with his mother and the Devlins, and Michael came over on Boxing Day and stayed over, though he slept in the spare bed in Joe's room while David slept in the attic – he still felt a lot more comfortable up there on his own. (And in fact he went on sleeping in the attic for another three weeks before moving down into Joe's spare bed. It took a while, but eventually he got used to a normal bed once more).
“I'm going to give up my job,” his mother told him a couple of days later. “It was all my fault for just leaving you here while I went off to London.”
“No, it wasn't: it was my fault for being an obnoxious git."
"What do you mean?"
David realised that this was a mistake. He thought quickly.
"Well," he said, "if I had hung around with other boys instead of keeping myself to myself because I thought I was better than anyone else I probably wouldn't have been on my own that evening, and then I wouldn't have got kidnapped in the first place. Anyway, I thought you'd already given up your job?”
“No, I've take some time off, and I've been coming back here at weekends the rest of the time. But I'll tell them they'll have to manage without me from now on.”
“No, don't do that. I know how important this job is to you. You should go back to London – I'll be fine here with the Devlins: Mrs Devlin can look after me, and I'd like it if Tim and Molly and Joe could stay here, too. It'd be nice if you could come home and see me at weekends now and again, and maybe I could come up to London to see you some weekends, but I'll be okay here the rest of the time.”
“Really. I'll be okay from now on, I'm sure.”
Two days before the start of the spring term David went back to the hospital, and he wasn't surprised to find Paul there again.
“How much time have you spent sitting in that chair since the accident?” David asked.
Paul shrugged. “There's nothing I'd prefer to be doing,” he said. “I just want Brahim to wake up so we can be together again.”
“You really care about him, don't you?”
“I love him,” said Paul, simply.
“Good. That'll give him something worth coming back for. Now, there are a couple of things I should have said to him last time but forgot about, so...”
He switched to Arabic and spoke quietly to Brahim for a few minutes, restating most of what he had said on his first visit. Then he said, “I don't know if you're worried about seeing me again, after what happened to me in Africa, but if you are, you don't need to be. I forgive you completely, the same as I hope you can forgive me for trying to get you thrown out of school. What happened to me at Ali's was a fair punishment for what I did, so I'm not angry – in fact, I'm glad you gave me the chance to find out what I was like and to do something about it. So when you wake up I'm not going to be mad at you – in fact, I just want to see you and Paul being happy together, the way I'm happy with Michael Stagg. So, it's okay to wake up, Brahim – everything is going to be okay, I promise.”
He stood up. “I think him and me will be okay from now on,” he told Paul. “See, I've got a friend, too, like you and Brahim, and...”
“Michael Stagg,” Paul interrupted. “Yes, he told me. He's been in to visit Brahim a lot, and so has Fielding, because they were both really worried about you and wanted Brahim to wake up so he could save you. You're lucky to have friends like that.”
“I know. And that's another reason I want Brahim to wake up, so that you can get back to having a friend like that, too. Anyway, I'll go and leave you in peace. Happy New Year.”
“Same to you, and thanks for coming... Wait! Look, David...”
“He moved! I'm sure he moved his hand!”
David looked, but Brahim looked exactly the same to him.
“Sorry, Paul, I think you imagined it. I suppose if you want something badly enough it's easy to imagine... shit, you're right! Nurse! Nurse!!”
The nurse appeared, and then a doctor, and obviously something was happening because he and Paul were shooed outside while medical staff bustled about. Finally a doctor came out and told them that Brahim was awake and that they could speak to him, but only for a couple of minutes.
“Hello, Rat,” said Brahim, in a hoarse voice. “You're back, then. Good. You seem... different, somehow. It's odd – I can't remember making the phone call... still, I suppose I must have done, because you're here. So, did a couple of weeks with my cousin teach you anything?”
“It was a little longer than that. You've been in a coma for a while. Anyway, I'm glad you're back. I have to go, but I expect Paul can tell you all about it.”
“Paul?” Brahim turned his head and saw Paul on the other side of the bed, and his face lit up. “Paul! You're here! I'm really glad to see you... I feel weird, though. What am I doing here? Is anything broken?”
“No,” said Paul. “But you probably feel weird because you've been lying there for a long time. See...”
And David chose that moment to slip away, but he looked back when he reached the door and saw Paul put his arms round Brahim and hug him. Yes, he thought: everything seems to have turned out fine.
Well, of course it has: I'm a sucker for a happy ending. With David and Michael happily an item and Brahim awake to renew his relationship with Paul, it seems safe to leave Cheltenham, at least for the time being. Though if Ali and his entourage were to come to England in September I might have something else to write about in the future...
So – finally - you've made it through to the end of the story. If you want to send me any final thoughts (and this applies to readers who have not responded previously, as well as to all those who already have), please write to me at email@example.com and I'll be happy to respond.
And here I'd like to thank everyone who has already written to me: I've been amazed at the response I've had so far. I'd also like to thank Tim, who shared ideas with me before I actually started writing the story (if you're still out there, Tim, send me a message!) and JJ, who read the story once it was complete and who encouraged me to post it.
I'm going to take a break of a couple of weeks, but I do have another story almost ready to post. It's totally different from this one and may not appeal to everyone who has written to me about the Rat, but those of you who liked the story-telling (as opposed to just the sex!) in this story should like the new one, which is basically an adventure story with some sex thrown in. It's called 'The Nexus' and you'll find it in the SF&F section (another first for me) towards the end of September. I look forward to reading your reactions in due course!
Copyright 2009: all rights reserved. Please do not reprint, repost or otherwise reproduce this or any part of it anywhere without my written permission.