“Oh, NO!” I shrieked. “Don’t take him away again!”
Neal was by my side in an instant, leading me away into a corner, and then we were sitting on the floor. As we went through the ritual, his arms round my shoulders and our heads together, I stopped shaking, and gradually relaxed.
“Now, it’s okay,” said Neal. “They just want some answers. They just want to know what it’s all been about, that’s all. Keep cool, it’ll be all right. Are you all okay?”
“Okay. I’m okay. But if they take him away, Neal, after all this...”
“They need to know, Jack, they have to. Just help them and it’ll be all right. Okay?”
“Yeah. Okay. Let’s go.”
We stood, to see everyone else staring at us.
“What on earth was that?” said Dan.
“Eh? They were joining, of course,” said Tony. “It’s what controlled kids do when they freak out.”
I felt a bit cooler now, but still dazed and detached from what was going on.
“What is this about? Why are you arresting my mentor?”
“Jack, Ewan is a serving officer,” said Max. “We need him to answer some questions, and placing him under arrest simply stops him from going away. Could I ask everyone to take a seat? Fred, I think you can stand down, now.”
“Not without an order, Dr Margrave.”
Fred was standing right beside me, and his voice was quite cool. Max looked at him sharply.
“Stand down, Corporal,” said Dan. “And could you find us some coffee and biscuits?”
I held Ewan’s hand tightly as we took our seats together. Whether by design or not, we ended up on one side of the round table, with everyone else ranged opposite to us. I felt as if both of us were on trial. Max put a disk machine on the table.
“Meeting to review events relating to Jack Marchmont’s indenture. Present: Jack Marchmont; Ewan Hart; Martin Chevis, representing the Chief Executive; Max Margrave, Minister for Children; Tony Denholm, Max’s assistant; Neal Marchmont, representing Jack’s family in his guardian’s absence; Lakshmi Anderson, representing the Council; Marietta Borley, representing the Party; Colonel Dan Threadgold, at the Chief Executive’s request.”
He cleared his throat.
“For the moment I’ll act as chair. Okay, Ewan. I’d like you to tell us why you told Jack not to nominate you as his mentor.”
“I don’t see that it’s the business of anyone in this room, apart from Jack and me.”
“Anything that hurts Jack is my business, and the business of his family,” said Neal, fairly coolly, I thought. “My family won’t allow it to go past.”
“Neal, what happens between Jack and me is our private affair. Please butt out.”
“Wrong, Ewan. It’s not private when he has nightmares every night in my room. ‘Ewan, Ewan, please don’t burn me, please don’t burn me...’ Every single night. Our family looks after each other. That’s how we’ve survived when we lost our parents, and during The Problems. If you think being Jack’s mentor means that you can treat him any way you like, you’re wrong.”
“Jack Marchmont is an important state resource,” said Chevis. “Anything that affects him is public business.”
“Jack is a controlled child. What happens to him is the responsibility of my ministry,” said Max.
“The private affairs of Council members are a state interest,” said Lakshmi.
“The party can inquire into the private affairs of senior members,” said Dr Borley.
“I was your master,” said Dan. “Anything about you is my business if I damn-well please.”
“Okay, now that we’ve settled that, would you care to answer the question, Ewan?” said Max.
“Neal, what you’ve just said doesn’t make me happy,” said Ewan.
“Like I care,” said Neal.
“There were several reasons for what I did. I wanted Jack to have the uncertainty, to experience not knowing who would be his mentor, the uncertainty that most kids have to go through.
“Then, I wanted to stress him. I felt that was something which would be a growing experience for him. And this particular stress, the threat of deserting him, could only be used before indenture.
“And I wanted to see if he would obey an order, even if it was painful to him. He responded with fury, not with the grace I had demanded, so two days later I returned, to give him another chance. Once again, I felt his response was not really adequate. We will have to discuss this later.
“It was always my intention to have Jack as my pupil. I nominated him myself. Moreover the chair of the selectors is my CO, who will do pretty much anything for me, and Mike Andrews is another good friend. In effect, I tricked Jack into thinking his position was uncertain, when it was not.”
“You led him to believe that you loved him,” said Max, “and that you had dumped him.”
“Yes. It was a mindfuck.”
“My mentor will not deceive me,” said Neal quietly, “nor betray me, nor shut me in, nor force me with guilt, nor blackmail me, nor insult me, nor offend my heart, nor treat me cruelly. He will respect me. He will be polite. He will speak the truth. He will keep his promises.”
He paused for moment, and then yelled at Ewan at the top of his voice.
“IS THERE ANY ONE SINGLE BIT OF THAT YOU DIDN’T BREAK?“
He face was flushed and twisted, he was pounding the table and literally shaking with rage. For a moment I thought he was going to fly at Ewan, and Lakshmi, who was sitting next to him, put an arm round his shoulders and whispered in his ear.
“Neal, I—” said Ewan.
“He doesn’t know it,” I said. “He has no TV or radio. He’s never even heard of it.” I giggled. “It’s truly odd. Not nasty, but odd.”
“I anticipated this,” said Max. “I know Ewan well. Tony?”
He handed him a disk, and with dismay I realised what they were going to do. I grasped Ewan’s hand; it seemed so unfair...
Tony drew the blinds and turned on the screen, and showed it. It was a strange feeling. We dealt with this document every day; but now that I had him back, it seemed flat, archaeological, almost without interest.
“Request to My Selectors,” I said on screen. I’m quite a pretty boy, I thought; the eyelashes are amazing, and the mouth looks good to kiss. And lifesuits are definitely sexy. Do you suppose he still thinks I’m cute? Maybe after a fortnight away he won’t be interested. He used to love my skin. Do you think he still will? I’m so sad-looking. That’s very attractive, and the way I look away like that, to read, I’m good at that. The sentences, they are good, you know. They balance well, although every now and again... Could I put out an amended version? Not really, because it wouldn’t be my request to my selectors, would it? It would be, what I would have said to my selectors if I’d thought a little bit more about the rhythm that afternoon. Look at that tear. You couldn’t plan that level of corn. It has to be real. He has to be affected by that...
The lights went up. Ewan sat staring at the blank screen, stricken. For a moment there was silence.
“Would you care to review what you said about Jack Marchmont’s lack of grace in response to your esteemed orders?” Dan snarled.
Ewan stared at him without expression.
“What you said, Neal,” he said. “It was there, wasn’t it? And at the school. All these things he will share with me. That too. And here as well, what was it? Kindly and firmly...”
“...he will guide and control me, and take me forwards step by step,” said Max. “We made that the motto of the Provisional Administration. Do you know, George Padmore’s written a five-page article for RATIO, just about that one sentence? With quotes from an interview he had with Jack. Tom Baxter said, if you’re looking for the soul of the revolution, you couldn’t do better than to go to Jack. The Request is completely crucial to everything we do, and where were you when it was written? In some sodding mangel field in Suffolk!”
“If he’d been here, it probably wouldn’t have been written at all,” I said.
There was a pause.
“This is so odd,” I went on. “I originally wrote that piece because Ewan told me to. He told me not to nominate, but to describe the type of mentor I wanted and to be as explicit as possible. So I did. And the weird thing is, everyone in the world has read it, there are snatches of it everywhere and everyone thinks they own it. And the one person it was written for: he’s never even heard of it! I hoped that maybe he would see it on TV, and change his mind, and think that I might be worth having as a pupil after all. And he never even saw it. And it doesn’t matter, because I got him back anyhow.”
I giggled, and once I started it was hard to stop. Some of the faces looking at me showed shock.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m not sure if I can cope with a lot more. But when I was in Dan’s dungeon, he asked me, supposing I got Ewan back, would it be You deceived me you bastard, I’m going to make you crawl, and I said no. And I meant it. I was angry because I’d lost him. I can’t cope with losing people, and Neal’s explained why. But now I’ve got him back, I’m not angry. Please don’t try to make me be.”
“I hear you, Jack,” said Dan. “We won’t make you play any such role. But we have to poke around and make sure that bad things don’t happen again, and it’s better for us to do that than leave it to you. We all have standing, we all have reasons to be here, we aren’t just anyone.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever quoted the Request before,” I said, “but here goes: He will claim the lead. I need a mentor. I may even need a master, I’m not really sure. But I can’t have either if Ewan’s going to spend the next six years apologising.”
“We don’t want that either,” said Max. “The seventh paragraph deals with this sort of thing: He will be gentle enough to forgive, and wise enough to remember. You’ve forgiven, Jack, you’re the injured party, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s it for blame and apologies and forgiveness. What we need now is to be wise enough to remember, to make sure that stuff like that doesn’t happen again. Most of us saw Jack over this period, Ewan. I had a lot to do with him. You heard what Neal said, and it was obvious to all of us that something had gone very wrong.”
“The demands you made on him were quite beyond his strength and his experience,” said Dan. “You demanded, for example, instant graceful acceptance of a totally devastating mindfuck. Actually to bring Jack to that acceptance took a ten-hour session in my basement with a leather switch, Ewan. It wasn’t easy for either of us.”
I noticed Neal moving uneasily in his seat, and tried to catch his eye.
“He—he went through that?” said Ewan.
“He had no alternative. We had no alternative. He was a wreck, Ewan, and the revolution can’t afford to have Jack Marchmont a wreck, damn it! He had to accept a direct order from his master, not knowing whether that order would in fact destroy his life or not! You can’t put a fourteen-year-old into that sort of bind.”
“One of the themes of the Request, you’ll find,” said Max, “is development, things moving forwards, and pacing. It isn’t static. The mentor relationship can’t be static. It must go in step with the development of the child. Take me forwards step by step is the phrase Jack uses. And then a warning: Although each year I will be older, he will remember that still I am a child, and not as strong as he is. You have to march in step with the child’s development, demanding more at each stage, but not insisting on the impossible: He will ask of people more than they have given, but no more than they have to give. That’s what you did. You asked more of him that he had to give, and that is abuse. You nearly destroyed that child, Ewan, and we have to be sure that doesn’t happen again. You have to convince us that it won’t.”
“Please,” said Ewan. “Could I ask for a pause? I need to speak to Jack first. In private. I’ll give you my parole if you wish, sir,” he added to Dan.
“Yes,” said Max. “You’re right. Let’s do it in the right order. Adjourn for a few minutes. There’s another room through there which is empty.”
Ewan led me through the door into a small room with a table and four chairs. He turned to look at me; and he was weeping, somthing I had never seen before.
“You want to apologise.”
“You say you don’t want endless apologising. But clear that I did a terrible thing to you. I didn’t mean it to be that way, but it was. I took a time which should have been joyful and simple and turned into a time of loss and nightmares and confusion. I am most dreadfully sorry.”
“It’s not needed,” I said. “The bad thing you did to me was take yourself away. Now that you’re back, the bad thing is over. I don’t think I could cope with that again, so I don’t mind them trying to make sure it doesn’t happen. But just at the moment the only thing I can think about is you being back.”
I was seized by doubt, the same doubt which had come to me as we watched the disk.
“Did you stop loving me?” I said pathetically. “Is that why you went away?”
“No! No, of course I didn’t stop loving you, Jack! I’ve spent the last fortnight thinking about you all the time, the way you look, the way you speak... How could I stop loving you? And all those things they’ve been saying about you, that beautiful disk... Can I—can I hold you?”
I moved into his arms, standing between his knees as he sat, and he held me. I felt his arms round me, and his hands on my back, and it healed my mind and my soul. For maybe half a minute, my life paused and the universe seemed to take a breath.
“We’d better go back to the meeting,” I said. “They’ll have to hurry. Tony and me, we’re due at a school in Birmingham at two o’clock, and I think Neal’s coming too. Two thousand kids. Our ramchopper’s waiting at the TerrAd strip.”
“Birmingham? What are you doing there?”
“Get a TV, Ewan, get a TV.”
“You’re a pretty cheeky pupil.”
I smiled at him.
“We’ve been helping kids who are getting their Standard Clothes and Golden Circles. Me, Neal and Tony—my uncle came too before, but he’s not allowed now. After Birmingham, we fly to Sheffield and stay the night, then tomorrow we visit a school there and fly back to the Centre to debrief, Friday afternoon.”
“Don’t I get asked about what you do?”
“Yeah. But they’ll be keen to stick to the schedule. It’s a big thing, your ministry and Max’s. I think there’ll be a lot of pressure for me to do this work. If my mentor was someone else I think Max was planning to press pretty hard, phonecalls from the general and so on if necessary. I think you’ll be able to swing us some time over the weekend and part of next week. Can you come with us today?”
“I don’t see why not. I could start my long-term ravishment plan in a hotel in Sheffield.”
“God! Don’t say things like that! I’m so on edge...”
He hugged me.
“I’m not much looking forward to this meeting. What Neal said really shocked me. He was so angry.”
“Yes,” I said. “He is angry. It’ll be a long time before he accepts you, if he ever does. He doesn’t understand what you said and he just sees you being cruel to me. He distrusts Dan for the same sort of reasons. Max sort-of understands but he’s been pissed off with you, both because of me and because this business has messed up his Ministry’s work at a crucial time. Dan understands both of us better than any of them do and he’s furious. I don’t know what Lakshmi and Marietta think although both of them like me, and Lakshmi’s very close to Nial. Tony likes me a lot, and I think he’s pretty angry with you too.”
“Thanks. It sounds as if I’m in for a rough ride. Come on, let’s get back.”
We stood for a moment in the doorway, with me in front of him, his hand on my shoulder. I felt completely at one with him, moving without conscious effort as he wished.
“This is my hope,” I said, as they all looked at us.
Fred was distributing coffee and biscuits. He smiled at me as I spoke.
“Funny the stuff you can find in the Request,” he said. “Like one of the lads, he was complaining that his girlfriend wouldn’t come across enough, if you’ll excuse me, ladies, and Tanner says, well, it says in the Request, He will remember both his own needs and mine. So, he says, maybe your girlfriend needs not to have sex sometimes and that’s just as important as what you need. Or maybe she needs things you’re not doing for her in bed, and maybe you should find out what they are.”
“I don’t think that’s the sort of thing Jack had in mind, Corporal,” said Chevis.
“Actually, it was exactly that sort of thing,” I said. “I’m sorry, Mr Chevis.”
I heard Dan tittering under his breath.
“Someone in my office,” said Lakshmi. “They put up a notice in the coffee room. It said, Coffee 10 pence. PAY UP, YOU TIGHT-ARSE BASTARDS! And under that it said: He will judge people not by what they are, nor by what they say, but by what they do.”
“Jack,” said Max, “We’d like you to leave us to it for a while. Go with Marietta, okay?”
I looked round the table. Nearly everyone there I knew and liked, but the way they were attempting to get me out of the way made me feel wary. I caught Lakshmi’s eye, and glanced pointedly at Neal; she nodded.
“Okay,” I said. “But please—remember what I said.”
I squeezed Ewan’s arm, and allowed Marietta to lead me away.
“It’s been a tough time for you, hasn’t it? Since Ewan left.”
We were sitting in the hotel restaurant. Marietta Borley had ordered a huge glass of orange juice and a Danish pastry for me, both things I hadn’t had for at least a year. She herself had a tiny black coffee. This was the first time I had had a serious discussion with her, and I was fnding it hard to concentrate; thoughts of what might be happening to Ewan kept intruding.
“Er... I’m sorry, Dr Borley. Yes, I guess so. Today doesn’t look as if it’ll be much better, either. I feel really strange.”
Her face was kindly and middle-aged, but there was intelligence behind the dark eyes.
“Please call me Marietta, Jack. Do you mind if I record this chat?”
“No, I suppose not.”
She put a personal disk machine on the table.
“Strange in what way?” she said.
“I really was expecting someone else to be my mentor. When it turned out to be Ewan after all, it was just so marvellous, and I thought that now everything would be happy and exciting, like it was before—before he went away. I thought today would be a holiday, like when you think you’ve got cancer and the doctor tells you haven’t. When we arrived in that room, and most of the people I like most in the world were there (except my aunt and uncle of course) I thought it was going to be a surprise party with everyone happy for us. But instead there’s this sort of trial, and it’s all turned horrible, and I don’t know what’s going to happen. I sort of feel as if I’m not really here...”
“No, I suppose it hasn’t been much of a celebration. I’m sorry about that. But we had to sort things out, Jack, we couldn’t have a situation where everything could go really wrong in the future, not just for you but for Ewan as well. Have you heard Rationalists talk about taking risks?”
“Yes, the general was talking about that the other day,” I said. “And I’ve read George Padmore’s article Risk and Practice.”
“You have, Jack? Well, well. That’s more than most of the Council have, I expect.”
“The Request says it too: He will take chances.”
“Yes, I remember,” she said. “So you’ll understand how we risk things, even things that are important. And there’s nobody who does it more than Ewan; we all know this about him. I think that part of the reason for what he did is that to have you both nominating each other simply wasn’t risky enough. He has a feeling that if you don’t risk, what you get doesn’t have the same value. We need him to pull back on that as far as his relationship with you is concerned.”
“It’s true that he does take risks. He’s done it in our relationship before.”
She accepted another coffee from a waiter, and took a golden cigarette case out of her handbag; from this, to my astonishment, she extracted a thin, expertly-rolled joint, which she lit.
“Jack, why do you think he did it?” she said, after a luxurious toke. “Is it just the reasons he gave us?”
“I don’t know much about what happened in his earlier relationships, but I’ve been told that he had problems with partners who couldn’t cope with having a very dominant partner like him. So maybe in the back of his mind was the feeling that it would be a good idea to test me out, before we went into an indenture, which is a legal relationship, isn’t it? And maybe he wanted to test himself as well. If he found that he was missing me a lot, he would nominate me, otherwise he wouldn’t...”
“Do you think that was the main reason?”
I paused for a moment.
“Actually, no, I don’t,” I said. “I think there’s something else, but whenever I try to work out what it is, it slips away.”
“You don’t have any problems about being the submissive partner in a DS relationship?”
“I’m a submissive person, Marietta. Ewan and me, we were starting to move into that when he left, and it just felt completely natural to me, natural and relaxing. I felt at home. It’s partly to do with sex, but there’s more to it than that, and I wanted Ewan to take the lead and help me to sort this all out.”
“Are you really sure you can cope with that way of life?” she said.
“Well, remember what Dan Threadgold said. When I went to his house, it all felt completely natural and familiar, and I just fell into it. It’s not a question of coping, because I want it, I need it, really, someone to take charge of me and my life, that’s the kind of person I am. But I’ve been thinking about this and there is a problem. Because it isn’t just me, is it? I have a role now, with the Joining and the schools, and I have a role criticising the government and rowing with Max and so on, and part of all that is I have to speak for me and for the children, and be my own person. I don’t know how that will work out.”
“Dan whipped you a lot. Your uncle was quite disturbed,”
“Yes,” I said. “It’s stupid to say I enjoyed the pain, because I didn’t. But the situation, the ideas behind it and the style of work, that was fine. Dan says that the pain falls into context with experience. Getting through the pain becomes something to be achieved and to be proud of. I’m okay with all this; I speak the language. What I find I can’t cope with is not knowing where I am, not knowing what the rules are or what’s happening. That’s why the last fortnight was so hard.”
“Do you think Neal understands all this?”
“Not really. To him what’s happening is just that some people are being unkind to me, and he won’t tolerate that. I’ve told him I’m okay with what’s going on, and he’s said he won’t interfere. But he doesn’t like it. It’s just cruelty to him, and we’ve seen a lot of that, people being tormented. We’re both very protective of each other. If I thought that Neal was in real danger I’d kill to protect him. I really would. Anyhow, because of this I think it’ll take Neal a long while to accept Ewan, or Dan for that matter. I hope that everyone will be careful with him today. In some ways I wish he wasn’t seeing all this.”
“You’re very loyal to each other, your family,” she said. “That’s very admirable.”
“Our uncle took us in after our parents died. It’s cost him endless money and he’s had to reorganise his whole life for us. He didn’t have to do that, but he did. And our aunt came to look after us during The Problems, when it was really dangerous to get mixed us with a family like ours. Both of them have risked everything for us. As for Neal and me—you get close when your parents die at that age. So we’re a close family and that’s important to me.”
“Aren’t you worried about disputes and differences of outlook between your uncle and Ewan causing problems?”
“After everything that’s happened my uncle will take some time to accept Ewan, I think. If someone seems to be misusing Neal or me my uncle really has no time for them. But in many ways they have similar ideals, actually. And my uncle understands that I’m a gay submissive and he accepts that.”
“How do you feel about Ewan using the mentor controls on you?” she said.
“I made a great fuss about them, but that was for other people. For me I don’t mind, at any rate in theory. But he’s never done it, of course, it may be a bit different when it happens. And I don’t know what the other controls are.”
She smiled at me and turned off her disk machine.
“Okay, inquisition over. Would you object to me giving you some advice, Jack?”
“Loyalty is one of your great virtues. You’re loyal to your family, to your mentor and to your friends. But you find it hard to trust people, don’t you? Sometimes you attack the very people who are closest to you, and who you like the most, for letting you down or manipulating you or whatever, when in fact they’re doing their best to help you. It’s understandable why you feel like this, given all the bad stuff that’s happened to you, but you should try to trust a little more, and not assume the worst every time. Like in the meeting just now, for example.”
Her directness amazed me; I stared at her with my mouth open. She neatly extinguished her joint.
“Say thank you,” she said, “and I’ll tell you something nice.”
“Thank you,” I said. “Although it’s not entirely news. My uncle said much the same thing the other day.”
“I’m not surprised. He’s a deeply sensible person. Okay, the nice thing is this: You saw George’s interview with that American reporter, and I know what you’ve been up to in the schools. Your influence in this country is huge. If you would look around a bit, and not be so defensive and modest, you’d find that you have millions and millions of admirers and friends, and they have no difficulty at all about trusting you. If you ask any or all of them for help, they’ll only be pleased. They aren’t trying to rip you off or manipulate you or exploit you. He will allow anyone to earn his trust—that’s anyone, Jack.”
“Okay.” I smiled at her. “I’ll try.”
“Right. I’ll go back now—you’d better wait till we call for you. And don’t worry, it’ll be okay. We aren’t going to victimise anyone or wreck your indenture, Jack; we just want to help.”
“If you want anything else, ask a waiter. Tell them Max is paying.”
“All by yourself?”
“Yeah, Fred. I think they’ve forgotten about me. I’ve been sitting here for half an hour.”
“Mind if I have a word?”
“Hey. You guys are risking your lives for me. I think that means you get to say what you like to me.”
“It isn’t just for you,” he said. “You’re doing an important job, Jack. I suppose that’s part of what I want to say. Just... well, don’t sell yourself short, son. Not with the captain, and not with any of these highups. You’ve got as much to offer as any of them. We know, cos we’ve been following you round these days. Stand up for yourself. I don’t mean they’re bad people, cos they aren’t, but I don’t think any of them understand how much you’re worth, except maybe Tony.”
“Are you a Rationalist, Fred?”
“No, not really. I was in the war in the Middle East, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Syria, you name it, and the Rationalists were just everywhere in the forces, so you picked up some.”
“Stirring up touble, were they?” I said.
“No, it wasn’t that. There was this scheme for keeping the troops informed, why are we fighting, kind of thing. And they were running it, more or less. George Padmore, Max Margrave, Joanne Banks, Ewan Hart, Karen Townsend... It was more, what are we going to do when we go home? Think of twenty guys in a tent in the desert and Max talking to them about the rational state, and sand and wind leaking in. Think of that a thousand times over. More and more people came round to their way of thinking. The war went on and on, and more and more you couldn’t tell what the fuck it was about, and by then the oil wells had all been dusted and no one was going to use them for thousands of years. So in the end the general just told the government, or whichever bunch of yoyos said they were running things here just then, stuff this, we’re coming home. Once we got here it took everyone about ten minutes to realise we had to take over, and a year later we did.”
“You support the government, then, Fred?”
“Yeah. They’re the best bet. And I like their ideas, most of them. You’re one of the better ones.”
“Thanks. It was Ewan who set me up like this,” I said.
“To start with he did. But it was you who wrote the Request, no one else. And this ‘Joining the Future’ thing, that’s all you. There isn’t anyone doing that sort of thing, really talking to the kids, and I’ve seen it, I know they really need it. Like on Tuesday at Chedley High, I wish Max had seen that, Jack, I really do.”
“Wish I’d seen what?”
Max appeared by our table.
“The meeting at Chedley High Tuesday afternoon, with Jack speaking to the kids. Cos they’re like him, Max, they’ve been controlled kids for a fortnight now and they’re having the same problems, and in a week it’ll be the whole country.”
“There was a film crew,” I said.
“Yes,” said Max. “I haven’t seen the disk, but thanks for the heads-up, Fred, I’ll make sure I do. And I think I’ll come with you this afternoon. I want to know how the Joining goes now. But for the moment we’d better get back to the meeting.”
“How much am I going to hate this?” I asked him as we walked along the corridor.
“Well, that’s up to you. I’d recommend ‘not at all’, myself. Ewan seems happy enough, so why not follow his lead?”
I caught his arm.
“I’m sorry, Max. It’s just—well, even though I got Ewan back, today hasn’t turned out to be a lot of fun.”
He hugged me.
“No, I suppose not. I’m sorry about that, but we had to do something, for you and for him. You’re both crucial. There’s no need to be so defensive of him.”
“If I wasn’t, this indenture would have no chance of working. My loyalty has to be for him.”
“Hm, I suppose you’re right. You often are. Here we go...”
There was an empty seat next to Ewan, and I took it. Everyone round the table was looking at us, and I could tell from the atmosphere that the discussion had not been an easy one. Neal in particular, sitting close to Lakshmi, looked flushed and angry, and it annoyed me that he had been put in this position. Ewan put his arm round my shoulders and I leant into him.
“Okay, Jack,” said Dan. “We’ve had a long discussion with Ewan and among ourselves, and we’ve come to a conclusion. I’d better say right away that Neal still isn’t happy, and he’ll have a chance to explain why not shortly. This is what we’ve decided.
“First, we accept your indenture to Ewan. Both of you want it to continue. It would be very hard and messy to change it, and in any case we don’t want to.
“Second, we’re concerned about Ewan’s feelings for what a fourteen-year-old submissive of your type can cope with. It’s nothing to do with his intentions, because no one imagines that he would want to abuse any child, let alone you. It’s to do with his instincts, with calibrating his feelings, if you like, because he’s never had a DS relationship with someone of your age before.
“Third, we’re concerned, because of your intense loyalty to those close to you, that you might not let anyone know if something starts to go wrong. And so things could get worse, until damage is done.”
I could feel the anger start to rise in me, the anger that my mentor should be humiliated in front of me by his friends. What was so perfect about them, that they should take that right? I stiffened, and Ewan’s arm hugged me tighter.
“So, what we’re going to do is this. I am going to act as a monitor of your indenture. Periodically I will meet you both, and we will talk and do various other things; and you will have a direct order from your mentor to tell me of anything that disturbs you.”
So my mentor was to be hauled up before Dan and asked to justify his every action! I glowered at Dan, and he looked back at me evenly.
“And for how long am I supposed to spy on my mentor? How long will this humiliation—”
I couldn’t go on. My jaw clamped shut; my voice box ceased to function. I saw Ewan turn his Wheel and I knew what had happened. Panic and fury surged into me.
Ewan held me tightly with both arms, and I heard his voice whispering in my ear: “Don’t panic, don’t panic, I love you, I love you, I’ll keep you safe, keep calm, don’t be frightened, I love you, I love you...”
I twisted to see his face, and it was full of love and pity, and he stroked my hair and whispered.
“This is my control, don’t panic, don’t be angry, Jack, I love you, my beautiful boy, let the anger go, let it go, don’t resist me, don’t resist my control, just let go, let yourself go, just relax into my control...”
An intense wave of submissive feelings rolled over me. This was my master, whom I loved, controlling me, and doing it to make me better. I don’t know how long it took—ten seconds at most—before I abandoned myself to these feelings, and let them wash away my anger and resentment. I looked up at him and smiled; and at that moment I nearly came.
“Okay, Jack, okay, well done, that was so well done...”
He was still talking softly, but gradually relaxing his hug, as we smiled at each other.
“My God, that’s beautiful,” Dan said quietly.
“I don’t feel humiliated, Jack,” said Ewan. “It’s not humiliation to take expert help in doing something really difficult, from someone who knows better than you. What was humiliating was to discover how much harm I had done you. I couldn’t bear to have that happen again. As for you telling Dan things, that’s to help him judge how things stand between us. I will be reporting to him as well. And it will go on until Dan thinks it’s not needed any more.
“Now I want you to accept these arrangements, and be happy that we have our indenture, and a way to sort it out and make it work. Okay?”
And I found I could talk again.
“Okay,” I whispered; and I meant it.
“Now I want to hear from Neal,” said Dan.
Neal’s face was white, and his hands were shaking. Lakshmi was holding him tight.
“I accept the decisions,” he said, “because I know that Jack’s happy with Ewan, and I can’t bear to make him unhappy again. But I don’t like most of what we decided. I hate it that Jack was set up just now, so that we could all see how Ewan would use the control. It’s another of these—these mindfucks, and I think they’re deceitful and lying. You all say you love Jack and care for him, but the first thing you think of doing is to trick him and hurt him again! Who do you think you are? That’s Jack Marchmont you’ve got there, not some criminal! There’re thousands of kids up and down the country who’d tear you to pieces if they knew about that!
“But that’s all part of it. I know that some people do these master-and-slave type things, and I know it’s none of my business, but I don’t understand them and I just can’t like them. I can’t help thinking of the crazies outside our windows, dragging little kids out to be burned alive, shouting ‘The agony will purge your sin!’ I hate to think of Jack being hurt, I just hate it, after everything he’s done for me for years and years, and for everyone else! To me it’s cruelty and nothing else.
“So when we said, okay, Dan can be mon—monitor of their indenture, that doesn’t make me happy, because I’m sorry, Dan, I don’t trust you. I can’t trust you and I can’t trust Ewan, because I don’t understand you, and I’ve no idea what you’ll do to Jack next. I mean, we start off by tricking Jack yet again, just so that we can torment him a bit, and it happens, and you say it’s beautiful, while all the time I feel like throwing up and fainting.
“I don’t understand, if people love each other, why they can’t be kind and gentle to each other. I’m sorry. I’m really sorry, because it’s awful to be prejudiced like this. But I don’t understand...”
“Do you trust me, Neal?” I said quietly.
“You know I do, Jack. More than anyone else in the world.”
“But being a submissive is a very important part of me. You don’t understand that, you said so. So you don’t understand the whole of me either, do you?”
“No, but I understand enough. I know you, Jack. I know I can trust you because I’ve known you all my life.”
“Well, that’s it, isn’t it? Remember what Lakshmi’s workmates stuck up in the coffee-room? He will judge people by what they do. You judge me by what I’ve done all our lives. And I judge Dan by what he did. Which is, he had me totally at his mercy in his basement for ten hours. He’s a dominant and a sadist, he loves that stuff, and he could have done just whatever he liked to me, and made excuses later which everyone would swallow. But he didn’t. Although he’d never worked with a kid before, he never went too far. He had to concentrate even more than me, for all that time. He had to unravel my insides and put them together, and he did. So I trust him completely, Neal, because of what he did. And if you trust me, then trust me enough to trust Dan.”
There was a long pause.
“Okay,” he whispered.
“As for the test they’ve just done on me and Ewan. I’m sorry that was so rough for you to see, but it really wasn’t so bad, Neal, I promise. It didn’t hurt at all, and you can breath. It was just a bit of a shock because I wasn’t expecting it. But I could handle that, because Ewan reassured me, and once I’d calmed down it actually felt good. It felt good because Ewan was controlling me, and because I was submitting to him. That feels good to me, Neal, that’s how I am. So it wasn’t a bad thing they did. I suppose it was a test of how we get on together, but is wasn’t a hard test as far as I’m concerned. Maybe he wasn’t being gentle. But there was nothing unkind about what he did, and he never stopped whispering to me how much he loved me. Do you see?”
“Yes, I guess.”
“You have to ignore the bad throwing-up feelings it gives you, and think about how it feels to Ewan and me. You can’t think properly with your throwing-up muscles. Does that make sense?”
“Yeah, it does. Kind of.”
“Has the meeting finished?” I said. “Because I want to take my brother next door and join for a bit before we leave for the strip. C’mon, brother.”
We went into the room where Ewan and I had talked, and we started our ritual, and this time it was my turn to give him my strength.
“No one ever said it would be easy,” I murmured after we had recited the words.
“No one ever said that,” said Neal. “No one ever said it would be stuff we like or stuff we understand.”
“All they said was, it’ll help with the task.”
We hugged each other for a while.
“Thanks for caring,” I said. “I really love it that you care what happens to me. Don’t stop caring. Please don’t stop, Neal, you’re so important to me.”