Peter had walked past the uncharacteristically open office door twice now, more concerned each time he passed. The Prime Minister's shoulders were slumped, and those piercing, ice-blue eyes stared into the middle distance, seeing some unshared vision of future misery.
Peter fretted, wondering who the problem was now. It couldn't be the Federal commissioners: they'd only just finished sacking several of the watchdogs for being too zealous in their criticisms. There hadn't been any floor-crossing, backstabbing traitors from within the party lately. It didn't matter that time had passed, that they'd both moved on, that he was happily engaged to someone else: he was never going to forgive her for betraying the Party like that. Peter ground his teeth involuntarily, then shook off the memory and resolutely turned his mind back to the PM's current woes.
No, this had to be something else, something recent. Perhaps Copenhagen? The climate summit had been far from enjoyable. Not only had Harper been chewed out over the tarsands , but he'd had to cope with criticism from Quebec, and then he'd been embarrassed by his own spokesman confusing a Quebec environmental group with an American one. Peter winced at the memory.
Why couldn't they just pull it together, and show a little pride in their Prime Minister? If only the provinces weren't so damned uppity and independent; if only the staff and the party members were a little more competent; if only the opposition parties and the Parliamentary committees would just shut up for a while.
That last thought made the Defence Minister smile. If the rumours were true, they might well have to shut up. He'd heard it whispered that the PM was considering a second prorogation.
His smile faded quickly. He turned and walked back down the corridor, more slowly this time, wondering if he dared risk offering help.
"Peter." The PM spoke without looking toward the door. "Why are you here? It's Christmas Eve. Shouldn't you be with--" He waved one hand vaguely, obviously unable to come up with a name.
Momentarily flustered, it took Peter half a beat to come up with his own fiancée's name. "Jana. I will be. I just had some last minute things to look over. Sir, is there...can I...can I be of any assistance?"
At first it seemed as if Stephen wouldn't answer. "He had every advantage," he said bitterly. "Opportunities I didn't even know enough to dream of. Travel. Attending UCC."
Peter held his breath, afraid to staunch this unheard-of flow of shared information. He wasn't entirely sure who they were discussing, even; he only knew he was thrilled to be the recipient of his PM's confidences. "UCC isn't everything, Sir," he ventured. "And you were at the top of your graduating class. Even if it was just a public school."
"He should have been a Godsend," Harper went on. "The public thinks I'm robotic. Ha! I'm warm and fuzzy, compared to him. He looks like Frankenstein's monster, for pity's sake." His tone turned wistful. "But he does have a certain something, don't you think?"
No, Peter thought resentfully. I don't. Why are you even talking about him?
"Confidence," Harper went on. "That ruling-class charm, I suppose. I should hate it. I do hate it. But still: there's something about him. It must be so easy for him. He knows all the right people; he's probably known all the right people since he was a child. He probably never has to think twice about what to wear, or say, or which fork to use. Whereas I...sometimes I still feel like an awkward teenager from Etobicoke, without an ounce of charm or grace, and with no allies in my corner."
I risked my career for you, Peter thought. I promised there wouldn't be a merger, and then threw in my lot with you anyway. "You were on Reach for the Top," he offered weakly.
"It's so...tacky." The PM looked depressed, then shrugged, and visibly made an effort to pull himself together. "Still, no point in going on about it, I suppose. Might as well get home and get on with things. And at least the kids are at Rockcliffe Park. Whatever happens, they won't ever have to worry that other people are looking down on them for having middle-class tastes."
Peter tried and failed to muster up the nerve required to pat the PM on the shoulder. The man shook hands with his own son; he probably didn't really want to be touched. If only, Peter thought in anguish, others could see you the way I do. You're bright, and articulate, and it's all down to you. No one handed you anything; you worked for it all. And you're devoted to your family. You even foster kittens, for God's sake! How adorable is that? Out loud he said only, "I wouldn't envy him too much, Sir. Sitting around trading quips with Bob Rae probably isn't all that much fun."
"No," Harper agreed, "but I do envy that closeness. It must be something, to have the friendship of another man, an equal, someone whom you can respect, to talk things over with."
"We could talk about things." He could have bitten his tongue off for the awkward phrasing. Harper gave him an odd look, obviously wondering what exactly Peter had in mind. Unbidden, the words "do you like handcuffs?" floated through Peter's mind. To dismiss them, he went on just as awkwardly, "Uh, music, for example. Or foreign policy." Shut up, shut up, shut up, he told himself furiously, groaning silently.
Harper smiled sadly. "I have depth, you know. I'm not just a policy wonk. Ignatieff isn't the only intellectual on the hill. Sure, he's written books, but did Mordecai Richler ever say he had substance? And I play in a band. Surely that makes me cooler than he is."
The PM looked almost pleading. MacKay, deeply unnerved, wondered if his leader had been overdoing it on the eggnog. "Absolutely," he agreed. "Much cooler, Sir. Can I give you a lift home?"
"I even have an IMDb page." Now the old confidence was back. Stephen stood up, looking markedly more cheerful. "Thanks for the little chat, Pete," he said benevolently.
"Glad to help, Sir," said Peter.