“So,” Chris Bryant says companionably, sliding his plate onto the table and dropping into the seat George bemusedly clears of his briefcase, “how many of them are yours?”
Across the table, Sajid and Matt exchange baffled glances.
George takes his time swallowing his mouthful of orange juice. Protesting that Bryant has interrupted a working breakfast is unlikely to create the desired effect; Bryant would likely just grin and say that it’s a free country and if George wanted privacy he should have stayed at the Treasury, not come to the Members’ Dining Room. Which would be a good point, except that whatever the House of Commons catering staff does badly, they do orange juice very well, and, what’s more, sometimes the Treasury walls seem to close in around him – so George braves the glares of the Dennis Skinners of the world and, yes, the importunities of the Chris Bryants, all for a bright glass of citrus and a breath of fresh air.
He swallows. “I beg your pardon?”
Matt has puffed himself up, an attack dog ready to strike if George commands. Sajid’s eyes glitter, more amused than worried. But surely he can deal with one Labourite on his own. The Budget fights have not sapped him so far that he need worry about the yap of this particular terrier.
The terrier has quite a few teeth. They show when he grins. “I saw a very interesting documentary last night,” he informs George, spearing a sausage on his fork and diving in with relish.
“Did you?” George says, arching his eyebrow.
But Bryant is not one of his, and has no reason to fear the eyebrow. “I learned something interesting about your constituency.”
“Did you,” George says again, flatly.
He knows Bryant knows full well that his presence is not required. He knows Bryant knows that he knows. And yet Bryant’s eyes dance at him over the tines of his fork.
Well, two can play at that game. He glares back.
“Yes,” Bryant says, cheerfully, stealing George’s pitcher of orange juice to refill his own glass. (Across the table, Sajid barely stifles an indignant noise.) “Apparently you’ve been hiding your light under a bushel.”
Should he admit that he has no blessed idea what Bryant is talking about? Surely being Chancellor means that you don’t have to keep up with every small thing that happens in your constituency. On the other hand, from the glint in Bryant’s eyes, does he even want to know?
He slants a quick glance at Matt, who can usually be depended upon to sense trouble and come up with a suddenly remembered scheduled engagement to whisk them away. But Matt is no longer his chief of staff, and is hiding his giggles in his toast, and Sajid is too new to realise what is required.
George sighs. “Tell me, then,” he says. It’s admitting defeat, but he’s in no mood to play twenty questions with Bryant before he’s even finished his breakfast. Particularly given that he only managed three hours sleep last night. Even orange juice’s restorative powers can only go so far.
“Ah,” Bryant pronounces, clearly savouring the taste of victory. He darts his own glance across at the others. “I never knew that your constituency...”
With a sinking feeling, George realises that he’s waiting to deliver the punch line until Matt puts a piece of toast in his mouth.
“...buys the most bondage sex toys in the whole of the UK!” Bryant finishes, triumphantly.
Matt chokes. Sajid slaps him on the back, ineffectually (and possibly dangerously – George can’t remember exactly what you’re supposed to do for a choking person).
Luckily the dining room is mostly empty at this hour. Still, David Miliband’s horrified face is going to stay with George until the day he dies. And Jo Swinson’s shoulders are shaking rather alarmingly at the next table.
“Whips, chains, restraints, cuffs, ball-gags...” Bryant is sailing happily on.
‘Ball-gags’ is a word George would have gladly never have heard from any of his fellow MPs’ mouths. Let alone Bryant’s. It spurs his temporarily stricken voice back into action. “Thank you, I do know what bondage sex toys are.”
Miliband’s face looks even more horrified now. Whether that’s because he’s a prude or because he’s having challenging mental images at the moment, George doesn’t know.
Bryant’s face is full of glee. He looks torn whether to venture further, but the recklessness wins out. “I suppose you do live there.”
“Thank you,” George says again, quellingly this time. Matt has stopped choking and is guzzling water. “Unlike some people, I don’t discuss my sex life in public.”
Bryant claps hands to breast. “Well-struck.”
George rolls his eyes, and passes Matt another napkin to dab at his face.
“I, however, am not the MP who has to represent Wilmslow,” Bryant says, irrepressibly. “That dirty, dirty town.”
George has had enough orange juice, and work awaits. He gathers up his briefcase and nods to Matt and Sajid. This is not a defeat, just a ... tactical retreat. Let Bryant keep the Members’ Dining Room – he has the Treasury.
“Thank you for your...comments,” he says to Bryant, who looks up at him, mouth still tilted upwards. There is no maliciousness in his grin this morning, just high spirits. And he might have mentioned Natalie, and chose not to. “My constituency is famous for many things, and I’m sure one more laurel to its name won’t do it any harm.”
He thinks it’s Sajid who snorts at that, but it might be Matt. George isn’t looking at the two of them. Fat lot of good they’ve been.
“Also,” he adds, sailing on, beginning to enjoy himself, “I would never have taken you for a sex-negative shamer. What people do in their bedrooms is their own business, whips and ball-gags and all.”
George has the satisfaction of seeing the point hit home, and of hearing Miliband swear under his breath, having knocked a water jug over. Swinson loses control of her giggles entirely, and starts helplessly laugh-snorting into her napkin.
On second thought, he might have pitched his voice a bit lower. Skinner is all the way across the room, but his head snapped up at the “whips and ball-gags” line. Just what George needs.
Still, it was a good line, and a good point on which to sweep out with his head held high. So he does, with Matt and Sajid trailing along after him, and he doesn’t look back, even as the Dining Room dissolves into whispers and giggles behind them.
It’ll be all over Westminster by lunchtime, he thinks with resignation.
“Well, you wouldn’t want to be the MP who doesn’t properly represent his constituency,” is Peter’s reasonable comment, as he checks the spreader bar at George’s ankles.
“True,” George manages. He’s finding it hard to think at the moment, in his spread-eagled position, with his hands securely hoisted above him. The nipple clamps aren’t helping matters. They’re new.
On the bed nearby Peter’s favourite whip and George’s favourite ball-gag lay nonchalantly waiting for use.
Peter finishes his checks and leverages himself upright again, pressing a fond kiss to George’s lips. “Shall we test the stamina of Wilmslow’s MP?” he breathes against George’s mouth, with a teasing lilt. “I’m sure that with this new information in mind you’ll be able to go much longer than last time.”
“Get on with it,” George growls, playfully, straining his hips against the air.
So Peter does.