When summer is over, winter becomes sad too, because opposites often admire each other secretly.-Mehmet Murat ildan
All opposites are so much each other that they are perfectly inseparable-Ken Wilber.
"Now be sincere; did you admire me for my impertinence?"
"For the liveliness of your mind, I did."-Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
What is this feeling so sudden and new?
I felt the moment I laid eyes on you!
My pulse is rushing
My head is reeling
My face is flushing
What is this feeling fervid as a flame?
Does it have a name?
Yes, loathing! Unadulterated loathing!
-What Is This Feeling?, Wicked!
"The fact that the Prime Minister refuses to answer the question just demonstrates how the leader of this country cannot even defend his own party's budget cuts-"
"Order! Order. Prime Minister?"
"What the Right Honourable Gentleman likes to ignore, Mr. Speaker, is the fact that it was his party's overspending that has made these cuts necessary. He has not once, in the past five years, presented us with a possible solution to these difficulties and I have to ask him, Mr. Speaker, why the Right Honourable Gentleman seems perfectly willing to provide many problems but ignore the fact that his party left us with only one solution."
"Order. Mr.Ed Miliband?"
"It's really quite unbelievable, Mr. Speaker, how the Prime Minister seems to forget that this is supposed to be the time when I ask the questions and he attempts to provide some answers-"
"Order. Quiet, quiet, order-"
"Though his primary tactic seems to be avoiding the questions put to him and focusing on the extraneous details-which is, coincidentally, the same tactic he uses when it comes to focusing on the top 1% and avoiding the issues of the poor whom he has a duty to assist."
"Order. Order. Order. Order. Prime Minister?"
"The same tired arguments he trots out again and again. And may I just ask, Mr. Speaker, of the man who claims to be in touch with the average members of the public, the struggles of the poor and the efforts of the working-class, on which floor of his five-storey house did he prepare that speech?"
"Order. Order. Calm down-order-order-"
It's not a prerequisite to hate the Leader of the Opposition and had anyone asked David Cameron, he would have vehemently denied feeling any such thing towards Miliband. But, facing him across the table, the various voices echoing around him, he has to admit, there's a certain vindictive edge to seeing Miliband speechless-even if, as David knows from bitter experience, it will only be temporary-that comes rather closer than he would like.
It's not a requirement to loathe the Prime Minister-and even at times like these, Ed Miliband has to admit to himself that loathe is a strong word-but there are definitely moments when you could come close.
Ed watches Cameron across the room, vaguely listening to the sheer chaos raging around them both-Bercow's shouts of "Order! Order!" are still being roundly ignored-and grits his teeth as he notices that familiar grin playing around Cameron's lips, as he takes his seat next to Osborne (who still appears to be helpless with laughter-nothing on Earth could be that amusing) and Ed fights with every inch of self-control he possesses to keep any hint of a smirk from his own mouth.
If anyone had asked Ed Miliband, he would have completely denied it, but he has to admit, there's a small part of him that's glad that Bercow intervened when he did. The last thing he needs is to have Cameron's joke be amusing and not even be able to come up with a good retort.
Even with the run-on of the discussion-it had taken a while before any call of "Order" had been heeded and even longer before relative peace had been restored to the room-David has to admit, he'd hoped that, after several meetings, today might have been one of the-exceedingly rare-afternoons on which he could leave a little earlier. Get home, see Sam, maybe get another hour or so with the children-the previous month has brought the start of the new school year and every time David takes a look at his children in their school uniforms he has to do a double-take because surely, they'd all been babies just five minutes earlier.
Suffice it to say that when Lynton requested "just a quick meeting" with him and George, it is not with the best of grace that he complies. It would have been with even less grace if he'd known what the topic of the meeting was going to be.
"We're not asking anyone to become best friends" says Lynton, reaching for a glass of whisky while David tries vainly to work out if he's misheard his advisor's previous words. "What we are asking for is, at the very least, a lack of open hostility."
David barely has time to blink before George, looking far more at ease with the situation than he should, jumps in. "If we look unprofessional, it just gives them the edge with the public."
Them. Us and Them. British politics, with the same logic as the feuds his children report being waged in the playground.
"I understand that" David manages, barely keeping the edge out of his voice. "What I don't understand is why it was so necessary to hear this information right now." When a five-year-old could figure it out, he adds silently.
Lynton and George exchange glances, so George misses the glare that David's reserved solely for him. George might have warned him what the topic of this meeting was going to be. He and Miliband aren't schoolchildren, after all.
"Well, it's not just a matter of winning an election." Lynton avoids David's eyes as he reaches again for the glass. David suppresses a groan at the danger sign-whatever comes out of Lynton's mouth next is not likely to be welcome.
"With all the-warnings from Bercow" Lynton says diplomatically and David grits his teeth at the memory of him, Miliband and Nick all standing awkwardly like a bunch of schoolboys to receive a lecture on "civilized debate for the edification of the general public" (all three of them had nodded along and duly promised to mend their ways. This had been followed by David hissing at Miliband in the corridor "If you could keep your attacks less personal, none of this would have happened", resulting in Miliband's retort "Cameron, it's almost amuth-sing that you accuse me of personal attacks" at which Nick had stepped in between them, a smirk twitching at his mouth and reminded them that it was probably going to be an awkward moment if Bercow stepped out of his office now. David had glared at him but deep down, there was a stab of gratitude for Nick's words and he told himself it was simply because the argument would have served little purpose and not because he was several seconds away from complete humiliation as-as George loved to hear from Nick over and over in subsequent weeks-David had apparently resorted to being a child again and his tongue had been darting out of his mouth at Miliband before Nick helpfully rammed an elbow into his ribs.)
"And, not to mention-" Lynton continues, stirring his drink thoughtfully. "The-well-tones displayed at some questions-on both sides-" he adds hurriedly, perhaps catching a glimpse of David's expression. "And particularly with all the-tension in the air, at the moment-" Another stir, Lynton's hand now moving as slowly as humanly possible. "Well, it would look better to everyone-the public, in particular-if we promote a-well, a better show of unity. A sense that whatever-disagreements may occur in the House of Commons, when it comes to Britain's interests, all of the party leaders-" Lynton gives David a long look over the rim of the glass. "Stand united."
David stares at him. "This might sound a bit slow" he says carefully. "But isn't that what we already do?"
George elbows him-David would love to elbow him back, but as the Prime Minister, should probably show a little more self-restraint and settles for giving his Chancellor the glare he deserves, the traitor. George, being George, completely ignores him.
"David." Lynton looks him straight in the eye. "That was a discussion in a meeting room about the potential for how one of you-and it had better fucking be you-will reduce spending cuts in the next Parliament. "
David tries to look untroubled. "I know."
Lynton doesn't look away. "Each of you turned up with half a dozen MPs, and they resorted to Bercow chairing the whole discussion simply to keep the peace."
George sniggers. David glares at him.
"Eventually, the meeting overran by fifteen minutes."
George sniggers harder.
"A member of the public would have mistaken that for a particularly rowdy Prime Minister's Questions-"
"I get the picture, Lynton."
Lynton sighs. "Well." The ice in his glass clinks as he takes yet another sip. David resists the urge to knock it out of his hand. "It will only be a show of solidarity, if that's all that can be managed. Just maybe-arriving at events together occasionally, looking a little less-antagonistic, generally, that sort of thing-"
David has to admit, that hardly sounds uncomfortable. Then again, with Nick, it isn't. Working in coalition is made far easier than it should be when you genuinely like the person you are working with. And Nick is easy to like-almost disconcertingly easy, for a politician.
But David already knows Nick isn't going to be the problem and he sighs. "Party leaders including Miliband."
George glances away as though waiting for a bomb to go off but David knows him too well and after a moment of waiting, hears him mutter "And there's that keen intellect that adds so much to your sense of diplomacy."
David rolls his eyes, and watches George's mouth lift in a smirk.
"Well, obviously" says Lynton warily, his eyes flickering to George's, a glance that tells David they discussed this before he arrived. He aims another glare at George.
"Fine" he says, if only to relish the way George's eyes widen at his words. "That's fine with me."
There's a moment of strained silence, during which Lynton's mouth opens and closes wordlessly. Davis watches him struggle for a moment, and then, glancing out the window at the dying sunlight, decides to take pity on them and himself.
"Look" he says, standing upright and Lynton and George automatically follow. "Whatever you think about the situation, I do not hate Miliband. I am perfectly happy spending time with him." He turns for the door and aims the rest over his shoulder. "We're able to separate disagreements from dislike. Unlike you, apparently." With that, he gives them a nod and walks out the door, ignoring George's disbelieving snort and only briefly pausing at his Chancellor's shouted reply. "Tell him about the tongue incident."
David is the Prime Minister and has many important things to do which is the only reason he grits his teeth and keeps walking, a little faster now.
Something which people may have more readily believed about Ed Miliband was that getting home is his favourite part of the day.
"Daddy." Sam is still small enough to scramble up into his father's arms-"Daddy" and he babbles into his father's shoulder as Ed carries him inside, letting the door fall closed behind him.
"Daddy, look" and Sam points at Daniel, who's already wrapping himself around his father's knees-"Daniel drew you a picture."
"Did he?" Ed tries his best to smile as he lowers his son to the floor, Sam's arms still wrapped tight around his neck. "Let's have a look."
Daniel likes to claim he's too big for hugs sometimes, but he still nestles into the crook of his father's arm as he solemnly shows him an array of carefully-inked stick figures. "That's you-" he points carefully at one stick figure that looks exactly like the rest of them except for the painstakingly coloured red tie. "And that's you winning lection," he finishes, smacking his lips and then carefully tucking the sheet of paper into his father's hands.
"Election." Ed plants a kiss on Daniel's forehead. "Not "lection". E-lection."
Daniel blinks up at his father. "Lection" he repeats uncertainly and Sam buries his face into his father's shoulder.
"He's five." Justine is already scooping Daniel up, with a swift kiss to his hair. "Let Daddy get through the door" she says, pressing a kiss to her husband's cheek and another to Sam's hair. Sam giggles and clings, monkey-like, as Ed carries him down the hallway.
"Come on" and he swings Sam up over his shoulder, holding out the other hand for Daniel. Sam giggles again and scrambles down, scrabbling for his brother's wrist as the two sprint for the TV screen where Scooby Doo is chasing a criminal strategically covered in a white sheet. It's rare Ed's early enough to see the programmes they watch-it will have been rarer still for Daniel and Sam to have arrived home to find their mother there, and not their nanny.
Justine puts a hand on his shoulder. "Are you sure you don't want me to come this weekend?" she asks, brushing a hand across the back of his neck. "We could always get a babysitter."
He shakes his head. "They need to spend time with you" he says, rather than I don't need you to babysit me.
It isn't any fault of Justine's; that she wants to protect all of them. In fact, it's one of the things Ed loves most about her. And if sometimes clients and cases come before making sure their bags are ready and favourite nightlights have been left on-well. Times have changed. And Justine had always been clear that she wanted the children-particularly if they had any daughters- to know they didn't have to put being a homemaker before having a career.
In the event, they had two sons, who are both often a little too well aware that women don't have to put being homemakers before having careers.
Ed agrees that she certainly seems happy; but then again, that doesn't change the fact that she seems to spend most of her time making sure everyone else is OK.
He covers her hand with his own. "Don't worry about me" he says, too softly for the boys to hear, and she closes her eyes, with a sigh which tells him his hunch was right.
"I can't help it" she says, leaning into him briefly. "It's just-some of the stuff they say-"
Ed fights back a wince. "I know."
"And it just-" She shakes her head. "It makes me so angry, and I always feel as though I should-"
"And that wouldn't help" he interjects quickly. "That-" He plants a quick kiss on her cheek. "Can't help. You just-I juth-just have to deal with it."
Deal with being called awkward. Deal with being called nervous and weak-willed and gawky. And dealing with it alone isn't new-he's faced it all before, when he was a lot younger and shyer than he is now, and he's fairly confident he can get through whatever they say again. The one benefit of going through something your whole life is that you acclimatize-so much so that it almost feels natural, comfortable, like a jacket you hate but just can't be bothered to throw away.
The TV no longer being occupied, Ed grabs the remote and flips through the channels until he comes to the one showing Cameron's face and groans.
"Go away" he mutters childishly, coaxing a grin from Justine. He winces as he watches a replay of their earlier debate and the smile disappears.
"They don't say those things about him" she says, with a sympathetic squeeze to her husband's shoulders. "It's just bias, isn't it?"
Ed forces a smile to his face. "Of course they don't say those things about him" he says, with an effort to keep his tone light. "That's my job."
That earns him a small tap to the top of the head but at least he's got her to smile again, and so he turns back to the screen to watch Cameron. Justine moves to referee a small fight that has broken out between their two sons and Ed takes the opportunity to study Cameron's face, a part of him already impatient to open his own mouth, ready to spit out a retort.
He watches as Bercow's head bobs back and forth-a replay of PMQs from a while back-and his eyes settle on Cameron's usual smirk as their eyes meet across the despatch box. But there's something else too-something almost teasing in the expression. He feels his own brow furrow at the look-it could almost be friendly, but at the same time, something about it reminds him of when he first walked into Tony Benn's office, shy and nervous and seen every colleague exchange glances the second they thought he wasn't looking, and he'd known what they thought of him before they said a single word. Young. Spoilt. Naive. Like a clever child who knows it's done something rather admirable and is a little too proud of it.
Something about Cameron's expression makes Ed wonder just how many hours are left until the next time they can face each other across the Commons. Five-storey house is still ringing in the back of his head and he bites his lip, furious at having to smother the impulse to laugh.
The sound of one of his sons tormenting the other, over Justine's vehement condemnations, pulls him from his thoughts and he turns to see Sam raising a toy truck ominously over his brother's shoulder. "Tha-" He catches the sound just in time, swallowing hard. "Sam" he says, when the word's clear in his mouth and he catches sight of his son's hand rising again. "Play nicely with your big brother."
He winces the second the words are out of his mouth but thankfully, Sam is three and too interested in trucks and Scooby Doo to pick up on it. Instead, he somewhat sulkily drops the truck, turns away from the screen (Daddy on the TV has long ceased to be interesting to Sam and Daniel) and Ed watches as he turns back to his brother. The two of them sink together into another game, the argument already forgotten, two little boys, too little to understand an argument bigger than trucks or TV or a world any wider than the toys spread out around them.
David can no longer recite wedding vows from memory-a fact Sam never fails to remind him of-but he's fairly sure there's got to be a clause that states one's spouse should be sympathetic to the ordeal of having to survive an hour-long journey with the person currently trying to steal one's job.
Instead, Samantha has chosen to completely disregard this clause by bursting into hysterical laughter.
"It's not funny" David tells her, trying to peer sternly over his glasses and only succeeding in letting them slip down his nose, "I have to spend two bloody hours, there and back, in a car, with Miliband. There's a good chance one of us isn't going to make it out alive."
Sam, taking a deep breath, manages to control herself long enough to say "Nick will be there. And George."
David has to grudgingly agree. "That still doesn't make Miliband any easier to tolerate" he grumbles, knowing he sounds like a child and hating himself for it. "And it's not going to look good for either of us if we can't go through a few hours without chomping at each other's throats. I told you what Lynton said-I bet this is his bloody idea-" David had been preparing for an early night when he got the call to say his advisers thought it would give "the right impression" if he, Nick and Miliband travelled together, and if he'd been expecting sympathy from George, he could have thought again. (Unless sympathy was routinely expressed as raucous laughter.)
Sam raises an eyebrow. "Don't let any reporters hear you mentioning throats. You'll make Nick jealous."
David displays the expected dignity of any Prime Minister by aiming a pillow at his wife's shoulder.
"Seriously" Sam manages, after several minutes of muffled and extremely dignified pillow fighting. "What happened to not hating Miliband?" She straightens her pillow, smoothing her hair with one hand. "I mean, you always tell anyone who asks that the two of you have nothing personal against each other."
"It's true." It's close enough to the truth that David doesn't feel guilty about saying it.
Sam sighs, leaning over to pick up her novel. "Well, whenever I've seen him" she says, leafing through the pages, the conversation apparently at an end. "He's seemed pleasant enough.
David snorts. If by "pleasant" Sam means "aggravating, smug, complete socialist twit" then she's nailed Ed Miliband right on the head.
But, staring at his own book, he has to admit that hatred isn't quite what he feels-not the right word, anyway. Something about the way Miliband's eyebrow arches whenever their gazes lock over the chamber, the way his jaw tenses whenever David's words strike home, just seems to spur David on harder, throwing more and more jibes across the room until he can goad Miliband into spitting out his own taunts. From the very first time Miliband had appeared across from him, thanking him in that painfully polite speech, the lisp that David was already familiar with from their first phone conversations prominent (that is one thing David's never thrown at him, no matter how heated their exchanges have become-he's not that cruel), something in every round of questions has David simultaneously wanting to burst out laughing and at the same moment, strongly consider just leaping across the House to throttle him.
And yet on those occasions he's seen Miliband outside work-when they bump into each other at any dinners or when David, at Samantha's insistence, has carried round gifts for Ed's newborn son, for example-he's found himself noting little things- the way that Miliband never quite knows what to do with his hands, the way his mouth seems to run away with him, the lisp becoming more and more pronounced with each word-that jab at something else, some smothered impulse. There's something almost irritatingly awkward about the whole thing.
David shakes his head. It's late and he's too tired to think about it. All he can do is hope he and Miliband can get through the few hours on Saturday without creating any headlines.
"So, how long do you think you and Miliband will last before a headless corpse ends up involved?"
George sniggers as David gives Nick what's supposed to be a glare but probably (annoyingly) comes out as more of a pained smirk.
"It's not funny" he manages, even as his traitorous mouth twitches.
"Well, actually, it is" George says, with the air of one commenting on the weather. "The question is, whose head will it be?"
"No one's head is going to be rolling" David tries his best to sound stern as Nick and George exchange grins like a couple of kids. "We are perfectly capable of getting along for one afternoon."
"Of course." Nick pats David's arm, which would have been a rather reassuring gesture, if it hadn't been followed by Nick clapping his shoulder, then turning to George and muttering "£50 says they last two hours before we have to break them up."
George snorts. "£60 says they don't make the entire car journey."
David grits his teeth as both Nick and George burst out laughing. He might be the Prime Minister but this is one of those moments when he would dearly love to kick the pair of them. Instead, catching sight of the chauffeur-driven car pulling up outside Downing Street, he's forced to content himself with hissing through clenched teeth "If the two of you could just shut up-"
"Temper, Prime Minister-"
David has to work hard to resist the urge to stamp on George's foot. "There is not going to be a fight" he mutters (again, through gritted teeth-speeches in front of cameras are very good practice for talking through gritted teeth.) "There is not going to be any awkwardness. There are not going to be any problems."
George nods (and grins.) Nick pats his shoulder (and smirks.) And the car pulls up.
David tries for a relaxed smile as Miliband climbs out of the vehicle. Just an afternoon, he reminds himself. Just an afternoon. It's just Miliband. One afternoon. Just no glaring, no laughing, no-
Miliband stumbles over his own feet. George snorts, which he quickly turns into a coughing fit as Nick steps forward to save the moment.
"Good journey?" he asks, giving that typical Nick-smile, open, friendly, eyes wide. Maybe, just maybe, they can get through the day without a catastrophe.
Miliband nods, his head bobbing in that awkward little movement, and gabbles something about it being fine, and David can hear the lisp in his voice, and George sniggers. David stamps on his foot and is reminded right there how easily this day could fall apart.
There's a long, awkward silence which is punctuated by George sniggering again and David's voice is louder than he intended when he suggests that isn't it time George got into his own car, as he wouldn't want to keep his driver waiting, would he?
George departs with a sardonic wave and a grin and David watches Miliband chew at his lip nervously and wonders for the umpteenth time, how this is the same man who hurls insults at him across the despatch box, week after week.
"Shall we get in the car then?" is how Nick chooses to break the tension and David has never been more grateful for a Deputy Prime Minister than he is at this moment.
Nick scrambles in first, followed by Miliband and then David. There's a brief moment in which David contemplates leaping out of the door but then the car's moving, pulling away from the curb and David has the horrible feeling that he's being driven to his own execution.
It's not until they reach the motorway that either he or Miliband is required to speak-Nick does a good job of chatting away about mundane details, so that the only answers required are nods and vague "Mm" sounds of agreement.
It's unfortunate that the first words David thinks of when he looks at Miliband are "I bet that phone lasts five minutes" as Miliband stares at it with his head tilted to the side like a scientist studying some rare specimen. David has some restraint, though, and manages instead to say simply "Problem?" He thinks he sees Nick tense out of the corner of his eye but when he glances at his Deputy Prime Minister, Nick is staring out of the window as if there is truly nothing more fascinating in the world than the bale of hay he is currently staring at.
Miliband shakes his head and stares down at the Blackberry like a confused puppy. "I don't seem to be particularly skilled with tho-social media" he forces out, in that nasally little voice David hears so often these days, it sometimes ends up in his nightmares. He watches Nick bite his lip and continue to stare studiously out of the window. David glares at the back of his head. If Nick starts laughing, they're done for. Being painfully sincere can be a weakness at times.
Miliband's dark eyes flicker up from under those long eyelashes and for a moment, he looks directly into David's eyes. Something of David's amusement must show in his own face because Miliband's lips purse, the same way they do when David knows one of his insults has hit home, and as Miliband's eyes drop back to the phone, David catches the words "I suppose you'd just add an LOL to the end."
Nick's shoulders jerk and David watches him shove a hand over his mouth as he shakes with silent laughter. David waits until Miliband has dropped his eyes back to the phone before he mutters "I suppose your predecessor would tell you to just throw it at somebody."
Miliband's eyebrow arches and those dark eyes narrow. "I suppose the last time your predecessors were in power was the Eighties."
"If my predecessors were so terrible, why didn't your party sort it out in thirteen whole years?"
"Apparently, you're still confused about the difference between questions and answers."
"Apparently, you still struggle with the concept of forming a coherent question."
They're interrupted by a short burst of laughter. Their heads both turn at once to see Nick, one hand over his mouth, spluttering into his palm. Miliband's shoulder brushes David's as Nick waves a hand. "Sorry. Just wondering if I've got my wallet on me...."
David glowers at him while Miliband merely looks confused. Then again, that's a fairly usual expression for Miliband. David watches as he opens his mouth again, then closes it, clearly having lost his train of thought.
"Now, that-" David points at Miliband's mouth, his finger almost brushing Miliband's chin. "Is the usual sound of your arguments. They might as well be complete silence, for all the good they do-"
"And that-" Miliband jabs his finger right back and almost catches David's eye. "Is exactly the sort of weak-minded insults that people have come to expect from you in the place of an actual argument."
David can feel himself falling into it, the rapid beat of his heart, the tight laughter in his chest as he watches Miliband's arguments falter in the air. The only thing missing is the tide of voices usually filling the House, battling on both sides to be heard. Here, there's no voices and no Bercow to tell them when everything's going too far-just a pop song playing on the radio that Nancy's obsessed with, blasting out a sound that David can only describe as irritatingly cheerful. He can see every inch of Miliband's face, the bruised shadows under his eyes, the way his lips almost quiver whenever that lisping sound returns to his voice. It's disconcerting, to say the least.
"If you want to go on about weak-minded, why don't you look back at the last few suggestions you've made-"
"Because looking at yours' would give me a better definition."
David might be Prime Minister, but right at this moment, he finds himself seized with the sudden urge to grab Miliband by the collar and shake him.
"If you really want a definition of weak-minded-" David's surprised to find himself grinning rather than scowling or speaking through gritted teeth. "Why don't you look in the mirror?" He half spits the words, that aching grin still in place.
Miliband's lip curls. "I didn't know you'd resorted to playground insults, Cameron."
Their legs are pressed together now and he can almost feel Miliband's shoulders rising and falling with each gulp of air. He stares back, trying to look as if he couldn't care less what Miliband comes out with next, while wondering if he should sit on his own hands so he doesn't throttle him.
"Well, it's not as if you couldn't learn from the typical occupants of playgrounds. I'd wager they can all make an attempt at eating sandwiches correctly."
Not his best line, David realises the moment it's out of his mouth. Miliband's eyes flicker for a moment and something about the uncertainty there is so raw that David almost wants to look away. Nick glares at him over Miliband's shoulder and David wants to shake him-as if they haven't said worse things to each other plenty of times before.
But Miliband rallies almost instantly, folding his hands together and fixing David with that raised eyebrow, the same way that always riles David, always makes him forget all of the years of learning, debating, campaigning and takes him right back to the schoolboy impulse to reach out and wipe that smug look off Miliband's stupid face.
"That just tells me you're loth-sing the argument." Miliband settles back in his seat and David finds himself fighting back the truly mean urge to point out it's "losing" not "lo-thing." As it is, he manages to content himself with saying "Well, that's familiar territory for you-"
There's a snort from the other side of the car and both David and Miliband turn to stare at Nick, who's wiped any hint of a smirk from his face and is now staring at them both, the picture of innocence.
"What is it?" asks David, a jab of irritation at the argument being interrupted spiking up sharply in his chest.
Nick stares at them both for a long moment, his face inscrutable, and then abruptly turns away. "Nothing, nothing" and he fixes his gaze on the passing scenery, as if nothing in the world has ever been so interesting as the cow currently chomping nonchalantly away in a field.
"Good-" David turns back to Miliband, who's already got that eyebrow arched again, ready to continue.
Nick's voice is soft, musing in the background. "Just thinking, I might owe George more than £60.."
It's a relief when all three of them can scramble out of the car, pose quickly for a few pictures with fixed smiles, and then go their separate directions. David watches Miliband walk away, that awkward, bobbing little stance making David roll his eyes, even as Nick yanks out his wallet, muttering something about "Osborne would have to be the Chancellor, wouldn't he?"
David shakes his head. "You can say it" he tells his deputy, who's now smirking at him. "We didn't make the journey."
"You were never going to" says Nick fairly, with a grin. "You and Miliband see everything the same way you see each Wednesday lunchtime, though."
David stares at him. "And what do you mean by that?"
Nick shrugs, that placating grin still hovering at his mouth. "Each Prime Minister's Questions, you can't stop throwing insults at each other. Like watching two kids in the playground."
"It's not personal." David will listen to a lot of insults but being told that he sees Miliband as his schoolyard enemy is another matter. "I don't have anything against him. We just-"
He searches for a word. "Disagree" he finishes, rather pathetically, as he avoids Nick's grin. "It doesn't mean we hate each other."
"I didn't say you did." Nick puts on a smile as they catch sight of another MP heading towards them. "Just that you can't say it's not personal even if you don't hate him."
David frowns and opens his mouth but Nick's already greeting the MP with a friendly smile, a hand on the arm and the moment to demand an explanation is forgotten.
A couple of hours later, David's ready to leave. There's a limit to how much smiling politely even he can take and while it would be all manner of irresponsible to neglect his duties, he can't help but remember that this is the third Saturday afternoon in a row that Nancy has fixed him with her big eyes as she begged him to "help me with my homework, please, Daddy." The reproachful glance she gave him this morning when he redirected her to her mother is still weighing on his mind and with election campaigns beginning in earnest soon, he's keen to spend as much time as he can with the kids before then.
He waits until enough people have left so as not to appear rude and then Nick pats his arm and marches off to inform their driver. And it's then, with George descending hysterically into laughter once again, that David grits his teeth and sets off to find Miliband.
Of course, it would be him dispatched to find Miliband. David has to reflect, as he makes his way through the crowd, that considering the amount of staff that have been suggested to him over the years, there is currently no position entitled "Finder-Of-The-Aggravating-Leader-Of-The-Opposition" in existence yet.
He doesn't want to end up texting Miliband but following Nick's well-intentioned but helpful advice ("He'll be here somewhere") and George's less well-intentioned, less helpful advice ("Follow the trail of smashed crockery!"), he's forced to the conclusion that there's nothing else for it. He pulls out his phone and flips through the contacts until he reaches Miliband's number, and stares at it for another long, reluctant moment before he opens the message.
He swallows and stares at the phone, feeling the same way he did as a teenager trying to pluck up the courage to dial his girlfriend's phone number to ask if she'd consider seeing him again. Which is a little disconcerting, given who he's contacting.
Eventually, he settles on: Need to find you. Leaving soon. Where are you?
He shoves the phone back in his pocket and waits. It's then that he catches the name "Miliband" somewhere in the conversation behind him and he snatches at the sound, turning round to focus on whoever's just spoken.
He's not entirely sure which MP it is-the man's middle-aged, grey-haired and a Tory-but a handy part of being the Prime Minister is rarely having to introduce himself and after exchanging pleasantries for a few moments, David manages to chip in "Listen, have you seen our Leader of the Opposition anywhere?"
This prompts a snort of laughter and the MP says "Isn't there a trail of tea to follow?"
David's about to ask if he's been speaking to George-Miliband might be annoying, but that tea-spilling incident was nearly five years ago-and then the MP says "He only did it again, didn't he?"
David fights back a smirk and at the same time hopes that the tea-spilling wasn't in front of the man currently standing in front of him. Somehow, he can't imagine the MP providing any comfort.
Then, he realises he's thinking about Miliband's feelings and he tells himself it's just because he doesn't want it to affect the ride home.
The MP's still laughing. "He went off that way" he tells David, when he can speak again from the hilarity of Miliband spilling a hot beverage. "Pity he can't clean up his arguments as easily. They're all about the same mess, after all-"
David watches the man take another gulp of whisky, let a napkin dangle over his arm that he clearly doesn't need. It occurs to David that if the MP had just given the napkin to Miliband, then Miliband wouldn't have had to disappear and they could have been in the car by now.
"That's a little unfair, don't you think?" he says, struggling to keep his tone light. "To take it as a reflection of his intellectual reasoning."
The MP blinks. "Well, let's be frank-" he says, clearly struggling to work out why the Prime Minister is defending the Leader of the Opposition. David doesn't blame him. He's trying to work that out himself.
"He's challenging you in a few months. Though, it's not as if his policies will be in any kind of shape by then-"
David's had enough. He's had a whole day of being goaded about his dealings with Miliband and he's spent most of it insisting that he has nothing personal against the man. Now, he finds himself struggling to get away from someone who seems to think that not only is David unable to handle a little competition but that he's completely willing to merrily jump on the bandwagon as soon as someone else starts insulting his rival. This, added to the fact that it's hot, he's tired, his phone's buzzing, and what's more, he still has absolutely no idea where Miliband is.
"I don't think drinking tea correctly is an important part of being the Prime Minister" he says, his voice a little louder than usual. "Just because his arguments may be flawed doesn't mean they're a mess or that he lacks the intellect to volunteer some good ideas on occasion."
There's a long silence and David takes in the wide-eyed stares of the three faces in front of him. Fleetingly, he wonders if it's really been that long since anyone disagreed with him and then he remembers that a) he's the Prime Minister, b) he's a Prime Minister who's just almost shouted at the members of his own party and c) that they're not staring at him but rather, at something behind him.
David grits his teeth before he turns around, but he can already take a pretty shrewd guess who's standing there.
Of course it's Miliband. It would be Miliband. David stares at him, opens his mouth, then closes it again.
Miliband is staring at him, his shirt clearly damp, his mouth open-God, why does he have to just stand there, looking so gormless?-blinking at David, as if still trying to work out what he's just said.
David closes his eyes and takes a deep breath, before muttering an excuse to the MPs and then jerks his head at Miliband. "The driver's waiting" he says abruptly and heads off, Miliband following him, still dabbing at his shirt with a napkin, shooting confused looks at David from under his long lashes.
David's aware that it hardly looks professional, expecting Miliband to tag along after him like a dog, so he slows his pace and glances up to see Miliband staring at him, head tilted to the side.
"What?" he says, because Miliband is looking him in a way that could almost be described as grateful. His eyes are narrowed and he's staring at David as though he's a rather puzzling maths problem.
"Nothing" and Miliband's eyes dart to David's and then away again. "Just-um-nothing." He fidgets with the end of his tie and David sighs, eyes roaming again over the stains on Miliband's shirt.
He grabs the napkin which Miliband is still ineffectually dabbing away with. "Here" he says and he scrubs at the material more vigorously (having children is astonishing training for cleaning up messes.)
Miliband blinks at him again-why does he always have to look like a puppy that's been kicked the second anything goes wrong?-and David stuffs the napkin into his pocket, the shirt marginally improved.
"Come on" he says and Miliband opens his mouth and then shuts it again. "I sent you a text" David tells him and he resists the urge to tug Miliband along by the sleeve.
"Was there an LOL on the end?"
David glares at him. "No" he says. "I'd given up on texting you, I was just going to find the group of people who looked as though they'd fallen asleep."
Miliband glares back and mercifully, they've reached the car. David yanks the door open and Nick, who's already sitting inside, looks up immediately, letting his eyes roam nervously over David and Miliband.
"Everything...OK?" he asks hesitantly and Miliband and David both say "Fine" at the same moment, prompting another glare between them.
"Well-" David reaches for his seatbelt. "It would be easier if Miliband could answer his phone."
"Well, we all know you're accustomed to mobile phones-"
"Well, we all know you're accustomed to needing help clearing up."
Miliband flushes. Nick raises an eyebrow. "Well, I appreciate the honesty" he says, pulling his own seatbelt on. "It would have been really disappointing if you'd lied."
David hopes that Miliband will remain silent for the journey home-or at least, remember who just put himself out defending him to his own party-but of course, Miliband doesn't oblige.
Or rather he does, technically. But he finds a way round it. Typical bloody Miliband.
David doesn't pay any attention when the Blackberry comes out until his own buzzes and he finds himself looking at a message from Ed Miliband.
You found me. Congratulations. Thank you for not including an LOL.
David narrows his eyes and taps a message back:
Not through choice. And LOL is not a sentiment you inspire in your own party, let alone in me.
Nick's talking away next to Miliband. "It was quite enjoyable, overall. I mean, it wasn't a complete waste of an afternoon-"
David' s phone buzzes again.
Well, you have a history of not following through on decisions. And regarding lack of sentiment, you must speak from experience.
David rolls his eyes. Trust Miliband to be so pedantic even in text-message insults.
At least, I make decisions for my party.
Nick's still chatting away next to the two of them. "Anyway, obviously you're not listening, so you completely missed me walking around with a flower pot on my head-"
David nods vaguely, still focused on the message that's just come through.
True. Of course, not the decisions you promise to make, but I suppose anything's progress.
Well, one of us has to be. Some of us have progressed beyond requiring a bib.
Some of us have progressed beyond hiring criminals.
David's fingers are now moving so fast it almost hurts. Nick is still musing away next to him: "And then I tied Bercow naked to the fountain and left him there-"
Some of us aren't so insecure we have to bring up every single insult of the past. Especially ones that aren't accurate.
It's good for the country that you're becoming familiar with the concept of truth.
It's not hard to be more familiar with it than you.
"And then I stripped off my suit, put my boxers on my head, and I swear, if the two of you don't stop texting each other, I will throw both of your phones out of the window."
David looks up from his phone. "What?"
Nick throws up his hands. David's phone buzzes again.
Is this the same man who broke every promise he ever made about the NHS?
Is this the same man who chooses to avoid listening to every answer I give him each Wednesday?
There's a sudden movement, a seatbelt unbuckling, and the next thing David knows, his phone is being wrenched out of his hand. He and Miliband both turn to stare at Nick, who is now holding their phones, one in each hand. "Once more and you're both walking home."
Miliband stares at him and mutters something about "both outrank you, anyway."
"You don't, actually" says Nick serenely, handing their phones back. "Get your argument straight."
A tense silence ensures, during which Nick stares out of the window and David glares at his knees. Miliband stares back at his phone, probably Googling "Ways To Look Less Like Wallace: The Thirteenth Edition." David lets the silence drag out a few more moments, before he says "Well, Labour know all about weak arguments."
"We learnt it from the Conservatives."
There's a soft, thudding sound and they both turn to see Nick, who has apparently given up on settling conflicts through reasoned debate and has now taken the alternative approach of throwing his head back and forth against the passenger seat.
The rest of the journey back to Downing Street is a fairly quiet one, with Nick leaving them with the remark "Just to ward off annoying press speculation, try to both survive the trip, would you?"
As the car draws up outside Downing Street, David has time to reflect on the bitter irony that after dreading the idea of a whole day spent with Miliband, the parts that he'd enjoyed the most had been arguing with the man.
David blinks. Debating, he tries to reassure himself. Arguing is merely petty. Debating is...professional.
He scrolls back through the messages as he climbs out of the car. Maybe a shade less professional than was expected. OK-maybe a hint of personal-perhaps a touch of petty-
Turning around, David blinks at the sight of Miliband scrambling out of the car. He stares at him as the other man avoids his gaze, chewing a little at the corner of his lip. He's about to make a joke about Miliband not hanging the curtains quite yet, but the words die away in his mouth as he watches Miliband, realising he's never seen the other man look quite this uncomfortable. For a second, he has the mad thought that Miliband's followed him out of the car simply to continue the argument, that he'll keep them both pinned to the pavement debating the point forever, until either someone wins, or they both drop dead of exhaustion.
Miliband is still steadfastly avoiding his gaze. "I just-wanted to thank you." The words come out in a rush and David blinks. Miliband's still looking at him and the words tumble out. "I-didn't get a chance to and I just wanted to th-say-thank you for-you-" The lisp is becoming more pronounced with each word and David almost winces for him. Miliband, who seems to relish yelling his opinions at him from across the despatch box each week, now seems to be fumbling over the right way to get out a "Thank you." It would be ironic, if it weren't for the fact that neither of them can meet the other's eye.
"Well-um-that's-that's-fine" David eventually (pathetically) manages. (Fine? He couldn't come up with something better than fine?) He scrabbles for something else to say. "I mean-I don't agree with them. You know. Just because they were-just because we have our-well, you know. I don't share their opinions" he finishes, feeling more awkward than ever. Miliband's shuffling from foot to foot now and the silence stretches out. Miliband's still chewing at his lip and David's seized with the sudden urge to tell him to stop.
"Well-um-" Miliband reaches out and gives David perhaps the most awkward pat on the arm he's ever received. He feels himself flush scarlet as Miliband yanks his hand back as if he's been burnt and scrambles back into the car. "Have a good night" Miliband manages, before he reaches out and pulls the door shut, leaving David to return his awkward wave as the car drives off. He stares after the car disappearing into the early Saturday evening, before slowly mounting the steps of Downing Street.
It's as he steps inside, with a smile at his security, that his phone buzzes. Climbing the stairs to the upstairs flat, he squints at the screen.
Yes, I meant it, in case you were wondering.
Reading the message, David can't help but grin. He hesitates, then taps out a reply.
You're welcome. I shouldn't have told Nick. That was wrong of me. He struggles before he makes himself type the word Sorry but reminds himself Miliband, whatever his faults, was gracious enough to thank him. The least he can do is offer a genuine apology.
The reply comes through a moment later and any feelings of regret disappear immediately.
I believe hell just froze over. The Prime Minister offers a genuine apology.
David shakes his head at the phone, fighting back laughter, as he types back a message.
Well, you would know all about apologies. Probably gets tiring having to make so many.
Another reply, seconds later.
We actually attempt to take our apologies seriously.
It must be a daily necessity. It's a hazard of constantly getting things wrong.
You would know. It must be familiar territory.
David laughs out loud as he takes off his jacket and types out another reply.
Well, thank goodness we have you to guide us through that territory. After all, you took up permanent residence there some time ago.
David sends the message and shakes his head again. He waits for the reply he knows is coming, his fingers already hovering to continue this new debate and to his surprise, when he catches sight of himself in the mirror, he's smiling harder than he has all day.
Chapter One-The Arts Of Car Journeying, Tea Spilling and Phone Rescuing (Or, How To Survive An Afternoon Without Making Headlines)-Playlist
I Screw Everything Up 2-Julian Emery/Alex Davies/Jeremy Wheatley
Company Calls-Death Cab for Cutie
A Hard Day's Night-The Beatles
Different Colours-Walk The Moon (this is the song playing in the car, if you want to know)
I Didn't Mean It-The Belle Brigade