He was too entranced by Natalie to notice the curtains parting, or even the spotlight that had made its way over to them. It was actually the silence that got his attention, the sharp intake of a hundred breaths and the shocked lack of singing that followed. He liked to think he recovered quickly, balancing good-humored embarrassment at being caught out with bold ease that projected a wholesome, "nothing to be ashamed of" vibe. As he coached Natalie through the unexpected photo op, though, his brain was screaming one thing only: Malcolm!
He thought his testicles might finally have regrown themselves after the thorough bollocking he'd received three weeks ago. Despite being thought a hero by the entirety of the British Isles, Malcolm had not been impressed with his press conference stunt. He'd actually had Malcolm and Jamie in stereo on that one, a punishment, he'd learned later, reserved only for the cockiest of cock-ups.
"Did you just fucking declare war on the fucking United States?"
"No! No, I merely, erm…"
"You merely called the President a fucking bully, in front of the entire fucking press corps! You merely lumped Harry Potter in with fucking Shakespeare and fucking David Beckham with Winston fucking Churchill! Did you think it sounded cool? You'd have needed a swelling orchestral score to make it sound fucking cool, and fucking inspiring. What you sounded like was a snot-nosed anorak cunt who's seen one too many BBC specials, just before he gets his fucking face smashed in and his own cock ripped off and stuffed down his fucking throat. 'Bullies only respond to strength'? Christ alive, we'll be invaded in a week."
"Where the fuck did this come from, anyway? Yesterday you were happy as a knob in a twat factory keeping to the line. You swallowed what the President gave you to swallow and said, 'Please, sir, may I have some more?' What the fuck happened, Oliver Twat?"
"N-nothing happened, I just, I didn't, it all got—"
"You haven't got a wife he could have shagged. Did he try to shag you? Did he shag you, and then you woke up this morning with a hangover and a bellyful of regret? He's too rough a lover, is that what that business about 'taking what he wants and casually ignoring all the things that really matter to, erm, Britain' is all about?"
"That is, that is really quite uncalled—"
"No, it's quite called for. Punching you in the balls would be called for. Shoving my fist up your arse like a fucking muppet so you would say the things I need you to say would be called for. You know what's uncalled for? Fucking poking a fucking dragon in the fucking eye! Draco dormiens nunquam fucking titillandus, right?"
It had gone on like that for a while, but he had borne it manfully and thought that would be the end of it. Until the next day, when Malcolm had burst into his office, eyes blazing under those…those…attack eyebrows.
"Why've you fired your PA? Were you shagging her?"
"Wh-what? No! I, she, just—"
"Don't tell me she was incompetent, because I've had a chocolate biscuit every time I've been in this office."
"She, er, she, er, she just—"
"The papers are going to say you were shagging her and it went sour."
"Papers? Why would the papers care? How would they find out?"
"Are you fucking serious? I know you're improbably youthful for this job, but you have been in politics longer than five fucking minutes. A fucking baby with a fucking IQ of twenty knows this. How d'you think I found out? People. Fucking. Talk."
"I've made some very minor changes to a very minor staff position. It's not newsworthy."
"Excuse me, have you ever heard of a certain Ms. Monica Lewinsky? She was in a 'very minor staff position,' I believe. And a few fucking other positions. You are fucking newsworthy, sex is fucking newsworthy, and any whiff the press gets that the two might coincide is double fucking newsworthy."
"Well, they don't coincide. It's just me and, and, and the bloody Iron Lady here—oh, God, don't tell anyone I said that."
"No fucking worries there, mate."
The glow of having Natalie by his side in the limo, holding his hand, was tempered somewhat by the fact that they were driving to Number 10 rather than going out to the local Natalie had suggested. He was starving, and he would have preferred to have a pint or three before dealing with Malcolm as well. But his mobile had gone off before they'd even left the stage and Gavin had hustled them efficiently into the car before the audience had recovered enough to start chasing them.
He watched her, staring out the window, biting her lip slightly as she fought a smile. God, she was gorgeous. And Malcolm likes her, he thought desperately. He wished he wasn't thinking of Malcolm right now, in this quiet and intimate moment they were sharing before the inevitable frantic shouting and subsequent media storm took over their lives. He wondered briefly if Malcolm would haunt their entire relationship; would he be thinking of the shouty Scot the first time they shagged? He closed his eyes in horror, feeling sick.
They flew open again as Natalie's warm lips met his and he couldn't help smiling, despite knowing exactly what was about to meet them. She was worth it.
"She better be fucking worth it, you cunt," Malcolm growled. "Christmas fucking Eve!"
"Yes, I am quite sorry to drag you in here—" David began, trying to calm the storm.
"You didn't drag me anywhere, Boy Fucking Wonder. I fucking teleported here because my spinny-senses were tingling as soon as you called for an unscheduled car on Christmas Eve."
"How do you even—"
"Can you see the fucking headlines? Can you? Let me help: 'Prime Minister Upstages Baby Jesus.' 'PM Sneaks Shag at Primary School.' 'PM Can't Stand to See American Child Succeed, Sabotages Her Performance.' And let's not forget the bottomless sea of Christmas puns that can be mined! 'Egg-snog,' 'Christmas smacker,' et-fucking-cetera."
"'Ho Ho Ho, What a Show'?" David suggested musingly.
"You told me you weren't shagging her!" Malcolm shouted, quite suddenly, then quietened dangerously. "You fucking lied to me."
"No, I did not!" David protested. "Nothing happened before tonight, nothing! That's why I fucking fired her, all right? It was getting…awkward."
Malcolm was staring at him as if he could see straight into his brain. Maybe he could.
"That was a shit thing to do," he commented finally.
"Quite," David agreed. "Easily fixed, though. We hadn't even got a replacement yet, so she can just come back—"
"Are you completely fucking mental?" Malcolm interrupted irritably. "She cannot work for this government in any capacity now, especially not as your fucking PA. That's fucking nepotism, that is."
David was speechless. Malcolm was, of course, as always, right. Why hadn't he thought of that?
"I hope you're prepared to go the long fucking haul on this, too," Malcolm continued. "We can salvage this as your fucking coming-out party, but I will not do a desperate, lonely Christmas bum-cuddle with a former employee."
"So you're saying I'm not allowed to ditch her."
"Correct, Captain Cockring," Malcolm smiled viciously.
"Well, that's fine then, because I have no desire to."
"Good. All right, this is the line then: You went to see your sister's ankle biters in their school play. Family fucking values, always plays well. While there—not before, because you were in no way seeking out a woman twenty years your fucking junior—you ran into your former PA, dismissed for perfectly legitimate reasons that I will fucking manufacture for you, you cowardly cunt. Nothing too damaging, because she is a lovely young lady, but something that plays a little fucking better than "She made my trousers tight." You struck up conversation, one thing led to another, a little snog behind a curtain—whoopsie-fucking-daisy, but you're very happy now, forever and fucking ever, amen."
"Right," David nodded slowly. "There may be a small problem with that…"
"Oh yes? Please enlighten me, Nodding Hill, as to the 'small problem' in my professionally constructed scenario. I've only been at this job for fifteen fucking years, yeah?"
David dreaded having to say this. "I, er, knocked on the doors of about a hundred people on Harris Street asking for Natalie this evening."
"Two calling cunts and a cuntridge in a cunt tree!" Malcolm swore impressively. "Why couldn't you have looked up her fucking employee record? Or directory fucking enquiries? Do you think you live in a Richard Curtis film? That's not fucking romantic; it's tedious and stupid!"
"I'm sorry, Malcolm, I wasn't exactly thinking of the optics—"
"You're a politician! It is your job to be thinking of the optics at all fucking times! And if you're not, then you better have me by your fucking side doing the thinking for you. Do I need to assign Jamie to follow you about 24/7 and remind you of the optics?"
"No!" David blurted, a little too quickly.
Malcolm grinned. "Right. I'll draft a statement for you apologizing to the kiddies for stealing their show and being a right wanker. You can deliver it tomorrow, right before the Queen's Speech. Oh, and one more thing: No fucking sleepovers."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Any shagging will need to be done on the fucking sly, right? She is never to be seen arriving to this building at night, or leaving it in the morning. You do not book a hotel room under the name Edward Ferrars or Mr. Fucking Darcy. You let Annie know when and where and she will make the arrangements and inform me so that I can be prepared for when they inevitably fucking leak. In a year or so, you can marry her and we can move on. But until then—no fucking sleepovers." Malcolm punctuated this point with an ominous stab of his bony finger quite near David's face.
"I…" David was about to protest, but Malcolm's eyes were stone. "I understand."
"You're smarter than the average bear," Malcolm acknowledged as he stood to leave, and David thought it might be the highest compliment he'd ever been paid.
"Merry Christmas, Malcolm," David said, putting out his hand. Malcolm looked a bit surprised by that but took it firmly.
"Merry fucking Christmas, Prime Minister."