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For a while, I thought I was the princess

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In the dead end of the parliamentary year, Tony finds the endless dragging of days more boring than usual. He goes for a walk. He flirts with every Scottish MP he can find, and even some of the Welsh ones. He tries to learn to play We Are The Champions on the guitar he keeps in their little office.

 

Twenty-three hours later, Tony’s guitar is confiscated by Gordon.

 

Peter doesn’t know where it’s gone, and John is impervious to Tony’s beguiling looks, and if Gordon had been minded to give it back then he wouldn’t have taken it in the first place.

 

The paralysis of perpetual opposition has never felt quite so paralysing.

 

Tony curls up on their office couch, and hugs a cushion to his chest, and stares beseechingly at Gordon. Gordon ignores him.

 

Tony stacks the cushions in a pile, trying to get them so they don’t fall over. After nine such attempts, Gordon looks up, surveys the scene, and snorts.

 

Tony holds his breath, but Gordon’s marker pen resumes its scratching on the paper, and silence falls again.

 

When Tony’s fifteenth try results in a stream of mild profanity, Gordon’s mouth twists in amusement.

 

“Tony, what are you-”

 

Tony sighs and falls back into the couch.

 

“I’m tired of not running the country yet,” he whines, a touch pathetically. Gordon grimaces, and seems in danger of returning to his work; Tony flashes him a winning grin. “Maybe I should build a fort.”

 

This produces another near-smile, and Tony nurses a quiet sense of triumph. 

 

“You haven’t enough cushions.”

 

“We could get more,” Tony protests, indignant, and even to his own ears he sounds worryingly serious. “Rob’s got some. And Frank has heaps, he’d lend them if you asked h-”

 

“You.”

 

“Me?”

 

“You said ‘we’. We aren’t building a blanket fort. You are building a blanket fort.”

 

“I’m not building a blanket fort!”

 

“No? Is that what you’re planning on telling Rob? And Frank?”

 

Tony scowls exaggeratedly.

 

“It was just a thought.”

 


 

 

Rob proves very obliging; Ray, the Liberal for Argyll and Bute, is more helpful still.


“Michie, you’re a darling,” Tony tells her, as she piles his arms with cushions and drapes three tartan blankets over his shoulders. “And because you are such a darling,” he promises, grinning from ear to ear, “I’m going to make you a Baroness one day.”

 


 

 

Gordon very pointedly doesn’t look up when Tony returns to their office with the fruits of his labours.

 

“Tartan, Gordon, look!”

 

Gordon does not look. His eyes remain fixed on the desk.

 

“Frank?”

 

“No, Michie,” Tony tells him, beaming. “You know perfectly well that Frank won’t lift a finger for me. You’re going to have to be the one who asks, all the Scottish ones love you.”

 

Gordon meets his eyes with a faintly teasing expression. “So we’re admitting we’re English today?”

 

Tony pouts and begins stacking cushions.

 

“I am technically Scottish and I love you the most -” Gordon snorts- “so you should go to Frank and get his cushions for me.”

 

“Tony, be-” he looks up, and falls silent; Tony redoubles his attempts to secure the blankets to the mantelpiece, biting back a smile, and holds his tongue until Gordon speaks again.

 

“Tony, use the books.”

 

Tony uses the books. There are three of them, hardback, huge; together they run to well over two thousand pages. The blanket stays in place, and a slight satisfaction creeps into Gordon’s expression.

 

“You’re being ridiculous.”

 

“I know.” Tony offers him a wry little smile. “I can’t get the cushions to form a stable enough wall, though.”

 

“Ridiculous.”

 

“Yes?”

 

Tony’s voice is hopeful; Gordon closes his eyes and visibly struggles with himself.

 

“And if you look at the shape of the larger ones,” he tells Tony, grudgingly, “it’s quite clear that you have to balance them on the side and then- no, not like that- oh for God’s sake, Tony, I’ll do it, look-”

 

“No, if you do that you’ll end up creating a-”

 

“Tony, this thing has the structural integrity of a shanty town-”

 

“Gordon, it is made of soft furnishings -”


“So you can’t afford to sacrifice the basic principles of construction to sheer lazin-”

 

Tony, grinning, hits him with a pillow.

 


 

 

Tony is right; when Gordon asks- gruff and a little embarrassed- Frank yields every cushion in his office, including the embarrassingly floral ones sent down by his aunt every Christmas.

 

A pleasant young Tory called Patten catches the both of them with armfuls of the things and, highly entertained by the idea, offers to direct them to the nearest linen cupboard.

 

“Mostly tablecloths and cushions, I’m afraid, but I’m sure you’ll find something here of u-”

 

They thank him and take the lot.

 


 

 

By the time anyone thinks to fetch Peter, the matter has already got deeply, deeply out of hand.

 

They’ve turned gigantic tablecloths (Peter swallows when he spots the House of Commons logo on them, and resolves to send flowers and a charming apology to the Commons tearooms) into rudimentary sacks and stuffed them with cushions, the better to drag each fresh offering behind them along the old and stately corridors.

 

“Gordon’s idea,” Tony tells him, almost bouncing for joy. “They’re great, aren’t they? Lots more efficient! And, you know-”

 

Peter masterfully ignores the appalling state of the man, with his flushed cheeks and sparkly eyes, and forcibly shoves him along the corridor in the direction of his office.

 

“I can’t believe you’ve seduced Gordon into this madness,” he complains, with a reproachful look for their Scottish friend.

 

Gordon- staring into middle distance, mind occupied with his plans for the next extension of their fort- fails to appear suitably contrite.

 

“I,” Tony shouts back at them over his shoulder, voice gleeful, “could seduce Gordon into anything .”

 

Peter believes him, and despairs.

 


 

 

There is a delicate moment when they run into Nigel Lawson in the corridor.

 

“What the blazes is-”

 

Peter catches up, only a little out of breath, and places a hand on Lawson’s arm.

 

“Nigel, it’s really nothing.” He glances back at the pair of them; Tony bashful, Gordon thunderous. “Mind you,” he adds, with a slight smile, “it could be a fine story for the memoirs. How about we get drinks tomorrow evening and I’ll tell you the whole thing?”

 

Lawson looks at him sternly, and Peter cocks his head. “And I’ll buy the drinks.”

 

Lawson caves, laughs, and shakes him off. “Six o’clock tomorrow, then?”

 

“Six thirty,” Peter agrees, and Lawson ambles off, still chuckling.

 

Once he’s out of earshot, Gordon looks a touch less furious; Tony grins, admiringly.

 

“How do you manage stuff like that?”

 

“Oh it’s just a form of spinning, really,” Peter purrs, waving a dismissive hand. His eyes are shining, though. “Now hurry up before we run into the Prime Minister.”

 


 

After a brief battle of wills between the enormous cushion-stuffed tablecloths and their office door-frame, they manage to get their spoils into the office and away from the eyes of curious Tory Cabinet ministers.

 

"No, Tony, don't let Peter in- oh-"

 

Peter stares.

 

“You- you two , the brightest and most promising MPs of this Parliament’s intake, bar none- have spent an hour doing that ?”

 

Tony grins unapologetically. “Ah- probably more like three?”

 

“Four and fifteen minutes,” Gordon corrects him.

 

“What is wrong with the pair of you? Have you turned insane -?”

 

“No, no, Peter - we had to debate our vision for it from the beginning and Gordon wanted a sort of attenuating strategy and I wanted to tessellate cushions and use some to create a more substantial floor, and then Gordon realised we could use the books to buttress the whole thing which was really a stroke of genius but he phrased it all wrong and I resisted at first, so-”

 

“Tony. Tony. Gordon. You have constituents .”

 

“Er. Yes?”

 

“Oh, this is madness - wait, Gordon, what are you doing with-? Are you really going to- no, Gordon, that’ll knock everything over-”

 

Tony glows sunnily at him.

 

“You were saying, Peter?”

 

“Yes, sorry, this is utter lunacy and- no, on the right side, there- Tony you can back me up on this, you’ve got the same view, it’ll obviously fail to support the weight of the blanket and-”

 


 

 

Eventually, Neil Kinnock sends someone to track down his missing Director of Communications.

 

The someone in question is his Shadow Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who claims cheerfully that he knows just where to find Mandelson.

 

“He’ll be where the trouble is. And I know where the trouble is.”

 


 

 

By the time John Smith reaches Gordon and Tony’s office, a small crowd of curious and amused MPs and Parliamentary staff have assembled outside the door, offering advice and- for some reason- bearing assorted soft furnishings.

 

John sends them packing and walks in without a knock.

 

"Gordon, would you like to-?"

 

He stops dead, trying to make sense of the office’s new layout.


The place has always been small, untidy, and cosy.

 

It has become exponentially smaller, untidier, and cosier.

 

"Gordon-?” he tries again. “Gordon, are you in there ?”

 

A muffled noise of assent emerges from the- whatever it was, the thing in the middle of the room.

 

“What?”

 

“Tony isn’t letting me out.”

 

John hesitates. Then there is a faint yelp from within the fort, quickly smothered, and John tugs a tartan blankest aside. It falls, and takes the entire roof of the structure with it, eliciting noises of dismay from within the makeshift fort and revealing Gordon and Tony squashed close within a nest of cushions.

 

Gordon- understandably, John feels- is frowning.

 

"Are the books okay?"

 

“I- yes they’re just-” a thought strikes John. “Gordon, that roof is really quite badly-”

 

“Don’t,” Peter warns from the doorway. “John, don’t.”

 

Tony beams.

 

“Peter! John was just leaving. Weren’t you, John?” His fingers, John notes, seem to be threaded in Gordon’s. Gordon seems not to have noticed.

 

“I am now,” John informs Peter, cheerily. Gordon is avoiding his eyes. “Peter, you’re wanted.”

 

Peter’s eyebrows fly up.

 

“Oh shit - John, make my apologies, tell him I was too busy babysitting these-”

 

John hides a smile.

 

“Well, you’re relieved from duty here. I’m sure they’ll take care of each other. Neil needs you, sharpish.”

 

Peter sighs and vanishes soundlessly; John goes to follow him, and is stopped by Gordon’s protests.

 

“John, you might at least fix the roof-"

 

John secures the blankets back to the mantelpiece and, turning to leave, hesitates.

 

“You know it would make a lot more sense if you just used-”

 

Don’t,” Peter’s disembodied voice orders from the corridor, and John leaves, laughing.

 

“Make sure to put it all back when you’re done,” he yells back at them over his shoulder, but recieves no more reply than the sound of shuffling cushions.

 


 

 

Tony smiles at the sound of the door closing, and pushes Gordon back onto the pillows triumphantly.

 

“Right. You’re my prisoner now-”

 

“I’m terrified,” Gordon assures him, drily. “Are you going to stop holding my hand?”

 

“Never,” Tony assures him, grinning. “Now, I’m not letting you leave our fort until you answer, so think carefully-”

 

“What’s the point of leaving the fort if you’re not ever letting go of my hand-?”

 

Tony smiles smugly down at him and tucks a stray curl of hair back behind Gordon's ear.

 

“Details,” he insists. “Now. Where the hell have you put my guitar?”