Kamet wasn’t sure what to expect when he finally folded to Gen's shameless and steady wheedling to quit and move halfway across the country to work for a political rival—a bland suit toting a thick stack of contracts and nondisclosures. Maybe a check for that relocation that Gen had promised to arrange. A tacky t-shirt with Attolia's campaign logo would not have been unexpected.
Kamet just for sure had not been anticipating…. This.
“You packed?” ‘This' asked around a yawn. “’Scuse me. Got in late last night.”
“… I think you have the wrong door,” Kamet said, because that was the only possible explanation for the linebacker with the face of an Army recruitment poster, all symmetrical even features and short sandy hair, posted against the stained wall outside his apartment, dressed in black joggers and a gray hoodie, spinning a set of car keys idly on a finger.
The linebacker frowned and shifted, swapping his keys for his phone in his pocket. He glanced at the screen, then at the door, then at Kamet. “Kamet Setran, right? From Senator Naheelid Mede's office?”
Kamet blinked. “Yes,” he said stupidly, then scowled. In a way, he was glad he hadn’t put in his contacts yet—it was too early in the morning and his nerves were too frayed to deal with—This.
“Gen sent me to pick you up. I’m-”
The phone rang then, and Kamet flinched, nearly throwing the door in Linebacker’s face. He scrambled to pick up the phone on his kitchen counter and answered the incoming call. “Laela,” he greeted. “What’s going on?”
“He’s on his way,” she hissed. “Have you left yet?”
Kamet looked wildly behind him, noted the giant fuzzy mass of Linebacker drifting curiously through the doorway. “Not yet,” he said. “There’s a guy from Attolia’s office here, but he doesn’t look like a driver, but he says he’s here to pick me up…”
“Then what the hell are you waiting for,” Laela whisper-shrieked. “Nahuseresh left straight from the office, looking ready for murder. Go! Now!”
“Hey, is this everything?” Linebacker called, hefting up the duffle and suitcase with enviable ease, but Kamet was too busy groping for his glasses and slapping them onto his face, then rushing over to peer through the blinds of his living room window. No familiar cars passing by just yet, but there—down a block and a half, maybe an SUV that’s maybe the steel-gray ride his temperamental old boss maybe drove on days he wanted to crush someone under its tires.
“Let’s go, let’s go,” he said, turning from the window and practically shoving the Linebacker out of the apartment. “C’mon, go.”
“Wait, hey,” the dimwitted mouth breather protested, and Kamet nearly growled.
The idiot pointed back towards the door. “Aren’t you bringing your cats?”
Kamet stared briefly before swearing and dashing back inside for the cat carrier. Ennikar and Immakuk meowed indignantly as he jammed the carrier under his arm and waved impatiently for the stranger to lead on.
Attolia’s goon was a deft driver, and Kamet took care to slouch low in his seat as they weaved out of the residential streets. The Linebacker kept darting curious glances at him, which Kamet pretended not to notice, instead sending texts to Laela to confirm his successful escape, then to his landlady as an afterthought, letting her know he was out of the apartment.
Finally, when all his messages had been sent, and neither Nahuseresh nor Senator Mede's office tower was visible through the rearview window anymore, Kamet wriggled back upright with a long sigh.
“You alright?” the driver asked neutrally as he steered the car up the onramp. “Seemed a little chaotic back there.”
“Fine,” Kamet said testily, eyes trained firmly out the window. He’d darted a glance at him earlier, glasses on, and decided for the sake of everyone’s dignity, to avoid any straight-on eye contact. There was only so much mere mortals could take of standing too close to Greek statues come to life. Even if they were dressed in athleisure.
“You keep looking behind us; you expecting someone to come after us, or…?”
“Nope,” Kamet said, darting glances in the side mirror for Nahuseresh's Escalade.
The Linebacker hummed and changed lanes. “You'd tell me though, right? If there was?”
“Yes, sure,” Kamet said absently. The outside scene flashing by was familiar, scrubby trees and overgrown weeds along the highway, speckled with the detritus of irresponsible commuters. A sign promising fines for littering towered above its ring of fast food wrappers and rusting soda cans. So much for the senator's promised city beautification initiatives; Kamet could attest the campaign talking points were gathering dust in the interns' shared office.
“So, what made you change your mind?”
“Hm?” Kamet darted a sideways look at the driver, then back out the windshield.
The driver tapped his fingers on the wheel thoughtfully. “You were Nahuseresh Mede’s classmate at Princeton, right? And you interned for his dad in your last semester. You got a masters in political science, worked for his brother, worked for him... Latest rumors were that you were going to run Nahuseresh’s campaign for Congressman Hemsha’s seat—Teleus was sure you’d say no when Gen wanted to poach you, but Relius thought you were a good bet. So what happened?”
Teleus and Relius—Kamet’s brain ground through the connections—Attolia’s communications director and chief of staff, an odd political pair that worked far better than it had any right to. They were scrappy but viciously effective, and could have finagled positions on Capitol Hill under any administration but for their famous personal loyalty to Irene Attolia. He supposed he should be flattered that they even knew who he was, but mostly Kamet was trying to keep down a big slithering mass of panic in his gut and wondering if he’d made the right decision to leave.
“Nothing,” he said with a hopeless attempt at airiness. “The timing wasn’t correct for Nahuseresh, seeing as-” He gestured vaguely, unwilling to put words to the Shitshow that had checked Nahuseresh’s rising star, and his own as well by default. “The senator felt that maybe the public needed more time before his brother ah, ran for office again. In the meantime, Nahuseresh is going to be guest lecturing at Stanford, and the senator already has enough speechwriters and advisers, so,” Kamet shrugged, and didn’t mention the night after the Shitshow, when Nahuseresh was too drunk for Kamet to handle alone, and Naheelid, tired and irritated, handed Kamet an icepack for his bruised cheek and offered to write a letter of reference and several thousand dollars to keep silent.
There wasn’t any use in dwelling on any of that. Kamet cleared his throat and frowned. “Hey, what did you say your name was again?”
“I didn’t,” his mysterious kidnapper said. “I'm-”
Kamet's phone rang again, and he scrambled upright, shoving his curls back and nearly swallowing his tongue when he saw the caller ID. The phone rang and rang, and abruptly cut off. Almost immediately, it began ringing again.
“You gonna get that?” Attolia's driver asked.
“Yes,” Kamet snapped. “I'm just…” praying for deliverance.
When the phone restarted a third time, Kamet gathered his courage and—
A massive paw plucked his phone from his nerveless grip and whisked it away. Forgetting his resolution to avoid direct line-of-sight, Kamet swiveled and stared in rigid, open-mouthed horror as Attolia's driver calmly answered the phone.
“Hello,” he said, calmly negotiating traffic as he listened to the angry outburst in his ear. “Oh, Mr. Mede, nice to meet you. Kamet isn't available to speak right now,” he wasn’t wrong—Kamet's voice was coming out in squeaks, “but I can pass along a message. Me? I'm just a friend. Yep. Nope. Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Yeah, I don’t think I’m able to repeat that; can you reword it?”
“Oh my god you feckless nitwit what are you doing?” Kamet breathed, but said nitwit only rolled his eyes, insultingly cavalier with the remaining shreds of Kamet's ravaged nerves.
The voice on the other end of the phone grew shriller and fiercer until even Kamet could hear, pressed against the passenger's side door and halfway to hell, the tinny baritone of Nahuseresh, promising death, destruction, rainstorm and devastation and crushing electoral comeuppance upon Kamet's head, upon Gen Eddis, upon Irene Attolia's perfectly arranged hair—
“Mr. Mede,” Linebacker Nitwit Cause of Kamet's incipient Nervous Break cut in abruptly, “I hope you aren’t making threats to the well-being of Congresswoman Attolia, as I would’ve been obligated to report those to the Secret Service, and I can’t imagine your brother would welcome an investigation that could drag into election year, do you?”
The voice cut abruptly. Kamet’s breath stopped.
Nahuseresh rallied, a loud warbling issuing again from the mic.
“Me?” Kamet's Beautiful, Perfect, Not-So-Dumb Nitwit said in the precise tone of someone who understood they were victorious but were too polite to boast. “I’m just a lowly staffer, Mr. Mede.”
Kamet watched as he shrugged, said a polite farewell and hung up, tossing the phone into Kamet’s lap.
“I never liked him,” Golden Perfection said with mild distaste. “Hey, are you ok?”
Kamet struggled—how to communicate, in brief, on-message sentences that frantic shock was being replaced by a strange mix of confusion, indignation, relief, and an unexpected amount of lust that mixed and surged like wildfire through his thin, gym-and-sun-starved limbs with the combined effect of Kamet wanting to loosen his seatbelt and throw himself across the center console. To do what, he hadn’t decided yet.
Instead, Kamet said, “You missed the turn off for the airport.”
“Oh, Gen didn’t say?” Maddening Source of Kamet’s Distraction said with an easy grin. “We’re driving back to headquarters.”
Kamet blinked, startled, and calculated very quickly the approximate distance between where they were and where they were headed. “But, that’ll take days,” he said.
“Two and a half, to be exact,” Aesthetic Source of Kamet’s Frustration confirmed. “Your cats going to be ok? I noticed you didn’t pack much.”
“Why can’t we fly?” Kamet asked, trying not to sound as panicked as he felt.
Snorting, his new roadtrip companion flicked on the turn signal. “If you think this could’ve been expensed to the Congresswoman’s office without raising hell from her constituents, you may not be the right person for the job. Attolia’s folks aren’t for unnecessary luxuries.”
That snapped most of the goodwill from Kamet, who stiffened with hurt pride, but the driver didn’t seem to notice.
“Hey, you want lunch?” he asked, and steered them off the highway and into the lot for the Stardust Diner where he bought Kamet a burger and coke, and salmon for Ennikar and Immakuk.
“Oh, hey,” Gen said grinning, a cherry otter pop hanging out the side of his mouth, hideous blue-and-yellow boardshorts over Adidas slides, his hair clearly uncombed. “There you are.”
“I don’t know whether to strangle you or thank you,” Kamet said honestly.
“I’m used to it,” Gen shrugged, and slung an arm over his shoulders. “Come on in, you must be exhausted. You hungry? There’s cake in the kitchen. Homemade. I helped.”
“I- thanks,” Kamet said, glancing back at where Full-Blown Light of Kamet’s Life and Likely Eternal Source of Vexation was lifting his luggage out of the trunk with distracting biceps. So sue him; it was day three and Kamet still hadn’t caught his name, and by now it was just embarrassing. Someone would mention it, at some point; or maybe they’d never see each other again, Kamet thought with a pang.
It was cooler, up near the mountains where Gen and Irene lived, and Nameless Hottie was wearing an indigo Henley. The sight had nearly tied Kamet’s tongue in knots when he’d come out of the motel bathroom that morning. If Kamet had struggled during their trip across the eastern seaboard to think professional, vaguely platonic thoughts about him, in that moment of clarity he knew there wasn’t much point to it.
“Go on,” Unfairly Attractive and Kind to Boot said. “I’ll take your stuff and the cats upstairs.”
“Cats?” Gen asked with a grimace.
“Two,” Kamet replied a bit meanly. He followed as Gen led them through the foyer and down the hall to the kitchen. The suburban cottage was not comparable to Nahuseresh’s charming brick-faced townhouse with sleek modern interiors, but it was warm and cozy, signs of long habitation and familiarity marking its walls and nicking the floors.
The kitchen was roomy, with a bank of south facing windows and a bar separating the range from the breakfast nook. Irene Attolia, youngest House representative to serve ten years and going, was seated at the bar with her chief of staff; they were bent over an iPad, and both rose when Gen and Kamet came in, Irene with a faint smile over her usually severe expression. She was swathed in soft, tasteful fabrics that clashed oddly with her husband’s decidedly informal wardrobe.
“Mr. Setran, it’s good to see you again,” she said, shaking his hand.
“Please, Congresswoman, Kamet,” he said.
“Then I insist on Irene. Come join us.”
As Kamet sat and Gen sprawled along the bench of the breakfast nook, sucking out the last drops of his otter pop, Relius clasped Kamet’s shoulder lightly. “It is good to see you, Setran,” he murmured and Kamet smiled back crookedly.
“Thank you for your kindness, and hospitality,” Kamet said once they were settled and someone had brought him a cup of coffee and a slice of cake. “But I… I must confess, I’m surprised you wanted me on your team. Not just in terms of coming from a rival team; I wasn’t under the impression there were any vacancies in your staff.”
“There are none,” Relius assured him, which didn’t clarify matters at all. “But we’re looking for a new campaign manager.”
“So, I’m confused,” Kamet said, and was even more so when Irene smiled and Gen half-grimaced.
“Didn’t Costis fill you in?” Relius asked, eyebrow raised.
Kamet blinked, allowing the name of his Really Really Unfairly Goodlooking Savior to finally soak in. It fit him, but also was vaguely familiar. “We didn’t talk much about politics or your reelection plans, to be honest.” Mostly, they’d talked about poetry and cats, both of which Costis was surprisingly well-versed, having been an English major and a farmboy.
“Really, buddy?” Gen said, gaze fixed beyond Kamet’s shoulder, where Costis had arrived and was leaning against the doorjamb, arms crossed.
Costis shrugged, the Henley pulling tight across his shoulders. “Didn’t come up.”
“Kamet, I’m not running for reelection,” Irene said gently.
Kamet blinked again, thinking rapidly. “…Oh,” he said after a few moments. “Okay, I see. So that’s why Costis threatened to report to the Secret Service rather than Capitol Police. Congratulations; when are you planning to announce it?”
“You threatened someone with Secret Service?” Relius asked Costis, who lifted a hand, palm down and tilted it back and forth.
“A little. He deserved it.”
“Is that why you’re here?” Kamet asked, intrigued.
“What d’you mean?” Costis frowned.
“Irene is planning a presidential run, and so you’re here to… establish security perimeters?”
There was a small, stunned silence all around the kitchen. Far away and upstairs, Kamet could hear the yowlings of his darling cats, indignant of being ignored.
Gen was the first to break into hearty guffaws, pounding the table with his good hand until his wife, holding back a smile herself, laid a repressive hand on his back. Even Relius chuckled, while Costis just looked resigned.
“What am I missing here,” Kamet said, glancing around the table.
“Kamet,” Irene said, “I’m not running for president.”
“Okaaaay,” Kamet replied.
“And I’m not Secret Service,” Costis said.
Gen added ruefully, “It's the army training; can’t get it out of him.”
“Right, so.” This was frustrating. Kamet was used to being the smartest person in the room, and he wasn’t sure if it was the travel fatigue or the circumstances of his sudden move or being among relative strangers or Costis’ fucking Henley but he was not putting it together.
Except… Costis was a familiar name. What was it? Costis…
“Ormentiedes,” he said out loud, and the man in question beamed at him. Kamet suppressed a whimper at the sight, then did a double take. “You’re Costis Ormentiedes,” he repeated in a new tone of voice. “You wrote that speech for Enkelis when he was running for senator.”
Costis grimaced. “Don’t remind me.”
Kamet flapped his hand impatiently. “Yes, yes. He was a garbage candidate and his staff wasn’t much better, but his speech, the one about- about diesel and dairy? That was good. Surprisingly good. Enough that I had an intern look into it, because it was like watching a weasel suddenly stand up and recite the alphabet backwards. And you wrote that?”
Costis did the hand tilting again, but a proud smile tugged at his lips.
“So, so, so,” Kamet murmured to himself, turning back in his seat to where Gen was sitting, chin propped on the stump of one hand. “And if Irene’s not the one running for president...”
Eugenides Eddis, cousin of the Senate Minority Leader Helen Eddis, nephew to a Supreme Court Justice, great-grandson of two governors, and newest dark horse presidential candidate waved at him with a shit-eating grin that was reminiscent of his rabblerousing, hellraising days with the ACLU.
“What d’you say, Kamet? How’d you like to get me to the White House?”