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They get married on a Monday morning, and Roman knows nobody will buy it, but he’s still gonna swear on his life it was Gerri’s idea.

 

 

 

But it doesn’t start there. It starts on the Mediterranean, somewhere slightly south of Croatia, the city where they shoot Game of Thrones or whatever. It starts when Roman climbs aboard the yacht, squinting behind his sunglasses because it’s just too fucking bright out here. His lower back’s killing him — apparently being held hostage in a hotel with nothing but a couple ballroom chairs for a cot and the omnipresent, very real risk of being shot in the head is the kind of thing that gathers tension in your core, who knew? He aches everywhere, in muscles he didn’t know even existed. 

With great effort, he eases down on a plush bench, and someone puts a beer in his hand. He’s gonna bask in the sun like a lizard under a heat lamp, like a fucking Nile crocodile. He’s gonna nap for a week.

“Hey there, Patty Hearst.” Gerri nudges his leg, a gentle-but-firm command to move over, and he accommodates her without thinking twice. She looks good, kind of loose and warm and wind-blown, and when she drops down beside him it’s with a touch to his knee that makes Roman realize, very abruptly, that it’s been at least a full 72 hours since he last jerked off.

(Which, fuck off with the judgment, okay? Fear does weird shit to a guy.)

Roman wants to counter with some kind of edgy dip-shit remark, he can feel it forming on his tongue, yeah yeah  but more than that he wants to cling to the vague sense of gravitas he’s earned these past few days, and he sits with that internal struggle for about ten seconds before he mutters, “I sure fucking hope you missed me.”

Gerri studies him from the corner of her eye, adjusting her sun hat as the yacht bobs on a particularly rough wave, and Roman slides lower in his seat and wraps his lips around the beer bottle — a little too broad to be flirtatious, a little too earnest to be just for laughs — and then he takes a sip and chokes. “It’s fucking Peroni,” he coughs. “Who gave me a fucking Peroni?”

Gerri rolls her eyes and pats him on the knee again. “Glad to see you’re readjusting.”

 

 

 

 

Logan comes aboard. A general sense of dread settles onto the boat. There are also apertifs.

Roman watches them all from his corner, chewing on the cocktail straw in his spritz: Shiv and Tom and the palpable frisson developing between them that reminds him of, like, old Cold War footage of Kennedy and Castro, not that they ever met up on a boat, but who knows? Kendall, practically wrist-deep in Naomi Pierce and probably pleasantly high. His dad: the lion in summer. 

“Nothing like an Aperol spritz to lighten to the mood on a death cruise,” he says to Gerri, and throws back what’s left in his glass. The ice cubes clink.

“So what’s your read on the temperature?” Gerri’s keeping her voice low, probably lower than it needs to be. Roman reads that, okay? Pass intercepted. He slides half a step closer, breathing into her ear.

“Somebody’s going to emergency, somebody’s going to jail.”

“Care to put a finer point on it?” she asks. 

Roman thinks it over, chews on the straw a little longer — it’s really just mangled plastic now (fuck a sea turtle) but it feels good to have something solid between his teeth, something to bite down upon. “Let’s just say I’m pretty sure Tom’s getting thrown overboard like a woman on a Bright Star cruise.”

“Very clever,” she murmurs, “and a great reminder as to why I never take cruises.” Roman feels a familiar thrill run through him; turns a few degrees closer with his eyebrows aloft; she’s always his best audience. 

“I thought you didn’t take cruises because you’re too much of a snob —“ he pokes her gently on the arm, feeling overwhelmingly like a little boy pulling pigtails — “to mix with the fentanyl-snorting milk drinkers we pack onto those boats.” He hums a little Hall and Oates, there, for good measure: you’re a rich girl. Raises his eyebrows and bites down on what’s left of the straw.

Gerri regards him: coolly. Hotly. He’s never been able to tell which it is. Disappointment mixed with an artist’s eye, like he’s a lump of wet clay that she can’t wait to dig her fingers into. The Gerri Kellman special. Fuck, he’s hard. “Well, who’s to say how much longer any of us can rely on the old man’s money?” 

“Wanna head below deck?”

“Actually, yes,” she says, and finishes her own drink. “There’s something we need to discuss.”

 

 

 

It turns out that something isn’t Roman getting put on his knees and called a needy little cunt, which is kind of a let down, to say the least. Gerri digs around in her bag for a couple minutes while he shifts his weight in silence —

“You’re quiet,” she observes. “That’s a first.”

“Yeah, well, the Turks beat it out of me. Gave you a run for their money.” He waggles his eyebrows. “So what is this? Whips and chains? Are we doing the whole boat-sex thing? I heard Shiv and Tom are looking for a third —“

Gerri finds what she’s looking for: a black leather binder. She drops it on the bed and begins paging through it, and Roman cranes his neck enough to recognize that it’s just full of documents, not like, dick pics. “I’ve given some thought to what you proposed a few weeks ago, and I agree that we should make things official in some way,” she says, and he blinks.

“Uh,” he says. “Which — what part of it?”

“Take a look.”

Gerri closes the folio and hands it over. It’s deceptively heavy, and the print on these pages is way too fucking fine, he thinks, paging through it. “Is this some kind of, like, Fifty Shades of Roy sex contract? Because it’s not that I’m not into it, but I think there’s a strong argument for going paperless —”

“Strictly speaking, this isn’t legally binding,” Gerri says. “Just something I threw together with regard to our business arrangement going forward. But with no respect to the family — the past few weeks have really illustrated that no one should take anyone at their word right now. Give me a little more than your word.”

The words swim on the page, dense-packed legalese that reads drier than concrete. Roman technically got into law school, okay, even if he never bothered to register for classes or show up on campus, and this is the first time he’s kind of regretting his lack of follow-through. He’s always had Gerri to translate this shit for him. “So basically, this is like — a handshake agreement,” he says, and she hums and nods. 

“Nobody’s getting thrown overboard,” she says. “I save you, you save me.”

Roman closes the binder. “Deal,” he says. “So in the interest of mutually assured destruction, I should tell you — you’re on the short list.”

He expects that to land with a thud. Instead, Gerri looks unsurprised, her perfect poker face unmoved. “I figured as much,” she said. “So what are we going to do about it?”

And the thing is — and maybe it’s the adrenaline high of the last few days, or the fact that she asks him that question with a totally straight face and no ulterior motive — whatever it is: Roman actually has a plan for that.

 

 

 

He takes the binder back to his own cabin, dodging a couple staff in the cramped hallway below deck. He cracks it open and stares at the fine print for far too long, trying to make sense of it, ripping out page after page as he gets to the end of them. It’s a shit-hurricane and they’re in the eye of it, seems to be the upshot. 

He can hear Tom and Shiv arguing across the hall, and for half a second he’s struck with the impulse to go bang on the door and tell them to keep it down, which, when did he get so fucking old? Coupled with his throbbing lower back, he’s pretty sure he’s aged fifty years in the past week. But then the door opens and slams, and he hears Shiv’s distinct gait, her heavy footsteps that fall too far apart — when they were kids, their mom used to tell her she walked like she just got off a horse, she fucking hated that. Shiv clomps past the door and her footsteps recede down the hall, and then there’s a muffled, strangled sound that Roman’s pretty sure is Tom screaming into a pillow. And then: nada.

Marriage is fucking bleak, man.

That’s what’s always puzzled him about the whole concept: nobody ever seems happy once they get married. It’s all smiles and handjobs up to the altar, and the second the party’s over and the attention fades, it all goes to shit. Every single time. Roman’s pretty sure he’s never actually known a happy married couple. It’s always a performance, no matter the audience, and everyone just accepts it. Oh, there goes Tom and Shiv. They’re miserable together, he got the gift of an open marriage on his wedding night and still can’t get it up for a stranger, and she’s about to throw him under the wheels of an oncoming Amtrak to Washington — ain’t married life grand? Or, Oh, Ken and Rava split up. Isn’t that sad? Of course, she strong-armed him into rehab after she outgrew the party life and wanted him to grow up with her, and he barely remembers his kids’ birthdays and the last time he saw his son he greeted him with a handshake, not even a hug, a fucking handshake, and it would be easy to blame all the Special K and pussy but the truth is none of us know how to be half-decent partners because none of our parents were ever in it for anything but themselves and we were just, like, assets to be claimed in divorce court, and that’ll do it to ya! 

It’s weird, he thinks, when your mom quotes Tolstoy as if to reassure you that at least your family’s dysfunction is unique. She was right, though. Every unhappy family is different. And every unhappy marriage is a bleak, boring-ass Russian novel unto itself. Marriage is inherently bullshit, a performance for people who can’t get attention for being special and successful on their own, but the thing is, when you’re starting to lose a boring person, the suggestion of marriage will reel them right back in. Because nobody can resist that kind of attention. Everybody wants that buzz. Everybody loves the beginnings of things. Roman’s no different, really. He’s pretty fucking boring, too.

 

 

 

It’s pretty late — he’s pretty sure everyone else on the boat is asleep by now, but the past few days have fucked his circadian rhythms to all hell, and he’s very much awake. Roman makes a valiant attempt to Benadryl himself to sleep, but two hours later he’s still up, tossing and turning and a little bit seasick from the rocking of the boat, and there’s an itch settling in under his skin that he doesn’t like.

So: fuck it, he thinks. If there’s an itch, you scratch it.

He doesn’t bother putting real clothes on, just pulls on an undershirt with his boxers, and he creeps barefoot down the hall, careful of his own footsteps and weight. He brings the binder with him, because something makes him think it’d be a stupid move to let it out of his sight, and he makes his way to Gerri’s cabin, feeling nauseated and buzzed and uncomfortable in his own body in a way that has nothing to do with his sore back.

He knocks twice, and then a third. It’s weird that they have a secret knock now. A lot of things are weird.

Honestly, he didn’t even think she’d be awake, but she answers a few moments later. “Just me,” he says, and she cracks the door just enough to let him slide into her room.

“Back so soon,” she says. A statement of fact, not a question. Roman tosses the binder on the bed and stretches, pacing the floor, hands on his lower back, feeling like some kind of — exotic bird in a cage, or some shit, a peacock or an emu or a cassowary. He feels her eyes on him, and he looks her up and down right back, in her fancy silk pajamas and kimono, drinking from a tiny bottle of airplane whiskey. Not even a glass, just the bottle. Desperate times.

“Yeah, uh, I read your thing and I have some questions,” he says without preamble. “So like, just to be clear, this is just a business agreement? And what happens about the — other stuff?”

It’s a dangerous question, and Gerri cocks a brow as she sits down on the bed. “What are you asking, exactly?”

“Fucking. You. Me. All this.” He waves vaguely around the cabin, as if to say, all of it. “You know, the part where when I knocked on the door you immediately knew it was me, and you answered, because who else would it be? I mean, is anyone else coming to your room at 3 a.m. boat time? Not that I’d be surprised, by the way, ‘cuz apparently you’re crushing the collective fuck-marry-kill bracket around here, but —“

“Roman, please make your point.” She sounds tired, but not upset, and it’s enough to make him take a breath and — try.

“All I’m saying is — I mean, I don’t know what I’m saying. Just. I want to make sure we’re on the same page about what this means going forward.” He grinds out those last two words, hears the venom dripping from his voice, and Gerri sighs.

“Roman.” She pats the duvet beside her, and he sits without being asked. “Listen. Kiddo. I like you. You know that I feel… a great deal of affection for you. Always have.”

“Okay, fluff me. I’m about to get fucked.” 

Gerri heaves a sigh, and Roman regrets it. “I’m not going to fuck you. I’m trying to explain this to you. I’ve been — these past few months have been as confounding as they’ve been enjoyable. But the thing is, I’m never sure what I’m going to get from you on any given day.” She says it with fondness, but it hits Roman like a smack to the face, and he looks down at the carpet, tensing as she lays her hand on his shoulder. She doesn’t move — just rests it there, warm and heavy and solid. “We’re in the eye of the shitstorm. You said it yourself. Let’s get out of the shit before we start making declarations.”

Roman chews the inside of his cheek. He looks for an obvious joke, but it must be the Benadryl or something, because he’s not finding one. He feels — stupid and small and very raw, like this, and he wants to deflect but instead what he says is, “You know, I spent 48 hours sleeping in a hotel ballroom with a bunch of other hostages, and there was a moment when I thought I was actually going to die, right? I mean, there were several moments — there were a fuckload of moments, actually. But like, one in particular, when they pulled me out of the room with their guns out. I just remember thinking, ‘Well, this is it. I’m gonna die now. Had a good run.’”

“Jesus,” says Gerri. She squeezes his shoulder. He shakes his head, but doesn’t shake her off.

“I don’t know, though. I didn’t actually feel like I’d had a good run. I felt like shit. Like, if that had gone badly, how would it’ve played in the States? ‘Large Adult Son and certified ding-dong idiot shot in the head in shady Turkish backroom deal,’ boo-fucking-hoo.’ It would’ve been, like, a joke. And, I don’t know. I just keep turning that over. If I get murdered, I don’t want it to be a joke, you know?”

Gerri sighs, and squeezes his shoulder again. He lets her gentle him down onto the mattress; lets her hand him a pillow. He didn’t even feel this raw that one time he let Tabitha goad him into getting his nutsack waxed. She doesn’t say anything, just strokes his hair idly with one hand as he feels his heart rate level out. 

It feels — good. Steady. Like they’re running up the clock on a game with no real winner. 

It occurs to him as he’s drifting off that this is the first time she’s let him stay. 

 

 

 

And then Kendall does his thing and it all goes to shit.

Roman finds a private corner, and he pulls Gerri into it. He’s got half the pages torn out of the binder, circled and highlighted and annotated, and he says, bluntly and without preface, no beating around the old bush, “I read this thing. I think we should get married.”

Gerri peers at him over her glasses, eyebrows aloft, stonefaced — but he’s starting to learn her tells. She’s as whiplashed as the rest of them. “Pardon?”

“I mean — fuck this.” Roman feels high, but super fucking clear-headed, somehow. “Let’s get married. For real. I was kidding before but this is actually a serious, business suggestion. Everyone is fucked. Ken just blew everything up and my dad’s gonna tear this place apart, nobody is safe, there’s gonna be, fucking, I don’t know, investigations and prosecutors and jail time for anyone who makes the wrong move, and we need to make sure nobody can make us testify against each other, right? That's basically what you're suggesting, with all this assurance-of-loyalty language. Let's just put the finer point on it.” He rakes his hand through his hair and tugs at his forelock, wincing. “Spousal privilege, and we consolidate our power, because there are shareholders who sure fucking don’t trust me but would suck your dick in a Six Flags bathroom but also, you’re tainted now, too, you’re the one who got dragged in front of Congress to wipe Tom’s ass in front of the subcommittee. You need me. I need you. We know what we are. Ken’s a loose cannon and Dad has nothing to lose, he’s like one of those dying gladiators who’s just gonna try to kill as many people as he can before he goes down too, and I’m like — like, when a country marries off the princess right before they go to war just so they can keep a castle? I’m the princess.”

He’s out of breath. Gerri says nothing.

“Ken just fucked us, too,” he adds, breathing heavy. “Let’s get married. Fuck him and Dad and everyone right back. Get what's ours. Do something real. It doesn't matter. Let's just fucking do it.”

They stay like that for a few excruciating minutes in the corner, while the rest of the room burns down around them, Gerri staring into space and occasionally removing her glasses to rub at her eyes, and Roman scrolling endlessly through his phone, trying to get a better signal. Desperate people make desperate moves, he thinks, but this might be a top-10 moment, one for the Guinness Book of Desperation. 

“That was certainly a number of mixed metaphors,” Gerri finally says.

“Listen, there’s a lot going on, it’s not my best work—”

“No, I agree,” she says, her voice taut, and Roman exhales so fast he nearly passes out. “I don’t think it’s a bad idea.” A cloudy look falls over her face, hardening her features to something hawkish and almost cruel, and then she shakes her head and turns back to Roman, who feels — fucking rapt. “Actually, no, it’s a terrible idea. But it might be the best one we’ve got.”

“So that’s — a yes.”

“Yes.” She sighs, smiles wryly, and he feels his blood thrum; he has no fucking idea what’s going on right now. “I’ll call in a few favors. Fuck it. You’re right. We’ll go to City Hall on Monday.”

Roman blinks. This weirdly isn’t what he expected. She sounds so sure about it. “Okay,” he says. “So. Uh. Should we… celebrate?”

 

 

 

So: that’s how it happens.

They land in White Plains in the early hours of the morning, and by six a.m., Roman’s in the backseat of a black car speeding down the West Side Highway, Gerri next to him, on her third or fourth call.

A long time ago — god, he must have been 23, 24 — she caught him accepting a favor from someone in the studio division. Hockey playoff tickets, if he remembers right, but the details are long gone, he was just trying to impress this guy from college who was really into the Rangers. It didn’t matter, anyway, because Gerri busted his ass and read him the riot act over it. “You’re too young to be taking favors,” she told him, all cold and schoolmarmish. “Your twenties and thirties are about doing favors. Building loyalty. You should be letting everyone at this company run up a mountain of debt right now. You smile, you say ‘It’s nothing,’ you let it go, and you write it down in a little notebook and forget about it for the next twenty years.”

He’d brushed it off then, made a jerk-off motion when her back was turned and then let her chew him out because of course she caught it in the window reflection. He didn’t stop taking favors, either. 

He has to wonder, now, how many years of credit Gerri has on the rest of the world. Either way, she’s cashing it in, cold and precise in the backseat in between sips of coffee. She has a judge on the phone now, some old friend from law school, and as far as Roman can tell, she’s got the guy on the run: “It’s a waiver, Phil, not a stay of execution — well, yes. I wouldn’t be on the phone right now if it weren’t urgent.”

“Tell him you’re pregnant,” Roman suggests, and Gerri slices at the air with her coffee cup while he snickers.

“No, no, no, I agree,” she continues, squinting into the bright morning light as Lower Manhattan looms up in front of them. Roman stares out the window. It’s still early enough that they’re beating the rush hour crowds; instead, the only people on the street are the ones who precede the rest of the world. Construction workers, dudes hanging off garbage trucks, delivery guys on bikes, people rolling up gates on storefronts. Richard Scarry Busy Town bullshit. “Thanks, Phil. I’ll see you shortly.” 

“See, when I said ‘let’s get married,’ I was thinking I’d at least get a trip to Vegas out of it,” Roman says. “Some Britney Spears action. Shock and awe. Not this bureaucratic bullshit.”

“I can’t think of a worse plan,” says Gerri. “The point is to keep this under the table. We’re staying out of the press. Don’t feed the animals, Roman. Did you find a witness?”

Roman fumbles with his phone, scrolling through his texts. They’d both agreed the rest of the family was out of the question. He’d floated Frank, but she shot that down too; better to not give the rest of the C-suite any headway at all. Karolina, Laird, Hugo — the only names he could come up with wee all out of the question.

He finds himself lost in thought, thumb hovering over his last sent message: 

Hey Tabs! Can you do me a huge favor and meet me at City Hall by 6:30 this morning? Shit’s getting complicated and I need you for something. I’ll explain everything later. Thanks!!!!!!!

The brightening world zips by outside, and he watches the status flip to read, a telltale speech bubble forming and un-forming on the left side of the screen, and then, finally, a single thumbs-up emoji pops up beneath it. He exhales. 

“Yeah,” he says, waving his phone in Gerri’s direction before pocketing it, ignoring the buzz of incoming messages against his chest. “Yeah, I found someone. We’re all good.”

 

 

 

City Hall is empty and dead. Bureaucracy starts early, but not this early.

He sees Tabitha from a distance, pacing on the steps with her Airpods in and her hands in her pockets. She sees them, too, getting out of their car and taking the steps two at a time, and it takes Roman only a split second to realize that maybe, this was a fuck-up.

“Hey,” Roman says. He doesn’t kiss her. It doesn’t feel — you know, proper, right, under the circumstances. “Thank you so much. I owe you one.”

“Sure,” she says, her eyes shifting from Roman to Gerri and back again. “Can I just ask what’s so important? Because I have a relatively high tolerance for weird, but this is —”

“Uh, yeah. Long story short, Gerri and I have to get married for legal reasons and we needed a witness.” Roman scrapes his knuckles over the back of his neck, which suddenly feels very hot. A security guard unlocks the door wordlessly, and he follows Gerri inside, the clicking of her heels deafening in the marble lobby. She knows where she’s going, right? She must know. Roman follows her, and Tabitha follows him, and her silence is — it’s telling. It’s telling, is all.

It’s a brief process, maddeningly so; made briefer by the fact that Gerri seems to have every potential outcome accounted for well in advance. He makes weak conversation with the clerk, who seems no happier than Tabitha to be there, and then the judge, who is exactly the kind of saggy-ballsack chalkboard-eraser civil servant fuck he pictured Gerri having over a barrel since Yale. He avoids eye contact with everyone in the room, the judge signs a piece of paper, the all-important waiver, and Roman scrawls his sloppy signature on the marriage license, and it’s over quick, like a flu shot.

The clerk speeds through the ceremony with little zeal. “Do you, Geraldine Silver Kellman, take this man to be your husband?” she says, with no real inflection, and Gerri’s polite, measured, “I do” is all it takes. Roman looks at the government-functional carpet. He doesn’t look at the clerk and he doesn’t look at Tabitha.

“Do you, Roman Collingwood Roy, take this woman to be your lawfully-wedded wife?” the clerk deadpans. Roman swallows, audibly in the silence, and he finally looks Gerri in the face.

“Yeah. Uh. I do.”

The clerk pronounces them husband and wife. “You may kiss the bride,” she says, and Roman closes his eyes for a moment, his face suddenly very hot, the whole room way too quiet. Then he takes a deep breath and lunges forward, lips pressed tightly together, and catches the corner of Gerri’s mouth, her lips quirked upward into a dry smile. The whole thing lasts about half a second; he feels distinctly like a gay teenager in the high school play. It’s not a real kiss. It doesn’t count.

They’re married, and they’re probably not going to be late for their breakfast meeting. And if anyone asks, they agree, it's strategy.

 

 

 

The thing that’s kind of weird about being married is that almost nothing feels different at first. He has wall-to-wall meetings all the way through the afternoon, and at some point, he and Gerri lose track of each other. Which is weird, because Roman has found that more often than not, these days, he’s completely, aggressively aware of her whereabouts and her energy at all times, like some kind of weird radar. Like her presence emits a whistle pitched at a frequency only he can pick up. Roman doesn’t think much of it — they’re in the eye of the shit-nado, after all — until someone practically hurls an iPad down in front of him and Shiv snaps, “What the actual fuck is this?”

Roman blinks. It’s a Daily Beast article, with a headline that screams “EXCLUSIVE: Embattled WayStar Execs Wed in Quickie City Hall Ceremony.” There’s a blurry photo of their marriage license, coupled with those awful company headshots some graphic designer must’ve pulled off the website. 

Shiv looks disgusted. “Are you fucking kidding me, Roman? This is a joke, right? This is some hilarious prank —“

“Actually, it is one hundred percent for real,” Roman says. “What’d your husband call it? Uh, we’re ‘dead-catting.’” 

Around them, phones are starting to light up and heads are all whipping in his direction, and Roman has the sinking feeling that somewhere along the lines, they fucked this up. Shiv scrolls through the story, up then back down and back up again. “This has got to be a joke. You’re actually kidding me. You’re not serious. This —“

“Shiv, it’s strategy.” Roman shakes his head, panic filling his body. “I mean, ask Gerri. It was her idea.”

“It was my godmother’s idea to marry you, as a distraction from the dead-woman shadow logs and Ken going apeshit.” 

“Fuck,” Roman mutters. She’s right. It sounds even worse when she says it out loud. “Look, I need to talk to Gerri, okay? Have you seen her?”

Shiv waves the iPad in the direction of the door. “She left with Frank and Hugo for a 4:30 a while ago. Good luck getting in touch.” 

“Shiv —“ He rubs his forehead, cycling through the options like a contestant on Wheel of Bullshit. The wheel lands on deflect, and he shrugs. “What if I told you it’s like, a real thing?”

Shiv looks up from her phone. She’s got that look she gets when she can’t tell whether she’s being bullshitted, which Roman knows too well. “Uh huh,” she says slowly. “It’s… a real thing.”

“Dude, I’ve been trying to tell you for months.” He spreads his arms theatrically. “‘I jerked off in Gerri’s bathroom last night!’ ‘Fuck, marry, kill — I guess I’ll marry Gerri!’ I could not have been more clear if I’d hired a skywriter to spell it out for you!” 

Shiv’s staring at him, the wheels still turning, and he’s not sure whether she’s about to laugh, barf, or punch him. Her phone buzzes again, and she starts to smirk as soon as she glances down at it, which — fuck.

“Uh, Ro, you probably should’ve hired that skywriter to break up with Tabitha first,” she says, sounding strained with horror. “Because apparently the Daily Beast reporter’s saying she’s the source.”

 

 

 

Gerri’s still not answering her phone, so that’s probably a big fucking problem. Roman takes the back way out of the office, pulling a baseball cap low over his sunglasses and ducking out through the lower-level doors that connect to the subway, two security guys at his heels. He’s doing a piss-poor job blending in, but — who cares? One of the bodyguards has to swipe him in when they reach the turnstile, but a few minutes later, they resurface at street level, an avenue away. There’s a black SUV idling at the top of the stairs, and he hurls himself inside.

He doesn’t know where he wants to go, so he tells the driver, “Uh, can you take me to Cartier?”

“Sir?” The driver furrows his brow in the rearview mirror, and Roman waves at the GPS. 

“Fucking Cartier, dude! Just — step on it.” He feels, uncharacteristically, like an asshole, flustered with flop sweat beading on his forehead, but the driver steps on it, and twenty minutes later, he’s ducking into the Cartier store on Fifth Avenue with his pulse throbbing at all his hot points, and also in the vein in his forehead, which Connor once told him made him look like Pinky and the Brain. (Not even “the Brain.” Just, “Pinky and the Brain. But there’s a reason they’ve always agreed Connor was the shitty first draft of their dad’s sperm.)

He’s not sure exactly why this feels like the right move. He just knows that it does: he’s not always the best at the chess game bullshit, but every so often, the right move hits him, almost like he’s being remote-controlled by someone who actually knows what the fuck they’re doing, and he just — goes with it. 

Fifty minutes and nearly seventy grand later, he leaves the store and ducks back into the car, three rings tucked into a sleek red bag. The driver waits for instructions, and Roman doesn’t know what to say. 

“Uh, I guess I’m just gonna go home, man,” he mumbles after a minute. “Thanks.”

 

 

 

His first thought is that he’s been robbed. The penthouse looks like a pack of wolves ripped through it, empty but for a Post-It note stuck to the fridge door. It reads: FUCK YOU ASSHOLE. Underlined. Thrice.

Which, well. Yeah. In hindsight, he probably could’ve handled things better than by disappearing to Croatia for a week and hauling Tabitha out of bed at 6 a.m. to help him get married to someone else. He can’t be that mad at her, even though he most certainly wants to be. It’s just that — he kind of thought she wouldn’t take it so seriously, right? Like, ha-ha! The company’s in a death spiral, gonna marry the general counsel to cover my ass! 

Roman rips the note off the door and pulls the Belvedere out of the freezer. He makes himself a martini with too much vodka and almost no vermouth. “What a day,” he says to the empty room, and then his phone buzzes and his stomach falls out his ass. 

“Annul it,” Logan says as soon as Roman picks up. “I don’t want an excuse and I don’t care what the fuck you were thinking. I want this over tomorrow.”

“Uh.” Roman screws up his face. “Yeah. I’ve been meaning to talk about this.” His father says nothing, and Roman feels his metaphorical hackles go up. It’s a fight-or-flight mechanism, it’s nothing, he’s used to it. He swills his drink, careful to keep the glass far from the phone receiver, and when Logan still says nothing, he ventures, “I think, uh, Gerri and I are. I know the timing looks like shit, but we’re — we’ve been talking about it, and it felt like, uh, no time like the present, right? Like, a Jonestown marriage. That’s a thing, right? Huddling in the fallout shelter or something?”

More silence. Roman sticks his finger into the glass, just for something to do. Finally, Logan clears his throat. “I knew I’d raised a feckless cunt. I just didn’t know I’d raised two of them.” The call goes dead, before Roman can even put together a retort, which, well — that’s just rude. 

 

 

 

He finds Gerri in the bar at the Carlyle, her preferred after-hours spot for business drinks. Not that this was on the calendar, but he just figured — she’d be there, and traffic was light on the FDR, and nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? He knows her well enough to remember that. She’s sitting alone, drinking a martini of her own (like they’re syncing up or something, how cute, he thinks) and reading a book, her phone turned face-down on the bar beside her. Roman’s not a big reader, but whatever this is must be pretty engrossing, because she doesn’t look up until he slides into the seat beside her and says, “Long day, huh?”

Gerri doesn’t smile when she looks up. “I’m sure you’ve heard from Logan by now.”

“Yeah. ‘Wave your fuckin’ fairy wand and undo it.’” Roman rolls his eyes, catches the bartender’s glance and gestures for another round. “It’s bullshit. He’s bluffing.”

“Sounded serious to me.” She bookmarks her page, then sets the paperback aside with a grave air. “Do you remember what I told you when you first brought this up?”

“We have ‘work to do.’” Air quotes. “Yeah, I know.”

“I’m not sure you do. We needed people to believe that this wasn’t just a naked power grab. Having our marriage license leaked to the press before the ink dried supports that how, exactly?” Oh, fuck. She’s actually mad at him now. “Roman, this is what I tried to tell you. I don’t know what side of you I’m going to get from day to day. You’re brilliant right up until you have to be.”

Roman sits back, stung. The bartender slides two glasses down in front of them, but he doesn’t touch it. “I fucked this up.”

“Irreparably.”

“No. Nothing’s irreparable.” He shakes his head wildly, digging into his jacket pocket for the little velvet box. Gerri rolls her eyes when he slides it down in front of her, but she pops it open anyway, probably more out of curiosity than anything. 

Roman waits, practically quivering with anticipation, as she takes it all in, but then she shoots him a look of abject bewilderment and asks, “Seriously?”

“I mean — yeah? It felt like we should get rings, right? If we want to sell this thing —“

“Roman, this looks like something a mob boss gives his mistress. Are you kidding? I can’t wear this. I wouldn’t be able to fit my hand in my pocket.” Gerri shakes her head, looking chagrined and amused in a way that makes him burn, hot and eager. “Seriously?”

“Yeah. Seriously.” He lifts his chin, daring, and pulls the other box out of his pocket. Without breaking eye contact, he takes out his own new ring and slides it on, and slaps his hand down on the bar. “Nobody’s gonna buy that we’re married for real if you’re wearing some dipshit Cracker Jack prize like the rock Tom got my sister. Come on. Ring on, Ger. Time to do this thing.”

Gerri shakes her head, bemused, and closes the box. She drops it into her bag and pats Roman on the hand. “You can stay at the house tonight.”

 

 

 

It’s after ten by the time the car pulls into Gerri’s driveway. Roman should be exhausted — it occurs to him that it’s probably been upwards of 19, 20 hours since he’s slept — but mostly, he’s restless. Antsy, with a lumpy itch in his throat like he’s been triple-dosing Adderall. He can’t stop fiddling with the ring on his left hand. It feels heavy, bulky, intrusive. Not real.

Gerri disappears upstairs without a word, and he hears the muffled shower running shortly thereafter. Roman can’t stay still. He paces the living room and then the family room, adjusting the sleek framed photos that line the bookshelves, the credenzas, and the top of the grand piano. Neither of the kids ever seemed to like him much, not in any of the time they spent with the family or at company events. Mostly, Roman remembers how young they were — nine and seven years younger than himself, already the baby of the family. Laurel was bitchy, overconfident, the kind of lax-team mean girl Roman instinctually disliked, and Alana always struck him as a whiner, spoiled. Glass houses, or whatever, but the impression holds. Mostly, they didn’t really register to him at all. Just background noise at the holiday parties, the company retreats, the odd weeks in the summer that the Kellmans dropped in on the Roys in the Hamptons, Jackson Hole, Pont d'Avignon, Corfu. 

Anyway, they’re technically his stepkids now. The thought occurs to him and he nearly knocks over a whole row of photos on the piano. “Fucker,” he hisses, and grabs one just before it hits the ground. It’s pretty old — maybe ’98, ’99 — and he’s struck by how young Gerri is there, probably barely in her 40s. She’s got the kids with her on the beach, and she looks kind of distracted, faraway, normal

If he’s doing the math right, Roman thinks, he would’ve been 13 or 14 himself when this was taken. That was the year they spent the summer close to home in the Hamptons, mostly to pay for Kendall’s mistakes, and the same summer Kendall brought him along to try to score coke from some townie and they ended up both getting sucker-punched and robbed, right there on the beach. He remembers that summer way too fucking vividly for all the hard work he put in to forget it. He mostly remembers thinking, as he sat in the back of Gerri’s car on the way home from the Nassau County Second Precinct, that he couldn’t protect Kendall from himself.

Gerri finds him in the kitchen. He’s leaning on the marble island and flicking through emails, wasting what’s left of his battery. She’s wearing a cashmere bathrobe but her hair is dry and sleek — she must get it blown out, like Shiv and Tabitha — and she smells good, soft, like flowers or some shit. “You’re still up,” she observes, and Roman pockets his phone with a shrug. “You know, you can come to bed whenever.”

“You mean, I can sleep in the big bed?” Roman sing-songs, and she rolls her eyes. He grins — there it is. There she is. “I thought you’d chain me up in the backyard.”

“That’s a last resort,” she says, and his cock stiffens.

 

 

He follows her upstairs to the master suite, practically tripping on her heels, and he thinks about kissing her, but. But. They don’t do that. They’ve never done that, and he doesn’t think it’s in his best judgment to start now. But fuck, he’s hard, he’s drunk-tired, he’s a married man; he can wait for instructions, but not for long.

She doesn’t make him wait, not really. Gerri presses him down onto the bed, clicks her tongue in impatience as he unbuckles his belt, fumbling with his zipper. “Really great fine motor skills there, Roman,” she snaps, and he hisses as he gets a hand into his boxers, wrapping it around his cock. “About on par with all your others, I guess.”

“Uh-huh,” Roman says, tongue between his teeth as he works his cock free, pants halfway down his thighs. The first couple strokes are enough to make him hiss, throw his head back; it’s overwhelming, how good it feels, and he realizes exactly how long it’s been. 

Gerri hums in amusement, takes a seat at the vanity halfway across the room. He sees her snake a hand down into her bathrobe, looking languid and nearly bored. “But then, you still got just what you wanted today, didn’t you? Spoiled little fuck-prince. Beg and whine and moan long enough and you’ll always get what you want in the end. Is that how your daddy raised you?”

“Fuck, Gerri,” he whines. He knows he’s whining, and that’s the worst part of it; he still can’t stop. 

She rises from her chair, saunters across the room with a catlike smile on her face. “You’re incorrigible,” she remarks, and straddles him, pressing his shoulders flat on the bed. Roman makes a weak grab for the ties of her bathrobe, and she swats his hand away, before loosening it herself, and he takes a stuttering breath as she shrugs the robe off entirely. Roman’s been hit with a Taser before (long story), and he’s still never felt this stunned: in all of their time, all of their stolen moments and clandestine phone calls, it’s never been — like this. She takes pains to stay distant, always a little bit removed, rolling her eyes and only deigning to touch him when he’s begged for it sufficiently. To have her on top of him, greedy and determined, like she’s just going to take what she wants — 

“But that’s the thing, isn’t it,” she says, her voice still steady and conversational. “You’re so spoiled, you don’t know what to do with what you want when you get it, do you? You filthy, insolent little pig.”

He lunges up, palming her breast, gets his mouth on it and hears her gasp in delight. His other hand is still on his cock, and he grips it desperately, guides it with some difficulty to her cunt — but she’s not so desperate, he realizes, because she won’t let him thrust inside her. “You want this, too?” she hisses, and grinds against him — fuck — pulling away just before he can push inside. “Sloppy, greedy Roman. Someone ought to remind you what it feels like to really want.

Roman groans, hot and shameful, flicking his tongue against her nipple and squirming up against her. She pushes him back, flat against the duvet, and this is the point, he realizes: all he can do is wait for what she’ll give him. She grabs at his hair, pulling it hard, and with one arm still holding him down against the bed, she grinds down along the length of his cock again, pressing it flat to his belly. This time he yelps out loud.

“Does that feel good?” Gerri smirks, rocking her hips as she settles her weight — aaah — not on his pelvis but right at his waist.

“Please,” he chokes through the fog in his brain, and her whole face curls into a smile as she reaches behind her with the hand that was just in his hair and gets a grip on his cock. His hips rock up involuntarily, and he hisses. 

“You want it badly, don’t you?” she says, and he nods; she cocks a brow in response, that eyebrow, it makes him go fucking crazy. “Is your little cock just aching, honey? Is it as desperate as the rest of you? Use your words, Roman, don’t waste my time with your whining.”

Words — fuck, words. He barely has syllables, that’s how gone he is, and she’s got . “Fuck,” he mumbles, and then manages to add, “just, use me. Please.”

“Hm.” Gerri presses the tip of his cock to her cunt, sliding the head up and down against her slick heat, and Roman, it’s too much, he can’t take this. “No, I don’t think so. That would imply that you’re actually useful to me.” 

And then two things happen at once: Gerri kisses him, ferocious and hot, and she slides down onto Roman’s cock, so intensely slick and hot and overwhelming that Roman can barely cry out before he feels his orgasm hit him like a rogue wave. He chokes when he cries out, thrusting haplessly into her, tries to push her away just to somehow cut this off before it crests, but it’s no good: he comes with a long, soundless wail, bucking up into her, until it finally subsides into trembles and he shuts his eyes in silence.

After a few moments, Gerri breaks the silence with a soft snicker. “Well, then,” she says, and Roman screws up his face, averting his eyes as he feels himself flush. 

“Sorry,” he says. “I’m — sorry, that is not really — I’m usually not that guy — I swear, it’s just, been a few days, and I don’t usually — I normally have the opposite problem, okay, I swear I don’t know where that came from —“ 

Gerri eases off him and retrieves her bathrobe from the foot of the bed, wrapping it around her shoulders. “I didn’t take your virginity, did I?” she says, and Roman groans, covering his face with both hands as she laughs softly.

“Fuck. Fuck. I just. Fuck. I have had a lot of sex, Gerri, a lot of very normal sex with a lot of very normal people.”

Relax.” She strokes his hair, a surprising degree of tenderness in her touch. “It’s fine. Clean yourself up.” 

When Roman emerges from the bathroom, naked but not particularly inclined to do anything about it, Gerri’s reclining atop the bedclothes in her cashmere robe and a silk nightshirt, leaning against the pillows, reading the New Yorker. For a minute, he just stands in the doorway, looking at her. That’s his wife. He realizes, quite suddenly, that he’s twisting his ring around his finger again.

“So, uh,” he says, “I should let you get some rest, or…” 

Gerri shoots him a piercing look over her glasses and pats the bed beside her; he’s got all the bravado of a wet paper bag. “If you really prefer it, you can have your pick of the guest rooms.”

“No, no, this is fine.” Briefly, he considers explaining his whole thing about space, how it worked with Tabitha and their separate bedrooms, but it’s a pretty big bed. And Gerri’s compact, anyway, like a sexy Volvo sedan, so he can probably deal. Gerri flips the pages of her magazine, and Roman sprawls out under the covers, suddenly feeling the day in every single fucking cell of his broke-ass body. 

 

 

 

 Kendall gives it a full day before he deigns to visit Roman’s office to bestow his blessing, clapping him on the shoulder and muttering, “I don’t know what you two are doing, but don’t fuck me.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Roman says. “Don’t worry, buddy. The king is dead, long live the king. We’re all lining up to suck your little-boy cock now.” He claps Kendall right back, and Kendall fixes him with a long, hard look before he cracks a smile.

“You know, it’s funny,” Kendall says on his way out. “For a minute, you almost had me.”

“Hm?” Roman glances up, half-distracted. “Like, how?”

“Like I almost bought it for a second. You and Gerri.” He snickers, pulls a little face, and something jerks inside Roman, a weird new indignation that he does not like one bit. “Anyway, have fun with that.”

“Oh, I will,” Roman calls after him. “I’m gonna go home and fuck my wife right now. We’re gonna have so much marital sex.” Kendall flips him off, but Roman’s still hopped up; he shouts, “Gotta get home to the old ball and chain! You know, the ones she uses to tie me up! For sex shit!”

 

 

 

“Hey, so, we have a problem,” Gerri announces as soon as he bursts into her corner office. “Logan’s got Ratfucker Sam on the case —“

“Oh, fuck that guy,” Roman says breezily. He sits down on her desk, legs spread wide, grinning crookedly up at her. “Nothing to see here. Hey, want to have a conjugal quickie? I looked it up in the company handbook and it turns out there’s nothing in the sexual harassment policy about jerking off in your wife’s office if she says it’s okay.”

“Roman, keep your cock in your pants for ten minutes and listen to me.” Her voice is sharp and unamused. “Did you leave pages from the binder I gave you on the boat?”

“Uh?” He… doesn’t know, actually. “I mean, no, I don’t think so? I gave it all back to you, remember?”

“You kept a page or two. Evidently.” Gerri smacks her phone into his hand. “Which was just enough to suggest that this is some kind of conspiracy to force your father out of the company. A palace coup, as it were.”

Roman skims the email, sinking into dread. “So — I mean. Dad’s already out, though, right? What’s he going to do? These are threats.” They’re real threats, too, full of spiky consequence, not the mealy-mouthed legal bullshit he’s used to hearing. 

“These are very reasonable threats,” she says, her tone measured. “I think you should move out to Westchester for the time being, and make it look like you really live there. It’s not unrealistic that he’s already got someone tailing us, looking for proof that we’re not really married.”

“We are, though,” Roman protests, hopping off the desk. “I mean.”

“I know what you mean, but…” She takes off her glasses and runs a hand over her face, exhausted. “You understand how this looks. To your father, to the shareholders, to everyone else. It looks like a last-ditch maneuver to consolidate power among the flailing and increasingly powerless.”

“Well. Yeah.” Roman rolls his eyes. “It’s gonna take a shit-ton of work to convince the rest of them that this isn’t a shameless power-grab, but — isn’t that kind of… an advantage, in a way?”

Gerri makes a face like he’s caught her off-guard. “In what sense?”

“You know,” he says, and takes a step closer, suddenly feeling a little bit daring. “They think this is a joke, right? None of them actually think we’re — we could be married. So why don’t we give them something to investigate?” He closes the space between them with another step, and she fixes him with a haughty look, puts her weight on the desk and braces herself so that she can press a knee up, slowly but firmly, against his crotch. The pressure forces a gasp out of him, and she cocks her head, thoughtful.

“Not here,” she says, and straightens up, the blissful pressure gone before he’s even able to really feel it. “Too much to do. I need you to try to talk some sense into your father.”

“Sweet-talk the old geezer. Sure.” Doffing an imaginary cap, he heads for the door, but turns back at the last second. “But just for the record, I, uh, I would like to enter into the record that I still think it’s cool that I married you?” And he darts out the door before he can hear her answer.

 

 

 

The thing is, he doesn’t actually have that much stuff, all things considered — half his clothes are scattered all over the office, the fridge is empty save for a jar of capers and an untouched pint of puckered blueberries, and he’s just never really been someone who accumulates things. Books and pictures and shit. Everything that took up space in his apartment belonged to Tabitha, anyway, and that all went with her when she left. The sum total of the shit he cares about pretty much fills a couple gym bags, and as for Gerri’s instructions to make it look like he actually lives at her place, he’s at a loss.

He sure doesn’t feel like talking to his dad, though, so after handing off his two bags full of shit to his driver and leaving the doorman with strict instructions not to allow anyone, but especially no one who looks as though they might go by the nickname Ratfucker Sam, into his place while he’s away, he heads for his local. And on the half-block walk over, he sends a text he thinks he’ll probably regret.

To his credit, Kendall wastes very little time. Roman’s barely settled into a dark booth in the back before he spots his brother, slunking through the packed room with the brim of his plain black cap pulled low and his security detail at his heels. He sinks low into the booth, his shoulders spring-tight, and cracks his knuckles as Roman says, mirthlessly, “Hey hey, motherfucker.”

“What’s wrong?” Kendall asks, and Roman pulls a face; six feet of shiny, tanned legs and mermaid-wavy hair in the shape of a cocktail waitress have appeared as if by magic. Kendall doesn’t make eye contact with the waitress, who introduces herself as Malina; he orders in a bloodless way and barely glances at her ass as she walks away, which is how Roman deduces that something is actually bothering him.

“Uh, I just wanted to hang.” Roman drums his knuckles on the tabletop, thrumming with nervous energy. “Bad time?”

“No, no, I was around.” Ken eyes him sideways. “Just, you know. Another day running the show at the shit circus.”

Roman chuffs. “Ringmaster Roy, Barnum and Bullshit.” 

“Yeah.” Ken’s drink arrives, and he downs half of it before coming up for air. “I think I might actually owe you one.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, I don’t think Dad knows which one of us he wants to kill more.”

“Aha.” Roman doesn’t laugh, but — it’s funny, because he’s got a point. “Yeah, that was why I actually thought we should, you know, talk.” He leaves Kendall enough room to make a joke, but he doesn’t, so Roman has no choice but to — soldier on. “Just, your POV: how bad is this?”

“Fuck.” Kendall pulls a face, shrugging out of his Barbour jacket and throwing it on the booth bench beside him. “Tell the truth, Rome, I don’t even know what I’m thinking. I can’t figure out the angle here. Was that, I don’t know, your idea of strategy? Marrying Gerri?”

Roman sips his beer, taking his time with an answer. He doesn’t really have one, is the problem — just the truth. And the truth has always been his friend, because so often, the truth is too outlandish to be believed. Especially in the right voice, the right tone, pitch it like a joke and nobody’s ever looked twice. But. But, like. Fuck it. Isn’t that why he’s here in the first place?

“Let me throw this out there,” Roman says slowly, softly. Sounding almost chastened, he realizes, but maybe that gives it a little weight. “Would it be like, totally fucking crazy and out there if I said it wasn’t my idea of anything?”

“Bullshit,” Kendall says, but Roman cocks his chin, dares him. Watches the realization drip in in real time. “I mean — no way, dude. It’s fucking — fucking Gerri? Seriously?”

“It’s not that fucking weird,” Roman snaps, sheepishly defensive. “I mean, she’s hot, right? Don’t tell me you never thought about it.”

“I never thought about it because it’s fucking Gerri,” Kendall says. “Bailed-me-out-of-county Gerri. Shiv’s godmother. Like, remember what we used to call her? 'One Phone Call Gerri?'”

You called her that,” Roman snaps. “Because she was your one phone call. I told her about that nickname, by the way, and she actually thought it was pretty funny, but like — fuck off, dude. Never mind. This was stupid.” He slurps the last of his beer and reaches for his wallet, but Kendall stops him, and that’s when he — Kendall — they both really notice the ring on Roman’s left hand. 

They sit there for a moment, Kendall’s tight grip on Roman’s wrist, before Kendall releases him and slumps back in the booth. “I mean, fuck, man. I don’t know what to say. Congratulations?”

“Fuck off.”

“I don’t mean it like that.” Kendall shrugs, annoyed, but contemplative. “You gotta know how it looks on the outside.”

Roman has been trying very hard not to think about that aspect of the whole thing. “Gerri says it’s pretty fucking bad,” he says, and Kendall smacks his hand down on the tabletop and shakes with a clap of laughter as Roman jumps.

Gerri says,” Kendall says, between snickers. “Gerri says! God, that was you for months — Gerri says, Gerri thinks, anybody think Dad fucked Gerri —”

“I was being fucking subtle.”

“Bullshit.” Kendall finishes his drink, and signals for another round, as Roman stews, his face very hot. “Hey, man, whatever. I don’t know what to say. The shit with Dad, I can’t help you out this time, but —“

“Nah. Nah, it’s fine. Whatever. I’m on top of it.” He doesn’t at all feel like he’s on top of it, but who cares. He claps Kendall on the shoulder as he rises, but doesn’t bother to take out his wallet; it’d be rude not to stick the new CEO with the bill. “Thanks, man.”

“Hey, no, it’s early. Hang out,” Kendall says as Roman reaches for his jacket. “Naomi and I have a 9:30 seating at Bathalzar, it’s right around the corner, let’s chill.”

Roman finishes buttoning his coat, and he makes a show of examining his fingernails, shining up the ring on his left hand. “Actually, I gotta get home to the wife,” he smirks. “She sends regards.”

Kendall groans, flopping back against the sleek padded booth, and this time, it’s Roman’s turn to laugh.

 

 

 

Gerri beat him home, he realizes, as the driver pulls through the gate; the porch light’s on, and so are lights all over the house. There’s another car in the driveway as well, one he recognizes but can’t quite place. He flips through a number of worst-case scenarios: Laurel or Alana? Shiv or Karolina? Laird or Karl or Hugo or.

Or. Or. Or. He hits the doorbell in a staccato rhythm, cursing out Gerri internally for not bothering to give him his own set of keys. A pattering of feet, and then the door swings open, and, well. Or.

“Honey, I’m home,” he manages to say, his composure remarkable under the circumstances.

His father squints at him. “Oh, fuck off,” he says, and Roman shrugs and pushes past him and into the foyer, where Gerri is standing at defensive attention, hands on her hips and a nervous smile on her face.

“Okay, yeah, party’s over.” Roman is very fucking aware that his voice is too loud, and he doesn’t bother to modulate it, just stomps right in and hurls his coat on the sofa, like he lives here. Which he does. “Nice to see you, Dad, glad we could all get together, but.”

“Your father was just leaving,” Gerri says, in a no-nonsense way that says: pipe down. Roman could not pipe down if he tried. He’s way too aware of how his father is nosing around the living room, looking for some kind of proof, a bulletproof trump card he can throw on the table and blow their whole thing to shit, and he is just — he’s not in the fucking mood. 

“No, no, please. Take a seat, Pops. Make yourself a drink.” Roman flops down on the sofa, motioning for Logan to do the same. “Let’s hash this thing out. You are here because you clearly have some doubts about the sanctity of my marriage. What’s it gonna take to convince you?”

Logan fixes him with a steely glare, and Roman grinds his molars, feeling his gut start to roil. “This has gone on long enough, Romulus.”

“Yeah, about that,” Roman says, like he’s just remembering, “I should mention. It’s actually been going on for a while. Few months now. Remember when you sent me down to management training? Since then, thereabouts, but it really kicked up back — well, golly, around the time we all went out to Tern Haven.” He sees Logan’s jaw set, a vein in his temple twitch, and he can’t help himself, he keeps pushing: “But it really went there during that trip to Dundee, remember that? When Ken-ye West shat the bed onstage and you two pimped me out to go get some sweet Turkish cash? Oh, yeah, bet you missed the part when Gerri and I were — well, not to be unladylike, but she was about wrist deep inside me by the end of the weekend.”

“Jesus, Roman.” Gerri claps a hand over her face, but Logan doesn’t react at all, and. That’s the whole thing. That’s always been the whole thing. If they don’t react, go bigger. Louder, faster, larger. Force them to look you in the face. 

It's then he realizes: she's wearing the ring. Not the big one. Not the engagement ring. But the wedding band, the one he chose. His. Him. She's wearing him, really. Like a ring, like a big fucking scarlet R, it doesn't fucking matter. They're not going down. Not like this.

“Dad, I want you to meet my wife.” Roman grins, folding his arms behind his head as he leans back on the sofa, all scrawny limb and spoiled boy-king. He can’t help himself, can he? That’s always been the thing. He’s never been able to help himself. “We’re married, and I’ve got feelings for her, and yeah, it’s fucking weird. I don’t know what to tell you. If you want to send one of your fucking Mossad agents in to watch us fuck, feel free, but I’ve gotta warn you, there’s a lot going on there —“

Enough.” Roman knows his dad like he knows himself; he knows that tone. It’s enough to make him freeze, waiting for the avalanche. But Logan doesn’t say anything else. He sits in the uncomfortable silence, letting them all stew, a disgusted scowl on his face as his gaze flickers from Gerri to Roman and back and forth between them.

It’s Gerri who finally breaks the silence, sounding the way she always does in these situations with Logan, like a GPS who just lost the signal. “Of course, this isn’t how we hoped to have this conversation,” she says, treading water. “But the way things have shaken out — this was very sudden, but after the hearings, it felt imperative to seal a few things up. It was my idea.”

“Your idea,” Logan repeats, like he’s calling bullshit, but Gerri nods with new resolve.

“In the event of a larger investigation, being able to invoke spousal privilege between legal counsel and the family seemed… favorable. Of course, we didn’t intend for it to break in the press so early — that one’s on Roman, unfortunately — but. The fact of the matter is, yes, Logan. This was my idea. A bad idea, maybe, but we were out of better ones. In the wake of Kendall’s little performance, we acted in our best interest, but moreover?” She takes a deep breath, and Roman’s breath hitches. “We acted in the interest of the company, first and foremost. This wasn’t a palace coup. It was a consolidation of power in the middle of a nuclear fucking meltdown.”

Roman looks at Gerri, her brows held expectantly aloft, her cold, lawyerly Spidey sense for bullshit, her matador’s stance, her draped-in-three-layers-of-Peruvian-cashmere self-assurance, her unstoppable force. And he looks at his father, the unmovable object, craggy and unmoved like he’s carved into a fucking mountain, sitting there stewing in his button-down sweater and his own sense of defeat. 

“And I love her,” Roman says.

And he’s pretty sure that was not the thing he was supposed to say. But in the split second before Logan opens his mouth, Gerri looks at him, and she smiles. And it’s not a relieved smile, not a grateful one. It’s — knowing. 

She knows him. And Roman knows her. And that’s all this has ever been, right?

Roman clears his throat. “So, with all due respect, and I love you, Dad, but — fuck off.”