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Distorted Second Cousin of King Midas

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He doesn’t know how he’s feeling but that’s nothing new. Kendall never knows how he’s fucking feeling. Sick, maybe. Scared, always. Relieved. Ashamed for feeling relieved. Perversely happy. Angry that any rush of happiness he gets is always a perversion.

It’s funny. This is everything Kendall’s ever wanted—he’s tried to stab his family in the back an embarrassing amount of times by now, each one missing the mark by a motherfucking mile. He got it this time. But only because he had permission. You’re the face, his dad had said, and Kendall had known what he meant. They’ll never accept me, his dad had said, and Kendall had known what he meant. It was always going to be him. He’s the one who fucking deserves it. He deserves it for what he did to that kid. He deserves it because it’s what he’s always fucking wanted anyway. Logan set him free—he just also doused them both in gasoline and ordered Kendall to set them on fire, even if he didn’t explicitly say that as much as Ken knew it was what he was being sent to do. Who else? Kendall is the one who called for a vote of no confidence. Kendall is the one who tried to screw the family out of a company built by his own blood. He didn’t do it right, but that isn’t the point. Not really. They’re far beyond that.

It doesn’t matter that Kendall isn’t a killer. It had never mattered. Kendall had never mattered. His father was toying with him from the start, picking at his own scabs by poking at Kendall’s sensitive flesh and seeing how quickly he would bruise. He wasn’t Orestes—he was Iphigenia. He was the blood sacrifice. Even now, when the world looks to him and sees a son declaring war, Kendall is nothing more than a fucking puppet. Again: who else? Shiv would never go against Logan. Why should she? The favorite fucking child? He both envies and pities Shiv; confidence, self-esteem, it’s all shit that comes easy to her, along with a fervent sense of self-preservation and the belief that she’s perpetually on top. But Shiv is green, Shiv’s never played the game before—not just with Waystar, but with everything. Shiv grew up seeing her brothers pitted against each other mercilessly, without ever being in the line of fire herself. She’ll never get it. She’s the lucky child, the only one allowed up on Logan’s pedestal, but now she’s never going to beat the odds—what Kendall started realizing, back when the stories about him using drugs again were planted, back when that and the weight of Atlas triggered his relapse, is that his father glorifies suffering. You deserve to be punished for your weakness because how else can you be strong? Nobody’s born tough, they’re made that way. People are forged. Or maybe some people are born tough, but they’re at a disadvantage because of it. Weaklings always learn the specific and ugly places they have to sink their teeth into in order to be debilitating. Those born tough always leave their Achilles’ tendon uncovered.

Weirdly enough, it makes Ken feel almost proud for a second, before the thick layer of screeching nothing takes over again.

Shiv’s tough, but only because she was born tough. Shiv’s tough in the way of somebody who thinks they’re inherently in the lead. And Shiv’s cold, Shiv’s mean, but it’s different—she should be the most like their father, in the end. But Logan is purposeful, Logan carries the weight of Hades with every rise and fall of his chest. Shiv is calculating, but she’s not purposeful. She thinks she is, but she doesn’t have the full picture.

Kendall remembers being around fifteen, the sharp realization that he was expected to “come into his own” suddenly looming over him, even though he had no fucking idea what that meant. It’d been a bad night. His father was mad at him for something or other, he can’t remember now what it was, maybe some stupid shit Stewy had gotten him into, it doesn’t fucking matter and it never did—what he remembers is the way Logan wouldn’t look at him, how he instead spent the night directing every question and vague praise towards Shiv, who couldn’t have been older than eight at the time, but Kendall remembers, he remembers how she puffed up her chest and sat at the dinner table with pride, how she made eye contact with him and smiled with fulfillment, as if she knew she beat him at something. Kendall remembers clenching his fists and excusing himself from the table, only for Logan to finally, finally look at him and scream about respect, obedience, family, and other empty promises. So Kendall sat back down and left his body. Shiv was still smiling, as was Logan. Connor was elbowing him, with that sort of benign mocking he thought meant they were bonding.

He tries to remember what Roman was doing. How Roman was doing. He draws a blank. Some of his clearest memories are of Roman—jumping between him and Logan when shit hit the fan, those rare moments of bravery where Kendall could actually look his father in the eye. Because Kendall didn’t have to be Kendall at that moment, he was only Roman’s older brother then, and that was a role he never had to think twice about. Mostly.

Kendall still wonders why Roman is the only one of them who ever got—gets—hit. Kendall almost resents him for it. What about Roman made their father decide he was the only one who could take it? Kendall always oscillated so violently between wanting to be the good child and desperately wishing Logan would just slap him across the face already so he could have some fucking motive for the things he feels, tangible proof that his father hates him—permission to hate him back. Now that he’s sharpened the blade and effectively committed social patricide, Kendall wants to reverse time. The blow doesn’t hurt enough. It’s all been too easy.

It’s taken him far too long to realize that their tests of mettle began long before any of them were aware of it. Kendall had every advantage on his side, Kendall was fucking winning the game. Once upon a time, Kendall had locked his four year old brother in a fucking dog cage. The same four year old brother he let hide in his room during a thunderstorm, or whenever mommy and daddy were both mad on the same nights.

Roman actually used to come to him a lot when they were young. Really young. Even after the dog pound shit started, most nights Roman would slip into Kendall’s room—it has taken him a lifetime to grasp that Roman knows how to make himself quiet to a degree that chills him—but he would never get in the bed. Kendall remembers waking up one morning and seeing his baby brother curled up in the fetal position at his feet. He remembers thinking that Roman was so small, so helpless, like the universe had granted Kendall an opportunity to prove himself. There is a moment he recalls, a singular moment, in which he had morbidly wanted to get up as though there was nobody there at all, stepping down on Roman’s ribcage and crushing it, standing on his brother’s bones and hearing the debilitating crack. His feet twitched, brushed against the fabric of Roman’s shirt. At the contact, Roman had woken up, alarmed, his almost rabid eyes locking with Kendall’s empty ones. They’d stared at one another, two brothers expected to battle since birth, two brothers pushed into roles they were never going to fulfill correctly. The runt of the litter stared at the top dog. Life had been wrong about who was who.

Kendall was the one who looked away first, muttering something about how Roman couldn’t just fucking sleep in front of his bed; what if Kendall hadn’t seen him? What if Kendall had hurt him? Roman, who didn’t say much those days, had only shrugged, picking up his pillow and blanket and leaving for breakfast. Kendall remembers how he felt like crying. Should he have wanted to hurt him? Did his father want him to want to hurt him?

The next few nights followed without incident. And then Kendall had heard a soft whining, not really a cry but more of a protest, and sat up in bed, swiveling his head and blinking rapidly, trying to get his eyes to adjust to the room, hands flapping erratically, until he realized that there was nobody in his line of sight and he relaxed, pushing against his chest for the sake of pressure. And then he heard it again. He hesitated, then leaned down to glimpse underneath his bed, and his breath caught in his throat. Roman. His eyes were screwed shut, his arms wrapped around his whole body, his outline tensed. Kendall wanted to reach out to him, to ask him what was wrong, what he needed. Was it his fault? For the dog cage? Was he a monster who had traumatized his brother? He had to be. Who else made him this way? But more likely than not, that wasn’t how Ken was thinking at the time. Still, stretched out a hand, the tip of his index finger almost touching Roman’s dark hair. But Roman had situated himself just far enough that nobody could reach him. Or maybe Kendall’s arms weren’t long enough. Or maybe it was a test. Maybe their father was in this room right now, watching. He would want Kendall to grab power and wield it, like a good oldest son. Connor wasn’t fit for their hierarchy, and Kendall couldn’t let himself become that. Kendall pulled his hand back, closed his eyes, and fell asleep.

Thinking about it now, he feels a sharp foreboding for those two boys. He wants to warn them that they will be cruel to each other. He wants to apologize to four-year old Roman for not protecting him correctly when Roman had chosen him specifically as a protector. But he can never apologize to any incarnation of Roman. How? He isn’t sure, even now, what the fuck he was supposed to be protecting Roman from. And thinking about his and Roman’s early childhoods is akin to rereading a fairytale as an adult and realizing just how fucked up it is that Ariel is swallowed by the ocean in the end. Kendall doesn’t want to accept responsibility for the things he did, not just because they were objectively wrong, but because it’s mortifying to think that he was once the winner between all his siblings and he squandered it. Couldn’t carry it. Couldn’t do what needed to be done.

Dad’s theory was, you got two fighting dogs, Connor had said to him in that dirty, dimly lit nightclub. You send the weak one away, you punish the weak one. Then everyone knows the hierarchy! Then everyone’s happy! So, away he went.

He wonders if Connor knows that he reframed Kendall’s entire perception of his childhood with a casual anecdote. There was the abject horror of realizing his father had treated them like wolves for sport, but Kendall’s lying if he says that was his most potent reaction. Horror is fleeting. Nothing compares to the overwhelming hatred that the realization of his role reversal in Logan’s hierarchy unlocked. He hates Roman for not being the weakest dog anymore. He hates himself for not being crueler to him. He hates his father for sending him away. He hates Connor for how he fucking remembers everything and acts like it was all fucking normal. He hates Shiv for growing up unmarred. Fuck Shiv for growing up unmarred, running her mouth from her ivory tower of feeling fucking loved by their father.

Shiv skates through life. Shiv thinks she’s justified in believing she’s the best of them because she was never punished. Shiv loves their father more cleanly than any Roy should have a right to. She can get away with murder; she can get away with crying in front of the big bad wolf. It’s the cognitive dissonance of the baby of the family somehow being the most outwardly put together. Roman never cries. Kendall does cry, and even more when he was a kid, but he made sure, then, never to do so in front of his father. Even at thirteen years old, when she behaved like she was royalty, one stern word from Logan could make her lower lip tremble, even if her eyes were knives. Roman always laughed at her when she cried, and Kendall often joined in, which led to Shiv growing angry and screaming and throwing whatever she could find at them. That was as close to the war as she got. Jesus fuck, they’d been tiny little fucking sociopaths.

Kendall can’t stand to see Shiv cry now. But he still gets an odd, mangled satisfaction from it. It’s proof that his sister may aim to be this cold, poised twenty-first century woman all she wants—and Ken has to admit that she plays the role well—but the fact that she built a layer of maturity far quicker than any of them means that that layer is paper thin, means that the only one convinced she’s actually an adult is Shiv herself.

If Roman had been the runt, and Kendall the top dog, then Shiv was the prize dog. She never had to fight to win. So now, she can’t fight.

She’d gone out to find her own calling, successful in the field of politics and analysis, skilled at lying and manipulating facts to benefit her goals, and all the while wishing fervently that Logan would ask her to be the next CEO of a company she had never worked at prior to this year. Shiv’s delusional. On the outside, daddy and daddy’s girl are so similar, that maybe Logan put her on that pedestal to ensure Shiv would never have the bloodlust required to follow in his footsteps. He set them all up for failure. He forced Roman into ruin. He’d believed Kendall could be hardened. Because if people are forged, there’s no excuse for not being a killer. His father tried so hard. But they were both operating under a false premise, under the delusion that Kendall could ever have been anything but Kendall. Still, he’s made it here—into this tiny fucking dressing room, a sitting duck waiting for an interview where he will explain himself to the burning world and offer Twitter psychologists fodder regarding whatever diagnosis is responsible for the chronic backstabbing habit he can’t seem to kick.

Kendall can’t even really blame his father for this. They’re too tangled up together now. Dissecting their individual motives would take hours of pulling teeth in therapy, and Kendall doesn’t think he has that kind of time left. It’s easier to let the narrative play itself out with no subversion: the sins of the prodigal son, unfortunately revisited upon the mighty father. Kendall finally understands that he’s the scapegoat. He just wishes he knew what he was scapegoating for.

At the end of the day, the logic all boils down to this: it has to be Kendall, because Kendall is the biggest threat to the stability of the family. Company. Whatever. But, really, it has to be Kendall because, as ironic as it is, nobody else would have gone through with it. That isn’t him being self-aggrandizing—from birth he’s been fucking pathetic, and maybe in the hands of somebody more malleable, more aware, more alive, more pure, maybe in the hands of that person, maybe this all wouldn’t be further proof of that. He’s wanted to kill his father for forty fucking years now, incapable of seeing himself to the finish line until he was finally allowed. He remembers the embarrassingly long stretch of time he’d truly believed in himself. Kendall Roy, CEO of Waystar Royco. It’d been a pipe dream from the start; how could he have done it when Logan had never granted him permission?

He looks in the dull mirror, tapping absentmindedly on the left ear of his bulky headphones. His father hates them, always has, hates the headphones the way he hates it when Rava says that “transitions are difficult” for Iverson. Kendall closes his eyes. His son has never sinned, not against him. So why the revisiting? Everything is awful under his care: Kendall, the ugly distorted second cousin of King Midas.

He opens his eyes. The anger in them jars him. Transitions are difficult. He’s clutching the left ear now, and somehow his other hand’s found its way to the right one. He lets his arms fall limp at his sides. The anger is gone, not replaced with anything else, just gone. Transitions are difficult. He was a lot like Iverson as a kid. He doesn’t really want to think about it.

“You’re on in ten.”

Kendall turns to look at Jess, who’s poking her head into the room and trying her damndest not to look pitying. He gives her a minuscule nod.

“If there’s anything I can do. . .” She trails off awkwardly. Jess is too good to him.

“Where’s my phone?” He asks. His voice is monotone in that way it gets when he can’t bother to modulate it. He’s barely spoken this past week.

“Uh, I think your cousin has it? Greg. I tried to get it from him, but he was very adamant that you told him to hold it.” She says, rolling her eyes.

“Right. Well. I’ll, uh, get that later then. After all this, I mean.” Kendall coughs a little. His throat feels like he swallowed gravel. As if on cue, Jess pulls out a water bottle. He gratefully drinks it all in one go, forcing a small smile onto his face. Jess frowns down at him.

“We can reschedule.” She tries, tentatively. Kendall’s face goes blank.

“No.” He says, and nothing else.

“Okay. You should probably come with me then. Again, on in ten.”

“Right.” He stands. It’s a little shaky; he feels lightheaded. When’s the last time he ate something? He’s not entirely sure what day it is. It’s been a week since the press conference. He’s spent most of that week snorting coke and sleeping. He’s about to move forward when Jess stops him, raising an eyebrow.

“What?”

“Headphones, Ken.”

“Oh.” He takes them off. “Okay.”

They walk to where the set for the interview is, where people flock to Kendall and buzz around him, setting up his mic, getting his clothes in order, giving him baseless words of encouragement. Flies in his fucking ear. Greg is there too, giving him two nervous thumbs up, before slipping a hand into his pocket and pulling out Ken’s phone like it’s a sacred treasure and Greg is its sworn protector. Jess pushes through the swarm of people.

“You know what you have to say, right?”

“Are you trying to be Karolina?”

“I like to think I’m more approachable than Karolina. Kendall. Do you know what you have to say?”

He’s not sure he does, but he’s been here before. Historically, he’s done his best interviews while dissociating.

“That’s not promising.”

Kendall frowns. Did he say that out loud?

Jess gives him a pointed look, but can say nothing else; he’s being ushered by the flies to his spot on the couch next to the interviewer, a younger woman whose name Kendall is racking his brain to remember, watching him like a hawk and smiling brilliantly from ear to ear.

“Carrie Cole. Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Roy.”

He almost flinches.

“Just Kendall. Is fine, I mean. It’s, it’s great to meet you too.” He says, even more stilted than usual.

“Ah, one of those ‘Mr. Roy’s my father, please, call me Kendall?” She laughs a little. She’s friendly. Kendall tries to relax.

“Hah. Yeah. We aren’t—are we on air yet?”

“No, no, we’ve got a little time.” Carrie Cole tilts her head at him. “Are you alright, Mr. Roy? You look a little nauseous.”

“Kendall. I’m Kendall.” He corrects again.

“Then I’m Carrie.” She stretches out her arm, and Kendall tentatively shakes it. He hasn’t decided whether having a body physically next to him for this interview helps or not.

Behind the scenes, somebody starts the countdown: they’re live in three, two—

“Good morning everybody!” Carrie chirps, and Kendall straightens his spine, tries to smile. His hands fidget on his pants, so he shoves them in his pockets. “I’m here with Kendall Roy, former COO of Waystar Royco, and son to current CEO Logan Roy. Kendall, how are you feeling today?”

“Good. Great.” Too monotone. He sounds like a fucking robot. He clears his throat. “And. . . You? How are you. . . feeling today?”

Carrie chuckles, giving the camera an amused look.

“Me? I’m swell. Thank you for asking, Kendall. You’re very polite.”

He can’t tell whether she’s making fun of him anymore, so he only gives her a close-lipped smile and nods.

“Here at PGM, we’re all doing just great. But let’s not dance around it. What brings you here today?”

Kendall weighs the pros and cons of saying something like I’m both Judas and Jesus, motherfuckers on this network morning show, but he doesn’t trust that his dead eyes can sell it.

“Uh, last week I was called upon to take the blame for heinous cover-ups in our cruise line division. As a member of the company, I do share some level of responsibility for what went down, but I felt it was a disservice to pretend it went no higher.”

“A disservice. That’s interesting. To who?”

Despite feeling both dissed and erviced, Kendall hesitates only for a second before going with, “To the people we’ve allegedly pledged to entertain.”

“Allegedly?”

“I don’t know how entertaining a cruise can be when there’s the risk you’ll be thrown overboard. Like you’re less than cargo.” He says, and Carrie Cole’s eyebrow lifts slightly. Like she’s impressed. He sits up a little straighter. Pulls his sweaty palms out of his pockets.

“At the trials, Kendall, you were very protective of your father and his intentions. What changed?”

“Nothing,” he says, before he can think better of it. “Or, okay—I didn’t, I didn’t know the details on cruises until the article came out. So, there’s that.”

“But that was before the trial.”

“Right. I guess I. . .” He frowns, trying to overcome the insane urge to start laughing. He smiles down at his lap, then looks up at Carrie. Anybody following his appearances and actions for the past year knows how fucking pitiful he is. Rhea had called him Oedipus Roy the first time they met. Whoever’s watching this now can tell he’s got issues. Okay. That can be a weapon, too. With an air that he hopes evokes sympathy, he continues;

“I guess I wanted to believe my father when he said he cared about the lives of the people he was profiting off of. I, I wanted to think he was above all the. . . corporate corruption. He’s my dad.” He turns to look at one of the cameras head-on. “I love him. I trusted him when I shouldn’t have. It’s taken me a long time to see the light, but. . .” Kendall leans back into the chair and focuses on Carrie again. “Slow and steady wins the race, right?”

“Sometimes, yes.”

“It’s how Aesop’s parable goes.”

“So it is. Do you think you’ve won the race?”

“Well, I—”

“Do you think the murder and exploitation of women is an opportunity for you to ‘win the race?’”

Kendall blinks.

“That’s not what I—”

“You say you believed in your father up until the trials, yet this is the third time in just over a year that you’ve attempted to take his job.”

“This is not a ploy for me to take his job.” Kendall says, a scornful laugh spilling out alongside the words before he can stop himself. “Are you fucking kidding me? Why would I—if anything, I burned that bridge. Completely.” There’s a beat of deafening silence, and he has to bite down harder on the inside of his cheeks to make sure he doesn’t tack on a sorry.

“Perhaps I used the wrong words. But, Kendall, you have to admit that you’re prone to trying to destroy your father.”

“It’s different this time.” He tries to ignore the hot shame coursing through him. “He’d just had a stroke. I wanted him safe.”

“And you don’t want him safe anymore?”

Kendall’s going to stab this lady on the fucking air.

“I think it’s more about wanting to keep everybody safe from him.”

“What qualifies you for the job?”

“What is this, an interview?” He tries to make it come across as casual and easy, but there’s an edge to his voice he can’t shake. Still. This might be the most alive he’s felt in a while. “Okay. Well. It’s a good question. Very good question. I’m not my father.”

“You’re not your father.” Carrie echoes.

“I care about people—”

“Your father doesn’t care about people?”

—The people, like, customers. Obviously my father cares about people. He cares about his family.”

“Which includes you.”

“I’ll get back to you on that one after Thanksgiving. Next year.” He says, and this time the joke does land, with Carrie and a few of the people backstage chuckling. It stabilizes him. What the fuck is he so scared of? He’s so busy feeling fucking ashamed he never stopped to consider that his father handed him all his cards.

He wouldn’t have done that if he had thought Kendall was actually going to do something with them. So Kendall is going to fucking do something with them.

“In all honesty, Carrie, this is a very complicated and sensitive issue, emotionally, for obvious reasons—so, uh, you’ll forgive me if I’ve been a bit on edge,” he rubs his hands together, elbows resting on his knees. Rava once said it was a stance that made him look earnest. “But the truth of the matter is this: there are more important things than my family drama. I didn’t do what I did to get back at anybody, or to be petty. I love my father. He’s a legend. He’s one of the most influential men in the entire world. The second that I had solid reason to suspect he was in on the wrongdoing at Waystar, I knew it couldn’t stay hidden. What kind of man would that make me?”

“Same kind of man as your father.”

“I guess I’m not CEO for a reason.”

“Which kind of man do you think is better?”

“I don’t know, Carrie. One who knows that it’s good to pay.”

“As for the details regarding the documents, and your father’s involvement in the coverups?”

“My team and I will be working to make that information public as soon as possible.”

“Thank you, Kendall. That’s all the time we have for today, but I think we’d all agree this was very enlightening.”

“My pleasure, Carrie. It really, really was.”

 

He feels good about himself afterwards, huddled in the backseat of the car with Greg chattering away about something or other, good enough to actually scroll through his phone and messages—which he’s avoided doing all week. He got the gist of it after the first day: calls and texts from motherfucking everybody. Except his father. And Shiv. And Stewy. But fuck them. He was expecting that anyway, and it sure didn’t matter in the moment, not with his phone doing its best hornet’s nest impression. Overwhelmed, he’d shoved it over to Greg, who’s kept it away from him for most of the week, checking in often enough that Ken knows he hasn’t missed anything with a deadline. He’s also fielding messages for him; Jess is doing most of the work in explaining his hermitry, but Greg’s handling his fair share. He was “testing possible responses” to “inquiries” about him on the way over there. Kendall has no clue what he was talking about, but the dedication is cool.

His missed calls list is ridiculous. His unanswered texts are worse. Save for the three purposeful silent treatments, it’s like everyone he’s ever known suddenly wants to line him up to kiss newborns or drive a stake through his heart. Within an hour post press conference, he’d seen the caller ID of practically every member of the ‘Waystar family.’ At least everybody on the board, definitely everybody higher-up, people he saw every day like Gerri and Karl. Roman had tried to contact him more fervently than Kendall had expected, and he thinks that’s what sent him over the brink. Too much. It was all too fucking much. The expectations, the concern. The fucking buzzing. Even now, his phone was fucking buzzing. Who the fucking fuck was fucking buzzing at him? His eyes snap down to the screen, where a notification from ‘Stewy Hosseini’ mockingly awaits him. Stewy Hosseini—Where’s the fucking dazzle, man? That’s just my fucking name, Stewy always says when he catches a glimpse of his contact. Kendall stopped telling him long ago that even his half-brother is jotted down as ‘Connor Roy’ because he knows Stewy already knows, knows Stewy just likes talking. And that picture? God, is that sophomore year? What did I ever do to you, dude?—that exact Stewy Hosseini, the only Stewy Hosseini says:

et tu, kendall?

Kendall blinks down at the message. He hesitates, does a cursory google search, before clicking back to the chat and tentatively beginning to type.

Wrong context, I think.

He stares down at the screen for a good three minutes before Stewy answers.

jesus fuck you pretentious baby faced motherfucker eat absolute shit

how’s that would shakespeare like that?

I’ll ask him when I see him.

fuck should i be putting you on a suicide watchlist? bc i think i rescinded overdose duties when you ditched me

Kendall exits the chat and plants his phone face down on the seat, mouth set in a grim line. For a second, he actually thought Stewy was trying to make amends. Fuck him. Kendall doesn’t need to know what he’s saying.

His phone buzzes again. And again. And again. And again. Greg stops talking, glancing between Kendall and the phone expectantly. Kendall sighs. Grabs it and checks.

maybe ditched is the wrong word

implies agency which you’ve never had any

guess that’s what i’ve been trying to understand about this whole situation, like i guess you got tired of being kneed in the balls by daddy dearest? but that’s never done shit before

what is it?

you saw your dad’s plan but yours was better?

congrats, i guess.

fuck you so fucking much you pigeon-hearted lily-livered shrunken uppity excuse for a fucking person if you were just going to fuck shit up anyway why couldn’t we do it together you recreant brain fucked sourpuss what is fucking wrong with you

Kendall pointedly turns on airplane mode and slides his phone into his pocket. He leans back into the seat, eyes closed. Maybe if he plays dead the world will fucking leave him alone.

It’s calming for all of three seconds and then Doja Cat decides to start blaring from Greg’s iPhone.

“Wow. Wow, uh, I don’t—I’m not sure how knowledgeable you are on the Twitter-spheres? But I think somebody made a fancam of you?”

“Fancam.” Kendall echoes.

“Like in KPOP?”

“Yeah, I know what a fancam is, Greg.”

“Wow. That’s so weird, dude.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Do you wanna watch it?”

“Sure.” Kendall says, but he doesn’t open his eyes.

There’s a long beat of silence, before Greg mumbles “I’ll just DM it to you,” and Kendall’s glad he made sure there would be no buzz.

He lounges around in bed for the rest of the day. Takes a painstakingly long time watching the Carrie Cole interview, decides that as long as he doesn’t look at himself and ignores his general way of speaking, he wasn’t kidding himself when he said he did pretty fucking good. Not that it matters, it’s a morning network show Jess booked for Ken to dip his toes into to prepare for the coming months of endless questions and cameras and litigation. Nobody was really watching, probably.

Except Stewy has to have been watching, because why else would he break his vow of silence? Why’d he break it in the first place? He sounded mad at Kendall in those texts—is that because Kendall did good? Or bad? Did Kendall do bad?

He debates against it for a millisecond, and then taps on the tiny airplane sign, watches it dim from orange. An influx of notifications flood the screen, including Greg’s Doja Cat fancam DM. And another missed call from Roman. Texts from Rava and Stewy come in at the same time. He clicks on the latter’s first.

that headline’s a fucking plant right

SHOULD i be putting you on a suicide watchlist?

kendall

kendall fuck you so fucking much why the fuck did you go on fucking airplane mode you piece of shit

you better be dead or i’ll kill you myself.

that headline’s a fucking plant right????

i’m not fucking going over there.

fuck you

im not going to apologize for shit you insubstantial pliant little daddy’s boy im literally right

when i asked what’s wrong with you i meant like your brutus complex asshole not anything else

i dont know why im still fucking texting when these aren’t even delivering i hate when you do this shit i KNOW you’re not fucking dead you’re just an attention whore you always have been

driving me fucking crazy pulling stunts like this since goddamn high school

fuck you dude there is so much i will never forgive you for i shouldn’t be worrying about you right now fuck you for ingraining this shit into my brain you’re so fucked up you’re a fucking virus

im calling rava

Kendall squints down at the screen, too agitated and confused by the intensity of the usually zen Stewy’s texts to even consider what headline he could possibly be referring to. He switches to his chat with Rava, and the pit in his stomach grows. She’s on her way. As of twenty-five minutes ago. He clicks the call icon.

“Kendall?” Rava says, after a beat of silence. She sounds incredulous.

“Hey.”

“Hey? Hey? Oh my God. I’m going to kill you.”

“I think Stewy already called dibs.”

“Kendall, I am literally downstairs. You couldn’t have let me know you were okay a little earlier?”

“Rava, my phone was on airplane mode.”

“So I’ve heard.”

“It’s been a really stressful time for me—”

“Shut the hell up. Just let me in, okay?”

“You’re—you’re still coming up?”

“Yep. Let me in.”

“Rava, seriously—”

“Now, Kendall. Thank you.”

He does his best to tidy up a little, spreading the covers of his bed and tugging on a clean shirt, accessorizing with a little aftershave and deodorant. He speed brushes his teeth and splashes water on his face, staring at his reflection in the mirror intently, practicing a smile. He gets it right just as he hears a knock on the door, and he lets Rava in. She pushes past, not even looking at him as she shakes her head and starts rummaging around his drawers, inspecting the surfaces of his place with a righteousness that Kendall’s not sure what to make of. He awkwardly rubs the nape of his neck.

“Hey, could we just talk?”

“What the fuck is this?” She holds up a small orange pill bottle. Kendall huffs.

“Zoloft, I think.”

“You think?”

“Could be Xanax.”

“How’d you get it?”

“It’s prescription, Rava, are you serious?”

“And you've taken them accordingly? No cheating?”

“Jesus fuck, Rava. No.” Kendall says, which is a lie, but not for the reasons she thinks—Rava looks at him and can only see a junkie loser, but Kendall hasn’t been abusing his prescription meds. Kendall just also hasn’t been taking his prescription meds.

“Okay. Sorry, I just—” she starts, pinching the bridge of her nose and setting the pills down on the counter. Her voice is oddly strangled. Kendall wants to go to her, wants to wrap her arms around her and tell her there’s nothing to be sorry for, that he’s sorry for having fucked up her life enough that she’s stuck doing shit like this for him years after being separated. But Kendall hasn’t been able to move for months. “Sorry, Stewy called about you, which was actually. . . super weird, but whatever. And he told me about the headline, and we both were like ‘oh, that bullshit,’ but then you weren’t answering your phone, and I hadn’t heard from you in so long, I—”

She’s not looking at him, focusing instead on her nail as it scratches the sleek marble of the counter. She’s biting her lip, which means she’s trying not to cry, and Kendall wants to sleep for a thousand years.

“What headline?” He asks, and Rava pauses and gives him a disbelieving, breathy laugh.

“You haven’t seen it? No, of course you haven’t, you’ve had your phone off. Okay. Honestly, it’s kind of hilarious?” She runs a hand through her hair, breathing in and giving him another shaky laugh, before pulling something up on her phone. She walks over and passes it to him.

“Kendall Roy Death Conspiracy After Launching Proxy Battle Against Family.” He reads. The lack of energy in his voice makes Rava chuckle. “I didn’t launch a fucking proxy battle. Jesus. Why does everybody think I’m trying to do a hostile takeover?”

“That’s the part that bothers you? Not the death part?”

“It’s just so stupid. I don’t want to fucking be CEO anymore. That’s not what this shit’s about.”

“What is it about, then?”

“Right and fucking wrong.” He snaps, and Rava rolls her eyes.

“Look, Ken. I’m sure, somewhere inside yourself, you actually believe that. But come the fuck on.”

What, Rava? Come the fuck on, what?”

“It’s okay if you want to screw over your dad, Kendall. You have more than earned that right.”

“That isn’t—” He rubs his hands over his face roughly, both palms falling into place behind his eyelids. He presses, teeth clenched. Rava touches his shoulder and he flinches away from her, trying to maintain some semblance of control, hoping she’ll understand. “That’s not. Fuck. I don’t just want to—fuck. I, I need, I need to—and I can’t, and—and—” He’s shaking a little now. Or not shaking so much as he is moving erratically, side to side and back and forth trying to find something that works, but nothing works, and the absence of voices is so fucking loud all of a sudden, and so is the way he can hear Rava breathing, and her presence, and Kendall somehow walks backwards into the corner of the wall and hits his back against it. Then he does it again, and again, and again, and—

“Sit. Kendall. Kendall, I need you to sit.” Rava orders, voice stern but calm, and Kendall makes a strangled noise from the back of his throat but complies, sliding down onto the floor, eyes still screwed shut.

“I’m going to touch you now. Tell me if any of this is too much, okay?” Kendall nods, and Rava gently moves his arms up to cover his ears. He instinctively laces his fingers together on top of his head. Rava guides his knees to his chin, making sure to touch him as little as possible, and Kendall wants to cry from how much he loves her, how much she matters to him, and maybe if he’d had Rava growing up he wouldn’t be so fucking fucked up. He rests his chin on his knees, and then moves to rest his forehead instead, shielding himself as tears well up in his eyes. Rava tells him to breathe, and he tries to listen. People think he doesn’t try to listen when all Kendall ever does is try to listen. There’s a difference between failing and not fucking trying, and he wishes he was the kind of person more accustomed with the latter.

“Where are your headphones?” Rava asks, which is fucking mortifying. It’s okay, though, because Kendall can’t talk right now anyway. Rava takes the hint and he hears the rustling that signifies she’s gone off to look for them. Kendall, as small as possible, moves back and forth, back and forth, and he begins to feel the pang of a headache, which is a good thing, because it means this is almost over. It’s been a while since he—well, no, actually, that’s not exactly true. It just never feels real with nobody around as a witness. Rava tries to put the headphones on him, which is humiliating, so Kendall grabs them and does it himself, placing his hands over the ears and he feels so much better, not good yet, but so much better, and he forcefully wipes a tear away. After a minute, or five, or ten, he opens his eyes, his breathing stable. Rava’s on her phone, lips pursed. She’s texting somebody. He tries to lean in to see who it is and she snaps her head up, locking the phone and smiling at him, her little eyebrows furrowed together.

“Okay, so I looked over the article again, and yeah, sorry for barging in here when you very clearly didn’t want to see anybody.” She says, with a shrug. Kendall hums and hopes she understands. “I texted Stewy and told him you were fine. Are you guys friends again?”

Kendall shakes his head.

“What exactly happened this time?”

“You didn’t see on the news?” Kendall asks, and starts coughing. She hands him a glass of water and he chugs it. “Like, his and Sandy’s bear hug? How I used to be a part of it and everything?”

“Right, yeah. I did. He also told me a bit about it.”

“What, are you two, like, friends?”

“Uh, yeah.” Rava says, bemused. “Yeah, Stewy and I are friends, Kendall, you knew that. Not besties or anything, but we talk sometimes.”

“About what?”

Rava laughs and doesn’t answer, like it should be obvious, but Kendall doesn’t know what she means. A seed of jealousy settles in his gut.

“Anyway,” she continues, “I was just wondering if it was anything else. I mean, now that you’re doing all of. . . this exposing, I guess. Maybe you two could work together again?”

“Somehow, I doubt it.”

“You should call him.”

“No, I shouldn’t. And I won’t.”

“Kendall, Stewy cares so—”

“Rava, I don’t want to talk about Stewy.”

“I just think you could use people in your corner right now.”

“I don’t need anybody else,” he says, and grabs her hand desperately. She closes her eyes, a sad smile weighing down the corners of her lips. “I just need you.”

“Ken.” She says, carefully extricating her fingers from his clammy palms. “No.”

“I don’t get it.” He says, and it sounds so whiny that he almost slams his head into the wall again. “You love me. Right? You love me?”

Rava cups his face, leaning forward to kiss him on the crown of his head, like they both do with Iverson after a meltdown. She only ever does it to Kendall when he’s like this—not needy, or creepy, but when he’s curled up into a ball trying to return to normalcy. Like she can look past the complications and touch him with genuine care. Rava’s a good person, and she’ll always be at least half-trapped in a den of wolves because of him. Isn’t it better, though, to be all in or all out? The limbo he’s suddenly found himself in is excruciating. He doesn’t know how she handles it.

“You know you’re important to me. I care about your wellbeing.” She says, but I don’t love you is all he can hear. “I hopped a cab because of an article that was so clearly clickbait for you.”

“Did you two really think I was dead?” Kendall asks, because he needs to pretend he doesn’t feel like he’s dying. All of this tastes weirdly like an ending.

“Absolutely not and also definitely, yeah.” Rava shrugs, grinning sheepishly. “Here, see the actual thing for yourself.”

Kendall grabs the phone, frowning against the brightness—it’d been sundown when Rava had first gotten here, but now the windows betray a perturbingly dark night sky. None of the lights in the house are on, save for the dimmer in the kitchen, set to the lowest level. He clears his throat again and scrolls.

“Kendall Roy, our favorite and most fickle tragic hero billionaire, is rumored to be dead following an appearance on the Keep It Cool With Carrie Cole show. A source tells Z! that several people have been trying to contact Roy for months—okay, that makes zero sense.” He says, and Rava motions for him to continue. “ —several people have been trying to contact Roy for months, with little to no avail. Roy is notoriously known for his twisted relationship with both his father and drugs. Could strain with the former have led to a newfound reliance on the latter?” He stops. “Rava, why are you making me read this?”

“Oh, it’s not that bad.” She waves him off. “You need to get to the good part.”

“‘He wasn’t answering his phone,’ our verified mystery source told us in an exclusive scoop. ‘I tried calling his assistant too, and nada. Zip, zilch, zero. So, I texted Greg Hirsch, because I knew he was with him, just sent the guy something casual asking how Ken was doing. And all I get back is this weird ‘Kendall is gone. Please respect.’ And I was like ‘Uh, hello?’ And I was asking around, seeing if anybody else had heard anything similar, and apparently every single goddamn person that texted Greg got the exact same message. So, obviously, I was like, oh, fuck, Kendall’s fucking dead. And then I called you.’ Z! has repeatedly been the first to report on the deaths of several relevant figures in pop culture, due to our dedication to getting the truth out to the public. It’s important in these times to take care of yourself. If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse issues or suicidal ideation, please seek the appropriate help. So, what do we think, Z! readers? Did Kendall Roy overdose? On purpose or by accident? Did his father take care of him directly? Or did he cover-up the extrajudicial killing of his firstborn son like he did the murder of women on his cruise lines?” Kendall looks up at Rava. “Jesus fuck.”

“Honestly, I can’t believe how serious it felt the first time I read it. ‘Kendall is gone. Please respect.’ Like, Greg, what the fuck?”

“Who do you think the source is?”

“Could be anyone. Does it matter?”

“Guess not.” He rests the back of his head against the wall. “Can I just, like, pretend this is real maybe?”

“You want to fake your death in the middle of initiating a proxy battle?”

“It’s not a fucking proxy battle, Rava!”

“Right, sorry. Anyway, do what you want, but you fucking better see the kids on the same regular schedule, I don’t care if the entire country is mourning you. In fact, I’m FaceTiming you the second I get home. Everything’s been insane lately, and they miss you so much.”

“I miss them too.” He says, then sighs. He pulls up Twitter. “Ugh. Fine. I’ll debunk. How does ‘not dead’ sound?”

“That’s all you’re saying?”

“Yeah. You know. Concise. To the point. Doesn’t invite too much harassment, probably.”

“Don’t you have a PR manager for this?”

“Not anymore, no. Or maybe I do? I honestly don’t really know who’s still working for me or not. Anyway. Not dead. That’s good. Okay, I sent it.”

“Great. Great to be not dead.”

“Oh, totally. Absolutely. Being not dead is fucking brilliant.”

“. . . Kendall.”

“I’m fine.”

“Kendall.”

“I am fucking fine, Rava.”

“Okay. I’m going to go, then.”

“Okay.”

“I’ll have the kids call you once I’m home, be on the lookout for that.”

“Yeah.”

“Alright. Night.”

“Bye.” Kendall watches as Rava grabs her purse and heads towards the door. “Thanks.” And I’m sorry.

“You’re welcome.” And it’s okay.

Then she’s gone, and Kendall’s alone on the floor, alone in the dark.

 

United States trends

#MondayMotivation

#WaystarRoycoIsOverParty

#SaveHannibal

Goth IHOP

#ConvictLogan

HOT BOYS FOR TAEKOOK

#LORDE

Eavis 2020

#KendallGonePleaseRespect

HOT BOYS FOR SENATOR EAVIS

#OedipusRoy

Voter Suppression

 

Kendall Roy (@KRoyco)

Not dead.

When In Roman (@romulus)

@KRoyco sounds legit

When In Roman (@romulus)

@KRoyco what so you can tweet but you can’t answer my calls LOL?

emmy | 81 #STREAMBTS (@lovelyjungkook)

@KRoyco @romulus THE GIRLS ARE FIGHTINGGGGGGG

 

Z! Entertainment (@zentertainment)

Kendall Roy Death Conspiracy After Launching Proxy Death Battle Against Family. #KendallGonePleaseRespect @KRoyco @Waystar @GerriKellman @LoganRoy @thinkuracontra

dyke mike wazowski (@filmfabray)

@zentertainment GIRL this is so messy he already responded https://twitter.com/KRoyco/status/1270……

When In Roman (@romulus)

@zentertainment fuck you why didn’t you tag me @KnifeEmoji can you believe this shit

Siobhan Roy #BelieveWomen (@KnifeEmoji)

@zentertainment @romulus sorry who’s that?

Siobhan Roy #BelieveWomen (@KnifeEmoji)

@zentertainment @romulus wait

gregory hirsch! (@thinkuracontra)

@zentertainment this is not what i meant!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

Siobhan Roy #BelieveWomen (@KnifeEmoji)

Who changed my @????

Siobhan Roy #BelieveWomen (@KnifeEmoji)

@romulus I’ll kill you with my bare hands

When In Roman (@romulus)

@KnifeEmoji point and laugh point and laugh

Siobhan Roy #BelieveWomen (@KnifeEmoji)

@romulus this is like a breach of security!!!!! What if you’d rendered me susceptible to hacking?? And why can’t I change it back??? How did you even do this?

When In Roman (@romulus)

@KnifeEmoji ratfucker sam is the Anonymous of the bourgeoisie

Gerri Kellman (@GerriKellman)

@KnifeEmoji @romulus We don’t need more thinkpieces on the family. You’re in the same room. Just talk to each other.

When In Roman (@romulus)

@KnifeEmoji @GerriKellman EW COOTIES

Siobhan Roy #BelieveWomen (@KnifeEmoji)

@romulus I could get away with your murder

When In Roman (@romulus)

@KnifeEmoji #GIRLBOSS

When In Roman (@romulus)

@KnifeEmoji anyway did you hear our other brother is dead

Siobhan Roy #BelieveWomen (@KnifeEmoji)

@romulus I don’t have another brother!

VOTE CONNOR ROY 2020 #CONHEADS #NOTAXATIONPERIOD #Sands (@ConRoyBoy)

@romulus @KnifeEmoji Hey :-(

 

gregory hirsch! (@thinkuracontra)

uhhh. well

Tom Wambsgans (@Kingly_Hubby_Tom)

@thinkuracontra Nice one, Greg!

gregory hirsch! (@thinkuracontra)

@Kingly_Hubby_Tom >:^(( just wanted 2 help!!!!

Tom Wambsgans (@Kingly_Hubby_Tom)

@thinkuracontra #KendallGonePleaseRespect

gregory hirsch! (@thinkuracontra)

@Kingly_Hubby_Tom at least I’m trending

Tom Wambsgans (@Kingly_Hubby_Tom)

@thinkuracontra No need to get mean :)

gregory hirsch! (@thinkuracontra)

@Kingly_Hubby_Tom um rich

Tom Wambsgans (@Kingly_Hubby_Tom)

@thinkuracontra Thank you!!!!!!

Tom Wambsgans (@Kingly_Hubby_Tom)

@thinkuracontra Hey can you unblock my #??

Tom Wambsgans (@Kingly_Hubby_Tom)

@thinkuracontra Greg??????

Bethany #VoteEavis (@BethanyTyler1995)

So, like, did Shiv Roy just publicly disown her older brother?

 

Pierce Media Retweeted

olivia has solar power (@oresteas)

absolutely OBSESSED w the weird sad scarecrow roy talking about going against his daddy’s company on a morning show run by the rival media family that tried to steal sexy girl roy for ceo AND aired an interview where scarecrow’s bestie straight up called him irrelevant…..@PGM y’all live 4 the drama huh?

Pierce Media (@PGM)

@oresteas 🍵🍵🍵

 

Kendall Roy Retweeted

mountain goats bot (@tmgbot)

Our mother has been absent

Ever since we founded Rome

But there’s gonna be a party

When the wolf comes home

 

Kendall Roy (@KRoyco)

Retweets ≠ Endorsements.

 

Four days later, Kendall thinks he’s getting better.

There’s a lawyer looking over the documents, thumbing the corners of the paper and occasionally asking questions to both him and Greg, who’s sitting next to Kendall on the living room table, twiddling his thumbs and occasionally glancing at his phone and huffing.

“Still getting heat?” Kendall raises an eyebrow at him. Greg’s own eyebrows jump up a little.

“On, uh, Twitter? No, no, not really. Never got any in the first place, uh, I think people really, people really like me there, yeah!”

“You good, man?”

“Satisfactory, uh, yes.”

“Cool. You’re a little jumpy, though.”

“Tom’s just, like—” Greg sighs, folding his arms and leaning on the back legs of the chair. “You know?”

“Sure.” Kendall says.

“I, like, unblocked his number? And now he’s just texting me a whole bunch.”

“So block him again.”

“Nah, I don’t want him to, like, you know. Kill himself. Etcetera.” Greg shrugs, running his thumb through the face of the table. Ken gives him a bewildered look. “Not that he’s ever said he would? But, you know Tom.”

Kendall doesn’t really know Tom at all, but he hums in agreement.

“I think him and Shiv just aren’t doing great. But, like, yeah, I mean. The sky’s blue.” Greg huffs again, and they both turn to look out the window, and, actually, the sky is gray. His mouth quirks downwards. “Whatever.”

“Kind of odd of him to rely on you.” Kendall offers, after a pause, because he’s trying to be better about listening to other people.

“Yeah, I dunno. He’s, like. Lonely. And everybody else kind of thinks he’s ridiculous, so.”

“You don’t think he’s ridiculous?”

“Oh, no, he’s for sure ridiculous. Undoubtedly, uh, ridiculous, yeah. But I do feel kinda bad for, you know. Betraying his trust, or whatever? I mean, I’d do it again, and also Tom can be pretty awful, so morally, I think it balances out but. I don’t know. I kind of hate him? But I don’t, really. You know?”

“Uh huh.” Listening to people is hard, Kendall realizes. Lots of effort.

“It’s, like, he definitely pelted water bottles at me when I tried to leave him—the job—but he also protected me with the whole biographer shit—”

“You spoke to Patsil?” Kendall straightens, giving Greg an impressed look.

“Under false pretenses? But, yeah. I guess I did.”

“And Tom knew? Didn’t he get Boar on the Floor-ed?”

“Yeah. I don’t know why he did that. He’s so fucking weird, Kendall.” Greg sighs. “I almost, I almost wish. . . he hadn’t. Like, at the end of the day, me talking to that lady wasn’t even what everybody was worried about! The dead sexual offender dude was to blame!”

“Good to know he’s in your corner, at least.”

“Right. Except he isn’t.” Greg emphasizes, tucking his long legs up onto the chair in the criss cross position. “He literally makes no sense. Also I, uh, betrayed him by joining you.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah. Y’know.” Greg gives an exaggerated flick of his neck over to the lawyer and the salvaged documents proving Logan’s involvement in the coverups.

“Shit. Right. Why the fuck is he still talking to you then?”

“That’s my thing? It’s kind of nerve wracking. Cause it's like ‘oh, are you texting me because your marital issues make you feel like shit’ or ‘oh, are you texting me to psychologically destroy me for putting you directly in the line of fire?’ Like, what does this mean?!” Greg shoves his phone under Kendall’s nose. Kendall peers down. It’s a picture of a golden retriever licking Tom’s ice cream cone, with Tom smiling maniacally and holding a thumbs up. The text that accompanies it reads Lost my fucking ice cream. This is the future commies want!!!!!! Fucked up!!!!!!

Kendall looks back up at Greg.

“Yeah, dude, I have no fucking clue what’s going on there. Why is his contact name Mr. Darcy?”

“Oh, uh, he looks exactly like the guy that plays Darcy in Pride & Prejudice. 2005. With Keira Knightley.”

“Right. Okay.”

“Excellent film. Of caliber. Has quality.”

“Never seen it.”

“Oh, dude. You gotta. We can do, like, a post-justice movie night. With Jess. And this lawyer man.”

“Not post-justice just yet, Greg.” He points out, and Greg’s expression falters for a moment. And Kendall knows that Greg’s a shifty-eyed motherfucker who’s just as willing to throw bitches under the bus as the rest of them, that Greg’s got more than enough Roy blood to be a valuable player and so should be treated as a valuable threat—but, also, he’s a loyal little weirdo. And Shiv’s gone on record saying she never had any brothers other than Roman and Con, so maybe Kendall’s sensitivities are somewhat bruised. “But, sure. Sounds lit. Pride & Prejudice 2005 with Keira Knightley it is.”

The lawyer throws them a pointed cough, setting his pen aside on the table. He’s nearer to Connor’s age, and he’s not anybody Ken’s seen before—any lawyer close to the family is a no-go, for obvious reasons, but he has connections. Naomi sent him the name of this guy, actually. Jess had people dig into him, see if he was legit—they weren’t PGM’s enemy, and he doesn’t think Naomi wants to see him fail at this, but the Pierce opinion on any Roy still boils down to reprehensible, so better safe than sorry. When they were sure, they arranged this meeting.

“So?” Kendall claps his hands together. He’d done two lines right before this. He wants it to be over so he can do two more.

“Is this all you have?” The guy, Schooner, says. Kendall and Greg exchange a look.

“I can find more evidence to prove he’s supported malpractice in the past. Probably.”

“Probably.” Schooner echoes.

“Not—he definitely supported malpractice. I can probably find evidence for it. Is what I meant.”

“So, yes, this is all you have?”

“In terms of concrete proof, yes. But, I mean, it’s pretty damning, right?”

“Sure, yeah.” Schooner nods, rubbing his eyes beneath his spectacles. “Really, it is.”

“It proves my father knew about the extent of the crimes and that he ordered them to be covered up.” Kendall insists, palms latching onto the edges of his chair.

“Yes. And that’s all it does.”

“Isn’t that all we need?”

“Depends. Did you screw over your entire family in order to drag out the same shit for, eh, a few more weeks? Or did you do this in order to topple the goddamn dominoes?”

Kendall laughs defensively, sitting up a bit and leaning closer to Schooner.

“Obviously, I’d like to topple the goddamn dominoes. I want a house built out of their fallen goddamn dominoes. More than that. I want a fucking city. I want a toppled domino whorehouse with little toppled domino prostitutes.”

“So you do want CEO?”

“I want what’s best.”

“For you?”

“In general.” Kendall says, before hastily adding, “For my family.”

“You think killing your father is what’s best for your family?”

“I love my father—”

“Enough with the fucking obfuscating. I don’t like fucking around. Are you smooth down there? Like a fucking Ken doll?”

“Excuse me?”

“Grow a pair, kid. Don’t start your sentences with ‘I love my father’ because your father sure as shit won’t start his with ‘I love my son.’” He neatly lays the documents back down on the table, stands, and looks back at Kendall with a wry, almost disappointed expression. “You’re all talk—and you’re barely talk at that. Domino whorehouse? What, you think you can just blow on the first piece and you’re done?”

“That is how the domino effect works.” Kendall feels like he’s doing irreversible damage to his teeth with how hard he’s grinding them.

“Oh, and it’ll just end there. Because right is right and wrong is wrong and you have the purest intentions, you’re motivated by fucking lollipops and rainbow puppies and happily-ever-afters. Look at me.” Schooner leans forward, resting his weight on his elbows. Kendall forces himself to focus on the space between his eyes. “You were born into wealth. You were not born into nobility. Stop acting like some affable dickless little hero. What, you feel sorry for yourself? You feel forced into doing this? Boo fucking hoo, Oedipus. Topple the dominos. And then start fucking throwing them.”

“What, so that’s it? Fight dirty with dirty? Destroy my fucking family?”

“They sent you to die.”

“Somebody had to.”

“You don’t want to see it burn to the ground?”

“I don’t want to see it at all.”

“Okay. So why the fuck did you come forward then? Why didn’t you just accept the blame and play the crucifixion straight? Because it was ‘wrong?’”

“Is that so hard to believe?”

“From a Roy? Yeah. It is.”

“Maybe I’m not a real Roy then.”

“Ah. I see.” Schooner stands back up. He nods mockingly at him. The edges of the chair dig into Kendall’s palms. “You think you’re being brave. You think denouncing your family and renouncing your name is bravery instead of the easiest, the weakest fucking option. Well, Kendall, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you’re just as Roy as any of them. You’re a worm. A fucking slime ball. You want to be different? Too late for that. You’re forty years old. You’re not some sinned-against saint. You come from a bloodline of Judases and you want to beat them by playing the good son? What a fucking headline: Kendall Roy Discovers There Are, In Fact, Angels In America. Fuck off.”

“I didn’t do anything wrong.” Kendall snarls, body coiled tightly like a spring. A horrifying instinct to start swinging takes shape. He wills himself not to move. “I don’t have to put poison in my father’s ear to do what needs to be done.”

“Putting poison in your father’s ear is what needs to be done! You don’t even fucking know what needs to be done. You’re not blameless here, kiddo. Better men can play clean and win, and even they understand that sometimes you just have to shoot the monster. You see a wasp’s nest and, what, you just tweet about how mean the wasps are, how targeted you feel, how you didn’t really do anything to deserve the wasps in the first place like some fucking snowflake? No, you fumigate your fucking house. Kendall. There’s a nest of WASPs. Fumigate the fucking house.”

“So what the fuck would you have me do?” Kendall jumps up, slamming his hands down on the table. He knocks over his chair in the process. From the corner of his eye he can see Greg recoil. He feels powerful and damned. “Go further than exposing cruises, dig into the rest of the fucking corporate conspiracies, personally attack my father with no mercy, drag down the rest of my family and people I’ve known my whole life with him, get him sent to fucking jail on top of killing his reason for waking up in the morning, his fucking empire? You want me to gut his fucking empire? I’ll fucking gut his fucking empire if you want me to gut his fucking empire.”

“What do you want, Kendall?”

“I want him fucking gone.”

“You want your father dead?”

“No—that’s not what I—No.

“Then?”

“I want him to pay.”

“Why?”

“Because he deserves it!”

“Why?”

“Because he’s, he’s fucking destroying democracy—”

“You don’t give a fuck about that.”

“Because what he’s doing is wrong and when you do something wrong—”

“You get rewarded.”

“No—”

“Your father does everything wrong and is constantly rewarded.”

“Yeah, and that’s not how it should work, there’s so many people—”

“Shut the fuck up about other people. You aren’t doing this for other people. You do not care about other people.”

“You don’t know what I’m—”

“Your father does everything wrong and is constantly rewarded. You see yourself as doing everything right and being constantly punished.”

“So the triumph would be winning right—”

“You are all so fucking far beyond shit like triumph and winning right.”

“It doesn’t have to be that way! Fuck!” Kendall can feel himself losing momentum, can feel the urge to cry well up in his chest. He hits the table again.

“Why are you doing this?”

“Because things should be different!”

“Why are you doing this?”

“Because I should be different.”

“No. Why are you doing this?”

“What do you want me to say? What the fuck do you want me to say? What answer would fucking please you? That I hate my father? That I’m doing this because I hate my father, because he fucking made us in his fucking image and now we’re all going to hell at his side for all of fucking eternity. Is that what you want to hear? That I hate my fucking father?”

Schooner peers down at him behind his spectacles. Slowly, a smile spreads onto his face. Kendall feels like throwing up.

“Good.”

“I didn’t mean it.”

“Kid—”

“I’m not your kid. You made me say that.”

“That’s your problem right there.”

“What is?”

“You think everybody’s making you do things. You chose all of this.”

“You’re a lawyer, not a fucking therapist.”

“You’re right. I’m not going to coddle you like one, either. I can’t train somebody who won’t put on the boxing gloves. Call me when you’ve decided what you want to do. It’s not my job to think up the finish line, it’s my job to get you there.” Schooner says, gruff, turning to walk out the door. He pauses. “I’ve never met Logan, but I don’t have to. He’s a fucking monolith. If you punch stone, Kendall, you’ll break your own goddamn knuckles and leave him no worse for wear. You have to be stronger than that.”

Kendall hears the door open and close, but he keeps looking straight ahead. He’d been burning so hot two seconds ago, sand would’ve turned to glass in his hands. That’s gone now. All of a sudden, he’s a used-up shell again.

“I’ll, uh, I’ll go lock it.” Greg says, practically sprinting out of the room.

Kendall stares into nothing for a few more seconds. Then he all but growls as he kicks the fallen chair once, twice, three and four and five more times. Nothing is ever fucking free. Nobody is ever fucking free. He backs away from the living room, maneuvering his way through the house with the single-minded mentality of a true zealot, and he reaches for the baggie of coke he’d tossed carelessly onto his bed earlier that morning. Some of it has spilled. He lays four lines out on the floor and does all of them without stopping. He closes the baggie. He leans his head against the bed frame. And he doesn’t fucking cry. He is not going to fucking cry.

“You see what I mean, right, about the resemblance?”

“Bro. This guy stole Tom’s face.” Kendall tosses a popcorn kernel into his mouth. “Scratch that. It was probably the other way around.”

It’s hours later on that same night, and Kendall’s fine now, thank you, so they’re watching Pride & Prejudice, 2005, with Keira Knightley. Greg’s smoking a joint next to him. Ken did a couple more lines about forty minutes ago, but he can’t feel the effects anymore, so he motions over to Greg, who readily passes him the weed. It’s relaxing, allows him to be rid of the tension in his body. It’s not as good as the meth he’d had with those random dudes out in New Mexico, but he’s got alcohol too. It’ll do. He actually hasn’t smoked pot in forever; it makes him feel weirdly nostalgic. He remembers when Stewy spent a full week plotting out a way to get them weed from the kids in the grade above them, who were two months shy of being high schoolers and to Kendall, newly thirteen, felt like giants. Stewy wasn’t even thirteen yet and he already was adept at conning his way into circles he probably shouldn’t be allowed in. Kendall was a Roy, so he wasn’t fucked around with too much, but Stewy exuded confidence and charm in a way Kendall could never understand. For Kendall, it was hard then to talk to most people, like there was a disconnect between him and the rest of the living world. He would learn, with time, how to navigate, how to stay afloat, and it’s not as though he didn’t have friends, and once high school started plenty of girls were interested in him—but he’d been an odd kid. Always a little off. Not Stewy, though. Stewy was—is intense, just like Kendall, but even as a kid he naturally knew how to go with the flow, how to appear cool and unshakeable and be whatever the situation required of him. He still does. Kendall stumbles, Stewy glides.

Anyway. So Stewy had wanted to try weed, and Stewy had wanted Kendall to try weed, so Stewy and Kendall had ended up trying weed. They’d been in Ken’s room, because he’d said that nobody would really give a fuck about the smell. They both knew, really, that the truth was that nobody would bother to check, but even as barely pubescent assholes they were skilled at pretending they were lying to each other.

Okay. Roll it. Stewy ordered, and Kendall looked down at the joint that already seemed to be rolled up perfectly well.

It looks pre-rolled.

You’re supposed to roll it.

Not if it’s already rolled, Stew.

Oh, sorry, forgot you were the weed whisperer. Stewy said, poking the joint mildly. He gave it an experimental roll. Fine, whatever. Just light it.

You light it. Kendall demanded, tampering down a smile. Stewy rarely ever showed when he was worked up; Stewy loved acting like he knew what he was doing. Neither of them knew what they were doing.

Pussy. Stewy taunted, grabbing the lighter. Kendall rolled his eyes and snatched it from him.

I’m not a pussy, he huffed, grabbing the joint and lighting it in one go. Stewy laughed, delighted. Stewy always got what he wanted.

Alright, gimme.

Uh, I lit it. I go first.

Then go.

Fine. I will. Kendall insisted, and brought the joint up to look at it more closely. He hesitated, eyes darting to Stewy and back, and then inhaled. He immediately started coughing. Again, Stewy laughed. He grabbed the joint from Ken’s hands. Wincing, Kendall watched him.

You have to, like, breathe deep and go slow, bro. My turn. Stewy raised the joint to his lips. He locked eyes with Kendall and inhaled, and for a moment, Kendall had had the strangest sensation, like he was going to die. And then Stewy also gave a hacking cough and it was gone. Jesus fuck.

Yeah. Are we potheads now?

After a singular hit? Yeah, man.

Shit.

Yeah.

Stewy inhaled again, this time handling it marginally more successfully than before. He hummed, smiling. Mm, I totally feel it. Here, have another, the second's so much better.

Kendall hadn’t really managed to feel anything with the first one (and he doubted Stew had either), other than pain in his throat, and he didn’t really get what ‘breathe deep’ or ‘go slow’ meant. Kendall had never known how to go slow. He wanted more, though. Almost like he could sense this—and even now sometimes Kendall really feels like Stewy can read his mind, which is unsettling because Kendall can’t usually read Stewy’s—Stewy shifted a little closer.

You know, he said, and his voice sounded different now. If weed made your voice deeper, Ken definitely wanted to develop a smoking habit. I heard about a way to do it without having to use the joint.

I’m not scared of the joint.

No, I know. But it feels weird when you’re first starting out.

You’re just first starting out, too.

Yeah, but I’m a mega-genius and a natural at everything. Stewy said, smirking, and Kendall flicked his forehead. Dude. Oh, that felt so weird.

What’s the way? To smoke without the joint.

Well, I’ve seen it in movies and the guy who sold this to me explained it in case I scored a date and wanted to impress a girl—

I’m not—

Obviously, dude, no one’s saying you’re a girl, and also this doesn’t mean anything because we’re not on a date and I’m not trying to impress you. And you’re not a girl. But it’ll help you get used to the smoke and then you can use the joint.

Okay. What do I have to do?

Just, like, breathe in the air when you feel it.

How do I know when that is?

You’ll know. Open your mouth a little. And close your eyes. Stewy ordered, so Kendall obeyed. He felt stupid, sitting blind with his mouth hanging. He heard rustling, the sounds of Stewy coming closer to him, and he was about to cheat and open his eyes when he felt Stewy’s hands on his shoulders as he pressed his lips to Kendall’s—and Kendall’s brain shut down. He belatedly realized that Stewy was exhaling the smoke into his mouth, so Kendall inhaled as best as possible, and this time he felt the effects almost immediately, a sweet sort of pleasure that made it impossible to think about anything but how good it felt. Kendall, who always needed more of everything, almost unconsciously lifted a hand to Stewy’s face, leaning in a little more to press them together harder—to make sure he got all the weed—and Stewy pulled back almost immediately, breaking the spell with a heavy cough he caught with his fist. Kendall blinked. His hand fell from Stewy’s neck and his fingers reached up to touch his lips. Stewy’s face was imperceptible.

That doesn’t count as a kiss, does it? Kendall asked, suddenly worried. Because he’d never kissed anybody before, and it would probably be weird if his first kiss was with Stewy.

No. We’re not gay. He said, and then he leaned in to take a closer look at Kendall’s face, using his index to examine his eyes. Did it work?

Yeah. It worked. Thanks.

Stewy grinned and shoved Kendall’s shoulder amicably, before settling down at the same distance they’d been at before. Perfect. Now we’re potheads.

“You know, it’s like a really startling resemblance, actually?” Kendall flinches as Greg’s voice cuts through the memory. History is doomed to repeat itself, he thinks, as he realizes his fingers are touching his lips. He lets his arm fall like it had fallen from Stewy’s neck, and smokes some more. Greg’s holding his phone up next to the television screen, bleary-eyed. The movie is paused on a picture of Tom in the rain which Greg is comparing with a picture of Tom from the boat. Or, no. Wait. The boat one’s not Tom. Or it is Tom. Kendall takes a swig of champagne.

“Which one’s Tom?” He asks and Greg stops, looking suddenly unsure.

“Uh. Gimme a sec.” He says, and Kendall laughs, watching as Greg squints at both screens with utmost concentration. Kendall yawns and pulls out his phone, scrolling through his contacts. He finds himself gravitating to the S section, and for a second he’s wildly afraid that his meat suit is trying to call Stewy while his brain is crossfaded, but then he clicks the phone emoticon on ‘Shiv Roy’ and presses it to his ear. It goes to voicemail after three rings. He calls again. This time she declines it after half a ring. He calls again, and again, and again, until, finally, she picks up.

“Hey, sis.” He says, laughing. “‘Sup?”

“What the fuck do you want?”

“Oh, so you do know who I am, okay, good to know.”

“I’m hanging up.”

“No, no, wait, I just called to tell you that your, uh. Minnesota mountain man. He’s on my screen, right fucking now.”

“What? Fuck, are they re-airing the trials? Fuck you. Did you put them up to that? Now that you’re apparently in PGM’s fucking pocket?”

“Shivvy, you’re so loud right now.” Kendall says, in between cackling. “Also, hey, weren’t you literally going to be CEO of PGM, or did I imagine that? Wow, CEO of PGM and Waystar. Let all light shine down on the halo of the golden child.”

“Fuck off. Don’t fucking call me anymore.”

“No, no, no, no, wait. Shiv. Siobhan. Hold on. I’m serious! Tom is a movie star. He says he loves you most ardently.”

“He—what the fuck are you talking about?”

“Hey, are you still gonna be CEO do you think?”

“It’s me over you any day.”

“That’s not really what I asked. You’re right, though. I guess the third time really is the charm. Also, Shiv, Tom really needs a haircut.”

“Are you high?” Shiv asks, after a pause. Kendall chuckles.

“Fuck, that must be it.”

“What is this, some kind of guilt trip so I come rescue you from whatever corner of hell you're in this time?”

“As if you’ve ever done that.” Kendall rolls his eyes, shoving more popcorn into his mouth. “Roman did that for me, not you, Shivvy. Never you. Huh. I should probably answer Rome’s calls.”

“He’s better off if you don’t. We all are.”

“Okay, come on. Fine, you’re pissed I stabbed dad, I get it. But Shiv, I caved. I called you. We can call off the game now.”

“I’m not playing any games, Kendall.” Shiv says, evenly, and Kendall starts to feel flares of anger sparking through his high.

“Fuck you. We’re family.”

“I’m not entirely convinced you know what that word fucking means.” Shiv snaps, and it’s only now that Kendall starts to recognize her tone—it’s the how dare you apologize to me of the wedding aftermath, and all of its variants. Shiv aims for casual when she talks, with a fluctuating percentage of success, but when she’s upset she can’t disguise it, can’t do anything but try to throw a punch with her words and pray it hits. All of them do it, the deflecting, but it’s different with Shiv, because Shiv takes everything so seriously it feels like a criminal offense to wrong her enough to hear the angry break as she tries to keep her voice leveled.

“Grow up. I’m your brother.” He bites. Shiv isn’t made for forgiving. Kendall’s not made to be forgiven.

“You’re not my fucking brother.” She says, voice pitched low and furious, and Kendall has a moment of genuine surprise as he hears the click of the call being disconnected, before he drops his phone onto the couch and finishes off the rest of the champagne.

“Greg. Greg, you know what we should do?” Kendall says, and Greg looks up from where he’s lying on the floor scrolling through pictures of the Darcy actor with purpose.

“What?”

“Tomorrow night—we should throw a party.”

 

The first thing Jess says when he picks up his phone is “Have you spoken with Schooner?” and Kendall watches as his mouth twists into a grimace in his bathroom mirror.

“It’s been less than twenty-four hours, Jess.”

“And almost two weeks since the conference, Kendall. People are starting to get wary. Your father’s team released a statement saying they regretted how you went rogue and that they’re not responsible for anything you might say.”

“What the fuck? How are they not responsible when I’m directly fucking targeting them?”

“Maybe because you haven’t actually done anything about it?”

“You have no idea the kind of pressure—”

“I went from an assistant to somebody in charge of finding a brand new set of people to guide you through this. You’re making me carry your dead weight on top of that. You have no idea the kind of pressure I’m under.” She says. Despite the twinge of guilt, Kendall can’t help hearing ooh, girl power! in Roman’s voice. It’s fine, though, because it isn’t him saying it. “We managed to keep Waystar’s stocks stagnant for a while now, but they’re starting to rise again. Some circles on Twitter are still on the cruise line scandal, but most of the world seems to have moved on. You’re losing momentum.”

“Okay, well, why haven’t we released the documents to the public, then?”

“Are you kidding? You need to have a lawyer before we do that. Waystar could try and sue you for defamation. Kendall. You know this.”

Kendall pinches the bridge of his nose. He’s trying to think straight. The coke’s really not letting him. He also barely slept last night. How the fuck have two weeks gone by with him barely noticing he’s alive? He can count on one hand the number of people he’s interacted with. Also he’s pretty sure Jess is trying to be Gerri now, not Karolina. Which is better for him, sure, but not without its downsides.

“Yeah, sorry. I’m a little out of it.”

“You need to stop with the drugs.”

“Wow, Jess. Have you ever considered handling rehab?”

“I’m serious, Ken. At least until you choose a lawyer and we know we can go forward. And even then, you know your father’s going to use it against you if he decides to fight.”

“Well, he’ll do that whether it’s true or not.”

“This isn’t like the other times, though. You’re the enemy.”

“Sounds about the same to me.”

“Kendall. It’s bound to get ugly.”

“That’s funny. Didn’t know it’d ever been pretty.”

“Just choose a goddamn lawyer.” Jess insists, and the irritation she’s trying to keep at bay is new for them. “And try not to die.”

“Yeah. Yeah, thanks.”

“Alright. Bye.”

“Wait. Just. I know I’m being difficult—”

“It’s fine, Kendall. Just choose the lawyer.”

“Thanks, Jess.” He says, and then he puts the phone down and stares at his reflection like he’s in a fucking coming-of-age film for forty-year old self-destructive addicts. He turns the faucet on and then he washes his face with warm water. It fucking sucks, is the thing, because he had managed to be clean for so long before his father planted those stories about him last year. There was a fucking blood-sucking leech in Kendall’s brain making it so his first thought is always, always to be exactly what Logan dictates. It’s like his body long ago decided he can never change but his mind refuses to catch up and keeps trying to feed him reasons why this time they’ll finally stick it to King Roy. Kendall can’t surprise his father; his father always expects the worst from him and that’s always what Kendall does. He sighs. He grabs a towel.

He should just call Schooner, tell him he’s got the job and they’ll figure the rest out later, but based on the singular meeting he’s had with the man, he doubts that will fly. Kendall needs to decide, first, what his course of action is. But how is Kendall supposed to know what he’s going to do when he doesn’t know what his father’s going to do? He pulls the towel away. There’s a menacing red stain. Kendall looks back up into the mirror and huffs. Nosebleed.

“Kendall?” Greg, rapping on the door. Kendall wipes away the blood, like his septum’s a fucking crime scene, and lets Greg in. Which probably looks weirder than if he just answered from behind the door, but it’s not like Kendall has anything to hide.

“Yo.”

“So, like, for the party? Is there anything you need?” Greg says, glancing around the room with wild abandon. Kendall narrows his eyes.

“Such as?”

“Uh. . . Preserves.”

“What, like. Fucking marmalade?”

“If that’s what you desire, I can, yeah, I can get some marmalade.” Greg finally looks at him and his eyebrows shoot up. “Dude. Blood.”

“Oh, fuck.” Kendall murmurs, pressing the towel to his nose and tilting his head back. “Don’t worry, Greg. About the party. We’ve got everything we need, and I already have the guest list.”

“Right, right. And is this, like, a publicity thing? Or a strategy? A strategic party?”

“Nah, man. This is just for fun. Everything kinda sucks right now, Greg, right? It feels good to put some joy out into the world. Give a little love, get a little love. Greg, we are actually good people for this.” Kendall says, and he hates how he fucking sounds when he gets in these moods, these do-nothing drug-infused reverting-to-college moods. There’s a palpable mania to his self-destruction when he fully careens off the edge that keeps him stable and/or properly shut down depending on the day. He’s still balancing on that bridge well enough that he can tell it’s coming, but he’s too far in to stop.

“I hope, uh, it's the kind of fun people can remember the next day.” Greg says, laughing awkwardly.

“Lame.” Kendall says flatly. “It’ll be great. Actually, could you get some more coke?”

“Wh—you didn’t already have all of it, right? Holy fuck, Kendall, we need to call an ambulance I think?” Greg jumps forward and jabs at Kendall’s neck, trying to take his pulse. Kendall pulls away, holding his hands up as a shield. He puts the dirty towel down; he’s pretty sure his nose has stopped bleeding. At least he hopes. Would really ruin his credibility right now if it hadn’t.

“I didn’t, Jesus, Greg. I have self control. I just don’t wanna dig into that stash, and I don’t wanna have to share it with people—that’s my coke, you know? It’s personal.”

“Uh-huh.” Greg nods, wide-eyed, earnest. “Totally.”

“Cool. Glad we’re on the same page. So go get me some more.”

“Right. Except. Well.”

“Jess talk to you?”

Greg nods again, shuffling his feet.

“Jess doesn’t have to know, Greg.”

“I just feel like she might have a point?”

“You think I’m unstable?”

“Dude, no, no. Just. There’s, like, a lot of blood on your shirt. And that towel.”

“Come on. You’ve never gotten a nosebleed?”

“Not from cocaine.” Greg presses, and a note of impatient disdain sneaks in that surprises them both. Kendall smiles. Judging off his cousin’s expression, it doesn’t reach his eyes.

“Alright, asshole. Go get me more drugs. Or you can’t come to the party.”

“Dude, what?” Greg groans.

“I’m glad we're bonding more, Greg. Go. Don’t look at me like that. It’s just one night and then we’re getting down to business. Greg. It’s almost time. C’mon. Please.”

Greg twists his mouth into a helpless little well, what are you gonna do? expression and turns on his heels to leave. Which thank fuck, because Kendall was ready to start fucking begging. And that would be an awful precursor to war with his father. But he’s not thinking about that right now, he’s thinking about the party. He grabs his phone and dials Shiv. She answers on the first ring.

“You have some nerve—”

“Throwing a party. You are cordially invited.”

“Do you have fucking brain damage?”

“That’s one theory. I think dad and Rava have a different one.” Kendall crosses into his room and sprawls out on the mattress.

“What, that you’re a disaster and a useless junkie who isn’t even fucking worthy of the dirt his Gucci sneakers walk on?” He hears Shiv breathing deeply, and again is stricken by the sheer, powerful anger of his little sister. He didn’t think—obviously, he knew it was going to be bad between them all, especially Shiv, who’d always had the tightest bond with Logan, but—he didn’t think it would be like this. The words don’t even mean much, he can barely process them, nothing fucking matters. It’s weak, anyway. It’s the fact that he can hear her force herself to stop. Not because she doesn’t want to hurt him: because she doesn’t want him to know how much he hurt her. He should feel empathy, that protective drive that consumes him when he remembers he’s the older brother. But, like when Roman brought up the dog cage, something else takes over and it just makes Kendall fucking angry.

“You know, you have some nerve, actually. Acting like any of this is about you. You weren’t even a player until a year ago. Jesus fuck, Shiv, get over yourself. It’s not going to be you—it could’ve been! But you fucked it! We all saw you fuck it, because, what? Oh, you got impatient? Oh, you were just so sad daddy wasn’t boasting about you like, like a trophy, or whatever? I am so sorry. I’m so fucking sorry little miss perfect sucked at pretending she’s an MMA fighter because she never learned how to take a punch.”

“What the fuck is wrong with you? What the fuck does that have to do with any of this? Fuck you, you’re just pissed, that, that—”

“What, Shiv, what am I pissed at, tell me?”

“That dad loves me!”

“You think he loves you?” Kendall’s voice suddenly feels strangled and cruel and not his own at all, in that way it only gets when he’s watching his body move on its own while his real self sits tucked away meekly in the corner of the room. It makes him feel like shit almost as much as it makes him feel like fucking God almighty. “You act like you’re so grown up when you haven’t aged past sixteen, and honestly, Shiv, it’s a little pathetic.”

“Oh, I’m pathetic? Me? I’m the pathetic one?” She sounds like she’s faltering, grasping at straws. It rubs Kendall wrong in a way that cuts too close, her acting like he’s kicking her when she’s down—as if she hasn’t had plenty of fucking time to get back up.

“Yes, you. At least I know what I am.”

“A fucking backstabbing piece of shit snake in the grass traitor who never should’ve been born.”

“None of us should’ve been born.” Kendall says. The fight starts to leave his system and he’s nothing again. He’s so tired. “What are you so mad about? Seriously. This is a genuine question.”

“‘This is a genuine—’ Oh, fuck you, Kendall.” Shiv spits, voice thick. Dimly, a part of Kendall is always conscious that Shiv is the only one of them that never learned how not to cry. “Why do you care?”

“I killed dad, not you.” He tries, and his voice is still harder than it should be, but they’re both resigned to it now. How long could they have lasted in the ring? Not very, he thinks. Kendall means it when he says Shiv never learned to take a punch. Kendall isn’t sure whether he ever really learned to throw one.

“It’s the same thing.” Shiv says, automatically, and Kendall closes his eyes.

“No, Shiv. No. It’s not.” He wants to be gentle. He doesn’t want to be gentle. He ends up with a lifeless monotone and Shiv doesn’t say anything. This whole thing is batshit. He feels like they’ve role-reversed, but they haven’t, because they don’t ever act like the other does, not on a regular basis and certainly not right now. He remembers yelling at his father for making Shiv cry. And suddenly he doesn’t know whether to count this as a triumph or a loss. “Hey, just. Come to the party? It’s at my apartment. I wanna see you.”

The funny part is he almost thinks she’s going to say yes.

“I’d much rather spend the night with my family.” Shiv says, coolly, after a long beat.

Kendall assumes she hangs up immediately after that, but he can’t be sure—he throws his phone across the room before he has a chance to give Shiv the satisfaction of hearing her walk away from him.