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And Less Than Kind

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When Roman's dad strokes out, it’s on the jet, over the Sea of Japan. He’s playing a game on his phone when he hears Gerri’s clipped call to the crew, impatient and firm, till so fucking collected, like she’s upset about the quality of her martini, is maybe annoyed by their slowness to get her a blanket.

The crew doesn’t seem to really know what they’re doing. It’s Roman’s first coherent thought as his dad lies on the floor of the jet, crew shouting directions to one another, Gerri on her knees beside Logan. Roman stares at her, all of the feeling draining out of his limbs. He thinks it weird that she’s so compact. She’s always been forgettable, except that she isn’t because she’s calm and efficient, can apparently neatly tuck herself into a handy position as the crew scurries around.

Everything in the hospital is incomprehensible. It’s clear that some of the Roy clout is lost in translation in Tokyo, but Gerri pushes and pushes, is like some kind of human battering ram while Roman just stands uselessly by, shrugging off the coffees and teas the assistants fetch him.

“Are you alright?” Gerri asks him once Logan is finally in surgery, and it takes a moment for him to realize that she’s talking to him, no matter that they’re alone on the trip except for staff, Roman shoved into his brother’s place at the last minute when Kendall relapsed.

He mumbles something incomprehensible, something that might not even be words, doesn’t register the non-response until he sees Gerri’s concerned expression.

“Do you want to call your siblings?” she asks, more gently. “I can if you’re not up to it, but they need to know.”

“I’ll call when he’s out of surgery,” he manages, doesn’t have any rhyme or reason for that, only seems like a good thing to say.

“That will be hours.” She pauses to stare at him in a way he can’t really understand, maybe thinks he’s an idiot for the way he’s handling things. “Roman, they really need to know before that, there are decisions to be made.”

Kendall was the obvious stand-in for Logan, at least before he went and snorted up all his success two weeks ago, ended up all over TMZ and Vaulter, rambling about how the name Roy ruins everything it touches. Probably fresh from a rejection at some party full of losers who pretended they don’t care about money.

Roman doesn’t think Ken is wrong, it just felt rich coming from him, the golden son who will no doubt be taken back after he’s done some short penance. But that isn’t now, right now Ken’s sobbing into the phone when Roman calls him at rehab, sounds high as a kite when he answers, Roman hanging up in frustration after a few minutes. 

The call to Shiv goes poorly as well, she cries but in an angry way, like he’s somehow failed the family by not preventing their father’s massive stroke, doesn’t want to listen at all about the Waystar stuff. 

Shiv: It can’t be Kendall

Shiv: He’s a fucking mess

He gets the texts a while after he gets off the phone with her, assumes that she called Ken like she said she would, but maybe she’s just pointing out the obvious, that their brother is a wreck who gets it together only to nosedive, would be far more destructive than Roman’s own idiocy. 

Roman: What about Gerri? 

Shiv: I don’t love Gerri 

Shiv: But I also don’t hate Gerri? 

Roman: So Gerri? 

When he finds Gerri, she’s still on the phone with Connor, her face pinched while she’s stuck listening to his mindless jabber, clearly trying to find a way to get out of the conversation. 

“Well I think I’m needed elsewhere,” she says, when Roman finally catches her eye. “Um, chin up. But don’t — don’t rush to fly in. I don’t know what we’re looking at yet.” 

“He’s flying in from Arizona?”Roman asks, as soon as she hangs up. 

“New Mexico, and maybe. Let’s see if we can avoid that.” 

“How ‘bout I tell him Tokyo is in China? That should give us a day’s reprieve.”

She gives him a look that’s not quite smirk, quickly pivots away, to other failings of the people who share his genetic code. 

“How’d it go with the others?” 

“Shitty,” he sighs. “Kendall was high, barely comprehensible before he started blubbering. My sister somehow thinks this is my fault. So fucking aces across the board.”

She gives him a sympathetic look, doesn’t seem put off by his snark, settling a hand on his arm for a moment before she pulls it away. 

“I hate to push the business side of things at a time like this —” 

“But we need a name to announce, calm some nerves when the news hits,” he finishes, his jaw tense. 

“Karolina thinks we have a few hours, tops,” she tilts her head.

“What about you?” It’s hardly the smoothest way of making the pitch, and the way he says it means that she misunderstands, takes it for a joke. “No really,” he replies to her annoyed look. “Really, we’re going with you.” 

“Me,” she says, completely unimpressed. 

Maybe she still thinks it’s a joke or else that he’s an idiot who’s just making shit up, but he’s annoyed that she doesn’t just agree, maybe thank him for the opportunity. 

“What about you?’ she replies, in the same cool tone. 

“Uh, I’m a walking buffoon that my father publicly humiliated by way of announcing that I wasn’t fit to be COO without adult supervision. You think announcing my name will calm some markets? Want to see if all your stock options can lose half their value overnight?” 

“You’re still a Roy,” she says, like that matters at all. “The name means something to most of those shareholders.” 

“Shiv will go ballistic, so will fucking Connor.” He’s pacing the hospital suite now, feeling frantic, doesn’t understand why no one has updated them yet when the surgery started over an hour ago. “But you’re— no one hates you. You’re competent and people aren’t ruffled by you. You’re like the vanilla ice cream of executives, no one minds you enough to fucking complain.” 

“Okay, well, thank you for reminding me why it shouldn’t be you,” she says, squinting at him now. 

“What do you want me to say?” he half shouts. “You want me to beg you?’ 

He doesn’t mean to raise his voice to her, it’s just that he feels like he can’t breathe, the room suddenly hot and spinning, his shirt too tight around his neck. 

“Are you okay?” she asks, Roman only dimly aware of her voice when he undoes his collar, but that doesn’t help, and drinking water doesn’t help, and it feels like he’s eight-years-old again, hiding in a closet, someone with an angry, booming voice drawing closer. “Roman?” 

Japanese doctors are apparently  freer with sedatives than American ones He’s still pretty doped up when a doctor comes into the suite to inform them that the surgery didn’t go well. 

“We’ll have to wait and see,” the surgeon hedges halfway through the explanation. 

“But he’s alive?” Roman asks, feeling desperate and strung out now, Gerri’s hand resting on his arm. 

“He is,” the doctor confirms, goes on to explain everything again. 

“What does that mean?” Roman asks Gerri once they’re alone again, and she looks pained, taking a deep breath before she answers him. 

“It’s unlikely he’ll regain motor function,” she says. “They won’t know anything for sure until the swelling in his brain goes down.” 

Roman won’t even be able to see him after surgery, the first chance will be in twelve hours, and soon after that Shiv will be here. 

“Why can’t I see him now?” he says helplessly, but Gerri doesn’t answer. Just coaxes him out of the hospital suite and into a car that takes them both to the hotel. 

“I’m right nextdoor if you need anything,” she tells him, but what he needs is his father back and no one can apparently do that, not even the fucking surgeons, so he stands under a shower that’s so hot it feels like he’s being steamed alive. 

He tries to sleep but can’t, is just functional enough now that he doesn’t think taking a sleeping pill is a great idea, so he ends up in the suite’s living room, watching Japanese television with no subtitles, just kind of staring at a make believe world that doesn’t make any sense. 

“Am I interrupting?” Gerri asks, when she turns up at his door. She’s changed clothes and her hair is down, looks somehow softer, and that’s a strange thought. She’s known his family for years, the word ‘soft’ isn’t one he usually associated with her. 

“Come on in,” he cracks the door farther. 

She pours herself a drink from the bar before sitting down on the couch, is no doubt here to make sure he’s not jumping off a balcony, a gesture he doesn’t entirely hate. 

“There’s a debt problem,” she says after they sit in silence for a while, Roman scrolling mindlessly through TV channels while she sips her drink.

“What kind of debt problem?” 

She explains it all calmly, in terms he can understand. He’s not sure how Logan managed to hide something this big but he also isn’t surprised. It only adds to the numbness he feels. 

“So you don’t want to become the captain of a sinking ship?” he guesses, tone dark in a way that isn’t aimed at her. It’s all ridiculous, just truly absurd; soon all of his stock will be worthless, and his father may never, ever tell him that he was actually loved. 

“Not a great offer,” she admits. “Though I do have some ideas your father didn’t care for.” 

“I’m confused about what it is you’re saying.”

“I’ll be the interim,” she says. “Very interim. Until your family can sort out what to do. But then I go back to my real job, preferably with a healthy raise.” 

“Fine,” he says. It feels like she’s doing him a favor, though in fact she has him over a barrel while his father is probably dying. 

 

. . . 

 

Shiv and Marcia arrive the next day and after that, everything gets worse. Their father is still alive but may never wake up again, certainly won’t walk again, and it’s like all the sorrow of that is manifested in rage, all of them at each other’s throats. He and Shiv end up wrestling in some kind of lecture hall, security rushing in just as Shiv lands a punch that hits him in the eye. Both of them end up banned from the hospital for the rest of the day, no threats or bribes able to change the decision, and once back at the hotel, Roman nurses his black eye along with his anger that he can’t even sit worrying at his unconscious father’s bedside. 

He has one of his sweaters, the one Logan was wearing on the plane, and he curls up with it as he holds a glass of ice water to his face, tries to will himself into unconsciousness until Gerri swings by again.

“Not as bad as I thought,” she says as stares at his black eye, but still sucks her teeth. “No going out of this room without makeup, okay?” 

He had some ice sent up earlier, it’s half melted now, but she wraps some in a towel and holds it to his face as she updates him about all the things that he missed after he was ejected. 

“Marcia wants a seat on the Board,” she says, hovering over him, her perfume not as he remembers it. Maybe she changed or maybe it’s the same but he isn’t. 

“Dad was pushing it before we left for Japan, already got Connor and Kendall to cave. I probably would have to shut him up, but it made Shiv extra salty.” 

“I can never figure out her angle,” Gerri admits, a hand gentle on his chin as she tilts his face where she wants it. 

“Shiv hates everything that isn’t her idea.” 

“No, Marcia.” She presses her lips together, Roman’s good eye watching her as she frowns at his discolored skin. 

“Probably not as malevolent as Shiv makes her out to be. Probably not as benign as Kendall and Connor take her to be either.” 

She makes a sound in the back of her throat, like she doesn’t disagree with his assessment, and it’s an odd feeling to be talking to someone who doesn’t dismiss his opinions out of hand. 

“I have to go make calls for a few hours,” she tells him. “Try to get some food in your stomach so you can take those pills the doctor gave you.” 

“They make me too loopy,” he complains. 

“Your baseline personality is that of a fruit loop,” she says, not unkindly. “Don’t make all this harder on yourself than it needs to be, okay?”

He’s never considered Gerri bossy, but he thinks now that she most certainly is, that she’s just adept at couching it in comforting tones and pleasing words, goading people into following her directions without ever letting them know they’re being herded. It’s quite the contrast to his family, will certainly be an adjustment for the staff when she steps in, and he can’t help but snicker at how much Logan would hate all of this. 

“What?” she asks, getting up to throw the towel into the suite’s sink.

“Little below your station to take care of me,” he prods.

“It’s all below my station,” she shrugs. “Still needs to be done.” 

Shiv comes by to see him and halfway apologizes. Marcia calls to fill him in on the lack of change in his father, maybe also to suss out what he’s thinking about all the Waystar stuff. 

“You’d have to ask Kendall or Gerri,” he says, making himself sound helpless. “You know Dad never tells me anything.” 

Ken’s supposed to arrive in the morning, got himself sprung early from rehab, and the thought of dealing with that particular shitshow is enough to make him pop the pills Gerri left, swallowing them down with some bourbon that’s lying around. 

He wakes up a few hours later to a knock on his door, is out of it enough that he kind of ping pongs to the suite’s living room, doesn’t think to put on anything other than the boxers he’s wearing. 

“Yo,” he says, Gerri’s eyebrows drawing up when she sees him. 

“Are you drunk?” she demands. 

“Mmm drunk sounds nice,” he says dreamily. “But no getting drunk while Dad’s in a coma. No no. That’s gotta fucking wait.” 

She sighs, which strikes him as rude, because he’s the one who’s been woken up and here she is, looking annoyed and waspy in a flattering pencil skirt when all he’s done is answer the door when she knocked. 

“Did you talk to Marcia?’ she asks. 

“She called. Was very cagey, very Lebanese about it. I don’t know - I don’t know what it is she wanted, but I didn’t tell her anything.” 

“Why don’t you go put some clothes on,” she says, arms folded over her chest. 

“Okay,” he says. But instead goes into the bedroom and gets back into bed. 

“Roman,” she grounds out, her voice sounding close as he lies there, falling asleep. “Wake up. I need you to tell me about Marcia.”

“I took the pills,” he whines. “You told me fruit loop, and I took the pills, but now I’m tired.”

“Roman, what did you say to Marcia?” 

“Dad never tells me anything. Ask Gerri or cokehead Kendall,” he mumbles. 

“That’s all?” she asks, won’t let him go to sleep, and when he opens his eyes, she’s sitting on the bed. 

“Your hair is pretty when it’s long,” he sighs. “You’re pretty all the time, but the long hair is good.”

“Uh huh.” 

“Vanilla ice cream is my favorite, did I ever tell you that?” 

“You don’t say.” 

She leaves him alone after that, he thinks he calls after her to stay, but all he hears is the click of the door and he realizes he’s alone again. All alone, impossibly alone, nothing but the bed and bad dreams for company. 

 

. . . 

 

He doesn’t remember the exchange until the next day, Shiv saying something that makes Gerri prickle up, and something about her tone of voice jogs his memory, humiliation now vying with the fear as he waits for doctors to update them. He avoids her the rest of the day after that, goes to help Marcia corral Kendall, who arrived high and is presently bugging the nurses, will probably be the third Roy to get kicked out of Japan’s most prestigious neuro hospital. 

“Let’s go for a walk,” Roman guides him away, and soon enough Ken's crying, collapsed in his arms like failed paper mache, and all the pain just starts to swirl together, none of the edges identifiable anymore. 

Gerri goes back to New York, no doubt has to make herself visible to calm shareholders’ nerves. Shiv thinks the sound bites they have circulating are pretty good, an admission that surprises Roman. He doesn’t push back when Frank tells to take all the time he needs, maybe wait for his father to be stable enough to transport. It’s probably meant as a kindness, but it’s also a reminder that Roman is mostly decorative, an inflated ego that prances about while Frank fulfills the actual functions of the job. 

He goes back to New York two weeks later, accompanying Marcia and his comatose father on a jet ride that feels like it lasts a whole year. Marcia has a specialist picked out at home, another traveling with them, clearly wasn’t happy with the doctor’s answers in Japan. They’ve never been close but he thinks she looks like a grieving woman, a wife who actually misses her husband. 

“Thank you,” she says, when Roman hands her some tea. She touches the back of his hand, a gesture that feels weird, but he tries to take solace in the relative peace between them, Shiv not around to make waves that ripple out. 

He doesn’t show up to the office until Tuesday, two days after he gets home, finding himself summoned to Gerri’s office immediately. But then he gets there and it’s empty, half her stuff gone, and a twitchy assistant shepherds him into Logan’s office, which is apparently now acting as Gerri’s. It makes sense but it also chafes, something about it not sitting right, and the way she looks at him over her glasses as he strolls in immediately puts him on the defensive.

“Are you back?” 

“I’m here, aren’t I?” he says flippantly.

“Frank says he can get by without you for another week. I’m just looking to find out where things stand.”

It's a perfectly reasonable thing to say, but she’s standing in his father’s office and less than two weeks ago he humiliated himself in front of her, maybe even propositioned her. The memory is blurry, he only remembers parts of the exchange; he can’t be sure how bad it was, can only assume he went way over the line.

“I might need to take some more time,” he says. 

“Understandable,” she smiles, but there’s no softness behind it, and he thinks that’s his own fault.

 

. . . 

 

He wastes three months of his life, sitting in his father’s silent home, or alternatively sitting in his own, halfheartedly going back to therapy before he quits going again. Kendall’s on some kind of redemption arc, Shiv’s in DC hiding herself in work, and he feels like a loser who can’t get anything done, can’t seem to shake the profound wrongness of their father lingering in a weird limbo between alive and dead.

By the time he goes back to work, he realizes that something big is going on, something with Cruises maybe, but he’s been shut out of the loop, is being stonewalled by Frank, it looking like Gerri doesn’t want to be only an interim after all. He would be lying to himself if he said he had half a clue what was going before the stroke, but now not knowing feels different, feels somehow worse, like it was better when he wasn’t trying but could still theoretically earn his dad’s approval. All he has now are bullshit emails and busy work while the real stuff happens without him in another room.

“I hope she stays put,” he says to Frank, when the subject comes up. “The stock prices barely dipped. She’s done well with the shit my brother’s been shoveling at her. They’d be stupid to trade her out for the next swinging dick with overly gelled hair.”

“Your brother is really sniffing around,” Frank warns with a shake of his head.

“Let him,” Roman  shrugs. “He’ll just fucking implode again in two to three months.”

“He’s family,” Frank says, doesn’t seem judgmental here so much as curious, no doubt digging for information to pass on to Gerri. 

“And I don’t think my family has any business running this company anymore.”

It’s like speaking the sentence in existence has immediate consequences on the fabric of the universe because the next morning Marcia calls him to say his father’s condition is worsening, his breathing labored, and the day after that his father is gone. 

The funeral is unpleasant, lots of executives speaking. Gerri doesn’t, which Roman finds strange, but then he sees Kendall next to Marcia and it all makes sense. 

“I don’t know whether to apologize or congratulate you for my family’s snub,” he says to Gerri when she finds him outside the church.

“Let’s leave it up in the air then,” she says gently, sounding a lot like she did back in Japan, before he was a creep. “How are you holding up?”

“Fine,” he says, which is mostly true because he just feels numb, only the slight prickle of irritation flaring when he realizes that Kendall’s watching their exchange.

“Fine is good,” she smiles sadly, clearly clocking his brother now.

“You deserved better,” he says, breaths puffing out in the cold. “On behalf of the part of my family that fucking knows it, I am sorry.”

It’s surprising when she hugs him, not the kind of play he’d expect from her here. He always tries to keep an assistant in the room when they meet, a buffer to allay any lingering discomfort she might have. When he feels her press herself into him, he just kind of freezes, lets her make whatever point she needs to in front of the assembled Waystar masses.

He knows by the time he gets halfway through his father’s wake that he doesn’t want to work at Waystar anymore. He waits a week to mull over the feeling before he heads to Frank, confiding that he’ll be bowing out.

“If you think it’s better for me to wait until after the Board votes,” he offers in Gerri’s office a few days later. She seems surprised and disappointed, which he finds unnerving. Frank does almost all of the heavy lifting, hardly like his own  paltry contribution will be a big loss, so he’s not sure what to make of her reaction.

“If you resign after I’m confirmed, it’ll look like it’s in protest.”

“Yeah,” he groans. Scrubs his hand across his face.. “Okay, so the vote is in a month, let’s say I leave next week. Follow it up with stumping for team Kellman in conversation with other Board members?”

“Okay,” she says. “But I wish you’d take some time to reconsider.”

He doesn't know where to go from there, so he just kind of shuffles out.

 

. . . 

 

Roman leaves, the Board votes Gerri in, life slows down and spreads up. He fills his time with various projects, tries but fails to maintain a new relationship with a woman named Tabitha, still manages to get a friend out of the deal, which he considers a success.

There’s a charity auction Marcia is throwing, Roman gets guilted into going because Ken is off the wagon again, Amir is out of the country, and Shiv is still Shiv. 

“Is that the one you were telling me about?” Roman asks when Tabitha points out a redhead across the room.

“Yep,” she says. “And this, darling, is where I leave you.”

He laughs as Tabitha swans away, blue silk shifting in the light. He ends up at the bar, trying to get a couple drinks down before he has to work the room again.

“Did your date just leave with someone else?” a familiar voice asks as he tosses back a shot of tequila.

“She isn’t that kind of date,” he says around a lime, watches Gerri frown as she tries to understand his mumble. “We’re just friends.”

“Our tabloids say otherwise,” she says, a hand gracefully motioning to get the bartender’s attention.

“And they’re the most unreliable rags in the country.”

She calls him sometimes before Board meetings, gives him just enough information to help her agenda along without tipping her hand. This is the first time he’s run into her socially and she’s far chattier than he anticipated.

“Chris Billingsly is here,” she notes with a tip of her head in the aforementioned man’s direction.

“You need me to chat him up about something?” he offers, accepting the shot she hands him. 

“Nope. Only warning you since you clearly hate him.”

He does a Billingsly impression that’s not great but gets a smile out of her, but after that they have to part ways for the silent auction.

“I’m due at Marcia’s for tea on Saturday,” she says, stopping him with a hand on his arm. “Care to stop by?”

“Safety in numbers?” he guesses, and she gives him a mercurial smile.

He spends the week flying all over two continents, comes back bone tired Friday night, desperately wanting to get out of the engagement at Marcia’s, doesn’t think he has it in him to make polite chatter as the other two pretend they weren’t recently in a cold war. He drags himself anyway, showing up a few minutes late. He assumes he’ll walk into strained conversation, but instead he’s greeted by the sound of women’s laughter.

“You’re late,” Marcia tsks, before kissing his cheek. He doesn’t quite know what to do when Gerri follows suit, settles for keeping his hands at his side and painting on a smile.

“Have you two been drinking?” he teases.

“Of course not,” Gerri says, at the same time Marcia says, “Yes.”

“Next time maybe agree on the basics before you conspire,” he advises, allowing himself to be led into the informal dining room.

It’s more a light spread of snacks than a meal, which his rumbling stomach doesn’t appreciate, but the conversation is relatively painless. Gerri carries most of it, steers them away from anything Waystar related without ever losing her air of affability. 

It’s the first time he’s seen the old Marcia emerge, the one who’s charismatic and engaged, not just the withdrawn, stern shell of a person who took her place after his father’s stroke.

“And what about Tabitha?” Marcia tries to draw him out.

“Still just friends,” he fights the urge to roll his eyes. He already gets enough of this from Caroline.

“Friends who have sex?” Marcia presses, Gerri smirking behind her tea cup when Roman sputters on his water.

“I should say not,” he coughs.

“Seems like a waste then.”

Marcia asks him about his work, accustomed to giving male heirs the opportunity to peacock, but he only says a few things about an indie film company he’s invested in.

“Is Emily still living in San Francisco?” he steers the conversation away, sees Gerri’s brief look of surprise, probably over the fact that he remembers her daughter’s name. It helps that her second born landed a punch to his stomach that completely knocked the wind out of him when he was about seventeen. 

“For now,” Gerri allows. “But her career plans are in flux. I think she might move on soon.”

Tea comes to a close not long after, the three of them moving to another room as the dishes are cleared. Gerri’s checking her phone, will no doubt leave soon, and he plans to follow the slipstream she’ll create.

“I’m glad we could all get together,” Marcia says. “We should do it more often once Roman’s working under the Waystar banner again.”

He freezes for a moment, glancing over at Gerri, who is very busy not reacting at all, and he takes a deep breath, steeling himself for whatever reveal is coming.

“You’re still looking to acquire Roman’s production company, aren't you?”she pivots to Gerri, Roman seeing the flash of a predatory smile Marcia used to favor Shiv with, right before she outmaneuvered her. 

“Yet to be decided,” Gerri says calmly, and Roman takes that as his cue to leave, getting up from the table a few minutes later.

“Thanks for the watercress and mind games,” he says as he heads toward  the door. “Very nostalgic.”

He hears Marcia call after him but he doesn’t hesitate on the way out. He’s a little startled when Gerri turns up on the sidewalk, a firm hand on his arm, diverting his path away from his car and toward her own

He’s so angry he goes mute the whole ride, doesn’t offer up any objection when she directs her driver to Central Park.

“Walk with me,” she directs when they pull up. But Roman doesn’t get out of the car. Feels decidedly petulant now. “Come on,” she orders, steel in her voice. “I have a phone in thirty minutes that I can’t move.”

It’s nice outside, unseasonably warm for the back half of November, and for the first few minutes they walk in silence, Roman brooding and angry, Gerri apparently content to ignore his temper tantrum.

“Films went sniffing around your company, but I told them to back off until I talked to you,” she announces, face turned, seemingly staring at a dormant cherry tree as they pass.

“How polite of you to warn me before you pull my pants down and take my fucking milk money.”

“I checked. It’s less than ten percent of your recent investments. And you’d obviously make more of a profit if you sold.”

“Thanks for the advice,” he grits, stops walking because he wants to figure out where they are so he can tell his driver where to meet him when he makes a break for it.

Most of his money is going into tech stuff and various rideshare platforms — bullshit that will never do anything for the world but make a few rich people that much richer. He likes the high wire aspect of that stuff, the rush that comes with knowing something will succeed or crash based solely on his bravado, whether he can make people buy in. The film stuff is rewarding in a different way. Maybe it feels like a chance to fix what he fucked up a couple years ago when he couldn’t walk off a single failure.

“Did you hear the part where I said I told them to back off?” Gerri asks, annoyance seeping in. “That company is a victim of its own success. You know the way it works. Someone bigger will gobble them up, even if it isn’t Waystar.”

She isn’t wrong, which is annoying, but it still chafes that something he was kind of enjoying might get dragged under by the riptide of his family legacy. Like he can’t have anything pleasurable in his life without it somehow reflecting back his dead father’s disapproval.

“If you want us to leave it alone, we’ll leave it alone,” she continues. “The phone call was on my schedule for Tuesday, I thought maybe I might catch you today if your mood was good, but Marcia clearly still has an axe to grind.”

He’s heard Gerri through her teeth, charmingly and convincingly. It’s entirely possible she’s spinning this in a palatable way, but something beneath his anger tells him that’s not the case. He doesn’t know how to put it into words exactly, but it’s like they always end up on the same page even when they could be at odds. He knows that with his father gone he’s been groping around for another source of validation, might well have found it in the woman walking next to him if he hadn’t gone and made things awkward between them. 

“My brother’s been hanging out with Sandy Fernesse,” he says, staring up at the sky. There’s a bird flying overhead, something large enough to make out the silhouette of, and he can’t remember the last time he walked long enough to see a bird in flight.

“Then your father’s spinning in his grave.”

“Apparently he and Ken go to the same lame, underground parties. Word on the street is that Sandy’s quite the fan of a golden shower.”

“Charming,” Gerri drawls but doesn’t pull a face. “You think they’re teaming up?”

“I would’ve thought that Sandy’s interest in Waystar ended when Pop died. But maybe he’d like to piss on his grave?”

“A lovely symmetry,” she comments, causing Roman to smirk. “You know, for all Marcia knows, you’re angry at me now for taking away your toys.”

The change in direction catches him off guard. It takes him a moment to figure out what she means.

“You want me to play it up?” 

“Couldn’t hurt,” she says. “At some point Kendall will look to you for help.” She pulls out her phone, probably texting her driver, and it’s weird to realize he’s disappointed their stroll is almost over, certainly started it in a different place mentally. “He was never as independent as you.”

The comment strikes him as jarring. It’s not at all how he sees himself, certainly isn’t how he thinks other people see him in relation to his brother, and as they loop around to an exit he mulls that over. It’s possible this is her way of soothing his bruised ego —that she knows exactly the right thing to say in order to build him back up.

“Think about the production company thing,” she says, when their cars pull up, both of them blocking traffic. 

“Are you sober enough to make your phone call yet?” he pokes, enjoying the annoyed look she gives him.

“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she breezes. Gives him a cheeky little smirk as her driver moves to open her door. 

 

. . . 

 

The production company gets gobbled up by Sony six months later. Everyone Roman had liked there loses their jobs, replaced by a bunch of corporate shills with no instinct for anything, and for a while he walks around angry, annoyed with himself because if it were Waystar, he would have gotten a ton of concessions. 

He pulls back from films after that, gets involved with a company that’s essentially another WeWork, people clamoring for interviews, articles about him no longer mentioning his father’s name in the very first sentence. When he’s thoughtful, which is rarely, he recognizes that it’s pathetic that he reads that last part as a marker of success.

He’s dining out with some people from work when he sees Gerri across the restaurant, can’t tell if her companion is a business acquaintance or a date. He doubts both, she doesn’t strike him as the kind to mix the two, whereas he’s presently trading snarky texts with someone who was an executive producer on one of the handful of films he got to develop.

He’s trying to not to stare, but whatever’s going on over there doesn’t like it’s going well. He sees her frown twice, followed by an expression that could best be described as a grimace, and soon enough he’s sending over a martini with a scribbled cocktail napkin note.

She doesn’t excuse herself for another twenty minutes, but she gives her date a pretty obvious brush off when she does. It makes Roman chuckle as he watches, his table also staring to disperse, his company thinned out to a few people who aren’t afraid to chat at length with their boss.

“Everyone,” he smiles hugely when Gerri turns up because he might be a little drunk. “This is Gerri Kellman, who I believe needs no further introduction.”

She’s amiable enough during the introductions, allowing herself to be drawn into various conversations with his underlings. They’re mostly acting deferential to him, which is bullshit, so he regales her with a few of the table’s better burns at his expense, gets everyone else to loosen up.

“Is your kitchen done yet?” someone asks.

“I think the estimate is half past never,” he says with a sour look, filling Gerri on the various mishaps that have befallen his penthouse remodel.

He doesn’t let himself drink anymore because he’s already imbibed more than is prudent for entertaining her company; he  finds it all enjoyable enough that he doesn’t mind the water he’s sipping. 

He doesn’t realize he and Gerri have created their own little bubble of conversation until he looks up to find the last person at the table bidding them a goodnight. He expects her to make her own polite excuses here, but instead she orders another drink.

“That looked like a pretty miserable date,” he offers, giggling when she pulls a face.

“A mutual friend fixed us up,” she admits. “A mistake I’m far too old to make.”

“I’m surprised you find any time.”

“I usually don’t,” she says into her drink. “Certainly won’t try to find it again in the near future. But I had a small window of relatively calm waters after that Board vote.”

Kendall and Sandy launched and then solidly lost a proxy vote. Roman pretended to play both sides, but Gerri always had his support and he wasn’t surprised to see he was in the solid majority. 

“I give it two months before Ken returns my calls. Another month before Marcia starts inviting me over for meals again.”

“I’m sorry,” she says. Sounds like she means it.

“It’s the way things always are,” he shrugs. “At least Shiv is ambivalent to all of it now.” 

They talk about his idiot siblings some more and then his work. She seems disinclined to talk about Waystar stuff, which is fine, hardly his favorite topic anyway.

“Shame about your production company.”

“You warned me.”

She seems thoughtful at that, pauses like she’s considering her words before she says, “Frank thought if we drew up a nice enough package, we might get you to come back to Films, maybe create a position for you.”

“That would be quite the demotion,” he says. “COO to entrepreneurial vagabond, followed by small executive position three rungs below C Suite?”

“It was a bad idea,” she agrees. “I think he wanted you to feel like you’d always have a home there if you wanted it.”

“But?” He sips his water after he asks it, watches her watching him, the low light of the restaurant soft against her hair when she shakes it out with her hand. 

“I don’t think making you feel trapped was the best way to communicate that. He and I agreed to disagree.”

He keeps her hostage an embarrassingly long amount of time, feels decidedly gratified when she seems as startled as he is that the restaurant is closing, staff halfway through end of night cleanup. 

“Oh dear,” she says, glancing at her watch.

There’s a weird vibe out on the street, he thinks it’s all him. He has no idea how to say he had a nice time without making it sound like it was a date. He drums his hands against his legs, trying to find the words that fit.

“Good catching up with you,” she says, the perfect turn of phrase, so obvious he could kick himself. 

“Ditto,” he makes himself smile, feels like he should hug her or something, maybe move to kiss her cheek, but God knows he won’t touch her. 

“My schedule’s miserable for the next few weeks, but we should do this again.”

He beats her driver to her car door, holding it open like the gentleman he most certainly isn’t, has already taken stock of how form fitting her dress is. She gives him a peck on the cheek, the kind of performative affection she often offers him in public. He knows better than to read into it, tries to sort himself out on his car ride home.

 

. . . 

 

His new company goes public, stock prices beating expectations. He thinks he’ll give it a year before he cashes out, look for something else to do.

“Congratulations,” Gerri says as soon as he answers the phone. It’s late and he’s in for the night, skipped most of the celebratory events his partner Adam’s throwing all over the city.  He’s pleasantly surprised to hear from her, can only assume it’s something Board related if she’s calling. “I hope I’m not keeping you from debauching yourself.”

“None of that,” he chuckles.

It’s been a few months since the restaurant, he half expected her to reach out again but hasn’t heard from her until tonight. Rumor has it her COO is leaving after less than two years’ run, she’s no doubt busy headhunting, but he was still disappointed, and then angry at himself for being disappointed. And then his own life got so ungodly busy that he kind of forgot to pout.

“You sure you don’t want to give up your quarter billion dollar investment, come back and be my interim COO?” She makes the quip when they’ve been chatting for a few minutes, doesn’t make him fish for information, just hands him the confirmation about the exit on a silver platter.

“Must be pretty desperate if you’re willing to scrape the bottom of the barrel.”

“I don’t care for him, but he is competent, and now he’s leaving me with a headache.”

“Maybe next time go with someone who doesn’t give off Burning Man vibes?”

It makes her laugh, which is a win, and after that she complains about various Waystar problems that have kept her from getting in contact. 

“You’re a busy person,” he gives her the out. 

“Did your remodel ever get finished, or are you just going to be one of those people who perpetually lives in construction?”

“Oh, it’s finished,” he drawls. “Ugly as fucking sin and I’m probably going to sue someone over it, but it’s finished.”

He sends her a picture of the gray countertop that’s supposed to have a multifaceted look in the light but in actuality looks like someone vomited up glitter.

“Is that beige?” she asks.

“Gray,” he corrects. “It doesn’t photograph well. Like it’s a goblin or something.”

“You mean vampire.”

“Huh?”

“It’s vampires that don’t show up in photographs or mirrors.”

“Well I’m sorry, I didn’t realize I was talking to an expert, I’ll be sure to be more careful about my ghouls next time.”

He complains about the texture of the walls, doesn’t bother to send her a picture because it won’t turn out well, probably because the new lighting is also horrible. 

“I think it’s one of those horrors you have to see in person to understand.”

She hums at that, sounds like she’s typing, probably still in the office, and he broods a little when he thinks their time is up.

“I have one more thing to finish,” she says. “Are you going to be up in an hour?”

He was about to take a shower and play video games in his underwear, but he won’t turn down a second phone chat, will stay up later, no matter that he’s already yawning. 

“Yep.”

“Send me the address,” she says. “I’ll text you when I’m on my way.” 

He didn’t mean it as an invitation, didn’t anticipate she’d bite even if he had. He has a small panic about the fact that his cleaning service is due tomorrow, he’s spent the last two days un-tidying everything they put in order, but most things get thrown haphazardly into drawers as he scurries around.  He’s still dressed from his day, maybe not the vibe he’d choose just for a friendly meet up, but he reasons she’ll be in work clothes as well, nothing out of the ordinary when two friends see each other at the close of a week day. 

“Hey,” he greets when he opens the door for her. 

“Hey.” She immediately kicks off her shoes, which he takes as a sign this isn’t a one-minute swing by, quickly sets himself to the task of mixing her a drink. “Bless you,” she breathes out, accepting her martini. 

They stand in the kitchen, Gerri expecting various surfaces, frowning in that way she does when she’s trying to solve a problem. 

“Think I can get pain and suffering money for this?”

“It’s like they took every fashionable technique and tried them all at once.” 

“I told you it was horrible.”

“But you’re prone to exaggeration,” she counters. “I assumed it was less than great but several grades above horrible. I was wrong.”

They float various elaborate claims he can include in his lawsuit, a game of one upmanship that he wins, if only because she’s right, he is overly dramatic.

“Your turn to whine,” he offers, which she seems to shrug off. “Just another day in the life?”

“I keep thinking it’ll settle down and then it doesn’t. But it’s fine.” Except that she’s sagging against his kitchen counter, clutching her drink for dear life, apparently desperate enough to seek out his company. She doesn’t seem fine, she seems exhausted. 

“I feel like you’re only in this position because I hoodwinked you into doing my family a favor.”

“Hardly true,” she scoffs. “We made a deal, you would have stuck to it. I’m only sorry that the transition was a bumpy one for you. But I respect your decision to leave once you realized I was staying on.”

He puzzles at that, finds it weird she’d put it that way, is about to push back on it when the cell phone beside her arm buzzes against the counter. It takes a moment for him to see that it’s his, Gerri looking like she has the same reaction, but then she’s pushing off the counter, setting down her empty glass.

“Someone named Laura wants to know if you’re still awake,” she informs him with a tight smile. “I should leave you to the rest of your celebration.”

“Stay for another drink.”

 By the time he finds the words to explain, he realizes that she probably doesn’t care about his non-dating life,  and anyway she’s already halfway done putting on her shoes.

“Thanks for the chat and the vodka,” she bids him on her way out.

“Try for lunch next week?” he offers out of desperation. He feels a clawing, frantic need to know when he’ll see her again.

“Maybe,” she hedges. “I’ll call.”

 

. . . 

 

Gerri doesn’t call the next week or the week after that, and the following month one of the Pierce outlets runs an expose about sexual harassment at Waystar. Most of it is old and unsurprisingly about Logan. It’s a tough read, worse because Roman knows the accusations are true, doesn’t help anything that there’s a couple choice stories about Baird thrown in at the end, clearly a potshot at Gerri.

He doesn’t debate it when he calls her, can’t reach her on her cell so he tries her at the office. He gets her assistant there, might very well be getting screened, but he leaves a message anyway, thanking the woman for passing it along. 

He’s boarding a jet when Gerri calls him back a few hours later. He drops his laptop bag in the rush to answer the call, winces when the corner slams against his knee before he’s able to right it.

“I’m not in a position to make a statement to members of the Board,” she says, not exactly terse but far from her recent amiability. 

“I wasn’t calling as one,” he frowns. He slides into a seat as one of the flight staff offers him a coffee he quickly waves off. “Just checking in on a friend.”

She doesn’t say anything to that, the silence stretching out, and he can’t help but feel out on a limb. They’ve only seen each other socially a handful of times in the last few years, mostly of those meetings a product of running in the same small circles. She came over to his apartment once to stare at a horrible decision he made, has been kind to him despite other bad decisions he made, but they’re more business acquaintances than friends and he was foolish to confuse the two.

“Are you on a plane?” she asks.

“Just boarded. Wheels down in LA in about five hours.”

“Can I call you when I get home?”

“Sure,” he says, isn’t sure if she’s fobbing him off again, like the vague social invitations that never materialize into anything.

“I’ll be here late, but I suppose that works with the time change. Say nine o’clock there?” 

“I’ll talk to you then,” he agrees, trying not to analyze it much when she cuts off without saying goodbye.

He has a dinner meeting that he wiggles out of early, gets back to the hotel a few minutes before nine. But nine o’clock comes and then nine thirty, and by ten he’s drinking a beer in bed, halfway reclined against the headboard as he sulks.

She calls as he’s turning out the lamp, his hand shooting out to grab for the phone as it vibrates against the duvet.

“Bad time?” she asks when he grunts out a greeting. 

“It’s fine,” he says, failing to stave off a yawn. 

“I know it’s later than we agreed. Karolina had some points to go over with me, a few more unpleasant things coming down the pike.”

“More stuff about Dad?”

She doesn’t answer, probably can’t tell him, and he’s still searching for a way to pivot when she says, “Please remind me that I can’t fire everyone who gives me so much as a fleeting look of pity.”

It takes him a moment to track what she means, but then he’s rolling over with a huff, stretched out on his stomach as he listens to her sigh into the phone.

“You’re the boss. You can fire whoever you want.”

“You’re supposed to be discouraging me.”

“Mmm, can’t do it.” He pitches his voice, makes himself sound ridiculous when he says, “Fire the bastards. Fire them all. Start over fresh.”

“It’s very inconvenient that you’re in California,” she notes and he feels a sudden shift in the tone of the conversation. “I could use a subpar martini in a decidedly subpar kitchen.”

“Throw in some subpar company?”

“I wouldn’t say that.”

“Because you’re far too generous?”

“How are you holding up with all of this?” she asks, which is kind but unnecessary. He’s not the one getting beat up in the press and so far his company’s been pretty immune to the Logan-related vitriol.

“So far fine.”

“Must be hard on your girlfriend.”

“Who?”

“Laura. That’s her name, right?”

“I don’t have a girlfriend,” he says, doesn’t mean to sound as defensive as he does. 

“My mistake.”

It’s probably worse to explain but he feels like he has to, doesn’t want to allow for the possibility that she thinks that he’s lying.

“She was an executive on one of the films I got to do. We traded a few phone calls and some texts, but that was it before it petered out. She’s based here and I didn’t even tell her I’m coming into town.”

“It’s hard,” she says. Sounds conciliatory now. 

“I’m forty,” he breathes out against the pillow. “Pretty done subsisting on flirty games. An actual relationship is one thing, but I’m too busy and tired to run myself ragged for something fleeting, ya know?” He scratches his head, isn’t sure where that little rant came from. “How did we even get onto this topic?”

“Bad press,” she reminds him.

There’s a lull, he’s hoping she’ll fill it, but when it drags on he worries that she might just sign off instead. 

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“Not much to say,” she replies, which is far from true, but he isn’t going to push her. “I don’t know if the Baird stuff is true and that’s… less than ideal.”

“Yeah, I can imagine.”

Baird is kind of a nothing figure in his memory, mostly a talking head who was always around Logan, but there is one memory that stands out as relevant, a summer trip to the old Hamptons house. It was one of the few times he clearly remembers the Kellmans being around, though they must have been a lot. He’d just gotten out of the pool and walked in through the back, into the kitchen, and Baird was in there with one of the au pairs. 

It’s hard to pinpoint what’s amiss about the memory; he remembers Baird standing a little too close to her, the au pair looking uncomfortable, but it’s nothing concrete. He doesn’t even remember the au pair’s name, was probably one charged with the Kellman girls. He only recalls her as an adult with a stern voice, one who snapped at Shiv for something once, but looking back she couldn’t have been more than twenty-two or twenty-three.

“I was already working for him when we got together,” she begins, sounding like she’s puzzling through something as she speaks. “Not the kind of thing that would look good to an HR department now. But it was mutual, if anything I was the one who did the pursuing.” She clears her throat, sounds more guarded when she says, “I didn’t think his behavior was ever near Logan’s level, but maybe I was clueless.”

“Did he ever? With you? I mean, did Dad ever. . .” He can’t get the rest of the question out, knows it makes him a selfish asshole to ask it of her. His father was capable of all kinds of vile things, he shouldn’t need any more reasons to hate the man, but the question nags at him now and he can’t let it go.

“He was your father,” she says. Sounds more sympathetic than anything, like she’s giving them both the out, but he doesn’t want an out, he wants the truth no matter how awful it is.

“Still,” he presses, voice cracking on the word. 

“I was Baird’s wife,” she says eventually, clearly picking and choosing her words. “That bought me some measure of protection.” There’s the sound of a glass clinking, maybe her refilling her drink, and he tries to imagine where she is. Sitting on her couch after a long, shitty day or else standing in her kitchen, pouring alcohol on old wounds. “Logan had this way of making a person feel cornered, even with other people around. Like he created his own little private pocket of time and space. There were vague invitations on occasion, especially in that period before Marcia was on the scene. But nothing worse than that.”

“I’m sorry,” he manages, feeling so guilty he wants to crawl out of his skin.

“You were a kid,” she says. “And you got far worse from him than I ever did.”

“No,” he chokes out. “For Japan —for being like him.”

“You mean when you answered the door in your boxer shorts?” He doesn’t answer, can’t get the words out, isn’t sure what to make of her confused tone of voice. “Honey, you were medicated.”

“Hardly a fucking excuse for cornering someone.”

“You didn’t corner me,” she says immediately. “I followed you to the bedroom when you tried to go back to sleep.”

“Gerri,” he stops her, doesn’t want her to placate him. It’s what they all did around Logan, spinning things so nothing was ever the man’s fault. Both of them, for decades, and it’s not what he wants, and he thinks now that this is why it’s taken him years to apologize to her. 

“Roman,” she says, sounds firmer but calm. “What exactly do you think happened that night?”

“I don’t remember it well.” He remembers a few sound bites, remembers asking her to stay, but everything else is mostly a haze that his mind can only fill in with worst case scenarios. “You were asking about Marcia and I started saying some inappropriate shit.”

“You called me pretty,” she says gently. “And I think you implied that I was your favorite, but that was pretty much it.”

“I tried to get you to stay,” he pushes back because he can clearly remember that part.

“Well, yeah,” she says, sounding incredulous “You’d been punched in the face and your dad was dying. Not to mention your family were acting like jackals while the company hung in the balance.”

“That doesn’t fucking excuse it.”

“You didn’t proposition me,” she says, so resolutely he almost believes her. “You were scared and you didn’t want to be alone, but that’s not the same thing.”

“Right,” he breathes out.

“Rome, tell me you understand that it’s not the same.”

He doesn’t, if anything he thinks she’s just making excuses for him, her standards for male conduct pretty off. It’s still a relief to hear that she doesn’t think of him as a creep, some kind of necessary evil she keeps in contact with out of shared history and professional necessity. 

“Okay.”

“Is that why you were so cagey when you came back?”

“Huh?” He doesn’t follow what she means, thinks she’s talking about Board meetings, but that doesn’t make any sense.

“You kept skirting around me after you brought your father home,” she replies. “I thought the idea of my being in his office bothered you.”

She’s not entirely wrong but she also isn’t right. He doesn’t think the clarification will help anything, certainly doesn’t want to put her in the position of placating his guilty conscience again. 

“I was glad it was you,” he says, which is the truth. “I’m still glad it’s you.”

“That’s nice to hear,” she sighs, sounding like she’s covering a yawn. 

“I should let you rest.”

“Thank you for calling,” she says before he can bid her goodnight.

“Happy to be a friend,” he says softly, and then lets her go.

 

. . . 

 

The trip to LA is mostly uneventful, minus his business partner behaving erratically at lunch the last day. Roman doesn’t think it’s drugs, he’s pretty familiar with the signs, but he could be wrong about that. Hopes it’s just a one off and their PR people can kill it.

They do, but it isn’t; they have to start ramping down on the press Adam does, handling him like everyone at Waystar did Logan in the year right up to the stroke. He’s in the middle of dealing with all of it when he gets a text from Gerri late on a Friday, which is weird because they don’t really text. 

Gerri: Apparently I’m invited to Marcia’s birthday party

Roman: Interesting

Roman: March is around the corner. What do you think the odds are that a group of dudes in togas are waiting for you with knives?

Gerri:  Color me surprised that you know what the Ides of March refers to

Roman: Rude 

Gerri: Re odds, I don’t know. Hence my checking with you

He does some digging over the next week, gives Marcia and Ken a few openings to mouth off about Gerri, but they don’t bite. Ken’s dating Naomi Pierce right now, a shitshow of a match, but he seems too up her skirt to remember that anyone else exists, which is probably a good thing for everyone.

Roman: So far no fuckery detected. Marcia even made vaguely approving noises about your last quarter

Gerri: How flattering

Roman: Money is the only thing this family values over grudges. You should be fine unless the stock takes a sudden dip

Gerri: 🔪🔪🔪

 

. . . 

 

The week after that Adam gets a DUI in the Hamptons by way of wrapping his car around a telephone pole. The story hasn’t broken yet, they’ve managed to avoid any leaks from the hospital, but there’s no way to keep a lid on it once the charges are filed. 

Marcia’s party is on a rainy, miserable Saturday. Roman knows he should go, but the thought of all those people crammed into his father’s house makes his skin crawl and he’s already exhausted from doing damage control.  He hasn’t talked to Gerri since she texted the other week. It’s pathetic to go to a party because he might catch sight of her, get a perfunctory kiss on the cheek in front of the assembled masses, but in the end it’s the only thing that can motivate him enough to get dressed and go.

He shows up late, has to suffer through various toasts, gets tasked with giving one himself that he kind of muddles through. It feels like the old parties, the ones his dad would throw, some kind of seance rather than a birthday party and that at any moment Logan’s disembodied voice will rumble through the halls, shaking pictures off walls. 

He doesn’t see Gerri anywhere, gives up after half an hour of fruitless searching, ends up grabbing a bottle of scotch and barricading himself in a back office to play on his phone, maybe return a few emails. 

Three messages down is one from his personal PR person, a link with an article attached, some Jezebel piece about whether women breaking the glass ceiling ever changes things in corporations. It’s mostly a lot of muckraking , Waystar and Gerri cited quite a few times. It isn’t live yet, he thinks Karolina might be able to kill it if she can offer the right trade, but the whole thing feels it was too neatly timed not to be a setup, and given the outlet and the connections, the most obvious candidate is Shiv.

He’s made a few calls by the time someone opens the office door. He braces for the end of his solitude, about to be forced to make small talk with some drunken codger who’s only looking for the bathroom, will jump at the chance to regale Logan Roy’s youngest son with stories about the good old days.

“Oh,” Gerri says when she rounds the corner, seems genuinely startled to see him because she jumps. “What are you doing back here?” 

“Hiding.”

She glances at the bottle of scotch on the small table next to him, one eyebrow arching as she takes note of the glass beside it. 

“Hiding and drinking,” he modifies.

“I made a few passes around, looking for you,” she says, sitting down in the chair opposite him. “I thought you left early.”

“Showed up fashionably late. Didn’t see you, so I beelined it back here.”

“Is this the one she remodeled to piss him off?” She looks around as she asks it, clearly doesn’t care for the decorating choices, but it’s a room that doesn’t feel at all like it belonged to his father and for that Roman doesn’t much mind it. 

“You ever wonder if anyone in my family ever talked through a single relationship problem?” 

He’s pretty sure his sister’s about to get a divorce, won’t say that to Gerri in case she uses it, but maybe that’s why Shiv’s lashing out, sinking her teeth into anything remotely familiar. 

“You mean besides you?” she floats, which makes him pull a face. 

“Uh, I’m a mess.”

“Sometimes,” she tilts her head. “But you’re on good terms with most of your exes, appear to be best friends with one of them. Whereas both of your parents preferred to go scorched earth.”

“Do you need help killing the Jezebel thing?”

The redirect seems to take her off guard, she pauses before she responds, taking  a moment to lean forward in her chair and pour herself some of his pilfered booze.

“I’m sure Karolina has it handled,” she says, a measured voice he doesn’t like being on the receiving end of. “Do you need help killing the DUI stuff?”

“No point,” he shrugs helplessly. “Charges will be filed sometime Monday and then we’re off to the races.” 

She gets up from the chair, he thinks she probably needs to get back out there, but instead she locks the door, something he should have thought to do when he first came in. Then again, if he had, Gerri wouldn’t be coming to sit on the couch next to him, the scent of her perfume so mentally overwhelming that it takes him a moment to find his train of thought when she asks him a question. 

“What are you going to do?”

“I was going to sell sooner than later anyway,” he says. “Looks like it’ll be sooner.” He turns so his head rests on the back of the couch, watches her as she cradles the drink in her lap, her other hand absently running along the expanse of couch between them. “How bad do you think the PR fall out will be if I cut and run?”

“It was just property damage and booze,” she hums. “Not a dead prostitute. He's a mess in the making, but I think if you put distance between yourself and him, make your exit look planned, it won’t even splash on your shoes.” 

He thinks so too, but Gerri is smarter, more strategic. Hearing her confirm it makes him feel immediately better, like maybe this won’t all explode in his face the way everything else always does.

“I think Shiv is behind that article,” he says, so quietly that it sounds like a confession.

“Yeah,” she says, her reluctant smile a sad one.

“I’m not sure why.”

“Lot of blame to go around,” she says, resting her head in a way that mirrors his posture. “And my hands were never clean. Maybe your sister thinks it’s my turn to eat up all the sins.”

“Could be,” he allows, though he doesn’t buy it. “Or else everyone in my family keeps taking swings at you because they’re mad at a dead guy. Will never get the chance to call him a fucking bastard to his face.”

The look she gives him is hard to pin down, he thinks it’s a mix of amusement and surprise, maybe some befuddlement. It dovetails into a soft smile as she raises her hand to his cheek. 

He blinks when she makes contact, blinks again when he feels her thumb begin to move against his skin.

“You once called me the vanilla ice cream of executives,” she arches both eyebrows. 

“I’m an asshole,” he apologizes, shaking his head slightly.

“You also said vanilla was your favorite.”

He doesn’t remember saying that part in the course of that conversation, but maybe it was after. Maybe it was that night he tries not to think about.

“Officially, it’s Rocky Road.”

“So were you also lying when you said you like my hair and think I’m pretty?”

The question is teasing, affectionate, but it still makes him close his eyes for a second. He opens them again, sees Gerri’s face only a foot from his, and it’s impossible not to hand her the truth.

“Pretty is an understatement.”

“Feel free to elaborate,” she says, her thumb passing over his lips, and instinctively he presses a kiss into the pad of it, watches the way her eyes seem to darken.

“Breathtaking,” he murmurs. “Too good for anyone in this fucking  house.”

Her eyes crinkle at that, her thumb a warm weight as her face gets closer.

“I thought it was just a bad night and a few crossed wires.”

He can’t follow what she means, doesn’t have time to ask because a moment later she’s kissing him, her hand sliding down to make way for her mouth. It’s slow at first, not much more than lips brushing against lips, but then he hears her breath catch, a tiny sound that’s amplified by the silence of the room.

She ends up in his lap, his hand on her ass, her tongue delving into his mouth like she’s grown gills, no longer needs to take oxygen into her lungs. His head is spinning but he has no interest in stopping, just kisses her back until he feels her hand sliding his under the hem of her dress.

She’s wearing nylons, a weird kind of turn on he wouldn’t have anticipated liking, but then he feels the transition to smooth, buttery skin and it’s all he can do not grip her thigh for dear life.

“Gerri,” he groans, head thrown back against the couch. It must break some kind of spell for her because she pulls back, panting above him, her chest heaving in a way he can’t help but stare at. 

“This is a bad place to start this,” she says. Doesn’t pull his hand out from under her dress.

“Feels pretty okay to me.” He feels her breath on his face when she huffs out what he thinks is a laugh.

“I need to get going,” she tells him, isn’t swayed when he protests as she slides off his lap. “You should make the rounds, shake a few hands. Never know when you’ll need the good will.”

She fixes her makeup with a mirror from her purse, Roman staring at her now, dazed and erect as he sits on the couch. 

“You should go out first,” she instructs. He isn’t really in any state to do so, a glance in his direction must confirm as such because she smirks when she amends, “Wait a few minutes after I leave.”

He doesn’t have it in him to talk to anyone now, can’t think of anything but how Gerri’s mouth tasted and the way she seemed so certain when she moved his hand where she wanted it, demanding in a way he’d never imagined. He waits ten minutes because that’s how long it takes to talk his body down, gets ensnared by Marcia on his way to the front door. 

Marcia has someone she wants him to meet, which is miserable. He curses Kendall for not being around more because apparently he has to fill in as the charming one in his brother’s absence, can never tell if Marcia’s newfound pride in him is genuine or a simple matter of convenience.

It’s after eleven o’clock when he finally escapes, probably too late to call Gerri and not look like a presumptive, horny asshole. He has his phone out, just kind of staring down at their text messages, debating his best option when a message pops through. It’s an address, presumably her home address, and he’s so quick to give the driver the change in destination, he trips over the words.The guy frowns in the mirror, clearly trying to parse out the gibberish spouted in his direction, Roman leaning forward, shoving the phone in his face out of pure desperation.

He doesn’t send a  ‘on my way’ text, which is maybe a little rude,. He’s too busy being terrified and excited, followed by so nervous it feels like his stomach is being tied up sequential knots like a balloon animal. 

Her building is nice, exclusive, clearly not trying nearly as hard as his to prove its worth. That’s strangely intimidating and he freezes in the elevator, has a moment where he considers walking right back out the lobby rather than going up. He doesn’t, instead spends the course of the elevator ride trying to figure out when she moved here because he vaguely remembers talk of the Kellmans living in Westchester, but that was over a decade ago and the train of thought only leads him to Baird and then directly to Logan. Far from the ideal headspace to dwell in right before he walks into Gerri’s apartment for a late night invitation.

“I was about to give up on you,” she says when she answers the door in pajamas. It’s a silk set, yellow or maybe orange with some kind of zebra print, and the combination of her appearance and the words throws him even farther off. 

It seemed natural at the house, she kissed him and he kissed her back. He thought the flow would translate, but instead he’s standing in her living room with sweaty palms, not at all sure how to interpret the look she’s giving him.

“Drink?” she offers, padding over to the corner of the room. 

“I’ve probably had enough.”

She hasn’t invited him to sit, he doesn’t know what it is she wants him to do, so he ends up sitting cross-legged on her coffee table. She barely gives him a second glance as she pours herself a drink, and he’s not sure whether that’s vexing.

“I jokingly offered you COO a while ago, but it’s yours if you want it again.” The statement makes his head shoot up, Gerri turning around with a tumbler in her hand, gesturing with it slightly when she begins to elaborate. “Soft landing after you cash out of your present endeavor. A heralded return of  a Roy. Could be good for both of us.”

He’s not thrilled with her choice of foreplay, even less thrilled if her invitation was a pretext to talk about Waystar shit. He doesn’t want to think what happened at the party was a gambit, that she’d stoop to that level, but he feels so whiplashed that he can’t be sure of anything right now.

“I prefer my distance,” he says, words dripping with annoyance. Apparently it takes her by surprise because her eyebrows knit together, like he’s a crossword puzzle and she’s thinking through a clue over her morning coffee. 

“It’s your family’s company. Don’t you have any interest in what happens to it?”

“I’m on the fucking Board,” he huffs. “I’ve  shown support for the current CEO, isn’t that enough?”

She closes the distance between them after that, now looking newly bemused by his choice of seat. He doesn’t share in her lightheartedness, feels suddenly trapped with nowhere to go. 

“This is going to be complicated,” she says, hovering in front of him. “You understand that, don’t you?”

He thinks she means between the two of them, the way things are already so precarious with regard to Board politics, but the waters feel muddied now. He thinks about Japan and his father. The fact that she married someone like Baird. The way Waystar seems to edge into everything no matter what he does, like his father’s still alive, looming over him. But Logan is dead, it’s Gerri calling the shots now, and she invited him here for one thing and then dangled something else out, something that feels a lot like a poisoned carrot.

She kisses him, her face leaned down to his, her hands on his shoulders, but the room is spinning and he feels panicky now, can’t help but think of all those glass walls at Waystar and how none of it  ever protected anyone.

“I should go,” he says, pulling back suddenly.

She looks surprised, maybe wounded, but then her face flattens out into something more neutral, her eyes studying him for a moment before she says, “Alright.”

“Lovely place,” he says awkwardly on his way to the door. 

He fights the urge to send an apology text in the car. Ignores the next instinct to send an angry text after he gets out of the shower, feeling rung out and confused. He sends nothing in the end, a silence she mercifully mirrors, and by the time he goes to sleep, he’s debating possible proxies so he no longer has to see her at Board meetings.

 

. . . 

 

Frank calls him a few weeks later, a rare occurrence, Roman waiting on the other shoe to drop when Frank suggests a meal. He’s in the middle of extricating himself from his business marriage to a man with an unchecked personality disorder and he has six meetings with lawyers in the next three days, but not going to lunch just delays whatever bad news it will bring, so he sighs into the phone. Agrees to grab a sandwich with a guy whose work life he once made impossible.

They’re halfway through lunch when Frank hands him the blackmail file on Adam, nasty shit that makes Roman want to dry heave as soon as he skims it.

“In case he tries to make your life hard,” Frank says casually before moving the conversation along, and Roman isn’t sure what to think about that.

“I’m thinking about naming a proxy,” he admits, just testing the waters. He wants to know if Frank’s here on his own or simply working Gerri’s agenda.

“Too busy for the family business?” Frank asks, bushy eyebrows rising in disapproval.

“I can name someone favorable to the CEO. Not looking to make waves. But yeah, my plate’s pretty fucking full.”

“Look, kiddo,” Frank says after they pay but before they get up from the red leather booth. “I’m sorry about the production company thing. That was my fuck up and I know it upset you. I was just trying to bring you home.”

“It’s fine,” Roman shrugs it off. Doesn’t really have any interest in going down this road. 

“Gerri was right,” Frank says. “I should have just let you be.”

It’s a weird note to end on, and Roman chooses not to acknowledge the last comment, giving Frank an awkward handshake out on the sidewalk before they get into waiting cars. 

Roman gets out of his deal with Adam, cashing out before everything hits the fan. He sells on a Friday and buys into another film company on Monday, a nice enough reason to split his time between coasts. Things are picking up enough by the time the next Board meeting rolls around that he thinks about no-showing, never quite settled on a proxy, but in the end he flies back to New York the night before.

Gerri’s made a solid habit of touching base with him prior to meetings, his stomach is in knots the twenty-four hours leading up to it, just dreading her call, but there’s nothing this time, and he walks into the meeting relatively blind. It’s unfortunate because apparently one of the agenda items is the possible sale of Brightstar. It’s a move that Roman agrees with, the cruises are nothing but floating bad press, but the old Logan loyalists predictably push back and Roman’s so annoyed by the lack of head’s up that he doesn’t bother to chime in.

“Any other business?” Gerri asks, four hours later. She looks a little worn around the edges, blinking behind her glasses like her eyes are dry from strain. 

Someone catches him on the way out, bending his ear about a nephew’s business venture that Roman has zero interest investing in, but by the time he escapes the conversation, the room has cleared, only Gerri and an assistant left in the hall, and Roman can only pray he isn’t stuck making polite small talk at the elevator.

“Goodnight,” Gerri says smoothly, no attempt to make eye contact as she frowns at something on her phone. He throws her a halfhearted wave on his way past her, a grab bag of feelings prompted by her relative inattention. 

 

. . . 

 

It makes it easier to name cousin Greg his proxy a week later. The guy is dumb as a box of hair and awkward to even look at, but Roman thinks he’ll follow directions without tattling to other family members, save maybe Uncle Ewan.

Gerri’s assistant calls him after the proxy announcement, Roman can’t even debate whether to answer it because he’s in a meeting with a couple studio heads. He ends up returning the call two hours later, ungodly frustrated when he’s told Gerri’s out of the office for the next day and a half. He doesn’t think she’s playing games, even  a narcissistic prick like him knows she’s too busy for that shit, but the anxiety of it still nags at him. When he goes back to his hotel suite, he chases the discomfort with a liberal amount of scotch.

“Greg the Egg?” Her opening salvo is pure annoyance, no attempt at polite lead in when she calls him after ten west coast time. 

He’s not quite drunk, still far enough from sober that he feels petulant and churlish, his annoyance spiking with her words.

 “Good evening to you, too.” 

He hears her huff at that, so he pauses here to pour himself another drink. He doesn’t think the conversation will last long, but if he’s wrong he’ll need plenty of liquid fortification.

“If you’re trying to screw me over, there are better ways.”

“I’m not screwing anyone,” he says. “If I was, I would have tapped one of my siblings.”

“He’s your brother-in-law’s shadow,” she volleys back. “There’s only two degrees of separation from him to Shiv.”

“Question,” he says, waving his tumbler in the air as he grows more pissed off. “When was the last time you saw my sister and her husband together in public? Six months? A year?”

There’s a long silence, she must be calculating her response to that. When she speaks again, she sounds calmer, not so pointed. “You didn’t need to vacate your seat.”

“I’m in LA more now,” he defends, though it’s a lame excuse. His schedule is more flexible now than it was a few months ago, and even if it weren’t, he always managed to make time for the Board shit.

“I didn’t mean to upset you that night,” she says. 

“You didn’t,” he says, far too quickly. He sounds exactly like the scared little boy his father always accused him of being. 

“Alright,” she replies, sounding tired now, and it feels strange that he can identify her changes in tone so easily. 

She gets off that phone immediately after that, and he goes to sleep angry. Angry at himself for walking out of her apartment that night, angry at her for playing head games, angry at his family for being so fucked up that he only seems to get along with people with a knife to twist.

 

. . . 

 

Work is calmer for a while, occasionally boring if still rewarding. Various friends try to set him up on dates, but he isn’t interested, ends up leaving a dinner in Malibu early one night when he shows up to discover a swimsuit model seated at the table, his friend Marcus’s shitty attempt at an apparent blind date.

“You sound lonely,” Tabitha coos into the phone a month after the blind date incident. She’s been dating some writer for a few months now and whenever she isn’t single, she finds people who are to be piteous.

“But I’m not,” he whines. Being bicoastal again is fine, his first new film is about to be released at Tribeca and the noise is already good. So what if the weeks are starting to blend together and he kind of misses the three ring circus of Waystar politics. “Are you coming to the festival?”

“We wouldn’t miss it,” she promises, and he bites back the sarcastic retort he has for that because it’s not her fault she’s dating someone and he's all alone, still thinking about the taste of Gerri’s mouth whenever he masturbates.

The weather is shitty when he flies back home. He spends the next two weeks making calls, wheeling and dealing for favorable promotion, but then the day of the screening arrives and all that’s left to do is pour himself into a new suit, refrain from getting problematically drunk. 

“You’re losing weight,” Tabitha tsks when she finds him at the Battery. Her girlfriend is somewhere behind her, he thinks maybe it’s the blond standing in a green dress a few feet away, but he’s not actually sure what Claire even looks like because Tabitha hasn’t posted pictures. “She’s anti-social media,” Tabs had explained a few months ago, and of course he’d been a dick about that.

“A writer who’s wary of social media,” he’d drawled. “Oh, that’s not cliché at fucking all.”

He submits to her fussing over him after they hug. He’s been fidgeting with his tie for the last half an hour and apparently he fucked it up because Tabitha fixes it here.

“It’s going to be fine,”  she soothes, and he just nods. Can’t quite  ignore the pit that formed in his stomach when he touched down in New York to a dark gray sky and sheets of rain.

“Mom brought a date,” a woman announces, turning up beside them. “Please kill me now if you love me.”

It takes him a moment to place the face, which is ridiculous. The resemblance is so striking that the lack of instant recognition just goes to show he really is an idiot.

“Claire Kellman,” he say to Tabitha, completely ignoring Claire, no matter that it’s rude as fuck. “You’re shacking up with Claire Kellman and you didn’t think to warn me?”

“Shacking up implies we’re living together,” Tabitha corrects him without batting an eyelash, Claire glaring at him the way she probably used to when they were teenagers and he was being an asshole.

“Not that I haven’t tried,” Claire interjects. 

“It’s not my fault you hate my place.”

“Well, it’s not my fault you hate mine.”

“Claire Kellman?” he repeats, voice louder now, people turning in their direction. 

“Does it matter?” Tabitha asks. “You don’t even sit on the Board anymore.”

“You could have told him before this,” Claire sighs, and then she fucks off to get a drink or something.

“Claire Kellman.”

“You’re saying her name over and over isn’t going to magic her away,” Tabitha gives him a look. “I should have told you, but you get weird and squirrely about Waystar stuff, and it took me weeks to convince her that my being friends with you wasn’t a significant character flaw.”

That last part hurts, but he was hardly a joy for the Kellman girls to be around, not that he even has that many memories of them. 

“Sorry I was rude earlier,” he says to Claire, when he finds her at the outdoor bar. He isn’t actually all that sorry and he vaguely recalls Claire saying that Gerri is here, so what he wants most is to puke or maybe run. Too bad Tabitha just hissed at him for five minutes straight and he doesn’t want to implode the only solid friendship he has left.

“She said you get weird about Waystar stuff,” Claire admits warily. Her face is rounder than Gerri’s, her nose a bit longer, but other than that she looks basically the same and he has to consciously stop himself from staring.

“It’s kind of a sore subject,” he shrugs. “I’ve tried to cultivate some distance.”

“My mother and I aren’t close,” she offers. “Tonight is no doubt going to be awkward enough, so if you don’t mind—” 

“I’ll try to refrain from acting like a total fucking lunatic, yeah.”

“Why thank you,” she snips, a smirk appearing that’s so familiar, it causes him physical pain. 

They mingle for a while, Roman shaking some hands and trying his best to be charming. He’s talking with an executive from HBO when Gerri turns up in his field of vision, a black dress that hugs her curves and a date on her arm.

“But I don’t know if, uh, Nextflix can keep that market share,” he struggles to finish his thought, relieved when the woman he’s talking to launches into a lengthy response. 

He tries not to stare, but he glances over a few times. Enough to see Gerri shake Tabitha’s hand. Both of them are wearing the smiles they reserve for people they don’t like, and he thinks that interesting, maybe unexpected, but then again Gerri distrusts practically everyone. He hides in the protective bubble of industry talk as long as he can, but at some point Tabitha comes to pull him away with a hand on his arm.

“We need a buffer,” she whispers as she steers him toward the group. There’s a guy on Gerri’s arm who looks like he was shat straight out of a hedge fund, and Roman would give up half his inheritance to avoid shaking that dude’s hand.

“I don’t think the buffer should be me,” he says, voice cracking a little.

“Gerri likes you, which Claire says is a miracle. You’re going to be charming and funny, so that we all emerge from this unscathed.”

“There’s some recent history,” he says, his hand tightening on her dress sleeve where their arms are looped together. “You definitely don’t want me as a buffer.”

Tabitha looks concerned now, but it’s too late, and anyway he’s apparently missed something because Claire seems angry and Gerri looks tense. 

“My brother came out when he was fifty-six,” Gerri’s date is saying. “I say it’s never too late to live your truth, my dear.”

“Thanks,” Claire says coolly and Roman wants to snort. Tabitha pinches him before he can voice anything snide though.

“Roman,” Gerri says with a polite smile. “Nice to see you.”

Apparently the guy’s name is John. Roman gives him the limpest handshake known to man, just thoroughly off putting, watching with a petty delight as the man tries to mask his discomfort.

He has reserved seats. There’s a little finagling to do because he was only granted four, but that’s someone else’s  problem to solve, and a few minutes later he’s wedged between Tabitha and Gerri.

“Sorry,” Gerri offers when she accidentally kicks his shoe. 

“No problem,” he says, subtly scooting away, his arm pressed into Tabitha’s. He tries not to react when Gerri’s date holds her hand, can’t help his amusement when she immediately pulls it away to check her phone, then leaves it in her lap.

Tabitha murmurs approving things during the screening. At some point toward the end he looks over to see Claire tearing up. He takes that as praise, tries to be engaged when she hits him with questions he can’t answer after the film ends. 

“You want to ask the director?” he offers helplessly. 

He’s basically a third wheel when he introduces Claire to Selena, Selena apparently a fan of Claire’s last book. Tabitha joins them, and at that point Roman becomes truly superfluous, peeling off a few minutes later to get himself another drink.

He dodges Gerri where she’s standing with her date, their heads bent in deep conversation as he makes a beeline for the bar. He’s been posted up there for a while when Gerri appears beside him.

“Two vodka martinis,” she says to the bartender. 

“John didn’t strike me as a vodka guy.”

“They’re both for me.”

She knocks one out in under a minute, Roman watching wide-eyed as she deftly switches the empty glass out for the second one, turning around to face him after that.

“Tabitha tells me we have dinner reservations after this. Will you be joining us?”

“That was the plan,” he shrugs one shoulder, looking away from her. “But I can bow out if that’s what you want.”

“It isn’t,” she says immediately. “Claire and I have a difficult relationship. Tabitha’s likely made her mind up about me. I’d appreciate the buffer.”

“You have a buffer,” he says. Can’t help being juvenile here.

“Yeah, the coming out stories of every gay relation John has ever known clearly smoothed things along,” she snarks, catching him off guard. “Please. Your ex-girlfriend clearly holds a grudge, I’m just asking for a chance here.”

“What the fuck would Tabitha be holding a grudge about?”

Gerri only raises her eyebrows, looking at him like he’s an idiot. 

“She doesn’t know about that.”

“Roman.”

“Really,” he argues. “I didn’t tell anyone.”

She’s obviously surprised by that, maybe relieved too, but then, after a moment, she’s just staring at him in a way he can’t pin down.

Dinner is just the four of them, he doesn’t see Gerri’s date again after the bar, all of them mildly drunk, Claire funnier and more talkative now that she’s tipsy, she and Tabitha making highbrow conversation about the film.

“Don’t ask me,” he begs off. “I’m just the wallet.”

“I’m not even sure he can read,” Tabitha says. 

“She used to read me picture books when we were together.”

Claire snickers while Gerri’s face goes impassive, subtly checking her phone under the table.

“We understand if you need to go,” Claire says peevishly.

“Nothing like that,” Gerri shakes her head, doesn’t react to the hostility in the comment.

By the time the entrees are served, he and Tabitha are bantering back and forth, telling ridiculous stories to quell the tension. 

“Was that before or after you turned down a supermodel?” Tabitha prods.

“She wasn’t a supermodel. And we said maybe ten words to each other at a restaurant table full of other people.”

“Are you not dating anyone?” Claire asks. “Billionaire bachelor doesn’t have a date to the dance?”

“My brother Kendall is the one who’s  allergic to being alone. Not me.” 

“Sorry,” Claire says, a thin apology in reaction to his annoyance, and Roman just digs into his meal after that.

Tabitha and Gerri carry the rest of dinner, he can see them both being careful, not their delightful catty selves, and he thinks it’s a shame since they have a fair amount in common.

“I once compared Gerri to vanilla ice cream,” he blurts. Sees Gerri take a deep, frustrated breath.

“But you like vanilla ice cream,” Tabitha says, clearly confused by the admission.

“It wasn’t my finest work, but then again my father was dying and my sister had just struck me in the face.”

“Jesus,” Claire hisses.

“Gerri’s been kind enough not to hold that day against me. Saw fit to bail me out again and again.”

“I haven’t bailed you out,” Gerri says immediately.

His smile is disbelieving when he says, “Sure.”

Tabitha tells various stories about him being an idiot after that; one about a hotel pool makes Gerri laugh out loud, Claire chuckling next to him. 

“In my defense, there was no posted sign,” he says, which just sets the table off again.

At some point Tabitha yawns, and Claire fusses over her, smitten and doting, everything Roman could never give her.

“I liked your film,” Tabitha says, kissing his cheek when she stands up from the table. “Call me for lunch this week?”

“Of course,” he says, standing up to hug her. He isn’t sure what to say to Claire so he settles on a polite head nod that seems to make her smirk.

“Roman,” she says, “thanks for being less of an asshole that I remembered.” That makes him wince, Tabitha laughing as she grabs Claire’s hand. “I’ll leave you and Mom to talk horrible Waystar business now.”

Gerri stands to kiss Claire on the cheek, the exchange practiced if rather cold. He expects Gerri to follow on their heels, but instead she resumes her seat at the table, motioning to the waiter for another round of  drinks. 

“Your friend isn’t going to break my daughter’s heart, is she?”

“Normally I would say yes,” he admits after a pause that’s only for effect. “Her attention span isn’t fucking great. But she kept it from and she obviously wanted this evening to go well.” He shrugs, drumming his fingers on the table. “I’d say the odds are sixty-forty.”

“You’re not — the two of you aren’t still—” She lets the sentence hang unfinished and it takes him a moment to understand. 

“Tabs and I? Jesus no.” 

Something about the way Gerri looks at him here makes him fidgety, like maybe she doesn’t believe him.

“Your little film is clearly going to win awards,” she pivots.

“So you didn’t hate it?”

“Not exactly my taste.”

“Most things aren’t,” he baits.

That earns him an arched eyebrow, her stare getting sharper when she asks, “So what’s next for you?” 

“More of the same,” he breathes out. “Until this company gets gobbled up by Waystar or Sony, just like the last one did. Then start it all over again, probably.”

They chat for a few minutes about his next project, Gerri seemingly interested on his take on the industry and various players. It’s hard not to stare at her when she tilts her head to the side, taking off her glasses to clean them as she finishes a thought. He’s still upset about what happened, disappointed he didn’t get to explore whatever this could have been, but she’s still one of the few people to ever show his ideas any genuine interest and it’s hard not to get distracted by how painfully pretty she is.

“What?” she asks, when a silence has stretched too long, Roman staring at her like an idiot.

He shrugs helplessly, can’t find the words to explain away his rudeness, her amused expression not the reaction he anticipated.

“I think they’re trying to close,” she says softly, and when he glances around, chairs are stacked on top of tables, tired looking staff sweeping the floor. It’s the second time they’ve chatted for so long a restaurant shuttered around them, and it bothers him here that this got so fucked so quickly, that he can’t just call her up as a friend anymore.

“Is my proxy behaving himself?” he asks suddenly.

“No worse than I anticipated.” She seems wary of the change in topic, reaching for purse, clearly readying herself to make an exit. “Maybe better, since you insist on making arm twisting calls to other Board members.”

“It was only two calls,” he defends, feeling caught, somehow called out. It was to two of his father’s cronies, warming them to the Brightstar sell off. He isn’t sure why he even did it, aside from the obvious explanation of too much booze and a sudden swell of guilt.

“Seems like tedious work for someone who wanted to rid himself of Board responsibilities,” she observes casually. Shoulders her bag and stands right after that.

It feels presumptive to walk her out, ruder not to, and when he opens the door of the restaurant for her, she doesn’t seem bothered by the continued company. 

“I didn’t mean it as a quid pro quo,” she says as their cars pull up.

“Sorry?” 

“That night,” she says. “When I spooked you. I wasn’t proposing the COO slot as a quid pro quo.”

Her new COO has been in place for months, everyone seems pleased enough with her. He can’t imagine that Gerri’s floating the job offer again when the seat isn’t even vacant anymore. He’s not sure where any of this is going, can’t help but stand a little closer when he sees her shiver against the damp night air. 

“You’re cold.” 

He didn’t mean it as a brush off to her pseudo apology, but the way she tenses tells him she registers it as such. She moves past him, headed for waiting her car, when his hand shoots out to her waist. 

The look she gives him is one of shock, it’s hard to describe why he doesn’t think it’s the bad kind. He keeps his hand there, fingers pressed against the silk of her dress as they stare at each other, her waiting driver shifting on his feet only a few feet away. 

“It’s not Waystar I lie awake thinking about,” he whispers, feeling immediately lighter for having confessed it, Gerri’s eyes searching his face as he stands there, panicked and frozen. 

“Can you give us a moment,” she says to her driver, who promptly shuts the door he’s already opened, slipping back into the driver’s seat. When she turns back to Roman, the politely bland smile she directed at the driver is gone, her eyes bright with something that gives him hope. “I would invite you over for a nightcap but I don’t think my ego can withstand a repeat of last time.”

He thinks she’s shooting him down, which is crushing but understandable, and anyway she’s apparently dating someone else at the moment. It gets muddled when she raises a hand to his chest, the touch a solid one, her eyes now fixed to his mouth.

“Would it be better if I invited you?” he asks eventually, a hand moving to hold hers against his shirt.

Her answer is a smirk, which he thinks means yes, and a minute later her driver is dismissed, the two of them seated in the back of Roman’s car as he tries to pass the ride without totally spinning out. His nerves must be contagious because she seems jittery —what passes for jittery for Gerri anyway. Her face is turned toward the window, watching a boring stream of lights and traffic until he gets the courage to place a hand on her knee. He hears her exhale loudly then, her eyes shifting to the seat in front of her. He isn’t sure if it’s permission, feels torn about whether to start anything in the car as he traces his hand down the hem of her dress, her eyes fluttering closed at the contact. 

“I missed talking to you,” he admits, hand wandering idly over the part of her leg he can reach. “Sometimes I wonder what you’d say about stupid shit that happened” 

“You could have called,” she breathes out. Sounds deliciously unsteady. 

He doesn’t kiss her until they're in the elevator, practically dives for her mouth the second the doors bumped closed. There’s a camera, he thinks she’ll warn him off sternly after a moment, but apparently she cares as little as he does because she’s pulling him tighter against her, her hand on his neck keeping him in place. 

He fumbles with the door, barely gets the lights on before she’s pulling him back into a kiss. Her insistence is enough of an ego boost that he pushes her back toward a couch, his fingers hiking up her dress as they shuffle across the floor. 

She seems confused about what they're doing once she’s on the couch, a sound of annoyance marking his failure to remove even his jacket, but then he’s kneeling between her legs on the couch, his mouth tracing a path up her thigh, and the sound she’s making turns into a hum.

He smirks at the panties she’s wearing, the kind of all-purpose pair not worn with the attention of a date seeing them. He’s about to make a joke about her previous companion when he locks eyes with her, his brain short circuiting when he sees the unadulterated lust. It isn’t the easiest position, they’d have more room to maneuver if he’d just waited to make it to the bedroom, but she’s so responsive to the touch of his mouth, he doesn’t care how much it hurts his neck or that his knees are sinking awkwardly into the cushion.

“Somehow I didn’t think you’d be decent at that,” she breathes out after she finishes, Roman upright on his knees again, his face damp with her even as she sasses him. 

“Wanna text John?” he asks as he wipes his chin on his sleeve. “Make him tag out with me for the rest of the evening?” 

Her surprised laughter here is the greatest gift she could give him. Well, maybe the second greatest. He just received the first while his tongue was inside her. She looks soft and disheveled now, her hair askew as she leans to sit up, dress hopelessly wrinkled where it’s been bunched. 

“There is a bedroom, yes?”she says, cringing as she stands up. “Because this couch is not at all comfortable.” 

She takes him by the hand for the journey, a sign of affection that startles him for a second, but then her hand is in his, her palm warm and soft against his own, and it helps to quell the nerves swelling up as they walk. 

When he thinks about it, she’s often been affectionate with him, though he always assumed it was theater, a kind of choreography in the political games she has to play. It occurs to him now that the hugs and cheek kisses might have been genuine, and as they reach his room he turns over the memory of how kind she was in Japan, steady when everything else was going to shit. 

She’s quick to get him out of his clothes, whatever patience she had apparently evaporating on the short walk to his room, but something makes him stop her when she reaches for her own dress zipper, her hand clasped in his, and for a moment they just stare at each other, her brow furrowed, blue eyes darting over his face. 

“Let me,” he says, voice hoarse as her hand goes slack in his. 

He usually rushes through this part, always too afraid of failure to slow down for a leisurely preamble. It’s tempting to continue the pattern with Gerri, but this might very well be the only time this happens, the only night he ever gets to unzip a dress from her body and see it hit the floor, so he goes slow here, his eyes mapping pale, goosebumped flesh as it’s revealed. He traces her bra strap once her dress is gone, his eyes wide with wonder when she seems to shudder at the brush of his fingers. 

“Are you ticklish?” he asks in awe, watching as she closes her eyes, shaking her head slightly. 

He doesn’t repeat the motion, will save that mystery for later, when he’s not completely overwhelmed with the sensory input of soft skin and the faint smell of sex, Gerri standing in front of him, shifting on her feet until he pulls her in with a hand to her waist. 

They make out for a while standing up; he discovers she isn’t above rubbing herself against a guy to get what she wants, and by the time they’re finally horizontal, a condom on, he’s so far gone, he’s worried this might be spectacularly short. 

She’s quick to telegraph what she likes when he experiments with pace and angle. He ends up with his arms bracketing her face, their foreheads almost pressed together, a level of intimacy he’s spent most of his adult life lighting himself on fire in order to avoid. But this is bliss, being inside her is otherworldly, and when he comes it’s because she sighs his name in an exquisite way, the syllables breathy and strung out, somehow still perfectly enunciated, the last thing he hears before he tips over the edge. 

He flops back onto the bed after getting rid of the condom, no longer close enough to touch her unless one of them reaches out. 

“Did you bring that idiot to the screening just to make me jealous?” he asks, his sweaty face smooshed into the cool side of a pillow. 

“No comment.” 

He opens one eye to watch her as she lies on her side, mirroring his position, her eyes closed as she appears to catch her breath. 

“You said this would be complicated,” he finally gets up the courage to say. They’ve been lying in bed long enough that he’s cooled down, their bodies somehow meeting in the middle, one of his hands on her hip and her ear against his shoulder. 

“And that was before your ex-girlfriend was fucking my daughter.” She doesn’t sound annoyed, more like darkly amused. He doesn’t have it in him to ask more clearly what this means —whether this evening is a pleasant, stand alone event. “I’ve never been good at this part.” 

“Which part?” he frowns. “If you mean sex, I wholeheartedly disagree.” 

“The after sex part,” she clarifies, tilting her head here so he can see more of her face. “Do you want me to stay or leave? Either is fine.” 

“What do you want?” he asks, which earns him an overly dramatic huff. “I want you to stay,” he says quickly, when she shoots him a glare. “But only if you want to.” 

“I want to,” she says, and it sounds like a confession. 

 

. . . 

 

Gerri’s up early the next morning, Roman barely caffeinated by the time she’s dressed and on her way out. 

“I have to be somewhere soon,” she explains, stopping in front of him in the kitchen. She’s been too chatty and amiable for this to be a post-sex brush off, but he’d feel better if she wasn’t heading for the door so quickly. 

“I had a great time.” 

His compliment makes her smirk, but he’s rewarded with a kiss for his trouble. It’s quick, efficient, not the kind of thing that’s meant to leave him panting, and he pulls her back gently by the wrist, kissing her more soundly now, his hands on her hips as she sighs into his mouth. 

“Call me,” she instructs, eyebrows raised in challenge as she heads toward the door. He has to duck his face behind his coffee cup to hide his dopey smile. 

He sends a text that evening wishing her a good night’s sleep, doesn’t hear anything back, which makes him twitchy and nervous until he gets a reply the next morning. 

Gerri: Went to bed early

Gerri: But I did sleep well, thank you

The idea that he tuckered out pleases him in a juvenile way, there’s no way he can resist teasing her. 

Roman: Must be tiresome company you kept to cause such an early bedtime 

Gerri: Above average company, subpar mattress

Roman: Any other complaints for the comment box?

Gerri: Your coffee maker is finicky at best

Her Sunday must be fairly leisurely because she texts him on and off all day, mostly responding to his poor attempts at humor. He thinks about calling her at bedtime, wants to hear her voice again before he goes to sleep, but that seems too clingy, so he settles on an open-ended invitation to dinner whenever her calendar allows. 

“When are you in LA?” she asks when she calls him half an hour later. It’s late and he’s already in bed, will probably play a video game for a little while before he falls asleep. 

“Let me see,” he says, trying to stifle his unbridled glee as he opens his calendar. “I go back next Monday, but only for three days, then home for six.” 

She hums at that, no doubt looking at her own calendar, and the idea that she wants to see him this soon is enough to make him wonder whether this is some incredibly elaborate dream. 

“What does your Thursday look like?” 

“Manageable,” he decides, scanning the appointments he has. 

“I’m free that night with the caveat that I have an early morning the next day.” 

“Early bedtime for good CEO’s,” he smirks. “I’ll do my best not to corrupt you.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that.” 

They chat and flirt for a few minutes, nothing so strenuous as to court phone sex but enough to reassure him that Thursday is most definitely a date. He has to knock himself out with melatonin to get himself to sleep through the giddiness of it, already debating where he should take her.

He’s busy enough during the week that it isn’t impossible to stop himself from blowing up her phone. He doesn’t hear from her at all Monday, she sends a single text complaining about Frank on Tuesday, but on Wednesday she calls him up at eleven o’clock at night, doesn’t even bother to text first and see if he’s awake.

“Do you actually think the Brightstar sale is a good idea, or have you only been backing it because you seem overly prone to guilt with regard to me?”

The non-sequitur throws him for a loop. His last text to her was this afternoon, something dumb and flirty. It’s hard not to bristle at the implication.

“Are you calling to ask me whether I make business decisions based on my wanting to see you naked?” he huffs.

“No,” she says and he can hear the frown in her voice, the one she shoots him when he’s being obtuse. “I’m asking whether you made a business decision out of personal loyalty.”

“Brightstar is a pus filled boil,” he says, still flummoxed and annoyed. “It’s smart to lance it off Waystar’s ass before it rips itself open again at an inopportune time.” She tsks at that, probably disapproving of his choice of language, but he needs more than her waspy, vague sounds. “Is there a reason you’re suddenly so speculative about my motivations?”

“I can’t explain right now but I’ll tell you when it’s handled.”

“Gerri.”

“I can’t,” she says, a firmness to the words.

“Are we still having dinner tomorrow?” he demands.

“Why wouldn’t we be having dinner?”

They don’t stay on the phone long after that. She seems busy and distracted, no doubt at the office, and he’s not inclined to hang on the line.

 

. . . 

 

He spends all day Thursday putting out a PR fire that an executive producer apparently started, has to make conciliatory phone calls to a few media outlets and then angry ones to his own team.

“I don’t care if he took that call after huffing up all the crushed up adderall on NYU’s campus. If he does it again, he’s fucking fired.”

By the time seven o’clock hits he’s pissed and running late, barely has time to shower before he heads to the restaurant to meet Gerri. He skirts in a few minutes late, knows that will probably irk her; by the time a host shows him to the table, Gerri’s there with a half empty martini sitting in front of her.

“Sorry I’m late,” he says as she types away on her phone. He’s not sure how she wants to play things in public, no doubt close to the vest. He settles on a quick kiss to her cheek before he takes his seat, feeling gratified when her fingers still on her phone when his lips make contact.

“Busy afternoon?”

“The bad kind of busy,” he grouses before ordering a scotch.

She puts away her phone, reaching for her drink as she hands him her full attention.

“I haven’t tried this place yet. Thank you for suggesting it.”

“The food is good,” he shrugs one shoulder. “And it seemed like a Gerri-ish place.”

She hums at that, favoring him with bright eyes and a charming little smile.

“Define Gerri-ish.”

“Excellent drinks,” he gestures to her martini. “Elegant trappings without trying too hard.”

She doesn’t seem displeased with that.

She’s chatty and teasing as they make their way through food choices,eventually  settling on a few things to share. Most of his dates are awkward or feel like he’s walking some kind of high wire, but this just feels like their usual rapport with the flirting cranked all the way up. 

“He said what?” she chuckles when he tells her about his day.

“Apparently he’d had a tooth extracted that morning and was still high on laughing gas when he got the call.”

“I’m disturbed to hear you’re not the only one in that company making strung out phone calls.”

“Excuse you,” he scoffs, spearing a scallop onto his plate. “I have a two drink limit when I make work related calls.”

“Please,” she rolls her eyes. ”I can think of three occasions off the top of my head when you’d had a snootful.”

“I meant post-Waystar.”

“As do I,” she challenges.

“Oh, well that’s different.”

“Pray tell.”

“I didn’t think of talking to you as work related,” he admits as she stares at him with something like satisfaction. 

He knows she has an early morning, won’t try for so much as a kiss on the sidewalk when they haven’t discussed the rules of engagement for whatever they’re doing.

“Thank you for meeting me,” he says, hand hovering over her lower back as they walk out of the restaurant. “Let’s do it again soon.”

“Sick of me so early in the evening?” she arches an eyebrow.

“No?” he manages. She stares at him like he’s an idiot, then glances at her car. “You said you have an early morning.”

“I didn’t realize you’d find it so offensive to hear my alarm go off at four am.” 

He doesn’t need to be invited twice. 

She answers emails on the ride over, only puts her phone away once they’re outside her apartment, Roman’s hand on her back as she unlocks her door. 

“This is a great dress,” he says once they’re finally alone.

“I gathered that from all your leering.”

It’s such a cheeky thing to say, he can't help but laugh as he leans in to kiss her, feels her hands pulling off his jacket at the same time her tongue slides into his mouth.

“Do you want a drink?” she asks, pulling back. She smiles at him when he shakes his head, his hand reaching out to touch her neck. 

 

. . . 

 

He grumbles into a pillow when her alarm goes off, doesn’t bother rolling over when he feels her get out of bed. He still manages to finagle his way into her shower, which puts her behind schedule, which in turn makes her snippy and prim even as she comes down from her orgasm.

“We should talk about how this is going to work,” she says as she fastens her bra. He’s flopped across her bed, taken out by sex and too little sleep, finds it’s fascinating to watch her get ready, see the way she scans drawers as she makes her selections.

“From the sounds you made, I think it’s working fine.”

She’s far from impressed by that, glancing at him cursorily as she shimmies into a pencil skirt.

“For obvious reasons, I’d prefer that you not tell Tabitha yet.”

That was expected and he’s content to kick that can down the road as long as possible, though her use of the word ‘yet’ makes him smile like an idiot. 

“Not a problem,” he says, watching as she buttons her blouse. “I’ll also try to refrain from telling members of my family that you got anywhere near my dick.”

“How kind.”

He kisses her before she puts her lipstick on, careful not to crease her clothes when he reaches out, her own hands quick to palm the expanse of his back and the muscles in his ass.

“I didn’t anticipate your being so affectionate,” she says when he pulls back, and something about that lands wrong, must make him flinch by the way she squints at him.

“Sorry,” he manages, about to turn away when she grasps his chin, her hold firm enough to pinch.

“Not every observation is a criticism.” 

She says it with such conviction, all he can do is give a shaky nod as she stares back at him with a mix of scrutiny and affection. 

“I’ll call you tonight,” he says, when he finally finds his voice. 

“Please do,” she tosses over her shoulder, sounding bitchy and waspish not an hour after he had her pressed against the shower tile, whimpering his name as she came with a shudder.

. . . 

 

They talk on the phone every other night, make plans to see each other as often as their schedules allow. He thinks it’s going well so far, the nosedive that often happens after he hyper-fixates on something not having happened. After five months, he starts to think Gerri might actually be interested in keeping him around.

“That’s horrible,” she scolds while they’re out at dinner one night. 

“Connor started it,” he defends. 

“Sure, but the man’s brain is a transistor radio set to permanent static. You’re the smart one. It isn’t a fair fight.”

“I think we both know that Shiv’s the smart one,” he pulls a face. 

“No, she’s the devious one. Not the same thing.”

“Tabitha,” Roman says, suddenly sitting up. 

“She’s devious and smart,” Gerri smirks, “but I don’t see how that’s relevant.”

“She’s at the bar.”

“What? Where?”

She gestures to a seat at the end, Tabitha chatting animatedly with an attractive brunette Roman vaguely recognizes. 

“Please tell me I’m not about to witness your best friend cheating on my daughter,” Gerri sighs before draining her drink.

“Not likely,” he shakes his head, still trying to place the woman. “She just cuts her losses, moves right along when she loses interest.”

“I wonder if they broke up,” she says, sounding decidedly hopeful.

“Wow,” he chuckles. “and I thought you were worried about Tabs breaking her heart.”

“I am,” she defends, and he doesn’t push back on that. Knows the flip side of a complicated parental relationship too well to take a glib joke that might cause her pain. 

“I would know if they broke up. Woulda been summoned to Tabitha’s apartment for booze and shitty takeout.”

“You never mention her,” Gerri says, turning back to face him now. “Not unless I bring up Claire.”

“I haven’t seen much of her lately,” he shrugs, going back to demolishing the food in front of him. 

Claire turns up sometime after that, kissing Tabitha and hugging the brunette hello. Gerri spares them only a few glances after that, but the rest of the meal is a weird vibe. They don’t do PDA, it’s one of the few rules Gerri’s laid out, but it becomes obvious how much they flirt in public once they abruptly stop, both of them anxious about the added scrutiny. 

“Maybe it’s a threesome,” he says a while later. He’s just trying to get her to crack a smile, but instead she glares at him here. “I’m kidding.” He reaches across the table only for her to flinch, pulling back, a wary glance thrown in the direction of the bar. 

The rest of the meal is quiet after that. Tabitha ends up spotting them, Claire frowning when Tabs leans over to whisper something in her ear. It’s an intimate action, nothing about it inappropriate, but the contrast gnaws at Roman as he asks for the check. 

“You’re alive,” Tabitha says, popping up at their table before they can leave. She paints on a polite smile when looks over at his dinner companion. “Hello again, Gerri.”

It turns out that the brunette is a friend Tabitha once tried to set him up with, eons ago. He shoots down the offer to join them for drinks later, can see Gerri’s face fall dangerously neutral when Tabitha asks, “Are you really going to live like a monk for the next decade?”

“Not all of us are cut out for love,” he responds, and in that moment he means it. 

“You’re awfully dramatic for someone of British descent,” Tabitha tsks, kissing him on the cheek before she glides back to her place at the bar.

Gerri’s quiet on the way out, their evening no doubt over at this point. Probably for the best, as he’d be poor company now, too stuck in his head to muster any measure of charm.

They usually take his car because her driver is technically paid by Waystar, a trivial detail in the scheme of things, but it takes on far more weight now, both of them standing on the sidewalk, two cars silently idling because she thought to summon hers back.

“Goodnight,” he says, Gerri turned to him on the sidewalk like she wants to say something. He gives her an empty smile and a pathetic little wave before disappearing into the safety of relative solitude. 

Gerri was supposed to stay over, but he’ll just fill the evening with work now. Kendall left him a voicemail three days ago, maybe if he’s self-hating enough by bedtime, he’ll shoot his brother a text, have the same non-conversation they’ve been having every few months for the last two years.

He’s down to his boxer briefs, finishing an email and about to throw himself into the shower when Gerri comes through the door, an overnight bag in her hand. 

“Starting without me?” she asks with amusement, scanning his appearance, but then she sees the laptop open on his coffee table, work spread out everywhere, and she takes a hard pause.

“Was just going to take a shower,” he says, coming around the couch to where she’s standing.

“You didn’t expect me over,” she guesses.

“No,” he admits, though he is grateful she’s here.

He makes her a drink before he fucks off to the shower, hands it to her with a touch to her shoulder that she seems to lean into, so he plants a kiss on her neck for good measure. Part of him is still braced for impact, it’s hard not to be after the evening, but she’s standing barefoot in his home with a drink in her hand, and he thinks for now that’s enough.

He gets out of the shower to find her seated on his bed, her face washed free of makeup and her work clothes ditched in favor of pajamas. They’re maroon silk, shorts rather than the pant sets she normally favors, and as he stands in a towel, staring at her tired face, all he wants is to touch the white scalloped lace that runs across the hem.

“You got a new mattress.”

“You were right. The old one sucked.”

“Do you want to tell Tabitha about us?” she asks, catching him off guard. 

“You don’t want Claire to know,” he frowns. 

“No,” she confirms. “But that’s not what I asked.”

He pulls on shorts, dropping the wet towel on the floor. She tracks it with her eyes but he won’t be moved to pick it up.

“I don’t look forward to her reaction, but it’s hard to keep fucking lie to her,” he admits. He comes closer after that, reaches out to play with a spaghetti strap of her camisole. 

“We should talk about that then,” she says, eyes glued to his wrist as he continues to toy with her strap, eventually sliding it down. 

“You can’t possibly want to tell the Board you’re dating me.”

“We’re not talking about the Board.”

He sighs theatrically, can’t decide if this is a trap. 

“And when Claire and Emily fucking hate it?”

“Claire will hate it because she hates everything I do. Emily will make unkind jokes until she finds something else to prod her sister with.”

She sounds resigned when she says it, unlike herself, and after a moment Roman kneels down in front of her, ignoring the pop in his knee.

“We can just keep doing what we’ve been doing,” he offers. 

“We can’t,” she shakes her head, a strand of hair falling in her eyes. “I saw the way you looked out on the sidewalk. How many months of that before you decide to walk away?”

They go to bed without resolving anything or even having sex. The knot of anxiety that’s forming in his stomach unloops itself some when she scoots over, pressing her body into his. She’s affectionate in a lot of ways but he wouldn’t exactly call her a cuddler; she prefers a few inches between them on the couch when they watch a movie and she typically rolls over onto her side when she’s ready to sleep post-sex. Tonight she rests her face against his chest, sighs deeply and contentedly when he wraps an arm over her.

He wakes up before she does, such a rare occurrence that it seems a shame to waste the advantage. He runs his fingers over her bare stomach, delicate and slow until she finally starts to stir.

“Time is it?” she slurs, her face pressed deeper into the pillow even as she instinctively moves against his hand. 

“Early.”

He hears her breath catch when his hand moves lower, teasing her through the silk of her shorts.

“I thought you weren’t in the mood,” she whispers, mostly breath against the stillness of the morning.

“I always want you,” he says, braver now than he might have been a few weeks ago.

After a few minutes of his attention, she bends her legs, shimmying out of her shorts.

“Please,” she says, tugging on his shoulder when he continues to make wide, slow circles around her clit.

“You’re interrupting me,” he chides.

At some point she pulls her camisole off and he mouths at her chest in addition to what he’s doing with his hand. He waits until she’s panting, hips rocking off the bed, to speed up his movement, making tight, fast circles until she whines, Roman nipping her breast with his teeth.

She comes saying his name, a weekly event he still considers a miracle. 

“Just give me a minute to catch my breath,” she says, sounding delightfully blissed out.

“I’m not going anywhere,” he smiles. Blows a raspberry into her stomach just to hear her outraged sound.

When they’ve made up for the previous evening, Roman drags himself out of bed to see about scavenging up some calories.

“I’m going to have lunch with Tabitha this week,” he decides, feeling weirdly thoughtful as he comes back into the bedroom. “Would you mind if I told her?”

She takes the toast he hands her, chewing two bites before she says, “Fine, but let me know the day so I can make a call to Claire.” 

They eat in bed, Roman calling her a hypocrite because she won’t allow him to have so much as a beverage in hers.

“When in Rome.”

“That was a shitty pun,” he giggles. “Truly beneath you.”

“I have to fire Frank,” she says suddenly, the smile falling off her face as she reaches for his coffee cup. “He’s been feeding information to Pierce.”

“What?” Roman shoots up from where he’s taken up residence, sprawled out across her legs like a cat. 

“I can only assume he was trying to transition to a job over there, maybe something lower stress.” She glances over his head when she admits, “The leak really hurt us in the Brightstar negotiations with Norwegian. There’s no way I can look past it.”

“Fuck, Gerri, that’s awful.”

“It’s business,” she dismisses. 

“Well. Fuck him.”

“He’s technically your godfather,” she reminds him. “And he’s always had a soft spot for you.”

He absently runs her calf for a minute, can feel her eyes on him as he thinks back to all the shit he put Frank through, how patient the man always was even when he was spinning out, anger at his father spewing in all directions, except at Logan.

“You know I’m still gonna be in your corner, right?”

“Yeah,” she says automatically, and he looks at her here, really looks at her until she holds his gaze. She reaches to cover the hand on her leg with her own. “Yes, I do know that.”

 

. . . 

 

He tells Tabitha; Gerri tells Claire. Everyone is pissed off and overly dramatic, but the world keeps on spinning. It’s another month before Tabitha invites him to their housewarming party via a snarky text.

Tabitha: You’re welcome to bring Gerri but cool it on the PDA, lest my girlfriend throws herself off a balcony 

Roman: That doesn’t seem like an appropriate thing to say to your future father-in-law, but okay

Tabitha: I honestly hate you 

A member of the Board sees Roman and Gerri holding hands at a restaurant a few months later and the small minority who dislike her bring forward a motion of censure while she smoothly lies her ass off. Marcia and Caroline release separate statements in support of her, both of them calling her a beloved family friend.

“How much did that cost you?” Gerri asks over her glasses as she scans the statement in bed. He’s been trying to get her to go to sleep for an hour, but it’s no fucking use.

“Ask me again when we’re doing Christmas in England,” he fluffs his pillow. 

“A source close to the family says that Roman Roy has been lost at sea since his father died,” she reads aloud from her phone. “Gerri Kellman’s continued support for the younger Roy no doubt crossed some wires that will naturally uncross with enough time.”

“If that source is Frank, he can go fuck himself.”

“You should call him up.” She pushes her laptop, ignoring his squeak of complaint as she slides her icy cold feet against his legs. “Take him to dinner.”

“He fucked you over.”

“We fucked each other over, for almost thirty years.” The light clicks off, plunging them into darkness as she wiggles to find just the right spot against him. “I’m still standing and he’s retired, adult children who hate him even more than mine hate me.” He pulls her ass into his lap and she sighs as she repeats, “You should call him.”

“You’re really a very nice lady, you know that?”

“Tell anyone and I’ll cut your dick off.”

. . .