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God Save the Blessed American President Mom

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Things that Alex Claremont-Diaz knows for a fact:  

One: It’s snowing outside. The big window to the left of his bed tells him so, revealing a cold, gray D.C. afternoon. His room is too high in the building and his bed too far from the window to see much more than the snow clouds from this vantage point. It’s objectively very ugly, and reflects his current mood ironically well.  

Two: Henry is fucking exhausted. He’s slumped in the chair on the opposite side of the bed from the window, blond hair windswept and bordering on greasy. It’s the only part of Henry that Alex is able to see from the pillow that Henry’s made of his arms on the surface of the bed. He’s wearing one of Alex’s Georgetown crew necks, the one with holes in the cuffs from Alex’s stress rubbing with his thumbs.  

Alex really wants to run his fingers through Henry’s hair because knows it would relax him more than any of the drugs they’ve got running through his IV right now; but Alex also knows it would wake Henry up, and his boyfriend is still fucking exhausted. So, he doesn’t.  

He’s considerate like that sometimes.  

Three: Alex is bored.  

His family has yet to return any and all electronic devices to him since the.... incident. They tell him he doesn’t need the distractions; he needs to rest, his phone will just stress him out, god just take a nap, you bloody idiot, etc. Alex thinks it’s a whole bunch of bullshit; none of them seem to realize being kept out of the loop now is even more stressful to Alex, who spends most of his life catastrophizing mentally in order to be prepared for any situation. 

[Still didn’t prepare him for this. However, that is a worry for another day, when Henry’s hair is once again available for stress-relief brushing.] 

A Charlie Brown Christmas had been playing on the television set on the wall in front of him before he fell asleep. Now, he’s awake again and someone (Henry) obviously turned the TV off and hid the remote, and Alex hasn’t been able to find it since he woke up.  

What an asshole.  

A beautiful, kind, perfectly wonderful but terribly annoying asshole.  

Four: The president is avoiding him.  

And Alex...Alex doesn’t really want to think about that right now.  

So, he doesn’t. Instead, Alex finally gives into the temptation and runs his fingers through Henry’s thick, silky, slightly greasy but not that gross hair, and begins to calm down with the familiar motion.  

Henry startles after just a few seconds, sitting up immediately, his blue eyes wide.  

And scared. His eyes are very, very frightened.   

Alex’s heart breaks just a bit more than it already has, because he knows he’s the one who put that fear there.  

“Sorry,” Alex croaks out, and Henry mouth rises in a small, tired grin. Alex has been having trouble doing more than whisper lately; coming off a vent is a whole bunch of painful bullshit, and Alex very much never in his life wants to do it again.  

[He made the mistake four days ago, in a moment before the next dose of drugs started working and everything just fucking burned, of saying he should sign a DNR when this is all over in case something like this ever happens again, because living wasn’t worth all this pain.  

Henry had hooked a finger under his chin and informed him not long after, in that quiet, thoughtful voice, the one that makes Alex google ridiculous things like ‘obtaining British citizenship fast’ and ‘cost of surrogates/egg donation’, that both Leo and Dad had left his room to go cry in the hall after his outburst, and ‘yes, I know it hurts, my love, and I’m so very sorry, but you’d best apologize when they come back and promise never to do or say such a horrid thing ever again in your sure to be very long life, you bloody nitwit.’] 

With love. It's all always said with love.  

“It’s all right,” Henry says around a yawn, slapping a hand to his mouth in a failed attempted to stifle it. He uses his other hand to grip Alex’s tightly. “It’s nice to see you awake.”  

“What did I miss this time?”  

Henry grins ruefully. “Charlie Brown found the true spirit of Christmas, the Little Drummer boy rocked on for the Christ-child's first birthday party, and June stopped by at lunch; she showed me a delightful channel called Hallmark, which repeats the same story every hour after they swap one round of white, straight, small-town conventionally beautiful actors for another. It was entertaining.” 

“June and I used to play a drinking game with those. Take a shot every time someone goes ice skating, sledding, or leaves the big city for their tiny hometown.” 

“Good lord, you must’ve been sloshed in the first ten minutes.”  

And Alex laughs, then he groans because fuck his chest hurts, and Henry squeezes his hand while he grabs immediately for the call button.  

“No,” Alex says through a wince, pawing at Henry’s hand on the button. “I’m fine. Don’t--,” 

“Alex--,” 

“Seriously, H, don’t.” Henry sighs deeply.  

“Fine. But you must tell me if it gets worse. Don’t be an idiot about this, you are allowed to ask for help.” 

Alex nods, before closing his eyes and take a few long breaths of his own.  

He’s so tired of this.  

“I know, my darling,” Henry says quietly, and Alex realizes he’s whispered the thought aloud. He picks up Alex’s hand again and places a sweet kiss on the inside of his veiny, painfully pale, wrist.  

A lump blocks Alex’s throat for a minute, and he looks back out the window to the gray, snowy D.C. afternoon, blinking quickly.  

“What did June say?” Alex asks quietly. Henry’s begun tracing the lines along Alex’s palm, blue eyes intent on the task.  

“Your father is staying over tonight.”  

The ‘to babysit you’ part is left unsaid, but circumstantially implied. Alex rolls his eyes.  

“You guys do realize there are literally secret service agents outside the door, down the hall, and scattered in plainclothes throughout the whole hospital? Amy comes in and knits on the couch most nights anyway. I don’t need somebody here twenty-four hours straight, all I do is sleep and watch shitty Christmas movies.” 

“I’ll not hear a word against The Christmas Train,” Henry says immediately. “It’s truly a modern masterpiece. Some of Dermot Mulroney’s best work.” 

“Stop deflecting.” Alex mutters. Henry sighs again.  

“It’s for our peace of mind, love. We almost lost you. I--,” Henry swallows thickly, his eyes bright. “I almost lost you.” The lump in Alex’s throat is back. “It’s easier to function outside of this room when I know someone who loves you as much as I do is holding your hand.” Henry picks up Alex’s hand again, tracing the lines on his palm with the feather-light touch of his long pinky. They both sit quietly for a moment. 

“What’s it say?” Alex finally croaks; Henry grins at him, eyes soft.  

“Very long life line.” Henry’s pinky goes up, tracing the line beside his thumb. “A long and deep love line,” his pinky cuts across the middle of Alex’s palm.  

“Wonder when I’ll meet them.”  

“You are a menace.”  

“Yet you love me.”  

Henry’s eyes go dark as he kisses the lines on Alex’s palm. “Yes. I do.”  

**** 

Things Alex Claremont Diaz hates:  

One:  Nightmares. 

The next time Alex wakes up, he’s breathing too fast, sweat dripping down uncomfortably from his temples. He tries immediately to sit up, only to let out a hissing breath through his teeth. Someone grabs his shoulder tightly.  

“It’s okay, mijo,” Dad shushes softly. “It’s okay, you’re fine. Everything is fine, baby.” He brushes back Alex’s sweaty hair gently. “Go back to sleep.”  

“Are you sure?” Alex’s voice cracks.  

Dad takes a shuddering breath before moving the IV pole out of the way and gingerly climbing into the hospital bed with him. He wraps his arms around Alex and holds him more tightly than anyone’s dared since he woke up the first time, and presses a kiss into his hair.  

“I won’t let anyone touch you, mijo.” Dad promises.  

Alex closes his eyes and remembers one of Henry’s old stories; Princess Catherine had once promised her child the same thing.  

Alex misses his mom. He loves his dad, he trusts his dad, but in that second, the only person he wants is his mother. He wants her to hold him close and stroke his hair and promise that nobody will ever, ever hurt him again, because if she says it, he might actually, finally feel safe.  

Alex wants to pretend he's seven again, and sick with the flu, when Mom stayed home from work, kicked off her heels and cuddled up to him under the blankets. When she gave him ginger ale and saltines while they watched the Grinch on repeat all day long as a rare Austin snow fell out the window.  

He almost asks. He comes so, so close to whispering into the dark of the twilit ward for Dad to call her. Dad wouldn’t be offended, he’d do it, no matter how late it is, and Mom would come.  

Well, maybe. She’s been busy lately, managing the fallout from this mess. They may joke about Mom pulling off her presidential face, but it’s not true, not at the end of the day. Ellen Claremont is president, and she’ll hold that office for another three years.  

Presidents don’t truly get days off.  

Not even when their sons get shot.   

Two:  Learning your parents cannot protect you from the world, no matter how hard they try.  

Three:  Guns. 

**** 

Things Alex Claremont Diaz desperately wants:  

One:  He wants to eat something out of one of the seventeen beautiful and increasingly outrageous gift baskets Pez has sent to his room. He receives one promptly at eight each morning and evening, and a nurse places them on the slowly diminishing space on the windowsill, the table, and finally yesterday on the floor next to the bed. They’re filled with chocolates, teas, oranges, coffees, Christmas candies and muffins, all lovely and expensive delicacies from across the globe.  

And every day, the doctors remind him that he’s not allowed to ingest any of it.  

His family has taken to removing the food immediately, eating it themselves in the hallway or giving away perishables to other patients in the hospital. They leave the balloons, the stuffed animals and flowers and singing Christmas cards to give the blank hospital room a bit of cheer.  

Every day, Alex asks Henry to send Pez a thank you text, because Alex still hasn’t been given his phone.  

Two: Alex wants to take a shower. A real, honest to God, so hot his skin turns red, shower. He’s fucking disgusting, and sponge baths are an indignity he’s now too aware to properly handle.  

His hair is a curly, greasy mess, he smells like Purell dumped straight into a garbage can, and he can feel his skin breaking out in a line under the nasal cannula they still won’t let him take off.  

Henry calls Alex an extraordinarily hot mess, emphasis on hot. Nora calls him a zombie raccoon.  

It’s not difficult to guess which one of them is right. 

Three:  Alex wants to go home.   

“A big get well to our knight in shining armor and lots of love to his handsome prince,” June reads from the massive stack of cards on his bedside table, “Merry Christmas from the LGBTQ youth club of South Bend, Indiana. Awww,” June croons at the end, turning the card to show Alex. “They sent a picture of their group! Look at all these cuties with Mayor Pete.”  

Alex smiles thinly. He feels brittle today, like he’s going to burst into dust if something good doesn’t happen soon. June frowns slightly at him as she picks up a new card.  

Mom hasn’t visited him in four days.  

“Oh, this one is heav—oh, holy shit. It’s from the queen! Dear Alexander—I'm getting big Hamilton vibes right now--,” June quips, and she proceeds to read the long, dry and eloquent prose most likely written from his mother’s matching Resolute desk.  

“I pray every night for your swift recovery, and I wish you and your family a happy Christmas. May God bless you, Mary Catherine R.” June finishes, placing the fancy heavy cardstock on table with a flourish. “That was kind of her.”  

Alex snorts. “What a load of shit. She’s probably still bummed I actually made it. Would have solved a whole lot of her problems if I died,” He looks up, laughing, to see June staring at him open-mouthed, her eyes full of tears.  

“Bug--,” 

“Don’t say stuff like that,” June swallows and looks at the snow falling out the window. “Don’t--you can’t talk like that. You don’t understand how bad it was--,” 

“Don’t I? I’m the one still stuck in here, I’m the one left to deal with all this crap--,”  

“Zahra was planning your funeral,” June interrupts, her voice a whisper.  

That shuts Alex right the fuck up.  

“It’d been three days, and you weren’t stabilizing, and Mom and Dad were just—God, they were fucking wrecks, Alex. Complete and utter wrecks. And Henry’s plane got delayed a fourth time because of the snow, he just kept calling and crying and finally we had to start sending Shaan all the updates on you, because he couldn’t handle it anymore. And the doctor came out, told us he didn’t expect you to make it through the night, and Abuelo and Abuela brought in a priest and he said your last rites, and we sat there, everyone holding hands and praying, even Leo, our atheist stepfather Leo started praying for you, Alex. He prayed for you.   

“When it was over, I walked out to the vending machines and found Zahra curled up in a ball, her head in her hands and phone on the ground. She was sitting next to a clipboard; the paper on top had half the items crossed off. Next one on the list was ordering your coffin.” June sniffs and looks up at the ceiling, then straight into Alex’s eyes. “She was sobbing, Alex. Zahra was sobbing.”  

“June,” Alex whispers. She closes her eyes.  

“Don’t joke about it. It’s not funny. It will never, ever be funny. Do you understand?”  

She opens her eyes, and reaches up to wipe away the tears Alex hadn’t noticed falling down his cheeks. He nods.  

“Good.” She grips his hand tightly, and leans forward to kiss his forehead. Then, she picks up the next card on the stack from the bedside table.  

“The Georgetown University Alumni association made a thirty-thousand-dollar donation to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in your name...” 

**** 

People Alex Claremont Diaz hasn’t seen in a while:  

One:  His mother.  

Two:  his friends at NYU (and his professors, he’s missed finals for the semester, but honestly, at this point he should really be exempt. Maybe that’s one of the thousands of emails likely building up in his unreachable inbox right now.) 

Three:  Cash.  

“Where’s Cash?” Alex asks Amy tiredly, watching her through the fog of drugs as she knits what looks to be a new scarf; the colors of her yarn match the bisexual flag. 

Amy sucks in her top lip, and the soothing clack of her knitting needles stops. “He went home for Christmas.”  

“Already?” Alex asks, leaning over as far as he dares to see the newspaper on his bedside table. December 17th, 2021, the corner reads. Alex squints and blinks, his eyes taking longer than usual to adjust. He needs his glasses.  

Amy shrugs. “Took some time off to cool after...everything.”  

Alex hums. “Wish I could’ve said goodbye. I didn’t even give him his Christmas present.”  

Amy huffs out a laugh. “I’m sure he’ll forgive you, considering the circumstances.” 

They sit in silence for a bit, and the clacking of Amy’s knitting needles resumes, until: "He's okay, right? Like, Cash didn’t die and nobody’s told me yet because they don’t want to stress me out or some stupid shit like that, right? Amy, is he--,” 

“Cash is fine, kiddo. He’s at home in Oregon with family, okay? I talked to him yesterday.” 

Alex sighs in relief and slumps backward in his mound of pillows. “Good. That’s, that’s good. When’s he coming back?”  

The drugs must finally pull Alex into sleep sometime right after he asks, because for the life of him, Alex can’t remember Amy’s response.  

*** 

“Hey dipshit,” Nora announces as she sashays into the room. Alex waves hello from the bed, where Ellie the cool nurse is taking his vitals. “I made you a fucking awesome ‘congrats you didn’t die’ Spotify playlist.”  

“If Gloria Gaynor is on there, I’m taking you off my approved visitors list.” Cool nurse Ellie snorts next to him.  

“Babe, I’m high-key offended you think I’d be so cliché,” Nora responds, vaguely affronted. Alex smiles for the first time that day; at least one person can treat him normally, he’s not fucking glass.  

He watches as Nora pulls out her phone, before she frowns. “God damnit, I forgot my speaker in the car. I’ll be back in a minute,” she leans down and kisses the top of his head as Alex pouts.  

“Can’t I just have your phone while you go? Why do I have to wait to listen? I’m so bored, Nora. So. Bored. Please let me listen, please please please--,” 

“God, stop looking at me like a kicked puppy with Sarah McLachlan background music. Do you do this to Henry all the time? That’s gotta be some kind of abuse, I’m looking it up after this,” and Nora dumps her unlocked phone and airpods into Alex’s waiting hand. “I’ll be back in ten. I hope you do a blood draw!”  

“I am,” Ellie replies, snapping on her rubber gloves, and Alex groans theatrically.  

Then, Nora leaves the room, and Ellie does too a few minutes later, once she’s sated her bloodlust.  

And Alex is alone, finally, free to browse the internet for the first time in almost two weeks.  

**** 

Things that Alex Claremont-Diaz learns on Nora’s semi-illicitly procured iPhone:  

One:  most of the world is convinced that Alex is (still) on his deathbed.  

The last official update from the White House was released three days ago, announcing that Alex was in stable condition, and not much else. None of the nitty gritty about where he was shot and what kind of damage it did has been disclosed, leading most to believe it’s way worse than the White House is letting on.  

The picture circulated most online is the priest leaving the hospital with Abuela and Abuelo a week ago, after he said Alex’s last rites. He shivers a bit, and remembers the old saying about someone walking over your grave before he continues scrolling.   

There are a few idiotic conspiracy theories about Tecumseh’s curse and many awful listicles about the shockingly high number of presidents who have lost children. 

"The White House is sad and still, for its joy and light have fled with little Willie. He was a very bright child, remarkably precocious for his age, and had endeared himself to everyone who knew him." Alex grimaces as he reads the quote from Willie Lincoln’s funeral and clicks to the next page.  

Alex thinks it’s a bit mean, letting everyone stew in the doubt about him, especially so close to Christmas when he’s very much alive and recovering. Then, he gets worried; is there something his parents aren’t telling him? Is there something the doctors aren’t telling him? Jesus Christ, does he have to have another surgery, he might shoot himself if he has to go under again, is this why Mom... 

Alex is beginning to understand why his family didn’t give him his phone back.  

Two: The man who shot him was actually two men, and they were aiming for his mother.  

Alex had accompanied his mom to the Natural History Smithsonian for the opening of a new exhibit on endangered species. One man, dressed as a museum docent, had started throwing ancient knives and arrowheads at the president, and when Secret Service rushed her and Alex out of the exhibit, they were met with gunfire at the back door.  

Two agents died. Aiden Meyer and Jeffrey Brookes. Alex hadn’t interacted much with either of them, but he knew them. His mother knew them well. Meyer had twin daughters who were four. Brookes showed anyone and everyone pictures of his golden retriever, Mopsy, and always flipped peppermints to Alex when they passed each other in the halls.  

And now, they were dead.  

Three: there’s a video of it. All of it. And it puts the Zapruder film to fucking shame.  

[“C’mon, baby, eyes up. Look at me. Alex, Alex...sweetheart, keep breathing, in and out .... good, good job baby boy. Good job.”   

“Mom...hurts, Mom.”  

“I know, kiddo...I know.... Just in and out, keep going--THUMP THUMP THUMP—Get us fucking OUT OF HERE!”  

“Not clear yet, ma’am--,”  

“I don’t give a flying fuck about all clear, my child needs a hospital--,”  

“Mom--,”  

Shhhh, shhh, baby it’s okay, it’s fine, Alex, I promise it’s fine.”   

“Hurts--,”  

“Yeah, honey. I know. Just squeeze my hand, that’s it, honey, that’s  real  good there—THUMP THUMP—Fucking OPEN THE DOOR CASH! IF MY BABY DIES BECAUSE YOU WON’T OPEN THE DOOR, SO HELP ME GOD--,”   

“Love you, Mom.”  

“Alex, hey, hey, you’re fine, baby you’re fine—eyes up Diaz, eyes up, in and out and—Alex, Alex...ALEX!”

When Henry walks into the room, he finds Alex curled up in a ball on his side, Nora’s phone held up to his chest, one earbud resting against his neck. With gentle fingers, Henry takes the phone and wipes Alex’s tears away with his thumb.  

Without a word, Henry walks around to the other side of the bed, climbs up, and wraps his arms around Alex from behind, his shoulders covering every inch of Alex’s, just the way he likes best.  

Alex can’t hold back the tears after that. “Is she okay?” he asks quietly, “Will she be okay?”   

Henry digs his nose lightly into the side of Alex’s neck. “I think,” Henry begins slowly, voice light. “Your mum is feeling a bit laid bare right now.” 

“Is that why she won’t come see me?” Alex hates the way his voice cracks. Henry inhales tightly, then gently, so, so gently, turns Alex over to face him.  

“I don’t know why exactly, love. June, Leo and your father have all had words with her about it, but she’s been holed up in her office, in meetings from sunup to sundown and—and,” Henry pauses for a moment, choosing his words carefully. “I think your mother believes if she lets herself sit down and actually think about what happened, if she allows herself to feel it, she’ll break in half. And she can’t break in half, because she’s the first female president of the United States.”  

“So, she is avoiding me.”  Henry nods, touching their foreheads together gently. He grins sadly.  

“I believe June’s words to your mother were, ‘Alex takes a fucking bullet for you, and you, what, sent him a fruit basket? Mother of the year right there, Madam President.’”  

“Jesus.”  

Henry hums in agreement.  

“I don’t--,” Alex begins quietly, eyes half-closed as he attempts to sort through his memories of that fateful day, trying and failing to match the remembered fear, that had turned to piercing pain, that had finally dulled to a gray haze more frightening than anything he’d ever experienced, to what he just watched on Nora’s iPhone.  

He doesn’t remember Mom holding him close, his head in her lap as she stuffed her ironically pink Chanel blazer against the new hole in his heart. He doesn’t remember being trapped in the stuffy curator’s office, his blood seeping into the Persian rug while Mom begged Cash to let them out.  

He doesn’t remember Mom crying, doesn’t remember her pleading for someone to save her baby.  

Doesn’t remember her starting compressions when his eyes closed and his heart stopped.  

Laid bare indeed.  

“I don’t remember Cash being there,” Alex finally says. Henry grimaces.  

“He was,” Henry finally says, voice grim. It makes Alex’s stomach turn.  

“Is Cash okay? Amy told me he wasn’t hurt, that he just went home for Christmas, was she lying? Oh my god--,” 

Henry runs his fingers idly through Alex’s messy, greasy, gross beyond words curls, scratching his scalp in a way that makes Alex’s toes curl; he shuts up.  

“Cash is physically fine, darling. It’s just—well, your mother fired him, Alex. Right after it happened, once they got you to the hospital, your mother told Cash to get out of her sight, and had him taken off rotation. He’s gone.”  

***

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*** 

Chapter Text

December 7, 2021 

Mom was supposed to make a speech at the World War Two memorial that night, to highlight the eightieth anniversary of the United States’ entry into the war after Pearl Harbor. June wrote it last week; perhaps not her best work, but definitely up there, touching on the horrors of war, the bravery of those lost, and the brother and sisterhood of humanity in its wake.  

There were a few good sounds bites from the speech that probably would’ve been played in the weeks to come, would’ve shown up years from now when people googled ‘President Claremont best quotes.’ The speech in its entirety would’ve played for the rest of time on a little screen in the halls that represent her mother’s second term in the library already being constructed just outside Austin.  

It was a good speech. Maybe not a great speech, not all of them can be the Gettysburg Address, but a good one. A speech brimming with love and optimism and hope for the future.  

Nobody will ever hear that speech.  

Selfish as it may be, that’s the thought that keeps circling through June’s brain as she stares at the tube shoved down her brother’s throat. It’s easier that way, focusing only on the tube. If June takes a step back, if she recognizes the body underneath all the wires and plastic and needles as Alex, June is going to throw up. She already had to sit down after she saw the medical tape lightly draped in exes over her little brother’s eyes, leftover from the surgery. She’d had the hysterical thought that he looked like a dead body in an old cartoon.  

Then, the world had gone white, and Leo was gripping her upper arm tightly as he settled her in a chair.  

“We’ve done the best we can but it’s--it’s down to Alex now. If he makes it through tonight, his chances go up exponentially but that’s--,” the doctor swallows thickly and stares at her mother. “That’s a big if, ma’am. The bullet has been entirely removed from where it’d lodged itself in his left ventricle, but the strain the surgery put on the rest of his body is severe. We lost him twice on the table.”  

Abuela does the sign of the cross and says a mumbled Hail Mary under her breath.  

Part of June desperately wishes Nora was here, so she could run the numbers, give them the odds herself.  

The other part of June is desperately glad that she’s not.  

“It’s--,” the doctor continues haltingly. June focuses on the bead of sweat is dripping slowly down his bald head. “It’s in your best interest to say your goodbyes. Just in case." 

Mom stands then, and walks primly to the door. She opens it wide and brandishes her free arm, as though showing him out.  

“Ma’am?” the doctor asks.  

“Thank you for your time doctor.” 

“Ma’am, I--,” 

“Thank you,” Mom says though her teeth, “for your time.”  

The doctor leaves.  

Mom slumps down in the nearest chair and buries her face in her hands. She reaches out blindly and grasps a free patch of Alex’s wrist, rubbing her thumb up and down the unnaturally pale skin.  

“Last week he told me he was gonna start training for the Los Angeles Marathon,” Dad says hollowly, eyes wide as he stares at Alex. “Christ. Jesus fucking Christ,” He runs a shaking hand across his mouth, then covers his eyes and crouches down on the floor.   

“Oscar,” Abuela reproves, her voice soft.  

“Lo siento, Mama.”  

Mom takes a deep breath. “This is Alex we’re talking about. Alex. He’s been fighting since the day he was born. He will be--,” 

In the most Alex move he’s made in the last three days, June’s brother chooses that exact moment to code.  

Such a dramatic little shit.  

*** 

Half an hour later, June and her family are gathered once again around Alex’s hospital bed. The heart monitor is beeping in a steady, almost mocking rhythm; everyone’s faces have become, if possible, even redder and blotchier than they were before. Mom and Dad each have one of Alex’s hands.  

Abuela is at the foot of the bed next to June. She’s holding June’s hand in a vice-like grip while running through rosary beads with her other hand at superhuman speeds.  

Leo’s sitting next to Mom, his arm around her shoulders. And Abuelo’s at the door, ushering the priest into the room.  

So. They’re actually doing this.  

“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. O Heavenly Father, we ask that you bless your devoted son, Alexander Gabriel, in this, his greatest hour of need...”  

June watches Leo clasp his hands and bow his head, and for the first time in many years ruminates on the mystery that is faith.  

*** 

After the anointing has occurred, and Alex is officially as pure as the day he was born and prepared to rejoin their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in the Kingdom of Heaven, June immediately begs off.  

“Bathroom,” she lies. Nobody in the room looks at her; she wonders vaguely if she spoke loud enough to be heard. She’s untroubled by the lack of response though. That’s the way it goes in their lives, the way it’s always gone: Alex gets the lead in the school play; Alex makes the winning goal in the lacrosse state championship game; Alex is valedictorian; Alex is bisexual; Alex is dating a prince; Alex is involved in an international sex scandal; Alex Alex Alex.... 

Alex draws the spotlight, commands the room with his charms, and holds the attention with his sweetness. His intelligence. His honesty and boyish grin. Alex was born to be somebody. He got that from Mom.   

June didn’t. 

And usually, that’s okay. It’s okay for June to stand off to the side, to hide behind her laptop and books and pens, to express her ideas through the voices and platforms of others. She’s still heard. Her words are still put into the universe. She still matters.  

But usually, Alex jumps down from the stage and looks to June first, grinning when she hands him a bouquet of flowers.  Usually, Alex looks up into the stands and finds June’s eyes from the top of his teammates’ shoulders, his joy infectious. Usually, Alex makes a speech at his high school graduation about role models, and announces to the packed auditorium, including potentially the first female President of the United States Mom, that his big sister June was his first and best one.  

Usually, all eyes go to Alex.  

But Alex’s eyes always go to June.  

Today, Alex’s eyes are taped shut. It’s probably meant to be a comfort to them, so his eyes don’t fall to open, unseeing slits while he’s still sedated and unconscious.  

It’s not a comfort. 

With a shiver, June exits the room, walking up and down the hallway aimlessly for a while. This half of the floor has been blocked off, and there are Secret Service agents in every doorway and stairwell. June nods to a few of them as she passes, and her heart pangs for Cash. She should text him, call him maybe when things get better, they have to get better-- 

“Zee?”  

Her mother’s Deputy Chief of Staff is slumped against a vending machine in the empty waiting room, clipboard slipping from her fingers and phone thrown carelessly by her side. June walks forward slowly; Zahra doesn’t look up, her face still buried in her hands.  

“Zahra?” June asks, raising her voice a bit. It startles Zahra out of her reverie, and the clipboard gets pushed closer to June as a result. She squats down to pick it up, and Zahra protests wordlessly, scrambling forward so June can’t see-- 

Recommendations for undertakers in the D.C. area. The list of people who need to be contacted if (when) Alex dies.  

The dimensions for Alex’s coffin.  

June throws the clipboard back on the floor like it burns her, and Zahra grabs her hand. She’s been crying, hard, her face blotchy and eyes red slits.  

“Fuck,” June whispers, slumping to sit against the vending machine with Zahra. “Fuck, Zee.”  

Zahra finds her hand and grips it tight. “I know, Junie.”  

They sit in silence for a bit, until June finally works up the nerve to ask: “Any word on the flights?”  

Zarha takes a long breath and shakes her head. “Nora and her parents are stuck in Monaco right now, next flight scheduled for tomorrow. Shaan just called and said their flight’s been delayed another two hours. Bea’s coming along, too.” 

A massive snowstorm across the Eastern Seaboard, coupled with the worst ice storm Western Europe has seen in thirty years have stranded their friends across the pond. Henry had been calling every hour on the hour for updates, until Shaan finally stole is phone.  

June doesn’t think he’s slept since he got the news.  

“Fuck climate change.” June hates the way her voice breaks.  

“Fuck climate change,” Zahra agrees. 

“Does Shaan still have Henry’s phone?” Zahra nods, and June holds out her hand. She deposits her phone in June’s palm without question.  

“If this is--,” June swallows thickly, “If this is it, Henry needs the chance to say goodbye.” She opens the phone, going immediately to Zhara’s favorites list:  

  • Khaleesi 
  • Junebug 
  • Little Shit 
  • Permanent Fuck Buddy
  • Mom
  • Tony Stark 

With a deep breath, June clicks on ‘Permanent Fuck Buddy.’ Shaan picks up on the first ring.  

“Darling, what news?” he asks immediately, voice raw and tired. June swallows around the lump in her throat.  

“Shaan, it’s June. He’s fine!” she says quickly, after Shaan’s stuttering inhale. “He’s--he’s still with us. It’s just--,” and for a moment, June can’t speak. She can’t get the words out because it’s the first time she’s said them, the first time she’s had to say them. And saying it will make it real, will put it out in the world and she doesn’t know if she can take it.  

It’s been three days of no sleep, too much coffee and too little food, and more stress on her head and heart than every exam she’s ever taken, every election night of her parents, every speech to be made and column to write, every picture taken by the paps with zits covered up, every worry for Alex, Alex’s social life, Alex’s insane fire under his ass for no reason, every stress about his future, about his life and dreams and ambitions all shattering like glass, combined.  

She lets out something like sob, and Zahra puts a solid hand on her shoulder and squeezes. “The doctors aren’t hopeful about his chances of making it through the night, Shaan. And I thought—I thought Henry might want to--,” June swallows again. “To talk to him.”  

It’s quiet for a long moment. “Yes. Yes, I think he would. I’m--I’ll hand the phone over to him now, shall I?”  

“Yeah. Yeah, that’s good. Thank you, Shaan.”  

“Our hearts are with you, Miss June.” There’s a rustle over the phone, then a new, rattling breath takes over the speaker.  

“June?” Henry sounds wrecked. Something about the devastation in his voice makes it easier to pull herself out of the fugue she’s been living in the last few hours and act like a big sister again.  

“Hi, Henry,” she says softly, finally getting up and walking toward the room. “How much do you—did Shaan--,” 

“He says,” Henry pauses, “He says it’s not going very well.”  

Fucking understatement. June has the sudden and hysterical urge to laugh.  

She doesn’t.  

“No. No, honey, it’s not—it's not looking great right now. I thought maybe hearing your voice would help him. I can hold the phone up to his ear for you, I won’t, it won’t be on speaker or anything but Mom and Dad and Abuela and everybody are in there right now, they might hear, it’s okay if you don’t want to, I understand--I just, I thought--,” 

“June--June, yes. Yes, I want to. Please, I very much want to, I promise.”   

“Okay,” June whispers, passing the agents by the door and opening Alex’s door. This time, everyone looks up as she enters. “Just a second, honey.” She holds the phone away from her face, thumb covering the microphone as she looks at Mom and Dad. “It’s Henry.”  

Wordlessly, Dad gets up from his chair and offers it to June. She sits on the edge of the seat, and checks that there’s a clear path to Alex’s ear through the tubes and wires surrounding him.  

“Okay,” June says into the phone. “Okay, Henry. Here he is.” June holds her breath as she places the phone next to Alex’s ear. Henry begins speaking immediately, but his voice is muffled enough that she can’t make out too many of the words.  

It’s for the best. This isn’t a conversation any of them are meant to hear. Their love deserves the privacy it’s due.  

After ten minutes, there’s a long enough pause in the murmurs that June begins to pull the phone away.  

“You told me once,” Henry says, his voice choked, “You said saints’ names belong to miracles. I’ll have you know there are at least fifteen Saint Alexanders, and they’re not all martyrs, so don’t get any idiotic ideas, love.” He chokes on a laugh. “I--You’re so—you're a miracle, Alex. You’re my miracle. Please don’t go now. Please.” He sniffs quietly. “I love you. I love you. I love you. I’ll be there soon, my darling. I love you.”  

June looks up and meets Mom’s eyes. She’s got a hand over her mouth, tears falling steadily down her cheeks. She was close enough to listen, too.  

“June?” Henry croaks, and June lifts the phone back to her ear.  

“Hi,” she finally gasps, “Sorry, sorry, I swear I tried not to listen but I heard the end.” She stands up and walks out the door, remembering the phone in her hands belongs to Zahra, who has probably not been separated from her phone for such a long period of time since the early two-thousands. “He loves you too, Henry. He loves you so fucking much, honey. He—you’ve changed my brother for the better, you’ve made him a better person, and that’s what the best love is supposed to do. God, you make him happy. You make him so happy, Henry. The way he looks at you—I haven’t seen smiles like that from him since he was eight on Christmas morning.”  

June expects Henry to thank her, to maybe cry a bit and hang up. She expects him to take her comfort for what it is, then sit back and hold Bea’s hand and blast some music to distract himself from the world, take another Xanax so he doesn’t pass out from a panic attack.  

So, she’s absolutely blindsided when Henry says: “He loves you, too, Junebug. You’re his favorite person in the world. And no matter what happens, you’ll always be his sister.”  

Amy and Zahra find her sobbing in a supply closet. Her chest is bound so tight she can barely breathe, her eyes raw and aching and stinging because she’s completely out of tears and everything in the world looks foggy, like she opened her eyes underwater with chlorine. People are talking on the other end of the phone, still clutched tightly in June’s left hand.  

Zahra crouches down in front of her a gently takes the phone away.  

“We’ve got her, Shaan, it’s fine. Thanks for letting us know. Yes......Yes, of course. I love you.” Zahra grabs her hand. “Your parents are looking for you.”  

“I can’t do this, Zee. I can’t.....” 

I can’t be there. I can handle this.   

I can’t watch my baby brother die.  

“You can.” Zahra says firmly. “You think you can’t, but I know you can. And you will regret it the rest of your life if you don’t. Trust me.”  

She does.  

So, June Claremont-Diaz walks back into her baby brother’s hospital room. She takes the open seat next to Abuela, grabs her grandmother’s hand, and watches her run through her thousandth decade of the rosary in the last two days. She looks at her mother and father, holding their baby’s hands and watching them age years as the seconds tick by.  

Then, she looks at Alex. Not at the tube in his mouth or the tape over his eyes. She looks at her little brother; the wild waves and curls of his hair, the dip of his collarbone, the little mole at the back of his ear. She looks at her brother and squeezes Abuela’s hand and thinks: 

God, this is not enough. If you take him now, or tomorrow, or fifty years from now, it will never be enough. Don’t take him now. Don’t take him from me. Please, please, please God, don’t.   

But, if you must. Thank you. Thank you for letting him be mine.   

*** 

December 9, 2021  

Henry gets his miracle.  

*** 

December 11, 2021 

Abuela, June and Alex’s eighty-four-year-old grandmother, who goes to Eucharistic adoration at her church on Monday, volunteers at the 8am children’s mass on Wednesday, staples bulletins together on Friday, and attends confession every Saturday at 4pm, absolutely adores Henry and the fact that he’s dating Alex.  

June would love to think it’s because her grandmother is woke, and her age and wisdom have led her to the obvious conclusion that love is love, but she knows that’s not it. Abuela is fine with the fact that Alex is bisexual and in a relationship with a man for three reasons:  

One:  “Pope Francis says it’s not a sin, mijo. God will always love you and I will always love you, Alejandro.”  

Two:  Alex is absolutely Abuela’s favorite grandchild, because he looks like Dad, and Dad is absolutely Abuela’s favorite child. Will she ever admit to this: no. Does that mean it’s not a fact: also, no. 

(June, coincidentally enough, looks like Mom, whom Abuela has disliked since the day they first met thirty-two years ago. 

“It was never going to work out, Catalina, I knew that from the beginning, but your papa could not be swayed. They are both fires, burning brightly, reaching to the stars. Someone must be the water, bring the balance, otherwise we are just left with ashes and broken hearts.  

And two beautiful children, June had wanted to tell her grandmother snidely. Instead, she’d burst into tears and allowed Abuela to hug her tight, to ply her with cookies and hot chocolate because she was seventeen, her parents were officially getting divorced, and Abuela wasn’t wrong about the broken heart.) 

Three:  Abuela is the biggest Anglophile June knows. She’s got a commemorative tea set from Princess Catherine and Arthur Fox’s royal wedding in 1988 front and center in her china cabinet. She woke up at three in the morning to watch the entirety of the proceedings for Prince Philip’s wedding two years ago.  

(She told June it was because she wanted to see her and Alex in their nice clothes on the TV. This is also a lie. Prince Philip and Martha’s tea set is on the shelf below his parents’.) 

June wonders vaguely if Alex has ever told this to Henry. To be honest, Alex probably hasn’t noticed Abuela’s obsession. He’s oblivious like that sometimes.  

It certainly doesn’t hurt that Prince Henry of Wales is beautiful, polite, and ridiculously thoughtful. By the time he’d finished bowing and kissing her hand in greeting the first time they met, Abuela had started planning the wedding in her head.  

(Maybe Alex is oblivious sometimes, but Henry definitely isn’t. Henry immediately knew which family member to get on his side to irrevocably sway the rest in their favor. Though, that may have been due to personal experience.) 

In contrast, Abuelo is a man of few words. He probably doesn’t approve, probably will never approve entirely, but he keeps his thoughts to himself and loves Alex just as deeply and completely as he does the rest of his grandchildren. And June loves him for it.  

Today June’s sitting on the couch in Alex’s new room, with Leo on her right and Princess Beatrice of Wales to her left. Nora’s sitting on the floor, leaning against her legs. Henry is sitting next to Alex’s bed, fluffing the pillow behind his head gently as he sleeps. Abuela is trying to convince Henry to convert to Catholicism while she brushes Alex’s unruly hair; Abuelo is sitting next to her, flipping through the channels on the large screen TV on the wall.  

It’s a ragtag group to be sure; June has the idle thought that if they felt like it, the people in this room could probably take over the world.  

“Mrs. Diaz,” Henry says patiently, sitting back in his chair, “My grandmother is the head of the Church of England. Imagine if the pope’s grandchild--,” 

“The pope can’t have a grandchild, mijo.”  

Henry stifles a smile. “His nephew then. Imagine if his nephew converted and became Anglican.”  

Abuela’s response is paused by CNN on the screen above them.  

“....no new updates from the White House on the condition of First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz. However, a new video is now circulating online, posted within the last hour that our sources have verified is in fact security footage from the National Museum of Natural History during the attempted presidential assassination. The following video and images are violent and disturbing. Viewer discretion is advised.”  

“How did they get this?” Nora jumps to her feet, “How the fuck did they get this, the only people with access should be the fucking FBI--,” 

[“Get your head down--GET DOWN! I have Eagle and Barracuda on the move, headed toward Twelfth—get--,”  

“Meyer down. I repeat, Meyer down. Brookes taking point. Shots fired in Route A, number of shooters unknown. We’re going up.”  

“Heavy fire in stairwell, rerouting to Ninth street exit, in research wing we--,”  

“Brookes down. Williams at point, stay behind me, ma’am, Alex don’t get ahead, I have to check, we--,”  

“Mom!”  

“ALEX!”  

“In here, ma’am, get in now, we don’t--,”  

“Cash, Cash—they, Jesus fuck, he’s hit, Alex is hit, oh my--,”  

“Barracuda is down. I repeat, Barracuda is down. We are on ground floor, office 103. Room is clear, door is locked. We are on standby for all clear. Barracuda is down. I repeat, Barracuda is down. We need medical ASAP.”  

“C’mon, baby, eyes up. Look at me. Alex, Alex...sweetheart, keep breathing, in and out .... good, good job baby boy. Good job.”     

“Mom...hurts, Mom.”]  

Abuelo abruptly stands and turns off the TV. He opens his mouth, closes it, then opens it again and says, “We do not need to watch this. Especially now. You,” he adds, looking straight at June, “Should call your mother.”  

So, she does.  

*** 

December 13, 2021 

“You haven’t been to see him since the video came out,” June snarls, slamming her hands down on the Resolute desk. “And he doesn’t understand why. He’s in a whole world of pain, and he’s upset and confused and traumatized and Alex wants you, Mom. Why won’t you go?” 

“I’m busy, June--,” 

“Bullshit.”  

“It’s not, and you know it, honey. Don’t try to fucking patronize me. Alex is fine, it’s not like he’s alone. And he’s an adult, he knows that I love him, he of all people understands the demands of this job--,” 

“Alex took a fucking bullet for you and you, what, sent him a fruit basket? Mother of the Year right there, Madam President. Truly, my sincerest congratulations to you. 

“If you don’t owe him for saving your life, you at least owe him for saving your approval ratings. Eighty percent, highest you’ve ever had. Again, I tip my hat to you, Madam President.”  

“You don’t understand, June. Don’t pretend that you can even fathom--,” 

“Try me, Mother. Talk to me! Make me understand what you’re feeling right now! Because nobody knows and this whole house is just waiting for you to set the place on fire or explode yourself. Get yourself fucking figured out, Mom. Because Alex doesn’t deserve this. I don’t deserve this.” 

“June--,” 

“You and I both know none of this ever would have happened if we weren’t in this office right now. You sent us out to the wolves for PR and went down in history because we helped. Don’t pretend those pretty speeches are true, I wrote half of them. You didn’t do this for us, for the future you wanted to build for your children. You did this for you. You chose this office over your family and changed all our lives as a result. You almost  ended  Alex’s life as a result. The least you can do is go fucking sit and hold his hand.”  

“June--,” 

“I can’t look at you right now.”  

*** 

When June arrives back at the hospital, she can hear Alex before she ever sees him.  

“’God save our gracious Queen, 
Long live our noble Queen, 
God save the Queen!’”  

Alex is bellowing loudly, and Henry and Bea are staring at him in bemusement with their hands over their ears. Raf, sitting on the couch with Dad, just looks exasperated.  

“I told you I know it, I have it all memorized, ‘Send her victorious, Happy and glorious. Long to reign over us, God save the Queen!’”  

“He’s high,” Henry mouths to her when she takes her seat beside him, and June bites down on a laugh.  

“No, nononono, don’t save the queen, I don’t actually like the queen. Well,” Alex takes it back, considering. He’s sitting up today, with a mountain of pillows behind his back. His curls are falling flat on his head, in desperate need of a wash. He’s still unnaturally pale, and there’s a cannula in his nose feeding him oxygen, and he won’t be doing magazine cover shoots any time soon but-- 

He’s awake. He’s alive and sitting up and talking and singing, and it makes June so happy she could burst.  

“The queen doesn’t like me, so I don’t like her. That’s how that works. God save the President! Long may she reign!”  

“About three more years at this point, buddy,” Raf informs him, and Alex frowns.  

“No! God bless America! God Bless my Mom! May she defend our laws, And ever give us cause, To sing with heart and voice, God save the Blessed American President Mom!” Alex finishes abruptly and off-tune, and looks around to each of them before nodding his head deeply as though he’s taking a bow.  

(His eyes find June’s first, and she smiles widely.)  

“That was lovely, mijo,” Dad says with a grin.  

“Truly, a masterpiece,” Bea agrees.  

“What did you think?” Alex asks Henry, scootching himself closer to the prince and literally batting his eyelashes.  

June doesn’t roll her eyes. She doesn’t.  

Okay, maybe a little.  

“I think you’re ridiculous,” Henry says fondly, pressing a kiss to his forehead. “Take a nap.”  

“Why?” 

“Because I’ll give you another kiss when you wake up.” 

“Why not now?”  

“Because you haven’t slept yet.” Alex nods his head as though the reasoning makes perfect sense, lays down on the pillow, and closes his eyes. Everyone in the room holds their breath, and within a minute Alex’s breathing evens out, whistling through the tube rhythmically.  

“Where the fuck were you when Alex had colic as a baby? Could’ve really used your wizardry then, kiddo.” Dad says, shaking his head in disbelief.  

Bea laughs. “Henry was running around Kensington Palace dressed in wool, looking like a dead Victorian child as he smashed priceless Ming dynasty vases.”  

“It was one time, Bea. I was two, I hardly think I can be blamed,” Henry complains, but he’s laughing.  

“Well,” Raf interrupts, standing and walking to Alex’s bedside table to pick up the TV remote. “I’m fucking sick of watching these bullshit ABC family Christmas movies. There’s gotta be something better on.” He stands in the middle of the room, flipping through the channels idly, until he reaches a screen with a glorious blond man puling himself up out of a pool. His chiseled abs glisten with water droplets as he artfully grabs a towel from a beautiful brunette and shakes out his hair.  

“There, now that’s fucking art, amigos,” Raf says with a rueful grin. “Arthur Fox as James Bond. Damn, I think this is Icebreaker, you never see this one on TV these days. He’s a fucking dreamboat, best Bond ever and I will die on that hill--,” 

“Raf--,” Dad interrupts with an awkward cough.  

“What, c’mon Oscar, you gotta agree. I mean, not even Connery--,” 

“Raf.” Dad says more sternly. Raf frowns.  

“What? The beautiful secret agent who helped twelve-year-old me figure out I was gay will always hold a dear place in my heart, I don’t understand why this offends...” Raf trails off, staring at the screen, then Bea, then finally landing on Henry, who, now that June actually takes a second to evaluate, looks like a clone of his father at that age.  

Raf turns green so fast June almost runs for the trash can.  

“I am so, so sorry.”  

There’s a long, painful moment of silence before Bea and Henry burst into uncontrollable, contagious laughter and soon they’re all so swept up in it and loud it’s a wonder Alex doesn’t wake. June worries for a split second that maybe he’s not because....but the machines are all on and the numbers are good, the steady beat more music to June’s ears.  

“Jesus, fuck,” Raf says once they all calm down, wiping the tears from his eyes. “I didn’t even—I mean, I knew, but I didn’t know, you know?” He shakes his head. “Mom’s a Princess, Dad’s James Bond. That’s a whole lot of bullshit expectations right there, damn.”  

“Henry and I turned to rather unconventional means to leave our marks as a result.” 

Henry smiles at his sister, then turns to the still sleeping Alex and grips his hand.  

“This means Alex is basically a Bond Girl, right? Please tell me this makes Alex a Bond Girl.”  

And things still aren’t great, with Mom and Alex and the hospital and the media, and June hasn’t gotten eight straight hours of sleep since the whole mess began. But as loud and happy laughter echoes through Alex’s hospital room for the second time in as many minutes, and snow falls peacefully out the window on a cold and beautiful D.C. night, June thinks maybe, maybe, they’ll all be okay.  

Chapter Text

ACD: Nora SAVE ME 

ACD: woke up and these assholes are watching pride and prejudice ON MY TV 

ACD: this feels illegal. I think it’s illegal. GIVE ME THE REMOTE YOU FIENDS 

JCD: we’re sitting right next to you, you little shit. Just talk.  

ACD: my throat hurts. 

JCD: okay. Henry will get you ice chips.  

JCD: but we’re still watching the movie.  

ACD: but the bond marathon on TNT!!!! I gotta make fun of Henry and his ridiculously hot father 

HRHPD: Senator Luna already did for you.  

ACD: WTF WHEN?!?! 

JCD: Couple nights ago. It was fucking hilarious. You were asleep. Shhhhhh watch the movie.  

ACD: what’s even happening. I missed the beginning. This is torture.  

JCD: omg SHUT UP this part is literally top ten fav moments you must be silent 

ACD: is it the hand thing? It’s all about the hands 

[insert image] 

ACD: THE ELECTRICITY.  

ACD: THE SEXUAL TENSION 

ACD: oh holy shit, is that tom from succession???? That’s totally tom from succession.  

ACD: He really knows how to rock a mullet, damn. We should watch that next, such a good show. 

ACD: But he plays such a prissy dickhead there, this guy’s got range.  

ACD: I am impressed. Do you think this tv gets HBO? 

ACD: guys? 

HRHPD: SHUT UP 

JCD: SHUT UP!!!!! 

ACD: ooohh who’s this asshole? He's too pretty, I hate him.  

HRHPD: Mr. Wickham.  

JCD: Didn’t you read this book in high school? I definitely remember pride and prejudice being on the AP English syllabus.  

ACD: Spark notes 

HRHPD: I can’t talk to you right now.  

ACD: It was lacrosse season! I was busy.  

HRHPD: I have never been less attracted to you.  

ACD: shut up, you can’t say that when I’m all gross and sad and in the hospital. I got shot! 

JCD: we know, alex. 

HRHPD: we definitely know.  

ACD: Who the fuck is THIS ASSHOLE??? 

HRHPD: the dreaded cousin 

JCD: please just shut up and watch the movie. Please.  

ACD: okay.  

*** 

*** 

*** 

ACD: okay, the electricity is real 

ACD: the sexual tension is real 

ACD: keira knightley is a beautiful human 

ACD: so is tom from succession, my god 

HRHPD: we get it, you’re bisexual, watch the movie 

*** 

*** 

*** 

ACD: this fucking asshole cousin thinks he has the RIGHT to MARRY Lizzy Bennet???? Nu uh no way jose what the fuck, get out of here and run back to lady catherine de blegh you dickwad 

ACD: henry why are you humming?  

ACD: OMG HENRY  

ACD: really? REALLY??? 

HRHPD: I can’t lie, that’s up there with the attached bibliography 

JCD: I’m simultaneously so disgusted yet awed by the love you share. All the time. It’s annoying.  

ACD: Don’t worry June, we’ll find your Mr. Bingley.  

JCD: Fuck you, I’m a Lizzy 

ACD: Everyone wants to be a Lizzy, the world needs more Janes. You’re such a Jane, June.  

JCD: Fuck you. Henry knows I’m a Lizzy. Right, Henry? 

HRHPD: I mean.... 

JCD: FUCK YOU TOO 

*** 

*** 

*** 

ACD: remember that time I thought you hated me, then you came out to me and kissed me in the garden on new years and made me question my entire life and choices and sexuality in one fell swoop then ghosted me for three weeks? 

HRHPD: vaguely  

ACD: this sexually charged proposal in the rain has the same energy 

HRHPD: k 

*** 

*** 

*** 

ACD: FUCK WICKHAM DARCY’S SISTER IS FIFTEEN WHAT THE FUCK 

ACD: I knew it, I knew he was the villain, he’s too pretty 

JCD: you also would've known that if you read the book 

ACD: Lol his name is Fitzwilliam???? What kind of name is that??? 

HRHPD: it’s his mother’s maiden name 

ACD: imagine if mom and dad did that to me 

ACD: Claremont Claremont-Diaz 

JCD: we could’ve called you Clare 

HRHPD: or Monty 

JCD: YES. 

ACD: I hate you guys 

*** 

*** 

*** 

ACD: look at the fun aunt and uncle, setting up their OTP. It’s like Zahra and Shaan come to life on the big screen.  

HRHPD: I can’t speak for Zahra, but Shaan definitely was not a fan of yours at the beginning, Alex.  

JCD: Zahra was literally ready to kill you, Henry. 

ACD: Tomato, potato, it’s all in the past, they love us now.  

JCD: sure.  

ACD: OH NO TOM FROM SUCCESSION’S SMILE OH NO.  

ACD: he’s so cute im gonna die. He loves her so much ahhhhhh 

JCD: DO YOU UNDERSTAND NOW???!!! 

ACD: maybe 

*** 

*** 

*** 

ACD: no, lydia baby girl why WHY 

ACD: and with WICKHAM of all people the dirty dog 

ACD: she’s ruined the family, SHE’S RUINED THE FAMILY 

ACD: I still can’t get over the fact that president snow plays their dad 

ACD: and lydia is johanna mason 

HRHPD: it wouldn’t kill you to expand your literary palate a bit, darling. There are more things to read than YA fantasy and dystopian future novels.  

ACD: I plan on being buried with my copy of prisoner of azkaban, shut your face 

*** 

*** 

*** 

ACD: awww, look at how happy june is, omg they’re so cute, even if he is a ginger 

ACD: JANE I MEANT JANE 

JCD: uh huh 

JCD: sure 

JCD: Monty 

ACD: Ugh 

*** 

*** 

*** 

ACD: lol she reminds me of your grandma 

ACD: like, scarily accurate portrayal, great job Judy Dench 

HRHPD: oh god don’t remind me 

ACD: Are the shades of Buckingham to be thus polluted?  

ACD: Yes ma’am, they are 

JCD: lol 

HRHPD: why must you laugh at my suffering 

*** 

*** 

*** 

ACD: awww they both couldn’t sleep so they went to find each other in the cold crisp morning with the rising sun as a magnificent backdrop wtf omg wow 

ACD: AAAAAAHHHH THE HAND KISS WHAT 

ACD: FOREHEAD TOUCHES FOREHEAD TOUCHES 

ACD: ngl this is v beautiful. I love this movie 

HRHPD: oh thank god 

ACD: what 

HRHPD: I don’t have to break up with you 

ACD: WTF 

JCD: hahahahahahaha 

*** 

*** 

*** 

ACD: President snow crying bc he’s so happy for his fav daughter finding love is not something I knew I needed, but I did.  

HRHPD: his name is Donald Sutherland and he’s a Canadian treasure.  

HRHPD: and Tom from succession is Matthew MacFadyen, and he is an English treasure.  

ACD: YES THEY’RE GONNA KISS YES 

HRHPD: this was added in for the Americans. The english version ends after the office scene.  

JCD: are you kidding? I never knew that??? 

HRHPD: yes, apparently you Americans require a kiss to believe in the happily ever after of it all 

ACD: you shut up, Mr. Return of the Jedi is the best Star Wars. You love it.  

HRHPD: maybe 

ACD: he does 

ACD: you do 

HRHPD: yes, I do.  

*** 

*** 

*** 

ACD: So, apparently there’s a BBC miniseries with young Colin Firth? 

HRHPD: YES 

JCD: FUCK YES 

HRHPD: HANG ON I HAVE MY LAPTOP IT’S HERE 

JCD: the lake scene, THE LAKE SCENE 

ACD: okay then 

NH: y’all are weird. Anybody seen my headphones?  

Chapter Text

7 December 2021 

Dear Alex,  

I can’t clearly remember the last time you told me that you loved me, and I fear that lapse will haunt me for the rest of my days.  

You said it over the phone during the week we were apart, of course, sent the words in texts and emails with sweet emoticons and ridiculous GIFs. And I, in return, spent the last fifteen minutes a weeping disaster whilst June held the phone up to your ear so I could tell you I love no less than two hundred times.

[I couldn’t tell you the true number, as again, I was--and continue to be--a sobbing mess. Bea might know, she was holding my hand while I spoke to you. She’s the one making me write this letter now, so sure is she that writing to you, ensuring that truly nothing is left unsaid on my end will somehow be healing when we finally get The Call. I think she’s wrong, but our bloody plane’s been delayed another two hours at least, and there’s literally nothing to do but cry, chew my fingernails, and rock forward and back as I hold my knees like a mad man.  

Perhaps I am mad. Most unfortunately, it takes very little to break me when it comes to you, my love.] 

The last time you told me that you loved me, though, Alex. It eludes me still. I know you said it when I walked through the door that final night, when I leaned down to peck you on the cheek as you sat at our kitchen table, revising your exams. I know you said it that night in bed; I clearly remember you whispering the words into my neck after we’d made love.  

[You spent much of the evening dragging your ridiculously long, dark, and frankly insultingly beautiful eyelashes across my cheeks, down my neck, along my collarbone with a wicked grin.  

“Butterfly kisses,” you whispered, batting your eyelashes teasingly. One fell down, resting in a smile next to your nose. I picked it up with my pinky finger and let you blow it away.  

I’ll never know your wish. I’ll never know what made you smile so sweetly when your eyes bored into mine after your lash was finally lost to the shadows.  

I’ll never know, Alex.] 

It’s the next morning I cannot place. Because your flight was early, and Cash was at the door; I heard your alarm go off; I felt you kiss my shoulder before you rolled gently away and out of my arms and padded to the bathroom.  

[I should have gotten up. I should have woken with you, made you coffee, made you eggs. I should have gotten dressed and walked you to the door, should have slid into the backseat beside you as Cash drove to JFK, should have kissed you and hugged you and held your hand.  

I should have told you to stay.] 

A week. It was meant to be a week apart. I had to be in meetings with Mum and Philip, I needed to drop by the foundation’s headquarters to check in. Martha’s baby shower was meant to be today, I believe, and I wanted to see Bea before the madness of Christmas at Sandringham.  

And you, you were in D.C. for the weekend, a favor to your mother before your own madness of final exams. It was meant to be a quick trip, Friday to Sunday, in and out.  

In and out. 

[That’s the problem with the bullet, they keep telling me, it went inside you but it never came out. It found a home in your heart and lodged itself there. Perhaps that’s why I feel so wretched, now, so detached and surreal. I’ve been displaced from my home.] 

I heard you in the bathroom that morning, taking your shower. I thought about joining you, I wish I had joined you. But I was tired, and my own flight wasn’t until three, and I’m an idiot who did not appreciate our last moments together in the first and best home I’ve had since my father died, our perfect private pocket of the world filled with squashy armchairs and Amy’s afghans and the odd but lovely mixture of our colognes.  

And books. So, so many books.  

[I’ll probably sell it once we get The Call. I don’t think I could stand a second in that house without knowing you were waiting for me somewhere else in the world.] 

You walked up to our bed. The lights were dimmed, the world outside the purple haze of dawn in the city. I finally sat up, and you kissed me. Your sweater was dark green.  

We said goodbye. I made you promise to text when you landed. You got the same promise from me. We kissed again.  

And David sat up from the bed and toddled over, squished his head between our bodies, and you pulled back, laughing.  

“I’ll miss you most of all David Bowie. Yes, I will. You’re such a good dog, the best dog, you’re the best good dog, David, yes you are, my itty bitty Slytherin. I’ll be home soon, buddy.”  

And I just fell in love with you all over again.  

[But I didn’t say it. Why didn’t I fucking say it?] 

I picked up David and we walked you to the front door. My feet were bare, and you told me not to walk out on the steps and into the snow and ice. You pulled me in a hug, kissed me one more time, then you smiled that smile, the one that squints your eyes and dimples your cheeks and makes my brain short-circuit even longer than the last time when I see it again.  

[I do not think there is a limit to the things I would do just to be graced with that smile once more.] 

We didn’t say I love you. 

We didn’t say I love you, Alex. Not at our final goodbye. Our last kiss was chaste, barely a peck. Our last hug had a dog in the middle of it.  

And yes, we said it on the phone. Yes, we said it over text. Yes, it’s fucking implied, and we say it in our eyes, in our actions, have it tattooed across our hearts, I know.  

I know, darling. 

But I remember my father’s last I love you. I remember sitting in Dad’s room with Pip beside me while I held Dad’s cold, painfully dry hand. We knew the end was coming quickly. Dad had been in and out of consciousness for days. Bea and Mum were on a sleeping break, and Pip and I took a shift. We never left Dad alone.  

[He was barely a shadow of himself, hair gone, body only papery skin and knobby bones. All that was left of the Dad I knew was his eyes, hooded and ringed with an exhaustion sleep alone couldn’t sate.  

Bea has his eyes.] 

That particular day, Dad turned his head, opened his eyes and looked at both of us, his two sons, huddled together and silently waiting for our fear and pain to finally turn to grief.  

“I love you.” He barely breathed the words, but the silence of impending death makes everything else so easy to hear. “I love you, Pippy. And Henry, my sweet boy. I love you. Bea?” he asked, and I shook my head. Philip reached over and grabbed Dad’s other hand.  

“She knows, Dad. She knows. And we’ll tell her, I promise we will. She loves you so much. And I--,” Pip had to stop, his voice thick. “I love you, Dad.” He raised Dad’s hand to his lips and pressed a kiss to his knuckles.  

It is, to this day, the most emotion I’ve ever witnessed in my older brother.  

[Perhaps that’s why it’s so much harder when he pushes it all away. Because I know it’s there. I’ve seen it, I know he feels it. I know sometimes he’s in just as much pain as the rest of us, perhaps even more.  

He just can’t allow himself to break in half. The world is always watching.] 

I was not as gracious as my brother in grief.  

“Don’t go,” I begged my father, gripping his hand in both of mine. “Dad, please, please, I can’t--I love you, I love you so much. I don’t know how to do this without you. Please don’t go. Please, Dad.” 

And then, because I truly am the worst sort of person, I made my dying father cry.  

[Of course, then I started crying as well.] 

Pip wrapped an arm around my shoulders and shushed me, before grabbing a tissue from the nightstand and wiping the tears from Dad’s cheeks.  

“It’s alright, Dad. I’ll--I’ll take care of him. I’ll take care of them. It’ll all--,” Philip looked to the ceiling then as his own tears started to fall. “We’ll all be fine. I’ll make sure of it. I love you.” Then he pressed a kiss to Dad’s head.  

“I love you,” Dad whispered back, reaching again for Pip’s hand, which he took and gripped tight. “I love you.” Dad looked straight at me.  

“I love you, too. So, so much.” I finally whispered back, and Dad grinned thinly before he closed his eyes.  

Dad died the next day. He never woke up again.  

I’ve never told anyone that story before. Not even my therapist. And Philip and I certainly never talked about it after the fact.  

[Perhaps Bea was right. Writing this is healing.  

Just healing the wrong hurts now.] 

I don’t know what I’ll do when we get The Call. I truly don’t. I don’t think I’ll ever believe it until I’m finally with you, until I can finally see you and hold you and realize for myself that something other than me has the power to break your heart beyond repair.  

Sometimes I’m angry at your mother. You didn’t have to be there that night. They’re saying you most likely weren’t the target. You didn’t have to be in the line of fire.  

And you weren’t born into this life like I was. Your mother didn’t have to be President.  

[But then I halt my train of thought, because were you not the President’s son, I probably never would have met you. And I’m selfish Alex, and a bit stupid, and that wanker Tennyson turned out to be right: 

It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.] 

I’m so blindingly, soul-shatteringly furious at the people who shot you, but that was obviously a given. The concept of revenge has never before settled in me so well.  

How dare they cause you pain? How dare anyone strike fear in your heart? 

[That’s the worst part for me. Just imagining how frightened you were, how painful and confused and terrified as you tried to escape a place that was meant to be safe. The thought guts me, Alex. You are too kind and honest and purely good to ever be touched by such pain. I’m sorry I couldn’t protect you from it.] 

I get angry at the Secret Service sometimes, then I remember they’ve lost, too. They tried their best, they always do. They cannot plan for everything. And everything is impossible, until it’s done once.  

Sometimes I’m angry at your father, and Zahra and June, because updates on your condition are horribly sporadic and thoughtfully nonspecific and it’s awful. There’s an ice storm on my end, and a snowstorm on yours, and nobody wants our plane to leave the ground and I am dying slowly as you sprint before me.  

Slow down, Alex. God, please, please, slow down.  

Mostly though, when I’m angry at anyone, it’s you, my love. Why are you doing this to me, Alex? How can you even contemplate leaving me?  

The Waterloo Vase has shattered, and I don’t know if I can fix it on my own.  

They’ve just come round to say we can board the flight now. I don’t know what else to say.  

I love you. Every day I love you more than the last, Alex. Please wait for me. Please be there when I land.  

I love you. I should have said it that day on the porch. I’ll never stop being sorry that I did not.  

All my love,   

-Henry  

***

“I love you, and that’s the beginning and end of everything.” ―  F. Scott Fitzgerald   

Chapter Text

“What’s up with you, baby? You’re out of it today.” Oscar whispers in her ear as he hugs her from behind. Ellen turns around to face him and he brackets her against the counter where she’d been eating ice cream straight from the carton. His curly hair sticks up oddly in the back, probably from June’s headboard and pillows while he read her a bedtime story.  

She sighs.  

“I was approached by a campaign advisory committee this morning. They want me to consider running for mayor.”  

Oscar’s face breaks out in a wide grin, “Hey, that’s amazing, El!” He wraps his arms around her and hugs her tight.  

Then, he pulls back and frowns. “That is amazing, right? I mean, it's not Congress or Governor or anything, but Mayor of Austin isn’t anything to scoff at, and everyone has to start somewhere and...that’s not it? That’s not it.”  

Ellen shakes her head, then reaches into her pocket for the plastic stick stuck hastily in a Ziploc sandwich baggy that’s been making its home there since 9:47 that morning, directly after her meeting with the advisory committee.  

The bathroom at her office has a clock, for some unfathomable reason. Came in handy for her two-minute wait, though.  

It takes Oscar a solid thirty seconds to put it together.  

“Wait, wait, wait. What? What? El, I swear on my mother’s life I got that vasectomy, I promise you, there’s no...oh. Oh, fuck. Fuck. The tequila.” 

Their horny asses went to Ellen’s high school reunion, got ridiculously and gracelessly drunk on tequila with her old marching band friends, stumbled back to their room at the Fort Hood Days Inn at three in the morning and decided tempting fate was fun. Because two months was basically almost three, and who cares if we don’t have a condom, you can pull out, it’ll be fine, and, and--  

“Uh huh.” 

“Fuck,” Oscar whispers again, burying his face in his hands. “I’m so sorry, El.”  

And he is, she knows he is. Because he loves her. If Oscar had his way, though, they’d probably already have three or four children running around the house. He comes from a big Catholic, Mexican family. He loves kids.  

He’s not the one who has to carry them, though. He’s not the one who has to deliver them.  

He’s not the one who has to deal with society’s expectations of motherhood while also pressing forward with a budding political career.  

Oscar had been skeptical when Ellen first presented her PowerPoint on the pros and cons of June being an only child, but he’d eventually conceded to her point.  

June is enough. June is fucking perfect, and lovely, and everything they will ever need.  

Apparently, the universe, tequila, and this little longshot from their wild night in Lometa do not agree.  

“So,” he finally begins, after a long silence. “What’s our move?” 

“What do you mean?”  

“I mean, no uterus, no opinion. What do you want, El?”  

“Oh.”  

What does she want?  

Right now, she wants to eat her rocky road ice cream straight out of the carton. Tomorrow, she wants to get the laundry done. Next month, she’d like to get June an interview for that fancy preschool on the other side of town. Five years from now, she wants to be elected to Congress. And someday... 

Someday... 

“Both.” Ellen finally finds herself saying, her voice firm. “I want to do both. I can do both, we can—yeah. We can do this. I’ll be the best fucking Mayor Mom this town has ever seen, just you wait.”  

And Oscar’s grin is blinding, because he loves kids and he loves her and he’s happy, so he hugs her tight and twirls her around, kisses her sweetly and smiles again.  

“This kid never hears any of this, though. Not the vasectomy, not the tequila, and please God, not that fucking PowerPoint.” 

“Oh yeah, absolutely not. They’d hate us forever.”  

Mayor Mom. Ellen Claremont likes the sound of that.  

*** 

*** 

*** 

Twelve months later, Mayor Ellen Claremont regrets everything.  

“Alex, Alex, baby please. Please stop crying. Shhhh, shhh, it’s okay. It’s okay, honey. Shhhhh,” Ellen whispers, rocking back and forth in the chair by the window and rubbing her son’s back as he sobs his little heart out. “Shhhh, Alex. Shhhhh.”  

Ellen did not factor a baby with colic into any of her plans.  

[She also, funnily enough, had not originally factored a second baby into her plans either but such is life.] 

Patience, she tells herself. Patience.  

“I know, sweetheart, I know,” Ellen says, resting Alex against her chest before she wipes the tears from her own eyes. She’s never felt exhaustion like this before. Not during college, not during law school or her first year as a junior associate. Not even after June was born.  

Alexander Gabriel Claremont-Diaz is a loud and stubborn SOB, with a fire under his ass for no good reason.  

He, most unfortunately, inherited that from her. 

As Alex’s cries fade into tired, heart-wrenching whimpers, Ellen leans back her head and closes her eyes.  

“Mama, tell baby to stop.” Ellen jerks awake to the little voice at her elbow; she looks down at her daughter’s wide brown eyes and Lion King pajamas and blinks.  

“Mama, it’s sleep time. Baby needs to sleep,” June says emphatically, before climbing up into Ellen’s lap and settling herself against her free arm. June reaches out her little fingers and begins slowly brushing Alex’s thick curls.  

And Alex....Alex falls asleep.  

“Oh my God,” Ellen whispers, staring down in wonder at her finally slumbering infant before she turns her gaze on her three-year-old. “You’re an angel.”   

“No, Mama,” June says with a giggle, “I’m your Junebug!”  

“I love you,” Ellen whispers, pressing a smacking kiss to June’s head before cuddling her closer. June grabs the afghan resting on the back of the rocking chair and uses it to cover them all.  

“I love you more,” June informs her, before digging her head into Ellen’s neck and promptly falling asleep.  

Ellen has a meeting at City Hall in three hours. Ellen’s gotten a grand total of twelve hours of sleep over the last four days. Ellen is very slowly dying from all the ridiculous expectations and responsibilities she’s saddled herself with.  

Mayor Ellen Claremont looks down at the two beautiful little babies sleeping against her chest, breathes in the baby powder and lotion and no tears shampoo, and knows immediately and distinctly that someday soon, she will miss this. She will miss these exhausting nights and these little bodies and the ability to hold her children close to her heart in every possible way. 

Oscar wakes them all up two hours later. He’s sure to get a picture of the scene first, of his wife and children asleep in the rocker, Ellen and June’s hair both rumpled messes, June reaching across Ellen’s chest to hold her baby brother’s tiny hand.  

*** 

*** 

*** 

“And then,” Alex continues, “Jorge didn’t want to share the pink whale puzzle, but Mary really wanted to do the puzzle, too. So, I told Jorge, I say, why are you being so stupid? Mary’s the best at puzzles, she can help, and you’ll both be happy. And then Mary showed him how to find all the corner pieces and how to pick all the edgy ones and make piles on the colors, but Jorge, Mama, Jorge thought brown was green! And he couldn’t tell red and purple apart, and he said, he said there’s something from his Mama’s jeans, and he can’t see color right! Isn’t that weird, why would your pants make it hard for me to see color?”  

June has always been a pensive and introspective child. The conversations she chooses to have are thoughtful and sweet and often very meaningful. She’s a quiet girl, and sometimes that worries Ellen, but her Junebug makes friends easily and always speaks up when she needs to be heard.  

Alex, on the other hand, could talk to a wall. 

Patience, she tells herself. Patience.   

“Jorge doesn’t mean blue jeans, baby, he means,” Ellen rubs a tired hand down her face, the words on the memo before her all blending together. She has a JD not an MD, how the fuck is Ellen Claremont supposed to know how to explain DNA and reproduction to her five-year-old? “He means genes, G-E-N-E-S.”  

“Oh.”  

With a deep breath and a silent apology to her assistant, Ellen pushes away the memo and swivels her chair to face Alex.  

“You know how everyone always tells you that you look just like Papi?” Alex nods. “That’s because of your genes. Jorge’s abuelo can’t see color, and that’s why Jorge can’t either.” 

“Oh,” Alex stresses, his face brightening. “That makes sense!”  

It doesn’t, but Ellen thinks it suffices for now. She swivels back to her desk, back to the elusive and mind-numbing memo, when Alex looks up again from his coloring book and jumps up suddenly, sticking his tanned arm out next to her own pale skin with a frown on his face.  

“Mama, why don’t I have your genes too?”  

Ellen looks up, mouth opening and closing exactly four times before she abandons the memo completely and plucks Alex up in her arms, carrying him over to the bathroom around the corner and settling him on the counter to face the mirror.  

“I’m right here,” Ellen begins, reaching out a finger to brush back his long curls and trace the widow’s peak across Alex hairline before tracing her own.  

“And here,” Ellen says, dragging her finger delicately across the baby fat on Alex’s square jaw, then pointing out her own.  

“And here.” Ellen tugs gently on Alex’s slightly stuck out ears, nudging his detached earlobes, before reaching up for her own earrings with a smile.  

“And here!” Alex says with glee, getting up on his knees to tap Ellen’s nose and scrunching up his own button nose in a smile.  

“And, my most favorite of all,” Ellen grins, and attacks Alex’s rounded belly with tickles. He giggles madly with delight, squirming fruitlessly to escape. His smile is blinding and bright, a perfect match to her own.  

“Why’s everyone always say I look like, Papi, Mama?” Alex asks after they’ve settled down, still studying them both in the mirror. “We’re twins!”  

“No idea, baby. People are just stupid sometimes.”  

*** 

*** 

*** 

“You know the drill, kiddo. One good thing, one bad thing,” Ellen says as she tucks Alex’s into bed, before drawing the curtains tightly shut and plugging in his spaceship nightlight.  

She's been gone most of the week, canvasing the district for campaign fundraising events. It turns out running for re-election in the Texas House of Representative is not a cheap endeavor.  

Her son has not appreciated her absence.   

Alex scrunches up his nose. “Abuela made us fish for dinner. Fish is gross. I hate fish.” 

Ellen takes a long, deep breath. She hasn’t seen her baby in a week. He’s allowed to be mad at her. He’s seven and tired and he missed her.  

Patience, she tells herself. Patience.  

“So, what’s your good thing?”  

“Nothing,” Alex says petulantly. His voice is congested, like he’s catching a cold. “I had a very bad day.”  

Ellen kisses the top of his head and turns out the light on his nightstand. “Well, I’m very sorry to hear that, baby. I hope tomorrow is a better day. I love you.”  

“Okay,” Alex mumbles, before pulling his blankets over his head and rolling away from her. She thought she had another few years at least before he became a teenager. With a shake of her head and an eyeroll, Ellen exits the room.  

*** 

“Alex! Alex! Alexander Gabriel, I have told you three times you need to get out of bed, we’re going to be late! I’ve got a meeting with the governor in thirty minutes!” 

Oscar went into work early that morning, took June to her piano lesson before school. Which left Ellen, for better or for worse, on Alex duty. She’s hoped the extra hour to sleep in would help Alex’s mood.  

His absence at the breakfast counter currently seems to indicate that’s a no go.  

“Alex!” she yells again up the stairs, before storming them herself, her heels clacking menacingly on the hardwood. She doesn’t have time for this today. “Alexander Gabriel you’d better—oh, fucking Christ.” she finishes in a whisper, sprinting down the hallway.  

“Alex,” she whispers, dropping to her knees before the little body slumped by the bathroom door. She turns him over quickly, runs her hands across his forehead to find it burning.  

“Jesus Christ,” she whispers, scooping Alex up into her arms with a grunt and making her way to the shower. With one hand, she turns the knob, testing that it’s lukewarm before flicking on the shower head and pulling them both into the tub to sit, fully clothed.  

Alex flinches away from the drops, digging his hot face into her neck.  

“Mama,” he whines, “Whysit rainin’?”  

Ellen raises a hand to protect Alex’s eyes from the water and takes a long, shuddering breath.  

“Just--just a couple more minutes, baby.” she says, swallowing thickly. “Just a couple more.”  

Alex’s temperature, once they exit the shower and Ellen’s strips him of the wet pajamas and dries him off, is 103.4.  

Ellen makes him drink a glass of water, which he pukes up on her shoes ten minutes later. She gets him new pajamas, tucks him into her and Oscar’s bed, and gets him ginger ale and some saltines before she calls the pediatrician.  

After receiving confirmation that her child is, in fact, not dying and probably just has a mild strain of the flu, Ellen quibbles briefly with the doctor on the definition of the word ‘mild’ and promises to bring Alex in if his temperature rises above 104 or if he continues to puke up fluids. 

She calls Zahra next and asks her to reschedule her meeting with the governor.  

[“What the fuck am I supposed to tell him?” Zahra asks.  

“Tell him I’m at home being a mother. That seems to be the only thing old white men have ever wanted from me anyway.”] 

And then, State Representative Ellen Claremont finally, finally changes out of her dripping clothes, wipes the streaked mascara off her cheeks, puts her pajamas back on and slips into the bed next to her sleeping son.  

The Grinch is playing softly on the TV in the corner. Out the window, a rare Austin snow begins to fall. 

“One good thing, one bad thing,” Ellen asks Alex a few hours later, after she takes his temperature again.  

[101.5. And he had a Gatorade. Apparently, the doctor was maybe possibly correct about the mild part of Alex’s flu.] 

“My tummy still hurts,” Alex says softly, idly twirling Ellen’s engagement ring around her finger as she hugs him close from behind.  

“I’m sorry, baby,” Ellen whispers. She wonders if he’ll ever know just how sorry she is. “It’s okay if you don’t have a good thing today. It’s a bad day.” 

Alex is silent for a moment before he shakes his head. “I got to spend the day with you.”  

*** 

*** 

*** 

“Run me through it one more time.”  

“Mom,” Alex whines, leaning his head back in exasperation. “I’ll be fine. I promise.”  

“Alex--,” 

“Mom, seriously. You can trust me. I won’t burn down the house or anything. I’m very mature.”  

“Baby, that’s not why I’m worried,” Ellen says quickly, shaking her head. “Just--just walk me through it one more time.  

Alex very valiantly refrains from rolling his eyes. “School ends at three ten PM. I leave school. I get on the bus. I sit next to Liam on the bus. We exchange Pokémon cards--,” 

“Alex.”  

“Sorry, sorry. I get off the bus at three fifty-two PM. I walk two blocks,” he says pointedly, eyes bright as he stares at Ellen. “Back to our house. I use my key,” he lifts the new key Ellen just placed around his neck not five minutes before up slightly by the chain, like he’s showing off a gold medal, “to get in the house. I lock the door behind me. I do not use the stove or oven. I do not answer the door or phone unless I know who it is. I sit quietly and finish my homework, after which I may turn on the TV.”  

He ticks out his fingers as he lists off each step, his hip cocked out and eyes blazing and not for the first time, Ellen accepts the fact that she and Oscar have raised their own little lawyer.  

Monkey see, monkey do.  

“At five fifteen PM, June will be dropped off from cross-country practice. Dad gets home at five-thirty, we make dinner, throw a party, yada yada--,” 

“You forgot one.”  

Alex’s head whips up to look at her, before looking back down at his outstretched fingers as though they’ll be able to tell him which step he missed.  

“You call me,” Ellen reminds him, kneeling before him and tucking the key back underneath his shirt to rest against his heart. “When you get home, you call me. And you don’t take that key off under any circumstances. Not ever. Do you understand?”  

He nods in agreement. “I’ll be fine, Mom. I promise.” 

And so, Representative Ellen Claremont sends her little latchkey child off to school.  

*** 

*** 

*** 

“Ease up on the gas there, kiddo,” Ellen says calmly, her fingernails making dents in the leather of the seat beneath her. “The speed limit’s sixty-five.  

“I’m only going seventy--,” 

“It’s my car. And I have no interest in reading some stupid blurb on CNN about the Speaker of the House being chased down by the Texas Highway Patrol tomorrow.”  

Alex slows down.  

“You’re harshing my vibe, Mama,” Alex says with a shit grin, before reaching down to the cupholder for his sunglasses.  

“Two hands on the wheel, smartass,” Ellen says with a laugh. “How many hours do I have left of this torture? And why the hell didn’t I make your dad do this with you again?”  

Alex’s grin fades slightly. “I need fifty driving hours with a licensed driver from Texas.” he responds evenly, hidden eyes on the brilliant orange sunset and open sky before them. “Shoulda thought about changing those laws when you had the chance, huh?”  

Ellen grins thinly. They drive in silence for a bit, radio blasting and windows open, until Ellen points to an exit with a sign for Dairy Queen and they finally get off the highway. They get out of the car and sit on the empty patio as the sun sets before them a few minutes later, Ellen with her brownie blizzard and Alex wolfing down his own Reese’s. 

“There’s something we need to talk about,” Ellen finally says, and Alex’s eyes go wide, because last time she said that to him she was announcing her engagement to Leo.  

The time before that was when Oscar moved out.  

“It’s not—I mean,” Ellen takes a deep breath and wipes her mouth with a napkin before resting her hands primly in her lap and looking her son in the eye. “I have a team putting together an exploratory committee. It’s in the very early stages, but I’m considering running in twenty-sixteen.”  

Alex begins choking on his ice cream. He raises a hand calling her off, but ends up coughing so long that Ellen’s on her feet, ready to perform the Heimlich on her sixteen-year-old idiot when: 

“For president?”  

“Yes.”  

“Of the United States of America?”  

“No, of Blockbuster Video.”  

“Mom--,” 

“Yes, of the United States of America.” She looks around them for people listening in, but the patio’s deserted and DQ’s getting ready to close. “And I wanted to know your thoughts.”  

“My thoughts?”  

“Yes, Alex, your thoughts.” Patience, she tells herself. Patience. 

“Davies might give it a go, but he won’t win anywhere but Iowa,” Alex says immediately, taking off his sunglasses. “I’ve heard Clinton’s considering a run, so you’ll have to keep an eye on her. Holleran’s definitely gonna be the favorite to start, but he’ll probably be finished by Nevada. We’ll have to watch out though, apparently his granddaughter is some kind of wickedly beautiful computer hacking savant, so we need to be careful of social media ads and voter fraud. If we can get Obama’s endorsement early--,” 

“Alex--,” Ellen finally interrupts, her voice a rasp. “I didn’t mean....” she trails off. 

“What?”  

“I meant how you felt personally about me running. I wasn’t looking for advice.” Sounds like Holleran’s granddaughter is definitely worth keeping an eye on, though.  

“Personally?”  

“Yes,” Ellen says slowly. “Even if I lose, this will put all of us in the spotlight for a while. It’s all, campaigning and primaries and debates, it’s a long time, Alex. It’s a lot of work. It’ll make the last two years of high school very difficult for you. And if--,” Ellen takes a deep breath. “If I did somehow win, we’re in the spotlight forever. Your college experience would be very, very different to June’s. There’s so much to consider, baby. And I don’t need to know your thoughts now, I’ll give you some time to--,” 

“You have to do it.” His voice is full of so much light, and confidence, and hope it makes every single part of Ellen’s chest ache.  

“Baby--,”  

“You have to, Mom.” He repeats, reaching forward and grabbing her hand. His is sticky from the ice cream, but for the life of her, Ellen couldn’t even consider letting it go. “You’re--it’s like—you were meant to do this. You were born to make history.” 

She’s not going to cry. She’s not. She absolutely refuses to cry.  

“You’ll win, Mom. I know you will. Because you’re the person who always knows how to do the most good. You believe in decency and honor and truth and somewhere along the line, our country forgot how much those things matter. But you never did. You value hard work, and family and—and life. Everyone’s lives. You don’t see the lines, you see the big picture, the potential for what the whole can be. You’re the real deal, and anyone who can’t see that immediately is an idiot, Madam President.”  

Idly, as her eyes finally flood with tears, Ellen wonders at the chances of she and her son having this conversation with their roles flipped thirty years from now.  

“I’ve literally won nothing yet, you little shit,” Ellen says as she uses her napkin to blow her nose. “I’d say that name is a bit premature.  

Alex grins. “I wanted to be first. Plus, I’m not wrong. If you run, you’ll win. The Lometa Longshot always wins.” 

*** 

Alex is not wrong.   

*** 

*** 

*** 

The red of Alex’s blood matches the polish on Ellen’s fingernails.  

The blood has dried dark all over her hands, staining the cuffs of her pink Chanel blazer and digging into the lines across her palms. She studies her left hand slowly, appraising, in the silence of the barricaded waiting room.  

There was an episode of the West Wing like this once, Ellen remembers. The president actually got shot that time, though.  

The silence of the small, lonely room is punctuated only by the ticking of the analogue clock on the wall.  

9:47, the clock tells her, and something harsh and awful digs itself deep in her chest. She looks down at her right hand and finds it clenched in a fist, new blood dripping down her fingers around the once golden key in her hand.  

You don’t take that key off under any circumstances. Not ever. Do you understand?  

Sometimes, Ellen thinks, the most terrifying thing a child can do is trust their parents.  

There’s a ring looped around the same chain, a heavy gold signet that matches the gold of the key. She wonders how long Alex has been wearing it. She wonders if it means he and Henry planned on getting married.  

She wonders just how much of her child’s life she’s missed.  

“I got to spend the day with you.”  

The door to the waiting room finally opens, and Cash, Amy and Zahra file in, Zahra with a new bundle of clothes in her hands, their faces unreadable.  

“Is he dead?” Ellen asks, voice low. “Is my son dead?”  

“No,” Amy says. Her ‘not yet’ seems to settle like a haze in the room, choking them all.  

“Who did this?”  

Amy clears her throat. “We don’t know yet, ma’am--,” 

“Where is my family?”  

“June and Leo are secure. Senator Diaz is on his way. The Veep has been informed, he’s en route to the residence.” 

Ellen squeezes her right hand again, the pain of the key grinding into her palm, grounding her. “Have we made contact with Kensington?” 

Zahra steps forward. “They’re aware, ma’am. Delays are expected due to the European ice storms, but once they have clearance from Buckingham they’ll be en route.” 

“Who did we lose?”  

Cash bows his head. Amy says, “Brookes and Meyer are dead.”  

Ellen closes her eyes.  

“I want to see my son.”  

“Ma’am,” Cash begins. “You can’t--,” 

Patience, she thinks. Pa-- 

Fuck it.   

“I’m done with this bullshit. I will fucking see my dying son if I fucking wish to see my dying son. I’m the goddamn President of this shithole nightmare, and you work for me.” Ellen stands, leaving her voice waspishly even. Cash, a foot taller than her, seems to shrink the closer she walks to him.  

“Or, you did. You did, and I trusted you, and now my baby,” Ellen’s voice breaks. “My baby is dying. And I cannot bring myself to look at you. You’re dismissed.” 

“Ma’am--,” 

“I said you’re dismissed, Cassius. If I have to repeat myself, I’m going to start fucking screaming.”  

Cash leaves.  

“Do either of you want to try locking me in another windowless room?” Ellen asks, eyebrows raised. Amy and Zahra do not respond. Amy opens the door.   

They take her to the operating theater. She looks through the window at the doctors and nurses attempting to keep her child alive, looks at the cap hiding his widow’s peak and the tube through his lips and down his throat and his heart opened wide to the world and thinks I did this.  

I did this.  

I’m right here, her memories scream, as she stares at the piece of herself she willingly gave to the world, slipping away before her eyes. I’m right here.   

You’re the one I never wanted; she thinks.  

You're the one I never deserved; she knows.  

You were born to make history, Alex whispers, his blood still staining her hands.  

Not like this, she thinks. Please, not like this.  

Chapter Text

***

Henry turns over for the fourth time in as many minutes, punches Alex’s much too stiff memory foam pillows into some semblance of comfort, and lays back down on his side, staring forlornly at Alex’s opened closet door.  

He can’t sleep.  

Not that insomnia is an entirely new concept to him by any means, but Henry is fucking exhausted. He wants to sleep. He needs to sleep.  

He just...can’t.  

Henry’s contemplating returning to the ghastly pink monstrosity of a room that had actually been assigned to him, or perhaps going to June’s room to sleep on her sofa when his mobile begins to ring.  

Call from Philip  

10:38 pm  

Henry holds the phone vibrating in his hands, simply staring for a solid ten seconds before he finally answers the call.  

“Hello?” he asks, attempting to discreetly clear the exhaustion from his throat.  

“Oh--Ah, hullo, Henry. Christ, I’m sorry, were you asleep? Of course, you were, I’m being an arse, I’m so--,”  

“Pip,” Henry interrupts, sitting up as he rubs his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. “It’s fine. I was actually having trouble falling asleep anyway. Why are you awake? It’s not even four there yet, is it?”  

Philip clears his throat. “I--erm, well, Bea’s just gotten home, and she’s exhausted but I thought—well she’s home safe, flight went well, no complications with the weather and such and I—I figured you’d like to know.”  

It turns out, shockingly, that Henry’s the real arse; he’d completely forgotten to even think about Bea’s flight home after she’d said goodbye that afternoon at the hospital.  

“Oh, yes, thanks for sharing, that’s--that’s good news. I’m glad,” Henry says stupidly.  

There’s a long moment of silence across the line.  

“How have you been?” Philip finally asks, his voice tight with something Henry doesn’t know to name.  

“Honestly?” Henry asks, because he’s fucking tired, and he doesn’t truly feel like bothering with a response unless his brother actually wants to know.  

“Honestly.”   

“I--,” Henry starts, and something in his throat unexpectedly catches. He stares around Alex’s bedroom, sees Alex’s coat on the hook and his books by the bed, his messenger bag opened and sprawled at the desk, he smells the sheets and pillows that waft hints of cinnamon and pine needles and ink and something distinctly Alex and-- 

“I think I owe Mum an apology.” Henry’s voice is a bit breathless, and his eyes are filling with tears, and where the fucking hell did this even come from? He was fine just five minutes ago, and Alex will be fine and Bea is home safe and-- 

Philip is quiet another long moment. “There’s a rather large difference between forgiveness and empathy, Henry. It’s not one’s job to forgive, just because one understands. Sometimes forgiveness ought to be earned.” 

… 

... 

What the fuck?  

Philip chuckles lightly across the line, and Henry realizes he’s said the thought aloud. “When did you wise up, Pip, and how did I miss it?” Philip’s chuckle turns into a laugh.  

[He has Dad’s laugh. Henry’s almost forgotten the sound.] 

“Mazzy was rather...adamant that I seek professional help once we found out the baby was coming. It’s, ah, it’s certainly not been a walk in the park, but according to Martha I now have an EQ much higher than an acorn, so that’s a marked improvement.” The admission startles a laugh out of Henry; he can picture the grin of a much younger Philip in reply.   

“And our child will have plenty time and opportunity of create her own personal issues as the future Queen of England, no need to inherit all of mine. Well, that’s what Martha says, anyway.” 

Henry’s mouth feels suddenly very dry.  

“You’re having a girl?”  

“Oh, yes, we—sorry, we told Mum yesterday, and I’ve worked it out with Gran, she’s signed all the paperwork finally. Our daughter will inherit, even if she has little brothers, so that’s--we’re happy. We’re both very happy.”  

He truly does sound happy, happier than Henry’s heard his brother sound in years, and something in his heart that’s been long-knotted and hidden away in the back tugs for the first time in a long, long while.  

“Good for you, Pip,” Henry says, voice hoarse.  

“Thank you,” he replies quietly. Philip sniffs and clears his throat quickly. “Ah, speaking of Gran,” he adds, a bit of the pomp returning to his voice; Henry grins. “I’ve gotten you excused from Christmas at Sandringham, it’s all squared away with Mum and Gran, so don’t feel like you need to rush home.”  

Henry’s throat feels thick. “Oh.”  

“That is,” Philip backtracks quickly, sounding very uncertain, “You don’t--I mean, of course you’re still invited to family Christmas, we’d never, we’ll miss you surely, but I’d figured you’d want to be in Washington with Alex as he recovers and I—Christ, I should have asked you. I’m sorry I didn’t ask you, I should never have assumed--,” 

 “Thank you,” Henry interrupts emphatically. “I appreciate it, truly. I was getting ready to call Mum about it tomorrow. Alex’s parents have already asked me to stick around for Christmas, and I—I do wish to stay.”  

Something rustles on the other side of the line. “We will miss you, Henry. Haven’t had a Christmas without you since you were born,” Philip remarks idly, and Henry’s eyes grow hot. “Won’t be the same without your sparkly candy cane jim-jams.” 

Henry laughs. “Bea can wear them; I grant her permission. Or perhaps Simon, he’s probably tall enough now.”   

“We may have a fight on our hands then,” Philip says, chuckling again. He breathes softly twice, then asks, “How is Alex?”  

Henry pauses, considering.  

“He’s tired,” he finally decides. “In all the ways one may be.”  

Philip hums in something like agreement before speaking again.  

“One of my best mates in basic, Rupert, was recommended for SAS training. He was shot on a mission in Afghanistan two years ago, similar body placement and bullet caliber to Alex,” Philip explains. “He’s all right now. Completely fine, back on his squad and everything, but it was—it was very difficult at the beginning. I phoned him last week; he offered to speak with Alex if—well, if Alex would like a conversation with someone of similar experience, I mean. I can give you the number...”  

That’s the one that finally sets Henry over the edge. Because who the hell is this brother, this awkward, rambling older brother who phones him about Bea’s flights and goes to therapy, who cares about his wife’s opinions and fights Gran of all people for his unborn daughter’s right to the throne? 

This brother who sticks up for Henry, who cares about Henry, who calls up old mates from the army to talk about Henry’s boyfriend and his recovery? 

Henry puts down his phone and quickly slaps a hand over his mouth, trying desperately to muffle his sob.  

“Henry?” the tinny voice asks through the line, “Hen, you still there?” The unexpected return of his childhood nickname just makes Henry cry harder, tears lines of fire down his cheeks.  

“Sorry, sorry,” Henry finally picks up the phone again, voice warbling. “Sorry I—just—I’m exhausted, and you’re being kind--,” 

“Oh, Henry,” Philip says sadly, his own voice choked. “God, Hen, I’m just being decent. Christ, I...” he trails off. Henry can picture him shaking his head, rubbing his hand against his mouth. Wallowing.  

[He’d been the one to sit with Henry That Night, after Shaan woke them all with the news. Bea had been at her boyfriend’s place, and Mum at Clarence House, but Philip and Martha were in London for the weekend, staying at Kensington.  

Martha had been in a state herself, eight months pregnant and running about, making tea and serving biscuits, keeping her hands busy and trying to pretend she wasn’t crying. Shaan had paced about the sitting room, making call after call, his hands shaking as he dialed each number and wrote down notes in his pad.  

But Philip sat next to Henry the whole night long, his hand a vice around Henry’s, his arm tight about Henry’s shoulders, his voice low and calm, reminding him to breathe, telling Henry to count his heartbeats.  

“We’ll take care of it,” Philip kept repeating, as he let Henry hide in face in his neck like a child and watched the news on mute from the television along the wall. His fingers scratched soothingly at the nape of Henry’s neck. “Don’t think, Hen. We’ll get it sorted.” 

I’ll take care of you, Philip had all but said, all night long. He’d held Henry’s hand until hours later when the sun rose out the window and Henry was nearly suffocated by both his siblings and their mother piled together on the sofa. He’d held Henry close and anchored him in place, when all Henry wanted was to float away.  

Philip never said it would all be fine. He never promised Alex would be all right. Because his brother is a realist, and, for all his faults, the most honest and loyal person Henry knows.]   

“I love you,” Philip finally says, “I love you, and I always have; you deserve to hear it from me more than just the bad times. And it’s all right if you don’t believe me, or if you can’t say if back. My love for you is unconditional, even if it hasn’t felt like that as of late.”  

Perhaps, Henry can’t help but think, Christmas miracles really do exist after all.  

*** 

After hanging up the call, Henry stares dumbly down at the phone in his hands for a few moments before unlocking it once again. He’s at his favorites page, ready to press his thumb on Alex’s name before stopping short.  

Alex is in hospital. Alex is most likely asleep. Alex needs to sleep.  

Alex is the only person in the world Henry wants to speak with right now.  

With a sigh, Henry locks his phone and rolls himself off Alex’s bed, slipping his hand quickly under the sham and grasping Alex’s emergency stash of Maker’s Mark. He opens the bottle and takes a long pull, resigning himself to a long, contemplative night.  

*** 

An hour later, Henry, slightly drunk and desperately hungry, shuts his laptop on the latest episode of Bake Off, picks himself off the floor and stumbles out Alex’s bedroom door in search of the kitchen.  

Henry does not find the kitchen.  

Instead, he finds a sitting room where a mysterious lump is hidden beneath an afghan on the sofa with a pack of Jaffa Cakes resting on her stomach, watching George McKay and Saoirse Ronan parody his parents’ wedding day. 

“Christ sake, June, I thought you had better taste in television. You actually watch this rubbish? Good lord.” Henry takes a seat at the end of the sofa and shakes his head at the screen in disgust. “The Crown. What a load of shite.” 

“This load of shite, ” the lump begins whilst sitting up, voice a long drawl, “Has won four Emmys and five Golden Globes. Though, I suppose I can’t fault you for trying to avoid watching a re-enactment of your parents’ sex life.” 

“Ah. Hello, ma’am.”  

The President of the United States rolls her eyes at Henry, before reaching forward, sliding the pack of Jaffa Cakes into Henry’s hands and snatching up the bottle of Maker’s from his lap, taking her own, long pull. “Terribly sorry, Your Royal Highness, but needs must and all.”  

Henry’s met the President before, he has, both as the head of a foreign nation and as his boyfriend’s mother. He knows her through research and structured visits, through stories and conversations and, most importantly, through the children she’s raised.  

But, within that ten seconds, Henry feels he knows Ellen Claremont better than he ever imagined to presume he would.  

“This episode is called ‘Henry’, because it started with your dad playing Henry V and your parents meeting and tricking the PPOs to go dancing in London. It was all very clandestine and romantic and now you’re named Henry, and it’s very sweet. June told me the internet went wild for it. Lots of crying emojis and ‘I can’t even’s in the message boards when this season dropped last month.” 

“They did an adequate job on the dress,” Henry concedes with a grunt, unwrapping a Jaffa Cake as he begrudgingly watches his “parents” kiss at the altar of Westminster Abbey.  

The bottle clicks against the president’s ring as she takes another long swig. “Goddamn poofy sleeves. Why did your mom have to choose such poofy sleeves? I got married seven years after her, and everyone still had those awful poofy sleeves. Took me fucking ages to find a wedding dress without them.” 

Henry doesn’t want to laugh. Truly, he doesn’t. Because just yesterday Henry held Alex as he cried into his chest, his voice hoarse and body shaking when he asked why his mother didn’t want to see him. Because just last week, Henry hugged June close and squeezed her hand while she raged, then sobbed, about the fight she’d had with her mother.  

Because three weeks ago, the woman before him called her son and asked him to make a speech at the opening of the new Natural History Museum exhibit.  

[“I dunno, Mom, it’s finals week, and I’ll have to watch David while Henry is gone, and--,”  

“Baby, June’s in California, Mike and his family left for vacation, Leo and I’ll be flying in from Switzerland that morning, and the forecast isn’t looking great. I don’t want them to be without a keynote speaker if we get delayed.” 

“Mom--,” 

“I’m playing the ‘I changed your poopy diapers’ card. Also, the ‘you had colic and I didn’t sleep for a year’ card. C’mon, sugar, it’s a fundraiser for endangered species. Think of the manatees! The koalas! The penguins--,” 

“Fine! Fine, Mom, I'll be there. It’ll have to be a quick trip though. I really need to study.” 

“It will, it will, I promise.] 

But, nearly against his will, Henry finds himself laughing, because he is a bit drunk, the sleeves are rather horrendous, and—and, 

She sounds just like Alex.  

The president smiles slightly, then nudges Henry’s knee with her socked foot. “So, do you make a habit of drinking straight from the bottle, or is there something on your mind?”  

“I decided it was best to eliminate Alex’s secret stash before he comes home from hospital,” Henry evades neatly. The president tilts her head, appraising, before reaching for the remote and switching the television back to cable.  

An innocuous blonde actress in a wool coat and perfectly slouched beanie nearly slips on the ice as her blandly handsome beau catches her round the waist. Snow is falling lightly and white lights twinkle merrily in the trees surrounding the perfect little pond in the woods.  

“June and Alex used to play a drinking game with these shitty Hallmark movies,” the president says with a short laugh. “Take a shot every time someone goes ice skating, sledding, or--,” 

“Leaves the big city for their tiny hometown.” Henry finishes, and the president raises her eyebrow.  

“Well,” she says, taking a long drink, then handing him back the bottle of whiskey, “Looks like they’re ice skating.”  

“Cheers.” Henry raises the bottle, wondering just how long it will take to make him regret this.  

*** 

The answer is thirty-seven minutes into ‘The Christmas Pageant’, during which the main characters ice skate twice, it snows five times, and the movie begins with the former Broadway director lead leaving New York for quaint suburbia against her will. The president makes him drink every time that fact is mentioned. 

[They decide, five minutes in to the movie, to add drinking any time it snows, there's a horse-drawn carriage ride, or the female lead trips to the list. Feminism is, unfortunately, not a very coveted moral within the Hallmark cinematic universe.]

“You aren’t drinking!” Henry realizes at minute thirty-eight, mouth open in indignation as he stares at the sobering president. She snorts at his expression.  

“I have a call with Trudeau at seven tomorrow morning. Won’t help anybody if I’m hungover.”  

Henry rolls his eyes. “I could get you out of it.”  

The president laughs out loud. “Yeah, you probably could. Joys of the Commonwealth, I guess.”  

“Bet you’re regretting that breakup now.”  

“I cannot believe you just called the American Revolution a breakup.”  

“I’m drunk, leave me alone, Stalin.”  

“Stalin?”   

“He did that, too, with the fake drinking. He would have elaborate dinner parties and pretend to drink with his guests, until the whole room was ridiculously sloshed, besides Stalin, of course, who’d been drinking water the whole time. He used the advantage to learn his guests’ deepest, darkest secrets.” 

“Lovely. So, Henry, what are your deepest, darkest secrets?”  

“I believe you learned absolutely all of them when the Daily Mail published our emails. What are yours?”  

The president hums, considering. “It’s snowing,” she finally says, and Henry looks up at the TV screen, nearly empty bottle raised in preparation.   

“No, it’s n--,” he starts, but the president points out the window, where a light snow has begun to fall. Henry rises on wobbly feet and walks to the window to watch. There’s a lovely view of the rose garden from this vantage; the bench Alex tripped over, the tree where they first kissed.  

Henry recalls it now, the memory vivid and overwhelming; his own heart pounding, Alex’s cheeks flushed with the cold; Alex’s fingers brushing against his own as they stared up at the cloudy sky, at the gray nothing hiding everything good and beautiful beyond; Alex’s lips, slick and warm and wonderful beneath his own.  

Henry had expected Alex, expected the moment and time and action to feel like a new beginning, an adventure, exciting and exhilarating and absolutely terrifying all at once.  

And it was.  

But in the end, the most terrifying thing about kissing Alex Claremont-Diaz had been the ease of it, the comfort. Even then, even the very first time, Alex had felt like home. 

“I didn’t want Alex,” the president says suddenly, and Henry turns around so fast he stumbles into a leather armchair. He sits down in the chair and stares at her. “I convinced Oscar to get a vasectomy when June was two. I wanted her to be an only child. Then we both got wasted at my high school reunion, before his vasectomy was completely effective and one thing led to another and--,” 

“Alex.”  

The president points a finger at him. “That’s my deepest, darkest secret. You and Oscar are the only people in the world who know it. Didn’t want him, definitely don’t deserve him. I don’t deserve either of my kids, really. I’ve been a very selfish parent.”  

“Why do you say that?”  

“My ambition has precluded everything else in my life. Instead of making my children the sun, I've dragged them along for my own revolutions. And this is it,” she continues, voice breaking. “I’m a second term president, this is—there's nowhere else to go from here. I made it to the top, and now I go—who knows, buy a basketball team? Paint dog portraits? I retire from politics forever because I have to and devote myself to my adult children, who would have rather had me for their childhood. Who wanted to stay in Texas, and be normal and have their dad around and not get fucking shot-- ,”  

The president buries her face in her hands. Gingerly, Henry rises from the armchair and sits beside her on the sofa. He lays a hand on her shoulder.  

“Have you seen the video?” She asks.  

“Yes,” Henry responds slowly, throat tight.  

“My kid’s last words on earth were going to be ‘I love you.’ And I didn’t say it back to him. How fucked up is that? How fucked up do you have to be to--,” the president’s words become intelligible as she buries her head in her hands again. “They deserve better than me. More than me. I don’t--I can’t--,” 

“Hang on,” Henry interrupts, pulling his hand away from the president’s shoulder and staring. “Hang on, this is--that's your grand reason why you won’t visit Alex? Why you won’t talk to June? ‘I don’t deserve them, I don’t know how to face him, I missed their childhood’ are you—are you mad?”  

“Henry, what--,” 

“Ma’am, I say this with respect, but you’re an obtuse fucking asshole.”  

 The President of the United States stares at Henry and slowly blinks.  

“Love isn’t about what you deserve, it’s about what you give. It’s about being what the other person needs, about living and learning, meeting them halfway and being the best that you can for them. It’s--it’s unconditional.” Henry finishes, voice a whisper.  

It’s funny, how solving others problems make one’s own seem so simple. Henry pulls out his phone. He missed a call while it was set to silent. Ignoring it for the moment, Henry opens his messages and scrolls down to find his last conversation with Philip.  

I love you, too. He types and sends the message without a second thought. The response arrives seconds later.  

Go to sleep, Henry. I can hear you thinking from here.   

Henry smiles, and checks his missed calls.  

It’s from Alex, not five minutes past.  

“Oh, fuck,” Henry bites out, and he can feel the president’s eyes on him still as he hits call.  

“You--you c-can't sell our h-house,” Alex wails without preamble. “You can’t, you can’t, it’s our home, you’re not allowed to ever never ever sell it, you have to promise me right fucking now you dickhead, you--,” 

“Alex, what on earth--,” 

“Your letter! I found your stupid letter in your stupid book, and June ate Pez’s peanut brittle and Dad’s with her while she gets epinephrine and—and you can’t sell our home! It’s our home, our piece of the world, it’s ours--,” 

“Alex, love, slow down, please. What happened to June?” Beside him, the president stiffens.  

“She--she was supposed to stay with me tonight, we were watching Home Alone, then she picked up one of Pez’s baskets and ate a cookie, but the cookie had touched the peanut brittle, and Cash isn’t here anymore and he’s the one who always carried her EpiPen, so I had to use my call button while her throat was closing up, and I was fucking freaking out, you don’t even know, but she’s fine now, and she had the doctors call Dad because she didn’t want to see Mom, because reasons.  

“And I was bored and alone and still fucking freaked and you left your stupid Mr. Darcy book here and I didn’t get you a Christmas present because comas and gunshot wounds make it fucking hard to shop so I was like, oh, I’ll read the book, he’ll like that, but you left that horrid letter as your bookmark, so I fucking read it because it said Dear Alex, why the fuck wouldn’t I read it and--you can’t sell our home,” he whispers, voice broken, “Not ever, never, no matter what happens.” 

Henry closes his eyes, remembering the worn and annotated copy of Pride and Prejudice Bea had shoved into his hands along with his hastily packed suitcase before they left for the airport a lifetime ago. Remembering the letter he’d written in the airport lounge, using the hardcover of the book as a desk in his lap as he’d scratched down his feelings and sobbed while Alex died half a world away.  

God, he wasn’t supposed to actually read it.   

“I won’t. I promise you, Alex. I will never sell our home.”  

“Good. Good. I, um--can you—could you--,” Alex is crying, oh god, he made Alex cry and he wasn’t even there. Fuck. Fucking hell. “I really need a hug.”  

“I’ll be there in half an hour.” 

“I love you,” Alex whispers, his voice shaking. “I love you, I love you, I love you.”  

God, he did read the letter.  

“I love you, too.” Henry swallows around the lump in his throat. “Hang tight, darling. I’ll be there soon.”  

He ends the call and looks up at the president again, face grim.  

“All right,” he says, clapping his hands together and standing, before offering a hand to the president. “I hope for all our sakes your existential crisis has ended, because both your children are currently in hospital, and we’re leaving now.”  

***

Chapter Text

“Don’t come out on the porch, you idiot,” Alex says, rolling his eyes fondly as he holds a hand up to Henry’s chest, stopping him in the doorway. “Your toes will fall off.”  

Henry blinks owlishly down at him, his blue eyes still foggy with sleep. He looks unfairly sweet this early in the morning; golden hair stuck up wildly at the back, pajamas rumpled and feet bare. He’s holding David to his stomach like a baby, hunched over the dog as he shivers. There are goosebumps already growing on his arms.  

All Alex wants to do his curl up in bed with his arms around Henry and sleep the day away.  

Instead, he leans forward and wraps Henry in a hug, David squished awkwardly between them. He tilts his head up for a kiss and can’t help but smile as David squirms.  

Alex is still smiling as he leans down to pick up his bag. He straightens and looks back to Henry, whose mouth is tilted in a crooked grin.  

“What?” Alex asks. He can hear the car pulling up to the curb behind him.  

“You have the loveliest smile in the world. Have I told you recently?”  

Henry has this habit of dropping compliments at the most unexpected times. Never sarcastic, hardly ever risqué outside the bedroom, and always utterly sincere. Just simple, bald statements that never fail leave Alex dazed. He’s convinced Henry does it just to watch him blush.  

“I could stand to hear it more,” Alex adds stupidly after too long a beat, his face flushing in the cold air. Henry’s grin widens, and he presses another kiss to the warm apple of Alex’s cheek.  

“Safe travels, darling. Let me know when you land.”  

“You too,” Alex starts, when a horn begins honking from the curb. He rolls his eyes. “Must be Cash today.”  

Henry smiles. “Best be off then.”  

And with a scratch to David’s belly and another parting grin, Alex is.  

[They’re halfway down the block when Alex realizes what he’s forgotten.  

I love you, he types out quickly and sends, before turning back to watch Henry, standing in his bare feet on the icy porch, hand raised in farewell.] 

*** 

*** 

*** 

The weeks after his mother’s inauguration had been astonishingly lonely for Alex. 

After months of tight schedules and cramming in schoolwork online, of cold coffee and crowded hotel rooms, of mornings in Jacksonville and evenings in Cincinnati and so many people there was barely room to breathe, Alex was finally alone.  

He’d started classes in person at Georgetown that January, but as his mother had once promised, it wasn’t the same. He didn’t live in the dorms. He didn’t go to frat houses on the weekends and play beer pong, he didn’t use a fake ID to get into shady clubs; he barely stuck around on campus after classes unless he wanted to talk to the professors.  

Alex didn’t really have friends. Well, except for Cash. And Amy.  

[Could people actually be your friends if they were paid to hang out with you? Alex was pretty sure the answer was a solid no, but he enjoyed the agents’ company nonetheless.] 

When he wasn’t in classes or doing homework, Alex mostly wandered around, exploring his new home. He tried sneaking into the West Wing at least twice a day, but Zahra always caught him and ushered him out with a frown, told him to “go take a nap or something, you dumbass.” 

After over a year of running a hundred miles an hour, it was finally time to stop. Time to rest and recharge. He’d done his part; the hard work was over. His mother was President, June was finishing school, Dad was in session with the Senate; life was ready to return to something like normal.  

Leo did his best to keep Alex company in those early winter days, always making sure to eat dinner with him and talk about his day when he could. But even Leo was often busy, tying up the loose ends on the buyout of his company, setting up new children’s health and wellness initiatives, redecorating the White House. It was a lot. And many nights, Alex ended up just eating alone.  

He talked to June and Nora often on the phone. Thought about calling Liam before inevitably chickening out. He even called Abuela a few times, just to say hello.  

They’d won. They accomplished their goal, made it to the top. Mom was the first female President of the United States. It should have been good, perfect even. Alex should have been fucking ecstatic.  

He’d never been more miserable.  

It all came to a head one night in early March; it was a Saturday, and Alex was home, already in pajamas at eight, curled up under his quilt watching Netflix on his laptop and drinking the whiskey he’d stolen from Leo’s bar cart out of his ‘Claremont for America’ mug.  

Are you still watching? The little screen asked him after his sixth episode of The Office, and for some unfathomable reason, Alex’s chest pulled tight and his eyes filled with tears. He pushed his laptop and the bottle of whiskey to the end of his bed and rolled over, shoving his face in his pillow as he cried.  

Everything should be good. But he felt hollow. Useless. Unwanted and unnecessary and—and-- 

He missed his family.  

He missed his mom.   

Alex didn’t know how long he’d been crying alone in the dark when there was a soft knock on the door. Suddenly mortified, Alex scrubbed a hand down his face, pulled his quilt up to his hair, and hoped to God whoever was at the door assumed he was out. Or sleeping. Or anything but sobbing his heart out silently into his pillow for no real reason.  

“Sugar, are you--?” Mom asked quietly from the door, a sliver of light growing on the far wall. Alex shut his eyes and did his best to even his breaths.  

Mom’s footsteps were featherlight on the carpet as she approached. Alex heard her exhale softly, before she reached forward and grabbed his computer and the whiskey, resting them gently on his desk. She was so quiet that Alex very nearly stiffened at the slim fingers running through his hair, the thumb swiping over the visible part of his cheek.  

She bent down and kissed his forehead, and Alex almost started crying again.  

He heard the footsteps move away from the bed, heard his door shut, and finally relaxed, taking a long and shuddering breath. For once, he was relieved to be alone.   

At which point, Mom dropped on the bed and pulled the quilt over herself too.  

“We don’t have to talk now,” Mom whispered, reaching forward and gripping his hand. “But I love you. It’ll be okay, baby. I promise you, it will.”  

And Alex squeezed her hand back and cried some more, and Mom played with his hair until he fell asleep, and they both slept so long the Secret Service knocked on the door the next morning because they didn’t know where the president was.  

That night didn’t magically fix everything, and he and Mom didn’t really talk about it after the fact, but life looked up from then on. Mom tried hard to have breakfast with Alex each morning, and June flew in to visit a few times. Dad gave him a tour of the Senate offices and introduced him to some of his more interesting colleagues. Zahra started giving Alex schedules of brunches and galas and symposiums he had to attend, and the Smithsonian asked for his help curating an exhibit.  

Life got busy, and the sun started shining more.  

It felt something like happiness.  

*** 

*** 

*** 

“Hi there, you’ve reached June Claremont-Diaz. I can’t come to the phone right now, but if you leave your name and number I--,”   

Alex ends the call before the voicemail message ends, expelling a long, exasperated sigh. Davis sent him a copy of the speech he’s meant to give at the museum tonight; Davis is talented, of course, but he’s never quite grasped Alex’s style. Alex read the speech through once before forwarding it to his sister a few hours ago; he has yet to receive a reply.  

With another dramatic sigh, Alex pushes the printed and annotated speech away from him on the bedspread and pulls his computer back into his lap. He’s about to open his Constitutional Law essay when there’s a knock on the door.  

“Come in!” Alex shouts.  

“Hey, Sugar,” Mom says as she opens the door, tired smile on her face.  

“Oh, hi,” Alex says stupidly, slightly shocked. He gets off the bed and steps forward to kiss his mother’s cheek. “I thought you weren’t going to make it.”  

“The magic of Air Force One,” she replies, slumping on Alex’s bed in a heap. Alex laughs and kicks lightly at her knee.  

“Jetlag?”  

“My jetlag has jetlag, sweetheart.” Mom answers with a groan. She drags a hand over her face and sits up. “And Leo’s in our room, snoring like a chainsaw fighting a grizzly bear.”  

“Y’know, I could do this on my own,” Alex says lightly. “That’s kind of why I’m here.”  

Mom pats her cheeks with both her hands then reaches out, toward the steaming cup of coffee Alex just poured on his bedside table. He rolls his eyes and offers the mug to her; she smiles crookedly and winks at him.  

“I’ll be fine. It’ll be easier to just power through to get back on my regular schedule. And I’ll sleep well tonight, trust me.”  

Alex tries and fails not to be annoyed.  

Mom’s been doing this more and more lately it seems, sending him on slightly meaningless errands every which way from Tuesday. A speech here, a ribbon cutting there, just an appearance sugar, it’ll really help me out.  

Sure, he’s being doing them for years, but now Ellen Claremont is a second-term president. There’s no re-election to worry about, she shouldn’t need Alex to give her good press. He’s busy with school and Henry and their new home and life, a real life with real friends and parties and his own work, his own fun. 

His own happiness. 

Alex has complained about it at length to his sister on multiple occasions; very uncharacteristically, June just laughs at him. “Welcome to the club, kiddo. I can’t believe it took you having a boyfriend to finally get sick of being Mom’s gopher.”   

Which seems harsh, but is also not entirely inaccurate.  

Alex keeps telling himself he’s going to talk to his mother about it, he’s going to sit her down and say enough. He’s going to finally say no, like June’s done on multiple occasions after she moved out of the White House to LA.  

[June says the move was to be closer to her publisher and editor and Dad, but Alex has recently and shockingly discovered from a heartbroken Pez that June’s on-again-off -again with College Boyfriend Evan, who most conveniently also lives in LA, has turned back on. 

Alex keeps telling himself he’s going to talk to June about that, too.  

He is, most unfortunately, not great at instigating difficult conversations when it comes to his family.] 

So, for now, Alex keeps his mouth shut. He gives up his coffee to Very Tired President Mom, and sits back and listens to her talk about the Christmas Markets in Bern while they prep their speeches together for the Museum of Natural History fundraiser.

Tomorrow, he promises himself. We’ll talk about it tomorrow.   

*** 

*** 

*** 

“Keep an eye on her,” Alex whispers to Cash, as they both watch his mother, the President of the United States, nearly trip on the stairs up the podium and fall flat on her face.  

Cash, it seems, has been spending too much time around his mother and Zahra; his ‘you’re a dumbass’ stare as he rolls his eyes at Alex is pretty damn impeccable. “That’s kind of my job.”  

“She’s literally dead on her feet, I don’t even get why she came. I can do this, she knows I can do this, that’s the only reason she called me here this weekend--,” Alex begins, ignoring Cash’s sass until he’s interrupted.  

“Kid,” Cash says softly, his brown eyes earnest. His rolls his eyes again, but this time it’s fond. “She misses you.”  

Alex blinks up at Cash in confusion. He opens his mouth to ask the man exactly what he means by that, when the world goes to hell.   

*** 

“Get your head down--GET DOWN! I have Eagle and Barracuda on the move, headed toward Twelfth—get--,”   

“Meyer down. I repeat, Meyer down. Brookes taking point. Shots fired in Route A, number of shooters unknown. We’re going up.”   

“Heavy fire in stairwell, rerouting to Ninth street exit, in research wing we--,”   

“Brookes down. Williams at point, stay behind me, ma’am, Alex don’t get ahead, I have to check, we--,”   

“Mom!”   

“ALEX!”   

“Mom!” Alex shouts again, gripping his mother’s hand and pulling them both down the hallway at a sprint. “C’mon, Mom!”  

“Cash,” Mom yelps, turning back, “Cash, he’s hit--,” 

“Mom!” Alex shouts again, tugging her hand hard as he tries to run. He can see it, the door is open and clear, they just have to get out of here, out of this horrible, insane nightmare. He closes his eyes and says a quiet prayer for Cash, for Brookes and Meyer and everyone. But they can’t go back, they can’t, it’s too dangerous, they have to get out, he has to get them out. Mom’s the president, she cant...she can’t...“Mom--,” 

Behind them something crashes, and more gunshots echo ominously down the hallway. Alex’s palm sweats cold where it’s still clutching his mother’s hand; her nails are digging into his wrist so deeply they’ll probably leave marks.  

“Look at me,” she says, and Alex turns away from the door, away from the light and safety just a short sprint away. They can make it, he knows they can make it, why won’t she just listen--  

“Mom--,” he says, then hisses and stares down at his wrist where his mother’s red nails have finally drawn blood. “Mom, it hurts.”  

“Get out of here,” she tells him, her eyes bright. “It’s fine, Alex. Baby, it’s fine.” 

“Mom--,”  

“Open the door.” Alex looks away from his mother, her flyaway strawberry blonde hair, the pink blazer that made him tease her about being a Jackie O knockoff just an hour before. Her blue gray eyes, like a raging thunderstorm, burning into his own.  

Alex swallows, and it hurts, it burns, and the edges of his vision blur like an oncoming migraine.  

Thump. Thump. Thump.   

“I love you, Mom.”  

Alex turns and runs out the door.  

*** 

Alex runs as fast as he can, heartbeat thrumming in his ears as he tears across the strangely empty, startlingly dark mall. His loafers crunch the snow slushed with gravel, and his breaths positively heave as he traverses the blocks at a sprint; he doesn’t slow until he slams into the doors of the brightly lit Smithsonian Castle.  

“Help!” he screams, hoping, praying there’s someone here, someone listening as he bends over to hold the awful stitch in his side. Where the fuck is everyone, what happened-- 

Alex’s eyes widen. He stands up straight and stares.  

It’s been a while since Alex has entered the Smithsonian Castle, but this, it’s not, he’s-- 

He’s at the V and A.  

Alex blinks twice before he re-opens the door behind him to find not Independence Avenue, but an empty Cromwell Road. He’s--he’s in London. He’s in London.  

Henry is in London.  

Henry can help.  

That in mind, Alex turns to exit to the museum and follow the roads to Hyde Park and Kensington and his Henry, who may or may not be able to explain whatever the fuck is going on, when Alex pauses.  

There’s music echoing up and down the lofty halls of the seemingly empty V and A.  

Heart in his throat, Alex sprints again, his still wet loafers slipping and sliding along the polished marble. The music seems to swell around Alex as he runs, becoming louder and clearer, intermixing with low voices, and the tinkling laughter of children. He skids to a stop once he reaches a mezzanine, overlooking a familiar palazzo. Alex’s looks down from his perch and watches, suddenly and completely entranced by the little family below.  

“Dance with me, Pippy!” the tiny girl demands with a giggle. Her brown hair is pulled back by long red ribbons, and she’s missing one of her front teeth. “Pippy, dance!” she tugs on the older boy’s hands. He winces half-heartedly, before obliging with a small smile, twisting and twirling his sister along the hall. “Mummy, play Queen next.”  

The woman snorts from her seat on the steps, maps and guidebooks spread like a wall around her, boombox at her side. “Don’t forget your manners, love!” the woman shouts in reminder. She obliges her daughter, though, and clicks a button on the boombox. Mozart ends, and ‘Somebody to Love’ swells through the hall, and the tiny girl squeals in delight, jumping up and down in her brother’s arms.  

“Thank you, Mummy! Ooh, they’re back!” the little girl twirls and rushes toward the man who’s just appeared in the doorway, carrying a towheaded toddler in his arms. “Dance with me, Daddy!”  

“Of course, Princess,” the man replies with a wink and a bow, setting the toddler gently on the ground. The child immediately grabs for his older brother’s hand.  

“Play my song,” the toddler says, as his brother walks them both slowly toward their mother while their father and sister waltz lazily behind them.  

The older boy sighs in exasperation, but his voice is fond. “Henry, it’s not your song. Well, it is ‘Your Song’, but it’s not really your song, you can’t--,” 

“My song,” Henry repeats, and their mother looks up from her guidebooks and smiles, blindingly bright, and pulls Henry into her lap.  

“We’ll play your song next, dearest.” And true to her word, not a moment later Elton John begins projecting from the yellow boombox on the steps. Henry smiles widely, and Alex can see the dimples from across the room. He kind of wants to cry, but he also wants to laugh and smile and run down the hall and wrap up the tiny little miracle in a hug.  

But Alex’s feet are glued to the floor, and his heart is in his throat, so he watches silently as Henry tugs on his older brother’s hands and wordlessly gets the boy to dance with him next to where their father and sister still sway.  

Catherine smiles fondly and stands, finally pushing the maps and guidebooks away to join the impromptu party. She cuts in and steals her daughter away with a laugh, and Arthur immediately turns and picks up Henry, while grabbing Philip’s empty hand with his own.  

“We can’t dance together, Daddy,” Philip says haughtily, but Arthur doesn’t let go. “We’re both boys.”  

“That’s a load of rubbish, Pippy. I’ll dance with whom I please,” Arthur says lightly, and Henry wraps his arms around his father’s neck, grip tight. “And I want to dance with both of you.”  

And the little family dances to the soft, sweet strains of ‘Your Song’, echoing from the tinny yellow boombox, and Alex watches and watches because he can’t stop, he doesn’t want to stop. He knows something bad happened, somewhere far away. But here, it’s safe and warm and happy, and Henry is smiling so easily, he’s so joyous, and Alex just can’t help but be mesmerized by it all. 

He breathes, he breathes. It’s peaceful. His mind, for once, is very quiet. There are no lists left to make, no worries to be had. Just the soft light of the breaking dawn in this magical world within a world, the playground of children who will not remain so outside of dreams.  

The song eventually ends, the little family disperses, and the children and their mother sit on the stairs discussing the exhibits they want to visit before the museum opens for the day. Alex leans against the railing with his chin on his fist as he observes the huddle.  

At least, he does, until a firm hand lands on his shoulder. Alex startles hard, finally pulled out of his reverie, and he whips around to face... 

“You shouldn’t be here.”  

Arthur Fox studies Alex furtively with his daughter’s brown eyes, his son’s bow-shaped mouth and strong chin pulled down in a frown. His voice is soft, calm; he’s not angry at Alex for intruding on this piece of what once was. He just sounds a bit confused, lost maybe, and Alex sees the divot where’s he’s biting on this inside of his cheek, just like Henry, and Alex knows the man is sad.  

Arthur is still holding on to Alex’s shoulder, his grip warm, solid, when Alex looks up and asks, “Where am I supposed to go?”  

“Home,” Arthur tells him, his lips quirking up in a grin. “Go home, Alex.”  

And with a mighty shove to his shoulder, Alex is out of the door, the hall, the museum, sprinting down Prince Consort Road, the sun high in the sky and sweat dripping down his neck as he goes.  

He runs up and down the streets, twisting in circles upon circles, hopelessly lost and growing more exhausted with each step when he sees the fire escape. He needs a better vantage point. The old metal pinches and scratches his skin as he climbs, but Alex keeps going, climbing and climbing until he finally reaches the roof.  

Rule #1: Don’t get caught, he sees painted on the wall, then he blinks and it’s not paint, it’s scratches, and he’s back and DC and he’s eighteen and lonely and lost and he found this.... No, he realizes, shock punching dully in his gut as he looks at the golden key flecked with old paint held tightly in his hands.  

He wrote it.  

Alex climbs down slowly from the roof of the White House, back into the bedroom that was once Caroline Kennedy’s nursery, once Nancy Reagan’s office, once the place Alex Claremont-Diaz first fell in love. He bounds across the hall to June’s room, but it’s not her room now, it’s her room then, with paint sets and gymnastics trophies, with Britney Spears posters and dreamcatchers in the window.  

Alex looks out the window and realizes it’s begun to snow.  

“One good thing, one bad thing,” Alex hears whispered down the hall, and he walks slowly toward the master bedroom, listening for the remembered reply.  

But it’s drowned out by Dad’s radio in the kitchen, blaring Latin songs and rosaries in soft, sad Spanish, and Alex’s treads down the steps, wishing, hoping as he has since he was fourteen, to find his father cooking in the kitchen of the happy yellow house.  

But it’s dark. It’s empty.  

It’s empty, and the bay window is opened and the window seat is up, and Alex looks down, looks at the crumpled piles of yellowing paper, the notebooks and post-its, the genius and madness of a child who was so ready to take on the world. He picks up the paper on top and stares:  

My Bucket List  

It’s filled front and back with many goals for his life, some already achieved, some outlandish and sweet.  

Become Valedictorian  

Win the lottery  

Learn how to make Abuela’s tres leches cake  

Backpack across Europe  

Learn to speak Mandarin  

Get elected to Congress before I’m 30  

Make June teach me to French braid  

And on the back, at the very bottom of the page, three new lines with mismatched handwriting.  

Make the world a better place, June’s loopy cursive instructs.  

Fall in love, Dad’s blocky letters implore.  

BE HAPPY, Mom demands in capital letters. It’s at the very bottom, underlined three times.  

Suddenly exhausted, Alex stands. He wants to go back upstairs to his bedroom and sleep.  

Fall in love, Dad said. Be happy, Mom pleaded.  

Go home, Alex.  

Alex is exhausted. And this is home, it is, and it always will be. It’s safe and comfortable and warm and filled to the brim with memories and love.  

But there’s more now. There’s more to this. 

There’s more to him.   

Alex takes a long deep breath and stands up with a groan. He shuts the window seat, and leaves the kitchen, leaves the foyer, leaves the familiar front door and pulls the key from underneath his shirt, resting above his heart.  

Alex Claremont-Diaz locks the door behind to the little yellow house in Austin. He jumps into Dad’s jeep, waiting for him in the driveway with a full tank of gas, and drives to find the rest of home.  

*** 

Henry’s asleep when Alex finally arrives in their bedroom seconds minutes hours later. Not willing to wake him, Alex steps out of his shoes, pulls back the covers, and slips into bed. Henry turns over in his sleep and slings a heavy arm across Alex’s heart.  

He’s home.  

*** 

*** 

*** 

*** 

*** 

*** 

*** 

“Sending so much love to at POTUS and the whole first family right now’,” a familiar voice croaks to his left. “’You’re in our prayers at AGCD, hashtag FSOTUS, hashtag we love ACD.’ That was from Ariana Grande. 

“Chris Evans says, ‘We’re all behind you at AGCD,’ then a bunch of red white and blue hearts and a picture of the two of you together at that thing last year.” 

“You’re the front page on every newspaper,” another voice adds from his right. “New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post. They’re using really great pictures of you, so nothing to worry about there. Your hair looks fantastic in all of these.” A rustle of paper, the click of a button. “Ugh, I don’t know if you’ll love it or hate it, but even Fox News is being nice to you right now. Keep talking about how the attack was a ‘desecration of democracy.’ Well, you’re a desecration of democracy, Tucker Carlson, let me tell you--,”  

“Ahhhh here we go!” A new voice yelps from somewhere around his feet, “If a kiss from a literal prince won’t wake you up, this definitely will. Beyonce just posted a picture of Blue Ivy and Sir and Rumi holding up signs that say ‘We love you, Alex! Get well soon! You’ve got this!’ Oh my god, they’re so cute. Beyonce, Alex, you gotta wake up for--,”  

Alex opens his eyes and blinks a few times, his vision focusing more each time he does. He tilts to the left, and his eyes immediately find the familiar brown that match his own.  

For three long seconds, June stares at him, her mouth slightly open, eyes comically wide; Nora continues chattering about Beyonce at his feet. June is holding his hand.  

“Oh my god,” June breathes. Then she leans her head forward on the bed and bursts into tears.  

Alex attempts clumsily to pat her cheek with their still joined hands and fails miserably. There’s something down his throat and in his nose and across his chest, and everything is heavy like it should be painful it but it can’t.  

There’s a mad scramble on the other side of the bed, but Alex is too exhausted to even move his head. He just blinks stupidly up as June continues to cry into his sheets and Nora and Henry finally enter his sight, looking exhausted and disheveled and shocked into happiness.  

“Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit,” Nora whispers, brushing angrily at her tears before extending a hand to gently touch his hair. “I’m gonna go get your parents. And my parents. And the nurses, and probably a doctor, that would help, too, and—holy shit.” Nora smiles, blindingly bright, and walks backward out the door. “I can’t believe it was Beyonce. I’m never letting you live this down.” 

Then Nora is gone, and Henry is there, Henry is there, what the hell, he’s supposed to be in London, what the fuck, and he’s kneeling beside the still weeping June’s chair as he grabs a remote by the bed and presses a red button. Then, Henry reaches his elegant hand and rests it gently across Alex’s forehead.  

He‘s crying, too, but they’re happy tears, the happiest tears, and his blue eyes are brighter than the stars.  

“Welcome back, love,” Henry says softly.  

Alex is home.  

*** 

*** 

*** 

*** 

*** 

“How did you know you were in love with Henry?”  

Alex pauses in his rummaging of Pez’s newest gift basket to look up and stare at his sister. She’s sitting in the chair next to him, her feet resting on the blankets at the foot of the bed. She looks relaxed, staring pointedly at the television playing Home Alone on the wall, but her fingers are drumming continuously along the cover of Pride and Prejudice resting in her lap, the one Henry left behind.  

“Why do you ask?” Alex replies, and immediately regrets it as June shakes her head and rolls her eyes.  

“Forget I said anything,” June mumbles, reaching for the gift basket in his lap to pull out a treat for herself. Alex rests his hand on June’s until she finally looks up.  

She’s tired. They all are, of course they are, but June more than anyone seems to be hanging on by a thread. Alex has never seen his sister this angry before; he wonders if June has ever actually been this angry before. She’s not a person who can subsist on hate of any kind. June has always been too empathetic, too purely good for that, and the negative emotions of the past weeks have drained her.  

It hurts that her anger now is caused by their mother; it hurts even worse that most of it is on his behalf 

“I don’t know,” Alex finally says, answering honestly. “There’s not a specific time or place or words that he said that made it all real. It was as so long ago now. To be honest, I was halfway in love with him before I ever realized I’d started.”  

June sits back and stares at him for a long second, before snorting loudly. “Oh, shut up, don’t make fun of me.”  

“What?”  

“You, why would you...” June trails off as she reads the honest confusion on his face. She looks up to the heavens and sighs. “Seriously. Oh my god. Why? Why. Wow, just wow.”  

“Bug, what the hell--,” From her chair, June picks up Henry’s copy of Pride and Prejudice and flips through the back, eyes scanning quickly until she finds what she’s looking for.  

“’I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.’” She closes the book with a snap, and looks up at him, smirking.  

“Huh,” Alex says softly. He stares at the book for a while and smiles. “I guess she knew what she was talking about.” They sit for a minute in silence, both pretending to watch the movie.  

Alex takes a deep breath, gathers his courage, and asks, “Is this about Evan?”  

June stiffens, then slumps back in her chair and sighs. She rakes her fingers through her hair once before finally meeting his eyes. “Yeah.”  

“Have you—Do Mom and Dad know about him, I mean?”  

“Dad does,” June admits quietly.  

“Mom?” Alex presses. June looks like she swallowed a lemon.  

“When should I tell her, the next time she visits?” she asks with a humorless laugh. “I don’t care who the fuck she is or what she’s done, she’s still the mom here. It shouldn’t be our job to make time for her. We shouldn’t have to tell her to fucking show up and stick around after you almost die.” 

“June--,” 

“I broke up with Evan the first time because of Mom. Because of the White House and the way our lives—so much was changing, Alex. I didn’t know who I was going to become, what I was going to be. What Mom needed me to be. I just—I couldn’t do it all.  

“But I’ve missed him. I miss him and I want him and I—I want to try. I’m tired of splitting myself apart, trying to be everything people need me to be. I just—I like myself when I’m with Evan. I’m happy. But once she knows, it’s a thing, and then People knows because it looks nice and maybe Mom’s numbers are down and I just...I don’t need spotlights, Alex. Just sunshine. All I want is sunshine. You deserve that, too. You deserve sunshine love, and privacy, and a mom who fucking shows up. I don’t think it’s that much to ask.”  

“It’s not.” Alex plays with the frayed edge of his scratchy hospital blanket for a minute, gathering his thoughts.  

“Mom asked me, before all the shit went down with Henry and the emails and the Daily Mail, if I felt forever about him,” Alex says quietly, staring at his hands.  

“Oh, Alex,” June begins softly, but Alex shakes his head and continues.  

“It made sense, you know? For her to ask. Because we’re both so high-profile, it would follow us forever, even if we broke up, and what was the point if I didn’t feel forever about it? If I didn’t see forever with him. Why ruin our lives, ruin the election, over something that couldn’t last?” The back of Alex’s throat suddenly feels too tight. He swallows quickly.  

“Alex, she never should have made you--,” 

“It’s not—I'm not trying to make this about me,” Alex protests. “I’m just, I’m asking you now. I’m asking you if Evan is forever. Can you see him with you forever? Do you want that? Because when Mom asked me, my answer was yes and I don’t--I truly don’t regret any of it. Maybe that’s when I knew,” Alex muses. June smiles a little and brushes a quick tear out of her eye.  

“I never would’ve thought between the two of us that you’d be the one with the Disney-esque, transatlantic, bisexual awakening, epic romance with a literal prince and I’d fall in love with the guy I hooked up with after a frat party sophomore year.” 

“So, it is love,” Alex counters, raising his eyebrows, and June’s smile widens. She picks up a cookie from the gift basket and takes a bite. 

They sit in silence for a bit as June eats her cookie, then another, both pretending to enjoy Kevin McCallister’s innovating and slightly sadistic Christmas Eve while they digest the revelations of that evening and the unexpected turns their lives have taken.  

“What kind of cookies are these?” June asks suddenly, scrunching her nose and clicking her tongue, “They taste weird now.” Alex picks up the basket and read the little list on the side.  

“Uh, snickerdoodles, I...” he trails off as he reads the rest of the contents. Peanut brittle. There was fucking peanut brittle in the basket. “Fuck, fuck, okay, don’t panic. Who has your EpiPen?” 

June’s eyes widen, and she swallows thickly. A pink rash is already growing on her neck. “Cash.”  

Alex’s still fragile heart thunders dangerously in his chest. “Okay, um, great, great, keep breathing, you’re great, you’re fine--,” June’s dart around the room until they land on her bag, on the couch by the wall. She starts to rise, then slumps back awkwardly, holding her chest with a wince, and Alex kind of loses it.  

“Where’s my fucking call button?” He shouts, lifting up the sheets and blankets at random, groaning when he tries to lift himself out of bed. Sweat rolls down his forehead, and June attempts standing again, before slumping down in her chair with a wheeze.  

They make quite the pair.  

“Oh my fucking god, help! HELP!” he finally screams, and two unfamiliar agents come hurtling into the room.   

“She’s going into anaphylactic shock,” Alex explains from the painful panicked knot he’s made of himself in the bed. “Get a fucking doctor!”  

At which point, June’s eyes close and her torso flops over the armrest of her chair.  

Then Alex really loses it.  

*** 

“Alex, hey, hey Alex, I need you to breathe with me,” Cool Nurse Ellie says again, voice collected and soothing as she stands at his bedside, checking his vitals. “In through your nose one, two, three, four. And hold for seven, yes, you can, I know you can. And out through your mouth two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.”  

Ellie guides him through the breathing exercises a few more times, and slowly, slowly, the heart rate monitor stops sounding like a bomb about to explode, and Alex thinks he’s maybe not dying again.  

“Good job,” she says with a grin. She’s pretty, blonde hair and green eyes, a wide smile that shows all her teeth. She doesn’t look much older than him, which is just weird on many so levels. Half the time, Alex feels like he’s been at least forty for the past decade, and the other half he’s offended that anyone thinks he’s actually old enough to be considered the adult in a situation. It’s an odd dichotomy, not helped by the fact that he technically just moved out of his mother’s house last year.  

“It’ll be better in the long run if we don’t give you a sedative now,” Ellie explains calmly as she updates his chart. “You just keep breathing. How’s the pain?” 

Alex makes a so-so gesture with his hands before holding up three fingers. “Good. Your sister is fine, they’re treating her downstairs. We called your dad, he’s on his way. It’s all fine. She’ll be okay, Alex.” 

“Thanks, Ellie,” Alex finally says after one last deep breath. Ellie smiles and pats his knee.  

“You want me to stick around for a bit, or--,” 

“I’m okay,” Alex says. “I think I just want to sleep.” Which is a big fat lie, but in her defense, Ellie doesn’t know him that well and Alex is a pretty spectacular liar when he wants to be. With another smile and a nod, Ellie leaves the room and Alex reaches for the book still sitting on the edge of the bed.  

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen.  

Henry will appreciate Alex reading this book. So will June. And Alex is itching for a distraction, so he cracks open the front cover and finds a folded sheet of notebook paper stuck in the copyright page.  

Dear Alex, it begins, in Henry’s lovely, careful hand.  

So, of course, Alex reads.  

*** 

I can’t clearly remember the last time you told me that you loved me, and I fear that lapse will haunt me for the rest of my days ....I’ve  been displaced from my home ....I’ll  probably sell it once we get The Call....All that was left of the Dad I knew was his eyes. Bea has his eyes ....Slow  down, Alex. God, please, please, slow down... The Waterloo Vase has shattered ....I love you I love you I love you....  

*** 

So, Alex is-- 

Alex is not great.  

He hangs up the call with Henry and stares down at his phone for a bit, working on the breathing exercises Ellie had practiced with him earlier in the night.  

But they are Not Helping, and Alex Claremont-Diaz is an impatient son of a bitch, except now the fire under his ass is kind of down to glowing embers and dying coals, so he rolls over and starts sobbing into his pillow like a normal human being.  

It’s not fair that in an instant life can change so irrevocably.  

It’s not fair that Henry fell asleep one night across the ocean, content in life, only to be woken with the news that Alex was dying half a world away. It’s not fair that June can’t eat peanuts, or that Cash was sent away. It’s not fair that shitty people steal emails and broadcast lies and try to make a living out of ruining other people’s lives. 

 It’s not fair Alex can’t go to a fucking museum with his mom without worrying about being shot.  

It’s not fair that the world can seem good and happy and kind, only for the rug to be pulled away, tripping him up and revealing all the stains and scratches, the rot he worked so hard to hide.  

It’s not...it’s not fair.  

So Alex cries because he’s tired and he’s hurt and there’s nothing else to be done. He cries, really cries, because he hasn’t yet, and he really fucking needs to. He needs—he needs... 

*** 

*** 

*** 

When Alex was seven years old, he caught a bad flu. It was a few weeks before Christmas, the air in Austin was unseasonably frigid, and the second graders at St. Francis of Assisi elementary school were trading germs even faster than they swapped their Little Debbie’s snacks at lunch.  

He remembers Mom hadn’t been home much in the week leading up to his illness; fundraising for her next campaign for State Congress, he’s pretty sure. It hadn’t matter much to Alex at the time. What he knew for certain was Mom wasn’t home because of work and Alex absolutely did not feel well.  

But Mom was busy. Her work was important. She tried every single day to help as many people as she could. And his mom was the best of the best, the brightest and smartest and coolest politician there ever was. Someday, his mom was going to be President of the United States.  

And Alex wasn’t a baby. He didn’t need her. He didn’t want to stop her from doing her job. So he did his best to hide away and be brave, to make sure she didn’t realize just how awful he felt.  

Mom was changing the world; Alex didn’t want to be the person who stopped her from doing that, even for a day.  

Which worked out.  

Until, of course, it didn’t.  

“Alex! Alex! Alexander Gabriel, I have told you three times you need to get out of bed, we’re going to be late! I’ve got a meeting with the governor in thirty minutes!” Alex heard his mother shouting from the bottom to the steps.  

And he felt bad about being late. He really, really did. But everything ached, and his head felt like fireworks were going off inside, and he was about ready to throw up the fish Abuela made him eat the night before.  

But Mama had a meeting with the governor, the governor of all of Texas. It was a big deal, a huge deal, and he was wasting Mama’s time, and he had to go, they both did, so Alex rolled himself out of bed with a groan and-- 

When Alex opened his eyes again, it was raining.  

Mama was sitting with him in the shower, both of them still in their clothes. Alex didn’t really understand, but the water felt nice on his face, and Mama was hugging him so tight it almost hurt to breathe but didn’t, so he didn’t much care.  

Mama wrapped him up in towels and sat him on the toilet, took his temperature and frowned. Her special suit was all wet and her face was streaked with makeup like a clown; Alex thought she was still pretty though. Mama was always pretty.  

He finally puked once, right on top of her fancy shoes with the red on the bottom. Alex cried a little then, because he didn’t like to puke, and those were Mama’s really, really nice shoes, and she was supposed to meet with the governor today and help save the world, and Alex’s was messing all of it up.  

But Mama just stepped out of her shoes and covered the mess with a towel and lifted him to sit on the counter with a kiss to his head.  

She noticed him staring at her and smiled a bit, before rubbing the towel through his hair again.  

“You don’t feel very good, do you baby?” Mama asked softly, swiping the towel gently along his face. Alex shook his head once in reply, then regretted it as the movement made his head throb.  

“Sorry,” Alex mumbled softly, ducking his head. Mama placed a hand under his chin and lifted it up.  

“What’s that, baby?”  

“Sorry,” he croaked again, eyes filling with tears. “I made you late. You have important things to do.”  

Mama’s eyes widened, and her mouth shook a little before she bit it down on her lip with her teeth.  

A bad habit, Mama always reminded Alex, with a gentle thumb to pull his lip away from his teeth every time he was nervous. That’s a bad, habit, sugar.  

“Oh, baby,” Mama whispered, and one tear trailed down her cheek. Alex couldn’t help it when he reached out a little hand and wiped the tear away. It didn’t belong there. His mama wasn’t supposed to ever be sad.  

Mama leaned into the touch, held his hand there for a minute, and said, “You’re my good thing, Alex. You and June, you’re my best thing, every single day of my life. Nothing will ever be more important than you.”  

*** 

*** 

*** 

*** 

*** 

Alex startles at the gentle hand on his shoulder. He rubs a hand over his eyes, and turns over, already reaching out for a hug, only to find-- 

Mom.  

Alex swallows thickly once, looks at his mother, the President of the United States standing before him. She’s not wearing any makeup, her strawberry blonde hair pulled up in a slouched bun atop her head. She’s wearing the baggy fleece purple pajamas June bought her for Christmas last year.  

She reaches out and grabs both of Alex’s outstretched hands from where they’ve frozen in midair.  

She says, “I’m sorry.”  

She says, “I missed you.”  

She says, “I don’t deserve you.”  

She says, “I’m an obtuse fucking asshole.”  

She says, “You’re the best mistake I ever made.” 

She says, “You’re my good thing every single day.”  

She says, “I love you, I love you, I love you.”  

*** 

*** 

*** 

“I got into an argument with June once about you.” Alex admits quietly seconds minutes hours later. Mom is on Alex’s bed now, holding him from behind as they hide under the scratchy sheets and pretend the rest of the world doesn’t exist.  

“Only once?” Alex coughs out a laugh. Mom rubs his back gently.  

“I told her you were a good mom. She said you were a good mom to me.” The hand on his back pauses. “She thinks you’re good at nurturing when it suits your interests.”  

“Alex,” she says softly. Alex stares at the blurring gray wall before him and continues.  

“I think I’ve spent the last few years of my life trying to be what you needed. You didn’t--you never forced me to, or told me I had to, but I just—I wanted you to need me, Mom. And I knew you didn’t need the problems. You didn’t need to know how much I missed Dad, or the nights I cried myself to sleep. You didn’t need to know about the panic attacks or the drinking. And you didn’t--,” Alex sucks in a sharp breath, “You didn’t need to know about Henry.  

“It didn’t even feel like lying, after a while. I told myself I was helping you. I was an asset to the campaign, to the administration, never a liability. I was always the one with the highest approval ratings. You needed  me.  And then our emails leaked and I...” Alex trails off, closes his eyes. Admits to himself what he’s always known, but never dared to say. “I don’t know what I would have done, if you had lost and it was my fault.” 

Arms covered in purple fleece snake around Alex’s middle and hold him tight. A bony chin rests on his shoulder; Alex can feel hot tears soaking into his shirt. They rest there for a few minutes, silent as Mom hugs him as close as she dares.  

“You,” Mom finally begins, her voice hoarse, “are not an inconvenience. You’re not a figure on a balance sheet; you are not a problem to be solved. You are my son. Mine. And I love you and your sister more than I have the words to describe. You must know that, Alex. You have to know that.  

“I need you, Alex. I always will. But I need you, baby. All of you. Not just one good thing and one bad thing. I need it all. I want it all. And I will never stop being sorry for ever letting you believe for one second that I didn’t.”  

Alex’s throat is so thick he can’t really speak. Instead, he rolls over and buries his head in his mom’s shoulder as she holds him close.  

“I need you now,” Alex finally says, once he finds the room to breathe. “I need you here. I'm so scared, all the time, and I can’t--I don’t--,” 

“Honey,” Mom interrupts him quietly as she strokes his hair. “I’m here. Okay? I’m here, and I’m not going anywhere. Not ever again. I am right here.” She rests a gentle hand on the bandage on his chest, over the hole in his heart that finally, finally feels like it can knit itself back together again. “I’m here, Alex.”  

Which is how Alex Claremont-Diaz finds himself crying to sleep in his mother’s arms, both of them silently watching the dawn rise on a gray and snowy D.C. morning. 

A new day. 

Chapter Text

Life moves on, as life is wont to do.  

Alex goes home two days before Christmas. He’s still in a lot of pain, and PT is a fucking SOB if Alex does say so himself, but he’s getting better. It’s getting better. 

Alex is finally being welcomed home, in every sense of the word.  

“You’ll miss my beautiful face,” Alex informs Cool Nurse Ellie with a cheeky grin as he gently pulls Henry’s Oxford crewneck over his head.  

Cool Nurse Ellie rolls her eyes.  

“Between you and me,” she says as she helps him into the wheelchair they’ve forced upon him (‘for legal reasons, Alex, aren’t you gonna be a lawyer or something, you should know this shit'), “I really, truly hope never to see you here again.”  

He forces Ellie to take a picture with him; Alex can’t wait to tag her in his imminent, obligatory ‘I lived bitch’ Instagram post and receive her complaints on the thousands of new followers she gains in its wake.  

The Secret Service sneak him from his room to a blocked off level of the parking garage at two in the morning. Dad pushes the wheelchair, and Abuelo walks calmly beside them as they glide through the empty halls, offering Alex a sly wink every time they turn a corner and Abuelo catches his eye.  

When they get to the car, Amy reaches forward and opens the door to the discreet SUV, revealing a smiling President Mom in the backseat, along with-- 

“Cash?” Alex says breathlessly, stumbling up from the chair. Abuelo grabs Alex’s elbow as he trips into the car. Mom grips his arm tight and helps him settle, leaning back as he reaches across her to the man on her right. “Cash.”  

Alex’s chest feels tight, but for the first time in a long time, it’s for good reason.  

“Hi, kid,” Cash rasps out, his brown eyes suspiciously bright. “You have no idea how good it is to see you.”  

Alex’s reaches out and squeezes his hand, throat too tight for words. Mom smiles softly. Cash grins and squeezes back.  

It’s enough.  

*** 

Alex spends most of Christmas Eve and day sound asleep, so Mom makes the executive decision to postpone celebrating the holiday until New Year’s.  

“Alejandro may be excused,” Abuela informs the rest of their merry band, “But the rest of you will be coming with me to mass on Christmas, dressed in your Sunday best.”  

“But I’m Anglican--,”  

“I’m a Baptist--,” 

“I’m Jewish --,” 

“I’m very busy--,” 

“No excuses!” Abuela says firmly. “We all go together to thank God Almighty or the universe or whatever it is that gives you Faith for the great gift of my grandson’s life in all the ways we know how. Cover all the bases, eh? Or will you abandon a poor, old woman to go to church all alone on Christmas of all days?”  

To Alex’s utter shock, everyone, even Nora, goes. 

Cash and Amy hang out with Alex while everyone’s at mass, playing cards and watching Claymation Christmas movies with him when he wakes up from his frequent dozes. It’s nice.  

At least, it’s nice until Alex wakes up to slamming doors and shouting outside his room across the hall.  

“Do you even comprehend what an absolute bitch--,” 

“We do not use that word while referring to other women in this house, young lady--,” 

“Young lady! Young! What the fuck, Mom, I’m a fucking adult--,” 

“Then act like it, Catalina! Have a conversation--,” 

“You don’t deserve my words!” 

“Then how the hell will we ever--,” 

SLAM!  

Alex starts to sit up, but Cash, and inexplicably Henry, who must have arrived from mass, hold him back. Cash shakes his head, and Henry sighs.  

“They need this,” Henry says. “Let them go. They’ll never sort it out if they don’t do it for themselves.”  

Alex begrudgingly agrees, but can’t help but listen for muffled voices, for crashes or shouts or anything really across the hallway for the next hour.  

“Are we sure they haven’t murdered each other?” Alex finally asks, once the apparent silence across the hall becomes too much.  

“Nope,” Amy replies, popping the p as she continues to knit while sitting at his desk chair.  

“Lovely,” Alex says, falling back into his pillows with a groan.  

*** 

The next time Alex wakes, it’s to find only Henry in the room with him, stretched out along the bed on top of the covers with his laptop resting on his stomach.  

“Oh, hullo, love,” Henry says, once he notices Alex quietly watching him. Alex reaches out a finger to press on the little divot at the corner of Henry’s mouth and Henry smiles widely. Alex runs the rest of his fingers along Henry’s jaw, and Henry ducks his head to kiss Alex’s palm.  

He’s watching Star Wars on his laptop, Empire Strikes Back based on Yoda and the swampland and Mark Hamill’s glistening biceps. There’s plate of Christmas cookies resting on the bedside table. Out the window, the sky is already turning to dusk.  

“Sorry it’s been such a shitty Christmas,” Alex whispers. Henry is used to elaborate black tie dinners on country estates, with paper crowns and ancient carols and Christmas crackers while the champagne flows.  

And family. Henry is probably really missing his family.  

But Henry is sweeter and kinder than Alex really deserves, because he just pauses the movie and flips himself over to face Alex, eyes soft.  

“This is all I wanted for Christmas, love.”  

“Promise?”  

“I promise.”  

Alex’s scoots himself over and rests his head on Henry’s shoulder. Henry wraps an arm behind Alex and pulls him in close. It’s quiet long enough that Henry reaches forward to play the movie again when Alex finally gathers up the courage to say, “This was my wish.”  

“What’s that?”  

Alex swallows thickly. “The eyelash that last night. I was getting sad that we wouldn’t be together for Christmas this year, so I wished...” he trails off.  

Henry is worryingly silent. Alex is pretty sure he can’t decide whether to laugh or cry. Alex reaches for his free hand and Henry squeezes it tightly.  

“Next year,” Henry begins, voice a rasp, “Let’s talk about it, instead of leaving it up to the universe, yeah?”  

“Yeah.”  

Henry kisses the side of his head and starts up the movie again. Alex eats a Christmas cookie, falls asleep, and doesn’t wake up until the end of Return of the Jedi, which he finds playing on his TV instead of Henry’s laptop. Henry’s asleep on the bed beside him, and David is resting across the foot of the bed. Mom and June have taken the couch, June with her head in Mom’s lap, and Dad’s on the desk chair, snoring loudly. Leo enters with a tray of hot chocolates; Alex watches him smile softly and put down the tray, turn off the TV and rest a blanket over Mom and June before backing out the door.  

Sometimes, Alex thinks, a happy ending isn’t such a bad thing.  

*** 

*** 

*** 

The Young Americans Gala is canceled that year without Alex’s consent. He is, rightfully, pissed, but Alex supposes he understands. Nora and June promise to reschedule for March and throw Alex and Henry the best joint birthday party the world has ever seen, and Alex is begrudgingly appeased.  

So, instead, that New Year’s Eve, Alex finds himself gathered in the Music Room of the White House with all his favorite people. From his seat on the couch, Alex can hear Abuela and Dad arguing over who gets to eat the last tamale while Abuelo watches on silently with a wry grin.  

Rafael Luna sits on the sofa across from Alex, still fiddling with the gift Alex and Henry gave him an hour before.  

“Uh, thanks so much kid,” Raf had said after he opened the present, staring down incredulously at the box of cigarettes in his hand. “I dunno if I told you this, but I’m actually trying to quit. And anyway, this is a British brand and I--,” 

Alex had laughed, and Henry had smiled, leaning forward to opening the catch at the side of the box. “It’s not actually cigarettes. It’s a prop from one of my father‘s movies. The hidden laser from--,” 

“Colonel Sun,” Raf had whispered, eyes wide. “I can’t--I can’t just take this, oh my god, this must be worth--,”  

“It’s a gift,” Alex had said emphatically. “So, you have to.”  

“Besides, nobody’s missing it. Dad swiped it from the set one day and gave it to me years ago. I think they had a few versions on hand and he thought it was a rather fun prop. Bea and I used to use it to play space invaders, we’d gather up Nerf guns and Dad’s old props and throw all the cushions on the floor and...” Henry had trailed off, small smile on his face, “Anyway, we haven’t used it in a long while, and I thought you might enjoy it.”  

“Thank you,” Raf had finally said, holding the little box reverently. “This is honest to God the coolest present I have ever received. James Bond’s fucking laser. Arthur Fox as James Bond’s laser. Hot damn.”  

Alex smiles again as he watches Raf fiddling with the little box; he doesn’t notice his mother approaching until she sits next to him on the couch.  

“Hey, honey,” Mom says, setting a small box wrapped in red paper on Alex’s lap. “Merry Happy Christmas New Year.”  

Alex’s rolls his eyes and picks up the box. “What’s this? I thought I already opened all my gifts?”  

Mom shrugs. “It’s not really a present.”  

Intrigued, Alex tears away the paper and unties the green ribbon to find a familiar chain, ring and golden key nestled in tissue paper.  

Alex’s eyes feel suddenly hot. He blinks quickly and looks up at Mom. “I figured this was locked away in the FBI building as evidence or something.”  

Mom shakes her head. “No. I—I took it that night. I’ve had it the whole time.”  

Alex can almost see it, Mom sitting in an expressionless waiting room, clothes still bloody, body hunched forward and knee jiggling anxiously, hands clasped around this shiny key as she waited and waited and waited.  

The only piece of Alex she’d had left.  

With steady fingers, Alex unhooks the chain and takes off Henry’s signet ring. He unceremoniously slips it on his right pinky finger, then clicks the chain back together. He lifts up the chain, golden key dangling like a medal, and looks at his mother.  

Mom ducks her head, and Alex places the chain around her neck.  

She puts a hand on her chest and holds the key there, blue eyes unreadable. “You’re sure?” she asks Alex, and he nods.  

“Thank you,” she says softly, and leans her head on his shoulder. They stay like that for a while, watching from their quiet corner as Nora, June, College Boyfriend Evan, and Leo crowd around Henry at the piano, singing carols at the top of their lungs.  

June looks over once and catches their eyes, blowing them both a kiss before she returns to singing.  

The singing ends when Shaan pulls himself away from Zahra and walks over to rest a hand on Henry’s shoulder, handing him a phone; Henry stops halfway through Silent Night and jumps up, running from the room as he holds the phone to his ear. Alex would be worried, except for the ecstatic grin on his boyfriend’s face.  

“I think Martha had the baby,” he whispers to his mother.  

“Why don’t you go find out?” So Alex takes Mom’s advice and leaves the happy, crowded Music Room, traversing the silent halls of the White House until he looks out the window and finds Henry staring up at the sky, sitting on the bench underneath their tree in the Rose Garden.  

“I’ve officially been demoted,” Henry announces with a happy smile when he turns to watch Alex approach.  

“Are we planning a wildebeest stampede in retaliation?” Alex asks as he takes a seat on the bench, and Henry laughs. “So, what’s the name of our future overlord?”  

“Elizabeth. Pip says they’re going to call her Lizzy.”  

“Oh no, aren’t you heartbroken? That's like your favorite name in the world, now you can’t use it.” Henry shrugs and picks up Alex’s hand.  

“It’s alright. I’m sure she’ll make a lovely Lizzy. And it is a rather auspicious name for a future Queen.” Alex feels Henry’s fingers explore the unfamiliar, yet startlingly familiar, ring on his finger. Henry pauses and tilts his head at Alex, small smile on his lips.  

“Is this okay?”  

“Better than,” Henry assures him. He raises Alex’s hand to his lips, kisses his knuckles and the new ring on his finger. They sit for a long time as the night grows ever darker around them. It’s cold, but this time they’re bundled up in coats, and together in the quiet peace, Alex feels safe, protected from anything and everything that could come between them.  

In the distance, fireworks begin to the light up the sky. Alex turns and kisses Henry, and more than anything, it feels like home.  

“I love you,” Alex whispers to Henry, wishing he could take the words and bottle them for a bad day, hoping they can live on in the night sky like the imprints of the stars. Alex will say the words every day, every hour, every fucking minute for the rest of his life if that’s what Henry needs.  

Instead, Henry pulls back and smiles that beautiful, wild and rare shit-eating grin, the one so happy and mischievous and free that Alex kind of wants to just stop the world and remake it in its image.  

“I know.”  

fin