Chapter 1: Hang On Past the Last Exit
Crevasses form as a result of the movement and resulting stress associated with the shear stress generated when two semi-rigid pieces above a plastic substrate have different rates of movement. The resulting intensity of the shear stress causes a breakage along the faces.
Everyone keeps warning them about marriage.
“It’s a nightmare,” Amy says, checking her email reflexively. “It’s like signing a business contract that you can’t break without looking like some kind of shrill, morally bankrupt symbol of everything that’s wrong with America, and you have to be around your business partner all the time, you never get a break from each other. It’s terrible.”
“Marriage can be rough,” Dave says, with a glance over his shoulder at where Sarah, four months pregnant for the third time and newly showing, is fussing with Maddie’s French braid. “But it’s worthwhile if you make it worth it. It’s hard to explain what I mean, but you get my drift, right?”
“I don’t recommend it,” says Kent. “Neither do any of my ex-wives.”
Well, fuck that, because so far, marriage is a fucking cakewalk. Technically, they’ve only been under-the-table, on-paper married for six months, and the official wedding isn’t until next week, but it’s like nothing has changed. From the moment the invites went out, bidding one hundred and fifty people bear witness to Dan Egan and Jonah Ryan as they become Dan Egan & Jonah Ryan, Dan was prepared to realize he’d made a massive mistake, but so far, so great. Not even the wedding itself is a source of stress – primarily because they’ve passed off all responsibility to the best event planner in D.C., the same chirpy, efficient woman who did Ed and Amy’s tremendously Protestant affair in Annapolis. “Do whatever, just make it look good,” is the party line, and the planner delivers, booking Dumbarton House for the ceremony and the Watergate for the reception. Dan is supremely unstressed as the wedding date comes closer and closer. He pays the wedding planner to ignore Jonah’s terrible ideas and humor the good ones in a tasteful manner, and otherwise stays out of the fray entirely.
Frankly, he has no idea what everyone else is always fucking whining about in regard to marriage. He’s not just a secret newlywed planning (or “planning,” at least) the D.C. wedding of the summer; he’s also a freshman congressman commuting to and from upstate New York six times a month on average. When he and Jonah get any time alone at all, they’re not even really fighting, which is the strangest thing. Instead, they’re sneaking lunch-hour quickies in his new office in the RHOB, Dan smirking as he waves Jonah back to work across the building with mussed hair and bitten lips, or reading the news over coffee with Meet the Press on in the background on Sundays, not even bothering to put on pants at all on their sole day off. When Dan’s not holding “Coffee with Your Congressman” events in Rochester or sitting through House votes, he has these moments of quiet, of calm in the middle of the storm, and it feels fucking great.
So frankly, Dave and Kent and Amy can keep their two cents to themselves, because, Dan thinks as he flips on the lights in their new D.C. place, he might have actually beaten the system. Marriages fail because people lose interest, couples let the spark die, they stop romancing each other the way they used to. But the great thing about him and Jonah is that they’ve never romanced each other in the first place. There’s no pretense of sappy sentimental bullshit to fall away. They already are what they are – they’re a team, a couple guys who fuck and fight and, for some inexplicable reason, care deeply about each other. Fine. They’re in love with each other. It’s disgusting to say it out loud, but it’s true. And they’re getting married, not just because they’re in love, but because Dan Egan (D-NY) is about to become the first member of Congress to be in a same-sex marriage, and frankly, it wouldn’t matter whether he loved Jonah or not – that kind of history-making shit is not something he’d ever be in the business of turning down.
The feelings, whatever they are, are just a bonus.
For the ceremony, they’re writing their own vows, because it just looks good. Jonah bangs out a pretty decent draft on his first attempt, which, Dan has to be honest, floors him. He’s prepared to red-pen slash the thing to hell, but as he looks over the page Jonah hands him, squinting at his shit handwriting, the only thing he really has to ask is the occasional “Is that a Q or a G?” It’s good. It’s not too sappy, it’s funny without being a goddamn stand-up routine, and it’s actually convincingly romantic. It’s a hard act to follow, and Dan’s having trouble.
Dan is a wordsmith, he lives and dies and deals in words, so this shouldn’t be a problem for him, and if he’s putting it off, what’s the problem? Everything needs to be perfect – this is the moment that’s going to put him in the history books – so God forbid he wait until he’s got the right words. So shut the fuck up – he doesn’t have writer’s block. Definitely not.
Except, he thinks as he erases another page of bullshit on his laptop, he might actually have writer’s block about this, which is just a fucking joke. “Shit,” he mutters. “How the fuck did Jonah –”
“How’d I what?” comes Jonah’s voice, as Dan realizes that he’s not actually asleep on the other side of the bed.
“Nothing,” Dan says quickly. “I was wondering how you fell asleep so fast, but evidently you didn’t—”
“Whatever,” Jonah says sleepily, and Dan closes his laptop and slides it onto the bedside table. He sinks down onto the mattress and lets Jonah move closer, wrapping his arms around him and nuzzling into the back of his neck. He turns over the words in his mind as he shuts his eyes into the dark, weighing the implications of each in turn, and he can feel it in his bones that he won’t sleep well tonight.
A week before the wedding, work lets out earlier than usual because there’s an armed shooter outside the Capitol for a few hours in the morning and it seems like all of Congress agrees that no one will be able to get any work done for the rest of the day because it’s a summer Friday anyway. Jonah doesn’t realize that his own boss has left until he gets an email geotagged from Baltimore, and it’s then that he figures he can probably duck out a few hours early as well, so he sneaks past the rest of his coworkers to traverse the crowds of departing staffers in the RHOB and knock on Dan’s office door across the building, barging past his office assistant, who gives him a withering look he promptly ignores.
“Everybody’s peacing the fuck out,” he says as Dan glances up from whatever it is he’s working on – some budget thing, likely, now that he’s on the JEC. “And Elyse just called and said all our day-of stuff came in—”
“What?” Dan sounds distracted, and Jonah rolls his eyes.
“The programs and menus and shit. For the wedding. I was gonna go take a look at them, but I figured you might want to come with—”
“Kinda super busy,” Dan says, gesturing at his desk. “But I’ll see you at home later, okay?”
“Fine.” Jonah rolls his eyes again. Because it’s not like Dan has ever been that interested in the gritty details of the wedding, but he is – he can’t help it, he grew up going to so many of them, there were always so many cousins and aunts and uncles getting married and remarried that there was really no escape. He’s a fucking beast when it comes to tearing it up at weddings, and he wants everyone else to get super laid, or at least super drunk, following his own.
So fine, whatever. He drives to the event planner’s and picks up the menus and placecards and programs, and confers over a couple additions to the seating chart. The whole thing is coming together, and on his way home, he has to blink and shake himself a couple times. It’s actually happening, that’s the thing. They’ve technically been married for five months, at least on paper, but they’ve kept it so private that it might as well not have happened at all – this is the thing that matters, the big one. Regardless of everything else, they’re going to get up in front of everyone they know and a fuckload of people they don’t and tell God and the world that they are in love and committing to each other. And that’s really kind of fucking baller.
(And he can’t shake the feeling that maybe this is a little better for Dan than it is for him, because Dan’s getting something out of this, he’s going to be That Congressman Who Got Gay Married and it’s going to be great for him—but fuck that, Jonah thinks, he’s not going to be some trophy husband who just smiles and looks supportive in the back of photos with ambassadors and shit. He’s going places himself. Maybe relaunch Ryantology, get back into the journalism game. Jonah Ryan 2026 doesn’t look like such an improbability from where he’s standing now.)
He hangs a right onto their street and parks, staring at Dan’s car in the drive as the yawning hum of the air conditioner shuts off.
Upon walking inside, he’s greeted by the smell of garlic and the sound of Dan shouting on the phone, and he follows the source of both to the kitchen to find Dan leaning on the counter, gesturing wildly with one hand as he stirs a pot of sauce with the other, all the while yelling into his phone on speaker.
“So you tell the cocksucking shitfucks we’ll give them three on the NEA, but the Alzheimer’s research allocation stays—” He slams the spoon down on the stove for emphasis. “Because I’m not going to fuck over my district like that! Either they fold on this or I take my fucking ballet shoes off and stop playing nice. Yeah. Tell them I said that. Tell Furlong he can take his 'iron fist' and shove it straight up his asshole, or else I’ll do it for him—fuck. I gotta go.”
Jonah snorts as Dan pulls ends the call, obviously peeved. “Go on, finish that thought. It’s been a while since I’ve gotten to see you in action,” Jonah says, leaning on the counter. “Gotta say, it’s still pretty—”
“I thought you'd be home later,” Dan says. “I kind of wanted to surprise you—”
“Really?” Jonah asks. “That's - unexpectedly thoughtful. What’d you do?”
“Why do you assume I did something?” Dan says. “Our wedding's in a week, I can't just make you dinner because I felt like doing something nice?”
“Fine,” Jonah shrugs. He leans on the counter, watching Dan stir, taking notice of the way the muscles in his shoulders and back move under his rumpled dress shirt. “Hold on. Let me take a photo of this. Your constituents are gonna love it.”
“You make me look too domestic,” Dan grouses as Jonah snaps the photo all the same. “That’s not the kind of ‘gay’ we’re trying to project.”
“Bullshit. Voters love this stuff. You should learn how to woodwork—”
“Or just build some shit, whatever.”
“I built the bookcase.”
“With directions from Ikea. Doesn’t count.” He taps out a caption – “Decided to surprise an appreciative @ryantology with a home-cooked dinner! #WeddingCountdown” and posts it hastily, before he can change his mind. “You need me to do anything?”
“You could run to the wine store,” Dan says absently. “I meant to get some of that red we liked, the one we had at Amy's—”
“She said it's kind of hard to find in DC proper, though.”
“But it was really good and it'll give me enough time to finish the sauce and get the rest of this shit on the table,” Dan says. “So...” He gives him a meaningful look until Jonah sighs with resignation.
“Can do,” Jonah says. He pauses, then moves a little closer, trapping Dan against the island, one hand on the counter on either side of his body, and leans down to kiss him, soft and warm, pressing their bodies together. Dan lets it ride for a moment, laying a hand on the small of Jonah's back, before he pulls away.
“The sauce is gonna overcook,” he says with a pointed look.
Jonah rolls his eyes. Typical. “You know I find you weirdly sexy when you’re doing this kind of housewife shit—”
“Ugh. Fuck off. I need to watch the sauce.”
“Lemme lick the sauce off your fingers.”
“You can do that when the food's on the table,” Dan rolls his eyes. “Go to the wine store.”
“I hope you know I'm going to have a boner the whole time,” Jonah calls over his shoulder as he heads back out the door. “You're a fucking tease, Dan.”
They end up killing a bottle and a half of the elusive red. Jonah knows Dan is good and sloshed when he starts talking, directly and in detail, about their sex life -- something he's normally too fucking lapsed-Catholic to bring up. He can proposition anyone dead sober, but it usually takes a few drinks to get him talking mechanics, and so it comes as a pleasant surprise when he leans back on the couch and says tipsily, but conversationally, “You know what I've been thinking lately? It would be really fucking hot if you tied me up sometime.”
“Jesus,” is the only thing Jonah says in response. Then, “God, I'm glad to hear you say that. I didn't want...”
“To bring it up?” Dan cocks a brow suggestively. Jonah shakes his head
“No, not that. I just don't want us to get boring, you know? Like, we're married, we're moving part-time to the suburbs. I just don't want us to become a couple of fucking suburban parents who have sex once a week out of a sense of duty.”
Dan laughs out loud at this, clapping a hand on Jonah's knee and leaving it there, heavy and boozy and warm. “I honestly don't think we need to worry about that.”
“Evidently,” Jonah snorts. “But – look, you know what I mean.”
With a shrug, Dan spreads his legs a little wider, getting comfortable on the couch. “We're not gonna become anyone's parents. Figuratively or literally. If we get boring, it's only because we've literally run out of ways to fuck—”
“We should keep a list,” Jonah suggests, only half-joking. “Or like a calendar of the shit we wanna do to each other. Is that...?”
In an instant, he sees Dan's eyes light up in the way that suggests he's just thought of a new use for Excel. It's a look that reminds him way too much of Kent for his liking, but there's also something oddly endearing about it, the way the scariest freshman congressman in the House gets giddy over data collation. “I'll make a spreadsheet on Google Docs or something. We can both update it and refer to it. It'll make it so much easier to make these decisions ahead of time—”
“God, you're a fucking nerd,” Jonah mutters. “Maybe I should just marry fucking Kent.”
“You mean, you wouldn't want that?” Dan asks earnestly. “Kent's—”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. You're into Kent,” says Jonah, rolling his eyes. “Whatever. So let's get back to this thing earlier. Should I just go buy some rope, or--?”
So the wedding day comes, and Dan puts on his nice new suit – they’re doing suits, not tuxes, because this is an afternoon summer wedding and there’s no reason to look too formal – and finally dashes off a new draft of his vows he’s actually proud of on the way to the ceremony.
He memorizes them hurriedly as Dave and Amy – both his best men, he demanded they both be there – watch with bemusement. They walk down the aisle and Dan can’t keep his gaze from flitting around the room, raking over the guests seated in white folding chairs down the lawn, and he keeps going back to one man in particular – taller than everyone around him, his face partially obscured by the way he keeps looking down to his lap.
When it comes time to read the damn things, Dan lets Jonah go first, as planned. Jonah’s vows are great and it still comes as a mild shock – where the fuck did that knack with words come from? “Dan, you continually surprise me and blow my mind in so many ways,” Jonah says, and his hand is a little bit clammy but Dan, ever cognizant of the photographer, doesn’t let it go to discreetly wipe his palm on his pants. “And every day, I wake up and I remember that you’re choosing me, and it’s like remembering that I won the lottery. Which I guess I kind of did.”
Dan furrows his brow, puts on his most romantic expression as Jonah continues. “I promise to be faithful and patient and lighthearted and to keep giving you what you need. I promise to celebrate your triumphs and love you more for your failures. I just want you to feel as lucky as I do when you wake up every day.”
Which, well, okay, Dan thinks. That’s going to be hard to top. He takes a deep breath, and starts to recite the words he wrote in the car.
“You once told me not to apologize,” he begins. “Which, I think most people who know me will say that isn’t a problem I have,” a pause for the expected laugh that comes, thank god, “but it felt like one at the time. You told me ‘Don’t be sorry, just be better.’ And it’s something that I have to keep working at all the time, but it’s only because of you that I even bother to try.”
He looks Jonah straight in the eye. Jonah’s not smiling, which isn’t going to look so good in the photos, but Dan can hear him inhale, a sharp hiss of breath. It hits him where he least expects it.
He’s not going to do this. He’s the ice man. He doesn’t get emotional. He doesn’t break. This wedding is all for show, after all; they got the actual marriage out of the way six months ago. But Jonah is looking at him like he’s never seen him before, biting down hard on his lower lip and both his palms are sweating like a whore in the Vatican, and it’s almost enough to make Dan forget that this entire ceremony is a dog-and-pony show for the press and photographers and social graces.
“You force me to ‘be better’ every day,” Dan says, and it’s like something inside of him breaks. It’s not a dam, it’s not a well, it’s just a little snap of plastic, a broken peg that threatens to send everything on the shelf above tumbling to the ground at some point in the future unless it’s fixed immediately, but it’s enough. And suddenly the pre-written vows don’t seem like enough, and he feels himself beginning to veer off-script, and normally he’d start to panic but he took half a Klonopin that morning in preparation for the festivities and accompanying stress levels, and the panic doesn’t come.
He takes a deep breath and licks his lips, stalls for time, and suddenly there’s another little click inside him and he feels like a loaded gun, like he’s in danger, like he’s been playing Russian roulette with his own feelings this whole time and after spinning the chamber and coming up empty time after time, he’s finally about to put the bullet in his brain.
“So I’m doing it,” Dan says, and these aren’t the words he wrote but somehow that’s okay, he’s not worried, he knows where this is going, words are his stock in trade, after all. “I’m standing up here and I’m being better, and I’m hoping that I can continue to be the person you want me to be, to live up to whatever expectations you’ve somehow formed for me. I don’t know how you did it, but you have somehow made me want to change. I didn’t really know that I wanted to be someone else until I understood how you saw me, through whatever lens you view the world through, and now I feel like I’m going to spend the rest of my life trying to be that man. You’re so much like me and we’re still so different, and I’m just… I’m really f—really incredibly lucky.”
And he knows Jonah’s not a good actor, knows he was never good at feigning anything for the cameras, and he knows the look on his face has to be real as he goes in for the kiss.
At the reception, Dan’s holding court with a group of guests when from the corner of his eye, he catches sight of the tall man from the ceremony. He’s wearing what is obviously a very expensive suit and sipping a drink from the open bar in a way that seems incredibly familiar, and almost immediately it clicks how much he looks like Jonah. And Dan, instantaneously, is mad.
“Excuse me,” he says to his guests, “I need to go ask my husband something—” He leans on ‘husband’ in a way that makes them titter and coo, but he feels none of that sickening sweetness as he strides across the room to pull Jonah away from his own little group of admirers.
“Sweetie, can I borrow you for a moment?” he says with a placid smile, and Jonah shrugs.
“Yeah, sure,” Jonah says, and as Dan pulls him away, he grins a little bit. “Weddings are dope, right? Everybody’s being so fucking cool. We should have done this way earlier—”
“Did you invite your dad?” Dan asks, point-blank.
Jonah blinks once. Twice. “Y-yeah,” he says, opening his mouth as if he’s got more to say. But he doesn’t say it, so Dan presses on.
“Why?” he asks, his brow furrowed. “What the fuck in God’s name made you—”
“I didn’t think he would come!” Jonah says hurriedly. “Fuck’s sake. I figured he’d just ignore the invitation and then I’d have another reason not to talk to him. But then he RSVP’d and I don’t think you can just un-invite people—”
“Why didn’t I know?!”
“Because you didn’t pay attention!” he says, swiping defensively at his bangs. “Any time Elyse had a question, she just came to me, so all the guest-list stuff ended up falling on my—why are you so pissed, anyway? I don’t think my dad ever did anything to you.”
Dan sighs, folds his arms. Doesn’t make eye contact. “Other than making you the way you are, I guess—”
“Fuck you, Dan,” Jonah mutters. “We’re not gonna do this now.”
“Sorry,” Dan says, against his nature. “Look, I just – I was surprised. That’s all.”
Jonah sighs, slumps a little. “Look, it’s not gonna be a problem. I texted Heather and Scott to keep him away from Mom and Mark. I’ll talk to him. It won’t be a big thing, okay? I promise.” He looks as uncomfortable as Dan has ever seen him, craning his head around the room and trying to catch his father’s gaze. Dan can’t help feeling sorry for him in that moment, which is an emotion he typically avoids, even in his closest relationships. He glances over at his own father, who is chatting amiably with one of his old coworkers, and is suddenly flooded with gratitude for even the wooden, formal relationship they have.
“You should introduce us,” Dan says firmly. “I’ll make him feel like shit and it’ll be fucking incredible.”
Jonah shakes his head. “You don’t have to do anything like that.”
“I want to,” Dan says. “What difference does it make? He’s already here, when else am I going to see him again? I’ll be subtle.”
“Bullshit,” Jonah says. “You’re like, the least subtle person I know—”
“Glass houses, Hodor.”
“Fuck you, Dan, it is our wedding day.”
Dan rolls his eyes. “Look, you don’t have to do anything, okay?” he says. He reaches out and takes one of Jonah’s big hands in his, running his thumb over the back in a soft motion and sees Jonah begin to relax and relent. “And before you get weird, I’m not doing this for you. This isn’t about defending your pride or what-the-fuck-ever. I’m actually incredibly tense right now from playing nice all day and I need to make someone hate themselves to let some of that tension out. And I can’t think of a more deserving guy—”
“So it is kind of about me,” Jonah says, a slight smile playing on his face, and Dan feels his own face and neck get a little warm as he sighs and pulls his hand away.
“All I’m saying is that your dad’s a prick and I—”
“Aw, Danny,” says Jonah, in that fake-sweet voice he only uses when he’s feeling smug beyond all comparison. “I think your feelings are showing.”
“We’re married, you assdick. I’m allowed to have feelings for you,” Dan mutters. “Look, just take me over there and let’s get this over with.”
So Jonah smirks and leads Dan over with a hand on the small of his back, and Dan plasters on a smile as Jonah’s dad looks up from his phone and drink. God, they look so much alike, it’s actually creepy – he always wondered where Jonah got the height, since it sure as fuck wasn’t from the aggressively average-sized Kanes, but looking at them two of them next to each other, it’s like looking at some version of Jonah sent from the future to warn them about artificial intelligence or something.
“Dan, this is my, uh, my father, Roderick Ryan,” Jonah announces. “This is Dan Egan, my—”
“Husband,” Dan cuts in swiftly, in his most ingratiating, let-me-tell-you-about-my-student-loan-reform-initiative voice. A calculated glance up at Jonah, a smile back at his dad. “Still sounds so weird, right? ‘My husband.’ What a weird new phrase to have to start using.”
Roderick slides his phone into the pocket of his suit pants and extends his right hand, revealing a stunning Patek Philippe. “It’s a pleasure, Dan,” he says. His handshake is so much firmer than Jonah’s, Dan thinks. Jonah has the handshake of a man who was never taught the proper form. “It’s a shame we haven’t met before, but I’ve done my research and heard good things. My son’s a lucky man.”
“Ah,” Dan says. Roderick’s teeth are straighter than Jonah’s; his hair falls in the same widow’s peak but lays smoother across his forehead and Dan silently thanks Jesus that he doesn’t seem to be losing any of it. “Well. I can say the same. You know, Jonah’s really – he’s something else.”
Jonah coughs slightly beside him, but Roderick doesn’t seem to notice. “Glad to hear it,” he says, but Dan presses on, choosing his words carefully.
“I’m just glad I stuck it out, you know? Really waited it out for the right person,” he says. “My parents have been together for almost 50 years, and they always really impressed on me the importance of getting married once, for life. Not just because it seems like the right idea at the time, but because you want to build a future with that person. My dad always talks about this concept of your marriage as a castle, and you build it up around yourselves, brick by brick and day by day—” He cuts himself off with a little self-deprecating laugh, taking Jonah’s hand, calculated and cool. “But enough of the sappy stuff, right? You don’t need to hear about all my personal philosophies, Roderick.”
Roderick takes a sip of his drink – vodka-soda, by the looks of it. “I wish you two luck,” he says stiffly. “Marriage can be – tricky.”
“So we’ve heard,” Dan laughs again. “Again, thanks for coming out. Are you in D.C. much?”
“Work brings me down here often enough,” Roderick says, and Dan cuts him off.
“Great! We should have dinner one of these days. I’d love to get to know the man half responsible for this man,” and he cuffs Jonah lightly on the arm before adding, “Well, genetically, anyway.”
Roderick’s jaw shifts visibly and, yep, that’s the fuck-you line he was aiming for, and it seems like he stuck the landing from the way he lifts his drink but doesn’t take another sip, the same way Jonah always does when he’s run out of steam or been bested. Dan’s briefly flooded with pride before he smiles again. “Jonah, I think we should go say hi to Adam and Lucy,” he says. “Last time I saw her, she was on her third glass of champagne, and you know how she gets whenever she has a night away from the kids—”
“White mom wasted,” Jonah rolls his eyes. “Yeah. We better do that shit now. I’ll, uh – I’ll talk to you later,” he says in Roderick’s direction, and as they walk away, Dan slides an arm around Jonah’s waist in triumph.
“I don’t really want to talk to my alcoholic cousin,” Jonah mutters from the corner of his mouth. “How long do you think we could slip out before anyone notices we’re gone?”
“Probably like five minutes,” shrugs Dan. “People are gonna be wanting to talk to us…”
“Fine. We’ll make it efficient,” Jonah says, and Dan smirks, because the day Jonah stops getting turned on watching him destroy their shared enemies is the day this marriage ends.
“The upside is that I’ve seen the future,” Dan says casually, “and if you age anything like your dad, I’m suddenly way less concerned about the long-term prospects of this marriage—”
“Jesus Christ, Dan, can we not talk about my dad right now?”
Chapter 2: It's Already Too Late
They honeymoon in Ireland because it seems like the thing to do. It’s not Dan’s first choice, which is Italy, as he makes pointedly clear. “When we said honeymoon, I kind of envisioned you fucking me in a villa in Tuscany for a week,” he mutters as they book tickets, but the week and a half pass with a kind of blissful languidness. They tromp all over the countryside and spent their nights in pubs where, on one occasion, Jonah goes out of his way to rope the rest of the room into a rendition of “Danny Boy,” and he grins as he pulls Dan into his chest and shouts, “That’s my husband!” over the cheers and jovial din.
So the rest of the summer passes as such. They close on their new place in Rochester, an elegant grey Victorian not too far from Dave’s neighborhood, and even though they don’t have much time to spend in it together, the time they do get is still great. And Labor Day weekend is a respite.
Jonah clocks out of the office on Saturday afternoon and gets a nonstop flight to Rochester that gets him there before the sun has fully set. He doesn’t necessarily love the commute, especially in the winter, but on the last real weekend of summer, it isn’t terrible, and if pressed, he’d even admit that he really likes the house. It’s more Dan’s house than their house, but their apartment in D.C. is more his than Dan’s by now, and so it all events out—and the house in Rochester is the kind of place Jonah can see himself adapting to living in, if necessary. It’s airy and bright, drowning in natural light, and the interior designer Dan had hired to make it look lived-in prior to their profile in GQ had done a hell of a job.
These weekends together are like a parody of the conventional. They cook dinner, Dan holding up the conversation with a rant about the newly-appointed heads of the Joint Economic Committee while Jonah minces garlic and posts a photo of their handiwork to Dan’s social media: “Kicking off Labor Day weekend with local craft beer from #NY25 and homemade mussels marinara over angel hair pasta. #IrishItalianFamilyRecipe” They eat in the dining room, falling into a comfortable argument they’ve had a dozen times before, and Jonah falls asleep before Dan, sprawled out on the firm king-size mattress with their second-story bedroom window open to hear the cicadas who don’t chirp in Georgetown.
When he wakes up on Sunday morning, the house is empty and quiet. Jonah’s halfway through a French press’s worth of coffee and Meet the Press before Dan comes in, dripping in sweat and wearing running clothes. “Oh, good,” he mutters, still breathing hard as he drops his headphones on the living room coffee table. “You’re finally up.”
Jonah cocks a brow as he gives Dan a once-over from where he sits on the couch, taking in his taut calves and flushed face. “Yeah, thankfully,” he says, raising a hand to paw lazily at Dan as he walks by. He succeeds in grabbing the hem of Dan’s black t-shirt and pulls at it until he relents and comes closer. “Get over here. Sorry I passed out last night, it was the fucking flight.”
Dan bites back a smirk as he leans down for the kiss. Because it’s not like Jonah’s proud of being so into Dan when he’s all sweaty and breathing hard and just back from a run or the gym, but he is, and they both know it’s a thing—Dan knows it’s a turn-on, and he encourages it. “Ugh, I’m gross right now, though,” he says, batting Jonah’s hand away from his ass.
“So… shower?” Jonah raises both eyebrows, and he sees Dan consider the prospect briefly for a moment before relenting.
“Fine. Yeah. Cool.” Dan kisses him again, nipping at his bottom lip, and then stands back up, turning on his heel and heading for the staircase. Jonah watches him go for a moment, all lithe lines and sharp angles, before pushing himself off the couch and following.
The shower’s already running in the master bathroom by the time Jonah makes it upstairs, and he takes a moment to lean on the doorjamb while he watches Dan undress. It’s a little bit shameless and he knows it, but god fucking damnit, he didn’t lock this fine piece of ass down just to take it for granted. Dan pulls off his t-shirt one-handed and shucks his pants and boxer briefs in one go, and pulls Jonah in for another bossy kiss before stepping into the shower spray, tilting his head back and letting the water run down over his face with a long, slow exhale. He glances at Jonah, shedding his pajama pants and t-shirt on the other side of the glass shower door. “Stop just staring at me, you fucking weirdo,” he says over the sound of the spray, and Jonah rolls his eyes as he steps in.
“Fine,” he murmurs, dipping his head to let the water run over both of them. The previous owners had the bathroom remodeled only months before selling it, and Dan admitted at the time that the shower – much roomier than theirs back in D.C. – was one of the house’s dealmakers. Dan pulls him closer by the hips, and he’s making these little noises as Jonah lays kisses on his freckled shoulders and leans down to suck on the pulse point beneath his left ear.
“Missed you,” Jonah says quietly as he pulls back, thinking he can chance the admission with how good things have been lately. Dan takes a moment to respond, licking his lips.
“Missed you too,” Dan says finally. “Long week.”
Jonah nods, and then he’s losing control, spinning Dan around and pressing him up against the tile wall to kiss down his spine, ghosting fingers down his sides in the way that always makes him shiver.
It’s early in the evening when they’re both sitting out on the front porch, halfway through a six-pack of craft beers that Dave sent over. Dan’s halfway through his second beer even though he claims to not even like Dave’s home-brews, he’s got his glasses on to give his eyes a break from his contacts, and he’s nestled deep into an Adirondack chair with his phone all the way inside on the charger, and Jonah’s never felt more married than when he looks over at Dan, reading the New Yorker in the dying twilight and looking totally at ease. And so Jonah finally decides it’s time to broach the secret he’s been keeping all week.
“I’m thinking I might change direction a little bit, work-wise,” he says, and Dan looks over at him with a quizzical look, one that signifies this was not on the docket for their long weekend alone.
“Oh?” asks Dan, and Jonah shrugs, picks at the label on his beer as he weighs the words.
“I’m just…” He trails off as he tries to put them in order, to be honest without being a dick. But then a thought flits across the surface of his mind, fuck it, and he shrugs and chases after it without another thought. “I just don’t love where we’re at right now. I don’t think Rees is gonna run for reelection, and I never get to fucking see you anyway.” Which is true. It feels like most of the time, when Dan’s in D.C., Jonah’s in Maryland, and when Jonah’s in D.C., Dan’s up here in New York. Sometimes it feels more like having a ghost of a roommate than anything else.
“So what are you thinking?” Dan asks quietly, and Jonah peels the rest of the label off his beer, crumpling the wet paper into a ball and flicking it into the hedges beneath their porch.
“Journalism,” he says after a pause. “I was thinking of relaunching Ryantology—or, shit, okay, it’s not exactly Ryantology, but similar, more like video analysis of breaking news. Short-form, clickable shit with a high shareability quotient.” Words he’s practiced and perfected for the pitch meetings he’s already planning on taking. “Higher production value. Maybe leave the whole Cloverfield look behind?”
There’s a look of surprise spreading across Dan’s face as he seems to consider the prospect. “Fuck,” he mutters. “That’s actually not – you could take that somewhere,” he says, and Jonah feels his internal organs do a little cartwheel.
“Shit yeah,” he says calmly. “And there’s another thing. I’m gonna write a book.”
The look Dan gives him this time is considerably more skeptical. “A book,” he repeats.
Jonah rolls his eyes. “Dude, it’s not what it sounds like. I know you’re writing your book, blah blah fuckity blah pride vision America’s future, it has nothing to do with that. It’s a tell-all about the Meyer administration—”
“Incredibly original,” Dan says dryly. “Great timing, too, she’s only been out of office for almost four years—”
“It is a great idea,” Jonah presses on. “Or else I wouldn’t have gotten a sweet fucking offer from Penguin—”
And this actually causes Dan to choke on the sip of beer he’s just taken. “Holy shit,” he says through a round of hacking coughing. “Were you just going to keep this a fucking secret until I walked by a fucking display in fucking Barnes and Noble, or—”
“I was going to tell you last night, but I fell asleep,” Jonah admits. “Knock on fucking wood or whatever. The contract isn’t signed.”
Dan’s smirk is turning into an actual grin as he folds his magazine and tosses it beneath the deck chair, and Jonah laughs and stretches as he stands, his hands hitting the porch roof as Dan pushes up from his own chair and heads for the front door.
Time moves too quickly in the fall. If Dan had a favorite season, he’d probably say it was fall, but between the commute and his new workload, he barely sees daylight from September to November, let alone any fucking foliage.
Dan doesn't really do family. He never has. It's why he's always tried so hard to stay in D.C. during the holidays, because he's so deeply uninterested in spending Christmas and New Year's watching his parents coo over Dave's latest progeny. So his brother procreated (and it's not like he even did the hard work). Who gives a fuck of a shit? He'd much rather send a card and make a phone call and have that be the end of it.
They've resolved to do Christmas with Jonah's family most years, which only seems fair, and frankly, Dan prefers it. The Kanes fucking love him. Jonah's mom wept at their wedding and they all seemed pleasantly, if cautiously, thrilled to see Jonah marrying a congressman. Dan never feels out of place or put on the spot around Jonah's weird, fucked-up, upper-class family. That's his chosen sweet spot, the people he strives to impress without trying too hard. Middle-class Catholics from upstate who are supposed to love him unconditionally - not so much.
But of course he's stuck around them all the time now, so Thanksgiving with the Egans seems like a foregone conclusion. His mom calls him on a Tuesday afternoon to ask whether he wants her to make Grandma's meatball recipe since it's the first time he'll be home for Thanksgiving in years and Jonah's never had them but mentioned wanting to try them, and he brushes her off with an irritated "sure" and immediately calls Jonah.
"Did you tell my mom we were going to do Thanksgiving with the family?"
"Uh, yeah?" Jonah sounds like the question is a foregone conclusion, a no fucking duh, and Dan heaves a sigh.
"It's not like we'll be stuck there all weekend," Jonah says defensively. "We go over for a few hours, we leave once we've worn out our welcome. Who cares?"
"I do," Dan says, pacing his office in a tight, straight line, back and forth, back and forth. "It's just --"
"Look, I'm sorry," Jonah mutters, in the defensive, beaten way he always apologizes, like it's a last resort and nothing more. "Your mom just--sprung it on me. I honestly couldn't say no."
"I know," Dan says begrudgingly.
"No, I know," says Dan, a bit more gently now. "Mom's hard to say no to, I get it--"
“I wouldn’t have said no anyway,” Jonah says. “I like your family. I still don’t get why you’re so confused by that. They’re good people.”
“Fine,” Dan says. He sits back down at his desk and stares at the pages and pages of the latest bill he has to read, stacked on his desk. He fiddles with a lemon-yellow highlighter as he looks it over, deeply unmotivated. “Fine. We’ll spend Thanksgiving with those ‘good people.’ We’re not doing Christmas there, though.”
“Fine by me,” Jonah says shortly, and then, “I have to go. We’re having – kind of a situation in the office.”
“Sure,” Dan says, absent, tapping the highlighter on the page listlessly. “Talk to you later, then.”
There’s a short pause, like Jonah’s about to say something else, but then he hangs up without another word, and Dan sets his phone down on his desk a little harder than necessary.
Thanksgiving arrives with a blast of frigid air coming across the border from Canada, and he and Jonah bundle up and make the drive to his parents’ house near the lake with the radio on loudly enough to make up for the fact that neither of them has much to say to the other. Dan is irritated that he’s even having to go through with this, and Jonah seems to be irritated that Dan is irritated, and between the two of them, it’s almost a relief when they pull up to the Egan house on Lakeview Avenue and make a run through the freezing wind to the front door.
Dan’s mom pulls them both into tight hugs as they walk inside, and Dan tenses only slightly at the gesture. “Hey, Mom,” he mutters into her shoulder as he returns the hug. “How are you doing?” He feels stiff and out of sorts in this house, he always does at first, but his mom kisses his cheek and pretends not to notice.
“I’m wonderful, sweetie,” she says loudly, over the chatter in the house. “Jonah, hon, c’mere, give me a hug – how have you been?”
“Fantastic,” Jonah says with an easy smile, and it really isn’t fair that he’s so comfortable in this house. “Busy, you know, but it’s all good –”
“Good. I’m glad.” Mrs. Egan grins as she releases him from the hug. “Do you want a purpose? You can come start peeling potatoes for me—”
“Gladly,” Jonah says, peeling off his jacket and scarf and hanging them from the coat rack, as if he fucking lives here. “Dan, you want to help?”
“I – I’m gonna go say hi to the family,” Dan says stiffly. “Maybe later, okay?”
Jonah rolls his eyes as he follows Mrs. Egan to the kitchen. Don’t be a dick, he mouths over his shoulder, and Dan raises a hand to flip him off, but thinks better of it and catches himself at the last minute. As he moves into the living room, the noise gets louder and more concentrated, and then there they are: Dave, Sarah, and all three of their fucking children, watching the parade on the couch while James Clifford Egan kicks back in his storied easy chair. It’s like Norman Rockwell puked all over the place, Dan thinks as he clears his throat and offers a cautious wave to the room.
“Uncle Dan’s here!”
Dan cringes inwardly as Brendan and Maddie rush toward him. From the couch, Sarah – with the new kid in her arms – gives him a sympathetic look. “Brendan, Maddie, let Uncle Dan breathe and sit down for a while,” she says. “C’mon, guys, the SpongeBob balloon’s almost on –”
Dan flashes her a grateful smile as he heads for the couch, taking a seat on her left. “How are you?” he asks quietly. “How’s work? Are you back yet?”
“Just went back,” she nods. “Two months isn’t enough, Dan. We need to catch up to the Scandinavian countries.”
“I shouldn’t tell you this so early, but Kristen Lawrence in the 21st and I are joint drafting a universal paid family leave bill,” Dan says. “We’re looking to have it go to the floor by June—”
“That’s fantastic,” Sarah says. “And an incredibly savvy move. Gets you in with the women and the families in a really strong way. Your idea?”
Dan nods, a little smug despite himself. “Not entirely, but I put it in drive, so to speak. So I think we’ll be seeing a bump in—”
He’s interrupted by another round of screeching from the kids, and looks up to see Jonah in the living room entryway. “The way they react to him, you’d think he’s Harry fucking Potter,” he mutters to Sarah, who rolls her eyes.
“Jonah!” Dave stands up from the couch as well, crosses the room to give Jonah a tight hug, smacking his back heartily. Dan frowns as he watches them break apart. He doesn't bother saying anything. Instead, he picks up and heads for the kitchen, where his mom is busy over a pot of potatoes.
"Jonah's a little busy," he says as he nudges her out of the way, picking up a masher and applying himself to the pot with full force. "Figured we could switch jobs."
His mom watches him mash with raised eyebrows, eyebrows he knows look just like his, the full dark brows and high arches that give them both a look of permanent skepticism. "You sure that's all?" she says, returning to the famous meatballs. "You look a little tense."
"I'm positive." Dan sloshes a little milk into the pot before returning to the mashing with renewed vigor. "He's a popular guy around here, apparently."
Mrs. Egan shakes her head. "You know, we didn't invite Amanda and Logan this year..."
"Really?" Dan pauses, surprised despite himself. "I assumed they just didn't want to come."
His mother purses her lips and shakes her head. "You know, Amanda has quite a mouth on her. She's made it pretty clear that she doesn't want to be associated with your career."
"So it was fine to just not talk about it when I was behind the scenes, but the minute I get elected she's too principled?" Dan rolls her eyes. "Fuck her. You know she sent a twenty-dollar check as a wedding present?"
"That sounds about par for the course these days." Mrs. Egan rolls her eyes. "Every family has one."
"Well," Dan mutters. "Thanks. Glad I didn't have to deal with that nightmare."
"You know, your father and I really wish we saw more of you," Mrs. Egan says gently, placing another meatball on the tray. "You're welcome for dinner any time you're up here. Jonah, too."
"We're not really here as much as you think," Dan says, limply, aware of the excusatory tone. "Especially not together. We're in D.C. a lot more than we're here..."
"We just wouldn't mind seeing both of you more often," she says with a shrug. "Together or apart. I know Dave and Jonah are making plans..."
"What's Dave's angle?" Dan says.
"His angle? Sweetie, I think he and Jonah just enjoy spending time together," she says, shaking her head. "Dave wanted to know whether you two would be interested in going down to Martha's Vineyard with him and Sarah and the kids next summer."
Dan rolls his eyes. "Was he going to ask me that at any point?"
"I wouldn't know. I just overheard the conversation." His mom places the tray of meatballs, now fully formed, into the oven and shuts the door. "And you can probably lay off the potatoes now. I think they've learned their lesson."
Dan glances down at the pot of potatoes, now fully pulverized, and sighs.
By the time dinner hits the table, Dan can tell that Jonah and his brother are already at least four of Dave’s craft beers deep apiece (and of course they're Dave's, because somehow the man has enough time for a hobby on top of his real estate company and running triathlons and impregnating his wife every three years). They're laughing and talking animatedly over the noise of the kids and It's a Wonderful Life on in the background, and every so often Dan catches sight of one of them making an expression or a gesture that he can tell must be a reference to one of his own. They look comfortable together, like they could pass for old college buddies, and Dan can't explain the strange feeling of what must be jealousy pooling in the pit of his stomach. It's just that -- he's always envied his brother's skill with people. Dan got the networking talent, the knack for making small talk with strangers and turning them into supporters and fans, but Dave is good at making friends. Real friends, not just strategic allies. But he has no idea what his brother might possibly want with Jonah, who's still admittedly difficult to get along with on a good day, let alone like and befriend.
From the way Jonah's throwing his head back when he laughs and making starry eye contact with Dave, Dan can tell that he likes him too, and it's worrisome on another level. Because Dan would rather die than admit it out loud, even to himself, but even on his worst days, Dave's still a younger, kinder, better-looking version of Dan himself. And he's seen the way Jonah's looking at Dave -- grinning crookedly, swiping occasionally at his bangs in the way that only Dan would recognize as a nervous tell. He recognizes it with a blast of nostalgia, because he hasn’t seen it since their earliest days as a non-couple, and he never thought he’d fucking miss it until he sees it resurface in his parents’ dining room, aimed at his own fucking brother.
Jonah pulls him aside as everyone else begins to mill around the dining room. “What the fuck is up with you?”
Dan furrows his brow in feigned askance. “Literally nothing—”
“Bullshit,” says Jonah calmly, keeping his voice low but obviously annoyed. “You’re acting weird and I know you don’t want to be here, but just get through it, okay? Put on a fake fucking smile and at least pretend that you like these people so that I can stop making excuses to Dave—”
“You’ve probably been saying a lot of things to Dave,” Dan mutters. He looks past Jonah into the dining room and starts to head back in, but Jonah checks his walk with a hand on his shoulder, shaking his head.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” he says. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Dan rolls his eyes. “Nothing. Forget I said it.”
“Uh, that was a pretty fucking loaded statement, Dan,” Jonah says, and he’s using the voice he always uses when he’s picking a fight, and fuck, Dan really doesn’t want to do this here but he started it himself, after all. He folds his arms over his navy sweater as Jonah adds, “I don’t know what you’re insinuating about Dave, but I’m—”
“I’m not insinuating anything,” Dan says. “You two just look awfully fucking comfortable together.”
Jonah raises both eyebrows as the realization seems to hit him, and suddenly Dan can feel himself flushing, self-conscious and reddening in the too-warm living room. “Wow, Dan,” he says, drawing out the vowels to an almost excruciatingly smug point. “Are you getting jealous?”
“No,” Dan says, but it’s a little too quickly and Jonah’s already laughing.
“Dude,” he says, “you’re getting all worked up about me and Dave? This is fucking incredible.”
“Shut the fuck up—”
“Language, Danny, there are kids around,” Jonah faux-admonishes him, and Dan grinds his molars and shifts his weight uncomfortably. Because – well, fuck Jonah, what does he know about jealousy? Fuck him. And fuck Dave. There’s nothing to worry about.
Chapter 3: Tell Everyone You Were a Good Wife
It’s a Wednesday night between Christmas and New Year’s and Jonah’s in a Chili’s with people he never expected to see again.
The reunion was an impromptu thing thrown together on Facebook, “since nobody took the ten-year one seriously, let’s get together for fifteen,” and he couldn’t turn it down because he was going to be in town anyway and it doesn’t really matter, let everybody see how good he’s doing, fucking crushing it, nothing to be ashamed of. But now he’s back here in Nashua in a fucking Chili’s with twenty people from his fucking prep school and it’s starting to feel a little bit like a nightmare, because they’re all doing just as well as he is, if not much better, and everything they say about high school never ending is true, because he’s still the kid who sold his Adderall to the cool kids for a place at their lunch table and all the West Wing stories and D.C. names he can drop won’t change that.
Neil Albertson is bald now, so at least Jonah’s got that to think about and gloat over. His hair is still pretty great. Neil Albertson also runs a Fortune 500 company and is on the board of the National Council on Homelessness, so whatever, fuck Neil Albertson, who welcomes Jonah into the reunion with a clap on the shoulder and an enthusiastic “Jonah Ryan! J-Man! Who shot J.R.!”
“Yeah, hey,” Jonah mutters, feeling off-kilter and strange, because he’s usually the one who has to shout his own name upon entering a room.
He grabs a vodka-soda at the bar and sits down to scope out the rest of the room.
“So, we heard you got married—” Neil’s acting way too friendly, Jonah thinks, as he shifts uncomfortably in his seat. The wedding ring on his hand catches the dim restaurant light and he self-consciously switches his drink between hands to stow his left hand in his pocket.
“Yeah, uh, earlier this year,” he mutters. “Finally made it official, y’know. Gotta lock that ass down for good, right?” He doesn’t really know what he’s saying; he never gets like this when Dan comes up in conversation in D.C., where there’s a script to follow in regard to public discussions of their relationship, but here he just feels so out of his depth. But everyone else laughs appreciatively and it feels strange, off-kilter, just fucking weird.
“He’s a senator, right?” says Katie Langford, and Jonah shakes his head.
“Not yet. Congressman for the New York 25th,” he says automatically. Katie Langford used to be the absolute hottest fucking girl in their class and she’s put on a fair amount of weight but still has great cheekbones. She reportedly just got back from skiing in Utah with her family, so whatever. She has nothing to worry about. “He’s up for reelection next year, so—”
“So what’s he up to tonight?” asks Neil. “Up in New York?”
“Actually, we’re, uh, we’re here together,” says Jonah. “I mean, not here at Chili’s, he’d probably rather fight a bear than eat at a chain restaurant, but yeah, he’s in town with me. We do Christmas with my family and Thanksgiving with his. But I think he and most of the family are in Manchester tonight. Something going on at the Bartlet Library, I guess, but I wasn’t really that into it.”
“Well,” says Katie. “Lucky you. I love Washington. My husband and I were thinking of taking a trip down there next summer – we could probably grab dinner at some point? We’d love to meet your husband.”
Jonah smiles a little bit, in a way that indicates he knows this proposed dinner will probably never come to fruition. “Sure,” he says. “Definitely. Hit me up.”
When he pulls into his mother’s driveway, Uncle Jeff’s car is already parked in the drive. Jonah crunches up the snowy front path, letting himself in as quietly as possible. But everyone’s in the living room, Dan at the center of the bunch, wearing the Fair Isle sweater Jonah’s mother gave him for Christmas and laughing as he tells a story.
“Hey,” Jonah mutters as he hovers in the living room entryway. “You guys are back already?”
“Yeah, it was a pretty early night,” Dan shrugs. “Plus, I mean, snow in the forecast, we thought we’d beat it back—”
“Did you hear Zoey Bartlet-Young is pregnant again?” his mother exclaims. “Those children are adorable, don’t get me wrong, but she’s on her third. How does she have time to hold down a job?”
Jonah’s cousin Lucy rolls her eyes from the end of the couch, the youngest of her four toddlers perched on her lap. “If that’s aimed at me, Pamela, you know—”
“Lucy, I didn’t even look in your direction,” his mom says stiffly. “Then again, if the shoe fits…”
“Does anybody want coffee?” Dan says quickly, ingratiatingly. “Jonah. C’mon, hon. You know where the espresso machine is, right?”
“Yeah.” Hon. Like that’s something they’d ever call each other in private. God, it’s incredible how hard Dan tries sometimes. Jonah shrugs, beckons Dan forward as he heads for the kitchen.
“So,” says Jonah expectantly as he removes his mom’s espresso machine from the cabinet above the stove and sets it onto the counter. “How was the Bartlet thing?”
Dan shrugs. “It was fine. Uneventful. Brought back some old memories, though. Intern days…”
“Must’ve been fun,” Jonah says. Dan busies himself with the coffee as he leans back against the counter, watching him bustle around the kitchen like it’s his own house. “The reunion was okay too, by the way.”
“Oh, right,” Dan says, distracted as the machine starts to spit coffee into a tiny cup. “Have a good time?”
“More or less.” It’s not worth getting into it, he thinks. Dan’s under the impression that he was more popular in high school than he actually was, and not that it particularly matters, because he’s a 33-year-old man who is fucking crushing it in his day-to-day life now, but still, he gets the sense that Dan would – he wouldn’t exactly be charmed by the whole truth. “Everyone was wondering where you were.”
“Yeah, well, I had a good excuse,” shrugs Dan. He takes the cup, takes a sip. “This is fine. It’ll do. Are your mom and Lucy always like that with each other?”
He looks good. He looks really good. Jonah can’t really help himself; he swallows his annoyance and wraps his arms around Dan’s waist from behind, bending down enough to burrow his face into the hollow between his neck and shoulder. “Pretty much,” Jonah mumbles, and kisses his neck once, chastely, but with enough of a squeeze at his waist to signal that there’s more to come. “You want to go have a quickie in the bathroom?”
Dan snorts. “We’ve got a roomful of your family members out there waiting for us to bring them coffee.”
“Ugh, who gives a shit,” Jonah murmurs in his ear. “We’ll tell them we had trouble finding the machine in the cabinet.” He smirks against Dan’s neck and breathes into his ear, shifting against him just enough, and Dan sighs, relents, presses back and turns to break free of his arms.
“Fine,” Dan says, “seven minutes, tops.”
Jonah shrugs. “Works for me.”
When the new year hits, it comes in with a blast of frigid air and a blizzard that pummels D.C. incessantly for twenty hours straight. Jonah couldn’t be gladder to have recently tendered his resignation as he nestles himself into their apartment and blogs. And everything’s great. He works on the Meyer book at night, he pounds out video after video analyzing breaking news during the day, he sometimes doesn’t put on pants until he has to open the door for the takeout guy at lunchtime. And then Dan comes home in the evenings, looking put-upon and ranting about the Republican majority and how Dwight Richmond from the South Carolina 3rd had better watch his motherfucking back if he ever tries to shout him down on the House floor again, and they order dinner or throw something together, and it’s fucking fine. It’s not great, it’s no West Wing gig at 25, but he’s not 25 and he’s actually got something to his name that he can brag about now.
So it’s cool. It’s fine. Jonah Kane Ryan is fucking shit up, disrupting D.C. in a way that is making the establishment sit up and take notice, and so-fucking-what if Dan’s being a little bit more of a dick these days? If close observation of his mom’s own four marriages over the course of his life has taught him anything, it’s that the honeymoon doesn’t last forever.
And if he’s honest with himself – truly honest, in the way he doesn’t like to be honest because it disrupts the delicate balance of confidence and self-assurance that keeps his vessel afloat – this was part of the reason he wasn’t quite comfortable saying yes to the proposal in the first place, because he’s seen marriage – he’s intimately familiar with the many ways they fall apart. There must have been fifty ways for the men of New Hampshire to leave his mother. But none of that matters now, because they’re in it now, inextricably tied together in the press and political landscape. And it’s really not so bad, all things considered; if anything, they’ve just reverted to the way they fell in love, fighting hard and then fucking even harder, except more and more these days Dan’s the one who ends up begging on his knees or tied to the bedpost. Marriage changes everything. It’s part of the landscape. And they’re happy together, Jonah thinks over dinner, while snow continues to blanket the D.C. metro area, rendering the glow from the streetlamps outside a fuzzy, diffused orange that beats against their apartment’s kitchen window.
The night’s shaping up to look pretty typical, Jonah nestling back into the living room couch to pound out a few pages on the Selina book while Dan hacks away at his memoir across the room, when his phone buzzes on the table. Lazily, he reaches out to hit “ignore,” but stops short when he sees Mom flash across the screen.
“Shit,” he says out loud, and picks up. “Hey, Mom.”
There’s only silence on the other end for a few moments, and Jonah feels his stomach start to drop out from underneath him, a thousand worse-case scenarios hitting him at once – but then his mom speaks, and at least half of them are assuaged. “JJ, sweetie,” she says, using the childhood nickname she never remembers he doesn’t like. “How… how are you? How’s everything?”
“Everything’s fine, Mom,” he says impatiently.
“You doing okay? How’s Dan? What are you up to tonight?”
Jonah frowns, glancing over at where Dan is tapping away at his laptop, a look of irritated concentration playing on his face as he chews on his lower lip with singular focus. “Dan’s okay. We’re just staying in tonight, getting some work done. What’s up?”
There’s another long pause, a moment of silence where all Jonah hears is Dan muttering “Do I say ‘depression’ or just ‘depressed,’” before his mom cuts back in.
“I just thought you should know that Mark and I are getting a divorce,” she says, and Jonah, in that moment, is briefly and genuinely taken aback.
“Whoa,” he mutters after a moment. “Jesus Christ. Are you—”
“Don’t be upset,” his mom says, and Jonah has to choke back a laugh at the utter goddamn notion that he even would be. Really? He’s gonna mourn the departure of the stepdad who always treated him like some kind of weird freak of nature in high school because he preferred the speech team to the basketball team? The guy who still pretends that he and Dan are just roommates or buddies when they visit Nashua because admitting that the pretty little guy with his stepson is his husband would be too much for his blue-collar Wisconsin constitution to handle? Yeah, no, Jonah’s not really that broken up about this, thanks.
“I’m not,” he says. “Fuck Mark, Mom. You’re better than that piece of shit.” They chat haltingly for a few more minutes, blandishments about work and the site and his uncles and this and that, but when he finally hangs up, he’s feeling distinctly troubled.
“Dan?” he says out loud, and Dan lets out a little half-noise, a sound indicating that he’s listening but not particularly interested. His eyes flick up from over his laptop and Jonah sighs.
“My mom and Mark are separating.”
“Good,” Dan says immediately, his gaze returning to his screen, business as usual. “Fuck that guy. You don’t even get along.”
“Why does everyone assume I’m gonna be upset?” Jonah mutters. “I’m not. It’s just… weird. I thought they were just in the swamp of commitment. I mean, they were together for almost twenty years. Longer than any of her other husbands…”
“Twenty years is a long time to put up with someone’s shit,” Dan says absently as he continues to type. “Maybe it just… I don’t know, the last straw or whatever.”
“I’m not really interested in the details,” Jonah shrugs. “It’s just…” He waves a hand through the air, suddenly out of words. “Fuck it. Who cares. I’m going to bed.”
He can feel Dan watching him as he heads to their bedroom, hears a pause in the frantic typing that resumes as soon as he’s left the room. As he climbs into bed, he finds himself staring at the wedding ring on his finger, the way it gleams in the lamp light, and he’s suddenly hit with a pang of regret, a feeling he’d characterize as pretty fucking unusual and unfamiliar.
Fuck it. He turns off the lamp and listens to the muffled grind of the occasional car on the slick, snowy streets outside and Dan’s mile-a-minute typing out in the living room, and he knows he’s not going to sleep well tonight.
The wedding invitation arrived in the mail in May of 2001, addressed to him and him alone. Together with their families, Michelle Siegel and Roderick Ryan request the honor of your presence at their marriage. Saturday, the 19th of July, two thousand and one. First Congregational Church, Manchester, New Hampshire. Dinner and dancing to follow at the Rosewood Inn. The “together with their families” part was the part that threw him off. He technically had to go, even though he hadn’t really seen or talked to his dad in years, or else the “family” part wouldn’t be true. And there was a kind of a morbid curiosity lurking within him, because weddings are weird and he’d never even seen the lady his dad is marrying and he kind of wanted to show up just to find out what she looks like.
Two months later he put on his only suit and tie, the one he wore to his mom and Mark’s wedding the year before, and his cousin Heather picked him up on her way up from Massachusetts, Jonah squeezing into the backseat with Heather’s brother Scott riding shotgun, complaining about the early hour. His mom had no interest in driving him and Jonah didn’t blame her a bit. It was thoroughly shitty. Scott made small talk with him for about twenty miles before Heather put on the radio and they didn’t really talk at all and they made it to the church just as the processional started. Michelle turned out to be super-hot, with dyed-blonde hair and bright white teeth that gleamed in the church’s stained-glass lighting. Jonah thought about his mom’s weddings to Joseph and Brian and Mark and he wonders if his dad insisted on a pre-nup with this lady like his mom had with all of his stepdads so far.
Halfway through the reception was when it started to get sloppy. Scott had been slipping him rum and cokes from the open bar for the past hour, and it wasn’t the first time Jonah had a drink, but it was certainly the first time he’d had hard liquor. Two in and he felt loose and loud and comfortable, and as his dad rose from the seat of honor at the wedding party’s table, Jonah started to laugh to himself.
“I’d like to thank you all for being here today,” his dad began, and before Jonah knew what he was doing, he began chanting his mom’s name, rhythmically, like trying to rouse a speech instead of drown one out.
“Pam! Pam! Pam!” he yelled, and he exchanged brief glances with Scott and Heather before they rose from their own seats and backed him up, “Pam! Pam! Pam!” His dad looked ready to combust and Michelle looked even angrier, and Jonah couldn’t stop laughing as he chanted, and it was the first moment of joy he’d felt all day.
They shut up after a few more rounds and Jonah made a hasty exit. He eventually found himself outside in the hotel’s little back garden, thinking about nothing in particular. All he knew was that he was angry.
His dad had no right to leave in the first place. Jonah knew that when he wrote his autobiography someday, once he did something important, he would make it clear that Roderick Ryan had no right to knock up Pamela Kane at 23, get hustled into a shotgun wedding three months after their master’s degrees from Dartmouth were conferred, and then just bounce seven years later, claiming he was too young to be tied down with a family. He certainly had no right to pop in and out of Jonah’s life at will, showing up at eleven and thirteen and once at Christmas the year previous, only to leave without a word and let him down again after a couple days, once he remembered that being a father isn’t necessarily the easiest game in the world.
Jonah picked up a handful of gravel from the ground and tossed piece after piece into the bubbling, lit-up fountain. He’d made three of them in when Heather comes through the door, holding a glass of water. She took a seat next to him, saying nothing.
“He sucks,” Jonah volunteered after a solid thirty seconds of silence, and Heather snorted.
“My mom thinks so too,” she said. “She didn’t really want to come.”
“Yeah,” he said, to fill the conversational void more than anything.
They stared at the fountain and Jonah tried not to listen to the music coming from inside the reception. He’d never fucking get married. He knew that much for certain.
So Dan’s been in office for a year now, which means it's time to think long-term. And yes, clearly, the next item on the docket is writing a book.
It can't just be any shitty political memoir, two covers made of bullshit surrounding three hundred pages of noise-shaped air. This is his coming-out, pun intended, as a member of the party elite, the Democrats' great white hope. Normally he'd pimp out the job to one of his staffers, the way Selina's book had been delegated to him, but Dan is nothing if not a perfectionist, and he's willing to take on the task of shaping the ultimate progressive slobber job.
He settles on the title pretty early on: American Pride: A Personal and Political Memoir. "Jesus Christ," says Amy when she sees it written out on a napkin in the bar at the Four Seasons Georgetown. "What, was 'Queer Eye for the Presidential Guy' already taken?"
"Number one, fuck you for accusing me of pandering, and number two, it was not. I checked."
"Pandering?" Amy snorts and sips her drink primly. "This is beyond pandering. You're getting lower than a sorority girl at limbo night."
"Say that again when I have a fucking bestseller on my hands, Ames." Dan balls up the napkin and shoves it deep into his jacket pocket. "All part of my new five-year plan."
"Which puts you... where, exactly?"
Dan cocks a brow, lowers his voice. "Interested in coming along for the ride?"
"Fuck no," she snorts. "I'm happy enough to let you take it in the ass for the party's agenda alone. Speaking of. How's Jonad?"
"You know, there's gonna come a time when I'll have to ask you to stop calling him Jonad."
"Not today, though."
"Jonad is doing well, thank you for asking," Dan shrugs.
Amy stirs her drink with a cocktail straw, listless and bored. "He's blogging again, I see."
"So you do pay attention to him."
"Hard not to, when his fucking face is all over Politico and Gawker every time I look--"
"He's doing well for himself," Dan says, defensive in spite of the way he usually plays the henpecked married in solidarity with Amy. "He's gotten some very lucrative offers --"
"What, has the entire world somehow fallen into a coma and forgotten about Ryantology?" Amy snorts.
"Don't forget who he's married to," Dan shrugs. "Which brings us back to the new plan."
"Right. Where's that headed? The Emerald fucking City? Pay no attention to the Dan behind the curtain?"
"Close," Dan says with a jovial tip of his glass. "Senate in a few years. Hallowes is gonna retire at the end of her term, says she'll endorse me if I want her seat."
"Shit." Amy takes a sip of her drink, sounding impressed. "Just gonna stick it out in the House until then?"
"That's the plan." Dan doesn't bother going further into detail, at the meticulously diagrammed quarterly calendars he's already got worked out for the next few years – Amy doesn’t need to know, nor, he thinks does she particularly want to. Instead, he watches as she drains her glass and then sighs, a loaded gesture that usually preludes some sort of put-upon goodnight.
Amy drums her short, neatly polished nails on the wood of the bar for a few seconds before she says, “As much as I hate to leave you on such an uplifting note, I have a breakfast meeting with Big Corn tomorrow, so I’m going to call it a night.”
“S’fine,” Dan says, tipping back what’s left of his own drink. “I’m actually meeting some potential staffer for coffee tomorrow morning. Still haven’t found a new comm director—”
“Oh, right, I forgot Parker quit,” Amy snorts. “Didn’t she have some kind of meltdown? What is it about working with you that destroys women’s minds?”
“She didn’t work with me, she worked for me,” Dan bristles, “and she was fucking mentally unstable from day one, so no great loss.”
“I can’t believe you,” Amy says with a roll of the eyes. “Put that in your fucking book.” She slams a twenty down on the bar and pulls on her coat, and Dan signals the bartender to close his tab as he watches her out of the corner of his eye.
“Give Big Corn my love,” he says sarcastically, and she blows him a kiss with her middle finger, then begins to weave her way through the crowded, dim bar as Dan sighs and signs the receipt.
It’s snowing a little, spitting brittle mid-January flakes, when he shows up at his old coffee shop the next morning, just across the street from the White House. It’s not really convenient for him at all, and he’s not sure why he chose to schedule the interview practically all the way out into fucking Foggy Bottom, rather than at some joint closer to the Capitol. He rationalizes it to himself as something having to do with discretion and privacy and that he misses the cappuccinos at this particular coffee shop.
“Congressman Egan?” The voice comes from behind him in line and he turns on his heel to lock eyes with – well, fuck.
Dan doesn’t believe in time travel or alternate dimensions or any of that Star Trek: Deep Space 9 shit that Jonah leaves in the “recently watched” part of the Netflix queue all the time, but he’s pretty sure that if he did, this would be one of those cases where he’s gone back in time to warn himself about the drastic consequences of some decision he’s about to make. Because this kid – this is him, ten (or, fine, fifteen or fuck, maybe even closer to twenty) years ago. The same dark, intense eyes, shark-toothed grin that’s just a little bit too eager, the handshake grip that’s just a smidgen too tight. An off-the-rack suit from Macy’s that Dan can tell has been tailored to look bespoke. He’s white-knuckling the strap on his messenger bag and Dan wants to tell him to chill out but if this kid is anything like him, he knows it won’t make a fuck of a difference.
Dan, naturally, likes him immediately.
“I’m Nathaniel Shaw,” says the kid, dropping the handshake to pull out his wallet in preparation to order. “I hope this isn’t too forward, but I’ve really been admiring your work on that family leave bill, and—”
“Oh,” Dan says shortly. “Oh, ah. So you’re not the kid I’m meeting about the opening. Right, thank you.”
“No, no, just—” The kid furrows his brow as they move up a space in line. “Your interview is late? That’s incredibly unprofessional, if you don’t mind my saying so.”
“I don’t mind it, no.” Dan shrugs. “Who do you work for, Mr…?”
“Shaw,” the kid says too quickly. “Call me Nate. Please. I work at the White House.”
It’s almost laughable, how much that phrase, delivered in that exact tone of voice, gives him some kind of Pavlovian hate-erection. It reminds him so much of Jonah when Jonah was still indubitably the worst person he knew. But from the way this kid is squaring his shoulders and making eye contact a little too hard, Dan figures his position can’t be very important, so he decides to dig a little deeper. “Yeah? What do they have you doing?”
“I, um, I work for Michael Herschlag,” he says, which Dan isn’t expecting, because Michael Herschlag is POTUS’ head of speechwriting, so that’s at least a little more impressive than some sort of glorified-intern job. “In the comm department,” he adds unnecessarily, and Dan smirks.
“I know Michael Herschlag,” he says as they move up another spot in line, the barista greeting them with a chipper What-can-I-get-for-you? Dan orders a cappuccino. Nate does the same, without a hint of irony or a lingering look at Dan – classic move. Subtle flattery through coffee orders. Dan didn’t just perfect that move, he practically invented it. But game respects game. When they’ve both paid, Dan thinks fuck it and turns back to Nate.
“I don’t know what you’re doing for Herschlag,” Dan says, “but the potential comm director I’m supposed to be interviewing hasn’t shown up yet, and if you have a minute to chat, I don’t have to be back on the Hill until…” He glances at his phone. “Nine thirty.”
A look of panicked relief flushes over Nate’s face, and he digs into his messenger bag. “If you’re interested, I’ve got a résumé somewhere…”
“No need,” Dan says with a wave of the hand. “Where’d you go to school?”
“Cornell and Dartmouth,” Nate says immediately. “Cornell for undergrad, Dartmouth for grad.”
“Shit,” Dan says for lack of a quicker reaction. “I did my undergrad at Cornell, and my husband went to Dartmouth. Weird. Is Russell Aaronson still in the poli-sci department at Cornell?”
“I had him for Environmental Policy,” Nate nods. “Really cool guy. You two know each other?”
“He’s, ah, an old friend,” Dan says. “How’d you get the job with Herschlag?”
Nate shrugs. “I was working for Rebecca Klausner at the State Department and she hooked us up.”
“Rebecca’s great,” says Dan. He’s not sure if it’s the fact that this kid is trying so hard to flatter and impress him or the fact that it’s actually kind of working, but he likes Nate Shaw. So he takes an uncalculated risk. “Hey, look, I don’t know what your schedule looks like today, but I’m down one member of my staff, and I’ve got a visit to the USO headquarters this afternoon and a set of prepared remarks that could use some punching up, if you’re interested.”
Nate cocks an eyebrow, and coughs limply into his elbow. “I think I feel a little bit of a flu coming on,” he says conspiratorially. “I can be out of the office by one…”
Dan grins. “The visit’s at three-thirty,” he says. “If you’re late, don’t bother.” He turns on his heel, clutching his cappuccino in one hand as he pushes through the door back out into the gritty, grey snowflakes.
Chapter 4: And I Hope I Die
It takes a little less than a month for Nate Shaw to knock out everyone but his chief of staff as his most valuable staffer.
Sure, Claire is still his MVP, not least of which because she’s terrifying and steely and he’s always had a thing for strong women, especially the ones who appear meek and unassuming until their bosses find themselves double-crossed by a member of the Republican majority and they turn into terrifying blonde Medusas, roaming the corridors of the Capitol in sensible heels, out for blood. But – and perhaps it’s a function of his own narcissism, and he’s not going to deny that, but – Nate is undeniably useful. He’s great with words. He wields words like a dagger, the way Claire wields her threats, and together the two of them form a sort of back-biting double act that makes Dan nostalgic for the days he used to spend needling at Amy and Jonah, pulling their metaphorical pigtails in hopes that one of them would turn around and smack him down and give him the opportunity for a good, fair fight.
(And, well, he’s married to one of them now, so everything worked out in the end, and he gets all the fair faux-fights he wants at home, where Jonah has officially set up the offices of The Rundown, the not-Ryantology blog he’s decided to make his new life’s passion. The thing is, the site isn’t doing badly. To the contrary, it’s actually picking up a considerable amount of steam. And he knows he shouldn’t be surprised, because Jonah is a goddamn toolbox at the worst of times, but he’s also bright and determined and knows what the fuck he’s doing. But it still makes his stomach twist a little when he sees Jonah’s name on Politico without “husband of Congressman Daniel Egan” appended to the end, which he’s not proud to admit.
But that isn’t the point. His home life is great. And if Jonah is a little less affectionate at the end of the day, seems a little more withdrawn and harried for his busy schedule, well, whatever. It’s not Dan’s problem.)
If anything, though, the flaw Dan sees in Nate is that Nate knows exactly how valuable he is, and that’s dangerous. Dan wasn’t born fucking yesterday, and he spent fifteen years in D.C. constantly recalculating his own value. He thinks about that old relationship maxim about cheating, “How you got them is how you’ll lose them,” and he’s not sure whether Nate sees him as just another boss he can sell out for a higher bounce, but he’s read that playbook and isn’t about to let that happen.
In any case, it doesn’t really matter. Because everything, for now, is great. He’s doing great things. The maternity leave bill is racking up support across the aisle, confirming his suspicion that aligning himself with women’s issues was a great move. He just finished the first draft of his book. He’s not having panic attacks and his sleep schedule actually has some semblance of normalcy. Everything’s fine. It’s great.
He doesn’t like to think about his own mortality. He doesn’t really think about death. Except one morning Claire greets him at the RHOB looking exceptionally frazzled, and before he can ask why she looks like a Cathy cartoon, she blurts out, “There’s been a credible threat against you and you need to skip the meet-and-greet today.”
Dan’s stomach twists and he immediately feels the panic and nausea hit him, but he clenches his fists and breathes in steadily and asks in his ice-man voice, “What do you mean by ‘credible’?”
“We’re still not sure,” she says as they walk down the corridor. “The office received a call from a pay phone this morning stating that if you attended the Connect with Congress event in Adams-Morgan, there would be, I quote –” She glances down at the folder in her hand, frowning. “‘Retaliation against Egan’s pushing of the liberal homosexual agenda.’”
Dan pauses, closes his eyes for a moment as they arrive at the conference room door. “There are still pay phones in this city?”
“Frankly, sir, it surprised me too.” Claire folds her arms, looks around nervously. “Look, the cops are on this. They’re communicating with us. It’s just not –”
“We’re not canceling the event,” Dan says, and watches her face turn from pale white to bright red in a half second.
“Sir, with all due respect, what the fuck are you doing?” she mutters. “This isn’t a test. You’re not going to get extra credit points for looking a lunatic in the eye and daring him to shoot you, you’re just going to get fucking shot—”
“No, I won’t,” Dan says, in a voice he knows sounds more self-assured than he actually feels. “Claire, if I cancel this event based on a single threat made from a pay phone, that sets a precedent for any fucking lunatic who decides he has an issue with my policy or even just wants to get his name in the news. It makes me look weak, it makes our office look like a bunch of fucking cowards.”
He’s breathing hard, and he’s not sure whether he really believes what he’s saying, but isn’t this what he signed up for? He didn’t grow up idolizing the Kennedys for nothing. It’s not like he didn’t know that this would be a possibility. It’s even somewhere in his charts and spreadsheets somewhere, some sort of calculated graph of how much an attempted assassination would boost his approval ratings and buzz. But there’s a massive fucking amount of difference between dry statistics in a password-locked Dropbox file and actually staring down an unknown assailant with a gun based on some kind of principle he’s not even positive he believes.
Dan knows himself, though, and he knows that regardless of what he stands for – if anything at all – he can’t cancel the meet-and-greet. He can’t just not go. He’s used to low-key fear; he’s used to a quiet, humming throb of anxiety running just beneath the surface of his skin, like it’s as much a part of his body as his white blood cells. But he learned long ago that it didn’t have to control him. He can either ignore the fear like background noise or take hold of it, learn to control it, weaponize his own fight-or-flight mechanism for fight. And it’s served him so well, especially in recent years, especially since he conquered his relapse. He’s always scared but he’s also usually angry and when he takes hold of the two of these emotions together, he’s dangerous.
“Tell them the event’s still on,” he says, resting his hand on the conference room door handle as Claire looks on, uncertain. “And get Nate into the office now. He needs to start drafting a couple addresses. One we’ll actually use, one… just in case.”
Of course, nothing happens.
The cops catch the guy, detain him, an hour before the event is set to take place. The meet-and-greet goes off with plenty of nervous energy to go around but no real disturbances to speak of, and Claire looks like a solid wreck by the end of the day, but the staff gets through it in one piece and so does Dan.
By the end of the day, though, his nerves feel frayed and he’s starting to lose control of the fear. He’s not going to allow himself to succumb to it, but it’s taking more and more effort to hold himself together, so when Claire announces that she’s leaving at seven, Dan nods and says, “Everyone else should follow her lead. It’s been a fucking day.”
He catches Nate in the hall as they wait for the elevator, takes in his worn expression and the pronounced slump to his posture. “You doing okay, Nate?” he asks, hitting the down button a few more impatient times.
Nate straightens his shoulders, shakes his head. “I’m fine. Long day. I don’t say this all the time, but I need a drink.”
“Yeah?” Dan asks. “Where’re you headed?”
“Kessler’s, I guess?” Nate shrugs, naming a bar Dan’s never heard of. “You’re more than welcome. You’re probably more in need of that drink than I am…”
He considers it for half a second before shrugging back at Nate. “Fuck it. Why not.”
The bar is darker and louder than any of the places he frequents these days, and Nate knows the bartender by name, some hot brunette with high cheekbones and a smattering of freckles. She immediately pours them a couple beers and Dan resists the urge to ask for a vodka-soda. His phone buzzes against his leg, and when he takes it out, there’s a missed call from Jonah and an accompanying voicemail, but it’s too loud in the bar to give it a listen, so he shoves it back into his coat pocket. Probably nothing.
“You know what the shittiest part is?” Nate says without prompting. “The speech I wrote, in case you got shot? Some of my best work ever.”
Dan snorts with laughter, shakes his head. “Been there. Occupational hazard. It’s like that moon landing speech Safire wrote for Nixon, the one he was supposed to read if it all went sideways. One of the best addresses he ever wrote, and it never got used.”
“Yeah, well.” Nate rolls his eyes. “Not that I’m saying it should’ve panned out any different, but it’d be fucking great if I could write like that on a normal basis.”
“You do good work, Nate,” Dan says without thinking. “You’re valuable. If you weren’t, I would’ve fired you weeks ago.”
He looks sideways at Nate, who’s staring in another direction, at a table of women across the bar. “Which one?” Dan asks, lowering his voice as he surveys the table. He’s looking for a familiar face within them, but sees none – shit, has he gotten to the point where all attractive young women have become indistinguishable to him? Is he that fucking old?
Nate barely points with his index finger as he lifts his beer. “The blonde’s Autumn Peake, she works at State. We’ve been on a few of the same email chains but never spoken in person. I’m pretty sure the brunette to her right is Dakota Gutcher, she’s a lobbyist but I can’t remember what firm she’s with. And the brunette on the left is Halle Wilder, works for Mary King. And in answer to your question, I haven’t decided yet.”
Dan smirks, leaning forward on his elbows, the familiar rush and thrill of the nightly chase coming flooding back to him like riding a bicycle. “What’s King’s angle on the family leave bill?” he asks, more out of his own interest than anything else.
“Dunno,” Nate remarks casually, “but I’m sure I could find that out for you tonight.” He cocks a brow as the table of women seem to catch on to their interest, glancing over and dissolving into a series of whispers hidden behind hands.
“Are you suggesting you’d sleep with this woman to further my agenda?” Dan counters. Not that it’d be a bad thing if you were, he adds in his head, but doesn’t say it out loud, content to let Nate squirm for a moment.
But Nate doesn’t squirm, doesn’t even fidget. “I know you’re not necessarily – thus inclined,” he says with a light laugh, “but look at that, and tell me this has more to do with your agenda than mine.”
“Oh, I’m plenty inclined, believe me,” Dan says darkly, because, fuck, he’s married and bisexual, not dead. “But let me pass on a bit of wisdom. Don’t be so quick to jump to sex as a tool on someone else’s behalf. If you’re fucking on someone else’s word, to make someone else money, that makes you a whore. Reserve it for matters pertinent to your own self-interest only. That makes you – upwardly mobile, let’s say.”
Nate’s eyes are no longer on the table of women. “Good to know, sir,” he murmurs. “I’m still gonna sleep with Halle Wilder tonight, though.”
“Then find out what she knows about her boss blocking a bill designed to benefit women, and then take that advice to heart for the next time,” Dan says. He finishes his beer and slides off the stool, fixing his tie and his cuffs as Nate checks his phone, a move he can tell is calculated to make him look busy and preoccupied, as if getting laid is an afterthought and not his primary motivation for being here. “And get at least a little sleep tonight. Tomorrow’s gonna be fucking rough if you don’t.”
As he leaves, Dan glances back at the bar, at Nate, who has made his way over to the table of women and has already ingratiated himself into their conversation. He’s got his ID badge hanging loose around his neck, a nice move, displaying his position without saying a word. Dan can read every move because – fuck. These used to be his moves. These were things he perfected on his own, thought he was a genius for figuring out on his own.
And they worked, right? He got what he wanted. He fucked his way up to the top and got the star-making political marriage he always planned on. So he can’t figure out why the hell he feels so uneasy, watching Nate perform the exact dance he choreographed years before. He doesn’t want to go back, wouldn’t trade places for anything.
I’m fucking happy, he tells himself as he climbs into his car. He repeats it out loud, just to drive it home. “I’m fucking happy.”
When he pulls into the driveway at home, he pauses, doesn’t get out of his car immediately. It’s fucking cold outside, and even though he claims publicly to love the cold weather – “I’m from New York, we don’t feel cold like normal humans” – the icy wind makes him fucking miserable. It’s not late at all, only 9:30, and he can see the light on in the living room, where Jonah’s probably halfway into a movie or attempting to multitask on a couple different work projects at once.
He sighs. He steels himself for the cold, pulls his scarf tight around his throat like a noose and makes a run for the front door. As he lets himself in, Dan notices that the apartment is quiet.
“Hey,” he hears from the living room. Jonah’s still in his khakis and sweater over a button-down, sitting on the couch with his laptop next to him. “You’re kinda late.” His tone isn’t accusatory, merely curious, but Dan bristles at it anyway, for reasons he can’t quite articulate.
Dan frowns, stepping into the living room and taking off his outerwear as he goes. He throws them over the coatrack, shaking his head. “Yeah. Long fucking day. I went and had a drink.”
“Where’d you go?” Jonah asks. Again, his tone isn’t quite one of prying, but it raises Dan’s hackles anyway, gets under his skin, and he finds himself snapping back as he answers.
“A fucking sports bar, Jonah. Jesus Christ. You know, I almost got shot today, I think I can—”
“Whoa. Whoa.” Jonah holds up a hand. “You fucking what?”
Dan furrows his brow in confusion. “I mean, I told you. Didn’t I tell you? You would’ve heard—”
“I was in publisher meetings about the fucking book all day,” Jonah says. “I haven’t heard anything. Who almost shot you?”
“Some lunatic. It doesn’t matter,” Dan says, brushing off the question. “Nothing happened. It was just stressful as shit—”
“And you weren’t going to tell me?!”
“Jesus Christ, Jonah!” Dan tries not to shout. “I assumed you would have found out, that someone would have said something. Someone was going to shoot up the Connect with Congress thing if I showed up, we called their bluff and showed up anyway, and nothing happened because the cops did their job. I thought it could wait until I got home.”
He realizes instantly that he’s said the wrong thing, from the way Jonah stands up from the couch, pacing the floor like he’s trapped in a cage. “Are you fucking kidding me right now?” Jonah asks, his voice seething with anger. “At no point did you maybe think ‘Hey, maybe I should call my fucking husband, let him know that someone is threatening to kill me’? Did you think about anyone else on your staff while you were making the decision to call their bluff?”
“Why should I have to call you when it’s my life in danger?” Dan spits. He realizes, after the fact, exactly how stupid the question is, but it’s too late, and—
“Because,” Jonah spits back, “you should maybe think, ‘Hey, this guy cares enough about killing me to shoot up an event full of innocent people, maybe I should at least fucking call my husband and let him know not to, I don’t know, open the fucking door when he’s not expecting a visitor,’ or—”
“Fuck. Of course this is about you.” Dan shakes his head and starts to head for the bathroom, but Jonah rounds on him again, cutting him off.
“So what? You think this is just about you, then? You think your decisions happen in a fucking vacuum?” Jonah shouts. “What about your staff? I bet they told you to cancel the thing, and you just went on with it as some point of pride, right? You can play Russian fucking roulette or pretend to be JFK all you want, but—”
“Hey.” Dan’s tone is ice cold, a warning shot. “Don’t make this about—”
“Oh, see, now I’m going to,” Jonah laughs coolly. “Jesus Christ. You don’t think I worry about you? You don’t think I fucking care about you? You’re not a stupid guy, Dan, so I figured you would have picked up on that by now, but no, instead I’m spending Valentine’s Day fighting with you over whether or not I should care about your getting death threats, so—”
“Fuck.” Dan closes his eyes, leans against the wall. “Fuck. It’s Valentine’s Day.” Not that it matters, not that it would matter normally, because it’s not a holiday either of them gives a lonely single shit about celebrating, but—this looks bad, it looks even worse than it did before. “We had dinner plans, didn’t we?”
“Yeah, funnily enough, I was wondering when you were going to remember that part,” Jonah says, deadpan. “Guess whatever gossip reporter you tipped off about our reservation isn’t gonna have much of a story to report about our happy fucking marriage, huh?”
“I’m sorry,” Dan mutters. “About all of it. I honestly – the entire fucking day, the threat, the meet-and-greet, we were all going out of our minds. Claire didn’t remind me so I just didn’t remember.”
“Don’t be sorry. You know how I feel about that word.” Jonah shakes his head and sits back down on the couch, looking weary. Dan bites his tongue and then walks toward the couch, standing over Jonah, suddenly feeling as beaten and tired as he looks.
“Fine,” he mutters, and then collapses in one smooth motion onto the couch, onto his lap, his legs spread wide to bracket Jonah’s hips. He presses his face into the space between Jonah’s neck and shoulder, breathes in ten long seconds of something familiar and calming, that solid, spicy scent that anchors his ship. Jonah’s hands tentatively move up to his back, pressing wide and warm against his back through his shirt. “It’s still technically Valentine’s Day for two hours,” he mutters against his neck. “Do you want to go back out, get a drink and be seen?”
“Not really,” Jonah sighs. “That routine matters a lot more to you than to me.” There’s a heaviness to the way he says it, a lingering, implicit But we can if you want that Dan has come to expect from statements like this. He doesn’t want to, though; he doesn’t particularly care.
“Nah,” he says quietly. “Not worth it. It’s cold as shit out there.” He leans back to look Jonah in the eye, and then sighs into the kiss that follows. It’s soft and familiar, like they weren’t just fighting for blood a minute ago, and Jonah’s hands are broad on his waist and lower back and they could move to the bedroom, but what’s the point, he thinks as he fumbles for Jonah’s fly.
It’s quick and slow and languid and efficient at once, somehow, and even though they’re getting each other off like teenagers, hands and mouths and shallow breathing that hitches every so often, Dan’s never felt so married in his life. There’s half a moment when his mind flickers elsewhere, and he wonders whether Nate managed to coax any info or useful gossip out of King’s staffer. Whether he even got her into bed at all. (But if Nate’s like him, of course he did, he thinks, then gasps as Jonah sucks hard on the pulse point beneath his ear.)
They don’t talk about this fight after the fact. They act like it never happened, they move on. And Dan is fine with that.
It's midmorning on a Monday when he runs into Amy in a coffee shop near the Cannon Building. At first he isn't even sure it's her – a flash of blonde hair and a khaki trench coat from behind, could be anyone – but then she turns and it's her and Dan can't stop the tide of relief that washes over him.
“Thank god it's you,” he mutters when she gives him a two-fingered wave, her phone clutched tightly in her hand. “Anything new? What's on the agenda today?”
Amy rolls her eyes, takes a sip of what smells like peppermint tea. “Technically, legally, I'm not supposed to be talking to you right now,” she mutters. “Family Leave Bill shit, all day long.”
Dan grins. “Keep me updated.”
“Yeah, well.” She drops the tea bag in the trash and pops a lid on her cup, looking exasperated. “I could do without your breathing down my neck about it 24/7, you know.”
“You know if our positions were switched, I'd be doing the same for you,” Dan says as he takes his coffee from the barista and leads her to an empty table in the corner.
“You're forgetting that I don't work for you,” she shoots back. “You're not the client. NOW is. They just happen to be backing your bill—”
“And someone just happened to steer them to you and PKM instead of any of the other countless lobbyists on K Street,” Dan says archly. “C'mon, Ame. Let me know what's up.”
She glances around the shop for familiar faces before leaning in and lowering her voice. “It's headed to Education and the Workforce today or tomorrow. Upside: Lawrence is on the committee, so you've got a homer there. Downside, Mary King.”
“Fuck,” Dan mutters. “Right. Can you get a meeting with her? Go mano a mano? Girl-on-girl, so to speak?”
Amy rolls her eyes, doesn't dignify his admittedly lame crack with a direct response. “She's been dodging our office for the past week. Look, Dan, you know her district is red as fuck. You say 'Mandated paid family leave,' they hear 'North Korea.' Woman-to-woman isn't going to work on a bitch running for reelection.”
“It will if you remind her how bad she’ll look to her female constituents—” Dan begins, but Amy cuts him off.
“Nope.” She gathers her things, slings her bag over her shoulder and picks up her tea. “I can’t play the woman card on her, conservative women don’t actually care about women’s issues. She’s unfuckable in that way. Political vagina dentata.”
Dan shudders. “Christ.”
“I’ll keep you updated,” Amy says as they leave, Dan edging out in front of her with his phone in hand, taking pains to look busy, just in case. “But not in public. Come by my place tonight.”
He cocks an eyebrow as he opens the door, letting her walk out in front of him. “No hot date with Ed tonight?”
“Ed’s around. Ed’s making tilapia.”
“I redact my prior statement,” Dan deadpans, “that sentence oozes sex.”
“Fuck you. Bring the Cloud Botherer if he’s available,” she mutters. “The more plausible deniability, the better. Let’s play boring suburban couples dinner party, and maybe I can slip you some intel in a fucking game of Scrabble.”
It’s March. It’s been a long fucking day. Dan sighs as he hangs up the phone to a soft knock on the door. He looks up. Nate's standing in the doorway, framed by the dim light of the near-empty office.
"You can head out," Dan says. "There's not really anything left here for you to do."
"You sure?" Nate says. "I don't leave until you leave, you know the deal."
Dan shakes his head, beaten. "No. I'm about to head out as well. Maybe get an early dinner..." He trails off, then adds, "Unless you want to grab a bite, go over the JEC session notes and strategize a little."
Nate raises both eyebrows in apparent interest. "Mr. Ryan's out of town?"
"He's in New York," Dan clarifies, although he isn't sure why. "Taking meetings with networks. All that's off the record..."
"Of course," Nate nods. "Sure. Lemme just grab my things, I'll be done in a minute."
Dan watches him go with a faint sort of interest, the way he might watch a baseball game on in the background of a bar during a lull in conversation. Then he slides his laptop into his bag, pulls both phones off their chargers and glances at them both. There's a text from Jonah on his personal phone: Got a good vibe from MSNBC. Dan's thumb hovers over the screen briefly, before he shakes his head and slides it into his pocket.
He and Nate drive separately to Tavola Toscana, where he greets the host and slides into his usual table with minimal fanfare and only a single raised eyebrow. He gestures frequently with his left hand, mindful of cameras -- there's nothing suspicious about his having dinner with his comm director, and he knows it, but he still makes a point of keeping a folder open on the table to signify to any rubberneckers that this is strictly business. But the topic of discussion quickly changes from the committee session to other things. They talk easily, with mutual interest, about New York and Washington and whether it's true that Bill Ericsson is jumping ship on the Chung campaign. The conversation feels dangerous, like it hinges on the edge of something else.
"You're close with Amy Brookheimer," Nate says, more of a factual statement than a question.
Dan swallows a bite of pasta, washes it down with a sip of wine. “Yeah. She’s one of my oldest friends. Probably one of my best friends, at this point.”
Nate nods. “Can I ask you something?” He waits for Dan to shrug in assent, then presses on. “Is she happy at PKM?”
“I don’t think ‘happy’ is the word,’” Dan says, mulling over the question. “I think she’s comfortable, and very wealthy, and I don’t get the sense that she’s going to be leaving any time soon. Lobbying suits her.”
“And she has you,” Nate points out. “A point of entry to the House and the JEC—”
“We use each other mutually,” Dan counters. “Why do you ask about her?”
Nate shrugs, nonchalant, in a way that Dan reads as rather telling. “I’ve just always been curious,” he says. “She comes and goes quite a bit. We’re all a little curious about your relationship, if I’m being honest.”
With a sigh, Dan sets down his fork and pulls his wine glass closer to him. “Amy and I have – we’ve been through it,” he says carefully, choosing his words with precision. “We were together for a while, but that’s very much in the past. I think we realized after a long time that we’re better off as partners of a strictly non-sexual variation.”
“Right,” says Nate. “And you’re also married.”
“The realization came long before that, but yes,” Dan says. “Yeah. Why do you really ask?”
He watches Nate, his dark eyes flicking down to his plate as he traces a finger across the tablecloth. The ambient noise and piano jazz of the restaurant seem to amplify as his hand moves across the table, skirting the boundary between Dan’s side and his own. Dan watches as his hand – long fingers, but more delicate than Jonah’s wide ones, hands that look as if they were designed for meaningful, theatrical gestures – snakes across the table and then pauses, fingers splayed just inches from where Dan’s got a loose hold on the stem of his wine glass. Then those dark, dark eyes flick back up to meet Dan’s, and he feels – something. A hot shiver, a burst of potential energy turning kinetic as it runs up his spine.
“Professional curiosity,” Nate says after a moment’s meaningful pause. Dan shifts his jaw, bites down on the inside of his cheek as they hold eye contact for what feels like an eternity. Nate’s the first to break it, moving his hand away to pick up the folder and slide it shut.
“Mr. Egan? Can I get you anything else?” The waitress appears in the nick of time, and Dan clears his throat, picking up his wineglass and draining it as he stalls for time.
“Just the check,” he says as he sets it back down. “Thank you. I appreciate it.”
As she retreats, he glances back to Nate, who has retrieved his phone from his jacket pocket and seems to be checking his email, nerves apparent. Dan breathes a sigh of relief. He pays for the dinner, signs the check and tips exceptionally graciously, and does his best not to look as if he’s in too much of a hurry to leave. He lets Nate walk through the door ahead of him, gives him a few steps’ berth, but Nate slows down to walk by his side as they stride through the parking lot.
They get to Dan’s car first, and Nate pauses expectantly. “I’ll get back to you with the numbers on the Hamlin bill,” he says after a moment. “Definitely before tomorrow, if not sooner.”
“Take your time,” Dan says. He opens his car door, but takes a moment before getting inside. He’s watching Nate watch him, his breath visible in the unseasonably chilly spring night air. He can’t shake the distinct feeling that he’s walking a tightrope over a ravine, that a single misstep could be fatal, that it would be so, so easy to make a mistake.
Nate smiles easily, like he was born to it. “That’s not something I’ve ever been great at,” he says. “Have a good night, sir.”
“You can call me Dan,” he says immediately, almost without thinking.
There’s another short pause, and Nate’s smile grows a bit wider, the parking lot lights glinting off his white teeth. “Have a good night,” he says again, and shoulders his laptop bag as he crosses the parking lot to his car. Dan climbs into his own car, lets the door slam shut and watches Nate from the window.
Chapter 5: Hope I Cut Myself Shaving
So it’s spring. So the bitter winter passes and Washington explodes into cherry blossoms and warmer air and Jonah begins spending more time in Rochester as the snow there finally begins to melt. He hates it there in the winter, stays away as much as possible, can’t stand the cold or the short days and will take the shitty D.C. weather over the relentless upstate snow and weeks on end of temperatures well below freezing. The winters there feel endless and numbing and he feels aimless and numb when he’s there, finds it hard to get out of bed or muster the energy to do any work.
But it’s nearing the end of April, and it’s getting warmer, and the idea of spending time in upstate New York doesn’t make his stomach fill with lead and his mind race to find an excuse to pass on a weekend in Eganland. And he can technically work anywhere now, now that he’s sold out, let MSNBC pay him a pretty chunk of change in exchange for IP ownership of the website, so during the first week of May, he books a flight to Rochester and tells himself he’ll enjoy it.
The thing is that it’s spring and an election year, and so the primaries are all anyone can fucking talk about. The obvious answer is that it’s going to be Chung running against the incumbent Republican, and the rest of the candidates in the game are a fucking joke. And in the middle of it all there’s Dan, running for reelection for the first time and about to drop a book that his publisher vows is going to “change the American political landscape,” whatever the fuck that means, with Jonah’s own Meyer tell-all set for September, when everyone will have election-year fatigue not yet invigorated by the October push and hopefully it’ll reenergize the conversation. The way Dan talks about it, it feels like there’s a storm brewing. He uses statistical figures and charts and half-assed graphs that Jonah’s pretty sure don’t make any mathematical sense, and he wants to tell Dan not to get cocky, not to be so sure their anointment as the party’s new power couple is a done deal. He can’t resist the urge to smack him around a little, call him an arrogant dummy looking heading for a pratfall. And he does, but Dan just ignores him, rolls his eyes and huffs a little and acts like he’s spewing bullshit instead of speaking from the experience of having seen this happen to so many other couples before them. Can’t get too high and mighty about your marriage or else it’ll all come crashing down, Danny. That’s D.C.
It’d be fine if it were just Dan running for reelection, but Jonah thinks he must have blocked out the majority of the midterm election two years before, because he definitely doesn’t remember this many people paying attention to him in relation to Dan’s campaign. He knows that logically, it makes sense. They brought this on themselves with the big publicity wedding, and his own profile is much higher than it was the last time around. But it’s mid-April when Dan sets down his fork over dinner at home in D.C. and says bluntly, “I need to you start spending more time in Rochester.”
Jonah frowns, dropping his own silverware into a pile of brown rice. “Uh, no ‘please,’ no ‘Hey Jonah, can we talk about balancing the whole bicoastal-if-you-consider-the-Potomac-a-coast-marriage thing a little bit more,’ none of that?”
Shaking his head, Dan presses on despite Jonah’s admittedly shitty tone. “Look, you know the deal. Election year, the public’s actually paying attention to me, and if they’re gonna reelect me, they have to feel like they know me. Which involves you. They have to feel like they know you, too.”
“Makes no fucking sense. I’m not their congressman.” Jonah rolls his eyes.
“Look, we were on the cover of fucking Newsweek last summer, okay? We’re local celebrities. But it doesn’t really work so well for me if I’m in Rochester half of the month and you’re just hanging out in D.C. It makes us look elitist and like I don’t have a connection to the district itself.” Dan takes a bite of chicken and chews tautly, before swallowing and adding, “You knew what the deal was. We bought some time over the winter, but you really need to spend more time there this year. For the campaign.”
He says it with a finality that Jonah resents, that Jonah’s actually really starting to fucking hate – the case-closed, end-of-conversation smugness that’s intended to shut him up. But it’s not worth starting a fight about it over the dinner table, so he rolls his eyes again, shakes his head and finishes his boring-ass chicken and rice like an adult and waits until Dan goes to bed to grab one of his emergency stash of Reese’s cups out of the freezer. And the subject is closed. He’s going to have to spend more time in Rochester.
But – it doesn’t matter for now, because it’s spring, and it’s an election year, and that means Jonah’s getting called in to make appearances on MSNBC shows almost weekly, dissecting the internet’s reaction to moment after memetic political moment, and Dan’s getting shitloads of money from donors and it’s coming much easier than the last election cycle, and the two of them are, to put it simply, fucking crushing it, career-wise. So he flies up to Rochester during the first week of May and sets up camp in their house in Maplewood and tries, at least somewhat seriously, to get his shit together and feel like a real person after the psychological shitshow of the winter. And he tells himself he’s going to like it.
He buys a fucking bicycle. That’s how desperate he is. He calls Dave for advice, since Dave, of course, has done a few charity triathlons in his day and knows his shit on bikes, and they go to a bike store and he buys an aluminum road bicycle, some high-tech ergonomic shit that makes Dan snort with laughter when he comes home and sees it leaning on the wall. He buys a bike and he takes long rides, getting to know the city, figuring out the geometry of the space so that when he’s inevitably taken to task for his role as an outsider, he’ll be able to come back at the critics with some level of expertise. And this is how he plans to spend his spring and his summer, writing and blogging and biking and commuting back to D.C. or down to New York as often as he can make it out.
The first week passes quickly. He doesn’t hate it. He’s honestly shocked by how little he hates it. It’s warm enough, the weather’s fine. He sets up shop down in the finished basement, a desk and a decent-enough lighting setup and it feels too much like the old days for his comfort, making viral videos in his shitty Foggy Bottom apartment with his shitty roommates, but it’s a change of pace and it shakes things up and the rest of the internet doesn’t seem to have a problem with it either, the view counts don’t lie. He spends his afternoons tweeting and emailing from the living room or the porch, occasionally getting up to make himself another cup of coffee or pace angrily around the house, aggravated by some bullshit happening on the internet. Then he goes for a long bike ride, Dan comes home around seven, they go out to some restaurant or diner or dinner party with campaign donors and play doting husbands for a couple hours while Dan shakes countless hands and Jonah excuses himself to the bathroom to check his email half a dozen times. Back home, more work for a couple more hours, and then sometimes there’s a blowjob or some half-assed sex in there before Dan pops an Ambien and falls asleep right on schedule.
It’s fucking boring. But he doesn’t necessarily hate it. Or, at least, he wouldn’t necessarily prefer to be doing the same thing back in D.C. Because D.C. is – sometimes he thinks everyone’s right about D.C. It’s a terrible place to live, the way it consumes your identity, turns the places you spend your time into the person you are – the neighborhood, the job, the office building, the size of your fucking desk. Everything is power and perceived closeness to power and eerily lit-up statues and monuments after dark. And he loves it, he’s loved it his whole life, ever since his mother first took him on vacation to visit his grandfather at the Senate and he first understood the power of dropping a name.
He’s done D.C. as an insider, he’s done it as an outsider, he’s done it as an outlaw and now he’s doing it as some combination of all of the above, plus the additional designation of political spouse. And he likes it least this way, because before, at least, in all of those incarnations, he knew who he was. Even if he had to shout his own name each time he walked into a room, he knew the people would sit up and take notice. And he has nothing to complain about, because now, at least, sometimes people say his name for him; they know who he is, his reputation precedes him. He feels as if he has nothing to complain about, but that doesn’t stop the tide of dissatisfaction from ebbing and flowing within him based upon who the reporters want to talk to first – and despite the work he’s doing and the TV appearances he’s making, it’s still usually Dan.
But it’s fine. That was the deal they made, after all. And Jonah is – he’s dealing with it. For better or for worse.
It’s one of the warmer days they’ve had so far, well into the 70s and sunny on a Saturday morning. It almost feels like a fucking waste to spend it inside, but he’s got work to do, so he barricades himself into the basement and does the goddamn work. It’s at least cool and climate-controlled down here. The whole room would be so much nicer if he could turn it into some sort of workable office space, he thinks – Dan’s got his own office upstairs, but it’s too stuffy for Jonah’s tastes, looks like it was decorated just to be featured in a home-furnishing magazine (which, in fairness, it was). The basement at least feels like a space of his own, but shit, it’s boring too.
It’s after one when he finally emerges from the basement. He’s almost forgotten it’s the weekend, which, honestly, is fucking pathetic. He used to crush weekends. Work hard, play hard, sleep when you’re dead was the general idea. Now? It’s a fucking election cycle and he woke up at seven in the morning in the fucking suburbs to do more work. Fuck.
The house is quiet; Dan’s nowhere to be found. He checks their Google calendar and sees a note about a couple fundraisers that afternoon, where evidently, Jonah’s own presence was non-essential. He’s kicking back in the living room, purposely watching anything but the goddamn news, when there’s a knock at the door.
He swings it open. Dave Egan is standing on their porch, wearing a Yankees cap and holding a couple reusable shopping bags. “Uh,” Jonah says. “Dan’s not here.”
Dave shrugs. “Okay,” he says. “You got a minute?”
A little confused but amicable nonetheless, Jonah opens the door a little further, letting Dave inside. “Sarah took the kids down to Connecticut for the weekend to visit her parents, so my whole weekend opened up, and I’m suddenly realizing how much I’ve trained myself to get done in the shortest amounts of time possible,” Dave says as he walks into their kitchen, setting the bags down on the table as if he lives here himself. “So I figured, it’s one p.m. and I just blasted through an entire weekend’s worth of errands that would normally take me two days if I was also juggling three kids, so hell with it, I’d come over and see what’s going on over in Danny’s world. He’s not home?”
“Fundraisers all day,” Jonah says, taking a seat at the table. “I was just finishing up some work, thought maybe I’d go for a ride later –”
“Question,” Dave announces, in a tone that isn’t really questioning at all. “Do you play basketball?”
“Do I play basketball? I played high school ball,” Jonah says immediately, not technically lying. “Derryfield Prep, led the team in assists.”
“Cool,” Dave says. “There’s a pickup game happening later, few of my buddies get together every weekend. I was thinking I’d drop by, if you’re up for it.” He grins, shrugs. “Figured you could probably use a break from my brother and his…”
“Yeah, I’m in,” Jonah says. Never mind that he hasn’t played basketball since high school; he needs some fucking human interaction that doesn’t come with an implicit “Give us more money” attached. “Give me five minutes.”
It turns out that Jonah still really fucking sucks at basketball, but it ends up to not really matter, the game is more communal shit-talking and roasting each other than anything else. Jock stuff. If D.C.'s prepared him for anything, it might as well be for hanging around with a bunch of suburban dads, half of who are as out of practice as he is. And furthermore, he hasn't really had this much fun since he moved here -- he feels himself relaxing minute by minute, just easing into this world where every sentence he speaks in a social situation doesn't have to be properly vetted and approved by Dan and his staffers.
It's cool. Actually, no, it's fucking great, and even though he still had about as much in common with Dave Egan as he does the goddamn Pope, he still finds himself thoroughly enjoying hanging out with him. A tiny internal part of him, a part he tries to suppress with confidence and swagger, keeps piping its shitty little voice up: Maybe you could be actual friends. Maybe your brother-in-law could be your friend.
If he's honest with himself, maybe he doesn't have as many friends as he thought. Years ago, Dan's social circles melded and became one with his own, but the guys he used to hang out and grab a drink with after work all either flamed out in D.C. and went to Wall Street or got married and had kids and became fucking boring as shit. But as he looks around the group of guys on the court, it occurs to him that while Dan would probably rather drink a ground glass smoothie than voluntarily spend time around these guys who he'd spent his entire adolescence plotting to escape and outstrip, he thinks he might be totally okay turning these guys into his friends.
They're taking a breather when one of them, a guy named Paul, nice enough but almost as shitty as Jonah on the court, speaks up. "So you're the guy who married Dan Egan, huh? Must be interesting."
"It's, uh - interesting is probably the word, yeah," Jonah says, wiping his forehead with his shirtsleeve.
Paul leans forward. "So is he - what's his deal? Still a fucking weirdo?"
Jonah glances at Dave, who shrugs. "He's who he is," Dave says, only half apologetically. "Dan has a... reputation."
"As a psychopath," Paul snorts. "He still kill dogs for fun, or...?"
Jonah frowns, shakes his head. "That doesn't sound like Dan," he says, and Dave nods along.
"That was only ever a rumor," Dave adds. "A bullshit rumor, by the way. No proof, no truth to it whatsoever."
"Yeah, well," Paul mutters darkly. "He was a fucking dick when we were kids and he still seems like a fucking dick to me."
Dave sighs, clearly uneasy in his role of the peacekeeper. Jonah shoots him a glare, which he returns, a silent, implicit, Don't start with him. There's more than a touch of Dan to the look and Jonah's briefly thrown off.
"Whatever," Jonah shrugs. "I think the Dan you knew and the Dan I know are... different people." He's never been good at this diplomatic bullshit. "He's a good guy. No bedside manner, but..."
"Yeah, what's that like?" Seth Grandy, who Dave introduced as one of his best friends from high school, pipes up, taking a swig from a charity 5K water bottle and grinning conspiratorially. "Two dudes, that's gotta be fun, right?"
"Jesus, Seth," Dave mutters, but Seth pays him no heed, chattering on as Jonah half-listens, amused.
"I'm just saying, guy like you, guy like him, not really much of a secret what goes where," he says brashly. "Right?"
Jonah smirks. "Pretty obvious, right?"
"That's what I thought," Seth says triumphantly. "Dave, you owe me twenty bucks."
They’re driving back to Dan and Jonah’s house after the game when Jonah, casually but meaningfully, broaches the topic that’s been troubling him since it was first brought up. “So, uh,” he says from the passenger seat of Dave’s Subaru, pushed all the way back to accommodate his long legs. “What was Paul talking about? Dan killing a dog or something?”
“Ugh, that,” Dave says uneasily. “It’s not really – it was a long time ago. Kid stuff.”
“When you say ‘kid stuff,’ you mean—” Jonah begins, but Dave cuts him off.
“Look, do you really want the truth?”
“Uh, obviously.” No fucking shit, he thinks, but doesn’t push it.
Dave heaves a sigh before he opens his mouth, but pauses before he speaks again. “Okay. You can’t say anything about this. It would look bad if he knew I told you—”
“Just fucking tell me, Dave. I’m serious.”
Dave’s silent for a moment, then: “When we were kids, we lived in a much shittier neighborhood. You know. Dad was in law school and it was pretty tight in our household. So when Dan was about ten, he was out in the front yard and these shitty neighborhood kids came around. Older kids. So he rides off with them on his bike, and I didn’t go with him so I don’t know exactly what happened, but when he came back, he was – different.”
“Like – upset?”
“Kind of,” Dave says thoughtfully. “But more… withdrawn. He wouldn’t tell me what happened. But then at school a rumor started getting around that he’d killed some stray dog on a dare from those kids. The teachers found out and confronted our mom. That’s how I found out. He denied the whole thing, though, and—”
“Nothing happened?” Jonah asks, frowning.
Dave shrugs. “The school wanted to get him into counseling, but our mom just talked them down to a referral to a doctor for a Ritalin prescription. Which I understand. I mean, look. She was the breadwinner on a teacher’s salary. If it got out that something was… wrong with Dan, it would have put her credibility to work with kids in jeopardy. She did what she had to do. And like I said, Dan never admitted to anything, so.” He shrugs limply, hanging a left onto Vermont Avenue.
“So why’s Paul still so hung up on it?” Jonah asks, his mind buzzing and reeling with too much new information to process at once. Dave sighs again as he pulls into their driveway, where Dan’s car is already parked. Neither of them makes a move to get out as Dave shuts the car off.
“That’s the shitty part,” says Dave after another pause. “Paul lived in the neighborhood too, and his dog had gotten out and gone missing around the same time. They never found him. He, ah… always held a grudge. Again. Totally uncorroborated.”
Jonah blinks. “Jesus.” It’s the only thing he can say.
“Yeah, well,” Dave mutters darkly. “Like I said, don’t let Dan know I told you. It was a long time ago, it’s pretty much buried. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d paid most people off to stay quiet about it.”
“So what, your whole family’s at the center of some big fucking conspiracy now?” Jonah asks. His tone is almost jocular, making light of what he’s beginning to realize is a really fucked-up situation, but Dave turns and shoots him a look that’s anything but.
“My family’s not at the center of anything,” he says. “My family is me and Sarah and our kids. What our parents did for Dan…” He trails off, and Jonah can’t help interjecting.
“Dan always gave me the impression that you were the, uh – the favorite, I guess.”
Dave shakes his head, looking lost in thought. “My brother’s not a bad person at his core. I really believe that.”
“You think I do?”
Fixing him with an impenetrable stare, Dave yanks the keys wordlessly from the ignition. “All I’m trying to get at is – if you ever feel like Dan is hiding something from you, trust that gut feeling. He probably is.”
“Can I just ask one more thing?” Jonah asks, again, can’t help himself. “Why are you so down to keep his secrets after what he did to you? Slept with your college sweetheart,” he adds unnecessarily, and Dave cringes.
“We’re brothers,” he says after a moment’s pause. “You stand by your brother. You don’t get much of a choice.”
Dan can’t believe he almost forgot how much he likes campaigning.
No long-term relationships to build. No bridges to fear burning. One person, one vote, one handshake and conversation to earn it. It’s the life-and-death game of human interaction boiled down to its most essential form, speed dating with a winner declared at the end. It’s like freebasing social validation. God, he fucking loves this.
He likes the job well enough too, but if he’s being honest – it’s thankless, he always has to be on, all anyone ever fucking does is complain about Congress when all he’s trying to do is get shit done. Not out of some deeply-held principle or duty to his country or what not, it’s more that he doesn’t have the patience to spend years and years writing and rewriting and trying to pass a single provision in a single bill. He allowed himself to get used to the speed of the executive branch, where everything happened fast – or if it moved more slowly, at least there were a million other things happening at the same time and he could never truly feel bored. Congress itself, he has to admit, is pretty fucking boring.
But the campaign – that’s his sweet spot. And then there’s the matter of the book. His publisher throws a party in New York on the night of its release, and Dan puts on one of his nicer suits and flies into JFK and is driven straight to the party. It’s being held in a converted firehouse in Soho, all exposed brick and hip dark lighting, but not so dark that everyone can’t make out his own book cover blown up on every wall. He really does look handsome as fuck on it, he thinks, sipping a drink while taking it in. The cover has him adjusting the buttons on his suit, wedding ring prominently featured, head held high as he walks toward progress and tomorrow or whatever, while the words American Pride blaze in 48-point font over his head. Looks so good that what’s inside almost doesn’t matter.
“Well, Dan, you’ve certainly out-bullshitted yourself.” The voice behind him is familiar, too much so, and he turns on his heel to come face to face with Leon West, clutching a glass of what looks like whiskey, which Dan thinks is weird, because the open bar his publishers paid for only features vodka and gin.
“What brings you to New York, Leon?” asks Dan in a cheery tone he knows is padded with clear, obvious venom. “I thought you’d be enjoying the nice weather down in D.C. Did the Post pay for your plane ticket, or did you fly here on your own dime as some kind of twisted romantic comedy gesture?”
Leon laughs, ice-cold. “I’m in town to do a piece on POTUS’ U.N. address tomorrow, but I’m sure you were aware of that,” he says. “When I got wind of these festivities I figured I’d have to stop on by –”
“Fascinating,” Dan says. “So you really do love me, Leon.” He flashes a short, sharp smile, a warning that Leon West will not heed, and he knows this is dangerous but fuck this shitty little glorified TV Guide editor for crashing his party.
Leon doesn’t bother smiling back. “Hard not to, after reading those advance chapters from the press packet,” he says. “You know, that’s a really pretty story you’ve got there, sad gay kid grows up and becomes inspirational congressman. It’s a little too symmetrical. Makes me feel like a few pieces might be missing.”
“There are a lot of women willing to go on record saying they had sex with you over the years, Danny,” says Leon. “Seems awfully convenient that as soon as the political tide turns and party strategists start whispering about the potential for a gay candidate in 2028, you’re the first to come parading out of the closet draped in the rhetorical equivalent of half a dozen rainbow flags with a big black ‘I voted’ dildo on your lapel—”
“Sure, Leon,” Dan says coolly. “If running a story about a closeted man engaging in compulsory heterosexuality in a town unfriendly to his sexuality is your angle, go for it, be my fucking guest—”
“Those buzzwords are bullshit and you know it, Egan.”
Dan smiles. No teeth this time. “I’m a happily married man, Mr. West,” he says. “And if you ever run a story calling into question the validity or sincerity of my relationship with my husband—who, I might remind you, is a respected journalist in his own right—I will make the rest of your career in D.C. a living, breathing nightmare, until you decide to move back to whatever back-ass Midwestern corn field you wandered out of to make your living reviewing the local Applebee’s.”
“Funny,” says Leon, unflappable. “That’s usually my line. And for the record, Congressman Egan, I grew up in D.C. You can’t threaten me.”
Dan smiles, shrugs, sips his drink with a cool affect. “I think I just did.”
But Leon West’s threats can’t cow him for long, because when Claire calls him the next morning with an advance review of the book itself, he realizes: West’s got nothing. “The Times is calling you ‘Gay F.K., which I think is a good thing,” Claire says immediately after a rushed hello.
“You think it’s a good thing?”
“I’m sorry, I’m actually seeing this for the first time myself right now—”
“What, you didn’t think it might be useful to read the actual review before you called me?” Dan says, pacing anxiously in his hotel room.
“I literally just got the email, Dan. Jesus.” He can hear her skimming the text out loud, but before he can interrupt and tell her to just send him the damn thing, she says in a rush, “‘Egan’s narrative is familiar, but his voice stands out in a year of otherwise bland and forgettable political memoirs… in an election year when all eyes are on the Democratic party to produce a new star after several years of flame-outs and disappointments, Egan’s personal and political thesis places him in a prime position, the progressive heir apparent to Danny Chung.’”
Dan is silent for a moment as he processes the words he’s just heard. “Holy shit,” he finally says. “Get me on the phone with Nate.”
“Well, Nate’s not here,” Claire says stiffly, “and I’m your chief of staff, not your secretary—”
“Getting awfully familiar there,” Dan says, but he’s in too good a mood to manage to sound particularly threatening. “Is he not in the office?”
“He stepped out, saying something about Amy Brookheimer,” Claire says, sounding distracted. “Shit! I gotta go. I’ll keep you updated.”
“Please do,” Dan says. He’s grinning hard despite himself as he hangs up, and decides to allow himself a single moment of unbridled happiness before his phone begins to vibrate in his hand again. He glances down at the screen, but when he sees Amy’s name on the display, he hesitates before answering, his thumb hovering over the screen before he answers. “What’s up, Ame? Calling to congratulate me?”
“I don’t have long,” she answers in a hushed tone. Her voice is a little muffled, like she’s hiding the fact that she’s talking at all. “You need to get back to D.C. as soon as fucking possible.”
“What? What the shit is—”
“I just came from a meeting at the RHOB and I heard Mary King and one of her staffers talking in the ladies’ room,” Amy says quickly. “Kristen Lawrence’s dad died last night and she went back to New York to deal with it, and King and Furlong are going to push your maternity leave bill to the floor today while you and Lawrence are both out of town.”
“Fuck,” Dan hisses. “To kill it?”
“Sounds like.” Amy pauses, and Dan thinks he can hear a flush in the background.
“Are you still in the bathroom? Fuck, Amy, that’s not safe.”
“Look, you can’t let anyone know I told you. I was meeting with – it’s not important, fuck, just get back here.” She hangs up, and Dan grips his phone with white knuckles and sweaty palms, feeling the swell of anxiety rise in his chest.
Fuckers. It’s the only word that hasn’t deserted him. He doesn’t allow himself time to think before acting; he hurls his shit back into his carry-on bag and bolts.
It’s eleven in the morning when his plane hits the tarmac at National, and it’s closer to noon when he bursts past a couple of uniformed guards onto the House floor, his arms laden with folders and books. From across the floor, he catches a half second of eye contact with Furlong, vitriolic and ice cold. Dan doesn’t drop his gaze, stares him down like a predator, and Furlong doesn’t either, holds his ground, and it’s only when someone else walks between them that the glare is broken. When the interloper passes, Furlong is gone, he’s talking to someone else, but Dan still feels – despite his better judgment – shaken.
He takes his seat. He waits, shuffling papers, reconstructing his remarks over and over in his head. An hour and a half into the session, Mary King says stiffly, “The gentleman from New York is recognized for two minutes—”
“Thank you,” Dan says immediately into the microphone. “Madame Speaker, I came here today to be a responsible representative and fight for my constituents. I came here on behalf of my sister-in-law, Sarah Lane Egan, a junior partner at a Rochester law firm, who went back to work only eight weeks after giving birth to her third child because she was ordered to bed rest four weeks before my niece was born. Now, we’re all familiar with the FMLA Act, we’ve all read it, we know that it grants 12 weeks of unpaid leave to new parents. We’ve established the parameters in which this bill has been put forth, so I don’t need to go into it.”
He glances down at his notes before grinding into the bit, because this is – he was shaky at first, too much nervous adrenaline coursing through his body, but it’s like always – control the anxiety, take hold of it, let it propel him forward, use it as momentum. “I’m also here on behalf of my colleague, the gentlelady from New York, Kristen Lawrence, with whom I drafted this bill—Representative Lawrence, who couldn’t be here today because her father passed away last night, sits on the Committee on Education and the Workforce, which Representative King happens to chair. Now, I know the committee has spent a lot of time on this bill, I’m aware of that, but what strikes me as unusual is the pace at which this bill was rushed to the floor after being stalled by the committee for so long, as soon as Representative Lawrence and I happened to be out of town.”
A brief pause. Dan doesn’t smirk, not quite – too aware of his body language on the floor, on camera – but lets the implication sink in. “Now, I’m not suggesting any sort of conspiracy or subterfuge. That’s not constitutional. That’s not fitting of this body. But it is consistent with how the majority party has been governing around here. On February 9, they failed to provide constitutional authority for a bill despite the fact that it was one of their rules. On March 16, they allowed a bill to die before reaching a three-fifths majority, despite the fact that it was one of their rules. On April 20, they failed to make a bill available within 72 hours, despite the fact that it was one of their rules.”
Another glance down at the notes, before he continues: “Now, I know the rules are hard to follow. The Constitution is a big book and I know it’s been a long time since some of us have read it, or paid attention while reading it. So instead, I brought you this,” and here he produces a thin, flimsy paperback from his folder, and here he allows himself the tiniest smirk, “this children’s book they sell in the gift shop here at the Capitol, which teaches children to understand the Constitution. It’s a little easier to follow.”
Dan opens the cover, and he can hear the slightest titter of laughter from those around him on the floor. And even though he knows he's pushing it, knows it's a risk, he keeps going. "See, if we choose to follow the rules set forth in this very simple book, a book for children -- that each member of Congress gets a chance to vote on a bill before it does or doesn't become a law -- I think we'd recognize that there has been some sort of misstep, or rule breaking, on behalf of the majority party. Which is, again, not constitutional. I reserve the balance of my time."
As he returns to his seat, Dan chances a look at Furlong again, who sports an unreadable expression back in his seat. He knows he played it right. By going after the Republicans alone and not accusing Furlong of conspiring with them, he might have just tanked his own bill -- there's no way they'll have a majority, even though it was a bipartisan bill to begin with, because you don't bring a knife to a fistfight and you don't pull shit like this on the House floor unless you're ready to lose the battle, it seems obvious -- but he's called their bluff, that's the part that matters. He takes his seat and flips idly through the book in front of him. The book was Nate's brainchild. He might deserve a raise.
They lose the vote. The bill is voted down and the last eight months are rendered moot. “God,” Dan says as he tosses his jacket over a chair and slumps onto his office couch, rolling his sleeves to the elbow as he does. “That was a shit show for the ages—”
Nate laughs, deep in his throat as he sinks onto the couch beside him, a careful distance away. “Look, it could’ve been considerably worse,” he says. “You came out looking like you took the high road, it was the right decision.”
“Could’ve been better,” Dan sighs. He leans back, tips his head over the back of the couch as he shuts his eyes. He’s so tired. He hasn’t felt this beat since he took office. “I should head home soon, but I also feel like I shouldn’t be driving in this state…”
“You want me to drive you?” Nate asks immediately. Dan suppresses a laugh as he shakes his head.
“No,” he says, “you don’t have to do that. I might grab a nap, but –”
“Do you want me to go?” replies Nate, and Dan thinks about it briefly.
“You don’t have to,” he says. “By the way, I really appreciate all your work today. And these past few days in particular. You’ve more than proven your worth as a member of my team.”
A sly, proud smile spreads slowly across Nate’s face. There’s more than a tinge of darkness to it, like a hunting dog that’s just caught sight of a quail. He shifts slightly on the couch, spreads his legs a little bit as he relaxes into it. His left knee knocks against Dan’s right, and though he jerks it away a split second later, Dan catches that this move couldn’t have been anything less than intentional. And he’s suddenly reminded of a moment years before, his position reversed, when he sat expectantly on a couch with his boss and felt the expectation of something else sitting heavy in the air like a brewing thunderstorm.
“Proven my worth,” Nate repeats slowly, shifting again on the couch, angling his body toward Dan’s. “That’s an interesting choice of words. I wouldn’t say that I’ve lived up to my full potential yet, but…”
Dan raises an eyebrow and lifts a hand to his throat, adjusting his tie and loosening it slightly. “You’re a go-getter, Nate,” he says. He’s flirting with danger, and he knows it. Picking up a stick and poking the sleeping dragon, praying it won’t set him on fire. “You remind me of a kid I used to know.”
“A kid,” Nate laughs. “I’m twenty-six…”
“I’m forty-one,” Dan says. “You’re a kid.”
“Yeah?” says Nate. “So who was this kid you knew?”
Dan smirks. “He moved to D.C. with a couple Ivy League degrees and a certain skill for strategic ladder-climbing,” he says, “and, not to spoil the ending, but he did just have a pretty fucking spectacular moment on the House floor—”
Nate laughs again, and this time he moves closer to Dan on the couch. He doesn’t pull his knee away when they knock together this time. Dan, strikingly aware of the ever-present, steadily worsening danger, doesn’t either.
“I guess that’s a compliment,” he says.
“It is a compliment,” Nate corrects himself. He’s leaning well into Dan’s space now, their faces inches away, his eyes shining bright with plausible deniability for his forwardness. “Sorry, sir.”
Dan sighs. “Nate,” he says, as he turns to face him fully. “I keep telling you. You can call me Dan.”
He’s not sure who kisses whom. He’s ready to testify under oath that Nate is the one who closes the gap, but a second later he’s gripping Nate’s face and the back of his neck with his own clammy hands, and there’s no going back. It’s almost like kissing a mirror, the way Nate moves in a practiced, performative way – it’s nothing like Jonah, who’s all tongue and teeth the moment their mouths meet. Nate is taking his time, teasing something out of him, using his eyelashes and the heat of his breath as much as his lips and tongue. Nate’s hands slide up to cover his own wrists, the bridge of his nose brushes the tip of Dan’s as he pulls away for the briefest of moments, and Dan can’t remember the last time he’s felt this present during a kiss.
“Are you okay?” he asks as Nate breaks away, and Nate looks directly at him before rolling his eyes and kissing him again. Which, fine, he’ll take that as a yes.
This is wrong, this is so wrong, he feels the wrongness of it in every cell of his body as the blood in his veins screams for oxygen – but then Nate is straddling his lap, swinging his arms over Dan’s shoulders to kiss him harder, and rolling his hips down against Dan’s groin, and his body is betraying the institution of marriage as he feels himself begin to stiffen. This isn’t right, and he knows it, but he’s got a kid on his lap who will do anything for him and who looks at him like he’s a fucking rock star, David Bowie and Tom James rolled into one, and—
“Dan,” Nate groans as he pulls away. “I want—”
“I know,” Dan murmurs against his jaw. “Fuck. I want it too—”
Nate groans again, grinding down, where Dan knows he can feel that he’s fully hard. His hands go back to Dan’s on the sides of his face, and he’s stroking Dan’s fingers, one finger rubbing over the wedding ring on his left hand. Dan wants to smack him away, but he also wants him to keep going, accentuating the wrong.
“Don’t talk,” Dan says against Nate’s throat, scraping teeth against his Adam’s apple. And Nate nods fervently as he reaches for Dan’s belt buckle, and Dan shuts his eyes and tips his head back over the back of the couch again, driving straight toward the precipice and slamming on the gas.
The lights are all off in the apartment when he gets home, and for a moment he thinks that Jonah must know – that he’s left, gone somewhere, anywhere else. But then he walks into the bedroom, lit only by the bedside lamp, and Jonah looks up from the bed, his eyes dark and lusty. He sets his iPad aside and licks his lips and says, slowly, “Your husband recognizes the gentleman from New York.”
“There’s nothing sexy about congressional floor procedure,” Dan grumbles, but he moves toward the bed anyway, undoing his tie for the second time that night. He knows he should feel bad about this, can sense that he should be disgusted with himself, but instead he feels nothing at all. And Jonah’s watching him as he begins to unbutton his shirt, and suddenly he’s struck by a moment of clarity and says, “I should shower. I was sweating fucking bullets all night.”
“Sure,” Jonah says, swinging his legs off the bed and stretching out his arms and shoulders. “Can I join? Because I swear to God – watching you on fucking C-SPAN – you’re a meme, now, by the way, I’ll tell you all about it later, the internet is fucking blowing up with that clip—”
“Yeah. Yeah,” Dan says, dropping his shirt into the hamper. “Fine. Gimme a second.” He retreats into the bathroom and turns on the shower, praying that Jonah won’t catch anything off about him, notice Nate’s scent on his skin or any kind of marks on his neck or inner thighs. He examines himself carefully in the mirror and sees nothing to worry about, then opens the door as the bathroom begins to steam.
“Hey,” he says as Jonah climbs into the shower and ducks his head under the spray, closing his eyes as the water runs into them. “Missed you tonight.”
Jonah moves out from under the showerhead, leaning down to capture his lips in a rough, insistent kiss. Dan feels himself freeze and hesitate for the briefest of moments before he kisses back, letting Jonah rest a hand on the small of his back, pull him in tighter. And for a moment, he thinks he feels something, but then the feeling passes, and he relents and yields to the kissing and feels absolutely nothing else.
Dan doesn’t sleep. He’s almost troubled by how untroubled he feels, but chalks it up to his still riding the adrenaline high from the morning’s session, tossing restlessly beside Jonah, who’s sleeping like a log. When he wakes up at four-thirty after a single fitful hour, he gives up, drags himself out of bed and into the kitchen. He makes a pot of coffee in the French press and drinks a single cup, staring at the wall. He waits.
Technically, he’s supposed to feel guilty. He knows how it’s supposed to go. He’s cheated before, but always managed to feel something then, even just a minor twinge – it was still something. Now, he’s coming up blank, and he’s trying to remember what he’s supposed to be doing. What the fuck is guilt supposed to feel like?
He sighs, gets up, stares in the kitchen cabinets just to have something to do with himself. There’s a box of pancake mix, there’s half a bag of blueberries in the freezer. Jonah should be in up – seventeen minutes, according to the oven clock. With a leaden sense of resignation weighing down weighing down all of his limbs at once, he begins pouring the mix into a clean white bowl.
He’s not sure why. This isn’t a measure of his own guilt. That would make too much sense. If anything, it’s about his lack thereof. He’s also not sure whether it matters. He did what he wanted. He acted on impulse. Nobody got hurt. Nobody needs to know.
He’s lost in thought about the day’s agenda, a lobbyist meeting and a JEC session and a vote that afternoon, when he hears Jonah come into the kitchen. “Hey,” Dan says without looking over his shoulder, and when he gets only silence in response, he turns to see Jonah frowning at him in the middle of the room. “What’s up?”
“What the fuck are you doing?” Jonah looks groggy and confused, and Dan feels a swell of exasperation wash over him as he turns a pancake with a little more force than necessary.
“I’m making breakfast,” he says in the driest, most Captain-Obvious tone he can muster. Because it’s their ritual. Their only marker of special occasions. They don’t celebrate their anniversary, but Dan makes blueberry pancakes and they eat them while speaking in careful, avoidant sentences, and then they don’t talk about it after the fact but they both take heed of the significance. It’s just how they operate. “Because it is breakfast, and I thought I would do something nice.”
Jonah furrows his brow. “Why?” he demands, and suddenly Dan feels as if he’s about to break out in laughter.
“Do I honestly need a reason?” he asks, knowing it’s a cliché, knowing full well how obvious it sounds and almost daring Jonah to push it. But Jonah, if he notices, doesn’t express it at all. He comes over to the stove, staring at the griddle with the same look of groggy confusion.
“Are those – blueberry pancakes?” he asks, in a voice of dawning comprehension, and Dan nods, sliding two onto a plate. “Did I forget something? It’s definitely not our real anniversary.”
“Like I said,” Dan shrugs as he hands the plate to Jonah. “Just wanted to do something nice for you. And fuck you for questioning it.”
And it does the trick, breaks the tension and shatters Jonah’s suspicion to boot. Jonah rolls his eyes, takes the plate as Dan pours a little more batter onto the griddle. “You’re the worst,” Jonah mutters as he walks to the table, but his lips are beginning to quirk up into a smile, and for a moment, Dan almost feels bad.
He’s definitely not going to sleep with Nate again.
Chapter 6: Hope It Bleeds All Day Long
So he’s still sleeping with Nate.
It’s just that – what else is he supposed to do? This 26-year-old kid shows up to his office at the end of the day, locks the door, calls him “Mr. Egan” and “sir” and, only when he’s close to coming, “Dan.” Licks his lips and looks him in the eye and what the fuck? Dan’s not superhuman. And Nate is the opposite of Jonah in every way – shorter where Jonah is tall; narrow where he’s broad; lithe, sculpted muscle where Jonah’s Escher-like frame manages to be both fleshy and bony. A smaller dick, but less clumsy hands, and legs that wrap easy around Dan’s waist when he’s laid out over his desk.
Dan can’t help comparing the two of them, tallying up the pros and cons of each. Nate can’t undo him like Jonah can, or turn off his brain and make him obey. He can’t loop a tie around Dan’s wrists or smear a bit of the lipstick Amy left in their bathroom around the outline of his mouth and have him begging by the end of it. But Dan wouldn’t want that from him anyway – sleeping with Nate is simple, uncomplicated, no spreadsheets or need to discuss it beforehand, and that’s what makes it refreshing.
And he’s careful. Shit, is he careful. No texts, no emails, nothing in print. No hotel rooms mean no credit card bills, and never at Nate’s; too risky to chance encountering a roommate (or a hidden camera). It all goes down in his D.C. apartment while Jonah’s in Rochester, or else in his own office, door locked, lights off, when the rest of the staff is gone. No exceptions. Protection, always. He’s studied the playbook, knows how cheaters get caught, has seen too many respectable politicians go down because of their own carelessness in handling their affairs. He leaves nothing up to chance.
It starts in April, and suddenly it’s the end of June. The only heed Dan pays the calendar is with regard to the day-by-day of work and the campaign, so it takes him completely by surprise when Jonah comes into the bathroom while Dan’s shaving one morning and announces, “So, Dave wants to know what time we’re leaving next weekend, and if you want to coordinate travel or just do our own things and meet up when we get there.”
“Get where?” is all Dan can muster through his fog of complete and utter confusion, and Jonah sighs, put-upon, in response, as if it’s Dan’s fault he has no fucking idea what his inscrutable California redwood of a husband is talking about.
“Vacation,” he says, rolling his eyes. “Remember? Last Thanksgiving, we said we’d go to Martha’s Vineyard with Dave and Sarah and the kids over the Fourth of July?”
“Ugh,” Dan scoffs. “I thought that was one of those things we say yes to just to placate Dave—”
“It’s been in your Google calendar for months, and they already booked the rental house,” Jonah says, folding his arms resolutely. “It’s four days out of the fishbowl. We did this last election, remember?”
“We went to Nashua last election,” Dan protests. “Totally different. Can’t we just go back to Nashua if we’re going to leave town at all?”
“Dan, I know you may find this hard to believe, but Dave and I enjoy spending time with each other,” Jonah says. “And if you tried not being a fucking asshole for two minutes, you might actually discover that you’d enjoy spending time with him, too.”
“Jesus fucking Christ, what’s going on between you two?” Dan snaps. His hand slips from anger, and suddenly he’s bleeding from a sizeable nick on his throat. He inhales sharply, pressing down on the cut with one finger, and waits for Jonah to pass him a piece of tissue, but Jonah doesn’t move, so he reaches for it himself, shooting Jonah a nasty look in the mirror.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, you’ve clearly got some kind of hard-on for Dave,” Dan says unkindly, and Jonah groans.
“Not this shit again.”
“Again?” Dan snorts, low and derisive, not even bothering to hold back his anger now. “How the fuck do you think I feel, seeing you all over my brother half the time?”
“Are you fucking serious?” Jonah says incredulously, swiping defensively at the mussed hair that falls messily across his forehead. “Dan, even if I was going to cheat on you – which I wouldn’t, because believe it or not, I actually find cheating pretty fucking disgusting – I wouldn’t do it with Dave. Who is completely straight, by the way.”
“Which I’m sure you found out the hard way—” Dan presses down on the bleeding cut on his neck and waits for the comment to sink in. He can see Jonah flush bright red in the mirror and thinks he must have struck a nerve. Good.
“As a matter of fact, the only reason I knew anything about your brother’s sexuality is because the last time you spent the weekend in D.C. while I was stuck up in your fucking hometown, Dave and Sarah had me over for dinner and he and I ended up having a little heart-to-heart about that shit. Asked me ‘how I knew’ and shit. And I thought it was leading up to some big announcement but he actually told me he went through a phase in college, fooled around with a couple dudes and discovered it was not for him,” Jonah says quickly, heatedly, and through tightly gritted teeth. “And furthermore, Dan, if I were going to cheat on you, I wouldn’t be flaunting it the way you’re suggesting. So you know what, honestly, fuck you. We’re going on this fucking vacation—”
“I have two fundraisers scheduled,” Dan says quickly. “We’re not going.”
“No, you don’t,” Jonah says smugly. “I called your office. They’re aware that you’re going to be out of town over the holiday and seemed pretty fucking relieved to hear they were going to get a break. Nate, in particular, was pretty surprised, he seemed to be under the impression you were going to keep him in the office all weekend—”
“You talked to Nate?” Dan says too quickly, and he feels his stomach drop out from underneath him, like an elevator that’s just come untethered. Suddenly he’s plummeting to his death and there’s no failsafe, no life jacket, nothing to stop this car from crashing –
“He sounded happy to hear from me,” Jonah shrugs. “Told him we’d have to get a drink sometime, get to know each other better. And that’s beside the fucking point, Dan. Your weekend’s free and we’re going to Martha’s fucking Vineyard. I’m calling this one.”
“Fine,” Dan snaps, because what else is he supposed to say? Jonah’s got him backed into a corner without being any the wiser for it, and to push the topic would more than likely raise suspicion in a way he can’t afford. Fine. The issue isn’t the time away from the campaign. Not really. He could use a couple days to clear his head, let the anxiety that’s been bubbling up within him lately die down for a bit. The problem doesn’t lie with the vacation, it lies with – the family, really. With Dave. With spending time with his brother, without their parents there to at least mitigate the tension.
Because Dave knows him, and sometimes he’s afraid that Dave can see right through him. And now that he’s evidently adopted Jonah as an honorary member of the peaked-in-high-school jock dads with whom he surrounds himself, Dan is – he’s not scared. He isn’t afraid of David James Egan and he never has been. But he’s wary, as he should be, and he watches his back.
They make it to Martha’s Vineyard in one piece, and as soon as they get to the rental house, Jonah notices that Dan immediately makes it his business to leave. “Anybody need anything?” he says in a forced, genial tone, looking around at the other adults. “Toothbrush, painkillers, bottle of wine?”
“Ugh,” Sarah groans from the kitchen, where she’s elbow-deep in ingredients for a summer salad. “I just remembered, I forgot my flip-flops. But you don’t have to—”
“No, no, I’d be happy to,” Dan says quickly. “Please. What are you, women’s size seven?”
“Eight,” Sarah says. “Thanks, Dan. I really appreciate it.”
“Any time,” Dan says, and then he’s gone as quickly as they arrived, and Jonah stands awkwardly in the middle of the rental house living room, not sure whether to apologize or just make a lame joke to cut the tension. Dave catches his eye, and suddenly Jonah can’t help himself and he’s laughing – not quite nervously, but not exactly joyously, either.
“Hey,” Dave says. “You want a beer?”
Jonah rolls his eyes. “I would f—I would love a beer,” he mutters. “Kids around, or…?”
“They’re upstairs,” Sarah says. “Swear all you want.”
“Oh, thank God,” Jonah says quickly. “That trip was a fucking nightmare.”
Dave and Sarah exchange a look, one that Jonah has come to recognize as significant. It’s the Dan Look, pitched somewhere between “not again” and “I told you so,” and Jonah’s not yet been able to pin down exactly what their private feelings are in regard to Dan, but he can certainly gather that they are mixed. “Yeah,” says Dave, “I’ll get you a beer.”
It's a good two hours before Dan comes back, laden with grocery bags and looking much calmer. Jonah's a few beers in and sprawled out in a folding lawn chair as Dave flips burgers on the grill, the two of them comfortably ensconced in conversation. (He'd offered to help with the food at one point, but Sarah and Dave had both rejected the offer so loudly and emphatically that he assumed Dan must have told them about the time he attempted a pork roast in D.C.) Not a problem, though. He's perfectly content to sit back and crush Modelos as Dave tells stories about work and Sarah chimes in with barbed, funny asides about her husband's coworkers. They're so much funnier than Jonah originally expected. It feels a little like having siblings of his own, the closest to which he ever got was his cousin Lucy, who was three years older and got along with him well enough until she got into junior high and started spending every Christmas and Thanksgiving on the phone or scribbling in a notebook instead of playing video games with him.
When Dan shows back up, he comes out onto the deck and pulls up a chair beside Jonah, sunglasses on and smiling a little. "Nice out," he says, in a voice that sounds too enthusiastic to be genuine. "Not a bad evening, huh?"
"I was going to take the kids down to the beach later," Sarah says. "You're more than welcome to join me."
Dan hesitates, clearly about to hedge, but Jonah pipes up before he can open his mouth. "That'd be a good picture,” he says. “Staying on brand, caring about families.” Because you clearly don’t, hangs the implicit predicate in the air, but Jonah doesn’t have to say it; none of them do. Dan pauses for a moment before swallowing and shrugging.
“Sure,” he says to Sarah. “I’ll go with you. After dinner?”
“Yeah,” she says. “The kids’ll be so excited, Dan. Brendan really looks up to you.”
Dave nods at this. “At the end of the year, his teacher had them all write a little report on their personal heroes, and he wrote about his Uncle Dan who’s a congressman. It was pretty damn cute.”
Jonah smirks, remembering seeing the report tacked up on Dave and Sarah’s fridge. Of course Dan wouldn’t have noticed it himself, but he had – smiled to himself at the stick-figure drawing of “Uncle Dan and Uncle Jonah” rendered in painstaking blue marker attached and everything. Show that to the Committee on Education and the Workforce, he’d thought, make them reconsider the way they tore the Family Leave bill apart. But he’d forgotten to mention it to Dan and pretty soon had forgotten about it altogether.
Dan sighs, adjusting his sunglasses and then finally flipping them up atop his head, shifting uncomfortably in his chair as he does. “You know how I am with kids,” he says after a moment’s silence. “They’re – I just don’t know how to talk to them. And your kids are among the better ones.”
“Because you’ve met so many…” Dave jokes, but Jonah cuts him off.
“Trust me, I’ve seen him try to interact with enough already,” he says. “Constituents, my cousins’ kids, whatever. He really cannot fucking talk to anyone under 30 without embarrassing himself.”
“That’s a stretch,” Dan says. “I appeal to the youths.”
“Because you’re handsome, and not an octogenarian,” Jonah clarifies. “Not because you have anything in common with them.”
“I have plenty—”
“No, you’ve been 40 since you were like, 10,” Dave laughs. “You didn’t even like kids when you were one.”
“They like me,” mutters Dan, “and that’s the significant thing.”
Jonah finishes his beer and gropes for a chance of subject. “So did you two always fight on vacations when you were kids?” he asks, and Dan and Dave share a quick glance before they both burst out laughing in perfect unison.
“Depends on your definition of fighting,” Dan says. “Because not really, but when Dave was 11, he—”
“We don’t have to tell this story,” mutters Dave, but Dan is unstoppable.
“Dave got Home Alone-d,” he says through laughter, the first Jonah’s heard him genuinely laughing in at least a week.
“That was an honest mistake,” Dave protests. “And I didn’t even get left home alone. You guys left me in the airport. Which, arguably, is much worse.”
“I mean, we figured it out pretty fast, at least,” Dan smirks.
“How—” Jonah begins to ask, but Dan cuts him off before he can even get half the sentence out, turning to Dave with a competitive, smug look on his face.
“It was a flight to Orlando, first of all, which is at least fifty percent children to start with,” he says. “And for the record, that kid didn’t look anything like you.” Turning back to Jonah, he clarifies. “Mom was so freaked out about flying, she’s terrified of planes, and she just saw me ignoring another kid and took for granted that it was her youngest child.”
“She has a phobia,” Dave says diplomatically. “And it was half my fault anyway. I was wandering around like a little shit. I learned my lesson.”
“When I was a kid, my mom was kind of pilled out and used to forget me at school sometimes,” Jonah volunteers, commiserating, but everyone turns to him, horrified, as soon as he says it.
“Jesus,” Dan says after a pause. “You never told me that.”
Jonah shrugs. “It was after my dad bounced,” he says. “She didn’t take it great.”
“Well,” Dan says. “Yeah. Clearly.” He looks rattled and suddenly Jonah regrets saying anything at all.
“Anyway,” he says in a let’s-move-on-and-change-the-subject tone, “those burgers look done, Dave. Want me to go get Brendan and Maddie, or—”
“No, it’s okay,” Sarah says as she rises from her chair, balancing the baby on her hip. “I should go put Emma down before we eat, I’ll get them. Dave, if you want my help setting the table—”
“I’ve got it,” Dave says, loading up the last of the burgers onto a plate. And he and Sarah disappear inside, leaving Dan and Jonah alone together for the first time since they arrived on the island.
“I didn’t know that about your mom,” Dan finally says. “That she had a pill problem. She doesn’t still—”
Jonah shrugs again, raises a hand defensively to the front of his bangs and runs his fingers through them. “She’ll pop a Xanax here and there,” he mutters. “Not really my business.” He doesn’t follow up with a pointed barb about the Egans and their comparative dollhouse perfection, the way he once might have, because he’s spent enough time around Dave to pick up on the fact that they really aren’t as functional as they seem—but still, they’re not half as bad as his own family, and he resents the way Dan tries to make him feel bad for wanting to spend time around relatives who actually like one another.
“Well,” says Dan, “I guess I get it.”
“Why you worry about her,” he says quietly.
Jonah opens his mouth, starts to explain, to clarify. To say that no, Dan doesn’t really get it, that he doesn’t just worry about his mom because of a pill addiction she may or may not still actually have, but rather because she’s always been a little bit fragile and easy to take advantage of. He thinks twice, though, and shakes his head as he stands and walks inside, without another word. Easier to just let that one stand.
After dinner, Sarah orders Brendan and Maddie into their swimsuits, and they decamp for the beach, Dan in tow, feeling resigned.
“You okay?” Sarah asks as the kids run ahead of her, then raises her voice to yell, “Bren! Maddie! Stay where I can see you!”
“I’m fine,” Dan says after a beat.
“You’re quiet,” Sarah observes. “Jonah mentioned that you almost didn’t join us.”
“It was a misunderstanding,” says Dan. “I thought I had a few engagements, campaign events, scheduled over the weekend. Forget all about these plans, honestly.”
Sarah’s silent for a moment, watching the kids digging in the sand, and Dan watches her, all big brown eyes and earthy features, her brown hair pulled into a loose ponytail at the nape of her neck. It falls forward over one shoulder, and she’s smiling as she watches Brendan begin to build a sand castle. Dan’s never noticed her overbite before. On her, it’s almost endearing.
“You know, Jonah really loves you,” she says thoughtfully, her eyes flicking past the kids and out to the waves.
“Yeah,” says Dan, because what the hell is he supposed to say to that?
Sarah lifts a hand thoughtfully to her hair. “Do you love him? Or is this all what it looks like for you?”
“What does it look like?” Dan can’t help asking, and she laughs at this, dry as vermouth.
“Honestly?” she says. “Like you thought found someone you thought would be grateful to be married to you at all, and you capitalized on that. Someone from a good family with an important name who would just be content to be your better half. A Jackie, basically.”
“Jonah’s not a Jackie,” Dan snorts, and Sarah rolls her eyes.
“Well, you’re not a Kennedy, either.” There’s a pause as she watches Maddie dump half a plastic bucket of water onto the sand castle Brendan has been painstakingly constructing, and as the kids erupt into an argument, she looks as if she might intervene, but then rolls her eyes and shakes her head. “Kids.”
“Aren’t you going to go break that up?” asks Dan, and she shakes her head.
“Unless there’s blood or they’re bothering someone else, I let them fight it out,” she says. “They need to learn how to settle their own differences.”
“That’s how I was raised. My sisters and I fought constantly, but our parents stayed out of it, and the only serious consequence was that I grew up to pursue a career in law, so...”
“Dave was a little tattletale when we were growing up,” Dan muses.
Sarah nods. “I buy that. He’s always had a strong sense of right and wrong.”
“Our parents always took his side,” Dan shrugs. “They never told him to knock it off, and it took him a few years to realize that nobody likes a snitch.”
“Let me guess,” she says. “You were involved in this somehow?”
Dan laughs. “No,” he says, shaking his head. “He got in his first and only fistfight because of it, at summer camp. Tried to tattle on his bunkmate and his counselor wasn’t having any of it. He actually encouraged them to fight it out.”
“Was that the summer you got caught kissing another boy?” Sarah asks. “Dave told me about that one. Called it, collectively, the Egan boys’ worst summer ever.”
Dan coughs, uncomfortable. “Ah, maybe,” he says stiffly. As if he doesn’t remember. As if he has no real memory whatsoever of making out with Ethan Horowitz out in the grass by the archery field, only to get caught by a group of campers on a night hike. Like he doesn’t remember how it effectively fucked up his reputation as one of Camp Towanda’s cooler 13-year-olds and totally ruined his chance at getting his first blowjob from Stephanie Hirsch, which he had been hinting toward all summer. Like he didn’t feel out of place enough already, he spent the last four days of camp saddled with the nickname “Dan Fag-an” (at least it was only the last four days, he guesses). “It may have been the same summer. I guess.”
Sarah sighs. “Brendan wants to go to camp next year, but Dave’s not sure,” she says. “Not because of what happened to either of you, but he doesn’t think Brendan would enjoy it. He’s sensitive, you know? Bookish. He likes words.”
“Yeah,” says Dan, more to fill the pause in the conversation than because he has any real knowledge of the inner workings of his eight-year-old nephew’s mind. “You think he’s smart? Speaking objectively, I mean, not as a parent.”
“I do,” Sarah says. “Maddie’s a little bit of a dingbat, but she takes after Dave. The other kids like her. Brendan reminds me more of you. He’s…”
“Brilliant?” smirks Dan.
“Secretive,” Sarah says. “I never exactly know what’s going on in his head. And sometimes he just seems so unhappy. I worry about him.” She pauses, and then asks, “Honestly? Were you happy as a kid?”
Dan blinks. “I don’t know,” he says truthfully. “I’m happy enough now.”
“Enough,” Sarah scoffs, and Dan holds up a hand to stop her.
“No, I’m not,” he says. “It’s not that I hate my life. It’s just that I wouldn’t – I’m not really interested in being happy. It breeds complacency and I can’t afford that.”
“Well,” Sarah says, “I guess you’re doing okay by that metric.” She rolls her eyes. “But I feel bad for you.”
With a shrug, Dan turns to walk back to the house. “That’s your choice.”
The next two days pass quickly enough. In his free time, Jonah works, mostly. It’s not necessarily the vacation he hoped it would be, but he gets more done than he expects; gets ahead on the final edits to the Selina book and even ends up with a pink twinge of a sunburn after spending the afternoon on the beach.
The holiday isn’t so bad, even. He wakes up the morning of the fourth in the rental bedroom to Dan slowly, methodically, kissing his neck. “Good morning,” Dan murmurs as Jonah opens his eyes, and smiles against his throat. “It’s awfully early…”
“Then go back to sleep,” Jonah teases, tipping his head back against the pillow as Dan takes his earlobe between his teeth, biting down and then sucking in the way that always drives him crazy.
“Really?” Dan whispers right into his ear. He snakes one hand down under the sheet to ghost over the bulge in Jonah’s pajama pants and smiles at the slight hiss of breath that follows. “You wouldn’t prefer I did this, then?”
Jonah bites back a groan as Dan rubs him through his pants, lifts his hips enough to get them pushed down. “Ssh,” Dan mutters, “try not to wake the entire house up—”
“Don’t stop that and I won’t, then,” Jonah says, as quietly as he can muster. When Dan slides down the bed, taking the sheet with him, he watches through half-lidded eyes, noting the spray of new summer freckles across the bridge of his nose, the way Dan’s lips wrap so gracefully around him, how fucking beautiful he looks when he drops the performative shit and just goes for it. He comes quickly, too fast for his liking, but Dan swallows it eagerly, wipes his mouth on the back of his hand as he comes up for air before kissing him sloppily on the lips.
“Jesus,” Jonah says heavily. He sinks back into the pillows as Dan crawls on top of him, pressing his face into the crook of his neck and inhaling for a good long moment. “Good morning.”
Dan smiles as he pulls back to look at him, adjusts his position atop Jonah to press his crotch against Jonah’s hip. “Been a while since we’ve done this with someone else in the house,” he says, low in his throat and a gleam in his eye. “Remember last Christmas?”
“Uh – you mean when I, uh, fucked you at my mom’s house with Uncle Jeff in the next room?” Jonah says, rocking his hips up as Dan grinds down against them. It’s a little early and he’s not quite caffeinated to properly talk dirty, but shit if he isn’t going to try when he’s got his husband running hot and shaky on top of him first thing in the morning on a federal fucking holiday, God bless America.
“Or – or the night before when I gave you your present so you could put on a show for me?” His own breath hitches as he remembers how good Dan had looked, fucking himself wide open on the expensive glass dildo Jonah had laid out in a gift box and snuck away to leave on their bed during Christmas Eve dinner. The way Dan’s face and chest had flushed a brilliant, uncharacteristically dark red as he rode that gorgeous glass cock in Jonah’s teenage bedroom. The way he’d sat in the desk chair where he’d done his high school homework, stroking himself lazily and snapping a couple photos for posterity, because honestly, he’s so damn lucky and can’t afford to forget it. “Do you keep that cock in D.C. so that you can fuck yourself when I’m not there with you?” Jonah mutters, still caught up on the imagery.
Dan nods, feverish. He grinds down harder, but Jonah’s not having it, and pushes himself up with both hands, flipping Dan over onto his back and yanking down his boxer briefs, tossing them to the floor haphazardly. He’s all hands, all tongue, all fingers and no control, makes Dan come with a gasp and a shudder. It’s not even six-thirty when they’re both sprawled, sated, across the tangled sheets.
“We might be the only ones up,” Jonah finally says.
“If Sarah’s not up with the baby,” mutters Dan.
They both pause, listening intently, but the house is silent. “Good,” Jonah says lazily. “I wasn’t looking forward to the walk of shame all the way to the bathroom like this.”
So yes, the rest of the weekend passes without incident, and Jonah starts to think that maybe his plans are going to work out. Because it took him a while, but somewhere over the past year, he figured out that the easiest and most efficient way to get Dan to fall in line and behave like a normal fucking spouse is to play him against Dave – not for his jealousy, but for their long-standing rivalry in regard to all things conventional. Dan is too competitive, too insecure not to take the bait when it’s dangled in front of him, and maybe it’s a little underhanded but it means Jonah gets what he wants without starting a fight. And Dan thought he was the master manipulator.
Dan’s sitting on the beach, the night before they leave. He just needs some fucking space – no children crying or screaming, nobody in his face or his business. An hour or so on his own to decompress. He needs the hour away from Jonah, who seems to have made it his own personal mission in recent weeks to invade every available corner and crevice of his personal dominion and turn it into their space. Because he can’t just have one thing of his own, can he? That would be too much to ask. Shit.
He’s sitting on the beach, in the sand, his forearms resting atop his knees as he looks out at the breakers. There’s something therapeutic about watching the tide come in. The sun is setting and the sky is a gradient of brilliant orange fading to a deep purple, and it’s finally fucking quiet. For once.
He glances up. Dave’s walking up the beach, alone, not a single fucking ankle-biter in tow, and Dan swears internally but then rationalizes that at least his brother comes alone. But still – he needs the quiet, he wants to tell him to fuck off, and he knows Dave won’t listen, because he never does; that’s not who David Egan is. He’s so convinced he knows better than everyone else what’s good for them; he never stops to listen to what they actually want, never considers that maybe Dan knows what he needs more than anyone else.
Dan doesn’t respond. He nods, a short, jerky nod, and then looks back out at the waves pointedly, waiting for Dave to get the point. He doesn’t. Instead, he sits down beside him, dropping his boat shoes next to him in the sand and digging his feet into it.
“You know what I just realized?” Dave says after a long moment of silence. “The Fourth of July came and went and we never saw any fireworks. Doesn’t that seem like a waste?”
With a shrug, Dan shakes his head. “Is that what you’ve been thinking about all weekend? Fireworks?”
“I just think it’s a bummer to go away for the Fourth and not see any,” says Dave.
“A bummer,” Dan snorts. “Couple days at the beach and you’re talking like some kind of surf movie character. Who are you?”
Out of the corner of his eye, he can see Dave’s lips quirk up into a smile. “It’s just an expression, Dan,” he says, and it’s not quite a toss of the gauntlet but there’s still something assertive there, some small reminder that Dave is not one of his staffers or interns, not someone easily dismissed. “We don’t all speak in platitudes for a living.”
He glances back at Dave, who’s still smiling, placid, impassive. “Did you read the book?” Dan asks.
Dave shrugs. “Of course.”
“Yeah?” he says. “Did you… what did you think?”
Another shrug, and then Dave leans back on his hands, burying them in the sand as well as he looks past Dan and down along the beach. “I thought it was very well-written,” he says. “Did you write all of it yourself?”
“Yes,” Dan says quickly, almost offended by the question. “It wouldn’t have been as good if I’d just passed it off to someone else, Dave. Shit. You know that.”
“I know that,” Dave says, still smiling faintly, looking past him. “And there was enough truth to it, I think. The stuff about our childhood, I liked that. It felt… warm. And Father Molloy was flattered that you mentioned him by name, he told me to let you know.”
“Oh,” says Dan. He’s not sure how to respond to that. “Well. I’m glad.”
“Does Jonah know?” Dave asks in the same placid tone, and Dan just about swallows his tongue.
He turns fully to look at his brother face-to-face. “Know what?” he says, struggling to keep his voice even, not to let his face betray him. God, he wishes he were wearing sunglasses. He’s been accused of sociopathy a few times in his life, but he wishes he were an honest-to-God sociopath, because at least then, he’d be a better liar. He’s not a sociopath; he’s just fucking selfish, and he knows he’s got enough tells – has learned that the hard way – that sometimes it’s not even worth telling the lie in the first place. But he always does. He’s selfish and a coward and he doesn’t feel as badly as he should as he furrows his brow, feigning confusion, a look he’s practiced in the bathroom mirror time and time again.
Dave looks back at him, eyes flicking back to his. Similar eyes, but bigger, greener, heavier-lidded. Dan’s more aware of the differences between them than he’d like to be. “How much of it is complete bullshit,” he says, and Dan feels something within him relax, lets out a breath he was only half aware that he was holding.
“Yeah,” he says casually, “of course. He knows the true stories, too.”
“I wouldn’t keep anything from him,” Dan adds. “It’s too dangerous. When you live your lives in public…”
Dave shrugs. “So you don’t have any secrets?”
“Do you and Sarah?” Dan counters.
“Oh, yeah,” Dave laughs. “Big time. There’s just some shit I don’t need her to know, and vice-versa. Know what I mean? We both had lives before each other, but those are the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell years.”
“That’s not really a policy I can endorse,” Dan says dryly, and Dave laughs again, full-throated and warm.
“Redacted, then,” Dave says. He falls silent, and Dan finds himself wishing he could just get up, walk off. It’s a long, awkward couple of minutes before Dave speaks up again: “Secrets aren’t a bad thing,” he says. “Hiding can be, though.”
“I have nothing to hide,” Dan says automatically, and Dave shrugs, before he leans forward and brushes his hands together, flicking the sand that remains to the ground before he picks up his shoes and stands up with a heavy sigh.
“Okay, Dan,” he says, sounding tired. “Okay.” And then he’s gone, back in the same direction he came, trotting along the sand as Dan watches, confused and a little apprehensive.
When he gets back to the house, Jonah’s sprawled on the couch in the living room alone. There’s some superhero movie playing unwatched on the TV as Jonah taps away on his laptop. Dan can hear the kids at the other end of the house and grits his teeth on instinct.
“Where’d you go?” Jonah wonders from behind his computer screen, and Dan can’t help himself. He snaps back.
“Does it fucking matter, Jonah?” he says in a short tone. “I just wanted to get out of the house. Do I have to keep you updated?”
Jonah looks up, frowning, pausing his typing. “Jesus fucking Christ, Dan,” he says, sounding taken aback. “I was just curious.”
“It doesn’t fucking matter,” Dan mutters, more under his breath than out loud. He stalks out of the room and into the bedroom, where – perhaps stupidly – he’d left his phone on the nightstand to charge. There’s a text from Nate on the screen: You’ll be back in DC tomorrow, correct?
Yes, he texts back quickly, and then, Thank god. J is driving me fucking insane
He watches as the little speech bubble on the left side of the screen stutters a few times, watches as Nate types and deletes and re-types his response. Then it finally comes through: That’s too bad, sir. Can I be of any assistance?
Only if you were here, Dan texts back quickly.
Oh really? comes Nate’s reply. How would that go down?
Dan knows how stupid this is. He’s violating all of his policies at once, but he keeps hearing Jonah’s stupid, obtuse, prying voice in his head, that tone that he fucking hates, and all he can think about is D.C. and Nate Shaw and his gifted hands and soft, willing mouth and dark, dark eyes, how fucking Nate is the closest he’ll ever come to fucking himself, and how much he’d give up to make that happen. And then he swallows, pushes to the back of his whirring brain the thoughts of everything but Nate and his pliable, nimble, easy body, and texts back, I’d take you out to the beach and lay you out face down in the sand.
Yeah? Nate replies. How badly do you wanna fuck me?
Badly enough, Dan responds.
How badly is that?
Dan doesn’t think before he texts back. He’s all id, all want, unbuttoning his shorts and pushing them down as he sits back on the bed. I think about you all the time. Had a dream about you the other night and had to wake up J and pretend he was you, I needed to get off so bad
Wow, comes Nate’s response, and Dan chuckles to himself, can almost hear the word in his voice. What would you be doing if you were back here with me now?
I’d suck you off, and then I’d flip you over and eat that pretty ass, Dan texts at breakneck pace, thank God for autocorrect. I’d get you nice and wet and open so I could fuck you hard, just how you like it.
There’s a long pause as Nate types out a response, but it’s shorter than Dan expects once it finally pops up onscreen: Thank you, daddy…
It’s like someone’s thrown a bucket of ice water on him, initial shock giving way to bewilderment and, confusingly, anger. His erection flags in his hand as he stares at the screen, trying to figure out how to proceed, where to go from there. Nate wouldn’t know, he couldn’t have known that would be such a turn-off – Dan barely knew himself, until now – but he feels out of sorts and vaguely disgusted, and, suddenly, nauseous.
A fucking twenty-six-year-old kid. What was he thinking?
He tosses his phone aside as he yanks up his boxers and shorts, zipping them hastily. As he stands, he sees his phone screen light up again, but he doesn’t look at the text as he hits the power button and throws it into the nightstand drawer.
Jonah’s still out in the living room, draped over the couch in an even more ungainly fashion than before. He’s all limb and ligament, one leg up on the back of the couch and the other foot resting on the floor like some kind of sloth-human, his laptop resting on his belly as he chews on his bottom lip in apparent concentration. Dan folds his arms, clears his throat and waits for him to look up.
“I wanted to say I’m sorry,” he says stiffly, once he has Jonah’s attention. “For before. I just went to the beach. I needed some space.”
Jonah shrugs. “Whatever,” he says nonchalantly, moving both legs to the floor somehow without changing the angle of his hips at all. “C’mere. I need your input on this.”
Dan hesitates before taking a seat on the couch. Jonah immediately props his legs up in his lap, so warm and familiar and intimate that it almost makes him jump out of his skin. “Remember the weekend Selina came out and stayed at Maddox’s country house to beg him to be her VP?” Jonah asks. “What was going on in her head then? You would remember.”
Dan stretches out his legs, propping them up on the coffee table as he leans his head back against the sofa cushions and thinks. “That was a while ago,” he admits. “I think she was… paranoid? She thought everyone was out to get her. That was most of the time, I mean, but especially at that point.”
Jonah chuckles, barely audibly. “Can I ask you a question?” he asks, and waits for Dan to shrug in assent. “When we – did she tell you to try to fuck me? Like, that time, was that on her orders?”
“No,” Dan says, shaking his head. “No, God no. That was – she told me to try to bring you back over to our camp and it just – I don’t know, it escalated.”
“Quickly,” says Jonah.
“Very quickly,” Dan agrees. “You gonna put that in the book?”
“I don’t think so,” Jonah shakes his head. “I was just curious. Y’know. I never really knew with you back then. Could’ve been anything.”
Back then echoes and reverberates in Dan’s mind as he looks at Jonah out of the corner of his eye. He’s flushed sunburned pink and looks completely absorbed in the words he’s putting on the page, methodically and then in rushes of ten or twenty at a time. Dan doesn’t have to look at the word doc to know that it’s probably filled with red spellcheck squiggles from top to bottom; his spelling is atrocious and always will be.
Without thinking, he reaches out, catches one of Jonah’s big hands in his own where it’s hovering over the screen. He rubs his thumb across the place between Jonah’s thumb and index finger and stares at his fingers, the way they start out broad and thick but taper to surprisingly delicate points. The ring on his hand gleams in the low light of the living room. Dan glances back up, but all he can focus on is Jonah’s hair, which is curling into soft waves from the salt air and humidity. He looks good. Dan can’t remember the last time his husband looked this good to him.
“I –” He falters before he can get the words out, and Jonah looks up, first to where Dan’s got his fingers intertwined with his own, and then to his face, looking him straight in the eye. And Dan can’t say it, isn’t even sure what he was about to say to begin with. “I think we should leave early tomorrow,” he says instead, forcing his voice to stay neutral and not to shake. “Are you packed yet?”
Jonah blinks. “I, uh, I was gonna do that in the morning,” he says.
Dan doesn’t say anything. He lets go of Jonah’s hand and lets his own hand fall to his lap, resting it heavily on Jonah’s left calf. And it’s quiet.
Chapter 7: The Worst Isn't Over
Washington is still standing when he gets back, but it’s so hot and humid that Dan immediately cringes as soon as he walks out of the airport. When the cab driver drops off Dan at the RHOB, he climbs out with his laptop bag slung over his shoulder, the sticky air making him wish he could crawl out of his skin, wishing he were back in Rochester with Jonah.
But the first order of business is to break it off with Nate.
Not that it’ll be easy. Nate and Claire both meet him at the office and it’s business as usual, campaign affairs and JEC shit and Owen Pierce wants a meeting about the infrastructure bill. It’s a mile a minute until it’s suddenly nine at night and Claire claps a hand over her mouth and announces that she hasn’t eaten since breakfast and then Dan’s alone in his private office with Nate, who’s looking at him expectantly and throwing him meaningful glances.
“So,” Nate says as he leans on Dan’s desk, rolling up the sleeve of one shirt and then the other, loading the last bullet into the conversational gun, cocking it and spinning the chamber with that single sentence. “How was your vacation, sir?”
“It was fine,” Dan says from his office chair. “Nate, look. There’s something we need to talk about.”
And if Nate was the one to load the gun, Dan’s just pulled the trigger. Nate frowns, looking down at him, folding his arms defensively across his chest. “Is everything all right, sir?” The word sir isn’t quite as respectful this time, Dan notices, but he shakes his head, presses on.
“Nate, we’ve…” He trails off, collects his words before he speaks again. “I’m afraid that the last few weeks, I’ve – it’s been a mistake. I haven’t been in a good place and I feel as though I’ve taken advantage of you. It was wrong of me. And I – and I need you to know that it can’t happen again.”
He can see Nate physically recoil from the words as he’s saying them. “Sir, I don’t think I—”
“It was wrong,” Dan says firmly. “And it can’t happen again. Do you understand?”
There’s a long, loaded pause as Nate stares at the floor. His fingertips dig into his biceps where he’s got his arms folded tightly and Dan can practically feel him vibrating with anger, and he’s about to follow up with some sort of polite reassurance that he’ll still have a job, or, if he likes, Dan will call in a few favors, set him up with someone else, when he opens his mouth, showing laser-white teeth and a jaw set for battle.
“I’ll go public,” he says.
Dan blinks. “No,” he says flatly. “Nate. I – you cannot do that.”
“But I can,” Nate says quietly. “You said it yourself. ‘Don’t fuck on someone else’s agenda, make sure you’re moving up.’”
Dan feels a rush of cold panic hit him like a fucking tsunami. For a moment in renders him barely functional, and he feels his hands shaking as he tries to form a coherent sentence. “Nate. Nate. Listen to me, listen, you can’t do this to me. I’ll get you whatever you want, okay? You want a job with Chung? Say the word. How – how about lobbying? I’ll call Sidney Purcell myself, get you a job with Amy Brookheimer. Fuck. I’ll get you all of Amy’s clients if that’s what you want. You have to – you can’t do this to me.”
He can’t tear his eyes away from Nate, who’s looking at him like he’s a slab of raw meat. “Nate. Please.” The words come out dry and ragged and desperate, and for a moment, Nate looks as if he might hesitate, but then he smirks, and Dan feels his stomach sink with lead and dread.
“I don’t need another job. Not through your network,” Nate says smugly. “But it’s nice to know that you’d sell out your only friend on K Street to save your own ass. That’ll make another interesting layer to the story.”
Nate turns on his heel and walks out of the room, the unlocked door swinging shut behind him, and Dan starts to run after him through the outer office but there are still a few other people out there and he can’t risk it, can’t cause a scene, can’t draw attention to them. He’s blind with rage and panic and he’s walking quickly after Nate, and just as they reach the corridor outside, Nate turns on him, fury in his eyes.
“You have no clue how badly you’ve just fucked yourself,” he hisses, audible enough in the echoing tile hallway. “You have no idea.”
He doesn’t go after Nate.
He first makes a beeline for the parking garage, but it’s only after a solid seven or eight minutes of roaming his usual spots that he remembers he came from the airport, that his car is back at their apartment. It’s still oppressively hot and humid and it only takes him a few seconds of bolting for the street to break a sweat, but he manages to get a cab home. It’s only a few minutes to the apartment, his sweat turning cold in the air conditioning, but as soon as he pays the driver he’s hurling himself out of the backseat and making a dash for his own car in the driveway.
He texts Amy as he pulls out, tries to keep it innocuous. Still at work?
For now, she says. Can this wait?
No. And he makes the short drive to the PKM offices in record time, blazes past the security guards and employees in the lobby with a short “Here for Amy Brookheimer, she’s expecting me.” The light’s off inside her corner office, and at first he thinks she’s dodging him, that she ducked out as soon as he texted, but then she opens the door and pulls him inside.
“What the fuck,” she says through gritted teeth, “do you want?”
“Amy,” he says, breathing heavily, heart still beating like a hammer in his chest from the running or the adrenaline or God knows what else. “Amy. I fucked up.”
There’s a beat and he can tell she’s trying to gauge the situation, figure out exactly what I fucked up means. His eyes begin to adjust to the dark inside her office, and as he gets his bearings, she comes into focus, hands on her hips and eyes wide and her face screwed up in some inherently ridiculous parody of her normal annoyed expression. “What do you mean you fucked up?” she says flatly, and Dan takes a deep breath before he lets it fly.
“I fucked someone else,” he says. “I cheated on Jonah, I fucked someone and now they’re threatening to go public and I’m so fucked, Ame, I have no idea—”
“Who?” she says, her voice sharp and low, and Dan is startled by the way she cuts him off, almost jumps, his fight-or-flight mechanism on full alert.
“Nate,” he admits.
“Nate, Nathaniel, Nate Shaw—my fucking comm director, Amy, you know who I’m talking about—”
“Oh, my God.” She’s backing away, looking appalled, and Dan can’t – he can’t blame her. “Oh, my God. Dan. No.”
“What were you thinking?!” Her voice is rising to its shrillest capacity and Dan cringes but doesn’t stop her. “What were you – you fucking idiot, I swear to God, Dan, a fucking child, you have just fucked your way into a mess the size of the fucking Titanic and I don’t—”
“I’m fully fucking aware of that, Amy—”
“Oh, really?” She’s almost shrieking, and Dan starts to lay a hand on her arm to calm her down but she yanks away, recoils like he’s brandishing a fucking rattlesnake. “Were you aware of that when you were taking your dick out in your goddamn office? Did that thought maybe cross your mind once or twice, that this would be one of those messes you couldn’t just fuck your way out of?!”
“I didn’t—it wasn’t—I was careful,” Dan says. “I knew what I was doing. I handled it.”
“Then why are you here?” she hisses. “If you ‘handled it’ so professionally. What are you doing in my office?”
Dan stops, bites down on the words he’s about to say. “I – I made a mistake,” he says carefully. “I gave him just enough rope to hang me with.”
“You have to end it,” Amy says immediately, but Dan shakes his head.
“I already did,” Dan says. “He took it badly. As you might expect. And now I’m here.”
It’s silent but for the low hum of the central air conditioning rendering Amy’s office frigid. Dan suddenly feels very cold, the sweat that has been beading all over his body all night suddenly feeling like tiny chips of ice, and he almost shivers before Amy says, much more quietly this time, “You have to tell Jonah right now.”
“Jesus, Amy, I can’t do that, you know I—”
“He can’t find out from the press, Dan. You have to tell him yourself.” She’s getting worked up again, like the last fit was just her getting started, and Dan feels his blood pressure rise to match her energy.
“You don’t even fucking like Jonah and you never have,” he spits. “You’re my friend, not his. I can’t believe you’re taking his side—”
“Dan, I am not speaking to you as your friend right now,” Amy says in an icy tone. “I am speaking as someone with a motherfucking master’s degree in damage control. You have no idea when this story is going to break, and you cannot let him find out through Twitter that you’ve been fucking around. You have to tell him.”
The room is cold. The room is too fucking cold and it’s closing in on itself and his chest feels tight, too tight, straitjacket tight and he can’t breathe. Stumbling for the couch, he collapses onto it, his knees giving out as he fumbles for the edge and barely gets his entire body on the seat. He doesn’t know where Amy is, couldn’t place her in the room if he tried, because his vision has narrowed and he can barely see what’s directly in front of him in the dark. He tries to center himself, tries to breathe, in seven, hold ten, out seven, but it isn’t working. He needs a fucking Klonopin, he needs a fucking horse tranquilizer, he needs Jonah to wrap his arms around him and center him until this goes away. He hasn’t been to the dark place in more than a year, almost two years now, and he can’t fucking breathe.
It seems to last an eternity and he’s certain that he’s dying, that this is an actual heart attack and that there won’t be anything left of Dan Egan to slander in the press by the time the morning shows go live on air, but then he feels a hand on his, moving him carefully to one side of the couch. Amy helps him sit up, her body language stiff and resolute, and she places her hands on his shoulders and presses firmly down until he’s breathing at a normal pace again.
“This happens to Ed sometimes,” she says in a stilted voice.
It’s so dark in the room but his eyes have fully adjusted by now, and he can see all of her. The cleft in her chin. The delicate line of her cupid’s bow. The bags beneath her eyes, her makeup all but faded from the wear of the day. Amy is staring at him like she’s never seen him before, open and vulnerable and shaken, and she’s silent, and he doesn’t speak, either.
He realizes after a beat too long that he’s been staring at her lips, and as he lifts his eyes to hers, he feels – something. And – fuck it, he thinks, the mirror is already cracked. Might as well take a baseball bat and smash it all to hell and pieces.
He looks back down to her lips, and then quickly, like ripping off a bandage, leans in to close the gap. There’s half a moment in which Amy is frozen, her eyes still wide open in the dark, and then she’s pulling away, scrambling back on the couch, hissing “What the fuck are you doing, you fucking sociopath?!”
Dan blinks. “I’m sorry,” he says. “I read that wrong.”
In the dark, he sees her fall inward, collapsing in upon herself, her broad shoulders dropping a solid two inches from the weight of the moment. “You need to leave,” she says quietly. “And you have to tell Jonah.”
“You have twenty-four hours,” she says. Her tone isn’t angry. It’s resigned, beaten, like she’s just lost a game she’s been playing for a long time. “You have twenty-four hours, or I’ll tell him myself.”
“I don’t—” He breaks off, thinks twice before he says it. “I didn’t mean that. What just happened. It wasn’t me. It’s like – when you’re trying to eat right but then you have a single hot dog and then all of a sudden all bets are off, fuck it, put a firecracker in the glove compartment and go through the car wash, see what happens—”
“You know what, Dan?” she says, and there’s something resolute and just tired to her voice. “I really don’t care.”
Chapter 8: You'd Stay the Hell Out of My Way
He takes Amy’s words at face value.
He gets a red-eye to Rochester that night, the last one out, flies out with only his phone and keys and his wallet. His laptop and bag and chargers are all still lying in a jumble in his office somewhere, but it doesn’t really matter. He’s fucked. The sun is just starting to rise when the airport cab driver drops him off in front of their house, and he’s charging up the steps before he pauses, standing on the porch, staring at the lock with his keys in hand.
The house is dark inside. Jonah’s not up yet, he wouldn’t be, it’s only – he checks his watch; his phone’s long dead. 4:45. It’s early. He unlocks the door as quietly as possible, trying not to make a sound or disturb too much the air around him.
It feels foreign inside. Like walking into enemy territory, unguarded and unarmored and unarmed with only half his wits about him. He walks from the foyer into the kitchen, stands in the middle and places both hands on the island. The granite countertops are cool under his fingers, giving him something to concentrate on, a sensation to anchor him as the panic begins to rise within him, and—fuck. Right. He’s home, this is where he lives, his drugs are here.
Dan rushes for the master bathroom and flips on the light, rifling through the cabinet until he finds the bottle he’s looking for. He swallows a single pill and gulps it down with a handful of water from the tap, and then he waits – sits on the lid of the toilet and waits for the drugs to hit his system and chill him out. Stares at the tile floor, the glass shower wall, the handsome sink fixtures that got them featured in Better Homes and Gardens last year. He counts backwards from five hundred. He thinks about birds; imagines himself as a hawk or a golden eagle and tries to envision, in detail, his flight path.
“What the fuck?!” Jonah’s standing in the doorway, half-asleep and looking entirely bewildered. “Are you fucking crazy?”
Dan blinks. “Yes.” Because it’s the truth.
Jonah shakes his head dumbly, like a dog. “I thought you were in D.C.—”
“I had to come back,” says Dan. He can feel the benzos starting to hit him, his keel beginning to even, his breathing becoming much more regular. “I needed to – I had to do it tonight.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?” Jonah rubs at his face with one hand, then uses his thumb and index finger to rub his eyes even harder. “Dan, this is fucking weird.”
“I know,” he says blankly, shakily. “I came because I needed to talk to you.”
There are hands on his upper arms and at his back, Jonah guiding him up and out into their bedroom. “You need to sleep,” he’s saying calmly. “I haven’t seen you like this in a long time, Dan. You need to go to sleep—”
“I can’t,” Dan spits, but Jonah’s shaking his head.
“Get some fucking sleep, and we can talk about whatever it is when you’re up,” he says, pressing Dan down onto the mattress with a hand on either of his shoulders. Dan starts to protest, but then he’s letting Jonah unbutton his shirt and slide it off his shoulders, tossing it in the direction of the hamper. The room is just starting to brighten with daylight and he lets his eyes slide shut for the barest sliver of a second, and he’s quite suddenly aware of how right Jonah is, how much he needs to sleep, and he’s had enough stress dreams to remember that sometimes, when he goes to sleep in the dream it wakes him up in real life, and on the off chance that this has all been some horrifying next-level nightmare, he figures it couldn’t hurt to give it the old college try.
He feels the fatigue overtake him as he slides further back onto the bed and gently lies down on one side, and the mattress depresses as Jonah gingerly sits down beside him. There’s a hand on his back, gentle and heavy, and he falls asleep fast, the way he only can during the bad times.
It’s midmorning when Dan jerks awake, much later than he’d ever sleep under normal circumstances. The bedroom is empty and he feels sweaty and out-of-sorts. He sits up and slides his feet along the floor until he feels his senses and balance come back to him, and makes his way downstairs and into the living room, where Jonah is sitting on the couch, cup of coffee in hand and hair a mess.
“Are you okay?” he says immediately, standing up, and Dan shrugs groggily. “There’s coffee. Shit. I’ll get you coffee, hold on—”
“I can get it myself,” Dan snaps, and he sees Jonah visibly recoil.
“Okay,” Jonah says. “Okay.” He sits back down, but Dan can feel his eyes all over him as he walks back toward the kitchen and pours himself a cup of coffee. Light roast. Jonah would have done that specifically, because he knows it’s Dan’s favorite, knows he prefers the caffeine kick to the tar-black shit Jonah drinks due to whatever hard-boiled journalist fantasy he’s still living out. It’s still hot and the Hughes/Meyer mug he’s drinking from is worn and chipped but Jonah will never throw it out, is too attached to his twenties and whatever kind of glory days he had back then, with his shitty haircut and Dartmouth frat boy connections and whatever else he had going for him before Dan picked him, chose him, hated him so emphatically until Jonah molded himself into a better, more satisfactory human being for Dan’s own benefit. He’s running down the laundry list of flaws as he sucks down the coffee, burning half the taste buds clear off his tongue but barely noticing. Jonah and his entitlement, fucking prep school mama’s boy from New Hampshire who still thinks madras shorts and boat shoes constitute a weekend outfit, and his flat-out lack of any indoor voice or ability to restrain or withhold his baser tendencies. And his shitty fucking handwriting and goddamn dyslexia he uses as an excuse for the most flagrant misspellings, and the way he has to have his hands in everything at all time, no control, no respect –
He’s running down the list as he slams the coffee cup onto the counter, nearly empty. Steeling himself, he walks back into the living room, where Jonah is still on the couch, looking – concerned. For him. And it almost breaks him, almost makes him forget that this moment was borne from everything he hates about Jonah Kane Ryan, and then Jonah shakes his head and gestures for him to sit down beside him on the couch, and Dan, numbly, does.
“Dan,” he mutters, resting a hand heavily on his knee. “What the fuck is up with you?”
Dan can’t meet his gaze. He looks over Jonah’s shoulder, looking past him out the living room window, where he can see a car drive by, slowing down in front of their house. It doesn’t stop. “I… I cheated on you.” The hand on his knee jerks ever so slightly, its grip tightening. Dan still doesn’t look Jonah in the eye.
“Dan—” Jonah’s voice is placid when he finally speaks, and it makes Dan snap, cutting him off.
“I fucked someone else,” Dan says, feeling the need to spit it out, get it all on the table. Jonah isn’t moving enough, isn’t replying, and it’s making him—angry. Jonah doesn’t get to do this. He doesn’t get to take the high road, sit there passively while Dan works himself up.
“You did,” Jonah says when he finally replies. It’s not a question, not really. It’s like he could be talking about the traffic on the Avenue or an oncoming thunderstorm or a booked-solid restaurant at which Dan can’t get a reservation, some kind of minor inconvenience at most, anything else.
He doesn’t sound surprised. And that’s what takes Dan most aback.
“I’m sorry,” Dan says, his voice still harsh and unrepentant. He still hasn’t gotten the reaction he expected, and now he wants it. “Was that not enough of a confession for you? Or did you expect, I don’t know, some kind of campaign fund misappropriation scandal or a fucking sexual harassment lawsuit to go with it?” His tone is mocking, but his gaze is still fixed over Jonah’s shoulder, his eyes unfocused and glazed.
“When did it start?” Jonah’s voice is still flat, but the question seems genuine.
“Night of the Family Leave vote.” Dan finally looks back at Jonah, meets his eyes. Beyond that, he doesn’t move. “What? You don’t want to know who?”
Now Jonah laughs, harsh, mocking him back. “I’m gonna find out anyway, right?”
“It was Nate Shaw.”
A cold wave goes through Dan as Jonah drops his eyes, pulling his hand away from Dan’s knee at long last. He watches as Jonah tucks both fists into his sweatshirt pockets and looks away, and Dan can’t help it, he releases a breath in what’s almost a laugh, because he’s never been good at these situations, has never been able to put into words any rare moment of contrition or empathy without stumbling over his words and laughing out of nerves. He feels as though Jonah can feel his eyes on him, and he’s looking away without saying a word, and—fucking shit, Dan’s not an expert on marriage but he’s been in relationships, he knows how this goes, he knows what’s supposed to happen and this sure as fuck isn’t it.
He wants to take a step back, wants to remove himself from the room, put himself wherever Jonah is, but then Jonah stands up and walks out of the room, and Dan can’t help himself, he jumps up and follows behind him through the kitchen as he takes long strides toward the staircase, toward their bedroom.
“No,” he says, “fuck you, Jonah, you don’t get to—I’m telling you I fucked someone else—” He watches Jonah continue to walk away, tries to will his voice steady as he follows, charging up the stairs with balled fists, ready for fight or flight but not sure which. “I fucked this twenty-six-year-old kid and now he’s saying he’s going to go to the press and come clean about everything and my entire career, the past four years, up in fucking smoke, goodbye to everything we’ve fucking worked for, and you’re probably never going to hear the fucking end of it either, by the way, and—” He breathes quickly, as much oxygen as fast as he can get it, trying to will away the panic starting to bubble underneath his ribcage. “—and you can’t just walk away like this, fuck you, Jonah, will you just listen to me? Will you just talk to me? Please. Just talk to me.”
He’s taken on a pleading tone and can feel his hands opening and closing into tight fists at his sides, and Jonah’s still not saying anything. And then the door shuts in his face, and he stops dead, his hand on the doorknob. He could walk in, doesn’t hear the click of the lock, but he doesn’t.
He walks numbly downstairs, coming to a halt in the kitchen where Jonah’s Hughes/Meyer mug is still sitting, nearly drained of coffee, on the counter. And in a moment of rage and panic, he grabs it by the handle and brings it down hard on the granite countertop. It’s not quite hard enough the first time, he pussies out on the follow-through, but the second try’s the charm and it shatters, sending cold coffee and pieces of ceramic scattering in all directions. And he can feel his hand bleeding and he knows it’s a joke, but he doesn’t move, doesn’t get a bandage, doesn’t even ease the shard of ceramic out of the side of his hand. He stands, stock-still, staring at the puddle of coffee and ignoring the sharp, throbbing pain in his right hand as he begins to grasp, for the first time, the enormity of what he’s done.
Chapter 9: There Is No Sign of Land
He goes back to D.C. alone.
Jonah knows he has every right to do this. The apartment on M Street is technically in his name; they kept their finances separate when negotiating the marriage for political and tax reasons, and so that Dan couldn’t be accused of blatant upward mobility, of marrying into money. He picks up and flies back to D.C. without a word, wanders the airport parking lot until he finds Dan’s car and drives home. Or, well, home. Whatever that means. Whatever it is.
It’s just – he isn’t used to it. The quiet. The dark. Flipping on all the lights himself, keeping himself company and pretending that nothing is different, that it’s any other weekend, that Dan’s up in Rochester to campaign and meet the constituents and he’s here in Washington to work and stay busy. That nothing is out of the ordinary. That nothing is missing, nothing is out of place. He’s so good at lying to himself, isn’t he? Hasn’t he always been?
Well, the fucking kid gloves are off, the emperor has no clothes, and it’s time to be honest with himself: he’s got nothing. He ain’t got shit. Everything he’s done, everything he’s accomplish (or “accomplished”) is the result of false bravado and unearned arrogance and the well-timed dropping of a good family name. And he’s done so well, lying to himself and pretending that he’s happy, that this is what he wanted, that he’s okay playing the political husband to a man he always knew, in the back of his mind, was a fucking sociopath. And he’s angry at Dan, and he’s angry at himself, and he knows that ultimately it was always just a matter of time before Dan disappointed him like this, but he’s like Indiana fucking Jones on a marital counselor’s couch: Why did it have to be cheating?
He should have seen it coming. He should have known this would happen from the start, from the moment Dan and his father locked eyes at their wedding reception. He should have known they were two of a kind. He earned this himself. He trusted Dan. He trusted badly.
There’s a box of breakfast burritos in the freezer. He wraps one in a wet paper towel, sticks it in the microwave and leans against the kitchen counter as he waits. He doesn’t think about how Dan disapproves of shitty frozen food, how he once threatened to make Jonah take cooking lessons until he could fend for himself “instead of eating like a fucking kindergartner, Jesus, Jonah, chicken strips again?” He fills a cup halfway with ice, sloshes a measure of gin into it and fills it the rest of the way with the only other liquid in the fridge, which is, for some curious reason that he can’t explain, apple juice. It tastes abhorrent, especially when consumed in tandem with the breakfast burrito, and he eats all of it leaning against the counter, then pours himself another.
He’s halfway through his third when the doorbell dings three times in quick succession, followed by a round of harsh knocking he can’t block out. He figures there are three distinct possibilities for who’s on the other side:
One, it’s Dan. Highly unlikely to downright im-fucking-probable. He knows the Rochester-National shuttle schedule by heart, and unless they’d been on the same plane flying out (which he’s positive they weren’t), there’s no way he could have gotten here so soon. It’s not Dan. He rules that out as quickly as it comes.
Two, it’s Nate Shaw. Which, well, fuck him if he came over looking to get fucked or kiss and make up, because Dan’s not here, and Jonah may be halfway to drunk and ninety-five percent numb inside, but he’ll still kick the kid’s ass if he’s standing on the other side of the door. It’s possible. Not probable. He’ll take the risk, because from what he saw on social media, that kid looks like he’s never been punched.
Three, it’s the press. He has no idea whether this is a possibility or not. Technically, he assumes he’d know if it had hit the internet already, because it’s the internet, and so far his phone’s been suspiciously quiet – nothing from Dan, but nothing from anyone else, either, and if no one’s tweeting at him yet, it can’t have gotten out. But there’s also the issue of advance tips, and for all he knows there could be a pack of piranhas (or even just a single shark) out there, ready to start the feeding frenzy as soon as he shows his face. Possible. Maybe probable. Probably the closest thing to probable he can think.
He doesn’t bother looking out the peephole before throwing the door wide open. Fuck it if it’s the press. They can take all the fucking photos they want, as he beats the shit out of Nate Shaw.
It’s not the press. It’s not Nate. It’s not even Dan.
Amy Brookheimer is standing on the apartment steps, her hand raised as if she’s about to knock again, and Jonah can tell his surprise is obvious, because she doesn’t say anything, just brushes past him as she walks into the apartment.
“Uh,” Jonah says. “Dan’s not here.”
She turns, looking around the place as if she’s never seen it before. “I didn’t think he would be.”
“Uh,” he says again. “Can I…” He starts to say Can I help you? but realizes how shitty it sounds before he gets the full sentence out, and eats the rest of the words to spit out another sentence. “Can I get you a drink?”
She glances at the half-empty glass in his hand. “What’re you drinking?”
“Gin and apple juice.”
“That’s disgusting.” She pauses. “I’ll take the gin.”
Jonah leads her to the kitchen and she follows slowly, still looking around, obviously uncomfortable and out of sorts. She sets her bag on the kitchen table as she watches Jonah pour her a gin on the rocks, and takes the glass from him hesitantly, but then lifts it with a roll of the eyes. “Cheers,” she mutters, “you married a bigger piece of shit than either of us imagined,” and then downs most of it in a single go.
Jonah blinks, watching as she sets the cup down heavily. It’s a shitty tourist souvenir cup from a trip he took to Vegas on a whim years before, one of those plastic cups they give out to hold your chips or quarters in the casinos, and it’s got the Luxor logo printed in chipped, fading letters on the side. Amy’s looking rough, like she hasn’t slept much at all, and even though her clothes are neatly pressed and the strand of pearls at her throat gleams as brightly as it ever does, there are dark circles beneath her eyes and her hair is uncharacteristically unkempt. By Amy Brookheimer standards, she looks like shit.
(Which, Jonah rationalizes, is still pretty fucking hot – because he’s allowed to notice these things now, allowed to indulge in them, even, because fuck, the fire’s already started in the bedroom, might as well pour some gasoline on it, maybe some paint thinner, burn down the whole goddamn house.)
“So,” he says, shifting awkwardly in the middle of the floor. “You gonna tell me why you’re here, or is this some kind of pity-fuck surprise booty call? Because if it’s the latter, I’m gonna need—”
“Yeah, no,” Amy says sharply. “I’m basically here to make sure you’re not going to kill yourself. Because I don’t need that on my conscience, and I’m pretty sure I’m Dan’s only friend and I don’t think I could deal with him if that happened, so.” She gestures sardonically around the kitchen. “Any sharp objects I need to confiscate?”
“Are you kidding? Fuck no,” Jonah says, more bombastically than is normal for him nowadays, but it’s not every day he gets put on suicide watch and he’s really not sure what the proper way to react in this situation actually is. “I’m fine. I’m doing great. Did Dan send you?”
She sighs and takes a seat at the kitchen table, resting one of her elbows on the top as she swirls the ice in her near-empty cup. “No,” she says, “and before you say you don’t believe me, you really should believe me, because I have no reason to lie to you here. Dan did not send me.”
“Who?” she asks, picking at her cuticle absently.
Jonah frowns. “Dan’s brother.”
“Oh. Right. He was at the wedding. No. I’ve never even talked to him.” Amy rolls her eyes again. “Do you want to talk about this?”
Jonah stares at her. He’s still confused, borderline dumbfounded, and the continued presence of Amy in his kitchen, sans Dan or any other mitigating factors, is still really fucking with him. “You know what? Not really.”
She shrugs. “All right. Do you want to do anything else?”
He considers the question. Really considers it, skips past the obvious first answer in his mind and digs a little deeper. “You ever play video games?”
A couple rounds of Mario Kart and a few more collective drinks later, Jonah has no idea which way is up or down. Not physically, but emotionally. Amy is actually acting like some semblance of a normal person, which he figures makes sense, because she’s nothing if not competitive to a ridiculous degree, and getting her engrossed in some sort of competitive activity seems to have actually done the trick, made her drop the ice queen shield and get a little bit down and dirty. He realizes now that he’s literally never hung out with her one-on-one since the early, early EEOB days, and it was never fun – she was never fun, just hot and serious and scary, just another unattainable girl he’d hit on in the belief or the hope that she’d turn out to have low enough self-esteem to go for it. How the tables have fucking turned, he thinks as he empties the last of the Tanqueray into his own cup, not bothering with a mixer like he hasn’t for the past few rounds.
“Shit,” Amy mutters as she tosses aside her controller. “That was… a shockingly tolerable two hours, I guess.”
“Shockingly tolerable, huh?” Jonah smirks. “That's gonna be the title of our sex tape—”
Amy laughs, not a fake, I’m-doing-this-so-that-you-won’t-slit-your-wrists-in-front-of-me laugh but a genuine, knee-jerk, honest reaction. Jonah flips off the TV and leans back on the couch. He’s staring at their reflection in the darkening flat-screen, Amy’s legs crossed demurely at the ankle and his own knees spread wide fucking open, looking like some kind of twisted comedy-and-tragedy mask design through his own drunken fog.
For a minute, a solid, serious minute, his drink halfway to his mouth, the thought crosses his mind again, how easy it would be to hit on her. But then she says, holding her own Vegas souvenir cup to her lips and her voice vibrating off the plastic, “You know, he propositioned me, too.”
Jonah almost chokes on his own fucking tongue at that, splutters as he spits the last sip of gin back into the cup. “When?”
“Ugh,” she mutters. “Last night. When he came by to tell me the whole fucking sob story about his fucking Eagle Scout boyfriend—”
“You said no?” Jonah doesn’t know why he asks, because Amy rolls her eyes so dramatically he’s actually afraid for a moment that they’ll get stuck that way.
“No, Jonah,” she says derisively. “We fucked on the sectional couch in my office and now I’m pregnant and we’re running away.”
“Sarcasm’s always a good look on you,” he says, and she exhales heavily.
“Of course I said no,” she says. “Clearly. I have no idea why you would ask that.”
Jonah shrugs. “You know something?” he says, about to get more honest and real than he knows he should, but the wheels are just a little too greasy with booze to put on the brakes now. “I always kind of figured that if he was gonna fuck somebody else, it’d be you.”
Amy gives him a look that falls somewhere between offense and disgust, and he holds up both hands in a gesture of surrender. “No, I know that sounds shitty, just – hear me out, okay?” he protests. “I didn’t think it would be some random kid. I figured it’d be someone like you, at least. Someone he had a history with.”
“That would presume I’d be interested,” Amy mutters. “It’s not like that.”
“You’ve never thought about it?” Jonah presses. “Not even once? You can’t tell me you’re happy out there in Chevy Chase, married to someone who’s not on your level. You and Dan are like, I don’t know, fucking rock stars, and that’s your guys’ roles in the relationship, and Ed and I are more like… shit. I don’t know. We’re the bassists or the drummers or whatever. We’re just there so you guys can look good and go crazy and stay on tempo. And like, that’s fine, fuck it, whatever, Ringo’s important too, but there’s a reason rock stars run off with other rock stars all the time.”
He takes a deep breath, having just about run out of air before he ran out of words. He’s about to go back into the rant, ramble on a little more, but Amy’s tapping her nose in that coy little way that always indicates she has something to say, so he shuts up again, raises both eyebrows. “What?”
“I married Ed because I thought I was going to run for office,” Amy says. “And then other shit happened, life got in the way, I got comfortable at PKM, whatever. It didn’t happen. But if I was going to divorce him, I could have taken any opportunity by now.”
“So what, you’re trying to tell me you’re in love with that fucking goober?” Jonah says, and Amy shakes her head.
“It’s not that we’re in love,” she says. “I mean, it was always a business decision, first and foremost. Fundraiser, lobbyist, we help each other out, you know? But it’s also…” She shrugs. “We bother each other in complementary ways. That’s marriage. But it’s comfortable. We don’t have to talk. We can come home and eat dinner in silence. We don’t have to have sex. We don’t have to pretend that there’s anything but cold, hard cash and connections keeping us together. There’s a level of comfort to that, you know?”
Jonah is silent as he considers it, because – well, no. He doesn’t know. Amy’s describing this as if it’s the most natural, commonplace arrangement in the world, like they’re on the exact same wavelength. But it sounds completely foreign to him, the cold clinicality of the Brookheimer-Webster home. “You don’t have sex?” She shrugs. “Holy shit,” Jonah mutters. “You are so fucked up.” She makes a face, but he presses on. “And you don’t even talk to each other? Not even to say, ‘Hey, how was your day’ or whatever?”
“We’re polite,” Amy says. “It’s just not – people talk about a spark, or whatever, and that’s just not us.”
Jonah lets out a deep breath, rests his head in his hands, runs his fingers through his hair. This is so fucked up. “So what? How is this supposed to reassure me?”
Amy sighs, shakes her head. “I don’t think it will,” she says flatly. “Because Dan is – he’s like me. Not exactly like me, but close enough. It’s never gonna be enough for him. I wasn’t, you weren’t, nobody is. His hubris is too much for any single person to satisfy him.”
Jonah looks back up at the darkened TV screen. “Yeah,” he mutters. “I guess.”
“All I’m saying,” Amy says delicately as she rises from the couch, “is that you don’t have a moral obligation to take him back. If I were you, I’d ruin him.”
“You wouldn’t,” Jonah mutters. “You two are too—”
“Don’t presume what I would or wouldn’t do to Dan,” she says sharply as she picks up her bag, in a way that implies something else, a history he’s not a part of, a tone that tells him not to ask. And then she’s gone, walking out the door as abruptly as she came, and Jonah’s staring after her, still not particularly sure what has just happened.
Nate Shaw is sitting at the end of the bar when Jonah walks in, three days later. It’s just some shitty, bro-y sports bar near Capitol Hill, where Jonah can tell the wings are going to be overpriced and the beer will be serviceable, but it’s exactly the kind of place he used to love, and maybe even still does love, somewhere deep within the part of him that hasn’t changed shapes to accommodate Dan and his more refined fucking tastes.
He walks up to Nate, who might as well be a fucking stranger to him at this point. They’ve only met two or three times, briefly, at campaign events up in Rochester over the summer. And Jonah doesn’t say anything at first, just pauses for a moment, takes him in from a distance, this fucking guy. He can understand why Dan would want to fuck him, at least, because he’s so much like the photos Jonah’s seen of Dan in his twenties – well put together, but trying a little too hard, striving a little too much to be the most at ease in the room. Dan is nothing if not a narcissist, so it makes perfect sense.
He bites back a low chuckle as he slides onto the seat beside Nate. “So,” he mutters. “I guess we’re finally having that drink.”
Nate looks up from his phone. “Mr. Ryan,” he says quietly. He’s got his ID laminate tucked into his shirt pocket, the picture of motherfucking discretion. “I’m sorry it’s under these circumstances.”
“Don’t say you’re sorry,” Jonah snaps on instinct. “That word is bullshit and I know neither of us are here to apologize for anything. If we don’t fucking tiptoe around it, we’ll get out of here a hell of a lot faster.”
Nate blinks. “Understood.” He’s got half a beer in front of him, and the bartender comes moseying over as she locks eyes with Jonah.
“What can I get you, sweetie?”
“Bourbon on the rocks.” He secretly still hates dark alcohol, will only drink it if it’s all that’s around or offered, but he’s sure as shit not going to order a motherfucking Cape Codder in front of the Boy Scout his husband has been fucking for God knows how long. He’ll choke down a bourbon without flinching if need be. If it makes him look at all more imposing, like someone not to be fucked with.
The bartender slides his drink across the counter and he takes a sip immediately, keeps his face impassive. They both wait for her to disappear before Nate leans forward, elbows on the bar, and says quietly, “Why are you really here, Mr. Ryan?”
“Dunno. Curiosity.” It’s a half-truth. Jonah shrugs, still trying to gauge how much he wants to give away. “Personal, professional.”
“Professional curiosity?” asks Nate, and Jonah shrugs again.
“I’m a journalist.”
“You’re a blogger.”
“I sold that blog to MSNBC for six million dollars and I’ve been making regular appearances on Maddow for the last three months,” Jonah says contemptuously. “Or did Dan not mention that when he was balls deep inside you these past few weeks?”
Nate flushes, just a little, and takes a gulp of his beer. “Professional curiosity?” he repeats, and Jonah sighs.
“I know how this is going to play out,” he says. “Story breaks on a Monday. Dan denies everything, evidence begins to trickle out slowly until too much has built up to keep conceivably denying. You go on TV, give an interview where you look all contrite and shit – I’d almost rather you were a chick, they always dress like fucking babysitters, I’m not sure how they’re gonna make you up to look innocent. Maybe a bow tie.” Nate rolls his eyes, and Jonah presses on. “Dan doesn’t comment, doesn’t comment, doesn’t comment. The press starts harassing me. I get a solid three days in the spotlight. ‘Will he leave,’ ‘Where was the husband,’ et-fucking-cetera. The late night shows get a week’s worth of material out of it but the jokes are stale by Friday night and by the next week we’ve all moved on and Dan either resigns and drops out of the race or sticks it out and loses reelection. This is what I do. We’re all memes for a week and then the country moves on, except we can never Google ourselves again without being reminded of this whole fucking mess.” Jonah stops to sip his drink, giving Nate the opportunity to interrupt.
“So – what? Did you come here to ask me not to go public?”
“No,” Jonah says simply. “I didn’t say that. That’s not what I’m asking at all.”
“So then…” Nate places both hands face-down on the bar top, spreading out his fingers. Jonah stares at them, stares at his hands, hates that he knows exactly where they’ve been. “Why are you here?”
Jonah shrugs. He doesn’t really have an answer for this, didn’t get that far in the arguments and speeches he prepared in the shower. “I want to know what you have on him. If I’m going to have to do the whole fucking stand-by-your-man thing, I want to know what I’m standing by.”
With a sigh, Nate runs a hand through his hair, shaking his head, looking agitated. “Mr. Ryan, can I be honest with you?”
“Sure. Why not. Couldn’t hurt.”
“I’m having second thoughts about the whole thing.” He pinches the bridge of his nose and cringes visibly as Jonah looks on, trying to keep his own face impassive. “What you said about the news cycle, I mean, that’s all true. That’s exactly how it would go.”
“I know,” Jonah bristles, “this is what I do for a liv—”
“So what do I get out of it, at the end?” Nate says. It’s clearly a rhetorical question; he doesn’t pause to let Jonah even try to form an answer. “I’m never gonna work on the Hill again if this comes out. Lemme ask you something, you ever sleep with your boss?”
Jonah blinks. “I – yeah, once, but I was pretty young and she was, I dunno, a weak six at best—”
“Did you get what you wanted out of it?”
“I got laid, which was all I wanted,” Jonah says. “What the fuck does this have to do with Dan?”
Nate sighs, shakes his head. “I just – I don’t know. I don’t have to stay in D.C. I could go wherever, move to L.A., get into PR or whatever. Move back to New York and work at an ad agency. But I like politics and I like this line of work, so…”
“So you’re afraid that if you go on TV and admit to being the other man and breaking up America’s gay sweethearts, you’ll never get hired in D.C. again,” Jonah finishes the sentence for him. “Yeah. Hate to break it to you, but that’s definitely gonna be part of it.”
“So you should’ve thought about that before you fucked my husband, maybe,” Jonah mutters. He stares at the ice in his drink, tries to stay cold, keep it together. “What are we talking about, here? How many times?”
Nate laughs. “Do you really want the details?”
“Yeah, I do,” he smarts. “I’d much rather find out here, before the fact, in a room filled with alcohol, than when you make your little NBC Nightly News appearance and tell Lester Holt all about this grand fucking affair—”
“It wasn’t that grand,” says Nate. “Honestly. A lot of stuff in his office. Sometimes at his apartment.”
“That apartment is in my name.” Jesus.
Nate shrugs. “Sorry.”
“What do you even have on him?” Jonah asks, his curiosity getting the best of him. “Do you have any evidence at all, other than your word against his? Not that you guys wouldn’t make an interesting he-said-he-said, but the press is really gonna want – I don’t know. Something else.”
Nate pauses, his gaze falling back to the top of the bar, before he slowly removes his phone from his jacket pocket. Jonah watches as he opens his messages, hits Dan’s thread, scrolls up a few before he hands it over to Jonah, who skims it quickly.
You’ll be back in DC tomorrow, correct?
“This was over the Fourth?” he asks, and Nate nods, gesturing for him to keep scrolling.
Thank god. J is driving me fucking insane
Can I be of any assistance?
Only if you were here
How would that go down?
“Jesus,” Jonah mutters, “you two sext like a couple of Victorian nuns.”
Nate shrugs. “Yeah, keep going.”
I’d take you out to the beach and lay you out face down in the sand.
How badly do you want to fuck me?
How badly is that?
I think about you all the time. Had a dream about you the other night and had to wake up J and pretend he was you, I needed to get off so bad
Jonah looks up, blinking. Stunned. He stops scrolling for the moment, but doesn’t make eye contact with Nate, knows that he must know what he’s just read. Numbly, he returns to the screen, reading the rest as quickly as possible.
What would you be doing if you were back here with me now?
I’d suck you off, and then I’d flip you over and eat that pretty ass
I’d get you nice and wet and open so I could fuck you hard, just how you like it.
Thank you, daddy…
And that’s the end of it, the next text is some out-of-context reminder about the high-speed rail bill. But it’s enough. Shit. It’s definitely enough.
Jonah slides the phone back to Nate, still not looking up to his eyes. He can feel his own face flushing, his body shaking, tiny microtremors that are part anger and part disgust but mostly just betrayal. And he can feel the last part of him that was still holding out in Dan’s esteem give up, let go, fall right into the crevasse.
“Do it,” he mutters as he finally looks back to Nate. “Go public.”
Nate looks bewildered. He pauses, opens his mouth, shuts it again, then reopens it. He looks like a fucking goldfish, Jonah thinks, watching this little whore trying to put the words together. “I – are you – you sound really sure about that.”
“Yeah,” Jonah says. He reaches into his pocket, pulls out a pen and a crumpled receipt from the airport Starbucks. Quickly, before he can change his mind, he dashes off an email address and slides it across the bar to Nate. “This is Leon West’s private email. I use it to harass him – doesn’t matter. It’s him and he’ll appreciate the exclusive. He’s had it out for Dan since Hughes was in office.”
Nate looks at the receipt, slides it toward him with two fingers on the edge, as if he’s afraid to touch it. “I still don’t know. You know what I said. It’s going to ruin my own chances—”
“Yeah, it will,” says Jonah, cutting him off abruptly. “S’probably gonna be pretty bad for both of you. You should probably get out of D.C. for a few days once it hits. Maybe go home for a while. Where are you from, Nate?”
“New York. City.”
“Oh, that’s even worse. The press will be all over you.” Jonah can’t help it. He’s almost laughing despite himself, despite the stakes, despite the amount of shit they’re about to bring down on everyone involved in this situation. “Yeah, there’s really no right answer here.”
“What if – what if I didn’t do it?” Nate says, his voice rising in what sounds like apparent desperation. “I won’t say anything. I’ll resign. I’ll find another job and I’ll disappear. We don’t have to make this public and you and Dan can go back to living your lives—”
“Either you go public with it,” Jonah says, trying and almost succeeding at keeping his voice from shaking very slightly, “or I will.” He slams the rest of his bourbon, cringing as it burns down his throat, then slides ungracefully off the stool. “Your choice.”
Chapter 10: You Are Coming Down With Me
It’s been almost a week and Dan has no idea what the fuck is going on anymore.
It’s quiet. Too quiet. He stays in Rochester because it’s safer, because regardless of the storm that may or may not be gathering, he still has a campaign to run, an election to keep trying to win. So he keeps going. He goes to his daily events, he shakes hands and meets donors and takes conference calls, and when constituents ask where his husband is, he laughs and makes up a nice excuse about Jonah having a life and career of his own, and a book coming out in September, don’t forget, pre-order Selinaland online today. He goes to the farmer’s market. He goes running. He goes to the district office in Rochester every day and stares at the map on the wall, the mess of red and blue pushpins that all blur together in a big purple blotch when he closes his eyes halfway. He hands out buttons and campaign propaganda and poses for photo after photo for the press and the internet and tries not to think about how much better his social media looked under Jonah’s direction, how much more real he appeared.
He can’t stop thinking, can’t divorce himself from the thought that he was too rash. He fucked up his marriage for nothing. Nate has nothing on him other than a set of explicit texts that he could just as easily argue had been doctored, or that someone else had gotten their hands on his phone. But he let this kid scare him and he admitted it too soon, and now he’s totally fucked up his marriage for nothing.
Because he hasn’t heard from Jonah. Radio silence on his end. Dan’s certainly not going to call him, not going to be the first to come crawling out from under the rock just to be rebuffed, so he waits, because Jonah will – he will come back. If nothing else, he knows that Jonah needs to have the last word, will certainly come back at some point if only to pack up what’s left of his things in the house here and throw a packet of divorce papers at him. The fucking pre-nup. Jonah’s lawyer insisted on it, said that marriage was all good and that his client trusted Dan implicitly but the Kane family didn’t keep him on retainer to not enforce their pre-nup policy, and in any case, Dan knows it’s going to make their separation that much easier – but what the fuck is he going to do after that? Congress doesn’t pay shit. The book advance and sales have been paying for his flights back and forth from New York to D.C. for the past few months. He sank the last of his PKM savings into buying this house, thought of it as an investment. The D.C. apartment is in Jonah’s name. Their money, as of now, is Jonah’s money – a straight 180 from when they first got together, when Jonah was still at the White House, living on a federal government salary, and Dan was fucking showering them both in lobbyist money. So what does he have now? A house in his hometown, a book that’ll probably be the centerpiece of a few dozen bonfires by the end of the week, and just about jack shit else.
He has nothing. And it’s all because he made a mistake, said something too early. He got scared, essentially. And now it’s not going to go public at all and he’s fucked up his marriage and there’s not going to be a follow-through, and he really fucking wants to call Jonah.
But he doesn’t. And then he gets another phone call, and he realizes that it doesn’t matter, because he’s fucked.
It’s been six days since he came back to Rochester, and on the morning of the seventh day, he’s standing in his kitchen, cutting up vegetables, waiting. Green peppers, red peppers, onions, beets. Mushrooms. There’s always been something cathartic, almost sensual, about slicing up mushrooms, the way his wedding-registry knives slide through the wet flesh like velvet. He’s halfway through cutting up a box of portabellas from the farmer’s market when his phone, halfway across the room, begins to buzz, and immediately, instinctually, his stomach hits the floor, and he drops the knife.
It clatters to the counter as he wipes his hands on his pants and strides over to the vibrating phone. He doesn’t pick it up, just stares at the display. It’s a number he doesn’t recognize, and he hits ‘ignore’ with one finger. Another call, and then another, and then a few dozen Twitter notifications at once. He stands there, watching them flood in, hitting ‘ignore’ again and again. After a few minutes, he hits the power button, shutting his phone off, and slowly backs away.
He walks to the bathroom. He takes an Ambien, dry swallows it fast, leaving a lump in his throat that feels like a tumor. There’s a moment where he considers downing the rest of the bottle, but it passes; he slides it back into the medicine cabinet and closes the door calmly. Too calmly. He’s not panicking and this worries him. The gnawing, burbling anxiety that has been a constant fixture over the past week is suddenly, for some reason, gone. It’s almost as if it were never there.
Jonah’s been up for hours. He sees the story break in real time, keeps refreshing the Post’s homepage until Dan’s face fills the screen, beneath the boldface headline Egan embroiled in office sexting scandal. He glances at the byline – Leon. Perfect. Just as he expected.
Rep. Daniel Egan (D-NY) is the latest congressman to be caught red-handed – and red-faced – after a series of indecent text messages he exchanged with an aide surfaced early Monday.
The sexually-charged messages were sent from Egan’s personal cell phone over the Fourth of July weekend. The recipient: Egan’s director of communications, Nathaniel Shaw, 26. Shaw has since resigned.
In an email Monday morning, Egan’s chief of staff, Claire Montgomery told the Post’s Leon West, “This is intended to be a distraction, and we’re not going to allow it to become one. His relationship with Mr. Shaw has never been anything but strictly professional, and we will be consulting on what steps to take next.”
Egan has yet to comment on the developing story.
Rep. Egan, 41, married blogger and former Meyer aide Jonah Ryan, 33, in a well-publicized Dumbarton House ceremony last summer. He is the first member of Congress to legally wed a same-sex partner. More recently, Egan published the memoir American Pride, describing himself as a “progressive family-values politician,” and drafted a bill mandating universal paid family leave, which was defeated on the House floor in April.
“Fuck,” Jonah mutters as he reads and rereads the article. His eyes keep drifting back to his own name, blogger and former Meyer aide, not a word about his own book but at least it doesn’t minimize him or position him as just another political spouse. “Fuck,” he repeats, a little louder, and then, remembering that he’s alone in the house, stands up and screams.
And then his phone begins to ring.
“Mr. Egan. Sir. Sir, you need to get up.”
There’s someone in his bedroom and Dan jolts awake. Blinks twice, as the face blurs into focus. It’s not Jonah and it’s not even Dave, the only two people he’d consider talking to right now. Claire is standing next to his bed, her arms folded tightly, looking as bad as he’s ever seen her.
“Fuck off,” he mumbles as he turns back over, still ninety percent asleep, but then she’s grabbing him by the shoulder and hauling him up to a sitting position.
“No,” she says harshly. “You need to wake the fuck up. We need a statement and I have been spinning my wheels out here for hours.”
“Why are you in my house?”
“Your brother let me in,” she says, matter-of-fact, as if that’s just what brothers do, let employees who might as well be strangers into their siblings’ homes. “He’s out there too.”
“I need to talk to him,” Dan says, suddenly feeling a rush of energy hit his body. Fuck it. He’s awake, barely even groggy, and he needs to start moving, starts to swing his legs over the side of the bed. “Where is he?”
“No,” Claire says as she pushes him back down to a sitting position. “Not until we get this hammered out. We need a statement, and we need Jonah to go on the record as well.”
Dan blinks, shaking his head. “We can’t call Jonah,” he says blankly. “Are you fucking kidding? Do you honestly think that’s going to make the situation any better? Have you ever talked to Jonah?”
“The longer he stays silent, the worse it looks for you,” Claire counters. “He hasn’t even been tweeting today and it’s making you look guilty as fuck. We need one on-the-record denial from both of you, blah blah, ‘I stand by my husband’—”
“Okay,” Dan says, breathing heavily. “Okay. Look. I’m completely fucked, okay? Because I haven’t spoken to Jonah since I told him about this a week ago, and if I try to get back in touch with him now, it’s going to be painfully fucking obvious that this is just all about the public narrative—”
“But we really need to pin down the public narrative.” Claire looks like she’s about to throttle him, and Dan, for the briefest moment, is actually a little bit terrified of her. He takes a deep breath and shuts his eyes, and when he finally speaks, he has to spit the words out like venom that he’s sucked out of his own goddamn snake bite.
“Fine. You call him. You talk to him. I’m not getting involved in this.”
It looks for a moment like he’s just called her bluff, like she had no intention of actually getting in touch with Jonah and this was all some ploy to get him out of bed, but then she’s pulling out her phone and scrolling through the contacts and hitting Jonah’s name, all as Dan watches through narrowed eyes and clenched teeth. He hears it ring, once, twice, and half of a third before the ringing cuts out, and—
“Mr. Ryan?” Claire looks shaken but her voice is smooth and professional. “This is Claire Montgomery calling from your husband’s office. I was hoping you had a minute to—”
She doesn’t finish the sentence. From where Dan is still sitting up in bed, he can hear Jonah’s voice hollering on the other end of the line, coming though her phone’s speaker tinny but loud as fuck. “Are you fucking kidding me?!”
Claire clears her throat stiffly. “Mr. Ryan, I just needed to—”
“Oh, no,” Jonah yells. “No fucking way. He doesn’t get to do this. Dan doesn’t get to have his fucking Dan-ette call me to get a fucking statement after not even bothering to talk to me for a fucking week. No fucking way, no, this isn’t how he gets to play it, he doesn’t get to win this game, not like this. Listen, Claire, I’m not playing games here. You put that fucking asshole on the phone right the fuck now.”
Claire shoots Dan a horrified look, and he shakes his head wildly, gesturing No, no, I’m not here.
“I know you’re there, Dan,” Jonah shouts through the phone, “I can hear you listening and you know this is some fucking bullshit. Claire, put my husband on the line right the fuck now or—”
Anger courses through Dan as he sits up and swipes the phone from Claire’s outstretched hand, holding it up to his ear, his patience completely shot through. “Here I am, asshole,” he shouts back, cutting off Jonah mid-rant. “You want to cut the shit? Here I am. Say whatever the fuck you want to me. I’m listening.” He gestures madly at Claire, then to the door, and she doesn’t have to be told twice; she makes a beeline for the hallway and slams the door behind her, leaving Dan alone in the master bedroom, pacing the floor angrily.
“I cannot fucking believe you, Dan,” Jonah says, his voice filled with poison and bitter rage. “I cannot believe this.”
“Well, fucking believe it, Jonah,” Dan laughs in spite of himself. “You knew what I was when you married me.”
“Oh, I’m not angry about the affair,” Jonah spits. “I mean, I am, I sure fucking am, but that’s not what we’re fighting about right now. You don’t get to go underground for a week and not contact me, not even fucking text me to make sure I haven’t slit my fucking wrists—”
“Don’t be fucking melodramatic,” Dan mutters, and Jonah laughs in a way that signifies he is only going to be more melodramatic from here on out.
“Hey, if Amy was worried enough to come check on me and she doesn’t even have fucking feelings, I’d think, or at least I’d hope, that maybe my husband might feel the same way. But nope! Business as fucking usual for you, Danny. Nice fucking Instagram posts, by the way. Those were some really cute tweets you sent over the past week.”
“I was waiting for you to reach out to me,” Dan hisses. “I didn’t want to fucking bother you while you were too busy, I don’t know, licking your wounds and playing first-person shooters in your pajamas—”
“Really?!” Jonah shouts. “You don’t think that maybe I’ve been working, doing my fucking job, trying to prepare for the shitstorm that was about to come down on top of both of us? Because if you think that I’ve just been shitting around in D.C. bumping fucking Big Sean in the Cube this whole time, then boy fucking howdy, did you jump to some erroneous goddamn conclusions, Dan.”
“Listen,” Dan says, all ice-man and clenched jaw, trying just this once to keep it together. “I need you to make a statement about how you believe and stand by me and then we’ll go from there. It doesn’t matter whether or not you believe it. I just need you to do this one thing for me, Jonah.”
“Fuck, no,” Jonah laughs bitterly. “I already told you, I’m not playing games with the press. I’m not interested in going on the record at all, but I swear to fucking God, Dan, if you make one single statement that mentions me in any way that I don’t like, I will call every reporter I’ve ever met, including that kid from the Cornell Daily Sun, and I’ll tell them every single thing you’ve ever wanted to keep under wraps, up to and including that dog you killed as a kid.”
Dan breathes out heavily as Jonah falls silent after this, the words hitting him like a bullet to the head. “I – I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he says shakily, but he can hear his own voice faltering and he knows Jonah won’t believe him, because Jonah knows him, has always been able to read his tells and isn’t scared to call them out. And Jonah exhales heavily on the other line and waits, expectantly, in silence for a few beats before it becomes clear that Dan isn’t going to say anything else.
“That’s a good start,” Jonah mutters. “You’ll need a lot of practice with those words. Can I just ask you one thing?”
“What?” Dan says. “Why’d I do it? What’d I get out of it? Why didn’t I tell you?”
“No,” says Jonah. “I don’t give a shit about any of that. You’re right. I knew what you were from the beginning and I don’t know why I expected anything else.” He hears Jonah take a deep breath before he continues. “What did you do for Dave?” he asks. “Why is he still so fucking loyal to you?”
Dan blinks. “I –”
“Just tell the fucking truth, Dan,” Jonah says, and he’s almost pleading, sounding resigned.
“Fine,” Dan spits. “Fine. You’re so set on knowing the truth, then fine. When I was a sophomore at Cornell, Dave was in his senior year of high school, and he and his friends came down to visit me in Ithaca for a weekend. They were stupid fucking high school kids, they just wanted to get in trouble, they did, and I helped them out of it. That’s the story.” He says it with finality, hoping to close the subject, to get away from the issue of his brother, who is probably still fucking upstairs, making coffee and conferring with staffers like he’s part of the damage control brigade now. He doesn’t want to talk about Dave. Not that he’s ever wanted to talk about Dave – but especially not right now.
But Jonah doesn’t let it drop. “What do you mean by trouble? Drugs?”
Dan takes another deep breath as he weighs the words. “Not drugs,” he says. “Or, well, not specifically. They stole a car. Not mine, it belonged to one of my frat brothers, but we shared a room and they just took the keys off the wall. It was the middle of the winter and they hit a patch of black ice, skidded out… car was fucking totaled.”
Jonah’s quiet, and then: “That’s all?”
“Pretty much,” Dan says quietly. “One of his friends got hurt pretty fucking badly. They called me panicking and I left my party and went to help. I took the fall for the car, because they’d taken the keys from my room, and I got their friend to the ER. He needed stitches, I worked it all out, used my buddy’s name and health insurance because I had access—I, uh, I took his wallet, gave them his Blue Cross card. I worked it all out. I took care of everything. Dave couldn’t afford to get in trouble because he was applying for colleges – I made sure everything was covered up, I fucking buried it. Dave’s name was never connected to the accident.” He pauses, and then adds, “So go ahead, go sell that story to the Cornell Daily Sun. Be my fucking guest.”
“Why?” Jonah’s voice is flat with disbelief. “Why would you do that for him? You don’t even like each other.”
Dan rubs his forehead, stalling for time as he scrapes the sides of his brain, searching desperately for the right words, the prettiest lie, the strongest justification. They don’t come fast enough, and soon it’s clear that the truth will have to be enough.
“Because then he’d owe me,” Dan says, equally flat. “Because when you grow up with a brother like Dave, you want him indebted to you, and when you see an opportunity, you take it.”
Jonah is silent again, and in that moment, Dan knows that this is it – he’s showed his hand, played his ace, Jonah will never speak to him again.
It’s fine with him.
Chapter 11: Hand in Unlovable Hand
The story keeps snowballing. Jonah knows how it looks, how the story will be told, how they’ll write Dan’s Wikipedia entry – how the headlines will shape the rest of his life, his career. ‘Egan’s lewd texts revealed’, ‘Will Rep. Egan’s career survive the sexting scandal?’, ‘Speaker King, Minority Whip Furlong call for Egan’s resignation’, ‘Egan’s sexting partner Nathaniel Shaw outs self, describes affair’. And yet, through it all, Jonah remains impassively silent, his Twitter account gone dormant, his TV appearances canceled, his interns handling all blogging duties.
Not that it’s easy. Not that he doesn’t want to open his mouth, let everyone know exactly what’s going on. But that would mean answering questions. As long as he’s silent, he’s got some measure of control over how people see him – he’s the hardworking spouse, the long-suffering adult, the betrayed rather than an equal betrayer. And furthermore, for once in his life, Jonah is happy enough to not make this situation about himself. Because, at least this time, it’s not about him. Dan dug his own grave. Dan Egan attempted to Henry Higgins him into the perfect political spouse, the supporting actor, the Ringo, and—shit. He’d been happy enough to play along at first. But then, no, then Dan got cocky. Dan got bored. Dan got lazy. Dan broke their only real rule, he did the only thing Jonah trusted him implicitly not to do. Dan fucked around. And now he gets to pay the price, Jonah thinks, as he paces around the apartment on the third day of the news cycle. There are a few less reporters outside than the day before, and he’s starting to feel pretty fucking trapped in here, but until he runs out of breakfast burritos, it’s all good.
He’s thinking big picture. He’s thinking next moves. He’s thinking about a follow-up to the Selina book, maybe titled So You Married a Sociopath. Fuck, he’s even thinking about political office – he’s done the research, texted a couple number-cruncher friends, and the consensus so far seems to be that everything’s coming up Jonah – that enduring a public cheating scandal as the cheated-on party seems to be the easiest way to the public’s heart, and that he’ll be sympathetic as fuck if he doesn’t manage to wreck it all.
It’s three o’clock in the afternoon on a Thursday when Twitter suddenly explodes that Egan’s about to make a statement, press conference outside the district office in Rochester in five minutes, and Jonah – perhaps against his better judgment – flips on CNN lazily. He pretends he doesn’t care. He pretends that his heart isn’t pounding.
First Claire shows up behind the podium and says a few administrative words. Jonah scrutinizes her sharply. He almost feels bad for her – she looks like she hasn’t slept in days. He expects Dan to look worse, and so it’s a disappointment when he comes onscreen, looking a little worse for wear in a slightly rumpled suit but otherwise more or less exactly the way he always looks on camera – handsome, scornful, a little bit brash and arrogant, like he’s above all of this and everyone should know that it’s a goddamn waste of his time. He’s so fucking cocky, so fucking smarmy, so distinctly unlikable that Jonah wonders how he even got this far. He hates him. He really fucking hates him.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Dan begins, and Jonah settles in on the couch, because this is going to be fucking good.
“Thank you very much for being here, and good afternoon. I’d like to take this moment to clear up a few of the questions that have been raised over the past five days or so, and to take full responsibility for my actions.” He clears his throat, and then continues as Jonah folds his arms, staring defensively at the television screen.
“For starters, I’d like to make it perfectly clear that I have made terrible mistakes that that have hurt the people I care about the most, and I’m deeply sorry,” Dan says gravely. “I have not been honest with my family, myself, my staff, my constituents, or the media. Over the Fourth of July weekend, I exchanged text messages of a sexual nature with my former director of communications, Nathaniel Shaw. To be clear, the messages were real, and I sent them. In addition, over these past few months, I was engaged in an extramarital relationship with Mr. Shaw. The physical relationship took place between April and July of this year, and I ended it before this story broke.”
There’s a brief pause as Dan glances down at the podium, and all Jonah can hear is the clicking of camera shutters and murmurs of countless reporters off-mic. But then Dan looks back up, straight to camera, and speaks up again.
“I have done things that I deeply regret. I’ve brought pain to the people I care about most, and the people who believed in me. I’ve let my constituents, and my party down,” he says. “But most of all, I regret bringing this pain to my husband, and I ask that the press not harass him. Let my husband have his space.” He swallows, his voice obviously about to break, and adds, “I’ve put him through enough.”
And as Jonah stares at the screen, at where Dan has begun taking questions, he feels something within him start to crack and thaw. Grabbing blindly for the remote, he hurls it at the TV. It hits the wall and bounces off, cracking on the hardwood floor, the batteries flying out of their compartment and finally rolling to a stop near the couch.
Fuck Dan. Fuck him. Fuck him.
Amy isn’t even taking his calls. Fucking Amy. Although he assumes he more or less was hoist by his own petard on that one. He can't blame her. And yet - fuck her anyway.
It’s been a week, and it’s become increasingly clear that he has to resign. He’s certainly not going to get reelected – he can’t leave the house in Rochester without someone flipping him off, asking him about his dick or calling him Daddy. And King and Furlong are in some sort of bipartisan race for blood. Every day there’s another press release, another comment, another snide remark calling for his resignation. It’s inevitable, he thinks, standing in his living room and staring out the window, where a Subaru has just pulled into the driveway. There’s a smattering of noise from the few dwindling reporters and cameramen still parked outside his house, but it dies down again as they recognize that it’s only Dave, wearing his Yankees cap and sunglasses and carrying an armful of grocery bags. He lets himself in, using the keys Dan had grudgingly given him months before, a just-in-case measure for emergencies.
“Hey.” Dave drops the groceries on the kitchen counter, removes his hat and glasses, and, without preamble, begins puttering around the kitchen, putting the food away. “How are you holding up?”
Dan shrugs, turning away from the window at long last. “What’s changed?”
Dave digs into the grocery bags. “They were out of the hummus you like, so I got you this lemon rosemary focaccia kind instead,” he says, holding up a plastic container. “And kettle chips. I thought you could use something besides the basics.”
“Thanks.” Dan’s voice is flat, unimpressed. He strides into the kitchen, takes the hummus from Dave and puts it into the fridge himself. Not that he cares, but he just doesn’t want Dave seeing how little he’s actually eaten of his grocery deliveries. “Is the press still up your ass?”
“Nah.” Dave shakes his head. “I think they realized I wasn’t going to give them what they wanted, so they pretty much dropped off after the first couple days.”
“I still can’t believe they dragged you into it,” says Dan as he takes a seat at the table, watching as Dave folds up the grocery bags and sets them neatly on the counter. “I don’t know what they thought they were going to get from you.”
“They hoped I’d out you before you made a statement about it,” Dave shrugs. “Or that I’d give them any kind of sibling rivalry shit that they could play up, I guess.” He takes a seat at the table diagonal from Dan, looking around the house at the drawn shades and curtains, the mess and clutter on every available surface. “So what? Is this fucking Grey Gardens now?”
“What? I don’t – oh. No.” It takes him a moment to place the reference, and then Dan rolls his eyes. “Just haven’t really had time to tidy up. Or a reason. Not a lot of company coming in and out.”
“I just wouldn’t have pegged Jonah as the organized one out of you two,” Dave says placidly. “And here I was thinking that you’d grown up, become a neat freak in your adulthood—”
“So did you come here just to hang out?” Dan asks, cutting him off. “Or is there some sort of ulterior motive I should be aware of? Are you and Jonah still in cahoots?”
Dave fixes him with a long, impermeable stare. “I’m not here on Jonah’s behalf, if that’s what you’re implying,” he says cagily. “We haven’t spoken in a while.”
“In a while,” Dan repeats. “What does that mean? Since before the story broke? Or before the press conference? Or, like, last fucking night?”
With a sigh, Dave shakes his head. “You need to call him,” he says, dodging the question artfully and ripping open the bag of kettle chips. “He’s not going to show up on your doorstep in the rain begging to get you back, not that you deserve it. You fucked yourself over pretty thoroughly with this one.”
“So?” Dan asks. “What’s his motivation? He’s the fucking media darling, all he has to do is keep his mouth shut. I did my part by telling the press not to harass him. He can pick up the phone if he wants to talk to me so badly—”
“Dan, do you understand literally anything about relating to another human?” Dave snaps, and Dan recoils, because he hasn’t heard his brother take this tone in – a long fucking time, to say the least, if ever. “Relationships aren’t a fucking poker game, okay? You’re not winning anything by keeping your feelings to yourself. You shouldn’t be trying to win anything at all.”
“Yeah, you are,” Dave says, and now he’s only picking up steam, and Dan honestly doesn’t know how to react here, because this is new. This isn’t how Dave talks to anyone, let alone him. “You treat every relationship you have like it’s some kind of game in which you have to have the upper hand. You don’t get it, do you? You had something great there, and you gambled with it, and you lost. You lost big time, buddy. And I’m sorry, I don’t want to be cruel, but I’m starting to think you fucking deserve this.”
“Deserve what, exactly?”
Dave laughs roughly, gesturing around at the house. “You deserve to be alone,” he says as he stands up from the table. “You are a very lonely man, Dan, and you’re going to be lonely for the rest of your life until you catch up to the rest of us and at least try treating your relationships with some kind of respect.”
Dan doesn’t watch as Dave turns on his heel and walks out, his footfalls deceptively heavy on the rich mahogany floors. He hears the front door slam, but still doesn’t turn or watch him go.
Jonah hasn’t been sleeping.
It’s unusual for him, to say the least. This is supposed to be Dan’s problem. And at least Dan left a healthy supply of sleeping pills in the apartment bathroom, which Jonah fucks around with summarily, a new type each night. St. John’s Wort gives him some crazy fucking dreams, and not that he doesn’t normally welcome the weird sex dreams, but he really doesn’t need to be dreaming about Dave Egan shoving him up against a wall and waking up in a hot, sticky, guilty sweat about it. Melatonin knocks him out fast but he doesn’t stay asleep, and after a couple nights’ worth of tossing and turning, he gives it up entirely. There’s not much left of Dan’s Ambien prescription, but he pops one anyway, figures it can’t hurt – and twelve hours of dreamless sleep later, he wakes up, feeling drugged and groggy but at least somewhat well-rested. It’ll have to do.
He’s miserable. It’s just that he’s fucking miserable. He’s easing out of his self-induced vow of silence, has started blogging again and tweeting about the debt ceiling and Chung’s latest gaffe on the trail and thrown out a few contractually-obligated promotional tweets about the book, but he refuses to talk about the affair. He just can’t do it. He refuses. He won’t give them the satisfaction, for one reason, but he won’t risk saying something that fucks it all up for himself, either.
Because – shit. He’s not bitter enough. He wakes up and reminds himself that he’s better off, actually starts the day believing it, but it falls away by midmorning and he finds himself missing Dan – just his presence in the apartment, his shouting into the phone and five minutes of indecisive tie selection each morning, his bitching over coffee and traffic and legislative subterfuge. His half-hour showers and skin care routine and the way he picks at his teeth in every reflective surface. He really fucking hates that he misses him. He still hasn’t taken off his ring.
And then Dan resigns.
Jonah knows he shouldn’t be surprised. He saw it coming a mile away – there’s no way he was going to win reelection, his ass is grass come November. And with Furlong and Mary King both shrieking about the affair on every fucking news channel he turns on, he should’ve known it was coming. But it comes comparatively out of the blue on a Monday morning, and Dan doesn’t even bother with a press conference. There’s a short release, Claire does all the morning shows, and then silence from the office, and Jonah has no idea what the fuck has just happened but he’s pretty sure there’s only one thing left to do.
Dan’s on the rowing machine in the basement when he hears the doorbell echo through the house. He ignores it at first – if it’s Dave, he can let himself in; if it’s anyone else, they can fuck off. But the bell keeps ringing and ringing and finally, after a solid three minutes, Dan hops off and stomps upstairs to the front hallway, sliding the curtains to the side just a centimeter, just enough to find out who the fuck is bothering him at nine o’clock at night on a Monday after he’s just tendered his resignation.
Shit, the couple reporters still camped on the lawn are still probably pretty fucking happy they stuck it out this long.
Dan’s pretty sure he feels his heart stop. He’s not sure if he’s about to have a panic attack or an aneurysm or just straight up projectile vomit in Jonah’s face, but he takes the chance, opens the door, hoping for the third option. But Jonah just stands there, stock-still, blank in the face, and as he’s about to walk inside, Dan takes the chance, grabs him, throws one arm around his back and slaps the other on his cheek and pulls him down into what he’s pretty sure has got to be the most romantic fucking kiss captured on camera since motherfucking Casablanca.
It lasts a second too long, the cameras click just a little too much, and then Jonah’s pulling away, pushing past him, walking inside. And Dan doesn’t regret it, not at all, because even if he’s there to serve him divorce papers they still bought themselves a little time, a few more ‘Egan and Ryan: Stand by your man’ headlines in the dailies tomorrow.
So he shuts the door behind them, and he waits, expectantly, for Jonah to speak, because shit, the guy flew here from D.C. for this conversation, he’s clearly got a few things on his mind. And right on cue, Jonah says:
“What the fuck was that?”
Dan shrugs. “Seized the moment,” he says nonchalantly. “Do you know how good that must have looked? It’s – everyone’s going to be all over that tomorrow, it honestly couldn’t have gone better if we’d staged it.”
Jonah blinks. “Fuck you, Dan,” he says quietly. “I thought—”
Dan watches Jonah watch him, and Jonah doesn’t have to finish his sentence, because Dan knows what he’s about to say: I thought that was real. He seems to realize it, too, and looks away, doesn’t say anything at all until he adds, “You, uh. You resigned.”
Dan shrugs. “It was time. We let it go on too long.”
“Did you see Nate on the Today Show?” Jonah asks, shoving his hands into his pockets. “He was wearing a bow tie.”
“Typical,” Dan snorts. “I knew they’d make him do that.”
Jonah glances back to him. “I, uh. Can I sit down somewhere? Can we talk?”
Dan leads him to the couch in the living room, where the original confession took place, where this whole thing fucking started. They’re both apprehensive, Dan can feel it in the air, and he’s not sure exactly what to expect.
“So,” Jonah says calmly. “I guess we need to talk about this.”
Dan blinks. “Yeah,” he says, only a little bit snarky, “I guess we fucking do—”
“You know what, Dan, fuck you,” Jonah shouts, immediately abandoning whatever pretense of disaffection he’d adopted for the conversation. “Can we please just have this fucking conversation without your treating it like a goddamn tennis match—”
“I am not,” Dan says, “treating it like a tennis match.”
“Oh, yeah, you fucking are,” Jonah laughs roughly. “You couldn’t even wait for me to get a whole two sentences out before you’re coming back and turning it around on me and making me seem like the unreasonable one, even though you’re the one who cheated with a fucking teenager—”
“He was twenty-six!” Dan shouts. “Jesus fucking Christ! You’re all making me out to be some kind of fucking pedophile here! He came onto me, he was in his late twenties, there was nothing illicit going on!”
“Other than, you know, the extramarital fucking affair,” Jonah snorts. “You might call that part illicit, y’know, if you’re so inclined.”
“Jesus.” Dan doesn’t have a comeback for that one. “So why the fuck are you here, then? You want to call the whole thing off?”
Jonah raises both eyebrows. “Is that why you think I’m here?”
“I don’t know,” Dan says, truthfully. “I have no idea what you’re thinking or feeling right now because you won’t fucking tell me. I would have apologized a thousand times but I know how you feel about apologies and I don’t know how you feel, other than hurt, obviously, I guess, but I have no way of making that up to you other than by honoring your one request, which was to get the press to leave you the fuck alone.” He’s rambling, losing control of his words and he hates when this happens but he hates everything about this situation, now, doesn’t he? “I don’t know what you want or how I’m supposed to go about fixing this because every single thing I’ve read or heard or been told has been about relationships that don’t look anything like ours, and I don’t know how to go about ‘rebuilding trust’ or ‘rekindling the spark’ when you’re treating me like I’m a fucking monster—which apparently is par for the course, it’s how you should be acting, but it’s still really fucking difficult, okay? And I don’t want to lose you.”
“Interesting,” Jonah spits. “You’ve got a really interesting way of showing that.”
“You know what, Dan?” Jonah says. “I know you have some kind of weird JFK fetish, but you know what? You’re not JFK. You’re an average man who fucked his way into a few good jobs and decided that meant he was competent. You don't get to fuck around and have me just sit there and turn a blind eye because you're so brilliant. You’re an entitled shit and you’re political poison that has probably set the party back a good five years, because even though I know you don’t give a fuck about the whole gay-rights thing, and to be honest, neither do I, but a lot of people do, and my emails and tweets have been blowing up with people who think we’re scum for proving all the homophobes and right-wing commentators right.”
“I know,” Dan says heavily, because yeah, thanks a whole fucking lot, Jonah, other people have brought that up to him so far. “I know.”
“So what the fuck are you going to do about it?” Jonah asks, incredulous. “I have a book coming out in a month, and I’m going to have to go on a press tour and talk about how we’re either divorcing or ‘rebuilding the relationship’ and either way, doesn’t really matter to you, because your career is toast—”
“I know,” Dan repeats, more forcefully this time.
“So what the fuck are you going to do?”
There’s a long pause, as Dan stares at Jonah, amazed and bewildered by the fucking balls on this man. “What am I going to do?” he asks. “What about you?”
“What about me?”
“I know you made Nate push the story,” Dan spits, and now it’s out there, there’s no going back. “He called me the night before it broke to apologize. He said he was having second thoughts and you were the one who insisted that it go public.”
“And you believed him?”
“You gave him Leon West’s personal email address,” Dan says quietly. “You did this to me.”
There’s a long pause, a beat, as Jonah stares at Dan. Doesn’t look past him, doesn’t break his gaze. It’s like he’s staring down a wild animal, a bear or a gorilla or a mountain lion, and Dan doesn’t smell fear at all. There’s no hesitation there, no indication that he might back down.
“Call it even, then,” Jonah finally says.
He wants to scream. He wants to call Jonah every name in the English language, to drag him down to his level by the hair and pin him to the wall and make him beg and writhe away from him, wants to see him running scared. He wants to tell him everything he hates about him, wants to see him scream, wants to humiliate him and make him wish they’d never so much as kissed. And there’s so much to hate about him, he knows he has a whole list somewhere, but none of the reasons are coming to his mind as Jonah folds his arms and watches him crumble. And suddenly his resolve is in pieces on the floor and there’s nothing else he can say and he realizes that – it’s Jonah. It always has been. As bitter and clumsy and graceless as he is, as toxic as they are, it’s always been him. And he knows it won't make a difference - that they're not going to sleep at all tonight for all the screaming and the fighting. There's no guarantee they'll make it a week, let alone be able to rebuild for the long term at all. But he wants to try. He doesn't want to lose this, because, he realizes, this is the one person who can match him. Anyone else would have left him years ago, but Jonah, it seems, is in it for the long haul.
Was he justified? It doesn't matter, now. Because if Dan has to atone, he'll atone. If they're both bent on destroying each other, they'll both go down together. It's what they promised. It's what they deserve.
And suddenly there’s nothing else he can say, swallowing half the sentence in his mouth, grinding down on the syllables to get them all out in one piece.
“I love you.”
And Jonah doesn’t blink. Doesn’t bat an eye. “Yeah,” he says, after a beat. “I figured that was coming eventually.”
And it’s infuriating. And Dan hates it. And Dan fucking loves him.
Chapter 12: Epilogue
“Okay,” Jonah says as he leans forward to adjust Dan’s tie. “First of all, you need to calm down.”
“I cannot believe I’m missing a state funeral for a fucking high school graduation,” Dan grouses as Jonah pulls roughly at his tie. “Your priorities are so fucking backwards.”
“It is our nephew’s graduation, Dan,” Jonah says stiffly, “and it’s not every day that I get asked to speak at these things—”
“But it is basically every day. You give a lot of shitty speeches,” mutters Dan. He catches Jonah rolling his eyes as he turns away, and can’t stop his lips from quirking up into a smile at the reaction.
“Speech team, baby,” Jonah says. “Still got it.”
“That was twenty fucking years ago—”
“Doesn’t matter. Still got it.” Jonah smirks at him sideways as he runs a hand through his hair in the mirror, then slides his arm around Dan’s waist, pulling him in to give the both of them a side-by-side once-over. “What do you think? Cool city uncles?”
“You’re going to embarrass the shit out of those kids, aren’t you?”
“Never,” Jonah says. “I’m on TV, Dan. Nothing I do is embarrassing to them.”
Dan shifts his jaw, biting back a couple dozen remarks ranging from An MSNBC show hardly counts as ‘on TV’ to high schoolers to Shut up, guyscraper. But instead, all he says is, “I can’t believe you still get a state funeral when everyone knows you died from autoerotic asphyxiation.”
“Right?” Jonah checks his cufflinks. “Vice President Furlong, man. Who would’ve guessed.”
“I always knew he was into some freaky shit,” shrugs Dan. “Anyway, you all set?”
“Yeah.” Jonah looks back in the mirror, then grins briefly. “Let’s go fuck this graduation up.”