Red, White &Royal Blue By Casey McQuiston , Chapter 14

The very first time Alex pulled up to Pennsylvania Avenue as the First Son of the United States, he almost fell into a bush. He can remember it vividly, even though the whole day was surreal. He remembers the interior of the limo, how he was still unused to the way the leather felt under his clammy palms, still green and jittery and pressed too close to the window to look at all the crowds. He remembers his mother, her long hair pulled back from her face in an elegant, no-nonsense twist at the back of her head. She’d worn it down for her first day as mayor, her first day in the House, her first day as Speaker, but that day it was up. She said she didn’t want any distractions. He thought it made her look tough, like she was ready for a brawl if it came down to it, as if she might have a razor in her shoe. She sat there across from him, going over the notes for her speech, a twenty-four-karat gold American flag on her lapel, and Alex was so proud he thought he’d throw up. There was a changeover at some point—Ellen and Leo escorted to the north entrance and Alex and June shuffled off in another direction. He remembers, very specifically, a handful of things. His cuff links, custom sterling silver X-wings. A tiny scuff in the plaster on a western wall of the White House, which he was seeing up close for the first time. His own shoelace, untied. And he remembers bending over to tie his shoe, losing his balance because of nerves, and June grabbing the back of his jacket to keep him from plunging face-first into a thorny rosebush in front of seventy-five cameras.
That was the moment he decided he wasn’t going to allow himself nerves ever again. Not as Alex Claremont-Diaz, First Son of the United States, and not as Alex Claremont-Diaz, rising political star. Now, he’s Alex Claremont-Diaz, center of an international political sex scandal and boyfriend of a Prince of England, and he’s back in a limo on Pennsylvania Avenue, and there’s another crowd, and the imminent barf feeling is back. When the car door opens, it’s June, standing there in a bright yellow Tshirt that says: HISTORY , HUH? “You like it?” she says. “There’s a guy selling them down the block. I got his card. Gonna put it in my next column for Vogue.” Alex launches himself at her, engulfing her in a hug that lifts her feet off the ground, and she yelps and pulls his hair, and they topple sideways into a shrub, as Alex was always destined to do. Their mother is in a decathlon of meetings, so they sneak out onto the Truman Balcony and catch each other up over hot chocolates and a plate of donuts. Pez has been trying to play telephone between the respective camps, but it’s only so effective. June cries first when she hears about the phone call on the plane, then again at Henry standing up to Philip, and a third time at the crowd outside Buckingham Palace. Alex watches her text Henry about a hundred heart emojis, and he sends her back a short video of himself and Catherine drinking champagne while Bea plays “God Save the Queen” on electric guitar. “Okay, here’s the thing,” June says afterward. “Nobody has seen Nora in two days.” Alex stares at her. “What do you mean?” “I mean, I’ve called her, Zahra’s called her, Mike and her parents have all called her, she’s not answering anyone. The guard at her apartment says she hasn’t left this whole time. Apparently, she’s ‘fine but busy.’ I tried just showing up, but she’d told the doorman not to let me in.” “That’s … concerning. And also, uh, kind of shitty.” “Yeah, I know.” Alex turns away, pacing over to the railing. He really could have used Nora’s nonplussed approach in this situation, or, really, just his best friend’s company. He feels somewhat betrayed she’s abandoned him when he needs her most—when he and June both need her most. She has a tendency to bury
herself in complex calculations on purpose when especially bad things happen around her. “Oh, hey,” June says. “And here’s the favor you asked for.” She reaches into the pocket of her jeans and hands him a folded-up piece of paper. He skims the first few lines. “Oh my God, Bug,” he says. “I— Oh my God.” “Do you like it?” She looks a little nervous. “I was trying to capture, like, who you are, and your place in history, and what your role means to you, and —” She’s cut off because he’s scooped her up in another bear hug, tearyeyed. “It’s perfect, June.” “Hey, First Offspring,” says a voice suddenly, and when Alex puts June down, Amy is waiting in the doorway connecting the balcony to the Oval Room. “Madam President wants to see you in her office.” Her attention shifts, listening to her earpiece. “She says to bring the donuts.” “How does she always know?” June mutters, scooping up the plate. “I have Bluebonnet and Barracuda, on the move,” Amy says, touching her earpiece. “I still can’t believe you picked that for your stupid code name,” June says to him. Alex trips her on the way through the door.
The donuts have been gone for two hours. One, on the couch: June, tying and untying and retying the laces on her Keds, for lack of anything else to do with her hands. Two, against a far wall: Zahra, rapidly typing out an email on her phone, then another. Three, at the Resolute Desk: Ellen, buried in probability projections. Four, on the other couch: Alex, counting. The doors to the Oval Office fly open and Nora comes careening in. She’s wearing a bleach-stained HOLLERAN FOR CONGRESS ’72 sweatshirt and the frenzied, sun-blinded expression of someone who has emerged from a doomsday bunker for the first time in a decade. She nearly crashes into the bust of Abraham Lincoln in her rush to Ellen’s desk. Alex is already on his feet. “Where the fuck have you been?” She slaps a thick folder down on the desk and turns halfway to face Alex and June, out of breath. “Okay, I know you’re pissed, and you have every right to be, but”—she braces herself against the desk with both hands,
gesturing toward the folder with her chin—“I have been holed up in my apartment for two days doing this, and you are super not gonna be mad anymore when you see what it is.” Alex’s mother blinks at her, perturbed. “Nora, honey, we’re trying to figure out—” “Ellen,” Nora practically yells. The room goes silent, and Nora freezes, realizing. “Uh. Ma’am. Mom-in-law. Please, just. You need to read this.” Alex watches her sigh and put down her pen before pulling the folder toward her. Nora looks like she’s about to pass out on top of the desk. He looks across to June on the opposite couch, who appears as clueless as he feels, and— “Holy … fucking shit,” his mother says, a dawning mix of fury and bemusement. “Is this—?” “Yup,” Nora says. “And the—?” “Uh-huh.” Ellen covers her mouth with one hand. “How the hell did you get this? Wait, let me rephrase—how the hell did you get this?” “Okay, so.” Nora withdraws herself from the desk and steps backward. Alex has no idea what the fuck is happening, but it’s something, something big. Nora is pacing now, both hands clutched to her forehead. “The day of the leaks, I get an anonymous email. Obvious sockpuppet account, but untraceable. I tried. They sent me a link to a fucking massive file dump and told me they were a hacker and had obtained the contents of the Richards campaign’s private email server in their entirety.” Alex stares at her. “What?” Nora looks back at him. “I know.” Zahra, who has been standing behind Ellen’s desk with her arms folded, cuts in to ask, “And you didn’t report this to any of the proper channels because?” “Because I wasn’t sure it was anything at first. And when it was, I didn’t trust anybody else to handle it. They said they sent it specifically to me because they knew I was personally invested in Alex’s situation and would work as fast as possible to find what they didn’t have time to.” “Which is?” Alex can’t believe he still has to ask. “Proof,” Nora says. And her voice is shaking now. “That Richards fucking set you up.”
He hears, distantly, the sound of June swearing under her breath and getting up from the couch, walking off to a far corner of the room. His knees give out, so he sits back down. “We … we suspected that maybe the RNC had somehow been involved with some of what happened,” his mother says. She’s coming around the desk now, kneeling on the floor in front of him in her starched gray dress, the folder held against her chest. “I had people looking into it. I never imagined … the whole thing, straight from Richards’s campaign.” She takes the folder and spreads it open on the coffee table in the middle of the room. “There were—I mean, just, hundreds of thousands of emails,” Nora is saying as Alex climbs down onto the rug and starts staring at the pages, “and I swear a third of them were from dummy accounts, but I wrote a code that narrowed it down to about three thousand. I went through the rest manually. This is everything about Alex and Henry.” Alex notices his own face first. It’s a photo: blurry, out of focus, caught on a long-range lens, only barely recognizable. It’s hard to place where he is, until he sees the elegant ivory curtains at the edge of the frame. Henry’s bedroom. He looks above the photo and sees it’s attached to an email between two people. Negative. Nilsen says that’s not nearly clear enough. You need to tell the P we’re not paying for Bigfoot sightings. Nilsen. Nilsen, as in Richards’s campaign manager. “Richards outed you, Alex,” Nora says. “As soon as you left the campaign, it started. He hired a firm that hired the hackers who got the surveillance tapes from the Beekman.” His mother is next to him with a highlighter cap already between her teeth, slashing bright yellow lines across pages. There’s movement to his right: Zahra is there too, pulling a stack of papers toward her and starting in with a red pen. “I—I don’t have any bank account numbers or anything but, if you look, there are pay stubs and invoices and requests of service,” Nora says. “Everything, guys. It’s all through back channels and go-between firms and fake names but it’s—there’s a digital paper trail for everything. Enough for a federal investigation, which could subpoena the financial stuff, I think. Basically, Richards hired a firm that hired the photographers who followed Alex and the hackers who breached your server, and then he hired another
third party to buy everything and resell it to the Daily Mail. I mean, we’re talking about having private contractors surveil a member of the First Family and infiltrate White House security to try to induce a sex scandal to win a presidential race, that is some fucked-up shi—” “Nora, can you—?” June says suddenly, having returned to one of the couches. “Just, please.” “Sorry,” Nora says. She sits down heavily. “I drank like nine Red Bulls to get through all of those and ate a weed gummy to level back out, so I’m flying at fasten-seat-belts right now.” Alex closes his eyes. There’s so fucking much in front of him, and it’s impossible to process it all right now, and he’s pissed, furious, but he can also put a name on it. He can do something about it. He can go outside. He can walk out of this office and call Henry and tell him: “We’re safe. The worst is over.” He opens his eyes again, looks down at the pages on the table. “What do we do with this now?” June asks. “What if we just leaked it?” Alex offers. “WikiLeaks—” “I’m not giving them shit,” Ellen cuts him off immediately, not even looking up, “especially not after what they did to you. This is real shit. I’m taking this motherfucker down. It has to stick.” She finally puts her highlighter down. “We’re leaking it to the press.” “No major publication is going to run this without verification from someone on the Richards campaign that these emails are real,” June points out, “and that kind of thing takes months.” “Nora,” Ellen says, fixing her with a steely gaze, “is there anything you can do at all to trace the person who sent this to you?” “I tried,” Nora says. “They did everything to obscure their identity.” She reaches down into her shirt and produces her phone. “I can show you the email they sent.” She swipes through a few screens and places her phone face-up on the table. The email is exactly as she described, with a signature at the bottom that’s apparently a random combination of numbers and letters: 2021 SCB. BAC CHZ GR ON A1. 2021 SCB. Alex’s eyes stop on the last line. He picks up the phone. Stares at it. “Goddammit.” He keeps staring at the stupid letters. 2021 SCB.
2021 South Colorado Boulevard. The closest Five Guys to the office where he worked that summer in Denver. He still remembers the order he was sent out to pick up at least once a week. Bacon cheeseburger, grilled onions, A1 Sauce. Alex memorized the goddamn Five Guys order. He feels himself start to laugh. It’s code, for Alex and Alex only: You’re the only one I trust. “This isn’t a hacker,” Alex says. “Rafael Luna sent this to you. That’s your verification.” He looks at his mother. “If you can protect him, he’ll confirm it for you.”
[MUSICAL INTRODUCTION: 15 SECOND INSTRUMENTAL FROM DESTINY’S CHILD’S 1999 SINGLE “BILLS, BILLS, BILLS”] VOICEOVER: This is a Range Audio podcast. You’re listening to “Bills, Bills, Bills,” hosted by Oliver Westbrook, Professor of Constitutional Law at NYU. [END MUSICAL INTRODUCTION] WESTBROOK: Hi. I’m Oliver Westbrook, and with me, as always, is my exceedingly patient, talented, merciful, and lovely producer, Sufia, without whom I would be lost, bereft, floating on a sea of bad thoughts and drinking my own piss. We love her. Say hi, Sufia. SUFIA JARWAR, PRODUCER, RANGE AUDIO: Hello, please send help. WESTBROOK: And this is Bills, Bills, Bills, the podcast where I attempt every week to break down for you, in layman’s terms, what’s happening in Congress, why you should care, and what you can do about it. Well. I gotta tell you, guys, I had a very different show planned out a few days ago, but I don’t really see the point in getting into any of it. Let’s just, ah. Take a minute to review the story the Washington Post broke this morning. We’ve got emails, anonymously leaked, confirmed by an anonymous source on the Richards campaign, that clearly show Jeffrey Richards—or at least high-ranking staffers at his campaign —orchestrated this fucking diabolical plan to have Alex Claremont-Diaz stalked, surveilled, hacked, and outed by the Daily Mail as part of an effort to take down Ellen Claremont in the general. And then, about—uh, what is it, Suf? Forty minutes?—forty minutes before we started recording this, Senator Rafael Luna tweeted he was parting ways with the Richards campaign. So. Wow. I don’t think there’s any need to discuss a leak from that campaign other than Luna. It’s obviously him. From where I sit, this looks like the case of a man who—maybe he didn’t really want to be there in the first place, maybe he was already having second thoughts. Maybe he even infiltrated the campaign to do something exactly like this—Sufia, am I allowed to say that? JARWAR: Literally, when has that ever stopped you? WESTBROOK: Point. Anyway, Casper Mattresses is paying me the big sponsorship bucks to give you a Washington analysis podcast, so I’m gonna attempt to do that here, even though what has happened to Alex Claremont-Diaz—and Prince Henry too—over the past few days has been obscene, and it feels cheap and gross to even talk about it like this. But in my opinion, here are the three big things to take away from the news we’ve gotten today. First, the First Son of the United States didn’t actually do anything wrong.
Second, Jeffrey Richards committed a hostile act of conspiracy against a sitting president, and I am eagerly awaiting the federal investigation that is coming to him once he loses this election. Third, Rafael Luna is perhaps the unlikeliest hero of the 2020 presidential race.
A speech has to be made. Not just a statement. A speech. “You wrote this?” their mother says, holding the folded-up page June had handed Alex on the balcony. “Alex told you to scrap the statement our press secretary drafted and write this whole thing?” June bites her lip and nods. “This is—this is good, June. Why the hell aren’t you writing all our speeches?” The press briefing room in the West Wing is ruled too impersonal, so they’ve called the press pool to the Diplomatic Reception Room on the ground floor. It’s the room where FDR once recorded his fireside chats, and Alex is going to walk in there and make a speech and hope the country doesn’t hate him for the truth. They’ve flown Henry in from London for the telecast. He’ll be positioned right at Alex’s shoulder, steady and sure, the emblematic politician’s spouse. Alex’s brain can’t stop sprinting laps around it. He keeps picturing it: an hour from now, millions and millions of TVs across America simulcasting his face, his voice, June’s words, Henry at his side. Everyone will know. Everyone already knows now, but they don’t know, not the right way. In an hour, every person in America will be able to look at a screen and see their First Son and his boyfriend. And, across the Atlantic, almost as many will look up over a beer at a pub or dinner with their family or a quiet night in and see their youngest prince, the most beautiful one, Prince Charming. This is it. October 2, 2020, and the whole world watched, and history remembered. Alex waits on the South Lawn, within view of the linden trees of the Kennedy Garden, where they first kissed. Marine One touches down in a cacophony of noise and wind and rotors, and Henry emerges in head-to-toe Burberry looking dramatic and windswept, like a dashing hero here to rip bodices and mend war-torn countries, and Alex has to laugh. “What?” Henry shouts over the noise when he sees the look on Alex’s face. “My life is cosmic joke and you’re not a real person,” Alex says, wheezing.
“What?” Henry yells again. “I said, you look great, baby!” They sneak off to make out in a stairwell until Zahra finds them and drags Henry off to get camera-ready, and soon they’re being shuffled to the Diplomatic Reception Room, and it’s time. It’s time. It’s been one long, long year of learning Henry inside and out, learning himself, learning how much he still had to learn, and just like that, it’s time to walk out there and stand at a podium and confidently declare it all as fact. He’s not afraid of anything he feels. He’s not afraid of saying it. He’s only afraid of what happens when he does. Henry touches his hand, gently, two fingertips against his palm. “Five minutes for the rest of our lives,” he says, laughing a grim little laugh. Alex reaches for him in return, presses one thumb into the hollow of his collarbone, slipping right under the knot of his tie. The tie is purple silk, and Alex is counting his breaths. “You are,” he says, “the absolute worst idea I’ve ever had.” Henry’s mouth spreads into a slow smile, and Alex kisses it.
FIRST SON ALEXANDER CLAREMONT-DIAZ’S ADDRESS FROM THE WHITE HOUSE, OCTOBER 2, 2020 Good morning. I am, and have been—first, last, and always—a child of America. You raised me. I grew up in the pastures and hills of Texas, but I had been to thirty-four states before I learned how to drive. When I caught the stomach flu in the fifth grade, my mother sent a note to school written on the back of a holiday memo from Vice President Biden. Sorry, sir—we were in a rush, and it was the only paper she had on hand. I spoke to you for the first time when I was eighteen, on the stage of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, when I introduced my mother as the nominee for president. You cheered for me. I was young and full of hope, and you let me embody the American dream: that a boy who grew up speaking two languages, whose family was blended and beautiful and enduring, could make a home for himself in the White House. You pinned the flag to my lapel and said, “We’re rooting for you.” As I stand before you today, my hope is that I have not let you down. Years ago, I met a prince. And though I didn’t realize it at the time, his country had raised him too. The truth is, Henry and I have been together since the beginning of this year. The truth is, as many of you have read, we have both struggled every day with what this means for our families, our countries, and our futures. The truth is, we have both had to make compromises that cost us sleep at night in order to afford us enough time to share our relationship with the world on our own terms. We were not afforded that liberty.
But the truth is, also, simply this: love is indomitable. America has always believed this. And so, I am not ashamed to stand here today where presidents have stood and say that I love him, the same as Jack loved Jackie, the same as Lyndon loved Lady Bird. Every person who bears a legacy makes the choice of a partner with whom they will share it, whom the American people will hold beside them in hearts and memories and history books. America: He is my choice. Like countless other Americans, I was afraid to say this out loud because of what the consequences might be. To you, specifically, I say: I see you. I am one of you. As long as I have a place in this White House, so will you. I am the First Son of the United States, and I’m bisexual. History will remember us. If I can ask only one thing of the American people, it’s this: Please, do not let my actions influence your decision in November. The decision you will make this year is so much bigger than anything I could ever say or do, and it will determine the fate of this country for years to come. My mother, your president, is the warrior and the champion that each and every American deserves for four more years of growth, progress, and prosperity. Please, don’t let my actions send us backward. I ask the media not to focus on me or on Henry, but on the campaign, on policy, on the lives and livelihoods of millions of Americans at stake in this election. And finally, I hope America will remember that I am still the son you raised. My blood still runs from Lometa, Texas, and San Diego, California, and Mexico City. I still remember the sound of your voices from that stage in Philadelphia. I wake up every morning thinking of your hometowns, of the families I’ve met at rallies in Idaho and Oregon and South Carolina. I have never hoped to be anything other than what I was to you then, and what I am to you now—the First Son, yours in actions and words. And I hope when Inauguration Day comes again in January, I will continue to be. The first twenty-four hours after the speech are a blur, but a few snapshots will stay with him for the rest of his life. A picture: the morning after, a new crowd gathered on the Mall, the biggest yet. He stays in the Residence for safety, but he and Henry and June and Nora and all three of his parents sit in the living room on the second floor and watch the live stream on CNN. In the middle of the broadcast: Amy at the front of the cheering crowd wearing June’s yellow HISTORY , HUH? T-shirt and a trans flag pin. Next to her: Cash, with Amy’s wife on his shoulders in what Alex can now tell is the jean jacket Amy was embroidering on the plane in the colors of the pansexual flag. He whoops so hard he spills his coffee on George Bush’s favorite rug. A picture: Senator Jeffrey Richards’s stupid Sam the Eagle face on CNN, talking about his grave concern for President Claremont’s ability to remain impartial on matters of traditional family values due to the acts her son engages in on the sacred grounds of the house our forefathers built. Followed by: Senator Oscar Diaz, responding via satellite, that President Claremont’s primary value is upholding the Constitution, and that the White House was built by slaves, not our forefathers.
A picture: the expression on Rafael Luna’s face when he looks up from his paperwork to see Alex standing in the doorway of his office. “Why do you even have a staff?” Alex says. “Nobody has ever tried to stop me from walking straight in here.” Luna has his reading glasses on, and he looks like he hasn’t shaved in weeks. He smiles, a little apprehensive. After Alex decoded the message in the email, his mother called Luna directly and told him, no questions asked, she would grant him full protection from criminal charges if he helped her take Richards down. He knows his dad has been in touch too. Luna knows neither of his parents are holding a grudge. But this is the first time they’ve spoken. “If you think I don’t tell every hire on their first day that you have a free pass,” he says, “you do not have an accurate sense of yourself.” Alex grins, and he reaches into his pocket and produces a packet of Skittles, lobbing them underhand onto Luna’s desk. Luna looks down at them. The chair is next to his desk these days, and he pushes it out. Alex hasn’t gotten a chance to thank him yet, and he doesn’t know where to start. He doesn’t even feel like it’s the first order of business. He watches Luna rip open the packet and dump the candy out onto his papers. There’s a question hanging in the air, and they can both see it. Alex doesn’t want to ask. They just got Luna back. He’s afraid of losing him again to the answer. But he has to know. “Did you know?” he finally says. “Before it happened, did you know what he was going to do?” Luna takes his glasses off and sets them down grimly on his blotter. “Alex, I know I … completely destroyed your faith in me, so I don’t blame you for asking me,” he says. He leans forward on his elbows, his eye contact hard and deliberate. “But I need you to know I would never, ever intentionally let something like that happen to you. Ever. I had no idea until it came out. Same as you.” Alex releases a long breath. “Okay,” he says. He watches Luna lean back, looks at the fine lines on his face, slightly heavier than they were before. “So, what happened?” Luna sighs, a hoarse, tired sound in the back of his throat. It’s a sound that makes Alex think about what his dad told him at the lake, about how much of Luna is still hidden.
“So,” he says, “you know I interned for Richards?” Alex blinks. “What?” Luna barks a small, humorless laugh. “Yeah, you wouldn’t have heard. Richards made pretty damn sure to get rid of the evidence. But, yeah, 2000. I was nineteen. It was back when he was AG in Utah. One of my professors called in a favor.” There were rumors, Luna explains, among the low-level staffers. Usually the female interns, but occasionally an especially pretty boy—a boy like him. Promises, from Richards: mentorship, connections, if “you’d just get a drink with me after work.” A strong implication that “no” was unacceptable. “I had nothing back then,” Luna says. “No money, no family, no connections, no experience. I thought, ‘This is your only way to get your foot in the door. Maybe he means it.’” Luna pauses, taking a breath. Alex’s stomach is twisting uncomfortably. “He sent a car, made me meet him at a hotel, got me drunk. He wanted— he tried to—” Luna grimaces away from finishing the sentence. “Anyway, I got away. I remember I got home that night, and the guy I was renting a room with took one look at me and handed me a cigarette. That’s when I started smoking, by the way.” He’s been looking down at the Skittles on his desk, sorting the reds from oranges, but here he looks up at Alex with a bitter, cutting smile. “And I went back to work the next day like nothing happened. I made small talk with him in the break room, because I wanted it to be okay, and that’s what I hated myself the most for. So the next time he sent me an email, I walked into his office and told him that if he didn’t leave me alone, I’d take it to the paper. And that’s when he pulled out the file. “He called it an ‘insurance policy.’ He knew stuff I did as a teenager, how I got kicked out by my parents and a youth shelter in Seattle. That I have family who are undocumented. He told me that if I ever said a word about what happened, not only would I never have a career in politics, but he would ruin my life. He’d ruin my family’s lives. So, I shut the fuck up.” Luna’s eyes when they meet his again are ice cold, sharp. A window slammed shut. “But I’ve never forgotten. I’d see him in the Senate chamber, and he’d look at me like I owed him something, because he hadn’t destroyed me when he could have. And I knew he was going to do whatever shady shit it took to
win the presidency, and I couldn’t let a fucking predator be the most powerful man in the country if it was within my power to stop it.” He turns now, a tiny shake of his shoulders like he’s dusting off a light snowfall, pivoting his chair to pluck up a few Skittles and pop them into his mouth, and he’s trying for casual but his hands aren’t steady. He explains that the moment he decided was this summer, when he saw Richards on TV talking about the Youth Congress program. That he knew, with more access, he could find and leak evidence of abuse. Even if he was too old for Richards to want to fuck, he could play him. Convince him he didn’t believe Ellen would win, that he’d get the Hispanic and moderate vote in exchange for power. “I fucking hated myself every minute of working with that campaign, but I spent the whole time looking for evidence. I was close. I was so focused, so zeroed in that, that I … I never noticed if there were whispers about you. I had no idea. But when everything came out … I knew. I just couldn’t prove it. But I had access to the servers. I don’t know much, but I’d been around the block enough in my teenage anarchist days to know people who know how to do a file dump. Don’t look at me like that. I’m not that old.” Alex laughs, and Luna laughs too, and it’s a relief, like the air coming back in the room. “Anyway, getting it straight to you and your mother was the fastest way to expose him, and I knew Nora could do that. And I … I knew you would understand.” He pauses, sucking on a Skittle, and Alex decides to ask. “Did my dad know?” “About me going triple agent? No, nobody does. Half my staff quit because they didn’t know. My sister hasn’t spoken to me in months.” “No, about what Richards did to you?” “Alex, your father is the only other person alive I’ve ever told any of this to,” he says. “Your father took it upon himself to help me when I wouldn’t let anyone else, and I’ll never stop being grateful to him. But he wanted me to come forward with what Richards did to me, and I … couldn’t. I said it was a risk I wasn’t willing to take with my own career, but truthfully, I didn’t think what happened to one gay Mexican kid twenty years ago would make a difference to his base. I didn’t think anyone would believe me.” “I believe you,” Alex says readily. “I just wish you would have told me what you were doing. Or, like, anybody.”
“You would have tried to stop me,” Luna says. “You all would have.” “I mean … Raf, it was a fucking crazy plan.” “I know. And I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to fix the damage I’ve done, but I honestly don’t care. I did what I had to do. There was no way in hell I was going to let Richards win. My whole life has been about fighting. I fought.” Alex thinks it over. He can relate—it echoes the same deliberations he’s been having with himself. He thinks of something he hasn’t allowed himself to think about since all this started after London: his LSAT results, unopened and tucked away inside the desk in his bedroom. How do you do all the good you can do? “I’m sorry, by the way,” Luna says. “For the things I said to you.” He doesn’t have to specify which things. “I was … fucked up.” “It’s cool,” Alex tells him, and he means it. He forgave Luna before he ever walked into the office, but he appreciates the apology. “I’m sorry too. But also, I hope you know that if you ever call me ‘kid’ again after all this, I am literally going to kick your ass.” Luna laughs in earnest. “Listen, you’ve had your first big sex scandal. No more sitting at the kids’ table.” Alex nods appreciatively, stretching in his chair and folding his hands behind his head. “Man, it fucking sucks it has to be like this, with Richards. Even if you expose him now, straight people always want the homophobic bastards to be closet cases so they can wash their hands of it. As if ninetynine out of a hundred aren’t just regular old hateful bigots.” “Yeah, especially since I think I’m the only male intern he ever took to a hotel. It’s the same as any fucking predator—it has nothing to do with sexuality and everything to do with power.” “Do you think you’ll say anything?” Alex says. “At this point?” “I’ve been thinking about it a lot.” He leans in. “Most people have kind of already figured out that I’m the leak. And I think, sooner or later, someone is going to come to me with an allegation that is within the statute of limitations. Then we can open up a congressional investigation. Big-time. And that will make a difference.” “I heard a ‘we’ in there,” Alex says. “Well,” Luna says. “Me and someone else with law experience.” “Is that a hint?”
“It’s a suggestion,” Luna says. “But I’m not gonna tell you what to do with your life. I’m busy trying to get my own shit together. Look at this.” He lifts his sleeve. “Nicotine patch, bitch.” “No way,” Alex says. “Are you actually quitting for real?” “I am a changed man, unburdened by the demons of my past,” Luna says solemnly, with a jerk-off hand gesture. “You fucker, I’m proud of you.” “Hola,” says a voice at the door of the office. It’s his dad, in a T-shirt and jeans, a six-pack of beer in one hand. “Oscar,” Luna says, grinning. “We were just talking about how I’ve decimated my reputation and killed my own political career.” “Ay,” he says, dragging an extra chair over to the desk and passing out beers. “Sounds like a job for Los Bastardos.” Alex cracks open his can. “We can also discuss how I might cost Mom the election because I’m a one-man bisexual wrecking ball who exposed the vulnerability of the White House private email server.” “You think?” his dad says. “Nah. Come on. I don’t think this election is gonna hinge on an email server.” Alex arches a brow. “You sure about that?” “Listen, maybe if Richards had more time to sow those seeds of doubt, but I don’t think we’re there. Maybe if it were 2016. Maybe if this weren’t an America that already elected a woman to the highest office once. Maybe if I weren’t sitting in a room with the three assholes responsible for electing the first openly gay man to the Senate in US history.” Alex whoops and Luna inclines his head and raises his beer. “But, nah. Is it gonna be a pain in your mom’s ass for the second term? Shit, yeah. But she’ll handle it.” “Look at you,” Luna says over his beer. “Answer for everything, eh?” “Listen,” his dad says, “somebody on this damn campaign has to keep their fucking cool while everyone else catastrophizes. Everything’s gonna be fine. I believe that.” “And what about me?” Alex says. “You think I got a chance in politics after going supernova in every paper in the world?” “They got you,” Oscar says, shrugging. “It happens. Give it time. Try again.” Alex laughs, but still, he reaches in and plucks up something deep down in his chest. Something shaped not like Claremont but Diaz—no better, no worse, just different.
Henry gets his own room in the White House while he’s in. The crown spared him for two nights before he returns to England for his own damage control tour. Once again, they’re lucky to have Catherine back in the game; Alex doubts the queen would have been so generous. This particularly is what makes it a little funny that Henry’s room—the customary quarters for royal guests—is called the Queen’s Bedroom. “It’s quite … aggressively pink, innit?” Henry mutters sleepily. The room is, really, aggressively pink, done up in the Federal style with pink walls and rose-covered rugs and bedding, pink upholstery on everything from the chairs and settee in the sitting area to the canopy on the four-poster bed. Henry’s agreed to sleep in the room rather than Alex’s “because I respect your mother,” as if every person who had a hand in raising Alex has not read in graphic detail the things they get up to when they share a bed. Alex has no such hang-ups and enjoys Henry’s half-hearted grumblings when he sneaks in from the East Bedroom right down the hall. They’ve woken up half-naked and warm, tucked in tight while the first autumn chill creeps in under the lacy curtains. Humming low in his chest, Alex presses the length of his body against Henry’s under the blankets, his back to Henry’s chest, the swell of his ass against— “Argh, hello,” Henry mumbles, his hips hitching at the contact. Henry can’t see his face, but Alex smiles anyway. “Morning,” Alex says. He gives his ass a little wiggle. “Time’s it?” “Seven thirty-two.” “Plane in two hours.” Alex makes a small sound in the back of his throat and turns over, finding Henry’s face soft and close, eyes only half-open. “You sure you don’t need me to come with you?” Henry shakes his head without picking it up from the pillow, so his cheek squishes against it. It’s cute. “You’re not the one who slagged off the crown and your own family in the emails that everybody in the world has read. I’ve got to handle that on my own before you come back over.” “That’s fair,” Alex says. “But soon?” Henry’s mouth tugs into a smile. “Absolutely. You’ve got the royal suitor photos to take, the Christmas cards to sign … Oh, I wonder if they’ll have you do a line of skincare products like Martha—”
“Stop,” Alex groans, poking him in the ribs. “You’re enjoying this too much.” “I’m enjoying it the perfect amount,” Henry says. “But, in all seriousness, it’s … frightening but a bit nice. To do this on my own. I’ve not gotten to do that much, well, ever.” “Yeah,” Alex says. “I’m proud of you.” “Ew,” Henry says in a flat American accent, and he laughs and Alex throws an elbow. Henry’s pulling him and kissing him, sandy hair on a pink bedspread, long lashes and long legs and blue eyes, elegant hands pinning his wrists to the mattress. It’s like everything he’s ever loved about Henry in a moment, in a laugh, in the way he shivers, in the confident roll of his spine, in happy, unfettered sex in the well-furnished eye of a storm. Today, Henry goes back to London. Today, Alex goes back to the campaign trail. They have to figure out how to do this for real now, how to love each other in plain sight. Alex thinks they’re up for it.

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