Mark doesn’t know how much time has passed since Eduardo left.
He rarely checks the time or even remembers what day, hell, what season it is. Minutes and hours and days are for losers who have nothing better to do with them than to stand around counting them. Right now, Mark doesn’t care how much time has passed. He cares about how many lines of code he’s written. He cares about how many bugs he’s fixed. He cares about the Facebook code keeping up with the growing number of users.
He doesn’t care about the goddamn time.
Eduardo would know. Eduardo cares about being on time, and doing things when people tell him he should, and he wears that stupid watch everywhere like he doesn’t also carry a phone. Eduardo would know exactly what time it is and how long it’s been since he said what did you mean ‘get left behind’. He would know down to the second—
But that’s not important right now. Mark knows it’s been just long enough to have his right hand cramping, long enough for him to finish four minor bug fixes, kick another one off to Dustin, and then start in on the private messaging problem; he knows it hasn’t been long enough to warrant an interruption from the guys—nowhere near long enough, since he doesn’t feel hungry or sleepy and his eyes haven’t even started itching, so why the fuck does Dustin keep repeating his name like something’s on fire?
“Mark! Motherfucker! I’m talking to you!”
Mark untangles himself from the headphones Dustin unceremoniously jerks from his head and says, “What! I’m busy!”
Dustin looks red—red and blotchy and panicked, which makes Mark’s heart speed up for a second before he remembers that this is Dustin, who gets excited about Disney movies and panics over imaginary gnomes stealing his socks. Mark rarely takes people seriously. In his experience, people tend to overreact to pretty much everything—Wardo being the prime example of that. They miss the important things and wallow in the unimportant forever. And Dustin is the worst in possibly the all of mankind. So whatever this is about; Mark is pretty sure his sudden need to pee trumps it.
He drops the headphones on the floor and gets up. “I gotta pee.”
Dustin makes a hurt sound in his throat, not a mock-hurt sound but a real, raw sound that makes Mark pause and almost turn around—before it becomes a moot point and Dustin tackles him down to the ground.
“Look!” he says, gripping Mark’s chin and forcing him to face the TV. “Look—it’s. It’s Wardo’s plane.”
CNN is on and there’s a blonde, middle-aged woman talking about a plane crash – 127 on board and no reported survivors at this time – and then they show the crash, a shaky camera recording, just a couple of seconds long, of a plane going down in the dark and then exploding—quietly, since the recording has no sound.
Fake, Mark’s mind supplies. This is all fake. Is it a joke? Probably not. But that recording is like the opening scene of a low-budget disaster movie and things like that don’t happen in real life. Or, well, they do, obviously, but why would the plane explode? That’s overkill, right there. And who would be recording a random plane in the dark anyway? What is the likelihood of someone actually getting that footage?
Dustin lets go of his arms and Mark blinks, looking away from the TV. This is entirely too stupid.
“Why the hell would Wardo be on that plane?”
Wardo left the house—what? Four bug fixes ago? His flight probably isn’t until at least tomorrow. It’s not tomorrow yet. Mark would have noticed the sunrise—
“He went back to the airport,” Dustin says, voice unnaturally weak. “He texted me, said he’d get the next flight out. It’s—” He fumbles with his phone and turns the screen towards Mark, showing him the text with the time of the flight, as if that’ll mean anything to Mark. “I checked,” Dustin says. “That was his flight.” He runs a hand through his hair. “I’ve been calling him. He’s—he’s not answering his cell.”
Mark shrugs, mostly to himself. That doesn’t mean anything. Maybe Eduardo lost his cell. Maybe he decided not to board that flight. Maybe he survived the crash. Maybe—it doesn’t mean anything.
Dustin is perched on the arm of the couch, rocking back and forth. His breathing sounds too loud. He’s weak, Mark finds himself thinking. He won’t be able to work if Wardo’s dead. It’s good that they have more coders now. It’s good that he has Sean. Sean won’t care. Sean will shrug this off. Sean is nothing like Wardo. Wardo would never be able to—but that doesn’t matter anyway, because apparently Wardo’s dead now.
He almost giggles at the thought. Wardo would’ve been devastated at the news of his own death.
“Mark!” Dustin says, insistent now. “What the hell do we do?”
Mark gets up from the floor and shrugs. Then he goes into the bathroom to pee.
When Mark comes back from the bathroom, he finds Dustin pacing in front of the TV. The girls – whose names Mark doesn’t know and doesn’t care to know – have crashed on the couch, cuddled together like puppies, and everyone else is crowding the doorways, staring at him expectantly.
Dustin stops in his tracks and throws his arms open. “What do we do? Do we call the airport? His parents? What—”
Mark shrugs and walks past him. “I’m going back to work.”
Dustin splutters—a familiar sound, but it’s not followed by a laugh or mock-outrage this time. “What the hell—”
Mark hears Sean clap his hands. “You heard the man,” he says, shooing people back towards their laptops. “The show is over. Back to work.”
There are shuffling footsteps behind him, moving away, but Dustin’s come closer, stomping and making a racket. “What the hell’s the matter with you!” With a hand on Mark’s shoulder, he spins Mark’s chair around. “It’s Wardo! We have to go! We need to—we should—”
“It’s a plane crash, Dustin,” Mark says. “What do you think I can do about a plane crash?”
Dustin stares down at him, eyes red-rimmed and frantic, and then suddenly lets go of his shoulder as if burned. He looks betrayed, like Mark kicked his puppy. It’s not the first time someone’s given Mark that look, so whatever. Dustin will get over it in his own time. Right now, Mark has things to do.
“I’m gonna call Chris,” Dustin mumbles, fiddling with his cell phone with shaky hands.
Mark watches his hunched shoulders for a moment before he swivels his chair back around and starts typing.
Dustin can’t code for long without headphones, but for Mark, they’re only necessary until he concentrates on what he’s doing. Once he’s there, in his own space, locked inside his own head, the outside noises stop registering.
It’s not that he doesn’t hear them, he does; they simply don’t mean anything to him. It was a blessing back in Kirkland, that he didn’t get distracted by Dustin or Chris or Wardo—or by any of those other random people who kept dropping by their suite and eating their Pop-Tarts. And it’s a blessing still, because if he did register the sounds in the house then he’d hear how unnaturally quiet Dustin is, and then he’d have to get up and check on him, which would be pointless and a waste of time. Time that should be spent working.
What does Dustin think Chris is going to do anyway? What is there to do? If Wardo was on that plane, then the cops will call his parents and inform them, and then there’ll be a funeral. A mockery of a funeral with not even a body. Mark snorts. What a ridiculous and meaningless ritual. But anyway, he wouldn’t have gone to a funeral even if there had been a body. If Wardo’s dead, then that means he doesn’t need Mark anymore. Not that he ever needed Mark. Wardo has his father, and his pals from the Phoenix, and his crazy girlfriend; they’ll be at his funeral for sure. Facebook needs Mark. So Mark will stay here and code instead.
Facebook needs a lot of things right now. It needs Mark to be sharp and focused. It needs a fuck-load of coding. It needs money. It needs dedicated people. It needs Sean and his contacts.
It doesn’t really need Wardo. Which is a good thing, seeing that his CFO went and got himself exploded.
Mark’s chest does a stutter-y, hiccup-like thing at the thought, like maybe he’s going to laugh but doesn’t have the air to spare. In his mind, he sees a cartoon Wardo – fluffy hair and stupid eyes and all – bursting like a balloon and raining down in tiny pieces.
He wonders if there’ll be footage of the wreckage later on. He wonders if he’ll be able to see the bodies. He wonders why he wants to.
Distraction doesn’t have to come from outside. The worst kind is when Mark’s mind wouldn’t stop turning and turning and turning around a problem. He’s lost hours in the past because his mind was stuck on something he couldn’t let go of. There’s no mystery to solve this time, no problem he needs to find a way around; there’s no code to go through line by line to find that one missing quote. It’s just Wardo, and the plane crash, and CNN milking the story for all it’s worth in the background. Mark doesn’t understand why he can’t stop thinking about this. It’s not like he can do anything about it. This isn’t the kind of crash he can debug his way out of.
He has to go back and reread his code to make sure he hasn’t been writing complete gibberish. Aside from a few typos, he seems to have done pretty well. He tries to picture where this will fit in the whole structure of the site, the paths it will connect. All the modules they’ve written, all the functions, they’re connected with lines of code like veins in Mark’s mind. When he merges new code, it’s a bit like an organ transplant; he can see the veins connect and expand and fill with blood. If it’s not a good fit, if they’ve done something wrong, it will compromise the whole system; but when they do it right, which Mark almost always does, then it’s like giving the site a new limb.
Mark knows Facebook’s code like a surgeon knows a patient’s body. Only better, because Mark hasn’t just studied Facebook, he created it from nothing.
He’s a bit like God in a way—if God had to take toilet breaks.
Afterwards, Mark’s not sure of the order or the time-span of these events, but he knows that Sean tries to talk to Dustin at some point, they change the channel and watch the same news story told in at least four different voices, and then Chris arrives, all quiet competence, yin to Dustin’s yang, and tries to get Mark to stop coding and have a pow-wow with them.
Mark doesn’t even turn around.
They make phone calls, talk in hushed tones, and console each other with cuddles—though that last part is mostly speculation on Mark’s part. And then, at some point, everything goes blissfully silent.
It’s light out when Mark finally stops to stretch. It’s quiet in the house; everyone’s probably asleep. Mark’s done with the private messages; they no longer break when addressed to more than three people, and he added a better auto-complete function – much more graceful on the user end – which he’ll have to ask Dustin to double-check for efficiency later.
His hands and feet tingle when he moves, his back cracks painfully, and his eyes burn like he didn’t blink at all last night. He gives his body a moment to wake up before he tries to walk.
Chris and Dustin are sleeping on the floor like a couple of idiots; hands clutching phones, Dustin’s head in Chris’ lap. Mark pictures himself walking over to kick them awake, but as amusing as that would be, he firmly believes that the world is a better place when Dustin’s asleep. A much quieter place, at the very least.
Some days, when Mark completely checks out and gets lost in code, he needs to be reminded what planet he’s on and what year it is, because he wakes up confused, fantasy and thoughts and reality a jumbled mess in his head. Today is not one of those days. He knows the plane crash was real. They saw it on TV, and he can see it right now in the tight lines of Chris’ face.
Eduardo had been there, soaking wet and angry, giving Mark angry/sad/angry looks with those eyes of his—which, truth be told, Mark thinks are an unfair advantage nature has given Wardo. Like babies with huge eyes and chubby cheeks, surviving out in the wild because they’re the cutest. Eduardo gets what he wants from whomever he wants because he has those eyes.
Had. He had those eyes. They wouldn’t have been any help in a plane crash.
Last night, Eduardo had been there, and then he’d left, and he’d got on a plane, and the plane had exploded. People don’t survive explosions, therefore now Eduardo must be dead. Which is—sad. It’s sad in the general sense that it’s always sad when people die. Unless they were horrible people, which Eduardo wasn’t. And it’s also sad in the sense that when Mark thinks of Eduardo not being around, ever, he feels a pang, deep, deep inside. Not in his heart like Hallmark tells him he should, more like in his gut. It’s not horrible or anything – not a big deal like people make it out to be – but it doesn’t feel like it’s going to go away either. He doesn’t know why exactly it’s there, why there’s even a physical manifestation of someone else’s death in him, and he doesn’t know what to call that whole thing – the feeling, the pang – so he guesses that it must be sadness.
He’s not a robot, after all; no matter what Dustin claims. He just has better things to do than to stop and analyze every pang.
He stands up on still-unsteady legs and takes a couple of steps towards his bedroom. It’s always empty, that room. Even when they have people sleeping in the hallways, no one ever takes his bed. It’s ridiculous, because Mark hardly ever uses it himself, but he can’t deny that he likes it. The respect. He’s never really had that before. These people know that they’re onto something—that Facebook is going to be big. And they know that they can’t do it without Mark. Mark doesn’t want to be an asshole about this – which is a rare thought for him – but he enjoys the constant reminder that he’s come so very close to where he’s meant to be.
Where they were meant to be, he’d thought once upon a time. He and Wardo—and Dustin and Chris. Mark had thought – stupidly, naively – that they’d make it there together. He’s willing to admit that it was at least a little bit out of fear, wanting them to have his back in the big bad world, but mostly because he believed in them, knew they wouldn’t be dead weight. Eduardo’s smart. Maybe not a genius, but he’s good. Lately they got their wires crossed somehow though, and Mark has been suspecting for a while that Eduardo as his CFO wasn’t going to work out.
In a way – a very roundabout, disturbing way – this is a cleaner break than he could ever have hoped for. No one gets left behind like this. Well, Mark got left behind, but that’s okay. Mark doesn’t really get attached to people. He hasn’t talked to any of his high school friends since he started college, and he doesn’t miss them. He misses his mom sometimes, but that passes when he remembers her constant nagging and worried stares. He probably won’t miss Wardo all that much. It’s not like Wardo has been around lately anyway. And if Mark ever does find the time to miss him, he’ll remind himself of Wardo’s nagging and worried stares to make it go away. It’s the same basic principle. It should work.
Aside from the sadness and the pang, Mark should be just fine.
Halfway up the stairs, Mark changes his mind and goes back down. He’ll go out for a second and get some air. It’s stifling inside; they probably haven’t aired the place out since—who the hell knows? It’s hot, and it stinks, and it’s more than a little nauseating. He pulls open the door – which they never bother locking – and squints in preparation for the morning sun. He both loves and hates this about Palo Alto. He can get away with wearing flip-flops all year round out here, but his refusal to wear sunglasses is fucking with his eyes.
It’s a dilemma. Accessories are not really Mark’s thing; he can barely keep track of his pants. But he needs his eyes. They’re kind of crucial to what he does. Maybe when he’s rich he can hire someone to carry his sunglasses around for him? He smirks. That would be a perfectly douche-y rich-guy thing to do. He should do that, just to be eccentric.
He steps out, guarding his eyes from the sun with a hand, and promptly steps on something.
It’s a black duffel bag. A familiar black duffel bag.
Mark looks up, squints and adjusts his eyes, and says, “Huh.”
It’s Wardo—or his ghost, possibly. Mark doesn’t believe in ghosts. He doesn’t really have anything against the idea; he just hasn’t ever seen any, so he never had any reason to believe in them. Wardo looks—well, he looks pretty normal. Not especially charred or anything. Certainly not like any of the images Mark’s mind had supplied last night, squeezing them stealthily in between lines of code. Wardo looks... exactly the same as he did when he left. He’s not wet anymore, granted, but he’s wearing the same clothes, and he has the same angry/sad expression on his face that makes Mark want to both hug him and punch him a little bit.
Mostly though, Mark just wants to punch Dustin.
“Huh,” Mark says again, walking purposefully back inside the house, going straight to the corner where Chris and Dustin are sleeping.
He kicks Dustin in the shin. Twice, for good measure.
“What the—Mark? What the hell?”
Mark kicks him again.
“Dude!” Dustin scrambles up, waking Chris up with an elbow to his stomach. “Stop fucking kicking me!”
“Wardo’s here,” Mark tells him dryly.
Dustin rubs his eyes, looking confused. “Wardo?”
“Yes. He’s right outside.”
“Mark,” Dustin says, slowly, carefully, “are you sure you’re feeling all right? Do you remember last night?”
Mark rolls his eyes at him, not letting himself think about ghosts. Dustin should go out and check and then they’ll be sure.
“I’m fine,” he tells Dustin. “And so is Wardo.”
Sounding perfectly sure of himself while bullshitting his way through a conversation is a specialty of Mark’s. He’d list it as an accomplishment on his Facebook profile if he could. Right now, he’s only about sixty percent sure that Wardo’s actually alive and well and standing outside. The other forty percent says Wardo’s either a ghost or Mark’s seeing things. Not bad odds considering that he saw Wardo’s plane blowing up to smithereens.
“Um. Guys?” Wardo says somewhere behind Mark. “What’s going on?”
And then Dustin freaks out, and Mark releases a breath he had no idea he’d been holding.
Mark should go and sleep now. He should take a shower. Or, hey, maybe he should eat one of those stale bagels. He should be doing something – anything – other than standing there like a jackass, watching his best friends hug and laugh and surreptitiously wipe away tears.
Wardo looks good. Well, no, Wardo looks tired, but that’s still a lot better than the last Wardo picture in Mark’s head, which had featured decidedly less hair, and you know, skin. Mark has a vivid imagination, and that’s not always a good thing.
Dustin won’t let go of Wardo. He’s a clingy son of a bitch at the best of times, so Chris isn’t trying very hard to dislodge him. He’s talking to Wardo over Dustin’s shoulder, and Wardo’s saying something about falling asleep and missing the flight. He sounds surprised that they were worried, as if he doesn’t know all about Dustin and his theatrics.
Chris chides him for not answering his phone, but he’s also smiling at him softly. It’s hard to stay mad at someone who came back from the dead. Mark remembers why he was mad at Wardo last night – emotional, overdramatic Wardo – but the anger’s all gone now. The truth is, even when he’s overbearing and nagging, Mark would rather have Wardo with him than not. Hell, sometimes even his nagging is endearing. Sometimes, Mark makes himself skip a couple of meals so Wardo will—
Mark’s stomach flips. The smell of Twizzlers, ramen, and burning flesh hits his nostrils out of nowhere – not real, not real, it’s not – he makes an involuntary sound at the back of his throat and runs to the bathroom.
He barely makes it to the toilet before throwing up.
Mark hates throwing up. He rarely ever has anything substantial in his stomach when he does and that makes the whole process not only disgusting but also completely pointless. He hasn’t had anything to eat in at least sixteen hours; he doesn’t even remember drinking anything last night – he only remembers typing and thinking; thoughts of death and burning and private messages somehow bleeding into one another – so all that comes out is stomach acid and possibly his kidneys, but he just can’t stop heaving.
When he stops and collapses on his side on the cold tiles, he realizes he left the bathroom door open in his haste and kicks it closed. He doesn’t need Dustin coming in and making a huge deal out of this. It’s probably the flu or something. So many people in one house, using the same dishes and barely even washing them? It’s a wonder they don’t have an outbreak.
He feels himself flush at the thought of how loud he’d been, how he’d run out of the room, and rests his forehead on the wall. He hopes they’d been too wrapped up in their reunion to notice. He hates it when they give him those idiotic pitying looks. Like they ever know what’s going through Mark’s mind. People can be so overwhelmingly presumptuous; it drives Mark crazy.
Right on cue, someone knocks on the door.
“Mark, you okay?”
Mark sighs and tells Dustin to fuck off.
It takes a while for the nausea to ebb. Flushing the toilet, Mark hopes he hasn’t puked anything he can’t replace. His throat is burning something fierce, and while the queasiness is mostly gone, he’s still too dizzy to consider walking. He puts down the toilet lid and sits there, bracing his hands on the side of the sink and resting his head on his arm. He knows how to deal with the dizziness; it happens to him all the time. He’ll wait it out, and then he’ll eat some candy or something. It’ll be fine.
Ten more minutes, that’s all he needs, but Chris and Dustin are easily bored and need constant entertainment. Chris inquires after his health politely through the door, and then Dustin threatens to come in if Mark doesn’t step out soon. Mark tells him he’s welcome to if he wants to watch Mark take a dump. It’s not the most graceful way to get rid of someone, but in a lurch it does the job.
Eduardo though, has always been inexplicably stubborn when it comes to Mark.
He doesn’t knock. He doesn’t ask how Mark is. He just barges in.
He stops just a step in and sort of... winces. It makes Mark straighten up and school his face into what he hopes is an indifferent mask. He doesn’t need any more emotional bullshit today. He needs this day to be over.
Eduardo closes the door.
“Are you all right?” he asks, and it’s so damn familiar it makes Mark snort.
“I’m fine. Peachy.”
He has to consciously think through what he should do—what a normal person would do if they got sick and threw up and had some mother hen type friend hovering around them uncomfortably. Wash your face, his brain supplies. Rinse your mouth. Act cool.
The water feels good on his face, but rinsing his mouth doesn’t help as much. He needs to do something for his throat. Red Bull wouldn’t be any help. Maybe milk? Do they even have milk? And if they do what are the chances of it being fresh? He doesn’t think it would be a good idea to poison himself on top of all this by drinking bad milk.
Eduardo’s voice is soft—Mark likes it when his voice goes soft, but he also hates it because it usually means Wardo’s going to go all sentimental on him. Wardo’s like that, emotional and considerate and touchy-feely, and sure enough there’s a hand – large, warm, confident – resting on the back of Mark’s neck. The band of Eduardo’s ring is somehow inexplicably familiar against Mark’s skin, and Wardo steps closer, crowding Mark in from behind, and—is this supposed to be comforting? Because Mark just feels trapped. He doesn’t want to look up in case he meets Eduardo’s eyes in the mirror, so he fumbles with the toothbrushes around the sink instead, his hands outright shaking now, threatening to knock them off altogether.
He remembers, after a moment, that his toothbrush is in the upstairs bedroom, so he grabs the mouthwash instead, swishing the minty bitter liquid around in his mouth and leaning down to spit it out. Eduardo’s hand stays firm on his neck and follows him down, making Mark want to turn around and scream at him to let the fuck go.
And they say he has no filter. If only they knew.
“Mark, would you just...”
The hand on his neck tugs him closer, urging him to turn around, and Mark shrugs to himself mentally. Of course he’ll turn around. He’ll give Wardo some line about food poisoning and then head upstairs. He can’t just stand there all day.
“Must’ve been the tuna,” he mumbles, rubbing his eyes like a coward to avoid looking at Wardo.
Eduardo’s having none of that though. “You didn’t eat anything. Dustin said.”
Fucking Dustin and his fucking big mouth. “You guys have nothing better to talk about?”
Wardo smiles. Mark looks down, away, anywhere but at him.
“No, not really.”
There’s a moment of silence, comfortable enough but making Mark itch, and Mark says, “I’ve been coding. I haven’t slept yet. I should—” He gestures upwards with his head. This is the surefire way to make Wardo drop any subject. Mark needs his sleep. Wardo wouldn’t stand in the way of that.
“Sure, just...” He hesitates for a second, and then grips Mark’s shoulders and pulls him into a hug. Mark resists mostly out of habit – he doesn’t touch people, he doesn’t – but soon his body betrays him and relaxes into the embrace, his hands gripping Wardo’s shirt.
Mark wants to say something scathing and then pull away and leave, but his brain has short-circuited and he doesn’t know if he can let go. Wardo’s real, and he’s here, and he’s not dead, and Mark’s fingers are gripping his shirt looking for reassurance, wanting to touch more of him, crawl underneath and touch his skin and make sure it’s not burned.
“Jesus,” Eduardo mutters.
Mark doesn’t know what that means. And he doesn’t want to think anymore. He wants to be unconscious, or at the very least drunk.
“I need to,” he says, pulling back weakly. “I gotta—”
Wardo shakes his head no, and makes a shushing sound, burying a hand in Mark’s hair and tucking Mark’s face against his neck. It feels odd. Mark doesn’t like touching people, not even girls, not unless it’s sexual – sometimes even when it is sexual – but Eduardo’s always been different, with his boundary issues and soft eyes. And Mark has never seen Eduardo do this before, never seen him touch any of the girls like this, like he’s taking care of them, and—Mark has no idea what that’s about, but he doesn’t want it to end. Which is irrational. This isn’t what they do. This isn’t them.
He’s about to tell Wardo that when he takes a deep breath and chokes, literally chokes against Wardo’s neck, because Wardo smells like—he smells alive. He smells like day-old sweat and cologne and Wardo, and Mark knows that exact scent, knows it from his own sheets, from when Eduardo sleeps in Mark’s bed while Mark stays up all night coding. He knows it, and he likes it, and it doesn’t smell at all like fuel and fire and burnt flesh.
“You’re not dead,” he hears himself say in a monotone.
Eduardo’s hand in his hair tightens in reply. “No,” he says firmly. “No, I’m not.”
Wardo laughs softly. His hand travels down to Mark’s cheek and—well, Mark is not going to call it a caress, but that’s probably what it is. What makes it worse is that Mark leans into the touch, like some kind of heroine from a romance novel, and it takes him more time than he’d care to admit to manage to pull away from it.
“I’m gonna go...” he says, properly meeting Wardo’s eyes for the first time, which may not have been the best idea when they’re standing so close. “Upstairs. Bedroom.” Then he realizes what he said and continues, “To sleep. I should sleep.”
Wardo smiles and nods, gives Mark a look that can only be called fond.
And then something completely bizarre happens.
Mark leans in and kisses him.
Mark has never walked so fast in his life.
Dustin and Chris call out to him as he passes by the kitchen, but Mark just flails a hand at them and says something about sleep that hopefully makes sense. And then he’s walking up the stairs on shaky legs, and he’s breathing so hard that his heart feels like it’s going to thump its way out of his throat.
He’s almost all the way up when he hears Wardo’s voice. He’s talking to the guys, telling them something about helping Mark. Helping Mark do what? Sleep? Dustin’s never going to let either of them live this down.
Mark throws himself in his room and closes the door, noticing for the first time that it doesn’t have a lock. The closed door won’t keep Wardo out. He knows it won’t. But everything’s upside down today, so who can really say?
His room overlooks the pool and it gets the morning sun, so Mark takes a moment to close the blinds, and then he wonders if he should take off his t-shirt. What if Wardo comes in and finds Mark half-naked? He crosses his arms over his chest, paces the space between the window and the bed, and then he figures—it’s better to be lying down. It’ll be some sort of barrier, and he can always pretend to be asleep that way.
He lies down on top of the covers on his stomach, facing away from the door.
He closes his eyes and tries to sleep.
It doesn’t work.
Wardo doesn’t knock.
Mark hears him come in, close the door, drop his bag on the floor, and take a couple of steps toward the bed. He can almost see Wardo standing at the foot of it, taking in the messy sheets Mark never bothers to straighten out. Mark’s heart beats harder and harder until it’s all he can hear, and then—
“Mark, we should talk.”
Mark considers ignoring him and pretending to be asleep, but he’s totally shit at acting. “About?”
Wardo sighs. “Everything? Last night. This morning.”
That would be a long talk, and Mark hates those. He turns around and props himself up on his elbows, staring Eduardo down with fake bravado. “Not now,” he tells Wardo, trying to sound as detached as he can.
Wardo throws his hands up. “When?”
“Later.” Mark lets himself drop back down on the bed, his head resting on the soft pillow. “I’m tired, and you’re—a zombie, so...”
Eduardo doesn’t even crack a smile. He looks deep in thought. “You should’ve told me about Sean.”
Mark huffs at him. “You know, the upside of your death was that we didn’t have to have this conversation.”
Wardo doesn’t look shocked or insulted. Mark kind of loves him for it.
“And what was the downside?” he asks, sitting down at the edge of the bed. “That you never got to kiss me?”
Okay, Mark takes the love thing back. He glares at Wardo’s stupid face. He had never seriously considered kissing Wardo before. But the attraction—well. It’s hard not to find him attractive. If Erica Albright’s face was nice, then Wardo’s is downright beautiful. And that’s disconcerting considering that he’s a guy and Mark’s best friend. Mark doesn’t think of guys as beautiful. He didn’t use to anyway. This is all Eduardo’s fault.
“That was food poisoning,” he tells Wardo. “I told you. The tuna.”
Wardo smiles, his stupid face lighting up. “The tuna, right.” Then he leans down, places a hand on the side of Mark’s face, and says, “Liar.”
And then they’re kissing again, and this time, Mark has nowhere to run.
Mark isn’t going to share this with anyone, but as awkward as the angle is, this is by far the best kiss he’s ever had.
He thinks at first that Eduardo’s doing it to prove a point, but then the kiss grows desperate, and Wardo climbs on top of him for a better angle, and the next thing Mark knows they’re making out, hot and heavy. Their legs entwine and Mark pushes Wardo’s shirt up, pulling it free of his pants and finally touching his skin. He splays his fingers on Wardo’s back and draws him in, making Wardo rest more of his weight on Mark.
Something shifts in Mark’s mind, defragmenting his scattered thoughts, clearing out the clutter, and his breath catches in his throat. Facebook doesn’t need Wardo anymore and maybe Mark can do without him too – he can make himself forget Wardo and not miss him, he can – but the thing is... he doesn’t want to. He pulls back to take in Wardo’s face – his red lips, unfocused eyes – and feels the overwhelming urge to take him, and have him, and keep him. Tie him up, if he has to. Keep him around and keep him safe.
“What?” Wardo asks, blinking down at him in confusion.
Mark shakes his head without a word and pulls him into another kiss. A harder, deeper kiss.
He has the worst timing, he realizes that. They just had a fight, and then Wardo died, and Mark is tired and hungry, and his throat hurts. This isn’t the time to be making huge decisions that have the potential to ruin everything. But it’s too late now anyway. There’s no taking it back. Mark’s heard the tiny desperate sounds Wardo makes, and he’s already grown attached to Wardo’s skin, soft and warm and smelling familiar and kind of awesome.
Wardo draws back from the kiss and licks his lips. He’s flushed, and his hair’s a disaster, and he’s staring at Mark like he wants more.
Mark smirks at him.
Wardo groans – not a good sort of groan, more like he’s wondering how the hell he ended up in Mark’s bed – which only makes Mark smirk harder.
Wardo rolls onto his back and covers his eyes with a hand. “Fuck,” he says with feeling.
Mark laughs. “Exactly.”
They steal a glance at one another and start giggling.
“Take your shirt off.”
Eduardo stares at Mark like he said something infinitely more dirty. Mark rolls his eyes.
“Your virtue’s safe with me. Just—take off your shirt.”
He helps Eduardo undo the buttons and then tugs at his buckle. “I don’t want it digging into me,” he explains at Wardo’s questioning look. When they’re done, he drapes himself over Wardo’s chest and tangles their legs together.
“Comfortable?” Eduardo asks, sounding amused.
“Eh,” Mark says, refusing to feel weird about this. It’s just the two of them here, and Mark really likes having Wardo’s skin under his hands. His back hurts like a bitch right now, because he was so tense last night that he somehow managed to tie himself into knots while sitting in a chair. He’ll worry about appearances when he’s rested and no longer smells charred flesh when he thinks of Wardo.
“This is going to complicate things,” Eduardo says.
Mark says, “Mmmph.” He rests a hand over Wardo’s heart – thumpthumpthump – and yawns.
“I don’t like Sean. He’s trouble.”
Mark’s already half-asleep, but he still mumbles, “We need him.”
“We can’t trust him.”
“Don’t ignore me.”
Mark snorts softly. It’s nice that Wardo thinks Mark can actually do that. “Then stay,” he says. “Keep an eye on Sean.”
“Mark,” Eduardo says. “You know I—”
“Sssh,” Mark says. “Sleeping. Talk later.”
Eduardo sighs – a familiar, disgruntled sound – and stops talking. He pulls Mark closer and settles down.
When Mark wakes up, he finds himself half on top of a sleeping Wardo, with the sheets twisted between them. Dustin is standing at the bedroom door, staring at the two of them with a wary expression on his face.
“You have problems, my friend,” Dustin says. “Serious problems.”
Mark hides his face between Wardo’s neck and the pillow, and goes back to sleep.