title; never let eduardo go
fandom; the social network/never let me go
total word count: ~33115
warnings for character death and graphic content (both sexual and not).
Are they really that different? Mark talks to him like he’s a real person, looks at him instead of through him. He’s kind to Eduardo, when no one else is. He listens to Eduardo even when he doesn’t have much to say. Eduardo doesn’t want to complete alone. But Dustin is right, too. An original would never love a donor. If Mark ever found out, everything would be over, and it isn’t fair.
Why do I do this to myself? Idek.
Parts of this were inspired by this http://sharpest-rose.livejournal.com/1226067.html beautiful TSN/NLMG fanfic: The Fragile by sharpest-rose.
1. done, made or conducted without the knowledge of others 2. something that is kept hidden or concealed 3. an explanation or reason is not immediately or generally apparent
He meets Mark pretty much by accident.
Dustin and Cameron have sent him out to get them coffee; a cinnamon dolce latte and an iced coffee respectively, not that Dustin needs the caffeine, or sugar. But Eduardo, being the good soul that he is (or the one that is just never able to say no, which most everyone at the care center knows, and is why Eduardo has pretty much become the unofficially appointed Coffee Boy), agrees. He likes being able to get away from the center anyway, escape the four awful walls he’s trapped inside every day, and he looks for any excuse to go driving around in town.
Eduardo never had friends at Hailsham or the Cottages, either. He never could put his finger on it, but he always felt different, like he never quite fit in in a group of students. He couldn’t relate to the things they talked about, and he always felt like he was on a different page. He didn’t care for participating in the sports that the boys played, listening to music or playing with the dolls of the girls. So at Hailsham, he spent a lot of his time reading, finding more interest in imaginary worlds than his own. There were a lot of things he didn’t understand in the books, and still doesn’t, but they were his only escape.
Dustin, who he shares a room with, is the only one here that he really gets along with. He supposes you could call Cameron and Tyler W. his friends, but he’s only known them for the short time he’s been here since his first donation (which went surprisingly well, and he was up and going again as soon they let him out of bed. The whitecoats at Kingsfield are surprisingly friendly, compassionate, nothing like Eduardo’d heard about how awful some of them could be) and they mostly stick around eachother. Still, though, Dustin is one of those friends that you look to when you need a decent laugh or just some company (even if it’s incredibly annoying company) but that isn’t a true friend, not one you would talk about anything meaningful with. Eduardo’s never had any of those.
(Cameron and Tyler have the same original, while other than their appearances are nothing alike. Tyler’s a bit of an asshole, really, but Cameron’s at least tolerable. Eduardo doesn’t know why they would make two donors from the same original or why, if it’s obviously possible, it might be done more as it saves a lot of hassle).
So Eduardo’s glad for any chance he has to get away. He learned to drive as soon as he could, and it didn’t take long for him to master the rules of the road. He can always get a car somehow and he’ll spend an evening just driving into the sunset, enjoying the solitude, the smell of the leather inside the car and the air outside the open windows. Sometimes it will rain, and he’ll sort of lose himself in the fog to the pattering rhythm of the rain on the roof. Surrounded by students at Hailsham for his whole childhood, and then the cottages, then the whitecoats and his roommates at the care center, it’s a relief to be alone. Eduardo’s best friend from the Cottages, Christy, went on to become a carer. He could have, too, but to be perfectly honest, Eduardo didn’t see much point in prolonging his life.
If he hadn’t gotten himself lost this time, none of it would have happened. Nothing would have happened. But he gets a little too lost in his own thoughts and misses the turn that’s supposed to lead him to the closest coffee shop, the one they always visit.
He hasn’t gotten the town memorized yet; when he goes out, he sticks to the deserted country sides, where he doesn’t have to wait for the traffic and doesn’t even have to worry about possibly running into someone. Eduardo doesn’t even like the people he’s shoved in with at his care center, and they’ve been warned of the dangers of talking too extensively to originals. It’s taboo to speak to them at all really, and in their position, it’s understandable.
Eduardo winds up driving himself very far into the center of town as he’s trying to find the way back out. He’s never been in this area before, and he’s helplessly lost. Just as he turns another corner, banging on the steering wheel with a curse, he spots another shop down the street. It’s not the same one, duh, or even the same chain but fuck it, Dustin and Cameron will just have to live with whatever he can find here.
He mumbles to himself as he hops out of the car and scuttles into the shop, scolding himself for being so absent-minded. It’s empty, except for one single person sitting at a table in the corner. He has a laptop and headphones over his ears, and doesn’t even twitch when Eduardo walks in and the bell dings over the door, so Eduardo guesses he hasn’t been heard. The headphones remind him of the cassette player he had at Hailsham, the one that one of his bullies smashed on the sidewalk in front of him.
He orders a drink for himself; he’ll get Cameron and Dustin’s on his way out, they can wait. But for now, he orders himself an iced coffee. The café is tiny, so it’s not that weird that he chooses the couch right next to Laptop Boy’s table. Still, he is not noticed. He can’t see the screen from here, but the boy is obviously used to using it; his fingers tap away in long bursts without pausing; the taps are so fast that Eduardo can’t imagine he’s typing anything intelligible. His eyes are affixed on the screen, so whatever’s on it must be very interesting.
Always the curious one, Eduardo leans over some, trying to get a glance at the screen, but all he sees is a box with a string of random symbols and numbers. He doesn’t understand, but the boy seems to know what he’s doing, only taking a break from the constant pattering on the keys to sip his drink. He watches the flickering screen, trying to detect some kind of pattern, but he finds none. This is no language he learned about at Hailsham, and he’s confused. He looks at the boy’s face, too, studies the furrow of his brow and the slope of his nose. He’s not really checking him out – Eduardo just likes how his face looks. He’s an artist, it’s an aesthetic thing, really.
Laptop Boy only notices his presence when he leans in far enough that his face is reflected on the screen. Laptop Boy jumps, snatching the phones off of his head and giving Eduardo a glare; “Can I help you?”
Eduardo flinches back, startled, and his mouth goes dry. He curses himself for seeming to have lost any sense of moral boundaries (God, what is up with him today?). He feels like he’s cheated on a test in school and almost expects to be reprimanded or slapped on the arm.
“I’m sorry-! I…” Eduardo looks around, swallowing as he runs his finger around the rim of his cup. “I’m just… curious, as to what you’re doing.” He purses his lips and swallows, offering a grin to lighten the mood. But it probably just looks creepy, because Laptop Boy looks at him like he has three heads, and Eduardo can tell he’s gotten out of line. He guesses he should have heeded the warnings about interacting too much with originals…
“Coding,” the man says deliberately, as if it’s obvious, but to Eduardo that means nothing, and his bewilderment probably shows on his face. “Creating a website?” Laptop Boy elaborates, slowly, and Eduardo blinks owlishly.
Laptop boy scoffs and then sighs, glancing back at his screen. “I’m doing work,” he says, fingers flicking over the keyboard again and then stopping, hovering over the buttons. “The wifi at my offices is down. You don’t have the Internet wherever you’re from?”
“We – no. Not really.” Eduardo doesn’t know what wifi is, but he’s guessing he probably should know.
“And where is that, exactly?” asks Laptop Boy.
“Uh-“ Eduardo flounders. He doesn’t know how originals feel about donors, but he’s guessing it’s something that’s best to keep under wraps, especially if he ever wants to talk to this man again. “Just, not around here.”
“Well – alright.” Laptop Boy gives him a look that says he doesn’t understand at all and thinks Eduardo is totally insane. He also looks a little afraid, like he thinks Eduardo could be dangerous, but he shakes his head and goes right back to his screen. “I’m working on my website – Facebook?”
“Your website… ‘Facebook’?” Eduardo parrots. He knows what a website is, in theory at least, but he’s never heard of this… Facebook.
“Yes. It’s – have you ever even used a computer?”
Eduardo decides to be honest, but he feels extremely inferior, as if he didn’t feel small enough already. But they didn’t need them at Hailsham, certainly not at the Cottages and he doesn’t touch the ones they have at the care center. “Not really.”
Mark shakes his head at him, looking both shocked and kind of disgusted. “Seriously, where are you from?”
Eduardo shrugs, and Laptop Boy purses his lips. “Well. Welcome, I guess?”
Eduardo can’t help but smile some; this is the first interaction he’s had with people from outside, unless you count the guardians at Hailsham and the whitecoats at the center, but he never really had much alone time with them, and the whitecoats are people he’d rather evade. “My name’s Eduardo,” he smiles, feeling both excited and nervous at the prospect of having met someone from outside their little group. He holds out his hand and Laptop Boy just stares at it a moment before shaking it. Something is odd about this ‘Eduardo’, something he can’t exactly name.
“Mark. Mark Zuckerberg. And you’re Eduardo…?” He pauses expectantly.
“What’s your last name?”
“Oh, it’s—“ he smiles, “just Eduardo.”
Mark shrugs; he figures the world already knows his name and Eduardo must not want to give that away to a stranger in a coffee shop. Fair enough. He turns back to his coding, and this time he doesn’t mind Eduardo watching, his face reflected dimly on the laptop screen, as a drizzle begins outside to the rhythmic tapping of the keys.
He is two hours late to bring Dustin and Cameron their coffee.
“Dude,” Dustin gawks as he races out to meet Eduardo when he steps out of his car with the little drink tray, “what took so long?”
“I got lost,” Eduardo shrugs, plunking the tray in Dustin’s arms and turning away. He knows it would be mention not to mention the man he met at the café, though he does secretly hope he’ll see him again.
Eduardo slips into bed and falls asleep that night, wondering about the man he met at the café that day, with his laptop and his wifi and his purple hoodie. Maybe it’s just that he’s never really talked to an original before, but he really, really hopes he’ll run into Mark again.
Driving to the offices the next morning, when Mark passes the café, he wonders about the man he met the previous afternoon. He wonders where he could possibly be from where he would never have had a computer, if he said it’s ‘not far’ or how he couldn’t even know what the word ‘wifi’ means. He looks and talks like he’s from around here, but… he doesn’t know what it is, but something about Eduardo was just odd. Odd in a good way, almost.
Something creeps into the back of his mind, trying to nudge its way to the front but he pushes the thought away before it can even become complete.
Mark later comments to Chris on the totally bizarre-o guy he met at the café.
“How old was he?”
“My age – I think…?”
“Maybe he just had weird parents,” Chris shrugs, heading back to his own cubicle. He’s not impressed, but Mark can’t shake the thought that there’s something weird about him, something different. Something intriguing, too.
It’s impossible to swallow the feelings of loneliness that come from staring at the four walls of the care center on a sleepless night. They’ve done their best to make it as nice and homey as they can, but it’s certainly not a place anyone might wish to finish their life in. Eduardo’s room’s got paintings on the walls, flowers in a vase on a table beneath the window that looks down over the hill, to a field of wildflowers and the road beyond it. When he can’t sleep, he’ll lie awake and count the cars, each blur of headlights that passes by the window.
It’s the nights that are the hardest, when Eduardo’s bed feels too big and too empty and the air conditioning above him feels too cold, and when there’s nothing to occupy him to stop his thoughts from swarming around in his head. Nights when he watches the lights on the road outside and wishes he could be in one of those cars; driving past the care center, and moving on, far, far away, never looking back.
Eduardo always counts things. He counts trees, or pictures on the wall, lines on the road, tiles on the ceiling or the floor. In the fall, he’d count the leaves that fell when a breeze whisked them from the branches. He counts stripes on clothing and almost anything that can be given a numerical value. Sometimes by ones, sometimes by twos, sometimes by nines, or backwards in threes from the number sixty-four. It’s a good distraction, sometimes; in this case, hiding how afraid he really is.
Ninety-three, eighty-six, seventy-nine, seventy-two, sixty-five…
Dustin, his roommate, had a girlfriend back at his home at White Mansion, Stephanie A. They were together in their last years at the Glenmorgam House, right up until they both became donors. Eduardo has never had a relationship with anyone, barely even friendships. He’s never felt the euphoria of someone else’s hands on his body or being pressed up against another person at night, but, seeing Dustin’s now heartbroken state, he wonders if it’s better that way.
Dustin’s first donation didn’t go as swimmingly as was hoped. He’s been sick since, hardly able to get out of bed in the two months that have passed, but he doesn’t really seem to want to. He and Eduardo talk often, sitting with their legs hanging off the beds. They’ll talk about happy times, about their days back at Hailsham and Glenmorgan and they’ll make jokes, tell stories. Dustin will smile when he talks about Stephanie, he’ll get this sparkle in his eye that’s never there otherwise. It’s easy to pretend that everything’s okay until Dustin has to get up, shaking and hunched over a walker to help him get anywhere. Dustin’s health and mental state began to deteriorate when Stephanie began her donations and they were separated, and since they’ve only gotten worse, but somehow, he still manages to pinpoint just where all the sunshine and rainbows in the world lie. Usually, though, they’re outside the walls of the care center. Dustin’s carer is a waste of space, so Eduardo’s sort of taken on that role; helping him walk place to place, bringing him food when he can’t get out of bed, covering him with blankets if he falls asleep without them.
He’s expected to complete on his next – his second - donation. And he remembers hearing something a nurse said once; “when they want to complete, they usually do.”
The word for it at Hailsham was umbrella. It was tossed around, and more or less frowned upon, when they were children, but no one really knew what it meant. Eduardo didn’t, either, and he wondered if he was umbrella when, even well into his teenage years, he’d never had a girlfriend, or any sort of desire for sex with a girl. Knowledge of sex in general was limited at Hailsham; with no proper instruction, all the students had to rely on were books, which were very vague and assumed you knew most of the details already, which he didn’t, and the movies only caught oddly angled glimpses. And none of them mentioned anything at all about sex between two men.
He kept it to himself until he moved onto the Cottages, when he just couldn’t contain his curiosity anymore.
He found the magazine in one of the girls’ rooms, the one with dirty pictures of men in it rather than women. When one of the veterans caught him with it, he laughed and told him the proper term, and then took the liberty of spreading it around to everyone at the Cottages. For a while, it only made Eduardo more of an outcast, but people seemed to get over it as they matured. And here, at the care center, it doesn’t matter at all.
But Eduardo is still alone. Painfully, crushingly alone.
Mark isn’t usually a charitable person. Well, he gives away most of his money, but that’s only because he’s happy how he is. He doesn’t need the cash. He’s happy with his apartment and doesn’t need any upgrades. If it’s kind and also involves effort, he usually avoids it. Random acts of kindness aren’t his style.
The only reason Mark was driving down an old country road in the first place, about three days later, was because he was coming back from a business meeting across town, and he knew that coming through here was a lot faster than going through the traffic of the city. He’s going slow, so he doesn’t miss the broken down car on the side of the road, or the man walking in circles around it, pulling at his hair and looking quite distressed. A quick glance tells him it’s the guy from the café, the weirdo. He’s not sure what unseen force calls him to pull over, roll down his window and offer assistance, but he does.
Eduardo stops his pacing when Mark gets out of his car, blinks at him with ridiculously big deer eyes, and Mark pauses before raising his arm in an awkward wave. For a moment, he’s a little overwhelmed by the oddness of the situation; what kind of coincidence must this be?
“Your car break down?” he asks, tilting his head.
“I guess so-“ Eduardo sputters, seeming panicked. His hands fist in his hair and he pulls again, flustered. “What the hell do I do?”
Mark scratches his elbow. “What’s wrong with it?”
“It just… died. It won’t start.”
“Well, I guess it’s a good thing you’re out here and not in the city, then. Have you called anyone to help?”
“I don’t have a phone.”
“Of course you don’t.”
There’s no way to help the car except to get it taken to the nearest maintenance station, which requires getting it towed, which requires Mark driving Eduardo to the station in his car, which requires Eduardo being in his front seat. As in, the first attractive male to be in his breathing area in God knows how long. Eduardo doesn’t often ride in a car with someone, especially not someone who is essentially a complete stranger. He kept his eyes trained on the scenery outside the window, trying not to look at Mark’s face, not knowing why his palms are suddenly sweaty.
He counts the cars that they pass.
When they arrive at the service station, Mark has been planning to just leave Eduardo here. Get back to the offices. His fingers feel acutely naked, they long for what Mark tells them is a keyboard beneath them, but Mark can’t fool himself; he knows deep down that he doesn’t want anything more right now than to just let his fingers weave with Eduardo’s or to toss an arm over his shoulder or around his waist.
Maybe it’s some deep, deep part of him that makes the connection that Eduardo looks like a lost puppy, and that he really likes puppies, and that anyone who abandons a puppy is just a jerk. Or maybe it’s a part of him that stupidly wants to see Eduardo again, that doesn’t want this to end right here. Because he’s handsome, because he’s nice, because Mark wants to know the answers behind these strange behaviors; maybe he’s committed a crime and Mark can be the one to gather the bounty for turning him in. Not just because he’s kind of sexy and Mark is really, disgustingly bad at flirting. But he can’t hold back the impulse, with Eduardo still pulling at his pretty hair and scratching at his own face.
“I’ll pay – for everything,” he says, “and I’ll take you out to lunch tomorrow.”
Eduardo doesn’t mention meeting Mark again to anyone, but he can always count on Dustin to know exactly what’s going on in his head.
“Something happened with you today.” It’s a statement, made by Dustin as he plops down on his bed across from Eduardo’s. Eduardo has a notebook in front of him, which he flips closed the moment his friend enters the room. Dustin’s never questioned what he puts in his journals, even if he interrogates him about just about everything else – like right now.
“What do you mean?”
“You’ve been smiling. Actually smiling. So what is it? Or do I even want to know?”
Eduardo, stupidly, doesn’t think it would be that big of a deal to tell him. ‘I’ve met someone’ is not far off from saying ‘I’ve met an original’ and when the truth comes out, Dustin gawks at him.
“An original? You – what do you mean, you ‘met’ them, Eduardo? We’re not supposed to speak to them.”
“I just – we met at the café. A few days ago, and then, when the car broke down-“
“The car broke down?”
“-yes, it broke down, and I was on some old road, and he drove by and he helped me. He took me to have it fixed, and he paid.”
Dustin squints at Eduardo. “Then he was a kind soul, but Eduardo, you’d better not be thinking what I think you’re thinking.”
“What do you think I’m thinking?”
“That this -- that this original is going to be anything to you. Or you’re going to be anything to him. It can’t happen.”
“I don’t see why-“
“Because, Eduardo! Originals aren’t like us. I know you’re lonely, and you want someone, but - It’s dangerous and you’re only setting both of you up to get hurt. I’m just… this worries me. You shouldn’t see him again.”
The conversation ends there. Dustin leaves and Eduardo knows deep down that Dustin’s fears aren’t unfounded, but he doesn’t plan to heed his warnings.
Eduardo steals away to the café without telling anyone where he’s going, but that’s not unusual for him. He’s always able to borrow a car, one way or another, is rarely without transportation which he finds to be his greatest blessing. All he has to do is tell his carer exactly when he plans to return. Special arrangements must be made for trips longer than one overnight, but Eduardo never takes those, and as long as they don’t interfere with his next checkup, he is pretty much able to go where he pleases. It’s a blessing; he wouldn’t make it past his next donation either if he had to be cooped up in there all day.
Mark’s already there when he arrives, dressed in a pink hoodie today, with the same backpack slung over his shoulder.
“Ah, hi…” Eduardo approaches him a little awkwardly; he really doesn’t know how you do these things. But the little smile that immediately appears on Mark’s face is infectious, and when Eduardo returns it it makes Mark’s stomach do some stupid little acrobatics and he tries to think of dead puppies or, worse, of Facebook crashing just so he can stop himself from puking rainbows, or something.
Eduardo’s heart is pounding in his chest already and he slips his hands inside his coat pockets, not really knowing what to say now, what you’re supposed to say during this kind of thing, and also afraid that his nervousness will show if he opens his mouth. But, he manages to stupidly choke out “How… was work?”
Mark smiles, the way he always does when he’s able to stick Facebook into a conversation (he could talk for hours about his baby) but not today, Eduardo probably wouldn’t know what he’s talking about anyway, and he has other things on his mind. He just nods and grins, “swimmingly. How was your… whatever you do?”
“It was whatever,” Eduardo shrugs, because he’s not going to tell Mark about all the discomforts of the care center. He grins, and Mark grins back before clearing his throat and suggesting they get on to the place where they’ll be eating lunch.
Mark walks them out of the café, leading Eduardo to what he says is a good lunch spot. And it is a cute little place that Mark takes them to, one Eduardo’s never seen before as he hasn’t really explored this corner of town much. They’re lead to a booth by the window, and as soon as Mark sits down he’s getting up again. “I’m going to get a drink,” he announces, “would you like one?”
Eduardo thinks of the bi-monthly checkups and what could possibly happen if traces of alcohol were found in his system. At the least, he’d probably have his travelling privileges revoked. “I… can’t.”
Mark tilts his head at him, but shrugs, and shuffles off to the bar. Eduardo tilts the saltshaker between his fingers until he returns, with a bottle of beer and a glass of water for Eduardo. “Thank you,” Eduardo smiles, peeking at Mark over the rim of his glass as he takes a sip, while Mark nods and takes a long slug of the drink.
Eduardo’s done this before, stopped in at a restaurant or two to have dinner after a day of aimless driving, if his stomach really began to cry out. But he remembers the first time, and he looks back on it and laughs, when he went to have a meal with Dustin, and they were both completely, utterly helpless, taking about five minutes just to order a pair of cokes and some pancakes. That was the only time Dustin ever really left the care center; the real world scared him. Eduardo doesn’t know how Dustin can tolerate it, staying in bed all day, but to each his own, he supposes.
Mark orders the chicken, Eduardo the pasta. “You know, I never really… thanked you. For helping me out, you know, with the—“
“It was nothing. Really, it-“ Mark doesn’t even know, honestly, why he stopped to help. It’s a little ridiculous, paying for a car repair for someone who is essentially a total stranger. “I can afford it. It was nothing.”
“It was a pretty big bill.”
“I can afford it,” Mark repeats, because really, he can. “You’re welcome, if that’s what you want to hear. But… you looked like you needed help, is all.”
“Well, you… you’re very kind.” Eduardo grins at him across the table, a stupid, too-wide grin.
“So what do you do?”
“I’m, err… unemployed.”
The way he says it, Mark guesses it’s not a subject worth pressing and he lets it drop. Eduardo counts the packets of sugar in the caddy on the edge of the table. Altogether, then how many there are of each color, as they make small talk, trying not to fidget in his seat. He’s never sat down with an original before, and Mark is what Cameron and Tyler would call hot, though they’ve only ever used that word directed at females.
Mark is surprisingly talkative, likes to express his obsession with computers and coding, even though Eduardo can’t understand most of the things he says, and it registers, so they move onto something new. Eduardo pulls back whenever Mark asks anything too personal, like where he lives, which he can’t possibly answer. They talk about their favorite places around town. They talk about books (the ones Eduardo has read are mostly the ones from way back at Hailsham and the ones they have at the library in the care center. Eduardo spends much of his time in there, when he can’t get the car to drive off somewhere. He almost prefers books, sometimes, because while the car can only take him along the same roads, books can take him anywhere. So he has much to talk about).
They laugh, and Eduardo’s surprised at how at ease he feels with Mark, how talking to Mark so is unlike talking to his friends or any other donors. It’s almost too easy, too fast.
“Are you alright?” Eduardo asks, suddenly.
“W-what?” Mark asks in-between sharp coughs, blinking at Eduardo. It sounds like he’s just swallowed his drink the wrong way but he’s been doing this all night. “Oh, yeah, I’m-“ he coughs once more, “fine. Thank you.” He hesitates then to reach his hand across the table, where Eduardo is fiddling with the salt shaker, to rest on top of Eduardo’s. It’s then that Eduardo realizes where this is going, where this has been going and he pulls back, even though it hurts, “Mark, I… I can’t.”
I can’t. So many ‘I can’t’s. Mark moves his hand back, blinking, “you can’t what?”
“I can’t be with you. I can’t be in a relationship.” He doesn’t even know how all of this is supposed to work, for originals.
Mark straightens up, nodding his head and muttering “of course, of course,” like he knew that already, but there’s stiffness to it, the rest of the conversation weighted with an air of tension and regret. Not how he wanted to start this friendship, this whatever, off. Eduardo half hopes that will be the end of it, just so he doesn’t get pulled in to anything before he loses control.
But that’s just the beginning.
Dustin’s throwing up in the bathroom when Eduardo returns. He sighs and shrugs his coat off, placing it in the closet and rapping his knuckles in the door.
“Dustin? Dustin… do you need help?”
“No…” the voice from behind the door wavers and Eduardo’s heart breaks at the thought of his best friend in so much misery. His first donation went surprisingly well, but others, especially in Dustin’s state, are not so lucky.
He knows not to insist on help when it’s turned down. From his bedside table, he pulls a journal with a worn leather cover and takes a seat at the desk, the one looking over the field and the road. Hunched over the paper and with a stub of thick black pencil, he sketches in the lines of Mark’s face as clearly as he can remember them. The springs of his curls, the bridge of his nose and the curve of his jawbone and chin. Thick, dark angular lines that don’t do his face justice at all.
It’s a few minutes before Dustin comes out of the bathroom, all smiles again, as always. They don’t mention what just happened, and Dustin doesn’t ask where he’s been, and when Dustin asks if he’d like lunch, Eduardo agrees even though he’s already eaten. It’s the least he can do.
“Will you take me somewhere, tomorrow, Eduardo?” he asks, suddenly, over a plate of steak and vegetables (the care center’s food is remarkable, which is at least one good thing about it. It makes sense, as especially during recovery the donors must stay healthy).
Eduardo doesn’t have to ask why. He agrees, and the next day, they hop into the car together. Dustin never learned to drive, and Eduardo’s never shared the car with anyone, at least not while he was behind the wheel. Dustin keeps quiet, watching the scenery flow past the windows of the car. Eduardo takes them as far away as he can, which is the shore. It’s chilly outside still, but the water is warm enough to at least stick your toes in. Eduardo wraps his arm around Dustin’s waist and they stand, the waves lapping over their feet, looking out into the ocean – both mutually wondering what could lie beyond this seemingly infinite body of water.
When they get too tired to stand, they sit, in the sand. Dustin crumples into Eduardo’s side; Eduardo wraps his arm around him and they stay, watching the colors streak across the sky as the sun is swallowed by the ocean. Only then do they go back home.
It starts like that. Little things, having lunch together every now and then, coffee and sandwiches. Since Eduardo somehow doesn’t have any way of communication, no phone and no internet (and no last name, still mysterious), they have to plan their next date while they’re together. They’re usually several days or a week apart, with Mark’s busy schedule but that’s fine with Eduardo; he’s happy to be visiting with anyone at all, and the longer they’re apart from eachother, the more they have to talk about.
Mark isn’t a total recluse as most people like to believe, he’s just had yet to find someone whose company he enjoys, but Eduardo fits under that category. Even if he’s weird as hell. Eduardo is just easy to talk to. Sometimes Mark will mention something about coding or computers, and he’ll helplessly try to explain the reference and Eduardo will just blink at him, and the subject will drop. They’ll talk about books, they’ll talk about movies and music, about their days. Mark thinks Eduardo’s affinity for pineapple on pizza is disgusting, and Eduardo can say the same about pepperoni.
“Have you even tried pineapple pizza?”
“No, but it’s. It’s unnatural. You don’t eat fruit with cheese.”
“Maybe you would, if you gave it a try.”
“It’s weird,” Mark insists, and Eduardo says “you’re right”, but then adds “but it’s good.”
They’re still bickering about pizza toppings when the food arrives; half topped with pepperoni, half with pineapple. Pizza, actually, is a rare treat that they don’t often have at the care center since it’s not really healthy. Mark wolfs down three slices in the time it takes Eduardo to eat one, like he hasn’t eaten in days. Eduardo, at some point, mentions something about a waterfall.
“Yeah. It’s kind of a long drive away, but it’s up in some mountains. There’s a long river, a big waterfall – the water’s clean, and warm, and there’s one place where you can jump off of this rocky cliff into the lake, though I haven’t done that in a long time, and it’s just… really peaceful. Where I go to spend a lot of my free time, to think.” And he gets this glazed look, like he has a lot to be thinking about, and Mark wants to know. What it is. What Eduardo worries and dreams and thinks about every day. Not that he cares, you know, he's just curious.
Mark’s not a nature person, Mark will avoid going out in direct sunlight if it’s unnecessary, but that does sound rather nice. He wonders if Eduardo might take him there someday, and then realizes he’s getting ahead of himself.
It’s after that ‘date’, having just exited the restaurant, preparing to part ways for the night. They kind of linger outside on the curb, neither of them really wanting to move away, to end this moment, this little bubble of happiness, but Mark really needs to get back to work, and it’s past time for Eduardo to be returning to the care center.
But they just stand on the sidewalk, watching the tail lights fade into red blurs in the distance, and it’s freezing outside, but when Eduardo’s hand brushes against Mark’s, just the knuckles, he’s warm. Mark could leave his hand there, let them share their body hear and it’s stupid but he wants to, but he won’t, he takes his hands and shoves them back in his pockets and coughs, because this is stupid, he shouldn’t want to hold Eduardo’s hand, or throw his arm around his shoulder and have it be so easy.
They don’t do any of that; Eduardo goes to the care center and Mark goes back home. On the edge of his bed, he doubles over, fingers curled around his cock and he’s thinking of Eduardo, Eduardo who he doesn’t even have a last name for, with those eyes and teeth and hair and Oh, fuck.
And he goes to bed wondering who this man is with his wildly shining doe eyes, his secrets, his ridiculously charming laugh and Mark wants to know who the hell he is. What makes him tick. Where he’s from. And more importantly, why he’s hiding all of these things.
Mark doesn’t understand Eduardo. And not in his usual way, like when he doesn’t understand why a girl would get upset over being compared to a farm animal, but Eduardo just… doesn’t make any sense. He’s always looking away, looking down, gazing anywhere but Mark’s face; he’s always quiet, silent even, his mind seeming to be elsewhere. Not like he wishes he was somewhere else, but like he’s unsure if it’s safe to be where he is. Eduardo mentions an ailing friend and Mark almost tells him, about the doctors and the medications but he can’t, he can still barely admit that to himself.
“I can’t be with you,” Eduardo had made clear, several times, and each time, he’s had to swallow the heartbreaking regret. Are they really that different? Mark talks to him like he’s a real person, looks at him instead of through him. Mark isn’t anything Eduardo’s heard about originals. He’s kind to Eduardo, when no one else is. He listens to Eduardo even when he doesn’t have much to say. He doesn’t want to complete alone. But Dustin is right, too. An original would never love a donor. As Tyler likes to point out over and over, donors, to originals, are less than nothing. Even though they give their organs, and their lives, they’re not valued, they’re not people. If Mark ever found out, everything would be over, and it isn’t fair.
Mark doesn’t like it. He’s used to getting what he wants, and what he wants is Eduardo. What makes it even more confusing is that he doesn’t know how he wants him or why he wants him, but the longing is there, fluttering in his heart and stirring in his stomach that kind of makes him want to throw up and jump around in a circle tossing rainbow confetti at the same time. But they enjoy these little dates together, for what they’re worth.
Chris doesn’t know what could possibly implore Mark to actually pull away from Facebook and mingle with the public. “You’ve met someone, haven’t you?” he demands, standing against Mark’s chair to block him from returning his computer, after coming back from a date. When Mark only blinks at him, he elaborates; “you left the office. You actually left the office in the middle of the afternoon.”
“I had a doctor’s appointment, Chris.”
“Three of them in one week?”
Mark sighs, stepping to the side to get around him, but Chris blocks him again, tipping his head with a totally asinine smile. “You’ve met someone,” he repeats. “Alright, what’s his name?”
“Chris. Let me do my work.”
“Not until you spill.”
“’Spill’? My God, Chris, please.”
“What’s his name?”
“Chris, I will fire you.”
“What does he look like?”
“Where did you meet him?”
“Chris, for God’ sake! His name’s Eduardo – okay. Now, move, please?”
“Oh, no, you’re not getting off the hook that easy, Mister Zuckerberg. Eduardo who?” Chris is still blocking his way and Mark sighs in defeat.
“I don’t know - I met him when I went next door to use the wifi.”
“Well, our wifi’s been working since then, Mark.”
“We’ve gotten coffee together, that’s all.”
“Is this the weird guy you mentioned before?”
Mark shrugs, not wanting to admit that, yes, while Eduardo is weird as fuck, and secretive, he’s also oddly charming, and… generally someone Mark enjoys being around, for once in his life. It’s just really inconvenient that this would happen now.
“Is he cute?”
“Chris, are you fourteen?”
“Yes, he is.” Mark digs his nails into his palms in aggravation. Chris is his friend, but he doesn’t enjoy having information forced out of him. When he returns to the office after his whatever-they-ares with Eduardo, it’s back to business, it has to be.
Chris steps away, satisfied, and Mark plunks right into his chair, pulling the laptop out of sleep mode. Chris turns to leave, but looks back, just before Mark’s about to pull the headphones over his ears. “Mark?”
“Just… you know, be careful.”
Meanwhile, Eduardo’s friends are catching on.
“You’re hiding something from us, Ed, we know you are,” Cameron pipes up at dinner. Eduardo eats the meals, at least the ones he has at the care center, with the three of them; Cameron, Tyler and poor Dustin. Eduardo looks up from his vegetables and shrugs, not willing to admit to anything; not how fast Mark makes his heart race, how his stomach does a flip whenever he sees Mark’s face, gets that awkward smile and wave directed at him or when their hands accidentally brush – none of that!
“What do you mean?”
Tyler laughs, “You actually look happy for once. Or, you know, not totally angry at the whole world. “You got something up your sleeve, maybe some evil plans?”
There’s a collective chuckle from around the table. Eduardo sets his jaw, looking down at the plate and nudging a broiled carrot around the perimeter with his fork. “I… it’s nothing.”
Dustin is the one that says (of course, because Dustin could never, ever distinguish between what is acceptable to say at what time and what definitely isn’t), “Would this have anything to do with the original you met?”
And the table goes dead silent. Cameron even drops his fork, and Tyler chokes. “An original?” they both gawk, simultaneously, and Dustin seems to have just realized it’s something he shouldn’t have mentioned. “Okay, Eduardo-“ Cameron stares him down, “now you need to explain.”
Eduardo feels like a specimen under a microscope slide. “I…” he begins, but how can he explain? How can he say that the person he thinks he’s in love with is not only a man, but an original? “I met an original – we just talked, we had lunch once, it’s nothing.”
“It better be nothing,” Tyler hisses, as Cameron demands “how did you meet an original?” He says the word with disgust and scorn, and he has every right to. Donors are not meant to mingle with originals. Donors are supposed to be something in the background, something that’s just always there – that you know about, but don’t ever speak of. Donors are the martyrs of society, but they don’t have to be happy about it. And if Eduardo’s befriending one – that makes him an enemy. An outsider. He can feel it already.
“I got lost, once when I was getting coffee, so I wound up going to a different shop… and he was there. And we just… talked.”
“And we’ve had lunch once or twice.” Or, you know, four times.
“And… you think he’s your friend?”
Dustin gives him an apologetic glance, like he’s just realized that he’s said the completely wrong thing. “Yeah, I’d say so – I mean, we’ve just been. Talking. And he’s kind to me.”
“He’s nice to you – and you like him?”
“You have to stop.”
“It’s obvious why, Eduardo-!”
“Neither of you certainly like me – I don’t have any friends here, so why can’t I find some? What difference does it make to you?”
“What difference – because, Eduardo. He, this person, this original, is never going to be your friend or anything more,” it’s Tyler now, glaring daggers at him. “And you know why? Because you’re a donor. They don’t care about us, we’re not people to them, we’re just anonymous suppliers of their organs. You know what you are to him? You’re nothing.”
“You’re less than nothing—“
“You’re trash. You think an original is going to love you? You’re delusional.”
“No!” Eduardo shoves his tray across the table, pushing himself up to his feet. “No, that’s – no. None of that’s true.” Mark isn’t like that, he can’t be. But the thought that it might be, that Tyler’s right in the sense that they can never be together, really together because Eduardo’s a donor, because even if they become anything Eduardo’s going to complete within a few years, is enough to bring tears to his eyes. “You haven’t met him, you don’t know.”
“I know enough.”
“No – no! No, you don’t know. You couldn’t possibly know. You haven’t seen him, you haven’t met him – you haven’t talked to him. You’ve never even left the care center!”
“And you know why, Eduardo? Because no one wants me to. Let’s be honest – out there? Out there, you’re meaningless. They don’t thank us for what we do. They don’t respect us, they don’t even think we’re people. We’re trash, or we wouldn’t be here, and no one out there wants us out there. They don’t even want to think about us. No one wants to see you, and if this original ever found out the truth, he wouldn’t want you either.”
The table is dead silent. Eduardo can’t bear that thought. The thought that Mark, who he’s more or less fallen in love with might stop loving him if he found out he’s a donor – he can’t even stomach it. He knows it’s weak, he knows it will mean that Tyler has won, but he can’t stay here and let Tyler see him cry. He hurries out of the cafeteria, back to his bedroom, where he can collect himself in peace. He washes his face, takes a shower to rejuvenate himself, and when he comes out, Dustin’s there.
“If you’re here to tell me –“
“I’m not.” Dustin puts a hand on Eduardo’s shoulder; he pulls back, eyeing him distrustfully. He doesn’t know who or what to believe anymore; Tyler, Mark, his heart? “Eduardo… just look. Tyler is right. But if you think your original friend isn’t that kind of person… just. I know you’re lonely, Ed. I was too. But then I had Stephanie– and then I lost her, and it’s the worst hurt I’ve ever felt. I just hope you know what you’re doing.”
Mark’s apartment is small for someone who’s apparently very rich. It has two bedrooms, one bath, a kitchen and an office, but by the look of Mark’s bedroom, he does most of his work in there. The desk has both a laptop and a desktop computer and the top of it is littered with old food wrappers and other papers. For the CEO of a huge company, he’s pretty messy.
Mark had to ask him three times to come over. He’s usually not that forward, come to think of it. But he just hasn’t met anyone much like Eduardo. Eduardo’s secretive and mysterious, but that, somehow, turns Mark on. A challenge he has to figure out, like some block of code he has to decipher. He doesn’t know how it is that Eduardo, who he almost knows nothing about, really, is able to get his heart racing and his blood flow hot and thick in his veins. Since theFacebook began and turned into just Facebook, and especially since the doctors’ appointments and everything began, he’s had almost no sex drive; all he’s been able to think about is code, and work. But Eduardo… he won’t even go there. And, well, he’s running out of time.
Tyler’s words have been flowing through Eduardo’s head for the past few days, and while he can’t bring himself to believe them, he can’t totally dismiss them either.
Mark goes to the fridge, coming back to the couch with two cold bottles of beer. Eduardo blinks at it when it’s handed to him, shaking his head.
“Why not?” Mark tips his head; he’s really not supposed to drink either, but at this point, who cares?
“I just… I can’t, Mark. I can’t drink.”
Mark shrugs, resigning himself to the fact that Eduardo’s just an oddball.
Eduardo takes a stroll around Mark’s apartment, wandering idly about the rooms. He’s never had a real space to himself; at Hailsham, he shared a dorm with five other boys, at the Cottages, he had a bedroom, but it was too small to even really be called a room. At the care center, of course, he shares a room with Dustin (that’s probably going to change soon, and when it does, he’ll be given a new roommate. Space is always a little bit short at the centers; Eduardo sometimes suspects that the whitecoats actually want them to complete early, just to free up the space. They surely won’t be disappointed with Dustin).
“Um, I can’t cook, and- I don’t have much to eat,” Mark laughs, a little nervously, rubbing his hand over the back of his neck and opening the fridge. Eduardo leans over the counter on his elbows, watching, as Mark digs around in the fridge. He doesn’t really seem like a billionaire here, pushing through boxes of eggs and old cartons of milk. “Chris usually makes my lunch – he’s one of my coworkers – and when I get home I just, I don’t know, usually eat frozen things.”
“Fine with me,” shrugs Eduardo as Mark pulls two boxes from the freezer. Eduardo hops up over the counter, swinging his legs over the front and watching as Mark peels the plastic off the trays and stuffs them in the microwave. He takes another swig of the beer before stuffing his hands in his pockets, tilting his head at Eduardo.
Eduardo doesn’t even realize that they’ve just been kind of staring at eachother until the microwave beeps, making both of them jump. Mark clears his throat, taking the two trays out of the microwave and dropping them down on the table. He grabs another beer, since he’s finished his last one (which was his second, and, Mark doesn’t even know, he’s pretty lightweight).
The food’s not what he’s used to, not the tasteful, healthy stuff they get at the care center which is really the only thing good about the place, but a mess of lumpy mixed vegetables and greasy chicken. Mark starts to wolf it down, though, so Eduardo follows, and Mark drains his beer while helplessly trying to explain to Eduardo that Facebook isn’t an actual book.
Somewhere between the end of that beer and the end of the next one, and he’s really not supposed to be drinking at all but it doesn’t matter anymore, really, does it, they migrate to the couch. Mark puts a movie on, but he can’t watch it, his stomach is swimming and his brain feels fuzzy. He’s not sure what they’re watching, really, but Eduardo’s laughing at words he can’t fully process. Eduardo, Eduardo. He rests his hand on Eduardo’s knee, doesn’t notice the jerk or the tenseness when he leans against his shoulder.
It’s not that Eduardo doesn’t want it. That he doesn’t want Mark’s hands on him, on places other than his knee, Mark’s body against his, but he can’t have it. Mark is – no, no, no. He should have seen this coming.
“Mark,” he says, racking his brain for excuses to use when he says “I have to go.”
But Mark doesn’t even ask, he just pulls Eduardo back down, and when Eduardo gets back up again, follows him, like a drunk puppy. “War-do.”
Eduardo doesn’t even know how many beers Mark’s had, but Mark stumbles towards him, grinning, mumbling Eduardo’s name. He trips over a beer bottle on the floor and stumbles, falling right into Eduardo’s arms. Eduardo sumbles against the wall and then Mark rights himself, pushing him against it and this is bad, bad, bad, but Eduardo can’t push him off. Partially because Mark is heavy and practically falling against him, and partly because Mark’s mouth is on his neck, licking and sucking a trail along his throat, and shit.
There was a time, when they were children, maybe thirteen, that Christy L. put her mouth around Eduardo’s penis, but that was the farthest he’d ever gotten. And even that can’t compare to Mark’s drunken nibbles on the skin of his throat. “Mark, I – stop.”
Mark’s not fazed by Eduardo’s protests. He pushes him harder against the wall, his lips moving drunkenly up Eduardo’s neck, to his chin. He’s aggressive, and surely persistent. Drunk Mark is dangerous. Eduardo lifts his head, to move away, to stop this, but Mark pulls him back down by the nape of his neck and he’s being kissed. Mark’s lips are even softer than he imagined, and his tongue is in his mouth, and--
Mark’s hands rest on Eduardo’s waist, brushing over his hipbone, warm palms curving around the bones. Eduardo shivers, and he wants more, more of Mark, more of this touching. He can’t deny that he wants more, but there’s that voice, that doubt still lingering in the back of his mind, Tyler’s fucking voice; an original will never love a donor. It just doesn’t happen.
But Mark doesn’t know yet. And Mark’s pulling him in for another kiss; this one’s hungrier, needier. His tongue pushes between Eduardo’s teeth, and Eduardo parts them, moaning into Mark’s mouth. It’s his first kiss, his first real one, and his only in about a decade. This is all or nothing, right? If Mark’s going to push him away eventually he might as well take what he can get.
Mark’s hands are warm as they brush over his hips, thumbs slipping under his shirt, pressing into his ribs. Mark has to lean up on his toes to kiss him and Eduardo thinks it’s the cutest thing. Well, Mark doesn’t know he’s a donor yet, he decides – he may as well take advantage of that time. And he can’t deny that he wants this right now; his cock throbs in his pants in the way that he’s ever gotten relief from with his hand.
Mark moves away from Eduardo’s mouth, yanking open the buttons of the shirt and pressing his lips to Eduardo’s chest. His fingers slip under the hem of Eduardo’s shirt, running across his stomach as his mouth leaves hot, wet trails across his skin. Mark’s lips catch over his nipple; Eduardo’s whole body shudders and Mark smirks, wrapping his mouth around the nub with a gentle pressure from his teeth. Eduardo’s knees quiver and he rests his head back against the wall, speechless and gasping. Mark’s doing all of it, he’s the drunk one, but Eduardo doesn’t mind much; he wouldn’t know what to do anyway.
Mark kisses him again; it’s rough and uncoordinated, he tastes like beer and he’s clearly drunk but Eduardo doesn’t care. He doesn’t recognize the sounds coming out of his own mouth or this feeling of wanting, wanting more. Marks hands are moving further up his shirt until his fingers glide over the messy ridges on Eduardo’s skin.
From his donation, the scar curves from the front of his chest, down around his ribcage. Mark’s not drunk enough that he doesn’t notice, and he blinks twice, lifting the hem of the shirt and getting the full view. “Eduardo, what—“
“Mark—“ Eduardo goes to shove his shirt down but Mark’s already seen it. It’s certainly not a normal scar (at least not for an original) and Mark blinks at him in disbelief. This isn’t – this wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. He doesn’t know if Mark understands, but he’s not waiting around to find out. Mark blinks questioningly at him but Eduardo pushes him away. This isn’t, at least, a conversation to be had while Mark is drunk.
It’s all over now. Tyler’s words creep back into his mind; you’re trash. Trash. Trash, that’s all he is to any original, including Mark – disposable. He won’t love you, because you’re a donor. Are you delusional? It’s all over, all over… I hope you enjoyed that little taste, because you’re never going to get it again. His own thoughts mock him. Mark won’t want him now, and that scar – that scar is surely unmistakable…
Mark looks at him, with his wide blue-puppy eyes that break Eduardo’s heart to know he’ll never have. “Eduardo, I – what? I don’t understand… what was that—“
Eduardo shakes his head, stumbling towards the doorway and grabbing his shoes. “No, no, I – I should be getting home, anyway. It’s nothing, I’m sorry. If you… maybe I’ll talk to you when you’re sober.”
He snatches on his shoes and races out of the apartment, leaving Mark blinking at the empty doorway.
“Mark, you haven’t eaten since – for God’s sake, since yesterday, did you even leave the office last night?”
“I was out the other day - I had to make up for the lost time.”
It’s been two days since Eduardo freaked out on Mark, and Mark’s forcing himself not to think about it. By wiring himself in, coding, making something, until his vision actually narrows to just the screen of his computer and the minutes bleed into hours.
Chris grits his teeth, digs his nails into his palms but he knows how wrong it is of him to argue. How important time is to Mark now, how everything, always, comes down to time. Lost time, making time, time spent, time left. And, really, you can’t blame him. Time. So much fucking time lost with Eduardo. Eduardo, that – Mark doesn’t even know what to think anymore. He vaguely remembers the details of that night, of seeing the long, feathery scar around Eduardo’s side, Eduardo getting all worked up and leaving – but he hasn’t even let himself think, even consider, what he now knows to be true about this guy of his dreams.
“Do you really think you’ll be any use if you pass out on your keyboard? What about the time that will be lost then?”
Mark’s fingers stop, he looks over his shoulder with that ice-cold glare that seems to dig right into your soul. “Chris,” he growls, then coughs roughly into his fist, “it doesn’t matter.”
Chris knows when to back off. “You have an appointment with Dr. Travers on Monday.” He sighs in defeat and drops a paper bag on Mark’s desk; a pre-made lunch he’s brought in sight of these difficulties, and walks away. Mark studies the bag before sighing and taking a peek inside it. Chris has made him some kind of sandwich; from the smell of it, tuna, a bag of granola and a banana. Quick sustenance. He’s past taking the doctor’s advice; it doesn’t matter anymore. If Chris hadn’t brought this, he probably wouldn’t eat all day, and he wouldn’t care. He snatches the sandwich and chomps on it between blocks of code.
He has to get this done. Safe, safe code. It’s the only thing he has control of anymore.
The question is asked by a nurse dressed in sterile white, in the middle of a completely sterilized room, inside which Eduardo sits on a sterilized table on top of a sterilized sheet, wearing sterilized white garments. The checkups at the care center occur bi-monthly, and it’s not something they’ve ever questioned or complained about, no matter what a hassle or discomfort the full physicals always are. The nurse lifts Eduardo’s chin, tapping with her thumb a tender, purpled spot on the underside of his jaw.
“Doctor,” calls the nurse, tapping her pencil on her clipboard and pointing it at the darkened circle on Eduardo’s throat. The whitecoat tips Eduardo’s face, like she did but a bit rougher, like he can’t be bothered, and raises his eyebrows as he comes the correct conclusion, “just a bruise; a hickey, to be precise.” He peeks over at the clipboard, “Eduardo S… have you been engaging in any sort of sexual activity?”
“I-“ The question, though Eduardo knew it would come up sooner or later, takes him a bit by surprise, “N-no doctor - well. I kissed someone recently, but that’s all. It’s. It’s possible in the future.”
Which leads to a very long string of questions, about who Eduardo is engaging with in these activities, exactly what they’re doing or planning on doing. Eduardo doesn’t know how to answer all of them because he doesn’t really know himself where this is going, and they become embarrassing very fast. Especially once Eduardo admits he is with another man. That comes as no surprise, but when he also is forced to reveal that Mark is an original…
The doctor bristles, raising his eyebrows and pursing his lips. He’s never heard that one before. It’s not forbidden for donors to interact with originals, but it’s unheard of. And when he says that it’s Mark Zuckerberg, who the man seems to know very well of.
“It’s… I see. Well, that’s all for today, Eduardo S.”
Wardo can’t hop off the table fast enough, snatching his clothes back on with a shudder, always happy to be free of those awful paper garments. He’s petrified that the doctor is going to contact Mark somehow and question him, and it will be revealed that he’s a donor, if Mark didn’t figure that out already by the scar (it’s not hard to put two and two together) and everything will be all, all over. If it isn’t already.
Mark tries to forget. He tries to forget about Eduardo, and his stupid face and his stupid eyes, his stupid hair and his stupid voice. But it’s harder than he imagined it would be. The sound of his laugh haunts him. The image of his face resides in the corner of Mark’s brain, never quite going away.
Chris notices he’s a little bit off. He figures it’s just stress from work, since Mark’s been on a coding tear almost all day today, and offers to take him out for a drink. Mark figures it might be beneficial, something to get his mind off of Eduardowhateverhisnameis. They didn’t even know eachother that well, he really shouldn’t be acting like this, but the way he ran off was just bizarre.
“So what’s up with you, dude?” Chris asks as they sit down. “Things didn’t work out with Coffee Shop Boy?”
Mark sighs, “I don’t know, to be honest. We, well, he came to my apartment, and we were just sort of hanging out, and he… took off.”
“Oh, God, Mark, what did you do?”
“Nothing! I mean… nothing. I was drunk.”
“You were drunk-“
“Yes, I was drunk, that’s not the point-“
“You’re not supposed to be drinking, Mark.”
“Chris. I was drunk, okay, and, I don’t know. I think I might have made a move and that maybe… scared him? God, it was stupid.” Mark has blurry memories of that night, but not much. He remembers seeing a scar that made Eduardo freak out; maybe he has some viciously abusive past boyfriend or something, Mark doesn’t know what the fuck happened.
“You do have a tendency to be a bit… Mark-ish,” Chris says, “and I guess that has a tendency to freak people out.”
“And you have a tendency to point out the obvious.”
“Hey, okay.” Chris puts his hands up. “Let’s just help you forget about him, alright? Drinks?”
“I’ll get them,” Mark offers, getting up with a sigh. He’s anxious to have his own breathing space again, even if at the bar he really doesn’t. He’s trying to clear his thoughts while he orders the drinks, rubbing his forehead as they’re passed over the counter to him. He slaps the money down and picks up the two cups, but when he turns around, someone’s standing in front of him.
It’s Eduardo. Only it’s not Eduardo. But it is. But it’s not. Mark almost drops his drinks out of pure shock; the guy doesn’t seem to notice and pushes him aside to get to the front of the bar. He’s completely identical - definitely not Eduardo; he’s older, and drunk, which Eduardo would never be, but… but…
Suddenly it makes sense. The weird behavior, the secretiveness, the way he freaked out when Mark saw the scar. This guy being here. Everything clicks into place and Mark stumbles, almost spilling the drinks, the realization coming like a punch in the stomach. The room spins and e feels physically sick. He staggers back to the table and slams the drinks down, flopping down in the seat.
“Mark – Mark. What is wrong with you?”
“Nothing!” Mark gasps.
“Jesus, you look like you’ve just seen a ghost! Is he here or something?”
“No, no,” Mark shakes his head. Well, not him. Not Eduardo, but Jesus Christ… it really isn’t all that hard to put the pieces together, even if he might be jumping to conclusions. “No, just, I’m not feeling very well today, sorry.”
“Well, you’ve gotta get your mind off him.”
“Yeah, you’re…” Mark swallows before taking a long pull of the drink, “You’re right, I do.”
It’s another two days before Mark sees Eduardo again. Eduardo’s not planning to run into him, but he’s ambling along the sidewalk, is hands shoved into his pockets, staring at the ground beneath his feet. He doesn’t look where he’s going, and people push past him, muttering under their breaths. He’s trying to forget what happened – trying to forget the past month, Mark, completely.
Mark’s made his daily trip to the café just in hopes that Eduardo would be there, waiting for him, so they can talk all this out, but that’s probably too much to ask for. No, Eduardo’s not there, but when he’s walking out of the café, by some blessing from God, he does see him. His back is to Mark, and he’s about to turn the corner, but Mark would recognize that hair and those shoulders anywhere.
“Eduardo!” he calls, and tears off across the street without even looking. He hears Eduardo scream “Mark!” from the other side of the road – there’s tires screeching as an approaching driver slams on their breaks, narrowly missing a collision with him. But Mark isn’t fazed, and he quickly arrives on the other sidewalk. Those that witnessed the near-accident slowly begin to move on their way, and the traffic flows again. He doubles over, coughing and wheezing in a struggle to get a chestful of air.
“Mark-“ Eduardo frowns, “what are you doing?”
“Why did you run out, before?”
“Mark, do you— what is this?”
“This – what, you mean, us? We’re not… you’ve said we can’t be together. You’ve failed to explain why, but-“
“Do you want to be?”
Mark surprises even himself when he says “Yes.”
A beat passes between them, just staring at eachother, before Eduardo averts his eyes and murmurs “then we’ve got to talk.”
“I have to tell you something, too.”
Eduardo sits on Mark’s couch and stares at his feet, flexing his clothes in the plush carpet while Mark fetches drinks from the kitchen; lemonade, for once respecting Eduardo’s denial of alcohol and not asking him again. Eduardo can’t get enough air in (well, he never can, but now he feels as if he might pass out). He feels sick, he…
He can’t think about Tyler’s words. If he does, he’ll chicken out and leave right now. He can’t think about the possibility that Mark might really kick him out upon learning the truth. He can’t think about the possibility of him being a donor changing anything; if he does, he can’t even think. He just has to take it as it comes.
“Thank you,” Eduardo mumbles as he takes the glass from Mark and has a small sip.
“You look like you’re about to throw up,” Mark says, resting a hand lightly on his thigh, “are you about to tell me you’re a felon, or something?”
“No,” Eduardo laughs, shaking his head. “No, I – shit.” He swallows, his stomach jumping up and swimming inside him again. “This – Mark, no. This is serious, please don’t joke.”
“Alright, I’m not. Just – God, Eduardo, I’ve never met someone like you”.
That wasn’t something Eduardo was expecting to hear, from Mark. “What do you mean?”
“You’re just… you’re not like anyone else in this city. You’re real, and you’re honest, and you’re – motherfuck, I don’t even know your name. But you’re… I’m bad at this, but you’re not like anyone else in this city. Everyone here is so… so hung up on looks. On things. They’re so worried about trends and fashions and things and money that they’re not real people.”
“Interesting,” Eduardo murmurs, “coming from someone who apparently founded one of the most successful companies in the world.”
“Eduardo, that—“ Mark flounders for a moment. “that was never about the money. That was me in my dorm room looking for something to do on a Tuesday night after my girlfriend dumped me. People look at me and they see Mark Zuckerberg, they see the founder of, as you said, one of the biggest companies in the world. But that’s all they see; Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg. They never just see Mark. And they never will. I’ll never be just Mark to someone.”
“Mark, you…” Eduardo is confused. Why would he be talking this way? “You’re talking like you don’t have your whole ahead of you.”
“Yeah, well…” Mark looks away, grimacing.
“I’m sick,” Mark sighs, heavy. He places a hand over his chest, where his heart is, and closes his eyes. “Have been, for a while now.”
When you live around a lot of sick people, when you spend your days wondering if your friend will make it through his next donation, you’re able to tell right away when someone’s not well. Eduardo had seen the symptoms in Mark; the fatigue, the way he’d be winded just by walking up a flight of stairs. He’d tried to ignore them.
“What… what is it?”
“My heart.” Mark shrugs once, studying the shades and texture of the beige carpet under them. “They’re still trying to treat it. Trying different meds, therapies, treatments. Everything. But it’s on its last leg.”
“Oh.” That, come to think of it, explains some things; why Mark gets winded so easily, for one. “What do the doctors say…?”
“They don’t know. Nothing they’ve tried has made me any better, or it’ll work for a while and then it’ll just be worse than it was before. They have a few more tricks up their sleeves, but… I I’m on the list for a transplant. Right now, all they can do is give me things to make me feel better. But I’m getting worse.”
Eduardo doesn’t have anything to say to that. He wonders if any of his friends, anyone he knew at Hailsham or the Cottages, will be the one to supply Mark’s heart if it comes to that. But that’s not really something he can stomach thinking about, and suddenly, Mark laughs. “I’m sorry for dropping such a bombshell on you. I just figured I should let you know. You know, if I die suddenly.”
Eduardo chuckles, too, but there’s a weight in the room now. “Yeah, well… there’s something I need to tell you, too. About… why I ran out the other day.” So, he guesses the doctor didn’t call Mark, or anything, though he certainly could have, and it would have been justified. Mark looks at him expectantly, and Eduardo’s forgotten all the words he’s planned to use. Fuck it. He pulls his arms through the sleeves of his shirt before tugging it over his head. The scar is impossible to miss, dark and jagged and ugly. Mark’s breath catches in his throat as Eduardo lifts an arm for a better view. He knows immediately the explanation for it, but… it can’t be…
“From an operation.”
“What kind of operation-“
“Organ donation.” Eduardo shrugs, and sighs, looking down at the mark on his skin so he doesn’t have to meet Mark’s horrified gaze.
“Someone else has it now, someone who needed it.” Eduardo shrugs, and he looks away, preparing himself to be kicked out, to be yelled at, to be… he doesn’t know. But as he feels himself trembling, he doesn’t expect to feel Mark’s hand on his shoulder, and then around his neck, as Mark slides over to sit right next to him on the couch.
“You’re… a donor,” he whispers. His conclusion was, for once, correct. He doesn’t need the explanation In his condition, especially, he knows what the donors are. Everybody does, especially these days, but it’s something you don’t talk about. Just one of those things you subconsciously wonder; if that person you passed on the street corner is an original human being, or a copy of one. This also might explain why Eduardo always looked a little familiar…
“Not what you were expecting?”
“I’ve… I’ve never met a donor before.”
“You probably have,” Eduardo shrugs, sighing. “In passing, maybe, but I bet you have.”
Mark shakes his head, pushing himself off the couch. This, he can’t believe this. The puzzle he’d pieced together was correct, so he’s not as shocked as he might be otherwise, but he was just making things up, he liked making things up, he didn’t want it to be true, he hadn’t thought it possibly could be. He thought he was going crazy. He. Eduardo. No.
“This is too much,” he says, shaking his head with his forehead in his palm. “God, no, no, you’re…” How is this possible? How is it possible that the guy he practically falls on his face for is a donor? Call it Mark’s own ignorance, but he’d always thought donors weren’t supposed to mingle with the public. There was no chance of him ever meeting one, and that way he was able to remain impartial, not feel guilty for the organ he would eventually have to steam from someone. How can this… How?!
Tyler was right. Mark’s never going to love him now. Mark’s never going to want to see him again. It’s all over, but the truth had to come out sometime. “If… if you want me to leave-“
“No.” Mark puts his hand up to stop Eduardo from talking, clutching his chest and coughing, “no, I… I just… I think I’m going to throw up.”
“Mark, please!” Eduardo stands up, reaching out to touch Mark’s shoulders, halfway, holding back, not sure if Mark even wants him to touch him. He trembles, pleading, “I’m still the same Eduardo!”
“I know, and that’s – you’re –“ Mark is horror-stricken, rendered speechless. “How is it… possible…”
“Just… sit down. Please, Mark.”
Eduardo tugs Mark back down onto the couch and Mark’s looking everywhere but Eduardo, until Eduardo takes his chin and forces eye contact. Mark winces away, scrunching up his face. “How?”
“It’s a remarkable scientific breakthrough, isn’t it?”
“That’s not what I mean, you—“ Mark swallows, closing his eyes and dipping his head away. He can’t insult Eduardo, as much as he wants to, as much as he easily can anyone else; Chris, for example, on a daily basis. He feels a dull pain starting under his eyes that he knows is sure to escalate into a migraine. “Please tell me you’re fucking with me.”
“Why would I joke about it?”
Mark opens one eye, slowly, peeking up at Eduardo with a shaking jaw “You’re… you’re a donor,” he repeats
Eduardo looks down at his chest, the scar curving around it where his left lung used to be, and shrugs. “We’ve covered that, yes.”
“But… how? I mean, how are you…?”
“We are real people, Mark. They don’t want you to think that, but we are.”
“But you’re not supposed to…”
“Well… I am. And I have been. And I’m not just going away. Mark, please, I… it’s still me. It’s still me. Your Eduardo. Please.”
Mark looks at Eduardo again, slowly, with a shaking jaw, “I’m sorry, I… just… you’re… I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it.”
Eduardo stands up, “I guess I should just go—“
“No.” Mark pulls him back down, Eduardo practically falls into his lap. He blinks at Mark, swallowing, until he’s pulled in for a kiss.
“I’m sorry,” Mark whispers, rubbing the nape of Eduardo’s neck. “I’m sorry, I just… this is a lot right now.”
“I’m still the same person, Mark.” Eduardo is pleading, begging him to understand, to see him the same way.
“Yeah…” Mark whispers, wrapping his arms around Eduardo’s waist, tighter than ever and crumpling down into his body. He can't lose Eduardo, no matter what he is. They can do this. “Yeah, you’re still my Wardo.”
Chapter by maybecatie
1.into or in one gathering, company, mass , place, or body: tocall the people together.2.into or in union, proximity, contact, or collision, as two ormore things: to sew things together.3.into or in relationship, association, business , or agreement,etc., as two or more persons: to bring strangers together
Eduardo becomes Mark’s Wardo. Two syllables, one simple word that makes Eduard’s stomach turn inside out. At the care center, he’s sometimes called Ed, or Eddy, usually in a mocking way by Cameron or Tyler. But Wardo is different. Wardo is something he wants to be.
Dustin as usual can tell something is up right away, and Eduardo can’t hide anything from him. So he tells him. He tells him everything. He even gushes, like he’s thirteen years old, and a girl and has forgotten how to form proper sentences. For once, Dustin listens, lets Eduardo gush and squeal and finally talk all about Mark, and it’s not until now that Eduardo really realizes how much he likes him. How much there is to say about him, because Mark is more or less perfect.
Dustin lets him because he remembers how it was with Stephanie. He remembers that feeling, and if Eduardo’s lover is an original… well, maybe it’s not that bad.
But it’s spread around the care center pretty quick that Eduardo has been consorting with an original. Tyler and Cameron look at him like he’s vermin; others look at him suspiciously, like he could be damning all of them. Whatever their feelings towards him, he’s pretty quickly known as the one with the original. It’s just another reason to get away from the care center and into the safe company of Mark’s arms.
Mark traces the scar with his finger. Eduardo can’t feel it, nerve damage, but he watches the path Mark’s hand follows, over his side, around his ribcage. Mark’s repeats the motion again and again, as if he could heal Eduardo with just the touch of a finger.
“We’re… were taught about it, you know,” Mark murmurs, “It’s just one of those things you know is there, as you get older. But you’re not supposed to talk about it, you’re not supposed to think about it. If you bring it up, people glare at you. You’re just expected to accept it without any questions, even though you know it’s… disgusting.”
“Funny, that’s a bit what it was like at Hailsham,” Eduardo laughs ironically. “When we first were told when we were twelve or so. We’d sort of always known it before then, or at least the things the Guardians had told us about needing to keep the inside of our bodies healthy. How we were special. It wasn’t a big shock when we found out, but you were expected not to speak of it. Even now, we don’t really talk about the donations. It’s just. Something that happens.”
“But-“ Mark frowns, propping himself up on his elbow. “Why don’t you talk about it? You don’t… see anything wrong with it?”
Eduardo shrugs, looking at the ceiling. “It’s not so bad. We live to save people. We save four people, each of us.”
“But… you don’t get to have a life.”
“Sure we do. We live for a couple decades. We’re educated, and cultured, Hailsham makes sure of that. We’re able to do just about anything we like, and we’re able to save people that might do great things for the world. Each of us can give life to four people, and that’s better than just one. It’s the best way to go, knowing you’re saving someone. I’ve done most of what I want to, anyway… at least now, I have.”
So, sure. The whole clone thing is weird. And the whole… having organs forcibly removed thing. But that’s so easy to forget because Eduardo’s everything Mark’s ever wanted. He just doesn’t think about the fact that he’s going to lose Eduardo, inevitably, just like everything else.
He doesn’t understand how Eduardo can be perfectly happy with having two thirds of his life shaved off, just to give someone else his vital organs. Mark, if the need arose, wouldn’t even want to take a heart from a donor. He couldn’t live with himself knowing that he’d taken someone else’s life. Mark knows he’s going to need a transplant. He knows the medicines and treatments are failing. He knows he doesn’t have a lot of time left. Even with the donor system in place, it could take him years to get a transplant, and he doesn’t have years.
They’re similar in that sense.
Maybe they’re the perfect match, then. Because when Mark’s with Eduardo, he can forget about that. He can even forget about coding, because Eduardo makes him feel alive, for the first time.
“Are you feeling alright, Mark?”
“Chris – I thought we weren’t going to go through this.”
Chris is leaning against Mark’s desk, here for his daily check-in. The truth is, Mark doesn’t feel alright. In fact, he feels particularly shitty today; he knows the doctor’s latest combination of medications is failing yet again. His ribs ache; he keeps thinking if he could just get a little more air, but no matter how much he inhales, he still feels out of breath. It’s torture and he’s sore from breathing so deeply. He wonders if this is what Eduardo goes through, with his single lung. He should probably call the doctor. But.
But he never talks about that. He doesn’t even show it, really. Mark Zuckerberg will never reveal his weaknesses, and, never, ever, will he ask for help. He manages his medication, he eats the lunches Chris lovingly packs for him, he manages to pull himself away from the office long enough to do a lap around the block for exercise, what more can you expect from him?
Chris knows he’s fibbing, but he kindly lets the subject drop. “So,” he says, grinning as Mark gives him an annoyed glance, “when do we get to meet your boyfriend?”
Mark hasn’t even told him that he and Eduardo have officially begun dating, but, well, he doesn’t hide it very well. Eduardo doesn’t have a phone, so they can’t keep in touch much during the day while Mark’s at work, but even sometimes when he’s coding, Eduardo is a lingering thought passing through the back of his mind every so often. And Chris figures there’s no explanation for Mark actually leaving the almost office every day other than having a boyfriend. Mark doesn’t want to explain anything, mostly because he doesn’t understand any of this, and that in itself is terrifying. He doesn’t want to explain how Eduardo’s a donor, for fuck’s sake, just his luck. He doesn’t want to explain how Eduardo makes him feel… fluttery and weird and like there actually might be some hope left in the world.
“For God’s sake, Chris.”
“Is it Coffee Shop Boy? Did you win him over with your charm and wit?”
Not exactly, Mark remembers. “Alright, Chris, let’s make a deal,” he sighs, knowing there’s only one way to satisfy him, “yes, I have a boyfriend, okay? If you’re so curious, you can ask me one question a day, and I’ll answer it, but just one.”
Chris is a smart man, and the look on his face immediately tells Mark he’s made a mistake; that Chris is, being Chris, going to only ask the awkward, most embarrassing questions, which Mark will have to answer. One a day will be enough for him. But he has mercy on him for today. “What’s his name?”
Mark gives a deep, heavy sigh of already accepted defeat; “Eduardo.”
Eduardo doesn’t know what he was expecting with the sex, but it turns out even better than he imagined. The most sexual experience he’s ever had before is a clumsy blowjob when he was thirteen and some painfully awkward kisses, but that was when he’d already realized he was ‘umbrella’, plus, Christy wasn’t very experienced.
Mark’s gentle with him, letting Eduardo see a softer, affectionate side to him. Affectionate Mark is, like, an endangered species.
They take their time, and it hurts some but it’s the best thing Eduardo’s ever felt. Not just the sex, but Mark, Mark, Mark over him, Mark holding him, Mark whispering in his ear, and biting him and kissing him and everything he never thought he’d have.
When they’re done, groaning and limp with Mark slumped on top of him, Mark falls asleep almost right away. Eduardo nudges him onto the bed beside him and Mark grumbles, moving closer to him again, clutching Eduardo’s arm like some kind of lifeline.
“Goodnight, Mark,” Eduardo whispers, and they sleep.
“What does he look like? And I want details.”
Mark huffs, but this question seems pretty safe, and, he agreed. “He’s… he’s tall. Well, taller than me, at least. He has this crazy hair, dark brown, big eyebrows and … these brown woodland-creature eyes…”
“Tell me about Mark,” Dustin whispers. It’s past the time they should be asleep, but it’s not like they’ve got much to do the next day. They’re in bed, back at the care center, and Eduardo feels naked without Mark’s arms around him. Mark’s bed isn’t as comfortable as the beds here, but Mark’s bed feels like home, it feels like it’s there for a purpose and it’s theirs. But he and Dustin are lying here in the dark. They haven’t been speaking for a while, but Eduardo’s known Dustin hasn’t been asleep because Dustin snores (it’s a quiet snore, nothing unpleasant, and even helps Eduardo sleep), and he’s just been watching the streaking lights of the cars outside, on that distant road.
So Eduardo closes his eyes and tells him, tells him everything. He tells Dustin about Mark’s beauty and intelligence, his feather-soft touches. About his smile, his long lashes and his cheekbones. He tells Dustin about Mark’s jokes, his website (as best he can), how whenever Mark is next to him he feels like he could sing and dance and hold up the whole world (he doesn’t mention the disease that is slowly working its toll on Mark’s heart, and his life).
“Originals aren’t anything like we think,” Eduardo whispers, lifting himself up on his elbow. He can talk about things with Dustin, things he can’t discuss with anyone else, ever. Secrets that if he doesn’t share will, after Dustin’s completed, forever remains secrets. “We’re not that different. Mark is… Mark is the best, Dustin. But I almost feel bad.”
“Because,” Eduardo sighs. “I don’t know, maybe it’s just some part of me that feels like I don’t deserve this, that thought I would never get this. Or that feels like Mark shouldn’t be with… a donor. He should have someone he can…” Eduardo trails off, but what he was going to say is clear; someone he can spend the rest of his life with.
“Eduardo,” Dustin says, so quietly that Eduardo listens. His voice sounds so close, and yet so far away in the darkness of the room. Every night, he fades away a little more, and even though Dustin’s always smiling, they all know he’s just waiting until his next donation, waiting for it to be his last, even though it’s only his second. “If Mark hadn’t considered that, do you think he would still be with you? If he’s as wonderful as you say, he wouldn’t settle for something he doesn’t want.”
Eduardo closes his eyes, sighs, and wonders if Dustin’s words are true. “He’s sick,” he whispers.
“Yeah… heart disease,” Eduardo sighs. “He said he’s most probably going to need a transplant.”
“Wonder if it’ll be anyone we know, hm?” Dustin murmurs, echoing some of Eduardo’s own thoughts. He’s glad Dustin doesn’t try to comfort him, because the words would be lost.
“Yeah,” he says, chuckling a little morbidly, but at this point it’s not unusual to talk about the donations in such away. Not thinking of them as what they really are, just a thing in the future, makes it easier to cope. He closes his eyes and hugs the pillow, snuggling into it. “He’s beautiful, Dustin. He’s beautiful in every way a person can be beautiful and he’s saved me in every way a person can be saved.”
Dustin smiles, closing his eyes, sighing. “Yeah,” he whispers, “I know he is. Take care of him, Eduardo. You take care of him. Don’t let anything happen to him.”
Mark figures that the most important things to know about Eduardo are the first things he learns about him (aside from the whole donor thing, but Mark, to be honest, sees that as rather irrelevant).
One; Eduardo likes to dance! Mark learns this when he finds him in the kitchen, swishing his hips to a song on the radio; something with fast, plucky guitars. He doesn’t see Mark until a few verses into the song, but when he does, he flounces over and takes Mark’s hands, pulling him into the center of the kitchen.
“Eduardo, what—“ Mark doesn’t know what’s happening. “What, why are you—“
“I’m dancing, Mark!” he laughs, letting go of one of
Mark’s hands and lifting the other to twirl underneath it. “Join me, come on, it’s fun!”
“I don’t know how to dance.”
“Sure you do – there’s no how to dance. It’s how you dance. Just move,” he laughs, doing a spin across the floor of the kitchen with his arms over his head, a sliver of skin showing beneath the short shirt. Then he’s back in front of Mark, taking his hands and pulling them back and forth and shaking his hips. Mark gives his hips a tentative little jiggle and Eduardo grins like he’s just won the lottery.
He pulls Mark through the kitchen, hopping and twirling as the songs change on the radio in the background and Mark finds himself laughing, until, holy shit, he’s dancing, this is some kind of historic moment for real, and Eduardo pulls him into his chest to kiss him and it feels like it’s going to be this way forever.
“Have you fucked him yet?”
“How big is his dick?”
Mark coughs, spits out the drink in his mouth and sputters “Chris, I am not answering that.”
“You promised!” Chris accuses and Mark presses his face into his hand, mumbling a number and Chris goes ”oooooh” and then “damn, Mark can get some!” and he races off and Mark honestly wants to die.
The second is that Eduardo can be even more stubborn than Mark. When Eduardo wants to be left alone, to be quiet, Mark can’t pull words out of him. But Eduardo can get anything out of Mark and he doesn’t even have to try. There’s still so much about Eduardo that Mark doesn’t know, that he has to know, but there’s no way to find it unless Eduardo says it. Things have always come easy to him in the past; he’s never had to work too hard for something. Always gotten what he wanted, until now. He doesn’t know how he feels about it.
“Why do you like him?”
“He’s-“ Oh, fuck. “He’s brilliant. He’s not like… other people.” Well, that’s an understatement. “He’s intelligent, he knows about the world. He’s funny, he’s charming, he…”
“Does he fuck you senseless?”
Mark groans and presses his forehead into his hand, because he is not going to admit that, ever, he’ll always deny the sounds and words that Eduardo brings from his mouth.
“Do I ever get to meet him?”
“Fine. I’ll talk to him.”
Third, Eduardo loves to draw. Anything, even without pens. He runs his fingers over Mark’s body, under his shirt, over his hands. Tracing exquisite patterns and shapes on Mark’s pale canvas of skin.
He tells Mark stories about Hailsham. About the Exchanges, all the art that they used to make for one another. Jackie’s beautiful giraffes and Ronald’s sculptures of bottlecaps and wire. So many little things he finds he remembers from Hailsham; the smallest things that are his most cherished memories.
Wardo says, drawing a line straight up Mark’s leg, “It was weird, looking back, that we depended on eachother to provide our most prized possessions. But we learned to take care of things, we learned to put hard work and quality in, and we learned to trust eachother. We had so much fun making things for those Exchanges, collecting things. The Exchanges were like a party, like the best Christmas we ever had.”
Mark can’t help but think, in a morbid way, that the way they made their art for other people to cherish is almost like how they supply their organs for other people to live off of. But he destroys that thought as soon as it becomes a thought.
Wardo runs a black stub of charcoal over Mark’s thigh. Drawing in shapes, swirls and patterns going around and down his leg. Even his hands move gracefully with quick, gentle strokes. The crayon is cold, but becomes warm between Eduardo’s hand and Mark’s skin. Eduardo looks at everything as a piece of art, everything from the colors of the sunset to the labyrinth of veins in a leaf from a tree. He draws things that look like leaves on Mark’s leg; he’s squinting in concentration but making it look so easy. Mark’s not artistic, unless you consider coding art (Mark does), but Eduardo nudges the box over to him and Mark picks up one of the crayons.
Eventually, he can’t think of anything to do but writing his name on Eduardo’s body over and over, like a possession, and then fucking him into the couch with MARK’S scrawled across his chest, charcoal smearing between their wet skin.
When Mark comes to, Eduardo’s drawing pictures across his chest again, this time invisible ones with his finger. They look like random movements, but Mark knows they’re not, nothing Eduardo does is random; he’s calculating, spreading patterns over Mark’s chest that only he can see.
“So, I, um,” Mark mumbles, “I was at a bar with Chris a few weeks ago, and I saw this man. And he, uh. He looked just like you. Older, obviously, twice your age maybe but… he looked… just like you. I thought he might be, uh, your uh…” Mark doesn’t know the proper terminology. He’s not sure why he’s thinking about it now either.
“My original?” Eduardo perks up.
“Um, it’s possible. I only saw him for a second, but it was. Kind of scary.”
“Hm,” Eduardo sighs. He knows his friends at the Cottages always got excited at the prospects of finding their originals, but he never understood it. Why would you want to meet the person your DNA is taken from, and what would you say, anyway? Eduardo likes himself, he doesn’t need to meet who he was copied from.
“Yeah,” Mark says. “I don’t know.”
“It’s possible,” Eduardo agrees, resting his head on Mark’s chest, his hand travelling down to Mark’s stomach, rubbing the skin in circles and patterns. He’s still got the writing all over him, smeared but still in some parts legible. Mark traces an M going down his arm. He likes Eduardo like this; marked, claimed, well fucked. They’re quiet gain after that, until Mark speaks again, catching Eduardo’s wrist in his hand. “Um, I was thinking, you. Well, my friend, Chris, is kind of insisting on meeting you. So I thought, maybe, you could come to work with me tomorrow? If you’re not-”
Eduardo cuts him off with a light kiss, smiling, “I’m not busy. I’d love to do that, Mark.”
Fourth, maybe significant but less important, Eduardo’s very favorite snack foods are dark chocolate mint cookies. Mark’s favorite kisses are always the ones that taste of these cookies.
Mark doesn’t know how he’s going to explain it to Chris, the donor thing. He’s managed to pretty much forget about himself, even.
“So, this is where the magic happens,” says Mark as they step off the elevator, and he can’t help but smile, with that familiar rush of pride. These offices are his; he made this. Eduardo’s practically skipping beside him, eyes drinking in every detail, snapping back and forth.
“This is… incredible,” Eduardo says, and Mark chuckles because yeah, it really is, even if Eduardo has an endearingly exaggerated vocabulary. Mark worked his damn ass off for this, though, so it’s not some supernatural feat.
“I guess. You hungry, thirsty – we’ve got a cafeteria, with just about everything down there. And I’m going to have to be very busy with some work for a while; I’ll be wired in – which, uh, means basically I won’t be available, I won’t be able to hear you, I’ll be coding. But you’re welcome to go to the cafeteria, or to explore or pretty much just occupy yourself for a while. My assistant might need help with a few things—“
“Let you work, stay out of trouble. Got it,” Eduardo says, kissing Mark on the cheek and Mark blushes, but ducks away and prays no one sees, because Mark Zuckerberg does not blush at work.
Chris is at his desk, sifting through some papers and tapping at a couple of keys on the computer. He turns when he hears them approaching, recognizes Wardo as The Boyfriend and stands.
“What was that?”
“You’re-“ Chris stops, laughing in disbelief, “you’re blushing, Mark.”
“Fuck off, Christopher,” Mark snaps, looking away, but the damage has already been done and his face flushes even darker.
Chris shakes his head, chuckling but wisely letting it drop. “I’m actually here before you,” Chris says, “I was getting worried there for a bit, Mark.”
If he’s joking or not it’s hard to tell. Maybe a mixture of both; Mark not coming in, especially in his condition, probably would be a reason for worry. But Mark brushes it off, placing a hand on Wardo’s shoulder. He’s ready to introduce them, but Wardo, without prompting, reaches his hand out, grinning at Chris in his usual overly-friendly way. “I’m Eduardo.” The way he says it almost sounds like there should be a “Do you want to be best friends?” attached to it.
“Chris, Chris Hughes,” Chris introduces himself, discreetly looking Eduardo over. Mark hooks his arm around Eduardo’s shoulders with a sudden possessive urge as Eduardo reaches out to shake his hand.
“Well,” Mark says, squeezing Eduardo’s shoulders and kissing his cheek, “I’ve got to go get to work Wardo, but I will see you at lunchtime.” Mark usually doesn’t eat; even though he’s supposed to maintain a healthy diet to help his condition, he doesn’t see that, at this level of decay, it matters what he does. But he’ll gladly take a snack break if he can eat with Wardo.
Mark doesn’t know how Chris figures it out, though he’s always been observant. Maybe it was the way Eduardo leaned more to the right side and breathed a little deeper than maybe a normal person would. Maybe it was that it just seemed he was too cheerful or naive, maybe he and Chris had a conversation after Mark left to get to work that he doesn’t know about, but Chris’ confrontation is still a little unexpected.
“Don’t take this the wrong way, Mark, he’s wonderful, but it feels like there’s something a little… off about him.” It’s lunch; Mark and the team have made significant progress with the new update, scheduled for a week from today, Tuesday, and have the very beginnings of a new game in development. Mark’s just pulled off the headphones, Eduardo is nowhere to be seen. Probably still down at the cafeteria, or wherever he wandered off to.
Mark decides to, for now, play dumb: “What do you mean?”
“Just… something that doesn’t fit, you know? Something that feels wrong, and I know you like him, Mark, but-“
Mark leans back in his desk chair, sighing, “I know, Chris. He is different.”
“What… do you mean? Is he a felon or something?”
“Chris, this is serious. I don’t want you to freak out.”
Chris’ brow creases and he walks over to Mark’s desk, standing beside him and peering down at him. Mark sighs, he’s always been the king of awkward conversations and this isn’t the kind of thing for someone as socially retarded as him to have much luck attempting. So he just decides to say it, right out, no sugar coating; “Eduardo is a donor.”
“A wh- A… a donor?”
You hear about donors often enough. Campaigns to Make Our Donor’s Lives Better that Mark, admittedly, never paid much attention to. You know they’re there but it’s like the starving kids in Africa; despite all the work that goes into getting them recognized, even with some of them assimilating into society with real jobs, you don’t really notice them, or think about them. You’re not supposed to think about them.
Chris doesn’t look horrified, but… Mark can’t really pinpoint his expression. This is weird for Mark, because Mark, even if he doesn’t know how to talk to people, can always tell what people are at least feeling, even if he doesn’t know what to do with it. Chris creases his brow, studies Mark like he’s just said something in Bulgarian or some language he never studied. “A donor… Mark… you know what that means, don’t you?”
“Please don’t remind me.” Mark doesn’t even want to think about what’s going to happen to Eduardo over the course of his life. It sickens him – not Eduardo, but the doctors, the doctors that do this to him. “Chris, I don’t expect you to understand. But—“
“There’s nothing to understand,” Chris holds his hands up. “If you’re happy… okay. As long as you know… you, well. I don’t know how long—“
“How did you even meet him? I thought they… well, you know what I mean, I thought…”
“I told you before, at the coffee house. He was there, I was there, and it… wasn’t hard.” He sighs. “I too thought that they were locked away somewhere, or at least not so… reachable. But,” he shrugs helplessly; what can he do now?
“Why… him?” Chris looks at him deliberately.
“What do you mean?”
“You know what I mean, Mark, he’s…”
“Don’t say it.” Mark does not want to hear the C word. It doesn’t fucking matter to him; he got over it, why should anyone else care? “That’s not what he is to me, Chris. He’s … he’s b-beautiful—“
“He’s a clone, Mar-“
“Chris.” Mark white-knuckles the speaker around his neck, legitimately ready to throw it at him, “Christ, I thought you were educated on this shit. He’s not – he’s… he’s better than any people I know.”
“Mark, that’s not exactly what I meant. You just know that he’s…
“He’s going to… I know.”
Mark is desperate to end the conversation, and Wardo shows up right on cue with a paper bag, plopping it on Mark’s desk, “I grabbed you some lunch, you ought to eat.”
Mark smiles gratefully, sighing and taking the bag, “thank you, Wardo. What about you?”
“I ate downstairs; decided to let you finish your work. But I was ready to come and forcibly… wire you out. You’ve got your medications to take, too.”
Mark bristles some; he doesn’t like to be reminded of things, especially not medications, but it’s so much less condescending and annoying from Wardo than it is from Chris. “Thank you, Eduardo. I was just about to.”
Mark catches Chris looking Eduardo over with suspicion; if Eduardo notices, he doesn’t let on. All things considered though, it went much better than expected.
So the days pass easily. At the Facebook offices with Mark, Eduardo entertains himself by wandering around the offices while Mark codes. There’s always something to do, maybe someone that needs a favor, something to read, something to poke his nose into. He meets almost everyone, even people Mark hasn’t met, and he feels more accepted here than he ever has at Hailsham, the Cottages or Kingsfield. Oftentimes, when Mark steps back from his laptop, Eduardo’s chatting everyone up at the water cooler, and they’re all laughing. Mark will feel a twinge of jealousy, but all he has to do is wave, or call and Eduardo will come running back, even mid-sentence. It doesn’t make much sense to him, why Eduardo actually, well, likes him, and he’s still trying to figure out this love thing if that’s what it is, but it’s okay.
Eduardo spends the evenings and sometimes the nights in Mark’s apartment, in his room, in his bed. It’s a small bed, barely big enough for one but they squeeze, Eduardo against the wall, Mark in his arms.
“Mark, have some more water before you go to bed,” he’ll say. Or “Mark, you really ought to eat just a little bit more”. Or “Mark, close the laptop and come to bed” or “Mark, it’s time to take your medications.” Mark hates that kind of thing coming from anyone else, but when Eduardo says it he’ll sigh and comply, even though he wants to say that it really doesn’t matter anymore since the medications aren’t working anyway and. Well. He doesn’t think about that.
“Mark, it’s lunchtime,” Eduardo says, standing beside Mark’s chair and pressing the button on Mark’s computer that will flick the monitor off. No work will be lost, just the picture, but even so, Mark would have… murdered Chris or anyone if they ever tried that. Chris is expecting the worst, but Mark’s hand just tightens around the mouse and he smacks two more keys anyway before he gets up, just like that.
“You actually listen to him,” Chris notes to Mark later, and Mark scoffs, like he has no idea what he’s talking about. “How do you do it?” Chris asks Eduardo, when he catches him at the cafeteria, but Eduardo just grins and shrugs.
Eduardo tags along to some of Mark’s doctor’s appointments. He’s really only at Kingsfield when he has to be, when he needs an exam or they’re just not up for sleeping together but he doesn’t miss it, because he has a home now, and it’s not the care center.
Eduardo draws on anything he can get his hands on. Sticky notes, old sheets of paper he finds in the trash, newspapers, printer paper. Mark finds his little sketches everywhere of fantastic animals. Thick and thin lines, laid on with an almost hurried looking precision. Birds, elephants, dragons and ones that must come from Eduardo’s own imagination.
He keeps all of them. His first gift to Eduardo is a sketchbook, leather-bound with thick, clean white pages. Eduardo looks overjoyed ad nearly hugs the life out of him and he says it’s the first gift he’s ever gotten.
Mark begins to teach Eduardo the basics of using a computer, because after all, he can’t have a boyfriend that’s completely technologically inept. Eduardo noses around the Facebook offices, resting his head in his arms on Mark’s desk as he watches him code, chatting up Mark’s colleagues and sneaking snacks from the break room. He’s become a popular around the office, a fixture, a face that just sparks good feelings in everyone.
No one knows the truth except for Chris, who continues to study Eduardo like he’s some sort of specimen, when he doesn’t think he’s looking. But Eduardo notices, and so does Mark.
“I don’t think Chris likes me,” he says, leaning against Mark’s desk as Mark chows down on a tuna sandwich. “He’s always… staring at me like I don’t belong.”
“Chris is a bitch,” Mark says behind a mouthful of sandwich.
“I don’t like it. Maybe I should…” Eduardo hops off the desk, but Mark catches his hand.
“Eduardo, no. What I meant by that was… was I don’t care what Chris thinks of you.”
Eduardo looks down at their hands and his eyes twinkle. He hops up onto the desk, sitting down and watching Mark as he tosses the tin foil wrapper into the trash can.
It’s true, though, the next time Eduardo’s talking to some interns at the water cooler and Chris is staring at him. Not even trying to be discreet about it.
“What is your problem with Eduardo?”
“I think you know my problem with him.”
“Oh my God, Chris. Is it really that big of a deal? I thought we were past this.”
“It’s creepy, Mark.”
“How is it creepy? He has feelings, Chris, he has feelings and emotions and he’s the sweetest person I have ever met. He feels enough to know that you dislike him and it hurts him – you don’t have to like him, but can you at least not make your discomfort so obvious?”
Chris stares at him. “You really like this guy - this…?”
“Yes, Chris. Yes, I do, and you’ve got to accept that. You don’t need to understand, but you need to at least make him feel welcome.”
“I just don’t… I don’t know why him, Mark. Why a donor?”
“Because he’s the most human person I know,” Mark growls. “Again, Chris, don’t try to understand because you can’t and you won’t and you don’t have to, but Eduardo is special to me and I want you to make him feel like he’s welcome here.”
Chris puts his hands up, shaking his head and sighing. His ignorance infuriates Mark, even though it’s normal. But damn it, Eduardo is beautiful, Eduardo is spectacular in every way and just because he’s a… a donor (Mark can’t bring himself to use the C word) doesn’t mean he’s not worth loving.
Chris doesn’t make it obvious anymore, but Mark knows he still doesn’t like Eduardo. That’s fine, though – Mark loves him and his love, and Eduardo’s love is all that matters.
Eduardo makes sure Mark actually eats the lunches that Chris makes for him, he organizes Mark’s papers, stands behind his chair to rub his shoulders as he works, and even gets him to get up out of his chair. But the effects of Mark’s sickness are beginning to show even more vividly. Even just taking a lap or two around the offices leaves him winded, and he always takes the elevator rather than the stairs. Eduardo doesn’t complain at this, he has trouble with stairs, too, but it’s awful to see Mark like this.
Wardo accompanies Mark to his next doctor’s appointment; just a routine checkup, one of way too many that Mark’s gotten use to going to.
“What’s the care center like?” Mark asks offhandedly. “You… live there, don’t you?”
Eduardo shrugs, leaning back and pushing his hands in his coat pockets. “Yeah, unless they transfer me for my next donation (Mark’s still surprised that Eduardo can speak of this so casually, considering what it really is). But, it’s very nice, you know, they do a good job of trying taking care of us. It’s… I guess it could be compared to a senior center, for you. Kingsfield is one of the nicest ones, so I’ve been lucky. The food is excellent, and of course all free for the taking, we have game fields for those that are up for it, movies, all kinds of things to do.” He leans back, resting a foot on the table in front of them, strewn with health magazines. “I share a room, with Dustin. The privacy at the Cottages was nice, that’s where we used to live, but the rest of it isn’t so bad. It’s funny, you know, one of the things I remember the most about the Cottages was the smell. It smelled like dust, like old things. Everything was old, handed down, used, made the most of. Loved. And there was always something cooking. It was the first place that felt like home.”
“You didn’t… have parents?”
Eduardo shakes his head. “Just the Guardians at Hailsham. But they… I don’t know. Some of them were scared of us, and steered as clear of us as they could. Some of us just seemed to be too pained about our futures to bear interacting with us much. But some of them cared a great deal – some made sure to take good care of us. Especially Miss Emily and Madame.” He looks away, out the window on the other side of the room and is suddenly very quiet when he says “Hailsham’s gone now, though.”
Mark can’t even imagine it, living like that, but he doesn’t say so. He knows of the Hailsham campaign to improve the donors’ lives, everybody does, and how it went under. He can’t imagine how the poor children are being treated now.
“You said… unless they transfer you?”
“Well…” Eduardo sighs. “Sometimes they do that. It’s done by demand, you know. It’s unexpected.” Mark looks worried, and Eduardo rests a hand gently on his thigh, “it won’t be for a while. And it’s never far away. I’ve only done one donation. I shouldn’t have mentioned that, Mark, just don’t worry.”
Mark sighs, slumping back in the chair, half wondering what Wardo’s next donation will be, but he can’t possibly bring himself to ask that question. One donation is one too much. He feels like he might be sick, just, picturing…
Eduardo leans over, kisses Mark’s cheek, tucking his nose behind his ear. Mark shivers. “I said don’t worry. It’ll be okay, okay?”
“Zuckerberg, Mark,” calls the doctor. Wardo stands up first, holding his hand out like a gentlemen and Mark blushes as he takes his hand and they walk back.
“Fucking hell,” Mark hisses under his breath, staring dumbfounded at the length of code on the screen in front of him. The next update is scheduled for a week from today, and this stuff is usually extremely easy, but today… Mark’s not sure what it is, he’s just so totally off his game.
“What is it?” Eduardo’s been sitting behind him, just watching him. He hasn’t been himself at all today, that’s true, but there is any number of reasons that could be why. He leans up, rolling in the chair closer to Mark’s desk and Mark shakes his head.
“I don’t know, it’s--it’s-- it’s on the tip of my… fingers. It’s there, I know, it’s in there, I just can’t call it up and this isn’t working and it’s—“
“Mark. You just need to relax.”
“I can’t relax. This has to get done, this has to be perfect, and I know it, God damn it, I just—“
Eduardo leans over Mark’s shoulder, nipping at his neck and dragging his tongue across his throat with a smirk. Mark jerks in his chair, shuddering and slumping forward as he lolls his head to the side, “Wardo, not… not here,” his voice is stressed, body battling the desire for more and the instinct to move away. He still isn’t used to being close to anyone in this way, and his fingertips inch. They feel too naked, too in space, he needs buttons under them but when he goes to code, nothing comes out. Usually, the lines are flying through his brain but there’s nothing there.
“Whyever not, Mark?” Eduardo asks innocently, pressing his nose under Mark’s ear, delighting in the shiver that shoots through his body; a very unMark-like shiver, but Eduardo brings it out of him easily.
“We’re… fuck, Eduardo, I’m at work, you can’t…”
“Shh,” Eduardo’s hands creep to the front of Mark’s shoulders, caressing them in a totally less-than-platonic way, and Mark looks around frantically, “Eduardo, people might be watching—“
“Shh, you’re tense.” Eduardo purrs against his neck and shit. This is not funny. He kisses Mark behind the ear before slinking back, stooping and ducking back under Mark’s desk. He kneels on the floor and looks right up at Mark between his legs, smirking, and it sends a hot jolt through Mark’s body.
“W-what are you doing…”
“I think you’ll work much more efficiently if you relax,” Eduardo says simply, resting his hand on the crotch of Mark’s baggy, faded jeans, “and what kind of boyfriend would I be if I didn’t help you work to your full potential?”
“You’re distracting me, Wardo…” Mark means for it to come out as a hiss, but it sounds more like a whimper, and Eduardo won’t hear of it. He swallows, glancing around as Eduardo tugs at the zipper. Wardo’s only sucked him off two or three times, he’s still sloppy but God.
“People are going to—“
“No one can see me under here. If you don’t give us away, no one has to know… Eduardo nuzzles Mark’s crotch and at tugs the waistband of his underwear. “Act natural, Mark, I don’t hear typing up there,” he snaps, and Mark attacks the keyboard with his fingers. But he can’t even form a line of code – dammit, even while he’s having conversations with other people, there’s always code running through the back of his mind, but with Eduardo… he brings up nothing. Eduardo steals all of his coherency and productivity. So he’s just typing gibberish, useless text that he’ll have to delete later.
Eduardo pulls Mark’s cock free from his pants, leaning in and taking a breath. Mark’s scent is strong, especially in the closed space underneath the desk. He ran his mouth loosely over Mark’s prick, with just the tip of his tongue out, getting him wet. It’s not the best blowjob Mark’s ever had or even a particularly good one, but Eduardo is trying, and just the fact that it’s Eduardo… “I don’t hear typing up there,” he smirks, looking up at Mark who’s just kind of staring at him dumbly. Mark’s eyes snap back to the screen and his fingers patter uselessly over the keyboard. He still gasps as Eduardo takes the tip into his mouth, giving a full-body twitch before Eduardo lets his cock slide deep into his mouth.
He’s cut off by a slap on the shin, which obviously means shut up, and curses under his breath. Wardo sucks him hard and fast, Marks knees quiver but he manages, somehow, to keep a straight face focused on his laptop screen, and tries to type something semi-intelligible, but the only thing he can manage is tapping out eduardoeduardoeduardoeduardo over and over.
Eduardo swallows the jets of cum that shoot against his throat; by the grace of God Mark manages to keep his mouth shut. Eduardo checks to make sure the coast is clear before he quickly pops out from under the desk again, kissing Mark on the cheek and sauntering off again, no doubt heading for the cafeteria.
He was right, though; this afternoon of the day is more productive than the rest of the week has been, put together.
Cameron confronts Eduardo the moment he climbs out of the car, back on the care center’s grounds, and he’s not happy. “Where have you been, Eduardo?” he wants to know, scowling and demanding “have you been seeing that original?”
“Yes, Cameron, yes, I have, and you know what? He doesn’t care. He adores me, and I love him.” Eduardo is not in the mood for this, not going to let Cameron ruin his day and he pushes him aside, moving for the entrance, but he’s pulled back, pushed up against the car. He holds his breath - let’s be honest; he’s no match for Cameron.
Eduardo’s been expecting this, spending less and less time at the care center than he used to. He only really comes back, now, for his checkups or to bring Dustin back a little gift, a box of his favorite chocolate snacks or a book to read. And he likes it that way; frankly, why would he want to be cooped up here? The care center isn’t exactly the favorite place of any donor, no matter how comfortable they try to make it. And he has no friends here, no one but Dustin, really, but to be perfectly honest, he prefers Mark’s company. Mark’s words and kisses, Mark’s office, Mark’s bed.
“Yeah, well, Eduardo, you know what’s been going on here? While you’ve been consorting with originals, Eduardo, do you know what you’ve been missing?” Cameron leans back, crossing his arms, but he’s still inches from Eduardo, sneering at him in disgust. Since Eduardo’s begun his relationship with Mark, Tyler and Cameron have liked him even less, and he’s become even more of an outcast at the center.
“There’s nothing to miss here, Cameron, I don’t understand how you—“
“Dustin. Dustin, Eduardo.”
Eduardo freezes, the cold chill running through his body. “What about Dustin?”
“His second donation’s been scheduled.” Cameron leans back, crossing his arms over his chest, but he looks more solemn now, not angry, “and I think we all know what that means.”
It’s always hard. Eduardo’s had several of his acquaintances complete early, and he’s used to it, but he can’t say he’s immune to it. You never get immune to something like that, and that’s only yet another reason why Eduardo keeps his distance from everyone. Making friends might make the experience better for a while, but it’s only devastating in the end. And Dustin… Dustin who, despite everything he’s been through, just pukes rainbows and sunshine, but Eduardo knows Dustin wants to complete, and when they want to complete, they usually do.
Cameron lets him go, and Eduardo races back into the care center, up to their room. He’s expecting to see Dustin looking solemn, or sick, or something, just not leaping up off his bed and hobbling over to Eduardo as fast as he can, shouting something unintelligible as he throws his arms around his neck.
“What – Dustin?”
“I found her! I found her, Eduardo!”
It takes a minute for Eduardo to process, shocked, what that means. “What… Stephanie?”
Dustin is ecstatic. Happier than Eduardo’s ever seen him, he’s practically bouncing, his face is glowing and his eyes are sparkling with utter exuberance. “Yes, yes, yes, Eduardo, I found her! Or well, my carer found her and he told me where she is, she’s at a center just a few miles north; she’s just done her first donation, and she’s come through fine, and oh, Eduardo it’s just so good to know she’s well... Oh, Eduardo, this is wonderful, she’s okay…” Eduardo steps away again, his hands going up to his chest and he
Eduardo doesn’t even have to think about it, before he asks “Do you want to go see her?”
Eduardo gets the address of the care center Stephanie is at from Dustin’s carer; surprisingly, the guy actually did something right for once. He’d had Dustin’s carer tell Stephanie’s that they would be coming today, and had gotten the reply that Stephanie would be happily waiting for them.
Dustin’s literally bouncing in his seat for the whole car ride; it takes about two hours to get to the center, but the distance is no problem. They play music in the car, stop for a quick lunch on the way. The roads are empty, long and curving, and neither of them says much on the way there, but Dustin’s happiness is just plastered all over his face, and it’s such a beautiful thing to see. At least, before he completes, he can have one special moment again with Stephanie.
“Her carer said she’d be waiting outside,” Eduardo says, pulling up by the center. It doesn’t look so different from their own; several people are congregating outside, mostly in pairs or groups of threes, enjoying the relatively sunny day. Some, if they’re up to it, play games of horseshoes on a grassy field, others just watch, or sit and talk.
There’s only one girl that’s standing alone, her eyes scanning the driveway; seconds after Eduardo notices her, Dustin’s shoving the car door open and racing across the grass, without his walker, hobbling. Eduardo leaps out, to help him, but he and the girl who he guesses is Stephanie are already crashing into eachother, embracing eachother like there’s nothing left in the world, and nothing that could tear them apart.
Eduardo stays in the car, giving them their privacy, watching the two long-lost lovers kiss and hug and laugh. Stephanie looks to be in good shape, but eventually Dustin has to sit down, clutching his side, and they just talk, and laugh, and reminisce on good times. Eduardo can feel their connection from here. Eduardo has never seen Dustin smile so wide, and it seems as if they’ve forgotten about him, but it’s the best thing he could do for Dustin before he completes (because it’s still obvious that he will), and he’s glad to have brought him this happiness.
He pulls out a book from the glove box, leans back in the chair and flips open a page. After a few minutes, Dustin’s knocking at the window.
“Ed, I hate to ask you this, but—“
“You want me to give you guys some time alone?”
Dustin looks remorseful, but hopeful, too, so desperate to have a little more time with his loved one, and what else can Eduardo do? “Of course, Dustin. I’ll be back sometime around seven?”
“Thank you, Eduardo!” Dustin leans in through the window to hug Eduardo, wrapping his arms around him, squeezing him as tight as he can (which, actually, isn’t that tight) and starts to turn back.
Dustin turns back around, and Eduardo grins as he passes him his folded walker through the window. “You forgot this, I think you’ll need it.”
Dustin smiles again as he opens it up, leaning forward against it with a sigh, “You’re a true friend, Eduardo.”
Dustin’s operation is scheduled for the following day. Eduardo wishes him well before he goes under, and then gets the hell out of there.
“You’ve been quiet today,” Mark notes, walking his fingers up Eduardo’s side. It’s late, probably too late to be up, but they’re both awake. They went ‘to sleep’ together two hours or so ago, but Eduardo hasn’t been able to get to sleep. He knows Mark’s not, either; he’s memorized Mark’s breathing patterns by now. It’s true, he hasn’t spoken much. Hasn’t been in the mood for it today, he’s just wanted Mark’s comfort. Getting it just from being with him.
“Mm,” Wardo sighs, shifting closer to Mark. “Yeah, I guess I have.”
“What happened, Wardo?”
Eduardo doesn’t answer right away. He closes his eyes, silent, for several moments until Mark thinks he’s not going to answer at all. He’s just ready to roll back over when Eduardo whispers “Dustin completed.”
“…Oh,” Mark whispers. “Eduardo, I-“
“We all expected it. Dustin used to have a girlfriend, back at the White Mansion, Stephanie A. They were inseparable, I suppose, but they went to different care centers when they started their donations. Dustin was – it was awful. He was so torn, he loved her more than anything. He wanted to complete. And when they want to, they usually do. But he got to see her, one last time. It was short, but it was all they had, and he was happy. He was ready to complete then.”
Mark can’t say anything to that. But he lifts his head, rests it on Eduardo’s chest and closes his eyes. He listens to the soft beat-beat beat-beating of Eduardo’s heart, tries to imagine it not being there anymore. He can’t bear it.
“How do you live with that, Eduardo?” he whispers.
“It’s the usual,” Eduardo inhales deeply, lets it out as a sigh; Mark’s head rises and falls gently with his chest. “It’s what happens. We expect it. You know…” he pauses. “Some of us speculate about things. If the person that received Dustin’s heart will be able to feel that pain. There’re rumors of people inheriting their donors traits. They wonder if somehow, some part of their friends will live on. Some people say, that after you’ve done your donations, you’re still conscious, in some strange kind of way. Or-“ he smiles tightly, “maybe they’re just not willing to expect that everything has an end.”
Eduardo falls asleep then, in a few minutes, under Mark’s head. But Mark doesn’t sleep. He’s thinking of what Eduardo just said. It’s not fair. It’s not fair that they have so little time together. It’s not fair that Eduardo has to give everything to people that will never thank him. It’s not fair that Eduardo was even created just to die in this way. But maybe it’s better than nothing.
He doesn’t know, he doesn’t like to think about things like that. He doesn’t like questions that don’t have clear definite answers. Mark is not spiritual or religious and he avoids that kind of thinking. It’s why he likes code, and mathematics, because in the end, you will always get an answer that makes sense. In a world of so much confusion, that’s where Mark finds comfort.
So when the hairs of morning light seep in through Mark’s window, reds and yellows from the east, he lifts his head from Eduardo’s stomach and slips back over to his desk. It’ll be time for work soon, anyway. But now he can’t stop wondering, who will have Eduardo’s heart after he completes.
He thinks of himself, the transplant he’ll eventually need. The one that will come from someone just like Eduardo. He’d avoided thinking about it before; after all, it had been common practice for the past twenty years. Several generations of donors had been created, grown, and, essentially, harvested. It was kept on the down-low at first, but now everyone knew where they came from. You knew that the organs came from young, living, feeling, people. You were expected not to think about it, and Mark wasn’t going to think about it, who his lifesaving heart came from, what they could have been.
But now he won’t be able to ignore it, not when it’s right in front of his eyes. Eduardo is the most human person he’s ever met. Mark remembers the rhythm of the beat-beat beat-beating inside his chest. How is he supposed to take that from someone, donor or not? And how does Eduardo live with it – even seem to take pride in it?
The more thoughts and questions begin to bombard him, the more he furiously types, wishing them away, forcing them into a box in the back of his mind and locking it. He works until Eduardo’s head appears as a blurry reflection on his screen, sitting up in bed, hair all over the place, watching Mark with sleepily blinking eyes.
“G’mornin, Z,” he says, with a yawn, and Mark’s fingers still. Eduardo just called him ‘Z’. Mark has never, ever liked nicknames; Wardo is the closest he’ll get, and that’s just chopping off one syllable, because he’s lazy. Nicknames are trite and useless. But.
Eduardo’s probably extremely tired, probably not realizing what he’s saying, but.
‘Z’. He likes it.
“Don’t call me that,” Mark snaps the second time, “I hate nicknames.” But it’s half-hearted, just trying to hide how fuzzy inside it makes him and Eduardo can sense it; he grins and lets it drop for the time being but he doesn’t follow Mark’s instruction.
So Wardo takes to calling Mark ‘Z’. It makes Mark feel oddly warm inside whenever he hears it, the single syllable. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out where he got it; Z for Zuckerberg, not something ridiculous like honeybunchsugarplum. It’s short, it’s sweet, it’s him and both of them and it’s perfect.
Eduardo loves the burn; the searing of Mark’s nails on his back, the sting of the bruises on his neck. He loves the weight of Mark’s body, pressing him into the bed sheets while his heels dig into Mark’s shoulders. He loves Mark’s hands, Mark’s lips, Mark all teeth and tongue and eyes and hair right in his face, and for once in his life he feels valued, he feels alive, he feels indispoable and he wonders if this is how it feels to be human.
Mark is not a cuddler, okay. Mark doesn’t cuddle. He’s just… tired, okay, who knew Eduardo would be so good in bed. And Eduado’s warm, and damn it he’s holding Mark too tight for him to run away. Mark is not a cuddler, usually. And if you ask him, he’ll deny it.
Mark tells Eduardo the story of theFacebook, how it turned into what now is just Facebook, about he and his roommates working together in their dorm room, building something, just the few of them. Something tangible, something Mark could feel growing in his hands, the first time he felt like he had something. The first time Mark felt like he could take on the world. They were just a bunch of guys that had made something together and he knew they could do anything.
Eduardo still feels like there’s an “unlike I am now” attached to that whole story that Mark doesn’t verbalize.
Eduardo loves the way Mark’s bed sheets smell as he snuggles into them; they smell like Mark, like beer, like the cans of tuna fish he eats for quick energy while curled around his laptop in the middle of a coding tear, they smell like laundry detergent and drugstore shampoo that Mark buys in the three-dollar blue bottles; fresh and soapy. They smell like Mark does when he comes home from the offices, like his leather desk chair and new paint.
Mark loves the way his bed sheets smell because soon one of the pillows smells like Eduardo, too. It smells like his shampoo and his deodorant and chocolate cookies. It smells like toothpaste and soap and cologne and cleanliness. It smells like sweat, both of their sweat, mingled together into something that’s theirs.
Mark loves how after they sleep together, they sleep together. They don’t have to talk, they don’t have to do anything but just be; Eduardo’s arm draped over his chest, Mark’s around his body, until they fall asleep, and for just a little while, everything, everything, is going to be alright.
But that period of blissful delirium is broken pretty fast.
Mark is getting worse. Much worse, very quickly. The first morning that Eduardo shows up at the office and Chris says ‘he didn’t come in today’ is when Eduardo knows that this is serious. Mark does not just not come in to work. Facebook is Mark’s everything; even when he’s on his death bed (which doesn’t seem very far off) he’ll probably still have his laptop.
“What do you mean he didn’t come in?”
“He’s not feeling well,” Chris says, rubbing the back of his neck, trying to keep an air of nonchalance about it, although they both know it’s much more than not feeling well.
“He had to have called in, right? What did he say?”
“That he just couldn’t get out of bed. He sounded drained.”
Eduardo knows that if there’s one thing Mark doesn’t like, it’s being weak, vulnerable. Mark has to be in control of everything, Mark has to make his own choices. He gets angry if he doesn’t. He goes crazy. So Eduardo knows how awful this must be for him, being confined to his bed, but it’s a relief that he hasn’t tried to force himself into work, jeopardizing his health.
By the end of that day Mark is checked into the hospital, and that’s where everything begins to go downhill.
“We’ve all been expecting this,” Chris tells Eduardo with a sigh. “It started when we were back at Harvard, and – well, it’s only gotten worse since then. At first, he just had to take some medication and watch what he ate. Now… well, you’ve seen him. The doctors are doing everything they can, but. Well, we’ve already arranged everything, everything that we would need, if he…”
He doesn’t finish the sentence.
Mark fucking hates the hospital. He’s hated it since he was a child and always getting injured, winding up in the emergency room at least twice a year. He’s always hated the antiseptic smell, the sticky feeling of the seats in the waiting room, the feeling of being too clean, unnaturally clean. He’s hated waiting, and getting undressed in the tiny, tiny rooms and waiting to be poked and prodded by a doctor.
But when he was little, it was a cast, or stitches, or a splint and he would be on his merry way, maybe with some pain killers in a generic white bottle. He doesn’t have that luxury anymore. He’s been admitted a few times, in the past two years, since his diagnosis, for whatever reasons.
Mark’s checked in right away, and he doesn’t look good. The medication isn’t working anymore. All that’s left for the doctors to do is to give him everything they can to make him feel better, and slow the effects, if possible.
Mark’s health has been deteriorating rapidly for the past two years. Usually, he’s blocked it out by coding, forgetting that more of the world even exists when he’s wired in, deafened, cut off from anything but his screen. He’s tried to ignore it, as stupid and obviously futile as that is. Chris and Eduardo have probably kept this from happening a lot sooner by forcing him to eat and exercise, as difficult as it quickly became. This isn’t the first time he’s been hospitalized.
But there’s no other choice.
The list is long; he’s already been on it for a long time. He’s expected this, prepared for this, and should worst come to worst, he’s already put in place the preparations that are needed at the Facebook offices, should his position become... vacant.
All that is left now is waiting.
Eduardo’s nose rests in the crook behind Mark’s ear; his arms are wrapped around his waist as he codes, as they sit together on the couch in his apartment. His hands have memorized Mark’s body, so when his fingertips slip under his shirt, he notices the tension. He doesn’t ask, just tries to relieve some of it by rubbing his palms in circles over Mark’s stomach, until Mark finally lifts his hands from the keys and snaps the laptop shut.
“Done?” Eduardo lifts his head from Mark’s shoulder.
“Yes,” Mark sighs.
“Z…” Eduardo whispers. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong, Eduardo.” It’s a blatant lie and Eduardo knows it.
Mark closes his eyes, gripping the underside of the deck and letting out a slow breath. He’s not let the thought enter his mind, not since the first day. How are you supposed to come to terms with the fact that you’re (probably) going to die shortly before age thirty? Then there’s Eduardo, who’s lived with that all his life… “I went to the hospital the other day,” he forces out.
“If I don’t—“ he shakes his head, trying to swallow down the rock in his throat. “I don’t have much time left.”
“You can’t… find a donor?”
“Not soon enough.”
Eduardo doesn’t say anything; what can you say to that? He just wraps Mark closer, and Mark turns into him, pushing, but not pushing away, pushing towards, down onto the bed. “I need – something,” he whispers into Eduardo’s neck. He’ll never ask for sex, but Eduardo’s always more than happy to satisfy him. Eduardo’s dealt with the fact that all of his friends, everyone he knows, will complete. He’s learned it, and accepted it, and he’ll cope. Tyler is long gone, and while Cameron remains distraught, Eduardo’s managed to almost never think of him again. But not Mark, no. Mark’s an original – he’s supposed to be the one that’s saved. He’s supposed to live forever. If he isn’t saved, then all of his friends have completed for nothing. Eduardo’s been watching him deteriorate for too long and it’s not fair.
“I need you,” Mark whispers, and it’s the only time he’ll ever say it. But Eduardo knows it; Mark does need him. He makes a promise in his head and leans down to kiss him, sealing it with himself.
“You have me, Mark,” he whispers, arms wrapping under Mark’s body; even more thin than it naturally is. The sickness is taking its toll and Eduardo can feel bumps of Mark’s ribs under tight skin. Mark’s arms wrap around his neck in a desperate lock, an attempt to hold onto something, the only thing he’s got left. He selfishly thinks, in the back of his mind, that if the disease kills him then at least he won’t have to be around to see Eduardo complete.
Eduardo nips softly at Mark’s neck, his teeth graze over the skin and Mark trembles, but pulls away.
“I, I just… Wardo, I, fuck. Believe it or not, I haven’t been with many people this way. I mean, I scare most people off, you’re the first person to ever… to ever take an interest in me, to actually, you know, like me. I mean, I can be sort of an asshole, you must have noticed.”
“I’ve noticed, Mark.”
“And you, I don’t understand how… you like me.”
Eduardo smiles, going back to Mark’s neck but just nuzzling it this time, kissing it sweetly. “You’re not a total dick, I guess.” He says it jokingly, but Mark grimaces. “Mark,” Eduardo sighs, “listen. I would give anything for you. I love you.”
“I…” but Mark can’t say it back. He’s just not built that way, he’s not built for love. He’s not built for it and it happened anyway, and it’s short-circuiting his brain like he actually is a robot. “I want you to make love to me, Eduardo.”
He never thought he’d say the words. Mark’s never been one for making love, or just relationships even, but maybe he’s just never met someone to make love to. Eduardo looks a little shocked, like he never expected to hear those words, but he whispers “I want to, too.”
And they move to the bedroom. They’ve had sex before, plenty of times, but he’s never bottomed and Eduardo’s never topped. It’ll be new for both of them. But isn’t all of this new? That’s what this is about, right?
He’ll never be like this with anyone else, so why not go all out? Eduardo whispers “I love you, I love you, Mark Zuckerberg” over and over and Mark doesn’t think he’ll ever be able to say it back, but he hopes what he’s giving him now is enough.
“We’ve never had a request like this, Eduardo,” says Kathy H., Eduardo’s carer, giving him a slow, strange look. Eduardo had expected strange reactions; it’s not really a normal request, is it? But what choice does he have, what would anyone else do?
“I know, I thought you might not have, but it’s. It can be done, can’t it? I mean, I don’t see what difference it makes.”
“Eduardo…” Kathy sighs heavily. “There are ways of doing things. There are protocols, lists, systems, specific ways of doing things, you can’t just-“
“Please,” Eduardo chokes. He’ll get on his knees if he has to. “He… I’m going to complete at some point, anyway. I want to complete, and you know that if I want to, I will. My second donation is coming up, but he can’t get a donor in time, and he’s going to die if he doesn’t get one. He can’t die – he’s important, and he’s important to me. Please, please, Kathy, at least talk to someone for me. He – tell them, tell them he’s important, tell them he’s Mark Zuckerberg – he runs a company, he’s important, he can’t die, tell them that, if that will help, just please, I don’t care what happens, he has to live.”
His hands are actually clasped together, tears filling his eyes, threatening to spill. Mark can’t die, Mark can’t die. He doesn’t care what happens to him, he’s never cared, he’s always known what will happen to him, but Mark. Mark has to live, or what is all of this for? What have all of his friends sacrificed for if people like Mark still have to die?
Mark wouldn’t like it, Eduardo knows that. Mark will protest, he’ll probably completely freak out, but Eduardo doesn’t care. He doesn’t even have to second-guess it. Mark has to live, and Eduardo is going to complete anyway. If he can save him…
Kathy looks at him solemnly, reaching out with a gentle hand on his shoulder. “You love his man, don’t you, Eduardo?”
“Yes,” Eduardo croaks. “Yes, I do, and he needs a heart.”
She looks at him for a long time.
“I’ll see what I can do,” she whispers.
Eduardo doesn’t mention to Mark what he discussed with Kathy. Mark works frantically at his computer, working with Chris to get the newest update up and running. Eduardo watches from behind, leaning against the wall, watching the lines of code flicker across Mark’s screen. When Mark’s busy, wired in, and when Eduardo gets bored of just watching him, he wanders through the offices, nosing around hallways, peeking into cubicles, riding the elevator up and down. Making jewellrey out of paperclips and rubber bands he finds lying around. Scribbling on sticky notes, just to keep himself busy, to keep himself from thinking about the inevitable. He sticks to his diet, takes his medication, but it’s half-heartedly; he’s given up, there are no donor hearts available and he is going downhill rapidly.
When the office is finally emptied (Chris stands over Mark’s shoulder, trying to physically tug him up from his desk, telling him to go home, get some rest, but Mark refuses and swats him away, insisting he’s fine, he needs to get this done), Eduardo goes and pulls up a chair beside his desk. Mark is visibly swaying, face creased with the effort of keeping his eyes open.
“Mark,” he whispers, reaching and resting his hand on top of Mark’s, “shut it down.”
Mark does. Doesn’t even finish the line he’s on, just sighs and smacks two buttons before shutting the laptop. He turns his chair to Eduardo and slumps against him, mumbling something incoherent.
“Need… to finish… Wardo…”
“No, you don’t,” Wardo says, running his hand up and down the line of Mark’s back. “Come on, you need to get home, you need to eat, take your medicine and sleep.”
“Fuck the medicine, Wardo, it doesn’t matter anymore.”
“Yes, it does, Mark. Come on, everything’s going to be okay, I promise, let’s just get you home.”
Mark sighs in defeat and pushes away from Wardo, climbing up from the chair. His legs wobble stiffly, and Wardo wraps his arm around Mark’s waist to hold him up. His eyes close and he falls against Eduardo’s side, needing to be practically carried to the car. He curls up in the passenger seat as Eduardo drives him home; he looks broken, crumpled, not like the Mark Zuckerberg Eduardo met a few months ago at all.
The next few days pass by in a blur. Mark working away, downing 5 Hour Energy to keep himself awake in the early hours of the morning. He’s checked into the hospital once, released with the same devastating news. If Mark can’t get to the office, he works at home, his laptop resting on his knees in bed, a dying man’s last-ditch attempt to leave behind some kind of legacy.
Eduardo’s notification comes for his next donation. A heart. To Mark Elliot Zuckerberg.
They’ve got two more weeks together.
Chapter by maybecatie
1. to make a sacrifice or offering of 2. to surrender or give up, or permit injury or disadvantage to, for the sake of something else 3. to dispose of regardless of profit
Eduardo’s room at the care center feels too empty. He hasn’t yet been given a new roommate, so Dustin’s bed lies there, always made, untouched. He’s inherited Dustin’s possessions; some books, journals and photos, but he doesn’t dare go through them. He keeps them safe, though, knowing Dustin would want him to.
He’s glad, at least, that Dustin got to have some happiness before he completed. A day with his old, lost love was the best thing Eduardo could have ever given him, so he doesn’t have many regrets.
He’s not scared, knowing what his next donation will bring, really. This is what he was meant, created to do. He can’t do anything else with his life, but Mark can achieve great things. Mark still has a long way to go, and if Eduardo can give him that?
He can only hope that Mark will be as understanding.
Eduardo empties Dustin’s drawers before the whitecoats can come in and take everything away before the reassign the extra space. He doesn’t really care who his new roommate will be, he’s not going to be here for much of the time, anyway. He tucks Dustin’s books in the suitcase stored under his bed and then sits on top of the bed, sighing and running a hand through his hair. How is he going to explain this to Mark?
It’s ironic. He’d wondered if the one to end up being Mark’s heart donor was anyone he knew. He’d say that it is.
It’s evening when he leaves the center, after an extensive physical, going back to the Facebook offices to meet Mark. There’s no sense in putting it off; with the very, very limited amount of time they have, they need to make the best of every second.
Mark seems to have been waiting for him, because the moment he steps inside, Mark is racing over to him, faster than he thinks Eduardo’s ever seen him run. He’s winded when he gets to him, wrapping his arms around Eduardo and gasping, hugging him, “Wardo! Wardo.”
“Hi, Mark,” Eduardo laughs, hugging Mark gently and kissing his cheek. “Wardo, I have great news—“
“Sh, I know you do.” Eduardo smiles a little painfully, pressing his finger to Mark’s lips, “I know, but I have something I’ve really got to discuss.”
“Wardo. I got a donor.”
“I know… Mark, we’ve got to talk.”
Mark looks ecstatic, but when Eduardo says that, the smile falters. He blinks at Eduardo and suddenly some kind of recognition flashes across his face; maybe he’s figured it out already. “Wardo…”
But Wardo shuts him up with a kiss, whispering “finish up, okay? I’ll be here.”
The car ride back to Mark’s apartment is silent. They haven’t mentioned what’s on both of their minds, or anything, really. Eduardo shuffles on his feet during the elevator ride up to Mark’s floor, stands behind him as Mark fumbles with the key to get inside.
“So,” Wardo whispers finally, “you’ve found yourself a donor.”
Mark’s face lights up again and Eduardo shoves his hands in his pockets. “Yeah! Yeah, I, yeah, I’m going to get a transplant and… I, uh…” he trails off, as Eduardo smiles weakly; Eduardo sees the realization cross Mark’s face, the horror darkening in his eyes. “Eduardo… no. No, you didn’t.” Mark looks white, whiter than normal, Eduardo rubs the back of his neck and looks away and Mark’s going to be sick. “Eduardo!” Mark cries, gripping his arm, “no, no, no. No, I won’t accept it, I can’t accept it!”
“You have to,” Eduardo says calmly, looking away as Mark shakes his arm. Mark stops, looking at him with wide eyes and for the first time Eduardo’s ever seen, they’re filled with tears.
“I won’t. I’m not letting you – they – you can’t! I won’t accept it, I won’t, I won’t go, I’ll… run away!”
“Mark, listen to yourself!” Eduardo grabs Mark’s flailing wrists, catches them and holds them still as Mark struggles, shaking his head and screwing his eyes shut. “You’re dying, Mark. You will die if you don’t get a donor heart.”
“Then I’ll keep waiting!”
“No, Mark, you and I both know you can’t. You’re dying, you don’t have time.”
“I’ll be-“ Mark struggles, gasping, to get his wrist from Eduardo’s grasp but he can’t, blinded by the wetness in his eyes, flailing uselessly, “I’ll be fine, let me go, you can’t do this!”
“Mark!” Eduardo whispers, reaching out to grip his lover’s shoulder in a desperate (but futile) attempt to calm him down. “Mark, there’s nothing we can do about it now.”
“You asked for this?”
“Of course I did, Mark. Look at me – please.” He’d expected the reaction, he’d planned for it, but nothing could have prepared him for the look on Mark’s face; horror-stricken, heartbroken, his ice-blue eyes wide and wet. It makes Eduardo’s legs go weak, makes the bile churn in his stomach, but he’s already done the deed and he can’t take it back. “I’m doing this because I love you.”
“You don’t deserve this, Wardo! I thought – I thought it might be longer…”
“Mark, look at me.” Mark’s turned his head away again but he slowly gives Eduardo his attention, his whole body shaking. “Have you forgotten what I am?”
“Don’t, Eduardo,” Mark chokes, “please, please don’t.”
“I think you have. I’m a donor, Mark. I’m meant to do this. Nothing else. I’m not meant to fall in love, but that happened.” Mark’s still shaking his head, but Eduardo knows he’s listening; Mark always listens to him. “I’ve had the best life I can ask for in my position. I’ve had an education, I’ve had you. You’ve shown me love. That’s more than I could have ever hoped for.”
“No, no, no, Wardo, Wardo, Wardo.”
“I’m a donor,” Eduardo continues. “I always have been. I’ve never dreaded it or not wanted it to happen, it’s just, me. It’s my purpose. You have a purpose – you brought people together, you have one of the most successful internet companies in the world, you were destined to be great. I was destined to do… this.”
Mark’s stopped struggling, but he’s shaking still, looking up at Eduardo slowly with his lip almost bit through by his teeth. “I don’t have a life ahead of me. There’s nothing for me waiting back at the care center. Anyone I know, or have ever known, I don’t have any more or I soon won’t.” There’s no self-pity in Eduardo’s voice. No hostility, no solemnity. Just speaking facts. “It’s not fair, maybe, but it’s not fair that you’re sick either, but I can take these two wrongs ad I can make a right. I’m going to complete, Mark. You can’t change that, you can’t change that at all. But you don’t have to die right now. You have great things ahead of you and you deserve to be able to do them. That’s what I want to give you. I said I’d give anything for you, Mark, and I meant it. Please, please, just… show me that it’s worth it.”
Two weeks. They have two weeks until the operation is scheduled, when Eduardo will make his donation; his heart, to replace Mark’s failed one.
Mostly, they do what they usually do. The office during the day, Mark’s home at night. Mark holds him as tight as he can before they fall asleep. He rests his head on Eduardo’s chest and listens to the beating. He savors every little thump he hears, knowing that soon they won’t be there. He wonders if it’s true what Eduardo said, about recipients of donor’s organs receiving some of their personality traits, some of their pain. It still baffles him how Eduardo can be so accepting of such a terrible fate, but he guesses some of it makes sense.
Mark kind of wants to cry every time he sees Eduardo. Every time he sees his face and knows that in two weeks, it won’t be here. That Eduardo is kinder and more interesting than anyone Mark knows and he doesn’t get a real chance to live. He feels like he’s stealing Eduardo’s life to save his own, even though that would happen anyway, even though Eduardo assures him that this is what he wants. He’s half glad that he will be the one to have Eduardo’s heart in his ribcage, where he’ll take care of it, not some random stranger It’s weird how this worked out, really; Mark, the CEO of Facebook who needs a new heart and Eduardo, the donor willing to give everything for him.
He knows he’ll never find anyone else like Eduardo. He’s not even going to try. It’s only been a couple short months, far too short, but Mark’s never going to forget him. Eduardo’s taught Mark so many important things about love and sacrifice. Eduardo always knew he was going to complete, only going to live a third as long as Mark would, but he never tried to run away from it, never even feared it. He’s happier than anyone Mark’s ever known and yet he has so little. How is it possible? What’s his key to happiness? Maybe just being alive and valuing the time he has is enough for him. Maybe there’s some weird kind of freedom in having no freedom. With all his choices made for him, he has no choice but to enjoy what he has. But Mark, with everything in the world open to him, can’t find anything that brings joy to his soul. Except Eduardo, of course.
Mark gets sick if he thinks about it too much.
“So you’ve got a donor?” Chris asks after the next meeting, and Mark closes his eyes and nods stiffly, “yeah.” He still feels awful; Eduardo’s back at the center today, undergoing some kinds of tests to prepare for the operation that Mark doesn’t even want to know about.
“That’s… that’s great, Mark!” Chris has to say he didn’t expect this; they’ve spent the past couple months preparing for what might happen to the company in the case of Mark’s death. It’s been a long, painful year for all parties involved. He doesn’t understand why Mark doesn’t look happy. “What is it?”
“The donor…” Mark closes his eyes, “the donor is Eduardo, Chris.”
“What… Eduardo?” Chris gasps, “how did that happen?”
“He… he volunteered, I guess,” Mark whispers.
“So you… you’ll have… his…”
“God, Mark, I…”
“I know you never liked him and you probably don’t understand, but…” Mark closes his eyes and shakes his head. “I don’t know what I’m going to do, Chris. Without him. He’s giving his life for me and I… I don’t even feel right taking it.”
“You’re not taking it, Mark,” Chris says. “He’s meant to do this. It would happen anyway, only it’d be someone else, not you.”
“I just feel awful. Like I’m stealing it.”
“Mark,” Chris sighs, pulling up the chair to sit down in front of him, “if you don’t, you’ll die. If you don’t, he’ll still do his donations. Nothing can stop that. But if he’s your donor, he can save you. And I’m pretty sure he wants to do that, so why not give him what he wants?”
Mark looks down at his lap, closing his eyes and sighing. Chris is right, of course. “I just wish it didn’t have to be this way, I wish he didn’t have to.”
“I know, Mark. But there’s no use dwelling on what we can’t change.”
“I guess so. I’m… gonna get back to work, Chris, okay?”
Chris has never seen Mark look this crushed. It’s like all the life has drained out of him, all the energy and motivation that Chris always sees flickering behind his eyes and it’s scary. “Mark?”
“Just make the best of what you have left, with him. That’s all you can really do.”
Mark closes his eyes, fighting back tears that come forth. He shakes his head and growls, wiring in and losing himself in code.
Then the nightmares start. Mark watches from above. He sees Eduardo strapped to a cold, hard operating table, wrists and ankles shackled in. He sees doctors in long white coats and masks standing above him, and he watches as they cut into his chest. He watches them peel back layers of skin and muscle, powerless to do anything as Eduardo screams and screams and screams.
He always wakes up just before they get to his heart.
The fair is on a Thursday, or it’s a Thursday night they decide to go because it’s really a week long thing. Mark wouldn’t normally go, not by himself or with Chris, but he goes with Eduardo.
Eduardo, of course, has never been to a fair before. Mark buys them the wristbands that will get them on unlimited rides for the night, even though he can’t go on many himself. Eduardo has never been to one, and he’s ridiculously excited, like some over-energetic puppy. Mark hasn’t been in years himself, and breathing in the smell of oil, popcorn and candy apples makes him feel like he’s a child again. Mark looks around the usual rides; the swinging ship, the spinning cars and the oddly comforting smell of the petting zoo.
“Where do you want to go first?” Mark asks; he can’t be bothered to care much, he knows what the carnival is all about; this is really for Eduardo. Eduardo’s blinking around at the flashing lights on the rides and the lights on the cotton candy stands and the lights hanging from string like Christmas bulbs over the paths. “I, uh…” the rides look so daunting from the ground, to someone who’s never been on one. “I can’t go on all the rides, but,” Mark smiles, “I can watch you.”
“No, let’s do something we can both do. I want to win you something!” Eduardo takes Mark’s hand and tugs him towards the game stands. He’s seen these on television and in movies, people winning their boyfriends or girlfriends teddy bears from the carnival games. Mark lets himself be dragged and sighs, smiling as they arrive at the balloon darts.
“What am I supposed to do with one of these?” Mark asks, gesturing towards the teddy bears; they’re colors of neon purple, pink, orange, green and blue. Particularly fluffy. Mark dislikes fluffy.
“Shush,” says Eduardo, reaching into his pocket.
Mark sighs, “do you need money?”
He shakes his head, “I got some from my carer.” He hands the money over and is given a small box of ten darts. He makes five and misses five, which earns him a small bear that he presents to Mark with the excitement of a five year old.
“Wardo…” Mark laughs hesitantly, wagging the bear’s arm, “what am I going to do with this?”
“I don’t know!” Eduardo laughs, “keep it, so you’ll think of me.”
He wanders over to the next booth, expecting Mark to follow. But Mark stands there, staring at the bear in his hands – green, and looking way too happy. Keep it so you’ll think of me.
Mark will. And he’ll think of Eduardo every day. He stuffs the bear in his sweater pocket and follows Eduardo to the next booth – this one’s the one where you try to knock down the milk bottles.
They go from booth to booth, Eduardo determined to in Mark some giant panda, but in the end, all they wind up getting is another neon bear and a monkey that hangs around your neck by velcro’d paws. “It’s okay, Wardo,” Mark whispers to him, holding the bear to his chest, “I love these guys. I’m going to keep them forever, and they’re always going to remind me of you.”
Wardo looks assured at that. “I’ve used almost all my money – but I’m hungry. At least let me buy you something to eat?”
“Wardo, no, I can-“
“Mark. I’ll buy it, okay? Do you want a snow cone?”
“I can pay, don’t’—“
“Cherry-Blueberry? Got it.” Eduardo takes off to the snow cone stand and Mark blinks, looking down at the bear in his arm as if the plushie can explain to him what just happened. It’s not that Mark isn’t touched by Eduardo’s offer, but he hates being helped. He hates people giving him money, giving him things, offering him assistance for stuff he doesn’t--
Eduardo’s back already, though. Oh. He has snow cone about as big around as Mark’s face and two plastic spoons. Mark feels himself being tugged to a bench on the edge of the path and when they plop down on it, Eduardo hands him his spoon.
“What, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing, I just… I’ve never had a snow cone before,” Mark says, and Eduardo puts on an exaggerated face of astonishment.
“Well, you have to! I’ve only had them once or twice myself, but Jesus, Mark, just eat some.”
Mark pokes the icy mound with his spoon before he takes a bite, and it is good. He closes his eyes and lets the juicy ice melt on his tongue, seeping through his mouth and down his throat. It chills him, and he takes another bite.
“It’s good,” Mark says, wondering why he’s never had one before. Eduardo grins like he’s just received the highest praise in the universe and he really is too cute to be real. It makes Mark’s heart hurt and he stuffs another spoonful in his mouth before he can do something stupid. Like cry. Cry because he thinks of all the times his parents never took him to the circus or to the beach so he could have one of these things or because it’s the last snow cone Eduardo will ever have.
They find a photobooth and Mark, with a sudden urge, tugs Eduardo inside. “What-?” Eduardo fidgets in the tiny seat that is clearlt not meant for two grown men while Mark feeds the three dollars into the machine. “It will take pictures of us and print them out,” he grins, smacking the button to scroll through the options of tones and frames. He goes for full-color and a simple background, but Eduardo still looks a little dumbfounded when he tugs him into his side just before he picture flashes.
The next one is more of a success. They’re both grinning, and in the third one, Eduardo makes some stupid crazy bug-eyed-tongue-out face and Mark can’t suppress his what the hell are you on look before the picture goes, but for the fourth one, he gives in and decides to be silly too, opening his mouth up in a wide grin (probably the only picture ever of Mark smiling) and Wardo goes all cross-eyed, doing some silly hand gesture.
“That was fun!” Eduardo giggles, almost falling over Mark as they stumble out of the booth. There’s a screen outside where they show an instant replay while the strip is printing, which is kind of creepy, but in Mark and Eduardo’s case, very entertaining.
Eduardo bends over to pick up the strip when it’s dropped into the slot. They’re all good pictures, with Wardo’s smiles and silly faces that are just so him.
“You look like you’re on drugs,” Mark says, and Eduardo stops and gives him a truly appalled look, “I would never!”
Mark blinks, realizing that was probably the very wrong thing to say, to a donor, and wow, he’s really fucking stupid. They probably have some Nazi drug policy. “I didn’t mean… I just meant… you look crazy.”
Eduardo pushes the pictures into Mark’s palm, “you keep them.”
Mark has to drag himself to work the next morning (or really, Wardo’s the one that does most of the dragging) not bothering to change out of the hoodie and sweats he slept in. His hair is a mess and he didn’t shower, but who the fuck cares, right?
“You look like crap,” Chris notes, but not in a cruel way. Mark replies with the expected ‘fuck off’.
He turns to his keyboard, and then stops, spinning back to Chris, “I’m not ready, Chris. I’m not ready to lose him. I can’t lose him, I can’t do it. Eduardo’s everything. And it’s just my fucking luck, you know? I get a boyfriend, I get someone who I really love and he’s a donor and he’s doing it for me and I know, I know I’ll never love someone in my life like I love him. I know nothing else is even going to come close to meaning anything. They… they say it’s better to have loved than lost, right? That’s bullshit, because losing something you love hurts more than anything. I can’t do this, I can’t say goodbye.”
This is the most emotion Mark’s ever showed, to anyone maybe except Eduardo. Chris just doesn’t know what to do. “Mark, I… I’m sorry. I really am sorry. But you-“
“And don’t give me some bullshit, like ‘everything happens for a reason’ or ‘it was meant to be’ or that I shouldn’t worry about what I can’t control, any of your usual crap, please, Chris, I can’t take that.”
“Mark… there’s nothing you can do,” Chris whispers. It hurts to say, but it’s the truth. “I think you should take time off work. Spend it with Eduardo. Love him, do everything you want to do with him. Make it worth it. And then there is something you can do, Mark, you can work to help people like him. You know the truth now. You have money, and power, and you can do things with it. Eduardo – right now, he’s in the break room probably, go find him and take him out. He doesn’t have much time left – what, a week? make it count.”
So that’s what Mark does. He logs off his computer, he goes to the break room and gets Eduardo and they leave. He clears out of work for the next two weeks – really, what’s the worst that could happen? Eduardo’s more important than Facebook. Eduardo is more important than anything.
“You mentioned a waterfall, before,” Mark says as they’re walking out of the office. Eduardo stops and so does he, Eduardo’s eyes study him as he asks, in a whisper, “Can you take me there?”
Eduardo nods. They get in the car, Wardo hopping into the driver’s seat and Mark in the passenger. His chest aches, and he takes a deep breath and closes his eyes as Eduardo starts the car, listening to the rumble of the engine and being eventually lulled to sleep by the soft bumps in the road. Eduardo glances over at him and smiles; Mark looks like an angel when he sleeps, especially now, with his feet up on the seat and his head in his arm, against the window. He doesn’t look like anything’s wrong with him, from the outside, it doesn’t look like his heart is beating slower and slower until it will eventually stop. He’ll have Eduardo’s heart before he gets there, though.
Eduardo rests a hand on his chest, feeling his own heart healthily beating against the skin. Donors sometimes speculated about what happened after they completed. He’d heard stories about donors who donated hearts still being able to feel, in in their new bodies. He doesn’t fear completion – how are you supposed to fear something like that? No one understands what it really means.
Some of the donors he knows hate the whitecoats, hate originals, face their donations with bitterness and remorse. But Eduardo’s not one of them. He’s doing this for Mark and he doesn’t regret his decision. As long as Mark, and people like Mark live on, everything is worth it.
They get there and Mark wakes up when the car comes to a stop on the road. “Nng?” he mumbles, sitting up and opening his eyes. They’re parked on the edge of an empty road on the edge of a wood. “We’ve got to walk a bit,” Eduardo whispers. Mark nods, rubbing his eyes and clambering out, blinking around at the trees. “How long have we been driving?”
“’Bout an hour,” Wardo says, squeezing Mark’s shoulder, “it’s a short walk, but if you get tired, we’ll stop, okay?”
“Okay,” Mark whispers. He takes a deep whiff of the air; it smells of pine and trees, not of smoke and gasoline, and there are birds flying overhead and this is what fresh air is meant to be.
It’s hard for both of them to walk through the woods, even if it’s a fairly short distance. Eduardo goes in front of Mark and holds tree branches aside to keep a clear path for him to walk through, ignores Wardo’s repetitive questions of are you okay and do you want to slow down.
But eventually they get there. There’s the sound of rushing water before they come to the clearing. It’s a wide, shallow river, rushing across beds of slippery rock, leading all the way down to where it plunges off the edge of a cliff. “It’s slippery,” Eduardo whispers, taking Mark’s hand, “careful.”
Mark kicks off his flipflops and holds them in his hand as they edge along down the damp rocks. It’s beautiful here; the air is clear and crisp and smells of life and freshness. The forest is alive around them, birds chirping and flying overhead and Mark never even knew any of this existed. For once, he’s not thinking about the future, he’s not thinking about the coding he could be doing now or getting home to make up for the lost time, he’s just being. Being with Eduardo, it’s all he needs. It’s all he can do.
They sit down on the edge of the rocks, legs hanging over the cliff. Mark sighs as he nuzzles his face in Eduardo’s neck and breathes in his smell. When he comes back from the care center, he smells like the doctor’s office and lavender linen spray and drugstore shampoo. It’s oddly comforting, mixed with the smell of trees and dirt.
Eduardo was right. This is the perfect place to go to get a clear head. Out here, you see how life was intended to be. Big and lush and green and wet and dirty. With the towering trees and the plunging water, you feel small, there’re no social distractions and you can just think.
He feels honoured, to have been allowed to see Eduardo’s special place.
“It’s beautiful,” he whispers honestly; Eduardo just nods, he knows it is, and wraps his arm around Mark’s waist. Mark reaches behind them, taking a rock and idly tossing it into the water. Eduardo teaches him how to flick your wrist so it bounces off the surface, and they spend a while doing that, they even have a little contest to see who can get their rock to skip the most times. For about an hour, Mark can forget about everything. He’s alive, Eduardo’s alive, they’re both safe and this is now and it’s okay.
Back at his apartment, Mark tells him. “I’m off work the next couple of weeks,” he says, “so we can spend it together.”
“Good,” Eduardo whispers, closing his arms around Mark. Mark can’t believe they’ll be gone soon. Eduardo nips gently at his neck, Mark tips his head to the side, presenting the pale canvas of his neck. It’s too pale, like Mark doesn’t ever go out in the sun. Eduardo sucks under his jaw and over his shoulder, painting his neck with reds and purples.
“I love you, Mark.”
Mark swallows, “Yeah, Wardo,” because he still can’t bring himself to say it. Why should it be so hard to say it? He knows what he feels but he just… can’t… say it. He has to say it, before time runs out.
They kiss as they stumble back towards Mark’s bedroom. Eduardo pushes Mark down onto the bed, pushes his shirt up and mouths at his stomach. Mark sighs, leans back and closes his eyes, threads his fingers in Eduardo’s hair. Eduardo grips his sides, licking at his naval and nipping his hip bones.
“Fuck, fuck, Wardo,” Mark sighs, feeling the bruises rise. Wardo moves up slowly, lips trailing up Mark’s chest until they’re at his mouth, ravishing it, and Mark kisses back with all he has. Every kiss, he has to treat like it’s the last because it may very well be.
He runs his hands over Mark’s chest, his nipples, biting at his neck until the skin darkens (something Mark usually wouldn’t let anyone do). Mark closes his eyes, fingers clenching and unclenching in Wardo’s hair.
“Lube’s in the nightstand,” he finally whispers.
Eduardo grabs it, peeling Mark’s pants and underwear off, flicking them to the floor and repeating the process with his own clothing. Mark always winces when he sees the scar on his left side, a reminder of what he is, but he brushes it off when he feels Eduardo’s lips on his, a lubed finger at his hole.
Mark closes his eyes, takes a deep breath and sinks into the bed, relaxing his muscles to make the entrance easy. He’s not used to this, not like Wardo is, but Wardo’s taking his time – plenty of care, plenty of lube, plenty of time and it doesn’t hurt.
“Are you okay, are you okay? he keeps whispering and finally Mark scoffs, “you won’t break me.” Eduardo sighs, kissing Mark’s neck and working in the next finger. “I don’t want to risk it.”
“Wardo – just… please.”
Eduardo looks dubious but he doesn’t argue. Mark closes his eyes, leans back as Wardo slicks himself up and gets in position, his body pressing against Mark, the bruises throbbing and stinging. He kisses Mark as he pushes in and Mark sighs, eyes fluttering open to watch his face. He can see why Wardo likes this. He feels full, full with no room for sadness or anything nasty left in him.
“Fuck, Wardo,” he mumbles, as Eduardo’s nose presses into his neck, whispering to him “are you okay?”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Mark whispers. He can’t be much better than he is right now. He closes his eyes again, sighing, “move.”
Eduardo gives a gentle thrust, his arms wrapped around Mark tight and secure. Mark doesn’t usually like to take things slow, usually gets annoyed if anything takes more than the required amount of time because it means he could be doing something else. But like this with Eduardo, he can’t regret anything, he can’t want anything else.
There are more bruises, on his hips and his shoulder, bruises on Eduardo, too, from Mark’s tight grip. It’s messy and wet, slow and hot until they’ve both come twice and can’t see straight. When Wardo finally pulls out, panting and hot, both of them sated and sticky, he moves to get up but Mark tugs him back down, “don’t you dare think you’re going anywhere.”
“We should clean up, Mark…”
“Fuck it. Stay here.”
Eduardo smiles and rolls onto the bed by Mark’s side. He thumbs Mark’s bitten lip, nuzzles his neck, traces more intricate patterns over his chest. “I love you, Mark, he whispers.”
“Yeah, Wardo, I know.”
On Saturday, it rains. It’s raining when Mark wakes up, and the spot next to him is empty. He sits up and glances out the window at the downpour. It’s been so hot lately that the water hitting the ground is causing steam to rise from the pavement. He hears the trails of car horns from the traffic the weather is causing and sighs as he rises out of bed. He shuffles down the hall and Eduardo is in the sitting area, perched on the window seat. He nods when Mark comes in, but doesn’t look away.
Mark shuffles over. The street below is packed with cars, tail lights fuzzy and blurry in the streaked window. The sky’s blue though, and the trees look greener than they did yesterday. Mark slips behind Eduardo, sitting on the seat against the wall and gently resting a hand on his stomach, and they watch the rain together.
A lot of time is spent in the shower even when they don’t need to get clean. They stand in the shower, Wardo pours shampoo into Mark’s hair and lathers it with his soft hands. Mark runs the loofa over Eduardo’s chest, painting his skin with suds. Then they switch.
They make love in the shower. More and more often it’s Mark being on the receiving end, just needing to be held, needing as much of Eduardo as he can possibly get.
Or they just stand under the water and hold eachother, with the water smacking against the shower tiles and rolling off their bodies.
Eduardo has to go back to Kingsfield for some pre-op standard tests, mostly the same as the last ones he had. He tolerates the poking and prodding and by the time he’s out of there, it’s about the time he’d be eating lunch. He wanders down to the cafeteria, wondering if Tyler and Cameron will be there today.
They are. And it’s so weird to see them alone, with no Dustin. He could always lighten the room with his jokes, and without him there it feels like what little sunshine existed before has just been sucked out.
“Well, well, well, look who decided to show his face again,” Tyler sneers as Eduardo sits down across from them. “We haven’t seen you in days, Eduardo, what’s the deal?”
“I’ve been out.”
“Out with your original friend, I take it.”
“Well, yeah. Do you want me here or not?”
“Just interesting that you’d pick him over us,” Cameron says, stabbing broiled carrots with his fork, “You heard about Dustin?”
Eduardo averts his eyes, “Yeah.”
“You’ve barely been here the past few weeks, Eduardo.”
“You’ve been spending it all with him?”
“Yeah, I have. But that’s not what I wanted to talk to you guys about.”
Cameron sighs, “What is it, Eduardo?”
Eduardo looks down at the empty tabletop in front of him. “My next donation’s next week.” He figures there isn’t any need for details other than that.
“Oh-“ both the twins’ faces soften, but Cameron looks at him like he’s trying to tell if he’s lying or not.
“Just thought I’d tell you, you know, if we don’t meet again.”
There’s nothing else for them to say. Eduardo’s not going to tell them that he certainly won’t be coming back, or why, especially not why. “That’s all I wanted,” Eduardo says, “so you guys can go on about your business without me as usual, I guess.” He stops, realizing that was a little cold, “look, guys, I’m sorry… for any differences we’ve had in the past.”
Tyler just huffs, but Cameron reaches across the table and touches Eduardo’s hand, “it’s okay, man.”
Eduardo nods. “Yeah, it is.” He pauses again, “I respect you guys, both of you. It’s been… nice.”
“Ditto, Ed,” Cameron says gently, “and good luck.”
Eduardo nods, even though he doesn’t need it. He leaves the center then, and there’s nothing else left that he has to do.
It goes by way too fast. Way too fast to do anything, before Mark even blinks. He wills the time to stop, stares at the clock and begs it to slow down. He doesn’t care about Facebook. He doesn’t care about his health. All he wants is more time, more time with Eduardo, please, God. But time doesn’t listen to anyone. He tries to savor every single second they spend together. He doesn’t want to sleep – that’s wasted time. But Eduardo makes him sleep, telling him he needs to be well rested for the operation. Mark will fight it, but Eduardo will just hold him, rubbing his back, singing soft words to Mark in foreign languages until his body is no match for him.
The worst part is Eduardo doesn’t dread it, doesn’t fear it at all. He isn’t afraid. Mark always thought it was foolish to be afraid of death. He, personally, has never believed in an afterlife. Death is just the end of everything. How could you be afraid of nothing? But being on the other side, losing something that special to you, is completely different. Losing one thing is hard. Losing everything is easy.
On the last night, Mark holds Eduardo as tight as he can. Neither of them sleep. It rains again, and they stay awake, in the darkness, listening to eachother breathe. There’s nothing left for them to say to eachother, nothing that would matter. Mark watches the hovering green numbers in the dark, from his alarm clock, willing, wishing, praying for them to slow down. But that’s, of course, impossible, and the sunlight does eventually begin to filter in through the window.
They don’t have breakfast; neither of them is supposed to eat before their operation. They don’t even say much to eachother as they get up. There’s not much left to say – small talk at this point would just be painful. Mark doesn’t like using meaningless words to fill up silences and at this point, words would just be useless.
Mark calls a cab, so he and Eduardo can be as close as possible for as long as possible.
They step outside, waiting on the curb for it. It was raining in the night, but it’s stopped now. The sky is the brightest blue, cloudless. The street is damp, the air is cool and fresh. It’s a good day for a last day. As they wait, Eduardo wraps his arms around Mark’s neck, pulling him in and Mark lets out a shuddery breath, willing himself not to cry. He can’t cry, not in front of Eduardo, he doesn’t want him to feel bad about this.
In the back of the cab, Eduardo tangles his fingers in Mark’s hair. Mark’s chest hurts even more than normal as he bunches up against Eduardo, not bothering with the proper vehicle safety. He thanks the heavens every time they’re stopped at a red light.
And when they get to the hospital, it’s all Mark can do to stop himself from standing there and screaming. Like a little kid in a toy store, he just wants to kick his legs and punch and scream and beg, “No! No, you can’t take him from me! Die? I don’t care, I’d rather die, no!”
They’re going to have to part soon, so both of them can be prepared for their operations. The closer they get, the more Mark realizes what this really is, what Eduardo really is. He’s known it before, but it’s never really sunk in. Eduardo was made to do this – Eduardo was born to die, for the life of someone else. And he’s okay with that. Eduardo was never meant to live past thirty, or however long the donors live, and he was okay with that. But no matter how fast these past few months have gone by, Mark was able to make them good ones for him.
He stops, pulls Eduardo against his chest and buries his face in his neck. Eduardo’s arms wrap around him, thin but strong, one more time.
“I don’t regret it,” Eduardo whispers. “I’m doing this for you. And I don’t regret it. I don’t have a life ahead of me, Mark, you do. You can do anything; letting you die would be doing the world an injustice. No one will miss me.”
“I’ll miss you.”
Eduardo leans back, runs his hand over Mark’s cheek. Mark trembles, leaning into his hand, “this way, Mark, you’ll always have a piece of me. It’s not like I need it, anyway.”
Mark pushes himself into Eduardo again, holds him as tight as he can for as long as he can, knowing he’ll never feel it again.
“I love you, Mark Zuckerberg,” Eduardo whispers, faintly, in his ear.
“I love you, Eduardo.”
And then it’s time for them to part.
They go in opposite directions, different wings of the hospital.
Mark doesn’t feel anything after that. He doesn’t feel anything when the doctors have him strip out of his clothes and put on the gown that never quite ties well enough to be fully concealing, when he gets his blood tested and pees in a cup and all the preliminaries to make sure everything’s right with his body before the operation starts. How many times has Eduardo undergone similar tests? What’s he thinking right now? He doesn’t want to be alive. He doesn’t want Eduardo to give his life for him. He doesn’t care if the fucking disease kills him. He doesn’t care, he doesn’t want to live at all without Eduardo.
“I have to see him,” Mark tells his doctor. The man looks at him dubiously ad Mark yanks his arm down, to his level where he’s sitting on the chair, “I have to see him. Please, please, please. Please. Just see him. I just have to see him again.”
So they take Mark, down the winding hallways of the hospital, into another wing. Mark feels like he’s going up – it burns wet in the back of his throat, heavy in his stomach, threatening to come up at any second. He actually tastes bile in his mouth but by some miracle he holds himself together.
He watches from behind a glass window and he’s just in time to see them bringing Eduardo in. He’s stretched out on a metal table, eyes looking about but he doesn’t seem fearful at all. When he looks over at Mark, he’s completely calm, even looks peaceful. He has an IV stuck in his hand and the little patches on his body, but looking at him just now, you’d never know what he’s about to undergo.
Mark becomes oddly calm, too. He presses his fingertips gently to the glass, glad that he can be here, in Eduardo’s final minutes. He nods, almost imperceptibly, and whispers “I love you” through the glass. It’s the first time he’s said it of his own accord but he’s never felt it stronger. Wardo can’t hear him, but catches the shape of his lips and he mouths the words back. And then he smiles, winces, but still smiles as the doctor injects something into his IV, something that will let him drift away fast and peaceful.
Their eyes stay locked until Eduardo’s have to close, his head droops and falls against his shoulder. The movement of his chest stops.
“Mister Zuckerberg,” the doctor touches his back, gently, his words in a sympathetic whisper, “we’ve got to get this done as soon as possible.”
“Yeah, right, right…” Mark closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. He doesn’t want to see the rest, anyway. He turns away, and when they head to the operating room, he’s oddly calm. Eduardo’s gone now, Eduardo died having done everything he wanted to do.
Eduardo gave his life, his heart, so Mark could have his. Even if he was going to do that, for someone, all along, that’s something Mark won’t ever forget.
And something he won’t take advantage of. He’ll go on, he’ll live, because Eduardo wanted him to – or all of this would have been a waste. He won’t let that happen.
Mark wakes up in the hospital, in the recovery wing. He hears voices around him, muffled, but he can’t make out any words that they’re saying. He’s in a room with several other people. He feels a lurch in his stomach and groans – a nurse has just enough time to be pushing some kind of tray under his face before he’s throwing up, and then he’s asleep again.
When he wakes up the next time, he’s more alert, but he doesn’t know where he is. It’s dark, and there are machines beeping and someone calling his name. Someone in a white coat waving fingers in front of his face. “Mark… Mark? Mark? Mark!”
He falls asleep again, doesn’t know anything except he doesn’t want to see the people and hear the beeping. The next time he wakes up, a nurse is giving him a sponge bath; he’s awake long enough to recognize that fact before he’s unconscious again.
The next time, he’s finally alert and well enough to look around him. He’s hooked up to several machines and he blinks, tiredly, as a nurse wraps the cuff around his arm to check his blood pressure and another doctor asks him if he can please wiggle his toes. He’s hooked up to monitors and machines. He still doesn’t fully comprehend everything until the doctor tells him that the operation was a complete success and if he feels any pain, he should just push this button.
Oh. Right. The operation.
He feels the pinch in his chest and he looks down into the gown, reaching under it and running his hand over the scar that goes directly down the center of his chest. He has Eduardo’s heart now. The heart of the only person he’s ever loved is in his ribcage now.
He jams his finger down on the little button the nurse gave him and lets the morphine wash over him, carrying him to sleep.
Mark’s in the hospital for a few days to recover. The operation went flawlessly, the doctors say.
Flawlessly except for one thing.
He sleeps for most of the days. He has his own room, and the days and nights blend into eachother seamlessly, made blurry by medications and sleep and tasteless food. He pees into a tube for a couple of days until they deem him well enough to walk to the bathroom by himself. He doesn’t let them give him a sponge bath again, but he forces the tasteless, lumpy food down. Well, no, it’s not tasteless, he wishes it was tasteless.
He’s finally sent home, after making a full recovery. He buries his face in the pillow that still smells like Eduardo, the sheets they never washed after that night, before they left, and smells him. Eduardo’s everywhere in the room from the scent on the pillow to a ball of his clothes in Mark’s dresser, to the alphabetized books on his shelf that Eduardo arranged once. His bed is too big, too empty, too reminiscent. He feels Eduardo's heart beating in his chest, a constant reminder of him, and being able to breathe is a blessing, but he doesn't know if the pain in it is Eduardo's or his own. Oddly enough, he does find himself doodling, counting things, alphabetizing things and he's ot sure if he's doing it concsiously or not.
The photostrip from the fair is lying on Mark’s bedside table. He pins it above his bed, where it’s the first thing he sees in the morning and the last thing he sees at night. It’s the only thing he has on his wall.
There’s no funeral for Eduardo. Donors don’t get funerals. As far as the world is concerned, Eduardo never existed. Mark wonders what they’ll do with the body. After emptying it of any vital organs they need, of course – Mark shudders at the thought of what it would look like afterwards. They’ll probably burn it. Burying him would require too much space and effort.
His memories of Eduardo, even his last ones, are all of him smiling. Even when Wardo was walking to his death, even when he was on the operating table for the procedure that would kill him and he knew it, he looked over at Mark and smiled. Eduardo had nothing to
At least it was painless. The only reprieve Mark gets is that it was painless and quick, and Eduardo was happy. He died nameless, memorable to no one but Mark. And when Mark’s gone, no one will remember him, no one will think about him, or people like him. Unless Mark does something about it. Chris is right. He has the money, the power, the influence to make a change.
Mark still doesn’t understand Eduardo in a lot of ways. But maybe it’s better that way. Maybe he’ll never be able to understand, maybe no matter how much time he had with him, he’d never be able to understand. Eduardo’s not even on his level. He never was. Eduardo’s a different breed of human. A breed of human born to die for the benefit of another. A breed of human that can give everything for nothing. Mark has everything he could possibly want, everything except him. But maybe he was lucky to have had time with him at all.