“You’re being idiotic,” Mark says. He looks at Eduardo right in the face for about seven seconds before getting distracted. It counts as a long silence.
Mark’s voice is almost hurt, just on the edges, like a ragged wound. It’s not something Eduardo ever expected that he’d hear. He leans against the edge of the kitchen table, nudging it with his hip. Mark’s hands are flat on the synthetic wood, fingertips tapping staccato rhythm.
“I have to go,” Eduardo says. He tries to keep the pleading out of his voice, though it’s only for his own benefit. Mark doesn’t notice the nuances of tone; he has a hard enough time zeroing in on the words themselves. “He was my father. I have to go to his funeral.”
It doesn’t matter how much he hated – hates – hated his father. He hasn’t felt this strongly about anything in a long time. He needs to see his father’s body entombed. If only to remind himself that he’s really dead.
Mark snorts, derisive. His eyes are half-lidded, flitting back and forth across the empty air. He’s fixing the bugs in a program he’s building for Dustin. He’s been working on it for the last three days without pause. Eduardo’s had the time to himself to think – while he was making sure Mark stayed hydrated and fed and relatively clean.
“They’ll expect you to go,” Mark says, meaning Eduardo’s father’s associates and business partners. “They won’t know for sure if you will, but they’ll be ready, in case. There’s no one alive who doesn’t know that he died in that explosion.”
For Mark, that’s a speech. Eduardo taps one foot against the ground, and realizes after only a few moments that he’s unconsciously mimicked the rhythm of Mark’s fingers tapping on the tabletop. He stills his foot, and chews on his thumbnail instead, nervous.
“I know,” he says. “Of course they will. I’ll be careful.”
Mark doesn’t snort, or pull a face, or react physically in any way. “Not careful enough,” he says. It sounds like a prophecy.
Mark makes him a fake identity – his own face, but a new name, and a new past. Mark gives him credentials, fake family members, enough information to book himself passage on a passenger jet heading back to Sao Paulo, arriving the morning of the funeral.
He feels naked without Mark next to him. He hasn’t been away from Mark for longer than twenty-four hours since they officially teamed up. Mark needs looking after, though Eduardo, intellectually, knows that Mark managed to survive before they met. He was much thinner, then, the cords of his neck showing, the hollows of his cheekbones.
Eduardo keeps looking for him in his peripheral vision. Keeps readying his hand to press against the small of Mark’s back, urging him forward. Mark is back in France, sitting in a hotel room on the Seine. He’ll be fine for a few days, and Eduardo’s jet back leaves the following morning. It’ll be less than three days, all told.
Eduardo’s father is rich enough that he owns a plot of land in a cemetery. Cremations have been the most common method of body disposal for a long time, according to Mark, but Eduardo’s always known that his father would be buried in the family plot, and should Eduardo return to the fold, there’s a spot for him, as well. As long as he has no scars or body modifications. It’s morbid, thinking about his own death. Eduardo bites the inside of his cheek hard enough to taste copper, and shakes his head.
Eduardo stands a long way off, outside of the cemetery grounds. Every person entering and exiting the premises has to do a thumbscan to prove their security clearance, but Eduardo has no desire to be that close. And he certainly wouldn’t submit to a thumbscan. Instead, he walks around, past the entrance, until he can see the funeral through the sheets of armor glass surrounding the property. There’s enough security attending to invade a country, and Eduardo can make out the vague faces of a few of his father’s contemporaries, the Winklevoss twins among them. They’ve grown up huge and blond, attractive in a hard, mean way.
This funeral must be the biggest security risk the world has seen in the past fifteen years, at least. A prime target.
Eduardo watches his father’s body lowered into the ground. He doesn’t feel anything, not even a twinge of regret, but he can’t look away.
“Goodbye, Father,” he says. His voice is a whisper.
It’s when Eduardo is turning to leave that he feels the sting. He looks at his arm, and sees a tranq dart sticking out of his bicep. He spins around, trying to find the attacker, but his vision is swimming.
“Fuck,” he says, out loud, and then he goes down.
Eduardo’s head is pounding before he even opens his eyes. He feels like he’s going to vomit, like the room is spinning, even though his eyes are still closed. The floor is cold underneath his shirt. His feet are bare, he’s flat on his back, and he really doesn’t want to open his eyes. The light from the room is filtering in through his eyelids, making his head throb. It takes him a few minutes, but he pieces together what he remembers – the tranq, the way the world tilted abruptly to the left and then went black. He can’t remember hearing anything, voices or footsteps.
Mark, it turns out, was right.
He has no idea what time it is, but although he’d like to think that it wouldn’t take long for Mark to realize he’s gone, he can’t be sure. Mark can end up coding for 48 hours straight and only realize what day it is when he partially disengages from the network to water from the bathroom, or eat a slice of toast.
Eduardo’s breath is wheezing in and out of his chest, too fast. He needs to stay calm. His pulse is pounding in his veins, rabbit-quick, and he wouldn’t be surprised if whoever kidnapped him could tell. Most of these kinds of cells have monitors.
Finally, Eduardo risks opening his eyes. He almost vomits from the brightness, but manages to swallow it back. He has to close his eyes again, and then reopen them. Whatever they hit him with was strong.
The first thing he notices is that he’s not wearing the same clothes he collapsed in. It’s just loose pants and a shirt, made of the same pale gray cotton-substitute. He has no possessions on him at all, in fact. He feels almost naked, which he’s sure is the point.
The room itself is white synthetic material, threaded through with veins of electronic nerves. It’s the sensors in the walls that let them control the room. There’s no door, per se – each wall can be opened or divided in any way that the sensors tell them to. Eduardo’s only seen this kind of thing once, and it was in passing. He has no idea how to get out, and no implant to connect to the network with.
They have to know that he’s awake, by now. They’re letting him stew. Eduardo is still a hairsbreadth away from vomiting, so he curls onto his side, closes his eyes, and goes back to sleep.
He’s woken, sometime later, by a shoe nudging him in the chest. He cracks one eye open, and takes a deep breath, looking up at the figure looming over him. One of the Winklevoss twins smiles down at him. He’s dressed in a cardigan and slacks, designed to look exactly as lush and expensive as they actually are. His shoes are probably even made of real leather. Eduardo can vaguely remember what that felt like underneath his fingers, but it’s been too long for him to be certain.
If this were seven years ago, Eduardo would assume that it was Tyler – Tyler, who has always been the more openly vicious of the two, the simpler, more spiteful version of his brother. Now, though, he can’t be sure.
“Hello, Tyler,” he says anyway, surprised by the hoarseness of his voice. He’s still feeling dizzy and a little lightheaded. The Winklevoss’ mouth quirks sideways in a mean smile.
“I told Cam you’d still be able to tell us apart,” Tyler says. He nudges Eduardo again with the toe of his boot. “You look – surprisingly well fed for someone who’s been missing for almost an decade.”
“I make do,” Eduardo says, wondering when Tyler’s going to cut to the chase and tell him why he’s here. He’s still exhausted and headachy.
Tyler laughs, and it sounds just as mean as his face looks. “I’m just waiting for you to give us a hard time, Wardo,” Tyler says, using the nickname only the staff had ever gotten to. And Mark. Mark who probably hasn’t even realized that he’s gone, yet.
“I’m sure,” Eduardo manages, and tries not to close his eyes.
“He’s awake, Cam,” Tyler says to the open air. “Did you want him?”
There are no obvious speakers, no intercom of any kind, but still Cameron’s voice is projected loud and clear through the room. “Momentarily,” Cameron says.
“Still your brother’s lackey, I see,” Eduardo says, unable to help himself. He should be smarter than this.
He’s not at all surprised when Tyler kicks him in the stomach, hard enough to force the breath out of him. He curls up against the pain, and though he knows it wasn’t a smart move, he still doesn’t regret it.
“Now, now, Ty.” The smooth white walls fold up and part to show Cameron standing in the hallway outside. He’s even more crisply dressed than his brother – a slim, pinstripe suit, obviously bespoke. They probably have a tailor on retainer specifically for the two of them. “Take it easy on him.”
Cameron is deceptively kind looking, still. Patronizing, sure, but with the air that he actually feels like he has a right to be doing what he’s doing. It’s why Eduardo hasn’t ever trusted him – not with Tyler as a brother, not taking their families into account. Eduardo honestly hadn’t felt scared until Cameron showed up. Now he can feel himself tense up all over, and though he tries to keep it subtle, he can tell that they’ve both noticed. Tyler’s eyes go sharp like a hawk’s, and Cameron smiles faintly.
“It’s okay,” Cameron says. “We’re not going to hurt you.” He glances at Tyler, who takes his cue.
“Not unless we have to.” Tyler’s lips curl back into something half snarl and half smile. “I hope we have to.”
It’s a carefully crafted dance. Eduardo can’t help but wonder if it would actually fool anyone, but then again – he’s known them since he was small. He saw this dynamic before anyone else. He saw them become this.
“You have an eye for travelling clothes, Eduardo,” Cameron says mildly, and taps the wall closest to him. The panels slide and reform into something like a tablet screen, and a vid starts to play on the glossy surface. Eduardo goes cold all over, his stomach clenching into a fist. He watches himself pull the hat down over his face, walking up the last few steps to the plane. “We thought you might want to see your father one last time,” Cameron adds, and smiles.
It’s then that he lets it sink in, for the first time, that they’ve been waiting for this. That he had no chance at all. That no matter what he does, no matter how much he cooperates, or doesn’t, they’re going to hurt him. Just because they want to.
“Your father died believing that he’d find you. After all, he wasn’t an old man. He still had a few good decades left before he’d have to turn the company over. He still thought he’d be turning it over to you.” Cameron manages to keep the distaste out of his voice, but not off of his face.
Tyler snorts. “Not that you’d have any idea what to do with it once you got it.” His tone is derisive. Eduardo wants nothing to do with his father’s company – in fact, given the option, he’d dissolve it altogether – but he almost wants to want it, just to spite Tyler.
Cameron shoots Tyler a look. Eduardo carefully keeps his hands from balling up into fists. He can’t stop them from knowing how fast his heart is beating – the tech embedded in the walls will make sure of that – but he can keep them from knowing if it’s fear or anger. Better for them to underestimate him.
He’s not sure that it will make any difference, but it can’t hurt.
“So,” Cameron says, and Eduardo blinks at him, slow like a reptile.
“So,” Eduardo says, “what is it, exactly, that you need me for?”
Cameron holds his hands palm up, almost a shrug. Eduardo has to suppress a shiver at how purposefully false Cameron is – it’s been a long time since Eduardo has had to deal with him, and he’s much better at it now than he ever was as a child. “You don’t know?”
“My father left the company to me,” Eduardo says. “You need me to access the files. Without me, you can’t even change the ownership code.”
“Because everything is tied to your genetic structure, yes.” Cameron nods, as if to says, good, you get it. Condescending again.
“What a waste,” Tyler says. “If only he’d known how useless you are.” Tyler’s face is cold, and calm, his voice cutting. Eduardo knows that Cameron is more dangerous by far, but he can’t help the degree to which he actively hates Tyler. He supposes that’s the point.
“This can be easy. You father liked and respected us. If he’d been a little less traditional, he’d have left the company to us. We’ve been working with him for years.” Cameron is laying the material out, but he doesn’t expect it to work. Eduardo can tell by the way Tyler is smiling.
“Or it can be hard,” Tyler says. “But either way, in the end, we get what we want.”
The Winklevoss twins have been helping to run the company founded by their parents since they finished school, funding several governments in Europe and half of the Eastern Seaboard of North America. If they got control of Eduardo’s father’s company, they’d have power over several key regions of South America, just to start.
“Tyler’s chomping at the bit, Cameron,” Eduardo says, keeping his voice even and his face placid. “Who am I to deprive him of a little fun?”
“I thought you’d say that,” Cameron says. “C’mon, Ty.”
The wall folds open. They leave, but they won’t be gone long.
Finally alone and more or less recovered, Eduardo takes a look at his cell. There’s a cot built into the wall, made of the same synthetic material. It has a pillow and a blanket, but no mattress. There’s a sink, and a toilet. No windows, no doors, and no obvious slot for food delivery. These, most likely, will be programmed in whenever they are necessary. The entire room glows bright white, the tech embedded in the walls giving off light.
He has no idea how long he sits in silence, curled up on the end of the bed-slab. It must be a few hours. Then, a slot folds up into the wall, close to the floor, and a tray is pushed through. There’s a clay mug full of water, a bowl with some kind of soup in it, a bread roll. Nothing else. No cutlery of any kind. Luckily, living with Mark has made Eduardo less than picky.
He picks the bowl up between his hands, and sips at it. Some kind of chicken and barley, maybe, or vegetable. He wonders if Mark has stopped coding long enough to notice that he’s gone. He wonders if he’s even missed his flight yet.
He’ll probably need outside help if he’s going to get out. He hopes it won’t take Mark too long to find him. Or, at the very least, to figure out that something has happened to him. Some weak, scared part of him can only remember the way Mark’s eyes skate over him when he’s wired in, Mark’s noncommittal conversation attempts. All of the things that Mark doesn’t notice, or care about.
He thinks about the way Mark zeros in on him when he disconnects, and lets himself pretend, for the moment, that it’s enough.
The lights dim a few hours later. The circuitry still glows in abstract patterns from the walls, but room is dark enough for Eduardo to close his eyes and pretend that it’s evening, and he’s leaving the bathroom lights on in case Mark detaches from the network suddenly. He occasionally gets disoriented when he disconnects, and Eduardo has learned to sleep in the half-light. Eduardo wonders if the Winklevoss twins have figured out some of his activities from the past seven years, or if they’re trying to keep him from sleeping well.
It doesn’t really matter. They’ll be surprised or they won’t.
Sometime later, the lights brighten and the walls fold open. Eduardo wakes with a start, jolting into a sitting position, the blankets clutched in his hands. He doesn’t know the two men who enter, but they’re almost as tall as the Winklevoss twins and even wider. They have thick cloth uniforms in navy blue, with the Winklevoss family insignia sewn into their left shoulder. Obviously, they’re security.
The one to the right has a scar running down his jaw, ending almost at his collarbone. The other has the nose of someone who has been repeatedly punched in the face. They both stand with the certain stillness of military training. Eduardo doesn’t shrink back against the wall, but he wants to. He presses one fist against his stomach underneath the blanket, prodding the bruise Tyler left there the day before. They won’t kill him, yet. They still need him.
“C’mon,” Scar says. “Stand up.” Broken Nose says nothing at all. Just stands motionless with his hands crossed behind him.
Eduardo stands. He takes the time to fold the blanket and put it at the end of the bed-slab.
“Clothes,” Broken Nose says. His voice is deeper than Scar’s. Rougher. “Off.”
“What –” Eduardo starts, because they can’t really –
“Take your clothes off,” Scar says. “Unless you don’t want them back after this.”
Eduardo pulls in a shaky breath, a knot of anxiety curling up against the base of his throat. He pulls the loose shirt over his head, folds it, and leaves it on top of the pillow. Then, quick and simple, he slides the elastic band of the pants over his hips, picks them up off of the floor and similarly folds them. Then, the underwear. So simple – three pieces of synthetic cotton, elastic, and thread, and then he’s completely naked. He shivers in the air, and when Scar wraps a hand around his upper arm and pulls him into the hallway, he stumbles along. Broken Nose takes up the rear.
The hallway is empty, made of the same material as the cell. Eduardo wonders how many cells are kept here, if any of them are occupied. He doesn’t look down at himself, and doesn’t think about his predicament – better to focus on external things.
They make one turn, a sharp left, and then Scar presses his thumb against one of the notches in the wall. It flares blue, showing an outline of his thumbprint on the synthetic material, and then disappears. The wall folds open, revealing some kind of bathing room.
Against the far wall are four stalls, each equipped with its own showerhead. None of them have curtains. There are four toilets folded up into the adjacent wall, each with a thumb pad to activate them. In the closest corner there is a counter jutting out from the wall, with several metallic instruments placed, even spaced, upon it.
Scar pushes him toward it, and grabs the left-most instrument. A pair of clippers.
“Hold still,” he says. Broken Nose has stayed near the entrance, which closes behind them with a vague whirring.
Scar is efficient, though this can’t be part of his job description. He handles the clippers like a weapon, as careful and certain as he would be with a taser or a gun.
When he’s shorn all of Eduardo’s hair to a short fuzz he takes a step back. Eduardo looks at the carnage at his feet, at the hair that drifts off of his bare shoulders when he moves.
“Shower,” Scar says. “Now.”
Eduardo does as he says.
When he’s clean and dry enough, the guards take him from the shower room, leading him further down the hall. They make two turns, this time, another left, and then a right. They’re going further away from Eduardo’s cell. He’s trying to keep track of where they are, but everything looks identical.
When the wall opens on the next room, Eduardo isn’t surprised to find both Cameron and Tyler, sitting, relaxed, on a couch in the corner. It’s obviously some kind of interrogation room – there’s a table in the middle with two chairs on each side. Eduardo has no idea why the couch is there, except to make him uncomfortable.
“Well, well,” Tyler says. “I can’t say that the shorn sheep looks suits you much, Wardo.”
“Now, Tyler, that’s no reason to be rude.” Cameron laughs, anyway, sharing a smile with Tyler, who raises an eyebrow as if to say, you see it, right?. “Want to have a seat? You look a little chilly.”
“I’m fine.” Eduardo crosses his arms in front of him in a useless effort to make himself feel less naked. It’s transparent, but at this point he doesn’t care.
“I know this must be a little humiliating,” Cameron says, “but you realize that we have to make certain that you are – intact.” He smirks, and shifts, slapping his hands down on his thighs and pushing himself to his feet. “If you’d put your arms at your sides, please, and spread your feet.”
Eduardo can feel the blush burning his face and spreading down his neck. His hands are shaking in fine, minute tremors, and he stares out to the far wall, over Tyler’s head. He doesn’t bite his lip, but he does suck the inside of his cheek between his teeth.
“Hmm,” Cameron says, sounding slightly impressed. His fingers brush the inside of Eduardo’s right knee as he bends down. It takes everything Eduardo has to keep still. Cameron touches each of his feet, looking at the soles like someone might a horse. He moves each of Eduardo’s arms to look at the soft skin along his elbows. Despite how rough life with Mark gets, Eduardo hasn’t sustained any injuries. He’s barely been scraped. It’s more luck than anything else – Eduardo has never given a shit about reclaiming his “place” among the upper crust – but Cameron is still obviously relieved. “How have you managed it?” he asks, eventually. He leans against the table and stares at Eduardo, who keeps his hands at his sides.
“Just lucky, I guess,” Eduardo says, and bares his teeth in what could, by some definition, be called a smile. It isn’t, really.
“Curtis, Redford, take the prisoner back to his cell.”
Cameron is pleased – Eduardo can tell by the calm set of his face, and the way that Tyler is smiling at him. If Eduardo were to be taken out of play, the power would go to the shareholders. This way, at least, Cameron has a chance of circumventing the system. Eduardo takes a deep breath, and lets the guards manhandle him out of the room.
Eduardo is dropped in his cell, and the guards leave without a farewell. Eduardo shrugs on his clothes, rubs his hand over the new shortness of his hair. He feels – more vulnerable, shorn this way. He sits cross-legged on the bed-slab, and waits to be fed. After drinking his bland soup and eating the slightly stale roll, he curls up and goes to sleep.
Eduardo doesn’t see them again for some extended period of time. He’s assuming something like twenty-four hours, but he honestly has no idea how long he’s been here thus far, or what time of day it is. There are no windows. He could have slept for thirteen hours and not even know it.
Tyler and Cameron are already inside the interrogation room, seated side by side on the couch. Scar pushes Eduardo down into one of the chairs, and then leaves the room, Broken Nose trailing after him. When the wall folds closed with a soft hiss, Eduardo can’t help the anxiety that curls in his belly. Yesterday, he wasn’t left alone with them.
“Unfortunately, it seems we still have a few questions for you,” Cameron says with a cold smile. “Apologies.” He speaks like a gentleman, like someone with feelings, and real concerns, but Eduardo wonders if he has any genuine emotions at all. If he cares about anything besides winning.
“Not a problem,” Eduardo says, when it becomes clear that Cameron is waiting for a response.
Cameron hums to himself, pauses before speaking. “Why don’t you just turn the company over to us? That way we wouldn’t have to cause any lasting damage.” Cameron’s expression is something approximating contrite, but he doesn’t wear it easily. Eduardo knows that they’d be slicing him up already if it wasn’t against protocol. And the last thing Cameron wants is to violate protocol.
Tyler, Eduardo is relatively certain, wouldn’t give a shit either way.
“I don’t see why it would be in my self-interest to, honestly,” Eduardo says. He plays his nervousness off with a careless shrug, but Cameron just smiles.
“We wouldn’t have to hurt you, then, of course.” Cameron raises one eyebrow.
“You wouldn’t need me alive anymore, either,” Eduardo says. He shrugs again. “You see my dilemma.”
“Ah,” Cameron says, “yes.” He sounds disappointed, but Eduardo knows that he’s not. Eduardo remembers this from the day he met the two of them – Cameron’s polite words and cold manipulation, Tyler’s overt aggression. Eduardo, at nine, hadn’t been able to understand them at all. Not until he met their mother for the first time. She’d smiled at him, and he’d felt the chill that slithered down his spine and thought, oh.
“I might be able to do a little convincing,” Tyler says. Eduardo’s waiting for him to crack his knuckles, or something equally crass, but he just leans forward in his seat, face bland.
“I see I’ve been outsmarted,” Cameron says, standing and stretching. He enjoys this game, this front, enough that he doesn’t mind dragging out the process. He has a thousand faces to try, and one of them, he’s sure, will make Eduardo crack. “Why don’t you give it a go, Ty?”
“Finally,” Tyler says. His voice is level, but there’s anticipation in the set of his mouth, the sharp focus of his eyes. He’s been waiting for this. Eduardo wonders for one moment why Tyler hates him so much, but then he realizes that it’s not him at all – Tyler just likes hurting people. He just likes it.
Cameron heads for the door, but pauses at the thumbscan, as if remembering something. “No scarring, Ty. Remember that.”
The two of them share a look that Eduardo doesn’t understand. There’s some unspoken communication, and Eduardo thinks, again, about the slick way the two of them work together. He wonders how many companies they’ve taken down with Cameron’s quick tongue and Tyler’s desire to enforce it.
Cameron nods, once, and then leaves the room. Eduardo looks up at Tyler, listening to the doorway close again. Tyler’s hair is smoothed back against his head, and he’s starting to smile. Eduardo straightens his back, and doesn’t look away.
Scar throws Eduardo back in his cell unceremoniously. Eduardo trips over his own feet, and collapses onto the floor. His lip is still bleeding, a little – he can feel the blood trickling down his face and dripping off of his chin – but it won’t scar. It’s not bad enough. It still hurts.
Tyler, it turns out, is good at bruises. Eduardo can’t muster even an ounce of surprise. His body hurts all over, but he’s pretty sure most of it isn’t even visible with his clothes on.
Still, Eduardo gave him nothing. A few pained groans, one gasp, but no pleas. No promises, if only Tyler would make the pain stop. It helps that Tyler has nothing that Eduardo wants. It helps that Eduardo has spent the last seven years jumping from one dangerous task to the next. He’s gotten his fair share of bruises.
Eduardo wipes at his face, dabbing at his lip with the hem of his shirt. It’s going to stain the fabric, but Eduardo doesn’t really care at the moment. His blood is a dull, burnt red against the grey cotton. He rubs the worst of the smears off of his face with the water from the sink, but he can’t manage to get it all without exacerbating the cut.
Are you still wired in, Mark? he thinks, staring down at the splotched stains on his clothing. He wonders if Mark has gotten hungry yet. He wonders if Mark is starving himself and doesn’t even know it.
He eats his meal that evening especially slowly. The soup stings against his lip, and the bread is too crusty. He still gets down every bit of it.
It becomes a routine. Eduardo loses track of how many times he’s been asked the same questions, how many meals he’s eaten alone in his cell. He stops counting.
He still wakes listening for the clacking of Mark’s fingers of the tabletop, the muttering of variables under his breath. He wakes, and he thinks about Mark – Mark, who has to have noticed he’s gone. Mark, who probably even knows where the Winklevoss twins are holding him. Mark, who usually spends most of their jobs half buried in the network.
Mark is either – either prodding at the security systems on this facility, looking for weaknesses, buried so far in the network that if Eduardo were there he’d be anxiously pacing, or he’s. Given up entirely. Eduardo can’t imagine what it would take Mark to ask for help, because he’s never seen it happen. Not once. Eduardo’s always there, instead, offering.
“C’mon, Cam, let me get Divya. He’s never steered us wrong before.” Tyler is whispering, but Eduardo can still hear him. The room isn’t that big. Eduardo has his hands flat on the tabletop, as if the touch of the synthetic wood could stave off his dizziness. He’s losing weight – one meal a day is not enough. He’s trying to keep it quiet, though. The less Cameron notices, the better.
“I told you, Ty, there’s no need.” Cameron’s voice is almost triumphant. Eduardo wants to believe that he’s overconfident, but he’s not so sure.
“We’re getting nowhere,” Tyler says, and crosses his arms over his chest. Eduardo is nearly positive that Tyler doesn’t even believe what he’s saying; he just wants permission to hurt Eduardo more, and differently. He’s getting bored. Eduardo presses his fingers into the tabletop until they start to hurt.
It’s Cameron who snorts, this time. “Divya’s methods only work on the underclasses. Divya can’t sully his skin any more than we can.”
Tyler’s disgusted expression says all that it need to about his opinions on the old rules. Eduardo is aware that Cameron’s business sense is the only thing keeping all his pieces in the correct places. He closes his eyes briefly, and tries to ward off the lightheadedness.
“The rules are outdated,” Tyler says. “Divya understands that.” He’s not even bothering to pretend to whisper anymore. He’s not angry; this argument is obviously well-tread between them.
“You and Divya. So obsessed with change. I don’t see you with an implant. Not that willing to disobey mother and father?”
Tyler’s fists clench against his crossed forearms, and Eduardo can see his jaw tense. He’s not a sociopath, just a sadist. Eduardo has met their parents, seen their strict, keen focus; he wouldn’t want to disobey them, either.
“We have time,” Cameron says. “Divya makes you impatient.”
Tyler looks away. Cameron turns back to Eduardo with a blinding smile. It’s fake, and meant to look so. Eduardo doesn’t want to know what he’s like underneath it. “Now,” he says, “where were we?”
Eduardo lies on the floor of his cell and takes shallow breaths. He presses his fingers along his ribcage just to feel the way his stomach concaves in. He knows there are cameras, but he doesn’t care anymore. They could probably tell his blood pressure from out there, give the amount of wiring running through each wall.
He pounds his fists against the floor, more desperate than angry.
“I’m not giving in, assholes!” he yells, and is certain they can hear him. Or they will hear him tomorrow, when they watch the vids. “Just let me go!”
He’s closer to breaking than he wants to be. He’s starting to forget what it’s like to run, to smell the dirt and smog of the city. He’s starting to have trouble imagining Mark as a whole, completely being – not just the assemblage of lips, and sharp cheekbones and restless, tapping fingers. Not just the knobs of spine and half-lidded eyes. It makes his chest tighten, and ache. Mark is something that he can’t bear to lose. He’s starting to wonder if anyone is coming for him. He’s starting to wonder how important he is, actually, to Mark. He supposes that he’s never really known, and it’s dangerous, even thinking about it. Every negative thought just makes Cameron stronger.
He slams his fists into the floor again and knows that tomorrow, or this evening, or whenever Cameron sees the vid recording, he’s going to know what it means. And he’s going to smile.
“Fuck,” Eduardo says.
Two visits later, Eduardo spits in Cameron’s face. Cameron’s smile flickers for half a second, sliding into cold hatred just long enough for Eduardo to register it. It frightens him, but he can’t take anything back now. Then Cameron is smiling again.
Tyler cheerfully breaks every finger on Eduardo’s left hand, one at a time. He’s careful, methodical, and Eduardo screams. He can still feel each crack, the searing pain that surges, jagged, up his arm. He sits and pants for long minutes after Tyler finishes. Tyler is still leaning against the table, looming over him. His smile is real in a way Cameron’s never is, and more vicious.
“If you don’t behave, I’ll start on the right,” he says, and then turns to Cameron. “I told you we should call Divya.”
“It seems like you have everything under control,” Cameron says. He’s wiped Eduardo’s saliva off of his face. Eduardo’s hand is burning, and he can’t look at it, the impossible angles of his fingers. No broken skin, but a lot of swelling. If he doesn’t get medical attention, they’ll set like this. Crooked.
He’d try it himself, but he doesn’t know how.
Tyler snorts. Eduardo’s vision is swimming. He’s going to faint soon.
“Oh, it looks like our guest isn’t feeling well,” Cameron says, and leans in. “What is it, Eduardo? Did you not sleep enough last night?”
Eduardo vaguely considers spitting at him again, but instead he slips right into unconsciousness.
Eduardo wakes up back in his cell. His fingers are bandaged, but still throbbing. He tries to bend them, and immediately regrets it. He has no idea if they’ve actually been set or not.
He eats his soup one-handed, and can’t tear his roll up at all. He has to gnaw on it like a dog. He’s lucky, he supposes, that Tyler broke his non-dominant hand. It could have been worse.
Jesus, Mark, he thinks, but doesn’t dare say aloud. If you’re coming, do it soon. Otherwise there will be no point.
He won’t speak Mark’s name out loud. Cameron and Tyler probably know who Mark is, but not that he and Eduardo are partners. It would be better if they didn’t know. It would be easier.
Of course, it’s possible that they already knew about Mark. That they found him, somehow, while he was still hooked in, and quietly, brutally, disposed of him. Just the thought sends Eduardo’s pulse racing, even though he knows, he knows, how illogical it is. How would they find Mark? And if they have, why haven’t they used Mark against him?
Eduardo can imagine the pictures, though. Mark slumped over a desk with his throat cut, blood dribbling down onto the dirty floor. Mark lying lifeless, mouth half open, on the bedspread, each of his fingers missing. Mark face down in the shower, blood trickling down the drain, skull crumpled oddly where his head’s been bashed in. Eduardo can imagine it all.
It doesn’t help that it’s probably not true. He thinks about how he left Mark that morning, a full glass of water on the table by his elbow, but he’d known then that Mark was more likely to accidentally knock it over than drink it while he was coding. Not without Eduardo to force it down.
Eduardo bites at his lip hard enough to make it bleed. When the blood wells up around the edges, he licks it off, swallowing copper and tin.
The night he catches himself thinking, if I just turn the company over, maybe they’ll let me go, is the night he presses his broken fingers into the floor until lights start to spark off behind his eyes. He blinks, but they don’t clear. He feels dizzy.
If he dies without naming a successor, law dictates that the investors bicker over it until they can decide on another leader. Wars have been known to start over such things. Maybe it would be best just to let them kill him.
“I didn’t want it to come down to this,” Cameron says. This is the first time Eduardo has seen them in some indistinct amount of time. Eduardo is vaguely wondering how long he’s been here, and he can come up with no real answer. A few weeks, maybe. Possibly a month. Maybe more, or less. He stares down at the table, his hands flat against the cool material. Tyler is somewhere behind him, pacing like a trapped panther. Cameron has his legs crossed. When Eduardo looks at the floor, he can see Cameron’s leather shoes, matte black and fashionable, expensive enough to feed three people for a month.
“Are you listening to me, Eduardo?” Cameron’s voice is sickly sweet.
Eduardo wakes sometime later. He’s trying to remember when he last had a meal, but he can’t. Time is such a slippery thing. The tech twinkles like stars, and Eduardo lies on his back on the floor, looking up. He could probably count on his fingers the number of times he’s seen real stars. They’ve only been that far out of the urban sprawl maybe eight times. Eduardo associates the night sky with Mark’s clear eyes and bitten lower lip.
He’d felt close to Mark, then. Reciprocated.
He presses his fingers to the knobs in his chest, the places where the bones protrude how they shouldn’t, places where the skin pulls taut. He slides his fingers down over his ribs, past the elastic of his waistband to the sharp jut of his hipbones. His hair is growing back as a short fuzz.
He thinks about when he first met Mark, the skeletal slant to his body, his zoned out eyes. Like a junkie. Drugged out and useless. Only half wrong. Mark could do anything he wanted with his mind, but he ignored his body. He still does, though maybe not quite as much. Maybe it’s not Mark, just Eduardo taking care of him. Eduardo isn’t sure, and doesn’t care.
He curls up in his side, and goes back to the sleep.
Eduardo sits up, and Mark is curled up on the bed-slab, back pressed to the corner.
“I’m not coming,” he says, and Eduardo doesn’t know what he means, because he’s here, isn’t he? He’s sitting there on top of the pillow Eduardo rarely uses anymore. “I told you this would happen. And I’m not coming.”
“Mark?” Eduardo’s voice quavers like a pool of rippling water, and Mark looks away. The lights of the tech glimmering in the walls are going out, one at a time.
“It only serves you right. I tried to warn you. Stop waiting for me.” Mark bites his lower lip at the right corner. He looks at Eduardo, but only makes eye contact for a brief moment before looking away again.
“What are you talking about?” Eduardo’s voice sounds like it’s coming from far away.
Mark's words, when he speaks, resonate like a kick drum. They hum in the base of Eduardo’s chest, behind his ribs. The lights are going out, one by one. “You’re going to die soon. I’m not coming for you.”
Eduardo wakes up sluggish, mouth dry, hands curled into fists underneath his head. His broken fingers throb in time with his heart.
He sits up, slow, and can’t tell how long he’s been sleeping. He can’t remember when he last ate, and he’s so thirsty.
They’re starving him, he realizes.
I’m not coming for you, Mark whispers from somewhere, nowhere, and Eduardo shudders.
“Shut up,” he says, louder than he means to. He’ll die of thirst, first. His eyes go to the sink in the corner. It’ll keep him alive a little longer, but he honestly wonders if it’s not better just to die.
Mark is leaning against the sink.
“Mark?” Eduardo asks, unsure, but Mark doesn’t blink, or look up. Mark has his back to the sink, and he’s lifting up his shirt, exposing an emaciated torso – Eduardo could touch each of his ribs, from where they start just underneath his collarbones, all the way to the sharp dip that marks the end of his ribcage. Mark’s looking down at the skin stretched over his bones, but he doesn’t seem to care.
“See,” he says, “I don’t need you. I didn’t ever need you, Wardo.” He looks up, fingers still wrapped in the hem of his shirt, and Eduardo wants to vomit. He feels the bile roiling in him stomach. Mark’s eyes are blown wide, like an addict’s, and he’s staring.
“Don’t,” Eduardo says, because he doesn’t want to hear this, he doesn’t want to see this. Mark just smiles, humorless.
“It was easy enough to keep you around,” he says, and shrugs one thin, tired shoulder, “but what did you do for me, really?”
Mark takes a step toward Eduardo on rickety-thin legs, and Eduardo swallows a wounded sound, pressing himself back. He pushes his fingers against the wall hard enough to hurt, as if trying to prove that they’re real, but he’s still not sure.
“What did you do for me, really, Wardo?” Mark’s voice is hard, like a solid force, and Eduardo holds in a sob. “What use could someone like me possibly have for someone like you?”
And Eduardo, Eduardo doesn’t know, he has no idea, he watches the way that Mark’s skin pulls taut over the muscles and veins and bones, and he closes his eyes.
Eduardo wakes with his fist in his mouth, biting down so hard that he leaves indentations with his teeth. The lights are dim, and that could mean it’s evening again, or it could be a trick. Eduardo doesn’t care.
“You should just kill me,” he says, and flops onto his back. “Just fucking kill me.”
Some part of him is screaming, don’t push them, but the rest of him is tired. Mark’s not coming for him. Mark doesn’t care. He can smell his own sweat. The shirt and pants, which fit him loosely when he’d first had them on, keep slipping down. It’s enough. They’ve done enough.
Mark is touching the side of his face. Eduardo can tell it’s him with his eyes still closed; he’d know that hesitant pressure anywhere.
“Wardo,” Mark says, voice soft. Eduardo imagines he can hear the tech humming in the walls. It probably likes Mark. It would probably let him in.
“Wardo, open your eyes,” Mark’s voice is insistent. He doesn’t sound anxious, just firm. Eduardo hears a soft dripping, but he can’t identify the source.
He opens his eyes. Mark is bleeding everywhere. It’s trickling down his chin, onto the cotton of Eduardo’s pants. There are smears of it on the floor. When Mark smiles, his teeth are red with it.
“Told you,” Mark says. “I told you so.”
Eduardo wakes up when the lights go out. It’s never been dark like this before, a wall of black so deep he can’t even see his hands moving. He can hear his breath speed up, feel the tendrils of panic catching in his throat. He’s going to die. Finally.
He hears the smooth swish of the wall folding open, but the hallway is as dark as the cell. He sees nothing at all.
A soft hand presses against his shoulder. Eduardo flails blindly, and hits solid mass with a thud. There’s not much power behind the aimless swing, but the figure in the darkness exhales sharply, like the air has been pushed out of him, or her.
“Get away from me,” Eduardo says. He hates the panic in his voice, the harshness.
“Wardo,” Mark’s voice whispers out of the darkness. Eduardo bites his lip to hold in an anguished noise. Not more of this. He takes a step back.
“Please don’t do this to me,” he says. He sounds half-strangled. He wraps his fingers in the loose synthetic cotton of his shirt, clutching. He doesn’t even realize he’s still backing up until he hits the wall. “Not again.”
“Wardo?” Mark sounds confused now. It’s better than accusing. It’s better than clogged with blood. “Stop. We have to get out of here.”
“You’re not really here. You’re not. You’re not.” Eduardo knows that he’s babbling, stretching the fabric of his shirt between his fingers until it protests.
“Eduardo.” Mark’s voice is lost, perplexed. “We have to –” He cuts himself off. He’s silent for long enough that Eduardo wonders if Mark has disappeared. His broken fingers are throbbing, but he can’t loosen them. “They’re coming. The lights will come back on in – thirty-seven seconds. We don’t have time for this.”
Mark’s hand finds him again in the darkness, wrapping tight around his upper arm. Eduardo shudders and thinks of Scar, pulling him toward the showers. Mark must be – if he’s here he must be – in contact with the sensors. Feeling Eduardo out by his heat signature.
“You said you weren’t coming,” Eduardo says. It’s all he can think to say. Mark pulls him toward the opening in the wall, out into the hallway beyond. He’s silent.
Eduardo follows him. He doesn’t have the strength not to. Just the walking is making him dizzy, but when he stumbles, Mark pulls him up. Eduardo hopes it’s really Mark.
Some of the lights flicker on as they pass the interrogation room. Eduardo sees wet blood sprayed on the white, twinkling wall, but no one comes after them.
Mark is muttering under his breath. “Left, left, right. Cycle back to the – interrupt the data flow, it’s the only – yes. Alarm bypass. Firewall, firewall, redundant data loop leading only to the –” but Eduardo doesn’t understand most of it, and Mark isn’t talking to him anyway. He’s focused on other things.
He’s breathing too loud. He shouldn’t be this tired from walking such a short way. With the lights slowly coming on, he can see Mark’s back, Mark’s hair, the long-fingered hand still wrapped around his arm. The gun sticking out the back of his pants. Mark’s looking straight again, like usually does, eyes tracking back and forth. He’s inside this place, inhabiting it.
“Mark,” Eduardo says, quietly, but Mark ignores him. Or doesn’t hear him.
They pass two dead guards, both bleeding out onto the slick floor. Mark steps over them. Eduardo stumbles, slides in the puddle but doesn’t fall. He leaves bloody footprints with his bare feet down the hall. The blood squelches up between his toes. The hall dead ends fifteen feet further down the corridor, and Mark halts.
“Unlocking sequence, rear entrance,” he murmurs. “Begin.” The tech in the wall flickers, and then resets. Mark presses his thumb against the keypad set off to the side, and then takes a step back. The wall folds open.
The garage outside is mostly empty. There’s a white van by the rear, obviously stolen – the back panel ID screen is completely blank. The back door opens, and Dustin sticks his head out.
His face freezes for half a second when he sees Mark and Eduardo, but he masks it with a grin.
“Nice of you two to join us,” he says. “Hop in.”
Eduardo wakes to hands pressing him down. He’s gasping for air, struggling to get free.
“-duardo. Eduardo!” Eduardo’s eyes snap open, and his vision swims. Dustin is peering down at him. He’s the one that spoke. Mark is standing a few steps back, his face impassive.
“We’re out,” Mark says, softly. Not exactly to himself, but not to anyone is specific, either.
“It’s okay,” Dustin says. He’s got one hand on Eduardo’s shoulder, pushing him down on the metal stretcher. They’re still moving. The van’s windows are tinted. They’re conspicuous like this.
“Am I awake yet?” He’s – pretty sure. Relatively.
Mark tunes in when Eduardo speaks. His gaze goes sharp like it does when he’s mostly disconnected. “You’re awake,” he says. His syllables are clipped, terse. Eduardo looks at his face, the rings underneath his eyes, the new boniness to his face and hands. The lost weight he couldn’t afford to lose.
Eduardo turns his head to the side, and closes his eyes.
“And I thought you looked bad,” Dustin mutters to Mark.
Mark says nothing.
When Eduardo wakes again, he’s inside, though he doesn’t know where. He’s in a queen-sized bed, obviously previously owned, but his arm is hooked up to an IV. The room has a door. Eduardo breathes a little easier.
Mark is asleep in a plush chair across the room. It smells like old lavender and antiseptic. Some kind of makeshift hospital, probably. Mark rarely sleeps of his own volition; he must have been exhausted. Eduardo wonders when he last slept. He has his knees pulled up to chest, propped up against one of the armrests. His arms are wrapped around his knees, his cheek resting on top. Eduardo sits for a moment and watches him breathe. He’s feeling a little more clear-headed, but still dizzy. And he desperately needs to pee.
He pushes the quilted comforter and lace-edged sheets, so worn they’re almost translucent, off of his torso. He’s still weak, thighs shaking with the effort of walking, so he uses the IV stand for support, wheeling it toward the doorway. There’s a closed door to the left, which could either be a closet or an attached bathroom – he’s hoping the latter.
It turns out to be a bathroom, the tech so old it’s rarely used anymore – the countertop and mirror, the taps, the toilet. It’s so outdated that none of it is even thumb-printed. Eduardo wonders where the fuck they are.
He doesn’t look at himself in the mirror – he has no interest in knowing how gaunt his face is. He can tell from the state of his body that it would look more grotesque than he has any desire to see.
He pisses, and takes a moment to figure out the flushing mechanism. When he turns back to the room, Mark is awake and staring at him. He’s got that sharp look that means he’s not connected. Eduardo puts together the ancient tech, the non-synthetic materials used throughout the room, and the look on Mark’s face; they are on the edge of the urban sprawl, if not well past its borders.
The only noise in the room is the sound of their breathing. Even the steady drip of the IV is silent.
“You look like shit,” Mark says, eventually. Eduardo isn’t sure how to respond to that, so he just shrugs, and slowly climbs back up onto the bed. He pulls the covers back over his knobby legs, and sets his hands in his lap. Mark is watching him move, not abashed or subtle at all.
“I didn’t think you were coming,” Eduardo says, after a long silence. He doesn’t mean it to be an accusation, and it doesn’t even sound like one, but it’s still the truth.
Mark stiffens, face going rigid. It takes him a long time to answer. “The trouble wasn’t finding you,” he says. “You still have the tracker in. I can find you anywhere.” He takes a deep breath, and Eduardo is appalled to hear it shudder when he exhales. Mark bites his lip. “It took me too long to figure out how to get you out. I had to ask for help. The twins – knew your father. Their compound is almost as secure as his.”
Mark goes silent, hands fisted in his lap, and Eduardo knows how much Mark hates needing help.
“Thank you for coming to get me,” Eduardo says.
“Stop,” Mark says. “Don’t say that.” His voice is harsh, but Eduardo knows Mark well enough to know that he isn’t the target.
“Why not? I mean it.” He doesn’t say, You didn’t have to. He doesn’t say, I brought it upon myself.
Mark makes a derisive noise in the back of his throat, but he doesn’t respond verbally. His fingers are tapping on the armrests of the chair. He has to be jonesing, this far out of network range.
“Does this safe-house have a plug-in?” Eduardo’s voice is mild, but Mark’s hands go still anyway.
“It doesn’t matter,” Mark says, and he’s not lying, just downplaying his own discomfort. “Don’t worry about it.”
Eduardo thinks about that. He’s tired, and he doesn’t feel like moving anymore.
“Come here,” he says. Mark is still curled up on the chair. It’s probably not as uncomfortable as it seems, but. Mark looks almost as sleep-deprived as Eduardo feels. Eduardo pats the bedspread besides him. Mark watches his hand move, face impassive. He looks up at Eduardo’s face, quickly, like he means, Are you sure? but he won’t actually say it. “I’m sure,” Eduardo says.
Mark unfolds himself from the chair and walks around the side of the bed.
“Shoes,” Eduardo reminds him, and Mark scowls. He toes off his shoes, and then unbuttons his pants, sliding them off of his hips and carefully folding them. He leaves both on the floor.
He’s nearly silent, climbing onto the bed next to Eduardo. It’s a queen, and neither of them were very big to begin with, and both of them are even less so now. Mark curls up on top of the bedspread, and Eduardo touches the side of his face with his unbroken hand. Mark’s skin is warm, and real. It’s a relief.
“Go to sleep,” Eduardo says.
Mark touches the back of Eduardo’s wrist with one hand. “You first,” he says.
When Eduardo wakes again, Mark is staring at him, so close that his eyes look huge, and blue, and out of focus. Eduardo sucks a breath in quickly, but Mark doesn’t pull back.
“Dustin has a job for us,” he says. “Whenever we’re ready.”
“What does that mean?” Eduardo asks. Mark’s eyes are slow to blink, almost unnerving. Eduardo watches him wet his lips with his tongue.
“Nothing,” Mark says. He leans forward and presses his lips against Eduardo’s cheekbone, soft and chaste. Eduardo finds it hard to breathe.
“I need a short recuperation.” Eduardo isn’t placating. Mark will want to go somewhere more connected to the network, eventually, but as long as there is a plug-in, he’ll be okay. “I don’t think I can go anywhere yet.”
“Oh,” Mark says. “I know.” He’s still staring; Eduardo can still feel the traces of Mark’s lips on his cheek.
“You could go without me if –”
“No.” Mark interrupts, cutting Eduardo off with one, sharp word. His expression doesn’t change much, but his voice is harsh enough. Eduardo isn’t leaving Mark’s sight. Not for the time being, anyway.
“Okay, fine,” Eduardo says, and tries not to examine the warmth spreading out from his sternum.
He leans in, kissing Mark on the mouth. Mark exhales through his nose, and opens his mouth against Eduardo’s.
“It’s fine,” Eduardo says, when he pulls back. “We’ll stay here. Let ourselves be taken care of. I’ll still be here when you wake up.”
Eduardo probably won’t ever hear the whole story from Mark. Snippets, he’ll get from Dustin, maybe from Chris, and Mark might outline the facts, but that can only communicate so much. How Mark was feeling will always be a mystery.
Still, if the certainty of Mark’s fingers reaching out to touch the pulse in Eduardo’s neck is anything to do by, there was some desperation there.
“Did you kill them?” Eduardo asks. “The Winklevoss twins, I mean.” Eduardo can’t decide which he’d prefer – the chance to take them out later, or that they be unable to touch him ever again.
“No,” Mark says, “but I’ll take care of them.” There’s steel in his voice. Eduardo yawns, satisfied that whatever Mark has in mind, they’ll get done. Someone will wake them for lunch, probably. Eduardo waits for Mark to close his eyes, and then settles in to sleep.