Eduardo stands at the edge of the fray making its way onto the dance floor and sighs, playing with his champagne flute between his fingers and carefully not looking anywhere but the place where one of his best friends dances with the love of his life. (Once upon a time, he’d thought that might be Dustin, but the almost visible sparks between the former and the perky blonde wearing sneakers beneath her prom-esque dress at the other end of the concert hall kind of dash that notion in its entirety. Eduardo can’t help but grin a little at how she stares straight into Dustin’s face, her mouth playing with a smile when he fumbles his words with vibrant hand gestures; one for the books, this is.)
Chris looks deaf to the world, his eyes all for Sean (and Sean’s for him), their feet suave as they step carefully with each other, their hands demure with just moments of teasing naughtiness—enough to make Chris’s grandparents smirk at each other but not enough to offend his aunt with her twin six-year-olds tipping precariously back on their chair legs and garnering scolding that’s louder even than the soft piano in the love song lining the room with its sound. Eduardo bites his lip, thinking of his own family in Brazil, his tiny cousin Natalia, wondering if he’d ever be allowed to see her again if he were that demonstrative, with…
Mark. His eyes have wandered as he daydreams—idly, in a way Mark would probably scoff at, but they’ve landed where they always do, instinctively. On a diminutive man with a powerful personality, fitted into the suit Eduardo can’t let anybody know he picked out for him, standing almost parallel to Eduardo and watching the dancers with calculating blue eyes under harsh, set brows.
His lips squeeze into a line, and Eduardo knows what it means, even before the shoes their mother had to scold him into wearing tap sharp footsteps away from everybody else.
He hates that he has to look around—make sure people aren’t watching—before he follows Mark. But brothers, close as they may be, don’t move the way they do; magnetized by a physical instinct ingrained by years of practice. His own shoes follow Mark’s once it’s safe. He doesn’t let Mark know he’s following, because he knows he doesn’t have to.
It’s only an hour into the reception, but Mark is back in the parking lot. They arrived together (to save the environment, Eduardo had said with a charming smile, and Mark never corrects him; people find it kind of cute how he defers to no one except his big brother, even) and Mark is walking with purposeful strides toward the car.
Would he have left him here, then?
Eduardo wonders, but doesn’t get to ask about it, because Mark whips around as soon as Eduardo gets close enough— one smooth motion, and Eduardo’s immediately worried. Mark doesn’t move gracefully. It’s the way he’s built, something he can’t help; Eduardo got their mother’s smoothness and graciousness and Mark got their father’s nervous, angular shuffling movements and sly, caustic wit. It’s only when he’s not thinking, when something’s pulled him out of his head and taken away the consistent pressures his intellect puts on his body, that he gains the ability.
And the only things that really take him out of his head are being really turned on (and Eduardo blushes every time he remembers that, monstrously pleased—embarrassingly so)…or being really upset.
Mark doesn’t respond, just shoves him up against the driver’s side door and shoves himself up against Eduardo and smashes his face into the place right below Eduardo’s sensible bowtie. He can’t help but take in a sharp breath, startled and confused.
“Hey…Mark, are you okay?” Eduardo whispers into his curls, remembering having asked the question thousands, if not millions, of times before and wondering which answer he’s likely to get this one. His arms pull tight around Mark regardless; it’s just that damn instinct.
Mark lets out a heavy sigh and mumbles, “They’re dancing.” He doesn’t look at Eduardo, keeping his face where it was, stiff and unmoving even when Eduardo lightly rubs his shoulder.
“I know, Mark. They look really nice together, don’t they. I think Chris is really happy.”
Mark freezes up even further, his bony shoulder jabbing Eduardo’s rib as he hunches even smaller than he really is. It’s how he feels in Eduardo’s arms every time he mentions what happened with Facebook, and Eduardo stares hard at Mark’s head, wondering what he’s thinking that’s hurting him like this.
“We don’t get to.”
Mark answers his thoughts in a small voice—plaintive, maybe, if it were anyone but Mark. He tugs away from Eduardo, visibly regaining some of himself as he straightens up, but the look on his face is. It’s heartbreaking. It’s lost teddy bears and his first hard drive fried before he learned to back-up; Mark at the window when Eduardo went to prom with the sweet redhead who asked him; Dustin making a robot joke just as Mark comes out of the bathroom.
It’s I need you more than Sean and Facebook combined, Wardo.
Eduardo realizes; and it’s like Mark’s fist—more bone than muscle but all adrenaline—flat against his jaw, the way it aches. Everything in him hurts for a long moment, and Mark can see it, Mark knows him enough to see it in how his shoulders sag and his lips drop open. Mark steps back up to him and curls their fingers together, his keyboard-smoothed, entwined with the lotion-soft and sweet-smelling longer ones of Eduardo. He leans lightly against Eduardo’s shoulder, hiding their hands behind Eduardo’s hip against the window and licking the corner of his mouth the way he does before he says things that are the most important.
“I’m terrible at it—you’d make me look even worse, too, I know, but. Wardo, we can’t even try. Nobody—” Mark swallows and looks away. “Nobody’s ever going to look at us in some over-decorated reception hall and think about how happy we are.”
He’s right and it clearly bothers him, and there’s nothing Eduardo can do about it; that bothers Eduardo. When Mark glares at his computer because a program glitch killed a line of code, Eduardo can remind him he’s able to put it away and come back to it later; he’s CEO, bitch, after all. When Sean ends up in rehab, fucking with both Mark as his friend and Mark as the temporary holder of his shares, Eduardo can take him to the facility and wait in the car to let him talk to the asshole, reaffirm that yeah, he is one, but Mark’s kept him around for a reason. When Mom calls and reams Mark another time for not eating, Eduardo can fix him an elaborate meal while Mark wearily argues that he’s old enough to eat when he wants; not when he’s told to.
But he can’t fix this. This is an irreparable scar in their relationship that’s going to have to be healed by indifference, by ignoring it, because they’ve a lot less chance of changing society a second time, like this. Mark’s going to keep wishing that he and Eduardo could be open, and Eduardo’s going to keep talking him out of it; it had given him enough of a panic attack to tell their parents as it is.
“But we are…aren’t we? We’re happy, and nobody needs to think that—it doesn’t require validation.”
It’s a line right out of a closet-case-falls-in-love Hollywood movie, one of the ones Mark hates, and Eduardo almost cringes just saying it, but it’s…it’s true, isn’t it? They can be happy without having anybody to acknowledge it.
Eduardo has to believe that, because it’s what saves him when he has the moments like the one Mark’s having; it’s what dries his tears when he sits up nights and looks at the anniversary card Mark drew him one year—pen and printer paper, naturally; weather vanes and dollar signs and Wardo in bubble letters—and then has to put it away so that no one but Chris or Dustin ever discover it. It’s how he gets to be in love with the incredible man his baby brother grew into and stay sane.
Mark’s eyes are trained on the ground--the perfect cobblestone driveway behind the reception hall, but he’s not slumping anymore like he was. Eduardo can sense how the air between them changes and he can almost predict what Mark says when he looks up with the determined eyes that intimidated Divya Narendra right out of a lawsuit a year or so back. To the second, practically.
“Let’s do it, Wardo. Right now.”
He fights it, the need to look away from that intent gaze framed by taut cheeks over razor-sharp cheekbones and level brows. Eduardo wants to, desperately—so scared they’ll be caught that his palms sweat a bit—but Mark wouldn’t forgive him for it, not right now. So he nods, instead, never stopping their mutual stare.
“Okay. Okay, querido. Follow my lead, okay?” Pushing himself—and by extension, Mark—off of the car, he backs Mark into a shady area, barely lit by the motion-triggered lamps back here, and takes those skinny, pale hands both into his own. Mark’s eyes have softened the way they tend to when Eduardo uses that particular endearment, but his jaw is set, and it’s clear that Eduardo has no chance to get out of this.
But when Mark goes with his hands and his body and they’re pressed together slightly, their hips not quite aligned with their respective heights but close enough; when Mark’s head fits almost snugly beneath his chin and his hand clutches Eduardo’s—shaking the tiniest amount. It’s unclear whether Eduardo actually wants to anymore. There’s something intimate about this, preparing to dance with Mark, and he can’t pretend his heart’s not pounding when Mark nudges his nose against the side of his neck and grunts,
“C’mon, get on with it.”
He wouldn’t be Mark if he weren’t easily frustrated and nearly always impatient. Eduardo starts to sway them back and forth and thinks about how impatient he was this morning, drumming The Final Countdown a little horribly on the bathroom door when Eduardo wouldn’t let him in to piss, or last week, knocking over a vase in a restaurant bouncing on his toes as Eduardo took too long (for his taste) to thank the maître d’ for their spectacular service.
He moves his foot the first time and has to hide a smile at the satisfied noise Mark probably hadn’t intended to make. It’s not the first time Eduardo’s surprised Mark by making him happy and it won’t be the last, if Eduardo has anything to say about it. He imagines the look on Mark’s face when the puppy Eduardo picked out a month ago is given to them and actually laughs out loud in delight, enough that Mark looks up at him with an eyebrow raised, curious.
They start to move a little more bravely, with hips brushing and shoe sliding against shoe, and Mark actually smiles, for the first time he’s seen since Dustin greeted him by jumping on his back hours ago; so wide that he dimples. Eduardo could never regret doing something that does this, transforms his mood on his face like this. He dips Mark playfully—almost to repay him for it, and Mark lets his head drop back, eyes dark in the low light, face crinkling a bit with his grin.
“Cheesy,” he admonishes when they’re upright again, but there’s nothing sharp about his tone, not anymore. His caustic humor is almost entirely swallowed up by the utter contentment lining every part of him; Eduardo’s breathless, seeing the few minutes of resigned hurt melt off of him like they were never there. He wants to kiss Mark, for being his; for being someone who’d never let anyone but Eduardo know how much he wants to dance; for being the person who snorted at him, face derisive and dismissive, the first time he saw him practicing, but now goes with his motions to spin out and back into his arms like they were in Dirty Dancing or something.
Sometimes he forgets how much fun it is just to be with Mark, whether they’re fighting over the remote as they did when they were scrawny kids arguing Popular Mechanics versus Doctor Who or teasing each other by walking around shirtless while one of them is attempting to work—until one or both can’t help but break and they end up crushed flush together, panting on the couch with whoever’s laptop open and still running on the coffee table. It’s stressful, and it’s annoying, and it’s painful, and it’s difficult to square with, morally, but it’s fun, and moments like this remind Eduardo of that.
“I love you,” he almost gasps, as he pulls Mark close and toes forward and back, his mouth pressing to Mark’s forehead almost naturally. Mark’s hair tickles his mouth and Mark’s words tickle his neck when he whispers it back, gripping on tighter—almost tight enough to hurt, just for a second.
He’s loved Mark forever, in one way or another. From that first second he peeked into the blanket his mother carried into the new baby’s bedroom and told the tiny wrinkly bundle not to cry ‘cause Grandma was sleeping, through years of watching Mark hurt and heal and grow and learn and become the person he is; he doesn’t know when his love turned into the darker kind—the kind that made him want to be the one shutting Mark in his bedroom and gripping his fragile hips and shoulders as he kissed his licorice-stained mouth, and it doesn’t matter. It just is, and he just does.
Mark makes a soft sound as Eduardo starts humming a Brazilian love song their mother used to play while she did the dishes, and Eduardo smiles hearing it, unaware of what it means until he feels the dampness soaking the fabric of his starched white shirt.
“I wish it were okay,” he says, when Eduardo pokes him gently at the bottom of his spine, a gentle inquiry about what the tears are for. It’s soft, sad, but not as hopelessly broken as it was before; Eduardo still wishes he could fix it, but being unable to doesn’t make him want to smash the car window like it had the first time.
“Mom and Dad get it—even Chris and Dustin, and—”Mark hums a bit, trying to word his thoughts, and Eduardo slows their dance again, turning Mark in smooth circles and relaxing himself a bit until his chin bumps against Mark’s cheekbone.
“I can’t love anybody like you, Wardo. I tried that; it was a futile effort. It would be nice…if people’d accept that.”
Eduardo hushes him quietly, nudges him until his cheekbone leaves air where it was and his face turns up to Eduardo’s, questioning, seeking assurance that he knows nobody else could give.
Eduardo sneaks one sweet, short kiss while he can and shakes his head when Mark tries to pull him further against his mouth—prolong the contact, thumbing away the drops at the corners of Mark’s eyes and rubbing his hands through curls dampened by Mark’s wistful melancholy.
“Everybody who matters does, Mark. They do, and we do, and when we go home there’s nobody but that to worry about anyway. Nobody expects you to love anyone who’s not me.” Eduardo pushes back the thrill he gets whenever Mark implies how literally singular Eduardo is within his affections. Now’s not the time.
Mark nods, tolerant, accepting their fate because there’s really no way to get around it. He lets Eduardo pull and push and move him some more, but it’s clear by how he quiets and goes a bit sluggish that he’s getting tired (or Eduardo hopes that; he doesn’t want it to be depressed instead).
“I think it’s time we said goodbye, Mark. You’ve got a meeting at ten tomorrow and you’re about to fall asleep standing up.”
Mark gives him an exasperated look—good, not depression then, but he follows Eduardo anyway, shuffling steps back now that the intensity of his emotions has dissipated.
It’s a testament to how fantastic their friends are when they walk in and Dustin and Chris (and Sean, who took some convincing but eventually agreed Mark and Eduardo were the best for each other) beeline their way over to them. Mark rolls his eyes, expecting the,
“Is something wrong?” before they even get the chance to ask.
He shakes his head and tilts toward Eduardo an unnoticeable inch, silently imploring him to be the one to explain. Eduardo snorts at him and kicks the side of his shoe.
“It was just…a little too much to handle. Pipe dreams and all that,” Eduardo says, purposefully vague in case they’re overheard, and he watches it hit Chris—quickest of all of them when it comes to these things—with a drop in his stomach when Chris’s eyes dull a little and his mouth puckers with sympathetic discomfort. Sean leans in and rubs his back and Eduardo wants to smile, but the devastation that twists Dustin’s expressive face stops that in its tracks.
“Yeah, we understand that. Used to be that way for us, didn’t it? I wish—Eduardo, you know if I could…”
Eduardo shakes his head the same quick way Mark did, already having heard this speech a few times before and not ready to stomach it another time. Mark’s face is pinching slightly near Dustin’s shoulder and Eduardo already misses the carefree grin he’d had when they danced. Chris cuts himself off and sighs, patting Eduardo’s shoulder and then ruffling Mark’s hair. Then Dustin leans in and lands a sloppy wet kiss on Mark’s cheek, breaking the tension, and they all smile somehow as Mark rubs his face and promises for at least the tenth time tonight to fire Dustin for these unnecessary bouts of touchiness.
“I think we’re just going to head back to the hotel, if that’s all right.” Eduardo says, polite, but with a bit of urgency he’d only show in front of his friends (and Mark). Mark nods, reaching out with recently-learned courtesy to shake Sean’s hand and accepting with a grimace the hugs Chris and Dustin both manage to wrap him into.
“Congratulations, okay.” he says, before Eduardo even gets to, and his eyes flicker when he says it—it’s clear that it’s costing him something to do so—but he obviously means it, and Chris beams at him, tugging Sean against his side when they both bow their heads gratefully and thank him. Dustin would make a Mark’s a real boy joke any other night, but he lets them leave without a comment except, see you on Monday, boss-man!
Eduardo opens the door for Mark, glad that Mark’s too solemn for once to give him the evil eye for it, and slides into the driver’s seat, poking at the radio but turning down the shattering volume Mark tends to use before it can shake them out of the gentle haze of exhaustion they’re both in.
Mark slips his hand into Eduardo’s and squeezes once as they pull out of the parking lot, expensive tires not making enough noise on the stones to stir either of them, and Eduardo can’t help but smile.
He looks at Mark, leaning against the window, and sees many Marks all at once; it happens a lot, that does, with so much history to pull from. And when Mark starts snuffling a little halfway to where they’re staying, Eduardo bites his lip at the warmth it spreads through his chest, wishing he could just park somewhere and watch Mark sleep the way he used to when they were just babies— one too big for a crib but wiggling into it anyway.
They’re not kids anymore, though, and Mark gets out, old enough to do it himself, when they stop before Eduardo even reaches over to shake him. He’s already unbuttoning his shirt and cuffs by the time they make it through the lobby to the elevator, and he loosens, falls against the wall a bit, as soon as the metal doors close. Mark looks so grown up in a suit now, unlike the way he did at their uncle’s wedding five years ago—practically playing dress-up, and Eduardo wants him so much just looking at him shifting his feet, uncomfortable in the expensive, cut fabric, but so handsome. He’s half-protective, half-possessive as they reach their floor; the former wins out when Mark yawns hugely after they kiss safely in their room.
It’s got two beds, though one never gets used, of course, and Mark looks at both of them like they’re a can of Mountain Dew or a Red Vine, after Eduardo’s brought him back from the health nut vegetarian place a few streets from Facebook. He can’t push a Mark that bushed to be with him if he’s not up to it; he’ll surprise him with a morning blow-job tomorrow to make it up to both of them, but tonight he’s going to curl up with Mark and let him sleep through the last hours of this trying day.
“Goodnight,” he calls to Mark, standing at the sink in their en suite and reaching for his toothbrush. He can hear the thuds of Mark’s shoes hitting the floor, then the rustle of him shucking off his pants and tiny plucking noises of his buttons. Mark says it back through another yawn, distracted—only when he’s snuggled down into the comforter still powdery-smelling and soft from a recent wash does he mumble,
“Aren’t you coming to bed?”
Eduardo spits out a mouthful of water and runs his wet hands through his hair, breaking up the gel so he won’t be combing knots tomorrow, before turning to lean against the sink and smile at Mark, his back to the mirror.
“How could I resist?”
Mark smiles at him, drowsily amused at his sickly sweetness as always, and pulls back the other corner of the comforter just to invite him even more directly, blinking slower and slower the longer Eduardo takes to turn off the light and cross the floor.
“Your feet are going to be freezing, aren’t they,” Eduardo teases, and Mark makes a noise like a half-aborted chuckle as Eduardo wiggles into his space and nudges his calves against Mark’s ankles, soft and pliant as he drifts off in the few minutes Eduardo takes to get comfortable.
We danced, Eduardo thinks, and just for a moment, begs God—or whatever deity would allow it—to let it happen in public, one day. Even if they have to pass it off as joking—just let Mark have that, if Eduardo can’t give him anything else. If Facebook’s reputation can’t withstand anything else.
It’s not like Eduardo needs it…not with moments like this one, Mark breathing huffily into the pillow, his fluffy curls pillowing Eduardo’s chin. He doesn’t need anything more than what they’ve got.
They get their wish, a year or so later, at Dustin’s wedding. Everyone else has left, and Dustin and Ophelia (Elia)—still perky and blonde and just eccentric enough to keep up with her new husband, are standing with Chris and Sean, a few feet away from where Mark’s parents sit with Dustin’s.
Some ballad sung by a diva Eduardo would probably recognize if he had the concentration to offer to it ends, and he catches their mother hiding a secret smile against their father’s shoulder as the Brazilian love song from their childhood starts up, slow and soft. Mark recognizes it too, and he looks at them both accusingly, eyes narrowed and mouth thin, but when Eduardo reaches for his hand, it’s trembling just like his own, and he trails after Eduardo without complaint when he heads for the dance floor.
Eduardo tugs him immediately into his arms, giddy with the freedom he has to do it, and pushes his face into Mark’s hair, hiding his face-splitting smile, as Mark fits himself as close to him as possible and wraps his own arms around Eduardo’s neck. They start to sway, braver more quickly now, and Eduardo hums just as he did, but Mark doesn’t cry.
The sigh that puffs against his chest is so different from the one he remembers that he has to lean in and kiss Mark when he hears it, pulling back just enough to slide his forehead against Mark’s and then nudging that breath closer to lock their mouths together for a long moment.
He can see it over Mark’s shoulder, the smiles on their friends and family, and he wonders why Mark doesn’t try to look, so much so that he asks, in a whisper against Mark’s cheek,
“Everybody’s looking at us, Mark, and they’re so charmed by our happiness. It’s what you wanted; why don’t you want to see it?”
Mark blushes when he answers, and nobody’s more smitten with his embarrassment than Eduardo is right now—not even their mother, who used to tease him on purpose just to see if he’d turn pink. He squeezes Mark a little tighter.
“I don’t—you’re the part I care about.”
Eduardo’s slow, graceful sway with Mark stops, and Mark looks worried, but Eduardo just closes his eyes and presses his lips to Mark’s cheekbone; the skin is warm and Eduardo is smiling.
“I’m the part you never have to worry about,” he murmurs, trying not to blush himself. He’s a grown man and his best friends and his parents are watching; he can maintain a little maturity.
Mark starts to say something but it gets caught in his throat, and before he knows it, Eduardo’s mouth is crushed back into his, and Mark is almost on his toes to keep them that way.
He definitely blushes when he opens his eyes and Dustin’s giving him a thumbs-up behind his mother’s fond look of frustration with the two of them.
Saving face means closing them again, and letting Mark fall back onto his heels when he wants to, restarting their intimate moves, as his hands press flat against Mark’s back and almost tangle together at the fingertips and Mark fondles the hair at the nape of his neck.
He doesn’t have to look anymore, anyway. He can feel all the secondhand contentment in the room, warm, like Beast sleeping on top of the blanket near their feet at night.
They keep spinning in those lazy circles, pressed close and moving almost effortlessly together, even long after the song ends and there’s no rhythm but ten people breathing in an empty, echoing reception hall to move with.
Eventually, Eduardo opens his eyes, and Mark’s face lifts so they can look at each other, Mark’s own blue eyes heavy-lidded. The expression on his face is almost tender, and Eduardo loves it.
They get to be just two people in love for this long—Mark gets that.
It’ll last them for years; at least it will Eduardo—this effortless satisfaction.
He holds Mark to him and buries his face in Mark’s neck.