Title: Never Give All The Heart
Fandom: The Social Network
Disclaimer: The characters here are based on those portrayed in the film.
Word count: 17000
Summary: AU in which Eduardo is Spiderman and Mark is Iron Man. "You know who I am, what's the point?" Eduardo snaps. "You sent me a Facebook message saying 'Wardo are you Spiderman' and didn't even bother to pick up the phone the fifty times I tried to call you back."
Warnings: Language, violence. Spoilers for The Social Network, Iron Man and Iron Man 2
Notes: I am endlessly grateful to forochel for reading through this as I wrote it and working through plot and ideas with me, to illuvium for the cheerleading and troubleshooting, to yay_box for reading early chunks of this and being thoroughly encouraging.
Eduardo has come in through the hole in Mark's roof again. Which is infuriating, because it had been a very convenient hole and not at all a problem security-wise, according to JARVIS's calculations.
Calculations that had been made before Spiderman started appearing in Palo Alto.
"'I am Iron Man'?" says Eduardo. "What the hell was that?"
"That was the truth," Mark replies. "I saw no reason to lie, so I told the truth."
Eduardo sighs. "Couldn't you have settled for, I don't know, an open secret?"
"If it's an open secret that defeats the purpose of it being a secret," Mark says simply. It's perfectly logical. Eduardo just keeps getting hung up on things like middle grounds. "Where's your mask? You're not wearing your mask."
"You know who I am, what's the point?" Eduardo snaps. "You sent me a Facebook message saying 'Wardo are you Spiderman' and didn't even bother to pick up the phone the fifty times I tried to call you back."
"Thirty-nine," Mark says, and when Wardo glares at him he asks, "What are you doing here?"
"Two things," says Eduardo. "First – how did you know I was Spiderman?"
"I had a hunch."
"A hunch," Eduardo repeats, incredulous.
"A hunch that I acted on by writing a programme that kept track of your Facebook posts and reported Spiderman sightings, from which I observed a discernible correlation between your absences and Spiderman's appearances," says Mark. "It was easy."
"It was easy-" Eduardo starts to say, but he stops and breathes instead. "God, you're such a –" He pauses again, rubs a hand over his face. "Okay. The next thing. Tell me this isn't about Spiderman."
"What are you talking about?"
"Fucking, this. All of this." He gestures jerkily to the workshop behind Mark, where the newest suit is in the midst of being rendered, the Mark II and III armour standing in their display cases by the wall.
Mark scoffs, because Wardo is– just. "You're asking me if Iron Man is about you?"
"Yes, I am asking you if you did this because of some crazy attempt to-"
"Tell me," says Mark, jerkily pulling down the zip of his fleece and undoing the top four buttons of his shirt to expose the blue glow of the arc reactor that is keeping him alive.
"Tell me this is about you."
And Mark doesn't have to say anything like I almost died out there, because just the sight of it is enough to make Eduardo flinch, to see the guilt and horror cross his face.
If Mark were a better man, he wouldn't have gone about things this way. But Mark is not. Mark hadn't even remembered he had a heart until he had almost lost it.
And in the category of things Mark has lost-
"I'm sorry," says Eduardo, even though none of this is his fault. His eyes dart from the arc reactor to Mark's face, searching for some clue in Mark's expression.
Mark looks steadily back at Eduardo, and remembers being in that cave in Afghanistan, being strapped into that crudely-made prototype armour. Being half blind and suffocating from the smell of it; ferrous and overwhelming, blood and sweat and sulphur.
He remembers thinking in that moment, amidst the panic and the adrenaline, I want to go home. And a second thought – quieter; tamped down but no less urgent: Wardo.
"This has nothing to do with you," Mark tells Eduardo. "Iron Man has nothing to do with you, or Facebook, or Spiderman."
What Mark means is that there is nothing he needs to apologise for, but Eduardo looks stung anyway.
There is a diametric quality about this situation that Mark can appreciate. Eduardo is no longer the guy who stood in the Kirkland dorm room holding a cease and desist letter in one hand and saying, if there's ever anything wrong, you can tell me. Eduardo saves people and fights crime in New York and is not Mark's – not his CFO, and certainly not his best friend.
And now there is everything wrong with Mark, and instead of getting Eduardo he gets a suit of armour.
"Fine," says Eduardo. His mouth has become a hard line, and it's all too easy when he's in that costume to see how his shoulders tense.
He pulls his mask on, and in an instant Mark sees him change from Eduardo to Spiderman – from rumpled and hurt to hero. Because that's what Wardo is, whatever the newspapers might be saying. Iron Man may be an unknown quantity – Mark tries, of course, to do the right thing; tries harder than he's ever tried in his life – but nobody should ever doubt that Spiderman just wants to save the day.
"If there's ever anything you need, Iron Man, I'm the guy that wants to help."
Mark's throat is suddenly dry. "And what if you're not in the neighbourhood?"
It's impossible to tell, but Eduardo just might be smiling underneath his mask.
"You know how to find me."
"'I have successfully privatized world peace? '" Eduardo asks incredulously. Or rather, Spiderman does, when he swings by the Facebook office the evening before a shareholders' meeting.
"Chris came up with that," says Mark. "It was catchy. I left it in."
Mark had called Chris the day after he had broken the sound barrier somewhere over Afghanistan and fallen afoul of a large number of military airspace protocols. "I need you to help me be Iron Man," was the first thing Mark had said. ("Is this a joke?" had been Chris' response, up until the point when Mark invited him over for a demonstration of the Mark III's capabilities.) So Chris pulls strings with people Mark didn't know he could pull strings with, including people at the Pentagon, and in exchange Mark says most of the things Chris suggests that he says.
Eduardo shrugs. "Suit yourself. I think it's a terrible mixture of cocky and naïve." He pauses. "Then again, so are you."
He's not removed his mask. Outside, Mark's secretary's intern appears to be having a minor freak-out that Mr. Zuckerberg is talking to Spiderman.
It doesn't make sense. The woman already works for Iron Man, surely that is enough.
"You could have just come in through the front door," Mark tells Eduardo. "You're a shareholder here. Someone should have already made you a security tag."
"Can they make one that says 'Spiderman'? Your windows are tricky to open from the other side."
"You're not supposed to be able to open my windows at all," Mark points out.
"I have my ways," says Eduardo. He wanders around the office, picking things up and looking at them – the framed cover of the TIME magazine triple feature on renewable energy, Iron Man and the future of social networking ('Mark's Arc: One more way the founder of Facebook has changed the world'); the medal of commendation presented to Iron Man for preventing the Crimson Dynamo from wreaking havoc during the Chinese Premier's visit to the White House. A group photograph from the party they had thrown at Facebook when they had hit the six hundred million mark.
"Don't you have the whole of New York to take care of?" Mark asks.
"I was informed that this was a particularly important meeting," Eduardo replies.
Mark doesn't know why Eduardo is here; Eduardo never comes for the shareholders' meetings. But Mark doesn't ask, and Eduardo doesn't explain. He also doesn't explain why he's come over as Spiderman.
On some level it makes perfect sense – Eduardo never visits the Facebook office, but Spiderman can. Eduardo and Mark aren't really on speaking terms, but Spiderman and Iron Man are free to engage. He can imagine Eduardo working with that, setting down those boundaries in his mind, as if it makes a difference.
Yet perhaps it does make a difference, because the reality is that Eduardo is standing in his office, and they are having a conversation approaching banter.
Mark's phone rings. It's Chris.
"Mark, Audrey tells me that Spiderman is in your office right now. Is this true?"
"Yes," says Mark. "Could you please also inform the staff to stop spying on my visitors?"
"She's your secretary, she's supposed to keep track," says Chris. He sounds harried, like he's given up on taking the lift and is actually sprinting up flights of stairs. "This is an excellent photo opportunity. You need to tell me about these things."
"No, this is not in any way an excellent photo opportunity and I am not obliged to tell you anything," Mark replies. "Spiderman has no intention of being photographed-" he glances up at Eduardo as he says this and experiences something like satisfaction when Eduardo shakes his head- "and neither have I."
"He's leaving. Through the window. You should probably give up and take the lift."
Together they wrestle open one of the windows so that it is wide enough for Eduardo to swing out.
"That was hard," says Mark, "maybe we should get you a security pass."
Eduardo's got one hand pressed to the glass, the other braced against the frame of the window; he's perfectly balanced and entirely comfortable, every inch the masked superhero as captured in the papers or from countless Youtube videos.
"You get to work on that," says Eduardo. "And maybe I'll come hang around."
The question Mark gets the most when he's at the gala dinners and fundraising parties he is somehow still obliged to attend is, "So do you have Facebook inside your Iron Man suit?"
What Mark used to do had been to say 'yes' or 'no' and then walk away, but he has since been instructed against that, as part of Chris' efforts to make him seem less abrasive. (Why Chris even bothers is a mystery to Mark.)
These days he tends to reply with some sort of quip like, "Yes, that's why we developed Timeline," or, "No, it's a bit difficult to navigate if I'm looking at photographs of my neighbour's dog," depending on who is doing the asking and how irritable he feels.
He's repeating some version of this to one of the Instagram founders at a cocktail reception when he catches sight of Eduardo some way across the room.
Eduardo, in a suit just like the ones he used to wear back when – back then. He used to leave his shirt collars open all the time, Mark remembers. But this evening he's wearing a tie, and Mark knows if he just pulls at the knot and unbuttons the collar he will see the familiar red-and-blue fabric underneath; Wardo's second skin.
He is chatting animatedly with a couple of people that Mark doesn't recognise, but glances up the instant Mark looks at him.
Mark is dimly aware of someone saying something to him, but it is as if the room has somehow shrunk to contain just him and Eduardo in that moment. There is something in the way Eduardo looks at Mark. It feels like hope, but it's gone the second Mark catches sight of it, replaced with something more resigned, a shuttering-off of emotion.
Eduardo turns away as abruptly as he had looked up, and Mark is left with a dull ache in his chest. Concealed beneath his own shirt and tie, the core of palladium continues to glow steadily.
Which of the two, he wonders, is better proof that Mark Zuckerberg has a heart?
He has no time to contemplate this further because Dustin is shoving his way past people to get to Mark, the Mark V briefcase handcuffed to his wrist.
"Excuse me," says Mark absently. He turns away from the Instagram guy (Kenneth? Kevin? Either way he looks insulted. Mark can just acquire them later or something as damage control. Isn't that what they want?) and heads over to Dustin.
"San Francisco. Someone's holding the Golden Gate bridge hostage," Dustin tells him. "I'll take your drink."
"Do you think the Four Seasons would mind if I smashed a hole through one of their ballroom windows?" asks Mark, exchanging his untouched wine for the briefcase.
"I think they'd get like, badass points for that, so no."
The Mark V suit is a thing of beauty, a quick-assembly version of the armour so compact and light that it can fold itself into a briefcase. Heads are already turning as he shrugs off his sports jacket and gives the case a brief kick at the same time, causing it to flower into a metallic array of parts.
Keep watching, Mark thinks with not an unreasonable amount of pride, pushing his hands into the gloves that finally emerge. It gets even better.
There is a collective gasp as he jerks his arms wide and the Mark V just unfolds over him, cabling and casing overlaid with a lightweight alloy, all painted a distinctive hot rod red and gold. The flaps settle in rapid succession like scales over his body, and then the helmet comes up, cupping his ears and the back of his head, folding down to secure his jaw, and, with a final clank, sliding down over his face.
"Flight systems ready," says JARVIS, "calibrating exit route."
As expected, the most convenient way is through the window.
There is a roaring in his ears. Part of it is coming from the roomful of delighted Facebook shareholders and Silicon Valley hotshots cheering for Iron Man, but mostly it is the thrill of being in the suit, of being impenetrable and invincible. Of being Iron Man.
"I believe this is the Mark V suit's first public debut, sir," JARVIS comments helpfully. "I hope they're getting your best angles."
"You should probably all stand back," Mark announces, heading towards the windows. Chris is going to have kittens about this, but when has that ever stopped Mark.
The crowd shrinks away from the window, looking on in awe as Mark raises his right hand and fires a blast. The Four Seasons has good shatter-proofing; the panel of glass cracks and splinters but falls to the ground in mostly intact sheets.
Mark powers up his repulsors just enough for a hover, and turns mid-air to face his impromptu audience. He doesn't let himself scan the room to see if Eduardo is still there.
"Have a great evening," he says instead, to the sound of erupting cheers, before whipping round and flying out the window.
"Sir, you are a rock star," says JARVIS.
"I'm aware of it, JARVIS," Mark replies, but he can't help but grin under his mask. "I programme you to say that."
One would think that supervillains would eventually get tired of terrorising the Golden Gate Bridge, but this is clearly not the case. JARVIS relays Dustin's situation report while Mark is on his way there.
"It's Obadiah Stane, and he's got a new suit," Dustin says, "he's says he's gonna destroy the bridge and everyone on it if you don't give him the arc reactor design and the Iron Man schematics."
Mark grimaces. "Tell me something new."
"He also wants Facebook, but that’s slightly lower down on the list," adds Dustin.
"I would advise you to be careful, sir," JARVIS tells Mark, "the images of Iron Monger's new suit suggest that he has upgraded his arsenal."
"I'm always careful, JARVIS," says Mark.
"Of course, sir."
The Golden Gate Bridge is in view now, hundreds of motorists trapped on it while Obadiah Stane hovers at just above the South Tower in his Iron Monger suit. One of the support pylons has already been heavily damaged. Mark zips past the TV station helicopters hovering some distance off and flies directly towards him.
"Iron Man," says Stane. "Finally, I have your attention."
"If Stane International wants to stage a hostile takeover of Facebook there are lawyers for that," Mark tells him.
"Oh yes, because you're so good at suits."
He's not funny at all; Mark just wants to hit him. "So what is this? Another feeble attempt to demonstrate the limited capabilities of your patently inferior armour prototype?"
"You know what gets to me, kid?" says Stane. "You know what makes me mad? Let me tell you – it's not your success – I respect success."
He's monologuing. They all do it, even the rampaging alien dragons. Mark wonders how Wardo deals with it. The next time he comes by again, Mark should ask.
"-what gets me is that you're a computer programmer who got lucky, and who somehow got lucky again and made the most powerful weapon in the world off the back of my company's developments."
"Let me assure you that none of it was luck," Mark replies coldly. "It was genius and it was hard work. Yes, I constructed the Mark I suit from Stane International munitions. But if you were anywhere near capable of developing something the slightest bit close to Iron Man, you wouldn't be holding this bridge hostage just to get to the schematics."
"You're smart, kid, let me give you that," says Stane. "But if you think you've privatised world peace, you're wrong."
"Visual evaluation of Iron Monger suit is complete, " JARVIS says. "Establishing course of action. "
"Yes," Stane tells him. "Because I have the monopoly on war."
"I'm sorry but that doesn't even make sense," says Mark, launching into the air and aiming two small missiles at the neck and side of Iron Monger's breastplate.
They both hit their mark and go off with enough force to throw Iron Monger backwards in the sky, but when the smoke clears he is unharmed apart from a small sizzle of sparks.
"Nice try," says Stane. The machine guns affixed to each arm of his suit clank into position. "Now try this."
The sheer volume of bullets coming at him is enough to slam Mark backwards against the tower, sparks and metal bouncing off the surface of his suit. He manages to take out one of Stane's machine guns with a blast from his chest repulsor, throwing Stane off balance. It gives Mark just enough time to gain the altitude needed for him to rain successive blasts down at Stane, destroying his other machine gun. He has to get higher – to draw Stane away from the Bridge so that nobody below gets hurt.
Stane is clearly on to Mark's plan, because instead of pursuing Mark he directs the powerful laser beam from his chestplate towards the suspension cables on the Bridge.
Mark hears it before he sees it; the wires snapping and coming unlaid, the bridge groaning as the balance shifts. Five of the cables peel away, to the sound of mass panic from the people below.
"Are you going to keep shooting at me, or are you going to negotiate?" asks Stane.
"I don't think it counts as a negotiation if I'm just acquiescing to your demands," Mark replies.
"Very well," says Stane, slicing off another two cables.
Mark swoops in and barely manages to catch them; they whip him through the air, his armour juddering from the impact, but he regains his balance and pulls them up again in a valiant attempt to keep the deck of the bridge from tilting any further.
"You can't catch all of them, Iron Man," says Stane. "Don't even bother trying. Give me the Iron Man schematics and the design for your arc reactor."
"You want some Facebook shares thrown in with that as well?" asks Mark. The cables are killing him, and JARVIS is intoning something dire about the energy levels of the suit. The Mark V is a light model; it's not meant for this sort of strain.
"Come on, kid," says Stane, his voice smooth and cajoling. It's probably the voice that has secured him billions of dollars of munitions deals; genial, persuasive, confident he can seal the deal. "Think about it. We could make great partners. I bring the ammo, you bring the smarts. Guys like you and me, we can talk. Be friends."
"Power at nineteen per cent, sir, " JARVIS tells him.
"If there is one thing you should know about me, it's this," says Mark. "My best friend sued me for six hundred million dollars. I think there's a lot you can infer from that."
And before Stane can reply, Mark musters up all the remaining power from his suit and fires a single blast of pure energy aimed straight at Stane's head. The impact is enough to knock Stane out of the air and send him plummeting into the water.
"Power at zero per cent, sir-"
Mark's heads-up display is the first to go, before JARVIS's voice fades away abruptly.
Then the repulsors switch off.
Mark falls, his grip on the cables loosening as he plunges quickly downwards. He shuts his eyes. Emergency backup power in five, four, three–
Something slams against him, an arm coming round his waist to grab hold of him and pull him up away from the water. Mark opens his eyes. He's… flying. Through the air.
"So," says Eduardo, shooting out a string of web from his other hand and swinging them towards South Tower. "I was in the neighbourhood."
"You were in the neighbourhood," Mark repeats.
"I had to steal Dustin's Ducati to get to said neighbourhood, but-"
"Semantics," says Mark.
"Semantics," Eduardo agrees.
"We are now running on emergency backup power, " says JARVIS.
The heads-up display flickers back on.
"I'm good to go," Mark tells Eduardo. "The bridge-"
Eduardo nods. "That's what I'm here for."
They can't start fixing the bridge just yet, however. With a great roar, Obadiah Stane emerges from the water, guns blazing down on them.
"I'll get the bridge, you get Stane," Eduardo shouts, darting along the cables and shooting out long strings of webbing to replace the vertical cables that had been severed.
With the suit running at base levels of power, there is nothing much Mark can do apart from fly towards Stane in an attempt to draw fire away from Eduardo.
"I distinctly remember you saying that you were going to be careful, sir, " JARVIS says reproachfully.
"Any better ideas, JARVIS?" Mark asks, before barrelling headlong into Stane.
They wrestle in mid-air, careening this way and that as Stane attempts to pry Mark off him. Mark's targets are more specific, however, as he reaches round to the back of Stane's armour and yanks out a good handful of exposed cables just under the helmet.
Stane bellows in rage, finally throwing Mark off, but the damage has been done.
"You appear to have successfully taken out the optic cables of Iron Monger's suit, sir, " says JARVIS, as Stane is forced to open his visor.
"You'll pay for this, Iron Man," Stane snarls, aiming what looks like a flamethrower unit at Mark.
"It'll be my treat," Mark replies. To JARVIS, he says, "Flares."
His shoulder flaps open to send out a rain of sparks directly in Stane's vision.
Blinded by the light, Stane plummets downwards again, but before he can regain his balance Eduardo is there, catching him in strings of webbing that wrap round and encase him. Mark flies in to remove the headpiece entirely and disable the Iron Monger suit.
They leave Stane hanging from North Tower for collection by the police, who are finally able to direct motorists off the bridge to safety.
"That was fun," says Eduardo. "Nice suit, by the way."
"I know," Mark replies. "Thanks for swinging by."
"I'm here for you," Eduardo tells him, still casual, still off-hand, but it makes Mark's heart swell a little all the same.
"Also," Eduardo adds, "I crashed Dustin's bike. How mad do you think he'll be?"
Mark shrugs, the suit making a whirring noise as he does so. "Very," he says. "But that thing was an over-pimped monstrosity."
"I don't think either of us has the right to call anything over-pimped," says Eduardo reasonably.
"Valid point," Mark concedes. He looks at Eduardo, standing there in his Spiderman suit that is just a little bit singed in spots from barely avoiding Stane's heavy fire. It's better like this. It's always been better like this. They make a good team.
He doesn't say any of that to Eduardo. "I assume you need a lift," he says instead.
"I could kiss you," says Chris.
"Please don't," Mark replies. "That would be terrifying. We have boundaries and I would appreciate it if you stuck to them."
"Okay, but seriously, this is great." Chris scrolls through news coverage from the past twenty-four hours that JARVIS has helpfully projected onto a nearby screen.
"I don't see how this is good, let alone great. The Four Seasons is pressing charges for property damage and I've been subpoenaed. Again."
People are always suing Mark for things. Or forcing him to go to Washington so politicians like Senator Stern can harangue him about his intellectual arrogance and unwillingness to contribute to the American good. That had been insulting, not to mention a tremendous waste of Mark's time.
"This is better than a photo op, this is a publicity coup." Chris jabs a finger at Gawker's montage of shaky phone camera recordings of the fight. "You look like a team player, that's what's important."
"More important than-" Mark pauses to read from the CNN ticker – "the 'growing disquiet over the potential rise in copycat suits'?"
Chris sighs. "Mark, there will always be growing disquiet over copycat suits, and as long as you keep being yourself the property damage charges will keep coming – and don't think I'm not mad about that, by the way-"
"I was hoping you had forgotten about that."
"-honestly, can't you just use the door?" Chris shakes his head. "Anyway. Forget that. I'll deal with your official statement. Are you working from home today?"
Mark gestures pointedly at his dressing gown and pyjamas.
"Right," says Chris, "sometimes it's hard to tell. It's probably a good thing you're not going to the office, Dustin's on the warpath because someone stole his Ducati."
"That's terrible," Mark replies, giving Chris the blankest of looks.
Chris squints at him. "I feel like there's something I should know about."
"Nothing." Mark shrugs. "I wasn't even there. I was staging a publicity coup. "
"Oh, just go to your basement," says Chris, waving Mark away.
When Mark enters the workshop JARVIS is running a scan of the suit, searching for flaws in the interface that might have caused the delay with the backup power. Mark frowns over a few problem spots that have already been flagged up. Those he can patch fairly quickly, but he may have to look into reworking the circuitry if they can't find anything else.
Audrey, his secretary, has sent him a digest of the morning's mail; he disregards all the ones that are of a congratulatory nature and focuses on the department updates. He's glanced through a few of the system reports and filed away a memo from the most recent developers' brainstorm for later perusal when he catches sight of a new message in his inbox.
From: Sean Parker [firstname.lastname@example.org]
To: Mark Zuckerberg [email@example.com]
Subj: Nicely done
You really owned it last night, man! Saw it on the news this morning. In Ibiza and things have been WILD you'd love it here okay no you wouldn't.
Just letting you know that I'm going to be offline for a while. If you want to contact me, JARVIS will know how. Hope he's been helpful, heard you pimped him up and all that.
Mark stares at the email for a while. It's not unusual for Sean to go underground for periods of time – these days he's become more paranoid than before, and every time Mark hears from him he's jetted off to a different location in a vain attempt to shake off whoever he thinks is following him.
That, and well, there's also the underage girls.
"I don't appreciate being described as 'pimped up', sir," JARVIS says.
"That's just Sean," Mark replies absently, scanning over the lines of Sean's message again.
"Customised and heavily upgraded, perhaps," JARVIS continues, in what appears to be the AI equivalent of a sulk, "but not 'pimped'."
JARVIS had originally been developed by one of Sean's investment projects, a London-based start-up that designed artificial intelligence systems. The UK government had quietly tanked the company and seized the technology, but not before Sean had passed on its key prototype to Mark as a peace offering after a particularly publicised bender.
Mark has made modifications, of course. Significant modifications. He's still not sure how he'd managed to give JARVIS a personality, though.
"Do you know where he is, JARVIS?"
"Mr. Parker appears to still be in Ibiza," says JARVIS. "Would you like me to initiate contact? "
"No, that won't be necessary," Mark says. "But keep an eye on him."
JARVIS sounds almost sullen. "Of course, sir."
Mark turns to the task of patching the Iron Man system. "JARVIS, I'm wiring in."
"Duly noted. You won't be disturbed. Shall I put on some music? "
"That would be ideal," Mark replies, surveying the code that he's pulled up onto the displays. "While I'm wired in, do a functionality analysis of the suit based on the damage sustained last night."
After a pause, he adds, "And look into some possibilities for high-performance fabric composites. Something extremely flexible, but I need it to also be sturdy. Definitely bullet- and fire-proof. If it doesn't exist I want options."
"Anything for you, sir. Do you have any preferences as to the colour, at this point? "
Mark clears his throat. "Red," he says. "Red and blue."
It turns out that there's a far more efficient way to rig the backup system for the suit, but after Mark does that he finds that he has to go over a couple of bugs in the code to make sure the power reserves aren't triggered by accident. By the time he's done, it is pitch dark outside, and there are at least fifteen messages in his phone from Dustin, Chris and Audrey asking if he's remembered to eat. (Audrey's question, specifically, is whether Mark's remembered that he had a lunch appointment with Peter Thiel, but it's the thought that counts.)
There is half a Panini sandwich in the fridge that Mark hopes is from two days ago and not the previous week. He tosses it in the microwave and opens a can of Red Bull while he waits, thinking the whole time about how he might keep the Mark V functioning optimally under heavy fire. Last night had been fine, but Stane's tech is shit.
"Sir, there was a delivery for you, " says JARVIS. "Mr. Hughes signed for it earlier today."
"He didn't bring it in?"
"It's rather large, sir, and was moved to the garage."
When Mark gets to his garage, he finds a red Ducati standing between his Acura and the accidental scrap-pile from the Mark V trial-and-error phase.
The Ducati definitely explains Chris' last two text messages (I didn't mean BUY him another one and Mark is there something you need to talk about). It comes with a sealed envelope – inside are the keys, and a note.
Thought D might appreciate another over-pimped monstrosity, it says.
And written below that, in a slightly more hurried scrawl: Thanks for the lift.
Mark doesn't have time to figure out a way to thank Eduardo for Dustin's replacement bike, because the next morning he's whisked off to Washington for the second hearing on the status of the Iron Man suit.
Marilyn Delpy is waiting on the tarmac when the private jet lands; he's not sure when exactly Chris had roped her into Legal but Mark has no complaints.
"Good to see you, Mark," says Marilyn. "You're due in fifteen minutes."
"Not going to ask me to settle again?
Marilyn smiles. Her eyes are warm. "I think the circumstances are vastly different."
"They still want something I made," Mark replies, "I think the circumstances are comparable."
"Perhaps," says Marilyn. "I would ask you to behave, but I forgot to the last time, and look how well that turned out."
The last hearing had been a fiasco. The positive thing was that Mark had come out of it fairly unscathed, despite the fact that Mark had essentially been, well, Mark. He had not bothered to conceal his extreme boredom during the proceedings and talked in circles round all of Senator Stern's questions, infuriating the man and delighting the press. He had then proceeded to make intermittent glottal noises at the back of his throat all throughout the video footage presentation of military flight-suit tests in Pyongyang and Iran.
Then, when his patience had begun to run low, he'd hacked the screens and had JARVIS bring up footage of the tests failing. Which had sent the press into a frenzy and given him the perfect opportunity to stand up and say resolutely and calmly into the nearest camera, "I have successfully privatised world peace. I think I deserve some credit for that."
And then an alien dragon had taken it upon itself to attack Brooklyn Bridge, which had resulted in the hearing being abruptly adjourned in order for Iron Man to go save the day.
So Mark hadn't behaved particularly well, but this is his suit they had been talking about. Mark doesn't do well with incompetents, especially if they've got all their priorities wrong. These are the people who have got the New York Police Department permanently on the lookout for Spiderman because they've put him on the orange list. Whatever that's supposed to mean.
There is evidently a limit to Chris' string-pulling abilities, because they're back at the hearing again, and Senator Stern is still trying to take Mark's suit.
"I thought we'd settled this the last time around, Senator," says Mark.
"The last time around, you called me an idiot, Mr. Zuckerberg," Senator Stern replies.
"I didn't call you an idiot," Mark tells him, "I called you an incompetent fool. There's a difference, you should look it up."
Out of the corner of his eye, Mark can see Chris trying very hard not to bury his face in his hands.
"Let's just cut to the chase, shall we," says Stern. "In light of the incident involving the Golden Gate Bridge two days ago, we find ourselves faced with an uncomfortable reality, Mr. Zuckerberg – that yours is not the only suit out there."
"Obadiah Stane's suit was in no way close-" Mark begins.
"Mr. Zuckerberg, if you would be so kind as to let me finish-"
"This is, and always has been a waste of my time," Mark tells him coldly. "You've seen the footage. Stane's suit was a vastly inferior attempt at imitating mine, and it wasn't good enough. There is nothing to discuss."
"I'd like to call upon our expert witness, Mr. Justin Hammer." Stern smiles. It's a politician's smile, charming and jarringly false all at once. "Mr. Hammer is one of our primary defence contractors, I'd say he knows a thing or two about these things, wouldn't you, Mr. Zuckerberg?"
"So does Obadiah Stane, why don't you call him in as well?" Mark replies. "Oh, right, he can't make it today because he's in custody."
"You're an asshole, Zuckerberg," says Stern venomously, and even then he's still wearing some version of that ingratiating smile, twisted with anger.
"Well," says Mark, leaning back in his chair. "Tell me something new."
Justin Hammer is a baffling combination of slick and weedy, with a penchant for expansive gestures and over-the-top rhetoric. There is something about Hammer when he walks into a room that just falls short – a feeling like he should have more of a presence, like he shouldn't be so easy to overlook given the fact that he seems to be trying so hard to be seen. He's never been a figure like Obadiah Stane was, but not for lack of trying.
Also, Hammer Industries' IT systems are a joke. Mark's hacked them a couple of times out of boredom and for all of Hammer's blustering about 'Securing America', their firewalls are laughably easy to get past.
"Mark, my friend, haven't seen you in a while," Hammer says when he comes in, walking round in an attempt at some sort of handshake or manly fistbump.
Mark just stares at him blankly.
"He doesn't…" says Marilyn, making an abortive gesture.
"Good to see you," Hammer says quickly, quirking his eyebrows and making finger-guns at Mark before whirling around to face Senator Stern.
"I've not even met him-" Mark hisses at Marilyn, who mouths I know and shrugs.
"-what I am saying is that I know all of us are acting in the best interests of our great country," Hammer begins, sweeping up one of the tabletop microphones as he paces across the front of the room. "Mark Zuckerberg with his amazing suit, and myself – through our developments at Hammer Industries-"
"Mr. Hammer, why don't you tell us what you think about the Iron Monger suit we saw two days ago," Senator Stern interrupts.
"Oh yes," says Hammer. "Screens, please." He snaps his fingers twice. After a five-second lag, aerial images of Stane's Iron Monger suit appear on the screens.
"We're concerned with two things here," Hammer explains, "how the suit is powered, and the flight systems. Because the question is, how does that compare with the Iron Man suit? Now, if you look at this enlarged photograph here-"
"Mark," Marilyn whispers urgently, "what are you doing?"
After the first hearing, they've apparently attempted to secure the network by adding extra encryption. Mark works through it in the amount of time it takes for Hammer to enlarge and highlight his blurry images. In a matter of seconds he has one of JARVIS's scans of the Iron Monger suit projected onto the screens in place of Hammer's presentation.
"Whoa, there," says Hammer, waving his hands affably. He's laughing like it's a joke, like this is supposed to happen, but there's something dark in his expression when he turns to Mark; the barest flash of rage. "Mark, buddy, that's great… right, helping a guy out, huh?"
"Right there on the back of the Iron Monger suit is the battery that ran it," Mark says, rotating the image on the screen using his smartphone. "It's the size of a suitcase and weighs close to eighty pounds. Half of the energy it produces is expended on achieving sufficient lift."
He brings up JARVIS' rough simulation of the suit's flight pattern. "The strain of flying the suit and executing complex manoeuvres with the inadequate support provided would undoubtedly result in dozens of minor fractures and a high risk of trauma to the spine."
Senator Stern is rising to his feet, red in the face. "Zuckerberg, if you don't take down those images right now-"
"Ask Obadiah Stane if he's having a hell of a backache," Mark snaps. "I believe we're done here."
"This hearing has not been adjourned! " Stern says sharply as Mark stands to go.
Before Mark can leave, however, the building is rocked by a deafening explosion.
"JARVIS, can you see what's happening outside the building?" Mark asks, while everyone else in the room attempts to duck for cover. Chris is already unclasping the black cover that was disguising the Mark V briefcase.
"Certainly, sir, " says JARVIS, who brings up a satellite feed of Capitol Building. "There appear to be two unidentified hostiles outside the premises. The explosion has damaged parts of the rotunda. "
"Give me your phone," Chris tells Mark. "It's time to suit up. And Mark?"
"Please use the door."
The two hostiles that JARVIS identified don't appear to have very much more of a plan beyond setting off the explosion and luring Mark out, because their attacks are virtually useless against the suit. One of them keeps flinging discus-shaped blades at Mark, which do nothing apart from leave scratches on the paintwork. The other attempts to fire various explosive quills at Mark while declaiming that he is the Porcupine
It is almost too easy; Mark effectively grounds the one with the discuses by taking out his jetpack, and the Porcupine ends up incapacitating himself when Mark sends a repulsor blast straight towards the concussion bomb he sets off.
"Why do you even bother?" Mark asks wearily as the sounds of police sirens draw near. The Porcupine ignores him in favour of continuing to fuss over his ruined battle suit, while Discus just glowers, having been relieved of his knives.
"Sir, there's a telephone call for you," says JARVIS.
The caller id appears on Mark's heads-up display: Eduardo Saverin.
"Yes JARVIS, put him on," says Mark. "Hello?"
There is some sort of crashing sound in the background before Eduardo's voice comes through. "Mark? Are you there?"
"What's going on?"
"I'm in a bit of a situation right now and could use a bit of help-"
"I'll be right there," says Mark immediately.
He thinks, with some guilt, of a time when it had been Eduardo who would come running, who gave and gave and somehow never seemed to demand repayment in kind. Up until the lawsuit, that is. But even that had been about something else, about betrayal, perhaps, Mark thinks on hindsight.
Yet, possibly, Eduardo had expected something, all that time. Something apart from Facebook and being Mark's CFO and making his father proud. When Mark looks back he tries to remember any points where there might have been some inarticulable request in the way Eduardo looked at him, something that Mark, with his paucity of feeling, with his thirst for recognition, had just never noticed. He can't be sure if those moments had existed, but what he knows is that if they had, he had let them slip by along with everything else.
Now Mark's the one who is crossing states to get to where Eduardo is. Only it's not Eduardo seeking Mark's help, but Spiderman turning to Iron Man. Mark has had no use for these distinctions but they are there all the same, conflated with all the notions of camaraderie and saving lives and being a good person.
It's only when he's flying over Staten Island that he realises that Eduardo had asked for Mark on the phone.
There is a swarm of giant mechanical bees attacking downtown Manhattan when Mark arrives. A few of them have already been taken out by Eduardo, dangling in webbing off the sides of buildings or smouldering on the streets. The rest are flying about blasting buildings at random. A particularly large one has landed on top of Woolworth Building.
Eduardo is alternating between snatching civilians out of harm's way and trying to divert fire from the bees, but it is clear that he is overwhelmed by the sheer number of them. Mark flies over to the nearest bee and punches it out before it can take aim at Eduardo.
"You look like you need a little help," says Mark, blasting another two bees, which Eduardo catches with his webbing before they fall and crush anything below.
"Took you long enough," Eduardo retorts. He darts down to sweep up a small child holding an ice cream cone and swings off to put the boy somewhere safe.
"JARVIS. Anything on these bees?" asks Mark, swinging round to cover Eduardo's six.
"I have done a satellite scan of the area and there are approximately twenty-five bees still active, sir, " JARVIS informs him. "They appear to be converging at your position. "
The anti-tanks and grenade launchers had been excluded from the Mark V suit because there simply hadn't been space in the design. Mark sorely regrets this now. He blasts three of the bees in rapid succession with his chest repulsor, trusting that Eduardo will make sure they don't hurt anyone below, but it's not enough. The bees keep coming, and while Mark's suit can withstand their fire, the risk of Eduardo getting hit is increasing exponentially.
One of the blasts from the bees clips Mark in the shoulder; he's thrown backwards for a dizzying moment. When he regains his balance he sees Eduardo clinging to the side of the building, casting strings of web in quick succession at the nearest bee in order to impede its flight.
"Can you find some way to draw them away from the buildings?" Eduardo calls.
"I'll try," says Mark, but before he can do so, another figure appears on the roof of the adjacent building.
The person – a woman dressed in black – takes off at a dead run, sprints towards the edge of the roof and makes a flying leap towards the nearest bee.
"What on earth-" Eduardo begins.
She lands perfectly on one of them, gripping onto an antenna for balance before shooting the bee in the head. As the bee bucks and begins to tumble towards the ground, she springs off it and catches another by its leg, hoisting herself up onto its back with terrifying agility and taking the second bee out as well.
"Who's that?" asks Mark, blasting another bee with his repulsors.
"I don't know!" Eduardo shouts, catching all three falling bees in a hastily-produced net. "She's incredible!"
The woman takes out a third bee by somehow electrocuting it with something she fires from her wrists, but her leap towards the fourth is just a little short. She misses its wing by a fraction, and falls.
Mark's heading towards her in an instant, but even as she falls she manages to spin around midair so she can fire at the underside of the fourth bee, with little apparent regard for the fact that she is plummeting from a height of more than fifteen storeys.
Mark catches her just as the bee veers off course and starts to smoke, pulling her out of its erratic downward path.
"Thanks, but I had it handled," the woman says, twisting around to send another electric energy blast in the direction of another passing bee. She looks vaguely familiar, Mark thinks. "Grappling hooks."
Eduardo successfully traps that bee, suspending it off the side of a building. "Nice work," he calls, as he swings by, but when he catches sight of the woman's face he almost loses his grip on his web. "Christy? "
"Oh, damn," says the woman – Christy – as she clambers up to kneel on Mark's shoulders and begins to fling a series of small metallic discs that embed themselves in the head of a nearest bee and cause it to short circuit.
"CHRISTY? " Eduardo is doubling back towards them.
Christy – oh. Mark remembers. Appletinis.
"We don't have time for this!" she shouts at Eduardo, while still firing shots at the nearest bee. "One of you needs to get to that bee over there on Woolworth Building, I think it's controlling the rest of the hive."
"Of course, " Mark breathes. He feels a short stab of irritation at not having thought of that.
"Christy, what the hell are you doing here-"
"Shut up and catch me!" Christy yells, launching herself from Mark's back and leaping gracefully towards Eduardo, who catches her more out of reflex than anything. "Mark, you get the queen bee!"
As Mark heads off towards Woolworth Building, he hears Christy telling Eduardo that he can freak out later and commanding him to "toss me now!"
The bees seem to sense that Mark is heading over to destroy their queen, because they immediately stop firing at buildings in favour of pursuing Mark. Christy and Eduardo are helping tremendously by methodically taking out the bees, but Mark still finds he has to weave back and forth frenetically in order to avoid getting hit.
The queen bee is more than twice the size of the other bees, Mark realises as he approaches. With a dull mechanical groan the queen rises from its perch. From its tremendous underside emerges a row of blaster cannons.
"Divert all power to chest RT," Mark tells JARVIS.
The queen bee fires just a split second after Mark does. It makes all the difference. The resulting explosion is huge enough to heavily damage the machine, and as it tumbles from the building, the other bees begin to drop abruptly.
While Eduardo is preoccupied with trying to catch as many of the bees as possible, Christy flings out a grappling hook, leaping off the bee she had been clinging onto and swinging towards a building.
Mark flies over to intercept her on the roof. "I'm impressed," he says, drawing up the visor of his helmet.
"You should be," Christy replies. She's just finished scaling the side of a building but she's not even out of breath. "Good work out there. Cleanup's going to be a bitch."
"You were in-"
"Harvard, yes. I was keeping an eye on Spiderman." Christy stows away her grappling line and dusts off her hands. "Someone had to. You should answer your phone calls, Iron Man. SHIELD has been trying to contact you."
"I screen them," says Mark shortly. "Your name isn't really Christy, is it?"
"Is that relevant?" asks Christy. When Mark just looks at her she says, "In the field I'm the Black Widow."
"The Black Widow?" says Eduardo, landing neatly behind them. "You've got to be kidding me."
"Listen, I have been doing this much longer than you have, so if anyone is biting anyone's style, it's you," Christy tells him.
"Did you know she was an undercover agent sent to keep tabs on you in Harvard?" Mark asks him.
"You were a what?" Eduardo explodes.
"What he said," Christy replies.
Mark nods. "Also her name might not be Christy."
"You were keeping tabs on me?" continues Eduardo in tones of wounded outrage. "You were supposed to be my girlfriend!" He spins helplessly in a frustrated half-circle. "And you set fire to my bed!"
"She set fire to your bed?" asks Mark, alarmed.
"You were yelling at me over the phone about freezing the account and she set fire to my bed and – that's not the point!" Eduardo waves his hands in Christy's direction. "You were a spy!"
"I was there to evaluate your powers and find out enough to make a preliminary report," says Christy. "Don't take it personally."
Mark turns to Eduardo. "You were Spiderman in Harvard and you didn't mention it?"
"I got bitten in freshman year but I didn't – I wasn't Spiderman till… later," Eduardo replies. "And how exactly was I supposed to tell you? Speaking of which," he rounds on Christy. "How did you find out?"
"That's classified," Christy replies calmly.
"And the reason why you've suddenly appeared," says Mark, jerking his head to one side. "Is that also classified?"
"Like I said, SHIELD has been trying to contact you. I'm here to speak with you personally because you haven't returned any of our calls," Christy tells him. "I left thirty-seven messages with your secretary."
Eduardo snorts. "I see nothing's changed."
"And then I figured I'd give you a hand before you both got blasted into oblivion by those bees," Christy says, pointedly ignoring Eduardo.
"We were taking care of it," says Mark.
"Didn't look like it," Christy counters.
"Do you have a file on me as well?"
Mark nods. "I thought so." He makes a mental note to look into hacking the SHIELD database when he gets back. "What's the message?"
"We need to debrief you on the circumstances following your announcement," says Christy. "Don't pretend to look blank, you know which announcement."
"I'm just going to interrupt here for one second." Eduardo holds up a finger. "What's SHIELD?"
"Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division," says Mark. When Christy glances at him he shrugs. "I screen the calls. It doesn't mean I don't look into them."
"And what is it that you do, again?" asks Eduardo.
"In the loosest of senses, we deal with superhuman threats," Christy replies. "Part of that extends to handling individuals such as yourselves."
"And you want to debrief me," says Mark.
"I'd like you to come in and speak with our director, yes."
"I'm a little busy right now, you'll have to make an appointment with my secretary."
"I'd rather make an appointment with you," says Christy. "Don't make me have to chase you around, Mark Zuckerberg."
"You don't want her chasing you around, trust me," Eduardo tells him.
"Fine," says Mark. "But you're helping with cleanup."
Christy rolls her eyes. "What do you think SHIELD agents have been doing for the past ten minutes?"
Mark looks down. People in hazmat suits have arrived with cranes and trucks and are beginning the tedious process of cutting down the smouldering bees that Eduardo had left slung up above the streets.
"Take a break, boys," Christy says. She makes a face. "Not that you've earned it or anything."
There's probably a joke somewhere that starts like this: Iron Man and Spiderman walk into a donut shop.
Mark's not sure how the rest of it goes. In reality they buy some donuts and head outside again, but that's not very funny.
"This is good stuff," says Eduardo, taking a bite from a jelly donut. He has to pull up his mask halfway in order to do so; it's vaguely ridiculous.
They're sitting inside the hole of the giant donut sign on top of Randy's Donuts in California. This wasn't what Mark had envisioned when Eduardo-as-Spiderman had said to the lady at the counter, "We're eating in."
"So," says Eduardo. "Christy. Did you see that coming?"
"No," says Mark, neglecting to mention that this is mostly because he'd forgotten that Eduardo even had a girlfriend named Christy.
"Yeah, it's just – I can't believe it, you know?" Eduardo says. "She said, 'Facebook me' and it all followed from there but she seemed – well she didn't turn out to be normal by any stretch but I didn't think she'd be some sort of-"
"Secret agent super assassin?" Mark supplies. "Well, neither did I."
"She did do mixed martial arts and have a black belt in Krav Maga," says Eduardo. "And she could speak five languages fluently, but this was-"
"Harvard, I know," says Mark. "Five languages was pretty normal."
"One of them was Latin." Eduardo pauses. "Do you think I should have picked up on that? Who even speaks Latin?"
"No one speaks Latin," Mark tells him. "It's a dead language. That's ridiculous."
"Well, apparently Christy does," says Eduardo, shaking his head. "I'm going to have another donut."
This is probably the first time they've talked about Harvard, Mark realises. It is definitely the first time they've had anything resembling a meal together. Not that they used to eat together on anything like a regular basis back then, Mark's diet being primarily made up of beer, red vines and cold pizza.
"You didn't tell me you had been bitten," says Mark before he can stop himself.
It comes out like an accusation.
Eduardo sounds weary when he replies. "Like I said, it wasn't as if I could just slip it in during casual conversation."
"You could have tried-"
"And even if I had, you probably wouldn't have paid attention."
Mark bristles. "I think I would have paid attention if my best friend was telling me he had a genetic mutation-"
"Best friend? You're sure you want to go there?" says Eduardo, voice sharp.
It's like a slap. Mark cannot see Eduardo's face but he can imagine exactly the expression Eduardo must be wearing. Nobody in Mark's life does anger and hurt like Eduardo Saverin can.
"Maybe we should talk about Christy," Mark says obliquely.
"I didn't tell you because I didn't know how to bring it up, and I thought it would go away," Eduardo tells Mark. His voice is ragged, like the words are being torn from him. "But it didn't go away, and by the time I thought to come to you, there was Facebook."
"You should have told me-"
"I told you that I quit my internship on the first day and you didn't even remember that," says Eduardo. "And let me tell you why I quit. I quit because I couldn't handle an internship on top of looking for advertisers for Facebook and preventing muggings and robberies all over the city."
"I didn't sleep, Mark. I was being chased by the police, day and night, while trying to be your CFO. That's what I was doing in New York."
In the wake of that statement, Mark finds himself unable to do anything but stare at Eduardo, because there's nothing he can say in response.
Correction – there's everything he can say in response, starting with I'm sorry and extending to all the things Mark now knows he should have done and said, back then. But Mark cannot fathom Eduardo's response; shudders to think about the million ways he could mess it up and drive Eduardo further away.
And he can't have that, especially not after the giant bees and the Golden Gate Bridge and the random dropping in at Mark's place or the Facebook offices. Mark refuses to accept that some things just break. Mark has fixed his own heart and he has to believe that he can fix this.
So he falls back on the obvious excuse. "I didn't know."
Eduardo pulls up his mask to take another bite of donut. "Now you do." He sounds bitter.
They sit there in silence for close to a minute, Eduardo seemingly determined to eat his way through his half of the donuts. Mark stares out at the evening sky, painfully aware of Eduardo's every movement, and wonders how the easy back-and-forth they'd had just less than an hour ago has now completely vanished.
Another minute passes, and Mark decides he cannot bear it any longer.
He says the first thing that comes to mind.
"Aren't you going to thank me?"
"I'm sorry but, what? "
"Yes." Mark forges on bravely. "I- I saved your ass back there; you should probably thank me for that."
Eduardo just gapes at him.
"You called," says Mark, feeling increasingly like he's treading water here and failing. "I left a serious situation at Capitol Building to come to your rescue. The Rotunda will never be the same again. Chris is undoubtedly having some sort of meltdown as we speak."
Eduardo shakes his head and looks away, but Mark would bet – Mark would bet all his shares in Facebook that Eduardo is smiling under his mask.
"Thanks," says Eduardo after a moment. He sounds like he doesn't know whether to laugh or to cry. "You saved my ass back there."