It might sound absurd to anyone who knew anything about their lives, but Mark never really considered the possibility that he and Eduardo might grow apart. Well, during the lawsuit, obviously, it hadn't seemed a possibility so much as a certainty, though Mark had been pissed off enough and righteously indignant enough that he'd almost welcomed it. But afterwards, when Eduardo had stayed in the industry and Mark would run into him every few months or so at a conference or party or charity event...well, Mark sort of settled into the idea of Eduardo as a constant, albeit distant, presence in his life.
Only now Mark was staring across a crowded hotel conference room at Eduardo, and Eduardo suddenly looked like a man rather than a college kid playing dress-up in his dad's suits, and Mark tried to count back to the last time he'd seen Eduardo and, Jesus, it must have been at least seven years. How had that even happened?
There'd been work, obviously, and Mark admittedly had trouble maintaining social connections even with the people who wanted to talk to him, but was it really possible that he'd managed to lose track of Eduardo for almost a decade? That was just... Mark tried not to examine his feelings too closely, but the word "unacceptable" drifted through his mind, and he abruptly stood up with a muttered excuse to the guy who'd been talking to him about...something...and headed across the room.
Eduardo didn't seem to notice Mark's approach, which could mean that he was fully engaged in his conversation with a couple of kids--maybe college-age or a little bit older--or it could mean that he was ignoring Mark deliberately. Not that it mattered either way; Mark wasn't in the mood to be dissuaded.
"Eduardo," he called, and Eduardo and the kids turned to face him. The girl's eyes widened, and the boy's jaw even dropped a little; Eduardo just gave him a polite nod.
"Mark," he said. "Good to see you."
That was off-script; Eduardo had always been scrupulously polite to Mark in public after the lawsuit had been settled, but, as far as Mark knew, he'd never lied to him. Just something else that had changed in addition to the more solid set of Eduardo's body and the faint lines around his eyes and the touches of gray at his temples. Sometime in the past seven years, Eduardo had become a stranger.
"It's been too long," Mark said, returning Eduardo's polite lie with the truth.
Eduardo's polished smile dimmed slightly, and his eyes sharpened as he looked at Mark.
"I'm staying at the hotel tonight," Mark continued. "If you're not rushing out of here, we should meet up later, grab a drink."
The boy shifted on his feet, and Mark's attention was drawn back to their unwelcome audience. He restrained the urge to turn his back on them; he didn't want them seeing this--him--right now, but being rude to the fresh crop of talent wasn't likely to endear him to Eduardo, and Mark really didn't want his offer to be refused.
"Sure," Eduardo said, so slowly and carefully that it was obvious that he wasn't at all certain. "Eight o'clock good for you?"
Mark nodded. "Eight's fine. Here, let me give you my contact info."
Eduardo took out his cellphone, which was new and fancy enough to be protected with a retinal scan, held it up to his eye to unlock it, and handed it over to Mark. Mark hesitated over the "add" screen a moment, wondering if he should give Eduardo just his current phone number as Eduardo was obviously expecting, and then shrugged mentally and gave him viewing access to his entire personal info cloud: phone number, email address, street address, work street address, PA's work phone number. There were five people in the world to whom he'd given full access...six, now. It was a small leap of faith, but Eduardo had never screwed him over without Mark screwing him over first, and Mark thought--or maybe just hoped--that they were past that type of petty vindictiveness by now.
He handed the phone back to Eduardo, who put the phone back into his pocket without even glancing at it. Mark tried not to think about the fact that Eduardo hadn't reciprocated and that, if Eduardo chose to forget this conversation, Mark would have no way of getting in touch with him. Well, no way that wasn't illegal or unfortunately stalkerish.
"I'll see you later," he said and waited just long enough for Eduardo's answering nod before leaving.
At seven fifty-seven, Mark's phone rang, interrupting him in the middle of a coding tear. The number wasn't in his list of contacts.
"This is Eduardo," Eduardo said in response to Mark's generic "Hello."
"I thought you might have changed your mind," Mark said.
"Me, too," Eduardo said. "But apparently not. I'm in the lobby. Do you want to come meet me in the hotel bar, or did you want to go someplace?"
"I, uh," Mark said and looked at his computer in frustration, his hands still and silent because Eduardo was undoubtedly listening for the sound of typing. He needed to get back to it before he lost the threads of code unspooling in his brain, but he also needed to not blow Eduardo off on what might be Mark's last and only chance to reconnect with him. Five minutes would do it--and that was an actual five minutes, not a stupidly optimistic five minutes that really meant half an hour or more--but he couldn't make Eduardo wait for five minutes plus however long it took Mark to get from the thirty-eighth floor to the first.
He was just about to suck it up and lose his train of thought, hopefully recreate it later, when a better idea hit him. "Why don't you come up here instead?" There was a silence that stretched a little too long, and he said quickly, "We have a lot of catching up to do, and I'd rather we did that as just us and not as public figures."
Another period of silence, and then Eduardo said, "Your room it is."
Mark told him the room number, then bought himself a few extra minutes with, "The mini-bar's pretty uninspiring. Do you want to pick us up a bottle of something good from the bar down there?"
"I can do that," Eduardo said. "See you soon, Mark."
He hung up, and Mark's fingers began to race across the keyboard, working against the silent stopwatch that was Eduardo going into the bar to pay premium price for a bottle of liquor, walking to the elevator and riding it to the thirty-eighth floor, finding Mark's room.
He saved his work and shared it with Dustin, closed his laptop and set it aside, and still had a minute or two to pace his room, trying to work off the adrenaline rush, before Eduardo knocked on his door.
Mark let Eduardo in and opened his mouth to greet him, but Eduardo just pushed a bottle of amber liquor into his hands--Mark clutched it reflexively--and kissed him.
Mark's heart did a weird stutter in his chest. After a moment of confusion, he kissed back, holding onto the bottle with a death grip so that he didn't accidentally drop it in his desire to get his hands on Eduardo.
Eduardo's mouth tasted strongly of alcohol, and Mark wondered if that alone was the reason behind his atypical behavior, but wasn't actually stupid enough to stop kissing Eduardo in order to assuage his curiosity.
Much too soon, Eduardo pulled away and stared at him, panting a little, his eyes as huge and expressive as Mark remembered. "I'd meant to work up to that," he said.
"I'm fine with this," Mark said quickly. He hadn't ever considered the possibility of kissing Eduardo. On the other hand, as Mark's first boyfriend had pointed out, at first fondly and then with increasing exasperation, Mark wasn't very self-aware. Now that he knew kissing Eduardo was an option--even if only an alcohol- and anger-fueled option--he was 100 percent in support of it.
"Mark." Eduardo shook his head. "What are you doing?"
"Me?" Mark demanded, surprised into indignance. "You're the one who--"
"We haven't spoken a single word to each other in eight years, and you randomly decide to invite me to your hotel room for drinks? What is this, a mid-life crisis? Are you dying of cancer and this is your last chance to make amends? What's going on?"
Mark blinked at him. Obviously, Eduardo wasn't as ready to forgive and forget as Mark was. But Eduardo had kissed him, and Eduardo's voice had wavered slightly when he'd talked about Mark dying, and that had to mean that Mark still had a chance to make things right. "I just...I missed you," he said.
"You could have called. I'm sure you're capable of tracking down my number."
"I didn't realize until tonight that you were gone," Mark said, despite knowing how Eduardo would react, because if he fucked this up, he didn't want it to be because he'd lied. Eduardo's face went blank in a way that had once made him look fragile and now only made him look stern. "You know how I am, Eduardo, and I could apologize for it...I do apologize for it: I'm really, really sorry that I was so wrapped up in myself that I didn't notice that seeing you twice a year had turned into seeing you never. But I noticed tonight, and I don't want to forget something this important again."
Eduardo nodded slowly. "You want to be friends again," he said, his voice too even to betray what he thought of the idea.
"Honestly? Half an hour ago, I was aiming for friends, but after that kiss, I'm hoping to shoot higher."
Eduardo's mouth twitched in what was almost a smile. Or maybe Mark was just hoping that's what that expression meant. It was strange and a little disconcerting to see how well Eduardo had learned to hide his emotions, which he'd always telegraphed blatantly enough for even Mark to read them when they'd been younger. Mark would have to work a lot harder to understand him this time around.
"You could start by expanding that apology a little," Eduardo suggested.
"I'm sorry for everything," Mark said promptly. "I'm sorry for all of the ways I fucked up when we were younger, and for all of the times I should've gotten in touch with you afterwards when I realized I'd made a mistake."
There was a clear expression of surprise on Eduardo's face now, but Mark had grown up, too, and he'd learned that there were things in life more important than his pride. Besides, none of his excuses and justifications--which he obviously had, because not all of the enmity between them had been his fault--mattered a damn if Eduardo wouldn't listen to him. Patience was something else that Mark had learned.
"Okay," Eduardo said. "Thank you." He took hold of the liquor bottle and tugged it out of Mark's hands.
Mark didn't resist, though if Eduardo tried to leave again after all that, he was going to argue the point pretty strenuously.
Instead, Eduardo headed towards the armchairs on the far side of the room, arranged in front of the French doors overlooking the city. "Get a couple of glasses and come have a seat," he called over his shoulder. "We have a lot to talk about."