In the long and epic tale of Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin's twisted love, history will find Dustin Moskovitz mildly confused and just left of the middle. As in, not guilty, but not exactly innocent either: Mark had told him to get a lawyer to look over the new papers, and he had. He'd known Mark hadn't told Eduardo that, but he could've stepped up, sent one short email that would’ve changed a whole lot. And yeah, he didn't, and yeah, he felt like shit about it for a really long time.
But here's the thing. Facebook? If it were a baby, he would at least get custody of it in weekends and for four weeks during the summer. Dustin contributed a shitload of code; so did Mark, of course, but if Dustin were to open the source file for even just the homepage, he'd be easily able to identify what was his. (He'd also be able to identify the code Mark had written that Dustin had cleaned up so other programmers would be able to understand it, like first and foremost reminding Mark to fucking comment his code because the rest of the world is not on a direct wavelength to his scary hermit brain).
So Dustin sticks around. Chris sticks around. Eduardo leaves, and sues.
Mark... does not deal with that well.
"She ignored my friend request."
Dustin looks up from his avocado and tomato sandwich. "Yes. Well. She is allowed to do that, remember? In fact, you were the one who expressly added in that function, presumably so you could ignore everyone you hated from high school."
Mark flops into the seat next to him, looking vaguely annoyed at the reminder. "I don't like it."
"Okay." Dustin takes a bite, chews, swallows. Mark is looking at him expectantly. "What."
"I want to talk to her. I didn't get a chance to during the deposition, they wouldn't let me talk directly to her."
"This may be a surprise, Mark, but not everyone wants to hear what you have to say. But plenty of people do-- though god only knows why, you suck at talking to reporters, they all must hate you so much-- anyways, my point is that if you ever want to mosey over to Chris and his scarily well-trained PR department, they will find loads of hungry, grasping members of the fourth estate for you who will sit there and let you insult their technological knowledge."
Mark blinks, then frowns. "No. "
"Fine, worth a try," Dustin responds. "Go away, I'm eating. Make yourself useful and go buy more brie, Chris used it all up and my sandwich is cheese-deficient. Or get Sean to stop smoking pot in the conference rooms. I keep trying and he ignores me, it's very rude."
"Dustin." Mark presses his lips together. "It's not-- I just, I want to talk to Erica. I would even apologize. We're all adults now. But if she won't let me do even that one small thing, then I can't--" he falls silent, but Dustin has known Mark for a pretty long time, and the subtext is clear. Then I can't apologize to Eduardo, and god Dustin remembers how fucked up Mark was after Eduardo confronted him for the first time. He doesn't want to see him that drunk again, ever.
He accepts defeat in the name of Mark’s liver staying healthy and functional. "What do you want me to do?"
Mark bounces up on the balls of his feet. "Okay. Yes. Good. I want you to friend her on Facebook. Start with that."
Dustin has the uncomfortable feeling that this is going to end with someone getting slapped.
He hopes it's Mark.
So. Yes. Dustin adds Erica Albright, Boston University Class of 2006, on Facebook.
He’s not a total idiot, though, and he doesn’t want her to reject the request without a second thought. He adds a message.
I understand if you don’t ever want to talk to any of us again, he types, peering at the screen. Sometimes *I* don’t want to talk to any of us ever again. But if you ever do-- well, I liked you back in college and I like you now. And I think we have some common ground.
It takes Erica a day and a half to respond to his friend request. When he gets back from work-- and it’s one of those days that involves more interaction with Sean than Dustin is frankly comfortable with, as well as yelling at Mark for yelling at an intern-- he has two notifications, bright red against the blue of the toolbar. One is a note that he and Erica are now Facebook friends.
The other is a message. It says, simply, hi.
Like, it’s not that Dustin expects rejection, right? He’d actually gone out on a couple of dates with Stephanie Addis before they packed up for California, and he went on a string of successful dates with this blonde, curly-haired girl from Stanford when they first arrived in Palo Alto (though she dumped him for a guy who was six-four and had long brown hair and, from what Dustin could tell, a vaguely mysterious past-- anyways, he hasn’t heard anything from either of them in over a year). He even let Sean set him up with someone once, though that had been an unmitigated, unspeakable disaster.
But the last several months have been a blur of depositions and lawsuits and getting Mark through it without him spectacularly combusting. Dustin’s been concentrating on being a good friend here more than an expansive social life; if anything had to fall by the wayside, dating was it.
And the last girl he had asked out (Middle-Eastern, with dark bright eyes and a knowing smile, studying chemical engineering at Cal) had turned him down with a soft look and a shrug, and that had been six months ago.
So he isn’t sure what he expects from Erica besides maybe-- maybe-- a polite dismissal.
To say he’s pleasantly surprised is an understatement.
“So it worked?” Mark asks the next morning. His face is tight and eager, a look Dustin associates more with all-night coding binges than anything else.
“Did you get any sleep last night,” is what Dustin says instead.
“Three hours.” Mark waves this off like it’s nothing and he’ll be able to function fine. “Look, did Erica accept your friend request? Because I sent her another one and she ignored it too.”
“Yes,” Dustin says. “Yes, she accepted my friend request. And no, this doesn’t mean you should try to add her again. She just had to deal with two lawsuits courtesy of you-- give her some space.”
Mark frowns, clutching at his cup of coffee.
“You know I’m right,” Dustin adds, and makes for his office, pulling headphones out of his bag.
hi, Erica says. It’s just two letters, Dustin thinks. It probably shouldn’t mean as much as it does.
Then again, he’s always hated ambiguity. That’s why he likes programming, likes coding: ambiguity is punished there, not rewarded.
hey, he types back, after a moment’s consideration. how’re you?
He sends the message, then rethinks and opens a chat window. She’s online, a green dot next to her name. actually, this is probably easier for us to use.
definitely, Erica writes back. I’m good. I’ll actually be heading your way like, really soon.
you’re coming to california? Dustin raises an eyebrow, ups the brightness of his monitor. what for?
law school, Erica responds almost immediately. stanford, actually. we could be neighbors.
wow. good for you. And it is. Erica’s the type of person who would make a kickass lawyer; Dustin remembers her having an enviable way with words. maybe we’ll be more than neighbors... could be a job for you here in a couple of years.
Dustin adds a caveat.
or not. too soon?
nah, Erica types, after a few minutes where he watches the cursor blink, eyebrows furrowed. as long as I get to work with you and not Mark.
mark’s kind of unavoidable. but... he has his good points? Dustin punctuates this with a smiley face, because a, it’s true, and b, the sooner Erica makes at least the conciliatory effort of accepting Mark’s friend request, the sooner Mark might become normal again. Or something.
yeah, I know, Erica says. I don’t hate him, not really. It was college. People are allowed to be stupid assholes in college. Like, my roommate is probably still mad at me for the Pillow Incident.
The “Pillow Incident”? whoa, capslock means serious business. I’m raising my eyebrows at you ever here, jsyk.
It involved one of those big beige pillows you study on, a very minor explosion courtesy of someone who should NOT have been a cham major, and that’s all I’m going to say.
That’s just unfair, Dustin sends, and grins.
One month, several Facebook conversations, and two Skype chats later, meeting for coffee is not a big deal. It is absolutely not why he is wearing a tie. Dustin repeats this to himself as he straightens said tie in the men’s room mirror for the fifth time that morning.
It’s a nice tie. His mother gave it to him.
It’s not a big deal, seriously. It’s a friend and another friend seeing each other again after several years apart-- a post-college reunion, if you will. It’s one guy helping out a girl who’s just moved to a strange city. And Palo Alto takes some getting used to, especially after Boston. He remembers the BU campus. Stanford is almost alien in comparison. He can talk to her about the weather. And swimming. They can debate the relative merits of the Pacific Ocean versus the Atlantic.
He’s not kidding anyone. Mark said “nice tie,” this morning, but it was distracted and muttered in between a frown and yelling something about a missing Very Important cable, so Dustin can ignore that.
Sean also said nice tie, and Dustin will be ignoring that as well. He refuses to take fashion advice from Sean.
So-- he looks at himself in the mirror, smooths his hair down one more time, and repeats that it is just coffee, and he might be wearing a tie but he is wearing Converse as well because he is cool, he is a casual and cool person, and it will be fine.
Erica Albright is shorter than he remembers. It’s not that she’s short, exactly; she’s more tiny, fine-boned and delicate.
She’ll raise hell in a courtroom, that’s for sure.
She gives him a hug, grins. “I like your tie,” she says. Dustin fingers the material, expensive and soft beneath his skin.
“Thanks,” he says, and promises himself that it doesn’t matter that it’s not a date. He’ll still buy her coffee. “What’s your order?”
“Oh, um--” she bites her lip. “I don’t know, iced something or other? Iced latte?”
“Gotcha,” Dustin says. He orders a lemonade and a chocolate chip cookie for himself and carries everything over on a tray. They’re sitting outside, on one of the side streets in Palo Alto, and it’s pretty quiet. It’s nice. It’s over too soon.
“We could get lunch,” Erica says, and he slowly grins.
Coffee becomes a walk to the park, and then it becomes lunch, and that turns into dinner because classes haven’t started yet and basically Dustin doesn’t want this to end.
Sometime around 4 pm, it became a date. She slips her hand into his and squeezes, and when Dustin looks over at her he just, he knows. This probably didn’t start as a just-friends thing-- too much history on both sides of the story-- but they’ve slipped off any pretenses.
Fuck, he thinks, because Mark, he shouldn’t do this to Mark, but Mark instigated it. He can flip the blame around.
And Erica. Erica is genuinely kind and funny and he wants to spend more than just the rest of the day with her. He really, really does.
He walks her to the bus, when the sky has darkened to navy, and leans in for a hug. “We should do this again,” Dustin says.
“We really should. I’m free tomorrow,” and Erica grins, a flash of mischief. “Or is that too soon?”
“Nah. No, it’s, you know, it’s good.” He doesn’t know why he trips over the words because it is, it’s great. “Lunch or dinner?”
“Dinner. Definitely dinner.” Erica leans in and kisses him. It’s not much, just a brush of lips, but this isn’t platonic. This won’t be platonic.
Somehow-- well, it really isn’t a mystery-- he’s totally okay with that.
Dinner is... not supposed to end with Erica inviting him into her apartment (graduate housing, mattress on the floor with boxes from IKEA scattered around and he’d offer to help but that might actually just make things worse--), closing the door, and pulling first her shirt off, then reaching out with elegant arms and unbuttoning his.
He loses his pants somewhere between the living room and what will eventually become a bedroom. There are no qualms involved.
"I am the worst friend ever," Dustin mutters, and yes, he really really is, because Exhibit A: his best friend's ex-girlfriend, lying next to him in bed in dark grey panties and a lighter grey tank top, brown hair curling messily against the white pillowcase.
Erica shifts, angling herself so her knee is slipped between his legs and her arm is draped over his chest. Her lips are swollen a little, and Dustin looks at her and thinks, I did that. She yawns. "No, you're not. Mark and I haven't meant anything to each other in years." Which is not exactly true on Mark's part, but Dustin lets it slide because she is snuggling with him, which is so excellent, seriously.
"Okay then," he says, slipping an arm around her shoulder, more or less smoothly. "So is this, us, are we a thing now?"
"You mean going out to fancy dinners and having sex with each other?" She laughs, stroking his arm. "Like a boyfriend-girlfriend thing? If you want, then yes. Definitely yes."
"I do," Dustin says, surprising himself a little. "You are an excellent person."
"Why thank you," Erica says. "Though I'll warn you, I talk about old Supreme Court cases in my sleep."
"Once I dreamt I was being slowly devoured by my debugger, line by line," Dustin says. "We're even."
She smiles up at him and kisses him, and this is like getting investors and watching them hit one million members all in one.
Erica is probably the best girlfriend ever, Dustin decides, even though he has decidedly limited experience. She does actually talk about old Supreme Court cases in his sleep-- and to think he had thought that was a joke, though most people would probably mean it that way, right?-- but hey, he’s learning history!
She also makes excellent scrambled eggs and has a distracting habit of stealing his old t-shirts that he only pretends to mind.
It should be perfect, and it almost is, but there’s a fly in the ointment. He goes to work and talks to Mark and sometimes Chris, when he can get Chris at a free moment, and he’s so happy. He goes around grinning like there’s a hangar stretching his mouth, and he can’t really tell anyone why.
He wants to tell Mark. It would be a bad thing if he didn’t. But that, Dustin knows, could screw everything up. There’s history here, history written on the skin of their palms and the ink of the internet, history in code and lawsuits and drunken college experiences, and sometimes it feels like he’s tracing a path between glass shards.
Eventually, he goes for it, even though he should have learned that honesty isn’t always the best policy a long, long time ago.
“You slept with her.” Mark’s voice is flat, and Dustin winces, frowning. It’s been five weeks of wanting to tell someone and not being able, of having this secret that’s good and bursting behind his breastbone. Of wanting to change his relationship status on Facebook.
“Well,” he says. “Yes. I did do that. But she slept with me. It was-- Mark, I didn’t do it for any other reason than that I wanted to and I like her. I like Erica a lot. You have to understand that.”
“Right,” Mark says, and sits down.
“You’re mad,” he says after a moment. “I’m sorry.”
Mark opens his laptop, fingers poised over the keys. “I’m not. I’m not mad. It’s fine.”
“Except for how it’s not and you’re just not going to say anything. Jesus. Okay then.” Dustin sighs and walks out of Mark’s office and calls up Erica, taking her to lunch.
“I told Mark,” Dustin says, and orders a beer. It’s barely noon, and Erica frowns but says nothing.
“You told Mark?” She raises an eyebrow and her foot taps on the ground, the kitten heel clicking. “I’m supposing it didn’t go well.”
“He says he isn’t mad, but he’s lying. I can tell.”
The crease between Erica’s eyebrows deepens. “There’s no reason for him to be mad, really. He’s being an idiot.”
Dustin sighs. “Yeah, well. There kinda is.”
Erica slips off her sweater. She’s wearing a bright blue tank top underneath and black jeans. She folds it neatly in her lap. “You’re going to tell me. Now.”
Dustin blurts it out. He’s wanted to do it that way anyways, let the words spill and not feel caught between two people, two places: “I friended you because he asked me to because you wouldn’t accept his request and it’s like, his way of penance for sins, online through the thing that he invented-- even though that’s ridiculous because we’re both Jewish but whatever, and it shouldn’t matter but it does because I really like you and I don’t want you to think you’re part of some agenda because Mark wants to make up with Wardo, you know?”
She blinks, looking stunned, and shifts in her seat. It takes a moment and Dustin stares, his mouth open, dreading what might come next.
“Except I am,” Erica says. “I am part of his agenda. This-- this is the problem with Mark fucking Zuckerberg. You know why I didn’t accept his friend request? Why I haven’t accepted any of his friend requests? Because I didn’t want to be friends. I was the means to an end. This is the means to an end. And I’m not, I don’t want to do that anymore. I’m sorry, but it’s not fair.” She pulls her sweater on and hands him a bill. “Here. Just pay for my food when it gets here. You should still be able to eat your lunch.”
Just fucking make up with him you idiot, Dustin texts Mark at 1:03 in the morning. And if you cant do it maybe he doesnt want to be friends with you. I can get why. He sends another: and I am tired of Eduardo not being named. you want to solve a problem and you dont know how to approach it for once in your life. figure it out.
Mark texts back ten minutes later. i’m sorry. you were happy. will fix it. thats a promise.
Stay away from this you’ll just fuck it up again, Dustin responds, and passes out on his living room floor with a Saturday Night Live repeat from the 90s playing at a low buzz.
Mark calls him a couple of hours later; he doesn’t pick up.
Mark sends Erica a friend request every so often. Because until she says yes, he knows no one else will.
This time, though. This time he adds a message.
don’t blame Dustin just cause i’m an asshole. he was being a friend.
Forty-eight minutes later she accepts, though with a caveat: you won’t get Eduardo’s forgiveness if you don’t try. this isn’t the transitive property, Mark. reach out. make a GESTURE for once.
It’s good advice. He tells her so when he sees her in person, meeting Dustin to go fountain-hopping at Stanford (something Mark will do never again, but Erica is braver than he is).
“I know,” Erica says. Dustin’s arm is around her, fingers wrapping into her waist. She leans into his side, her head on his shoulder. “You don’t get anywhere if you don’t try. I thought you would have learned that by now.”
“Come on, it’s gonna be too late soon! I promised some undergrads they could intern here if they went with us--”
Mark’s shocked, horrified “You did what--” overlaps with Erica saying “just remember, I get to be best man at your wedding! The speech I could give--”
He won’t start with a friend request. Not this time.
He’ll start with a letter.