It’s a complete accident the first time Mark makes Eduardo talk to him again.
Mark goes on a forty-eight hour coding bender. It starts on one of the usual overnight hackathons, but he breaks his own rule about focusing on small projects and ends up diving into an intensely complicated implementation of a new way to statistically model interconnected relationships. No idea what it’ll be good for, exactly, but fuck if it isn’t cool. And it’s one of those things he can’t stop once he starts, because he knows if he lets his mind wander for more than ninety seconds he’ll lose his place and never find it again.
He resurfaces in the early evening, intending to stretch his legs on a walk around the office, and then he’s going home and sleeping for eighteen hours.
But then Chris and Dustin come busting into his office; Dustin is carrying a bucket of ice, and Chris is carrying a garment bag.
“Damn,” Dustin says when he sees that Mark has unplugged. “I was looking forward to dumping this over your head.”
“Huh?” Mark says, because he hasn’t quite flipped back to English yet.
“Put this on,” Chris says, unzipping the bag and whipping out a tux. “You’ve got fifteen minutes.”
“No,” Mark says, recoiling.
“Oh yes,” Chris says. “You’re going. I personally promised Bill Clinton that you would show up. Personally promised the former President of the United States, Mark.”
“Well, that was dumb,” Mark says. “I’m tired, guys, seriously.”
“You should have thought of that two days ago,” Chris says. He squints at Mark, then rolls his eyes. “Christ, you look like a refugee. You’re going to walk into this thing and someone’s going to mistake you for the token heartwarming recipient of Clinton Foundation aid.”
“That would be bad,” Mark says helpfully.
“So wash your face,” Chris says.
Which is how Mark ends up dozing off on Hilary Clinton’s shoulder in the course of a thirty second conversation. Not one of his finer moments, but she’s a total mensch about the whole thing.
There are pictures. There are always pictures. And blog headlines ranging from MARK ZUCKERBERG WORKING HIMSELF TO DEATH?! to HILARY TRADES UP!. Mark doesn’t see any of it. He had a Google alert set on his own name for all of exactly eight days back in late 2004. He knows better now, and that’s what he pays Chris for. Chris keeps track of these things; he issues polite press releases and sends threatening letters in roughly equal proportion, and only lets Mark know about any of it when he’s particularly horrified or particularly amused. Falling asleep on the former First Lady hits somewhere in the sweet spot between the two, and Mark hears about nothing else for days.
He flies to London a week later. Going east always fucks him up, and he’s still picking at the relationship modeling so he doesn’t take a sleeping pill on the flight. He heads straight off the plane to the opening conference reception, with less than ten minutes in his hotel room to change because he knows if he sits down he won’t stand up again.
Eduardo is there. Mark had known to expect it, because Chris always forewarns him. Which is pretty pointless -- it’s not like Mark has to do anything strenuous to prepare to be icily ignored. He’s pretty good at that, by now. Lots of practice.
It used to be harder. These days, he gives Eduardo the entire length of ballrooms or conference tables to do his I’m ignoring you bubble thing. It was messier back when he was trying not to let Eduardo get away with this shit. He’d been so sure – was still absolutely certain – that if they could just keep pushing at this –
The lawyers and the non-disclosure agreements and the testimony under oath – that was one thing. An awful thing, but a separate thing. The terms of a settlement Mark had almost nothing to do with negotiating have never felt relevant to the fact that he and Eduardo are still fucking furious with each other. Or with how he’s always been so sure that if they just kept fighting about it, eventually things would be okay again. Not the same. But okay.
So he’d tried to keep fighting with Eduardo every chance he got. Mark owes him that.
Mark doesn’t like the word ‘unforgivable.’ It occurs to him sometimes, and he has to work hard to shake it off. But if there’s anything Eduardo’s done that Mark might not be able to forgive, eventually, it’s that Eduardo won’t fight with him.
Mark had tried and tried. He’d been snide and he’d been provoking and he’d been cutting and he’d been direct and he’d been passive aggressive – sometimes all at once. Until one day Dustin of all people took him aside and held him by the shoulders and told him to stop it.
“Look, I get it,” Dustin had said. “Well. Okay. Lie, I don’t. But here’s a thing I get. He’s made it very clear he wants you to leave him alone. And Mark, seriously. You need to do that for him right now.”
Dustin doesn’t say shit like that. Dustin invented Facebook poking because he’s always wanted an electronic equivalent to that thing where you sit in the back of a car and jab someone repeatedly in the same spot until they bruise.
So Mark listened, and he stopped trying to make things better with Eduardo by fighting with him. And now he gets ignored.
Except this time, Eduardo doesn’t ignore him. Instead he spends half an hour staring hard at Mark from across the room, then approaches in these elliptical starts and stops with a tense scowl on his face.
Mark gets a drink when he realizes what’s happening so he’ll have something to hide his grin behind. Eduardo is coming to fight with him! Finally! This is going to be great!
Except then Eduardo makes his approach. He strides up to Mark, stops about two feet back, and plants himself solidly. He glares into Mark’s face, his nostrils already flared in irritation.
“Hi,” Mark says. He makes it as warm and sincere as he can, because he knows Eduardo will hate that.
Eduardo inhales between his teeth. “God,” he snaps. “Gawker was right. You look awful. Go take a fucking nap.” Then he pivots on his heel and stomps off.
Mark blinks after him. “Okaaaaay,” he says slowly to the empty air. “Was that weird? That was weird.” Then he processes, pauses, thinks. “. . . Huh,” he says. “How about that?”
So Mark does the obvious thing and doesn’t sleep a wink for the entire conference. It’s easy to do. He has always resented sleep for the endless, pointless time suck. Running on organic circuitry is so enragingly limiting; someone is going to have to solve that, preferably in his lifetime.
So staying up for the full three days is fine; he attends the conference all day, then logs in to work right about when the west coast is first plugging in, and he can work his usual day overnight.
By the last day he’s beginning to feel a little uncertain on his feet, those faintly buzzing halos are hovering around the edges of objects if he focuses too hard, and he’s been informed by seven different people that he looks terrible.
And Eduardo glares at him. From the audience while Mark is on a panel, around three hundred people’s heads in the banquet room, in the crowded lobby when they’re both checking out at the same time. He doesn’t say anything, but he glares. And it’s fantastic.
Mark sleeps for most of the flight home, but he’s awake for the last three hours, and he puts it to good use. Eduardo isn’t ignoring him anymore. Mark has an in. And he can totally work with this.
Eduardo will be attending a shareholders meeting in seven weeks. Mark waits six-and-a-half, then implements his strategy. He starts small, just an innocuous little status update:
Turns out when you put a metal teapot in the microwave, bad things happen.
It’s on his secure feed, locked down to a couple hundred people. He gets some emoticons in response, Dustin says, dude how r u still even alive??? and Mark’s mother says Oh, sweetie, and somehow she makes Times New Roman do The Voice.
Eduardo doesn’t say anything, but Mark knows he saw it. Eduardo has come to every single shareholders meeting since the settlement. He shows up more often than the people who live in San Francisco. Mark’s sure it’s supposed to be proving something, but all it’s ever proven to him is that Eduardo is terrible at ignoring him, no matter what he wants everyone to believe. So yeah. Eduardo saw it, Eduardo reads Mark’s updates every day, the same way Mark reads his.
Mark waits another couple days. He trolls Failblog a bit, trying to come up with his next offering. But then life provides him the perfect solution all on its own, because sometimes things just go his way, and Mark is able to update:
Protip: when you’re making some of those croissant pocket things in the toaster, it turns out you need to remove the cardboard first. He adds a picture of his toaster. Well, at least what’s left of it, anyway.
Eduardo shows up for the meeting in a charcoal suit with a snazzy purple tie. He takes notes on an iPad and scowls pretty much continuously at Mark.
Mark gets up two hours in to stretch his legs. He wanders over to the sideboard; the pastries and fruit are pretty well picked over, and the coffee pot is empty. He pokes dubiously at the machine. He has a Mr. Coffee at home he’s used all of twice, and this thing has more buttons than his laptop.
Hmm. Something like this, it’s gotta have chips in there. And if it has chips, it has software. And if it has software, Mark can make it go. He picks the whole thing up and squints at the bottom, wondering if he can strip one end of the firewire cable running from his laptop to the projector and basically run the coffeemaker like an external device. One way to find out.
But then Eduardo appears suddenly at his shoulder and snatches the coffeemaker away.
“Whatever you’re thinking, stop it,” he hisses. His mouth is flat and irate.
Mark makes an innocent ‘who me?’ open-handed gesture, and Eduardo rolls his eyes so hard he might have sprained something.
“You’re going to blow yourself up with a fucking coffeemaker,” he snaps, still in a whisper. He sets the coffeemaker back in place, squints at it for a second, then punches a series of buttons authoritatively. “Go sit down, pretend you’re paying attention,” he mutters at Mark.
Mark shrugs and does. He even stares studiously at the projection screen, though he’s intensely aware of Eduardo across the room at the machine, pouring coffee, then savagely shaking a handful of sugar packets into the cup with an expression like he’d prefer to be mixing in broken glass. And then he – ha, he actually is! – he circles the table in the opposite direction from his chair and slams the cup down at Mark’s elbow, barely breaking stride.
Cheryl stutters in her presentation, distracted. Mark takes a sip of coffee, aware everyone is staring at him.
He puts the cup down and beams across the table. “Thanks,” he says to Eduardo. “It’s perfect.”
“You’re welcome,” Eduardo says, because his mama raised him right, but he says it like fuck you, so Mark’s pretty sure it doesn’t count.
A ringing success, all around.
There’s a long fallow ten weeks when he doesn’t see Eduardo at all. It sucks, because now that he’s finally getting reactions, it’s all he can think about.
But Mark puts the time to good use by building some fucking awesome sockpuppets. He violates his own terms of service to do it, but whatever. He makes two fake Facebook employees and a fake investment banker who fake fences at the same studio where Mark really does. They have Facebook profiles with photos and statuses and histories and friends. The investment banker plays a lot of Farmville. It’s easy to insert them into high school and college classes, then get a bunch of genuine people to accept friend requests in that way you do when it’s ‘that guy from Intro to Child Psych’ that you don’t want to admit you don’t remember.
Various data miners pick them up in their usual Facebook crawls, and little bits of their fake lives end up all over the place without Mark needing to do much of anything. He gives them all Linkedin profiles too, just to deepen the footprint a bit. Easy.
Then a week before Mark is supposed to fly out to Japan to keynote before an audience of two thousand, including Mr. Eduardo Saverin, one of the fake Facebook employees leaks a story to Gawker about how Mark Zuckerberg has Scurvy.
The first fake traitor barely teases the idea, but coyly hints Gawker onto fake traitor number two, who is way more forthcoming.
Oh yeah, everyone knows. He basically swore off all vegetables. He’ll only eat food that’s white. Rice, potatoes, pasta, that’s it. I think his hair’s falling out, I swear to fucking God.
He doesn’t need to deploy the fake investment banker at all, because it turns out Gawker’s journalistic integrity sends up no red flags over running a story based on two unconfirmed rumors sent by spoofed email addresses. Bless their creepy link-baiting little hearts.
The story, when it appears, is hilarious.
“’Internal Facebook sources’?” Chris rages. “Who the fuck are these ‘internal Facebook sources?’ When I find these assholes I’m going to shove a non-disclosure agreement so far –“ he stops his wild pacing to glare at Mark. “You eat vegetables, right?” he demands tensely.
“Of course I do,” Mark says. “I am a friend of broccoli, Christopher.”
“Good,” Chris says. “Keep doing that. And don’t talk to anyone about this. I’ll handle it.”
Dustin has been silently peeing himself laughing the entire time. “What about the leaks?” he says in a strangled voice.
“Oh, I’ll find the leaks,” Chris says dangerously. “Don’t you worry about that.”
Mark briefly contemplates heading him off, but then figures what the hell. Employees are more productive with the occasional application of screaming terror anyway.
Mark does what he’s told and refuses to answer any questions about it. Except for his mother’s, because otherwise she’s threatening to overnight him a crate of twelve dozen oranges. Other than that, he leaves the story completely alone like a good boy.
So when Mark walks into the ballroom of the Four Seasons Chinzan-so, pretty much everyone there thinks he has scurvy.
Eduardo doesn’t even pretend to ignore him. He comes straight over, cutting rudely in front of three other people lining up for Mark’s attention.
“Mark,” he snaps.
“Wardo,” Mark says, grinning at him. “’Sup?”
Eduardo is grinding his teeth until his jaw bunches. He looks faintly incredulous, like he never intended to come over here, like he couldn’t help himself.
“Jesus fucking Christ,” Eduardo says. “I hate you. Eat some fruit, you moron.” And he flings himself away.
Six hours later, Mark is sitting at a little table out on the mezzanine working at his laptop. He has a can of Red Bull, a pack of Red Vines, and about three hundred emails to get through. It’s entirely chance – beautiful, felicitous, someone out there loves him chance -- that when Mark dips a Red Vine into his can of Red Bull and sucks the liquid off, Eduardo is there to see it.
“Oh my God,” Eduardo says, sounding agonized.
Mark blinks up at him, startled. “What?” he says. “These are cherry, that’s a fruit.” He sniffs the Red Vine. “Well. Okay. Maybe they’re just red flavored.” He dips it again and sucks it off.
Eduardo makes a strangled sound. “Mark, oh my God. I’m pretty sure doing that will liquefy your teeth.”
It’s two in the morning and the mezzanine is quiet, only a handful of people scattered around. Mark is there because it’s where he sat down three hours ago, and it just hasn’t been worth moving. And he is so incredibly thankful, because Eduardo honestly looks like he might strangle Mark, or possibly cry bitter, bitter tears over him.
This is going great.
“Will it?” Mark says vaguely. “Well, I guess that’s what I have dental for.”
Wardo takes a step closer, his hands clenching and unclenching, and Mark thinks gotcha. Because this isn’t just snarling at each other over hors d’oeuvres. This is a conversation. This is it.
And then the elevator opens and a whole pack of drunk people pour off, and the moment is ruined. Eduardo looks away, rocks back. Then he mutters something indistinguishably furious, darts in to snatch away the Red Vines, and marches off with the straight-backed posture of the deeply righteous.
So he calls Sean.
“Zuck!’ Sean sings out.
“Hey,” Mark says. “Doing anything next weekend?”
“The usual,” Sean says airily, which could mean absolutely anything from single-handedly inventing the next great internet sensation to getting arrested in Hong Kong with five hookers and six grams of blow.
“Wanna hang out?”
“Sure,” Sean says without missing a beat, because he’s just that reliably easy.
And because he really is just that reliable in general, Mark is able to put out four new status updates in the two days before the shareholders meeting.
The first says, Roman candles make great handheld projectile weapons!
The second says, This didn’t work nearly as well as it should have, with a picture of Sean’s motorcycle. The front tire is flat – long story – and sadly their brilliant solution of strapping a skateboard to it didn’t pan out like they thought it would.
The third says, When I was a kid, I heard you could dip your arms in oil and set them on fire and it wouldn’t hurt.
The fourth, ten minutes later, says, Turns out when you’re an adult and you do that, it doesn’t work as well. Did you know arm hair is basically like a million tiny wicks when you light it on fire?
And because Eduardo, too, is reliable, Eduardo is solid, Eduardo is a rock. Because Mark knows him better than he knows his own face. Eduardo comes howling into Mark’s office an hour before the meeting is supposed to start.
“Can I help you?” Mark says.
“You set yourself on fire?” Wardo screeches. “You set yourself on –“ he breaks off and pants for a minute, wild-eyed. “No,” he says. “No. Absolutely not. I fucking refuse.”
“You seem a little upset,” Mark says helpfully.
Eduardo starts inflating like a lungfish. “I seem a little – yes I’m upset! Mark, I cannot believe I have to explain this to you, but when you set yourself on fire, it will hurt!”
“Well, actually, it wouldn’t, now,” Mark says, and holds up his forearms in helpful explanation. “I burned all the hair off.”
“You need a fucking keeper,” Wardo rages. “Someone apparently needs to make you drink orange juice and stop you from blowing up your appliances and spray you down with a fire extinguisher every now and then, for the love of God. Why the fuck don’t you have people doing these things?”
Mark takes a careful breath because suddenly they’re here. And he’s been aiming for this for months – he’s been aiming for this for years, through almost every day that Eduardo wouldn’t even look at him. And now that it’s here, it scares the hell out of him.
“You could do it,” he says, and it is so fucking hard that this is in person, why aren’t they doing this over email where he can type something like that so much more easily?
Eduardo looks away, presses his lips together, looks back. “No,” he says plainly. “I can’t.”
Eduardo laughs a little jaggedly. “Seriously?”
Mark narrows his eyes. “Seriously.”
“Because I tried to fuck you over, and then you did it back ten times as hard,” Eduardo says plainly.
Mark nods. It’s true. “But at least we’re talking,” he says.
Eduardo snorts. “Oh. Well. As long as we’re talking.”
Mark leans away from him a little. It’s the first time Eduardo’s managed to hurt him in this entire conversation. Worry him, too.
“Oh come on,” Mark says. “Wardo, seriously, who do you think you’re kidding? If we’re talking, we’ll fix this. Eventually.” He’s always been so sure of that, right from the beginning. Well. Okay, if you count the beginning from after he stopped being so fucking angry that Eduardo off and sued him. He’d been so certain. Right until this moment.
There’s a lengthening, agonizing pause. Mark feels his face freezing up, his hands clenching.
Then Eduardo sighs and looks away. “Why do you think we weren’t talking?” he says quietly.
Mark exhales. “Well,” he says a little shakily. “You better not stop now. I might die of vitamin C deficiency.”
Eduardo snorts. But then he pauses, cocks his head. And Mark thinks …uh-oh. Because he knows that face. And maybe his plan was genius, maybe it’s gone perfectly so far, but he forgot one crucial detail: this sword has two edges, and Eduardo knows him like it still terrifies Mark to be known. Eduardo is making one of those crazy intuitive lateral leaps of his, Eduardo is figuring shit out with no map.
“You faked it?” Eduardo says blankly. “You faked –“ he sounds almost wondering. “You manipulative son-of-a-bitch.”
“Yeah,” Mark says. He’s been called worse. He’s been called worse by Wardo, even.
“Hang on, hang on.” Wardo looks like he’s struggling with something. “You seriously – you faked Scurvy to get my attention.”
“Okay, but let’s look at the positives!” Mark says.
“You –“ Wardo chokes. “That is the sweetest thing you’ve ever done for me, you utter asshole.” Then he comes around the desk, hauls Mark backwards by the arm of his chair, and kisses him.
It’s weird and badly-angled at first; their teeth clack and Mark yelps. Then Wardo catches him gently under the jaw, and Mark tips his head back. And it all goes hot and slow. Eduardo’s tongue slides into his mouth, dirty and sweet, and Mark clutches a little helplessly at his shoulders.
“Oh,” he says faintly when Eduardo is good and done with him. His pulse is rushing in his ears. “Um. I thought I was the one who did stupid shit?”
Eduardo shuts his eyes, looking pained. “Apparently it’s contagious,” he says. Then he opens his eyes again and inhales. He’s still so close, Mark can count his eyelashes. “Was that very stupid shit?” he asks directly.
“Maybe,” Mark says honestly. “But you know me, I’m all for that.” He considers. “Also, pretty sure you can’t blame me when mine was totally fake.”
“I knew it.” Eduardo is still leaning over his chair. They’re talking nearly mouth-to-mouth, hushed and close.
“You caught me,” Mark says comfortably. “It was all fake.” He considers, then adds in the spirit of truthfulness. “Well, except for the toaster. That was real. Oh, and the motorcycle. And the roman candles. And the microwave and the um fire thing.”
“Oh my God,” Eduardo says faintly.
“But the Scurvy was totally fake,” Mark says cheeringly. “I planted the story myself.”
Eduardo looks like he’s clutching at straws. “Okay, good.” He hesitates, bites his lip, then bursts out, “You do eat vegetables though, right?”
“Oh yeah,” Mark says, and Wardo slumps in relief. “I totally eat vegetables.” Mark cocks his head. “There were onions on the pizza we got three weeks ago, onions are vegetables.”
“Oh my God,” Eduardo says again.