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Wend and Repeat (Until True)

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Freshman year, Mark and Eduardo had suffered through a required class on Western Civilization. Interdisciplinary. Poetry had been involved. Actually, Mark’s pretty sure Eduardo enjoyed the lectures and readings, whereas Mark put in only as much effort as necessary to maintain his GPA. But he remembers Eduardo’s voice in the dorm room at night, all throughout that semester, rising above the patter of Mark's keys, dreamy and thoughtful as he recited whatever nonsense they’d been assigned that week.

Mark hadn’t been listening, but he’d still heard him well enough to pass the final exam, at any rate.

Now there are no keys to press, and if Mark stops talking, the silence is a palpable thing, pressurized and painful, so he doesn’t. He’s already talked himself hoarse, first describing the site’s latest updates, then as the hours dragged on translating the world into chunks of code, knowing that Eduardo behind him (Eduardo has to be behind him) won’t have a clue what he’s talking about.

public static boolean response(String reply){
boolean Eduardo living;
if(reply.equals("n"))
living = false;
else living = true;
return descent;
}

He goes on until he’s confused even himself, and has to stop.

The tall grass tears at his ankles, letting in the cold and damp and mist. He’s been walking forever. The horizon is just as far as it’s ever been, with no sign of a river, just craggy hills jutting black into a gray sky.

He has no idea how long he’s been awake. If this can count as being awake at all, or if time has any meaning, and somehow, irritatingly, he keeps remembering the poetry. It’s still there, locked in the recesses of his brain, and it keeps snapping to the forefront of his thoughts, like a pop-up ad. He might as well recite them aloud. Beat back the silence. Something else for Wardo to follow, the sound of his voice as well as his body. Spirit. Whatever.

A darkling plain and the drag of pebbles. The cruelest month and the dead land. He likes the rhythm of Eliot even as the lack of precision irks him.

At some point, Mark realizes he’s started ranting about the Canterbury Tales, about pilgrimages, about how every now and then they find wide-eyed fanboys leaning against the walls of the Facebook offices, staring dreamily before they wander off again. Which Mark supposes means he’s comparing himself to a saint, but he can’t help what people idolize, and anyway, he’s the world’s second youngest billionaire. He dislikes the term miracle, but colloquially it fits.

Chaucer did satire, Mark thinks. He wonders what kind of useless poem they’d write about Mark, about Facebook and the internet, and them.

Eduardo is probably laughing at him right now, but if he is, Mark can’t hear it.

He keeps walking.

***

This is how it starts: with a belated text. Eduardo’s side of the story probably traces an entirely different trajectory, but he doesn’t have a voice, here, so he doesn’t get a vote. And Mark has never claimed to be unbiased.

For him, their story begins, really begins, right there, with a message flung out into the ether.

It was 4:03 in the afternoon, February of 2003. The Facebook had been live for less than a week, and Eduardo wasn’t answering his texts.

Mark glanced at his phone again, annoyed. It wasn’t like Eduardo to ignore messages from Mark, even trivial ones, and this one was far from trivial. It was potentially even important. Facebook had gained six hundred users in the last half hour, which was both awesome and weird, and probably going to crash their server. So, it was something the CFO should be aware of, obviously. It could be important.

And yet, when Mark had discovered the source of the user boost and gone to compose a follow-up text, Eduardo still hadn’t responded to him.

It was only now 4:29 PM, so Eduardo didn’t have class, and he wouldn’t be sleeping. Wardo had never not answered one of Mark’s texts if he wasn’t asleep or in class. Mark had never had to consider what a lack of response might mean, and it turned out there were too many variables to appreciably narrow down the possible causes.

Maybe his phone had died. Maybe he’d lost it. Maybe he’d dropped it in a ditch by accident, or had it stolen by a townie, or been hit by a car.

Mark stared at his phone a moment longer, cocking his head, then shoved it back into his hoodie pouch and returned to his computer, ignoring the way his skin felt tight and strange. He’d get lunch later. Maybe take a nap.

He went back to the problem at hand instead. The Anthropology and Sociology departments had issued a directive requiring all of the students, faculty, and alumni to register as part of a study on social networking and cultural meme transmissions. Anthropology and Sociology. Fucking soft sciences. Mark made a mental note to check whatever ridiculous theories and conclusions were drawn in their next bullshit department newsletter, checked his phone one more time, and then went back to ensuring their server could maintain the increased user load.

Except he kept dropping lines of code, which was annoying, and usually only happened if he was working in a crowded place without headphones, or if he hadn’t slept for days, or if he’d forgotten to eat again. Maybe that was it.

By the time his Nokia buzzed an hour later, his back was tense. It cracked audibly when he grabbed for the phone.

600 wow thats fantastic mark!

Mark had trained himself by now to ignore the general lack of grammar in Eduardo’s texts, so he just stared blankly. A second later, another text came in, making the phone vibrate and flash in his hand.

sorry i didn’t see the news right away. was busy with Christy :)

Right. Mark thumbed the phone off and dropped it back in on the desk. He was hungry, and the code he’d been writing didn’t make any sense, and he was in a terrible mood. If Eduardo was getting laid, Mark certainly didn’t want to hear about it.

He fumbled around on the desk, but found only empty beer bottles, Red Bull cans and a crackling package that had once held Twizzlers. Pull-‘n-Peel, not the original brand. Disgusting. But he’d apparently eaten them anyway.

He picked the phone back up.

Busy? he typed with one hand before he could think better of it, and turned to the computer. The rate of new users joining had evened out again. Maybe they could get a plant to suggest signing up as a department mandate to the Business school. Eduardo could do it. Mark wasn’t sure about including alumni this early on, but he supposed it didn’t really impact their exclusivity. He’d have to ask Wardo. Or Chris, he guessed.

shes kind of demanding, u kno what i mean. awesome, right?

Now Mark was irrationally annoyed by Eduardo’s commas.

What if I’d needed you? he typed back quickly. Then he cracked his knuckles and shoved the phone in his hoodie pocket, standing up and scratching his stomach idly. Fuck, he was seriously fucking starving. Maybe they had a few cans of tuna left in the kitchen somewhere. He squinted in the general direction of the fridge, trying to remember the last time he’d seen food in the vicinity.

do you? i’m on my way

That didn’t answer the question, which normally was something that drove Mark totally crazy. He hated when a clear, unequivocal question was side-stepped. But it was Wardo, so after a moment of irritation, Mark ignored it. Now that he was standing he could smell his own hoodie, which was sort of disgusting. Okay. Laundry. Shower. Then food, and more coding. Definitely food. Maybe Eduardo would bring him something.

Eduardo burst through the door half an hour later, just as Mark was toweling off his hair.

“Not that I’m complaining about you practicing basic hygiene, but put on some clothes, yeah?” Eduardo said after a moment, voice rough from the winter air. Mark raised an eyebrow at him, then shrugged and padded to his closet, sniffing pairs of shorts as Eduardo watched, pink-cheeked.

“So what’s wrong?” Eduardo asked, leaning against the doorframe and staring at the space above Mark’s shoulder.

“Nothing,” Mark said, and discarded a pair of shorts. They were too stained for public consumption, by Eduardo’s standards, at least. “I’m used to you answering when I text you.”

Alchemy of dirty laundry – the clothing at the bottom of the heap smelled musty, but acceptable, and they looked reasonably clean. Good enough.

“Mark, when’s the last time you went to the laundromat?” Eduardo laughed, coming to peer over Mark’s shoulder at the heap of rejected clothing and make ridiculous faces. Typical. Mark bumped him with his shoulder, rolling his eyes.

“Don’t worry. I ordered another hoodie from the school store. It should be here tomorrow morning,” he said, and then tilted his head and narrowed his eyes. There was a bruise beneath Eduardo’s jaw, dark pink and mottled, and now that he’d seen it he couldn’t stop staring at it.

“You can’t just buy new clothes when you run out of clean ones,” Eduardo chided, and leaned in to sniff him, breath hot on Mark’s neck. Mark allowed it, eyeing the hickey from close range. He could almost make out teeth marks, and bared his own teeth thoughtfully, clicking them together. Eduardo ignored that, possibly dismissing it as another Markesque quirk. Mark supposed that was a good thing, since he wasn’t sure why he’d done it in the first place. Probably it was just that he hadn’t eaten in a while. “Also, consider putting on deodorant. Are you out?”

“You think I smell bad?” Mark asked, amused, and Eduardo laughed and threw an arm around his shoulders.

“No! You’re fine, you smell better than normal. I mean, I’m glad you’re showering, but deodorant is still basic hygiene. Part of civilized society.” Eduardo looked him over and Mark shook his head slightly. “And you look kind of pale, too, are you getting sick? When’s the last time you ate?”

“Hmm,” Mark hummed thoughtfully, casting his eyes up and pretending to think back into the recesses of his memory. He waited, and sure enough, Eduardo groaned, over-exaggerated, the annoyed noise tempered with a smile that was mostly in his eyes. Most people smiled with their mouths, with their teeth. Mark let Eduardo tug him towards the door, towards food and the outside world. “I’m fine, Wardo, just hungry.”

“Food, then tell me more about this Sociology study about The Facebook. It sounds like it could be really interesting,” Eduardo said, holding the door open, and Mark rolled his eyes hugely.

“It sounds like it could be a total waste of time and paper, but forget about that. How are your contacts with the head of the Business department?” he asked as they shuffled out into the dim evening light, and Wardo was right there with a response, thoughtful and considering.

Good.

***

It’s a start.

Mark falls silent for a moment, swallowing thickly. He’s started passing a lot of streams as he’s been talking, murky black and opaque, but he doesn’t pause. He just steps over them, or balances on stones to cross the dark waters, or sometimes jumps, heedless of the lack of dignity.

He would give a lot for a drink of water right now, but Erica and Chris had been very clear – don’t eat or drink anything from the Netherworld. Think Persephone. Think Hades.

God, Mark is tired of the Greeks and their goddamned myths.

Not that he’d have tried to drink the water in those streams anyway. It didn’t look much like water. He doesn’t want to think about what it might be instead, and he definitely doesn’t want to drink it.

The scratch in the back of his throat is probably just psychosomatic anyway. Mark’s not really thirsty; his body is in a different plane entirely, hooked up to IVs and watched carefully by a team of elite doctors and top magicians – of which Erica and Chris, annoyingly, are included.

It’s just that Mark expects talking for a long, unbroken stretch of time to make his throat hurt. So it does. It’s all in his head. He’s not really thirsty. He just has to keep telling himself that. His body is probably perfectly fine back in the real world.

Anyway, Mark can’t have that much further to walk. Soon he’ll wake up in his own body, drink a gallon of Red Bull, then go find Eduardo, awake and alive and in the flesh, sitting up in bed, breathing without machines.

He doesn’t know what will come after that, but he’ll worry about it later.

Hopefully they’ll talk—Mark’s talking a lot now, but Eduardo’s not exactly talking back, and Mark has a lot of questions. About the claim he’d let Mark put on his soul. About magic fucking existing, and secrets, and lies, and the all the things they shouldn’t have left unsaid between them.

Well, maybe Eduardo will talk. Mark’s hoping his actions speaking louder than words, because he already feels talked out. He doesn’t think he’s ever said this much out loud to anyone in his entire life.

Right now, though, the silence hurts almost as much as his throat, and there are dark shapes on the horizon. He can’t be sure, but he thinks they’re getting closer.

Great.

Maybe Mark’s thinking about this the wrong way. Maybe it’s good that, for once, he gets to have a conversation with Eduardo without anyone else listening in, without distractions or interruptions or Eduardo’s broken, raw face staring at him. Maybe it’s good that he can’t see Eduardo’s face, the accusing dark eyes or soft mouth. Maybe this time, Mark will be able to get the words out.

He should get back to his story.

***

The text message was just the first discrepancy Mark noticed, but once he started paying attention, a whole suite jumped out at him. Something was very obviously going on with Eduardo, keeping him away from the phone and away from Kirkland.

Oh, he was still there to bitch about Mark’s hygiene, and his poor class attendance, and how he needed a balanced diet, and to play Mario Kart with the guys and recite Spock’s lines during a marathon of the original series. He came over and the apartment became cleaner, almost like magic – dishes went in the cabinets, the fridge filled with beer, the sink stopped smelling quite so much like death.

But he showed up later in the day than he had before, and left earlier than he’d used to. The delay in his response to texts and phone calls was getting longer.

Dustin and Chris figured it out first, which was vaguely humiliating. Eduardo was late for a meeting about expanding The Facebook to different campuses, and Mark had been trying to focus on that, on the subject of the meeting instead of on Eduardo’s absence, or on Dustin and Chris, who had taken advantage of the lull to dive back into their conversation on MMORPGs, or whatever. Leveling up, guilds, Mark could care less.

Stick to Boston schools and Ivy Leagues, East Coast, he thought, staring at the list on the whiteboard. Which ones? Yale, obviously, but Dartmouth had some obnoxious database quirks, and Brown’s was shamefully outdated by over a year and a half.

But despite his preoccupation, even he noticed when Dustin let out a loud whoop halfway through a passionate monologue about goblins, or elves, possibly. Eduardo had staggered into the room, dusting snow off his shoulders and unwinding his scarf, and Dustin leapt out of his chair at him, grinning wildly. Mark kept glowering at his laptop and did his best to ignore the commotion. They had work to do.

“Are those from her fingernails?” Chris asked incredulously.

When Mark looked back, Eduardo was flushed, color high on his cheekbones and spreading down his throat, where, yes, there were thin red lines peeking above his collar. His shirt was buttoned haphazardly, and he was smiling, ducking his head.

“You dog,” Dustin said admiringly. “Come on, let me smell your hand. Do it for your brother Jew, your sad, sad, unwillingly abstinent buddy.”

Eduardo laughed and ducked around him, coming up beside Mark, leaning against him and peering over his shoulder as though he’d understand anything on the screen.

“I’m a gentleman,” he said, not to Mark, who obviously didn’t care. Probably to Dustin. “I don’t kiss and tell.”

A gentleman. Mark supposed Eduardo was, as old-fashioned as the term seemed. He seemed like a throwback from the Victorian era sometimes, with his crisply folded collars, with the way he opened doors for women and kissed their hands on occasion. It was annoying.

“More than kissing to leave marks like that,” Chris was saying knowingly, grinning and punching Eduardo in the shoulder. “You’ve been seeing her a lot lately. You two getting serious?”

Eduardo smelled different; Mark hadn’t even realized he that he knew Eduardo’s scent until now, when it’d changed. Tang of sweat, familiar enough, but different. Something citrusy, acidic beneath. Perfume. Mark didn’t have a lot of call to recognize perfumes, but this one he thought he knew from that night at dinner. The groupies.

Groupies weren’t serious.

They should be focused on the expansion. This was stupid. Mark was going to change the subject, but instead he asked, “Is it?” Eduardo frowned at him, puzzled, and Mark clarified, “Is it serious. You and Christy. It’s not just sex?”

Eduardo shrugged, rubbing the back of his neck with a hand and looking sheepish and pleased. “I guess, yeah. She… yeah, she likes me. We’re—we have stuff in common.” He glanced down at Mark from beneath his eyelashes, which were improbably thick, the kind his sister had to buy expensive tubes of mascara for.

I like you, Mark thought. We have stuff in common. He clicked his teeth again, then frowned and turned his attention back to the screen. He did like Wardo. Nothing strange about that – Eduardo was a likeable guy. Most people liked him.

And as long as Eduardo still showed up when The Facebook needed him, Mark didn’t care who he fucked.

“Mark,” Eduardo said, exasperated, huffing out a breath that stirred Mark’s hair. Mark reached a hand backward without looking and patted him absently.

“Mark, how long has this bowl of ramen been here? This is disgusting.”

“You haven’t been here.” He shrugged, tilting his head at the bowl without looking at it. “You can throw it out if you want.”

“I don’t think that will help at this point—wait, you mean the bowl? Throw out the whole bowl, mold and all? Mark. We’ve talked about this.” They have. Eduardo was laughing at him now, incredulous and fond and familiar beneath the audible disgust. “You don’t have to waste a perfectly good dish just because you’ve starting cultivating a new flourishing lifeform inside it.” Pause. “We should definitely, uh, bleach this, though? Or something.”

“I’ll take that under advisement,” Mark replied archly, and smiled at his screen.

He ignored the cleaning frenzy that took over the kitchen for the next ten minutes, but dutifully admired the shining piles of dishes and gleaming sink when Eduardo dragged him over. Eduardo beamed; Dustin and Chris just glared at him. Mark wasn’t sure what they wanted – if they were upset that he hadn’t joined in their janitorial efforts, they were more oblivious than he’d thought.

But… he guessed it was nice of Eduardo to help clean. He wasn’t usually the type to condescend to manual labor, which Mark understood completely.

So. Eduardo was being really nice. Okay. Mark shuffled over to the TV and flipped channels until he found a disaster movie marathon. Twister was on; Eduardo would like mocking the inaccuracies, Mark figured.

*

Eduardo did. He watched movies late into the night with them, late enough that he stayed over after, sleeping on the couch, while Mark worked on his laptop, the glow of the screen casting familiar, soothing blue shadows over the room.

“You. Are. Oblivious,” Chris had hissed, and Dustin had nodded fervently in agreement, but whatever. Mark noticed what mattered.

***

That seems hilarious now, in retrospect, and Mark has to take a break from walking to wheeze painful laughter at his knees.

“I don’t try to throw away dishes anymore, you know,” he says, in case Eduardo was wondering. He probably wasn’t. Anyway, there’s no response, only some lonely, strange cry, like far-off birds. Not Eduardo. He squints in the direction of the noise; there might be something on the horizon. Whatever it is barely visible, probably just his imagination, but it sends a chill through him nonetheless.

He picks up the pace.

“My housekeeper washes them, when she comes every other week. I guess that’s why she doesn’t like me.” Crusted over, biologically hazardous dishes – he’s sure Eduardo remembers those.

He imagines Wardo snorting at him.

“Well, one of the reasons she doesn’t like me,” Mark allows, because he does in fact know there are a lot of reasons a person might not like him, especially a housekeeper. The sound of birds is growing louder now, and he starts to jog a little, but that’s a mistake. There are stones hidden in the grass, and he trips on one almost immediately, lands hard on his knees. One of the stones digs in, tears his pants and skin and now there’s a bright well of blood spilling out, the only color in the entire world. Mark hisses unhappily, wrapping a hand around the wound and feeling vulnerable.

“If you die there, you’re dead here,” Chris had said tersely before Mark had set out, and Mark wonders if his sleeping body back in California is bleeding too. If it will scar.

Best not to think of that.

“You were a drama queen about it, but, you know. You still liked me, despite my inability to adhere to acceptable human levels of cleanliness. So. Thanks. For that.”

He can’t see himself or anything, but he’s pretty sure he’s blushing. He’d tried to thank Eduardo once before, after the depositions, at a fundraiser. He’d thanked Eduardo for his contributions to the company, and Eduardo had looked like he was going to flip a table of caviar and shrimp cocktails, maybe take a swing at him. Mark had beat a hasty retreat and gotten drunk with the CEO of MySpace in the coatroom.

It had been a bad night.

“You know, you act like you’re such a fucking sweetheart, but you’re kind of a dick, you know that, right? That’s not an insult. You should have yelled at me more. I—I wouldn’t have minded.” He rubs at his face. “I’m getting off topic.”

He wonders what Eduardo’s thinking. Mark thinks, if he turned around, he’d see Eduardo gearing up for the punch he hadn’t thrown at Sean, simmering rage in his eyes. Or maybe cool distance, detachment.

Maybe it’s better that Mark can’t see it.

“You should have done a lot of things. You should have told me who you were and what you wanted. And what you were doing with me.” He’s annoyed all over again, abruptly, remembering. “Chris knew about your family. Dustin did. I didn’t. You didn’t tell me.”

If he closes his eyes, he can imagine Eduardo staring at him incredulously. I shouldn’t have had to, Mark. You didn’t pay attention.

Mark kicks at a rock and then swears and clutches at his foot, hopping lamely. It seems like a metaphor—like Mark hasn’t shot himself in the foot enough in his life—and he takes a moment to curse all English majors to hell and back. Except he’s already in hell, technically, and he doesn’t really need any more company.

“We both fucked up. I wish we could—”

Go back in time. Ask the right questions. Give the right answers.

Just Mark’s luck he didn’t end up in that kind of fairy tale.

***

“You need to pay better attention,” Chris said one day, voice serious. “To Eduardo, I mean.” Mark refused to look at him—he was busy with the site, and with ordering new boxers. He really didn’t feel like doing laundry, but there was a limit to how many times he was willing to re-wear the same pair of underwear. He hated free-balling, and doing laundry. Buying more in bulk was the most expedient solution to both problems.

“He seems fine to me,” Mark said distantly. He vaguely remembered something about different colors being bad to wash together. Maybe he should just buy everything in blue and gray. “You know he’s just worried about the next round of hoops he has to jump through for the fucking Phoenix.”

Then his chair spun around and Chris was glaring at him, looking him in the eye. Mark blinked.

“I’m serious,” Chris insisted, and shook the chair a little, like Mark wasn’t already listening, or wasn’t listening hard enough. “It’s not my place to say what’s going on, but you really need to talk to him.”

“Is it his dad?” Mark asked finally, and looked away, gnawing at a hangnail. He didn’t get why Chris couldn’t just do the fucking feelings thing with Eduardo—they both liked spilling their metaphorical hearts all over the place. Mark emphatically did not.

“Sort of?” Chris hedged, and Mark chewed harder until the skin of his thumb split and stung. Shit.

Eduardo had been gone a lot, lately, and he’d looked almost as tired as an OS student after a practical, hair flat and eyes sunken. Mark didn’t get why Eduardo cared so much about his father’s opinion when he could easily afford the tuition on his own—even if his father cut him off, he’d be fine—but that was Eduardo for you.

Fine. Mark would do—something.

When he stopped by Eduardo’s dorm room and knocked on the door, no one answered. Mark stared at the wood for a while, looked down and saw the edge of a white envelope peeking from beneath the door and had to breathe carefully for a moment. Fine. That didn’t have to matter. Mark wouldn’t let it matter. He set off for the corner store with a new impatience to his step.

When Mark had been strung out on caffeine pills during finals his freshman year, Eduardo had brought him things. So Mark walked through the store aisles and put things that looked familiar into his basket – that stupid vitamin water that didn’t taste like anything, and fresh oranges, and—not Twizzlers. Mark wasn’t actually sure Eduardo ate candy, but Mark knew he liked oranges. He found one of those foil-wrapped chocolate ones and added it to his basket.

It turned out to be fucking expensive. Eduardo had better appreciate this, Mark thought, and hung the plastic bag on the doorknob back at his dorms. Mark stared at the plain white plastic for a moment, then fumbled in his pockets for a pencil and grabbed a passing student shuffling index cards.

He erased the English and Latin declensions on the card. Imperfect tense. To carry. Ferebam, ferebamus, ferebas, ferebatis, ferebat, ferebant. He erased all that and wrote instead, Eduardo Saverin, Co-Founder and CEO, Brazilian Affairs.

He figured he didn’t need to sign it.

Later that night, Eduardo showed up in the Kirkland dorm room, and Mark startled at the sight of him. It was a trick of the late winter sun, obviously, but for a moment, haloed in the door, the light streaming around him, he looked like he was glowing.

Mark lifted his chin at him and turned back to his computer.

“I brought beer,” Eduardo said, coming to stand beside him. He bumped Mark’s shoulder with his hip, a point of warm contact. “Can you take a break?”

No. “Sure,” Mark said, and let Eduardo pull him to his feet and over to the couch. He watched Eduardo and Chris discuss the coming exam schedules, and commiserate with Dustin over some girl in his Biology class that had switched out of his lab group because the staring was ‘creepy.’ He thought Eduardo looked better than he had the day before. So Mark must have done something right.

He shifted on the couch, wincing and scratching his balls. He was still out of underwear. Motherfucker.

Still, it was a good night.

*

The next day, though, Eduardo’s face went back to looking tight and pinched. Hunted, Mark thought, narrowing his eyes and trying to identify the expression. For some reason Mark thought of his Art History class, the slides of fox hunts he’d seen when he’d glanced up from his computer once in a while.

The Phoenix initiations must be stepping up, he concluded, and it wasn’t that he thought – well, obviously they would choose Eduardo, when he thought about it. But why hadn’t they chosen Mark?

When Eduardo said he’d made the second cut, Mark felt like his blood was pounding in his temples, the iambic throb of a coming migraine. He rubbed his temples and tried to say something neutral. It was supposed to have been him making the cuts, being let behind the gilt gates and smug, douchebag doorkeepers.

And Eduardo was supposed to be his.

By the look on Eduardo’s face, Mark’s stab at keeping his bitterness out of his comment on diversity had failed. It was easy to offend people. Mark knew how to do that. Some days it felt like Mark could only do that, but he usually didn’t care.

If he’d said it in code, maybe Erica wouldn’t have broken up with him that day. Maybe if he’d used C++, Eduardo’s face would have smoothed out, relaxed. But Eduardo didn’t speak that language, so what was the fucking point.

***

“But see,” Mark says, throat dry. He massages it with one hand and keeps the other in his hoodie pocket. He’s so fucking cold. He wonders if Eduardo is, too. If he’s even colder, if he’s been here so long that’s all he knows now. “See, I do know you.”

The Eduardo in his head rolls his eyes and makes an expansive gesture, the kind Mark’s intimately familiar with from nights of watching Eduardo talk with his hands, like they’re an extension of his mouth and voice. The Eduardo behind him doesn’t say anything.

“I—I do get it now. I’m not that kid anymore, Wardo. I thought it’d be enough, but it wasn’t. I don’t even—okay, I do blame you, I bought you a fucking chocolate orange.”

And then he’d done laundry. It was actually kind of embarrassing, looking back on it, how pathetically obvious Mark had been.

“And if you’d just told me what was going on—I mean, I could have asked. I should have asked. I just…”

Assumed if something was wrong, you’d tell me.

“Anyway,” Mark says, and shoves his hand back in his pocket, rubbing his numb bloodless fingers together. He’s so cold. “We should talk about it. When you can talk back, obviously.”

Which will happen. Eduardo will wake up, and talk to Mark again. That’s the code Mark’s writing with his feet, right now. Wake up, wake up, wake up.

He keeps walking. The shapes on the horizon are growing larger and darker, and the eerie, far-off cries are echoing louder, seeming to come from everywhere at once. He ignores them. It’s not productive to watch them and wonder and worry, and besides, he has a story to tell. Eduardo knows the ending, but maybe, maybe he doesn’t know how they got there, either.

Mark’s still not sure himself, but he’d like to figure it out. And then never do it again.

Well. Maybe they could do some of it again.

***

Mark was better with action than words, which Chris fucking knew, so bitching at him to sit down and have an actual talk with Eduardo was pointless. But bitch he did, both he and Dustin, squawking around him and hovering and not doing their jobs and keeping Mark from doing his. Snippets of conversation kept worming their way in when they pulled off his headphones, all “he needs” and “what he’s going through” and “you know him” amidst the other jibberish. Phrases that lodged in Mark’s head and stuck.

So. Mark tried again. Steer the conversation a different direction, he thought, something that was both theirs. He’d been meaning to ask Eduardo for more money for the servers anyway. They could ignore the Phoenix and focus on The Facebook; that had to be better.

Instead, Eduardo started ranting, pacing and pulling at his own hair. Mark felt like the bottom had dropped out of his stomach.

“Is that all you care about, Mark?” Eduardo’s face, and body, were so mobile sometimes it was hard to pay attention to anything but the motion of him, lashing back and forth and around the room. “And, and you know, money, it doesn’t actually grow on trees!” Eduardo yelled, words thick and shaped with Portuguese sounds, bouncing off the walls. The suite next door could probably here him, now. Mark heard their arguments sometimes. “I’ve tried, but the world doesn’t work that way —nevermind. You have to know—but I’m not an ATM, I’m—you just don’t even—”

And on and on, confusing and nonsensical and moderately mesmerizing.

Obviously Mark knew money didn’t grow on trees, even if it was technically made of paper. He knew that money was important, but he still needed it. They needed it. When he tried to protest Eduardo just shook his head, looking despairing, then scrawled a signature on a check, pinning it precisely to the fridge with a magnet. Before Mark could stand up to look at it, he was storming towards door in a swirl of scarves and the faintest hint of cologne. And perfume, sharp and acidic.

“Where are you going?” Mark asked sharply, stumbling to his feet. His chest felt tight. “You just got here.”

“I’m late.” Eduardo didn’t turn around, and before Mark could say anything – say, “Wait,” or “Please,” or, “Maybe we should,” – the door was closing and he was gone.

When Chris spoke in the ensuing silence, Mark jumped. He’d forgotten Chris was still on the couch.

“How,” Chris said, rubbing at his own temples. “Why are you so bad human interaction? You never actually talked to him, did you? You told me you did. Mark, you idiot. You have no idea what’s going on, do you? With his family?”

“I hate talking,” Mark muttered, and figured ‘about his family’ fell under that umbrella pretty obviously. Mark had decided opinions about Eduardo’s father, and whenever he voiced them Eduardo looked pinched and miserable, so he’d started electing to keep them to himself. He wasn’t going to tell Eduardo about what a dick his dad was now, not when he was obviously being proven right. Mark wouldn’t rub his nose in it, not Eduardo.

Frustrated, he looked back at his computer, where he had an Old Navy browser open with a shopping cart full of cheap underwear. Which he still wasn’t wearing.

And then he had an idea.

“I’ve got it,” he said decisively, and stood, wobbling to his feet on pins and needles.

“I somehow doubt that,” Chris muttered. Mark ignored him, and went to dig around his closet, emerging with a long-forgotten laundry bag his mother had sent to school with him in her misbegotten hopes of encouraging personal cleanliness. But he wasn’t doing this for her.

“Mark,” Chris said, in a tone Mark couldn’t quite parse. Not a happy tone. “What are you doing?”

“I’m doing laundry instead of buying new boxers. It’s a gesture.”

“What?” Chris asked, staring at him, but Mark knew this was good. This would work. He was listening to Eduardo, he’d heard him, he was trying to save money. Mark was going to spend his incredibly valuable time doing something stupid and mundane and trivial and necessary, and he was going to do it for Eduardo. Eduardo would know what that meant.

He got to his feet and started shoving clothes haphazardly in a bag while Chris ranted about something behind him, about how they were both idiots, how Chris was tired of cleaning up their messes.

Whatever. Mark knew Eduardo better than Chris. Eduardo was always going on about wanting Mark to take better care of his things. So Mark could do that. That should make Eduardo happy. And Mark was a genius – he could figure out the washers and dryers on his own.

“That’s not an apology! And it’s not the problem!” Chris said, almost despairingly. “Why can’t you see that?”

Which was clearly ridiculous. Mark saw Eduardo. Just because Mark didn’t say anything didn’t mean he didn’t notice the way Eduardo looked just after he’d been laid by his girlfriend, or after he’d gotten off the phone with his father. Eduardo’s dad was being a dick again; that was the only thing that sent Eduardo over the edge like this, made him focus on words instead of the intent behind them. Normally he got what Mark meant, not what he said.

Paying attention to what Eduardo had said about money would make him happy. Expending time for the benefit of another person was a common method of expressing affection, and contrition, and Eduardo always liked attention. Mark could give him that.

*

He was on his way back from the Laundromat hours later when a couple blocked his way on the sidewalk, and Mark’s world went off the grid slightly, looped around in confusion and refused to settle.

Mark didn’t usually care much about PDA, or even other people in general, but he was in a bad mood as it was. He’d had his laptop out at the Laundromat, but the wireless signal had been shit and now he was in transit and couldn’t monitor The Facebook’s traffic, which had been strangely low the whole evening. The bag was an annoyingly heavy weight on his shoulders, and he couldn’t get around these people without stepping in a deep muddy trench full of slush. So he stopped to glare and possibly plot internet-based revenge on whoever was blocking his path.

Then he dropped his bag.

It was Eduardo, and Christy. They were limned in streetlight, and Christy was biting at Eduardo’s mouth, up on her tiptoes. Eduardo was taller than her by a good foot, and her hands were in his hair, pulling, disarraying the curls. They made wet, unabashed noises as their mouths met. Eduardo’s hands were around her waist. Mark heard him trying to talk in between kisses.

“We shouldn’t—no, really, but, we’re in—”

Eduardo hadn’t spoken when they’d been in the bathroom stalls together, that first night when they’d met Christy, and – Alicia? An A-name. Eduardo had made noises, yes, but inarticulate ones. Mark had never heard Wardo’s voice sound like it did now, rough and wrecked.

Several tens of seconds passed, and he still hadn’t noticed Mark standing there, six feet away.

Mark felt hot despite the slush seeping into his socks. He turned on his heel, picked up his bag – wet, fuck, wet clothes after all that time spent with the fucking dryers – and retreated a few blocks before rounding a corner. He slumped against the wall, pulled up his hood, and sent a text.

Wardo, I need you.

Immediate response, barely even time to blink at the screen before it popped up, and Mark breathed out.

where are you

It was cold and getting colder, but his fingers still worked, numb and slightly clumsy, but dexterous enough to type back. Laundromat. Trumbull St.

There were a few false positives as other students hurried past, but then Eduardo was there, striding quickly around ridges of ice and through pools of streetlight, staring straight ahead with a tight, worried frown on his face.

“Wardo,” Mark called out, then snapped his mouth shut, strangely nervous. Eduardo turned; his mouth fell open. Red, wet, used mouth. Mark breathed out through his nose, biting back a snarl. Eduardo just stood there for a moment, then visibly shook himself and walked slowly over.

“Mark, what—that was you back there? Mark, what the fuck?”

“Yes. That was me. I didn’t think you saw me.”

“I saw someone staring at us. I didn’t think it was you.”

Mark frowned at Wardo, who gaped at him incredulously, starting to actually look angry now.

“But I sent you a text, and you came, didn’t you?” he noted a bit nastily, and Eduardo’s eyes went wide. Mark had to focus on that, that Wardo had come when Mark called, instead of how he hadn’t recognized Mark right in front of his face because he’d been busy with his – his girlfriend. Maybe that’s what Chris had meant about paying attention. Mark’s lips started to curl upward, pleased and satisfied, smug. “Good.”

Good? Mark, you can’t just do that!” Eduardo shouted, close now and in his face, and Mark could smell Christy’s perfume again. Still didn’t know the brand. “What is wrong with you? Do you know how—she’s already angry when I drop everything for each text message, do you know that? Did that even occur to you? And now this!”

Somewhere beyond their square of streetlight, there was the sound of something shattering—a car crash, maybe? There was shouting, but Mark couldn’t focus on anything but Eduardo. He didn’t care about anything else. He’d never seen Eduardo like this—emotions spilling everywhere. Angry. Raw. Beautiful.

His hands were on Mark’s shoulders, shaking him; Eduardo did that sometimes, as though he’d be able to impart better manners to Mark via physically mixing the thoughts in. It was usually insulting, and it was definitely annoying, but Mark actually didn’t mind so much at the moment. He couldn’t stop smiling, actually, even though he was pretty sure his smile was one of the reasons Eduardo was shaking him.

“Yes,” Mark said smugly, and then internally winced and tried to straighten out his face. He fought the urge to point out that he’d washed his clothes – look, Wardo, I can make you happy. See?

“Yes, what?” asked Eduardo from between clenched teeth, but mad as he was, now he had his hand wrapped protectively around the back of Mark’s head and he’d stopped shaking him. One of the shakes had been hard enough that Mark’s head had connected with the brick behind him – Mark hadn’t registered it at the time, but at the feel of Eduardo’s fingers in his hair his smile, impossibly, widened.

Eduardo had registered the blow, even angry. Wardo cared about that sort of thing, about him.

“Yes, it occurred to me.” It hadn’t mattered, no, but it had crossed Mark’s mind once or twice, that Christy might be upset if Mark texted during the middle of a date, or in the middle of fucking. Eduardo had mentioned Christy was possessive, once, rubbing a hand over the back of his neck and wincing before he changed the subject and asked Mark how the funds were holding up, if they needed to buy better servers to handle the traffic.

Now Eduardo let him go, taking a step back and then pacing in a tight, neatly demarcated square, about four by four feet. He did that sometimes when Mark was especially late to meet him outside class or the dorm rooms. He clenched and unclenched his fists, muttering to himself in Portuguese. Mark watched with interest; he didn’t think Eduardo would punch him, but he was strangely okay with the idea that he might. It’d be – he liked the idea that he could make Wardo lose control like that, make him be violent, rude.

“What, what were you, jealous?” Eduardo hissed finally, wheeling back in front of Mark and jabbing him in the sternum with a finger. Not a punch. “I’ve been trying but it’s just not enough for you, is it? You don’t have all my time, and you can’t stand it—”

“Yes,” Mark answered, pleased that they’ve gotten to the point so quickly. “Yes, that’s it. I want all your time.”

Eduardo froze. They stared at each other for a moment, silent, even the traffic from the street not making a dent on the bubble of quiet that seemed to surround them.

But when he spoke, it was to say, “It doesn’t work like that,” voice hoarse. “You don’t get to do that, Mark. I’m not your dog.”

Mark frowned. “I know that. You’re—” He hated that he didn’t have a word for what Eduardo was to him. He wondered if he could code it, somehow. Find the variables, isolate them, define them. Which was a stupid thought, useless, but still somehow mentally engaging. He was suddenly very mentally engaged in this whole thing, and he realized he hadn’t even thought about The Facebook for at least thirty minutes. Maybe longer.

Eduardo stared back at him, breath misting out in front of him. At some point he’d knotted his hand in Mark’s hoodie, clenched the fabric in his fist, but he relaxed it suddenly, opened it. His palm open over Mark’s heart, and Mark’s heart was racing. Pounding, even, and Eduardo could feel it, had to be able to feel it even through the thick layer of cotton.

“You were jealous,” Eduardo repeated, slowly, wonderingly, like he was tasting the words, testing them out. He had a faint lilt in his voice, accent stronger now. His eyes were wide and dark and Mark couldn’t stop looking at them. “Of Christy.” He bit his lip and Mark mirrored him automatically, bit down on his own lower lip and felt the dig of teeth. He wanted, with a sudden sharp clarity to feel Eduardo’s mouth. Mark’s mouth was chapped, but Eduardo has ridiculously expensive lipbalm that he kept in his pockets all winter long, and his mouth would be soft, smooth.

“Yes,” Mark said softly, waiting.

Eduardo swallowed. Mark raised a hand and lightly touched the shadow above Eduardo’s collar – a bruise, a remnant of Christy. Christy, the possessive girlfriend. Eduardo shivered, and when Mark pressed down, he let out a quiet noise and pressed his own hand harder against Mark’s chest, leaning into him.

“I want to be the one that leaves marks on you,” Mark said, voice coming out rough. His heartbeat had never been so loud in his own ears, not even the first time The Facebook had crashed. He didn’t know what that meant, exactly, but he was starting to suspect this was like the moment he realized they needed a Relationship Status on the site: huge, the world realigning on its axis.

Eduardo was still quiet – unsure, Mark realized. Eduardo did always need things spelled out, and Mark found it was less annoying than it should have been.

“I want all of your time. I want all of you.”

Eduardo huffed out a breath, and when Mark felt it against his lips, a deep shiver of warmth curled through his belly, and yes. This was perfect. This would be perfect.

“So you’re mine, now,” he clarified against Eduardo’s mouth, words spilling out before he could think about them, and wow, he hadn’t known his voice could go quite that low. Eduardo sucked in a breath and then the kiss got hotter. “Not Christy’s. You’re mine.”

Eduardo laughed against Mark’s mouth, which was unexpectedly amazing. Kissing had never been like this before. “You realize that’s not normal, right? This isn’t how normal people do things. You do get that, don’t you?”

But Eduardo’s voice was teasing and fond, trembling slightly, so Mark wasn’t worried. It wasn’t a no, and that was all he cared about.

“Not normal. Fine. Because you have a dick?” Mark raised an eyebrow and Eduardo laughed. Mark smiled at him, traced a thumb along the throb of Wardo’s pulse and smiled even wider when Wardo leaned into him and made a soft, murmuring sound. Wardo liked to be touched – Mark knew that already. He could be good for Wardo, better than Christy. He was smarter; even without trying he paid better attention than she ever could.

“No! Because you don’t just – you don’t get claim dibs on a person.”

“I don’t see why not,” Mark said smugly, and indulged in the urge to lean in and nose Eduardo’s jaw, huffing out a little when he smelled the acrid tang Christy had left behind. Never again. Not anymore.

“It’s not healthy,” Eduardo was saying. “Especially, especially not for me, for people like me.”

What? Whatever. Eduardo was gesticulating with the hand not over Mark’s heart, and Mark decided to let him while Mark set about rubbing the inside of his wrist over Eduardo’s throat, pulse. Some sort of Mark-scent had to transfer over, Red Bull and strawberry and sweat, which would be much better.

“I guess… people have to – have parts for themselves, for… other things.” Eduardo was rattling on, trying to catch his eye and his fingers. “Stop, just for a – it’s like you and The Facebook. All of you doesn’t belong to it, or to—to me, or to Dustin.”

Mark narrowed his eyes. “The Facebook is different. You don’t belong to anything like that.” Then it hit him, and he recoiled backward. “Is it because of the Phoenix?” Mark gritted out. “You don’t—no, I suppose that would be a little too much diversity, wouldn’t it.” A gay Brazilian-American.

“Jesus, Mark,” Eduardo swore, shaking out his hand and looking briefly annoyed before curling his fingers around the collar of Mark’s hoodie and tugging him back in. “What the hell are you talking about? No, I just meant.” Eduardo looked to the side. “I meant—it’s just that, with you, if I’m with you, it’d be different. I don’t know if I’m ready. I already—already want to give you so much more than I should.”

Mark had felt the knot in his chest loosen as Eduardo talked, the urge to lash out ebbing into something less sharp, but just as intense.

“Good. I want you,” Mark repeated, confident now, voice still low, and when he raised his hand and thumbed Eduardo’s lower lip, Eduardo closed his eyes and shivered.

“Yeah,” Eduardo replied, barely audible. “Yeah, okay.”

“So we’re doing this,” Mark said, just in case.

“Don’t change your mind,” Eduardo breathed, and Mark rolled his eyes and clumsily pet Eduardo’s neck, like soothing a horse, or a startled cat. Calm down, stupid, his fingers said on Eduardo’s skin, fond and wondering. But maybe he should say it out loud, too. He could try that.

“Don’t be stupid, Wardo, when have you ever seen me change my mind once I’ve—”

Eduardo made a strange, half-laugh, half sob noise and cut him off with a hard, crushing kiss.

It made Mark feel like he was coming off two back-to-back all-nighters, like he’d tossed back six cans of Red Bull in as many hours. When he bit at Eduardo’s lower lip, erasing the red of Christy’s mouth with his own, and Eduardo moaned like it hurt, like he was dying, the feeling intensified. Caffeine and carbonation, and Mark wanted. He wanted a lot.

Somehow they’d gotten turned around and it was Eduardo’s back against the wall. Mark remembered what Eduardo had done earlier and reached up and protected Wardo’s head from the hard brick with his own hand. Eduardo’s hips bucked up against his, and that—

“I want you,” he said, surprised by the hoarseness of his own voice. “Wardo, I—”

“Have me,” and Eduardo sounded almost pleading, a drugged-out slur to his words, and yeah. Mark liked that. He liked that he could do that. Could Christy do that? He fucking doubted it. They were just as much in public here as Christy and Eduardo had been, and he wasn’t hearing any ‘no’ or ‘but,’ just his own name panted against his skin, wet and wanting.

“Here?” Mark teased, and then his eyes widened, because that was Eduardo’s hand on the small of his back, like it’d been hundreds of times before, but this time it wasn’t guiding him away from the computer or to a shower or food. It was pulling him in and the friction between them – jeans to slacks, and erections beneath it. He’d been teasing, but maybe here was good. Maybe here was great.

But then some burly guys were moving past—probably on crew, the assholes—calling out stereotypical slurs, and Eduardo stiffened against him.

“Yeah, here, if you want?” he said after a moment, nuzzling at Mark’s temple, but Mark heard worry beneath the nonchalance.

“No,” Mark said, because anyway, it made more sense for them to go to Eduardo’s room, which was private and quiet and had a bed and pillows that wouldn’t scrape his hand raw when he shoved Wardo up against them. “Your place.”

He cast around the alley, looking for his laundry, and picked up the bag again. Eduardo laughed, bright and gleaming in the dark of the street.

“You washed your clothes.”

“Thought you’d like that,” Mark said, smug, and Eduardo beamed at him.

He tried to take the bag from Mark after that. Mark put up a token fight, but relented quickly. It wasn’t like he wanted to carry it, and Eduardo clearly, for whatever reason, did. So Mark let go and they set off down the street.

Mark watched Eduardo walk slightly ahead, admiring the length of his legs and the line of his back, and then noticed something strange – Eduardo’s shoulders were strangely hunched. Like he was worried, or trying to hide. That didn’t make sense.

“What about Christy?” Mark asked finally, because maybe that was it. Eduardo thought about things like that, about hurting people’s feelings, doing the right thing. It would make sense that he’d be upset over that.

“What? Oh. Yes. I should call her, let her know—it’s over.” Eduardo winced. “She won’t be happy.”

“Of course not,” Mark said, smiling to himself and falling behind a few steps, watching again. Eduardo had an amazing ass. Mark hadn’t ever paid much conscious attention to it before, but clearly he should have. And now he could make up for lost time.

Eduardo paused and then saw what Mark was doing, the direction of his gaze, and his face – it was probably the streetlights, shining down on him. Mark didn’t think he’d ever seen quite that smile on Eduardo’s face before.

“I’ll call her later,” Eduardo said, and when he bit his lower lip and lowered his lashes and looked at Mark, Mark had the urge to ask the sort of stupid question that usually made him want to verbally eviscerate other people. Are we there yet?

***

"You know, looking over the available evidence suggests that you do detrimental things to my brain," Mark complains, and shades his eyes, squinting at the horizon. Maybe he's imagining things, but it seems like he’s getting closer. The mountains are more jagged and less misty. On the other hand, those weird winged shapes are also getting closer, and he’s pretty sure by this point that they aren’t birds.

He makes the executive decision to ignore them. Keep going. Pick up the pace slightly.

You can’t blame me for your own arrogance and lack of forethought, imaginary Eduardo spits indignantly, and Mark shrugs and puts his hands back in his pocket and starts walking again. He wonders if Eduardo really is angry, or if he’s afraid, or in pain, or there at all.

"Maybe I am arrogant," he says instead of thinking about that any further. Chris and Erica had said that over and over, in between calling him an idiot and painting delicate spellwebs of symbols on his hands. A different kind of code, one he couldn't read but that he was forced to respect nonetheless. It's the code Eduardo grew up knowing. He stares at his arms, but he can't see anything on his skin now. He can feel it, though, the foreign letters tingling on his palms, on the thin inner skin of his wrists.

“Arrogance works for me, though.” Not always, he imagines Eduardo saying, somewhere between spiteful and sad, and Mark shakes his head, hunching his shoulders. “I don't regret anything."

The wind sounds like someone sobbing, whipping through the grass and tangling weeds at his feet and making the black streams choppy with froth. He thinks he hears something shrieking, and hopes for once that the black figures are to blame.

"Anything about this," he clarifies, voice shaking again. Mark went to the underworld for Eduardo with complete understanding of the consequences, and he’d do it again, and Eduardo should know that, has to know that. But. "I – there’s still things I regret. Dustin always says I can’t pay attention to anything that doesn’t have a monitor. You have a heart monitor now, but that’s not—I paid attention to you."

But not always. Not enough. But it’s not as though Eduardo hadn't known what Mark was like when they’d started this. It wasn’t like Eduardo hadn't counted on it.

"I can't believe you didn't tell me," Mark says, abruptly angry again. He's scowling now, down at his feet. "You just fucking—you were glad I didn’t notice. Don't fucking bullshit me, Eduardo, you wanted me not to know. You were glad to be normal, just a student, a normal fucking business student. Don’t lie to me, not again."

Mark wasn't brought up with mage marks, or spells, or energy that thrummed between two people. He didn't recognize it when it happened. A lie of omission is still a lie.

But Mark could have paid more attention, Dustin’s voice protests in the back of Mark’s mind, and he remembers Dustin joking about Eduardo fixing the weather for him, Chris joking about runes. Erica staring at him in disbelief when he’d come to her door, on his knees, asking her help. How could you not have known?

It was easy not to know, it was easy to ignore all of the gibberish and chatter and assume everything outside the sphere of Facebook and skin on skin was unimportant.

"It wasn't my fault," he snaps, wrapping his arms around himself, and realizes he's shouting over the wind, now, over the strange, eerie noise of the empty spaces.

That night, everything gold and hot and fizzling in their veins. It'd been so good Mark couldn't think of anything beyond the fact of them, care about anything going on around them besides the fact that he and Eduardo were coming together at last, finally falling into place and making sense, completing a subroutine Mark hadn't even known was running.

"That night—it was magic, right? But not all of it," he asks, and is surprised to hear his voice gone soft again. If Eduardo's there, he probably can't hear Mark at all, now. "I don't—I hate not knowing. I always thought it was just you."

The memories are so much warmer than the world he's in now, more real, more tangible. Visceral. Eduardo's voice, shaking and wondering, in Mark's ear, his hands cupping Mark's face.

It’s just you. It’s always you.

Mark keeps walking.

He’d thought, when he started this, that this would be one of the few memories that was easy to relive, recount, retell.

He was wrong.

It hurts, too.

***

Mark, even before girl-with-the-A-name, was not a virgin. Erica had had no complaints about his techniques, with kissing, or in bed, though apparently his personality was another story. He liked sex and human contact, contrary to popular opinion; he just didn’t attach much importance or significance to it outside it being another human need. Eating, sleeping, jerking off or getting off with someone else. No sweat. He could go without if necessary, though obviously he preferred to have access when he was in the mood. But this, this felt significant.

It seemed like hours passed between Eduardo picking up Mark’s laundry bag and his fumbling with his door key, stepping into his room.

“So,” Eduardo started to say, and Mark shoved the door closed behind them, took the laundry from Eduardo’s hand and dropped it on the floor, then started herding him towards the bed.

“Mark, wait,” Eduardo said roughly, and then he was laughing, the sound bright and clear as Mark tried to tug his shirt off over his head. He must have seen Eduardo shirtless at some point, he must have – fuck knew Wardo’d wandered in on him on various states of undress often enough – but he couldn’t think of a single example now. He wanted to see. He couldn’t wait any longer. “You know this shirt has buttons, right?”

What the fuck, Eduardo had on another undershirt beneath the coat and the button-down. That seemed like overkill to Mark, who seldom even put on even a t-shirt beneath his hoodie. And now Eduardo’s head was trapped, and he was struggling, and still laughing. It should have been decidedly unsexy, but somehow it just made Mark feel wilder.

“Fuck buttons,” he decided, barely recognizing his own voice, and gave the shirt a strong yank and sent several of said buttons spinning away, glinting in the overhead light and disappearing.

“Mark!” Eduardo protested, but his intent face and parted lips seemed to express a different emotion than annoyance, so Mark ignored him. “This isn’t a bodice-ripper. Calm down. There’s no rush—”

“A what?” Mark asked, and pulled off his own hoodie. There was a shirt underneath that one, actually – the Linux cheatsheet one, which personally Mark thought was disingenuous, but he couldn’t control what Dustin bought him as a joke, and one shirt was as good as any other. He took it off and tossed it in some corner.

Mark hadn’t really considered the male physique outside his own before. Making sure he was fit enough for fencing, looked good enough to get a girl, maybe, sure, but with other people, he just zeroed in on the typical zones of attraction. Tits, ass, legs.

Wardo had legs. And an ass. No tits, but he looked good. Looked great. Except there were more marks now that Mark’d gotten rid of the clothing in the way, a perfect set of teeth over Wardo’s left nipple, a curving parallel trail of scratches along his ribs and disappearing in an arc, probably continuing over his shoulder.

Christy.

“Mark,” Eduardo said hoarsely, and then smiled, a stupidly tentative smile, and sat on the bed. “Do you—”

“Don’t let her touch you again,” Mark instructed, voice tight, and then made himself move, felt like the robot everyone said he was, aware of each joint moving distinctly.

“No,” Eduardo said. “Of course not,” and then he trailed off when Mark leaned down and cupped his jaw.

“I want to be on top of you,” Mark informed Eduardo, annoyed when his voice shook a bit.

“Okay,” Eduardo said faintly, and then he made possibly the best noise he’d ever made when Mark pressed him backward into the sheets and straddled him, put his hands on Wardo’s chest and just… let himself feel the warmth of the it, the shift of skin and muscle and Wardo’s heartbeat thudding beneath his fingertips. All his.

“Fuck, pants,” he said after a second, annoyed at himself as their hips come into contact and there was still cloth in the way. Eduardo huffed out, sounding fond and amused and maybe slightly panicked, which Mark supposed he understood even as it annoyed him. It was just Mark. Pasty pale and hacker-slim, because he hadn’t had time to fence lately. But Wardo was staring up at him, looking drunk and shivering with it, and maybe, okay, Mark was alright with that, actually.

It was stupid, but Eduardo made him feel like—like even without The Facebook, he was something someone should want. Just him.

Eduardo arched his back a little and Mark forgot about pants-related issues in lieu of the line of neck now exposed to him. He buried his face in it, and yeah, there was still a hint of perfume, but it was mostly just but it was mostly Wardo, tendons tight and pulse thrumming and when Mark mouthed at the Adam’s apple, it tasted a bit salty, like over-watered ramen.

It was good. The noises Eduardo made were better.

“I like when you say my name,” Mark said into the curving line of Eduardo’s jaw, biting it carefully – he didn’t want to press his teeth too hard, not yet, but Eduardo did a full body writhe beneath him and then said, strained, “Pants!”

It was Mark’s turn to laugh, and he moved back a little, let Eduardo sit up and fumble with their belts and zippers. The brush of his knuckles was kind of insane in how much it robbed Mark of brain function. He’d felt his focus narrow like this before, but never with so much emotion behind it. Never on anything without a keyboard, with a pulse.

“Why didn’t we do this before?” he asked crossly, and then kissed Eduardo before he could respond, in case it would be something insulting and also just because Eduardo had a good mouth and Mark wanted it. He licked Eduardo’s teeth, his tongue, the roof of his mouth and thought about Eduardo’s mouth on his cock and made an involuntary sound into the kiss. The lights in the room flickered, then went out, but there was still light from the window, and Mark didn’t need to see to do this.

“Pants,” Eduardo moaned into Mark’s mouth, and then shoved Mark’s down, and then his own, and oh, god. That felt amazing. Better than jerking off, which Mark had perfected and actually had down to an art. He’d tried to give the girls he’d been with tips on how to best make him orgasm, which really, they should have appreciated. He’d have appreciated tips. But this was already – Eduardo didn’t need any advice, just needed to keep moving his hips up, just like that.

“Yeah? Like that?” Eduardo asked, and he had a hand on Mark’s lower back again, and was pulling him down harder, and Mark bit his lower lip.

“Perfect,” he said. “You, yeah. Wardo. Except I’ll, I’ll probably come soon if you keep—”

“All over me.”

Mark stilled and Eduardo keened, shoving up against him. “You’d like that? Wardo, you’d—”

Eduardo just said his name, low and drawn out, drugged, and Mark hadn’t intended to orgasm so quickly, but it hit him and then he was coming, all over Wardo, just like he’d said, and it was wet and slick. Mark got a hand between them, rubbed at the wetness, the smooth heat of Wardo’s cock.

“Yeah, you like that,” Mark said wonderingly, voice hoarse, because Eduardo was wrecked, bucking up into him. It was somehow better than his own orgasm, watching a street-lit Wardo shake himself apart and come down trembling, panting into Mark’s skin and saying nonsensical, half-heard things, more Portuguese than English.

“Fuck,” Mark said, petting Wardo’s hair, and Wardo kissed him, leaned up and bit at his mouth. Mark was starting to feel a little disappointed that it’d ended so quickly when Eduardo said, “Oh, god, Mark, please – please, will you? I know it’s not – but I want it, I need it, please.”

“Will I what?” Mark asked unintelligently, and leaned back a little to stare at Eduardo’s face. “Yes, just, what?”

“We’ve—we’ve already started, it’s started, and I want—please, fuck me. You can – I want you to, you can have me. Please, Mark.”

Mark was no stranger to getting unexpected hard-ons, but this was a little soon, so soon he was dizzy with it.

“You—” he rubbed a hand along the scratches on Wardo’s chest, then copied them, digging his own short nails into the skin, overwriting the rough raised lines with his own. Added a few more, lighter this time, just to see Wardo shiver.

“I’ve never had anal sex,” he said after a moment, and stared down at the line of Eduardo’s body, open to him, all of it. It was intoxicating. This was what he’d wanted, exactly – all of Wardo, all of his time, all of him, and Eduardo was giving it up now as thoughtlessly and easily as his coat or his wallet or his drink.

“Neither have I,” Eduardo admitted, blushing, and Mark smiled. “But I’ve, with fingers? I have lube, I—”

He made to get up, squirming, and Mark frowned, pushed him back into the bed, pleased when Eduardo went still and compliant.

“Where? I’ll get it.”

The lube was in the bedside table. Mark noticed with some irritation that the chocolate orange was still there, intact, uneaten, next to Eduardo’s alarm clock and sets of photographs—maybe he didn’t like chocolate after all. Anyway, he had better things to worry about than discarded offerings now, so Mark just rummaged around in the pull out drawer, fumbling in the darkness. He kicked off the pants still straggling around his ankles, toed off his socks, then rolled back over to face Eduardo, hard-on bobbing slightly. Even the air felt good right now.

He tossed the lube and a pack of condoms he’d found on the pillow and said, “Now what?”

Eduardo bit his lip, then shoved the condoms away. “I’m – I’m clean, if you?”

Oh. “Not like I could get you pregnant, either,” he noted, and blinked when Eduardo laughed, high and nervous. He pressed a kiss to Wardo’s shoulder. “Okay. Barebacking. Just with me.”

“Just with you,” Eduardo promised, his smile like a sunrise. “Okay, your hand.”

Mark raised one and it was still slightly sticky with semen. He was surprised when Eduardo drew it to his mouth, kissed the tip of a finger and then licked him clean. It was like his hand had a direct line to his cock. “Oh. Oh, god.”

“I’ll suck you later,” Eduardo said thickly, mouthing at the space between his fingers, his palm. “But please, Mark, please—”

“I like when you say my name,” Mark told him again, because while he hated repeating himself, he really, really did like it, and it bore repetition. He took back his hand, found the lube. This couldn’t be that extraordinarily complicated.

“Let me,” Eduardo murmured, pushing at Mark gently, waiting for Mark to move, and then he was getting on his hands and knees on the bed, looking over his shoulder at Mark nervously.

Mark stared, mouth dry, and then hesitantly reached over and palmed the curve of Eduardo’s ass, hissed out between his teeth when Eduardo arched back into his touch, even at that. Just at that.

“Just, use a lot of lube?” Eduardo instructed shakily. “Start with one finger, then—” He broke off when Mark touched him, traced a wet finger against the opening.

“Then add another finger. Not rocket science,” he said, aiming for cool nonchalance, but then he couldn’t decide where to look: at the way Eduardo’s skin gleamed with sweat, or at how his hair was sticking damply to the back of his neck, or the way he was hanging his head down, panting. Or at his own fingers circling Eduardo’s hole.

He pushed inward with the tip of his index finger, and Eduardo let him. He was hot and tight and wet, and he wondered what it felt like, being breached like that. Vulnerable.

“You have to do this to me later,” he said, and Eduardo made a low noise and pushed backward, and okay, not so different than fingering a girl, getting the rhythm of it, even though he had to add more lube from time to time. He didn’t usually spend this much time on the preparation, the foreplay, but Eduardo was making wanton, needy sounds, and when Mark leaned down to bite at the curve of his lower back, he bucked.

“Look at me, Wardo.” And Eduardo turned his head. His face was flushed and his eyes were wide and dark. “You like this? Is this good?”

Eduardo stared, then licked his lips and rocked back onto Mark’s fingers. “I never – I never thought you’d, but you’re, god.”

Mark paused a moment, staring at Eduardo’s face.

“You thought about this. Us,” Mark stated, watching the lines of Eduardo’s back, the flex of muscles, his own fingers disappearing into Wardo’s body. It was better than hacking.

“Yes,” Eduardo hissed, and yeah, okay, Mark liked that.

“It’s better than you thought it’d be?” He was a little amused. “Did you think I’d be awful in bed, Wardo?”

“No! No, just, more—you know, quick. Quick about it.”

“Am I going too slow for you? Fine.” He added another finger, then held Wardo’s hips still. “Shh.” This was the best thing that had ever happened to him, Mark thought distantly, and leaned down to kiss the small of Eduardo’s back, feeling drugged and dazed with it himself.

“Mark, please.”

“Yes,” Mark decided, and found the lube again. “Yeah, I like that. Beg me.”

“Mark, oh god, you—” Mark slicked himself up as Eduardo babbled, told him to please, please take him, because he was ready, he wanted it. Mark felt like he was floating. He loved this. He wanted to do this every day. He wanted to schedule it in alongside the classes he couldn’t miss and the dinner breaks Eduardo made him take. This had to be more important than food. Watching Eduardo writhe now, Mark was pretty sure he’d agree.

“How much do you want it, Wardo?” Mark asked thickly, liking the way Eduardo squirmed. He wasn’t in a hurry. He could do this all night. He was good with his fingers, his hands, he always had been, and he liked doing this, liked teasing Eduardo and finding the motions that make him buck and moan.

“You’re a bastard.” Mark twisted his fingers, and Eduardo panted, “You’re a bastard but I love it, you, please.”

Okay. Okay, actually, maybe Mark couldn’t do this all night. Maybe he couldn’t wait even another minute. Point to Eduardo. Mark removed his fingers, wiped them on the bedspread and lined himself up. He was glad he’d come once already, that he’d be able to make this last. Eduardo’s face was limned in gold and his cheeks were flushed and his lips were parted and Mark hadn’t seen anything so good since The Facebook went online. “You’re mine, you know that, right, Eduardo? Mine.”

He pushed in and Eduardo went silent and trembling, and oh, god, maybe the first orgasm hadn’t taken the edge off as much as he’d thought, because he had to stop and go still for a moment, adjust to the sensation.

“I didn’t think you knew,” Eduardo whispered, and Mark hadn’t, not like this, but he knew now.

Then Eduardo made a desperate noise and said, “Please, just, move.” So Mark did, and it was easier than he’d thought, finding a rhythm, plastering himself against Eduardo’s back and just moving. Moving and losing himself in it, in Eduardo, and he realized he was pressing kisses along the skin of Eduardo’s shoulders helplessly, nuzzling the damp hair, tasting the sweat.

“Mine,” he heard himself say, “please, Wardo, please,” and heard a litany of “yours” in return.

“Forever. No one else.” With an edge of teeth, sucking the blood to the skin to see it redden in the shape of his lips. He got the appeal, got why Christy did it. Wardo bruised wonderfully.

“Just yours, Mark, oh, oh God.”

When Mark got a hand beneath him, stroked it down Eduardo’s belly and found his cock, Eduardo nearly bucked him off. Mark’s vision was starting to sparkle, dots of light and blurred at the edges, and he’d never, ever, in his entire life had sex like this, had anything like this.

“I’m going to come soon,” he warned Eduardo, and that was new, too, he wanted to make—he didn’t want to end early, didn’t want to leave Wardo this panting mess without making sure—

“Bite me, please Mark, mark me up, do it—” Eduardo said with a kind of hiccupping sob, and Mark did, buried his teeth in Wardo’s shoulder and let go, and Wardo spilled all over his fingers, and then Mark came so hard everything was aglow, inside and out and all around.

When he was capable of thought again instead of just sensation, he realized what he was tasting, coppery and salty on his own lips. He’d broken the skin on Eduardo’s shoulder. It had to hurt. Eduardo was completely limp beneath him, panting and trembling. Mark brushed his mouth carefully over the perfect set of teeth marks he’d left, just where Eduardo’s neck met his shoulder, not sure quite how to feel yet, shocky and slow with it. Worried or proud? Aroused or freaked out? All of that at once?

“Yes,” Eduardo slurred. “God, Mark.”

All of that at once, then.

“Does it hurt?” Mark asked quietly, kissing next to the wound. He thought about human saliva and Neosporin, but maybe it would scar. He found he liked the idea, Eduardo having his teeth imprinted on his skin forever. He hadn’t thought that would be something that would appeal to him, and yet.

“Mmmph,” Eduardo mumbled, but he didn’t sound upset. He sounded content. Happy Eduardo noises that Mark hadn’t heard for what felt like weeks, the sounds he used to make when Mark bumped his shoulder in the hallways, or showed up unexpectedly for dinner.

The bed was a wreck, which Mark would have thought Eduardo would be upset about. But he showed no sign of being bothered, just lay there, sprawled and snuffling and pulling Mark in tighter. Mark was abruptly exhausted. He shifted the covers around and curled around Eduardo, buried his face in his shoulder, and slept, then woke up in a panic an hour later and went scrambling for his laptop.

Eduardo snorted awake and blinked at him drowsily as Mark clambered back into bed, arranging the covers and pillows. Then he laughed softly and pressed a smile into Mark’s shoulder as Mark opened up the browser and started typing quickly – he knew what was slowing them down, now, and he just had to make a few adjustments, reroute some of the searches. He felt well-rested, content, his mind completely and utterly clear. Eduardo watched him type, pressing the occasional kiss to his shoulder.

“Go back to sleep,” Mark said, not looking over, but he adjusted his pose a bit so that more of his leg was tucked up against the warmth of Eduardo’s side, and thought, idly, that he could almost hear Eduardo’s heart beating, steady against his skin, even from here.

***

“You probably didn’t want to remember any of that.” That’s the impression Mark had gotten, every time he’s seen Eduardo since – that he was trying, so hard, to forget Mark existed. That there was a Facebook, that there’d ever been a them.

Mark remembers it. He remembers it all the time, at the stupidest moments. What it was like to have Eduardo there, at his fingertips. Not just for sex, just there, like he belonged nowhere else, warm and happy and wanting and willing.

You’re mine, Mark had said, and Eduardo had said yes, have me, take me, had said that in not just words, but in blood and sex, too. Have all of me. And all of Eduardo was more than most people. Even Mark should have known that.

“You should have told me. I didn’t know what I was doing with you– you should have told me. Then, that night. Or fuck, at least before the fucking lawsuit. You owed me that much.”

Fuck, Mark doesn’t even know if he can hear any of this, If he’s even there at all. Maybe Mark’s just talking to himself and the wind, and to the black smudges of shapes on the horizon. There’s no sound, no hand on the small of his back, no warmth or presence or anything. Nothing nothing nothing

No. Eduardo’s still there. He has to be. He’s probably got that prissy look on his face—Mark’s pissing him off, and talking about sex in front of potential Guardians of the Underworld and who knows what the fuck else. Grass spirits, maybe. Undead earthworms. Eduardo could be such a prude, sometimes, when it came to their sex lives. Dustin had walked in on them four times, and Mark always thought Eduardo was the most upset of the three of them, even if Dustin was louder.

“I mean, I thought we were dating. I thought—that’s what I thought.” He pushes forwards another few feet, mist swirling around him, thick enough that he almost can’t see the grass. The lie is thick on his tongue, throbbing in his throat, and he finally admits, “Fine. I knew it was more than dating, but I didn’t know I was putting a mark on your fucking soul. I don’t even believe in souls.”

Though he kind of has to believe in them now. He could tell himself that this was some sort of hallucination, some break from reality, but that would actually be stupid, and Mark may be occasionally oblivious to his surroundings, but he’s not an idiot. Most of the time.

If Eduardo’s pissed now, well, at least he and Mark are feeling the same thing again for once. At least being angry is kind of like being warm.

“You know who told me what we’d done that night? Your dad. So thanks for that.” Mark pictures Eduardo’s face at this intelligence and suddenly he can’t stop laughing, even though it hurts and comes out hoarse and painful. “But that’s later, fuck. So much later.”

***

Mark dating Eduardo only required a slight change in their normal routine: they went out to dinner more often, but then, he’d always had more meals with Eduardo than not. He tried to make time to be good for Eduardo, to see him between classes, to switch off and make room for him in the chaos of his schedule, but Eduardo had always done that, and Mark doing it too only meant he saw Eduardo slightly more often. Which was nice. When he realized how much it made Eduardo light up, he made an effort to take his hand more often as they walked, to reciprocate the casual touches. There was something heady about it, too – about doing it in public, about Eduardo being his.

And, of course, they had sex constantly. Mark had had more orgasms in the week since they’d started this than he’d had the entirety of fall semester, he was pretty sure.

Still, so little had actually changed from before that Mark was honestly a little startled when Chris and Dustin noticed. Eduardo and Mark had walked into the dorm room maybe a week after the whole thing’d started. Mark had his hand on Eduardo’s shoulder right where it met his neck, fingertips just dipping beneath the shirt, nothing that alarming or strange.

Dustin was bundled in blankets, because he hated the cold and Kirkland was fucking drafty, and he’d just turned to say, “C’mon, Wardo, man, you gotta do something about this fucking weather—”

Then he made a noise like a dying balloon and fell off the couch.

Mark would have chalked that up to Dustin being Dustin, but then Chris punched the air afterwards and said with an air of smug delight, “Pay up, motherfucker! Two hundred!”

“You know I can’t,” Eduardo chided Dustin around a wide, brilliant smile. Mark couldn’t help himself, he had to squeeze Eduardo’s neck—he loved that smile.

“Oh my god,” Dustin said, staring at them, then back at Chris, his fish-like expression morphing into a familiar, exaggerated pout.

Mark frowned, tilting his head. He was missing something. “What’s going on?” he asked, puzzled, and took his hand out of Eduardo’s collar to fire up his computers, pull out his laptop.

“I knew it would happen eventually,” Chris said to Mark in proud, gloating tones, as though that was an answer or made sense in the slightest, and Dustin was still on the floor, groaning and rolling around in his blankets like an especially idiotic caterpillar..

“Not that I’m not glad you two crazy kids got your act together, but couldn’t you have waited another couple months?” he said, and then tossed Chris his wallet. “Go on, empty it, you jerk.”

“You bet on our love life,” Mark realized slowly, unsure whether he was insulted or not. Every now and then he forgot that Dustin and Chris were friends with Eduardo too, that they paid attention to things outside of coding and running the website.

Eduardo was standing next to him, hand on the back of Mark’s chair, and he was smiling helplessly down at his shoes.

“Love life?” he repeated, voice lilting up at the end, making it a question.

Mark shot him an annoyed look and then turned back to the computer. “Is the term not accurate?” he muttered, glaring at the monitor, but then Eduardo bent down and kissed his temple, and Mark couldn’t help the small smile that crept onto his face, regardless of the Winklevii email he could see lurking dumb and impotent and obnoxious in his inbox. He closed out of the browser so Eduardo didn’t see it; it was redundant and had nothing new to say, Mark could predict that with ease, and there was no use getting Wardo worried over nothing.

“Adorable,” Dustin cooed, and then got up. “This calls for beer! Chris, you’re rolling now, you buy. Also, I am instituting a no-couch-sex policy. Violators will be fined.”

So, apart from the teasing and the occasional fine Eduardo had to pay Dustin, things were good. Eduardo seemed upset from time to time, but that wasn’t new, and he actually smiled at much higher frequency than he used to, which made Mark feel obscurely proud. He looked good, a healthy glow to his skin there hadn’t been since summer, warm and welcoming. Mark felt good too, despite the decrease in sleep he was getting – maybe sleeping post-sex was different, deeper, somehow, which made up for the lack of hours.

Things were so good between them, just them, that it took Mark longer than it should have to notice that professionally, things were—different. Somehow. Arguments about Facebook weren’t the same, anymore, and it took him longer than it should have to notice.

“These are companies that we need to bring in,” Eduardo argued, circles dark beneath his eyes in a way that, if they had been on Mark’s face, would have had Eduardo dragging him to the bed and sitting on him, and possibly fucking him, until he slept.

“The companies can wait,” Mark told him absently, already thinking of whether he could afford a break to tie Eduardo to the bed and make him come apart until he could sleep, and wake up warm and affectionate and rested again. He checked the site traffic, then started on a quick email to Dustin while Eduardo kept talking about building up circles of trust, some archaic business theory Mark had never heard of. Mark didn’t like arguing with Eduardo, so he tried ignoring it. The timing was bad now, but later, Eduardo would understand, when all those companies he wanted so badly to join them would be begging to be let in.

Then Eduardo found the letter with the idiotic demands of the Winklevii sitting on the mantle, and things suddenly got worse.

"We're being sued," Eduardo said, in a voice Mark had never heard before, and Mark shrugged himself further down into his hoodie. "Mark, this isn't—this is a big deal. Why didn’t you tell me? How long has this been going on?"

Which, annoying. Mark wasn't claiming to be a lawyer, but he'd sought counsel and done some idle research and really, Winklevii et al. didn't have a leg to stand on. It wasn't a big deal; it was the opposite of a big deal. To be honest, it was something Mark had expected. He had no illusions about what he was doing: when you made something big, something that mattered, you of necessity made a couple enemies. And as far as enemies went, the Winklevii were pretty ineffectual.

Maybe Eduardo didn't get that. He seemed to put a lot of importance on the concept of ‘sued,’ like it was a brand, like it'd stick indelibly to Mark's forehead, and by extension, his own.

"I’m being sued. And their suit has no merit."

Something occurred to Mark, and he sucked in a breath and choked on his beer, mixed air and carbonation and fermented grain in his lungs and it burned. Eduardo's hand was on his back, and suddenly he could breathe again.

"It—Eduardo, you don’t think I—I didn't steal their idea. You know that, right? You know that?"

Eduardo didn't say anything, and Mark didn't want to look at him. He held the cold bottle with the remnants of beer to his cheeks, closed his eyes and tried to find a line of thoughts that didn’t loop in on itself, crash down and burn. That Eduardo might think that—it was different, he realized, than if it’d been Chris, or Dustin. It was different, somehow, it hurt.

“Of course not, Mark. It’s… it’s just hard enough getting people to take this seriously,” Eduardo said finally, his voice thick with some emotion Mark couldn’t quite get a fix on.

Thank fuck. Thank god. “If they don’t take it seriously, we don’t want them,” Mark pointed out, relieved but in the wake of that rush of adrenaline, annoyed. Really fucking annoyed. How could Eduardo not get this? It didn’t make sense. Eduardo had to get this, and then stop bothering Mark about it, so that they could focus on the things that were important.

“If only it were that easy,” Eduardo said, and then something sharper in Portuguese as he ran his hands through his hair. And that was it, Mark was done talking about this.

“Hey,” Mark said, shaking off the lingering annoyance. It was fine. They were fine, and Mark would prove it to himself right now. He hit a key to send Dustin the email, then stood up, moving into Eduardo’s space. “Hey, come on. Come on, Wardo. You look tired,” he coaxed.

Eduardo breathed out through his nose and held himself stiff for a moment, then melted into Mark, let Mark nuzzle smugly closer. “I am tired,” he confirmed, voice raw as he rubbed his stubbled cheek along Mark’s.

“So let’s go to bed,” Mark said, and grinned triumphantly as he tugged Eduardo back in the right direction, the direction of his bedroom door, and the dim lights, and the mussed sheets. He bound Eduardo’s wrists together with his own tie – “You’re ruining it, that’s Thai silk,” Eduardo said. But his eyes were blown and cheeks were flushed, and Mark really couldn’t care less about Eduardo’s wardrobe at the moment.

“I’ll ruin you,” he promised, and bit his way down Eduardo’s chest. “Stop thinking so hard. Just let me do this.”

“Stop teasing and fuck me,” Eduardo demanded, but his limbs were still taut and tense, so Mark settled in for a long stretch of using his mouth and fingers to tease and take Eduardo apart.

Later, when Eduardo’s fourth orgasm had been coaxed from him and Mark had settled smug and sated on top of him, Eduardo’s Portuguese had turned slurred and soft. The way Mark liked it.

“I thought I was supposed to be the patient one, querido,” Eduardo said softly after, carding his fingers though Mark’s hair, and he startled when Mark kissed his collarbone. Maybe he’d thought Mark had fallen asleep – he was definitely close to dropping off.

“You know I can be patient,” Mark murmured, and yawned, wide and pleased with himself. “You’ve seen me code.”

“Oh,” was all Eduardo said, and then fell silent. Snow was falling outside the window, flakes dancing shadows in the streetlight, and the room was very dark and still and close. Mark felt the warm thump of Eduardo’s heart beneath his cheek, and thought, there. Eduardo gets it now. Things were going to be better.

***

“Stupid,” Mark coughs, breaking off again to massage his throat. His feet hurt, and his throat hurts, and his brain hurts, remembering all this. It’s so obvious to him now, how many mistakes they’d both made. “God, we were both so young and stupid.’

He slows his steps for a moment, then bends over, putting his hands on his knees and gulping in useless breaths. He wonders what his heart rate looks like on the monitor back home.

Eduardo had started picking arguments about ads more and more often, and each time Mark had let him ramble, then soothed his irritation away with his hands, had gotten Eduardo sweet and pliant and happy again and changed the conversation to something more palatable. Not that they’d been having the same conversation anyway. Nothing was ever resolved, just set aside to the backburner until it scorched and smoked them out.

Fuck. Shit. This hurts. He shoves his hands back in his pockets. He wants something to do with them; he doesn’t have anything here to distract him. He supposes that’s the point. “My kingdom for a keyboard to fuck with,” he says idly – it’s easy to let his monologue go from internal to external, here. “I only call it a kingdom in my head,” he corrects Eduardo, who, if he is there, has to be rolling his eyes. “Even I don’t think I’m that great.” He feels like a king with his court sometimes, still, but the shine has long since gone off that particular gilded throne. He knows better than to think everything’s wonderful..

Eduardo had said he was wonderful, once. Mark is pretty sure that opinion has since been rescinded.

“You were so upset about the ads,” Mark says slowly, and trudges on. He wants badly to turn around, like he would have back then, back at Harvard, walked backwards facing Eduardo and trusted him to steer him around incoming obstacles with an easy hand to the waist or elbow. He’s wanted to see Eduardo’s face for years, it feels like. “I kept telling you why it wasn’t a good idea, and you never, you never listened.”

His voice breaks on the words, because Eduardo hadn’t, and at the time it’d just been a mild irritation, but fuck, what had it become, in the end? One of a thousand mistakes that snowballed into an avalanche that left them living across the continent from each other and speaking in muffled echoes, twice a year, at most.

But then. Then he’d just been slightly annoyed that Eduardo didn’t get it, didn’t get him. Eduardo was always supposed to understand Mark, and the disconnect when he hadn’t had been horrible and jolting and Mark had wanted nothing more than to ignore it. It was easy to ignore, too, when all he had to do was reel Eduardo in by a belt and the conversation would stop, turn, become easier and better. Perfect again.

“But it wasn’t perfect, I was just—kicking sex over the problem. Like dirt.” It’s stupid to have this realization now, years and miles later, in the fucking underworld, but it occurs to him for the first time that he still doesn’t know why Eduardo wanted those ads so badly. “I didn’t ask you why,” Mark realizes suddenly. It was sex, and they’d been teenagers, and Mark had seen an aggravation and a roadblock and a problem and he’d found a delicious, perfect solution to avoiding it. “I should have asked,” he says quietly, more to himself than anything else, because he’s not that kid anymore. He knows when he’s fucked up. He can admit fault, when he finds it, and it’s a little easier to take the next step forward now.

“I should have asked. I’m sorry, Wardo,” he repeats, low enough that he doesn’t think even the wisps of Eduardo’s spirit can hear, and bends his head into the wind. It’s cold, and sharp, howling down the distant mountains and screaming across the plain. What’s holding Eduardo together against the gusts? Eduardo’s just a wisp of thought here, more memory than person.

It suddenly seems more than important, it seems vital that he finish this story. Maybe it’s all that’s holding Eduardo together, in Mark’s shadow. And so Mark goes on, even though he wishes he could stop here, now, with the two of them in bed, curled together and so many words left unsaid between them.

***

The weeks ran on, and even though they had less time together for dinner, or drinks, or a stretch of hours spent destroying Eduardo’s Egyptian cotton sheets, Mark still thought things were good. Whenever he noticed Eduardo looked drawn and pinched, Mark only reached over and wrapped a hand around his wrist and Eduardo seemed to brighten and shake off whatever gloom or worry had settled over him. He looked happy. Healthy.

Chris stopped badgering Mark as often, Dustin beamed at Mark whenever Eduardo turned his back and invested in a better pair of headphones – not for wiring in, he said, but for walling Eduardo and Mark out.

“Soundproof Mark’s walls,” he begged Eduardo, which was stupid—they had better things to invest their money in, like new servers, and paying for more interns, for more memory and storage. He told Dustin, and the complaints stopped, for once—maybe even Dustin realized he was being ridiculous, and that headphones were a better solution than refurnishing the fucking Kirkland infrastructure. Or asking Mark to stop fucking Eduardo loud, and blissful, and sleepily quiet in the end.

Things were busy, really fucking busy, but good, Mark had thought.

Then Eduardo perched on the arm of Mark’s computer chair one day, and Mark looked up to see a deep line between his eyebrows. He slipped off his headphones and waited, but instead of saying anything Eduardo just dropped a dayplanner on his keyboard, which through shitty luck hit the right combo of keys to closed the program he’d been working on. Recently saved, so not a huge deal, but Mark was already teetering on the edge of annoyed when he glanced down at Eduardo’s careful handwriting, the dates and times and places.

“What’s this?” he asked, and Eduardo bit his lip. His face looked older than it should, lined.

“Spring break. I made some appointments in New York. I want to talk to some advertisers, and I—I want you there.”

So Eduardo hadn’t understood. Still wasn’t listening.

Fine. Mark didn’t have to listen, either. He shrugged at Eduardo and slipped his headphones back on, and dimly heard Eduardo say, “That’s—that’s not an answer, Mark” before Mark hit play and the bass beat started back up.

You didn’t ask a fucking question, Mark thought, and thumped at his chest a little, coughing at the tightness in his throat, until he could lose himself in his programming again and forget the outside world existed, for a little while.

Later, when he unplugged, the room was cold and empty, and Mark’s bones creaked as he stretched, achy and sore. He thought about calling Eduardo, and went to get a beer from the fridge, pulling at it as he sat heavily back down at his desk and scrolled idly around his site. Messages on his page, Dustin being a dick on Chris’s wall. Eduardo, he noticed, with a sharp twinge of irritation, hadn’t posted anything on his own Facebook in days. His site, their site, and Eduardo didn’t even fucking use it.

There was a new message on Eduardo’s wall, though, and Mark’s brain suddenly was full of white noise.

Christy, her stupid fucking profile pic, was all over the wall. Mark mostly ignored it, and her, just like Eduardo did. She still had a few of Eduardo’s shirts, and tended to show up outside Eduardo’s classes and either act obnoxiously sweet and cloying or pathetically spiteful, but generally she was a non-entity in Mark’s life, and he looked on her with complete and total smugness. Eduardo was his.

But this. This was different.

Wardo, we should get dinner over break! I’ve got a friend who’s dying to meet you, maybe you’ve heard of him? Sean Parker. ;)

Mark messaged her back, fingers flying on autopilot.

When, where, and what time?

He confronted Eduardo when he returned from his Analytics class that evening.

“Dinner with Sean Parker is exactly what we need right now. We have to do this.”

Eduardo paused in the middle of taking off his scarf, staring at him. Mark waited impatiently.

“You read my messages?” he asked slowly, and then shook his head, kept unwinding the scarf, laying it over the back of a chair and then started to unbutton his coat. “Of course you did. I don’t know why I’m surprised.”

“It’s on your wall, anyone can read it,” Mark said, annoyed again, because Eduardo should know how to navigate his own fucking—anyway. They were getting off topic. “I told her yes.”

He heard Dustin spit out his drink in the background and looked away from Eduardo’s face for a moment to see Dustin and Chris both goggling at him, a slice of pizza frozen halfway to Chris’ mouth.

“Are you literally insane?” Eduardo hissed after a moment. “No! I’m—” He started fumbling at Mark’s laptop, looking, Mark thought uncharitably, like a refuge from a previous era, confronted with non-stone-age technology.

“Why not? Does she not know I’m your boyfriend?” For some reason Wardo always softened when he said the word ‘boyfriend,’ and Mark was not above using that against him. And there it was, the involuntary quick smile, before Eduardo snorted and threw up his hands, abandoning the apparently inscrutable technology before him.

“That’s not the issue, Mark! And I don’t want her to freaking hex you, so no. No, she doesn’t.” There was a line between his eyebrows that meant Mark’d done something bizarre that wasn’t endearing or amusing. “Didn’t you wonder why I didn’t change our relationship status?”

“I did,” Dustin piped up, and Chris huffed, then added, “I didn’t.”

“The peanut gallery is not involved in this conversation,” Mark said, glaring, and then redirected his attention back to Eduardo, who’d crossed his arms over his chest. “If I’m not in danger, I don’t see what the problem is. Sean’s in NYC anyway. We can see him after we meet your contacts or whatever. It’s perfect.”

“Perfect,” Eduardo repeated disbelievingly, and Mark ground his teeth. “You want me to go on a date with my psycho ex-girlfriend and a known criminal. And bring you along.”

Mark fucking hated it when people just repeated the things he’d already said. It was a waste of time. Eduardo knew he hated that.

“Yes. Should I rephrase?” he drawled, feeling sharp and annoyed, on edge the way he usually wasn’t around Eduardo. “Do you want that in Portuguese? Rhyming couplets?”

Eduardo stared at him, face stony, then turned to Dustin and Chris and gestured at Mark. Mark crossed his own arms over his chest and scowled. The level of histrionics in this room was frankly insulting.

“It’s Mark,” Chris was saying, looking sympathetic. “We tried to warn you. But… he does have a point – Parker really might be good for business; he’s got a reputation for it. He might be just what we need to bring more investors online.”

“He’s got a reputation for going down in flames!” Eduardo hissed, then turned back to look at Mark with large, wounded eyes that momentarily derailed Mark’s ability to think rationally. “Mark, we don’t need him!”

No, Mark wasn’t going to let whatever urge this was to kiss away the look on Eduardo’s face stop him. This was important.

“Napster, Wardo. Napster.” It wasn’t like this was a real date; Eduardo could go back to ignoring Christy afterward. Mark wasn’t asking for much, for fuck’s sake. “Wardo, I need this.”

Eduardo put a hand over his eyes and did that thing where he counted to ten, but his shoulders had already slumped. Mark smirked and gave in to the urge to pull Eduardo in, kiss sharply at his jawline and chin.

“This is a mistake,” Eduardo said morosely, but relaxed into Mark’s touch and then offered him a wobbly smile. Mark started mussing his shirt, fucking with the buttons until he could reach skin and make Eduardo’s smile firm up. . “I’m going to need to get a restraining order after this, you know.”

“I’ll protect you, baby,” Mark said dryly, just to hear Dustin spit-take again, and maybe a little to hear Eduardo laugh despite himself, breath warm and close on Mark’s cheek.

This was going to be perfect.

***

“And we all know how wrong I was about that,” Mark said, trudging forwards, grinding his hands into the raw grittiness of his eyes. Maybe if he couldn’t see where he was going, he wouldn’t remember how far he had left to go.

“I never understood your thing with Sean.” He doesn’t want to talk about this part. He wishes he could re-write it, tell a different story where things didn’t go horribly, stupidly wrong, but that feels like a mistake. “I mean, now. Yeah. But you didn’t even know him then.”

Even years later, knowing that Eduardo had been right about Sean’s long-term reliability, Mark still can’t quite get a hold on what had happened that night. Eduardo, from the very beginning, had been hostile, on edge.

Eduardo was always so polite and charming, polished to a high gloss in front of everyone but Mark and Chris and Dustin, but he’d been snide and rude and snippy that night. More like Mark than himself.

“You really were jealous,” Mark accuses—he knows that now. Mark rubs at his face with his palms. “Wardo, Jesus Christ, you were jealous, why couldn’t you just admit it? I admitted it, with Christy.” The words are jagged and rough coming out. “Why couldn’t you?”

God, he’s thirsty.

“Wardo,” he says, and sighs, keeps moving, foot in front of foot. He can’t actually walk forever, can he? Even here. He has to be getting somewhere. “It was always just business with Sean. Why didn’t you treat it like that? It wasn’t rational. It wasn’t professional.” He’s picturing Eduardo’s pissy face and trying not to shiver. Eduardo has to be there, behind him. He’s there. He’s annoyed and furious and there.

“Don’t make that face,” Mark orders, amused despite himself, fondness shading his words for a moment, and then he snorts at himself. God, he must look like a lunatic. No idea if Wardo’s even there, just talking to himself, to the grass, to the rocks and stones and emptiness.

“Listen. You – were never just business, Wardo. Not to me. But you were wrong about the ads,” Mark croaks, and rubs at his face. “And about Sean, back then. I get it now—but you were too, it was too personal. If you’d just calmed down, I would have listened—”

The Eduardo in his head explodes into gesticulations and Portuguese expletives. Outside his head, there is only a faint, high whine from the wind whipping through the grass.

“I would have,” Mark insists, rubbing his arms. There’s just silence in response, but he still responds.

“I might have,” he protests, pathetic. Pathetic. He closes his eyes against the sting of it, and almost immediately trips and falls heavily to his knees. It’s a bruising sharp pain that surprises him into making a terrible, hurt noise out loud. He thinks he hears someone laughing. It’s not Eduardo. Mark knows it can’t be Eduardo. When Eduardo laughed at him, it was fond, exasperated, not cutting and mean.

But maybe that’s changed.

He’s almost relieved when there’s a terrifyingly loud screech right next to his ear; it sends him down to his knees, scrabbling forward, and it takes a moment to realize the noise isn’t just noise, but words. “Bad sign, bad sign. Talking to yourself already?”

It’s like rusted metal. It doesn’t sound like anything that should be able to make words, and it’s coming right from behind his shoulder, where Wardo should be.

Mark makes himself take a step forward again, then another. He can’t turn around, he has to remember that. He can’t.

“Little living boy, lost on the Plains, talking to himself. And he’s barely begun, hasn’t he? He’ll never make it. So sad.”

A different voice, higher, scratchy, coming from a different direction.

Erica had warned him. Chris had warned him. There are other things, there. Shades. We think they can’t hurt you. Try to not to listen to them.

Erica, wryly: Not listening. Well, there’s something Mark’s good at, at least.

Against all odds, Mark feels a smile growing on his face. Right. This is something he’s good at. Mark is good at ignoring things right in front of his face. He’s missed fire alarms and fist fights and break-ups, sometimes even his own. He can ignore this. He’ll just lose himself in – not headphones, not trance. He could try to beatbox something, but he doesn’t think it’d be effective. Sean had tried to teach him, but he hadn’t been good at it, and Mark thinks Eduardo wouldn’t like it, anyway.

When else had he lost himself? In Eduardo, in his voice and touch, but that’s not here, he doesn’t have anything here but a hope and a memory and –

“Worse, worse. He’s not talking to himself, didn’t you hear? He’s fighting. Fighting with the lost lover he left behind so long ago. Jealous, was he, your lover? How quaint. Tell us more, traveler. Give us the tale.”

“Say, now this is interesting. Why keep going, sir, if you’re still so angry? Stop and rest a while. Talk it out.” A laugh. “We’ve got nothing but time.”

“It has been so long since a living one came, so long.”

“So much time,” another voice murmurs. “Tell us.”

“We’re not fighting,” Mark snaps without thinking, and then the laughter multiplies, hurts his ears. There are so many of them. He huddles into himself, stumbles forward. How is it colder here than Harvard in winter? He’s been walking so long his feet hurt. When he glances down, he sees his flip flops are gone, and his socks are rags.

“Liar,” another voice hisses, almost lovingly, so close that he can feel what might be lips brush his ear.

Erica had given him way too much credit. Mark can’t ignore this.

“Don’t be so hard on him,” something sighs, sweet and poisonous. “Look how tired, look how he stumbles, and for what? There’s no one here. You’re alone. You left him.”

“He left me,” Mark snarls, then opens his eyes. They’re lying. Eduardo’s still there, has to be. Mark has to keep going. “You don’t understand.”

“Poor lamb,” someone coos, and Mark flinches. “He left you, betrayed you? Did you deserve it?”

“Look, he flinches. He did! Do you think he seeks atonement here, with the dead? How sweet. Too late now, pet. Too late.”

The voices clash and grate against each other, jammed up close. Mark can see flickers of black just out of the corner of his eye. They’re behind him, like a wall rising up. He wonders if they block out the sky. He wonders if Eduardo’s drowning in darkness.

“It wasn’t like that,” Mark protests, and the air seems a bit lighter, easier to breathe, after speaking up again. Okay, it’s okay. He can do this. Eduardo’s still here, and Mark can explain, drown out the jeering voices, drown everything out except them. “It was—”

He laughs and rubs at his eyes and pulls up the hood of his hoodie, like that’s going to do a damned thing. Keep him warm, somehow.

“It was complicated,” he says, and puts his head down, and keeps going.

What else can he do?

***

In retrospect, the dinner had been an obvious disaster.

At the time, it’d been amazing. Not perfect, no, not with Christy snug up against Wardo’s side. But she was no threat and she could rub her hands over Eduardo’s impeccably tailored thighs if she liked.

Eduardo was his.

Besides, she was an unexpected ally when Eduardo started sniping away about ads again, about Sean in general. In fact, she was a godsend – her tits and face could distract Sean from Eduardo’s lack of professionalism, his slouch and his glower and his thinly barbed insults.

Mark could admit that he’d behaved worse in the fucking pointless business meetings Eduardo had dragged him to throughout the week, but that was different. Mark didn’t want to see Eduardo schmoozing, saying cryptic things about bridging both realms, things that made no sense even from what little Mark knew of the business jargon Eduardo liked to go off about sometimes.

Those men didn’t know a computer from a typewriter. That much Mark could tell instantly, and he’d already been predisposed to dislike them before that.

And they were sneering at Eduardo. At Eduardo, like he wasn’t offering them the bargain of a lifetime, a chance at something brilliant, something potentially paradigm-changing. An ill-advised offer that Mark would never let them follow through on, sure, but they didn’t know that. They should have been pissing themselves, falling all over the place to accept, instead of referencing Eduardo’s father, calling Eduardo “the Saverin boy” with a disdainful air.

Mark hadn’t played nice. That wasn’t who Mark was. Eduardo knew that. Mark didn’t regret it, and he wasn’t going to worry about Eduardo’s hurt feelings. Eduardo was an adult, and now someone actually important was coming to the table.

Mark expected him to suck it up, but Eduardo just kept going on about the ads, and Mark just – he didn’t get why Wardo didn’t get it.

“It’s not a business yet,” Mark tried to explain again, keeping an eye on the door. He couldn’t help but be minorly annoyed that he had to speak across Christy, even though the seating arrangement had been his own plan. Both because, seriously, he’d spent the entire fucking break hearing about the damned ads and he was fucking tired of it, and because it wouldn’t do to unthinkingly brush his fingers over Wardo’s neck like he sometimes did, or lean into him, or kiss the frown from his face. Eduardo was usually susceptible to being kissed into agreeableness, but Mark suspected that would result in violence from Christy, so that option was out.

Besides, Sean Parker was coming. Mark wanted to make a good impression, wanted to seem like an adult, not some soppy idiot out of a teen soap opera.

He could practically hear Eduardo gritting his teeth. “That’s kind of hard for me, because my job—nevermind.”

Mark rolled his eyes and turned back to the door. Eduardo could do his job once Facebook got bigger; Mark might have considered explaining that, again, if he wasn’t so fucking frustrated with saying the same thing over and over, and Eduardo not listening to him. Mark hated spelling things out for anyone – if you weren’t smart enough to keep up with him, so be it. But he always explained for Eduardo, always, and it was getting hard not to resent the fact that Eduardo didn’t seem to notice.

And there Sean was, striding through the door, larger than life and charming the way Mark himself had never been. He didn’t have any delusions about somehow making himself over into a socially adept businessman who could ooze charisma, but he wanted what that level of charm could attain. Eduardo had charm, obviously, but he didn’t have experience. He couldn’t make the distinctions on who needed to be charmed, apparently. That’s what they need Sean for.

Sean, who had the whole restaurant at his fingertips. It was incredible, and at first it barely registered that Eduardo was still sniping away about Sean’s watch, or what the fuck ever.

Thank fuck for Christy, who was doing her assigned task and then some, flushing prettily and coquettishly and making Sean laugh, distracting him from Wardo’s hissy fit. The whole trip had left Mark feeling annoyed, and petty, and okay, he could admit to an immature pleasure in Eduardo’s conversational falters in front of Sean’s graceful lines.

Except that when Mark glanced over during a lull in the conversation as they waited for their drinks, he noticed Eduardo and Sean staring at each other. Sean has his teeth bared and Eduardo was ramrod straight.

Mark blinked.

“Someone from the old school won’t make it in this world,” Sean said as the waitress swanned up. He leaned back in his chair, grinned and sipped at the appletini she placed in front of him. “But everyone here knows that already, don’t they? Sticking to traditions will get you left behind. We need to start over entirely. Start new.”

Mark nodded emphatically, because that was it exactly, how could anyone deny it? But Eduardo looked like he did when a phone call came in from his father, face tight and tense.

Mark couldn’t do anything, couldn’t subtly ask Eduardo what the fuck his problem was, not with Christy blocking him. But Eduardo’s face smoothed back into the expression of disdain he’d had on all fucking night, and Mark just didn’t have time for it. Everything Sean was saying rang so true, and it was so nice to have validation from a source like that, from someone who’d seen high stakes, who’d lived them. Facebook wasn’t ready for ads, Facebook was going to be bigger than that.

Ads were just like settling for fourteen trout instead of the bigger trophy, the marlin. Facebook was a fucking big fish, could be bigger than even Mark’d anticipated. Facebook deserved better than an 11 PM finish.

Maybe now that Eduardo was hearing it from someone that wasn’t Mark, he’d listen.

***

“But you didn’t,” Mark says, and he’s angry all over again, clenching his hands into fists. “You didn’t – you didn’t fucking listen to me, did you—”

Mark breaks off to cough wetly. His lungs hurt. It’s getting harder to breathe, for some reason, like the air is changing state to something thicker and slower, syrupy. There’s a sudden displacement of air behind him, a sound of wings.

“I’m lost,” a voice complains, and a wind buffets Mark's hair. It's a lot like Dustin’s batting him in the head, throwing crumpled post-its at him, trying to get Mark's attention. It’s actually a bit of a shock, coming back to himself and seeing gray sky and empty space and dead grasses, instead of the cool glass and florescence of the Facebook offices. “Explain for me. Who is your lost boy? This Parker? This Sean? Why did he care so much for fish?”

“Sean’s not my—” Mark snarls, offended on Eduardo’s behalf, and then buries his face in his palm, swearing.

“I remember fish,” someone says, huffing. “They are important. Don’t interrupt him. Did you fish together? Did you catch a leviathan?”

“If you want to be literary about it, yes,” Mark mutters, rubbing his temples, unwillingly pleased at the metaphor. Facebook wasn’t monstrous, but it was huge, eclipsing everything else, and now he’s thinking of the fucking tuna and marlin again, and fuck. Just, fuck fish. Fuck everything. “Sean was—business.” He wants that to be clear. “He was—an advisor. He was my advisor. He wasn’t Eduardo.”

“Eduardo.” The shades talk amongst themselves, whispering, the name echoing back and forth until it’s something strange and dissonant, but that’s nothing new. Eduardo’s name has been painful to hear for a long time, now.

“So who was Eduardo?” the same one asks, dogging his heels. “Tell us, was he your love? Your concubine? Your king? Your brother?”

Yes. Mark rubs at his nose and scowls at the line of mountains on the horizon. He doesn’t want to talk to these things, but they won’t let him be, keep asking and pecking and taunting. Mark doesn’t want to talk to anyone.

He wants to talk to Wardo.

“He’s my best friend,” he says finally, and that shuts them up. The sudden silence makes Mark nervous, so he keeps going, no matter how much the words hurt as they come out. “He believed in me when no one else did. He trusted me. He—he was mine.”

“And you left him.” The shade sounds almost pitying and Mark wants to hit whatever it is, give in to violence for once, to rend and tear.

“It’s not that simple. It wasn’t that simple. It wasn’t.”

Mark huddles into himself and tries to remember not to listen. He doesn’t care if the shades don’t understand; he’s not talking to them, anyway.

***

The thing was, the thing was… it’d been good, after the dinner. Mark had thought things were good.

The dinner had ended, and Eduardo had been distant in the car, but in the end, he’d turned to Mark, same as always, and there had been that smile on his face, bright and familiar even in the dark.

“Yeah, okay,” Eduardo said, when Mark pressed him, and then he stretched his arm out carefully across the backseat, so that his fingers just touched Mark’s shirt.

He agreed, he agreed about the The in The Facebook, about the party going on, and Mark could relax, happy and buzzed with apple-flavored alcohol and high on the feeling of things falling into place. Eduardo always got it eventually. Of all the people on the planet, Mark trusted Eduardo to always be able to get it, eventually. Eduardo could read him, and that was good, that was better than good.

“Good. Because I need you with me.”

Eduardo’s smile widened, and Mark smiled back.

Eventually they got rid of Christy – which had been exactly as difficult as Mark had anticipated – prying her out of the car and off of Eduardo and shooing her to her own hotel, where she was staying with one of her cousins, thank Christ, and not with them, because they ‘didn’t have room in the Facebook budget and this is a business trip, Christy, please, just – fine. Thank you. No, just – we’ll see you on Saturday! Thank you.’

“I’ll see you at school!” she hollered after their cab, audible even through the closed door and over the traffic, and a few minutes later, a text came up on Eduardo’s phone. He glanced at it, groaned, and showed the screen to Mark.

cant wait to get u alone again later!! <3<3<3 ;)

And then, as Mark watched, let me no when u get rid of him

Mark scowled. “You may have had a point about her,” he admitted grudgingly. Even if they’d had to have this meeting, he was beginning to realize why Eduardo had been so staunchly against it, even outside of his irrational hatred for Sean.

“Oh, now he realizes,” Eduardo teased, and Mark couldn’t help but smile at that, at the good humor returned to Eduardo’s voice. And then he was loosening his tie and sliding across the seat, getting in Mark’s space. “Maybe next time you’ll listen to me.”

Maybe next time you’ll listen to me, Mark thought, but Eduardo was pressed against his side, sighing a quiet, tired sigh and nosing at Mark’s curls. They hadn’t had sex all week. Eduardo had been too annoyed and irritated with him after the other business meetings, had turned away from him in bed and left Mark to code late into the night on his laptop. Familiar computer light in an unfamiliar room, in a cold half of the bed.

“I listen to you,” Mark argued, and was a little indignant when Eduardo huffed out a warm laugh against his neck. “I might not agree, but I do hear you, Wardo.”

“But what do you hear,” Eduardo said, and mouthed at the skin of his pulse. “Mmm.”

“Right now I hear that you want a blowjob?” Mark suggested hopefully, and smiled slightly when Wardo pinched his side and gestured at the cab driver, who had just pointedly turned up the radio, something jarring and poppy. Mark lowered his voice. “What, am I wrong? Are you turning one down?”

He was still punchy and riding high from the dinner, the drinks, and he wanted to suck Wardo’s cock, make him feel as good as Mark did. Get the smell of Christy’s perfume off him, make him smell like sweat and Wardo and Mark again.

“Fine, no, you’re not wrong this time,” Eduardo said, and Mark figured he was at least a little drunk, too, buzzed enough that he bit down on Mark’s neck and then raised a hand, cupped Mark’s cheek and pulled him down for a kiss. Wet, hot. Apples and vodka and Eduardo. Mark hummed into his mouth and began trying to figure out the odds of him being able to get into Eduardo’s pants while they were still in the cab.

*

They returned to Harvard the next day, stumbling onto the train at the last minute, after a night with very little sleep and a lot of sex. Eduardo’s wrists had bracelets of bruises in the shape of Mark’s fingers. Mark kept brushing his hand against them absently as he tried to catch up on his pointless biology readings, enjoying the way Eduardo shivered and looked at him from beneath his lashes.

Eduardo was happy, and Mark was happy, and they’d made a connection with Sean Fucking Parker.

Things were supposed to be good, now, except Eduardo didn’t seem to know that. He kept looking tired and drained. He kept hounding Mark about Sean Fucking Parker, only Eduardo meant that in a totally different way than Mark did when he said it. Less reverent, more furious.

"I told you, Sean knows what we need for the site." It was their site, but Eduardo had never understood it like Mark did--that was becoming patently obvious—and Mark was the one in control. He was doing Eduardo a courtesy, here, and he'd really have appreciated it if Eduardo could quit looking like Mark was rubbing salt in his wounds. "Remember what he said. We don't want to stop the party at eleven o'clock. Sean will keep it going until 2 AM, and then, then you can do whatever you want."

He flicked a beer cap at Eduardo like a promise, and smiled when Eduardo caught it.

"Yes," Eduardo said, and he leaned against the wall and flipped the bottle cap idly between his long, slender fingers and looked down at Mark like he was a stranger. "Yes, I remember what Sean said. But Sean's not paying for the party, is he? How can the party keep going if—you know what, this is a stupid analogy. The site needs money, Mark, it doesn't make sense to just—just keep pouring our funding into a black hole."

Mark stared at him for a long moment, and the rest of Eduardo’s rant fizzled out into white noise. "It's not a black hole," he interrupted, and his voice was flat and furious and maybe, possibly, slightly shaky. He drew himself up to make a remise, except then Eduardo's eyes softened and Mark’s tongue tripped on itself and stilled. Eduardo came and kneeled in front of the couch, hand warm on Mark’s knee.

"Hey, it's not that—I believe in you, I do, Mark. Facebook's amazing. You're amazing, and the site's going to make it." He pressed his forehead against Mark's and Mark closed his eyes and breathed in the warm smell of him, the cologne he always wore and the expensive detergent and the slight sourness of beer, and the scent beneath all of that that was just him. "I'm just—worried."

“About the lawsuit? I told you,” Mark said, grabbing onto that. “It doesn’t matter. I didn’t steal the idea for the Facebook. The Winklevii will back off.”

***

"You stole a book? My, this is a tale." An icy breeze chills the back of Mark’s neck, and stupidly, that's almost what makes him turn around, indignant and furious. "Thief. Thief of books and souls and lovers. Was it illustrated? Was it worth much, your book?”

The shades hadn’t been silent for long. They’d talked over Mark as he’d spoke – “Sounds like a lover to me” and “Oh, a girl as well? This is a tawdry tale, do go on.” Distracting him and insulting his manhood, his prowess in bed, anything and everything, but Mark had been almost lost in his own story by then, able to follow the path of it like code.

Until now, anyway.

He shouldn’t respond. He can’t help it.

"I am not a thief,” Mark snaps, glaring at the horizon, fists clenched in his hoodie pocket. "That's the point. Facebook is mine, and Eduardo is mine, and I'm not stealing anything. I'm taking back what's mine, so fuck you. You don’t know anything."

"A sore spot," the rusted voice crows, obviously delighted, and Mark has never wanted his headphones so badly in his life. The shade that sounds like broken glass clatters on about the great sanctity of libraries and yet another asks about the difference between scrolls and books, and if paper is really better than stone.

For dread supernatural deities, or whatever the fuck they are, the shades have the attention span of a college kid during finals, of a teen checking their newsfeeds late into the night. Mark doesn’t mind as much when they’re talking amongst themselves, squabbling, and forgetting to trip his feet. Then they just let him keep talking about, talking to Eduardo.

But maybe that’s just another way of getting him off his guard.

Mark stares at the line of the mountains on the horizon and remembers the shape of Eduardo’s EEG—a jagged dark line that said coma, that said,brain death, that said, gone gone you’re too late he’s gone. Eduardo’s skin had been pale beneath the shock of his limp hair. His pulse had been sluggish and quiet at his wrist.

Remember, Mark tells himself. You don’t get distracted. You don’t stop coding. You don’t stop.

“Oh, traveler, just turn back. You’re so tired. You’re wasting your time.” The voice is right in Mark’s ear, making him jump. The thing laughs at him. It’s the one that sounds a little younger than the others, more familiar and mock-friendly. It kind of reminds him Dustin. Except Dustin doesn’t have a malicious bone in his body. “Going so far for no end. We never give up, you know.”

“Neither do I,” Mark bites out, then thinks of Erica and her annoyed sigh as she’d let Mark into her apartment. He grins fiercely. He’s stubborn. He may not have training in spell calligraphy or whatever, but Mark has spent his whole life training to be a stubborn asshole. “Ask anyone. Ask Eduardo.”

“Ah, but is that a good thing?” Friendly concern, a cool brush of feathers. It makes him shiver. “Maybe better to know when to stop, eh?”

“Shut up,” he mutters, pathetically, and swipes his arm across his face. “Shut up.”

“But what is a face book?” someone whines, and Mark—

Mark lets himself be distracted. He doesn’t like talking about the next parts anyway. That goddamned chicken, and Eduardo's look of shock across the table, like he couldn't believe Mark had done that to him. How easily he’d thought Mark would.

And anyway, Mark’s always loved bragging about Facebook. Chris had said not to talk to anyone in the Underworld, but Mark can’t see what it will hurt.

“Our website. It’s a social networking site with members in—”

“Website,” another voice interjects interestedly. It sounds like the grinding of rusted metal, creaky and old. “A place of spiders?”

"Don't be foolish," another scoffs. "Something to do with a weaver's guild, perhaps."

“Fucking Christ,” Mark mutters. “You have to be kidding me.”

“Christ?” one asks. “That’s familiar.”

“Tapestries,” another voice muses, and Mark really can’t stand this.

“No, it’s – it’s a way that computers connect together—”

He really shouldn’t be surprised when this spurs another flurry of questions. How many of these fuckers are behind him now? He pictures it, a black parade of shadows behind him, and in the middle the pale form of Eduardo, following in Mark’s now bloody footsteps across a green, green plain. Going nowhere, it feels like. Stuck in place, like a fly in amber. But he can’t be, because Mark’s still walking. He’s making progress, no matter how distant the horizon seems. He has to believe that.

“You don’t remember computers. What do you remember?” Mark asks, exasperated and frustrated. Eduardo would have been able to explain this, but Mark has no idea how to distill the very essence of his world down into words.

There’s a pause, a rustling murmur of conversation, and then someone says, “Lydia. I remember Lydia.”

“Lydia?” Mark repeats disbelievingly, and there is a sigh, cold and damp, in his ear.

“I came for her. That was her name. Or maybe it was mine. It has been...” the voice trails off.

“Memories don’t last, here,” another says, bitter and icy. “You think you have been walking long? You? Mortal, you do not know what long means. What time is.”

“I remember a boat,” another says, wistfully. “Sails on the sea. A sea with water and not souls. Leviathans. I remember. I turned to see her face. Turned. A last look.”

“I don’t understand,” Mark admits, shivering again and rubbing at his arms, and winces at the laughter this produces.

“Poor human boy. Haven’t you figured it out yet? Who are we, we shades of the plain. Think on it. Think hard.” Grating rough voice, spit out like nails. “Think you are the only one to attempt the journey? No.”

“We went down, and stayed down, down with the dead.”

Chris had told Mark that no one in living memory had ever returned from the underworld when he was trying to talk Mark out of it, and Mark hadn’t disbelieved him, exactly, but. It’s different, hearing it then and hearing it now.

“Walk so far, only to turn at the last. One last look.”

“Most stay on the Plain and never see the River at all. Few get that far, little traveler.”

“You’ll stay with us, when you fail. Shouldn’t have come. Should have stayed.”

“I’m not looking back,” Mark insists, and wants to cover his ears, but he’s already learned that somehow the sounds come through his skin and his hoodie and slip straight into his brain.

Shades. People who got trapped behind. People left in the world of the dead, shades of who they once were. People who made the journey down, and didn’t make it up again.

Fuck. Right. Well. Mark had known this was dangerous; this just was just corroboration.

“I’ll make it,” he says, and keeps striding forward, hits his rhythm again.

“So we all said,” someone laughs. “You’ll see. What is a computer, human boy? What is the world of the living today, webbed over with string? Tell us. It has been so long.”

“Tell us.” The voices echo, reverberate.

“Fuck off,” Mark says, chin high, and keeps walking. His feet hurt. But after he listens to the susurrations of the laughing mob behind him, he keeps talking. What choice does he have? His eyes hurt almost as much as his blistered heels, and he wishes he could go back in time and yell at his past self, tell him to pay attention.

But maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference, anyway.

***

Mark didn’t have a lot of time for anything that wasn’t coding and maintaining the servers, but even he noticed when Eduardo started carting a chicken around.

It had been funny. Annoying, but funny. Something to tease Eduardo over, to mock, to use to point out just how fucking stupid the final clubs really were. A chicken, honestly. Now even Eduardo could see he had better uses for his time than this fucking club, right?

Mark was reading the article in the Crimson with increasing amusement—what was this, the tabloids? People were actually acting like this was serious, like Eduardo was part of some Satanic cult. It was fucking hilarious.

“’Someone’s going to have to answer for this,’” Mark said, quoting the article delightedly. Like someone should have to answer for the diet of a fucking chicken. Forced cannibalism. Jesus, who the fuck read this shit? He allowed himself a small, smug grin, and then blinked when Eduardo’s voice cracked.

“It’s not fucking funny, Mark!”

And then he went on, arms windmilling as he ranted about who must have leaked it, who could have told the paper. Like it was a big deal, which was ridiculous.They had more important things to worry about, for fuck’s sake, like the numbers Dustin was giving them, like their site, growing and real and important. No one cared about a fucking chicken.

“Let’s just forget about it,” Mark said, dropping it, even though it was an effort not to keep mocking the overdramatic drivel.

He turned to his computer. Predictably, the art history page he’d created to speed along his art history paper turned the direction of the discussion, and Eduardo started tsking and clucking over him – seriously, the fact that Eduardo had been turned into an actual mother of a hen would never stop amusing Mark – and the Crimson article was forgotten. Back to the Facebook, like they should be.

“We’re going to need more money, Eduardo,” and Eduardo agreed, easy as breathing. But when Mark continued, detailing the house he’d found, the house and pool in Palo Alto he’d found for them, suddenly Eduardo was back to the staring, the weird look in his eyes that had become more and more common these days.

“Since when did you decide to move to California for the summer?”

Mark stared at him, because it should have been obvious, it should have been obvious from the start, Eduardo was the one to suggest fucking Stanford, for Christ’s sake.

“You mean when did I actually decide?”

Because Mark could give him an exact moment, and so fucking what if it dated back to the dinner with Sean? That was still no reason for Eduardo to be staring at him like that. It always seemed to come back to Sean, with Eduardo, even when it didn’t actually have anything to do with him, and Eduardo would turn snide and cutting the way he’d never been before.

Now he was actually moving away from Mark, across the room.

Before he’d always been moving towards Mark. He’d been on Mark’s bed a moment before, and they were building towards their first one hundred thousand users, and Mark had wanted Eduardo on that bed. It was supposed to be something to celebrate, together.

But Eduardo wouldn’t stop pressing it. “But, the private detectives, what they found?” he started, and the shine was gone from his eyes, replaced with something dark and desperate.

“They came up with nothing,” Mark interjected, impatient.

“Enough to get him out of the company,” Eduardo said, and even now, Mark’s eyes followed his hands. Eduardo was so vivid, everything he did, everything telegraphed in his face, in his hands. “The drugs, the girls—”

“We don’t know that any of that’s true.”

“We can read about it!” Eduardo’s voice was cracking and embarrassingly desperate.

“I can read about you torturing chickens,” Mark said, annoyed and exasperated, and suddenly thought of Erica’s face, of the way things had twisted and shifted beneath him at the bar, when things had suddenly fallen apart. He’d said something wrong, his hindbrain told him, even if he hadn’t said anything that wasn’t true.

And just like then, there was that explosive reaction, and Eduardo was shouting, yelling, at him, and in the background that fucking chicken was crying, and Dustin was staring and Mark couldn’t speak, throat tight.

This was what Facebook was, what Facebook needed. He didn’t, he couldn’t understand Eduardo’s response, could only assume it was still something to do with his father, his own world, the world he wasn’t supposed to be a part of anymore. The world of prestige and appearance and shit that didn’t matter.

He’d wanted to kick Dustin and the chicken out, take Eduardo on that bed, on that couch, make him smile and laugh and come so hard he couldn’t speak, and instead Eduardo didn’t even seem to care about anything besides the Crimson, the chicken. Mark Zuckerberg had made Facebook, this thing with one hundred thousand members, it was so much bigger than crashing the Harvard servers. But Eduardo hadn’t even understood that, had he?

“You’ve got to get on board with this, Eduardo,” he heard himself saying. “I don’t know what else to say.”

***

“I never told them—I never cared about the fucking chicken, Wardo, I never meant them to use that against you,” Mark chokes out, and the fucking shades, the fucking shades just never shut the fuck up. It’s like being followed by a herd of malevolent Dustins.

“Who did you tell of the chicken?” one asks. “What is a chicken?”

“You went to war against your lover?” another says, sounding faintly aghast.

And yet another of the shades jumps in with, “Did you sacrifice a chicken to the gods that belonged to your mate?” Mark laughs until he hears how hysterical he sounds, and then forces himself to breathe calmly and keep following his feet forward. No one understood. No one understood.

“It didn’t have anything to do with the chicken, the chicken didn’t matter,” he says finally, calmly. How is this his life? How is this the way he might possibly die? Stuck explaining the chicken for all eternity. Chicken doesn’t even sound like a word anymore. Fuck. “We… shared possession of the Facebook, and –and my representatives used the story of the chicken, to try to discredit Eduardo, even though I told them not to.”

“You stole the Facebook? You stole it from Eduardo! Why?”

“I didn’t!” Mark protests, but. But. It feels like maybe that’s not inaccurate, actually, and that hurts almost more to swallow than the dryness in his mouth, the cold air he’s breathing.

“He went to council to claim possession, idiot,” another says, impatient. “Why did you go to council, webmaster, if you loved each other enough to share a mark? Surely you could share possession of one book. Did this book matter more to you than your love?”

“Love can grow sour,” a rushing wind says, low and mournful. “Love can turn.”

“But,” and this one that sounds uncertain, and sad, and Mark can’t take it. “But—”

“We never stopped loving each other,” Mark spits out, pushing forwards against the wind and grass and distance. He’d never consciously thought about it, but it’s true, it has to be true. “We just…”

“You misunderstood each other,” a cool wind says, low and sweet and sad. “Oh, little living one. How did you go so wrong?”

“Stop coddling,” another says, and an argument breaks out behind him, raucous and cawing. Mark doesn’t care.

“I don’t know,” Mark admits. “I don’t know.” He rubs his sleeve over his face, and keeps going.

***

Despite everything, despite the minefield of ads and Sean Parker and Eduardo’s father that suddenly lay in the conversational waters between them, it was still a sudden, sharp shock when Eduardo said he wasn’t coming out to California with them.

Eduardo had been a little more cutting and snide than he normally was, a little more distant, but he still climbed into bed with Mark most nights, and left food at his desk, and reminded him when the rest of his finals were scheduled and brought Mark coffee and helped him study, shuffling flashcards and reading out prose and poetry late into the night.

There’d been fights, sure, but Mark mostly tried to ignore those. He didn’t particularly understand them, and didn’t know the right words to make them stop, either. He hoped they’d stop on their own. After the chicken issue had been resolved – Mark had written a blistering letter to the Crimson’s editor in response, about fact-checking and rumor-mongering—Mark had thought things would settle.

And it’d seemed like they had. Eduardo had written the check Mark needed, and joined the party, literally, this time. The smile on his face had been so beautifully familiar, just like it’d been before. That night, still bubbling with triumph and Red Bull, Eduardo had teased him into a game to see how long he could code with Eduardo between his legs. Both of them laughing, and Mark wobbling and eventually somehow crashing the program before tackling Eduardo to the floor.

Except now, instead, this. Never, in any of Mark’s plans or dreams or nightmares, had he imagined Palo Alto without Eduardo there.

Eduardo didn’t meet Mark’s eyes when he told him about the internship in New York. Mark fucking hated New York. And business, and for a moment, Eduardo, standing there staring at his feet.

“I need the experience,” Eduardo said, in a pathetic, begging voice that made Mark feel like sneering, like lashing Eduardo open with his tongue down to the bone, but he couldn’t, he didn’t want

Mark had picked up his laptop and walked out of the room in his socks, with Eduardo calling his name after him.

It’d rained recently, and his feet rapidly became sodden, soggy messes, but Mark kept going. He found a bench by one of the Art Department buildings, one where no one would think to look for him. Recalibrating his expectations for California to include a house without Eduardo in it was making everything in him lag, syrupy and slow.

California without Eduardo. Just Dustin and Chris and the infantile baby programmers they’d adopted, just acres of Red Bull and infinite coding, and no one to bully them into including vitamins and protein in their diets, to make them sleep, to dim the lights when they started to burn in overused retinas. Blank white walls and stacks of dishes, and no one to care about mildew or smells or anything at all but keeping the power on and keeping the party going.

There would be no Eduardo to wake up to, no Eduardo to fuck or to celebrate via blowjobs when the numbers ratcheted up again, or another campus submitted to Facebook’s awesome might. No sex for—for weeks. Mark had gone without sex most of his life, but now just a day or two without and everything seemed parched and arid, a hopeless sexless desert Mark wanted no part of.

California was full of deserts, hot and dry, but it was supposed to be wonderful, dotted with jewel-like pools and shimmering glass. It was supposed to be everything Mark had been working towards, and Eduardo had to be there. There had to be a way to get Eduardo there, to make him understand.

The call from Sean came at just the right time; Mark, in a haze of irrational panic, had begun googling kidnapping, and what the penalties were for crossing state lines with a mostly reluctant Brazilian hostage in tow.

Sean was easy to understand, straight-forward and cheerful, and Mark couldn’t help the pulse of adrenaline he felt once he realized that Sean Parker was contacting him. That he was on that high a playing field, that he had gotten past the first set of doors and found Sean smirking welcomingly behind them and ushering him further on.

“Hearing big things, kid,” Sean said jovially, and Mark felt a smile cross his face. They talked programming for a bit, discussed Napster and copyright and college kids, and then, somehow, despite having no intention to do so, his mouth was saying, “I’m worried about Eduardo.”

No. No. Complaining and whining about his boyfriend was not the way to make Sean continue to admire and support him.

“Well, he is a little green,” Sean said, and there was a sucking sound on the other side of the line. Mark eyed the phone, eyebrows up, then decided not to think about it too deeply. “You in the market for a new CFO, Marky Mark?”

“What?” Mark asked, appalled, and then, “No. Not at all. Why would you—no.”

It was easy to let himself vent, and picture Sean’s face as he nodded thoughtfully.

“Lotta pressure for someone that’s in over his head. Hey, no, you know it’s true, Mark. He doesn’t have the experience, but he’s doing a hell of a job anyway, right?

“Of course,” Mark said, torn between denying the—the truth, fine, Eduardo was green, young, inexperienced in this—and the feeling of pride, because damned if Eduardo hadn’t been amazing anyway. Even green, he’d still figured out how to maneuver Facebook onto campuses and drum up support.

“No wonder he’s freaked. Cut him some slack,” Sean said, wincing sympathetically, then tapping the side of his nose. “Maybe get him laid, guy seriously looks like he needs to get the stick out of his ass.”

“Right, I’ll get on that,” Mark retorted dryly, and smiled down at his hands for a moment, because that, that he could do.

***

“That won’t solve things,” a voice interjects disapprovingly, and Mark actually turned on his heel, realizing at the last moment and slamming his eyes shut.

“I know that!” he shouts, voice wobbling, and then turns back and starts jogging through the grass, ignoring the pain and panic. “That was ten years ago, I know that now.”

Because obviously he hadn’t been able to fuck Eduardo into complacency, obviously Eduardo had stayed in New York, in the grime and gray, slogging through the city while Mark was striding forward in the future, in the bright California sun.

“Was it many days journey?”

“Don’t be foolish. America can’t be crossed on foot,” someone says loftily. “He used his webs, of course.”

“Webs are only for—words,” Mark groans, rubbing his face and then shoves his hands back in his hoodie pocket and struggles on. The mountains are enormous, now, black and blocking out most of the sky. He’s getting closer. “California was a long way away.”

And missing Eduardo had been too painful, he knew now. It was easier, so much easier, to shut that part of himself off, to focus wholly on the present. Everything became blurry and indistinct, except the hours of coding. Even Eduardo’s calls made something in him ache – the misery in Eduardo’s voice, the tightness in Mark’s chest. Best not to think about it, about anything, he’d thought.

“I could have said something, though,” he realizes, and chokes on it for a moment. “I should have—I made Facebook for, to. Connect across—distance.”

“Gave up too soon?” one asks. “Poor Eduardo.”

“Eduardo fucked up too,” Mark says, but it’s with a softness that has the shades making obnoxious noises, laughing at him. “I told him, I told him I wanted him here, with me, and he didn’t listen.”

He wonders now, for the first time, maybe, why. Why, instead of just being outraged at Eduardo’s obstinence, why. He thinks—he thinks maybe he knows, now. The desperation on Eduardo’s face like a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’m afraid you’ll be left behind, Mark had said, later, after it’d already happened. Eduardo had been afraid of it all along.

“So you left him?”

He left me, is on the tip of Mark’s tongue. He froze the account and he pitched a tantrum and he acted like a child and he almost ruined everything and he left me,he— “Yeah,” he sighs, then corrects himself “No, I let him leave.” Which is maybe just as bad, is maybe worse.

It’s a little easier to keep walking now, even though the ground has started sloping upwards, the grass growing thinner. He explains as he goes, head down and constantly interrupted by a barrage of questions, but he explains: Eduardo, alone in the city and besieged by Christy. Sean, and how easy he was, how dizzyingly simple. He’d said everything Mark wanted to hear.

“Hah,” someone spits. “I know the sort. Snake oil salesman.”

“Shyster,” a shade hisses.

“Sophist,” another adds, and Mark shrugs his aching shoulders in response. He’d been angry at Sean for a long time, after things fell apart. The drugs, the girls. The wedge he’d helped drive between Mark and his boyfriend, his best friend. But it wouldn’t have worked if Mark, and Eduardo, hadn’t let it.

“Sean did what he said he’d do,” Mark corrects heavily, and feels like each footstep is sinking into the ground as he goes. “Business. He was good business. He saw an opportunity and went for it. It wasn’t personal. It was just business.”

“Mark, oh Mark,” and he can’t tell if the voice is dripping pity or disdain. “Did you tangle the two? Your web, did it tangle?”

Mark closes his eyes and doesn’t answer. He keeps going. He tells them of the rain, and Eduardo abandoned in it, of how even now Mark checks the weather religiously and spends Palo Alto’s few rainy days in a haze of misery.

Back then, it’d seemed so simple. Eduardo closed the account, Mark responded.

Simple.

 

***

Mark, in California, had felt like a god, drunk with power and possibility, but that wasn’t really anything new. It was just more. He’d always pushed, he’d never cared what happened after. Breaking firewalls, hacking Harvard, taunting the Winklevii – it was what he did, it was who he was.

“’Ware,” Dustin had liked to say whenever Mark took to his computer with a certain look in his eye. “The troll is in the dungeon, I repeat! The troll is in the dungeon.” Dustin was an idiot, but Mark could grant that he wasn’t entirely wrong.

And for the first time, Eduardo was on the opposite side. He’d feinted at Mark, so Mark would fight back. Mark would show him who he was dealing with, what he’d done freezing the account. He felt righteous and wicked at once, gleeful with the plan he wrought, and Sean egged him on while Dustin and Chris whispered and winced on the sidelines.

“Eduardo’s not good for us,” he explained, spinning in his chair after the meeting with Thiel, smug with it and high on the feeling of justice, of the pieces falling into place.

They’d – they hadn’t broken up, exactly, but the last sex they’d had had been rough and mean, weirdly furious. Eduardo had been desperate and clinging, and it had been… unsatisfying. For the first time, it’d felt like—anyway. Mark didn’t miss it. He didn’t need it, he didn’t want it, not like that. Sean was right—Eduardo had been good for them at the beginning, but he was wrong for Facebook now. Those were the facts.

“This is wrong,” Dustin said, which was idiotic, as always. “Mark, stop. Mark. Think.”

As though Dustin had ever been able to stop Mark when he was on a roll. The only one who’d ever been able to do that—Mark shoved the thought away. Eduardo wasn’t here. Eduardo hadn’t been there, with them, for a long time.

Eduardo had come beneath his guard and Mark wasn’t letting that happen again.

“It was petty,” he said expansively, and gestured at the office that he’d made, that they’d made. Eduardo could have toppled it with his stupidity, it was only dumb luck that he hadn’t. “It’s not what we need.”

He’d thought—he’d thought he couldn’t do this without Eduardo, but he could. They could. He had Dustin and Chris, and his team, and Thiel and Sean. Eduardo was a dead weight.

“He’s our friend,” Dustin said dully, but he was somewhere behind Mark, easy to ignore. “He’s your—”

“What does that have to do with anything?” Mark bit off, annoyed at the tightness of his chest, and pounded on it for a moment before searching his desk for a Red Bull. An intern set one down, Melissa, and he smiled at her, brilliant and proud, and popped the top.

This was business.

It stayed business, and it stayed something Mark felt smug about, righteous and proud, up until the absolute end.

***

Mark can still see Eduardo’s face so clearly, washed clean of everything but pain and rage. He can still remember the way everything around them seemed to go dark as Eduardo shouted, how the world afterwards had seemed dull and colorless. Mark had done that. He’d let that happen.

“No,” someone hisses, and Mark stays on his knees, pressing his face into the dirty skin there. Eduardo’s face. “So close. You can’t stop now.”

The wind is at Mark’s back now, tearing at his hair and buffeting his shoulders.

“I’m sorry,” he says dully, and closes his eyes.

“Idiot mistake, but get up,” someone says urgently in his ear, and the words cut, literally. There’s blood dripping down his neck. “You love him? Get up.”

“I love him,” Mark repeats dully, and laughs. “What does that have to do with anything?”

He’d been young, and stupid, and hurt. Drunk on power, blind with rage. He’d done that, he’d pushed Eduardo out of love and into fury. A superhuman feat—Mark had thought himself a god for it. He’d never seen anything as powerful and as restrained as Eduardo that night, in the Facebook offices, walking away.

What did it matter that Eduardo had fucked up, when Mark had fucked up just as badly? Worse.

What had he thought would happen? He’d thought he’d win. Sean had definitely thought he’d won. Mark had never thought that, ever again, not about Eduardo. With Eduardo, he’d lost.

“Losing now,” a voice spits, condescending. “You don’t deserve to win. We’ll eat your bones here. No one here cares about your lost love and your mistakes. We’ll devour you to the nails.”

“Told you,” a voice drips scorn. “Should have given up sooner. Should have stayed.”

“Get up,” another says, soft and pleading. “You’re sorry? Get up.”

“I’m sorry,” he says, because that much is true, and he’s so tired, god. Going through it all again, like this, it’s like he’s spinning the words from his own blood and marrow. Reliving it hurts worse than living it, because then he’d been so deliberately blank and numb to the place in his chest that Eduardo inhabited. He’d been so sure he was right, until he realized maybe—maybe he wasn’t. Worse than the depositions, because then he’d still hoped, then he’d still felt that edge of indignation and righteousness, and then he’d still had Eduardo in front of him, furious and alive and so horribly, wonderfully familiar.

He’s too old now to feel anything but tired, and sad, and dumb with it.

Something pushes his shoulder, and he blinks slowly, realizing he’d closed his eyes.

“Humans make mistakes,” someone says. “But you came here, didn’t you? You came back for him. You went down, down. Tell us, little webmaster, tell us. Story’s not over yet.”

“You’re not finished! Turn the pages. Keep going.”

“A story should have an end. Should be complete.”

“Remember. How did one so mundane find the way down to us? Why did you take the journey?”

The voices are pulling at him, plucking at his clothes, making it impossible to shut off or power down. He has to keep going, he remembers. Eduardo’s behind him. Eduardo’s coming with him.

“I had to,” he rasps, and lifts his head and stares at the twisting path, going up, up, up into the white empty sky.

It hurts, but he gets back to his feet.

*

The depositions happened. Mark prefers not to remember those, and it seems too circular to go through them now, to go back through going back through it all again. So he sums the years up, careful and concise, his teeth chattering on the words:

The depositions happened. Mark lost. He’s not really sure anyone won, but on paper, it was Mark who lost.

It’s time to move on.

***

Eduardo hadn’t spoken to Mark voluntarily in three years when Mark got the message, a blinking light on his outdated answering machine that he’d ignored. He’d kept ignoring it, because who the fuck left phone messages these days? No one worth talking to. He kept ignoring it, and kept ignoring it, until a few days later his assistant came up to him with a strange look on her face and said, “Mr. Zuckerberg.”

Mark wrinkled his nose at her and pointedly replied, “Mark,” because Annie should know better by now. She ignored him; she always did.

“Mr. Zuckerberg, there’s a Mr. Saverin to see you?”

If Mark were going to think about it, which he didn’t often let himself, he would have thought Eduardo to be the one living person least likely to make an unexpected appearance at the Facebook offices. And, he realized now, he’d have been wrong. Because when he stumbled into the private office that was communally reserved for important guests, he found the actual least likely invididual standing there: Eduardo’s father.

Underneath the surprise and blank shock, there was a mental slideshow running in Mark's head of the hundreds of times Eduardo’s face had dropped, the way his mouth had pinched and his shoulders slumped, and Mark wound up greeting Mr. Saverin with a less than professional, more than accusatory, “You.”

The man looked like a bizarre version of Wardo, bulked up and blank-faced, his slickly-parted hair showing no signs of curl. He didn’t acknowledge Mark’s outburst, only stared at him coldly for another minute or two. Mark felt shocky, too hot, like he’d been dragged from his climate-controlled office environment somewhere staticky and fierce.

“Mr. Zuckerberg,” Mr. Saverin finally said into the silence between them, lip curling slightly, then turned to stare back out the window over the sun-drenched California street. “I’ve come to ask you to relinquish your claim on my son.” Mark stared, and, almost reluctantly, Mr. Saverin continued. “I am prepared to make compensation, if need be. I will return to you the stocks from my son’s suit.”

Mark had absolutely no frame of reference for any of that, for Mr. Saverin being here at all, but he knew better than to show weakness or admit he had fuck-all idea of what Eduardo’s dad was talking about. Eduardo. Despite the differences, Mark could see the line of Eduardo’s nose on this man’s face, the softness of Eduardo’s mouth sharpened by the severe lines of Mr. Saverin’s expression.

“An interesting proposition, but I don’t think you have the authority to back that offer up,” he retorted automatically. What the fuck claim did Mark have on Eduardo anymore, besides Facebook? Not even Facebook. Eduardo had won that suit. And his father was here offering to give it back.

Mark remembered Eduardo all in black, young and sharp and foolishly, stupidly sure of himself as he signed his name on the dotted line of the trap Mark had left for him. God. Mark rubbed a hand over his chest involuntarily, then caught himself and stopped.

Mr. Saverin barked out a dry, humorless laugh, and pulled a document out of the inner pocket of his business jacket and handed it over. Mark wrinkled his nose at the lingering body heat on the sheets, and then that stopped registering. Everything stopped. He couldn’t feel the paper beneath his fingers, or the slightly too-tight collar of his hoodie—washed too many times at too high a heat—or the weight of Mr. Saverin’s eyes on his face.

“What is this,” Mark said, his own voice coming from far, far away. Drowning voices sounded like that, distorted and echoing. “What is this.”

“My son’s will,” Mr. Saverin said, and whatever tone he had didn’t register. “He’s no longer capable of making decisions, and so control of his shares falls to his mother and myself.”

“Not to you,” Mark noted, making himself look down at the black and white, decipher the words. He couldn’t care less about the shaking of his voice, his hands on the paper. When he dropped the papers, he fell heavily to his knees as he gathered them back up, fumbling with numb fingers.

“His mother will not leave his bedside, and so the authority has been transferred to me.”

Oh. It felt like he could breathe again. Mark got to his feet, feeling the blood rush through his veins and pulse loudly in his ears. He should have his lawyers here for this, probably. The thought sent a bubble of hysterical laughter through his veins, like the cocaine Sean had, during one dark, especially bad night, persuaded him to try, but he felt like his brain was at least functioning again. He’s alive. But not… not capable of making decisions, and there his thoughts caught and stuck again, looping uselessly.

“What happened?” He tried not to picture what could do that, tried not to feel or think anything at all. Data. He needed information. His was high and unfamiliar in his own ears, but Mr. Saverin just looked down at him with a mercilessly blank face.

“I am not a man accustomed to begging, Mr. Zuckerberg, but I will ask this: let my son die in dignity.”

Maybe Sean had slipped Mark something slow-acting and psychotropic in his Red Bull that morning, maybe it was some horrible attempt at a prank. Maybe, somehow, inexplicably, impossibly, Eduardo’s father was sincere. But it didn’t matter; Mark knew his answer to that.

“No,” he bit out, then turned on his heel and left the room.

He had a dim awareness that Mr. Saverin was following him, of course, but his focus was on getting back to his laptop. There was a lot of loud noise, and Mark looked away from his screen for a moment to the controlled fury on Mr. Saverin’s face. It was a horribly, agonizingly familiar expression.

Mark stared for a moment, then pulled his headphones back on and went back to combing through the nooks and crannies and back alleys of the internet for signs of Eduardo. It took a lot of hacking, and some sadly easy attempts at guessing Eduardo’s passwords, but in the end Mark found him.

From there he left the realm of technology and had to carefully puzzle out unfamiliar medical jargon, but even he knew what an automobile accident and blunt force to the chest and sudden cardiac arrest meant.

By the time Dustin pulled him away, Eduardo—no, Eduardo’s father—both of them—were gone and Mark’s hands were shaking. He regarded them numbly, then looked up at Dustin. Dustin’s eyes were wide and wet.

“Eduardo is in a coma,” Mark said, precise and clipped, and then looked around the room. Dustin was talking, following him as Mark pushed away from the desk and made his way methodically around the desks and through the halls and to the nearest bathroom, where he threw up. Not much, just Red Bull and stomach acid, and it burned his throat.

He flushed the toilet and sat kneeling on the tile floor for a moment, watching Dustin’s feet pacing, then got up and opened the stall door. Dustin, because he was disgusting, didn’t give him a chance to wash his hands, just flung himself on Mark and wrapped himself around him.

It was strange. People didn’t really touch Mark, not often. Even Dustin’s touches were limited to the occasional shoulder punch, when he couldn’t hold himself back, a quick hug. His family hugged, too, and Sean, but everyone knew it made Mark uncomfortable and most respected that. He hadn’t been—this was more intimate than anything he’d felt in—since—

“Oh, fuck, Mark, his dad told me, I know,” Dustin’s voice wobbled, and Mark let his head drop to Dustin’s shoulder for a long moment, staring at the art on the walls and the bizarre, random sofa lounge area someone must have okayed being put in the men’s fucking bathroom. Who would do that? Why would anyone go to the bathroom to lounge?

He pushed himself away after a moment and tugged at the neck of his hoodie, looking away. Dustin’s face was entirely too raw for Mark to feel okay looking at it, but when he caught sight of his own in one of the mirrors, that was almost worse. He didn’t recognize himself.

“He’s not dead,” he said, and broke his own gaze to wash his hands. He wasn’t sure Dustin could even hear him over the rush of water, the fizz of the soap dispenser. Everything seemed so loud. Eduardo wasn’t dead. This wasn’t over.

“Mark,” Dustin said, unfamiliar and soft. “Mark, he’s non-responsive. There’s no cerebral activity. I… that’s pretty close.”

“He’s not dead,” Mark reasserted calmly, and when he looked in the mirror he saw his own face again, still pale but comfortingly blank. He left the bathroom to book a plane ticket to Miami, Dustin talking worriedly and incomprehensibly at him all the way.

It didn’t occur to Mark until much later, on the plane with Dustin drumming obnoxiously on the seat rest between them, that he still didn’t know what Eduardo’s father had actually wanted.

Then they were in Florida, and then in a taxi barreling through traffic to the hospital where Eduardo was waiting, and then Mark was fighting past the nurses and through security until he was being slapped and hugged by Eduardo’s mother in equal measure, her tears wet on his neck.

Everything since finding out had been like blacking in and out of a bender, or a fever dream, until Eduardo’s mother took him by the hand and led him into the room, speaking softly and incomprehensibly all the way, until Mark was right by the bed and had to look at Eduardo, up close, for the first time in years, and said, in a cracking voice, “Please come back.”

Dustin made a noise behind him, but Mark ignored that. He found a chair and pulled it next to the one that was already beside the bed, and sat, taking Eduardo’s hand. It was cold and limp, the pulse sluggish at the wrist.

“I should have asked sooner,” Mark said, and stared at Eduardo’s face, the unmoving lids and the pale, slack mouth. “Please come back.”

It hadn’t worked before, and it didn’t work now. Eduardo was gone.

***

“I remember,” someone says, low and mournful. “I remember this. My Lydia breathed and her heart would beat, but her body was empty. She was gone, so far from me.”

Mark wants to turn and look at whoever’s speaking, because whoever they are, whatever they are now—the twisted remains of some stranded soul, lost in the liminal realm between life and death for millennia—they know. They understand what it was like to take someone’s lukewarm hand and watch their chest rise and fall and know, deep down in their bones, that the person who used to be there was gone.

Whoever these shades were, they’d made the same choice Mark had. They hadn’t let go. They’d lit the candles and painted themselves with strange symbols and breathed in burning herbs and sang low notes. They’d left their bodies behind and gone into the dark to fetch back what belonged to them.

“Do you regret it?” Mark asks, and thinks immediately afterwards, stumbling over rocks and snow, that he probably hasn’t ever asked such a stupid question in his entire life.

“No,” the voice sighs. “No. I couldn’t let go. I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t. I remember. I remember.”

“Yes,” someone else says, bitter and vicious, colder than the snow or air. “I must. I would. I don’t remember why I came. I regret.”

The voices around him are a soft susurration as they offer up slips of story, lamentations, and Mark thinks of Eduardo in the midst of them, slender and wavering, like a candle flame.

Everything’s tangling in his head, now, as the story he’s telling comes closer to the present day. Mark wants to be home. He wants to wake up in the California sunlight, in a different universe where Eduardo’s there too, warm and smiling in their shared sheets. He wants.

“And you?” A sneering voice interrupts his thoughts, and Mark blinks his eyes back open. The longing for home, for warmth, for skin, had been so strong it was almost a shock to see the wasteland again.

Thousands of years here, bleak. “No matter how far you walk, you’ll never get to the end of it. Do you regret, Mark Zuckerberg?”

“I’ll get to the end,” Mark says, tired and slow, and keeps going. “If it never ends, I’ll never stop.”

“Not an answer, that.”

“I walked and walked until I saw through my own feet,” one says, a dry crackling voice that reminds Mark of dead leaves, barely intelligible. “And then I crawled, and I never saw the River or the Ferry.”

“You never even made the mountains,” another scoffs.

“The mountains are worse than the plains,” someone else says, in tones of gleeful misery. And Mark can’t help it, he puts his hands over his ears, but the voices keep going, some quarrelling and some jeering.

“I don’t care,” he says softly, making a mental note not to look down at his feet again until he hits the River Styx. He hopes Eduardo’s sticking close to him. He hopes Eduardo hasn’t given up on him yet, but he couldn’t blame him if he did.

Mark doesn’t know what he’s doing. He doesn’t know how long it will take—he just knows where he’s trying to go.

 

***

“I’m sorry, I must have misheard.” Mark didn’t have time for this, so he went back to work until Chris was pushing the monitor down and getting on his face. “You put a claim on Eduardo’s soul?” Chris’s voice rose unil it broke at the end. Mark stared at him until Chris paled and swore, and went back to pacing.

Chris had arrived just a little after Mr. Saverin, and by then Mark and Dustin had already set up camp with Eduardo’s mother. Mark had previously been plugged in, collating all the information he could find about brain death, about cerebral functioning, about the neocortex, but upon Mr. Saverin’s arrival and subsequent explanation, he’d had to abruptly shift focus.

“I didn’t know I did it,” Mark found himself saying. “Eduardo didn’t—I didn’t know.” Mark couldn’t process that, because there wasn’t time, so all he let himself think was the bare minimum. There was a chance. Eduardo was still tethered here, despite everything, and Mark could bring him back. Eduardo wasn’t dead, and he wouldn’t be gone for long, not this time.

“Chris,” Dustin was begging, “Chris, you have to talk him out of this. He wants to—fuck, pull an Orpheus.”

Mark didn’t understand why they were acting so shocked about it. It wasn’t like it was a secret that he cared about Eduardo. Mark still stalked his Facebook page religiously, and got drunk once a year and seethed about whatever idiot Eduardo was currently dating and let Dustin talk him out of wreaking vengeful destruction on their e-lives. So neither of them could be surprised that Mark was going to do this, if he could just figure out how.

“Mark, you can’t, you don’t have to do this,” Chris said, wild-eyed. He hadn’t looked at Eduardo yet; maybe that was the problem. Once he looked at the shell where Eduardo was supposed to be, Chris would have to understand. “You didn’t know what you were doing. You still don’t. You apparently didn’t even think magic was real until this morning!”

Mark wasn’t going to dignify that with a response. Normally he would have a lot more to say over the magic that had apparently been practiced over his head for fucking years, but he was busy at the moment, and the details mattered more than the bigger picture. The first thing Chris had done upon arriving was spent a good half hour yelling at Mark for not noticing any of it. Noticing Eduardo struggling with the Phoenix--which, way to be fucking obvious with the name choice, assholes -- or the stress he’d been in.

Mark had noticed the stress, he had, obviously, but he hadn’t realized the nature of the pressure Eduardo’d been in from his father, to take more traditional training--which fuck that, this was what Eduardo loved and was good at--or be disowned. No more money. No more funding for Facebook.

Something in Mark’s face had made Chris shift topics, then.

Do you really think Eduardo can clean an entire kitchen in ten minutes? Or do laundry in five? As though Mark had paid attention to any of that, except maybe to notice that the laundry had taken way longer than he’d wanted when he had to do it himself. But then, he’d have thought that no matter how long it would have taken.

None of that mattered now. Mark couldn’t change the past, and none of this would matter at all in the future unless Mark did something now.

“Are you going to help me or not?” Mark asked, monotone, and tried to make sense of his notes.

The internet wasn’t being exceptionally helpful. ‘How to walk into Hades’ produced mostly garbage, and figuring out useful search strings was taking too much time. Mark was having to weed out obnoxious Geocities and Angelfire sites to find any actual information. He’d already compiled a list of possible avenues just based on Homer and the katabasis of Odysseus, and the nekiya of Orpheus, but those were just the Greek myths. There were stories about descents to the underworld in other cultures, ones Mark didn’t know much about, and he had no idea which ones had any grain of truth to them. He had to get this right. He needed help.

“Mark!” Chris shouted, and then pried the laptop out of his hands. “Mark, you have to—it’s just a story.”

“Well, that’s--” Dustin started, and then immediately shut his mouth when Chris shot him a look.

“You’ve got to let this go, Mark,” Chris said. “You can’t—you can’t kill yourself over this, too.”

Mark ignored him.

Mr. Saverin had, after clarifying what claim it was that he wanted Mark to relinquish, gone silent and staring in the ensuing uproar. He was in the corner of the room now, watching Mark type with narrowed eyes.

When he spoke, it rang out over the room, strangely heavy and solemn, and everyone else fell quiet and turned to look at him. Mark kept typing for a few beats, then helplessly turned his head as well, waiting. “My son would not want you to do this.” Mark snorted faintly; he’d done plenty of things Eduardo didn’t want him to in the past. That certainly wasn’t going to be a deterrent now. Mr. Saverin continued with obvious reluctance as the silence dragged on. “He cared for you. You must let him go.”

Unhelpful. Mark turned back to his computer, and let the sounds of conversation continuing on wash over him. If they wouldn’t help him, he thought, he’d find someone who would. He closed his eyes and tried to clear his head for a moment, and then barked out a startled laugh when it occurred to him.

Facebook. He just needed to figure out what kind of interests a magic-user might have, and search from there. He’d find someone. There had to be something.

It took him a few minutes of combing through Chris and Eduardo’s profiles, but it worked. And--how many people were part of this? Sean, Christy, Erica. It seemed like, now that Mark was looking, that everyone had known. Everyone but him.

***

“I’m lost,” a voice whines, and Mark, for a moment, is too, until they all keep chattering on about how he’s a horrible storyteller, or that they’re tired of interruptions and whoever it is should shut it, and on and on.

“You don’t make sense. I almost think you didn’t know of a soul’s mark or an underworld at all before you quested down.”

“Don’t be stupid, of course he did,” another natters on, and a new squabble breaks out. Mark doesn’t have any intention of responding to any of it, but then as he’s swearing to himself, he makes the mistake of looking down as he does and seeing darkness spreading out in the snow around his feet. The pain he’d been ignoring is suddenly vivid and pressing. Fuck. He staggers on and can’t help a slight whimper with each step. Fuck. This conversation pisses him off—he can’t help but feel a delayed rush of irritation and almost violent embarrassment—but it’s better than thinking about how much his feet hurt, so he reluctantly answers.

“I didn’t. Know,” he grits out, scowling, and staggers on. “I had no fucking idea about any of—” he waves a hand at the general world around them. “Until Eduardo’s father said something.”

If Mark’s attention hadn’t been thoroughly elsewhere, he probably would have been way more infuriated by the disbelieving tone in Mr. Saverin’s voice when he’d brought it up. And more horrified by the frank discussion of his past sexual exploits that had ensued. His cheeks are heating now, what feels like years later, at the memory.

There’s a lot of really insulting spluttering that puts Mark way too in mind of how Dustin had responded. Finally the noise dies down until Mark can hear himself panting again in the thin air. Then a sole voice speaks up, sounding aghast.

“How could you not know? Not know you’d made a claim?”

“I told you, I told them. Wardo didn’t tell me.”

“But—even so, the, ah.” The shade trails off, and Mark waits a long while, swaying in the snow, but no further information seems to be forthcoming. “The, well.”

“The fucking,” someone interjects impatiently.

“If you must be crude,” is the cross retort. “But it’s not… you didn’t wonder at it? The strength of the bond, and the closeness, and warmth—”

“I always felt that with Eduardo,” Mark says impatiently. “It was better with Wardo than it’d ever been with anyone else, obviously, but—” He runs out of words for a moment, trying to encompass how incredibly not surprising that had been. “Of course it was. It was Wardo.”

There’s a long silence—longer than he expected—and then someone says, “And after? You didn’t notice yourself more—possessive? The pull of the bond?”

“I told you,” Mark says, slogging through the increasingly high drifts of snow, hunching down in his hoodie and feeling extremely stupid. It isn’t a feeling he’s familiar with, and he hates it. He’d rather talk about how he found out Erica was a fucking mage, how he’d groveled at her feet and begged her help and finally managed to convince her with frankly embarrassing tears, than this. “I always felt that with Eduardo. Are we done? Can I go on?”

“You truly knew nothing.” Laughter, disbelieving.

Truly,” Mark says, baring his teeth. “Eduardo must have thought I was a fucking idiot.” Because he isn’t humiliated enough, his voice wavers and breaks on the last word.

“You loved him so fiercely,” a voice murmurs, but it’s distant and hard to hear.

It shouldn’t be the kind of thought to bog him down, despite the very real mortification, but he’s tired in a way he’s never been and it seems like the last straw in an impossibly heavy load. He didn’t notice this, not even this. Worse than the Phoenix, or the internship, a whole world Eduardo was a part of that Mark hadn’t known anything about, that so many other people had. It’s a weight on his chest, aching and itching.

He’d wanted all of Eduardo, all of his time, and even—even with a mark, a brand that linked them soul to soul, it hadn’t mattered. He’d never gotten it. That was the worst, he’d thought then. Eduardo slipping away, out of his grasp. It’d felt like all, or nothing, and it was obvious which of the two he’d got.

The mountain seems almost vertical, now, and he’s so tired. He’s never been this tired. Not during coding marathons, not during the deposition, not even during the long sleepless nights where he tried to pretend Eduardo was there somewhere close, in the next room, just out of sight, and never could quite make himself believe it.

Mark’s on his knees before he realizes it, wracked with full-body shivers, and he’s not sure how long he’s been there.

He doesn’t know how long he’s been going, and maybe, maybe the shades have a point when they tell him to stop. He hasn’t seen a hint of the river, and the mountain keeps climbing, the snow getting deeper and deeper still. Maybe this is all pointless, an exercise in pain and futility.

He distantly hears shrieks and wails, the wind or shades both, it doesn’t matter and he doesn’t care. The wind is beating at his back, and it should help, but he doesn’t have the energy to let it. He can’t make himself care. He’s so tired, and he’s afraid to look at his feet and see if there’s anything left but scraps of skin and bone.

I can still crawl, he thinks, remembering, and puts his head down and pushes slowly onwards on aching hands and knees.

“You should have told me,” he croaks, and coughs and spits out something thick and dark into the snow. “Eduardo, why didn’t you tell me?”

He ignores the voices that gibber behind them; there’s only one he wants to hear, and he hasn’t heard it in so long.

Eduardo must still be there, though, behind him, He has to be. Mark closes his eyes to imagine it. Eduardo at his shoulder, frantic. He always wanted Mark to keep going, he always pushed. He’d never—he’d never really cared about Facebook as Facebook, not the way Mark did. He’d loved it because Mark did, supported it because Mark had asked him to. And maybe that’s more important.

Mark hadn’t cared about the things Eduardo loved. His internship. The Phoenix. He hadn’t even noticed Eduardo was part of something else, some other world. It wasn’t Mark’s, so it didn’t matter.

No, worse. He’d hated it, that Eduardo wasn’t entirely his. That he didn’t have the whole of him, have all of his time. All of him.

“It shouldn’t have mattered,” he says thickly, low, head almost touching the ground. “I’m sorry. Wardo, I’m sorry. I wasn’t—I hated that you got into the Phoenix, and that you—you weren’t with me. It shouldn’t have mattered, Eduardo, it’s so stupid. I’m so stupid, it didn’t have anything to do with us, I’m sorry—”

He thinks, for a moment, huddled there, that he feels a hand on his shoulder, and remembers in exact, perfect clarity, Eduardo: his face bright and warm, waiting for him outside Mark’s classroom, his board hearing, his computer chair, his bed. Get up, Mark.

Okay. Okay. For Eduardo, he can. He doesn’t need feet, he doesn’t need hands. Eduardo needs him. Eduardo had needed him, and Mark had been so tangled in wanting every part of him, every second and thought, that he hadn’t seen, hadn’t cared.

“I regret,” he says, and it feels so hard to say, to get out. Mark doesn’t have regrets, or—if he does, he tries to bury them, to forget, to move forward. But. “I don’t regret coming here. I’d do it again. I don’t care about my feet, I don’t care about your father knowing we fuck, I don’t—” His teeth are chattering, and everything seems syrup-slow and impossibly painful, but he has to get this out. If this is it, if he can’t push himself any farther, Eduardo should get to hear this, at least. “But I regret—I wanted you to only care about me. I thought that’s what I needed. I’m sorry. I don’t. I don’t need all of you, I just need—you.”

He hopes Eduardo can hear him. He hopes this stupid muddle of words makes sense. Mark can’t rewrite the past, he can’t go back and support Eduardo when he needed it. Even magic, he suspects, can’t do that, but Mark can do this. This he can do. He can keep going.

“You were always mine. The rest, it doesn’t matter,” and it’s easier to say, now. So, okay. Okay. He’s going to keep going forward, he’s not giving up yet. “You don’t have to be perfect. You can be in all the clubs and businesses you want, I don’t care. It doesn’t change us. I don’t care, I just—”

He gears up to try to stand and stagger on when suddenly it hits him. The quiet. The lack of interruption. The shades are never this quiet.

But the shrieking has stopped, the wind has died down, and he can almost hear… No. It’s impossible, an aural hallucination, but when Mark opens his eyes it’s there, the source of the gentle, liquid sound. Black waves, lapping at the softly rounded stones in front of him.

The river.

It’s silky black, like rippling satin, and Mark can’t—all the things he’s seen since this started, and this is what he can’t believe. He’d gone from bone-deep conviction that he’d make it, to doubt, to despair, to resignation. He can’t process the reality of this. There’s a soft fog drifting above the water, and through the mist he sees a shape approaching. A tall, impossibly thin figure, poling a barge until it comes up to where Mark’s kneeling, gliding to a stop against the stones.

Mark stares up at it. The figure looks down from the hooded depths of his cloak, featureless as a wind-scoured obelisk, and holds out a crooked hand, gesturing once, twice. For a moment, Mark thinks of Dustin and his impossible handshakes and fistbumps, and nearly reaches out to try one before he catches himself. That can’t be it. But he’s so tired. He doesn’t understand.

“Coins,” someone says softly. Coins. They’re still there behind him. The shades. They’ve followed him here, and now that he’s listening he can hear the gentle beat of wings still, underneath the river-sounds and ripples. “Pay the ferryman, Mark.”

Oh. “Thank you,” Mark says, and somehow finds his aching feet. He’d forgotten the coins in his pocket, that Erica and Chris had slipped in before Mark went under, and God, thank God, they’re still there, cold and hard and metal. “Thank you.”

“Go. Go.”

It’s a soft whisper, a chant that builds louder and louder, and then Mark says thickly, “I’ll—I don’t know how, but maybe Eduardo can—we’ll figure out how to connect you.” He’s been here, now, the featureless plain and hopelessness and the lonely stretch of empty days. The shades are—well, they’re assholes, but he doesn’t think he’d have made it without their goading, without someone to fight against and remind him what he was walking towards.

“To the book?” He recognizes them now, the individuals in the once indistinct mass. The hopeful sound of the young sailor, the prim voice of someone from a more recent era. Maybe Chris would know. Maybe Eduardo will.

“The Facebook. The Web?” asks the one that sounds like broken glass, and it doesn’t grate so much now.

“Oh,” another sighs, like wind through tall buildings. “Oh.”

“I promise,” Mark says fiercely. Eduardo is brilliant, and he can bridge the worlds, he knows how. And Erica and Chris will help. Mark has changed the world before, with his friends, and he doesn’t have to stop now.

“It was a good story,” one of them creaks grudgingly, “though you told it poorly.” Mark laughs despite how much it hurts his ribs, and bites his lips and stares at the mist like if he tries hard enough, he might be able to see the opposite shore. “Go. Go where we cannot, Mark Zuckerberg.” and Mark places the coins in the ferryman’s hands, and does.

The boat doesn’t dip in the water as he steps on. Mark doesn’t turn around, just settles in the stern and waits, heart in his throat, and watches the tall, silent man push across the dark water.

“Remember,” someone calls, low and mournful, and it echoes across the darkness and seems to cling to the folds of Mark’s tattered clothes as they pull farther and farther from the shore.

He’s not sure when the mist surrounds them and the blackness of the river fades, but shapes start looming out of the mist—edges, and corners, and—a face, close by, staring at him.

“His eyes are open!” Dustin shrieks, and Mark frowns and raises a hand to shield his eyes against the overhead lights. Something tugs at his arm—an IV, he registers slowly. There’s a lot of beeping sounds, and noise, and fuck, oh, fuck, his feet hurt.

“Ow,” Mark says crossly, and then he sucks in a breath and doesn’t give a shit about his feet, he’s got to get up. He pulls out the IV, ignore the sharp flare of pain and spurt of blood, and starts struggling against the fitted sheets.

“Mark, no! Hold on, goddammit,” someone says, and naturally Mark ignores them.

“Eduardo,” he says, voice dry and parched, and each word feels like it’s basically coated with sandpaper and climbing up his throat with pick-axes, but he doesn’t care. “Wardo!”

“Mark, your feet—they’re fucking ribbons, you don’t even know the freaky Stigmata shit we’ve been going through up here in the world of the living,” Dustin is bitching, and Mark really, honestly, doesn’t care. He’s on the verge of punching Dustin in the face and crawling down the hall to where he knows Eduardo’s room is when he hears it.

“You absolute ass!”

It’s a weak voice that barely makes it over the general ruckus, but Mark hears it. Oh fuck, he hears it, and it feels it like a kick to the chest. He starts struggling anew, panting, and only subsides when Dustin sits on his legs, taking advantage of Mark’s weakened state to pin him down.

Eduardo, when he poles into the room, is clinging to his IV stand and surrounded by a bevy of angry nurses and relatives. He looks like ten miles of shit, like someone dragged him from the shores of the dead and through the liminal mires and back up into the living again, and he’s the most perfect, beautiful thing Mark’s ever seen.

“What were you thinking!” Eduardo must be feeling better already, because his voice has some depth now, ringing through the room. Mark can’t stop smiling.

“Hi, Wardo,” he says, and settles back into the pillows and lets Dustin hand him a glass of water.

“Hi? Hi, Wardo?”

Mark sucks down water while he watches Eduardo’s cheeks flush a furious pink. He hands the empty glass back to Dustin, ignoring the rest of the room and conversation and everything, and says, calmly and clearly, “I love you.”

Eduardo’s mouth opens and closes, and then he draws in a breath through his nose and says in a terrible voice, “Everyone out.”

It takes a few repetitions of this before the assorted medical staff, friends, and family members agree, mostly due to Chris sighing and herding.

“Fifteen minutes, and if anyone dies in the interim there will be trouble,” he warns, but Mark’s not worried. Mark thinks maybe he won’t worry about anything ever again, not even what Eduardo will do next, if he’ll forgive Mark, if he’ll even want to try again. Eduardo’s alive.

You,” Eduardo says, and awkwardly, carefully climbs onto the bed. “You.”

This is more than Mark had hoped for, the easy weight of Eduardo on top of him. “Yeah,” he says, and at least Mark’s hands are only moderately shredded—he’d only spent like, a couple eons, it felt like, crawling through the ice and snow on those, and curling them around Eduardo’s shoulders is easy.

Eduardo makes an incoherent noise that seems to be wavering between rage and something else, and then kisses him.

It’s a horrible kiss, not only because Mark immediately surges up into it and smashes their noses together in a painful crunch. Eduardo’s mouth tastes awful and stale, and Mark’s pretty sure his own tastes like the blood he’s been coughing up, and moreover, Eduardo is swearing at him in between gulps of air.

“Worst—you have no idea—you fucking—”

“I love you,” Mark says again into Eduardo’s mouth, and Eduardo pulls back and glares at him, and it’s just—perfect.

“You’re lucky I love you too,” Eduardo says dangerously, but Mark can’t be too bothered, because he immediately leans back down and kisses Mark sloppily, his mouth and nose and cheek and chin. “I could—if you ever do that, anything like that again—”

“Hopefully won’t need to,” Mark gasps, and then his hands finally manage to fumble inside Eduardo’s hospital gown and touch skin.

“It was my fault too,” Eduardo says, shivering. “Mark, Mark. Stop. Mark, it was my fault, too.”

“I know,” Mark says, and doesn’t stop. Eduardo’s ass. He’s really missed Eduardo’s ass. He’s missed Eduardo’s everything. He hurts everywhere, and he feels so happy he thinks his skin might split with it. He’s not sure he’s ever been this happy. “I forgive you.”

“You forgive me,” Eduardo moans, and yes, hips. God. God, Mark doesn’t think there’s any way this could possibly be better. “Me. God, Mark, you went—you could have died—”

“I didn’t,” Mark says. “You didn’t.”

“I was so scared,” Eduardo says into his throat, indistinctly, but Mark can feel the words there like a brand. “I couldn’t say anything, and you were—god, Mark. You shouldn’t have done that.”

“Of course I should have. It worked out pretty well, right?” Mark tells the ceiling above him, and laughs when Eduardo rears back and glares at him, wild-eyed and beautiful.

It’s terrifying to think of, much worse than the plain, or the shades, or anything, Mark knowing he could have gone the rest of his life without figuring this out. Where they went wrong, how to fix it, if Eduardo’s willing to try too. Mark thinks risking death was worth it.

But he’s positive that if Eduardo wasn’t busy bracing himself over Mark’s chest, that he’d be pinching the bridge of his nose, exasperated and wordlessly frustrated with Mark’s lack of self-preservation, and knowing that, amazingly, makes Mark feel even better. He didn’t think he could possibly feel better, but this is Eduardo. Eduardo makes him feel impossible things all the time.

“I missed you so much,” Mark says.

“Idiots,” Eduardo moans, and then just collapses on top of him. “We’re idiots.”

“The worst,” Mark agrees, and arranges Eduardo so their hips line up, and it doesn’t take more than a few thrusts and a slick, biting kiss that doesn’t seem to ever end before they’re both coming. Fuck, fuck, it’s been so long since Mark’s had an orgasm that wasn’t completely miserable and alone. He doesn’t know if the burst of joy and warmth he feels is anything magical, and he doesn’t care. It doesn’t matter. It’s them. It’s sticky and messy and them, and he never wants anything else, except maybe, eventually, for his feet to stop hurting.

He thinks they probably have a few minutes before the rest of their life crashes back on top of them, but he can’t bring himself to worry about it. Let everyone see. He cards his fingers through Eduardo’s hair and listens to him breath raggedly and thinks, idly and happily, about moving in with Eduardo. In Singapore, or New York, or here. They can Skype if they need to. They can do anything.

“I should have told you, about the Phoenix, and my father,” Eduardo says eventually, in the perfect glow of the afternoon sun. He’s hiding his face against Mark’s shoulder and speaking into the skin there. “I didn’t want you to know how hard it was, for me. I thought you’d -- I had to be perfect. I wish I’d said something, now.”

Mark maneuvers slightly until he can mouth a kiss against Eduardo’s temple. There are grey hairs there he’s never seen before, and he’s fascinated by them. He wants to count every one. He wants to know every inch of Eduardo all over again, but for now just settles on pulling him closer, harder.

“Nah. All things considered, it worked out fairly well, I think,” Mark replies placidly, then says mildly, “Ow,” when Eduardo pinches his side.

“I don’t think I’d have taken it well,” Mark tells Eduardo, smiling, and for once, admitting fault doesn’t hurt. It’s okay. Eduardo knows Mark’s an asshole that makes mistakes. “I’ll try to do better.” Eduardo scowls at him and then buries his face back in Mark’s chest, right over his heart. Mark understands the sentiment. “We should talk later, but I’m going to pass out, I think.”

“I heard it all,” Eduardo says, or Mark thinks that’s what he says until he moves his head a bit and peers up at Mark and repeats it. “I couldn’t say anything, and I was—so angry at you, but. I heard it. Mark. I didn’t know you—”

“Later,” Mark says, and wishes he had the energy to roll them over, pin Eduardo beneath him. But this is kind of nice, too. He hesitates, then says, because Eduardo hasn’t forgiven him yet, not exactly, though really, Mark thinks a trip to the underworld should really be a get-out-of-jail free card on at least some of his past transgressions, “If you want?”

“I want everything,” Eduardo says, heartbreakingly sincere the way only he can be, and leans up to kiss Mark again.

“Me too,” Mark says, and, for the first time in the living world, knows exactly what that means.

*

Mark’s not sure how much time passes, but Eduardo eventually, of course, starts fussing about the stickiness in their respective hospital gowns. Mark just smiles sleepily at him.

“Magic it away, why don’t you,” he says, and tries to drag Eduardo back down, which is, of course, when the real world decides it’s time to barge back in, this time with what seems like a literal army of nurses in tow.

“We held them off as long as we could,” Sean says, which probably means dubious flirtations have taken place. He’s smiling at them tentatively, and Mark can feel Eduardo tensing above him, so Mark reels him back in and kisses the line of his jaw softly. Then he says, low enough that he really hopes none of the numerous invaders of their room can hear, “Seriously, magic. Do it.”

Eduardo just honks out a surprised laugh that makes Mark feel oddly choked on his own fondness, then murmurs a quiet word and suddenly Mark’s thighs aren’t quite as sticky. The magic that had sent Mark below, down and down, had been considerably more showy. Mark definitely prefers this version, mundane and quiet, easy to miss if he hadn’t been looking for it.

“Thanks,” Mark says sincerely, and Eduardo’s still beaming at him as the nurses carefully haul him off.

Then more nurses with large hypodermic needles and fresh bandages approach, and Mark grips the railings of his hospital bed as they stab, inject, clean—fucking fuck, has Mark not suffered enough—and re-bandage him.

Most everyone else has left the room—Chris and Dustin following Eduardo, along with a good portion of the nurses and Eduardo’s parents—and Sean lingers behind, pulling up a chair and watching Mark with hooded eyes.

“Hey, man,” he says, and Mark grunts, focusing on not whimpering in public. His feet really fucking hurt. “Welcome back to the land of the living.”

“Thanks,” Mark grits out, and then opens his eyes to glare at the nurse, who’s fucking—what, rubbing lemon juice on his wounds? She meets his eyes without flinching, and Mark huffs and turns to look at Sean again. He’s gnawing on a fingernail, and Mark thinks, if the nurses weren’t there, he might be puffing on his inhaler.

“I knew you’d make it, obviously,” Sean says. “But the boys were starting to get nervous.”

Mark wonders, for the first time since he’d woken up, just how long it was that he’d been walking. How long was Mark’s body laying here, how long had his friends sat vigil?

Long enough for Sean to look pale and sick himself, anyway.

“You were right,” Mark rasps, and offers a slight smile. He remembers the way Sean had seemed to him, before the sheen had worn off—untouchable and unbreakable, everything Mark had wanted to be. That bluff’s been thoroughly called, but Mark knows where the weak spots are now, where not to press and what not to lend.

“You want me to apologize to Eduardo?” Sean offers, fiddling with his Blackberry, and Mark shrugs.

“You can if you want,” Mark says, starting to feel a little woozy, both from whatever antibiotics and painkillers he’s been shot up with, and with how badly he wants to crawl out of his bed and towards the door. But Eduardo will come back. Mark has to let him come back. Sean, though, Sean is a friend, now, if not an entirely trustworthy one. He’s probably one of the people that taught Mark the most, both in business and in how to fuck up and keep on going. “Eduardo will probably punch you, though.”

“Nah, I can take him,” which is typical Sean-bluster, followed by, “But then you’d hit me, and you’re supposed to stay off those feet, so. I’ll pass, for now.” Mark smiles slightly back at him.

“Thanks for your help,” Mark says, because he doesn’t say that enough, he thinks.

“Kinda felt I had to help finish this thing off,” Sean shrugs, kicking back, and yeah. Sean, with his shady contacts and backdoor deals, had been the person to get the last of the ingredients they’d needed for the ritual, and unlike the others, who had argued and badgered and yelled to the very end, he’d just looked at Mark when Mark asked for his help and nodded.

Mark doesn’t want to think about that now, and apparently Sean doesn’t either, because he switches topics to Facebook. Mark tries desperately to keep his eyes open. He cares about this, he wants to know what happened while he was gone, and also, he has to stay awake until Eduardo’s tests are done. He wants to see Eduardo again before he lets himself close his eyes.

It’s a lost cause; he falls asleep anyway, somewhere in the middle of Sean’s rant about Farmville. He’s not worried, though. He knows Eduardo will be back.

***

“I’ll take good care of him,” Eduardo assures the head nurse the next morning. He’s nothing like the empty shell of himself he’d been in the hospital bed. He’s bright and vibrant, and his smile is as deadly as it ever was. The nurse folds gracefully, handing Eduardo a sheet of after-care instructions, and lets Eduardo wheel Mark down the hallway and to the elevator.

It’s infuriating, being unable to stand and walk himself. Chris had tried to explain, something about the journey being harder on Mark than Eduardo, but then the discussion declined into specifics that sounded oddly like higher-level physics, and Mark just didn’t have the patience for it. He focuses on the smell of Eduardo’s cologne, the steadiness of his hands on the arms of the wheelchair. When they reach the elevator, Eduardo bends down and attempts some strange, sideways kiss that makes Mark wrinkle his nose and smile all at the same time.

“Shut up, I’ve—you don’t know how long it’s been since I’ve let myself want to do that.”

“I might have an idea,” Mark says. “Wardo, I—”, but Eduardo just shushes him, leaning down and covering Mark’s mouth until the elevator opens on the ground floor.

“Later,” he says, and wheels Mark out to the waiting car, practically long and smooth and shiny enough to be a limo.

Mark tries again on the drive to – wherever, he doesn’t know or particularly care, so long as Eduardo’s coming with — but Eduardo just flaps a hand at him and glares.

Later. I want to be able to pay attention to you, not the traffic,” he says. So Mark’s stuck watching Eduardo’s hands on the wheel, the deft way he guides a vehicle around turns. It’s been a long time since he’s seen it happen, and he zones out on it until the drive is suddenly over.

“My place in Miami, for when I visit,” Eduardo explains, wheeling Mark up to yet another elevator.
Mark sort of wishes, despite the lingering embarrassment at his own weakness, he could watch Eduardo pushing him, watch his hands guiding Mark carefully and expertly along. This is a weird kink, he thinks to himself, then mentally shrugs. It’s Eduardo. Mark’s thought strange, fond things about his socks, before—this isn’t that odd, in comparison.

Eduardo’s apartment is small, but elegant, and has a view of the ocean, stretched out and shimmering in a way that reminds Mark of wide open spaces and makes him flinch, just a little.

“Can you close the curtains?” he asks, and Eduardo shoots him a look, then does.

They get settled on the couch, and Mark is shushed yet again until Eduardo has inspected Mark’s feet to his heart’s content, checking the bandages and slathering on cream and clucking and generally being obnoxiously fussy in a way that makes Mark’s heart feel too full. Then, once Mark’s arranged to his liking, Eduardo curls up next to him and just stares.

“Can I talk now?” Mark asks, after the silence has stretched just slightly too long. The staring is making him feel—something. Too much of something.

No,” Eduardo says, and shakes his head slowly. “No, no, I think—I think it’s my turn to talk and yours to listen.”

It’s a little bit petty, but a lot fair, so Mark limits himself to a mock-scowl and drinks his juice while Eduardo draws himself up, then raises a finger.

“First, first—” he closes his eyes for a moment, then opens them and glares. God, Mark knows that glare, knows it by heart. “Your dishes really were that disgusting, Mark, if I hadn’t been there you’d have had to actually throw them out, you know that, right? What are you doing to your poor housekeeper, and I can’t believe you even have one.”

Mark starts to open his mouth, then subsides happily beneath the renewed glare.

“Second,” Eduardo says, and tucks his feet underneath Mark’s thighs. “Never tell anyone else that I drooled on you while I slept, or that it was adorable, you absolute ass.”

“It was. And it was just the shades, no one else knows,” Mark protests, mostly to hear Eduardo make an exasperated noise and tut him into quiet again. He thinks—he thinks this is Eduardo saying yes, saying okay, saying, tit for tat and we’ll try again. He stays mostly silent as Eduardo talks him through his own journey, starting off playful and turning more serious as he goes. It’s easy to picture, Eduardo on his own path through the underworld, following Mark’s bloody footprints through the grass, surrounded by dark wings.

Mark only tries to interrupt when Eduardo’s eyes go bright and wet, and then mostly so Eduardo will lean in and kiss him silent.

“I was so afraid,” Eduardo says, and Mark closes his eyes and listens. “That I wasn’t enough. For my father, but most of all for you. It made me stupid. And you were right, I wasn’t—I wasn’t good enough, not experienced enough, not what you needed.”

“You don’t have to be perfect,” Mark tells him, years late, but – hopefully not too late. “You are, you just—being you, that’s enough.”

“Oh,” Eduardo says, and the way he looks at Mark then makes Mark want to go back in time and kick his past self in the balls.

“I was an asshole,” Mark says gravely, and Eduardo nods. “I thought perfection was what I needed. But it’s not. And we both made mistakes. We were young and stupid,” Mark continues, and doesn’t even mind that somehow, after all of the fucking journey and story and walking, he’s still got to talk about his feelings. It’s worth it. “But. We’re older now. We know—” Not each other, it’s been too long, with too much space between them, for that. “—we know ourselves better.”

Eduardo sighs, and then shifts until he’s no longer on the opposite side of the couch, but is curled up against Mark, side to side, face in his neck.

“We’ll probably fuck this up again,” he says softly, and Mark hums.

“Almost definitely,” he agrees. “But. I think it’s okay, this time. If we do. I won’t give up.”

“I’m sorry, Mark,” Eduardo says, and his voice is choked and thick, and Mark tugs him closer and breathes him in.

“I already told you I forgave you,” Mark reminds him, lofty and fond—Eduardo needs to hear things, he knows, over and over. He pulls Eduardo on top of him, a heavy, wonderful weight. “I think, if I hadn’t loved you, back then, it wouldn’t have happened like it did.” Eduardo’s face goes horrible, and Mark keeps going doggedly. “I’m glad it did. It just—made it harder, to be rational when things went wrong.”

Eduardo laughs wetly. “Tell me about it.”

“I did. You and about five thousand dead people.”

“More like twenty.” Eduardo always has been better with numbers, and Mark tells him so in between kisses.

“It’s weird to be glad you got hit by a car,” Mark muses, and make no mistake, he’s already planned to ruin the driver’s life as best he can, but – he’s grateful, in a weird way, especially now that he has Eduardo here, with him, on him, laughing into his neck and kissing his chin and cheek and finally capturing his mouth.

“You always know the wrong thing to say,” Eduardo says, and then the kiss turns wet and deep, and Mark’s forgotten even the ache in his feet in favor of getting some leverage to push up into Eduardo’s arms.

But then Eduardo, obnoxiously, gets off of Mark just as they’re both starting to find a rhythm, because the alarm on his phone has gone off, and apparently it’s time for Mark’s next round of antibiotics.

“You have giant throbbing open wounds on your feet,” Eduardo chides him when Mark complains, and forces the pills into Mark’s mouth. They’re bitter and chalky on his tongue. “Someone’s got to make sure you take care of yourself.”

“So romantic,” Mark grumbles around them, but really, it kind of is. And it’s not like he minds the strange familiarity of this, Eduardo bossing him into eating, watching Mark eat the toast he’s made.

Despite Eduardo’s efforts, Mark still feels nauseous soon afterwards. He tries not to let it show, but Eduardo’s watching his face and it’s not long before he’s curled around Mark again, hand beneath Mark’s shirt and rubbing soft, slow circles on his stomach.

“Shh, I’ve got you,” Eduardo says, and works Mark’s sweatpants carefully down. “Orgasms help, I’ve heard. With nausea.”

“You don’t have to,” Mark says, but just the touch of Eduardo’s on his lower abdomen, combing through the dusting of hair there, is distracting him from the misery of everything else in his body, the ache in his muscles and the throb of his feet and the churn of his stomach.

“I’ve got you,” Eduardo repeats, his voice wavering, and then his hand slips inside Mark’s boxers and Mark’s head thunks backwards on the couch.

Wardo.”

“That’s it,” Eduardo says softly, and when Mark coaxes his eyes back open, Eduardo’s staring at his face, looking like he’s seen—not a ghost. Mark doesn’t know what, doesn’t know if there’s a word for that expression. “Let me—”

“You can,” Mark says, just—says it, like he couldn’t say anything else, with Eduardo’s eyes on him and hands on him and Mark’s hips moving helplessly up into his grip. “I mean, I’m—I’m yours, too.”

“Yeah, I know,” Eduardo says with deliberate carelessness, then laughs, bright and joyful, when Mark makes a sound of disgruntled protest. Eduardo’s fingers have new, unfamiliar calluses on them, and he’s twisting his wrist in way he never had before, and the rush of sensation and feeling is making it hard to think. “Mark. You—you weren’t, you weren’t really subtle, with the—” With his free hand he makes a gesture that seems to cover ‘risking your life, freaking out, and descending to the underworld to fetch me back’ obnoxiously well.

“Asshole,” Mark gasps, and comes. Everything, for a moment, is perfect. He gulps in air and stares at Eduardo’s face. Eduardo’s looking down at him and he’s shoving his hand into his own trousers—jeans, god, how, how had Mark not noticed Eduardo in jeans--and Mark tries to gather his thoughts enough to reach for him.

“I’ve got this,” Eduardo pants, and pushes him back down in the cushions. Mark wants—but he goes with it, lets himself fall back and down, open and vulnerable.

“Yeah,” Mark says, and lets himself splay back, naked and warm beneath Eduardo’s heated gaze. “I want it. Wardo, please.”

Eduardo makes a sound like someone’s hit him, then comes hot and perfectly filthy, all over Mark’s belly and cock and pants. If there’s anything magic about that moment, Mark still doesn’t see or feel it. It’s not perfect—Mark still feels a little like he might, at some point in the future, throw up, and his entire body still aches, and eventually he’s going to have to think more about the fact that Eduardo’s definitely been sleeping with all of the significant others Mark has seen on his Facebook page through the years, because his hands are different, and what else is different about him, too?

The past is the past, though, and Mark’s looking forward, almost, to finding out more, learning more about Eduardo, in the future.

“Mine,” Eduardo murmurs afterwards, the word lilting upwards like a question. He’s squashed against Mark in the least comfortable post-coital cuddle of all time. Mark realizes, with dawning delight, that he’s trying to keep Mark’s feet elevated by curling his legs beneath them, even though there’s a perfectly serviceable footstool that would do the job, three feet away.

“Yeah,” Mark agrees, and curls closer. “Yes. Obviously.”

Just as obviously, there’s still a lot to say, and do, and plan between them. Eduardo, eventually, will have to leave again—further than New York, an entire ocean away. Just the thought of Eduardo leaving the apartment without Mark has Mark leaning closer, pressing his frankly filthy body against Eduardo’s mostly clothed and clean one. He bites at Eduardo’s neck and listens to Eduardo make a pleased, low noise, and thinks, for the first time, that he can deal with the distance.

He knows Eduardo will be back.

***

Three years later, the connection to the realm of the dead goes, pun pardoned, live. And, to the surprise of absolutely no one, the shades are the worst trolls to ever invade the realms of cyber space. Sean Parker’s page is a particular favorite of theirs, and Mark’s wall is a sea of infinite and infinitely asinine questions, no matter how many times he directs the shades to Wikipedia and Google instead. But he’s pretty much okay with it.

Things could be worse.