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Kids That I Once Knew

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Eduardo hates Boston. He hates driving down the familiar streets, under the shadow of the Prudential building, past the Commons, and all those brownstones. He hates the library at Copley and every bridge crossing the Charles, and he hates how the whole place is so stupidly small that he managed to cram a year and a half’s worth of memories onto every single street he passes.

There’s literally nowhere that he hasn’t been; the Museum of Fine Arts near Northeastern and the state building uptown and Spike’s down in Allston, where he used to love smothering hotdogs in teriyaki sauce. Whenever he’s forced to head up to Beantown, he tries to avoid Harvard altogether. It doesn’t help. He’s still been too many places, and they all remind him of one person.

Mark.

He’s got a thousand images of Mark locked up in his head. Mark wired up, wired in, hardwired to be complete freak and still, somehow, the only person Eduardo ever felt one hundred percent comfortable with. Mark knew everything about him, from childhood stories to the most embarrassing thoughts he’d ever had and it just made his complete and utter rejection of Eduardo that much worse. Which is- whatever.

Eduardo’s over it. He is. It used to make him so angry he felt like all the air was getting sucked out of his chest, so fucking pissed that he hit walls (once) and raged at random strangers (also once, and the guy spilled coffee all over Eduardo’s suit right before). Now Eduardo’s just sad. It’s a dull kind of sadness that peeks out every so often, but mostly it’s settled there in his bloodstream, its presence quiet, but known. It’s not the same as depression, as apathy, or wanting to give up. It’s just sadness. It’s just there. And Eduardo can only keep hoping it will go away.

(He isn’t a fan of looking at his face in the mirror for very long. He doesn’t want that hollow eyed boy reflecting out to look back.)

He thinks that’s all he has left, the sadness. Except, well, he's wrong.

Boston’s not the largest of cities. A person can walk from South Station to Fenway in little over an hour, if they know the general direction, and the outskirts of Brookline aren’t far from Kenmore Square.

But still. It’s a city. With skyscrapers and the mafia and like five million colleges. It’s not supposed to be hard to disappear in the crowd of a fucking metropolis. That’s what Eduardo thinks when he finds himself standing on Commonwealth Avenue, shocked and more than a little angry (more than he’d known he still had the capacity to be), eye to eye with the one person he’d fervently hoped to never see again. 

(That’s a lie. Eduardo never stopped wanting to see Mark, no matter how often the sensible side of him insisted he should.)

Mark’s studying him like he’s the tricky part of an algorithm, eyes flicking over his face, his suit, his shoes, and then to the creamy beige gray spires of the building to Eduardo’s right, the brassy doors trying for gilded gold and the watery sunlight reflecting off windows, making them go a hazy black blue.

“Why the hell would you come here?” Mark asks, nose twitching.

“I-“ Eduardo blinks, because he’s still hoping this is some kind of hallucination. He knows it’s really not, because if his mind was going to dream something up, it wouldn’t be this kid; standing outside the College of Arts and Sciences of a school he didn’t even go to, surrounded by a pack of freshmen girls wearing sweatpants with cute little logos across their butts, the sound of the T rumbling by with an announcement of, “This is the green line train to Government Center. Next stop, Boston University East.”

Plus, only Mark would see that as an acceptable greeting. Eduardo likes to think his imagination would at least be nice to him.

“I have a business meeting in Allston. I was- going to get something to eat.”

“Kind of late for a business meeting, isn’t it?” Mark glances up at the sky, slate gray and quickly darkening with the threat of snow, the clouds brushing past the tips of the spires, concealing all that architectural craftsmanship. He asks, “Is it a date?”

“What?”

“Is your business meeting. A date?” Mark enunciates, and wow, Eduardo’s forgotten how annoying he is.

It’d be easier if Mark wasn’t aging well. Or if he’d gotten fat. Yeah. Eduardo would’ve gotten vindictive pleasure out of it, and then, maybe, it wouldn’t be quite as painful seeing him standing there, the same pale, scrawny, arrogant geek he was when Eduardo left him.

If anything, he’s a little paler, and Eduardo wonders if he’s getting any sun at all. He knows he’s going to have to make a conscious effort to keep from texting Dustin later and asking their mutual friend to shove Mark out into the daylight.

Some habits are harder to break than others.

Mark's cheeks are scruffy, his hair longer, curling softly around his ears, and he’s actually wearing something that doesn’t look like it came from the discount rack at Old Navy. He seems tired, but the complete opposite of hideous, which only goes to prove that there’s no justice in the world.

He still looks like Mark.

(No matter how old they get, Eduardo supposes that Mark’s always going to be nineteen to him, because no one will ever be equivocal to that shining boy genius, not even the man he’s become.)

“No,” Eduardo gives him a None of Your Business glare that he learned in grade school. Mark is not suitably impressed.

It’s really not a date. Eduardo doesn’t have time anymore to meet girls. The last person he dated had lasted a while, long enough that Eduardo realized he was only keeping her around so that he wouldn’t be alone. Because really, he doesn’t even have the time to make friends. It makes him wish he’d been better at actual socializing instead of the bullshit and petty flattery that had gotten him into the Phoenix. Brothers may be forever, but he thinks his Final Club needs to drastically redefine their definition of brotherhood. He wants real friends, people he can talk to, and he wishes he’d made them in college. Or, at the very least, chosen the ones he thought he made more carefully.

Mark asks, “Would you tell me if it was?”

Eduardo considers it.

“No. Why are you here?”

Which he feels is a valid question, because Mark hates Boston University. He used to treat the school like it was community college, and he never even deemed to acknowledge Boston College’s existence. He thought Suffolk was part of a high school, and that Emerson was for special education students. Mark always hated any academic institution that wasn’t Harvard, really, and even his allegiance to their alma mater was more than a little questionable.

Maybe it still is. Eduardo doesn’t know any more.

“I’m giving a lecture. About Facebook.”

Because obviously he’d be giving a lecture about something else, like Greek mythology.

“Okay. Enjoy that.”

“Wait- you’re leaving?”

Eduardo frowns, not at Mark, because he kind of doesn’t want to look at his stupid face, but at the freshmen girls and the kids going to class in their pajamas and the occasional harried senior. He doesn’t ever remember looking that young.

“I’ve got a business meeting,” he says. The extra emphasis doesn’t really have the same effect as Mark’s slow drawl. “You’ve got a lecture.”

"It can wait.”

“What time does it start?”

“Five minutes ago. There are other speakers besides me.”

“You shouldn’t be late. It’s bad PR.”

See? Eduardo’s being conscientious. He’s still got a stake in the company, after all. He should know. His lawyers had to fight tooth and nail to get it.

“Yeah, but- their mascot is a terrier. A fighting terrier. That’s not even a dog, that’s an underfed raccoon.”

Eduardo stares.

“You’re right. Boston University makes terrible artistic choices.”

“Right? They could have at least chosen a Doberman, or something large…with sharper teeth. Although that would falsely indicate something about the sharpness of their students, so maybe they got it right.”

“I’m leaving now.”

“Wait- you. Where were you going to eat around here, anyway? Most of these restaurants suck.”

“I- there’s an Asian supermarket down past the bridge. They’ve got all these little stalls with different kinds of- why do you care, again?”

“I know that place. It’s like, a half hour walk from here. Did you take the T?”

“Yeah.”

“So why’d you get off in front of BU?” Mark wrinkles his nose again, and Eduardo thinks maybe he’s going a bit overboard with all the school bashing. Considering he doesn’t even have a school anymore.

“I felt like walking. It’s a nice evening.”

Mark glances up at the clouds again. The sky’s darkening into an unattractive blue gray soup, burgeoning with snow that's not quite ready to fall. “It’s a crappy evening.”

“I wanted to stretch my legs.”

Mark gives him an inscrutable look. The truth is, Eduardo couldn’t stand being trapped in that metal tin of a subway car anymore. He’d been surrounded by college kids, by the reminders of who he used to be. It had made him feel prickly all over, like his skin was on too tight. 

“You’re right, you know. I shouldn’t be late. Walk with me,” Mark says, and it sounds like a command. “This place makes me itch.”

“I’m not going anywhere with you.”

“Afraid I’m going to jump you for a couple million dollars?”

“I’m afraid you’re going to force me to look at your face for longer than a minute.”

“Valid fear.”

Eduardo should do the smart thing and walk away. He knows he can. He’s done it three times, in Palo Alto, at the offices of Facebook, and after the depositions. But maybe it’s being here, in this stupid city they shared that makes him falter.

He follows Mark through the crowd.

Even though BU isn’t anything at all like Harvard, walking down Commonwealth among throngs of students makes Eduardo miss college. He misses running through snow storms after class, nights in darkened pubs with homemade brews, teachers who think they’re god’s gift to education, and the spontaneity of just living through it all. Back when he was a student, there was always something to do, always something he felt guilty about not doing, like studying or attending a club function or tutoring that girl down the hall in Econ. There was always something, even when Eduardo didn’t want to do anything at all other than curl up in front of a movie with a lukewarm can of Natty Ice. He’d felt like he was part of this community, where maybe he didn’t have a lot of connections, but he certainly wasn’t the only one.

Now, his life consists of work, exhaustion, and sleep. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. It’s so fucking boring. 

Maybe that’s also part of why he avoids Boston. He’s never wanted to see the other kids exploring Newbury Comics or eating Indian food on Beacon Street or checking out the newest bestsellers at the Coop. It would be masochism, visiting his old haunts and watching his replacements, the ghosts of his past wearing new faces. Fuck, just sitting on the T had been torture.

“What are you going to talk about?” Eduardo asks, more out of a desire to say something than any real interest. “How you’re so good at bringing people together?”

Mark tilts his head, the line of his shoulders stiffening a bit, and immediately, Eduardo feels like maybe he’s being harsh. His anger melts the guilt away as quick as it came. Mark deserves harsh.

He’d called Eduardo exactly once since the end of their friendship, about two years after the millionth member party Eduardo never got to attend, but still long before any settlement was reached. Mark tricked him into answering, using a restricted number, asking, “Remember me? I’m in New York.”

Over ramen, like college students still, Mark had distantly told stories about how well he was doing, how the company was wildly successful (as though Eduardo didn’t read the quarterly reports). About this great party he’d gone to (like three years ago, and Eduardo had been there), and how he’d beaten his high score in that game they loved (Eduardo had been there too), and when Eduardo asked how his family was doing with that one thing, Mark asked how he’d known. And Eduardo had wondered if he even remembered that it was only two years since they’d stopped being friends (it felt like a decade).

That was- god, nearly three or four years ago now. It’s weird that the part of their relationship where they were actually on good terms was so short.

They met through AEPi, but hadn’t really become friends until the third dorm party Eduardo was invited to. He knew how to be suave and charming because his father had raised him well, but he’d found himself lost at Harvard, where everyone else was just as smart as him, if not smarter. It was intimidating, and he was ridiculously homesick. He’d finally gotten to the point where he felt more like himself, but college was already almost half way over. He’d only made a handful of acquaintances through the Harvard Investors Club, and a few tentative friends, besides his roommates, until Mark. They began hanging at the (lame) frat parties, and then they'd gone to lunch on Mark’s invitation and Eduardo’s credit card.

Eduardo instantly liked Mark. Because he was weird, and he was noticeable, and he was a bit of an asshole. He’d always been drawn to people who exuded confidence, people like his dad, and Mark- well. Mark was confident to the point of cocky when it came to a lot of things. He made a point of being condescending sometimes, but mostly, Mark just liked to tell people how wrong they were, so that they’d be better next time. He spoke before he thought, and Eduardo wanted to be able to do that. He wanted some of that self-assured jackass to rub off on him. Instead he mostly inherited the socially awkward, geeky side of Mark. Which was loveable in its own way, of course, but made it a bitch to get laid sometimes.

The night they really bonded, Eduardo’s roommate had invited him to a party, and mostly Eduardo avoided interacting with all these kids who were only two or three years older than him, but felt so much larger and more mature. When he’d mentioned it to Mark, he’d been all in. They’d gone and drank and mocked people dancing until the RA had knocked.

Mark had whispered, “If anyone asks, we’re from Northeastern.”

“Why Northeastern?”

“Because I refuse to be associated with MIT.”

Eduardo snorted, and then Mark spotted the fire escape. His hand closed around Eduardo’s wrist and he pulled him through the window as the RA crashed into the room. It was raining, and Mark wasn’t even wearing shoes, and Eduardo had forgotten his jacket, but none of it mattered. They splashed down the sidewalk towards Government Center, laughing, and they’d been best friends, ever since.

Or more like they’d had a year and a half to be best friends, and spent another six being anything but.

Eduardo doesn’t know why the memory of it surprises him anymore. Mark majored in computer science, which might as well mean he majored in douchebaggery. Eduardo learned quickly that a lot of comp sci majors have the cocky, arrogant self-confidence that comes from knowing they’re going to inherit the earth without ever needing to be told. He's not sure if that’s true of all of them, or if it’s just the IT guys he ends up meeting. Eduardo figures it’s not really important; he’s never going to be able to classify the entire socioeconomic demographic he’d need to actually develop a theory like that, and besides, he doesn’t care about everyone else. He cares about Mark.

(Or actually, he doesn’t. Not anymore. He’s trying so hard not to.)

What Eduardo does know about computer guys is that they’re used to keeping up with trends, to keeping up with the newest technology, the best of the best. Mark would never spend more than ten bucks on a pair of jeans, but he’d always been willing to shell out a couple thousand at the drop of a hat for the newest laptop, even if his was barely six months old. Eduardo knows now that he’s the same way with people; always looking for the newest upgrade.

In the end, maybe he’d thought that he was special. Irreplaceable.

He hates that he was so, so wrong.

“Eduardo,” Mark says, his voice carefully measured. They’re standing in front of the courtyard now. It’s a meager comparison to Harvard, a mishmash of architectural décor that can’t even compete with the pillars and arches and history of the Ivy Leagues.

“Yeah?”

He thinks maybe now is the time to run like hell. Mark’s face is completely blank, but Eduardo has known it was coming to this almost since the moment he appeared in front of him.

“I’m sor-“

No.

Don’t.”

“You don’t want an apology?”

“I do, of course I do. But I don’t want to hear it when it’s not true.”

“If I could do it over, it would be different. I would…” Mark trails off, like he doesn’t actually know what he would do. “Dustin and Chris- they were never as ambitious as you are. The site’s the only way they were ever going to get any notoriety. You- you’re going to make your own destiny.”

“That’s great, dude.”

If the comment sounds biting, that’s because he means it to be, with all his heart.

“Give me a chance.”

Eduardo knows they’re drawing a crowd now, coeds ready to take over the world and high school students touring the campus and professors on their coffee break. He doesn’t care.

“I’ve given you nothing but chances.”

“Is that what you think?”

“I never learned how to tell you no, Mark.”

“Not in so many words.”

His face is blank. No anger. Just this kind of coldness that Eduardo’s heard girls call reptilian.

(It always looked more like vulnerability to him.)

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You’re smart enough to figure that out on your own.”

Eduardo turns on his heel, prepared to leave.

That. That, right there. That passive aggressive shit you always choose in lieu of telling me what you think. You pressure me into doing what you want by holding something over my head or taking something away or trying, somehow to teach me a lesson. I’m not five, Wardo. I can take the truth.”

Mark was the first person to give him a nickname, and it hurts to hear it. It sounds awkward and unfamiliar and like it belongs to someone else, now. But it’s just a stupid word, and Eduardo isn’t going to let a couple of letters make him look weak.

“I told you-“

“No, you only ever tell me what’s wrong when you’ve given it plenty of time to build up. Maybe if you’d told me from the beginning how you felt about Sean-“

“I did tell you! I told you, repeatedly, I fucking told you. Maybe I do end up trying passive aggressive shit, but only because you refuse to ever listen.”

He’s seething now.

He wants to be that guy who can gracefully forgive anything, but honestly, Eduardo isn’t sure how. He tries and he tries and sometimes he can go days, or even weeks without Mark’s name flickering into his head. But the second anything goes wrong, the moment something amazing happens, his fingers trace the pattern of a familiar phone number, instinctively, and it all comes rushing back. It makes him feel fucking pathetic most of the time, which only serves to make him sadder (angrier). It’s tiring walking around, feeling like you have a knife in your back. Eduardo doesn’t like playing the victim. He doesn’t like feeling like he was stupid enough to be victimized.

(Mark looks tired too. Every empire builds its walls on the bones of the people who made it. Maybe Mark’s not so completely in control anymore.)

“I’m trying to make it up to you. Why aren’t you forgiving me?”

“I don’t know if I can. Because-“

And this is the thing that Eduardo has always wanted to say, but was never able to verbalize.

“You were my best friend, and until the day I walked into your office and got fucked, I didn’t realize how little that meant to you. But- fuck, it was everything to me.”

“Eduardo-“ Mark’s expression doesn’t change, but he doesn’t sound so certain now, either.

“I wanted to be pivotal. To you. And I wasn’t.”

Mark hates being wrong. Eduardo knows it, and he’s probably even rubbing his face in it, just the tiniest bit. It isn’t a good feeling, watching him stand there, looking like his skin’s on too tight, shifting his hands in his pockets like he’s jingling spare change.

(It isn’t exactly a bad feeling, either.)

Eduardo has to talk fast, because when Mark gets angry, he shuts down. He’ll yell, so that Eduardo can’t get a word in edgewise, or worse, follow through on his modus operandi; make a sarcastic comment and walk away.

“There I was, trying to do anything I could to help you, to make you see that you needed me, and you weren’t thinking about me at all. Except about how to beat me. You wanted to prove you were the better man, that you could win. You wanted to be ruthless. You were. Live with it, Mark.”

He’s being cruel, and he knows it, and this small, shallow part of him that’s sick of being polite, of being a pushover who obeys social niceties, wants to keep going.

(Why shouldn’t he? He can’t snap like this at his dad, but Mark? He’ll never see the guy again. Why not?)

“You were jealous that you weren’t punched for the Phoenix. That they didn’t recognize how elite you are.”

“I wanted to win?” Mark seethes, and he’s actually starting to slip now, his eyes snapping fire. “You’re the one who flaunted it over me. You were happy that you could do something I couldn’t. You were a really fucking sore winner.

“I was happy to get chosen! It had nothing to do with you at all.”

Which probably is an even worse thing to say, because Mark’s Mark, and he thinks that most things revolve around him, and that if they don’t, they should.

Stiffly, he says, “The site’s my intellectual property.”

Eduardo’s heard this song a million times, but he can’t help but reply, “Seriously? You’re going to get all moral about shared credit? Seriously? You?”

Mark doesn’t say anything, just stares, and they’re surrounded by onlookers who aren’t being very surreptitious at all about their on-looking.

He tries to soften his voice again, but it still comes out more harshly than normal. “What is it you want from me?”

“I want us to be friends again, Wardo.”

“And I want you to understand that that’s not going to happen.”

Mark makes this disgusted noise, like he can’t believe that Eduardo wants him to rehash this entire cyclical argument. Which is understandable, considering Eduardo does not want to rehash the same, stupid argument either. All he wants to hear is that Mark was completely, utterly wrong, and it’s the one thing he knows will never be said. All he’ll ever get are half-hearted apologies and a vague sentence about things being different, maybe, if Mark could actually go back in time and convince his younger self to quit with the pride and the jealousy and all the things that come innately to a nineteen year old boy.

It’s obvious that he still thinks he did the right thing. He just doesn’t like the cost.

“I never cared about the money,” Mark says, and Eduardo wishes they could argue one point at a time, instead of all of them at the same time. He snorts, the sound meant to be derisive and cutting, but mostly it sounds weary and overwrought.

“That much is obvious. You never cared about anything but proving you’re better, smarter than everyone else on this fucking planet.”

“False. That’s not true and you- “

“Shut the hell up, Mark. You wanted to play God. Now you have to live with the consequences.”

“Any more trite clichés you want to throw in there?”

“No, I think I’m done. With all of this. And actually, don’t- don’t say that you don’t care about the money. It may have started out that way, but you cared about it enough to fuck me out of it.”

“You’re the one who thinks cash is power and success and everything. It’s not.”

“That makes me feel so much better. Thanks for the clarification.”

Mark’s glaring at him in this completely insolent manner, like Eduardo’s the one who started this entire argument. He probably believes that, too.

Eduardo’s about to turn to leave again, but in the interest of full disclosure, he forces himself to stay still and say, “You know what? Fine. I was jealous. And I was ecstatic I got my own thing. Something that would make me stand out, on my own.”

And there it is, laid bare. Mark’s a self centered narcissist with a god complex, Eduardo’s just plain selfish, and they both always thought they were better than each other, one way or another.

Mark’s mouth gapes open. Eduardo keeps talking.

“-But I always admired you. I always wanted you to do something good. You, though? You had no respect for me. At all. Not a single bit. You think I have a destiny? Just one that’s not as good as yours, right? I can do anything I want, as long as you do it bigger and greater. You’re ridiculous. I can’t- I just can’t do this.”

“Fine,” Mark says stiffly, his anger reaching its boiling point. If he still had a relatively unknown Livejournal, Eduardo’s pretty sure the Saverin name would be embroiled in some internet scandal by tomorrow. Thank god for small favors and the esteemed reputation of Facebook.

He remembers years ago, staying up and drinking beer and playing video games and telling each other how hard they were going to get pounded. Eduardo has all these memories, freeze-framed, but oh-so-hazy in his mind. He thinks it’s weird how the memories of getting fucked over and then doing it all over again at the depositions stand out so clear. How one bad thing can drown a million good things. How one individual can change your entire life.

The worst part is that they’re not even arguing about something that’s in any way relevant to who they are now. What happened helped mold Eduardo, sure, but he’s not the naive kid he used to be.

The most terrible thing about growing up is how much you come to resent the person you were before. The mistakes that a stranger with your face made, leaving you all alone with the weight and the guilt, even though you’re all changed and brand new. Eduardo feels like he’s paid a million years’ penance for something the Him that exists now wouldn’t have even done.

“Well, this has been delightful. Let’s never do it again.”

“Agreed,” Mark spits, vehement. His anger is terrifying, because he so rarely shows it. But it’s familiar, too, and Eduardo hates that even after all these years, even though he still kind of hopes Mark will get hit by a passing car, he also kind of wants to wrap his arms around him and soothe it away.

Eduardo makes it all the way back to the College of Arts and Sciences before he hears footsteps pounding on the concrete, and, “His name’s Rhett.”

“What?”

“The terrier. The mascot. His name’s fucking Rhett. How lame is that?”

“…Pretty lame.”

He doesn’t turn to look at Mark. He doesn’t want to see that dorky smile flit over his lips, not even for a second, or the way his eyes are probably all huge and sad and Mark.

“Talk to me.”

Eduardo’s perpetually tripping over himself where Mark’s concerned. He doesn’t want to, but something about the way Mark’s voice cracks makes him stop. He hasn’t heard that tone since the day Mark’s grandmother died, and he didn’t know what to say then to make it right.

(This time, maybe, he knows exactly what to say to get all that sadness to go away, but he can’t. Won’t.)

Mark continues, “You were- are my best friend, and I- I never wanted to give you up.”

Eduardo knows. Mark’s always been the kind of person who thinks he can have everything, all at once.

“I don’t know what else there is to say. You wanted me, but you wanted other things more.”

After a beat, Mark actually agrees, and even though Eduardo knows, has always known, it still stings. “You’re right.”

He nods, because he doesn’t know how else to acknowledge what Mark’s said past the lump in his throat.

“I have everything else I want. You’re all that’s left.”

Eduardo swallows his hurt. “Fanfuckingtastic.”

“No, wait. That’s not- I don’t mean it the way it sounds.”

They’ve both got pride in over abundance. Maybe that’s why neither of them can find the words to make this work.

“Not once in the past few years did you feel anything like sorry, did you?”

“Once or twice.” Mark bows his head. “Not at first. I was so pissed that you didn’t understand what I was trying to do. That you weren’t standing by me, no matter what.”

“That’s not how it works, and you know it.”

“I get that now. I overreacted. I wasn’t ready for- being tied down. Responsibility. It was you or the site, and the site seemed like less work.”

“That’s so fucked up, I don’t even know where to begin.”

“Yeah, well.” Marks sighs and says, “I told you not to join. The Phoenix. Or- I didn’t, but it’s what I meant. It’s what I wanted.”

This again.

“I know. And you cut me out of your little dynasty for daring not to listen. Congratulations. You’re better than me.”

“Wardo, you have to-“

“I don’t have to do anything. Does that make me less attractive to you?”

“Nothing could make you less attractive to me.”

Eduardo blinks. That- isn’t what he meant.

Not even a little bit.

“Listen-“ Mark continues, eyes darting up to meet his.

Eduardo wants to say no, that he isn’t going to do anything Mark asks of him, never again. But the large masochistic chunk of his being is morbidly curious. He waits.

“I miss you. I don’t like it. I don’t- if it was a game, then it’s over. I won. And I thought it wouldn’t change anything, I thought you’d get over it. And we’d still be friends. I possibly miscalculated.”

Eduardo snorts. He wants to tell him that the truth is, he misses Mark too, more than he can bear. Some days he’ll be fine, and others, he’ll be inconsolable. He’s good at covering it up, at faking it so that no one ever asks what’s wrong. He lets himself fade into the background, just like back at Harvard. Nobody ever says a word.

“-how much you liked money and me and- I guess, how much of a dick I was being. I still don’t think I did the wrong thing. At the time. For the company. I think maybe it should have been…different. Somehow. And yeah, it pissed me off that you didn’t like Sean, when he made so much sense, and you…weren’t making any.” Mark rakes a hand through his hair. “This sucks so hard.”

Eduardo’s not sure what to say. He doesn’t get why Mark’s still here, giving him these half-sincere explanations, these almost apologies. The Mark he knows doesn’t go back and apologize, he moves forwardforwardforward until he does something that completed eradicates a person’s memory of what he’s done wrong in the first place. And surely Mark knows that isn’t going to happen. Not now. Probably not ever. So why is he still trying?

For the first time, he thinks maybe the Mark of his memories is a storybook character, just like the people his mother made up when she’d read to him as a child. Because the boy he remembers is determined and steadfast and a little bit reckless, but always interesting, and now he’s wondering if all of that obscured the person Mark had always been. If Eduardo had let his judgment cloud because of the things he felt, let all the virtues he’d seen in a boy who’d deigned to become his best friend hide who the boy himself really was. If the majority of their relationship had all been in his head.

Because this is not the Mark he knows, still determined but not nearly as steadfast. If anything, Mark doesn’t seem to know why he’s here either.

“Wardo, stop looking at me like that. I’m not a child. I’m perfectly capable of understanding when I do something wrong. Sometimes it just takes a little while for it to sink in. It didn’t feel wrong at the time.”

“If it didn’t feel wrong, Mark, why did you keep it from me until the very end?”

He doesn’t seem to have an answer for that. Finally Mark says, “Because I thought you might change my mind.”

For a second, Eduardo can’t find words, but then they come, hurtful and spiteful and almost a sob.

“I hate you. I hate you so much, and it’s exhausting. I want to feel something different, now. I want to forget all of it. I hate you,” he repeats, except it doesn’t sound like hate at all. It sounds like I love you and why did you leave, why did you hurt me, and don’t go away, not ever again. Because he’s never met anyone else who’s made him feel the way Mark did. The instant connection, the way his ideas clicked differently, the weird sense of almost- completeness.

He tells himself he will, again, someday. Everyone says that nothing is ever lost for good, that real love happens more than once in a person’s life (not that Eduardo equates what he used to feel for Mark with love) and the loss of one best friend isn’t the end of the world, but twenty seven years of life is presenting him with evidence to the contrary. Maybe Eduardo will meet someone better, more interesting, more dynamic that Mark, who will fill the big gaping sense of emptiness he has in his chest when it gets too quiet and he actually allows himself to think. But he isn’t sure if he can wait another twenty years for it to happen. The world is wearing him down.

Sometimes he wonders if that’s what college is really for, and why life afterwards is nothing like it. College is the place that popular media and daydreaming high school kids imagine as this hotspot for intellectual creativity. And yeah, it can be, at times. But mostly it’s a circus for kids who want to get drunk, get laid, and spend four years of their life putting off the rest of their fucking life. If you learn a thing or two, hell, you’re ahead of the game. That’s why Eduardo chose Harvard.

(They say Harvard chooses you, but when you have as many connections as the Saverins and a childhood full of nothing but learning how to get ahead, you pretty much have your pick of the litter.)

He figured it wouldn’t be as bad. Not as many hormones. Not as much free flowing liquor. Turns out, smart kids have more pent up then all the rest of them put together. Now he thinks that maybe parents send their children away under the guise of education so that they can learn what it’s like to get their hearts broken and dreams crushed surrounded by thousands of other kids going through the exact same thing. Because nobody comes out of it unchanged. Even the boring kids, the ones who do nothing but study or play World of Warcraft for their entire scholastic career go through a transformation of sorts. One where they realize that nothing fantastic is ever going to happen to them, no princes on stallions or superheroes or playboy bunnies coming out of the woodwork to save them from the doldrums. Eduardo thinks maybe that breaks them a little too, in its own way.

He hates Mark, and he hates that he let himself get sucked into this, the drama of it all.

“That’s okay,” Mark says softly, like he expects it, and he probably does. He’s probably used to being hated. But Eduardo’s not used to seeing that expression on Mark’s face. Mark’s always unshakable. He’s the most driven person Eduardo has ever met, and he’s never needed his parents or his friends or his teachers’ approval. He knows he’s hot shit, and knowing gives him this innate amount of confidence that he probably doesn’t wholly deserve. At least, that’s what Mark’s usually like. “You deserve to hate me.”

“I don’t need you to qualify what I feel, thanks.”

Although Eduardo kind of does. He feels realer, more solid, somehow, with all of that out in the open, under Mark’s steady gaze.

“We’re never going to be able to trust each other,” Mark says, and hearing it out loud sounds like surrender.

“No, probably not. If it’s any consolation, I don’t much feel like trusting anyone. I’m going to my meeting now,” Eduardo says, because he needs to leave, he’s needed to leave since the moment he first saw Mark standing in front of him.

Why can’t he just fucking leave?

“I’ve got beer,” Mark says, and Eduardo decides that five more minutes can’t hurt.

 

---

 

They end up walking along the Charles and Storrow Drive until they come to this pier, this little bundle of logs that seems to exist for no reason at all. It’s nowhere near where the crew team practices, and there aren’t any little boats tied up to its side, and the whole thing’s barely bigger than the bathroom at Eduardo’s hotel. Next thing he knows, they’re sitting down, even though it’s cold, the water lapping up against the rig, rocking it back and forth beneath their weight.

“So. You brought beer to a lecture?”

“I don’t like public speaking.”

Eduardo used to know that. He wonders what else he’s forgotten. He thinks about his business meeting, and how he’s flown all the way out from Singapore to meet with this particular investor and he can’t actually bring himself to care. His company’s relatively successful, and it’s not like he sees Mark very often. Or ever. Even if it’s going to end in screaming, he kind of wants to see why Mark hasn’t let him walk away yet. He can’t be serious about rekindling their old friendship.

It’s got to be a game.

It’s not just about the way that Mark’s never liked being wrong, or apologizing. It’s- well. Mark has zero luck with girls, yeah, but a large portion of that is that he expects to be pursued. If a girl doesn’t give chase, she isn’t even worth a second glance.

(Unless she’s hot. There are always exceptions for ridiculous hotness.)

Still, he’s never liked to be the one doing the chasing, and the fact that he’s doing it right now, with Eduardo, is making Eduardo feel a little unsettled. Because the problem with Mark’s inability to look cross eyed at a girl who doesn’t make the first move is that he can’t maintain interest in anything freely given, either. He likes to fight; with code, with theories, and even with friends. He likes a challenge. It gets all his juices flowing, and makes him more creative, more interesting by proxy. But once it’s over, he gives up.

As far as Eduardo can tell, Mark’s trying to break him, and as soon as he caves, Mark will quit. Just like he always does.

Eduardo will never give him the satisfaction of caving.

“So- how’s Christy?” Mark asks, pulling two bottles from his messenger bag, and Eduardo wonders what would’ve happened if they’d cracked against his laptop.

“What? We broke up. Like, forever ago.”

“But aren’t you still friends? I always thought you were the kind of guy who stayed friends with your exes.”

“Not the crazy ones,” Eduardo says, but he doesn’t really mean it.

Christy was beautiful, and she was warm, wet heat when the nights got too cold, and for a little while, he was infatuated with the curve of her lips and the taste of her mouth and the way she would wrap her legs around his hips. He was caught up in the feeling of being loved by a gorgeous girl, in the envious looks random strangers threw him and the way she made him feel like a rockstar. She had a quirky sense of humor and was capable of holding conversations about things other than lipstick and shoes. Eduardo was in heaven.

But Christy was a girl, and eventually she fell prey to the dominant female instinct that demanded she assist in driving the male species insane. She called All The Time and kept telling Eduardo she Needed him. Eduardo wasn’t ready to be Needed, wasn’t prepared for the responsibility that came along with being In Love. It was honestly terrifying.

It didn’t occur to him until a long time later that he’d been perfectly happy being at Mark’s beck and call, and that probably Meant Something. By the time he figured out what, Christy was just one more blocked friend on Facebook, and Boston was one step closer to being a club full of Eduardo-Haters. His guilt was slightly appeased by the fact that she’d gone off the deep end, and proved to be certifiably insane, but- well, he knew what pain could do to a person firsthand.

(The sound of Mark’s laptop hitting a desk echoes in his ears, the look on his face ingrained so deeply on the back of his eyelids that Eduardo sees it at the most inappropriate times. So, yeah, he doesn’t get to be too hypocritical on that one, even if he hadn’t nearly burned down an entire apartment complex.)

He still winces when he thinks about the way he treated her, and he knows it’s the kind of thing that a simple ‘sorry’ won’t make right. Love never is.

Eduardo glances over at Mark, who’s downing half his beer in a single gulp, and thinks this is a bad idea. He wants to go back to his hotel. He’s tired, his butt’s cold, he’s already running past late for his meeting, and he’s sick of looking at Mark’s face. But he knows leaving won’t help anything at all. There’s no way he’s ever going to get to sleep after this,  Boston in January is always going to be balls fucking cold, the meeting's shot, and Mark’s face is going to haunt his dreams the way it always does, awake or asleep.

Eduardo uncaps his beer and takes a swig.

Mark says, “She wasn’t worth it anyway. I don’t know how you could stand her.”

“Jesus, Mark. Not everyone has the same amount of disdain for humanity as you do.”

Mark rolls his eyes, making it perfectly clear what he thinks of that. “Are you dating anyone new? Found a replacement?”

“I thought we covered this.” Eduardo sighs. “People aren’t hardware. You can’t just trade them in for the newest model.”

“So that means…?”

“No. There’s no one.” Eduardo sips his beer, and he can’t stop himself from asking, “What about you? Any girls?”

“Of course not.”

Well. Eduardo can’t really bring himself to be surprised.

The beer bottle is slick wet in his palm. Back in their first year of friendship, finding liquor from week to week had been imperative. Dustin would pay homeless guys in the Square to buy handles, which worked pretty well until one inevitably grabbed his seventy bucks and ran out the back door.

Eduardo has so many memories with Mark over shared liquor. Like polishing off a bottle of Bombay Sapphire on the dark staircase of Kirkland together, hoping they wouldn’t be discovered, hoping they would. Talking about everything and nothing, a future that would never come. Mark had made him feel excited about the things he could do. Mark had made him believe in himself.

And then, Mark had taken it all away, just because he could. Just to prove a point.

Bitterly, Eduardo informs him, “By the way, your new features blow.”

Mark lifts an eyebrow. “I thought you didn’t even know how to adjust the settings on your page. Did someone give you lessons?”

“I read a book,” Eduardo mutters, and he refuses to be embarrassed. Refuses.

“What don’t you like?” Mark asks, and he sounds genuinely curious.

“You took something that was a legitimately exclusive place to network and turned it into one stop shopping for online games.”

“You never understood the appeal of exclusivity.”

“I’ve been enlightened. Do you know how fucking obnoxious it is when you get eight requests for Farmville in one day? People I’ve never met in Bangladesh want to be my friend. It’s MySpace part two.”

“Bangladesh? You’re popular.”

“I don’t want to be popular. I want to be able to talk to my friends without someone asking me to join their mafia war. Also, the little chat boxes are ridiculous. Half the appeal of the wall was the ability to talk to people without actually having to actively talk to them.”

“There are privacy settings, you know.”

“It used to be simple. Clean. Now it’s just a lot of work. I bet you enjoy that, too. You conned a million people into joining their very own final club, and then you blew it apart. You destroyed it and made sure that no one could ever create anything like an online final club ever again. You really showed us all.”

“I-“

“In fact, I hope you’re proud of yourself. You’ve enabled a whole new world of psychopaths and cyberstalkers. I’ve heard people get murdered over their Facebook pages now.”

It’s a low, low blow. It’s not like Mark can actually control other people’s actions. He can’t even control his own.

He still winces away from Eduardo’s words, and oh, Eduardo thinks. This is what going too far feels like.

“You’re so bitter,” Mark says instead of rising to the jibe. “Wardo-“

“Don’t act like I’m the only one who’s changed. What are we even doing, right here, right now?”

“Drinking. I thought that was obvious.”

“But why?”

“So we can be friends again.”

“We cannot be friends. Not now. Not ever. I thought I said that already.” Eduardo pauses. “We’re not even the same people anymore.”

“But isn’t that good? We’re not nineteen. We’re not young and stupid and convinced we’re invincible. We’re brand new, Wardo. So why can’t we have something new?”

“College is supposed to be for figuring out who you are, not creating a brand new person altogether.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Who doesn’t want to reinvent themselves?”

“I didn’t.”

“Liar. You wanted to be part of a Final Club. You wanted to be cool. You wanted to get girls.”

“Yeah, I wanted to improve upon who I was. I didn’t want to change completely.”

“That would make you the only one. People go to college to outrun who they were in high school, whether they were happy or not.”

Eduardo isn’t sure about how true that is, but he thinks it could be, at least partially. He’s not sure about the running away bit, but he’s met plenty of coeds who seemed like they were running towards something. The future. He thinks maybe if he talked to them, they wouldn’t run so fast.

“You’re right.”

“About what?”

“This does suck.”

“Wardo?”

“Yeah.”

“Why can’t we be friends again? Is- is trust that important?”

“Mark-” and now Eduardo remembers all the times he felt like Mark’s big brother. All the times he had to teach him how to be more human, like maybe he’d never really learned. “It’s so important. I don’t want to be trampled on again, I don’t want to let you take advantage of me again. Do you know how stupid you made me feel? How much it hurt?”

“I never meant to take advantage of you-“

“Which doesn’t change the fact that you did.”

“I know. I knew it when I was doing it. And I thought it was one more thing you’d forgive me for. I thought maybe you’d punish me by ignoring me for a month and disinviting me from your spring break trip to Boca. More of the same passive aggressiveness. But you took it up a level.”

Eduardo raises his bottle, trying to see the blackened cloud cover through the dark glass.

“Suing you wasn’t so passive aggressive, was it?”

“Yeah, Wardo, it was. Instead of talking to me you freaked out and got your lawyers to do it for you. I deserved it. I did. And maybe it would have been different if it was about the money-“ Mark pauses like he still kind of doubts it wasn’t. “But you wanted to show me what I’d wrought, and it took me five years to figure out what you meant.”

“You’re supposed to be a quick study.”

“And you’re supposed to be an open book.”

“Most people would’ve figured out what I meant two seconds into it.”

“I’m not most people.”

Which is the crux of the problem.

“I did figure it out on an intellectual level. I thought I was right, and I thought you were the one who was going to regret it in the end. It took a little while to hit home.” Mark’s toying with his bottle cap between his fingers. Sighing, he flicks it into the river. “Want another one?”

“No.”

“You say no too often.”

Eduardo almost laughs.

“I can’t be a pushover and say no too often all at once. It’s impossible. Fine. Give me one.”

He takes the bottle Mark offers.

“I didn’t become a new person.”

“I- what?”

“I didn’t really reinvent myself. I came into myself. I’ve always been this way, I just never had the opportunity to demonstrate what a terrible person I actually am.”

“You’re not a terrible person,” Eduardo says, without even stopping to consider how often he’s thought that descriptor fit Mark just fine over the past few years.

He knows he can’t actually blame everything bad that had ever happened on Mark, even if some days, he really fucking wants to. The truth is, Mark made Eduardo realize that he’s the one who had nothing else. So Eduardo’s built his life since then. Mark made Eduardo stronger.

“Then what? I’m a person who made a terrible mistake? I didn’t think it was a mistake at the time.”

“I know, but...everyone does things they’re not proud of. Some of us do things more publically and grandiose than others, but it's part of being human, alright?”

“Why are you defending me?”

“I’m not. I just-“ Eduardo pauses, staring out at the river. He hates that Mark always makes him feel the same way, like he’s falling apart. He’s never been the kind of person who handles second guessing himself very well. “Never mind.”

Mark’s eyes are all hazy and soft and sweet, just for a second, and he pulls out two more beers. Eduardo looks at his bag dubiously.

“Aren’t you really, really late?”

“The thing lasts a million hours. My turn isn’t even for-” Mark checks his watch. “A while. It’s one of those speech-dinner-speech things. If I left now, would you come?”

Eduardo went to New York for Mark. He flitted back and forth to California for Mark. He hadn’t come every time his best friend called, and Mark certainly resented him for it, but everyone else made cracks about how completely whipped Eduardo was. And he had been. Once. So he tests it. Plays a game. To see how much Mark’s really changed. To see if he’ll be resented for wanting to go but not actually doing it.

Because he does kind of want to see Mark talk about this thing that they created. Eduardo won’t say it out loud, but it’s been so long since he was a real part of Facebook. It’d be nice, to pretend, for a night.

“I can’t.”

Annoyance flicks across Mark’s features, quick as dry lightning cracking in the distance, but Mark smoothes it away. “Okay. You know. I wasn’t the only one who did something- who- You weren’t there, and I needed you.”

Eduardo knows they’re not talking about the lecture anymore, or the depositions, or anything relevant to the last five years.

“I was trying to be there, the best I could.”

“I needed you.”

That’s about when he realizes that Mark means it, the way Christy meant it. Needed with a capital letter.

“Mark-“ Eduardo’s mouth gapes open, “-if you fucking missed me, you could have just said so. You didn’t have to find a replacement and then- what? Punish me?”

“You’re not the only one who likes to teach lessons, Wardo.”

“We’re so dysfunctional,” he breathes.

“You’re surprised.”

“No, I’m in shock that none of our mutual friends separated us for our own good years ago.”

“They were hoping we’d mature.”

“Good plan. Very successful,” he says faintly.

“I didn’t handle the distance well. It felt like you were choosing to be somewhere else for a reason.”

“I wasn’t. God, I really, really wasn’t.”

“I know. I always knew. It was easier not to think about that. And-”

“What?”

“If I say what I’m really thinking, you’ll never speak to me again,” Mark says flatly.

“Say it anyway.”

Mark sighs.

“I was nineteen. I was nineteen, and the way I felt about you...I needed you too much. So I made myself stop. I distanced myself from you, because I think maybe I lo- that I was too involved. I did whatever I could to sabotage our relationship, I think. I didn’t realize I was doing it at the time, but that has to be what it was. I’m not that much of an asshole. At least, not on purpose. None of that was on purpose. But nineteen is too young to be tied down.”

“You- Why are you saying this?“

“There were so many things about you that bothered me, the more time we spent together. How you wouldn’t back me up when I got in trouble, even if I was wrong. How you weren’t there when I needed you. How you hated to wake up in the morning, and would’ve wasted the entire day doing nothing if you didn’t have classes or the Investors Club or a Phoenix event. I wanted you to have this life that fit into what I created, to be excited about the parts of Facebook that I was excited about.”

Tiny waves lap at the dock, and Mark is staring at him, like he wants Eduardo to be able to respond to that.

“Before the Phoenix, I wished you had your own thing to do other than hanging out with me all the time, because I thought it made you pathetic. And then when you got punched you were hardly ever available and- I’m a hypocrite. A gigantic hypocrite. I never had a problem with that before you. I never felt hypocritical before you. And you can.”

“Can what?”

“Be a pushover and say no.”

“How is that even possible?”

Mark shrugs and sips his beer. Then he says, “You’re not a pushover.”

“You lost me.”

“You did everything I asked because you wanted to keep me happy. Nearly everything. But you’re stubborn, and when you thought it was important, you wouldn’t even let my happiness get in the way. Not if it compromised your base values. Even though you said you’d let me get away with anything, you wouldn’t. Not when I acted like a dick, and not when you thought someone else was compromising my dignity, and not when I hurt you. There were a whole hell of a lot of times you said no, even if it felt like you were always saying yes.”

“You’re wrong. I compromised myself for you all the time.”

“I know that now.”

“I kept waiting for you to grow up. Even when I didn’t want to do it myself.”

“I really am sor-“

“Stop. If that’s true, Why didn’t you just call me? Or come hunt me down? Do you know how long I waited to hear your voice after the depositions?” Eduardo asks, sad, aware of what he sounds like. “The more I waited, the stupider I felt.”

“Would you have picked up?”

“Of course,” Eduardo says without hesitating. “Have I ever not?”

“No,” Mark admits. And it’s as close as he gets to saying he was scared. “I figured you’d stop caring eventually. Statistically, that should have happened.”

“It did happen.”

“No,” Mark says, sounding the tiniest bit hesitant. “It didn’t.”

“Well. It doesn’t work like that anyway. You don’t just stop.”

“I figured that out. But I couldn’t- I can’t figure out why. Statistically-“

“Friendships are not statistically quantifiable, Mark.”

“Yes they are. They are,” he insists, “Most people can walk away from one without regretting it so much. Are you really not dating anyone?”

“No,” Eduardo says sullenly. “No one.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t fucking know, alright?”

“The only logical answer is that we were more than friends.”

“What?”

“What? Our reactions would make more sense if we were in love.”

Eduardo sighs. “That’s what you think?”

“Yes.”

“You are such an entitled asshole. You say anything that flashes through your stupid head to anyone, and it doesn’t matter if it’s inappropriate, or who you hurt.”

“Why shouldn’t I? Otherwise I’d be lying. I’m not trying to hurt you, Eduardo.”

“Then what are you trying to do? Tell me you loved me?”

Mark looks away, and it’s awful. They can’t even have a serious conversation without acting like children. Neither of them play well with others. Which makes zero sense. Mark acts like he’s never been socialized in his life, but he’s got like, a million sisters. The truth is, he’s been spoiled into thinking he’s allowed to act like the center of the universe. And Eduardo? He’s an only child. He knows how to act the part, but if anyone looks past his idle small talk, they see he has no real friends. He doesn’t know how to keep a person close.

Suddenly they’re supposed to bring love into the equation?

“I’m trying to tell you that we’re not a Greek tragedy. We can change the ending.”

“I thought you didn’t pay attention in Core.”

“I didn’t,” Mark says, “But I watched Clash of the Titans once. And I’m serious. The only thing that’s been stopping us all this time are our principles.”

“You mean pride.”

Neither of them know how to back down, either, not anymore.

“I mean principles,” Mark replies, eyes on the lights across the river. “Of which pride is one.”

“Mark-“

“I don’t want to be miserable anymore,” Mark admits, and Eduardo knows he probably thought he could move past it, could cover up their history with days more brilliant, more amazing than they had ever been, the same way he covered mistakes in his code with overwrites, corrections. He probably skewed it all in his head so that he didn’t even seem like he was the one who was wrong, until one day he couldn’t lie anymore.

Intelligent does not equal perceptive.

“So you’re saying you loved me,” Eduardo repeats, and Mark still won’t look at him.

Does he think this was some huge secret? Something Eduardo didn’t know?

They hooked up once. It was at a party, and there was juice that tasted like some weird combination of pineapple and licorice and a whole hell of a lot of alcohol. The dude holding the shindig was a friend of Christy’s, and she’d been this warm, steady presence at Eduardo’s side. He thought he might like her a lot, a lot. But then Mark threw some kind of hissy fit, and then the next thing he knew they were standing in a darkened stairwell, and Eduardo’s eyes were wet from frustration and too much liquor, and the words I love you were tumbling out of his mouth before he could stop them, and Mark was saying them back.

It was heady, that stolen kiss, that drunken fumble in the dark, and afterwards, Eduardo never forgave himself for cheating on Christy.

Maybe that’s why he’d stayed with her so long, even after he realized she would never be what Mark was to him.

Mark never said those words again, though. Eduardo wasn’t even a hundred percent certain that he remembered correctly. It didn’t matter. Neither of them had ever loved each other the right way, and it wasn’t fair.

He wants to tell Mark to fuck off. He wants to leave Mark staring after him. He doesn’t want to be the pushover. Again. But at the same time, he thinks maybe this is what forgiveness is all about. Restoring your faith in someone, even when they don’t deserve it at all. Taking a risk, and making yourself look pathetic.

But he’s not sure. He’s been raised to think that it is weak to refuse a person forgiveness. He’s also been raised to know that there’s weakness in giving in. He’s got two conflicting ideologies warring in his head. And this huge part of him is desperate to let Mark back into his life. Only there’s this other part of him, sharp and prickly, that wants to stay away. To protect himself. To hurt Mark. To prove a point. He’s not sure if any of those things are important, but they feel crucial.

Is it better to be suckered one more time, or to close himself off forever? Eduardo doesn’t know. He doesn’t think that’s the kind of thing a person can know. And as stupid as he’s going to feel if Mark turns around and fucks him over one more time, he’s going to feel worse not taking a chance. It’s a form of emotional abuse he’s willing to accept, a failing in himself that he can’t push away. Because this is what’s it’s like with Mark, always, feeling sharper, cleverer, ideas clicking differently, better. At the same time feeling all too stupid, senses dulled by the thought that he’s somehow safer in Mark’s vicinity, when sitting next to this boy is nothing like safety.

Eduardo admits, “I love you. Still. I’m only saying it because I know you can’t. You don’t know how.”

It’s true. He’s always loved Mark in this terrible, desperate way. He'll probably never stop (never be able to let go of the sadness that is anger, that is misery, that is love).

Mark blinks. He looks like he has a million things that he needs to say, but he doesn’t. He says nothing.

Of course.

“And now I’m leaving.”

Eduardo tosses his beer bottle in the river, not caring that he’s littering. Not caring about anything except that he’s allowed himself to look like a moron. Again. Why does he keep letting this happen?

“Wardo, stop.”

“Why?” Eduardo yells, turning on him, “I shouldn’t have said that. That shouldn’t have happened.”

“Wardo, no. Of course it should have. That’s what-“

“Please don’t say that’s what you brought me here for.”

Mark doesn’t bother trying to look apologetic.

“I think about you. All the time. It’s distracting. I know you hate me, but Wardo, please.”

It’s the please that makes him stop with the self-pity and listen, because Mark never says please. He doesn’t get the point of social etiquette. He never asks for anything he doesn’t think he deserves.

“I want you back. I need- I really need you back. It’s too- life’s too hard without you. I can’t-“ Mark pauses.

Eduardo chokes out, “Go on."

"I know you don’t believe me, but Wardo, you believe in things. You believe in all that sentimental jibberish I don’t really understand, and- “

“I don’t. Not anymore.”

“I know,” Mark says, and it feels like there’s a lot of things they both know tonight, things that never seemed like they needed to be said out loud until now. Mark continues, "I know you don’t, or you’d believe me, and that’s- it’s my fault, okay? I get that. But I need you, and I need you to believe that. I need you to believe."

“Why?”

“Because I’ve only ever believed in myself. Until you. And after the depositions, not so much with myself. Not anymore. Wardo, you’re all I’ve got left.”

“That’s not exactly a compliment.”

“You’re the only thing worth believing in,” Mark says, and okay, that’s maybe a compliment.

“Please,” he says again, and Eduardo realizes that this is the moment he kind of always feared, but also hoped for. The one where he’ll have to decide.

Yeah, he’s always kind of wondered if he’d ever see Mark again, and the thought of it has always filled him with equal parts hope and fear.

In his daydreams, he wasn’t exhausted and hungry and slightly damp.

“I’m not any good at this, Wardo. I’m not used to needing a second chance. But I’m trying.”

Eduardo is still ready to walk away.

But he can’t.

He’s already made the decision to stay, because Mark is a part of his dreamscape night after night, and maybe it is pathetic and weak to want him back, but Eduardo is willing to be both of those things, for this boy, who makes him feel and hurt and love. Only ever for him.

“Okay. Then we try.”

“But what if it doesn’t work?” Mark asks, standing, facing Eduardo and really, honestly looking at him with his ridiculous, gorgeous blue eyes. There’s power in his gaze, scary in a way (powerful men fell civilizations, didn’t Eduardo learn that in school), but something that Eduardo’s missed for so, so long.

Once upon a time, he didn’t need anyone to look at him like that.

A year and a half, that’s all it took for Eduardo’s life to change completely.

“I honestly have no fucking idea,” he says.

When Mark kisses him, it’s not electricity or fireworks or any of the things Eduardo’s heard kisses are supposed to be.

(Although he already knows that stories lie. All the time. From articles about chickens in a school paper to creation myths to best selling novels about accidental billionaires. He might’ve helped skew the facts on that one.)

Mostly it’s soft and warm and Mark tastes kind of like stale mountain dew and beer. It's a little cold at first too, their lips chilled from the air around them, but progressively warming up.

When Mark pulls back, that’s the moment where Eduardo’s world skews again, when he sees his eyes, dark and intense and honest. He doesn’t want to feel like his whole life has lead up to this, like he could have ever been fated to want such a complete dickhole.

He doesn’t want to, but he does. Every step he’s ever taken, from his first breath to his fifth birthday party to the first girl he slept with, his admission letter to Harvard and that damned intro class for a subject he didn’t even like and AEPi; all of it pointed him straight toward Mark.

“I didn’t like needing you. So I made myself stop,” Mark repeats, “But I really am sorry.”

Eduardo wants to ask how. He’s never been able to stop needing Mark, not once, not even a little bit. But he thinks maybe it hasn’t worked out so well for Mark, in the end, because here he is, looking at Eduardo like he’s all he’d ever needed.

Mark insists, “It was easier when you were around. When I thought you’d always be around. I really, really thought you’d get over it. Eventually.”

Eduardo figures it comes down to this. Where to draw the line between sacrificing his pride and sacrificing his sense of self. Learning to forgive without being fucked over, to stand up tall knowing he might be knocked down again soon.

He takes a deep breath.

“How long can we actually spend discussing who’s been wronged more? We were both assholes in the end. Maybe I started it. Maybe you did. Maybe it just happened.”

“I don’t like things I can’t quantify.”

“Then you’ll have to trust me. Even if you’re not ready. All this time,” Eduardo mumbles, hand pressing firm into Mark’s chest, timing the steady beat of his heart, “I’ve been living in memories. Harvard feels like it was all a dream now. Something I made up. And you- you’re proof that it’s real.”

“Wardo,” Mark says, and for the first time in a long time, he’s looking at him like maybe he actually understands.

Eduardo’s missed the way that Mark’s eyes take everything in, take him apart and reassemble him like he knows everything going on inside his head. Somewhere along the line, Mark stopped looking at him that way. Eduardo doesn’t know if it was when he first got punched by the Phoenix, or when he started dating Christy, or when he went out to Palo Alto. He doesn’t know because he didn’t notice. Because he was too caught up in the act of being Mark’s friend, but not paying enough attention to Mark, as a person.

It’s easy to play a role, Eduardo thinks. Sometimes you become so consumed by it that it’s hard to separate yourself from it, to look at the people you know objectively.

Eduardo remembers when Mark began to turn away from him, eyes reflecting back the blue white of his computer screen, pupils moving as rapidly as his fingers. He remembers, once, when Mark fell asleep hunched over his desk. It was midwinter, freezing, and Eduardo covered him with a blanket to still his shivers. He could feel Mark’s heartbeat through the notches of his spine, and he paused, letting his fingers rest there. Just for a moment.

That was the moment when he realized he was in too deep. He wanted too much, and none of it had anything to do with dollars and fame.

“Wardo, the past doesn’t exist anymore. If you hold onto it, you’ll never move forward.”

Mark kisses him again, because he’s always been big on instant gratification, and it’s hard and a little awkward, because it’s Mark. It is nothing like closure. It feels like rewinding, like going back to the beginning of the movie after it’s been watched too many times, and the DVD has gotten all scratched and parts jumped and skipped and have static lines. It feels exhilarating, too, but Mark could make sitting together in a dark room feel exhilarating, so. There’s that. Eduardo tenses as Mark’s fingertips creep down his ribcage, exploring the shape of every dip and hollow, the way his skin stretches across bone. His hands are as steady and certain as they are when he’s coding, fingers flying over keys at warp speed. Except instead of hard plastic, he’s skimming the skin along Eduardo’s hipbones, the plain of his stomach, the dip of his navel. His nails drag lightly along the fine trail of hair leading down from his bellybutton, displacing it ever so softly, the feeling shivery and a bit ticklish. Mark smiles, an impertinent little grin crooking his lips. Eduardo doesn’t understand it, can’t understand it when his hands are trembling, fine quivers wracking his fingers like the days when he drinks too much strong black coffee, caffeine jittery. But Mark’s always been better creating words with his fingers than with his mouth, and Eduardo thinks that maybe, maybe he’s saying something important right now.

Mark buries his face in the hollow of Eduardo’s throat, lips brushing his skin, and suddenly every breath that Eduardo takes tastes like Mark, like oxygen recycled from his former best friend’s lungs. He is dizzy with it.

(He wonders if he can taste love on Mark's breath, or if the faintness he feels when they share oxygen is just dying braincells in his head.)

Eduardo lets Mark take what he wants right there, on the wood splintered dock, cool currents beneath them, towering clouds above them, the whole of Boston alive and around them. It feels like surrender. Only, giving in isn’t nearly as terrible as he’s always imagined.

They’re halfway to naked when Mark says, “This is really not going to work for me.”

Eduardo snorts a laugh into his shoulder, “Thank god. I can barely feel my toes.”

“Come back to my hotel.”

“What about your speech?”

 “Fuck it. They’re from BU. It’s not like they’re going to learn anything anyway.”


--- 


Sex with the right person leaves electricity thrumming beneath his skin, but being touched by Mark is so much better. Eduardo feels like he’s got a hurricane caught in his chest, leaving him breathless.

Mark makes him a living, breathing natural disaster.

He doesn’t want to submit to Mark anymore, to always have to say yes and be reviled for wanting his happiness. So he owns him, in the only way he can. And later, when he gets up to leave and Mark’s hand wraps around his bare ankle with a softly whispered, “Stay," Eduardo does. He’s gotten his revenge, the moral high ground, Mark pleading his name. But it doesn’t feel like winning until his head is pillowed on Mark’s shoulder and he is listening to the bassline of his heartbeat.

Mark asks, “Why Singapore?”

“Singapore’s beautiful.”

“You’re beautiful,” Mark retorts, “And I doubt its aesthetic properties had anything to do with anything.”

“Why do you think?” Eduardo asks finally, because he’s been really careful about that, mapping out lines of demarcation all over the country, all over the world, because until now, Eduardo felt safer with oceans between them.

Mark frowns.

Eduardo asks, “How’s Dustin? How’s Chris?”

“You don’t talk to them?”

“Not often enough. They were your roommates. Besides.” Eduardo shrugs. “It always seems…inappropriate.”

“To talk to your friends?”

“To talk to people who will always be more loyal to you.”

And that of course is the problem with relationships. You meet people and introduce them to the people you love and maybe you’re excited when they got along so well, but one day, they inevitably choose that person over you. Eduardo has talked to Dustin and Chris both a few times since the depositions, but their conversations always make him feel guilty and subversive. He figures it does the same to them; eventually they stopped calling unless it was important.

“I’m going to have to fix that,” Mark hums.

“Oh yeah?”

“If we’re going to be together.”

“You don’t do so well with long distance relationships.”

“Yeah,” Mark says ruefully, “I think maybe it’s time I grow up a little.”

Eduardo thinks about Harvard, about college, when he was trying so hard to be a grownup. When he mostly didn’t want the responsibility of being an adult. Since he first met him, Mark has made Eduardo feel like maybe getting old wouldn’t be so bad. If they do it together.

Mark’s blue eyes are watching him like maybe he’s thinking the same thing.

“Neither of us do so well with the distance,” Eduardo concedes.

“Don’t worry. This is going to work.”

Eduardo bites his lip and doesn’t say anything. He feels like such a kid.

“You sure?” He can’t help but ask.

“Wardo.” Mark’s nose brushes Eduardo’s cheekbones. “You’re doing it again.”

“Doing what?”

“Not trusting me. I don’t blame you,but don’t let it build up, okay? Say that you don’t believe me.”

“I don’t believe you.”

Mark winces, but he says, “I can live without you. I’ve been doing it for years. I hate it.”

“Not a huge fan either,” Eduardo replies, a little bitterly, and he knows that he’s showing Mark all his cards, even though a part of him still thinks that the second the mystery falls away, Mark will bolt.

“Wardo, you’re not listening. I didn’t fight for you when I should’ve. I was a child. And I’m not really much better now, but I’ve learned enough to know that I have to fight for you now. There’s no one else. So I’m asking you, is this what you want?”

“I don’t know,” Eduardo says.

“I can’t promise you forever. Not this time.” And maybe Mark’s memories haven’t totally vanished either. Maybe he’s thinking of a night with punch stained lips whispering I love you. Since the beginning. Always. “I want to, but I wanted to last time, too. I’m going to try. And I need you to try too.”

Eduardo thinks about it. The distance between Palo Alto and Singapore. The weeks, maybe even months, they’re going to have to go between visits. The waiting is going to kill him.

But for the sake of second chances, he’ll do it. Maybe he’ll even be better, this time. Now that he knows Mark isn’t a puzzle or a robot; he’s a person. And like most people, he’s deeply flawed.

Like Eduardo, even.

Eduardo thinks maybe he didn’t realize how much some of his actions had cut Mark, the same way Mark probably still doesn’t totally understand the weight of everything he’s done. People are limited to their own viewpoints, no matter how hard they try to comprehend another. It takes more courage than Eduardo has to be vulnerable again.

But like Mark, he’s going to try.

---