“Why cover the same ground again? ... It goes against my grain to repeat a tale told once, and told so clearly.”
― Homer, from The Odyssey
It starts like this:
“If you do this for me then I’ll leave you alone forever.”
(There’s more to this story, of course, but Eduardo doesn’t want to rehash it, doesn’t want to remember the long days at the Kirkland Suite, doesn’t want to remember Facebook becoming a juggernaut and especially doesn’t want to remember the depositions.
Some things are better left buried.)
Mark’s word echo oddly on the phone and Eduardo removes his cell from his ear and regards it for a moment, wonders if he is dreaming.
“You want to go on a road trip with me,” Eduardo says slowly, holding the phone up to his face and speaking into it slowly, carefully. “And if I agree, you’ll leave me alone forever?”
“I promise,” comes Mark’s voice, affirmative, and Eduardo pictures him nodding forcefully.
“You were supposed to leave me alone forever after the depositions,” Eduardo reminds him. “In fact, how did you get this number?”
He’s remembering the reach of Mark, his ability to hack into almost anything and find any information he wants because his moral code isn’t remotely similar to anyone else’s.
Mark is silent on the other end of the phone and Eduardo feels his mouth twist into a scowl.
“I’ll pay for it,” Mark offers, and it takes a moment for Eduardo to process the words, to get past the sudden roaring in his ears.
“I don’t need you to pay for it!” He snaps. “In case you forgot, Mark, I’m a billionaire in my own right.”
“That’s – I know that, Wardo.”
“Don’t call me that.”
“Eduardo.” Mark’s voice is biting but he obeys and Eduardo feels a sharp rush of satisfaction. “I meant – this is a favor to me, so you should have to pay.”
Eduardo pinches the bridge of his nose, wonders how Mark sounds so matter-a-fact about it, wonders how this is happening to him.
“Why would you think I’d be willing to do you a favor?” he demands. “Just – why?”
“I never think it hurts to ask,” Mark says finally, and Eduardo can almost feel the soft puff of Mark’s breath against his ear. “The worst you could do is say no.”
And that – that fits and it doesn’t, because once Mark wants something nothing will stop him, but it seems like he’s actually asking permission from Eduardo.
And manipulating him.
Eduardo battles anger and incredulity for a full minute, prompting Mark to ask: “Eduardo?”
“Yeah.” He says it absently, a reassurance that he’s still there – and feels a rushing, a strange feeling of déjà vu.
(“I need my CFO.”
“I’m on my way.”)
Phone conversations between him and Mark have never gone well.
“OK,” he doesn’t know why he’s agreeing. “On one conditional.”
Mark waits, doesn’t say anything, so Eduardo sighs into the phone. “I choose where we go.”
“Done,” Mark says promptly.
“I’ll send you the itinerary,” Eduardo says after a minute, surprised by Mark’s easy agreement. “I will pay for my own tickets.”
“But Eduardo –”
“Mark.” He sinks steel into that word, thinks, absently, of the blue slate-grey of Mark’s eyes and swallows. “I don’t want to owe you anything. This is how we’re doing it.”
Mark makes a noncommittal noise and Eduardo’s heart clenches, making his hand slip slightly on the phone.
“OK,” Mark says finally. He sounds – tired. Eduardo wonders how much of that is sleep-deprivation and how much of it is from talking to him.
“Bye, Mark,” Eduardo says.
Mark hangs out without saying anything.
The streets of Athens are cobble-stoned and dusty. Eduardo hefts his duffel over his shoulder and regrets wearing dress shoes.
Mark, who is following him, had raised his eyebrows when he sat next to Eduardo on the flight.
(“Dress shoes, Wardo?” he had asked, and Eduardo had scowled at him, heavy brows twisting into something he hoped was menacing.
“Please tell me you brought shorts. T-shirts. Something business casual,” Mark emphasizes the casual and Eduardo turns away from him, shoves the covering up so he can stare out at the window.
“This trip won’t work if you ignore me.” Mark sounds matter-of-fact, not hurt, but then again, he never had, not even when Erica had dumped him.
“Watch me,” Eduardo snapped out.
They hadn’t talked for the rest of the flight, or for the next one.)
Vendors stop them, speaking in Greek – a language Eduardo can only describe as rich – and he shakes his head at him, offers a smile, and tries to navigate the twisting streets to their hotel.
They’re staying in a neighborhood named Plaka – The Neighborhood of the Gods, Mark had told him with a twist of his red mouth – and the buildings loom above them, dwarfing them.
Eduardo lingers, slowing to a stop, craning his neck to look up at the buildings – and Mark’s hand, soft despite his typing, closes around his forearm.
“Eduardo, c’mon,” Mark says quietly. “We can sight-see later. You look tired.”
They don’t share rooms, but as Eduardo tries to nap he imagines that Mark is on the other side of the bed, mouth open and curls framing his face like a halo.
Eduardo thinks about Athens, about Greece, and wonders why they’re here.
(He knows why they’re in Athens – he choose it, and tried to convince himself it had nothing to do with the way that Mark had always quoted Homer, his ancient Greek perfect, and the way his eyes had lit up.
He hadn’t said anything when Eduardo had e-mailed him the itinerary and Eduardo can almost convince himself they’re here because he wanted to visit it, not because he wanted to see Mark’s eyes go blue and soft with boy-like wonder.)
He can’t sleep – he tries for an hour, but he’s wired, the imprint of Mark’s hand around his arm buzzing sluggishly. Instead he gets up and throws open the blinds, staring down at the narrow streets and the people walking along them, dressed in flowing clothes and sandals to beat the heat.
It’s hot in his room, the kind of heavy heat that makes even him sweat, and he strips down to his shorts, letting the slight breeze from the open window cool the sweat on his skin.
I hope Mark brought sunscreen he thinks; irritation curls in his spine.
It’s his own fault if he burns.
I don’t have to take care of him anymore.
The phone rings. Eduardo cradles it between his shoulder and ear, relieved that it’s plastic like normal phones.
(He’s travelled enough – he knows that all phones are standard, but he’s unsure here, in Greece. Greece is Mark’s. He doesn’t know any of the rules.
This was a mistake, he thinks.)
“Wardo,” Mark says on the other end of the line. “Come up to the roof. I want to show you something.”
The light is fading, pink settling heavily over the sky when Eduardo climbs all six flights of stairs to the roof, slightly embarrassed by his lack of breath when he reaches the top.
Mark is already there, hands jammed into the pockets of his shorts.
(Eduardo remembers Mark wearing similar shorts in the dead of winter at Harvard, ignoring the snow and the ice and saying, “I don’t get cold, Wardo.”
Wardo always ended up lending Mark his fleece. He still has that fleece, still occasionally finds brown curly hairs around the collar of it.)
“Look,” Mark says, gesturing to a building that is lit up, high above the city.
Eduardo wanders over to stand by his side.
“Is it - ?”
“Yeah,” Mark says, and Eduardo can hear the wonder, the awe, laced around that single word. “The Acropolis.”
Fuck. Eduardo thinks, because he wants to drag Mark up to the Acropolis right away, wants to hear Mark explain everything about it with the same sort of amazement that he’s hearing right now.
He rubs the back of his neck. Mark tears his eyes away from the Acropolis and looks at him, mouth quirking up at one corner.
“I’ve always wanted to see it,” He admits. “I’m glad you choose Greece.”
I’m not, Eduardo thinks, but he simply nods, presses his lips together so he won’t smile.
There’s a softness in Mark’s eyes and Eduardo tries not to return it, tries to remind himself why he’s on this trip – so Mark will leave me alone forever.
It’s not working.
“Let’s go see it tomorrow,” Eduardo says. He can feel himself flush, red blooming on his cheeks and ears, and Mark smiles at him, face dimpling.
“You don’t mind?” he asks, and Eduardo thinks about time and maturity and becoming considerate.
“No,” he says – that at least is truthful. “Not at all.”
They climb to the Acropolis the next day, Mark gesturing at Eduardo and speaking so fast that Eduardo barely understands him. He says things like kyrias and Athena and Those are bullet holes from World War II and Eduardo nods. He tries to pay attention the building, to the lofty arches and the majestic pillars, to the freckling of bullet holes in the marble, but his eyes are draw back to Mark, who is muttering to himself in Greek, the words sliding easily off his tongue.
Mark’s neck and face are pink by the time they stumble into shade, Mark pointing at a small twisted tree and saying This is the olive tree that Athena gave the Athenians, and he puts his hands behind his back, like he’s praying, like he’s in a church.
Eduardo doesn’t really know what to say, so he stands next to Mark and looks at the little tree, thinks it’s majestic as a menorah or a cross, and tries to understand.
When they walk down the hill, back towards the city, Mark teaches Eduardo basic greek words – Efharisto, which is thank you, and the plural hello/goodbye, which is Yia Sas.
“Your pronunciation is too Latin,” Mark says and Eduardo feels himself smile.
“I am from Brazil,” he points out and Mark ducks his head, smiling back.
It’s eerie, like they’re in college, and Eduardo feels himself stiffen, feels himself panic. The smile cracks, slides off his face, and Mark’s face dims.
He doesn’t anything, though, just leads Eduardo over to a restaurant and orders for them, presenting Eduardo with something called a gyro.
Eduardo eats it and tries not to focus on Mark, repeating the Greek words over and over in his mind, as if he can learn them that way.
Mark hadn’t brought a camera, reminding Eduardo about his photographic memory, but when they go to the Agora museum, Eduardo can’t resist taking pictures of Mark looking up at the artifacts, feeling a smile tug on his lips and something squeeze his heart.
He wonders what Mark would have majored in if Facebook hadn’t happened, wonders if Mark would have majored in classics and become a professor, quoting ancient Greek to himself and forgetting to eat while he poured over manuscripts.
It’s all a sort of code and Eduardo thinks it’s plausible, thinks Mark likes to be able to interpret things, which is why whenever there’s an ancient Greek inscription he runs his fingers over it and reads it to Eduardo, lips full and round, cupping the syllables.
It’s beautiful and Eduardo wonders if code is the same way, if he could ever develop an appreciation for it, if Mark would ever take the time to read it out loud and translate it.
He hopes not.
They’re not in Greece for long, maybe three or four days, but Mark has obviously researched it and drags Eduardo all over the city, reminding him that Alexander the Great walked where we’re walking right now and lecturing him about the graffiti on the streets.
Eduardo listens, tries to lose himself in the facts and the history of it, tries to ignore how this was everything he hoped and dreaded – Mark is easy and relaxed, always smiling, eager to explore and explain to Eduardo.
They go to the Gazi neighborhood on their last night, which is bohemian and hip, and a woman drapes herself around Eduardo, bumping his hips with her own and smiling at him with dark red lips.
Mark stiffens and Eduardo laughs and repeats “Ohi, ohi,” (no, no) to her until she slinks off, swaying her hips.
He watches her long enough that Mark grabs his arms, scowling, and tugs him away, up the narrow streets and back to their hotels.
Eduardo wonders what he’s done wrong.
He decides he doesn’t care.
The flight isn’t very long: Eduardo crosses his legs and tries to sleep. He only notices the absence of the typing towards the end of the flight, when he’s shaking himself awake, and he peers at Mark sleepily.
“You don’t have your laptop?” he asks, the words thick in his mouth, and Mark shakes his head, face still.
“Didn’t bring it.” He says.
Eduardo doesn’t ask.
If Athens was rich, and historical, Rome is – Rome is lavish. Mark doesn’t speak Italian and neither does Eduardo, but they manage to take a taxi to their hotel. This time they share a room, and it’s small and not air conditioned. The heat isn’t as thick, doesn’t curl around his bones, but Mark strips down to his boxers and sprawls on the bed, sweat beading in the hollows of his rib cage and clavicle.
Eduardo tries and fails not to notice.
They go to dinner at a small bistro near by, Mark ordering pasta and Eduardo ordering a salad, and discuss what they want to do. Mark is strange; he defers to Eduardo asking Eduardo what they should do next, and Eduardo has no idea.
He choose Rome for much the same reason he choose Greece; he knows nothing about it, he wants to visit it, and – he can’t deny it anymore – he knew Mark would enjoy it.
“Let’s go to the Colosseum,” Mark proposes.
“Okay,” Eduardo agrees.
Later, in the dark, Mark murmurs: “I’m glad you came,” and Eduardo pretends that he’s already asleep and doesn’t reply.
The Colosseum is ruined, but beautiful all the same, and Eduardo trails behind Mark and cranes his neck to take it all in.
Mark tells him about gladiator fights and Eduardo thinks about Gladiator, which Mark says is incredibly historically inaccurate, like the snob that he is. Eduardo feels his lips twitch up into a smile and doesn’t answer when Mark asks him what he’s smiling about, what’s so funny.
From there they wander to the Pantheon, and Mark talks about architecture and Emperor Hadrian.
It’s built in perfect thirds, Mark says, and something squeezes Eduardo’s heart. He focuses on the back of Mark’s neck, which is red from the sun, and then looks away, feeling himself turn pink.
They get gelato, sit on the lip of a fountain and eat it lazily, Mark licking it obscenely and Eduardo trying and failing not to watch him. Dusk is falling; Eduardo almost doesn’t notice because the streets are narrow here too, and the sky is high and far away.
Mark says something about dinner and Eduardo nods and follows him, watching the shadows slant across Mark’s back and calves.
They get Panini’s and walk back to their hotel, sore from the cobblestones and the weird slopes of Rome.
He thinks that Mark must be sore too; he’s limping, favoring his left leg and his mouth is twisted in pain and frustration, but he doesn’t say anything. Eduardo doubts he will. Mark is still proud, still stubborn, and Eduardo wonders if that will ever change.
He finds that he hopes not.
On their way back, Eduardo wanders into a tourist shop and buys sunscreen, pressing it wordlessly into Mark’s hands. Their fingers brush and Eduardo tries not to yank his hand back.
Mark’s hands are warm, either from the sun or just because, and the feeling lingers on the tips of his fingers. He wonders if this is what Mark feels when he’s coding. The thought feels inane.
Mark falls asleep exactly as Eduardo imagines he would, sprawled on his stomach with his mouth sagging open and his eyes scrunched up. He’s shirtless and sleeps only with a sheet, and Eduardo watches him for a long time before falling asleep.
They take a bus to Naples and wander around, Mark insisting that they get proper Neopolitan pizza. The mozzarella is slippery, falling from the doughy pizza onto Eduardo’s shirt and he sighs and licks the tomato off his fingers. Mark watches him, eyes dark, and Eduardo looks away.
From Naples they catch a bus to Pompeii. Mark is wearing athletic looking sandals – he calls them Keanes – and Eduardo wanders around in his Sperries, petting the stray dogs that wander up to them.
Pompeii is strange, a dead and ruined city that is still preserved and Eduardo entertains thoughts that this is like his relationship with Mark; a strange memory, preserved forever for other people to look at but not to understand.
He refuses to look at the twisted plaster bodies and Mark hangs back with him, instead pointing at the mountain looming grey-green in the distance – “Vesuvuis,” he says solemnly.
“It looks…peaceful,” Eduardo says. He thinks that most destructive things are peaceful until they’re not and tries not to connect this thought with any memories.
When they wander back, Mark pauses by a patch of ancient graffiti and Eduardo stops next to him.
“Can you read it?” He asks and Mark shrugs, eyes narrowed. It’s late afternoon now, and shadows stretch over the ruined walls of Pompeii. Eduardo feels lonely and hugs himself, pretending it’s because he’s cold.
“It’s nothing really interesting,” Mark tells him. “Just insults and political slogans and stuff.”
“I guess nothing’s really changed,” Eduardo says. He’s talking about politics, about civilization, but Mark’s face contorts, brow furrowing and eyes flattening until he looks like a reptile, like something retreating deep into its shell.
That’s not what I meant Eduardo wants to tell him. Instead he turns away.
“Come on,” he doesn’t wait to see if Mark is following. “We have to catch the bus back, anyway.”
Night falls as the bus winds through the hills, back to Rome. Mark slumps next to Eduardo, determinedly not looking at him, and Eduardo thinks that maybe nothing has changed; Mark’s pride is still easily ruffled.
(He remembers Mark insisting I don’t hate anyone and wonders if that’s still true, thinks that Mark hates himself more than he hates the Winklevii, simply because he can’t do everything he wants to do. It’s not hate, maybe, more like frustration at his inadequacies, and Eduardo thinks about telling Mark You do more than anyone I’ve ever met and clamps his jaw shut against the words. They aren’t friends; that’s in the past.
So why are you sitting next to him on a crappy bus in Italy? He doesn’t have an answer.)
“We should go to the Vatican,” Mark suggests as they shuffle through the streets, back to their hotel. It’s dark and nightlife is in full swing; the multicolored lights look gaudy among the ancient stones and the historical statues, and it all begins to blur in front of Eduardo’s eyes.
“I mean, if you’re comfortable with that,” Mark says it like an after thought and Eduardo pauses, looks back at him, eyes lingering on the sharp cheekbones and his eyes, cast deep in shadow.
“I – because it’s a church?”
“Because it’s the Church,” Mark tells him, moving forward into the light, eyes clear and grey. He’s half smiling now, the weird mood gone, and Eduardo feels his heart stutter in relief.
“I don’t mind,” Eduardo falls into step with Mark and they turn down into a dark alley, Mark’s hands tucked into his pockets and Eduardo whistling idly. “Should be fun.”
It’s not – not fun, that’s not quite the word that Eduardo would use. He was mistaken, because the Vatican is holy, and enormous, and yawning; he doesn’t believe in Jesus, doesn’t believe in the holy trinity, but he believes in the power of time, of belief.
He thinks Mark feels the same way, because there’s a grudging awe written all over his face, his eyes a clear grey-blue.
“Maybe we should go to the Jewish quarter,” Mark suggests afterwards. He didn’t shave today and there’s a shadow of stubble over his jaw. Eduardo thinks about touching it and curls his hand into a fist next to his thigh.
“No,” he replies, because he’s tired of religion. “That’s not – not why I’m here.”
Mark looks at him with one eyebrow quirked and Eduardo has an urge to shake him, to slap him until the answer pops out.
Why are you here? Mark asks him silently.
You tell me. Eduardo answers him, just as silently.
But maybe it’s not time yet, because Mark looks away and Eduardo nods to himself, feeling like he’s won something.
(A beat later he feels immature. Do staring contests really matter?
Yes. Everything matters when it comes to Mark.)
“Let’s do something touristy,” Eduardo suggests, peering out of the taxi. Mark snorts and Eduardo glances at him, frowning.
“What? We are tourists.”
“Okay, Wardo.” Mark sounds – amused.
Eduardo considers saying Eduardo but it seems churlish to insist on that when he falls asleep next to Mark at night, in different beds but close enough to let Mark’s heavy breathing lull him to sleep.
It’s strange and it’s intimate and it’s something so similar but so different to what he needed that Eduardo doesn’t look at Mark, doesn’t reply, just focuses on the buildings rushing past them.
The taxi driver is smoking a cigar and listening to something loud and electric. It’s very typical, not at all unique to Rome. It’s both comforting and off settling. Eduardo likes to know where he is.
(He wonders if he’ll ever be able to go back to Rome, to Athens, without thinking of Mark and doubts it.
His eyes sting.)
They go to the Trevi Fountain, because it’s cliché and touristy and Mark offers Eduardo a euro and offers to take a picture of him throwing it in.
Throwing a coin in means you’re destined to return and Eduardo swallows, Adam’s apple bobbing, because if Greece is Mark’s then so is Rome, and he can’t imagine this without Mark, can’t imagine sleeping in a short and uncomfortable bed without Mark sleeping in an equally short and uncomfortable bed next to him.
“You too,” he says. “Throw it in too.”
Mark’s eyes do something when they shine and gleam and change colors, grey-blue to deeper blue, and he takes a hesitant step forward.
“Together?” He asks, and it’s not a word either of them have ever expected to use. Eduardo wants to run away, wants to scream, wants to deny it. Instead he nods.
They count to three, Mark doing it in Greek, and then toss the coins in over their shoulders. Eduardo hears the two splashes, small and inconspicuous against the heavy drumming of the main fountain.
“I guess now we have to come back,” Mark says, slow and even, and it sounds like a promise.
They take the train, Mark stretching out on the bench and putting his head in Eduardo’s lap. Eduardo pretends he doesn’t mind and watches Mark sleep, resisting the urge to trail his fingers along the sharp panes of Mark’s jaw.
He’s still in love with Mark, and it hurts to admit that, because betrayal runs deep and Eduardo believes in trust, believes that without trust love can’t work.
But he loves Mark, loves him in a stupid and unexplainable way, and it makes him restless, because he doesn’t know what to do.
Mark stirs against him and turns his face into the side of Eduardo’s thigh, making a slow sound deep in his throat and Eduardo squeezes his eyes shut.
(If you do this for me then I’ll leave you alone forever. He remembers that, remembers how his heart leapt when he heard those words.
Maybe it’s just as well. Nothing good will ever come of this.)
Florence is smaller than Rome, smaller than Athens; maybe a mile and a half, maybe smaller. They stay in an apartment on the main street, with a courtyard open to the sky. It’s quaint, homey even and Eduardo thinks about what could have been.
(He thinks about his apartment in Singapore, how unlike this it is, how un-communal it is. He thinks about the house in Palo Alto, filthy with beer bottles and a hookah in the corner. He thinks about the Kirkland suite, the thing that felt the most like home.
He thinks that one is not like the other.
He hates fractions, but it seems that Mark is the common denominator and always has been.)
Mark requests that they go see the David and so they walk there. Florence has flagstones, not cobblestones and Eduardo is relieved.
(With all the walking he’s done, he could probably get away with eating carbs but he doesn’t, sticking to salads. Mark makes fun of him and Eduardo flips him off, and it’s almost like old times.)
The Accademia Gallery is fancy enough that it hints at what is inside and they wander inside. Mark knows a lot about art, which surprises Eduardo – he distinctly remembers how Mark never went to his art history class, remembers accidentally letting the cheating slip in the depositions – but he listens obediently as Mark talks about the different motifs in art, about how to identify each saint because the Renaissance was a visual culture.
They wander through rooms, Eduardo content to go slowly but Mark breezing through. Eduardo understands why, when they see the David.
It’s the first time either of them has seen it and Eduardo thinks it’s appropriate to be humbled, because David is a hero of what is technically his people. He lets his eyes trail from the enormous, veiny hands, each fingernail painstakingly carved, up to the face, the wild staring eyes and the curling hair.
“It’s not perfect,” Mark says abruptly, like he’s let down. “It’s totally un-proportional.”
“It’s beautiful,” Eduardo tells him. “Not everything has to be perfect to be beautiful.”
He meets Mark’s eyes as he says this and Mark holds his gaze, making Eduardo flush.
There’s something brewing between them, heavy and thick like the summer heat, like honey. Eduardo avoids touching Mark, tries not to look at him, sleeping facing away from Mark.
But he can do nothing about the fact that he’s sleeping in the same room, that Mark’s scent and the sound of his breathing – deep, even, rhythmic – soothes Eduardo to sleep as nothing else can.
(He wonders what he will do when he is back at his own apartment, away from Mark.
It hurts too much to think about.)
So they are together, but Eduardo tries to keep his distance. They go to breakfast and he people-watches instead of looking at Mark.
Mark reads the paper, because a week of being immersed in the Italian language is apparently enough for him to understand it. Eduardo tries not to be jealous or feel dwarfed by that intellect.
He feels loose, like his limbs aren’t in his control, like he’s drunk. Mark, by contrast, is wound taunt, jaw clenched and fingers white-knuckled on the pages of his newspaper.
Eduardo wonders how long this will last, if they’ll ever fall back into the easy company they had in Greece and Rome. He wonders why he wants that back, because he doesn’t want anything from Mark except for Mark to leave him alone.
(He still wants that. He clings to this belief. It is the best option. It is the only option.)
“Let’s get out tonight,” Mark says. They’re seen a lot of historical sights in Florence, and everywhere else, but they’ve never participated in night-life, so it’s a shock. It makes Eduardo actually look at him, eyebrows raised.
“Out?” He repeats.
“There’s a club here – a discotheque.” Mark’s lips twist around the word and Eduardo feels himself flush. “It’s pretty famous. We should go.”
Mark hasn’t brought anything clubbing worthy – he dresses in a t-shirt and jeans, a sharp contrast to Eduardo’s black skinny jeans and black button-down.
“You look…” Mark trails off and Eduardo glances down at himself, realizes this was the shirt he wore when he smashed Mark’s laptop and flushes.
(He can’t really remember much of that day, just a fuzzy red-rage and the sharp sting of betrayal, the anger and the urge to punch Sean’s smug face into a pulp.
But he knows he was wearing this short.)
“Should I change?” Eduardo asks, but Mark shakes his hand and curls his hand around Eduardo’s forearm, making Eduardo’s breath stutter and flush.
“Let’s go,” Mark says. He doesn’t let go. Eduardo flushes, allows himself to be led out of their apartment, out of the courtyard and onto the street.
He doesn’t pull his arm away, can feel the heat of Mark’s hand through his thin shirt sleeve.
He’s oddly disappointed when Mark lets him go; he even sways closer, looking for the contact before remembering himself and straightening. He can feel Mark’s eyes on him and is grateful for the dark that hides his blush.
It’s 10 pm when they arrive and Eduardo detaches from Mark almost instantly, losing himself in the crowds.
It’s like Miami, like São Paulo – the slick-slow taste of alcohol, the loud music with the heavy bass and the bodies pressing against him, the girls looped around in circles and the men watching them, predatory.
Maybe he loses track of Mark on purpose, but Eduardo finds himself swamped, women grinding on him. It’s almost like Christy all over again.
(Her lips on his, her dark hair just below his chin and then, when he squints down, he can almost pretend it’s Mark’s head bobbing up and down on his cock – an illusion that was helped by Mark’s desperate, high whimpering-whines in the next stall over.)
Eduardo loses track of time, doesn’t really notice when the women leave and a tall, curly haired man starts grinding on him – he turns and the man is just there, aggressive with an attractive grin on his lips and dark green eyes.
Eduardo smiles at him, inviting, and the man dances closer – and then there’s Mark, appearing in his path like some sort of metaphorical boulder.
The man barks something in Italian and Mark glares and barks something back. Eduardo stares at them – at Mark, mostly – shocked into stillness.
He’s always wanted this in some form, a visible show of emotion that wasn’t linked to Facebook and now it’s happening in the form of Mark being a cock-block, and it’s not fair.
The man laughs, sneers, and Mark – Mark curls his fist, draws it back and punches him, calm, like he does this everyday.
Somehow they get out of the club, Eduardo dragging Mark away by an arm and the collar of his shirt. They stumble into the alley by the side of the club and Eduardo shoves Mark up against the wall, shaking from adrenaline and disbelief.
“What the fuck was that?” he spits, and Mark glares back at him, eyes dark and mouth red in the dim light.
“What was what?” Because he’s stupidly stubborn, always, and Eduardo resists the urge to hit him, to yell at him.
“That! Just now!” Mark scowls at him, refusing to answer, and Eduardo shakes him. “Answer me!”
“I – I didn’t – you shouldn’t – not with him,” Mark’s words trip over themselves, making no sense and Eduardo half understands and half doesn’t.
“‘Not with him?’” Eduardo quotes. “Then with who? Do you get to make that decision for me?”
“I just…” Mark’s never been good at this, at conflict, and he’s gaping like a fish, incredulous – just like he did when Eduardo smashed the laptop.
(It’s all very déjà vu, with the shirt and Mark’s face and the miscommunication, and Eduardo is tired of it.)
“Why am I here, Mark?” He demands. He’s crowded close to Mark, up in his personal space, and it’s strangely intimate, to be close enough to see Mark’s pupils wax and wane with each breath.
“Because…” Mark trails off and Eduardo can smell his breathe, can feel the small puff of it against his own neck.
“I fucked up, Wardo,” Mark’s voice is small – disarmingly so – and Eduardo steps away, yanking his hands away because this was the last thing he thought he would hear. “I fucked up and I’m sorry. It wasn’t fair to you – it was business but I hurt you, and that’s not fair, and I’m sorry.”
Mark’s voice is wavering – it’s like he’s young, like he’s broken open and Eduardo feels himself trembling, feels his face contort.
“Mark,” Eduardo says, quiet and intense. “Mark. What are you saying?”
“I wanted you to come with me,” Mark says, soft, like a sigh. “I wanted to apologize. And – and show you, that I meant it.”
Eduardo can’t speak, doesn’t know what to do or say – he’s frozen and there’s a roaring in his ears and skittering over his skin.
“I miss you,” Mark admits, and Eduardo thinks that it’s only the night and the foreign locale and the drunk, weird feeling between them that is prompting this honesty.
Eduardo still thinks he’s dreaming.
“I – I know I told you that I’d leave you alone after this, and I will if that’s what you want, but I want – I want you, Eduardo.”
“Say it again,” Eduardo orders, because he needs to hear it.
“I want you.” Mark repeats.
The music is loud, echoing out of the club and Eduardo is not about to wait until they go back to their apartment, so he presses Mark against the wall and presses their lips together, nipping at Mark’s lips until they part, until their tongues are meeting and the kiss is slick and hungry and desperate.
Mark’s hands scrabble over Eduardo’s back, trying to pull him closer and Eduardo can feel Mark’s erection pressing against his thigh.
Mark mouths at Eduardo’s neck and Eduardo groans and throws his head back, pressing a thigh between Mark’s. Mark rocks against him, a high whine escaping his throat and it’s just like Eduardo had imagined it but better; Mark’s mouth hot against his neck and his fingers sneaking beneath Eduardo’s shirt, hot presses of contact against Eduardo’s ribs.
“How much trouble will you get into if we’re caught having semi-public sex?” Eduardo demands and Mark huffs a laugh into his ear, licking the bruise he’d just sucked on Eduardo’s neck.
“Not enough to make me stop,” Mark tells him, and his voice is bland but also choked, making Eduardo bare his teeth and grab Mark’s hips, because he did that, he made Mark’s voice like that.
Mark ducks his head against Eduardo and rocks against his hip and Eduardo nips at Mark’s pulse, fluttering in his neck, and then Mark comes with a truly obscene drawn out whine and it’s enough to send Eduardo over the edge as well, pressing Mark’s hip against his crotch and bucking against him exactly once before coming with a low groan.
They make it back to their apartment and Eduardo unceremoniously shoves the beds together. Mark shucks his pants and Eduardo follows suit. Semen is drying, sticky on his thighs and he winces and goes to clean it off but Mark wraps an arm around his waist and presses a kiss to the juncture between his neck and his shoulder.
“Wait,” he says, and drags Eduardo back to bed.
Mark produces condoms and lube – he doesn’t meet Eduardo’s eyes when he does this – and it snowballs from there, Mark pressing two slick fingers into Eduardo and making Eduardo writhe when he bumps Eduardo’s prostate.
Later, when Mark slips into him and he’s hovering above Eduardo, eyes huge and dark in his sharp-angled face, Eduardo cups his face and draws Mark down to him, wrapping an arm around Mark’s skinny ribcage and kissing him as Mark thrusts into him.
He comes first this time, Mark’s hand wrapped awkwardly around his cock, and when he squeezes around Mark he’s rewarded with a truly glorious whine and Mark slumping against him, boneless and tired from his orgasm.
“Love shook my heart
Like the wind on the mountain
rushing over the oak trees.”
They fly to Paris, Mark slumped over against Eduardo’s shoulder and Eduardo wrapping a lazy arm around him.
Mark has plans – the Louvre, Versailles, San Chapelle, Notre Dame, and about twenty other places – but Eduardo has less patience for this, finds it harder to pay attention when he could be fucking Mark, could be coaxing a whine out from his lips.
(It’s difficult, because he doesn’t know what they’re doing, because it’s not fixed but it’s better, or maybe just more complicated, and Eduardo thinks again about trust and love and other impossible, heavy words.)
He trails after Mark in the Louvre; Mark is entranced, amazed by the art, by how people flock to see something so old and so beautiful, and Eduardo supposes that Facebook is also a work of art, something that Mark hopes will last the test of time.
Eduardo perches his chin on Mark’s shoulder as they stare at Mona Lisa, but otherwise lets Mark be, because Mark is lost in thought.
It’s up to Eduardo to guide them to food and he finds them a small bistro out looking the Seine. Mark is still pensive – he’s not brooding but he’s thinking and Eduardo waits.
When Mark speaks it’s not what Eduardo is expecting.
“Facebook isn’t mine anymore,” he says, scowling out at the Seine and Eduardo listens and waits, holding his breath. “It belongs to – everyone. Like art. It’s for them. It’s not for me.”
He shifts, turns to focus Eduardo and Eduardo finds that he can’t breath.
“Facebook isn’t – isn’t my life anymore. It’s a big part of it,” he amends, nodding at Eduardo’s unmade protest, “but it’s not the only thing. And – I’d like you to be a part of it. Of my life. If that’s okay.”
“I don’t know.” The words slip out, tiny and honest, and Eduardo winces. “I – there’s so much to deal with, Mark. It’s different here, in Europe, where no one knows or cares who we are. But back home?”
“Will you try?” Mark asks, hunching forward in his intensity and it hurts. “I’ll try, Wardo. I want this. I’ve changed. I just – will you try?”
“I don’t know.” He sees Mark’s face fall and reaches across the table for his hand. “I need time, Mark. Please don’t take this personally. I just… I can’t be expected to decide now, you know?”
Mark thinks about that, shifting away from Eduardo and Eduardo watches him, tracing Mark’s jaw with his eyes.
“Okay,” Mark says, grudgingly, the words slow and thick like he’s pulling them from mud. “That’s fair.”
They go to San Chappelle the next day, Eduardo looping a hand around Mark’s waist, and listens to Mark talk about relics and quantifying the sacred and the original San Chappelle, in Constantinople.
Eduardo drifts away from Mark at the top of the chapel, awed by the stained glass windows that stretch from floor to ceiling, tries to read them all but doesn’t understand; it’s all New Testament.
Mark appears next to him after a small time, tugging on his elbow. “C’mon, Wardo,” he says. It’s easy to obey.
It’s funny that they went to Paris last, because Paris is the city of lovers. Eduardo wonders if Mark knows that, if he’s capitalizing on it – he pays for Eduardo’s crepe and Eduardo doesn’t argue, just watches Mark eat a crepe messily, nutella smeared over his mouth, and then backs him into an alley to kiss it off. He doesn’t feel like he’s twenty-five, he feels like he’s nineteen with a raging crush on his best friend, and he wonders if it can stay like this forever.
The next day they wander through the booksellers on the Seine, Mark tugging Eduardo along only to get derailed by a stall that sells classics. He ends up buying an ancient copy of The Odysseys, tucking it beneath his arm with reverence and Eduardo grins and kisses him, unable to resist.
They cross the Seine, move towards Notre Dame and it’s such a forbidding place, so insanely beautiful, that Eduardo flinches away. Mark watches him calmly.
“I don’t really like Cathedrals,” Eduardo tells him, and Mark nods.
So they don’t go in, they just admire it, and Mark leans against him and suggests: “Versailles, tomorrow?”
“Okay,” Eduardo says.
Versailles is daunting, covered in gold and chandeliers and smooth marble steps that Eduardo almost falls down on. Mark grips his hand the entire time – there’s a flood of people streaming through the building – and guides him through each room, pointing out things and explaining them in a whisper. People start to follow them, to listen, and Eduardo grins because Mark doesn’t notice. He loves this, that Mark is so wrapped up in history and art and, most importantly, Eduardo that he doesn’t realize he has an audience.
(It wasn’t so long ago that all Mark wanted was an audience.
He really has changed, Eduardo realizes, and the thought is so warm that he beams at Mark, who pauses and looks at him in confusion, mouth quirking up in such a way that Eduardo has to kiss him, has to press his lips to the corner of Mark’s mouth, ignoring the whistles of their audience.)
They end up strolling through the gardens, trying to navigate the maze and getting hopelessly lost, Mark pressing Eduardo up against a hedge and kissing him on more than one occasion. When they finally leave the gardens, climbing up the steps to catch their bus, Eduardo’s hair is mussed and Mark’s lips are slightly swollen. But no one notices, because they’re at Versailles and what are two gay men compared to a palace?
It’s safe, it’s comfortable, this anonymity, and Mark slouches against Eduardo on the bus, prompting Eduardo to wrap an arm around him and press a kiss to the top of his forehead.
Their last day in Paris, Eduardo wakes up to Mark spooning him, breathing wet and open mouthed against his shoulder, and he tries to imagine going back to his life in Singapore without this, tries to imagine not choosing this.
It’s important to him that he chooses this for the right reasons, chooses it because it is what he wants, not because it’s what he wanted.
Mark has changed, though, and Eduardo can see that – Mark shifts when Eduardo thinks that and Eduardo pets along his flank soothingly until Mark settles – and maybe that’s enough, maybe they’ll work.
It’s not the end, if they don’t – Eduardo’s been without Mark before and he can do it again.
And yet, the prospect of them ending again, ending for real instead of ending before they began, isn’t more painful that the depositions, isn’t more painful that Mark saying oops.
Eduardo wonders if he’ll ever be able to get past that, if he’ll ever forgive Mark.
He mentions this to Mark, later, during a lazy brunch, and Mark tilts his head and looks at Eduardo carefully.
“I’m not asking you to forgive me,” He says finally.
“You’re asking me to try to be with you,” Eduardo points out. “A relationship needs trust, and I don’t know if I can trust you.”
He can tell he’s hurt Mark, but he doesn’t flinch away, holds Mark’s blue eyes with his own until Mark nods.
“Try,” Mark says, flat, like he’s not begging. “Let me earn it.”
And that’s – that’s what makes Eduardo, decide, ultimately.
The old Mark demanded. The old Mark didn’t understand the intricacies of a relationship – to be fair, no one really does when they’re nineteen – didn’t understand trust, didn’t understand earning something and relationships being a two way street.
He feels a slow smile unfurl on his lips and Mark is looking at him, almost panicking, blue eyes wide and dark and lips curling into an ‘o.’
“Wardo?” he asks, so hesitant, and Eduardo laughs.
“I’ll try,” He tells Mark, almost whispers it, because joy is thrumming through his veins and he’s buzzing, he’s dizzy with excitement. “I’ll try.”
It ends like this:
This time when, Mark asks him to come to California, Eduardo says yes.