laliandra: (booksmarts)
[personal profile] laliandra
Part One





*

NOW

“Stop being a creepy stalker,” Dustin says, coming up behind Mark in that stupidly silent way of his. Mark, to his credit, only jumps a bit. Hardly at all, really.

“It doesn’t count as being a stalker if he knows I’m here,” Mark says. As he’d predicted, Eduardo and Marilyn have clicked perfectly and are now half hidden behind an enormous pile of books on the other side of the room.

“And that’s why we have a lawyer on this team. Because, er, yes it does, and even if it didn’t you should stop because you’re being creepy,” Dustin insists.

Marilyn nods before Eduardo has even finished his sentence. She really seems to get him.
Effortlessly.

Mark doesn’t even know what to call him. He’s pretty sure that he forfeited all rights to ‘Wardo’ a long time ago, but it’s just weird, because Chris and Dustin use it a lot and Mark has to keep biting back the nickname. And ‘Eduardo’ feels too formal. They’re already too polite with each other, reduced to small talk and business. He’s never had to think about being friends with Eduardo before, never had to try. He would like to just be sure about one thing, so he can build the rest on it.

“Wardo?” he calls. Eduardo looks up, but he’s frowning. Eduardo, then.

“It’s... I was wondering if you’d heard anything about the rumours that Tom’s group had been disbanded, we’ve been getting reports to that effect for a while, but nothing concrete,” Mark spins.

Eduardo says, “Nothing more than rumours, no,” and turns back to his books. Mark sighs.

Dustin is grinning in a way that usually ends badly for everyone else in the vicinity. “Oh my god. This is perfect.”

Mark tries to stare him down but Dustin has grown upsettingly immune over the years.

“Oh, the last time I saw that face. Oh man. She’s Eduardo’s Sean Parker and you’re his. Him. Perfect.”

*

THEN

Mark wants to buy Christy all the stupid green drinks in the world because Sean Parker is... Yeah. This is Sean Parker - Napster - he’s basically a legend, Mark’s watched his ‘career’ for years.

Eduardo is still pissed off that the guy was late. He’s trying his best to hide it but Mark can usually spot when Wardo’s performing and that smile is too bright, glittering sharp and cold like frost. Wardo is sort of weird about this kind of thing; everything being in order and colour coded and on schedule.

Sean says, “Seriously, guys, I’ve been in this game a long time. Let me tell you about the time I got into - ”

“You got caught” Eduardo says.

Sean smirks again, smooth as Wardo has ever been. “They set me up. Trust me, I’ve never left a trace on anyone’s system. They had to plant shit on me, otherwise they never would have got near.” He launches into the story of his first hack, hands flying everywhere.

Mark’s never heard anyone talk about coding like this, who looks like this and sounds like this. Sean looks so at ease out here in the physical world, like he could control it just as easily as he could anything virtual. And he can do that too, Mark has seen the proof and even if he hadn’t... Sean makes worlds appear with his words, a sense of hope and of shining, endless possibility that Mark rarely experiences away from a keyboard. Mark’s been accused of romanticising programming more than once, but it’s true, for him at least. You can take an empty screen and turn it into something, a tangible thing for use or for beauty or just because you can. Because it’s there.

He thinks Sean would understand, if he said that out loud.

Eduardo keeps trying to interrupt Sean, which makes Mark wince because, one, he really wants to hear what Sean has to say, can’t Eduardo see that, and two, it’s making it embarrassingly clear to Sean that Wardo really doesn’t understand hacking.

Maybe it’s because Christy keeps laughing at Sean’s jokes.

“Maybe you can use your ‘expertise’ to help us settle an argument,” Eduardo says to
Sean, who seems unruffled by the obvious condescension. And Wardo calls Mark unprofessional.

*

NOW

“It’s not the same, Dustin,” Mark says. He’s not going to act like an unreasonable dick to Marilyn. He really likes her. Whereas Eduardo seemed determined to hate Sean on sight, and things had only disintegrated from there.

Dustin look from Mark to Eduardo and back again. “I’m going to find Chris and tell him about this. I love it when I get to make his day,” he says. “Although maybe he’ll start muttering to himself about the blind leading the blind again, and then I get worried that he’s going to just start weeping softly to himself.”

“Dustin...”

“Marky Mark Mark. Didn’t you ever wonder why Eduardo hated Sean so much?”

Mark looks down at the keyboard, trying to work out if he can just delete the jumble of nonsense he’s been typing for the last fifteen minutes or so without Dustin noticing. “Because Sean said he was wrong. Repeatedly.”

*

THEN

“I think it’s time to start making money from the facebook. Mark thinks that we shouldn’t go to the other groups, the clubs, with it.”

Sean nods at Eduardo slowly, and then swings his attention, his smile, to Mark. “I’m going to have to go with Zuckerberg on this one.” Mark feels the tiny adrenaline punch of a win.

“This is, I mean, you don’t even know what this is yet. If you go to the clubs, cap in hand, they’re just going to think you’ve some new kind of scheme and they’ll take it from you and never look your way again. They want nice submissive minions who will wear suits and say ‘Yes sir’, and roll over so that they can screw them from the front and the back.”

Eduardo pulls a scandalised face, like he’s never said anything worse than “dang it” in his life. It’s not the end of the world to be wrong sometimes, Mark wants to say, not that it would change anything. There’s only so much he can do against a lifetime’s conditioning.

“The facebook, what you guys are doing, it could be a game changer. But you have to do it on your own terms. It has to be this cool, exclusive thing that is making you guys unbeatable. They should come to you, come to you and beg to be let on.”

“Exactly,” Mark says. “Yes. Exactly.” He’s been this saying for months, it’s ridiculous to carry around this idea that somehow they can’t do this by themselves. They can. Mark can.

“Vive la revolution,” Sean says. Eduardo rolls his eyes. Again.

*

NOW

He stays late with Dustin and Eduardo that night, eating chinese food with plastic forks. Chris and Marilyn have been gone for hours; places to be, people waiting at home to have dinner with them. Mark is recreating as much of the infrastructure as they can, so at least they can get the secure VPN running again. He doesn’t mind using IRC but it’s only so secure. And it’s not his, he can’t control it properly.

Eduardo has been quiet for a while. Mark wonders if he’s caught up in the past too, now that it’s all so present again.

Eduardo turns to look out of the window, profile outlined in the dimming light. Mark knows that Eduardo is attractive, obviously, but sometimes Mark catches sight of him and he's so handsome it hurts, sweet-sharp like pressing your thumb into a bruise.

“This reminds me of New York,” he says, quietly. “Except the climate is different, obviously, the way the heat feels, it’s all to do with the humidity, not only the level but the type of water in the air. Anyway. I was always staying too late and grabbing take out. I’d sit in the window of my apartment and eat noodles and look at the city.”

Eduardo never talked much about what he was doing that summer. He’d call, sometimes, and they’d talk about the facebook and their friends and a hundred other things but they never really talked about what Wardo was actually doing on a day to day basis. Maybe that was where things started to get dangerous.

“I assumed you were being wined and dined by the Phoenix?” Mark asks, because he had.

“When? I had to work all day and then wait for pretty much everyone else to leave so that I could gather information for us,” Eduardo says, in a tone that implies all of that was obvious. “So, no. I mostly just remember being tired.”

Dustin leans into Wardo’s side. He slides the last spring roll from his plate to Eduardo’s.

What Mark remembers about that summer is the warmth of the Palo Alto sun, the constant hum of computers and Sean’s voice, hypnotic, and the occasional grounding bump that was the realisation of the lack of Eduardo.

*

THEN

“We can’t stay in Boston for the summer, obviously. We need new opportunities, a chance to make the facebook happen somewhere the clubs can’t interfere. We need to be where it’s happening, Sean says...”

“I swear to god, Mark, if I hear that phrase one more time...” Mark doesn’t need to look over at where Eduardo is sitting, cross legged on Chris’s bed in a nest of Econ notes and text books. Eduardo always likes to study on Chris’s bed for some reason. Mark knows the expression that goes with that voice. With any mention of Sean.

He says, “Anyway, Wardo. Palo Alto is that place. I’ve rented us this great house, it’s got a pool and everything.” The pictures make it look amazing, set against a backdrop of cloudless skies. This is going to be their summer, Mark can feel it in his bones.

Eduardo says, “Mark. I can’t go to Palo Alto.”

Now Mark has to look at him. Wardo doesn’t look like he’s joking.

“The Phoenix, they’ve... They’ve offered me an apprenticeship of sorts. In their headquarters in New York. I’ve already told my father.”

Mark says, “Are you serious? Blow them off, Wardo. We don’t need them.” But Eduardo has that set to his shoulders. You can usually push him pretty far, but he has his limits. Which isn’t to say that Mark doesn’t like to test them, now and then, for fun and profit. But there’s always a sticking point, and Ricardo Saverin is often it.

“When were you going to tell me about Palo Alto?” Eduardo demands.

“When were you going to tell me about New York,” Mark counters. Mark had a plan, and it certainly didn’t involve Eduardo skipping out on the F for the . Fucking hell.

Wardo makes an exasperated gesture, throwing his hands up to the heavens like he’s asking what exactly he did to deserve this, which Mark thinks is pretty fucking rich. “I’ve been telling you about the stupid Phoenix stuff for months, I thought you were doing that thing you do where you shut down any conversation that makes you feel inadequate but were you really not listening?”

The Phoenix have been making Eduardo jump through all kinds of stupid hoops. Mark thought he and Wardo were on the same side of this joke, laughing because it was so stupid that Wardo would ever replace Mark and the F with them.

Wardo tilts his head as he stares, like he does sometimes when he’s solving equations, as if he can make the solution appear by looking at it at an angle.

“It’s only for the summer, Mark,” he says, soothing soft.

Mark turns back to his laptop. “Whatever. You can get us useful intel while you’re there.”

*

NOW

Eduardo says, “I could probably still use my contacts there to get more information. If the Winklevosses are trying to start a bidding war, the Phoenix will know.”

“The Stanford haven’t heard anything,” Dustin tells them. Eduardo raises his eyebrows at Mark, who says, “Oh, Dustin has a ‘contact’ over there.”

“And by contact you really mean...”

“Girlfriend,” Mark confirms.

Eduardo’s face transforms into something bright and delighted. “You never mentioned anything about that to me,” he says to Dustin.

Dustin goes a bit pink around the ears. “It’s... I wasn’t... I didn’t tell anyone.”

“You mean to tell me that Mark worked it out?” Eduardo says, with a really unnecessary amount of skepticism.

“I think it was around the time of the conversation where Dustin, no word of a lie, called English a slutty language because it’s just begging you to verb its nouns.”

Eduardo’s face contorts into some unholy combination of mocking and enamoured. “That’s the most... Oh man. The mating ritual of the painfully dorky.”

Dustin shakes his head, but he can’t stop grinning, and this, this is what that summer should have been like.

*

THEN

Sean had just nodded and said, “Wardo still didn’t come out?”, nothing more, but Mark knows what Sean wouldn’t say, that Mark should resent Wardo and, well, maybe he’s right. Why shouldn’t Mark, when Eduardo was out there when Mark needs him here and he’s just there for his own profit and to make friends with jocks who all wear ties even on weekends.

It’s just easier to be pissed at Wardo.

They still have his money, though, and Mark spends with impunity, hardware arriving from Andrew’s secret lair every other day, practically. They called it the facebook as a joke, when Mark used his Facemash files to get a repository of pictures but it’s stuck, and now people are talking about them, it. The facebook takes shape under Mark’s hands, and it’s going to be amazing.

He and Dustin code for business and hack for fun, which makes a weird change. Mark makes Chris’s facebook identity have Dustin’s Harvard picture for weeks, until Dustin finally manages to crack his encryption and replaces it.

ive always hated that fucking picture he types to Mark as it vanishes from the system. Mark looks up over his screen to where Dustin is grinning. Mark doesn’t really understand, Dustin looks pretty much the same as he did in his freshman facebook picture, maybe a little older, a bit more certain, a bit less sweet. what do i win

this can of red bull with skittles dropped into it Mark replies and slides it over the table.

Dustin types wardo would go insane if he saw this, sipping from the can with one hand and gesturing around the room with the other.

Mark tabs out of the chat. He’s got so much to do.

*

NOW

“It’s Amelia - Amy Ritter,” Dustin rushes out. “I didn’t... I know you know she used to work for Sean.”

Eduardo stops dead still, chopsticks poised midair. He has to be aware of the picture he’s making, he has to.

“Dustin,” he says, soft and shocked. “You can’t think I’d care about that. I just...” He smiles at Dustin, an uncomplicated thing of easy affection. “She’s great. I’m so glad that you’re happy.”

Mark says, “She’s way out of your league, by the way.”

Eduardo nods, bumps Dustin with his shoulder. “I also know that she stopped working with Sean years ago, although she still seems to like him, god only knows why. And even if she hadn’t...” He shrugs, takes another piece of chicken out of the box effortlessly. Mark should really have noticed before how Eduardo uses his body like punctuation. “Being mad at Sean Parker for being a dick is like being mad at the rain for being wet.”

*

THEN

Mark is so tired that he can’t remember what they’re fighting about, only that Eduardo had yelled more words at Mark than he’d spoken. And that Eduardo was blaming Mark personally for getting himself soaked to the bone, when any other person would have gotten under cover and wouldn’t be dripping melodramatically onto the carpet.

“Left behind? When you said, ‘Wardo, get me the Phoenix encryption data,’ I said yes, even though I was new and it was suspicious of me to be asking for that kind of information - ”

“They think they’re so clever, like no-one will recognise the Jabberwocky as the key to their-”

“- I don’t want that guy as part of this group, Mark,” Eduardo says, and it would be a non sequitur except that this whole conversation has been stunningly non-linear, and it would be an expected repetition except that Eduardo can’t seem to help himself when it comes to Sean.

The problem with Sean and Wardo is that they are too alike and too different. Sean can do that Wardo thing where he smiles at someone and they want to tell him their secrets and let him in their front door. But he doesn’t see the world the same. Wardo believes in all of these things like cost-risk analysis and that you always go to the clubs first and and that you should keep to a stupid sleep schedule defined by the sun.

For a master criminal, Eduardo really like rules, is what Mark’s saying here, whereas Sean really doesn’t give a shit.

And Mark cannot, he cannot, they’ve yelled and stared each other down, repeated each other over and over get left behind and can’t come out and he is done.
“You’re not moving here this summer, are you?” he says, into the charged silence.

Eduardo’s hunched into himself, and his coat looks too big for him, a kid playing at being a businessman. He looks as exhausted as Mark feels, and neither of them have ever got this way about arguing with each other before.

“And you’re not getting rid of Sean,” he states. Mark tries to take some comfort in the fact that at least they still know each other that well.

A week later Wardo is gone again, as per, and they’re in a club that Mark is pretty sure they weren’t on the guestlist for, and it’s like something out a movie or another world or those - admittedly slightly creepy - fantasies Mark had about what being in the Porc would be like.

He thinks about how impressed his younger self was with Eduardo getting them free drinks once in a while and laughs to himself. At himself.

Sean has taken a dramatic pause, seriously, is there some kind of school somewhere.

“Yes?” Mark says, because he knows what Sean is doing, he knows, with this story about a guy and the clubs and betrayal, he knows. But still...

“They tossed him off the Golden Gate Bridge,” Sean finishes, punchline kick.

Mark shakes his head but it’s... Eduardo knows so much about the F, every word he says to the Phoenix is a risk. He tries to remember how Eduardo had smiled at the screen, how he’d said “This is our thing,” sure. But then, Wardo always sounds sure. It doesn’t mean that he is.

He shakes his head, takes a sip of his drink and changes the subject as fast as he can, which is easy because Sean always wants to talk about himself.

And then the next day Mark finds out that Eduardo has given the Phoenix his access code for the facebook.

They could find the F with that, if they wanted. Find Mark, find his family, find Dustin and Chris, even Andrew. It would be hard, near impossible, maybe, but they could.

Mark feels cold all over, and Sean looks so, so smug. Eduardo is Mark’s best friend, and Mark had been so sure and shit, this is embarrassing.

“We knew this would happen,” Sean says. We, inviting Mark in. Mark feels the hot, simple rush of anger, and slides over to Sean’s side of the table.

*

NOW

It shouldn’t feel the same, but it does. Wardo off to gather information from the Phoenix in the name of the F, Mark sitting in an office in Palo Alto waiting for the other shoe to drop. Eduardo - or whatever the name is on the passport that he’s used - has flown to New York and it’s only for a couple of days and he’s not even Mark’s anymore, can’t betray them really, isn’t leaving because he’s not... The point is, it’s not the same.

Things are different, now, better in a lot of ways and maybe Mark should be glad that things are different.

He still doesn’t remember to get in touch first, although he meant to, but when Wardo calls to gloat about the bagel he’s eating - bastard - Mark listens. They can’t talk about any business stuff because cell phones are so far from being secure it’s not even close to being funny, but they can talk about New York and food and Wardo’s apparently terrible hotel.

“I could get you into another one,” Mark says, pulling up some hotel websites.

“You... could?” Eduardo says, a frown in his voice.

“Yes, booking systems are really easy,” Mark tells him, slightly offended.

Eduardo makes a noise that Mark can’t identify. “No, it’s just... That would be great, Mark, thank you.”

“Hey,” Mark says, really offended now. “I can... I can be nice, Wardo.” The stupid thing about Eduardo, probably the thing that makes him Mark’s... whatever... is that Mark doesn’t even have to try, doesn’t have to think about the things he does that Eduardo lights up at. He’s accidentally a better person for him.

*

THEN

“Come on!” Dustin yells, and Mark sees Eduardo burst out of the doors but it’s too late, far too late. The explosion rocks the van and knocks out the camera on the back door. Mark swears and switches to the roof camera.

Sy and Dustin are pelting towards the van, but Mark can’t see Eduardo. He tries the other cameras and eventually spots a small, black shape on the ground. “Dustin, Eduardo’s down,” he snaps into his comm. Dustin stops and looks back. “Go get him,” Mark orders. “You too, Sy.”

“Like hell I will,” Sy says. Mark can just make out his face on the monitor, as he gesticulates angrily at Dustin.

“Dustin, make him if you have to,” Mark says, uncaring. “Just. Get Wardo back to the van.” He wrenches his headset off, makes for the doors. He pulls them open just in time to help haul Eduardo up to lie on the floor, and then kneels next to him, trying to see where the injury is. “Drive,” he yells, tracing the blood running down Wardo’s cheek into his hair.

Sy leans his hands on his thighs and pants, “What the hell, Mark, we hardly got out of there as it was.”

Mark says, “What, you think I should I have left him there?” The van lurches round the corner and Mark has to pull Eduardo’s head onto his knees to keep him steady.

“Why not?” Sy says. Mark makes a mental note not to work with this guy again. He’s clearly a dick.

“You don’t just leave your best friend to bleed out on a pavement, Sy,” he says. He’s still combing through Eduardo’s hair, fingers gentle in the soft strands of it. You can never be too careful with head injuries.

*

NOW

“It’s the Porcelli,” Eduardo says as soon as he gets through the door. Everyone stops what they’re doing. Eduardo puts his bags down, and Mark is unsettingly glad to see him. “That’s who the Winklevii and minions are dealing with.”

“It would be,” Dustin says, rolling his eyes. The Winklevoss ethos does fit well with the Porcelli, a relic of another age, when the clubs ruled more than the underworld, and there were duels fought for honour, and other pointless shit.

“Can you check that, Chris?” Mark asks. Chris raises his eyebrows but takes his phone and goes out into the hall. Mark is about to ask why Chris left the room when he spots Eduardo getting up slowly, rolling his shoulders like he’s getting ready for a fight. Oh.

“Really?” Eduardo says. “Really, Mark? You don’t... No.” He strides across the room to Mark. “You don’t get to be the person who doesn’t trust anyone.”

“It’s not that I don’t trust you, Eduardo, I just thought, you never know, three sources, right?” Mark says. He’s trying to slow this down but Eduardo is pacing backwards and forwards in front of him, because Eduardo can’t do anything by halves.

Eduardo says, “No, I cannot do this again, Mark, I should get to be the person who doubts you. I’m not the person who kicked their partner out behind their back.”

*

THEN

Mark sees Eduardo arrive but he’s trying to get the satellite phone network to behave properly; he doesn’t have time to stop now. He can just pretend that Wardo’s not here. He’s used to that.

Then his laptop is being picked up and, holy shit, smashed and Wardo is yelling and the world all comes rushing back in like a tidal wave. Mark hates it when he gets pushed back into reality like this, it’s like being jerked right out of a dream.

“I can’t believe you,” Eduardo is saying. “I cannot believe you locked me out of the facebook. And worse, you didn’t even have the balls to tell me first. I could have been in the field with no way to contact anyone, Mark, did you not even care?”

Mark feels pinned to his chair and anger rushes into him, hot and vicious.

“No members of the Phoenix are allowed access to the facebook,” he snaps.

Eduardo stops shouting. He just stops all together, and that’s no less frightening.

“You had no right. I’m a co-founder of the F, I’m a part of that system, Mark, it’s ours.”

“Really?” Sean says. He’s leaning on the desk next to Mark, looking quite at home. He’s almost definitely doing that on purpose. “I don’t see any of your code on the site.”

Eduardo swings round to face Sean, expression darkening. “My name is there.”

“You might want to check that again,” Sean tell him. Sean must have gone through with the contact box changes, then. Mark hadn’t looked. He told himself he didn’t have time.

“Mark,” Eduardo says, and it rings out across the now silent room like a judgement. “Are you? Is this your way of throwing me out? For the account thing, I told you why I did that- ”

“Don’t blame me for not trusting you,” Mark spits out. “You were willing to compromise your own crew. All for the sake of a club.” Eduardo lies for pleasure and gambles for fun. Mark can’t risk the F for that, for someone who won’t even leave the city for him. For the site.

Eduardo is wearing his black suit, ready to go steal something. Here in the light and glass he looks completely out of place. “Tell me this isn’t because I got in and you didn’t.” he says, stepping forward. “Tell me that you didn’t screw me over because of some ridiculous grudge. I knew you never got over that.”

Mark opens his mouth to protest but he doesn’t know where to start. The conversation is like rope going through his hands, falling away from him too fast to control.

Sean - fuck, Mark had forgotten Sean was even here - says, “Did you really think you could just swan around in your suits, trading on your name -”

“Sorry!” Wardo yells at him, and Mark usually scoffs when he does this, explodes into declamatory rage, but he can’t find the breath, even. “We can’t all be fuck-you-world hackers, you pretentious douchebag. Some of us want to look like professionals.”

“Well then, it’s a good thing you’ve got the Phoenix to go to,” Mark says.

Eduardo rounds on him again, and the way he looks at Mark is painful. Mark had planned this so carefully, thought he was ready, prepared for everything except how Wardo is so angry with him Mark wants to hurt him back, except how Wardo looks destroyed, and it makes another part of Mark want to defend him and there’s too much going on in his head. Mark takes the fastest option and glares back.

“You know what, why shouldn’t I leave, seeing as you don’t even trust me,” Wardo says.

“You can’t leave something that you aren’t even a part of any more,” Mark challenges. He knew this would happen in the end. Wardo never committed to the F. Not really. Mark doesn’t even know who he is any more, let alone trust him.

Sean snorts and Mark knows, he knows that this is it, that Wardo is over the edge and there’s nothing he can do, no way to grab on and pull him back, even if he wanted to.

“Fine then,” Wardo says. He leans down so that he’s closer to Mark, eyes huge and dark and unknowable. “You’d better be prepared to find someone who so damn good that they make up for all the shit you pull, because I am, asshole.”

“Fine,” Mark flings back. “It’ll be easy enough to start giving your share to Sean.”

Eduardo spins round to leave, and Mark feels breathless like he’s run a mile flat out.

“Wardo,” Sean calls. He steps up to Eduardo, who looks murderous. “I’ll need your security token,” Sean adds. Eduardo pulls out of the punch at the last second, leaving Sean cringing away.

“Don’t try me, Parker. I’ve taken down good men for worse reasons.” He looks Sean up and down, back straight, like he’s the prince of some far off land and Sean is a mere peasant. Weighed and found wanting. “I like standing next to you, Sean. It makes me look like a good person,” Eduardo says, and stalks out, the perfect exit.

*

NOW

“I said I was sorry about that,” Mark reminds him.

Eduardo stops in his tracks. “No, actually, you haven’t,” he says.

Marilyn says, “Come on, Dustin,” pulling at his arm.

“I could probably take you out,” Dustin says conversationally, standing his ground.

Marilyn shrugs. “Possibly. But I have information that could take you down.”

The part of Mark’s brain that isn’t gaping at Eduardo - because Mark definitely remembers apologising - registers the incongruity of this picture; Dustin in jeans and a threadbare tee shirt, Marilyn in heels, not a hair or seam out of place, standing there discussing how they could physically or intellectually ruin each other.

“Okay, okay, fine,” Dustin says, narrowing his eyes at her. “Next time, Delpy...” She grins at him and drags him out of the room.

Mark waits until he hears the door shut. “Wardo,” he tries. “I really, definitely said sorry. I am out of adjectives for how sure I am.”

Eduardo says, “And I’m pretty sure that I would remember that . So when did this alleged apology take place?”

“You’ve been spending too much time with Marilyn,” Mark grumbles.

“When?” Eduardo presses and Mark wants to say, no, you were conscious at the time, but shakes it off.

“Eduardo,” he says. “I said I was sorry on the phone. I sort of assumed you would remember seeing as you agreed to come back because of that.”

Eduardo breathes out heavily, and sits down on the edge of the table, legs stretched out in from on him in a long line. “That was... ‘Sorry, I guess’ was your apology for screwing me over for Sean fucking Parker?”

“It wasn’t for Sean,” Mark interrupts. “Wardo, what the fuck?”

“Whatever,” Eduardo dismisses. “That’s not the point right now.”

Mark says, “But you agreed to come back. I thought... You just came even though I hadn’t said anything about... Everything.” He wishes he could find some way to sum it all up, but everything he thinks of sounds unusually melodramatic and he is not calling it a break up, however much Dustin tries to make him. And it’s the story of him and Wardo and the F and the facebook. It sort of is everything.

Eduardo sighs, a long, trailing breath that might just be sad. Mark can’t be sure but there’s something in the hunch of his shoulders, the downward sweep of his lashes. Something like defeat. It’s familiar.

“I thought you were apologising for being a dick at the meeting. When Chris had specifically told you not to be,” Eduardo explains.

“Actually he told me not to be an asshole,” Mark says. “But yeah. No. I’m sort of sorry about that but not really because fuck nice, but you’re making me get away from the point-”

“I am not making you get away from the point, you’re getting yourself away from the point.”

“Well now you’re getting me away from the point,” Mark says.

Eduardo looks up, anger bright in his eyes, and it feels a little like victory because Eduardo’s not broken and he’s not flat, he’s lit up all for Mark. Fine, Mark’s ready for a fight.

And then Wardo looks right at Mark for the first day in days and he just laughs, all out, gasping for breath and shaking his head. “The hell, Mark. We are fighting about fighting,” he says.

Mark says, “We once had an argument about bagel toppings, Eduardo,” because they did, Chris on his side and Dustin on Wardo’s, and it had gone on for about an hour and then there was a sort of mutual decision to get very drunk instead. “We always knew what the other person meant, really.”

Eduardo huffs out a laugh. “Yeah, we did. That was our thing. And now our thing seems to be misunderstanding each other, willfully or otherwise.” He’s swinging his legs back and forth under the table because he can’t sit still for more than five minutes, can’t move unless it’s grand sweeping gestures. Mark can back this up with almost infinite examples.

“I always thought I knew you better than I knew any other person,” Mark confesses. “It was nice.”

“People usually want to know someone better than other people know them,” Eduardo says. “But. Oh. Okay.” He looks up at Mark. “But you didn’t?”

“I didn’t,” Mark confirms. Admitting that shouldn’t have been harder than admitting that he’d hurt them beyond repair. But it is the worst of it, that Mark could have got Eduardo and himself so very, very wrong. Mark had always been so utterly sure about both of those things.

Eduardo looks down at his hands, because when he’s not on a job Wardo is an open book if he’s looking at you. “I might have got some things wrong too.”

Mark really wants to say, “No shit.” He thinks Chris might know somehow and actually stab Mark in the ear with a pen like he threatens to do on a daily basis. Chris makes really specific threats. They’re very effective.

He settles for, “I think so.”

Eduardo smiles, soft and so very pleased, the kind of smile that sneaks in under Mark’s defences. Why would he react like that when Mark has said that he was wrong? It’s exasperating.

Eduardo says, “We never did this, did we? Never said what we thought was actually going on.”

“Sometimes I feel like I’m back in LitCrit and the professor is asking, ‘what was their motivation’,” Mark says.

Eduardo grins. “You first,” he says.

“Oh fuck off,” Mark says.

Eduardo says, “Just because you’re bitter that you didn’t think to call shotgun on the Not Going First. Now, shoot.”

“I did what I thought was right and I’m not... You couldn’t stay part of the F at the time. That part is fine. That part is business. But I’ve realised some things lately and I... I wanted to hurt you for not believing in us. The facebook.” He looks at Wardo again. Rip off the bandaid. Right. “Me.”

“I sort of always suspected that you treated the facebook like a kid does an imaginary friend,” Eduardo muses. “You know. The facebook doesn’t like this story, the facebook wants to eat dessert before dinner, the facebook is scared.”

Mark raises his eyebrows and Edaurdo makes a ‘sorry, sorry’ face at him. Mark says, “I had this amazing thing and everyone was relying on me to make this work, make this happen and keep us safe and you weren’t there. It felt like...”

There’s no way he can finish that sentence.

*

THEN

“How can you not have worked this out before?” Dustin asks over breakfast. Mark and Chris are nursing hangovers like nothing Mark has ever experienced before. Fucking juddering liquor.

“I just stopped thinking about him,” Mark says with a shrug. He’s always had too many thoughts on the go at once, a hundred trains of thought all vying for his attention, and he’s learnt to shut the unimportant ones down. He’s really good at it. His mom has had some talks - well, Talks - with him about compartmentalisation, which he’s pretty sure she’s given Chris Cliff Notes on. Or there’s more of alarming similarity between them than Mark had previously thought.

Dustin says, “Oh, right, because it’s that easy.” He looks over at Mark, tilts his head. He looks worried, Mark thinks, but he’s tried to hide that he is.

“I didn’t want to think about him, Dustin, so I stopped.” Maybe it hadn’t been quite that easy. “So, that’s why I haven’t thought it through. I haven’t thought it at all.

Well, Mark can learn a trick or two from Dustin. “There’s that scene in Indiana Jones when they prise back that heavy stone and underneath there’s this writhing mass of snakes and you can’t tell what they are or where one ends and the other begins...”

“Mark,” Dustin says. “Are you comparing your feelings about our Eduardo to snakes?” He sounds kind of horrified.

“Yes?” Mark says. It’s a great movie reference, he thought Dustin would appreciate it. “So you put the stone back over the snakes and you just leave them alone and don’t think about the kind of snake that they might be.”

Chris says, “Maybe when you tell Wardo-”

“If,” Mark corrects. It seems unlikely, frankly.

“When,” Chris says, “you tell him, maybe don’t use the snake reference.”

*

NOW

Mark ends up going for, “Like something I didn’t want to think about,” and it feels like a fumble, a dropped bracket.

Eduardo half-smiles. “No witticisms to offer?”

“It was messed up. You were my best friend, we were a team. You were supposed to be there. But you said no, Wardo. You never said no before.”

Eduardo gives him a horrified look. Mark sort of wishes he’d gone with the snake thing. He bites back a thousand cut downs he wants to throw into the waiting silence.

“Do you...” Eduardo starts, and then just shakes his head. “Do you actually hear yourself, Mark? I said no to you once and you decided to get rid of me? Talk about throwing your toys out of the pram, fuck.”

“I know,” Mark says. “But I really didn’t think you’d even care, that you even cared. I thought it was proof that you’d chosen them over us. One foot out of the door already.” The facebook was scared, he thinks, yeah, Wardo was right about that one, too. “You clearly didn’t care about the facebook because you gave over the information, gave them accounts. And if you didn’t care about the facebook, why should you want to stay in the F. You clearly didn’t want to be with us.” He keeps saying ‘clearly’, remembers thinking it over and over, as if adding that word made it fact. Clearly, obviously, you don’t have to look at the evidence if it’s self-evident.

“Mark, I was terrified that you didn’t want me,” Eduardo says and then just freezes. “I mean...”

Something twists in Mark’s stomach, because it sounds like a different kind of confession with Eduardo looking at him like that, caught out. But then that’s been their problem for too long, Mark putting his own bias on the things that Eduardo says, ignoring everything else but what Mark wants to be. He says, “You mean what?”

Eduardo bites his lip. “I’m sorry, I just can’t get over how... The facebook was never my priority. You all were. Being a part of whatever you were a part of... You had Sean to replace me. I wanted to remind you that I...” Eduardo isn’t like this, usually. He always has an easy swing to his sentences, a smile and a comeback. Mark liked throwing him off his rhythm when the worst Eduardo would do was stutter to a stop and then start up again with a scathing attack on Mark’s social skills, or perhaps punch Mark in the arm. Not this, when Eduardo looks like he’s crashed into something, eyes hollow. “That I mattered. That you couldn’t leave me behind.”

The twist becomes a sharper, uglier thing. Eduardo’s expression is too close hallways and too bright offices familiar, and they did this, they broke each other, but Mark did most of all. Always first and best, that’s the Mark Zuckerburg way.

“I’m so sorry,” Mark says without even thinking about it, and even that comes out shattered. “I thought you were conning us, which really wasn’t so implausible when you look at the evidence...” He registers Eduardo’s expression. “But that isn’t important. I was jealous.” Wardo can think it only went one way, that he was jealous of Eduardo for getting into somewhere Mark was rejected from, and it’s not like that’s untrue. But he was also jealous of them, for being the ones who got Eduardo. It was kind of an all out shitstorm of jealousy. “And I was angry and I don’t know what I wanted but it wasn’t this.”

“Me neither. You know that, right?” Eduardo says. “I was just so angry.”

“That’s sort of an understatement,” Mark says. He wants to say stay.

Eduardo stands up from the table and smiles like he knows. “I think I was right to be, though. And I think you were too. It was a mess.” He tilts his head, stares at Mark. “Do you ever feel like twenty was just implausibly young to be doing anything?”

“At the time, I would have punched you for saying that,” Mark says.

“But...” Eduardo says, nodding. He already knows that Mark agrees.

“Yeah.”

It only seems like that when he looks at pictures or thinks about the others, looking in from the outside but god, they were so young it makes something ache inside of him. People always talk about the difference between sixteen and eighteen, eighteen and twenty one, but some days the gulf between nineteen and twenty five seems unbridgeable, like those two people aren’t connected at all.

But maybe that’s not such a bad thing. “I wanted to win. I don’t any more,” he says. It doesn’t matter who shot first - although Mark knows Eduardo’s opinion on that argument too and there they are agreed - and it doesn’t matter how deep the bullet went.

And Eduardo, who walks into rooms full of strangers with a smile, who’s always been the brave one, says, “I thought what happened then was the worst thing that could ever happen to me and maybe it was but. Being right and being angry, it wasn’t worth it.”

“Time and fucking distance,” Mark says.

Eduardo makes a face. “And alcohol and bad karaoke.” He shakes his head at Mark. “You don’t want to know.”

Mark sighs. “I want to say that we just needed to grow up some, but I can feel my younger self rolling his eyes. I’m pretty sure I teased Erica about this exact point, actually, but there’s nothing more irritating than a cliché that applies perfectly to your life. The universe seems to be taking delight in exacting a very specific kind of revenge for every one of my less than graceful moments, although that doesn’t mean I’m going to start talking like a motivational poster.”

Wardo tries to hide a chuckle in his hand. “You would make the worst motivational posters ever. But, yes, no, I mean... Yes. We did. We had to stop being those people before we could have this conversation about them.”

Mark says, “Ah, our younger, more foolish selves.” He smiles at Eduardo, who smiles back and maybe it really can be this simple. It’s really unfortunate how often Chris gets to use his And Now I am Vindicated face.

“So we won’t be stupid any more,” Eduardo says.

Mark raises his eyebrows. “I wasn’t stupid. There were errors.” Eduardo looks like he’s about to start yelling or laughing or, Mark doesn’t even know any more, Eduardo never does what Mark expects these days. He adds, quickly, “Errors that I’m really sorry about now. Really. It won’t happen again.” He means it. He’s going to make this work. Even if he has to has these horrifying conversations once a day. Well. Week. Maybe.

“We’ve applied a bugfix and we can be Mark and Eduardo 2.0,” Eduardo says with a grin almost cheesy enough to go with that statement.

“That’s. Wow. That’s horrible,” Mark tells him. His shoulders loosen up.

“True. But you’re worse,” Eduardo asserts. He sighs theatrically. “After I came up with a geeky metaphor just for you...”

“Does this mean that I have to come up with some weird weather pun to apologise?” Mark asks because Eduardo is just as bad as he is and while it was admittedly kind of cool of Wardo it was also incredibly lame. Mark is just now remembering that when it comes to Wardo Mark is not only capable of having feelings but of having many conflicting ones at the same time.

“You said you were sorry. I said I was sorry. Done. I’m forgiven and you know you are, too?” Eduardo asks, tipping into questioning right at the last. Mark had known that, had seen it in the smile and the duck of Eduardo’s head, in the way he said “nostalgia” and “Mark”, so it doesn’t make sense that he feels better, lighter, for hearing him say it out loud.

Mark says, “And now we can. What? Start again?”

“Hi,” Eduardo says, and holds out his hand, because he’s like that.

Mark rolls his eyes and shakes his head so that Eduardo knows just how ridiculous Mark is finding him right now but he says, “Yes, fine, hi.” And he puts his hand in Eduardo’s.

Eduardo just sort of stares at him for a second, says, “Oh my god. Mark. Hi,” pulls Mark into a hug.

Mark stumbles into him and kind of bashes his nose on Eduardo’s collarbone or some stupid hard part of his too-skinny body, but it doesn’t really matter because Eduardo hasn’t been this close in years. Eduardo mutters, “I missed you, asshole.”

Mark made a promise to himself about honesty, and it’s cards on the table time, all in - well, not all because there’s ripping off a bandaid and then there’s stabbing yourself in the gut - so he admits, “Yeah. You too.”

It’s okay, Mark’s face is hidden in Eduardo’s shoulder, no one can see his face, and only Eduardo can hear him.

They’ve always fit together freakishly well, Mark used to think that every time Wardo hugged him. And he had done that a lot, so much that Mark probably wouldn’t have registered it if not for that one part of his brain that always, always noticed how Mark’s head went just right into the curve of Wardo’s shoulder and neck.

He’d spent a lot of time wondering if there was a word for that part of the body. Mark wasn’t stupid at nineteen, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that he hadn’t been putting his intelligence to the best use at certain junctures. Eduardo based neck-shoulder junctures.

He closes his eyes and thinks, please. He doesn’t know what he’s asking for.

Something chirrups from his pocket and Eduardo steps back, hand trailing down Mark’s arm as he pulls away.

Mark gets out his cell, grins at the message. “Dustin wants to know if it’s okay to come back in yet. And if he needs to bring the first aid kit.”

Eduardo’s grin close up is, yeah, really something. “I should have known that the mouse droid message tone would be Dustin,” he says.

“I can’t believe you recognise that, you dork,” Mark teases. He expects Wardo to say “Takes one to know one,” or call him a hypocrite, which he does, but not before a crease appears between his eyes. It’s too quickly smoothed away, too small, too be called a frown but it’s something, a tiny tell that Eduardo has forgotten that Mark has always known that about him, and never meant it as an insult.

*

THEN

“And peanuts and cotton,” Eduardo says, before CJ can finish the principle crops of Burkina Faso. He’s not really watching the TV, instead he’s reading a book in the window seat, limbs everywhere like usual.

Mark doesn’t remember when Eduardo stopped acting like an overly officious butler in their suite, tidying, smiling from the periphery. It seemed to be one step from that to acting like the place was his, no middle ground, going straight from invisible to invader.

Mark likes it better like this; Eduardo in his socks, looking totally at home.

“And you know this because...” Chris asks.

“It’s got one of the world’s lowest GDPs,” Eduardo says, although he would probably call it an explanation.

“Oh dude, come on,” Dustin says. “Seriously?”

Eduardo shrugs. “Dustin, you can identify video games by their menu music. Like, a bar in.” He goes back to his book.

“Bunch of dorks,” Chris says fondly, and Dustin leans over to high five Mark and then Eduardo, who shakes his head but does it anyway, smile not quite hidden behind the pages.

PART THREE

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