Noelia (noelia_g) wrote,
Noelia
noelia_g

Fic: The star to every wandering bark (Mark/Eduardo, R) part one

Title: The star to every wandering bark
Fandom: The Social Network
Characters/Pairings: Mark/Eduardo
Wordcount: 16,214
Rating: R
Disclaimer: Based on fictionalised portrayals as seen in the movie.
A/N: TSN kink meme, DAMN YOU. written for the prompt: Eduardo and Mark are slowly working on regaining their friendship when Eduardo realises he's falling in love. Cue angsting about not wanting to ruin their fragile friendship, and Eduardo might be willing to be friends, but how can he trust Mark not to break his heart?



No one expects Eduardo to attend the first shareholders meeting post-settlement, and he doesn’t. At least there’s no need to come up with any excuses.

Chris sends him an e-mail that basically says “I understand, but still”, only in a much more carefully worded way. Dustin’s text is even more succinct. :(((

It’s the message from Mark that surprises him. If he expected anything, even subconsciously, (and he didn’t, not really), he’d rather think Mark would leave it to his assistant, or Chris, or whoever did those things for him.

He stares for two minutes before he even clicks on the message, the ticking of the clock unnaturally loud to his ears.

There’s not much in the body of the e-mail. Let me know if you need anything else. It still takes Eduardo’s brain a moment to catch up, to figure out it has to do with the seven attachments and is all-business and not... Not like Eduardo himself used to mean it, all the time he said it, or something similar.

Beer or Redbull from the fridge, another thousand on the account, anything, anything else.

(Okay, so the settlement-as-closure thing didn’t work, he’s still a little bit bitter. It’ll pass. Maybe.)

Seven attachments, from the minutes of the meeting to the presentation on something called Farmville that sounds like an incredibly stupid idea. It sounds like something Dustin would have come up as a prank.

Farmville? he types with incredulity and only after he clicks send does he realise what he has done.

For all Mark’s genius he could have figured out a way to take back e-mails. It would make even more more money than facebook.

I don’t know either. Mark responds instantaneously. It’s... Eduardo looks at the clock. It’s three a.m. in Palo Alto. That’s not exactly surprising and no longer anything Eduardo needs to concern himself with, but he sighs anyway, his fingers twitching above the keyboard with the same old worry.

Jesus, Mark, go to sleep. No one there to take your laptop away?

He should have phrased it differently. It used to be him, because Chris was always swayed by Mark’s ‘five more minutes, I swear’, and Dustin would just get roped into a coding marathon until he passed out flat on the keyboard. It used to be Eduardo who started with gentle coaxing and often proceeded to threats, who lured Mark away from the keyboard with Redbull he placed just out of his reach and who then snatched the laptop away.

Mark’s answer comes fast again. They’re all so regrettably easy to trick.

‘Not like you were’ is implied. Except, in the end, wasn’t Eduardo regrettably easy to trick too? He blinks at the screen, hands hovering over the keyboard, unsure. He doesn’t want to answer that, doesn’t want to tap back into the anger and regret and bitterness. For a few seconds there, it all seemed easy again.

Gmail blinks at him with a yellow bar. New message, update conversation.

Alright, I’ll log off. Good night. Or good morning, afternoon, or whatever time it is for you.

You’d think it nothing at all, but it’s the way Mark would apologise sometimes, way back when. No words or any other indication but a small concession, a shrug of his shoulders as he gave in to Eduardo.

He doesn’t respond immediately, waits for a safe amount of time. He hopes Mark indeed logged off, that he’s not sitting in his office and staring at the screen, that he’s not reading the words almost in real time. It’s easier to send this and pretend he might not read it at all, lose it tomorrow in the flurry of other e-mails, have it filtered out by his assistant, have it marked as spam by accident.

Good night. Take care.

*

He doesn’t hear from Mark for four days after that. In many ways, it’s a relief.

It’s not that he expected a few brief e-mails to break the dam, have everything spilling over, have them rage and break things (again) and maybe, somehow, clear up the air and (like magic) become friends again. Eduardo’s realistic, there’s no chance of rebuilding, they’ll be lucky if there’s anything in the wreckage that can be salvaged and form a base for what is now a purely business relationship.

And still, the conversation left him too open, scratched too deep and got under his skin. There are moments when he sits in front of his computer and forgets what he opened the browser for, and checks his mail instead, refreshes the page absently, unsure if he wants any new messages to appear.

He’s sort of useless for two days because of that, a little too dazed for his liking. It would be better if Mark didn’t write again, and every day he doesn’t makes it easier. So, yes, a relief.

In some ways still, it’s a disappointment.

He didn’t even realise how much he wanted to see the e-mail in his inbox until it arrived, four days and seven hours later, not that he’s counting, but he happens to glance at the time stamps.

And yes, fine, he misses Mark. He misses Dustin and Chris and Kirkland and the times when it was all much easier. Doesn’t mean much, everyone misses college in some ways, just like everyone misses high school even if it was absolute hell. It’s one of those things.

Did you know it is frowned upon when the CEO gets a little lost in coding for just a few days? Negative effect on the employees, apparently. I miss the times when no one gave a fuck.

Eduardo chokes a little, on what he’s not sure if it’s a snort or a sigh. Mark, unknowingly, taps right into his thoughts, his words like a patch in the code, fitting seamlessly in. Apparently nostalgia hits everyone.

People gave a fuck back then, Mark. It’s just that you could ignore them if you wanted to.

It’s surprising how it doesn’t sting. But then again, it never bothered him, that Mark would ignore all of them when he was wired in, that he’d stop existing for the world. That was just something Mark did.

Okay, but riddle me this. How is having a hard-working and dedicated boss a negative effect?

Some people’s tone gets lost in electronic messages, even the occasional emoticons aren’t capable of conveying the intent. Mark’s written words, somehow, easily translate into his flat tones in Eduardo’s head, he gets the dryness, between amusement and snark and actual confusion.

There’s hard-working and dedicated, and then there’s the worry your boss might be an agent of Skynet. You don’t eat, you don’t sleep, people draw their conclusions and start wondering if you’re a robot. Or a member of the undead.

If I were a zombie, they’d be safe. Not a single functioning brain in the building. And before you tattle on me, Chris isn’t in the building, out for lunch with Dustin and some others.

It startles a laugh out of Eduardo and he’s shaking his head even as he replies.

It wouldn’t hurt you to follow their example, you know.

I don’t know why everyone always assume I don’t eat just because I don’t keep to regular meals hours. I eat when I’m actually hungry, it doesn’t have to be a big societal event.

You’ve been working on that line for a while, haven’t you.

Maybe.

It’s easier after that. It’s not the dam breaking, but the messages trickle through, something of a connection renewed. Mark writes at odd hours about entirely random things, and Eduardo no longer has to second guess himself when he comes across something he knows Mark would enjoy, a joke or an article in his rss feed.

This is something normal, like what happens when you and your college friends are no longer in the same state, or country. When you drift apart and the only connection is through the net.

Not facebook, though. They’re still friends there, because Eduardo had better things to do during the depositions than bother with petty gestures, he’d had enough of those to last him a lifetime, between the chicken and the cheating and the laptop and everything. And it didn’t seem right afterwards, like poking at a too fresh wound.

So, they’re still friends on facebook, but even Mark doesn’t try and write on his wall or send him a message there. They stick to e-mail, a very occasional text, and then, finally, phonecalls.

This is how it goes with the phonecall.

It’s a week before the shareholders meeting, the second post-depositions, if you’re counting. Eduardo had his assistant make polite excuses for him, as fake as they were flimsy. He thinks no one should be surprised, but his phone lights up with Mark’s caller id right next day, early morning for Mark, probably when his own assistant got into the office and shared that piece of information.

(It’s Mark’s old number. Eduardo copied all his contacts into the new phone, not bothering to go and delete the ones he thought he’d never use again. Well, that meant mostly Mark’s number. It would be as petty as unfriending him on facebook and would provide no relief whatsoever, just a sharp sting of loss. He knows, his finger hovered over the button, and that was enough.)

“You’re not coming,” Mark says without preamble, like the last time they’ve actually talked was yesterday and not while signing the settlement papers. His voice is clipped, words falling even faster than usual.

“I’m aware of that. Is it the automatic notification thing for all shareholders?”

“Only the ones who are missing the second one in the row,” Mark informs him. And well, of course he noticed, Eduardo got the whole info package from him last time, but the fact that, apparently, he cares enough to call Eduardo on it, to call at all... That’s not quite the Mark Eduardo remembers, even though he sounds the same, annoyed and impatient, like he has better things to do and he’s going to get back to them the moment you stop being difficult and slow.

“Is it really that important that I attend it?” he asks. It’s not intended at pointed, he’s not trying to say that there was a time when Mark definitely didn’t think Eduardo’s presence in his company was important. It’s still there at the edge of his words, a little too sharp.

Mark’s silent for a moment, and Eduardo wonders if maybe, for once, he picked up on what was unsaid. No, that’s unfair, Mark isn’t an idiot. He is callous sometimes, but not always, Eduardo has to give him that too. Maybe this time. Maybe.

“No,” Mark says finally and Eduardo breathes out a sigh of relief. “In fact, most of the shareholders meetings are a waste of time that could be spent on actually getting something done, but you know no one really listens to me.”

“Have you told them you’re the CEO?” Eduardo asks, trying for lightness. He adds the ‘bitch’ part mentally, the words are intertwined in his mind now, even when it’s not about Mark. He breathes the word out every time someone is introduced to him as so-and-so, the CEO of whatever. He adds ‘bitch’ to the business cards, sometimes doodles it idly when his mind is wandering.

Sometime ago it stopped being bitter and started being funny, an old joke, familiar. No longer at his expense, even.

“Doesn’t have the desired effect,” Mark says, the shrug audible in his voice. “Listen, I’ll send you all the information you need. You could try to show up at one of these sometime, though, it... doesn’t look good. For PR, or whatever.”

Eduardo thinks it’s okay to admit you miss me, I sort of miss you too. He wishes it would be that easy, and the desire to make it so takes him by surprise. “I’ll try to make the next one,” he says instead. “Subject to change depending on other engagements.”

“I suppose that’s acceptable,” Mark says magnanimously before backtracking. Another new thing, for Mark. “I didn’t mean...”

“I know,” Eduardo assures him. He does know. They’re not kids anymore, the time for cheap shots and petty remarks is long over, they both know better. And Mark’s humor is a little dry, a little too sharp, but that has always been part of the appeal, part of what made it fun to hang around him, that hint of steel Eduardo wouldn’t acquire for years.

“Okay,” Mark says. “I should go.”

“Okay,” Eduardo echoes. He turns the phone idly in his hands for a long moment after the connection’s over.

There’s a stray thought peeking up, something someone said. The depositions, Erica’s statement. He thought her Stairmaster metaphor was particularly apt, even if it was a staircase wit, something she came up with later, as Mark maintained. He used to think it was apt, at least.

Now it feels like running down a hill, still exhausting but out of control, not sure when you’ll slip and fall, unsure where it would all lead. One misstep away from a free fall.

The screen of his phone darkened already and he thumbs at it, slides his thumb over the touch screen. I’ll make the next one. he writes. Other engagements be damned.

The response is almost instantaneous, the phone buzzing in his hand. As if Mark was doing just this, sitting and staring at the phone, waiting for something, anything. It doesn’t fit with his image of Mark, not quite. Except for the times when he codes, when he’s waiting for it to be implemented, when he refreshes and refreshes, on the edge of his seat. Except for the times when it’s important enough to get his full attention.

Good.

*

Eduardo was only kidding himself when he thought he was ready for this.

Entering the facebook offices is something of a deja vu, a visceral feeling deep in his stomach, his body gearing up for something, a fight or flight response, except he shouldn’t probably try for either.

He wonders, as he passes between the cubicles, he wonders how many of these people were here before, were here for the whole meltdown. (He should have handled it better, even though there was something immensely satisfying in hearing the crack of the laptop breaking, taking in the collective gasp of the whole room. And Sean, that part was still just that little bit amusing, despite the hurt.)

It’s mostly all the same, a few more desks, the famous facebook wall covered in colors, but the feeling is different. He feels like he’s trespassing, despite the fact that he didn’t even have to show his id to the security downstairs, it was all ‘this way, Mr. Saverin.’

Maybe they used to have his photo up as a persona non grata. That’s probably not something Mark would think of, but Eduardo supposes he can count on Sean in that regard. Maybe even put up his photo up on the board for the office darts tournament.

(He hadn’t seen Sean since the dilution. He’s heard all the stories and most of the gossip, because Dustin makes sure he’s aware of the gossip mill, and he finds he cares less and less. Time and hindsight help, who knew.)

“Hey, man,” Dustin says, appearing by his side, jabbing at Eduardo’s arm with his finger. “I know what you said, but I still wasn’t sure you’d show up. It’s awesome, the whole gang back together, tears in my eyes and all,” he offers, still poking at Eduardo with his finger.

It is just like old times, complete with Dustin being, well, Dustin. “What are you doing?”

“Poking. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but it’s a big thing now. And we’ve practically written a book on it.”

Eduardo nods. “Don’t tell me, you did actually invent Farmville, too.”

“Nah. But it would be awesome if I did, it’s like the weirdest thing ever and it works. You can even raise chicken in there, you should get one.”

“Dustin,” Eduardo shakes his head, holding back a smile. His voice has a weird echo to it and it only takes him a moment to realise that it’s because he wasn’t the only one who has spoken.

Mark’s voice is more chiding, a little more worried. He doesn’t look at Eduardo, his hands in the pocket of his hoodie, twisting nervously.

“I’ll give you guys a minute,” Dustin says. At Eduardo’s look, he shrugs. “What, I can be considerate when necessary. And when Chris is giving me signs through the glass wall of his office.”

Of course he is. Eduardo raises his hand in acknowledgment and Chris nods but otherwise doesn’t move, clearly indicating Eduardo and Mark are on their own for now.

Which, yeah.

“You’re here,” Mark says, matter-of-fact and flat.

“I said I would.” He doesn’t have the strenght to even sound defensive, it’s been too long of a flight. It’s been too long of a thousand different things, too. He glances at his watch. “Shouldn’t it be starting right about now?”

“They won’t start without us,” Mark says confidently. Eduardo’s eyes flicker over his form. The confidence isn’t new, it used to be explained by many as arrogance, but Eduardo knew better. Now it’s warranted and accepted, because Mark has ‘made it’ in the world’s eyes, but for some reason it’s marred with hesitance, anxiety different from the usual kind of the nervous energy that was a part of Mark since Eduardo could remember.

“It’s still impolite to make everyone wait,” Eduardo says and Mark tilts his head, conceding. There’s a small smile playing at the corner of his lips.

“You haven’t changed,” he says when they start walking. Eduardo’s hand itches a little and he stuffs it into his pocket. It ruins the line of his suit, sure, but it’s better than automatically placing it on Mark’s back out of habit.

“It hasn’t been so long,” he points out. “You sound like the settlement was years ago and I should have gray hair.”

“Your hair hasn’t changed at all. Still ridiculous,” Mark points out. “But I meant... nevermind. In here,” he offers and opens the door. Eduardo can’t exactly make him close them again and explain what he did mean and the moment seems to be over anyway.

What doesn’t seem to be over is them. Eduardo came here telling himself he wasn’t sure he wanted that, but there was a reason he kept up with the e-mail and texts, there was a reason he initiated some of them. Mark was too big a part of his life for there to be the smallest hope of completely moving on.

“Where are you staying?” Mark asks after the meeting, which was actually more constructive than Eduardo expected. He took his time gathering up his things, waiting for everyone to file out. Mark was doing the same thing, and the fact that few people threw him a curious look suggested it wasn’t a normal occurence, that, as Eduardo would suspect, Mark was usually the first out of the door after these.

“I’m not actually staying. My flight is in...” he checks his watch, “three hours. I was planning on heading straight to the airport.”

And then sleep off the jet-lag for a whole day and be miserable for the next few, but those were details.

“Wardo,” Mark starts and catches himself, a worried look flickering across his face, like he thinks he overstepped. Like he expects Eduardo to snap at him, tell him he doesn’t get to call Eduardo that anymore.

Eduardo finds it doesn’t matter. He keeps reaching for anger and the seeking the familiar sting of betrayal and it’s no longer there. The depositions had left him tired, drained of all emotions. They’ve kept rehashing it over and over again, picking at old wounds and bleeding all over the transcripts and fuck, it’s like there’s nothing left but at the same time, the venom is gone. If it was a Greek tragedy, they’ve had their catharsis.

“Yes?” he prompts and Mark relaxes a little, his eyes softer than Eduardo had seen in a long while.

“I was thinking we could get coffee, at least.”

“You don’t drink coffee.”

“It’s more advisable than drinks,” Mark points out, like he’s repeating an argument he’s had with himself already. Or with Chris, you never knew. By the way he and Dustin had disappeared, it was clearly Eduardo and Mark were being given time to work things through. Eduardo would have to talk to them, he just wasn’t quite sure if he’d be telling them off or not.

“I don’t...” he looks at Mark and falters. Mark hadn’t changed either, not physically at least. Eduardo spent so much time thinking that he wanted some of Mark’s attention, but he needed more than that, he needed some effort, a sign that their friendship was something real, something tangible, not a construct of Eduardo’s that Mark merely tolerated. He’s getting his wish now, and he could play it like it’s too little and too late, but he doesn’t want to.

They still have, fuck, they still have so much time. Eduardo feels so old sometimes, like he’s lived a lifetime already. He’s not even close to thirty and he’s a billionaire, he’s been a part of the creation of something great and he’s gone through something that hurt like fucking hell.

They say everyone lives fast nowadays, but this is fucking ridiculous.

“I could use a drink, to be honest,” he offers and watches Mark’s slow smile, hesitant and unsure. “But I do need to make that flight today, so hurry up, will you?” he adds and Mark nods and promptly heads out, without even looking back to see if Eduardo would follow.

He does.

*

He could sit back and close his eyes and pretend they’re back at Thirsty Scholar. The noise of every bar is the same, even though the look is different, spacious and light and modern. Perfect for the facebook neighborhood, silver and white and not blue, but close enough.

“What would you like?” Mark asks and hesitates before his next words. “An appletini, maybe?” he tries, and it’s a poor attempt at humor but Eduardo smiles anyway.

“Sure, why not. I’ve almost forgotten how awful they are, let’s remind ourselves.”

“Beer, then,” Mark concludes and walks up to the bar to order them. Eduardo watches him almost absently, tries to look for the changes and differences and the little things. There’s nothing on the outside, Mark’s still the same guy who fucked him out of their company, and he’s still the same guy who tended to brighten up a little when Eduardo was around. Provided his attention wasn’t on the computer, of course, but if you wanted to socialise with Mark you had to take this in stride.

“Here you go,” Mark places two bottles on the table, and to be honest, if Eduardo was looking for differences, here’s a huge one for you. “I didn’t... Are you coming to the next meeting?”

Eduardo shrugs. He’s not quite sure what to do with this all, what to do with Mark, but he’s saved, at least for a moment, by Mark’s cellphone perking up with a text message. Mark stiffens, and then completely ignores it.

“This could be important,” Eduardo points out.

Mark rolls his eyes and makes a show of taking it out of his pocket and checking, then placing it, screen down, on the table. “It’s not.”

“Mark.”

“Wardo,” Mark shoots back and sighs long-sufferingly, the way he does when people are being particularly difficult. “It’s just facebook.”

Just facebook. That would be our muti-billion dollar company that has been the cause of..” all of it. All of it.

Mark stares at him for a long moment, his lips tight, like he wants to point out that Eduardo is being unreasonable. Eduardo tenses in preparation for that, but after a few seconds, Mark shrugs. “I meant it’s a notification from my page,” he says, voice softer than Eduardo expected it to be. “Erica Albright threw a sheep at me, if you must know.”

“Erica Albright,” Eduardo repeats, incredulously. “Are you,” he starts.

“No,” Mark shakes his head vehemently. “First, her status says engaged. To a pediatrician,” he adds, an afterthought. Eduardo holds back a smile. Not ‘she’s engaged’, but ‘her status says’. It’s... endearingly Mark. And yes, he did think it’s endearing, could be the jet-lag but probably isn’t. “Second, no,” Mark repeats, more forceful. “It was a long time ago, and, well. I friended her on facebook, after the depositions. Something... Something Marilyn said. We don’t talk much, me and Erica, I mean, we just throw sheep at each other occasionally, and she once linked me to a youtube video about cows.”

“Farm animals,” Eduardo offers. “Fitting.”

“She thinks so.”

“Don’t even think of starting a chicken farm for me in that stupid game,” Eduardo says wryly and Mark blinks at him, trying to figure out whether it was intended as a joke. “This is a better way,” he offers, raising his beer in a mock salute. “And I don’t know. About the next meeting,” he clarifies.

“Stay till tomorrow at least,” Mark says, seemingly a non sequitur, but really far from it.

Eduardo buys himself a moment before he responds and takes a swing out of the bottle. Mark doesn’t look away, just waits. “I can’t.”

“Nothing would happen if you took a day off.”

“I’m going to remind you of that line some day,” Eduardo assures him. He wants to think this is new for Mark, it was easier to think, during the depositions, that it was Eduardo who pushed and Mark who went along, withdrawn and distant. It hurt, but it was easier, to explain, to understand.

I need you, echos in his head and he knows it might have been easier but it wasn’t true at all.

“I can’t do this yet,” Eduardo says. “It’s... too soon. You can’t just fix that in a day, rewrite the months, maybe years of the whole thing going to shit.”

“You... You’re waiting for an apology,” Mark says, sounding resigned. It’s not quite a question and not quite an accusation, but it might be both and neither.

“No, I...” know you better than that, or maybe don’t think I need it anymore. He’s not sure. “This is why I can’t do this yet. You can’t either.”

Venom might be gone, but the wounds hadn’t healed properly yet, they still itch just a little, faint traces reminding them what has happened.

Mark leans back in his chair, shoulders slumped. “Okay,” he says. Eduardo expected more of an argument, to be honest, Mark’s always been impatient, needing things done his way as soon as possible. And yet, in this he gives in to Eduardo. “So, next meeting?” he asks, almost hopeful, and Eduardo can’t help a smile, because of course. Of course Mark needs a little concession from him in return.

This, at least, he can give freely. “I can’t promise, it’s still a while away. But I’ll be here unless the things keeping me away are absolutely vital.”

“Deal,” Mark says, business-like, as if they were signing new contracts of a sort. Maybe they are, finally dealing on an equal footing.

Half an hour later, in the taxi heading towards the airport, Eduardo rests his head against the window. He remembers another ride, night lights blurred outside, and the way Mark vibrated with excitement, a new vision for his site. There’s something new in store now too, he thinks, and can finally let himself be hopeful.

He fumbles for his cellphone and scrolls down to Mark’s name.

You know, the shareholders meetings aren’t the only reasons for me to visit States. Think of some others and get back to me.

*

There’s radio silence from Mark for the next two days. Eduardo would start to worry, but it’s Mark, there’s a chance some sort of a hitch appeared in the facebook’s code and he’s completely lost to the world.

If Eduardo is a little disappointed then, well, he should know better by now.

On the third day, however, his phone brightens up with a familiar caller id. Mark sounds... a little drunk, maybe. Or indeed after a marathon of coding. Symptoms are the same, most of the time, up until a certain point it’s hard to tell.

“There’s no good reason,” he tells Eduardo.

“Mark,” Eduardo shakes his head. “What time is it for you?” Has to be late at night, closer even to the early in the morning.

Mark ignores him. “It’s the digital era, I should know. Anything you need you can do online, there’s no reason whatsoever for you to be here,” he continues and Eduardo catches on. It’s a little embarrassing, should have taken him less time, but he’s out of practice.

“I didn’t mean...” he shakes his head. “Mark. When we were... back at Harvard, if you wanted me to come over, what would you say?”

“Nothing, you were always there,” Mark says morosely. “You’re not here now,” he adds, matter-of-fact and, yes, definitely drunk.

“You might have a point, but I couldn’t be over at yours all the time. What would you say?”

“Wardo,” Mark mutters, somewhat suspiciously. He’s not that drunk, and even if, he could always operate at almost full capacity, it’s the certain inhibitions that were gone when he was drunk, like the remnants of his verbal breaks. “What, I should just say ‘hey Wardo, come over’?”

It shouldn’t be that easy, Eduardo agrees. It can’t be that easy.

But whose decision is it?

“Okay,” he says.

In the silence between his heartbeats the hitch in Mark’s breath is audible even over the phone. “And that’s that?” he asks, disbelieving and hopeful at the same time and something surfaces in Eduardo’s chest, something light. He actually wants to laugh.

“Apparently,” he mutters. “Listen, I can’t make it before next week.”

“That’s fine,” Mark says, quickly. A little too quickly, but that’s not a bad thing.

A week later Eduardo’s at the airport, looking around in search of a familiar figure. Mark had texted him to say he’d be picking him up, but Eduardo’s not holding his breath.

He’s been here before.

And yet, as he’s looking around, he thinks of that certain game with the universe people play sometime. If she looks up now, she likes me. If the next car is red, Dad will show up this time. If the light changes green, I’ll get accepted to my first choice college. If...

If Mark’s here...

It doesn’t seem like he is at first, but then Eduardo spies a familiar head bent over a laptop. Of course he’s not paying attention to anything and anyone and Eduardo almost missed him, as he’s hidden behind rows of seats, probably occupying the place where you get the best signal. Eduardo makes his way towards him and steps in to stand right in front of Mark, waiting for a few seconds before he kicks Mark’s ankle.

“Hey,” Mark says before looking up, and then, unexpectedly, he smiles. It’s not something Eduardo had seen before, not quite. Mark looking... pleased, happy. Okay, he’d seen that, but this is different somehow. “Hey,” Mark repeats, softer. He closes the laptop and sets it aside, a little ill at ease when he stands up, his whole body hesitant and unsure.

He’s here. They both are, and it feels like a do-over, like a second chance. Eduardo can’t tell what would happen if Mark found his way to the airport earlier, was here the last time. If Eduardo would be more willing to listen afterwards, if they never fucked it all up. In this moment, it doesn’t quite matter, because they are here.

“Hey,” Eduardo repeats and leans in, into a brief hug. He wasn’t sure he needed it, but he can’t help it now.

“Wardo,” Mark says, his fingers grasping at Eduardo’s shirt briefly, tightening. “Fuck, I don’t understand you at all,” he mutters, holding on like he doesn’t want to let go.

Eduardo laughs into his hair. “Nothing new, then,” he mutters and steps back. “Come on, you can drive me to the hotel now. I thought we could...” he starts and catches Mark’s look. “What?”

“I thought... Nevermind. But I thought you’d be staying over.”

“I don’t think it’s such a good idea,” Eduardo says slowly. He did consider that, but... it could be too soon. If by any chance it ends in a disaster... a hotel is easier for everyone.

“I have lots of room. The house is practically empty all the time.”

“That’s your sales pitch? An empty house.”

Mark rolls his eyes and shrugs, busying himself with packing his laptop into his bag. “I bought groceries.”

Eduardo stares at him, unsure how to proceed. He feels laughter building up inside his chest, because it’s all ridiculous and also, somehow, absolutely wonderful. “You bought groceries.”

“Well, Dustin did. Though I’m sure he delegated it to his assistant,” Mark says, frowning.

Eduardo can’t help it anymore, he laughs. “Alright. But just because I never liked hotels anyway.”

Mark looks at him for a moment, searching, a slow smirk appearing in the corner of his mouth. “If that’s the story you’re sticking to,” he allows.

*

Mark drives a top-of-the line, environmentally friendly car that doesn’t quite fit with the image Eduardo has of him, but on second thoughts makes absolute sense. He drives carefully, like he’s in driver’s ed, hands placed properly on the wheel.

“Chris and Dustin want to see you,” Mark offers after a moment. Eduardo isn’t sure if it’s just a remark, or if the silence was getting to him. Eduardo didn’t mind it, the silence between them lost most of the tension, most of the awkwardness, as if it melted away a while ago. He wonders if Mark feels that. “Told them to come by tomorrow. Figured you’d be tired or jet-lagged today.”

“Thanks,” Eduardo nods.

“Dustin was talking about getting the band back together. Or possibly about the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, I’m not sure, I might have blanked out after the first three minutes.” He sounds a little put-upon, but that’s only when you don’t know Mark. Eduardo knows this tone, it’s what passes for fond.

“I have two meetings tomorrow,” Eduardo offers. Mark’s eyes flicker to him, his whole posture a little more tense. “I’ll have the rest of the weekend free. But I’ve figured, since I’m already here... otherwise they’d have to make the trip and, well.”

“What’s wrong with video-conferencing?” Mark asks, relaxed again. His fingers are still grasping the wheel tightly but his knuckles are no longer white.

Eduardo shrugs. “Not a fan. Call me old-fashioned.”

“Said the co-founder of facebook,” Mark quips, his timing a little off, like he considered his words before he spoke them.

“From what I remember, that was one of the issues,” Eduardo says quietly. They fall silent for a long moment, only the sounds of traffic and the quiet background of the radio. “I didn’t,” Eduardo starts at the same time as Mark speaks.

“Wardo.”

Mark sounds... not broken, not quite, but his voice is cracked, small, not like Mark at all. During the depositions Eduardo kept looking for something like this, a crack in the veneer, something to show that Mark cared for something more than wasting time sitting in there with Eduardo and the lawyers.

There were moments when he thought he caught a glimpse of something, but a second later the defences would be right up and Eduardo couldn’t be sure he hadn’t made it all up, hadn’t projected. He should have known better, but you can never know better when you’re in the middle of shit hitting the fan, it’s only the wonderful instance of hindsight that teaches you something.

There are changes in Mark now, changes long in making that Eduardo probably missed, too caught up in what he was feeling to notice. This is Mark who picks him up at the airport, who initiates long text messages exchanges, who throws virtual sheep at Erica Albright. This is Mark who sounds uncertain and worried, and that’s not a change Eduardo expected and not one he wants at all.

“It’s fine,” Eduardo says. “Mark, it happened. No use pretending it didn’t. And I don’t know how big your house is, but you probably don’t have enough space for an elephant in every room, so we’ll have to talk about it. Especially if...”

“I hate this,” Mark admits, eyes still fixed on the road, like he can’t look at Eduardo and talk about this at the same time. “I’m not good at it either,” he adds. It’s probably even more frustrating to Mark, Eduardo has to admit, who is used to fixing things with a few stroke of his keys, because problems that don’t involve code aren’t really problems.

“I don’t think anyone is,” Eduardo tells him softly.

Mark nods. There’s a minute shift in the silence, something more companionable between them.

“I could have an elephant in each room,” Mark says finally, like he’s been thinking about it. “Some of them would have to be baby elephants, though.”

Eduardo can’t help it, he laughs. “Mark, promise me you won’t get baby elephants. You barely remember to buy groceries for yourself.”

“I don’t think you can actually forget about a domestic elephant you have,” Mark points out.

Eduardo looks at him. He supposes it could be classified as fond. “If anyone can, Mark...”

*

Mark hovers. There’s no other word for it. Eduardo isn’t sure if it’s annoying or hilarious or heartbreaking. He grabs Eduardo’s bag before Eduardo can, he awkwardly makes sure everything in the guest room is to Eduardo’s liking, and then keeps on hovering.

It’s like he’s working through a mental checklist. Eduardo wonders if maybe Chris sat him down and broke out Powerpoint, the presentation explaining how to facilitate rebuilding of a friendship.

It’s freaking him out just that little bit.

Eduardo shakes his head and makes Mark order food. There are, indeed, groceries as promised, but Eduardo is too tired to try and make something more complicated than a sandwich and he isn’t sure Mark can be trusted in the kitchen. He picks the movie at random from Mark’s dvd shelf, odds are in favor of Mark not having seen it.

“It’s fine,” Mark assures him when he disconnects after ordering Chinese. He hesitates before he sits down on the couch, his knee bumping against Eduardo’s as he sinks down. “Sorry.”

Eduardo shakes his head; nothing to it. His leg itches a little but he ignores it and settles down to watch the movie. He’s not quite sure when he falls asleep, the jet-lag and everything else finally getting to him.

When he wakes up there’s a blanket thrown over him and it’s dark outside. The lights are off, the tv screen illuminating Mark’s face. You’d think he hasn’t moved, he’s in exactly the same place and position he was last time Eduardo’s looked over, but, well, blanket. And the cartons of Chinese food on the coffee table.

“I thought you’d be hard at work, coding,” Eduardo says after a moment, his voice a little groggy. Mark turns to look at him and it’s hard to make out his expression in the half-darkness of the room.

“I took the weekend off.”

Eduardo shrugs and reaches out to keep the blanket from sliding off. “Never stopped you before,” he points out. He doesn’t mean it as a shot at anything, just a statement.

“That was before,” Mark says. After a moment, during which Eduardo tries to make out his features in the dark, read something in his expression, an explanation, anything... Mark shrugs. “And I made Dustin swear he’d call me if anything was going to shit.

“Wasn’t expecting anything less,” Eduardo nods and shifts on the couch, lifting his legs up. He kicks Mark’s thigh in the process and settles in, feet against Mark’s leg. Mark looks down for a moment before reaching for the remote control.

“There’s an Indiana Jones marathon,” he offers before leaning back against the couch, just that little closer to Eduardo. It’s not that different from a hundred movie nights at Kirkland, but it feels different, new. And good. It feels good, too.

*

“You obviously haven’t been practicing,” Dustin tells him mournfully, after he beats Eduardo at Halo, twice.

Eduardo sometimes thinks they’ve got that billionaires thing all wrong, if that is and always was the height of their entertainment. That and Star Wars marathons. He’s heard about that one time with the pool and the rooftop, but this was at the time when he didn’t want to listen to, well, anything about how great California (and, incidentally, Sean Parker) was.

But, Halo. And left-over Chinese and beer and Chris is nodding off while Mark throws wistful glances towards his laptop. He’s practically sitting on his hands, too, and Eduardo half wants to put him out of his misery and tell him to fucking go and at least check his e-mail before he gets serious withdrawal symptoms. On the other hand, he also wants to see how long Mark can last.

The fact that he’s been at the office in the morning probably helped. Eduardo made him go while he was at his meetings, he’s not quite sure what Mark would have done left to his own devices at the house, still clinging to his resolution of Not Working For The Whole Weekend.

(Dustin capitalises it when he speaks of it. He makes air quotes too, and adds that it’s like a national holiday at facebook and that everyone at the office keep wondering what the fuck. “It’s like night is day and black is white and Mark is... I don’t know, who doesn’t do much work at the office?”

“Dustin Moskowitz,” Mark supplies, eyes never leaving the screen as he’s playing against Chris, half-listening to the conversation.

That’s still new, that he even half-listens.)

“You obviously haven’t been practicing,” Dustin says and Eduardo rolls his eyes.

“Keeping up my Halo skills wasn’t exactly at the top of my list of priorities as of late.”

“You need to check your priorities, man,” Dustin offers sagely and frees his left hand, the right still clutching the controller, and he throws his arm around Eduardo. “But we’re here for you, we’ll help you through this tumultuous time.”

Eduardo glances at Chris who just shrugs at him. “We hadn’t given him his medications today,” he says apologetically and smiles when Dustin flips him off. Eduardo laughs at them, but his gaze keeps turning to Mark, who no longer looks like he wants to bolt and shut himself somewhere with his laptop.

Instead, he’s watching them with a small smile, he’s watching Eduardo, and there’s something warm in that gaze that makes Eduardo’s stomach tighten and his chest ache. Contrary to how it sounds, like a list of disease symptoms, it’s a good feeling.

He’s sorry when the weekend is over. The whole thing was impulsive and not thought out, but he’s far from regretting it.

At the airport, Mark stuffs his hands into his pockets and looks somewhere to the left, like he can’t face Eduardo right this moment. “So, I suppose I’ll see you at the next shareholders’. Other engagements permitting,” he adds, and he’s trying to sound dry and flat but Eduardo isn’t buying it.

“That’s certainly a possibility,” Eduardo tells him and reaches out, tugs experimentally at the sleeve of Mark’s hoodie, until Mark looks at him. “Or, you know. I’m told planes fly both ways,” he mutters and Mark stares at him, eyes wide, until finally, he nods.

“I could... yeah, maybe,” he mutters. Eduardo’s fingers are still grasping the material of the hoodie, and before he can let go Mark closes the remnants of distance between them and hugs Eduardo. “It was good to see you, Wardo,” he says quietly.

Eduardo lets himself relax against Mark and closes his eyes for a moment. “You too,” he whispers.

When he turns on his cellphone after the plane lands, there’s a text message from Mark.

Second weekend next month. Soonest I can leave the country without my assistant sending assassins after me for fucking with her color-coded schedule.

Eduardo snorts and types fast. Assassins?

The response is immediate. I know. If she can afford hitmen I’m definitely paying her too much.

*

Of all the things in all the world Eduardo supposes he hates hindsight most. What use is there of it? Sure, he should have seen the whole thing coming, in the way he was constantly ready to drop everything to hang out with Mark for a few days, in the way Mark’s texts and phonecalls were never unwelcome and always brightened up his day.

Yes, he’s an idiot for not seeing it coming, let’s move on.

Could have realised at any point. Mark came to Singapore twice and Eduardo made the shareholders’ meeting three times. They’ve met up in Tokio once, and did the charity dinner in New York.

But he didn’t realise until the charity event in California, one of the causes Eduardo supported and the evening when Mark was supposed to give a speech, which was always entertaining on many levels. Eduardo flew in early in the morning, staying over at Mark’s again. There wasn’t anything unusual about that.

There’s nothing unusual about Mark storming into his room and muttering something uncivil about people who invented formal wear. He’s tugging at his bowtie with annoyance and Eduardo rolls his eyes and steps out of the bathroom, abandoning the task of buttoning his shirt and doing up his own tie.

“Come here,” he orders and tugs at Mark’s sleeve, starting on the bowtie.

“This is why I stick to the essentials,” Mark mutters and Eduardo snorts lightly.

“I wouldn’t call jeans and hoodies essentials,” he points out and looks up, into Mark’s slightly flushed face. Mark’s biting his lip, eyes wide from... something, and with Eduardo’s hands at his collar, twisting the material and brushing against Mark’s skin, he’s close enough for a kiss.

Yeah, the thought blindsides Eduardo somehow.

Fuck, he thinks. That’s inconvenient. And also... and also, Jesus, he really wants to lean in and kiss Mark, run his tongue over the indentations he must be leaving on his lower lip, biting it like that.

“Wardo,” Mark says questioningly and Eduardo steps back, like he’s been burned.

“All done,” he says, pointing at the bowtie. He takes another step away, towards the closest door. It’s the bathroom, which is convenient because he needs to finish dressing himself up, but also because he’d like nothing else but hide there for hours.

He’d hop on the plane if he could, but well, he RSVPd for the dinner and it would be impolite to bail at such short notice. Not to mention fucking suspicious.

And so he goes through the dinner, feeling something turn in his stomach and something tighten in his throat every time he looks at Mark. He tries to tell himself it could be a stomach flu, but that doesn’t explain the flush of warmth he feels every time Mark smiles at him, and seriously, since when is Mark smiling at him so fucking much? He did notice an increase, but this is ridiculous.

“I’m kind of tired,” he tells Mark after three hours of the whole thing. “Jet-lag,” he adds apologetically and Mark nods quickly and, before Eduardo can say he knows how to call a cab, he’s making excuses and following Eduardo out and to Mark’s car.

It’s not inconsistent with how Mark’s been for a long while, to be honest, but somehow it resonates more now, drives the point across. Eduardo is silent for the whole ride, faking tiredness and leaning against the window. The cold of the surface helps a bit but not much.

He wonders if he’s finally gone insane. He keeps doing this, setting himself up for hurt and disappointment, maybe he should consider that a little more carefully. His one long-term girlfriend tried to set his place on fire and his best friend broke his heart before Eduardo was even in love with him.

Fuck. Here goes trying to think of it as a passing attraction. Fuck.

“You don’t need to get up early, right?” Mark asks quietly when they arrive and Eduardo shakes his head.

“My plane isn’t until two pm. But if you need to get to the office don’t hesitate on my part,” he adds, almost hopefully.

Mark shakes his head. “Not really. Unless there’s a major crisis, of course. Also, I’ve been practicing making pancakes,” he adds, smiling with some pride and Eduardo’s heart fucking swells. Jesus.

“Now that sounds like a major crisis,” he offers weakly and Mark shakes his head at him.

“Go to sleep, Wardo.”

He tries to. Covers his head with a pillow and closes his eyes tightly, willing the world to go fuck itself. What he gets, however, is a replay of the events of the past few years, from the dilution to all the ways Mark has changed, all the things that has apparently made Eduardo fall in love with him.

Fantastic. He really ought to have his head examined, he thinks, one of the last conscious thoughts before he finally manages to fall asleep.

He wakes up to the sound of Mark’s voice and automatically smiles before he remembers and groans, trying to burrow himself back under the covers.

Mark is talking on the phone, his tone exasperated and fond at the same time. He’s talking about pancakes. Which would mean he’s either talking with his mother, one of his sisters, or Rebecca the assistant Eduardo had never actually met but talked to on the phone repeatedly and even sent her a birthday gift last month.

“No, he’s still asleep, I think,” Mark says, his voice a little closer but quieter. A moment later his head pokes in through the door. Eduardo finds himself blinking at him, not able to think ahead and fake sleep. “Hey,” Mark says.

“Morning,” Eduardo nods and doesn’t move. “I’ll be right there.”

Mark’s sitting at the kitchen table in his pyjamas, reading a newspaper. There are pancakes and coffee, and none of those is actually bad, on which Eduardo remarks loudly.

Mark gives him a long-suffering look. “I’m not an idiot, I can follow a simple recipe. It’s not rocket science. Which is something, I think, I’d excel at.”

“I have no doubt about that,” Eduardo nods. “How about you get on that and leave the kitchen to people more qualified than you?”

“I’ll buy you an apron for the next time you visit,” Mark allows, and Eduardo’s heart skips a fucking traitorous bit.

There’s no denying, he wants it. He wants to visit again, he wants breakfasts with Mark, he wants everything else. Which is, of course, why he makes half-assed excuses about traffic and leaves an hour earlier than he needs to, and proceeds to freak out about the whole thing through the entire flight.

It’s a very long flight.

He can’t do this. He can’t set himself up for this again, can’t risk it not working out. Can’t risk losing Mark over this and can’t risk Mark breaking his heart again, because he’s not sure he would be able to pick up all the pieces this time.

You okay? Mark’s text waits for him when he turns on his cellphone again. You seemed out of sorts. Hope it’s not a stomach flu or something. If I caught it from you the entire office is gonna be... well, Dustin tells me to say ‘eternally grateful’ but that can’t be right. Everybody adores me, obviously.

Eduardo can hear his dry tone as well as if Mark read the texts himself. He clicks the phone shut and pockets it without responding.

*

He never thought he’d say, or even think this, but Eduardo thinks he preferred the oblivious Mark, who’d shut himself off in code and not notice what was going on around him. It was frustrating at the time, but Eduardo would give a lot (starting with the settlement money) to get back to that.

Because now he has three unanswered calls, and seven text messages from Mark. There’s no voicemail messages, thank fuck, but the texts are enough.

Let me know when you landed.

Dustin’s building a fort out of office chairs. I hope it’s a fort and not something else.

The airline knows nothing about your plane being delayed. Are you alright?

I’m considering hacking the airline website. Or your e-mail. Just thought you might want to know.

Eduardo closes his eyes, thumb hovering over the touch screen. He’s not sure he can go on. Mark... the solution of hacking into whatever he can is something typical of him, sure, but before he wouldn’t give Eduardo a heads up, wouldn’t say anything at all. Now he’s probably only using it to get Eduardo’s attention, too, to provoke a response.

Just let me know you’re okay, asshole.

He makes a strangled noise deep in his throat, hand tightening around the phone. Two more and it’s gettng worse.

Wardo, is something wrong?

And the last one, one that practically breaks his heart, the letters on the screen blurred and unclear.

Did I do something wrong?

He can’t do this. It’s setting himself up for getting hurt again, and he had promised himself he’ll never leave himself that open, that vulnerable. And yet, ever since Mark came back into his life it’s impossible to think of letting him go again. Not as... not like that. But Mark is, still, his best friend, despite everything that happened. Eduardo needs him as much as he now realises he wants him, possibly more.

It’s not like it can’t be done. People spend years pining about someone and it doesn’t... it doesn’t have to matter. Maybe he’ll get over it, with time, and when he does, he’d regret cutting Mark out of his life.

He thumbs the keys of his phone and breathes in and out, slowly. His heartbeat is loud in his ears and he matches the beat to the words running through his head. Please get over it. Get over it. Get over it. Get over him...

Sorry, he writes to Mark. Minor crisis, talk to you later. I’ll see you at the next shareholders’, he adds, before he chickens out.

*

part two
Tags: fanfic, mark/eduardo, the social network
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