For Eduardo, it ends like this: he makes a decision. He’s going to walk away from all of this—the depositions, the stupid fucking rainwater, Mark—and then he’s going to be free.
The doctors had told him that he had a choice, that they were testing out treatments that worked in hypotheticals but had some sort of emotional consequences that meant that ethics were getting involved. (“The response is born from deep emotion,” a doctor had said. His eyes looked too soft, so Eduardo has to believe that he’s never been killed by his own body out of love. “There’s no reason to believe that cutting them out won’t take the love away, too.”)
Eduardo doesn’t care. Or—he does, and that’s why he has appointments lined up for the next few weeks.
It doesn’t come to that, though.
For Eduardo, it ends like this: he’s sitting in as witness for the Winklevosses—Winklevii, he can hear Mark saying, and it no longer catches him by surprise when his throat chokes up and Mark looks at him, looks at him in a way he never had the months leading up to Eduardo smashing everything and walking out. So Eduardo takes the first chance he gets to excuse himself even though it’s not break, and kneels in front of the toilet.
What people don’t realize, what Mark doesn’t realize, is that Eduardo is just as stubborn and dickish. Eduardo is perfectly capable of doing the petty thing, of suffering through this once so it never comes back to hurt him again.
He vomits and only tastes rain and thinks severely that this will be the last time. There will be nothing more. Eduardo Saverin is no longer going to be in love.
He’s accosted by Mark’s lawyer on the way back, who is twitching with discomfort.
“Did M—did he put you up to this?”
“Mark snapped at all of us,” Sy says, carefully. “Not long after you left.”
Eduardo stares at him. “Are you even allowed to be talking to me right now?” I’m suing your client for 500 million dollars, he thinks, a touch hysterical.
Sy seems to remember himself. He holds out a piece of paper, still warm from the photocopier. “Didn’t want you to miss anything.”
He gives it a cursory glance-over—really, he needs to kick the habit, it’s what got him in this fucking situation in the first place—and all he sees is Mark, as much of a condescending asshole as ever. You have the minimum amount, seriously, what the fuck?
Sy looks at him expectantly.
“No, I don’t think I missed anything,” Eduardo bites out. It rings hollow to both of them.
For Mark, it starts like this: it’s the fucking Winklevii suit and some layer is asking him why he didn’t ask those pigheads for the money instead, as if Mark would even consider building Facebook with them.
If you ask him, it’s pretty fucking obvious: it had to be Wardo, because he was more than a legacy kid who wanted to play business, because he was twice as smart as everyone seemed to think he was, because Mark knew him, Mark had seen a similar, desperate need for more and he had taken it and used it.
What he says: “I went to my friend for the money because that’s who I wanted to be partners with. Eduardo was the president of the Harvard Investors Association and he was my best friend.”
Eduardo’s chair is empty and something tightens in his chest.
Eduardo has had the shittiest luck for the past few years, though, so that’s not actually where it ends. Instead, as he’s mentally preparing what to say to his Gretchen-suggested therapist (how do you tell a therapist just enough so that they can work with it but not enough to think you’re pathetic?) he gets a call from an unknown number.
At least, that’s what it says on his phone, but there was a week in sophomore year where Dustin deleted all his contacts (“By accident!”) and he ended up memorizing them instead.
So, because he has the shittiest luck that a not-quite-billionaire can have, he gets a call from Mark. Not two weeks after the settlement.
He declines the call twice, seriously considers blocking the number, but Mark is nothing if not relentless—something Eduardo is making sure he is nevernevernever going to forget—so he picks up the third call.
“I’m throwing up copious amounts of just—fucking water and Chris laughed and told me to talk to you.” is the first thing he hears.
“Well,” Eduardo bites out. “I think your liver has officially decided to give up trying to process RedBull.”
It’s almost like he can fucking hear Mark scowling on the other end before he remembers that he’s not supposed to joke around with him for a whole host of reasons, many of which they had spent the last few weeks putting a price tag on.
He sighs. “Not sure what this has to do with me, though. Do you not remember the extensive NDA your lawyers made me sign? Or—was it not worth your attention?”
“You never fucking listen—Wardo, every fifty minutes or some shit my intestines play wack-a-mole and then I vomit up seawater. I didn’t drink anything for fourteen hours and I still threw up something like a quart.”
Mark says this all very fast, which maybe Eduardo should have known, except he’d been darkly silent for most of the depositions. It feels almost like a small comfort to hear Mark talking probably as fast as he types, but Eduardo squashes the feeling down because he’s not in love anymore. Instead, Mark’s word-vomit still translating to normal sentences, he says, “First off, don’t call me Wardo. Second of—oh.”
This is all very, very bad.
Mark’s gone silent over the phone again, and Eduardo decides he’d definitely rather risk tasting mud in the back of his throat again than have any more of whatever this is. The quiet is grating and awful and makes Eduardo think of the click of the court reporter’s keys, so he mentally unwinds the string of shit Mark’s just laid on him and picks something he knows he can talk about. “You didn’t drink anything for fourteen hours?”
Mark doesn’t seem to have anything else to add to that, so Eduardo takes up the thankless job of keeping the conversation going. Even though he really, really doesn’t want to. “Wait, seawater?”
“Saltwater, technically. I don’t really know what seawater tastes like.”
You live in a state known for its beaches, Eduardo thinks, then revises that thought as it’s highly unlikely that Mark’s spending his weekends wading in the coast. It is a little disappointing that this is still obvious to him, but Eduardo figures that anyone could know that about Mark by looking at him.
It sounds like Mark’s gritting his teeth when he says, sharp as ever, “Chris said—he mentioned that you knew something about this? This whole, throwing-up-when-it’s-not-scientifically-possible thing. Do you?”
Eduardo thinks about saying Yes, I do, actually. And now I’m going to hang up because I don’t owe you a fucking thing. He thinks about siccing some lawyers on Chris until he’s looped into some NDA as well. He’s always been a bit of an emotional masochist, though, so he just says, “Yeah, I do.”
Mark coughs, which Eduardo takes as some sort of Mark-code for continue, maybe? and not leftover scratchiness from vomiting.
Eduardo needs to run. He needs to be anywhere but here, phone pressed to his ear instead of speaker because it’s easier to remember Mark’s just a small voice this way.
“It’s…they’re calling it a medical condition, for now. Relatively unheard of, small number of cases,” Eduardo begins. He’s stalling. He’s stalling and Mark knows it, because the fucker interrupts him immediately.
“Okay. Except a basic search turns nothing up, and this sort of thing isn’t exactly commonplace. It’s a little paranormal, actually, which leads me to think that if people were regularly vomiting impossible amounts of seawater, it’d be all over some cryptid blog.”
“That’s because it’s not always seawater. They said I was lucky, that it wasn’t flowers or vines or something else—there were rumors that someone was throwing up literal fucking gemstones—”
“This has happened to you before.”
Eduardo pulls back from his phone. How monumentally stupid of him, he thinks. Something about Mark has always had him making all the wrong assumptions. “You didn’t—isn’t that why you called me?”
“Chris—Chris only said that he ‘had heard you talking about something similar’ and didn’t add any other details. Pl—“ Mark cuts himself short, but Eduardo’s already retracting his decision to throttle Chris the next time they see each other.
Chris had been the first one to know, back in their senior year at Harvard; Eduardo still remembers the moment it clicked, when Chris saw Eduardo throwing up clear water not thirty seconds after mentioning Mark for the first time since Palo Alto.
(“Not a fucking word,” Eduardo had gasped.
“I literally have no fucking clue what I’m looking at, so not a problem,” Chris had replied. “Except—shit, W-man. I think we need to get you to some bio labs, what the fuck?”)
Still, he wishes Chris had just explained it to Mark, sparing him from this conversation. Although he’d always suspected Chris of having a ruthless streak.
“Fine. Yes, this has happened to me before.” He takes a deep inhale. Wills his lungs to stay dry. Plows on. “They—psychologists, researchers—believe that it starts as an overwhelming emotion. The romantics call it unrequited. The leading theory is just that it’s caused by feeling with no outlet—reciprocation, recognition, etcetera. It turns physical and destroys your body. Your body forcefully ejects it every time you think about them.”
For the first time, Eduardo lets himself really think about how yeah, this is happening to Mark. He’s never really believed that Mark was robotic—insanely focused, sure, but in a way that was always remarkably human. A robot couldn’t have the same vicious edge, the same sharpness that punctuates his typing and verbal spats. He also knows that it’s not just unrequited love that does it, that hatred and rage can settle in guts and bones just as well. He wonders if it’s that chip on Mark’s shoulder manifested, some jealousy or anger gone sour.
It’d be pretty funny if Mark was in love with Facebook, though. If there were ever a case for being married to your job, it’d be Mark.
A pause. “Was it me?”
Trust Mark to cut to the chase as ruthlessly as possible. “Mark.”
“It can’t be Christy, because there’s no fucking way it was Christy, and there’s definitely not another person in your life in these past few years that I also don’t know about. In fact, your scary lawyer lady is probably as close as you’ve—”
“It’s always about you, isn’t it?”
Saltwater—sea or otherwise—has enough, well, salt in it that it probably hurts like a bitch to vomit. Eduardo’s got half a mind to chart out exactly how long it’ll take for Mark to die from this, or at least how long before his throat starts to become less of an irritant and more of a problem.
Still, it hurts less than he expects it to when he says, “Yes, it was you. Happy?”
There’s footsteps and oh, gross, of course Mark won’t even let go of the phone while he retches. It’s loud through the speakerphone, almost viscerally uncomfortable. Eduardo finally has all of Mark’s attention, and it’s far too fucking late.
“No,” Mark says over the flushing of the toilet. As if nothing happened.
“I need a fucking drink,” Eduardo decides.
It’s three hours later and they’re still on the fucking phone. Eduardo’s probably more drunk than is wise, but he’s beyond caring. Mark’s rattling off question after question and Eduardo’s just trying to cut it short.
He’s halfway through explaining that yes, there’s prototypes for medicine being made and Mark needs to sort this shit out because Eduardo’s throat is going dry from near-yelling into his phone.
Eduardo thinks he’s showing a decent amount of restraint and care when he says, “I am going to leave you the numbers of every doctor who knows fuck-all about this, and I am going to leave Chris a copy of this as well, because I don’t trust you to not just ignore this, and you are going to get surgery or undergo treatment or drink whatever magic potion they tell you to, and this can be done for.”
“I’m not going to do that. I am now the CEO of a company that is fucking invaluable and if something goes wrong because of some med student’s research—"
“Mark. What part of drowning alive do you not get?”
“Can you actually die from this?”
“Yes! The human body’s not supposed to be able to create water out of nowhere. In fact, people already have died from this—”
"No, but I probably would've if I just let it go untreated."
“What did you throw up?”
“Was it the same thing? It’s all very Greek tragedy, very Shakespearean if we’re talking flowers—”
“Rainwater. It was rainwater.”
The pauses are worse when he’s drunk. Eduardo makes a mental note to call his dentist in place of all the other appointments. He’s gonna grind his teeth down waiting for Mark to put the pieces together.
All Mark says is: “Oh.”
For Eduardo, it starts like this: he’s angry and tired and soaked to the fucking bone—why didn’t he know it would rain?—so he slams the door and tries not to feel satisfaction at the way Mark startles a little at that, because finally, finally, he’s paying attention.
Or maybe not. Mark’s talking, talking like he’s running out of time and Eduardo wants to shake him and yell slow down but he can’t, he can’t, because asking means admitting that he’s afraid that—
“I’m afraid that if you don’t come out here you’re going to get left behind,” Mark says flatly as if the blood hasn’t rushed into Eduardo’s ears all at once and all he hears is ringing, ringing, ringing.
Mark keeps fucking talking and he’s saying something and Eduardo can’t hear, can’t get a word in besides “What do you mean, get left behind?” and Mark doesn’t answer and Eduardo knows that he’s lost him.
Mark won’t fucking listen and suddenly they’re yelling at each other and all Eduardo can think of is the words left behind.
“You’re talking to him.” There’s no shortage of suspicion in Chris’ voice.
“You told me to.”
He hadn’t, actually. What Chris had said was that he “remembered something like that happening with Eduardo” followed immediately by “please don’t ask him about that—don’t—don’t tell him I said that”. Mark had laughed for a solid two minutes, dry and short, before rushing to the kitchen sink.
He called Eduardo ten minutes after.
Chris must read between the lines, or more likely, has already colluded with Eduardo on this, because all he says is, “Oh, for fuck’s sake.”
“You’re always saying I need to get better at communication. How is this different?”
Chris sighs, loudly, on purpose, so that Mark can hear the conveyed, communication is also about knowing when to shut the fuck up and how is it that you made the most popular social networking site? and mostly, I am so fucking tired of this.
Chris says, “Fine. Do whatever you want. Just try not to make it more work for me. Personally and professionally.”
Mark doesn’t know what to say to that, so he hangs up.
Mark is, contrary to common belief, very much capable of keeping himself alive. Any idea otherwise was probably perpetrated by Chris, who thinks that if you’re not unflinchingly polite and orderly, you’re not really living. A little 52 hour coding tear never killed anybody, not that Mark’s checking that fact.
He sleeps it off afterwards, which arguably balances it out.
(Erica had once told him that actually, that’s not how sleep works, and that at that point Mark had probably irreversibly damaged his health and death by exhaustion was soon and inevitable. He sends her another friend request, this time with a little more fuck you than he’s felt in years.)
In reality, he’s terrified of dying and leaving Facebook to just fall apart without him, becoming a relic of the internet. He’s scared of accidentally dying of malnutrition without even realizing it, and even more scared of his mother finding out he died of malnutrition. He knows he’s not exactly living the healthiest lifestyle by anyone’s standards—too much Red Bull, not enough showering or sleeping—but he’s still checking to make sure he’ll be alive for the near future.
This constant-vomit situation is kind of putting a damper in that.
The “sea” part of seawater is a hunch, a Google-backed hypothesis at best. Mark hates the undefined, hates it when things can’t or won’t fit neatly into their little boxes. It’s part of Facebook’s charm—everything’s boiled down to a one-word answer.
Eduardo doesn’t fit into any neat little definitions.
The rainwater he understands: it was raining that night before Eduardo froze the account, it was raining when Mark was sitting through the Winklevii suit and all he could do was look out the window. He doesn’t really remember much of that deposition at all, since he’s never cared about the twins and refuses to start now.
Mark’s got half a mind to actually go down to the beach (for once) and risk the piss-and-fish-shit water to get a definitive answer, but he doesn’t have to.
The seawater he comes to understand: it makes sense when the last of the papers are signed and Eduardo picks up and moves across the Pacific.
Emotions are a tricky thing—there’s no specific starting point, no header to go back to and say oh, so this is where it begins. They’re hard to categorize and harder to trace, going further back than you’d ever think to look, glanced over until implemented.
So maybe, for Mark it starts like this: it’s the day of the million members party, which they’d only known would be today specifically of because it was Eduardo’s projected date, and Mark is alone in his office, decisively not at the million members party.
He’s been—coding, mostly. He lost maybe an hour’s work on the laptop and he’s making up for it now, frustrated because he can’t quite lose himself in it.
The masthead is right there, and it would be so, so easy to change it back. But he’s not going to. It feels desperate. It feels—significant, the same way every little thing with Eduardo always is.
So yeah. He’s not really focused on coding. He’s mostly trying to pinpoint the exact moment it all went downhill. The moment that split them apart, that set them on different paths. Lines of code pop up on the screen and he’s barely thinking about it, like he’s watching someone else.
He hits the debugger. Nothing shows up. The code works the way it always does, and it’s wrong. It’s gonna be another hour of rewriting, then.
Even if Mark knew what had been the moment that fucked up them up, he doesn’t think he’d change it. It’s not like it would have ever been just one thing, either, that made them go from friends to something soured. The problem of it all is that Eduardo is always stubbornly Eduardo and Mark can’t be anything other than himself.
Mark’s not going to get any shit done tonight—the next update he’s thinking of rolling out is reliant on several teams of programmers, and one of the side effects of expansion is how Mark can’t just change chunks of Facebook’s code anymore without having to take up time explaining to at least ten people. It’s just inefficient for Mark to try and overwrite everything now—it’s not as simple as a couple of bugs but a structural error.
He cuts open the package just to do something with his hands. He’s barely got a hand on one of the cards when Sean calls.
Sean calls him again from the police station. Mark’s still irritable and everything is very, very far away.
“You weren’t the one that called the cops, right?” Sean asks, laced with suspicion. Mark’s beginning to understand what Wardo—Eduardo—meant about the unfounded paranoia.
“No,” Mark says as plainly as possible. It’d be stupid for him to call in the fucking police and make a scene, especially after losing his—their, Facebook’s—CFO. A million members is cool, and it’s probably a bitch move that he thinks it’s not that big of a deal anymore, but Facebook isn’t exactly stable enough right now to handle the fallout. Also, Wardo screaming and smashing his way out of their company is throwing him off-kilter, so no, Mark didn’t call the police.
He knows that Facebook was a part of why the police even knew in the first place—when your network is built around posting every little detail of your life, your own employees are bound to use it. Mark briefly wonders if it had been Eduardo, then immediately reminds himself to never posit that idea in front of Sean.
Sean sighs, and Mark knows that he’s drunk at most. Not even that smashed. The funny thing about Sean’s wild fears is that he never actually trusts drugs, although he’s apparently perfectly willing to risk a few sorority girls and worse, Mark’s interns.
“I’m fucked, aren’t I? I’m fucked and it’s all going to come crashing down and what happens if Facebook—”
“Sean,” hisses Mark. “I’m taking care of it. There’s no way we can keep it from Theil, but I am taking care of it.” Then he hangs up, because if he hears Sean talk for another fucking minute he thinks he’s going to hurl. He thinks about how many lawyers he’s going to have to talk to in the next few weeks, which leads to him thinking about You better lawyer up, asshole, which only makes him more nauseous.
It’s some ungodly hour in the offices and Mark’s well aware he looks like shit right now. He was well aware of that when Eduardo came in screaming and breaking in front of everyone and he knows that the only reason Sean or Dustin didn’t bug him about skipping the party is because it shows. But Mark can’t move, can’t budge, so he watches the sunrise and tries not to think about anything at all. The world spins on, and for the first time Mark thinks, wait—
Sean’s been getting increasingly jumpy, a funny side effect to witnessing first-hand the share dilution and every fucking disaster that followed. Sean clearly understands that if Mark can cut out his best friend from their own company with unshaking hands, all it’ll take for Sean is one slip-up.
There’s been a lot of those recently.
The party had proven to be a wedge in their working relationship—Sean’s starting to see Mark with a sliver of the sharp distrust he holds around business men in suits, and Mark’s no longer under the delusion that Sean understands Facebook through and through. Sean forgets that Facebook needs stability, that it’s not just something he can burn through and bounce back from once the smoke clears. Not that that’ll happen—Facebook is so, so much bigger than Mark could have ever expected, much less Sean—but Facebook is also all that Mark has.
When Peter suggests Sean should step down, Mark delivers the news with a shrug. Sean’s not shocked and seems to take it as a well, what can you do? There’s no fanfare, but Sean gets to keep his shares, which is probably part of it.
“I’ll send flowers,” Mark suggests. It comes out a little too flat, almost bitter.
“Fuck that,” Sean says, grinning far too wide for someone who basically just got fired. “I’m buying my own flowers and putting it on Facebook’s bill. You wouldn’t know the first thing to put in an apology bouquet.”
Mark opens his mouth—probably to say some shit like and you do?—but Sean’s always had a gift for dramatic exit lines.
“I hope it never comes down this, but you couldn’t apologize to save your life, man.” And just like that he’s gone.
Sean keeps popping into meetings or even just the offices, because he can. It’s a little aggravating, but not half as bad as waiting for Eduardo to do anything.
Mark keeps waiting for Wardo to come back, because he said he would. (Twice: he said he’d be there for the million members party but then shit had hit the fan and now he’s coming back for everything.)
Eduardo doesn’t come back. But six months later he gets a letter that tells him, in polite and concise terms, that he’s being sued by his best friend.
Mark decides, completely unrelated to a horrible barf-session after trying valiantly to box away all thoughts about Wardo (so he can fucking code, it’s like trying to brute-force his way through his own head), that maybe it would do him some good to try emotional honesty now and then. Not often, because Mark’s still Mark, saltwater be damned.
He knows he’s not good at this stuff—this direct confrontation of feelings or whatever. That had been the whole appeal of blogging and status updates—people would know, sparing you the dreadful experience of telling it to their faces. It’s one of the unexpected side effects to being as famous (infamous, Chris interjects) as he is; his Facebook isn’t even really about his friends as much as it is about the seemingly endless array of suits Chris makes him talk to.
Mark’s taken to labeling everything complicated and Wardo-related to a nameless concept (which doesn’t actually help since he’s still thinking about it) and shoving it into the back of his head. It’s there, it’s taking up braincells, but Mark instinctively tries to squash out the feeling as soon as it pops up.
But he doesn’t really have any options here.
That’s fine. He’s still a genius, after all.
He starts small.
Mark suspects that Wardo was downplaying the vomiting aspect, because there’s no apparent reasoning behind when he becomes the perfect saltwater aquarium and when his traitorous body leaves him alone.
“He said it happens every time you think about—about them,” Mark relays. He’s not sure if it makes him a bag of dicks for being slightly pleased that Eduardo was thinking about Mark often enough—that he still cared enough, even after the dilution—for this bullshit to even happen.
Chris sinks lower on the breakroom couch, because he was there, figuring shit out with Eduardo when it happened. Dustin looks like he’s discovered magic is real.
Mark’s trying to find a way to explain that this isn’t magical at all, but it’s a losing battle.
“It’d be almost sweet, if you weren’t literally dying over each other,” Dustin says.
Mark fixes him with a flat stare. Dustin’s only here because he’s a nosy fucker, not because he has valuable input.
“Do you think Eduardo had this down in terms of probability? Like hey, at any given moment, depending on where you’re standing and the weather—" Mark pretends not to see Chris flinch “—you have a 30% chance of needing to hurl?”
“He likes numbers, Dustin.”
Chris snorts, because every Lit major is required to undermine math at any given moment. “Sure, that’s a generous way of putting it.”
Mark whirls on him. “So was there? A model or—something?”
It’s a novelty for Mark to be on the flip side of Chris deliberately phrasing something to be palatable. “No, we figured out that if we could just, avoid talking about you we could keep a handle on things.”
There’s basically a company-wide ban on mentions of Eduardo Saverin, between lawsuits and NDAs and fine, the way every employee is terrified of how Mark acted during the depositions.
Mark twirls a pen between his fingers. “That’s not working—it’s getting in the way of, of everything else. I can’t—I can’t code, because I’ll only get like ten hours in before throwing up fucking seawater.”
“You need a work-around so you can get back to your terrifying robot lifestyle,” Dustin deadpans.
“Yes,” Mark nods. “So the next logical step is just…letting the seawater fuck me up whenever. Great.”
“I think it’s your only option?” Dustin tries.
Chris manages to side-eye both of them. “You could call a doctor.”
Mark pretends not to hear him.
His new strategy works for less than a week. He’s not actively not-thinking about Eduardo, but the seawater will still crawl its way up his throat until he’s nearly running through the offices towards a bathroom. He spends five minutes sitting on the floor thinking about his current feelings towards Wardo, most of which are a little resentful if only because of the coding interruptions.
Ignoring the problem isn’t working, and not doing anything isn’t working, so Mark decides to ignore the Chris-like voice in his head and calls Eduardo again, just to see what happens. It takes about five minutes before he actually picks up.
Before Eduardo can say anything, Mark starts with: “I need your help, Wardo.”
“Absolutely not.” A pause. “And don’t call me that.”
“Eduardo,” Mark tries again. “The whole seawater thing is kind of taking over my life and if you have any advice, I’m willing to take it.”
An even longer pause.
“Call a fucking doctor, Mark. Don’t call me.” Eduardo hangs up after that.
It’s funny, but Mark doesn’t throw up that night.
“Figured I would find you here,” Chris says through the door. He manages to come off as both concerned and snide.
“Hguhgnhhh,” Mark says, because he’s hunched over the most solitary toilet in the building. He briefly considers rinsing his mouth out but figures that RedBull is much more effective at scrubbing out the briny taste on his tongue.
Chris steps through the door. Mark thinks he’s probably a real sight to behold, probably a spitting image of a college hangover. “You didn’t lock the door.”
“I was kind of running low on time.”
Chris squints at him. “You…need any help?”
“No. Well. Unless you have any fool-proof solutions to make the entire seawater thing stop. Eduardo said that they were only in drug development last he heard.”
“I thought I expressly told you not to talk to him. For the sake of everyone involved.”
“No, you told me not to ‘make it more work for you’,” Mark says. If he’s a little petulant, it’s because he really wants that fucking RedBull.
“Please don’t lie and say you have it under control.”
Mark shoots him a glare, the dead-eyed kind that starts rumors of his soullessness but doesn’t work on Chris. “I clearly don’t. If I did, I would be at my laptop, checking for update bugs or revolutionizing the media or whatever it is that Forbes wants to call it this week. Instead, I’m here, barfing up water.”
If Chris is surprised by any part of this outburst, it doesn’t show. It’s infuriating and what Mark desperately wishes the rest of his employees were like. “You’re not much of a liar anyways.”
“No, I’m not.” Even if Eduardo seemed to think otherwise.
Chris has a sixth sense for this kind of bullshit, because he not only follows Mark’s train of thought but makes a step forward as if to brace him.
“You don’t want seawater ruining those pants, dude,” Mark says. Distantly, he thinks Chris should be proud of him for even thinking about it. “Also, I’m not going to throw up, and I’m not going to stop talking to Wardo. Leave, maybe?”
Chris gives one of his bone-deep sighs and backs out, leaving Facebook’s CEO kneeling on minimalist bathroom tiles. Mark wonders if it’s a lie or exaggeration to say they’re talking, the same way it was either a lie or exaggeration not to let Eduardo in on the dilution.
They’re not talking, but they’re not-not talking. It’s annoying and Mark doesn’t like it. He likes the clear cut, a true-false scenario with no room left or doubt. Instead Eduardo responds to all his emails and picks up maybe half of Mark’s calls. (There’s no pattern to it, unaffected by timezone or time between calls, which drives Mark up the fucking wall because he doesn’t know what Eduardo’s playing at.)
Not that it matters—Eduardo always hangs up without warning, because it only takes about two sentences before Mark says something that makes his fuse run short. The cold silence leaves Mark’s chest aching but in completely normal, non-vomit-related ways.
That’s what he’ll blame it on later, when he realizes that he’s been wasting his time trying to understand Eduardo’s actions. Mark wants to throw something, the way he’d been so caught up in what Wardo was doing that he missed the point entirely—talking to Eduardo, reading his emails, it helps.
Mark doesn’t know how to bring up this crucial information with Eduardo in a non-shitty, non-manipulative way, so he just settles for calling twice as often.
Eduardo picks up the call on the fourth ring. Mark would count that as progress, if the way he says “What is it, Mark.” didn’t immediately backslide any improvement in their not-relationship.
“I don’t have to—can’t I just call? Isn’t that what people do?”
“Well,” and it’s truly incredible how Eduardo makes it sound like he’s putting things delicately and also hoping to throttle Mark with just his voice, “historically, you only ever call when you need something.”
“Fine then. Do you need anything from me?” Mark’s struck by how much he wants Eduardo to need something from him. Please don’t let this be a one-way street.
“I need you to stop calling me in the middle of the day.”
“Call it considerate. Better than calling you in the middle of the night, isn’t it?”
“Mark, it’s the middle of the night for you.”
“Fine. I want you to ask me a question.”
“You want me to—Mark, what?”
“Why else would you keep talking to me? There’s really nothing you’d ask?”
“Fine. Did you mean it?”
“What?” Off the top of his head, Mark can think of at least six things he could be referring to.
“When you said—you said I was your best friend.”
Sometimes Mark thinks they work on the same line of thought—similarly disjointed, incapable of linear conversation, Mark ten steps ahead and Eduardo racing through the past.
“Yes, I meant it.”
“During the—during the depositions. I got a transcript. From one of your lawyer guys.”
“We’re not supposed to talk about that,” Mark hedges. He doesn’t actually care, but things are getting dangerously tight in his chest and he’s sick of everything.
“You don’t actually care,” Eduardo accuses, and Mark thinks it’s unfair how Eduardo still knows him when he doesn’t understand the shape of Eduardo’s thoughts anymore.
Here’s the thing: Mark knows a lot of shit, and he naturally knows a lot of shit about himself. So it’s not like he didn’t know. Which is why he’s so surprised it hits him like a brick when he realizes, shit, he’s in love with Wardo.
It’s the sort of thing that’s obvious in hindsight—how desperate Mark had been all those years ago, pulling every possible excuse to get Eduardo to just stay. He’d always known he had a certain blind spot regarding Eduardo, had recognized the way he’d felt warm after a fleeting pat on the arm instead of uncomfortable, had known that they were always a little too close to be just friends.
So maybe he’s always been in love with Eduardo. It’s just that for most of his life, this had little to no interference with Mark’s life, only now it’s just about taken over.
It’s been about a month and he can’t wire in for more than four or five hours at a time (which Dustin insists is actually normal) so he sucks up his pride and goes through the list of doctors that Eduardo had given him. Most of them are offering solutions, but Mark’s honestly not quite sure what he’s meant to fix, so after an excruciating back-and-forth email chain with one researcher who doesn’t get what he’s asking, he snaps and politely asks them to refer him to whoever the fuck he needs to talk to in order to get some fucking answers. Politely. Really, Chris.
The name and number he gets back better be fucking worth it, and—oh, of course.
For Erica, it starts like this: she gets a friend request from the one and only Mark Zuckerberg, and within the next month she gets a rather persistent phone call from a number she could’ve sworn she’d forgotten.
“I don’t want to be friends,” the asshole says right off the bat.
“Funny, I have a friend request sitting in my notifications,” Erica snaps. A couple of her friends have asked about him—would you take him back?—now that he’s the billionaire who built Facebook, but she doesn’t really feel like she’s lost anything. It had felt like a concession when she’d signed up, but the gratification of seeing the email notification from Mark is good enough.
In fact, she doesn’t want to be friends, either.
“I—okay, you know something that I don’t.”
Erica knows a lot of things Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t, actually, like how to be a decent human and more importantly, how to leave your college ex the fuck alone. Since she’s a decent human, she says, “Good to hear you say it.” Because it’s true, even if he’d never actually acted like he knew everything. He just saw the world as things he cared to know about and things that weren’t worth his time.
It’s true, that it’s fundamentally good to hear Mark—Facebook CEO or otherwise—admit he doesn’t know something, but it’s also not a big deal. Mark doesn’t know something, and she’s only being called because he wants to know something.
“About your research,” Mark says, then stops, because talking to Mark Zuckerberg is a test in patience and never stops feeling like pulling teeth, apparently.
“What about my research.” Erica works in neurobiology, technically, but the research she’s helming centers around the deeply psychological and personal, and Mark’s long since given up the rights to any unearned knowledge.
“I. Might have a vested interest.” It sounds like Mark’s having to force the words through his teeth.
“Sorry that I can’t follow your every train of thought, but you’re going to have to explain if you want this to be a conversation.”
“I’m throwing up seawater,” Mark says, sounding so close to vomiting now that Erica has to believe him.
“You could stand to sound a little less—smug.”
“Mark. I wouldn’t wish this upon anyone. There’s nothing to be smug about.”
“Look, I just need to ask some questions. I’ll pay you if I have to but I’m pretty sure the point of science is that it’s meant for the public.”
“I’m not going to be your fucking therapist,” Erica says, and almost adds because you can afford about a hundred thousand therapists for the rest of your sad life, and you couldn’t pay me enough to talk to you about your problems but the one good thing about Mark is that he already knows this.
Case in point: “I know that,” Mark snipes. He’s never been nearly as blank and emotionless as everyone else seems to think. “Do you think I would go to you if I wanted counseling?”
When Erica had first met Mark, they’d—bonded, for lack of other words, over their mutual interest in psychology but disdain of armchair therapists. Neither of them cared about what the study meant for individuals, not really; Erica because she was a good judge of character without any of the weird Freudian shit, thanks, and Mark because he was Mark, who thought individuals were below him. It doesn’t exactly come as a surprise that he was capable of understanding what drove people as a whole, but was utterly lost when it came to the personal.
“Would you go to counseling?”
“No. I don’t have the time. Do you think I need to?” Mark fires back instantly. She’s reminded a little of when he used to get annoyed about small talk, always yes / no / yes, I’m thinking about something else and this is a waste of time. This…isn’t that, not exactly, but she wonders if it’s only because he knows she’ll hang up and block his number if he gives her the slightest reason to.
Erica hums a little, just to take up time, because Mark has never stopped being utterly exhausting. “I don’t know that any psychologist out there is going to tell you anything you don’t already know,” she decides, which is maybe unfair to both Mark and all the professionals out there who have dealt with bigger issues than an asshole, plain and simple.
She can practically see Mark shake his head. “There’s always something I can’t figure out.”
“I don’t see what this has to do with me,” Erica says. She always tries to be more polite than necessary, but it’s futile when it’s so dramatically wasted on Mark.
“You—you research this shit, don’t you?”
It’s not like Mark to ask when he already knows the answer. “You wouldn’t have called if I didn’t.”
“In particular, the last shrink I spoke to said you were the one who thinks that there are non-medicinal ways of getting rid of—this.”
Erica inhales. It’s technically her whole fucking thesis, and explaining her research to the man who basically collects personal data for a living isn’t exactly ideal, but she decides that Mark would probably sooner die from the vomiting than sell that shameful piece of information. “Fine. Yes, I think that if you got to the psychological source you’d be theoretically stop throwing up…what’d you say it was? Seawater?”
“I’m not going to help you unpack your psyche.”
“Are you going to do anything about it?” She regrets the words as soon as she says them—she’s always maintained that Mark could be doing less, still remembers the blogposts and Facemash.
But the tiredness in his voice reminds her that they’re older, now. “He doesn’t want m—I’ve done enough. He’s probably having a fantastic time in Singapore and it doesn’t have anything to do with me.”
And there it is, the proof that he’s grown. Mark was never this careful about anything.
Eduardo is having a terrible time in Singapore.
He goes to work for far too many hours, he goes home to his apartment for far too few, he thinks about Mark Zuckerberg and doesn’t throw up, but it’s a close thing. He socializes the right amount and gets laughs a little more than he used to and it’s awful because he still can’t be happy about it. If he lets himself sit for too long his thoughts circle back to Palo Alto or deposition tables and he’s miserable all over again.
There’s something to be said, Eduardo thinks, about how he needs to be a literal ocean away so he won’t be devastatingly, horribly in love with this asshole again.
It doesn’t matter what Eduardo’s feelings are on Singapore (he doesn’t feel anything about it, actually) because when he gets the first reminder for a Facebook shareholders meeting he’s already booking a flight back to California.
Pathetic, maybe, but he convinces himself it’s because he won’t pass up the chance to deck Mark and/or Sean Parker in the face.
“Don’t worry, Sean won’t be there,” Chris says as he picks him up from SFO.
Eduardo will later blame his slip-up on the jetlag. “But Mark will be.”
Chris looks like he’s aged twenty years in five seconds. “Yeah. Sorry about that. You’re not still—” He takes one hand off the wheel to gesture vaguely.
“But Mark,” Chris guesses.
“He’s still—” Chris glares at him when Eduardo mimics his handwaving. “It’s not worse than I was, right?”
Chris rubs his temple. “Guess you’re about to find out.”
The first thing Eduardo notices is that Mark hasn’t slept in three days—he knows that slight tremble in his hands, just another one of those things from Harvard he wishes he didn’t remember.
He spends most of the shareholder meeting not listening at all, which is upsetting, because it means that he’s paying attention to Mark instead. It’s an all-around miserable experience.
Mark looks barely alive throughout the meeting, absentminded scribbles littering a legal pad. In moments like these, it’s hard to remember exactly what the year is or where they are, until the bitterness settles back into Eduardo’s bones and he remembers that he won’t ever let himself get caught in it again. The problem is that Mark has always been so fundamentally Mark, which used to drive Eduardo crazy and made him want to maybe stick his tongue down Mark’s throat, but now mostly just gives him the urge to cut and run.
Because Eduardo has no interest in shaking hands with the new investors and also because fuck it, maybe he’s still caught up in Mark’s orbit, they end up sort-of talking as the last questions are being discussed.
“How’s the weather in Singapore?” Mark asks dully. “Or—the markets? Nevermind, those are shit everywhere.”
“Mark, you don’t care about the weather.”
Mark shrugs. It’s almost a little sad, instead of the usual violent uncaring. “Tell me anyways. If I have to hear about ‘uncertainties’ one more time I will fall asleep.”
Eduardo sighs and finds himself talking, trying not to let his usual enthusiasm bleed through. It’s weather. It’s supposed to be dull and boring or at worst a nuisance, but Eduardo still loves it. He trips up a little, explaining the expectations for this year’s monsoon season—he doesn’t know if it’ll be exhilarating or awful, all that rain around him.
Mark notices, because he’s paying freakishly close attention. In a rare show of tact he doesn’t mention it, opting to take a sip of the water Eduardo had forced upon him.
“Did you make me do that so you wouldn’t fall asleep?” He asks, hushed. It’s not that they’re not supposed to be talking, but the less people know they are, the better.
“No.” Mark rolls his eyes a little, but he does look more alert. “I’m going to make sure these thing stay annual.”
“Thanks.” Eduardo would be touched, if it weren’t obvious that Mark feels like shit here too. Silence falls between them. It’s funny how they used to talk without ever shutting up, given that the list of things that they can talk about now is getting shorter all the time.
Eduardo’s starting to wish Mark would just fucking say something, for once. They’ve spoken more in last two months than they have over the past few years leading up to the lawsuit, but Eduardo remembers Mark best as being impossible to talk to, having to fight every second to get a single word in.
“You should maybe try sleeping,” Eduardo says, then snaps his jaw shut.
“You don't need to worry about me,” Mark replies, clipped. From anyone else it might’ve been a mercy, but with Mark it just serves as a reminder not to care.
Eduardo is trying really fucking hard to not care, but it’s ultimately a shorter rope than was ever healthy for him, and before long the biggest investors get testy with the fucked-up market and pull a mandatory emergency meeting, discussing long-term projections and short-term solutions. Eduardo should have known better, should have known from Mark’s short greeting nod that both of them are reaching the end of their wits.
“This is a lot more shareholder meetings than I expected,” Mark says by way of non-apology. He looks worn down in the way Eduardo remembers being. It’s not a good look.
Eduardo sighs. “Mark, do you know anything about stock trends this year?”
Mark shrugs—not quite a “fuck you” but still uncaring. With all the lawyer-talk and let me check your math Eduardo’s almost forgotten that Mark only cares about the money insofar that it pays for Facebook’s ever-expanding needs.
It’s this exact attitude that gets Eduardo dragged into Mark’s shit all over again; the meeting is dull and boring and fine until Mark opens his mouth to insinuate that everyone in the room only cares about the money Facebook can make for them, and before he knows what he’s doing Eduardo’s jumping in with, “What Mark means is—”
“Excuse you, I happen to know exactly what I mean,” Mark interrupts.
“Oh, I forgot—no one knows what you’re thinking because we can’t understand it, least of all me—so why don’t you take the time and explain?”
It comes out of him in a rush, and distantly Eduardo recognizes that he’s breathing too hard and it’s immature, but for a moment he’s twenty again and all he wants to do is break something. It’s a brief, terrible moment, one that passes almost as quickly as it had flared up. Eduardo wonders if it was always like this, if being around Mark had always made him sharper, words spilling out over-articulated and too emotional all at once.
Mark visibly swallows—Christ, he looks like he’s about to be sick, Eduardo had fucking forgotten—but the mask of snarling indifference settles back on as he speaks, terse and quick.
To Mark’s right, an advisor Eduardo doesn’t know shoots him a grateful look. Eduardo feels sick all over again, can almost taste rain in the back of his throat. He spends the rest of the meeting trying to think through the haze of simmering rage and almost-forgotten hurt; it’s remarkable how everything with Mark comes back to bite him in the ass sooner or later.
Dustin exhales when the last of the shareholders trickles out. Eduardo can’t seem to make his legs move.
“What,” Mark says. All the tension snaps back into the room.
“Nothing—I just forgot what it was like, being around you two.”
Mark narrows his eyes.
“Dustin,” Chris says warningly.
“Y’know—it’s impossible to get a word in when you guys start talking—we used to joke that Wardo could save a conversation almost as fast as Mark could kill one.”
“Thanks,” replies Eduardo. “It felt stupid as fuck.”
“Is that supposed to be a compliment?” Mark asks. He doesn’t look like he’ll throw up anymore, which is good, but his eyes are flat, sliding away from anything in the room.
“It’s an observation,” Dustin retorts.
“I need to get back to work,” Mark mutters at the same time Eduardo says, “I’m leaving now.”
There’s a beat of silence before Mark sucks in a breath and pushes past them.
“That could have gone worse,” Chris says, but it’s clear that by worse, he means in paranormal vomit ways or possibly death.
“Sure. Don’t make me come more than I have to.” Eduardo says.
There are far too many shareholder meetings in the next few months than would ever be reasonable, but 2008’s turning out to be a shitshow of a year. Eduardo genuinely can’t make a few—as it turns out, escaping to Singapore isn’t that effective in terms of escaping the shadow of the American market—but he ends up going to less than half of the others anyways. Despite the new offices, despite the increasing number of unfamiliar faces, he still feels boxed in by the Facebook offices, heart still beating too fast and the air pushed out of his lungs.
He flips a coin and sighs when it lands on heads. His PA answers his call with, “Direct flight again?”
Eduardo thinks of all the hours Mark has carved out of his life. “Yeah. The closer to the date the better.”
He’s almost gotten used to the complicated tangle of emotions that seem to return with a vengeance whenever he dares showing up in Palo Alto. The meetings never get better; Eduardo spends all his time barely listening and trying to watch Mark without having to look at him. They’re only called for major shareholders, so instead of the annual hall it’s just a meeting room and too many people.
It’s similar to the depositions, he realizes. A table, a host of other people watching, money talk that interests neither of them. Mark, Eduardo, Facebook, shares. The proximity is too much, only so many places to glance without making the deliberate not-looking obvious.
He knows he was right to skip out on all of the other meetings when Mark slips out halfway through and doesn’t return, eyes tight and tired.
Even without Mark there, the meeting’s too long—there are shareholders pulling out and talk of lawyers while risk analysts scramble to find the smart move. Eduardo ends up pouring a cup of coffee for Dustin during a break, which means they’re probably in for another hour.
“He looks like shit,” Eduardo says. He wants to leave—probably could, but he knows he’ll grit his teeth and see it through.
Dustin smiles, brittle. “You should see him during the other meetings.”
“Dustin, I’m making a point of not doing that—”
“No, really. When you’re here he’s more—present, at least—” Dustin ignores Eduardo’s gesture towards the door and frowns, “—otherwise he just does a lot of sitting. Looking out at nothing.”
“You can’t make Mark pay attention to anything he doesn’t want to.”
“Yeah, that’s what I’m saying, Wardo, these days he doesn’t pay attention to anything but you.”
Eduardo calls his assistant to say that he’s going to be in California for a little longer for personal business, please don’t ask, just book the hotel.
Then he sucks up his pride, thumbs through his recents, and calls Mark first.
“I’m going to be staying in California for a little bit. Drinks?”
There’s a palpable silence on the other end. Mark’s better at making the right snap decisions between the two of them, so it surprises Eduardo that he’s bothering to think it through.
“I—I don’t want this to go public. Lawsuits, news, whatever.”
“It’s not a fucking date, Mark.”
“I know that,” Mark hisses. “It’s just that for the longest time you’ve hung up on me whenever I call and you come to maybe forty percent of the shareholder meetings for the multi-billion dollar company you have a significant stake in, so forgive me if I don’t exactly understand why you want to go out for drinks all of the sudden.”
Eduardo’s struck by how much Mark can still manage to cut straight through him, how Mark will side-step all the bullshit and go straight to the center. “Do you want me to just—go, then?”
Mark’s voice softens. “No. I—no.”
“Look I just—I need to know you’re not going to keel over and die at any given moment and it’ll be my fault,” Eduardo says, stumbling over the words.
“It wouldn’t be your fault,” Mark says faintly. Like he doesn’t really believe it. It’s not like Mark to waste time placating other people though, so Eduardo chooses to ignore that in favor of the distinct quavering in his voice.
“Are you going to throw up now?”
“I don’t think so,” Mark says, although his voice is still lacking his characteristic assuredness. “I want—I don’t think you should leave.”
“How about I come over to your place tomorrow. Just. Alcohol, talking, I’ll hold your hair back if you need to barf.”
“You’re so much worse than anyone gives you credit for,” Mark says dryly, but Eduardo can hear him exhaling either way.
Five years is a long time to be in love with someone, especially when you have definitive proof that they don’t even love you back for over three of those years.
“That’s not true,” Mark cuts in, when Eduardo is finally drunk enough to point this out. “I told you, I needed you.”
“Out here,” Eduardo adds. It’s one of those weird details that he doesn’t really remember thinking about, but something about it snags at his attention now.
“Sure,” Mark says. It sounds like a concession. Eduardo just hopes he doesn’t have to throw up again.
They’re sitting on Mark’s living room floor like fucking college kids, except instead of beers it’s the insanely expensive lineup of vodka Eduardo had brought in with him. There’s empty takeout boxes littered between them from hours ago. The maybe-one-foot gap between them is an ocean.
“You,” Eduardo says lowly, “are so fucking aggravating sometimes. More than sometimes.”
I needed you so fucking badly and it was like you didn’t even care.
There are days he wakes up fucking furious with Mark, but he can feel his anger slipping away from him with every move—Mark’s quiet, sad oops in the silence of the deposition room, Mark acting as if they’re still talking, Mark, Mark, Mark. He reminds himself that he needs the low, simmering resentment, because anything else is a dangerous, slippery slope.
(“Hatred and love are not so different, Edu,” his mother had said, but this Eduardo already knew. This he has known since his pai shaped and molded him with a cold touch and still Eduardo leans into him for warmth. This he has known since every bad phone call in the summer of ’04, the way he’d been so violently angry and lost and yet still picked up every single time.)
“Eduardo,” Mark tries. On anyone else it would sound like begging. Mark just sounds tired.
“For—five fucking years, Mark. We weren’t even friends at that point and I still—” Eduardo forces himself to meet Mark’s gaze—his eyes are bright and blue and the furthest thing from flat right now—and looks away. “Do you know how long five years is? How long it was before I wasn’t in love with someone who didn’t give a shit about me?”
“That’s not true—”
“It makes you look worse if you say you cared and still did it, Mark.”
“How—you know how to make it stop, don’t you. Why didn’t you ever tell me?”
“Maybe I took that concoction of pills in development,” Eduardo snaps.
Mark stares blankly at him for a moment. “You wouldn’t.”
“What would you know?” Eduardo says absentmindedly. Then, before Mark can interject, he adds, “I just, I don’t know, I made myself stop.”
Mark’s eyes narrow, that tell-tale sign that he’s about to spew something on the wrong edge of sharp. “Y’know, you always hold it over me that you know so much more about this—bullshit than I do, but at the end of the day when it really matters you never have answers—”
“Because I don’t know! Okay?” Eduardo explodes. “Would you rather that I lie to you and make shit up? Or—maybe I should. You never had a problem with lying when it served you.”
“Wardo,” Mark starts. Eduardo glares at him even though his traitorous body relaxes, the anger already bleeding out of him. He wishes he was still angry.
“I—I’m sorry I don’t have answers, okay? I just—I needed to stop being in—It was that or dying and—fuck, I just didn’t want to care about you anymore.”
Mark doesn’t answer and Eduardo just sits there, the emotion leaving him in waves. It doesn’t feel that different from the looseness that settles right after vomiting. Eduardo sighs and tries not to think about how Mark’s looking at him like it might actually hurt to look away. Eduardo remembers practically screaming and tearing everything up to get Mark’s attention, knows that even now he still warms under the weight of Mark’s sharp eyes turned on him.
It’s almost funny—Eduardo’s no longer projectile vomiting his emotions, but they’re still spilling over. Eduardo opens his mouth and it’s not rainwater but it’s just as bad:
“I still love you, y’know? Even after—everything.” I’m coming back for everything, he thinks.
“No, you don’t.”
“Fine. So I’m not in love with you anymore.”
Being in love with you tore me up from the inside out. It was letting go or dying.
“I know that, Wardo,” Mark says. He sounds so fucking miserable that Eduardo wants to soothe it away all over again.
“But Mark—Mark, I don’t think there would ever be a day where—fuck, if you asked, I wouldn’t come.”
“You don’t come to the shareholder meetings. In fact—”
“If you asked. Not—through Facebook, or something.”
Mark looks at him; Eduardo recognizes this particular stare, the one Mark wears when someone just wasn’t clever enough to catch on. “Not Facebook.”
“It’s not the same. Business versus friends, isn’t it?”
If Eduardo hadn’t been watching Mark so carefully, he might’ve missed the slight flinch. Eduardo thinks that in the wake of the brutal efficiency that replaced it, he’d forgotten that Mark was Facebook. Mark stays sullenly silent.
“Fuck.” Eduardo rakes his hand through his hair. “Can we just—get drunk? Like old times?”
“Like old times?” Mark says, a corner of his mouth pulling sardonically.
Eduardo responds by pouring them both another finger of whiskey. He tells himself that they need this—something almost-nostalgic and unremarkable, just two old friends knocking back shots together. It’s hard to remember that they’re richer than most people could ever dream of being.
By the time they run out, Eduardo’s drunker than he intended to get but unable to reach that college-level of blackout.
(Mark had procured another insanely expensive flask of gin with a casual shrug: “People never know what to get me. It’s like they want me to be an alcoholic.”
“That’d probably make a good story. Youngest billionaire alive turned alcoholic.”
“Better story: youngest billionaire alive found drunk with his best friend who sued him, also a young billionaire.”
Eduardo tries not to let himself shiver.)
Mark’s running his mouth along the rim of his empty cup. Eduardo’s trying and failing not to watch.
“It really is just like Harvard, I think,” Mark says suddenly. “I think I—I think I probably loved you then, too. I didn’t know, of course.”
Eduardo thinks he might start believing in miracles since he doesn’t immediately fall over. He manages to get the words out of his throat. “You didn’t know.”
Mark nods, this time more firmly. “Right. If I did—”
“Would you still have gone through with it? The dilution? The fucking-me-over?” He doesn’t mean to sound angry or sad about it. It just comes out that way. He can’t even remember what it felt like to be so blindingly mad at Mark anymore—in his drunken state the best he can offer is the bruising.
“I went through with the dilution because you were going to leave and I wanted to be the one cutting the strings.” Mark says it like it’s undeniable fact that Eduardo would’ve one day gotten up and left, as if Eduardo hadn’t tried and wasn’t still caught.
He wants to hang up. He wants to run. Instead, he’s sitting on Mark’s shitty living room floor with limbs too heavy to move, watching Mark’s mouth. He leans in to kiss him, soft and quick, pulling away before Mark can move in. It feels like a goodbye.
“What,” Mark says quietly, “was that.”
“I don’t—I don’t know,” Eduardo says. He’s out of excuses.
“I think I might have to throw up.” Mark’s tone is even, but Eduardo can read the quiver of his mouth, lips pressed into a thin line.
“So much for true love’s kiss,” muses Eduardo.
Mark stands up suddenly and looks at him incredulously. “I’m really going to throw up now. It has nothing to do with you and everything to do with whatever the fuck it was that you just said.”
Eduardo can still feel the set of Mark’s shoulders under his hand, even though Mark’s now down the hall, and it’s fucking distracting.
He thinks about how badly he had wanted to just give up on Mark, to only see him as the asshole billionaire with none of their history. He thinks about wanting Mark so badly that his body couldn’t hold it. He thinks about wanting something so fucking badly it comes true. Eduardo’s no longer sure what it is he wants but Mark—Mark needs him.
And some part of him is screaming, because he wants to help Mark, he’ll always feel that want pulling at him. But the rest of him has picked this apart and left him with nothing but the bare bones of what they are and Eduardo thinks, I just got to be myself again.
He feels more sober than he has in hours, although he’s sure it’s the other way around. His head is cold and his body more steady, in part because there’s breathing space between his body and Mark’s. So he types a note out on Mark’s open laptop—the sheer trust he still has in him makes Eduardo pause—and slips out the door, phone already calling a taxi.
Call me when you’ve figured it out. I’ll be around, when you need me.
Maybe it starts like this: one drunken night, a Harvard sophomore gets angry about a breakup and writes a scathing blog post that is followed by an entire, functioning website. As a result he is called in front of the Ad Board, and they ask trite questions like “Was it really you” which, really, they wouldn’t have called him out here if it wasn’t. It’s all he can do not to laugh in their faces—he doesn’t, he does understand the meaning of appearances, Wardo—because these fuckers might think they’re impressive, except—
“That would be impressive except if you had known what you were looking for you would have seen it on my dorm room window.”
—because it’s hilarious to imagine that the Ad Board is anything next to him, next to them.
The administrator asks if there was anyone else involved and he thinks of Dustin, Chris, Eduardo—Wardo, who had given him the algorithm, the key, who wouldn’t be able to see the punishment as the slap on the wrist it was, who was already in deep shit with his father because word had gotten out anyways—and he lies and says no, Facemash was his.
This is the first of many times that something they built together will have Mark’s name only, and the first time something deeply protective takes root in Mark’s chest.
It’s been two days since Eduardo left—another one of Mark’s theories come true, although it’s the worst victory ever because Mark spends the next forty hours basically attached to his toilet. Then he collects himself and decides that maybe Eduardo has a point, and he should just find the quickest way to cut this whole thing off.
He’s so sick of tasting seawater. He wonders if he’ll ever be able to go down to the beach again.
Mark bites the bullet and asks Erica to (an entirely platonic, although both of them are loathe to even call it that) dinner. Admittedly, the last time he had dinner with someone was Wardo, who left behind a jacket (again) and a painfully tight chest. The variables are different enough that he’s not worried, though, because really, how much more fucked can it get?
This is turns out to be an awful decision, because the last time he went out with Erica was when she broke up with him, and she’s only sharpened her ability to cut right through Mark over the years.
“Here to needle me about my research? Which you only care about because you’ll probably die within a year?” Erica says by way of greeting. It says something about him that he likes this better than a falsely polite Hi, hello, how are you.
“I need a cure.”
“We don’t have one—at least, not yet. It’s in development.” Her mouth twitches up at the corner, like she’s fighting some sadist grin.
“Do you guys need funding?”
Erica laughs, real and bright. “It’s not about the money. It’s never about the money.”
“Did you know that majority of research falls through halfway? A university or—or some private investor will give the start-up amount and then when they find out it takes more time than they can afford they back out and the progress stagnates. Your research team needs money to keep going.”
“Sure,” Erica says, “like you needed money to get Facebook off the ground. But it wasn’t about the money.”
She must catch the way he winces, but she doesn’t console him about it. Which he’s thankful for, not that he’ll say that out loud.
“Not my therapist,” he reminds her.
Erica rolls her eyes. “I’m not saying that—this isn’t for professional insight, Mark.”
“Then what—oh. Are we friends?”
“Not quite,” she says, but now she’s smiling. It makes Mark wonder briefly at a world where they had worked out after all.
Or maybe not. It’d require some pretty serious personality overhauls on his part.
“I take this to mean you won’t accept my friend request.”
Erica squints at him. ”Mark.”
“Are you going to listen to me?”
“Only if you have something I need to hear.”
“Only if I have something—only if I have something you want to hear, you mean?”
Mark wonders why he ever called her up in the first place, then remembers that it could be a sterile office with an even shittier doctor. At least this way he gets a nice meal out of it (Erica’s choice—she wouldn’t trust him with choosing the place, which is fair.) “Fine. I’m listening.”
“It’s a waste of my time and yours if you’re not. Look, Mark. You don’t have to pursue medical treatment.”
“Actually, I need to. You just said that I’ll die if I don’t—”
“—get it under control. Which is a different thing and you know it,” Erica says, not unkindly. “It’s an emotional problem just as much as it is a physical condition. Don’t make an ass of yourself pretending to dance around what you already know.”
Mark shuts up after that, choosing instead to eat his food and mull it over in stony silence. He gets the bill, which makes Erica roll her eyes. Unexpectedly, she grabs his arm at the end and smiles, one part mirth and one part genuine.
“Good luck,” she says, mouth curling, and Mark knows that there’s nothing she regrets at all.
There is a difference between wanting and needing.
Like all the other Erica-related moments in his life, she’s right—he knows that he doesn’t need the cocktail mess of drugs and routine checkups to end this. He knows that he doesn’t want it.
He needs to stop throwing up, he needs Eduardo for that to happen, he needs Eduardo to leave because Mark knows now that you let the people you love leave if that’s what they want.
Mark is intimately, deeply familiar with the art of letting Eduardo go—the million members party, the dilutions, New York. If he needs to, he decides, he can let Eduardo go and take everything with him this time.
What matters is there is a difference between wanting and needing: Mark Zuckerberg opens his mouth and the options run through his head like an SAT question, what best fits “I ____ you”, a) want, b) need, or c) love, though he doesn’t know that’s an option yet.
It starts like this: Mark chooses I need you over and over and over, and just like that, he does.
Mark is sick of waiting for things to end of their own accord. He calls Eduardo, asks him to come over under the guise of collecting the jacket, even though he’s wearing it.
He’s still wearing it when Eduardo shows up on his doorstep. It’s déjà vu in the worst ways. Spot the difference, Mark thinks, a touch hysterical.
Eduardo takes in the sight of Mark, who’s probably visibly shaking, standing in the sensible fall jacket in his controlled-temperature house. “I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be doing, honestly.”
“I don’t want to give you your jacket back,” Mark blurts out, because it’s easier than saying anything else.
“Okay.” Eduardo nods slowly.
“I want—I want you. To stay.” Mark gets out. He’s burning up on the inside, every nerve lit up and fuzzy. It’s fear and wanting, tangled up. It’s hope.
Wardo’s eyes have always been so fucking expressive and Mark can’t figure out a single thing.
“But—Wardo, what do you want?”
There is seawater waiting to burst out of his lungs and Mark knows he’s made the right choice, because he’s never wanted to keep Wardo here out of obligation.
Wardo looks at him and Mark refuses to look away. If Eduardo says no and this the last time Mark ever sees him, he wants to catalog every possible second. Even if he looks torn and broken.
“I want to hear you say it,” Eduardo says. Soft, distrusting. Seawater bubbles up in Mark’s throat: you did this to him.
Mark is: stubborn, unable to recognize emotions, repressed to the point of dying.
Mark is: drowning alive.
The words are caught on his tongue. He’s always been bad at verbalizing (why couldn’t this be an instant message?) and shouldn’t it be obvious by now? The way his whole body shudders and stops because of Eduardo’s presence. Mark is: untethered, sinking, choking on the syllables.
“I…I want you, Wardo.”
Eduardo’s face breaks, the beginnings of a smile ghosting his features. His eyes are bright and warm and Mark thinks, finally. He thinks, I want to see you like this forever.
“I guess I want you, too. Asshole.”
The water drains from his chest like an exhale.
For Eduardo, it ends like this: Mark says I want you, full stop. It leaves Eduardo breathless and for a moment he’s twenty all over again. The moment passes and he’s still young but not quite as stupid, not quite as trusting. It’s a good thing and a bad thing.
They’re taking it a little slow. It’s the most restraint he’s ever seen Mark show—Mark who jumps in headfirst, Mark who takes the risks knowing full well what failure means. But it’s one of those quieter gifts, something unspoken: I know you don’t trust me but I want you to.
There’s still moments where Eduardo thinks it was all a mistake, that he needs to be back in Singapore with miles between them. But it’s null point—Mark’s phone calls and emails will just follow him wherever he goes. For now, he’s content to let Mark pull him wherever he wants; secretly, he’s thrilled Mark wants to go anywhere at all, not just holed up at his desk.
Like now: Mark had ushered them into his shitty car (“It’s not shitty, you don’t get any more out of Lamborghini than you do a regular sedan.” “If I said that about laptops you’d deliberately crash this side of the car.”) and staunchly refuses to tell Eduardo where they’re going.
“You know it’s going to rain, right?” Neither of them are good drivers in anything less than perfect conditions.
“I know, Wardo.”
Mark ends up taking them to the beach—it’s Northern California, so it’s more frigid than any beach has the right to be, but Mark says, “Race you” and takes off.
Eduardo’s shoes are going to get fucking ruined and he doesn’t care; he runs after Mark, catching up in a few quick strides. “Ow, ow, ow, it’s so fucking cold, this isn’t a beach—”
Mark flashes a grin at him, punches his arm in greeting. The warmth of Mark’s hand grabbing his is more shocking than the ocean water currently filling his soles.
“You can actually see the clouds moving,” Eduardo breathes out, and tears his eyes away from the brilliant grays to turn to Mark. He’s smiling, quiet and proud.
Eduardo knows to take this as the best non-apology Mark can give, a chance to build something new. He’s aware of the sharp fuzziness leftover from betrayal that he doesn’t think will ever go away and he’s aware of the hope that’s filling into the carved-out space that used to be painful longing.
He’s scared of hoping, scared that they’ll blow this up all over again but Mark has the infuriating tendency to be right—they’ve broken each other so many times and this time Eduardo just wants it to go differently. Mark has his hand in a death grip and it’s all Eduardo wants.
It ends like this: there’s lingering hurt still festering in his bones but right now they’re half a foot into freezing ocean waters and Eduardo is holding his best friend's hand and there is something like love growing between them, this time the right way, and it’s not really an ending at all.