For What Binds Us
When Mark is five, he is given the great task of watching Donna while his mom changes the laundry. It’s simple enough, but he still remembers when she was small and strange and once, when he wanted to pick her up, it made his mom scared and she took the baby away before he could even look at her. He still remembers his mom’s hand covering his when he wanted to give Donna her bottle, but he’s not really doing it if his mom’s there.
So when his mom says, “Be careful, honey, she’s not a toy, and I’ll be right back,” Mark nods seriously and doesn’t slouch at all when he sits in the couch.
The five minutes it takes her to make the switch seems like an eternity. He’s bored already with the living room and Donna is ignoring him anyway, playing on the floor by the couch. He leaves her there for just a second so he can get to the toy box and comes back with a book bigger than his head, thick cardboard pages with no words but pictures that Donna likes to poke at. He reads her the names of birds and dogs and trees and she repeats them back, even though what she’s saying mostly babble.
He slips his arms around her small, round belly and tries to pick her up, pull her onto the couch with him, but she’s too heavy. Her dress is slippery and she slides like an eel right back onto the floor, landing with a heavy thud. A second later her face crumples, and she lets out a wail that cuts right through Mark like nothing he’s ever felt before.
He drops to the floor to gather her up again, says sorry sorry even though it doesn’t make him feel better and it doesn’t make Donna better. He wills her to stop crying, to stop being sad, to forgive him, and she falls silent. She turns her eyes up to his face, tear-tracks down her cheeks, and looks at him with pure delight. She giggles.
That’s the first time Mark works anyone. He spends the rest of the night alternately crying and bubbling with laughter, filled completely by something that makes his hands shake and he apologizes over and over but still it doesn’t go away. His mom and dad talk in the kitchen but he can’t hear what they’re saying and it makes his tummy sick, and the sickness makes him scared.
It’s the first time. As far as five year old Mark Zuckerberg is concerned, it’s also going to be the last.
The room is ostentatiously large, which doesn’t surprise Mark in the least. He looks down the long length of the table – someone pulls out a chair for him, and Mark sits. He doesn’t have to look across the way to know that Eduardo, in his immaculate suit, is being given the same treatment.
He does look, though. Eduardo’s ridiculous hair has been slicked back professionally. He looks like Wall Street. He looks like somebody Mark doesn’t know.
The lawyers settle in, shaking hands and smiling as if they aren’t on the opposite ends of a high-profile, high-stakes lawsuit; papers are shuffled and stacked, the stenographer begins. Mark is still buzzing from the swearing in: as if he would lie, as if he has any reason to lie.
What he doesn’t expect is for Eduardo’s lawyer to look him in the eye, sit up straighter, and begin her line of questioning with: Did you know that Eduardo is a worker?
“Yes,” Mark says. Define partnership, Mark thinks.
“Did you know,” Mark tells the ceiling, “that intelligence tests prove no correlation between those who can work curses and those who can’t?”
The ceiling doesn’t answer, but Chris mutters fascinating from his perch in the window and Dustin giggles the breathless, helpless laugh of the drunk. Mark, with some difficulty, cranes his neck off the back of the couch and glares in Chris’s general direction, dissatisfied to notice that he’s reading a book again and not paying any attention. He kicks at Dustin instead, slumped between the couch and the little coffee table, littered with the empty bottles of all the beer the three of them could manage to steal from the floor party over in Dunster.
“Ow,” Dustin says.
“It’s true. Workers don’t make up a large percentage of college attendance because the elite assume they’re all criminals.”
Dustin looks at him with large eyes and says, “They’re not? No, no of course they’re not. All criminals. Smart people. What are you talking about?”
Chris snaps his book shut and they both jump a little; Dustin’s knee knocks against the table leg and all the bottles tumble over.
“You two are going to regret this in class tomorrow, and don’t you dare try to say I didn’t warn you.”
“Christopher Hughes from North Carolina, you are no fun,” Dustin declares, “I thought Mark would be no fun but I was wrong, my friend, I was wrong,” and maybe getting drunk with your new roommates is not the best way to break the ice.
Mark ends up sprawled across the couch that night and spends the first day of his sophomore year hungover and muscle sore.
The truth is, it shouldn’t matter. Being a curse worker is not what got Mark into Harvard, and it’s not going to be what he is remembered for. He has the advantage of people thinking he’s HBG-negative, of thinking he’s normal, and that works for Mark.
But there’s a harder truth to learn, and the better you hide, the harder it is to find yourself again.
“Mr. Saverin,” Sy begins, opening a file in front of himself. “According to your application to Harvard University, you are a confirmed hyperbathygammic, is this correct?”
When Eduardo elaborates no further, Sy clears his throat and continues.
“I have with me a test that was voluntarily included in your application. Is there any specific reason you decided to get the test?”
“I – my father and I, that is, had decided to be open about my abilities while we were living in Brazil. There was no reason to hide public knowledge when my family immigrated, and it was my intention to be honest with the school as well.”
“And you knew the risk you were taking?”
“I’m a hyperbathygammic living in America, sir, I was well aware of the risks.”
Sy nods, like this was some test and Eduardo passed it, and pulls out another sheet of paper from underneath his HBG test results. “Your application was waitlisted, is this correct?”
A pause. “Correct. Harvard accepted me the following year.”
“Do you have reason to believe that the school delayed your acceptance due to your hyperbathygammia?”
Eduardo turns to his lawyer for a moment, who raises her eyebrows at him and gestures for him to answer. “I have every reason to believe that is true, yes, but I have no record of criminal activity. I wasn’t worried about my good standing as a student.”
“So you would say that you did not feel specifically prosecuted by the school’s administration?”
“Prosecuted?,” Eduardo’s lawyer cuts in. “Waitlisting and accepting students on a probationary basis is commonplace for universities that accept diversity, Sy, this line of questioning is superfluous. We have established that my client is HBG-positive, can we move on?”
If it were the professional thing to do, Mark is sure that Sy would be rolling his eyes. As it is he just levels a sarcastic stare at Eduardo’s lawyer, then closes his file, folding his hands together and resting them there. “By my understanding, the two of you barely knew each other before you entered into a business partnership.”
Eduardo’s eyes flicker to Mark’s for the first time and hold there. “We knew each other.”
“Out! We’re going out. It’s a thing people do! A college thing!”
“Dustin, you are an idiot.”
Dustin continues to grin bafflingly even while Chris sighs in Mark’s direction and mutters something about playing nice, which Mark ignores. The last thing he wants to be doing with his night is holding up the wall at some shitty party for a shitty fraternity that he only joined so that it would look good on paper; it’s not his fault that he’s had the misfortune of rooming with at least one other member who thinks it’s a good idea for him to socialize. It’s not.
He sighs. Hits ctrl+s. “It’s not like I’m doing homework anyway,” he mutters, which makes Dustin whoop loudly and throw up victory arms.
Reflexively, Mark turns his hands palm up and glances at the fingertips of his gloves, the fabric thin and shiny from his keyboard. They’re worn down enough that he can classify them as threadbare, so he digs around in his dresser for a new pair and tugs them on.
The party is worse than he imagined, the wall is more uncomfortable than he imagined. Only the beer holds up to expectation, which is to say that it’s as shitty as ever, and Mark drinks as much of it as he can.
“You look thrilled to be here,” says a too-cheerful voice to his left. Mark turns and squints.
There’s someone wearing a heavy, expensive jacket smiling at him.
“That’s not really working out for you, you know,” Mark says.
The guy smiles politely, if a bit confused. “What?”
“The hair. If you’re trying to look older, then why is your hair so ridiculous?”
Ridiculous Hair Guy laughs. He holds out a gloved hand and Mark shakes it carefully. “Eduardo,” the guy says.
“’Really?’” Eduardo parrots. Mark laughs.
Mark never really asks Eduardo to stay but he doesn’t make him leave ether, so they stand together at the wall while Mark snipes about the terrible decorations – can you blame him? – and Eduardo laughs, which is baffling.
“Let’s just fucking leave,” he says at one point, and without entirely realizing it, Mark is letting Eduardo follow him back through the cold New England air to his dorm.
“What are you then, memory worker? Death?” Mark is sluggish still from the shitty beer, but Eduardo does seem anxious enough to be a death worker. He can’t imagine Harvard would have let him in, though, unless he was better at hiding it in his interview that he is right now.
“What – what?” Eduardo says, and his hands clench reflexively. The cold leather of his gloves creaks. “How did you…?”
“Oh come on, you don’t hide it very well. And your accent’s off.”
The residual heat from the party has worn off and Mark hops up the steps to Kirkland. Eduardo his hesitating at the bottom of the steps, but he follows Mark inside and up the staircase. The dorm is empty.
“Huh,” he says, “they must still be out.” There are still a few beers in the mini-fridge – Mark makes a mental note to get back at Dustin as soon as his head is clear enough to think of proper revenge – and he hands one to Eduardo, who is wandering slowly around the common area and tugging on the fingers of his gloves.
“What does my accent have to do with anything?”
“You never answered my question.”
“I – luck, okay, not that it’s really your business.” Eduardo takes a long swig of beer.
That’s disappointing. Luck work is far and away the most common type, but that’s not what’s interesting about Eduardo, anyway. He’s so forthcoming, even as he chews the inside of his cheek, eyes darting to the door and away.
“Okay,” Mark shrugs. “Want to play Halo? Dustin has, like, every game under the sun.”
Eduardo doesn’t seem to have ever played a video game in his life, which is probably hyperbolic but in any case he really, really sucks and Mark beats him easily. It doesn’t stop Eduardo from trying, and before long he’s managed to lose his shoes and his fucking cuff links, and who even wears those, anyway?
Eduardo wins his first round and is inordinately pleased with himself, fiddling with his controller while Mark sets up the last round. “Hey, but how did you figure it out?” he asks. “The accent?”
Mark finishes off his beer and lets the empty bottle dangle off his fingers a moment before letting it slip to the floor and out of the way. “You’re not American,” he explains. “If you were born in America, you’d know how to hide it.”
He’s silent after that, long enough that Mark begins to wonder if this is when Eduardo is going to politely excuse himself, maybe go back to the party and find someone else to steal beer from.
“It’s not a secret,” he says finally, looking up from his controller.
Mark shrugs. “It doesn’t have to be.”
The expression Eduardo wears after that is completely indecipherable, but Mark doesn’t have to wonder long: Chris and Dustin file into the suite a moment later.
“There you are!” Dustin crows, flopping himself the other side of Mark, knocking over Mark’s empty bottle in the process. “We were starting to think you’d drunk yourself into oblivion and we’d have to start searching alley ways. Who’s that?”
“I’m Eduardo,” Eduardo says, reaching across Mark to shake Dustin’s hand.
Dustin introduces himself and then Chris, like he does, and then Mark even though Eduardo already knows Mark, and before long they’re all taking turns playing drunken video games, which is infinitely better than the frat party and validates Mark’s earlier vote for just staying in the dorm. Eduardo jostles Mark’s leg when he loses his last round and gets up for another beer, handing his controller off to Chris.
“Whose bed is that?” Eduardo asks, quite innocently. Chris and Mark crane their heads around while Dustin is busy taking advantage of their stalled on-screen counterparts and winning the match; Eduardo is looking across at a bed piled high with books, papers, and discarded clothes.
“Billy,” Mark and Chris say in unison. Eduardo raises an eyebrow.
“He’s our roommate,” Dustin chirps, “technically. He only uses the bed when he has nowhere else to crash.”
“I’ve never even seen him go to class,” Mark supplies, taking Eduardo’s offered beer. “Has anyone ever seen him go to class?”
“I have,” Chris says. “He’s, like, hyper attentive.”
“It’s emotion work, I think,” says Dustin, who is focused again on setting up a new match. Mark stills.
Chris screws his face up in the look of drunken concentration. “Really?”
“Yup. I heard it’s some guy at BU? He holds these weird parties and gives people natural highs.”
“Huh,” Chris says. “Isn’t that illegal?” and Dustin starts giggling and that’s the end of the conversation.
Mark’s understanding of emotion is this: either you’re happy or you’re sad; either trustful or wary; upset or okay; yes or no, on or off. It has to be this way or you wouldn’t be able to handle day to day life. Mark has experienced the blowback only rarely, but it’s enough to keep him certain that feeling too many emotions at once isn’t normal. It wouldn’t be blowback if it were normal.
The blowback is why even the thought of touching someone with his bare hand has Mark feeling shaken with anxiety: when it’s done, when he’s ridden it out and is emotionally stable again, Mark feels like he’s been cheated. Like waking up from a nightmare and feeling foolish at the terror that meant nothing, or the moment you realize you’ve let your hopes get too high and the world is in shambles at your feet.
He takes precautionary measures. Mark’s always a mess - he forgoes showers and clean clothes for code; grabs whatever off the floor and doesn’t bother with shoes most of the time – it doesn’t mean that he’s not aware of himself. He just has higher priorities; his gloves happen to be one of them. They are immaculate. They’re always clean, never ever worn down, really decently made and fitted. It’s not as if he’s afraid of accidently touching someone; he just isn’t sure entirely how his curse works. It’s more about not wanting to deal with the blowback than it is about keeping it a secret, he tells himself, but Harvard – and the rest of the world, so he hears – is much more complicated than that. The thought of someone out there willingly using their curse, recreationally using their curse, has Mark feeling exposed. Weak.
Eduardo comes back over to the couch, sitting heavily next to Mark. Neither of them say anything, Eduardo hands Mark a beer, and curse work isn’t mentioned for the rest of the night.
Everything starts to change after that, and when he thinks back on it, it will be easy to pick out Eduardo as the catalyst. Eduardo keeps coming over and meeting them for lunch; he hovers around Mark’s desk when he’s coding but doesn’t say anything, just watches the lines of code sweep across the screen until he gets bored and opens his own textbooks.
Mark thinks about it: he asked Eduardo to keep coming around, false; he wants Eduardo to stay, true. He carries on like nothing has changed, and really, it hasn’t – it’s just that Eduardo is here now. He keeps coming back, and he stays, and he stays, and he stays.
Having lost Dustin in the crowd when he went to grab another beer, Mark wanders into the common area of some BU co-ed dorm and finds himself smack in the middle of a debate on worker rights. He sits on the edge of the couch and stares into his beer while he listens to the drunken bickering, his own thoughts sloshing around sluggishly, and that’s where he meets Erica Albright.
She never outright admits that she’s a worker, but she doesn’t have to. People eventually wander off, bored, and Mark slips off the arm of the couch and onto the seat across from Erica, plunking his plastic beer cup down on the coffee table.
“You really believe that?” is what he opens with, which in hindsight was the single most challenging question he could have asked. Erica’s eyes are bright when they land on his, and not with the drink. She is, as far as he can tell, completely sober. That, or a more impressive drunk than Mark is.
“Being a worker is not synonymous with being a criminal. Discriminating against them is like charging a person for murder just because they own a knife, so yes, random stranger, I do believe that anti-discrimination laws should be put into effect.”
“Mark,” Mark says.
“Erica.” She reaches a gloved hand across the table and they shake perfunctorily, the alcohol in Mark’s system showing its colors.
“It sounds nice, but equality doesn’t happen overnight. Businesses have their reasons, right? It’s not exactly fair if your competitor has a luck worker in their employ.”
“So make the act illegal, not the person.”
“Can it be proved? Crime families have ways around that, you know. Memory work, emotion work.”
Erica shakes her head. “Crime rings operate that way because they have to. We made the world this way, we’re the only ones who can change it.”
Erica lifts her chin. “We, collectively. You don’t think workers have just as much of a responsibility to their cause?”
Now they’re getting somewhere. “If that’s going to happen, then workers have to go public.”
Erica purses her lips and takes a moment to drink from a half-empty cup of shitty beer, probably warm. “You mean if alliances are going to happen.”
“Well, then we need people who aren’t afraid. We need workers who are proud of who they are, who aren’t afraid to stand up for themselves.”
“Bare hands, bare hearts,” Mark says, quoting the popular pro-HBG slogan. Erica bursts into laughter, nodding, and Mark smirks.
As it turns, out Erica Albright is even smarter when she’s sober. Mark has to ask the door guy at The Thirsty Scholar if he remembers seeing a girl that fits Erica’s description and where he can find her after he spends a night mulling worker politics over in his mind.
Turns out the door guy does know her – he wishes there were an easier way to find someone – and meeting her for drinks becomes a regular thing. Erica, who is most likely a worker but refuses to tell him which curse, wears a regular set of curse-breaking charms around her neck.
“You’re afraid,” Mark says, waving his hand at the pendants.
“I’m afraid of regular people too,” Erica says, half-laughing. “I’m more likely to be date raped at this bar than to be cursed. These are a sign of pride.”
Mark raises an eyebrow. “Pride?”
“Look.” Erica leans forward, eyelashes casting shadows on her cheeks as she gathers her thoughts. “If we act like we’re afraid all the time, then it only proves there’s something to be afraid of. Like the gloves.” She tugs at her own, loosening them around her fingertips idly. “Why should we fear bare hands? Why should we protect ourselves? Because it keeps them thinking we’re all the enemy.”
Mark sits back in his chair and regards her, sipping at his beer. “You’re not the enemy.”
She smiles. “Neither are you.”
The scariest part about it is that Mark never bothers to correct her.
“She was wrong,” Mark says, spinning his chair around. “Gloves don’t create a taboo, they create mistrust.”
“What?” is Eduardo’s reply, muffled because he’d let his open book drop onto his face when Mark had turned around. “Are you still talking about Erica?”
“Obviously, Wardo, keep up.”
Eduardo sits up, folding his legs and the corner of the page he’s reading and says Mark’s name in a tone that either means he’s about to get up and go study elsewhere, or that he’s about to give Mark a lecture. Mark always sticks around for the lecture parts, unless they’re the boring ones about how he’d work better if he fed himself properly and slept more.
He doesn’t leave. “Are you working on homework?” he says suspiciously.
“Think about it. How many people do you know for sure are workers? You don’t count. You’re, like, as obvious as a wolf among sheep.” Mark pauses. “Bad analogy. Point is, when you don’t know for sure, you start to guess. And that’s dangerous. It’s practically immoral.”
“What is, letting people keep their own secrets?”
Mark sets his jaw. “No. Forcing people to keep their secrets.” He swings his chair around, head still buzzing from the bar earlier.
It takes a while for Eduardo to catch on, leaning over Mark’s shoulder. “What are you doing?”
“Proving a point. Wanna see what would happen to this campus if everyone started just guessing who’s a worker and who isn’t?”
“Hey, come on, this isn’t some stupid social experiment, is it?”
Mark nods, still typing up the basic site functionality. “That’s exactly it. Providing proof of the Heebeegeebees is incriminating, so nobody could confirm or deny. I can get all the pics on campus, set them up so people can guess, and -- ”
“Mark. Do you really think this is such a good idea?”
Mark shrugs. His eyes never leave the monitor.
“That’s not an answer. Mark. Mark.”
“What?” Mark snaps, slamming the heels of his hands onto the keyboard. It jumps and the desk wobbles, empty cans of Red Bull clanking against Mark’s half-empty beer.
Eduardo holds Mark’s eyes, but he says nothing. Mark lets himself break contact and he picks up his beer, takes a swig. He sets it back on the desk, rubs the condensation onto his jeans to preserve the leather of his gloves.
“Listen,” Eduardo says, “this is illegal. I don’t have time or the inclination to have a philosophical argument with you about this right now, it is illegal. And it’s not going to grant you any favors with the Worker community, I promise you that.”
“Can you give me that algorithm you used on your chess club rankings?”
“I won’t,” Mark starts, then cuts himself off before he says something he shouldn’t. “I was joking, okay, I would never out a worker without their permission.”
“Thanks,” Eduardo says, after a beat. Mark wants to tell him that he didn’t say it for Eduardo’s benefit, but he’d be lying.
“You see what I mean, though?”
Eduardo sits heavily on the bed. “Yeah.”
“What is that?” Dustin says, suddenly aware of what’s going on in front of him. He leans over Marks’s shoulder to squint at the monitor. “Hotornot.com?”
Mark snorts. “Hardly. Hotornot’s ranking system sucks, anyway.” Mark looks at his script. Takes a drink. “You’re onto something, though. Wardo? That algorithm?”
When Eduardo squeezes his eyes shut and sighs, Mark knows he’s got him.
Two days and one academic probation later, Mark walks out of his OS class and nearly runs into two of the school’s rowers.
Their meeting is anything but boring.
Mark is still in the prewriting stages, adding the finishing touches to the feature lists for MySpace and Friendster on one of the huge whiteboards he’d dragged up the stairs and into the dorm when the door to the suite opens and Eduardo comes through, grinning with an excitement that matches Mark’s own.
“Wardo. I need to talk to you.”
“So do I, Mark, look.” Eduardo is holding up a thick, cream-colored envelope that Mark can’t register as anything familiar and says, “I got punched by the Phoenix.”
Mark stares. “The final club? You got -- that’s great, really, you should be proud of that. Eduardo, listen. I have an idea.”
The envelope sits forgotten, the white board forgotten, because Eduardo catches on immediately, eyes large and bright. “That’s good,” he says, hushed. “That’s genius, Mark,” and he smiles.
But when he has to leave for class, Mark notices the envelope still in his hand, its corners crinkled from wear under Eduardo’s gloved hands. Oh.
“The Phoenix,” Mark says when Eduardo has almost reached the door, and he turns around, hand on the doorknob. “It’s probably just a diversity thing.”
Eduardo’s expression dulls around the edges, but Mark is flush with excitement. He knows they won’t let Wardo in; he thinks: This company will let you in. I will. He won’t be able to prevent Eduardo from feeling disappointment – he would never -- but he can give him something better, something greater than the final clubs could ever offer a known curse worker, and he feels everything begin to fall into place.
>“When did Mr. Zuckerberg come to you with the idea for thefacebook?”
“Less than a week after the Facemash incident. It was a success, Mark had gained a lot of notoriety.”
“A success?” the lawyer repeats. “Mr. Zuckerberg was called in front of the Harvard administrative board, was he not?”
Mark barely resists rolling his eyes. “The ad board gave me what amounts to a warning. I didn’t use any of the school’s student information for thefacebook, they provided their own. That’s the point.”
Eduardo’s lawyer shuffles her notes.“Eduardo, you claimed that you were never credited for your contributions to thefacebook. Mr. Zuckerberg, why was Mr. Saverin left off the masthead, yet given a 30 percent share of the company?”
Mark opens his mouth to speak, glancing between Eduardo and his lawyer, but he has nothing to say. Nothing that isn’t incriminating, and Sy knows it. “Eduardo knew he wouldn’t be credited when he agreed to invest. To be a business partner.”
“But he wasn’t just a business partner, in practice or in name, and yet you maintain that Eduardo’s work on thefacebook was crucial to the success of the company?”
“I wanted Eduardo to be part of the company because he had experience I didn’t have. He was the president of the Havard Investors’ Association as well as my best friend. It’s the same reason Eduardo said yes.”
Across the table, Eduardo fiddles with his pen, eyes on his hands, and says nothing.
On the day that Mark buys the domain thefacebook.com, Eduardo spends his time in Widener poring over the history of Harvard. On the day after Mark buys the domain, Eduardo bursts into the dorm, once again holding a heavy envelope, but the expression he’s wearing this time is one Mark has to look away from.
“I didn’t make it.” The words drop flatly into the room and neither of them move for seconds that hang, dragging on.
Mark recovers, stepping forward to take the envelope from Eduardo’s hand. He doesn’t have to read it to know what it says: the Phoenix S-K Club has decided that they aren’t willing to accept HBG students at this time.
“This is stupid,” Mark goes, because even the final clubs are playing a game. It’s useless to be an elite club when you’re forced to exclude anyone truly extraordinary.
He tells Eduardo this, who makes a soft, wounded sound that has Mark looking up from the ridiculously thick paper. His thick coat has been dropped haphazardly to the foot of the couch and Eduardo makes an aborted movement forward, mouth opening and then closing again.
“Wardo? Don’t worry about it, it’s nothing.”
“It’s not nothing, Mark, what am I going to tell my father?”
“He’ll be disappointed in them, not you,” Mark hazards, which he supposes is the wrong thing to say because Eduardo lets out a frustrated growl and takes the paper roughly out of Mark’s hand.
“Sorry,” he says after a moment of Mark scrutinizing him. Eduardo turns and places the envelope on the mantle. “I just – wanted this. And I didn’t ask to be a worker. And it’s not, it’s not fair,” he finishes, shamefaced.
“’Course it’s not fair. You have a talent and the world is afraid of it. They should be ashamed.”
Eduardo is looking at him now in a way that’s as familiar as it is strange; something Mark knows but can’t place. Like he’s extraordinary in Eduardo’s eyes, even though he shouldn’t be. Eduardo doesn’t know; to him, Mark is normal.
“Does it not bother you at all?” Eduardo says, voice curiously thick. “My being a worker?” Mark narrows his eyes.
“No. Why should it?”
The thing about emotion is that it doesn’t follow logic. Mark tries to think about what Eduardo interpreted from the things Mark said, but none of his answers lead him to any sort of understanding about what he does next. Eduardo makes a sound like one does when their last barrier breaks, starts forward, and bashes his knee against the edge of the couch. He doesn’t seem to even notice, and neither does Mark, because Eduardo’s expression is one he’s never seen before, not on anyone. It’s entirely knew. Then his gloved hands are catching Mark’s face, soft and seamless, and Mark doesn’t know how badly he’s been wanting this until Eduardo closes their mouths together.
It’s not something Mark has really thought about until now, kissing Eduardo. He thinks about how he had wanted nothing from him, he had just wanted Eduardo, and oh, oh, this is why.
The kiss is frantic like the last breath of a dying man, Mark struggling to catch his brain up with his mouth, Eduardo everywhere: his chest close, his feet close, everything too close and breathless and Mark pulls away, sucking in a breath.
“Have you – have – thinking about that?” he manages.
Eduardo laughs. “Yeah, Mark. Yeah.”
“Okay,” Mark says, and wraps an arm around Eduardo’s waist to press in at the small of his back, reeling him back in.
He lets out a noise of frustration when he slips his hands under Eduardo’s dress shirt, the fabric of his gloves keeping their skin apart. He can feel Eduardo heave in a breath, his ribcage widening under Mark’s hands, and Eduardo reaches down to take Mark’s wrist, slips his fingertips under the cuff of Mark’s glove and tugs. It shocks Mark so much that he freezes completely.
“Wardo?” he says, only half a question, the rest of it awe.
“It’s okay, I won’t take mine off, I promise.” Mark’s heavy heartbeat ratchets up another notch, but he doesn’t protest, lets Eduardo pull the fabric away from his fingers, one by one, and then slip off his gloves, first the left hand and then the right. “Okay?”
Mark flexes his fingers, still held close between their bodies. Outside of childhood, of those first few times when it takes you by surprise, it’s rare to curse someone accidentally – while the touch comes naturally, it’s a conscious act. Still, there’s a reason Eduardo hasn’t taken his own gloves off. There’s a reason Mark always keeps his gloves clean and in good repair.
It he can’t trust himself, he can trust nothing.
“Yeah,” he answers, reaching up with his bare hand to touch Eduardo’s jaw, ignoring his reflexive flinch just before Mark’s fingertips land on the soft skin beneath his ear. He slides further down to feel light, rough stubble and then hesitantly rests his thumb in the center of Eduardo’s lower lip, feeling it wet and swollen. Eduardo closes his eyes, swallowing thickly.
Mark studies his face, willing himself to stay neutral; it’s been too long since he’s cursed anything and he doesn’t know how to stop it once it’s started. Eduardo closes his lips around the tip of his thumb and it’s too much, too close, and anyway Mark will have to move his thumb if he wants to kiss him properly again, so he does.
He finds, rather quickly, that his hands against any part of Eduardo’s skin drives him crazy, drives them both crazy. He’s soft everywhere, gloves rough and grip gentle again Mark’s ribs, mouth warm, and Mark finds himself wanting nothing else, nothing else in this moment, but to feel.
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