Warnings: Medical trauma
Word Count: 3,000
Summary: Mark is good at computers and keeping Eduardo safe. He is not good at keeping himself safe. AU; spies with feelings.
A/N: Written for des_pudels_kern for the thesantanetwork! I really hope you like the story! Special thanks to Hannah/everybodykeepcalm for the beta on such short notice, and with such enthusiasm, and to irrelephance for looking it over and making me sleep. Title from Small Prayer by Weldon Kees. Fair warning: I know little to nothing about espionage, coding, or chemical warfare.
Eduardo wakes to darkness, the sound of the shower valve squeaking shut, and an empty bed. He hadn’t heard the alarm go off. Squinting at the clock on the bedside table, he notes that the numbers are blinking midnight back at him. Or noon, he supposes it could be noon. Or—neither, because the clock was never set. This explains why the alarm didn’t go off.
Mark shuffles back into the dim light of the main room, finding his laptop easily and stuffing it into his backpack.
“What’re you doing?” Eduardo slurs from the bed, and Mark spares him a glance before shouldering his bag.
“I’m going to figure out how to get your ass out of this operation without accidently melting your lungs,” he says, and leaves.
Eduardo lies there for a few minutes after, but not so long that the bathroom mirror isn’t still fogged over when he goes in for his own shower. He wipes at it, reflection streaky, revealing the tender, still-healing cut on the left side of his jaw. It won’t scar. He might as well have nicked himself while shaving, which is what he’s going to tell anyone who asks.
Eduardo remembers the kind of wounds that scar. He’s learned to patch them up himself, although he’d rather not, and he’s learned which kind of wounds heal nicely and which leave ugly, twisting marks on his skin. The one on his left thigh, two across his shoulders. One, thin and shiny, leading down his ribcage.
He doesn’t worry about it much anymore. Since Mark was assigned to him, Eduardo hasn’t had a single injury deep enough to last.
Mark leaves him little electronic notes. Text messages, usually, but Eduardo doesn’t consider them texts in the colloquial sense. He sends them from and to their agency issued phones, the ones installed with Mark’s own operating system, connected to the agency network. This one says: coffee, 2 S, 1N.
Eduardo clicks back to the home screen. The messages self-destruct once they’ve been read, and no matter how often Eduardo tells him that their life is not actually a Bond movie, Mark never even acknowledges it as a cliché.
It’s useful, though, so Eduardo doesn’t push. Not even when the messages are as innocuous as directions to the Wi-Fi hotspot Mark found this morning. Mark takes some aspects of the job too seriously. Others, not enough.
He finds the coffee shop, indistinguishable from all the other coffee shops he’s ever visited, and Mark is sitting in the back corner. There’s a little USB device sticking out of his laptop.
“Why did you bother finding free Wi-Fi if you’re going to use your own?”
Mark pauses typing long enough to glare at him pointedly over the top of his computer, then resumes as if Eduardo never mentioned a thing. Eduardo slides a foot forward and nudges Mark’s calf with his own.
“Were you being cryptic this morning, or are we actually talking chemical warfare?”
“If I was going to give in every time you asked me if I was being cryptic, what would be the point in the first place?”
Eduardo groans. “God, I hate chemical warfare. Gas masks slow me down.”
“You’re not going to need one.” Mark’s leg has not yet left contact with Eduardo’s. “Nano oxides.”
“Oh, good. Even better.”
Mark shuts the laptop and meets Eduardo’s eyes square on. “We get in, we get out, nobody notices. Okay?”
“Who calls the shots around here?”
Mark says nothing.
It’s vicious, this thing they’re up against. Mark wasn’t being cryptic, but he was being hyperbolic: for this newly developed and insidious gas, melting would seem too passive. It hijacks the tiny cell membranes and purges oxygen into the blood, each breath is a betrayal, before the oedema sets in to drown the shrunken cells. It’s slow, clean, and nearly impossible to protect against.
Eduardo does not think about this. From his position on the motel bed, Eduardo can see the lines of code on Mark’s laptop screen. He’s been writing the gas tank instruments a paradox.
As he has come to understand it, there’s a delicate art to talking with computers. Mark objects to this, of course. Delicate, yes, but he can’t see the art in writing programs that are only meant to obey. Truths and falsehoods.
“And why can’t that be art?” Eduardo had asked him, but Mark had shaken his head and gone back to typing.
Running schematics and security codes through his head, Eduardo yawns, letting the advancing lines of code on Mark’s screen blur into meaningless shapes. He’d hacked the system remotely, but Eduardo had gone in to retrieve the file and transfer it to a portable drive. He’s good at that by now, the physical collecting of technical equipment for Mark, but he’s not tired of it. Mark always takes it from him like it’s a precious thing.
“’S it good?” Eduardo asks, barely awake. Mark doesn’t answer, but he shrugs, which means he’s almost done, and that the code was indeed well-written. Only now it’s better. Now it’s going to tell the computers stop, every answer false unless the command is to lock down the system. Then it’s true. The gas can only be released if the computer tells it to, but the release code loops back to shut down every time. Then, Mark writes an encryption the target can’t crack. The rest of the requisition and confiscation of the gas tanks isn’t part of their job description.
Eduardo falls asleep to the sound of clattering keys.
He lets Mark talk to the computers, and he lets him do it from a safe distance. There’s no sense endangering him, so Mark sets up in what is, according to both schematics and security cameras, an unused office in the east compound. Close enough to connect to the network of computers that control the bank of gas tanks, far enough that he can evacuate himself and the equipment should there be a breach.
Even after two years, it doesn’t escape Eduardo’s sense of irony that the agency gave him Mark. In operations like this one, Mark’s technical genius is invaluable. There are times when Eduardo wonders why the agency doesn’t let Mark lead his own team, but then he remembers Mark’s interpersonal skills. The point still stands: Eduardo analyzes the ebb and flow of personnel like the moon over the tide, strategizing and conning and, if needed, killing, but Mark codes, and the rest follows.
“Do you have the encryption?” Eduardo mutters into his comm, flush against the wall in a room full of computers, empty of people. He’s watching a cursor blink on one of them, awaiting a download key.
“ETA 5. You need to move.”
Eduardo pushes himself off the wall and listens for sounds of footsteps in the hallway. There’s nothing.
“What’s the enemy location?” he asks, and when he ends the transmission, he catches the end of a second—the open comm, the channel broadcasting to Eduardo, Mark, Mark’s security person Erica, and the emergency team down the block. -ntilation ducts, east building is all he catches before an emergency alarm starts wailing overhead. He flips effortlessly to Mark’s direct communications channel.
“Are you monitoring a security breach? Report.”
The pause between Eduardo’s transmission and Mark’s reply is too long.
“Mark, copy. Alarm is sounding, come on.”
“Ignore it. Exit is on your six, you have thirty seconds.”
“Mark, what is happening?”
There’s another pause, a crackling sound like Mark might be moving equipment. Eduardo moves toward his exit and then a distant cough comes over his comm link. His heart jumps in his throat; the hallway is empty and Eduardo darts around the corner, willing his heart rate down.
“Talk to me, Mark, I need to know if I’m heading into danger.”
Eduardo grits his teeth, darting down a second hallway. He’s not used to Mark withholding information from him during an op; he’s usually Eduardo’s unfailing codex of information, more reliable than clockwork.
He tries another tactic. “What is Albright’s location?”
“Evacuated.” Another cough. Abruptly, horribly, Eduardo knows why he hasn’t run into any personnel on this floor.
“Mark, get out of there.”
“I can’t, I have to—“
“That was a direct order, abandon your site and get the fuck out of there.”
Mark’s response comes through weakly, preempted by a sharp intake of breath. “Not until—“ another breath—“the operation is secure.”
Eduardo is already running before Mark has even finished speaking. He heads back the way he came, skirting around the corner and into the stairwell, ignoring the flash of red emergency lights and the wailing alarm.
His comm link crackles back to life. “Saverin, this is Albright, confirm.”
“Yeah,” Eduardo snaps.
“Post-evac; Z is unaccounted for.”
“I know, I’m heading to him now.”
“Eduardo? No, gas has been deployed, didn’t Mark warn you?”
Eduardo shuts off her channel and grits his teeth. Of course the fucker would evacuate everyone but himself, of course he would lead Eduardo in the opposite direction, fucking of course—he knows that this shouldn’t happen; Mark should never, ever be in danger like this. This is Eduardo’s fault, somehow, and he’ll fix it, he’ll have to—
“I need a med team, stat,” he says into his comm link, barely registering the muffled confirmation as he shoulders his way into the empty office.
Everything vital has been dragged onto the floor: the laptop, the surveillance monitor, small machines that Eduardo can’t identify, their red and blue LED lights shining steadily. Cables snake back up to the desktop as if they’re Mark’s lifeline, veins and tendons to hold him together.
Mark is lying on the floor where the light gas has less chance of mingling with the clean air, but of course it only slowed down the effects. If the human body breathes seven liters of air per minute, and the gas in this room comprises 15 percent of the air, and Mark was in here breathing for twenty minutes, then Eduardo is on his knees beside him in less time than it takes to write that equation.
He wouldn’t actually need the answer, not when it’s right in front of him, made flesh. Mark is alive—Eduardo knows this before his fingers make it to the pulse points on his neck because his eyelids flutter and Mark breathes in shallowly. The air stutters back out. Eduardo shouts again into his comm and there’s a gratifying sound of footsteps in the hallway.
“Hey, Mark, you’re fine, you’re fine,” Eduardo says inanely. He watches Mark’s vital signs just to reassure himself that they’re present. Someone comes into the room and kneels by Mark’s head, fitting a fucking useless gas mask over his nose and mouth, and Eduardo lays his hands on Mark’s breastbone—palms flat, fingers splayed, he closes his eyes and presses gently, as if he could fix Mark this way, as if he could make this better if only he tried hard enough, as if he could draw the poison out through his hands like a salve and let Mark’s lungs soak in as much sweet air as he could ever want, or want, or need.
There’s a little bedroom in the Zuckerbergs’ house with an east-facing window. It used to be a study, and a nursery before that. Now its blue walls are pasted over with Köppen climate maps, its bookshelf lined with old calculus and trigonometry books, and there’s a twin size bed against the near wall. This room is Eduardo’s. He’d raised an eyebrow at Mark when he’d first seen it—it looks like someone had taken the most basic, obvious, unclassified parts of Eduardo and filled the room in like color-by-numbers, and he’s not half wrong. He suspects that Mark’s mother had to wheedle even this little bit of information out of him in order to set things up nicely for Eduardo.
It’s nice to think about. Eduardo’s room in the Zuckerberg’s house in Dobbs Ferry, New York. It’s nice to know he has a warm bed waiting for him out there, one small space in the world where he can rest easy, warm mattress and cool sheets.
Once, Mark had promised him a safe place to stay while they were lying low and had taken him to his childhood home. Introduced him to his parents and one of his sisters, the youngest one, who still lived at home. Eduardo had known nothing about Mark biographically until this point; Mark had offered up no information about his past until the day he actually brought him home.
Eduardo’s room was still a study then, and they’d shared Mark’s bed instead. That had been the first time: Mark with his knees bracketing the place Eduardo sat on his bed, Eduardo telling him we shouldn’t and fingering at the hem of Mark's t-shirt, at his slim hips. It had been months, months of—of—and Mark had just frowned disinterestedly at him and said, why not? and Eduardo finally got to learn the shape of that mouth.
He never imagined himself standing in this kitchen, Mark’s mother tight-lipped and nodding while Eduardo explains that Mark has been hospitalized, that he’s going to live, and that Eduardo isn’t authorized to give her any more information.
“I’m sorry,” Eduardo says, and it sounds clinical and remorseless even to his own ears. He pulls out a chair from the kitchen table, fingers gripping the back of it in hesitation—and then he sits down, leans forward, and tells her everything.
Eduardo lets himself into Gretchen’s office and stifles the urge to ask about Mark. He waits for her acknowledgement, which comes in the form of simple eye contact and a sigh. Eduardo sits.
“I’ll need a full debriefing in paper, Saverin, but Albright has given me all the information I need at the moment,” Gretchen says, steepling her fingers. She looks at Eduardo with an expression he has become well-used to. She looks angrier than she is, and usually he can find amusement there if he tries hard enough. It’s masked by the quiet air of the room, the hard truths neither of them wants to acknowledge.
“Our intelligence was sound,” Eduardo says. There’s nothing defensive about it; he learned a long time ago that he is responsible for every mistake either he or his team make at any point down the line. If he didn’t accept his fuckups, then he wouldn’t be where he is now. No, this conversation isn’t about the failed operation. This is about something completely different. Gretchen knows what Eduardo means to say: that he and Mark did their jobs as fully and thoroughly as they ever have; that they put the op first. Always.
He waits. What’s between Mark and Eduardo is a secret only in formality, and it will stay that way until someone speaks its name. Until something like this happens, and Gretchen decides that reassignments are necessary. Mark would tell him not to accept any reassignment. Mark would tell Eduardo not to obey his betters. But Eduardo waits.
“I sent the Winklevoss team in to complete the op,” Gretchen says at last, and Eduardo gets the familiar feeling of having dodged a bullet. Although: The Winklevii. That’s going to piss Mark off. He can already imagine what sort of insults he’ll spit about the Golden Twins taking credit for their work, and the thought lightens him a little.
“Is that our punishment?” he says wryly, and Gretchen tamps down a smirk but says, “Your team has suffered enough,” and that sobers him. “You’re on leave until we contact you, presumably when Zuckerberg recovers. And you’ll thank me to tell you that you’ve been given hospital clearance, Saverin. Don’t forget my report.”
Eduardo, already half out of his seat, nods curtly and gives her a jaunty salute on the way out the door. It’s meant to convey gratitude, whether or not Gretchen accepts it as such. She rolls her eyes at him before the door snicks shut, though, so he guesses she has.
Mark is awake, propped up on the bed and reading something off a tablet perched up against a machine that seems to be breathing for him. He ignores all of this when he sees Eduardo in the doorway.
“Don’t move,” Eduardo says, holding out a palm. Mark rolls his eyes. Most of the danger must be out of the way by now—it’s been five days, gallons upon gallons of clean oxygen supplied directly to his lungs, and a blood transfusion; the poison should be out of his system, but Eduardo isn’t taking any risks.
“If you’re here to reprimand me, Gretchen has already done that.” Mark’s voice is thin, but all of the sarcasm is there and accounted for. It’s this, of course, that unsteadies Eduardo, and so it’s Eduardo whose breath hitches painfully after he says, “Mark,” and makes for the hospital bed.
Mark watches him, swallowing visibly like he’s about to speak, but keeps whatever he was about to say hidden in his mouth. Eduardo sits gently on the edge of the mattress.
“Did you hear they sent the fucking Winklevii?” Mark tries, and Eduardo has to laugh.
“Yeah, I did. I heard they sent the Winklevoss team in and it took all three of them to flip a switch.”
At this, Mark grins, lopsided and smug, pale but healthy. Eduardo lets it erase the image of Mark blue-skinned and motionless that has plagued him for nearly a week. Flipping a switch was oversimplifying it, of course, but in Mark’s world, uploading the program he’d written to override and lock down all control of the gas tanks would have been as simple.
Would have been if only they’d been a little more careful or a little quicker. If Mark’s lungs had held on just a little bit longer. But they’re okay, they are. Eduardo folds himself forward onto Mark’s chest, settling there lightly.
Mark moves a hand, careful of the IV tube, and settles his fingers into Eduardo’s hair. “Wardo,” he says, quiet, and Eduardo kisses his collarbone lightly in response, trying to memorize the feel of that word as it had moved through Mark’s chest, up from his lungs and into sound. They breathe.