Fic: M.A.D., Mutually Assured Destruction [The Social Network][1/3]
Fandom: The Social Network
Characters/Pairings: Mark/Eduardo, with appearances by everybody and their 6'5" crew-rowing brother
Summary: I got a note too. Someone knows what we did.
Word Count: 27,700
Notes: I know I promised that this would be Jesse/Andrew as serial killers in love (but with fewer musical numbers) and then this happened.
So here's the slightly ridiculous psychological thriller AU retelling of the movie. I DON'T EVEN KNOW JUST GO WITH IT.
[read @ AO3]
There's only one way to enter this world, but there are so many interesting ways to leave it.
- Agatha Christie
M.A.D., Mutually Assured Destruction
1 | the facebook
It's not actually a book.
Of course it's not actually a book -- outside of the classic Sherlock Holmes and subsequent dime-store murder mysteries, what actual self-respecting person would be so dumb as to actually make a scrapbook and leave it lying around? Please don't say there are people in the world who do that: Mark's faith in the general level of human intelligence is on shaky ground already, and if it slips, he's going to just call it quits and move to a cabin in Montana to become a hermit and dedicate himself to tai-chi.
The first time he articulates this sentiment to somebody, Eduardo just laughs at him, all teeth. Offended at the open, mocking glee on his face, Mark bristles a bit.
"You're full of it," Eduardo tells him, leaning forward over the entree options. All cafeteria food bears some resemblance to roadkill, and he's trying to gauge which dish looks less like it still posseses eyeballs and will look at him soulfully when he eats it. There's a reason Mark doesn't often eat in the cafeteria -- for the money he's paying every year (okay, the money his scholarship is paying every year,) you'd think Harvard would be able to afford something better than food that couldn't even pass itself off as army rations. "You wouldn't be able to pull off being a hermit, Mark. You need as many stupid people around you as possible so you can feel better than them."
"You have a rather unflattering opinion of me," Mark decides, gripping his tray with both hands.
Eduardo drops a bowl of kind of green-looking pasta onto his tray, and takes one for himself. Mark looks down at it and comes to the abrupt conclusion that he hates pasta: that just looks offensive, like the kind of sludge you pick off moldy bread, but in a bowl.
"I have an honest opinion of you," Eduardo corrects him, without heat. "I thought that's what you liked best. Now," he presses into Mark's personal space like a collie attempting to herd a small child, and his grin turns as sly as the slim side of a dime. "Tell me about your facebook."
The way it looks in Mark's head (because it will never appear anywhere else; Mark may be proud of his accomplishments, but he also has the survival skills of a cockroach in nuclear holocaust, and he will never run the risk of getting caught) is a simple profile-type layout. He runs through the pages in his head when it's seven in the morning and he's feeling discouraged about everything -- because who isn't discouraged at seven in the morning, it's possibly the most horrible time of day -- and they're clean, straight-forward, blue headers and white pages.
He's got them laid out in blocks of facts: a picture (usually a before and after, courtesy of his photographic memory,) their name, where they lived, where they went to school, how old they were when Mark killed them, how old Mark was when he killed them, how he killed them, and maybe even a subsection off to the side on how many people actually missed them when they died. It's better organized than any resume Mark's ever put together; he keeps them on the highest mental shelf with all his major accomplishments.
He knows everyone in Eduardo's facebook, too, although there aren't as many, obviously. It's like having an admin key, and what they never bothered to learn about these people before they killed them, they create.
For example: Milly Garcia -- who said she was going to come to Mark's bar mitzvah and went to Peter Yates's birthday party instead -- he imagines that she would have been a Beatles fan, that she probably would have owned dogs and liked to share cute videos from YouTube with her friends.
He has no idea what her real hobbies were. She was kind of too young to have them when she died, but he's always going to remember the choked little noise of shock she made when he pushed her out of that tree. That's one of the pictures he keeps on her facebook page: her body on the ground, face twisted grotesquely towards her shoulders like a doll with its head on backwards, and the way her bones looked almost yellow, streaked with red where they'd splintered through her skin.
"They said I was too shocked to scream," he tells Eduardo, whose face is in sharp contrast, the only light in the room coming from Mark's computer screen. The shadows stretch into the sockets of his eyes, hide in the corners of his grin. "So the mailwoman called 911 first. My mom likes to tell people that I witnessed a traumatic event as a child, and never recovered from it, and that's why I'm so --" he gestures vaguely. "Me."
"What, uncommunicative and cold?" Eduardo supplies helpfully.
Mark shoots him a scornful look. "Always with the adjectives."
In the next room, Mark's roommate knocks something over and cusses, and they lean towards each other instinctively, conspiratorially: whispering is second nature to people with secrets.
"So she was your first?" Eduardo goes, his eyes positively dancing.
Mark grins back, feeling it stretch at the corners of his mouth, and forces himself into a noncommittal shrug. "I had a lot of room for improvement. One thing you can learn from my experience is to not climb a tree with a girl so you can push her to her death without first making sure that you can, in fact, climb back down afterwards."
Eduardo falls back into his chair at that, hiding his laughter with his hand before offering him a thumbs-up. "I like it," he goes, and Mark sticks that onto Milly Garcia's facebook page, too.
A Friday night in November his sophomore year, and Mark slams into his dorm room at a completely unreasonable hour, feeling reckless and furious.
Dustin, whose night probably hasn't even started yet (Dustin is the kind of person that other people don't invite to parties unless they're completely smashed) startles out of his skin and almost falls off the couch. "Woah there, Thundercat," he goes when he recovers enough to register the expression on Mark's face. "What have we said about ethical treatment of doors? If we don't stand up for the slighted minority and curb the abuse --"
"Erica Albright is a bitch," Mark states, calmly, coldly, factually.
Dustin frowns at him. Mark finds Dustin an adequate specimen of humanity: he's smart enough to keep up with Mark, thick-skinned enough to put up with Mark, and unobservant enough that Mark could probably come back to the dorm with blood under his nails and Dustin wouldn't be the slightest bit suspicious. He's an acceptable roommate, but sometimes he's frustrating.
"We broke up," he elaborates, and instantly corrects himself. "She broke up with me. She probably would have thrown a glass of water at my face, but she refrained, for which I'm glad. That would have damaged her dignity far more than mine."
Dustin's eyebrows climb his forehead in a slow creep. "Ohhhhh," he drags out, and gets off the couch, an understanding tilt to his mouth. "So what are we going to do?" His eyes light up. "Can we panty-raid the BU girls' dorms?"
"Their dorms are coed," Mark responds immediately, already in front of his computer, "and I don't think there's a socially acceptable way to boxer-raid yet, though if you want to be the first to establish a trend, I commend you." And then an idea comes to him like sticking his finger in a light socket, sudden and abrupt enough to make him jolt. He spins around in his chair so that Dustin can't see the expression on his face, and he fishes his phone out of his pocket.
I'm going to need an alibi, he texts to the first name under E in his contacts.
He gets back a reply that's nothing but exclamation points, which he takes to mean that Eduardo is in. Of course he is, because he takes "I need an alibi" as "I need you," and Eduardo has never been shy about letting him know that they're a two-man team.
He spins back around to smile at Dustin, thin and cutting. "Is there any beer in the fridge?"
In the earliest hours of the morning, the servers cut and Chris goes out into the hallway to check with the other rooms on their floor. Mark settles back into his seat, a feeling in his chest like how a cat must feel right before it starts purring, content and self-satisifed and almost swelling with it. This is the kind of accomplishment most kids work months to obtain. Mark did it in a matter of hours.
Chris slips back inside. "Josh and Raymond say they can't connect, either. The network is officially crashed."
Dustin whoops and flings himself down on Mark's bed, arms raised to the ceiling like he's announcing a goal.
"Congratulations, Mark," Eduardo's mouth quirks, dry and a little bemused. "You've broken the Internet." He leans his hip against Mark's desk, twirling the Dry-Erase marker in between his fingers. Mark smiles back at him, proud.
"Oh, shit, you did," says Dustin, sitting up straight, like this just occurred to him. "Crap, man, what are we going to do now? How does one entertain themselves without the Internet?"
"They sleep," Eduardo offers pointedly. "Or read. Or study. Aren't your group members from your Econ class still waiting for you to e-mail them your Powerpoint slides?"
Dustin scoffs. "Screw that, I'm too wired to do anything productive," he says cheerfully, and then leaps to his feet. "I'm going to get more beer. You bitches drank through that shit way too fast. Chris, you coming?"
"Seeing as I'm the only one here over twenty-one, I kind of have to," Chris says in a long-suffering kind of voice, but he's already up and grabbing his coat.
The moment the dorm room door clicks and locks shut behind them ("what are you talking about, there is no theory of evolution," Dustin proclaims to Chris as they go, "only the list of animals that Chuck Norris lets live,") Eduardo sits down on the edge of Mark's mattress and leans forward, steepling his fingers together and fixing Mark with a cutting, see-through look. His eyebrows sit heavy and dark over his eyes, like Mark is one of those Magic Eye pictures from the newspaper.
"Okay," he says seriously. "What is this really about? I mean, I know you're a bit of an ass, but even you are not pathetic or adolescent enough to make a website that ranks hot women on campus just because your girlfriend broke up with you. So tell me, what's up with FaceMash."
"It's necessary," Mark replies lowly.
"For..." Eduardo prompts.
Mark spins in his chair, a full 360 before coming to a stop facing Eduardo, a foot of space between them. Reckless delight sparks off inside of him like fireworks.
"Because," he goes, rapid-fire. "Right now, people from Harvard tech support are being dragged out of their beds to deal with this. I crashed the network, Wardo. What do very smart, very influential, very pompous rich people do when someone's made them look foolish? They find someone to blame it on. They're going to come for me, sooner or later depending on how much they're worth their salt, and they're going to drag me up in front of a disciplinary board." He leans forward. "And while I'm there, you are going to add Erica Albright to our facebook."
He sees the shift in Eduardo's train of thoughts as easily as if they're his own, the flicker in his eyes as his mind jumps from what stupid thing do I have to rescue you from today, Mark, to the various applicable uses of thumbscrews and chloroform.
Mark and Eduardo work good together. Any ignoramus with a blunt object (or worse, a gun, please, can you get any more lazy) can commit murder, but what takes real skill is not getting caught. Eduardo's the best Mark's ever met at the killing part -- he gets people, understands them while Mark just stands around wondering how on earth the human race evolved out of one-celled organisms -- but crafting a solid, airtight alibi is Mark's specialty. It's what separates him from people who are never going to amount to anything.
When Mark first met him, Eduardo hadn't yet graduated beyond birds and the occasional yappy lapdog. He took to murder easily, artfully, which didn't surprise Mark all that much, because the ones with neglect and abandonment issues usually turn out to be the most creative. Eduardo's intelligent, hardworking, loyal to a fault, and also a human barometer, which is interesting and useful and somewhat of a cool party trick.
Eduardo tilts his head, thoughtful. "Hmmm," he says. "You're planning a revenge killing? Aren't we a little old for pushing girls out of trees?"
"It's not a revenge killing if there's nothing to avenge," Mark retorts, needled. "We're not going to kill her because she broke up with me. That would imply being hurt, which I'm not."
Eduardo rolls his eyes. "Uh-huh," he drags out, disbelieving. "And one plus one is two, tell me more."
Mark makes an impatient noise, because that is childish and unfair. "Seriously, Wardo, I am offering you this murder entirely for yourself. The first person they're going to be suspicious of is the slighted ex-boyfriend, so I need to look as uninvolved as possible. And you -- you've only met Erica, what, twice? That's not a connection. Besides, does anybody ever suspect you. You get indignant and wobbly-lipped when somebody who doesn't need it parks in the handicapped stall; you hardly have the face of a stone-cold killer. And they'd never suspect someone with as much to lose as you do."
Still looking a little hesitant, Eduardo rubs his knuckles along his jaw.
Mark leans forward, pushing into Eduardo's personal space. "Remember when we discussed icicles?"
He's looking for it and he catches it: the fractional widening of excitement in Eduardo's eyes. "Do you think it's the right time of the year for that?"
"Have you seen the size of the icicles hanging outside Pat Persade's window? They're definitely sharp enough. Imagine what they'd look like through the hollow of her throat."
He can tell he's got Eduardo's attention now, because the idea of a murder weapon that will melt after you use it is too good to pass up. There are two things that will override Eduardo's common sense: Mark, and the possibility of a murder most beautiful.
"Fine," Eduardo's eyebrows snap together. "Let's do this."
The only reason they know each other at all is because Mark is very good at computers.
Everybody knows this, because it's kind of obvious, like saying that the sky is blue, Dustin is the worst wingman ever, and Bill Clinton did not have relations with that woman. Mark has been good at computers since before Windows 98 was flying off the shelves, and yet at family holidays, he still finds himself forced into helping aunts and cousins make Excel spreadsheets and install the Sims for the third time, and afterwards, he always vaguely feels like going out and buying a postal worker uniform and a 9mm.
So, the story goes: three months into his first semester at Harvard, a command prompt pops up onto his screen while he's in the middle of something else, alerting him to an IP address that had gone and accessed a variety of archived new articles, the kind where you have to pay a certain fee to get them because they're no longer current.
For a moment, he's puzzled, wondering why he set an alarm for himself for some curious busybody, before he gets a good look at the stories this person was looking at, and a cold chill races all the way to the base of his spine, because they're his stories. All the miniscule and sometimes not-so-miniscule coverage on the people in Mark's facebook. His murders, the ones he's been so very, very careful that nobody could connect to each other or back to him.
In five minutes, he's tracked the IP address down to a dorm room on the Harvard campus, and that, perhaps, is the scariest part of it all. He grabs his lanyard and blows by his roommate (not Dustin, not yet, but some other guy named Gregory, who's tolerable in that he seems content to ignore Mark so long as Mark doesn't, quote, "creep on my hoes or creep on my bros," which, what does that even mean) and crosses the commons.
The thing about dorms is that, a couple months in, the freshmen begin to grow lax on security, so when Mark reaches room 417, he twists at the doorknob and finds it unlocked.
It's a single (of course it is, this is Harvard, to walk across campus is to practically tread on $100 bills) and the kid sitting on his twin bed with his back against the wall startles in alarm when Mark comes banging inside.
"Why," Mark demands without any sort of preamble whatsoever. "Are you obsessively looking at news stories of deceased, missing, and mutilated teenagers?"
The kid -- boy, same age as Mark, with very wide eyes, wearing Business Leader of America slacks and a tee -- blinks for a bit, and then, perhaps most bizarrely of all, he looks Mark up and down, from the heavy set of his brows to his white-knuckled grip on the doorknob and the fact he didn't bother to put shoes on before coming over here, and the corner of his mouth drags upwards in a half-smile.
He sets his laptop to the side and scoots to the edge of the bed. "I'm curious. How did you hide the bodies?" he goes, out of absolutely nowhere.
Mark quickly shuts the door behind him, hissing out between his teeth because there are people out in the hallway. "Excuse me?"
"Well," says the kid, gesturing with his hands like he'd asked after nothing more complicated than the weather. "See, that's what I always got caught up on. People's remains are so cumbersome when you're done, and I never figured out the quickest, cleanest way to dispose of them, though not for lack of wanting to try."
Mark stares at him, as flabbergasted as he's ever been.
"I mean," the kid continues, and there's some red to the tips of his ears now. "Your kill count is amazing, if you don't mind my saying so. You're only eighteen and you've already got seven people -- well, that I know of, there's no accounting --"
"That's all of them," Mark blurts out, because he wouldn't be here otherwise, and the kid smiles so wide it cuts dimples deep into his cheeks.
"I thought so," he says cheerfully. "But your style is so varied that I couldn't be sure what I could safely attribute to you. They never found the bodies for five of them --" he sits up straight, almost bouncing on the edge of the mattress in his excitement. "-- which, the guy in NYC that everybody assumed had gotten swept out to sea during that summer storm, can I just say that was absolutely genius. How did you do it?"
Mark sways on the spot a little bit, torn between a deep swelling of flattery and utter terror, because while it's nice to be acknowledged for something he's put considerable time and effort into (and who doesn't like being called a genius for those things?) this kid knows about Ian, who was on trumpet in the high school marching band, and when he came in after practice, he always used to drain the spittle from his mouthpiece all over Mark's precalculus homework, so when they went to NYC for regionals at the same time Mark's aunt had a new baby, he made sure Ian leaned out a little too far over the pier as a storm raged shorewards. Nobody should have been able to make a connection like that, especially not after Ian's body never washed up.
"I am very good at not getting caught," he says finally.
The kid's grin widens, interest sparking in his eyes. "And now that I have your attention," he says, all teeth. He extends his hand, easily, like they've just met in the caf or something. "I'm Eduardo Saverin."
After a beat, Mark pushes off the door and shakes his hand, because what else can he do?
He spends the next couple of days in a dizzy, tight-knot of fear, second-guessing every single life choice he's ever made because this is horrible, knowing that somebody else knows. And, empirically, he's aware there's very little Eduardo can do, because Mark is good at covering his tracks and these are cold cases regardless, but it doesn't stop Mark's mind from going over every possibility because that's what a mind like his does.
Meanwhile, he seems to have accidentally acquired a best friend.
It's the only way to become friends with Mark, really: just show up and then not go away, because it's not like Mark's going to do any of the work, and eventually, he finds himself actually looking for Eduardo, outside classes and during lunch break, like he expects him to be there.
Everyone's rather baffled by this, Mark perhaps most of all, because people like Mark don't attract people like Eduardo -- he's rich, social, and funny; everything that Mark's not, and people's eyes tend to flit back and forth between them like they're not quite sure which of them doesn't belong.
It would be annoying if Eduardo was unbearable, but he isn't, and that's pretty much all the criteria Mark looks for in a friend.
He winds up attending more frat parties than he ever intended to. Mark Zuckerberg is not a frat boy kind of person; he'd rather stay at home and do something productive by himself than stand around awkwardly in a smoky room, waiting until the girls were drunk enough that it became socially acceptable to try and look down their shirts. So this is something of a surprise.
Then comes the day that Eduardo just waltzes into Mark's dorm room, sits down on the edge of Mark's desk -- right next to where Mark is trying to type up an analytical paper on how people who can't master basic text-editing HTML probably don't know basic English, they're that similar -- and says, "If I tell you that I have a plan involving my Humanities TA and a pair of hypodermic needles, would you help me get away with it?"
Mark, who'd been half-way expecting this, already has lifted his hands partway in the air to go, "I'm not murdering people for you, dude, sorry," when the words hypodermic needles make him pause. He puts his hands back down and turns his head to look at Eduardo.
"What did you have in mind?" he asks, toneless, and Eduardo's lips twitch at the ends, because that's pretty much as hook, line, and sinker as Mark gets.
"Well," he starts, slowly, and his smile grows. "You know that stuff that's inside glow sticks?"
The TA's name is Michael Oglegias, and it might be the most amazing thing Mark's ever seen, the way his veins light up neon under his skin, streaks and tributaries of color up and down his arms, into his neck, across his chest. Michael dies pretty much instantly, because there's a reason they stick huge labels on glow stick packages warning you not to ingest and definitely not inject into your veins, but the whites of his eyes go an amazing shade of green first, and Mark puts that front and center on Michael's newly-created facebook page.
It's too late in the semester to cancel the class or find another competent TA, so Eduardo's Humanities professor basically winds up giving everyone a pass.
"It's a crap requirement anyway, it's not important for your major, and your TA was only making your lives miserable to make up for his own lack of character," Mark tells Eduardo, matter-of-fact. "Everything worked out for the best."
"Especially the bit where when they found his body, the police assumed he did it to himself at a rave," Eduardo goes, smiling the radiant smile of someone who got away with murder. It's a distinct look.
He shrugs back. "If you spend your life being an asshole, nobody's going to be heartbroken enough to question the official coroner's statement when you die. They'll believe you were stupid enough to do whatever you did."
This earns him a sideways look from Eduardo, who comes over to put his hands on Mark's shoulder and give him a light shake. "Sometimes you should really listen to what comes out of your own mouth."
"I resent that implication," Mark says without any resentment whatsoever.
Over summer break, they add the second person to Eduardo's facebook, tenth to Mark's (although it's a bit of a stretch considering Mark never actually lays eyes on the man himself.) Eduardo tells him about him and they spend a week on the phone with each other, to the point where Mark's little sister starts loudly proclaiming that Mark's got a girlfriend and he got her pregnant, which results in his parents looking worried and Mark vindictively subscribing his sister to every brain-cell-killing teen magazine known to man and Eduardo being more amused than he has any right to be on the other end of the line, like he can't quite believe that Mark Zuckerberg can be schooled by a sixteen-year-old girl.
But then they kill his competition and Eduardo makes $300,000 betting on oil futures. So. It's a win for everybody (except the oil guy, but he's dead, so he probably doesn't care.)
At the beginning of their sophomore year -- around the time that Mark first meets Erica -- Mark and Eduardo attend a seminar on abnormal psychology simply because they think it'd be funny.
The speaker, a distinguished woman with a muddling accent and a very long title, brings up the question of why some people don't think it's wrong to willingly take the life of another person, and Mark and Eduardo share amused glances from under their eyelashes, which they've been doing all night.
It's rather ironic, really, how people seem to think there must be some deep, thoughtful reason why other people commit murder, and how they feel the need to discuss it at length.
In reality, it's never that complicated.
It's not like the sky darkens whenever they're around and small, woodland animals flee at the sight of them. In fact, it's doubtful they're that different from any other person muddling along, because really, doesn't everybody try to hide the most distasteful parts of themselves? Somewhere along the way, Mark and Eduardo could have easily developed an intense dislike for freckles, a knack for weaving, or a fabulous baritone. Instead, they got a propensity for killing people. They're only that small degree of separation away from everyone else, that one tiny little developmental change.
The psychologist uses words like "deviant" and "inhuman," but what, Mark thinks, is more human than reveling in your own mastery over others?
Mark Zuckerberg kills because some people simply don't deserve to live. They're wasting their chances and the world is better off without them. Mark's a genius, he's very good at calculation, and he considers himself objective enough to be able to determine who lives and who dies and make the best choice.
Eduardo Saverin kills because if he can't make his family proud, then he can at least make sure they'll never forget him.
The news doesn't even reach the Harvard campus. Everyone's too worked up about FaceMash: the journalism committee calls it the immature act of an immature man, who did a dehumanizing service to women by suggesting that they can be set to a grading scale like they were property and not people, whatever that means, Mark doesn't care, and the technology department just kind of wants his head on a platter because he made their network look like a shit dial-up version of AOL.
So, in the indisputable presence of thirty people, Mark sits through his preliminary hearing with as much patience he can muster (which is to say, none at all) while across the river, Erica Albright goes missing from her dorm laundry room, her bright orange ankle socks still left unfolded on top of the dryer.
Sometime late in the afternoon, Mark comes slamming out of the administration building and finds Eduardo waiting for him, crouched low next to the concrete support pillars, his collar turned up against the cold. At the sight of him, he pushes himself upright, reaching out. His fingers are shocked red and cold, closing around Mark's wrist, and they half-walk, half-haul each other a safe distance away from the building.
"Well?" Mark demands, feeling breathless like he'd run this whole way, just to get to this moment.
Eduardo's fingers slide up, pinning the heel of his hand underneath his thumb. He lifts Mark's hand to eye-level, forcing his fingers to spread open like starfish. Slowly, ceremoniously, he slides a ring onto Mark's finger: Erica's high school class ring.
The thrill of it cuts all the air to Mark's lungs. He curls his fingers, catching Eduardo's between them, and he swears that Eduardo holds him up for a moment, just through that contact.
He wets his lips. "Tell me," he goes in a voice that can't be his, too rough and uneven and nothing like his usual stoic delivery. "Tell me, did she scream?"
Eduardo's mouth spreads, a skull's grin on his friendly face. He puts his lips very close to Mark's ear. "Which time?" he returns.
"Tell me," Mark demands again, and Eduardo laughs right up against him, throaty and low.
See, the thing that never gets said in the end is that Mark probably did love Erica. She was nice to him, and who doesn't fall a little in love with the person who's nice to you when no one else is? She was nice, not in that dismissive, don't-know-what-else-to-say way, but nice in the rare way. She was smart, smart enough that while Mark could loop circles around her, he was never inclined to because she kept up on her own, and she laughed at other people's bullshit, and there was that one time she fell asleep on his shoulder on the shuttle and her hair smelled like something he didn't have a name for.
This is what he'll remember the most, later: she smelled amazing, in that way he figured all girls did until his little sister explained in excruciating detail what actually went into it, and he kind of wanted to get the attention of everyone on the shuttle so that they could see that he, Mark Zuckerberg, had a gorgeous girl asleep and tucked up against him, because that right there was kind of wonderful.
He loved her when she was alive, and he loves her even more now that she's dead, because it's absolutely beautiful the way Eduardo describes her.
It's almost a shame she's dead, because Mark would have loved to have been there. This is why you shouldn't date people, he supposes; it makes it incredibly inconvenient when you have to kill them.
There's no story, of course.
A college student from BU goes missing, no explanation and no body found, and that's not a story. They warned you it might happen when you went off to school.
That's just the kind of society you live in.
The high that always follows the successful addition of a person to their facebook lasts for weeks, has him catching Eduardo's eye at random intervals, exchanging grins like Chesire cats -- or, at least, it should, except Mark has to deal with the unexpected low of being the overnight pariah for the FaceMash thing.
Whoever said that college is just a larger, whinier version of high school got it in one, because Mark is now that kid that everybody shoves into lockers just for fun (again.) And all those in possession of more than one X chromosome get up and deliberately move to other desks if he sits down anywhere near them in class, and most people in possession of a Y chromosome are too scared of their girlfriends to be seen talking to him, and Mark's a little annoyed, because seriously, FaceMash was just a diversion meant to give him a solid alibi so that Eduardo could slice Erica's throat open, and they're treating Mark like he's the unforgivable scum.
It never ceases to amaze him, how the human race can know staggeringly little and still make snap judgments like they have all the right in the world.
In Program Security 320, Tuesday-Thursday 1 to 2:15pm, Mark grabs an aisle seat and is only there for eighteen minutes, not even long enough for them to finish checking the homework, before someone in the row in front of him turns around and hands him a note, not meeting his eye.
Frowning, Mark unfolds it, noticing in an instant that something's wrong: the paper's lined, like any looseleaf you can buy at back-to-school sales for 10c a pack, but the creases in the paper are thick, cumbersome, like what happens to when you try to fold a greeting card.
U dick, it reads, sending a cold, acidic, helpless kind of fury sparking off in Mark's stomach -- a familiar feeling to anyone who's ever been bullied in their younger years and was never told why.
Scowling, he casts a look around the front of the classroom, seeing nothing but the backs of heads, not a single one of them familiar; the note could have originated from any one of them. He runs his fingers over the paper's strange texture.
You can say a lot of things about Mark, but he's not stupid. He grabs his backpack, hefting it over one shoulder and hustling out of class to the sneering condescension of the professor, who only got his teaching certificate because of a very strategically-timed donation (Mark can Google with the best of them, thank you very much) and could do with having his ego knocked down a peg or two.
When he gets back to his dorm, he throws his backpack down onto the couch (which makes a startled noise, so it might actually have been Chris or Dustin, whoops) and slams down at his desk, pulling his scanner out of the bottom drawer and plugging it in. He uploads the note to his computer, setting it to overlay and upping the saturation, and --
Yes, there it is.
A second note, underneath the first.
Unlike the grammatically incorrect one on top, this one is type-font, a rip-off of any all-CAPS Stencil font you can download online.
I KNOW WHAT YOU DID TO THE LITTLE BITCH THAT COULD.
Mark doesn't panic. Mark Zuckerberg does not panic. He is too efficient to panic, because panicking never helped anybody.
But neither does he believe in wasting time. Next thing he knows, his phone's in his hands and he's half-way down the staircase in Kirkland, making people press up against the banister to avoid being bowled over.
He doesn't even get out the door before Eduardo meets him, rounding the corner by the RA's desk at the same time. They spin awkwardly, grabbing fistfuls of each other's clothes to kill their forward momentum, and then Mark hauls him into the mail room and shuts the door, cutting out everything but each other and the white walls and the thin rows of mailboxes.
"I got a note, too," Eduardo says unnecessarily, an envelope pinched between his thumb and forefinger the way people pick up dirty Kleenex. "Someone knows what we did."
Mark snatches the envelope out of his hand. Eduardo's name and dorm room number are printed on the outside in a gender-neutral cursive script. He flips it over; the tongue's ripped, of course, but he can still make out the faint etch of a manufacturer's symbol.
"At first I thought it might have been, you know, an initiation letter from the Phoenix," Eduardo babbles from somewhere over his head. "It was slipped under my door ten minutes ago --"
"Ten?" Mark asks sharply, looking up.
"Same time I got one passed back to me in class. It's not just one person, then. This is a collaborate effort." There's a single slip of paper inside, the same thick material as the one Mark got, like an RSVP notice. Unlike Mark's, though, this isn't cryptic in the least. Printed in the center of the page in the same stencil-font:
DEAR EDUARDO SAVERIN, WHERE WERE YOU THE NIGHT SHE DISAPPEARED?
"They've been personalized," Mark mutters, more to himself than to Eduardo. "A fake finals club letter, and a note that can only be read after being Photoshopped."
"They know exactly who we are," Eduardo finishes for him, barely above a whisper.
A flush of anger unfurls under Mark's ribs, ballooning outward and stoppering up in his throat. Any idiot can commit murder, but only an idiot gets caught.
He shoves the letter into Eduardo's chest, hard enough to make him recoil back a step, shoulders hitting the mailboxes with a rattle.
"Did you get rid of the body properly?" he spits, low and vicious.
Eduardo straightens, his mouth thinning defensively. "Of course I did! You taught me everything I know," he hisses back, pointedly stepping up into Mark's space, so that Mark has no choice but to crane his neck back to keep eye contact. "And I'll thank you to remember that you left me with a strictly daylight-only window!"
"Oh right, because hauling around oversized, concealing bundles would have been less suspicious at nighttime," Mark snaps, his fists tense at his sides.
Eduardo's expression clears at the word 'nighttime', like something just occurred to him. "Hey!" he goes, clapping his hands around Mark's upper arms. "Hey, stop, I'm not the one you're mad at."
"You will be if you get us arrested for first-degree murder!"
"Stop," Eduardo goes, more forcefully. "If one of us had messed up that badly, do you think anyone would have wasted time sending us smug notes about it? This isn't the third grade and we aren't stealing gel pens, Mark, we'd have the police banging down our doors right now. Did either of the notes mention Erica by name? No. And look, it asks me where I was the night she disappeared." He shakes the envelope a little. "I took her in broad daylight. I don't think they saw a single thing. They just want to freak us out."
"Right," says Mark, swallowing. Logic creeps back in from around the corners of his mind, helpfully late. "No. Right. Blackmail is the last resort of the ignorant. Our mysterious pen pal knows nothing other than a girl has disappeared and we should be sent notes about it, which, why does that not surprise me. Every bad thing that happens to a girl from here until the point people forget about FaceMash will probably turn out to be my fault one way or another."
"There you go," Eduardo murmurs. "Way to keep positive."
Mark looks at him, unimpressed.
"Optimistic?" Eduardo tries, a grin tugging at the corner of his mouth. "Upbeat! Mark Zuckerberg, always sanguine in the face of prejudice and threat! Oh, hey," he blinks. "Sanguine is synonymous with bloody. How fitting."
"Oh, haha," goes Mark, without a change of tone, but he finds some of the nervous buzz leaving the ends of his fingers. It's just a note, they're not worried, Eduardo wasn't actually initiated into the Phoenix and nobody's found the corpse of Erica Albright yet. It's just people with too much time on their hands and some fancy stationary.
Eduardo's silent for a beat, and when Mark next looks up, it's to find this strange, almost half-expression on Eduardo's face, something between a smile and the wistful look that people get staring at sunsets or at the multi-faceted spread of stars from an unlit field.
He steps back instinctively. "Don't even," he starts, warningly. "This is not a hugging moment."
"I wouldn't dare to presume," Eduardo answers, lofty, but he does let Mark slip right out of his grip. Mark had almost forgotten he was holding on.
Mark scans Eduardo's note, too, but there aren't any hidden messages saturated into the paper.
When they're around other people, and eventually with each other because it's more expedient, they take to calling them letters from their secret admirers.
"What will you do, if they wind up going to the police, and connect you to Erica's disappearance?" comes from the direction of Mark's bed, where Eduardo is lying with his knees propped up against the wall, Econ textbook open on his stomach. He'd started off sitting up, legs criss-crossed and book open on his ankles, and through the afternoon progressed to something that is basically napping with a side of pretending to study.
"Tell the truth," Mark says simply, and Eduardo's head whips around in his peripheral. "It's effortless to frustrate someone by telling the truth, and it's certainly easier and more satisfying than trying to lie about it." He tosses a sly grin over his shoulder. "Erica and I broke up, and I have not seen her since."
"True," Eduardo allows with an answering smile.
Mark spins around in his chair. "We should fabricate something for you, though, since you're the one who actually did murder her and cannot clearly be put anywhere at the time she disappeared. My fault," he adds, casting an acidic look at the two folded notes. "It was sloppy to assume that nobody would suspect you as a matter of course."
"I'm your best friend," Eduardo remarks dryly. He tilts his head back, regarding Mark upside down, mouth twisted. "I think that makes me guilty of everything by association."
"No, but really," and he swings himself up into a sitting position. "That's exactly how I'm going to play it. Think of it like a business transaction -- first impressions are important. The cops come to your door, they'd like to ask you a few questions, you paste on your best 'oh god I hope they don't find my illegally downloaded porn' face and you let them in. You do your best to be helpful and you offer the vaguest information. Like, Erica liked opera, right?"
"She was cast in La Boheme in the third grade and usually got a part every year since then, but she hated it when people just straight up asked her to sing something, like they had any qualification to judge her ability," Mark says instantly.
"Yeah," Eduardo blinks. "Don't tell them that. It's like," he spreads his hands out. "It's like, if I draw a bunch of triangles and I tell you they're mountains, you're going to look at my triangles and you're going to see mountains. Likewise, if I show the cops that I'm well-meaning and all I really know about Erica is that she dated you and once you dipped her and kissed her outside her Music Theory midterm, and that's something anyone would know, because it was the butt of all campus jokes for two weeks."
"It seemed like a romantic gesture at the time, I thought she would appreciate it," Mark says, his well-worn excuse.
"It was awkward and adorable," Eduardo assures him, with the air of someone trying to come up with the politest adjectives possible. "But if I convince the cops that I'm useless right from the get go, I won't have to come up with a cover story."
Mark twists back around, laying his fingers out over the keyboard, and promptly forgetting what it was he wanted to do. Logically, he gets where Eduardo's coming from, but it still makes him a little antsy, all the uncertainty. He doesn't like having to sit and wait for someone else to make a move.
After a long beat, Eduardo speaks again. "You didn't have to date her, you know," he goes, with quiet solemnity.
Mark frowns quizzically, mostly aimed at the computer screen, but Eduardo can probably see it.
He continues, "I get that it was probably useful, in that you were a computer nerd with a beautiful girlfriend, and that never hurts. Not," he adds swiftly. "That I'm trying to trivialize your relationship or anything. For all I know, you were going to marry her --"
"I wasn't," Mark cuts in, because there are states where common law marriage is easier and cheaper, so why bother with a wedding. In the corner of his vision, he sees Eduardo's face practically lift, like Mark's words made him happy, and he wonders at it. "But I was going to keep her as long as I could. She was nice."
"Funny," Eduardo goes, wry. "How girls seem to have minds of their owns and can make their own decisions sometimes."
"You're being facetious. What's your point?"
"My point," and there's that drop in volume, like Eduardo's almost scared of what he's saying. "My point --" he tilts his chin up suddenly; Mark sees it out of the corner of his vision. "If you were looking for someone interested in you, you didn't have to go as far as the BU women's robotics club."
Mark's fingers stop moving. He turns that sentence over in his mind, and then again, digesting it.
"Huh," he says, and twists his torso around to look at Eduardo, who is watching him with the unblinking wariness of someone perilously close to the edge of a cliff and isn't entirely sure that you're not going to push them off. "Why didn't we think of that before?" he asks, and then, remembering exactly what it was he was going to Google, turns back to his computer.
Eduardo makes a strangled, frustrated noise, like Mark's missed the whole point, which he hasn't, thank you very much, and he will reflect on this discovery in a moment, because he's inspired and therefore busy.
After two hours of trudging through search results on the manufacturer's mark on the Phoenix letter -- he got more results once he thought to widen his search beyond the companies based in the greater metropolitan area, because if their secret admirers have enough money to make a 21st-century version of a black-light letter, they can probably get it made somewhere outside the city -- Mark's thoughts finally circle back around to Eduardo, who is braced up against the wall, legs thrown across Mark's mattress.
He made what basically amounted to a confession, and Mark promptly blew him off in favor of the Internet. If he's stewing in humiliation over this fact, he doesn't seem to be showing it. He hasn't gotten up and left yet, so Mark takes that as a good sign.
He shuts the lid to his laptop and stands up, crossing the narrow space between his desk and his bed. Eduardo looks up at his approach, his expression hazy from studying and only marginally aware, but it immediately sharpens when Mark plants a knee on the edge of the mattress. He tries to crowd backwards, but Mark uses his leverage to fling his other leg across Eduardo's hips, straddling his thighs.
"Oh, hello, what," goes Eduardo intelligently, his eyes enormously large and his mouth shocked, as Mark takes his textbook from him, index finger tucked in between the pages like he's going to bookmark his place, before he dumps the book over the side of the bed.
It thumps solidly against the floor, and Eduardo opens his mouth to complain, but Mark's already leaning in for a kiss.
He catches Eduardo right as he's about to speak, so it's not so much a kiss as it is Mark lipping awkwardly at Eduardo's upper row of teeth. They both pull back, embarrassed, but Eduardo reverses the movement immediately, grabbing at the strings of Mark's hoodie and tugging him in, saying nonsensically, "no, no, are you serious, come here, come here you stupid --" and this time when he seals their mouths together, it's so much better.
Kissing gets wet really fast, which kind of makes Mark want to squirm away, except for the fact that Eduardo is holding him to him with a hand on the nape of his neck, and that feels good.
"Mmhmm?" Eduardo goes questioningly, when Mark starts tugging on the collar of his shirt. He disentangles their mouths with some difficulty. "What?"
"Come on," Mark replies, his heart pounding rapidly and his mouth tripping over itself. "I want to get the awkward, first-time sex out of the way as quickly as possible so we can hurry up and get to the bit where it's fantastic and good and phenomenal and everything it's supposed to be cracked up to be."
"That's quite a lot of adjectives." Eduardo blinks up at him dazedly.
Eduardo makes a noise that clearly says, "just wait a minute, you can't micromanage sex, Mark," and Mark isn't altogether sure how he knows that's what it means, except for that he does.
"Wardo," he says again, quieter this time, smoothing his hands out across Eduardo's chest, and he leans in for another kiss, but not before he catches the kamikaze, awestruck light in Eduardo's eyes -- he knows that look, because it's the same look he gets when they've gotten away with murder and it was the most beautiful escape, and now it's fixed on Mark, like that beauty, that awe, that amazing feeling and Mark are all the same thing.
It's a very long weekend.
At some point late at night, Dustin comes scratching at the door like a cat that's been left out in the cold, pretending to cry and warbling pathetically, "guys, I just want to sleep," which he keeps up until Raymond from next door sends Eduardo a text the says, is that moskowitz? tell him he sounds like a Venetian eunuch, which makes Eduardo laugh so hard he has to get up, pull pants on, and go to show Dustin, because it'd be a crime not to see his face.
They gather up their stuff and they relocate to Eduardo's dorm room, which has the benefit of being a single. It had never once occurred to Mark that they'd be using Eduardo's room the way everyone always assumes you're going to use a single, but there you go.
He learns a lot of new things that weekend, actually. The most interesting is that Eduardo likes Mark underneath him, likes to pin him on his back in his mussed-up sheets and loom over him, so Mark can't see anything but the skinny spread of his shoulders and his shock-opened face and those eyes, perpetually close and blown wide, can't put his hands anywhere but Eduardo. It's thrilling, a long, slow burn inside his chest and curling at the ends of his toes, and it's maybe even better than it was to watch Michael Oglegias's veins light up neon under his skin.
Whatever individual plans they had for the weekend seem wholly unimportant now, easily overridden with the each other's priority. Before, Mark wouldn't have thought that he'd be the kind of person who could spend an entire day in bed with someone else, but then again, before he met Eduardo, he also didn't think he'd be the kind of person who looks at a spoon and thinks, I wonder if you could kill someone with this. Eduardo would know.
Part-way through Sunday, they spend something like an hour and a half lolling on Eduardo's floor, gruesomely Googling various ancient Chinese torture methods on Mark's laptop, because that's just what you wind up doing.
"I don't get how this is natural," Eduardo comments, and Mark thinks for a moment he's talking about what's on the screen (a Wikipedia article on the combined effects of barrels and steep hills on victims,) and then Eduardo's hand snakes around, running his fingertips along Mark's sternum, which goes concave between his ribs.
"Oh, you mean my cereal bowl?" Mark goes.
"My cereal bowl -- look, I could probably eat out of it. It's what happens when you grow up lanky and lacking any chest definition, so you develop this hollow in your sternum. It's most commonly seen in gamer nerds and --"
"People who sit in front of their computers all day and never go out into the daylight?" Eduardo says, dry.
"Gamer nerds," Mark confirms.
"Weird." He pokes at him again, and not in the fun way that potentially to sex, either, but more in the way you'd dissect cow eyeballs in the sixth grade.
Mark snatches at his fingers, trying to fend them off. "Stop -- fingering me," he goes, voice losing its momentum as he realizes how, exactly, it's coming out. "Your hands have been scary places!" he adds, defensive.
Laughing, Eduardo leans over, looping his arms around Mark's shoulders and squeezing, kind of too tight to really qualify as a sideways hug, the way Mark's seen his sister do to the family cat when she claims she can't handle its cuteness anymore. He makes this noise Mark can't identify, and Mark just sits there and waits for Eduardo to stop being emotional so he can have the use of his arms back.
Except then Eduardo murmurs, low and still like deep water, "I think what we're both trying to ignore about this whole thing," and Mark blinks, distracted from his own chest. "Is that if our secret admirers have any evidence, it's going to indicate both of us. I might have been the one that actually killed Erica, but if I get arrested, there's no way I can claim it was all me, Mark. They would know you'd helped me." This last comes out tentative, questioning, like he's asking Mark.
"It's mutually assured destruction," Mark replies, both an answer and a promise, because if they get caught, there's no way he's letting Eduardo get all the credit, and he's not an asshole enough to send Eduardo down in flames alone. It was a collaborative effort; anyone would be proud to admit that. "If one of us burns, we both burn."
Up against his earlobe, Eduardo rumbles happily in the back of his throat, and Mark puts the laptop aside, turning to nudge his nose up against Eduardo's hairline, then his ear, then the bridge of his jaw.
"I've got too many notes in your facebook," Eduardo comments, low. "There's no getting rid of me now, Mark."
Mark just bars his arms around him, pressing them close together, not saying anything. They stay like that, feeling, for one long moment, like the only ones in existence -- the two loneliest little people in their limitless world of possible corpses.
part two -->