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09 May 2011 @ 06:05 am
fic: SYN/ACK (The Social Network, Mark/Eduardo)  
Title: SYN/ACK
Fandom: The Social Network
Pairing: Mark/Eduardo
Rating: PG-13
Word count: ~7000
Summary: There are differences between Eduardo and him that Mark doesn't think they'll ever really resolve, that they'll ever be able to overcome. A love story about packet loss.
Notes: I'm not sure I would have posted this if it weren't for zulu, who picked up beta duties on top of being encouraging.

Mark has always loved his systems classes, loved learning how an operating system is built from the the inside out. He loves all of it, really, loves virtual memory and schedulers and file systems, but it's the networking stack that really holds his attention.

There are all these parts to it, from the hardware layer to the application layer, and they all have to work together, and work with the hardware, and work with this whole ecosystem of routers and switches and servers. Mark spends a lot of time wondering what it must have been like, constructing these things, putting together the building blocks of the internet, creating something that would bring everyone together, that would make the world smaller and bigger all at once. He's just young enough to remember a time before the world wide web. He's seen how it's changed everything.

Early on, when they only have about a few hundred accounts, Dustin made a graph of the entire site out of boredom. It was massive when he was done rendering the whole thing. From far away, it looked like a mess, tiny blue dots representing people, tangled lines representing friendships. Mark stared at it for an entire hour, just following the connections from person to person with his fingers. It was almost like he could touch the intangible social ties that hold them all together, the world translated into something concrete, that could be recorded and stored on a computer. Eduardo found him staring at it and insisted on dragging him off to dinner, but that image of thefacebook, of that web of relationships, of this thing that Mark had helped bring to life, lingered in his mind for days.


"What the fuck," Eduardo says when he finds Mark asleep and drooling onto his keyboard, surrounded by potato chip crumbs, tuna fish tins, and half-empty bottles of Mountain Dew. "This is so fucking disgusting."

His face is scrunched up in horror and disbelief, as if Mark had decided to sacrifice kittens to the computer gods on his desk or something weird like that. Mark sits up and rubs his eyes. He sniffs his shirt to figure out if it's too disgusting to wear again today. It seems fine. He checks to make sure there's no mold growing in the tuna fish or in the Mountain Dew bottles. He can't see any. "Fuck off, Wardo," Mark says. Despite spending all his free time with a bunch of programmers, Eduardo still becomes appalled whenever Mark behaves like one. If Eduardo is under the impression that Mark reeks right now, he should never set foot inside any of the computer science labs, even on a good day.

Eduardo rolls his eyes. He has his biggest wool coat on, which may mean it's cold outside of it may mean that it's still in the high forties. High forties is still flip-flops-without-socks weather as far as Mark's concerned. The sky outside Mark's window is a pale gray, and the drafts coming from underneath their door are warm and heavy with humidity. "I really have a hard time believing that you will ever get a job that will allow you to be this gross on a regular basis," Eduardo says.

There's a cursor blinking next to the last line of code Mark wrote while still conscious, bits and pieces of a unified Javascript library that will consolidate all the existing Javascript that's been hacked together and scattered across the site. Mark scrolls around a bit to make sure he remembers where he was. He's about to start working again when he hears the bed springs squeak. Eduardo's has taken up residence on Mark's bed. There are textbooks on investments and game theory spread out on Mark's pillow in front of him. His open notebook is covered in neatly written equations. Mark raises an eyebrow at him.

"Oh, go back to work," Eduardo says as he settles in, folding his legs into a cross-legged position, his notebook balanced precariously on his knee. "Also, you know you're going to need to take a shower at some point, right?" He's smiling as he says this, and there's something else in his expression that Mark doesn't understand, as if maybe he's referring to something besides the fact that Mark's hair has taken on an oily sheen over the last few days.

Mark turns back to his computer, settling his fingers onto the home keys. He dives right back into the code, because he had an idea for refactoring some of Dustin's sloppier functions into things that actually make sense. At this point Mark will usually put on some noise cancelling headphones and blast some techno, something with a thick, heavy beat to keep his thoughts steady, but it's quiet in his room today, and Eduardo is here. Eduardo's forehead is creased with thought, and his fingers are tapping an irregular rhythm against his thighs. There's the vaguest hint of a smile lingering on the corners of his lips. Mark turns back to his code.

They stay like that for a few hours before Eduardo has a meeting or a class or something. He leaves with a jaunty wave, his messenger bag slung over one shoulder. Mark keeps working. After a few minutes, he needs to put his headphones back on.


People have been telling Mark that he'll be the next Bill Gates ever since he wrote his very first "Hello, world!" program in Atari BASIC when he was twelve. He's never thought of it as a big thing, just something people say when they don't understand what Mark does. There are thousands and thousands of people out there who know their way around a computer, and they're not exactly swimming in money. Bill Gates revolutionized how people use computers, but that was mostly a luck thing. It's all about being smart in the right place at the right time.

Mark managed to be smart in the right place at the right time. He still doesn't listen to people who talk to him about being the next Bill Gates.

It's that people think the Bill Gates thing is about the money, and it's not; it never has been. Mark would be programming even if there wasn't any money in it, even if it wasn't a respectable career. Mark will never get over the visceral thrill of it, of typing and typing and understanding how to put it all together in order to make it work, understanding how to make it beautiful. On occasion, He does think about what it would be like if he got some other nine-to-five job doing something idiotic and boring and filled with corporate bullshit, and he knows he'd still be in front of his computer on weekends, writing patches for the Linux kernel or for MySQL or for Apache or doing his own thing, desperate to get that feeling back.


"Dijkstra?" Dustin yells to the sky, his voice carrying over the traffic. "I barely know ya!"

Eduardo laughs at Dustin's joke, even thought he probably doesn't get it, his head thrown back and his eyes bright. Eduardo's good at that sort of thing, the smiling and being happy thing. Mark is bad at that particular brand of bullshit. He's always loathed family photos, because he hates faking happiness almost as much as he hates standing still just because someone else wants him to. Eduardo shoots Mark a look, a smaller, more secret smile, and Mark has to smile back just a little, even if he doesn't understand why. It's mid-spring, and the remaining snow that lines the streets of Cambridge is half-melted and disgusting, all browns and yellows mixed in with the white and piled into misshapen lumps. All the cars that drive by them are covered in salt stains. The air smells cold and wet and deeply unpleasant, like mud and rotting vegetables mixed together. The wind is howling between the buildings. Mark tugs his hoodie tighter around his shoulders and thinks it's ridiculous that anyone could enjoy seasonal weather.

Dustin accidentally steps in a puddle of half-melted snow as they try to cross Mass Ave. The water soaks through his shoes and socks and the bottom cuffs of his jeans. "Shit," he says. "We're definitely doing that California thing, right, Mark?" He makes a face and starts limping slightly, as if that will make his pants dry any faster.

"Yeah," Mark says. Silicon Valley is still the mecca of computer programmers, of young startups and established businesses, and Mark knows they need to be there. There will be all-day coding jags and angel investors and sunny days and everything Mark could possibly want. Sean will be there, too. "That's the plan right now."

Eduardo's smile goes stiff and uncomfortable, and that light Mark saw earlier dims on his face. Mark wonders if this is the part where he's expected to make stupid jokes about Nash equilibria or Pareto optimality to cheer him up, but Eduardo never really laughs when Mark is trying to be funny. Eduardo says, "Enjoy yourselves. I will be having fun on this coast while you're gone." He doesn't quite look like he means it, but he still tosses his arm around Dustin's shoulders and slaps Mark's back, a solid thump that Mark feels heavy in his chest.

"You could--" Mark start to say. As much as Mark needs a summer of just Facebook, his head deep inside the PHP with only some alcohol and a pool to distract him, it seems weird that they'll be there without Eduardo coming along to back them up. Eduardo doesn't really sit in on their coding sessions, but he's always flitting in and out, peeking over Chris's shoulders to see what's happening or annoying Dustin into working on whatever moronic new feature Christy wants added to the site or asking Mark whether or not they need more servers.

It won't be the same without him there.

"I can't," Eduardo says. He rubs his hands together because he forgot his gloves, and he's staring at the CVS across the street instead of meeting Mark's eyes. "You know, internship, my father..."

"Right," Mark says. "Sure."


There are differences between Eduardo and him that Mark doesn't think they'll ever really resolve, that they'll ever be able to overcome. Eduardo knows how to move mountains and mountains of money on the strength of one beautiful algorithm, but he'll never understand what it's like to build an entire world -- an entire fucking galaxy -- with just the tips of his fingers.


There's a party at someone's house near Central, a friend of a friend of Chris' or something like that. Mark doesn't have all the details, but it doesn't really matter because people still whoop and cheer as they step inside like they're bosom buddies or something. The house looks like every other off-campus house in New England, old and big and wooden and cut up into smaller apartments for college students. There are a few lamps lighting the rooms a soft orange, and the music -- something hip hop that gets played all the time over the radio but that Mark doesn't recognize specifically -- is loud enough to make Mark's eardrums twitch in discomfort. Someone shoves a red plastic cup filled with a liquid that smells like beer into Mark's hand, and so he downs it with one long gulp, just because he can.

Eduardo says, "What the fuck, man?" He's doing that appalled thing again, eyes wide, mouth pulled into an incredulous grimace.

Mark shrugs, because he doesn't feel like yelling over the noise. They're here to have fun; Mark is just starting early. Chris insisted that they not pre-game before getting on the T, and now they need to make up for lost time.

Eduardo rolls his eyes.

The party is in full swing as they head towards the main living room, which just goes to show that it does pay to be fashionably late on occasion. Mark doesn't know most of the people milling around, though he does recognize a few of the CS majors. Most of the female ones are neither hot enough nor slutty enough for Mark to bother with them, and a lot of them are likely to still hold a grudge over that whole Facemash thing. Whatever. Mark doesn't need to awkwardly hit on girls to have a good time. He can just help himself to some free alcohol instead.

An hour into the party, Mark's just drunk enough to get into an intense, if also inarticulate, argument with Angela Chen in the kitchen over the relative advantages and disadvantages of using PHP vs. Perl for web development. Of course she's really wrong about everything, and Mark is halfway through explaining how completely broken the typical permissions scheme for CGI scripts are when Eduardo comes up behind Mark and wraps his arms around Mark's neck.

"You're supposed to be having fun," Eduardo says loudly, louder than he needs to considering that Mark's ear is right there. Eduardo's not squeezing tightly enough for Mark to worry about his windpipe, but it's a close thing. Angela smirks at Mark's obvious discomfort. God, he hates her so much. If there's one person in this fucking university that is more condescending than Mark is about matters related to computers, it has to be her. It's especially galling that she's right at least 80% of the time.

Eduardo must be completely sloshed at this point, because he gets just like this when he's drunk, loose-limbed affectionate and handsy. His breath is warm against Mark's ear. Mark detaches from him just enough to be able to turn around, just far enough way that he can see the alcohol-soaked curl of Eduardo's smile. Mark says, "I am having fun."

"Not you-fun," Eduardo says, "real-people-fun." He pats Mark on the head, and Mark shoves his hand away. Eduardo always gets a little ruder when drunk. Dustin likes to joke that he becomes more like Mark. Mark likes to tell Dustin that he should shut the fuck up. Eduardo also doesn't pick up on hints while drunk, and so he leans forward, overcompensating for the distance that Mark has put between them, and he ends up falling into Mark's shoulder. His lips are mashed up against the fabric of Mark's hoodie. He's still giggling. Mark wraps an arm around his back to keep him upright.

Mark doesn't bother explaining why real-people-fun doesn't work for him, because Eduardo usually understands the concept well enough while not drunk. No point in repeating himself unnecessarily. Mark has already learned his lesson about arguing with drunk people tonight. Angela has disappeared, probably into the living room again. Mark doesn't mind too much, except now he no longer has the opportunity to crush every single one of her arguments to dust.

Eduardo blinks a few times at Angela's absence, his forehead furrowing with thought. "Oh, sorry about that," he says. "I didn't--"

Mark snorts, waving off Eduardo's apologies. "You couldn't pay me to sleep with her," he says. He half-leads, half-drags Eduardo out of the kitchen and towards something that resembles an empty couch seat in one of the living rooms. Eduardo is taller than Mark and he's heavy against Mark's shoulder and Mark already has enough back problems from sitting in front of his computer all day. The seat they find is only really designed to fit one person, but Mark and Eduardo are friends, and they're both fairly skinny, so they fit.

Eduardo smiles at Mark as they settle in, still so open and happy with the alcohol loosening him up. Their bodies touch from shoulder to hip.


In the beginning, Mark goes to Eduardo because Eduardo is someone who's been trained from birth to run shit like this. Mark's known that since the very first day he met Eduardo, when Eduardo had straightened the cuffs of his very expensive and very classy shirt and mentioned that he was going to be concentrating in Econ. It was pretty obvious even then that Eduardo had basically been pre-admitted to every MBA program known to man. Mark was certain that Wharton had already finished dusting off its red carpet. The whole essay-writing-and-application-form thing was just a formality for people like Eduardo, and even Eduardo knew that.

Still, the reason why Mark liked him, why Mark trusted him, was that it was clear that -- unlike most Econ majors Mark knew -- Eduardo wasn't too stupid to do CS. He understood algorithms and he had a handle on the problem solving, and he ate Stata and SAS and SPSS and R for breakfast. He could have learned to do what Mark does, if he'd wanted to.

That was never really likely, though, since Eduardo would never lower himself to do something as blandly, painfully, middle class as engineering. He was always expected to go higher and farther than that. He was supposed to get punched by the Phoenix, and he was supposed to go into business school, and he was supposed to make his father proud.

But somewhere along the way, he decided to befriend a few computer programmers, befriend Mark, and Mark doesn't think he ever understood why. He doesn't think he ever will.


Eduardo comes out to visit Palo Alto right before he starts his internship in New York. Mark and Dustin and Chris and their interns are still in the process of moving in. The summer already seems like it will last forever, like it will last a lifetime. Mark is already in love with California by that point, already in love with the dry, sunny days and the amount of space and the way he can get away with staring at a computer screen for as long as he wants without classes getting in the way. Boston is tiny and wet and too cold (or too hot in the summers) by comparison. Boston is ancient, and it carries that oldness in its bones, infects everything in it with that same oldness. California, Silicon Valley, is the best place in the entire fucking world to build a start-up right now. Mark knows this. He can feel it in the early light of the morning after an all-night coding binge. He knows it every time they go to a bar or a club and meet more people who work at Google or Sun or Amazon who understand what they're doing, who think it's cool and interesting.

When Eduardo visits, the house is still full of half-unpacked boxes. Most of them are located in the kitchen, because no one uses it unless someone has hot pockets or leftover takeout to microwave. They've also cleared a path to the refrigerator, because that's where the beer is. Chris sometimes makes coffee in their brand new coffee maker, but that migrated into the main living room where the computers are, and soda and Red Bull are far easier sources of caffeine, anyway.

Mark picks Eduardo up from the airport after Eduardo takes a red eye out from JFK. Mark is still half-wired into his code (he needs to sanitize some inputs and there some really obnoxious edge cases and he thinks that SQL query he just wrote might be returning more data than they need and --), so he's only half listening when Eduardo describes his apartment in New York.

"It has an amazing view of a brick wall on one side," Eduardo says. "You'll have to come by and see it sometime." He says this as if Mark can be dragged away from Facebook for more than a day, like Mark would allow himself to be away from Facebook for more than a day.

"Sounds good," Mark says. He pulls the company car (borrowed from Dustin's parents for the summer) off the freeway.

"And there was this one time when I was on the subway, and this homeless guy comes up to me and says--" Eduardo's voice trails off. He's staring at Mark's face. Mark wonders what he sees there. Eduardo says, "You're not even listening to me, are you?"

"How's Christy?" Mark asks, because it's a stupid question, and he doesn't want to answer it.

Eduardo shrugs. "Christy's good." On top of not having any free time, Mark won't ever go to New York because being the fifth wheel around Eduardo and Christy is Mark's last idea of fun. It's not that Eduardo and Christy are still in the kissy-face stage of their relationship -- they're not. It's that Mark has never quite understood how to talk to her, even more than most girls, even more than most of Eduardo's girlfriends. She always looks at Mark with vague resentment, like Mark is some sort of interloper in her grand romance. Most of the time, Mark wants to just smile at her and tell her to fuck off.

He and Eduardo are greeted by a sleepy-eyed Chris when they pull up to the driveway. Seeing him, Mark realizes he's beginning to feel the last twenty hours he's been awake weighing on him. The night air is cool on his face. There's morning dew on their front lawn. Mark slams the car door behind him and walks inside. Sometime after that, he manages to crawl up to his bed and fall asleep, but he doesn't really remember how any of that happens.

It's not until later, when he wakes up again, that he realizes that he never offered to help Eduardo settle in. Mark knows he should have done that already because Eduardo's his friend. On the other hand, Eduardo's also not a moron, and he can probably find the couch himself. It's afternoon -- Mark's watch says 1 PM -- and the sun trickles through the windows along with the sound of splashing water. Mark's room overlooks the pool, and when Mark peeks outside, he sees Eduardo swimming laps. Eduardo must still be on east coast time. Mark and the others have become half-nocturnal since they moved out here.

Mark slips outside just as Eduardo's pulling himself out of the pool, water dripping from his face, his hair. The swimming trunks he's wearing are clinging to his thighs. He looks even more tan in the sunlight, radiant and golden. Mark has turned maybe one shade darker after he got really bad sunburn during his first week in California. After that, he decided that he liked it better indoors anyway. Eduardo smiles at Mark as Mark walks over, still flushed and happy from the exercise. Mark toes off his flip flops and lets his feet dangle in the water as he perches on the edge of the pool. It's hot outside with the sun still high in the sky, but the water is cool and soothing, relaxing. Eduardo wipes his face with a towel.

"It's an awesome place, isn't it?" Mark asks.

Eduardo tilts his head to the side. "Yes, it is. I'm sure this summer is going to be great."

Mark feels a smile tugging at his own lips. "It's going to be fucking amazing," he says. It's a fact at this point. "You should stay." Mark can see the future from here, from where they are at this very moment. It stretches to infinity, stretches as far as the eye can see. Mark wants Eduardo to see that. He's not sure Eduardo can.

Eduardo shakes his head. "I'm sorry. I can't." Mark isn't really expecting anything different from him. Eduardo's head, heart, and circadian rhythm are clearly back in New York, after all.

Mark blinks, turns his head away. "Yeah," he says, because he can hear all the things Eduardo isn't saying out loud.


Mark doesn't regret any of it, not really. Yeah, he regrets that it all came to that, but he doesn't regret the choices he made in the end. Or even in the beginning. He doesn't regret going to Eduardo for the start up costs and doesn't regret diluting Eduardo's shares.

Eduardo had seen Facebook as a student project, a stepping stone to better things, a line on his fucking resume, a good bullshit story when he needs to interview for jobs at consulting firms or investment banks or whatever the fuck he's doing now. He thought this whole thing would blow over in a few years, like CourseMatch, like Facemash. He thought that it made more sense to treat Mark as a friend, rather than a business partner, which would have been fine for throwing birthday parties and giving Mark shit about the state of Mark's hair, but it's not okay when he's fucking over Facebook's finances.

It's ironic, really, that Eduardo was always better at people than Mark was, but he never understood Facebook or the people who use it or why Mark cared about it so much. Eduardo was groomed to be old money, to know how to suck up to gray-haired middle managers, to control the flow of money around a stock exchange. Eduardo had never bothered to understand about anything about the internet or about Silicon Valley or about startups or CS nerds, because he thought that he'd never have to deal with them outside of Mark and Dustin and Chris. Fuck no, Mark doesn't regret what he did.

(But he does regret, just a little, the look on Eduardo's face on that last day at the Facebook offices, betrayal and fury and horror written along the lines of his mouth, the crease of his forehead, the dark brown of his eyes. Mark regrets that he didn't stop Sean when he could have. He regrets that in the end that he was forced to make the choice between Facebook and friendship and everything else.)

(Mark also kind of regrets that he hadn't committed any of his code before Eduardo smashed up his laptop. But it had been easy enough to recreate after the fact, and he probably did deserve it, just a little.)


On the last day of depositions, Mark manages to corner Eduardo in the men's bathroom during their lunch break, despite the best efforts of both their lawyers to keep them apart. It's a new building, and everything in the bathroom gleams, all white porcelain and stainless steel. Eduardo is washing his face when Mark enters, scrubbing his forehead, his neck, the bags underneath his eyes.

"What the fuck are you even doing here, Mark?" Eduardo hisses, meeting Mark's eyes the bathroom mirror. He doesn't put as much nastiness into his words as he could. He sounds as tired as Mark feels. Physically, they haven't changed much from their college days. Eduardo looks exactly the same as Mark remembers. Maybe his hair is different. Mark could never never keep track of the various permutations of Eduardo's hair.

"I want to know why you did this," Mark says. He shoves his hands into his pockets, unsure of what to do with them. It's a large building, lots of employees, but none of them are here, and the bathroom feels too big for only two people. Mark's voice echoes as he speaks. He thinks their lawyers would flip their shits right now to see them here, hashing things out without anyone else to mediate. Not that Mark gives a fuck. It's not that Mark hates lawyers, per se. Lawyers are very useful. It's just that Mark only rates lawyers slightly higher than people who feel smug about going to third-rate Ivies like Brown, people who believe that vi is superior to emacs, and people who still use COBOL.

Eduardo snorts. "I thought that would be obvious, considering that we just spent all day talking about this very subject." He squeezes soap onto his hands and then rubs them quickly underneath the tap. His face is a riot of emotions that Mark can't entirely parse. He's refusing to meet Mark's eyes.

"Yeah," Mark says, "but I don't think this is just about Facebook." He's not as much about the twitchy mannerisms as some of the nerds he knows, but he wants to tap his feet or bounce his leg or curl his fingers into the straps of a backpack he's not carrying.

Eduardo shuts off the tap and tears himself more paper towel than he needs. His expression has resolved into anger, something cold and hard and sharp. "What makes you say that?" Eduardo asks. He glares at Mark, his eyes steady and unblinking. Eduardo's anger at Mark during college tended to come and go quickly, a quick burst that faded almost immediately. Now it's a low key, steady undertone to every conversation that they have. Mark wonders if it will ever go away.

Mark shrugs. "What you said back there, about your being my only--"

Eduardo's face twists in surprise, eyes going wide, his mouth a flat grimace. Mark knows that he's managed to fuck this up already, but he's not sure what sets it off. He didn't even have time to get out a complete sentence. "You wouldn't understand it anyway," Eduardo says. "Fuck off, will you?" He shoves Mark out of the way and exits the room, letting the door slam shut behind him.


It's funny, the way Eduardo says, "He owned Mark after that dinner," as if Mark had decided right then and there that he was going to fuck Eduardo over and kick Eduardo out of the company.

Sean hadn't owned Mark during that dinner, but he'd understood what Facebook was, what Facebook could become. He had said, "You don't want to ruin it with ads, because ads aren't cool," and he had said, "You don't even know what it is yet, how big it can get, how far it can go."

And Mark had thought -- for the first time all week -- Yes, that's exactly it. Yes.


Halfway through freshman year, Mark figures out that he's a lot better at programming while drunk. There's something about the fuzziness in his head that makes it easier for plug in, like he's tearing down a wall between and his code. All the other distractions seem to fall away.

"No," Eduardo says one week before the whole Facemash thing, right after Mark explains this theory to him. "I call bullshit. It's not humanly possible." He shakes his head and laughs, like Mark has told the funniest joke he's ever heard.

Mark rolls his eyes. "My grades say otherwise."

But Eduardo still isn't convinced, and that's how they end up getting drunk in Mark's room together when Mark has one night -- eight hours, really -- to write a ray tracer for his graphics class.

"Really," Eduardo says. He's resting his arms on Mark's shoulders, pressing down on Mark's back as he leans over Mark's head to squint at Mark's code. "This is really amazing to watch, like paint drying or cows grazing or something like that. And you really do type fast enough that I'm amazed you don't have some sort of carpal tunnel yet. Are you sure that compiles?"

Mark takes a vicious bite out of his Twizzler and takes a swig from his beer bottle -- Harpoon IPA, generously donated by Eduardo. The flavors don't mix quite right, but that's part of the appeal. "Don't you have some econometrics problem sets to do or something?"

"No, I'm quite happy to stand here and watch this instead. It won't be a random distribution of colored pixels this time, will it? Because that was a real let down the last time you tried to test it."

"Shut the fuck up," Mark says.

It takes Mark another hour to get the simplest test image to render properly and then another half hour to figure out why some of the reflections were so fucked up in some of the images. By that point, Eduardo is napping on Mark's bed, but he wakes up after Mark hands in his assignment and slams the lid of his laptop shut. It's late, so late that Mark tries to figure out how many hours it will be until morning and whether or not he cares about watching the sun rise. He's seen it enough times that it's lost its appeal.

"Done?" Eduardo asks, his voice still a little slurred. He rubs his eyes, and he looks all of about five while doing so. A really drunk five-year-old, but a five-year-old nonetheless.

"Done," Mark says. He stretches his arms and gets his shoulders to crack.

Eduardo grins and grabs another beer bottle from the mini-fridge, pops off the cap on the edge of Mark's desk. "Congratulations," he says, handing the bottle over.

Mark accepts the drink without another word, allowing himself to slump in his chair for the first time that night. Eduardo opens a new bottle for himself and takes a deep gulp from it, his head tilted back so that Mark can see the line of his neck, so that Mark can can watch his Adam's apple bob as he swallows. "That was beautiful," Eduardo says, because he doesn't have any real brain-to-mouth filters while drunk. He grabs Mark's arm and gives it a squeeze. His fingers are cool and slightly wet from where they were touching the bottle.

"You didn't even see any of the final renders," Mark says. His eyelids are beginning to droop without any deliberate effort on his part. The alcohol is beginning to make its presence known now that he's back in his own head and not in the code. He contemplates shoving Eduardo aside so that he can get some sleep himself before morning classes. Eduardo probably wouldn't mind, because he has his own ridiculously early classes to get to, and Mark's pretty sure Eduardo's not enough of a homophobe to get freaked out by sleeping in the same bed as Mark. Mark's not particularly squeamish about that either.

"I didn't have to," Eduardo says. He starts to sprawl on Mark's bed, his beer bottle forgotten on Mark's desk. Mark elbows him over and squeezes into bed himself, stealing back a portion of the blankets, ready to call it a night.

Eduardo kisses him. Their bodies are bent at awkward angles so that they can both fit on the bed, and Eduardo's mouth tastes like sleep and alcohol, and Eduardo's fingers are tangled in Mark's hair. It's easy, so easy, for Mark to kiss Eduardo back, for Mark to simply fall into the feeling of it. It's not a rough kiss or a particularly frantic one. It's lazy and comfortable and good, and they're both too tired and too drunk to go any farther than this. Mark doesn't mind. Mark likes it. Mark likes the softness of Eduardo's lips and the smell of Eduardo's skin and the way Eduardo's other hand is cupping Mark's cheek.

Somewhere along the line, Mark falls asleep with his nose mashed against Eduardo's neck and his lips pressed against Eduardo's collar.

Mark wakes up the next morning with a deeply unpleasant hangover that makes his head ache and his ears ring. He's also alone. Mark would think that all of the last night was a very strange dream if his bed didn't still smell like Eduardo and if there wasn't a small collection of empty beer bottles on Mark's desk. It's not a big deal that Eduardo's gone, because he has classes and he probably went home to take a shower and collect some books. Mark understands that. Mark's having a rough morning himself.

They meet up for lunch like they always do, and Eduardo is exactly the same as he always is after an all night bender. He doesn't smile more or touch Mark's hand or kiss Mark's cheek or do anything weird like that. Mark figures that he must not remember or that he regrets it a little or whatever. Mark can do that, too, of course. Mark can pretend like it never happened. It works. It's fine. He shrugs when Eduardo asks him if he's going to the next AEPi party. Dustin shows up to bother Mark about their next systems problem set.

After Dustin leaves, they head out towards the Yard. Fall is coming, and the leaves on campus are beginning to change. Not all at once, but in stages. The yellows always come in first. The sun is bright today, not a cloud in the sky, and the air is dry and cold. Eduardo shifts awkwardly on his feet, which feels wrong. Eduardo is rarely as awkward as Mark, especially when he's around Mark. "Look," Eduardo says. "It was-- I'm sorry. It was late and we were drunk, and I know you're still dating Erica --" He looks embarrassed, a flush chasing its way up his neck, as if making out with Mark while drunk is something to be embarrassed about.

"It's fine," Mark says, because it is. He fiddles with the straps of his backpack.

Eduardo smiles -- beams, really -- and says, "Good. That's good."

And just like that, the last twelve hours of Mark's life have been deleted, reformatted, wiped perfectly clean.


The thing about networks, the kind that make the whole internet run, is that there's redundancy built into the system to make sure that information gets where it needs to go. There are sequence numbers on packets so that the data can be properly reassembled and checksums for each packet to verify that it hasn't been corrupted in the transfer and the retransmission of unacknowledged packets to make sure that all of them are received. In order to establish a connection in the first place, there's three step handshake before any actual data gets involved, just to ensure that someone's listening on the other side.

It's kind of hokey to think about it this way, but Mark sometimes imagines what it must be like to send out that first part of the handshake, what a leap of faith it must be, what it must be like to trust, to hope you'll receive an acknowledgement in return. With that very first packet, there are no guarantees that it will be accepted or understood, not even a guarantee that it will ever reach its destination.

But it gets sent anyway.

Mark thinks human connections are like that too, fragile and prone to failure and reliant on the amount of effort you put into making sure they work. There aren't any guarantees with human relationships either. You just keep speaking and speaking, hoping to be heard.


Late at night, Mark is flipping through Facebook, just going through friends and friends of friends and friends of friends of friends. Facebook is far, far too big to graph these days, but he still likes seeing it unfold in front of him, even more vast and complicated and beautiful than the number of users could ever encapsulate.

He's the only one left in the office, and there's a calm here, a quiet. Mark loves being around other programmers while he works, loves the hum of their machines and the sounds of their arguments, but he likes this too. He likes being alone in his head without anything trying to distract him. No lawsuits, no meetings, no signatures, no arguments about system architecture. This is where he feels the most like himself.

He doesn't really mean to, but Mark stumbles onto Eduardo's Facebook page somewhere along the way. He knew Eduardo kept it, knew that it was as much about saving face as it was about actually wanting to still be on Facebook. The profile is carefully blank, stripped of any sort of interesting or relevant details, of any sort of genuine social context. Mark has seen the profiles of people who live their life on Facebook. Eduardo isn't one of them.

His profile picture is a professional full-body shot of Eduardo smiling for the camera, dressed in a smart business suit. He looks immaculate, put-together, happy, more like Eduardo than the tense, angry person who had sat across from Mark during the depositions. Bizarrely enough, they are still Facebook friends, which just goes to show how often Eduardo must use it.

It's almost enough -- it is enough, actually -- to make Mark to click on the "Send Message" button. This is one of those whims Mark gets, like Facemash or making a version of HarvardConnection but better or taking Peter's offer in the first place. Hopefully he isn't too young and too stupid to understand what he's doing this time around.

I'm sorry, he types into the message box. No subject line.

He clicks "Send" before he can talk himself out of it. He doesn't know if Eduardo still has a valid email address attached to his account or if Eduardo ever checks that email address if it does exist. He doen't know if Eduardo will read it or if Eduardo will understand it or if Eduardo will care. This is Mark's own leap of faith, his own way of trying to establish a connection.

He's never hated Eduardo. He's resented Eduardo at times, for the Phoenix Club and for the New York internships and for wanting Christy when Mark was right there, but Mark has never hated him. He still doesn't regret what he did, still doesn't regret putting Facebook first, but he wishes he could go back before then, back when things were only starting to go wrong. He wishes he could revert to a much older revision and work forward from there. He's not lying at all when he sends the message. He hates how things are between the two of them. He wants things to be better.

Mark knows he won't be able to fix things, but he can try to patch things as best he can.

It takes a few days for Eduardo to get back to him. There isn't a subject line on his message either.

I'm sorry, too, is all it says.

Mark closes his eyes and steadies his breath, unclenching his fists as calmly as he can muster. He was mostly expecting Eduardo to ignore him, to let that apology hang unacknowledged between them. At best, Mark was hoping for a Fuck off or a nine page list of every single one of Mark's many and varied character flaws. This is-- this is not what Mark had expected at all.

He opens his eyes and stares at the screen. The words are still there, black text on a white background. Mark feels a smile forming on his face, something small and almost painful. He's not used to it, but it feels good, like scratching off a scab to reveal the new, pink skin underneath. It feels like a chance to do this right.

He clicks "Reply" and begins to type.


End Notes: I think I will always like Mark more than I feel I should because I believe he can look at a piece of code and see it as beautiful. I know this story goes heavy on the technobabble, and while I am sorely tempted to write a DVD commentary post that exposits like Neal Stephenson about all that stuff, I think I'll table that idea for now. I want to let it stand on its own for a while.

ETA: There is now a DVD commentary.
poemwithnorhyme: I Love Youpoemwithnorhyme on May 10th, 2011 05:16 am (UTC)
God, I loved this. <3
thedeadparrot: eowyn judethedeadparrot on May 10th, 2011 10:39 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'm glad you did!
pandora's curiosity: TSN// Jesse; profilehold_onhope on May 10th, 2011 06:24 am (UTC)
This was amazing. I am so in love with Mark equating the three-way handshake to human relationships. I don't know anything about programming but the connection with that and this ending here, with that leap-of-faith message, was so very Mark. Completely rubbish at human interaction, but able to understand and create this vast network of human connection. Lovely.
thedeadparrot: porcelainthedeadparrot on May 11th, 2011 01:35 am (UTC)
Thank you! I'm thrilled you liked that metaphor. It's probably one of my favorites.

And yes, I love the idea that Mark can sometimes see people very clearly, and that sometimes he can't see them at all.
summerteasummertea on May 12th, 2011 09:23 am (UTC)
That was lovely! And the technobabble was totally my favorite part. *_*;;; Perhaps my CS roots are showing too much...

(Pst, FB messages have no subject lines now.)
thedeadparrot: constantinethedeadparrot on May 12th, 2011 09:55 am (UTC)
Thanks! I mean, the technobabble was totally my favorite part about writing it. I hoped other CS people would get all the references and in-jokes. :)

(Also, man. I don't know what's going on, but I just double-checked, and FB totally gives me the option to write a subject line as part of my message. Maybe it silently drops it, idk, but it was definitely there in the interface.)
summerteasummertea on May 12th, 2011 03:15 pm (UTC)
(OH WEIRD! Hmmmm do you use the old or the new messaging system? That would probably explain the difference.)
thedeadparrotthedeadparrot on May 13th, 2011 01:26 am (UTC)
Let's just say that I only recently fixed the fact that my account was hooked up to an e-mail address that expired last year. So let's go with the old system. :p
alicedawkinsalicedawkins on May 13th, 2011 12:03 am (UTC)
There's a line on a Stephen King's novel that stuck with me since I read it. He says something was as beautiful and powerful as reading a poem in a language you don't fully understand. This is how this felt for me. I don't understand anything abt coding or computers, but somehow I think it made this more poetic.
thedeadparrot: moby playthedeadparrot on May 13th, 2011 02:24 am (UTC)
Thank you! That's quite flattering to hear.
thelowtidethelowtide on May 13th, 2011 07:23 am (UTC)
This was beautiful. You really have a way with words, and the way you describe Mark's view of coding paints him as an artist.
thedeadparrot: flyingthedeadparrot on May 13th, 2011 10:43 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I think Mark is kind of an artist, because writing code is an act of creation, after all. What could be more amazing than knowing 500 million people are using something you've created?
little neb that could: sam - warm smilenebulein on May 13th, 2011 04:55 pm (UTC)
Awwww. As a computer science major, my heart was totally geeking out over this! I've been vaguely amused by some of the ideas fandom has about coding and being a programmer, so it was rather refreshing to read something a bit more realistic. ;)

Great metaphores and insight.
thedeadparrot: geekythedeadparrot on May 13th, 2011 10:55 pm (UTC)
As a former computer science major myself, I understand where you're coming from. I'm glad you enjoyed all the references and inside jokes and everything. :D
porlanocheporlanoche on May 15th, 2011 02:01 am (UTC)
Oh, man. This one hit so close to home. Dorm life, gross snow in Boston, CS awkwardness leading to heartache, looking for coding metaphors in real life... it definitely pressed some buttons for me. Also: it made me want to start coding again.
thedeadparrot: need for speedthedeadparrot on May 15th, 2011 04:51 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I wasn't sure if I wanted to post it because it hit so close for me, too. It's putting a lot of myself out there, too.

But I'm glad it could inspire!
:|-: tsn: facebook fourdaisysusan on May 23rd, 2011 04:01 pm (UTC)
This was a fascinating read (as was the DVD commentary). I love the way you've written Mark and his take on the world.

And you mentioned in your commentary that the kiss scene felt like it needed to be towards the end, well, I LOVE IT THERE. It's so great to read all the pining and Mark trying to be above his feelings and then realize they kissed and how very much he's NOT DEALING WITH IT.

Urgh, so many feelings, so little time.
thedeadparrot: life's okthedeadparrot on May 24th, 2011 07:33 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it!

And heh, yes! That is exactly what I was trying to get at with the kiss scene, that Mark is not dealing with it at all and it's kind of disastrous for him.
Circlettecirclette on December 28th, 2011 02:47 am (UTC)
I'm going to be honest with you: when this first popped up on my Friends list, I thought it was crackfic. I mean, Social Network fic! (I had not yet seen the movie.) "A love story about packet loss"! Though the use of the phrase "packet loss" gave me hope, I went into it thinking it was going to be a fluffy fic with hilarious technobabble written by someone adorably nontechnical.

I was wrong.

It's hard for me to explain the effect this fic has had on me. Part of it is, I've been there. I've had these terrible breakups with friends that didn't happen because one of us did something unforgivable, but simply because we couldn't communicate on the same level. I've had friendships where things went unsaid for far too long because we were both afraid to send out that first SYN. And I had never read a story about people with the same problem, or at least, one that put it in quite such stark terms. You gave a name to something I had been feeling but couldn't describe.

But the other part of it is, your fic includes a way to deal with this problem.

You just keep speaking and speaking, hoping to be heard.

That line stuck with me. I thought about it every time I had a misunderstanding with a friend, every time I said something and didn't get a response. The idea that someone has to send out that first SYN, and a second and a third if necessary. The idea that it's better to just say something and hope that it gets through than to say nothing. The fact that Mark does this--and it works--gave me the hope and courage to reconnect with a friend I had had a falling-out with, and to keep sending messages to friends who were too busy to respond. And to write long, babbly comments on fic that has had an embarrassingly profound effect on me. :o)

Thank you for writing this!

P.S. I also studied computer science at a college in Cambridge, MA. It gave a whole 'nother level of familiarity to this fic. :o) *shakes fist at icky Boston winters* *but huggles Dijkstra*

P.P.S. I found a small error: "There aren't any guarantees with them human relationship either." Looks like you were rephrasing it and accidentally left the old phrasing in?
thedeadparrot: stop and thank youthedeadparrot on December 28th, 2011 09:42 pm (UTC)
Wow, thank you so much! It's always really thrilling to hear that your work has resonated with someone else, especially other Bostonish CS people! I was hoping to strike a balance between being too technical and too simplifying and I'm glad it worked for you. :)

(Also, I gotta say that, um, I kind of like Boston winters, despite the fact that the sidewalks are collectively trying to kill you.)
Circlettecirclette on December 29th, 2011 04:21 am (UTC)
(I am totally with Mark--I moved to California to get away from Boston winters *grin*)