thedeadparrot (thedeadparrot) wrote in parrotfic,

fic: Cryptography For Beginners (TSN, Mark/Eduardo) [1/2]

Title: Cryptography For Beginners
Fandom: The Social Network
Pairing: Mark/Eduardo
Rating: NC-17
Word count: ~14,000
Summary: A few years after the depositions, Mark sends Eduardo an e-mail. Now Eduardo just needs to figure out what it says.
Notes: Written for this kinkmeme prompt (which is somewhat spoilery for the story itself). This is a slightly expanded version of the fic I posted to the kinkmeme. zulu, as always, gets credit for the beta.

At first, Eduardo thinks the e-mail is spam.

It's claiming to be from Mark Zuckerberg, for one thing. Eduardo hasn't spoken to, e-mailed or even looked at Mark since the settlement two years ago, and he's perfectly happy to keep it that way. The second thing he notices is that the subject of the e-mail is ciphertext, and the body of the e-mail is just an incomprehensible sequence of numbers:

10038259 10038205 10038263 10051970 10052049 10052045 10052048 10052048 10052059 9984929 9985000 9984934 9985004 9984929 10038162 10038164 10038146 10038153 10038209 10038144 10038159 10038209 9984992 9985010 9985010 9985001 9985006 9985005 9984996 9984943 9985752 9985681 9985752 9985684 9985687 9985678 9985693 9985752 9985665 9985687 9985677 9985750

It's possible that someone is just spoofing Mark's e-mail address. Dustin once tried to explain how easy it was to do that, but Eduardo had tuned him out after he said the word "telnet," so he doesn't really know any of the details of how to pull it off. But it's easy enough that Dustin thought that maybe Eduardo would be able to do it himself, and so it must be pretty damn easy.

The problem with that theory is that the only people Eduardo knows who are capable of spoofing an e-mail address are the same people who would have to face Mark's wrath for doing something like this. Ken Thomas -- who thinks it's the height of comedy to change the height all of the chairs in the conference rooms so that everyone has to awkwardly re-position themselves during meetings -- doesn't know the difference difference between BCC and CC. Tim Wagner -- who shares an office with Eduardo and spends 70% of his day on Facebook -- can barely figure out what a USB port is, much less how to plug anything into it. Dustin may have stuck by Mark during the depositions, but he's not the kind of person who would fuck with Eduardo's head like this for shits and giggles.

Then again, Eduardo didn't think Mark would do anything like that, either.

It's been established that he's not such a great judge of Mark's character, after all.

He gets another e-mail from Mark five minutes later.

Subject: decryption

- decimal
- bitwise XOR by character
- key #1 is the date of the Christmas party

It's almost as cryptic as the first e-mail, and all of this feels a little off. Mark, for all his backstabbing, doesn't play mind games. On the other hand, Eduardo doesn't really know how Mark works. He never has. The pointer of Eduardo's mouse hovers over the delete button for a very long time. He should do it, should just kick Mark the fuck out of his life for good. But in a way, that's letting Mark win. Figuring out the puzzle is also letting Mark win, but if Eduardo manages to decrypt the message, then he won't keep himself up at night wondering what the fuck Mark is doing to him this time around. If he's going to punch Mark for this, he wants to know exactly why he's doing it.

He decides to write a reply instead.

Subject: Re: decryption

What the fuck is this about, Mark?

Mark's reply is almost instantaneous. Figures that he's finally learned how to respond to e-mail in a timely manner.

Subject: Re: Re: decryption

It'll make sense eventually.

Eduardo wonders whether or not it's worth the hassle to throw his laptop against the wall. It belongs to him, not his company, and he has family pictures and his resume and his music collection on the hard drive. Even with backups it'd still be annoying to recover it all. Plus, decent laptops are expensive.

It'd probably be a lot more cathartic if he threw it at Mark's face, anyway.


And the thing is, Eduardo is mostly over Mark, as much as anyone is ever over a spectacularly disastrous break up. Never mind that they weren't even dating at the time.

Eduardo is adjusting to life after graduating from Harvard. He's been meeting the right people, dropping the right hints, investigating the right opportunities. He has a job in New York at the moment, doing low level statistical work at a venture capital firm. It's not much, but it's giving him a feel for the business that he wouldn't get from going it alone. He's got an office that he shares with two other people, and he has an apartment that sometimes looks more like a closet even though he could do better with the money he got from the settlement. He has a neighbor who will give him dinners in tiny tupperware containers because she thinks he's too thin for his own good, and he has a guy who always remembers his order at the deli, and he has a girl he smiles at on the street as they walk past each other, even though he doesn't know her name.

What Eduardo doesn't have is the time or the patience to deal with Mark's bullshit all over again.


"What the fuck is he trying to tell me?" he asks Dustin over the phone.

Eduardo can almost see Dustin shrug all the way across the country. "I have no idea, man. Mark doesn't tell me personal shit, especially not when he's evil-geniusing. You know that."

On Eduardo's screen, he has the Wikipedia pages for "bitwise operator" and "ASCII" open. It all makes sense to him in pieces, but he doesn't quite know how to put it all together just yet. Mark is the only one who knows that, and no one knows what the fuck is going on in Mark's head. This is low even for him. "I'm not asking for his social security number, here. I just want to know if I should be worried that Mark is going to sue me or trying to exact revenge on me by making me go insane or something."

Dustin says, "I hate to say it, but if Mark was going to sue you, you'd already know about it, and Mark doesn't hate you enough to want to make you go insane." He sounds almost apologetic.

"But he does hate me enough to send me completely incomprehensible numbers that will probably make me go insane," Eduardo says. He rubs his forehead. Fucking Mark. Why does everything have to come back to him?

"I'll do my best to pry it out of him, man, but he'll probably just stare at me until I go away. He's a little terrifying like that," Dustin says. He makes a noise that almost sounds like a shiver, and Eduardo doesn't hate him or feel resentful or anything. It's a lot easier to remember why he liked hanging out with Dustin in the first place. Dustin used to sit in his room and heckle Mark while Mark had his headphones on, completely wired in. The insults usually didn't make any sense, a weird collection of non sequiturs and technical jargon, and half the time it was probably offensive to the French, considering the way Dustin liked to butcher the accent and every word in the language. Eduardo would just watch from the common room, as Dustin's expressions became ever more exaggerated and Mark's expression didn't even flicker even the tiniest bit, and Eduardo would end up laughing so hard his sides would hurt.

"Thanks, Dustin," Eduardo says.


Subject: Re: decryption

Which Christmas party?

Subject: Re: Re: decryption

The first one.

Eduardo's been to a lot of Christmas parties, despite not celebrating the holiday himself. His father would go to a lot of them for business reasons, family gatherings, those sorts of things. Eduardo liked the cookies and sometimes he liked the trees covered in decorations and fake snow, but he can't remember ever going to one of those parties with Mark around. At Harvard, all the students they knew were too busy with finals and travel plans for winter break to set up a party like that. Hillel did have a Hanukkah party every year, Mark, Eduardo, Dustin and Chris usually went to together, along with the rest of AEPi. They'd eat latkes and listen to mediocre klezmer and Mark would shove his hands in his pockets while Eduardo would dance like a dork with Chris, because nothing negated the gay guy ability to dance like klezmer music.

It hurts less than it used to, thinking back to the older, happier days. Eduardo's not over anything that happened (and he's not sure he ever will be), but he thinks that maybe he could have a conversation with Chris without flinching, and he can talk to his father on the phone without feeling like a complete failure. He digs up an old AEPi photo, a group shot of the brothers standing in a row. Mark is looking to one side, away from the camera. Eduardo himself is smiling brightly, looking straight on in the way his mom had always instructed him to do. He looks so fucking naive.

And then Eduardo remembers.

It was a stupid idea, but Eduardo wasn't external social chair at the time, so he didn't have any control over it. The brothers thought it was funny for AEPi to put on a Christmas party before Thanksgiving, and so they put on a Christmas party in early October. The decorations team went all out for that one, setting up a Christmas tree, red and green streamers, stockings, gingerbread cookies. They drew a line at a nativity scene, though there was some dispute over just how offensive it would be to have one. That was sophomore year. That was the party where Eduardo met Mark for the first time.

Back then Mark was just a gawky freshman hugging the walls, and Eduardo had felt bad for him in the way he felt bad for all the new frosh, still trying to feel their way around the college experience. Eduardo ended up talking to him over disgusting punch. Their conversation circled around idiots in the intro courses and how to spot the kids who couldn't handle the math classes. Mark talked really fast, his sentences sharp and choppy, like he was always trying to spit all his words out all at once. Eduardo had liked Mark even then, liked Mark's unblinking eyes and the odd curl of Mark's mouth. He'd seen something there, a spark, a ferocity. Students at Harvard don't lack ambition. but even then, Mark was different. Mark wasn't going to let anyone stand in his way.


Eduardo has to go back through his old e-mails in order to figure out when that party even happened. Back then, he kept all his dates in a physical calendar, and he usually threw it out at the end of the year. No real reason to keep it around to clutter up his life.

But he does have all his old AEPi listserv e-mails, which means he has the original party announcement, complete with a tacky animated Santa GIF and Comic Sans font. Eduardo jots down the date listed: October 5, 2002. There are a few different ways Mark could have encoded that information into a numeric key.








Of course, it's possible that there's no way to decode the message at all, and Eduardo won't get anything out of it. But that would be sadistic. Mark is a douchebag, but he's not all that good at being a sadist. Sadism involves caring about the emotional state of the people around you.

There are online calculators that will do the bitwise XOR, which means it only takes about ten minutes per key for Eduardo to decrypt the whole message. It's still annoying grunt work, and Eduardo still hates Mark for making him do it, but he'd forgotten what it could be like with a problem in front of him, having to take it apart piece by piece. Once, while Mark was drunk, he had rambled on for five whole minutes about why he loved programming as a means of solving problems. He had mumbled about how he liked making everything come together, liked making every piece fit and do its part. Mark usually gets more articulate and more mean while drunk, which had always amused Eduardo to no end, but that time Mark had been a little sleepy, fuzzy around the edges. It had made him look more human than Eduardo had ever seen him before, like there was something behind that cold, blank stare.

None of the keys Eduardo uses gives him a full result, which maybe he should have expected since Mark only gave him the clue for the first key. He'll probably need all of them to decrypt the message.

But one thing sticks out. The key 10052002 gives him this result:

19025 18975 19029 32 115 111 114 114 121 80387 80458 80388 80462 80387 18992 18998 18976 18987 19043 18978 18989 19043 80450 80464 80464 80459 80460 80463 80454 80397 81786 81715 81786 81718 81717 81708 81727 81786 81699 81717 81711 81780

Most of the numbers are outside the range of normal ASCII characters, but 32 115 111 114 114 121 are not.

Eduardo pulls up the Wikipedia page for ASCII again and translates each character by hand.

And then he stares at the result for a long, long time, because he's not sure why Mark wrote it, why it's there. It's just one word. The others are still encrypted, and who fucking knows what they are, but what really hits Eduardo in the gut is that Mark made this the word Eduardo would decrypt first, that Mark designed this to be the first word Eduardo would see.

  s o r r y


It's late in New York (but not in California), almost midnight, and Eduardo's has been spacing out in all of his meetings all day. He's still trying to puzzle out what Mark's endgame is here, trying to figure out if Mark is setting him up for even more pain and suffering down the line. Eduardo's figured this part out, at least, the part where he learns that people aren't fundamentally decent, and you can't fucking trust anyone. His dad used to tell him that, when he was younger, and Eduardo had thought it was one of those things that adults said, like freaking out over weed and sex, that turn out to be a little bullshit. He figures that maybe parents do know better, after all.

Eduardo sits down on his bed, presses his phone to his ear. "Do you mean it?" he asks.

There's a quiet moment on the other end of the line. Eduardo can hear the slow exhalation of breath. "Yeah," Mark says, having the decency not to pretend like he doesn't know what Eduardo's talking about.

Mark sounds the same as he always does. He still sounds like Mark, still a little detached from his own words. "What the fuck, Mark?" Eduardo says, but he's not as angry as he could be. This is at least half an apology from Mark, and that's what he's always wanted, right? For Mark to acknowledge his fucking existence?

"I do mean it," Mark says. "All of it. But I think it's better if you figure it out yourself."

Eduardo rubs his forehead. "How many keys will I need to decrypt the whole thing?" It's always like this, every single fucking time, and you would think Eduardo would know better by now. Mark giveth, and Mark taketh away.

Mark pauses. "Five," he says. "You've already figured out the first one." He yawns. Eduardo can imagine Mark rubbing his eyes and curling up on the nearest patch of mattress he can find, the way he always used to after a long coding stretch. Eduardo used to think it was cute.

It can't be that late out in California. Eduardo wonders if Mark is still at work or if he's gone home for the night. Mark never really had a conception of a work-life balance. Eduardo's been carefully maintaining his own. He goes out to the bars with his coworkers and his loose circle of friends on the right nights, and he goes to concerts or plays or Broadway musicals with his closer friends, and he goes running in the mornings with the cute intern who works on the floor below him. She laughs at his stupid jokes, and she doesn't seem like she wants to set his apartment on fire. Things would probably be different if she didn't have a boyfriend, but she does. "Four more, then?" Eduardo says. He can handle four more of these. If he keeps telling himself that, it might actually become true.

"Four more," Mark agrees.

After Eduardo hangs up from the call, he realizes that he's just had an entire conversation with Mark without lawyers present, and it didn't even end with destruction of property. Eduardo hadn't been sure that was even possible anymore.


He finds the next key in his inbox in the morning.

Subject: key #2

- your investment

Eduardo stares at it while he's shoving some cereal in his mouth for breakfast. At first he thinks it's about his investment portfolio, but that makes no sense. Mark wouldn't bother to go through the effort of breaking into Eduardo's accounts, and Mark doesn't give a shit about Eduardo's shares in Microsoft and Google. Eduardo has trouble believing that Mark gives a shit about him at all.

And yet, Eduardo has a message that's been encrypted five times with five different keys, because Mark can't fucking talk or write things out like a normal person. Eduardo really misses the days when Mark kept a blog, because that was the best way to keep track of Mark's mental state at any given moment in time. Talking to him in person wasn't nearly as useful.

Eduardo doesn't have too much time to think about it during work, because he has meetings and deadlines and people to call. Eduardo does love this work, loves picking apart the numbers to get to the truths that lie at the heart of them. He loves going through the mess of statistics and graphs and half-doctored financial reports and building up a mental picture of what a company must look like on the inside. He was so fucking young when Facebook happened, and it hurt like a bitch when everything fell apart, but he can't regret it or anything it taught him.

Tim invites him out for drinks after work, but Eduardo doesn't really like any of the people who are going, and he wants to figure out what Mark's decided to tell him this time. He makes up a story about needing to take some of his work home. Tim shrugs like he doesn't care.

Eduardo gets home as the sun dips below the Manhattan skyscrapers. They've been having a heat wave, and his shirt sticks to his back, and the air smells like heated up tar. He thinks about Mark on the other side of the country, building his empire, and for a moment, this life feels so very small.


The number Mark used for this key is less obvious this time.

He tries using the amount of money spent on lawyer fees during the lawsuit.

He tries the number of Facebook shares he currently owns.

He tries the $1000 he gave Mark at the beginning, when the future had seemed so fucking bright.

None of them work.

He gets the sinking feeling that it's that number, the one that always makes the bile rise up in his throat, the one that always reminds him of the way Mark had said, "Hang on, just checking your math on that," his eyes cold and angry and blank. Eduardo goes through and XORs all the remaining numbers with 19000, and he gets this result:

105 39 109 s o r r y 94267 94322 94268 94326 94267 8 14 24 19 91 26 21 91 94330 94312 94312 94323 94324 94327 94334 94261 95554 95499 95554 95502 95501 95508 95495 95554 95515 95501 95511 95564

There are only five numbers that translate into readable characters, but only the first group of three translates into something coherent.

i ' m   s o r r y

Eduardo closes his eyes. He thinks about all the ways he could fill in the rest of the sentence. "I'm sorry I hate you so much." or "I'm sorry you're such a moron." He doesn't try to count the characters he has left to translate, because that way just lies misery and madness.

He takes a deep breath, because Mark said he meant it, all of it, and the choice of words is deliberate. Mark doesn't do anything by accident, and for the amount of effort he put into setting it up, every step must have been planned out perfectly in advance. The choice of key is probably an acknowledgement, in Mark terms, of Eduardo's contribution to Facebook.

Mark is kind of shitty at this "apologizing" thing, it turns out. Eduardo should not be as surprised as he is. He decides to reply to Mark's latest e-mail anyway.

Subject: Re: key #2

I'm not ready to forgive you, but I do appreciate the gesture.

Eduardo kind of understands where Mark's coming from with this bizarro scavenger hunt. It's a lot easier writing things down than saying them out loud. Maybe it's even easier under five layers of encryption.


"Are you sure you haven't hired someone to slip Mark happy pills or something?" Dustin asks, the next time they talk on the phone. Mark still hasn't sent Eduardo any clues about the next key, and Eduardo's considering how he might be able to try all of the possible keys. Unfortunately, he'd have to learn how to program first, and he doesn't have the time for that.

"Wait, what?" Eduardo says. He flops down on the bed, because he's not sure he wants to have this conversation while standing upright.

"He smiled today," Dustin says around a mouthful of chips. Eduardo can hear him chew it, which is really just disgusting. "And then he even told one of the developers he thought her code was clean and well-structured."

Eduardo snorts. "That's not grounds for accusing me of drugging him, man." He can't even imagine what it must be like to work for Mark now. He was bad enough when he was constantly distracted and sleep-deprived from working on Facebook non-stop. Now that he has work days and a lot more people to manage, Mark must be insufferable.

"I think there may have been some dimple, dude. Chris even searched his office for mysterious-looking pods. You must have given him the good stuff." Dustin sounds like he's just discovered peanut butter and banana sandwiches or something. Eduardo can practically feel Dustin'sglee radiating from the phone.

That makes Eduardo's neck heat up with embarrassment for some reason. "Whatever," he mutters.


A few days later, he gets a friend request from Mark. The e-mail sits in his Inbox, mocking him with its utter absurdity.

Mark Zuckerberg wants to be friends on Facebook.

Eduardo focuses on his work, trying not to remember the warm, pleased feeling he got when Dustin told him that he was making Mark happy. He has reports to write, companies to research. His boss isn't an asshole any more than anyone else Eduardo has ever worked with in the industry, but he's still demanding and loud. Eduardo barely has time to think, and he likes it that way. Much less upsetting than wondering why Mark wants to be friends again. There are three more keys left. Mark just needs to give him the rest of them, and then it'll be over. He won't have to deal with this anymore.

And then Mark calls. "I'm not fucking with you," he says by way of greeting.

"You could have fooled me," Eduardo says, sleepy because it's one in the morning and Mark can't fucking add three to anything.

"It wasn't -- I wasn't mocking you or anything," Mark says. The usual edge in his voice is worn smooth, and Eduardo hates him so fucking much for having the audacity to be earnest and almost nice right now, when it's too fucking late at night. Eduardo still has nightmares about the depositions sometimes. He'll wake up at night gasping and twisted up in his sheets, because he can still see the cold, blank look on Mark's face as Eduardo did his best not to fall apart on the other side of the table.

"Okay," Eduardo says, closing his eyes so he doesn't have to stare at his ceiling. "I believe you."


There's another e-mail from Mark in his Inbox in the morning.

Subject: key #3

- the number of friends you have

That's almost too easy, because there's only one metric that Mark would ever use. Eduardo hasn't really used Facebook since the dilution. He still has his account, and he still gets e-mails every once in a while from Facebook, but he's done his best to ignore it. He has a pile of friend requests that have accumulated (including Mark's) over the years, but he hasn't touched them. Right now, Eduardo has 122 friends, and that number hasn't changed since he decided to remove anyone who even remotely had a connection to Mark.

It's becoming easy to see patterns in the numbers now. The next word is mostly likely going to come out of the 8 14 24 19 91 26 21 91 chunk of his current message, so he decodes that first as a chance to verify that he has the right key.

He tries 122 first. What he gets back is this:

r t b i ! ` o !

All the numbers are valid characters, close but not quite. Eduardo doesn't have time to dwell on it, because at that time it's already seven, and he needs to head out to work.

It's another day of dealing with Charles, the douchebag who works two offices down. Eduardo can't even remember his last name, and he's happier that way. Charles is under the mistaken belief that he shits gold, and Eduardo's known enough people with genuine intellect and talent to know that Charles actually just has his head stuck up his ass. Or maybe one of his parents does. Eduardo's not sure about the details. Either way, it means that Eduardo has to work through lunch just to get everything done, eating a sandwich in one hand while typing with another.

He kind of misses being able to bitch to Mark about the assholes in his econ classes. They would sit in Mark's room, and Mark would grunt or nod at the appropriate times while Eduardo complained about idiots who couldn't fucking pay attention in class and who asked stupid questions because they were too busy texting as the professor tried to explain simple mathematical concepts.

On the subway, jammed between twenty people and having a little trouble breathing, Eduardo realizes why the numbers aren't working on the latest key. It's so stupidly Mark, arrogant and presumptuous and almost sweet in an arrogant and presumptuous way. Eduardo laughs out loud, which gets him funny looks from the other passengers, and he bites down on his lower lip to keep his smile under control.

Mark is such an asshole. Eduardo really has missed him.


When Eduardo gets home, he decodes the message using the number 123, and he confirms the friend request from Mark.

The message now looks like this:

i ' m   s o r r y 94272 94217 94279 94221 94272 s u c h   a n   94209 94227 94227 94216 94223 94220 94213 94286 95545 95600 95545 95605 95606 95599 95612 95545 95584 95606 95596 95543

It doesn't say as much as the other ones, but Eduardo is pleased all the same. There's nothing that Mark's thrown at him that's stumped him just yet, and he's still riding the high of a correct answer. He kind of wants to run around his tiny apartment and do jumping jacks and solve all of Project Euler tonight. Eduardo loves math problems, loves puzzles, and he still kind of hates that Mark apparently knows him well enough to know that.

Subject: Re: key #3

You didn't know I'd confirm the friend request.

Subject: Re: Re: key #3

No, but I hoped you would.

And maybe that's the thing that Eduardo never quite understood about Mark, how he could stare down uncertainty and shrug like it was no big deal. Eduardo's always been better off with a plan laid out before him, a script to read from. He's built his own life up so carefully according to the rules he's been given. It's always been easier to do what his father expected of him, easier to excel at school and work in finance. The thing about Mark is that no one's expectations of him could be higher than the ones he's set for himself. Eduardo wonders what that must be like. He wonders if he'll ever get a chance to find out.


A few days later, Mark updates his status to say that he's planning to visit his parents two weeks from now. Mark still hasn't sent Eduardo the fourth key yet.

Dobbs Ferry isn't too far from New York City, and Mark's going to be flying in and out of JFK anyway.

"If you're going to be around the city at all, feel free to drop by," Eduardo says to Mark's cell phone answering machine. He's not sure what he's doing. He's not sure he's ready to face Mark down in person again, especially after everything, but he wants to. He wants to know that he's capable of it, that they're capable of it. They're not quite friends, and they're not quite enemies, and they're not even deliberately ignored acquaintances. It leaves Eduardo feeling off-balance, unsettled.

He gets a message on his own cell phone the next day. "Yeah, that would be good. I can leave my parents' place on Saturday. My flight's around two PM on Sunday. I'd have to stay at your place overnight." He sounds like Mark, more like he's stating a fact than asking a question.

Eduardo texts him in response, because he hates playing phone tag, and for some reason Mark's phone answering message kind of freaks him out. He almost sounds polite on it. Yeah, that sounds good. I'll pick you up from Grand Central.


The Thursday before Mark's visit, Eduardo gets a Facebook message from Kumar, one of the older members of the Harvard Investment Association. He's passing through New York on his way back to Boston to visit his girlfriend, and he wants to know if Eduardo has time for a drink on Friday. It sounds great. Eduardo's always liked Kumar. He always knew how to crack the right joke to lighten the tension when people started getting ridiculously intense about the ethics (or lack thereof) of short selling, and when they took Econometric Methods together, he was always willing to point Eduardo in the right direction when Eduardo got stuck on a problem.

Friday is really bad. Ken fucks up some numbers, and Eduardo is forced to scramble to get the right ones on all the documents while everyone else looks confused. After that, having a drink with an old friend sounds like the best idea Eduardo has ever heard.

"You're looking like you need one of these more than I do," Kumar says as he waves down a waitress. Eduardo lets him order for him, because Kumar was a beer connoisseur in college, and he's never steered Eduardo wrong before.

"Yeah, tell me about it," Eduardo says. He's not out to get drunk, but he's definitely willing to go for tipsy.

They chat for a bit, catching up on mutual friends. Kumar's not quite ready to propose to his girlfriend just yet, even though they've been dating for as long as Eduardo's known him. Eduardo still hangs out with one of Kumar's best friends, who he knows through the Phoenix. The weather in San Francisco is really nice this time of year. And then Kumar decides to drop the bomb.

"I just started up my own firm this year with a few guys I met at Stanford," he says. "You've got a good feel for the tech industry, man. Where you are right now is bullshit. You have more experience with startups than the rest of them combined."

Eduardo says, "And look where that turned out, huh." He takes a good long sip of his beer. Maybe he does want to get drunk.

"Zuckerberg's a dick, don't get me wrong, but he didn't ask you to be his CFO because you're a total moron. I'm sure he had his reasons for pulling that shit with the dilution, but I don't care what they are. If you're willing to leave your job and move out to California, we'd love to have you," Kumar says. "I wasn't joking about how nice San Francisco is right now."

"Shit," Eduardo says. "Give me a week, and I'll get back to you on that."

Kumar says, "Take your time. I know it'd a big change for you. It was good seeing you again, man." He shakes Eduardo's hand before he leaves.


The problem with taking up Kumar's offer isn't that it involves quitting his current job or that it involves moving out to California. Eduardo's more than happy to tell his boss at work to fuck off, and he likes the thought of getting away from the mood-swinging weather of the East Coast after four years in Boston and two years in New York.

No, the problem with taking up Kumar's offer is that it's fucking terrifying. Eduardo can barely sleep Friday night, because all he can think about is all the ways this whole thing could fall. Sure, he has enough money to make sure he's set for life, and he is completely aware of the fact that you don't get anywhere without taking chances. It's just that he's already gone through one spectacular disaster in his life, and he's not sure if he's ready for another.

Mark shows up in Grand Central Saturday evening with a backpack and a duffel bag slung over one shoulder. He looks the same as he always does, wearing a Harvard t-shirt underneath a gray zip-up hoodie along with his signature fuck-you flip flops. He looks more like himself than the kid playing dress-up in a nice shirt and tie sitting across from Eduardo during the depositions.

Grand Central Terminal is one of Eduardo's favorite places in all of New York City. There's something about the grandeur of the building that feels like New York to him, like it's part of this huge sprawling city that Eduardo currently calls his home.

"Hey," Eduardo says as Mark frowns at his iPhone.

"Hey," Mark says without looking up. He taps out a response to something, and Eduardo feels like he's a third wheel to Mark and his phone. Or, more accurately, Mark and Facebook.

That's been true for longer than Eduardo cares to remember.

Mark finishes up with his text or e-mail or whatever, and then he looks right at Eduardo and smiles. It's a little disconcerting, because Eduardo had forgotten what it was like to get Mark's full attention, and it's especially unsettling with Mark's lips curled up to one side, like he's happy to see Eduardo. "You look -- you look good," Mark says.

Eduardo blinks. "Thanks," he says automatically.

Mark's more familiar with Manhattan than Eduardo is, considering how long Mark has been living in Westchester County, practically next door, but he doesn't complain or criticize when Eduardo sets the agenda. They end up eating dinner at Eduardo's favorite Korean hole-in-the-wall, where they end up eating at a tiny table that barely fits the both of them, much less the four tiny side dishes that come with their meals.

They mostly talk about Eduardo's job, because it's better than dodging conversations about Facebook and the people who work there. Eduardo can't really talk about any of the details of the actual work he's doing, so he mostly ends up complaining about everyone he hates and why he hates them. Mark is good at listening in the same way a brick wall is good at listening, and back at Harvard, Eduardo used to talk out solutions to his econ problems to Mark's back, knowing that Mark wasn't really paying any attention. Eduardo even gets around to mentioning Kumar's offer in vague terms.

"So when are you quitting?" Mark asks, after he swallows a bite of his Japchae.

"What?" Eduardo says. He hadn't mentioned quitting at any point during the conversation. "I haven't decided to quit yet."

Mark's eyes narrow an almost imperceptible amount. "I don't remember you being this much of an idiot in college," he says with his usual lack of inflection.

"Funny, I do remember you being this much of an asshole in college," Eduardo says.

Mark shakes his head. "You just spent twenty minutes telling me how much you hate the people you work with, and then you told me that you've got another job that's lined up with someone you don't hate. Why aren't you quitting again?"

Eduardo can't tell Mark any of the real reasons, that he can't let himself fuck it all up again, that he's always been bad at taking the same chances that Mark does. Maybe Mark's right. Maybe Eduardo is being a moron about this. "Fuck you, man," Eduardo says, but he laughs a little. He thinks about how reckless Mark makes him feel, sometimes, like it's not so weird to take the chances he's been given and just run with them.

He punches Mark in the shoulder, and Mark smiles.


In the morning, Eduardo wakes Mark up by throwing balled up pieces of newspaper at his face, a common practice at the Kirkland suite. Chris had this thing about alarm clocks, and the three of them ended up with an agreement to wake each other up, because Chris was a freakish early riser anyway. Somewhere along the way, it turned into throwing discarded syllabi or essays at each other in the mornings, as much about laziness as anything else. Eduardo doesn't know when it started, but he does remember the first time he woke up with Systems problem set in his face and Chris yelling about how they needed to get their asses down to the dining hall for breakfast.

Mark wakes up in stages, the same way he always does, stumbling to wakefulness. The time difference between New York and California isn't doing him any favors. Eduardo mostly sits around reading the Sunday edition of the New York Times, trying not to laugh at Mark too blatantly. "You want to grab some brunch?" Eduardo asks.

"Mpfh," Mark says, nodding, which probably means "yes" in his native language. Eduardo had forgotten that Mark could be like this, as human as anyone else. Over the years, it had been easier to build up this monster in his head, and while most of it is true, it's not the whole truth about Mark either. Mark is apologizing in pieces, in a way that means a lot more to Eduardo than $600 million or a 5% stake in Facebook. Mark also gets bedhead and doesn't yell at Eduardo for throwing things at his face and dispenses useful, if douchey, advice when Eduardo needs to hear it.

They don't really talk during brunch because Mark is still half asleep and the place they go to is crowded and noisy, but afterwards, they sit on a bench in the nearby park as Mark tries to decide how soon he needs to get to the airport. Eduardo watches the people go by, some with their dogs, some with their earbuds and athletic shorts, some with their rollerblades and skateboards. It's a warm, sunny day, not too hot, and the park is filled with people. Eduardo finds it soothing.

"Why did you do it?" Eduardo finally asks. His voice sounds so quiet, but he knows Mark can hear him.

He can feel Mark go still next to him, and Eduardo thinks he's ready to hear Mark say anything, but he can't let himself look at Mark's face. Mark says, "You weren't there. We kept telling you to come out to Palo Alto, and you weren't there. It was like you didn't want to hear us or something, like you didn't even care. Then you froze the account, and I was so fucking angry. I'm not-- I do meant it. I am sorry." He doesn't say it in the same tone of voice he used at the depositions, calm and a little cruel. He says it in the same tone of voice he used in the hallway after he left Eduardo stranded at the airport, almost pleading. Eduardo hadn't been ready to hear it from him then. All he could hear was that Mark was leaving him behind and that in itself was terrifying enough to crowd everything else out.

Eduardo closes his eyes, and all he can hear is the hum of the city around him and his own ragged breath in his ears. He's not sure he can handle this. Forget eleven. When he's around Mark, all of Eduardo's emotions feel like they're dialed up to twelve. "I don't think I'll ever really be able to forgive you," Eduardo says, finally. "But this is the closest I'll ever get."

He opens his eyes and looks at Mark, who is the same as he always was and yet somehow different.

Mark looks back.

Part 2
Tags: cryptography for beginners, mark/eduardo, slash, the social network

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