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“Before we go in,” Eddie said, holding his ground outside what was once his and Ann’s apartment, “what’re the rules again?”

In his ear, Venom growled like a pouting teenager. No puppeting. No eviscerating. No fridge-raiding.”

“And?”

“ ...No being creepy about her.” Venom sighed at Eddie’s approval.

“Good. You remembered them. So don’t fuck them up.”

“But…”

Eddie only managed one step forward before Venom made him sigh this time and stop once again. “But what?”

“There’s a snack up there in the window. It looks tasty.”

Eddie looked up, already knowing what he was referring to. “Okay, new rule; don’t eat the cat.”

“But what about that movie with the fish man? He ate a cat and got laid right afterwards.”

“Do not eat the goddamn cat!” Eddie hissed to keep his voice down, ducking his head so whoever walked by wouldn’t be able to tell he was talking. Or so he hoped. It wasn’t that he cared if he was heard, he was just sick of people thinking he was snarling at them.

Relax,” Venom chuckled, rumbling in his skull and making Eddie clench his teeth to stop them chattering. “I’m in the mood for a different kind of pussy.”

Eddie barely held back from smacking himself in the head, knowing that it did nothing to discourage Venom but having to always fight the urge anyway. The brain eating, he could handle. The risk of being devoured himself, even that he wasn’t too worried about (not when he could easily poison his liver with a night of binge-drinking before Venom could eat it).

But an alien who knew what sex was and was very, very curious about what made it so special with Ann? He had to draw a line there. Whether or not he could stop Venom crossing it was another matter.

“You’re disgusting, y’know that?”

“I’m just saying what you’re already thinking,” Venom argued, as if it was all Eddie’s fault just cause it usually was.

“How many times do I have to tell you? Me and Annie are finished. She’s… she’s moved on, and better off without me.” Eddie pressed the buzzer on the front door, only noticing how hollow his hand felt when he brought it back down. His limbs usually felt like that when Venom wasn’t stringing himself through them, but this wasn’t symbiotic. It was because this the only time he’d ever went in without his key. The key he gave to her, an exchange for the engagement ring. Even after six months apart, small realisations like that still managed to catch him off guard.

“So leave her alone,” he said through the threat of a voice crack. “You’re just beating a dead horse.”

“Would prefer to eat a live one. And how do you explain her kissing you?”

“That was on you. That was your weird… creepy, body-hijacking cupid-arrow bullshit idea.” It wasn’t so creepy after he found it was Ann underneath, but… still. Gross.

“As much her idea as it was mine,” Venom growled . “And jeez, sorry for trying to remind her of what she was missing out on. You didn’t complain so much at the time.”

“Yeah, well, when a man sees tits after narrowly avoiding certain death he kinda loses sight of what’s important. Now shut up.”

The buzz was returned, and he pushed open the door into a stairwell that immediately filled him with sadness. The last time he’d been here, he’d been dragging the last of his things behind him. It hadn’t changed since he lost her. He swore the garbage bags at the bottom were the same ones who flanked him in his departure.

Pushing himself forwards up the stairs, he also pushed the swell of regret back down before Venom could feed on it. Almost managed it. But Venom was particularly attentive today.

“What’s the matter, Eddie?” He could practically feel the symbiote drooling in his sweat. “Scared that I’m the one she’ll fall for?”

“No, I’m scared you’re gonna eat her fucking cat.” He whispered so the stairwell’s echo wouldn’t carry his voice too far. “Also, as far as she knows, you’re supposed to be dead.”

“By all accounts, you should be dead, too. What’s your excuse?”

“Besides you?” Eddie thought for a moment as he stood outside Ann’s door, hoping an answer would help keep Venom quiet before he dragged him back into her life. “Too stubborn to die, I guess.”

“Heh.” Venom’s amusement made Eddie’s hand twitch as it knocked on the door. That would explain a lot.”

He had to smile at that, and the smile only grew wider when the door opened. She looked radiant. Happy. Delicious.

No. Behave.

“Eddie! Come in.” Ann left him to close the door behind him, golden hair streaming in her wake as she hurried back to the kitchen. She always did her work in there. Close to the window. Closer to the fridge. That was about the only thing that hadn’t changed, he thought as he stepped into the place that seemed so familiar yet so foreign at the same time. Even Venom seemed jolted by his host’s surprise, coiling around his ribcage like a snake.

“You… got new wallpaper,” Eddie said, lingering in the hallway like a ghost. He couldn’t tell when she’d put it up, how long after he’d left. “Great. Hated the one we had before,” he lied.

“Even though you spent a whole day putting it up after we moved in?” Ann called back to him from the kitchen.

“I did,” he admitted. “I did, and I realised two hours into that day that I hated it. But I thought you liked it, so…” Eddie knew how pathetic he  sounded without Venom having to tell him, but he couldn’t quite put the breaks on it. If anything, being aware of it only made him more intent on dragging it out.

A meow from the kitchen doorway saved him from dooming himself to death by awkward silence.

“Hey, Mr Belvedere!” He leaned down to pet the cat, but as soon as his hand reached out he barely missed being swiped by a vicious clutch of claws. Belvedere was still hissing at him when he flinched back, staring at his wrist to check that he hadn’t actually been scratched. If he had, Venom could always fix it, but that wouldn’t exactly be the easiest thing to explain if Ann noticed blood on the claws.

“Alright then,” Eddie huffed, “fuck you too.”

“It’s vermin, Eddie,” Venom slavered. “Let me eat it!” He was even half-tempted to.

“Be nice!” Ann swooped in to bring the cat to safety into her arms and carry him into another room. “That goes for both of you.”

Eddie froze in the split second it took for him to realise she meant him and the cat, not him and Venom. He managed to recover by the time Ann banished Belvedere behind the living room door.

“I think he just doesn’t recognise you,” she said, oblivious to the fact that just about every animal on Earth other than humans seemed to know that something inside him wanted to devour them all. Like the whole population of Earth knew there was something on it that didn’t belong, and was doing all it could to drive it off before the inevitable massacre.

“Yeah, well, I don’t blame him.” Eddie followed Ann into the kitchen at last. She still kept her laptop in the same place he’d decided to ruin both their lives from. The same place they planned their wedding, too. He couldn’t tell if it was out of habit or some kind of subconscious effort to wring more guilt out of him. She was always smart like that. A lot smarter than him.

“You weren’t… serious when you said he never liked me, right?” he asked, gesturing over his shoulder to the living room door that was likely getting scratched to shit at that moment. Ann looked up as she sat at the table, and he thought he saw regret in her eyes.

“No, Eddie. I wasn’t.” He felt as bad for asking as she sounded for saying it in the first place.

“Good. Good. Was worried I had a bad track record of being hated by things I helped keep alive.”

“I don’t hate you,” Venom corrected . “And, most of the time, I’m the one keeping you alive.”

Only because Venom himself was the one getting him into situations where he’d likely be killed without him. Maybe just to prove how useful he was. Eddie glared at no-one as he sat across from Ann, figuring he might as well get onto why he was there.

“So. The Life Foundation case. How’s that going?” He liked to call it the ‘I told you so’ case, but if he got into the habit he’d call just about everything in his life something along those lines. It’d be confusing as hell. Besides, since she had a good idea of what the Foundation had been trying to hide all along, Ann never had much choice in being a part of it. She wasn’t on the prosecution team, but she was the one helping them ensure they even had a case to go forward with.

Ann let out a low sigh, but when she looked up again from her laptop she was smiling. A large part of him hoped that was just because of him being there.

“Well, with Drake dead, everyone else on the Foundation’s board of directors has been desperately trying to burn all the evidence he left behind so they don’t go to jail for him. At this point all we can really do is try and salvage what we can from the ashes.”

Eddie nodded along. “Cool, cool. How much they gonna give me for not dying, despite their best efforts?’

Ann sucked in a breath through her teeth. “Considering the fines they’re having to pay, the press they’re trying to contain and their own legal costs… you’d be lucky if they even have a thousand left over to give you. Maybe two as a reward for surviving.”

Eddie felt his face drop, as if Venom was pulling the muscles down. That was barely enough to cover how much it cost to repair his apartment. Hell, he couldn’t even afford to fix all the windows he broke with that.

“So… to the Life Foundation, life ain’t really worth paying out for.” He sat back with his arms crossed, to stop himself trying to tear his hair out (and he doubted Venom would help stop him). “Probably some irony in there if you look hard enough.”

Venom snorted through his host’s nose. More like the Dead Foundation .” Eddie held back from berating Venom for stealing his jokes, rubbing his nose to at least get him out of his sinuses while Ann went on, oblivious to how good she smelled.

“Hell, the fact that you are still alive will let them claim that your… parasite didn’t come from them. The medical reports won’t even mean much as evidence in that case, especially since your heart managed to come back from atrophy.”

“The one time where ‘at least I have my health’ is a bad thing.” Whether or not he even had it at all with the constant threat to his organs living inside him was debatable.

“And you did break into their private property,” Ann reminded him. “You’re more likely to get arrested for that than anything else.”

“So trespassing is worse than making people into guinea pigs. Got it. You mind if I get some water?”

“There’s some in the fridge.” Ann tapped at her keyboard as Eddie stood up, scanning the inside of the fridge door. His eyes spotted the water bottles lined up on the shelves, but a second pair saw something far more tempting deeper inside.

“She has cake! Chocolate! Take it! Take it right now!” His arm shot out before he could stop it, his tendons violently wrenched up by the black ooze wreathed around them. Eddie had to yank his wrist back with the one hand still under his control, forcing his possessed fingers to occupy themselves by grabbing one of the water bottles. Venom kept trying to fling the bottle away so he’d be free to shovel cake into his host’s mouth, threatening to bubble up over the sleeve of his jacket before taking over his other arm. Eddie gritted his teeth, barely overcoming Venom’s strength as he slammed the fridge door shut. It had hidden him from Ann while he wrestled with himself, but the noise drew her attention now.

“Hinges are a little stiff. They always been like that?” he asked, leaning against the door, acting like his very real weariness was just an exaggeration while Venom roiled in his bones. Two rules broken at once! He really had no respect for whatever authority Eddie could muster.

Ann cocked her head. “I don’t remember them being… it is pretty old, though,” she admitted.

“Yeah, maybe you should get a new one. Match the new walls. New everything, while you’re at it. Go nuts.” Even if her case didn’t end up getting much out of the Life Foundation, she could easily afford a whole renovation thanks to…

Eddie coughed. Somehow he’d only just realised who was missing.

“How’s, uh… how’s Dan, by the way?” he asked.

Ann didn’t look up this time. “We’re taking a break.”

“...Oh.” Eddie sat down, taking the time to drink to process how he was supposed to feel about that. How did Annie feel? She didn’t look upset… she only seemed grateful for the chance to speak first.

“After the whole... discovery of alien life thing, he’s taken some time off work and gone back to New York for a while. I guess doctors can take care of anyone but themselves.” She shrugged, either masking her pain or simply dismissing it.

“The competition is gone. Good. Saves time on having to digest him.”

Eddie decided he was glad Dan wasn't around. At least he was safe from Venom. “Well. Good for him. I mean, I was the one with the alien inside him and I don’t get any time off but no, no, good… good for him.”

Ann watched him, the tap of nails on the keyboard ceasing, and he had the instant and familiar worry that he’d just said the wrong thing.

“Do you miss him?” she asked.

Eddie blinked. “He was… a nice guy, I guess. Pretty good doctor, but I don’t see why I’d-”

“I mean Venom, Eddie.”

Of course she did. He took another gulp of water before giving the obvious answer- at least, it would have been obvious if Venom was really gone.

“...Yeah. I think of him whenever I’m hungry. And cold. And on the verge of painful, violent death.”

She laughed, and hearing it was like a suckerpunch to his heart. He was surprised Venom didn’t think they’d just been stabbed.

“Not very often then, I’d hope,” she said.

“You’d be very very surprised. I almost died last night. Choked on a Mars bar. Felt just like he was in me again.”

“Your fault,” Venom scolded. “You let me eat it too fast.”

Of course, it was always his fault for letting Venom do things and never the alien’s fault for wanting to do them in the first place. Times like this made Eddie feel like he was nothing more than an enabler.

“Uh… speaking of Venom,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck, “how the hell are they planning to cover up the fact that he exists?” So far the Life Foundation had somehow managed it, keeping down all the rumours of a black monster stalking through the streets of San Francisco, but between their own panicked self-destruction and Venom’s appetite meaning one less thug off the streets every week, someone was bound to notice. And when they noticed, so would everyone else. So would Annie. Eddie needed a timeframe of when to expect it.

“There’s the phone camera footage of your little rampage through the city,” Ann said (and which Venom was very proud of), “but they’re claiming it’s all faked.”

“WHAT!? I put all that effort into making people shit out their organs in fear and they still have nerves left over to call me fake !?”

“And we’re having a hard time getting witnesses to come forward,” Ann went on, oblivious to the rabid rant in Eddie’s ears. “Either they’re scared the Foundation will get them, or they’re scared Venom will.”

Eddie nodded, trying to mask how he knew they were right to be scared. “What about that SWAT team? They saw me… Venom, I mean.”

“Most of them don’t even remember their own names after the beating you gave them,” Ann told him, clearly to scold.

“Again, that was him. Not me.” She should have known what it was like, being a passenger in your own body… then again, considering she killed three people at the time, maybe she just didn’t want to remember. Or maybe it was cause of the kiss. Either option seemed likely.

“The point is,” Ann said, rolling her eyes, “unless people see a giant pile of alien slime and teeth for themselves, they’re not gonna believe it exists. And we can’t charge the Foundation for all the city destruction if we can’t prove they made it happen.”

Which meant someone else would be getting charged for it. Most likely Eddie. He scratched the back of his head, while Venom pulsed in anger under his skin.

“What if… what if Venom came back and showed himself?” he asked. “Would that strengthen the case against the Foundation?”

“It definitely wouldn’t hurt it. But… Venom’s gone, so not much point in wondering about that.”

God, he hated when she reminded him he was lying… Eddie moved his nervous hand to his chin, rubbing his stubble even as he feared Venom creeping into his fingers.

“I dunno, I mean… part of me feels like he’s still out there, y’know? Like maybe he hitched a ride on a fish, or… something. Maybe there’s a cannibal Flipper out there right now. SeaWorld better watch out.”

Ann laughed as he pointed an accusing finger out the window towards the San Francisco Bay. “Maybe. He might even find his way back to you one day.” Whether or not she hoped he would, Eddie couldn’t tell.

“Well, wherever he is now, I hope who ever he’s in is making him pay rent.”

“You’re the one who should be paying me right now for not devouring your lungs.” Venom made him claw into his cheek, a warning that he was getting hungry.

“If I ever hear about an oil spill on steroids tearing heads off, you’ll be the first one to know,” Ann promised.

“Cake. Cat. Must eat one of them if you want to keep breathing...”

Eddie felt his ribs get tighter, either from Venom slipping through them or just in anticipation of it. He always chose the most inconvenient fucking times to get the munchies. Just as he was about to casually ask about the cake in the fridge after a sip of water, Ann spoke first.

“I thought it was kind of hot.”

Eddie choked, and he was sure Venom did as well. A coughing fit cleared both the water and the symbiote from his lungs, but it still left him wondering if he’d heard her right, if he’d even heard her at all.

“Wha… c-come again?”

Ann waited until he recovered, though she didn’t seem at all phased by his shock. “Venom,” she clarified. “When it went over you, all bulky and shiny and growling… it kind of turned me on.” She smiled, making Eddie feel like a joking victim as much as a choking one.

“R… really?”

“The tongue, especially,” she said with a wiggle of her eyebrows. “Girls like long tongues.”

“I can… imagine why. You… y-you thought… me having a alien inside my body… that turned you on?”

She nodded, completely shameless. “Makes it even more of a shame that he left. Oh well.” With that, she went right back to work as if she hadn’t just tortured him with what she’d just said.

She was single, she didn’t hate him, and she’d just admitted that he was in a perfect position to get her horny. Or, he would have been, if he didn’t keep Venom from her.

God dammit. God. Dammit.

“What if I, uh… what if I told you…” Eddie stood up as he stretched the confession out, until he was beyond the point of being able to take it back. “...He’s still in me.”

“Really?” She was not nearly as surprised as he’d thought she'd be, and not nearly as angry as he was braced for. Which only meant one thing.

“And… you knew that all along.” He could practically feel himself deflating, and God only knew what Venom was doing to him.

“I had a hunch,” Ann said through a smirk. “Something about a decapitated body being found in a corner store last week…”

“Ah. That… Shit.” All because Venom didn’t feel like eating the whole body.

“She played you like a fiddle, Eddie,” the symbiote chuckled . “This is why I like her.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re so proud of her.” Eddie saw no point in keeping quiet now. “And weren’t you just about to eat through my ribcage?” Tempting Venom into it would have been less painful than his embarrassment, but the symbiote usually liked making him suffer.

“That can wait. This is far more important.”

“And since you suggested it,” Ann said, lying back proudly in her seat, “I expect to see both of you at the trial next month.”

“Sure. Sure, yeah, okay, but if we could just rewind for a second…y...you were joking, right?” Eddie licked his lips, trying to make them form words before they dried out again. “About… a-about… Venom being a… turn on…” She must have been. It was all part of the ploy to get him to admit Venom was still around. Maybe she’d noticed how much he’d liked seeing her in the symbiote...

“Let me answer you with another question.” She stood up, closing her laptop over. “You remember when Venom was with me?”

Oh shit. She knew. “Yeah, I… I remember.” He couldn’t remember too hard lest it be noticeable in his pants.

“And how you got all flustered when you saw me… even before I kissed you.”

“I remember you said that was Venom’s idea.”

She was close enough to him now to whisper, and she did. “Well, I lied.”

“A lawyer who lies? Say it ain’t so.” Eddie heard his voice crack from a distance. Was this really happening? He could hear her, smell her, knew just how warm she’d be if she came any closer… but-

“Told you so,” Venom taunted, ruining his concentration . “I just played along.”

“Oh, you did a lot more than just ‘play along.’” Eddie spoke into the crook of his neck, hissing in a whisper out of habit.

“Unlike you, she knows how to control me.”

“Well if it’s so damn cozy in there why don’t you go live inside her instead?!”

“You misunderstand. I chose you precisely because you’re so easy to use.”

“And here I thought it was my irresistible charm stopping you from eating my fucking brain this whole-”

“Eddie.”

He didn’t register that it was Ann’s voice at first. “What?”

His head was pulled forward, but not by black tendrils or a phantom spasm in his spine. Ann kept her arm hooked around his neck, anchoring herself to him as they kissed.