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intra-personal negotiation

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So it turns out that “We never, ever, ever harm or kill or especially eat good people and we only ever harm or kill or very maybe possibly eat bad people” is not a specific enough ground rule, as Eddie finds out the hard way, in a BART subway car when a dumbass kid tries to pick his pocket. When the screaming dies down, and the kid runs off, terrified, at the next station, Eddie sits down and starts talking to himself. The car quickly empties around them.

She is bad, Venom says flatly. I could tell by her behavior.

“No no no,” Eddie says and tugs hard at his own hair, partially to clear his head and partially to underline his point. “Stealing someone’s wallet is not a getting eaten offense.” 

You said it would be easy to tell.

“Well, okay, it--there’s a difference between being bad and doing bad shit,” Eddie tries.

Venom sounds annoyed. You were just now thinking that actions define us. She tried to steal your wallet. Bad.

“Jesus, she was maybe fifteen, and we’re a white guy in her neighborhood,” Eddie says. “Context.”

Have we trespassed on her territory? Venom asks, and Eddie can tell he’s not particularly interested. I thought the BART was neutral.

Dude,” Eddie says, and actually yanks out a few shreds of his own hair. He stares at his hands for a second, then gives up. The hairs drift to the bottom of the subway car. “Look,” he says, resigned, “There’s like, there’s a race problem in America right now.”

It takes a while to explain systemic oppression to a being that not only apparently doesn’t distinguish between races, but also has a hard time with concepts like gender and age. (It’s not my fault you all look alike, Venom grumbles. You’re all bipedal with fingernails. And corneas! You all have corneas. “You’re getting it!” Eddie says, snapping his fingers. Man, he never really noticed his fingernails before. Weird, aren’t they? “Great example of a microaggression.”) It’s also one of the most horrifying conversations Eddie’s ever participated in, but he’s an investigative journalist, he can’t have the alien that lives in his body and shares a brain and an identity with him thinking that weighing good and bad doesn’t also mean factoring institutional racism and redlining and the CIA’s role in the crack epidemic and the school-to-prison pipeline into the equation. They spend a while on criminal justice reform, which Venom gets weirdly furious about.

They argue all the way to his favorite burrito spot, and he has to promise Venom that they can definitely eat former US Senator Daniel Moynihan if he ever offers them violence on the street, but eventually Venom grudgingly concedes that determining who to eat is a complicated endeavor, and that unless it’s a real emergency, Eddie should be the one to make the call.

“Good,” Eddie says, relieved, and orders his burrito. Venom is quiet as he takes it to the little concrete patio out back of the restaurant and starts in on his burrito, nothing to trouble them but a view of the street. There’s someone yelling obscenities at the lamp-post on the opposite corner, but it’s not like Eddie can judge.

Eventually, though, he starts to register an unhappiness under his skin--something almost like dread. It’s cold, and uncomfortable, and indistinguishable from something he might feel on his own, except there’s no reason for it.

“Are you sulking?” he demands, incredulous.

Venom unspools a thin black tendril from near Eddie’s ankle and viciously flicks a cigarette butt at the street. Burritos are disgusting.

Eddie stares at the table, unable to prevent himself from making a sharp gesture with his hand--a kind of Can you believe this guy? handwave. The man across the street--still yelling at the lamp-post--gives him a wary look. “We’ve eaten burritos every day for the last week,” he says. “You didn’t complain then!”

That is when I thought I would get to eat a wrongdoer later in the week , Venom says, and Eddie feels a dissatisfied little shiver under his skin. Now you’re telling me we might not meet anyone really evil for months.

Eddie blinks. Considers mentioning that the exact collision of “truly evil” and “available for consumption in a way that won’t get us locked up and thrown into the back of a government spook’s van” might not crop up for years, let alone months. It would be awfully hard to get, say, Trump or Thanos or whoever alone. Instead he says: “What’s wrong with burritos? I got it with plenty of beef, just for you!”

They’re dead, Venom says, disgusted. I am tired of only eating things that are dead! It’s gross.

“Well shit,” Eddie says, and gets to his feet. He takes the burrito with him; they’ll finish on the way. “You should have said.”

It takes a while to walk there--neither of them feels particularly like getting back on public transit, and they left the motorcycle at home that morning--but they get down to the docks eventually. It’s honestly really depressing--the water smells faintly of garbage, and there’s definitely a drug deal happening a few rows down from them, although it’s otherwise deserted.

We could have jumped off the top of the Golden Gate Bridge, Venom notes. Done this with some style.

“Conspicuous,” Eddie counters. “Also, still not a fan of heights.”

When will you start trusting that I will catch you?

“Not the same thing,” Eddie says, but he shudders a little at the--the uncomfortable intimacy of it all, and the fact that he likes it, and he can feel Venom smug in the back of his cerebral cortex. He strips, quick as he can--it would really be great to not get arrested for indecent exposure, on top of everything--and stashes his clothes in the plastic bag his burrito came in, under a streetlamp. Hopefully they’ll still be here when he gets back, or--

--Or I will be forced to be your clothes until we get home, Venom says calmly. Oh no.

“Shut up,” Eddie says, casting a quick uncomfortable glance around. “Catch me.” He jumps over the side of the dock, into the freezing harbor water.

Venom catches him.

They’re happy in the water. Eddie remembers this vaguely from the first time they ended up in the bay--the second time he was the one driving the bus, and that had been awful in pretty much every way, with his body in shock from the impact and the fire and the rank bay water flooding his lungs and his fear for Anne and the driving terror that Venom might be gone, that he might be all alone. It’s kind of terrifying that he was already afraid of that, when he’d only had Venom for a few days, and he’d tried to get rid of him earlier that same day--God, that feels unfathomable now, and it’s only been two months. Eddie already doesn’t know what he’d do if it happened again.

But that’s nothing like this, Venom in him and all around him, the cold nighttime bay nothing more than their goddamn playground, the black water perfectly penetrable through Venom’s alien half-sickle eyes.

Why don’t we need to breathe? Eddie wonders after a while, Venom still cutting through the water like a knife, taking them deeper into the bay.

I don’t need to breathe, Venom says. You’re technically in a coma right now. I’ll heal you when we breach the surface.

What.

Trust me, Eddie, Venom says, and one of them grins with all of Venom’s teeth, although he isn’t sure who.

Oh my god, that’s a fucking shark, Eddie says, because Venom has indeed just stopped undulating and is letting them drift under a very familiar outline--all barrel-chest and sharp triangle fins.

It’s alive, Venom says with satisfaction, and there’s no way he even gets why that’s funny, but Eddie can tell he’s pleased when Eddie starts laughing. They grapple with the shark, but it’s barely a fight--Venom rips open its chest and snaps up its spleen, liver, pancreas, slurps up its intestines like spaghetti. It’s all super gross, obviously, but it’s not like it’s going to Eddie’s digestive system, and apparently Venom finds burritos just as gross. And anyway, Venom is so obviously enjoying himself. He yanks the still-beating heart from the shark’s ribcage, tosses it up into the water over their head like it’s an apple.They swallow it on the way up to the surface, when Venom decides they’re done.

Eddie can feel Venom’s satisfaction like a warmth in their belly. So we’re doing that again, he says. Whenever you want, buddy.

Obviously we’re doing that again, Venom says, and they breach the surface together. Eddie sucks in a breath of air, just to be sure, and it doesn’t even hurt. Venom rolls their eyes. I can tell when you’re having fun, Eddie.

I didn’t say anything, Eddie says, and relaxes back into Venom, who swims them back to the dock. Eddie’s clothes are still there, but Venom doesn’t want to put them on while they’re still sopping wet anymore than Eddie does, so he winds up wearing Venom after all, slinging the hoodie over their shoulders, and hoping no one looks too closely at them.

He lets Venom take them on a shortcut home, leaping wildly and gladly between buildings, takeout bag full of pants and shoes rustling madly in their hand.

That was a good day, Eddie realizes when they get home, Venom uncurling from his legs to snatch a beer from the refrigerator because he knows Eddie kind of wants one. A really good day. Weird to think that almost eating a teenager on the subway didn’t ruin it.

He showers immediately to get the baywater off him, despite Venom’s assurances that he can just cure whatever microbial grossness might still be lurking on their body, and Venom unspools himself so he’s under the bathroom door, only linked to Eddie by a few slender tendrils looped around his toes, so that Venom can watch TV in the other room. Eddie finishes his shower with half of his attention on Ellen Degeneres, the other half thinking about the argument from earlier, and how that was maybe the most mature emotional resolution he’s ever gotten out of an argument as an adult, and how fucked is that, that a compromise that ended with eating raw shark liver under the Golden Gate Bridge in the dead of night is the most interpersonally mature he’s ever been.

Intra-personally, Venom corrects, not really paying attention. Ellen is interviewing Jeff Goldblum, and Venom’s fascinated.

“Huh?”

We’re one person, Venom says, and tugs Eddie towards the couch, even though Eddie’s still only wearing a towel.

“I mean, kind of,” Eddie says, but he doesn’t finish his thought because Venom’s thinking about Jeff Goldblum very loudly, and he can take a hint. Venom wraps himself around Eddie’s shoulders like a blanket, and it’s comfortable and warm and it means he won’t even leave a wet spot on the couch, so Eddie starts paying attention to Jeff Goldblum, too. He dozes a bit for the next guest, and the one after that.

Sleep, Venom demands when it ends, and since Eddie’s the one falling asleep on the couch, he’s happy to oblige.

“Hey, V,” Eddie says when they’re in bed, Venom half-materialized, looped around him like a blanket that’s also a snake, about to drift off.

Yes, Eddie?

“So, like. I know all humans look alike, but. You really don’t get gender?”

Seems unnecessary. Kind of--frivolous.

“Oh. You care that I think of you as a he? You sound like a he. Uh, to me, anyway.”

I’m you, Venom says, like Eddie’s the one being an idiot. I’m whatever you are.

“But like, before,” Eddie tries, waking up a little despite himself. “Before me. You didn’t have a gender then?”

Before you isn’t important, Venom says, which is total bullshit. Eddie actually sits up in bed, and Venom groans and shoves at his shoulders with two thick tendrils of self, like that’ll really be enough to get Eddie to fall back asleep.

“Uh, it is important, though,” Eddie says. “You had a life before! I don’t get to know about it?” It’s not like Venom isn’t endlessly curious about Eddie’s life before them, constantly rifling through Eddie’s memories and asking him clarifying questions, like why exactly were you mad at Jessica your college girlfriend when you found out she was having sex with Matt from your hall, and why did that lead to you having sex with a man who smelled like onions in the bathroom of the student union and when you were five, and you found a small plastic pink power ranger on the playground in the rain, why were you pleased? You were really happy, Eddie, and it makes no sense.

Venom slithers away from Eddie’s shoulders and into his body, which even he has to realize is a shitty evasion tactic.

“Dude,” Eddie says, crossing his arms over his chest, suddenly a little cold. “Come on. Is this, like, a cultural thing? You’re not supposed to talk about your exes with your current host? Well, we played cultural exchange earlier when I was telling you about for-profit private prisons. Your turn.”

Eddddiiiiiie, Venom groans, and doesn’t re-emerge.

A gear slots into place in Eddie’s memory. “Oh,” Eddie says, and grins. “Oh my god, you were a loser on your home planet. You told me yourself. You don’t want to tell me about what a loser you were?” Venom makes another long, disgusted noise, and Eddie laughs. “You made me eat chicken out of the garbage our first day,” he says. “Cat’s out of the bag. I know you’re a loser.”

Venom emerges from Eddie’s chest only to collapse there in a dramatic heap, enormous lidless eyes and rows of shark teeth sort of unsettlingly close to Eddie’s face. Eddie remembers Belvedere pulling a very similar move, snorts, and puts a hand on the black slithering mass of him, gives him a few reassuring pats. He can feel Venom relax, under his hand and internally, his own muscles losing a little bit of tension. It’s nice. He’s not sure why he hasn’t done it before.

You’re my first real host, Venom admits, which is so far from what Eddie thought he might say that he just sort of blinks at him.

“Huh? I thought you couldn’t survive on your own.”

Of course we can survive on our own, Venom says, offended. Just not in your ridiculous atmosphere.

“So--what? You spent the rest of your life as a host-free parasite?”

Venom glares at him, then reluctantly says: No. It’s better to be joined, even at home.

“But if I’m your first host--?”

Venom sighs, a hot rush of air against Eddie’s neck. I was joined to chlangengrik, he says, like this is a big concession.

“The fuck’s a schlangenjerk?”

Venom rolls their eyes, then inserts a picture into Eddie’s mind. He’s only done it once or twice before, and it weirds Eddie out every time--but this time it’s worth it, because it’s clear that a schlangen-whatever-the-fuck is definitely an animal, nothing like a person. He can tell, not just because it looks like a soft, white-scaled snake with some kind of soft frill around its head, but by the accompanying emotions Venom sent along with the picture: embarrassment and a little bit of shame. Also, the snake is decidedly cute, with enormous pink eyes that clearly have nothing going on upstairs. 

Eddie laughs so hard their belly aches, and Venom demands that he take it back even as he stays huddled on Eddie’s chest with Eddie’s hand fisted in his coils.

We had a shortage of sapient hosts! Venom says defensively, when Eddie more or less stops laughing. I wasn’t anyone’s first pick for joining!

“You were adorable,” Eddie says, and Venom gnashes his teeth. “What was its name? Your host?”

It didn’t have a name. It was a chlangengrik. It barely had a sense of self at all--made it easy to dominate.

“Dominate?” Eddie let go of Venom, more by instinct than anything else.

Venom frowns at him, and then grabs his hand, puts it back where it was. You’re different, he says. It’s supposed to be different, with a real host. Less an ownership, more a bonding.

“Well, yeah,” Eddie says. “I should fucking hope so. But, wait,” he says, remembering the cell he broke Venom out of, his throat tightening a little bit with sadness. “What about all those people Carlton Drake tried you on?”

They weren’t matches. Wrong kind of ganglia. Can’t establish a mental connection with the wrong kind of ganglia.

Eddie makes a face. “Ganglia.”

I’m attached to the ganglia of your parietal lobe, Eddie. It isn’t weird.

“It’s a little weird,” Eddie says, and even though he’s mostly sorry for all the people Carlton Drake fucking killed, he’s also a little sorry for Venom, who’d waited all that time to have a real host, someone to have a partnership with. Someone who’d take him in and feel--like this. Right. And instead the air had been toxic and the only food they gave him was the failing organs of the desperate people he couldn’t properly attach to.

So I’ve never had a gender before, Venom says, as Eddie finds himself stroking the black coils with his thumb a little, out of sympathy. And I’ve never--had a job before, or an Annie before--

“We don’t have Annie,” Eddie says automatically, because he’s doing his best to get over his ex now that he’s declared his love like three times and been informed that she’s still pretty in love with her new fiance who is also the doctor who saved his life exactly three times, but Venom got attached early and also isn’t done.

--and I’ve never had this before.

“This?”

This. You.

“Oh,” Eddie says, and discovers he’s pleased by this, although there’s no reason he should be. “Everything’s new for you, huh?”

Shut up, Venom says. You eat chicken out of the garbage.

“That’s true,” Eddie says, and returns to stroking the thing that is Venom on his chest. “Another interpersonal conflict neatly solved by us. Go team.”

Intrapersonal, Venom says again, and Eddie tightens his grip a little in retaliation. Then Venom--arches up into his hand, with a deep, brief sound that’s very nearly a grunt.

Oh, Eddie thinks, hand stilling. “So,” he says stupidly, suddenly aware that he is warm and comfortable and in a fairly intimate embrace, and has just engaged in a fairly tricky conversation about feelings, and Venom apparently-- “So, everything’s new for you?”

Venom lifts his head, looks Eddie in the eye. I am what you are, he says, and Eddie knows that isn’t--totally true, but he also thinks maybe it’s a way of saying I want what you want, and maybe that’s--? Fine? He can feel what Venom feels, is the thing, and Venom feels--warm, and good, and close, and like there isn’t any kind of close that wouldn’t be good. Eddie feels the same.

“What the hell,” he says. “It’s not like we don’t share everything else.”

Venom smiles at him, and Eddie isn’t sure how he knows it’s a smile and not a shit-eating grin, because they look fucking identical, but he’s sure. He buries both hands in the black shadow on his chest, digging his fingers into--whatever Venom is, and Venom curves into his hands with a shudder that they both feel, and then Venom makes that low sound again and kisses him.

It’s, um, you know--well, no human is like that, with the teeth, and the tongue, and the slipping, crawling essence in him and around him and held by him, and--it’s good, okay? It’s inhuman, sure, but good, like it was with Anne, only better, because--well, because he’s almost but not quite the only person here, in that new/good/terrifying way where Venom already knows everything about him, and wants him anyway. Wants him in every way, not just sexually, or romantically, or whatever the fuck. It’s the kind of wanting it’s impossible to have with someone else, but god dammit he feels the same, a deep impossible want for everything he already has, us but closer, us but more.

You’re overthinking it, Venom tells him, and for someone who is probably in the loosest technical sense of the word a virgin, he sounds very amused.

“Um,” Eddie says out loud, already gasping a little bit, “Um--”

Don’t be stupid, Venom advises, and then he’s--well, he’s--between Eddie’s thighs, and Eddie’s choking on his tongue, and Eddie gets a hand up and between them--where Venom’s heart would be, if Venom had organs and a rib cage, and shoves his hand up, like they did earlier with the shark. There’s nothing there, really, except more darkness, but he can hold onto the darkness, and Venom shudders hard, and probably it has more to do with intent than anything else when you’re more or less a shapeshifter.

Venom groans, voice lower and more gravelly than Eddie’s ever really heard it, and then they’re rocking together and it’s not really like sex but it’s better than a lot of the sex Eddie’s had in his life, still hanging onto some internal part of Venom like it’s the only thing tethering him to reality, and then Venom is in him, like metaphorically and emotionally in him but also literally in him, and Eddie bites the nearest part of Venom more or less to cope.

Venom exhales a sharp, shocked breath he absolutely doesn’t need because he doesn’t fucking breathe, then steals Eddie’s free arm, gets their hand around Eddie’s dick and starts jerking them off. Eddie feels like he’s running the best fever ever, and he can feel how much Venom likes it, how deeply and sincerely Venom wants to be in him, wants in him in every way he can get, and it’s frightening and alien and more than a little grotesque, and Eddie’s glad, he’s so fucking glad.

Fuck, Venom says when they finish, Eddie’s mind going white and hot and empty, except he isn’t empty. He’s never going to be alone again, and that’s--wrong, inhuman, bad, except that he loves it. Eddie.

“Yeah,” Eddie says out loud, dazed. He’s shaking a little, and Venom’s running a lazy tendril down over his thigh, soothing him. “Yeah, uh, wow. It’s like, um. That first thing you said to me.”

Hungry?

“No,” Eddie says, and he’d shove at the nearest coil if he had the energy.

Hot?

No.”

Don’t open the door?

“No. The other thing. Out in the bay.” Even after all that, Eddie can’t really bear to say it out loud.

Oh, Venom says, completely casually, because even after all that, he’s still kind of an asshole. You mean that you belong to me?

Eddie jerks his head in a gesture that could conceivably be perceived as a nod, if you were wound up inside his parietal lobe and had access to his every thought. It’s what’s been worrying at him all night, the sheer fucking weirdness of the idea that this might be the one relationship he can’t fuck up, at least not by being himself.

I keep telling you, Eddie, Venom says, wrapping himself comfortably around Eddie’s neck, as close as anything. We belong to us.

The crazy thing is, right before Eddie falls asleep, he even believes him.