Anne’s left her bag behind. Well, Dan’s it looks like when Eddie picks up the red duffle and briefly checks the contents: a couple of shirts, a stethoscope, a pair of blue scrubs and other assorted bits of medical paraphernalia. Spares for work, he expects.
He could call, but she’s already said she’ll be tied up in depositions for the next three hours, so instead he snaps a pic of the bag and sends it to Dan. “ Anne left your stuff here. You need it? ”
He doesn’t get a reply right away. Doesn’t get one for some time, so Eddie forgets about it and goes to feed the insistent voice in his head nagging at him like a hungry child.
Eddie, we need food.
“I know, I know. I’m getting it, alright?” he retorts, shoving a tray laden with frozen dinosaur chicken nuggets into the oven.
We could eat the dog the neighbors just adopted upstairs. It would be faster.
“We are not eating the neighbor’s dog. Just wait twenty minutes and you’ll have food. You like chicken nuggets, right?”
Yes. They are even better when they’re dinosaur shaped.
“What are you, five?”
No. I am almost two hundred.
Nonetheless, twenty minutes later Eddie finds himself sat down with a plate of dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets in front of him and a blob of ketchup that he begins eating voraciously like a five year old. He won’t lie. They do taste good.
Anne had left in a hurry. It hadn’t exactly been a conversation he’d wanted to get cut off so abruptly, but he can’t really blame her.
“Have you seen a doctor since it all happened?” Anne had asked, leaning closer towards him and looking all responsible and concerned.
“Didn’t see the point.” Eddie’s shoulders hunch defensively. “I’ve felt fine since they checked me out of the hospital, so I guess I’m just trying to move on.”
“You’re sure?” Anne purses her lips and looks at him with an uncertain crease between her eyebrows. “That was a major trauma you went through, Eddie, and I don’t just mean physically. You were carrying around a sentient parasite inside you. It won’t be easy to just go back to normal without help.”
Parasite? Eddie feels Venom bristle. Are you going to let her call us that?
Eddie shakes his head, letting out a sigh. “Venom wasn’t a parasite…”
“Well, whatever he was, I still think it would be a good idea to get yourself checked out. Maybe look into therapy. I want to be someone you can talk to, Eddie, and I’m trying my best, but I’m not a professional. Moreover, I’m your ex. You might be able to open up more with a therapist.”
“And what exactly would I tell a therapist, Anne? That I had an alien symbiote in my head that spoke to me and wanted me to eat people? All I’d get is a schizophrenia diagnosis. No, I’m managing just fine on my own.”
Anne looks at him for a moment, clearly hurt but doing her best to hide it. “Fine. It’s your call. But it would help my own peace of mind too if you’d just let someone check you over. Your heart was badly damaged, Eddie. If you’re worried about involving someone else, Dan’s more than willing.”
At the mention of his heart, Eddie suddenly tenses, feeling the organ beginning to race faster in his chest. He still hasn’t told her about the spike that Riot had driven right through it, leaving fatal damage for Venom to repair, then he realises she means the atrophied heart muscle caused by the symbiote.
There’s a ripple down Eddie’s spine as he feels Venom’s presence begin to creep closer to his chest cavity, wrapping around his heart to soothe its sudden pounding. If Dan were to check him out, Eddie’s certain by now he’d notice what he’s hiding.
When are we going to tell her about us, Eddie?
“Maybe some other time.” Eddie heaves a sigh in response to them both. “If anything changes, I’ll let you know, alright? But right now, Anne, I promise I feel fine.”
Her eyes narrow slightly, but the look in them is still concerned. “Really? Because it seems likes there’s something you’re not telling me.”
“There’s nothing I’m not telling you, Annie.”
He denies it too hastily and she looks unconvinced. Not that it matters when she’s already getting up to leave. “Fine. You’re an adult, and I’m not engaged to you anymore, so I can’t make you tell me. I should get going. I’ve got three hours of depositions starting in thirty minutes and I can’t be late.”
He rises awkwardly, wondering why he doesn’t feel more grateful for the change of subject. “Oh. Yeah, you should get to that.”
He knows a kiss on the cheek is too much to expect, but a hug doesn’t seem out of the question. He doesn’t get one. Just a pat on the arm as Anne slings her purse over her shoulder and heads to the door, still looking at him with worry in her eyes. “Take care of yourself, Eddie.”
“Yeah, you too.”
And then she’s gone. Not forever. Not out of his life completely, like he’d once feared, but he still feels the sting.
When are we going to tell her about us, Eddie? Venom asks again some time later, now that they’re sitting with an empty plate dusted with fried breadcrumbs in front of them and the symbiote’s mind has turned away from food.
Eddie gets up, dragging a hand over his face as he goes to dump the plate in the sink. “I don’t know. When the time is right for it, I guess.”
Maybe we should eat Dan first?
“We’re not doing that.” That’s an argument they’ve had multiple times now and Eddie’s certain Venom doesn’t even mean it anymore, but the core of the problem still remains. “She’s going to find out anyway if she insists on me going to a doctor.” He considers that for a few moments, thinking about how the one doctor he’d trust with this is the one dating the woman he was going to marry, and then Eddie crosses to the duffle bag still lying on the floor.
He leans down to unzip it, and rummages only briefly before picking up the stethoscope lying atop the clothes and goes to sit down on the couch. He leans back onto the cushions, pulling up his t-shirt to his chin as he fits the ends in his ears.
What are you doing?
Eddie shushes him. “For once, don’t talk. I just want to know what it sounds like.”
Before any reply comes, Eddie settles the flat disc of the stethoscope against his chest, and feels a sudden ripple beneath his skin as Venom recoils from the point of contact.
Eddie, that thing is cold.
“Yeah, well. It’ll warm up.” He moves the chestpiece again, trying to catch the sound he’d just missed: something wet, and squelching, like half-set jello with a mind of its own. The stethoscope presses against his abdomen and Eddie feels the symbiote creep faster through his insides. “Where are you?”
I’m right here.
He feels it: creeping higher again through his liver, and Eddie follows the sound with the instrument until Venom has settled back inside his lungs. The sound is still wet, but it doesn’t have the muted dullness of fluid or the bubbling crackle of an infection that makes it difficult to breathe. Instead, the sounds of the symbiote moving through his chest seem purposeful, carefully squeezing at his diaphragm to pace his breaths.
Can you hear our heartbeat?
“Yeah.” It’s faint at first, but then Eddie moves the stethoscope back across to the other side of his chest and is hit with the sound like a drumbeat in his ears. The hand gripping the chestpiece begins to tremble. “Can you hear it?”
I can always hear it. He pauses, letting Eddie listen to several more beats. It’s pounding.
“I know.” Eddie draws a breath, wondering if this had been a mistake. In this position, stethoscope gripped between his fingers, he’s lying the way he’s found himself waking after several horror-filled nights: clutching at his chest, right over the spot that had been rent apart by the spike while he replays the memory in an all-too-vivid waking dream.
He breathes heavily, trying to focus on the sound of his heartbeat and not imagine the moment it had stopped. There’s nothing to see from the outside, but with a hand pressed to his chest, Eddie can still feel the bumps in the hard tissues of his sternum and ribs where Venom had fused them back together. It had been done in a hurry. No choice, given the circumstances, and harder still when effectively trying to revive a corpse.
Something cool begins to creep around the back of his skull and towards his temples, leaving a tingling in its wake. Recognising Eddie’s panic, Venom tries to soothe him, squeezing the nerve in his throat that will slow his pulse.
Eddie. Don’t dwell on it. We are whole. I fixed us.
Eddie swallows and nods, wishing he could think of something else. Think of Anne, smiling at him, and not leaving in irritation at his refusal to open up to her. He wishes he could tell her. Tell someone.
But his mind has him right back at that launch pad, bleeding out, vision fading. Dying. Alone.
You are not alone, Eddie.
A tingling spreads along his forearm as the light, slippery touch of the symbiote begins to creep across the back of his hand, anchoring it against his chest.
Listen to our heart. Listen to me.
Eddie tries. He hears his heart thumping hard, the self-induced panic still swelling in his chest, but alongside it, there’s a steady, almost rhythmic whooshing as Venom flows around the organ, filling up the space between his lungs and forcing him to calm.
Eventually, after several minutes of Venom taking control, Eddie can breathe easy on his own again. His reaches up to tug the stethoscope from his ears and tosses it onto the coffee table beside the couch. If he was curious what any doctor would hear, he has his answer.
Eddie? Venom says after a moment. We should tell Anne.
“Yeah,” Eddie agrees. “We should.”
The knock on the door comes a short while later. It’s no surprise when Eddie opens it to see Anne’s apologetic face, but the visit is welcome.
“Eddie, sorry, I think I left Dan’s bag behind. He asked me to bring some stuff to the hospital.”
“I know.” Eddie shrugs, stepping back from the door and glancing at the red duffle he’s left by the kitchen counter. “Texted him about it. Didn’t get a reply.”
“No, he’s in surgery for the next few hours. Needs it for when he gets out.”
“So, you in a hurry?”
She eyes him warily, more confused than she is suspicious, but shakes her head. “No.”
“You wanna come in, then?” Eddie jerks his head to invite her inside. “There’s something I want to show you.”
Anne follows, closing the door behind her, though when she turns back to see Eddie begin tugging his shirt over his head her eyes widen further. “Eddie, what is this?”
Venom echoes her thoughts. Eddie, now what are you doing?
“Just trust me,” he answers them both, then nods towards the couch for them to sit. Anne does, somewhat tentatively, though there’s no way she’s missed Dan’s stethoscope that he’s left on the coffee table by now.
Eddie sits down and turns to face her, drawing a breath. “Remember I told you about how I fought Drake and Riot? How Venom helped me blow up the rocket once they were trapped inside?”
Anne nods, but stays silent, letting him continue.
“There was a moment before that...Venom was apart from me, I was on my own...and Riot drove a piece of metal through my chest.” He shudders, trying to suppress the panic threatening to rise up at the memory, and feels a soothing coolness begin to slick across his ribs. It eases its way between them, wraps around his organs with a protective touch and binds them tight, holding him together.
Anne gasps softly. “Eddie…”
“It almost tore me right in two,” he continues, nearly choking on the words. Venom forces Eddie’s lungs to draw a deep breath as he reaches up to touch his chest, drawing a line down his sternum until he reaches the soft, fleshy part of his abdomen. “Right down here. Spine, heart, lungs, arteries...all shredded. I was dead, Anne. Until Venom came back for me.”
He has to take a moment to gather himself before he can go on. “I don’t know how, but he managed to save me. If you look at my chest you can’t even see the marks, but they’re still there.” He reaches towards her, gestures for her hand, and with a nervous nod she lets him take it.
Eddie pulls her hand to his chest, wrapping both of his around it as he lets her feel for herself the ridge of hardness beneath his skin where the bone has been imperfectly repaired. “Here. This is what I wanted to show you.”
He watches her mouth fall open, a look of horror flitting over her face as realisation dawns on her. “This was—?”
“Split open,” Eddie confirms with a solemn nod. “He fixed me. I don’t just owe Venom for saving the world. I owe him my life.”
She stares at him a moment longer, and he thinks he can feel her hand trembling. “I’m so sorry, Eddie,” Anne mutters. “I didn’t realise. After all that, losing him must have been so hard…”
“Annie.” He cuts her off gently, but gives a firm press of her hand to his chest. “Can you feel it?”
She frowns, but meets his eyes, carefully considering her answer as his heart taps against her palm. “I can feel your heartbeat.”
“Should there be something else?”
Abruptly, he lets go, allowing her hand to fall from his chest as he reaches for the stethoscope still lying on the coffee table. Eddie holds it out towards her. “Here. Listen.”
Anne licks her lips, confused and uncertain as she eyes the instrument warily. “I know your heartbeat, Eddie. Fell asleep to the sound of it enough times.”
“I know. But my heart isn’t yours anymore.”
A beat. Eyes flicker down. “No.”
Eddie nudges the stethoscope towards her once again. “I’m not asking you to take it back.”
Anne eyes the instrument in his hand, considering, and then accepts. She fits the tips in her ears, and it’s obvious this isn’t the first time she’s used it as she taps the diaphragm and shuffles closer before pressing it to his chest.
Eddie sits still, breathing slowly, and lets her listen.
At first, Anne frowns, deep concentration etched onto her features as she focuses on the sound of his heart, stronger than she’d expected, reassuring herself he’s alive, and whole, and not dead like he’s just confessed to having briefly been. Then her expression changes. Eddie can pinpoint the moment she hears it: that slick, wet sound trickling through his lungs, seeping between his ribs and the fibers of his intercostal muscles until it wraps around his heart, squelching and clenching with each beat.
Anne’s eyes widen.
“Eddie, is that…?”
He nods. “Didn’t know myself until a couple of weeks after it went down; realised he was still there. Nearly have me a heart attack. Been waiting for the right time to tell you, but I’m not sure I’d even know it when it comes, so.” He shrugs lamely, an attempt to mask his nerves as he watches her face and hopes she isn’t mad.
Slowly, Anne takes the stethoscope out of her ears and sets it to one side. Her movements are deliberate; controlled.
Eddie, is she angry with us?
Eddie doesn’t know. He can’t answer. A moment later, he doesn’t need to.
Anne stares at him, expression all at once showing anguish and shock and relief, and then she abandons all restraint and leans in to wrap her arms tight around him. “ Eddie ...”
Her hands burn against his bare skin, breath hot on his neck, and Eddie closes his eyes. He buries his face in her hair, melting into the embrace as he breathes her in, and aches. Tendrils of black ripple unseen along his forearms and web between his fingers to only hold her tighter.
Anne sighs, turning her head to whisper with a warm breath in his ear. “Thank you.”
Eddie doesn’t try to hold back the tear that slips down his cheek. He knows the words aren’t meant for him.