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After the third time a girlfriend gives him the it’s not you it’s me speech Dan gets it. He’s the romantic roadblock. He’s the perfectly serviceable love interest with the good job and steady habits that Reese Witherspoon leaves for the damaged but sensitive bad boy.  He turns this theory over in his mind as he assures Andrea that there is no hard feelings and yes they can still get coffee. 

Dan watches from the window as Andrea fleas with an awkward goodbye, balancing the last bag of her things on the back a motorcycle idling in the street. A motorcycle driven by a man he swears Andi had introduced him to as her dentist.

After a month of wallowing on the couch with only Andi’s wilting ficus for company he gives the ruminating on the third wheel theory a rest. It’s getting worryingly like the kind of reddit posts his cousin shares on Facebook. Resolved to not care about his clear unlovability and inevitability of his lonely lonely death he moves the plant to the windowsill where it joins a cacti in a novelty holder and mournful peace lily, similar refuges from previous breakups.

Oh well, Dan thinks water sprayer in hand, At least he has his work to keep his mind off it.

Nothing like an eight-hour graveyard shift to get your mind off your love life. Any thoughts of that are subsumed by the waves and waves of patients coming into the A&E, his mind occupied by fixing the pain of others with only the constant desire for coffee and a nap under the surface.

He’s six hours in when Anne Weying enters his life with a bloody glass filled hand and a sheepish expression.

“I don’t have anger issues.” She insists as Dan tweezers out the smaller shards.  Her unwavering stare at his tie is making him self-conscious, even though he knows she’s only looking away from the blood despite the numbing effects of the painkillers.

She continues addressing her explanation to the cream of tomato stain Dan is sure is left on his tie from lunch. “I just had shelves to put up and the man in my life is no help.”

The part of Dan that hadn’t stopped noticing Anne wilted like the ficus at this inference, “Boyfriend?”

“No, Cat.” She winces as a particularly tricky sliver is removed. “That was a joke.”

“Sorry.”

She finally meets his eyes to wave away his apology with the hand not cradled in his. “It’s fine there was a boyfriend, which wasn’t fine but… anyway. Good at holding up shelves, Bad for the stability of my livelihood. And the two did not cancel each other out, so..”

Anne waves with her free hand to encompass the point even as it evaporates from her fuzzy mind. “How good are you at putting up shelves?”

The next evening Anne opens the door to her apartment with a stunned expression taking Dan and the bag of take out he now realised was more the drugs request than hers.

“You’re actually that genuine.” Anne smiles as he holds the shelf in place, as she hammers in the nails. He tells her they’re a good team and it’s the first time he hears her laugh. He desperately doesn’t want it to be the last.

Heart in his throat, he presses his advantage and Chinese takeout on the sofa on Monday becomes, drinks after work on Friday and Dinner out on Wednesday.

“So he breaks into my laptop,” Anne explains, refilling their wine glasses, “and looks at…”

She stops suddenly, a sudden thought written across her face.

“What’s wrong?” Dan asked, worrying that the rules of comedy probably mean Anne’s seen Eddie across the room or something.

“I just…” She sighs, “I’m actually really sick of telling that story.”

“I don’t mind.” Dan assures her, risking a hand squeeze. “I mean I am kinda curious.”

She rolls her eyes but she’s smiling again. “I feel like I’m reliving the whole thing over and over every time I tell it.  I don’t want it to affect us.”

Emboldened by the concept of an Us, Dan’s takes both of Anne’s hands in his, “If It’s affecting you, it’s affecting me. I want to hear it.”

Later that night, with Anne draped across his shoulders as they slept, jealousy is the furthest thing from Dan’s mind.

-

Remaining neutral about Eddie Brock was much easier in principle when he’s the unseen ex of your girlfriend, a little harder in practise when you’ve helped him through the worst week of his life.

“Pay up.” Anne flops down next to him on the couch two months later. They’re still fishing bits of the Life Foundation Rocket out of the Pacific, but no evil or chaotic neutral ex-terrestrial goo has been recovered. Supposedly.

Dan fishes the promised $20 out of his wallet, “He finally told you.”

 “Kind of hard to hide when he hulked out at a pickpocket at lunch.” Anne smirks.

“Does hulked out work as a verb in this situation?” Dan mused, letting Anne settle against his chest, “Venomed out? Symbioted out?”

She laughs, Dan never feels that little thrill of pride when he makes anyone else laugh like Anne.

“I do feel a little bad.” Anne admits, “They really thought they were keeping it secret.”

“That whole turkey he ate last week was subtle?”

“I could not keep a straight face,” Anne grins, “I’m glad it’s out in the open now. He says he’s doing okay.”

Dan hums in agreement, looking up as Anne falls into a sheepish silence. “What.”

“You can say no,” She prefaces hurriedly, “but I suggested they might want to get checked out, to make sure Eddie’s brain is back to baseline.”

Dan nods slowly, “Okay.”

“No pressure, I don’t even think they they’ll take the offer. At least Venom won’t want to.”

“It’s fine, I’ll send him a message.” Dan grabs his phone from the stack of legal and medical paperwork littering their new coffee table.

“Are you sure?” Anne asks, the guilty tone still there, “I don’t want to make things awkward for you?”

“Why would they be awkward?” Dan insists, typing a perfectly neutral offer of assistance to Eddies phone, promising no loud MRIs this time. Another loaded silence has him looking up at Anne’s incredulous raised eyebrows.

“What?”

“You know what you’re like.” Anne says letting her voice drop in an unflattering imitation, “Hey buddy. How ‘you doing, mate.”

“I’m not that bad.” Dan swore as Anne laughs at his horrified expression. “I’m not.”

“You do give off EVERYTHING IS FINE DON’T BE JELOUS vibes.” Anne observes.

“You’d rather I was all Alpha Male with him.” Dan sends the message with a sharp thumb press.

Anne kisses him on the cheek placatingly, “I’m only teasing.”

“I know.” Dan admits, “I hate being the jealous ex, it’s pathetic.”

“You’re only human,” Anne offers, “What a shock.”  

“It’s stupid that I feel that I need to compete.” Dan confesses, trying to quell the desire to pull Anne closer.

Anne snuggles closer anyway, “Very stupid. It’s not like I could compete with a shapeshifting alien anyway.”

The confusion Dan feels at this statement must manifest verbally as Anne turns around in the circle of his arms to face him. “I forget you’ve never heard Venom talk. Get Eddie to have that check-up and you’ll see what I mean.” She promises.

The subject is dropped in favour of discussing their respective caseloads, but the idea of the human/symbiote relationship still turns in the back of Dan’s mind.

-

The symbiote has been staring at Dan since emerging from under Eddie’s skin. It was hard to explain the non-invasive I promise CT scan with those unblinking eyes undulating in the corner of his vision. 

“So, no noise?” Eddie asks suspiciously.

When he first met Eddie, the shifty nature was kind of expected. And as Anne was so fond of pointing out, Dan’s own forced demeanour of friendliness probably hadn’t helped. But as Dan had got to know Eddie he realised that he always a little wary. Bearing in mind his profession, a little paranoia coupled with the awkward connection between them was to be expected. This was different. Eddie was concerned in a prickly protective kind of was. Dan hoped that protectiveness extends to the integrity of his jugular.

Dan recalls the violent screams the last time they’d been in the MRI suite and tamps down on a shudder.

“A little noisy,” he admits “But nothing as bad as before.”

Venom eyes Dan with suspicion at that, despite the reassuring hand Eddie places on the top of his symbiotes head.

“It’s fine, we’re doing this.” Eddie insists with a vehemence that takes Dan aback, before he works out it’s not directed at him.

With one last uncertain glare at Dan, Venom settles beneath Eddie’s skin. The black ink is still visible this time however and Dan can’t help marvelling at the strange beauty of the undulating ink across Eddie collarbones and arms. 

“It’s okay.” Dan conciliates as he watches Eddie get into the larger tube of the CT scan, “I did hurt him last time.”

“Hurt us.” Eddie mutters, before seeming to catch himself with a disconcerted look at Dan. “We’re on edge.” He admits.

Before thinking better of it Dan gives Eddie a friendly pat on the arm as he settles into the machine. He scuttles back behind the glass so neither of them has to comment on that. Dan still thinks he can hear a scalded angry hiss before he closes the door to the radiography room. 

With secrecy paramount, Dan is operating the machine solo. He almost wishes he wasn’t alone, someone else he could turn to, to confirm that yes this is completely mad. He wishes Anne were here.

Eddie mutters quietly to himself in the scanner, quiet little assurances that Dan is glad the microphone can’t pick up.  Dan can see how stiffly he’s holding himself through the window, his fists clenched against the side of the bed. Dan’s glad Venom isn’t moving either, he doesn’t want to have to do this again.

During the last pass of the scanner there’s a shift in the pitch. Something Dan can’t detect but that causes two unearthly shrieks to emanate from the tube. Dan is hitting the dead switch seconds before a mass of black hurls itself against the glass. The surface rippling as it barely holds against the weight.  He running to open the door, nothing but fear for the safety of his patient at front of his mind.

“STAY BACK.” Eddie’s face emerges briefly from the mass of black before it’s dragged back into the snarling roar of agony. Dan closes the door, impotently left staring at the heaving form on the floor of the suite. Flashes of pale skin and tattered clothing are visible for brief seconds before becoming a part of the ever-writhing mass.

Slowly a softer voice of calm can be heard within as Eddie slowly becomes more visible. He’s curled into a fetal position on the floor. His skin is still wreathed in black, from his position Dan can’t see the bulbous head that would usually appear, the symbiote communicating its pain through constant skin touching rather than words.

With better control of his limbs Eddie un-curls as he rubs at his chest, soothing the skin over his heart where the thickest slick of black congregates.  Eddie’s thumb brushes against the pulse point in his neck. Black tendrils detaching from the mass to wrap against the errant digit. The naked emotion on Eddie’s face brings heat to Dan’s checks in the way he isn’t capable to dissect right now. He busies himself with the scans still compiling on the screen.

Finally, Eddie emerges from the room his face still pale and with the mass of Venom still wrapped around his chest.

“I’m so sorry.” Dan pleads, “I had no idea that would...”

Vemon’s head emerges over Eddie’s shoulder stealing the words from his mouth. Dan has no idea how but the symbiote can looks exhausted, only baring his teeth a little at Dan.

Eddie just huffs looking equally as drawn, “What did you find?”

On firmer ground with the medical data Dan ushers them towards the monitors.

“Here’s your brain from the, uhh, from when you first joined,” he pulls up the MRI file, trying to not to look into either set of eyes. Now he really wishes Anne was here. “And here’s a scan from 5 years before.”

“Concussion.” Eddie murmurs in answer to a non-verbal question, “Security at the Saudi embassy left me needing three stitches in my head.”

Out of the corner of his eye Dan sees a tendril slide tenderly along Eddies scalp. Dan busied himself with putting two images side by side. The difference was stark despite the unclear quality of the MRI’s taken at the time. Starbursts of colour litter the brain in a pattern even Dan as the trained medic has trouble deciphering. The whole thing resembles the worlds easiest spot the difference puzzle.

Eddie whistled low, his reticence forgotten as he drew closer to Dan to look at the screen. “That’s...?”

“Yeah that’s the areas of the brain where we first saw Venom.”

Eddie turned to Dan, the earlier anger pushed aside as he gestures excitedly towards the monitor. “And now.”

Fingers shaking a little, Dan brings up the most recent image hearing two echoing draws of breath. The bright spots of colour are still present but this time they are symmetrically placed, equally distributed throughout every lobe of Eddie Brocks brain. 

“The symbiote is fully integrated into every facet of your brain.” Dan explains, “Not just monitoring but improving, look.”

He points to a brighter section, “Your producing phenethylamine at higher rates.”

“It’s what the symbiote feeds from.” Eddie says his eyes not leaving the screen. The symbiotes eyes are equally unwavering.

“Is it the same with the dopamine?” Dan asks.

Eddie turns, caught off guard, “Umm.”

“Your production is much higher I thought perhaps…” some flight of flight response pings in Dan’s subconscious as he notices Venom smirking nastily at him, Eddie is blushing.

“It’s nothing to worry about.” He persists, cursing himself. “It’s great in fact. Congratulations.”

The smirk gets wider at Dan’s panic. Eddie sighs, “Please stop.”

“Sorry.” Dan says.

“Not you.”

“Ah.”

They mutually turn to look back at the screen in the hope of ending the moment.

“Fully integrated.” Eddie murmurs, his fingers absently soothing the skin across his heart.

“It’s incredible.” Dan offers.

It’s beautiful.” A deeper voice purrs.

Both Dan and Eddie stare at the symbiont’s head where using its shoulder vantage point to watch the screen. “It’s Us.”

-

A few months later and Dan is just coming out of surgery. He’s still on the weird precipice between adrenaline and exhaustion that doctors live and thrive in. The anaesthesiologist passes him with a tired smile of her own. The patient will live, that’s all that matters.

Dan heads to his lockers thinking of nothing but his bed and Anne. He barely glances at his phone before he’s running, sprinting down the hall as he reads the news alerts, missed calls and, most importantly, his most recent messages. He slams into a supposedly empty consulting room taking in the chaos.

The tables and their contents have been thrown across the room. One of the florescent lights has been pulled from its ceiling socket. Lying beside a hole in the window two figures are half lit. A slim female and the writhing hulking mass of black she is desperately trying to calm.  Anne is up in an instant striding towards him pulling him into a bone crushing hug. There’s a cut on her forehead and she’s lost the blazer she’s been wearing the last time he’d kissed her goodbye at the court house only this morning.

“I was in surgery.” He explains savouring her nearness. “I only just heard. San Quentin?”

“Cletus Kasady.” Anne spits. It’s a madhouse on the streets. They got most of the escaped prisoners back but he’s still…”

She bits her lip looking up at Dan with devastation in her eyes, “Venom tried to fight him but Kasady has a symbiote of his own.”

Carnage.”

 Venom is crouched on the floor. The lustre of inky skin dull in the lone florescent bulb. He looks up at Dan and Anne something broken in his eyes. “They were Mine once. Now that is no more they want to take what has filled their place.”

The mass at the centre of Venom’s torso shifts to reveal Eddie’s face lax and unresponsive. Dan, not heading the teeth and claws of the symbiote rushes to Eddies side.

“He’s not breathing.” Anne whispers.

He lives.” Venom insists. Dan reaches down to try and find a pulse.  

“I checked.” Anne joins him, her hands reaching and retracting in abortive helplessness.

Do not tell me what we feel.” Venom roared. “We hold Eddie Brock's heartbeat within this organism. We hold the blood in his veins, the breath in his lungs, the synapses in his brain. If Eddie dies we die.

Dan can feel it. it’s faint very faint, but it’s there. He looks up at Venom, “You’re palpating his heart.”

If he dies there is no we.” Venom snarls, “There is Venom or there is nothing.”

Anne sees Dan’s face and knows. Outside a scream heralds something exploding.

“What do you need?” Anne asks.

“Stay with him.” Dan shouts already out the door. The minutes it takes to find what he needs are torture, his hands sweaty against the door of the storage room. Someone has a TV on in the office next door, transmitting a distorted deafening roar, a sound no earthly equipment can handle. Concentrating only on his task, He’s back at Anne’s side. Venom has shifted around Eddie to allow Anne to remove his shirt. The symbiote is still adhering to his pale skin. Pulsating against the skin of his ribcage.

“You need to hold him steady.” He tells Anne. She nods, determined.

“I need to get to his heart.” He tells Venom. The symbiote growls.

Dan uncaps the Adrenaline shot. “It needs to go in his bloodstream and into his brain.”

Venom says nothing, the mass of ink seems to thicken. Dan wonders if the needle could penetrate it.

You will not hurt Us.” Venom snarled. “Not again.”

“I’m trying to save your life.” Dan counters, “you have to trust me.”

“Venom. You trust me.” Anne says, her hand resting on Dan’s, “Then you have to trust Us.”

The Venom shifted giving Dan access, “Straight to the brain.” He reminds the symbiote.

He looks to Anne where she’s bracing Eddie’s shoulders. Dan takes a deep breath and stabs the needle in.

Eddie is struggling instantaneously, thrashing under Anne.

“..enom.”

EDDIE!”

Eddie’s hand flails in the air until it finds Venom’s clawed one. The limbs merge before grabbing at their chest. Anne is weeping silently as she falls against Dan who feels as equally drained.

We could not protect you Eddie, we failed you, we…”

Eddie pressed his forehead to Venom’s rubbing his spare hand against its alien cheek. “It’s okay Love, we’re here we’re safe.”

He catches sight of Dan and Anne. “Thank you.” He breathes as Venom envelopes him fully.

Another explosion, close enough to shake the hospitals foundations, flickers the light.  The creature stands to his full height, scenting the air with a long, wicked tongue.

They’re coming for us.” Venom states, the thrill of the hunt returning the fire to their eyes.

“You need to get him away from the hospital.” Anne orders.

Venom hums in agreement. “If they come here?

“We’ll evacuate.” Dan replies.

“Go!” Anne shouts.  

Venom smashes the window with a roar and becomes one with the night. Anne watches him go, worrying her bottom lip.

“You could go with him.” Dan offers. “He shouldn’t be alone.”

Anne looks at him fondly and gives an exasperated little laugh.

“Oh,” Dan says, remembering a conversation long ago, “He’s not alone, is he?”

-

They watch the sun come together over cups of coffee gone long cold and the 24 news channel on mute. Anne drifts in and out of sleep, the weak sunlight illuminating her face as it burns through the fog. She awakens in time to watch the blurry news helicopter footage of the dark humanoid shape throw Kasady’s battered body into the back of an army truck.

Anne moves to the window to watch the city finally release its breath and Dan makes a fresh pot of coffee.

“I think I’ve gotten over my jealousy.”

Anne laughs, just like he hoped she would. They share a tired smile as he passes over a cup, fingers brushing companionably.

“I used to think.” Dan continues joining her at the window. “That I was one of those rom-com characters that that the protagonist always leaves to pursue their true love by the end of the movie.”

Anne snorts, “You idiot, did you really think that.” and then pauses. “Oh God that’s me for Eddie isn’t it.”

Dan grins. There’s a pane of glass in the corners that's just a shade darker that the others. A pane the size of a woman’s fist. He takes Anne’s hand. “He ended his pursuit of you for the love of a violent alien fugitive.”

“At least I have you as consolation.” Anne agrees resting her head against his chest. “Even if you’re not my perfect genetic symbiotic match.”

“I can put up shelves though.” Dan says leaning down to kiss her.

When they look up the street is no longer empty. Eddie is waving at them sheepishly with hand slicked in black claws. A pair of white intelligent eyes peep out from over his shoulder. Anne waves back and goes to buzz them up. Dan absentmindedly plays with the leaves of the ficus plant. It’s now flourishing in its new home.

He turns to smiles at his friends, “Hey buddies. How ‘you doing?”