Eddie falls asleep within minutes of his head hitting the pillow, which itself comes within minutes of him rapidly devouring the bowl of chicken soup Anne had prepared and brought to him, shivering and blanket-wrapped, in bed. Whether that was down to Venom’s hunger or his own virus-induced appetite, Anne isn’t entirely sure, but she perches herself on the mattress beside him and watches as he falls into an uneasy sleep. His breathing seems strained, rasping, and his skin is flushed red beneath the inky black slime gradually spreading its way across it.
With Eddie fast approaching unconsciousness, Venom is making his presence known. He fans out behind Eddie’s back before easing over the contours of Eddie’s body in a slick, glossy shell, his roots taking anchor deep in Eddie’s insides. A bulbous head begins to form some inches above Eddie’s right shoulder, hovering on a coiled tendril, where it grows to the size of a cantaloupe before sprouting eyes and teeth and turning to fix Anne with its stare.
“You can leave now,” Venom’s voice rumbles out loud. “We will take care of Eddie.”
Anne purses her lips. True, it wouldn’t quite be the same as leaving Eddie on his own, but nor is it quite the same as leaving him in the care of a responsible adult. “I’d feel better about it if I stayed.”
“You are not needed here. We can help ease the symptoms and fight the infection. Do you not have to get back to Dan?”
“He’s on call at work. Gonna let me know when he gets off.” Those warped white eyes are always gonna look threatening in most forms, but right now, Anne’s certain they seem almost hostile. “You don’t want me here, do you?”
“It hurts Eddie to remember how you used to take care of him before. We will take care of him now. You broke his heart.”
Anne juts out her chin. “That was his own doing. Wouldn’t have had to had he never broken mine first. Besides--” She fixes the symbiote with a hard stare. “Even if I broke his heart, you ate it.”
Indignant, a wave of tension ripples across the symbiote’s inky black surface, spikes forming across its contours like ferrofluid provoked by a magnet. “We were in a new host. We were hungry and needed to feed. I repaired it after.”
“What makes you think I can’t do the same? He isn’t going to miss me forever. I still care about him. I’m still his friend.”
There’s a beat, Venom considering her words. He ripples again, black ridges smoothing over Eddie’s body, tension easing. “You are our friend?”
“Yeah, I’m both your friends if you want, you weird gooey parasite.”
If he’d been coming around, that word makes him bristle. Literally. Anne watches as a ridge of black crests around Venom’s eyes before rippling out along his back. “We are not a parasite!”
“Alright then. You’re a co-pilot in a body not your own, whatever that makes you. But you’re taking care of someone who means a lot to me, so I guess that makes you a friend.”
He doesn’t object to that, so she takes it his attention has turned to focus entirely on helping make Eddie more comfortable. Watching her former lover closely, Anne sees his breaths are gradually deepening, the rasping growing fainter as Venom works to clear his airways.
Anne shifts her position on the mattress and turns her attention to Eddie’s face. Her expression is tender as she reaches out to brush strands of sweat-damp hair back from his forehead, focusing on the sounds of his breathing, the burning heat of his skin.
“He’s burning up.”
“We are doing our best.”
A tendril of black creeps out to caress her fingers, his touch pleasantly cool on her skin. Gradually, she watches the red flush on Eddie’s face fade to a healthier tone, the cooling influence of the symbiote clinging to him soothing the fever.
Memories dance through her mind, old illnesses and bedside vigils, sometimes with the roles reversed, and the tiniest of smiles curves on her lips. I do still love him, she thinks. Forgive him, even, but I’m not in love. And that’s okay. He’ll be fine without me now.
The more she watches Venom, right now draped protectively over Eddie’s body like a sentient blanket, the more certain of that she becomes. He’s a dry ice bath cooling the fever; a molten iron lung carefully pacing Eddie’s breathing with gentle, rhythmic compressions of his chest. Black webbing clings almost tenderly to the sides of Eddie’s face and throat, quivering with his pulse, and Anne wonders if Venom is simply monitoring Eddie’s heartbeat or controlling it.
Either way, Eddie seems more at ease than he had minutes ago. She’s certain now that Venom’s interest in keeping Eddie healthy and comfortable is far more than simply maintaining his host.
Heaving a sigh, Anne pulls up her legs onto the bed and begins to lower her upper body down onto the mattress, deciding she may as well settle down while she’s here. Her head comes to rest on the pillow beside Eddie’s, close enough to feel his his breath on her face, and she reaches up a hand to clasp his where it grips the sheets. Spindly fingers of black tingle as they creep across her skin and entangle themselves with both Eddie’s and hers.
Anne listens to the steady cadence of Eddie’s breathing, squeezes his hand beneath the web of black holding them both, and shuts her eyes.
It’s just under two hours later when the text from Dan comes, phone buzzing and jolting her awake with a start. Her eyes crack open blearily, immediately trying to focus on Eddie’s face, but to her relief it it seems he hasn’t been disturbed. Venom doesn’t appear to be paying attention to her either, his head retreated and perhaps asleep himself as Anne climbs stiffly off the bed, getting no response to her muttered, “Guess I should get going now.”
Smoothing her clothes, she turns to look Eddie over one final time, still asleep wrapped in Venom’s black embrace. Part of her is aware that the image of that—a man draped in alien black tar near smothering him like a cocoon—should look wrong or horrifying to her, but all she can think is how peaceful they both seem.
On impulse, Anne leans in, her lips brushing of the exposed skin of Eddie’s forehead in a gesture that makes her ache with the familiarity. The kiss is tender, and chaste, and she lets it linger longer than she should.
When she at last pulls back, movement from the presumed unconscious man beneath her catches her off guard. There’s the scrape of skin and symbiote sliding over sheets, and then her hand is grasped weakly in Eddie’s, his tired eyes cracked open. “Annie.” His voice is quiet and hoarse, but sincere. “Thanks for staying.”
Her stomach flips over, wondering how long he’s been awake or if the kiss hand been what stirred him, but she decides it doesn’t matter. He knows what it means. “No problem.”
Again, Anne lets her gaze rest on Venom, still wrapped around Eddie’s body in what’s practically a cuddle as tender as her own, and she smiles. “Looks like I’m leaving you in safe hands.”