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“YOU’RE A LOSER, EDDIE,” says the disembodied head floating in front of him, and a familiar feeling suddenly overrides Eddie’s terror. It can best be summed up as: are you fucking kidding me?

Because hell, he just got through weeks of his boss, his girlfriend, and seemingly the entire universe telling him that. Not to mention himself, after a miserable while. Helping Dr. Skirth was supposed to be a step in the right direction. He wasn’t so presumptuous as to believe he could fix anything, but he thought maybe he could at least begin to move forward. Now Maria is dead, Skirth might be dead too, Carlton Drake’s out to kill him, Eddie got possessed by a goddamn Eldritch abomination—and this is what it tells him?

Hell. Maybe he’s actually having a very normal day. Just the continuation of his trainwreck of a life.

It’s objectively an insane thought, but it punctures his panic attack. The monster’s just staring at him now, all nightmare teeth and glistening goo and huge milky eyes. Venom. Somehow, Eddie’s stuck on that name. It just feels so—unnecessary, like it’s compensating for something. That thing’s already an oozing nightmare. At a certain point the edgy names and growled threats start to feel like overkill.

The buoy bobs gently in the dark water. Eddie catches his breath. The alien’s waiting for him to talk. It saved Eddie’s life. Several times over. And Eddie said thank you, because he couldn’t afford to stay traumatized by every single near-death experience after five uninterrupted minutes of them. Shock cancels itself out, leaving only the absurd urge to play it cool.

“You... you gonna eat anybody else?” Eddie finally tries.

“MOST LIKELY.”

All right, fine, the fear isn’t gone; all Eddie’s doing is turning his back to it. But that’s a goddamn start.

 

*

 

His terror levels take another lurching dive a few hours later, when Anne calls him and the parasite perks up. WHO IS ANNE? YOUR PULSE HAS QUICKENED.

And there goes Eddie, stuck on a detail again; it’s the reporter in him, he knows, always looking for the catch in the story. Hold on, hold on. Didn’t that thing just say that it was in Eddie’s brain? That it knew everything about him? Strong words, but if it doesn’t even know who Anne is—she’d be hard to miss, front and center of Eddie’s mind at any given time—then the alien’s full of shit. 

Which is why Eddie says: “That is none of your goddamn business.”

Part of him braces for retaliation, but the monster doesn’t hurt him. Instead, it gets hurt. EVERYTHING OF YOURS IS MY BUSINESS, EDDIE, it protests. WE HAVE NO SECRETS!

Eddie almost says something about possessive girlfriends, but keeps his mouth shut at the last minute. This thing might just take it literally, and then where would he be? Although, maybe that’d distract it from its insane rocket-based world domination plans.

Because of who he is as a person, Eddie tries pushing again. “Yeah, well then you know exactly why I’m going here before we get to your rocket.”

SURE. I'M NOT UNREASONABLE.

Monsters usually are, but Eddie’s not about to point it out. Better leave the catch in this story alone for now.

 

*

 

As he gets to his old workplace, Eddie’s mind is still generally frantic, but he also seems to be having a permanent out-of-body experience that allows him to wave at his trauma from a distance. The reporter in him, who’s having a field day at this point, notes that it’s been almost twelve hours now and the thing—Venom, since that is its ludicrous name—still hasn’t killed him.

In fact, it’s being more and more accommodating.  When Eddie fails to get past security and the parasite offers to eat the guard’s brain, all Eddie has to do is yell and it hurriedly backs off. It makes no other attempts to hurt anyone as Eddie backs out of the lobby. It’s almost sheepish, fretting at the edge of Eddie’s consciousness.

It’s like this thing doesn’t actually know what it’s doing, either, and struggles to maintain its monster-posturing. Or hell, maybe it’s not even trying anymore, because as soon as Eddie helplessly looks up at the building, there’s a rumble in his brain.

YOU WANT UP?  WELL, WHY DIDN'T YOU JUST SAY?

And the next thing Eddie knows, he’s in his former boss’s office, standing on a carpet of broken glass, panting but unscathed.

There’s no denying anymore that Venom is actively trying to make itself useful. Eddie thinks back on how offended it got at being called a parasite, and remembers Skirth calling it symbiosis. Either way: it means Venom needs Eddie, like a guy that’s down on his luck needs a couch to crash on. And it’s doing everything it can to make itself agreeable.

“YOUR WORLD ISN’T SO BAD,” it remarks, looking around the room before retreating inside Eddie again. And sure, San Francisco at night makes for a nice view, as long as you’re not afraid of heights. Which Eddie still very much is, alien symbiote notwithstanding. That climb didn’t do his shocked system any good.

“You’re gonna get me killed,” he mutters, grabbing a pen with shaking fingers.

YOU DIE, I DIE, Venom growls.

In a way, that’s the most reassuring thing Eddie’s heard all day, but it’s not even his priority right now. Do the right thing, he scrawls on the notepad—and then, remembering they can’t fire him a second time, he adds SHITHEAD in block letters. Then slaps his phone on the table.

There. He doesn’t know what’s going to happen to him now, but at least he got the proof out. He did his job as a reporter.

JUMP? Venom offers when Eddie starts looking around for the exit.

He’d rather not. Of course the alien has some choice things to say about that, too.

 

*

 

They team up with real intent for the first time not five minutes later, against yet another bunch of armored men trying to reduce Eddie to a smoking pile of ashes. Venom is delighted at how they mirrored the Mask! Copy! thing and how cool it looked. No wonder it picked such a desperately adolescent name. It’s so… It’s trying so hard to make itself important. It’s so very much like Eddie himself that way.

Eddie shouldn’t think like that, shouldn’t humanize it, but it’s getting harder to remember.

When Anne steps around the corner, all of Eddie's fear crashes down onto him again. When he begs her to help him—he shouldn't, he's dangerous, but he's so scared he can't help himself—she does, inexplicably, damn near manhandling him to her car instead of getting the hell away from him. Venom purrs I LIKE HER and flat-out starts giving him relationship advice. The worst part is that it’s very sensible: Eddie should have apologized a long time ago, instead of waiting around for an alien parasite to point it out to him. He feels like complete shit when Anne waves his concerns away. She’s so worried for him. 

It makes Eddie feels more vulnerable than when he was all alone and thinking the world was against him. He has to meekly ask before he allows himself to borrow Dan’s sweater. He barely feels warmer with it on. What he tells Anne when she asks is true—he’s not in pain, but he’s shaking and cold and exhausted, and he doesn’t feel so good about himself.

That fragile state of mind follows him into the hospital, where Dan’s waiting for them and keeps being absurdly nice to Eddie. In those circumstances, hearing that Venom’s been killing him after all—it’s not great.

THAT’S NOT TRUE! Venom protests in his head, increasingly frantic—it can probably feel Eddie’s mounting anger, his betrayal. THEY’RE WRONG! I CAN HEAL YOU! THEY DON’T UNDERSTAND US!

It shrieks when Anne expels it out of Eddie’s body—because Venom just told Eddie how to do that. It trusted him completely; didn’t even imagine Eddie might use those confessions as a weapon, didn’t even realize why he was on his way to the hospital in the first place. But Venom was also killing him, and feeling cheated is so fucking stupid, but Eddie’s not thinking clearly. And he won’t ever think clearly anymore, because he’s dying. Already his body feels wrong in a terminal way. Atrophied heart, Dan said.

It’s only much later, after everything’s over, that Eddie remembers that detail and snorts at the irony.

 

*

 

Days after the failed Life Foundation launch, Eddie’s still checking every two minutes that Venom’s alive. He felt it shrivel and burn inside him, dwindling almost to nothing, and he spent a miserable night sitting on his couch, holding a vigil, waiting for death to come inside his living body. But then instead of giving out, the flecks of Venom took root again and grew. It spoke again, just as dawn came, a few tired words to ask Eddie why he was crying.

“You still here?” Eddie mumbles, so quiet he almost can’t hear himself over the shower.

The answer rumbles into his bones. OF COURSE.

He exhales and shuts off the water, stepping out to grab a towel. “And you’re okay, right?”

AS LONG AS I’M INSIDE YOU, I WILL ALWAYS HEAL.

Eddie clears his throat a bit too loudly. He’s used that same phrasing, himself, talking about it with Anne the day before. Inside you. And they were both quick to look away.

Venom feels him thinking about that conversation and perks up. WE KISSED YOU, EDDIE. IN THE FOREST. THAT WAS NICE.

“Shouldn’t have,” Eddie mutters. “She’s with Dan, you know. And she’s made it pretty clear she doesn’t… And—and Dan, he’s a nice guy. Deserves good things.”

YOU TOO, EDDIE. Venom oozes out just enough to wrap around him from behind, tendrils lacing around his arms and waist. It feels so bizarrely good—warm and enveloping like a mud bath.

“Thanks,” Eddie murmurs. Venom’s alarming tongue licks up his cheek as if to get a taste. “Hey. Could you dial back the—”

He can’t finish that sentence because Venom’s tongue slithers past his lips and brings the whole flowing mass of its face against Eddie’s.

Eddie would call himself an idiot for not seeing that one coming, but he’s got other problems at the moment—namely that he can’t breathe at all; Venom shoving its tongue down his throat is not a goddamn metaphor. But after a few frantic seconds, it becomes obvious that as long as one of them can access oxygen, they’re both fine. Still, even though he’s not technically choking, Eddie’s getting light-headed. He stumbles back until he hits the wall. The oozing warm weight of Venom is plastering itself against his body, and Eddie’s still damp from his shower, and he’s also completely fucking naked against the twisting, squeezing, massaging mass—

“HUH.” Venom unsticks itself and looks down. “WHAT’S HAPPENING TO YOU?”

“Nothing! Just stop, just—stop,” Eddie says, trying to push Venom away even though he knows it’s completely futile. Indeed, Venom’s goo just lets his wrists through and then closes again around them, bringing them together above Eddie’s head.

A tendril slithers down to investigate. “FEELS GOOD, THOUGH.”

“I said stop!” Eddie yells, jerkily pulling his wrists loose. Venom lets him, blinking. “This is—this is—” Going too far, he wants to say, but who the fuck is he kidding? What’s too far anymore?

“WELL, YOU LIKE IT,” Venom retorts, impatiently wrapping up Eddie’s wrists again and going exploring some more.

Eddie knows it’d back off if he yelled again. And yet he… doesn’t seem to be doing that. He's staring, completely frozen except for some reflexive twitching. What is he fucking waiting for? Fuck, but his body has a mind of its own—as if his head wasn’t crowded enough—and it’s been six long, miserably lonely months, and—

“AH,” Venom growls like it’s just put two and two together. “SO THAT’S SEX.”

“Who told you about sex?” Eddie asks, indignant.

“IT’S ON EVERYONE’S MINDS.” Venom licks the side of his face again, hot and slick. “LET’S GIVE IT A SHOT, EDDIE.”

Its whole mass pins Eddie to the wall again. It’s covering him completely this time, pushing his limbs apart until he’s spread-eagled, and its tongue is down Eddie’s throat again, so thick it’s stretching his lips. The black slime suction-molds itself to Eddie’s entire body and rubs down over all strategic spots. Of course, it can feel everything Eddie feels, so it instantly knows where to work him. It’s like being vacuum-sealed inside a sentient full-body massager—one that’s intent on wringing pleasure from him like water from a dish rag.

Eddie tries to struggle, but he’s completely stuck, gagged and blind, it’s everywhere—well, almost—not quite—which is a stupid, stupid thought he can’t keep from crossing his mind, which unfortunately means that it crosses Venom’s mind as well as it sometimes happens. 

OH, it says, THERE, TOO?

And the suctioning mass is swallowed up into Eddie’s ass.

Eddie can’t scream. His mouth is full. Venom goes in deeper, shoves and swells and stretches, and Eddie think he might just fucking die. It’s not like he’s even done this the normal way before. His synapses are bursting like petards in his brain. That plus everything else—it’s too good, as in literally too good, threatening to break his mind, because there’s no corner of his body he can retreat in, all of him prodded, stroked, invaded.

Eddie thinks of someone walking in and seeing this, thinks of how loud they’d screamor maybe just stare in frozen horror at the outlines of his body under the black slime, gradually noticing that it’s moving between his legs, that it’s into his mouth, and maybe they wouldn't want to understand at first but then they'd have to realize that yes, there’s a man under there, and he's been caught by some kind of alien monster that's violating him—

It’s that self-image—the idea of what’s currently happening to him—that acts like the flick of a final switch.

Eddie’s mind explodes, and Venom cries out in shock as his earth-shattering climax washes over them both, the writhing black mass clenching up and twisting like it did in the fire, shriveling and retreating from Eddie’s body in pulsing bursts, along with the tide of his orgasm.

Eddie gasps for breath as soon as the gooey limb slithers out of his throat. His cock’s limp, his ass gaping. He’s shaking so much he wouldn’t be able to stand by himself, but of course Venom’s already wrapping around him again, all aflutter.

“WELL NOW!” Some tendrils are still around his cock, milking him to the last. The rest are just hugging him. “OH, WE SHOULD DO THIS ALL THE TIME, EDDIE.”  

Eddie still can’t talk. Or think. He knows his eyes are too wide.

Venom prods at him. “EDDIE? ARE YOU ALL RIGHT?”

Eddie can’t deal with an alien’s crisis on top of his own right now, so he manages to scrape some of himself together. “Yeah—yeah, love, that was a just—a lot.”

The endearment’s automatic. It’s how he’s always called everyone that’s ever given him an orgasm. If Eddie hadn’t already crossed the line of sanity twenty goddamn times in the past week, this is where he’d go mad. As things are, his state of mind doesn’t change. Which isn’t saying much.

Venom squeezes him tighter, oozing delight and grinning with all its fangs. “AGAIN?”

Oh, God, positive reinforcement was probably not the way to go here.

“Not… right away.” Eddie straightens up on wobbly legs. “Let’s—let’s grab something to eat, all right?”

“IT DID MAKE ME HUNGRY.” Venom retracts entirely into Eddie’s body. I WANT TATER TOTS.

“We got tater tots yesterday,” Eddie mumbles, picking up his abandoned towel. His hands are shaking.

THEN I WANT BRAINS.

“We’ll go round the butcher, see what they’ve got. Let me just—let me just get dressed.”

ALL RIGHT, LOVE, Venom purrs, and quickly slips its head out to flick its tongue at Eddie’s ear.

 

*

 

“Hey, Eddie.” Anne hugs him tight, then pulls back and holds him at arm’s length. “And hi, Venom.”

“What?” Eddie says—but he doesn’t even have time to try and look innocent before Venom pushes right through his face. “HI.”

Anne jerks back, then starts laughing with shock. “Eddie. Oh my God, I knew it.”

“You weren’t supposed to show yourself!” Eddie hisses at his other half.

WHY NOT?

“I don’t know, it’s—” He rubs his face, nervously. “God, look—Annie, you can’t tell anyone, all right?”

“I’m going to pretend you didn’t even say that.” She puts her hand on her hip. “And if you think I’m not telling Dan, you’ve got another thing coming.”

Speaking of Dan, there he is, coming up the stairs with a goddamn bottle of wine. “Eddie, buddy. How’re you feeling?”

“Fine. I…” After everything that’s happened, Eddie doesn’t know what to do with himself in front of Dan. “I’m okay. I mean, well. Venom’s still there.”

Dan and Anne share a knowing glance.

“Well, we figured,” Dan says, sympathetic. “The state your body’s in—you wouldn’t have survived if Venom was gone.”

WE’RE GOOD, Venom rumbles. YOU AND ME, EDDIE. I’LL ALWAYS HEAL YOU, AND YOU’LL ALWAYS HEAL ME.

“Yeah. It’s.” Eddie swallows. “We’re making it work.”

He’s done his best to keep Venom distracted from sex—food’s always the answer, really—but he knows it won’t last forever. He can’t think about it now, though, not in front of Anne and Dan. How they’d look at him if they knew. It’s making his insides shrink with shame. Or maybe that’s just Venom getting bored and starting to digest his liver.

I LIKE ANNE, it offers. AND SHE LIKED HAVING ME INSIDE HER.

“Please, don’t—just—” Eddie mutters, dragging a hand over his face. “This isn’t good dinner conversation, okay?”

Anne’s got a smile playing on her lips. “You all right there, Eddie?”

“It, ah, talks a lot. You know. Very—enthusiastic.” He sighs. “It’s happy to see you.”

“Right back at him.” Anne says him, because she’s used to Venom molding itself after Eddie’s shape. But Eddie’s been bonded to it long enough to know that Venom has no concept of gender. Hell, its species as a whole have no concept of sex.

They’re fast learners, though.

Now Anne’s giving him a look Eddie knows only too well. “I can’t believe you tried to hide that he was still there. Did you really think I wouldn't figure it out?”

"No." That much is true, but—“I... I thought maybe you'd like an out. You’ve done enough for me, Annie, you don’t need—”

“You don’t have headaches anymore, right? Still a bit of fever, maybe?” Dan interjects brightly.

“I’m—I’m good, it’s—oh, there you go, okay,” Eddie says when Dan presses a hand to his forehead. “We’ve stabilized. Really.”

“Sorry.” Dan takes his hand back, still beaming. “You just had us really worried for a while, bud.”

He says us, like he’s in a goddam symbiotic relationship with Anne, and he calls Eddie bud. By all accounts, Eddie shouldn’t be able to stand this guy. But he just helplessly likes him. Likes them both, really, more than he could say. Nobody would have blamed them for getting him arrested, back in that restaurant. Dan’s claims are still echoing in Eddie’s ears. Don’t call the police! He’s my patient, he’s sick! Complete lies, and a huge risk. What kind of man does that for his girlfriend’s unstable ex?

And Anne—she had no qualms breaking up with Eddie when his recklessness hurt her. She had no qualms telling him to his face that his problems were his own fault. And when he was terrified out of his mind, when he didn’t know if he was going insane or dying or both, she had no qualms helping him and very nearly dying herself in the process.

And now, after everything, they’re coming over for dinner, keeping him company, texting, calling, making sure he’s okay. They know about Venom, they knew it was still there, and yet they’re still there, too. They just—care.

“Let’s eat,” Eddie says, clasping his hands and putting on a smile. He can be good company. He owes them that much.

 

*

 

I LIKE THEM, Venom says when they’re gone.

“Me too,” Eddie exhales, closing the door.

He briefly thinks about poor Maria. He liked her, too. Technically, Venom killed her, but it can’t be blamed for that. There are still so many things it needs to learn.

Speaking of which.

Venom’s oozing out again, and steel-strong tendrils are lacing around Eddie’s torso. They’re alone and they’ve just eaten their fill. It’s late at night. Eddie’s pretty much dug his own grave here.

YOU KNOW WHAT I WANT, EDDIE.

Already there’s a limb slithering past his belt. What Venom wants is to sodomize Eddie within an inch of his life so they’ll both go half-mad with pleasure. Eddie’s having trouble breathing, but his cock’s already filling up—and that last part is what really freaks him out.

“Hey—hey, listen,” he says shakily, clutching at the oily black vine across his chest. “Hold on, we should—”

Venom’s head emerges, opens its maw wide, and its tongue slithers out to wrap around Eddie’s throat. “YOU LIKED THE CHOKING,” it says around the pink tendril. “I COULD TRY STRANGLING YOU THIS TIME.”

Eddie’s so hard he could hammer nails. Alien parasite aside, how fucked up is he, exactly?

“Okay, okay, hang on, Venom! We can’t do this again. All right? Can’t,” he says firmly.

“WHY NOT?”

“Because—because it’s wrong,” Eddie laughs, shaky and fake. “Jesus, that shouldn’t be so hard to grasp. Right? We’re different species…”

He trails off. It’s wrong by his standards, his complicated, arbitrary human standards; but the entire principle of Venom’s existence is to fuse with new and unknown species. It’s designed to interlace with its host in all possible ways; for a human, there’s no logical reason it shouldn’t include sex.

But Venom’s already flowing back, eyes wide.

“WRONG?”

Its worry squeezes Eddie’s brain. Fuck, he should have thought this through. Venom doesn’t dissociate sex from the symbiosis. And of course, why would it? It cannot exist without invading Eddie’s body. To its alien mind, drawing a line at what’s technically a lesser form of intimacy is probably absurd.

“IF IT MAKES YOU FEEL GOOD, HOW CAN IT BE WRONG?”

Oh boy. That’s a whole other can.

“It’s—it’s just a lot,” Eddie says lamely. “Like I said last time. A lot.”

“BUT. YOU SAID. LOVE.” Venom’s getting agitated, bubbling around Eddie’s body like an anxious gooey scarf. “MY LOVE.”

Eddie feels very much like a loser right now. “I—well—look, the way I said it—”

“I’M NOT A PARASITE, EDDIE!” There’s a frantic edge to its anger. “I’M NOT!”

And suddenly Eddie can’t stand it anymore. “No, I know, hey—I’m sorry, love, I’m sorry,” he says, reaching out for his fretting half. “Here, I’ve said it wrong.”

Venom settles down by a fraction. Eddie sits down on the couch, bringing the swarming mass of petroleous anxiety close to his chest, like the world’s most disturbing lapdog.

“It did feel good, what we did.” And damn him, it’s true. He couldn’t move, couldn’t speak, couldn’t see—he could just take it, and he enjoyed it so consumingly he’s trying not to look directly at the implications. “I just need you to…”

What? Not ever do it again? There’s no logical reason to ask it that. And their relationship is already an abomination to outsiders, already invasive, disturbing, technically wrong. What’s Eddie afraid of, really? Co-dependence? If he had a shrink, they’d already be dead with laughter.

“WHAT, EDDIE?” Venom prompts.

“This is going to sound, ah—a bit weird, maybe, but it’s another human rule.” Eddie clears his throat. “Here goes. You need to ask me everything out loud.”

“ASK?” It’s puzzled, and kind of ticked off. “I CAN TELL, EDDIE. I’M INSIDE YOU.”

“That’s not enough—that’s not enough.” God, Eddie’s bad at this. “You also need to ask. Even if it seems pointless. All right? And hey, don’t worry, it’s not just you. Goes for anyone, really.”

Venom bristles, literally. “NOBODY ELSE IS ALLOWED TO—” The snarling stops and the floating head smoothes over, tilting to the side. “EXCEPT FOR ANNE. AND MAYBE DAN.”

“Let’s—talk about that later.” Eddie’s future self can deal with so many problems. “It’s just us right now.”

“YES. MY LOVE.” Venom’s tongue is out again, caressing Eddie’s face. “CAN I STRANGLE YOU?”

Eddie swallows.

“SEE, I’M ASKING.” It smiles with all its teeth. “DON’T WORRY. YOU WON’T DIE.”

“Well, look,” Eddie breathes, growing ever harder in his jeans, and where is that coming from, really, what the fuck? “I suppose there’s no harm—in, ah, trying, but remember that—”

He can’t get out another word; Venom’s formed a limb and is squeezing his throat. The rest of its slithering body slips under Eddie’s clothes, wrapping around his cock and balls and already—God—pushing into his ass, so fucking thick Eddie would choke if he weren’t already choking. Venom’s not exactly one for foreplay.

“RELAX, EDDIE. GIVE IN.”

There’s not much else Eddie can physically do. Venom’s cutting off all of his air supply; once again, it’s only their symbiotic link that’s keeping him alive. He hasn’t got enough oxygen left to move, barely enough to think. Venom's tight hold around his throat says very clearly that it'll break Eddie's fucking neck if he struggles. All he can do is sit there and helplessly watch as his body starts to shake apart with arousal.

“RELAX…”

Eddie pushes a wordless thought into their shared pocket of mind. Since this is happening again, it might as well happen properly—which is him trying to stay sane inside insanity, with highly debatable results.

“REALLY? IN AND OUT?” Venom says with interest. “I THOUGHT IT WAS ABOUT STRETCHING YOU AS FAR AS YOU COULD MANAGE.”

The tentacle inside Eddie’s ass starts thrusting instead of just expanding, and Eddie nearly passes the fuck out. He’s literally asked for it, so he can’t blame anyone but himself, but it’s—so much—

Venom pulls him out of his underwear and lowers its enormous head, and its tongue—its fucking tongue—slips out to wrap around Eddie’s cock, several times around. Again, Eddie can only watch, eyes too wide. Its jaw is wide open, with its nightmare teeth right there, drool slipping out like he’s about to bite it off—

YOU LIKE IT WHEN I SCARE YOU.

Eddie would say something except he can’t think, and Venom strangles him tighter and fucks him deeper, punching into him slowly with this bulging mass of muscle, rolling Eddie’s balls between its huge teeth, as if toying with its food, and rumbling in delight at Eddie’s pain, at his fear—

His eyes roll back in his head and then they’re both gone, Eddie shaking apart, Venom collapsing in a shapeless, sticky heap all over him, groaning, writhing, unable to maintain a coherent form.

For the longest time afterwards, Eddie just sits there, so stunned with the afterglow it's all he can do to stare at the ceiling. When his brain starts coming back online, he weakly glances down and watches his own come get absorbed right back into Venom’s body, sticky white into sticky black.

EDDIE, it slurs out, wrapping all of itself around him. OH, I LOVE DOING THAT.

It’s too soon for Eddie to speak again, which is just as well. His hand only reaches out by itself to stroke the blanket of black, slimy warmth spread over him. And it strokes him in turn.

 

*

 

Venom’s changed the way Eddie approaches everything in life, starting with his job. He used to plan around dangerous interviews with his own safety in mind, because you can’t expose the world’s underbelly if it’s already digested you. But now that he’s damn near invulnerable, Eddie can pretty much make his own justice, which is a concept he’s got to approach with care. Apart from his own failings, there isn’t much left he needs to be afraid of. He still hasn’t quite wrapped his mind around that, around the sheer power.

Between that and the mind-rending sex with an alien predator, well. Going outside the house is good. Grounding. The sun makes him feel real, the people, too. Venom keeps grumbling that it wants to eat heads, but it also perks up at the sight of chocolate ice cream. Eddie buys a cone and lets a monstrous tongue steals some licks while nobody’s looking.

WHAT ARE WE DOING TODAY, EDDIE?

“Series of interviews at AIM. Afraid it’s gonna be a pretty normal day, love.”

The loves come right out, now. Eddie just can’t give a shit anymore. Venom purrs deeply and licks some more ice cream, tongue flicking out of Eddie’s sleeve. ALL RIGHT. BUT WE SHOULD EAT SOMEONE SOON.

Cannibalism disturbs Eddie less than alien sex, and that’s a fact he’s gotta deal with. People have been eating each other for centuries, after all, in various corners of the world; and deep down Eddie’s always felt that things would be better with some dickheads out of the way. Carlton Drake’s death certainly didn’t prove him wrong. It’s also possible that Venom’s fucked with his mind and lowered his sensibility thresholds for violent murder. Or maybe he’s just gone numb after nearly getting violently murdered one time too many, himself.

“Only bad people, V,” he sighs.

I KNOW, Venom says, affronted, and gobbles up the rest of the scoop.

“Hey! Leave some for me!”

YOU ALREADY HAD HALF.

Parasite, thinks Eddie. But doesn’t say, because he doesn’t want to hurt Venom’s feelings.

 

*

 

The whole day, Eddie keeps snickering inside his own head with Venom, who might be unclear on when it’s okay to eat people but certainly got the hang of roasting them. All of his interviews go perfectly well, for him at least; and if he still comes off a little unhinged, well, that’s just how he is these days. Throwing people off their game is an excellent way to make them say things they didn’t mean to let out.

Eddie works and works, writes some articles, sleeps a lot, eats even more, and they don’t actually kill anyone else for a while there.

They do fuck again, though. Nearly every day now.

Every time, Eddie still can’t do much but let things happen to him, and the truly fucked-up part is that he likes that more and more. He’s always in for a very brutal ride, but experience has taught him he always ends up okay, so fear’s turned to thrills. Venom hasn’t forgotten their conversation, either. It makes genuine if clumsy attempts at asking permission, but sometimes it forgets completely, or sometimes asks OH, WAS THAT ALL RIGHT? after the fact. Most of the time Eddie can’t speak or think anyway, and Venom always takes his lack of answer for consent. As a rule, it’s always trying to find new and exciting ways to violate Eddie, because it knows those things will make them come harder than anything.

Eddie knows it’s not ideal. To say the least. But as they keep it going and he still fails to put an end to it, he begins to realize that he’s more worried about the fact that it’s not ideal than about it happening at all. As if someone might jump out and point at him yelling Hey! This guy’s getting his rocks off on assault! Let’s get him, boys!

The thing is, Eddie could reasonably argue that every moment of his day is a violation, regardless of what they’re doing. Except—he just—he just doesn’t feel that way. The reporter in him mumbles about rationalizing abuse, but even deeper down, in a place that’s not complex enough for denial, Eddie knows the truth. Can’t be abuse if he wants it. And God help him, but he fucking does. It’s like a metaphor for their greater bond: past the first moment of shock, Eddie can’t get enough. It’s the best sex he’s ever had by goddamn lightyears, and it’s all thanks to the fact that Venom barrels right into what actually gets him going, without a care for those pesky human social conventions.

Besides. Even though Venom might not be too good with the particulars, it will always obey a hard no.

Eddie could bend steel around that certainty—has put it to the test enough—simply because Venom loves Eddie more than anything in the universe. Which is something Eddie can physically feel. It’s so odd at times, to walk around all day being loved this much in his every cell. Sometimes he just has to sit and breathe and let the feeling wash through him. This love keeps him awake at night, in a way sex never could.

 

*

 

But Eddie’s still human—a good chunk of him is, at least—and he’s always been the very fallible type. So all it takes to undo his tentative peace of mind is a knock on the door.

“Eddie? Eddie, are you there?”

“Oh, fuck,” Eddie gasps, struggling against Venom’s hold. “Stop, V, stop, that’s Annie—”

I CAN OPEN THE DOOR, Venom says, sneaking a limb across the room.

“No!” Eddie shouts, so loud Venom shrinks, white eyes going huge. “I said stop! Let me go, I gotta—fuck—”

He shakes himself free and shouts, “Coming!” when Anne knocks again. He pulls up his pants, grabs a shirt from the floor, and tugs it down one-handed as he opens the door.

Anne takes stock of his disheveled hair, his rumpled clothing and bare feet. By the time her eyes have traveled down and then back up, she knows. Well, of course Anne knows what coitus interruptus looks like on Eddie.

“You… weren’t answering your phone,” she says slowly.

“And so what, you just ran here?” Eddie says, because he’s a tactless asshole in a panic.

She raises an eyebrow. “It’s Thursday, Eddie. Remember? Lunch?”

“Oh, fuck.” Eddie’s always been bad with meetings and dates and anniversaries. Anne used to do most of the work for him—and really, he should’ve seen their breakup coming even before the whole Life Foundation thing. Now that he’s the responsible one, he keeps getting blindsided by how terrible he’s at it. “I’m so sorry, Annie, I—”

“Eddie, are you sure that’s a good idea? I mean…” She lowers her voice. “I’m not saying you should be celibate for the rest of your life. I’m actually really happy you’re putting yourself out there again. But whoever you’ve got in here with you, what if she—”

“There’s nobody here,” Eddie says, defeated.

“Eddie.” She sighs. “It’s okay. We’ve been separated for nearly eight months now.”

“No, Annie, I mean, it’s just—it’s just us.”

His throat’s so tight he can barely speak. The idea of losing her now feels somehow more terrifying than losing her then, when they still thought they were getting married. But he’s gotta bite the bullet sometime. She was always going to find out.

“Oh, come on, who do you think you’re—” and then her expression abruptly changes.

The long silence that follows is broken by a familiar rumble.

EDDIE?

“What?” Eddie mumbles, turning his head even though there’s nothing for him to look at.

SHE THINK IT’S WRONG. Venom has never sounded so quiet. LIKE YOU SAID ONCE.

Eddie sighs. “It’s complicated, love. Human-complicated.”

“Eddie,” Anne breathes when she hears the pet name. “Eddie, you… and him.”

“Yeah.” Eddie stares at the floor. “And… and look, Annie, I know it’s weird, but I can explain, I…”

His voice breaks, he’s damn near tearing up, panic rising again—and he jumps when Anne cups his face.

“Hey, it’s—it’s all right, Eddie.” She’s making a valiant effort to smile. “Don’t get so worked up. I’m not gonna run screaming.”

“No?” He laughs and sniffs. “Damn. Starting to wonder what it’s gonna take, at this point.”

She laughs too, the same kind of shaky. When she pulls him in, he clutches the back of her pricey sweater and shivers for a little while, pressing his face into her shoulder.

Venom’s very silent throughout.

They let go, jerkily, and Eddie clears his throat. “I can’t… I can’t imagine what you’re thinking right now, Annie, but I—”

“Well,” she sighs. “It’s just a logical continuation, isn’t it?”

And it is. Under a tight lid of denial—some things you just don't discuss—they both knew sex was very likely to come into play. It’s not like Venom was being subtle. But for her to say it out loud now—to agree that it makes sense, outside of Eddie’s subjectivity—it’s such a damn relief he shivers some more. She’s not running screaming. She gets it. She’s still there.

“Yeah.” Eddie shakes himself up. He’s got to take care of his own. “V? Come out, love. It’s all right.”

It’s a very small expression of Venom’s head that pokes out of Eddie’s body.

“YOU THINK IT’S WRONG,” it mumbles warily, staring at Anne.

“Not wrong,” she says. “It’s just that sex is—very special.” She hesitates for a moment, then adds, “Sacred.”

“SACRED?”

Eddie hadn’t thought of putting it that way, but it’s apparently resonating with Venom. Eddie can feel its shock, finally rising to match what he felt during those panic-ridden first times. Sacredness must be a universal concept.

“The human body is sacred, really,” Anne says. “So when you bonded with Eddie, it was… a shock for him. And sex is—another way to bond. So this is… another shock.”

Venom’s panicking now; it boils around Eddie’s body, barely touching him, as if afraid to do so. “EDDIE? I DIDN’T KNOW. I DIDN’T UNDERSTAND. EDDIE? DID I HURT YOU?”

“No, love,” Eddie says, stupidly emotional. “We had that talk, remember, and—and you listened to me. You tried. You did good.”

“BUT IF IT’S SACRED. WE CAN BE MORE GENTLE,” Venom assures him, frantic. “OR WE CAN STOP! YOU ONLY HAVE TO SAY.”

“Well, I mean,” Eddie says, with the mild panic of a man faced with the potential loss of his daily hard fuck. “I’m not sure gentle would cut it, y’know? The way you—” Then he meets Anne’s eyes and remembers she is still, in fact, standing there. Her eyebrows are flirting with her hairline.

“EDDIE?”

He clears his throat. “We—we’re going to talk about this some more, love. Let’s go have lunch, okay? Anything you want.”

 

*

 

Anne pokes at her anchovy pizza while Eddie devours his third one in a row—the staff’s watching him from the back with a mixture of awe and fear. She can’t take her eyes off him.

“Fuck, okay.” Her fork clinks in her plate. “I just have to ask. How does it work?”

Eddie swallows his mouthful. This is the part where he should freak out again, because he’s still got a laundry list of things to be ashamed of. But against all logic, a half-smile tugs at his lips.

“Fishing for details, Ms. Weying?”

Some people hate talking about sex. Others could talk about it for days on end—and the less conventional, the better. Eddie’s always known Anne belonged to that second category, but it’s still a kick to see her lean forward like he’s about to tell her the winning lottery numbers.

“You’re gonna laugh.” He fiddles with an olive, looking away. “Let’s, ah. Let’s just say it’s not me that tops.”

She lets out an undignified, high-pitched sound, full of delighted outrage. “Eddie.”

“What,” he smirks. “C’mon, Annie. Everything that’s happened, is that really where you’re drawing the line?”

Suddenly, it’s so easy to be unashamed. He ate a whole goddamn person in front of Mrs. Chen and then just walked away. And he’s still shopping there and she’s pretending nothing happened, only she refuses to take his change now, always rounding it up in his favor. The world can absorb a lot of weirdness because at the end of the day, it's still going to keep turning. Venom was right: they can do whatever they want. There's not much else they could do.

“Had you ever—done anything like that before?” Anne asks, lowering her voice on instinct.

Eddie raises an eyebrow.

She waves an impatient hand. “You know what I mean.”

“What, anal?”

His bluntness very clearly delights her all over again. Eddie has to hold back another smile.

“Not with you, no.” He clears his throat. “Not with anyone else.”

“So,” she hesitates, “no guys? Ever?”

“I would’ve said when we were dating.” He rubs the back of his neck. “So it’s all a bit—new, sure. But Venom, uh, takes real good care of me.”

A hopeful push inside his head. I DO?

“Yeah, love.”

Venom does the mental equivalent of blushing. THE PIZZA’S GETTING COLD. EAT THAT ANCHOVY’S HEAD.

“Just do it yourself,” Eddie says, picking up the little fish and zipping open his jacket so Venom’s tongue can slither out, Alien-style. “Lazy bum,” he says fondly.

“But you like that? It doesn’t hurt?” Anne insists, still stuck over the idea of Eddie taking it up the ass, rather than the fact it’s an alien giving it to him. God bless her.

The answer is, it does hurt. A whole fucking lot. Because Venom’s making sure of it, because Eddie fucking loves it—and can’t blame alien influence here. He knows only too well that this is his own human software sparking up in new and appalling ways. He never suspected the sheer depths of his own depravity, and he wouldn’t know how to explain them now.  Sure, he could say the pain’s an active factor when it comes to overloading his brain into terminal orgasm—but even in their special circumstances, there is such a thing as too much information.

“Venom wouldn't harm me on purpose,” he answers, carefully not lying. “It’d just… well, harm itself.”

“Right.” She thinks for a second. “Hey, Venom?”

Venom pushes out of Eddie’s chest again. “ANNE.”

“Wow. Hi.” She leans close. “Why are you having sex with Eddie?”

“WE SHARE EVERYTHING.” It grins. “CARE TO BE SHARED?”

“Oh my God,” Eddie hisses, pushing the monstrous head back inside him while Anne cracks up. “Don’t be crass!”

“Oh, thank you, no,” Anne breathes when she’s done giggling. “Been there, done that.”

But Eddie can’t help noticing she bites her lip a second later.

 

*

 

Venom’s so silent on the way home that, even though it doesn’t feel distressed, Eddie gets a little worried. “You okay, love?”

YES. Under Eddie’s clothes, Venom trickles out to wrap around him in a multi-limbed embrace. I NEVER WANT TO HURT YOU, EDDIE.

“Hey, turns out I like it rough,” Eddie says. People glance at him on the street, and he could pretend he’s talking on the phone, but honestly, he can’t be bothered. “Don’t change. I’d be disappointed if you did, really.”

PEOPLE’S BODIES ARE SACRED. SHE SAID.

“Yeah, and that means you need to be allowed in, right? And it’s okay, love. You always were, with me.”

Venom squeezes him tighter. WE’RE NOT ALLOWED INSIDE OTHER PEOPLE, THOUGH.

“That’s right. Unless they tell us different. Remember, the asking?”

BUT EATING THEM IS OKAY, Venom concludes.

Eddie raises an eyebrow. “How do you figure?”

WHEN WE EAT THEM, THEY GO INSIDE US. AND THAT’S ALL RIGHT. It grins inside Eddie’s head. THEY’RE ALLOWED.

“You know what, V, that’s flawless logic,” Eddie says as he ducks into Mrs. Chen’s bodega.

 

*

 

They oversleep the next morning until Venom suddenly squeezes Eddie awake.

SOMEONE’S AT THE DOOR.

Eddie emerges groggily. “M’ still asleep. They can come back later.”

THEY SMELL WRONG.

Okay, now he’s a bit more awake. “Wrong how?”

LIKE THE LIFE FOUNDATION.

Absolutely fully fucking awake. Eddie stumbles out of bed and pulls on a pair of trackpants. His first instinct is to reach for his old gnawed-on bat, but he stops when he remembers he won’t ever need a weapon anymore.

Someone knocks on the door, maybe for the second time. It’s hurried but not angry. Eddie hesitates, shuffling across the room. He takes a deep breath, counts to three in his head, then pulls the door open.

The woman on the other side squeaks and jerks back. Eddie blinks at her.

“Dr. Skirth?”

“Eddie,” she gasps. “Oh, Eddie, thank God.”

Eddie lets her in, bewildered, closing the door behind him.

“You’re alive," she breathes, "I didn’t even know if… I would’ve called, but I suppose your phone was destroyed in the… when the…”

“Yeah,” he answers, belatedly. “Yeah, I lost your number. I didn’t want to look you up, in case it'd draw attention to you.” And to be perfectly sincere, he'd assumed she was dead.

EDDIE! SHE WAS IN THE LAB, Venom protests. LET’S EAT HER.

“No, she’s the one who called me in to investigate. She’s the reason we met, love.”

Eddie can feel Venom’s opinion of Dr. Skirth doing a beautiful 180°. He can also see Dr. Skirth staring at him and turning grey.

He’s a fucking moron. And he's not nearly awake enough to handle this.

“Eddie?” She takes a step back. “Eddie? Who are you talking to?”

“It’s okay,” Eddie begins, “it’s not what you—well, no, it’s probably exactly what you think. But listen, it’s fine.”  

“Oh my God, oh my God. Oh no. Oh my God.”

“Just—calm down. Please. Look.” He raises his hands, steps pointedly away. “We’re not gonna hurt you.”

WHY ARE YOU ALWAYS RAISING YOUR HANDS?

“Because it’s a good way to make people feel safe!”

Dr. Skirth’s hyperventilating.

“Let’s talk about something else. How… how are your kids?” Eddie tries.

She lets out a sort of strangled scoff. “Drake used to ask me that a lot.”

“Oh no. Uh, didn’t meant anything sinister by it, I promise. I just…” Eddie drops his hands. Venom’s right, it’s useless, and it’s making them look like a tool. “Hey, you can leave if you want, Dr. Skirth. See the door? It’s right there. You’re not trapped. You’re fine.”

She’s frozen to the spot. Eddie can’t imagine steering her outside is going to end well for anyone.

“But I gotta say I’m—I’m happy to see you,” he goes on. “I’m glad you’re okay. I was worried. And you’ve pulled me out of bed, so… I’m gonna make coffee. And I’ve got a cup for you, if you want it. Do you want to sit down? Dr. Skirth?”

Normalcy is a powerful hypnotic. Skirth sits down very slowly on a stool.

Eddie putters around his messy kitchen, trying not to come too close to her. He can feel her vibrating with tension.

“Is it still there?” she blurts out, like Eddie might be playing a prank on him.

“Yeah. Look. Uh, V—could you grab my phone, please?”

A tentacle shoots out of Eddie’s back and retrieves the phone, bringing it straight back into his hand. Skirth’s hand flies up to her mouth. She says nothing, sitting there petrified, eyes wide.

Eddie shoots a text to Anne. He could use some back-up.

Anne shows up not ten minutes later—she doesn’t live that far away from Eddie’s new place, which might be one of the reasons he’s picked it, and also he sent her EMRGNCY COME OVR PLS which, in hindsight, was a bit too alarming. But Skirth jumps a mile when Anne knocks on the door and, yeah, extra support won’t hurt.

“What’s wrong?” Anne gasps as soon as she walks in—then stops and wrinkles her nose. “God, Eddie, when was the last time you aired out this place?”

“Didn’t know I was gonna get visitors,” Eddie says, steering her towards the kitchen. “Hey, Dr.—uh, Dora? Look, this is Anne.”

Explaining who Anne is takes a while. Explaining who Dora is takes even longer. Through her broken, tense answers, Eddie learns that she very nearly didn’t make it—as it turns out, Carlton Drake locked her inside a symbiote’s cage and let it free.

“I was in a coma for two months,” she says, eyes flicking at Eddie every other second. “And I’m still—unwell. How are you so… How…”

“Well, it’s symbiosis. You said it yourself.” Eddie opens his hand, and a shiny black replica grows out of his sleeve to come hold it tight. He squeezes and looks back up. “We get along, I guess.”

SHE’S SCARED OF US.

“Yeah, love, but we can’t blame her.”

“Maybe I should go and get Dora another cup of coffee,” Anne says firmly, getting up. “Somewhere in a place where the host isn’t talking to himself. And where the sink isn’t overflowing.”

“Neither of us like to do the dishes,” Eddie quips, earning himself a swat over the head.

Dora follows Anne in a daze. She has the look of someone who wasn’t expecting to come out of the apartment alive. She keeps looking around as if waiting for the walls to ooze out aliens.

“Hey, Dr. Skirth,” Eddie says right before she leaves—and winces when she tenses up. “Sorry. Just—you’ve only got friends here. And that’s a fact.”

She nods, still pale, extends her hand on what’s obviously pure instinct—then squeaks in horror at her own gesture and snatches it back before Eddie can touch her.

“There’s no risk,” he tells her, a little smugly. “It likes me best.”

She laughs, and if she sounds a little crazy, Eddie can hardly hold it against her. He’s sounded much crazier for much longer than that. She’s actually doing great.

“Let’s go, Dora,” Anne says gently. Eddie decides he’s going to buy her flowers.

“You take care now, all right?” he tells Skirth. “And—you don’t have to come back here if it’s too hard for you. We won’t mind.”

Skirth actually looks like her shock’s beginning to ebb, leaving her confused and floundering. “Goodbye, Eddie. Sorry… sorry I…”

“I know. It’s all right. You just get out of here, now.”

“It’s all my fault,” she blurts out. “Eddie, I should’ve never gotten you involved. I’m so sorry about everything.”

Eddie gives her a half-smile. “I’m not.”

That, more than anything else, looks like it hits home. She goes quiet, staring at him with something like awe instead of fear now. Then Anne kindly steers her out of the apartment and closes the door.

All right. Eddie might as well tidy up the place now that he’s up.

 

*

 

I DO LIKE YOU BEST, Venom rumbles as they scrub the dishes, and Eddie smiles at the sponge like a fool.

His phone rings. It’s an unknown number, but when he picks up, he’s not surprised to hear Dora Skith’s voice.

“Eddie—hello. Anne gave me your… your number. I hope that’s—all right?”

“Of course, Dr. Skirth.”

“I think you can call me Dora at this point.” A strangled laugh. “I’m really sorry, I… I feel like such an idiot. Breaking down like that."

“Hey, considering what’s happened to you, I can’t imagine it was a good surprise.”

“You could say that.” This time her laugh sounds less breakable. “Anne’s very nice.”

“She’s lovely, yeah. Can you believe she used to date me? Thank God she’s upped her standards since then.”

Venom rumbles at Eddie putting himself down, but doesn’t say anything and just keeps doing the dishes, leaving Eddie’s hands and mind free for his phone call. It’s so tactful.

Dora sounds more and more like herself. “If what you told me is true, then my God, Eddie, this—this changes everything. This is the scientific discovery of the century, I—can we meet again soon?”

“No labs, doc.”

“No, my God, nothing like that! I just—those things—after what I saw, what I felt… I never thought a cooperation was actually possible. I have so many questions for you.”

“We could answer some of those, yeah.”

“We,” she repeats. “You and the symbiote—are you—communicating?”

Eddie’s lips tick up. “We’re getting there.”

 

*

 

Going to Anne and Dan’s makes him feel vulnerable in a way not much else can achieve, these days.

They’re always happy to see him. Anne kisses him on the cheek, a bit too close to the mouth, with the knowing half-smile of an ex. She laughs when he offers her an absurd amount of roses. Dan straight-up hugs him. He’s the one who cooks, and Eddie doesn’t know what the main course is, but he can smell that it’ll be chocolate cake for dessert.

“You guys,” he mumbles.

“So how are you both doing?” Dan asks like it’s the most natural thing in the world.

It’s all anyone needs, Eddie thinks, sitting down at the table. Whether you’re a plain regular man or bonded to an alien symbiote. As long as you can find a few people who make you feel normal—not many of them, even; two, or maybe three—then you’re fine. 

They watch a movie after dinner. Venom is slowly eating its way through the bowl of popcorn. Eddie’s thick hoodie doesn’t do anything to keep him from feeling Anne’s and Dan’s warmth. They’ve sat on the couch with him in the middle.

The credits are rolling, they’re stretching and making noises about herbal tea, but Eddie keeps sitting there, with something soft and almost painful beating in his chest like a second heart.

YOU SHOULD TELL THEM YOU LOVE THEM, Venom rumbles.

It's always given him good advice. Eddie exhales shakily.

“Hey, um,” he rasps out. “Guys.”

They can hear it’s important. Anne sits back down on the couch next to him, squinting like she’s already trying to guess what he’s going to say. Dan settles on the chair by the coffee table, projecting friendliness like it’s his goddamn job.

Eddie swallows.

“You… Look, what you’ve done for me, it’s… I know how chaotic it’s been. I know I’ve embarrassed you in public, and put you in danger, and probably gave you fucking nightmares—and you still… I can’t… I can’t tell you how much…”

“Eddie,” Anne begins, kindly offering him an opportunity to stop making a fool of himself.

“I see the worst of humanity about every other goddamn day,” he forges on, even though his voice is shaking. “I see how petty and—and cruel and evil anyone can be. And yet I know I’ll never, ever lose faith in people. Because I’m lucky enough to have met you. The both of you.”

“Aw, buddy,” Dan says.

“Okay, I’m done.” He averts his eyes, snorts a laugh. “Sorry… sorry you had to live through that. Um. Let’s all just—”

His words get lost, because Anne’s hugging him and Dan's come to the couch to hug him, too. Eddie closes his eyes and grabs onto their arms. They startle when black slime oozes out of Eddie and wraps around them; but then they’re laughing, a bit shakily, maybe, and squeezing Eddie tighter, and Venom squeezes them all, and Eddie feels again this immense all-encompassing love beating in his every cell. The depth of it is like looking up into the night sky.

 

*

 

They eat four people the next day.

According to Dora Skirth’s careful texts, Venom needs a chemical with an unpronounceable name that’s found both in human brains and chocolate. Technically, it could subsist on Nutella alone, but there’s also the fact that it enjoys eating brains and that Eddie’s job puts him in contact with more bad guys than good—loving faith in people notwithstanding.

His dealings with AIM must be going somewhere interesting, because whoever’s in charge decided that it might do everyone some good if Eddie were to spend some time dead. That’s not accounting for Venom who perks up with carnivorous enthusiasm as Eddie finds himself backed in a dark alley.

BAD, RIGHT?

“Edible,” Eddie breathes, and that’s all Venom needs to surge and envelop him completely.

It’s not the same as just sharing their body. When Venom takes over, it’s like LSD on fucking steroids, this feeling of infinite power, this savage joy that comes from being a predator and doing what a predator does. Eddie’s safe inside but can’t control his limbs, only watch through Venom’s eyes, hear through its ears, taste through its mouth.

Human flesh tastes so fucking good.

Venom tears and rips and rends. It doesn’t always eat people whole but always does eat their heads, ripping them off like corks off a champagne bottle. The scent of blood is everywhere, hot and pungent, spurting in dark fountains like rich wine. Within minutes, the fight’s over; but Venom doesn’t take a back seat just yet, climbing onto the roofs to bring them both home. It’s in a hurry and Eddie knows why.

YOU KNOW WHAT I WANT, Venom growls as soon as they’re back, peeling off Eddie’s body.

“Yeah,” Eddie breathes, lying on his back on the carpet and Jesus, he’s soaked in blood, but—“go for it, God, what’re you waiting f—”

He nearly sobs when Venom shoves up into him, so forceful it’s tearing him up. There’ll be no wound left by the time they’re done, but for now the pain knocks him right out of his own head. It’s late at night and Venom’s always oddly concerned with noise, so strands of black glistening goo wrap over Eddie’s mouth to keep him quiet. For good reason, as it turns out. There’s one hole Venom still hasn’t tried yet; but it must be hungry for new ways to torture Eddie because a thin adventurous tendril slithers into Eddie’s urethra.

Eddie fights and lets out muffled shouts, but Venom’s got him in a tight hold—and this is what Eddie loves beyond anything else, being forced and being made to enjoy it. It doesn’t matter what Venom does to him, as long as it’s not leaving him a choice. Eddie couldn’t ever put himself so completely in someone else’s hands, not even Anne; it’d be objectively insane, too great a risk for him, too great a responsibility for her.

But Venom’s not quite someone else.

And Eddie knows for certain he’ll come out the other side unscathed. That’s all he needs, in the end, to let go of himself.

The tendrils grow thicker and push deeper into his cock; others wrap around it to form a rippling sleeve. Eddie’s held at the wrists and ankles, breathing hard through his nose, and he’s barely even struggling anymore; after a while, he tends to give in and just take it. Venom fucks them both into oblivion and this time, Eddie actually passes out when he comes.

 

*

 

When he wakes up, Venom’s nowhere to be found. Eddie can tell it’s still inside, of course; he remembers how he felt when Venom was ripped out of him in the hospital, the awful sensation of cold and frailness seizing him at all once, like aging come too fast. Nothing’s wrong now. Venom’s there, in his heart and lungs and brain.

It’s completely knocked out, barely reacting as Eddie gets to his feet, undresses and shoves his bloodied clothes into the trash rather than the hamper—he knows a lost battle when he sees one. It’s only when he steps into the shower that Venom finally stirs. I LOVE YOU SO MUCH, EDDIE.

Even its mental voice sounds drowsy. Eddie watches the blood wash off him and circle the drain. There’s bits of flesh as well.

“Love you too, my darling.” His voice’s scratchy with emotion.

Venom hugs him from the inside. It’s the nicest thing Eddie’s ever felt.

 

*

 

Because Venom’s brought them home the fast way after their cannibalistic rampage, Eddie’s bike has been woefully abandoned on the other side of town. He’s seeing Anne and Dan again on Friday, and going out for a tentative drink with Dora Skirth on Saturday, not to mention the whole AIM case he must be about to crack open, since they tried to murder him. Bottom line, he just has to get the damn bike back today.

It’s a beautiful morning, so he takes a cable car to get there. Looking out the window, he can’t help but remember his disastrous last time in one of these. Back then, terrified and sick, he couldn’t have imagined feeling so good not three months later.

“Shit,” he says, coming down at his stop. His bike’s there all right, but something else isn’t. “Did someone steal my helmet?”

WE THREW IT AT SOMEONE.

That’s right. Eddie remembers the crack of bone, the screaming angle of the man’s broken neck. Things get blurry after that, at least as far as the helmet’s concerned.

Well, he’ll just have to buy a new one. It was old and shitty anyway. But as Eddie gets astride his bike, his entire body stops moving, Venom holding it.

WHAT ARE YOU DOING?

“Uh. Getting home, V.”

YOU DON’T HAVE A HELMET. IT’S DANGEROUS.

“Are you serious? Four guys tried to kill us in a back alley just yesterday.”

WE WERE INSIDE OUT THEN. WE’RE MUCH MORE EXPOSED NOW.

A woman on a bike roars past Eddie. She’s wearing a shiny black helmet.

“Come out, then,” Eddie says.

WHAT?

“Just over my head. Can you do that?”

Venom’s silent for a moment. Then Eddie feels a tell-tale tickle around his neck. It swallows his head completely, then clears out a window for him to see through, like an afterthought.

Looking around, Eddie can tell nobody’s noticed. He’s not surprised; much of his journalism studies was learning how to notice stuff. It’s an acquired talent.

“Feels perfect.” Sounds aren’t muffled, his hair isn’t being flattened, his skull remains unsqueezed. Eddie catches sight of his reflection in the windows of a passing bus. “Damn. Looks good, too. Could you be anything else, do you think?

A JACKET, THE NEXT TIME WE’RE GOING SOMEWHERE DANGEROUS. The helmet ripples around Eddie’s head. OR JUST WHEN YOU FEEL LIKE WEARING BLACK.

Eddie chuckles and revs the engine. “You’re just my style, love.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

And how’s Eddie? Anne’s mom texts on a bleary Sunday.

There’s no avoiding it now, not after so direct a question. It is with a deep sigh of defeat that Anne texts back. We broke up, mother.

Despite her best efforts, Anne Weying is very much a stuck-up WASP. She dresses and walks and talks like one. She got into law. She calls her mom mother. So even though her dating Eddie Brock wasn’t planned in the slightest, she immediately recognized it as a rebellion opportunity and committed to it with dogged determination.

On the first picture of him she texted her mom, Eddie’s got visible tattoos. He’s wearing a leather jacket. He’s sitting on a motorbike. And worst of all, he’s holding Anne by the waist and kissing her on the cheek. It’s like he think he owns you! Anne’s mom texted back in profoundly satisfying horror. Where did you even meet this man?

This question Anne didn’t answer, because it would’ve put a serious dent in Eddie’s worst-possible-son-in-law aura. He didn’t roguishly seduce Anne at a truck stop, nor did he throw her over his bike and drive off. They just met in court. It was a long trial that put them together in the same room almost daily; Anne’s client was shiftier than the norm, which naturally attracted reporters like flies. Back then, Eddie already practiced the daring journalism technique of getting in people’s faces and demanding they just tell him incriminating facts about themselves. Anne was so baffled she actually agreed to spend her twenty-minute lunch break with him, just to see exactly how stupid he thought she was.

As it turned out, Eddie didn’t actually think she was stupid. He was just not very good at his own job. When Anne carefully suggested that short segments of infotainment might be more his style, Eddie not only listened to her but also appeared to genuinely consider it. He asked her about herself, didn’t try to hit on her, and made no fuss over splitting the bill.

It was so much of a breath of fresh air that Anne agreed to a second lunch. She had nothing better to do.

Then there was a third lunch, then a fourth, and then they were eating together every day as a matter of fact—even though Eddie had given up on his article by then, now putting together what would later become the Brock Report. He was hardworking and ambitious, which wasn’t anything unusual in Anne’s world; but during those four weeks of twenty-minute lunches, he also continued to prove effortlessly likeable. On the day the trial ended, he did ask her out for a drink, with a crooked smile that said he fully expected Anne to let him down gently.

Anne Weying liked people who didn’t take her for granted.

She looked at his tattoos and his leather jacket and his terrible haircut, and thought of what her mother would say—and answered sure, why not?

 

*

 

Throughout most of their relationship, Eddie had the attitude of a man who couldn’t believe his own luck. It was very cute at first, how he followed her lead in everything. Anne was the one to ask for a second drink, Anne was the one to initiate their first kiss, and Anne was the one to acknowledge that Eddie could in fact push his luck as far as her bedroom. In bed, he was just as pliable—and actually interested in making her come, which easily brought him in her top three. The Brock Report took off right about then, a lot of noise and some amount of fame that Eddie happily mistook for success. He fancied himself a grand reporter when he was just an impulsive loudmouthed one; but hell, it was working, so why should anyone care to point out the difference?

Oh, he wasn’t perfect—he didn’t so much build a life with Anne as settle into what she’d already built. He was always late, always forgetting his meetings, and he never once made breakfast. But he was also the sweetest man she’d ever met, someone who talked to everyone the way he’d first talked to Anne, with indiscriminating respect and wry friendliness. He talked to homeless people and bodega ladies, to cable car drivers and strangers in bars. He had no temper, not a shred of entitlement; in situations where Anne herself would lose her patience, Eddie was always willing to give people the benefit of the doubt. He was the one to feed the cat in the hope of getting it to like him. He was the one to insist on date night so they’d always have a small spot in the week just the two of them.

They had a successful vacation together, then another; and then suddenly they’d been together for over two years, they’d been living together for over six months, and Eddie had a knee on the ground and a ring in his hand and this look in his eyes again, the one that said he expected her to say no.

Anne Weying still liked people that didn’t take her for granted.

Even as she said yes and let Eddie put the ring on her finger, though, a little voice in the back of her head was saying: you’re just letting things happen. And she could see why Eddie did it so much. Wasn’t it comfortable, just letting things happen one after the other? One day she was giving Eddie Brock a shot; the next day he was proposing to her. And she was saying yes because, well, he hadn’t yet given her a strong enough reason to say no.

Anne liked Eddie so much she very nearly loved him. Left alone, it could have lasted forever.

 

*

 

Oh well, Anne’s mom texts back. You always had to mother him so much. A real thorn in your side, I always said. Maybe now you can finally meet a nice proper man!

 

*

 

So Anne does.

She’s done walking off-road. She’s done giving a chance to crummy reporters with tattoos and crooked smiles. It’s cost her a job and a good chunk of her heart. From now on, no more dallying. No more rebellion. She’s determined to resign herself to a loveless marriage with no more orgasms if it’ll give her some damn stability in her life. Some goddamn peace and quiet. Is that so much to ask for?

Anne hasn’t fallen so far down as to date another lawyer, but when her friend Stacy sets her up with a goddamn surgeon, she dutifully goes. Dan Lewis would delight her mother. On their first date, Anne can already tell that man hasn’t once showed up late in his life. He probably never oversleeps in the mornings, and in fact confesses that he grinds his own coffee. His career is firmly on track. He is wealthy, pleasant, a good listener. He is, for all intents and purposes, a nice proper man.

Everything progresses very naturally. Within two weeks, they’re sleeping together. Within two months, she’s given him a key to her place. Within four months, they’ve agreed it’s simpler for him to just move in with her and sublet his condo.

Within six months, Eddie Brock shows up on Anne’s doorstep.

Whatever he was hoping to achieve—and seriously, what was the plan here?—is immediately thwarted by Dan’s presence. It’s painfully embarrassing to watch Eddie’s face as Dan tells him he’s a fan of his work. Which is so very out of character for such a nice proper man that Anne can’t help staring a little.

Eddie still doesn’t have an entitled bone in him. He doesn’t seem resentful, just disconsolate, cracking a pitiful joke as Dan slips inside to give them some privacy. If it were anyone else alone with her on a dark sidewalk, Anne might feel nervous. But she could never be scared of Eddie Brock.

She’s not nice to him. He doesn’t deserve it. She’s still so angry at him for the way things ended. She’s angry at him for the way things are going now. Why must he put them both through this incredibly pathetic moment? Why must he make her handhold him even past the finish line?

When she joins Dan upstairs, they barely talk about it. She just apologizes, and Dan tells her to think nothing of it, because of course he does. So nice, so proper. Date night’s pretty much ruined; but they’re going out again the next week. They’re always going out again the next week. This time it’s a fancy seafood restaurant, with a live lobster tank.

 

*

 

When Eddie barges in, everything inside Anne goes cold.

It’s nothing like the other night. This she realizes within seconds. Eddie’s not crashing anything; something’s crashed into him.

As he starts eating food right from people’s plates, Anne’s already standing up, her lawyer mind running double time. Is it a psychotic break? Could it be meningitis? She doesn’t want to think about a brain tumor just yet. She’s being too slow to push past her own shock—ugly parts of her thinking did I do this? Should have I been kinder? and Why did he come to me? Is he that alone? There are so many factors she needs to take into account here, the other clients and the restaurant staff and Dan—

But as it turns out, Dan Lewis, Nice Proper Man, is no one’s factor.

Before Anne can figure out how to manage him—the way she’s always had to manage the men in her life—Dan’s already nicely and properly gone off. He will not let the restaurant staff call the police. He will not let them get an obviously ill person arrested. He will not let Eddie’s erratic behavior deter him from talking to him. Even as Eddie climbs into the goddamn lobster tank, Dan is still there, talking to him with infinite patience.

He does… miss a beat when Eddie bites into a live lobster. To be fair, everyone in the restaurant does.

When they finally convince Eddie to get out of the tank, he’s still burning up, shooting glances around like he barely knows where he is. Anne has to reassure him constantly on their way out. Dan’s right behind her, cordially making their excuses to the staff and leaving them his card for the damages. Anne sneaks a glance at him as he gets into the cab; there’s nothing on his face but focus and concern.

Nice proper goddamn man.

 

*

 

“It’s not a brain tumor,” is the first thing Dan says when he comes home the next night.

Anne can’t even speak; she just sits down on the couch, relief crashing onto her all at once.

“I figured you’d want me to lead with that.” Dan smiles tiredly and takes off his coat. “We’re still waiting on his lab results, but if we’re going by the MRI, it looks he’s got some kind of parasite.”

“A parasite?”

“No idea where he got something this size. Could be a sort of tapeworm—they sometimes slither up to the brain. The good news is they’re very easy to get rid of.” He frowns. “Was he always claustrophobic?”

“He’s... he’s afraid of heights. But not claustrophobic. I don’t think.”

“Huh. Could’ve fooled me.”

Anne exhales so deeply it feels like it’s coming from her toes. “Dan, you’ve been perfect. You’ve been…”

She’s only realizing now that Dan’s put-togetherness isn’t just a façade. For the first time in her life, she might have stumbled onto someone who doesn’t need to be coddled, but who won’t coddle her either. Someone who’s in her corner.

Dan doesn’t even seem to notice she’s looking at him differently. He blinks a little at her. “Hey, you don’t have to thank me. It’s my job.”

In anyone else’s mouth, this would be false modesty. In Dan’s, it’s just the plain candid truth.

“Why don’t we call him?” he offers. “Keep him updated?”

Eddie sounds a little surprised to hear Dan on the phone, but still not peeved in any way, which is plucking Anne’s heartstrings. Fuck her, but he’s still so sweet. Now that she’s finally past her anger at Eddie, six months of missing him are coming in all at once; and to hear him sound so vulnerable and shaky isn’t helping matters. She can’t stop thinking about his miserable attempt the week before, showing up on her doorstep and all but begging for leftover tenderness.

She wishes everything wasn’t happening all at once. But then, things often do.

 

*

 

Dan calls her the next day and very professionally avoids telling her outright that Eddie Brock is dying.

This can’t be happening, Anne repeats to herself as she drives like mad to Eddie’s old workplace—he begged her not to come on the phone, said he was too dangerous to be around, but she heard the guard’s voice talking to him and she knows where he is. Like hell she’ll stay away. This can’t be happening. Eddie Brock’s a mild disaster and a mediocre boyfriend, but that still makes him one of the best goddamn people Anne’s ever met. And sure, he’s her ex, but what is she supposed to do? Not care what happens to him? But goddamn her and her goddamn stuck-up education, of course she still fucking cares! Who says your exes must become dead to you? Who says romance takes everything with it when it’s gone?

The car devours the road. Anne’s hands are white-knuckled on the wheel. She’s going to find Eddie, and this time she’s not letting him out of her sight until he’s cured of everything that’s ever tried to hurt him.

 

*

 

It’s an alien. There’s no getting around it. It’s a monstrous, muscular alien, deep black veined with white and glistening like marble, with gigantic blind eyes, atrocious teeth and a long, tentacle-like tongue.

Definitely not meningitis, then.

Anne panics, then stares as Eddie transforms back into himself and starts panicking too. She has no idea how to react, which means her mind just reaches back to her last logical thought and applies it to the situation. She’s come here to find Eddie and tell him he was sick. So what she says, dumb and dutiful, is:

“Eddie, you’re sick.”

“I’m scared,” he answers brokenly. “I… I need help…”

It’s like the day he asked her out for a drink, like the day he proposed to her, only more desperate. Every time Eddie asks her something important, he’s always visibly bracing himself for her to say no.

Anne should be running away, she really should. But goddammit, she likes people that don’t take her for granted. And she could never be scared of Eddie Brock.

 

*

 

Eddie’s so terrified of hurting her he’ll only sit in the back. When she asks him if he’s in pain, he only mumbles that he’s hungry and cold, and pitifully asks if he can borrow Dan’s sweater. She watches him put it on in the rearview mirror. He says the alien’s talking to him, in his head, all the time. Worst of all, he apologizes for everything he’s done and tells her he loves her. He obviously thinks he’s going to die.

He doesn’t know she’s sworn not to let that happen.

 

*

 

Eddie screams.

Something else is screaming—on a strange subvocal harmonic, a shriek that’s drilling into Anne’s ears. She pushes the volume until suddenly the black thing just boils out of him and splatters miserably on the linoleum.

“I warned you,” Anne hisses at it.

She tried talking to it, and it didn’t listen. That thing was killing Eddie, it tried to kill Dan, so now Anne’s ripped it out of Eddie’s body and they’re all fine. Everything’s going to be fine.

True to Murphy’s law, everything immediately goes south in a spectacular fashion. Eddie shouts at the parasite for betraying him and storms out. Anne makes an absolute fool of herself trying to explain Eddie to Dan, when Dan’s understandably more worried about the goddamn alien. Said alien goes missing right away, and they can’t just tell the hospital, can they—so their only option is to split up and go look for it, even though this is the scenario of every bad horror flick Anne’s ever watched on her insomnia nights.

And indeed, as soon as Dan turns a corner, Anne finds herself face to face with a very strange little dog. Its eyes are… in flux.

There are people on stretchers around her, people limping along the hallway with an IV in their arm. Old people, pregnant people, sick and convalescing people. So she doesn’t scream.

Step by step, the little dog makes her walk back until she hits a supply closet. It yaps at her. She fumbles for the door, opens it. They slip inside together.

The little dog sits down, tilting its small fluffy head with its pearly nightmare eyes. Then it shudders grotesquely, bones snapping inside, and barfs out an awful quantity of horrible black goo.

With what looks like a mighty effort, the puddle of snot gathers itself up and—stretches out a tendril. Towards Anne. Like a goddamn reaching hand.

“Oh, fuck off,” she says.

It stretches a bit more, pitifully. The bubbling activity in the puddle seems to be dying down. If it’s a parasite, it can’t live very long without its host.

She crouches, despite her every instinct asking her what the hell she’s doing. She’s a white stuck-up girl in a horror movie; she might as well embrace it. So she reaches back.

THANK YOU, says a voice in her head when she makes contact.

It sends chills up her spine. Now she gets why Eddie was twitching and jumping and shushing people all the time. It’s a hell of a voice, a deep growl booming at the edge of her consciousness.

The slick black tendril is warm, just barely touching her. WE NEED TO SAVE EDDIE.

“You’re the one who’s been killing him."

NO! NO. YOUR BODIES ARE—COMPLICATED. HIS BLOOD ATTACKED ME SO I HAD TO EAT MOST OF HIS MARROW.

“You ate—”

I ATE A LOT OF THINGS. BUT I CAN REPLACE THEM ALL. It presses against her finger. WE NEED TO FIND EDDIE. WE NEED TO SAVE EDDIE.

“I’ll find him. I’ll save him. And you can just stay in your puddle and die,” Anne says, trying to snatch her hand back—but the alien sticks, clinging to her finger and stretching like glue.

NO! WAIT! LISTEN! THE LIFE FOUNDATION’S TAKEN HIM!

“What?”

THEY’LL KILL HIM. EDDIE STOLE ME. HE WAS NOT ALLOWED. NOW THEY STOLE HIM AND THEY’LL KILL HIM.

“He didn’t steal you! You took his body!”

NO! WE SHARE. WE SHARE EVERYTHING. WE ARE SUCH A GOOD MATCH. HELP ME FIND HIM. THEY’LL KILL HIM. WE NEED TO SAVE EDDIE. WE NEED TO SAVE EDDIE.

It’s begging her, and it hasn’t invaded her body yet, which—“Why are you even asking? What do you want from me?”

A RIDE. AND IT’S EASIER WHEN MY RIDE’S WORKING WITH ME. The puddle draws a grin. PROMISE I’LL LEAVE YOUR MARROW ALONE.

 

*

 

It’s a ride for goddamn sure.

Anne wishes she’d thought of telling Dan what she’s done. You know, in case she dies. Come to think of it, she should probably have texted her mom, too. But now it’s too late and a huge, ink-black version of her is tearing through the night, jumping over cars, striding over streets, galloping along the road that leads to the Life Foundation.

“YOU’VE GOT PLENTY OF INTERESTING ORGANS.”

Thanks, Anne thinks back.

“WHAT’S THIS ONE FOR?” A painful squeeze she recognizes only too well. Is that thing giving her period cramps?

It’s my womb! Back off!

“YOUR WOMB?” It’s reached the forest, snapping branches. “YOU MEAN YOU GROW YOUR SPAWN INSIDE OF YOUR OWN BODY? THAT’S BIZARRE.”

She could answer that it’s the alien calling the kettle black, but she keeps getting distracted by how goddamn powerful she feels—and yet so powerless at the same time. It’s so odd to feel her body moving without her input. It’s not a living suit like she imagined; it’s as much around her as it’s part of her. It’s an extension of herself. WE SHARE, said the alien, and it was telling the truth.

Its mind is close to hers, acquiring new vocabulary, new thoughts and ideas, and giving away some in return—not memories, never, but instant thoughts and feelings. Its mind isn’t very hard to read, at that. It’s just an anxious stream of Eddie Eddie Eddie.

Anne didn’t know what she was expecting from humanity’s first contact, but it wasn’t… that.

You really like Eddie, huh?

“YES. SO DO YOU.”

I guess I do, she says prudently. We used to share everything, too.

The alien pushes against her brain, exploring memories of their time together, pulling out the one of their first kiss and examining it with interest. Anne mentally bats it away while trying to figure out how to give an intergalactic parasite the shovel talk.

Listen. I’ve agreed to help you find Eddie again, but—you need to take care of him, all right? You need to keep him healthy.

“I PROMISE.”

If you don’t, I’ll rip you out of him again.

“I BELIEVE YOU.” It’s stopped in the middle of the forest, opening its nightmare mouth, letting its tongue out, scenting the air. “HE’S CLOSE.”

Yes. In fact, he’s right there, just a few paces ahead—she can see him with all the array of the alien’s senses, infrared and some colors she can’t even put a name on. Eddie’s walking with his hands up. Jesus Christ, they’re going to execute him.

The alien creeps closer. There are three men, and Eddie’s vulnerable. They need to be stealthy.

There’s a little moment when Anne and the alien both share the same heart attack as Eddie tries to wrestle the weapon out of his captor’s hands—because of course he fucking does. Brock Report all the way. He still think he’s some kind of cowboy who can just bluster his way through existence, like he tried to do with the Life Foundation. Though Anne’s got to admit he was actually onto something that time.

His executioner’s quick to kick him back into submission. Anne feels the alien’s subvocal rumble.

No, that one first, she says, glancing at the third guy. He’s got a machine gun.

The alien doesn’t answer, but a tendril darts out of its body, grabs the man and ejects him across the woods—away from the other two who don’t notice. Eddie does, though, and goes still with surprise.

What’s your name? Do you have a name?

“VENOM.”

Sure, why not. This isn’t even the most ridiculous thing Anne’s heard today. The alien snatches the second man and propels him away.

Nice meeting you, Venom. Anne focuses on the guy about to blow Eddie’s brains out. Now kill that son of a bitch.

“COPY.”

Venom eats the guy’s head.

Maybe it’s because she’s part of him at the moment, but Anne can sympathize. God knows she spends most of her days wanting to bite people’s heads off.

 

*

 

“Gone, it’s gone,” Eddie wheezes as Anne pulls him out of the water. He falls down, splashes around, tries to go back to the burning wreckage. “Maybe—maybe we can help it get better, if I get back into the lab—maybe—”

“Eddie, Eddie, no,” Anne says, letting herself get dragged into the sea before she can stop him. “Eddie, he’s dead, he said fire would kill him, it’s over, Eddie, it’s over…”

He’s crying. In the distance, there are sirens, red and blue lights.

“You did it, Eddie.” She helps him sit down. “You both did.”

“No, it was all you.” He sniffs. “That horrible noise, that—that was you, right?”

“Yes, I thought maybe...”

“Thank you. God, thank you. I’m so sorry—are you okay? I’m so sorry, Annie. Thank you, thank you…”

And it’s all he can say for the rest of the night. To the paramedics and the cops. To the nurses and the firemen. To Anne, over and over again. Sorry, thank you, sorry, thank you.

 

*

 

Even Anne breaking up with him hadn’t made such a mess out of Eddie. So when she starts suspecting that Venom isn’t gone after all—Eddie’s almost cheerful, wiggling a little where he sits, and the timing of his answers is sometimes a bit off—it’s actually a relief.

Anne still needs to digest Venom’s existence in peace, so she doesn’t push for answers. But if he’s still there, well. It’s good. Downright fucking bizarre and probably against nature. But good.

And it’s as good an excuse as any to call Dan.

“Anne? Hello?”

“Hi. Dan.” She swallows. “Are… are you all right?”

“I should be asking you that!” He sounds so relieved. “I mean, I got your texts, but—”

“I couldn’t call…” No. That’s a lie. And she doesn’t have to lie. She doesn’t have to manage Dan. “I wasn’t sure you’d want me to call.”

“What? Why?” He sounds sincerely bewildered.

“Well, for one thing, you almost died.”

“Anne, I’m a brain surgeon,” he answers in an entirely reasonable tone, “it’s not the first time I’m attacked by a patient.”

Anne nearly cracks a rib laughing.

“A patient?” she gasps when she manages to catch her breath. “Are you talking about Eddie or the alien?”

“Well, they were both dying. You can’t blame someone for an extreme reaction in those circumstances.”

She can’t quite tell how much of that is tongue-in-cheek. Dan’s probably got some shock of his own to digest. But that’s his take, and he’s sticking to it.

How did she get so fucking lucky.

“You’re an amazing man.” She exhales. “I’ve got a hell of a story to tell you. And I’d love to tell it over dinner, if you’ll really have me.”

Anne gets to the hospital two hours later. At her request, the lady behind the counter pages Dan. Her nametag says Charlene. She grins up at Anne.

“So you’re dating Dr. Lewis, huh? Isn’t he a piece of work?”

Anne blinks. “How so?”

“Well, everyone knows he’s a bit…” Charlene hesitates. “Clingy.”

Anne stares at her.

“Clingy,” she repeats.

“Yeah! I mean, he’s got no family and no friends around here, y’know? So he’s always trying to pack bond with people—but he’s a bit too… intense about it. All in, right away. All the nurses who’ve tried to date him gave up after two weeks. Said he was overbearing.”

“Anne, hi,” Dan says, appearing around the corner. He’s obviously caught the tail end of the conversation; his lips are a bit pinched. “Hello, Charlene.”

“Dr. Lewis, how are you,” Charlene coos.

Anne puts her arms around Dan and gives him a kiss for the ages. When she pulls back, Dan looks a little dazed and Charlene looks like she’s bitten into a lemon.

“Hey, honey,” Anne says. “Ready for dinner?”

He’s smiling like he just realized she was in his corner. “Sure. Anything but sea food.”

 

*

 

Anne’s been in a relationship with Eddie, so she knows he won’t be the one to keep in touch. Not to mention he obviously thinks Anne wants even less to do with him than before. But she’s forgiven him, and she’s decided she wanted to stay friends, so she does the work, calling and texting and emailing him. Dan’s not only understanding, but almost overly supportive, mixing up medical concerns with sheer friendship attempts. It’s clear by now Dan never considered Eddie a threat—just like Eddie never seemed resentful of Dan. Anne was the one with all those ridiculous stuck-up preconceptions; and now she’s going to be friends with her ex if it kills her.

 

*

 

Over dinner, Eddie clears his throat and starts fidgeting with his fork.

“Look, um—since you’ve figured out Venom’s still here anyway—no, I’m telling them right now, you stay put!—there’s a message I might as well pass on.” He waits, maybe for the alien to finish a sentence, then goes on. “Um—Venom’s sorry. Especially for attacking you in the hospital, Dan. And—and for what it’s worth, I’m… I’m sorry about everything, too.”

“Buddy, you’ve got nothing to be sorry for,” Dan answers at once, radiating sincerity. “And as for Venom, well, I can’t imagine I’d react so well if I’d just crash-landed onto a strange new planet and someone tried to rip me out of my only shelter.”

Eddie stares. Then jumps in a way that means Venom’s said something to him. “Th-thanks, Dan. You’re really—thank you.”

Later, Anne offers to help with the dishes while Dan’s in charge of picking a movie. It’s a bit too intimate, elbowing Eddie over the sink, the way they used to be; and when he looks up at her, she can’t help but brace for another awkward exes conversation. But Eddie just looks over his shoulder, looks back down at the dishes, and mumbles: “Dan’s amazing.”

Anne looks at him for a long time. “Yes. He really is.”

“I’m glad you… I mean, you—you deserve him. You guys deserve each other.”

She kisses him on the cheek. He smiles his crooked smile at her.

“I mean, of course,” he clears his throat, “you’ve always had exceptional taste in men...”

“There he is.”

“I don’t suppose anyone wants to watch Avatar?” Dan yells from the living room.

 

*

 

The alien sex thing isn’t exactly unexpected. But it’s still got Anne keeping a closer watch than usual on Eddie. He looked so freaked out when he confessed to her—and it didn’t sound as though Venom had quite understood the implications of what he’d been doing to him.

Anne’s defended a number of abusive partners during her years advocating for the devil. Some were entitled monsters that just flew into a rage when the world didn’t conform to their exact wishes. Others were more complicated—having often been abused themselves, lacking basic empathy, and unclear on what was acceptable. When it comes to Eddie and Venom’s relationship, Anne doesn’t even know which of them is most likely to accidentally abuse the other. Venom might not know much about humans and their boundaries, but none of them knows anything about him. They both genuinely care for each other, so Anne’s pretty much confident that story’s got a happy ending, but—yeah. Close watch.

Which means she goes into full crisis mode the moment her phone lights up.

NEED HELP PLEASE

It might just be another Dora Skirth situation, she reasons herself as she runs to her car—but how many more rogue scientists can come knocking on Eddie’s door bearing apologies? A glance at the time tells her that Dan’s almost done with his shift, so she texts him at the first red light.

Eddie doesn’t live far; within five minutes, Anne’s running up the stairs, with visions of horror twisting in her head, expecting anything from a pile of corpses to Eddie’s own body. She gets there, bangs on the door. Steps, coming closer, and—

The door clicks open. Eddie’s in clean clothes, fresh from a shower. His damp hair looks like ruffled feathers, and he looks a bit dizzy, maybe, but overall intact.

“Uh. Annie?”

“Eddie.” She hasn’t quite caught her breath from running up the stairs. “Eddie, are you okay?”

“Of course I’m okay, what’s—what’s this about?” He steps back to let her in, brow furrowing. “Are you okay?”

“You texted that you needed help!”

“What? I didn’t text you anything.” He pulls out his phone and thumbs through the screen. “Okay. Wow. What the hell is this?”

“You’re asking me—”

“No, sorry, not you, Annie,” he says apologetically, and—right. Even though she’s acutely aware of the alien’s presence, Anne’s still caught off guard most of the time. And now she has to accept the fact that Venom texted her.

She decides to catch her breath some more.

“What do you mean, you were worried?” Eddie goes on mumbling furiously. “I told you it was nothingand how come you know how to text? Well, yeah, no, I guess it’s not that complicated, but—no, listen, that’s not—you can’t just call Anne anytime, she’s got her own life and—”

“Eddie,” she snaps. “Mind including me in the conversation?”

Venom boils out of him. Fuck. Those eyes, those teeth. Anne wonders if she’ll ever get used to that.

“EDDIE’S SICK,” he proclaims.

Eddie sniffles in a resentful sort of way. “Yeah, it’s called a cold.”

Right then, Dan appears behind Anne, also breathless from the stairs. “I’m here! Is everyone okay?”

“Oh, and now Dan’s here. Great. Hi, Dan.” Eddie does sound stuffy, and he’s wearing soft loose clothes under a thick sweater. Fuzzy socks, too. “V, you can’t go worrying them like that for nothing.”

“DAN.” It’s the first time Venom’s directly addressed him; the single syllable of his name is like an explosion.

“Hey, buddy, what’s up?” answers Dan Lewis, Walking Anticlimax.

“EDDIE’S SICK.” Venom makes Eddie stumble forward. “AND I CAN’T CURE HIM!”

“Well, if a certain someone hadn’t eaten most of my marrow, I’d still have antibodies, now, wouldn’t I?” Eddie mumbles.

“I AM BETTER THAN ALL THE ANTIBODIES IN THE WORLD,” Venom growls. “BUT THIS IS A POLYMORPHIC INFECTION! YOU NEED TO GO TO THE HOSPITAL!”

“It’s a cold, V.” Eddie sniffles again. “Like my mom used to say, if I take medicine it’ll last a week, and if I don’t it’ll last seven days.”

“Back up just a bit, please,” Dan says. “He doesn’t have antibodies anymore?”

Venom squeezes Eddie in a guilty sort of way. Eddie shrugs; as far as his priorities go, this obviously doesn’t even make the top hundred.

“Sorry about all this, guys. We're gonna have another boundaries talk.” He sneezes.

"BOUNDARIES?"

“Yeah, yeah, you heard me. Using other people's phones pretending to be them is bad. And Anne and Dan aren't my caretakers, V. You can’t just call them in if I don’t do what you—”

“Well, we’re here now,” Anne says, because she’s got some leftover adrenaline she needs to put to good use. “Might as well stick around.”

Dan nods. “For my own peace of mind, Eddie.”

Eddie sighs—then takes a sharp inhale and sneezes explosively again, shaking up Venom’s floating head. “I’m okay, I swear,” he says thickly, flubbing his consonants. “I just need to drink some water and go to sleep…”

“When’s the last time he’s eaten?” Anne asks Venom.

“THIS MORNING.”

“It was eleven, that counted as lunch—I’m fine.”

“I’m going to make chicken soup,” Anne informs Dan.

“Good idea,” he says, already taking off his coat, “he’ll feel better on a full stomach if I’m going to take a blood sample.”

“Seriously, there’s no need to—” Eddie sniffles again, trailing after her. “Ch… chicken soup?”

 

*

 

Thirty minutes later, Eddie’s on the couch with a tub of soup in his lap, which Venom is nagging him into eating. Dan’s cleared a space on the kitchen table to set up what he needs for a blood sample.

“I’d better take a look at what Venom’s doing in there,” he says, unpacking some vacuum-sealed syringes. “Antibodies are important.”

Anne used to play softball in college. Right now she feels stupider than if she’d hit a home run and missed a base. “He mentioned that he’d been doing something to Eddie’s marrow. But I forgot. It was so important and I forgot.”

“Oh, they’re obviously both doing okay,” Dan says, upbeat as ever. “But a check-up can’t hurt.” He glances at Eddie across the room, then lowers his voice. “He’s amazing, isn’t it?”

The ball’s not only come out of left field, but also socked Anne in the jaw on this one. “Who? Eddie?”

“Taking everything in stride like that. I always thought he was kind of cool, but now, I’m just—” He shakes his head with a little laugh. “I don’t know how he does it. I’m just so impressed!”

Anne’s always naturally suspicious of anyone thinking Eddie’s cool. And this is the second time Dan’s said something along those lines. It’s… a new angle.

But when she thinks about it, she’s got to admit Eddie’s coping incredibly well with everything that’s happened and keeps happening to him. He used to live in a constant state of mild disaster—mostly of his own making—and now that he’s got some actual consequences to deal with, he’s fully embraced them. He’s still shaky and scared, but he’s keeping his head up. He’s putting in the goddamn work.

Maybe there’s a reason Venom keeps calling him the perfect host.

“Yeah, I suppose he’s doing pretty well for himself,” Anne says at last.

Dan smiles back and stands up, syringe in hand. “Okay, are you guys ready for a blood sample?”

Eddie rolls up his sleeve, mumbling “Behave, now” to the alien over his shoulder. Dan sits next to him on the couch. The needle goes in, and Eddie’s forearm flexes but nothing else happens.

“There we go,” Dan says, taking it out. “I’m going to take a look, let you both know what I find. You’re obviously doing great, Venom, but maybe some extra human biology lessons wouldn’t go amiss.”

The floating head nods vigorously. “YES. THAT WOULD BE NICE.”

“Thank you, Dan.” Eddie rolls down his sleeve, averting his eyes. Anne, still caught up in her new angle, squints. This almost looks like Eddie's being rude, but he isn't usually like that. He looks nearly embarrassed. Hold on—is he being shy?

“I’m happy to do it.” Dan puts a hand on Eddie’s shoulder, nearly at the back of his neck, and squeezes. “I know you can’t just go to any medical professional anymore, so if you ever need anything, just ask, buddy. I mean it, okay? That’s not me being your caretaker. Just being a friend.”

“Thanks—thanks, Dan,” Eddie mumbles again, awkwardly, still looking down. And yep, that’s absolutely it. He’s flustered. Dan’s just being so nice to him he doesn’t know how to react.

Anne thinks back on Charlene and her gossip. Overbearing. Sure, yes, maybe Dan could come off a little strong in more normal circumstances—and even then, who the hell complains about their partner being too caring—but right now, as they all struggle to absorb a completely unprecedented version of the world? He’s a goddamn miracle.

“Anyone wants to watch a movie?” Dan’s saying now.

Venom perks up. “I’D LIKE A MOVIE.”

“You pick, then, ‘cause I did last time. I’ll order takeout for everyone.”

Eddie still looks like he’s not too sure what just happened to him, but he’s clutching at his tub of chicken soup and blinking like he’s thinking he might as well let it happen. Anne goes to plonk down on the couch next to him and puts her arm around his shoulders, dislodging Venom who doesn’t even seem to mind.

“Finish your chicken soup, Eddie. We don’t want the alien to fret.”

“Knock it off,” he mumbles, but can’t quite keep from smiling.

 

*

 

Anne dozes off in front of the movie and wakes up with Eddie’s head in her lap.

He’s crashed hard, snuffling in his sleep, and Venom’s nowhere to be seen, which must mean he’s asleep too. She checks, but he doesn’t have a fever. It really is just a cold.

The movie’s painting moving lights on the planes of his face.

“Honey,” Dan whispers from the kitchen. “I’m making tea, do you want some?”

“Yes, please.” Her hand’s in Eddie’s hair; she’s been petting it in her sleep. 

It should be weird, this whole situation. It should be awkward for at least one of them. But instead it’s just right, the soft glow of the night light by the coffee table, and the plume of steam off the teacups on a tray, and Dan’s warmth as he settles next to her. 

He looks fondly at Eddie. “Poor guy. Colds can really knock you down.”

Anne wants to say something. Something very specific, even though she can’t quite put words on it right now. It’d be along the lines of I love you and I used to love Eddie and now I love him again but in a different way and I love that you love him and I love that you love that he loves me. But that’s too many loves in one sentence; the lawyer in her won’t have it. For now it’s easier to kiss Dan, slow and warm, while her fingers keep trailing across Eddie’s soft hair.

 

*

 

“Okay, see,” Dan says, pointing at the projection on the wall. It’s covering him too, color-coded organs stretching across his body. “You need to grow back Eddie’s marrow. His blood work is absolutely awful.”

“BUT HE’S HEALTHY,” Venom growls. He’s all out, with four limbs and a shiny domed head and a tongue that looks like it’s got a mind of its own. His teeth are so huge they’re stretching his maw into a permanent maniacal grin. He’s sitting on a single chair in the middle of the classroom; Anne has her back very firmly to the door, because it doesn’t fucking lock.

“Yes, you’re keeping him healthy, and you’re doing an excellent job,” Dan placates. “But imagine—if someone were to rip you out of him—”

“NEVER!”

“If that were to happen,” Dan insists, perfectly composed in the face of Venom’s snarling, “Eddie would get very sick without you. In the time it’d take you to go back to him, he might even die. I understand that you need some room inside his body, but some organs you’d better leave completely alone. Think of it as life insurance.”

“HMMM.” Venom tilts his head; presumably Eddie’s saying something to him. “I GUESS THERE ARE SOME PARTS OF YOUR BODY WORTH PRESERVING.”

Anne finds herself reminded that they’re having actual sex and very firmly turns her thoughts away from that useless factoid.

“ALL RIGHT,” Venom says, shifting in his comically small chair, “THEN WHAT CAN I EAT?”

Dan considers this. “His liver, as long as you don’t eat all of it. Same thing for his pancreas. One of his kidneys, too—just make sure you leave the other one alone.”

“HE SAYS THIS IS TURNING HIM ON.”

There’s a pause.

“NOW HE SAYS HE WAS JOKING AND I SHOULDN’T HAVE SAID THAT OUT LOUD.” Venom takes a moment, then adds: “HA HA.”

There's an even longer pause, which is broken by a student trying to get in, shoving the door with such energy that Anne stumbles forward. “Dr. Lewis, if I could just see you for a second about—”

“Occupied!” Anne yells, and bodyslams the door back shut.

“I—sorry, Farah, give me twenty minutes,” Dan calls at his thwarted student. “All right, let’s just… go back to the function of Eddie’s organs, shall we?”

 

*

 

Eddie keeps his face in his hands as they walk out of the medical school. Dan's stayed behind to deal with his student. After five minutes straight of mortified silence, Anne starts elbowing Eddie.

“Stop,” he mutters. “God, I can’t ever look Dan in the face again.”

“He knows you were joking, Eddie.”

Eddie says nothing. His face doesn’t come out of his hands.

“Oh my God,” Anne says, “you were not joking.”

“Can you please stop talking?”

“No, but this is really interesting! Go on, enlighten me. You’re the weirdness expert here. What’s so arousing about being eaten?”

Eddie groans, but Anne’s having way too much fun to let him off the hook.

And she can’t help—noticing. That Venom’s offered to share Eddie with her. That Dan likes Eddie and Eddie likes Dan. That she used to date one and is now dating the other. She’s not going anywhere with those thoughts, of course. Assembling them in any form of coherent reasoning would be absurd. It's just things she notices. They just pile up in a little corner of her brain.

“Just—look—” Eddie’s hands finally come down. “You need to tell me about one of your fantasies in return. I can’t be the only one dying of shame here.”

“Deal.”

“Makin’ deals with a lawyer,” he mutters, then exhales. “Okay. Uh. I don’t know. Just—Venom eating me, that’s—we do that, sometimes, we pretend that it’s going to eat parts of me and I can’t do anything. It’s—it’s a control thing. You know.”

Anne does know, which is why Eddie could confess to that one without stammering too much. She was always dominating in bed, and Eddie loved that. Loved it when she wore a suit, loved being led around by a tie around his neck, loved being ridden in bed with his hands over his head. It’s always been a thing. Venom’s just taken it to the next level.

“And when Dan started talking about what V could and couldn’t eat from me, I just—I just had this idea of me on an operating table keeping still while he—prepared me—for—like he was going to supervise the whole—look, I don’t know,” he snaps at the look on her face.

A taxi drives by. Eddie looks like he’s considering jumping in front of it. The taxi turns left, and he sighs.

“Please don’t tell Dan about this, all right? He’s very nice, and…”

And he’s competent, Anne thinks. When it comes to medical matters, Dan won’t let anything stand in his way, be it an awkward situation in a restaurant, a creature from outer space trying to crush his trachea, or the ethical ramifications of discussing which parts of a living patient can be eaten without killing him.

Eddie’s always liked competence. Anne knows this. Now she takes that little fact and adds it to that growing pile of completely unrelated thoughts in her head. It’s best left alone. She can't make it go away, but she can very firmly ignore it. 

“Your fantasy,” Eddie says. “You were supposed to tell me about one of your fantasies.”

“Right.” Anne gives him a big grin. “Well. One time, I started dating this guy just because my mom disapproved of him. Super macho. He had tattoos and a leather jacket and a motorbike—”

“You’re killing me, you know. You’re killing your ex-fiancé.”  

“Aw, I’ll just make you chicken soup again,” Anne says, and Eddie laughs with a harmonic that means Venom’s laughing, too.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

Eddie’s a universe. He goes on for lightyears. There’s a lot to explore during the quiet hours of the night, an infinity of capillaries to wander, all folded up inside his finite body, from the tidal caves of his heart to the hair-thin edges of his lungs. Venom spreads through these ramifying corridors like ink in water, blissful. The many pulses of Eddie’s organism are just enough to move a klyntar’s biomass around in gentle waves, beat by beat, breath by breath. Such slow, soothing movements in their endless repetitions: everything flowing in and out, balancing, equalizing. It’s home.

A myriad of benevolent micro-organisms float alongside Venom in the canals of Eddie’s body. It lets them through, careful not to harm any of them. Human bodies are so astonishingly complex. Venom is only Venom; Eddie is a billion separate beings working together in cyclic harmony. That system took time to learn, and the work of learning is still not done, even though a lot of progress was made since the first days.

Venom hadn’t been trying to kill its first host, delicious as he was, because hosts were to be maintained. The klyntar plan depended on it. Venom’s life depended on it. But this was its very first human bonding and everything was happening all at once and the host’s very cells were somehow attacking and these millions of bacteria seemed to be the sign of a terrible infection—and Venom was in a such a blind, panicked hurry to clear them away that it didn’t realize its host was dying until it was too late.

A first lesson learned as scientists scraped Venom off the floor.

On its second host, Venom was determined to do better, but it stumbled right into the trap of the brain. A big ball of grey matter, well-protected in a globe of bone, absolutely ripe with life-sustaining phenethylamine. And those odd elongated cells were not trying to reject the invader at every turn; they were focused inwards, defenseless. Surely the perfect place to take shelter in?

The abominable distress Venom caused just by eating a few neurons still sits uneasily in its memory. In the end, it killed its second host on purpose; trying to fix his brain was just causing more horrible reactions and it seemed kinder, at this point, to just put him down and start over. But even though it was meant as mercy, death was long and painful to come, because Venom was now very afraid of the unpredictability of the human body and had just decided to stick with the only thing it knew—eating all of the benevolent bacteria, again. Its host agony’s lasted for two days, until his organs simply failed and gave out.

Venom learned, later, that it should’ve just eaten the man’s heart to make it quick.

The watchers were at the ready. Venom was collected again in a container, frightened and anguished by this second failure, then poured into a fresh new screaming body. Surely, surely the third time would be the charm. It had to be. Venom would not bear another one of those long slow deaths.

The cells’ assault was weaker this time, which was encouraging; but it remained relentless, enough to wear out even the most persistent of klyntar. And as if things weren’t complicated enough, this third host turned out to be configured differently than the previous two. It wasn’t until its stint in Anne’s body that Venom could find out more about this type of human anatomy. (A womb! They really did have a separate organ for everything.)

This body, like the others before it, was already damaged anyway and getting worse every day, awash with sour fear and stress. The scientists’ nutritional fluid wasn’t appropriate to Venom’s needs, so it was eating its host’s organs. The body, in its distress, was also eating its own organs. And quite literally cooking itself up with fever. Everything was going horribly wrong again.

Venom was starting to panic at this point. Nobody said bonding would be so complex—or so painful. Every cell burned and bristled; the blood was awash with hostile unicellular warriors; no nook or cranny would lend itself as shelter. What kind of creature had defenses inside its body? Every movement Venom dared to make only made the situation worse, either injuring the host or unleashing fresh swarms of vindictive guardians. Riot had warned them all, going in, that they might encounter some resistance; but this was an all-out war, and Venom was all alone to fight. It couldn’t possibly survive.

And then Eddie.

Even now, months after having bonded, Venom remembers this moment vividly. Everything inside Venom’s host changed the second Eddie walked in. Hope and energy flooded her again as soon as recognition hit. Venom, crushed and miserable, uncurled in confused awe: who was this person who inspired strength back into a dying body?

The host wanted so much to be close to him. Her craving was so powerful Venom felt drunk on it. Want Eddie, everything said. Want Eddie. Venom took its chance, clumsily maneuvering her body, crushing everything as it did so, inflicting even more fear and stress and pain; she cried for help, Eddie reached her, Venom reached through her—and first contact was made.

Eddie’s cells weren’t trying to harm Venom at all.

Venom almost didn’t know what to do with itself, overcome with this sudden peace after days of grueling warfare. Everything inside was warm and quiet and welcoming. Well, the blood did put up a fight again, but this time Venom had room to think and plan and act. It quickly figured out where the attackers were coming from, and put an end to their manufacturing by sucking Eddie’s marrow dry.

Of course, Venom wouldn’t have done that if it had known just how crucial antibodies could be. Live and learn. Now that Eddie’s marrow’s been grown back, the amazing thing is that the new antibodies don’t attack Venom anymore. Maybe because it helped create them anew? They recognize its biomass as friendly and damn near high-five it along the blood vessels. Whenever they combat an intruding virus, Venom is always there to help them. They make a good team.

Back then, Venom didn’t yet know just how much it was going to love Eddie. On those first few hours, it just rested, thankful enough for this quieter place; and even though it was still desperately hungry, it tried not to eat too much of everything else, only little strips of tissue here and there. Even that was apparently too much: the body’s temperature was rising fast, trying to cook the invader out again. Humans! One function per body part meant you couldn’t injure a part without injuring the whole—like taking a cog out of a machine. Klyntar were the opposite. Each of their cells contained the whole, so that even partially eaten, they could go on: as long as some remained, enough remained. That wasn’t true for humans at all.

Venom had to know more. It couldn’t risk killing this one.

Its previous misfortunes had made it clear that all consciousness, knowledge and memories were stored in the brain—which was so stupid. Again, one organ for one function, and such a crucial one!  This complex sum of interconnected parts wasn’t how Venom had pictured the inside of humans; rather how it had pictured the inside of their rocketship.

But it needed knowledge, and it was rather convenient to have it all gathered in one place. Venom treaded with extreme care in Eddie’s brain, slithering between synapses, learning to decode their flashing on instinct. A bonded klyntar naturally shaped itself after its host, in body and mind, so Venom just had to go with the flow. It finally got around to learning Eddie’s language, which was a relief, and also some of his body functions—which prompted it to stop eating his heart and liver at once, guiltily trying to sustain their activity instead.

The problem was that Venom’s hunger kept getting worse. It was trying to stop digesting Eddie’s organs, now, so an external source of food was in order. But how to obtain it? Communicating was still a work in progress; Venom didn’t dare speaking directly into Eddie’s brain, to say nothing of maneuvering Eddie’s body.

But klyntar could be creative if needed. After a moment of reflection, Venom started eating all the inert matter inside Eddie: sugar and fat, as well as iron, magnesium, potassium and the leftover contents of his stomach and intestines. While not very replenishing for Venom itself, that sent an urgent message of hunger to Eddie’s fever-addled brain—so urgent that he ate a lot of things in a very disorganized way and then threw them all back up. The whole experience was very unpleasant, but didn’t dampen Venom’s triumph. At long last, humans were starting to make sense! Mind through matter!

Which was also the answer to communication. Venom didn’t need to invade the brain; plugging into the auditory nerve would work just as well. It was the perfect time for an experiment, too, since Eddie was looking at his reflection in the mirror, panting and pale. If sound didn’t work, at least he could see Venom’s biomass pushing through his face.

EDDIE—

Eddie knocked himself out in shock.

Well, whatever. The auditory nerve trick was working, so Venom still counted that as a win. And it was a good opportunity to practice fixing its host’s body, too. The skull had cracked against the bathroom tiles. There was blood. Brains were confusing, a lot of the other organs too—who knew what function they all served? Eddie didn’t know his own anatomy very well, so studying his memories didn’t help. But skin and tissue and bone, that was simple. A lot of worker cells were already on the scene, healing bruises and mending tears; Venom only had to study their patterns, then mimic them at speed. Within seconds, the wound had closed, and Eddie stirred awake, groaning.

Venom was so proud it did a little celebratory circuit through the heart.

Eddie was still running hot, and had lots of stress chemicals sloshing in his bloodstream now, and also a host of bacteria that didn’t seem to be benevolent—Venom realized that was probably its own fault, seeing as it had disarmed the blood. It tried to eat them, but there were so many, and they came in so fast. Still, on the whole, the bonding was going swell, Venom decided. Neither of them was in immediate danger of dying. That had to count for something.

The next big step was actually getting all up into Eddie’s body and taking it for a ride. Venom was hesitant to try, almost shy, really—until the Life Foundation’s attack forced their hand. And then—not only was the attempt an outstanding success, but Eddie started actually talking to Venom. He even said thank you at one point, when Venom told him to duck. And that… sent a lot of unexpected feelings rippling through Venom’s biomass. Of course, it was trying its best to keep its host alive, but it had never really expected its efforts to be acknowledged.

You’re welcome, Venom said back at once. It was what people did, right? In human society? Venom wanted to sound like someone who knew its business.

They were working together, now, they really were. This was how Venom had dreamed it could be. A cooperation. An understanding. All the fighting from the subjects in the lab, the fear, the dying—it had made Venom feel like a parasite, which was how klyntar were considered at large everywhere in the universe. Riot had chosen to embrace that aspect, but… privately, Venom had always thought things didn’t have to be that way. Klyntar weren’t mindless, and humans weren’t either. They could choose how they defined their own relationship. Venom could decide to just prey on its hosts, sure. But it could also to choose to nurture them. And then wouldn’t that be symbiosis? Artificial, sure, born from intention instead of nature—but symbiosis all the same?

With all those new exciting thoughts, Venom’s threatening speech to Eddie on the buoy just wasn’t very convincing. Riot had briefed them all so strictly, had made them repeat the words, insisting that asserting dominance was key. Riot said life was about eating and eating. But looking around Eddie’s world, looking at Eddie himself, Venom could plainly see it wasn’t true. Things could be built, things could be maintained. And sure, Eddie was a bit of a loser—in the sense that he fought battles he could not expect to win; he was confused, floundering, afraid. But Venom could help him be stronger. And maybe then Eddie would want Venom to stay. Maybe this was the way to symbiosis: crushing Eddie’s enemies.

So Venom very naturally offered to eat the brain of the very next man who stood in Eddie’s way. But Eddie reacted more violently to that than he had to anything else. Venom was mortified, and not too sure it understood the concept of caring for completely separate life forms. If Riot or Carrion or Toxin had stood in its way, Venom would have eaten any of them without a second thought—assuming it managed to beat them, of course. And why not? They were not its hosts; there was no reason for them to care about each other, beyond their quickly unraveling common goal.

The man in the lobby was not bonded to Eddie in any way. They had no common goal. On the contrary, he had been opposing Eddie. And yet Eddie was outraged by the thought of any harm come to him.

Mulling this over, Venom remembered its third host, the woman. Eddie’s presence had been so synonymous of kindness to her that she had felt less afraid just by seeing him. Her hope and gratitude had flooded her with such wonderful warmth, like a hint of the warmth Venom had found inside Eddie. Was this what humans did? Make others feel good, in the hope of being made to feel good in return?

It was a ridiculously sappy concept. Riot would have been barking with contemptuous laughter. Venom, though, didn’t quite feel like laughing. The idea was—it was moving. Venom knew itself to be weak at heart, easily fooled by promises of alliance, always following along, always trying to be included. Among klyntar it made him less than nothing. But here… well, Venom was lending its strength to Eddie; maybe Eddie could allow Venom’s weakness, in return.

Staying. The thought was scary and thrilling. It would mean living among humans, which clearly wasn’t instinctive to klyntar. Friendship, for instance—it still seemed like a lot of effort for very little reward. But it made sense that human society would be like human bodies: complex, with a lot of moving parts trying their best to interconnect. A mediocre attempt at symbiosis, but… symbiosis, all the same. Venom wanted that. It wanted Eddie, forever. It wanted to be wanted.

 

*

 

Having just thrown the last of its flimsy klyntar motivation to the wind, Venom enthusiastically volunteered all of its weaknesses to Eddie as proof of trust and love. But no one recognized this intention: Eddie’s better-than-friend Anne took him to a hospital where Eddie’s not-exactly-friend Dan called Venom a parasite. It chilled Venom to its very last atom. These people did not know the klyntar’s reputation, they had no preconception of them as parasites, and yet they were now calling Venom just that. Panic and anger bubbled up—could they not tell Venom was trying its best? Could they not understand their human bodies weren’t easy to get right on one’s first try? Eddie knew—Eddie understood! Eddie had said we, in answer to Venom’s constant hints of us. Eddie had stopped calling Venom parasite after the first time. Who else would have done this? Who else would have been so nice to a creature that scared them so much? Eddie was good. Their bond was good, good, good.

But then Anne said sharply that Venom had been killing Eddie and ripped it out of him without further ado.

NO, Venom begged in its last seconds. I WAS TRYING SO HARD.

 

*

 

This is the bad part, the part where Venom almost lost all hope, but it’s quietly proud to remember it, now. It managed not to die. It managed to get back to Eddie. And it even made friends with Anne. Not bad, considering it’d only been introduced to the concept a couple hours before.

None of it had been planned, of course. Venom had no plan beyond not dying. The little dog trotted along the hospital corridors in distress, knowing it needed help and knowing also that nobody would grant it. So this is what friends are for, it thought. Of course the concept became clear only through pain. Life’s lessons often worked that way.

When it saw Anne, Venom’s first impulse was to recoil; but then something lit up in its mind. Anne was certainly not its friend, but she was Eddie’s friend. She had already taken huge risks to ensure his well-being, an attitude of which Venom wholeheartedly approved, even though her ultimate target had been Venom itself.

But it couldn’t just invade her body. She would fight like the other hosts had, losing precious time. Eddie was perfect not only because of his body, but also because of his mind—his wonderful consciousness which had already begun to accept Venom. Mask! Copy! They had been working together. They had been together.

However. Anne knew Venom wasn’t mindless. She had even tried communicating, before putting her foot down; she could be reasoned with. The body was a lost cause, but the mind… Maybe if Venom could get Anne’s mind to welcome its biomass, they could make it work on a short ride.

 

*

 

She said yes, because she loved Eddie, too, which already seemed to Venom the most natural thing in the world.

Her body did flare up in fury as soon as Venom invaded it, but that was all right. It would take at least twenty-four hours before the symptoms became unbearable for either of them, and they had no intention of staying bonded that long.

Thanks to its experience inside Eddie, Venom had no problem at all maneuvering Anne’s body and communicating with her as they ran. Pat on the back, Venom, pat on the back. Good job learning your way around those stupidly complicated organisms. Obtaining her consent had been an excellent idea, too; her stress and fear were present, but in levels vastly inferior to Venom’s previous hosts, and she wasn’t physically fighting its movements either.

While they ran, Venom peered inside her brain. Memories and thoughts were difficult to read, unlike emotions which were usually backed up with a flurry of chemicals. Venom did manage to catch a glimpse of a kiss, painted in abstract flashes between neurons. It was fascinating: another very human thing, completely pointless and needlessly steeped in artificial conventions—but so significant. A symbol of love.

It sounded like the perfect way to get back inside Eddie.

 

*

 

The kiss is a good place to stop. The night’s ending, and as much as Venom would have liked to recollect the reunion with Eddie and everything that happened after, it’s time to wake up. Eddie’s stirring, snuffling. Taking control of its drifting biomass, Venom rouses itself from its happy meditations and prepares for activity again. It can’t wait to start another day with Eddie.

“Mmph.” Eddie rolls to his side, not quite awake, and gropes for his phone. “Wha’ time is it?”

CLOSE TO NINE.

“Hey there, love,” Eddie says through a yawn. “Sleep okay?”

Each and every one of his loves could sustain Venom better than all the phenethylamine in the world. No other person in the universe would be so nice to a klyntar. Certainly nobody else would love one. Love’s pretty much against nature, anyway, as far as their species are concerned; it just doesn’t make sense from the klyntar evolutionary standpoint. But Venom doesn’t care anymore about being abnormal. On Earth, abnormal means happy.

HELLO, EDDIE. It trickles out over Eddie’s chest, shapeless, just to squeeze him. IT WAS A GOOD NIGHT.

“That doesn’t sound like you actually slept.”

I DON’T SLEEP.

Eddie’s scrolling through his newsfeed, very little of the information actually making it to his brain. “Y’ don’t?”

Venom snorts. Klyntar might have their failings, but at least they aren’t a precariously balanced pile of systems that need to regroup every day to get their story straight, thank you very much.

NO, IT’S A HUMAN THING.

“Well, we should tell Dora, she’ll have a field day.” Eddie yawns again. He’s half-hard, as he often is on mornings, but too sleepy still to do anything about it. “What d’you do all night, then?”

I EXPLORE YOU.

That gets a stirring.

Venom coils interestedly inside him. As it already noticed, the part of Eddie’s body that gets stimulated the most during sex is the brain. Sure, the nerves light up, but that’s nothing compared to the fireworks in Eddie’s neurons. Venom wouldn’t ever dare to interfere with a human brain again, but it knows how to stimulate it from afar. Touch works; talking does, too. So it keeps talking.

I MAINTAIN YOU. YOU ARE MINE TO FIX UP. I DECIDE WHICH PARTS TO KEEP AND WHICH ONES TO THROW AWAY.

Eddie pushes back into his pillow. He’s filling up for good, now; he takes a sharp inhale when Venom pulls him out of his boxers, and his hand darts out to grabs its tendril.

“V, that’s, uh—maybe that’s too much of a workout before breakfast—”

SLOW, Venom says. It’s been wanting to try slow ever since Anne explained sex was sacred. As a general rule, Venom is always game for trying out things the human way.

“S… slow?” Eddie’s still holding onto Venom in token protest, but he’s not really putting up that much of a fight.

TRUST ME.

Eddie huffs and closes his eyes as Venom gives him a long, slow stroke. “Fffuck.” His fingers open, let go of Venom, and he keeps on mumbling, “Oh, fuck, all right, fine, what the hell…”

The stroking alone is good. No thrusting into his body today. It’s actually nice, this slower pace; gives Venom some time to appreciate what it’s doing to Eddie. The hitches in his breath are great; so’s the way he twists in slow-motion, heels digging into the mattress. But after a little while, Venom notices that Eddie’s brain is flashing in very familiar patterns.

Eddie’s imagining it—imagining Venom holding him down, Venom hurting him, Venom driving his body to the brink of panic—even as it isn’t happening. He’s stimulating his own brain to enhance his current experience.

Venom almost makes it happen, since it’s so clearly what Eddie likes best—then remembers Eddie said he didn’t want the usual way before breakfast. Right. Sex is sacred, which means it’s mind over matter for once. Words count for more than wants.

Well then, maybe they can stick to words for today. Stimulating mostly the brain instead of the body. As long as it’s good for Eddie.

WE COULD TALK ABOUT DAN.

Eddie’s eyes snap open; he frowns in confused alarm at the ceiling. “Uh, what? No, thanks. Let’s not talk about Dan.”

THE IDEAS YOU HAD AT THE MED SCHOOL. I HEARD THEM, EDDIE. Venom keeps its slow stroking. HOW WOULD YOU LIKE DAN TO DISSECT YOU?

Eddie gets noticeably harder.

Venom’s delighted. Eddie’s not; he rubs at his face and mutters “Christ, Eddie, you’re fuckin’ depraved.”

I COULD HOLD YOU DOWN FOR HIM. MAKE SURE YOU DON’T STRUGGLE WHEN HE COMES WITH THE SCALPEL.

Eddie tugs out his pillow and puts it over his face, muffling his own voice when he says, “Jesus fuck.”

SCANS AREN’T GOOD FOR US. SO DAN WOULD HAVE TO CUT US OPEN TO MAKE SURE WE’RE EATING THE RIGHT PARTS OF YOU. Venom catches the shape of a few stray thoughts racing across Eddie’s neurons. NO, HE WOULDN’T MAKE YOU SLEEP. WE WOULD WANT YOU TO BE FULLY AWARE OF WHAT WE’RE DOING TO YOU.

“God—” His hips push up. Obviously, there’s very little difference between imagining an action and actually performing that action, as far as Eddie’s brain is concerned. Human brains are so weird. All those thoughts shoved together in a ball—of course crossed wires happen.

Venom keeps the stroking going. BUT MAYBE YOU WOULDN’T NEED TO BE RESTRAINED. YOU WOULD GO WILLINGLY, WOULDN’T YOU, EDDIE? YOU WOULD SUBMIT. YOU ALWAYS DO.

Eddie crushes the pillow ever harder over his face. His cheeks are heating up. All of him is shaking, tensing up, winding up for climax.

IT’S WHAT I LIKE ABOUT YOU. HOW PLIANT YOU ARE.

“Hey—screw you—”

AND DAN IS NICE. HE WOULD REASSURE YOU THROUGHOUT.

Eddie nearly comes, and groans in misery under his pillow; he always seems sort of appalled to be liking what he likes. It’s funny.

YOU WOULD BE SCARED AND HE WOULD SAY NICE THINGS TO YOU. HE WOULD KEEP CUTTING INTO YOU BUT HE’D SMILE AND HE’D TELL YOU HOW GREAT YOU’RE DOING. AND YOU WOULD THANK HIM BECAUSE YOU’D WANT HIM TO LIKE YOU. YOU WOULD TRY SO HARD TO BEHAVE FOR HIM.

Eddie’s body’s shaking like it’s about to fly apart.

MAYBE HE’D ASK ANNE TO HELP KEEP YOU CALM—

This time Eddie comes.

Orgasms feel nearly lethal to Venom’s biomass for some reason, but they’re so worth it. That white-out moment is better than about anything else in the universe. Eddie’s gasping breaths are so pleasant to hear, as they slow down and smooth into silence again. Warm chemicals spread through his body. Venom unravels completely inside him and purrs.

The afterglow is always so sluggish and nice that Venom takes a little while to notice Eddie’s not okay, still carrying tension in his shoulders. It’s not a good realization, especially after their conversation with Anne. What did Venom do wrong? They went slow. They did nothing they hadn’t already done a thousand times before. There wasn’t even any penetration—any more than their usual state of being, anyway.

EDDIE? Venom pushes out of him. “EDDIE, WHAT’S WRONG?”

Eddie huffs, looks away. “Nothing, love. It was really good. That’s, uh, kind of the issue.”

Venom thinks back on Eddie’s initial protest. “WAS IT BECAUSE WE TALKED ABOUT DAN? BUT YOU LOVE DAN.”

Eddie winces. “I don’t love Dan.”

“YES, YOU DO. YOU LOVE THEM BOTH.” They’ve established this. Eddie even confessed to them, which made him feel happy in an almost painful way, and then sad for the next couple of days.

“Okay, yes, in a way, but—we’re talking about sex, here. I’ve been trying, really trying to move on from Anne, you know. And Dan, well—he’s great, no question. I… he’s great. But he’s…” Eddie frowns and stares at nothing, the way he does when he’s confused with himself. “…he’s a guy, and…

“IF WE ARE TALKING ABOUT SEX, THAT’S NOT RELEVANT.” Sometimes Eddie needs Venom to state the obvious. “YOU’RE INTO CERTAIN SITUATIONS, NOT CERTAIN PEOPLE.”

Eddie keeps staring at nothing for a solid two minutes.

“EDDIE?”

He runs both hands through his hair, then makes a perceptible effort to clear his mind. “Can you—can we talk about something else for a little while, love?”

Venom obligingly retracts inside Eddie’s body. It wasn’t a fan of this conversation anyway; some things are much too human for its liking. The intricacies of sex were tricky enough, and now here come the intricacies of desire, and then the intricacies of love. All so needlessly complex, in ways that don’t even seem to make sense to people themselves.

I’M HUNGRY.

“Yeah, what a surprise,” Eddie mumbles, sounding relieved at this familiar ground.

 

*

 

After Eddie got a cold the last time, Dan installed something on Eddie’s phone that lets Venom text without accidentally impersonating its host. Dan’s so thoughtful. No wonder Anne and Eddie love him, no matter how twitchy Eddie gets when Venom mentions that.

Eddie’s sitting at the kitchen table trying to finish up on his article, which mostly means he’s typing and deleting the same string of words over and over again. Venom hovers over his shoulder for a few minutes, tracking the letters, then gets bored.

“DO YOU WANT COFFEE?”

“No, love, thank you,” Eddie mumbles, focused on his screen.

Even those absent words are kind. Kindness is instinctive to Eddie. He is so very much alien—and he is the most wonderful, wonderful alien in the universe.

Eddie shivers, the way he does whenever Venom gets awash with a fresh wave of love, and looks up from his screen, craning his head to look at Venom floating over him. “Hey there, V. Feeling sappy?”

“SHUT UP.”

Eddie chuckles and gets back to his article. Venom steals Eddie’s phone right out of his jeans and slithers away to trickle under the couch, giving him space to work. It lights up the screen and swipes to its dedicated app, using a scrap of felt to type since the touchscreen won’t recognize its biomass. There are always questions to ask Dan.

DAN THERE IS A SMALL OVOID ORGAN UNDER EDDIE’S LIVER

IT IS FULL OF LIQUID

WHAT IS IT?

Only a few seconds go by before Dan’s answer pops up. That sounds like the gallbladder!

WHAT IS IT FOR

It’s for storing bile! Eddie needs that to digest fat.

SO IF I DIGEST FAT FOR HIM I CAN EAT HIS GALLBLADDER?

I don’t see why not! Keep an eye on his homeostasis, though. If something goes wrong, grow it back. And let me know the results either way

YES

THANK YOU DAN

You’re welcome, bud!

“You know you don’t need to text Dan, love,” Eddie says from his laptop. “You can look up whatever you want on the Internet.”

“I KNOW.” Venom oozes out from under the couch, slipping the phone back in Eddie’s pocket before reintegrating his body. BUT DAN’S NICE.

Eddie clears his throat, then clicks his laptop shut. “I can’t write today. Wanna go to that AIM press conference after all? Might be interesting.” With no answer forthcoming, he tries, “We can take the bike.”

Venom slurps out to envelop Eddie’s head in a shiny helmet. SAFETY FIRST.

 

*

 

It eats Eddie’s gallbladder on the way. Dan authorized it. Maybe Eddie would like to hear about that the next time they have sex.

 

*

 

The reception at the AIM Center is boring, full of people Venom cannot eat, so it falls back on the canapés.

OOH! CREAM CHEESE. It inches Eddie’s body to the right, making him lose his balance and straighten up jerkily.

“Cut it out, jeeze. I’m trying to pass as sane, here,” Eddie grouses. But then he also steps all the way to the right so Venom can access the cream cheese canapés.

Eddie does regret his kindness when he turns around a few minutes later to realize Venom’s eaten the entirety of the buffet, including the cardboard plates and wooden toothpicks. Nobody saw—they’re all too busy looking at the giant diamond polymer screens AIM’s unveiling—but he still hastily steps to the other side of the room, making his excuses as he pushes through the throng of people.

YOU DIDN’T MISS ANYTHING, Venom reassures him. THOSE CANAPÉS WERE SUBPAR.

“That is not the issue here,” Eddie hisses. Someone shoots him a weird look. He always forgets people can hear him when he talks to Venom. It’s very endearing.

The diamond screens flash with a news channel. The AIM presenter’s saying something about how those are the highest resolution available, ever, in the whole universe, because of light physics. It’s bullshit—everyone knows the a’askavariians can do better with three hands tied behind their back. Venom’s kind of hoping AIM will try to attack again soon. Chocolate’s good, but human brains are better.

And then, without warning, Eddie’s entire body goes cold.

Venom waits a few seconds, then prods him from the inside. EDDIE?

No answer. Icy chemicals are flooding Eddie’s brain. He’s completely paralyzed. He’s not breathing.

EDDIE? WHAT’S WRONG? EDDIE!

Still nothing. Venom wildly scans their surroundings but no one’s attacking them. There’s nothing wrong with Eddie’s body. It’s his brain. There’s still some very unusual activity in his brain. Well—no. Venom’s seen this before, on its first days with Eddie. It’s overpowering terror.

It’s getting worse by the second, eating at Eddie’s energy now. An executive decision must be made. Venom gathers its courage, then floods Eddie’s brain and absorbs the neurotransmitters responsible for his current state.

There’s an awful moment where it’s the second host all over again, and Venom thinks it’s turned Eddie into a twitchy, half-paralyzed, terrorized thing that can’t ever be fixed; but then Eddie gasps for breath and no, he’s good, he’s normal, his brain’s getting back into normal patterns—

“What’s the—what just—what, what did you do?” He’s shaking, talking too loud. They’re lucky he moved to the back of the room.

WHAT HAPPENED? EDDIE, EDDIE, TELL ME WHAT HAPPENED. ARE YOU OKAY? EDDIE, TALK TO ME.

Eddie’s still too cold, and his skin’s all clammy. “Did you… did you eat what I was feeling just then?”

But Venom can’t answer, because it’s looking at the screen and seeing what Eddie just saw: a pile-up in the middle of San Francisco. At least a dozen wrecked cars. One of them is very clearly Anne’s. Nobody else would dare drive something in that shade of green.

Venom isn’t sure which one of them finally starts moving, hurrying out of the room and running across the parking lot for the bike. Maybe it’s both of them, or neither, just instinct propelling their body forward, leaping astride and turning on the gas.

 

*

 

Anne isn’t answering her phone. Venom’s going in circles in Eddie’s body. No, no, no. Those feelings are too much. Venom’s just a klyntar. Its goal in life is to eat and avoid being eaten. It wasn’t built to handle this horrible helplessness, this all-consuming anguish. Not over people Venom isn’t even bonded with.

“She’ll be fine,” Eddie mumbles as he dismounts jerkily in front of the hospital, “she’ll be just fine—”

HOW CAN YOU KNOW THAT?

“It’s a human thing, dammit, I’m trying to reassure myself—”

Venom bubbles out to wrap around Eddie’s side and hold tight. Eddie loops an arm around its biomass and squeezes in a half-hug, briefly pressing his face against Venom; then he shakily pushes back. “You—you need to get inside, love. Please, get back inside, and then—we can go. We can ask around and find out. All right? Go on, go...”

Venom miserably retreats inside Eddie, who hurries into the hospital, throwing hunted looks around like Anne’s going to be there in the waiting room. She’s not, of course, and they get to the counter and ask for Anne Weying in a breathless voice.

“Are you family?” retorts the woman behind the counter. Her nametag says Charlene. Venom wants to eat her. Why does it matter. They know Anne and they want to see her. Why can they not see her at once.

“I’m her—I’m her ex-fiancé,” Eddie says, but there’s already a note of defeat in his voice.

“Sorry, I’m afraid that doesn’t count.”

Eddie sags with desperation. “Please, I—look, can you call Dan Lewis? Doctor Daniel Lewis?”

“Dr. Lewis is in the emergency room.”

Eddie pushes away from the counter, overwhelmed, then comes back. “Look,” he says, grabbing the edge with both hands, “can you just—please, please, could just page him or something? He knows me, he’s Anne Weying’s boyfriend—”

“Sir, you misunderstand. Dr. Lewis was in her car. He’s in the emergency room as a patient.”

Eddie stops moving and speaking and breathing.

All right. That’s enough of those horrible panic neurotransmitters. It’s time for Venom to take charge. It activates the lungs again—in, out, in, out—and drags Eddie forward through a set of heavy double doors. The nurse protests behind them, but they’re running at full tilt now, slaloming between beds on wheels and plastic chairs. For once, Eddie doesn’t even seem to mind being jerked around by his own body.

“Where—where are we going, V—”

Venom takes a sharp inhale through Eddie’s nose. I CAN SMELL THEM.

“You can?”

Dan’s smell is everywhere, actually, seeing as this is his workplace; Anne’s is easier to pinpoint. A turn to the left, another turn to the right, and suddenly there she is.

She’s on a bed with wheels, too. She’s still in her clothes, with dried blood on her face, and she’s very much awake. In fact, she’s sitting up and swearing at her cracked phone, trying to swipe at the unresponding screen.

When she looks up, it’s with mild confusion. “Eddie?”

They’re half-drunk on relief. Venom releases Eddie, who stumbles forward and makes an aborted move to hug Anne, only then he doesn’t.

“I saw—on TV, your car, green car, I saw—are you okay? Are you both okay?”

“Oh, Eddie.” Her face is crumpling. “I’m so sorry, I had no idea you knew, I didn’t think you’d be worried—” She gives both her hands to Eddie, who squeezes them very tight. “I’m fine. Look at me. I’m doing so good, no one’s even bothering with me. I’m just a little shaken up. It was an impressive pile-up, but we’re okay.”

Eddie looks away, swallowing. Guilt’s rushed into the space vacated by fear. “Well, I’m—I’m sorry for just… running here. I mean, I know we’re not—you must think I—”

“You have every right to be here,” Anne cuts him off.

Eddie blinks a little at her; and Anne looks slightly awkward as well, as if she’s said too much. This is all too subtle for Venom. It trickles out of Eddie’s hand to wrap around Anne’s fingers, and her eyes go a little wide but then she smiles.

“I’m sorry I worried you, too, darling.”

Venom squeezes. It likes Anne. And Eddie loves Anne. If Anne died, both of them would be very unhappy for a very long time. This is a good definition for friends, in a nutshell. People who make one happy just by being alive.

“Oh…” Eddie sits next to her on the bed, suddenly exhausted. Venom can see it happening—his adrenaline is draining away, leaving nothing but the emptiness of relief. “Is this payback for everything I’ve put you through?”

“Yes, Eddie,” Anne says flatly. “How astute of you. We got in a car accident just to give you a good scare.”

He smiles at her, and after a second of unimpressed staring, her face melts into a smile, too. Then they’re looking at each other and Eddie’s brain does something complicated, a mess of emotions and contradictory chemicals.

“I’m glad you’re okay,” he says quietly.

She looks at him, opens her mouth, closes it. Then she takes a deep breath.

“I need you to do something for me.”

Eddie’s voice doesn’t change. “Anything.”

“I need you to take care of Dan.”

Eddie blinks. “What? I… You said you were both fine—”

“He’s not. I mean, he’s okay, but he just got in a car accident. He needs to wind down. But since he can walk, he’s insisting on doing his job and nobody here can tell him to just go home because he’s the head surgeon. I need you to get him away from here, get him to my place. Could you do that? Please?”

Eddie just stares and says nothing. Venom’s debating shaking him up, or even answering for him, but it’s too late; Anne’s having second thoughts.

“No, of course, you don’t have to. Sorry, Eddie, I’m not thinking clearly, I don’t know why I asked you that—”

“What are you talking about? Of course I’ll do it.” There’s a lot of complicated stuff happening in Eddie’s brain again. Venom can’t follow. “Of course.”

They look at each other again for a little while, and then Eddie awkwardly clears his throat and gets up and quickly kisses Anne on the forehead and then scuttles away in search of Dan. His brain is still a mess, and Venom’s given up on trying to figure out what he’s thinking. Instead it pokes a tentacle out of Eddie’s back to wave Anne goodbye.

 

*

 

Dan lights up when he sees Eddie, as usual. Then he ducks his head and rubs the back of his neck as Eddie fumblingly explains that he’s here to wrangle him home.

“Oh, I know I shouldn’t be here, really,” he says with a little contrite smile. He looks around at the nurses and interns. “You guys didn’t know how to kick me out, huh? Sorry about that, team.”

They exchange quick little glances that Venom doesn’t like much. Dan takes off his white coat. Without the contrast of the bleached fabric, he looks too pale, and there’s bruises all over the left side of his face. Eddie hesitates for a long second and then, in a jerky movement, puts his arm around Dan’s shoulders.

“Come on, bu—pal. Uh, buddy. Dan.” He steers him to the exit. “Let’s just go home and… watch something.”

“I wish we weren’t leaving Anne here,” Dan says, looking over his shoulder.

“Me too. But she’s the one who sent me to get you. You guys are just keeping her in observation, she’ll be fine.”

A lot of people wave bye to him on their way out, saying how relieved they are to see him go, advising him to rest and take care. Dan looks like he feels guilty for trying to stay and help.

They take a taxi, not the bike. Venom’s hungry, but for once it doesn’t say anything. The atmosphere’s odd, too silent. Dan turns paler as the minutes tick by. By the time they get to Anne’s apartment, he looks ready to keel over.

Eddie gets to the door. “C’mon, let’s—ah. D’you have a key?”

“Yes, of course.” Dan fumbles them out and lets them fall to the ground. “So sorry. Butterfingers today.”

There’s another confused rise of complex feelings inside Eddie. He bends down to pick up the keys since Dan’s not doing it himself.

“Hey, Dan, are you—are you feeling all right?” he says as he opens the door.

“I’m not sure,” Dan states as they climb the stairs. And then as they get to the apartment door, he adds, “Eddie, I’m sorry, I think I’ve made a mistake.”

“What?”

“I’m fairly certain I have a concussion,” Dan says, and then he drops.

Venom’s the one to catch him, through Eddie’s body; Dan hasn’t quite passed out, but he’s not all there anymore, either. He grabs onto Eddie, tight. His eyes are unfocused, his lips move but he’s not speaking. Eddie swears and swears and lowers Dan to the hallway floor.

“C’mon, Dan, stay with me, hey—you can’t do this to me, you’re the doctor here—”

Dan’s gleaming with sweat now, too pale, too pale. Venom pours out to flow around Dan’s head, prodding carefully through his skin. There’s a small tear inside his brain letting in blood. Eddie freezes when Venom reports back.

“Oh, shit, shit, shit—”

WHAT DO WE DO? Venom prompts him.

“We call—we call 911. Emergency services. Shit, we were just in the hospital…”

Dan’s hands are still knotted in Eddie’s hoodie. The automatic hallway light shuts off. Eddie’s phone screen is a bleary blue in the dark. He stares at it but doesn’t call anyone.

Venom pours out. “EDDIE?”

“They don’t have ambulances,” Eddie says in the dark hallway. His shadowed throat moves up and down. “I noticed, when we left the hospital—they were all gone to the scene of the pile-up.”

He’s clutching Dan’s wrist. Dan’s breathing’s turned into a labored rasp.

They don’t even need to speak. They know what happens now. There’s nothing else to do.

“Please, be careful,” Eddie breathes shakily.

I KNOW HUMAN BODIES PRETTY WELL BY NOW. Oh, now Venom gets what Eddie meant earlier when he said he was trying to reassure himself.

“No, I know, I meant—you be careful.” Eddie sounds small. “And don’t… don’t leave me for too long.”

This hits Venom right to its core. NEVER. NEVER. I LOVE YOU, EDDIE.

“I love you too.”

Venom goes—pours from Eddie’s fingers into Dan’s wrist.

It hurts and burns like all human bodies do, all except Eddie’s. It feels so foreign already, to be in someone else. Venom shouldn’t be out there, inside Dan. But it’s the only way. Venom can do this. It knows enough now. It can help. And it wants to help, that’s the thing. That’s the whole thing about staying here, about living with humans. Caring is part of the deal.

Dan shudders violently and clutches hard at Eddie, trying to speak again.

“It’s okay,” Eddie’s saying, cradling his face. “Just—just breathe. I’m here. We’re here.”

Venom knows it’s hurting Dan, just by being in him, but it’s got no choice. It keeps going to the brain. Oh, why did it have to be the brain. Fine. All right. Here is the blood, slowly flooding the skull. And some synapses have snapped. Venom circles them in worry. Eating neurotransmitters was one thing. Messing with the cells is another. Venom promised itself it wouldn’t ever do it again, but this blood. It shouldn’t be there. That’s fairly obvious.

“It’s okay, V. You know this.” Eddie’s voice is strangely muffled through Dan’s ears. “I… believe in you?”

He’s such a loser. Venom loves him so much. It wants to get back inside him now.

Nothing to it. Venom puts the synapses back and sucks in all the blood—Dan tenses up, grips tighter onto both of Eddie’s wrists, and Eddie grips him in turn, keeping up his anxious stream of reassurance, for the both of them. Venom needs to get out of here before it accidentally crushes Dan’s consciousness. Also, everything hurts.

Pores are too complex when it comes to getting out of a body. Mouth-to-mouth is better. Venom slips into Dan’s free arm and jerks it up to grab Eddie’s collar; their mouths collide and Dan struggles and moans when Venom gathers up in his throat and pours itself into Eddie.

It lasts for a minute or so, and then it’s over, it’s over, Venom is pooling shakily inside Eddie’s stomach and both humans are breathing hard.

I THINK I DID IT, EDDIE.

It’s so good to be home. Klyntar don’t sleep but they do stop thinking sometimes, just go adrift, the way Venom does at night, floating in the chambers of Eddie’s heart. It wants to do that now. To take a moment.

“All right, I’ve, I’ve got it from here,” Eddie says even though his eyes are way too wide. “Just—just you rest, okay? Just you both rest. I’ve—I’ve got it.”

 

*

 

Dan says nothing for fifteen minutes, sitting on the couch and drinking the burnt coffee Eddie’s guiltily made for him. Venom’s sloshing in and out of awareness, wondering why they don’t speak but too worn out to figure it out. Eddie nervously wanders the apartment for a little while, touching everything, then gives up when he nearly breaks a vase and comes back to sit on the couch, with his hands trapped between his thighs.

Of course Dan’s the one to speak first, clearing his throat. “So. What… what happened exactly? Inside me, I mean.”

“I’m not sure.” Eddie shifts awkwardly. “There was…”

BLOOD, supplies Venom.

“Blood,” Eddie dutifully repeats. “In your brain. And…” He listens, then goes on, “Some ruptured synapses.”

"Right. Did he… fix those?”

“Yeah. Was that wrong? I mean, how—how are you feeling? You… you look better…”

“Oh, no, yes. Blood in the brain, that’s very bad. Really, thanks.” Dan looks distracted. “Only now I can see color.”

Eddie blinks. “Sorry?”

“I’m colorblind. Grayscale colorblindness, actually. But now everything’s different and I’m assuming that’s—color.”

“Oh. Wow.” Eddie blinks again. “Uh… Sorry?”

“Sorry?” Dan manages to smile. “You saved my life and gave me colors as a bonus. I'm the one who's sorry for putting you both through that.”

Again with the complicated feelings. This time Venom gets the general outline. Eddie would like to—do something about Dan. Hug him, probably. Or maybe nuzzle his neck. At the very least pat his hair. Or his face. Some touching’s involved, anyway.

JUST TELL HIM, Venom growls.

Eddie compromises. “I’m… I’m glad you’re all right, Dan. Hope we didn’t freak you out.”

“It's all on me, bud. I should've known better than telling myself I was fine. I'm very lucky both of you were here.”

Eddie doesn’t know what to say to that.

“At least we’ve run into each other again that way! I mean, I don’t think we’ve even talked since that anatomy lesson,” Dan goes on with a smile.

Venom finds this hilarious and would love to talk also about the way it just made them both kiss, but Eddie changes the subject at once, mortified. Typical of people who won’t jump off buildings.

 

*

 

Eddie stays the night, because this is apparently the procedure for concussions, according to Dan anyway. The couch isn’t comfortable; it’s some kind of designer piece that’s all hard lines and slightly inclined planes. Venom can feel all of Eddie’s muscles tightening in his struggle not to roll off.

YOU SHOULD GO IN DAN’S BED.

“Shut up,” Eddie mumbles, pulling a cushion over his head.

Venom checks the time. WE NEED TO GO POKE HIM ANYWAY.

So Eddie gets up and shuffles to the bedroom to check on Dan. He’s sleeping; Eddie pokes him in the shoulder until he stirs and gives a sleepy thumbs-up. Good. Not dead. Eddie goes back to his awful couch and tries to sleep again.

YOU CAN STAY ASLEEP AND I’LL GO NEXT TIME, Venom offers.

“Thanks, love, but I’m not sure Dan would like that.”

Venom can’t see why not, but doesn’t comment. Two hours later, it shakes up Eddie again. He gets up, shivering with fatigue, and goes to Dan’s room.

“I’m awake,” Dan says before Eddie can even poke him. Then, as Eddie moves to leave: “You can stick around if you want.”

Eddie freezes. “Sorry?”

“It’s a king. Just get in here, bud, I don’t mind. That couch is awful."

AH. SEE?

The couch is awful, and Eddie’s tired so he’s not thinking clearly, and also Venom possibly maneuvers him forward just a bit. He stumbles, hits his shin, and climbs into the bed with a soft curse. Dan’s right, it’s a big bed. They’re not touching. Eddie’s still tense. He relaxes by a fraction when Dan falls asleep again. Then it’s his turn, in stops and starts; his breathing evens out and the room gets very quiet.

Venom pushes out a tendril and pokes Dan.

“Oh, hey,” Dan murmurs when he sees that Venom’s the one waking him up. “Good call, we should let him sleep.”

Venom rises out of Eddie like a vapor. Dan’s eyes track its progress but don’t betray any fear.

“WE LIKE YOU,” Venom informs him.

Dan’s an intelligent person, and he didn’t invite Eddie into his bed for nothing, no matter what Eddie might think. Eddie’s good at denial. It’s not useless—it’s probably what saved them both on those hectic first days of bonding. It’s probably what makes him so patient with Venom. But Venom’s a klyntar and likes things to be clear-cut. No matter how deeply ensconced in the human psyche, some instincts will always stay the same.

Dan just looks at Venom for a while, then says, “I have to talk about this with Anne, bud.”

“AS LONG AS THINGS GET A MOVE ON,” Venom rumbles, reeling back inside Eddie. “GOOD NIGHT, DAN.”

“Wait, wait.” Dan inches closer, speaking very quietly not to wake up Eddie. “So did you eat his gallbladder after all?”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

 

 

 

Dan’s always had a bright approach to life, but he wouldn’t say it’s always gotten bright results.

It’s something he notices as early as high school. On the surface, people respond well to his positivity. Everybody knows him, and likes him, and sits next to him at lunch. Dan is generally invited to parties. But when they see too much of him, people start saying he’s too intense and doesn’t know how to take it easy. Dan’s all right for some in small doses only.

Well, always look on the bright side. Intense personalities are usually a good fit for medical careers, so Dan follows up, and it turns out to be an excellent idea. College is no trouble; medical school’s very stimulating; and his surgical residency goes swimmingly. The head surgeon commends Dan on his cool head during procedures, but he does it while frowning, like Dan’s done wrong by doing too well. After another few successful surgeries, he sits Dan down and warns him against the god complex. Dan says understood and thank you sir, because he’s polite at heart, but, well, he doesn’t feel like he’s got the god complex. His first year of residency’s not even over and already he’s seen for himself that sometimes surgeons fail, and people die, and nothing can be done. But he also knows that most of the time, surgeons can do a lot. And isn’t that great, being able to weigh so much in the balance? That’s why Dan doesn’t hesitate when it comes to cutting into people. It’s just so satisfying.

He does learn not to sound too positive about things like death and disease. A nurse drives it home one day by taking him aside after a rare failed surgery and telling him he can come off as lacking empathy. When Dan confusedly points out he’s very good at breaking the news to families who just lost a loved one—speaking quiet, letting his own regret show, but not so much that it detracts from their grieving; he’s got it down pat—she tells him see, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. And well, it’s true that the other interns go out of their way to avoid bearing that kind of bad news. But Dan wouldn’t dream of shirking it. When he’s failed to save a life, he can at least try to bring some comfort to grieving people. It’s as much a part of his job as everything else.

And he’s good at his job, there’s no getting around it. He works hard, he stays positive, and he’s excellent with patients, both children and adults. They describe him as approachable, reassuring, competent. Word gets around that Dr. Lewis is the nicest surgeon in the hospital. Just like in high school, most people actually do enjoy his happy, steady outlook on life. It’s when they get overexposed to it that things start degrading.

Somehow, the medical environment puts that discrepancy in even starker relief. Dan works at three different hospitals in rapid succession, and the same patterns appear every time. At first, people love him. The doctors raise eyebrows at his candid manners, but also seem to find them refreshing; the nurses always appreciate a cheerful attitude that’s lined with respect; and the young and frightened interns crave nothing more than kindness. Then, as the weeks go by, Dan starts to wear people out. In a cynical environment, he doesn’t become cynical and that just doesn’t fit. Of course no one rolls their eyes where he can see; but he hears whispers and muffled snickering whenever he says something a bit too corny. He’s not quite sure how to solve it. He’s fairly certain faking cynicism to fit in wouldn’t go over well. All he can do is keep a smoothly running team, even if they’re smoothly running against him. Banding against someone’s very good for cohesion, right? Always look on the bright side.

Sometimes, Dan does meet a kindred spirit. The very nice New Age psychiatrist who chatted with him about the Sedona vortex during his time in Arizona, for instance. Or the bright-eyed young intern who didn’t start disliking him after two weeks, but who also had a nervous breakdown and quit. It’s hard to have empathy in a medical environment. People’s shells harden, or they fracture. Maybe it’s why everyone’s so suspicious of Dan, whose shell is transparent—he’s always been transparent, on every level—so it looks like it’s just him enduring all those moments of despair and death and coming out smiling like nothing happened. He can see how it would be unsettling, so he tries not to be resentful.

Inevitably, Dan ends up getting a head surgeon position, incidentally making him one of the top three youngest head surgeons in US history. He’s delighted, naturally; but it’s in the San Francisco hospital, meaning he’ll be far away from what little family he’s got, and of course without any friends at all. For someone like him, rebuilding an entire social life from scratch can be a daunting perspective. But of course he goes anyway.

He tries, on arrival—he always tries—but the SF staff quickly starts raising eyebrows and hiding smirks as well. Of course, he’s their boss now, meaning he can at least expect polite professionalism from everyone. And it’s not like people despise him. They never quite do. What they do is speak to him with either light exasperation or condescending indulgence. It’s not even mean-spirited, really, because they obviously think he doesn’t even notice, too lost in beatitude for that.

Letting them know he does notice would only make trouble, so Dan plays along. It’s fine. If nothing else, it’s familiar.

He does have a few allies, like his favorite assistant surgeon Stacy, who’s very cynical but respects Dan’s work enough to overlook his personality—and maybe even suspect he’s more grounded than everyone thinks. Charlene, who mans the welcome desk, is… clearly not Dan’s ally. But she’s got excellent composure and fifteen years’ experience; she’s a good cog in a good team. Always look on the bright side.

Dating in San Francisco is just like dating everywhere else, at least as far as Dan is concerned. He’s a positive person, so he’ll call it a positive disaster. He starts seeing one of the new nurses and things seem to be going well until they suddenly don’t and he gets abruptly dumped after six months. Sounds about right—that’s his usual timeline. Dan does his very best every time, but his best is precisely what chases people away. Apparently he calls too much and answers texts too quickly and is far too enthusiastic about either going out or staying home. He’s like a robot, like an alien, too positive, too plastic, just too much.

Dan keeps trying, despite unvarying results. The problem is that, well, he’s the head surgeon, and he’s not bad-looking, and he can’t always tell whether people want to date him out of personal interest, or career-oriented interest, or just for sex—while he’s always out looking for a life partner. He goes through another few very disappointing experiences with a couple of nurses from all around the hospital, until Stacy gets fed up with hallway gossip and sets him up on a date with a lawyer.

At first, Dan’s hesitant at dating outside of the medical world. His schedule’s no life for a life partner. But lawyers are high-achieving people. Right? Maybe a lawyer is less likely to find him too intense. It’s not like he’s got much to lose.

Upbeat politeness always makes for an excellent first impression. Dan knows he cleans up well, if nothing else; on paper, he’s the perfect guy. And, well, Anne Weying doesn’t look like she’s madly in love with him by the end of the date, but she does agree to a second one. Dan gets the general impression that Anne knows what she wants and decided he would fit the bill for now. It’s a start. And a start is all he ever needs.

 

*

 

There’s a man waiting in front of Anne’s apartment.

Well, it’s their apartment, now, technically. Dan’s moved in two months ago, though he sometimes goes back to his condo when he’s on the night shift. Living with Anne doesn’t change much to how often they actually see each other, due to their hectic schedules that never match; but it’s still just so nice sleeping next to someone every once in a while. Anne doesn’t seem to expect much of Dan, outside of the usual motions of dating. The absence of pressure’s nice, but also kind of—frustrating. It’s like she doesn’t think he has anything more to give, when he does. He always does. He’s very aware this is the very reason all his other relationships have failed, though, so maybe it’s better to accept Anne’s restraint and stay on the cordial end of the spectrum for now. Right now, this means investigating the guy who’s loitering on the sidewalk.

“Oh, you’re kidding me,” Anne mumbles, getting out of the Uber before it’s even come to a proper stop.

Dan takes the time to thank the driver and bid him a good night before he comes out as well. He gets a good look at the guy and then stops, because that’s Eddie Brock. From the Brock Report.

It used to be Dan’s absolute favorite news segment before they abruptly took it off the air. He’s never seen a celebrity in real-life before, and would probably ask for an autograph if not for the deeply awkward atmosphere. It’s only when Dan hears him say Hey, Annie that he realizes this is Eddie—as in Anne’s ex Eddie, someone she mentioned more than a few times.

Anne’s got a pinched look on her face. She holds herself like her dress is lined with solid steel and introduces Dan like she’s threatening Eddie with a blunt object.

“Hey, Eddie,” Dan says brightly. “Anne’s told me so much about you.”

Eddie blinks at him. “Really?”

“Yeah. I’m a huge fan of your show.”

Now Anne blinks at him. “Really?”

Dan blinks too, for good measure, then tries a smile. “Yeah, I mean. It’s kinda cool. All those people he took down.”

Eddie deflates, and Anne scowls. “Yeah. I was one of them.”

It doesn’t take a genius to see they could use some privacy. Dan announces he’s going to let them chat and gets to the front door, patting Eddie’s shoulder as he walks past him. Should he have patted his shoulder? he wonders as he turns the key in the lock. He always forgets not to be too friendly too fast, which is the story of his life right there. The guy’s Anne’s ex; maybe he’s going to think it was a condescending move. Maybe Anne’s going to think it was a condescending move. It’s probably for the best Dan didn’t ask for an autograph.

“I’m so sorry,” Anne says when she joins him upstairs, five minutes later. She’s not mad, then. Except at herself, apparently.

“What for, honey?”

Instead of answering, Anne wrestles her coat into the closet like it’s personally offended her. Dan pets Mr. Belvedere, who’s snuck up to him by way of the windowsill. Cats always love him. He looks down the street, but there’s no one in sight.

“Did he leave?”

“Yes, of course.” She rubs her temples, then repeats, “God, I’m so sorry he showed up here, Dan. I don’t know what possessed him to… I can guarantee it won’t happen again—”

“Hey, hey, it’s all right.” Dan hesitates. “Is he okay, though? He looked a bit… lost.”

Anne scoffs and looks away. “Yeah, well, that’s his own fault.”

Dan’s got to say it at some point—“I had no idea you used to date Eddie Brock! I mean—you never said. And what did you mean when you said he took you down?”

Anne explains in a tired voice, and Dan quickly tamps down on his hero worship. No wonder she left Eddie, after all that. It’s a pretty sad story, though. They’d obviously still be together if not for that incident; it took Eddie messing up quite badly for Anne to leave him. None of Dan’s girlfriends ever needed such a concrete motivation.

He just wraps his arm around Anne when she sits next to him on the uncomfortable designer cushions. With a sigh, she leans into him, staring up at the ceiling like she’s fighting back tears, even though her eyes are perfectly dry.

“I’m sorry,” she says yet again.

“C’mon, don’t think anything of it.” Dan’s thumb rubs circles into her shoulder. “Are you all right?”

“Yes, it’s not like—I’m not worried that he was there, I just—” She’s so tense under his hand. “We’re done. I thought he understood that.”

Dan wishes he could express his thoughts about the leftover love between them without sounding like he’s jealous. He’s never been jealous in his life, but people don’t tend to believe him when he says so.

“Oh, the night’s ruined…” Anne bemoans.

“Of course not. And hey, do you want to go out again next week?” Upbeat’s the ground zero of Dan’s personality. “I’ve heard of this great seafood restaurant.”

“Sure. Yes. Let’s go out next week.” She pushes his arm away and gets up. “I’m going to turn in early.”

Dan feels a small sting of anxiety at her tone. She’s obviously got other things on her mind, but they have been dating for nearly six months, and it’s usually around that time that people’s tolerance of him starts curdling. But it’s all right, really. She’s just upset because of Eddie. She just needs some time to process.

“Hey…” Anne’s about to leave the room, but she’s paused at the door, staring a bit oddly at Dan. “Do you really like the Brock Report? Or did you just say that to be polite?”

Dan opens his mouth, but doesn’t speak right away. “Yeah, it was—entertaining.”

“Right,” Anne says. She stares at him for a second longer, then pats the doorjamb and slowly leaves the room.

Dan gets out his phone and watches a few old episodes of the Brock Report on replay. It’s just as addictive as he remembers; Eddie Brock’s effortlessly cool in a way Dan could never hope to achieve. This guy would never get shunned for being too upbeat. But he’s not cynical in any way, either. He’s just a good person, but in a way that feels relatable, approachable. It’s not that he’s untouched by trouble, it’s that he’s in it with everyone and just wants to help. Eddie Brock’s a natural.

Dan thinks again on how he looked tonight, deflated and miserable. Eddie screwed up—betraying Anne’s trust, upsetting her, never thinking of the consequences. But that still makes him more successful at people than Dan, who’s so careful about not screwing up he usually circles back to upsetting people anyway.

Sitting there, he finds he can’t quite shake his bad feeling about the way she said good night. Already he’s rewinding their relationship, examining all the ways in which he might have been overbearing. It’s probably time to call it a night.

A quick shower later, he gets into bed with Anne. She’s already asleep, and Dan’s careful not to wake her when he presses against her, just enough to feel a line of warmth against his side. He closes his eyes and relaxes, waiting for sleep. In the morning they’ll share a hurried kiss before getting to work, and Dan will try not to think about Eddie Brock on a lonely sidewalk, and how he might join him there soon if he’s not careful.

 

*

 

The seafood restaurant doesn’t exactly go as planned.

As soon as Eddie crashes into the place, Dan casts aside all his personal issues and focuses on the medical emergency at hand. Dr. Lewis is unapologetic—upbeat and reassuring by absolute design; in the face of life and death, relentless positivity is a hell of a weapon. Maybe that’s why Dan’s so committed to his job. All of his personal failures are professional assets.

Eddie trembles and mutters all the way to the hospital. He’s not all there for quite some time, and only comes back to himself mid-scan, panicking in the MRI machine. Dan feels a bit guilty for shoving him in there without asking—but altogether not too guilty. Needs must. Eddie can report him later to the hospital board if he wants.

Though of course he won’t. He’s such a nice guy, shakily thanking Dan even as he keeps walking towards the exit—confused and ashamed by what he did, clearly scared of what’s happening. Dan would like nothing more than to offer him a cup of coffee and some more reassurance, but he’s always extra careful not to overstep his boundaries with patients. So he just lets him leave and goes back to work, hoping he can bring him good news soon.

Later that night, at home, Anne’s very grateful for Dan’s help. Of course Dan appreciates the sentiment, but the way she’s putting it is a bit odd, as though she’s surprised he’s helping at all. What kind of surgeon would he be, really, if he refused to treat someone on the grounds that they used to date his girlfriend?

He’s happy to help. And it’s nice to feel wanted, especially so close to his usual expiration date. Maybe these unfortunate events will get him through the fateful six months line. Besides, according to the scans, Eddie probably only has a tapeworm or some other parasite. Disturbing, but in no way incurable. So this story could have a pretty happy ending for all involved.

 

*

 

It’s not a tapeworm.

“Oh, God, it’s killing him! I’m killing him! I’m sorry!” Eddie stammers while an oily black version of his hand chokes out Dan, lifting him up like he weighs nothing.

It’s not the first time Dan gets attacked at work. People can get violent when he delivers bad news, to the point that it’s standard procedure to have security at hand when there’s been a complication in surgery. Dan understands why people would blame him, and he even understands the need to hit someone, but he always shakes for hours afterwards in the break room.

This time is different; he’s so astonished by what’s attacking him that it somehow doesn’t occur to him to be afraid before Anne steps in and saves his life.

Back on the ground, struggling for breath—a distracted part of him feels around his throat for bruises; no signs of crushing, he’s okay—Dan stares at the snot-like creature squirming miserably in the sealed MRI room. It is, quite undeniably, an alien. Anne doesn’t look shocked, which means she already knows about it, and at this point Dan’s a bit miffed at being kept out of the loop. He would have appreciated some warning before he had to rethink his entire conception of the known universe.

When he inquires as to exactly just what the hell is going on here, it takes him a minute to realize Anne’s explaining Eddie to him. He’s a complicated man could have reasonably applied to the alien, but Dan’s brain starts to catch up at I guess he had no one else to turn to and finally reaches full understanding at But it doesn’t change anything between us, I promise. And then the alien’s gone, and then Anne’s gone too, looking for it.

And she doesn’t come back.

Dan’s got three surgeries lined up just this afternoon. He can’t just cancel. There are people counting on him. There are always more emergencies. He goes back to work with an aching throat and anguish churning in his stomach.

 

*

 

Anne texts him twelve hours later, and Dan starts breathing again.

I’m so sorry

A lot happened

I can’t call right now but we’re both fine. What about you? Are you okay?

Dan exhales and texts back. I’m fine, too. I suppose I have a few questions? I’ll see you at home?

Anne doesn’t answer that one.

Dan turns it over in his mind all day. He doesn’t like to assume, but it’s just—it’s the six month line, after all. And Anne made it clear she thought he went too far in his concerns for Eddie. Dan would do it all again, but now the consequences are there. And he was going to spend the week at his condo anyway; it’s night shift week. He might as well go and see what happens. He’s never wanted to impose.

 

*

 

But then Anne calls him at the end of the week and acts like she’s the one expecting to get dumped. Dan is wildly confused as to why, and none of Anne’s explanations make much sense to him, but he’s just so glad she still wants to see him. After they’ve agreed to have dinner, he goes back to work with a spring in his step; he knows he’s annoying his staff, but he can’t help being extra cheerful all day.

As soon as his shift’s ended, Dan hurries out to meet Anne and basically walks in on Charlene spewing gossip about him. He always knew she didn’t think much of him, and he thought he’d made his peace with it, but an irrational part of him suddenly worries that Anne will see it, now—look back on their six months and realize that yes, Dan’s a bit too intense, and isn’t bothered in normal amounts by things like ex-boyfriends or alien parasites, and maybe now would a good time for them to take some time apart…

Some of it probably shows on his face, because Anne then does the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for him: she kisses him like she means it. Right in front of Charlene.

By the time she’s done, Dan’s all sunshine inside. Just when he thought he wouldn’t get any more surprises this week. Of course, this one shouldn’t even register, next to the fact that aliens are real. But he’s just so used to thinking of his relationships in terms of making himself bearable for his partners that he’s never really imagined they might actively like him.

 

*

 

“So,” Anne says, clearing her throat over her Caesar salad, “you said you had questions.”

“Right.” Dan sits up. “First of all, how’s Eddie?”

Anne stares at him.

Dan frowns. “Something wrong?”

“Nothing, I thought… I thought it’d be questions about the alien.”

“Well, yes, of course,” he says, accepting his plate of grilled salmon with Brussel sprouts. “I also have a lot of questions about that. It was eating Eddie from the inside, right? Like in Alien. The movie, I mean.”

“Right.” Anne looks weirded out by Dan’s general attitude, which is par for the course; but she also looks like she’s pleasantly weirded out, which is new. “It’s not exactly like Alien. This one is… sentient. He can communicate, I mean. Actually speak English. I think he does that by absorbing the knowledge in people’s brains. I’m not sure. I didn’t ask. Anyway—his name’s Venom.”

“His name is Venom,” Dan repeats, nonplussed.

“Yeah, that’s what he told me. I…” Anne clears his throat. “I actually let him… hitch a ride. Inside me.”

By the time she’s done explaining what happened in the hospital, and then segued into the whole Life Foundation affair, Dan’s the one staring. He wasn’t wrong in thinking Anne knew what she wanted—but now he knows she’ll also stop at nothing to get it. Not only did she make friends with the alien parasite that was digesting Eddie from the inside, but together they also exposed terrible medical abuse and laid waste to the company that was responsible.

“But you say Eddie’s doing all right now?” Dan asks when she’s done. “I mean—his test results… Anne, it was a matter of hours.”

“I got that from your call.” She gives him a wan smile. “I don’t think Venom was trying to hurt him. He was just… on a learning curve.”

“And now he’s dead? Venom, I mean.”

Anne bites her lip. “Eddie says he’s dead.”

“But we don’t believe him, do we.” Dan takes a forkful of Brussels sprouts. “Medically speaking, Venom’s presence is the only explanation I can see for Eddie still being alive.”

“Right.” She’s staring at him with this wonderful mixture of unsettled and pleased, again. “Dan, aren’t you just a little bit surprised by the alien thing?”

“Oh, sure, I was,” Dan says, chewing. He swallows and sees that Anne’s still staring at him. “I mean, it’s been a week. I’ve had time to process.”

“Right,” Anne says, for the third time.

“So… Eddie’s okay.”

She unfreezes. “Eddie’s okay.”

“And he’s got an alien inside him.”

“Very probably.”

“And the alien’s friendly.”

“Well, like I said, I’ve briefly shared his mind, and he was... obsessed with Eddie. Finding him, keeping him safe. I’d say aggressively friendly.”

“Could be much worse, then.” Some people have described Dan as aggressively friendly. Come to think of it, they’ve described him as an alien, too. “Still, we should probably check up on him soon.”

A look of surprise flickers over her face, quickly replaced with deep relief. “I’m glad you think so. I thought… maybe you’d want to stay away from him.”

“Well, that’d be pretty terrible of me,” Dan says reasonably. “Everything that’s happened—I’m sure he could use a hand dealing with the aftermath, poor guy. And, I mean, considering the situation, we’re pretty much all he’s got.”

Anne’s back to looking at him oddly. “Yeah. Well. I think he could do worse.”

 

*

 

They text and call and email and eventually try to invite Eddie over, but he makes a lot of creaky hesitant noises on the phone until they finally offer to come to his place instead, even though it means they’re kind of inviting themselves.

“Maybe he just doesn’t want to come back here,” Anne says after she’s hung up, looking around the apartment. “It’s where he used to live.”

“I think he might be afraid of losing control again,” Dan offers. “He’s probably thinking if that happens, at least he won’t damage anything of yours.”

There’s a quiet minute while they both take a minute to consider, again, the fact that there is an alien parasite living inside of Eddie Brock.

“I can’t imagine how he’s feeling,” Anne says in a voice that’s strung like piano wire.

“Well, I’m sure it’ll be good for him to spend some time with friends. People who know what’s actually going on with him.” It’s Dan’s turn to look around the apartment. “And we’ll get him to come here eventually, you’ll see. When things have settled down a bit.”

Anne exhales, then smiles at him. She’s smiling at him a lot lately—not that she didn’t before, but now it’s crinkling her eyes, transforming her entire face. Part of Dan’s brain just pauses to notice each time she does it. Whatever he’s done to get those smiles, he’d like to do it some more.

 

*

 

Dan’s not sure what he expected out of Eddie’s place. There’s no slime on the walls or anything, though of course Venom is still there like they’d guessed. Sure, it’s in the Tenderloin, so the apartment’s a bit decrepit; but it’s also tidy and clean. Eddie’s very nervous at first, moving like the world’s made of eggshells, but he’s also obviously, desperately grateful to have people over. He occasionally mutters to himself and throws them little wary glances afterwards; but he gradually relaxes when they don’t look at him weirdly for it. Over dinner, he relays Venom’s personal apology to Dan, which is very nice, but also unnecessary. Venom attacking in the hospital was clearly self-defense.

Speaking of Venom, Dan would love to get a good look at him, now that they’re on good terms. Maybe later, though. Eddie still looks a bit too breakable for now, blinking at them both like he’s wondering why they’re so nice to him. But he also smiles and jokes around, and though he’s still trying to find his marks, he’s clearly not even forcing himself. He’s still a natural.

All in all, it’s a very nice evening. Anne’s cheerful on their way home, and gives Dan a very passionate kiss in the doorway. She obviously loves that Dan likes Eddie. Well, Dan’s never wooed a woman by having a man-crush on her ex before, but he’s certainly not going to object, neither to means nor to results.  

 

*

 

The very first time Dan actually sees Venom—in his structured form, not as a shapeless puddle—is on the day Eddie gets a cold.

That is quite a lot of teeth, is Dan’s first thought. And those huge white eyes. How’s the alien seeing through those things? His tongue and dentition seem close enough to what Earth has to offer, but his retina is completely unknown to biology, as far as Dan can tell. He would love to ask him questions about that, but then he hears something about Eddie having no antibodies and gets sidetracked.

Venom’s obviously well-meaning, bless him, but he’s still a bit in over his head. (Or over Eddie’s head, as things stand.) Dan can’t fault him for it; it took him fourteen years of school to become a surgeon, and that was only to treat people belonging to his own species. Venom’s doing fantastically well, all things considered. Eddie still looks shaky around the edges, though, and Dan just wants to help. Fortunately, there’s quite a lot he can help with. He really doesn’t regret his career choice one bit.

Dan’s drawn an incalculable number of blood samples over the course of his career, but doing it to Eddie feels momentous. Pushing in the needle with that huge alien watching his every move is certainly something. Filling up the syringe, Dan finds himself staring at the ink on Eddie’s bare forearm. It’s stupid to say, but he’s never seen tattoos from up close. No surgeon he knows has any, including himself; maybe because of the deep-drilled duty to make as few marks as possible on the human body. Eddie’s not afraid of marks, of risks, of permanent consequences. He’ll take them and try to move on. Dan used to think Eddie seemed like a pretty cool guy, watching the Brock Report. But he’s even better in person.

Anne always looks a bit baffled when Dan expresses his opinion of Eddie. But she kisses him more deeply than ever afterwards, so it doesn’t exactly make him want to stop.

 

*

 

Venom takes Eddie’s health seriously, and is immediately interested in further communication with Dan. The texting app is a good idea. IS THIS WORKING is the first message he writes.

It sure is! Hi, bud! Dan sends back.

The best part about talking to an actual alien is that he’s got no concept of social conventions. Venom doesn’t care that Dan’s enthusiastic—in fact, he seems to appreciate it—and he certainly doesn’t care that Dan’s maybe a bit too involved in discussing Eddie Brock maintenance. And of course neither of them bother with keeping up a pretense of ethics. Dan loves getting those little inquisitive texts at random hours of the day.

HE HAS TWO LUNGS. CAN I EAT ONE

Don’t touch his lungs! He needs them to breathe!

I KNOW WHAT THEY’RE FOR

I WAS JUST WONDERING

SINCE HE ONLY NEEDS ONE KIDNEY

MAYBE IT WAS THE SAME FOR THE LUNGS

Definitely not. Great reasoning, though!

THANK YOU DAN

Venom’s also very attentive to Dan’s anatomy lecture, which is a nice change from sleep-deprived grad students. When he declares that Eddie’s turned on by the subject at hand, Dan’s not too sure what to think at first. He actually hardly notices, too focused on the importance of what he’s teaching Venom to spare any brain power elsewhere. Then right after the fact, he has to deal with Farah and her questions on microchimerism. (She’s very passionate about her thesis. Rare are the people Dan finds too intense, but Farah’s certainly one of them.) It’s only after she’s gone that Dan can take a minute to breathe and really think about what happened.

He leans against his desk and looks at the single empty chair in front of him. He’s not too sure what Venom meant. That Eddie’s interested in—Dan? It’s sort of flattering, if that’s what it is. But Dan’s also pretty sure the truth is more complex.

But there is a truth there, isn’t it. Something about the four of them and how they’re definitely don’t interact the way people with their dynamic usually would. It’s a complicated, nebulous idea. Dan tries to feel for the shape of it all day, turning it over in his mind even as he works.

“So, the anatomy lecture—what was that all about?” he asks Anne over dinner.

“Oh—I shouldn’t laugh, really.” Except she is still laughing; he can see it in her eyes. “Eddie and Venom…”

She trails off. It takes Dan a second to realize she’s making a token attempt at protecting Eddie’s privacy.

“They’re having sex,” he guesses, which isn’t a very difficult guess.

Anne smiles in the corner of her mouth. “And that doesn’t even shock you, does it.”

Dan takes a look inside himself and comes up empty. “No, I can’t say it does. I mean—they’re sharing a body. It’s pretty unsurprising, really.”

“Yes, it’s what I told him. You should’ve seen how relieved he looked. Poor Eddie—he was so scared of what we’d think.”

“What does that have to do with—what Venom said during the lecture, though?”

“Oh, that was a joke.”

Dan just raises an eyebrow at her.

“Fine, it wasn’t,” Anne says with a little impatient gesture, as if to mark that at least she tried. “Eddie’s always had… control fantasies.”

“As in being the one who’s controlled?”

“Yes—don’t tell him I said that. He was so embarrassed.” She bites back a smile. “It’s just… Well, if you know that, then everything else makes sense.”

It really does. Surrendering one’s body to a puppeteer alien must be the ultimate form of ceding control. And Dan can see how surrendering to surgery could come as a close second. It’s a strange thought, to imagine Eddie looking up at him from the operation table. He thinks again of drawing his blood, of feeling his forearm flex under his fingers as he pushes in the needle, this little transaction of pain between them.

“Next time you see him,” Anne says, “just act like nothing happened.”

“No, of course,” Dan says distractedly. This isn’t helping at all with the four-way dynamic between them he’s been trying to map out all day. If anything, it’s made things more complicated. Or maybe a bit too simple.

“Are you going to test him for space STDs?” Anne goes on, straight-faced.

“He’s been living without antibodies for nearly a month. I’m going to test him for everything.”

 

*

 

Anne is even lovelier to be around than usual this evening, cheerful and flirty, full of jokes and teasing. When Dan announces he’s going to take a shower, she asks if she can join him. He’s certainly not going to say no to that.

But when she slips naked under the spray to kiss him, Dan finds himself still thinking about Eddie. Or, more accurately, thinking about Anne thinking about Eddie, and Anne thinking about Dan thinking about Eddie, and so on and so forth, and that’s not even including Venom in the equation. Is she turned on because of what happened that afternoon? Is Dan turned on because of what happened that afternoon?

Dan kisses her more fully, moving his hands up her back. He does enjoy talking to Venom about their co-handling of Eddie’s body, but it’s more of a professional kind of excitement. There’s just so much they can do to him. Which, in so many words, actually sounds a little sinister. Maybe that’s the god complex Dan’s head surgeon warned him about, at last. He should keep an eye on that. Of course it’s wrong to feel entitled to control a patient’s body. But what if the patient’s willing and eager to cede control?

Anne’s reached down, and Dan closes his eyes, going through the easy motions of physical pleasure, now thinking about Eddie inside Venom, and Venom inside Eddie. Since they’re so intimately entwined to start with, Eddie accepting sex from his symbiote doesn’t beggar belief. Now, Dan is in no such situation, so he can be more objective about this whole alien sex thing. Is there anything potentially sexual about Venom? The fact that he’s currently getting a handjob isn’t helping him think. Objectively, he supposes there is something about the tongue. As an experiment, he thinks about Venom with them in the shower right now, muscular and shiny, with his tongue slithering up inside Anne—

Dan feels like he just electrocuted himself trying to plug something into a faulty port. He pulls away for a couple of breaths, enough to calm down and move on from that thought. Then he comes back into the kiss, more slowly. All right. No more alien tongues. For today, at least. But now, well, he’s thinking of being inside Anne. They’re clearly going to play it by hand tonight, neither of them too eager to get out of the shower to get condoms, so Dan just reaches between Anne’s legs while the warm water’s still beating over them both. Her slow hum of pleasure makes him close his eyes.

She’s got her forehead pushing against Dan’s shoulder, still working him almost mindlessly. He really wonders what she’s thinking about. Is she wondering the same thing about him? What would she say if she knew what’s on his mind? Somehow, he doesn’t think it’d shock her. But it might make her uncomfortable, and that would be bad enough.

She’s going to come, soon, by the way her legs are quivering. Dan too, now that he’s thinking about it—but he doesn’t even know for sure what’s riled him up, and it’s frustrating.

He knows himself to be straight, without much room for doubt. He did exchange handjobs with a fellow grad student once, and well, it was nice—orgasms always are—but that’s all it was. Sex with Eddie, though—sex with Eddie would have implications beyond the physical. First of all, Anne would be a part of it in some capacity. And Eddie’s a lot of different things to them both. The charismatic reporter who’s just naturally kind, the terrified patient whose life Dan tried so hard to save, the hesitant ex who doesn’t know how he fits in the picture anymore. Eddie’s the one who needs to ask for permission, but he won’t ever ask because he respects them both too much, and now Dan’s thinking again of what Venom said, of what Anne said, of the needle going into Eddie’s skin, the reflexive flexing of his tattooed forearm. Control and protectiveness and the many different aspects of care.

When it comes down to it—and oh, there he is, coming, and Anne’s trembling against him too, grinding down on his hand—when it comes down to it, Dan just likes being included. He knows he’s too intense, too indiscriminate in his affections, but for the first time in his life, he feels like that might be welcome. Needed, even. Eddie and Anne have history, Eddie and Venom too, and even Anne and Venom, briefly bonded as they were. Dan’s the outsider. He’s always the outsider. But now—now—

Anne shakes a few more times, then exhales with her arms around his neck, relaxing now. Dan kisses her deep, going through his own aftershocks, feeling like he’s run a marathon in his mind. He could ask her right now. Were you thinking about Eddie? But he’s very aware it’s a weird thing to say, no matter how close they’ve all gotten over the past few weeks. He knows what they have to discuss, but he’s afraid of wrecking what he has now. It’s not like he ever had someone like Anne before. So for now, he doesn’t say anything.

 

*

 

Two weeks pass. Eddie seems to be avoiding them—or at least avoiding Dan. There’s no real excuse to see him or call him; his new labs came back stellar, and by all other accounts he’s ridiculously healthy. Anne’s busy at work, and of course Dan is, too. It feels like they’re all using that as an excuse—but if they are, then it means they’re all aware there’s something they’re pointedly not discussing. Maybe they’re each wondering what the other two are thinking. Or maybe it is really just Dan getting caught in this surplus of care he has to give. Historically, that’s what he does.

And then, without any warning signs, there’s the car accident.

Of course there were no warning signs. Why would there be any? It just happens. That’s what accident means: an unpredictable happenstance. It’s weird, Dan thinks as they crash in slow motion, just like every movie said they would. Somehow, because of Venom, he sort of thought they were all exempt from that sort of thing, now. A regular old pile-up wouldn’t fit in Alien or Predator, not outside of an eventual car chase—Hollywood does cram those in every other action movie now, don’t they—and yet it’s happening to him and Anne right now, even though they have an actual alien on speed dial. Nothing beats ordinary life.

The shock is huge. It actually shakes all of Dan’s thoughts out of his head for a while. When he comes back to himself, his ears are ringing, his chest hurts where the safety belt’s crushed it, and Anne is holding white-knuckled on to the wheel, staring straight ahead. The car’s spun and they’ve both hit their head, but they’re awake and conscious. When his body starts moving again, Dan calls 911 and says hi to the emergency responder before describing their situation and the amount of ambulances they’re probably going to need.

Fifteen minutes later, one of the paramedics tells him he’s bleeding, and Dan presses a paper tissue to the back of his head for five minutes. He checks himself for nausea and dizziness and has an intern make him go through the usual check-up for concussions. Nothing. He’s fine. Getting back to work doesn’t even register as something unusual for him to do.

Two hours later, Eddie comes to get him from the hospital and Dan realizes his entire staff has just been waiting for him to go away. As he follows him outside, Dan stares at the back of Eddie’s head and thinks about how the three of them—the four of them—all come running when one of them is in trouble. The shapeless truth they’re all avoiding is looming on the horizon again. Dan could start talking about it right now, but Eddie’s tentative friendship is as precious to him as Anne’s love. Dan never thought he’d get this far. If he ruins it all by trying to go even further, he’ll never quite forgive himself.

Three hours later, they get to Anne’s apartment and Dan finally clocks on to the fact that he is now experiencing nausea and dizziness—he just didn’t notice; he was so busy thinking about a thousand other things—and he realizes just what an idiot he’s been. This is god complex, finally coming to bite him in the ass. He’s been so careful not to feel in control of other people’s lives that he didn’t even realize he felt in control of his own.  

At first it just feels like fainting. But then Dan’s brain starts losing its direct line to his body, no longer able to control his eyes or speech, and he realizes this isn’t just a delayed concussion. This feels very much like he’s having a hemorrhagic stroke, which pretty much means he’s dead. And he doesn’t want to die now. Not now, not so close to—whatever they were closing on…

And then his body starts feeling very wrong in a whole new way.

Dan clings to Eddie as much as he can—he’s blind and can’t speak, but his hands still work—and Eddie—Eddie’s great, reassuring him best he can, reassuring Venom, too, because it’s—Venom, Dan realizes—it’s Venom inside him. Inside him. It’s so very strange, like—having a tumor that’s apologizing, and he’s so distracted by the utter strangeness of it that he almost doesn’t notice the stroke’s symptoms are gone.

He opens his eyes, finds himself lying on his back, staring at the ceiling. The hallway’s dark, but there’s a different texture to the darkness now. Something he can’t place. Before he can think further on anything, his arm moves on its own and drags Eddie down by his shirt just as something huge and muscular shoves its way out of his throat.

It’s so big he can’t even retch. Absurdly, Dan thinks of his shower with Anne. He can’t quite find this erotic, but it’s undeniably physical, and if you like losing control there’s probably no better option out there.

And then suddenly it’s all over. Eddie’s tightly hugging himself, eyes wide, muttering shaky praise into his shoulder. Dan’s breathing in huge gulps of air. He’s still lying on his back, and they’re in the middle of the hallway. He should probably get up before he makes things awkward with Anne’s neighbors. But he did just have a stroke, and he got possessed by an alien, and sort of kissed Eddie, and also he’s pretty sure he’s seeing color.

He’s going to need a minute. Maybe two.

 

*

 

Eddie’s obviously wracked with guilt for what he allowed Venom to do, and Dan needs to reassure him, to find the right words, but he can’t quite do that right now. He’s not done digesting his own shock. He can’t let him leave, though, not in this state of mind. So he tells Eddie he needs to spend the night and shake him up at regular hours to check him for a concussion.

Nobody actually uses that procedure anymore, and Dan didn’t even have a concussion, but Eddie doesn’t have to know any of that. He dutifully settles on the awful couch and dutifully shuffles to Dan’s bed every two hours. On his third visit, Dan’s recovered enough to invite him into bed with him. The couch is awful, and also Dan nearly died. He just wants someone close.

It’s quite innocent, and yet Eddie’s tense. Dan can’t quite tell whether Eddie is in fact thinking about the various combinations of the four of them together, or if he’s just worried on intruding on Anne’s and Dan’s intimacy and nothing more. There’s no way to untangle those uncertainties. Dan knows he’s going to have to cut the Gordian knot eventually.

But he doesn’t want to do it now, not when they’re both still reeling and in dire need of rest. It’s so nice to have Eddie there, to feel his weight on the mattress, to hear him breathe evenly in the dark. Drifting, Dan dreams of going back to the hospital with him to get Anne. He just wishes it were morning already so they could go for real. He needs to see her, and hold her tight for about ten uninterrupted minutes, and tell her what Eddie and Venom did for him.

And then tell her everything else. It’s time they talked about it. Life’s too short.

Something pokes Dan in the shoulder, breaking the loop of his half-lucid dreams. He thinks it’s Eddie again, but it’s not.

It’s funny, he thinks as he watches Venom rise whole from Eddie’s body, with his Joker grin suspended in strands of oily black goo. Funny to be so unafraid of a sight that could be lifted wholesale from any horror movie. Venom’s transformed all their lives in so many ways.

And right then he does it again. “WE LIKE YOU.”

Something unwinds inside Dan, with all the lack of fanfare of a real-life epiphany. God. So he really isn’t making things up out of wishful thinking. Eddie’s longing for a shapeless something, too. What about Anne? Dan really wonders. She was so wary of Dan thinking she still had feelings for Eddie. But that’s probably just fear, the same fear that’s been holding Dan back.

Well, now, they have to talk about it, because Venom’s brought it up. Of course the alien was the first to get tired of human conventions. The world might be in color now, but Venom’s still black and white, and Dan couldn’t be more grateful.

Venom coils over Eddie as if to comfort him in his sleep, and talks quietly with Dan for the rest of the night. They compare what it feels like to navigate a body from the inside, as an alien or a surgeon; and then they talk of comets hurtling across the stars, of love as an anomaly in alien civilizations, of a greater universe full of mysterious things, and all in all it’s the strangest, nicest sleepover Dan’s ever had.

 

*

 

In the morning, Venom retracts inside Eddie, announcing he’s about to wake up. Dan decides to spare him whatever awkwardness he can and gets out of bed first. He steps into the living room, awash with morning light, and stops in his tracks.

Right.

Color.

He takes a moment, then goes to make coffee.

Minutes later, Eddie shuffles into the kitchen, looking like he’s half-expecting Dan to scream and point and demand to know where he’s come from.

“Hey, bud. Coffee?”

“Uh, yeah. Yeah. Thanks.” He just stands there for a second. “Are you… are you okay?”

Dan’s surprised by the force of his own fondness, sharp-edged with guilt for making him worry so much. He opens a cupboard and takes out a couple of colorful mugs to hide it. “I’m all right now, Eddie. Thank you.”

Eddie just nods and sits at the table, accepting a mug of coffee. Dan sits with him, and there’s a quiet little moment that could almost pass for a comfortable silence.

Everything Dan can see makes him stop and stare. Color is so… Well, it’s so alien. God, he can’t wait to see what Anne’s going to look like. Eddie’s a whole painting, sitting there with his hair sticking out every which way. Dan’s fascinated by the dark hues of his bracelets, all subtly different. He used to see them all the same. There’s also the curlicues of Eddie’s tattoos, peeking out from under the sleeves of his deep black cashmere sweater, which—

“Isn’t that my sweater?”

Eddie stares at him like he’s been accused of murder. Then he looks down at himself. “Shit. Yes. It is. I completely forgot.”

“Forgot?”

“It was in Anne’s car. We were on our way to the hospital and I was just—I was so cold. And, you know, a lot happened after.” Eddie clears his throat, repeats, “You know.”

“Right.”

“Sorry, I’ll—I’ll give it back.”

“No! No. You can keep it.”

Eddie’s forehead wrinkles. “You’re sure? It’s a really nice sweater.”

“I want you to have it.”

Eddie suddenly shakes his head hard, as if to dislodge a thought from his mind. Dan wonders what Venom’s just said to him.

He waits for a reaction, but Eddie just looks even more nervous than before, fidgeting and shifting on his chair, right up until he clears his throat and says, “Sorry, you’re just—you’re staring at me. What’s… what’s up?”

Dan’s got several reasons to stare, but doesn’t want to make him uncomfortable, so he goes with the most innocent one. “It’s just—color.” He gives him a little apologetic smile. “Probably going to be a little while before I adjust.”

Understanding smoothes the lines right off Eddie’s face. “Right.” He even shuffles closer, leaning forward, to Dan’s secret delight. “God, I forgot about that. How are you… I mean, that’s got to be a shock, right?”

“The good kind.” Dan reaches out to tap at Eddie’s bare wrist, where his tattoos peek out. “What’s this one called?”

“Oh, that’s—you don’t know what colors are called. Of course you don’t.” Eddie rolls up his sleeve. “My tattoo? Well, this one’s supposed to be black, really, but now it’s degraded into some sort of blue-green. They do that.”

“Your eyes, what’s that?”

“Uh. Nothing, really. Kind of a muddled-up mess. Yours are brown, by the way. Warm brown.” He fidgets with the bracelets on his wrists, then lights up. “Aw, man. Wait till you see Annie.”

“That’s what I was thinking,” Dan says. “Eddie, I…”

But then the front door opens and Anne actually does walk in.

Eddie’s getting up, demanding to know what she’s doing here, and Anne’s saying something about not waiting around sitting on her ass and can he please back off, she’s fine—and Dan’s saying nothing. All he can do is stare. Anne’s hair is the color of light. Her smile’s like light itself.

 

*

 

Eddie’s quick to leave after breakfast, claiming work as an excuse. Maybe he’s not even lying—or maybe he needs some time alone to breathe. Anne hugs him before he leaves, and Dan does too, a quick squeeze of a thing. They both apologize again for scaring him, and he says again and again that it was nothing and he’s just glad they’re all right—and then he’s gone.

Dan waits till the door’s closed to say, “He saved my life.”

Anne goes still. “What?”

“I had a hemorrhagic stroke yesterday after we came home.” He meets her eyes. “Venom went inside me, fixed the tear and soaked up the blood.”

Anne sits very slowly at the kitchen table. He sits next to her. She takes his hand on the table, without speaking, and holds it so tight her knuckles go white.

“Thank God they were with you,” she rasps eventually.

“I love you,” Dan says.

Anne’s face does something complex and moving—like it’s nearly crumpled into tears but realigned itself at the last minute. “I love you too. God, Dan, I do.

“I’m sorry. I’ve been careless.”

“Don’t apologize. You couldn’t know. You’re a doctor—of course you trusted your own judgement.”

“That’s a clear trap I should have known to avoid. I should’ve stayed in observation and allowed myself to be treated like any other patient.”

“I’m the one who told you to go home.” Anne squeezes his hand. “How did it feel?”

He knows what she’s talking about, and says candidly, “Horrible.”

“Really? It felt so amazing to me. I felt like I could do anything.”

“Maybe it’s different when he’s—driving you. All he did was rummage inside me.” Dan smiles. “I was in a bad place to start with, anyway. And feeling horrible’s never felt so right.”

“He was in your brain?”

“He fixed what he thought needed fixing. He was right about the blood, but he also did something else…” She’s looking worried, so he cuts it short. “I’m not colorblind anymore.”

Anne’s eyes go round. “What?”

“Eddie’s teaching me colors,” Dan says cheerfully. “Apparently I’ve got brown eyes.”

“He—what—” She half-gets up like she’s going to chase after Eddie, then sits back down. “I can’t believe he just left without telling me anything about… all of this.” She exhales. “Wow. All right. That's all, now, right? Or is there anything else I should know about?”

It’s a joke, but Dan says nothing and just looks back at her.

Anne’s incredulous smile goes away; she blinks and sits up. “Oh, God, there is.”

“Nothing medical,” Dan assures her. “Just…”

This is harder than he thought it would be. When he takes a deep breath, it’s a bit shaky.

Anne takes his hand again, cups his face. “Honey? What is it? You can tell me.”

“I’m not sure how,” he admits. “Let me think.”

“Is it about Eddie?”

“Actually, yes. There’s…” He takes another steadying breath. “Well, there’s something, isn’t there?”

Anne stares at him.

“What do you mean?”

“Well—”

“Dan.” She grabs both his hands. “You’ve got to know I’m not thinking about getting back with him. Right? Dan, you know I love you—”

“Oh, God, no, it’s not what I meant at all,” he says quickly. “I know, honey, I know. Actually, I’m pretty sure no one’s ever liked me as much as you do.”

That makes her blink. “I’m… finding that hard to believe.”

“Thanks.” He smiles. “But it’s true. People tend to think I get attached too fast. Or too much. It’s okay, though—I mean, they’re right.”

“Bullshit,” Anne says, and Dan really loves her, it’s amazing. “You’re the most caring man I’ve ever met, Dan, you’re a fucking godsend, and if not for you—”

“You love Eddie,” Dan says.

Anne stops short again.

Dan smiles encouragingly. “And he loves you.”

She stares for a long, long while. This time it’s not in alarm. Dan can practically hear her making hypotheses and discarding theories in her head.

Then her expression shifts into careful blankness, and she repeats, “There’s something. You don’t mean—”

“I mean the three of us. Or the four of us. However you’re counting.”

“Dan, what are you saying?”

“I don’t exactly know,” he says simply. “I think we’ll have to make our own blueprints. But there is something, isn’t there? Or—we’re all wishing there was, and that’s the same thing, really.”

Anne blinks. “Are we? All wishing that?”

“I mean, it’s the impression I’m getting from you and Eddie.”

“And you don’t mind.”

“Me? No. I think it’s pretty neat.”

Anne stares and stares. Dan’s coffee’s cooling down. He prays he hasn’t ruined everything.

“I do love Eddie,” she says eventually, in a very slow voice. Then she takes a breath. “But I’m in love with you.”

It’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to Dan, and he tries not to smile too wide. Anne sees it and suddenly, wonderfully, smiles too. “You idiot,” she says, and leans forward to kiss him on the mouth. “You scared me.”

“Sorry,” he smiles. “It’s the same for me, you know. I’m in love with you—”

“And you love Eddie.”

“And I love Eddie,” he easily confesses.

Anne exhales, then looks away. This time, Dan’s happy to wait for her gears to finish turning. She looks back at him after a while.

“Okay. There’s—there’s a whole conversation here. I’m pretty sure we should be having it with Eddie at the table.” She shakes her head like she can’t believe this is their life. “And his goddamn alien parasite.”

“Maybe Eddie’s not on the same page at all.”

Anne gives him a slanted lawyer smile. “You don’t believe that for a second.”

“Well, I’m cheating a bit,” Dan says cheerfully, “Venom told me.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

For a week or so after the car accident, Eddie doesn’t see Anne and Dan. He was already avoiding them before, but now he’s doing it on purpose.

Sleeping in the same bed as Dan was some sort of—line, something he shouldn’t have crossed, because then there was that slow morning with Dan in his stupid soft pajamas, making coffee for him, beaming about colors, and then Anne came back from the hospital and they hall had breakfast together, and laughed together, and they both hugged him before he left, and Eddie—he can’t.

He’s disappointed Anne once. More than once, if you count those cringe-inducing times he’s gone fishing for hope between them, when she’d already made it clear they were done. But after she and Dan came over for dinner the first time around, Eddie sat himself down and had a stern talk with himself that basically boiled down to back off, you pathetic loser. Anne’s gone above and beyond for Eddie; Dan too, smiling all the while. Just because they won’t take the outs Eddie keeps giving them doesn’t mean he should shove his way further in.

So he firmly deflects their attempts to reach him and throws himself back into work. Of course AIM noticed he attended their little buffet slash press conference—how couldn’t they, when he ate the paper plates and then had a panic attack in a corner—so when he breaks into their shady suburb office to steal all of their data, they kind of lose their minds and try to kill him again. At this point, he welcomes the distraction, really.

Two huge SUVs chase him all the way to a deserted stretch of desert road by the sea, try to ram his bike off a cliff, and it ends in a fight on a dark beach at three in the morning. Being inside Venom always feels amazing even as they’re tearing people apart. It all comes down to the lack of responsibility, the fact that Eddie’s moving without any input on his own part, and Venom’s savage joy and deep satisfaction at eating what it needs. Nothing is wrong, every cell of him says. Absolutely nothing about this is wrong.

Then they switch again and Eddie’s suddenly alone in the cold, with the ocean completely invisible behind him like a gaping mouth, and all around him the beach is so red it’s black.

“Fuck.”

He stumbles away from the patch of blood-soaked sand. The smell is so pungent he can taste metal in his mouth. He can’t throw up. If he didn’t throw up on those first days with Venom, he’s not going to start now.

Venom’s obviously sharing that opinion. GET IT TOGETHER, EDDIE.

“Give me a minute.”

Eddie told Venom it was okay to eat very, very bad people. And Venom’s presence means they can take on more and more bad people, of exponential badness. So there’s absolutely no reason for the murders to stop anytime soon. And Eddie’s fine with that. Evil unto evil works for him, personally. Hell, he’s eaten that bodega guy and walked away feeling only self-satisfaction. He’s eaten four people in a back alley, and went home to mindblowing sex right after. Tonight he killed people who were actively trying to murder him, people who are part of a massive human trafficking ring, and yet now, for some reason, he’s freaking out.

EDDIE, Venom says.

“I’m—I’m fine.” Eddie looks away from the blood. It’s going to be high tide in a couple of hours; the beach will be washed clean. “I’m fine.”

And just as he speaks the words, he starts… feeling fine. No more nausea, no more shock. His heartbeat forcefully slows down. The change is so sudden he takes a step back, stumbling in the sand.

“What—what was that?” He slaps at his temple a few times. “What are you doing, V?”

EATING NEUROTRANSMITTERS. ALL THAT PANIC ISN’T GOOD FOR OUR SYSTEM.

Eddie stands there for a few stunned seconds; then he abruptly starts walking away from the ocean. He can’t just linger around his own crime scene forever, and he left his bike sprawled in the middle of the road when the car tried to ram him and Venom took over. It must be at least fifteen minutes away on foot. Walking will help. He’s not sure what it’ll help with, but it will help.

EDDIE! Venom’s agitated, annoyed. YOU’RE BEING WEIRD.

“Look…” He doesn’t want to hurt Venom, but he tries to spell things out now. He can’t just assume Venom knows things. It’s unfair to the both of them. “I’d rather you don’t mess around in my brain, all right?”

NEVER, Venom says at once, surprisingly. I PROMISE.

“But you just said—”

THAT’S JUST CHEMICALS. IT’S NOT YOU, EDDIE.

Descartes might have a thing or two to say about that, but Eddie’s not fully equipped to argue the point. Would Venom be interested in philosophy books? I eat brains, therefore I am brains.

“Well, they’re my emotions,” he just says. “Even when they make me feel bad, you’ve got to let me have them.”

No answer.

“If I feel like I need your help handling something, I promise I’ll say, all right?” Eddie tries, already sorry for upsetting Venom. “I trust you, love, you know I do.”

His thighs ache going up the dune. The night’s cold, and he can’t wait to be home and put the flash drive he just got from AIM to good use. He’s probably got enough in there to blow this story wide open at long last. Maybe then they could go on a vacation or something.

“Hey,” he says, like a peace offering. “I just realized you’ve put a lot of hard work into learning about me, and I haven’t learned shit about you.”

THERE’S NOTHING TO TELL. Venom pushes out and twirls its tongue around to scent the night air. “WALK FASTER, OR I’LL DO IT FOR YOU.”

“Are you deflecting? I can’t believe you’re deflecting on me. Hey, c’mon.” Eddie tickles its monstrous chin. “Tell me something about you. All I know is you wanted to conquer the Earth and now you don’t.”

“THAT WAS RIOT,” Venom rumbles. They’ve gotten to the road now; it’s much easier to walk on concrete. “I WAS NEVER THAT MOTIVATED.”

“Yeah, there were some subtle clues.”

Venom doesn’t quip back. Now that Eddie’s thinking about it, it already volunteered all the information Eddie absolutely needed to know—namely, its strengths and weaknesses—and then went no further. Venom wasn’t offended that Eddie’s never tried to find out more. If anything, it seems hurt Eddie’s trying now.

“I’m sorry, love, I just want to get to know you better. It’s what we do here, to show interest.”

Venom coils down around Eddie’s shoulders, mollified. “THERE IS NOTHING TO TELL,” it repeats. “WE DON’T BUILD THINGS LIKE YOU. WE JUST LOOK FOR HOSTS SO WE CAN EAT AND SPAWN.”

It makes sense that they’d pick their own inflated, self-important names. Venom’s interesting that way, compared with the artless explosion of violence of Riot. Venom speaks of patience and stealth and long periods of time; it’s a name that ultimately means defense. It makes Eddie feel a trickle of affection for his man-eating parasite, and he wonders if Venom can feel it.

“WE FIGURED YOU’D BE EASY PREY. BUT YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE PREY AT ALL.” It tightens around Eddie’s shoulders. “BEFORE I KNEW YOU, I NEVER KNEW THERE WAS ANYTHING ELSE.”

“Aw, hey.” Eddie cranes his neck to kiss the top of Venom’s head. “You’re gonna make me cry.”

Venom flicks its tongue at his ear, then sinks entirely into him. YOU NEVER KNEW EITHER.

“I—what?”

ABOUT ANNE AND DAN.

“Where is this coming fr—what are you talking about?”

KILLING PEOPLE USUALLY SOLVES ALL OF OUR IMMEDIATE PROBLEMS. BUT NOT THIS TIME, HUH, EDDIE?

“That’s not why I was upset! I wasn’t even thinking about them!”

YOU ARE ALWAYS THINKING ABOUT THEM.

Eddie pushes his hands deeper into his pockets and tucks his chin into his scarf. “We’re not getting Annie back, all right? And if we chased Dan away from her, I’d never forgive myself. We’ve talked about this. We’re leaving them alone.”

Venom doesn’t answer with words, just tickles the receptors in Eddie’s brain so that he remembers exactly how he felt a week ago at breakfast—the taste of toast and the smell of coffee and the painful fondness squeezing at his heart, which never seems to go away anymore when he’s around them.

“Stay out of my head,” he mutters, and Venom says nothing else all the way to the abandoned bike.

 

*

 

On her insomnia nights, Anne watches horror movies. She wraps herself in a plaid on the couch, with headphones plugged into her laptop so as not to make any noise; it’s a habit that’s followed her since her teenage years, an ancient dare turned comforting ritual. This time around, she gets through the first twenty minutes of The Thing before admitting that not even that can hold her attention. Since she’s going to be thinking all night anyway, she might as well do it in bed.

When she goes back into the bedroom, Dan turns to his side with a soft inhale and lifts an arm to welcome her back.

“Hi,” she says, settling close. “Sorry I woke you up.”

“You didn’t,” he mumbles. He hasn’t opened his eyes. His hand starts mindlessly playing with her hair. “What’s wrong, hon?”

Anne opens her mouth to say nothing’s wrong. But it’s Dan. So instead she admits, “I keep thinking about Eddie.”

It’s so strange to say that and never fear that Dan will take it the wrong way. He takes another deep, slow breath, eyes still closed, and just asks, “How do you mean?”

Anne takes a moment to put her words in order. “He still had feelings for me for a long while after we stopped dating. Picking things up now… I’m scared it’ll just make him unhappy in the long run.” A pause. “I’m scared it’ll make all of us unhappy.”

Dan says nothing. He’s breathing evenly, and he could really just as well be asleep, but she knows he’s listening. She can feel his fingers moving in her hair, slowly.

“I’m not sure I even want to sleep with him again,” she says, and she’s on the lookout for Dan’s eyes to reopen at the idea of this being on the table at all—but they don’t. She really can tell him these things. He doesn’t mind.

“You know we don’t have to do anything, honey,” he murmurs. “It was just a feeling I had...”

“I know.” She wants to kiss him, just for that, and her surge of affection makes her think of Eddie in the hospital after the car crash; that moment where he visibly stopped himself from hugging her. For a split second there, she was utterly confused as to why. “And it’s not just you.”

Dan’s eyes open. “Yeah?”

Anne scoots just a bit closer. It’s like they’re sharing secrets. “I miss touching him. I miss being close to him. We used to date, so now we can’t touch anymore, because of the implications, and I’m just so tired of that.” She watches Dan watching her for a while. Then she asks, because she has to ask sometime. “Do you want to sleep with Eddie?”

He hums. “Short answer is no.”

Anne loves talking about sex—even sex potentially involving her ex-boyfriend and new boyfriend. It’s a weakness of hers. She scoots up a little more on the pillow so she’s right in front of Dan’s face. “And long answer?”

“Under construction,” is all Dan says, disappointingly. Then he smiles. “But it’s broadly the same as yours. If we could find a way to stop caring about implications when it comes to Eddie, I’d be thankful.”

Anne smiles at him in the dark. “Why do you like him so much?”

“I just do. He’s a great guy.” Dan looks a little hesitant for the first time. “I know it’s not exactly typical—”

“Oh, nothing’s typical anymore.” Anne bites her lip. “And he’s sweet, isn’t he?”

Dan grins. “He’s so sweet.”

Anne has no idea why it feels so great to talk about Eddie with him, but it’s amazing. It’s the same sensation she got a few months back, when she realized she didn’t have to herd Dan around. He’s a boyfriend who’s also a best friend. He’s on her side, simple as that.

“And he likes you,” Anne says. She’s got more than enough clues piled up in the corner of her brain. “He has no idea what to do about it, but he does.”

“It’s what Venom said, yes. I’m not sure what he meant, though. I don’t think he’s got a very clear grasp of the variety of human love.”

“Do we?”

“Good point.” His smile is warm. “We’ll just have to ask Eddie what he thinks.”

“If we can ever get ahold of him again,” she mumbles.

Because Eddie’s making himself scarce, evading texts and emails, invoking work as his go-to excuse. He always does that after he’s spent some time with them both, after they’ve cared for him. It’s taken Anne a while to discern that pattern, even longer to interpret it. But now it’s all there. It’s all been piling up for so long in her head. She can’t keep ignoring the sum of all these parts.

“We’ll get him there,” Dan says, pulling her close. “I’m sure it’s all going to work out.”

Dan is actually very strange. It’s also taken Anne a long time to realize that; he’s like the Platonic ideal of a person. Maybe that’s what this Charlene woman meant when she called him clingy. But if that’s strange, Anne thinks as she snuggles close to him, then she doesn’t ever want to go back to normal.

 

*

 

Venom thought it had humans down pat, now. Eddie always does his best to explain what he can, and Anne always knows how to find the exact words to convey a difficult concept, and Dan is a lot of help for the finer anatomy details. Venom had grown confident.

But as it turns out, humanity’s complexities never end. Ever since the beach massacre episode, Eddie’s been doing worse and worse. The symptoms are not inside his body: they are all around it. The dishes are piling up in the sink, the apartment’s a mess. He’s fretting, nervous, he can’t focus, he eats bad food that does more harm than good to his body. He’s either trying to work or endlessly distracting himself on various screens, forgetting to shower, forgetting everything.

Venom feels bad. On some level it knows their conversation is at fault. They banter all the time but that time was different. The obvious solution would be to fix words with words, but Venom knows talking to Eddie right now will yield no results. Whenever it tries, Eddie just deflects or changes the subject. He’s not even mean about it—he never is; only so miserable Venom just has to back off, because it quickly starts feeling like its questions are wounding Eddie even more.

There must be a way to break through to him. Usually, contacting Dan for prompts would be the first item on the list, but it’s clear Dan is one of the reasons Eddie is so unhappy, so this idea is best discarded.

In the end, Venom does use Eddie’s phone, but only to search for inspiration. If human society is like the human body, then the Internet is the brain—a huge mashed-up ball of thoughts, confusing and sometimes nonsensical, but worth exploring. After an hour spent sieving for gold, Venom eventually finds an article called How I Discovered Healing And Self-Care By Cleaning Out My Old Crap. It advises throwing all of Eddie’s stuff away in the name of “minimalism”. Venom’s not quite convinced. It can’t imagine Eddie would react well to losing most of his worldly possessions. But at that point of the search, it has to give Eddie back his phone, so there are no more brains to sift through.

Venom’s not going to destroy Eddie’s stuff, but it did like the principle of healing through cleaning and tidying up. Treating Eddie’s home like an extension of his body does make some sort of sense. When he is feeling bad, his environment is degrading. It’s only logical to believe fixing it up could indeed be a gateway to fixing him up. Venom can’t see the harm in giving that a try, anyway.

It waits until Eddie’s deeply asleep one night, then pushes out around his body and gets out of bed.

Eddie doesn’t wake up. Of course he doesn’t—he trusts Venom utterly, always surrendering all of his self to possession. Venom feels humbled all over again by its own luck in finding Eddie. It never imagined such love would ever touch its soul. It will never stop looking for ways to care for him.

Its head scrapes against the ceiling. Eddie’s apartment is a bit small for their full form.

Venom’s starving, so it starts its healing crusade by decluttering the fridge, shelf by shelf. And then the freezer for good measure. (Tots!) Then, feeling a bit guilty, it decides to try washing the dishes. Several plates get broken, because those things are fragile and Venom is very strong. It could probably get better results by animating Eddie’s body from the inside, but that might wake him up more easily. In the end, it just does its best, and when it’s done, all the remaining dishes are clean and stashed away.

Venom considers the rest of the kitchen. There are balls of dust and crumbs and debris under every piece of furniture. Taking care of those is easy—Venom just spreads its biomass thin over the entire room, keeping Eddie propped upright in the middle, and eats what needs to be eaten. The countertops come out sparkling. Since this is giving excellent results, Venom does the same to every other room in the apartment. Then it wraps back into its structured form around Eddie, picks up all the pieces of cloth lying around and puts them in the washing machine. Eddie’s used it often enough that Venom knows which buttons to press. It’s fun.

The machine does a lot of noise, close to being harmful for a klyntar, so Venom wanders off to put away the things that are left lying around. The books on the bookshelves. The clothing in the closet. The dishes in the sink. It does the dishes a second time, and breaks nothing. Good job, Venom. Eddie’s still asleep, though his brain’s flashing in patterns approximating his waking time. Maybe he’s dreaming.

Someone pounds at the door. Venom takes a sniff and instantly knows who it is.

“YES,” it says, opening it.

“Jesus, man, why are you doing laundry at four in the—” Then the neighbor’s words sort of fall apart, and he goes the color of spoiled milk.

“HI AGAIN.” Venom opens the door a little bit further and grins with all its teeth. “BETTER GET BACK INSIDE. IT IS NOT TOO SAFE OUT THERE.”

The neighbor vibrates backwards into his apartment and shakily shuts the door. Venom cackles to itself and goes back to sit in front of the washing machine, whose noise has turned tolerable.

Soon enough, the laundry is done. Venom unfolds the clothes rack with exaggerated care and pins each item of clothing with so much prudence it is only just done when dawn comes.

Eddie’s brain patterns are closing in on wakefulness. Venom retracts inside him, manipulates his body to strip, and maneuvers it inside a hot shower just as Eddie wakes up for good.

“What…” He sputters, shakes his head, then stands for a second under the spray, staring blurredly at the tiles. After which he looks down at his soapy hands, then picks up his own washing up with mechanical confusion. “Did I… sleepwalk into the shower?”

NOT EXACTLY.

“V?” Eddie shuts the water and gets out, grabbing a towel. The sight of the clothes rack arrests him. “What the…”

He quickly dries off, wraps the towel around his hips, and gets out into the living room. Then he just stands there for almost a full minute, watching the morning sun slowly lick its way across the clean floors.

“Venom, what did you do.” His voice is thick and almost without intonation.

WE TIDIED UP THE PLACE WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING.

“That… explains a lot of the dreams I had.” Eddie shuffles a few steps further so he can see into the kitchen. He’s still blank. “You did the dishes.”

YES, WE—

Eddie’s breath is shaky.

EDDIE! Venom pours out of him. “WHAT’S WRONG?”

“Nothing—nothing—” His voice is shaky, too.

A dreadful thought strikes Venom. “ARE DISHES SACRED?”

Eddie gasps out a wet laugh. “No, love.” And then he sits on the couch, puts his face in his hands and cries.

“EDDIE, OH—EDDIE...” Venom wraps around him, and Eddie hugs back, tight, pressing his face into Venom’s biomass and crying still. He’s clinging so much, his shoulders are shaking, and it feels like he’s crying for a lot of different things at once; there are all sorts of chemicals in his tears, happiness and misery and exhaustion. Venom just squeezes him tight as it dares.

“T-thank you,” Eddie gasps out after what feels like a very long time. He pulls back just enough to wipe his eyes, and sniffs. “Sorry.”

“DO NOT SAY SORRY.” Venom pulls back as well, stretching out a tendril to dab the last of Eddie’s tears off his face. Having cried a lot of emotions out, his brain feels more balanced. Venom doesn’t really know what the default is for brains; by definition, it can only observe humans who have a klyntar inside them. Seeing Eddie’s brain now, in its clean new state—it’s clear he hadn’t returned to baseline once ever since Venom bonded with him. Right now is probably the closest he’s ever been.

“I THINK I AM THE ONE WHO’S SORRY, EDDIE.”

“No, you’re all right, love.” Eddie brings Venom’s head closer and presses a kiss between its eyes, making them squint pleasantly. “We’re all right. It’s been—yeah, it’s been a rough couple of weeks. But I wouldn’t go back for the world.”

“WE ATE ALL THE THINGS IN YOUR FRIDGE,” Venom confesses, because it wants to get everything out now. “AND WE BROKE SOME PLATES.”

“That’s fine, love, that’s okay.” Eddie smiles. “You’re so good to me.”

“WE ALSO SCARED YOUR NEIGHBOR,” Venom says, on a roll.

“You—” Eddie blinks, then shrugs. “Eh. That dick had it coming.”

Venom’s delighted; Eddie’s mood seems to be rapidly improving now that he had a good cry. It was scary, but in the end it was for the best. “YOU SOUND BETTER.”

Eddie reaches out to tangle his fingers in the flowing strands that connect Venom’s head to his body, like dipping his hand in a vertical stream. “I’m sorry, love. Can’t have been much fun to be around.”

“YOU’RE ALL RIGHT,” Venom echoes, because it’s a nice thing to say.

Eddie looks at its biomass entwining over his fingers for a little while.

“I should call Anne and Dan, right?” he says eventually.

It sounds rhetorical, so Venom doesn’t answer, just butts their foreheads together. For the first time since they’ve bonded, Eddie’s the one to initiate a kiss. He does it awkwardly, not sure how to negotiate Venom’s teeth, so eventually Venom just lets its tongue slither into Eddie’s mouth again. Eddie’s throat works against it, and his body tenses, but he doesn’t pull back; he actually makes an effort to relax against the couch. To surrender.

It’s been some time, Venom realizes, since they had sex.

Venom pushes against his body. It’s like the first time they did it—Eddie naked after a shower, getting hard, all of it unplanned. Only this time, he’s rolling his hips, reaching behind himself to lie back on the couch. His brain is still fresh and new like the world after the rain, and in that limpid state his wants are clearer than ever. He wants Venom. Venom is more than happy to provide itself.

It pulls out its tongue, making Eddie gasp.

“SAY YOU WANT IT, EDDIE.”

“Yeah, yes, I do.” Eddie takes a rasping breath. “You don’t have to ask, love—”

“NOW SAY YOU DON’T WANT IT.”

Eddie stops to stare up at Venom’s floating head. His brain flashes with the familiar pattern of want and the quieter echo of oh God, another want. Venom grins ever wider. It will always give Eddie what he likes. Words are good. Stimulating the brain is good.

“SAY,” it pins Eddie’s wrists to the couch, “YOU DON’T,” it spreads his legs and holds them there, lacing several times around his thighs, “WANT IT.”

“Don’t… do it?” Eddie tries, breathy and shaky.

“BEG,” Venom says, wrapping around his cock. “BEG AND SCREAM FOR HELP.”

Another burst of light in Eddie’s brain. On a powerful suctioning stroke around his cock, he arches against the couch, against Venom’s hold. “Don’t—don’t touch me—”

His brain’s sparking up so bright Venom can’t even follow all the way his neurons are talking to each other. It’s probable Eddie can’t quite follow either; he looks confused as he always does, eyes wide, reflexively straining against Venom’s hold, but he doesn’t stop talking.

“Jesus,” he’s saying now, “Jesus Christ, please—someone—no—”

Venom angles Eddie’s pelvis up and lifts his balls for better access.

“Oh God,” Eddie breathes when Venom prods at his hole, and starts struggling at last, “no, no, no, not here—” Venom prods further, gets a thin tendril inside, and Eddie’s fighting with all he has now, frantic—“Fuck, no, please, Jesus God, stop—” and then his protests turn into inarticulate moans when the fucking begins in earnest. Venom gags him for good measure.

Eddie falls apart in no time at all, and when he comes, it’s so powerful Venom falls apart too, losing itself in the absolute fireworks of the brain—somehow that activity seems to translate directly to Venom’s own biomass, like current running through water; and every time, it feels a little like dying, only it’s so good. Just for that function, Venom feels like it can approve of the absurd complexity of human systems.

Now Eddie’s loose and boneless. His towel’s slipped away, so Venom spreads over his naked body like a living blanket.

“GOOD,” it rumbles.

“Good,” Eddie slurs in agreement, staring vacantly at the ceiling.

His wrists are still pinned to the couch, though there’s no force in Venom’s hold anymore. After a while, he gently frees himself and sits up.

“God. I needed that.” And he did; his body feels like his brain now—washed anew, balanced out, all systems up and reinvigorated. Well-being chemicals are being gently distilled through his synapses. “You know, love, if we’re gonna do roleplay, we should probably think up a safeword.”

“WHAT IS THAT?”

“Anne’s going to kill me,” Eddie mutters. Then he sighs and closes his eyes. “Fuck me, I have to call Anne.”

“AND DAN.”

“And Dan.” Eddie reopens his eyes to look at Venom. His avoidance is gone, but his fear is still there. “You’ll… you’ll be with me, right?”

Venom twines along his limbs and fingers like so many lucky charms, squeezing them in comforting ripples. “ALWAYS, EDDIE.”

 

*

 

Dan assigns different ringtones to the important people in his life; it’s one of his little organizational quirks. When his phone starts chirping What a guy! Makes you cry! he jumps so visibly that Stacy looks at him like he’s grown a second head.

“Dr. Lewis? Is everything all right?”

“Yes. Sorry.” The phone’s still ringing, flashing Eddie’s name. “Hold on, I have to take that call.” He snaps his gloves off and gets his phone out of the plastic tray.

“Dan?”

“Eddie, hi.”

“Hi—hi, Dan. You… Is this a bad time?”

“No, it’s fine, buddy, what’s up?”

Next to him, Stacy gestures in outraged disbelief at the fully staffed operation room waiting for them on the other side of the glass. Dan raises one apologetic finger at her. Eddie’s still talking, sounding more hesitant than ever.

“I was just thinking—could we do lunch today? Around noon? I don’t know, maybe—the three of us?”

Dan has to clear his throat before he speaks. “Yes, of course. Sounds great.”

“I tried calling Anne to make sure she was free,” Eddie says like an apology. “But I guess she’s in court.”

“She is, yes. Recess should be around eleven.” Dan wants to know so much—did Venom talk to Eddie? Does Eddie know? What does he know? What does he think?—but he just can’t get into it right now. He has to be organized about this, too.

Eddie manages a creaky chuckle. “At least you’re not in surgery.”

“I am. Well. In five minutes.”

“Oh—Jesus,” he stammers. “Sorry. I’ll hang up now—”

“Lunch!” Dan says quickly. “We’re doing lunch. I’ll let Anne know. Just text me the place, all right?”

“Yes. Uh, will do. Bye, sorry—bye, Dan,” and Eddie ends the call.

Dan puts his phone back in the tray and returns to the sink to wash his hands again. After a moment, he becomes aware of Stacy’s eyes on him.

“Something wrong, Stace?”

“You don’t take calls right before surgery,” she says slowly.

“It was an emergency.”

“It was lunch.”

“It was an emergency,” Dan repeats, making sure to wash thoroughly between his fingers and under his nails.

Surgery passes like an afterthought. It’s a rather simple procedure, and being focused on something else actually helps Dan work—it’s like meditation; his mind’s elsewhere, so his body goes through the motions without hesitation or second thoughts. He comes round at the end, takes a look at what he did, then nods in distracted satisfaction and snaps off his bloody gloves to let Stacy finish up. She’ll make an excellent head surgeon one day.

He goes into his office, closes the door and calls Anne. “Hey, honey. How was court?”

“Oh, the usual bullshit. But now I’m doing it pro-bono.” There’s a smile in her voice. “How was surgery?”

“Uneventful, really. Are you free for lunch?”

“Sure, yes. Anywhere in particular you want to go?”

“Actually, Eddie’s picking us a place,” Dan says.

There a pause. “What?”

“He called me earlier this morning.”

“What?” Anne repeats, louder. “But—is this just lunch, or is it...

“The second one, I think.”

There’s a silence. Dan wishes she were here with him, if only so they could look helplessly at each other.

“I have no idea how this conversation’s going to go,” he volunteers. “But it’s time we had it.”

“Yeah.” She breathes out a laugh. “I love you, honey, do you know that?”

Dan has got to find a way to stop smiling so wide when she says that. “I love you too. Where’s that coming from?”

“This whole thing. This whole Venom and Eddie thing. Nobody else would’ve reacted like you did.”

For once, Dan doesn’t know what to say. He didn’t do anything special. Whenever he makes an effort, it’s usually to tamp himself down. This time he just… gradually stopped doing that, and now there’s this amazing woman on the phone telling him she loves him.

“He called you?” she goes on. “Just like that, out of the blue? To say he wanted to talk?”

“He called us,” Dan says. “You first, then me.”

An even longer pause. Then Anne says, “Dear God, I think Venom’s a good influence on him.”

 

*

 

Eddie’s palms are sweating. He keeps glancing at the restaurant entrance. He picked a place he knew would be quiet at lunch, so now he sits alone in the middle of the room, with cheerful Indian music in the background, and he’s never felt so exposed in his life. God, he doesn’t know how to do this. He doesn’t even know what he’s trying to do.

Dating Anne used to be simple. There was a script to follow, and Eddie followed it to the letter, including the fuck-up, which ended in an entirely deserved dumping. Now he has no guidelines. And what is he doing, really, calling them both in to talk? Is this just another patented idiot move? Is this him subconsciously trying to sabotage his relationships?

He doesn’t think so, is the thing. He’s already sabotaging his relationship with Anne and Dan, by avoiding them for weeks on end every time they’re a little bit nice to him. This is him trying to be an adult. This is him trying to communicate.

Shit, he still hasn’t taught Venom what a safeword is.

RELAX, EDDIE, Venom rumbles in his ear. THEY LOVE YOU.

Eddie exhales. As always, Venom cuts to the bare essentials of his issues. And for all his self-esteem problems, Eddie can’t deny Anne loves him; not like she used to, maybe, but she cares. Dan cares, too, though Eddie’s still not sure why.

The point is, they’re not going to kick them out of their lives for the awkward conversation he’s about to put them through. Not when they haven’t done that over his alien parasite.

He’s tapping at the table, and Venom trickles out between his fingers, squeezing like a hand. Eddie can’t help smiling at that.

“You love me, too, huh?”

WHAT KIND OF QUESTION IS THAT.

Of course Venom loves him. Eddie can still feel it every time he stops and focuses on himself. But even symbiotic love has nothing on the helpless emotion that flooded him the day before, when he woke up in his neat apartment and realized Venom had done that for him. Sure, lots of plates were broken, and Venom had forgotten to put detergent in the laundry, but who cares? It noticed Eddie was miserable and did all it could to make him feel better. No one has ever loved him like that, and no one will again.

“And you don’t mind that I like them so much? You don’t want me all to yourself?”

YOU ALREADY ARE, Venom says. WHAT DOES LIKING OTHER PEOPLE HAVE TO DO WITH IT.

Eddie’s smile grows despite himself. Then he looks up and sees that Anne and Dan are at the door.

They see him, too—how couldn’t they; he’s alone at this round table set for three, and there are only two other people in the room, quietly eating in a corner.

Anne instinctively reaches for Dan’s hand and finds it at once, because he’s reached for her too.

Something inside Eddie comes loose at that sight. It feels like acceptance. Yeah, they love him, but even more importantly, he loves them. So he’s going to do his own emotional dirty work for once, instead of letting Anne shoulder most of it.

They reach his table and Eddie silently blesses the overeager Indian waiter who’s fluttering around them, taking their coats and pulling their chairs and asking if they’d like something to drink before ordering. When they’re left alone, there’s an awkward few seconds when none of them say anything.

Then they all let out a shaky laugh at the same time.

“So,” Anne says. “I guess this isn’t just lunch.”

“No,” Eddie admits, relieved she spoke first. There he goes, relying on her again. But hopefully he can take it from there. “No, I—I got something to say. I mean, last time, after we all had breakfast, it felt—I thought—”

He takes a breath. He needs to calm down.

“Do you remember, the first time I came over for dinner at your place? I, uh, embarrassed all three of us by saying I was lucky to have met you, and all that.” He clears his throat. “But—but I meant it then. And I still mean it now. And I just wanted to let you know that you don’t have to worry. I’m going to back off a bit.”

Anne and Dan exchange a look that’s a whole conversation in and of itself. There are eyebrows at play there, quick eye movements, slight twitches of lips. It’s a conference in microexpressions. Then they turn round again to face him, their features equally unreadable.

“Back off?” Anne just says.

“Yeah, I…” Eddie picks at the inside of his palm, blinking at them. “I mean… I just thought…”

“Have you very fine lady and gentlemen made your choice?” the waiter trumpets. “Oh, but I see you haven’t even opened the menu yet! Can I get you started with anything? Are you perhaps unfamiliar with Indian cuisine? I can offer you a choice of—”

“We’ll all take palak paneer with cheese naan, thank you,” Dan says. “And some chai for three, please.” He beams at the waiter who stumbles mid-word, then retreats with nothing more than a smile and a nod, having apparently been outmatched in his field.

“Eddie,” Anne says, warningly—she’s staring at his waist, and he looks down to find Venom’s bubbled out of him, shapeless, braced against the table in case they need to make their escape.

“It’s all right, love,” he exhales. “Sorry. I’m just nervous.”

Venom retracts. Eddie looks up at Anne, then at Dan. This would all be easier if they were facing him, really. Two on one, make it clear. But the three of them have been seated evenly around the table, and it’s stressing him out for a reason he can’t quite place.

“What’s, uh… what’s palak paneer?” he asks.

“Oh, mostly spinach,” Dan answers.

“…Right.” Eddie hadn’t expected this conversation to include the words mostly spinach and doesn’t know where to lead from there. “I, uh… I can’t remember what I was talking about.”

“Let me ask you something, Eddie,” Anne says. “Would you date me again?”

Eddie stares. Three platefuls of naan are silently deposited on the table by the waiter, who seems to have finally read the mood. Tendrils slither out of Eddie and grab the naan off his plate, vanishing with it under the table.

“I…” Eddie glances at Dan. Why would she ask him that with Dan here. He looks at her again, helplessly. He can’t just say nothing. “I… I love you, Annie, you know I do…”

“You’re not answering the question,” she points out.

The look on her face is so strange. Emotional in a way Eddie can’t place. This isn’t what he expected at all. He came here prepared to—take his responsibilities, acknowledge that he’s been relying on them too much, that he’s been making himself too comfortable. Thank them for their support and swear to do better. But now he has no earthly idea what’s going on.

ANSWER HER, EDDIE.

Does Venom know about all this? Is this some kind of ambush? It feels like an ambush, but how can that be the case when Eddie’s the one who set it up?

EDDIE—

“No,” he blurts out. “No, Annie, I don’t—want to… to date you again. I mean—I would. In another world, of course I would. But in this one, I did date you, and then I messed up.”

They’re both looking at him.

“And now—I don’t think we could go back even if we both wanted to. You know? I mean—so much has changed. There’s Venom. And there’s Dan!” He turns to him, a bit wildly. “I mean, Dan, you’re literally right here.”

“Palak paneer!” the waiter announces, coming back with three full plates and an assortment of sauces. It’s cubes of fried cheese in spinach. It looks weird.

Eddie waits while Anne and Dan accept their plates. As soon as the waiter’s gone, Venom pushes a tendril out of Eddie to dip into the plate—it loves cheese.

“Why are you asking me this?” Eddie says, a bit pleadingly. “Why are you both asking me this?”

It’s Dan who answers. “Eddie, it’s all right. You don’t need to back off.”

Several weeks of exposure, and Eddie still doesn’t know what to do with himself in front of Dan. It’s something to do with the way Dan looks at him—like he unabashedly thinks Eddie’s the best thing since sliced bread.

“I don’t understand what you’re telling me.” Eddie looks nervously between them both. “You—you guys aren’t breaking up, right?”

“God, no,” Anne says, at the same time that Dan says, “I don’t think so.”

“Oh good. That’s—that’s really good.”

Something changes in Anne’s gaze, like she’s only just understood it’s one of the things Eddie was afraid of. Her general expression is still one of undefinable emotion and it’s freaking Eddie out. His brain’s desperately trying to piece together what they could possibly mean.

There’s only one option, really. But it can’t be the truth. This is just self-centered Eddie finally losing it after months of pressure.

“You don’t mean…” What if he says it and it’s not what they meant at all? What if he says it and that drives them away for good? “You…”

SAY THE WORDS, EDDIE.

Eddie swallows. “You—something—the three of us? At the same time?”

By the subtle yet undeniable change in their expressions, he can tell he’s hit the mark.

“Oh God,” Eddie says faintly. “Oh, crap, Annie, I shouldn’t have said I didn’t want to date you—”

She grins, suddenly. “No, I was glad to hear you say that, Eddie. You’re right, we couldn’t ever be like before. You’ve got Venom, and Dan and I have each other.”

“Yeah…”

“But,” she smiles, “maybe we can all meet in the middle every once in a while.”

Eddie sits there like an idiot. In retrospect, he should’ve taken a few days to calm down before they had this conversation, but of course he had no idea where it was going to lead. They’ve always made him feel vulnerable, but now the aching thing inside him suddenly aches a lot more, the way thirst does right before drinking.

He remembers again, vividly, how he woke up with his head in Anne’s lap that time he had a cold, and neither of them said anything, because talking about it might have ruined it. And even more recently, that night he spent next to Dan; the taste of coffee in the morning and Dan’s hand on his forearm. His voice when he said he wanted Eddie to keep his sweater. All three of them hugging late at night, and the relief of being able to let out a little of that painful affection that’s been eating him from the inside more than Venom ever could.

“Are you sure?” is what he says, disarmed. “We’re a handful.”

Anne gets up, leans over the table and kisses him.

It lasts for a few seconds and a millions years. He didn’t think he’d ever get to kiss her again. When she draws back, Eddie looks at Dan who’s sitting there looking happy.

“You… Dan, you…”

Dan leans forward too. Eddie’s heart misses a beat, but Dan doesn’t kiss him on the mouth—just on the cheek, cupping his face. It’s so strange, and so fond.

SEE, Venom says. THEY LOVE YOU.

“I…” Eddie’s brain seems to have vacated the premises. “I don’t know what to say now.”

“Well, that’s a lot for today,” Dan says. “We could just eat.”

“Yes, the food’s getting cold,” Anne approves, picking up her fork. Then, as if nothing happened, “So Eddie, how was your week otherwise?”

It seems completely absurd to imagine they’re just going to have a normal conversation as though the past ten minutes haven’t happened at all. But what else are they going to do? Eddie goes through the motions. He’s still mostly confused. His cheek and mouth burn where they’ve kissed him. He tells them about his week, and then they take turns telling him about theirs. He and Anne quiz Dan on colors, and then Dan quizzes Eddie and Venom on body parts. And damn if palak paneer isn’t fucking delicious.

 

*

 

“He looked freaked out,” Anne says.

“Well, that doesn’t mean he’s not onboard,” Dan answers as he comes out of the bathroom, having changed out of his work clothes. He still dresses exactly the same now that he’s not colorblind anymore, which says something about how put-together he’s always been.

“Venom’s definitely on our side,” Anne admits, feet up on the armrest. She’s scrolling down her laptop, but it’s all automatic. She’s thought about their lunch all afternoon, and it’s still all she can think about now. “And he wouldn’t root for something Eddie doesn’t want.”

Dan steps into the kitchen to get dinner going. “Maybe I shouldn’t have kissed him.”

“Oh—no, that was very sweet. And he looked so pleased. Surprised, but—pleased.”

“He’s not interested in men, is he?”

Anne looks up from her screen. Dan’s got out a pan and poured some olive oil in it; he’s rolled up his sleeves to chop some zucchini. His back is straight under his checkered shirt. Somehow, it’s the most worried she’s ever seen him.

“No,” she says slowly. “I mean, ask him again when you get the chance. But—I don’t think so.”

“Well, I’m not either.” Dan pushes his zucchini slices into the pan. “How do you excuse closeness then?”

Anne knows exactly what he means. It’s what she was talking about the other night, when they were both murmuring in bed. Those goddamn implications. The insidious, self-enforced rules that mean a woman cannot be too friendly with her ex. Dan and Eddie are facing a similar hurdle. If two men get close, then they’re gay. And if they’re not gay, then that’s weird.

The three of them together have reached some sort of balance so far—it’s not gay if there’s a woman in the room, and it’s not cheating if Anne’s boyfriend is around to keep an eye on her—but now that they’ve stopped pretending there was nothing to see here, those stratagems won’t fly anymore.

Anne puts away her laptop and gets up. The floor’s warm under her bare feet as she joins Dan in the kitchen. She wraps her arm around his waist and leans against him; he answers with a smile, of course.

“I don’t think Eddie will ask for excuses,” she says. “And if he does, get Venom’s opinion. He doesn’t have two thousand years of Western civilization weighing on him.”

“It’s refreshing talking to him,” Dan admits. He’s still smiling—he’s always smiling—but Anne gets again that feeling that he’s more troubled right now than she’s ever seen him before.

She slides her other hand up his neck and brings him down for a kiss. Dan leans in with tangible gratitude, and relief, and kisses her back to the point that the zucchini might just have burned if someone hadn’t knocked on the door.

 

*

 

As Venom grew to love Eddie—which started from the moment they were bonded, really; maybe even a little before that—it endeavored to help him obtain what he needed to be happy. For a while there, a relationship with Anne seemed to be part of the package. But humans have a way of making everything complicated.

After lunch, Eddie sits on a bench and stares into space for a little while. Then he gets up and they just walk. He needs to think—or maybe think of nothing—and Venom is more than happy to help by keeping his body going. They walk and walk, until eventually Eddie’s meandering thoughts come to a halt at the same time as his body. It’s been a little over six hours since lunch.

Venom laces a few tendrils around his waist, underneath his clothes. WHAT DO WE DO NOW.

“We could go home.”

Venom says nothing.

Eddie starts walking again, towards the flower shop that arrested his steps. “Or we could do a big stupid romantic gesture.”

I LIKE THAT OPTION BETTER.

“Sometimes I think you’ve stayed on Earth just because my life’s your personal sitcom and you don’t want to miss the next episode.”

THAT, AND I ENJOY CHOCOLATE.

“You’re the worst,” Eddie says, and pushes the tingling door to get into the shop.

Venom has watched enough human television by now to know they appreciate cut flowers; but there are probably more rules eluding its grasp—of course there are, because nothing’s ever simple with those people. It can tell by the agonized care with which Eddie picks out the flowers, hovering around bouquets that all look the same. He ends up picking something that seems very uncomplicated, which probably means it has significance beyond anything Venom can imagine.

Then they get into a cable car and let it carry them through the city.

“I didn’t dream what happened at lunch, right?” Eddie asks nervously when they get off.

YOU DID NOT.

“Okay. Good. Just checking.” His heart is pounding so loudly. “Okay.”

They’ve reached Anne’s building. Luckily, someone’s just getting in, so they can slip inside without ringing at the door. Eddie’s adrenaline levels seem to rise with every step he climbs. When he gets to Anne’s landing, he has to sit down on the step and take a few slow breaths.

Venom trickles out around both his hands, mindful of the flowers in their crinkly paper, and squeezes. YOU CAN DO THIS, EDDIE.

Eddie exhales a shaky laugh. “You’ve made me do a lot of crazy things, you know that?”

HERE’S TO ONE MORE.  Venom pushes out a tendril and knocks on the door three loud times.

“Venom—!” Eddie scrambles to his feet, just in time. The door clicks open.

Anne’s hair is a blond halo in the light. “Eddie.” Her eyes are wide, but happy. She opens the door a bit more. “Hi.”

“Hey. I…” Eddie swallows again. Then he holds out what he brought, wordlessly.

Anne takes the single yellow rose. “Thank you.” She looks down at what he’s clutching nervously in his hands. “You’ve got another one.”

“Yeah. Is that—”

He doesn’t finish his sentence, because Anne steps forward, puts a hand on his shoulder and kisses him. This time, Eddie kisses back, and Venom can feel everything it’s doing to him inside, all the doors it unlocks in his brain, lights flashing and dancing when he’d tried to snuff them out. There’s some guilt and some relief, but mostly he’s so deeply happy.

Then Anne pulls back, smiles, and calls over her shoulder, “Dan! It’s Eddie.”

“Eddie?” Dan appears, wiping his hands on a rag. “Hey, bud, what’s…”

He goes silent when Eddie hands over his second rose.

“Sorry,” Eddie says after a few seconds of silence. “Is… is that weird?”

“You’ve brought me flowers.” Dan sounds like he hasn’t heard what Eddie just said at all.

“Yeah, I…” Eddie glances at Anne. “I asked the girl at the shop and she said—uh, roses are for love, in general. Red roses for romantic love, obviously. And all sorts of other specific meanings for all the other colors, pink and white and so on. But yellow, she said, yellow can be just kind of whatever. Undefined. So—I don’t know exactly what we… But I know it’s love. I mean. I think it’s love.”

Anne suddenly leaves, turning back into the apartment.

Venom is taken by surprise, and had no time to check the look on her face. It pushes out of Eddie’s ankle, so as not to disturb his moment with Dan, and slithers across the floor after her. “ANNE!”

She jumps, then looks down, and finally laughs. “Darling. You scared me.”

Leaning down, she offers her arm and Venom wraps around it a few times to let its head hover at eye-level. This far from Eddie, a bit of physical support doesn’t go amiss. “WHY ARE YOU WALKING AWAY? DID EDDIE SAY SOMETHING WRONG? HE MEANS WELL.”

Anne grins. “You know, sometimes I think you’re the best thing that ever happened to him.”

“WE ARE GOOD FOR EACH OTHER, YES.” Venom won’t let itself be distracted. “WHY DID YOU LEAVE?”

“I just thought they might need a moment.”

Venom turns around and sees that Eddie and Dan are hugging.

The checkers on Dan’s shirt are pulled into diamonds by the force of Eddie’s grip, and since Dan is still holding the rose in his hand, it’s resting against the back of Eddie’s head. It’s not like the previous times they’ve hugged, with back-slapping and a time limit. This, thinks Venom, is a bit like when Eddie started crying the day before—a lot coming out all at once.

“You’ve done well,” Anne says.

Venom grins. It is very good at grinning. “TEAM EFFORT.”

 

*

 

In all his wildest dreams, Dan never imagined he would find himself in such a situation.

The shapeless thing between the three of them is still best summed up by that one night when Eddie came back, unprompted, after the most stressful lunch of all time, to offer them both undefined love flowers, radiant roses that cemented yellow into being Dan’s favorite color. It was the very first time anyone gave him flowers outside of his professional life. In a way, everything that followed the hug with Eddie was absurdly normal—he stayed for dinner and they watched a movie with him sitting in the middle. Nothing they hadn’t done before. But that was the point, wasn’t it. They already had what they wanted. They just needed the courage to make it official.

Eddie stayed over for the night, of course. The king bed was more than big enough for three. After a few beats of awkwardness, they all settled close, with Eddie in the middle again, and although Dan’s pretty sure none of them slept very well—the situation still so new, so unusual—the morning after was worth it, when light hit the windows and they all wordlessly decided to stop pretending they weren’t awake, and cuddled even closer. In the tangle of limbs there was no room for awkwardness; Dan put his arm around Eddie, finding Anne’s hand on the other side of him, and felt Eddie’s touch in the middle of his own back.

And then someone’s alarm buzzed and it was time to go to work; but they ate breakfast together, and spent five minutes hugging each other before they left, and the last thing Dan saw before he locked the door was the two yellow roses in a vase on the kitchen table.

That day—and all the following days since—he was absolutely insufferable at work. He can’t quite find it in himself to care.

The question of sex is still unresolved, though it’s not one that particularly torments Dan. He had a talk with Anne about it a few days later, just as the roses started to dry, and they agreed she’d let him know if she slept with Eddie again. Not necessarily before the fact, but afterwards for sure. She asked him again and again whether he was certain he didn’t mind, until eventually Dan had to confess that he had never been jealous in his life and wasn’t sure he even understood the feeling. He’s no stranger to disappointment, sadness, and envy. But jealousy? He’s delighted at the thought of Anne loving other people, and being loved by them. He wants her to get as much love as she can. Why not? It’s what he wants for everyone he loves. It’s what he wants for himself.

With all that in mind, what actually happens is a surprise for everybody.

CAN WE COME SEE YOU AT THE HOSPITAL, is what Venom texts Dan that morning.

Of course! Dan texts back at once. What’s going on? Is something wrong?

Venom’s answering dots bounce around in their bubble for a little while before his answer pops up. EDDIE NEEDS—

But the app suddenly collapses when Dan’s phone starts ringing.

“Hello? Eddie?”

“Nothing’s wrong,” Eddie says pointedly, “and Venom knew it wasn’t supposed to contact you about this, so we’re going to have words. Yes, that’s right, words, you slimy ball of—”

“But what’s happening? Are you all right?”

“No, it’s—we’re healthy, Dan, we’re good.” Eddie hesitates, then sighs. “I just need a physical. For work.”

“Oh!” Dan says. “Well, come see me, of course.”

“No, don’t waste your time with that, we’ll figure something out. It’s not life and death.”

“Eddie, it’s you,” Dan says, and pages the welcome desk. “Come see me right now so we have enough time. I’ll ask Charlene to let you through.”

Eddie actually shows up not thirty minutes later, wearing black jeans and a thick brown leather jacket, cheeks flushed with cold. He’s still riding his bike everywhere, even in winter weather, which Dan still can’t help but find so very cool.

“Hey, Dan.” Eddie’s awkwardness around Dan isn’t quite gone, but these days he’s the one to hug him every time they see each other, like he’s making a point.

“Hey,” Dan says warmly after they’ve pulled back. “Do you want to give me your jacket?”

“Yeah—uh, thanks.” Eddie shrugs it off. “That… that lady at the desk wasn’t very friendly.”

“I think she’s having a bad day,” is Dan’s diplomatic answer. He notices Eddie’s wearing his black cashmere sweater, and smiles all over again. “Come on.”

Folding the leather jacket over his arm, he leads Eddie to the private examination room he usually uses only for absurdly wealthy clients.

“Wow. It is—fancy in here.” Eddie sits on the medical bed. “So, uh, I haven’t done a physical in years. I don’t really remember how it goes.”

“Years?” Dan frowns, hanging up Eddie’s jacket at the door.

“I mean, I did one when I started working at the network, back when I arrived in San Francisco. Now they’ve hired me again, so… they want me to do a new one.”

“I see.” Dan shrugs on his white coat, out of habit more than anything. “Can you take off your shirt, please?”

Eddie slips off the cashmere sweater and the t-shirt he’s wearing underneath, bundling them up next to him. It’s the first time Dan sees him bare-chested, and he’s more curious than ever about his tattoos, but now’s probably not the time.

He sits by Eddie’s side, puts on his stethoscope and sets it in the middle of his back.

All of Eddie’s muscles bunch up at once. “Cold!”

“Oh, sorry—I haven’t done that in a while.” Dan puts a hand on his shoulder. “Relax. Just take some deep breaths.”

He closes his eyes and moves the stethoscope over Eddie’s back. His heart pounds in double beats, loud and strong. His breathing swells and falls like an ocean tide. He’s obviously making an effort to slow it down, and his heart rate also sounds a bit too quick—maybe Dan should have given him a minute before beginning to auscult. But otherwise it’s all healthy, without a hitch or murmur.

Although…

After moving the stethoscope around some more, Dan puts it over Eddie’s chest. There’s a faint background noise that’s not in tune with the rest of his body. Something like fluid moving between two plaques of glass. When Dan opens his eyes, he finds himself very close to Eddie’s worried face.

“Dan? Is something wrong?”

“Not wrong.” Dan blinks at him. “I think I can hear Venom.”

“Really?” Eddie looks about as fascinated as Dan feels. “How—how does it sound?”

“Liquid. It’s hard to explain.” Dan moves even closer. “Keep breathing, as deep as you can.”

Eddie does, and Dan listens. He could listen to the inside of Eddie’s body all day, really. He wonders what it’s like in there.

“Shut up,” Eddie mutters suddenly.

Dan looks up. “Eddie?”

“Nothing.” The flush hasn’t left Eddie’s cheeks. “Sorry. Go on.”

“What is he telling you?”

Eddie shifts to get up from the table. “Dan, maybe—maybe this wasn’t a good idea, maybe I should go—”

“Venom,” Dan says, thinking back on Anne’s remark regarding social conventions and how Venom might help with them, “could you—”

Tendrils push out of Eddie’s shoulders and bind his wrists firmly in his back; as he was trying to get up, he nearly slips from the table and swears.

“This—isn’t exactly what I had in mind,” Dan says, steadying him. “But all right, I suppose.”

“Not all right,” Eddie mutters furiously, wrists twisting behind his back. “V, this is way over the line, you fucking let me go right now or I swear to God—”

“How does it go next? Do I hurt you?”

Eddie stops talking mid-word.

Then looks up at Dan, eyes wide. “I—you—what?”

“Well, your fantasy,” Dan says. “I remember what Venom said during the anatomy lesson.” And what Anne told him afterwards, but he’s not going to say that. "I don't mind."

Eddie’s looking at him like he’s the alien. His chest is heaving; his arms are so strictly bound the musculature in his back and shoulders stands out in sharp relief. Dan notes his own attraction with interest. He can’t call it sexual, but it’s certainly not reasoned either. All he knows is that he likes Eddie right there, at his entire disposal. It’s the controlling aspect of care, both of them two sides of the same coin—and more importantly, it’s the patient that’s willing to cede that control.

Dan’s had his thoughts on that. But somehow he didn’t imagine he’d get to put them into practice.

“I really don’t mind,” he repeats, and puts his hand on the back of Eddie’s neck. “Take a deep breath.”

Eddie does. It comes out shaky.

“Tell me,” Dan asks again, sitting next to him. “I mean, if you feel like sharing.”

"What is it gonna take,”  Eddie asks after another shaky breath, “to weird you out. Is that even possible."

“No offense, Eddie,” Dan says cheerfully, “but you’re pretty tame by hospital standards. And I like you, so I’m biased.” His thumb rubs circles into Eddie’s nape. “Come on, tell me. I’m really curious.”

“I don’t know, I… Mostly you—you do your job. What I imagine your job is, anyway. And I just—lie there. But,” he says with a last attempt at dignity, “it’s not like I think about that every time I—”

“You don’t have a say,” Dan guesses, thinking again about what Anne said on Eddie’s thing for control. “You don’t even try to resist. Doctor’s orders, right?”

Eddie stares at him.

“I think if you ask again, Venom will let you go. But if you don’t ask, we can finish up on that physical.” Dan squeezes the back of his neck. “You tell me, Eddie.”

“What…” Eddie sounds helpless. “What—what about Anne? If we…”

“Oh, we have an agreement,” Dan reassures him. “I’ll text her when we’re done.”

That seems to stun Eddie into silence. Maybe Anne was his last line of defense and he can’t think of anything else, now. Short of saying no. Which he doesn’t seem inclined to do.

Dan lets go of his neck and gets up.

“All right then. Let’s get back to it.”

It’s liberating, to put all thoughts of boundaries aside for the rest of the physical. Like perhaps all doctors in the world, Dan’s had patients whose body betrayed them during a medical exam; but usually he does his best to pretend he hasn’t noticed—or he laughs it off with them and reassures them that it’s very common. Here, he doesn’t have to take those precautions while he palpates Eddie’s abdomen and listens to his heart and lungs; he can let his hands linger on bare skin, without checking himself with his usual hyperawareness. Eddie, eyes closed, hands still bound, is focusing on his touch like no one before him. Which is really nice.

“O-kay,” Dan says five minutes later, popping out the stethoscope from his ears. “All done here. Now, please take off your pants.”

Eddie’s eyes reopen with something close to panic. “My pants?”

Venom’s already let go of his wrists, clearly onboard with this whole thing. Dan smiles and snaps on a pair of latex gloves. “Yes, Eddie. I like to be thorough.”

Eddie’s cheeks never quite lost their flush from the cold; now he goes crimson as he slowly gets up from the table, unbuckles his belt and steps out of his jeans. Unsurprisingly, he's hard, and Dan feels a rush of something slightly sharper than fondness, seeing him so embarrassed.

“It’s okay, Eddie. Perfectly natural.” He puts a hand in the middle of his chest. “Lie back completely, please. Venom, can you hold him again?”

Dan doesn’t touch Eddie once through the procedure. Well—no, of course he does; checks his testicles and pushes a finger inside him to reach his prostate. It is actually a good thing to give him a physical; who knows whether Venom would flag a tumor as abnormal. But Dan doesn’t particularly try to make him come, and yet Eddie’s impressively worked up by the time he’s done, flushed and trembling, obviously on the brink. Maybe because Dan’s made no move towards his relief, now casually taking Eddie’s tension as though he weren’t nude, desperate, and spread-eagled on the table by alien tendrils.

“Your tension’s a bit high,” Dan says, which makes Eddie laugh, once, loud and helpless. A minute later, he arches and hisses when Dan pushes a needle into his inner thigh for a blood sample.

“Sorry,” Dan says, “I know it hurts more there, but the veins are bigger.” He draws back on the syringe. “So I’m treating myself.”

Eddie’s hiding his face in his shoulder, and he’s so aroused it looks painful now. Thoughts of catheters, enemas, and other potentially humiliating procedures go through Dan’s head, but he sets them aside; maybe for another time. This is just a physical, and it already feels like he’s teetering on the edge of some very attractive precipice. Dan’s been watching himself quite closely his whole life, and knows he’s better off taking it slow.

“And we’re done,” he says, snapping his gloves off. “Thanks for your help, Venom. You can let go of him.”

Eddie stays where he is, even after the tendrils have slithered back under his skin. The one thing he does is put his hands over his face.

“You’ve been a model patient, Eddie,” Dan says, sitting by his side on the table and setting a hand on his thigh. “How are you feeling?”

“Oh, well, I was planning to keep lying here and die of shame,” Eddie mumbles.

“Builds character.” Dan can’t help how wide he’s smiling. “Do you want me to give you a handjob? I’ve never done that before, but I could try.”

Eddie laughs and takes his hands off his face, opening his eyes. “No.” He pushes up on his elbows. “I can, uh. Take care of myself. Later. Don’t do anything you’re not comfortable with.”

“I haven’t so far,” Dan assures him.

Eddie looks at him. “No?”

“Of course not. This was all really nice. Definitely taught me a few things about myself.” Dan gets up. “I’m going to go throw these gloves into my office’s trash can for absolutely no reason. Be back in five minutes.”

When he returns, Eddie’s dressing himself, slowly. It’s difficult to tell now that he’s put his jeans back on, but Dan is pretty sure he’s no longer hard. The dazed look on his face is also a clue. He hasn’t made a mess, which Dan appreciates. This is kind of a fancy examination room, after all.

“Hey,” he says. “Come here?”

Eddie does, with obvious relief, like he was waiting for that. His hug feels like he’s recharging something essential, and Dan’s surprised to find how wound up he was, himself. How good it feels to come down now. The whole thing was rather more exciting than he expected it to be.

“So, uh,” Eddie says when they let go. “Did I pass my physical?”

Dan grins. “With flying colors.”

 

 

*

 

ARE YOU MAD AT US? Venom asks once they get home.

Eddie mostly works from his place these days—when he’s not eating people on deserted beaches at 3am—but this day at work did him a world of good. He needs to touch base with reality every once in a while. All the more so now that his world took another sharp turn left.

“You mean about this morning?”

OBVIOUSLY.

Eddie’s packing an overnight bag, because he’s invited for dinner again and he might as well embrace the fact that he wants nothing more than to stay forever.

“Well, that was about the best orgasm of my life, so it’d be disingenuous of me.” Eddie grabs his toothbrush, then gives himself a glance in the mirror so Venom can see him smile. “It's okay. You know I like it when you push me.”

Of course, Venom pushing him that morning would have just resulted in a moment of utter mortification if Dan hadn’t proved incredibly ready to push him as well. Eddie’s starting to get the feeling that Dan is a tad strange. But not in a way that disagrees with him, or Venom. Or Anne, clearly.

“We should have that talk about safewords, though.” It was all fun and games as long as Eddie was only risking his own sanity, but if they’re really doing this thing, the three slash four of them—and really, they shouldn’t, he shouldn’t stay near them, he’s dangerous, Venom’s dangerous, they’re killing people, how could that story have a happy ending—if they’re involving other people, then yeah. Eddie needs to make sure things won’t get out of hand.

TELL ME.

“Okay. Remember how bodies are sacred?”

YES.

“And how we have to ask before we can get inside someone?”

WITH YOU SO FAR.

“All right, well—a safeword is like a magic word that means stop, you're not allowed in anymore.”

YOU’VE LOST ME. Venom curls out of Eddie and hovers in front of him. “WHY NOT JUST SAY STOP.”

“Well, remember what we did that other day? You made me say no and stop, but you didn’t stop.”

“THAT WAS PRETEND.”

“Yeah, it was pretend. Well, a safeword means pretend is over. And—and I should’ve used one with Dan, this morning, really.”

“DAN WAS NOT PRETENDING.”

“Still,” Eddie says, because that’s all he’s got. Jesus, but he really sucks at this. He’s going to have to brush up. Maybe read the BDSM Wikipedia page.

Venom does the symbiote equivalent of shrugging and headbutts Eddie, softly. “WHATEVER YOU SAY, EDDIE.”

That's not ideal. But nothing about their chaotic sex life has been ideal, and that’s about all Eddie needs. Deep down Venom doesn’t care about all those odd human rules, but it’ll follow them because it loves Eddie. Whatever you say. That’s them right there.

 

Eddie takes a cable car to Anne’s, because she lives so close the bike’s overkill. He rings, climbs the stairs remembering how he felt the last time he did that—how terrified he was, clutching his two yellow roses. He’s a bit proud of doing that. He put in the work, and now he’s happy. In a permanent state of confusion and near-panic, sure; but happy.

He knocks on the door, which opens on Anne looking absolutely gorgeous in a little black dress. Her expression is about ten times as intense as her usual.

“Tell. Me. Everything.”

Eddie smiles wide. He’d be lying if he said he wasn’t looking forward to her reaction. “So I’m assuming Dan let you know—”

“Of course he let me know.” She grabs the front of his shirt and drags him inside, laughing and stumbling.

“Annie—wait—let me at least take off my jacket—”

“Come here,” she says, and pulls him fully close for a kiss.

Yeah, Eddie thinks again, closing his eyes. Yeah, he’s happy.

“Okay,” she says, once he’s taken off his jacket and she’s pushed him on the couch, still a bit dazed. “Now tell me everything.”

Eddie does, which should be embarrassing, really, but she’s listening so rapturously he just feels sort of giddy. Anne loves hearing improbable sexual stories, and loves them even more when they're about people she knows, so of course she'd be all over Dan casually taking Eddie apart by doing nothing much at all, really. She narrows her eyes when he’s done. “So this is all Venom’s doing.”

“Someone’s in trouble, V,” Eddie sing-songs.

NONSENSE. ANNE IS OUR GREATEST ALLY.

“He’s not in trouble,” Anne approves. “He’s done more for this household than the rest of us combined.”

The door clicks open behind them; it's Dan, and Venom pushes out of Eddie and slithers across the room to say hi. In a minute they’re going to hug and kiss and Eddie will probably spontaneously combust facing Dan, but then they’ll all sit down to eat something and watch something and afterwards pile up in bed, all close, all sharing the same warmth, and Venom will be beating safely inside him like a second heart, and Eddie will never, ever be lonely again.

“Oh, so we’re a household, now,” he says to Anne as they get up from the couch.

“We’re a mess,” she answers, but it’s warm.