In her dreams, she was rocking. Like a boat kept afloat by gentle waves, a tide she knew and could trust. Under a sky big enough the wide sea was as small as a pond, compared to it. Under the gaze of ancient stars.
She wasn't alone.
Jubulile opened her eyes in the dark. Lying on her side she held her breath, not daring to make any abrupt movement. Not because she was afraid.
She could feel it. It was clinging to her like to a life preserver, trying to hold its head over the surface to breathe, and she didn't want to scare it and see it sink deep down again, under the threshold of her awareness.
This was so different from the way she had felt with Carnage. With it, with the part of it that had sunken its teeth into her, she could never ignore its presence. With this instead... she knew it tried to hide, tried to make itself small, so small she would forget about it and just go on with her life.
Slowly, she brought her hand in front of her face. Her eyes had grown accustomed to the dark and she could see the outline of her fingers, the darker mass of her palm. She fixed her eyes to her wrist.
Hey , she thought.
Nothing. But it wasn't an absence. It was someone choosing not to reply.
"Hey," she said aloud this time, softly. Was she imagining the little warmth she felt in response? "I know you're here. Don't be afraid. I only want to talk."
She reached to the lamp on the bedside table, closing her eyes before turning it on.
When she opened them again, a small gasp escaped her lips before she could hold it back.
The girl almost couldn't feel the symbiote touching the skin of her arm, couldn't feel the way it sunk into it. A small mass, red and blue and pink, its tendrils gently undulating like seaweed adrift. One of them reached gingerly towards her face.
--red, shooting towards her, sinking into her chest and neck, hurting--
She felt her throat tighten, and at the same moment the symbiote retracted, and inside her own fear she sensed another's fear. Colder within the cold.
"It's ok. I'm sorry, it's ok," she said, letting the memory pass through her, and focusing on the shape in front of her instead. "I know you're not Carnage. I know you won't hurt me."
She thought that with conviction, and realized it wasn't just her own. The symbiote was assenting into her mind, reinforcing that thought.
Again, so different from the connection to Carnage, to Cletus. She could easily pick her own sensations and thoughts from the symbiote's, even as they were laced together to her own, like strands in a twine. Jubulile sat up on the bed, holding the symbiote. It pooled into her cupped hands, a catalog of feelings into her mind. Fear, a little. Nervousness. Embarrassment...?
And the desire to make oneself very small, transparent even...
"I think it's about time we get to properly introduce to each other," she smiled. "Toxin, is that right? Hello, I'm Jubulile. Nice to meet you."
A snake-like head shaped up from the mass of the symbiote, and wide white orbs opened slowly, giving her something to look into, for her own convenience she supposed.
She blinked at the voice in her head, at how deep it felt, compared to the tiny, even cute presence in front of her.
...was what she felt the mental equivalent of an eye-roll? The sensation disappeared quickly, but it made her blink, and smile a little more.
"What were you planning to do here?” she asked. “I'm not annoyed, I'm just curious."
Again, the sense of embarrassment, as if Toxin had been caught doing a bad thing.
I'm weak. I need time to feel stronger again and I didn't want to remain in that place, on the island. So I decided to stay with you until I was better.
I don't know. Maybe I would have just stayed hidden. I tried... other things already, and it didn't go well...
Memories bubbled up into Jubulile's mind. She saw and heard and felt them, though not like she had relived Cletus' painful memories. Now she was seeing from a distance, as if Toxin was trying to spare her the worst. Shock, and sorrow, still filled her heart.
I tried to learn. I tried to be good. I tried to be big, and angry, and I tried to hate. I tried to be obedient. I tried my best but it was never enough, and I am tired and... now I would just try... to be, for a little while. But I don't know how. I don't know if I can. If my kind, if us symbiotes, can.
"Did Eddie try to teach you? About your kind? He had to know... something more."
Almost a snort of dark amusement, and behind that, sadness.
Eddie hated me. And then he didn't hate me but he still wished he did. And then... I don't know.
"Eddie is... complicated..."
Eddie is a fucking mess.
She couldn't help laughing a little at that. "...can't really disagree with you here. I know he made so many mistakes. But I also know he's trying to be better..."
She could tell Toxin was shrugging.
I'm a mess myself. Pat was right. I'm a monster and I couldn't even be a monster scary enough, strong enough, to protect him when I should have...
"You're not a monster,” she said with decision. This time she could feel Toxin's doubt, and she said it again. “You are not. We saw monsters. We fought the biggest monster, together."
An interrogative, unthought and unvoiced and yet clear.
Jubulile recalled it. The moment after she and Toxin were united, the fusion between them a matter of instinct. Almost too natural, too easy.
She had felt so lost until that moment. Stretched so thin, pulled in every possible direction. Desperately trying to cling to her core, to her sense of self, as Carnage, as the memories, as the Darkhold, as everything tried to rip her to shreds... and then suddenly she, they, were indestructible.
She frowned. "I don't know what we were, either. It's not what hosts and symbiotes usually are, isn't it?"
I have a limited experience, but I don't think it is.
"Carnage was with us too, at least in part. And Raze, and then that energy, through the book... Everything was connected and I think it made for something unique.” She paused, and then she mused on “We should try to see what we are, just the two of us together."
Her words elicited a surge of surprise. "I mean,” she went on, “At this point we already are stuck together, kind of, so..."
Are we...? Can I... stay with you? Toxin's thoughts were filled with disbelief, with urgency. I was sure that if you had found me you would have been angry and you would have pushed me away. That's why... after the fight, when the others disappeared and I was myself again, I was just me again, I decided to hide with you without telling you, and I know that's not what I should have done, I'm sorry for that...
"And I'm sorry for what happened to you. No one asked what you wanted, when we decided Eddie had to make you go to me. I... don't think we had any other choice, really, but still... it was unfair not to ask you.”
...Eddie did. In a way. We hadn't been talking, almost at all, because of the suppressant, but right before letting me go he asked if I would agree to that and I told him I didn't see an alternative. I was surprised he asked. Then he told me to do all I could to protect you, he said that as if it was the last thing he would ever ask of in our bond. Toxin tilted its head to the side. Even if I didn't hide, I don't think he would have bonded again with me...
“While we were sailing away from the island we talked, and he told me he was sorry you didn't make it, and that he wished he had done things differently with you. He said... he would try to fix what he could, now, instead.”
Toxin raised its eyes to the ceiling, and she felt what was definitely a mental groan. Well that's going to be fun, for both of them...
Jubulile raised an eyebrow, and decided she would ask later. “But I meant what I said,” she added, looking at how Toxin's tendrils curled around her fingers, holding onto her. “About you staying with me. That is... if you want to. You said you wanted to figure out how to be on your own, if that's possible. You can stay with me while you do that. And... I think I need to figure some things out about myself too. About what I want to do now.” The sea, the world... maybe it wasn't as big as the sky but it was bigger than she had thought, and she knew she had barely started to dive into the surface. And maybe it was absurd, after all she had already been through... but she wanted to find out more. To sail and explore and help if she could. And Toxin... since she had started perceiving its presence at the edge of her consciousness she had been feeling safer. She felt she could trust the symbiote... and wished it would trust her too. She felt it had been lost and untethered and wished to help it.
She struggled to put all that in words... but then she realized, with relief, that she didn't need to.
“I would be happy to be in your company for a while,” she said, simply.
Toxin's doubt and hope chased each other into her mind, leaving her with the impression of being at the center of a whirlwind. She imagined herself reaching out to the wind, taking the hope and cradling it into her hands, blowing on it gently like on an ember.
I'm hardly strong enough to help you face some other elder god or whatever, right now... Toxin sounded still a little incredulous, but there was amusement into its thoughts, and it made her smile too.
“I believe that together we are more than tough enough to protect ourselves. Don't you think?”
If I may...?
Yes, she thought, and then she watched in amazement as the symbiote's body stretched and slithered up her arms. She looked at their hands, at the dark blue skin veined with pink. They stood up, turning to look into the mirror, grinning.
“Shall we find out?”