It’s not so much that Eddie’s an irredeemable fuckup as its…
It kinda is that Eddie’s an irredeemable fuckup, actually.
Like, the few years where he and Annie were together were very much against the pattern of his overall fuckup nature. He remembered anniversaries, he was never late on rent, he was starting to eat healthy food, and he stopped smoking and drinking so damn much. Which, in retrospect, probably really helped him make marginally more thought-out decisions. But, before Annie? He’d been on a first name basis with at least five bartenders in New York, he’d been arrested a time or three or four, he’d had more than a few ill-conceived hookups, woken up at least twice with a new tattoo and no memory of how he’d gotten it, and on one memorable occasion he got into a fist fight with a man, who, it turned out, was actually a professional prizefighter. It didn’t go well.
And, once the thing with Annie died a quick, sudden death (rather than the slow, painful one he could see slowly lurching towards them a few years down the line), things took a turn for the worse, and Eddie went back on his bullshit like he was making up for lost time. He had some fun, no-strings-attached sex with strangers which resulted in one accidental stabbing, several small (non-accidental) burns from candle wax, participation in at least two overtly satanic rituals, stealing at least four very comfortable t-shirts from various people, one somewhat depressing orgy, and the knowledge that his time being with Annie and being fairly vanilla was definitely an outlier.
He kept money coming in, at least. Enough for liquor, rent, and at least two meals a day. Freelancing for some less reputable online publications wasn’t exactly what he was picturing when he was in journalism school—that was more toppling corrupt politicians and fighting for justice—but writing listicles about crypto-currencies and clickbait articles about superfoods under an alias was the only reason he had any money to make bad decisions with.
Anyway, he’s out getting drunk every night and buying all his groceries at a bodega and pointedly not thinking about how his life has fallen to pieces and seems to somehow be getting worse, when he stumbles ass over elbows into the Life Foundation shitshow. For the second time, technically. That was only because seeing Annie and Doctor Boyfriend Dan (part time life saver, full time fucking saint) made him feel a bunch of the weird, nasty feelings he thought he’d be past by that point. And then, you know, he meets Venom and eats a few people and falls into San Francisco Bay.
He crashes on Annie’s couch for a few days, fielding calls from the Life Foundation (asking him to please not sue) and former editors who, despite never once reaching out to him during his six months following his career suicide, made a point to tell him that they never once believed he was guilty, and they had some good times together, right? And would he mind terribly giving them an exclusive on his story of his time with the Life Foundation at a fucking steal. His former editor for The Brock Report calls him and chews him out for half an hour, yelling things like “Who taught you journalistic ethics? Stephen Glass?” and “Investigative reporting does not involve committing felonies, Brock!”. It’s oddly refreshing.
When Anne starts making serious noises about having a Conversation now that he’s settled and how, really, it’s probably for the best that Venom didn’t come back, he texts Dan on the number he was given in case of emergency and fucking books it, saying some lie about having an urgent interview that he just forgot to mention. He’s out of that house in about three minutes, and out of the neighborhood in ten. He’s on his second ridiculously strong coffee when Dan gets back to him, texting with proper capitalization and punctuation. Long story short, he can, in fact, crash at Dan’s place for the next few days.
Dan is just such a fucking great dude.
He slugs down the last of his coffee way too quickly and legs it to Dan’s neighborhood, because his bike is god-knows-where, and for all its many faults, Bay Area Rapid Transit has the downtown area pretty fucking extensively covered. Sooner than he’d really like, he’s outside of Dan’s door, and then ushered into his studio apartment.
It’s the gentlest sort of bachelor pad: dark wood floors, lots of glass tables, a large flat-screen television on a bare brick wall, and something that could be mistaken for a decent book collection if you didn’t stop to look at the titles—as it stands, so much as it is technically a “collection” of “books” (or, at least, exceedingly book-like objects), calling any of them “decent” is being a bit too fucking generous for Eddie’s tastes. The kitchen is blandly up-to-date, with fairly new appliances and no personality whatsoever. There are no magnets on the fridge, and no stains on the countertop.
Dan, being, again, a great fucking dude, picked them up some Thai takeaway and presses an ice cold beer into his hand nice and quickly. They navigate through meaningless pleasantries fairly quickly, and Dan is kind enough not to mention how Eddie’s just shoveling curry into his mouth like he hasn’t eaten in a week. Eventually, they run out of meaningless stuff to talk about that isn’t “read any good books lately” or “how ‘bout them raiders”, so Dan decides to just jump headfirst into the several elephants in the room.
“Do you, like,” He begins, in between mouthfuls of Pad Thai, “still have an apartment? Since those guys trashed it?”
“Yeah. I’m working on getting the Life Foundation to feel guilty enough that they fix it up and then cut me a check.”
“On account of you almost dying, and all?” Dan uses his plastic fork to collect some more noodles, having chalked the chopsticks up to a loss before he even started in on the dish. Eddie is still trying to eat what is, for all intents and purposes, a soup dish, with a pair of tiny sticks.
“Dan. This is far from the first time I’ve almost died. Hell, I got stabbed a couple of months ago, and that was after my job stopped being exposing the corruption of powerful people.”
“You got stabbed?” Dan sets his fork down. “When? I didn’t see anything about that on your medical records.”
“Well, yeah, for it to be there I’d have had to see a doctor—“
“You didn’t see a DOCTOR?”
“… No? There were extenuating circumstances.” Meaning he was too lazy and didn’t have the money to get medical attention anyway. “At any rate, as stabbings go, it wasn’t that bad.”
Dan opens and closes his mouth a bit, trying and failing to find words to respond to that.
“Listen, even though Venom was actively killing me for some of the time, they were literally the best thing to happen to me in months.” Eddie’s mouth, like usual, seems to actively ignore the part of his brain focused on shutting the fuck up. This was why he was run out of New York—the state, not just the city. You keep (completely accurately) calling politicians and mobsters and police commissioners ridiculously corrupt to their faces, and sooner or later you’re given the choice between staying in town and not dying, and Eddie decided that he rather enjoyed being not dead.
Dan sets his fork down, takes a long pull from his beer, and visibly resists sighing. “Could you, maybe, explain that, Eddie?”
“Look, Venom was killing me for a while—and they got over that, for the record—but at least I was part of something, and we were going to be in it for the long haul. Like, we were only together for a few days, but it was like everything slotted in place, you know?” Eddie begins pulling the label off his bottle of beer, stops even attempting half-hearted eye contact. “I don’t really do well alone. I do dumb shit like get myself stabbed or accidentally do a ritual to bring about the antichrist or wake up in a stranger’s apartment with no idea of what happened in the last week and a new tattoo. “
“As your doctor, I’ve gotta say that in my professional opinion, that’s pretty fucked up.” Dan took another long drink from his beer.
“Even though I did some crazy shit when Venom and I were together, I just—it’s like—well—“ He shoves a piece of pork that had been floating in the curry sauce into his mouth to buy himself some time to figure out his wording. “Having a partner is pretty great. Someone to catch you when you fall, who you don’t even need to talk to because they know your head so well. And we were only together for a few days, but Venom dying still feels like someone’s scraped out all my insides.”
“You talking to anyone about this, buddy? Because even though you barely know me, you just unloaded a bunch of stuff right then, so maybe talk to a friend, or a shrink?”
“Look, Annie trusts you enough to give you a key to her place after six months. Plus, like, you’ve had plenty of opportunities to severely dick me over, and haven’t done that, even though you’ve really never caught me at my best.” Not at his worst, either, but that really didn’t bear thinking about. “What am I going to do, go up to a stranger and tell them about the time I was possessed by an alien parasite, but don’t worry, it super died, and also that’s possibly the least fucked-up I’ve ever been, once we got everything straightened out?”
“I can see why that would be an issue, yeah.” Dan starts eating his Pad Thai again, albeit a bit more contemplatively. “You know you can always talk to me, right? Like, I was required to take a psych rotation as part of my residency, so I somewhat know what’s up.”
Actually, he hadn’t known that. But, then again, it tracks with Dan’s aggressively nice track record. “Thanks.”
For a moment, there’s a lull in the conversation, and Eddie seriously considers dispensing with eating utensils all together and just slamming his head into the curry and drowning himself in it.
“So,” Dan says, trying to rescue the conversation. “eating people. What’s that like?”
After dinner, which is overtaken by Dan’s weird, medical fascination with eating people’s heads – “THE PRIONS, EDDIE! YOU COULD DIE.” Dan says. “WE NEED TO GET YOU A TEST FOR CREUTZFELDT-JAKOBS.” Dan says. “THE WAY YOU ATE THEM MAKES NO BIOLOGICAL SENSE” Dan says—they turn on Dan’s obscenely big flat-screen television and watch about half a baseball came before Eddie passes out on Dan’s leather couch.
He wakes up to a note informing him that Dan has gone to work for a crazy-long shift at the hospital. A cursory look at the clock (one of those fancy ones, without any marks whatsoever) tells him that he’s slept for 13 straight hours. He spends about half an hour snooping around Dan’s apartment, finding nothing more interesting than a bottle of astonishingly bad whiskey and an enormous collection (read: more than three) of novelty boxers.
Eddie then spends about two hours on the phone with the Life Foundation, and manages to get them to throw in fixing up his apartment and redoing his flooring, in addition to the check they cut him as a thank you for not suing them into oblivion and even more public embarrassment. After that, he researches what the medical consequences of cannibalism are, and spends the rest of the afternoon drinking a frankly obscene amount tea, watching made-for-tv romance movies, and falling into a mild mortal despair.
He slugs down some of Dan’s frankly terrible whiskey, watches jeopardy, and passes out on the sofa.
Day 2 at the apartment goes better. Eddie still wants to chuck himself off the balcony a bit, but he turns that energy into aggressively judging the “collection” of “books”, popping a few BART stops away to a used book store, and buying some of the most aggressively terrible novels he can find (Eye of Argon, Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter, and Outlaw of Gor, among others). When he returns to the apartment, he stacks a few of the real stinkers on Dan’s nightstand, and shuffles the rest into the bookshelf. Judging by the entire shelf of Lee Child and Dean Koontz, they’ll fit right in.
And if he picked up some Michael Moorcock or some William Burroughs (or an inexplicable second copy of Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter) for himself, well, that was just a bonus. Most of his old books were at his parent’s house, anyway, and while he might still email his sister every so often, relations with everyone else were frosty enough that he was not going to even consider setting foot in the same city while certain people still drew breath.
He gets another call from an old editor, this time one from New York, demanding that he “GET HIM PICTURES OF THE GOO-MAN” in the middle of a long-winded rant that lasts more than forty-five minutes, never repeats, and is entirely shouted. The Pavlovian reaction to that specific voice yelling jars him out of any death-spiral his mind seems intent on going down, thankfully, and somehow the conversation devolves into a shouting match about, of all things, the Weekly World News. Neither of them had anything really invested in the argument, it was mostly just a way to return to normalcy, slightly. To ensure everything was on a somewhat even keel, as it were.
Anyway, feeling somewhat restored, Eddie made the cheapest frozen pizza he could find at the nearest bodega (it, being in a somewhat fancy neighborhood, was still pricey), flipped on the classic movie channel, and worked his way through a six-pack of PBR while watching Rebecca. He then drinks a rather generous coffee-mug full of Dan’s cheap whiskey, eats an entire pint of ice cream out of the container, and thinks, distantly, that he’d really like to be back in his own apartment. He takes a shower, during which he nearly slips and falls at least four times, saved only by the somewhat knobby shower floor, and the ridiculous luck of the very, very drunk.
Anyway. He wakes up only wearing boxer-briefs and lying on the cool wooden floor of Dan’s living room. Dan, for the record, is staring down at him, brandishing a scalding coffee, and looking very concerned.
“You doin’ alright, there, buddy?”
Eddie, because he has just woken up, and is too hungover to do the sensible thing and lie, says, “Not really.”
“Care to elaborate on that?”
Not particularly, but his brain-to-mouth connection, somewhat dicey at the best of times, has decided to abandon him. “My entire life has disintegrated, the best part of my day is getting calls from old bosses who chew me out for journalistic ethics, and the one thing in the world that made me feel even remotely like a person again is fucking dead, and it’s my fault. How would you fucking feel, Dan?”
Dan pauses, downs a fair bit of his still-steaming coffee at once, and collapses on the leather couch. “… So when you said you were having a hard time, it was more of a euphemism for ‘I’ve been trapped in a major depressive episode for months and now it feels like a vital part of me has been scooped out’. The way Anne tells it—“
Eddie still doesn’t feel up to actually levering himself up onto his elbows, so he just sort of glares up at the ceiling. It’s one of those exposed ductwork deals, painted a solid matte black to make the actual apartment look larger. “Look, okay, before last week I hadn’t spoken to Annie in six months? And I really don’t like making her worry, so even with the whole thing where I got run out of the entire state of New York, I just kinda shoved that into a little box and kept on keeping on, you know?”
“Wow. That is just… ridiculously unhealthy. And I get that you might not want to get into all that, but actually feeling your feelings is super important, and keeps them from festering and getting super weird up there.”
Eddie realizes, somewhat a bit late, that he is, in fact, still partially covered in bruises from essentially belly-flopping into the San Francisco Bay from a few hundred feet up after a short torture session. Then, there’s the scars, and the general fact that he has been eating absolute garbage for the past six months—it’s not a pretty picture. He sits up, trying to minimize the whole ‘disaster in repose’ look. “Yeah, because telling people things just works out so well.”
“There’s a story there, isn’t there?”
“Yeah, but you aren’t getting it right now.” Eddie grins, and hates himself just a little bit.
“Okay,” Dan begins, and takes another few fortifying gulps of coffee, draining the mug. “This is what we’re going to do. You’re going to text me every night so I know you’re alive, and once a week we’re going to meet up, in person, and talk about feelings and all that shit, alright? So you don’t, like, end up lying dead in your apartments for weeks, and end up eaten by your neighbor’s dog, or something.”
Eddie, not really have the energy to care either way, nods. At the very least, Annie would be upset if he burnt out like a 22 year old DJ, and it seems like Dan’s taken him in like a stray cat.
Thankfully, before he can attempt to formulate a reply to that, his phone rings. It’s the Life Foundation. After a the usual pleasantries, during which he promises not to sue them at least three times and says that yes, he is fine with a rain shower head, and no, they didn’t have to get him a claw-foot tub, and thanks for upgrading the kitchen appliances; they tell him that they’ve transferred the money, and that work is done, and also that he’s just the best and if he ever needs anything he should just let them know, alright?
Eddie checks his bank account after he finally talks his way off the phone. There’s rather more commas than he’s all-together used to, and he honestly has no idea what to do with that knowledge? Buy a yacht? That’s a rich guy thing, right? Yachts? Stupid guns? Paintings that are, themselves, a pseudo-currency?
That train of thought gets him through a shower, and takes him and Dan to a diner in his neighborhood. The kind where the coffee is strong enough it’s technically a solid and just looking at a dish gives you chest pains. Eddie happily gorges himself on french toast, thick slices of chewy bacon, and enough coffee to kill a lesser man. Dan picks at his salad, which, despite being technically all vegetable (unless you counted the grape tomatoes as a fruit), is still somehow greasy.
The talk is small and light, and manages to be about nothing of substance. It’s full of sports teams (Dan, apparently, is part of a fantasy baseball league), movies (shocking no-one, they both have opinions about Bruce Willis, with Eddie’s being solidly ‘why won’t he stop’ and Dan’s a slightly shakier ‘but RED is actually good though?’), and cooking shows (both heavily in favor).
Anyway, they part ways in front of the diner, and Eddie makes a bodega run. Mrs. Chen gives him the normal amount of shit, which is less than he actually deserves, for buying whiskey, ramen noodles, a couple bags of jumbo marshmallows, and a large carton of mint chocolate chip ice cream.
He returns to his apartment, the asshole neighbor blasting his frankly awful attempts at the guitar solo from “Stairway to Heaven”, and unlocks the door.
He almost drops the whiskey. He definitely drops the marshmallows and ramen.
Eddie is slightly blown the fuck away by what the Life Foundation has done to his apartment. The appliances, he notices, while stowing his groceries, are fancy. Not, like, the kind he sees in ads where the fridge can tell you the weather and the washer has a secret mini-washer inside of it just for kicks, but pretty uniformly stainless steel with a lot of space somehow crammed into a small metal box.
Also, they actually shelled out for a gas range. The building didn’t even have a gas hookup a week and a half ago.
They also did a bit of redecorating, Eddie discovers while exploring his apartment. Frankly, a lot of it. His ratty old couch is still there, but shoved against the wall to make room for an enormous leather sectional and a low coffee table with a few strange metal orbs in the center that are apparently decorative. The bathroom is not only redone completely but also with new towels and washcloths that match the marble of his new countertop. The bedroom? Now an enormous California King, with a wrought iron headboard, a plush rug, and an actually organized closet. His new desk in the corner is nice, and looks over the city (over his alley, at any rate), and they’ve given him a plant.
Its very… tasteful. It’s nice. He hates it, a little bit. The only thing distinguishing it from an apartment fixed up on HGTV is the lack of signs proclaiming that he should A) live, B) laugh, and C) love, in a large, funky font. Before, yeah, the apartment was unabashedly shitty, but at least it had some fucking character. It was at least recognizable as his. This? Isn’t.
He turns on the new television, and discovers that he now has a ridiculously nice cable package, with all the premium channels. He flicks it off, and decides that three in the afternoon isn’t too early to start drinking.
Eddie rifles through his (new) cabinets for a few minutes, and eventually stumbles on the carton of cigarettes he bought a month and a half ago, before taking out one of the new packs. He grabs his laptop from his (new) desk, and sets it up at the (new) kitchen table, taking a moment to connect his (new) Bluetooth speaker. A few clicks later, and he’s off, streaming something suitably low-brow. And then, he starts on his scotch.
After Slumber Party Massacre 2 is over, Eddie is suitably sloshed, and has chainsmoked half a pack of cigarettes, putting them out on the surface of his new table and marveling at the little round burns that he’s scorched into the pale wooden tabletop. He puts one a home decorating show—one of the ones that’s rich folks building their own houses badly-- and puts the next cigarette out on his arm, where it joins a cluster of other, older burns.
This, he reflects, is probably one of the worst possible reactions one can have to their apartment getting tastefully redone.
Anyway, after putting a few more cigarettes out on his new table and trying to hate himself a little less, he crawls into his new bed and texts Dan, casually reminding him that he’s still alive, as per the agreement. He promptly passes out.
Time passes. Eddie does dribs and drabs of writing, just so he can have something to do during the day. He still texts Dan every night, and Dan, depending on if it’s date night, or if he’s working a crazy shift, replies. Anne texts on occasion, mostly wondering in a semi-detached way how he’s doing and whether or not he’s going back to his old job at the Brock Report.
Spoilers: he’s not.
The first bro-hang/therapy sesh goes better than Eddie thought it would. After two hours of actually talking about things and only lying about 30% of the time, the room is just suddenly too large and too small all at once, and everything’s just loud and Dan won’t stop trying to self-actualize him, like he’s worth it or something. So, Eddie does the natural thing, and throws his empty beer bottle at the exposed brick wall.
Then, it turns into more of a lecture on handling emotions like an adult, so Eddie knocks all the Tom Clancy books off of the bookshelf in one motion and asks where he gets off lecturing him on maturity since he only reads books that eleven year old boys buy at grocery stores to feel more grown-up. So, Dan kicks him out, and he walks home less drunk than he’d actually like. It’s honestly a miracle he doesn’t get mugged. But he still texts Dan, because he made a fucking promise, and he’s trying to get better at actually keeping those.
He apologizes, because yeah, that was kinda a dick move. Thankfully, because Dan is a great fucking dude, he’s nice and understanding about the whole thing.
Anyway, the Therapy Bro-down is also at Dan’s, because Eddie is still too uncomfortable in his own house to invite people over. Over the course of the evening they both drink slightly too much and then Eddie freaks out and has to go sit on the fire escape for a while, smoking and having an existential crisis. And then, of course, when he comes back in, Dan feels the urge to tell him of all the dangers of smoking and about all the fun cancers he could get. He leaves the apartment of his own recognizance after that.
The third of Eddie and Dan’s therapy dates ends when Eddie accidentally sets himself on fire a little bit with Dan’s stove, and the forth doesn’t so much end as—well, they get super drunk and pass out on top of each other on the couch, and then Eddie has a screaming nightmare about being dragged out into those woods by Carlton Drake’s weird private militia, and wakes up to the sound of glass breaking as he seizes and just sort of launches himself through Dan’s glass coffee table.
They decide to start doing their weekly therapy hang at Eddie’s place after that.
Things get better with Anne, at least just by virtue of there actually being something to improve upon. Shit’s still a little dicey, but that’s mostly because Eddie can’t seem to stop leaking feelings out of every pore like an asshole.
The chill hangs at Eddie’s go much better. The new television is nice, and now that he’s actually been living in it a few weeks it’s got a little bit of character. His fridge is already covered in magnets that he doesn’t actually remember acquiring—pizza delivery places, the logo of his local library, a novelty one from some place called ‘Rick’s Magic N Stuf’—and there are now some stains on the new counters.
The little black burns on the white table are still stark, and he can see them from across the room, but their number hasn’t increased. This is mostly due to Eddie actually using an ashtray rather than cutting down on the cigarettes, but at this point he’s just going to take any victory he can.
Things are going well-ish, at least compared to the other thinly disguised therapy sessions—Eddie didn’t set himself on fire this time, but Dan dropped an entire bottle of red wine, and Eddie managed to trip over his own fucking feet and give himself a black eye—when there’s a knock at the door.
“…You expecting anyone?” Dan is wearing a pair of Eddie’s sweats, since his own khakis are in the wash. They stop around mid-calf, revealing a fair amount of hairy leg. He’s still wearing his button-down and tie from work. It’s not a great look.
“No?” The Greek food they had ordered earlier still had about twenty minutes until it was due to arrive.
Eddie gets up from the kitchen table and walks to the door, looking through the peephole.
Staring back at him is a complete stranger, who looks like he’d been murdered and floating in the bay for three months. Fuck it, Eddie thinks, this might as well happen. He opens the door.
The first thing he notices is the smell, which is fucking pungent and rotten and makes Eddie’s eyes water. The second, however, overshadows this quite a bit.
The stranger opens their mouth with an audible click. Eddie is fairly sure he can see actual jawbone from the inside-- which is super unsettling, honestly, because just in general, seeing bones is really just one of those things that Eddie never really imagined he’d have to deal with, and then—
The stranger Venom is wearing as a skin suit leans forward and pukes directly on Eddie’s chest. By the time Eddie is together enough to fully piece through what exactly the fuck has happened, the stranger is gone and Vomit-Venom is slowly absorbing into his skin.
“Well, at least they’re not dead!” Dan says, brightly.