Eddie insisted on a celebration to mark the day Venom had arrived on Earth, a little over six months after they had joined together.
"Look," he said. "Everybody's gotta have a birthday, okay? It's a day when everybody you know gets to celebrate how glad they are that you're alive, and you get to be the center of attention and everything. And, like, even if we could figure out when you were actually literally born--" They had tried, and they could not-- "Who knows how it would line up with the Earth calendar, right? So you can have an Earth birthday and celebrate it every Earth year, so it should be when you came to Earth. Your Earth-day."
Venom grumbled at the frequency that Eddie would feel in his teeth, but wouldn't cause him actual pain. It is not a day I care to remember.
He did remember it, of course, and Eddie had seen those memories. They had made themselves vividly apparent on the day when they discovered that being stuck in the trunk of a car being driven much too fast for the quality of the road reminded Venom vividly of being trapped in a specimen container aboard a crashing spaceship.
That had not been a good day in several respects, but Eddie had still expressed sympathy over Venom's flashback when there was time to do so. He ought to be aware that Venom would not want to be reminded again.
"Yeah, hey, getting born is traumatic for everybody, just most humans don't remember it. I mean, my--" Eddie went still, halting the words unspoken, but Venom could sense the pall of second-hand sadness. Anyway, this was a fact he knew, from another time when he had probed the existence of Eddie's biological family. Eddie's mother had died as a result of giving birth to him, although technically, because of assorted efforts to repair her, she had not died on the day of his birth.
"So it was never a good day for my dad," Eddie resumed. "Not that most days were good for my dad if they involved me, but--" Eddie waved a hand, dismissing a topic they'd long since covered. "But the housekeeper always made a cake and celebrated with me and stuff, and my dad just kind of wasn't around, so for a long time I didn't even know there was something to be sad about. And when I got older, you know, I'd celebrate with friends and at school and stuff, and--it's something you gotta celebrate, okay? You're here, even if you got here in a shitty way."
Venom emerged, forming a face to look into Eddie's to better emphasize his point. "You do not celebrate the first moment of your existence on this planet, only the day you became an independent life form. I was not complete when I was alone in a container, only when I joined with you."
"Nice try," Eddie said, smiling. "That's our anniversary, V. You celebrate every year you're together with somebody, that's like the relationship's birthday. We're totally gonna celebrate that, but it's not until May. Your birthday is this week, so just accept that it's happening and tell me what kind of present you want."
"Living prey," Venom growled. Eddie just grinned, flooded with a smug sense of triumph that Venom hadn't entirely understood until his birthday.
Eddie let him hunt a bear and eat the entire thing, and then climb a truly tall tree before they settled down to look around and digest. Eddie had his eyes shut even though Venom was wrapped firmly around him, but Venom felt too satisfied and pleased to tease him about it.
We should celebrate more things. I like this.
Eddie laughed within him, shaky but sincere. We can't be always celebrating stuff, it's gotta be special. But there's Thanksgiving in a couple weeks, we can have a big feast and tell each other what we're thankful for.
We have much to be thankful for, Venom agreed. He was thankful mostly for Eddie, his clever, thoughtful human, who arranged for him to hunt a bear and climb a sequoia. When do we celebrate you? When is your birthday?
February 18. You got a few months to think about how you're gonna give me as good a time as this, sweetheart.
Anything else? Anything with food and presents?
There was a stir of some thought, quickly quashed, and Eddie offered hastily, Uh, New Year's, that's fun, although maybe, uh, fireworks, so that's not gonna be your favorite, and you don't like me getting drunk, huh?
The Fourth of July, Venom realized, must also count as an occasion of celebration, for people who liked fire and loud noises.
Mm. No. What else?
Oh, uh, Valentine's Day, that's right before my birthday, that's about love and there's a lot of flowers and chocolate and hearts--no, not that kind of hearts, just like, love hearts. Nothing steaming and muscly, sorry.
Well, as long as there is plenty of chocolate.
Oh, and Easter, that's kind of... it's supposed to be a religious thing but mostly it just marks springtime by eating a shit ton of candy. There'll be bunny decorations everywhere.
Venom had occupied a few rabbits. All of them probably would have benefited from access to chocolate specifically in the case of being his host, but otherwise he didn't think they were much inclined toward it.
And Annie's birthday is in June, we can get her a present and maybe eat some cake with her and tell her how great she is.
What about Dan?
Uh, I dunno. We can ask, I guess. Put him on the calendar, too, huh?
We are glad he is alive.
Yeah, that's for sure. Okay, we'll find out when Dan's birthday is. See, that's lots of stuff to celebrate--your birthday and Thanksgiving this month, then New Year's somewhere quiet, then Valentine's Day, my birthday, Easter, our anniversary, Annie's birthday, Dan's birthday. That's practically a party every month.
They had gotten good at keeping things from each other; it was weeks before Venom realized what Eddie had carefully left out in that stream of planned celebrations.
It wasn't like Eddie thought he could actually keep Venom from finding out about the existence of Christmas. He just didn't want to talk about it, especially not when Venom had just discovered how much he liked celebrating stuff.
Venom actually didn't bring it up until three whole days after Thanksgiving, by which time Christmas decorations had infested every corner of the city, including Mrs. Chen's. Eddie had taken to walking around with his eyes on his shoes, letting Venom keep him from running into people, and he still felt the tiny zap of unhappiness at the sight of red and green and sparkles and the fucking music about a dozen times before Venom said, Eddie? What is wrong?
"Nothing," Eddie muttered, focusing on just trying to pick up enough food that he wouldn't have to step foot into another store for a few days. He really had to get his shit together and order grocery delivery, he just always forgot until there was no fucking food in the house and then it was like thirty extra bucks to get them to deliver before he starved to death or Venom dragged them out rat-hunting. "Just human shit, that's all."
Venom helped him hang on to the unwieldy armload, and Eddie didn't even bother--dare--to look around and see if anyone noticed. Mrs. Chen wouldn't mind, at least.
They were on their way up to the register when he heard her say a bright, fake, "Happy holidays!" to a customer, and Eddie couldn't help gritting his teeth against it--which made Venom say, Eddie?
Eddie was hit by a sudden wave of missing Anne, so bad he could hardly breathe. He hadn't had to explain this to her, hadn't had to worry that she'd try to suck the misery out of his brain. He could just get on with fucking hating everything for a month and she'd let him rant--or tell him to knock it off when he started taking it out on her instead of just venting to her--and they had a whole system and also she didn't live in his brain and he wasn't responsible for every single second of her life and all her opportunities to enjoy things.
Eddie was dimly aware of moving forward again, and he let Venom move him up to the counter and pay. Mrs. Chen didn't say a word to them. She was probably giving him a look, but he didn't want to see that any more than the tinsel and shit.
Eddie closed his eyes completely once they were outside, letting Venom steer them the rest of the way home with the groceries. He tried to get a grip on himself while they walked. He was never this wound up this early, normally, but then again before Venom he'd experienced a lot more low-level aggravation and subtle misery, so maybe he didn't notice so quick usually.
And maybe he'd known for weeks, for months, that at some point he was going to have to get all Ebenezer Grinch with Venom and ruin something Venom would have otherwise liked, and he'd have to talk about why and--
Eddie opened his eyes in the middle of Venom putting the groceries away. He'd sat Eddie down at the table and was using tentacles to move stuff around the kitchen. Eddie could feel the large, deep-voiced silence where Venom wasn't repeating his question about what the fuck Eddie's problem was.
After about five minutes of that, Eddie cracked and said, "It's Christmas. It's kind of a big deal for most people, so it's everywhere, and it's supposed to be this big happy thing with people you love and peace and goodwill and sometimes I--" Eddie didn't let himself say anything too melodramatic, anything Venom would take literally. "I just don't like it. That's all. I don't like it."
Venom drew back from the kitchen and put his head out, curling some of his mass around Eddie as he frowned. "It is not a happy thing for you?"
Eddie pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes as he let out an unfunny little breath of laughter. "No, V, it's not happy for me. Housekeeper always got Christmas off, so it was just me and my dad, and you can guess how well that went. It was a relief when I could stop pretending to be happy about it, but even when I was out of my dad's house, everything about Christmas just reminded me of every other Christmas and it just... it's just a really bad cycle, so I just hate it and I don't want to talk about it, okay? And I'm probably going to be kind of an asshole for the next month and I'm sorry, I just--I really don't like Christmas."
"And it would be better with Anne."
Eddie sighed and looked up to meet Venom's eyes. "I mean, it might be easier, because she and I had this conversation, like, five years ago, and she kinda had her own shit about Christmas, so we could bitch to each other and spend a couple days having anti-Christmas together and not talking to our families, and we didn't feel like we were fucking up Christmas for anybody else. But now it's you and me, and we talked, and that's why I don't want to deal with Christmas, okay?"
There was a pause; Eddie could feel Venom thinking, considering and discarding responses. He was expecting a lot more of an answer by the time Venom said, "Okay."
Eddie frowned. "Okay?"
"Okay," Venom repeated. "Why would I care what human holidays we celebrate?"
Eddie narrowed his eyes. Venom narrowed his right back and didn't give an inch.
So then Eddie got to feel like a little bit of an asshole for suspecting that that wasn't going to be the end of it, even though it should have been the end of it. Venom was right, after all. Why should an alien care which holidays they did or didn't celebrate? It wasn't like Venom had a lifetime of preconceived notions about Christmas.
Venom had learned, pretty early on, that it was always best to research Earth cultural things, especially when Eddie's explanations were obviously incomplete or total bullshit. In the case of Christmas, he had done some cursory research on the internet while Eddie was sleeping, in the nights before they talked about it. Christmas had caught his attention because it seemed to be very important to many humans and yet Eddie had not mentioned it as something to celebrate.
He had learned that not all humans did celebrate Christmas, but Eddie clearly did not belong to one of those groups. After their talk, Venom did more research, but it was even more alarming than their conversation.
Humans who celebrated Christmas but did not like Christmas seemed to be uniformly damaged or defective in some way, to be repaired. Eddie had given him a lot of rules about things Venom was not to attempt to repair, like "memories" and "moods" and "preferences" even though they were all just combinations of chemicals and neural connections just like several thing Eddie did let him fix, like "recurring nightmares" and "insomnia" and "panic attacks."
Clearly this was complicated. Luckily, Venom had a special avenue of research for the really complicated stuff. He picked up the phone Eddie had given him when he finally got sick of wading through Venom's text conversations to find his own, and sent a message to Dan.
Eddie doesn't like Christmas. He says Anne doesn't either. Is this fixable?
Dan called back, which meant he was on an overnight shift but not in surgery. "Oh my God, I'm so glad it's not just me," he said in a rush, sounding more harried than Venom had ever heard him. Dan was always even-keeled in a crisis, whether the crisis was an alien invasion or discovering that the restaurant Eddie and Anne had agreed to meet at was ridiculously over-crowded and Eddie and Anne immediately got into a low-blood-sugar-induced whisper-screaming match.
Christmas, however, was apparently a bridge too far even for Dan.
"I'm not asking to put up a Christmas tree in every room and listen to nothing but carols for a month," Dan went on. "But I'm finally senior enough to actually get 48 hours off for Christmas, probably, and I was really looking forward to spending it with Annie, and all she'll say is, I hate Christmas, let's just forget it. I don't want to push, but I'm losing my mind."
"You like Christmas," Venom hazarded.
"Yeah, I mean, Christmas is great! Food, presents, people you love, lights and parties on some of the darkest nights of the year. It's an important festival--multiple Northern hemisphere cultures developed similar celebrations around the winter solstice. People need something to celebrate when it's getting dark and cold. And I get that if you had bad experiences with your family or the holiday in the past then you'd want something different, but I really don't know what to do with let's just forget it. It's not a lot to go on."
"You do not know how to fix them either?"
Dan sighed. "It's not up to us to fix, V. Not like that. But maybe... did Eddie say anything about what he and Anne used to do? Did they literally just... ignore Christmas completely?"
Venom considered what Eddie had said, and skimmed gently through a few relevant memories. "They celebrated 'Anti-Christmas.' They watched action movies and ate popcorn and Chinese food and did not speak to their families or exchange gifts. Or mention Christmas. Anyone who mentioned Christmas got hit with a pillow or had popcorn thrown at them."
"Oh," Dan said, sounding pleased. "Okay. I think we can work with that, V. Let me put some ideas together, all right? We can just do a really... really festive and nice Anti-Christmas for them, okay? I have to go scrub in now, but I'll text you."
Venom didn't sleep, exactly, but he went sort of dormant for a few hours each day, usually in the morning when Eddie was working on writing, answering emails, making phone calls. It was boring by symbiote standards and Eddie needed to focus, so it was the easiest time for Venom to check out.
That also meant Eddie had a window of opportunity, once a day, to talk to people without Venom listening in. Venom's birthday surprise had already demonstrated that it was actually useful for keeping secrets, and that was good enough for Eddie right now; he didn't want to hurt Venom's feelings, but he was also going to physically explode if he couldn't talk about this.
Thankfully, Anne picked up on the second ring. "Eddie? Everything okay?"
"I think Venom and Dan are conspiring about Christmas," Eddie blurted.
Anne was silent for a few seconds, then sighed and said, "Shit. I was hoping I was imagining that."
They were both silent for a few more seconds, and then Eddie said, "I think V thinks he's being subtle. He doesn't say Christmas but he said that if we're not busy on the 24th and 25th, maybe we should spend it with you and Dan."
"God, Dan said that practically word-for-word. They're definitely conspiring. Shit."
"Yeah," Eddie said. He knew, and Anne knew, and they both knew that they both knew, that they could put a stop to this by telling Dan and Venom not to do it, that whatever surprise they were planning was going to be unwelcome and unfun.
"He's just--" Eddie broke off, realizing that Anne had said the same words at the same time.
Anne laughed a little tiredly. "Dan has this like, picture book family. There are pictures of him and his brother and sister and their parents in matching Christmas sweaters. Smiling. Like they don't want to murder each other. Dan thinks it's a cute picture."
"Jesus," Eddie said. "And I thought my guy was an alien."
"Right? And I told him I didn't want to do a big thing, but he really likes Christmas, and I don't want to be this Scrooge bitch who ruins it for him."
"V really likes celebrating anything that doesn't involve fireworks," Eddie said. "And we had a really fun time with his birthday and Thanksgiving, and I think he just--he wants to prove he can give me nice things too? And I told him, I did fucking tell him, but--if he went to Dan for, you know, a second opinion..."
There was another silence. Then Anne said, "Dan's a big boy. I can tell him that no means fucking no, he'll get it. I can have him tell V he was wrong."
Eddie sighed and sat staring at his knees. "I should--I can tell him--" He couldn't even finish the sentence.
They sat in silence a little longer, and then Anne said, "We're just going to let them do whatever they want, aren't we."
"He just was so happy about Thanksgiving," Eddie said weakly. "Maybe--maybe it'll--be better? Maybe my heart will grow three sizes or something."
"Your heart's exactly as big as it needs to be, Eddie," Anne said, fond and exasperated. "But--God, I don't think I actually can tell Dan not to, either. Jesus."
"Look, if it seems like you and Dan are going to have some kind of horrible breakup fight over it on Christmas, I'll set something on fire," Eddie said. "Okay?"
"Yes," Anne said decisively. "Okay. And if you seem like you're about to be a real jerk to Venom, I'll--punch you."
Eddie considered that. "Like, a really bad jerk, though. We have a baseline level."
"Oh, I'm aware," Anne said. "We can do this, right? We can get through this. We can make faces at each other the whole time and, and humor them. Because we love them."
"Yeah," Eddie sighed. "Yeah, we do. And they love us, or they wouldn't be doing--whatever the hell stupid thing they're doing."
"And if it's awful we'll have a whole year to convince them to never do that again without actually breaking up with them," Anne added.
Eddie considered the fact that this conversation was starting to sound like he and Anne were in some kind of group marriage with Dan and Venom. He could point it out, but... nah. "Yeah. We'll figure something out for next year."
"Right," Anne said. "It's not like feeding a raccoon or something. We can do this once and then never again if it doesn't work out."
"Sure," Eddie agreed, and tried to believe it. But, hey, even if it was awful at least he could share it with Annie. That was something.
"We should have Anne and Dan over," Venom said, after he and Dan had firmed up the logistics. "For... not Christmas. Because we are not celebrating Christmas."
Eddie was quiet for a second, and Venom wondered if he was going to have to explain or give away some of the surprise--he and Dan had agreed that it would be better to give some of it away than for Eddie and Anne to think that it was going to be something they wouldn't like--but Eddie just said, "Okay. You want me to ask them?"
"I'll do it," Venom said, and sent the pre-arranged text to Dan to indicate that Eddie had agreed.
Eddie looked around the apartment. "I guess we should... clean, or something. Decorate?"
"No decorations, it's not Christmas," Venom insisted. "And it's clean enough. It will be fine. They are our friends."
There was another tiny hesitation, and then Eddie said, "Okay, buddy. Let me know if you change your mind, I can help out with whatever."
"It is all under control," Venom said, and then hastily added, "Not that there is anything to control, because we are not having a holiday celebration."
Eddie just smiled. "Sure thing, V."
Whatever Venom and Dan had planned, it kicked off with brunch on the morning of the 24th; apparently there were going to be two days of... non-festivities. Eddie braced himself as they left the apartment, but Venom slid into place as sunglasses, the way he'd been doing for weeks now, somehow filtering out the sight of Christmas lights and decorations. It was really, really nice, even if it was going to make it that much more of a shock when they sprang whatever surprise they'd cooked up.
Eddie just went with it and tried to relax. And the brunch thing, at least, ended up being not bad. In fact, there were no Christmas decorations in the restaurant, the song playing quietly in the room was currently something by Depeche Mode, and when they walked in the hostess just said, "Hi!" and made no reference to what day it was.
The food was really good, too. Eddie kept exchanging looks with Anne, but they were more like, What the hell, when is it going to start? than Oh God, when will it be over?
Dan and Venom were clearly in no hurry; Dan asked for a refill on his coffee, and Venom demanded multiple desserts. It was good, though; as long as Eddie could forget that there was something else about to happen, it was just them having a meal together with no one having to rush off anywhere on some kind of schedule. They lingered, talking, telling stories, smiling apologetically at the waitress.
Still, eventually Dan glanced at his watch and said, "I guess we should either head out or order lunch, huh?"
So that meant it was time for whatever was going to happen to start happening. Eddie grinned and did not look over at Anne. "Sure! See you back at our place?"
"See you there," Dan agreed, looking pleased with himself.
Venom had heard, in his assorted research on Christmas, the human idea that it was better to give than to receive. He had thought that it might apply when the gift received was not truly what was desired--but the moment they stepped into the apartment, freshly decorated by the people Dan hired, and he felt Eddie's dawning, baffled joy, Venom realized that it was true. This was even better than hunting a bear and climbing the tallest of trees with Eddie wrapped safe inside him.
"What," Eddie said, looking around the apartment.
Dan had been sure that it was important to have bright lights, and greenery, so the studio was filled with new lights on the windowsills and tables and bookcases, and suspended from the ceiling.
But instead of the small, twinkly lights he'd seen elsewhere, these were special lamps in neon-bright shades of pink and blue, green and orange and yellow. A thick liquid moved inside a thinner one, twisting and changing shape. It reminded Venom a little of the way his own tendrils could move, and Eddie, staring around at the lamps, reached for him as if he were reminded too.
He moved closer, peering at the little green living plants that were interspersed among the lamps--waxy-surfaced things that could survive a long time without water, so Eddie could keep as many as he liked after Anti-Christmas and they wouldn't die, but would be something cheerful to keep in the apartment. The little plants were a surprising variety of shapes and colors, and many had defensive spines. Venom approved of these plants.
"You got the place decorated," Eddie said slowly, looking around wonderingly, "with lava lamps and cactuses. For Christmas."
"For Anti-Christmas," Venom corrected. "You said that's what you and Anne celebrated. That is what we are celebrating."
"You..." There was a short knock at the door, and then Anne let herself in, Dan following just behind her and quickly moving to her side, so that he could see her face. She looked as dumbfounded, and as pleased, as Eddie had.
"What the hell," she said after a moment, but in an approving, fascinated sort of way.
"Apparently," Eddie said, "they wanted us to have a real nice Anti-Christmas."
Anne put her hand to her mouth and looked over at Dan, who was beaming.
"Now," Dan said, moving over toward a box left in the kitchen. "As I understand the rules, anyone who says the forbidden word, or any words closely associated with it, gets things thrown at them. We thought using popcorn might create a perverse incentive, so..." Dan straightened up, hands full of the little soft rubber balls, furry with rubber filaments. "Koosh balls. Arm yourselves appropriately, and then figure out which movie we're going to watch first, and I'll start some popcorn."
Venom could feel the tide of delight and something warmer rising in Eddie before he said, "Annie, if you don't marry him, I will."
Dan froze, looking startled but not displeased, his cheeks reddening slightly.
Anne turned to Eddie and said, "Oh my God, Eddie, give me a minute. I can't propose to him on Christmas."
Eddie said, "Wait are you--" and Dan said, in a small, hopeful voice, "Anne?"
Venom grabbed the box of Koosh balls and dumped them over Anne's head. She had said the forbidden word, after all.