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“Rumors of my death,” Eddie says, “have been greatly exaggerated.”

On the other side of the desk, Cephas doesn’t look amused. Behind him, San Francisco spreads out in a blaze of sunlit glory; Eddie stays where he is, all the way to the door which comfortingly doesn’t open on a hundred-foot drop. He was very glad the network wanted him back, but he hasn’t missed his boss’s office one bit.

“Sorry,” he says. “I wanted to get to say it just once.”

“Cut the crap, Eddie,” says Cephas in his thin, raspy voice. “What the hell happened?”

“Nothing.” Eddie probably doesn’t look half as innocent as he thinks, but he’s doing his best with what he’s got. “I don’t understand either, really, I don’t.”

Cephas sighs, checking his phone as though it might save him from this conversation. They had a push-pull relationship even before Venom arrived, and they’ve never really talked about how Eddie’s piece of damning evidence—the one which brought down the entire Life Foundation—also called Cephas a SHITHEAD in all caps. Cephas was still gracious enough to credit Eddie for the investigation, and re-hire him afterwards; that kind of honor code is a rare thing in the profession, and Eddie really wishes he could repay him in kind by telling the truth. But the truth is completely impossible to explain, and because of that, he doesn’t even have to try. He can just play dumb.

LUCKY YOU ARE SO GOOD AT IT.

“Har har.”

Cephas looks up. “Sorry?”

Eddie clears his throat. “I—I don’t know what to tell you.” He really doesn’t, at that.

“I saw the video.” Cephas raises up his phone. “You shouldn’t be able to stand upright. Much less walk around being a pain.”

“Goes to show it’s a fake.”

“Eddie.” Cephas looks like he wants to demand a raise from himself for having to deal with this shit. “There were eyewitnesses.”

“Maybe they’re all it on it. Hired extras, something like that.”

“Hmm. And you don’t seem too bothered someone would stage a video of you getting shot down in the street.”

“Well. You know. Ain’t no such thing as bad publicity.”

Cephas fixes him with a long, weary stare, then says, “Did you do this?”

Eddie meets his eyes. “Jack,”—and it’s not often he calls his boss by his first name, “I swear to you, I didn’t set this up.”

It’s the truest declaration he can make, because he can’t quite say he had nothing to do with it. It is him getting shot in that video. He’s watched it a few times in morbid fascination, wincing every time at the impact of the bullet, until Venom got agitated and made him close the tab.

Cephas shakes his head. “I suppose we’re all glad you’re fine.”

“Sorry I didn’t check in. I was really busy these past three days.” Eddie rocks on his heels. “You know. Lots of things happened.”

“Uh-huh,” Cephas says, calm like a threat. “Care for some candy?”

There’s a bowl of chocolate almonds by his computer. Venom would love one, but it would require Eddie to walk all the way across the room to Cephas’s desk, much too close to those huge, vertiginous windows. Cephas raises a thin eyebrow.

“No—no, thanks, really,” Eddie says, “I’m, uh, on a diet,” and he scuttles out before Cephas can think up another way to make him pay for this newest bullshit.

THAT GUY’S GOT YOUR NUMBER, Venom rumbles.

“As long as he hasn’t got yours,” Eddie exhales when the elevator doors close on them.

 

*

 

Eddie’s booked a hotel for a couple of nights post-Captain America crisis, just so he could… not deal with things for a little while. And also give Anne and Dan some room. They just got engaged, he can duck out of their lives for two days.

Engaged. Imagine that. Of course he told Anne to go for it, when she mentioned proposing. Eddie was humbled she’d talk to him about it in the first place; and humbled also to realize how much she still cared about his opinion. He said it would make them happy, he said he supported her, and he meant it. But he had been bracing for some kind of emotional fallout within himself. After all, in another life, it should have been him. And the ways things are now, he was expecting to feel—left out, maybe. Like an optional feature, an afterthought.

But what he’s feeling instead is relief, of all things. It keeps surprising him, and at first he couldn’t quite believe it, looking inside himself for a bitter undercurrent that just wasn’t there. He hadn’t realized how fundamental Anne and Dan’s relationship had become to his own happiness. If anything, their getting married consolidates the four-way balance they’ve found together. At least he thinks so. He hopes so.

Anyway, that’s why he’s at the hotel instead of crashing on Anne’s notoriously uncomfortable couch. His first day was spent sleeping like a log in clean white sheets, then taking a long hot shower, then sleeping some more. On his second day, he woke up to tentacles slithering into his underwear. Things were getting back to normal.

Walking out of his boss’ office now, he feels much lighter. Facing Cephas was his one great fear after facing Anne and Dan’s engagement—he wasn’t too sure the network wouldn’t fire him again. But in the end, both of these things turned out much easier than expected. Looks like he’s almost done dealing with the aftermath. He gets onto his bike, checks how steady he’s feeling one last time, and decides to bite the bullet.

WHAT BULLET? asks Venom in worry.

“What? Oh. It’s an expression. I just thought it’s time to go back to my place, assess the damage.”

RIGHT. Venom seems very aware of how much Eddie doesn’t want to do that. It squeezes him under his clothes, and it gives Eddie the last bit of courage he needs.

Getting there takes them a little under an hour. Eddie parks his bike and ducks into Mrs. Chen’s bodega first thing, because Venom’s clamoring for food; the Captain America incident has left it famished—even more so than usual. Mrs. Chen gives Eddie a nod and keeps reading her paper while he fills his basket with a couple dozen bars of dark chocolate. His diet has gone down the drain lately, which isn’t hard since he’s not really feeding himself anymore, only feeding Venom, who keeps him healthy in turn. Live seafood, blocks of cheese and chocolate candy have been their go-to snacks. Saves time cooking, if nothing else.

Mrs. Chen puts down her paper and chats with him about the weather as she rings up his chocolate. It’s crazy how normal she’ll act around him. Maybe it’s denial, or maybe she’s keeping up appearances. Or maybe she’s just genuinely glad Eddie offed the guy who’s harassed her for so long. Eddie just hopes Ziggy doesn’t start shopping for groceries here, ‘cause if he comes up in a conversation between those two, things could get awkward pretty fast.

He climbs the stairs already chowing down on his first candy bar, and he’s eaten them all by the time he reaches his door.

Which is hanging off its hinges.

“Oh, man.” He walks into the place and wraps both hands behind his head, surveying the damage. “Aw. Jesus.”

It’s a wreck—even worse than when he’d fought Treece’s men, because that time they’d been after him, not his place. Obviously, the whole apartment’s been searched—for what? Aliens in a can?—and there isn’t a single square foot of his home that hasn’t been upturned, burst open, or otherwise torn apart. The drawers have been jerked out and emptied all over the place; the cabinets have been smashed open, the shelves pushed over. Even the couch cushions have been sliced out, littering the floor with white fluff balls.

WE CAN CLEAN IT UP, Venom says, tentatively. IT WILL BE LIKE BEFORE.

Eddie exhales. “Yeah, love. Of course we can.”

And that’s what he starts doing, shaking a trash bag open and getting to work. With Venom’s help, he manages to clear out most of the debris from the living room and the kitchen area, going up and down his five flights of stairs carrying several pounds of trash. Venom’s very delicate with his things, thin tendrils clearing out the broken glass from picture frames and stacking them safely on a chair.

It’s late afternoon by the time they finally move into his bedroom. When he opens the door, he can’t help but wince again. He hasn’t been living here long—comparatively—but it still hurts. His poor potted plant has been thrown to the ground in an explosion of soil; he was still holding out hope that it might come back to life. Even his bedframe has been smashed to pieces. He’s starting to wonder whether they were actually looking for something or just trying to intimidate him.

Eddie’s in the process of dragging his mattress to the floor—so he has somewhere to sleep tonight—when his phone buzzes in his pocket.

IT’S DAN, Venom says, handing it to him.

Eddie sits on his mattress to answer the call. “Dan? Hey.”

“Hi, Eddie. Is this a bad time?”

“No, not at all. Just cleaning out my apartment.” Now that he’s sitting down, Eddie realizes he’s exhausted and discouraged and aching all over. “It’s pretty bad.”

“Aw,” Dan says. “I’m sorry to hear that. Anything I can do to help?”

Eddie somehow keeps forgetting just how nice Dan is. “Thanks, Dan, we’re—we’re good. Venom’s a hell of a heavy lifter.”

“I’ll bet.” Dan sounds like he’s shuffling papers, maybe dealing with some paperwork. “Listen, Anne just called me to say she’s driving out to Berkeley tonight to meet a client, but I’ll be home in forty minutes. Would you like to swing by?”

Eddie’s first reflex is to say no, because—well, it’s so ingrained in him not to take up too much space in their life; but that was before the yellow roses, before everything. He looks around his wrecked bedroom. “You know, that… that might be nice, yeah.”

“Great. Meet you there?”

“Yeah, I—” A thought strikes him. “Or I can come get you with the bike.”

“Oh, I’d love that,” Dan says in earnest. “If it’s not too much trouble.”

Eddie’s smiling now. “Forgot how obsessed you are with that thing.” He gets up from his sad old mattress, feeling a bit cheered up. “Looks like today’s your lucky day.”

 

*

 

For once, Eddie doesn’t have to walk up to the hospital desk lady and thus risk her wrath, because Dan’s waiting for him out front, chatting with a couple of young interns who look like they’re this close to asking him for his autograph. Then they nearly faint when Eddie Brock walks up to them and offers Dr. Lewis his spare helmet.

“You know, I’ve never gotten on a bike before,” Dan remarks, holding the helmet to his chest as his interns stagger away in a starstruck state. “My mother wouldn’t let me—said it was too dangerous.”

“My dad wouldn’t either, but then I grew up,” Eddie quips. “Didn’t you?”

“Sure, but I grew up to be a surgeon,” Dan says idly. “You have no idea how many bike-related head traumas I’ve operated on.”

YIKES, Venom comments. Eddie clears his throat. “Wow. Well. Maybe we shouldn’t take the bike after all.”

“Aw, no, let’s,” Dan smiles. “I wouldn’t miss it.”

Eddie’s literally parked a few feet away, so they don’t have to cross the parking lot to reach his bike. Dan buttons up his coat and puts on the helmet, carefully. Eddie gets on first, looking over his shoulder to see how he’s doing.

“Okay, so—” Dan gets astride the bike without too much trouble. His hands hover around Eddie’s waist. “Do I just grab hold?”

“Yeah, go for it,” Eddie says, then waits till Dan’s wrapped his arms around his middle, pressing against his back. It makes him thinks of the surgery, the way Dan steadied him on the table. He tries to think of something else. “Okay, you ready?”

“Don’t you need a helmet?”

Eddie grins just as Venom envelops his head in a shiny black dome. “Don’t know what you mean.”

Dan’s laugh is lost to the revving of the engine.

*

Getting to Anne’s doesn’t take long; Eddie maybe pushes it a bit just to show Dan a good time, speeding up when he can and letting the bike lean close to the ground on hard turns. When they get there, Dan dismounts and takes off his helmet, already—or maybe still—laughing.

“Oh, that was great. Kind of terrifying, but I can definitely see the appeal.” He beams at Eddie. “And I feel about twice cooler now. Thank you so much, Eddie.”

“Why, you’re welcome.” Eddie unlocks the front door. “But you’re plenty cool on your own. Those interns were eating out of your hand.”

“New interns do like me,” Dan agrees, following him up the stairs. “They grow up so fast, though.”

When they get inside the apartment, he puts the helmet on the table by the door, exactly where Eddie used to put it when he still lived with Anne. It makes him feel a bit strange—not exactly sad, maybe more… nostalgic. Very aware that time’s passed, in any case.

Which reminds him. “How’s engaged life?”

Dan’s smile turns soft. “Oh, you know, it’s just been a few days. We don’t even have rings yet.” He looks at his left hand and says, quietly, “It’s almost hard to believe.”

Eddie walks close to him. “Hey, Dan, I wanted to say, I—I don’t have to come. You know. To the wedding. If it makes you feel weird.”

Dan looks up, struck. “What? I’d like you to come.”

“Yeah?”

“Eddie, I’d like you to be my best man.”

Eddie stares.

“I thought you’d talked about it with Anne,” Dan says in a perplexed voice.

“I… We talked about the wedding, not...” Eddie hesitates. “Your… your best man? Are you sure?”

“Eddie, of course. Unless that would make you feel weird. But you’re part of this, you know? You’re my—you’re our—ah, well.” Dan smiles. “I never know what to call you. You’re something special.”

Eddie swallows. The thing is, in a way, Anne’s got to like him, because—well, no, she could hate him if she wanted, but—they have history, is the point. They’ve been through stuff, they’ve stayed friends and even more than friends; there’s this vestigial love between them that’s been transformed into something new. Dan, though—Dan came out of nowhere one day and decided he really liked Eddie and that was that about that.

“Oh, well, uh,” Eddie says, very hoarsely, clearing his throat next. “I… sorry, I would—thanks. I mean—thanks, I’d… I’d be honored.”

Dan smiles. “Eddie, that’s great.”

“Great,” Eddie echoes. He doesn’t know what to do with his hands, or with himself. He never knows what to do with Dan. He’s hesitated for a beat too long, and hugging him now would just be weird. It feels like he should do something.

“What’s Venom making of all this?” Dan asks, mercifully.

Venom slithers out of Eddie. “MOSTLY, I’M HUNGRY.”

“Shocker,” Eddie mutters, but it’s a relief.

 

*

 

Since they have nothing but time for once, they decide to make a ton of homemade tater tots for Venom, plus another dish for themselves to balance it out. Eddie’s actually looking forward to some human cuisine. Venom is very interested in the process of making food, as opposed to ordering it or defrosting it; when Eddie starts peeling potatoes, it eats a few of them raw to see if it makes a difference.

“So, does it?” Dan asks from over the stove, where he’s sautéing mushrooms and diced eggplant along with a few strips of chicken.

“YES. THE RAW VERSION IS LESS EASY TO BREAK DOWN AND ASSIMILATE.”

“That’s why we cook our food,” Dan acknowledges, stirring. “That, and taste. Do you have a sense of taste?”

“IT DEPENDS.” Venom pauses, as if hesitating, then says, “WHEN I AM ON MY OWN I HAVE ONLY ONE SENSE.”

“Oh, which one?” asks Eddie, still peeling.

Venom twangs something inside of his brain and Eddie gets a sense of—knowledge; knowing where things are and what they are, down to their chemical composition. It gets stronger for things that are touching Venom, stronger still for things that are inside Venom.

“Eddie?” Dan’s peering at him, interested. “Did he just show you?”

“Yeah. It’s…” Eddie frowns. “Wow. Impossible to describe. Uh, I think it’s like touch, but—from a distance? And… on a molecular level. Radar? Kinda? It’s more—visceral than radar.” He blinks several times as the feeling fades. “I… Weird.”

“WE CAN TASTE THINGS TOGETHER, THOUGH.” A small tendril wraps around a peeled potato and raises it up. “LET’S TRY ONE.”

Eddie takes it and sighs. “The things I do for you, love.”

It snorts. “WE ATE A LIVE EEL JUST THE OTHER DAY.”

You ate it.” Eddie bites into the raw potato, chews and swallows, then scowls. “Blech.”

“HMM. TATER TOTS ARE BETTER.”

“Yeah, no kiddin’.”

Dan’s smiling at them. “Better help him digest that, Venom. If you’re done with the potatoes, Eddie, we can boil them now…”

Venom insists on pouring itself into the pot with the potatoes to watch them cook from the inside. Eddie helps Dan whip up a chocolate cake while they wait (“Just add a pinch of salt to the batter”) and when the potatoes are done, they all grate them together. After that it’s just a matter of forming them into little balls and throwing those in hot oil. Within twenty minutes, they’ve got themselves a mountain of tots, plus two plates of veggies and chicken.

“Christ, Dan, this is delicious,” Eddie says, chewing on a mushroom. He’s stolen a few tots from Venom, too; they’re golden and crunchy. “How come you’re such a good cook?”

“I’m not, really. It’s all simple stuff.” As always, Dan sounds like he genuinely means it. “But I do like cooking, it relaxes me.”

“Well, I really appreciate it. Haven’t eaten human food in—” Eddie swallows. “Uh. A while. We… we get carried away.”

“Right. Live eels?” He’s smiling. “I imagine you didn’t have much time to cook, what with everything.”

Eddie groans. “God, I’m just glad it was all over quick. And I’m so glad neither of you got hurt.” Belated anxiety comes to stab at his gut. “When I think about… They came to get the both of you at work, they—”

“Neither of us were targets,” Dan says, picking a tot from Venom’s plate with, well, surgical precision. “We were worried for you, Eddie.”

Venom cleans up its plate in one sweep, maybe to prevent further looting, and retreats into Eddie. Its contentment radiates inside his body the more it reels inside, satiation and energy all in one.

“And I really am sorry they destroyed your apartment,” Dan goes on. “When I was a kid, our house got robbed. I still remember how awful it felt.”

“Barnes trashed your apartment,” Eddie says. “I… I don’t even know if you’ve been there since? But, uh, there’s been a little problem with the far wall.”

“Oh, yes, I’ve seen it, but it doesn’t compare. I’ve already hired a contractor to fix the damage. It shouldn’t be too complicated, just some plaster and paint.” Dan shrugs. “Explaining what happened was the hardest part, really.”

“I’ll—I’ll pay, of course.”

“Out of the question,” Dan answers, gathering the last of his mushrooms with his fork. “It wasn’t your fault.”

“C’mon. It would make me feel better. We shouldn’t… we shouldn’t have been in your bedroom in the first place.”

Dan smiles, without looking up from his food. “What were you doing in my bedroom, Eddie?”

OOH, Venom says, gleeful.

“Shut up.” Eddie winces. “Not you, Dan.”

“I figured.” Dan puts down his empty plate. “Eddie, I’ve been meaning to ask.”

Eddie’s mouth dries all of a sudden. “Uh—yeah?”

Dan meets his eyes and asks, “Could you tell me a bit about your tattoos?”

“Oh,” Eddie says in relief. “Oh, yeah, no—sure, no problem.”

“Unless it’s too personal.”

“No, I—I like talking about them. Hang on.”

He pushes up his left sleeve and offers Dan his forearm. Briefly, he remembers the last time he did that, and what Dan did to him then. Now Dan’s fingers trace the eagle in flight, the skull, the ace of spades.

“What does this one mean?”

Eddie clears his throat. “Nothing much, really.”

“Nothing much?”

“I was fifteen, I just wanted something cool. Can’t even remember if I had a design in mind before I walked into the shop. Ended picking it out from the artist’s portfolio, anyway, ‘cause it was easier and cheaper.” Eddie rubs the back of his neck. “But, I mean, it’s part of me—it’s part of fifteen-year-old me, and I guess that’s what it’s grown to mean. I still kinda like the way it makes me look. Had it refreshed a few times… ” He stops when he realizes Dan is now obviously trying not to smile. “What?”

“This will make me sound like an idiot,” Dan warns. Then he lets himself smile fully. “You’re so cool.”

Eddie shouldn’t be so flustered over that, and snorts in a poor attempt to hide it. “What, because of a dumb cliché tattoo I got when I was fifteen?”

“Yes,” Dan says, earnest. “You know, I sometimes thought that I might like a tattoo, if I had something important enough to commemorate. End result, I don’t have one. You got one just because. And you still like it, and you still take care of it now.” He hasn’t stopped smiling at Eddie. “So yes, I think that makes you pretty cool.”

Eddie feels his restlessness swell in his chest again—he always ends up feeling like that when he’s around Dan, always hyperaware of him. It’s the same kind of agitation he experiences when Venom’s love beats in his veins loud enough for him to feel it. It’s like he should do something to rise up to this intense focus, to meet it in kind, but he still doesn’t know what.

He clears his throat. “Then there’s this one—ah crap, hold on.” His sleeve won’t go any further up, so he slips his hoodie over his head, ending up in his Black Sabbath t-shirt. The wolf head is on the inside of his upper arm, morphing into an armband all around his biceps. “Here. That one I got when I was twenty-two.”

“What was the occasion?” Dan’s touching him again. He’s always very comfortable touching Eddie, especially when he’s touching him inside, during the physical, during the surgery, manipulating his body, exploring it and checking it and making sure it’s up to code—

Eddie tries to think of something else. “Uh, that—I saw a wolf. In Yellowstone. It’s a long story, not very interesting, but—bottom line, it was a really unique moment, and I knew it probably wouldn’t happen ever again, so I wanted to keep it alive.”

YOU KNOW WE COULD GO THERE AND FIND ANOTHER ONE, Venom says. WE CAN DO WHATEVER WE WANT.

He hadn’t thought about that. It’s true, though, and the thought distracts him. With Venom, he doesn’t have to be afraid of the wilderness; he could go and spend a month deep in a national park if he wanted. Maybe become the hot new cryptid.

Dan asks, “What about the ones on your chest?”

Eddie hesitates, motions to taking off his shirt. “Do you mind if I—? No? Okay—”

He drops his shirt on top of his hoodie. The air feels cooler than usual on his bare skin. He reminds himself Dan’s seen him completely naked before—many times—so this shouldn’t feel like a big deal. He folds his left arm to expose the ink stretching across his ribs. “Those I got when I had to leave New York. It’s the skyline—I wanted to keep a piece of home with me.” He lowers his arm and taps at the butterfly in the middle of his chest. “And this one I got just after I met Anne.” He smiles, a bit sadly. “It’s how she made me feel.”

Dan’s fingertips brush the butterfly very delicately, as though it were real. Then he touches Eddie more frankly, pressing two fingers in the middle of his chest.

“Do you really want to be my best man, Eddie?”

It takes a moment for the question to register. When it does, Eddie blinks at him. “What? Yes, I—yes, it’s—what I said.”

“I wouldn’t want you to feel obligated.”

Eddie feels like squirming. He tries to smile. “Could’ve asked me that when I still had my shirt on.”

“No, people tend to be more sincere when they’re half-naked,” Dan says very naturally. “That’s something I’ve noticed a lot in consultations.”

Eddie stares at him. Dan presses just a touch harder in the middle of his chest.

“Here,” he says apropos of nothing, “is where I would have made the median cut if I’d given you heart surgery, back when it looked like you really needed it.”

Venom shivers inside Eddie; he feels the thrill through his whole body.

“Here,” Dan repeats, and traces a vertical line up Eddie’s breastbone. “First, an incision down to the bone. Then I would have sawed your ribcage open with a sternal saw, cracked it and spread it apart with retractors. Opening it fully can take a while, because it’s important to go slow. Increase pressure bit by bit until the internal organs are fully accessible.”

Eddie tries to swallow, but finds he can’t. His throat really is too dry now.

“I wonder if you could be kept awake through that,” Dan goes on idly.

This time Eddie must have made some kind of noise, because Dan looks up with smiling eyes. Then he leans forward and kisses him.

Past the first moment of paralysis, Eddie just—lets it happen. He kisses back, even, because you don’t just stay still when someone’s kissing you. Dan’s a gentleman about it, not even trying to slip him some tongue. It’s a nice kiss. Eddie doesn’t think any further than that for now.

They part after a few seconds. Eddie takes the time to lick his lips, then opens his eyes again and looks at him warily. “What’s… What was that about?” He’s instantly afraid he’s been too abrupt. “I—don’t get me wrong, I—I didn’t hate it. Just trying to figure out—what it means. What you mean.”

YOUR HEARTRATE IS DOING VERY INTERESTING THINGS RIGHT NOW, EDDIE.

“Shut up, V.”

JUST SAYING.

“Well, I’m not exactly coloring between the lines,” Dan answers. “I don’t think I want to sleep with you, if that was the question.”

“Oh, well—no. I mean, yes, that was… I mean, I don’t want that either. I don’t think.”

“I feel like kissing you sometimes,” Dan goes on. “Then I remind myself I’m not supposed to. And then I ask myself why that is.” He looks at Eddie’s black butterfly again. “Especially when you’re doing things like taking the time to tell me about your tattoos just because I asked.”

“Yeah, and then you start describing open heart surgeries,” Eddie says, a tad accusatory.

Dan beams at him. “Did you like that?

“IT GAVE HIM A SEMI,” Venom says.

Eddie rubs his face with both hands while Dan laughs.

“Look, Eddie,” he says when Eddie emerges, face burning. “Sleeping together may not be on the table, but just treating you like a friend doesn’t feel like enough. Anne said it best, we’re a household. And you said it best before her. Yellow roses, you know.” He hesitates for the first time. “Now that we’re engaged, I guess I just wanted to have everything out in the open.”

“I do feel—I appreciate that.” Eddie looks at him for a second. “You know, Dan, I’ve never met anyone like you before.”

Dan looks down at his hands. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“And I get what you mean, I—sometimes I feel the need to do something too, about you, and—and I don’t know what, and if you wanna kiss me, well, I don’t mind.”

Don’t mind,” Dan repeats with a small line between his brows. “If it makes you uncomfortable, we can think of something else, though. Or nothing at all. I just meant…”

“Dan, I think I’ll always be a little uncomfortable around you,” Eddie says honestly. “But that’s the thing, I—I kinda like it. You probably noticed.”

Dan laughs again, softly; just then, the oven dings, and Eddie realizes the smell of chocolate brownies has been slowly seeping into the air.

“Sounds like dessert,” Dan says.

“Um. Right.”

Dan gets up, smiles at him and crosses the room to the kitchen area. Eddie has to take a minute to put his shirt and hoodie back on before he can follow; when he gets to the counter a minute later, Dan’s already taking out the cake with fluffy oven mitts.

“Looks good,” Eddie says, sitting on one of the bar stools. His heart is still beating a bit fast. “Hey, you’re a brain surgeon, right?”

Dan’s put the cake down; he looks up at him, taking off his mitts. “I am, yes.”

“So you wouldn’t have been the one to give me heart surgery.”

For just a moment he thinks he’s actually managed to score one on him, but Dan just smiles again. “Not in an official capacity, but I could practice on you.” He slices out some cake. “I miss retractors. And it’s not like I could cause any permanent damage.”

SEMI, Venom comments.

Eddie ignores the alien and eats his goddamn cake, which is of course warm and moist and delicious.

*

They do the dishes—Dan washes, Eddie dries—while Venom cleans up the rest of the cake and the oil residue in the frying pan; all in all, the whole thing doesn’t take them more than ten minutes. The kiss is still flittering at the edges of Eddie’s memory, so he instantly gets what Dan’s talking about when he says, “Oh, let’s not forget,” and opens the group chat—“We should tell Anne.”

Eddie puts his last plate away and gets out his own phone. “Wait, wait, hold on—let me. Check this out.”

your fiancé just KISSED me, he types. THIS is the guy you’re marrying??

Dan cracks up when the text appears in the group chat; Eddie grins at him. Venom slithers out of the pristine cake pan and reforms over Eddie’s shoulder to peer at the screen. Anne’s client must bore her, because she’s already answering; her answer pops up seconds later, so deadpan Eddie can hear it.

how could he betray me in this way

Dan’s already typing a reply. Honey, I can explain!

too late, Anne answers. i’m eloping with venom

Eddie snorts while Venom takes control of his hands. I CAN SHOW YOU THE WORLD

et tu, V? types Eddie, forcing movement back in his own fingers.

tit for tat, Annie answers. Then she breaks character—Eddie can picture her smiling. did you guys actually kiss?

yeah, Eddie says, then adds, it was nice, which makes Dan smile.

so what does that mean? Anne asks, always eager for details. are you sleeping together now?

No, sorry, just getting rid of our last implications, Dan answers her. I may give Eddie a sternotomy, though.

“Is that the scientific term?” Eddie inquires.

“Is it turning you on?” Dan asks, sending his text.

YES IT IS, Venom snickers, just as Anne’s answering oh well, I’m sure he’ll like that even more.

 

*

 

Eddie ends up staying the night, which was always sort of implied in Dan’s invitation. Of course he asks, “Do you want me to take the couch?” and of course Dan says, “Don’t be ridiculous,” and so they end up in the same bed without Anne once more.

The first time—in Anne’s bed, too—Eddie was almost too anxious about Dan’s concussion to sleep; the second time, in Eddie’s apartment, was already much better—Eddie complaining to Dan for somehow dropping Ziggy onto his couch while Dan laughed almost too much to apologize properly.

Eddie didn’t bring anything to sleep in. His shirt’s kinda gross from his afternoon spent cleaning debris, so he goes to bed bare-chested, because he’s a little more built than Dan and he doesn’t like sleeping in a tight t-shirt. He does borrow some pajama pants, which are a bit too long since Dan’s a pretty tall guy.

“Are you afraid I’m going to kiss you again?” Dan asks, getting in bed.

Eddie snorts softly. “I’m not afraid.”

“Well then.” Dan braces on an elbow to lean over him and kisses him again. He tastes like toothpaste. “Good night, Eddie.”

“Good—good night,” Eddie says, belatedly. He watches Dan lie back down and turn off the light.

It doesn’t take long for Dan to fall asleep, but Eddie doesn’t even close his eyes. After a little while, he feels Venom settle between his lower ribs. IS THAT GOING TO BE A REGULAR THING?

“I don’t know, love,” Eddie murmurs. “Looks like it.”

HE DOES IT TO SHOW YOU HE LIKES YOU.

“Yeah, that’s what kissing is.” He’s actually getting warmer, heavier. Sleepier. Maybe he’s not as wound-up as he thought after all. “It’s why you and I do it, too.”

 

*

 

He wakes up in the dark, unsure what brought him out of sleep. Then he hears the faint noises people make when they try to move around stealthily at night; a glance at his watch confirms that it’s 2am. Anne must have come back from her meeting instead of staying the night in Berkeley.

Suddenly, he’s anxious. Does she know he’s here? Was that clear in their texts? Anne said Eddie was always invited, but he can’t help needing confirmation, over and over again, that he’s wanted, that he’s not intruding on their intimacy, on their engagement, on their life. He should get up, go meet her, at least give her a heads-up, but he’s so undecided that he just lies there until she pads into the room.

“H-hey,” Eddie says, finally managing to brace up a bit on his elbows. Next to him, Dan’s straightening up as well, obligingly opening the covers for Anne as she crawls into bed to lie down between them.

“Go back to sleep,” she murmurs, drawing the covers up again. “Didn’t mean to wake you up.”

“YOU HAVEN’T,” Venom says, tendrils slipping out of Eddie to curl on her shoulder. “NEITHER OF THEM WERE SLEEPING.”

“Oh, well, that’s good to know, darling.” Eddie can see her smile in the dark. “And here I almost thought I’d find them mid-surgery.”

“You’re a riot,” Eddie says, settling back down.

“I’m glad you could make it back for the night,” Dan whispers.

“Me too, hon.” Anne exhales. “It’s good to be home.”

Dan leans close to her for a kiss, which brings him very close to Eddie, who just—watches them. When they’re done, Dan lies back down with an arm around her waist. Eddie inches closer from behind, tentative, and only when Anne leans back into him does he spoon her fully. He puts his arm around her, too, pressing it against Dan’s.

It’s not the first time they pile up in bed, but it’s never felt as natural as it does now. They used to—not ignore what they were doing, but also not acknowledge it explicitly, quickly disentangling themselves come morning. But now, as Dan put it, everything’s out in the open. Eddie’s only beginning to believe it.

“So,” Anne murmurs, settling more comfortably between them like a satisfied cat. “What else did I miss?”

“Eddie showed me his tattoos,” Dan says.

Eddie swallows. “Yeah, uh, about that. Think it’s time I got another one.”

They both make intrigued sleepy noises.

“I was thinking a scalpel. With some roses,” he says. “Maybe down my right arm.”

Anne turns her head to kiss him, and Dan squeezes his forearm so tight it nearly hurts, so—they must both think it’s a good idea.

SEE, Venom says smugly, like this is all its doing. And in a way, Eddie thinks, it really is.