Having a symbiote helped with some things, but Eddie still ended long days like this one tired and dispirited, an ache building in his back, aches and pains. Another day fruitlessly chasing down leads. He shouldered the door shut, dumped his keys and beelined to the fridge.
Don’t drink! Venom rumbled at him. Stay hydrated.
One hand on the fridge door, Eddie stopped to groan. He rolled his eyes for good measure. “C’mon, man, my job’s stressful, I need a break.”
Our job, Venom said. Right. It was their everything. Eddie just grunted in response.
His flesh rippled in discontent, his teeth chattering with it. Venom had his ways of making displeasure felt.
Eddie scowled and fished through the fridge anyway, pointedly.
Fine, Venom said. You can have your drink, and I’ll leave until you’re done.
I’ll just sit in some jar until you’re done poisoning yourself—
“Geeze, Venom, alright, I’ll take the soda.” He grabbed a bottle from the fridge moodily. “Most controlling boyfriend I’ve ever had, I swear.”
He settled down at his crappy table. There was a pause in his thoughts, almost pleasant. He took a swig of coke.
Eddie, Venom rumbled in his ears. Eddie sighed.
“We’ve been over this, I’m not going to get you the fancy stuff.” He raised a warning finger to point at his own reflection. It just looked like him right now, but still. “Coke’s good enough for the likes of us.”
Drink your gross syrup, Venom sniffed. Not that. Think about what you just said.
“Parasite, I never think about anything.” He raised the bottle in a silent salute and drank.
THINK ABOUT US, EDDIE.
Eddie choked on his sip.
It hadn’t physically been deafening, but it had certainly felt like it as it shaked through his brain. He wiped his mouth off with his sleeve and pawed at the spill on the table as well, spluttering. Now his sleeves were damp, great. He leaned back in the rickety chair and drew in a deep breath. Alright. He was calm enough now. “Sorry, what?” he said.
Venom sounded oddly tentative, for a pushy alien loudmouth. Going by your reaction, I might’ve come on too strong.
Eddie wiped his mouth and shook his head disbelievingly at his bleary reflection in the fridge. “Maybe a bit!”
I’ll back off, Venom said, and then honest to god sighed, like he even needed to breathe.
“Right,” Eddie said carefully, and got up to get a rag.
Venom was weirdly quiet the rest of the night, and by the time Eddie shrugged into his sleep shirt he was honestly kinda starting to miss it. The worst thing was Venom had to know, sitting smugly quiet in his mind, but didn’t do anything about it.
“Night, jackass,” Eddie said aloud after a few minutes of lying down, when his eyes still refused to feel heavy.
The soothing presence curled out through his mind, weighing down his limbs, tugging his eyes shut. Or maybe it just seemed to. Sleep well.
He did not sleep well at all.
The nightmares were pretty new, and he wasn’t sure which parts were him and which parts Venom, a line that grew more blurred all the time. Sometimes he plunged through water and sometimes he knelt in the dirt, men with guns all around him. Whether he was himself in the dream or watching from a distance kept changing. Sometimes he could feel the exquisite pain of almost all his body burning away, fire, fire. Sometimes he dreamed of a black fog or smoke eating away at him, toe to tip, but those ones were never as bad as the ones where he was watching Venom as his unprotected self, that little pile of ooze, out exposed in the open and withering away.
He woke up sitting upright, tension all through him, fists clenched in the sheets. A memory of Drake right in front of him with jaws widening open no –
A dream, Venom said, and Eddie nodded, quick, swiped a hand across his face, but his breath was still coming panicky and rabbit-quick. He tucked his knees into his chest, felt around for the gun he knew he kept here somewhere.
Breathe, Venom said, with just a touch of annoyance that Eddie clung to like a lifeline. In, out, you remember. Eddie breathed in, forced himself to hold it in his lungs for a few seconds at least, expelled out a breath, waited, drew in another. There we go. This shouldn’t be hard, literally you carbon-based idiots learn this right off the bat. There we go. Eddie took in a long breath, held it, breathed out, and his heart didn’t beat painfully hard against his ribs any more.
“Right,” Eddie said. He tossed off the sweaty covers and lay back down. He didn’t say thank you, but Venom knew.
They didn’t talk about The Thing again until the next afternoon, after Eddie had lost his lead for the day and gone from shadowing to just strolling down the street. It was a nice enough day and he could nearly see the sky, he’d take it.
Think about what you said, Venom said as they passed a shopping complex. Eddie nearly jumped, then groaned.
“I know what I – ok,” he said. He started walking a little faster, bouncing restlessly on the heels of his feet. “I shouldn’t have called you my boyfriend. Won’t happen again. Okay?”
No reply for at least two city blocks, like he was as alone as any of the rest of the people passing by him. Eddie chewed at his lip. If that’s what you want, Venom said. Being able to see his conversation partner’s face would sure be handy right now.
“And I won’t call you parasite either, unless you’re being a prick,” Eddie said. “Alright? Alright.” He nodded, shoving his hands in his pockets. “But you have to call me ‘Eddie’ and not like, meatbag like you sometimes do.”
What about ‘darling’?
Eddie walked directly into a wall.
He spun back away from it, holding up a hand to his face, but his nose wasn’t bleeding, just hurting like hell. “Dude,” he snarled. A man in a suit sped up to pass by him. Eddie sighed, eyed the wall sourly and stuck his hands back in his pockets. He started walking again at more of a slouch.
You were piloting, Venom said smugly. That one’s all on you.
“I know it’s – ughhhh shut up,” Eddie groaned, and tugged a hand through his hair, frustrated.
I just want you to think about it.
But Eddie thought plenty. That was the issue. He thought way, way too much. Eddie leaned his shoulders into his walk, frowning. He just wanted to be home. “You are coming on, just – way too strong right now,” he said, to make the conversation be over.
A woman passing in the street gave him an edgy, alarmed look and moved a few steps further away as she passed. Eddie shot her a strained grin.
Half a block, and then Venom said, Alright. I’ll leave you alone.
“Miracles never cease,” Eddie muttered.
He regretted it immediately: Venom didn’t respond, and he was silent, he didn’t do anything, but Eddie could still sorta feel his reaction, or imagine it, and how Venom felt was huffy and hurt.
“Sorry,” Eddie added. There was nothing. He scowled, walking faster. “Oh, the silent treatment, huh, real mature.”
He stepped out into the road, and then was immediately jerked back by reflexes faster than his own, as a car swished past him. He balanced on the curb blinking after the car, heart beating fast. He wouldn’t have been killed, just hurt, badly hurt, again.
I’ve got you, Venom said. Eddie let out a shaky breath, closing his eyes.
“Yeah, I know.”
Venom still kept quiet most of that day, to the point that by evening Eddie was so desperate for company he even turned on the TV. He slumped in his chair half-watching it, rubbing occasionally at a scrape on his head that Venom hadn’t fixed yet. He contemplated getting up and grabbing a beer out of spite, but couldn’t be bothered.
On the commercial break, Venom ventured, Ready to talk?
“Jesus,” Eddie muttered, and rubbed at his eyes. “No. I don’t want to talk about your – whatever this is.”
Silence. The show started up again, some sitcom.
After a minute his own hand, not under his control, picked up the remote and muted it. If my feelings bother you that much I can keep alternate hosts, Venom said. Tonelessly.
“If your feelings—” Eddie tugged at his hair, then dropped his hands when he realised, hey, that was starting to hurt. And his hair was a mess. “Who said anything about feelings?”
I did. You know that. You’re dumb, but you’re not this dumb.
Eddie blinked at the TV, blinked fast. “You’re sending – real mixed messages here – okay. Alright.” He got up and fetched himself a glass of water, then sat down again at the table instead. Better for serious conversations. He ran a hand through his hair, miserably. “Okay, so you know how my last relationship went.”
We could still try to get her back, Venom said, but he didn’t sound like his heart was in it. Eddie’s heart, he guessed, Venom didn’t have one.
Eddie shook his head, frowning at his water. “And that was with, you know, the same species. And before all the …” He waved a hand at himself, at them. “I’m kind of a fuckup. If people are smart they leave. Or get killed, I guess. I don’t want that to – I don’t want to screw this up too. You’re the last good thing I’ve got going.”
His hand gently reached out and lifted the glass to his mouth. Eddie took a sip, reluctantly. Venom lowered the glass again and said, Ignoring me is a good way to screw it up.
Eddie blinked fast, again, and closed his eyes. “I know,” he whispered. “I’m sorry.”
It’s, uh, it’s alright. Venom sounded tentative. Can I?
“Yeah, sure,” Eddie said, meaning please.
He dropped his face in his hands and watched through his fingers as Venom shifted his form, shadow-slime slipping out of Eddie and forming the rough shape of limbs then enclosing around his shoulders. It was halfway between being wrapped in a hug and wrapped in a blanket.
Eddie breathed out, leaning into the strange embrace. “Thanks,” he said. “Okay, so back to me being a fuckup.”
I mean, Venom said, I eat people.
“Only the like, really bad ones,” Eddie said automatically. A hand patted him on the shoulder then retreated back into his body with a shrlp noise. He sighed.
Would it help if I was … a woman, Venom said, his reluctance palpable.
Eddie snorted out through his nose. He tapped his fingers against the table. “Not really the holdup, I’m bi,” he said. “It’s mainly uh, the species thing … Hey, why do aliens even have gender?
Venom hummed, rattling through his bones. I liked this one. It was yours.
“Oh,” Eddie said. He found himself smiling. This was the weirdest thing to be flattered by.
This whole thing was weird, he may as well get used to it. He’d mostly gotten used to it. He could get used to this part, too, if he could make himself believe it.
He leaned forward, propping his chin in one hand. “Like how I’m yours?” he said, and grimaced at the sound of it, way too needy. And he couldn’t shoot a flirty smirk at someone who wasn’t able to see him, either. This had been a bad plan –
Yes, Venom said, you are.
Eddie leaned back into his chair, further, testing how far he could go before it would fall. If he pushed too far, Venom would catch him.
“Best worst boyfriend I’ve ever had,” Eddie said, and felt a face that was not his own curl up in an unholy grin.