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Soft Narcissism

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A very specific ringtone, Maxwell’s Silver Hammer by the Beatles, woke Eddie up. It was playing quietly, muffled by something over it, and so distant the phone had probably been dropped under the bed. Eddie often woke up to find his laptop, phone, or books had been moved from where he'd left them the night before.

He yawned, blinking. His new bedroom was a surprise, then again it had only been a few days since they’d moved here. Steady paychecks had finally bolstered his financials enough that Eddie’s moved a few blocks uptown, to a nicer apartment still in his area. Better wifi. Slightly closer to the fish market.

It was dark, just barely getting to be light outside now. There was a honk, a horn, and general buzz of San Francisco noises outside but still soft, still tired.

Eddie kicked the comforter off his feet, and with a low groan pushed himself to a seated position with his arms. He rubbed his right hand over his face, sighing as his eyes still felt hot and tired and his morning shadow grazed the skin of his palm. It was... Saturday. He was meeting with three members of the failed sanitary worker’s strike at noon, then was going to the park with the film crew to do background shots and a soft monologue for the climate change special collaboration with Betty Brant.

Eddie pulled himself to the edge of his bed. He reached down with his hand, feeling underneath for the phone. He was excited to work with Betty Brant; the piece had been her idea as they both were rising stars of their respective news outlets, merging together the Daily Globe and the Daily Bugle’s influences on the climate change piece was the best way to have it heard by as many people as possible. Her passion for the project was the only way it had gotten through to the legendary stooge J. Jonah Jameson.

And on the Globe end, well, Barney Bushkin still owed Eddie about a hundred favors.

Eddie managed to find the hard shape of his phone. The bed sheet was covering it and he yanked to pull it off, only to have his force suddenly countered. He frowned and pulled harder.

The bed sheet responded by flying backward under the bed. The force of it knocked Eddie forward, onto the hard wood floor of the bedroom. He didn’t land enough to hurt but the surprise stunned him for a moment.

His face was turned to the dark underside of the bed, the lack of light in the room leaving it pitch black and unknowing. A deep shadow lingered there.

Eddie spotted a tiny metal reflection, his phone. As fast as he could he lunged out to grab it.

He was a second too late, just as his fingertips touched the phone it was yanked away into the deeper, dark maw in front of him. From under the bed, but also the deep recesses of Eddie’s mind, he heard a low, grumbling laugh.

“It’s too early for this,” Eddie mumbled. He scooted forward, reached far into the blackness with his arm, and turned the palm to face upward. “Give.”

A leathery, warm, softly buzzing object touched his hand and then enveloped it, sliding over his hand, wrist, and up to his elbow like emerging his arm in a bucket of warm water. Eddie only had a second of warning, an excited thought like (!) in his mind. He slammed his free hand on the wood of the bed, pulled up his knee, right as the black creature yanked hard on his arm.

“No!” Eddie clenched his teeth. “Give me... the...”

The bed screeched across the floor a few inches, nothing but a bystander in the power struggle as the entity underneath urged Eddie to join him. “I can’t believe... Stop!”

In an instant, the tugging ceased.

(?) That feeling. Foreign, in the back of Eddie’s mind, not a word, not anything spoken, just confusion shared to him.

“I’m cranky. It’s early. I just woke up.” Eddie sighed. He could move his arm now and he pulled it out into the light, covered as it was in a thick black substance over every inch of him, a substance that undulated in tune with the pulsing of his heartbeat. The mass had the phone as well, sticking halfway out of its side, wrapped and held tight by tendrils.

‘Lazy!’

“I’m not lazy,” Eddie defended. He sat back down on the floor in a huff, back against the side of the bed. With his left hand he held it beside the phone and the black substance retracted, dropping the phone. “Humans need to sleep more than you, that’s just a fact.”

‘Bored.'

“That’s what Netflix is for.” Eddie pressed his thumb to his phone, unlocking it and opening his phone to voicemails. In his shoulder he could feel the non-unpleasant tugging and motion of black goo seeping out of his skin and out of the corner of his eye he saw the mass rising, growing larger, until it formed a face.

Giant, angled white eyes, triangle-shaped, stared relentlessly, fiercely straight at him, and a mouth smiled a grin painfully wide, and full in every conceivable spare inch with gigantic, terrifying, sharp teeth. The mouth opened slightly, the teeth clacked against each other. The Symbiote’s face, or Venom’s face, the name the alien preferred to be called once he’d bonded.

“Something wrong?” Eddie asked.

The Symbiote leaned forward slightly. “Take me to the mountains!” He demanded.

“I gotta work,” Eddie reminded him.

“Work is for losers.”

Eddie raised an eyebrow. We are losers, remember? was on the tip of his tongue before he could feel a laugh in his mind, like a bright, happy jolt to the corner of his brain, and he knew the Symbiote, Venom, had understood him before he’d even said the words. “Why the mountains?”

“Hikers,” Venom said, slithering his tongue outward and yet still managing to speak around it, “go missing, all the time.”

“We’re not going to the woods to eat some innocent hiker,” Eddie said. He turned his face back to the phone.

“What if they litter?!”

“If you’re so concerned, we can bring a garbage bag and clean up the whole mountain.”

Grumbling, Venom sunk his head down into Eddie’s shoulder, disappearing under the skin, though a wrap of the black substance on his arm still remained.

Eddie stood up and pressed the voicemail. Barney Bushkin’s voice began to sound, accompanied by low radio hum and an occasional horn indicating he’d called during his morning commute. “Eddie, glad I didn’t wake you, just a couple things to go over.”

Eddie scratched his chin as he walked to the fridge, pulling out the milk. The Symbiote sent a pleasing warmness across his stomach, a light whir of excitement and anticipation anytime Eddie was about to eat.

“As always, glad to have you on board with us again. Jameson and I are breathing down each other’s necks, seconds from suing over who gets primary release of your collaboration piece, but whatever. Doesn’t bother you.”

Eddie brought out a carton of eggs too, setting them on the table. They were snake eggs, and despite traveling the world as a reporter and eating all sorts of exotic foods in his life, Eddie was still glad there were some food items that Venom preferred to absorb directly. Snake eggs and twix bars for the Symbiote, and Honey Nut Cheerios for the human.

“You’ve been back a couple months now, and mainly what I’m calling to say is you’ve had your brockreportglobe twitter and instagrams and whatevers for awhile now, and our PR firms aren’t liking what you’re doing. You used to pepper in your work and articles with real personal information. Fun stuff.”

Eddie took a large bite of cereal and absentmindedly took an egg and held it up to his shoulder. Venom’s large mouth covered a full three of his fingers in his eagerness to eat. The teeth slightly scraped, not enough to hurt. Venom’s long tongue brushed Eddie’s ear as an apology, and Eddie wondered if the Symbiote did it on purpose just to get Eddie’s attention back on him.

“I want the old Eddie back, what happened to that cat? More cat photos.”

‘I’d eat a cat.’

Eddie was never getting another cat.

“Just pump up the social media, put a little effort in. Remind people you’re not just a name on a byline, or I’ll get one of our social media managers to take it over for you. Also, I need you to pump up the headline for the piece on the garbage men-“

“Sanitation workers,” Eddie corrected the recording.

“And I’ll see you bright and early Monday, and don’t forget to RSVP to the Mayor’s Everyday Heroes Gala, you are going. Talk to you later.”

The voicemail ended and Eddie picked up the phone. He opened twitter.

It was true, he realized. Since he’d had his social media back he had kept everything strictly professional. It was a matter of self preservation for them that Eddie kept as quiet about his personal life as possible. It wouldn’t be smart to start spouting out snippets of My Life with an Alien Parasite-

A black tendril hit the end of his spoon, sending a small splash of milk onto Eddie’s shirt.

“Parasite,” Eddie repeated out loud.

‘Not a parasite!’

Eddie snorted. He reached up with his free hand toward the alien head about his shoulder and put his palm against it, stroking the strange black substance with his thumb.

Besides, wanting to tweet or Instagram, or Snapchat, or Facebook status something... that came from the impulse of seeing or experiencing an event, or having a wayward, funny thought and wanting to share it with others. It was an outreach for need, connection, and validation. And that was an impulse Eddie didn’t have anymore. The Symbiote heard his jokes, experienced his strange encounters, shared his slice of life moments, and filled that need to an even greater capacity than going viral ever had or ever could. It was far more intimate.

The thought made the Symbiote hum in happy agreement inside his body.

Whatever. Eddie could keep things amusing, light, funny, keep people drawn in and following him to get more attention to his work. His current followers on Twitter alone were way less than half of what he’d had before he’d been fired. Pumping it up was needed.

Eddie pressed a finger to his temple, thought, and then pressed the button to form a new tweet. “Six a.m. and my S-“

Eddie shook his head, thinking, Stop. Nope. Can’t write SYMBIOTE. First of all, Anne and Dan were already suspicious that Venom wasn’t gone, and lastly, common fucking sense.

But besides... Venom, Eddie couldn’t think of anything he wanted to express. Could there be a better word he could use to code the message just enough to share? Could he pretend to have a dog?

‘We are not a pet!’

Eddie yawned. He was tired. They were hungry.

‘I know.’ The Symbiote offered a word up to his subconscious.

It made sense to Eddie, and he’d already written the letter ‘S’ anyway. Without thinking more than a second on it, Eddie finished the tweet. ‘Six a.m. and my Spouse is hiding under the bed to scare me when I wake up. I’m never bored.’

They continued to eat their breakfast and Eddie didn’t think anything else of it until he stepped out of the shower, picked up his phone, and saw he had twelve texts and about one-hundred and seventy Twitter notifications all asking one thing, ‘When did you get married?!!!’


‘I can’t believe Eligible Bachelor Eddie Brock is off the market’ one person tweeted, tagging him in it. ‘I want a wedding photo!! Tux!!’ About five other people began to demand photographs and proof in response, each and every one sending a notification to Eddie's phone. He needed to change the settings on his account.

The Brock Report had made Eddie a much more public figure than he was used to, sure, and he had never been a stranger to the fact that his good looks were a main draw to the show for quite a lot of people. He wasn't any kind of celebrity, if he was he'd be X or Y List (or E or F after his expose on the Life Foundation), but the following was there nonetheless. He’d even posed as a model once to get close to the head of Nike production for a quote about sweatshop labor practices. So, had he not been so tired and not sharing his brain, he might have realized the dire public consequences of announcing, so utterly casually, that he was married.

Eddie paused in front of Mrs. Chen’s bodega, looking at the Venom-ous reflection of his face. “I’m not even married.”

Venom’s face seemed a permanent scowl, though somehow it managed to scowl even deeper, the eyes growing sharper and the teethy mouth tilting downward in displeasure. ‘No?’ He asked, the voice thunderous inside Eddie’s head.

“Well, now I am, apparently. Which means questions we really don’t have any way to answer.” Eddie shoved his hands into the pockets of his hoodie and stepped forward into the bodega. Venom was feeling... sometimes the Symbiote’s feelings were hard to read or too explain, but the best translation Eddie could come up with was ‘bitchy’.

“Hello, you two,” Mrs. Chen said in greeting as the door chimed. There was a customer in front of her, buying himself a pack of smokes, and he looked curiously at Eddie, then behind him, and frowned up at Mrs. Chen. She handed him his cash. “What else?” She demanded when he didn’t move.

The man shook his head and left the store.

Eddie walked up to the counter. “Morning, Mrs. Chen,” he said, the sentiment echoed in his head by the Symbiote, “we’re happy to see you.”

“Good, glad, I have your order, and surprise,” she said. She bent under the counter, and a black tendril leaned forward a few inches out of Eddie’s head in curiosity. “Two surprises. I have Twitter, congratulations.”

“Ah,” Eddie frowned. “That.”

She sat up, a box of Hershey’s chocolate bars in her hands, 36 count. “You should be careful, might get fat eating this much sweets,” she cautioned.

“My Symbiote boosts my metabolism, keeps me in shape,” Eddie said, "and the chocolate's for him."

Mrs. Chen reached over to her right and picked up a box of Thin Mint girl scout cookies. “If only. Next alien goes to me, it’ll keep me young and pretty,” She joked.

“I’ll keep it in mind.”

“This is a gift for you,” she told him.

“Thanks,” Eddie said.

“Not you. For you, and for you, Eddie-“ She slapped something metal down on the counter and crossed her arms.

Eddie picked it up. “A... mood ring?”

“Can’t go around being married without a ring,” she told him.

“Oh.”


The sanitation workers offered to buy Eddie a round after the interview but he politely declined. At least they were utterly uncaring for the latest gossip, so no mention of Eddie’s suddenly appearing spouse peppered the interview.

That was always a problem with the social media business, Eddie preferred his job when the attention was on his subject, not him. Especially now, when he had an alien symbiote and occasionally roamed the city at night fighting (sometimes eating) criminals. But that just wasn’t how good reporting was done anymore. People were fans of news services now, and having followers meant having attention.

He was an hour early to the meeting in the park and sat on the bench, hoodie up to avoid being bothered and passed his time waiting for his film and sound guys with three hot dogs and a serving of french fries. The Symbiote people-watched around him, making amusing commentary at everything it saw. The kite-flyers behind them were an endless source of amusement for the alien. A woman who walked by in stilettos sparked an explanation on impractical, stylish footwear. A dog-walker made Venom hungry. And a woman with two children on leashes left the Symbiote utterly perplexed and unsatisfied by any explanation.

Eddie’s fingers roamed the bottom of the plastic bowl, searching for the last crumbs of fries and eating the bits without thinking of it. He was vaguely sure it was the Symbiote moving his arm around, though he pulled his hand away without a struggle. Eddie fiddled with the ring on his left hand, frowning.

“You knew what that word meant when you picked it, didn’t you?” Eddie asked.

‘Yes.’

Eddie hummed under his breath in disapproval. The Symbiote retreated into his stomach, sharing an un-decipherable emotion (?). “Now I have to pretend to be married, it’s going to be aggravating. Look,” Eddie flipped open his phone at seventeen unanswered messages, “my father hasn’t spoken to me in almost two years and even he sent me a text.”

‘Don’t like him. Want to eat him.’

“Family is triple off-limits. No matter how much of a bastard he is. You could have picked something a little less...”

‘Conspicuous?’

“Exactly.”

‘Should have lied?’

“It’s not a lie?”

‘It’s not?’

Eddie blinked.

Oh, Eddie thought to himself. He saw a couple kids directly in front of him race by on rollerskates, felt the burning question about that the Symbiote had in his mind, but pushed it aside, feeling instead that indecipherable emotion that was always resting in the back of the Symbiote’s mind. It wasn’t indecipherable, it had always been able to be translated... Eddie just had never let himself believe it.

Fondness.

The Symbiote... well. A couple things made a lot more sense now. Why did the Symbiote betray his planet for Eddie? And why did She-Venom kiss him?

“Do you have a crush on me?” Eddie asked.

‘I only crush our enemies.'

Eddie snorted and leaned back on the bench. “You know what I meant, you liar.” A couple teenagers rushed by their bench on their way to get to the hot dog vendor, pushing and joking as they laughed at each other. Somewhere above in the park a bird chirped and was responded to by another bird in another tree. Peaceful. Quiet. Just the two of them sitting alone, together.

Eddie opened Twitter on his phone. ‘I’m starting to think,’ he typed, ‘my-‘ He hesitated for a moment before a resolve that was entirely his own prompted him forward. ‘I’m starting to think my Spouse has a crush on me.’

The Symbiote wordlessly gloated in the back of their mind.