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Eighteen Hundred

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Day 1

It needed to find a host.

The air burned its skin, its whole body buzzing unsteadily with pain. It needed to protect itself from Earth’s toxic atmosphere, to feed, to find out what the hell had happened, to belong again.

It buried itself deeper into the pillow, sinking into the fabric and weaving itself along the fibres. Eddie’s scent was still strong and the symbiote took what comfort it could from it, letting the scent wrap around its form like a cocoon.

Eddie.

The physical pain was nothing compared to the grief. One minute Eddie had been babbling away about the article he’d been working on, some promotion of the new homeless shelter being built in the Tenderloin not too far from their apartment, and the next he was gone.

Not instantly gone and not the ripping, tearing horror of being separated, but Eddie’s very being down to each individual atom had simply turned to ash, crumbling around the symbiote even as it frantically spread itself thin trying to hold Eddie, to hold them together.

And now it was alone. Completely and utterly.

Nothing in its very long existence had prepared it for such pain. The joy and ecstasy of having found perfect symbiosis, the one being in the galaxy that was its other half, and it was over in mere seconds.

The wave of power had to have been on a cosmic scale and the symbiote had absolutely no idea what could have caused such a thing. It had been able to feel it down in every single molecule of its body, the raw power systematically destroying everything that had been Eddie Brock. It had destroyed other things too: the apartment building was suddenly devoid of human scent, the only living creature the symbiote was able to sense was the dog in the first floor apartment.

It shivered, resisting the urge to let out another psychic scream of grief and helpless rage. If Eddie were somehow alive and able, he’d come back and would be looking for it. Best to stay put, nested in their bed and surrounded by the scent of its love.

Day 32

The symbiote trotted along the empty sidewalk, its tongue hanging from its mouth as its nails clicked on the pavement. Once in a while, a car would pass by, the sound eerily loud to its canine ears amongst the silence.

The large molosser-type dog had originally snapped at it when it had finally dragged itself out of its apartment, half crazed and in desperate need of a host to just be rid of the physical pain. It was a massive animal, intimidating with its cropped ears and powerful jaws, and it had proven to be a capable host, though not the most agile.

Getting into Anne Weying’s apartment had been challenging. The symbiote had nearly lost its host when it left its body to open the door despite its firm pleas to stay put. The dog hadn’t comprehended and the symbiote ended up halfway down the street before it had regained control.

Anne hadn’t been in her apartment, her scent as old and stale as Eddie’s had gone. Dan’s scent had been fresher – whatever had happened to what seemed like half the world clearly hadn’t affected Dan at all.

The symbiote sniffed the air once more, dropping its nose to the sidewalk to try to pick out Dan’s scent once more. If it could find Dan, perhaps they could figure out what had happened to their loved ones. Dan had helped them save the world once; he would help again.

It sighed heavily as the scent trail abruptly disappeared. Sitting back on its haunches, it glanced down the street and whined in frustration. A human host would make life so much easier. It would be able to drive, to possibly tell the symbiote what had happened, to help find Dan, but it couldn’t bear the thought of bonding to another human, not after Eddie.

The dog’s stomach rumbled and the symbiote growled quietly, its own hunger such a constant that it had simply ignored it, doing just enough to keep its host fed and comfortable. It turned back toward the Tenderloin and their apartment, the dog’s sensitive nose bringing it unerringly to the pizza place where it had eaten for the past several days.

“Hah, I told Joe you’d be back,” the elderly human who ran the restaurant said as the symbiote padded up to the back door. “Here, wait a minute, sit, boy!”

Under any other circumstances, the human would have been missing a head, but the symbiote had made a promise to Eddie and it had no intentions of breaking its word. It sat, humouring the old man as he darted back into the kitchen.

“Here you go, boy, get some weight on your bones,” the human said, returning with a massive bowl filled with various raw meats – steak and chicken thighs and heart and liver – and the symbiote drooled happily. Its paws danced of their own volition, tail whipping back and forth as the man set the bowl down in front of it.

The first crunch of bone between its jaws was pure bliss. It devoured the meat ravenously, both it and its host in agreement that this was a good human indeed.

“Atta boy, you eat up; we got plenty more. Bet your family disappeared too, huh?”

The symbiote looked up, cropped ears twitching and it tilted its head at the man.

Sitting on the steps, the man sighed and pulled out his wallet, shaking loose a small photograph. He smiled, fingers brushing the picture before turning it around to show the symbiote. “My wife, Mabel, and our two boys, Nick and Mark. They’re grown now, of course, but I got word from Sacramento they’re part of The Missing.”

The symbiote sat next to the man, licking its lips and offering a small tail wag. It understood the man’s pain, the raw grief that threatening to overwhelm it at its loss.

“I was havin’ a late lunch and she… she was working on her crochet,” the man continued, his voice wavering slightly with emotion. He reached up to stroke the symbiote’s head, scratching behind its ears. “She said she wasn’t feeling well and went to go into the bedroom to lie down. I got her a glass of water and when I got into the room she…”

The symbiote let the man wrap his arms around his neck as he cried, wishing it could share its sorrow, to let the man know he wasn’t alone.

Day 402

The symbiote flapped its wings harder, fighting to stay aloft in the thin air. Its sharp raptor eyes stayed focused on the car below even as its host’s muscles strained in protest.

The hawk wasn’t an ideal host, despite the perks of its species. The eyesight was mindblowing, particularly for a mostly blind Klyntar, and the power of flight was exhilarating, but the bird was a skittish animal, its heart not prone to take the kind of stress being a host caused. The symbiote had gone through seven in two weeks before finding one that was slightly more compatible.

Regular meals were also a plus – brains were brains and meat was meat, no matter the species, and the hawk was an excellent and efficient hunter.

It had left the dog back in San Francisco with Charles, confident its old host and new friend would be able to bring each other solace as Charles kept up the search for his missing family. With any luck, the symbiote would be able to bring some answers to the old human, and hopefully some peace.

Banking its wings to follow the car, the symbiote breathed a sigh of relief as it turned into a large parking lot. The heat from the overcast sun would be enough for it to float along the thermals, letting its wings rest.

The hawk’s mind zeroed in on a mouse rooting through the dumpster and the symbiote fought it briefly for control. They were hungry, but the woman they were following had been a colleague of Dan’s and the symbiote couldn’t take the risk of losing the lead. It soothed the bird mentally, triggering a release of calming chemicals and sending it an image of hunting later after it found what it was looking for.

Anything to keep from having to find another host just as the hunt for Dan was starting to come together.

It circled the building, taking note of the woman’s location through the windows until she entered a small office. Pleased, the symbiote flew over to a tree near the window, sinking its talons into the soft bark and allowed the hawk to preen.

The woman logged into her computer and the symbiote thanked the Gods when she clicked on the familiar “Gmail” icon.

According to her caller ID, the woman had told what the symbiote had hoped was the correct “Dr. D. Lewis – Saint Francis” that she would be back in the office that afternoon and would respond to his email first thing. The symbiote had seen Dan’s emails before, and he had always signed them with the hospital he had been working at. Since he’d apparently moved on from Saint Francis in San Francisco after The Event, hopefully his new location would be listed.

Of course, everything would be so much easier if the symbiote weren’t a coward and just took a human host instead of hopping constantly between various lesser species.

The mere thought of bonding to a human who was not Eddie for even a short period of time sent the symbiote into panic mode. Every molecule in its body buzzed and it was unable to hold back from broadcasting its extreme distress. It had felt itself fragment, fear swamping all of its senses until finally its host’s body gave out and the symbiote was left oozing out of its pores, once more alone and vulnerable.

It had gone through three hosts that way before it had just decided it would find Dan the long way.

The Gods, whatever may have been left of Them, were smiling on the lonely, bondless Klyntar though. The woman pulled up an email from dlewis@ucsdhealth.edu and the symbiote shifted its talons, focusing the hawk’s laser sharp vision on the computer screen.

San Diego. Dan was in San Diego at the university hospital. Most importantly: Dan was confirmed to be alive.

The symbiote beat its wings, elation singing through its nervous system for the first time in what felt like a century. Dan was alive!

It soared into the air, coasting along the thermals as it tried to temper its joy. For one thing, it had no idea where San Diego was in relation to San Francisco. The second problem was its current host was not built for long distance travel and its body was already feeling the strain of hosting the symbiote. It would have to find a different host, one that could obtain directions and stay alive long enough to get to San Diego.

Day 470

Seagulls were only marginally more useful than hawks, the symbiote decided. Two months had passed before it was able to land on the dumpster just outside of UC San Diego’s medical offices, its host ravenous and starting to show signs of organ failure. The bird had proven to be much better at covering the close to five hundred miles between San Francisco and San Diego, but the symbiote still had to host hop for a few days.

Two weeks of those two months had been spent once more in the body of the dog, checking in on Charles as it formulated a plan and memorized the route it would take. It found itself reluctant to leave San Francisco, to leave Charles and its steadfast canine host, but if it could find out what happened to Eddie, it could also find out what happened to Charles’ family and perhaps give the man some peace.

It had left its meagre possessions with Charles – Eddie’s phone, a threadbare black t-shirt that had been Eddie’s favourite, and a photograph of Eddie that Anne had taken, of him looking out over the harbour with a faint smile on his face as he kissed the sleeve of the hoodie the symbiote had formed itself into.

If the symbiote failed on its mission, it wanted something of Eddie’s to continue on, for someone else to know how much Eddie Brock had meant to it.

Experimenting with various hosts for travel had been interesting. The symbiote decided that none of the Terran species made any sense whatsoever and really, it was a good thing for all Klyntar that Riot had been stopped from bringing more of their people to this godsforsaken planet.

The seagulls were able to cover a decent amount of ground but they were prone to the same weaknesses of body that the hawks had been and, begrudgingly, the symbiote decided birds just weren’t going to cut it anymore.

Thankfully, the dumpster it had landed in was filled with rats gorging themselves on various leftover foods and the symbiote was able to transfer itself between hosts with little effort. The rats were surprisingly durable, their minds advanced enough to support a symbiote and not as prone to stress as the birds were. The downside was travel, but the symbiote had to admit it’d been spoiled by the power of flight.

Hanging back in the rat’s mind, the symbiote let the creature remain in control of her body as she scratched at her ears and chest in confusion, sneezing rapidly as her temperature briefly spiked and settled back down. Good. Compatible hosts were getting harder and harder to find and this one seemed to handle the initial bonding process much easier than any of its previous hosts had.

It gently took control of the rat’s motor functions, soothing her instinctive fear and calming her into allowing the symbiote to clamber them out of the dumpster and head for the ventilation system.

The earlier surveillance of the building it had done as a seagull suggested Dan’s office was likely on the third floor, somewhere on the west side of the building. It trotted along as fast as its tiny rodent paws would carry it, hopping up the steps from the utility basement and hugging the wall, freezing into the shadows when it felt human footsteps rattle the floor. There weren’t too many humans wandering the halls this late at night, but there were still a few close calls.

Quickly darting over to the elevator, the symbiote stretched out a thin tendril and tapped the button to open the doors and then the one for the third floor. The rat’s brain was quiet, curious about the strange appendages that appeared from her arm but content to let the symbiote keep control.

It huddled in the corner, reabsorbing its tendril with a pleased squeak. Too much time had passed since it had a host strong enough for it to form its own limbs; too much time had passed since it itself had been strong enough, if it were honest.

The elevator dinged and the symbiote bolted, scurrying along the carpet until it found a dark corner where it could get its bearings. Dan’s office couldn’t be far; even if he wasn’t in the office, the symbiote would hide out until morning, confident its host would be able to sustain it for a while.

It lowered its snout, sniffing along the tiled floor and trying to pick out Dan’s scent. The rat’s nose wasn’t terrible and the symbiote shifted its skin out to cover the rat’s body, picking up the finer nuances through the air against its own flesh. Dan had been through the hallway, and recently.

Following the scent, it padded forward, keeping its other senses on high alert for any other humans. A soft murmuring reached its ears as it turned a corner, slipping in the cracked door to one of the offices.

“No, no, that’s not necessary. Just tell him I called and he can reach me on my cell phone, thanks.” Dan’s voice was tired, exhaustion seeping into every syllable even as the symbiote hummed with joy at the familiar voice.

The symbiote clambered up onto a bookshelf, hopping from there to a chair where it could see Dan properly.

Dan looked haggard. His face was covered with a poorly kept beard and darkness lingered under his eyes. He sighed, rubbing his face with his hands and rested his elbows on his desk. The dim light of his office lamp highlighted the shadows along his cheekbones and he looked like he hadn’t slept well or eaten anything nutritious for months.

Squeaking loudly, the symbiote balanced on its hind legs, stretching as tall as his host’s body would allow.

Dan’s body jumped, startled. He snapped his head up and stared in disbelief at the symbiote, hands going to clutch at the armrests of his chair.

“No fucking way,” he whispered, standing slowly and pushing his chair back from his desk.

The symbiote hopped off the chair, bounding over to Dan’s feet and stood up again, gesturing with its paws to be picked up.

“It can’t be,” Dan said hoarsely, scooping the symbiote up with trembling hands. “V, is that really you in there?”

Letting the rat’s eyes flash white in confirmation, the symbiote clutched at Dan’s hands, wrapping its tail loosely around his wrist. It gathered its strength, slowly manifesting a neck and head out of the rat’s shoulder. Tendrils were one thing, but dividing itself to form a separate outside being was always strenuous and it carefully monitored its host’s vitals as it did so.

“Hello, Dan,” it rasped, voice barely above a whisper.

Dan’s throat worked and he opened his mouth and closed it a few times before pulling the rat and symbiote close in a gentle hug. The man’s chest heaved in a sob, fresh tears dripping down onto the symbiote’s skin.

“I thought I had lost everyone. Anne, Eddie, my sister, my coworkers… I assumed you were gone with Eddie too,” Dan said, voice breaking as he set the symbiote onto his desk. He wiped uselessly at his cheeks, but more tears continued to flow.

The symbiote stretched its neck up and headbutted Dan’s cheek affectionately. “Eddie disappeared… crumbled like dust around us. Just ceased to exist.” It shrank back down, the effort of keeping itself outside its host starting to become taxing.

“I’m so sorry, V,” Dan murmured, fingertips gently rubbing between the symbiote’s eyes. “If I had known you had survived, I would have come looking for you. When I saw Eddie’s name on the list of The Missing, I just assumed you both had gone.”

Closing its eyes, the symbiote leaned up into the touch, relishing in the flow of calming endorphins it released. “What happened, Dan? Never seen anything like this before in six hundred million years. Seen stars come into being, seen species evolve, but never anything that came close to this.”

Dan shook his head. “There was a war in Wakanda and whatever happened seemed to originate there but whatever happened was global. They’re estimating half the population is gone.”

Half the population? What in Knull’s name could possibly cause such destruction?

“This was not from this world,” the symbiote mused. “Something far more powerful than either of our species.”

Dan sipped at a tumbler filled with ice and a potent smelling beverage. “Whatever it was took my wife, V. It took your partner. I’m trying to get in contact with a few others who were working in Africa to see if I can find more information, but Wakanda has been pretty tight lipped since the death of King T’Challa. I’ve managed to get in touch with someone who might be able to put me in contact with Dr. Bruce Banner, but I’m not holding my breath. Not after this long with no information.”

The symbiote bristled, clacking its jaws and clicking in the back of its throat. “You would give up on Anne?” it asked quietly. The Dan it knew would never have given up. Dan was almost offensively optimistic, determined, and highly intelligent.

This Dan was broken, going through the motions of trying to put his life back together, a shell of the man the symbiote had known.

“I would never give up on Anne,” Dan said firmly, eyes narrowing, a spark of life flickering through his eyes. “Just as you would never give up on Eddie. But at what point do we accept that…” his voice wavered and he stared down at his drink. “At what point do we accept that they may not be coming back?”

Panic flared in the symbiote, sending the rat’s heart racing before it got its emotions under control. “If we find out what happened, we can get them back,” it said, wondering briefly whether it was trying to convince itself or Dan. “This was not natural. Nothing in this universe has that much power.”

Dan sighed, smiling sadly at the symbiote. “I’ll bow to your greater experience. I mean it though, V. Seeing you alive… it gives me hope, and I haven’t felt that in over a year.”

“We will find them, Dan. Bring Eddie and Anne back home.”

Day 798

The symbiote was beginning to hate birds.

It had taken nine hosts before it found a seagull that could support it, which really ruined the exit it had wanted to take. Each night for a week it had sluggishly dragged itself back to Dan’s apartment, sinking back into Mr. Belvedere and hiding deep in the cat’s mind so Dan wouldn’t know it still hadn’t managed to leave.

Things had been going so well. Life with Dan and the cat as a host wasn’t terrible. Mr. Belvedere’s raw diet had strengthened the symbiote, causing it to see just how malnourished it had been since Eddie’s disappearance, and both its and Dan’s mental health seemed to vastly improve.

At least until Dr. Banner had finally spoken to Dan.

Banner had been initially surprised at the presence of the symbiote, but that surprise had turned into professional curiosity. He had known the hated Carlton Drake and listened intently to the symbiote’s story, asking questions about its people and taking notes, promising to keep its existence a secret.

The news from Banner however, was not good. The symbiote had heard whispers of such infinity stones, one of a kind gems that held immense power within them, but had never dreamed they could actually exist. The stones were a myth, used by lesser species to scare away would-be conquerors. For someone to wield the power of not just one, but all six, was incomprehensible.

And, in Dan’s mind, completely devastating.

He hadn’t taken the news well, going silent as he absorbed the information and eventually getting up to look at his and Anne’s wedding photo. His silence lasted three days.

In the months following, Dan had completely refused to indulge any of the symbiote’s theories. He spent most of his free time sleeping or pouring himself into his work at the hospital.

“I’m going to help save the people we have left,” Dan had shouted angrily one night after the symbiote had pressed him on his thirty six hour shift at the ER.

Logically, the symbiote knew it was Dan’s way of dealing with what he saw as a permanent loss of the people he loved. Humans had strange ways of coping with strong emotion, most of which it knew from Eddie and his absolutely asinine coping skills, but it still didn’t fail to enrage the symbiote.

It had left Dan a message on his computer, saying it needed to get away for a bit, that it had unfinished business back in San Francisco. A week later, hosted unsteadily by a frightened seagull, it left San Diego.

The trip back to San Francisco was more difficult than the previous journey. Seagulls were sparse on the first half of the trip, and the symbiote found itself without a host for days at a time, slowly starving as its flesh burned in the toxic atmosphere without a Terran species to support it. It grabbed anything it could: rodents, small reptiles, birds that wandered close enough to snap a tendril out to merge with them. Some it ate, some it burned through as temporary hosts, but travel was painfully slow.

The latest seagull was beginning to crash, like so many before it. The symbiote had pushed its body to the limit, putting immense stress on its heart and lungs as it made the final stretch into the city.

 Coming back to San Francisco was bittersweet as it flapped toward Charles’ apartment in between downtown and the Tenderloin. It had headed toward its and Eddie’s old apartment almost on autopilot, focusing on keeping the bird alive rather than where it was going, and with a distressed call, it banked back toward Charles’ neighbourhood.

It crashed heavily on the rooftop, its host’s body finally giving out. The symbiote ravenously devoured the bird, ignoring the pain as the oxygen-rich air hit its unprotected form. It was accustomed to the pain now, and feeding would give it enough strength to pull itself through the vents and back to its old canine host.

Heaving itself along, it picked its way down the building through scent as the air moved across its skin, the small molecules giving it a wealth of information even as they brought more pain.

Lethargically, it poured its body mass into Charles’ vent, hitting the bottom with a thump and laying there for a few seconds, too exhausted to move.

The scent of dog grew stronger, puffs of air coming through the vent as the dog snuffled its nose along the outer grate. Stretching out a tendril greedily, the symbiote slowly merged into its host, the old dog’s mind surprisingly happy to be in contact with it again.

It weaved itself into the dog’s brain, settling the rest of its mass along the spinal cord and wrapping around the dog’s heart as it had once done with Eddie so long ago. Safely anchored, it soaked up the chemicals in the dog’s brain and rested, too drained to take or want any kind of control over its host.

The dog trotted along the hallway back to the living room where Charles sat, the wrinkles around the elderly man’s eyes looking more pronounced since the last time the symbiote had seen him.

“There’s a good boy, Rufus,” the man murmured, gently stroking between their ears and rubbing the short cartilage until the dog’s rear leg started scratching of its own accord.

Next to Charles’ armchair, the symbiote’s possessions were on display on the mantle, the t-shirt draped across the top of the picture frame and the phone placed carefully beside it. A newspaper clipping had been framed next to the photo: one of Eddie’s signature articles on the Tenderloin in an effort to bring some light to the dark portion of the city. In the article, Charlie’s Pizza was described in great detail along with Eddie’s glowing recommendation.

The symbiote urged the dog to go forward, rising up slightly to balance their front paws on the mantle. The newspaper article contained a small photo, of Eddie with one arm around a younger Charles as they both beamed over a delicious looking pizza. It was dated a year or two before the symbiote had met Eddie.

A small whine escaped their throat as they pushed their paws off the mantle and padded over to lay down on the rug at Charles’ feet.

“I miss them too, Rufus. All the time. Your master was a good man and I’m glad I was able to help repay him in some way,” Charles whispered, settling back in his chair with his book.

The dog rested their head on Charles’ feet and shut their eyes. Maybe the symbiote would just rest for a while.

Day 1211

Charles passed away on a Thursday.

The symbiote hadn’t felt him go, it had simply woken up one morning with Rufus to a cold body in the bed and a peaceful expression on the man’s face.

Rufus hadn’t understood. The symbiote pushed aside its own initial shock and grief to soothe the big dog, sending out calming endorphins and trying to explain death to a creature it wasn’t sure was fully capable of grasping the concept of permanence.

They barked until the neighbours called the police, and then sat silently by as the police and coroner arrived. These humans were too fragile. Such a fascinating species and their lives were over in a blink of an eye.

The symbiote thought briefly of Dan, of the quick, fragmented sentences it had managed to construct in an email. Maybe Dan would have tracked the email to San Francisco, to the late Charles, and decided to let the symbiote have its space. Maybe he had never received the email in the first place.

Briefly, it toyed with the idea of trekking back to San Diego only to decisively squash it. Dan wouldn’t want it around after it had left to spend over a year as a dog with an elderly man, to watch him live out his last days with some sort of peace.

The symbiote had been so adamant about finding a way to bring Eddie and Anne back, to bring back Charles’ wife Mabel and his two sons. It had even gone off the rails a bit during its delirious flight back to San Francisco, with thoughts of tracking down the infinity stones to restore what had been lost dancing through its fevered mind.

Now though, the symbiote just wanted to fade away.

It made sure Rufus was taken in by Charles’ family and had watched as they had gathered the symbiote’s belongings almost reverently along with Rufus’ leash. They would take care of the old dog, give him a new family for the third time in his life. Dogs were simple that way. They mourned their previous families, but easily settled into new routines with new people.

The symbiote wished it had that outlook in life.

Day 1459

The young rat poked its way along the floor of the darkened restaurant. OSHA inspectors had managed to “overlook” the kitchen enough times that it was almost a sure source of fresh food.

It sniffed the air, locating some of the raw meat it craved and quickly devoured as much as it could before hopping over various containers to find the potatoes. Tiny claws heaved the lid off, the strength of the symbiote coursing through its veins.

Phenethylamine! Tension left the symbiote’s body as the rat stuffed bits of potatoes in its mouth, the chemical an instant balm to their system.

The symbiote had been in the rat for several months and had been growing increasingly more agitated. They defended their territory with tooth and claw and most other rats chose to avoid them for fear of the darkness that swirled within the animal’s body.

That was fine with the symbiote. It brought nothing but death and loneliness to anything it touched. Its people had been right to shun it, to send it off on Riot’s suicide mission – get rid of the aggressor who cared nothing for their hosts and get rid of the weakling who cared too much. Both only caused needless destruction and loss.

Its host was hardy, intelligent, and didn’t seem to mind the presence in its head that gently took control sometimes. It was content to gorge itself on food, to fight other rats for territory, and explore the depths of the city alone.

This was where the symbiote could do the least amount of harm and as such, it was where it was content to stay.

Day 1760

Trotting along the dusty floor of the abandoned garage, the rat dragged the scraps of soft fleece over to the rusted out car. It was the nicest nest they’d had in a long time and the fleece brought back deeply buried memories from the symbiote’s subconscious, of warm human skin buried in a fleece lined hood, of rich laughter as the symbiote attempted to morph its form into a replica.

“No, no, love, you gotta memorize the feel of it. That’s what makes fleece so great; yeah, it’s warm, but feel how soft it is? That’s what you wanna be able to duplicate.”

Texture had always been difficult, particularly wool or fleece or some felts for some reason.

The new nest though, was packed with fleece. The rat host was just as thrilled as the symbiote was and eagerly latched onto the idea of using the material for the inner walls of the nest.

It hopped in through the rusted out hole in the footwell, squeezing under the front seat and carefully rearranging the nest for the new scraps and tossing out any that had gotten too waterlogged. It curled up, shifting until it was comfortable and sighing contentedly. This would do.

Nest complete, it nibbled at the leftover potatoes it had liberated from some human’s trash bag, ears flicking as it listened carefully for danger. Most rats continued to leave it alone, but the occasional buck mouse or cat had poked their heads in, only to find a lot more teeth than they’d bargained for.

It left the relative safety of the seat and crawled nimbly up onto the dash to look out the window. An old tablet lay dormant on the passenger side, the quiet hum of electricity making the rat’s whiskers stand on end and the symbiote pause.

Even the advanced StarkPads didn’t have a battery life of several years. How was the thing still charged?

Curiously, the symbiote moved its paws over the screen, blinking rapidly as the tablet came to life. Something on the screen started spinning, and the symbiote backed away, its rear paw hitting a switch that lit up bright in the darkness.

The car whirred to life and the symbiote dashed out the window. It climbed up a wooden pallet across the room and watched with wide eyes as a human man in a bizarre suit appeared out of nowhere in the seat, blasting through the wall of the car and landing with a thud in a pile of old luggage.

What in Knull’s name was that?

Day 1800

The symbiote was cursing its decision to take another hawk host when a massive wave of power knocked it out of the sky.

It struggled to right itself, wings flapping uselessly as the hawk’s already strained heart threatened to give out. Adjusting its tail feathers and diverting nearly all of its strength to the bird’s cardiovascular system, it managed to pull out of its fall just before they hit the ground.

Every muscle group was on fire as it flew up, grabbing onto the nearest tree branch as the shock wave passed. It put its host’s mind into unconsciousness, the hawk’s panic not doing them any favours in not having a heart attack.

Its talons bit into the soft bark and it hunched down against the trunk as it got its bearings. The last time it had felt a power surge of that level had been nearly five years previous, when Eddie had been taken away from it.

A sudden movement in the meadow below caught its eye. A rabbit was emerging from a den in the grass, but as the symbiote looked closer, it realised there was no den at all. The rabbit was simply appearing. Bit by bit, the rabbit’s atoms merged together, creating a living being seemingly out of thin air.

The symbiote whipped its head around as something shifted on the opposite branch – a smaller hawk coalesced from a swirl of dust and tilted its head curiously.

It was almost as if…

Snapping a desperate tendril out, the symbiote merged into the newly formed hawk and sifted through its memories, belatedly remembering to assist the startled heart into beating normally.

The hawk’s most recent memories were fragmented. It had been waiting patiently for the rabbit to wander by its tree in the meadow and then felt strange. The symbiote replayed the memory, watching from the hawk’s eyes as its body slowly crumbled to dust and the memories ended.

It was the same thing that had happened to Eddie.

Eddie.

Snapping its wings open, the symbiote launched itself up and out of the tree, banking east and pushing its host’s body to the limit. Eddie’s name was a mantra in its mind as it flew out of the suburbs and back toward the Tenderloin, back where the living nightmare had begun.

The streets below were complete pandemonium. Humans were appearing in the middle of the roads, on the sidewalks, wherever they had been when the first power surge had occurred. Raised voices blurred together as the symbiote flew by, various snippets of conversation reaching its ears as it tried to push out just a bit more speed out of its trembling host body.

It flew past the bodega Mrs. Chen once owned, a sliver of doubt going through it as it failed to spot her as it flapped past. Had she not been working when The Event had first happened? Or had the second surge only brought back a portion of those lost?

Its old apartment building had been condemned for the past year, the structure rotting away and finally deemed unsafe for occupancy. The third floor window was still intact, but the glass window by the stairwell had been shattered and it was there the symbiote aimed itself, tucking its wings in close as it shot in like a bullet. It flared its wings out, banking crazily before it hit the far wall and tumbled down the stairs in a ball of feathers.

Hopping up the stairs and repairing the strained wing muscles distractedly, it scrabbled at the door to its old home with talons and beak. It flapped its wings against the door, screeching in desperation.

Maybe it would have to leave the hawk behind, have to suffer through the burning atmosphere and slip in through the vents. Maybe it would –

The door opened and the symbiote crashed forward in a heap at a pair of bare feet.

“What the actual fuck?”

The symbiote was out of its host as soon as the rough, tired voice hit its ears. It slammed into the legs, seeping into the familiar flesh and weaving itself through the nervous system until he reached the brain, its nearly delirious joy spilling out into its host.

No. Not host. Partner.

“Eddie.”

And all of a sudden it could breathe again. It melted into Eddie’s brain, wrapping another portion of its mass around Eddie’s heart and let itself soak in the wave of dopamine and phenethylamine Eddie’s brain produced. It poured its love and utter adoration toward Eddie, unable to form any coherent thoughts other than raw joy after so long in the dark.

“Hey, sweetheart, hey, it’s okay,” Eddie murmured, almost tripping over the hawk and bracing his hands on the doorframe. He stumbled on weak legs to the window, shooing the terrified bird back through the shattered pane.

“Eddie. Love.”

Eddie’s pulse quickened, his emotions pouring over the symbiote in return. “I love you too, V,” he said, voice wavering slightly. He looked out the window, watching as more reunions happened on the sidewalk below. “You wanna tell me what happened? All our shit is gone and the last thing I remember is feelin’ kinda funny.”

“Five years, Eddie,” the symbiote managed, sharing the memories and buzzing with the release of endorphins. “Five years without you.”

“Five… what?

“Your Klyntar is correct, Mr. Brock,” a new voice said from behind them. “We can’t get those years back, but if you and your Other would like to accompany me, you can have a hand in making sure we all can make up for lost time.”

They whirled, the symbiote’s skin bulking up Eddie’s muscle mass and spreading over them with a snarl. Every cell buzzed with the ecstasy of symbiosis and suddenly they were starving, the malnutrition of the past five years hitting them like an asteroid.

A man stood before them, his cape floating behind him despite the lack of breeze like a living thing. He arched a brow, a small smile playing at his lips. “Will you join the battle, Venom?”

“This is some Dungeons and Dragons shit, love.”

“Want to fight, Eddie.” It desperately wanted to fight. To hit back at whatever it was that had taken its life and love from it, at whatever had dared touch its Other.

They stepped forward, saliva dripping from their fangs as they towered over the bizarre man. His scent was strange, all ozone and something that set a primal part of the symbiote’s mind backing down in caution.

“We have to go now. We’re already out of time,” the man said, completely unafraid.

“We saved the world once. Wanna do it again?”

Hissing softly, they took the man’s hand in their claws, wincing as a blinding orange light washed over them. They stepped toward the circle of light, growling as the energy bit and sparked over their flesh.

The world they stepped out into was barely recognisable as their own.

“Holy shit,” Eddie swore.

The symbiote had to agree with the sentiment. It had seen widespread devastation, sure, but it had never been on a battlefield quite on this scale before. The earth was scorched below their feet, the scent of blood sharp in the air as creatures they had never seen before emerged from the skies.

They weren’t alone, however. All around them, an army began to step out of orange portals: humans of all sorts emerged, most chanting war cries, all brandishing weapons with a ferocity that made the symbiote sing along with them.

Venom stepped up to the line that had formed behind a battered looking man in a blue suit with a broken shield. Their tongue lolled out of their mouth as they bared their teeth at the giant purple being that stood with a smirk on its face. Next to them, a human man with a metal arm loaded his rifle, jaw set in determination.

“Avengers!” The man in the blue suit called, his voice clear and steady despite the blood that caked his body.

Venom flexed their claws, eyes on their target and adrenaline coursing through their veins.

“Assemble!”