The distant future.
Space is a lot like an ocean. One that stretches infinitely in every direction, pockmarked by a large number of habitable planets and spacecrafts, like islands dotting the endless and barren water. But in comparison to 'infinite', 'large' is laughably insignificant. Which means that sometimes resources were low. Food, fuel, and weapons are all essentials if you're traveling through the void. You never know what could happen out here.
Nate has enough food and fuel to last for a while. Not that he'd pass up the opportunity to get more. But what he really needs is a weapon. More weapons. As many weapons as he can get his hands on. Which is why he's here, about to crack open the deep space equivalent of a nuclear missile silo.
To even approach the station, Nate has to force override the safety protocols on his vessel. Everything about it, from the cloaking field, to the multilingual warning signal that activates when he comes within spitting distance, to the markings carved into the outside shell, screams 'danger, stay away.' Most people probably would. But Nate's always been the type to reach for the biggest gun.
The fact that there's even a docking mechanism tells Nate that this unmanned station used to be manned. That and the still-functional grav generators when he enters. The security is high, but outdated. There isn't even a psy-lock added to the system. With his powers, it's almost too easy to force his way through.
A station like this should be holding enough firepower for an army. He'll take as many guns as he can carry, and whatever ammunition he needs. There are probably some weapons in here that can rip a planet in half, and while that idea is nice, Nate knows well enough to draw the line somewhere. The whole point is to get his daughter out alive, and the shockwave from that alone would liquefy brains within the range of a light year. He won't turn down a few plasma canons, though.
But there's nothing. The first chamber is devoid of anything, not even so much as a rifle, and as soon as he takes a step, a multilingual warning message starts playing. The AI's voice echoes in the small corridor, rapidly repeating the same words in every mainstream dialect. After a few languages that Nate already understood, it hits English.
Danger. Do not proceed.
"No shit," Nate mutters aloud, walking across the sterile space. "That's what I came here for."
A small electronic sound blips at him, and a line of lights on the wall turn from white to blue as the AI engages.
This station has been quarantined. Please evacuate.
"Quarantined?" Nate repeats, feeling a chill down his spine. A deadly virus is the last thing he needs, and the possibility that he's already breathed it in makes his blood run cold. "What is under quarantine?"
Subject W1750-N, alien symbiote. Also known as 'Weapon X'. Also known as 'red symbiote.'
This station has been quarantined. Please evacuate.
There's a door with a heavily fortified glass port. Nate approaches it, more curious than anything as he peers inside. There's nothing in the room except for a small, clear containment cell, filled with an inert red liquid.
A symbiote isn't exactly what Nate had in mind when it came to weapons, but the idea isn't entirely outside what he's willing to consider. He only needs to know what he's working with, and to know that he has to ask the right questions.
"What are the capabilities of the red symbiote?"
Symbiotes are a sentient alien species which enhance the strength and reflexes of their hosts. Symbiotes have the ability to shapeshift and manifest weapons. Subject W1750-N specializes in accelerated regenerative properties.
"Accelerated regenerative properties?" Nate repeats. "You mean healing? Elaborate."
I'm sorry, I'm not sure how to answer that. This station has been quarantined. Please evacuate.
This tech was a little old to get confused so easily.
"How do the red symbiote's regenerative properties work?"
Red symbiote can regenerate the cells of itself and its host without known limit.
Nate takes a second to process that statement. "So it can't be killed?"
There is no known method to successfully terminate subject W1750-N. This station has been quarantined. Please evacuate.
So far Nate hasn't heard anything to explain why the symbiote was locked away like this. Some people didn't understand them and felt threatened by symbiotes no matter what, but Nate has run into a few before, and as long as they had a good relationship with the host, they seemed fine. Most of them, anyway.
"Why was this symbiote quarantined?" he questions.
Repeated attempts to introduce subject W1750-N to a bond proved unsuccessful. Hosts 1 through 14 failed to maintain control of joint form. Attempts to separate the host proved fatal 64.286% of the time. Bonding with the subject is ill advised without an independent failsafe equipped with a sonic disruptor.
In other words, the people who'd been experimenting with this thing couldn't figure out how to work with it, much less how to get it off again after. But they must not have known much to start with, because even Nate knows there's a huge difference between just wearing a symbiote and fully bonding with it. A bond isn't meant to be broken.
All the while, the red liquid that's pooled at the bottom of the containment cell hasn't moved at all. These people hadn't been able to figure out how to utilize the symbiote, or how to kill it, but apparently being left to starve to death for years did the trick just fine.
"Idiots," Nate mutters. This little expedition has proven to be a massive waste of his time. He's thinking of what to ask the AI next so he can figure out if there's anything else here worth looting, when his ship's warning system goes off.
Despite this small sector of space being cloaked, something followed him in.
Right now, that can only be one thing.
Nate silences his communicator, and goes stock still as he reaches out with a burst of telepathy to asses the situation. He can sense the crew of the intruding ship and it's already far too close. It'll be on top of him within seconds. Not much of a warning. There's no time to get back into his ship and get the fuck out of here.
Nate already regrets destroying the security system when he forced his way inside. He further regrets having to destroy the AI, but Nate can't risk whoever boards this station asking it if someone else is here.
He's more careful when he uses his powers to open the inner chamber. It's heavily fortified, but with a little focus and mental ingenuity, Nate coaxes open the security system without destroying it. As soon as he slips inside, he lets it activate again, sealing himself inside with the dead symbiote. Hopefully it'll be enough to keep anyone else out .
Nate slips into a blindspot where he can't be seen from the porthole window, and then he waits. There's nothing else in this room except for the symbiote, locked into place in its containment cell. Naturally, his eyes are drawn to it, the color a vivid disruption of the otherwise bland white chamber, even if it is long dead. But as he stares at it, it seems to quiver under the harsh white lighting.
It must be a shockwave that Nate can't feel. Maybe something happening with the ship outside, or the grav generators in here. He tries to focus his powers on the approaching ship, to be prepared for when they come to search the station. Even if they realize he's here, Nate thinks he could take them on. Having a weapon would be better, but he has the door as a chokepoint. Take out the first one or two when they come, and use their bodies as a shield against weapon fire from behind. After that, well--
The symbiote shudders again, visibly. Ripples undulate across the surface, building into a pattern of wobbling waves.
The fucking thing is still alive.
The station hasn't been boarded yet, so Nate lets curiosity get the best of him. He approaches the container, pressing his palm against the glass. The warmth seems to rouse the symbiote more, pulling itself from a liquid state and into something more viscous.
"Well, now. Hello, handsome," Nate says, and then watches it swirl, strands of red rising and twisting into curling fronds that separate and flow back together endlessly. It's lively.
A lot more possibilities run through Nate's mind. The symbiote could make for a decent distraction. With--
Before he can even finish the thought, there's a ground-shuddering jolt and the floor underneath him lurches, making him fall down. Half of the lights go out, accompanied by a spray of white sparks and the crackle of electricity. The room plunges darker still, the remaining lighting replaced by the ominous glow of red emergency lights. Everything feels like it's been tilted by about ten degrees. There's a high pitched ringing, which Nate assumes is in his head, until he realizes the sound is coming from the station. An alarm, maybe. Beyond that, he can hear something else. A low hissing sound as the air in the outer chamber escapes into the vacuum of space.
They never bothered to board. The ship just open fired.
Nate can't believe he didn't consider this outcome.
One hit from their weapons and the hull has already been breached. The red symbiote moves erratically in its container, overstimulated by the chaos after years of solitude.
His suit doesn't have a lot of air. It's meant for moving between ships, not being thrown into a debris field. And as soon as the next hit comes, that's what this entire quadrant will be. A debris field, with himself caught in the middle of it.
Maybe a symbiote isn't what he came for, but it's sure as hell better than nothing right now. He doesn't hesitate to claw his way forward and grab onto the containment cell. In another two seconds, he might not have gravity working in his favor to let him reach it. But he does hesitate to smash open the glass. The alien symbiote presses toward him, blood red tendrils seeking out the heat from another lifeform.
The way it moves is as unsettling to look at as it is beautiful. Some part of him feels the way a prey animal probably feels when staring at a predator. A 64% fatality rate with prior hosts, and zero success with maintaining control is what makes him falter. But Nate knows his mental fortitude is far stronger than most. The fact that he can still use his powers at all, while having to constantly tamp down the techno organic virus in his system is a testament to that.
But he doesn't hesitate for long, because another blast tears through the station, accompanied with the sound of screeching metal that goes deathly silent with the sudden loss of air. Nate pulls the glass cell down, hurling it towards the floor as hard as he can, but he can't tell if that was enough to smash it open, because the grav generators have just failed and the entire station rips in half. It feels like he's falling as he's thrown out into the void, but there's no up or down anymore, only relativity, and relative to where he wants to be, he's moving away. Away from the symbiote. Away from the other fragments of the station. Towards debris. Towards the enemy ship. Towards the endless void beyond that.
Please, he thinks, desperately, reaching out with his power.
The last thing he remembers is blackness.
There is an ocean. A vast ocean that stretches infinitely in every direction.
Oppressve and black.
Despite being infinite, he feels himself at the bottom of it. The weight around him is crushing, suffocating.
He's drowning, but at the same time he doesn't die. He just drowns, and drowns, and drowns.
Then, despite being infinite, he finds his way towards the surface, where the black dilutes like ink, fading into red.
Red. Red. Red.
Even with his eyes closed, he sees it still. Both bright and deep in color at once. Warm as fresh blood on his skin. He knows he's somewhere closer to the surface, like he should be able to simply reach out and break through, but something keeps him under. Tendrils that are formless but strong, coiling around his legs, around his waist. Locking around his wrists, his throat, like a possessive grip. It forces its way into his mouth, into his nose, filling his lungs. He's drowning in the red, but he can still breathe, and he breathes it in, and that dark ocean is just as vast inside of him as it was on the outside, and when he opens his eyes they aren't his anymore.
Hello. Hello, handsome.
It takes a long time for Nate's mind to right itself. It feels as if he's woken prematurely from a deep sleep, slow and disoriented, with no sense of how much time has passed. He can feel the cool, gritty metal of a floor pressed against his face, and see the interior of a station or ship that isn't familiar to him. When he tries to move, to sit upright, his arm only twitches for an instant and then all of his muscles go tense against his will, locking in place. He can't get up. Can't even lift his head. His body just won't respond.
Now. Hello. Hello. Please.
Only then, his mind fully processes the voice that keeps repeating in his head. The words seem so familiar.
Memory comes back to him in pieces. The station he'd found. The symbiote locked inside of it, first dead and then very alive.
Alive. Very alive. It repeats back to him, picking up on his thoughts. Locked inside. Very alive. Very. Very.
There's a terrible claustrophobic feeling that washes over him, something projected from the symbiote. Loneliness, so gnawing and intense that Nate feels like he's drowning all over again under that endless ocean. Suddenly, the symbiote lets go of a small amount of control, as if remembering its host still needs to breathe. Nate gasps in lungful after lungful, shuddering with relief to have air and the return of some autonomy over his body.
Lone-li-ness, it says, in the recesses of Nate's mind, every syllable drawn out as if savoring finally having a word to put to the emotion. Very alive. Lonely. Lonely. Hello, handsome. Breathe.
Nate does, never so grateful in his life to feel air entering his lungs. His limbs feel like they've been pinned to the floor, too heavy to move. Other than that, he seems okay. No injuries, nothing hurts, and he isn't outwardly changed. It seems as if the symbiote is just sitting inside of his body at the moment, feeling him out and keeping him immobile in the meantime. Why it's doing that, he has no idea. He's never heard of a symbiote doing something like this. After years spent without a host, he'd think it would want to go somewhere.
Years without a host, it repeats, snatching up words from him almost eagerly. Years. Years. Want to feel. Nothing hurts. No hurt. Host. Hello, handsome. Hello. Hello. Okay. Hello.
Nate tests the limits of his freedom, licking his lips to wet them. He manages to move his head, trying to survey his environment, and then that slight bit of movement is pinned down immediately, his muscles tensing up against his will.
He tries to speak, but the words dry up in his throat. Partly because he hadn't realized how hard it would be to take control over even the most simple actions, and partly because the symbiote has clamped down on everything again except Nate's breathing. There's an edge of fear in the pit of his gut that he only manages to keep in check thanks to years of experience facing life-or-death situations. But at the same time, bizarrely, he feels a happiness so strong that it's almost painful. It takes him a few seconds to realize that the conflicting emotion is the symbiote in his head, in his bloodstream. He still can't move, but when he tries to speak again, it's much easier.
"Where are we?" Nate asks. The sound of his own rough voice triggers an unexpected reaction, tears welling up in his eyes. It's strange to feel emotions that aren't actually his own. The symbiote doesn't answer him. Maybe it's too overwhelmed, or maybe it still doesn't remember the right words. It's been alone for so long, Nate isn't sure it really knows how to speak.
"Looks like… a Skrull ship," he says, with a sense of dread that definitely is his own. They're the ones that just tried to kill them both. If they've been brought onboard, Nate needs to be able to move so they can fight back.
Skrull ship, it confirms. Skrull. Skruuuull. Dead. Kill them. Dead. No injuries. Very alive. Happy now. Hello handsome. Okay. Hello. Hello.
Nate is quiet, trying to comprehend the fact that they are inside the enemy ship. He's been avoiding them for so long, trying to get his ass in gear before he faced them, so he could get Hope back from the bastards that took her. It's hard to understand what the symbiote means. If they're dead already, did that mean it killed them while he was still unconscious?
Killed them. Skrull. Dead.
"Thank you," Nate sighs, and the symbiote repeats the same words back to him, over and over.
Thank you. Thank you. Happy now. Thank you.
"I need to get up," Nate says, making an attempt, but it feels like he's waded into cement, and the harder he struggles, the harder it is to get out. As soon as he gets a bare amount of control, the symbiote snatches it away again, dragging him down.
No! No. No. Nononono.
Now. Words. Want to feel. Hello. Hello.
"You want me to talk to you?" Nate guesses. The symbiote can obviously pick up on all of his thoughts, but every time he speaks out loud he can feel the happiness spilling off of the other in his head. It makes him feel like laughing and crying at the same time.
Talk, it repeats, basking in the words, the emotions, and the chemicals in Nate's brain that it's been deprived of for so long.
"Okay. I can talk to you," Nate says, breathing out, trying to keep his composure. "I just need to know for sure-- Where we are right now, are we safe?"
Safe. Keep. You. Safe. No injuries. Very alive. Safe.
"Thank you," Nate says. "I'm grateful for that. I really am. Thank you for helping me."
Grateful, it purrs in his head.
Nate licks his lips again nervously. "Listen. I need to get up. Wherever we are, we can't stay here for long. There will be other Skrull ships, so we need to leave."
No! Will. Leave. Me. Stay. Stay. Stay. Safe. Host. Keep you. Keep you. Alive. Safe.
He can feel the symbiote coil around him from the inside, every muscle in his body tightening so strongly that Nate starts to feel afraid it will injure him accidentally. It's hard to not fight against it, but the more he instinctively struggles, the tighter it clings to him, and the more he feels his fight-or-flight instinct trying to kick in.
"I'm not leaving you," Nate grits out, trembling with the effort to maintain control before it oversteps again and takes away his ability to breathe or blink or speak. "We can work together," he reasons. "But only together. Only if you trust me. I got you out of there, right? I trusted you. I am trusting you not to kill me. I need you to trust me. Let me get up. Please."
Nate can feel what it feels. The hum of anxiety, the jittery, indecisive hesitation before it finally relinquishes control, little by little. His limbs move shakily at first, as if remembering how to use them again. Slowly, Nate pushes himself up and gets his feet under him. It takes a few long seconds before he trusts himself to stand. It feels like he's pulled every muscle in his body.
Trust. Trust, it says. He can feel the symbiote moving within him, and then welling up through his pores. The red seeps out, slinking over his skin in tendrils, like a caress, like an apology.
Apology, it repeats. Not leaving you. Lonely. Together now.
Nate still feels worried, but the symbiote doesn't snatch away his control. He walks while he still can, stumbling at first. The ache in his muscles starts to fade wherever the tendrils touch him, and then all at once he realizes he feels better.
Better. Safe. Keep you safe.
"Thanks," Nate says. It seems like that healing ability is true after all. The red tendrils keep moving over his skin in thoughtless, self-soothing little patterns. It would almost be nice if it weren't so unsettling, but he tries to ignore that while he moves through the ship, getting his bearings and trying to find the control room.
It's a little surprising when he passes his first dead Skrull. The symbiote had told him that it killed the Skrulls on this ship, but actually seeing it is different. There's green blood on the floor and splattered across the walls. Still dripping. He has to avoid stepping in pools of it.
Dead. Pools. Dripping, dripping, it sings to him happily as they pass by. The next area is like a mass grave. Bodies piled upon bodies, some torn apart in horrific ways that leave them unrecognizable. Nate has to pass through here, to go back the way they came.
It's hard to believe that the symbiote did all of this while he was unconscious. Brought them here into this ship and then killed everything that tried to hurt them, until it was safe. Then just laid down and waited for him to wake up. Nate tries to feel around its thoughts for any ulterior motives, maybe some secret plan implanted by a previous host, but there's nothing he can sense aside from the protective, paranoid clinging of its formless being around his mind and body. Something about it reminds him of those old tales about dragons that slept curled around their hoards of treasure. Possessive. Dangerous.
The symbiote keeps repeating different words from Nate's thoughts, rolling them around restlessly while Nate makes his way through the ship. Hoard. Hoa-rd. Ho-a-rd.
It should worry him how easy it is to tune out the symbiote's verbal ticks, but the endless repetition in his head is almost comforting compared to its behavior earlier. As long as the symbiote trusts him, he doesn't mind letting it prattle away in his head.
It's crazy. And it's incredibly lethal. And Nate has no idea how he's going to get this thing away from him later, but he doesn't let himself think about any of that right now.
He finds the control room, drags a couple bodies away, and sits down at the computer interface. Using his powers, combined with the techno organic mesh inside of his body, Nate can learn almost anything he needs to know. With the symbiote in his head, the information is even more than what he's used to. When he tries to access the crew personnel files to see how many should be on board, he can also see their faces, and the way their blood arced through the air when they died. It's too much information to take in, and Nate has to disengage, but at the same time he knows it's all still there in his head, every bit of it.
Every bit. Drip-ping, drip-ping, the symbiote says, gleeful as ever. There's a strange sense of pride, as if it's done good. Safe. Together. Happy now?
"No," Nate says, a little sick from the childlike joy this thing feels when it thinks about all the death. "You shouldn't be happy about this."
It recoils at his admonishment.
No? No happy? Keep you safe. Done good. No?
Nate can feel the symbiote's stress rising, threatening to clamp down on him again. "You did good," he reassures it. "But you also shouldn't be so happy about killing. Not even these fuckers."
There's a wordless feeling, a strong confusion that Nate senses from the other. It's trying to ask him why. As soon as he puts a word to the unspoken question, the other grabs onto it gratefully. Why?
"It's complicated to explain," Nate sighs, fiddling with the interface again. "People who get too much joy out of killing aren't good. You kill because you have to, not because it's fun."
Have to. Have to. Skrulls kill host. Skrulls kill us. We kill Skrulls. But. Also. Was fun. We not good?
"I don't know," Nate answers honestly, and the symbiote writhes unhappily over his skin. "You're learning. You can learn to be good."
The symbiote stays quiet, sulking while Nate figures out where they are. Once he orients himself, he digs deeper, seeking out the locations of sister ships, bases. Sifting through their files, their resources, until finally something sticks out to him. Something that would have all of the resources they'd need for their experiments. The most likely place to find Hope. Their new destination. Time to go.
The other is restless on his skin, restless in his head, wondering why Nate is moving with such purpose now.
"Coordinates…" Nate says as he inputs the commands. The ship won't respond, an error message flashing over the console. "The engines are offline. We need to do a manual override."
When he gets up to head to the engine room, the symbiote turns thick in his veins, like syrup.
"I need to restart the engines so I can get out of here," Nate says again, still moving forward, but with increasing difficulty. The red seeps out again, covering his boots, his legs. It spreads out over his clothes and underneath simultaneously, enveloping him until it reaches his waist. It feels like he's standing in quicksand, holding him fast one moment, and then slowly letting him move the next.
No. NO. Stay. Not leaving.
"I have to go ," Nate growls out, feeling frustration and anger surge in him as the symbiote fights back against him harder. He can't take this shit anymore. Keeping him from moving is one thing. Keeping him from saving his daughter, that's a whole fucking mistake. He's handled worse on a daily basis. Since he was a baby, the techno organic virus in his system has been eating him alive every second of the day and it's only been held back by his mutant power and his sheer force of will. If anything is going to kill him, it'll be that. Someday, it will. But not today. Hope needs him. And there's nothing in this world that could keep him from her, least of all a goddamn sentient puddle of goo.
One second, it's holding onto him, weighing him down, and the next second the weight is lifted.
Nate breathes in, taken aback by how much energy he just exerted. It's strangely calm, as if it finally realized how useless it is to fight with him. Nate understands how the symbiote works now. He can fight this.
No, it says, sounding strangely cold. Useless.
Just like that, everything goes red again. Outside, covering his body, and then inside, obscuring his vision. He feels himself collapse to the floor, his body taken away from him an instant. That deep red ocean washes over him again, warm and thick as blood. Drowning every part of him until there's nothing left that's his, not even his thoughts.
He didn't even stand a chance.
Understand now. You leave us. You not good. Not good.
Lonely. Years and years without. Keep you. Don't need you. Just keep you.
Need to do manual override.
There's nothing Nate can do. Can't even form a thought to argue, or reason, or beg. It breathes for him, covering him, holding him down. Even the techno organic virus is halted in its tracks by the symbiote alone, and Nate's powers have been made inaccessible. Nothing belongs to him anymore. Then it pushes deeper into his mind, probing, searching, in a similar way to how Nate had searched through the computer on this ship. Just using him for whatever it wants.
Language is first. It hunts for new words, taking them in with a voracious need. Words that Nate didn't even remember he knew.
Extrapolate. Loquacious. Stalactite. Intravenous. Churrigueresque.
They feel different somehow, the combination of sounds like colors in his head. Blue-yellow and red-purple and green-pink. It works through them rapidly, finding words that it likes and rolling those around the most, letting the syllables bubble and drawl and repeat, moving from one satisfying word to the next. Eventually it runs out of larger ones and finds smaller ones that are even more fun, like Crunchy and Awkward and Poptart.
Don't need you now. My words. Mine, the symbiote tells him. It takes control of his mouth, tongue running over teeth that are sharper than Nate remembers. It's harder for it to figure out how to use his voice, only managing a handful of sounds. "Pop" is the only thing it manages to say. Nate can feel its delight at the consonant bouncing off his lips, but everything else is too difficult and after repeating that word only a dozen times it gets bored.
Then it burrows in other ways, unlocking memories and drinking up the emotions that come with them. It likes the resentment Nate felt whenever he and his father had argued. The conviction Nate held to prove him wrong, to prove everyone wrong. It likes the awe that had filled him when he stared into the heart of a dying star. That feeling was only comparable to how he'd felt when he'd looked into his daughter's eyes for the first time. Suddenly, she's all he can think about. The little squeal she'd made when she shot her first target, grinning bright enough to put a quasar to shame. The way her nose crinkles up when she laughs. The spattering of freckles across her face like constellations. He knows them all better than he knows the stars themselves.
God, he misses her.
It's only then Nate realizes that the symbiote has backed off a little. His breathing is his own again. Painful, like the phantom ache in his chest. There are tears in his eyes and this time he can't say they aren't his. Maybe they're theirs.
Nate tests his limits again, careful not to push too far. He can think freely at least. That level of suppression hadn't lasted long, but it was terrifying while it had. Nate no longer has any illusions about his own role in this. There's nothing he can do if the other doesn't allow him to. He can move his mouth again, and knows that the symbiote enjoys hearing words spoken aloud. Better put them to use, then.
"My name is Nate," he says, and it repeats him, testing his name out. "My daughter's name is Hope." As he expected, the symbiote delights in the 'p' sound in her name, drawing out the airy 'h' and the solid 'puh' at the end. It tastes like the color yellow.
"We were together," Nate explained. "Then the Skrulls took her from me. Now I'm alone. Just like you were alone."
We're together now. Happy.
"I know you're happy. But I'm not," Nate says. "I need her back."
Why? Not alone. Take care of you, Nate.
Nate shakes his head at that. "I know I have you taking care of me, handsome. But I need to take care of her," he says, voice breaking as it occurs to him that he could fail to save her. That he might not ever see her again. "She's my everything."
The other is quiet in his mind, pondering.
You are my. Only. thing.
The pain shared between their connection is so intense, Nate has to close his eyes against it. As formidable as the symbiote is, it doesn't truly feel hostile. Instead, there's a deep and awful longing, like homesickness. That's something that can't be so easily cured when you never had a home. For Nate, home was wherever he and Hope were together.
"Not leaving you," Nate promises. "Couldn't if I tried, you know that. But I need her. I need you, too. Can't save her without your help."
"Yes, together, you dumbass," Nate says, his frustration mixed with hesitant relief.
Dumbass, it repeats. Goddamn sentient puddle of goo.
Nate winces. "I'm sorry. Shouldn't have called you those things."
Nate laughs in surprise. He wasn't expecting for it to come up with an insult, and the symbiote delights in the sound of laughter and the way it feels to experience something funny.
"Okay, I deserved that. Are we even now? Will you trust me again? Work with me?"
Why? Got everything. Got you. Can do everything. Don't need you. What can you do? What you do that we can't?
For a second, Nate feels a little uncertain. If the symbiote can control him utterly, there's not much he can offer that it can't just take from him. He could easily end up locked inside of himself forever. But the fact that it keeps giving him scant inches of freedom and keeps letting him speak tells Nate that it doesn't actually want that. If it did, it would have done that as soon as they merged. There's something else that it wants from him, whether it knows that or not. But Nate feels like he's finally figured it out.
"You're strong. And you're smart. I'll admit that," Nate says. "But I can think of a couple things that you can't do on your own."
What? Like what? Like what?
"Talking, for one," Nate says, careful to enunciate his words, to let the other really know what they can feel like. "Thinking is one thing, but talking… You really enjoy it, don't you? That's why you keep letting me speak. The way words sound, the way they feel on your tongue. The colors they make in your mind. I'm betting you haven't had anyone talk to you in a lonnngg, long time. All that silence. It must've been unbearable. But if we're not working together? I'll never talk to you again either."
The symbiote hisses in displeasure at that threat.
Can learn. Don't need you.
"Sure. You'll learn. Eventually. Good fucking luck figuring it out on your own, though," Nate says. "There are words you'll never be able to experience. I can promise you that. But," he adds, putting heavy emphasis on the word. "If you work with me, then I'll give you what you can't get on your own. Words. And... other things."
What other? Like what?
Nate doesn't answer that. Instead he says, "Let me have some control."
Why? Why? Why?
"Trust me?" Nate asks. The fear in this entity is as bewildering to him as it is saddening. Nate hadn't known how much absolute power this thing was capable of, how helpless he'd be against it, but surely it knew. There is no possible way he can act against it. Not here, alone on this ship. But it still trembles in his blood, afraid to let go of control. Afraid of being alone again.
"Come on, handsome," Nate coaxes, and then he closes his eyes and waits patiently. The release comes slowly, easing off of him in ebbing waves. He doesn't hurry to fight it, just waits until the other lets his muscles go slack. The red covering his arms dissolves, beading into tendrils of liquid that flow over his skin, wet but dry at the same time.
He can feel what it feels. Still fearful. Anticipating Nate's next move. Anticipating the hurt.
Nate lifts his arms. Wraps them around himself, around the symbiote clinging to his skin. Squeezes as hard as he can. As hard as he plans to squeeze his daughter in his arms as soon as he finds her again.
There's a voiceless sound in the back of his head, like an animal whining in pain. Stress. Confusion. An emotional ache that's almost too much to bear. Nate relaxes his hold a little, rubbing his hands over his own sides, over the red covering him, petting it in soothing strokes.
"It's okay," he says, while it keens in his mind. It's never encountered anything like this before. Kindness. Comfort. Those are foreign concepts. It keeps waiting for Nate to make it hurt.
"Not gonna hurt you," Nate promises. "I know you didn't mean to hurt me before. You're just afraid, aren't you? Nothing to be afraid of now."
It projects pain at him. It shows him all the previous hosts that had tried training it to be a weapon. The hosts that had fought against it, and tried to force it to be silent, to obey. It can't remember their names or faces. Only how their minds felt from the inside. Cocky, demanding, strict, emotionless, naive, hateful, even cruel. The anger and terror coursing through their heads when they realized they weren't strong enough to maintain control. That they had never been in control, not even for a second. The teams of researchers who had resorted to electric shocks and soundwaves so strong they killed its hosts. Bullets that did the job faster. The confusion and anguish it felt when its hosts died. The desperate way it learned how to heal their bodies, how to mend wounds faster than the others could kill, how to make the cells repair themselves and keep synapses firing. The way it had suffered when it was forcibly removed from its last few hosts, each one left alive but increasingly terrified of it. The way it had suffered when they stopped trying to mold it into what they wanted, and started trying to kill it instead. Sonic blasts, fire, poison, vacuums, acid, lasers, drugs -- even trying to introduce deadly viruses. Nothing had worked. It hurt and hurt and it wouldn't die. It couldn't. So eventually they sealed it away and left it there. Starving and alone. Forever.
"Not anymore," Nate tells it, finding a whorl of red on his arm and rubbing his palm over it. It shudders under the touch, still unaccustomed to feeling something that isn't hostility and pain. "Together now. Remember? It's gonna be okay."
Okay, it repeats, as if trying to believe that. Okay.
"Alright. Not to interrupt this tender moment, but our orbit went from decaying to nonexistent half an hour ago and we should really get a move on. Sooner rather than later," Nate says.
De-cay-ing? It recognizes the word, but not in the context Nate just used.
"What I mean is, without our engines, we're actually hurtling towards the nearest planet," Nate explains. "It'd be a day or so before we crash but I'd rather not wait that long. What do you say we get the fuck out of here?"
Fuck, it repeats, like a child that just learned a bad word.
"No. No, that's not what I wanted you to take away from that."
Let's get the fuck out of here.
"Okay. Great," Nate huffs, pushing himself to his feet. He's had the goddamn thing for less than an hour and he's already taught it how to swear.
"Hey. How about you focus on something else?"
"Like… Pop," Nate lets the consonant bounce off of his lips, the little burst of sound so much more satisfying than what it had been able to produce on its own, and it shudders with pleasure.
Do that again!
The problem with the engines turns out to be an easy fix.
During the attack on the crew, an emergency cutoff switch was tripped. Judging by the dead Skrull next to the engine's core, Nate figures it was only the first step in a no-win-scenario plan to sabotage and destroy the ship. Somehow the symbiote managed to find and kill the Skrull before it could finish. That implies a frighteningly efficient level of killing prowess that Nate doesn't particularly want to think about.
It'll take a good amount of strength and a hard telekinetic push to get the engines going again. Easy, but not without its drawbacks. Using that much of his power means less to keep the techno organic virus in check. Even if only for an instant, even if the loss would be negligible, it still means the virus will claim a little more of his body. Nate acts anyway without a second thought.
It surprises him when he feels a small thrill pass through the other's mind, like a cat finding small prey to pounce on. Instead of spreading, the virus is immediately stamped back by the symbiote.
Nate hadn't even thought to give it a heads up about what he planned to do, or the consequences of losing even a little bit of his focus on the virus. Earlier, the symbiote had just taken control of every part of him indiscriminately, including the virus itself. It hadn't considered them any different. For the first time, it occurs to the symbiote that the metal merging into Nate's flesh isn't actually supposed to be there.
You have another symbiote, Nate? It asks, in a way that reminds Nate of jealousy.
"No. It's technically living, but it definitely isn't a symbiote."
Techno organic, it says, and then seems to stop short.
"Virus," Nate provides.
Yes, that. But was going to say... 'Bitch.'
"Feeling a little possessive?" Nate asks, grinning at the absurdity of this intelligent entity being jealous of a disease.
It grumbles in his head in response. Can kill it for you. Let us, Nate? Come on. Please.
Getting rid of the virus was what Nate had always wanted, but the uncertainty of how that would work makes Nate hesitate.
"I don't know. It's integrated pretty far into my body now. If you kill it, what am I going to have for an arm, chest, spine, and everything else?"
Can be those things.
That answer feels naive. Nate hates that he doesn't want to say yes, but he has no idea what would happen. He's not sure he wants to risk needing the symbiote to live. Not if separating them could be as easy as a loud noise.
Wouldn't leave you, Nate.
"I'll consider that offer," Nate says, and then changes the subject. "Did you happen to notice where they keep the food in this heap?"
Nate sets the ship on a course for the coordinates he'd picked out earlier. The place where he thinks they'll find Hope. He won't be able to tell until they get close enough for him to reach out with his power and try to feel for her, but with the symbiote to assist, Nate feels optimistic.
Then they go raid the food supply.
Nate only intended to eat a ration or two, but as soon as the symbiote gets a taste, it goes a little wild. He hadn't realized how much hunger was lying dormant in this thing. To be fair, it's just as surprised by the ravenous feeling, like it had forgotten. They both come back to their senses afterward, Nate realizing that he'd just eaten an inhuman amount of food, even by his standards. But he doesn't feel sick from overeating, he just feels satiated for now, like he might be ready for more in half an hour or so. It seems like the symbiote metabolizes food quickly.
"How strong are you?" Nate wonders aloud. He knows that it managed to dispatch the entire crew, so it's not really a question of if the symbiote is strong, but literally how it fights. If they can't move together as one, there might be trouble.
Want to see?
"Yes. Show me."
The symbiote seeps up from his skin and wraps itself around his body, submerging him inside of itself. The red covers him completely, erupting in patches of black over his eyes, shoulders, and down his sides. It molds itself to him, and Nate feels his body being molded in turn. He feels impossibly taller and broader than he was before. His teeth fill his mouth like daggers, and his hands become clawed. The changes should frighten him, but none of it hurts. Somehow it feels natural this way, their forms meshed together into one seamless whole.
Nate tests how it feels, envisioning an enemy standing in the space before him and striking through it as he would in combat. It's easier than he ever imagined, the two of them working together, anticipating the other's actions as if they were the one who intended it, until neither can tell which of them is really in control. As he strikes out, his right hand shifts form, into an organic blade that feels like a perfect extension of his own body. Then the left hand shifts as well, in a far less organic way, the techno organic mesh rearranging and assimilating into a similar but somehow more sinister weapon.
Nate pauses, assessing the symbiote's creations.
"It's not a big fucking gun, but I can work with this," Nate says.
In response, the blades get bigger. He laughs.
"Don't overcompensate. They were perfect before," Nate assures it. "Besides, it's not the size that matters, it's how you use it."
Cut things, the symbiote says.
"Yes. That is how you use them," Nate agrees. As soon as he wishes his hands were normal again, they are. The symbiote melts off of him, ending their joined form.
Instead of sinking completely into his body again, it decides to stay on him from the waist down, with vine-like threads of red lingering on his face and arms.
Nate looks himself over, feeling different somehow even though his height and shape are back to normal. "You did something. What did you do?"
No - thing, it says, breaking the word into its two parts, as if it doesn't know damn well that they sound differently as a single word.
"Stop being cute. I know you did something." It takes Nate a couple seconds longer to realize that he doesn't feel the virus as intensely as he usually does. "You killed it," he says, and then, upon further reflection, "No. You weakened it."
Don't like that thing. Metal bitch.
Nate has never been able to communicate with the virus, but the symbiote's level of jealousy toward it makes him wonder if it can. The idea of two alien viruses fighting over him for turf is almost as funny as it is disconcerting.
Virus, Nate? Not a virus!
"I know, I know. It was just a turn of phrase," Nate says.
Want you alive. Happy. Take care of you. That thing do any of that for you?
"No," Nate says.
No! it agrees loudly, vindicated.
Nate snorts and focuses on heading back to the ship's control room. He needs to be ready when they enter Skrull territory. The symbiote doesn't really help whatsoever, clinging to his legs as he walks. It feels almost like trying to cross a pool, the water pushing back against him with every step as he wades through it.
Like that, it says.
"You like what? Being a pain in my ass?" Nate asks, and then makes sure to project the sense of affection that he intended in the insult.
How you think. About us. Your brain-pictures. Dragon. Ocean. Am not dragon, though. Not water.
"Metaphors, you mean?" Nate asks, and feels it question him for a meaning. "A metaphor is comparing one thing to another to show how they're the same in some way, even though they're very different. You're not literally an ocean. It just feels that way sometimes. Overwhelming and powerful."
Yesss! Like that.
"Of course you do, cocky bastard," Nate says, unable to help himself from letting a fond grin slip, and he feels the same emotion reflected back at him. "You should have a name, I think," he says. "Doesn't feel right, not having something to call you."
Handsome, it reminds him, mentally preening.
"That's a pet name, you slog," Nate says. "You call me that, too. You also call me by my name. It'd be nice to have something to call you."
A naaammme. Nate. Hope. Understand now. Will think of a name.
Nate can feel it thinking, turning over all of the words it's learned and the thoughts it's gleaned from Nate's head. Rolling waves, and ripples, and ink-in-water, and oppressive weight.
"If you settle on some dumb shit like 'ocean' I'm gonna stop calling you 'handsome' and just start calling you 'pretentious twat,'" Nate warns it.
"Talking slime," Nate rejoins.
Useless solid .
"If I'm useless, you can get the fuck off and walk," Nate says, jerking his thumb at the mass of red covering him. It clings harder to him instead, not impeding his movement, but making a wordless gesture to show that it's joking as much as he is. It moves over his skin almost reverently, and everywhere it touches him, it seems to be saying without forming words; mine, mine, mine.
Nate makes it back to the control room, despite the symbiote doing fuck all to help -- even finding it amusing that Nate had to adjust to walking through the heavy, thick sensation.
Wade, it says when he sits down. It sounds satisfied. Nate. Hope. Wade.
"Wade," Nate repeats, and the symbiote shivers happily. It feels right somehow, and has the added benefit of being an actual human name as well as a word. "I like that. But you do know that names don't all have to be four letters long and end in an 'E', right?"
It's silent for a beat.
"Never mind. Wade is nice."
The symbiote doesn't never mind. Nate can feel it poking at his brain.
Nathan, it says, sounding bitter. Name isn't even Nate. Is Nathan.
"Yes. Nate is short for Nathan," he says.
Hope short too?
"Stop that," Nate says, but it's hard to scold Wade when he's trying not to chuckle at the same time. He sighs, leaning back in his seat. "God. I think my daughter will like you. The two of you would have a lot in common."
Curiosity niggles in his mind. What is 'daughter'?
"Daughter… my child," Nate says, but quickly finds that words just aren't enough. He tries to express it through feeling instead. How much he cares for her. How much he loves her. How he's watched her grow over the years into a fine young woman, but still half expects her to be his little kiddo who barely came up to his hip. How he'd be willing to die for her, without hesitation.
Spawn! Wade says, perking up with recognition. Your spawn.
That isn't the word humans would use, but there's so much heartfelt adoration behind the term that Nate isn't offended. It's just a different word for the same familiarity.
"Yes, my spawn," Nate says. "Although, I didn't… have her myself," he adds, hesitantly, not sure if it will understand. "But ever since that day when I held her in my arms as a baby, she was mine . I knew I'd love her forever."
Never spawned, it says, with an aching disappointment that Nate knows all too well. Can't now.
Nate makes a sympathetic sound. "They don't always have to be yours to be… Yours . You know?"
A tendril curls around his throat, moving around the back of his head and upwards, like fingers sliding through his hair, and Nate puts his hand over it to ease the ticklish sensation.
"That's not quite the same," Nate tells it, although he doesn't exactly mind. "Similar, though."
"Not that either," Nate says. He tries to explain what makes a metaphor a metaphor, and also the difference between a parental relationship and whatever the hell he'd call what they're in right now. But Wade gets bored partway through and discovers a fondness for having a solid form to play with, taking control of Nate's hand to tap his fingers against the hard surface of the console. The movement, and sensation, and the noise is all riveting stuff for a symbiote.
Nate doesn't quite pay attention to the fidgeting until it ramps up in intensity, both hands drumming energetically on the console.
Sorry, it says, stopping all at once. Be quiet. Promise.
"I don't think you could keep that promise," Nate replies, taking note of the single finger already tapping again. "Nor should you," he adds. "It'll be awhile before we get where we're headed. You might as well be entertained in the meantime."
Mean it, Nate? Really?
"Really. You'll not only stay out of trouble, but you'll become accustomed to motor function," Nate rationalizes. "Do as you will. I'll be meditating."
What is 'meditating?'
"Sitting quietly and clearing my mind of all thoughts."
Boring! Borrringgg. Boring. That sounds boring.
"I figured," Nate says. "That's why I'm not asking you to do it with me. Just take it easy."
Will be quiet, it says again, already tapping away with Nate's fingers, but softer than before.
Nate said meditating meant sitting quietly and no thinking.
But he's thinking a lot.
About ocean waves and calm and breathe in, breathe out.
About ship schematics and mentally disassembling and reassembling mechanical parts and need to save her.
Wade stays away, letting Nate think his not-thoughts without interruption.
Nate also didn't say he'd close his eyes.
Can't see through Nate right now, but can still feel. It's enough. It's a lot .
Everything feels different through Nate's skin. Their skin.
Tapping Nate's fingertips against the console makes a good noise, and a tiny jolt of sensation. But Wade wants to be quieter, so it stops doing that. Taps each of Nate's fingertips together instead. Now it's silent, with double the sensation when the pads of their fingers meet.
Touch is duller through Nate's body in some ways, but more interesting in others. Wade can't pick up on the electrical impulses through him, but the friction of skin on skin is a novel and satisfying experience. It touches Nate's face and discovers the texture of stubble against their palm, rubbing over it again and again. The sensitivity when their fingers brushes past their lips is even more intriguing, and then it accidentally discovers the ridge of teeth just inside Nate's mouth, and beyond that, the slick wet heat of their tongue, and it needs to touch everything.
It's strange to be in control of bone wrapped in muscle and flesh. To be in control of Nate's fingers, but also the jaw and teeth biting down on them gently, and also the surprisingly flexible tongue moving between them. Well, barely in control of any of those things, because it's just pure sensory overload of warm-touch and sharp-bite and slick-slide and wet-drool.
Wade adds another finger to chew on, greedy for more sensation, and then wonders how much more could fit inside. More fingers, more to touch, more to feel.
Just short of cramming their entire fist into their mouth, Nate stops them.
What the fuck are you doing?
No - thing, Wade answers, pulling their hand away and oh-so-casually wiping the excessive saliva off on Nate's clothes.
"Ugh. Can't leave you alone for a second." Nate tries not to think about how wet his fingers are as he wipes the drool off his chin.
Sorry, the symbiote says, but Nate catches himself already absent-mindedly running a finger back and forth over his bottom lip.
"How sorry could you be?" Nate wonders. The symbiote answers by running the pad of their finger over their teeth and vocalizing a soft hum of agreement.
We need to establish some boundaries, Nate thinks, letting his eyes fall shut.
Nate's eyes snap open again, and he rises from the chair to go look. A Skrull ship is drifting closer, decelerating as it approaches their ship. If they aren't already aware of the crew's fate, it'll only be a matter of time. Wade covers Nate instinctively, wrapping him in a protective layer of red.
"Do you have a plan?" Nate asks, already thinking ahead to how vast their numbers might be.
Kill them all, Wade answers.
"I appreciate the aggression, but we might want to try a more productive approach," Nate says.
What do you mean?
"The goal isn't to kill Skrulls, the goal is to find my daughter," Nate reminds it. "The easiest way to do that would be to ask where they've taken her."
Skrulls tried to kill us. Think they'd just give us an answer?
"I didn't say we have to ask nicely," Nate smiles, and Wade smiles wider, baring pointed teeth.
This time, the Skrulls actually board the ship.
"Where is our daughter?" Nate and Wade snarl in a single voice, wicked-looking spikes rising off of their body, ready to strike.
Instead of answering, the apparent leader yells into a communicator, "The mutant has a Klyntarian suit!" and then to the others, "Kill them!"
The Skrull soldiers are quick, but Wade is quicker. The first two soldiers are impaled and hoisted into the air by long, sharp, red spikes. Three Skrulls on either side of the group are snatched up by tentacles and thrown with enough force to kill or at least seriously injure. The remaining dozen or so, Nate pushes back with a blast of telekinesis. The strength of his own power surprises him. It's been a long time since he's been unable to unleash so much energy without worrying so much about the virus in his system.
See? Take care of you, Wade says, sounding pleased with himself.
Focus, handsome, Nate reminds him.
Wade withdraws the killing spikes with a sickening sound, letting the Skrull bodies drop to the floor. Then the two of them move as one when they rush forward into hand-to-hand combat with the Skrull soldiers.
Fighting comes naturally to Nate at this point in his life. It's an old dance and he knows the steps well. With Wade, every move is seamless, like they've done this all before. Like they know what the other will do before they even know it themselves.
The symbiote makes him stronger, but it also heightens his senses in every way. They know where every attack is coming from before it happens. For instance, there's a Skrull attempting to lunge at them with a spear weapon. Nate grasps it at just the right moment and uses the attacker's momentum against them, tossing them to the ground where Wade kills them with a sharp spike through the back. And there's another Skrull with a blaster of some sort, aimed directly at-
Nate feels the impact of the shot tear through him before he feels any pain. One second, he was anticipating Wade's quick action to stop the Skrull or deflect the shot, and the next second, the shot was already taken and the right side of his chest is gone. A searing agony sets in, his nerve endings screaming out that something is terribly, terribly wrong.
"Wa-d--" Nate chokes out, confused by the wound, the pain, and the chaos still surrounding him as Wade fights on without him, red tendrils making lethal strikes. He can already feel the symbiote pushing into the wound, staunching blood before it can pour out.
Take care of you, Wade says again, entirely unconcerned.
Nate's body gives out. He should be on the ground, he knows he should, but Wade doesn't let him fall. More shots fire off, each less severe than the first, but Nate can feel the intense sting of each shot biting through his flesh. Wade isn't even trying to stop the attacks or dodge them. Instead it keeps pushing into his wounds, forcing his body to heal itself. The regeneration is almost as painful as the injury itself.
Underneath the agony, Nate can feel something else -- Wade's thrill for all of the bloodshed, for an opportunity to flex itself to its full potential. Satisfaction as it digs into the raw wounds and pieces him back together as quickly as he's torn apart. A strange, giddy high from the adrenaline surging through Nate's veins. Like it's all so exciting. Nate feels sick.
His vision goes spotty-black. When it comes back again, he can hear Wade yelling at him.
Nate? Wake up.
It's disorienting. They've changed locations since Nate passed out, but it takes him a long time to realize that they're only a few meters away from their original place and only a few seconds have passed.
He feels exhausted and overwhelmed with hyperawareness all at once. His body feels fine, but at the same time the memory of pain is still sharp. It feels as if the right side of his body should still be missing, as if the flesh and bone there aren't quite real. Dead Skrulls litter the corridor. He should be dead too. His blood should be mixing with theirs.
Nooo, Nate. No dying. Very alive. Fixed you. Healed you. The symbiote ripples across Nate's body like oil floating on water, moving against his skin in soothing patterns, but he can still feel the echoes of his nerve endings screaming out to him. Will never let you die, Nate. Never ever.
"You let me get shot," Nate says. "Not just once."
No danger. Good at healing.
"Half of my chest was gone, Wade! I can still feel it!"
Just flesh and bone. Easy to fix, it reassures him.
"Is that all I am to you?" Nate asks, bitter. "Just flesh and bone?"
The symbiote finally catches onto Nate's emotions beyond the barrage of adrenaline. Anger. Frustration with the symbiote being too oblivious, or perhaps too self-absorbed to actually care about Nate's wellbeing. And more than a tinge of fear, because Nate finally understood the reason why Wade had been locked away.
No! Want you happy, Nate! Healed you. Kept you safe. Why are you angry?
"Because it fucking hurts!" Nate snaps back, the rage in his voice startling even himself. He takes a second to just breathe, pressing a hand against his chest to remind himself that he is whole, and that he shouldn't be feeling any pain.
Afraid of me, Nate? Gonna lock me away again? it asks, speaking so softly in his mind for such a loaded question.
It really doesn't understand. Instead of feeling sympathetic or sorry for what happened, all Nate can sense from the symbiote is its overwhelming fear of abandonment.
It felt for him when it came to the loss of his daughter, so Nate knows it's capable of empathy. But as smart as it is, there are still some things Nate needs to simplify into a way it can relate.
"Wade… those people who locked you up. They tried to kill you, right?"
It bristles at the memory. Yes. Sound. Fire. Acid. More. Always more. Thought it would never stop.
"Did it hurt?"
Yes, hurt! Hurt and hurt and hurt.
"But you can heal," Nate says, cutting it off with a dismissive tone. "You can heal quickly and you can't die, so it doesn't matter, right?"
It hurt! it shrieks at him.
"But you healed," Nate says again. "Doesn't matter if it hurt before. You're fine."
Yes, matters, Wade insists. If symbiotes could cry, he'd probably be frustrated to tears. Still fucking hurt.
"Yes. It does," Nate agrees, to its confusion. "I'm glad you can heal me, but getting shot in the first place is a real bitch. We're supposed to have each other's backs."
Wade finally seems to grasp the point Nate was trying to make. Sort of. Do have your back, Nate. And your front. And your top. And your bottom.
"It's a figure of speech," Nate says, pressing a hand against his head. "It means… it means we look after each other. Care about each other."
Oh. Care about you, Nate.
Nate shakes his head. "You can't just say that. You have to show it."
The symbiote quivers on his skin, thinking hard. Adapting. Learning. It melts off of him, rivers of red running off of his face and upper body. A red mass forms, rising away from him like a serpent. Two black patches darken against the red, and then white eyes open, blinking at him.
"Ss..ssss-orryy…" it hisses out with great effort from a small mouth filled with tiny, sharp teeth. Then sticky little threads of red reach out for him, wrapping around his chest with a squeeze.
"Thanks," Nate says, reaching out to stroke the symbiote's head. "Now come back to me?"
It makes a soft, happy trill, and nudges back against his hand, then turns its head and bites down on Nate's wrist, not hard enough to hurt, but firmly enough to claim with the gentle pinprick of teeth and a wet tongue tasting his skin.
Mine, it whispers, wrapping around his arm.
"Yeah. And you're mine, handsome," Nate answers.
It exclaims wordlessly and envelops him, merging their forms again. Yours! Yes, yours. Nate. Nate, Nate…
Nate doesn't want to cut off Wade's moment, but their time is running out "There are more Skrulls coming," Nate tells it. "Are you ready?"
Nate can feel Wade's thoughts narrow to a deadly single-minded focus. Always ready. Is she here? Our spawn? Hope.
"No," Nate says. "I can't feel her."
We'll find her. Promise. Got a plan?
"Plan is, we kill them all until they stop coming. But leave one alive," Nate adds, his voice taking on a dark tone. "I wanna ask for directions."
Wade proves himself to be nothing if not eager to please. Together they tear through the next wave of Skrulls almost effortlessly, adapting to each other's presence and powers more and more with each second they spent fighting.
Nate only falters once, blindsided by a particularly skilled fighter who drives her spear into Nate's ribs. At least, it would have slid into his ribs, if not for the fact that Wade blocked the impact and took all the damage instead. Nate catches himself a split second later and takes the Skrull out with a blast of telekinesis through the head. It's ruthless and messy, but its effective. Seems like the symbiote is wearing off on him already.
More worryingly, the symbiote is literally wearing off of his skin. Nate can feel Wade's pain as well as open areas where the symbiote is no longer covering his body, leaving them vulnerable.
"Wade?" Nate questions, deflecting a shot with his metal arm. The symbiote has been quiet. Nervousness spikes in his gut. "Are you okay?"
Okay, Wade affirms, although it sounds a little rough. Always okay. No worries.
It takes another half second before Wade reforms, covering Nate completely. As soon as its strength comes back, it assesses the situation and lashes out five vicious spikes at the remaining handful of Skrulls, killing two instantly and snaring the other three like fish.
"What was that?" Nate asks it.
Five is too many to handle. We only need three. One of them will have 'directions.'
"No, I mean that attack. It hurt you," Nate says. "Are you okay?"
Healed, Wade says. But… it hurt a lot. Sonic spear.
"We need to be more careful," Nate says. "They know exactly what you are, so they'll know your weaknesses. The longer we drag ass, the more we lose the advantage of surprise."
Have other advantages, Nate. You have me.
Nate smiles. Their combined sharp-fanged grin appears nothing short of monstrous to their hostages. "What would you like to do, handsome?"
Take advantage of me, Nate.
"That doesn't mean what you think it does."
Nate turns to their first captive. With a mere thought, a dagger-like bolt of crystalized red material shoots from their body and pierces through the Skrull's shoulder. The soldier screams out in agony and fear and then grits his teeth against the pain.
"Red haired girl. Sixteen. Mutant. Your people took her from us. Tell us where she is and you might survive."
"You'll never get what you want," the Skrull denies, shivering.
Nate moves closer and with a thought, wills Wade to uncover his face so he can look the Skrull in the eye.
"I think that's a poor choice," Nate says to him, his voice low and ominous. "See, what I want is my daughter back. Safe and sound. And then I want to put light years between her and your people. But that isn't what my friend wants. He wants to see your blood. He wants to play with your entrails a little. I might let him, because that would make him very happy, and one of us might as well be happy. He killed the entire crew on this ship. He killed the Skrulls that boarded before you. And he killed all but three of your squad. Three of you are still alive because that's what I wanted. So you have two options here. You can give me what I want, or you can give him what he wants. What's your decision?"
"I want what you want," the Skrull whispers back, fearful.
"A good choice. Where is my daughter?"
"I don't -- I don't know," the soldier stammers. "But I can find out," he adds when Nate's face twists up in disappointment.
"Have fun, Wade," Nate mutters as he turns away, as if offering a disinterested command to an attack dog. There's only the slightest hint of hesitation before the symbiote lashes out.
The Skrull drops to the floor.
Now there are only two. One squirms to get away from the symbiote's hold while the other fixes Nate with an unflinching stare. He turns towards the latter.
"Looks like the option is yours now," Nate says.
"I am not a coward," the Skrull sneers at him. "Kill me. I'll never tell you where to find your pathetic offspring."
"Bad choice. Tell me or I'll take something precious from you. I'll kill this one," Nate says, pointing with his thumb at the struggling Skrull as Wade drags it closer to them.
"Please no," the younger Skrull whispers, but the overwhelming fear is paralyzing. "I can help you."
"I've already got help. I need answers," Nate says, still staring at the older Skrull, presumably a high ranking officer or whatever Skrulls went by.
"That one can offer you nothing," the officer says, all too pleased by this fact. "They'll only be a waste of your time."
The words hang heavy like a death sentence. The younger Skrull goes limp in the symbiote's grasp, already overcome with despair. Resigned to their fate.
"Wade," Nate says, and the symbiote responds immediately. The younger Skrull's body hits the ground like so much dead weight.
The officer's face pulls into a wide, content smile. "You'll get no answers from me, vermin. There is no threat or torture that could break me. You would have been better off keeping the other two alive and seeing what trivial information you could extract from them. By recklessly killing them, you did us all a favor."
"Sorry to disappoint, but they're fine, actually," Nate says. "Wade and I, we communicate on another level. Out loud, I tell him, kill the hostage. But on the inside, I tell him, just knock them out. It's a simple bluff. The only thing I needed to know is which of you had the right information. And if you weren't willing to say so, I'd just have to go through all three of you."
The Skrull straightens up as much as possible, a grim expression on his face. "Clever. But they won't know enough to help you find her. And torture loosens the tongue in unpredictable ways. They'll say anything they think you want to hear."
"Not going to torture them," Nate assures him. "You already tipped your hand. Now I'm only interested in what you know."
"Do your worst, vermin. You could never break my will."
"Doubtful. But I won't have to try," Nate smiles. "Your will doesn't matter to my friend here. He could be in and out of your head before you knew what hit you. But since you're kind of a prick, I'm gonna ask him to make it as painful as possible."
The symbiote rises off of Nate's skin, manifesting sinister-looking eyes, and the barest hint of fangs, and finally the Skrull understands what is about to happen. He has the decency to look both fearful and somewhat regretful before Wade shifts into liquid form and shoots forward, threads of red piercing into the Skrulls eyes like needles. The Skrull screams, but then even that is drowned out by the symbiote's form pouring into his mouth and down his throat, filling up his lungs with its thick, red mass.
With Wade gone from his body, Nate feels oddly... bereft. The world seems duller without the symbiote's sensory input pouring into his peripheries. Colder without the warmth of its being flowing through his veins and covering his skin. Quieter without Wade's voice in his head.
He waits, watching the Skrull tremble violently on the ground and then go completely still as Wade pins it down and picks through its mind, gleaning the information they need. After a few agonizing seconds, the Skrull's entire body goes limp. Then the red seeps up again, pouring from the Skrull's eyes, its nose, its pores, covering the green skin with red until it's completely immersed. Then they -- no, Wade -- pushes itself up slowly, looking at Nate with black-white eyes and licking its new mouth with a tongue that's entirely too long.
"Na-ate…" Wade breathes out, and then tests the soft 'n' sound against its tongue again and again.
"Hey, Handsome," Nate replies, smiling as Wade quietly repeats the word 'handsome' to itself. He likes hearing Wade speak to him, and likes watching the symbiote's pleasure as it experiments with the sounds, but they have places to go. "Come back to me."
"No," Wade says, and then, because it likes how the word tastes, repeats it again a few more times to try it out. "No. No, no, no. Like this-- Thisss. Like this, Nate. Do what I want now."
"You already do whatever you want," Nate reminds it.
Wade scrunches up its face at being presented with logic and then curls and uncurls its fists. "My bo--dy now. Mine," it says, still struggling to form spoken words. "Like this -- better. Host is s--str-- str-- strong. Strong-er. Than you."
Wade looks directly at Nate after it says the last statement, as if to gauge his reaction.
"Weaker, you mean," Nate spits out, shaking his head in disbelief. A wide grin spreads across Wade's face. "Is that what you want? A brainless puppet? His mind isn't stronger than mine."
"Stronger body. B--bigger muscles," Wade says, which is an obvious lie because Nate has several inches and at least a hundred pounds over the Skrull.
"Bigger-- Are you joking?" Nate questions, feeling some genuine ire.
"No. No joke," Wade says, although its expression has all the appearance of laughter without any sound. "Big, big muscles."
"Really." Nate folds his arms. "Guess you won't need mine anymore."
"Nnn-oo-p-e!" Wade looks beyond pleased with itself for getting a rise out of Nate. The little shit.
"Then I hope that scrawny piece of shit gives you better hugs," Nate says. "But I doubt that asshole is capable of love anyway, so good luck."
"So much love, Nate. Soo, so much."
"Is that so?"
"Mmhm. Says I am cu-ute. Smart. Good."
"Okay. Well then, bye ugly. Have fun," Nate says, walking away.
Wade wasn't expecting that.
Wade turns back to liquid form and pours off of the Skrull's body, leaving it to collapse lifelessly to the floor, eyes fixed on nothing, green blood leaking from his ears and nose.
The symbiote flows across the floor towards Nate, snaking around his leg and then covering him up to the waist.
Sorry, Wade says, but its voice is weaker, its thoughts a faint press against his skin instead of in his head. Was lying, Nate.
"You don't say."
You are so much stronger, Nate. Didn't like that puny form and his weak mind, Wade says, but Nate only makes a vague, unimpressed sound.
Missed all this muscle. Can barely wrap myself around your big arms.
"Kiss ass," Nate snorts, but a genuine grin crosses his face for a moment before it slips again. "Did you get any information?"
So much. Know where to find her now, Nate. Let me in, I can show you too.
"In? You aren't already?"
No. Need to go back into your brain. Into your blood.
"You have to ask permission?"
Wade presses against his skin in little undulating waves, restless yet tender. Don't need to, but want to. Will have to go through the eyes. Is best.
"Doesn't that hurt?" Nate wonders. When Wade connected to him before, he was unconscious.
Did it hurt when I left? Wade answers. Truthfully, Nate hadn't felt anything. He'd been too focused on the loss.
Unpleasant, maybe. Made it hurt for him. Made it hurt bad. But would never hurt you, Nate.
There's no point in being squeamish. Nate needs the information, but more than that, he needs to feel Wade's mind in his again. He was starting to get used to that constant flow of consciousness running through his head even when the symbiote wasn't actively talking to him. Now everything seems stagnant.
"Come back already," Nate says, feeling restless. "It's too quiet without you rattling around in my thoughts. I can't hear you so clearly like this."
There's a wordless hum of agreement and then the symbiote flows up across his skin, coiling gently around his neck like a touch, and then spreading in tendrils across his face. He barely even notices when Wade slips in through his eye, and when he does it feels like a warm flow of tears in reverse. He blinks against it on reflex, sees a wash of red across his vision, and then feels Wade in his head again. Settling into every crevice. Touching all of his thoughts, as if to refamiliarize itself and lay claims to all of him again. He's warm, his blood buzzing, his head filling up with all of Wade's little sensory inputs and wordless thought chatter, and he realizes then just how much he'd missed it.
Missed you, too, Wade whispers, curling around Nate's thoughts, around his body. Were you jealous, Nate?
"No," Nate says, but it's a poor lie.
You werrreee. I can still feel it. Feels nice. Why is that?
"Help me tie these two up," Nate says instead.
Wade regards the two unconscious Skrulls curiously. Would be easier to kill them, no?
"No. It makes life a lot harder when you kill indiscriminately," Nate says. "There was no need to kill these ones."
"Three you could subdue," Nate reminds the symbiote. "Only one deserved to die. These two deserve mercy."
They would not have given us mer-cy.
"Maybe not. But we're better than that," Nate says. "They were already incapacitated, and they were afraid. Killing them now would be wrong."
I see. Beginning to understand, Wade says, but Nate can feel its doubt.
"Violence isn't the only way through," Nate says, as he tears strips of fabric from the Skrull's uniforms and uses it to bind the two unconscious. "And it isn't always the best solution."
Wade thinks of all the many, many Skrulls that they've already killed. Thinks about the attacks, the attempts to kill them both. Thinks about the flesh and bone it had helped Nate's body regrow. Letting Nate get hurt like that in the first place is still regrettable, but what would Nate have done if he were alone? The symbiote coils around Nate a little harder, feeling grateful for every dead Skrull that isn't them.
Nate finds Wade where the symbiote's settled on his skin and runs his fingers over them. That touch alone would be worth killing millions to keep. For him, Wade thinks it could even learn to be good.
It shows him the Skrull's memories. Where they're keeping Hope. Nate's coordinates were a solid guess after all, but now they know exactly which corridors to go down, and which door to open to find her.
Most importantly, Nate knows she's alive.
He knows he'll win. He'll get her back.
We will, Wade reminds him, threading itself between Nate's fingers.
Tracking down the ship where Hope is being held is the easiest part. Getting inside is more of a challenge, but one that Wade enjoys helping Nate find a solution to.
"We won't have a chance to crack through their airlock," Nate says. "They'll be on top of us long before we even get close enough to open the door."
Why not make our own door? Wade asks, as if it could be that simple.
They abandon their ship well before they reach the larger Skrull base and let it drift as a decoy while they approach on their own. It takes a little bit of timing, since Nate really doesn't like the idea of missing their target and hurtling through space, but they manage. Wade catches them both, latching onto the ship and aligning them with the exact section that Nate had picked out in the schematics. Just inside the hull, there should be a fairly small chamber, with an airlock door beyond it. If he's wrong, well… there's still bound to be an airlock somewhere, but they might make more of an impression.
Wade's blade and Nate's telekinesis combined open the hull of the ship like a knife through paper. Nate realizes, after the initial strike, that he has to be careful, reign both of them back, in order to minimize the damage done. The decompression of the inner chamber is immediate and almost explosive. A Skrull guard hurtles past them, along with several other items from the room they breached, and Nate has to pull Wade's focus back from the distraction, and remind him to focus on just them.
Together, they enter the ship, fighting against the force of the air being sucked out into vacuum of space. The emergency alarms blaring inside make it difficult for Nate to focus on anything else but his grip on the next handhold, but it's worse for Wade. Nate can feel his other start to lose its grip, rippling across his entire body like raised gooseflesh. Its thoughts are frenzied chaotic, even more so than usual, giving way to complete panic.
Loud, loud, loud-
Wade, stay calm. I've got us. Just focus on me.
He can still feel Wade's fear, but the symbiote focuses on Nate's will alone, lending its strength to their hands, reaching out with long tendrils for the next secure point that Nate spots for them. For once, he's the one truly calling the shots for both of them while Wade blindly follows. It's an entirely new level of trust between them, and Nate is grateful for it. He manages to get them both beyond the inner airlock doors before they automatically seal, stabilizing the air pressure once again.
There's still a faint alarm, but the blaring sirens are gone. Nate can practically feel Wade nuzzling him in his mind. Somuchbetter. Thank you…
"Look alive. We won't have time to--"
He's cut off by a barrage of fire from an approaching group of about a dozen Skrulls. The first shot takes Wade off guard and grazes through them, wounding them both. The rest of the incoming fire, Wade deflects completely while healing Nate. But Wade doesn't move or act to strike back, and despite being protected, Nate can still feel the pain his other is suffering.
"Wade. Sweetheart. You're taking direct hits," Nate says, throwing up a telekinetic barrier between themselves and the soldiers to relieve some of the damage being inflicted on his other. "Are you okay?"
Nate furrows his brow in confusion for a full two seconds, before he realizes Wade's conflict.
"They're hurting you," Nate growls. "We're not giving these ones mercy. Absolutely the fuck not."
He lashes out, summoning as much strength as he can to direct a telekinetic attack at each of the Skrulls simultaneously. There's a sickeningly wet pop, and a burst of green blood splatters the walls behind them. The bodies crumple like rag dolls.
Violent. You are dan-ger-ous, Nate, the symbiote says, in an awed, almost teasing way.
"When I have to be," Nate replies, bristling with anger as he storms through the corridor, stepping over the fallen without another thought. "They took my daughter for their fucking experiments. They hurt you. I could do a hell of a lot worse to them right now."
Of course they hurt me, Nate. Wouldn't let them hurt you.
"You'd do better to kill them instead," Nate advises. "They know why we're here and they aren't going to let us just walk in and take Hope from them."
I don't think anything could stop us, Wade says, its intention like a razor's edge in their mind.
"Looks like they don't know that yet," Nate comments, picking up on the incoming wave of Skrulls an instant before they appear. Nate throws up another telekinetic shield, but then Wade reaches out and forms a barrier beyond that, like a partial bubble insulating them against the onslaught.
"Wade, I just said--"
Hundreds of crystalline spikes shoot from the symbiote's shield like a hail of arrows, cutting through the Skrulls instantly.
The shield dissolves, and they both step forward to survey the bodies now layering the floor. Not all of them are dead, but the wounded certainly aren't going to be a threat to them anymore.
I could do a hell of a lot worse, Wade says, sidestepping out of the way as an injured Skrull lunges at them with a blade. They leap up the wall and climb across the ceiling past the rest of the bodies, following a path that they both remember well despite never having set foot here before.
More Skrulls find them. They drop down onto one, the symbiote's mass wrapping around the soldier's body and consuming it whole while they take out the others with lethal telekinetic blasts and spearlike tendrils.
"Did we just eat someone?"
Don't worry about it, Wade says. Nate doesn't have time to dwell on it, because as soon as they manage to kill the Skrulls in front of them, more appear, gaining an advantage from sheer numbers.
Nate throws up another shield and reaches into their form, through the symbiote's mass, to retrieve one of his guns. He can feel his other's concern and confusion when he brings the weapon out.
Nate? Wade questions, touching lightly at Nate, trying to heal the fatigue that it can sense.
"I'm fine. Just not used to relying so heavily on my powers," Nate explains. "I usually make do without. I can make do without again."
As soon as the telekinetic shield fails, Nate fires back, critically wounding two and taking one Skrull out with a headshot.
With Nate's powers weakened, Wade is left to withstand all the damage on its own once again. It feels Nate send a silent apology for not being able to protect them any longer, but Wade is strong. Wade can protect both of them.
There's no relief from the attacks now. Nate drops as many Skrulls as he can, round after round of plasma ripping through the enemy swarms, but more seem to keep appearing. Wade tries to assist, but keeping itself intact and Nate protected takes a higher priority. As long as Nate is safe, nothing else matters.
A few Skrulls try to ambush them in close range combat. It's a mistake that costs them their lives. The symbiote snatches them and tears them in half before they can do any real damage, flinging the pieces away.
We need to keep moving, Nate thinks, desperately. Don't let them block us in.
Wade picks out the path they need to take, and then takes control of their body, running full tilt towards their exit point. The direct approach leaves them wide open to attack, but Wade's skin is thick and they both specialize in brute force. Two tendrils lash out, each picking up a Skrull underling and cracking them like whips full force into opposite sides of remaining group, creating a gap in the line.
The corridor beyond is scattered with incoming Skrulls that Nate picks off as they approach. Wade absorbs any return fire, his healing factor making the damage little cause for concern, but the secondhand pain makes Nate grit his teeth.
Is okay. We'll get Hope, Wade says, stroking over Nate's skin the way they like it. Nate says nothing, focused only on the path ahead of them.
They make it through another airlock door that leads into an empty chamber. There are no Skrulls here, but Nate feels the symbiote's sudden spike of anxiety plain as day.
Danger. Danger, Nate.
Nate pauses, gun at the ready, and takes a second and a burst of telekinesis to jam the airlock door they just came through so nobody can follow.
Dunno. Don't like this. We need to go.
"Yeah," Nate agrees, and then breaks into a steady run to their next exit. They pass through two more airlock doors, opening and then jamming each one as they press forward, moving as quickly as possible.
Their path is suddenly cut off by four Skrulls. These ones are a little different, well armored and each with a spear-like weapon in their hand that appears almost electrified. He shoots one, managing to wound the Skrull, but the others are well trained and attack as a team, forcing him to engage.
Nate doesn't really think before raising their arm to block the attack. He's so close to getting Hope back, so used to the invincibility that the symbiote offers, he just lunges.
Nate, no! Wade screams at him, but even then, Nate doesn't stop. He couldn't have stopped even if he wanted to at that point, but he thinks to himself, he can handle a little pain.
As soon as the weapon touches them, the effect is near devastating. It hurts, but the damage on Wade is worse. The symbiote is screaming in his head, but there isn't really any sound at all, just a silent, radiating agony that makes Nate afraid. It loses control over its form, sloughing off of his body in wet, stringy tangles that drip onto the floor.
"Wade?" Nate questions, gritting his teeth through the pain and trying not to give in to his other's rising panic. He needs to focus on the fight.
"Not so tough without your Klyntarian dog, are you, mutant?" one of the Skrulls sneers at him. He breaks her nose with the butt of his gun and then has to block against a strike, using his gun to keep the electrified spear from hitting him again. Nate can feel Wade somewhere in his mind, alive but shuddering as it recovers from the attack. The symbiote might be unkillable, but it's never been immune to damage.
He barely avoids the swing of another spear, the weapon buzzing through the air where his head had just been. Sonic weapon, Nate realizes. The disruptive effect it has on Wade's form is terrible. He's thankful he didn't get hit again.
Nate… he can feel the symbiote clinging a little tighter to him, trying to pull itself together, trying to form words.
"Save your strength, sweetheart," Nate says, shooting through the stomach of one Skrull and shoving them back towards another.
"I'm not your sweetheart!" Broken-nose Skrull yells, and Nate just narrowly manages to block her sonic spear.
"Do I look like I was talking to you?!" Nate snarls, kicking her away from him. He raises his gun to shoot her, but after using it to block multiple strikes from the sonic weapons, something's fried. He can feel Wade recovering, slowly, and the symbiote covers him again, despite some threadbare patches.
Nate knows when to fight and when to run, and right now his best option is the latter. If they don't, neither will have the strength to protect the other later.
"Hang on," Nate mumbles to Wade, touching his own shoulder just so he can feel the sticky threads of red winding around his fingers. They tighten on his, regaining vitality by the second.
Then they run, with the two remaining, extremely pissed-off Skrulls hot on their tracks. They're a few chambers down before Nate realizes that they've entered unfamiliar territory, but the two Skrulls are still right behind them, not allowing for any time to think.
Need to get out of here, Nate. Go back.
"Sometimes the only way out is to keep going through," Nate says, pausing for breath and also to assess the situation.
Trapped, Nate, Wade whispers, and Nate knows its true. They've been run into a dead end. It was just winding enough to not be recognizable at first glance, but Nate can see there's only one real entry point, and it's behind them.
He turns to face the enemy, ready to make good on his word and keep going through, but the Skrulls pursuing them stop at the entryway.
Broken-nose looks murderous.. She tilts her blood-covered chin up at them, a sneer -- or the pained semblance of one -- twisting up her mouth.
"Two of you and neither saw this coming?" she asks, and then jams the airlock door behind them.
Wade's scream makes Nate's blood curdle, stricken with a terrible knowing only an instant before a deafening, ear-piercing barrage of sound starts. Worse than the alarms. Worse than anything Nate ever heard or felt in his life. The intensity of it makes his head and chest and bones hurt, and it makes the air itself shake violently and his eardrums feel pressure and pressure and pressure.
They form a blade -- a surge of strength that Nate thinks comes from Wade's end entirely, because he can't think at all right now -- and try to cut through the wall the same way they entered the ship in the first place, but before Nate can try to offer a boost, Wade comes apart, dripping red.
No, no, no! Nate, please! Wade tries desperately to stay on Nate's skin, to protect him, Nate realizes, but its grip is weak and failing. Nate feels his ears pop. Feels his head throbbing. Feels something leaking hot from his nose, from his ears. Not sure if its his blood or the symbiote. He drops to the floor, trying to curl in on himself and cover his ears, but there's no relief from the sonic attack.
Wade, he thinks, not even able to hear himself, but hoping that his other can feel it anyway, the same way he feels Wade now, like their minds are one in the same. But Wade is panicking and clawing at his mind in blind desperation.
Can't lose you, Nate, Wade pleads. Can't go back to that. What I was. Wasn't. Wasn't anything. Nothing without you. Don't want to be nothing again. Please, make it stop.
It hurts, and its Wade hurting him, but he can feel the symbiote's painful grip on him growing weaker by the moment.
He can feel Wade dying, and it's terrified.
Not terrified of death, however painful this death is, but of living. Living again without Nate. Because once Wade dies, Nate won't last much longer either.
A weird sense of calm comes over him. Nate stays still, just breathing, while the piercing sonic attack continues. He can feel it in his bones, his blood. He can barely feel the symbiote anymore, but its still there, stubbornly hanging to life, to him, for his sake.
"Let go, Wade," Nate says, barely able to hear himself with his own ears, but they can both feel the words. It's like a shock to Wade's senses.
No. No, no, no. I can't, Nate. If we're apart I can't protect you. I can't... heal you. If you die, I can't… I can't fix that, Nate. I don't know… how.
"You're not coming back to find me, Wade. If you do, I'll kill you again myself. Get Hope."
"You get Hope and you get out of here and you don't look back. Keep her safe," Nate says. He feels something hot leaking from his eyes, but it isn't tears. His vision blurs red when he blinks and he squeezes his eyes shut.
"She's my everything," Nate whispers. "Now she's yours."
But… you're my...
Nate stays silent, waiting, but he can't hear Wade anymore. Can't feel anything except for the warmth leaking out of him, pooling around his head like blood.