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Thick black ooze ran in rivulets between Eddie's shaking fingers and dripped horribly onto the pristine lab floor. Every muscle in his body was tensed and straining and a miserable whine was being pulled from him, nearly silent under the ricocheting waves of modulated shrieking projected by the room's massive speakers.

And as suddenly as the sound had started it stopped, leaving Eddie to fall forward onto all fours, panting into the puddle beneath him.

"Vee?" he whispered, his own voice distant and tinny behind the ringing in his ears.

OH, EDDIE, OH IT HURTS EDDIE

The puddle was pulsating feebly, black drops struggling to draw together. Eddie lowered himself to the floor, curling on his side to get closer to the other, lying on the cool tiles while the muscles in his limbs ticked and shuddered as they tried to recover from the overwhelming tension they'd been subjected to.

"I know, love, I know," he trailed a hand through the shivering goo, relieved when tendrils began to twine with his fingers but saddened and frightened by how slowly they moved to mate with his touch. "It hurts me too, Vee."

CAN WE TRY TO BREAK THEM AGAIN?

Eddie pulled his hand toward his chest, drawing the symbiote closer to the core of him, tucking it up against his heart where it belonged.

"I don't think I can stand."

WE'LL HELP, EDDIE, WE'LL DO WHATEVER WE HAVE TO BUT PLEASE, NO MORE NOISE, NO MORE HURT.

Eddie's face was already running with sweat and it was strange how much hotter the tears felt when they ran from his eyes. "We can try, love." Eddie forced himself to get on his knees, stopping to catch his breath before he started crawling toward the nearest speaker.

A loud click echoed through the room and Eddie froze, curling in on himself and slamming his hands against his ears, trying to do whatever he could to shield himself and his other from the next onslaught but instead of more painful wailing the speakers projected a voice.

"Stay where you are or I'll give you another five minutes."

Eddie Brock nodded brokenly and sat back on his heels.

He really fucking hated Carlton Drake.

 

***

 

If you had asked anyone who saw the video they would have said that nothing could have survived that shuttle explosion. It was enormous, it was a nightmare, it was an explosive bloom above the bay that flash-boiled enough of the Pacific to cause a sudden salty fog to envelope the city for hours.

Still, Eddie and Venom had survived; that should have been enough to tip them off.

Riot didn't make it out alive. At least Riot hadn't risen out of Drake's blistered skin to make a sneering appearance - nor had Drake's burns been healed, so perhaps the lead symbiote really had been boiled off in the explosion.

But Drake was rich and Drake was clever and he had always made a point of ensuring that he'd never be the one to suffer for his choices. The Life Foundation shuttle that crashed over Malaysia hadn't had escape pods, the shuttle that Carlton Drake had practiced piloting did.

And because he was an idiot Eddie hadn't questioned the sudden flurry of furtive emails from a Life Foundation doctor. He figured that with the CEO dead and the symbiote horrorshow in the lab exposed he was safe. So he and Venom had happily ridden across the bridge to meet up with a mysterious researcher who wanted to atone.

And now he was locked in a prison of glass and sound, on his knees and weeping while he lifted his eyes to meet the gaze of the slimy bastard who had ruined his life on three separate occasions.

Drake faced him through the glass, wearing an immaculate suit and a mask of wounds. For all that he was injured he stood easily and watched the sweating man in the cage dispassionately.

"Are you ready to cooperate?"

Eddie laced his fingers together behind his neck and glared at the ground, rocking slightly from the waist up. "We can't, Drake, Venom is a part of me. We're bonded, it'll kill us both to separate."

Drake thumbed a remote and sound flooded the lab again; for thirty seconds Eddie convulsed and Venom phased in and out of its host, flickering like a strobe light as the overpowering sonic assault rolled through them both. Drake pushed another button and once more Eddie and Venom were reduced to a shivering mess on the floor.

"Either it cooperates and goes into the containment vessel or I keep doing this until it melts out of your ears, Brock."

"Goddamnit, what good will a dead symbiote be to you?"

"It'll live long enough for me to study it further. It'll live long enough that I'll know more when we go back and collect samples from the comet. It can still show us enough that we can save the world."

Eddie growled and clutched a hand at his heart, cradling a shimmering mass of black.

"The world doesn't need saving from anything except your meglomaniacal plan to sell us out to a bunch of parasites." It was hard to talk, it was hard to make sense of anything. Drake's plan was terrible. It was so terrible that it was literally incredible. Eddie couldn't force himself to believe that after being swallowed up by Riot and dragged onto an exploding shuttle and told that he was going to collect the species that would consume every living being on the planet Drake still thought he was in some way helping anyone but himself.

"Don't call them parasites, Brock. You, of all people, should see the potential here."

"All I can see is that you want to bring more things like Riot back to your home. All I can see is that you don't care how many people die so long as you think it'll make you live a single day longer or earn you a single dollar more."

Drake triggered the sound again, and when he silenced it Eddie could only lie on the floor, breathing heavily and tasting blood in his mouth.

"Venom," Drake said as Eddie tried to marshal the strength to argue. "I want to talk to venom."

"Venom doesn't want to talk to you," it said, its voice creaky and distorted by the pain it had endured for what must have been hours now. Maybe days. It was dark in the lab, it was hard to tell how much time had passed.

"Did you tell Eddie about the cancer, Venom? Did you tell him that when you saved his life it was a life that was nearly over and your simple presence in his body took all the poison away? Did you know you were dying, Eddie?"

"Shut up."

"I want to talk to Venom. How long do you think he'll live, Venom? If you pull away from him now how long do you think he'll survive?"

A cloud of black slickness and a single opal eye rose to the surface glared out of half of Eddie's face.

MONTHS. YEARS, MAYBE. WE CAN'T BE SEPARATED. HE'LL DIE WITHOUT ME.

"How long do you think he'll survive if I kill you first? What we're doing is ugly, and eventually it will kill you; I can just keep pressing this button until you're shaken into so many pieces that you'll never put them together again. And when I do I'll still have a use for what used to be you, but I'll have no use for this pathetic excuse for a journalist. So if I kill you how long do you think Eddie gets to live? Will I shoot him right away? Or will I walk upstairs and let dehydration kill him slowly? Will I break every bone in his body before I put him out of his misery? Either you separate now and let Eddie live a few months and say goodbye to the real people he loves or I kill you painfully over the next few hours and put a bullet in his unimaginative, ungrateful head the second the last piece of you dissolves."

Eddie put his hands over his face. At least he had to give Drake some credit, he'd found the only thing that might convince Vee to crawl into containment. Vee would die for Eddie and it looked like Vee was going to have a chance to prove it. He could feel the consideration emanating from his other, he could feel it making up its mind.

"Darling, love, no, no, don't go," Eddie whimpered, wrapping his arms around his chest.

YOU ARE MINE, EDDIE.

"Yes, yes, only yours, so stay with me. Never apart love, want you forever."

A mass of black squirmed out between his crossed arms and his heaving chest, manifesting broad shoulders and a thick neck and that sleek bullet head with its terrifying grin. It nuzzled against Eddie's scruffy cheek and the monstrous tongue wrapped around the back of his neck to draw their foreheads together.

YOU ARE MINE, EDDIE. THAT'S WHY I HAVE TO KEEP YOU SAFE. MINE, MINE ONLY.

"Vee," Eddie whispered, leaning into its always shocking bulk and warmth and the symbiote gathered its host in strong arms, drawing him to his feet and standing him before the door of the lab.

MINE ONLY, it said before it shoved Eddie roughly away and darted toward the containment vessel faster than it could change its stupid, foolish, hungry mind and decide to die with its human.

"VEE," Eddie shouted, and stumbled after the alien as it skittered across the lab. He lost his footing, weak from their ordeal, and only reached the cylinder as it was hissing shut. His shaking fingers scrabbled uselessly against the glass alloy while he tried to tear it open. He heard the lab door rumble behind him and fell, sobbing, in a protective curl around the container where the black ooze was pressed against the side, separated from him but straining to be as close as it could. Drake's expensive shoes clicked against the tile and Eddie turned his face away from the approaching madman. He heard a softer tread and someone had a hold of his hair and was using it to slam his face into the side of the vessel. He was awake long enough to see his blood run down the curved surface of the container as black liquid bubbled furiously inside of it, then he didn't see anything for a while.

Chapter Text

 

It had taken two days for the symbiote to make itself known after the disaster in the bay. Eddie had managed to make it, shaking and cold, to the shore. Annie found him huddled on the sand, insensate and consumed by the vast emptiness that rolled around in his mind.

She had driven him to her house and the unfamiliar familiarity of the guest room. Dan, too kind and caring for his own good, had run a hot bath and dragged out an electric blanket and a pile of dry clothes and made a massive mug of hot tea which he used to coax Eddie's hypothermic body back to a temperature that probably wouldn't kill him. When he was dry and warm and fed he sat on a strange futon in what used to be his office and tried not to scream. It was too quiet inside his head and he felt more bare and abandoned than he had when Annie had left him homeless, jobless, and alone on the sidewalk. He closed his eyes and covered his ears and tried to find something, anything, inside that felt like the other.

Nothing. No clicking, no purring, no strange shift in his guts or ticklish touch on the inside of his wrists.

"C'mon, don't hide from me. Say something. Please."

His quiet voice sounded loud in the sleeping house. Eddie swallowed and tried again.

"Look, you may be a loser and a parasite but I like having you around. If you're there, just. Just. Call me a pussy or something, okay?"

Nothing. He waited longer this time. He scrubbed at his face and sniffled. He wasn't crying. Not really. Not yet.

One more time.

"Mask?" he whispered shakily.

The emptiness inside and around him was unchanged. He stayed awake for hours with his head in his hands, waiting for an unspoken "copy" to break the silence.

 

***

 

He left early, when it was still dark, walking back to his apartment in a pair of Dan's khakis and a cream cable knit sweater. He caught sight of his reflection in windows as he walked and it kept surprising him. He looked like an imposter. He'd look preppy if it wasn't for three days of beard and bare, filthy feet. Dan was a tall guy. None of his shoes had fit.

It wasn't until he got to the door of the bodega that Eddie remembered he might not have an apartment to go back to. The last time he had been home his kitchen was strewn with burned tater tots and crumbled brick from his fight with Drake's goons. Annie had said something about it too. About police. A lot of police.

He ducked into the shop, wincing as he passed Maria's empty spot by the door. He had a lot of things to think about right now. Maria dead in Drake's lab was a thing that he could think about later because otherwise he'd be incapable of anything other than collapsing in rage and grief and confusion about the insanity his life had become.

The bodega was empty and Eddie could hear Mrs. Chen puttering around with stock in the back. He slid sideways between shelves until he found a clear spot on the window by the door. He could make out his building. And the giant hole in what was probably his apartment's kitchen wall.

"You know, Eddie," said a high, disapproving voice behind him, "you usually look like shit but today you look like polished shit and it's worse."

"Good morning, Mrs. Chen."

"Sure it is."

"Um. Has anyone been," he gestured helplessly at the disarray down the street. "Looking for me? Asking questions?"

"Like the cops?"

"Yeah."

"No."

He heaved a sigh of relief, hopefully he'd be able to blame the wall on a gas leak and he wouldn't end up in jail over the..... Shit, the shooting? Had he shot somebody? Had he left bodies in his apartment?

He couldn't quite remember. There was a lot to think about, after all.

"They're not looking for you because they're pretty sure you died in that chase that destroyed half the city."

A lot to think about.

"Okay. Okay. That's. That's a thing that makes sense. Yeah." His hands nervously wandered the shelves and fluttered across boxes and cans. He settled in front of the microwave above a cool case. "Could you loan me a burrito," he asked, drumming his fingers on the lid. "I don't have my wallet on me but I'm good for it."

Mrs. Chen watched this bizarre little tap dance with skepticism and a growing frown.

"Half the city, Eddie."

"Yeah."

"Your apartment blew up, Eddie."

"Yeah."

"One burrito."

"Thanks Mrs. Chen."

"What are you doing, Eddie?"

"I don't know. I don't know. But maybe watch the news."

 

***

 

There was police tape across his front door, and he didn't have keys, and his metalhead neighbor saw him in the hall and disappeared into his own apartment with a startled yelp. But Eddie was in his own apartment alone for the first time in far too long.

He wanted his symbiote, he wanted the weighty presence within himself to snark at him or demand to be fed, but it was a relief to be away from human eyes for even a little while because it meant he could finally get himself spun into a breakdown about the past week of eating people and car chases and getting stabbed and nearly freezing to death and being blown up and his friend dying and jumping off a building.

He eyed the hole in the wall and shivered at the cold air it let in. Oh well, nothing to be done about it. He couldn't even drag a bookcase in front of it until he put some shoes on because of all the broken masonry and scattered glass, and he couldn't even put some shoes on because his feet, he suddenly realized, were bleeding, blistered, and disgusting from the miles he'd walked to get away from the only people who'd given a damn about him in the last week (other than Mrs. Chen and her blessed burrito, of course).

So he had to play at being a competent human for at least a little while longer. He showered in a steaming hot stream of water and began to bandage his injuries, finding so many unexpected cuts and bumps and scrapes all over his body that he began to wonder how he had actually survived. Mrs. Chen was right, he did look like a polished turd.

After that he dressed himself like a human instead of a Ken doll. Thick winter socks over his battered feet, a sturdy pair of black joggers that toed the line between sweatpants and real pants, a henley with an old AC/DC shirt over it, and a beanie went a long way to making him feel more sane and less like he needed to stand in the street and scream. Plus it was warm. He put on his oldest, most worn in boots to make sure he didn't tear his feet up any more.

And then he cleaned.

It took a surprisingly short amount of time to pile the bigger chunks of brick and mortar near the wall and sweep up the glass and dust that had covered the kitchen. One of his chairs was splintered, there were bullet holes in the wall. All of it went quickly and soon enough he was sitting on his recently righted couch and digging for a burner phone from the shoebox full of "research tools" he kept at the bottom of his closet.

He called his landlord. He called the local police station. He called Jack. Then he sat on his couch in his destroyed apartment and waited to feel something other than the emptiness that kept sinking into his bones.

 

***

 

Jack got back to him first, which made the other two easier. Eddie hadn't been around a TV in something like 36 hours but it turned out that a huge portion of the Bay's local news broadcasts were dedicated to playing and replaying the videos from Eddie's phone. The tech sector was boiling alive and eating itself trying to respond to the flurry of inspections and investigations and injunctions flying toward the Life Foundation. They were in bed with all the other silicone valley tech giants in all kinds of areas and nobody was coming up smelling like roses. Clinical trial patients had been recruiting using Google research tools that seemed to sidestep HIPAA; Amazon facial recognition tech had been integral to tracking the functionality of kidnapped homeless subjects when they were infected.

It was a disaster, and everybody wanted to be part of the feeding frenzy.

"You're not going to have to worry about rent for the next five years, shithead," Jack said as they were wrapping up. Every one of the major networks had bid on the clips and Jack had cared more about the payday than the broadcast exclusivity. It reminded Eddie why he didn't work there anymore. Even if they would have had him back he had different motivations than his erstwhile employer.

The cops showed up next and Eddie tried to keep calm. He'd broken into a crime scene and probably destroyed evidence getting his apartment back together. He'd been involved in a huge chase that destroyed a lot of property and that, he was belatedly realizing, was where he last saw his bike. He was prepared to hold out his hands and get quietly cuffed and wait for a lawyer; he wasn't prepared for a wellness check and having a statement taken. Turns out the last time that anybody had officially seen him he'd been laying at Treece's feet with both legs broken after a chase motivated by self defense.

Eddie was a hero and a victim and right now everybody felt very bad for what he'd gone through and wanted to help him.

Even the landlord, when he showed up, slapped Eddie's shoulder and promised to get the wall fixed the same day. Eddie remembered. The landlord's wife had died of lymphoma. She'd been on a Life Foundation trial.

It was confusing.

After six months with no money, no friends, and no respect Eddie had everything back. He could walk into any newsroom in the world and they'd take him; Anne might never want to marry him again but she and Dan had proved to be more generous and loving than he knew people could be; his landlord was crying and thanking him, offering him a month free, a year free, saying its what Greta, bless her, would have wanted.

And all of that love and sympathy felt like sandpaper on his skin because all that Eddie wanted right that moment, all that Eddie wanted ever again, was to feel Venom thrumming happily in his chest, or coating him in a warm suit of joy and adrenaline.

He changed his mind because of me, Eddie thought. He wanted to save the world because he felt how much I need the world to be a better place.

Eddie texted Anne from the burner so that she had his number. He spent the rest of the day on the couch, answering calls from police and newspapers and bricklayers between bouts of staring into empty space, lonely for the voice inside his head.

He unearthed a case of beer and popped two without even bothering to cool them. He stuck six more in the dented fridge to pull one out every couple of hours, the sky outside going from morning fog to a deep clear blue, to a firery riot at sunset and velvet darkness at night while Eddie felt things and hid from feeling things and didn't know how to see the world.

That was the first day.

 

***

 

When he woke up on the couch with a hangover Eddie wasn't surprised. He was, however, surprised to see smooth skin under most of the bandages that he peeled off in the shower.

Eddie hadn't seen a vegetable in a month, hid from the sun so much he had to take prescription vitamin D, and had never owned a single lotion or moisturizer. His skin wasn't resilient, it didn't heal easily. In fact it scarred pretty easily, much to the chagrin of his tattoo artists. But only the deepest cuts and bruises still showed up on him. He felt a curl of anticipation and excitement in his stomach and stomped down on it savagely. Eddie Brock didn't allow himself to hope for things. Eddie Brock was a realist who knew the world hurt. So he took his shower and put on fewer band-aids, and then he called in an order to the coffee shop down the street.

Quad shot americano. His usual.

And a chocolate croissant.

He felt a little flutter of anticipation again. He didn't shut it down quite so hard this time.

 

***

 

Back on his couch the coffee was hot in his hand. A warm, fragrant paper bag sat on the table. He took another sip of his coffee. His leg bounced.

Nerves? Anxiety? Food Poisoning?

Was Eddie's stomach churning because he was sick?

Or did he just have a parasite?

He kept drinking the coffee until he was pretty sure his bouncing leg would kick a hole through the floor before he took up the pastry.

He opened the warm bag and stuck his nose inside of it, taking a huge breath that smelled of buttery dough and dark chocolate.

A flutter.

He took a bite of the croissant - it was fresh and flaky and wonderful, the bitterness of the dark chocolate complimented by the salt of the butter to make a smooth, mellow richness that seemed to coat and heat his throat.

The flutter felt a little stronger.

Eddie squeezed the croissant and a thick gob of melted chocolate oozed out.

"Venom? Vee? Are you there?"

Nothing answered, but the fluttering continued. Eddie dipped his finger in the warm chocolate and began to suck the sugary sludge off of it. He pressed his tongue to the pad of his finger, enjoying the taste and the texture of his soft mouth on his hand. He started to pull his hand away when suddenly his tongue wasn't his own. Eight inches of slimy pink muscle spilled out of his mouth to wrap around his wrist and sharp teeth were grazing his knuckles. He slowly pulled his hand away and was a little stunned to watch the creature invert itself, its teeth moving backwards and the smooth black mass of it growing from his arm until it was facing him, and the tongue that had reached from his mouth to his hand was now reversed, caressing Eddie's lips as huge eyes sprang into being. Eddie sobbed and let the creature keep kissing him and tried to ignore the fact that he was making out with an alien sock puppet on the end of his arm because he was just too happy to have the heavy emptiness inside of him filled with the cinnamon-and-amber scent of a slimy loser.

Venom licked up the tears falling from Eddie's eyes and nuzzled into his hair. He felt those nightmare teeth graze his ear and heard his other whisper PUSSY, before more of it poured out of Eddie's skin, settling on top of him with a comforting weight. Eddie reached out as it grew more corporeal gathering it in his arms.

"Oh, you fucking parasite," Eddie moaned, "I missed, you, love. Don't do that again. Don't go away. Don't make me think you're dead."

Venom framed Eddie's face in its huge hands. It was heavy and hot on top of him but slow and quiet. NO. NEVER AWAY AGAIN. I FELT YOU. I THOUGHT I WAS GONE AND THEN I FELT YOU AND YOU WERE SCREAMING FOR ME. YOU CALLED ME BACK. YOU MADE ME REAL WHEN I THOUGHT THAT I WAS GONE.

Eddie's hands clenched around tendrils of symbiote. He wanted to pull Venom apart or drag it onto his chest or be buried or drown in it - anything, he just never wanted to let go of his other again, never wanted to feel the chill of the void approaching behind him. He was so full of Venom he couldn't bear to be empty ever again.

"If you ever," Eddie growled, "pull some stupid shit like that again I'm going to put you in a fucking mason jar and make you watch me eat an entire chocolate cake without you."

NOOOOO EDDIE. WHAT STUPID SHIT? I DID MY BEST. I DID GOOD. I WAS A GOOD GUY. I SAVED PEOPLE. YOU'RE A PEOPLE.

"I'm barely a people and I'm not worth... If I thought. Look. Don't die for me. We're both losers, we'll be losers together. I don't know what I'd do without you."

DIE, Venom said, casually.

"Probably yeah."

 

EDDIE.

"Yeah?"

YOU CALLED ME LOVE.

"Yeah."

DO YOU LOVE ME?

"Yeah."

I LOVE YOU TOO EDDIE. I LOVE YOU SO MUCH. I WANT TO TASTE YOU AND FEEL YOUR BLOOD AND HEAR YOU CRY FOR ME BECAUSE YOU'RE MINE.

"Yeah, that's not creepy at all."

EDDIE.

"What, love?" Venom purred and curled itself around Eddie's forearms and butted its head against his chin at the endearment.

EDDIE CAN WE GET A CHOCOLATE CAKE? I'M HUNGRY. BUT YOU HAVE TO SHARE, I WON'T FIT IN A JAR.

 

***

 

Eddie came awake and took stock of himself in pieces. He was cold and his feet were bare. The ground was hard. Harsh fluorescent lights flickered from about waist height along the walls, making ugly shadows stretch up and down. His face hurt and he was wearing white scrubs. Like Maria had been wearing, only his had more blood on them.

He crouched down against a corner, rough concrete on one side and smooth glass on the other. He was still in the lab, somewhere. He was still close to the other. He couldn't fight, couldn't get away. He wouldn't leave without it. So he huddled in the corner and crouched low, trying to find a comfortable spot to doze while conserving warmth and strength.

It must have worked, because the next thing he new was the sound of shoes on concrete. He watched as Carlton Drake and three of his goons tromped down the corridor and stopped in front of his cell. Drake crouched down slightly next to the plexiglass, looking affable and disarming. His wounds were better today and Eddie wasn't sure he wanted to know why.

"Do you know how many kings have been named Edward?"

"The only reason to study monarchy is to know how to kill it."

Drake snorted, but continued. "It means 'prosperous guardian,' which is why I had so much fun breaking apart every little piece of your life. You're so serious, so sure of what's right, and you want so badly to guard the light in the world from the encroaching darkness. So I made you poor. I made you weak. I broke you down until the only things you could protect were the things that meant so little to the world that most people wouldn't even realize they were missing."

He had put his hand on the glass and was tracing invisible patterns next to Eddie's face. The little movements and twitches were irritatingly close.

"People aren't things, Drake. And being homeless doesn't make them less than people, you fucking asshole."

"No, but it makes them unwanted. Unimportant. I made them matter, Brock. I made them useful. I gave them a chance to be greater than they ever could have been on their own. And you destroyed that."

"Do you like the sound of your own voice so much that you say bullshit like this just to hear it?"

Drake sighed and straightened up.

"I'm going to make you matter too, Eddie. I'm going to give you a chance to live up to your name, to protect something meaningful."

"Just do whatever you're gonna do, asshole. It's not like I've got a choice, huh?"

Drake's face softened into a gentle smile and he pressed his hand to the glass once again, holding it where it would be cradling Eddie's cheek if not for the barrier.

"There's always a choice, Eddie. But you already made it. If you had just stayed out of my business none of this would be happening. You did this, and I'm humbled that I get to see how far down this path you'll take us."

He pulled his hand away from the glass and moved to a keypad at chest height on the rough concrete that divided Eddie's cell from the next one. Eddie counted six clicks, no tone to differentiate numbers, one number pressed twice. Maybe he'd be able to recreate it from hand positions, given some time.

But he probably wouldn't live long enough to worry about that. He blinked his eyes hard as his vision started to blur. It didn't clear. He looked up and everything was in sharp focus. Looked down and it was fuzzy and getting fuzzier. Some kind of slightly cloudy gas was filling in the cell from the bottom up.

Eddie glared at Drake and considered standing. He decided against it, and chose to look into the corner of his cell and take deep, even breaths, waiting to see what happened.

Chapter Text

Drake watched carefully while the cell filled and then until it was empty again. Eddie ignored him, concentrating on breathing. The gas smelled slightly sweet but left his tongue numb when he inhaled through his mouth.

When the sweet smell had totally faded the cell door slid open and Drake's three heavies hauled Eddie out of his corner. He remembered his legs being weak when Venom had separated but they were more stable now. He looked at the goons and considered for a moment. They didn't seem like they'd let him stand on his own. He thought he was likely to be dragged wherever the next stop on this nightmare journey was, but he was surprised. They just pulled him to his feet and led him out, their size and the wicked black batons they carried enough to deter Eddie from doing anything more than follow Drake down the badly-lit hallway.

Drake walked ahead, moving quickly with a spring in his step. He keyed an entry code at the door to another room and when it slipped open the hall was filled with cold white light and Eddie faltered. The guards behind him each took one of his arms and pulled him into the shadowless chamber.

It was an operating room, centered around a padded black table that was heavily laden with straps that curved open like hands reaching out for an offering. Eddie's feet stopped but the guards kept moving, dragging him inexorably forward.

He wanted to say something, wanted to refuse to move another step, but couldn't find words. Two more armed men joined the first three in shepherding Eddie toward the table. He couldn't bring himself to speak but he tried to pull away, bare feet scabbling for purchase on the cold tile. He couldn't get the leverage to break their hold on him and soon all five were lifting him up while cold-faced orderlies in red scrubs rushed to strap him down.

Drake observed the scene placidly, tracking the path of the straps and raising an eyebrow at Eddie's guttural growls of protest. He ended up panting on his back, secured by thick straps across his hips and chest, feeling his legs and wrists locked into enormous shackles that totally restricted his movement. A single harried-looking nurse was locking a thick metal collar closed around his throat, and finally secured a strap over his forehead and temples so tightly that he couldn't even turn his head away from the intolerable glare of the surgical lights.

Eddie closed his eyes against the overwhelming brightness and swallowed, trying to get a handle on his rising panic. It wasn't really working but he figured he might as well make the effort. He felt a warm hand on his arm.

"Are you ready to make a difference, Eddie?" Drake asked. Eddie huffed out a shaky laugh.

"You said you'd let me go. You said you'd let me die in peace, say goodbye to my friends," he opened his eyes and saw that Drake was pulling on a pair of rubber gloves.

"And maybe I will. Once you've given us all that you can give. But for now you're much too helpful a subject to let slip away. You're sick. The symbiote was keeping you alive but I want to know if you can be healed," Drake picked up a set of paramedic shears. "You tried to have my foundation destroyed because of who we were testing on," He smiled and tugged at the  hem of Eddie's shirt. "Look at it this way, better you than somebody else, right?"

Eddie groaned and tried to jerk away as the shirt was cut off and pulled out from under him. Drake took a step back and moved to a console, where he pulled up a video feed that centered on the face and bare torso of the restrained man.

"Begin test 23B of coagulating agent derived from symbiote subject 4; patient starting weight 79.4 kg, starting blood volume 5.235 liters."

The nurse who had secured Eddie's head stepped closer to him, and Eddie caught the glitter of a scalpel in her hand, which was all the warning he had to suck in a deep breath an clench his teeth before she lowered it to his chest and made a short incision that ran parallel to his collarbone. To his surprise she stopped moving the blade almost immediately. The cut stung, but it wasn't deep or long.

"Excellent," Drake said and Eddie strained his eyes to look at the screen behind the other man; he saw his own anxious face, and the nurse's hand, but no blood. "Cut type one site one length two, please."

The nurse put her scalpel to his skin again - this one was a little longer but still shallow; it was still irritating but not awful. Not even as painful as getting linework done. Eddie frowned.

"Cut type one site one length three," and it happened again. Eddie looked from the nurse to Drake to the screen as eight more cuts were made. By type ten she had proceeded further down his pectoral muscle and was making longer cuts, but she neatly avoided his nipple. The last cut showed some blood on the screen from the longest incision, but only a couple of drops appeared before the bleeding stopped and when the nurse wiped the site clean it didn't continue.

"Perfect, Jane. Let's move onto site two."

The nurse fiddled with a mechanism on the side of the operating table and Eddie's arm swung away from his body. He felt the blade, cold and small, touch the inside of his arm near the shoulder.

"Cut type one site two length one," said Drake, and it started again.

Eddie closed his eyes. All he could do was wait.

 

***

Site three was his calf, they rolled up the leg of his scrubs.

Site four was low on his ribcage on the opposite side from site one.

Site five was his face.

They attached a series of monitors for that one, and he got to listen to his own heart rate as it climbed. He couldn't keep his eyes closed, couldn't keep from watching as the nurse opened a small cut on his chin and made progressively larger cuts moving up his jaw toward his ear.

The nurse never looked him in the eye, just carefully made her cuts and watched for any blood she might have to wipe away.

"Alright, everyone, good work," Drake was standing up from his console and the nurse was putting down her knife. Eddie let his jaw unclench a tiny bit. "Let's get started on type two!"

Another nurse stepped up to the table. He had a fresh scalpel.

 

***

 

Type two was a deeper cut and more of them bled, but it was still less blood than should have been possible and Drake was very pleased.

Type three was deeper still, cutting down to fat. Eddie kept his eyes closed the whole time and didn't notice when a high, anxious whine escaped his throat and began to punctuate most of the cuts. The pain had been mild at first, noticeable but tolerable. Type three, though, type three hurt.

They stopped cutting his face with type four. Drake said something about too much damage.

Type five was flaying.

 

***

 

Eddie didn't know how many nurses there had been. He'd been closing his eyes and drifting away and trying to pretend he was somewhere other than this cold, bright room for hours. He was sucking air like he'd run a marathon and his skin shone with sweat. The person who stood over him didn't look like the nurses. He was wearing a shiny plastic splash-mask and green scrubs. It looked like a doctor, and the fact that a more trained professional was coming into the operating room made Eddie shudder. The doctor had nimble, fine-boned hands that reeked of antiseptic. Before he made his first cut he scrubbed at Eddie's chest with iodine. The cool swabs felt soft after the cutting and Eddie tried to pace his breathing, tried to keep it together and stop himself from relaxing after a moment of gentle contact.

The doctor made the first cut in the same place where all of this had started. A couple of shallow slices beneath the collarbone. And then he peeled the skin up and Eddie bit his lip and breathed hard to keep from focusing on the unexpectedly intense pain.

"- perhaps we'll need to pack it but - oh, no, it' stopped. Just give it, say, five seconds after each cut? Good. We'll keep going."

Drake was saying something and it seemed like Eddie had missed part of it, but knew there was more blood than before. The doctor made a second series of incisions and peeled away more skin. It burned. It felt wrong to feel the cold air of the operating room on the exposed flesh.

"Drake," he croaked, "what's the point, man?"

"I'd have thought that was obvious. We're testing a new coagulant."

"It works. Please, just," Eddie swallowed hard, upset to hear his voice thick with tears. Upset to hear himself do something that sounded a bit like begging. "What more do you need?"

"I need to find the point at which it doesn't work. And I'm so glad you're here to help us do that. Cut type five, site one, length three, Doctor. Whenever you're ready"

 

***

 

They had released Eddie's head once they were done cutting his face, so he could crane his neck up and make out the damage to the testing sites.

"I look like a goddamned bar graph," he grumbled, keeping his voice low to cover for quaver in it. Drake laughed.

The guards had been shuffled away, the nurses were sent back to whatever their stations were when they weren't in this terrible operating room. Eddie's skin was prickling with little tingles of nervousness. He didn't like being in here alone with the doctor and Drake. He didn't want to know why the others had been sent away. The doctor pressed a button and the table started to tilt, bringing Eddie closer to eye-level. The screen in the corner switched to a view from a different camera, and a few clicks from Drake brought the video feed up on the wall directly in front of Eddie, larger than life and perfectly clear. He could see the bloodless cuts striping his body and the scores on his face. The wounds had taken pieces of his tattoos with them. The inflamed flesh was missing letters, flowers, feathers. Eddie looked into his eyes and was horrified at how empty and lost they seemed.

"The formula is holding up well, better than the others," the doctor said. His hands were moving on a tray full of hemostats and clamps and other shiny, awful things.

"He's been a successful host for weeks. Hard to tell if it'll perform the same on a subject whose immune system hasn't had time to adapt."

"Still, I think we can push forward. We can always work on rejection protocols later and keep his results as baseline."

Drake hummed and nodded, clicking away at the console.

"Should we anesthetize him?" The doctor was starting to frown, looking between his employer and Eddie. "There's no reason to keep him conscious for this."

"Ask him."

"What?" The doctor's eyes widened and he glared at his subject suspiciously. It seemed like he'd forgotten there was a third person in the room instead of a lump of muscle to experiment on.

"Eddie, do you want us to knock you out, numb you up?"

"I want you to let me go. I want to go home."

"Well, that's not going to happen," Drake grinned nastily. "This next part is going to be unpleasant."

Eddie snorted.

"Well, more unpleasant," Drake amended. "The question is, do you want it to be a surprise when you wake up or do you want to know what's happening to you?"

A hundred horrible possibilities flashed through Eddie's mind as he imagined himself returning to consciousness with all his fingers gone or his teeth pulled or his tongue split in two. He tipped his head back so that he wasn't looking at himself or the doctor and his tray full of shining, painful tools or at Drake's maddeningly knowing smile. He swallowed hard and blinked away tears. He was sore and he was scared and he still couldn't believe how empty he felt or how much he missed Venom's voice inside his head.

"Awake. I'll -" a sob broke in before he could strangle it. "Awake."

"Wonderful. Just wonderful. You're doing so much to help so many people, Eddie. I knew I could count on you. We need you here for this."

"Fuck you," he said, and then he could only scream as the doctor pushed a scalpel into him and smoothly cut him open from sternum to navel.

 

***

 

Eddie watched his intestines writhe on the retaining rack and considered the merits of passing out. He'd nearly passed out when the doctor first split him open; he'd nearly lost consciousness when Drake joined the doctor in placing a retractor over the incision and spreading the skin and muscle apart to make an ugly hole. He actually had blacked out for a while when the doctor reached elbow-deep inside of him and started squeezing organs. But since then Eddie Brock had locked eyes with his own projected image and stared into the growing nothingness of his gaze.

He wasn't bleeding, which the doctor and Drake were very excited about. He wasn't screaming anymore either, just drooling and moaning around a u-shaped rubber gag that had been shoved between his teeth when he nearly bit through his lip (also bloodlessly, Drake had noted in his report).

They had found tumors lurking around his guts and had cauterized them away until Eddie nearly choked on vomit at the smell of his liver frying inside of him. After that the doctor merely sought out and touched the tumors and lesions on the surface of his organs; asking what hurt, asking if this hurt more than that, asking if it was a burning or tearing or aching pain and Eddie had gurgled and wept and tried to answer their questions in the way that would get their hands out of him the fastest. Eventually they ran out of questions to ask and tools to poke at him with and his tormentors were left bored and restless, nicking the edges of his incision every ten minutes to see if enough of the coagulant had left his system to stitch him back together.

After six hours the answer was still "no."

Chapter Text

 

For a week after Venom's reemergence neither Eddie nor his other brought up that strange inverted kiss.

Eddie called Venom "Love" and Venom called Eddie MINE and they ate chocolate and tater tots and criminals together. Sometimes Venom would wrap a tendril tightly around Eddie's little finger and squeeze tight for a moment, sometimes Eddie would comb his fingers through the malleable ooze like he was stroking a lover's hair. But they didn't bring up the kiss in the woods or the kiss on the couch. Eddie could still feel them both on his lips. He could still sense the shape of that enormous tongue heavy in his mouth. He remembered, and remembering he wanted more.

They were sitting on the couch watching the news and sharing a pint of ice cream when Eddie found himself remembering again. He took a bite from the carton then held a spoonful out to the other. Venom unhinged that scary mouth and a fucking foot of tongue flooded out and surged into the bowl of the spoon, the tip of it flickering over Eddie's knuckles.

Eddie took another spoonful of ice cream and tried to subtly adjust himself. He held the spoon out to Venom and this time the symbiote wrapped it hot, wet tongue around his wrist and squeezed. He felt a similar squeeze under his clothes in three places at once - Venom had lifted tendrils of itself through Eddie's skin around his throat, his left nipple, and his rapidly hardening cock.

The sound that crawled out of his mouth must have been obscene.

EDDIE, the symbiote rumbled, YOU KNOW I CAN HEAR YOUR THOUGHTS.

"Yeah, but,"

I CAN SEE YOUR MEMORIES. The tendril by his nipple writhed and circled it, cinching down tight enough to make Eddie hiss.

"Uh-huh,"

BUT I DON'T UNDERSTAND HUMANS.

"What, uh, fuck," the touch on his neck had become firmer, a tendril thickening to a tentacle, "what don't you understand?"

WHY DON'T YOU WANT THIS?

"What?"

YOU THINK ABOUT IT. YOU THINK ABOUT ME INSIDE OF YOU. YOU THINK ABOUT TOUCH AND SENSATION AND FULLNESS. BUT THEN YOU THINK ABOUT HOW DISGUSTING YOU ARE FOR THINKING ABOUT IT.

"I, uh, god - Vee, could you come out?" Eddie was having trouble stringing words together. "I need to see you to talk about this."

It flowed out of him, resolving into a head and pouring out of his chest until there was a vaguely human shape straddling Eddie's lap, thick puddles over his legs and long tentacles gripping his shoulders. Eddie brought his hands up to tangle in the malleable strands of the other.

"Okay, do you know what sex is, Love?"

Venom purred at him and snuggled more strands of itself to Eddie's abdomen.

SEX IS HOW HUMANS REPRODUCE. LIKE YOU USED TO DO WITH ANNIE.

"Well, okay, yeah. That's part of it. But it's also to feel good."

LIKE EATING FACES FEELS GOOD?

"Uh. Better than eating faces. Better than eating chocolate."

THEN WE SHOULD DO SEX RIGHT NOW. It started to crawl under Eddie's clothes, gently clawing at his stomach.

"Wait! Uh," Eddie ran a hand through his hair and pulled back as much as he could; Venom paused. "Humans only usually do sex with other humans. If they do - I mean have - sex with things that aren't human it's bad."

IT DOESN'T FEEL BETTER THAN CHOCOLATE UNLESS IT'S WITH ANOTHER HUMAN? I CAN FIND A HUMAN FOR YOU, DOES IT HAVE TO BE A BAD HUMAN IF IT'S NOT ANNIE? OR IS ANNIE A BAD HUMAN SO IT'S OKAY? SHE WORKED FOR DRAKE MAYBE SHE'S A BAD HUMAN.

"No, uh, okay that's a lot. It doesn't only have to be with bad humans, Annie... usually isn't a bad human but that was a bad thing to do. And it's not that it doesn't feel good, just that we're not supposed to. It's wrong. But I don't know if it's wrong with you. With us."

I CONTINUE TO NOT UNDERSTAND.

"Me too, bud." Eddie held out a hand and Venom puddled in it, curling out bits to twine with his fingers. "Usually it's wrong to have sex with things that can't understand what's happening. It's not just not-humans either; it's wrong to have sex with humans who don't want to have sex, or with humans too young to understand it, or humans who are asleep or drugged. There are lots of things it's wrong to have sex with for humans, and lots of humans it's wrong to have sex with too."

THAT SEEMS LIKE A LOT TO KEEP TRACK OF.

"It's not, really. It's pretty easy. You shouldn't have sex with anything that says no or anything that can't say no - like a dog can't say no to a human or a sleeping person can't say no to an awake person. And you shouldn't have sex unless you know the other person wants it."

BUT I KNOW YOU WANT IT, EDDIE.

"Yeah, you know I want it. I know I want it. But. You're not human. And I don't want to do something wrong. And it's weird. I've never wanted sex with amorphous goo before. But I want it with you. So I don't know what I want. And you're inside of me, how can I know that you really want this, or if it's something you want because I want it?"

DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA, it said, drawing its face closer to Eddie's, HOW GOOD YOU TASTE?

Eddie shuddered and felt a throb in his pants. The thick, wet tongue unspooled and curled behind his ear then ran down his throat and under his jaw, tipping his head back and forth as the symbiote's huge, unblinking eyes bored into him.

I WANT TO BE IN EVERY PART OF YOU. I WANT TO HOLD YOU IN MY TEETH AND DRINK YOUR BLOOD AND SWEAT AND SPIT. I WANT YOU SCREAMING. I WANT TO SEE YOU DISSOLVE. I WANT YOU TO BE MINE MINE MINEMINEMINEMINE

And that damned tongue was rolling up over his chin and flooding into his mouth, the tip of it filling him and he didn't take a second to think before he sucked it in deeper, humming against it as it rammed into the back of his mouth and surged into his throat, making a bulge that he gagged against until the other pulled it away. Eddie dug his fingers into the melting strands of the symbiote and thrust up against its frustrating nothingness, groaning at the lack of pressure he found to meet him.

The mouthful of razors was hovering right next to his ear, the hot tongue was snaking down the neck of his shirt and slowly working up his throat.

WHAT DO YOU WANT, EDDIE? It growled to him.

"You, want you, Vee," he panted.

The symbiote sneered in satisfaction. AND HOW DO YOU WANT ME?

Eddie moaned and let his eyes flutter closed; his head lolled back on his shoulders and the other grew and loomed over him, starting to chuckle. He cracked his eyes open and with surprising speed he whipped his hand up and caught hold of the enormous tongue that was starting to wrap around his throat until it was flailing and struggling in his grip like a caught fish. He jerked down hard on it, dragging Venom's eyes down to meet his; the terrible jaw dropped and the opal eyes widened in shock even as the points of the symbiote's mouth rose into a delighted grin.

"Want you hard, love," he bit down on the pointed end of the tongue that protruded from his fist. "Think you can handle it?" And he opened up his thoughts, projecting dozens or hundreds of flickering images of arched backs and spread legs and decorated skin bound up under a living web of black.

EDDIE, it crooned, EDDIE MINE OWN EDDIE, a thick strand of ooze wrapped around his wrist while another flowed around his waist under his shirt, WANT TO EAT YOU ALIVE AND MAKE YOU SCREAM, two more tendrils were wrestling with his pants while another was yanking off his shoes, WANT TO TASTE YOU FROM THE INSIDE, WANT TO FILL YOU UP UNTIL YOU'RE CHOKING ON IT, and finally the strand around his wrist had broken his grip and a hand-like grip on his hair pulled Eddie's hair back so hard he winced. OPEN YOUR MOUTH, PUSSY.

"Make me, parasite," Eddie ground out through clenched teeth, and Venom howled with joy.

Thin lines of black crawled up Eddie's face to the corners of his mouth and flowed inside. He felt the invading strands trace along his gumline until they were behind his molars and dancing over his tongue when they started swelling, getting bigger and harder until Eddie couldn't keep his teeth closed against the pressure. As soon as there was a gap the stuff oozed between his upper and lower teeth far in the back, hardening and shaping itself until his mouth was held open by living wedges that locked themselves in place.

Venom was purring again as it licked Eddie's cheek. It casually sent tentacles of goo to restrain Eddie's free hand and to rest in a loose loop around the base of his neck. Eddie was clenching and unclenching his hands and squirming around the tentacles below that were still stripping him of his boxers and shirt. The purring alien dipped the very tip of its tongue into his mouth before it pulled back and nibbled delicately at his full lower lip with its terrifying teeth. It wasn't gentle, it was hungry, and Eddie's lip bled into their mouths. The symbiote growled at the taste and pressed more of its tongue into his mouth, pushing past his choking to let the tip lodge somewhere in his chest as the thickness of it throbbed and undulated above his collarbone. He was choking and struggling against it but he felt the thick band around his neck tighten over it, probing at his throat. CAN FEEL ME INSIDE YOU, EDDIE. FEEL YOU STRETCHING FOR ME. FEEL HOW HOT AND TIGHT YOU ARE AROUND ME, and Eddie's eyes rolled back in his head as Venom sent him thoughts of how helpless and contained he was right now. Through Venom's eyes Eddie could see the way his stomach was flexing over his furious, throbbing cock as he tried to keep his balance, nearly suspended by Venom's grip on his wrists and neck. He saw the tension in his shoulders and the hollowing of his cheeks and the unnatural lump in his throat as the symbiote tongue-fucked his mouth and he got somehow, impossibly, even harder.

The tongue pulled away to allow him a chance to breath while more tentacles were wrapping around his legs, first circling his thighs then dropping down to tug at his ankles. He ended up bound with his knees bent, practically sitting on his feet while Venom held him in the air, manipulating him effortlessly as it examined everything Eddie had revealed.

The symbiote was manifesting its big form, making huge hands and huge shoulders and Eddie moaned and drooled around the tongue that was ramming itself into his mouth again. It moved his hands behind his back and tangled them with the tentacles that locked his legs. The big hands wrapped themseves around his waist, cradling him and scoring his skin with their claws. A tentacle worked its way between the clenching cheeks of his ass and brushed over his entrance before working its way over his balls and constricting around his dripping cock.

Eddie made an indignant, inquiring sound and tossed his head.

YOU WANT YOUR MOUTH BACK?

An affirmative sound accompanied his writhing hips as he tried to thrust into the coils squeezing gently over his prick.

WHAT IF I LIKE YOU LIKE THIS, Venom said, sending Eddie visions of himself bound and spread, WHAT IF I WANT TO SEE YOU OPEN AND WET AND READY FOR USE?

And Eddie surprised them both by coming so hard and suddenly that it spurted over his chest and face; some landing across his open mouth and when he tasted himself, hot and bitter, on his tongue, another gob of come shot out and landed on his twitching belly.

Venom whined and tightened all its tendrils as the feeling of Eddie's orgasm rolled through them both and amplified in a feedback loop while it was shared through their minds; it was lowering him to the soft surface of the couch even as it turned liquid and languid and flowed over his body like a sheet of silk, soaking up his sweat and spit and ejaculate, moaning in his mind.

OH EDDIE, OH, OH, OH EDDIE BEAUTIFUL SO GOOD WANT TO EAT YOU WANT TO KILL YOU WANT TO DIE OH EDDIE.

He was safely set on his back, panting and laughing, while the symbiote sank into his skin and skittered around inside of him, delighting in the strange sensations it felt through him; it marveled at his twitching thighs and clenching asshole, it purred at the tingling in his hands and the ache in his jaw.

EDDIE AGAIN PLEASE AGAIN LOVE YOU EDDIE MORE LOVE YOU MINE OWN MINE ONLY.

"Darling," Eddie whispered, "Love, come back to me, be something I can hold," and it did, crawling out of his skin like a rock rising from the water, huge shoulders and head curling protectively around its flushed, lovely human. Eddie wrapped his arms around the thick black neck and pressed their chests together.

"We can do that again, love, but later. Some humans have to wait a while before they can be ready for sex again."

HUMANS ARE WEAK, Venom said petulantly as it nibbled gently at Eddie's shoulder, YOU'RE WEAK BUT YOU TASTE SO GOOD.

"You taste good to me too, love." And Venom purred at the compliment, wrapping its comforting warmth around its host and cuddling him close as Eddie dozed off on the couch.

 

***

Venom and Eddie hanging from the roof while having pretty explicit sex

***

 

He woke up to find himself still naked and on the couch, but carefully tucked under a blanket that had been spread over a nearby chair. Venom had made a little nest next to his stomach and was pulsating and chirping cheerfully. Eddie snuggled down into the blanket and stroked Venom like a cat.

He stretched and caught sight of a ring of purple bruises around his wrist, and realized there was probably a matching set around his neck.

I LIKE THEM, the symbiote said, trailing a wisp of itself along his forearm. THEY MADE YOUR BIRDS LOOK ALIVE.

It was true - the blue and green and purple gradient had turned his black-lined starlings into strange tropical creatures that seemed to be straining for the sky as he rotated his wrist.

"You hungry, love?" He asked.

NO. I FINISHED THE ICE CREAM WHEN YOU WOULDN'T WAKE UP TO MAKE ME SOME TOTS.

"Hey! We were sharing that!"

 

***

 

Twelve hours after the gas had initially flooded his cell the cuts they made were finally staying open long enough that they could incise the edges of his wound and stitch it back together so that it would actually heal.

"I suppose we're going to be seeing him enough that we could just install a zipper," the doctor said as he sliced another few centimeters on each side to mate them together. Eddie, who had been largely unresponsive for the last three hours, started sobbing.

The doctor reached up from where he was working and briskly slapped his face. "Get it together, big guy. Can't close you up if the wound is moving," and as much as Eddie hated him for that he knew it was true. He gritted his teeth and sucked in air from his nose and did his best to hold still.

"We'll need to compare this formula against other patients; the half-life seems longer than it should be but I don't know if that's because of his history."

Drake nodded and kept typing the report that he'd been working on for the last several hours.

"But don't worry about it," the doctor was looking up at Eddie every couple of stitches, half-smiling. He put a hand on Eddie's hip and caressed the sharp bone there with his thumb. "We don't have to do this thing again until there's another formula. We've got easier work for you in the meantime."

Eddie couldn't speak, even to tell the doctor to fuck off. He just tried to keep his stomach still and tried to keep from crying or puking or screaming until his throat ruptured.

 

***

 

The doctor stayed in the operating room but Carlton Drake walked alongside the wheelchair that was pushed through the facility by one of his goons.

"Did you know the most common cause of maternal death is postpartum bleeding? We live in a world where we can reach the stars and still women fear birthing children, and they should." Eddie didn't respond, just maintained his cringing posture in the chair, his shoulders raised almost to his ears and his hands clutching his head.

"Car accidents, surgery, industrial accidents. I want to make a world that never needs to know fear. Just think about how this will revolutionize treatment of HIV/AIDS patients, or anyone with a blood-borne disease; no more worries about accidental needlesticks."

They were approaching Eddie's cell.

"Think about what a miracle cure this will be for Ebola." Drake stopped the chair and knelt down, putting himself in front of Eddie's eyes, making him look at him. Behind them the security officer was rustling around with something that clicked and snapped. Eddie just whined and grabbed harder at his hair.

"All those lives. All those children who won't lose their mothers. All those people afraid of infection who will be protected. You're doing that, Eddie. You're saving them. What an incredible honor it must be."

Eddie shook his head as much as his grip would allow while they took the final few steps. The security guy put the brake on the chair and grabbed Eddie's arm, pulling him roughly upright. His feet weren't working. His brain wasn't working. Nothing was working and he wasn't sure it ever would again.

He flinched at the sight of the guard's face, taking in the lines of the gas mask he wore as he keyed open Eddie's door. "Mask," Eddie mumbled. He was deposited on the bed that had been brought in during his absence. A sink and toilet had made an appearance in the cell as well, confusing him. He didn't remember seeing any plumbing outlets. Maybe this was a different room. He couldn't tell. He felt lost and didn't know if it was physical or mental.

The guard put him on his back and threw a sheet over him, covering the vivid magenta bruises and black stitching that ran up the centerline of his torso.

The guard exited the cell and closed the door as quickly as he could, walking the wheelchair away with a rapidly fading click of heels on tile.

"You didn't even lose half a liter of blood today, Eddie. It's revolutionary. People are going to whisper your name for centuries."

"Drake," he said, weakly. His mouth was dry but he didn't think he'd be able to reach the sink for a while.

"Yes?"

"Shut the fuck up, you fucking ghoul." Drake quirked his lips up slightly.

"Eddie?"

"Fucking what?"

"Copy," he said, and disappeared down the corridor, leaving Eddie screaming behind him.

Chapter Text

 

Eddie dragged himself out of the cot and shouted himself hoarse in the corner closest to where Drake had made his exit. He quickly worked through all the sensible swearing he knew, moved onto nonsense, and in short order found himself simply roaring at his own foggy reflection in the glass.

Moving hurt. Yelling hurt. Simply existing hurt him right now. But he kept shouting in spite of the aching rip in his abdomen and the shaking corners of his mind because he was convinced that if he didn't yell, or stomp, or slap the wound on his stomach that he'd simply lay down and die.

Copy.

Had Drake gotten a recording of the firefight with the police? Had he bugged Eddie's apartment? Or did he know about that little, intimate detail from the source? Had he communicated with Venom? Was he carrying Venom?

The thought of his symbiote in someone else made Eddie want to throw up more than seeing his own organs hanging from a rack had.

Eventually the pain was too much to keep going and Eddie turned his back to the hallway, pressing his hands over his eyes and rocking slightly, keening miserably as he tried to make himself believe that anything would be alright ever again. He crawled back to the cot slowly and managed to drink some water from the sink before he pulled himself onto the relatively soft cushion. He wrapped the coarse sheet around his shoulders and stared unblinkingly at the wall, wishing he was anywhere but here.

 

***

 

Hours later Eddie woke from a fitful sleep suddenly filled with the horrible certainty that someone was watching him from the hallway. He froze, unsure of how he'd come by this new knowledge, and heard tapping on the glass. Raising his head cautiously he saw a Life Foundation security contractor smirking at him and knocking at the window with a tray.

Eddie tried to remember the last time he had eaten and found that he couldn't. He thought about putting his head back down on the pillow but his stomach let loose a loud growl and the guard laughed.

"Hungry in there, Scarface? Or should I call you Frankenstein?"

Eddie ran his knuckles up his jaw, feeling the line of parallel cuts from Drake's experiment. They hadn't bled but that also meant they hadn't sealed closed completely - they were puffy and painful and maybe some of the oddest injuries he'd ever had. Eddie slowly sat up and put his feet on the floor. He rested his elbows on his knees and glared at the guard. The newcomer entered a code on the panel in the wall and part of the glass slid away, slotting itself neatly into place when the guard had entered.

"Not so scary now, huh Frankie? When you don't have your big buddy to knock cars over for you? Can't cause trouble and get people killed when you're by your lonesome. Can't blow up rockets by yourself."

Eddie just watched him. The guard licked his lips and his eyes moved to the livid wound on Eddie's stomach, which had changed from magenta to a spectacular gradient of purple and turquoise. "I was in one of those cars you threw in the fucking bay. Yeah, not so scary now that you look like you've been dragged out of a graveyard, you know that?"

"What I want to know," Eddie said quietly, "is how, in an economy in which city employees end up homeless and teachers with masters degrees have to hold three jobs, a jackass security guard keeps his fat benefits package when he hasn't even finished enough freshman year lit to get that the monster is the victim in Frankenstein."

The guard gaped at him and opened his hand. The tray had barely hit the ground when Eddie's head was knocked sideways by the vicious backhanded slap. It stung terribly over his not-quite-cuts.

"Yeah, that's what I thought," he said, craning his head back to look in the eyes of the man looming over him. "You don't have to be smart to keep this job, just pig-ugly and mean."

The guard pulled back to slap him again and Eddie slammed both his hands into the man's gut as hard as he could - the guard took a step back and his foot came down on the tray and shot his legs out from underneath him. Eddie was off the cot and landing knees first on the guy's gut in a flash. He scrabbled for the guard's belt and wrapped his hand around the taser that was dangling from it, trying to yank it away before he could recover. Then he got enough air back in his lungs to start yelling for backup and Eddie triggered the taser, zapping them both but interrupting the guard's call for help. The sound of running feet filled the hall and Eddie swore as he managed to get the weapon free of the belt. His antagonist was jerkily pushing himself to his feet and Eddie lunged for him, digging the taser into an ankle and dropping him again. He crawled, panting, behind the fallen guard and put the uniformed man between himself and the wall of glass, grabbing a fistful of his hair and holding the taser up to his temple.

Soon there was an awful lot of shouting as the hall was filled with surprised rent-a-cops who were telling him to lay flat and stand up and back away slowly and just be calm. He huddled up as small as he could behind his hostage and tried to catch his breath, wondering what, exactly, his plan was.

 

***

 

Venom didn't like being detached from the world in the hollow shell of the containment unit. Sound didn't penetrate and even if it manifested its eyes and teeth it couldn't see beyond the curved pane of glass and couldn't get purchase on the sheer sides. As soon as the cylinder sealed itself the symbiote was alone with its memories and severed from Eddie.

Intolerable.

But for all that it hated being stuck in a tube and unaware of its surroundings it loathed being inside of Carlton Drake.

Eddie's mind was a jumble of bright lights and confusion, a choppy sea of scattering thoughts that darted around in a whirlwind before coalescing on a single idea that the stubborn human would then relentlessly pursue. Eddie didn't know where his rent was coming from next week, or how long his clean laundry would hold out, or the last time he'd changed the oil on his bike but he knew three city council members were on the take from Google. He knew that the city transport union was about to reach a crisis and he knew who and how to tell the story so that it would be reported honestly and movingly. Eddie couldn't keep track of when it was time to eat but he could plunge himself into a pile of old newspapers and dive in a dumpster full of receipts and come out with half a corruption case and three sources to back it up. He was chaotic and lost and driven and darling.

Eddie was, so far as the symbiote was concerned, perfect.

Carlton Drake was a clever, polished, cruel man who positively belonged with Riot.

And Venom was stuck inside of him, trapped beneath the surface while while Drake wrenched spit and snot and tears out of Venom's own lovely mess of a human.

Venom had initially been delighted to invade Drake, certain that it would be the work of a few moments to pilot their shared body to his own human, make the jump, and then literally rip the smug smile off of Drake's punchable face.

Something went wrong immediately, of course.

Because Drake was clever. Drake made nice shiny toys and liked to play with them. Drake had constructed some kind of revolting, painful, wearable computer that tracked the symbiote and filled his flesh with inaudibly high frequencies if it drifted too close to the surface.

So it fluttered under the skin and listened to Drake's thoughts and had watched as a terrible parade stepped forward to cut its Eddie to pieces. Hours later, as Drake reviewed the data, the symbiote was still making its opinion known.

I AM GOING TO EAT YOUR LIVER, MAYBE YOUR PANCREAS FIRST, IF YOU DON'T RELEASE US, YOU TERRIBLE SHITNUGGET.

"Did you learn that sort of language from Brock or another host, because I'm sure I've never even thought about the possibility of the word 'shitnugget' in my entire life."

WHO CARES WHERE IT CAME FROM, I'LL SAY WHAT I WANT AND EAT WHAT I WANT UNTIL I LET YOU GO. HOW MUCH OF YOUR BRAIN CAN YOU LOSE BEFORE YOU CAN'T REMEMBER YOUR NAME, DO YOU THINK?

"You're not going to eat me."

OF COURSE I'M GOING TO EAT YOU, I HATE YOU.

"You're not going to eat me because the program doesn't stop running if I die. You're going to take very good care of me because I'm the only one on the planet who knows how to get you out of me, and if I die you're going to be trapped in my rotting body until it's cremated and then you're going to die too."

"Mr. Drake? Mr. Drake? This is Jameson from security, can you hear me?" A new voice crackled into the room, and Drake jumped. He had forgotten about the intercoms that were the only reliable inter-office communication it this subterranean lab. He shifted some papers to find the absurd in-desk panel, accidentally triggering a burst of static before he keyed down.

"What?"

"Sir, are you watching the feed from the patient block?"

"Of course not, I've got real work to do, that's your job."

"Sir, we're having a situation with your primary subject and need your input to resolve the issue."

Drake grumbled and tapped a few keys on his computer, opening up a high-quality video stream. It didn't take long to isolate the feeds from around Eddie's cell - they were the only ones that were full of people. It looked like nearly ten guards were gathered outside his cell, and on closer inspection there was one guard inside his cell, seated, with Brock cowering behind the man's bulk.

"Jameson what the fuck is going on?"

"Sir, the patient was able to overpower the guard who delivered his meal. He's holding him hostage with a taser."

"Is there a reason you haven't subdued our patient?"

"The taser - he could hit Vic with the second we move."

"Last I remember tasers weren't lethal."

"Sir, they're not, but he's got it right up against Vic's eyes."

"So?"

"So...Yessir."

"Give him a low dose of the tranq and make him regret this decision."

"Sir?"

"Make him loopy and fucking hurt him, goddamnit, do I have to think of everything for you?"

"No sir. We can make him regret his decision, sir. Is. Is anything off limits with that instruction?"

"Just don't kill him or give him permanent brain damage, Jameson. Is that clear enough?

"Yessir," Jameson said, then clicked a button to close the connection.

On his monitor Drake observed as the glass cell door was opened and Brock triggered the taser right into the hostage's eye. A curl of steam was rising from the contact point when the rest of the security team stormed into the cell. Brock gave up almost immediately, dropping the weapon as he was dragged away from his human shield and dropping into a fetal ball when one of the guards viciously kicked at the wound marking his torso.

And underneath the stinging surface of Drake's skin Venom saw everything. Venom raged and writhed and gibbered but still, Venom saw everything and couldn't save Eddie.

Chapter Text

Eddie couldn't see well. Someone had hit him with a baton, opening up his eyebrow and there was blood in his eyes. And being hit made the light shiny, put a halo around everything that glowed.  He blinked hard and shook his head, trying to clear the blood and confusion. The guard he'd knocked down initially wasn't in the room anymore, the tray had been kicked away and someone had stepped on the juice box that was supposed to come with Eddie's lunch. Grape. The artificial scent was sticky in the air. His cot was upturned in a corner. His face was bleeding.

He kept trying to count how many people were in the room with him but they kept shocking him with the taser before he could get that far.

Things weren't exactly going to plan.

You didn't really have a plan, asshole, he thought. You never have a plan and it's why you keep ending up in situations like this.

And what was this? A shirtless man with an ugly wound on his front kneeling in a puddle of grape juice. Five? Seven? Twelve? Men standing, pushing the central man to his knees but being careful to pull their hands away when they electrocuted him. Loud voices echoing on rock walls. White scrubs turning red and purple.

Had it been just the one day since he'd eaten? Two? Four? He couldn't remember. Venom was the one who reminded them to eat. But he couldn't remember where Venom was.

He thought that should have upset him, but he didn't feel very upset. Just. Dizzy. He was swaying on his knees so he put a hand on the ground to balance himself. It occurred to him that he had probably been drugged.

One of the five? seven? twelve? men wasn't standing anymore, he was kneeling behind Eddie, pulling him back against his chest to stay balanced. He was warm but Eddie didn't want to touch him. Didn't want to feel him against his bare back. Didn't want to feel his arms reaching around and his fingers plucking at the stitches on his stomach. He kept one hand on Eddie's stomach, playing with the painful edges of the wound, and put his other hand in Eddie's hair, getting a solid grip.

He couldn't shake his head because of the hand in his hair so he tried to push and found he couldn't move his hands - someone had locked them behind his back when he wasn't looking. He licked his lips and found them wet. He glanced around the room. Everyone was looking at him and he didn't know why.

The man in front of him stepped forward. He curled his fingers under Eddie's chin and pressed his thumb into his full lower lip, smashing it against his teeth a little. He was upset at the contact, and tried to jerk his head away but the man behind him still had his hand knotted in Eddie's hair; he pulled on a stitch with his other hand as a warning.

The man in front of him kept stroking Eddie's lips with his thumb.

"Pretty," he said, and the word brought enough clarity back to the captive to make his pulse jump in his throat.

"Don't," Eddie whispered.

"You going to be nice for us, pretty?"

"Please stop..."

"Just be quiet. Just be nice. It'll be over soon."

Eddie clenched his jaw and tried again to turn his head away.

"Be nice, he said," the guard behind him growled, and pressed in hard against the wound on Eddie's stomach. The pain was sharp and immediate and Eddie gasped, which the man in front of him used to force his thumb between his teeth and hold his straining jaw in place.

"No biting," the guard holding him said as he pulled at the stitched skin. It had started seeping fat red drops that ran together into a thin stream. Eddie took in a shaky breath through his nose and let it out as a sigh, nodding as much as he could with the other man using his hair as a handle.

In front of him the guard was pulling down his zipper and uncovering a thick, hard cock. Eddie whimpered as the head was rubbed over his lips. He closed his eyes and made himself open his mouth. When the guard thrust in it was to appreciative comments and low laughter from the others and it was easier with his eyes closed. Easier to pretend it was any other cock to suck, easier to ignore the horseplay and roughhousing from the remaining guards as they fought over whose turn it was next, easier to reach back to the oblivion hovering in the corners of his consciousness and chase the confusion and displacement brought on by the drugs. A hard hand slapped the cut-up side of his face and he squinted up at the man in his mouth.

"Cover your teeth, baby."

Eddie swallowed and pulled his lips over his teeth, sticking out his tongue for good measure.

"Pretty baby knows what to do with something in his mouth, guys." The guard leered down at him. "You a good cocksucker, honey?" Eddie just glared at him and drooled around the intrusion.

"If you're a good cocksucker you can make this easy, do a good job, play nice. Maybe have a better day when we're done."

Eddie snarled, uncovering his top teeth and scraping the prick as hard as he could with his head held in place. It earned him another slap and a sharp tug from the man behind him. His abs flexed as he felt a stitch pop.

The man inside him wrapped his hands around Eddie's head, bracing behind his ears, where his skull and spine met.

"Okay, then we'll do it the hard way. Cover your fucking teeth," and he did, worried what would happen if they kept tearing at his abdominal wound. It already felt like a burning stripe on his skin. "Now take a deep breath," the guard said, and started brutally fucking his face.

Eddie choked and sputtered at first but quickly fell into the rhythm of what was happening to him. He closed his eyes and breathed through his nose, sucking in huge breaths whenever the guard pulled back for a long thrust. Before Venom his gag reflex had been pretty sensitive, but Eddie had had enough strange things pressed deep inside of him that he could almost ignore what was happening. Eyes closed, breathe when you can, it'll be over soon, he coached himself. His eyes were tearing up and his jaw ached but that was all mechanical. He felt his own spit landing in hot splashes on his chest and thighs. He tried to disappear into the drugs.

And then the guard did something with his thumb and Eddie heard a sickening crunch inside his head and couldn't keep from screaming as pain exploded on the left side of his face and filled his ear with a buzz like hornets. He started to struggle and the man riding his face sped up the tempo of his thrusts, pounding into Eddie's mouth so hard and deep that it split his lip against his teeth. Then a burst of bitterness flooded over his tongue and the guard was pulling away with another hard slap that left Eddie whimpering as it doubled the pain in his jaw. He tried to shut his mouth to spit away the flavor and found that he couldn't; every time he tried to force his jaw muscles to work another tremendous throb of pain whited out his vision so he just hung his head and let the spit and cum drip from his lips in long strands.

"That should keep you sweet, baby," the man said as he tucked his wet cock back into his uniform pants. He patted Eddie's head and pulled his head back on his shoulders, displaying his bruised, dripping mouth to the room. "Who's next?" he said, and then it started again.

When the third guard pulled off his belt and wrapped it around Eddie's neck to use like a leash his eyes were dull and his muscles had relaxed. When the seventh man stood up from behind him and pushed the cock he'd been grinding into Eddie's ass for the last three hours into Eddie's mouth he didn't blink or shrug or make any move to get away. By then he already was away, long gone from the horrible little white room and the bruising hands of the guards.

At some point Eddie realized that no one was touching him so he sat on the floor and looked through a corner. He thought the guards were probably laughing at him, a bloody mess in stained scrubs drooling onto the tile. Too useless to even shut his mouth, just a hole to fuck. His stomach was bleeding, his face and neck were covered in bruises.  The first guard, the one Eddie had started thinking of as the captain of this crew of monsters, came back to stand before him and Eddie swallowed, attempting to make himself look small, trying not to flinch away too hard.

The captain put his hands on Eddie's face again and made some kind of excruciating twisting motion and suddenly Eddie's mouth was working again. Eddie didn't look at him or listen to him or thank him, he just sat back down on the tile and waited until the cell was quiet again. He noticed that his hands were free and his mouth tasted terrible so he crawled to the small sink and began the slow process of putting himself back together. His white Life Foundation scrubs were disgusting, marked with sweat and blood and purple juice and whatever had been at the bottoms of the guards' shoes when they kicked him or stepped on him so he pulled the scrubs off and found gray boxer briefs underneath them that only had blood soaked into the top of the waistband. He looked at the mess of what should have been his lunch, sure he'd vomit if he continued thinking about food. Instead he drank tepid, metallic water from the sink and tried to think of only that. He pushed the bed upright and didn't let himself think beyond the task. So one little goal at a time moved Eddie off the floor and to the sink and eventually into the bed, where he curled up facing the door so he could be sure to see anything awful before he'd have to be subjected to it.

And then he slept, and his sleep was full of uneasy dreams.

 

***

 

Venom was uncharacteristically quiet as it watched the monitor full of video feeds while Drake examined a complicated spreadsheet.

It had talked to Eddie about sex, a little, and Venom knew it didn't want Eddie to do sex with anyone ever again except maybe Anne. So it was confused. It remembered that Eddie had said it was wrong to do sex with people who said no and Venom had just seen Eddie say no a lot.

It flinched when the tall guard dislocated Eddie's jaw and brooded when his eyes grew duller and duller as the feed continued. The Klyntar didn't do sex so they didn't have rules around it but it seemed like a basic body function. Venom could see that what the guards were doing to Eddie hurt but it didn't know why it seemed to hurt so much - the reaction was outsized to what was happening.

But either way these people were hurting Eddie and so as a simple matter of course Venom was already plotting their extremely messy deaths.

Which would have been a lot more meaningful if it weren't sent into shrieking spirals of pain every time it tried to do so much as twitch Drake's eyelid.

But that was a problem to be solved later.

Right now all that Venom could do was plan. So they became small and hid in the center of Drake and they planned.

It was shocked when it realized it was being hurt by what happened to Eddie too. It was totally safe and isolated from Eddie's injuries.

But still it was hurting.

Venom rustled and twisted and stretched, marveling at how wonderful and dangerous bonding with these humans was.

So it hid, and it plotted, and it ached for Eddie.

Chapter Text

He was dreaming of riding across the Bay Bridge in the sunlight. There were bright sparkles coming off the water and the bike roared underneath him. He felt the warmth of the sun through his leathers but the air was cold on his face. It was a beautiful day.

It all faded in an instant when he heard the sound of boots on tile and he woke abruptly, cringing into the corner of his cot. He made himself into a ball, his face and hands pressed into his knees as he leaned against the wall. His breath was coming out in short, panicked pants. Someone keyed in a code and entered the cell.

"Breakfast, honey."

Somehow, impossibly, Eddie made himself smaller as the guard got closer to the bed.

"You gonna behave today?"

Through his fingers Eddie can see that it's the guard he's started thinking of as the Captain - he was in charge of what had happened yesterday, taking point for it.

"Please don't. Please."

The Captain reached across the cot and snatched a handful of Eddie's hair, where it was longer and soft, hanging in a short fringe over his face, pulling him out of the corner and wrenching his neck to the side.

"Are. You. Going. To. Behave. Today?"

"Yes," he felt cold and exposed, shivering in the briefs he wore, wishing he had more clothing that wasn't soaked in blood to cover up with.

"Good," the Captain said, and released him, backing off a few steps. "Eat your fucking breakfast, Princess."

The tray was on the ground in the center of the room. Eddie started to inch toward it, hoping to snatch it and retreat to the safety of his corner.

"Crawl."

He looked up at the Captain, who was idly stroking the taser on his belt, and got on his hands and knees. He dropped his head as he got closer to the meal to keep from watching the Captain leer and felt a warm flush spread over his cheeks and chest. When he reached a hand out to the tray the guard spoke again.

"Eat it on your hands and knees."

Eddie looked up at him, trying to tamp down his mounting fury.

"Are you fucking kidding?"

"I thought you were going to behave, honey. We gonna play instead?"

"No," he said, miserably. The tattered remnants of his dignity weren't worth whatever punishment the guard was hoping to inflict. So Eddie got down on all fours and started to eat.

He was ravenous, he realized, as he picked up a piece of meat in his teeth. It was fatty and flavorless but he devoured it immediately, pride forgotten. He wolfed down most of the contents of the tray in just a couple of minutes, swallowing meat and eggs and bland sugary fruit so quickly that he barely had time to breathe.

"Can I use my hands for the fucking juicebox?"

"Today, sure. Why not. I'm feeling generous because you're such a sweet baby," Eddie was already punching the plastic straw into the container but shuddered as the Captain kept speaking. "Maybe tomorrow I'll bring you a bottle. Maybe I'll just have them dump it in a bowl and make you lap it up."

Eddie didn't have anything to say to that. If they wanted him to eat off the floor like a dog he would, as long as it kept their hands off of him. That didn't say much for his dignity but he couldn't bring himself to care. Better to be alive. Better not to be hurt. His pride could take a beating better than his body could.

The Captain exited the cell with the tray when Eddie had finished and returned a few minutes later. He didn't bother coming back in, just opened the door and threw in a bundle of fabric.

It was better than scrubs.

A zip-front hoodie, sweats, thick socks, a fresh set of boxer briefs, and slip-on sneakers went a long way to making Eddie feel more human, even if they were all in institutional gray.

"C'mon then," the Captain said when Eddie was dressed. Three more guards had joined him in the hall. The door slid open again and they waited expectantly for their charge to exit. Eddie clenched his fists. He heard Drake reciting an endless list of cuts and saw the bright lights of the operating room and smelled his guts burning. His stomach was churning and he had to swallow hard to keep his shitty meal from coming back up. He took in a deep breath and nodded jerkily, rolling his shoulders and stiffly opening and closing his hands. It would be better to walk out of the cell than to have them drag him out. One step. Then another. Then another. And then it was easier, he was in the hallway, guards in front of him and guards behind him and if he just looked at his feet and focused on the tile he couldn't see where he was going so he didn't have to worry that it might be back to the operating room.

Eventually he followed the tiles to carpet then to wood then to tiles again when the guards brought him into a small room. He looked up and shifted uneasily. There was a padded exam bed in front of him, vertical and laden with thick velcro restraints. The doctor who had sliced him open was seated on a leather-covered stool in the corner.

"Step in, Princess," the Captain said. Eddie could feel his heart-rate rising as the guards shifted around him. Better, he thought to himself, better than the alternative. He turned around and pressed his back to the bed, putting his feet on the support at the bottom. Straps were tightened over his hips and around each thigh. One arm was restrained, one calf was restrained. The Captain unzipped his hoodie.

"Goddamnit you fucking assholes," Eddie whispered and turned his face as far away as he could. The Captain patted his cheek.

"Don't get your panties in a twist, honey. We're not here to have fun right now." He was pulling Eddie's free arm out of the sleeve and strapping it down; someone was rolling up the sweats on his unrestrained leg. They were exposing the cuts from the day before. He was in an exam room. He was going to be examined. Nobody was going to cut him in here.

Probably.

He relaxed slightly.

Then Drake walked in and his attempts to calm himself went right out the window.

 

***

 

Eddie was terrified. Eddie was bruised and shaking and pale and sweating and smelled wrong. And inside of Drake, Venom roared.

KILL YOU KILL THEM KILL EVERYTHING

Drake stumbled, the shouting in his skull overwhelming him.

EAT YOUR HEART DON'T CARE IF IT KILLS ME, WANT TO TASTE YOUR WORTHLESS BLOOD

He flinched and fell to his knees, the guards in the exam room stirred uneasily and one pulled him to his feet. The subject just stared stupidly from his restraints.

SEND HIM AWAY AND I'LL LET YOU LIVE YOU PATHETIC WORM

Drake gritted his teeth and managed to make eye contact with Jameson.

"Hit him," he ground out, and Jameson did; carefully turning to Eddie and neatly delivering a forceful blow to his solar plexus that forced all the air out of him.

Venom wailed louder for a moment until Drake's next words interrupted its lamentations.

"If you don't stop this nonsense I'll let them kill him slow," he said, and the wailing stopped like a switch had been flipped. Drake straightened up and shook his head. "Much better. You'll have an easier time here if you can both accept that you're not going to eat me and I'm not going to let either of you go."

Eddie was getting his breath back and it took him a second to catch up with what Drake was saying.

"Venom is here? Vee, can you hear me?"

Drake flinched and gestured at Jameson, who punched Eddie again. This time Eddie gagged a little and coughed before he could catch his breath.

"Look, if both of you idiots will cooperate today I'll let you talk for five minutes before Eddie goes back to his room. I've got research to do and I'm going to be put out if we can't move forward because you two keep breaking down over each other."

FINE. Drake let Venom's voice slip out of his mouth and Eddie looked down. He didn't want to see that face using his symbiote's voice. "Okay."

And then they got started.

 

***

 

The exam was almost eerily routine. If he hadn't been restrained it would have felt like going to a normal doctor's office. His abdomen was palpated, his face was looked at through magnifying lenses, his heart and lungs were listened to through a stethoscope.

He was apparently as healthy as he could be while being riddled with cancer and having been cut to pieces the day before.

The large incision on his stomach was healing; the muscles that had been severed hurt tremendously and wouldn't be right for weeks, if ever, but they weren't hanging slack and loose inside of him. The skin was inflamed from its rough handling in the cell but most of the stitches had held and it was largely knitting together as well as could be expected. The doctor sponged away crusted blood there and cleaned it with iodine.

"This should be bandaged," he said to Drake.

"Leave it. We'll get to that tomorrow."

The other injuries were disconcerting.

They hadn't bled when they'd been opened but they also hadn't really healed. The edges were puffy and heavy but hadn't joined together, the wounds on Eddie's face looked like nothing so much as a series of odd vertical wrinkles. The areas that had been stripped of skin were even stranger - they hadn't scabbed with no blood coming to the surface. They were ugly voids, a crackling and shiny peek at the fat and muscle that seemed wrong to see from the outside.

After everything had been catalogued and photographed and noted in a chart Drake and the doctor discussed their findings and ignored Eddie completely. He tried to ignore them too but couldn't block out as much as he wanted to and kept hearing them say terrifying things.

" - open them up again later to see - "

" - have to re-test, the other subjects aren't responding as well,"

" - the next medication is prepped for - "

" - he's holding up, we can keep - "

Until Eddie couldn't handle it anymore.

"How long are you going to do this to me?"

Drake smiled dazzlingly at him.

"As long as it takes."

 

***

 

Drake and the doctor had gone back to talking after that and Eddie, somehow, had managed to fall asleep. He woke up as the doctor was exiting the exam room. Drake called the Captain back in.

"Jameson, if anything gets weird start hurting the patient," Drake set a timer on his phone. "You lovebirds have five minutes."

His face went temporarily slack, and a deep voice rumbled out of his slim frame.

WE SHOULDN'T HAVE COME BACK HERE, LOVE.

Eddie grimaced and dropped his eyes to the floor. He hated to see Drake's face shaping Vee's words.

"I know, I'm so sorry. We. I'm sorry I did this to you. I'm sorry I let you down."

NOT YOU, EDDIE. NEVER YOU. THESE PEOPLE, THEIR SCHEMES. I KNOW WHY YOU WANTED TO SEE THEM, WHY YOU WANTED TO BRING THEM TO LIGHT.

"But I should have kept you safe."

WE TRIED. WE COULDN'T HAVE KNOWN.

The words hung between them, pinning them both with regret. It had happened. They couldn't change that.

"There's so much I want to say to you, but not where they can hear us."

Jameson snickered from the corner, though it tapered off quickly when Venom growled.

"Are you. Is. Is Drake a good host for you?"

HOW CAN YOU ASK THAT - HE IS VILE AND PATHETIC AND I LOATHE HIM.

"I mean. Are. Is it hurting you to be in him?"

NO, ALL THAT HURTS IS BEING AWAY FROM YOU.

Eddie winced and bit down on the noise trying to work its way out of him, not sure if it was a laugh or a sob.

"What was it like being in Maria?" Eddie glanced up and saw Drake's face in an unusual arrangement - Vee had cocked his head to the side and looked perplexed. They had never talked about this.

THE ONE BEFORE YOU. SHE WAS WEAK. FLAWED.

"She was my friend."

I KNOW, LOVE. BUT SHE WAS...BROKEN. YOUR CRUEL LITTLE WORLD BROKE HER. THE BOND WAS KILLING HER, BUT SHE WAS DYING BEFORE SHE CAME HERE. BEING IN HER - IT WAS LIKE BEING IN ONE OF THEIR ANIMALS. TOO MUCH FOR HER SYSTEM. THAT'S WHY IT WAS UNSTABLE. THAT'S WHY IT KILLED HER WHEN I WENT TO YOU. THAT'S WHY WE SEARCH FOR STRONG HOSTS.

"Is Drake strong enough for you?"

NO. ONLY YOU ARE. YOU'RE PERFECT. YOU'RE MINE. AND I HATE EVERY MOMENT I'M NOT WITH YOU.

"But you're not - " Eddie shook his head and groaned. The symbiote didn't know what he was asking and it was hard on him to have to ask. "You're not hurting? You're not in danger? Vee I know, I want you so bad, but I have to know that if I'm not okay maybe at least you are."

BEING IN THIS HOST WILL NOT HURT ME. HE IS STRONG ENOUGH, BEING HOST TO RIOT MADE HIM STRONGER. THEY WANT ME STRONG AND HEALTHY AND TRAPPED. DON'T WORRY FOR ME, EDDIE.

"Okay," he huffed, "okay. You'll be - " he couldn't help it now. If Venom would survive it didn't matter what anyone else saw. Tears started to run down his face and his breathing got shaky. "Oh, god, fuck. Vee I'm so sorry, darling, I don't wanna die without you."

An inhuman screech somehow managed to worm its way through Drake's mouth, Eddie could see twitches in his body as Venom tried to take control.

NEVER, LOVE. NEVER NEVER -

Then the timer on Drake's phone went off and Jameson gripped Eddie's nipple and twisted it until he screamed.

Venom seemed to try to throb through Drake's skin for a second before Drake's expression surfaced on his face.

"That's time, I think," Drake said, and Jameson dropped his hand.

"I hadn't thought to interrogate the symbiotes about their host requirements. Thank you, Brock, that's something we should be studying."

Drake stood and stretched. "Mr. Jameson will take you back to your room. I think we're all done for today."

Chapter Text

The walk back to the cell was uneventful. Eddie zipped up his hoodie with shaking hands and couldn't bring himself to care when the Captain - had Drake called him Jameson? called him pet names when he left behind a lunch tray and promised a visit later. He wanted his symbiote and felt cold and empty without it. He hadn't realized how much he had come to rely on Vee's strange senses and tremendous strength. After a couple months of successful symbiosis Eddie could understand why they called humans weak.

Which got him thinking about Maria again.

She showed up in Mrs. Chen's doorstep three months after Eddie had been kicked to the curb by Anne. He'd been in the neighborhood for only a couple of weeks and she sprouted up like a rose from the pavement - unexpected and lovely and tragic. A rosebush couldn't survive in asphalt, and people shouldn't have to survive by sleeping on the pavement. She wasn't pretty - living rough had stripped away the shine she must have had when she was younger and safer - but she was funny and bright and snarky and kind. He saw her sharing cash and cigarettes with other people on the block, he knew she helped the younger folks who'd been kicked out of their homes by bigots and abuse and old folks who were destitute because of an uncaring system find someplace to go even when she couldn't find someplace herself.

When he'd known her for only a week he asked if she needed a couch to crash on. He wasn't worried that having her in his home would be a problem - she just needed to get on her feet. He thought.

She turned him down.

"I'm not. I'm not like a creep or anything; I mean. You won't owe me," he had stammered, trying to reassure her but feeling like he was just digging himself a deeper hole. "I don't. This isn't a sex thing, I'm. FUCK."

She laughed at him, and told him he was cute, and offered to sell him a paper. He bought one for way more than he should have and stalked away, his ears burning bright red, feeling like the world's biggest asshole. Which he probably was.

He dropped by with a sandwich later and handed it to her awkwardly.

"I'm sorry. That was probably presumptuous of me. But the offer stands. You need a place to crash let me know." He handed her one of his dwindling supply of cards - they had the right cell number but still listed the Eddie Brock Report website, which was long defunct.

She had taken him up on it a couple of times, when it got really cold at night. She left some of her bulkier things in his hall closet. She had a membership at a cheap gym where she showered and got pizza on Tuesdays and kept her clothes and sleeping bag in a locker. He tried to make sure he gave her enough money each day to split a room at the local flophouse when she refused a key to his apartment.

She was scared of him and it broke his heart. She told him as much when he asked why she wouldn't stay.

"I don't like to owe people things," she had said.

"You won't owe me anything, it'll be doing me a favor, I worry about you all the time. It'll keep me from worrying."

"I'll owe you something eventually, and I know what I can't pay back. You're nice now. Maybe you won't always be nice. I can't take that chance, I don't have enough left to risk it."

And so he tried to befriend her like he tried to befriend the stray cat in the alley. Offering food and shelter and just wanting to see her safe only to have her bolt when he opened the door for her.

And just like the little calico one day she didn't show up.

And that broke his heart too.

Venom hadn't killed her. It hadn't been the symbiote's choice to bond with her, she was a victim of Carlton Drake's unchecked megalomania, like the cancer patients in the rushed trials had been.

Like Eddie was now.

The last time he'd seen her had been too quick to hurt him, but the photos that had gone viral hurt. Seeing her face, scared and feral, peering out of a cell like the one he was in now on newsstands and TVs across the city burned him with guilt.

He could have done more. He could have found someplace else for her to stay, he could have worked with the local shelters, he could have made sure she was getting indoors every night, could have helped her get a job or a doctor or a priest or whatever it took to keep her safe.

Carlton Drake may have killed Maria, but Eddie Brock hadn't saved her.

 

***

 

"Get out," Drake said to his empty lab.

OR WHAT? Venom hated having Drake as a host but they didn't want to go back into the containment tube either. There was no way of knowing where Drake would put them next or if they'd ever be released again.

"I'm done making threats, you know or what. Or I hurt Brock. Or I hurt you. Or I let terrible things happen to the people Eddie cares about."

HE'S DYING. HE WOULDN'T CARE IF YOU HURT HIM. I DON'T CARE IF YOU HURT ME.

"Yeah, what about the lawyer?" Drake could feel Venom rolling that thought over in its alien mind.

ANNIE WORKED FOR YOU. SHE'S A BIG GIRL. SHE MUST HAVE KNOWN THE RISKS.

"That doesn't matter to Eddie. He'd still hate you for letting me hurt her."

Drake was right. Eddie wouldn't want to see Annie hurt. There were a lot of people Eddie wouldn't want to see hurt. It was one of the most frustrating and endearing things about him, that he liked people. That he wanted to protect them.

Drake triggered a switch on his wrist and his flesh filled with sound that left Venom shaking and squealing.

"Get out, this isn't an argument, you're going to do it or you and a bunch of humans are going to regret it." He used the noise-maker to hammer his point home.

Venom hated itself for flowing into the tube and hated itself more for a moment of primal panic when the containment unit hissed closed.

But then it was alone and all that it had were its memories.

And plans, always plans.

 

***

 

Vee didn't feel the same need to protect people that Eddie did, didn't care about how cold and cruel the world could be the same way. But it seemed to make Eddie smile more when Venom went out of its way to help, so Venom helped.

They liked seeing Eddie smile.

Some of it was big stuff - like eating the bad guy running a protection racket on the bodega. And that was nice for both of them - Eddie got to see people be safer, Venom got a snack that wasn't tater tots.

But the little stuff is what really made Eddie light up. Since he didn't exactly have a job and didn't exactly have to have one with the staggering payments for his photos and videos of the Life Foundation and six months of free rent they went out at night and just watched. Sometimes there was nothing to do and they'd talk and share histories of their own fucked up lives and sometimes there was a lot to do - making a drunk lose his keys in the gutter instead of getting in his car, getting people to shelters when it got late and there were beds free (Venom always heard Maria's name ringing in Eddie's mind when they did this), following kids to make sure no one bugged them before they got home, breaking up fights and sending kids home - little things that posed no risk but made everyone have a better day. That made Eddie glow and his light drew Venom like a moth to a flame.

He was a stupid weak human, a loser, he cared too much and was bad with money and would shoot himself in the foot ten times if he thought he was doing it for a good reason and Venom loved him for it, wanted to revel and roll in his kindness because kindness wasn't something that there had been a lot of in the dark era before Eddie came into the symbiote's life.

It was even more adorable because he thought of himself as hard and cynical and tough. Compared to some humans he was - he could tolerate pain admirably and he was remarkably stubborn. He had seen enough things that hurt him badly enough that he had closed off little corners of his heart - he could compartmentalize, when he had to; could shut himself off and silence his need to save the world in order to save his own ass. But it never stuck. His protective nature always bubbled up out of him sooner or later. Like with Skirth - he knew better than to follow her and open up a can of worms with a man who had already destroyed his life.

But it would help people. And Eddie couldn't resist.

And besides, it brought them together so Venom was never going to resent it when Eddie got protective.

Especially not when he got protective of Venom.

Eddie had changed their mind about Riot's plan because of Eddie. They had changed their mind about dying because of Eddie too.

After the shuttle there hadn't been much reason to stick around, it seemed. Klyntar didn't exactly do well with fire, and the explosion had burned away more of Venom than it could have imagined. More than it should have been possible to lose and survive.

But Eddie's mind cried out at the thought of that loss. He wailed and begged and it was so beautiful - it was so stunning to be wanted. Venom had carefully called back the little bits of itself that were still close enough to reach. It had been exhausting and it should have been impossible, but once it had gathered up all that it could it went into the core of Eddie and drifted for a while. That was the closest it ever came to sleeping, the silence on the verge of death. And Venom knew that Eddie would keep them safe.

Being awoken to chocolate and the sweetness of his mouth was like rebirth. Eddie was home. Eddie was love. Eddie was warmth and laughter and the hazy feeling of sunset.

Venom had never belonged anywhere, and now would never belong anywhere else.

And Eddie continually indulged them - in their appetites, their curiosity. Their lust.

No other host had burnt Venom from the inside out with passion the way that Eddie did; his open mouth and hazy eyes and strong hands and filthy whispers added depth to the strange, cold planet he inhabited.

The had come in late once, Eddie was soaked from an unexpected downpour and as he shucked his wet clothes the symbiote swirled over his skin, wicking up water and making him warm. Venom had grown out of him, two strong arms and a broad chest and a wicked smile and Eddie had raised his face for a kiss before startling his other by slamming them into the door and pressing fevered kisses into its neck. It had moaned in elation to see Eddie wanting it and taking it and being strong and sure the way he hadn't been when they'd first bonded. It had opened itself to him, scored his back with sharp claws when he thrust forward and healed the cuts in the next second, repeating over and over in a riot of blood and joy and sweat, Eddie entering Venom even as he sucked the other's thick tongue into his mouth and swallowed around it. It made them feel like gods, like legends - an ouroboros of primal need feeding and being fed by their shared motion.

They could read each other's thoughts, know each other's wants, and still they both had new surprises every day - Eddie's eyes widened in awe when Venom sang, its whole shape an instrument that coaxed harmony from the very wind; Venom was staggered and proud to see Eddie click and tinker away at his motorcycle or his coffee machine or his computer, taking inert minerals and making them hum and buzz and live again.

Eddie would know how to open the containment unit; he would find a way to press from the inside and break a seal or tap on the lid just the right way to flip a switch and make it open. But Eddie was somewhere else and Venom couldn't see him and worried that they never would again.

 

***

 

 

 

 

With no way to tell what time it was Eddie couldn't tell if Jameson kept to a schedule, so if he'd been trying to worry the prisoner by making him wait it hadn't worked because Eddie's ability to track time was pretty shit even when he wasn't in a perpetually lit underground bunker with irregular meals. He did know that he was hungry when the guard showed up, but there was no food in his hands. Maybe it was a mealtime, maybe it wasn't. Maybe healing just made Eddie hungry.

"No dinner tonight, honey. You're a cheap date."

Eddie rolled his eyes but didn't move from his position. He'd been lounging on the cot, propped up on one elbow and staring into space. Since Jameson was still on the other side of the glass it seemed pointless to waste energy on reacting to him.

"Don't you wanna know why?"

It also seemed pointless to respond to stupid, baiting questions so he just raised an eyebrow and pretended Jameson was some variety of particularly ugly insect.

"Can't eat for twelve hours before surgery is why."

He tried to resist the shudder that made its way through his frame at the thought of surgery here, but Jameson saw it and smiled. He entered his passcode and Eddie's pulse ratcheted up when he entered the cell. He was still trying not to move or show distress but Jameson saw it anyway.

"That's why I can't have your pretty mouth tonight. They don't want to risk you asphyxiating on my jizz when you're knocked out tomorrow. Me, I think it'd be kinda hot." Eddie went back to staring into space. Just looking at this fucking guy wore him out. Jameson stood over him with his hands on his hips, surveying the man splayed on the cot.

Eddie had one elbow down and one knee up, his body made one long, clean, diagonal line from his shaggy head to his bare, pointed foot. He'd unzipped the hoodie and a bare expanse of tattooed chest was visible above where his hands laced together over his stomach. He was doing a pretty good job of appearing to ignore Jameson, other than a tiny twitch in the outer corner of his eye and the nervous flexing of his foot.

Jameson unbuckled his belt and even those tells disappeared as Eddie froze, stiff and silent as a statue.

"Turn over on your tummy, honey."

A look of revulsion crossed Eddie's face.

"Gross, dude. Do you have kids? I fuckin' hope not, talking like that. Creepy motherfucker."

Jameson grinned and pulled his taser out of its holster.

"Turn over on your tummy, honey, or Daddy's gonna spank you."

Eddie rolled his eyes, shifted his shoulders, and spit. The aim was bad - he'd hoped to get the prick's face but it landed on his shirt. Eddie had just enough time to be disappointed in himself before the taser chased all his thoughts away. The guard had jabbed it into his gut, next to the healing incision, where the muscles clenched and drew a long, high whine out of his prey. He released the trigger and Eddie groaned, abandoning his relaxed posture to turn on his side, protectively curling around his injured stomach.

"Halfway there honey."

"You do this with all the people who get dragged in here?"

"Nah," Jameson said, pressing the taser against Eddie's hip, "just the pretty ones." He triggered it again and Eddie rode it out without screaming, but panted when it was taken away. He didn't have the stamina to resist when the guard shoved him onto his front, though he tried to wriggle away when he felt hands at the waistband of his sweats; that ended up only helping his captor, as he yanked the soft pants and boxers Eddie wore down to his knees. He tried to kick Jameson away and the taser landed on the small of his back. When it stopped the guard was straddling his thighs and put a hand down on the back of his neck to pin him in place. Eddie flinched and shook and tried to wrench himself away but he just didn't have the strength.He heard some rustling and clicking, then felt cold liquid splatter on his back. Jameson swiped his free hand through the chilly puddle then prodded between Eddie's legs until his thick fingers were pressing against his asshole, foreign and unwanted.

"Look, Jameso- " he started to say, but stopped to hiss in pain as two fingers pressed into him. They hurt, shoved in too fast and scissoring apart too far too quickly. Eddie focused on trying to keep his breathing steady when suddenly the hand was pulled away. He heard more rustling and felt something small and sharp pressed against the sensitive skin of his hole, and opened his mouth to protest when he felt a cool rush and realized Jameson was squirting the lube directly inside of him and he shuddered at a rising wave of revulsion. That felt revoltingly clinical, and when he clenched and tried to move away some ran out of him and dripped onto his balls, making him feel queasy and oddly open, like he was on display.

Jameson ran the flat of his hand over the splash of lube on Eddie's back. He heard a wet, obscene sound and then a hard cock was nudging at his ass, centering around his hole and pressing in hard until the tight ring of muscle was breached and Jameson pounded forward, not giving his victim any time to adjust to the intruding flesh inside of him.

Eddie focused on not screaming. He'd been screaming a lot recently and very much wanted to stop. He clenched his teeth until he heard his jaw click, and breathed in short, angry puffs through his nose, trying to keep from letting Jameson know exactly how much this was hurting him.

Jameson knew anyway of course.

He had pushed up the back of Eddie's hoodie when it threatened to obstruct the sight of that tight hole swallowing his cock, which meant he could see the waves of tension that ebbed and flowed through the muscles in Eddie's back. When he pulled out almost all the way and pounded back in for long, punishing strokes the little muscles along Eddie's hips and lower back tensed; when he pounded all the way in and rutted while clamping his hands around Eddie's trim waist it was the shoulders that froze in knots; when he rocked slowly all the tension in Eddie's back flowed out into his hands, which were clutching the sheets with white knuckles.

"You're being so good, baby. Love to watch you take me, love to watch your pussy eat my cock like the dirty little slut you are."

Eddie's voice was hoarse but still clear when he snorted.

"You've got some boring goddamned pillow-talk Jameson," the guard thrust punishingly and Eddie gasped, an edge crept into his voice when he spoke again. "What'd you learn this shit from your 900 operator?" Again, another too-hard thrust that had Eddie coughing and clenching his teeth to keep from yelling.

"Either tell me that you love it like a good whore or be quiet like a good baby, Sugar. You keep back-talking me and I'll call in the rest of the squad," Eddie's hands got tighter on the sheets. "They liked you last night, hon. They want another taste. I can give it to them and there's not a thing you can do to stop me."

Eddie hung his head and bit his tongue.

"Sweet baby," Jameson said, "that's the right way to do it, honey."

He grabbed at Eddie's hair and found a grip, moving the hand on Eddie's neck to his waist. The guard held him down at the middle while pulling his head back and fucking harder into his ass, curving his spine up into a harsh and unnatural bowstring and Eddie whimpered. He was still scared to talk but didn't have to much pride to cry. From what he'd seen assholes like Jameson liked watching the people they fucked cry - maybe that would finish this faster.

Whether it was the tears or the angle or just the act of making someone who was already helpless even more helpless Jameson finished not long after he took hold of Eddie's hair, pulling out while he was still spurting to land globs across Eddie's back and ass and balls, making as much of a mess as he could.

"Thanks baby, your ass is almost as pretty as your mouth and I had to see if it felt as good." Jameson didn't bother to savor the afterglow, standing up and moving away from Eddie practically before he was even soft. He disappeared down the hall quickly, whistling.

Eddie laid flat waiting, terrified that Jameson would come back with another five jackasses in Life Foundation uniforms. His come cooled on Eddie's thighs and dribbled out of his asshole.

He waited until he was sure nobody was coming back, then he waited some more. He'd clean himself up once he caught his breath. Once he caught his breath.

If you'd quit fucking crying maybe we could finish this up faster, he thought to himself. It didn't help.

Chapter Text

That the symbiote was able to incapacitate him even briefly was intolerable. Carlton Drake had spent his whole life making very specific, very difficult decisions in order to ensure that he was in control of himself 100% of the time. In some ways it had been giddy and freeing to cede that hard-won control to Riot, but it had nearly killed him so Drake considered it a lesson learned.

Carlton Drake was the only person allowed to make decisions in Carlton Drake's life.

It had cost him, over the years. He'd lost wives and friends and assistants but if they couldn't give him what he needed then clearly he didn't need them.

So when Venom made him stumble the symbiote had showed too much of its hand. It was still too free, too close to something that might damage him at some crucial point. So it needed to be brought to heel.

Drake had been granted his first bioengineering patent at sixteen for the development of a new medium on which artificial tissue could be grown. He'd started the Life Foundation less than a decade later, using grants and scholarships to prop it up on shaky financial ground until he had the freedom to let his brilliance run wild. He'd hired creative, intelligent people for a song and a prayer and a chance at higher salaries when the corporation grew. Together they had crafted cold and beautiful tools with which to remake the world; efficient water filters, cheap electric cars, micro-satellites, unbreakable glass tablets, cutting-edge vaccines. If it could help to save the world and turn a profit they had a division dedicated to it.

But at some point, when the shine of "doing good" seemed to wear off Drake realized that he was too late. The world was broken, unsaveable. As clever and rich and powerful as he had become he couldn't fix it, so he had to find some other way to protect humanity.

And maybe he'd taken some liberties - his attorneys those first few years had had a hell of a fight with the IRS about the early financial dealings, and maybe there were one or two venture capital firms that wouldn't mind a piece of his hide, and, yes, some of the treatments would have been safer if they had been tested longer - but it was work that needed to be done, and he didn't mind getting his hands dirty to do it.

Which is why the though of Brock in his cell, and the symbiote in its tube, couldn't move him. There was work that needed to be done. So Carlton Drake sat in his lab and rolled up his sleeves.

 

***

 

Though he'd worked late into the night Drake was as fresh as a daisy when he went to the observational operating theater for the second round of tests. He didn't bother checking in with his staff. They were perfect. If they weren't perfect they wouldn't be a problem for long enough for it to worry him, so he was relaxed as he observed nurses bringing tools out of the autoclave and technicians setting up recording equipment. Dr. Scott was in early, lining up a tray of injections and a tray of cutting tools. He seemed chipper, eager to see his patient. It was ugly on him and Drake smiled at the thought of the surgeon's eagerness.

Eddie Brock should have been easy to get along with. He should have been an asset to the Life Foundation instead of its downfall. When Drake had asked for him it was because he knew they thought the same way, wanted the same things. Eddie was an idealist, the best kind of person to have around; the kind of person who wouldn't ever stop trying to do the right thing. So when he'd insisted on asking useless questions about failed research it disappointed Drake. Eddie didn't see the big picture, so his fate was to become just another statistic.

Drake checked the monitors on the hall and saw that Jameson hadn't bothered to bring any other guards to escort his charge. Eddie wasn't putting up much of a fight on the grainy feed. He walked just ahead of his escort, flinching when Jameson got too close behind him.

Good.

If he could see sense and behave the resources that had been assigned to him could be put to good use elsewhere. Jameson's tactics weren't Drake's tactics, but they were efficient. And Drake liked efficiency.

 

 

***

 

Eddie shivered at the door of the operating room, mentally kicking himself for not trying to make a break for it when he realized he only had one babysitter taking him out of the cell.

Eddie was a big man. He knew it. Knew that it thrilled Annie to know how tiny she was underneath his hands, knew that she liked being tiny and on top of him and totally in control too. She made him feel like an ox, he made her feel like a doll.

Jameson wasn't as big as him, but he was fast and strong and healthy. On a good day, in a fair fight, Eddie was sure he could have wiped the floor with him. But in this big basement with his guts falling out and his skin stripped away and his stomach empty he didn't like the odds. So he walked silently and tried not to hear the litany of pet names and filth following him. And he ended up at the operating room. Shivering. And kicking himself. Because maybe it was worth getting his ass kicked if it meant he wasn't willingly delivering himself to Drake's altar.

Oh well. Maybe next time.

"Good morning, Eddie."

Maybe now.

Eddie lunged at Drake, hoping to smash his smug smile, and managed to get his fingers around the taller man's lapel before he felt the bright bolts of the taser jolting through him. He dropped and Jameson was kneeling on his back, pressing the barbs of the hateful little device into his shoulder.

"Well, maybe it's not such a good morning after all," Drake continued as though nothing had happened. More guards were pouring into the room, wrestling Eddie to his feet and manhandling him into the restraints of the operating table. The wound on his stomach throbbed and his muscles shook, but it was preferable to peacefully waiting for whatever torture was on the agenda for today.

"I don't know, Carlton, I'm feeling a bit better right now."

"Hm. You would. I suppose I can't begrudge you your fear; I know you're going through a lot right now."

Eddie snorted. "I don't suppose you could do something about that? Maybe let me go, maybe find a nice hole to crawl into and die?"

"That doesn't really work for me," Drake drawled sardonically. "But maybe I can do something for you, something to help with the pain you're feeling." Eddie had been secured, hoodie pulled back to expose the cuts on his arm and torso, leg uncovered to show the unpleasant crackle on his calf. Drake approached him with a syringe.

"You're so lucky, Eddie. You're sick, but I can make you well."

"I'm not the sick one here."

Drake swiped at Eddie's exposed bicep with a cold swab and carefully pressed the needle into the thick muscle there.

"You are sick. You're sicker than you knew, without your friend. Adrenal cancer is nothing to laugh off, especially not when it's metastic." The empty syringe rattled when Drake dropped it on a gleaming tray. He put his hand over Eddie's heart and pressed down gently. "Cancer's a hell of a thing. It's almost healing, you know?" He started running his hand in slow circles over Eddie's chest, spreading warmth as his eyes tracked up to the captive man's throat and his clenching jaw. "Cellular repair - that's the tough part. Cancer is your body making the cells it needs to fix itself but making them wrong. There have been experiments with it, of course. The cancer is immortal, right up until it kills you and itself. It just keeps making more and more and more of itself until there's none of you, none of the host left." He stepped away and sighed.

"And there's been some success, damnit," he stalked back to his console and began opening notebooks. "I've seen what can be done, I've seen how it can make a weak, failing, dying human body into something more. Something almost beautiful; capable of regeneration and new life. Forever remaking itself." Drake waved his hand at the doctor, who dragged a cart full of awful shining things to Eddie's side. "But the cost is too high. The pain makes you crazy. Unless you were crazy to start, in which case it just makes you dangerous. And annoying."

Eddie laughed.

"Are you calling me crazy, Drake? Or just annoying?"

"You're both, but you're not dangerous. You're not a monster. Right now you're just a dying man, nobody's hero."

"Has anyone ever told you your bedside manner could use some work?"

Drake smiled and went back to his desk, ready to document the coming trial. "If I'm harsh it's because kind words mean nothing in the face of true suffering. Alone you're a dying man, with the symbiote you're something like a god. I want to share that with all of us. No more death, no more decay, only the strength to survive. We need it."

The doctor selected a scalpel and stood before Eddie, his hands steady and eyes bright as he examined the wounds from their previous testing.

"Site one, length one," he called out, and carved into the skinless section of flesh.

Eddie had been shocked by how painful being flayed alive really was. He'd read about that kind of thing in books and it was this sort of blank space in his brain with a label reading "really painful shit" over it but he'd never really had a reason to think more about it. Flaying wasn't the sort of thing he ran into during his daily life. Nobody flayed anybody anymore, flaying was passe.

Until it happened to him. And then his label updated with details about how nauseating it was to see skin pull away from flesh and how disconcerting it was to see something you weren't really meant to see.

And none of that held a candle to the feeling of having his wound re-opened and watching blood bloom and skin re-grow like a time-lapse video of mold on an orange. He knew the scalpel was cold but it burned as it scraped away at the not-skin of the injury. The previous procedure had been bloodless and unnervingly clean, this was not. This was messy. Drippy. Gory. The new skin was paler than the surrounding flesh, and when the doctor poked at it it seemed softer, more sensitive.

"Site one, length two."

"Wait, wait, don't - " Eddie said, but the doctor was already cutting.

"It's okay, it's okay Eddie. It's working!" Drake's grin was enormous and cruel.

"Please don't - don't do this, fuck, Drake, please it hurts so much."

The doctor paused while the second cut healed itself.

"Which hurt more, the re-opening or the re-growth?"

"Growth, please, please stop," Eddie panted.

"Mr. Drake, there's really no reason he can't be sedated for this," the doctor said. He looked at Eddie's heaving chest and the sheen of sweat on his face, his eyes lingered on the slightly parted, plush lips. "Or for anything else we're doing today."

Eddie shuddered as a gloved hand took hold of his chin. The doctor pressed his thumb over Eddie's mouth, crushing his lips into his teeth so hard he wouldn't be surprised if they split.

"What do you think, Eddie? Want us to put you under for this," Drake asked cheerfully.

Eddie's gaze darted between the two of them, considering. He didn't want to feel this. He didn't want to be unconscious around these men. He didn't want to give them the luxury of doing this to him without knowing that he was witnessing it. Maybe if it hurt him bad enough one of them would wake up from his warm bed in ten years with Eddie's horrified screams as the centerpiece of a nightmare. Maybe a tiny memory of the horrible things they did would live longer than he would. Maybe had to be enough, because he really didn't want to be pliant and lost and moldable in front of these men with their syringes and computers and tasers and scalpels.

"No," he whispered, and the cutting continued.

 

***

 

They hit a snag when they tried to use the retractors to spread his ribs apart again.

His skin had been re-grown centimeter by painful centimeter, the slashes in his face had been pried apart and healed together seamlessly.

But when they tried to open him up after making an incision on his abdomen the skin and muscle knit together too fast to spread his torso apart. The doctor tried to make the incision a second time, again it was healed closed before he'd finished making the cut.

"Spread as you go," Drake had suggested, and helped hold the retractor in place, spanning it open as soon as the scalpel passed it. That ended with the vertical bars embedded in Eddie's skin, the contraption shaking violently as Eddie laughed hysterically. Even the doctor had the good grace to look horrified at the sight of the spotless medical equipment sunk two inches into Eddie's body and rooted like a tree. He had trouble cutting it out of his patient, and eventually had to make a fast, deep incision next to each support strut and pull them out one at a time.

"Sir, I think we're going to have to be done for today."

Drake sighed and sponged blood off his hands.

"You know, for a loser you're frustratingly successful, Eddie."

"For a billionaire you're something of an asshole, Drake. But then I repeat myself." It felt good to respond, even if it was in a near whisper.

"This formula is based on the samples from the symbiote you bonded with. You're too well bonded and it's skewing the results," Drake acted as if he'd stayed silent. "Your immune system has adapted to it, you're inoculated against it, like it's still a part of you. They're fascinating creatures, and these results are theoretically compelling but practically useless." He picked up a scalpel. "But you like pushing boundaries, right Eddie?" He smiled dazzlingly and Eddie felt his breath catch in his chest. "We'll have to go just a bit further than I'd anticipated," he said, then neatly severed the first two fingers on Eddie's right hand.

He didn't scream. He didn't scream and he wanted to scream and howl and rage but he didn't scream. Eddie hissed in a breath between his teeth and clenched his jaw shut and didn't scream.

The bleeding stopped after thirty seconds and Eddie was left with a deep, burning throb in his hand. Drake picked up the severed digits and dropped them into an emisis basin like so much medical waste. He walked back to his computer and snapped off his gloves while the doctor began to tidy up a pile of hemostats and dulled scalpels and sterile gauze, clearing it away from Eddie until it was all neatly disposed of and Eddie was bloody and alone on the table. Drake approached him, carrying a camera on a tripod, and spent a minute focusing it on his hand. Doors started opening and the mood in the room changed. Drake was giving orders, nurses were cleaning up blood, people were walking in and out and Eddie finally let himself drift away, retreating away from the bright lights to a dark, quiet place in his mind.

 

***

 

Trust Brock to ruin a full day of experimentation without even trying. Obviously this formula was going to be useless with him as a subject, but it didn't make sense to let it go to waste. Drake selected five other subjects. Two were killed as soon as he introduced the symbiote to their systems using his ingenious little tool.

When Venom had made him stumble he'd worked out a plan for a sheath of sorts, a small reservoir in an armband that just penetrated the skin. When he wanted the symbiote restricted he flooded his body with sound and it retreated to the device; when he wanted the symbiote back in his system, slowly healing him and hearing his thoughts and observing through his eyes he filled the device with sound and it flowed back into him. It was trivially simple to force the creature to inhabit hosts of his choosing, and to determine how long to let them adapt to it. It was less simple to guess whether attempting adaptation would kill the host - as yet he'd been unable to determine any pattern to how symbiosis was achieved. An elderly woman and a healthy young man died. A young woman, an elderly woman, and a terminally ill middle-aged man survived.

Once his survivors had had between one and three hours to adapt to the symbiote they were injected with the formula that was so useless on Eddie. It was late in the day when a doctor stood over the young woman and called "Site one, length one," over his shoulder to Drake. It was late in the day but Drake couldn't let himself be tired.

After all, science never sleeps.

Chapter Text

He woke up in the operating room to listen to the sound of his own breathing. The operating lights were dark and he was blessedly alone. The monitors were quiet, the only sounds he heard were those of the air through the vents and his own respiration.

His hand burned and he wanted to look at it, curl it to his chest and protect it and circle around the ache of it, but he was too well restrained to even see the remains of his fingers.

Eddie remembered the sound they had made as they hit the bottom of the kidney-shaped bowl, the dull clonk of flesh hitting stainless steel, and gagged.

His hand burned but he shivered. It was cold in this large, ugly room. He shivered and wished for a blanket or someone to cover his exposed arm or his fucking fingers back but he didn't have those things. He only had his breath and the air in the vents.

He felt goosebumps raising the hair all over his body. He tried to control his shivering, knowing that it would become mindless, hopeless, full-body shaking if he let it. He flexed and pointed his legs, clenched individual muscle-groups to try to keep his extremities warm. Made a game of it. Top to bottom at first - shoulders, pecs, upper abdominals, lower abdominals, hamstrings, quads, calves; then alphabetical - Abs, Biceps, Calves, Glutes; then left to right and up and down then he lost track of his game and just tried not to shake himself to pieces. He couldn't feel his fingers and didn't know if that was because of the cold or because they weren't there. He shivered and tried not to shiver and eventually he slept again, and couldn't bring himself to care if he'd wake up.

 

***

 

By the time a nurse came in to check on him Eddie was violently shaking and his fingers had re-grown to the second knuckle. Guards were called in and Eddie was wrapped in a scratchy blanket while the impassive nurse examined his hand and manipulated the tender re-grown digits.

He was numb to some of the grosser parts of his situation. He didn't care that his sweats were soaked in blood or that he stank of sweat, but apparently someone cared about those things. He was escorted to a locker room and observed while he showered. He didn't want to be alone and naked with the guards watching him but he was left unmolested under the warm spray until he stopped shivering. He was allowed to dry himself and was handed a fresh set of clothing, this time with an institutional gray thermal to wear under his institutional gray hoodie.

The walk back to his cell was quiet and tense but uneventful. There was a tray with soup and coffee on his cot and he was left alone to eat it. When he finished the food more was delivered and still he was left alone. He didn't understand the sudden disinterest of the guards but didn't question it. He didn't want the kind of company the Life Foundation had to offer.

When he had finished his second tray it was taken away and a thick blanket was left behind. He bundled himself into it and climbed onto the cot, leaning against the wall and facing the door and waiting for the other shoe to drop.

 

***

 

It didn't.

Hours passed and a guard brought food. More hours passed and the lights overhead dimmed. More hours still passed and another guard brought food.

Drake didn't come to gloat, Jameson didn't visit with his hard hands and sickeningly soft words. Eddie was simply left to himself as the tips of his fingers grew back and the last aches from the wounds faded.

The anticipation made him anxious. He couldn't relax into sleep, he had nothing to distract himself. He could only stare forward and feel more ill with every passing minute. Every passing footstep thudded heavy in his ears, each dimming of the lights was read as a threat.

He found himself thinking of the ridiculous meditation DVD Mrs. Chen had badgered him into buying. Living only in the moment was highly overrated, he decided. This was a moment, an interminable tortured and stressed moment with no end in sight and if he continued living in it he was going to start climbing the walls.

 

***

 

She had taken his transformation into a ten-foot-tall, oozing monster with a remarkable amount of grace, in retrospect. The day after Venom's snack in the bodega Eddie had come into the shop in search of chocolate and was greeted with her familiar brusqueness.

"I'm not going to charge you for your dinner the other day, Eddie, but you still owe me for a burrito."

He laughed, and put a bag of peanut butter cups into his basket. "Of course, Mrs. C. Thank you again."

"How is your parasite, have you seen a doctor? My sister can get you some tea if you don't think a doctor will help. And I'm not Catholic but maybe a priest."

"It's not like that. It's a good parasite."

She raised an eyebrow at him and rustled around in the pocket of her blue smock until she came out with a bundle of keys and locked the door. They were alone in the shop.

"Cut the crap, Eddie. What the hell was that? You ate somebody in my store. I'm still not sure I really saw it."

He set his basket on the floor and stepped behind one of the racks that made up the aisles to be sure he was hidden from the street.

"You can come out, it's okay, Mrs. C is good people."

The symbiote oozed out of his shoulder and hissed.

I AM NOT A PARASITE.

Mrs. Chen stopped cold. She looked like she might fall as she grabbed at the counter for support.

"Okay, I'm sorry. You're not a parasite. So long as you're not eating my organs you're a friend, not a parasite."

THEN LET'S GET MORE CHOCOLATE SO WE DON'T HAVE TO EAT YOUR SPLEEN.

"Why do you think we're here?"

WHAT, IT'S NOT SO YOU CAN WOO THIS CHARMING LADY?

"Don't be more of an asshole than you have to be."

PARASITE, ASSHOLE. YOU SAY SUCH SWEET THINGS EDDIE.

A loud slap interrupted them - Mrs. Chen had smacked the counter with the flat of her hand.

"One of you may be a ventriloquist but both of you are dummies. What the hell is it? What is going on?"

OH, I LIKE HER TOO. YOU HAVE GOOD FRIENDS, EDDIE.

Eddie took a couple of steps toward her but she paled and he stopped.

"It's harmless. To me. And you. And lots of people because it only eats bad guys."

"Why is it eating guys at all? Why is it here? Why is it in you?"

WE'RE ONLY IN EDDIE BECAUSE EDDIE SAYS IT'S OKAY. EDDIE SAYS YOU HAVE TO ASK BEFORE YOU GO INSIDE OF PEOPLE AND EDDIE LIKES IT WHEN I'M INSIDE HIM.

"Oh-KAY," Eddie broke in before that train of thought could get derailed further. Mrs. Chen still looked flabbergasted but the corner of her mouth was beginning to twitch. "This is Venom. It's an alien that Carlton Drake stole. It lives inside of me and eats people because it needs a host in oxygen-rich environments. Drake wanted to use Venom and other creatures like it to take people to the stars but all the other creatures died and I'm stuck with this one."

SHE ALSO ASKED WHY WE EAT GUYS. WE EAT THEM BECAUSE THEY ARE TASTY.

"Venom burns a lot of calories and only likes to eat things that are still alive for big meals."

"You have an alien Carlton Drake stole, it lives inside of you because of oxygen and eats bad people because it has a high metabolism?"

"Pretty much."

"Okay, fine. Two dollars for the burrito."

The abrupt change of direction made Eddie sputter.

"That's it? Okay, fine?"

"Eddie, this is San Francisco. Your friend you like inside of you isn't even the weirdest thing I'm going to see today." She slowly unlocked the front door and made her way back behind the counter.

"Anyway, thank you for eating that man, he was very expensive. Now, do you want me to talk to my sister about the tea anyway?"

 

***

 

Sitting on the bed wrapped in a blanket was going to make him crazy. If he stayed inside his head worrying for one more minute he was going to sink in deeper and never come out.

Eddie stretched out his legs and swung them to the ground. He examined his hand, forcing himself to look at the re-grown fingers. They were like the other places he'd been cut - the skin was pale and soft and sensitive. It was too new, and looked strange next to the tan, calloused flesh around it.

He stood and lifted his arms. The meditation video Mrs. Chen had sold him was a bunch of crap, in Eddie's opinion, but the tai chi classes she'd recommended to go along with it weren't.

There was enough room in the cell for him to move through forms, centering himself and feeling his body respond. He couldn't relax lying still and living in the moment, but drifting through postures like water moving over rocks made him comfortingly blank. He was stiff at first, but soon relaxed into the movement and felt some measure of control return from where it had been spiraling away from him.

 

***

 

Venom liked Eddie in motion, which worked out nicely because Eddie was almost never still. If he was writing up a story he always had a pen tapping or a leg bouncing; if he sat and talked to Annie and Dan his hands darted through the air like they were sculpting his thoughts. Even in his sleep he was always engaged in a slow dance with himself, stretching legs and shifting hips and grasping arms twisting through the night. The symbiote soothed him through his sleep and he began to feel more well-rested with his companion than he had ever been before but still he tensed and his hands fluttered and he smiled in his sleep, always moving.

Sometimes Venom liked to stop the constant churning of Eddie's body, wrap him up in itself, hold his limbs straight and still while it trailed over his skin and he writhed and arched to meet the symbiote's touch. He would struggle and whimper and whine for more contact, his strong arms rippling with tension as he tried to reach out for his other, his legs straining to pull together or spread apart, begging for more stimulation.

Venom always gave in, of course. It would relax its hold and Eddie would surge up and grasp at it, moaning in delight as he sucked at its tongue and grasped the form it had taken.

Eddie was clumsy and direct and graceless - he reached for what he wanted even as he tripped over his own two feet. He couldn't be seductive if he tried, which was, in itself, charming.

It was also why the symbiote was hypnotized each time Eddie cleared a space on the carpet and began moving himself through strange shapes in a slow, beautiful, silent dance. Eddie had once ripped off the leg of his jeans with the kickstand of his bike. He always tripped on the same step in the hallway and barely kept himself from smashing his face on the grimy carpet. He wore dark colors because he knew light clothes stained the second he put them on - he spilled something on himself almost daily.

But he stood on a faded carpet and pushed his arms away from himself, or drew a circle with his heel, or bent from the waist and swooped into a predatory posture and all of that clumsiness and impatience and frustration faded away.

Venom didn't understand their host. The human was a wriggling ball of contradictions and none of it made sense.

But maybe it didn't matter if Venom ever understood Eddie. Maybe all that mattered was that it always wanted to be close enough to see the next contradiction and marvel at how it fit into the riotous puzzle of its host.

 

***

 

Another meal was delivered and Eddie was still left alone. He picked at his food, appetite gone as he worried about what was coming next. He didn't have the focus for any more tai chi so he started doing pushups. Then lunges. Then crunches. Just moving until his limbs couldn't move anymore then pausing for a breath while he thought of something else he could do. Dan had talked to him about the restlessness, the anxiety, the need to always be doing something or it felt like dying. Dan had talked to him about the fact that he was dying.

Handstands. Yoga.

Another meal.

Tap dancing. More pushups.

He didn't know how long it had been since he'd slept but he was buzzy and tired and too afraid that if he laid down he'd start thinking again, start worrying about when someone would walk into his cell and strip him, or drag him back to the operating room.

Squats. Toe raises.

He wanted a heavy bag, he wanted his lifting bench, he wanted something to happen because waiting for something to happen was too awful.

Another meal.

 

***

 

His bike had been impounded and was in pretty rough shape after the chase with Treece's squad. He felt bad for the poor Scrambler, it had carried him away from New York and all his trouble there and it ended in a heap on the opposite coast. But it felt weird to mourn for a motorcycle and he had to get around so he dug through Craigslist until he found an old Honda Interceptor in Oakland. It needed some love but it still had a lot of go and the price was right.

Vee had called him a pussy and whined about the downgrade, but Eddie was having none of it. If he was going to be cruising around the city with an interplanetary visitor he didn't want a bike he could launch into the fucking sun because Venom might just be tempted to try. The old bike moved well, rode smooth, and parts were easy to find, so that was good enough. He got it in tip-top shape then dressed up nice and got ready to eat some crow.

He ended up at Annie's place with a jug of medium roast and a bag of bagels from the cafe she liked down the street, and Dan's borrowed cardigan and khakis inexpertly cleaned in a grocery bag. The cat hissed at him when Annie opened the door.

"Well, he never liked you much but he didn't hate you," she said, taking the proffered bag of breakfast. "Got something you need to say?"

"No, not me. Come out." The symbiote swirled out of his skin and its opalescent eyes fixed on the smiling blonde.

YOU LOOK LOVELY IN THE MORNING, ANNIE. AND ALWAYS.

"Smooth." Eddie rolled his eyes.

"You look alive, Venom. That's a surprise."

NO ONE CAN DEFEAT ME!

"Yeah, except when Annie did with the MRI."

THAT WAS AN ISOLATED INCIDENT IN WHICH SHE TOOK ADVANTAGE OF THE FACT THAT YOU WERE ALSO FIGHTING ME.

"Only because you were eating me."

ONLY BECAUSE YOU WOULDN'T LET ME EAT MORE OF THOSE LOBSTERS THOSE WERE TASTY.

"Holy shit," came a small voice from the stairs, and they all looked up to see Dan wobbling for a second before he went down.

Venom took control from Eddie and manifested as its big, bulky humanoid form. It lifted Dan easily in spite of his babbled protests and neatly deposited him on the couch.

DAN. HELLO. I AM VENOM. THANK YOU FOR TRYING TO TAKE CARE OF EDDIE, WE KNOW IT IS A LOT OF WORK. I APPRECIATE YOUR EFFORTS, EVEN THOUGH YOU TOLD HIM THAT I WAS KILLING HIM.

"Holy shit," Dan said again, staring up at the glistening black monster.

I WAS, AT THE TIME. KILLING HIM. BUT I WOULD HAVE FIXED IT. BUT HONESTY IS IMPORTANT TO EDDIE, WHICH I DIDN'T UNDERSTAND AS MUCH THEN AND YOU HELPED ME TO LEARN. SO THANK YOU. WE HAVE BROUGHT BAGELS AND YOUR TERRIBLE OLD-MAN PANTS.

"What?"

The symbiote clawed at its face and Eddie was revealed, tugging away the malleable jaw and yelling. "You can't just - I mean. They're fine for him, I'm not - khakis? Just. Look, chill, let's all hang out, okay bud?" Venom laughed but sunk back into Eddie until only a stringy glob of face was hovering behind him.

"Hi, Dan, Um." Annie was having a lot of trouble keeping her laughter from bubbling through the hands she'd clamped over her mouth, Dan still looked confused, but less on the verge of fainting.

"I came to return the clothes I borrowed, and bring breakfast, and try to explain some of. Some of whatever this is."

"Okay," Dan said. "You told it I wear old man pants?"

"I didn't tell it that and I am so sorry it said that out loud, I thought it, and it hears my thoughts and doesn't know when to keep its big drooly mouth shut."

"You think I wear old man pants?"

"I - " but that was all that Annie could take. She dissolved into laughter and started getting mugs out of the cabinet.

"You do wear old man pants. And that's fine. You're a surgeon, you get to wear whatever you want so long as you keep helping people. Eddie's the one who dresses like a moody teenager. What grown-up wears cargo pants? Or owns so many hoodies?"

"Hey, cargo pants are useful!"

"So are khakis!"

Annie shook her head and Venom just watched, twitching its head back and forth like it was watching a tennis match.

"Anyway. I'm sorry I maybe ruined your pants, Dan." Eddie passed him the bag of bagels. "And I'm sorry I scared you with my alien, it's mostly harmless when it's not eating people."

"Does it eat people a lot," Dan asked, getting interested enough in the conversation that some color began to flow back into his cheeks.

"More than I am personally comfortable with but less than it would like? Define a lot."

"Okay, I see your point. Annie said it ate a head while she had it. Venom, do you like eating heads?"

YES. HEADS ARE TASTIEST. NEED HUMAN BRAINS OR CHOCOLATE.

"What?" All three humans harmonized over their incredulity.

BRAINS. CHOCOLATE. SOMETHING IN THEM. I DON'T KNOW WHAT BUT WE NEED IT. EDDIE COULD EAT FIFTY POUNDS OF TATER TOTS AND IT WOULDN'T DO AS MUCH TO SATE MY HUNGER AS A BAR OF CHOCOLATE OR JUST ONE MEASLY LITTLE BRAIN.

"We're... Okay. I'm gonna put a pin in that, we'll loop back around to that later. So far we've eaten three brains, not counting the one Annie ate."

"Okay, um," the surgeon was looking bemused and tried a different approach. He looked directly at the symbiote before speaking.

"Venom, do you know what prion disease is?" Eddie felt a chill up his spine. He'd been worrying about falling off buildings, not having his brain wasted away by rogue proteins.

YES, THEY ARE COMMON PROBLEMS IN HOST SPECIES.

"Did you know that WE can get prion diseases?"

YES! BUT NOT FROM EATING BRAINS WITH ME. YOU CAN'T GET ANY DISEASES FROM EATING WITH ME. THE KLYNTAR IMMUNE SYSTEM BONDS WITH THE HOST IMMUNE SYSTEM AND MY IMMUNE SYSTEM IS MUCH BETTER THAN THE FRAGILE ONES YOUR PLANET GROWS.

"Oh, good," Eddie said, turning to face the other. "Hey have you ever tried cabeza tacos because there's this place in Guadalajara but there was a health warning -"

"Oh my god," Annie said, covering her eyes with her hand.

"What?"

WHAT?

Dan chuckled.

"I think just watching you two is making Annie wish she had some Ritalin. I know the feeling. Anyway, Venom, how do you like earth?"

IT IS PATHETIC. THAT MEANS IT WILL BE EASY FOR ME TO CONTROL. SO I LIKE IT A LOT. LIKE EDDIE.

"Hey!"

Dan's laughter dried up. "Are, um, are you planning on controlling the planet?"

"No, we're not, Vee is just teasing. Vee nearly died preventing someone from controlling the planet so I don't think we have to worry about a dictator here."

TRUE. ALSO DICTATING IS HARD. WE WOULD RATHER WATCH HUMANS AND EAT BAD PEOPLE. THAT IS EASY AND ALSO FUN.

They went back and forth like that for an hour or so, talking about the Klyntar and their biology and discussing hosts and space and getting to know one another before Annie had to leave for a deposition. Eddie stood to go but Dan asked him to stay and offered him a bottle of dark beer.

"I want you to know I'm sorry about you and Annie."

Eddie shrugged.

"It's my fault. I gotta live with it. I'll always love her but I don't know that I was ever right for her." He lifted his bottle to Dan. "You, though. You're right for her. Good for her. Talk about a power couple, a doctor and a lawyer. Just imagine the kids."

"I don't know. A journalist and a lawyer is a hell of a match too."

Eddie shook his head. "Nah. Conflicts of interest all around. It's part of why I told the network not to send me to the Life Foundation in the first place. It's maybe why the Life Foundation thought to ask for me. That kind of thing gets messy. Especially when the journalist is also kind of an asshole. The kind who would break into his girlfriend's computer."

They drank uncomfortably for a moment.

"I am sorry. I know I told her but if she needs to hear it again. I'm sorry I cost her the job."

"But are you sorry you did it? Would you do it again?"

Eddie nodded. "Yeah. Like I said, I'm an asshole."

"I don't think that you are." Dan put his drink down and stared hard into Eddie's face. "I think it was the right thing to do, especially doing the work that you do. But I do think it means that you weren't right for each other."

Eddie was reeling a bit, caught off guard by Dan's defense of him. Everyone who had heard about their breakup agreed that it was wrong of him to open her files and use them against Drake, to hear otherwise from her boyfriend of all people was a surprise.

"You're a good guy, Brock. You give a shit about the world, and I'm glad to know you."

EDDIE WE HAVE DECIDED THAT DAN IS A GOOD FRIEND AND HE IS ADDED TO THE LIST OF PEOPLE WE LIKE.

Dan jumped. Venom liked hiding until people had nearly forgotten that it was there and startling them.

"Thanks, Venom," he said. "You're going to take care of him though, right? No more atrophied organs?"

YES. WE'LL TAKE GOOD CARE OF HIM.

"Does he know about the cancer, Venom?"

"What?!"

NO. I HADN'T TOLD HIM, I JUST STOPPED IT.

"WHAT?!" Eddie had jumped to his feet and backed away from Dan.

"We got the rest of your labs back." Dan rolled his bottle between his hands and looked at the floor, unwilling to meet Eddie's eyes. "You've got stage 4 adrenal cancer, Eddie."

He collapsed back onto the couch and looked around, lost.

"What? I mean. What do I do? Are you my doctor? Do I get a second opinion? What?"

Dan shook his head. "You're welcome to go see someone if you want, I can get you referrals if you'd like. But I wanted to talk to you because I'm a little confused myself. With cell counts like yours you should be dead. The lab thought it was an error. But that, combined with the MRI and your, uh, friend. Well. I don't know where to go from here. We're in uncharted waters."

"Vee?"

The symbiote grew out of his back and formed large arms it wrapped around its host.

YOU HAD IT WHEN I FOUND YOU. IT'S PART OF WHY THE BOND WITH YOU WORKED SO PERFECTLY.

"What do you mean?"

ADRENALINE MAKES IT EASIER TO BOND. FEEDS US. MAKES US STRONGER. YOUR SYSTEM IS ALWAYS FLOODED WITH IT. I SOAK OFF EVERYTHING OVER BASELINE.

"And the cancer?"

I EAT IT. HEAL YOUR BODY. EAT THE REST.

"What happens if you leave?"

WON'T. NEVER. YOU'RE MINE. MINE ONLY.

 

***

 

Dan had told him what symptoms to watch for, how to tell if things were advancing beyond what Venom could handle.

Alone in his cold cell Eddie stopped in the middle of a set of pushups. His heart was racing, his arms were shaking and weak. He hurt, deep in his bones he was sore in a way that didn't make sense for the surface-level cuts Drake had inflicted on him.

Spots flickered in his vision and he ignored them. He ignored the full tray of food he didn't feel hungry enough to eat. He ignored the tension and tautness in his throat, the lethargy that wanted to overwhelm him.

Tricep dips. Jumping jacks.

He was breathing hard, he could taste copper in his mouth and his vision was fuzzy.

Suddenly the metallic taste faded in the face of an overwhelming sweetness and the blurriness of his vision resolved into understanding.

They were filling his cell with gas again.

A tap came at the glass door.

Jameson smiled at Eddie before pulling the gas mask over his face.

Chapter Text

Keloid

 

 

As soon as the cell door slid open Eddie charged. He was tired of being an experiment, tired of being cut open and stared at.

Jameson wasn't ready. Eddie plowed his shoulder into the guard's gut like a linebacker and shoved his way into the hall, slamming his captor into the opposite wall and leaving him in a heap on the ground. He barely heard the wail of sirens as he ran in the opposite direction of the operating room. He passed more cells like his, bright, sad little rooms that he hadn't seen before and was horrified to see were full of people. They stood and watched him and he was torn - he didn't know the code to open his own door, let alone anyone else's but leaving them didn't seem right. A small woman on his left screamed as he passed and he hesitated, moving to the panel beside her cell. He hit buttons at random and the panel flashed red; down the hall Jameson was on his feet and more guards were running toward him.

"I'm sorry," he shouted to the woman and took off again. He took off as fast as he could, making his way through the maze of the complex, getting sicker and sicker as he saw just how many people were locked up in here. There were dozens, some seemed fairly healthy and some looked dead and none of them belonged here.

Finally he found himself at a dead end - a metal door with a keypad beside it. Through an inset window he could see an elevator, but he didn't know how to open the door. He threw himself at it anyway, ramming it uselessly with his shoulder until he felt the bite of a taser in his back and collapsed.

Five men stood over him shouting. He decided it wasn't worth it to try to listen to them and kicked out at the ankles of the nearest guard, which did have the advantage of knocking the bastard to the ground but was ultimately useless since it got Eddie tased again.

He was dragged upright just in time for Jameson to catch up to the group.

"Kitten's got some claws, huh," he said, puffing through his gas mask. "You're gonna regret that, baby."

One guard was holding each of his arms so Eddie decided to do something stupid. He drew his knees up to his chest and the guards held him up when he drove both of his heels into Jameson's chest.

"I might regret it later but it sure feels good now," Eddie gasped. A taser triggered in the side of his neck and he twitched and yelled. "Still worth it."

Another guard was physically restraining Jameson, preventing him from strangling their captive.

"Later, sir. He's medicated right now, he'll be more fun to play with later." The captain was drawing in huge, heaving breaths and glaring at Eddie. Finally he nodded and turned on his heel, the others followed, pulling Eddie along with them.

Prisoners lined the hall, standing at the doors to their cells as Eddie was pulled past them. Some clapped, some shouted invective at the guards, but all of them watched. The little woman whose cell Eddie had stopped at was slamming her hand into the glass and cackling. "You do it, buddy," she shouted, "make 'em mad, give 'em hell, fuck 'em up." The final guard drove his baton into the glass in front of her face and she shrank away.

Drake looked put out when Eddie was pulled into the operating room, frowning at him as he was restrained on the table.

"I'd appreciate it if you could refrain from damaging my employees, Brock. They're quite expensive."

"Tell you what, you stop cutting off pieces of me and I'll stop damaging your employees, deal?"

"I suppose that's a fair trade. I guess I'll just have to let you keep going after the guards then."

"Great, what are we cutting off today, my nose, my dick?"

"Fingers again. C'mon Eddie, you've done science reporting. It doesn't count if you can't repeat your results. We can cut your dick off once we're done recording results from your fingers."

"It's real hard to get the last word in when you get to say 'I'm cutting off your fingers' and mean it. Kinda cramping my style here, Drake."

"You'll have to live with it for a while. I know sarcasm and nonchalance are your go-tos but I guess you'll have to deal with sincerity for a bit. Might be good for you, you never know."

 

***

 

Testing went off the rails immediately.

Eddie was injected with the healing factor in addition to the rapid coagulant and the doctor made his first cut on Eddie's chest.

There was no blood, and the wound healed instantly, but it did so with a large, hard mound of shiny scar tissue that was wider than the initial cut had been.

"Skip to site three type two length three," Drake said, and the doctor made a long cut on Eddie's face from cheekbone to jawline halfway between his chin and his ear. The same thing happened. Pinkish-silver scar tissue flowed behind the scalpel like ink from a pen.

"Site one type five length three," Drake called. The doctor couldn't even manage the cut - his skin was healing and scarring too quickly to be flayed away.

"Shit. Shit. These should be working better together. Little finger right hand," and that quickly the doctor severed the digit. A hard shell of scar tissue covered the stub of the knuckle faster than it could start bleeding. After ten minutes of uneasy observation there was no further regrowth.

"Fuck," Drake grumbled as he shut off the camera that had been focused on Eddie's injured hand. "I guess you're getting off easy today, Eddie. We can't use this."

"You know it's a good day when losing a finger counts as getting off easy."

"Don't worry, I'm sure we'll get it right tomorrow."

Eddie laughed darkly.

"What's the point? How's your progress with the other prisoners? Or do the drugs still only work on me?"

Drake put his hand on Eddie's forearm and he tried to flinch away from the touch.

"We're still in the early stages. This is a new frontier in medicine, there are going to be some setbacks and dead ends."

"You can't. You can't do this, Drake. You can't keep people locked up, you can't run experiments on them that even you don't understand. This is insane." Drake was leaning over him, a frown intensifying on his brow as he glared down at Eddie.

"No, what's insane is that right now there's a kid somewhere out there bleeding to death and I have something that could help him but I can't give it to him. Right now there's someone dying of cancer who we could save but it would take months or years of 'ethical' research before the drug to save them gets approved. What's insane is taking even a single second longer than we have to to prevent even one more unnecessary death."

"And how many people have died in your little lab?"

"There have been some failures. But those deaths are necessary. They're all in service to the future. These aren't needless deaths, you're pioneers, you're angels. Everyone in this facility is a saint whose name will be prayed to by the generations whose fears they will have vanquished."

Eddie swallowed and ground his teeth.

"Even Jameson? Is what he does necessary? Do the other 'patients' stay awake through the 'procedures'? Is the pain necessary?"

"Yes," Drake said, simply, and Eddie's face crumpled.

"How," he whispered. "I make myself see why you're developing the drugs and testing them, I can understand why you believe you're doing the right thing with that, but the pain you're putting people through. The r-rape. How is that the right thing?"

"I don't expect you to see things from my perspective on this. You'll just have to trust that I know what I'm doing."

"Do they have children? The other patients? Do they beg to see their wives? Their fathers? Do they ask for it to stop like I ask for it to stop?" Tears were running down from Eddie's restrained face, his chest was shaking with suppressed sobs. "Drake. Carlton. We're people. We're human beings. You have to let us go, you have to stop this."

The hand that came to rest on his cheek was warm and gentle. Eddie closed his eyes and turned away as much as the strap across his forehead would allow.

"Please. Please. I just want to go home. Let us go home. Let me talk to Venom. Leave me alone. Just, please, s-stop."

"I know you're tired, Eddie. And I know it hurts. But it'll all be over soon." Soft lips pressed against his forehead and a low whine started in the back of Eddie's throat. The hand and the lips pulled away and he heard steps retreating toward the door.

"We'll try again tomorrow, Eddie. It's the best that we can do."

And then, for a while, it was quiet.

Chapter Text

The first story Eddie had ever wanted to write was one that still scared him. He'd been 19 at City College of San Francisco, bussing tables and getting credits on the school paper after flunking out of Sac State when the McVeigh trial started and it started opening up doors that were a little too close to home.

Through high school Carl Brock had dragged Eddie into the woods north of the city to meet with strange men in army surplus camouflage where they'd sit around campfires and bitch all night about how the world had shit on them before getting up in the morning to set up targets with photos of Harvey Milk to shoot down all day. Eddie, scrawny and sore, still recovering from the car accident that had made an even greater gulf between father and son, had hated it. He hated what they said, he hated what they wanted, he hated that they thought he wanted the world they wanted too.

So as soon as he could he'd gone off to school and cut ties with Carl, happy that he'd never have to see those sad, scary men with their eyes flickering around the fire as they talked about gold and weapons caches and sovereignty.

But then McVeigh made the news and Eddie realized he saw that familiar firelight flicker in the eyes of a classmate. Mark Jones was in Econ 101 with Eddie and he ran the class. Everyone else was just there for the GE credit, Jones was there for the debate. The professor couldn't raise a point without Mark arguing it and backing up his position with citations from the Cato institute. Every other week he had an article he'd clipped from Reason magazine that he wanted to discuss, always something about interest rates or the federal reserve. So one day Eddie waited for him after class.

He was surly, as usual. Grumbling about the professor and the fucking Bay liberals as he put his folder back into his bag.

"Jones!" Eddie called, jogging to catch up with him.

"What do you want?"

"Wanted to ask, you ever make it up around Arcata?"

"Why would I go out by that logging shithole? Full of fuckin hippies who couldn't cut it in Humboldt."

"Nah, man. They're good people up there. Hard workers. I ask 'cause I used to get up there to go shooting with my dad in the summer. Met a lot of good people up there. People I think you'd like."

"What do you mean?"

"Like maybe people who are a little more Randian than randy." Eddie shrugged and scrubbed at the back of his head. "Figured I'd see if you knew anything like that around here, but if you're busy I'll let you go."

Jones' eyes were narrowed.

"Semester's almost over, why are you bringing this up now?"

"Semester's almost over, gotta break coming, looking for something to fill up some time. I don't like to sit on my ass."

"How come you didn't say anything earlier?"

"Had to make sure you knew your shit for sure. Don't wanna hang out with someone just getting over their first reading of Atlas Shrugged."

A dull flush rose up Mark's neck from under his tee shirt.

"Yeah? How come you don't talk about it in class?"

"Man, I don't wanna argue this shit with a community college econ professor in a classroom full of democrats. I'm busy. If that's how you get your rocks off I'm not gonna stop you, though."

Jones considered him for a minute.

"You play pool?"

"Not really."

"Wanna learn?"

"Sure."

He led Eddie to a smoky dive bar a couple blocks from campus. On they way they talked about classes and work. Jones was 24 and undeclared, he had been a courier until a broken leg ended that career. He'd been hit by a banker when he'd run a red light, which was the first time he brought Jews into the conversation. It wouldn't be the last.

Nobody IDd Eddie at the bar so he tried his best to look like he belonged as he bought a bottle of Corona and put a quarter on the cue rack.

It seemed like Jones had just been waiting for someone to ask him what he thought of the world because once the door was cracked a floodgate opened. Eddie made small affirmative noises and was treated to a litany of conspiracy theories and racism and the same kind of black, bleak miserable talk he knew from his father.

He sucked at pool, which made Jones like him better. He lost ten bucks on a game, bought another beer, and was told that he should come to the John Birch Society meetup that Friday.

When he finished his drink he went back to campus, shaking hands with Jones and confirming that he'd see him at the meeting. He walked into the newsroom, a dingy little space with yellow walls and big copiers and a rudimentary darkroom where he sometimes picked up some spare cash developing photos. His editor was a frazzled 22-year-old single mom.

"Hey Sarah," he said, pulling out a chair next to her desk. "You gonna be back next semester?"

"Probably, so long as I can get the financial aid."

"You gonna be editor again?"

"Maybe. Jay doesn't like to announce it until the end of term." Their advisor was a young gulf war vet who had gotten his start in journalism at Stars & Stripes and was a stringer for the Bee.

"But probably?"

"Yeah, probably. Maybe managing editor instead of news editor. But be quiet about that. Why you asking?"

Eddie shifted somewhat uncomfortably.

"Think I might have something. Something I wanna spend a lot of time doing the research on. But I'm not sure it'll hold through the summer and I don't wanna run with it if it's not something we can put in the paper."

"What's up?"

"I never said anything about it but my dad is kinda a survivalist. Kinda has like. An Oklahoma City vibe. Anyway I found a guy who gives me the same feeling. I was thinking about doing a piece on militias and secret societies in the city. See what I can dig up."

"Sounds like it could be cool, Eddie. But I don't think you'll find much."

"I dunno. Maybe. Just wanna look but I wanna make sure looking makes sense."

"I'll run it by Jay. If he says okay then you may as well look, okay?"

"Sure."

And that had been that for a while. Jay said "go" and so Eddie started going to John Birch meetings with Mark. After a few weeks he got invited to after-meetings where it turned out the real discussions were happening. Eddie kept making the right affirmative noises and keeping his eyes open. He made an email address and joined a mailing list, got on a usenet group.

He was living with roommates and working too many hours and waking up on the beach three nights a week but he'd drop by the campus library for computer time daily to keep up with the conversations. It had started with the John Birch Society but this group was something else. They called themselves the Baytriots and posted a lot of political philosophy they didn't seem to understand well. And a lot of white supremacy they seemed to understand much too well. They organized a meeting in August, something public, and it happened to be at the same bar Jones had taken him to way back in May. He'd made sure to pick up a fake ID since he was getting pulled along to all sorts of strange places and was glad because he did get IDd this time. The smoky bar was packed full but instead of being crammed with migrants from a different time zone or daytime losers and Hell's Angels it was full of white men in business casual; pencil-neck programmers wearing half-sleeve plaid button-downs, bull-headed small business owners from the chamber of commerce. And, most surprisingly, Dr. Bruckner - the vice president of CCSF. As it wore on past five more people started filling in the bar, blue-collar workers carrying battered copies of the constitution and pamphlets they traded back and forth.

Italian food was delivered in steaming trays, pitchers of beer made their way down the bar, jackets and ties came off. That's when Eddie saw the first swastika tattoo. He'd smiled a big toothy grin and called "group photo!" and had gotten a bunch of big toothy grins in return. He pulled a disposable camera out of his pocket and the guys at the table in front of him posed. The man with the swastika on his arm hooked that arm around Dr. Bruckner's neck. Dr. Bruckner turned to the camera and smiled, his hand full of booklets he'd written about the Jewish Question. Eddie snapped the photo. He took a few more throughout the course of the night, promised to mail out copies, collected names and addresses and jotted down websites and email addresses. He promised he'd be able to get the photos developed discreetly and make copies cheap - he had access to a dark room, after all.

Eddie left with all the shots on his disposable camera exposed, a stack of names and addresses, and a copy of each of three pamphlets Dr. Bruckner had been handing out, each listing a website where the author's byline should have been.

He went home and couldn't sleep, feeling awful and sick and jittery, counting the hours until the school library opened.

As soon as it did he was online, running a WhoIs search on the websites from the pamphlets. Not only was Bruckner the registered owner of all of the sites, they used a school IP address. Eddie printed out that information, making sure it was properly dated and documented. Then he started digging through the sites to see what had been published online that hadn't made it to print.

He made it through about four pages worth of text before he closed out of his browser and called Jay.

Eddie photocopied the pamphlets while he was waiting for the professor to make it to the campus. He was nervously bouncing on the balls of his feet outside of the newsroom. When Jay showed up Eddie handed him the copies of the pamphlets and ducked into the darkroom. He got the film processed as quickly as he could and hung the negatives to dry.

"Eddie, what are you showing me?" Jay was frowning up at him. The teen looked exhausted, with pronounced bags under his eyes and as much of a three-day beard as the kid could grow.

"Jay, Dr. Bruckner gave me these."

"Dr. Bruckner, our Dr. Bruckner?"

"Yeah, Vice President Bruckner, the guy who does Pizza in the Plaza for orientation and runs the Student Council meetings."

"Where?"

"At a bar last night. The group calls itself the Baytriots."

"This is the story you've been working on?"

"Yeah."

"Why did you need me here?"

"I got photos of the meeting last night, I need you to take a look at them. But there's more. The booklets go to websites. Dr. Bruckner owns the websites but they're hosted on the school server, Jay. CCSF is hosting this shit. And worse."

"Worse?!"

"That's why I called. I didn't want to read any more at the library. It's bad, I didn't want people to see me."

"Show me."

While the film dried Eddie brought up the websites. They were uniformly antisemitic, two were virulently homophobic, one included the full text of Industrial Society and its Future alongside a schematic of a pipe bomb.

"Eddie, I though you were just going to do a background piece. I thought you wanted to write generally about this stuff."

"Me too."

"You're sure it's Dr. Bruckner. You can prove it?"

Eddie nodded seriously. "I've got a photo of Dr. Bruckner holding these pamphlets while he gets a hug from a guy with a swastika tattooed on his bicep. His name is the registered owner of the websites and the IP belongs to the school."

"What else?"

"I've got a bunch of names and addresses for people who were at the meeting last night but I don't know what to do with them. It's not like it's illegal to go to a bar and talk about genocide."

"It was a public meeting?"

"I mean, they didn't take roll or have a bouncer or anything. I had to pay at the door, though."

"Okay. You got photos?"

"Yeah, I said I was taking group snapshots."

"Oh my god, Eddie, I wish all of my students were like you. What names did you get?"

"People wanted copies of the photos, I wrote 'em down."

"Here's what we're going to do: Dr. Bruckner is the only person who really matters to this story on campus, so that's the name that goes in the story. But we're going to publish every photo you took and make sure to include the names you got in the captions. It's not illegal to sit around and talk about genocide but it's also not illegal to call people an asshole for doing it."

"Jay, one of the guys is a student here. He's how I found out about the group. He was in my class last term."

"Is he in the photos too?"

"I don't remember."

They checked the negatives once the film was dry. Eddie had nineteen photos, two were duplicates, three were blurred. Mark was on the edge of one photo and the center of another.

"If you want, we can crop him out."

"He believes all the same stuff that they do."

"Is he your friend?"

Eddie shook his head. "Nah. Like I said, he believes that crap. I can't be friends with someone who thinks in terms of gas chambers."

"We don't have to make a decision about naming him right now. Right now you need to start working the story. I'll get these printed, you keep the negatives. I've got a safe in my office, we'll put the photos and the copies of the pamphlets there. You start writing, and start making phone calls."

"Calls?"

"Yeah, see if you can get any of these guys on the record about the group. I'll call Sarah and the other editors, we were going to have a thin edition out for the first week of classes but it looks like that just got blown out of the water."

Eddie let out a startled laugh. "So we're gonna run it?"

"Hell yes we're going to run it. This is amazing work, Eddie. This is a career-making story. What do your classes look like this semester?"

"I went with an easy load. Print production with you, Newspaper with you, Photography 225, and Auto Shop."

"Well you've already earned your A in my classes. Great job, kiddo." Eddie blushed. Jay raised an eyebrow at him.

"How old are you?"

"Nineteen. Twenty next month."

"Where are you working right now?"

"I'm bussing at Petrillos and 5th Street Grill."

"You wanna work for a real paper?"

Eddie's eyes got huge and round. "Yeah. More than anything. But I'm years away from graduation."

"Work this, make it good. I heard about a couple openings for the Examiner's copy desk. Get this thing done and I'll make sure their editor sees it. The pay will be shit, but no worse than cleaning tables. They'd be lucky to have you."

And so they went to work. It took two weeks to get ready for print, with Eddie making nerve-wracking phone calls and butting his head against the prose of the story. Two days before it went live he called the Vice President's office with an inquiry. His call was returned with a categorical denial that Bruckner had ever heard of the Baytriots.

He'd matched email addresses to usernames in chat groups, made careful selections from the pamphlets, and created excerpts of the websites. A marathon layout session ended with Eddie's story as the whole front page above the fold and an interior two-page spread, a color photo of Bruckner and his tattooed pal leading the charge. The photo of Jones was smaller, inside and black and white, with his name clearly spelled in the 8-point caption font the school paper used.The issue was delivered to campus at 4 am on Eddie's 20th birthday, the second day of classes.

All hell immediately broke loose.

The newsroom was flooded with calls baying for Eddie's blood, Bruckner resigned, the school put out a press release to the city papers, which sent the city papers scrambling for a copy of the community college story. By evening the story had made it to the networks and the local stations all had a segment with a reporter camped out on the lawn in front of the Administration Building reporting on the insidious nature of white supremacy.

Eddie got back to his apartment tired and elated to find a note on the dented fridge for him. "Mr. Brock called 330ish? Sounded pissed" and a number. He sighed and cradled the handset between his shoulder and his ear, dialing while he pulled out a loaf of bread and made a peanut butter sandwich.

His dad picked up on the third ring.

"Hello?"

"Hi sir, saw that you called."

"Eddie. How's school?"

"It's only the second day of classes, too soon to tell."

"Maybe it would be clearer if you were at a real school instead of that institution for dropouts and losers."

"Maybe, but it's a hell of a lot cheaper with the losers."

"Don't swear, Eddie."

"Sorry, sir."

"I met a friend of yours today. A young Mark Jones came by the office."

"I wouldn't really call Mark a friend."

"I should hope not, because it's awfully rude to call one's friends Nazis in print."

"Yeah, that's why I don't call him a friend."

"Jones is threatening to sue me."

Eddie chuckled. "On what grounds?"

"Libel."

"You didn't write the story."

"I'm your father."

"And you kicked me out."

"Write a retraction, Eddie."

"No way."

"I'm your father, Eddie, you'll do as you're told."

"Or what? You'll take away my tuition money? You don't pay it. Or my rent. You won't give me a Christmas present? You won't love me anymore? You never did anyway."

"Eddie, this could reflect very poorly on me."

"If it reflects badly on you that your son is outing white supremacists maybe I'm not the one hanging around with losers."

"Mary is going to be very disappointed in you."

"If Mary doesn't know who I am and what I'm about she can go screw too. She's my sister, not my mom. Being disappointed isn't her job, just like cleaning the house and cooking your dinner isn't her job."

"Don't talk about your sister like that, Eddie."

"Thanks for the birthday wishes, sir. I'll talk to you soon, can't wait to ruin Thanksgiving."

He set the phone back in its cradle and took a deep breath, then another, then another.

Carl Brock was never going to be happy with what his son did, so the least he could do was try to enjoy his father's unhappiness. He ate his peanut butter sandwich and went to his room, where he slept like a baby. He always did, after writing a good story.

That story had changed Eddie's life. He had gotten the job at the examiner, he'd spent a couple of months getting threats from white supremacists, he'd found what he wanted to do. Everything he'd written before the Baytriots story seemed silly and dreamy - an opinion piece about cafeteria schedules, lifestyle articles about restaurant openings near campus, an interview with a figure drawing model. They were the sort of soft things that made sense for a teenager to publish in a college paper, but writing an actual investigative piece remade Eddie's world.

And still, it scared him. One day he had been watching an asshole in his econ class and a couple months later he'd proved that his school was providing web services to a holocaust denier. It only took little bit of digging to find dirt, and sometimes what you found could ruin you.

That's what the Life Foundation story had been like. Even before he'd been assigned to go interview Drake he'd spent months learning about bodies in the dump and real estate bribery and all of it had the odd whiff of the Life Foundation around it when you dug a little bit into the dirt. Hell, even further back Eddie remembered doing a piece on the flaws in allocation of research grants and finding some shady but not quite provable shit about Drake's initial funding.

When Annie's firm got picked up by the Life Foundation he should have. Well. Eddie didn't know. If he'd delivered an ultimatum it would have made him an asshole but maybe it's okay to be an asshole about these things. He'd told her about the shady money, he'd pointed to previous ethical concerns about research. But they had different values. Different views on the world. Annie saw a genius who was reaching for the stars and not letting anyone stop him. Eddie saw a massive corporation that had privatized space research. Annie saw a medical research wing that was producing wonder drugs and genetic treatments. Eddie saw a drug company that sold designer medication to the super-rich while giving away cheap vaccinations for PR and hiking the prices on HIV drugs.

Annie was great, she was lovely and kind and wanted the good things in the world. But she was a lawyer and sometimes that meant she had too much respect for what the law was, and not enough consideration for what was right. And worse than that she thought the people she worked with had a similar respect for the law. If the Life Foundation overcharged for their antiretrovirals it was because the law allowed them to and should be fixed; not because they'd spent decades weakening the laws that would prevent them from raising prices. And then she pointed out that people either had insurance or qualified for medicare, so it shouldn't matter anyway, the price wasn't passed on to the patient.

That conversation had nearly made Eddie ask for the ring back well ahead of the class action suits.

But still. It spoke volumes about how quickly things could change. One day he'd been talking to the woman he wanted to marry. Then he started digging just a little bit. And it seemed like so little had happened before he found himself strapped to a table, missing a finger, and fighting down a scream as he heard the guards' voices at the door.

 

***

 

There were a lot of things Venom hated about this planet but Carlton Drake had secured himself the top slot at the altar of the symbiote's loathing.

They hated his stupid smug face, they hated that he lied to himself and to those around him, they hated the paper-thin justifications for those lies, they hated the sick feeling of pleasure Drake got when he watched his prisoners suffer. They hated every single thing Drake had done to Eddie. And they hated what had been done to them as well.

But they appreciated Drake's arrogance, because it was what was ultimately going to be his downfall.

He thought the problem of Venom was solved. He'd made his little containment unit, he'd forced the symbiote to merge with other hosts, he'd been able to hurt and herd the Klyntar and so he thought he didn't have anything further to worry about. Venom had become quiet and sullen and so Drake had believed they'd accepted their fate.

But if Drake could do experiments then so could Venom. The symbiote wasn't cowering silently in the corner of his temporary host's mind, it was studying.

If it was quiet Drake didn't notice where it went or what it was thinking - it wasn't like Eddie, where sharing thoughts was like passing water through cloth. Drake and Venom were merged but not bonded, they were separate entities, and that gave Venom an advantage Drake didn't even think to consider.

If Venom drifted to the surface of Drake's skin or tried to control his movements that klaxon-loud device he'd created would scream the symbiote into submission.

But it didn't notice when Venom allowed themself to seep through the cilia of Drake's stomach or lungs. It couldn't tell Venom was Venom if the symbiote moved through mucus membranes, interpreting the Klyntar's slimy form as just the same as any of the various goos and oozes Drake's body produced.

So Venom pushed those boundaries; testing on the inside of a cheek, or the space just above a nostril. It decided to swirl out over the surface of Drake's eye, carefully pooling around the iris and making sure not to obstruct his vision. If anyone had seen Drake while Venom explored they would have seen the warm brown of his eyes awash in an inky sea of black. But nobody saw.

Venom seethed that they had waited too long. When Drake had kissed Eddie's forehead they were almost ready, almost close enough. If Drake got that close to Eddie again they thought they could be fast enough, they would be able to move from one host to the right host nearly instantly, hopefully before Drake or his alarms could notice.

So Venom practiced, sliding through the various soft places on Drake it stayed quiet and let him think that they were defeated. It was the best chance they had.

 

Chapter Text

"Strip 'im and flip 'im," was the first clear thing Eddie heard after the door opened and guards started tromping into the operating room.

"Fuck," he ground out, "you uncreative, boring, predictable little shits." Jameson walked into his line of sight and patted his cheek.

"It's not a creative industry, honey. That's your field. But most of what I hear outta you is 'no,' and 'please stop,' and 'oh god why,' so maybe a job as script supervisor isn't in your future either."

"Well maybe we could both take notes from your mom, if she shit out something like you I bet she's filthy at both ends."

Jameson laughed and slapped him before reaching for the strap holding Eddie's head to the table and releasing it, grabbing a handful of hair to slam his head back into the cushioned surface.

"That's the spirit, baby, make me mad, get us all worked up. You're so hot when you're eager."

Other hands were opening the rest of the restraints and Eddie couldn't keep from struggling, trying to kick and hit as his limbs were freed. He twisted and tried to wrestle away as the clothes were pulled away from his body but couldn't get in more than a few blows before he was flipped over and the straps were being cinched down again, his waist was belted in place and his ankles were secured to slightly spread his legs but they left his head free and didn't bother using the velcro to hold his arms - instead a set of handcuffs was snapped onto each wrist and his hands stretched out to the corners of the table.

He ended up face-down and panting, uselessly rattling the handcuffs, only to be startled when the table moved underneath him.

Jameson was standing near Eddie's head, fiddling with a set of switches that were just out of view. The head of the table lifted slightly and the lower half dropped until Eddie's feet were nearly on the ground, leaving him bent at the waist with his back arched. The posture started to hurt immediately, putting too much strain on his wrists and a kink in his lower back. He figured it was probably going to be the most comfortable part of the rest of his day.

Jameson walked around the table to stand behind Eddie. He ran his hands over the bound man's back, trailing down to skim over the swell of his ass and trace down the backs of his thighs. Eddie jerked against the restraints and tried to squeeze his legs together.

"Baby's on some fancy meds, guys," Jameson said, spreading out a palm in the center of Eddie's back. "We've got a treat with our pillow princess, watch."

There was a feeling of sharp coldness between Eddie's shoulders. Jameson had run a scalpel over his spine and the other guards murmured when the skin immediately sealed. "Doesn't matter what we do, you're gonna stay tight for hours, baby." Eddie growled and wrenched his arms against the handcuffs.

"Hold his shoulders down," Jameson said, and immediately three guards leapt to comply. Eddie felt more cuts; they were deep and painful but the pain faded fast. He assumed his skin was still raising up in ugly keloid scars from the combination of the healing factor medication and the rapid acting coagulant. The carving continued while Eddie breathed through clenched teeth. When it stopped and Jameson pulled away there were scattered laughs in the room. "Perfect. It goes with all your other tarted-up marks, Slut."

More laughs.

"Wait," Eddie said, perplexed. "You carved 'slut' into my back?"

Jameson twined his fingers in Eddie's hair and whispered in his ear. "Yeah, baby, don't want you to forget your place."

A wild bray of laughter bubbled out of Eddie's throat.

"Just 'slut.' That's it. That's the joke. You're calling me a slut and that's funny enough that your fucking goons are high-fiving at your wit." Eddie craned his neck around as far as he could to look Jameson in the face. "Where does Drake even find you guys? Is there a craigslist for remedial henchmen? That's not even in the neighborhood of clever, man. I'm disappointed in you."

"Slut's opinions don't matter, honey. Who else wants to see how many we can get in before the princess comes down from the drugs?"

The rest of the guards cheered and immediately someone's hand was at his ass. Jameson stepped away and pulled a chair up where he could watch Eddie's face while slick fingers were pushing into him. He bucked his hips and tried to move away but the hand was already removing itself. The man behind him grabbed his ass in both hands and spread the cheeks apart, not wasting a second before pressing a lubed erection into his ill-prepared body.

Eddie stopped breathing as he tried to adjust to the intrusion, mind blanking at the pain and suddenness of it. It had happened so quickly he barely realized it was happening and lived in an odd state of limbo for a minute while his brain and his body caught up to each other. Finally the two synced and he drew in a breath and started moving. His legs strained and his shoulders twisted but there was nowhere for him to go, he was pinned in place and struggling to breathe and hurting so much and still this was happening. The hands shifted to his hips and pulled him back, thrusting deeper inside of him before withdrawing and repeating the motion. He whined and bit his lips, squeezing his eyes shut and using all of his strength to pull away to no avail. The man inside of him barely noticed, only adjusting his grip every few strokes to find a more satisfying angle.

And then, almost as soon as it had started, it was over. Eddie felt the touch of metal to his back and tensed. The man fucking him moaned and his hips stuttered forward; there was a warm and spreading loathsomeness inside of him, and the metal on his ribs cut into the skin with a single small slash. The guard pulled the knife and his dick away and he felt fingers in his ass again. He sighed in relief when they pulled out but that quickly turned into a muffled shout of outrage when the fingers were pushed into his mouth. His eyes snapped open and his jaw snapped closed just in time to catch his teeth on a fingertip and bite down, which might have ended with at least a little outraged dignity on Eddie's part if another dick hadn't been unceremoniously shoved into him, opening his mouth again in a gasp of pain.

He tasted blood and come but had trouble keeping track of what was happening. Someone had hit him, someone was fucking him, someone had pulled out a cell phone and told him to smile pretty and he'd spit at them and gotten hit again. The new body thrusting into him was larger and he was groaning under the strain of the weight on his back and the girth of the cock breaching him. It set his teeth on edge and made him try to pull his legs up and away and the impossibility of movement made him want to scream.

This guard put his hands on Eddie's back and would lean his weight over his chest, slowly crushing the air out of him until he was drifting and his hands were twitching. He'd wait until the edges of Eddie's vision blurred before letting up and then do it again, keeping the smaller man in a constant state of confusion. The knife touched his back and he panted and tried to blink himself back into reality while things happened around him.

People handled his waist and lifted his legs. He heard velcro again and the room spun and it took him a moment to notice it wasn't the room, he had been flipped over again, he was looking at the ceiling and his arms were twisted up in their handcuffs and someone had attached surgical stirrups to the table and strapped Eddie's legs into them. The table was moving again and he was dizzy and confused but his back didn't hurt so much and his fingers were getting feeling back and things seemed okay until he regained enough clarity to notice how wide his legs had been spread and that someone was crawling up the length of the table to him, putting their shoulders under the stirrups and rutting into him and the whole awful process was starting over and there were a dozen other uniforms in the room and he didn't know how long he'd already been here, whether it was ten minutes or an hour or forever.

The person with the camera kept coming back to hover around his face so Eddie thought he must be screaming or crying, but either way he tried to keep spitting and hurling invective.

The knife found its way to his chest, a counterpoint to the pain in his ass. He stared at his hands, looking fixedly at his missing finger and trying to keep from watching the faces around and above him shifting and jeering and trading places.

He checked out as much as he could. It was just hands on his body, just people touching him, it didn't mean anything. It didn't need a reason, didn't need an explanation. They wanted to do it so they did it, he hadn't asked for this, he hadn't made this happen.

As he got less responsive the room got quieter. The crowd thinned out.

He'd been moved several times, his restraints reconfigured until they were all abandoned aside from the handcuffs. He'd stopped kicking and lunging, but was still biting. He had that at least.

They had flattened out the table to pull him to his hands and knees and when someone finished with him he was allowed to collapse to his side and cover his face with his arms. The camera circled again, lingering on his back, his hip, his neck, his mouth. He felt fingers in his hair and his head was pulled away from the protective cave he'd made of his arms. He stared blankly at the shiny black lens as it swooped toward him. They were filming him. They wanted him broken down and empty. They got it.

"You going to keep trying to run from me, baby?" The hand in his hair gave a little shake. Jameson. Jameson liked to control his head like that. Liked to call him pet names.

"Answer."

Was he going to keep trying to run away? Was that the question?

"Probably."

"You must like getting fucked like this if you keep asking for it. You like being my slut, baby?"

"Notta slut. You made me. I didn't - "

"If you didn't want this you woulda behaved. You asked for this, you knew what we'd do to you."

"No, didn't want - fuck you."

"Coulda fooled me," Jameson said, and dropped Eddie's head. He felt a hand shoving at his hip and allowed himself to be pushed to his stomach. The cameraman was walking down the length of his body and stopped by his hips. Eddie felt hands separating his ass cheeks and pulling him apart to display to the camera.

" - like a glazed doughnut" said Jameson and Eddie ducked his head, whining miserably.

"Aww, poor baby. Still needs something, even all stretched out and wrecked. Let's see if we can give you something that'll make you happy."

He tried to shift himself away but Jameson had already re-secured one ankle, the other followed in short order and Eddie was splayed open again, thighs straining with the effort to pull them together against the straps. He heard a loud, lurid squirting sound and cool liquid was being eased into his burning hole. He whimpered and shifted uncomfortably.

"Baby likes it," Jameson chuckled, ignoring Eddie's steady chorus of "no, no, no."

He felt fingers prodded at the puffy, swollen skin while Jameson cooed about how pretty and dirty he was. Three fingers pushed past his strained muscles and tented open inside of him, stretching and twisting.

"You've got such a hungry little cunt, honey, we've been riding you for hours and still it's sucking on my hand like it wants more. You want more, baby?"

Eddie shook his head. "Get away from me," he whispered. Jameson started moving his arm in short little thrusts, pulling back enough to add a fourth digit and working it slowly into the tight channel.

"You want more," he said, confidently, and dripped lube where his hand met Eddie's body. He twisted his hand until his palm was facing the ceiling and bent his fingers into a hook, pulling up on the tortured ring of flesh until it gaped. "You want it all, everything I can give you, everything for my pretty baby."

He lowered the hand again and laid his thumb alongside his other fingers, grabbing one firm cheek with his other hand and pulling it aside so he could watch as he leaned his weight into his straightened arm and pushed his hand into Eddie until it was nearly at the widest point of his knuckles.

Eddie choked as he felt himself tearing and the large fist slid into him, pushing past what little resistance his overextended body could offer. Jameson came to rest when he felt Eddie's hole fluttering around his wrist; the smooth thighs trembling with strain.

"You're so hot inside, baby, so wet and smooth. Wanna tear you to pieces, wanna wreck your pretty cunt," the guard growled. He curled his hand into a fist and drew a sob from the shivering man underneath him. "Gonna stay with you all night, honey, wanna watch you start to bleed again."

Eddie squirmed and shook and couldn't get away from the overwhelming presence of the hand inside him. He felt like Jameson had pushed him out of his own body, like he was just watching, like there was no room for air or thoughts or horror or Eddie, and he'd simply had to put himself aside.

He panted in shallow, fast breaths, feeling too full to draw in whole lungfuls of air. Jameson's hands had choked him and dislocated his jaw and pulled his hair and tied him down and one of those hands had become the bloated center of his attention. The slightest movement rocked through the core of him, making Eddie feel small and insignificant and sickeningly open and vulnerable.

"God, look at it," groaned the man with the camera. "You think he could take two?"

 

***

 

They made Eddie walk back to his cell after dousing him with water and hastily re-dressing him. His legs collapsed in the hallway and no matter how he tried he couldn't make them support his weight for the last fifty feet.

So he crawled.

Chapter Text

 

The security footage from the operating room was disturbing but Drake couldn't stop watching it. Eddie Brock was an irritating son of a bitch who kept walking right into the biggest pile of trouble he could find. He hadn't been willing to do a softball interview with Drake after the shuttle crash so instead he'd ended up on the wrong side of someone with almost limitless resources. He hadn't been able to ignore Dr. Skith's moralizing so he'd ended up getting infected by a parasite and getting stabbed in the heart on a launch platform. He hadn't been able to leave the Life Foundation well enough alone so he'd walked himself and his parasite straight into a trap. He couldn't keep his mouth shut and his head down when surrounded by armed guards and so here he was, being taken apart one piece at a time by a dangerous man he'd repeatedly provoked. 

Destruction looked good on him, Drake had to admit. His body was alive with trembling muscle when he cowered, this soft lips shook with tension when he cried. 

Drake didn't like men, as a rule. He preferred the softness of women's bodies and the weakness of their voices. But he did like power, and seeing Brock's powerful body and wry, knowing face reduced to this shaking mess of flesh was compelling. 

It was something for him to consider. 

But he would consider it later, when he didn't have a new formula to develop and test. Brock could be left alone for a while. Drake had work to do. 

 

***

 

Eddie was beginning to worry. He realized that a less disastrous human might have started to seriously worry some time before they'd lost a finger or been the centerpiece of a couple of gang rapes but he was just special that way. An optimist. 

As he recovered from his latest sojourn in the operating room he considered his options. 

He didn't have any of the access codes he would need to get away from the cells. The guards didn't carry guns and didn't seem to be concerned with his initial attempt at hostage taking. Running from them had given him a little more understanding of the facility where he was being held but not enough to be useful. 

If he was honest with himself he could acknowledge that he hadn't been worried at first because he didn't think Drake would be able to control Venom for as long as he had.

So Eddie waited and watched and worried, considering his options for a long time before he let himself start to wonder if maybe there weren't any options to consider. 

 

***

 

Two days passed before anyone came to Eddie's cell. He'd been able to drink from the sink in the room but was faint and shaky from hunger. He couldn't remember how long he'd been in the Life Foundation facility but it was starting to tell on him. His hands were getting thin, his stamina was shot to hell. He couldn't even work up a reaction beyond a flinch and a sneer when Jameson came to escort him to the operating room. 

"What, Mr. Eddie Brock Report doesn't have anything smart to say today?"

Eddie hunched his shoulders and looked at the ground.

"Oh good, you can be taught. Up and at 'em, honey."

He made his way to the door, wrapping his arms around his chest and refusing to look up. He walked cautiously in front of Jameson as they started down the hall.

"Goddamnit," the guard drawled, "you're gonna be just like the rest. Put just enough of a scare into you and you fall apart. Get all meek and servile and all the fight goes out of you."

Eddie didn't say anything.

"Thankfully there's always another. I didn't even miss you this last couple days. We got some new subjects in and there's this one little runaway, sweet like you. She's gonna be fun. Big brown eyes and a big wet mouth, probably not a day over sixteen - "

Eddie didn't realize he had even started moving until Jameson's head hit the wall with a thunderous crack. The guard seemed like he was getting ready to shout or say something but he didn't get a chance, Eddie's hands were around his throat slamming his head into the wall again, this time with a wet squelching sound.

Alarms were starting somewhere far away, there were feet pounding in the corridor. In ten seconds someone was going to start tasing him, they were going to pull Eddie away from this shitstain and the shitstain was going to wake up with a concussion and a temper and Eddie wasn't going to allow that to happen.

Venom had been a good influence on him. Eddie leaned in close, opened his jaw as wide as he could, and tore into Jameson's neck biting down over the carotid artery. It was difficult, tearing through skin and viscera with human teeth, and he missed his other. With Vee's big teeth it would have been easy; with Vee's big claws it would have been trivially simple to reach in and tear the wound open wider.

It was difficult with Eddie's human hands, it seemed more slippery and difficult to get a grip but he made the effort. He tugged and tore at the skin and muscle, opening as much of Jameson's throat as he could. They slid to the floor as Eddie attacked. He grabbed Jameson's ears and slammed the back of his skull into the tile as hard as he could for good measure until hands wrapped around his arms and pulled him away.

He kicked and pushed and laughed horribly, taking every second he could to make sure that no one got close enough to put pressure on Jameson's wounds soon enough to save him. He thought he might have done okay before he had a pile of people crouched on his back and screaming.

"Bye bye, baby," Eddie giggled madly from underneath the press of guards. He was hauled roughly to his feet and dragged quickly to the OR. Drake stood at his usual table full of recording gear and tablets looking furious.

"What the fuck happened to him," he shouted at the assembled crew.

"His throat, the prisoner bit - "

"Severe head trauma - "

"Trying to call an ambulance but we don't - "

"Shut UP," Drake howled. "Not Jameson, what happened to my subject?!"

The new lead guard, who Eddie recognized as the man with the camera, was left with his mouth opening and closing like a fish as he tried to switch gears.

Drake frowned and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Whatever you idiots may think the purpose of this facility is not for you to use as your personal playground. We are doing research here. And for that research to be effective I need research patients who aren't on death's door. So again, what happened to my subject?"

Eddie cackled and looked down at himself. He was covered in a staggering amount of red. "Pretty sure none of it is my blood."

Drake sighed, scanned his table, and picked up a syringe.

"Someone put this in him. Large muscle group, no veins."

There was a scuffle that ended predictably, with Eddie getting a needle to his ass. They held him pressed to a wall until it took effect and all the strength went out of his limbs. He was pulled into the attached surgical scrub room and watched blood swirl down the drain as he was roughly scrubbed clean. Two guards bundled him into a hospital johnnie and hauled him back to the OR. The restraints were different today, he was secured at his chest and hips but his arms and legs were left loose. He couldn't move them anyway so he supposed that made sense.

Drake was talking to someone in the hallway and Dr. Scott approached him. The doctor was different today too, wearing blue surgical scrubs instead of his usual lab coat. He started wiping down Eddie's hands with iodine.

"Wharyodoin" Eddie slurred, but they ignored him. The lights were moved closer to the tables and a nurse was setting up cameras while another prepped scalpels and hemostats. Eddie felt like now would be a good time to panic but he couldn't dredge up the requisite energy.

Another needle. This one did go in a vein, a large syringe of an orange liquid that was slowly fed into his arm. The needle felt far away and dull.

Drake was back from the hallway. He wore a gown with long sleeves over his cardigan. He had on a mask.

"Formula 64a, Subject EB. Little finger, right hand, previously amputated." His voice was clear behind the square of blue paper but it sounded fuzzy to Eddie.

He felt a distant burning in his hand and looked at it. The doctor had cut open the place where his finger used to be, neatly severing the scar tissue that had grown like a cap over the knuckle. It was bleeding. It was his blood this time. A nurse held a square of gauze to the bleeding joint, then squirted it with something painful, then touched it with the cloth again. The bleeding had stopped, the scar tissue was gone. There was a little nub that hadn't been their yesterday.

"Elapsed time five minutes, regrowth at forty percent," came Drake's voice and Eddie blinked. It hadn't been five minutes, had it? He looked again and the nub was beginning to look more like a finger. He frowned at it. It felt hot. He felt hot. There were swirls of purple in the air and he didn't trust them.

"How are his vitals?"

"Totally normal."

"Remove the scar tissue on his chest, let's see how it does."

The doctor did what Drake said, and sliced through the remnants of the last test like butter, peeling up a thick pad of scar tissue. The nurse irrigated it, washing a little blood away, but smooth pink skin had already covered it.

"Good. Elapsed time eight minutes, regrowth at one hundred percent."

They gave him his finger back. He felt like he should thank them.

"First finger left hand, new amputation," Drake said, and Eddie decided to hold off on expressing his gratitude.

They found out it took less time to re-grow new amputations even if more mass was involved. Someone was playing with the settings of the table and Eddie watched his feet lift above his head and his arms draw up like he was a puppet on a string.

"Right hand," Drake said, and Eddie didn't understand until a nurse took his hand and began shaking it, then massaging it, pressing from fingertips to wrist. Moving as much fluid as she could out of his elevated arm. He thought he might have managed to whimper when she wound a thick strip of rubber around his forearm, five inches above his wrist. He knew he made a sound of some kind when he saw the doctor lift a bone saw.

Seeing someone carry his hand away from his body and put it in a medical waste bin was the kind of novel experience he'd never hoped to have. He watched the nurse carry the hand away, he had a scar on that hand from a fight with his dad when he'd been just a kid, she put it in an orange bin and he felt like he was reaching out to her from the bin, begging her to bring it back and put him together again. His hand didn't belong there.

"Vitals?"

"Still stable."

"Regrowth?"

"Fifteen percent in ten minutes."

"Good."

Eddie tried to move his fingers. He felt like he could still see them. He felt like he was going to throw up. A nurse started swabbing his feet with iodine.

"Regrowth complete at an hour forty."

Had no one spoken in that long? His hand looked like it was there but he couldn't be sure. He couldn't move it. It was the wrong color. It didn't have any scars.

"Left foot."

The process repeated. Push the blood out, tourniquet, bone saw, water, gauze. Waste bin. Eddie's brain felt sick and swollen.

"Vitals?"

"A bit high, well within expected ranges for standard surgery."

"Has the pulse pressure dropped?"

"A bit. He's lost some blood now."

"Let's wait. Maybe a second dose."

It was like magic. Bad, scary magic.

"Re-growth fifty percent at two hours."

"Okay, let's try another dose."

A needle touched his arm again and more orange went into him. The purple air was rippling but probably no one else could see it.

"Three hours twenty minutes, regrowth complete."

Eddie wanted them to stop cutting. He wanted them to leave him alone. He wanted to go away.

"We need to try soft tissue. Up or down?"

"Let's cut him a break. Tongue."

There were fingers in his mouth and he couldn't taste them. Dull pressure. He must have looked stupid, eyes crossed and forehead furrowed to gaze up at a long clamp that sprouted from his mouth. He wanted to bite down. A nurse held his head while the doctor gingerly tugged at the clamp. Eddie tasted iron strongly for half a second. Then nothing. The pain was closer, hotter. A pad of gauze went into his mouth while the doctor walked to the orange bin. Stinging water. People were touching parts of him and he could smell iodine but he didn't know where from.

"One hour, thirty percent re-growth."

"Do you think just muscle takes longer?"

"There may just be nothing in him to grow from. It converts mass, doesn't generate it. Even I can't break physics that badly."

There was some laughter. Eddie forgot why.

"Did the guard die?"

"Yeah."

"I guess he probably deserved it."

"Yeah."

"Still frustrating."

"I saw the tape. Gotta say I'm with this guy."

"Do you want it to be you next?"

"Of course not."

"He's dangerous."

"It's a dangerous line of work."

"Hmm. Vitals?"

"More stable, he's drifting."

"Take the rest. If it comes back it comes back. If it doesn't he's safer to work with."

"Sir - "

"Yes?"

"The tongue hasn't even - "

"Just do what you're told."

Eddie should have been more upset. Eddie should have been screaming.

"Cath him. He might end up needing it."

"Sir."

The orange bin was smiling, the purple had faded from the air. The lights above the table were Venom's eyes, huge and shining and the only thing he wanted to see.

"His vitals are dropping a bit. He may need a transfusion."

"Give him a saline drip. No transfusion. I don't want unknown interactions in this equation, his system is inoculated against this symbiote. If one of he others gets this far we can give them a transfusion."

"Yes sir."

Eddie found that if he focused, and put in a lot of effort, he could change the pace of his breathing. He could move his mouth in complicated patterns that he wasn't sure were the right ones.

"Aaake," he said, or tried to.

"Do you think he'll remember it?"

"God, I fuckin hope not."

Drake shook his head.

"Time?"

"Six an a half hours."

"Re-growth?"

"Four percent."

"Not great."

"Medically speaking it's incredible."

"Well we've documented it so now it's literally credible."

Drake pulled his mask off his face and looked down at Eddie with a slight smile. "Call it. Get someone with a wheelbarrow to take him back to his room."

The lights overhead were Venom's eyes. The purple was gone from the room but the lights swirled with gray and turquoise and pink and fire. The lights overhead were Venom's eyes and Eddie was very, very sure that he didn't want to see anything else.

Chapter Text

Eddie got lost in time once in a while.

He didn't know why, he just knew that it had always happened. He'd trundle along for months, day and night keeping their familiar patterns and then something would slip or switch and all of a sudden he'd have whole weeks slip away or drag for eons. When you're cruising through a city you look for landmarks. The Flatiron Building in New York, The Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco, US Bank Tower in LA. You remember what things look like so you know where you are.

Time didn't work that way, it was hard to find markers so Eddie made them. He'd always had clever hands but had trouble training them. He had learned how to clean buildup off a throttle body or scrape the remnants of an old valve cover gasket off an engine; he could bully his fingers into typing up the stories he wanted to tell; he could goose the bike up a hill with flirty little touches of his fingers or zone out and get caught in the clank and press of lifting.

But he could only mangle three chords out of the neck of a guitar and couldn't do it with anything resembling good time and no matter how long he spent doodling drawings evaded him. He'd practice straight lines for days but his hands always shook from concentration and screwed them up.

So when he bought a probably-stolen tattoo machine out of the back of a headshop when he was 20 he should have realized that the Nirvana smiley he was aiming for would come out looking more like the Amoeba Music logo. His first tattoo was an ugly, fuzzy, bleeding little thing. He'd pushed too deep and moved too fast and it was a disaster.

But it happened when he was 20 years old, in the summer, when the city got hot for once and the bay smelled like salt and Kurt was dead but his voice still lived. Eddie had been working the copy desk at the Examiner and running down stories for the school paper and clearing tables; he'd gotten his first bike, an old Harley Softail that was too heavy for him and wanted to roll backwards on the steep hills until he'd started putting on enough muscle to wrangle it into place at stop signs. It was a fuzzy little smiley face with a wobbly mouth and crossed-out eyes. It was memory.

Eventually the smiley had been covered by the wolf on his forearm, which had been joined by a flight of startled birds when he met an artist in Georgia, who had turned him onto geometric shading that he'd never considered before. That was after New York but before he'd established himself in San Francisco. The wolf was after graduation but before he'd moved to New York. The Virgin on the cap of his shoulder was a memory for his mother and a mockery for his father; badly done as a last-minute drunken decision on her birthday. The looping curves of letters that peeked out from the necks of his tee shirts were whispers of a poem for Annie.

Eddie got lost in time, but his tattoos made a map to get him back where he belonged.

He closed his eyes, he wouldn't open his eyes. He needed to remember what his map looked like, needed to remember the strange sayings and stranger faces, flags planted as a bulwark against forgetfulness. He needed to remember, to preserve it in his mind the way it was because he knew once he'd opened his eyes he'd never see it again.

He was sure the pain would start eventually. He know he'd have time to be overwhelmed by rage and loss. Right now all that mattered was remembering, because he didn't know his way home without the map, and Drake had taken that away from him.

 

***

 

WHEN WE BONDED WITH EDDIE WE REALIZED THAT PERHAPS YOUR PLANET, YOUR PEOPLE, WERE WORTH SAVING. YOU ARE DOING A VERY GOOD JOB OF CONVINCING US THAT HUMANS SHOULD, INDEED BE DESTROYED.

"You ate part of him. I hardly think you've got the moral high ground you tell me what a bad person I am." Drake was sorting files from the day's tests. In spite of the failure to regrow material after the loss of over forty kilos of mass the results were very promising. The first amputations had been truly inspiring. 

EATING HOSTS IS WHAT THE KLYNTAR DO. IT'S HOW WE SURVIVE. BUT WE DON'T EAT EACH OTHER. 

Drake chuckled. "How noble. Only lesser sapient species are good enough to eat. Are you hungry, Venom? I'm sure there's enough of Eddie in the dumpster for you to make a meal of it."

Drake felt any inexpressible sensation in his chest that was the symbiote cringing inside of him. 

YOU ARE A REMARKABLY GROSS HUMAN.

"That may be true but the thought of it still makes you hungry. He tastes good to you," Drake tipped his head and frowned, straining to read the inscrutable motivations of his passenger. It wasn't clear like it had been with Riot. Venom didn't want to talk to him. Venom wanted to hide away and that meant its thoughts were blurry and odd in his mind. "You want to feel him on your tongue and you don't even know for sure if it's his meat or his mind that you want."

HE IS MINE. WE WANT HIM ALL.

"Well. There's still some of him left."

 

***

 

He ran his tongue against the inside of his teeth. He thought it was all back, it didn't feel odd or short or numb. But then it didn't feel weird when his tongue merged with Vee's and became a foot-long slimy rope of flesh either. It was hard to tell. He whistled, adding in a little trill. It sounded normal. He clicked it against his teeth. He licked his lips. It felt normal.

Very little else did.

He could sit up, with a lot of wobbling and significant effort. It took all the muscles in his core to pull him up and keep him from tipping back over. He could see the damage better when he was upright. Or at least he felt more secure while surveying himself. He wasn't sure. Being on his back was awful, though, and he didn't want to stay there. It made him feel helpless, like an infant. The stumps of his arms ended about six inches from his shoulders and he could use them to push himself around a little but what was left of his legs felt useless. He hadn't realized how much the weight of his legs had counterbalanced his body. When he was vertical he could spread the stumps out a bit and make himself into kind of a tripod but on his back it seemed like they just churned the air. They were embarrassing. Like they were framing him, or displaying him. They hadn't bothered to dress him in anything and he was pretty sure his dick was longer than what was left of his legs. He couldn't cover anything of himself. He couldn't hide his face behind his hands or draw his knees up to his chest. The best he could manage was rolling to his side and curling into himself and even that started a deep ache in his shoulders. Sitting up too long hurt his stomach. He couldn't find a position that made him comfortable for more than a couple minutes at a time so he just keep shifting and twisting, trying to find something that would make him feel normal.

 

***

 

They hadn't bothered closing the door to his cell.

It was infuriating.

He couldn't even get off the cot to take a piss so of course they weren't worried about him making an escape but he knew it was intended as mockery. Freedom wasn't even fifteen feet away but it might as well be across a mile of broken glass.

Eddie was an idiot so he decided to try anyway.

By shifting his stumps and using his core he inched his way to the edge of the cot. Falling off of it would probably be pretty unpleasant but it looked like he didn't have many options. He rolled to his stomach and pressed his upper torso hard into the mattress while making little scooting motions with his legs until his hips were over the edge. The pad started to slide and he panicked, thrashing for a second until he realized it was helping - his weight had tugged the mattress over the side and it was slowly sliding off, slipping gently onto the floor. The stumps of his legs touched concrete and he let them take his weight for a second, gritting his teeth against the bright explosion of pain that caused. He took a deep breath and let himself fall sideways. At the last second he snapped his head up against his higher shoulder to avoid an impact with the ground. He'd made it out of the cot.

He panted for a second, looking himself over. He'd scraped his arm stump a little but avoided hitting his head or falling hard on his legs. So far so good. But he didn't know what he was going to do about the mess of medical tubing secured to his prick. He clenched his lower abs and his dick twitched. It looked like the catheter was being held in by cloth tape. It would probably hurt but he was pretty sure it would pull off if he could get to the end of the tubing. It fed into a bag that was secured to the cot with a metal clip and the cot was bolted to the ground. He'd probably end up covered in piss but it wasn't like he had a lot of dignity to lose anyway.

At first he tried something like an army crawl, which got him pretty far pretty fast but hurt like a mad bastard. After he'd traveled a couple of feet Eddie rolled to his side and stretched out his arm stump as far as he could, then put his weight on his lower hip and pushed. It worked. Kind of. And hurt less than the other way. He was sweating from the effort. It made it hard to get traction on the smooth ground but kept him from feeling the chill of the tile too much. He felt pressure at his groin and stopped to breathe. He was as far as the catheter tubing reached. Maybe five feet. He wanted to scream at the lack of progress.

He rolled to his back and tried to push with the remnants of his legs. The pressure on his dick increased slightly. It was working. He did it again. He didn't want to look down at himself, see how the tape was pulling him, see himself leashed to a cot in a cell by a catheter. He pushed again with his stumps and ass, wiggling his shoulders and arms back too and the pressure spiked into pain. He took a deep breath and gritted his teeth and bucked his hips up as hard as he could and for a second it felt like he was tearing but it was just the tape breaking away from his skin. He arched and flexed his back, trying to move like an inchworm, and felt the tube begin to slide out of him. It was working, but not fast enough, so he rolled to his side again. He dragged himself as well as he could, pulling and pushing painfully until he slid free of the the last few inches. Eddie stopped to pant.

Ten more feet until he made it to the door. He'd try to think of a plan when he got there.

 

***

 

Drake watched the monitor with growing fascination and a stubborn spark of admiration. Eddie had been a quadruple amputee for less than ten hours and he was already causing problems.

He'd managed to force his mangled body almost all the way to the entrance of his cell and Drake was tempted to let him keep struggling and see what happened but there were already little arcs and scuffs of blood underneath him where his raw limbs had torn open from overuse.

He punched a button on the intercom.

"Yes, Mr. Drake?"

"Brock is making a run for his door."

"What?"

"He rolled himself off his bed and is crawling toward the hallway."

"How?!"

"Slowly. Go get him."

"Sir. What do you want us to do with him?"

"Put him in the room next door to his. The small one. Close the door this time."

"Sir."

 

***

 

"Fuck," Eddie growled, pressing his forehead into the cool tile when he heard boots in the hall. He hadn't had a plan but he still wanted to make it out. Pretend he could escape. Pretend this wasn't his life now.

"What's up, Papillon, making a break for it?"

Eddie looked up with a glare and found himself looking into the lens of a camera. The guard holding it was the same man who had filmed him days ago. Eddie craned his neck back and snarled. The guard just circled him, holding the camera at a low angle and getting a complete picture of him, spread out and scraped and sweating.

Pathetic.

Two more guards entered the room. They grabbed him under each arm and pulled him up so that he was resting on his ass. He hung his head. He was tired of looking at these assholes.

He heard water running and was startled when camera guy started running over his skin with a wet towel, wiping away sweat and piss and blood. "Pick him up," camera guy said, and Eddie was lifted to shoulder height, awkwardly supported by his stumps while the towel tracked down his back and between his ass cheeks. He squirmed uncomfortably, trying to draw together legs that weren't there anymore.

Camera guy dropped the towel and the bizarre procession tromped into the hall. The cell they opened was more like a prison cell than the one where they'd been keeping Eddie. It had a toilet and a bunk and was about eight feet deep and five feet wide. He was set on the cot and lost the battle to keep his balance, landing on his back. He immediately tried to roll to his side in a more defensive position but a single hand on his shoulder stopped him and he growled in frustration. The hand let up and he tried again, another hand on his stomach pinned him down.

"Having fun, assholes? Feel like big strong men holding down the cripple?" Eddie gasped, straining to get away.

Camera guy smiled nastily at him. "Yeah, I am having fun. It's like watching a bug squirm on a needle, but bugs don't cry."

They played with him like that for a while, letting him struggle then restraining him with minimal effort; letting him get himself upright only to knock him down with a gentle push. They only got too close to his teeth once, though.

"Go get him, he'll like this," camera guy said at one point, sending another guard away. Eddie was glistening with sweat again, and breathing hard. Fingers closed over his nose and when he opened his mouth for air he felt something hard clicking against his teeth before a strap was wound around his head. This started a new round of thrashing and he was even able to headbutt one of the guards before he was pinned down. He clenched his teeth around the gag and felt the cool air of the cell in his mouth and mewled at the realization it was a ring gag.

Camera guy grabbed him by the armpits and scooted his head closer to the door while he thrashed and struggled. He ended up staring upside-down into the hallway while hard hands pressed his hips against the bed. His leg stumps were waving wildly as he instinctively tried to kick.

A shadow moved into the doorway as the guard returned with a somewhat bigger man in tow.

"Eddie, you remember Vic, right? I know Vic remembers you. And how you zapped out his fucking eye."

Eddie groaned and wished he could spit but all he could do was drool.

"We figured you might like to apologize. Might like to help us with a little 'welcome back' party."

"Jesus Christ," said the shadow. "And I though he looked like Frankenstein when he still had all the factory parts."

The cell door closed, cramming Eddie into the tiny room with the four guards. He heard a click and a beep and saw the camera out of the corner of his eye and felt fingers in his open mouth.

 

***

 

Drake watched the monitors intently, fixated by watching their hands on Eddie and their cocks thrust into him. Drake's own member gave a sympathetic twitch when he heard a sob as one of the guards pulled free of Eddie's mouth.

He was confused by how compelling he found it. He hated Brock. He shouldn't want to feel that taut stomach flex under his hands as he pounded into the abbreviated body but he did. He wanted to feel and see and smell himself fucking Brock so much that he couldn't focus on anything else, he simply stared at the monitors feeling incredibly aroused and a little sick to his stomach.

He reached for the intercom.

"Sir?"

"Tell Vic's squad to clean the subject up and take him to the OR when they're done with him. Have them strap him into the table."

"Yes sir."

Carlton Drake chewed at a thumbnail and licked his lips. And watched the monitors.

Inside of Carton Drake Venom was being very, very careful. A little brush against the prostate, a tiny increase in testosterone production, the smallest throb from the testicles. Drake's breath caught in his chest and he became even more impatient for the guards to finish, though he'd never know why.

Chapter Text

Drake stood in front of the operating room bouncing on the balls of his feet.

He'd hardly been able to wait for the guards to wash their leavings off of Eddie before he bowled his way through the door. But Carlton Drake was in control of himself and his life. So after they left he'd waited another ten minutes in his office, then stood outside the doors for another five minutes for good measure.

When he entered the room Eddie looked like a sacrifice upon an altar. His skin was pale from stress and blood loss, his lips a deep red from use. His eyes glittered and the scar tissue on each battered limb was a lovely and delicate rose pink, all laid out against the cool black padding of the table.

"Can a guy get ten goddamned minutes to kill himself in peace around here," Eddie moaned miserably as Drake approached the table.

"You've had fifteen minutes," he responded absently as his hands fiddled with the switches that lowered it. He stopped it when Eddie's head was even with Drake's hips.

Eddie looked up at him, lost and pathetic, and Drake snarled at the sudden spike of lust he felt. Eddie flinched and Drake felt his cock bobbing in his trousers. He ran a hand over himself and sighed.

"Please, please don't do this," the broken man on the table begged. "You don't have to do this."

"Trust me," Drake said, his voice deepening in pleasure and his face splitting in a grin, "you want this."

 

***

 

Drake was acting weird, even for Drake. Eddie had been surprised to see him alone and more surprised at the outline of an erection tenting his pants. He'd never tried to join in with the guards or touch Eddie before, aside from the cruelly gentle kiss a few days before.

Eddie was tired. He felt like he'd been ground away to nothing, like if he was stretched any more thin he'd just disappear.

But when his voice went all deep Eddie's heart caught in his chest, tripping on a thread of hope. He looked into Drake's dark eyes and realized that they were very dark. In unusual places. Swirling with tiny, intricate patterns of black.

Eddie licked his lips and Drake's eyes tracked the movement of his tongue. His captor groaned and put a hand against his face. Eddie blinked up into that familiar blackness and hoped he wasn't going crazy.

"Do you want my mouth?"

"Yes," Drake ground out, his teeth clenching as he bent nearly double at the unexpected throb in his pants. "But you bite. You're a pain in the ass."

"I can be nice," Eddie said, dropping his voice to a warm whisper. Drake whimpered and pawed at his belt, opening it roughly and rucking down the front of his pants to reveal a smooth, thick cock jutting proudly out of a thatch of thick black hair. "Please," Eddie whined, flicking his eyes up to stare through thick lashes, "Darling," and he leaned forward to put the soft, fleshy head in his mouth.

 

***

 

It was like baptism. It was like birth. It was like coming home.

His tongue had barely made contact with Drake's erection before Eddie's mouth was filling with warmth and heat and joy and the sound of MINE MINE MINE MINE was ringing in his ears. All of the pain of the last few weeks winked out in an instant and he arched against the surgical table, eyes filling with tears and his mouth shaped like laughter. He felt his hands move before he even realized he had hands, and found them full of Drake's throat. The researcher's eyes went wide and he opened his mouth to shout but huge teeth were already tearing through him and swallowing his scream.

The straps of the table dangled on their huge limbs for a moment before they surged upright and swallowed the rest of Drake whole.

Venom wanted to tear the door from its hinges and howl and hunt and devour every single idiot who had made the unforgivable decision to hurt Eddie, but the host stilled them.

"Darling," he whispered, "Oh Love, oh, I needed you, I missed you."

Venom squeezed down against their beloved's skin, flitting inside and out of him, nuzzling his nose and licking at his lips with their long, hungry tongue.

NEED TO EAT, EDDIE. NEED TO EAT THEM, HURT THEM, MAKE THEM GONE.

"I know, Vee. But they can still trap us here. We need a plan."

EAT EVERYONE. LEAVE. TAKE CARE OF YOU.

"They've been testing on you, Vee. They've got records, they have other prisoners."

DON'T CARE. JUST WANT YOU SAFE.

Eddie smiled. Tears were running down his face and he thought they might never stop as he wept with joy at being reunited with his other.

"I care. I wanna keep you safe, love."

FINE. BUT I'M EATING SOME OF THEM.

"Okay. You've been with Drake, do you know where he's been working?"

Eddie had barely finished the thought before Venom was moving. It shrank down into Eddie's skin to hide and both of them were startled when they hit the ground hard. All of Eddie's little hurts were gone but so were his limbs.

"Oh, god," he whispered, "Vee, I thought - "

WE'LL FIX IT. SOMEHOW WE'LL FIX IT. NOW WE HAVE TO MOVE.

They let some of themself flow out of Eddie, making arms and legs that approximately matched their host. Eddie could move them like they were his own. He opened a cabinet next to the table and dug around until he found a set of scrubs and a lab coat, quickly covering himself.

They opened the door a crack and a tendril of the symbiote peeked through it to make sure the hall was clear. Finding it safe they quickly made their way to Drake's office.

Eddie woke up the computer and was met with a password prompt. Venom hesitated a second before taking their hands and entering a long string of characters from the muscle memory they had retained from weeks of riding Drake. Eddie started sorting through files, prioritizing the last few weeks. Eddie's designation was Subject EB, Venom was Symbiote Subject 4. The files were helpfully organized by subject name so Eddie made short work of deleting what he could.

The computer was part of an intranet and he quickly isolated all the documentation about them on the network server and the backups as well, erasing them and starting an over-write for good measure.

CAN WE GO KILL PEOPLE NOW, EDDIE?

"Just a minute, Vee, two more things." Eddie was looking through the security system. It took him two minutes to disable all of the facility alarms and change the password to the system. It took him twenty minutes to figure out how to open all the patient cell doors and unlock every access route to the surface - the red lights beside stairwells and elevators blinked green in dozens of hallways.

"Now we can go kill people, Love. But only the bad ones. We've gotta help the others."

YES, EDDIE. DON'T WORRY. WE CAN HELP. WON'T KILL GOOD PEOPLE. THERE ARE LOTS OF BAD PEOPLE TO KILL. AND WE ARE VERY HUNGRY.

 

Chapter Text

Venom galloped through the halls of the facility, tearing doorframes out of walls and cackling.

The Life Foundation basement facility was in complete chaos. The lights flickered madly, blinking between red and white, but no alarms accompanied them. Patient doors were unlocked but could only be opened from the outside. Guards shouted and ran for intercoms but couldn't use radios or cell phones where the dense surrounding soil and metal reinforcements were blocking signals.

Venom was delighted.

They charged around opening cells and crowing to patients: YOU ARE FREE, FLESHBAGS! HELP THE OTHERS, RUN AWAY! and if the prisoners flinched away from the eight-foot-tall mess of goo and teeth they did appreciate having their cells opened, and they did help the other patients.

Venom rounded a corner with frightening speed, their clawed limbs scrabbling up the wall and partially into the ceiling instead of slowing down to avoid an impact, and found a cluster of guards in a circle, tasing a crying woman.

Her Life Foundation hoodie was unzipped and falling off her shoulders. Her mouth was bruised.

The symbiote roared its disgust and the uniformed men turned to face it. Two immediately started running away, but four stood their ground and raised their weapons. One of them was Vic.

WHAT I DON'T UNDERSTAND, Venom said as it picked up one guard and shook him by his neck until there was a satisfying crunching sound, IS HOW EVEN WHEN EVERYTHING IS FALLING APART YOU TAKE TIME OUT OF YOUR DAY TO BE TERRIBLE. Another guard fired out prongs that sparked uselessly against Venom's slick skin. The symbiote picked at the darts and wrapped the trailing leads around the man who had fired them, leaving him behind as every twitch tightened his finger on the trigger of the taser, zapping him again and making him twitch and start the cycle over. A mindless "aaa- aaaa- aaa- " from him followed them down the hall like the bleating of a particularly stupid sheep.

YOU COULD HAVE RUN, YOU COULD HAVE BEEN FREE, YOU COULD HAVE SEEN THE SUNLIGHT AND SMELLED THE GRASS, Venom grabbed the third guard by his shirt and yanked the screaming man against his their chest. They bit his head off without breaking stride and kept moving inexorably forward as they backed Vic into a corner, BUT INSTEAD YOU HAD TO HURT SOMEONE. LISTENING TO SOMEONE WEAKER AND MORE ALONE THAN YOU SCREAM WAS MORE IMPORTANT TO YOU THAN YOUR OWN CRETINOUS, SCUM-SUCKING LIFE.

Vic was cringing away from the symbiote, whimpering and screwing his eyes shut. The pad of gauze over his mangled eye getting dark and wet with tears. Venom loomed in over him, opening their cavernous mouth and grazing their teeth over his throat. Some of the blackness peeled away and Eddie's face glared out of the shadows of its maw. He put his face close to Vic's, leaned in next to his neck and sniffed.

"You still smell like me," he whispered, and Vic's eye snapped open and took in the sight of his victim surrounded by a swirling mass of nightmares.

"You, I didn't - I mean, I wouldn't have - "

"Yeah, yeah. You wouldn't have hurt me if you thought I'd be able to hurt you back. Just like you wouldn't have hurt her if you thought someone would help her," Eddie cocked his head back at the woman in the hallway; she had zipped her hoodie up and was figuring out how to take the taser from the trapped guard without shocking herself in the process.

Eddie grinned at him, feral and haunted.

"Guess it's too late for you to learn why that doesn't make me think you're any less of an asshole," he said, and Vee snapped over his head again, ripping into Vic and tearing him into small, bloody pieces that landed on the ground with a wet splatter.

The symbiote bent down and pulled the unfired taser out of the pudgy guard's hand. HEY. GIRL. The woman in the hall eyed their huge form nervously, but didn't scream or run. Venom may have been large and terrifying but it wasn't the worst thing she'd seen today.

HELP THE OTHERS. It said, and tossed the taser to her. She caught it clumsily, and by the time she looked back up from her shaking hands the creature was gone.

 

***

 

It only took five minutes for them to clear each floor of the facility. In the lowest level there was a morgue, disconcertingly full. New prisoners were kept four to a cell in the next level up - almost nobody had made it away from their cells because the guards had barricaded the halls and were threatening to start fires if people didn't stay calm. Venom ate two heads and suddenly there was a flood of prisoners making their way to the surface. Subjects, prisoner-patients who had been experimented on, were on the third floor. Nobody was locked in but two or three people were too sick to leave on their own. The small woman who had cheered for Eddie was holding hands with an elderly man in a bed he was too weak to get up from.

WHY HAVE YOU NOT LEFT?

"I can't lift him."

BUT YOU STAYED? WHAT IF THE CELLS LOCK AGAIN?

"Then they lock. No one should have to go alone."

They nodded and gently lifted the sick man, carrying him to the elevators at the end of the hall.

Where they found Dr. Scott.

He was in an elevator, sobbing furiously and pushing prisoners away from the doors with a long broom handle. The woman Venom had given the taser to was menacing the doctor with it.

"Just get away, let me go!" He wailed, and Venom moved to set the old man in their arms down. Three angry patients moved to help carry the weakened subject.

Venom walked forward and wrenched the broom handle out of Scott's hands, tossing it behind them where it clattered on the floor.

"Why can't you people just let me go, let me go goddamnit."

Venom allowed itself to sink back into Eddie from the waist up, revealing the lacerations on his stomach, the scars on his face. His missing arms. His face flamed when he remembered that "slut" was carved into his shoulders and he was covered in hashmarks documenting how he had been used.

"I asked you to leave me alone. I asked you to stop. I told you I just wanted to go home. I bet these people did too." The patients made a loose ring around the elevator door. They had been leery of Venom but he felt hands reaching out and tentatively touching the scarred stumps of his arms. Eddie looked around at them, saw tired, scrawny, scared, sick people. Some had fresh scars on their faces like him. The doctor had dropped to the floor and pushed himself into the farthest corner of the elevator.

"Were you gonna cut them up like me? And if it killed them were you gonna take pictures and leave them to rot in the morgue downstairs with the others you murdered?"

"We're saving people, can't you see that? We're developing cures - "

DON'T LIE, Venom roared, shrugging itself back over Eddie like a cloak. The doctor cringed and drew his arms up to shield his face. YOU LIKED IT. YOU LIKED WATCHING US BEG.

"I just wanted to help - " the doctor whined into the floor.

THEN YOU WERE DOING A REALLY BAD JOB OF IT.

They grabbed his ankle and dragged him into the hall, throwing him against the cinderblock wall. The symbiote kept a hold of the ankle and shook Dr. Scott like a terrier worrying a rat until they heard a sound like a turkey leg being pulled off a roast bird and the doctor started squealing. They pinned the doctor to the wall with one outsized hand and yanked again at the leg with the other clawed paw, until suddenly there was a great shredding noise and blood bloomed beneath his lab coat. His vocalizations took on a more panicked pitch.

"Oh god, oh god it hurts oh god please stop, please - " The other patients were carrying weaker people into the elevator. Stronger subjects had opened up the stairwell and were ascending. The woman with the taser still stood and watched Venom, as did three or four of the more visibly scarred patients. Venom turned to them and grinned.

SHALL I STOP?

The woman with the taser just laughed, and a serious-looking little man shook his head.

So they kept going.

 

***

 

The surface was far away from city lights and smelled like cows. The parking lot was nearly empty and all of the guards and nurses who had made it out were long gone. Eddie and Venom ran away over empty blacktop until they found a dive bar with a pay phone and an honest-to-god phone book. It was like taking a tiny sidestep back in time.

Petaluma. The facility was on the outskirts of Petaluma.

Eddie called the San Francisco FBI field office and every news desk he could remember the number for, giving him the address of the bar he was at and directions from there back to the facility. He called the local ER while he was at it, but doubted they'd have the resources to do much.

In the parking lot a trucker was starting his rig. The lights pointed south. As the trailer pulled out of the lot Venom hauled itself onto the roof, sliding tendrils out to the edges to hold them in place.

It drew back from Eddie's face and together they listened to the wind and looked at the stars, waiting for the city to come to them.

Chapter Text

The truck didn't exit the freeway as it passed through the city so they leapt onto an overpass and began running through the shadows.

WHAT DO YOU NEED, EDDIE?

"Wanna see a doctor."

Venom hissed. SEEN ENOUGH DOCTORS TODAY.

"Wanna see Dan." The symbiote rippled over his skin, fluttering, like it was patting and soothing him.

DAN IS GOOD. DAN IS FINE. WHY ARE YOU SCARED?

"Don't wanna scare Annie. She's gonna be mad at us."

WHY? WE DID GOOD.

"She'll be worried."

WE'RE SORRY WE COULDN'T TAKE CARE OF YOU, EDDIE.

"Not your fault, love. I never should have tried to - I - Vee, I'm so - Vee - "

DON'T CRY, EDDIE, NOT YOUR FAULT EITHER.

"I - I can't - "

EDDIE?

The symbiote was becoming uneasy, adding speed as it scaled buildings and sprang off rooftops. Eddie's thoughts were a blur of images and his mind was rolling and thrashing in pain.

EDDIE!? EDDIE WHAT IS HURTING, EDDIE LET US HELP -

"Can't love, I - are we really out? We - this isn't a dream?"

KLYNTAR DON'T DREAM.

"It's real. It's real. It's real. We're out?"

EDDIE YOU'RE SCARING ME.

"Vee, I can't - I can't think right now. Please, please just take me to Dan and Annie."

YES, LOVE. AS FAST AS WE CAN. YOU'RE SAFE NOW, EDDIE. WON'T LET ANYTHING HAPPEN TO YOU.

"Love you, love you so much - "

JUST REST, EDDIE.

 

***

 

The symbiote wasn't sure that breaking into one of the back windows would give the best impression when they finally got to Annie's quiet neighborhood. Then again knocking at the door as a huge monster didn't seem appropriate either. Nonetheless that's what they did, pounding with one meaty fist until Annie yanked the door open with Dan wide-eyed on the stairs behind her.

"What the hell do you think you're doing, Eddie, it's four o'clock in the morning and we haven't heard from you in -" the creature bulled past her and started pushing its way up the stairs, Dan scrambled backwards and Anne trailed behind.

WE NEED TO SPEAK TO DAN ALONE

"What's going on?"

DAN WILL BE ABLE TO HELP.

"Eddie, I asked what's going on, you've been missing for weeks."

EDDIE CAN'T TALK RIGHT NOW. WE NEED TO SPEAK TO DAN, HE DOESN'T WANT TO SEE YOU.

"Eddie, honey, what happened?"

DON'T CALL HIM THAT.

Venom had hissed that last with more vitriol than she'd ever heard from it before, she took a step back and fell to a cushioned surface. Anne could feel her heart starting to pound in her chest. It took everything she had not to leap off of the couch and dig through Venom's gooey hide until she could grab Eddie and make sure he was still in there.

"Anne, I've got this, it's fine, let's go into the guestroom, guys."

"Please. Vee, please just let me see his face."

The enormous creature halted, palpable tension radiating from it. It seemed to be about to argue with itself but instead the huge head simply peeled back and Eddie's tired eyes peered out of the shadows.

"Annie, I'm sorry, please, um. Please just give me a minute with Dan first."

"Okay," she whispered, feeling tiny, feeling helpless, feeling like a scared little girl in a black dress looking up at the spire of a church. "Okay." And the door to the guestroom closed behind them. She picked up her teacup and put it down immediately. She brushed invisible lint off her legs. Then she picked up one of the throw pillows that Eddie had hated so much and wrapped her arms around it, squashing it against her middle until she couldn't hold it any tighter. And then she waited.

 

***

 

The door clicked shut and more of Venom receded from Eddie's face. Dan saw a shadowed set of scars along his jaw before he even turned the light on.

"Dan," Eddie said quietly. "Dan, I'm scared. It's pretty bad."

The doctor turned on the overhead and lit lamps in the corners and in the attached half-bath, filling the room with as much light as he could.

"You're walking and talking, so at least we've got something to work with." Eddie let out a wild laugh that made Dan reassess his confidence. "Let's see what you need help with."

"Are there clothes in the closet?"

"Yeah, we threw some PJs in there in case you got the shit beat out of you and you needed to crash. Anne even put in a pair of jeans and a leather jacket so you wouldn't have to steal my khakis to make a midnight escape again. Now let's have a look at you."

Eddie stared at him and bit his lip. "It's bad."

"I know, Eddie. I know it's bad, you wouldn't lie about that. Go ahead and show me, bud, and we'll move on from there."

Eddie huffed out a breath and Venom receded further, sinking into Eddie's skin until it looked like he was wearing a shiny black wetsuit - and the doctor was already concerned and how emaciated he looked. After another deep breath the symbiote uncovered his torso  - it looked like he was wearing PVC pants and opera gloves, Dan thought fleetingly, before he saw the knot of scar tissue and patterns of cuts on Eddie's chest and ribcage.

"Oh Christ, what happened?"

"Cut me open. Sewed me up. Cut me open. Sewed me up. Rinse, repeat."

"Jesus. Can't the symbiote heal this?"

Eddie jerked his head in a nod. "Yeah. I think the incision connected things back up right most of the time but we don't know that much about anatomy. Need you to check."

"That's why you haven't healed it?"

Eddie shook his head. "No. Worried about other things. Dan. Dan it's bad," he said, his voice cracking on the last word.

Dan was very still. Now he was scared too.

"It's okay, we'll figure out how to fix it. Go ahead and show me."

Eddie couldn't look at him as he sat on the bed and scooted himself away from the edge. Some tendrils of the symbiote emerged from behind him and its strange head hovered over his shoulder. The symbiote wrapped itself around Eddie and formed stiff protrusions that jutted into the sheets. Dan didn't understand why until his limbs dissolved like water, disappearing in seconds and leaving him propped up on short stumps that ended in shiny scars - the only thing keeping him from toppling over was the loose cage made by the alien supporting him.

"Eddie, oh god," the doctor reached out a tentative hand to the stump that ended below Eddie's left shoulder - he saw where a tattoo of the Madonna and Child changed from smooth gray shading to pale, blank skin, and then to ugly, tender scars. He probed gently with his fingertips and Eddie shifted uncomfortably.

"Does it hurt?"

That jerky nod again, halfway between a gesture and a spasm.

Dan took a step back and scrubbed his hands over his face. "I've got a simple kit here, I'm gonna go grab it. Why don't you guys lay down and I'll be back in just a minute."

YES. THANK YOU.

Dan jumped, he'd nearly forgotten about Venom as he was overwhelmed with the shock of Eddie's injuries. He paused at the door.

"Do you want me to tell Anne? So you don't have to?"

"I don't want her to see me like this."

"I know, I know. But she's not going to... She can handle it. And you should tell her. She would want to know."

"She'd cry. She'd cry and I don't want to make her cry again. She. She doesn't deserve to keep getting hurt by me."

"Okay. You guys lay back, I'll be back in a minute."

 

***

 

Of course she was crying anyway, but Dan didn't have time to think about that as he rushed for the bathroom. He almost wasn't sick, but that torn-off tattoo flashed across his mind and he couldn't help it. At least he'd held it together in front of his patient.

Anne followed him in, her eyes were huge and worried as she watched him flush the toilet and rinse his mouth.

"Dan, how bad?"

He just shook his head.

"Dan."

"He's a patient now, sweetie. I can't say anything until he says I can."

"Dan."

He held his arms out to her and she went to him, clinging to his thin back. He squeezed her and felt the little jolting sobs working their way out of her.

"I've gotta get back, hon. He needs me."

"Is there anything I can do?"

He kissed the top of her head and stroked her bright hair.

"Call the victim's rights group you work with. Find a good trauma psychologist. Have a stiff drink." Her arms tightened convulsively around him. He kissed her head again and moved away, digging through the hall closet for his home medkit.

 

***

 

Eddie was flat on his back, pillows propped up under his head and the symbiote draped over him like a blanket when Dan came back. His body looked wrong, horrifyingly small and still. Eddie had always been restless around Dan, his hands reaching out and smothing his hands over furniture, shifting his feet, his toes tapping.

"Okay, buddy," Dan said. "This is new for all of us. Can Venom help you move around where I say?"

"Yeah. It's. Look. It hurts, and it's bad. But with Vee it's almost like I've still got, um. Got them. It makes hands for us and I can feel things. I can walk. It's. Yeah. It's weird."

"Sounds like it. Venom, you doing okay?"

NO OF COURSE NOT.

"But you're not hurt?"

JUST HUNGRY.

"We'll help you out with that in a little bit, then, okay? Tots, right?"

NO. NEED REAL FOOD. BIG FOOD. AND EDDIE. EDDIE NEEDS TO EAT.

The symbiote pulled back behind Eddie, flowing and twisting until it was propped up behind him, arms wrapped around him like a lover. Dan swallowed and took in the sight of Eddie's bared torso.

"I'll say he does, I can count your ribs, big guy. When's the last time you had something?"

"Don't know. They. They wouldn't. Can't eat before surgery, they said."

"Oh, god," something in Dan's chest made a noise. Eddie couldn't tell if it was a sob or if he was gagging. He dug around in the bag at his feet and pulled out a bottle of water, twisting the cap off and passing it to Venom, who manifested a hand to hold it and raised it to Eddie's lips.

"Okay, okay. I'm sorry. Let's run through it. What happened?"

Eddie looked at a point on the wall. He licked his lips before he spoke.

"Got a lead on a Life Foundation subsidiary, followed it up. Drake was there," Eddie looked at Dan before flicking his gaze back to the wall. "Drake was alive. An alarm started and knocked Vee out. They put us in a car, kept the noise up. Kept it up in a cell too, said they'd kill Vee if they didn't leave. They took Vee away and started testing medication on me. Stopped bleeding. They cut my face. Arm. Chest." He looked down at his right side, where another tattoo - comedy and drama masks for some reason - was interrupted by strips of blank skin. "Cut the skin off down to the muscle. Cut me open. Pulled my. Pulled. Did you know I have cancer? We talked about that. You told me. That's right. They kept me awake. Burned tumors out." Eddie drank more of the water. "The skin wouldn't heal closed when I couldn't bleed so they kept cutting the edges to see if it would stick back together yet. I. Then - um. There were a few days of that. Kind of thing. Peeling off skin and cutting and stitching. They cut a finger off at one point but it didn't come back because it just scarred. Then they tried a different medicine. The finger grew back and they cut off another and it grew back. Then a hand and a foot and a tongue. But. Um. Not when. Not when they cut off anything else." He shrugged expressively, displaying the stumps. "They said four percent came back."

MORE HAS REGROWN SINCE WE MERGED. Eddie nodded and Dan jumped again, having forgotten the symbiote a second time.

The surgeon cleared his throat. "What do you mean, how much has come back since you merged?"

Eddie looked down at his arms and Venom grew a set of hands for him to manipulate. He ran the inky black finger along the edges of where his tattoos ended. "These were the original cuts - started high." He moved his finger to about two inches below the ragged tattoo. "This was their meds. That's all that came back. It took a long time to regrow the foot and tongue too - Drake made a joke about breaking physics. Said it was converting mass not generating."

THERE WAS NOTHING LEFT FOR YOUR BODY TO GROW INTO LIMBS. THEY'D ALREADY TAKEN TOO MUCH FROM YOU.

Eddie nodded. "But the drug isn't in me today - why is. How am I growing back?"

IT'S US. WE'RE TRYING TO GIVE YOU SOME OF WHAT WE CONSUME.

"What you consume?"

"Yeah, we ate like four dudes on our way out of there."

Dan just nodded and tried to control his breathing. "Why haven't you managed more than a tiny bit of growth if you've eaten four people?"

HUNGRY. CAN'T GIVE IT ALL TO EDDIE, WE NEED THE ENERGY. THE PROCESS IS ALSO SLOW. NEED CALCIUM FOR BONES, HARD TO GET ENOUGH.

"We'll see about some kind of supplement. Is. Eddie is that all of it?"

He shook his head and opened his mouth to speak but no sound came out and fresh tears started rolling down his face. His mouth closed, then opened again and he choked.

"Vee, I can't - I -"

The symbiote made a sound like a purr and wrapped large arms around Eddie's shortened body. It turned him so his back was facing Dan and he could snuggle his face into its chest.

Dan wasn't sure what he was seeing at first - short scars in scattered groups littered Eddie's back, in little groups of five. He frowned and then his eyes settled on the crudely etched word between his patient's shoulders and he gasped, and tried not to count but maybe his mind was too quick. More than thirty. Probably less than fifty. He sat back and covered his eyes before he remembered himself. He tugged a throw off the foot of the bed and draped it over Eddie, whose sobs intensified at that small kindness.

"I'm so sorry, Eddie. I'm so sorry they did that to you."

Venom had turned him back to face Dan again, had made him hands that he used to wipe at his face with the edge of the blanket.

"I. Vee took care of a lot of the damage but I should get tested. And we should. Do we. I need to know if. Can you look to see if there's anything, like, permanent? I. I can't tell, I don't. I don't know what feels wrong anymore."

"Anything you want, Eddie. I'll take care of you two."

"Thank you, Dan. I'm. Thank you."

Dan stood up and moved to the door. "I'm going to have Anne order some food for us and call in to the office before we give you a full check up. Any special requests?"

CHOCOLATE.

"You guys normally get bagels for breakfast, right? That little place down the street?"

"Yeah."

"Onion with cream cheese, lox, and avocado. Tall breve latte. And a chocolate and cream bagel for Vee."

Dan chuckled. "I'll get you three of each. You're gonna eat, doctor's orders."

"Okay."

"Do you want to eat with Anne?"

Eddie nodded and pulled the blanket tight around himself.

"Yeah. Can I see her? I. Thanks, Dan. I think I want to see her now. Talk to her."

 

***

 

Dan ended up placing the order, and picking it up. Anne was teary but tough. And she was furious, which went a long way to making everyone feel like it could be a normal day. If Anne was pissed about something it must be business as usual.

When he came up with the food Venom had made limbs again for Eddie and was hovering as a gloppy, grisly head over his shoulder. Anne had found an old flannel robe of Dan's and they were wearing it - it was so long on Eddie that he looked like a kid wearing his dad's shirt. Venom compensated by growing their arms and legs until they were stretched out like Slenderman and everyone was laughing.

Eddie asked to watch the news and, in spite of her disapproval, Anne turned on the TV.

Every channel had the Life Foundation compound running as their top story. There were people in institutional sweats giving interviews. Nobody said anything about a big black monster opening doors and eating people. Eddie recognized the small woman who had cheered him and who had stayed with the old man. The TV said her name was Maria. It made his heart ache.

He didn't eat much and didn't watch much. But it was easier for Dan and Annie to watch the news than for him to tell them about it.

 

***

 

Dan followed him back into the guestroom when he was ready. They put a rock station on the radio and Eddie let himself drift to the music as much as he could while Dan palpated his abdomen and checked for numb spots or signs of infection in his stumps.

He couldn't stay detached when Venom rolled him to his stomach and Dan gently touched his buttocks, keeping a running commentary of what he was doing and what he was going to touch next and keeping up an encouraging patter. Eddie was shaking and couldn't make words but it was over fast. Dan was able to draw blood and promised to get it to his lab to test for infections discreetly. There was probably nothing to worry about, Venom could likely kill of any other biological invaders but it didn't hurt to check.

"You're actually remarkably healthy for a quadruple amputee with stage-four adrenal cancer," Dan said, stripping off his gloves and ducking into the bathroom to wash his hands while Venom and Eddie stood up. Eddie laughed and dug around in the dresser under the window and found a pair of plaid boxers and a faded Ramones tee that he pulled on.

"I do have some questions, though."

"Yeah?"

"Why hasn't Venom healed the scars?"

CAN'T.

"You've healed a lot, why not those?"

"I think it's 'cause they're not actually injuries. Is that right Vee?"

YES.

Dan frowned, perplexed. "I think you lost me."

"They ARE healed. Right?" Eddie frowned back at Dan. "Like, they're not bleeding or inflamed, right?"

"Okay, yeah. In those terms, yes, they're healed. They're about what I'd expect about a year out from the kind of injury that caused them."

"So there's nothing to heal."

"Still lost."

"I don't know man, the way the symbiotes deal with bodies is weird. Like with my arms something is missing, something is actually gone, so they can work on that, make more. But the skin - it's whole."

RIGHT.

"Okay, I guess that makes sense."

THEY WILL FADE FASTER THAN THEY MIGHT ON ANOTHER HUMAN. WE REPLACE OUR CELLS MORE FREQUENTLY IN OUR HOSTS THAN IS TYPICAL FOR THE HOST BODIES ON THEIR OWN.

"But you can't make them go away?"

Eddie fidgeted, which was surreal from the outside. It was incredibly familiar, the twiddling of his fingers and twitch microexpressions were just a part of him, but the hands were alien. And it wasn't standard Eddie-fretting. It was anxiety.

"I think we could," Eddie said. "But. I. Um."

THE WOUNDS WOULD NEED TO BE RE-OPENED FOR US TO HEAL THEM WITHOUT SCAR TISSUE.

"Oh," Dan said, uselessly. He opened his mouth to offer to help before he imagined Eddie lying face-down and crying while Dan wrote "slut" in blood on his back. His bagel lurched in his stomach and he coughed to cover up how much the thought had upset him. He gritted his teeth and went on anyway. "If you wanted that I could help. To do it safely."

Eddie looked at the soft pastel pattern in the rug. He'd helped Annie pick it out. It was gray, with a pattern of pale pink flamingos. She had laughed in the home goods store, shocked by how much he'd loved it. He'd insisted on getting the rug, would have bought it for himself even if she hated it. He blinked away tears.

"I'm. I appreciate the offer, that's. That's a really goddamned nice thing to. If anyone," he looked up and met Dan's eyes helplessly. "Thank you. But I'm not ready for that and I don't know if I ever will be."

Dan nodded and looked at the rug himself. He'd never understood it. It didn't fit with Anne's severe suits and acerbic wit, but he liked it. He suddenly realized that it suited Eddie, and suddenly realized why it was in the house at all.

"Can I give you a hug," Dan asked in a small voice, and was startled to find himself being embraced. He wrapped his arms around the shorter, damaged man and gently patted his hair while they both cried.

"I'm so sorry, Eddie. I'm so sorry, I wish I could take it away. I wish I could make it better."

Chapter Text

Dan left them alone and Eddie turned out the bright lights in the room before Venom carried him to the bed. The symbiote unfurled from him, pulling back their shared limbs and adding weight behind him, wrapping him in their huge, strong arms.

"I'm scared to go to sleep," Eddie whispered.

I'LL BE HERE. NEVER BE AWAY FROM YOU AGAIN.

"This is still real? This isn't a dream?"

NO, EDDIE. IT'S NOT A DREAM. WE GOT OUT. WE GOT THE OTHERS OUT. YOU'RE SAFE.

"Did we kill Drake?"

YES. NOT SLOW ENOUGH, THOUGH.

Eddie smiled softly.

"I love you."

LOVE YOU SO MUCH, EDDIE. LOVE YOU MORE THAN THE UNIVERSE. MORE THAN LIVING.

Eddie was startled by the power of that, by how far Venom loved him. By the fact that Venom loved him still.

NOTHING THEY DID TO YOU COULD EVER CHANGE THAT. YOU ARE MAGNIFICENT. THEY COULD NEVER TAKE THAT FROM YOU.

"They tried."

THEY FAILED.

Venom felt Eddie's desire to see them and gently turned their lover-host-beloved-life to face them. He had shadows under his eyes and a worried line on his brow. Venom preened into that furrow, bumping into his head like a cat, reveling in the scent of him.

SLEEP, LOVE. WE'LL WATCH OVER YOU.

 

***

 

Eddie felt eyes roving over his body, staring at and into and through him. There were whispers around him that he couldn't make out and the taste of blood on his tongue. He felt a hand on his chest and woke with a shriek, thrashing and shouting incoherently.

A flood of fear and affection crested through him and he realized the hand was Venom's feeling his heartbeat thud erratically. As soon as they realized the reason for Eddie's panic the hand faded, becoming a soothing, stroking tendril of formless weight.

The weight calmed him so Venom spread out more of itself, layering itself over Eddie until the human was engulfed, only his nose and mouth uncovered and exposed to the world. Once he was hidden away Eddie fell back into a deep and dreamless sleep, relaxing the muscles that Venom hadn't known were humming with tension.

The symbiote pressed itself as close as it could, compressing its host and stroking with soft and pointed pressure as Eddie slept. It could feel the human's fears as they rose to the surface of his mind and it found those fears could be brushed aside by a fluttering of their flesh, a tentacle squeezed around his waist, or a nudge of their head against his chest. Venom purred and trilled as Eddie's sleep deepened and his anxieties faded, delighted that it could do this to help its brilliant, sad, badly shaken bonded.

 

***

 

He woke up around noon, still exhausted but feeling pleasantly rested. With Vee wrapped around him like a living, toothy comforter Eddie didn't feel so much like he was in stasis. He had slept deeply, not defensively.

 

***

 

When he was a child Eddie had once kicked over a log in the woods and been disgusted and fascinated to find a wide variety of shiny, messy life hidden away out of sight. Worms and beetles had scattered and writhed, exposed to the unexpected light, and Eddie had crouched and stared, repulsed but curious. Tiny ants scurried alongside larger black beetles; white, slimy grubs had twitched and slunk in the dampest parts of the soil. The air smelled like earth and water and rot and all it took was one kick from his little foot to dredge up this secret society of nasty, dirty things.

His mind felt the same way.

Sometimes all it took was the sound of breaking glass to drag up the memories of the car accident that had hurt him so badly. Sometimes a soup commercial at Christmas would leave him blank and confused in the middle of his living room, trying to remember why his father hated him so much.

But now it was everything. Everything around him brought up the crunching sound his jaw had made as it was dislocated, or the sight of his intestines being pulled from his body, or the heat of a stranger's breath on the back of his neck.

When he was in the forest alone he had turned the log back into its place, certain that if his father saw what he'd discovered that it would be destroyed - too disgusting to exist in the world, unworthy of the gaze of Carl Brock.

Eddie didn't know what to kick back in place now. He didn't know how to make it go away, how to make it be quiet, how to make it be anything other than the only thing he could think about if he went more than thirty seconds at a time without a task to distract him.

Chapter Text

Anne sat staring through the screen of her MacBook, a cup of cold coffee by her left hand, and seventy-three unread emails stared back. 

She lifted her hand to the mouse and jiggled it so the computer wouldn't put itself to sleep but didn't click on anything. 

Eddie was asleep in the guest room, Dan had run off to take some blood to a lab. Mr. Belvedere observed her placidly from a slot of sunlight on the carpet and the day yawned open ahead of her. 

 

***

 

Anne Weying didn't know what she was going to do about Eddie Brock and that was driving her crazy. She knew that on some level she still loved him; his easy smile and bright eyes were charming. She could still feel the heft of his hands and the smooth muscles of his back under her fingers if she thought about it. 

But she had gotten tired of feeling like the only adult in the room some days. The fact that he was playful was sweet. It was nice to be around someone in his forties who could take and make a joke, who gave himself wholeheartedly to joy - whether it was zipping through the city in his bike or digging into a story or going down on her until she was a shaking mess of pleasure Eddie didn't do things by half measures. The flip side of that coin was that he didn't know how to let things go. He'd find a new interest every two months and wear it thin with his fixation; their home had been full of dusty guitars and neglected miniatures and dissected motorcycle parts. When she had been the center of that focus it had been wonderful. And a little intimidating. But when a story meant more to him than she did she saw the writing on the wall. 

Maybe it would just be the one time that he had to know, that he had to throw her life and job and future out the window. But maybe it wouldn't be. Maybe a life with Eddie would be a life where she was always picking up the pieces, tying to patch things up with offended relatives or sooth the ruffled feathers of nervous employers who didn't get the trade-offs of mind blowing sex and 3 am pillow fights in exchange for tolerating his volatility. Eddie would always be looking for the next adventure, the next interest, the next story. Anne would always worry that the next adventure would leave her behind again.

She loved him, and still wanted the feel of him sometimes, and would always care deeply about him. But she couldn't be with him. 

So when Dan left the door to the guest room open and waved vaguely over his shoulder she hadn't quite known how to approach him. He was her wounded lover, her asshole ex, and a genuine hero who'd recently gone missing. He wasn't the Eddie she'd known a year ago but he was still some of her Eddie and he'd scared her very badly.

She walked into the brightly lit room and closed the door behind her. Eddie was wearing a tee shirt and boxers, but Venom covered his arms and legs and sat like an oil spill on the left side of his face, from his cheekbone to his jaw. Like bandages maybe, she thought, wondering if he was burned under the slick black of the symbiote.

"You are never, ever, allowed to do that again," she said, sitting next to him on the edge of the bed. 

He laughed, it sounded jagged. 

"Wouldn't dream of it. Never again. Now, what was it I'm not supposed to do?"

She reached out and took his hand. It was hot, inhumanly hot. She remembered that from carrying Vee into the woods. The symbiote was a furnace. 

"Disappear for a month? Get hurt? Scare me like that?" He squeezed her hand gently. "Why didn't you want to see me, Eddie?"

He swallowed audibly and looked at their hands, hers was narrow and pale, nearly disappearing in his grip. 

"Didn't want to scare you. Didn't want to make. You're so. I miss you, Annie." His thumb was running carefully over her knuckles. "I miss you and I love you but you have a good life and a great guy and I'm just. I'm bad news for you. All I ever do is make you sad."

"Oh, Eddie. You make me smile too, honey." His hand went still around hers and she was surprised to see him flinch. 

"I'm. Please,  uh. Don't be mad but I'm gonna need you to. Um. Please don't call me honey or baby. For a while."

She squeezed his hand back and felt a twist in her stomach that made it hard for her to smile when she said "Okay, whatever you need."

His eyes were bright and getting red. His leg should be bouncing, she realized. He was never this upset without some part of him moving, bleeding his stress into the world. "Eddie, how badly did you get hurt out there?"

"We think we can fix it, it'll take some time though. Vee is taking care of it."

"That's not an answer."

"Dan says I'm actually very healthy for someone with as much cancer as I have, which is apparently a lot of cancer."

"That's not funny."

"Sure it is."

"It's also not an answer."

His hand pulled out of hers.

"We can fix it, Annie. I'm pretty sure we can fix it."

She had thought he'd pulled his hand away but she saw that she was wrong, it had been retracted. The whole arm was thinning and shrinking away until it disappeared, leaving only a little bit of scarred skin poking out of the sleeve of his tee shirt. 

"Didn't want you to see. Didn't want you to worry. We'll fix it, I promise."

"I- Eddie-, what- your legs too oh my god," her eyes darted over him, "your face? What-"

The arm flowed back into its shape and he was hugging her, wrapping her in alien heat and the familiar scrape of stubble on her cheek. 

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," he whispered into her hair. 

She pushed away from him and saw the shining tracks of tears on his cheeks. 

"What happened to you, Eddie? You need a, god, I don't know, a hospital or to go to the police, or. I don't know. Are you, do you want to go to the hospital? Can I- is there anything I can- what do we do, Eddie?"

He was looking at the ground, rocking slightly, the black hands clenched in front of him and his shoulders hunched. 

"It'll be okay, it'll be okay, we'll fix it, I promise, Vee, tell her, I can't." The symbiote ran itself up from Eddie's shoulder and curled itself comforting over him. 

WE CAN GROW THE LIMBS BACK. NO HOSPITALS.

"Okay. Dan agreed to that?"

YES.

"Then okay. What next?"

"Rest, for a couple days. We need to eat and sleep. Vee is hungry," Eddie said. "Can we stay here?" His eyes were huge and lost and worried when he looked at her. "Just for a couple days, I promise, I know it's a lot to ask, I just. Just. Need to be around people. Safe people. For a while."

That was what broke the dam for Annie, that Eddie was scared she'd turn him away after he'd survived whatever had done this to him. 

"Of course," she said, her voice getting tight, "any time, as long as you need."

 

***

 

Then they'd had breakfast and tried to pretend that everything was normal. They'd watched the news and seen a crowd of people flinching in the sunlight as they talked to reporters, some with scars on their faces like the ones Eddie had eventually shown her. 

Now Eddie was asleep in the next room. And she didn't know what to do about him. She didn't know how to protect him from his own obsessions, his own need to dig into the heart of everything. He gave his money to homeless people when he could barely afford rent. He happily nuked relationships with editors who tried to mellow his stories. He held himself to a standard that was nearly impossible and the world kept slapping him for it.

He was too bright and kind and idealistic to be safe. He'd gotten chased out of New York, he'd destroyed his connections to his family, he'd hounded a story until it literally cost him an arm and a leg. Twice over.

If he was too caring to care about himself Anne would just have to make the world safer for Eddie because it would be easier than talking sense to him.

She was going to utterly destroy anyone who had even breathed in the vicinity of the Life Foundation pharmacology research branch. Just as soon as she had the strength to keep her hand from shaking when she reached for her coffee.

Chapter Text

Eddie emerged from the guestroom in a warm halo of sunlight, wearing the jeans and leather jacket that had been hiding in the back of the dresser. He looked almost normal, aside from the scars on his jaw and the conspicuous blackness of his hands. Anne sat at the kitchen table with her laptop open.

She smiled tensely at him. "Good morning, sunshine."

"That bad, huh?"

"Yes."

He pulled out a chair next to her and carefully avoided looking at the glowing screen.

"What's going on?"

She folded the laptop shut and looked at her hands.

"Body counts are starting to come out. Lists of names are making the news."

"How many?"

She shook her head. "Does it matter? Too many."

"I guess that's true. But I still want to know."

"Seventy-six made it out. Four have died since. There were a hundred and three in the basement. The numbers keep going up."

Eddie nodded and rolled his shoulders. "That sounds right. What else?"

"Why don't I drive you buy your apartment and help you pack a bag? You can grab some clothes and we can get some chocolate to put in the fridge, I don't have any here." She was looking at her hands. He sized her up, reading the closed structure of her body language.

"Sounds great," he said, and she relaxed slightly. "But what else aren't you telling me?"

She reached out to him and her hand stopped before it got to him, dropping back into her lap.

"There's security footage."

"I deleted everything I could find with me and Vee in it." When she looked up at him her eyes were watery.

"Eddie. I still saw. What they were doing in that place, my god - how did? Eddie how could anyone do that?"

He shrugged uncomfortably and rose from the table, moving to stand beside the sink. He fidgeted and found a mug and a cold pot of coffee.

"People do awful things all the time."

"Not like this."

"Exactly like this. We just don't always get to see it."

She opened her mouth but didn't have anything to say in response to that. So she moved past it.

"What do you want to do next?"

He smiled at her over the rim of his coffee cup. "Packing a bag at my apartment sounds good. If you could drive me that would be great, it seems like I've lost another motorcycle."

 

***

 

He sent her to the bodega for chocolate when they got to his place. She promised she'd tell Mrs. Chen that he was fine and sent his regards. He used her copy of his key to open the door and stood in the dusty light of his kitchen for a minute just breathing.

WHY ARE YOU MAD AT ANNIE?

"I'm not mad at Annie."

WHY DID TALKING TO ANNIE MAKE YOU MAD?

"Because the world is a bad place sometimes and she reminds me of that."

WHAT DO YOU MEAN?

Eddie moved deeper into the living room and started casting around for things that needed to come back with him. His laptop was on the couch and three of his notebooks were on the coffee table. He started rooting around for a messenger bag.

"Annie's a nice lady who wants to do good things. She likes to help people, she wants the world to be a better place. But she thinks it's a better place than it is. She sees people like Maria and thinks it's sad but she wouldn't talk to someone like Maria. Wouldn't know what to say. She looks at people like Drake and knows that what they're doing is bad but doesn't want to believe that there are a lot of people like Drake, and that some of them are rich and famous and fun to talk to at dinner parties."

He had moved to the bedroom and was started putting on a pair of boots before he remembered that he didn't have any feet and tossed them aside in disgust. Vee could make their limbs look like shoes, that was good enough. He grabbed a pair of riding gloves instead - shiny black worked for boots but if people looked too closely at his hands it would raise questions.

IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU ARE MAD AT ANNIE.

"I'm not mad, just frustrated. She works with rape victims but has prosecuted people who are forced to sell sex, which makes them just the same as the rape victims she wants to protect. Because that's what the law says and she believes in the law. And sometimes I don't know if she sees the world in too much black-and-white or if I do." Eddie pulled a duffel out from under the bed and began filling it with tee shirts and boxers. "And it's frustrating because she cares more about helping people than most of the people I've ever met. The Life Foundation isn't special. It's not unique. There are prisons in this country that have just as much - " he swallowed and shook his head " - abuse in them from guards. And some of those are prisons for kids. We have prisons for kids and kids get. Hurt. Like I did. But then it's supposed to be shocking when Drake does the same thing. There's an art exhibit that goes around, it displays the human body. And a lot of those bodies might be from political prisoners, people killed because they believed something somebody didn't want them to believe. The Life Foundation is awful, but it's not special."

BUT ANNIE PRETENDS THAT IT IS.

"Not just Annie," Eddie said, moving to the dingy bathroom and dropping razors and his toothbrush into a plastic bag. "Most people. They want to think that Drake is a bogeyman and that once you defeat the bogeyman the problem is solved. And that's a nice story. It's easy. It's comforting. But it's not true."

AND YOU WANT THEM TO SEE THE TRUTH.

"Yes. So we can fix it. Because if we pretend that people like Drake are rare monsters we can pretend that the other stuff isn't happening and doesn't need to be fixed."

He sat on the edge of the bed and hung his head and Venom rose out of his shoulder to nuzzle at his face.

WE WANT TO HELP, EDDIE. WE WANT TO FIX IT WITH YOU.

"Good," he said with a laugh, "because there are a lot of people out there who deserve to get eaten."

WE CAN DEFINITELY HELP WITH THAT.

 

***

 

Dan called to let them know he would be at the hospital longer than he'd anticipated.

"There are a lot of people hurt like Eddie was hurt who didn't heal as well," he said over the car's speakers. "They need surgeons and there aren't a lot of us available at the drop of a hat. Page me if you need me, but it might be a while before I can make it home."

The rest of the ride was silent.

Annie helped get Eddie set up on the wi-fi when they got back to her house, and she excused herself to make some phone calls. Eddie took his computer back into the guest room and started doing what he did best.

He started by pulling public declarations of intent to build from the Life Foundation for the last ten years. It didn't take him long to find the first traces of the Petaluma facility as well as a site in Longview, Washington and one in the desert east of Reno. A quick search on Google Maps gave him the addresses of the three facilities, each of which gave a different corporation as the name of the business. The company in Longview, Scepter Research, had incorporated in 2012. He found the archive of a local paper and saw that half of the pages were dedicated to DBA announcements. The local paper was small enough that its archive was in PDF documents so he downloaded six months' worth and ran them through a character recognition scanner then ran a search on the resulting document looking for "Scepter" and "Life Foundation." Bingo. They were one and the same.

Scepter Research's website had a Jobs page. Wouldn't you know it, they were hiring for physical security. Eddie clicked on the job listing. Scepter Research hired through Paladin Security Services. He left that page open and moved on to Reno. He didn't bother with the DBAs, just looked at their jobs postings. It had been a few months since they'd been hiring for guards but he found the old post. Paladin Security Services. The Petaluma facility was listed as Tru Biomedical Research. A week ago they'd been hiring through Paladin Security Services.

The Life Foundation Careers page was blank, as were a lot of pages on the Life Foundation site so he checked the Internet Archive. Three months ago. Paladin.

Just as a test he checked for similar listings at Google, Tesla, Amazon, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer. All of those companies either hired directly or used different security recruiters.

Paladin Security Services was weird. That was immediately clear from their website. And it was weird in a way that was uncomfortably familiar.

They didn't focus on EMT training or guard cards or California concealed carry permits. They focused on survival and hand-to-hand combat. Instead of a centrally-located office in the city they had a training campus in the woods near Redding. Becoming a Paladin meant completing a six month training course with a high wash-out rate. Applications were open for the next course, which would be starting in a month.

Eddie sat back from the computer and looked at the animated images on the screen. He'd never been to Redding except for passing through on the way to Seattle. He'd never camped that far inland. But every one of of the images of Paladin's campus felt like an echo of those uncomfortable summers in the woods with his father.

Drake had been training a private militia. And nobody had noticed.

 

***

 

He was digging through more DBAs when Annie knocked on the door.

"Yeah," he called, not taking his eyes off his screen.

She opened the door and quirked her head at him.

"You okay in here?"

"Yeah, good," he said, distractedly, a slight frown on his face.

"Do you need to eat, Eddie?"

"No, I'm fi- "

YES.

Eddie was jarred out of his thoughts by Venom's flat declaration. He looked up from the screen and noticed that the room was dark. And that he really had to pee.

"Um. Yes. What time is it," he stood and stretched, his back cracking as he arched it and made his way to bathroom.

"Nine."

"Jesus, okay, hang on, out in a sec."

Annie left him to his own devices. The pale light in the little room showed him an unappetizing picture of his face in the mirror, drawn and tired.

"Sorry to keep you waiting, love," he said as he realized how yawningly empty his stomach felt.

YOU WERE BUSY. IT'S OKAY.

"Are you starving, then?"

ONLY VERY SLIGHTLY. NOT ENOUGH TO EAT YOU.

"Good. Do you need some chocolate?"

HAD SOME. NEED SOMETHING BETTER.

"Any ideas?"

LET'S FIND SOME BAD PEOPLE.

"Sounds delicious."

 

***

 

When animals are forced to flee from their dens they tend to seek familiar territory.

With that in mind Eddie found the addresses of the ten bars closest to the San Francisco Life Foundation Campus.

Four of them he discarded immediately, too young and hip and expensive for what he needed. One of the others was a Karaoke bar and he crossed that off his list as well. Of the remaining five one was a smallish bar and grill with cheap beer, three were dive bars that seemed more likely to be peopled with bikers than rent-a-cops, and one was extremely promising. It had very few reviews on social media in spite of being in a good location, and its website boasted of several private lounges.

He sat in the kitchen with Annie and dutifully ate the roast beef sandwich she'd made for him, pairing it with another cup of that morning's coffee that was still standing in the pot. Annie's hair was frizzing up on one side and she'd put on her glasses. She must have also been on her computer the whole time they'd been back. He thanked her profusely for the meal, Venom joked about it being dead, and they went back to the room where they very quietly opened the window and began running across the rooftops of the city.

 

***

 

Parking was a nightmare in San Francisco. It always had been and it always would be. Either it cost a million dollars or your car got towed or your shit got smashed and there was nothing you could do about it. But in spite of the odds Eddie's Interceptor sat right where he'd left it nearly a month ago; there was no boot on the wheels, no tickets on the instrument panel. It was too good to be true.

So he and Vee had checked it very carefully and found four hidden tracking devices.They removed the little contraptions and tied them into a grocery bag, which they threw on the roof of the nearest building. Eddie pulled the spare keys off of a chain he'd hung around his neck and the bike started right up. Venom flowed around his head and made a warm helmet for him, chasing away the chill that was beginning to seep up the sleeves of his leather jacket. At least if he ended up at one of the biker bars he wouldn't stand out like a sore thumb.

EDDIE, Venom growled to him, WE'LL TAKE CARE OF YOU.

He nodded and they were off.

They decided to check the most promising location first and it immediately paid off. In the back corner of the bar lot there was a large box truck with no clear branding on the side. But under the light of a looming street lamp Eddie could make out the words "Tru Biomed" in the stains left behind by a hastily-removed decal. The only other car nearby was an ancient Toyota parked next to the dumpsters; probably the bartender.

He circled the place on his bike and parked as close as he could to the street, nose pointed out to match the flow of traffic in case he needed to get out fast.

The noise of the jukebox covered his entrance to the bar. It was dim and empty inside, and Eddie felt Venom flow over him. They blended into the shadows and surveyed the place.

Nobody sat at the long bar and the small, intimate booths were empty except for two men in dark clothes who were talking intensely enough to be heard past the noise of the music. Eddie didn't recognize one of them, the other was young and blonde and Eddie had never heard his name but knew that he had a red birthmark below his navel and he had liked to slap Eddie backhanded if he wasn't careful enough with his teeth. The blonde was speaking.

" - and you know there's no such thing as getting out once you're in, I just don't know where we go from here. There's nothing in the manual for this kind of shit."

The other man was older, with gray fading in through the sides of his dark hair. "Well we can either shit or get off the pot. Redding's only a couple hours away but we can try to make it further north if you want. But doing nothing is nothing doing; the news is showing footage from the security cameras so it's only a matter of time before someone IDs us."

"What do you think our chances are if we do make it to Washington? What happens then? This is national news, we're expendable."

"Well we can't run. So unless you want to jump off a building I'd say let's take our chances with Redding."

"You can still see the logo on the truck, what if we get pulled over?"

"What, they never taught you to shoot? We can solve that problem when we get to it. Besides, nobody know Tru is the same thing as the Life Foundation. We'll look like any other second-hand delivery truck." The older man was eyeing the other suspiciously. Like maybe he thought the blonde would be better off in a ditch than in the driver's seat.

"Okay, okay. That sounds alright. Have you heard from anyone else?"

"Watt was maybe gonna meet us here. Garvey and Holt said they were going south. Good luck to 'em. You?"

"Nah. Nobody talks to me."

MAYBE THAT'S BECAUSE YOU'RE A GIGANTIC ASSHOLE.

Venom had crept close and stayed hidden while the guards spoke; its sudden appearance beside their table was met with startled shouts and a sudden scramble to get away. They shot out a thick tendril of slime that pinned the blonde in the booth before turning to the other man.

Which was almost the end of the line for Eddie and the symbiote, as the older man leveled a strange weapon at them and triggered a wave of excruciating sound. Venom squealed and jittered, Eddie felt them slipping off his shoulders and felt himself beginning to fall as his legs came apart. The guard tried to use his advantage, pushing out of the booth and charging at them. Eddie reared back on dissolving legs then drove his forehead into the older man's face as hard as he could. The weapon clattered to the side as the guard howled over his broken nose and Venom wasted no time in swallowing the sound gun in a morass of its flesh. The blonde had tried to break away in the confusion but Venom had held together shockingly well, managing to cement the younger man in place and preventing Eddie from crashing into the ground while their host disrupted the attack. In the ringing silence they pulled together again, covering Eddie and healing the slight skull fracture he'd given himself. A second thick tendril snaked out and wrapped around the bleeding guard's throat, pulling him up and shoving him back into the booth.

PERHAPS YOU ARE BOTH GIGANTIC ASSHOLES.

Since neither of them could speak past the tentacles around their throats they didn't have any response to that.

NOW, WHICH OF YOU CAN TELL ME THE MOST ABOUT PALADIN SECURITY?

The younger man made a muffled sound and the older guard glared at him, shaking his head as his face started to turn alarmingly red. Venom glanced over the older man, sizing him up.

WE WOULD GUESS THAT YOU KNOW MORE BUT ARE LESS LIKELY TO TELL. Venom relaxed the hold around his neck slightly.

"Go to hell you slimy freak," he gasped.

AND YOU ARE MORE LIKELY TO TALK BUT WE WANT TO EAT YOU MORE, the symbiote said, switching their attention to the blonde man. He mewled and struggled ineffectually. DO ALL OF THE LIFE FOUNDATION GUARDS COME FROM PALADIN, Venom asked as the guard pawed at his neck and tried to strain away.

"Yes," the blonde gasped, "we've all been through Paladin, oh god please don't eat me - I - "

HMM. AND HOW WERE YOU RECRUITED TO PALADIN?

"Shut up, Bill," the older guard choked out.

"There's a forum -"

The older guard lunged as much as he could, reaching out to grab Bill and shake some sense into him. Venom decided they were tired of playing with him.

 

***

 

After they ate the older man Bill kept talking. He told them about the forum, gave them his login, and gave them the login to the email he used for the forum, his Life Foundation credentials. When the door to the bar swung open again and another man in dark clothes came in Bill sat quietly and waved him over to the table.

Eddie recognized Watt as one of the men who had strapped him to the table in the OR and carved a mark into his back. Venom had restrained him beside Bill before he'd even realized there was another presence at the table.

"Please, please let me go now," Bill sobbed, "please that's all I know."

They wrenched Watt's login info out of him with little plucking bites; Bill cried in the background.

"Just let us go, we won't say anything, we'll just get away, please."

I DON'T THINK THAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN.

"Why, why, please just - we won't do anything - "

YOU ALREADY DID IT.

Venom retracted from Eddie's face, pulling back until it looked like Eddie was wearing a gleaming, shifting jacket. Eddie beamed at the men across the table from them, watching the color drop out of their faces as they recognized him.

"I'm afraid we've got some unfinished business between us, gentlemen."

Chapter Text

"You - but - " Bill was gasping and trying to wiggle out of Venom's grip. His shock quickly morphed into indignation. "You're dying! You're pathetic! What are you doing here?"

"Asking questions, like a good journalist should. And you're going to answer them." He frowned and leaned in. "Did you not know that the big guy and me are a team?"

"Suck my dick, asshole, you're better at that than you are at playing good cop/bad cop."

Eddie leaned back with a bit of a smile. "You know, that's probably fair. Have it your way."

Venom shrugged itself out of him and reached across the table to wrap one enormous hand around Bill's neck.

DIDN'T YOU KNOW THAT HE WAS MINE?

"Jesus Christ, no, we didn't know, please, you're killing him," Watt sputtered from beside the choking man. "I don't even know what the fuck you are!"

IF YOU DIDN'T KNOW WHO HE WAS WHY DID YOU USE HIM THE WAY THAT YOU DID.

"It's - I mean - I" Watt looked like he was going to be sick; Venom had stood slightly and the guard was straining in the grasp of its tentacles, trying to get away from the teeth that were inching closer to his neck. "It's part of the job! They want people hurt, we hurt them!"

VIC KNEW WHO WE WERE. WHY HIM AND NOT YOU?

"Vic was part of Treece's squad, a different group. They did outside work, needed different qualifications. I worked strictly guard duty, Bill too!" Bill's face was purpling. Venom loosened its grip on his throat.

WOULDN'T YOU SAY THAT YOUR DUTIES WENT A BIT BEYOND SIMPLY GUARDING?

Bill's eyes were streaming as he gulped in air. "We just did what they told us to," he gasped.

IS THAT SUPPOSED TO EXCUSE YOUR BEHAVIOR?

"It was just part of the job, man!"

THEN TAKE COMFORT. THIS IS JUST WHAT YOU GET FOR DOING YOUR JOB WELL, and they unhinged their jaw, lowering their sharp, drooling mouth around Bill's screaming head, cutting off his shrieks with a savage bite that severed his neck from his shoulders.

 

***

 

Afterwards, when Eddie was alone in the booth with the table toppled and the jukebox finally silent, Venom shrank back from his arms and together they both watched as the damaged limbs slowly grew.

It hurt, but not in a way that Eddie really registered. He remembered a similar feeling from childhood, waking up late at night with his bones aching in his father's quiet house. Hurting but scared to say anything. Haunted by growing pains.

His arms were hanging well below the sleeves of his tee shirt now, but his legs seemed to have only a fraction of the new growth. He flexed the muscles in his damaged limbs and they felt strange and loose and shifting, like they had no purchase inside his skin. For all he knew they didn't.

He sighed and they stood, looking at the clock above the bar. They'd hardly been here half an hour but it felt like a lifetime. Eddie wondered where the bartender was then realized that he didn't care.

They made their way into the parking lot, where it was beginning to rain. Watt had parked alongside the Tru Biomed truck. There was a bag packed full of clothes and guns and an impressive wad of cash.

The trailer of the truck was empty but the cab had another of the sonic guns, along with more cash. "Maybe we should have killed the first guy last and figured out what he knew. Those other two didn't know their ass from a hole in the ground but he knew how to take us out."

WHAT DOES IT MATTER? HE'S DEAD. PROBLEM SOLVED.

"Since he's dead he can't tell us who else knows about you. I don't like that."

THE SCIENTISTS KNEW. DRAKE KNEW. BUT NOT MANY OF THE GUARDS. HE KEPT IT TO HIMSELF.

"How could he? They had to know how to keep him safe if you got out." As they made their way over to the bike Eddie saw the spark of a lighter on the far side of the bar and smelled smoke. Found the bartender. He was in for a rough shift when he made it back from his break.

HE MADE. A THING. A - WE DON'T KNOW WHAT TO CALL IT. A HOLDER? HE COULD TRAP US INSIDE OF IT. HE WORE A COMPUTER THAT WOULD MAKE THOSE KINDS OF NOISES IF WE GOT TOO CLOSE TO THE SURFACE. WHEN HE DIDN'T WANT US WATCHING HE WOULD PUT US IN THE HOLDER.

"What a fuckin' asshole. I'm sorry, love." Venom was wrapping itself around his head, warming him as he mounted the bike and engaged the throttle.

DON'T BE.

"When you were in it did the sound hurt you?"

NO, NOT UNLESS HE USED THE FREQUENCIES TO MOVE US OUT.

The city was moving past them in a blur. Lights blended together and shone off the glossy panes of towering buildings. Eddie ruminated on what Venom had told him.

"Vee, what if we made something like that?"

The symbiote growled angrily in his skull.

YOU'RE MINE, EDDIE. YOU DON'T GET TO PUT US IN A BOX LIKE A YAPPING DOG. OR IS THAT HOW YOU THINK OF US?

Eddie chuckled. He thought of Venom in the sunlight and Venom in the shade and the warm smell of the other and the slick touch of it against his skin. He let those memories swell into feelings of home and lust and comfort that he poured into his mind.

"No, love, never. Never want to be away from you."

He felt confusion emanating from the alien presence in his mind. THEN WHY MAKE A TRAP TO KEEP US APART?

"Not to keep us apart, to keep you safe." Eddie turned down a smaller street that took him closer to the water. "I don't want to make you separate from me, I want to give you a shield. The sounds that hurt you do nothing to me. I can barely hear them."

WHAT DO YOU MEAN?

"If I get hit with those sounds it tears you to pieces. It hurts you. I can feel how much it hurts you. If I get hit with the sounds nothing happens. So what if we gave you someplace to hide? Someplace you could be safe until it stopped so no one could force us apart ever again."

NOT A TRAP. A SHELTER.

"Yeah."

SO NO ONE COULD KEEP US APART.

"Yeah."

SO YOU COULD PROTECT US.

"Yes. Always."

WHERE ARE WE GOING, EDDIE?

He shook his head at the sudden change in subject. "Down by the piers. I figured we could hand out some of the money. Why?"

BECAUSE WE WANT TO TASTE EVERY INCH OF YOU AND WE WANT TO DO IT NOW, BUT WE CAN WAIT UNTIL YOU'RE DONE TAKING CARE OF EVERYONE BUT YOURSELF.

Eddie's breath hitched as he realized he could feel Venom stroking his chest under his shirt, that there were undulating tendrils of symbiote cresting over his hips and wrapping gently around his waist. He felt smooth, warm pressure down his spine and the gentle flicker of a tendril over his nipple and couldn't hold back a low moan.

"I'll be fast, love."

 

***

 

He was true to his word and in short order he had empty pockets and a heat inside of him urging him on. He parked the bike in front of Annie's house and Venom carried them up the back, silently climbing through the window they'd left open.

As soon as they were inside it was peeling away Eddie's jacket and running its tongue up his throat and curving it around his jaw. The symbiote shucked off his jeans and shirt and cradled its bare host in midair. Venom stood in the center of the room, an enormous humanoid figure; its head nearly brushed the ceiling and its hands easily circled Eddie's waist as it lifted him effortlessly, cradling him and supporting him as it grazed its teeth over his shoulder and purred against his ear.

Eddie was flushed and intrigued and frustrated - he wanted to grab the symbiote's shoulders or wrap his legs around its waist and was startled to remember that he couldn't. He choked on a tiny sob and Venom made a concerned sound before smooth black flesh flowed from his interrupted limbs to make grasping hands and strong legs.

"Stop," he gasped, "stop, wait," and pushed away, kneeling on Annie's quilt on his alien legs. He looked at the sleek black hands and shivered. "Why. Why do you want me now."

WE LOVE YOU EDDIE, ALWAYS WANT YOU.

"But, why like this, when. When I'm broken. And. Small."

Venom knelt in front of him, reducing its bulk until it was only slightly larger than him. Their hand cupped his cheek as they leaned into him until he couldn't tell where he ended and the symbiote started.

YOU WANT TO KEEP US SAFE. WANT TO PROTECT US. WANT TO STAND BETWEEN US AND DANGER. THE SMELL OF YOU, LOVE, it rumbled, rolling its tongue over his lips and provoking a moan out of him, THE TASTE OF YOU WHEN YOU WANT TO OWN US, MAKES US WANT TO OWN YOU MARK YOU CLAIM YOU TASTE YOU LOVE YOU NOW EDDIE PLEASE PLEASE NOW, YOU TASTE SO GOOD -

Eddie hissed at the roiling swirl of thoughts that moved through him, possessive and dark and powerful and so, so sweet. But under the mania of wanting was an edge of vulnerability, a desire for belonging; a holy and empty place inside of the symbiote that cried out for someone to care for it and shield it from the world. He whimpered and felt a deep, hot, wrenching lust overcome him. They needed each other, they were made for each other, and suddenly he wanted to own and be owned by Venom as much as the symbiote wanted the same from him.

"Darling," he whispered as his hips bucked forward into its warmth and strength and softness, "didn't know, ah, didn't know you needed this," but he found himself frowning. "Vee - " the other rumbled in his chest and ran its hands down his back, "Vee, I don't know if I can give that to you."

The creature stilled and pulled away, shifting opal eyes narrowing in the darkness.

ONLY YOU, LOVE. ONLY WANT YOU. WHY CAN'T WE HAVE IT?

Eddie shrugged his arms free of the black flesh encasing them and held the stumps up in front of him.

"Why do you think?" He looked down at the scars. They were pearlescent in the dark room. Nearly glowing with how much he hated them. "I'm. Look at me." He stared down at his scarred chest, and the place where his severed legs were hidden by the writhing black mass. "I can't even keep myself in one piece. I need you for everything, to stand, to eat, to take a piss." He looked up to the alien face of the symbiote, so terrifying but so rich with strange beauty in its sleek profile and glittering eyes. "How can you believe I'll. How can I promise to protect you when I can't even get out of a bed without your help?"

The Klyntar cradled him and nudged its forehead against his. It gently retracted the pieces of itself that had bonded to Eddie and laid him back against the pillows at the head of the bed. He turned his head to the side and blinked away tears, his mouth making a hard, unhappy line and his damaged limbs stirring self-consciously before the scrutiny of the looming symbiote.

EDDIE, it spoke, keeping its deep voice low and close and quiet. WHEN YOU HAD YOUR HANDS YOU WERE STILL WEAKER THAN WE ARE, SMALLER, SICKER. WHEN YOU STOOD ON YOUR OWN YOU STILL WERE DWARFED BY OUR HEIGHT. YOUR SPECIES - YOU CAN BE LOVELY BUT YOU ARE NOT STRONG.

Eddie sniffed, still looking away and nodded. "I know. I know I don't have anything to give you."

BUT YOU DO. FOR ALL THAT YOUR KIND ARE SMALL AND FRAGILE YOU HAVE MORE TO GIVE, MORE POWER THAN WE'VE SEEN IN ALL OUR TRAVELS.

"Yeah, and what's that? I give you something to laugh at?"

Venom growled and reached out, wrenching his chin and forcing him to look at them.

STOP, it hissed, STOP TALKING ABOUT YOURSELF LIKE YOU'RE A JOKE, OR WORTHLESS, OR A BURDEN. YOU HAVE BEEN HURT BEYOND WHAT MOST OF YOUR SPECIES COULD SURVIVE AND YET YOU OFFER TO PROTECT US. YOU HAVE BEEN DAMAGED AND SPIT ON AND YOUR FIRST THOUGHT AFTER A FIGHT IS HOW TO CREATE A SHIELD, HOW TO STAND BETWEEN US AND HARM.

They leaned down and pressed their forehead against Eddie's closing their eyes and stroking his face with a soft hand, trailing gentle touches over his body.

DO YOU KNOW HOW RARE, IN ALL THE SPACES BETWEEN ALL THE STARS THAT KIND OF GENEROSITY IS? DO YOU KNOW WHAT A FINE, PRECIOUS JEWEL THE CREATIVITY OF YOUR SPECIES IS? THE KLYNTAR DO NOT CREATE, THEY STEAL. WE COULD NOT HAVE MADE THE KINDS OF THINGS THAT DRAKE DID, GOOD OR BAD. RIOT WOULD NOT HAVE CRAFTED A STARSHIP, THEY COULD ONLY TAKE ONE. AND YOU. YOU ARE SO BADLY INJURED THAT WE THOUGHT YOU WOULD DIE, SO SCARED YOU CAN BARELY LOOK AT THOSE WHO LOVE YOU, AND STILL YOU OFFER MORE OF YOURSELF TO THE WORLD. YOU ARE INCREDIBLE. UNIQUE AND TERRIFYING AND BEAUTIFUL IN YOUR KINDNESS. AND WE ARE HONORED THAT YOU MIGHT CHOOSE TO SHARE THAT WITH US. WE HAVE NEVER DONE ANYTHING TO DESERVE IT BUT WE ARE GREEDY ENOUGH TO ACCEPT YOUR GIFT ANYWAY, IF IT IS STILL SOMETHING YOU ARE WILLING TO GIVE.

Tears were running freely from Eddie's eyes and Venom carefully wiped them away, nuzzling their head against his shoulder and melting their form over him until he was surrounded in the warmth of their embrace.

"Are you sure," he whispered, "you're sure there's still something worthwhile inside me?"

YES. YOU ARE A TREASURE. EVEN IF YOU ARE TOO BLIND TO SEE IT.

"Then yes. Yes to whatever you want. Yours only, love. Always. I'll try to be what you need."

YOU'RE THE ONLY THING WE NEED, EDDIE.

It lifted him upright and cuddled him in its lap, the stumps of his legs spread around its waist and the remains of his arms braced on its shoulders.

"Do you still want me tonight?" He whispered.

ALWAYS WANT YOU.

"Then take me. Make me forget. I want you to be the only thing in the world right now."

 

 

 

 

 

***

 

They started with a kiss. Soft and gentle, their mouth closed and warm against Eddie's lips, a comforting pressure without the immediacy of their usual sloppy, passionate riot of tongues and teeth. Venom sighed against his mouth and cupped his face in their large hands before drawing their teeth apart and biting gently and carefully at Eddie's full lower lip. He let his head fall back a bit, opening his mouth slightly, and the tip of Venom's tongue dipped inside slowly, caressing his lips and sliding over the velvet-soft texture of his own flat, warm tongue. He closed his eyes and hollowed his cheeks, sucking softly at the thick muscle in his mouth but it pulled away from him, drawing out a sweet whine from Venom as they pulled against that slight resistance.

They tipped his head to the side and fixed their mouth on the side of his neck, worrying the skin with pinpricks of teeth that they soothed with warm brushes of their tongue. Eddie sighed and relaxed into their embrace, pulling his head further aside, offering himself to them to feast upon. They continued their attentions to his throat while they ran their hands up his sides, lifting the stumps of his arms and setting them firmly on their shoulders before trailing back down to wrap their hands around his waist, squeezing him almost to the point of pain then releasing to drag their hands up to his shoulders, scoring his back lightly with wicked claws before slipping their hands over the smooth curve of his ass and lifting him off the bed to hold him pressed against their chest.

He moaned at the heat of them on his front and they felt the twitch of interest as his softened member began to fill against them. Venom gave a final lick to Eddie's neck then swiped its tongue down the smooth, muscular planes of his chest to twine its tongue around his nipples, alternating between them to tease and twist them into hard points that it scraped against with the flat of its tongue and ghosted over with its teeth.

Eddie's erection rose and filled, throbbing with the attention to his chest and he bucked his hips forward against Venom's waist. A happy rumble rose from the symbiote and they leaned forward, placing him reverently on the bed, delighted to see his face flushed and eyes sparking with desire.

WHAT DO YOU WANT EDDIE?

"Want you."

HOW? TELL ME WHAT WILL FEEL GOOD.

Eddie bit his lip and raised his head to look Venom in the eye where they were braced over his stomach.

"Want you inside me," he hesitated, his eyes landing on the scar tissue capping the remnants of his legs. "Will you fuck me on your mouth, love?" His face was open and pure, eyes wide and mouth red, a furious blush shading his cheeks.

WHAT ELSE, they asked, lowering their head and backing away from him on the bed. Their tongue dragged down his belly from his nipples, its wet weight brushing past his navel and hanging over his cock before slipping behind his balls and pressing against his entrance. He watched, entranced and panting, until that final tease of pressure made him throw his head back with a whimper. He spread the stumps of his legs as wide as he could and canted his hips forward, opening himself to Venom, who growled and licked at his ass from the top of the crack to the back of his sack, filling the space between his cheeks with hot, wet, writhing weight that teased at his hole but didn't penetrate.

WHAT ELSE?

"W-want your fingers in. In my mouth," he panted, "and you hand, hand on my cock, ohgod, fuck - " his words were cut off when Venom offered their hand to him while their tongue pressed carefully past the resistance of his entrance, slowly moving inside of him. They felt his small mouth open around two of their fingers, licking at them messily and running his soft-rough tongue over and between them. They growled and reached around Eddie's leg to engulf his erection in one enormous hand, holding him firmly in place so they could watch his face as their tongue thrust deeper inside of him.

His eyes rolled back as he was filled with the thick, wet tongue and he moaned against their hand, arching his back further, offering more and more and more of himself until the symbiote felt drunk with wanting him.

Their hand moved over his member with smooth pressure and liquid heat, moving languidly up and down while his hole was spread impossibly open by the strong muscle pressing further and further into him. Even as he felt himself stretching wider and wider the prehensile organ penetrating him moved and searched until his hips jerked and his erection ground harder against the hand around it while that firm, clever tongue twisted and pressed against his prostate.

"Oh, Vee, I - ah -" he tried to speak but could only find soft noises where he should have had words and the symbiote curled their hand around his face, pressing a thumb to his mouth as the fingers circled gently behind his skull and he parted his lips to pull the thumb in between them, sucking fiercely at it and moaning around it.

They lifted his head up to watch his face as they began to slowly thrust their tongue in and out of him, matching pace with the slow motions of their hand on his cock. They moved their face closer to him, breathing in the clean, human smell of him and stretching him ever further open while the tip of their tongue still stroked at him from the inside. The noises escaping his mouth were growing more frantic and the rhythmic clenching of his muscles got tighter and stronger until he was nearly vibrating with tension; his pleasure and arousal spilled into Venom and Venom echoed it back at him, filling him with need and want and joy and fullness that gathered in his shoulders and nipples and stomach and guts until it was rolling through him like a ball of light that settled into him with a white heat as he came in Venom's hand and whined around their thumb.

The symbiote shuddered and stretched with the sensation, becoming liquid and solid and liquid again as it tried to find a shape that fit their euphoria. Finally they landed somewhere between the two, a sleek head over broad shoulders and strong arms that curled protectively around Eddie while the rest of them tapered into him, merging in such a way that it was impossible to tell where one began and the other ended.

Slowly Eddie's breathing slowed and his mind grew sweet with sleep, while Venom stretched around him and basked in the flickers of joy that drifted out of his dreams.

Chapter Text

Eddie swam in a stream of memory, engulfed by cold lights and sharp noises. He was overwhelmed by the unfamiliar feeling of walking in someone else's skin. He saw flickers of himself but these passed quickly, and he found himself more frequently looking at computer screens or miles and miles of printed reports.

Eddie's recall confounded the people around him. For three years running he'd been convinced that Annie was turning 35 and couldn't remember her proper age to save his life. However he had remembered her birthday each year and for the third year, her actual 35th, he'd tracked down a jewelry box that was an exact match for one her mother had given her that she'd pointed out in a photo six months before he presented it to her with a flourish. He'd forget where he left his bike an hour after parking it but he could recite years-old conversations like they were being dictated to him.

Venom's memory was different. Instead of a shifting cacophony of jumbled years or weeks or days or decades with bright spots of clarity it was like falling through time. It could remember everything. When Eddie asked what they saw at the Life Foundation he'd expected to see sparks in the darkness, not an inferno. And it engulfed him.

He'd tensed up immediately but clenched his teeth and asked for more. He had to see what Drake had built to contain the symbiote if he was going to have any hope of replicating the device.

"Can you show me what the workshop looked like," he thought to his other, and it was like he was standing in the room - there were empty tables with bright lights over them, tiny drawers full of electronic components lining the walls. He was seated at one of those tables, fiddling with something metallic and complicated, his hands darker and slimmer than he was used to.

DRAKE DID NOT TAKE US INTO THE WORKSHOP AFTER THIS.

"Do you know what he was working on this time?"

FLOWMETER. HE SAID IT WAS A FLOWMETER.

"Shit. Do you remember getting a look at the containment sheath at all?"

He was standing in a bathroom, bare to the waist and wearing fine gray silk slacks. He was closing a belt around his waist. There was a contraption on his left arm, from just above his elbow to just below his wrist, held in place with elastic bands. It looked like an enormous iPod sleeve.

"No good, it's covered."

He felt prickles of irritation seeping out of the symbiote.

THERE WAS NOTHING GOOD IN THAT PLACE BUT YOU. WE DON'T LIKE THINKING ABOUT IT.

"I don't like thinking about it either. But I've got to know what he made for you."

YOU WANT TO KNOW MORE THAN THAT.

Eddie didn't really have a response. They were right. They knew it. They could feel the shape of the questions he wanted to ask, the questions that haunted him and burrowed under his skin, that made it hard for him to focus on copying Drake's design.

EDDIE, they started to say, and the questions came tumbling out of his mouth.

"Do. Did. Were you there when. Did any prisoners die. When he had you with him?"

The afterimages of the Life Foundation drifted away and Venom poured itself into a puddle on Eddie's chest. Annie's guest bedroom resolved around him, bright morning light flooding through the windows and warming him on the bed.

The symbiote drew into a more coherent shape, rising out of Eddie to make arms and a head, leaning over him. They stroked his hair and Eddie nuzzled into the big black palm.

WHY, EDDIE?

"Why what?"

YES, I SAW HIM KILL PEOPLE. WHY DO YOU WANT TO SEE IT? IT IS DONE AND THEY ARE DEAD. YOU ARE NOT. YOU DON'T NEED TO WATCH THEM DIE TOO.

His brows drew together and his forehead furrowed as he looked into the shifting opal eyes above him.

"The news has lists. They're putting together pictures. Faces. Names. Trying to sort out who's missing and who's here and who's dead. We can help."

WE CAN HELP LATER. NOW YOU SHOULD REST. OR DO SOMETHING ELSE. SOMETHING THAT IS NOT THIS.

"I've been resting. I've been asleep for hours. I want to do something."

THEN LET'S GO EAT SOMEONE. ONLY SOMEONE WHO DESERVES IT, WE PROMISE.

Eddie only struggled to sit for a moment before Vee made limbs for him and he moved up to the head of the bed.

"It's not dark enough for you to go out yet."

WE LIKE THE SUNLIGHT, EDDIE.

"Yeah, but it's easier to hide in the dark, love. I don't want them to be able to find you." His expression was brooding and Venom caught the shape of uniforms drifting up from his mind.

IF ANYONE FROM THAT PLACE FINDS US WE WILL JUST EAT THEM.

"Anyone who was in that place might have another sound weapon. I don't have - I can't keep you safe until we've built the shield."

SO WE'LL JUST SIT HERE AND ROT.

Eddie reached out and pulled Venom toward him until they were chest-to-chest and he had his face pressed into the symbiote's throat.

"No, we'll work. Help me do this and we can find something to eat once it gets dark."

TWO PEOPLE TO EAT. AND CHOCOLATE.

"Sure, something." He started to move away, frowning and ready to work, but found himself leaning back into the weight of the symbiote.

"You smell good, Vee."

OF COURSE I DO. I'M DELIGHTFUL.

 

***

 

Eddie had seen terrible things inside the walls of the Life Foundation, but found that his tolerance for terrible was lower when he was watching other people hurt.

He had been tortured by the doctor, tormented by Drake. He had been in incredible pain. But he had survived and, beyond that, he had bonded with the symbiote. The people who died hadn't been bonded properly and he could tell.

The orange fluid that started the re-growth process had stung him going in but hadn't hurt after; he watched as it killed three people. Two died quickly, one wasn't so lucky. It took ten minutes of incoherent screaming, badly muffled by a leather muzzle, for her to go quiet. It was like the medication boiled her from the inside out. By the time she stopped breathing her skin was covered in livid patches of red and the irises of her eyes had clouded over.

In Venom's memory Eddie saw the scene from behind a desk, olive hands on a keyboard lit by the glare of a monitor. In the upper left corner of the screen, over jagged graphs of her heart rate and pulse pressure, Eddie read a name. Carla Valdez. Age 63.

He knew he didn't need to breathe when he was wrapped up in Vee's warmth. His throat felt tight anyway.

Then her image was fading and light was pounding red against the other side of his eyelids.

He took a deep breath and scrolled through a photo gallery on the SFPD website. They didn't know her name yet. There was a brief form he could fill in so he did.

"Okay, next," he said, and swirled away to concrete and fluorescent light again.

 

***

 

He wanted to limit himself just to the ones with no names next to their pictures, but Vee wasn't very good at differentiating human faces. Or ages. Or genders. So if it was going to work he had to watch them all.

He had seen six people since they started. Four aside from Carla were unknown before he filled in the form. One had a name but had been listed as missing, not killed. One wasn't on any of the lists.

He didn't know what to do with that one, a young man. He was thin and small. He'd bled to death when the coagulant hadn't worked. His name was Li Bao. Nineteen. No immediately apparent scars, dark hair and dark eyes. Eddie made a note on a clean sheet of paper and moved on.

Venom pulled away from him between memories, giving him space to type and think. His head hurt so they tried to soothe the pain. He was weeping so they pressed against his spine and purred.

Even in the daylight of the guest bedroom his chest felt heavy and the air felt close.

They went back in.

 

***

 

This memory was the same as all the others, different from all of the others in the same way. Drake moved through a door, computer screens added green light to the gloom, there was the scrape and scuffle of shoes on concrete. The same sensations moving in different directions.

Eddie tasted metal on his tongue and heard ringing in his ears. He knew he didn't have to breathe but wished he could use his hands to tear away the tie Drake wore in this memory. It seemed to cinch tighter around his neck as they traveled through the facility. Drake probably wasn't sweating but Eddie felt water on his palms.

The hallways were too real and close. He saw a faint image of Drake reflected in glass. Beyond that hazy picture he saw himself in a cell and he could hear his heartbeat over the high tone vibrating through his skull.

Drake was looking at him in a cage, smiling and silent. The Eddie in the memory had his head bowed. Gloriously whole fingers were knotted in his hair, pulling it tight against his skull in a sensation that he could remember with vicious clarity. Jameson spoke from the memory, reminding Drake of the schedule. Eddie felt like he'd been electrocuted by the sound of his voice; his abs froze and his shoulders tensed. He knew he didn't have to breathe but suddenly he was drowning.

"Please, please, no more, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, please," he whispered feeling a tingle where his hands used to be, expecting the weight of a strap across his throat and the cool touch of a scalpel. "Please, you don't have to, please, please stop." The guard's voice was receding as Drake moved down the hall and away with him. Drake was leaving, Jameson was going to stay and if he touched him again he would die, he would crawl out of his own throat and die and nobody would help him.

"Please, I'll be nice, I'll be good please stop, don't - p-please" he mumbled, trying to make himself small, make himself safe, make himself not be so that nothing could happen.

EDDIE. WE STOPPED EDDIE.

"Please, please, I'm sorry," he continued to moan. 

EDDIE IT'S OVER. They uncovered him, drawing back into his skin until his face was clear and all that was still visible were the sleek black limbs they made for him. His mind was a mess, dragging up pictures of pain and immediately recoiling from them. He rolled to his side and covered his face, reduced to a constant stream of whispered "no, no, no."

Venom felt the surge of adrenaline that flooded into Eddie and took control of their body, looking for a threat to fight and feeling for an injury to heal but they found nothing. Only panic, pointed and suffocating. They tried to sink into Eddie's thoughts and speak inside his mind and were confronted with an onslaught of flashing pictures and sensations of the things they had tried so hard to lock away. 

They didn't know how to help.

EDDIE, WE NOT THERE. NOT THERE NOW. They pooled underneath him, lifting him from the surface of the bed as they grew a huge torso and thick limbs, cradling him to their chest. They stroked the side of his face and he shuddered at the touch, panic reaching a new peak that reverberated through the symbiote. Venom needed to end it, to destroy whatever was making Eddie feel like this, but there was nothing to attack; nothing to bite and rend and tear away to fix it.

They stood, holding him gingerly, and moved to the door where they hesitated. They had never spoken to a human without the guiding thoughts of a host and they could see less and less inside of Eddie's mind as he writhed and begged. They were losing the words they relied on Eddie to provide.

"Scared," a part of the human whispered from under the surge of hurt. Venom clung to the word, shaping it in their mouth over and over and over until they were sure they could say it without help. It would have to do.

They fumbled with the door and started to feel scared themselves. There were so many little motions it took to be a human, so many noises and lights and motions that Venom didn't know without Eddie's memories. They knew they had to touch the bright spot but not how to make it work. SCARED, SCARED, it murmured as it struggled, trying to hang onto the word. If the door wouldn't work they would have to break it.

They swatted at the bright spot on the door and felt a flood of relief as it cracked open. SCARED! They crowed as they pushed past the obstruction and into the living room. SCARED, SCARED! They said again, looking around for the other people. No other people. Their names were lost. One had a name that changed. But they sounded alike. An open sound in the middle and a closed sound at the end. AN! AN AN AN DAN DAN ANN ANNIE DAN, it stuttered, finding the words and building them to a shout. ANNIE DAN SCARED, it said, turning in a circle and wanting to roar with frustration at the empty room. They whined and crouched, keeping their back to the wall. The other people were gone and they didn't know how to open doors or pretend to be human or hide or even climb stairs when they were all alone with this strange body on this strange planet. They thought about finding the box Eddie carried that talked to the others but they wouldn't know how to work it. They might be able to find a host and search out the humans but they couldn't leave Eddie.

Never. Never leave Eddie.

So they crouched in the corner, trilling and humming and crying out the few words it knew without its host. ANNIE DAN EDDIE SCARED EDDIE SCARED SCARED.

Eddie, for his part, shivered and continued to whisper "Please, please," into the empty room.

Chapter Text

 

Dan was delighted to have Anne in his life but he had to admit that she had made his day-to-day interactions with the world much stranger. He never used to have debates about natural rights over dinner, it hadn't been common for him to spend weekends at charity galas in a fancy suit, and he'd never come home to an alien cradling a disabled man and gibbering in the corner of his living room before he met Anne.

He was surprised when he realized that she wasn't in the house with Eddie but that didn't matter. He shrugged away from thoughts of anything other than the crisis currently hiding behind the couch.

"Venom? Eddie? What's going on, guys?"

SCARED DAN EDDIE EDDIE SCARED

He moved slowly and deliberately, telegraphing every motion, as he came around the furniture to face the symbiote. He took a moment to control himself because he'd never seen the creature as frightening until just this second. It was enormous, a thickly muscled body clutching Eddie to its chest with one massive hand while the other seemed to ward Dan away. Its sharp teeth and claws shone and its long, slimy tongue was whipping back and forth like the tail of an agitated cat. EDDIE SCARED, it whined at him.

Dan tried to get a good look at Eddie. His eyes were unfocused and his body was limp, head lolling bonelessly on slack shoulders. His lips were moving but any sounds he was making didn't travel far enough to be understood.

LOOK DON'T LOOK DON'T LOOK AT ME NO NO PLEASE STOP PLEASE NO MORE, Venom roared, turning away from Dan and placing itself protectively between him and his host.

The doctor held his hands up to placate the furious alien and shakily eased himself a bit closer.

"Okay, it's okay, he's scared, Venom, can you talk to me bud?" It looked over its shoulder at him and made a reedy, wordless sound. Its massive jaw moved uselessly before it started repeating DAN ANNE EDDIE SCARED DAN ANNE. It still held a hand out to keep Dan back and, not sure why he did it, Dan reached out and wrapped his hand around one of the thick fingers. His head was filled with noise and light for a few seconds before he felt a wrenching inside of him as the sensations were squashed down and Venom was speaking.

EDDIE CAN'T TALK, CAN'T THINK, SEES BAD THINGS IN HIS HEAD, WE CAN'T HEAR HIM, CAN'T SEE HIS MEMORIES. WE DON'T KNOW WORDS WITHOUT HIM, DON'T KNOW HOW THINGS WORK, DON'T KNOW HOW TO FIX HIM.

Dan was shivering and on his knees after the sudden flood of pain and his hand started to slip away from the symbiote.

NO, it shouted, and squeezed his hand. NO WE NEED YOU TO TALK.

"Okay," he panted. "S-sure. Tell me what happened."

WE LOOKED AT MEMORIES OF THE LIFE FOUNDATION. EDDIE WAS WRITING DOWN NAMES. LOOKED AT ANOTHER MEMORY AND HE SAW ONE OF THE MEN WHO HURT HIM A LOT. THEN HE COULDN'T TALK, NOW CAN ONLY THINK ABOUT THAT MAN. DAN HE HURTS, EDDIE HURTS AND HE'S SCARED SO MUCH.

Dan firmed his grip on Venom's big hand and stood. "He could tell when I was looking at him? And it scared him more?"

YES, DOESN'T LIKE BEING WATCHED.

"Well we'll probably have to do that again. Can you help? If I keep touching you can you get him to hear you?"

DON'T KNOW, WE'VE BEEN TRYING TO TALK BUT ALL HE SEES IS BLOOD.

Dan swallowed around that thought and started tugging Venom after him. "C'mon, big guy, let's find out if we can get through to him."

The went into the bright kitchen where Dan used his free hand to open a window and turn on a radio, tuning it to a station playing something with a lot of guitar but keeping the volume low. "Sit down, hold him on your lap. Keep him nice and secure, okay, hug him into you."

YES, they rumbled. Dan filled a kettle and set it on the range then opened the freezer and grabbed a bag of peas that he set on the table before pulling out a chair to face Eddie and the symbiote. The injured man thrashed at his scrutiny and he quickly looked away.

"Venom, if I think of a thing can you see it? And try to make it?"

MAYBE.

Dan thought of an old-fashioned veil, mesh hanging over the still eyes of a mourner at a funeral a long long time ago. Venom rumbled and a tendril of them moved over Eddie's face, blocking his eyes but keeping his ears clear and floating over his face instead of sinking into it.

"Good, that's good, thank you," he said, looking back at Eddie. The veil worked - when he couldn't see that he was being observed he stayed calmer. His skin was pale, where it was showing. He was wearing a tee shirt and boxers and Dan could swear that his arms and legs looked longer than they had two days ago. His arms protruded from the sleeves enough that Dan thought he might have the space to work with there. "Okay, Vee, I'm going to talk and I want you to say everything I say to him, can you do that for me?"

WE CAN TRY.

"Alright. Thank you. Here we go. Eddie, this is Dan. You're at Anne's house. It's one o'clock in the afternoon. You are in the kitchen, Venom is with us, holding on to you. Eddie can you hear me?"

HIS HEART RATE IS SLOWING.

"Good, you're doing great, Vee. Eddie, you're in Anne's house," he picked up the bag of frozen peas and pressed it against the stump of his right arm, trying to cover as much surface area as possible. "Eddie can you feel that? I'm holding a bag of ice against your arm. You are in the kitchen at Anne's house, it's one o'clock in the afternoon."

HE CAN FEEL THE COLD. DOESN'T LIKE IT.

"I know, I know it doesn't feel good. Venom, please uncover his face, I won't look at him," the veil drifted away and Dan looked through the window. "Eddie this is Dan, I'm holding a bag of ice against your arm in Anne's kitchen, can you feel the ice?"

"Y-yes..." his voice was almost too low for Dan to hear it.

"Good, Eddie, I need you to tell me two things you're feeling right now, this second."

"Cold. Feel cold. On arm. Warm."

"Okay, cold and warm. Is Venom warm?"

"Warm. Vee. I, please -"

"Okay, think about that. Venom is warm. Venom is warm and you feel Venom. Can you tell me three things that you see right now? I need you to look hard, Eddie. We're in Anne's kitchen, what do you see?"

He moaned and squeezed his eyes shut, leaning his head back against Venom's shoulder.

"Open your eyes, Eddie, I need you to look at the kitchen. Tell me three things you see."

"Bright," he whispered. "Bright. Window. Brick house across. Bricks."

"You see a house across the street through the window, that's great, the bricks are red. Two more things, what do you see?"

"Shirt. Stripes. Blue stripes on your shirt."

"Okay, one more thing, bud."

"Sink. The sink is under the window. Has a. Green mug with spoons in it."

"Perfect. Tell me four things you hear now."

"Tired."

"I know, we'll let you get some sleep in a bit, but tell me four things you hear."

"Guitar. Bad guitar. On the radio. Cock rock. Van Halen." He swallowed and raised his head from Venom's shoulder. "Fridge is humming. It's behind me."

"Two more things."

"Traffic on the street. Cars going too fast." He looked around the kitchen and his eyes zeroed in on the stove. "The kettle is about to boil. Turn the heat off before it whistles, the whistle will hurt Vee, can't hurt Vee."

Dan cautiously released Venom's hand and stood to switch the stove off. He pulled a pair of mugs out of the cabinet over the sink along with a battered green tin of tea.

"Keep talking, Eddie. Where are you, when is it?"

"I'm in Annie's house, in the kitchen. It's. I don't know what day it is. It's bright out. Early."

"Tell me something that happened yesterday."

"Annie made me a sandwich. Forgot to eat and she made me a sandwich."

"Tell me something that happened today."

"I -" he paused and looked around the room again, really seeming to see it this time. "I don't. I don't remember much of today."

"That's okay, it'll come back to you in time. How do you feel, Eddie?"

"Confused?" He leaned back against Venom and the symbiote began to change shape. It melted into him, pouring out limbs for him and covering his skin. It ran over him until he was covered in a shining black skin from the neck down. The liquid head hovered over his shoulder and nudged his chin. He brought his hands up to it and petted at it, suddenly clutching at it and gasping. "We were looking at the Life Foundation. And I. I remembered some of the things that happened there. And I couldn't. It felt like I was still in there."

"You're in Anne's kitchen, say it and look around."

"I'm in Annie's kitchen. You're making tea. Venom is worried," he seemed surprised to have said the last part and looked into the alien's shining eyes. "You're worried about me, love?"

WE COULDN'T BRING YOU BACK, EDDIE.

Dan put a mug of hot tea down in front of them. "Hold onto that, wrap your hands around it. Feel the warmth. Drink when you're ready, I'm going upstairs for a second."

Eddie's eyes went huge and round and he shot out a hand to capture Dan's wrist. "You're not leaving, right?"

He smiled gently. "No, just getting something from my bedroom, I'll be right back. Drink your tea, Eddie. Eat something if you haven't yet."

 

***

 

"What," Anne said snappishly, when she picked up her phone on the third ring.

"Where are you, sweetie," Dan said, digging through his medicine cabinet, trying to find a little bottle that should be in the back.

"City hall, arguing with this FUCKING PRICK of a clerk about what is or isn't a public record. Yeah, glare all you want, jackass, you're still getting that copy for me," Dan stifled a smile. "What's up hon?"

"I just didn't know where you were when I got home. Eddie and Vee were in kind of a bad spot and I felt like I should check on you. And I wanted to hear your voice."

Her tone shifted immediately. "Do I need to come home? Are you okay? Are they okay? Honey do you need me because I can be there in -"

"Don't worry about it, sweets. I've got it under control and it sounds like you've got your hands full. We'll all be fine here."

"Okay, Dan. One thing though - how long has it been since you slept?" He found the bottle of pills on a high shelf, where Anne might not even have been able to see it, and sighed in relief.

"Too long. I promise I'll get a nap in once I'm sure these guys won't get into any trouble."

"And eat something."

"And I'll eat something. Love you, sweetie, give me a call when you're on your way home."

"Okay hon, love you too."

 

***

 

There was a surprisingly large heap of candy wrappers on the kitchen table when he got back downstairs.

"I wasn't even gone for three minutes, did you eat ALL of the chocolate?"

YES, Venom said, sounding much too self-satisfied. Eddie still had half a cup of tea and it seemed like he hadn't bothered trying to eat. Dan dragged out two cans from the pantry and found a large sauce pan. He was exhausted and didn't have time to worry about eating well, just eating. Eddie would have chicken noodle with him and Eddie would like it.

"If I give you medication will it have an effect on you, Eddie?"

He frowned and took a sip of tea. "I don't know. Vee?"

WE DON'T HAVE TO METABOLIZE EVERYTHING IN YOUR BODY. IF WE KNEW WHAT CHEMICAL TO LEAVE ALONE WE COULD LEAVE IT ALONE.

"Worth a shot," Dan said, and pulled a small orange bottle out of his pocket. "Xanax. My prescription. You understand, of course, that I'm not supposed to be sharing that and could have some significant problems if people found out I'd given it to you."

Eddie picked up the bottle and rolled it in his unnaturally shining black hands. Dan stirred the soup.

"Xanax. So. You're saying that was a panic attack."

"Flashback. But you're probably going to be dealing with some panic attacks for a while. And nightmares. And depression."

"Sounds fun."

"Yeah, it's a real party."

They sat in silence while Dan fussed at the stove and Eddie drank his tea. He set the bottle of pills on the table and leaned back from it.

"I went out last night," he said. "Got the bike back, followed a lead. Went out into the night. No problems."

"Yeah, then you sat in a nice comfy room and deliberately poked around in memories of the place where you were tortured."

"I'm an idiot."

Dan shook his head.

"You're not an idiot. You have recently survived major trauma in a situation that eliminated your autonomy. You're lashing out, you're panicking, you're having flashbacks, but you're not an idiot."

Eddie looked at his hands and remembered crying to Venom about how weak he was last night. He thought about the urge he'd been feeling to just do something, anything, and how it felt like he'd been spinning his wheels and wasting time when he wasn't working on something.

"Okay. Yeah. So what do I do? It's not like I can talk to a shrink about what happened, not unless we want to watch someone run for the hills when they see Vee."

Dan put the bowls on the table and sat down a plate of bread. He pushed food over to Eddie and paused.

"Talk when you're ready. Talk to me or Venom or Anne. Don't force it. Don't force yourself to work. Sleep and eat and watch TV. For now just get better." Dan eyed him with a frown. "You're still in pretty miserable shape, physically. You're underweight and exhausted." He began to eat his soup.

Eddie toyed with the spoon in his bowl.

TEACH US WORDS, Venom said, speaking out for the first time in a while.

"What?" Eddie looked over his shoulder at them. "You know plenty of words. You speak perfectly."

NO. WE KNOW WORDS BECAUSE YOU KNOW WORDS. WHEN WE COULDN'T SEE INSIDE YOUR HEAD WE COULDN'T SPEAK YOUR LANGUAGE.

"All they knew how to say was 'scared' and our names."

Eddie's face crumpled and he leaned into the the symbiote. "I'm sorry, love. I didn't know. We can do that, if you want."

YESSS, they hissed, bumping against his nose and curling over his shoulders like a scarf. WANT TO HELP IF IT HAPPENS AGAIN. WANT TO KNOW WORDS TO HELP.

Eddie ate some of his soup and took in the sight of the exhausted doctor. Dan's face was lined and pale, his clothing rumpled.

"Thank you. By the way," Eddie said, tapping at the edge of the table with slick fingers. "For helping me out of it. How do you know how to do that?"

Dan smiled wryly. "Becoming a surgeon is. Well. Let's just say it's not easy."

Eddie nodded seriously. He knew people who fainted at the sight of blood. He knew people who got sick to their stomachs at the mention of wounds. Humans were wired not to want to see their insides on the outside, and it seemed like that would be a hard hurdle to clear if you wanted to work on those insides.

"Well, I appreciate it. Thank you. How are you doing? You look like hammered shit."

Dan soaked a slice of bread in the broth at the bottom of his bowl and laughed. "I'm worn out. It's been a crazy two days and I'm running on fumes."

"Are. Have there been a lot of. Casualties?"

Dan shook his head. "We've mostly been seeing people with weird, painful scars. It seems like anyone who was going to die had already died by the time they got this far out from the facility. But we do have a couple of people who had, um. Similar injuries to yours. And that's been pretty ugly."

"What, messy amputations?"

Dan stood up and took his bowl to the sink, dropping the soaked piece of bread in the garbage disposal.

"Your limbs look better than they did the other day. Did you eat someone when you went out last night?"

Eddie shifted nervously. It was a weird question to be asked that bluntly.

"Yeah. A couple people."

Dan stared out the window and chewed at his lower lip. His shoulders were tense and his hands tight around the rim of the sink.

"Can I see the stumps? Please? Maybe just your arm?"

"Sure," he said, and held out his right arm. Venom shrank away from the stump and Dan touched the scarred skin carefully.

"No further pain or weakness as it regrows?"

"No, the scar tissue is tender. That's it."

"Venom, the re-growth is healthy? Feels normal?"

YES. SAME AS THE REST.

"And if you had to separate from Eddie it would be healthy?"

WON'T LEAVE EDDIE.

"Right, but if you had to, for a while, like if he needed an MRI, the limbs would stay like they are now?"

Eddie shifted uncomfortably. Dan's expression was closed but his eyes were shadowed with sadness.

"What happened?"

The doctor released his arm and turned away, standing back at the sink and looking out the window again. He sighed and his head drooped toward his chest.

"A couple of people came in and they seemed mostly okay. But after a few hours parts of them started to rot away. They reported having digits cut off and regrown. But the rot spread further than that. One woman lost a hand. We had to amputate a man above the knee. And we had to amputate his tongue. And maybe that wasn't enough. He's in critical condition and the gangrene is spreading throughout his oral cavity. He was in a hyperbaric chamber and loaded with antibiotics when I went home but all the tests for bacterial infection came back negative. We don't know why it was spreading. I. He might not make it."

"Jesus."

"Yeah."

"Are you gonna be okay? That sounds like it was awful to deal with."

Dan shrugged and lifted his head, shaking it and walking into the living room. He threw himself onto the couch heavily.

"I used to have a nightmare when I was doing clinicals. I'd be stitching someone up and the stitches would just pull through the skin, taking little bites out and making the edges more and more ragged until there was nothing left for the sutures to bite into. That's what it was like trying to work on this guy. Every time we went further it got worse. It's everything I've ever been scared of." He leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees, resting his face in his hands and covering his eyes. "The worst. The worst part of this job is. It's when you can't do anything. I got into medicine because I wanted to help people. And it always tears me up inside when I have to watch someone die instead of helping."

He smiled up at Eddie with watery eyes. "You've gotta take better care of yourself, man," Dan said, "because right now the only thing I'm hanging on to is that at least one of my patients is healing instead of dying."

Eddie smiled awkwardly and reached a clumsy hand out to grasp Dan's shoulder.

"I'll try," he said, because he couldn't think of anything else to say to a statement like that.

They sat in uncomfortable silence until Eddie realized that Dan had fallen asleep. He found a blanket folded on the back of a chair and covered the doctor where he leaned against the arm of the couch. Eddie and Venom stayed in the living room quietly trading words, ready to help if Dan woke up and needed them.

 

***

Chapter Text

It took a week for the four of them to fall into a pattern that felt comfortable, if not exactly natural.

Dan left early to chart and perform his scheduled procedures; Anne woke up later and spent a couple of hours at home researching before she headed to court or her firm. Venom and Eddie scrambled through doorways and windows at odd hours, sometimes bringing back takeout for the household and sometimes disappearing into the guest room in ominous silence.

The silence wasn't really silent, of course. When Eddie needed to scream or cry or tear at his skin Venom simply wrapped him up and swallowed his rage to hide it away from the world. It let Eddie bleed the poison out without scaring his hosts too badly. They collected a list of triggers, they talked to Dan and learned how to count Eddie's heartbeats until he'd calmed out of a flashback, they ate four more people from the Life Foundation labs.

Each of them was making progress on their own quiet little projects and none of them told the others anything about what they were doing.

 

***

 

Rich people almost never lost court cases. Extremely rich people basically didn't go to court at all. And in America corporations were about as likely to be held criminally responsible for doing harm as the sun was to fall from the sky.

Anne Weying was quietly beginning to believe that she was going to knock Apollo out of his goat-cart and into a pile of shit.

Carlton Drake may have been the founder, public face, and playboy superstar of the Life Foundation but his investors hadn't been stupid enough to make him the only person at the helm of the ship. He'd been on the board of directors but he wasn't the chair and there was at least a board for him to pretend to answer to.

The Life Foundation worked with NASA, which meant that they were a contractor with a US Government agency, which meant that they were being paid with taxpayer money, which meant that there were certain standards of data collection and retention that they had to adhere to.

Drake was the idea man and the wunderkind but he wasn't the only asshole on shit mountain and the rest of the assholes did things at least somewhat by the book.

That meant that there were minutes from board meetings. That meant that there were budgets and expense accounts and tax filings and documentation. That meant that there was an HR manual and an employee pension fund. That meant that there were hundreds of thousands of pages of relatively public information that Anne could trawl through to build a case against the Foundation before she even had to think about filing a case or requesting a subpoena.

And the case she was building was more solid than she'd ever dreamed.

She'd never thought that she would find a discussion of clinical trial deaths in the minutes of a board meeting four years ago. She hadn't imagined that she'd find a page of the Employee Handbook that completely violated OSHA and indicated that exposure to untested, potentially life-threatening chemicals was an expected risk of working in the medical research wing of the corporation. She had expected the binding arbitration clauses that employees agreed to would give employees the short end of the stick but she hadn't anticipated that there was a site where former employees would post their filings and copies of their grievances.

She'd worked from the initial news reports and reached out to individual survivors of the facility. She collected a list of their names and arranged a stack of statements from them. From their writing she compiled another list, and began looking for the small fry at the edges of the case; janitors and ultrasound technicians and cooks who had seen things and left the company with no severance and no one to give a shit who were all to happy to tell her about when executives had walked through hallways full of screaming and carefully avoided asking questions. These little fish on the edges were going to give her the tools she needed to take down the whale at the center of this ocean of misery.

Nobody fucked with her family like this and got away with it. It was time to fight ugly and Anne was doing so with a smile on her face.

 

***

 

Dan was a surgeon. He was supposed to do surgeries. Performing surgery was his job. As a surgeon.

None of which seemed to matter at all next to the fact that he was basically the only medical professional in the hospital who any of the Life Foundation survivors would open up to. If he had a procedure scheduled he did the procedure - in fact he'd removed two appendixes just this week - but when he wasn't scrubbed up he was in the one ward in the hospital where nurses wore jeans instead of scrubs and all lab coats had to be discarded before entry.

It had been his suggestion. Seeing the way that Eddie broke down at home Dan had wondered if something similar might be impacting the patients who still needed care. He'd visited a couple of them and started asking. Did they want to see more colors around them? Was anything making them nervous? Would they prefer it if he didn't wear the coat?

Nearly everyone who had come in from Drake's horrorshow of a lab had sighed in relief when he took off the white over-garment and sat in his Bugs Bunny scrubs instead.

So he'd talked to the other doctors and the patient advocates and the ethics board and it happened. Patients with scars carved into their faces or missing limbs or severe dehydration or, in too many cases, sexual trauma were moved to the west wing of the third floor. Curtains were hung on the walls, desk lamps were put in every room along with a radio and a cushiony, colorful robe.

Eddie had told him about the monotony of gray walls and gray sweats and the gray fog that seemed to surround him the whole time he was inside and Dan didn't want that for his patients, even if they weren't strictly his patients.

So he performed surgeries then did rounds on the third floor, listening kindly and wearing bright colors.

When a young woman with ugly marks on her back asked why he cared about them, or why she should think he actually cared, he'd told her.

"A friend of mine was in there. He's not doing so hot. I can't help him so I want to help you."

It had gotten around. The patients all knew but none of the staff did. It was a strange little secret, one that he didn't really care about keeping. He wasn't close to any of these people so no one would have removed him from the ward if they knew, but it made him feel closer to these patients, and them to him. The survivors waited for Dan to show up to talk about their nightmares or ask to see a specialist or reveal a new symptom. Dan would mention it to their nurses, it would end up in the chart. People were getting better. And if Dr. Lewis spent more time on the third floor than in surgery for a couple of weeks that was okay. People were getting better. He was doing his job.

 

***

 

In order to cancel a sound you have to play a version of that sound 180 degrees out of phase.

Venom had looked at those words and actually hissed at them, like Mr. Belvedere looking at Eddie, before Eddie simplified it.

"Sound moves in waves. Up, down, up, down. If you make one wave you hear the sound. But if you make a second wave where the ups and downs are opposed, so it looks like a string of bubbles or a strand of pearls instead of just the up-down-up-down of a wave, the noise gets cancelled out."

After that simplification Venom stopped hissing and just bit him instead.

It was a little bite, and they healed it immediately. But there was real feeling behind it.

WE DO NOT UNDERSTAND.

"It's simple physics."

SIMPLE PHYSICS IS STUPID.

So Eddie had laughed and showed them. He had a pair of second-hand noise cancelling headphones he'd bought from Mrs. Chen's rack of questionable electronics disassembled and spread out on the desk in the guestroom. The mess of wires was blended into an even bigger mess of wires that Eddie had pulled out of an old radio to get at the speaker.

He played a song on his phone then turned on the speaker and its unnaturally mated cluster of electronic junk. The contraption hissed for a second and then the song mostly faded away.

"If this were in an enclosure it would be totally silent; because the speaker is out in the open it isn't cancelling everything, but it's working," Eddie said, moving the phone away from the pile of wires. The song got louder when he moved it away, quieter when he got closer.

SIMPLE PHYSICS IS MAGIC, Venom said, moving its head closer to investigate. YOU CAN DO THIS TO THE SOUNDS THAT HURT US?

Eddie nodded and rolled his shoulders. "They're not loud sounds, it's just vibrations at that frequency that hurts, right?"

YES.

"Then yeah, it should work. If it's too loud we won't be able to counter it unless we can make the speaker as loud as the sound, but if it's the right level it shouldn't be a problem."

TRY IT.

Eddie raised an eyebrow at his other and they stared back at him placidly.

He turned the sound lower on his phone before he searched for a 4000 hZ tone on Youtube. He put the phone right next to the speaker and pushed play.

Nothing.

The sound was cancelled completely.

MOVE THE NOISE.

He nodded and reached out a hand, then stopped.

"We're idiots."

YES, BUT IT'S STILL WORKING.

"Yes, it is, but if I move it until the sound can't be cancelled we won't be able to move it back to the speaker."

He rolled his black hand on his black wrist and it melted away. His arms were nearly fully grown again but still stopped a few inches short of where his wrist should have been.

"We shouldn't be testing this alone. We should ask someone for help."

YOU CAN MOVE A PHONE WITH YOUR ARM. YOU DON'T NEED TO PICK IT UP, JUST TO PUSH IT.

"We should get help."

DAN AND ANNIE WILL BE GONE FOR HOURS. WE DON'T WANT TO WAIT.

"I don't want to hurt you. We can just work on talking for a while."

EDDIE.

"Vee."

IT'S GOOD THAT YOU ARE CAUTIOUS. IT'S GOOD THAT YOU WANT TO BE SAFE. BUT THIS IS A SIMPLE THING. YOU CAN DO THIS.

"It's good that you trust me, but if the battery in this speaker fails right now I can't turn the sound off on the phone. I do need fingers for that."

Klyntar didn't have a respiratory system, which meant they didn't breathe, which meant that Eddie didn't know how Venom managed to pull of such a realistic beleaguered sigh but he was sure he'd figure it out someday.

He moved his arm back toward the table, expanding the symbiote from the edges of his healing skin to make a hand again. He reached to turn the device off but the symbiote shot out a stiff tentacle of itself and pushed the phone to the edge of the table.

The high whine of the tone radiated out of the little electronic and Venom squalled, shuddering back inside of him and shivering. The phone was quiet but the noise still hurt them.

"You fucking asshole," Eddie groaned, and leaned toward the source of the noise. Venom had retracted completely inside of him and it was hard to balance on the chair and brace himself against the desk with his stumps. He reached out the remnants of his arm as far as he could and began dragging the phone back toward the speaker. As soon as he could get his arm between the phone and the edge of the desk it was simple, a single push silenced it again he was holding it down with one stump while he used the other to manifest a hand and stop the video of the tone.

WE KNEW YOU HAD IT IN YOU, EDDIE.

"Yeah, I've got something in me alright. And that something is an asshole. What if I'd knocked it off the desk?"

YOU DIDN'T. BUT YOU'VE ALSO GOT ENOUGH OF YOURSELF BACK THAT YOU CAN MOVE ON YOUR OWN NOW. YOU WOULD HAVE GOTTEN US AWAY.

"I can't move on my own, you know that."

I KNOW YOU WON'T TRY TO. BUT I KNOW THAT YOU CAN.

Eddie started to hang his head when Venom took over their body and walked him to the bed.

NO MORE SIMPLE PHYSICS TONIGHT. NOW SIMPLE PHYSICAL THERAPY.

Eddie grit his teeth. Dan had taught Venom the concept of puns three days ago and it had made the symbiote an utterly insufferable bedfellow.

OR DID YOU MEAN AN INSUFFERABLE HEADFELLOW, it thought to him, reading his frustration and echoing in his mind.

"How about just utterly insufferable?" Eddie asked as Venom pulled away from his extremities and wrapped around his torso.

YOU SUFFER ME BEAUTIFULLY, EDDIE.

"You're impossible."

NO, JUST ASTRONOMICALLY IMPROBABLE.

Eddie was also going to have to have words with Dan about introducing Vee to Douglas Adams.

But he was smiling and relaxed, and managed to keep up that smile through a few sets of exercises with Venom, even managing to crawl in a couple of circles on the floor on his elbows and knees with good grace before the Klyntar was satisfied.

"Thank you for trusting me, dear, but if you take a risk like that again without telling me first I'm going to lock up all the chocolate in the house and make you eat lentils for three days."

Venom chuckled inside of him. JOKE'S ON YOU, IF WE SKIP CHOCOLATE THAT JUST MEANS WE NEED TO EAT MORE PEOPLE.

"We need to eat more people anyway, I'm tired of feeling helpless like this."

YOU'RE NOT HELPLESS. YOU'RE GETTING BETTER.

"Not fast enough."

The creature rose up around his neck and wrapped around Eddie like a stole, purring and soothing.

WE MADE THE NOISE CANCELLER WORK TODAY. SOON WE WILL HAVE A SHIELD AND WE CAN EAT MORE GUARDS WITH LESS WORRY. THEN YOU'LL BE BACK TO NORMAL IN NO TIME.

"What if it stops working?"

Eddie's voice was small and shaky but Venom heard him anyway.

THEN YOU WILL STILL GET STRONGER AND LEARN HOW TO MOVE AND WE WILL MAKE COOL ROBOT HANDS FOR YOU, BUT IT IS NOT GOING TO STOP WORKING.

Eddie chuckled briefly, and scrubbed a hand over his eyes.

"I don't know, I'm not sure I can make cool robot hands."

YOU CAN MAKE ANYTHING. YOU'RE AMAZING.

"I'm glad someone thinks so."

WE DO, EDDIE. ALWAYS.

 

Chapter Text

Longview stank. It was a tiny town just north of the Washington/Oregon border and the scent of it hit Eddie in the face like a sack of bricks when he and Venom rolled into town in the middle of the night. Longview was a river town. A mill town. A paper and pulp town. And it smelled like it.

It also smelled like decades of decay and a stagnating job market and cowshit and human misery.

It was a shithole. Which made it seem utterly reasonable that Scepter Research, the Life Foundation subsidiary that hired through Paladin Security Service, in Longview was actually tucked away in the woods instead of in the rusting industrial center of the town. Who would want to actually exist in the stain that was Longview when there were cool miles of dark woods surrounding its tin-can littered borders?

The fact that the sea of trees would soak up any screaming was probably just gravy, Eddie reflected as he stared at the ugly concrete office through Venom's swirling eyes.

WHY DO YOU THINK THERE WILL BE SCREAMING, EDDIE?

"Well when they meet you there's gonna be some screaming for sure, but I got a hunch that we're gonna find something nasty in there. We wouldn't be here otherwise."

They had scoured the Paladin employment forum for weeks, reading back through years of threads of employees bitching about cafeteria food and the slow growth of Christmas bonuses as he assembled a pattern that made a vague shape in his thoughts.

Paladin security didn't train its staff at Scepter, it sent staff here. There was a surge every winter that dwindled as workers were shifted slowly back to Reno and Redding as the summer wore closer. Guards bitched about their transfers with the same gusto and tired joking as they used to decry rubbery eggs for breakfast so it was easy, really, for Eddie to see when the busy season was.

Winter.

When it was cold and dark and people would take almost any offer that would get them off of the cold streets.

Reno surged in the summer while Petaluma and Redding were stable year-round. But Longview got busy when it was too cold to turn down an offer of shelter.

He couldn't say for sure that the transfers during the dark months had anything to do with the Life Foundation or San Francisco's vulnerable homeless population. He couldn't say for sure, but he had a hunch.

And Eddie Brock's hunches were never just hunches.

 

***

 

"They're homeless, they go missing, Eddie. Don't read too much into it. People pack up and head down the coast to get away from the fog here all the time. It's not like they're going to leave a forwarding address."

Eddie had rolled his eyes at Jack but, since it was his third month at the network, restrained himself from shouting "horseshit" at his new boss's shortsightedness. Instead he tried for diplomacy.

"Yeah, people lose their homes in the bay all the time and they move out of the bay all the time. What I'm telling you is that the numbers I'm getting are weird. Sure, people don't check with the census when they've been booted out by the bank but there are still predictable patterns."

"And where are you getting these predictable patterns from? Police reporting? Zillow?"

"The National Coalition for the Homeless."

Jack had cocked an eyebrow at that. "Is that sort of organization really reliable?"

Eddie had snorted but managed to not yell. "Since they track shelter beds and newly empty homes and actually put volunteers on the street in contact with people without homes I'd say they're more reliable than the city housing groups."

The editor grumbled and moved a pen on the big, blank blotter on his desk.

"So what are you telling me, Eddie? What kind of story do you think you've got here? The homeless are running away from their shopping carts? Someone's upset at a downtick in the pins on the shit-map?"

Okay, Eddie was starting to get more pissed than he could really handle and hope to keep stable employment. He twisted the beads on his wrist and spoke slowly.

"Rent is going up, people are losing their homes. People are getting onto the street in high numbers but they're disappearing in higher numbers. They aren't following classic migration patterns because there's no corresponding bump in section 8 applications here or anywhere else for three states around," he chanced a look up at his employer and couldn't read the expression there, didn't know the man well enough. He forged on anyway. "And the people I've been talking to say that something's up. People who have been in the same spot for years vanish overnight. And yeah, it's not like they're expecting a going away party or anything but just because someone's homeless doesn't mean he can't have friends. You'd tell your friends if you were going to move and a woman who's shared the same corner of a shelter with someone for a year is gonna say if she's gonna get out of town." He swallowed hard and forced himself to maintain eye contact. "Jack, I think someone's killing them. Picking them up then taking them away out of the city and killing them."

Jack steepled his fingers under his chin.

"So you've got some numbers from a homeless charity and some stories out of some junkies. That's what you want to run with on a story?"

Reminding himself to take slow deep breaths because he had to help with the rent and he couldn't help with the rent if he got fired, Eddie shook his head.

"I also got some weird numbers from morgues. And landfills."

"Landfills?"

"Yeah. In an average year a big city landfill will find somewhere between two and seven bodies. The Sacramento Waste Authority has found fifteen so far this year."

"And it's only August."

"Yeah. They found forty last year."

Jack sucked at the inside of his cheek before nodding.

"Okay, I don't want this to be your main course but you can chase it as a side. Talk to me before you budget anything for it, don't let it keep you from the bigger shit, but you can chase this."

"What's bigger than forty dead people in a dump last year, Jack?"

"Stories about people whose names the readers will recognize."

Eddie's hands froze in a knot on his lap and his eyes fixed on the fading knees of his jeans as he grit his teeth together to keep from responding to that. Jack seemed to understand, at least a little.

"I know it's shit, Eddie. I know it's a crap thing to say. But we've gotta move papers and we've gotta get clicks. You're doing great work on the city council and the mayor's office. And the people who pay for papers want to read more about the mayor's affairs than they do about someone who couldn't hack it in the city and maybe moved to someplace warm."

 

***

 

He had chased the story, turning in receipts for pulled real estate records and cups of coffee and hundreds of sandwiches and Jack had grit his teeth over every dollar but never said to stop. And Eddie had been getting somewhere before everything went to hell with Drake. He'd hated himself for how he got Jack onboard but he'd done it.

"A serial killer who only kills people who don't matter is a serial killer with a high count. And that will sell a fuck of a lot of papers."

He'd been carefully scratching at the story for two years and felt safer calling Jack an asshole when he dropped that line, but it got him a per-diem and permission to prioritize. He'd found more patterns. There were four landfills with more Jane and John Does than there should have been. The numbers of people who dropped off the face of the planet soared in the cold. He'd started a book of names and descriptions and it went against all the standard logic. The people disappearing fit into two categories that shouldn't have been possible: street veterans who knew how to handle themselves and young people who should have popped up somewhere on the grid if they'd made it out instead of getting cut out. Eddie had dozens of facebook profiles bookmarked, profiles that went from posts about hard times at work to requests for couches to crash on to alerts about cold weather to sudden and permanent silence.

He'd been able to hoof it out to one landfill and report live on a body and a problem before he got fired.

After that he didn't have the resources to keep track of the numbers but he did what he could to keep buying sandwiches and coffee, and he did everything he could to warn people when the weather started getting colder.

 

***

 

The Paladin guard who had drawn their map of Scepter Research had initially thought he was talking to Bill, the young blonde guard they had eaten three weeks before meeting up with and subsequently devouring their source. Roger Simmons hadn't worked at the Petaluma site when Eddie was being held there but that was only because of an extended sick leave. Roger had chatted with "Bill" about which Paladin Security staff had ended up where and had sealed his fate with a single name.

Eddie felt slimy as they talked, sick to his stomach when they switched from discussing work to pleasure.

 

rsimms: u need to chekc in, soon. theyre freaked that people r dropping.
bbrandt: yea me too, lol. i thought there was no getting out of our pal's hands.
rsimms: there isnt
rsimms: I think people are getting their cashouts
bbrandt: fuk. ok. i'll come in. but u know me. to pretty, gotta hide, im in the videos
rsimms: we shouldve worn masks, we should wear masks now, or have no cameras we're so fucking stupid
bbrandt: hindshigt. at least it was fun.
rsimms: man getting my dick wet isn't worth a life on the run
bbrandt: was for me lol
rsimms: bullshit your hole wasn't even good looking
bbrandt: sucked cock good enouf to make up for it
rsimms: nobody sucks dick good enough for that
bbrandt: maybe you shoulda tried another.
rsimms: nah i had mine trained good
bbrandt: what did u call her? you had a funny name for her
rsimms: didn't call her shit, that was just her name
bbrandt: u got one where ur at now? wanna share if i make it up?
rsimms: no way man, mami maria is all mine

 

Eddie's head swam with Marias. He had pushed away from his laptop and couldn't make it to the toilet in time so he puked in the sink. He kept heaving long after his stomach was empty and when he caught his face in the mirror it was pale and looked worse than it had in weeks. He had been sitting and chatting shirtless so he got a good look at his arms. They were back to halfway down his forearms, clean and pure and untouched by anything but Venom and on his shoulder, where there was still an ugly scar, was another broken Maria staring back. Begging for salvation.

WE WERE ALWAYS GOING TO KILL HIM, EDDIE. THIS DOESN'T CHANGE THINGS.

"Sure it does, pal," Eddie had said, and leaned his head against the symbiote that poured out to cover the remnants of the tattoo that kept haunting him with her name. "Now we're gonna kill him slow."

 

***

 

Roger Simms had lived and died an asshole, and he tasted like it. But he drew a good map, even under duress. Even as they ate him one bite at a time to extract his forum login, his email login, and every memory of every inch of Scepter Research that he could give them.

He told them that the Petaluma site was bigger by orders of magnitude, but that Scepter could hold a couple hundred people. He told them there were a dozen guards on rotation now. He told them his code to enter the building and when Venom took another bite out of him for lying he told them about the biometrics they would need for each door and elevator.

If he thought that would keep him alive he was mistaken; Venom ripped off his hands and plucked out his eyes and tucked them warm and safe inside of Eddie where they'd stay fresh and useful for three more days.

At least the map was done before they took the eyes.

When they'd ridden to Portland to meet with Simms Eddie's legs had still been stumps barely long enough to balance on but as he mounted the bike for the final push to Longview they were nearly back to his knees and his arms had wrists again. He chuckled darkly and rotated the hands Venom made for him on the freshly-grown bones.

"You keep takin' em apart and putting me back together, love. You're a miracle."

ALL LIFE IS A MIRACLE, Venom had replied. LET'S GO END SOME.

Chapter Text

They crouched in a tree forty feet above the ground, hidden by thick clumps of needles, and watched as a truck drove up the unmarked road to the chain-link gate of Scepter Research. For the last three hours all they'd heard were the drip of rain and the deep, constant hum of an air conditioning system somewhere in the facility. The concrete face of the building peeked out of the greenery, a flat and lazy tongue of pavement trailed away into the trees.

The chain link wasn't electrified but trees were cleared for twenty yards on either side of it along the whole perimeter. It was too far for them to jump unseen in the gray daylight so they waited for a ride.

It was laughably simple to jump from the low branches of a pine tree to the top of the trailer of a delivery truck. With their big claws it was even easier to crawl down the roll-gate of the trailer and hide in the undercarriage.

The trip to the top was rapid, the guard at the gate didn't check the trailer for hitch-hikers and with no effort Eddie and Venom were inside of Scepter Research as their ride backed into a bay on the north side of the facility.

They had been delivered to the working side of a cafeteria; in the noise and rattle of opening up the refrigerated trailer they slunk past the kitchen and into a nondescript beige door marked "authorized access only". Venom's chest bubbled as it spit out Simms' hand-drawn map. They pushed the guard's preserved right hand and both eyes out of the taut flesh of their palm where they could manipulate the nerves and press buttons to enter codes.

"That's creepy, babe," Eddie's voice whispered in Venom's thoughts.

WE DON'T THINK IT'S CREEPY, EDDIE. IT'S HANDY, WOULDN'T YOU SAY?

"Terrible," their host said, but they could feel his smile inside of them. "Look at the map. Where do we go?"

NOTHING WORTH LOOKING AT ON THE TOP TWO FLOORS. OFFICES AND RECEPTIONISTS, THAT'S ALL. RESEARCH ON THE THIRD FLOOR DOWN. THE TWO FLOORS BELOW THAT ARE LABS. THEN STORAGE.

"You think that means mops and computers or people and bodies?"

THE FLOOR UNDER IT IS COLD STORAGE.

"So okay, bodies at the bottom. Stairs?"

They descended three flights of stairs with no interruption but when they found the first lab floor a door blocked their path. A fingerprint reader was next to the handle and Venom carefully pushed Simms' right forefinger onto the pad. The indicator above the handle winked green and they went on.

It was dimmer in the lab, and weirdly hushed. Simms had said that there were only twelve guards in rotation but Eddie still felt uneasy about how quiet it was in the halls. Fewer guards meant they didn't have as many prisoners, and the further they went the more creeped out Eddie got. They walked past ten rooms full of sparkling glass and clean counters and no people whatsoever before they passed another locked door and finally heard sounds of life.

This hall was lined with cells that looked so sterile and familiar that a chill crept up Eddie's spine. The cells were small and empty but there were voices somewhere nearby. Eddie swallowed hard. At least nobody was screaming or moaning.

Beyond the empty cells there was a short hallway with three closed doors. The one right in front of them looked suspiciously like an operating theater to Eddie's jittery mind.

"That one first," he thought to his other, and felt its jaw drop wide open in anticipation.

 

***

 

There was no patient strapped to the table, but otherwise the room was a mirror of the one Eddie had spent so much time in. He only had a second to take it in and feel a cramp of terror in his guts before everything exploded into action around them.

A red-scrubbed nurse happened to be looking toward the door, so she was the first one to see them and her shrieks of terror caused an immediate uproar. Venom lunged into the room and bounded toward the nurse, catching her throat in their clawed hand and cutting off her voice before turning to identify the other threats. A guard in black was raising a radio to his mouth until he very suddenly didn't have a recognizable mouth - or much of a head - after a thick tentacle of the symbiote's flesh slashed forward and slammed his head into the wall behind him so hard that his skull shattered nearly instantly. An orderly was scrabbling at a keypad by a side door until the alien yanked him away roughly, dragging him to stand beside the nurse.

She had a hold on Venom's wrist, trying to take the pressure off her neck and get enough air to shout; the orderly was moaning over what looked like a shattered femur. Venom shook them both roughly and loomed over them.

HOW MANY GUARDS, it demanded. When it released its grip to let them speak the nurse tried to scream again so it shook them harder. TELL ME HOW MANY GUARDS THERE ARE AND BE QUIET OR WE'RE GOING TO EAT YOUR HEAD, it growled at her. The orderly still hadn't looked up from his leg.

"I don't know," the nurse gurgled, eyes rolling with fear. "They change shifts all the time, oh god, please - "

THEN PRISONERS. HOW MANY?

"We don't have prisoners," she squealed, her white shoes squeaking on the floor as she struggled to push away from the mouthful of glinting teeth that was moving slowly closer to her face.

YOU HAVE A LOT OF CELLS FOR SOMEPLACE WITH NO PRISONERS.

"They're gone, the patients are gone," tears and snot were creeping down her reddening face.

WHERE?

"They're dead."

ALL OF THE PRISONERS ARE DEAD?

"Yes, please let me go, please, please just - "

Venom growled and their tongue reached out to taste her sweat and fear.

WERE THEY SICK? They rumbled, tensing and flexing their huge jaw.

"N-no," she whined.

THEN HOW DID THEY DIE?

She sobbed and her feet scrambled underneath her as she redoubled her efforts to break the grip around her neck.

IF THEY WERE NOT SICK HOW DID THEY DIE, Venom flicked their wrist and her knees hit the tile floor with a loud, awful crack. DID THEY DIE OR WERE THEY KILLED?

"Please," she whimpered, "please, I have children - "

WERE THE PATIENTS HERE KILLED? MAYBE AS THEY WERE SKINNED ALIVE? MAYBE AS THEY WERE CUT UP INTO LITTLE SCREAMING PIECES OF MEAT LIKE YOU?

"Y-yes, but - "

AND DID YOU HELP TO KILL THEM?

The crotch of her scrubs darkened suddenly as her bladder let go. "Oh god," she whined.

THAT'S WHAT I THOUGHT.

Her scream was silenced abruptly as Venom casually bit off her head.

The orderly was still staring stupidly at his leg, oblivious to what was happening in spite of the flecks of blood that landed on his face when Venom turned to face him.

WHAT IS YOUR JOB HERE, they asked.

He looked calmly up at them. "There's something wrong with my leg, I think."

"He's in shock," Eddie spoke up inside of them. "He's not going to tell us anything."

SHOULD WE LEAVE HIM?

"No matter what he was doing here he's seen the cells. Make me some hands, love."

 

***

 

The other two rooms were empty of people but full of information. Venom pulled away from Eddie far enough that he was able to pull a thumb drive out of his pocket and start copying documents from the third computer they explored - the one with a list of passwords taped to the bottom of the monitor.

While the files copied he studied his hands and tried to keep from crying. The symbiote had stayed wrapped around him below the waist but kept free of his chest and arms, draping itself over him like a cape so that he could have his arms free.

He stretched and flexed his fingers, turning his hands palm up and palm down over and over. They were his hands, broad palms with jutting knuckles and long, tapered fingers. But they weren't his hands. Like all of his new flesh they were pale and unmarked, with none of the calluses he'd built up from weight-lifting or the scars he'd accumulated over a lifetime of mistakes.

He turned his palms up one more time and Venom sent tendrils down his forearms to pool in the palms and twist back over his fingers, interlocking with the human flesh to squeeze at him and feel him squeeze back.

Eddie gripped at the symbiote and raised both fists to his lips, where he gently kissed the places that his other covered him.

"Thank you," he whispered, trying to keep his voice even.

ANYTHING FOR YOU, EDDIE. EVERYTHING FOR YOU.

He didn't trust himself to speak again but trusted the symbiote to understood how he felt as he nodded and went back to work. While the final files were copying he took out his cellphone and started taking pictures of paper documents, including a gruesome folder full of photos of the work they'd been doing in the lab. The thought that there were no lives to save here was something he'd have to face later, but for now he could only allow himself to feel a sick kind of relief that the people in the photos weren't hurting anymore.

 

***

 

They descended the stairwell and opened the door to the next lab and walked into a wall of pain.

Venom shrieked and boiled around Eddie, howling their hurt and rage into the echoing tile of the hall. As they gibbered and shivered and withdrew inside of him to try to escape Eddie saw the source of the injury - a wide-eyed guard was approaching them with one of the sonic guns in his hand. As the sight registered to him Venom sank completely inside of him, and Eddie dropped hard to the ground where he continued to writhe and shout.

The guard kept coming forward, his teeth bared in a snarl and panicked little puffs of air pushing out of his chest as he stood over Eddie, darting out a quick little kick to make sure the threat was neutralized.

Which was, of course, his last mistake. As soon as the guard was close enough Eddie darted out his brand new hands to wrap around the offending ankle and pull the guard off his feet and down to the floor. His head hit the ground but his finger stayed firm on the trigger of the sound gun so Eddie pulled himself over the struggling man until he was able to wrap his arms around the guard's throat in a chokehold.

The guard thrashed against the weight on his back and the pressure on his neck so Eddie pulled harder with his right arm while pushing against the back of the guard's skull with his left hand, forcing him more firmly into the hold as his struggles got weaker and weaker until his hand relaxed against the gun and it fell out of his loosened grip.

Once the sound stopped Venom withdrew from the shield strapped around Eddie's chest under his hoodie to twine around their host.

BEAUTIFUL, BEAUTIFUL, CLEVER EDDIE, they crooned in a deep, satisfied purr. They thickened around his arms and wrenched their hands apart, snapping the guard's neck with a sound like ripping the leg off of a turkey. SUCH A GOOD HOST, A GOOD MATCH, SO STRONG AND SMART PROTECTING US.

Eddie chuckled as they covered his face. "You're just happy you're not getting fried by that thing anymore."

BECAUSE YOU WERE SMART ENOUGH TO KEEP US SAFE, SO GOOD AT BEING GOOD TO US.

"If you keep going you're gonna make me blush," he said as they stood and picked up the sonic gun, tucking it inside of Venom's mass for safe keeping.

GONNA MAKE YOU DO SOMETHING ELSE SOON, LOVE YOU NEED YOU DID SO GOOD TO KEEP US SAFE.

Eddie felt a hot flush rush up from his chest to burn in his face as Venom flashed visions of their tongue wrapped around his neck or pulsing inside of him through his mind.

"Later," he laughed, "you can be a horny bucket of slime later, when we're not in a building full of dead people."

THEN LET'S KILL THE REST AND GET OUT OF HERE.

 

***

 

There was only one other guard on the lower levels of the facility and they made short work of him and another orderly, both of whom were locked in a room with a full wall display of security footage until Venom got at them by the simple expedient of ripping the door out of the wall. They erased all footage of their time in the facility and stopped the recording before copying all of the security footage they could find onto another thumb drive. There was an office on the floor full of more medical paperwork with a white lab coat hung on the door and a stethescope in a drawer but they couldn't find the doctor that wore them so they rifled his drawers until they came up with an envelope addressed to Chase Stanley, MD, of Longview. They took a photo of the address and descended to the final floor.

Simms had described it as cold storage, which was accurate. It was a morgue.

Eddie took out his phone and filmed rank after rank of drawers, opening them one at a time to find dozens of bodies. Each drawer had an ID tag but they all listed subject numbers, no names. He opened all of the drawers and closed them on camera, then kept filming as he ascended each flight of stairs, making sure to capture any doorplates with names and carefully showing the operating theater and hallway of empty cells before he went further up. He didn't bother with the administrative floors, not wanting Venom to make a scene that might involve eating people who were innocent and unaware of what happened under their feet. Finally he made it to an exterior door and emerged into the gray daylight, phone still held in front of him with the video unbroken, until he had walked around to the front of the facility where he could be sure that the name "Scepter Research" was in frame.

They left by bounding over the fence on the opposite side of the compound, uncaring about the dead eyes of the cameras now that they'd destroyed the video feed. They melted into the woods a few hours before dusk, and loped through the trees, exhilarated and on the hunt. They had a doctor to find.

Chapter Text

 

Chase Stanley, MD, had a boring office. 

His practice was full of the same fake plants, old magazines, weird smells, and faded faux-impressionist prints as every other small town practice in America and Dr. Stanley's office in particular was so crammed with framed diplomas and an over-large desk that it might as well have been a set designed to convey "boring doctor's office" in a soap opera. 

The computer was pretty interesting in comparison, and it was what Eddie was looking at when the doctor came in to grab his briefcase after seeing the last patient of the day. 

He froze when he saw Eddie at the desk, his hands on the keyboard and his face lit from below by the blue glow of the monitor. 

"What are -" the doctor choked out indignantly before Eddie started speaking. 

"You know it's a HIPAA violation for a doctor to keep patient records on a computer that isn't password protected." His fingers skittered over the keys and the light on his face changed. "But from what I'm seeing here you probably don't care so much about confidentiality. Or informed consent. Or, really, people when you get right down to it."

"Who are you? You can't be in here."

"Me? I'm nobody. I'm just a guy," Eddie said with a smile full of sharp teeth. "I don't want to talk about me, Dr. Stanley. I want to talk about you. And Scepter Research. And all these videos I found here." He turned the monitor on its stand and the screen was a wash of blood. The video was soundless but the subject of the footage was clearly screaming. 

Dr. Stanley bolted for the door. Two enormous black hands bracketed his head and slammed the door shut before he could make his way out. 

TELL US ABOUT SCEPTER, DOCTOR, Venom rumbled, AND MAYBE WE'LL LET YOU DIE IN PRISON INSTEAD OF WHILE PISSING ON YOUR UGLY CARPET. 

 

***

 

"I know most doctors think they're god, I just don't know why everyone else lets 'em get away with it," Eddie complained as they hiked back into the darkening woods to retrieve the bike. "It's crazy that Scepter or the Life Foundation or any of these places don't make the eggheads stick to basic security protocols."

IT WORKED OUT WELL FOR US. DR. SKIRTH WASN'T EXACTLY A MASTER ASSASSIN. 

"But that's what I mean, if there had been just one guarded station inside the building -" an irritated buzz kept Eddie from finishing that thought as he dug his phone out of his pocket. A little trill of excitement fluttered in his chest at the new-but-familiar feeling of his nimble hands patting down his pockets. 

"Annie! Hi! Um, I thought I told you I'd be out of -"

"What the fuck do you think you're doing, Eddie?"

"Well like I said, I'm working this story and -"

"Why do I suddenly have a hundred hours of surveillance footage in my drop box? Why is a doctor in the middle of nowhere sending me Life Foundation patient records?"

Eddie smirked and was glad she couldn't see it. "I don't know, maybe his conscience was eating away at him. Is it useful?"

"It's radioactive! There's no chain of evidence, I have no way to certify the veracity of any of it, and there's no good reason for me to have it so it's really suspicious that I do!"

"There's no good reason for the Bee and the Chronicle to have it either."

"Oh, god Eddie, tell me you didn't."

He clenched his free hand and listened to the soft sounds of the forest around him. He counted to ten slowly in his head. He tried to remember that he loved Annie. That she was a good person. 

"Eddie -"

"I didn't do anything, and if I did I sure as hell wouldn't talk about it on a cell phone linked to the county prosecutor's office. I'm working a story. I'll be back in a day or two."

"Eddie!" But he was already terminating the call. The phone started to buzz in his hand immediately so he turned it off. 

He huffed out a tense breath and resumed the walk back to the bike. The sun had gone down and stars were starting to peek out between the branches of the canopy overhead. 

"What's it like when someone does something wrong where you're from," he asked the darkness. 

Venom stretched out from underneath the collar if his jacket and wrapped around his shoulders like a shawl. 

COMPLICATED, the symbiote said. WE DON'T SEE WRONG THE WAY THAT YOU SO. WE SEE POWER, WE SEE OBEDIENCE, WE SEE COLONY. THINGS ARE SIMPLER BUT OPINIONS ABOUT THEM ARE COMPLICATED.

"What do you mean?"

WE WANT SIMPLE THINGS. FOOD, HOSTS, TO BE STRONG ENOUGH TO SURVIVE. WE DON'T MAKE ART, WE DON'T DO SCIENCE. NO ONE ON KLYNTAR WOULD KILL SOMEONE FOR AN EXPERIMENT. BUT WE WOULD KILL TO MAINTAIN POWER, OR TO EAT. WE. THEY. THEY KILL THEIR HOSTS, BECAUSE A SCARED HOST IS A STRONGER HOST AND FEEDS US MORE FULLY. 

Eddie paused in his steps and looked up to the stars, sucking his teeth. He could make out the shine of dim light glinting off the headlight of his bike a hundred yards away.

"They? But not you?"

SOME OF US THINK THERE IS A BETTER WAY. THAT WE DON'T HAVE TO KILL, DON'T HAVE TO BE PARASITES. WE ARE FEARED, WE ARE A PLAGUE. BUT WE DON'T HAVE TO BE. WE CAN SHARE INSTEAD OF SWALLOWING UP WORLDS AND LEAVING MISERY IN OUR WAKE.

"You came here with Riot to invade."

THOSE OF US WHO BELIEVE IN BETTER THINGS ARE A SMALL FACTION. WEAK. WE DIDN'T HAVE A CHOICE. EAT OR BE EATEN. 

"But you shared with me anyway."

Venom slithered out to wrap itself around Eddie. The symbiote engulfed him, squeezing around his torso and trickling down his arms to swallow up his hands. It left his head and throat clear to his collarbone but used a tendril to pull his head to the side so that when it formed a head and rose out of his shoulder it could lave its dripping tongue over the exposed length of his neck. 

AND YOU PROVED THAT WE WERE RIGHT. WE ARE STRONGER WITH WILLING HOSTS, WE LEARN BETTER WHEN WE SHARE INSTEAD OF TAKING. BUT SOMETIMES TAKING IS GOOD TOO.

Eddie hummed as the huge mouth scraped under his jaw, scoring the delicate skin of his throat. The wood and water smell of the trees suddenly blended with the scent of copper before his other licked the little wounds away. 

"Do the rest want to share like this too? Take like you do? "

Venom chuckled and withdrew back inside of its host, leaving only its hovering head to nuzzle into the soft, short hairs at the nape of Eddie's neck. 

THEY DON'T EVEN KNOW THIS IS POSSIBLE. WE NEVER KNEW, NEVER DREAMED WE COULD FIND A HOST LIKE YOU. 

 

*** 

 

They made it to Grant's Pass before it was too cold to keep riding through the night. Eddie pulled off of the 5 and into the dark streets of the ski town in search of someplace to warm up and take a look at the data he'd gathered. 

An all-night diner with an empty counter and a single bored waitress was exactly what he was looking for and when he found it he happily ordered two burgers, three slices of pie, a huge cup of black coffee, and a mug of hot chocolate just for Venom to sneakily drink while Eddie opened his laptop and started organizing files.

Dr. Stanley had revealed that he, and therefore all of Scepter Research, were taking orders from someone higher up the food chain. Patients and medications arrived at regular intervals along with explicit experimental protocols and stringent documentation requirements. 

It seemed like the Life Foundation was for preliminary research and Scepter was for refinement and replication, which explained the smaller and more select patient roster. 

Eddie looked over the last three years of delivery manifests and had to set aside his lemon meringue. 

The manifests listed people like toilet paper or staplers, just another type of supply delivered in a crate and stored in a closet. Each year the patient records had something different in common; for the first year he found all of their captives had cancer. Next it was exclusively east Asian prisoners. The most recent manifest had only prisoners under twenty years old. 

Eddie's thoughts flashed back to the endless tower of full drawers at the morgue and Simms' attitude about not sharing the patient he'd trained to please him. Eddie wished he could kill everyone at Scepter all over again. 

He opened the doctor's notes on the last year's worth of research to see what had killed all those lost kids in the dark, cold boxes so far underground. It wasn't pretty. 

Blood loss was a clear winner, taking out about twenty percent of the prisoners, but unspecified trauma came in second. "Rejection" was nearly as common as trauma. Suicide was near the bottom of the list. Malnutrition fell somewhere in the middle. 

He read the doctor's notes on blood loss and rejection and after that the connection was undeniable. Scepter had been testing symbiote-based coagulants on homeless kids for the last year. 

Eddie put his face in his hands and got his heartbeat back to something approaching normal before he opened Stanley's archived email from the last two months. It didn't take long at all before he found pictures of his own striped, gory torso attached to instructions for the next quarter. He wasn't surprised to see that Drake had wanted to expand on his successful tests with Eddie even if the new drugs had killed all of his other subjects. What did surprise Eddie was that Stanley's latest email from the Life Foundation was only three days old and was very much still on track to test deadly experimental drugs on kidnapped homeless prisoners. 

He really needed to talk to Annie.

 

***

 

"Do we go to Reno, do we go to Redding, or do we go home?"

Eddie had finished his enormous meal and gotten a refill of his coffee before he gave the waitress a fifty dollar tip and told her that now would be a good time to take her lunch break. Venom was hidden between Eddie's body and the wall but he still didn't want an observer for this conversation. 

THAT DEPENDS. WHAT ARE WE DOING WITH ALL OF THIS? WHERE ARE WE GOING, EDDIE? 

"I don't know," he said, shaking his head. "That's the problem."

WHAT WOULD BE THE BEST THING? 

"Well number one, no more dead prisoners. Number two, to see all of these places shut down and anyone who knew what was happening dead or in jail. Number three, sleep for a year."

WE CAN KILL WHO YOU WANT TO BUT MAYBE WE CAN'T KEEP PEOPLE FROM DYING WITHOUT HELP. DO WE TELL SOMEONE ABOUT RENO AND REDDING?

"We don't know what's in Redding. It's just Paladin, and Paladin is connected to all of this but they're just guards. We don't have anything to tell anyone except that Paladin trains guards in Redding and has a forum."

SO WHAT ABOUT RENO?

"I think it's another branch of the Life Foundation. I think it's like Scepter. I think it's full of people or full of bodies."

WHY?

"The forum, the guard movements. It's more stable than Longview but it's more guards overall than they should need if they're a normal medical research facility."

HOW DO YOU KNOW IT'S MORE THAN THEY SHOULD NEED?

"Size. They're in an industrial park; it's a small space in the middle of the city. They shouldn't need a hundred guards to patrol perimeter. A normal small office doesn't even have a hundred employees total."

SO DO WE GO OR DO WE TELL?

"I don't know. I don't know if we have enough to tell anyone. They hire the same guards as the Life Foundation, they're a subsidiary of the Life Foundation and they're bigger than they should be but maybe from the outside they looks like it could be legitimate. Maybe someone already investigated and figured out that it's all above board."

IT DIDN'T SEEM LIKE ANYONE HAD INVESTIGATED SCEPTER.

"Yeah. But now that Scepter is on the news someone will go to Reno."

AND MAYBE NOW THAT SCEPTER IS ON THE NEWS THEY'LL JUST BURN THE RENO FACILITY TO THE GROUND AND HIDE THE EVIDENCE. 

"Yeah. Yeah, maybe." Eddie scrubbed his hands over his face and covered his eyes. "I fucked up. Vee, I fucked up I shoulda told Annie, I shoulda told the cops what if they kill everyone to keep it quiet? What if they kill everyone and it's my fault?"

YOU DIDN'T KIDNAP ANYONE, EDDIE. YOU DIDN'T LOCK PEOPLE UP IN CAGES AND CUT THEM UP. 

"We gotta go. I've. Annie will know what to do."

Chapter Text

Okay so here's the deal: in September my mom died, in October my father in law died, and shit had been kind of crazy so I started this fic to distract myself from a lot of stuff that was making me miserable.

Well the miserable stuff continued and it got harder and harder to write and I was only getting down like a hundred words a day.

Then a week ago my husband had a heart attack and a quadruple bypass and he just got out of the intensive care unit today. (This was really shocking because he's only 40, it kind of came out of nowhere)

I started writing this thing during the hardest goddamned year of my life and I'm goddamned well going to finish it but I can't think straight at all right now.

Please consider this fic to be on hiatus for at least two months. I'd like to get the final chapters published in May. Subscribe if you want updates on when there's gonna be more.

Right now I'm going to respond to all the unpublished comments I currently have and then I'm going to take a breather.

Sorry to leave you hanging, dudes. I've been shocked by the responses I've gotten to this fic and I want to keep it going for everyone who's been in it for the long haul but everything is just a bit too much for me right now.

Chapter Text

"Jesus, Eddie, what am I going to do with you?"

Eddie flattened his palms on the kitchen table for the third time in as many minutes and tried to keep his voice down. He wasn't going to yell at Annie. He wasn't going to yell at Annie. He was going to try really, really hard not to yell at Annie.

"Have me arrested? Then I can testify? I don't know, but we've gotta do something!" His hair was a mess from his helmet, Anne's was a mess from the number of times she'd run her hands through it to keep from strangling her disaster of an ex boyfriend. 

"There's not enough to go on and what you've got you got illegally, I can't use it."

"Bullshit," Eddie said, proud that he managed not to shout it. "Evidence collected in the commission of a crime is admissible so long as it wasn't illegally gathered by the police. I'm just a helpful criminal doing my civic duty."

She whirled away from the window she'd been facing to glare at him. "Yes, that's it exactly, what you're doing is criminal! You killed people, Eddie! This isn't turning in evidence on a stolen laptop or calling the police if you find an abused kid while trespassing. You're killing people - in the eyes of the law you're doing the same thing as Drake was."

"What about the false imprisonment? What about the kidnapping? What about the medical experiments and the torture and the - Christ, Annie," he brought his hands down hard on the table and his coffee cup clattered, "the rape and the amputation? It's not the same and you know it."

"I know it," she said, slamming her own fist into the table. "I know you're not like him. I know you wouldn't do that, Eddie. But nobody else does, and if I share the files that you've sent to me I'm going to have to explain where I got them. You can send shit like this to the papers or the news stations and they've got a right to protect their sources, but lawyers have to do discovery and because it's obtained illegally it wouldn't be privileged by the court." She opened her fist and flattened her small, warm hand over his, trying to soothe him.

"If you get arrested it won't just be for trespassing, Eddie. They know there are too many people missing and too many weird stories coming out of the Life Foundation. If I show up with edited security footage from another facility with mysteriously missing people there's no way anyone is going to let that slide - not the cops, not the court, not the Life Foundation."

Eddie sighed and covered his eyes with one hand.

"So what do we do? There's at least one more of these places. I don't know how many people are stuck there, I don't know what's happening to them. We've gotta help them."

She sighed and gathered his head up in her arms, clutching him to her chest. "I know. I know, honey."

Eddie sucked in a surprised breath and an echo of cruel laughter and hard hands rolled through his mind before Anne's brain caught up to her mouth. "Oh, Eddie I -"

But he was already pulling out of her embrace and moving to lean against the sink, putting some distance between them.

"I know it was a mistake, don't worry about it. Worry about the people in Reno." An oil slick was seeping out of his sleeve to cover his hand, and a thick tendril of black wrapped around his neck.

"You said that you can legally prove that the Life Foundation and Tru Biomed and Scepter Research are connected?" Anne asked, taking a step back from Eddie as he grew taller and his shoulders broadened. 

"Yeah. It's all printed in the DBA pages. There's no question that Scepter and Tru both belong to the Life Foundation. They've got shells within shells but when you dig enough it's there, like what Google does when they're buying backwoods property for server farms."

"Okay. Then, given the recent and very public data dump from a mysteriously missing guard at Scepter, and due to the large numbers of bodies and staff overlap, I can see about having someone in Reno look into the facility there."

"That's it," he huffed incredulously, "you'll try to have someone look into it?"

"Well what do you want, Eddie? You want me to get a warrant across state lines because five years ago the Life Foundation rented an office and announced it legally?"

"I want you to focus on the fact that just this week Scepter was getting orders from the Foundation like it was nothing. I want you to look at the fact that the only two other companies that hire guards from Paladin did so to because Paladin trains people who are willing to torture and murder."

"And those are the exact facts that I can't know and can't share with anybody if I want to keep you out of prison because you got those facts by eating people!"

ENOUGH, Venom said as they poured over Eddie's face. YOU'RE TALKING IN CIRCLES. NEITHER OF YOU CAN GET WHAT YOU WANT. They side-stepped around Anne to head for the door of the apartment. EDDIE DOESN'T WANT ANY MORE INNOCENT DEAD, ANNIE DOESN'T WANT ANY MORE CRIMES. SO STOP FIGHTING. THIS ISN'T AN ARGUMENT ANYMORE, THIS IS A RACE. WE'LL GIVE YOU THREE DAYS. 

Anne trailed behind Venom as they walked down the stairs, shrinking into something closer to Eddie's normal size and shape while they descended. 

"Three days for what," she asked. 

TO DO IT YOUR WAY. LEGALLY. 

"And if I can't get someone in there by then?"

THEN WE DO IT OUR WAY. WE'LL BE VERY HUNGRY BY THAT TIME. 

"Three days isn't enough time for this kind of thing, Vee. It takes weeks to coordinate investigations between different jurisdictions."

WELL THEN WE GUESS WE WON'T BE HUNGRY FOR LONG. 

And with that they sculpted a motorcycle helmet around Eddie's head and bounded off into the growing morning light. 

"Shit," Anne said as she lost sight of them to the darkness. "Assholes." And she went upstairs to find her phone. 

 

***

 

Cool air whipped around Eddie and Venom's shared body as they rode over the Carquinez Bridge, streaking north through the hazy afternoon sun. The chill of the wind did nothing to calm Eddie's seething temper.

STOP HAVING THIS FIGHT WITH YOURSELF, Venom rumbled from inside him.

"I'm not fighting with myself. I'm not fighting with anybody."

The symbiote chuckled internally, a deep vibration that trilled up Eddie's spine and bounced around his bones. He couldn't help but shiver.

YOU'RE ALWAYS FIGHTING, EDDIE.

The sun slanted, red and warm, through the trees. It strobed over them as they drove north, filling Eddie's eyes with slashes of shadow and light.

"Maybe there's always something to fight for."

MAYBE YOU NEED TO LEARN WHEN TO LET SOMEONE ELSE DO THE FIGHTING.

Eddie gritted his teeth and tried to keep his eyes on the road, holding it as a solid shape as the light flickered through the trees.

"Other people don't fight the right way."

MAYBE YOU JUST NEED TO GIVE THEM A CHANCE TO TRY.

He tried to keep his hands from tightening too far on the clutch and the brake.

"Maybe," he ground out.

Venom purred inside his head and he felt the symbiote stroke over his shoulders and down his spine, a solid point of contact in contrast to the fluttering of his jacket.

GIVE ANNIE A CHANCE. THREE DAYS. WHERE WILL WE GO WHILE WE WAIT?

Eddie thought for a second, trying to form a plan, trying to think of how he would be able to handle three days of inaction, three days worrying about what he could be stopping.

"Camping. We'll go camping."

 

***

 

Action Military Surplus was halfway between San Francisco and Reno and smelled like some of Eddie's worst memories. It reeked of waterproofed canvas and moldy BDUs and rubber just like every surplus store Eddie had ever been to. It smelled like summer with his father.

The store was sleepy and quiet in the late afternoon, more full of Gadsden flags and "Freedom isn't Free" stickers than Eddie was really comfortable with but it was just a store. Venom was curious, peeking out of Eddie's jacket as he picked through the dusty shelves with practiced ease. He grabbed a stained sleeping bag and a foam sleeping pad along with a rucksack big enough to fit the bulky fabric. A couple of canteens and a skein of paracord to tie the lot to his bike rounded out his purchases.

The bored checker behind the counter rang him out with a military discount that he hadn't asked for. He shrugged and paid and made up his pack before they got back on the road, leaving the northern suburbs of Sacramento and finally finding their way into real forest.

Eddie's rage settled as he wound along the highway, leaning into the curves and letting the wind wash over him.

"I wanted her to fix it. I wanted her to make it go away, to make me feel better," he said, knowing Venom would hear him even if he hadn't spoken the words out loud.

FIX WHAT?

"Everything. All of it. Drake and the Foundation and all the missing people."

HOW DO YOU WANT IT FIXED?

Eddie swallowed and considered the question, slowing so that his divided attention wasn't as dangerous on the mountain road.

"I don't want it anymore. I want. I want it gone. Thinking about it hurts. I want someone to take it away from me so I don't have to have it in my head anymore."

AND YOU ARE UPSET THAT ANNE CAN'T FIX IT?

"No. Not really. Not at Annie. I was angry, I wanted to make it stop right away. But that's not how the world works. I can't just pass my problems to someone else and have them stop being problems."

Eddie felt hands form under his shirt, huge clawed thumbs framed his spine and long fingers wrapped around to curl over his hips as he rode.

WE COULD TAKE IT ALL AWAY, YOU KNOW?

"What do you mean?"

YOU DON'T HAVE TO KNOW THESE THINGS. YOU DON'T HAVE TO REMEMBER. WE COULD MAKE YOU FORGET IT ALL, IF YOU WANTED. DRAKE AND THE CUTTING. EVEN ANNIE AND DAN. IF YOU WANTED WE COULD KEEP DRIVING, GO SOMEWHERE THAT NO ONE KNOWS US. FORGET EVERYTHING, ONLY THINK OF EACH OTHER.

Eddie was shocked by the possibility of dropping the load he had been carrying. He considered it, imagined a cabin in Montana or a studio in Chicago with a new name and no friends and sweet, slick darkness wrapping around him every night and was surprised by how much he wanted it, how much the thought of that kind of freedom pulled at his heart and brought moisture to his mouth. He could just keep heading east, chase the sunrise until he didn't know his name and didn't care that he didn't know.

"No," he whispered.

YOU WANT IT.

"Yes," he said, shifting his hips in those big, hot hands and feeling them squeeze him - grounding him as the tires below them chewed through pavement. "I want it so much. I don't want to keep hurting like this," and Venom trilled, purring and letting more of itself surge around him under his clothes, surrounding and soothing him. 

THEN WHY?

"Someone has to remember Maria."

He felt needling teeth and a wet tongue on his shoulder, seconds later the same sensation danced over his fingers before curling around a thigh and sinking below his skin again.

LOVE YOU SO MUCH, EDDIE. LOVE YOU MORE THAN ANYTHING.

 

***

 

The sun was low enough in the sky that the mountain to the west of Lake Tahoe was a mass of black shadows by the time they stopped to eat. Eddie was covered in road dust and wearing tattered jeans, but that didn't stop him from wandering into the biggest, fanciest building he saw with an "open" sign.

He ordered a bloody steak at the lodge and paid too much for a beer as he and Vee watched the clouds get dark over the lake. The tops of their huge stacks stayed a vibrant pink and purple long after the surrounding sky bruised into night. Eddie smiled at the angry thunderheads and hoped the storm wouldn't wash them away.

 

***

 

He had been planning on laying out a bedroll under the stars. Instead they found a cave as the last of the light faded and the skies opened up. It was just big enough for Eddie to stand up inside, and deep enough that they had plenty of room to retreat away from the wet and the wind and still leave the bike across the entrance under an overhang of rock.

The cave was dry and full of dead leaves and dusty pine needles. A rushing torrent of water poured down on either side of its mouth, loud enough that they would have had to shout over it if they needed words.

But they didn't.

Eddie spread out his sleeping bag on a bed of leaves and kicked out of his soaked boots and jeans, peeling away his jacket and the tight gray henley that strained across his shoulders. The rain was cold but the cave was warm, for the moment, and he felt better stripped of his clinging clothes as he laid them over the boulders that made up the walls of their shelter.

He sat on the sleeping bag and listened to the torrent, sighing into it before Venom swirled over and around him, a wave of pulsating heat.

LOVE, they growled in his head, LOVE, EDDIE, and he laughed and laid back, letting his other cage him in warmth. Their limbs and tendrils and tentacles wove a net around him that brushed over his thighs and caressed his throat as he moaned, open-mouthed, for Venom to fill him.

They didn't keep him waiting, pressing into his mouth and the tight hole between his legs at the same time. He surged into the touch, slippery and sweet, feeling pieces of the symbiote twine around his wrists and knees to hold down his limbs while huge hands clamped around his waist and bent his body like a bow.

Lightning flashed out over the forest, illuminating the beatific calm on Eddie's face and the reverent cast of Venom's eyes. The low growl of thunder vibrated through the cave and Eddie couldn't tell when it had faded because the sound tapered into a deep, satisfied purr rolling through the symbiote and vibrating through his own trembling flesh.

YOUR WORLD IS FULL OF WONDER, Venom thought to him, then Eddie swallowed around the tongue in his throat and neither of them could think again for a long time.

 

***

 

Eddie woke to a blinding sky and a knot in his shoulders. He crawled to the bike, unwilling to stir Venom from its quiescent stupor under his skin to ask for feet.

He pulled on a pair of sweats and assembled a small camp stove, which he set under a steel cup of water while he contemplated the ends of his shins.

His right leg had grown back slightly faster, nearly back to the ankle while the left ended where the curve of his calf muscle would normally sit. Like everything else his legs had come back pale and soft. He absentmindedly rubbed his palm over the top of his right thigh, wondering if he had a picture of the three-masted ship and frame of roses that had decorated it before he met Carlton Drake.

The water reached a boil so he shut down the stove and dumped a packet of instant coffee into the cup, swirling it carefully when he realized he didn't have anything to stir with. The rain had stopped and the lavender morning sky was speckled with luminous gold clouds. Below the cave the curve of the lake was ultraviolet and the trees were breathing a soft gray steam as the sun hit them.

"Forgetting isn't worth it," he said, and Vee twisted inside of him, conjuring up an image of Mr. Belvedere stretching luxuriantly in a patch of sunlight.

IT WOULDN'T BE. NOT TO YOU.

Eddie smirked.

"Yeah, I'm too fucking stubborn to let go of this, even if it burns me."

YOU WOULDN'T BE YOU IF YOU WERE THE KIND OF PERSON WHO LET THINGS GO. BUT MAYBE YOU'D BE HAPPIER. WE COULD MAKE YOU HAPPY THAT WAY, IF YOU WANT.

He sipped his coffee gingerly, rubbing his leg and looking over the lake.

"Maybe. But if I was the kind of guy who wanted to be happy I wouldn't have found you in the first place."

Venom didn't have any response to that, so instead they watched the sunrise in silence.

 

***

 

Eddie was backtracking to Truckee in search of a general store when he felt a series of abrupt buzzes against his chest. He pulled into a turnout and unlocked the screen of his phone and watched it flood with messages that had been blocked out by the cave.

Annie (10:41 pm): Fuck you and your three days
Annie (10:45 pm): Judgemental prick
Annie (7:36 am): Guess you're not the only one who makes news
Annie (7:37 am): Come back so I can tell you what an asshole you are in person

And then there was a link to a story in the Bee about a Life Foundation subsidiary in Reno that had been raided by the police the night before, leading to the arrests of four current members of the Life Foundation board of directors as well as a dozen medical staff.

Eddie (8:22 am): I'm in the woods right now, so if you'd like I can ask Vee for help and I will literally eat crow for you.
Eddie (8:22 am): I mean, I'd prefer not to but I'm willing to if that's what you need for me to prove that I'm sorry and that I know how amazing you are.

Annie (8:25 am): Don't tempt me.

Chapter Text

Annie welcomed Eddie, Venom, and the bouquet of roses and chocolates they brought in apology with a dearth of grace that would have been stunning if she had ever described herself more as a lady than a lawyer. Eddie had been a loser long enough that he took failure in stride, but he found himself amused by the fact that Anne managed to be more of a sore winner than he had ever managed to be a sore loser.

"I'd say you're sleeping on the couch because you were wrong," she greeted them, laughing brightly, "except that you were sleeping on the futon anyway."

"Serves me right for having the gall to assume I could ever know best when the best of the best was in the room with me," Eddie said, passing her the flowers and heading upstairs behind her.

"Sucking up won't get you out of the doghouse any quicker," she said as she started looking for a vase. Her hands were darting between the cabinets, coming up empty.

"I was wrong, Annie, and I'm glad you did things through legal channels." A smile tugged at the corner of Eddie's mouth as he reached over her shoulder and took a tall, cut glass carafe off of a high shelf and passed it to her. "I'm very sorry and regret anything I may have said when I was upset. Please accept my sincerest apologies and let me know if you'd prefer the list of my wrongdoings as a series of couplets or Venetian sonnets."

"It'll have to be prose because it's hard to come up with the multitude of rhymes you'd need for 'gigantic asshole.'"

WE THOUGHT YOU WERE WERE GOING TO LEAVE OUR SEX LIFE OUT OF THIS CONVERSATION, Venom chimed in, chirping happily as Eddie made an undignified noise and Anne laughed again.

"But seriously," Eddie said, "thank you, and I'm sorry I lost my patience. I've been knocking my head against this thing for weeks and this is the first time it feels like anyone who needs to pay for it is going to."

Anne added water to the vase and hummed an affirmative as she worried her lower lip. She unwrapped the roses and began trimming their stems while she chose her words carefully.

"I wouldn't have been able to convince anyone to take this seriously if you hadn't gone out and done the legwork you did ahead of my warrants." She snipped off some leaves. "Without the videos that went up this week or the stories that the papers have been running it would have been hard to cross jurisdictions, and without your research into the DBAs I don't think I would have gotten anyone to listen."

Eddie shrugged uncomfortably and began to speak but she cut him off.

"What you did was wrong and stupid and could have gotten you killed or arrested. I hate that you did it. And I hate that I couldn't do my job without someone willing to take those risks." She stood the flowers in the vase and slammed it on the table, hard enough that some of the water slopped out onto the scrubbed wood and began to run onto the floor. She glared at Eddie, then turned her frown to face the window.

"It would have taken years to go see board members arrested if you hadn't proved that they were still sending orders to doctors. It would have taken a mountain of proof to get a warrant for Reno. And you gave me a mountain. And I never would have been able to get it on my own. And I hate that."

"Annie," Eddie said, and reached a hand out to her, "I'm so sorry."

She leaned against the counter and hung her head with a sigh.

"There's more," she said, pulling open a drawer and yanking out a sheaf of papers.

 

***

 

There were lines of numbers neatly printed on the pages Annie spread out between them on the kitchen table. Familiar numbers.

"There's documentation of the prisoners being moved between facilities. Some of it has just numbers, some of it is more comprehensive," Annie was flipping between a couple of reports, pointing at descriptions as the pages rattled in her grasp.

"Like if all of them were a certain age, or had cancer, or were Asian, right?" Eddie stilled her hand where he had recognized a set of numbers - it was the manifest history that he had read in the middle of the night in Oregon and sent him rabbiting off for her comforting presence in the first place.

"Right," she said, swallowing hard. "So we can see when people were moved from Petaluma to Longview or Reno or San Francisco, but we don't know how they got to Petaluma in the first place."

Eddie sat back in the chair and let Venom lean forward to look over the papers. "Petaluma had the largest capacity. There was room for hundreds of people, and it was closest to the city. Longview got busy in the winter but only took small, specific groups. Reno was busy in the summer. What do the populations from Reno look like?"

Annie shook her head.

"No pattern, as far as we can tell. It seems like it was the same level of research as Petaluma but with different focuses. Both sent funneled projects to Longview."

"But Petaluma sent prisoners to both."

"Right."

Eddie shrugged. "It was closest to the city, were people being brought there directly off the street?"

Annie shrugged right back. "Not according to any surveillance footage we could find from any of the locations, not even the original campus. It wasn't a slow flow of a single person snatched off the street night after night. Petaluma went from having twenty patients to a hundred in one day. The city campus jumped by fifty at one point. Longview got forty every winter. It's there in the manifests. They got delivered like toilet paper or toner."

"When people got moved between facilities who did the moving?"

"We don't know. But they were escorted in by guards."

Eddie looked up from the papers he'd been turning over and raised an eyebrow at her.

"Guards who were in the facility at other times or guards who only came in with the prisoners?"

Annie liked to win. Annie liked to gloat. Annie liked to get caught up in a chase and ferret out details that would make a case. Annie was a bulldog. So when her eyes softened and she put a hand on top of his Eddie felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. Venom fluttered uneasily at the sensation and rumbled deep inside his chest, a subsonic purr.

"I was hoping you might be able to tell me that."

"Christ, you've got surveillance video of the deliveries, don't you?"

Anne nodded and chewed at her lower lip again. "It came from Reno's backup tapes but it shows all three facilities."

Eddie thought he might have felt his heart stop.

"Reno had video backup from all three locations?"

She nodded again.

"Annie," he whispered, "Annie, what -"

She squeezed his hand and Venom sank away from her contact on his skin.

"What aren't you telling me?"

"The Reno police department has the footage in evidence. We're waiting on copies but they've already seen it."

He thought he'd been so clever. He thought he'd been so damn bright, deleting his presence from Drake's server before freeing the other patients. He'd thought he was smart, single-tracking a shot that never showed his face to get out of the dank basement in Longview.

"How long," he ground out.

"What?"

"How long do we have to start running?" He clenched his teeth and glared up at her. "Why did you tell us to come back if there's video of me and Vee at Longview?"

He lurched away from the kitchen table and started back toward the stairs, running escape routes through his mind.

"There isn't!" Anne shouted as she grabbed at his shoulder. "Eddie, just listen -"

"Why didn't you start with that, Annie? Why didn't you text me that the cops had me eating Drake on film and tearing a nurse in half?"

"Jesus - Eddie, there was a delay."

"On texting?"

"On the video transfer. A 24-hour delay before backup and 90 days before deletion."

"So -"

"So there's no copy of what you did in Longview and nothing about the last day in Petaluma."

He turned away from the stairs and collapsed onto the couch as he processed that.

"They didn't see me get out. They didn't see me and Vee together unless there was video of Drake separating us."

Anne sat next to him and reached for his hand again but stopped when he jerked away.

"Nobody I've talked to has any idea what Venom is. Drake kept it quiet like he kept Riot quiet; he didn't want anything that touched him personally to come under the microscope."

Eddie's eyes had fallen to the floor. He'd had a long ride this morning, slept on a pile of boulders, nearly had a heart attack thinking about getting caught eating people on camera. The floor was warm wood, bright in the light from the window. A delicate teal and cream rug sat under the coffee table. It was warm. It was quiet. He could see dust motes sparkling in the sunbeam that lit up the sedate rug. He wanted to go into his room. He wanted his futon and the rug he'd picked out with the flamingos that Annie hated. He wanted to know if it was warm in there too. He liked it here with Anne where things were warm and soft and he didn't have to feel concrete beneath his feet or cover his ears to drown out the screaming. He just wanted to be warm.

Anne's hand was on his arm, shaking him lightly. He saw her shaping the sound of his name with her lips.

"How much did you see," he asked, suddenly, snapping away from the fuzzy hum in his brain that he wanted to disappear into.

Her hand tightened convulsively on his wrist.

"Not a lot," her eyes were shining with tears and he thought back to the way she'd slammed the carafe and the flowers into the table, how bright and loud her laughter was when he came to the door. His heart ached with a swell of affection for her.

"I'm okay, Annie."

"I know."

"I'm better now, Vee made me better."

"I know, Eddie."

He turned his hands over in his lap, wiggling his fingers where she could see them.

"Almost back to normal," he said, trying to move his face into what felt like a smile. "As normal as I was, anyway."

"They know it was you."

The awful-feeling smile fell off his face.

"I didn't see much but the video is being copied and they know it was you and I'm probably going to get pulled off the case and they're gonna want to talk to you and I didn't know what to say I don't care I'm just so sorry, Eddie. I don't care what else happens I just want you safe."

He'd figure out how his world was going to fall apart later and wrapped his arm around her shoulders. Right now he just wanted to be safe too.

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Anne's MacBook sat innocuously on the walnut coffee table and Eddie contemplated how different his life would be if he'd never opened the fucking thing in the first place.

He would still be engaged to Anne - maybe married by now, even. He'd still have his own cable news show. He never would have met Carlton Drake or any of his horrible goons or nameless doctors or impassive nurses. He never would have watched his arms get cut away from his body while he wished he could beg the doctor to stop.

He wouldn't be sitting on Anne's couch in Anne's apartment looking at Anne's MacBook holding Anne's hand in his left hand and Anne's new fiance's hand in his right hand while he looked at a still image of Jameson on the glowing screen and tried to keep from puking.

Dan seemed to understand that Eddie was about thirty seconds from losing his shit - Eddie figured being a doctor probably meant people lost their shit around you more than usual. Dan's hand tightened its grip and he bumped against Eddie's shoulder. "We can shut it down if you want," Dan said. Eddie felt bad. He'd lost his shit around Dan a lot recently. He wished he knew how to keep it together better.

"Yeah, he was one of." Eddie was having trouble breathing. He didn't really need to breathe anymore, he could ask Vee to come out and breathe for him. If he had to. Eddie cleared his throat.

"He was one of the regular Paladin guards, not an outsider."

Eddie was counting hours backwards in his head.

Footage of the final 24 hours of his stay at the Life Foundation lab had been erased, there was no video of him and Vee joining together and devouring Drake. Probably some of the other prisoners had described Vee, maybe some of the surviving guards had talked about a big black monster when they got arrested. There was no video of them together at the end. But Eddie was trying to remember before that. Drake had come to him. Before that. There was a cell full of... He wasn't going to think about that. Before that. Crawling, limbless, across a cold floor. Before that. Cutting. Cutting for a long, long time. Before that - well, that was probably more than a day. He remembered the sick, soft feeling at the back of the guard's skull after he'd slammed it into concrete a few times. 

"I killed him. Not me and Vee. Just me. I hit his head against the wall and tore his throat open with my teeth. It's probably on the backups."

Nobody responded to that. There probably wasn't a good way to respond to a statement like that. 

"He was. My back, he," Eddie mimed a quick scribble in the empty air in front of him. 

"It's okay, bud," Dan said. "We just needed to know if the prisoners were being brought in by a new player or if it was the same folks. You answered. We can close this."

He reached past Eddie to close the lid of the laptop and tried to ignore the other man's suppressed flinch. 

"What are people saying, Annie?" Eddie's voice was low and stained. "Who has seen the footage?"

"So far just the Reno detectives and a couple people from our office. The only thing anyone is saying is that we might add some charges against the guards."

Eddie nodded and frowned and picked at his cuticles. "Charges?"

"Yeah."

Anne picked up the laptop and walked it back to her desk under the window. She stood, facing the street instead of looking back at Eddie, and spoke.

"The other people they did that to were isolated."

"I was isolated."

"Not from the guards."

Eddie blanched and Venom flickered over his skin so quickly that it was like someone had flipped a switch. The symbiote hissed at Anne. 

"They want to see if they can have a single trial," she said, trying to placate the furious alien.

WHAT DOES THAT MEAN, Venom growled, rising and moving away from Dan to prowl around the living room in agitation. 

"Right now the guards in custody are being charged individually with kidnapping, assault, rape, and everything from four murder charges to petty theft. Some of them are going to get convicted but the cases against the others are weak."

WE HAVE BEEN VERY PATIENT BUT WOULD LIKE TO ASK AGAIN, CAN'T WE JUST EAT THEM?

Dan held out a hand to the klyntar and they reached out and took it, surprising the doctor and the alien in equal measure. 

"I know you're both upset," Dan said, "but logistically it would be difficult to break into the jail just to eat some prisoners and more than that it wouldn't be the right thing to do."

Venom rumbled for a moment then dropped Dan's hand and sat down on the floor beside him. 

EXPLAIN.

"They want one trial to start. One victim, one set of charges, multiple defendants. Reno says that with the footage they have we can put away at least three of the guards in custody immediately."

WHY DOES THAT MATTER? 

"None of the guards are taking plea deals, none will testify against the others. If we start with a decisive case some of the rest may decide it's better to plead guilty and flip on their co-workers for leniency than to get a life sentence from a pissed-off judge with a docket full of these cases."

WE STILL THINK EATING THEM IS A MORE ELEGANT SOLUTION. 

"Eating the guards doesn't solve our other problem."

WHAT OTHER PROBLEM? 

Dan smiled wryly.

"Vee, they're gonna want to know how he got out. The last time anyone in the facility saw Eddie he didn't have any arms and legs."

 

***

 

Eddie knew that he was an idiot. He couldn't ignore that fact about himself. He was a grade-A, prime-certified fool.

You don't get fired for mis-reporting the identity of a serial killer and maintain any illusions about having a titanic intellect.

But forgetting about the possibility of video backups before killing a bunch of people and improbably disappearing into the night as a quadruple amputee probably took the cake in terms of "stupid, life-ruining mistakes I've made this year."

Not lifetime, though. He'd made worse mistakes. He'd survived them. He'd survive this. Probably.

OF COURSE YOU'RE GOING TO SURVIVE THIS, Venom growled in his head. WE WOULDN'T LET DRAKE KILL YOU, WE'RE NOT GOING TO LET YOU DIE OF EMBARRASSMENT BECAUSE YOU MADE A MISTAKE AFTER GETTING TORTURED FOR WEEKS.

"That's nice, maybe I'll just die because I'm such an idiot that I can't think of what I'm going to tell the cops and they'll just shoot me to put me out of my misery. 

YOU'RE NOT GOING TO DIE OF THAT EITHER. YOU WOULDN'T LET US DIE AFTER A SPACESHIP EXPLOSION, IF WE HAVE TO LIVE ON THIS AWFUL PLANET WITH ITS STUPID RULES WHERE WE CAN'T EAT HARDLY ANYONE THEN YOU HAVE TO LIVE HERE TOO.

"Fine!"

FINE!

Eddie was in the guest room, pacing between the futon and the desk, incapable of staying still at one or the other. Venom had been slowly twirling over him, dripping down and around his torso like a macabre barber pole, trying to soothe him into some semblance of functionality.

"What now?"

WHAT?

"What now, I don't know what to do next, I don't want to think about it, what are we doing now?"

LET'S GO FIND ANOTHER GUARD TO EAT AND USE THE FORUM.

Eddie threw up his hands and whirled around again, turning away from the bed to stomp toward the desk. Again.

"Goddamnit we can't just -"

Venom snapped.

YES WE CAN.

They shot tendrils of themself out of Eddie's back and latched onto the frame of the futon, yanking Eddie over to the edge of the bed, where Venom shoved them into a seated position so that they could straddle his legs when they rose out of his chest and loomed over him.

YES WE CAN JUST EAT PEOPLE SOMETIMES. SOMETIMES EATING PEOPLE IS THE RIGHT ANSWER.

As Eddie's mouth opened to speak Venom hissed and wrapped a big, clawed hand around his throat, drawing more of themselves out of him until their shape dwarfed him on the bed, trapping him beneath them.

YOU DON'T WANT TO GO TO THE POLICE RIGHT NOW BECAUSE YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT TO TELL THEM. BUT NO MATTER WHAT YOU SAY TO THEM IT WILL BE BETTER IF YOU HAVE ALL OF YOUR LEGS BACK INSTEAD OF ONLY MOST OF THEM. YOU THINK PALADIN WAS KIDNAPPING DRAKE'S VICTIMS BUT YOU HAVEN'T SEEN ANYTHING NEW ON THE FORUM FOR WEEKS BECAUSE WE DIDN'T WANT TO BURN THE NAMES WE HAVE. LET'S GO EAT SOMEBODY WHO REALLY DESERVES IT, RE-GROW YOUR FEET, AND FEED YOU A BURRITO OR SOMETHING BECAUSE YOU ARE DRIVING US CRAZY.

Eddie squirmed against Venom's hand, glaring at the alien and trying to push them away. All that happened was that his hands got tangled in their mass before they used a tentacle to wrap around his wrists and hold him in place.

"No, we can't - we gotta go, we, I can't let them see -"

CAN'T LET WHO SEE? 

"The cops, my - anybody, let's, God, we've just gotta leave, let's go away, you were right we should just keep going until no one knows us, you said you could make me forget, I wanna forget, you were right, let's leave -"

EDDIE, WHAT -

"I thought nobody else would know, goddamnit," Eddie stopped struggling against Venom and fell slack against the bed. "I deleted the video, nobody knew I was gone, nobody knew what happened. Now there's gonna be a trial and there's video and everyone is gonna see - they'll know what I let happen, what I let them do to me -"

Venom swelled around Eddie and wrapped him in their arms. They could see the flashes that flickered through his thoughts and taste the adrenaline that was leeching into his blood. 

EDDIE. SHOW ME THE WORD FOR CAT. 

Dan had taught them how to count heart beats and breathing. They had talked to Dan and Annie about words like honey and baby and why Eddie threw up one day when Dan had poured him a glass of grape juice. 

Their friends hadn't known who the guard was, what he had done. How much Eddie hurt when he thought about him. Venom knew. Should have known. Should have realized this would happen. 

Eddie's breathing was ragged and his eyes were shut tight. 

CAT, EDDIE. SHOW US THE WAY TO SAY CAT.

Eddie's thoughts circled and swirled in a mess of light, picking out sneers and teeth and the vision of hands on his body and Venom broke in, flashing memories of Mr. Belvedere swatting at them and hissing at Eddie and staring flatly as he shoved Eddie's phone off the kitchen table. 

WE HATE THIS THING. WHAT'S THE WORD FOR IT. USE YOUR HAND. 

Eddie's right hand twitched. He brought it up to his mouth and dropped it. Brought it up again and pinched the air with his forefinger and thumb, pulling the motion from his nose to his cheek. 

GOOD. CAN YOU SEE THE CAT IN HERE? 

Eddie frowned and opened his eyes, barely glancing at his surroundings. He raised his hand and knocked vaguely on the air next to his head. 

IF YOU CAN SEE THE CAT POINT TO IT. WE CAN'T SEE IT. 

Eddie's focus sharpened and he looked harder at the room. His hand pinched in front of him twice and he shook his head gently.

NO CAT. TELL US SOMETHING YOU CAN SEE. 

"Jacket," he mumbled, waving at the mound the garment made near the door.

Venom relaxed their grip, releasing some of the pressure they'd wrapped around Eddie's chest. 

TELL US SOMETHING ELSE. 

Eddie pushed himself upright, leaning away from the warm mass of the symbiote. 

"I want some water. I'm thirsty."

Venom trailed some tendrils into the bathroom and filled a cup that sat next to the sink. 

SOMETHING ELSE, they said as they passed the cup into their host's shaking hands. 

"I don't. No court. I don't want to go to court. Don't want to feel it again."

Venom purred against his chest and gently stroked their hands down his sides, comforting him and soothing away his shaking. 

"I can't even handle looking at a picture of one of them. I can't. I. If they're in the same room what am I gonna do?"

 

***

 

Anne went with him to the police station. He figured they wouldn't crawl up his ass too much if he came in to make a statement sitting next to someone from the DA's office.

That and she'd probably stop him from saying something irretrievably stupid.

He and Venom had been up all night. They'd found the addresses of several of the more brainless Paladin employees by the simple expedient of searching the state Guard Card database. Venom had been impressed that Eddie had come up with such an elegant, clever plan. Eddie smacked himself for not thinking of it sooner.

So they had feet, at least. Real feet. That they could show if Eddie had to take off his boots for any reason. With toes and everything.

What they didn't have was any further answers about how people were taken off the streets or transported. They'd mined the forum as far as it could go; they were going to have to actually visit the compound.

All in all they were in the right sort of headspace to say stupid things, which was in no way helped by the detective walking in with a cup of coffee and a photo of the back of Jameson's skull to open the conversation.

"So, seems like you killed this guy, huh?"

Eddie looked at Annie, and raised his hands as though to present the detective to an audience. His audience of one. Who he was sure had noted that he'd kept his mouth firmly shut.

Annie's mouth, on the other hand, was open in shock that was rapidly curdling into wrath on her face. She flushed red and frowned ferociously. It looked adorable.

"Kevin, whether my client had a hand in the death of this person, who was at the behest of his employer illegally imprisoning and torturing my client, is outside of the purview of this discussion. We are here to cooperate with the police and make a statement concerning said illegal imprisonment but if you're about to arrest Eddie let me just grab my strap-on because I'd be delighted to fuck your department so hard that you'll still feel it next goddamned Christmas."

Sometimes it was hard for Eddie to believe that he was a big enough idiot that he'd lost the right to plant a big stupid kiss right in the middle of this brilliant woman's beautiful mouth. He grinned and turned his attention back to Kevin.

Kevin sighed and put the photo in a drawer, rolling his eyes and leaning forward to shake Eddie's hand.

"Hi Mr. Brock, thank you for coming in. I'm Detective Cook."

Eddie shook Kevin's hand with his open-mouthed grin still firmly plastered in place and didn't say anything.

Suddenly, as tired as he was, it seemed like today was going to be a very good day.

 

***

 

Of course, it wasn't.

"Okay, Mr. Brock, turn to your left."

"It's not my good side," Eddie said with a smirk. He felt like he'd been run over by a steamroller.

"Do you have a good side?" Annie smiled back at him and the camera flashed.

Pale legs, pale arms, pale strips cut out of his chest and face. Ink carved away and replaced with smooth, hairless, unscarred skin. They wanted to see him. They wanted to see what had been taken away from him.

"Yeah, upside. My head. It's where you gotta smack me to cram some sense in there, otherwise it falls out all over the place and I can't find it anymore." He wasn't sure that made any sense but the camera flashed again and he was successfully not screaming, so he'd take what he could get.

"Just a few more, sir, face the back wall and spread your arms out, please."

He did as he was told. He'd made it through giving his statement, he'd make it through their photos of the damage left behind.

In the end he'd decide the version closest to the truth was simplest - they'd been testing medications on him, they cut off his limbs and they grew back slowly. He didn't remember much about getting out. He hadn't come forward to talk to the cops because he didn't like the cops but his lawyer had convinced him to testify in this case. That had been pretty easy, getting those words out. Photos of the front of him, of his pale, unmarked arms and legs, hadn't been so bad.

His back was the only place his tattoos were whole, he realized. They hadn't ever turned him to test the cuts. He didn't have much ink on his back, just a spread of shapes from his shoulder.

There was nowhere to hide the marks they'd made.

He breathed through his nose, counting to ten over and over while the camera flashed and people stepped closer and further away.

"They're all good sides, Eddie." Annie was taking his hand. The camera had stopped flashing. "It's 'cause you're a good guy. And you're doing the right thing."

He nodded. He put his shirt back on. He counted to ten again.

Chapter Text

Two days later a judge agreed to jointly charge three defendants with rape and facilitating the false imprisonment of Edward Brock.

Seven hours after that a video featuring all three defendants and a gagged, nude, limbless Eddie Brock was uploaded to YouTube.

After that the timeline got a little hard for Eddie to keep track of. Venom would help him remember, if they made it out of this alive.