There was nothing unusual about tonight. The sounds of the city had never bothered him, and the guy across the hall didn’t play guitar like he used to. Outside, it was a blustery autumn day, and in here it was a bearable temperature. It wasn’t cold, exactly, nor hot. There was a baking pan and some cutlery soaking in the sink and many many empty boxes of takeout in the garbage. Eddie’s hair had dried an hour ago.
“Hey,” Eddie said into the air of the empty apartment, “Could you… come here?”
We are here, Venom soothed.
“I mean, could you, uh, be a torso?” He winced. There was perhaps no smooth way to say it. The English language didn’t exactly accommodate for situations like this.
Venom sent over a questioning feeling, but dripped halfways out of Eddie’s body and faced him, vaguely humanoid, with milky eyes and sharp teeth that should’ve been frightening. Eddie didn’t look down. It was his fault, really, for not mentioning legs, but this would do.
“Okay, now you, uh…” He felt his memories being shuffled through, but he had been thinking of them in the first place and wanted to communicate the basic concept without saying it aloud.
Venom put an arm around Eddie and drew him close. Eddie rested his head against that large chest- aliens didn’t have muscles, did they? - and let out a sigh that drifted away and sank to the floor. He let his muscles loosen, bit by bit.
“Correct. Klyntar don’t have muscles,” Venom said. His voice was a purr, soothing.
“Klyntar…” Eddie whispered. Venom wasn’t human; he was klyntar. Eddie pushed the thought away. What they were doing was enough for Eddie; this wasn’t uncomfortable for Venom.
Venom didn’t say any platitudes like “It will be alright”, “There there” or even “Hush now.” Anne used to say things like that; strange how the memory didn’t sting as much as it used to.
“Thanks, bud. Jus’ for a lil bit,” he said, eyes drifting shut, “Jus’ for tonight…” He was lulled to sleep.
- - -
The next day, they visited Anne and Dan to have dinner. He took a walk and rode the cable car. If they took shortcuts across dark alleys or over rooftops, well, that was their business.
We should’ve taken more shortcuts.
It’s not like I control tourists now, he thought back.
Bad. Bite their heads off.
“No!” Eddie was horrified. A lady who had managed to squeeze past the couple holding hands on the sidewalk whipped her head to glance at him, then quickly looked away. Eddie also pretended that no one else existed in San Francisco as she moved past him.
Joking. Quit being a bitch, and tell them to move.
No, I couldn’t be so-
His arms flung out and he shoved the couple. “Move!” he found himself shouting. Eddie fought against everything, futilely, until they got past them and started running. He wanted to run, because that was the most mortifying thing Venom had… Nope. Nope, the lobster tank had been worse. He had to admit that much.
“What if they had recognized me!? Shit.” They swerved into an alley.
They did not recognize us, Venom said and enveloped Eddie. We do not want to be late.
They climbed up the wall.
- - -
Dan answered the door. “Good to see you, man,” he said, pulling Eddie into an awkward one-armed hug. “How are you?”
“Fine, fine,” Eddie said. He realized that he wasn’t holding anything. Was it good etiquette to bring a housewarming gift when visiting the apartment your ex’s boyfriend had moved into?
Quit whining and get inside.
Eddie went inside. Anne was at the table, setting plates down. “Just in time!” she said. Her hug was less awkward. The little squeeze she gave at the end before she let him go was bittersweet in how familiar it was to him. “Sit down. I’ll get the serving spoons, then we’ll be set.”
Food, Venom said excitedly.
Eddie smiled. “Smells great.” There was a large casserole dish on the table, steaming gently, the cheese still melty. Next to that was a salad bowl and a bottle of dressing. As well, there was asparagus and beets and…
We do not care about the vegetation.
Eddie remembered to put the napkin in his lap. He hadn’t remembered ever using cloth napkins when- No, that was the past now.
“Thank you,” Dan said.
“You made this?” Eddie asked. “I’m a mediocre cook, myself.”
“It’s just a recipe I found online,” Dan said, “Anne did most of the work.”
“Lies,” Anne said, coming in and placing the spoons where they needed to be. She smiled. Her hand lingered affectionately near the back of Dan’s neck after she had placed a spoon in a bowl near him. Eddie looked at his glass, which had pretty diamond shapes cut into it.
“It was a team effort,” Dan conceded.
Anne sat down and started passing serving dishes around. “Some casserole, please?” she asked Eddie, holding out her plate. “You’re closest, so you’re on plate duty.” Eddie dutifully gave her a slice.
They chatted about Eddie’s new workplace, about the cat, a movie Anne was debating whether to see, the types of apps Dan found useful, and a variety of other topics. Conversation flowed smoothly, so smoothly that Eddie wouldn’t have been able to pinpoint when or how the topics changed. Near the end of the evening, they brushed lightly against the subject of The Life Foundation.
Anne turned to him and said. “Eddie, if there’s anything you need, we’re here for you. Even if it’s just to talk like this.”
“I know we haven’t hung out much,” Dan said, “But don’t feel shy. However it happened, you’re family now.”
Anne’s expression warmed. She placed her hand on Dan’s, where it was resting on the table.
Eddie twirled his fork. “Thanks,” he said weakly.
This is nice, Venom said slowly. Humans need this.
- - -
Venom was contemplative for a few days after that.
Part of getting used to this symbiosis thing had included Eddie’s awareness of what he sometimes called “the veil”. At first, he had been worried about a loss of self, but Venom assured him that that wasn’t what would happen. They had space to have private thoughts, if needed. Eddie had noticed that when Venom was thinking about something, usually something about human society, the veil between their thoughts was thicker. Eddie could only get the sense that Venom was more preoccupied than usual, and that it wasn’t anything Venom was worried about.
He did find a few weird web searches he didn’t remember searching for. “Hand sensation. Hand touch. Cover hands. Hand covering,” he read, “Do you want us to get gloves, V? Is it too sensitive?”
- - -
It had been a shitty day and Eddie would have dragged himself up the stairs to his apartment door, if it weren’t for Venom. They set the grocery bag down and put away food that needed refrigerating.
Tendrils seeped onto the webbing between his fingers and then built a familar shape across Eddie’s palm.
“What’s this?” Eddie asked, staring down at the seemingly disembodied hand.
Humans need this.
“Hand holding? No, it’s-”
Then, you need this.
Eddie swayed. Venom rippled outward from his skin, not covering him, like a suit, but manifesting thick ropes of touch, and a not-frightening face, and a hand to caress his cheek, and a hand in his. Hands, Eddie realized. Hands were such a human thing.
“Y-you don’t have to change for me, dear,“ Eddie stammered, overcome by a sudden worry. An old worry, really, brought to light again. “You’re you,” Eddie said, and then, thinking of the symbiote’s way of speaking, “I mean, I like you because that makes us us.”
Eddie blinked. “Stupid!? I thought we were having a moment here!”
This is what I’ve been trying to tell you, Eddie.
Eddie paused, mid-rant.
Symbiote and host. Klyntar and human. Together. Let us hold hands, idiot. Venom sent Eddie flashes of images. The images were intertwined with the symbiote’s feelings, and Eddie got what he was saying when he saw the words, images, and feelings as a whole. The couple on the sidewalk that didn’t want to be separated. Anne and Dan’s hands, held together, a show of support and solidarity. The change in taste of Eddie’s brain chemicals as Venom had formed a torso that lonely night, from sour to sweet, or flat to fizzy - perhaps a human brain wasn’t meant to interpret the taste of human brain chemicals, but Eddie got the point.
“Oh…” He felt incredibly dumb. All this time, he had assumed that Venom, being an alien, did not care for human customs, that human touch was meaningless but-
It makes us happy.
The mouth curled into a smile and the darkness swirled in dizzy, pleased circles underneath and around skin. It didn’t much matter who was doing either of these actions, because the feeling was the same.
He should have realized that a long time ago.
My idiot. We will be happy.