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For some reason, as Eddie has recently discovered, Venom is touchy about its name.

It's touchy about anything regarding its life Before Eddie, honestly, but its name in particular seems to be a sore spot. Although it loves declaring 'We are Venom' at every opportunity, it gets weirdly defensive if anyone draws attention to, or questions the meaning of the name.

This has been a pattern for a while, Eddie thinks, but he only just picked up on it earlier tonight, and now he can't stop wondering about it.

He remembers Venom getting offended the first time he called it 'V'. He hadn't even done it on purpose; it had just sort of come out of his mouth, but Venom had immediately shot it down, like it'd been waiting for it.

Our name is Venom, it had said, like a petulant child.

"Well, yeah," Eddie said, "V for Venom?"

...That's stupid.

Eddie hadn't understood where its irritation was coming from, but the symbiote was moody at the best of times, so he hadn't thought much about it.

And once, when they were fooling around, Venom had bitten Eddie's neck hard enough to draw blood. It hadn't really hurt that bad, but Eddie was feeling dramatic and he'd made a big show out of freaking out anyway.

"Are you trying to fuck me or eat me?" he'd cried, holding his neck as though he might bleed out. "Oh, god-- you're not actually venomous like a snake, are you?"

Venom had scoffed as he healed the wound. Of course not. Don't be dumb.

"Well, how should I know? You're deadly in just about every other way. Which, honestly-- why name yourself after the only natural weapon you don't have?"

There'd been an unexpected hesitation, a twinge of discomfort, like Eddie had hit a nerve. Because it sounds cool, Venom had decided.

And Eddie had been curious because it was an obvious evasion, but Venom had done a good job of distracting him after that, and the incident was promptly forgotten.

More recently, Eddie had finally worked up the courage to tell Anne and Dan about his 'unique living arrangement', and that conversation had led to a very tense, very awkward formal introduction.

"Its... name is Venom," Dan had repeated, his voice flat with disbelief, because really, that was just the icing on a whole cake of bizarre. He'd let out a sudden, manic laugh and then clapped a hand over his mouth, looking embarassed.

And Venom, who'd already gone into this with reason to dislike Dan, had snarled and all but attacked him. Anne had screamed, while Eddie wrestled it for control of their body. That's two strikes for him, Eddie! One more and we eat him!

"We are not eating Dan!"

All things considered, the whole meeting had gone a lot better than Eddie expected.

And just the other night, Eddie had been looking at some fancy new bike on the internet, and Venom, who is an asshole, had decided to taunt him for whatever reason.

Everyone knows you're a dork, Eddie. No need to pretend you're a badass.

"Wow. Did I just get called a poser by someone named Venom?" Eddie shot back.

Venom bristled. I am not a poser. I am a genuine badass.

"You're the alien version of an edgy 12 year old."

I am not edgy! Take it back!

It was just typical banter; they had play-fights like this constantly, so Eddie still hadn't thought much of it, but now...

Now Eddie remembers all those incidents and sees them in a new light, because now he knows that Venom's name means something important to it. He knows because he felt it earlier tonight, as they were heading home after an evening of impromptu vigilante justice.

They were still in their fully combined form, sneaking through back alleys and over rooftops like a shark through water, and Venom had been feeling insufferably smug for some reason. Eddie had wondered why.

"You like saying it," it had said.

"Saying what?"

"'We are Venom'."

And with those words, there'd been a wave of feelings that Eddie had only ever felt the barest edge of. Arrogance, false confidence, stretched over a tangle of defensiveness, resentment, insecurity, and underneath it all, a glimmer of tentative, genuine pride. These were Venom's feelings towards its name.

"When we say that," the symbiote continued, "you feel like a badass."

Eddie was snapped from his thoughts. A badass. He laughed, remembering their argument from the other night. "Well, what can I say? I guess fighting evil as a huge fangy monster does something for my inner edgy 12 year old."

Venom had rumbled, a sound halfway between a purr and a growl. "Does something for you now, too, I think."

And that was how they'd ended up here, in their disheveled bed, basking in the afterglow. Eddie has his arm around the shapeless mass of Venom that's still spilled over him, his fingers gently kneading the black substance in a way he knows is soothing to it. His mind is fuzzy with bliss, but he can't stop thinking.

Blame it on his line of work, maybe, but his brain is wired to make connections, follow leads, and dig up secrets. And now that he's noticed this hang-up, he's curious: What's the deal with Venom's name?

He doesn't want to overstep his boundaries, of course; he's screwed up more than one relationship that way, and he knows Venom hates talking about its past. Even as close as they are, he still knows next to nothing about his bodymate's origins. And that's fine, he can respect that. Normally he'd just avoid the topic for fear of creating tension between them.

But right now...

Right now, they are comfortable and happy and relaxed, full of food and good chemicals, and Eddie thinks it feels safe to ask.

"Hey, V?" he says.

The nickname doesnt bother it anymore; hasn't for a while. It replies with a soundless ? sent across their bond.

Eddie shifts a little, turning to face it, even though it doesn't currently have a face. "How'd you get your name?" he asks.

There's an immediate pinch of apprehension, and he adds quickly, "Not making fun of you. Just curious. I mean, you don't have to tell me if you don't want. I just... earlier, on the street, I could tell it meant something to you, so..."

The symbiote relaxes slowly, but it's still hesitant. There is a vague, faded memory of hearing (tasting?) one's own name being thrown like an insult. The context is alien, but the feeling is so familiar that Eddie thinks the memory might be his own. It's the feeling of walking to school in fourth grade and being blocked by bullies sneering, "Hey, Brock." But it's not Eddie's memory, is it?

In a small voice, the symbiote says, You will laugh.

Eddie's almost offended. He's a lot of things, but he's not a bully. "I won't," he says sincerely.

You will.

"I won't," he insists. "C'mon, I'm not that much of an asshole, am I?"

He feels Venom's amusement like a warm glow. You will laugh, it says, and I will eat one of your kidneys.

Eddie snorts. "Well, you know what? If I laugh, then you have my official permission."

I'll hold you to that.

Eddie continues stroking the goopy substance that makes up the symbiote's body, as they fall back into a comfortable silence. He can feel it thinking, trying to decide whether or not to open up to him, and he tells himself that he'll be fine with whatever decision it makes. He does want to know, but he doesn't need to know, and if Venom wants to keep this to itself, then he'll respect that. Still, he can't help feeling a little thrill when the symbiote speaks again.

I chose it, it says. Translated from my language. There's no exact match in English, but 'venom' is... close.

Eddie hums, trying not to smile. "What's your real name, then?"

There's that familiar curl of discomfort. You cannot process it. It's not a spoken language.

"Try anyway?" Eddie suggests.

He feels the symbiote roll its nonexistant eyes. No. We communicate with chemical signals, not sounds. Don't know how a human body would react to them. Might do nothing, might kill you.

Oh. Yeah, thats probably not a good idea, then. Eddie's never been known for good ideas, but having an alien chemical language injected into his bloodstream seems like a good place to draw the line.

Like I said, there's no exact translation, Venom continues. Little tendrils wind their way around Eddie's wrist and thread through his fingers, like the symbiote is trying to ground itself to him. Eddie squeezes gently.

The literal translation of my name would be something like... 'a substance which poisons'. But it's not that simple. To understand it fully, you have to understand how my species sees the world.

Eddie stays quiet, attentive, running his thumb over the black threads tangled around his fingers.

Venom is thinking hard, trying to fit its alien experiences into terms that its host can understand. To us, everything is chemicals, it explains. Things are defined by how they can be processed. Is it organic or inorganic? Can it be eaten, or broken down, or combined into something new?

Eddie has a vision of a dark, submerged world, teeming with amorphous things, all writhing blindly through the darkness, snatching and absorbing and dissolving each other, burning each other as fuel, integrating themselves into more complex structures and initiating chains of chemical reactions that mean 'survival'.

Everything is a substance waiting to be utilized or discarded, Venom says, Do you understand?

Eddie nods, trying not to cringe. If that was Venom's homeworld, no wonder it didn't want to go back. "Sure... makes sense."

So, to my kind, there is not much distinction between an organism and an inanimate substance. A thing can be alive, or not alive, but... it trails off, unsure how to explain. After a moment, it tries again from a different angle: Do you remember when you asked me about pronouns?

Eddie does. He'd defaulted to calling Venom 'he' when they first met, but at some point he'd realized this made no sense, and stopped to ask the symbiote what pronouns it would prefer. He'd been taken aback when it had insisted on 'it', and Venom hadn't understood why.

"Yeah, I remember," Eddie says. "So that's why you don't mind being called 'it'?"

Exactly. To humans, it's insulting to be compared to an object. But to my kind, I am an object. A substance. So are you. So is everyone. This is how we think, and it's reflected in our language.

Then Venom goes quiet again, and Eddie knows that it has finally come up against the crux of the issue.

For example, it says slowly, There is a word in my language that can mean both 'substance' and 'organism'.

With the explanation, it pushes a wordless thought through their bond: the concept of physicality, of something that can be touched and manipulated. Eddie's brain reflexively tries to translate it as thing-stuff-creature-substance and he reels a bit at the alien mode of thought. But he understands.

Venom's grip on his hand tightens, and after a moment, it sends out another thought-concept. This one encompasses a feeling of insidiousness, of corruption, of sneaking into something and destroying it-- passively, quietly-- from the inside. Of causing harm simply by being. Poison-pollute-invade-infect Eddie's mind supplies.

And, Venom says, there is a word that means both 'to poison' and 'to infect'.

Eddie's chest feels tight. "And that's your name?" he ventures.

That's my name, Venom says.

Creature-substance which poisons-infects. Venom. Parasite.

Eddie takes a deep breath and lets it out slow. He remembers the day they met, remembers his monstrous reflection snarling in outrage when he called it 'parasite'. Remembers it slamming him against the wall in its fury.

He remembers, later, actually asking it what it was. He remembers it deciding, I am Venom.

He feels like kind of a dick, now. What is he supposed to say to that? This is the first time Venom has really opened up to him about anything. Should he apologize? He hasn't called Venom 'parasite' in a while, even in jest, but... but. Seems like he is a bully, after all.

... and now, Venom concludes suddenly, bringing Eddie out of his thoughts, you get to say 'we are Venom' and pretend you're a badass. You're welcome.

The tension is abruptly gone, and Eddie snorts with laughter. He loves this dumb goo so much he can't stand it.

Venom forms eyes just to glare at him. You said you wouldn't laugh, it accuses.

"I what...?" Oh. Right. "I didn't! You made me laugh!"

Tendrils snake around Eddie's body and squeeze. I'm going to eat your kidneys.

"No-- hey! I only agreed to one!"

Venom rumbles with its own version of laughter, and even though its mass is still mostly outside of Eddie's body, he feels like they are closer now than ever.