“Holy cow!” yelps a throaty voice from across the room; Eddie twitches, sloshing grainy hot chocolate over the polystyrene rim of his cup.
Half the hospital cafeteria, along with Eddie and Anne, lift their heads at the exclamation, gawking at the woman clutching Dan’s arm with both hands - black polished nails dig into the sleeve of his white coat - before turning back to their plastic trays. Around them, the murmur of voices starts up again accompanied by the clink of cheap cutlery and chairs scraping against institutional vinyl.
Venom sneaks a narrow tendril out from between Eddie’s bracelets and surreptitiously hoovers up the spilled drink.
Eddie’s still watching the young woman, who is herself is staring at Anne, apparently delighted. Her long, dark, wavy hair is clipped on one side by a sunflower; she’s wearing a yellow cowl-neck tunic that swings low over - Eddie breaks out into a bit of a sweat - substantial flashes of cleavage. Jerking his attention elsewhere and keeping his eyes low, he catches a flash of her sunny yellow high-tops and black jeggings. Beside him, Eddie feels Anne straighten up and take a deep breath. Eddie decides to trust himself to raise his head; Dan is watching them right back, the both of them still a few tables away, as the girl biffs him in the arm. Her voice carries.
“You landed that? Bro, you are punching waaaay above your weight there. Up top. C’mon, don’t leave me hanging. You know you want to. Do iiiit. Do it, do it, do it…”
She’s telegraphing the high-five, pausing mid-air only to bite her lip, look up like a hopeful puppy, and do it again, until the patience of Dan Lewis - which Eddie has never seen worn down by anything - breaks and he slaps his palm reluctantly against the one awaiting him.
Eddie’s fascinated. It’s like watching Dan being hassled by a persistent and up-beat bumble bee.
The girl - Dan’s sister - bounces across the room, dragging her brother and pulling up sharp at the table where Anne is smoothing down her dress and rising to her feet to greet them. Dan leans over and kisses Anne’s cheek, while his sister squeaks with glee.
“Anne, this is my sister, Darcy Lewis. Darce, Anne is the woman I love.”
Sap, says Venom - fortunately in the privacy of Eddie’s head. It’s without scorn; Venom approves of Dan, MRI incident notwithstanding.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” says Anne, reaching out to shake Darcy’s proffered hand.
“Oh, believe me, the pleasure is all mine,” says Darcy, pumping Anne’s hand up and down and grinning all over her face. “No, but seriously. Explain how this,” she swings her index finger back and forth between Anne and Dan, “even happened. Because if I know anything about my big brother it is that he has no game. Nada. No way he asked someone as flat out stunning as you out. No way.”
“Ah,” says Anne, and smiles. “A mutual friend set us up, I promise you Dan had no active involvement in the process until our first date. Plenty of active involvement after that, of course. It all went very smoothly. He was very smooth. And confident. And handsome. Good hands. Do stop me if this is making you uncomfortable,” says Anne, with a calculated grin, as Darcy gurgles with laughter.
“Oh my god, please, no, never stop, this is amazing,” crows Darcy. “Danny, I’m so proud. So. Proud. Please let her keep you.”
They smile - not sizing each other up, just enjoying it. Eddie’s got V now, but man - he doesn’t know how anyone doesn’t just fall at the feet of women generally. They’re queens. He’s happy-scared. He’d get down on his knees.
Eddie’s starting to get used to being the biggest threat in any room, but before that, wherever they went, the danger was all Anne. She’s a cool forest pool; calm, sparkling and beautiful from the mid-distance, but up close, spiny fins break the surface of murky waters before submerging like silk, a razor sharp warning to anyone who wades in unwary. Dan’s sister seems delighted though. She’s not fazed. She’s not even in the same frame of reference - if Anne’s surprisingly deadly, her greatest value mostly hidden, Darcy’s power is entirely visible; unbothered, celestial and luminous, like the sun. Dan’s a satellite in her orbit and Eddie can feel himself drawn in as well. Possibly he and V are some kind of asteroid. It seems appropriate enough. Eddie really needs to turn down the metaphor, he’s starting to zone out.
Darcy’s still talking.
“And who’s this?” she asks, turning her full attention to Eddie. Eddie steps back, unconsciously. He feels a little bad, hunches his shoulders, ducks his head and waggles his fingers: hello.
“This is our friend, Eddie,” says Dan, all enthusiasm. “Eddie, she doesn’t bite - no offence to certain persons present.” (Aww, says Venom, internally, that’s nice.) “Darce, Eddie’s the journalist Eddie Brock, of the Brock Report.”
“Formerly of,” says Eddie, to Darcy. “I’m freelance now. I, uh, mostly contract for the local news outlets; keep the focus on San Francisco, y’know?”
“Ohhhh, that guy,” says Darcy, big and bright and inexorably attractive. “So good to meet you; Dan had such a dude crush on you, and now you’re friends IRL! That’s great.” She’s beaming; Dan winces but throws a fond arm around her anyway. Eddie coughs and shuffles his feet. V laughs on the inside: I like her, Eddie. Like Dan, so little of your human pussyfooting around.
“And what do you do, Darcy?” asks Anne, rescuing them from themselves, as per usual. “Dan tells me you studied political science, but transferred to astrophysics?”
“Well, it was what you might call accidental, but yeah, I’m a research scientist. Turns out big bro here isn’t the only smart one in the family. I even have my own intern. A new one. I’m actually dating the old one - Ian; he had to transfer supervisors ‘cause ethics, you know. Sleeping with your boss: sounds like fun, actually a terrible idea. Oh my god, I’m someone’s boss. Who even am I?”
“An accidental scientist, apparently. Do you like it?” asks Anne, as she slings her bag over her shoulder and Eddie pushes in their chairs. Dan’s shrugging out of his doctor’s coat, ready to head out to lunch.
“Oh, yeah, just like any job,” says Darcy, waggling her fingers as they pick their way around the tables. “Mostly it’s mind numbing tedium broken only by frantic hussle when someone decides to start some world ending drama, you know? The view makes up for it though.”
“You like looking at the stars?” inquires Anne.
“What? Oh, astrophysics. Yeah, totally. Them too,” says Darcy, beaming and nodding, and that’s when Eddie puts two and two together and realisation hits him like the side of a skyscraper.
“Oh, Darcy Lewis, of course,” he says, snapping his fingers. Ahead, Dan holds the wide glass doors open for Anne and looks puzzled. Warm air gusts in from the outside.
“Uh, what now?” says Darcy.
“The view? You work with Dr. Jane Foster. You know Thor,” says Eddie.
Inside, Venom perks up suspiciously. Your pulse spiked, Eddie. Who is Thor?
“Thor is a supernaturally handsome demi-god who I would let crush me with his hammer so long as I got to watch him flex his biceps.” says Eddie, unthinking and out loud.
“Oh yeah,” agrees Darcy, as they cause a traffic jam in the lobby of the hospital, “I know, right? Jane dun good - though they broke up. Long distance, political pressures, that sort of thing. He says it’s mutual but I’m pretty sure she dumped him. She moped, though. A lot. Oh, hey Dan, maybe you know some doctor I can set her up with? She typically has teeerrrible taste, Thor was honestly an anomaly. Maybe we can save her from herself if we go proactive. She’s dated medical doctors before.”
“No, Darcy,” says Dan.
“So you’re saying Thor’s single,” jokes Eddie and it is a joke, but Venom huffs in jealousy inside his skull and takes over - jerking his head back in retaliation and smacking him in the face with a tentacle.
“Whatthefuck,” says Darcy, face going blank, stepping back.
Dan moves smoothly indeed. “I’m done for the day, how about we get out of here?” he says, jovially, looking meaningfully at Anne and they brace Darcy in a classic pincer movement, steering her out towards the parking lot.
Darcy’s craning her neck, looking over her shoulder at Eddie, narrowed eyes and running her mouth with suspicious commentary.
“No, seriously, I saw that. I’ve seen a lot of things, freaky things, don’t try and convince me that wasn’t a thing. That was totally a thing. What the hell was that thing?”
“It’s a private family thing,” says Dan, as Anne unlocks the car and they all bundle in. “I’ll explain everything. Just not in public, Darce.”
Dan explains in the car.
Darcy twists around in her seat, narrowing her eyes at Eddie, who’s sitting in the back with Anne. Venom’s been allowed to say hi, their head hovers between Eddie and Anne, all big pearly eyes and as innocent as they can get, with their gums full of razors and drool.
Darcy says “Oh. My. God.” a lot.
She sounds equal parts horrified and morbidly pleased.
“You had that inside you?” squeals Darcy.
Anne’s eyes slide away as she says, “It was a one time thing. Once!”
“Wait, so you were going to devour the world and enslave its people, but now you do Sunday brunch with my brother, his girlfriend and your… whatever the fuck he is?”
“Hey,” says Eddie.
Yes, says Venom. It sounds defensive.
“Why?” asks Darcy.
I like brunch, says Venom. Hash browns and chocolate milkshakes.
“I mean, what changed your mind?”
Eddie did, says Venom, bashfully.
“Oh. Congrats to you both, I guess?”
“This is why I asked Eddie to be here,” says Dan. “You both know aliens. I don’t know anyone else who knows aliens. I thought we could all compare notes.”
“Yeah, ‘cause all aliens are all the same. That’s racist, dude,” says Darcy, sniffing.
Darcy’s kinda pissed. Eddie’s just embarrassed.
“I’m still not over the fact whenever I help thwart alien invasions it’s all running and screaming and activating desperate science thingies while getting drenched in unseasonable thunderstorms, while Eddie here seems to have managed it by batting his eyelashes and looking cute.”
You think he’s cute too?
“Oh, no kidding, he’s a snack, Mr. V.”
A snack? says Venom.
“You know. Edible.”
He is. I ate part of his liver once.
“V!” groans Eddie. Darcy shows no quarter either.
“I get it, I truly do. I would eat him up too if I was an alien. Uh, it grew back, right?”
“Friggin’ parasite, is what you are,” mutters Eddie.
“Rude,” says Darcy.
Thank you. You tell him.
“Oh my god, there’s two of them,” sighs Eddie. Anne pats him on the shoulder with sympathy while Dan laughs good-naturedly from the driver’s seat.
They get brunch.
Their bill includes a line item for a truly inhuman number of milkshakes.