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This is stupid Eddie. And dangerous.

“No it’s not buddy. It’s tradition. Humans do this all the time.” Despite his words though, Eddie was also casting nervous glances at the fire crackling merrily in the fireplace. It was safely contained behind glass, and Eddie knew the coffee shop had at least one fire extinguisher stashed somewhere in the building. Before Venom, Eddie loved sitting in front of fires in the winter. Now that Venom was permanently in the picture however, Eddie found himself inexplicably nervous around anything bigger than a stovetop flame.

That doesn’t mean anything. Humans can’t be trusted to keep themselves safe. Venom grumbled and before Eddie could argue, Venom was shoving an image of a thrill-seeker dangling one-handed off the side of a building to the front of his mind.

Well, when it was put that way…

“Listen,” Eddie muttered, “We just have to put up with it for the interview. They picked the seats, we’re not going to be weird by insisting on moving when it took this long to get someone to agree to even talk to us. An hour, tops.” Venom clearly disagreed and thought they could be as weird as they wanted if it got them to the other side of the restaurant, or better yet, out of it completely but Eddie wasn’t going to budge on this one.

He pasted on a winning smile as their potential source made their way back from the line, drink in hand; and got to work.

--

“Hey guys!” Anne smiled widely as she opened the door. “Come in.” She stepped back so Eddie could enter, and as soon as the door was shut behind them Venom manifested and bumped foreheads with her. Anne pressed back gently, making Venom rumble with contentment. It had quickly become Venom’s favorite way to greet people they liked. Venom wouldn’t say one way or another, but Eddie got the impression physical contact was taboo back on his home planet, or at least it wasn’t something Venom had gotten a lot of; either way Venom loved indulging here as much as possible.

“Hello, Anne.” Venom’s mouth stretching into a toothy grin. “We missed you.”

“You guys just saw me a few days ago,” Anne smiled, turning and leading them up the stairs. “Dan’s gone to pick up Darcy from the airport. She’s really looking forward to seeing you both again.”

“It’ll be good to see her too,” Eddie said, while Venom wound himself up and down Eddie’s arms in excitement. Someone looking forward to spending time with Venom was also a novelty, and Eddie didn’t think Venom would get sick of it anytime soon. “Knock it off Venom, let me take our coat off.”

“Sorry.” Venom obligingly retreated from Eddie’s arms so he could shuck off the coat and hang it on the hook. “When will Dan and Darcy be here?”

“Dan just called. Darcy’s flight has landed but apparently it’s stuck on the tarmac for the time being, so it’ll be a little while. Do you want anything to drink?”

“Hot chocolate, when Dan and Darcy get here.” Anne raised her brows and looked at Eddie. Eddie shrugged.

“Hot chocolate is apparently the only acceptable winter drink and when I make it it’s not good enough anymore.” He answered, sounding resigned and amused. “I can’t even get it at restaurants without having to listen to him pitch a fit.”

“Not true, Eddie! We only want the best hot chocolate and you have terrible taste,” Venom protested and then unspooled to examine a new painting across the room.

“I’ll have water,” Eddie told her before getting unceremoniously yanked across the room to stand in front of the painting.

“Eddie! What is this?”

“It’s a painting bud.” Eddie squinted at it. It looked like a bay or port of some kind, with mountains past the skyline. Though the buildings didn’t look like anything Eddie had ever seen, except maybe in a fantasy drawing.

“Of what, Eddie?” Venom’s voice was agitated, tendrils swirling over Eddie’s body. Venom’s head kept manifesting to look at the painting before disappearing again. Eddie grasped some of the tendrils in his hand, running his thumb soothingly over them.

“I’m not sure, V, you’d have to ask Annie. Why?” Venom didn’t respond, retreating back into Eddie’s skin, though not enough Eddie couldn’t continue rubbing him with his thumb. He turned to look at Anne, who was frowning.

“It was an early gift from Darcy and her friend Jane.” Anne came up to stand next to them. “Jane apparently went to Asgard for some reason and since she knows Dan is a huge fan of Thor’s, they got this made for him.” Venom rippled under his skin.

“I thought, uh, I thought Dan was Jewish,” Eddie said in an attempt to give Venom time to compose himself, scratching his nose and side eyeing the menorah resting on the mantelpiece. Anne gave him a slanted look.

“They give gifts for Hanukkah, Eddie,” she said drily. “And we’re celebrating Christmas too.”

The Christmas tree was a little hard to miss. Eddie could see a few ornaments on the tree that he and Anne had picked out together. He couldn’t decide if it made him feel warm or sad that she obviously had no qualms about hanging them out.

Eddie, I don’t like it. Eddie could almost picture the narrowed eyes and bared teeth. Asgardians are not safe for us. And now Venom sounded defensive and when Venom felt cornered, the situation never ended well for anyone involved.

“Okay, well, I don’t think we need to worry about Thor walking through the door,” Eddie said soothingly. Venom manifested, staring Eddie directly in the eyes.

“Why would we need to worry about Thor, Eddie?”

“No, I just said we wouldn’t need to worry about Thor, Venom.”

“But why would you single Thor out specifically, Eddie.”

“He’s been to Earth a couple times, V, you know this. I’ve shown you news footage. I just used Thor because he’s a well known Asgardian on Earth.” Besides Loki, but Eddie figured bringing up the one who wanted to destroy Earth and had actively tried probably wasn’t going to help settle Venom.

“And he’s dating Darcy’s friend,” Anne, never one to sugarcoat, said. Venom snapped around to look at her. Anne continued, “But Thor has also never come to San Francisco Venom, so there is very little chance you’ll meet him.” Venom bobbed uncertainly. “Darcy can talk to you more about it when she gets here.” Venom didn’t seem convinced, but he curled himself around Eddie’s shoulders, head nestled up against his neck.

“Darcy needs better friends.” Eddie wouldn’t have heard Venom’s grumble if he hadn’t been literally under Eddie’s ear.

Eddie just kept stroking his thumb over the tendrils.

By the time Dan and Darcy stumbled through the front door, chattering excitedly at each other, their voices carrying up the stairs, Anne had managed to thoroughly distract Venom by showing him how to make cheesecake. Eddie had parked himself at the kitchen table and was quietly drafting his next article.

Darcy made it up the stairs first and surprised Eddie by throwing herself at him and squeezing him tightly. Venom zipped over, nudged her forehead fondly before drifting off to do the same to Dan, who had gone to give Anne a kiss. Dan accepted the greeting and walked over to clap Eddie on the shoulder companionably.

“How was the flight?” Anne asked, grabbing Darcy’s bag and taking it to the guest room.

“Oh my god,” Darcy groaned, unwinding her scarf and following her down the hall. Their voices fade for a moment. Dan groaned in a manner almost identical to Darcy and dropped down in a chair next to Eddie, thumping his head on the table.

“The next time Darcy visits, she’s getting a taxi from the airport,” Dan muttered. Venom settled comfortingly over Dan’s shoulders, patting his head awkwardly. Eddie snorted, snapped a picture, and stood to get Dan a beer from the fridge. Dan accepted it gratefully and took a long pull as Eddie sat back down. They could still hear Darcy and Anne’s muffled voices, even if they couldn’t make out what they were saying.

“They’ll be in there for a while,” Dan muttered.

“Why?” Venom asked, twining up and down Dan’s arm before oozing back towards Eddie.

“Women like talking, V,” Eddie said. Venom hummed thoughtfully. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t come out for another good half hour.” Dan nodded in agreement.

“You and Dan talk a lot.” Venom’s voice was slightly confused. “And we talk a lot. We also like talking.”

“I - yes, we do,” Eddie said, clearly thrown. “It’s just a...um…” He glanced at Dan helplessly, who just shrugged, clearly not sure how to explain it either. Venom, not impressed with the lack of explanation, melted back into Eddie’s skin and began rifling through Eddie’s memories. Eddie took a sip of his coffee, content to let Venom look. Chances were Venom would find some tidbit Eddie had picked up somewhere that would answer the question.

“V’s looking for it,” Eddie said in response to Dan’s confused face. “Tell me about the airport.” Dan slumped back in his chair, groaning again and pressed the palms of his hands into his eyes.

“It’s not anything specifically wrong with the airport,” he said. “Apart from every single person in San Francisco showing up to pick up their family members. And the lack of parking available. And the delayed arrivals. And the fact it’s the holiday season which means every absolute delight of a human being is out and about.” He gave Eddie a narrow eyed gaze. “Do you know how necessary it is to bring your children to the airport to pick up a relative they’ve only seen twice in their lives?”

“How necessary?”

“Not necessary. It’s not necessary at all!” Dan exclaimed. “Do you know how many meltdowns I saw because some parent thought spending three hours at the airport with a bored five-year-old was a good idea?”

“Too many,” Eddie said drily. Venom was still swirling in the back of his mind. Every now and then he caught a vague impression of a memory that Venom examined more closely before it vanished. “You do know Anne wants kids, right? Those little displays putting you off parenthood at all?”

“I’ve worked in pediatrics and I have several cousins with children,” Dan replied. “I once fell asleep at a family get together and woke up with a glitter glue crown, rainbow toenails and a ‘mud mask’ made out of flour and water because the kids decided they were running a ‘day spa.’”

“I can’t tell what direction this is going.”

“No, it’s not putting me off kids at all. Kids are great, but everything I witnessed at the airport...” Dan trailed off and shuddered theatrically. Before Eddie could reply, Venom burst out of his skin, nearly vibrating.

“Eddie, I found your memories of when you watched Oprah and she says it’s a sexist view that society has of women. Dr. Phil says you probably also learned it from your father despite the fact he was at best negligent to you during your childhood and it is probably not even a conscious thought that you have anymore, since it is all internalized.” Venom turned to Dan. “You also probably learned it from your father, who was also probably negligent at best during your childhood.”

“Yeah, Venom, we talked about how media isn’t a reflection of everyone,” Eddie groaned. “And how you also can’t go blurting out stuff like that in front of people.”

“Dan is a friend.” Venom sounded confused. “Friends know stuff.”

“You’re right,” Dan stepped in quickly. “They do, but generally it’s polite to ask your other half before talking about something that could be sensitive to them. Like what their parents were like during their childhood.” There was a rumbling coming from Venom that Eddie recognized as a thoughtful hum.

“Humans are very different. Where I am from, affection is...strongly discouraged. ” Venom sounded slightly hesitant. Venom didn’t dream, not in a way Eddie could process, but there were the nights were Venom was slightly more aggressive; not to the point of hurting Eddie, never that, but more like he was trying to prove something to Eddie, himself or to someone who wasn’t even present. “Partners are only born of necessity and committing ourselves to one host is unnatural. And to allow another to know your weaknesses was tantamount to suicide. You humans, however, see it as a way to bring you closer together.”

“Well, it’s pretty common here,” Eddie said. “You’re not completely unnatural.”

“Hang on,” Dan said. “What is your society like, exactly? Your kind never bonds to one host?”

“There are exceptions,” Venom said, sounding considering. “If one is powerful enough before the bonding and if the host is particularly exceptional it is excused, presented as a strategic move to further the superiority of our species. Even we can admit when we are not strong enough.”

Venom fell silent. Dan and Eddie stayed quiet as well, letting the symbiote work through his thoughts. There was a lot of overlap between Eddie and Venom’s minds but in the instances where their thoughts were specific to their lives and experiences before bonding there was a bit of a disconnect. Venom assured Eddie even that would fade but they had only been bonded for a few months, and neither of them knew how a long term bond worked.

“Then there is the other side.” Tendrils sprouted out and curled protectively over Eddie, twining with his fingers and wrapping over his torso. Venom nudged in close to Eddie’s head. “Those of us who are at the bottom of the...totem pole, so to speak. Bonding with a host in an attempt to find partnership and a bond is tantamount to treason. It is seen as dragging our kind down, weakening us. If we were to go back, as we are now, my kind would execute us.”

Eddie gasped slightly as Venom tightened reflexively around him and he caught a brief flash of horrordespairfear, nothing Eddie had ever experienced from Venom, before it was shoved roughly out of reach and behind a wall in Venom’s mind.

We’re talking about that later.

Venom ignored him. Dan looked faintly ill but managed a smile when he caught Eddie and Venom’s eye.

“For what it’s worth Venom, according to some Native American cultures, the lower something is on the totem pole, the more important it is because bears the weight of the all the others. The others couldn’t be so high if it weren’t for those on the bottom. And we think our bond with you and Eddie makes us stronger,” Dan said quietly before pushing himself to his feet and wandering into the kitchen and humming quietly. Eddie remained silent, letting Venom encompass him further and ripple thoughtfully before abruptly pulling back into Eddie’s skin, settling somewhere beneath his diaphragm.

Eddie considered getting up and stretching his legs, but a tightening sensation in his muscles made him settle back down in the chair instead, slumping a little and tilting his head back. Dan had put on some music (It was soft jazz, because of course it was. Eddie didn’t know why he expected any different from Dan. No wonder Anne li- loved him) and was ordering pizza. Anne and Darcy’s voices were still faint and occasionally punctuated by laughter. Anne was probably helping Darcy unpack. She’d done that with her mom whenever she’d visited before, the two of them spending at least an hour talking even if they’d just talked the day before. Maybe Eddie should have just told Venom that instead of floundering with Dan like a couple of idiots. He just hadn’t thought of it but if he had maybe Venom wouldn’t be hiding in his rib cage.

Not hiding. And Dan is not an idiot. You, perhaps. But not Dan.

“Thanks, V,” Eddie muttered quietly, voice dry. “I can always count on you to make me feel better.”

Of course you can. But hot chocolate will make us both feel better.

“Hey, Dan,” Eddie called, not opening his eyes. “Venom only loves you for your hot chocolate, would you make us some, please?”

“That’s not true! We do not only love Dan for his hot chocolate!” Venom burst back out of Eddie’s skin indignantly.

“Whoa, hey, buddy, calm down!” Eddie sat upright, alarmed. “It was just a joke. Dan knows we don’t just like him for hot chocolate.”

“Love,” Venom grumbled. “We do not just love Dan for hot chocolate.”

“I appreciate that, Venom,” Dan said soothingly. “I know you guys like me for more than hot chocolate.” Venom whipped around and stared at Dan intently.

“Love, Dan,” Venom corrected, voice insistent. Dan’s face softened a fraction.

“Love, then,” Dan agreed. “I know you don’t. And I don’t mind making you some because I love you too.”

“Aww. This is sweet,” Darcy’s voice drew their attention. She was grinning widely while Anne watched them with a more reserved smile.

“We thought we heard a commotion so we came to see what was going on,” Anne explained, as Darcy moved to the kitchen. “And now we know how to make Venom stop hiding in Eddie.” She ignored Darcy’s snort of laughter and Dan’s high pitched giggle. Venom grumbled quietly but wound around Anne’s arm.

“Darcy, Venom was curious about that painting you gave Anne and Dan,” Eddie said. Venom had completely forgotten about it by this point, but Eddie knew it would come up again later at a more inconvenient time. Best to just to get it out of the way now.

“Oh!” Darcy twisted around to look at the painting in question. “My friend Jane got to visit Asgard a while ago. Dan is a huge Thor fanboy -” Dan hissed at her. Darcy ignored him. “ - She and I went in on a commission together.”

“So...do you, uh, see Thor very often?” Eddie asked. Darcy shrugged.

“It depends. Apparently there’s something going on with the bifrost right now so travel is kind of limited but he comes around and visits when he can.”

It wasn’t much of answer. It was also, Eddie suspected, the best he and Venom were going to get. He and Darcy had talked on and off since her last visit, but he wouldn’t necessarily call them friends, for all that Venom seemed to really like her. They were, for lack of a better term, still feeling each other out.

“You probably won’t see him, though,” Darcy continued. Venom wound around Eddie’s neck. “He tends to stay in New Mexico or New York when he’s not out with the other Avengers or dealing with-” She waved her hand “-spacey stuff.”

“Alright,” Eddie leaned back in his seat, relaxing a fraction. “Great. That’s, uh, that’s great.”

Venom settled more quietly against him, not quite relaxed, but better than before.

--

“So how’s the journaling going?” Darcy’s voice was bright in his ear and Eddie could hear clanging in the background. He wondered if she was in a garage or a workshop.

“It’s, uh, it’s going pretty well,” Eddie answered. He squinted at the macaroni on the stove. He hadn’t had this stuff since he was a kid but Venom had been making noise about wanting to try it and Eddie had finally broken down and gotten the ingredients. If he was honest it was nice to actually cook again. “Found a lead that may actually go somewhere. I’m gonna go check it out later this week.”

“Nice,” Darcy said and grunted.

“Are you alright?” Eddie asked. She huffed for a moment and he heard a heavy thud. “Darcy?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Jane got an offer from some big research company in Europe and she’s going back and forth on whether or not to accept it. They told her to take all the time she needs to decide.”

“Well, that’s good, right?”

“Yes, it’s very exciting,” Darcy said drily. “What’s not exciting is how much packing and unpacking I’m having to do every time she changes her mind again, or when she remembers she needs a piece of equipment we’ve already put away for an experiment she’s running.”

There was another thud and a muttered, “Finally” before the sound of something scraping across the floor drifted through the receiver.

“You know who I miss?” Darcy said, groaning. “I miss Ian. Ian was fantastic for this shit.”

“Who’s Ian?” Eddie gave the macaroni another stir before craning his neck to check on Venom, who was thoroughly preoccupied with a nature documentary on the ocean. If he wasn’t careful he was going to get upset again when another baby seal got eaten. For an alien who ate brains on the semi-regular, he sure was a soft touch sometimes.

“Ian was our intern,” Darcy said. “And unlike me when I first started working for Jane, he was actually studying astrophysics, so he understood Jane when she started going on tangents and when something presumably exciting came up they could squeal about it together while Thor and I made s’mores.”

“So what happened to Ian?” Eddie asked, trying to decide how Venom would feel about camping. S’mores would probably be out, since the campfire would be a no-go, unless Eddie could come up with another way to roast marshmallows, but if they got far enough away from the city, Venom might like being able to see the stars.

“Got a job at a research firm that promised way more money and way less life-threatening scenarios,” Darcy sniffed, her tone clearly implying what she thought of that particular life choice.

“Imagine that,” Eddie said drily. “Hey, V, the macaroni is done.” He dished up a bowl for himself before Venom oozed over the pot. “Darcy’s on the phone, you want to say hi?”

“Hi, Darcy,” Venom rumbled before turning back to the macaroni.

“He’s happy to hear from you,” Eddie said and Darcy snorted.

“I know he is,” she said. “How’s your story going?” Eddie hummed.

“V and I are headed down to the docks later, see if we can dig something up,” he said. “So if I’m reported missing in the morning, you have an exclusive lead to my last known location. Use it wisely.”

“You will not be reported missing, Eddie. I won’t let that happen to us.” Venom sounded offended.

“Yeah, Eddie, have some faith in your symbiote.” Darcy sounded like she was laughing at them. “Oh, hey, Jane is calling so I gotta go. Have fun at the docks later, don’t eat anyone who doesn’t deserve it and stay safe!”

“Yeah, see ya, Darce,” Eddie said before she clicked off. He started shoveling down the macaroni. It wasn’t half bad. He remembered it being better when he was younger.

Maybe you just need practice.

“Yeah, maybe.”

I will be a taste-tester.

“Thanks, bud. You ready to go trawl the docks?”

Yes. Let’s go eat bad guys.

“Best plan I’ve heard all night.”