Peter Parker got his first tattoo seventeen days after Uncle Ben died.
It was his fault after all, that Uncle Ben was gone. Some weird cosmic retaliation for being foolish enough to enjoy having his spider powers maybe. Karma getting back at him for being a stubborn snarky teenager who should have just listened and not been a brat, perhaps. Or maybe the universe just had it out for him, just like it had since his parents had disappeared.
Either way, Uncle Ben died and it was Peter’s fault and seventeen days later he was in a sketchy tattoo shop getting inked by a guy who had looked him up and down, muttered something about “underage kid probably wanting a stupid ass tattoo” and had directed him towards a chair anyway.
“I want a spider.” Peter said softly, clearly. “Right here.” He pointed to the spider-bite that had never really gone away, still a visible bump against his skin. “Nothing fancy. A black body, eight legs, call it good.”
“A spider.” the artist repeated. “What for?”
“Does it matter?” Peter slumped in his chair and closed his eyes when the needle started buzzing. “Just give me a spider.”
It barely hurt, or at least the pain barely registered, and with such a small tattoo, Peter was inked and done and out the door in less than an hour, the spider harsh and black against his skin.
It was his first tattoo, a silent reminder of what he had caused, a silent acknowledgment of his guilt.
It was his first tattoo, but it wasn’t the last, not even close.
It wasn’t easy being Peter Parker, not with all the secrets and lies and dodging of various questions. Sneaking out of the house and falling asleep in class and hiding bruises. Checking his strength so he wouldn’t accidentally break things, not sticking to walls when he was frightened, trying not to let the paranoia from all the horrible things he knew about the city and the people affect his every day life.
The papers and the police covered it up– the unfiltered brutality of the crimes and the horrifying truth of the people that committed them, and the danger that lurked every which way you turned. They covered it up, toned it down, but Peter saw it all from behind his mask and it ate at him.
The mask came off and the depression set in, tearing at his soul and filling his words with cynicism and bitterness until it leeched into his day to day and people started to notice.
“Peter.” May frowned at him as he stared at the television. “Sweetheart, turn off the news. You’re always so sad after you watch it, you’re too young to be worried about all that sort of thing.”
“Too young.” Peter repeated numbly, listening as the reporter talked about the family that had been found dead in their homes two nights prior, how the news channel glossed over how the family had really been found, how the scene had made Peter gag and cry he chased down the man who had done it.
He had been too late to that one. Had heard the commotion and the screams and got there before the police had, but he’d still been too late.
“Five.” he told the tattoo artist that afternoon, skipping the last two periods of class to get all the way across town and into the same chair as last. “Five spiders. Here on my foot. Black.”
“Five.” Peter swallowed back the urge to scream. “One for each of them.”
There was a pile up on the bridge, and Peter tried so hard but he wasn’t enough, and now there were spiders crawling up to his ankles.
A security guard in the wrong place at the wrong time and he died on the way to the hospital, and a spider smaller than the rest joined the ones inching towards his shin bone. His death was Peter’s fault but not really directly Peter’s fault, but he carried it with him anyway.
A train crash and he wasn’t enough and by now the tattoo artist knew his name and had perfected his design and the spiders clung to his calf muscle.
“Peter.” Gwen, stopping him in the hall with a gentle hand on his sleeve. “You’re coming over for dinner tonight, right? We’re um– do you like branzino? We’re having branzino.”
“Gwen.” God she was everything good and pure in his life and Peter loved her so much. “I don’t know what branzino is.”
“It’s fish.” she laughed and for a split second Peter felt like laughing too. When was the last time he had laughed? “Just be there around seven, alright? And don’t let my dad scare you off.”
“I’m not scared of your dad.” Peter told her confidentially, lying through his teeth, because he was terrified that her Chief of Police father would take one look at him and see the depression and the anxiety that less observant people mistook as seriousness and dedication. “I’ll be there at seven.”
“I’m looking forward to it.” She looked around the hallway and then leaned forward and kissed him on his cheek, dashing off to her class with red cheeks and a nervous giggle and god Peter loved her.
He loved her right up until the end, he did.
And he loved her still when he fell into the chair and asked for yet another one. “Make this one a big one.” he said from behind his hands, through the tears that hadn’t stopped yet even though summer had come and gone and the leaves were falling on the patch of grass where they had lain her to rest. “Over my knee. As big as my palm. I won’t ever forget this one.”
The tattoo artist didn’t say anything, just went to work, and when he was done there was a big black spider on Peter’s knee, another blot of ink for another person he couldn’t save, and Peter suited up just like he did every night and went out to try again.
It was worse after Gwen.
Every time Peter wasn’t fast enough, wasn’t strong enough to save someone the dark got a little bit worse. Every time his picture was splashed across the pages of the newspaper, calling him a menace and a criminal, the anger burned just a little bit brighter and Peter found himself lost in a spiral.
Putting the bad guys in jail felt useless when they were right out there hurting people later, let go by crooked judges or incompetent lawyers or freed on technicalities because a police officer hadn’t done everything exactly by the book.
There were so many criminals and so many good people being hurt and some nights the inevitability of it all physically hurt, sat heavy on Peter’s shoulders and dragged him down to some deep place filled with guilt and rage and fear that he when it was all said and done, the little bit of good he did was worthless.
And he was back in the tattoo shop, back in the chair over and over and over.
Eventually Peter realized it was the pain more than anything that helped him, cleared his head just a little bit. The sting of the needle, the low buzz that was just the right frequency to send his over heightened senses haywire so he could stop hyper focusing on everything that was wrong.
Maybe it helped.
It probably didn’t help.
No, it didn’t help, because the depression was still there. The blackness that clung to his fingers and hovered around his eyes and sank into his soul and weighed him down even though he flew above the city.
He wasn’t enough. Even with all these powers, he wasn’t enough. He couldn’t save them all, not even close, and when the thoughts got too bad he found himself back in the dingy shop with a tattoo artist whose name he’d never learned. He kept a tally book of all the ones he couldn’t save, and he handed it over each time so the artist would know how many spiders he wanted.
Then he watched with morbid fascination and clenched teeth as black bodies and eight black legs formed above his knee, and up onto his thigh and then higher and higher until they reached his hip bone and fuck that one hurt bad enough that for once Peter thought maybe it was enough.
And then he met Deadpool, and everything changed.
Wade was everything dangerous and unpredictable and had a penchant for killing that should have made Peter run the other way as fast as he could, but he didn’t.
Wade was loud and brash and obnoxious and flaunted his powers and laughed about dying and had pulled his gun and ended some thug who had threatened a little old lady and Peter should have walked away right then and there but he didn’t.
He had stayed and watched the blood flow onto the dirty alleyway and soak into the dirt and trash and when Wade turned to make some terrible attempt at a joke, Peter threw himself at the mercenary and pushed him up against a wall and since neither he nor Wade needed much more than a hint to get going, they got going and got off together right then and there.
Wade laughed about it afterwards, teasing Peter for letting a bullet make him horny, but Peter couldn’t even be bothered to care because for the first time since Gwen– for the first time since before Gwen– it all didn’t seem quite as hopeless anymore.
“Take it easy.” Wade said when he realized Peter was suddenly very very quiet. “It was just a little rub and tug between bad ass spandex clad hotties, Spidey. Don’t over think it.”
“I’m not overthinking it.” Peter lied and Wade snorted in disbelief. “I just um–” he found himself stepping closer, lining their bodies up again. “Do you want to come over tonight?”
“I feel like that’s a big step.” Wade hedged. “I mean, I just barely got acquainted with your dick, I dunno if I’m ready to see your teeth brushing habits.”
“We don’t have to do anything.” he said quickly, embarrassed over asking, and not even sure how to explain why he wanted— “I just.. it’s quiet with you.” he tapped his temple. “Or quieter, anyway. Does that make sense?”
Wade cocked his head and was quiet for long enough that Peter thought maybe he’d turn him down. “Yeah, Spidey, it makes sense.” A tap to his own temple, and Wade added, “It’s quieter up here when I’m around you too.”
“Probably cause you never stop running your mouth.” Wade finished and Peter smiled a little beneath his mask. “But it’s nice anyway.”
“So you’ll come over?”
“We can keep our masks on?”
“Lead the way, Spidey.”
It was good with Wade.
The mercenary gave zero fucks about anything at all and was always apologetically himself, whether he was singing 80′s power ballads while slicing through baddies, or cursing under his breath so the kid they’d rescued didn’t hear him. He was honest, sometimes terrifyingly so, and even though they still wore their masks Peter learned that he didn’t have to hide when they were together.
“Of course you want to kill bad guys.” Wade said one night when Peter confessed quietly how angry he was that jail was considered punishment for murder, how criminals could go back to living their lives after serving their sentence as if their actions hadn’t ruined other peoples lives.
“I don’t want to kill them.” Peter said stubbornly and Wade laughed. “Of course you do! You see the terrible things people do, and think about how easy it would be to break them in half and hide their body and you’d get away with it! You wear a mask! You got webby shit! You could be the best avenging angel out there but instead you web them up nicely for the coppers and let them call you friendly neighborhood Spiderman. If you could see everything we see and didn’t want to really really hurt someone every once in a while, you wouldn’t be normal.”
“Oh.” Relief then, washing through Peter’s very soul because while he didn’t take such a blase attitude towards killing, Wade calling him normal was just–
“You alright?” Wade elbowed him and Peter cleared his throat so he wouldn’t cry.
“I’m fine.” And he actually sort of meant it that time.
And he meant it a little more the next time, after leaving yet another bad guy for the cops to find, but this time Peter had let himself be angry instead of tamping it all down. He had let himself hate a man that would hurt a child so badly and he even broke the wall with his fist, punching through it just above the mans head just to see him piss himself in fear and then Peter had laughed about it.
Maybe it was a little fucked up, but it was healthier than how he’d been coping before, right?
He was a little more okay the next time Wade asked, and this time Peter didn’t scare the baddie or punch any walls or even feel like he needed another tattoo because with Wade’s help he had saved them, saved them and left the criminal strung up somewhere for the cops and Wade had tackled him onto the grass in some deserted corner of the park and tore his pants off and Peter had laughed and this time it was because he was actually… actually a little happy.
The next time Wade asked if he was alright, they were lying in Wade’s messy bed in Wade’s shithole apartment, coming down from a round of lights-off/masks-off sex to top off a perfectly terrible night on patrol.
“Alright?” Wade was barely breathing, halfway to fucked silly, groaning as he shifted on the bed because even his healing factor wasn’t a match for Peter’s strength. “I dunno why I’m asking you, I’m the one that had to bottom, next time we flip a coin for positions I get to call it.”
“I’m alright.” Peter said confidently, and he let himself smile because tonight they had seen some awful things but he had broken down and screamed about it to Wade, screamed and cursed and then fell to his knees and cried and Wade hadn’t left. He hadn’t walked out or shied away from Peter’s emotion, hadn’t made him feel useless or worthless or any of the things Peter had felt every night since Uncle Ben had died.
“It sucks.” was all he had said. “It sucks and there isn’t a whole lot we can do about it, but we don’t gotta be alone, you know? I’m here, Spidey. You don’t gotta deal with it by yourself.”
They’d kissed then, really kissed, masks off and mouths crushed together and hands grasping and greedy and it had been rough and hard between them, graceless and messy, cursing and swearing and needing and yes the night had sucked and it hurt and it tore at Peter’s soul but he wasn’t alone.
He wasn’t crying into his pillow in the dark, or staring out the window because he couldn’t cry anymore. He wasn’t racking up numbers on his tally sheet to take to the tattoo shop because at least for tonight it didn’t all feel like his fault.
For tonight, he didn’t have to be enough because he had tried and that was enough.
And Wade wouldn’t leave him alone. “I’m here, baby.” the mercenary whispered over and over as they fell asleep, holding Peter close when he started shaking, shushing him as he cried all over again.
He wasn’t alone anymore, and he was getting closer to being alright.
Wade told Peter about Vanessa one night as they sat up on their regular roof top.
He talked about the cancer and the experiments and pulled off his mask and showed off the scars that Peter had only felt in the dark. He talked about Vanessa and how she had loved him until he wouldn’t let her love him anymore, until he had pushed her away and told her to move on with her life and now she was happy and healthy and far better off without him in her life.
“Sometimes I hate her for moving on.” He admitted. “Sometimes I hate myself for not making her move on sooner.”
“Oh.” Peter was quiet for a long time, and then he told Wade about Uncle Ben, about the night he had died. He talked about Gwen and how happy she’d made him, and how losing her had nearly broken him.
And when the moon was high above them, Peter talked about the darkness around him, the depression that kept him in a stranglehold, the constant anxiety because he wasn’t enough, the times he’d stayed away for a week at a time because he wanted to make more of a difference, how much it hurt to see the newspapers call him a menace when he was trying.
“I’m trying.” he whispered. “But no matter what I do it’s never enough. I forget sometimes, when I’m with you. You’re the first person since Gwen to make me feel like I make at least a tiny difference. And she didn’t know for a long time, you know? She didn’t know about Spider-man, and when she did she wasn’t there to see it all. But you are. You’re here and you make me feel…”
He stopped talking then, because Wade kissed him and it didn’t really matter what he thought he needed to say.
That night they kept the lights on, tearing up Peter’s bedroom and cracking the bed frame and laughing together and touching together and coming together until the sun was peeking through the windows and they were left staring into each other’s eyes, raw and honest and open.
And then Wade put his hand possessively on Peter’s hip, rubbing slow circles over the pocket of spiders tattooed there.
“Why?” he asked simply, and Peter didn’t look away when he answered, “For all the ones I didn’t save.”
“You’re doing it wrong.” Wade stated and Peter didn’t know what that meant, so he didn’t bother asking.
He woke sometime the next afternoon to Wade bending over him, drawing on his chest with a permanent marker.
“Oh good, you’re awake.”
“What are you doing?” Peter looked down at his body, and then back up at Wade in alarm, tears filling his eyes when he saw the dozens and dozens of spiders Wade had added to his skin. “What are you doing?!”
“You’re doing it wrong.” Wade said again. “You got a tattoo for every person you didn’t save but that’s wrong.”
“What do you mean?” Peter wanted to throw up, wanted to get in the shower and scrub at his skin until it peeled off because there was so much black ink, so many people that he–
“These are for that bus load of kids you saved last week.” Wade motioned to a clump of spiders at his thigh. “Twenty four of them. And these eight right here? You snatched the gun out of that guys hand in the grocery store right? There were seven customers and the cashier that could have died but they didn’t because of you.”
“Our very first patrol you saved that mom and her son, right? That taxi driver had a heart attack and hit the gas and you grabbed them right off the street and handed them off to me while you did CPR on the taxi driver. So three spiders, because you saved three lives that night.”
Peter didn’t say anything, so Wade kept going. “Four here, those sorority girls? One here for the night you saved the Mayor. Remember that psycho that went to prom? There was like a hundred and fifty kids and teachers there that night but my hand started cramping after forty spiders so I gave up on that. My point is–” he capped the marker and slid up peter’s body until they were face to face.
“My point is, you’re doing it wrong. You shouldn’t be keeping track of the people you can’t save because that will drive you mad, Pete. That will ruin your life. Make you feel guilty for shit you have no control over, keep you up at night stressing out.” He raised non-existent eyebrows. “Sound familiar?”
“Remember the ones you have saved.” Wade interrupted. “You’re enough, Pete. What you do is enough. You make a difference in this fuck-hole of a city every single day and all of this–” he motioned down the lines of ink. “This proves it.”
Peter was quiet for a long time, his arm over his eyes so Wade couldn’t see his expression, and just when Wade thought he had overstepped, that his favorite wall crawler and sort of boyfriend was going to kick him out–
“Um. When I was a senior in high school I saved my chemistry teacher. Had to throw him through a wall and throw a web out to break his fall, but some of the kids had tried to set a prank and it ended up blowing up and probably would have killed him.”
“But you saved him.”
The press of a marker against his skin as Wade drew another spider. “Keep going.”
“Keep going, Pete. Every single person you remember saving since you became Spider-man.”
Peter smiled, just a little. “I remember all of them.”
“Well then tell me all of them. I have a four pack of markers and all the time in the world.”
If May noticed the ink creeping up from beneath Peter’s shirt collar, winding up his neck and behind his ear, she didn’t say anything at all, just offered Peter another piece of cake and pushed a second plate towards Wade as well.
“I’m glad to see you eating.” she whispered, kissing Peter’s head and he smiled up at her before digging into his dessert. “Wade, would you like left overs to take home?”
“Yes ma’am.” Wade said instantly, and May smiled in approval at him as well. “Pete, oh my god I love your Aunt.”
“You would love any woman who gave you food.” Peter retorted, reaching for a napkin and showing off the spiders that crawled along his fingers and onto his palm. “Especially if she makes you cake.”
“Yeah well, you ain’t lying.” Wade leaned over for a kiss, flicking his tongue out over the newest ink, a tiny spider at the corner of Peter’s lips. “Are you alright today? Last night was pretty bad.”
“Last night was bad.” Peter agreed softly, his mind flashing back to the traffic accident, the mangled car, the woman crying when they couldn’t save everyone. “But I’m– I’m alright.”
“You’re sure.” another kiss. “It’s okay if you aren’t, Pete.”
“I know.” confidently now, more than he had ever been before. Because it was alright if he wasn’t alright. It was okay to be affected by everything he saw, it was okay if he couldn’t sleep afterwards.
But it wasn’t alright to blame himself for it, to want to hurt himself– even just with the tattoos– to cope with what he saw, it wasn’t okay to let the anger and depression eat him up inside and every day Peter tried and every day he got a little closer to being okay.
It had been months now, months of living with Wade and getting new tattoos every time he saved someone and now Peter was covered from his toes clear to his collarbone, winding up the side of his neck to the newest one at his lips.
That one was specifically for Wade, because falling in love with the merc had saved Peter and that was something he knew he would never forget.
He wasn’t all better, of course. Being in love didn’t fix everything and some days the dark was still there, sometimes the guilt caught him unawares, but now Peter could grab Wade and make him hold him. Or he could stare down at all the ink on his body and remember all the good he had done, each spider an acknowledgment of all the things he had to be proud of, each tattoo a reminder that he was enough.
And then he suited up with Wade and went out on patrol, working to save a city that would always need a hero, and maybe– just maybe– feeling like a hero for the first time ever.