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“Because you’re pathetic!” roared the man.

Wade blinked rapidly at his (former) boyfriend.

{I told you we should have killed him.}

[We still can.]

No. Wade had fought the voices for a long time. There were only a few people he refused, no matter what, to kill. The voices didn’t like that; they didn’t like restrictions.

But he had to draw the line somewhere . It was his body, and they were just sharing it with him. He had the final say—even if he did, sometimes, wonder if they were right.

{Ha!}

Wade had apparently been silent for too long. He looked up into the rage filled face of the man in front of him before he was grabbed, towed to the door, and flung outside. “You useless piece of shit,” snarled the man. “Get out! See if you can find someone else to take care of you.” He slammed the door.

{Now can we kill him?}

[Forget that. We need a place to stay. A base. Those pretty little weapons of yours that are still in the bottom of that bastard’s closet.]

White had a point. Whatever happened in the future, Wade was going to need those babies—they were how he earned a living, after all. So Wade, ignoring the boxes, waited for his (former) boyfriend to leave the house before slipping in, grabbing his gear and some clothes (not a lot of clothes; he had a lot of gear), and slipping out again.

{So…where are we going to go? Weasel’s?}

[The fucker does still owe us.]

He did—but he wouldn't be happy to see Wade. He always knew that Wade coming around was a bother. In fact—in fact Wade couldn't think of a single person who would actually be happy to see him.

[Why would anyone be happy to see you? Everyone knows what you do for a living.]

{And you’re hideous. Seriously—think about all those poor people who recoil at the sight of you. It’s sad.}

Wade sniffed. It was sad. It wasn’t like he’d asked for this (well, certainly not the fucked up appearance part). Was it wrong to want someone to just— want him around? An image flashed briefly in his mind.

[I didn’t quite catch that.]

Wade ignored White as he scrambled to find some cardboard. And a marker. Definitely a marker.

[This is a bad idea…]

 

Peter fought to keep a blandly amiable expression on his face as the host of the show apologized—to the other guest. Not a word of apology to him , and he was the one who’d been insulted. Of course, he was merely an author on this week’s top-selling list. (Actually, every top-selling list for the last two years, but that would require admitting to his other pen names.) The other guest was the lead of whatever the parent-group-of-the-week was called now , and had gotten four shows canceled in the last month. Of course she was fawned over.

And Peter was very, very careful not to take his temper out on the poor people who were responsible for actually getting the talk show to run. None of this was their fault, and he cordially said his goodbyes (to them, and not the host ) before he left. Without the “security” that the studio thought he needed (honestly, did they think he was five?).

Peter was smart enough to realize that most of his irritation came from his loneliness. Sure, moving had seemed a good idea at the time—he was closer to the publishing agency, had a more central base for these stupid publicity rounds his agency forced him to do to “brand” his image. (Seriously, most of his books didn’t even have his name on them, and they were selling perfectly well. Why was the “brand” so important?) So, in the interest of having a much shorter commute, he’d moved to a condo (soundproofed which—actually hadn’t been needed, but he was forever hopeful), and left his home behind him. Not entirely behind him; he still had video chats with Aunt May every weekend, and got phone calls—occasionally—from his old friend MJ (who was now in Paris managing her own brand)—but he had no one here. He couldn't even have a pet; the condo didn’t allow it.

He passed the usual bunch of people on the street with cardboard signs—begging, playing music, the usual—when a new one made him stop. He backtracked and read the sign again. In bright, shiny letters (not sure what it was written with), were the words, “Adopt me.” His eyes tracked from the sign to the large, scarred man behind it.

“All right,” said Peter looking at the sign as wheels turned in his head. “What does it mean to adopt you?”

“Well, you take me to your home, and we spend time together, and you’re happy to see me,” the scarred man said. A pause. “Well,” he growled, “it’s not like you had a better plan!”

Someone else might have cut and run—but no one had ever accused Peter of making smart life decisions. Not twice anyway. “Are you talking to yourself?” he asked curiously.

“Just the boxes,” the scarred man said cheerfully. “I have two,” he admitted. “One’s white and one’s yellow, so I call them White and Yellow.”

Not the strangest thing he’d ever heard. Back in high school MJ had sworn that Peter had a soft, silky voice, so he figured that assigning a color to a voice wasn’t that strange. And the guy was entertaining. “My name’s Peter,” he said. “Peter Parker,” he added as he picked up the cardboard sign.

“Wade Wilson,” introduced the strange, intriguing man. “Eee! We’re alliteration buddies!”

Peter gave the happy man a lopsided grin. “Is that a good thing?” he asked.

“It’s a great thing!” enthused the man—Wade.

“Great! Grab your bag,” Peter said as he noticed the duffel bag behind the man, “and let’s go.”

“Go?”

“I’m adopting you,” said Peter with a smile. He couldn't have a pet—but there was nothing that said he couldn't have a human.

The large man scrambled to his feet with surprising agility as he slung his duffel over his shoulder. “You’re taking me home?” he asked with an odd, pained hopefulness in his voice.

“First I was going to take you for something to eat,” Peter admitted as the large man (almost twice his size) fell into step beside him. “I don’t have a lot of food at home,” he admitted.

“I can make pancakes,” Wade offered.

Peter felt a grin stretch his face. He was not going to be lonely, and his new roommate (adoptee?) was offering to make pancakes. Life was good.

 

[I still think this is a mistake.]

{Yeah, why’d he choose you? You’re not exactly cuddly.}

Wade tried his best to drown out the voices by talking. True to his word, the guy (Peter) had taken him to a diner. It was a strange, hole-in-the-wall place, but Wade was not complaining. The food was good. “And you would not believe how many people just glare, or kick at, or pretend they don’t see someone on the street—holy cow! These are great! What nut got the bright idea of putting eggs on nachos? They don’t even sound like they should go together, but holy fuck these are good!”

Instead of being grossed out, or complaining about his terrible table manners, Peter just smiles. “I know,” he said. “I asked Mary Anne, the woman who owns this restaurant about it the first time I had them and she told me she first had them Down South.”

The waitress, a blond young woman about the same age, came over and refilled both their drinks. “Yes,” she said. She turned to Wade who froze mid-bite, wondering if he was going to be thrown out of the restaurant. It had happened before. A lot. Instead the woman simply jerked a thumb towards Peter. “First two weeks we were open he was here every breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Worked his way right through the whole menu.” She snorted. “Had questions about every dish. ‘What made you decide to make this?’ ‘What was your inspiration for that?’ ‘Can I please have some tea that doesn’t taste like someone dropped half a gallon of sugar into it?’ Drove us all crazy.”

Peter simply smiled. “What can I say? I used to work for Foodies Unite.”

Wade gave a low, appreciative whistle. “That magazine that tracks the best food across the city?” he asked impressed.

Peter flashed a grin. “I put the really good ones,” he said in a loud, conspiratorial whisper, “on my blog.”

Wade burst out laughing as the waitress gave him a friendly swat. “You,” he said waving an egg-crusted fork at his dining buddy, “are an absolute trip.” Peter simply grinned and sipped his coffee.

[Careful Wade. You’re going to make him run.]

{We could kill him first. Then we won’t have to see the disgust later.}

No, thought Wade firmly, desperately. No killing.

{Not yet…}

Wade shoved the voices back as he realized that Peter was speaking. “… so there should be plenty of room in the closet for your clothes,” Peter said.

“I—uh, don’t really have clothes,” admitted Wade sheepishly. He had what he was wearing and his work suit—but nothing else. Peter’s gaze drifted to the huge duffel on the seat beside Wade.

[Still can’t do anything right. He’s going to ask, be horrified, and then what?]

{Out on the streets again!}

Yellow sounds obnoxiously cheerful about that. To his surprise Peter—doesn’t ask. Instead he simply nods. “Then,” he said with a sly smile, “it’s my job to get you clothes.” He paid for the food and the next thing Wade knew he was in a store with lots of mirrors, a plush couch that Peter was reclining on (with the duffel bag to his left) wearing a small smile as Wade was swarmed by what he swore were midgets.

[I don’t think that term’s politically correct.]

{Can we call them Munchkins? I mean, they’re about the same size.}

“I think the deep azure,” one Munchkin said to another.

“Violet,” argued the other.

“Azure will bring out the eyes.”

“Hmm.” Both little people turned to stare at him with a clinical expression Wade was more used to seeing on the other end of a scalpel as more of the little people swarmed around him getting measurements.

“Peter,” said Wade anxiously.

“Don’t worry,” reassured the other man. “You’re doing great.”

The first little person smacked Wade on the arm. “Come,” he ordered. “Time to try on clothes.” The tiny humans lead him off to a room, shove clothes at him, and leave him to change. He does, shakily, and then looks at his reflection in the mirror.

The deep blue shirt does bring out his eyes—and stands as a stark contrast to his mottled skin.

{Ask for a mask. A mask might help.}

[Oh, he’s beyond help.]

Shaking slightly he walks out to see Peter standing, pacing, and talking on the phone. “I just told the truth.” A pause and Peter sighed as he pinched the bridge of his nose. “Tony Stark,” he said viciously, “is an alcoholic womanizing vampire having issues with his sexual identity. There is no part of that description that says, ‘Hey, I’m safe for kids, bring the whole family!’” Another pause. “Well, maybe it’s high time someone did.” He hung up, turned, saw Wade and—unbelievably—smiled. “You look good,” he said approvingly.

[He’s lying!]

{Aw! He cares enough to lie!]

Peter turned to the dwarf in charge. “I want four of those, another two in short sleeves, and—”

“And the dress suit will be ready in three weeks,” finished the dwarf, “all billed to your account.”

Peter grinned. “You know me well,” he said. The dwarf snorted as another one of its kind handed Peter a series of bags. Peter took the bags, slung them over his shoulder, and then hoisted the duffel in the air and towards Wade.

[Holy—twig-boy here is stronger than he looks!]

Peter smiled at Wade. “Ready to go home?” he asked.

 

Peter couldn't help but grin at how enthusiastically Wade ran around the condo, poking his head into almost every nook and cranny as he almost knocked the flat screen off the wall. “Baby Boy, you’ve got everything here!” the large man rambled as he wandered. “TV, state-of-the-art kitchen, bookcases and The Spider!” he exclaimed suddenly as he grabbed a book off the shelf. “You’ve got The Spider series!”

Peter chuckled as he pulled up and booted his laptop. It was an older model without internet capabilities, but it worked and he didn’t have to worry too much about hackers. “I have the whole series,” he said to Wade’s obvious delight as he settled down to work.

Wade gasped as he pressed the book to his chest. “Even the first three? No one has the first three!”

That was because no one had believed The Spider would be popular. Peter chuckled at the irony. “The early issues on the shelf to your left,” Peter said as he brought up the relevant file. Nothing soothed Ned like a new chapter.

Wade slammed himself down on the couch, hooking his legs over Peter’s lap. He managed to get his laptop out of the way just in time. “Oh, man, I’ve loved these since they came out,” Wade babbled. “There’s just something so wholesome about a guy working among killers and not killing anyone, you know?”

Peter smiled as he got to typing, words coming faster now that they weren’t stifled by loneliness. “Glad to hear it,” he said absently working on the newest chapter of his Stark novels. Wade’s constant commentary was soothing to hear in the formerly empty apartment.

The knocking came a shock. Even more shocking, was the way Wade was suddenly tense, in front of Peter, and pointing a gun at the door. Peter saved his work, printed the latest chapter (he was well into the next one), and gently pat Wade’s shoulder. “It’s okay,” he said. “It’s probably just my agent.”

“Okay,” said Wade, gun not wavering in the slightest.

“That I should probably let in now,” hinted Peter.

“Sure.”

“Wade? Put the gun away.” The man blinked and obeyed and only then did Peter get up to let Ned in.

“You’ve really done it now,” Ned said as he came into the apartment. He fiddled with the edges of his scarf in agitation. “You’ve gone and upset the entire group! They’re calling for your head Peter!”

“And in doing so bring my books to the attention of whomever hasn’t heard of them yet,” Peter said as he walked over to the printer. He picked up the chapter and then walked back.

Ned came to a stop as he saw Wade, leaning against the couch with a book in his lap and the gun to his right. “Who are you?” he asked with a little trepidation.

“Ned, this is Wade, my new roommate. Wade this is Ned, my agent.”

Wade waved a single finger. “Hiyas,” he said cheerfully.

“Um. Hi.” Ned turned to Peter. “Where’d he come from?” he demanded.

Peter sighed. “I adopted him.”

“What?”

“Well, he was on the side of the road with a sign that said, ‘Adopt Me,’ so I did,” Peter explained.

“Peter,” sighed Ned as he rubbed his eyes under his glasses, “you can’t just take random people home. It’s irresponsible. It’s—what’s this?”

Peter grinned as Ned finally took notice of the typing paper. “My latest chapter,” he said smugly. “Unless, you don’t want it?”

Ned glared at him before snatching the paper and beginning to read. His expression quickly changed as he flipped through the pages. “Ugh! What? Oh…” The muttering sounded almost similar to Wade’s muttering as he flipped through The Spider books. “Holy shit!” Ned whirled to look at Peter. “For real?”

Peter smiled. “See what happens when I’m not lonely?” he asked mildly.

Ned turned to Wade. “I’m sorry for every bad thing I thought about you,” he said earnestly.

“Uh—”

“I see you have a gun, do you know how to use it?”

Wade was clearly on firmer ground. “Guns, knives, swords—if it can kill people I can use it.”

“Excellent,” said Ned with satisfaction before jerking a thumb towards Peter. “That idiot pissed off the head of Parents First this morning.”

Wade, to Peter’s surprise, winced. “That bitch?” he asked.

Ned reached over and pat Wade’s shoulder. “I’m counting on you to keep him alive. The new book must be published.”

“Hey!” protested Peter.

“I will do my best,” said Wade. “What? No, I wouldn't do that!”

Ned sighed. “Only you, Pete. Only you.”

 

After Peter left to go do Author things (it’s just an interview—they’re not going to tie me to a stake and watch me burn on live television unless the stake and flames are metaphorical Wade, and I can handle that) Wade decided to take it upon himself to make sure that his new bestie didn’t get killed.

[I’m not sure you can call the two of you “besties.”]

{He certainly doesn’t seem to have a lot of self-preservation. In one day he pissed off one of the most dangerous fanatical non-religious groups in the world and took us home with him. It’s almost like he wants to die.}

Wade frowned as he paused outside his old haunt, back in gear. Did Peter have a death wish? No, the guy was too happy for that—but he did seem rather lonely. Wade shrugged. He was just going to have to make sure that Peter wasn’t lonely, that was all. He waltzed into the bar and ducked as several knives were thrown at him. “Oh! Mean!” he complained as he made his way to the bar. “Gosh,” he said as he levered himself into a stool, “you’d think that people wanted to kill me!”

Weasel, the bartender, snorted. “Everyone wants to kill you Wade,” he said calmly as he filled someone’s liquor order before putting the glass on a tray for the waiter to take to a table. “It’s just that no one can.”

Wade nodded. “True that,” he agreed as Weasel slapped a beer in front of him.

“New micro-brewer,” he said. “I’m thinking of signing a contract with ‘em.” Wade made a show of tasting the beer by taking a sip and swishing it from cheek to cheek, even going so far as to gargle with it. “And?” asked Weasel.

Wade burped. “Tastes like beer.”

“Fuck you Wade.” Weasel calmly continued to make drinks. “Heard Nate threw you out. Surprised you didn’t come crash on my couch like usual.”

[I know I keep saying the whole thing with Peter is a bad idea, but not crashing with Weasel was a good one.]

{Why didn’t we kill the ex again?}

[Because Wade has limits, and he’s one of them.]

Wade ignored the voices as he glanced up at the bounty board. Most places had a digital website. Weasel insisted that was too easy to hack, hence the blackboard. (Everyone else called him cheap.) There, at the top of the list, was the name Peter Parker. The bounty was, of course, insanely huge.

Wade hummed before he grinned at Weasel. “Well,” he said brightly, “I got tired of people not wanting to see me, so I got a cardboard box and wrote ‘adopt me’ on it!”

“Sounds like the crazy kind of shit you’d do,” admitted Weasel calmly. “Then what?”

“Then someone did!” said Wade cheerfully. “A sweet, innocent little guy named Peter.”

Weasel paused in what he was doing. “Wade—” he said half in warning, half in fear.

“Peter Parker,” continued Wade. The bar was suddenly silent as he kept talking. “And if anyone,” he sang, “tries to lay a hand on that sweet, naive piece of ass, I will destroy theirs with a cheese grater.” A soft snort got his attention and he turned to look at the young woman at the bar next to him.

[Oh. My. God. Is that who I think it is?]

{Kill her! She’s after Peter!}

Karen Wishstone. The weirdest, strangest person he’d ever met. She was almost invisible—until she wasn’t. Her skill set would have made her a good assassin if she hadn’t made it a point not to kill.

{Oh! You think The Spider was based on her?}

Weasel sighed. “What are you doing here, Karen?” he asked warily.

Karen rolled her eyes as she swished the liquid in her bottle around lazily. “Relax Weasel,” she ordered. “I’m just in town to visit friends, and I thought I’d take a look at the bounty board while I’m here. See if there’s anything small to Stalk while I’m in town.”

“And?” demanded Weasel warily.

She held out placating hands. “It’s all too grand for me. This isn’t my town.”

[She could be lying. You know what they say about her. The first you know she’s there is when you wake up in Retrieval.]

{Kill her!}

Wade paused. Everyone knew that Karen was so good at what she did because no one saw her coming. If someone knew she was in town, that person was safe. “How do you feel about meeting my roomie?” he asked.

“Peter Parker?” she asked. He nodded. “The writer?” He nodded again. She sighed. “I’m not sure he’d want to see me,” she told him. “Last time I was in town we didn’t—exactly part on the best of terms.”

[Wait. She knows Peter?]

{I don’t like that she doesn’t want to see him. Can we kill her now? Please?}

“Why don’t I ask?” Wade thought the request was reasonable, but was checking to see how she took it.

To his surprise she seemed to mull it over. Then she smiled. “Okay,” she said. “Let me know what he says. I’m sure Weasel here’s already found out what hotel I’m at, how long I’m booked to stay, and where my dog is.”

Weasel doesn’t deny it. “I still haven’t forgotten what happened the last time you were in town,” he growled.

“And if you had proof that was my fault; I would be banned,” said Karen with a grin and a salute of her bottle.

 

Peter tried not wince as Wade mentioned Karen. He remembered the last time the two of them met. While it certainly could have gone worse—but not by much. He looked over where Wade was shredding lettuce for their tacos. “I remember Karen,” he said evenly.

Wade chuckled. “Yeah,” he said, “that’s how she said you’d react, but I thought you’d want to see the person who inspired you to write The Spider.”

Peter paused. “You know I wrote that?” he asked looking at Wade in surprise. His name wasn’t the one on the spine of the books.

Wade instantly looked bashful. “Well—it fits,” he said nervously.

Peter grinned. “I’m shocked,” he said. He gave a low, happy hum as he sliced the olives. “You’re the first one to figure I wrote them,” he said. “I don’t think Ned even knows.”

“Who publishes them?” asked Wade as he grabbed a block of cheese and began to scrape it against the grater.

“Same people,” admitted Peter. “They’ve just never met me, as the author of The Spider. As far as they know the author of those books is a weirdo freak that always mails in his manuscripts.” He paused. “Actually, from listening to the gossip opinions seem pretty split on whether the author is male or female.” He reached over for some of the cheese and his hand brushed Wade’s.

Peter wasn’t sure what he was expecting—but it wasn’t Wade’s reaction. The man paled between his scars and then flung himself in a corner as he tried to use his shirt to cover all his exposed bits of skin. “Wade?” he asked as he looked at the shivering figure in confusion.

“—rry. Sorry,” whimpered Wade.

“What?” asked Peter. He gentled his voice as he turned off the stove burner before going over to Wade and crouching by him. “For what?” he asked softly, gently.

“Know it’s bad,” Wade whispered.

“Wade?” Peter reached out and the other man flinched. He paused, not certain of what the best thing to do was. His instincts told him to comfort the man—but how? He reached out a little further and rested his palm—gently—on Wade’s scarred cheek. “Wade? Are you okay?” Wide, frightened eyes looked up at him. “Did I hurt you? I’m sorry, Wade.”

Wade blinked as tears began to roll down his cheeks. Suddenly he threw himself into Peter’s lap, gripping the smaller man as though he was about to disappear. Peter, hoping he was doing the right thing, gently rubbed Wade’s back. “It’s all right,” he soothed. “See? Everything is all right.”

“…not,” Wade’s voice was soft, fragile—hurting.

The change in attitude bothered Peter more than he let on. He kept rubbing Wade’s back as Wade pressed his face into Peter’s stomach. “Everything is all right.”

“Sorry, I’m sorry,” said Wade a little more clearly. He held Peter just a little tighter.

“For what?” asked Peter. Wade mumbled something. Peter could only make out a single word. “Wade? What’s disgusting?”

“Me,” whined the man.

If Peter hadn’t been on the floor already, if he hadn’t been holding Wade, he would have stumbled in shock. What had happened to make this cheerful, happy man think so little of himself? Peter’s mind flashed back to finding Wade on the street with the cardboard sign. He should have asked more.

“Wade,” said Peter gently, “you’re not disgusting.”

“I am,” cried Wade. Peter was startled to see that the larger man was actually crying. “Disgusting, revolting, horrifying.”

“No,” protested Peter. He stroked the back of Wade’s head, fingers running along the scarred tissue. Wade didn’t even look up. “You’re not,” Peter said again.

Wade gave a dry, broken laugh. “I know what I look like,” he said bitterly.

Peter’s heart broke for the man. “Hey, Wade. Look at me. Hey,” he said as he pushed Wade’s head up to force the man to look at him. “Look at me. I don’t think you’re disgusting. I don’t think you’re revolting.” He snagged one of Wade’s hands and interlaced their fingers together. “You’re wonderful just the way you are,” he said firmly.

Wade looked into Peter’s eyes and the smaller man would swear he was trying to find the lie in the words. Suddenly he chuckled—but it sounded at lot less broken. “You must be blind,” he said wearily.

“No,” argued Peter firmly. He pressed a gentle kiss to the top of Wade’s head. “I just see better than other people,” he said. As Wade slowly calmed down Peter wondered: just who had taught the man to hate himself so badly?

He also wondered if he had enough to put a hit out on the person responsible.

 

“So this is where you get off to.” Peter turned, not particularly surprised to see Karen behind him. She shrugged. “Between books.”

“Karen,” he said warily as he faced one of two people who knew all his secrets. He wasn’t worried about it; Karen probably knew everyone’s secrets. She didn’t talk much.

Karen pat the seat of the bench next to her. “Have a seat. Jogging isn’t going to help,” she added knowingly.

About to ask how she knew he was trying to jog some sense into what happened with Wade, Peter sighed. She’d never tell. And she might not even be talking about Wade. “What brings you to New York?” he asked as he took a seat.

“Seeing old friends. Meeting new ones. Watching a familiar idiot get a bounty of almost four million put on his head.”

Peter didn’t assume the sentences were unconnected. “No one’s going to Stalk me, Karen,” he said wearily.

She watched him from the corner of her eye. “No, they’re not. Wade got in front of the whole bar and told them all they’d have to go through him to get you.” She chuckled. “No one can get past Wade, so it doesn’t matter how big the bounty gets; no one will be willing to try.”

“Wade did?” asked Peter. He felt a confusing combination of flattered and worried.

“Wade has his own secrets,” Karen said simply. She looked at him. “You might consider sharing some of yours. He’s one of three people who won’t judge you about what happened, Peter.”

Peter snorted. “You don’t judge me.”

“I don’t count.” When Peter opened his mouth to protest she added, “I don’t count, because you don’t care what I think.” She smiled—small, knowing. “You care what he does.” She stood up. “Keep it in mind,” she advised before walking off.

Peter sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose to stave off a headache. There was really no point in asking more questions of Karen. Not only was she gone, but she wouldn't answer. He’d have to figure out what she meant on his own.

 

Wade was worried. It was one thing for Peter to be okay with seeing his skin on a daily basis—

[The horror show that it is.]

—but it was another for the guy to actually have to touch it.

{Why do you think he was apologizing? It wasn’t his fault our hands touched.}

[Because Peter’s a nice guy and we were upset. That’s the only reason he said we weren’t disgusting to touch.]

{How far do you think that niceness goes? I mean, he did kiss us.}

[On the FOREHEAD Yellow. The same place parents use to check if their kids are running a fever.]

“Yo, Wade!” impact to the back of the head made it impossible to ignore. He turned to see—Karen?

“What’s up duck?” asked Wade curiously.

She rolled her eyes. “You wanted to introduce me to your author friend,” she reminded him.

[Didn’t she say that wouldn't go well?]

“I thought you said he wouldn't want to see you,” said Wade.

“One way to find out,” said Karen as she poked him again. “So? Where do the two of you lovebirds live?” she asked.

Wade and the boxes sputtered. “They’re—we’re not lovers!” he protested.

“And I’m not a spine,” said Karen agreeably.

{… Was that supposed to make sense?}

“I don’t understand,” complained Wade as he walked towards the condo building.

“Clearly. Have you told Author Boy what you do for a living yet?”

{Tell the writer of those sweet little books that we kill people for a living? I don’t think that would go over well.}

[I hate to agree with Yellow, but why don’t we kill this bitch?]

“Because I’d kill you and then disappear while you were fixing yourself,” she said calmly.

Wade paused. That was new. “You didn’t use to be able to hear the boxes,” he said slowly.

She shrugged. “I didn’t used to be able to do a lot of things. Now hurry up; my time in New York is coming to an end and I want to get this done.”

“You’re not Stalking Peter, are you?” asked Wade nervously as they entered the building.

“No, I’m applying the Hammer.”

“What?” They reached the condo and went inside.

Karen ignored him. “Hi, Peter,” she said calmly. She shut the door behind them, pulled a gun and blew Wade’s brains out.

 

Peter stared in shock before staring at her. “You don’t kill people!” he hissed shrilly.

She shrugged as she pocketed the gun again. “And I didn’t,” she replied calmly. “But this was taking too long.” She met his eyes as wet noises began to emanate from Wade’s prone body. “Both of you have secrets, Peter. It’s time to tell them.”

“Holy fucking shit-turds!” snarled Wade as his head visibly knit back together. “That hurt.”

Karen gave him a nudge with her foot. “Stop whining,” she advised him. “We both know you’ll be fine.”

“That hurt!”

“And you were dithering. I don’t have much time left in New York. And now,” she added firmly, “that the Hammer has been properly applied, I have a woman to see about a dog. Oh,” she said pausing before she opened the door, “there’s a chance the woman responsible for the bounty on your head might be dead tomorrow. Do with that what you will.” She turned and left.

Peter, watching the man he had just watched die get up from the floor and start muttering about bloodstains, collapsed to the couch. “What?” he asked, confused.

Wade began pacing. When Peter could see his back he could see that the back of the other man’s head was literally knitting itself together before his eyes. “No, that’s a terrible idea!” Wade complained as he rubbed hands over his head in agitation. “He’ll hate us!”

And again, Peter’s heart broke for the man. He got up, got into Wade’s way, and hugged the larger man. “I won’t hate you,” he promised.

“Peter, you can’t say that,” Wade protested. Despite his words his arms went around the smaller man and Peter quickly hugged him back. “You don’t know.”

“Then tell me,” Peter challenged. “Tell me everything.”

Wade took a deep breath. “After the Dark War,” he began, “my unit was called for some—some experiments.”

Peter could feel how Wade was shaking. “What kind of experiments?” he asked.

“They said they could make me unkillable. Impossible to defeat. Immortal.” He clutched Peter tighter. “I was young and stupid and didn’t ask—” He took several deep breaths as Peter began rubbing the man’s back, trying to soothe him. “It was—I’ll just say it was Hell. Every step of the way and when it ended—when it ended I looked like this.” Suddenly Wade gave a dry, broken laugh, eerily similar to the one he’d voiced before. “I killed them all,” he admitted flatly, no emotion coloring his voice. “But—I was trapped like this. Forever.”

“Oh, Wade.” Peter pressed his face into the man’s chest, feeling the rough scars beneath the thin fabric of the shirt. “I’m sorry you feel trapped,” he said softly. “I’m glad you’re here,” he added.

Wade hugged him tighter and pressed his face into the crook of Peter’s neck. “You’re the only one who’s ever said that,” he admitted.

 

[I can’t believe he’s still here.]

{I can’t believe we’re still here. The stick boy didn’t kick us out! We don’t have to crash with Weasel and hope the bastard forgives us!}

[We should kill him.]

{That’s what I’ve been saying!}

No , Wade thought firmly, careful not to speak. Peter had (miraculously) fallen asleep in Wade’s arms. He couldn't remember the last time anyone had. Peter was a lot of firsts for Wade. The first to purely enjoy his company, without any monetary incentives. (Even the ex had demanded partial payment of Wade’s bounties—but Peter didn’t care.) The first to make someone else happy to see him. (He still remembered the happy, accepting look on the agent’s face after thinking that Wade was a danger to Peter to realizing he would protect Peter.

{The first not to think we’re disgusting.}

Yellow seemed to be coming to like Peter just as much as Wade was. As much as Wade did.

[There is something seriously wrong with this man. We should never leave.]

Wade blinked. Those two statements didn’t seem to mesh. Before he could try to interrogate White, Peter stirred gently. “I’ve got an idea,” the smaller man said.

“What is it?” asked Wade curiously.

“Wade, exactly what happens when a bounty is brought in to Retrieval?”

[I take it back. Ditch him. Ditch him now. This is a bad idea!]

“Why?” asked Wade curiously.

Peter shifted his head so that he could grin up at Wade. “Because I’ve got an idea,” he said smugly.

 

Peter grinned as he looked around the noisy, messy room. There was a high number of corpses, but that was to be expected. People were watching the two of them warily, but that was also to be expected. After all, it wasn’t every day that the most famous (notorious) Stalker in New York brought a living bounty into Retrieval. Even rarer that the bounty and the Stalker were flirting.

The woman working the desk sighed. “Deadpool,” she said wearily, “what are you doing?”

Peter looked at the costumed man next to him with curiosity, which was fairly normal, and no fear—which, given people’s reactions, was not normal. “Deadpool?” he asked his red leather-clad friend.

“Aw it’s—it’s just a nickname,” Wade said bashfully.

The woman at the desk snorted. “He,” she said pointing at the Stalker, “once filled a pool with dead bodies. Claimed he wanted to see if it really was possible to fill a pool with blood.”

“They deserved it!” protested Wade as he remembered the incident.

“What happened?” asked Peter curiously.

Wade stilled completely for a moment. “Something bad,” he said grimly. “Trust me—death was the least they deserved.”

“They were traffickers,” the woman at the desk explained. “I don’t know the full details, but Deadpool here killed them all, piled them into the dry pool at one of their homes, and got his moniker.”

Peter nudged Wade with his shoulder. “So you were protecting people,” he said.

“Kind of. Maybe. Almost?” said Wade. “They just—all three of us were really pissed off.”

All three of them. Wade and the two voices in his head, White and Yellow. Peter leaned against his friend again. He couldn't see through the mask that the other man was wearing, but he was willing to bet that he was nervous. He wanted Wade to know that it was okay, that Peter wasn’t going to abandon him.

And, once again, Peter felt a surge of rage at whomever had.

His musings were interrupted as a woman, the woman, sauntered over to where they were. He could tell, from the smug look on her face, that she was expecting to be identifying his corpse. She was about to be in for a big shock; it was high time she learned that the world wasn’t hers to run. Peter was more than happy to be instrument teaching that particular lesson.

The woman came to a shocked stop as she looked at Peter, still breathing, sitting on the bench next to one of the most infamous Stalkers in the city—maybe, if what the woman at the desk had been hinting at all afternoon was correct, the world. Her eyes began to narrow and she opened her mouth to speak.

Peter spoke first. “Hi,” he said brightly, in the over-the-top tone that most people (stupid people) used on small children and animals. “I’m Peter. This is my boyfriend, Wade,” he said gesturing to the costumed man to his right. Wade froze again. Calling him a boyfriend hadn’t been part of the plan, and Peter would figure out if he’d offended the man later. Right now the problem was that he had to do something about this woman. Peter stood up and put his hands in his pockets as he rocked from the balls to the heels of his feet. “You know, he told me that someone had put my name on the Bounty Board and you know what I said? I said, ‘Why don’t you collect it, Wade?’ And here we are.” Peter gestured to the Retrieval warehouse that they were in. “And you know what? Each and every single time that someone puts my name on that board, we’ll be here. So he can collect his payment.”

He knew; of course he knew, that it was impossible to insist that the person on the board being brought in be dead when they arrived. She knew, and he knew that she knew, that he now had a plan in place for when that happened to him. She couldn't use the Bounty Board to kill him.

She paled, paid, and left.

Wade and Peter left shortly after, giving her a little bit of a head start on them (they didn’t want to risk running into her). Wade walked in uncharacteristic silence for a moment. “You called me your boyfriend,” he said softly.

Peter peered up at him. He wished that Wade wasn’t wearing his mask; he would like to see the expression on his face. “Do you mind?” he asked anxiously. “If you do, we don’t have to—”

“Mind?” asked Wade. He hugged Peter close. “Of course I don’t mind! I’d love to be your boyfriend!”

Peter grinned and hugged back. A slight tingle of his spine had him throwing the two of them to the side as a large fist slammed into the ground where they’d been. Wade leaped away and pulled one of his swords (was that one of the things that had been in the duffel bag?) as Peter ducked another punch and landed on a tree.

The man glared at Wade. “I see you’re keeping busy,” he snarled.

“Had to leave,” said Wade.

Peter frowned. Wade didn’t sound happy, or quippy, or sarcastic—but defeated. He glared at the large man. Was this the reason why Wade had been on the street in the first place? Why he’d been so terrified of being touched?

The man opened his mouth to growl something—and his face went slack as he suddenly toppled over. Karen popped out of the bushes behind him and pulled a dart out of the man’s butt. “You still don’t have any survival sense,” she said calmly as she tied the large man up. A puppy, it looked young but came up to her knees, danced out of the bushes and towards them, yapping. “He’s been following the two of you since you left the condo this morning. Probably thought now would be a good time to make a move.” She tightened the leather restraints.

Peter looked at her. “Being a hammer again, Karen?” he asked. He still wasn’t entirely certain what she’d meant by that.

“No,” she said absently as the puppy danced around the man as if it was showing off a kill. “If I was, I’d point out to your shiny new boyfriend there how you’re sticking to the side of an oak tree by your hands and feet.”

A chill rushed through Peter’s veins as he realized that she was right. The danger had been familiar and the move so natural that he hadn’t even thought twice about it. Of course not. Why would he? He hadn’t been in that position for a long time now. He turned wide eyes to Wade to see the whites of the mask staring at him. He assumed Wade was looking at him behind the mask, but he wasn’t sure.

Especially since Wade addressed Karen. “So—are you taking him to Retrieval? What do you get out of it?”

Karen turned to grin at the two of them as the dog lifted a leg and peed on the unconscious man’s face. “Bragging rights,” she said smugly. “I was in the bar last night, trading verbal spars with Weasel, when this idiot came in bragging about how no quote, ‘prissy little bitch who can’t even properly kill’ could get him.” She wrapped the man’s legs with another leather strip. “Best part is, I won’t even have to stay in town. No one in that bar will let him forget it—he might even end up infamous on the ‘net if he’s not lucky.”

“And you hope he’s not lucky,” said Wade with insight.

Karen looked up at them again and Peter could see the amusement glinting in her eyes. “He’s an ass,” she said bluntly before pulling something from her pocket. It unrolled into a contraption with wheels and she maneuvered the large man (almost twice her size) onto it. The puppy jumped onto the body and sat, wagging its tail.

“Who’s the dog?” asked Peter as he climbed down from the side of the tree.

“Brucie. I’m training him to replace Brutus.”

“Ah—”

“He retired.” She grabbed a handle of the folding wagon and then waved at the two of them. “Nice to see you got your relationship stuff sorted out. Have fun you crazy kids.” She pulled the wagon and left.

Wade waved back and, without turning to look at Peter again, asked, “You—do you want to talk about it?” The words were tentative.

Peter sighed. It looked like it was his turn to talk about his past. “Wade I—you know The Spider?”

“Yeah?”

“Well, he wasn’t based on Karen.” There was a moment of silence and Peter sighed again. He wondered if Wade would decide to leave after this revelation. Not that Peter could blame him. “Everything in the books are true.”

“So, there really was an evil scientist trying to recreate the Dark War?”

Peter winced. He’d looked up to Norman as a father for years and it still hurt to hear the man called that. Norman hadn’t been evil—but he had been insane. “Yeah,” he said wearily. “When—when it all happened I had to write it down. I changed the names,” he added. He hadn’t thought changing the names would be enough to fool people—but he’d been wrong. “And I wanted everyone to know what had happened so I pulled three jobs and paid to get the first three volumes published. Everything after that was older stuff, remembered stuff.”

“Oh.” Wade sidled a little closer to Peter. “Are we—are we still boyfriends?” he asked.

Peter looked at the larger man and then smiled. “Only if you want to be,” he said with a smile.

 

No one knew why Deadpool suddenly joined The Spider on his adventures in the world of fiction. And, unlike his Stark novels and despite Deadpool’s attitude, they were still made for children. They were also, to no one’s surprise, popular.