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double-edged sword

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Matt wakes up late. He knows this because the usual hum of early-morning rush hour commuter traffic that greets him upon awakening most mornings has already given way to a thousand different workplace noises: hundreds of staplers clamping down on the corners of papers, the drone of staccato typing fingers working away, scratching pens and pencils, rings of heat damage being made in wooden desks by unsupervised hot drinks. It’s a lively buzz, and it permeates the city despite the bad weather.

It’s Friday morning, he thinks. Unless he’s managed to sleep into the afternoon. The world outside his window is dreary and disgustingly cold and his knees ache a bit in indignant objection to the low-pressure system that’s threatening to roll in. He’s been cooped up in the apartment for the past few days with a miserable stomach bug and he’s getting desperate for a change of scenery. He misses the smell of burnt office coffee underscored by Karen’s unapologetic timbre, the thrilling rush of wind when traversing the midnight skyline in the suit, boots pounding the rooftops to the tune of the city noise below.

The empty side of the bed to his left is still dented from its recent inhabitant. Icy air pools in the divot and seeps through the blankets from the invasive winter chill, makes Matt flare his nostrils and tuck in closer to himself under the covers. The space heater in the corner’s been unable to get its shit together since the first cold snap in late fall. The curtains covering the windows radiate enough cold air to give him goosebumps when he focuses on that side of the room.

Wade must have left early then; he usually hangs around the house until two or so on weekdays. Matt smacks the button nearest him on his alarm clock and it informs him that it’s half past eight. He groans into the frigid air and rolls over. Pulls the covers up to his ears and dozes for a little while.

He eventually musters the courage to emerge from the safety of his nest of blankets in order to attempt an endeavor into the world outside of his bedroom. He sits on the edge of the bed for a moment, still a little raw-stomached. He tunes into the jangling of keys from the outside corridor, and then the familiar creak of the front door opening that follows. Wade strides into the kitchen, all muffled by a heavy coat and frosted-tipped from being outside. He sets something warm and bag-shaped on the counter. Smells good. Like food. Actual food--none of that weak shit of the Campbell’s chicken noodle variety.

Matt rushes to throw on an extra layer before his insulated bedtime warmth fully escapes him and emerges from the room to investigate the food smells and the icicle-boyfriend.

Wade takes notice of him and snorts. “You look like you just crawled out of hell upside down and backwards.”

Matt runs a self-conscious hand through the rat’s nest atop his head and replies, “I fuckin’ smell like it too. Need a shower.” He slides into a chair at the breakfast table and runs his hands over his face blearily.

“Wouldn’t have pegged you for such a wimp, Red. Just a sprinkle of a little norovirus and you’re out of commission for what, three days?”

“Leave me alone, my sinuses feel like they’re coated in stomach bile,” he gripes. “‘Sides, I didn’t complain when you had the flu last year and decided to forget how to sit upright without bemoaning your existence.”

“Touché.” Wade stops shuffling through kitchen drawers, grabs the bag of food and a tray containing a couple of hot drinks and settles himself into the chair across from Matt. He deposits one of the drinks--some sort of herbal concoction containing ginger and honey--in front of Matt and a strong coffee on his side of the table. “Drink’s at your twelve o’clock, ‘bout a foot in front of you.”

Matt scowls in the direction of the tea. “I’m okay to have coffee at this point,” he asserts with a wrinkled nose.

Wade starts distributing the food--from a diner they frequent a few blocks away--and responds, “Don’ care. One more day without spewin’ your guts out or spikin’ a fever and you can chug all the liquid heartburn you want. Drink your leaves, please.”

God. This is the person he chooses to share his life with.

What a dickhead. Matt sips at the tea.

It ain’t half bad. Keeps him warm on the inside, at least.

 

 

Wade heads out a little after noon to respond to an emergency call from Dom and Cable, so Matt takes advantage of the alone time to spread out on the couch with a couple of case files, his computer, and a pair of headphones to get some work done.

He’s apologized about a million times to both Foggy and Karen for being out so long, but their stubborn asses keep brushing him off and threatening him with homemade sick-people food should he step foot into the office at any point during the remainder of the work week. Karen’s been especially cruel about it, doesn’t want him working on anything at all, but Foggy took pity on him about a day in and delivered a couple of files and a 12-pack of ginger ales to his doorstep after work.

The snow storm blows in around one and steals all the warmth of the sunlight that usually filters in through the living room windows. Matt wraps himself up in an extra flannel and one of Wade’s lighter coats while he works. It’s quiet, inside and out. The world grows replete with flurried and sloping edges, turns to gradients of indefinite contours and the muted bustle of city life is subdued by the first blanketing of snowflakes on the ground. He’s able to fall into the focused rhythm of analyzing depositions and structuring an argument with ease.

Which is why he doesn’t notice that two people have approached the front door of the apartment until three crisp, rapidfire knocks sound off from the entry hallway and rip a hole through his eardrums.

Matt jumps hard enough to knock the earbuds out of his head. He takes a couple deep breaths to settle his racing heart. Grabs his glasses off the side table, runs a hand through his mess of hair, calls out a breathless, “Coming!” and gets up to answer the door. Before he opens it, he discerns that one of the people is very short--a kid? Probably. Smells like play-doh and the soles of their shoes are caked in sandbox sand. The other person wears pleasant floral perfume and seems to be around Matt’s age, if he were to hazard a guess. Civilians. Nonthreatening.

Matt opens the door with a raised eyebrow. Crosses his arms and leans against the doorframe. “May I help you?”

The adult answers. “Oh! Hi, I’m Emily Preston and this here young lady is Eleanor Camacho--” Eleanor makes some sort of gesture with her arm, a wave maybe, “--I was under the assumption that this was Wade Wilson’s residence?”

Matt tilts his head. “That’s correct. He’s not home right now, did you need something?”

The woman’s heart rate ticks up minutely and she pulls her phone out of her pocket. “I--I thought that Ellie was spending the afternoon with him? I could have sworn we agreed on 2:30.”

“Excuse me?”

“He’s--Sorry, why are you in Wade’s apartment? How do you know him?”

Matt is so extremely confused. There’s a young kid anxiously digging the toe of one shoe into the other on his doorstep. And Wade knows this kid? Is arranging times to hang out with her alone? He clears the nervous tightness out of his throat and responds, “I’m, uh, Matt. I live here with him.”

“Ah! I didn’t know he had a roommate--”

“Boyfriend, actually,” he interjects.

“Oh, wow, I didn’t realize he’d started dating again.”

Again? They’ve been together over a year.

The kid pipes up. “I have to pee.”

Uh.

Emily Preston scooches her closer to the door. “You’ve been here before, Ellie. Remember where the bathroom is?”

Ellie nods up and down. Her long hair makes swishing sounds against the back of her shirt. Emily narrates it.

Matt’s brain is about five minutes behind what’s happening in front of him. He steps aside, a bit robotic. Little feet trot hurriedly past him into the apartment and make a beeline for the hall bath.

Emily’s face is hot with awkward embarrassment. “I’m really sorry about this, I swear we’d double-checked the drop off time a couple of days ago.”

“I’m, uh. Maybe I missed something, how are they connected again?”

“Wade is Ellie’s dad. I’m her foster mom; that’s why we’re supposed to be swapping. I’ve got an appointment I wasn’t able to reschedule and I couldn’t find anyone else to watch her.”

Dad, did she say? Wade? “Sorry, dad? He has a kid?”

“Well, yeah. I was assuming you knew about her.”

The kid--Wade’s kid--emerges from the bathroom and breezes back out the door to grab onto her foster mother’s leg and cling to it like a monkey.

Emily’s looking down at her as she says, “I really can’t miss my thing. Um, I’m really sorry to have to ask this, I know we just met, but would you be willing to watch her until Wade shows up? I’m supposed to pick her up around nine.”

The dots start to connect; Matt’s usually out of the apartment until around midnight on Fridays with Fogs and Karen. They’d been planning to go to Josie’s this week until he got sick.

Wade’s been scheduling secretive meetings with his daughter around Matt’s drinking schedule.

Fucking awesome.

He takes the kid. Preston’s voice is unreasonably grateful and dripping with apologetic sympathy when she thanks him.

She leaves. He closes the door and turns, all slow-like. Nervous.

Ellie’s already figured out how to scale the barstool to get on the counter. She’s attacking a can of soda with her nail bed-bitten fingers.

 

 

Wade does not pick up the phone when Matt calls. Not the first time or the second time or the tenth time.

He’s fuckin’ steamed.

The kid’s takin’ up space in the living room, swinging her sandy-soled shoes off the edge of the couch and humming along to the theme song of a children’s show that blares from the TV.

She’s maybe five, more likely six or seven. Not a toddler by any means but not quite autonomous enough for late elementary school, despite the stubborn, independent streak she’s obviously inherited from her father.

She likes ginger ale.

She’s good at manners but bad at patience. Her voice is cute in a sickly-sweet way and her mannerisms are ferocious and excitable. Reminds him of all the kids he knew growing up at St. Agnes. The ones who learned from a young age that the world is not a kind place; that it is, in fact, out to get you at every step. The ones who learned to always be ready for a fight.

Matt’s not a huge kid person. He can’t help but think that his spending too much one-on-one time with one might fuck ‘em up in some way. Doesn’t want to be responsible for traumatizing someone that don’t know how to inflict trauma on others yet. That’s just askin’ for a mean streak to develop.

But he’s stuck with Ellie until Wade gets back, so he pulls from the dusty corners of his brain some of the old techniques for maintaining continued attention that he employed back when Spidey was fresh into his teens and beside himself with energy for which he had no outlet. Or from when Matt had reached a certain age in middle school and been forced to take on the responsibility of the soothing, world-weary older role model at the orphanage for all the hysterical elementary schoolers who were fresh off losing their parents.

Lucky enough, Ellie finds something to engage her without Matt having to do very much work at all.

She ogles his braille display when he picks it up to clear off the living room couch and swiftly falls in love with the thing. They eat up almost an hour of time messing with it. Matt shows her how it works in tandem with his laptop, and then she gets all curious about how he reads with his fingers. So they learn the braille alphabet.

She picks it up like a sponge.

Oh, Lord. This little fucker’s gone and gotten Matt all infatuated and attached and shit.

Maybe it’s ‘cause she reminds him so much of Wade. At one point he pisses her off when she asks to take a book off a shelf and she shoves a middle finger that she knows he can’t see straight out in front of her face like a beacon of spiteful resentment.

Girl’s got fucking spines under all that hair. Got barbed wire fences strung up on all sides to protect her. Just like her daddy.

 

 

Her daddy, who is three hours late to his scheduled daddy-daughter date.

In the intervening couple of hours after the novelty of the braille discovery wears off, Ellie sets herself to finding every aspect of the apartment that has the capacity to pose some potential danger and inflicting that danger upon herself and upon Matt.

She ruthlessly and efficiently manages to un-endear herself to him in a matter of minutes. Indulging her desire for the ginger ale was the mistake to end all mistakes. Girl’s literally scaling the fucking walls.

At one point she wriggles out from within his clutches and sprints for the kitchen. She rustles through all the cabinets she can reach until she finds a gallon of white vinegar under the sink, which Matt swiftly confiscates and stows on top of the fridge.

“But it smells weird!”

An astute observation.

Matt raises an eyebrow over the rim of his glasses in and purses his lips in acknowledgement.

“What’s it for?”

“Cleaning, you little heathen, what do you think? It’s right next to a buncha soap and sponges.”

The feet (effectively de-shoed after sandy tracks started appearing on the floor beneath Matt’s feet) stamp in frustration. “It smells like you should be able to drink it.”

“Well, kid, so does antifreeze, but a good solid chug of that stuff’ll land you in the morgue,” Matt retorts.

Ellie ignores this and sets about trying to climb onto the counter to gain access to the top of the fridge. Matt scoops her bodily off the barstool and slings her over his shoulder. He carries her, writhing, shrieking in protest, and pounding on his mid-back just shy of nailing his kidneys, over to Wade’s ratty fucking chair and a half in the living room. He deposits his load upon the cushion and dodges the swinging fist when he releases her.

Kid takes after her old man maybe a little too much.

Matt squats so he’s level with her and crosses his arms to wait out the bitchfit.

Those troublesome hands snatch his sunglasses right off his unsuspecting nose in response.

She puts the damn things on herself and hollers, “Holy crap, these are so big!”

Matt’s brain lights up with a sudden idea. It’s terrible, sure. Probably unethical to some extent. But the kid’s been begging to try the stuff anyway. “I’ll give you a spoonful of the vinegar if you agree to call a truce,” he offers, hand extended for a shake.

Ellie’s head, looking behind her in earnest wonder at the filter in which the sunglasses must bathe the world, whips back around so hard that the things lose their precarious balance across the bridge of her nose and fall off.

Matt sure as shit can’t see the expression on her face, but he practically feels those pupils dilating in anticipation. Can almost hear a manic hum emanating from somewhere deep in her chest.

They shake.

 

 

Sunglasses restored to their rightful nose, Matt grabs a tablespoon from the kitchen and measures out one spoonful of vinegar into a shot glass. Then, for shits and giggles, he pours another out for himself.

They sit at the breakfast table across from one another. The air is charged. Matt plasters on a scowl. Ellie leans her elbows on the table.

The ultimate test of wills.

They clink. Ellie sniffs at her glass now that the vinegar is out of the container and makes a disgusted sound, but she knows she can’t back down.

She’s made her bed.

Proud. Like her daddy. Matt feels his mouth wanting to twitch up at the edges.

Bottom’s up.

The near-immediate spit-take-turned-cry-of-regret is sweet music to Matt’s ears.

Turns out a spoonful of straight vinegar is a great way to get a kid to chug a ton of water without complaint. He makes note of that, just in case he ever encounters another child quite as stubborn as this one.

 

 

Wade enters the fold after Ellie’s energy has died down a little bit.

After the vinegar, Matt’s wanting to finish the deposition he’d been working through before he got interrupted, so he prints a few practice braille sheets from the web for her and settles back onto the couch with his earbuds and the computer. Ellie grabs a writing utensil from the cup in the secluded corner of the kitchen counter and skips her merry way over to the other end of the couch to work alongside him.

Goddamn. The little shit’s gone back to being endearing.

Before he forgets, Matt gets up to put a low-key outlaw country CD from Wade’s collection on the boombox. Just to give the kid some background noise. He gives her the TV remote in case she gets too excruciatingly bored with the worksheets. Tells her to keep the volume low if she ends up using it.

Earbuds go in his ears and his hands come to rest on the computer keyboard. Ellie stretches and yawns. He hears the scratching of a pencil through the barricade provided by the earbuds and starts playing the voice recording.

 

 

Wade’s quiet coming through the door, so Matt doesn’t notice he’s home until he hears heavy boots stumbling unevenly past the back of the couch, making their way towards the open door of the bedroom.

Wade leaves a trail in the air as he moves by. It’s made up of wheezing half-breaths and a coppery, salty tang that sticks to the roof of Matt’s mouth.

Ellie has fallen asleep on the far cushion, curled up amongst the scattered, half-completed worksheets and still loosely gripping the pencil. Wade swears loudly from the bathroom inside their room. Matt unplugs himself from the earbuds and gets up to slide the bedroom door closed. There’s a clink of metal on tile from inside, a couple of pained groans, then the buzz of the bathroom fan and running water. Matt returns to the couch.

 

 

Wade emerges from the bedroom twenty minutes later, freshly healed and showered, to gawk at the two of them on the couch.

Matt takes the buds out of his ears so as to better appreciate the shock radiating from him in waves.

Shock quickly turns to fear, guilt, and a hint of anger. Wade gestures animatedly at the sleeping Ellie and says in a furious whisper, “That thing’s not supposed to be here!”

Oh. No. Not how this conversation is going to happen. Matt’s still peeved about the unanswered calls. He extricates himself from his workspace and stalks over to the bedroom. He beckons Wade with an impatient wave and closes the door behind them.

“So were you just not gonna tell me you had a kid? Was that not a conversation you were ever planning to have with me?” Matt asks. His ears burn hot with irritation and maybe with a hint of sadness. That Wade hadn’t felt he could trust him with this information in all the time they’d known each other.

But they’re not supposed to be keeping massive secrets--that’s not a healthy or sustainable relationship model. And that’s not on him. That’s on Wade.

Wade flares his nostrils and furrows his brow in a frown. Matt hears the scars on his face interacting with one another, stretching and compressing, pulling taut, bone-dry in some places and almost sinewy in more recently damaged areas.

A prolonged silence enters into the conversation as a tense, unwelcome third party, abridged only when Wade responds, “I was going to tell you. I swear. I just hadn’t figured out how to go about doing it.”

His heart beats steady in confirmation. He’s not lying.

“But why wait so long? Did you feel that you couldn’t trust me? That I’d be pissed?”

“No--no. I just don’ ever tell no one about her. Compromises her safety. Makes her vulnerable. Attaches too many strings. N’ she’s the only good I ever put on this earth, so I gotta keep ‘er safe.”

The fearful tremor in his voice makes that last sentence fragile. Hairline fractures appear in his composure. Matt veers into lighter territory; they can get into the hard shit--the secret-keeping, the changes they’re gonna have to make in communication--when the kid leaves.

“She’s damn tenacious.”

Wade snorts. “You’re fuckin’ tellin’ me. How’d she end up here? Thought I was s’posed to have her on Friday.”

“The fuck day you think it is?”

Wade goes very still. “...Thursday?”

“I dunno, bud, you tell me if that’s right,” Matt replies around a chortle.

Wade crosses to his side of the bed and grabs his phone off the charger. “Fuck. Shit.”

“Playin’ nurse all week take the wind outta your sails?”

“Maybe if you weren’t such an ungrateful bastard, I’d of kept track of what day it was,” Wade retorts, tucking the phone into his pocket and stepping around Matt to open the door.

Soon as it slides open, a shrill voice cries, “Daddy!” from the living room.

“C’mere, miss mess. The hell have you done to my place, huh?”

Little feet race towards Wade and dive at his chest head-first. He catches her mid-leap and makes an exaggerated old-man groan as he swings her around.

Matt chuckles and slides by to go grab his computer. Halfway there, he kicks and then trips over the coffee table, which has been relocated a good five feet from its usual spot. He catches himself, but the cry he makes on the initial descent is less than stoic.

The bastard in Wade’s arms has the audacity to announce, “I was redecorating!” in the jolliest, proudest tone of voice Matt’s heard come out of her mouth all afternoon.

His pulse throbs hot in his shin and he instructs Wade through gritted teeth to release his offspring in order to tape the fucking furniture to the floor.

The offspring in question absorbs only one word from that command, and she decides to start inserting it into just about every other sentence she voices. She and Wade end up in a cussing contest over dinner. The only thing that ends it is Emily Preston’s arrival and the subsequent kid-swap.

Matt hears Ellie shriek out the word in a puff of frozen breath aimed up at the night sky once she and Preston have exited the building, holding gloved hands as they navigate the icy sidewalk.

 

 

He elbows Wade in bed a few hours later and remarks, “Think she takes after you.”

“Mmm. Just a little. Piece of goddamn work, ain’t she?”

Pfffft. “Naaah. Just a crazy ass kid. She’s got a lotta good in there too.”

Wade sniffs. “Yeah. She does. Lotta good.”

Matt doesn’t say it, but he thinks she inherited most of that from her dad, too.