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It's not that Peter doesn't want to join the Avengers...okay, fine. He is understandably wary of joining a group that straight-up doesn't have time to see the trees while the forest is on fire, co-led by the nosiest man on Earth. Even their super-spy is a household face these days, and he honestly has no idea how she makes that work, but Peter's not going to be the one to suggest Black Widow may be slightly less effective in the field after giving up her secret identity. The fact that they've made handing over his own a condition for unlocking Trust Level Five? Thanks; he'll pass.

That doesn't mean he doesn't get the memos. He's pretty sure he has JARVIS to thank for that, but he's not going to look a gift AI in the mouth. (Well, okay, he probably would, but he and JARVIS are cool.) Bottom line: if a significant enough threat gets spotted in his city, someone usually lets him know. If he's lucky, he'll find out through one of JARVIS' concise, highly-informative briefings. If he's less lucky--and this week has not been a collection of his finest moments--it's one of Stark's distracted texts that tells him maybe half of what he needs to even identify the threat, much less guess how he should handle it.

The guy sitting slumped on a busted A/C unit on top of one of his favorite lookout points doesn't look much like a threat, even if he is armed to the teeth. Peter counts two katanas, guns holstered on either hip, a knife in each boot and strapped to bulging biceps, and too many pouches and bandoliers to even guess at their contents. The phrase 'one-man army' comes instantly to mind, and he's sure that in any normal circumstance, the guy's sheer size and intimidating color scheme would have Peter working out his best options for webbing him up and leaving him for SHIELD to sort out.

It's just a little hard to take him seriously when he's letting himself and his daemon be hazed by some jerk of a seagull.

Deadpool's daemon--if that really is Deadpool, because Peter would have expected a lot more shooting by now--isn't nearly as blasé about the situation. Huddled between the mercenary's oversized boots, the little yellow cockatiel flaps her wings--his wings? definitely his, which is another surprise--hard enough to kick up tiny clouds of dust off the apartment rooftop, crest bristling.

"Knock it the fuck off, asshole!" the fluffed-out daemon squawks in outrage, though he doesn't leave the dubious safety of his person's sheltering bulk. With Deadpool slumped over him, elbows on his knees, chin in his hands, the seagull can't get a clear shot in, though it doesn't seem to be for lack of trying. "Can't you see we're having a Moment, here?"

From his hidden vantage on the side of the next building over, Peter frowns. He'd been tempted to smile at first--how had Deadpool settled with a daemon like that?--but the longer he watches, the less he feels like laughing. Deadpool isn't even trying to shoo the seagull away, leaving his daemon to fend for himself, and the listless way he's sitting, that total lack of interest in everything around him....

Biting his lip, Peter hesitates for a moment, but when the seagull swoops low enough to actually be a danger, he webs it out of the sky.

As the seagull hits the rooftop with a thud and sticks there, Deadpool jerks his head up out of his hands, freezing again as his daemon falls silent. The back of Peter's neck prickles with nerves, rattled by the absolute certainty that every ounce of Deadpool's attention is focused entirely on him, but his Spidey-sense remains curiously silent. Somehow, even through the mask, Deadpool's utter stillness reads as shock, not the tension before an attack.

"Motherfucker," the seagull spits out in clear, perfect English, and then Deadpool and his daemon just lose it. The cockatiel daemon cackles like a laying hen, throwing his head back so far, he staggers off-balance and hops several paces to the left, while Deadpool curls in over himself, guffawing so hard he falls right off his perch. Lying curled on his side, both arms wrapped around his middle, he still doesn't look like the imminent threat to life and property Peter's been led to believe. And besides that-- "Yeah, laugh it up, you useless fucks--just get me out of here!"

"Oh, shoot, sorry," Peter says automatically, launching himself off the side of the neighboring building to land at a prudent distance from Deadpool. "I just assumed. I mean. I've never met anyone with two daemons before." Read about it, yes, but met? Even the case studies were so rare as to almost be urban legends.

That has Deadpool hooting in delight, even as he picks himself up, wiping at the white lenses of his mask as if to brush away tears. "Daemons? These assholes? They're not my daemons," Deadpool says with utter conviction. "They're my boxes!"

Peter hesitates, replaying that in his head. It still doesn't make any sense the second time. "Boxes?"

"Yeah, you know," Deadpool says as he plops back down onto rusted metal. His tone is light and easy, shoulders relaxed. He might as well be commenting on the weather. "Like when someone leaves you a suspiciously gift-wrapped present, only when you pick it up, you realize it's ticking. Sure wish I could remember who left 'em," Deadpool adds with a frustrated huff. "I'd mark 'em return to sender. With interest."

"And maybe you already have and just forgot," the...cockatiel-shaped not-daemon chirps reasonably.

"Doesn't mean you can't go looking anyway," the seagull interjects. "Statistically speaking, someone's going to deserve being found."

Abruptly reconsidering the urge to set the bird-thing free, Peter feels his rabbiting heart slow with relief at Deadpool's put-upon sigh. "Yeah, and that one was ticking really fucking loudly. You'd think I'd have caught the hint."

Shifting uncertainly on his feet, Peter starts forward then stops again, the implications of Deadpool's wild claim catching up to him all at once. "Wait. They're...not your daemons?"

"Nope. Creepy, huh?" Deadpool's toothy grin stretches so wide, it distorts the smooth face of his mask. "Look like daemons, talk like daemons...not daemons."

Yeah, that...that's enough to trickle a cold chill down his spine, but in the same vein-- "Then whe--"

Whoa. Okay, wow. A little invasive there, Parker, because nobody wears a mask if they don't have something to hide, and daemons are a pretty positive indicator of identity. And if Deadpool's daemon settled as something small, something hidden, something that would be really too easy for an enemy to take advantage of, then asking Deadpool to point out that weakness might just be construed as a little unfriendly.

Peter expects this impromptu meeting to quickly get cut short as Deadpool rises to his feet, but Deadpool just ambles over to the seagull, taking a knee and drawing a boot knife. "Then what?" Deadpool asks innocently, sawing at the ball of webbing until it gives.

"Uh." Peter trails off, not quite trusting the sly amusement lurking behind that casual question.

Backup comes unexpectedly in the form of the yellow...box. "Rude," the cockatiel chides, fluttering up to perch on Deadpool's head, only to lean over to peck him sharply between the eyes.

"Ow!" Deadpool bitches, lifting an arm to swat haphazardly at the thing. The not-a-cockatiel flaps away with plenty of room to spare, making a rude sound a bird's beak really shouldn't be capable of. "He started it!"

"Ruder," the seagull proclaims, pecking at Deadpool's knife hand. He wriggles free of the webbing like it's an ordinary net, not sticky at all. Right. Whatever they are, they clearly aren't birds, either.

"Well, it's not like I asked him to show me his, assh--oh," Deadpool catches himself, tipping his head up to maybe meet Peter's eyes. Behind two sets of lenses, it's hard to tell. "Oops. That was not me asking, by the way."

"Likewise. Once I thought about it, I mean. You kind of caught me by surprise."

"That's why I get paid the big bucks," Deadpool replies cheerfully, tucking his knife away. Peter won't deny he feels better when Deadpool's hands are empty, and he almost feels bad about that, especially when the man continues. "I know what you're thinking, though. Deadpool," he says in the same tone someone else might say 'the bogeyman,' throwing up jazz hands for added effect. "But don't worry your sweet ass. Seeing as I'm the right and proper 'Pool for this little corner of the multiverse, I absolutely do have a daemon! Somewhere," he corrects himself in the next breath. "Obviously not here, but, uh, yeah. You know. Around."

Peter does know, a little. He and Ariesthone have trained themselves to stretch the bond pretty far, because an extra set of eyes can be a godsend. The embarrassed way Deadpool rubs at the back of his neck, head ducked, would have kept him from asking for more details regardless.

Really, he should go. Deadpool doesn't seem to be up to any mayhem at the moment, and he really doesn't want to risk putting his foot in it again. It's only through sheer dumb luck that he's managed not to set the guy off so far, and he's gleaned just enough useful intel from Stark's rambling texts to know that the last thing he wants is for Deadpool to form a hefty enough grudge that he's tempted to stick around. It's just....

"So you're okay, then?"

He's pretty sure he's not imagining the way the lenses of the Deadpool mask go round with surprise. He only just stops himself from asking if Deadpool's got a spare he can examine, because holy heck, that would be so useful, especially when he's trying to set kids at ease. From the corner of his eye, he catches the boxes trading startled looks, but his attention's mostly on Deadpool.

"Aww," Deadpool says after a long, silent moment, clapping his hands, one atop the other, over his heart. "Of course I am, Webs! I'm Deadpool! Takes a licking, keeps on tipping!"

Peter's often glad of the mask, and this is...definitely one of those times. "Right. Uh--"

"Anyway, we better jet. Catch you around, Spidey-babe!" Deadpool says with a jaunty salute.

Before Peter can stop him, he jogs to the edge of the roof, vaults up onto the ledge, and with a graceful half-turn, Deadpool spreads his arms and lets himself tip backward like an Olympic diver.

What the--

Wings explode into motion as Peter darts after him. He ducks reflexively as the cockatiel zips past, only to catch a face-full of black-tipped white as the other box buffets him in passing. By the time he makes it to the edge of the roof, Deadpool is gone.

Crouched on the ledge, he stares up and down the empty street and shivers only a little, ticklish, as Ariesthone unflattens herself from the back of his neck. Crawling around to perch on his shoulder, she taps out a comforting rhythm against his collarbone with her foremost legs. Against the black web motif and the electric blue panels of the suit, even with her cobalt stripes, she's almost invisible.

"That was different," she says diplomatically. Unlike him, she's not prone to snap decisions, especially not when it comes to people. Where he tends to rely on instinct and first impressions, she's patient, reserving judgment until she's certain. That she hasn't immediately written Deadpool off as unstable or possibly possessed isn't a surprise.

The cautiously favorable interest he can sense from her is.

"Do you think...." Peter begins, squirming inwardly with discomfort at bringing it up. "He could have been lying. About having a daemon. Not because...I mean...."

"It would scare people," Ari says gently.

Peter nods. "He does have some kind of healing factor." A thoroughly impossible one, from what he understands. If Deadpool were to lose his daemon--if it didn't heal along with him--he might well live. It would definitely explain why he'd looked like he'd given up on the world when Peter first ran across him.

"Hm. You know who would know...."

He really hates asking Stark for favors, mostly because he never knows which Stark he'll get: the one who makes stupid, expensive gestures on a whim or the one who makes him cringingly aware of every unpaid debt without ever saying a word.

But when it comes to information, who better to ask than the nosiest man in the world?

***

"You do read the memos, right?" Stark asks, casting a pointed look down the bridge of his nose despite the fact that he has to look up to do so. Hunched over the skeletal guts of a new suit, he's too distracted to even complain about Peter's comfortable perch on the wall at right angles to the floor. "We don't just send those out to make...whoever happy. HR? OSHA? Cap? Point is, you're supposed to read them."

Peter snorts. "I said I ran into Deadpool. I didn't say I challenged him to a dance-off."

"Well, that's good, because I hear the guy's got some moves. So, what," Stark asks as he drops his eyes back to his work, "you need a restraining order or something? Because most judges frown on not having a name to put on those, but I maybe know a guy.

"Unless," he says without looking up, reaching for a wrench, "you'd like to share with the class? Strictly confidential, and I guarantee Wilson gets enough of those taken out on him in a week that he won't even think to investigate who the newest one is from."

"Pass," Peter says dryly, trying to ignore a weird prickle of guilt at being so casually informed of another masked person's identity. And Stark wonders why he's so hesitant to hand over his own. "And I don't need a restraining order. I just...he said something about his daemon, and I didn't want to ask, but--"

Stark's mouth pulls tight in an unhappy grimace as he sits up, tossing his tools aside. Despite the late hour, he hasn't looked tired until just now. From across the room, his ferret daemon wriggles out of a pile of scrap and streaks across the workshop floor to throw herself into his arms, shamelessly seeking comfort.

"Yeah, that's...look, I'm not saying it excuses the guy," Stark grouses. His scowl says he'd rather swallow jet fuel than admit to whatever sympathy he happens to be feeling. "But the folks who made him the nutjob he is today--Weapon X? Real nasty pieces of work."

"What do you mean?"

Stark sighs. "I guess he told you he has a daemon? Somewhere?"

Peter nods, a sick wobble in his stomach scrambling his voice. Across the back of his neck, Ariesthone's legs clutch tight.

"Yeah. But see, everybody knows Wade Wilson had a dog daemon. It's part of his military record, even," Stark says, waving sharply, like he wants to be done with this entire conversation as quickly as possible. Peter doesn't blame him. When JARVIS tosses out a hologram of a cocky, smirking soldier in smart-looking fatigues, Peter's eyes are drawn helplessly to the huge yellow Lab leaned up against the man's leg, wide, doggy grin a poor camouflage for the unholy glint of mischief in its eyes.

"He's been saying he still has a daemon for years now, but no one's seen a whisker of it. Just those things he's got following him around. White and Yellow?" Stark asks the empty air, mouth twisting in disgust as he bulls onward before JARVIS can confirm or deny. "So if he tries to get you to buy into his delusion, just smile, nod, and back away slowly. It's anyone's guess what he'll do if he ever has to face reality, and honestly, I don't want to know. We can't keep him contained now, and that's on what passes for his good days."

Even after Stark waves away the hologram, Peter can still see it on the backs of his eyes: a handsome man with a big, friendly dog, not the kind of person he'd have expected to find behind Deadpool's reputation. He tries to imagine what kind of person he'd become if he ever lost Ariesthone, but he can't even wrap his mind around the staggering weight of it. Losing his Uncle Ben, seeing his stag daemon dissolve to dust right in front of his eyes, had been bad enough. Even if he could survive that kind of loss, he can't imagine why he'd want to.

"Seriously, just stay away from the guy, and his creepy zombie pets," Stark advises before Peter can see himself out. "He's not well, okay? He may seem fine today, but tomorrow might be a different story."

"I'll bear that in mind," Peter says, promising nothing.

He's never really paid attention to how many dogs there are in New York, but every time he catches sight of a stray, he finds himself looking for bright golden fur, a flash of human intelligence looking back.

***

It's not that Peter's embarrassed by Ariesthone. He couldn't possibly be. He has to keep her hidden, though, both in the mask and out of it, because she's just a little too distinctive to explain away if she's ever seen in both capacities.

And maybe just a little too pointed a cliché, but that's not exactly their fault. At fifteen, she'd still been flipping back and forth between otter, raccoon, and mongoose, energetic and curious in every form. The last kid in their entire year not to have settled, he'd gotten on the bus to head to that field trip with no particular expectation that the rest of his life would be overwritten by chance, right down to the shape of his daemon.

"Hands would have been nice," she sometimes says wistfully even now, nearly a decade later.

He tries never to let on that he agrees.

***

He doesn't even know Deadpool is there until someone mutters, "Duck" from the bare rafters overhead. He doesn't question it; with his web-shooters jammed, discovered and surrounded, he doesn't have that luxury. He ducks, and one of the cartel's guards goes flying over his head to crash into the half-dozen bunching up to hem him in.

"Strike!" Yellow squawks, flapping his wings, only to be immediately batted off his perch when the bigger bird next to him is hit by a flailing pinion.

White, the source of the warning, sniffs judgmentally. "Spare," he corrects. "Not enough pins."

"Hey, Spidey!" Deadpool calls cheerfully, sauntering out from between towering stacks of metal-banded crates like he doesn't have a care in the world. "You mind if we join League Night, or should we stay in our own lane?"

"Feel free," Peter says, ducking a wild punch, "but you gotta play a clean game. Tournament rules only."

"You got it," Deadpool says, and somehow, for some reason, Peter believes him.

Rounding up the thugs afterward is a little more difficult without his webs to stick them together, but Deadpool's pouches contain multitudes. Or at the very least, they contain enough duct tape to neatly package a small army of guards for pickup. Deadpool is even helpful, mostly all business, if you don't count the joking little digs that...probably don't make Peter any more popular amongst the criminal underground, now that he's heard first-hand what he must sound like.

"So...not that I'm not grateful," Peter says after the cops have been called, the two of them retreating to the rooftop of a neighboring warehouse to keep watch until the authorities arrive, "but what brought you out here, anyway?"

"Taco run," Deadpool replies, with just enough stifled hilarity that Peter knows there's a private joke in there somewhere. "And hey, speaking of...you wanna grab a bite? My treat," Deadpool offers quickly. "I'll buy if you'll fly."

"Well, I'm not going to be flying anywhere until I get these fixed," Peter says ruefully, still digging at a clogged firing mechanism with his extremely high-tech unbent paperclip. "But...I could go in and get it if you make the order?" he adds, a niggling sense of something... off prompting him to offer. Maybe Deadpool finds it hard to get decent service while he's still in the suit. All he knows is that Deadpool perks up like Peter's just done him a massive favor, not just agreed to hang out after a surprisingly successful team-up.

"Great! So what are you thinking?" Deadpool asks, pulling out a cell phone festooned with worn Lisa Frank stickers. "Mexican? Pizza? Chinese?"

"Thai?" Peter suggests uncertainly. It feels rude when it's not his dime, but Deadpool just fans himself with his free hand.

"Spicy," he drawls, and Peter would swear he can see Deadpool's eyebrows waggle suggestively, even under the mask.

"How the heck are you doing that?"

"Motion lines!" Deadpool sings out with a laugh, the first two fingers of both hands cocked out in sideways peace signs held up over his brows.

That makes no sense at all, which is definitely lending credence to at least some of Stark's warnings, but...so far Deadpool's presence has been entirely benign. Peter's kept his ear to the ground, and to the best of his knowledge, Deadpool hasn't made a single kill while he's been in the city. Whatever brought him here, Peter's at least willing to believe it isn't business.

Leaning together over the screen of Deadpool's phone as they work out their order--only for Deadpool to turn around and order two of everything, with the excuse that Peter's food sounded good too, so of course Peter has to try some of his--Peter waits for some shift in the air, for the sudden clamp of Ari's legs on the back of his neck to warn him he's put a little too much faith in a man living in a bubble that could pop at any moment.

It never comes.

***

After his ill-fated field trip, Peter starts carrying around a little silver case, the kind they make for people with small, fragile daemons for whom even pockets are too dangerous a perch. That's especially true when the daemon's person is young, much less a teenaged boy. To say nothing of a teenaged boy too smart for his own good, who just happens to be the favorite target of the class bully.

"Watch it, Jiminy," Flash warns with a shit-eating grin after shoulder checking Peter in the hall, casually kicking aside the silver case jostled out of Peter's shirt pocket.

Even though his daemon isn't in there, Peter's heart leaps into his throat. If the case comes open--if people can see that it's empty, no cricket or firefly or whatever they've decided he has inside--explaining that could be worse than explaining away a palm-sized, blue-black spider with no known natural analog.

A slim, pale hand snatches up the case before he can dive for it himself, and Gwen comes up with fire in her eyes, knuckles white, fists shaking. Perched on her shoulder with his tail wrapped tightly around her neck, her lemur daemon bares his teeth. She reams Flash so hard, he slinks away without meeting anybody's eyes, too mortified to muster a parting shot. His dog daemon's tail is tucked so far between her legs, it might as well have been docked.

When Gwen hands him back the case, she meets his eyes levelly, too knowing, though all she says is, "Keeping a decoy. That was smart." It's clear she knows the case is empty. She must have realized the minute she picked it up and felt nothing scrabbling for purchase inside.

She was the first person he introduced Ariesthone to in Ari's settled form.

So far she's been the last.

***

Peter doesn't mean to start counting on the man, but Deadpool keeps showing up. He stops asking why after a while because the answer is always the same: 'taco run,' followed by an invitation to dinner. After the first few times, Deadpool stops covering the bottom half of his face while he's eating, and all Peter can see in the back of his head is that crisp, clear hologram, large as life, of a handsome soldier with a cocksure grin, as approachable as the affable mutt leaning into him.

The man sitting beside him on the rooftop's ledge is almost unrecognizable as the same person, profoundly scarred and circled all around by untouched, empty space. Only the shape of his grin remains.

"Thanks, Deadpool," Peter says one night as he's collecting their trash, balling it up around a sticky starter of webbing to dispose of later.

Deadpool snorts, one corner of his mouth turning up in a patient smile. "You can call me Wade, you know. Wade Wilson? You've been getting the memos, right?"

"Uh," Peter says, panic and guilt firing oddly in his chest. He can't exactly claim he hadn't gone looking for information he didn't have a right to, because he kind of had. He just hadn't gone looking for all the information he's been given. It's never felt right to use it because of that.

"Because I've been getting the memos. You have been reading the memos, yeah?"

"What the heck?" is all he can manage, laughing a little despite himself. Trust Deadpool to do the exact opposite of what Peter expects, to be amused at having been outed instead of angry.

"JARVIS is a bro! But seriously, call me Wade. Or 'Pool. 'Pool's good. DP if you really want my attention," he adds in a sly drawl that...one day will not make Peter blush. Today is not that day.

"Riiight," he says, shaking his head as if he honestly does despair over Deadpool's sense of humor. Which he does. It's just maybe not the only reaction he's been having lately. "Okay, then. Wade."

It really is the exact same smile. Peter can't help wondering if Wade's eyes still look like condensed essence of trouble as well.

***

The thing about secret labs is that you generally know what to expect from them. Abandoned buildings with gaping holes into an ominously-glowing stretch of sewers? Not so much.

"'Pool!" Peter yells as he slings his way up a crumbling stairwell, because they're working and it just feels weird to use Wade's civilian name when they're on patrol. He's maybe three floors up, but half the stairs have long since fallen prey to whatever ripped great chunks from the outside walls. The Chitauri, maybe, or even the Hulk. The damage isn't new by any means. "'Pool, come on!"

He lost Wade down below when that first glistening tide of shiny black carapaces and many-jointed legs boiled up out of the sewers at the frantic command of the kid they'd been chasing. 'Bug Boy' hadn't sounded like a particularly difficult target at first, other than enduring Wade's endless stream of jokes about upstarts trying to muscle in on Spidey's brand.

He'd had enough time to see Wade pull an actual flamethrower out of one of his pouches--and he will be explaining that--before the swarm overflowed the wrecked basement, Peter's webs barely stemming the tide.

In the instant it became clear they were about to be overrun, Wade had yelled, "Run!"

Stupidly, Peter had thought Wade was right behind him.

"Wade!" he yells into the dark, voice cracking.

"He's fine," Ari chants into his ear, her spindly legs clinging on tight. "He's going to be fine. It's okay."

Sure he will, except those mutant bugs may be venomous, and there's just so many of them. If Wade dies down there, how much of his body will even be left to regenerate before Peter can get him out?

He's half-blinded when the stairwell's jagged shadows are thrown into sharp relief by a sudden gout of flame. "'Pool!" he shouts again, catching himself briefly on hands and toes before flipping and reversing his trajectory. If he can get a web on the man, he can haul Wade up along with him. Their original route down, a meandering path through caved-in floors, has long since been cut off.

"I'm fine, I'm fine!" Wade shouts back as his flamethrower belches another lick of fire. "Get the hell out of here!"

He can hear the boxes now as well, White spitting curses and Yellow screaming near-incoherently that creepy-crawlies are not his preferred brand of crazy. Fighting the spots smeared across his vision with each burst of flame, Peter flings himself down into the dark, sticking a lucky landing on a mercifully-empty wall. He nearly breaks his wrist on the next jump when he slams into a bank of half-demolished concrete steps, catching himself in a weird stumble that's more of a vertical crawl. He knows Wade is close, but his Spidey-sense is buzzing inside his skull like a swarm of wasps, which is not a comforting thought to be having right now, considering.

He jumps just as the darkness is seared away yet again, Wade yelling a warning just a second too late.

The wall ahead of and below him is a living, seething mass of insects, and it's far too late to turn back now.

Throwing a hand back over his head, he fires off a web and just manages to pull himself up short, but he's far too close. A squirming avalanche drops down on him from above, and for a moment he loses all sense of direction as he writhes to shake them off. The barbed tips of chitinous feet and sharp mandibles catch on his suit, and he smacks at himself one-handed as momentum swings him back to crash into the opposite wall.

Something slithers over his head, and all he can hear is Ari's panicked shriek as she's torn away from him, falling into the heaving darkness below.

"Ari!" he shouts, gathering himself to push off and drop blindly down after her, when a near-silent hiss of wind through feathers streaks invisibly past. A tiny yelp of surprise, not pain, drifts up on the heels of a vertiginous rush, and then all he can sense from her is a wave of confused relief.

"Taco!" Wade yells, backing into the stairwell at last on another hall-cleaning burst of flames. "Did you get her?"

"Would I be flying the fuck out of here if I missed?" an unfamiliar voice calls down from above, sandpaper-rough but with no heat to its wry rebuke.

Peter doesn't need to hear anything else. Firing down a web that hits Wade square in the middle of his back, Peter hauls them both up with grim determination, plotting his path by staccato bursts of light as Wade keeps blasting away.

"Think there's any chance of getting that kid to call off the swarm?" Peter asks once they're a few more floors away, eyes straining against the gloom for even a glimpse of whatever saved his daemon. He sees the pale shadows of White and Yellow winging their way past them, but not a hint of whatever that third voice had been.

"Yeah, bad news on that front," Wade says, sounding equal parts fascinated and horrified. "They kinda ate him. Like something out of The Mummy. So I guess we're on our own."

"Got anything in your bag of tricks that could take this whole place down, then?" Peter asks, stomach churning at the thought of the swarm spreading out across New York, breeding and multiplying.

Wade laughs like he's not dangling precariously from a single filament above five stories of flesh-stripping, mutant hell. "Spidey, you say the sexiest things."

By the time they make it to the roof, Wade has dug out charges and placed a few on their way up, sticking them to the sides of the central stairwell without missing a beat. It means he can't use his flamethrower anymore, but that was a stopgap measure at best.

He knows they have to work fast, but he can't not look for his daemon, even knowing she must be safe. He's not prepared to meet the glossy black eyes of the biggest crow he's ever seen or to find Ari wrapped securely around its shoulders. When the crow unfurls a wing, she scuttles quickly down the slope of feathers and rushes to meet him as Peter crouches and cups his hands. The sheer relief of the gentle prickle of her feet across his gloves nearly drops him to his knees.

"Introductions later?" Wade asks, barely waiting for Peter's dumbfounded nod before pulling a rappelling hook from his belt. "Great! You take that side; I'll take this side. Set a three-minute timer, then haul ass for cover. Ready?" he asks, tossing a pair of bombs at Peter. "Go!"

He knows even as he plants the charges that he's probably going to catch hell for this. SHIELD and the Avengers seem to be under the delusion that he actually curbs Wade's more destructive tendencies, but the truth is, Wade has been his voice of experience equally as often as Peter's been their impulse control. Anyway, once he explains why they blew up a building at roughly two in the morning, he's pretty sure the others will understand.

"You know we probably didn't get all the ones in the sewers," Peter says as the last rumbles fade away, a heavy cloud of dust and smoke drifting down shocked-silent streets as the wind changes direction.

"Eh. That's more of a SHIELD problem, though, isn't it? I mean, I could probably put 'exterminator' on my resume," Wade says thoughtfully, "but that doesn't make it my field of expertise."

He makes a very good point; good enough that Peter can't even feel all that guilty about calling in a brief explanation then leaving the problem to the professionals.

He has questions, and the mechanics of how Wade fit one entire flamethrower into a pouch the size of his palm is no longer at the top of his list.

Wade and the crow trade glances, Wade shrugging as if in reply though the crow remains silent. "Uh...Spidey, meet Taco. Taco, Spidey and...I guess you already met, uh...Ari?"

"Ariesthone," Peter corrects him on autopilot, staring at the crow. "Taco?"

"Tocalion," the crow explains with an amused huff, cocking his head to the side to regard Peter through one glittering eye. Without the distraction of a mutant swarm boiling up at their feet, Peter can see his initial guess was correct. Though the sheer size makes his brain say 'raven,' Tocalion really is just an impossibly large crow. "Our parents weren't that crap at naming things, all evidence aside."

"Hey, alliterations are awesome," Wade protests, planting his fists on his hips. "And so are tacos! Why are you even complaining, you heathen?"

Peter opens his mouth, closes it again. "Wait. This...? I thought...I mean I heard your...."

Now that he thinks about it, the dog in the picture had been oversized too, closer to the size of a Rottweiler than a Lab. But a settled daemon kept a singular, fixed shape. They didn't just change again, no matter what hell they went through. Settled is settled.

"Yeah, that's...kind of a long story," Wade says, broad shoulders hunching in a little. He looks as nervous now as he did when he first claimed his daemon was around, just not there, like he knew he wouldn't be believed, or...like he knew the reality would be almost as hard to process as missing a daemon entirely.

Peter thinks of the little silver case that migrates from the pocket of his jeans to the hidden pockets of his suit and pulls himself together.

"We've got time if you want us to know," he says, speaking for Ari as well for once. No use pretending anymore that she's hiding at a prudent distance, out of capture range. After eight years of the act, it's good to feel her on his shoulder once more, an acknowledged participant in their lives.

"Yeah, well...it's not exactly the greatest bedtime story," Wade warns, shuffling his feet. "We're gonna need like...at least five tubs of Ben & Jerry's on this one. Each."

"Five tubs?" Peter echoes with overdone surprise, hoping to lighten the mood. "That doesn't sound like the kind of story that should be told on street corners."

He's been dragging his feet on accepting Wade's invitations to visit his safehouses, self-conscious because he knows he won't be able to reciprocate. Now seems as good a time as any to put his pride and guilt aside.

Wade grins, his tone oddly hopeful, like he'd expected Peter to beg off yet again. Or maybe follow Stark's advice to smile and back away slowly. "Great idea, Webs. Wanna grab a pizza or five on the way?"

***

The first time Wade wakes after dying, he's still buried in the ash and rubble of the lab he razed around himself. Choking on his first breath, he tastes charcoal and iron, tries to spit only to gag on the avalanche of thick powder that fills his mouth. He struggles in a haze until he feels the rhythmic slap of broad paws digging him out.

Scrubbing furiously at his eyes the instant he can sit up, Wade hacks up either a lung or a charcoal briquette and blinks away tears. What swims blearily into focus is not what he's expecting.

"What the fuck...are you my Patronus?" he asks the shaggy creature hovering over him. He's ninety-nine percent certain it's a wolverine, but like...the nicer, less hairy kind.

The wolverine snorts. "Your Patronus is Bea Arthur in combat fatigues," it says, ignoring the slow dropping of his jaw. He knows that voice, the warm blanket of comfort and solidarity spreading behind his ribs. And that's next to impossible because he still remembers the soul-shredding pain of feeling his daemon die. "Besides, do I look sparkly and magical to you?"

"Always," he says without pause for thought, because Tocalion has been the one good thing in his life for most of his life, and it doesn't look like that's going to change anytime soon. Thank fuck. He can figure out why his handsome pupper is now a grumpy murder weasel once they're somewhere safe.

"Hmph. I see they didn't cure you of being a sap, either," Taco huffs, gruff but pleased. "Now haul your ass up. I might've been able to drag you before, but I seem to be a little vertically challenged right now."

"The brand," Wade chokes out, his stab at breathless reverence derailed by a lungful of ash.

By all rights, the place ought to be crawling with police and fire trucks. The fact that an entire building in the warehouse district was left to burn itself out is saying nothing but bad things, and they really need to go. He'd love to hotwire a car, but he's got literally nothing on him, not even a token fig leaf. That's definitely going to be a problem because he has the sneaking suspicion that being picked up by the cops in this area would not be good--see: gently-smoking remnants of suspicious warehouse lab.

They make it a dozen blocks before they run into a shady-looking guy who takes one look at Wade and screams, glances down and screams again, then sticks a fucking knife in his chest.

When he wakes after his second death, there's a disgruntled tortoiseshell cat sitting on his spleen, staring at him without blinking.

"So," the cat says slowly. "I think we may have a bigger problem than we thought."

"Fuck."

But hey. At least they're not stepping on anyone's trademark anymore.

***

When asked how long Wade has known about Ari, Wade flaps a hand in Peter's general direction and blurts, "She's a huge-ass spidey, Spidey. Does anyone not notice that shit?"

"I noticed!" Yellow sings out, puffing his breast feathers proudly. Both boxes are perched on the back of Wade's couch, one to each side of his head, but if Peter had to pick one as Wade's shoulder angel, he'd be hard pressed to tag either for the job.

"You noticed jack," White counters, slashing his beak down and only just missing Yellow's head. "Name me one time you've looked higher than his ass--and let me remind you she rides his neck, dipshit."

Yellow sighs dreamily. "Oh, to be a small, blue spider, riding the neck of a bigger, sexier Spider--"

Wade hasn't even finished dropping his face into his palm before Tocalion sweeps in, pecking the crud out of both boxes until they flutter off in a screeching cloud of white and yellow feathers.

"Sorry about them," Wade says, peeking sheepishly through cracked fingers. "I don't know what they were raised by, but I'm betting it wasn't wolves."

"It's fine," Peter says, clearing his throat as he reminds himself yet again that they're not Wade's daemons and don't actually speak for him. Not that Wade's flirting is that much more subtle, but Wade's outrageous come-ons are a friendlier sort of thing, always delivered up in a tone of unmistakable fondness. "I'm used to them."

"Still. Taco'll set 'em straight," Wade promises. With his mask hiked up to his nose, the promised ten pints of assorted ice cream spread out on the coffee table before them, his nervous smile is fully on display.

Huffing a quiet laugh, Peter nudges Wade's knee with his own. "Seriously, man. If hearing about my butt bothered me that much, I'd wear a cape."

"Ha! Not in this universe," Wade crows. If he sounds a little too appreciative of that fact, Peter can't find it in himself to mind.

"You're still okay with this, right?" Ari asks Peter later, after they've finished the ice cream, the pizza, the beer, crashed on Wade's couch, and finally made it home after pancakes the next morning. "I mean, they've seen me, but...if they don't keep seeing me, maybe they won't recognize me if they run into us somewhere?"

Peter doubts that very much. In hindsight, Wade's almost as good at keeping track of Ari as Peter is, finds ways to casually deflect hazards and re-route bad guys without ever giving away that there's a small, fragile daemon in the line of fire. Not that Ari is fragile, exactly--she has the same enhanced strength he does and comes by it more naturally--but that doesn't make her invulnerable any more than it does him. They can still be cut, or bruised, or crushed, although with Wade around, the likelihood of injury has diminished significantly.

"It's fine. I trust them," he says, a little surprised to find it's true. "Well. I trust Wade and Tocalion. And I trust Tocalion to keep the boxes in line. Unless you think it's a bad idea...?"

He knows she hates hiding, even if they both agree it's necessary. She misses Aunt May and her fox daemon, hates how the excuse of claiming to be uncomfortable in her settled shape makes May worry for them even more. They both miss Gwen like a severed arm, though lately it's been less like an open wound and more like a scar that pulls at odd times, just to remind them it's there. If he can give Ari even a single other daemon to talk to--one solitary pair to make her feel like less of a ghost--he's willing to take the chance.

"No," she says, tap-tap-tapping at his collarbone before she pulls her legs in, shy. "I like them," she admits, voice small.

Peter smiles, ducking his head. "Yeah. I do too."

***

The first time the boxes really have a go at Wade, tearing into him with vicious takes on ugly truths and sly insinuations, it ends with him slumped in the corner of an unfurnished room, gun in hand, a slurry of blood and meat slipping slowly down the wall at his back.

It also ends with a swirl of dust and a flash of light.

His abrupt dissolving rewound, Tocalion lunges before he finishes materializing, the wiry weasel frame he'd been ironically rocking traded for the teeth and claws of a furious lynx. Feathers explode as oversized paws swipe two startled birds out of the air, but he doesn't stop there. Cats like to play, but he is not playing.

When they're too battered to move, disoriented and terrified half out of their wits, he drops them at Wade's boots, Wade's legs still kicked out at careless angles, unmoving. He's never been close enough any of the many times Wade has died for the boxes to realize Tocalion comes back first, but they're getting the picture now. Looming, fur bristling, he bares his fangs.

"I may be contractually obligated to put up with you miserable fucks," he snarls, "but this isn't some homegrown, in-house reboot. You're in my universe now. Step out of line, and I will eat you, and the world won't even notice the holes you leave behind. Understood?"

They don't say anything, but just this once, he'll take the lack of a no as a resounding yes.

He only catches White watching Spidey's daemon a little too closely once. It doesn't even take a refresher to remind White of his manners, just a long, hard look in the fucker's direction.

He's revisiting canines, wolf-shaped for a change because a lucky shot caught them in the middle of a job, when the piping call of his name stops him dead in his tracks, ears pricked. The oblivious suit with the pocketed mouse daemon he'd been shadowing to blend in hurries on without him, but Tocalion's not worried about drawing stares. The whole street is scurrying for cover, edging nervously around torn-up lampposts and overturned cars, avoiding the craters punched into asphalt and the sides of buildings. Tocalion should probably be avoiding them too, but the Rhino is one of Spidey's collection of animal-themed villains, and he sort of wants eyes on this fight, even if the early hour means it's only half likely that it's Spidey on the other end of it.

Anyway, he's bored. Sue him, okay? He gets antsy when he has to stay cooped up for too long, and fuck knows Wade needs all the enrichment he can get. If he just happens to come across interesting and exciting things he knows Wade won't want to miss--things like zombie outbreaks, and superhero battles, and Spider-Man--it'd be a real dick move not to share, right?

He'd only been thinking about dragging Wade out to maybe see his favorite person in action, just your everyday 'taco' run, because Spidey's been fighting his little stable of weirdos for years. It's not like he really needs their help. He's just too nice to say so, and they do like to be needed.

Thing is, he'd know that teensy little voice anywhere.

Ariesthone scuttles quickly out of the alleyway on his right, her bright blue markings almost glowing against the black. He's a little surprised she recognized him like this. People usually notice his size, Wade's big personality at work, but the last time she saw him, he was a Lab, black because anything closer to what they used to be is just...too fucking close. Then again, he guesses there aren't that many handsome bastards like himself just strutting around on their lonesome, even in New York.

"Tocalion," Ari gasps again, stumbling as her legs try to pull in tight in a painful cramp. "Help?"

Fuckshitdamn, if she's on her own, he has a bad feeling about who Rhino is fighting and how the battle is going.

"Need a lift?" he asks, yanking at the endless spool that usually lies in loose, relaxed coils between him and Wade. They're lucky, but he wouldn't wish the how of the forgiving distance of their tether on anyone, much less Ari and Spidey.

She climbs shakily up to rest between his shoulders, trembling and quiet as he sets his nose to the wind and his paws to the street. Heart pounding in time with his galloping steps, he pushes for more speed, wishes for wings, but he doesn't have time to get blasted to dust for the sake of convenience. How Spidey's still fighting right now, he has no idea, and he knows he needs to be fast before even Spidey's stubbornness gives out.

If he's fast enough, maybe they can help.

***

"Wade," Peter chokes out, and that's all it takes. In the next second, two big arms scoop him up off the couch, blanket nest and quivering daemon and all, and usher him through to the bathroom in five long strides. He can't even be embarrassed by the pile of dirty laundry kicked behind the door or the stray dots of toothpaste splatter from when he forgot to clean the mirror. Lowered gently to his knees, he tips forward and clutches the sides of the toilet, nausea a sour ripple in the pit of his stomach. He almost wishes he could just get it over with, but the urge to wring his stomach like a dishrag grudgingly passes. He stays right where he is, feeling almost as sick as before from the pain still throbbing through his skull.

Closing his eyes with a groan, he drops his head onto his arm, swallowing down another bolt of nausea as his aching head protests every movement. "Ugh. This is miserable," he mumbles into his own biceps, flinching helplessly as Ari's feet prickle over the clammy skin of his nape. He can't bear to lose contact with her for even a second, but every touch feels like knives. While they'd been separated, the bond between them stretched to the point of agony, his spirit had strained after her, desperate for even a whisper of contact. Now that she's back, he can't seem to dial it down, oversensitive and jittery.

"How do you even do it?" he asks before he remembers that for Wade, learning that skill hadn't exactly been a choice. "You're not a witch, are you?" he jokes by way of apology.

"Well, I'm pretty sure I weigh more than a duck," Wade replies, gingerly patting his back. He doesn't know why that doesn't hurt, only that he made the right call when he asked Wade to take him home, tore off the mask, and gave himself over to Wade's concern. "Anyway, I'm more of a hussy."

Shoulders shaking in near-silent laughter, Peter goes utterly boneless as Wade's hand stills and settles, broad palm molding itself to the jut of his shoulder blade. It doesn't make sense, but it's exactly what he needs: contact, physical proof that someone else is there, not because they have to be, but because they want to be.

"Uh...is this okay?"

"Mm," Peter sighs, words melting away.

"Like, really helping? 'Cause I might have an idea if you think you're done paying your respects to the throne."

"Anything," Peter groans. Wade's been through this before, after all. If he thinks he knows something that might help, Peter's inclined to trust him.

He doesn't even struggle when Wade picks him up again, just thunks his head down onto Wade's shoulder and smashes his face into the warm, scarred skin of Wade's bare neck. In the spirit of solidarity, Wade had taken his own mask off, though he's still in the rest of the suit. Peter is deeply unsurprised to find himself pissed at not even being able to appreciate the reveal.

He's a little confused when Wade deposits him back on the couch, sitting up but sideways, not quite in the middle. Bemused but curious, he watches Wade fuss with the blankets, tucking them securely around his kicked-up legs. It takes him back to when he was a kid and had to cocoon himself so the monsters couldn't grab him if he hung his feet over the edge of the bed.

Once he's satisfied with the arrangement, Wade straightens again, but instead of retreating, he slots himself into the empty space at Peter's back, wrapping an arm around Peter's chest and pulling him in to rest against Wade's shoulder.

"Okay," Wade calls while Peter's still processing his surprise.

Rising up from his sentry post in front of the door, Tocalion pads silently over to the couch and flows up onto it, a hulking black shadow that settles warm and solid over his legs. It's the closest he's been to someone else's daemon since Gwen, and even though they're not touching, not really, it still punches the breath out of him. To be given this much: sheltered against the yawning emptiness still gnawing at the edges of his mind, the trust that he won't overstep himself and reach for more than he's being handed--that's huge.

Weighed down by Tocalion's sturdy bulk, anchored by the iron band of Wade's arm, with Ariesthone's beloved, necessary presence curled into the hollow of his throat, Peter feels like he can finally breathe.

"Thanks," he says as warmth spreads inside his chest, slowly thawing the sick chill that's been choking him since his connection to his daemon thinned almost to breaking.

"Anytime, Spidey," Wade rumbles, soft but sincere, and doesn't even bitch when Peter settles in like he intends to plant a flag.

"It's Peter," he says drowsily, wriggling an arm free of the blankets to wrap a hand around Wade's wrist. He's out like a light before he hears Wade's reply.

***

The first time Wade touches Peter's daemon, it's not really a big deal at all. They're trading insults with Doc Ock and his goons, bullets and punches and metal tentacles flying. It's a pretty good time for a Saturday night until Professor Hentai manages to loop an arm around Spidey's neck.

Wade's in motion before his brain catches up with his eyes, jabbing an elbow back as he plants his boot sidelong into the gut of some slow-moving tank with an undercut. Someone gargles a yelp behind him as their nose gives way with a wet crunch, but Wade's already gone, charging forward as Pete goes shooting past him, still in the grip of segmented steel.

If he hadn't seen a vague flicker of blue-on-black arc his way when Spidey hurtled by, he'd never have realized he's carrying fragile cargo. Ari's got a mean set of legs, can jump like a motherfucker, but she weighs less than the pin of one of his grenades. As he skids to a stop, broken glass from the skylights crunching under his boots, he hears Peter fetch up hard against the warehouse wall at his back, cheap sheetrock giving way in a rain of plaster as Spidey is pinned.

"This is for ruining Japanese cartoons!" Wade yells as he brings his guns up and opens fire, mostly just to piss off Octavius. It'd take a lot more than a bitter, joyless geek too uptight to realize the sheer beauty of what he's created to ruin tentacle porn for him.

Screeching with wordless rage, Ock makes a grab for him next, face purpling as Wade hoots with glee. "Wow, somebody call the Cap, because he gets that reference!" He ducks a sweeping arm, holsters one gun and draws a katana, only there's something clinging to the hilt, a fast-moving blur that skitters over his gloved knuckles and clambers quickly up his arm.

Shifting automatically to tuck his other shoulder further back, he hopes he's giving her enough cover as he does what he does best. "Hey, Doc--what's your genre? I'm a consentacles man myself," he says, pivoting away from the first tentacle's return swing and lopping off a second attempting to catch him broadside. "You kinda strike me as a hard noncon fan, though."

"Shut your degenerate mouth," Ock snarls, spitting with rage. He's so riled up, he doesn't even notice Spidey bending back the arm looped around his neck and slipping free, not until Spidey launches himself across the room to land in a crouch atop Wade's shoulders.

"Yeah, that was definitely not my kink," Spidey says casually, like there's not a tiny, spindly daemon making her way rapidly up his leg to disappear behind his back.

"What, the choking or the tentacles in general?"

"Man, choking sucks unless someone's going to bring you ice cream after," Peter gripes, leaving Wade staring even after Spidey uses him as a springboard to drop down on a nigh-incoherent Octavius from above.

Hidden fucking depths, he guesses.

And that's all there is to the first time Wade touches Peter's daemon.

***

"We've really got to stop meeting like this," Peter slurs, rolling his head on the metal slab to which he's been shackled to meet Wade's eyes. Lenses. Whatever. He's been given something that's turned his bones to jelly and his head to mush; he can be forgiven a little mental imprecision.

"Uh...pretty sure this is the first time if you mean these exact circumstances," Wade says from the next table over. He's doing something Peter probably doesn't want to think about to his hands, the sick popping noises covered by the racket kicked up between his jeering boxes and the irate team of scientists trying to keep them from trashing the lab. "For you, I mean. For me, Weapon X2 is more like déjà vu. Or algebra. Did I say that already?"

"Well, once was too many. I never thought I'd say this," Peter grumbles, "but no more moonlit lab dates. It's just not working for me."

"Yeah?" Wade asks, pulling one mangled hand through the cuff welded to the edge of the table. His bones pop back into place moments later, but Peter winces in sympathy all the same. "Well, I know it's cliché, but can I tempt you to coffee instead?"

It's not the first time Wade has invited him out somewhere, and it's nowhere near the most flirtatious thing Wade's ever said to him, but by some strange osmosis, that's how he knows that Wade is serious this time.

"You know what?" he says, looking away as Wade frees his other hand. He's just in time to watch Yellow speed like a flapping, downy cannonball past a rack of creepily-glowing vials, knocking them over in the process and setting off an explosion that blows a metal table right through the wall. "That sounds great. Wanna hit that place near the theater after this? Muffins should be ready by then."

"Really?" Wade demands, picking his head up to stare, wide-lensed. "I mean, yeah. Yeah! Muffins sound great. I am entirely pro-muffin."

"How the fuck did they even get in here?" one of the scientists is shouting, chasing Yellow with the fire extinguisher he should be using on the--oh, wait, no. No, no. That's the wrong type of fire extinguisher for a chemical fire. Bad Parker. "Which one of you idiots thought it'd be a good idea to let Deadpool's daemons loose in the fucking lab?"

White, predictably, squawks in outrage at that. "You think we're daemons?" he snaps from his perch atop some hapless flunky's head. How he's staying there, Peter has no idea; White has the webbed feet of any seagull, but he sticks like glue, his wings battering any would-be rescuer who comes near. "You think we're going to play by your bullshit rules?"

"Yeah!" Yellow sings out, zooming around the room to snatch grisly surgical implements from their trays and dropping them into the growing minefield of fire, glass, and sharpened steel. Someone's dog daemon yelps and limpingly retreats to the edges of the room as mice and rats and one garter snake with a stranglehold on its person's neck take cover. "We'd have left you asshats alone, but then you had to go and piss all over The Princess Bride with your shitty 'to the pain' references."

"What?" White says dubiously, flapping on autopilot as he glares at his compatriot. Two men still reel back clutching an eye apiece. "No--"

"Talk smack, get whacked!" Yellow cackles and drops down into the spreading chemical fire. He shoots out seconds later, flaming but untouched, motorboating across the floor with a demented "Woo-hoo!" and dragging a line of incendiary fluid after himself like a fluffy, beheaded mop.

In his wake, an arrow of flame shoots across the floor, all the way to the oxygen tanks sitting securely in the corner until White rides his bucking scientist right into the middle of them.

"Oof," Peter says as he gets tackled, table and all, Wade pulling them over and down as the lab goes up in a fireball. They're lucky; the table Yellow sent through the wall earlier robs the blast of some of its force, keeps the room from becoming a deathtrap. His Spidey-senses prickle dully in the back of his head, but Wade makes quick work of the cuffs still holding Peter down, boot knife wielded with the precision of a scalpel.

"You ever wonder why they don't unmask us at times like these?" Peter asks blearily as he wobbles to his feet.

"Shh," Wade warns with a finger to his lips. "Never. Out. Loud."

Yeah, that's fair.

The pre-dawn air is blessedly cool as they make their last trip out of the building, hauling the remaining four guards between them. Police have already arrived to take the scientists they dumped in the parking lot earlier into custody, and Peter spares a moment to let the fire department know they've already cleared the building of any survivors. Movement in the shadows across the street draws his attention, but he's careful not to peer too closely at the big Maine Coon calmly washing his face or the spider clinging to the cat's extravagant black-and-russet fur.

Cocking a thumb over his shoulder as the firemen rush past to set up their hoses, Peter says, "So. Coffee?"

Wade, who'd been uncharacteristically quiet during cleanup, practically snaps to attention. "Right, coffee! Yes! But, uh...just to be clear...are we talking coffee or coffee? Because if it's coffee, that's cool! Totally cool! But if you mean coffee--"

Catching Wade's hand, Peter laces their fingers together and takes a moment to enjoy the startled silence that follows before he starts dragging Wade away. "I smell like an asbestos fire, Wade. I'm too tired for coffee."

"Okay," Wade says easily, lightening up on the childish impulse that always makes him drag his feet when Peter pulls him along. Like Peter couldn't heft him under one arm without breaking a sweat.

"But after I get some caffeine in me," Peter adds with a tiny grin, "who knows what I'll be up for next?"

At his back, Wade stumbles but catches himself quickly, fingers tightening around Peter's own.

***

The second time Wade touches Peter's daemon, they're in the middle of making dinner at Wade's place. He's throwing together his famous enchilada casserole, finishing up the meat while Peter shreds a mountain of cheese, and then Peter looks over for no reason and smiles and--fuck. No one has ever looked at him like that, not even when he was younger and much, much hotter. Like he's not just a good bro or a good fuck or a good wall to hide behind, but like he could just...be, just as he is in this moment, and that would be enough.

He's still getting the hang of the idea that he doesn't have to hold back, not when they're out of the masks, but nothing could have stopped him from leaning over just then and pressing a kiss to the corner of Peter's mouth. And that could have been the end of it, but then he felt that smile grow dimples under his lips, Peter tipping his face up for more, and he reaches blindly to move the skillet off the burner as he leans in to oblige. Peter's wordless hum is smug--he doesn't tolerate his effect on Wade; he revels in it--and as Wade reaches to sling an arm around his waist, Peter turns and hooks both index fingers into Wade's belt loops to pull him in closer.

Wade's a simple man, really. Even if Peter weren't on board with Wade's mouth traveling anywhere more southerly, he could spend the rest of his life just kissing Peter and die happy. Multiple times. As many times as it takes. Peter gives kissing his full attention, like every slow, exploratory lick, every rough slide of a confident tongue is an end in and of itself. It's all too easy to lose himself in Peter's kisses, groaning into Peter's mouth as he slides a hand into messy brown hair, nails scratching lightly at Peter's scalp as fingers curl, catch, and gently tug. Peter tips his head back, baring his throat and--

It's barely a brush against his wrist, a feather-light touch there and gone, but Wade freezes instantly as a curious shiver wracks Peter from head to toe. The feeling comes again: a faint prickle, like a moth walking across his palm, except he can feel....

He can feel: connection, an odd sense of fullness behind his ribs, the irrefutable certainty that he is seen and known and loved regardless, only this time it isn't a mirror of his own self reflecting it back. It's Ariesthone, venturing bravely past the limits of their safe, contained world. It's Peter, hands burrowing under Wade's shirt in search of skin as if they're still not close enough.

Wade thinks he says Peter's name, but then they're kissing again, so maybe he imagined it. His awareness narrows down to Peter's mouth on his, the almost-invisible weight clinging trustingly to his wrist, the splay of Peter's hands across his back to pull him close, closer.

After they rescue dinner and destroy another set of sheets, after Ariesthone has curled herself into the little nest made for her in Wade's new bookcase headboard and Peter has dropped off to sleep, Tocalion comes and rests his head on Wade's shoulder, studying the man sprawled across Wade's chest. It's just the nature of dogs to look either wildly happy or extravagantly sad, but tonight he looks more pensive than usual.

"I might settle," he says at last, "again. For good. If I touched him. But I might not. Not sure which would be...."

Wade gets it. He's heard the same stories--superstition, maybe, and they're long past the flush of first love, being young enough and dumb enough to think some fleeting connection with another hormone-addled teenager would be enough to change your life. He still wonders, because if he had to pick anyone to be changed by, he's holding them right now.

"Well...if you're going to do it, I guess make sure you do it in a useful body?"

"You fucking romantic, you," Tocalion snorts, rolling his eyes.

It's sheer dumb luck that Wade's strangled snickers don't wake Peter up on the spot.

***

"I could've sworn you said you were reading the memos," Stark grumbles, peering over the rims of his sunglasses at Peter despite the fact that they're in the Avengers' war room. He looks like he's been on another inventing jag, so it's hard to tell whether he's hit that point of resignation that people who deal with Wade long-term eventually stumble into or whether he's just too exhausted to work up the ire to call for security.

Peter tips his head to the side, broadcasting innocent confusion for all he's worth. "Well, yeah. And you said this was an 'all hands on deck' meeting, so I brought all the hands. Was that a problem?"

On Wade's other side, Hawkeye gets coffee up his nose, sputtering with laughter right as he tries to take a drink. His half-asleep swift daemon cracks open one eye, fluffs his feathers, and promptly resumes his nap. "Ow," Clint says absently, but not like he minds. His grin won't quit. He's also the only one ignoring the two birds stalking up and down on the balcony outside, mugging for their uneasy audience and occasionally sidling up to give everyone heart attacks by pecking deliberately on the glass.

("Barton?" Wade had said earlier when Peter was warning him who he could expect to see at the meeting. "Barton's cool. You know he's got a Pizza Dog? And we've got a Taco--now all we need is a dachshund named Burger, and we could have, like, a takeout trifecta!")

They actually make it all the way through the briefing--aliens, moon orbit, a bored warning transmission from an unimpressed raccoon--before the lobby-side door hisses open. From where Peter's sitting, it looks like a malfunction; there's no one there that he can see, but across the table from him, Steve turns to look then sits up with a start. Maybe Lang showed up late and shrunken down?

Stark doesn't even glance over, reaching for the mug he emptied twenty minutes ago that he's continued to reach for five times since. "I mean, it's just one ship. An impressively large ship, granted, but unless they've got their troops packed in like sardines, I don't see--"

He frowns when his hand closes on empty air, head jerking around to stare at the place where his mug used to be. "Okay, who's the joker? Or was that some sort of a...hint...?" he trails off in confusion.

Just out of reach of Stark's padded chair, long, black neck stretched straight and tall, a Canadian goose stands with the handle of Stark's mug clasped in its dark bill.

"What the fuck?" Stark mutters, watching in disbelief as the goose makes deliberate eye contact, just long enough to be certain Stark's paying attention, then waddles over to present the empty mug to Steve.

"Thank you," the Captain says politely, one corner of his mouth slowly tipping up.

Stark's frown turns bewildered. "What? No. That's my coffee! Or it was my coffee," he grumbles, "and could be ag--aah!"

The moment he rises from his chair, the goose flies into action, lunging to dash between Stark's legs and knocking his wheeled chair out of the way in the process. Stark nearly goes down, catching himself at the last minute with a grab at the table. By the time he straightens, the bird has his wallet in its beak.

It stands perfectly still, blinking at Stark innocently as if to ask if he feels lucky.

"Is that who I think it is?" Barton asks from the corner of his mouth.

"Uh-huh," Peter says when Wade stays virtuously silent. He's pretty sure if Wade opens his mouth at all, he's going to dissolve into hysterical laughter and give the game away.

"So it's a beautiful day...."

"Yep."

"And your boyfriend is a horrible goose."

"You have no idea."

Barton takes a slow sip of his coffee, sitting back to enjoy the show. "Cool."

***

It's been years since Wade was last in New York, much less this neck of the woods. He thinks he's maybe wandered into Queens, but most neighborhoods are recognizable to him as either Manhattan or Not Manhattan, so he's just guessing at this point. Not like it really matters; he'd picked New York because nobody here currently wants anything out of him, but if his navel-gazing reaches the point of existential horror, well, there's always work to be found in New York. He's just really failing to give a rat's ass about any of it these days.

Revenge arcs always look great on the big screen, but they don't tell you that at the end of it, you're left picking at the same scars, just as empty as you were when you started. Life isn't a country song; you can't just play it backward and get your girl back, your life back, your dog. Your fucking face. And yeah, okay. Maybe you're supposed to find new things to replace what you've lost, but Wade's never been that great at holding on to things in the first place. He wonders lately why he keeps trying.

"Hey, c'mon, big guy," Yellow chides with a nervous laugh. He's parked himself three feet away, right where Wade's eyes fall naturally and where he's impossible to ignore, but he cocks his head rapidly from one side to the next as if keeping watch for predators. "It's not that bad, right? I mean, think of it this way...if you've hit rock bottom, there's nowhere to go but up!"

"Pfft. You could dig," White grumbles from the rooftop ledge a few feet away, lazily stretching out a wing as if considering whether it needs a preening.

"Yeah, and how about you shut your fucking beak, dick-for-brains," Yellow hisses. "Like you don't know who the murder muppet's going to blame if this asshole offs himself."

That's almost worth a smile. He has no idea why the boxes are straight-up terrified of Tocalion, but it's kept things relatively civil between the four of them. The boxes are even helpful sometimes in their own way, though their brand of help is roughly on par with a cauterizing iron. Necessary, maybe, but nothing you'd want to recommend to your friends and neighbors.

"But seriously," Yellow plunges on, throwing his wings out wide. "Look around! You're in Queens! And you know what that means, right?"

"That at least I'm not in New Jersey?"

"No! It means Spider-Man!" Yellow squawks, hopping once in place. "Think about it!"

"Oh, boy," White mutters, looking pointedly heavenward.

"At this moment in time, you are closer to the world's most perfect ass than you've ever been in your life," Yellow proclaims, leaning forward like he's trying to stare directly into Wade's soul. "Isn't that worth a little optimism?"

It's stupid as fuck, but Wade actually does think about it. Not just about Spidey's ass--which does indeed live up to its billing; it definitely qualifies as amazing--but all the other shit he's heard about the guy as well. Doesn't kill, which is pretty much the definition of doing things the hard way, but Wade's gotta admire his dedication all the same. Doesn't answer to any agency or backer, which makes him a free agent, but also probably dirt fucking poor unless he's a millionaire in his own right. Looks out for the little guy, which Wade isn't opposed to at all, except the little guy wouldn't come within fifty feet of him if there were a single avenue of escape left open. As far as he can tell, Spidey's just a genuinely good person.

Which is what makes it all the more ridiculous that Yellow's holding him out like some sort of carrot in the first place.

"Like Spidey would have anything to do with me," he snorts, dropping his chin into his hands.

"You don't know that!" Yellow screeches in frustration, wings flapping. "So what if he usually hates you? He doesn't hate you in every universe. And times they are a-changing! Look. If I've got to be stuck here with you guys, I want more out of life than a few cheap laughs before seeing what color my guts are in this body--unlike some miserable, dried-up pussies I could name," he snaps over his shoulder, beady black eyes burning a hole through White's skull.

"Fuck you," White growls, tipping himself off the side of the building and swiftly gaining altitude.

"Fuck him," Yellow huffs, turning back to Wade. "You think Spidey's going to shit all over you because he's such a good guy? Wrong! Guys like that love a redemption arc. All you gotta do is not fuck it up!"

Wade sighs. Like that's ever going to happen.

"Ohh, no. Do not come over all defeatist on me now. I'm telling you, you have a chance! You've got everything going for you: a tragic past, a dismal future...he won't be able to resist! You just need to stop moping around and seize the boot--hey! Knock it the fuck off, asshole!" Yellow spits, diving for cover between Wade's boots as White nearly flattens him with a well-aimed dive bomb. "Can't you see we're having a Moment, here?"

Wade almost lets himself consider it, because really, what would it hurt to try? He hasn't felt the all-consuming rage that drove him to wipe Weapon X off the map for years now, and even if he never took another job, he's probably set for life. There's nothing keeping him in the rut he's been stuck in, and wouldn't it be funny? Him, working alongside Spider-Man like some kind of hero.

Only the universe doesn't really work like that, does it? Guys like him don't get chances like that. Face it: if Spider-Man ran into him by accident, he'd probably web first, ask questions never.

But man. If the universe ever owed him anything...wouldn't that be great?