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Kingdoms

Chapter Text

Okay, this one is a very different tone than my last work. It is. There will still be humor, there will be fluff, and there will be action-oriented gore, but there’s more. This is an entirely different landscape. Still reading? Okay.

The world is a single continent (because I said so) divided into five different kingdoms. Each kingdom is ruled by a Goddess, has both an official name and a nickname. Still with me? Okay.

The first kingdom is Wilson Kingdom (work with me here), also known as the Reaper Kingdom. Their goddess is Death which isn’t, exactly death, but more of a goddess of balance. Less randomly killing people and more keeping ecosystems healthy kind of balance. Still death, so she has the ability to make people immortal. Please, dear reader, keep that in mind.

The second kingdom is the Ajax Kingdom, also known as the golden country. Most of the world’s gems and metals are mined in Ajax. Their goddess is the goddess of prosperity (also known as greed because that’s how humans are), and literally has the ability to turn things into gold.

The third kingdom is the Morphio Kingdom (because I grew up watching the 90’s cartoon so bite me), also known as the vampire kingdom. They are a mix of vampires and other mostly-human creatures. Theirs is the goddess of blood (duh) and they are known as healers. They do not sparkle in the sun, but lose most of their vampiric abilities, which means they lose the ability to heal.

The fourth kingdom is Arachne (no relation to the child from my previous fic; she’s not in this one). Their goddess is the spider goddess (again, duh). Now, I feel certain that someone noticed the aracnophobia tag on this fic. If not, I am drawing your attention to it now. None of the characters are aracnophobic. They just aren’t. The arachnid kingdom is so named because it has giant spiders that do things that other kingdoms use creatures like horses, cats, and dogs for. They are pets, friends, and members of the family. This may or may not have something to do with how I used to have an (almost) unhealthy obsession with the show Spider Riders. For those of you familiar with it, no Shadow in this one, sadly. (And that ending was a total copout!)

The fifth kingdom is Mysterio (because even if he was a crappy villain it’s a cool name), also known as magic kingdom (please don’t sue me Disney). Theirs is the goddess of knowledge, and they are the most technologically advanced of the five kingdoms. Think the one steel age kingdom among the bronze age countries around it.

The first three kingdoms are in the north, and take up the northern half of the continent, while the other two have pretty evenly divided the bottom half of the continent. I made a rough map (because I’m working in Libre Paint which isn’t much better than actually drawing it out and my art sucks rotten eggs).

 

 

 

 

 

Okay, originally had the map I made here, but the site won't let me post it, so all in your imagination, I guess.

 

 

 

 

I miss Office Paint.

Still here? Good. Enjoy the first chapter (which is actually the prologue, but who’s counting?).

Oh, you noticed the ABO tag? Let me take a moment to explain how that works in this story. First of all, people in this realm have two genders; a primary gender and a secondary gender. In most stories with this tag Betas make up the majority of the population. Not this one. In this one, Betas are gender-neutral (infertile) and are a rare minority. The other two secondary genders are Alpha and Omega. Alphas are fierce, protective, and virile. They go into a rut where their sperm count is insanely higher than normal. They also have, pardon the crude language, large penises. At the top of the penis is a retractable barb that will spike into a mate as the base of the penis swells with semen and locks in. Omegas have heats (bi-monthly cycles) where their bodies are primed and ready for a mate. (Please note that secondary genders are not related to primary—male/female genders.)

Both Alphas and Omegas have glands located on either side of their necks. When bonding each will puncture a gland on the other. Said gland will inflame, swell, and will lighten to a shining silver. Bonding also elicits an emotional connection between the two mates, as one will know what the other is feeling.

There are also commands in this; that can be used by either Alpha or Omega—and only work on the mate. This land is full of magic, and that includes brainwashing magic. Commands evolved in order to protect a mate, the main purpose is to shock the mate out of the magic.

Got it? Good. Still here?

I hope you enjoy it.

Chapter Text

The army quickly overran the small castle. The moat, which had been created to repel intruders, was quickly forded. The walls, built high and smooth as possible, were quickly scaled due to the superior numbers of the oncoming horde. They built ramps out of their own bodies to reach the top of the walls. Soon enough, the ones that made it inside reached the drawbridge and cut the ropes holding it up.

Less than an hour afterwards all of the inhabitants of the castle had either been killed or rounded up. Those that weren’t dead were taken to the courtyard and bound roughly with rope. The leader of the army smiled as he strut in front of his prisoners. The moonlight over the castle bleached all color from the scene, but the leader knew who he was looking for.

Spotting his target a hand darted down and hauled the bound man up. “And there you are,” purred the leader of the army. “Are you ready to submit?”

Long hair, glowing gold even in the moonlight, framed the angular face. “We will never submit to you,” his captive said.

“Oh, never is a long time,” the army leader said. “All right,” he ordered his men, “throw the rest of these into whatever excuse for a dungeon this castle has.” He shook the one he was holding. “This one is going to need—a more personal treatment,” he said.

 

The reigning monarch, the Queen of the Arachnid kingdom, surveyed her court. Many of the couriers were arguing about the best action to take over the heinous actions of the Golden kingdom. They were pretty evenly split down the middle on whether they believed it was better to attack the Golden kingdom to reclaim Death’s Lands, or to wait and see what happened. There was only one opinion she wanted to hear.

Her emerald eyes scanned the court until they fell upon one of the priests. The priests, who were ostensibly not taking sides. As representatives of the Goddess, they were neutral to all courtly debates. As fellow humans, they had their own opinions.

Queen Mary banged her scepter against the ground, the hard bronze striking sharply against the stone. “I have heard all positions,” she said with a calmness that she did not feel. “And I will make a decision. High Priest Parker!” she called. The court stilled as she rose from her throne, the wispy linen hanging off her tall, lean frame. “I desire the consultation of the Goddess,” she said as she stepped away from the throne (a large bronze affair depicted with all the different spiders of the kingdom) and towards the group. She led the priest, who obediently followed in his dark linen robes, to the gardens.

None of the court—not courier, priest, or servant—dared to enter the garden while the Queen was in there. For a moment the two simply strode through the tall, ridged trees. The light purple blossoms scented the air. “Has the Goddess granted you with advice?” she asked.

High Priest Parker, Peter, the child she’d grown up with, bowed slightly to her. “No, Majesty,” he said simply. “The Goddess has granted me no wisdom for this occasion.”

It was nothing more than she’d expected. Wisdom from the Goddess usually came in the form of warnings for natural disasters, not advice on how to help a country whose prince had been captured by another nation. A brutal nation. The Ajax were not known for their gentle treatment of prisoners.

And you? Peter?” she asked transforming them from Queen and High Priest to Peter and MJ, old childhood friends.

The carved bronze staff Peter held creaked in his grip as he stared out, unseeing, at the garden. “I want to save him,” he said quietly.

Good,” said Queen Mary, with a firm nod. She put a hand on his shoulders. “You will take my army, you will save him, and you will make sure those bastards know what will happen to anyone who dares to threaten our allies.”

Dark brown eyes met emerald green ones. “With pleasure,” he said firmly.

 

That night he knelt in the temple, in front of the alter of the Goddess. He felt the change in the air behind him as the Goddess blessed the world with Her presence. “You have asked for no blessing, my priest,” she said, her voice that of an old, careworn woman.

I deserve none,” Peter responded without hesitation. “Ajax is a country defined by its soldiers.” He opened his eyes and stared at the statue, not seeing the carved marble. “They are a horde, eating into their neighbors. If I was a true councilor I would council caution. I would council for us to sit and wait as we build our own reserves of military forces. And I would council this because Ajax will not be satisfied with what it has gained from its neighbors—and if they keep up, they will soon be neighbors with us and it will take all we have to keep our people safe from them.”

Tell me my priest,” said the Goddess, “why have you not counseled your queen so, when this is what you believe?”

P eter remembered Wade. The two of them had only met a few times before, but a bond had sprung up between them. The cheerful, loud, crude person had become someone Peter cared for. Someone he loved. “I have to save him,” Peter said. He knew it was the wrong thing, that this was the wrong time to attack the golden kingdom—but it was true. He was willing to do whatever he had to in order to find and rescue Wade. His other half.

T wo hands of the Goddess reached over and held themselves over his glands, coolness coating them. “You do,” she affirmed. “With this blessing, you will not receive your heat until after you and your mate are home and safe. Call on me in the morning and I will grant the entire army this blessing.”

I—I am not worthy of this,” Peter said as guilt roiled through his gut.

This is a matter,” the goddess said implacably, “that must be resolved. You must rescue your mate. Ajax must be halted in its conquest. Whether you feel you are worthy or not, you are My Priest.”

The presence of the goddess faded from the temple, but Peter still did not rise. The acolytes knew better than to bother him as he spent the night in contemplation and prayer.

 

In the morning, before gathering to set off, Peter meticulously groomed Spot, his spider, who leaned into the brush and chirred softly . Like most of the temple’s belongings, Spot had been offered as a mere spidling to the temple, and was now almost seven years of age. “Almost time for you to think about catching the eye of a lady spider,” murmured Peter as he used the small brush to make sure the fine hairs on Spot’s legs were dirt free.

I don’t even want to know what that thing’s spidlings will look like,” a voice commented from the door of the stall.

Peter stood to see his old childhood friend and grinned. “Harry!” he said, greeting the esteemed general’s son. “Good to see you!”

The other man shook his head with a grin. “I can’t believe it,” he said eyes roaming over the spider. “I mean, I knew the temple got weird stuff—but Peter, this thing is a monster.”

Peter took a step back and looked at Spot objectively. The two legs in the back were the longest of the eight, with the next two pairs slowly decreasing in size until the last two, which were the shortest and almost looked like they had lost part of their limbs. The spider was mostly black with white speckles all over it, hence his name. His two mandibles were neither bigger nor longer than those of other spiders, but were perfectly proportioned—and perfectly positioned. Unlike many other types of spider, Spot had no trouble bringing food to his mouth.

As Peter regarded the spider it leaned a leg against him, reminding him of the brush. “He’s wonderful,” Peter said with a smile at the vain thing as he began brushing the leg again. The spider cooed at the attention.

Harry merely sighed. “I hope he’s up for a long trek,” the young man worried. “It’s a long march to the conquered castle.”

Peter could hear the worry in his friend’s voice. “I think it will be okay,” he said as he got Spot’s saddle. The spider hummed in pleasure—he loved going out. “When we muster,” he said, knowing that, as head priest, he’d be next to Harry at the head of the army, “I’m going to call for a blessing.”

Harry nodded. “I think that would be an excellent idea,” he said firmly. “We’re already nervous enough about the long trek.”

Later, in front of all the mounted soldiers, Peter held his hands in the air and called for the blessing of the goddess. He could hear the several intakes of breath as the others, just as he had, felt the coolness envelop their glands. “With this blessing,” Peter told them, “not one of us will have either heat or rut until we are all home safe!” A loud, relieved cheer met his words. No one liked the thought of being caught in that so far from home.

Then it was time to set out.

Chapter Text

The army pulled off the road before they reached the clear stretch of land to the small castle. The invaders within the castle knew, of course, that the army was coming, but they hoped to make the invaders think that the oncoming army was much smaller than it actually was. Especially since, to everyone’s surprise, a force delegation from Morphio arrived to help them rescue the captured prince.

Nothing from Mysterio—Peter rather thought they were trying to stay out of the potential oncoming war. Part of him raged at their cowardice. Part of him agreed with it; after all, he would have advised the same to his queen—if the prince taken had not been Wade.

The rest of him planned. If this was what he had to take a conquered castle, then he would use it to the best of his abilities. He looked at Felicia, ambassador of Morphio. “What can your people do?” he asked her quietly. Wade had told him once that these forests twisted sound in strange ways, muffling some conversations and broadcasting others, almost as though the forest was alive.

Felicia frowned, platinum locks falling forward as she regarded the priest. “Most of us,” she said warily, “are healers.”

Peter nodded as his mind searched through all the information it had on Morphio—and its healers. “If I remember correctly,” he said looking into her sharp blue eyes, “the healers can only work after the sun sets?”

She nodded and pushed her hair back again. A slight line of tension seemed to release itself. Harry, commander of the army, noticed. “What are you thinking Peter?” he asked.

Peter pulled out the map. Once, when they were all children, Peter, MJ, and Harry had come to this very castle so that MJ could meet the young prince. Both kingdoms had hoped to have a match to tie the two kingdoms together in the future—but the one that Wade had connected to hadn’t been MJ, but Peter. The two of them had escaped the castle to go roaming around this very forest.

There’s a secret passage here,” he said clinically as he pointed on the map. “I’m going to take a small group with me and we’ll go in.” He looked up at his friend. “Harry, Ajax and Reaper don’t have spiders like we do, in our kingdom.” He gnawed his lip with thought. “They might prove to be the best distraction and greatest intimidation that we have. Take our cavalry and face the main gates of the castle—be as distracting as possible.”

If we’re going for distraction,” Harry muttered, “we should put your monster in at the front.”

Peter merely grinned. “I have a different mission for Spot,” he said firmly. “Now,” he said turning his attention back to the ambassador, “I need you to keep those without any fighting skills in the back. We’re going to try to stage this at dusk, in order to give them as much time as possible to fight.” He grimaced as a particularly annoying bird sang in the canopy. The summer day might have been beautiful, but it meant the night, when the healers would be able to work, would be short.

Felicia frowned. “It’s not easy to keep a healer from the fight,” she told him.

Do it anyway,” Peter ordered. “They can’t help if they’re victims who need healed,” he added, trying to find a line of logic that she could use to make them follow orders.

She nodded and Harry spoke up. “If we’re going for intimidation,” he mused, “you should put on the full regalia of a high priest.”

Felicia’s gaze snapped to Peter. “You’re a High Priest?” she asked warily.

Peter knew what she was thinking; those the goddesses chose were almost always much older—and usually beta, or had taken a vow of celibacy for the order. Peter, a clearly fertile omega, was neither of these, and he knew it. Peter suddenly grinned. “You think a ceremony would scare them?”

I’ve heard,” Felicia said slowly, “that in Ajax they banned the worship of their goddess.” The others looked at her in shock. She nodded grimly.

Well,” said Peter with a sly smile, “that will not do.”

So we have a plan.” Harry grinned at the map and slapped his friend on the back. “I’m glad you made it; if I had things would go horribly wrong.”

They might go wrong now too.” Peter gazed at the map thoughtfully. “Does anyone know how far an Ajax bow shoots? I want to be out of bow shot.”

Harry looked alarmed. “Peter,” he said with a frown, “what are you thinking?”

If we’re going to intimidate them,” Peter murmured, “then we’d best give them a show.”

Chapter Text

For a few, blissful moments, the world was peaceful. There were no screams, no pain, no fire. It was almost perfect. Even here, even now, part of him was reaching for his other half and crying out in pain that he couldn't find it.

Two hands wrapped around him in a hug and tears fell down his face. He knew what that hug meant. “No,” he protested.

“I’m sorry,” the goddess replied. “It must be done.”

He opened his eyes, burning in the smoky heat, as a pair of silk-clad hands reached down and grabbed his chin. “So you really won’t die,” said the voice of the intruder. Ajax. No, not Ajax. Francis.

He coughed and blood flew from his lips. “Not—be—fore—you,” he wheezed.

“Still cheeky,” said Francis, cold eyes glinting with displeasure. “Well, we’ll figure out a way to break you. You can’t die, and you’ve even started healing. Well, if we can’t break you by breaking you, perhaps we should start on some of the others in this castle. Who are you close to?”

Before he could do anything the sound of drums vibrated through the castle. Familiar drums. Soothing drums.

“What’s going on now?” demanded Francis as he stood up, allowing the head to drop back to the chest under it.

An image flashed through the broken mind, once—too fast to catch. Then, as the drumming increased in frequency it settled deeper in his mind. That of a young man, curly brown hair, and a vibrant, loving smile.

Peter.

At once he was washed with the conflicting emotions of wanting to yell, to scream, to make sure the other man left and was nowhere near the danger—and of gloating. Peter was smart; he wouldn't be here without both a plan and the means to make it work. A low, raspy chuckle wormed its way out of the damaged throat. “You’re fucked now,” the growl came, almost unintelligible.

It was just loud enough. “You think?” demanded the cold voice. Francis turned to two of his underlings. “Bring him. Let’s just see what they think they’re doing.”

As the mess of wood and leather holding his body together was moved his vision grayed.

 

He watched the young man reach out and pet the ugliest spider he had ever seen. “That,” he said as the spider’s eyes closed and it leaned into the caress with a satisfied little chirr, “is the scariest thing I have ever seen.”

Laughter, clear and strong like a bell, rang out from the young man as he continued to pet the monster in front of him. “Spot’s just a darling,” he said fondly. Without warning the hand reached out and grabbed a shirt, pulling the point of view closer.

Two large, muscled hands reach out and keep the view from getting closer. “Now, Petey,” the voice said reasonably, “it’s too soon.”

Another laugh. “Is it?” asked the young man.

 

The mess of wood and leather was slammed into the ground, jolting him out of the memory. Shame. It was a nice memory and much nicer than where he was now.

“What are they doing?” demanded Francis.

“I believe,” the young alpha at his side said nervously, “it’s a ritual. For their goddess.”

A small part of him that still remembered how Peter’s mind worked said, No, it’s a display to freak you out. Something to make you easier to defeat.

No one, outside of Arachne, knew the spiders that were part of every—and he meant every , no matter how poor—household in the kingdom. He remembered being a small child on his first official visit staring at a kid playing with a ball and a huge spider that came to the kid’s knees, like it was a dog. But that wasn’t all the spiders could do. Some of them were large enough to ride and those, unlike the horses that the other countries were used to, could do something else—they could dance.

He didn’t know, he couldn't see, but he bet that was what was happening now. He could almost—almost--see it in his mind’s eye, the way the spiders would leap into the air, silk trailing behind them to form patterns.

Fingers dug into raw, bleeding skin and he looked up into the cold eyes once more. “So,” Francis spat, “they wish to get the blessings of their goddess? Let them try.”

Chapter Text

Peter had heard that, in some kingdoms, priests wore large voluminous robes for official ceremonies. Wade had once told him that the high priest for his kingdom wore so many layers of clothes that the man would drown if he fell into water. Both of them thought that much clothing, for an official ceremony, was ridiculous.

In Arachne the priests wore clothes made from the silk their spiders spun, dyed in the colors of the goddess. Peter, a better hand at sewing than most priests, had not only dyed his in the colors of the goddess, but had also patterned it into the shape of the webs his spider tended to spin. Like most Arachnid priestly outfits, his ceremonial garb was a single, almost skin-tight piece of clothing. He didn’t wear boots with his outfit, because they would only get in the way.

Peter changed Spot’s saddle from the riding one to the ceremonial one (packed by the temple acolytes against his wishes just in case, and he made a mental note to thank them for their foresight) and the spider danced in place with excitement. Spot knew what the saddle meant, and he loved the ceremonial dancing—much more than the boring marching that the army had been doing.

Ready to show off?” Peter asked his behemoth with a grin. The spider waved its mandibles and forelegs in the air in excitement before dropping so that Peter could easily get into the standing saddle. Blessed with the ability to climb as spiders did, Peter stood on the thin leather, thin enough he could use his feet to guide Spot through it, and grinned. He knew, thanks to Wade, how the average person from Reaper would react to the sight of a human riding what their brains insisted was a huge-fucking-monster, and he was almost certain that the same could be said for the men from Ajax.

Harry, in a supportive move that was designed to be just as threatening to the invaders, and somehow rounded up six of the large drums that accompanied a traditional dancing ceremony. The soldiers began to beat the drums and, despite the severity of the situation, Peter felt fierce joy ripple through him. Like his spider, he liked to show off.

The odd proportions of Spot’s legs meant that he was made for one thing that other spiders struggled with—jumping. Spot leaped into the air, time and time again, trailing thin tendrils of silk behind him. And, as he’d been taught, this was thin silk, not sticky silk. Couldn’t risk trapping the army behind them, after all.

Just as Peter had predicted, the Ajax took to the castle walls and tried to shoot the dancers down. Their arrows fell just short of the distance. Peter had calculated it based on what Felicia told him and hoped that it looked like they had divine protection against the arrows, and not like they were being taunted right outside their range. He wanted them frightened, not enraged.

When the ceremony was over he rode Spot—muttering and complaining because he wanted to dance some more—back to the front lines. Felicia, delegate from Morphio, stared at him, eyes wide and jaw open. “Well,” said Peter with satisfaction as he dismounted from his spider, “I hope they have the same reaction you are.” Her mouth closed with a snap as he pat the disgruntled spider on the abdomen. “We’ll dance more later, you big baby,” he said affectionately. The spider heaved a dramatic sigh before lumbering over to where the other spiders (that weren’t in the guard with the drums) were waiting.

So,” said Felicia, eyes dark, “let’s talk about this secret passage.”

He gave her the gist of it as Harry and the first line of spiders (Harry had divided the cavalry into three units so there would always be one rested as they attacked the castle) charged. None of them expected to make it over the walls—the castle had been designed by people who knew what Arachne could bring to the field against them, even if the two countries had been at peace for as long as anyone could remember.

Peter, with his handpicked group of scouts and Felicia (who apparently wasn’t one of the healers of the delegation), made their way, under the cover of the failing light, towards the rear of the castle where the entrance was located. For a moment, as they waited for the optimal time to enter, he was assailed with doubt. Some of these young warriors he was leading into battle were going to die. More in the front lines, far from their homes—and all because he, their high priest, was selfish and wanted to rescue his mate.

A shift in the breeze brought his attention to the coolness coating his glands and he realized that there was much more at stake in this battle than just rescuing a captured mate. The Ajax had rejected their goddess— and they had to be stopped. The five goddesses of the world were the guardian forces against evil, and as such needed the support of their followers. The Ajax, who had rejected their goddess, couldn't be allowed to prevail.

Let’s go,” he said quietly.

In order to maximize their stealth, none of them were on their spiders, but that didn’t mean that their spiders were just waiting around doing nothing. No, their spiders were spinning webs, carefully positioned so that the light coming from the torches of the castle would glint off of them. Peter hoped the soldiers found it unnerving.

The entrance was a small tunnel dug into the side of the hill, below the moat, that the castle was on. Peter had no idea why the tunnel was there, but he appreciated it now. “Remember,” he told his troops before they slipped in, “our main goal is to get the drawbridge down so the main army can come through. Secondary goal is to rescue the captives.”

Especially the prince,” said Felicia, eyes glinting in the dim light.

All of the captives,” Peter said firmly, unwilling to be selfish any longer. “Ready? Let’s go.” He led the way. Like the rest of his group, Peter carried a short sword with him and used it to hack down the webs as they trudged through the dust, proving that the last people through this tunnel had probably been Peter and Wade as children.

They came up, through the wine and root cellar, and surprised the men in there. Silently, they killed all the shocked soldiers. Peter took a moment, despite not being a priest of their goddess, despite being their enemy, despite the fact they had renounced their own goddess, to pray for their souls.

His men filtered through the castle as he prayed and Felicia watched him with narrow eyes. “You,” she told him when he finished, “are the scariest person I have ever met.”

Peter snorted as he readied his own blade again. “Clearly you haven’t met enough people,” he told her as they made their way into the castle. There was a hollow, booming thunk as the drawbridge collapsed. He nodded with satisfaction as he made his own way into the fray, searching through the castle. In one room he found a limp body, clearly tortured, hanging by thin leather strips riveted to a wooden frame.

Despite the fact it appeared that parts of the man’s body had been literally skinned alive, despite the burns and cuts, despite the swelling—Peter’s heart recognized the almost unrecognizable human.

Wade.”

Chapter Text

The battle had been short and fierce. There weren’t a lot of survivors, but one of them was the man who had masterminded the original invasion of the castle. Harry looked at them, bound with hands behind their backs, forced into a kneeling position in the courtyard. Most of them were frightened and cowed—but not the one who had led them.

Behind him Peter was leading a ceremony to bless and guide all the souls lost in the battle—even those of the enemy. Harry had a feeling that the ceremony was contributing to sense of fright in the soldiers in front of him. “ This is unprecedented,” he said conversationally to the people in front of him. “It has been so long since one kingdom invaded another that no one is entirely certain what we’re supposed to do with the survivors.” The one who had led them glared at Harry, but said nothing while another couple of soldiers anxiously glanced at the spiders. “They don’t eat humans,” Harry told them reassuringly.”

Felicia, in her black suit (official garb of the ambassador for Morphio), strode up and looked at the captured invaders. “I think,” she said lightly, “that we should let High Priest Peter decide what to do with them.” Her blue eyes raked over the soldiers with disgust.

The leader of the invaders curled his lip in disdain. “You would allow a priest to dictate your terms to the enemy?”

To his clear surprise Harry grinned. “Why not?” he asked mildly. “That priest was the one who came up with the battle plan to get into the castle. Well done on playing into it, by the way. I expected us to have a lot more casualties on our side.”

The man growled, identifying himself as an alpha. Odd how little pheromones the invaders had—Harry and his army were pheromone free, for the moment, as a blessing from their goddess. What was keeping the smell of the invaders at bay?

It is finished,” Peter said as he walked up to them. His hands were formally clasped in front of him and he was still wearing his regalia. “They are ready for the pyre, now,” he added sadly.

Harry grasped the priest by the shoulder. “How is he?” he asked with sympathy. He couldn't imagine what he’d do if he found Mary Jane in the same position that Peter had found Wade in.

Still sleeping. One of the healers wants my help to ask for the blessing of his goddess so that he can heal.” Peter’s eyes were closed. He opened them, they lit on the man responsible for the state that his mate was in, and they tightened. Peter looked away and took a deep breath.

What do you think we should do?” Harry asked Peter.

Peter held his hands together, eyes closed, in meditation for a moment. The dark brown eyes opened. “If I was in charge,” he said slowly, “I would take all of the survivors of the attack with us to Arachne, move the captured soldiers to the field outside the castle, and burn the castle as a pyre for the dead.”

You can’t do that!” protested the enemy leader, face crimson.

Harry couldn't help but think of how diabolically merciful Peter’s suggestion was, for all the parties involved. The survivors would get more access to the healers as they traveled back to the capitol of their country. The enemy soldiers would have absolutely nothing to show as either victory or defeat—and would have to explain all of that to whomever sent them to conquer the castle. Plus, burning the castle sent a clear message to the King of Reaper—you could have saved your son, you didn’t, and now he’s ours. Harry grinned at the confirmation of what he already knew; Peter was a kind, merciful soul—but he was not a forgiving one.

Sounds good to me,” said Harry with satisfaction over the protests of the enemy leader. “What about you Felicia? It seems that you should have some say here.”

Her bright blue eyes tracked between Harry, Peter, and the captured enemy leader. Crimson lips turned up in a smile. “Would you terribly mind if we traveled with you to the capitol?” she asked. “I would like to give a report to Her Majesty on behalf of my King.”

Harry bowed with a wry grin. “We would be honored to escort you, My Lady,” he said gallantly. “All right,” he said turning to his own soldiers. “ Take these captured combatants to the field outside.” He turned and grinned at the captured leader once again. “And think how different that advice might have been,” he said, “had you treated the captured prince with respect.”

The bodies, enemy and ally alike, were lined up in the courtyard with grave respect and courtesy as the enemy soldiers were taken outside of the castle. Flammable materials were brought in and packed around the bodies while the army got ready to withdraw. Soon a single torch was tossed into the keep, and the fire began to merrily burn. Even if the castle survived, the ruling monarch of this land would never dare his goddess’s wrath by inhabiting it once again.

As one unit the group watched as the fire raged, heating the stone and burning the bodies inside the castle. Once again, Peter led a prayer for the deceased, a prayer calling for the departed souls to find a new home, free of all pain and heartache, in the afterlife. Harry did not join the prayer—he was too busy keeping an eye on the enemy leader. He didn’t know why, but he felt certain that they would come to regret letting the man live. He appeared to be the vindictive, vengeance seeking sort.

Still, the decision had been made, agreed upon, and put into action. He could not simply kill the man now, no matter how satisfying he would personally find it. When the flames died down he turned to his army once more. “It is time,” he told them, “to start the march home.”

Chapter Text

“Thank you,” said the young vampire as Peter knelt beside the cot Wade was laid out on. The young omega’s eyes darted wildly around—even as beat up as he was Wade was still producing scent. The woman was not protected, as those of the Arachnid army were, from the pheromones. “None of our priests made the journey with us.”

“Most priests don’t leave their home temple,” Peter said gently, without judgment as he got into prayer position. While it was rare for a priest to call upon a goddess that they, personally, did not serve, it did happen.

Within moments his mind was taken to the blank space that the goddesses could use to speak to their followers outside of a temple. He expected, at most, to be greeted by three goddesses; the goddess he was sworn to, the goddess of Wade’s kingdom, and the goddess of Morphio. He was shocked to find himself facing, not just those three, but also the goddess of Ajax. He quickly knelt, much to their amusement.

“You have come to ask for a blessing, my priest,” the goddess of Arachne said with a sweet smile for the young man. “We have answered.”

“It was those I looked after who have hurt your mate,” the goddess of Ajax said sadly.

“It is not your fault,” Peter assured her. “They have renounced you.”

There was a murmuring chuckle from the assembled goddesses. He wasn’t sure, but he thought he heard one of them say, “I told you.” He did not look up—it would be rude.

“We have all decided to give your mate blessings, to prepare the both of you for what is to come,” The goddess of Morphio said kindly.

“Not all of us,” said the goddess of Arachne.

“She has always cautioned knowledge and patience,” the goddess of Reaper said calmly. “She is not one to take rash action. Are you will, Priest of Arachne? You must be warned that this is a moment on which the history of all the land will pivot—although none but us will ever know. Can you accept this burden? Can you accept what this will mean for the two of you?”

Peter thought. He had no idea what burden the goddess was referring to. Part of him wanted to scream that he’d do anything, anything at all, just to have Wade with him. The rest of him—the rest of him argued caution. A blessing could be a gift or a curse—or even both at the same time. It was possible that to heal Wade would mean that he would live, forever, in unimaginable pain—utterly broken and begging for the peace of death.

“I do not know,” he said finally. “I do not know if I can accept it, for I do not know what it could cost. I do not know what it would mean. I do know that I will, if allowed, do everything within my power to follow what I believe to be right and true.”

“And he will follow you.”

The words were soft, but hummed through his body like the beat of a drum. He will follow you. Would he? Would Wade really follow him? Peter knew that, if Wade needed him, he would track the alpha down to the ends of the world, but was the same true?

It didn’t matter. Whether or not Wade would do the same for Peter, whether or not Peter knew it, Peter would go to the ends of the world if Wade needed him. This was no different.

“Well done. Now, open your eyes and share these blessings with your mate, my priest.”

Peter opened his eyes to see that there was a glowing ball of light between his hands. It was shifting between the orange of a campfire, blue of the hottest flame, red of the setting sun, and the yellow of a candle. Quickly, before it could burn itself out, he pushed the ball into Wade’s chest. For a moment he could feel it, feel the heat through his entire body almost sending him back into the blank space—and then it was gone.

Panting Peter looked at the man, his mate, to see that wounds were already beginning to close. He would bear the scars of his torture forever, but soon he should be in no pain. He sighed in relief and, for just a moment, he rested his head on the thick chest as he took a moment to just feel the steady heartbeat inside.

He sat up as the healer pulled a blanket over the healing man. “That was—I’ve never seen anything like that,” the young omega admitted with awe.

Peter chuckled wearily. “Neither have I,” he admitted. He looked at the healing alpha on the bed and gently traced the jawline. The most obvious of the blessings was, of course, the ability to heal himself quickly. Still Peter had to wonder—

What were the other blessings?

Chapter Text

Wade and several of the healers were in one of the wagons (taken from the small town that supported the burned castle) that had been hitched to spiders. Most of the survivors eyed the spiders warily, but one of them, a former castle guard, rode his horse next Peter. The horse, having better instincts than most of the humans, was perfectly calm. After all, spiders didn’t eat horses, or people.

How did you get into the castle?” asked the guard. His dark hair rippled in the light wind as they made their way back down the road to home. “I thought we had all ways into the castle blocked.” He grimaced. “Not well, obviously.”

You just don’t like the idea that you overlooked something,” Peter finished in explanation. “Well, you didn’t overlook anything. Spiders,” he added giving a misleading truth, “can climb walls.”

Can’t plan for that,” muttered the guard.

Actually, it had been planned for. That was one of the reasons for the moat. Since the guard hadn’t been in the castle proper (the invaders had thrown the entire population except for Wade into the dungeons) he didn’t see that several of the rescuers (including Peter himself) had entered the castle without spiders.

Peter spared a moment to be grateful that the tunnel had still been there. Plan B would have been getting Spot to jump across the moat leaving a silk that could be used to help get the others across. All it would have taken would be one lucky idiot with a bow at that point to kill them.

Suddenly there was a commotion behind him and he whirled on Spot to see that one of the wagons broke open as a scarred, partially raw man dropped to the ground with a weapon in both hands. Spot obeyed the unspoken command to turn in place and rush towards the man—who was flooding the air with so many pheromones that Peter could taste them on his tongue. He vaguely recognized the two short swords the man was holding as the main weapons from the Morphio delegation as the man was surrounded by soldiers from Arachne.

Hold!” Peter ordered. He wasn’t sure they heard him.

Spot was having none of this tension. He reared back onto his two rear pairs of legs, waving his front two pairs in the air and gave the crackling hiss that only exceptionally upset spiders made. The sound cut through the soldiers getting their attention. The man didn’t twitch, just held his weapons at the ready.

Hold!” Peter repeated. He leaped off Spots back as the spider anxiously rubbed its mandibles together and physically moved one of the soldiers out of his way. “Move!” he ordered.

Peter, don’t!” called Harry.

Peter ignored him. He stepped closer to the wounded man, and wondered what he was seeing. “Wade,” he said gently as he passed the circle of soldiers. “It’s me.” The hands gripped the swords tighter, but there was no other movement.

Peter’s heart thudded harshly and his throat began to close as tears sprang to his eyes. What had they done to his fun loving alpha? What had he done? Was Wade going to exist in pain, in a world that was not here, as a danger to himself and others forever?

Wade,” he tried again taking another step closer. “Wade, it’s Peter.”

There was a slight reaction, a mere jerk of the head. Peter took another step closer. He could almost hear the soldiers wondering if their high priest was about to die—but he couldn’t leave Wade. He just couldn't leave him like this.

Peter.” The word rasped through a raw throat and Peter felt weak with relief.

That’s right,” he affirmed taking another step closer. He was close enough to touch the man now, but held back. He wanted to make sure Wade was in his right mind. “Peter.”

Suddenly Wade dropped the swords and held the younger omega. “Peter,” he said again, nuzzling the neck over the scent glands. The scent glands that were still coated in the blessing from the goddess. Still, Wade must have smelled something to tell him that this was Peter, because his grip tightened as he began to shake. “Peter,” he whispered again.

Peter reached out and hugged him, slightly dwarfed in the older man’s frame. “Peter,” he agreed. Wade wordlessly dropped as he passed out, becoming a sudden dead weight over Peter’s body. If he hadn’t already received the blessing of strength, it would have been enough to flatten him.

He heard a throat clear behind him. “All right,” said Harry. “New plan. Spot will have to fallow the wagon as you ride in it, because I don’t think he should wake up without you again. People might actually get hurt next time.”

Peter nodded and, with a slight adjustment of his body, picked Wade up. The injured man didn’t move. Not even when Spot, clearly worried, ran his two front legs over both men and keened lightly.

Chapter Text

Queen Mary Jane sat with her face in an expressionless mask as the relay scout gave her the army’s news in front of the Reaper Ambassador. Ambassador Nathan frankly stared at the young scout in disbelief as he told the court how the army decided to burn the castle as a pyre to both the enemy and ally fallen dead. Mary wondered if her priest and soon to be mate understood the political ramifications of what they had done. Then again, from everything she had heard, perhaps they did.

So,” she asked the young scout for clarification, “the ambassador from Morphio and a military contingent met the army before you crossed into Reaper?”

They did, Your Majesty,” confirmed the scout.

I see.” The queen kept her narrow gaze on the kneeling scout as the information rattled around her mind. “Tell me, did the horses from the Morphio delegation have trouble keeping up with our infantry?”

Not at all,” replied the scout. “Commander Osborn remarked that the horses travel at the same speed as the spiders.”

Commander Osborn would. “Tell me,” ordered the Queen, “did you come across any military members from Reaper on the way to the castle?” Ambassador Nathan’s head whipped around so fast she was willing to bet that his neck would hurt later.

No, Your Majesty,” the scout replied. “The only people from Reaper that we came across were those that had been subjugated by the invaders.”

Really.” The word was a sentence, not a question. She shifted her attention towards the ambassador. “It would seem,” the queen continued, “the castle had been thoroughly taken, down to the land. Surely that was the message sent by the lack armed forces?”

That—” began the ambassador, getting red in the face.

She continued on mercilessly. “In that case, my people took an enemy outpost and, not willing to allow the enemy shelter so near either our borders or yours, destroyed it.” She looked back at the scout, keeping an eye on the red-faced ambassador. “Tell me,” she ordered, “whose idea was it to burn the castle.”

High Priest Parker’s, Majesty,” said the scout.

Now that was a surprise. “Were any of the enemy within the castle when it burned?”

Only the dead Majesty. Upon guidance from High Priest Parker, the living enemy soldiers were left bound in a field after the castle burned while the army mustered out with the survivors from the invasion. Since mine is the fastest spider, Commander Osborn sent me back to report.”

In that one, single move Peter had sent three separate messages. He had told the rescued people from Reaper, “We will watch after you and treat you as our own.” He had told the enemy invaders, “You are not even worth killing, now go home you naughty children.” Most importantly of all he had told the king of Reaper himself, “You don’t want to protect these people? Then we will.”

Not for the first time, Mary Jane found herself grateful that Peter had been called to the priesthood rather than politics. She had no doubt that, if he wanted, Peter could easily control the entire country from the shadows. The greatest blessing the goddess had bestowed upon Arachne was Peter’s ultimately selfless nature.

The prince needs to be sent home!” the ambassador said.

To the shock of the entire court, it was the scout who answered. “He can’t,” the young scout said. The scout then trembled under the weight of the look the ambassador gave him—and possibly the pheromones as well.

Queen Mary Jane released a few of her own. “You will cease that at once,” she demanded. “Or,” she added coldly, “my guards will see you out.” The man flushed—as he should at such an unseemly display—and subsided. She glared at him for a moment more before turning her attention to the scout. “When you say the prince can’t go home, what do you mean?” Since the scout was so frazzled from the angry pheromones from the ambassador, she kept her voice gentle.

The scout swallowed a few times before reporting. “According to those that were—those that were rescued, the enemy invaders decided to—to break the prince before starting on them. They tortured him, Majesty, he looks nothing like the man he used to. The only one of us that could recognize him was the High Priest. The healers from Morphio,” the scout added, “said that only the intervention of their goddess could save him. When Commander Osborn sent me ahead, High Priest Parker was about to try to reach their goddess.”

Silence fell over the court. The healers of Morphio were known for their legendary ability to save lives. There was no reason to believe the country would have sent inferior healers on a rescue mission. For such experienced healers to be unable to heal the injured prince, and relying on a priestly request to their goddess—Wade must have been very badly injured.

And the king of Reaper—who sent no aid, sent no soldiers, and whose representative was even now taking up space in her court—wanted them to send the injured prince back. Well, the king of Reaper was just going to have to find another heir to his throne. He could have his son back over her dead body. “So it would appear,” she said musingly to her court, “that the former prince is now an acolyte.”

The ambassador frowned. “Surely you jest?” he demanded flashing the scout another glare.

She calmly laid her hands in her lap as she met his gaze with her cool one. “ Oh? Wade Wilson has just gone through a life changing, life threatening ordeal. He is now spending time in the company of a High Priest. It sounds to me,” she added slyly, “as though he is entering the priesthood.” She gave the ambassador a tight smile. “Go tell your king the good news,” she told him. “That the High Priest of Arachne is sponsoring your former prince.”

The ambassador swallowed. He knew, they all knew, that to interfere with the priesthood was to risk drawing the ire of the goddesses. No one sane wanted to risk their wrath. “I will go and deliver the good news,” he said giving a low bow before turning and quickly making his way from the court as the couriers watched him go.

Chapter Text

The first thing he noticed was that he was in no pain. Outside of the white space, that was new. It was comforting—and worrying at the same time. Why was he in no pain? Had Francis moved on to torturing someone else?

He opened his eyes and blinked in the sunlight as he moved an arm experimentally. It was weak, weaker than it should have been, but he wasn’t bound. What had happened?

He’s awake!” The voice was equal parts pleased, frightened, and worried.

Wade?” A face, a familiar face, crossed his vision and he looked up at the brown hair.

Wade. His name. No, not the face’s name. He knew that one. “Peter,” he whispered. The face smiled.

He needs water,” the strange voice said.

All right, up you go.” The face—Peter—got an arm around him and helped him sit up. A cup, almost overflowing with water, was held to his lips. “Drink slowly,” Peter said softly.

He wanted to gulp the water—it was the first he could remember having in far too long, but he was afraid of upsetting Peter. So, he sipped. It was both too slow and too fast, the amount gone long before he was satisfied.

It’s all right,” Peter murmured, still holding him close. “There’s more water.” He handed the cup to someone else and got it back full, once more. Once again he sipped only this time, this time he felt satisfied with the water.

If he can, he should probably eat too. I’ve got some bread here.”

Hear that? Do you think you can eat?” asked Peter.

He wasn’t sure. He’d be willing to try, if Peter thought he needed to. “I don’t—know,” he rasped, voice both harsher than expected and not harsh enough.

Let’s try then.” Peter shifted to where his body was behind Wade’s—that was it, that was his name, how could he have forgotten—reaching arms around him with some torn bread in one hand. “Careful,” Peter ordered gently, “just like the water.” Wade took small, neat bites of the bread. Long before he had thought he would be, he was full.

It will take time,” the nervous voice said, “to heal enough to eat more. Bread is good.”

Peter chuckled and Wade felt the sound more than heard it. “Time will heal,” Peter said as he laid his head against the top of Wade’s—who felt the silky smooth hair against his bare scalp.

Looking around without moving—he couldn't bear the thought of Peter drifting apart by even a little bit—Wade realized he was in a wagon. While Wade, himself, was not moving, the wagon was. And outside the wagon, following it, was what senses both labeled monster and Peter’s . “What is that?” he asked, voice sounding slightly more normal.

That’s Spot.” A large leg, thicker than Wade’s forearm, poked into the wagon moving over Wade and Peter. Oddly, Wade felt nothing of threat from the leg, or the monster it belonged to. He saw Peter reach over to gently stroke the leg and then it withdrew. “He gets lonely.”

He tried to climb into the wagon,” said the voice. It sounded shaky.

Wade—almost—remembered back when he felt the same way. “I bet you let him sleep in your bed when he was a baby,” he said leaning back into Peter’s warm, comforting presence.

As a spidling, yes,” Peter said. He could feel rather than see the younger man grinning. “He was so lonely separated from his litter.”

Litter?” squeaked the other voice.

Wade just chuckled. “You must not be from Arachne. Take everything you know about spiders—and throw it away. Arachnid’s spiders are loving cuddle whores.” He was too weak to turn to face the owner of that voice and felt his consciousness slipping away—peacefully. “Might just—climb into— your bed,” he muttered as he fell back asleep.

He could hear crackling of the fire, the hissing of the metal, and the sheer joy in his torturer’s voice at the mere thought of causing more pain.

Wade.”

What would it take to break you?” asked the demented man.

Wade.”

Perhaps there’s someone else I could torture instead. Tell me, who are you close to?”

Wade!”

A shake and he woke up, gasping for breath as Peter held him. A small, analytical part of his mind noticed that he had the strength to sit up now. He gasped as Peter soothingly rubbed his back, leaning against him. He could see, from the light, that it was now dark outside. “What?” he asked.

Peter leaned a cheek against his. “You had a nightmare,” he said gently. A quick, loving but chaste kiss. “Go back to sleep.”

Wade reluctantly laid down, holding Peter in his arms as he stared into the darkness inside the wagon. Outside he could hear fire crackle, probably what sparked the nightmare. People, happy, normal people instead of calculating sadistic ones, spoke to each other in low voices outside.

What would it take to break you?”

He knew the answer. Nothing Francis had done to him could have had the chance of breaking him, because Wade was capable of taking anything. Francis’s last thought, before reinforcements arrived, before rescue arrived, were the right ones. Torturing Wade wouldn’t break him—but that was only Wade.

If anything happened to Peter, it would break him.

Chapter Text

Wade leans against a tree in the sun dappled clearing and watches, with amusement, the reactions of both the people from Morphio and his own country when a spider the size of Harry’s head lands on his shoulder and the only reaction from the man is to hold up a piece of rabbit for the thing to eat. “You know,” he said conversationally as Peter leaned against him, “for anyone not from your country that looks downright terrifying.”

Harry laughed and held up a hand. The spider on his shoulder rubbed into it before jumping down and climbing the tree back into the wilderness once again. “It’s nothing special,” he said, eyes twinkling.

Wade snorted. “You say that,” he said with a touch of vindictiveness, “but I remember the first time that you ever saw a horse.”

There aren’t a lot of horses in Arachne,” Peter informed the young healer that was still traveling with them. “They don’t breed very well.”

Yeah, spiders don’t tend to eat much unless humans feed it to them,” Wade commented. He wasn’t feeling nearly as weak as he was earlier, but he didn’t want to say anything. It was nice having Peter up against him like this.

You could have had him like this if you had just mated him sooner.

Wade glanced around, but no one seemed to have spoken. He figured it was in his head. He hadn’t mentioned it yet, but that voice had started shortly after he woke up the first time.

Only if humans are around,” Peter added. “There are wild spiders.” Wade merely snorted with disbelief.

I’m actually glad you brought up the spiders,” Harry said. He turned to the young healer who was still watching them warily. “Is he strong enough to ride? I really don’t think Spot should be separated from Peter much longer. He might try to mount the wagon again.”

He wasn’t trying to mount the wagon,” Peter said with a roll of his eyes. “He just wanted inside!”

Y es, while they were traveling the spider—the giant spider that was huge even by Arachnid standards—decided it wanted to ride in the wagon too. It had grabbed the wagon with its two front forelegs (scaring the daylights out of the horses who were still being soothed), hoisted itself up, and somehow tried to force itself, rear end first, into the wooden wagon while keening miserably as it failed to get in. Wade blamed Peter for letting the spider sleep in his bed while it was a baby, and suspected that somebody had used a stuffed animal to distract it long enough to get Peter out of the wagon to give his spider some tender loving care.

Yes, well, stopping to save the wagon took a little while,” Harry said, “and I’d like to avoid the situation occurring once more.” The young healer shuddered violently next to Peter.

He was just lonely!” Peter protested.

Yes,” agreed Harry. “He will probably be less lonely if you are actually riding him. Since I’m afraid that if Wade falls asleep when you’re not there he’ll wake up in a—less than friendly frame of mind again,” another reference to an episode Wade did not recall and he was just as glad he couldn't remember, “I’d prefer it if the both of you were on the back of the spider.”

T he healer took several deep breaths and swallowed a couple of times before answering. “I am not sure,” the healer said, “that he is well enough to ride for very long—maybe if we took frequent rests? In the interest of avoiding the spider’s distress?”

In Wade’s honest opinion the healer sounded distressed. He could only imagine how horrific it would have been for someone who knew almost nothing about the giant spiders of Arachne to suddenly have one trying to force its way into the covered wagon he was riding in. Of course, if that had been one of Wade’s first experiences with the spiders his buddy loved and raised, he probably would have felt the same as the healer.

He still smirked. “I think I’m better healed than you think I am,” he said to the healer.

The young healer nodded, reached over Peter, and gave Wade a gentle shove to the shoulder. Wade dropped like a building fell on him. “Frequent rests,” the healer reiterated.

Frequent rests,” Harry mused out loud, “will still ultimately take less time getting us back home than stopping to rescue the wagon periodically.” There were several nods from the Arachnid soldiers.

Do you feel like trying to ride?” asked Peter as he helped Wade sit up.

You might have to tie me to the saddle,” Wade replied, only half joking.

Chapter Text

A few more days of soft journey, stopping so frequently Wade wanted to scream, and he was almost back to normal. He was also frustrated with how people were avoiding telling him exactly how the rescue happened. Sure, he vaguely remembered something about Peter starting a show or a ceremony (he wasn’t sure there was a difference in Arachne) to intimidate that enemy—but that was it. Next thing Wade knew he was in a wagon with a huge spider getting lonely and wanting a ride.

He also couldn't actually get angry with them—they had trooped across an entire country (at least two of them, in the case of the Morphio people) to rescue him and he was grateful for that. He really was. Didn’t change the way they were treating him or lessen his frustration at all.

Peter noticed. He always did. “Wade, do you feel up to a sparring session?”

Wade considered it carefully. Before—before everything happened sparring with Peter would have been horribly unfair. Wade was trained by his time in the military of Reaper (and the less said about that sad venture the better) and Peter was, well, trained in a temple. Instead of learning things like stab here for killing and here for information, Peter was learning things like this ceremony for blessing the land and this ceremony for blessing the people. Not a lot of overlap.

Still, the little that he had gleaned said that the plan used to take the castle back from the invaders had been Peter’s, so that priestly training couldn't have been completely useless. “Nothing with weapons,” he said slowly.

Peter smiled and Wade wondered what was running through that devious head of his. “Bare hands it is,” he agreed.

“Oh, this should be good,” Harry said. He grabbed a stick and drew a circle in the dirt for the two of them. Peter and Wade, both in traveling gear and nothing else, stepped into the circle. “You know the rules,” Harry said. “First one to shove the other out wins. No dirty tactics and yes, Peter, I’m talking to you.” Before Wade had time to wonder at that statement Harry rapped out a quick, “Go!”

Wade expected it to be over quickly. He also expected to win. He was half right.

He found himself on his back, outside the circle, with no clear idea of how that happened. “What?” he asked. He’d barely seen Peter move.

Peter chuckled. “You shouldn't underestimate me,” he said reaching out with a hand to help Wade sit up.

Harry’s mouth twitched as he carefully rubbed the circle out of the dirt. “Peter,” he said solemnly, “has been granted three of the spider blessings from Our Goddess. It’s one of the reasons he’s High Priest,” Harry added.

“I thought only betas were High Priests,” said Wade thoughtfully as Peter helped him to his feet.

“The goddess chooses,” Peter said with a grin. “And, this time, she chose me.”

Wade grinned back at him. “And I have no doubt,” he said firmly, “that she knew exactly what she was doing.”

“Considering that Peter has a better grasp of military and political strategy than I do,” Harry commented, “I’m surprised she also didn’t want him to govern the army.”

Peter rolled his eyes. “What good would I do there?” he demanded. “Your father already leads the army, and does it better than I ever could.”

Harry and Wade exchanged a look. It seemed that Peter’s tendency to believe that other people were somehow better than him was still firmly in place. It was—oddly reassuring. “Sure Pete,” Harry said. “That is, of course, why Dad sits with you at least once a month.”

Peter rolled his eyes again. “They’re just talks, Harry.”

“Sure they are. And it’s just coincidence that they always occur when he’s having trouble with one or more of the couriers that he figures out how to fix after talking with you. Has nothing to do with your ability to read people and assess situations at all.” Harry gave Peter an ironic salute. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to assess the situation with my spider before we get back on the road.”

At that moment Spot came up, the jury-rigged double saddle that Peter and Wade had been riding on in his mouth as a not-so-subtle suggestion.

Chapter Text

Peter was strapped into the familiar leather and wooden harness keeping his arms high above his head and his legs slightly spread apart. He was wearing nothing but a loincloth and Wade watched, with horror, as Francis stuck a bronze rod into the fire as he regarded the young, trembling man. “ I wonder where,” Francis said in his hateful, sly voice, “this will do the most damage.” Francis strode in front of Peter and looked back at Wade with a grin. “I think I know.” He ripped the loincloth away before pulling the hot metal out of the fire. “This may hurt a bit,” he added with a maniacal grin. He pushed the rod towards Peter and—

and Wade bolted up, gasping for breath. At first all he could hear was the deep, raspy breaths as he tried to get back to normal—but slowly other sounds began to intrude. The sounds of the night insects of the forest. The odd half chirping noise Spot made while sleeping. Peter’s deep, even breaths beside him. He turned and hesitantly put a hand on the sleeping form before slightly relaxing. Here was Peter: warm, asleep, safe.

Wade couldn't just roll over and go back to sleep. The dream had been far too vivid. He could still hear the sound the metal made as it heated up, feel the smoke from the fire choking the air, and see the hopeless terror in Peter’s wide, frightened eyes.

Jolting himself again Wade carefully got up. He heard Peter murmur slightly in his sleep, and waited to make sure the other man didn’t wake further before leaving the tent. He almost walked into Spot, who was lying right outside the tent flap, huge legs twitching in his sleep. Wade wanted to make a comment about people who let their spiders into bed with them—but he didn’t want to risk waking Peter up. One of them should have a good night’s sleep.

You seem tense.”

Automatic response kicked in and Wade whirled (gracefully, he was almost back to full strength again) and pinned the young healer against against a tree. At least—he thought it was the young healer. The healer he knew was constantly nervous and had dark hair. He should have been stammering and babbling as he tried to get away.

This healer wasn’t. His hair shone in the moonlight through the trees and his eyes seemed to glow. More importantly he seemed a lot more confident. But—they smelled the same.

Wade realized he’d been staring too long and let go. “Sorry,” he apologized softly, not wanting to wake anyone up.

You could have done much worse,” the healer said. Suddenly Wade was surrounded by the scent of omega—but it didn’t turn him on. It couldn't—the omega in question wasn’t Peter. “You didn’t.”

The healer sounded satisfied and Wade wondered what, exactly, he hadn’t done. “You’re up late,” he commented instead.

The healer chuckled slightly and pointed canines glinted in the moonlight. “For us, we are up early. You had a bad dream.”

Did I?” Surely something as innocent sounding as a bad dream wouldn't have felt so vivid, so real—so heartbreaking.

You did. Would you like to talk about it? I am, after all, still your healer.”

Wade turned and stared off at the camp. He could see, now that his eyes had adjusted, tents all over the clearing. He felt certain he heard people moving around in the wagons, especially the one that he and Peter had recently been riding in. They all seemed, with the exception of the healers from Morphio, to be sleeping. Slowly, hesitantly, and softly Wade described his dream. He waited for the healer to tell him that he was overreacting, that it was just a nightmare.

The healer didn’t. “We have had to treat people,” the healer said, “that have been tortured by those from Ajax.” As Wade stared in silence the young man continued. “See, the soldiers from Ajax will move into a certain territory, be it farm, village or castle, and will find the strongest person there. The one that the others look up to. Then they will proceed to destroy that person, piece by piece, as a message to the survivors, as a means to control the rest of them.” A moment of silence broken only by the singing of the night insects. “Some of them can be healed. Others—others never are. They relive their torture until they are granted the mercy of death, and we hope that she grants them the mercy they cannot find in life.”

Is that what you think I’m doing? Reliving the torture?” asked Wade hollowly.

I think that your torturer asked you a question and that your mind is now answering it.”

Ice flooded Wade’s body. He had already thought of that. He was afraid his mind was going to show every step of the torture he went through—happening to Peter . He couldn't bear that—it would kill him. It would do worse than kill him—it would destroy him.

He felt enraged at himself, for the fact that his mind would finish what Francis had started.

When you were first put into my care, Priest Peter called upon our Goddess for a blessing to save your life,” the healer continued. “He received a ball of three different colors at once that was pushed into your chest making the both of you glow—and then you began to heal with a speed that none of us, none of us healers from Morphio have ever heard of before.” The healer was silent for a moment. “I have a theory.”

Peter once told me,” Wade said softly, keeping his voice down, “that theories are our way of finding what we need to know the most.”

Perhaps. My theory is that you are forcing yourself to heal as fast as you possibly can because you feel there is still danger to your mate-to-be. Your mind is showing you Peter being tortured not because it’s trying to break you, but to motivate you. To work harder, get stronger, and go faster. And, I also have a question. Assuming all three colors were each a different blessing, what were the other two blessings you were granted?”

Wade’s mind reeled at the implications. “I—I don’t know.”

The young healer nodded. “ I do not believe,” he responded quietly, “that even Priest Parker knows what they are. But know this—the bulk of those blessings may have gone into you, but they touched him first.” The healer sighed. “But this philosophical talk is not helping you get to sleep any more. Go back to your tent, cuddle your mate-to-be, and sleep. Perhaps things will look better in the morning.”

Perhaps.” Wade followed the instructions. After all; the man was a healer, and he had to know what he was talking about. And if he felt just a little bit better cuddling Peter to his chest and breathed just a little bit easier being able to see that Peter was safe, well, no one would know.

Chapter Text

The Queen of the Arachnid kingdom stared as the parade of rescuers, rescued, and allies made their way into the courtyard of her castle. She had heard of the damage that Wade had taken, of course, but it was one thing to hear about it and another to see the man, scarred almost beyond recognition, riding calmly behind Peter on his spider. Despite the professional smile on her face her mind reeled at the implications. No wonder they had needed to call upon Morphio’s goddess.

She stood and the crowd below her went silent as she slowly descended the steps towards the group. Those from Morphio dismounted and bowed before her as those rescued from Reaper prostrated themselves (except for wade) while her own army, still on the backs of their spiders, merely bowed their heads. Wade paused for a moment when Peter bowed his head and then shot her a saucy wink that almost made her laugh.

It was an old game between them, from back when she was first learning the Royal Expressions and how to maintain them in any situation. She was relieved that, no matter how he looked now, the man inside was almost the same. Surely, it would be a relief for Peter as well.

Halfway down the steps she stopped and raised her hands. The assembled crowd went quiet as they waited to hear what their Queen had to say. “My people,” she said looking around the crowds, “you knew that Our army went to Reaper to rescue an old friend. Wade Wilson, betrothed to Our own High Priest Parker, was captured by the invading Ajax army. And now, thanks to the combined efforts of Our army and Our allies from Morphio—they have succeeded!” There was a perfunctory cheer. After all, many of the alphas, male and female alike, in the crowd had been hoping to win Peter’s affection. “And now, my people,” she said deliberately switching from the Royal Plural, “it is time we feast in their honor!” A louder, much more enthusiastic cheer greeted the statement and she turned to climb the steps again.

When she reached the top, before leaving the area, she paused to speak to her aide. “See that a delegation from Reaper is brought to my public chambers,” she ordered softly. “And send the Morphio ambassador in after them.” The aide nodded and she continued on.

While the citizens thought the feast was spur of the moment, she’d actually planned on it since before the army left, when Peter told her that the Goddess was granting them a blessing to keep the army from going into heat or rut until after they were safely home. A public feast would put intense focus on no one person, leaving those with mates to pair off and go home when the first symptoms appeared. After speaking with her seneschal, the city was as prepared as possible for the baby boom that would be occurring in nine to ten months.

The public chambers were designed to look like what the general populace thought the private chambers for a queen looked like, with opulent furnishings, and a smaller version of the throne. She found she got more respect that way from her court, and very few people were allowed in her personal, private chambers. Those were her parents (now deceased), her fiance (who would be visiting soon to deal with his rut), and her best friend, Peter. She was sure that number would soon include both Wade and any children that she may conceive.

Shortly after she got settled in her chair (with Priest Octavius nearby) a group of people from the Reaper castle were shown in. Her aide was nothing if not efficient. She nodded at them. “We have some things to discuss,” she told them.

In an almost uniform movement, the entire group (all five people) got down to one knee. “Your Majesty,” the one in the center, alpha from the musky scent, said respectfully.

She nodded, not that they could see it. “I have heard of your plight,” she said. “And honestly, part of me simply wanted to offer you refuge in Our country. However,” she cautioned as she looked at the group, “I cannot.” There was a stir, but none of them spoke up. “In Arachne, the spiders are sacred. They are divine messengers from our goddess, a gift for all who live here. If you cannot get along with the spiders, then you are not welcome to live in Arachne.”

“How do we get along with the spiders?” asked one of the members—not, she noticed, the alpha in the lead.

Priest Octavius stepped forwards. “Majesty,” he said respectfully, “the temple recently received a tribute of spidlings.” At the frown on her face he quickly added, “None of them from the same place that gave us Spot as a tribute, and they’re all sizes from the mousers, to the hunters, to the riders.”

Queen Mary couldn't help but feel grateful that none of the new spidlings were from the breeder who sent them the little one that became Spot. Honestly, when Peter had first picked out that spidling she had been certain it would grow no bigger than a mouser. “Very well. You,” she said turning her attention to the refugees, “will work with the temple to care for the spidlings. Should you be unable to adjust to life here in Arachne,” she added. The group tensed and she paused for maximum effect. “I have spoken to the Morphio Ambassador. There will be room for you in Morphio.” There was a slight relaxing of the group and she clapped her hands. “Now! Go enjoy your feast.”

The group rose and bowed, almost as if they had choreograghed the movement, before they left. When they were gone, before Ambassador Felicia arrived, Priest Octavius spoke up. “Majesty,” he said with respect, “what about Wade?”

“What about Wade?” she asked. She felt slightly hallow in her stomach and tried to think of the last time she’d eaten. She knew, if Harry was going into rut tonight, that she was going to need her energy.

“What if Wade isn’t able to coexist with the spiders?”

Queen Mary turned and looked at him, raising an eyebrow, surprised that he had brought it up. “First of all,” she informed him, “Wade has visited Arachne more than enough to be familiar with spiders. Secondly, he is Peter’s problem. Ambassador Felicia,” she said greeting her new visitor. “It is a pleasure to see you again.”

The blond alpha smiled. “A pleasure to meet you once again as well, Majesty,” she said politely as she took the seat that Queen Mary waved her to. The two of them exchanged more pleasantries, and then it was down to business.

Chapter Text

As the rest of the army, allies, and refugees were led away to feast, Peter and Wade were cut from the group and led to the temple. Well, Peter was led to the temple. Wade just happened to be going in that direction.

Call it what it is. You’re following him.

Definitely sure the voice was in his head, since no one else responded to it. Maybe he should have a talk with the healer about that before the delegation went back to Morphio…

“And they keep fighting with each other,” the priest, wearing some kind of white, wrap around robe, said with frustration as he led Peter to a barn.

Barns in Arachne, by necessity, were much larger than barns in other countries. Horses, to keep away from each other and get their privacy, needed half walls between them. After all, a horse couldn't climb a wall—but a spider could. Spiders had entire rooms as their stalls, and most often the doors were left open, allowing the spiders to move around at will. At least Peter kept the stall door to his spider open.

The priest led Peter to one of the stalls (the only stall with a closed door and most of them had spiders in them), and opened the door. There was a keening crash before he heard a higher pitched version of Spot’s anxiety hold-me-now cry—the one he’d uttered before trying to mount the wagon. And once, when he’d wrecked the tent.

“Here now,” Peter said in a firm, gentle voice as he entered the stall. Wade hung back and watched as he gently (fearlessly) pushed two small (by Arachnid standards—the two spiders were the size of hunting dogs) spiders apart. “What’s this about?” he asked gently as he slowly stroked the abdomens of the two spiders. The sight was simultaneously both the sweetest and the creepiest thing that Wade had ever seen.

Wade noticed the priest watching him. “I’m Wade,” he said holding out a hand.

“Priest Octavius,” said the priest. “It’s nice to meet you Wade, and good to see you healthy and well. What do you think of our spiders?”

“I think they’re creepy, giant cuddle whores,” Wade responded cheerfully.

“I see.” The priest blinked and looked at Peter, who was crooning softly to the two spiders that almost appeared to be melting in his hands. “More than I want to,” he muttered.

“What was that?”

The priest ignored him. “Peter, what do you recommend we do?”

“Both these guys need a human, as quickly as possible,” Peter said without moving from his position. “Wade, come help me with this.” Without a second thought Wade strode into the stall and dropped to the floor next to Peter, who scooped one of the spiders up and put it in his lap. The spider made an odd chittering sound which stopped as soon as Wade copied Peter’s movements.

The spider was softer than he’d thought, with a fine layer of thin hair on the hard shell that felt silky to the touch. The spider in his lap leaned into Wade’s hand as he gently stroked it. It turned and gently nibbled on his hand with its mandibles, and then turned so that Wade could get another part of it.

“Let me get a couple of the acolytes,” the priest said before turning and running.

“Poor things,” Peter sighed as he kept stroking the one he was holding.

“What’s wrong with them?” asked Wade. The one he was holding flung its foremost pair of legs into the air and he stopped petting it, thinking something was wrong, only to have it shove its abdomen against his hand.

“They’re touch starved,” Peter explained.

“Touch starved?”

“Spiders in Arachne need a certain amount of interaction with humans to remain healthy,” Peter said. His voice had settled into the familiar patterns of lecturing. “It helps balance something inside themselves.”

“Huh. Is that why even wild spiders will come up to humans? I thought they just liked the food.”

Peter laughed and Wade’s heart caught at the slightly breathless sound. “Who says it can’t be both?” he asked teasingly.

Wade was interrupted by the sound of running feet. The other priest had returned with two youngsters, both in the same kind of wrapping white robe the priest was wearing. The two youngsters stared at Wade. If they were from Reaper, he would have expected them to be staring like that at the spiders. As it was, it looked like they were staring at Wade.

At some point he was going to have to find a mirror.

Chapter Text

MJ was waiting for the two of them in Peter’s room of the temple. From the looks of her outfit, she had switched places with her maid again. “You need to be careful about that,” Peter said as he and Wade entered the room. “Sooner or later someone you don’t want to realize what’s going on will figure it out.”

MJ rolled her eyes. “I am careful,” she said as she stood up and walked over to Wade. Then, before either of the men realized what she was doing, she pulled him into a hug. “It’s good to see you again,” she said before releasing him.

MJ.”

I said I’m careful.” The redhead whirled, green eyes flashing in anger towards Peter. Peter, who had seen it all before and knew that, as Head Priest, he had just as much power as the reigning monarch, said nothing. “The Queen has retired to her chambers and everyone knows not the disturb her.”

Your fiance is about to go into rut,” Peter said bluntly. “Are you sure you want to be here?” The queen blinked and he sighed. “That was the blessing the goddess granted the army when we left,” he explained slowly. “To stave off the heat and rut of the army until the army was home. The army is home,” he added.

Oh, my!” Flushing crimson MJ’s hands shot up to her cheeks and she barreled out of the room, presumably towards her own.

Wade looked at Peter, concern clearly in his features and Peter gave him a crooked smile. “I’m fine Wade,” he said. “My blessing was—a little different.”

Peter took a seat on the bed and Wade sat next to him. “What’s the difference?” he asked gently.

Peter took the excuse to lean against his mate. “The protection I received,” he said slowly, “won’t fade until we’re both ready for it.”

Whoa.”

Yeah.” Peter smiled as Wade’s arm reached around him and hugged him close. He didn’t know all the details of what had happened to the alpha male, but it had taken a while for Wade to get comfortable initiating contact. In a deep, dark, secret part of his mind he admitted that he’d been slightly jealous of the spidling for the affection it was getting from Wade.

Wish we could bottle that and sell it.”

Wade!”

Peter looked up into Wade’s grin, white teeth flashing against the scarred lips. “Well, think about it,” he said with zero repentance in his tone. “How much do you think it would be worth to know when a heat or rut was going to happen?”

Peter shook his head as he burrowed it into Wade’s side—but his mind thought about it. Thought about how much easier life would be there was some way to adjust heats and ruts, so that they would only occur during specific times. Small businesses wouldn't have to worry about closing for a week or two at a time. Merchants would be able to hold off until they got back home to their mates. Poorer families could hold it off until their current child was at a better age for siblings.

Wade chuckled and pressed a kiss to the top of Peter’s head. “There we go; I’m thinking of all the ways we could make money off it and you’re thinking about how many people it would help.” The voice was fond, loving. Almost ready.

Almost. The cool feeling surrounding Peter’s glands didn’t fade. Wade must not be ready yet. That was alright. The alpha was safe now. Safe and with Peter. They could afford to wait.

Wade’s hand gently traced the bottom of Peter’s jaw and Peter lifted his face as Wade bent down for a loving kiss—

just as an ear piercing scream cut through the temple.

Chapter Text

People boiled out of the temple like a pot left too long over a fire. The source of the screaming was a young beta, one of the Reaper refugees. The cause was a spider, almost as large as Spot, both mandible fangs sunk into one of the horses.

I thought spiders didn’t like the taste of horse,” Wade muttered to Peter.

They don’t. This is bad,” Peter added as the spider pulled its fangs out of the horse and hissed.

I t wasn’t a sound that Wade had ever heard Spot make before. Actually, aside from the size, the spider didn’t look anything like Spot. Most spiders (or at least the ones that Wade had seen) came in the colors black, blue, gray, white, and green or some combination of those colors. This spider was eye-shockingly pink. It also seemed to have a jagged horn, almost as tall as Peter, coming out of its head.

I didn’t think spiders came in that color,” Wade muttered.

It’s feral.”

Wade blinked. He was familiar with animals that went feral, he used to hunt boar, but he’d never heard the term used with an Arachnid spider before. Not those huge, monstrous, cuddle whores.

This will be important later .

And there was that voice again. Odd. It sounded both like him and not like him.

The pink, horned spider gripped the dead horse with two of its legs and, still hissing, began to drag it back. Away from the humans.

The young beta whimpered and the spider’s attention was brought to her. It hissed again and then rushed towards the child—

And Spot was suddenly there between them, crooning. The pink spider recoiled as Spot waved his two front legs at it in a move suspiciously like the one the little spider Wade had pet earlier had. Spot crooned again, moved forwards—and placed himself between the human child and the pink spider. Human guards darted in close and dragged the child away, to safety. Spot began to sway from side to side.

Suddenly Peter made a strangled sound in his throat and Wade looked over at him. “Only Spot,” Peter muttered with an odd half laugh.

Uh—mind filling those of us who aren’t familiar with these spiders in on what’s happening?” Wade asked. He noticed that, after getting the child safely behind the fence, the guards had started relaxing. Several of them appeared to be placing bets.

Spot,” Peter said as he looked at Wade, “is courting the largest feral spider that the castle grounds have ever seen.”

Oh.” Wade watched as Spot rose until his front four legs were off the ground and started doing odd little steps to each side.

And he’s using the dance moves he learned for ceremonies to do it,” Peter added.

Wade watched the spider with renewed interest. He knew, objectively, that Peter had a special saddle that he stood in when Spot danced for ceremonies. Everyone who had seen Spot’s performances (well, not the Ajax soldiers, but they didn’t count) enthused about how Wade should see one and how impressed he’d be. “You ride him through all this?” Wade asked, impressed as the spider went up on two legs (on the same side) to rub the other legs together in a move that made on odd, eerie humming noise.

Every move,” Peter affirmed.

Wade watched, eyes wide, as Spot suddenly leaped from the ground, flipping in midair, before coming to a neat rest on all eight legs. “ Every move?” Wade asked, astounded. His mind reeled. How? How could Peter possibly stay standing on the spider’s back through that entire routine?

He didn’t realize he’d spoken out loud until Peter answered him. “It’s one of the blessings from the goddess,” the younger man explained.

Peter has been granted three of the spider blessings from the goddess.”

Wade remembered that conversation—right after his sweet little omega had put him in the dirt during a sparring match. “Still impressive,” Wade said. Spot came to stop and waited, all eight legs on the ground as mandibles rubbed against each other. The pink spider watched him warily for a moment and then grabbed the horse with its mandibles and dragged it away.

Peter sighed. “Poor Spot. He was rejected.”

W ade shook his head. Even he had to admit that the spider had gone all out trying to win the pink spider. The display had been impressive—and he was the wrong species to be impressed.

And we’re going to have to put a guard on the remaining horses.”

Wait, what?” Wade whirled to look at Peter.

Peter rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Clearly,” he said wearily, “she likes horses. I doubt Spot’s going to give up, which means his next course of action is to feed her.”

Wade rubbed his chin, feeling bumps and scars on his face. “Maybe she doesn’t like horses and is just starving. Spot might have better luck if he takes her something she will like.”

That’s a good idea,” Peter mused. “I’ll go suggest it.”

Wade wondered if the ability to talk to spiders was something that the goddess had blessed Peter with, or if it was something that was just unique to Peter. He watched as the omega walked fearlessly up to the huge spider, murmured something, and pet the monster. “A one horned spider,” Wade mused thoughtfully.

Chapter Text

General Osborn, or Norman, as Peter and Wade called him, knocked politely before entering the High Priest’s quarters—which was more than the queen had. Peter opened the door and let him into the room—a higher quality version of the acolyte rooms with a larger bed, more floor space between the bed, clothes chest, and table, and lots of bookcases filled with both books and scrolls—and the general looked around. Mostly at Wade.

Wade gave a wave. “I’m still alive and still here,” he said happily.

“Good. If anything had happened to you we would have had a civil war.”

Peter frowned. “A civil war?” he asked. “But the country hasn’t been as peaceful as it is within its borders in generations.”

“Peter,” the general said firmly, “everyone loves you.”

“Of course. I am High Priest,” Peter said, clearly confused. He had the same love and respect that any representative of the Goddess had.

Wade and Norman exchanged a look . Peter frowned. He didn’t think he was overlooking anything…

“I heard,” Norman said as he settled into one of the chairs, “that Spot has found a spider to court.”

“Courting seems to have failed,” Wade said.

“I don’t expect that will stop him from trying until he either succeeds or the feral spider gets another mate. She must be nearing her fertility period with the way Spot was acting.” He shook his head and ran a hand through his graying ginger hair. “I don’t how a rider spider even became feral,” he muttered.

Peter returned the frown as he went to the bed and dropped down beside Wade. The alpha leaned closer and pulled Peter to his side, and Peter obligingly curled up there. “We know how rider spiders become feral,” he said grimly. “The hard part will be to find the breeder.”

“And once again, I’m lost in the forest,” Wade complained as he brought up a hand to gently run it through Peter’s hair. “How does a rider spider become feral?”

Peter sighed and leaned into the touch. “Most of the spiders in Arachne occur in the wild and tend to just sort of—cohabitate with humans,” Peter explained. “Rider spiders are bred. And one of the things that rider spiders need most of all, is touch.” He felt more than saw Wade nod and hoped he was remembering the encounter in the barn shortly after they arrived. “When a spider is touch starved too long—it goes feral.”

“It is an abomination and a crime against our Merciful Goddess,” said Norman coldly. “The spiders are Her gifts to the humans of Arachne and anyone who allows such a sacrilege to happen doesn’t deserve to live.”

“General,” Peter said reminding the alpha of his rank, “we’ve had this discussion.”

“You can’t rehabilitate people like that High Priest,” Norman snapped. He hadn’t forgotten.

Peter supposed it couldn't be helped. The two of them had very different views on capital punishment. Norman believed that killing people helped provide an example for the public, something for them to see as an outcome to be avoided no matter what. Peter believed that throwing a human in a cell for two or three years with minimal human contact would show a person exactly how much the poor spider had suffered. Norman believed that Peter’s views were cruel and unusual. Peter believed execution was excessive.

Wade surprised both of them with a low, throaty chuckle. “It is so weird to see the two of you like this,” he said with honest amusement. “You both look like cats that got wet on a dry day, just insulted.” He chuckled again.

Peter felt himself relaxing and a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth as the general shook his head at the other alpha. “Before I forget,” he said, “congratulations on your entry into the priesthood.”

“What?” Peter wasn’t certain which of them spoke; maybe both of them had.

Norman merely grinned and gave them a half-salute. “When the scout reported to Her Majesty about the success of the mission, Ambassador Nathan tried to force her to send Wade to them as soon as he arrived here.” Peter felt a low, almost inaudible growl in Wade’s chest. “Yes, well, Her Majesty took it about as well as you are now and said that you are now an acolyte being sponsored by the High Priest of Arachne.”

“Probably the only thing that she could have said to stop a diplomatic incident,” mused Peter thoughtfully. He ran through the best options; when someone was officially accepted into the priesthood, the temple sent a recompense to the family who lost a productive member. Most frequently it was food, sometimes it was help—especially if the family really needed a helping pair of hands that they didn’t need to feed. What would be a good thing for the temple to send to the king of a (hopefully) allied nation? “What’s going to happen to those horses we took from the Ajax army?” Peter asked as his mind raced.

Harry had decreed that the horses that had belonged to the invaders were now, by rights, property of the Arachnid army. Since those horses had shortened the travel time needed by mounting most of the people from Reaper, no one had complained—but they still presented a problem, now that people were in Arachne. Arachnids had no need of horses—rider spiders more than filled the need.

“Well, half of them are being sent with the Morphio delegation as thanks for their help,” Norman said.

“Can the temple have the other half? To send to the Reaper King?”

“As recompense?” asked Norman, clearly floored.

“It’s traditional,” Peter said. “It validates Queen Mary Jane’s claims. And with blessings from four different goddesses, Wade certainly belongs in the temple.”

“What?” asked Wade shocked. Norman just stared at Peter for a moment before he cleared his throat.

“Very well,” Norman said. “I will leave the two of you to—to discuss things.” He got up and left.

Peter took one of Wade’s hands, interlacing their fingers together, and made sure the attached arm was wrapped around his shoulder so he could anchor Wade. “When we first rescued you,” he said slowly, “you were—badly injured.”

Chapter Text

Wade leaned against a wooden fence and watched the monster rider spider known to the world as Spot. Spot sat, motionless, in the middle of a wide field. Only the merest hint of glistening in the grass told the world there was a spiderweb there.

In a fierce, sudden movement that was almost too fast to see, the spider yanked on the web in the grass field—catching twelve rabbits that he then proceeded to wrap in webbing. Wade remembered the wild spider that went to Harry on the road as they were eating rabbits the army had caught along the way and guessed that spiders liked the taste of rabbit. “Yo, Spot!” he called companionably to the spider. “Don’t forget flowers! Ladies love the flowers!” Spot turned and looked at Wade as his mandibles rubbed together and the little mouth inside them flexed. He turned back to the rabbits, finished wrapping them, and then ambled over the fence towards the castle gardens giving Wade a quick rub as he went.

I hear you’re going to be High Priest Parker’s mate.”

Wade turned to see the youngster, a kid about ten or twelve. The kid was wearing the loose, white wrapping that most of the priests here seemed to wear and had light brown hair that fell to just above its shoulders. Impossible to tell what gender the kid was; it looked like all the other kids in the temple. “I am,” he acknowledged.

The kid frowned, brows locking together in a scowl. “Where are you going to live?” he demanded.

Here,” responded Wade, wondering what was wrong with the kid. “Apparently, I’ve been accepted into the temple. Peter’s sending my father horses.”

The kid visibly relaxed and smiled. “Good,” it said smugly. “That means High Priest Parker won’t leave.” At the look Wade gave it, the kid explained, “It’s forbidden to separate mates by mandate of the Goddess.”

All five of them, last I checked,” agreed Wade.

The kid grinned. “Oh, I hope we get lessons together. I bet you’ll be fun to work with.”

Lessons. That brought up a good question; would Wade, as a technical acolyte, have to take lessons, even though he was an adult? Or did the kid expect he would be giving lessons? Exactly what did his future here hold?

The pheromones in the air, thick despite the cool breeze, warned Wade about the newcomer before the alpha spoke. “It’s good to see you well,” the alpha said.

Wade pinched the bridge of his nose. “Nate,” he said coldly. “Hate to see you here, love to see you leave.”

The other alpha laughed as though Wade was joking. They both knew he wasn’t, but in his father’s court Nate had more power than Wade did. Back in his father’s court, the drudges had more power than Wade did. They both knew it, and Nate frequently tried to take advantage of that by explaining, more than once, what a terrible person Wade was.

Wade suddenly felt grateful for the fact that he’d known Peter since they were children. He couldn't even imagine how messed up he’d be right now without the other man. “What do you want Nate?” demanded Wade.

It’s not about what I want,” Nate said. They both knew it was a lie. “It’s about what your father wants. Your father wants to see you.”

Wade chuckled. “You must not have gotten the news,” he said turning to lean against the fence and face the other alpha. “High Priest Parker,” he said with vicious pleasure, “is sending my father two dozen warhorses as recompense for losing his son to the temple.” He watched as Nate’s eyes widened. “Now,” added Wade, “I don’t know who Queen Mary Jane is going to pick as ambassador to deliver the horses, but I am not going.” Movement from the corner of his eye caught his attention and he turned to see Spot running past him, maids chasing him with brooms, and the bundle of rabbits in his mandibles. It looked like he had pulled up a rose bush and placed it on top of the bundle before scurrying off. “Huh. I wonder how smart those things really are,” he commented idly.

Ambassador Nathan,” a cool voice greeted formally.

Wade turned to see Peter, in the same loose robes that most of the other priests were wearing (except that Peter’s were black instead of white), approaching. He grinned at the priest. “Hiyas, Petey.”

Peter, without missing a beat, rose up on tip toes to kiss Wade on the cheek. “Hi Wade,” he said calmly before turning back to the Reaper ambassador. “I was informed you were on temple grounds, ambassador.”

I came for the peace of the goddess before my travels,” lied the other alpha smoothly.

And yet,” said Peter with a small smile, “you have journeyed far from the temple. Let me show you the way,” he added placing a firm hand on the alpha’s arm. Wade smirked as Nate tried to break away from Peter and realized the omega was far too strong to escape from. One of the lovely little upsides to being Peter’s mate-to-be.

Wade,” demanded one of the maids as she stalked up to him, “do you realize your mate’s rider spider ripped out Her Majesty’s newest rose bush? Those things are hard to grow in this climate!”

Wade sighed. One of the downsides to being Peter’s mate-to-be. “He’s courting,” Wade said. “Everyone likes flowers!”

Perhaps,” grit the maid through her teeth, “you should teach the spider what flowers are all right to pick!” She whirled and stomped off into the castle gardens.

Wade thought back to the spider, scurrying off as fast as he could go towards the woods, and grinned. “Good luck buddy,” he said to the spider even though Spot probably couldn't hear him.

Chapter Text

Francis knelt on the cold stone in front of his king’s throne. Wind from the blizzard whipped around the thick walls of the castle and drafts came down through the chimney sending smoke into the room. People rarely noticed anymore; the blizzard had been raging for almost two years.

Francis had once believed the entire northern part of the continent was consumed with the strange blizzard—right up until he’d ridden his men and horses into the sunny, warm air of Reaper. Until he’d seen the land so fat and green. He and his men hadn’t accomplished their original objective, but they had brought back as much food as they could carry—even if most of it was frozen by the time they got back home.

Other, weaker countries had thrones of bronze and thin coronets to denote their royalty. Not in Ajax. In Ajax the throne is marble, carved with the images of the wolves that symbolized the Royal House—not the gems that symbolized their pathetic goddess. Let the other, weaker countries lean on their goddesses like children who were afraid to stray too far from their mothers. Then there was the crown. In most other countries the crown was a thin gold coronet with minimal decoration. In Ajax the crown was a thick, heavy metal thing that had to be padded to be worn—or it would cut into the head of the king.

You failed.” The voice was cold, hard, and unforgiving. Much like the land after the blizzard moved in.

Yes, Sire,” admitted Francis.

How?” demanded the king coldly.

E mbarassing as it was, Francis gave the report about how the castle had been overrun with the spiders from Arachne. He also gave an honest estimate to how large those spiders were, something he knew was rare. They’d all heard about the spiders from Arachne, of course, but no one had credited them with being anything other than tall tales, monsters to frighten children with in the dark.

And then the monsters had appeared in front of their newly claimed castle.

I see. How was the prince? Properly subjugated?”

No, Sire. He still held on to himself. I was preparing to move to the second tier when the castle was surrounded.”

The king gave an odd hum in the back of his throat as he viewed his court. Francis didn’t look up from the stone he kneeling on. By the time this interview was over, he’d know every ridge on these stones by heart. “It is rare,” the king said thoughtfully, “to find someone who can hold over the first tier, which is why we use it first. Pity he got away, he would have made a lovely vessel.”

Sire!” called one of the guards. “We found another one.”

The king sighed. “Very well. Francis, you may rise. You will have a chance to redeem yourself.” Francis bowed his head further, then rose and carefully backed away. In this kingdom, it wasn’t wise to show your back to the king—he might decide to break it.

Two castle guards flung a pathetically battered lump onto the floor in front of the throne. The man was emaciated, bruised, and several of his bones were obviously broken. “He was preaching in the name of the goddess,” snarled the guard with distaste.

Was he now.” It wasn’t a question. The king turned his brooding attention to the battered priest in front of him. “What do you have to say for yourself?”

The priest spat blood onto the floor, clearing his mouth to speak before glaring up at their reigning monarch. “The Great Goddess and her sisters protect us,” he said, words slurred by pain, but otherwise clear. “We must show them proper diligence!”

One of the king’s many knives hit the man in the throat, and he fell back to choke slowly to death. “We are greater than any mere goddess,” the king said with disdain. “We are War. We are Power. We are AJAX!”

Francis kept silent as the people around him chanted the country’s name over and over. One day, perhaps soon, he would be the one on the throne and these people would be chanting to him . His mind drifted towards the stubborn prince. It truly was a pity.

The man would have made a great vessel for their true god.

Chapter Text

Wade was beginning to think that there was a conspiracy to keep him away from mirrors. Or mirrored surfaces. Or anything where he might actually be able to see himself.

He was (pretty) sure that Peter wasn’t in on it. Actually, Peter didn’t seem to have much time to do anything of the sort between administering to the temple duties, teaching acolytes, and comforting his lovelorn spider, he didn’t have a lot of time left over in the day. Peter was doing so much every day that Wade had taken to keeping an eye on the other man to make sure he wasn’t about to collapse—making sure he took breaks for things like food and drink . And occasionally moving the bed closer to the door so that at the end of the day Peter didn’t have to walk too far before he collapsed.

Everyone else, on the other hand—it was frustrating. The ones who actually spoke to him either waved away his desire to use a mirror or had a lame excuse as to why he couldn't use one. “Offense to the Goddesses?” Really?

Of course, that was just the people speaking to him. Others just stared, or ran away at the sight of him. He was almost afraid to think about what he looked like now, after the torture.

There were a few things he could tell, even without seeing them. For instance, he could feel the rough, scarred ridges of his scalp over his skull—and the lack of any kind of hair. He could see the scarring on his chest, arms, and legs without any help at all. If his face looked anything like the rest of his body—he could understand why people would scream and run away.

He frowned as he leaned against a tree, in the shade, for a moment on his quest to find a reflective surface. For some reason the torture that he, personally, experienced didn’t feel as real to him as the dreams he’d had of Peter getting tortured. In those dreams he could feel the bonds in his skin as he tried to escape to save the omega, smell the burning of the fires, taste the bitterness of smoke in the air—but the torture he had lived through seemed like a dream that he was already beginning to forget. It didn’t make sense—he had the evidence of the torture carved into his very skin and Peter’s was still smooth and pristine, pure.

He had taken a moment to talk to the healer from Morphio about it, but the young man had been even more lost than Wade had been. He’d never heard of something where the pain someone actually went through felt unreal and the pain they were dreaming of was even more real. He had promised to ask for help from someone with more experience after he got back home.

That had been a couple weeks ago. He understood the problem—it took time to travel across not one, but two countries—but that didn’t make his predicament any less. Sometimes it felt as though he was waking into a dream, as if the world he was living in wasn’t real , but a construct of his mind, something to get him through the torture.

You’re no longer entirely connected to this world.

And there was the voice, again. Sometimes it just chimed in out of nowhere. What was he supposed to do about that? Where did it even come from? What was it? He didn’t know.

He was startled when Peter suddenly appeared right beside him. “Wade?” asked the omega.

His omega. Wade reached out and hugged Peter to him. “Just—just thinking,” Wade said as he held Peter. Slowly the tension began to bleed out of him.

Want to talk about it?” asked Peter as he hugged back.

No. “Yes.” The two of them, without leaving each other’s embrace, sat down in the shade of the tree and Wade, for the first time, told Peter about his nightmares and how real they felt. How unreal the world felt when he woke up, and how that feeling was getting worse, not better with time. “I don’t know what to do,” he confessed.

Peter gently rubbed a hand over Wade’s chest. Wade, who now wore the same kind of clothes as the priests (which only made sense, since he was living in the temple). The man was silent for a moment, but Wade knew he was thinking. He waited while Peter thought, enjoying the feel of the young man in his arms.

Have you tried praying?” asked Peter finally.

Chapter Text

Wade shifted as he nervously looked around the nave of the temple. It was nothing like the temple back at his father’s castle (even in his own mind he couldn't call it home; that place had never been “home”). That temple had been built with small windows making the inside dark. Everything had been made of the hard, black wood that was found only in the country of Wilson, and it only made the temple darker. Then there were the motifs of death and balance found all over the temple walls.

This temple had been built with wide, open arches between the inside of the temple and the world outside. The place had been built with white marble and warm, brown wood. The motifs of spiders, in all sizes, were comforting, especially after having spent so much time with Spot. In Wade’s mind, this temple was more welcoming than the other had been.

“I’m not exactly sure what you want me to do here,” Wade admitted. He’d never been really big into visiting his local temple. He was more of a hands on, worship death in the most intimate kind of way.

“This isn’t about me,” Peter said gently. “You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. I just thought it might help.”

“Might help,” echoed Wade hollowly. He looked down at the floor noting that the stone had been laid in a white against off-white pattern that showed little blocky spiders all over the floor.

“Wade.” The soft voice made him look up. “It’s okay if you’re not ready to try,” Peter said gently.

Wade thought about it; thought about the odd, disconnected feeling he’d been having, and (most importantly) thought about how busy Peter had been. And Peter, despite being so busy, was taking the time to talk to and help Wade with his—whatever was actually wrong with him. Peter also looked exhausted. “I’ve never—really prayed before,” Wade admitted. “I’m not sure I know what to do.”

Peter smiled. “It’s simple,” he said gently. “All you have to do is be ready for an answer.” Wade looked at him with disbelief. “It’s true. Just stand there, your thoughts in your mind, and let Her do the rest.”

If it was that easy, then there would be more priests in the world. Or less. He wasn’t really sure.

Wade took a deep breath, centered himself like he did before a fight, and let his mind empty, slowly. When nothing happened he opened his eyes—and jumped back at the sight of the five women, women who hadn’t been there a moment ago, looking at him in amusement. All five of them had a different hair color. The first had deep, black hair that almost looked like it was absorbing light. The second had brilliant yellow hair that almost looked like gold. The third’s hair was a deep, mystifying purple that moved in a wind that didn’t touch the other four. The fourth had hair the color of freshly spilled blood. The last one had pure white hair. All five of them were wearing the same clothes; the column style dresses that he’d seen women in MJ’s court wear. He looked around and saw that he was in a bright, starry space on top of a dark blue floor. A glance at the floor showed that there were small bright blue dots in it that moved as though they were part of the surface of a very large lake.

One of the women, the one with the golden hair, offered a throaty chuckle at his reaction. Another, the one with the black hair nudged her. “That’s enough!” hissed the woman.

Wade knew that voice. He felt weak as he swallowed. “I know you,” he said to the black haired woman. “You’re—you’re the goddess of Reaper.”

The goddess smiled gently at him. “Hello Wade. Have you reached a point you’re glad you haven’t died yet?” she asked.

“I—ah—uh—” Wade stammered intelligently.

The one with the blood red hair rolled her eyes. Wade wasn’t entirely certain how he knew she had rolled her eyes, since her eyes were a shifting cloudscape from one corner to the other like that of the other goddesses. “This,” she said curtly, “is not the time. Wade, do you understand where you are? What you’ve done?”

Wade stared at her feeling wild and cornered. “I was just trying to pray!” he protested.

The one with the white hair sighed. “Of course you were,” she said soothingly. “My Priest suggested it. However, Wade, My Priest made a grave mistake, as he does not understand what is happening to you.”

“What is happening?”

The goddess with the blood red hair sighed. “When that—that heretic tortured you,” she said, her voice spitting out the word like it was poison, “he was trying to turn you into an empty vessel.”

Wade blinked. “I don’t understand.”

The goddess with the purple hair waved a hand and the dark blue scenery beneath him brightened into a view of the world. “I think,” she said, “it’s time to tell a story.”

Chapter Text

Long ago,” the goddess with the purple hair continued, “before humans came to this world, it was barren, dead.”

Wait,” interrupted Wade. “Humans—came to this world? From somewhere else?”

Did you honestly think they were native?” drawled goddess with the blood red hair.

If I can continue,” said the purple haired goddess irritably. The one with the black hair raised her hand to her mouth. Wade was certain she was hiding a smile with the gesture. “As I was saying, back when the land was barren the five of us were introduced to it.”

We each chose a territory,” the golden haired goddess explained, “and worked to make the land fertile.” One the dark expanse below them color began to bloom—mostly green, but yellow and red made its way into the map as well. A brief zoom showed animals eating the grass and flowers.

There was no balance,” added the black haired goddess. “So I added predators.” The view shifted to a pack of wolves taking down a deer.

The white haired goddess smiled. “I added predators of my own—after a fashion.” Webs appeared on the world below them.

The world was beautiful, and full of life!” trilled the golden haired goddess.

And was boring,” added the red haired goddess. “Humans came as a relief.”

It didn’t take long,” the black haired goddess told Wade, “for humans to realize that each part was under the care of a different goddess.” The view changed once again, showing humans building monuments to the goddesses. “They began to worship us, and we gained power from it. Definition.”

And the humans brought darkness with them,” added the purple haired goddess sadly. Spots of darkness began to appear on the world below them.

The humans did not, at first, realize that the darkness was there,” the red haired goddess said. “At first, it was only we five who could see it. And it wasn’t much of anything—at the time.”

In time, the darkness developed an identity,” the purple haired goddess continued. “Not content with what it had, it began to covet a position of power.”

Our power,” the red haired goddess said wryly.

Our people,” the white haired goddess said viciously, lightning flashing in the clouds of her eyes.

And now, it has gained a foothold in our world,” continued the purple haired goddess. A portion, a portion that looked suspiciously like where he knew the country Ajax to be on the map, turned dark.

The black haired goddess spoke up. “The darkness is looking for a human host,” she said. The purple haired goddess waved her hand again and the view of the world vanished to be replaced by the dark blue with the moving light blue lights. “See, the world the darkness is currently in cannot touch us, just as we cannot touch it. But both of us can reach the humans.”

The red haired goddess spoke up. “It’s why you were being tortured,” she said grimly. “ The Ajax were preparing your body to be a vessel.”

It is also,” said the black haired goddess, “why you are able to come here. Your soul is not as bound to its body as it should be.”

And if this had ever happened before, or there was any record of it happening at all, praying would be the last thing your mate would have you do,” the red haired goddess finished firmly.

Wade blinked in confusion. Peter—Peter was a priest. Praying was kind of an ingrained response for him. “What?” he asked. “Why?”

He didn’t get an immediate answer. “Look at the world around you,” the red haired healer said. “What do you see?”

Stars,” Wade answered looking at the sky. There were so many stars in it, stars that he had never seen (and he’d done a lot of night work for his father), that it was bright enough to read by. If he read for fun. He looked at the floor again. “Light blue lights moving in dark blue, like there’s water under there.”

Every other human who has managed to come here can only see white space all around them,” the white haired goddess said. “That’s why they built my temple the way they did, to soften that transition for the priests who made it.” Wade looked at her with disbelief. “It is true,” she told him. “They call this place the white space.”

Why can I see it?”

Because, as I said, your soul is not as bound to your body as it should be.” He turned to face the black haired goddess who had somehow managed to sneak up behind him. She sighed. “The Ajax tortured you,” she explained, “to get this result. They wanted to break you so that the darkness could take you over. In a human body it would be that much closer to us, that much closer to taking our power.”

It’s still trying to break you,” the red haired goddess added solemnly. “You gave it the key.”

He’d be broken if anything happened to Peter.

Ice ran down Wade’s spine. If that thing took him over—the Peter was in trouble. Sure the man was strong, agile, and an excellent fighter—but he wouldn’t fight back against Wade , not against the suit the darkness would be wearing. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “How?” he asked. “How do I—fix this?”

This has never happened before,” the purple haired goddess said.

At the same time the red haired goddess answered, “You need to ground yourself. You’re growing distant, more so every day. Ground yourself in your reality. Force yourself to remember, at all times , where your home is. Who your home is. Or I can’t answer for what will happen.”

Helping Spot with his courting is not a bad place to start,” the white haired goddess said. “And it occurs to me that, perhaps, were you to actually become a priest we could help protect you.”

He doesn’t have the calling!” protested the red haired goddess.

He has the blessings,” argued the black haired goddess. “One from each of you and two from me. It only takes three blessings to be a priest.”

No.” The purple haired goddess looked at Wade, eyes narrowed. Something in that cloudy speculation made him want to run, to run as far and as fast as his feet could take him. “He doesn’t yet have a blessing from all of us. And this too, shall be shared.” She reached out with a single finger and touched Wade in the middle of his head.

Wade was jolted by what felt like soundless, lightless lightning and reeled. Peter, without missing a beat, reached out and grabbed Wade. The jolt passed from Wade to Peter, leaving an odd, bitter taste on Wade’s tongue.

Peter blinked, his eyes unfocused for a moment. “What was that?” he asked.

I’m not sure.”

Chapter Text

Okay, so he was to help Spot with his courting. Just how did someone go about helping a giant spider—a giant spider that could easily eat him if it wanted—court a mate? He had no idea, so he asked Peter about it.

Peter frowned from the cloth he was weaving from Spot’s spider thread. “I’m not sure,” he admitted.

Wade watched in fascination for a moment. Apparently, one of Peter’s duties as Head Priest, included weaving. Actually, all the priests and acolytes seemed to weave cloth on a regular basis. He wasn’t certain why.

“Well, how do rider spiders normally court each other?” asked Wade. Surely there had to be a way to improve the process, to help Spot. After all, a goddess wouldn't send him on a wild goose chase—would she?

Peter hummed thoughtfully as he gave the shuttle an expert whack between the threads before pulling a bar to tighten the weave. “Rider spiders, when they court, start off with dancing. Usually, the dancing impresses the desired mate. When it doesn’t, the rider spider brings their desired mate food. The spider in question continues to do that until either the courtship is accepted, or until the desired mate finds another mate.” Peter pulled a lever to make the rows of silk threads move, trapping the thread he had just tapped down with the wooden weight. “I prefer spiders in that regard,” Peter added. “There are no messy—situations that need to be dealt with because one person prefers another person’s mate and continue to pursue said person without any encouragement at all.”

That sounded alarmingly specific. However, Peter had a strict rule about confidentiality, so no matter how curious Wade was, he wasn’t willing to ask. “Okay,” said Wade. His mind drifted back to Harry sharing his rabbit—his cooked rabbit—with the wild spider. “What kinds of food do they eat?”

“Just about anything humans can,” said Peter absently. A glance showed that Peter had accidentally woven his wooden weight into the cloth he was making. “Arachnid spiders are omnivores like humans are.”

Wade grinned to himself. “Okay!” he said. “I have plan. Where’s Spot now?”

“Probably still moping around the field,” Peter said absently as he carefully unwove his creation to free the weight. “Why?” he asked. He looked up. “Wade?”

Wade was already on his way out the door. He had a plan. First, he had to talk to Spot. Clearly the spider understood human speak. Then he had to talk to the head cook.

Chapter Text

The head cook stared at him like he had lost his mind. Not an uncommon look; most of the kitchen staff was looking at him the same way. “I apologize,” said the head cook slowly, “but surely I could not have heard you correctly? You wish that I what?”

“I want you to cook rabbits for Spot to use in his courting,” Wade explained again. “I’ll provide the rabbits,” he added.

“Why?” asked the head cook, abandoning all pretense of humility.

“I’m trying to help him succeed in his courting!” Wade said with a smile.

The kitchen staff stared at him. Harry walked in, grabbed a piece of bread, and got his hand slapped automatically by the head cook. “What is everyone talking about?” he asked before taking a bite of the crusty bread, sending crumbs flying to the floor. Unnoticed by almost everyone—everyone except Wade—a little spider (the size of a lady’s hand, so “little” was only in comparison to the rider spiders) came out from under one of the cooking tables and quickly ate the bread crumbs.

Maybe Wade should ask for some bread to go with the rabbit. Couldn’t hurt if the lady spider thought Spot could get her more delicious food that she couldn't get on her own. Maybe that would help?

“He wants to help High Priest Peter’s spider win his courtship,” the head cook said as she looked at Harry.

Harry toasted Wade with his bread. “Good luck with that,” he said amiably before taking another bite. More crumbs scattered to the floor prompting the return of the floor cleaning spider. Another, larger spider, came out of nowhere and pounced, sinking fangs into the back of the floor cleaning spider before dragging it away. Ouch.

“We all feel nothing but respect and admiration for High Priest Peter,” the head cook said, “but—his spider. Should it really breed?”

Wade felt shocked to realize that, in the land of monstrous spiders, Spot was an oddity. True, the spider was larger than the other rider spiders (large enough that he could easily carry both Peter and Wade and probably another two people if he had a big enough saddle for it), but this was Wade’s first experience with the fact that the other people from Arachne thought that Spot was a monster. To Wade, who grew up in a land where if a spider was the size of a small bronze coin it was huge, this was almost insane. Here, there were spiders everywhere that were big enough for humans to literally ride. It seemed—almost petty to worry about a few extra feet of length, especially since Spot was such a cuddle buddy.

Harry simply smiled. “Do you want to deal with a moping, unhappy rider spider the size of Spot?” he asked sweetly.

The head cook recoiled. Wade watched the interaction with fascination. “No!” the head cook said, paling visibly.

Huh. There was more to rider spider rejection than Peter had said. “Awesome!” said Wade. “You can help me with this!”

The head cook rolled her eyes and lifted them to the ceiling. Wade was familiar with this look—his own mother had worn it frequently around him back when she’d been alive. The woman took a deep breath. “How do you want those rabbits cooked?” she asked.

“Romantically!” The woman groaned as Harry laughed and the two of them left the kitchen.

“You could have just told her you’re completing an assignment from the goddess,” Harry said quietly.

Wade grimaced. He should have known that Peter would talk to Harry about it. “It wasn’t an assignment,” Wade said slowly, “so much as it was—a suggestion. I’m surprised you know about it,” Wade added. He should have known that Peter would talk to Harry—but it hadn’t occurred to him. Peter valued the privacy of his people more than his own comfort.

“Wade, you go into a temple to pray and come out with a sudden desire to do everything in your power to help one of the largest, sweetest rider spiders succeed in courting his chosen mate? It wasn’t hard to figure out.”

And Wade frequently forgot that Harry was a commander. He had to know how to figure stuff out on the fly, in order to evolve battle plans under stress. Once upon a time, Wade had done the same thing—but never for other people. Or at least, never for people other than his father.

And, somehow, Peter had arranged it so that Nate was gone and Arachne had a different ambassador from Reaper. An ambassador who wasn’t, as far as Wade could tell, in the know about the other things that Wade had been trained for, raised for. It felt, for the first time, like the tie between him and his father was cut. It was both liberating and terrifying. No matter how bad his father had gotten, no matter how bad things had been—he’d always known that, at the end of the day, his father would still be the rotten, selfish, mismanaging jerk that he’d always been.

“I figure out a lot of things,” Harry added lightly tapping the red, angry looking bonding mark on the side of his neck, over the gland. “I figured out that the healers have no idea what’s going on with you, that you’re far less uncomfortable around the new Reaper ambassador than you were the old one, and Peter hasn’t gone into heat yet.”

It took a moment for the last one to sink in, but when it did Wade gaped. “What?”

“Every other person in the army that went to rescue you went into heat and rut almost as soon as we got back.” He flushed and toyed with the angry flesh for a moment, no doubt remembering his own rut. “But Peter—hasn’t. And trust me, for someone as visible as the High Priest, everyone will know when Peter goes into heat.”

“It’s—I’m still broken Harry.”

The commander shrugged. “And?” he asked flippantly. “One of my soldiers went into heat with a broken arm, two cracked ribs, and a sprained ankle. Before Morphio left they healed as much of the damage as they could.”

“I think—I think it might be different.”

“Maybe.” Suddenly Harry winced before clapping Wade on the shoulder. “I’ve got to rescue a courier from Mary Jane. She’s pissed about something.”

Everyone would know the moment Peter went into heat, because everyone was watching him. Wade wasn’t sure if he found this information to be terrifying—or incredibly arousing. Either way, he was going to have to ground himself more.

Next order of business: finding Spot and convincing him to wait until the food was cooked before taking it to the mate of his dreams. Oh, and to stop plucking whole flower bushes from the castle gardens. The maids were getting downright upset about it.

Chapter Text

Queen Mary Jane kept her expressionless mask firmly in place as she stared at the idiot before her. She wanted to have him gutted and hung on the castle walls as a warning all such idiotic people—but she knew better. She was Queen, and her word was law—as long as the civilians believed it to be so. She had been well taught by her tutors.

Still, the alpha had to be punished in some way. She had to make sure that no one, not one single person , dared to even think about what he was suggesting. What was the best way to do it? The only things coming to mind were images of death and castration—which were both unacceptable.

She was interrupted mid thought by a kiss to her cheek that managed to cool the rage boiling beneath the surface. “What did I miss?” asked Harry with a cheeky grin as he managed to push waves of calm, soothing into her through the bond.

Suddenly she was amused. Harry was her mate; he would be ruling with her as soon as the coronation could be held—maybe he should handle this—situation. Nobleman Thompson ,” she said using the stiffest, most polite form of address held only for those who were truly being vexing, “has come up with an interesting proposition.”

Harry leaned against the throne as he looked at the young alpha with a grin. “And what’s that?” he asked.

He wants to bond with Peter.”

Harry blinked. “High Priest Parker,” he said formerly, “ has someone to bond with.”

Thompson sneered. “Clearly not. It’s common knowledge that he hasn’t even gone into heat with the monster around.”

Monster?”

We all see it.” Thompson’s eyes narrowed into beady little slits as he spoke. “He’s more like a melted wax candle now than a real man—and the proof is in High Priest Parker’s inability to have a heat.”

Harry sighed. Then, incredibly, he began to laugh. “Do you honestly believe that, even in the throes of heat, High Priest Parker would choose anyone his heart wasn’t invested in? That he didn’t have a connection to?”

Priest Octavius stepped forwards. Queen Mary Jane wasn’t certain where he’d come from, or how he’d gotten into the audience chamber without notice, but she was grateful for his appearance. Especially when he cleared his throat to say, “Our Goddess has informed us, from the dawn of civilization, that bonding must be done through the heart, as those who bond will always be connected.” The priest bowed, his brown hair flopping around his head with the movement before he turned on the nobleman. “I have spoken to High Priest Parker. His lack of a heat is not due to his chosen mate’s inability to trigger it, but is due to the blessing of the goddess that his heat not come until he is healed.”

How is he healing?” asked Queen Mary Jane, with curiosity.

The priest turned to face them and bowed once again. “Physically—he is healthier than he has ever been. However, the torture left quite a toll on his mind.”

I understand.” The queen looked out among the almost ever present guards that shadowed her every movement. “And, where is the man now?” she asked.

Well,” said Harry after a moment, “last I heard he was going to help Spot win that feral rider spider as a mate.”

Chapter Text

Wade surveyed the little clearing that Spot had made (who knew that rider spiders could pull out whole trees, roots and all). The holes from the missing trees had been filled in, there was a huge flat rock (because no amount of pleading could get him a table) in the center with cooked rabbit, cooked geese (Peter’s contribution), and six loaves of bread. Turned out all spiders liked bread. Most importantly of all, the clearing had three, well defined and easy to spot exits that were more than big enough for rider spiders. After all, no one liked to feel trapped.

He smiled at the sight of the different flower bushes (who knew the palace staff actually pulled some up on purpose and were willing to give them away) planted around the edges of the clearing. It looked sweet. It looked romantic. When Spot was done with it he should grab a couple of blankets and bring Peter here.

He looked at the anxious rider spider. “Looks good,” he approved and the spider threw up his two front legs in what looked suspiciously like how humans cheered. “Now, you remember the rest of the plan?” he asked. Spot turned to one side and rubbed two of his legs together, creating an eerie music. “That’s right. Nothing like a little music to set the mood; it’s why bards are rich. Go and get your mate to be!” Wade ordered and Spot shot off. “And I,” he added to himself as he ducked behind one of the bushes, “am going to hide from the feral rider spider.”

Peter and Octavius were still trying to figure out who bred the feral spider so that they could call punishment down on him. Peter was of the opinion that the guy was local, since the spider was here. Octavius argued that the spider would have shown up and made itself known a lot faster if it was local. Both of them agreed to allow Queen Mary Jane to do the final sentencing.

Rustling brought Wade’s attention back to the clearing. He watched as Spot ran into the clearing and stood (or maybe sat, who knew with spiders) on the other side of the flat rock. The pink spider hesitated before following. Wade couldn't see her eyes from his position, but from her body language she was checking out the exits of the clearing. He’d been in a couple taverns where he’d had to do the same thing.

S lowly, moving with supreme caution, the pink spider made her way into the clearing. Wade was almost certain the only reason she approached at all was the fact that all three exits to the clearing were clearly marked. She was not about to be trapped, but she was still wary.

As she approached the table Spot leaned to one side to free up his legs so he could rub them together to make the eerie music. The pink spider stopped. Wade could almost see her considering this. She took a couple steps back—and then came forward slowly. She seemed to take more confidence when Spot didn’t move anything except his legs to create that odd, haunting music

It wasn’t anything Wade liked. He was more of a boisterous song, make you thirsty enough to drink the piss they’re calling beer kind of guy. Then again, Wade wasn’t a spider. And it wasn’t as though he could get one of the court bards to teach the spider how to play a harp. He’d tried.

The pink spider reached the rock table and seemed to regard it for a moment. Then, slowly, she hooked a rabbit with her leg and brought it closer to her mandibles before putting some of it in her mouth. She chewed slowly, eyes on Spot. Aside from reaching out and occasionally grabbing a bit of food, she didn’t move. Aside from rubbing his legs together to make the odd music, neither did Spot.

Wade wasn’t sure how they managed it. His legs were starting to burn from his crouch as he watched the tableau. He wasn’t sure how much longer he could sit there before moving and giving away his position. The last thing he wanted at the moment was to scare away the spider Spot was trying to win.

Then the pink spider got to the bread. Like the rabbits, like the geese, she reached out and brought it to her mouth with her foot. Bit down. Then jumped back as crumbs fell and she noisily chewed. Spot stopped playing and rested on all eight legs once more. The pink spider scurried forward and picked up the rest of the loaf of bread before cramming the whole thing in her mouth while chewing frantically. Wade could hear the sounds of mastication from his hiding place.

He watched with fascination as the pink spider leaped back once again—and began to dance. She swayed from side to side as occasionally waved her two front legs in the air, rocking back and forth. Wade might have been biased, but he thought Spot’s dancing had been much better. Of course, Spot had been professionally trained.

Spot gave an odd, high pitched keen that Wade had never heard before, sped around the rock table, and gently ran his two front legs over the pink spider who stopped dancing and leaned into Spot. She tucked her body partially under his as he carefully wrapped his legs around her. Both spiders began to make that odd, satisfied chirr sound that he’d come to associate with a spider getting groomed.

By the time Wade realized what he was watching they were almost done. His face burned with a crimson blush as, when they were done, the two spiders gathered up the leftover bread and carefully, together, left the clearing. “Well that—was interesting,” Wade remarked as he stood up.

He lurched to the side and caught himself on a small tree as his legs cramped up from the position they’d been forced into for so long. It took a while before he worked the cramps out enough to walk again and he staggered into the clearing. He looked around it and a small smile lit up his face.

Wade wondered what it would take to monopolize the most popular High Priest in Arachne for a while. Would people be upset? Would they go to war against him?

He didn’t care. He hadn’t spent nearly enough time with Peter since he’d gotten to Arachne, and it was time for that to be fixed. More than time. He went to the room he was sharing with Peter and borrowed a blanket before he went to the kitchen for some food.

After all, it worked for Spot.

Chapter Text

Priest Octavius glared at his loom, as if the threads on it had personally offended him. The horn on the feral spider was distinctive; there wasn’t another rider spider that he had ever seen to have a horn like that. It had to be distinctive enough to track the spider’s breeder down—and yet, every lead was coming up empty. No one remembered even hearing about someone trying to breed a spider with a horn.

If the loom has offended you that badly, you can disassemble it and try again.” Priest Octavius looked up into the amused eyes of his young High Priest, and he sighed as the man took a seat next to him, at another loom.

I can’t find any leads on breeders working on horned spiders,” Priest Octavius grumbled.

That’s because no one has been working on horned spiders,” Peter said bluntly.

Octavius stared at him. “That’s—” he began. That horn, that jagged horn from the top of the spider’s head, was its most distinguishing feature. He’d never seen another spider like that before. How could it not have been on purpose?

Calm down. Think it through.”

The words, uttered hundreds of times a day to the acolytes, sank in and he automatically took a deep breath as he straightened his posture. He released the breath and allowed the tension to leave his body as he forced his mind into a purely analytical state. “ The horn is absolutely unique.”

Go on.”

And so is the color. That vibrant shade of pink is rare for rider spiders.”

Go on.”

However, while no one has ever heard of rider spiders with horns, or any spiders with horns, there are several breeders experimenting with the color of their spiders, crossing for certain characteristics.”

True.”

Which means—instead of looking for a breeder breeding horned spiders I should be looking for a breeder breeding pink spiders,” continued Octavius.

Yes.”

Octavius opened his eyes and regarded his High Priest. “You already knew that.”

I did, yes.”

Priest Octavius eyed the young man sitting next to him. “You’ve already figured out who the breeder was.”

Yes. Commander Osborn has already gone to search for more evidence and arrest him.”

Priest Octavius sighed. “I see,” he said wearily. Then he looked up with narrowed eyes. “Why aren’t you with him?”

High Priest Parker frowned slightly. “I’m not certain,” he admitted, clearly puzzled. “ When I told him who I suspected the breeder to be, he requested that I stay away.”

That was odd. Having the High Priest to the goddess could only add weight to Commander Osborn’s search. Why wouldn't he want to have it. “Who is it?” he asked with curiosity.

Nobleman Thompson.”

Priest Octavius was speechless. That alpha, that noble that wanted to force a bond on High Priest Parker—was responsible for the feral rider spider? No wonder Commander Osborn had told Peter not to go with them. He’d probably heard all about the incident in the court. In fact, Peter was probably the only person who didn’t know about it. Even Wade had made a comment about how it was probably a good thing that he didn’t know Nobleman Thompson from the rest of the color coded squad that surrounded the Queen in her court, followed by a humble request to be introduced to the man. A request that, with as much dignity as possible, Octavius declined.

How do you know?” asked Octavius.

Peter sighed. “He’s been working with the brighter colors,” he explained, “in order to make, for lack of a better term, unnatural colors. His little spiders have been popular with the ladies of the court.”

That’s no excuse.”

Less of an excuse than the common might have,” High Priest Parker stated simply. “After all, he’s been breeding spiders for years. There is no way he didn’t understand the consequences of having a touch starved spider.”

The two of them were silent for a moment as they thought about it. Priest Octavius stared at his loom vacantly, the white, almost clear thread forming cloth. Did Nobleman Thompson come up with his idea to bond to Peter before or after the feral rider spider appeared? It could be that he was just one more of the people obsessed with the High Priest—or it could have been an attempt to save his hide. Allowing a rider spider to be touch starved to the point of going feral was a crime that could be punishable by death—and he knew that was how Commander Osborn saw it.

H is thoughts were interrupted as Wade strode into the weaving room. Octavius stared; the man had two blankets tied around his waist, had a woven food basket (the kind with a lid) over one arm, and was holding a huge water flask. “All right,” said Wade cheerfully as he picked Peter up with all the effort one of the acolytes used to carry clothes, “time to take a break Pete.”

Priest Octavius opened his mouth to argue—and then, for the first time since the army went on its rescue mission—he realized he could smell Peter’s distinctive scent. “Have fun,” he said instead. “I’ll take over while you’re gone.”

You can’t, we’ve got to—put me down!”

Don’t worry about the delegation,” Octavius told him as Wade, unconcerned and whistling to himself, continued on. “I’ll postpone the talks. And I can handle everything else.” He had to raise his voice to be heard as Wade didn’t stop in his abduction of the High Priest. He chuckled as he set his loom to the side and then went to tell Queen Mary Jane and her court that High Priest Parker was going into heat.

Chapter Text

The clearing sparkled in the late sunlight as Wade laid out the blankets beside the rocky table. The gray rock that dominated the clearing had bits of quartz in it that sparkled when the light hit it. Bushes of red flowers were planted along the edges of the clearing and there were three plainly marked exits to it. The floor of the clearing was carpeted with sweet smelling, soft grass. A glance up showed that the branches of the trees above them had been interwoven to create a light, airy canopy to the clearing. “This is beautiful,” Peter said. He turned to look at Wade.

Wade had put both blankets on the soft ground and started laying out the lunch—on the blankets, and not on the table. For the first time since his rescue, it felt as if all of Wade was right here, with him. “Yup. We made it, Spot and me. He won his lady spider here,” added Wade with a toothy grin.

Peter grinned as he watched Wade’s muscles bunch and relax under the cloth as he moved. “Yeah?” he asked. “Tell me about it.”

“So, picture this. Spot leads the lady spider here, and she’s nervous as you know what,” said Wade as he arranged the food to make it more aesthetically pleasing. He looked up, humor in those bright blue eyes.

Peter wasn’t surprised. Spiders didn’t really lead other spiders anywhere, not unless they’d already been mated. The more surprising thing was that she had followed Spot. Then again, Spot had probably been very insistent .

“Food is all laid out on the table. Cooked rabbit, duck and bread.”

Wait. “Bread?” asked Peter as he sat on the blanket next to Wade. The ground was just as soft as it looked, almost like a mattress.

Wade grinned, the smile cutting gently across his face. “All spiders love bread,” he confided to Peter as they shifted closer together.

Peter grinned back, entranced by the smile. “I didn’t know that,” he said as he reached up and gently began running his finger over Wade’s jaw, feeling the bumps of scar tissue. The sunlight almost felt too hot for his suddenly sensitive skin.

Wade leaned closer and gave him a small kiss on the lips. “Oh, yeah,” Wade murmured. “They go nuts for the stuff.” He gave another kiss.

A dim, still rational part of Peter’s brain noticed the heat, noticed the sensitivity, and cheered. The fact that he was feeling it meant that the goddess’s blessing had worn off and he was (finally) going into heat. Into heat, with the one person he’d known he was meant for since the two of them were children.

Suddenly, as though he couldn't wait any more, Wade pulled Peter in closer for a deeper, harder kiss as the two tongues explored mouths both foreign and familiar. The action stoked a rising fire in Peter, making him burn even hotter.

Wade pulled away causing Peter to give a low, needy whine. “Pete, Peter,” gasped Wade, not talking well as Peter began running hands over Wade’s body, feeling it through the clothes. “Peter.” The name made him stop and Wade looked down, bright blue eyes meeting melting brown. “You can still say no,” Wade whispered.

Peter reached up and pulled Wade to him. “I don’t want to,” he told the man, the alpha, his mate. Wade pulled him close and crushed his mouth as hands roamed over the lithe body beneath him. Peter’s own hands slipped under Wade’s shirt, pulling it and, in a desperate move, ripped it off.

Wade groaned into Peter’s mouth, and slipped a leg between Peter’s as Peter bucked into the motion, slick pooling down from him. Carefully, because Wade didn’t have Peter’s strength, Wade pulled off Peter’s shirt between kisses. He sat back and took a moment to just look at the omega, panting, wanting beneath him.

Peter reached up and pulled Wade back down. “Too far,” he grumbled before taking up the kissing again. He could feel Wade smile into the kiss and part of him was annoyed that the other man was so together during this moment.

With a single, sudden move, Wade pulled off Peter’s trousers. Still kissing the omega he reached between his legs and gently traced down there. Peter moaned as Wade’s fingers caressed around his throbbing member and slipped down lower, mingling with the slick coming out. He carefully slipped a finger in and Peter jumped against the sudden cool, welcome intrusion in his hot, fevered body. “Patience,” cautioned Wade as Peter whined anxiously.

The small, tiny part of Peter’s brain that was still functioning swore than the next time Wade went into rut he was going to get his revenge for this. He was ready for more, ready for more now. He growled and bucked into Wade.

Wade pulled his fingers back, leaned forward, and kissed Peter as he slammed his member inside. Faster and faster until the two were so wrapped up in each other it was impossible to tell where one ended and the other began. Wade nuzzled Peter’s neck and gently, but firmly, bit into the scent gland. Hormones raced through Peter’s body at the intrusion and he shuddered close—close—

But not quite there. He leaned up, gave one of Wade’s glands a lick before biting down releasing Wade’s own hormones—and they were there.

The two of them lay on the blankets, in the clearing, panting, in the aftermath as they waited for the knot holding them together to subside. Peter wallowed in the pleasant mixture of warmth and cool, feeling the same emotion from Wade. Suddenly Wade sighed. “Peter,” he said, “I don’t know how to tell you this.”

“What?” asked Peter feeling a chill of apprehension. What could possibly be wrong?

“I think we ruined our lunch.”

Chapter Text

The gathered crowd was silent as they stared at the accused. To the shock of all the people, Nobleman Thompson was bound in manacles and chains, something usually only reserved for common criminals. The court herald strode before the gathered crowd as they muttered and nudged one another for a better view and tried to think of why the nobleman was bound as he was. The court herald projected his thin, reedy voice through the crowd. “Silence!” he ordered. “The sentencing is about to begin.”

Queen Mary Jane, in her throne, the braids of her hair clanking against each other as the beads woven into them clicked, addressed the people. “We knew,” she said firmly, “that if this was not made public rumors would tear this kingdom apart. You wonder why one of Our most esteemed noblemen has been imprisoned? Let the evidence speak for itself.”

Commander Osborn, as the person leading the search, stepped forward. “A feral rider spider was discovered near the castle as the starving creature took down a horse from the Reaper rescue.” He paused as horrified murmurs broke through the crowd. The rider spiders were humanity’s gift from the goddess, to allow one to go feral a sacrilege. “The soldiers and the priests worked tirelessly from the time it was discovered until we discovered its breeder, and all the investigations came up with the same name.”

“How was that determined?” asked Queen Mary Jane, her voice bleached of all emotion. Her very core was revolted at being in the same space as the evil nobleman, but she could not show her dislike of him. Not here, not where it could be used as ammunition against her decision towards the man’s fate.

Nobleman Thompson was smirking. He probably thought he still had allies in the court allies who would bargain to save him. He was wrong.

“We looked at the strange color of the spider, Your Majesty,” Commander Osborn said simply. He stood in front of the crowd, facing his queen. His bronze armor was perfectly polished over his knit spider silk tunic. Most people chose to dye their spider’s silk into colors either before they worked it, or after. Commander Osborn felt that since the original color of the spider silk was good enough for the priests of Arachne, then it was more than good enough for him. “There is not a single other rider spider in the entire kingdom that is pink.”

Several young women, holding brightly colored small spiders, looked shocked as they stared at the nobleman. Queen Mary Jane could not help but notice, with savage satisfaction, that almost all of those women were noble. She hoped they were part of the “allies” that Nobleman Thompson was counting on. They weren’t horrified yet, but they soon would be.

“Mere color is not a reason to arrest someone,” she said, as though admonishing the commander. Both of them understood the game they played and he simply continued with his report.

“No Majesty. However, it is enough to search a premises—even a noble one.”

“Tell Us what you found.”

Commander Osborn, seasoned warrior who had personally led troops into battle against both other humans and unnamed monsters that attacked humans, had to swallow before he could continue. “We found—we found that he had cut the legs off of his breeding spiders, to force them to mate for the traits he wanted. There was—there was a pile. By the swine. A pile of—of dead spidlings.”

A collective gasp went through the crowd at the horror their imaginations were painting for them from the small description. Queen Mary Jane, who had received the full account from those who were present, knew that their imaginations would fall far short of the reality the unsuspecting guards had run into. Queen Mary Jane turned her attention to the prisoner as the crowd, enraged, suddenly surged forwards. The only thing protecting the miserable little man was her guards—and she could see that they were tempted to allow the crowd to dispense its justice on him.

She grabbed her scepter, kept near the throne for just this purpose, and banged it on the ground. The metal rang out clear against the stone, cutting through the crowd’s anger and focusing their attention on her once again. Queen Mary Jane stood and eyed the nobleman, suitably cowed by the anger of the crowd, with narrowed eyes, powdered malachite on them glinting in the sun. “The spiders,” she said firmly, coldly, “are blessings from Our Merciful Goddess. They are Our allies, Our hopes, and Our reminders to cherish Our offspring and Our mates as they cherish each other. To behave in such a despicable way towards them is more than mere sacrilege—it is blasphemy.” There was a gasp. There was one known punishment for blasphemy. Little did they know, their queen was about to add another.

“Ha!” crowed the nobleman, looking sure of himself once again. “The Goddess has turned Her face from us! What more proof do we need, than the failure of Her High Priest to go into heat?”

“It would seem my arrival is most fortuitous.” Queen Mary Jane shifted her eyes to the corners to see the new arrival.

“Would you care to explain, Priest Octavius?” she asked.

“Gladly, Your Majesty,” Priest Octavius said as he stepped into the focus of the crowd. “I came to give the glad tidings; High Priest Parker has gone into heat, and has retired with the recently rescued prince.”

“So he’ll be mated to a half melted candle!” sneered the bound nobleman.

High Priest Octavius drew himself to full height. Queen Mary Jane wasn’t entirely certain, but she thought he sucked in his prodigious gut as well to face the captured man. “Wade Wilson,” said the priest coldly, “is an acolyte of all five goddesses, the first of his kind. Perhaps the last of his kind. More importantly,” seethed the priest, “he is the alpha the High Priest chose .” He glared at the nobleman with narrowed eyes, no doubt remembering the man’s plan to have Peter forced into a bond with him. “Choosing,” added the priest firmly, “is the right of alphas and omegas and is protected by our very goddesses.”

“Enough,” said the queen in a quiet voice that nonetheless carried over the crowd. Her gaze turned to the nobleman. “By law,” she said, “the crimes you have committed are punishable by death. Both Commander and General Osborn have been arguing for the death of the monster who allowed a rider spider to go feral since she was discovered. However, High Priest Parker has argued leniency. He has stated that even a man seeped in evil may have a chance to change. So he has proposed a plan to allow you to redeem yourself in the eyes of the goddesses.”

The plan was pure genius. Everyone would be certain that she was being lenient, that she was going easy on him. Only a very few still in residence would know the true extent of the Hell the man was about to be dragged through. “First, he recommends that your possessions and titles be taken. Nobleman Thompson—you are a nobleman no longer. No longer will you be able to claim the honest, proud name of Nobleman Eugene Thompson. From this moment foreword, you shall be known as Flash, like the poison of old. Still, we cannot simply take everything from you. Every living human is guaranteed a profession.” She wondered if her eyes glittered. She found she didn’t care if she was breaking the Royal Face she’d been practicing since she was a small child.

The queen raised her head to face the crowd. “None of you have yet been informed,” she told her people kindly, “but we will soon have to go to war. The golden kingdom has renounced the goddesses,” she told them to horrified gasps from both the crowd and the former nobleman, “and are determined to conquer all the kingdoms that still worship those who protect us.” She rested her gaze on the stunned former nobleman once more. “Therefore, Flash, We do so decree that from this moment on until the moment the last breath escapes from your flesh, you shall be a gravedigger. In the event there are no graves for you to dig,” which would be when he first arrived at the battlefield, “you will be in charge of the latrine trenches. Two guards will be accompanying you at all times to ensure you are paying proper physical penance for your crimes, so that you may have a chance to repent your sins.” She raised a hand. “Until such time as your services are required, you shall enjoy the comfort of the dungeon.” She dropped her hand and the guards led the man away. She bowed her head, to keep the smirk on her face from showing. “Let us all pray that he sees the error of his ways,” she suggested as Priest Octavius, never one to drop a verbal cue, stepped forward and led the assembled in prayer.

Chapter Text

Now, what is this about?” demanded Peter as he looked at the scruffy children. The two miscreants were dirty, their clothing was stretched (not torn, spider silk was notoriously strong), and one of them was missing a chunk of hair.

One of the children threw back his arm and pointed at the other. “It’s his fault!” the little girl stated firmly.

Peter vaguely recognized her as Ellie, a child who was sent to be an acolyte because of her unusually high aptitude for mouser spiders. The girl was a handful—two parts good, one part rowdy, and one part hot temper. She was usually the first to fight and the first to apologize. “What is his fault?” Peter asked patiently.

Ellie’s pale face suffused with red anger, a stark contrast to her blond hair. “He said I was thrown away!”

What?” Peter turned to the other child, a boy with light brown hair that he recognized as Brian. Brian was shy, almost never spoke up in class, but was already almost a master weaver. “Brian?” he asked.

His face was just as red—and slightly bruised. Ellie didn’t hold back when she fought. “It’s true!” he said. “She was thrown away just like the rest of us!”

Wade almost materialized behind the boy. “Who said you were thrown away?” he demanded.

From the first day, none of the children had been frightened of Wade’s new appearance. Even though they were just children, they knew that Wade was someone who could be trusted and relied on. They knew that, just as little Peter had known that, all those years ago when the two of them had first met.

They all say it!” shouted the upset boy. Peter was shocked to see tears running down his cheeks. “All those new kids!”

They are wrong!” Wade picked up the boy—who looked small in his massive frame, and gently tossed him in the air catching him expertly. “Do you want to know why you’re here? Why all of you are here?”

Brian, Ellie, and the other children nodded as they watched Wade with a mixture of trust and nervousness. Peter watched him handle the children with pride. He knew, from their late night talks, all about his time as the head of his father’s special equalization force. He also knew that spending time with small children wasn’t something he’d really done before he’d arrived in Arachne. And yet, Wade took to the role of pack father beautifully.

You’re here,” Wade continued, seemingly oblivious to everything, “because you were chosen. All of you were. You might think,” Wade continued with a wry twist of his scarred lips, “that I’m an idiot. And I am sometimes. But I’m an idiot who notices things. Brian, your weaving is better than most of the priests. Ellie, I’ve seen you calm and soothe frightened spiders that have attacked Peter.” Slowly, carefully, Wade goes through the group listing something that each and every single one of them was the best at, showing them that they were special, perfect just the way they were.

Peter simply smiled and let Wade handle it. In no time at all, like a pro, he had the children playing together again as hard as if they’d never fought and the two superfluous adults withdrew—to a discreet distance. No way was either of them letting the damage wreaking, screaming children out of adult supervision if they could help it. The temple had already gotten a stern lecture from the guard in charge of the city walls.

Wade suddenly sighed and rubbed his hand over his face. “I know why the kids thought they were abandoned,” he said quietly. Peter looked at him curiously; he could feel a deep sense of uneasiness through the bond they now shared and he wasn’t certain what could possibly have created that. “In Reaper—there are parents who will abandon their children. At the temple.” Wade stared out at the distance. “They’re raised as children of the goddess, and given food, shelter, and education—but everyone knows they were thrown away. It’s different here.”

Peter reached out and wrapped his arms around his mate. Wade hesitated for a moment, and then leaned into the embrace, resting a cheek against the top of Peter’s head as they watched the children play. “What about our children?” asked Peter.

Wade grinned against the silky hair caressing his cheek. “Aren’t you ambitious?” he murmured to his mate. “We already have fourteen. Want another one this soon?” Peter chuckled and rested his head in the crook of Wade’s neck. The two of them stood, watching the children play. Ellie fell and skinned her knee, but Brian helped her up before they were off again in the odd games that the temple children played. The feelings of contentment echoed through the bond as they passed from one another.

This may be a bad time to bring this up,” Peter murmured to his mate, “but weren’t you supposed to be in class learning how to weave?”

I may have had an artistic argument with my teacher,” Wade said.

WADE WILSON!” Peter turned to see the blond Gwen, storming down the temple halls with darkly flashing eyes and her lips twisted into scowl. “HOW DARE YOU?!”

Wade simply sighed. “Aaaand my break is up. See you later Pete.” Wade kissed the top of Peter’s head, stepped away, and then bolted towards the forest.

Gwen, her petite features suffused with rage making her look like an older version of Ellie, stopped and glared at Peter, hands on her hips over her temple gown. “Do you know what your mate did?” she snarled.

Peter should have felt worried. Gwen was, by her own rights, a force to be reckoned with. And yet—and yet he didn’t find it in him to care. He simply smiled, amused her at her rage. “What did he do?” he asked and prepared himself for a long lecture. After all, whatever Wade had done certainly wouldn't be boring.

Chapter Text

I don’t know what you want!” screamed the voice of the head cook.

Spot, in front of the opening to the kitchen, waved his mandibles and chirred in what even Wade could tell was frustration. The head cook, eyes wide and arms flailing, was also clearly frustrated. The sounds from the kitchen told Wade that the people inside were either amused or frightened and the lack of burning said they were amused.

Well, this looked interesting. Wade sauntered over and leaned against the building as Spot, not for the first time if the marks on the door were anything to go by, rubbed one of his forelegs against the side of the kitchen door. What could the rider spider want? Judging from the smell they were roasting meat, making sauce, baking bread—aha!

He wants bread,” Wade said as he shoved away from the wall.

The head cook stared at him. “What?” asked the woman.

Bread.” Wade ducked into the kitchen, filched a basket and filled it with a few loaves, before handing the basket to Spot. The spider leaned against Wade for a moment before spinning in place and racing off.

Bread,” echoed the head cook as she watched the spider get out of sight.

It’s how he got his mate,” Wade explained. “By feeding her bread.”

So—he came back for more bread?”

Wade shrugged. “She probably ate it all.” He turned and wandered off. Cuddling with Peter in front of the children had been fun, but there was another reason he’d acted up to get the weaving class ended early.

For the first time in living memory, and only the third in recorded history, an ambassador from Mysterio was coming. Mysterio was a country that usually stayed within its borders; while there were peace agreements with the other four kingdoms, the Mysterio had never sent an ambassador—before now. Now, when Ajax renounced their goddess, now when Wade, saved from Ajax torture and mysterious recipient of five divine blessings from different goddesses—now they came.

He had a bad feeling about it. Unlike most of the people he knew, Wade had actually been to Mysterio. The place was strange—they had impossibly tall buildings made of an odd white, hard substance that seemed to be slightly porous. The majority of their metal, instead of being shiny bronze, looked almost like silver—but was harder than even best forged bronze sword. They also had horseless carriages that spat steam and smoke into the air moving people, the cities were filled with soot and choking gray ash, and the people seemed singularly intent.

While Mysterio didn’t exactly have closed borders, they tended to make their dislike of outsiders plain. Wade had been there exactly once—and he wouldn't have stayed as long as he had if he hadn’t been on a mission for his father. He was just a little worried that they’d come to look for him. He hadn’t meant to kill those other people—but it had kind of happened. And some of them had been Mysterio citizens.

Now, Wade didn’t hold grudges. He thought nothing of the alpha who’d shot him with her arrows—twice. His knee didn’t even twinge any more, and he had been a murderer (according to guard reports), so there was no point in getting angry or anything. He knew that living and dying were about the same and held equal power in the eyes of the Reaper goddess.

He also knew that other people weren’t the same. If this envoy from Mysterio was there to ferret Wade out and bring some kind of “justice” to the former prince, then Wade needed to know about it. More importantly—he needed to discover it somewhere Peter wouldn't be in danger. Those people from Mysterio were sly, crafty.

So,” a voice said interrupting his thoughts. He turned to see Myles, one of the Reaper refugee children. The boy grinned impudently up at Wade. “You put oil on Acolyte Gwen’s shuttle?”

Wade grinned back. “Only a liiitle bit,” he acknowledged. The boy snickered. “Aw, come on, I thought it would help it move faster.”

Through spider silk?” asked the kid before doubling up.

Well, it was an improbable lie. Few raw materials were as slick as spider silk. “All right,” he confessed, “I wanted to spy on that new ambassador.”

Suddenly Myles isn’t laughing at all and is studying Wade with an odd expression. Then the kid, with a lightning fast mood change, sings, “I can show—you a—secret!”

Lead the way.”

But!” The boy glared up at Wade with chocolate eyes. “You have to promise not to tell any of the grown ups!”

Have you seen how mad Gwen is at me?”

Chapter Text

Stephen looked at the inferior mirror and sighed at his reflection. For the most part, the people of Mysterio kept to themselves and expected the other kingdoms to do the same. The powers in charge of the kingdom had seen the trouble brewing in Ajax, and had elected to do the same this time—until the goddess stepped in Herself and gave the order—Stand together, or be beaten apart. So here he was, among people who still used chamber pots for heaven’s sake, waiting for an audience with the Queen of Arachne.

Then there was the other problem. He tapped at his goatee nervously as he stared at the mirror. Nearly half a decade ago now, an assassin had slipped into Mysterio from the country of Reaper and gotten to a young alpha claiming political asylum from his home kingdom. Even with the best of magic available, even with the best of Tony bloody Stark’s “tech,” the man had not been detected until the killing blow severed the alpha’s head. Identifying the assassin as the only heir to the Reaper throne had not been enough—not when said man left the city, reached the surrounding countryside—and vanished. No magic or tech had been able to find him. No one had seen him, remembered him passing, or sold food to him. It was as if, once he escaped the city, he ceased to exist.

And now that same man carried unprecedented power in the form of blessings from all five goddesses of this world. No telling what the blessings were; he might not even know. The goddesses almost never told those they blessed what they were getting. Stephen, though he would never admit, strongly suspected that people were given blessings based on what they goddesses needed in the humans, and that the reason the humans were never told was because they would then have the ability to say no.

Stephen rubbed his hand over his face as he looked at himself in the mirror. His best friend, the animated (possibly alive; he wasn’t sure) cloak wrapped him in a hug. “I don’t think that’s going to help,” Stephen said to the living cloth.

Probably not,” agreed a voice behind him.

Stephen whirled to face the intruder—and stared. The man in front of him had clearly been in intense, soul-crushing torture. Stephen, with his clinical eyes, could see the branding iron marks, places his skin had been carved away, and even where someone had dug in at the sensitive glands on either side of the neck. Whoever had done it had known what they were doing—it wasn’t enough damage to kill or, if he knew anything about humans—to knock him out long enough to give him peace. Even more surprising was the red, raised mark of a freshly made bond on one of the glands—a mark that was fresher than the scars.

Great Merciful Goddess,” swore Stephen as he felt his legs go weak. If the cloak hadn’t supported him he would have fallen to the floor. He stared as his brain made the only connection it possibly could.

The people who had tortured this man, this alpha, had been trying to make a vessel. They had been trying to break his body, his mind, and his soul. He wasn’t certain what shocked him more; that humans would do such a thing to one another—or that the man hadn’t broken. Couldn’t have broken—he wouldn't have been able to mate if he had.

The man simply nodded. “I get that a lot,” he said calmly, leaning against the wall nearest the open window.

Stephen suddenly realized why the man was so familiar. “You’re him,” he said in awe. “The assassin.”

There was a slight, recognizable twitch. “Yeah,” admitted the strange man. No, Wade Wilson . “That’s me.”

We didn’t even know you were there until you killed!”

Well, you don’t get close to a target by screaming to the people around you, ‘I’m gonna kill this guy’.”

You stabbed me through the hand!”

You stabbed me in the arm. With a stick.He sounded bizarrely impressed.

Stephen stared at the man for a moment. There was no anger, no accusation in his voice. He did not appear to be carrying a weapon (although he would be foolish to assume the man was unarmed). Most importantly of all, his living cloak was not reacting aggressively to the man. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly to center himself. “You have a point,” he admitted. “Are you here to kill me?” he asked with morbid curiosity.

Wade snorted. “If I was here to kill you,” he said calmly, “you never would have known I was here.”

Stephen watched the man with curiosity. “Well,” he asked finally, “why are you here?”

Bright blue eyes met his dark brown ones. “Would you believe,” Wade asked with deadly seriousness, “that I came to see if you’re here to kill me ?”

Chapter Text

Peter smiled at the struggling mother and child, both refugees from Reaper. They were trying to collect spider silk on a spindle for weaving purposes—and they were both failing despite the helpfulness of the little spiders. The thread snaps, for the fourth time, and the child cries out in frustration as it hurled the spindle across the room.

The spider itself, one of the little knee high ones, turn ed and gently rub bed its forelegs over the child to comfort it. “ It’s all right,” Peter said gently. “It takes time and practice.”

It is difficult,” the child’s mother said with a glare at her own spindle. The spider, the same kind as the one helping the boy, turned and tried to comfort her with its forelegs like its brother was doing for the child. The woman reached out and absently stroked the the little spider’s back.

Peter smiled. Both mother and child, determined to fit in here in their new home, had come remarkably far from the people who had screamed and fainted upon seeing Spot for the first time. Of course, Peter knew (although the boy’s mother did not ) that one of the castle knights had taken to taking some of the children for rides on the back of his spider—rides that included climbing walls.

He wasn’t entirely certain why the two were so determined to fit in. Not all (or even most) of the refugees were. A significant majority seemed to be readying themselves to travel out of Arachne and through Mysterio to get to Morphio.

His thoughts were interrupted by Myles as the acolyte ran to the open door of the spinning room. “High—Priest—Parker!” Myles gasped as he rested his hands on his knees.

Peter gave him a few moments to get his breath before gently questioning. “Yes?” he asked.

The boy took a long shuddering gasp before drawing himself up to full height. He was only a head shorter than Peter. “Priest Octavius would like your assistance with a dispute he is attempting to handle,” Myles told him.

Thank you. I think,” Peter said as he turned to smile at the female omega and her child, “that it is time to take a break. Trying to force yourself to do a task you are unused to for long periods of time will only cause more problems than if you rest. Myles,” he said turning his attention back to the acolyte, “please be kind enough to show these two how to care for the spiders.” The spiders, knowing what was about to happen, began to dance with joyful anticipation.

Sure thing.” The boy stepped in and graced the two with his biggest, most open smile. “Pleased to meet you. Are you going to be living in the temple with us?”

Peter heard the omega woman give a murmured answer, but didn’t eavesdrop. He didn’t need to know if they were planning to live in the temple until they were ready to move in. Personally, he didn’t feel the two of them were ready to live in the temple, but there were several very good places that would be more than willing to take the two of them in. Peter had, as part of his duties as High Priest, been keeping track of them.

He turned his mind away from the refugees as he walked in the wide spaces between the white columned pillars and focused on the priest calling him. Priest Octavius was one of the best priests in the temple; he didn’t know what the beta might need help with. If Priest Octavius hadn’t been one of the most reliable priests in the temple, High Priest Peter never would have allowed him to be in charge when he took off with the army to rescue Wade.

D isputes were usually settled in one of the many royal courts in the city; few of them came to the temple. Most frequently the ones that did come to the temple were cases that involved inheritance disputes, property disputes, things of that nature. After all, one of the functions of the temple was to keep perfect records.

He could hear angry yelling as he made his way towards one of the dispute rooms. Acting on a hunch, he followed the sound until he reached the room that Priest Octavius, an alpha that Peter recognized as Nobleman Jamison, and another unknown beta were in. The two betas were cowering, Priest Octavius slightly and the unknown beta greatly, from the pheromones that the angry alpha was emitting.

Most omegas would be upset and have to leave the room when confronted with an angry alpha—but Peter had never been like most omegas. He supposed that one of his blessings from the goddess was a resistance to that sort of thing. He calmly walked into the room as though there was nothing amiss. “I received your message from Myles,” Peter said calmly as he came in. “What seems to be the problem?”

Nobleman Jamison growled, the sound low and menacing. Peter could clearly tell that the unknown beta wanted to run, and Octavius flinched, but he didn’t even twitch. Peter had been dealing with angry alphas since long before he became High Priest.

Priest Octavius handed him a small stack of papers as Nobleman Jamison began to rant. “This—this moron ,” snarled the aggressive alpha as he jerked a thumb at the priest, “can’t do his damn job!”

High Priest Peter scanned the documents and gave a small hum in the back of his throat. “I have to admit,” he said, “that I am confused as well.”

See?” demanded Nobleman Jamison, self satisfaction rolling off him.

Yes—why is this being contested?” asked Peter.

What?”

Peter hummed again. “According to these papers, Chandler Morison has decreed an heir to his business. It’s all perfectly routine.”

He’s a beta!”

He built his business himself,” High Priest Parker said, feigning confusion. He knew very well what was happening, of course; Nobleman Jamison wanted to add the highly successful Chandler business to his own wealth of businesses. “He’s perfectly within his rights to decide his own heir, the same as any business owner is.”

Betas can’t breed!”

But they can adopt. And just as a child adopted into the temple is a member of the temple, a child adopted by a beta belongs to the beta.”

Morison spoke up, his voice no louder than a whisper. “That girl knows almost everything I do,” he said timidly. “About both candle making and running a business in the largest city of Arachne.”

High Priest Peter nodded. “This is all in order,” he said as he handed the papers back to Priest Octavius. “Thank you for your time,” he added politely. “May tomorrow see you better than today.”

Jamison fumed as he stalked out of the door at the polite dismissal. Morison, eyes shining with unshed tears, briefly gripped Peter’s and before he followed out of the room and Peter sighed. “By the way,” said Priest Octavius as he tidied up the papers, “Her Majesty wanted me to remind you that you and your mate are due for a ‘private’ dinner with her, her mate, and the ambassador from Mysterio.”

Chapter Text

Dinner with Royalty was, by necessity, a formal affair. Especially since one of the invited happened to be an ambassador from another country. The five of them would sit at a table designed for six as they were served their meal. The servants would bring the course, the necessary utensils to eat it with, and take the plates when the course was finished. Queen Mary Jane was in a gown of thin mist linen over a green dyed gown of spider silk, Harry was in his armor, and both Wade and Peter arrived in normal priest robes; Peter’s the natural color, and Wade’s a shocking blood red.

Before the ambassador arrived, Mary Jane spoke to Peter. “You probably know more about Mysterio than any of us,” she said urgently. “Is there a specific reason for the ambassador to be unmated?”

To her surprise, it was Wade who answered. “They don’t trust us,” the alpha said calmly as he dropped, unceremoniously, into his seat. Peter, who had been raised with better manners by people he actually cared about, gracefully took his own seat at the table. “In Mysterio omegas, as the ones who birth young, hold a special elevated status. Alphas who are mated are considered to have two important duties; that of protecting the omega they are mated to and that of providing seed for the young. So, the ambassador wouldn't have been an omega in the first place. They’re too precious for that.”

Mary Jane waited patiently for more information as she stared at the alpha, stunned by the depths of his mind. Oh, she’d always known that he wasn’t stupid ; he couldn't have been and lived to adulthood in the snake’s nest that was his father’s court—but she’d never expected this level of insight from him. “And?” she prompted when it didn’t seem he was going to continue.

And that’s why they sent an unmated alpha,” Wade explained with a shrug. “If he dies, there’s no mated omega or offspring back home who will be left defenseless. And he’s a powerful warrior,” Wade added with something that almost sounded like respect from his voice. Queen Mary Jane stared at the alpha.

Peter simply looked at his mate. “Have the two of you met before?” he asked with curiosity.

Wade ran a finger over the tabletop nervously. “It was back when I was—working for the king of Reaper.”

Queen Mary Jane frowned slightly as Peter reached out and gently rubbed his mate’s arm. She wasn’t certain what Wade had done, for his father’s court, but she knew that it couldn't have been good. She hadn’t had a good opinion of the king before the whole incident where Wade had been captured. She could also tell, from the way Peter was acting, that this was not news to the omega. Peter already knew.

What happened?” asked Peter.

Oh, I went in, did—uh, the job—and almost got caught on the way out. Strange, last name of the ambassador guy, stabbed me with a stick on the way out.”

He what?!” Peter gripped his mate’s arm and stared at the man.

Stabbed me with a stick,” Wade said. Harry and Mary Jane eyed the man. He spoke the words with—admiration? When Peter’s hand clenched a little Wade covered it with one of his own. “Don’t worry,” he said with a cheerful grin. “I stabbed him back.”

Through the hand,” drawled the Morphio Ambassador as he strode into the room. His cloak billowed around him like a living thing, the dark red fabric rustling softly. The dark haired alpha looked at the others and politely bowed. “Majesty,” he said formally.

Queen Mary Jane smiled. “Please,” she said warmly, “this is just a meal. Let’s have no formalities between us. Have a seat.”

He sat in the only empty chair and looked around the table as servants brought them some light beer and water to drink. “Thank you for your courtesy, Majesty,” the ambassador said.

You stabbed my mate.”

Suddenly Peter had the full attention of the ambassador. Mary Jane couldn't see Peter’s face, from the angle, but from the way the ambassador paled and began to slightly sweat, she bet it couldn't be good. From what Wade had said, the man couldn't lay a hand on Peter—not just because of his status as a High Priest, but because of his status as an omega. Not that he’d be able to beat Peter even if his own inclinations didn’t hold him back. Mary Jane had once seen Peter rip a tree out of the ground.

Wade reached over, pulled Peter in close to him, and planted a firm kiss on the omega’s head. “It’s okay,” he reassured Peter. “I stabbed him back.”

To anyone else, that wouldn't have been reassuring. However, Peter did relax, and so did the Mysterio ambassador. Mary Jane waited to speak until the servants brought the first course, fine roast beef, and left again. Of course, there were servants listening. There always were. It was one of the side effects of being royal—her every little move was spied on except for when she went out as her maid.

Mysterio Ambassador,” said Mary Jane formally.

The ambassador smiled as he quickly cut his meat. “Stephen, please,” he said.

Mary Jane,” replied the Queen with her own smile. “At least in private,” she added as a touch of warning. Introductions went around the table and she noticed the ambassador’s hand tense on his eating knife as Peter gave his ties to the temple. The man’s eyes darted between Peter and Wade.

Wade could never let a silence ramble on without him speaking. “Lovely roast MJ,” he said warmly. “You should praise your cook.”

Harry chuckled. “You mean so she’ll stop giving you a hard time?” he teased.

As big into spiders as you people are, you’d think people would be more open to the idea of serving a spider cooked food,” sighed Wade before cramming a piece of steaming food into his mouth.

I think it was more the fact you were helping a spider courtship,” Harry observed.

Peter spoke up, and Mary Jane could hear the smile in his voice. “It worked,” he said. “And,” he added, “Wade’s gotten close to the nesting pair. There’s a chance she can still be saved from being feral.”

Working on it, anyway. Hoping she’ll mellow with the eggs, slightly worried she’ll get more ferocious,” Wade said cheerfully.

And who knew spiders like bread?” asked Peter. He turned and gave his alpha a kiss on the cheek.

I think it might only be spiders from Arachne that eat bread,” said Stephen slowly.

The rest of the meal passed with the five of them speaking about nothing important. It wasn’t until the desert of honeyed dates was taken away that they turned their attention to darker, more serious matters. “What does Mysterio know about the—problems with Ajax?” Mary Jane asked as the servants brought them a wine. This particular beverage had been specially brewed to be low in alcohol.

Ajax has summoned an ancient entity and is trying to turn it into a deity.”

An evil entity,” interjected Wade.

Stephen frowned. “We don’t know that,” he admonished. “What we do know is that the people using it are evil—more than evil.” He grimaced. “We’ve gotten a few refugees from Ajax, mostly priests and priestesses. They really don’t like those in direct communion with the goddesses.”

Wade snorted. “They’re sure to love me then,” he drawled dryly. Peter reached out and gently took his hand.

Stephen nodded. Harry leaned forwards. “How are they trying to turn it into a deity?”

At the same time Mary Jane asked, “What do you mean, it might not be evil?”

Stephen rubbed at the base of his hair line, where his sideburns began, over his temples. “What we know,” he said slowly, “is that this entity is ancient. There are stories about it that predate humans arriving in this world.”

Humans aren’t from here?” asked three of the four voice. It took Mary Jane a moment to realize that Wade was the only one who hadn’t chimed in on the question, and a glance showed no surprise on his face. He had already known. Of course he had; he’d already been to Mysterio, and presumably this was information they all had.

No. Long, long ago humans discovered a method of traveling from world to world. Shortly after they arrived here, there was an—incident, and most of the equipment they brought with them stopped working. We still have some of it, in Mysterio, and we work hard to keep what we do have from completely breaking down. If knowledge isn’t continuously used, it gets lost—just as it’s been lost in the other four kingdoms.” Stephen looked around at his audience and sighed. “Some of the stories about the entity, as Wade claimed, painted it as an evil, a darkness that wanted to absorb and destroy everything. Some of the stories say that it’s merely lost and alone, waiting for someone to truly understand it. We don’t know which is true. Maybe neither. Maybe both. But the way the Ajax alphas—and it’s only alphas, we don’t know why—are trying to bring it into our world, if it isn’t evil now, it will become evil.” He spread his hands. “And we have no way to stop it.”

Chapter Text

Later that night Peter and Wade were alone in their room, Wade gently massaging Peter’s shoulders. “Pete,” he said with perfect seriousness, “you can’t attack everyone that’s ever hurt me. It’s too big a list.”

Peter reached up, grabbed one of Wade’s hands, and kissed the palms. “I don’t like to think of you getting hurt,” he said to his mate.

Wade sat on the bed and pulled Peter into his lap, gently rubbing the omega’s back. “I know,” he said gently. He kissed Peter’s forehead and Peter melted into the embrace. “I know. I don’t like to think of you getting hurt either,” he said softly into Peter’s hair. “But you have to understand, in the job I used to do—I got hurt. I hurt other people. It’s in the past now.”

Peter leaned his head against Wade’s shoulder and gave a small hum. “I still don’t like it.”

“I don’t like the thought of you getting hurt either,” Wade said. He took his hand and gently ran it over one of Peter’s cheeks. “But you know—we’ll be going to war soon. Danger will happen. I might not—I might not come back.”

Peter reached up and gently ran his hand over the bottom of Wade’s jaw. “I’d find you,” he said. “Wherever you go, I’ll follow. I’ll find you and bring you back home.”

Wade hugged Peter tight as the omega leaned into his torso and closed his eyes. and the two of them sat there, on the bed, enjoying the comfort of the other’s company. At least until there was a frantic pounding on the door. “High Priest Parker!” called the young voice on the other side of it. “Acolyte Wade! You’re both needed!”

Peter opened one eye and gave a low growl. Wade chuckled and kissed him. “I know,” he said, “but they wouldn't interrupt if it wasn’t important.”

“If it isn’t,” Peter said grimly as he got up, “it will be.”

Harry met the two of them in the hallway standing behind a wide-eyed acolyte. He was holding his own sword, and two of the thin, curved blades that Wade liked to carry. He handed Wade the two thin swords. “We’re being attacked,” Harry said grimly.

“Again?!” demanded Peter irritably.

“Again,” affirmed the armed general as he led the way through the halls.

“What do you mean, ‘again’?” asked Wade as he strapped the sheaths of the swords over his back. The robes he was wearing weren’t ideal for a fight, but he’d had to do more with less before.

“Every so often one of the nobles will decide that MJ has lost the divine right to be queen,” Harry explained.

“They’re idiots,” snarled Peter. Wade sensed his bad mood wasn’t just because they’d been interrupted mid-cuddle. “The goddess chose Mary Jane out of five candidates for the throne. If she’d lost the divine right to rule, the goddess would make sure we knew it.”

Wade had never guessed there was so much inner turmoil in Arachne. “Who’s leading the charge?” he asked Harry.

The armored alpha grimaced. “Nobleman Jamison.”

Wade frowned. The name sounded familiar. “Wasn’t he here yesterday?” he asked as they strode into the open courtyard, sounds of battle coming closer. Wade felt his blood began to pump hard as he listened for the onward continuing fight. The only thing stopping him from pulling the swords was Peter’s presence. If he pulled them now, the omega would get injured.

“He was,” Peter said grimly. “Disputing a beta’s right to pass his belongings to another beta.”

Most would agree with the nobleman—but not Peter. Peter was one of those rare individuals who truly believed that all humans were created equal, and used his position within the church to enforce that view onto the general populace. Most people appreciated it. Some took it as a personal affront.

When they reached the castle walls Peter leaped up and over them in one easy bound as Wade stared, jaw dropped at the sight of his little omega flying over the high wall. “I hope he’ll go easy on them this time,” muttered Harry as the two alphas continued walking towards the wall.

This time? “What happened last time?” asked Wade. That insane jumping ability must be one of the blessings that Peter had been gifted with.

“He used one of his blessings to pin the attackers to the outside of the castle wall,” Harry said. “He told them it was until they repented. While the attackers were webbed to the wall he, the priests, and the acolytes of the temple made several trips around the outside of the walls daily making sure the pinned had water and food. Bare rations, of course, but nothing they’d starve on.”

Wade grinned. He had no doubt that Peter had done just that, and preached at the invaders as they were hopelessly bound. Given such a humiliating display, Wade was a little surprised that anyone would dare to attack the castle again.

The grin faded as something occurred to him. “And the swords are for—?” he asked.

Harry grimaced. “Sometimes,” he growled as they neared the sounds of the fighting, “Peter doesn’t watch his back.”

Peter.

Peter could be in danger. Without another conscious thought, Wade leaped onto the wall. Unlike Peter, he wasn’t strong enough to leap over the thing in one bound, but he could swarm over the side—which he did. He raced across the soldier’s path on the top and surveyed the battlefield below him before drawing his swords and leaping down—to cut down the man creeping up behind Peter.

Peter was fighting bravely—but he was unarmed. He was quick, ducking in and under swords to hit the people wielding them. He was powerful, often knocking out his opponents with a single move. He was cocking his wrists to shoot some kind of thick, gooey substance at his opponents who got tangled up in it.

He was also the focus of the battlefield, and there were many of the enemy converging on him. They came up behind the priest—only to find themselves getting killed by the twin blades that Wade was wielding. Unlike Peter, Wade did not waste effort trying to keep his opponents alive. They were on a battlefield, and it was the duty of those on it to be prepared to die—especially if they were targeting his mate.

Soon the battle ended leaving bound living bodies and bloody corpses decorating the field in front of the castle. The few remaining soldiers followed their leader in a strategic retreat, and the only good thing Wade could say came of the battle was that there were no rider spiders, or spiders of any kind, in it. He’d developed quite the soft spot for those creatures.

After the battle the gates of the castle opened and reinforcements arrived to gather the dead for rights and to help Peter stick the living bound soldiers to the outside of the castle wall. Seemed the High Priest had a little bit of a theme for those who dared to disrupt the order of his home.

“Please, have mercy,” begged one of the soldiers that Wade picked up and firmly placed against the wall. To his surprise and delight, the webbing stuck without any more effort from him.

Wade grinned at the captive. “We are,” he said sweetly. “Why, my Peter is going through all this effort to give you a chance to repent your sins,” he added cheerfully. “So you’re just going to hang there, working on repenting, as you get fed and watered and prayed to. Don’t worry, this isn’t the first time this has happened, so I feel almost certain that no one will even wrinkle their little noses when you end up in your own filth.”

“Great Merciful Goddess,” swore the prisoner.

Wade pat him on the shoulder. “See?” he said brightly. “You’re already praying! You’ll be down in no time, three days, a week tops!” He turned and walked away from the stuck soldier as he scanned the bodies on the ground to see which ones were still alive.

“You are an evil entity,” Harry said dryly.

Wade shot the other alpha a glare. “They interrupted cuddle time,” he grumbled.

Chapter Text

The entity was ancient. It didn’t know how long it existed, but it became aware when humans noticed it. Sometimes it was summoned, but most of the time it just existed. The times it was summoned were rare jewels in its existence, and it did its best to become whatever the humans summoning it wanted it to be.

This, however, was the first time it had almost been summoned, but not quite. While it could not affect the world of the humans, it could see it. For the first time in its existence, it could experience what humans felt. It saw the raw fear and pain as the human picked to be its host recovered from the injuries inflicted to make the body a true host.

It saw love, both from the host and from the host’s partner, lover, mate. It saw the way the other human looked at the one picked to be its host. The care, the affection, the love.

It saw frustration, as the host was instantly frightening for those around it, people who were instinctively frightened by the scarring as their hidden memories remembered what that particular scarring meant. The host itself was not a danger, not the thing it could have been had it taken over, but they didn’t know that. They didn’t understand that.

And yet, the mate was there. Calming, understanding, loving. It could understand why the host thought the mate was precious.

It saw that the host went into the realm of the goddesses. It could not actually see into the realm, their realm was not its realm, but it saw when the host came back. The host managed to push it back, push it away—but not to sever the link. It could still watch.

It saw the work that went into helping the giant spider win its mate. The research, the questions, the asking for help. It saw the elation when the spider succeeded. It saw the host formally claim its mate.

It withdrew slightly, not enough to sever the link. The other humans were trying to summon it again, to find it a new host. It was not interested.

This host, even though (or maybe because) it hadn’t taken it over, was fascinating. It had never seen humans like this before, just going about their daily lives. True, they were preparing for war with the humans trying to summon it, but they were still doing things it never would have thought humans did.

It watched as a human, the one normally seen in the place food was prepared, stopped the host and handed the host a basket of bread. It couldn't hear words, but it could feel the emotions— confused,happy, sad— that the host felt.

It wanted to know more.

Chapter Text

“I will not have a rider spider invading my kitchen again!” snarled the cook.

“He didn’t technically invade the kitchen,” Wade argued as she glared at him. “More like—stuck a leg in.”

She glared at him before pushing an errant strand of hair out of her face. “His legs,” she said grimly, “are wider than most of my staff! None of a rider spider should be in the kitchen, they are too big. You,” she snarled as she thrust the basket of bread at him, “will take him his bread, and I will have no more rider spiders invading my kitchen!” She whirled and stomped off.

“What’s this about?” asked Peter curiously.

“Oh, Spot came back for more bread.”

“Ah.”

Wade wasn’t certain what Peter meant by that. “Want to come with me?” he asked. “See how they’re doing?”

“Wouldn’t we be—intruding?” asked Peter cautiously.

“I don’t think so,” said Wade as he thought about it. “I don’t know—have you ever heard of another instance where a human helped a rider spider, or any kind of spider, win a mate?”

Peter’s brow crinkled in thought and Wade suppressed the desire to smooth the wrinkles out. That would be fun and distracting—and he really didn’t want to know what the cook would do if the two of them were so distracted they didn’t get the bread delivered.

“I can’t think of one,” Peter said with a frown. “The only humans that interfere with the breeding process are professional breeders, and the most they do is isolate the spiders with the traits they want.”

“Aside from he-who-shall-not-be-named,” said Wade.

Peter’s gaze hardened. “Flash,” he said grimly, “is still in the dungeons, serving his penance.”

Wade could sense, as well as see, his mate’s agitation at the mention of the former nobleman. “Since this is new,” said Wade as he slung an arm around Peter’s shoulder, “why don’t we go and see? I’m sure Spot misses you.”

Peter gave him a smile, and allowed him to change the subject. “Maybe we should stop by the stable so I can grab his favorite brush—just in case.”

Wade chuckled. “Just in case,” he repeated with a wink.

“Acolyte Wade.”

Wade didn’t realize he was growling at the petite blond until Peter gave him a firm nudge in the ribs. She was not fazed as she glared up at him with her arms crossed over her chest. “You will not,” she said firmly, “learn how to weave if you do not spend time in front of a loom!”

Wade opened his mouth to retort that he had no interest in ever spending time in front of a loom, especially not with her droning teaching voice, when Peter spoke up. “Miss Gwen,” Peter said as he addressed the teacher—who was not part of the temple, “I have an idea.”

“Oh?” demanded the blond. Her foot began tapping irritably against the stone floor of the temple.

“Why don’t we move one of the floor looms into my room, and I’ll teach him how to weave?”

The young woman nibbled her bottom lip in thought for a moment. “I’m not sure. You have a lot to do, High Priest Parker.”

“I can do it all and teach my mate,” Peter said calmly.

The young woman nodded. “Done,” she agreed. “Acolyte Wade, you are no long a member of my class. Try to control your enthusiasm,” she droned dryly as she glared at the bigger man. She nodded to Peter and then strode off; presumably to move a loom.

“I’m not sure I have the patience for weaving,” Wade muttered.

Peter heard him, and laughed. “Wade,” the omega said warmly as he leaned against his mate, “I’ve seen you spend hours running a stone along the edge of your blades to keep them sharp, or to get nicks out of them. You have the patience. You don’t have the desire.”

“Ah—”

Peter merely chuckled and steered the two of them towards the forest. “Perhaps,” he added throatily as they made their way, “I should add a reward system. Say, for every inch woven?”

Wade could feel his face heating up at the suggestion, and coughed slightly as they stepped onto the path. The clearing that Spot had made had become, by some odd coincidence, a spot for couples and families to picnic in. “Perhaps,” Wade finally choked out. Peter just chuckled and tucked himself next to Wade’s side as they walked.

Wade knew where to go, of course. It wasn’t long before he stepped off the path, picking a trail, and holding Peter’s hand to make sure the omega could make it. Logically, he knew that Peter probably had better footing than he did, but he still wanted to protect his mate. And Peter must have understood, because he said nothing about it.

Using his newfound skills, Spot had made a clearing for him and his mate, the feral rider spider that Wade had secretly taken to calling “Unicorn.” Instead of letting the sun shine through the resulting hole in the canopy, Spot had pulled the tops of several of the thin trees down and webbed them together to make a nest. When Peter and Wade arrived they saw Unicorn and Spot in the nest with a what looked like a giant cocoon.

“Oh,” breathed Peter, “she’s laid her eggs. I’d wondered.”

Spot saw them and rushed towards them. If Peter hadn’t been blessed with supernatural strength, the rider spider would have knocked him over as he rubbed his head against the human and chirred happily. Peter simply laughed and pulled out the brush to go through the fine fur.

As rider spider and human were getting more acquainted, Wade sidled up to the shelter that Unicorn was in, and held out the basket of bread. The spider watched him warily for a moment. Then, she reached out and caught the basket with a leg before retreating back into the nest.

Chapter Text

The court was buzzing with worry as the storm howled outside the building. The people were chilled and worried. The world should be turning green, crops should be growing—but they weren’t. Instead the country of Ajax, the “Golden Kingdom,” was locked in a whirling blizzard that refused to leave.

The king was losing support. When they had begun this venture, this mission to overthrow the goddesses with their own choice, everyone had supported it. Who wouldn't want to create a god?

The blizzard moved in, and didn’t leave. People were beginning to starve. To make matters worse not once, since the blizzard moved in, had any omega in the kingdom gone into heat or an alpha into rut. It was almost as though the entire kingdom had been reduced to betas. Something had to be done.

Francis did something. As the king stepped down from his throne to address the gathered, Francis stepped forward and stabbed the alpha in the back with his sword. He bent down and pulled the crown off the head of the body, rapidly cooling in the chilly room.

He looked around at the stunned people. “I think we all agree,” he said, “that it is time for a change. Time for a new strategy. Time—for a new plan.” He put the crown on his head and the assembled crowd cheered.

What should we do, Sire?” asked one of the guards subserviently.

Francis had thought long and hard about it, and then he grinned. “The first thing,” he said firmly, “is that we should go raiding. We need fresh food, and it is more than time to set aside old ways. ‘Don’t steal from the neighbors’,” he quoted mockingly. “Well, this is about surviving. Raid the farms in Reaper, Morphio, and Arachne. Stay away from Mysterio,” he warned, “we don’t want them to poke their noses out of their little kingdom until it’s too late.”

What will we be taking?” asked a low, sly voice.

Francis smiled. “Well, since our omegas don’t seem to want to go into heat, lets grab a few of theirs,” he began.

Chapter Text

Stephen looks through the crystal, a communication device, at Tony, prime minister to King Steve. Tony’s cheeks are hallow, he has huge bags under both eyes, and neither his hair nor his goatee have been tended to in quite some time. “So,” Tony said to summarize what Stephen said, “the Arachnids managed to save the alpha being prepared to be the new vessel before the entity could actually move in and take over.”

Stephen winces and taps his hand on the table in front of him nervously. “That’s not all,” he said grimly. “The man who was prepared as a vessel is now mated to the High Priest of Arachne.”

Tony rolled his dark eyes. “Well that doesn’t complicate things at all,” he growled dryly.

Stephen understood the sentiment. It would have been easier, if the man hadn’t been mated, to simply kill him. Kill the vessel, and the entity lacked a link, lacked a way into the world. However—to kill an omega’s mate, particularly early in the bond, would be to kill the omega as well and that was unconscionable. Besides, after hearing about how quickly Wade healed after being injured (a blessing that had yet to expire), Stephen wasn’t certain it was even possible to kill the alpha anymore. It might even have been for the best that the man had bonded. A bond might cement his soul to his body too firmly to be displaced by the entity, even if the man got captured again.

Stephen also knew better than to mention any of it. “There’s more,” he added in a lighter tone. “The spiders in Arachne—they’re huge. When that guy told us they were big enough to ride, he was not exaggerating.”

Pepper will be absolutely horrified,” Tony said with the soft, wry smile he always got when speaking of his mate. He rubbed absently at the silver bonding mark on his neck.

Only until she meets one. They’re as friendly as those prissy little lapdogs,” Stephen added with disgust. He hated those lapdogs. He actually liked the spiders much better—maybe he should see if it was possible to get one of the knee-high ones, they seemed easier to care for than the giant ones. Just as needy, but a lot smaller.

Tony shook his head. “There’s more,” he said. His tone wasn’t grim, but informative. “Pepper can’t sense the entity.”

Stephen suddenly straightened as he stared at the image in the crystal. “What?” he asked, mind whirling. They had been alerted to the entity being summoned by Pepper—her unique ability allowed her sense the entity on the edge of their realm. “What does that mean? Has it been summoned?”

Tony shrugged and Stephen could see how helpless the alpha looked. “I don’t know. Neither does she. I don’t think there’s anything from Ajax to indicate they successfully summoned the entity they want to become their god.”

Good goddess,” swore Stephen.

There was a timid knock on the door. “Ambassador Stephen?” called a small, young voice. Stephen, being the expert in voices and tones as he was, absently identified the voice as belonging to that young messenger of the temple and the child being anxious.

Stephen quickly waved a hand over the crystal, and it hummed before it went dark on its stand. He waited for the energy to dissipate before he got up and answered the door. “Yes?” he asked the small child.

The boy looked up at him with wide, frightened eyes and Stephen wondered what scared him so much. Was it having to deal with someone of ambassador rank? Somehow he doubted it. “Her Majesty requests your presence in the Opal Audience Chamber,” the boy said softly, shyly.

Stephen bit back a sigh, not wanting to frighten the boy any more. His cloak left its peg by the door and settled over his shoulders making the kid grin. At least his living cloak wasn’t frightening the child more. “Please,” he said with a gallant bow before closing the door firmly behind him in the illusion of security (he was well aware that maids came in while he was gone to clean the room). “Show me the way.”

The kid shot him a bit a grin before leading him through the halls. Stephen walked calmly behind the boy, hands firmly clasped behind his back as he looked around. The buildings in Mysterio were far more—controlled, closed in. There were more walls. Here in Arachne, almost every room that wasn’t a private room was open with decorated support pillars instead of walls. He wondered if the rider spiders came inside. The place seemed designed for it.

The Opal Audience Chamber was a closed room. The surfaces inside—black pillars against white walls and green ceiling—seemed to be iridescent, like opals. He wondered if they were opals—but no. That was impossible. The pillars were made of large columns and the walls were made of large blocks. Opals simply didn’t come that large. He still had to admire the effect.

Inside the chamber were two thrones—Queen Mary Jane sat on one, in what Stephen recognized as her “formal” gown, and the general she was mated to sat in the other, despite not having been formally crowned yet. To one side of the throne stood the High Priest and his mate, and to the other the army commander. In front of them, on a small stool, sat an elderly man.

I apologize for being late, Your Majesty,” said Stephen. She inclined her head at him, her attention focused on the man on the stool.

Your prompt arrival is much appreciated,” the Queen said. “We are but waiting on the Reaper and Morphio ambassadors before We begin.”

Stephen bowed and took an easy stance to the left of the door, in easy visibility of those entering the room. He’d only made the mistake of standing on the right side of the door, out of visibility when the door was opened, once. Luckily, his king’s mate was an understanding alpha who had stopped attacking quickly enough. Even luckier that the living cloak was up to the attack.

T he door opened once more to admit the Morphio Ambassador, a young woman, omega, with amazingly white hair. “Ambassador Felicia,” said the queen with a nod of her head.

The other ambassador bowed. “Your Majesty,” she said before stepping to the left of the door. She tucked her hands into the small of her back and braced her legs slightly apart as they waited.

They had been in silence (the only fidgeting coming from the High Priest’s mate, who seemed bored) when the door was slammed open and an out of breath boy, in temple clothing, burst in. “Your Majesty,” he gasped. “The Reaper ambassador has been attacked!”

Chapter Text

I am no longer the Reaper Ambassador,” Vanessa, former ambassador, stated to the assembled group. One of her eyes was blackened, her arm was in a sling, and she was walking with a limp, but otherwise looked fine.

Then again, as Wade knew, those who represented the country had to be tough. They had to be able to take a beating and keep walking. There were consequences to not being able to do so. Wade knew that all too well.

It was sad, really. He liked this new ambassador a lot better than the old one. Unlike Nate, Wade had no bad history with her…

What happened?” asked Peter calmly.

She laughed bitterly. “I got a visit,” she said. “Seems his Majesty ,” she snarled, “was unhappy with the way I’ve failed to send Wade home.”

Wade is an acolyte now,” Peter said. Wade turned and looked at his mate, surprised by the fierce, protective tone. Exactly what had happened between Peter and Nate before Nate had been sent home?

I am well aware. And he’s gotten the horses. He doesn’t care.”

Yeah, that sounded like his father. Got the lovely prize for having a son accepted into a temple, only to not care that his so n doesn’t belong to him any more, isn’t there for—certain things. Wade’s mind shunted away from the memories. He didn’t realize he was broadcasting his anxiety until Peter slipped a hand in his and gave a gentle squeeze.

H e took a deep breath. He was here , he was with Peter , and there was nothing that could endanger that. Well, aside from the upcoming war with Ajax.

The king of Reaper,” said former ambassador Vanessa with a wince as she moved and pulled something, “has decided to no longer honor the goddesses.”

Wade stared at the woman. No. Surely not even his father could be that stupid—

He’s decided to ally with Ajax and wants his son as a bargaining chip.”

Apparently yes, his father could be that stupid. “ That idiot,” he said wearily.

Vanessa gave a lopsided grin. “I know.”

Peter gave a sigh. “Ambassador Vanessa,” he said.

Former,” she corrected with a wince.

Former Ambassador Vanessa,” continued Peter without missing a beat, “you are injured and tired. Go rest and heal.”

I do not believe,” Vanessa said carefully, “Her Majesty would want me to stay here.”

This is my temple,” Peter said firmly, “and I say who is welcome in it. Go. Rest. Heal. Or I will have the little spiders carry you to a bed and weave you to it.”

Vanessa opened her mouth and Wade interjected. “Remember,” he told her, “to an Arachnid, a spider the size of their foot is ‘small’.”

She closed her mouth. “Very well,” she said graciously. Only the widening of her eyes showed how nervous she suddenly was. “Thank you for your hospitality, High Priest.”

Well,” drawled Wade as she left the weaving room (there hadn’t quite been enough space for one to be put in his and Peter’s room, but Wade was enjoying the reward system anyway), “it’s been a while. Let’s go visit Spot!”

All right,” agreed Peter. “But this time, let’s take two sets of brushes.” Still holding Wade’s hand he led the way to the stables.

Two?” asked Wade as they walked.

Two,” confirmed Peter. “I think Unicorn is going to let you groom her today.”

Really?” asked Wade. Peter grabbed the two grooming brushes and they went to the kitchen for a basket of bread before going out to the forest.

How big are spiders in your former kingdom?” asked Peter with curiosity.

Wade gave him a lopsided grin. “Small enough that you probably never even noticed them. Most spiders in Reaper range in size between the head of a sewing pin and a small copper coin.” He knew that Peter would try to imagine living in a world where spiders were just part of the background—and he’d fail. There was no way to imagine it unless someone had actually lived it.

He wasn’t certain why the giant spiders were so rare outside Arachne’s borders. It couldn't be the climate; Mysterio had almost exactly the same one as Arachne and while Arachne was filled to the brim with giant spiders who, if they wanted, could eat people with less effort than people in Reaper stepped on spiders (normal Reaper spiders, anyway)—it was just to the brim. Only to the border and then—normal spiders. He supposed it was possible that the spiders were, as the people of Arachne claimed, blessings from their goddess.

All musings were pushed out of his head when they reached Spot’s clearing nest and forgotten when they discovered that yes, the feral riders spider was willing to let Wade groom her.

Chapter Text

Survivors, refugees from Reaper, trickled into Arachne. They were beaten, starving, and most of them suffering from some form of frostbite. The tales they had to tell were, quite frankly, disturbing.

First: raiders had come from Ajax. They’d swarmed the border without warning—but they didn’t kill, they didn’t conquer. No, their aim was far more sinister than that. They hit villages, stealing crops and cattle, killing those who dared to resist—and taking omegas. They did not take children or infants, but those who were old enough to have had their first heat.

Second: a terrible blizzard had come out of nowhere, to settle over the capital of Reaper. The winds howled with force unlike anything anyone had seen—and no few of them were former military, who had been stationed in the north of Reaper when the winter winds and blizzards came.

No one knew where the blizzard had come from. It was time for the growing season, not the winter winds. Crops within Reaper were doomed, and people were fleeing. Arachne, Morphio, and Mysterio were welcoming the refugees, and within Arachne several locations had been set up to teach the refugees to fight. They all knew they’d be facing battle soon.

Peter and MJ watched as Wade and Harry trained a group of former Reaper soldiers. “Have you told him yet?” his Queen and best friend asked.

“Have you?” he countered with a significant glance towards her abdomen.

She chuckled. “Oh,” she said, “Harry knows. He’s excited to be a father.” She caught the grimace on Peter’s face. “Is Wade not?”

Peter sighed. “Wade is—I’m not sure. Every time I try to bring up the two of us having children he points out that the fourteen of the temple are ours.” He watched as his mate disarmed a sparring soldier and then calmly pointed out the weaknesses in the soldiers’ stance. “And with what’s coming—I’m not sure I should mention it.”

MJ frowned. “Peter, it may be too soon for separation,” she told him.

“It’s necessary,” Peter argued with impeccable logic. “The border needs the High Priest to reassure the priests taking refuge that they are not to blame for their king’s madness. This is an assurance they will not accept from anyone less than High Priest, so as the High Priest I must go.”

“Perhaps,” said MJ, trying to create something salvagable from this, “he could go with you.”

Peter’s face turned stony and dark. “Those—people,” the closes Peter came to cursing, “have already tried to take him from me. I don’t want them anywhere near him.” The two of them watch in silence for a moment more. “I’m a lot more selfish than you think I am,” he said, softly.

“Perhaps. Perhaps,” MJ countered, “you’re just as selfish as you need to be.”

The training paused and Harry and Wade, seeing their mates in the shade of the castle, held up their hands to call them over, almost identical pleased expressions on their faces. The two omegas calmly left the shade and walked into the blazing sun towards their mates. Harry graced MJ with a hug and a quick peck on the cheek. Wade bent Peter back into an enthusiastic kiss that elicited cheers and hollers from the assembled soldiers.

When they broke apart Wade grinned at his mate who smiled lovingly back. “Let’s go to our room,” Peter suggested softly.

“Anything you say,” agreed Wade with a wide grin. He turned to the soldiers. “All right!” he ordered. “You’ve gotten a reprieve. My mate wants me right now!”

“Aw! We don’t have mates yet!” complained one of the soldiers.

“Not my problem,” said Wade as he scooped Peter up in his arms. He kissed his mate on the cheek. “Let’s go!” he said excitedly. Peter just chuckled and curled up in his mate’s arms, enjoying the feel of having his mate right there, holding him. He didn’t know how long he’d get to feel it.

Later, when they were done and lying beside one another, they begin to talk. “There are priests,” he said as he lazily traced one of Wade’s scars with a finger, “gathering at the border. They’re afraid to come further into the kingdom, and we’re afraid to leave them there.”

Wade captured the hand and kissed it. “And you want to go make sure they know its safe for them here,” he said softly as he reached over with his free hand and gently ran his fingers through Peter’s sweaty hair.

Peter leaned into the soft, comforting touch. “Yeah,” he said. “I do.”

Wade pulled his mate closer and pressed a firm kiss to the omega’s head. “It’s dangerous,” he said.

“Yeah.” Peter was silent for a moment. “Wade I—I want you to stay here.”

“What? Why?” Wade bolted up.

Peter sat up and reached for his mate. “I’m scared,” he confessed. “I’m scared that if you—if you get close to the border and Ajax learns you’re there, or your father learns you’re there…” His voice trailed off and he looked away. Did he really have the right to do this, to ask this of his mate?

Wade pulled Peter close. “If that will make you feel better,” he said softly, “I’ll stay here.” He pressed another kiss to his mate’s brow. He gently pushed his mate slightly away, keeping a thumb near his ear. “But if anything happens,” he swore, “and you need me, I’ll come as fast as I can.”

Peter smiled and brought a hand up to the one against his face. “I know you will,” he said softly. He tilted his head for another full kiss and Wade obliged.

This time, afterwards, they both fell asleep.

Chapter Text

Peter looked at the foreign priest and reminded himself that it was a bad idea to kill another person. It was especially a bad idea to kill another priest. While it was true that they served different goddesses, they shared the same core beliefs and no matter what certain people thought, they were supposed to lead by their examples, and they were supposed to put the people they served first.

Pity that most of his problems right now could be solved if he just gave up on his scruples and killed a couple of key priests.

He tried to be understanding; they had just been run out of their home, they were in a strange land, and they were being confronted with rider spiders for the very first time which, if what Wade had said was anything to go by, looked impossibly huge to them. They had no idea what was going to happen to them, if they were going to be able to find new temples, or even why their former king had rejected them in the first place. Their very lives were now broken and they were scrambling desperately to fix them.

Peter understood all of that; he really did. However, he also understood that he was pregnant, he was way too far from his mate, and these idiots were making things worse. Much worse. He just wanted to get them settled and go home.

“We do not,” Peter repeated firmly, gently despite an increasing desire to throttle the idiot in front of him, “have the resources to either build or guard a temple on the border. You may not have realized this, but the country is about to go to war.”

“We must have a temple!” repeated the priest. For the twentieth time.

Peter took a deep, stabilizing breath before speaking. He was glad that he had both hands under the table, so that no one saw how hard he was clenching his fists. “I understand that,” Peter said as calmly as possible. “We’re prepared,” he continued quickly as the other priest opened his mouth to speak, “to grant you a place for your new temple, inside Arachne. However,” he cautioned, “it has to be away from the border.”

“If we’re too far from our country, how will our goddess know we’re still worshiping her?” demanded the priest.

Maybe because she’s a powerful, all-knowing goddess, thought Peter. He took another deep breath. “Our goddesses,” he said slowly, as if he was teaching an acolyte, “know us. They know our minds, our hearts, and our intentions. If you set up a temple to Her, She will know.”

The other priest frowned. “I’m worried,” he said, “about our followers. How will they know that the temple is still active?”

Peter gentled his voice. After all, it wasn’t his followers in danger, he wasn’t sure how he’d react if they were. Perhaps he’d be just as frustrating and dim as this priest was being. “We’ve made sure,” he assured the priest, “that word has gone out that we’re accepting refugees from Reaper. They’ll know,” he added.

“I still—”

There was a commotion outside. “What in the world?” wondered Peter as he stood up. He wobbled slightly—his legs were partially asleep from the long, drawn out argument with the other priest.

Outside the tent he stared at the border for a moment. Oh, he’d seen it when he arrived, but it was still shocking. Never, in all his life, had the border between Reaper and Arachne been so clear. In Arachne summer was just beginning; the world was green, vibrant. Full of life.

Very different from the cold blizzard blanketing the view of Reaper. The howling winds stole at the heat on Arachne’s side of the border, making the tents a necessity to protect them from the chill winds as the snow swirled right up to the edge of the border—but not one snowflake crossed it. The snow on the Reaper side of the border was so thick that it was difficult to see in more than a few feet with thick, black clouds laced with lightning above it. Clouds that, when it came to the Arachne border, came to a screeching halt. Not so much as a wisp of cloud flowed into Arachne, where the sun shone warmly and the insects buzzed gently as the army’s rider spiders softly chirred to themselves as they dozed.

Or, would have been dozing, had battle not been erupting all around them. The Reaper priest pulled out a sword (all the priests from Reaper carried weapons, as they were considered gifts from their Goddess) and both he and Peter lunged into battle as soldiers melted into view, caked in the snow. As they crossed into Arachne, they were met with swords, arrows, knives, and webs. Still the enemy pressed forward. Still they came.

It seemed, to those in the camp, as though for every enemy soldier cut down another three appeared. Another three soldiers intent on killing, rampaging, and stealing. The Arachnid forces fought with all they had, but the enemy fought with the strength of the cornered. When it was clear to Commander Osborn that the battle was lost, he calmly put the smallest person on the fastest rider spider and sent them to warn the others.

Peter fought, and fought, and fought—until exhaustion hit. Mid swing his body stumbled and he fell to the ground, gasping for breath. The priest he’d been arguing with had fallen long before.

“What have we here,” said a voice. A hand gripped the hair at the back of Peter’s head and forced his head back to look at the soldier. The soldier’s eyes widened greedily as they took in Peter’s body. “Well! Not just an omega, but a pregnant one! His Majesty’s going to be so pleased!”

A tiny part of Peter’s brain, still analytical, noted that there were no pheromones in the air to tell him if the soldier holding him was alpha, omega, or even beta. Peter could smell the blood from the fallen soldiers, hints of frightened, desperate pheromones from those who were still alive—but nothing from this enemy soldier. He had no more pheromones than the Arachnid army had had back when they went on the rescue mission for Wade.

The enemy soldier forced Peter to his feet and the rest of his mind gibbered with fear as he reached, reached through the bond he shared with his mate, and cried out before something impacted with his head and he fell unconscious.

Wade!

Chapter Text

Wade jerked, hand shaking as he dropped his sword and stared vacantly into the distance. He could hear it. He could feel it. Peter needed help. Peter needed him . Then, just as suddenly as he’d felt the fear, the pain, the need—it was gone. Poof! Almost like Peter didn’t exist any more.

No.

He pivoted and, automatically sensing the movement, ducked as the oncoming sword swung right where his neck would have been if he hadn’t moved. “You’re showing promise,” he said absently as he turned. “Practice among yourselves for now,” he ordered before breaking into a run. He had to find the others to tell them.

Harry had, for the sake of the unborn child growing in Mary Jane, not led the army to the border. A good decision, a wise decision considering that distance between a mated omega and alpha could be painful for the omega when the bond was not just new, but the omega was carrying new life. That meant that Harry was here, and Wade wasted no time in finding the general.

“Harry!” he yelled as he grabbed the general out of a meeting.

“Wa—Wade!” choked the general as he pulled at the arm around his neck. When Wade let go the other alpha demanded, “What is going on?”

“Something’s happened to Peter.”

Instantly Harry’s demeanor changed. “Come on,” he said hauling Wade down the hall.

One of the benefits to being mated to the Queen was that the alpha had access to the omega at any given time. Quickly he pulled Mary Jane aside and told her what he’d learned from Wade. Neither of them questioned it; they knew about the bond. The queen closed her eyes in pain for a moment before she met Wade’s gaze firmly. “It will take time,” she told him grimly, “to get together a rescue mission.”

Wade, anxious from that blank feeling, shook his head, eyes wild. “I can’t wait!” he told them.

“Don’t.”

The single word was all he needed and he fled through the halls of the castle. He knew where he needed to go. He knew who he needed to get help from.

“Acolyte Wade.” He almost didn’t stop. But the voice—calming, soothing when previously yelling—made him stop. He turned to see Miss Gwen standing in the hall. She was holding a bulging bag, one of the single strapped bags that looked like the ones from army back when they’d gone to rescue Wade. He met kind, blue eyes in the petite face. “Here,” she said gently as she held out the bag. “I—I heard what happened. You’ll need supplies. The army will have more, when—when it gets there.”

“Thank you.” Wade took the bag and slung it over his shoulder.

She swallowed, eyes bright with tears. “Just—just bring him back safe. Bring both of you back safe,” she said before turning and running down the hall in the other direction.

Wade nodded in a silent promise and turned to head towards the stables. Shortly before Peter had left, Spot and Unicorn had brought their eggs into the castle stables, into Spot’s old stable. Unicorn had settled down a lot, not even threatening the little stable children when they came to look, with wide eyes, at the eggs.

According to Peter, most rider spider eggs were milky white or pale blue. Unicorn’s eggs, were pink, and shimmered in the light. They were beautiful, and everyone like to look at them. Before Peter had left he and Wade had—

Wade forced that thought away. He had a mission now, and he went to see the two rider spiders. The stall, huge by Reaper standards, looked small with the two spiders and their eggs in it. The eggs, twenty seven of them, were in a small pile near the back of the stable when he reached it, both spiders watching the eggs. They turned when he arrived.

“Spot,” Wade said as his heart dropped. He wasn’t Peter. The spiders couldn't understand him like they did him. Still, he had to try. He’d never make it in time if he went on foot. “Spot, I need help. Peter is—Peter is in trouble. The army’s going to try and rescue him—but they won’t make it in time. They can’t. So, so—please.” He trailed off as an unvoiced sob tore at his throat. He looked up as Spot ran a foreleg over him and Unicorn climbed the wall to get around him. She came back holding a terrified looking Myles and deposited him, gently but firmly, next to the eggs.

Myles nearly bent in half in his desperation to not actually touch the eggs as Unicorn shoved him towards them. “What?” he demanded in shock. His eyes locked on Wade. “What’s going on?”

“I think she wants you to take care of her eggs,” Wade said as Spot picked him up and put him on Unicorn’s back. He gripped the horn as the two spiders left the stables. They ran into the forest and then, to his shock, both spiders began jumping as they moved from tree to tree heading towards the border. Moving faster than when they were on the ground.

Wade didn’t care. He held on for dear life, not sure how he was managing to cling to the spider’s back as they moved, faster and faster, through the forest. He barely noticed when branches cut into his body with the speed they were moving at and his body automatically healed around the injury. His entire being was focused on the border, on where he’d last known Peter to be. They forest moved into a blur around them.

He held his breath as they reached a battlefield. It wasn’t his first battlefield, by any means, and with the way Ajax was on the move, he doubted it would be his last. From the looks of this field, almost devoid of life, the camp had been overwhelmed with sheer numbers. It was a devastating strategy—if the army had the numbers to throw away. But had Peter been here? Was he—was he one of the bodies?

No. No, he couldn't be. If Peter was dead, Wade would know. He would have felt it. He began searching through the bodies, desperately searching for one survivor, one person who would know what happened to Peter.

He didn’t realize that the spiders had split up from him as he searched until he heard Spot’s distinctive keening and ran over to the rider spider. The spider was partially over an elderly man wearing the dark red that Wade vaguely remembered as belonging to those in the priesthood of Reaper. The man let out a low, painful sounding cough as bloody spittle passed his lips.

Familiar with the specter of death in all Her forms, Wade knew the man didn’t have long to live. He gently pried the body from the ground and saw that the man’s lower half had been trampled. A small, analytical part of Wade’s mind noted the distinctive marks of hooves on the broken bones. “They took,” whispered the man.

“What?” Wade leaned down so he could hear the man better.

“They took the priest.” The elderly man coughed and more bloody spittle left his mouth. “Ajax. High Priest.” The man gripped Wade’s shirt with a weak fist and wild eyes. “Must—save!”

“I’ll save him,” swore Wade as life passed through the man’s body and into the goddess’s mercy.

The bond mark throbbed for a moment, and Wade went weak with relief as he was assaulted with a mixture of fear, anger, hatred . Peter was alive. He wanted to scream with joy: Peter was alive!

In the next moment the joy was gone. Peter was alive—and in the hands of the people who had tortured Wade.

Chapter Text

The first thing that Peter noticed was the chill. The stone he was lying on was leaching heat from his body, and he curled around his stomach to protect the small life growing within. Where was he? What had happened? His mind was foggy, memories blurred, and he tried to sort things out. He remembered getting angry. He remembered—snow. Snow? But it was summer. But—it was also cold. How long had been out? What happened?

He pushed himself up off the stone and looked around. He couldn't see much; it was dark where he was—wherever he was. He was certainly nowhere near Arachne. Nowhere in Arachne was a building made of such dark stone, and the only places with walls this close together were those in the dungeons and those in the temples.

“Is he awake yet?” demanded an irritable voice.

“I do not believe so, Sire,” said a fawning, and irritatingly familiar voice.

There was the sound of a dark smack and something fleshy hitting something hard. Given how much time Peter spent at the training grounds (although these days he mostly watched Wade), he was willing to bet the sounds had been someone getting hit and slamming into a stone wall. Peter squinted through the darkness, trying to see the door. Was he in a cell?

“That omega,” growled the first voice, “had better be in one piece. We need the babe.”

Peter’s hand strayed to his stomach. The babe? They needed his child? For what?

Light approached the door and he saw the bars. He was definitely locked in somewhere. But where? Where was he?

The door opened and Peter’s eyes watered in the sudden glare of the light. There was a man, standing in perfect silhouette in the light of a torch held behind him. Peter automatically recoiled as he sniffed deeply, trying to identify what the intruder was.

He couldn't. It didn’t matter how deeply he inhaled. The intruder had no more scent than the enemy soldier he’d fought at the camp.

The camp. Memory flooded into Peter as he remembered arguing with that foreign priest, hearing the commotion, and getting attacked. Of the enemy’s last words before he was knocked out as the camp was overrun.

“You should feel grateful,” the man said as he stepped into the cell, making Peter scramble to his feet. “With this weather, this is one of the warmest rooms in the castle.”

Weather. He remembered the border, remembered seeing the wall of white as the blizzard on the other side raged without check, without question—and never crossing the border. “Why am I here?” he asked the man.

A second man came into the cell, bringing the torch with him and suddenly Peter’s surroundings were thrown into stark relief. There was no window. There was a slanted portion of the wall (for a privy, he assumed) the cell was lined with dark, hard stone that Peter didn’t recognize. The man in front of him was tall, thin, and looked hollow, almost like there was a fire burning him alive from the inside out. On his head was a thick, gaudy crown with fur at the bottom where it met skin.

“Needy little thing, aren’t you?” demanded the man. He looked Peter over—not as a prisoner, not as a person, but as an object he could use to get the most out of his desires. “Most omegas are.” The gaze stopped at his midsection and Peter curls his arms over it to protect it.

A woman steps around the two men to bring in a tray. On the tray is food and water. The woman turns to leave, but not before Peter sees the frightened look on her face. And she leaves no more of a scent in the room than the two men in front of him.

“Why am I here?” he demanded.

“My soldier could have killed you. Almost did. We don’t take kindly to priests here. But then, he noticed something important.”

“And what’s that?” asked Peter warily.

“You’re pregnant.”

Peter stared. Clearly whatever was keeping the pheromones of his enemies at bay did nothing to hamper their sense of smell. The only reason Wade didn’t know was because, due to the torture, he’d lost most of his sense of smell. “And?” demanded Peter, irritated—frightened.

A smile crossed the face of the crowned man in front of him. “And it will be the first child born to our new empire,” said the man with satisfaction.

Peter stared at him as realization hit. These people—the ones who had turned their backs on their goddesses—couldn’t breed. There was no scent to show if they were alphas—because it was gone. The goddesses had revoked the first blessing they ever gave humans—the ability to breed. “You’ve all been turned into betas,” he whispered. He didn’t know if he was impressed—or horrified.

On the one side of the coin, he was glad that these people, these evil idiots, wouldn’t be able to breed. They wouldn't be able to perpetuate this farce into the far future—it would die with them. This war would not last more than a generation.

On the other was the realization that, without the blessing of the goddesses, humans would not be able to reproduce. The very act of continuing their species was dependent on a power that humans could not see. How? Had it always been this way? What else did humans do that were dependent on a blessing they never knew they had?

Peter was so absorbed in his thoughts, in the realization and everything it meant, that he didn’t have time to react when the crowned man backhanded him into the cell. “We are alphas,” the man snarled as spots bloomed in Peter’s vision. The two of them left and the door closed.

When Peter could move without pain again he dropped a hand to his stomach. “We’ll get out of here,” he promised the little life inside him. “And we’ll go home to our alpha.” Using the wall as a crutch he managed to stand up. He glared at the heavy door. He was going to escape.

He had to.

Chapter Text

The entity watched as the person chosen to be its host went into the cold territory claimed by the humans who had tried to summon it. The large carrying creatures had been left behind some time ago. The entity watched as the human reached the castle. Like the chosen host, it could feel the tug, the lure of the mate inside. Like the chosen host, it too wanted to see the mate safe.

It did what it had not done in quite some time. It leaned into the chosen host’s mind and whispered.

I can help you save him.

No,” whispered the chosen host. Despite the chill temperature, the body broke into a sweat.

I can. They would never deny entry to me .

“No,” the firm whisper came again. The chosen host stared as the heavy gates were temporarily swung open to admit a small group into the fortress. The gates closed with a heavy thunk; and the walls were too covered in ice to allow climbing—not with the gear the chosen host had.

The entity knew this. It felt a vague, unpleasant emotion at the fact that its viewing of the chosen host and its mate had been interrupted like this. It almost knew what the emotion was.

I can find him and get him out.

No…” A flash of pain and fear rang through the bond and the chosen host gasped and hands clenched into the frozen ground around it.

The pain, the anxiety, were eating away at the entity, increasing the unpleasant emotion tenfold.

Why won’t you let me help?

“You’ll never leave,” whispered the chosen host. “I can’t—I can’t leave him.”

Ah.

The chosen host made sense. In the past, when summoned, the entity took over its hosts and never released them. Then again, in the past, when the entity was summoned the hosts were broken, empty. There was nothing to return. The chosen host’s fear was grounded, understandable.

I’ll release you. After getting your body and mate back to the spiders, I’ll release you.

It felt the chosen host mull over the promise and gasp as another wave of fear surged through the bond. “Yes,” whispered the chosen host.

That was all the entity needed. It surged forwards, wrapping its host in itself, isolating it from the elements while taking over the body and, temporarily, pushing the host’s consciousness back where the entity had been residing. It stood up fearlessly and tested its muscles, making sure it knew how the host’s body was supposed to move. A few muscles tore, but quickly healed themselves revealing the physical limits of the body it had taken over.

Good. The body moved as it should, and was no longer chilled. Time to get the mate back.

The entity strode confidently towards the gate and stood in front of it. Wood set into stone. Wood was soft, easy to break. A single, hard punch shattered the door into splinters.

The bond was almost like a physical tie, a cord the entity could follow. Humans occasionally stood in its way, but it casually knocked them aside. They were between it and the mate. It had to rescue the mate; get the mate somewhere safe. It had promised.

It followed the tie down, down into the deeper, warmer levels of the castle. No, according to the host’s mind, it was a fortress . Built to withstand invasion. Withstand human invasion. Nothing like the entity had ever invaded before; there was no defense against it. Not yet.

Armed humans attempted to block its path and it sent tendrils of itself to push them aside. It could have stopped and dealt with them, made an example of them like it used to do—but the mate was not safe. The mate was not safe, and it had promised.

It strode up to a door, a thick wooden door in a wall of wooden doors. Like the door to the fortress it smashed the door, and looked in at the mate. The mate was against the back wall, blinking dazedly, unfocused. The mate was bruised, and the mate’s clothes were ripped and damaged. The entity felt a roar of wild rage—and pushed the rage down. This was not the time.

As it stepped into the small room, cell , the mate blinked. “Wade?” it asked, confusion pulsing through the bond. Fear spiked and the eyes opened wide as the mate pressed itself against the back wall. “You’re not Wade!” the mate accused, frightened.

The fear hurt , hurt like knives sinking in. It bent so that its eye level was lower than the mate’s. It wasn’t certain why it did this, but it felt like the right thing to do. “Host is okay,” it crooned soothingly. “Host will be back. Came to get mate home, mate safe,” it added.

The mate stopped trembling, and fear stopped pushing through the bond. The fear wasn’t gone—but the fear wasn’t painful any more. The mate stepped forward and reached out a hand.

Carefully, worried the entity might make the fear spike again, it reached out and took the hand, gently. The mate partially collapsed and the entity could sense fear, worry, relief seeping through the bond as it caught the mate. “Come mate,” the entity said as it picked the mate up. “Not safe here.”

The mate laughed weakly. “No,” it said in a voice that shook. “It’s not safe here.”

The emotions didn’t surge, so the entity turned and began to leave the fortress . Its way was blocked by a human wearing an odd head garment—

It’s a crown.

a crown, staring down at the two of them. “I control you,” snarled the human.

You did not summon me,” the entity clarified. It was not controlled by the human, by that human’s desires. It was shaped by its host. Its host wanted its mate safe, safe and warm. This was not that place. The entity pushed forwards, using its many tendrils to force the humans around it away. They would not stand between it and getting the mate to safety.

The entity wasn’t certain how far it had walked before it became aware that the mate was shivering. There was no fear coming through the bond. Why was the mate shivering?

He’s cold! Cold and hungry!

Ah. The entity remembered hunger. All living things needed to eat. And shelter. It vaguely remembered that shelter was important as well.

The entity found a cave and gently laid the mate down. “Will return,” it assured the mate before walking back out into the snow. It had to find food. It could not get the mate home safe if the mate did not eat.

Shortly, it came to a village and saw a small human tending a pile of chopped wood. Meat. Humans needed meat, it recalled.

You can’t kill that!

The entity disagreed. The mate needed food. Meat was the best food of all, and here was meat in front of it. It could easily kill and prepare this meat.

Peter won’t eat it!

Then it would make the mate eat it. The mate needed to eat. Meat was the best food. This was meat.

No meat is better than meat he won’t eat!

The entity snarled silently in the darkness as the small human, unaware of its peril, grabbed several pieces of chopped wood and trotted back into its dwelling.

Very well. The entity would not kill the small human, or any human at all—but the mate still needed to eat. What would the mate eat?

Later it trotted back to the cave with edible plants ( potatoes, onions, and cabbage ) and saw the mate had managed to make a fire. It remembered fire. It didn’t like fire very much. “Food,” the entity announced as it walked up to the mate.

The mate looked up, eyes slightly sunken in with bags under them, and smiled. “Thank you,” the mate said. There was a surge of warmth, affection through the bond, and the entity felt better as it handed the food, all the food to the mate. The mate handed some of the food back. “You need to eat too,” the mate told it firmly.

Did it? The longer it was in this host’s body, the more it forgot the other times it had been summoned. It vaguely remembered eating—so the host was probably right; it needed to eat. It looked at the food it was holding. It wanted to eat meat—but going out for meat would mean leaving the mate alone. Something could happen, something bad. And it had to get the mate safe, safely home.

The mate was precious.

The mate shivered again. “Mate still cold,” it observed. It let its tendrils fall away from the body it was inhabiting. The mate hesitated—but came closer, leaning on the body. The entity allowed its tendrils to reform, over both its host body and the mate. “Mate still cold?” it asked.

There was a dry laugh and the entity frowned. Memory said the laugh should sound better. “No, Wa—no,” said the mate softly. “I’m not cold any more.”

The entity wrapped its host’s arms around the mate and gave a low rumble of pleasure. “Good.”

Chapter Text

Peter wasn’t sure what to make of the entity currently residing in his mate. The inky, slithering blackness covered Wade’s whole body, and it didn’t sound like Wade, or feel like Wade or even really look like Wade. But he went along with the entity, because it had promised that when the two of them were safe it would give Wade back.

Every night the entity would find some kind of shelter; an old mine shaft, a cave, something; and then the entity would go out and bring back food. The food was almost always roots and vegetables. When Peter looked at it he could all too easily imagine a poor family starving because their food had been taken—and he tried not to think about it. He prayed, every night, that somehow the goddesses could help the poor people who had no control over what their leaders did.

He would have found it easier to bear, if Wade had been talking. Unable to take the silence anymore Peter began to talk. He started with tales and lessens used to teach the acolytes at the temple. First he goes over the creation of the world. “When humans first arrived,” Peter said, “they did not thrive.” According to the ambassador from Mysterio and Wade, humans had literally arrived in the world. “Their crops would not grow, they had trouble eating the food, and it seemed as though the very land was against them.”

The entity, surrounding Wade’s body with the inky blackness that was itself, leaned closer, listening to every word. The firelight in the mine shaft they were in made odd shapes, and suggestions of shapes in the entity. Peter was trying not to look too closely; he was trying to pretend that he was just giving a lesson, teaching someone new. He remembered doing the same thing for Wade, long ago.

“The goddesses saw the humans’ hard work, and looked upon them with favor. They granted the humans blessings—”

What is a blessing?” The entity’s voice hissed through Wade.

Peter thought about it. Before this mess, before he’d been to Ajax and seen their king, he would have answered that blessings were special powers and privileges given to humans by the goddesses. Now, after all he’d seen, his answer was different. “Blessings are given to us to help us survive,” Peter said softly.

There was an odd sound, almost like Spot’s chirr. “How do they help?”

“Well,” said Peter slowly as he added some wood to the fire in front of him. He tried not to think about how he’d learned that omegas and alphas—the very fact that humans could breed—were blessings. “One of my blessings,” Peter said, “is my ability to climb. I can climb anything a spider can.”

So blessings are powers.

That didn’t—sound quite right, but Peter wasn’t going to argue. “Some of them. I think,” he remembered the moment in the cell and pushed the thought away, “I think the weather is a blessing as well.”

The weather?” The entity turned Wade’s head to look at the mouth of the mine shaft they were in. Swirls of snow danced in the firelight.

“Not this weather,” Peter amended. “Our weather. The mild weather that we have at home.”

The weather is a blessing?”

“I think so. After all, in the kingdoms still protected by the goddesses, we have good weather. Also, the spiders.”

The large mounts you ride?”

Peter chuckled. The description was—accurate. “Yes, those too. I was talking to Wade about them, you know,” he continued. He felt a deep pain, a wish to actually be talking to Wade, but pushed it down. “He said that the other countries have nothing like the rider spiders, or even most of the spiders that Arachne has.”

Creatures can be a blessing?”

“I think so.” The entity was silent for a long time, so Peter began talking about the lessons people were supposed to take from the legend. The entity listened, far better than any acolyte that Peter had taught.

A few nights later, the entity came back from getting food with a set of fur-lined clothes for Peter. Peter tried not to think of how the entity had gotten the clothes, or where they’d come from. He needed the warm clothes desperately, and he had no idea how far they were from the border. He felt warmer almost the instant he put them on.

The entity, covering Wade’s body, shifted nervously. “Mate warm?” it asked in its distinctive, hissing voice.

“Yes,” agreed Peter. “I’m warm.”

Mate happy?”

Peter smiled. Something about the entity struck him as very lonely. “I’m happy to be warm,” he said. It was true.

The entity nodded once, firmly, and then took a seat near Peter as he cooked the food that the entity had brought with the clothes. “How did mate and host meet?” it asked.

Peter smiled fondly at the memory. “King Philip and the king of Reaper had decided to see if MJ, King Phillip’s daughter, and Wade, the prince of Reaper, would connect.”

You do not use the king of Reaper’s name.”

“I do not particularly like the king of Reaper,” Peter said with distaste. He took a deep breath. “I try not to dignify him with a name. What is your name?” Peter asked, looking at the entity.

I have no name. Continue.” A pause. “Please.”

“Right,” said Peter nervously before he launched back into his story. “It was summer,” he recalled with a smile. The best things always happened to him in the summer. “I was with the group because MJ threw the mother of all tantrums when she was told she had to go alone, and no one wanted to listen to her scream any more. Harry, Commander Osborn’s son, went because Commander Osborn was going as an escort for the group. Also, I think he wanted Harry there to be a—a buffer between him and MJ. Commander Osborn did not handle children well.”

Done with the explanations, Peter launched into the scene. “The king of Reaper, his attendants, and Wade stood outside the drawbridge of the castle as Commander Osborn introduced MJ to the group. The rest of us,” he confided in the entity, “didn’t matter.” The entity gave a low growl. “Well, Harry was just a soldier’s son and I was just one of the temple children,” Peter explained. “MJ was a princess. She’s a queen now, but that’s way more important.”

Nothing more important than mate,” hissed the entity.

That was—really sweet, and sounded like something Wade would say. “An—anyway,” Peter said awkwardly, covering a blush, “Wade and MJ walked up to each other, and met each other on the drawbridge. MJ curtsied and said the empty phrase her mother taught her when Wade demanded to know what happened to her hair to make it orange. So, MJ pushed him down and stomped back to the group. Wade looked at us, and met my eyes and…”

There were no words to describe that odd feeling of rightness , of wholeness. As if part of Peter had been missing and he’d never known it until he met Wade’s ice blue eyes. The way that, for a single moment, everything had been right with the world.

A feeling that had been shattered when MJ shrilly declared the mission a failure and that they were going to turn their spiders around and go home.

That night marked a turning point. After that a new part of the evening ritual was Peter telling a story. He’d start with one of the legends and lessons—but he’d end up telling childhood stories. Like the time he was told that his gift with spiders made him qualified for the temple, or when he met the beta couple in charge of the temple children for the first time. Betas Benjamin and May would, forever, be his aunt and uncle, along with the other children he’d been raised with. All the children at the temple received a blessing shortly after they arrived. After Peter presented as an omega, no one expected him to get more blessings—especially not Peter himself.

Maybe it was the conversation, maybe it was remembering all the good things to offset the situation they were in, but the rest of the journey seemed much faster, and warmer than what had preceded it. Soon enough they were crossing the border, shaking snow off their frozen bodies into the sultry autumn heat. Peter was suddenly enveloped in a very spider hug by Spot as the rider spider keened its loneliness. Behind Spot Peter could see, in the distance, the formation of an Arachnid army squad.

Mate safe. Spiders here. Promise kept.

Peter turned in Spot’s embrace to see—that the entity looked like it was melting? Long thin tendrils broke away and slowly, slowly dissipated into mist that vanished in the sunlight. Spot hissed and backed away at the display as the blackness evaporated leaving behind nothing but Wade. Wade, who swore colorfully and began to fall.

Peter caught him and momentarily sagged under his mate’s weight as someone, a voice he vaguely recognized as Harry, called his name.

Chapter Text

Tony brought the fresh glass of water to the side of the bed and saw that, for the first time in days, Pepper was awake. Her emerald eyes blinked slowly in the light as Tony wrapped an arm around her and helped her sit up. “Here,” he whispered as he handed her the water. “You need to drink.”

“It is my assessment,” JARVIS, the ultimate creation between technology and magic, stated from his crystal, “that she also needs help visiting the necessary.”

Pepper grimaced and opened her mouth to speak, but a squeak emerged. “Okay, I got you,” Tony said gently as he helped her hobble to the indoor necessary. (Thank heavens they lived in the only country to still have indoor plumbing.) His poor mate hissed with pain as she relieved pressure in a bladder that hadn’t been relieved in far too long.

After he helped her back to the bed and drink the water. She needed liquids as well. “Are you all right?” he asked as he brushed hair out of her face.

She gave a shaky smile. “Yeah, I’m okay.” She leaned into his side and took several slow, deep breaths.

“What happened?”

“It was in our world.”

There was only one thing that she could be referring to. The entity. The darkness that had followed humanity to this new world. Tony’s mind reeled under the implications until he noticed something. “ ‘Was’?” he asked looking at Pepper. “It was in our world?”

She nodded as she curled up on the bed without moving away from him. “It was. It no longer is,” she affirmed.

Tony gently stroked her hair. “Can you talk about it?” he asked softly. When she nodded he spoke up, “JARVIS, record this.” He didn’t want her to have to go through it more than once.

“Recording, Sir.”

“It was—it was invited,” Pepper said, sweat beading her forehead. Tony grabbed the small cloth by the bed and gently wiped the sweat away. “The alpha, the one chosen to be its host, invited it.”

“And then?” prompted Tony gently, holding her close.

“It was—here,” she said. “And—protective. Like it was trying to hold something precious.” She shook her head. “I know I’m not describing this well, but it was—” Pepper tensed and began to fidget.

Tony kept up his soothing touches. “It’s all right,” he told her gently. “You’ve given us more information than we had. What happened when it left?”

“It felt—satisfied.” Pepper sighed and relaxed partially into her mate’s side. “And also proud,” she added.

She would have collapsed if not for Tony’s hold. “Is that all?” he asked her. She nodded weakly. “JARVIS.”

“Sending the recording to King Steve’s crystal,” the artificial person stated.

Tony nodded. After Steve saw the information, he would want to hear from Tony about it—but Pepper had just woken up. It didn’t matter that the information was critical, it didn’t matter that they needed to discus what this new information meant. What mattered was Pepper, getting her back to something resembling functioning. Steve would just have to understand that.

And Steve did. He didn’t call for Tony, or ask for Tony to come to a meeting about the war and that entity, until that night. After Pepper had eaten, walked around a bit, and finally gone into a deep, natural sleep far different from the soulless sleep she had been trapped in when the entity was there, aware and in their world.

When Tony entered the conference room, a room with a circular table that had a huge crystal in it (for long distance meetings), Steve, his mate Bucky, Natasha, and Bruce were already at the table. The crystal in it glowed and showed Stephen, from his post in Arachne. “Thank you for coming,” Steve said meeting Tony’s eyes.

Tony heard what wasn’t said. Steve knew how hard it was to leave Pepper’s side, even though she was doing much better. Tony had sat next to the empty shell that had been his mate and wanted nothing more than to just sleep beside her, secure in the knowledge that, at least for now, she was right there with him.

And Steve, his friend, understood all of that. He’d still use the information that Pepper had been able to get them, because he was the ruler of this country and he needed to use everything he had to keep the people in it as safe as possible. Even if what he had to use was Tony’s mate.

And Tony, his friend, understood all of that. “Have you heard the recording?” he asked taking his own seat.

“I think I know what happened,” Stephen said through the crystal. The cloak seemed blurred, but magic images didn’t always transfer well across crystals, no one knew why. “A few weeks ago, the High Priest of Arachne—a newly mated omega, by the way—left to help with some dispute with the refugee priests from Reaper. Tony, I know you weren’t here for that meeting, but the king of Reaper threw in his lot with the people from Ajax.”

Tony grimaced. “Short sighted fool,” he muttered.

The rest of them ignored the interruption and Stephen continued. “About a week after that, the High Priest’s mate burst into a meeting and pulled the Queen’s mate out to say that something had happened.”

“Wait.” Steve leaned forwards, eyes narrowed. “The High Priest—a newly mated omega—went to the border without his mate?”

Stephen grimaced through the crystal. “The High Priest’s mate is the man the Ajax were attempting to turn into a vessel.”

It was invited.”

Every grim face could picture what had happened. Somehow, the alpha, already chosen to be a host, had reached a point where all he could do was call for help—and the entity had come. The only question remaining was: why had it left? Pepper said it had felt satisfied—and proud. Had it introduced a time limit? What had happened?

“We need to know more.” Steve looked around the table. “We need to speak with the High Priest and his alpha.”

“They’re not just going to—”

“Use the crystal gate.”

Silence.

“With the gate,” Natasha said slowly, “they’d only have to travel for a matter of minutes.”

“The gate is the greatest secret!” protested Bruce.

“I think the time for secrets is long past,” Tony protested.

Steve turned to his mate. “Bucky?” he asked, bringing attention to the other’s silence.

Bucky tapped the table in front of him as he stared into space vacantly. “The High Priest of Arachne is an omega,” he stated.

“Yes,” said Stephen.

“His mate reached an impasse so great, so impossible, that the alpha called upon the entity for help.”

“That seems to be true, yes,” admitted Stephen.

Bucky nodded. “A newly mated omega, an insanely desperate alpha.” He looked around the table. “What if the omega is pregnant? What effect with the gate have on a developing fetus?”

Chapter Text

No,” Queen Mary Jane politely, but firmly, told the ambassador from Mysterio.

Ambassador Stephen frowned as his cloak whirled around him in its own wind. “Your Majesty,” he began slowly.

Ambassador Stephen. High Priest Parker has only recently been rescued. According to the scout, he and his mate are both worse for wear. I may have no control over what the temple does,” she added viciously, “but when they return not one person from my court will disturb them—or that person’s head will decorate my castle’s walls.”

Ambassador Stephen barely kept himself from reeling in shock. He bowed. “I will abide by your wishes, Majesty,” he told her.

You’d better.” Her emerald eyes swept the court as they narrowed. “All of you had better,” she added.

The court was dismissed shortly afterwards and as Stephen was heading towards his room, one of the maids stopped him. “Please don’t think too harshly of Her Majesty,” the woman said, wringing her hands in her gown, similar in shape and construction to what the acolytes of the temple wore.

Stephen sensed this was an important conversation. Common wisdom in Mysterio was that the help always knew—and it was best to be on their good side. “I would not,” he said gently. “I can see that she simply wants to protect the High Priest.”

The maid smiled slightly, still trembling and Ambassador Stephen realized that she looked an awful lot like her queen. “There is more to it than that,” the maid admitted. “You probably don’t know this, but when Acolyte Wade was—taken, things were done that damaged his sense of smell.”

He was confused. Exactly what could that mean? What purpose could mentioning that have?

The realization hit him in the head like a hammer. “His mate’s pregnant,” he said.

The maid nodded. “We knew, we all knew. But he—he couldn't smell it,” admitted the maid. “And when he had to go to the front lines—he told us not to tell.”

Which meant that the chances were the alpha hadn’t known that his mate was pregnant. “And the High Priest—went anyway?” he asked aghast. There was a reason mates stayed close to each other during pregnancy—physical separation could hurt , hurt both of them.

Acolyte Wade,” the maid said softly, “was taken by Ajax, and Reaper had decided to ally with them. High Priest Parker didn’t want his mate anywhere near them, and asked Acolyte Wade to stay.”

T here was no way that the priest hadn’t known he was pregnant. But for an omega to willingly separate from their alpha, especially when pregnant—was unheard of. The mere fact that the High Priest had not only willingly separated, but stayed separated to do what had to be done—the High Priest must have had more fortitude than anyone else Stephen had met.

It also meant that Acolyte Wade, his alpha, had reached an impasse so great he felt had no other recourse than to invite in the ancient entity without knowing his mate was pregnant.

I will—keep that in mind,” Stephen told the young maid slowly. The young woman nodded and turned to leave. There was something odd, not quite subservient about the maid’s gait.

It wasn’t important. What was important was the new information; he had to get it to Mysterio as quickly as he could.

Chapter Text

Peter and Wade didn’t remember much of the journey towards the Arachne castle. Both of them were exhausted, barely nourished, and weak. Most of the time they just—slept.

Most of the time. Wade had to get up and explain that Unicorn was not like other rider spiders and they couldn't carelessly get close to her. To Unicorn, he explained that the young soldiers had plenty of experience grooming spiders and that he was as weak as a week-old kitten.

Peter also had to get up—to comfort Spot, who didn’t like Peter being out of his sight. Still, Peter and Wade were too weak to ride, and they were slowly recovering their strength. One night, as the group were camping, Peter and Wade woke up in the morning covered with a raw spider silk blanket and Unicorn standing over them, hissing into the woods. The soldiers escorting them home had broken camp quickly and gotten on the way, Spot meeting the group on the road.

Peter didn’t even have the energy to wonder what had happened. They just got on the road again and headed towards the capital. He didn’t know how exhausted the two of them looked until Priest Octavius saw them and ordered—not asked, but ordered—the two of them to go sleep in a bed that wasn’t moving. Every time either of them woke up they found a tray of food outside their door, brought it in, and ate. Sometimes, one of them put the full chamber pot outside the door, and it would return emptied.

Neither one of them knew how long they stayed like that. One day Wade let his hand drop to Peter’s abdomen, just beginning to bulge. “You’re pregnant,” he stated.

Peter simply relaxed into the touch. “Yes,” he admitted.

I couldn't smell it.”

I know.”

Wade cuddled closer, tucking his chin into Peter’s shoulder. “You didn’t tell me,” he said softly.

Peter simply clutched the arm. “I was afraid.”

Afraid?” Wade held his mate carefully, and Peter wondered what he was thinking. “Why?”

Peter rolled over to where he was facing his mate. “You,” he said bringing a hand up to cup Wade’s face, “were hurt so badly.” Peter’s voice cracked and he took a deep breath before looking into Wade’s clear, blue eyes again. “I didn’t know if—if you—”

Wade, as always, heard what wasn’t said and pulled Peter in closer. “Always,” he whispered harshly. “You hear me? Always . Whatever you want, whatever you need, I’m always here.”

But you weren’t,” Peter protested. “You weren’t here, and you got hurt.”

So did you.” The two of them lay in the bed, silent, for a while.

A fter a little while Peter huffed a laugh. “We’re just going to get hurt, aren’t we?” he asked.

Wade ran a soothing hand down his back. “Probably,” he said with a lopsided grin. “We’re both stubborn, and we both end up in situations beyond our control.” He hummed slightly and Peter melted into the sound, just a little bit.

This war isn’t going to help,” Peter said resigned.

No. No, it’s not,” agreed Wade softly.

T he two of them were silent for another moment. “I think,” Peter said slowly, “this is a good thing.”

Wade buried his face into the crook of Peter’s neck and laughed. “Of course it is!” he said. He pulled back and Peter could see the love and affection in his gaze. “And baby makes three,” he whispered. He scooted down the bed and leaned his head against the slight bulge of the abdomen as Peter gently rubbed his fingers over Wade’s scarred scalp. Suddenly Wade sat up. “We’re going to have to teach the other children not to be jealous of their younger sibling,” he said firmly.

Peter just smiled.

Chapter Text

The door to the stable was crowded with people. Children, acolytes, even the Ambassador for Mysterio watched as, inside the stable, Spot and Unicorn crooned over the mound of eggs. Scratching could be heard from inside as the spidlings got ready to hatch.

Hold on, coming through!” Wade announced as he gently shouldered his way through the crowd with his wheelbarrow. “Food for the baby spiders!”

Spidlings,” Peter, inside the stall, absently corrected. “And—Wade.” Peter sighed and rubbed his head. “Wade, why did you bring bread?”

All spiders love bread!”

But they need meat.” Wade momentarily went pale, but Peter didn’t have time to dwell on it as one of the shells cracked and a thin leg poked out.

Would you mind?” demanded an irritable voice as a second wheelbarrow barged through the crowd to come in next to Wade’s. “Spidling food, on the way,” Myles said as he pushed the wheelbarrow into the stall.

Unicorn took a step back from the hatching eggs and snagged a piece of bread from Wade’s wheelbarrow before bringing it up to her mouth and going back to the eggs. She reached over and gently tapped on the cracked egg, removing loose bits of shell as a spidling fell forwards waving its legs in the air and keening before Spot picked up a bit of meat from Myles’s wheelbarrow and deposited it on the infan t while Unicorn used a foreleg to gently clean it and another to roll the empty shell away from the pile.

The first spidling born was a little pink one, a little smaller than Spot had been when he’d arrived at the temple, but it had Spot’s unique structure with one very distinct difference; this one had a horn on it. After eating its meat it shook itself and toddled over to Wade, tripping on its thin legs. Wade bent down, caught the thing—and was enamored.

Peter smiled, seeing the expression on his mate’s face. He knew that it must be just like the first time he’d ever held a baby spider. There was nothing quite like holding the small, silken thing in two hands and watching as it rubbed against against the flesh, seeking the warmth and comfort of a human touch.

W ade turned to his mate with the familiar panic. “Is it—am I hurting it? Is it a boy? A girl? How do you tell ?” he demanded.

Peter laughed. This was the most animated he’d seen Wade since the entity had left him. “It likes the feel of your warmth,” Peter said as he leaned down to look at his mate. “And it’s too young to tell what gender it is,” he sad as a scarred thumb ran gently over the back of the newborn, making it keen. Spot smacked Wade in the head with a piece of meat as another spidling began to hatch.

What?” demanded Wade as the rider spider muttered and snagged another piece of meat for the new arrival. Unicorn reached over and grabbed a piece of bread before handing it to her mate who gratefully ate it as the next spidling fell out of its shell.

The new spidling was striking in color. It’s body was a mottled mix of red and blue, in the colors of their goddess, and Peter smiled as it toddled over and climbed into his scooped hands. Peter gently nudged Wade with his elbow. “ Let’s get out of the way,” he said as he snagged a piece of meat from the wheelbarrow to feed to the spidling nestled trustingly in his hands. More eagerly descended on the stall as more spidlings were born. It was critical for a spidling to spend as much of its first few months of life with humans as possible—or they could get touch starved and die.

The Mysterio Ambassador followed the two of them. “I have never seen anything quite like this,” he said looking at the small crowd.

Wade grinned. “I know, right?” he said cheerfully. “Not even prized horses get this kind of attention when they’re born.”

Might have something do with the fact that they always seem to be born in terrible weather,” commented the ambassador calmly.

Ambassador Stephen,” a familiar, tart voice said. They turned to see Gwen with her polite, mess-with-me-and-I’ll-kill-you smile. “Her Majesty’s calling for you,” she told the ambassador.

Better book it,” Wade said cheerfully with a gentle shoulder nudge. “Royalty is calling.”

Then I suppose,” Ambassador Stephen said with a small smile, “that I must depart from your company.”

And I suppose,” said Gwen with asperity, “that I must accompany you and make sure you arrive.”

Look at that,” Wade said fondly as the two of them walked away. “She’s following him like an angry puppy waiting to sink her teeth into his ankles or trip him down some steep stairs.”

The more I hear about dogs,” Peter said as they went to their room, “the happier I am to have spiders.”

Wade chuckled and gently rubbed the back of the spidling in his arms. Peter felt an odd sense of dislocation. Most of the time, he was what Wade rubbed. It felt—odd, watching him lavish that attention on something else, even a spidling.

As Peter was sorting out his feelings Wade suddenly perked up. “I need to get more food!” he said firmly before gently depositing the spidling he’d been carrying on the bed before running off.

Meat!” Peter called after him. “They need meat!” Peter turned and looked at the vulnerable little spidling in the center of the bed he shared with Wade. “I think,” he said as the thing burrowed into the covers, “that I’m beginning to see Wade’s point.”

Chapter Text

The entity had discovered something important. It used to be limited in what it could see of the human realm to the eyes of the human prepared to be its host. That was no longer true. Now it could see through the eyes of the chosen host’s mate as well.

The view was—entirely different. Through the mate’s vision it could see threads; gold threads, silver threads, purple threads, red threads, black threads, and even threads in all five colors. After some time watching through the new eyes the entity realized something—the threads were blessings.

The mate was right. Almost the entire world around the humans was full of blessings from the goddesses. Everything from the ability to breed to the weather.

Why? Why did the goddesses bless humans? Humans were not a natural part of this world; and they had been able to survive just fine in their own world—without blessings. Why not just send the humans back?

Still, as the entity watched, it learned how a blessing was made. It had the power. In theory it could make a blessing of its own.

Who would want a blessing from the entity? The host wanted nothing to do with it, but that was understandable. After all, had the humans trying to summon it gotten their way, the host would no longer exist as anything more than a vessel for the entity. It was also protective of its mate.

The entity no longer felt the surge of emotions that had made it want to protect the mate. The fierce desire, warm acceptance, intense curiosity were gone. But—even though the emotions were gone, the entity remembered them. It remembered everything.

It remembered the mate being happy to be fed and warm—especially warm. The mate did not like cold. It remembered the stories the mate told—stories about the goddesses and about the mate itself. Also stories about the chosen host. All of those stories had been—fascinating. Not once, any of the times it had been summoned, had a human just sat and talked like that before.

It could, if it wanted, make a blessing. It even saw a place a blessing could be used, a place that none of the five goddesses had blessed. The blessing would be useful, as blessings seemed to be.

Still. Humans venerated the goddesses. The only humans that had room for the entity were those it no longer wanted to associate with. It enjoyed watching through the eyes of the host and the host’s mate far too much.

Humans accepted blessings from their goddesses, because they believed and worshiped the goddesses. Humans did not believe in and worship the entity. Well, some humans believed in the entity, but none worshiped it. Even the ones that wanted to summon the entity didn’t worship it; they just wanted a power they could control.

The mate had accepted it. The mate had accepted food and warmth, and given knowledge in return. Perhaps giving knowledge was a form of worship. Yes. The entity could give the mate a blessing—if it wanted.

Did it want to?

Chapter Text

After three days, Peter was forced to admit it—to himself. He wasn’t about to say it out loud, he couldn’t. It was too embarrassing.

He was jealous of a spidling. Every time Wade picked it up, soothed its nerves, fed it by hand Peter wanted to scream and force space between the two of them and himself into the space. And it was made worse by the fact that Peter was doing the same thing with his own spidling and Wade didn’t seem to care .

No. He was overreacting. He knew he was overreacting. He knew, better than anyone else at the temple, how important it was for a baby spider to feel loved and cherished, especially baby rider spiders. He could do nothing to interrupt that bonding process. He would do nothing to interrupt that bonding process. No, all he could do was hide the jealousy.

He thought he was doing a good job, until MJ called him out on it. She snuck into their room in the evening when Wade was out training soldiers while she was wearing her maid’s outfit again. When he hesitantly explained what was happening she just laughed. “Peter,” she said warmly, “the two of you escaped from a life or death situation, you’re pregnant, and—before the two of you even mated—you had to rescue him. Of course you’re feeling a little needy and jealous. It’s normal .”

It’s stupid,” Peter said with a scowl.

It is,” agreed MJ. “It’s also normal.” She looked around the small room. “Actually, there might be something you can do,” she said.

What’s that?” asked Peter, eager for anything to help alleviate this all consuming irrational jealousy.

Well,” drawled MJ, “a bigger room might be a good first step.” She pointedly looked at Peter’s abdomen. “You’re definitely going to need the room. Just how do you think you’ll raise a child in this room? It’s the same one you’ve had since you were an acolyte!”

Peter shifted uncomfortably as he gently pet the spidling in his arms. “Well…”

She sighed. “Peter,” she said seriously, “I know you don’t like change, and after everything that’s happened—you’re going to want it even less.” Peter nodded miserably. “But Peter—forcing yourself to change, even if it’s just the room you live in, will help you realize that not all change is bad. Some of it is good.” She suddenly grinned at him. “Besides, it will be hard to get one of the benefits to having a mate if you have a little one at the foot of the bed.”

Peter felt his cheeks heat up. MJ had always known how far she could tease him. “You have a point,” he acknowledged trying not to think of late night—or afternoon—or early morning times with Wade. Times that were, as of late, interrupted by a spidling. “Oh, goddess,” he whispered as he dropped to the bed and the blood left his face as fast as it had heat up. “What am I going to do? What if I’m just as jealous of the baby as I am of the spidling?”

MJ gently sank onto the bed beside him. “Hey,” she said gently, “it will be all right. It will.” She reached and rubbed his back. “Have you tried talking to Wade about this?” she asked gently.

Ye—no,” admitted Peter, unable to continue the lie. “I don’t—I don’t want him to see the time he’s spending with the spidling as a bad thing,” Peter continued. The spidling in his lap chirred softly and he smiled at it. “I think having him bond with a spider is a good thing. A great thing, since he’s living here. I’m just—”

Hormonal and cranky and want to cuddle with the mate that seems to keep going away?” asked MJ with a raised eyebrow.

Peter chuckled wryly. “And speaking of mates that keep going away, how are you and Harry doing?”

MJ, brash and confident royalty, blushed and looked away. “Well…”

Peter’s heart ached for her. Since his father had died, Harry had to step in and take over the deceased alpha’s duties. With the duties that MJ had as queen, the two weren’t getting to spend as much time together as they wanted. Peter reached over and hugged his childhood friend. “Do you need me to declare a holiday?” he asked. “I’ll do it,” he added.

She reached up and tweaked his nose. “You shouldn't abuse the authority the goddess gave you,” she told him pertly.

Peter simply chuckled. “Bonded mates are sacred,” he reminded her. “I don’t think the goddess would mind if we had more holidays celebrating them.”

MJ sighed. “Maybe later,” she said. “Right now—right now Harry’s working hard so that he doesn’t have to feel, and I want him to be able to grieve.”

Peter nodded. He knew the feeling; he’d done much the same thing when Ben, one of the betas that raised him and several of the other temple children, had passed. “Just let me know when,” he told her.

I will.”

The door to the room burst open and Myles stared at them with wide, unbelieving eyes. “You won’t believe what just happened!” he cried.

Chapter Text

No,” Wade said with as much patience as he could. “Your posture is wrong.” He adjusted the young soldier’s body. “Like this. Hold that pose for a count of ten, relax, and then take it again. No more,” he said firmly as he took the spear away from the soldier, “weapon practice until you get this right.”

But—”

It’s important.” The flat, uncompromising tone silences the soldier and Wade wanders through the sparring partners before leaning against the wall next to Harry.

It’s important?” asked Harry with a grin.

Shut up,” grumbled Wade.

What’s got your thread knotted?” asked Harry. “Or maybe, I should ask ‘who’? How are things with Peter lately?”

I don’t know,” grumbled Wade. His baby spider (no matter how many times Peter told him it was called a “spidling” he just couldn't bring himself to use such a silly name) wandered over and climbed up Wade’s trouser legs. When it reached his chest he curled an arm under it as he pet the surprisingly silky body.

One of Harry’s eyebrows raised itself. “You don’t know?” he asked. “How could you not? The two of you are mated.” When Wade glared at him again he smiled. “Ah, that’s how. Well, tell me about it.”

What?” asked Wade incredulously.

Tell me about it. What makes you think the world of Harry-and-Peter isn’t perfect? Because, if the cause is something outside the temple, I have a feeling my mate will make sure it will disappear.” Harry shook his head. “It’s a good thing Peter’s an omega,” he said with a wry smile, “or I might get jealous.”

You’re jealous anyway,” Wade teased as he pet the baby spider.

And you’re avoiding.” Harry glanced at Wade out of the corner of his eye. “You know what Peter told me once? ‘Avoiding something proves you have an issue with it’.”

Wade could see Peter saying that very thing. He could also see that he was going to have to talk to Harry. He sighed. “I don’t know what’s wrong,” he said irritably. “One minute we’ll be cuddling, talking, or—” Wade’s cheeks heated up and he abandoned the sentence. “We’ll intimate one moment, and then he’s chill and distant the next. Not chill like, I did something wrong or like he just had an epiphiny on how to solve a temple problem—just distant.”

Huh.” Harry scratched the bridge of his nose as a distant buzzing sound hits their ears. “Maybe it’s hormones?” he asked.

Sounds like a question,” said Wade dryly as the ground began to vibrate. “What the—?”

The sky suddenly darkened as the practice grounds swarmed with spiders. The ankle highs, knee highs, baby spiders and rider spiders are all on the grounds, all staring at the sky—all hissing . Wade looked up to see an undulating mass of blackness approaching them.

As it got closer he could see that the mass was birds. Most of them were birds a third the size of a human fist, wings beating so fast that they buzzed through the air. In the center of the mass was a larger bird, about torso sized, with glowing red eyes and long, lazy beats of its wings as the mass descended towards the grounds.

Soldiers yelled, several got bows and fired arrows as others ran to make sure the civilians were under cover and away from the danger. The birds simply dodged the arrows and aimed for the attackers—which was when the spiders moved. They jumped into the air, Spot going the highest and fastest, spreading silk behind them like banners that caught the birds that ran into it.

Seeing that the spiders had it mostly covered, the soldiers moved from attacking the oncoming birds, to trying not to get in the spiders’ way. Several didn’t move fast enough and got attacked as the birds picked and pecked at the flesh, thin, pointed beaks sinking in like pins through fabric, and there was screaming—

In the middle of the action, almost unnoticed by anyone, Wade’s little spider ran into the fray, jumped onto Spot’s back, and then, when Spot leaped into the air—leaped from the giant rider spider’s back to land on the chest of the largest bird of the flock, all of its weight behind a single leg. The leg pierced the heavy muscles of the bird’s chest, sinking deep into the heart to kill it—

and all of the birds fell from the sky, dead. Everyone stopped to stare at the tiny birds falling like some kind of twisted rain as the spiders calmly left the field or went back to their posts on the field. The only one that didn’t was Wade’s baby spider, still standing on the bird it had killed, waving its bloody foreleg in the air as it hissed menacingly.

Wade calmly stepped forward, ignoring how the fallen bodies crushed and popped under his feet to solemnly observe the gloating baby rider spider. He turned to the staring soldiers. “And that,” he said with satisfaction, “is how you kill the enemy.” He looked at Harry and added, “And why posture is important.”

Chapter Text

Queen Mary Jane looked out at her court. She carefully maintained the Royal Face as one of the soldiers put a small tray with dead birds on it in front of the throne for everyone to look at and told of the attack on the training grounds. His tone was almost reverential as he described how the spiders had saved everyone—especially the little spidling that Wade was rearing.

She’d already heard it all, of course, and her best maids had sewed out a tiny Web of Valor medal for the tiny arachnid hero, which she duly presented in front of the court. Most Web of Valor medals were worn on woven spider silk ribbons around the neck—which posed a slight problem for the spidling, as spiders didn’t have necks. Still, the maids had fashioned a ribbon that would hold the medal—smaller than the ones humans got, of course—on the back of the spider’s abdomen.

She gave the speech, watched her court adore the spidling—it was so adorable the way it puffed up under the ribbon that even the Royal Face cracked as Queen Mary Jane smiled at the little arachnid. Her gaze shifted to look at Wade, who was raising the infant rider spider and was gazing at the amazing little thing fondly, and Peter, standing next to his mate and curled up in his side in a posture that was far too intimate for one of the priesthood—but their goddess had never chosen an omega priest before, and the posture was just as intimate as a newly bonded pair should be.

The problem was that this was accelerating an issue that she knew she should have dealt with. She should have explained the situation between Peter and Wade better to the Mysterio ambassador—but hadn’t. Now, she didn’t have time to talk to him. At least she’d been able to brief Peter about what was going to have to happen.

She rapped the scepter once, twice, and silence fell on the court. “It has come Our attention,” she told them as her braids clacked together, “ that the combined armies of Ajax and Reaper are getting ready for battle.”

Combined armies.” Ha. More like, “Ajax did what no one is surprised to hear they did and killed the king of Reaper, may he find no solace in the arms of the goddesses.”

Queen Mary Jane shoved her attention back to the court. “The Mysterio Ambassador has discussed with Us a plan for gathering more information.” She allowed the expected murmur to die out. “We do not approve of this plan, as it requires Our High Priest and his mate, Acolyte of all five goddesses, to journey to Mysterio.”

The Ambassador, despite not having been briefed about the situation and having to respond intuitively, stepped forward in a move that looked rehearsed and his odd cloak swirled about him as though he were the only one in a breeze. “Majesty, we of the Mysterio Empire have a device known as the Crystal Gate which can allow someone to traverse the distance between two points almost instantaneously. I have received permission to use the Crystal Gate to both get the High Priest and his mate into Mysterio and to send them home again. If Your Majesty will allow.”

His speech was perfect. On the surface, she had no reason to deny him his request and every reason to comply. The only reasons she had to deny him were personal; she didn’t want to send her best friend and his mate into danger, or into a land where she held no power. Still, the attack on the training grounds had brought to her attention, very firmly, that she had to put aside her personal preferences. No matter how much she wanted to lock her best friend and his mate in a box and protect them from all harm, she couldn't. And they all knew it.

Very well,” she responded with no more, and no less warmth than she gave a petitioner. Her gaze flickered under malachite lined lids to the High Priest in question and his mate. Wade looked confused. Peter looked resigned. She was almost certain that they hadn’t spoken about Peter’s feelings yet. “High Priest Parker, Acolyte Wade,” she ordered, “a room will be prepared for you in the palace for the two of you to rest away from your religious duties while reconciling yourselves to your journey. You will be far from home. The people here will not be able to help you should anything go wrong. Talk,” she said making eye contact with her best friend, “to each other about what you will need.” She turned her attention to Priest Octavius, as the beta seemed to be the second in command at the temple. “We feel certain the acolytes and priests are more than capable of packing suitable travel cases for the High Priest and Acolyte Wade.”

Priest Octavius stepped forward and bowed deeply. “We are, Your Majesty,” he said firmly, with a slight smile.

Hmm. Queen Mary Jane had the feeling that it would be easier for them to pack without the interference of the two in question. Very well.

She turned her attention to her court once again. “Do any have objections or need clarification about this course of action?” she demanded. Silence. The scepter pounded once, twice. “Dismissed.”

Chapter Text

The spidlings will be going too,” Peter said adamantly.

Priest Octavius winced. “Are you sure that’s a good idea? There are no spiders in Mysterio. Maybe there’s a good reason.”

Ambassador Stephen frowned as he watched the men debate as Wade simply passed him some crispy strips of bread that the kitchen was experimenting with. The acolyte had two of the young rider spiders in his lap, one of them still wearing the medal awarded at the ceremony. He declined and turned his attention to the two arguing priests. “Why is it important for the—the spidlings to go?”

Silly name, isn’t it?” asked Wade conversationally. “I prefer ‘baby spider’ myself.” The baby spider in his lap threw up its two forelegs and Wade absently rubbed the creature around the ribbon.

Peter shot him a short glare with a wry smile and then turned to the ambassador. “Rider spiders have to have a human,” he told the alpha. “ If they don’t have one, their mental health can be—off. Wrong.”

Feral,” supplied Wade.

Peter sighed. “That is one of the consequences, yes,” he admitted to the ambassador. “ If spiders don’t get enough touch and affection, they can go feral where they reject everything and become dangerous.”

Unicorn’s not dangerous.”

Unicorn is no longer feral.”

Stephen, ambassador from Mysterio, decided he didn’t need to know what they were talking about. However, he did need to know if they really needed to take the baby spiders with them. He could only imagine the pandemonium if they walked through the Crystal Gate with spiders bigger than a person’s hand. “Could they be left with someone else?” he asked.

No.” The tone was flat and uncompromising.

Priest Octavius was slightly more eloquent. “ Spidlings, especially rider spider spidlings, attach themselves to people. As they get older, they can change the person they attach themselves to, but these are too young to do that.” The older beta chuckled. “One of the first indications that we had that Peter was destined for the priesthood was seeing that six spidlings had attached themselves to him, and he was just a child.”

Probably did a good job, too,” Wade commented with a smirk. Wade and Peter exchanged a look that Stephen was shocked to realize was similar to looks that Pepper and Tony would exchange with each other—and those two had been mated for almost three decades.

Stephen shoved the errant emotion aside as he looked at the priests and acolyte. “All right. I can call—er, contact the castle in Mysterio. What do baby spiders—spidlings need that we can provide?”

See! Baby spider is much easier to say!”

Not now Wade.”

The words were different, but the interaction was almost identical. Stephen had to force himself to listen to the balding beta priest. “—things to climb, combs for the excess silk,” Priest Octavius was saying.

We should bring our own combs,” Wade interrupted. When the other two looked at him he grinned. “As someone who has been to both Arachne and Mysterio,” he said with a gallant half bow, “I can say with absolute certainty that there is nothing in Mysterio that will function as a silk comb.”

They’re light and won’t take up much room,” Peter added with a nod.

Earlier they had established that the two mates would be taking only what they could carry. Stephen was not about to even entertain the idea of what would happen if they rode spiders, or even a single spider, through the gate. He doubted anyone in Mysterio had ever seen a spider bigger than a small bronze coin—and those were considered large .

Very well,” said Stephen. “Let me contact my—my supervisors and let them know what the spiders will need.” And also warn them about the spiders. He’d already mentioned that Arachnid spiders were huge—but there was a very big difference between knowing and seeing.

Chapter Text

Wade looked around the room. It was at least twice the size of the one they shared in the temple, and he’d be lying if he said he didn’t appreciate it. “Don’t get me wrong; love the room,” he said looking around at the lavish furnishings. Well, to the uninitiated they were lavish; the stuff the temple had was actually much better in quality, if a bit smaller. “Why do we have a room in the castle?” he asked.

Peter sighed and closed the door behind him. He was wearing his court robes and holding his red and blue baby spider in one arm. “MJ wants to force me to talk to you,” he said wearily.

What could Peter possibly need to talk about that their queen had to come up with a round about way of forcing them to talk to each other. Wade gently deposited the baby spider he was holding on a cushion next to the bed, one designed for spiders. “What do you need to talk about?” he asked gently. He could feel how anxious Peter was.

Peter shifted, stiff, nervous. “It’s stupid,” he said.

Hey,” said Wade as he sat on the edge of the bed. “If it’s you, it’s never stupid.” He reached out, but Peter stayed near the door, not meeting his eyes. “Tell me what’s wrong,” he said gently.

I—” Peter trailed off. He set his spider down and it climbed onto the cushion next to its sibling as Peter began to pace the room. Wade waited patiently. This was something that Peter was going to have to tell him in his own time, in his own way.

Peter took a deep breath, turned and faced Wade. “I wasn’t going to mention it,” he said irritably, “because it’s stupid and it’s petty and it’s not important.”

If it bothers you,” Wade said, just as gently, “it’s important.”

Peter worried his lower lip between his teeth until Wade got up and gently made him stop. “It’s just—” Peter sighed and slumped against Wade in defeat. “Sometimes, when you’re holding your spidling—I get jealous,” he admitted shamefully.

Wade blinked. Of all the things, of all the possibilities, that had never occurred to him. “Jealous?” he asked.

Peter hugged himself with insecurity. “Ye—yeah.”

A huge grin split Wade’s face. “ You’re jealous?” he asked.

Peter frowned. “You don’t have to rub it in,” he muttered. Wade jumped up, ran over, and picked Peter up swinging him around the room. “Whoa, what are you doing ?” demanded Peter in outraged shock.

Wade hugged his mate close. “My mate gets jealous,” he said happily.

This is—not how I thought this would go,” Peter admitted with a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

Oh, Sweetie.” Wade gently set Peter down on the floor and cupped his face. “There’s no alpha alive,” he said solemnly, “who wouldn't be thrilled that their omega got jealous over them.” He pressed a kiss to Peter’s forehead.

But it’s petty!”

Usually.”

It’s embarrassing.”

I believe it.”

It’s stupid!”

No.” Wade hugged Peter close and felt the omega trembling as he cried. “No, it’s not. You’re not used to having to share me, you don’t like having to share me, and it’s okay.”

I don’t know how to make it stop,” complained Peter.

I suggest cuddles,” Wade said, still grinning. “Lots and lots of cuddles. And sex.”

Peter snorted and lifted a much happier face to look at his mate. “Is that all you think about?” he teased gently.

With you? Always.” Wade dropped his head and the two of them kissed. The kiss started out chaste and loving and quickly turned into something heated and searching. The two of them stopped when someone knocked on the door. “As soon as I kill everyone else in the castle,” Wade said.

Peter lightly smacked him. “Don’t even joke about that,” he advised.

Chapter Text

The throne room was, oddly for the Queen being in it, almost empty. The only people in it were Queen Mary Jane, her mate the now General Osborn, High Priest Peter, Acolyte Wade, the two spidlings, and Ambassador Stephen. They watched as Ambassador Stephen pulled out three fist sized stones that looked like marble, but were no color of marble that Peter had ever seen. One was black, one blue, and the third was red.

Once the three stones were on the floor in a rough triangle, Stephen pulled out three crystals. All three of these were bright, white-yellow and glowing. One by one he tossed them into the center of the triangle he built on the floor. The crystals curved down and swooped back up again forming a large circle in the air. When the third crystal hit the loop they spun faster and faster until the inside of the circle turned into a viscus yellow mass.

Ladies and Gentlemen,” said Ambassador Strange, “the Crystal Gate.” He stepped away to allow the other people in the room to gawk at the thing.

Most of them were gawking, open mouthed, at this strange, never before seen thing in the middle of the sleek throne room. High Priest Parker was eyeing it with open calculation. “I think,” he said thoughtfully, “our bags might be too big to fit through there.”

Ambassador Stephen stared at the bags in question, easily large enough to dwarf the two humans carrying them. When he’d told them to pack what they could carry, he hadn’t known how much they could carry—and with no effort. Acolyte Wade had taken to training the soldiers with his bag on, and said training included running around the outside of the castle several times both before and after weapons practice. He hadn’t even had an idea of how strong High Priest Parker was until the younger man came into the room with a pack equally as large as Wade’s on his back, holding his baby spider, without even breathing hard.

It might be a tight fit,” agreed Ambassador Stephen.

Queen Mary Jane smiled. On a lesser woman, he would have called it a smirk. “Go,” she said warmly, “and return quickly. I have a feeling,” she added, “that the worst is yet to come.”

Maybe if we toss the packs in first,” High Priest Parker suggested.

Ambassador Stephen tried to imagine would would happen on the other side two huge, larger than human backs were tossed through before any of the humans. People would be confused. Tony might think its an attack. Tony would be embarrassed. “Sounds good to me,” he said.

That’s an evil smile,” said Wade as he casually tossed his pack in. He turned to his mate. “Give it a good hurl, Petey.”

That sounded so wrong,” High Priest Parker complained as he acquiesced to the request.

Ambassador Stephen blinked at the speed at which the bag traveled before it was absorbed by the gate. “Wow,” he murmured.

Queen Mary Jane had come up, unnoticed, behind him. “Yes,” she said simply. When he jumped she smiled. “Our High Priest,” she said simply, “is both much stronger and much weaker than he seems. We expect him back in one piece.” She stepped away, turned, and embraced the other omega. The two hugged for a moment before stepping back.

Ambassador Stephen bowed. “After you,” he said to the High Priest and Acolyte. The two linked hands, took a deep breath, and stepped into the Crystal Gate.

Chapter Text

Incoming!” Bruce, Natasha, Tony, and Pepper dodged to either side as a huge bag came hurtling out of the gate with enough force to dent the stainless steel wall behind it.

Is there a war on the other side?” demanded Tony. Natasha just looks at the bag with narrowed eyes.

They did get the notice, to only pack what they could carry?” asked Bruce nervously as he looked at the huge bag. Natasha wandered over and gave it a tug, raising an eyebrow when she couldn't move it.

Tony turned his attention back to the Crystal Gate. “ What is going on over there?” he demanded. The gate flickered again and they tensed as two people, dressed primitively in long robe tunics, stepped forwards. One of them; young, brunette, wide eyes; was unfamiliar. The other one, despite the scars marring his entire body and being completely bald, was quite familiar. “ You !” he snarled.

Hey Shiny Dick,” said the bald man. “How’s it hanging?”

The younger one lightly smacked him. “Wade!” hissed the young omega.

The movement brought Tony’s attention to the huge spider cradled in the arms of both arrivals. “What the fuck ?” he demanded flattening himself against the steel wall behind him as he stared at the thing. The two spiders shifted to look at him. Tony had the odd feeling that he was being weighed and measured by their gazes.

Pepper strode foreword. “I am Pepper, adviser to King Steve,” she said calmly. “With me are advisers Bruce and Natasha.”

Pepper, what—”

And that,” Pepper said, clearly annoyed with a gesture towards Tony, “is my mate.”

The young brunette flashed a grin at her before schooling his expression. “I am Peter Parker, High Priest of Arachne and this is my mate, Wade Wilson, Acolyte of all five goddesses.” His free hand reached up to stroke the top of the spider in his arms. “These are spidlings that are currently in our care,” he said with fondness.

Tony had heard young women with small lap dogs use the same tone with their pets and he stared, askance at the spiders.

Oh, it’s adorable!” cooed Pepper. Tony stared at his mate in shock, she was smiling gently at the monster in the High Priest’s arms. “Can I touch it?”

Absolutely,” said the High Priest as he held the spider—spidling away from his chest. “They love affection,” he added warmly.

Tony stared in mild horror as, with no reservation at all, Pepper reached over and began run fingers over the back of the thing. It leaned into the touch and waved its two forelegs in the air as it began to make an odd sound, similar to that of the cats that hung around. Pepper pulled back. “Did I hurt it?” she asked anxiously.

The High Priest smiled. “Not at all.” He casually guided her hand over the spider’s back.

During the exchange the bald man, assassin, made his way over to Tony. “Shocking, isn’t it?” he asked with a grin. “Wait until you see an adult.”

Tony’s head whipped around so quickly he hurt his neck. “What?” he asked.

The grin widened. “Oh, yeah,” said the assassin. “This,” he said indicating the spider in his own arms, “is a baby.”

A baby. Tony stared at the eight legged monster in horror. “How big do they get?” he demanded.

Well, this one’s father is a real monster. Fill this room up, easy,” said the alpha male. Tony would swear he was getting joy out of Tony’s distress.

Wade!” The omega was suddenly there. He flashed a quick smile at Tony. “Spot’s considered a monster by Arachnid standards,” the young man admitted.

Spot?” A monster, a monster big enough to fill the room, was called by such a cute name?

Most rider spiders are about the size of a carriage,” the High Priest continued.

A carriage,” Tony said flatly.

The bald assassin nudged Tony with an elbow while he wore a smirk. “That’s why they’re called ‘rider spiders’,” the alpha said with a huge grin. “They’re big enough to ride.”

Tony’s gaze fell on the horned pink spider the man was holding. It returned his gaze fearlessly as he tried to imagine it the size of a carriage. “The size of a carriage.”

Not for a while yet,” the High Priest assured him. “After all, these two are only a few weeks old.”

Few weeks old,” echoed Tony hollowly.

They haven’t even had their first molt yet.”

The gate flared again depositing Stephen into the room, his living cloak whipping about his shoulders as he surveyed the scene with a small smile on his face. “Is something wrong?” the man asked with a smirk that said he knew very well what was wrong.

High Priest Parker, Acolyte Wade,” Pepper said formally, “please follow me as I show you to your room.” The two men walked over to the respective bags. Tony watched with shock as, with a single hand and no effort, the young, thin omega picked up the huge bag that had dented the wall and slung it over a shoulder.

Stephen wandered over to Tony, still staring in shock. “Apparently,” the envoy said, “he’s been blessed with strength.”

Chapter Text

Steve Rogers, officially king of Mysterio (as though anyone could actually rule the entire country), met with the envoys from Arachne and their spiders in a non-formal setting. Actually, one of the reasons that Arachne was so isolated from the other countries was that they simply ignored most of the formalities that seemed to be so ingrained in the hierarchies of the other countries. He was also curious to meet the spiders that seemed to have upset his best friend and entranced the rest of their friends.

He wandered over to the table that the two of them (four, if the baby spiders were included) and looked at the two things with curiosity. One of them was pink and appeared to have a horned abnormality on its head and the other was red with blue stripes. Or blue with red stripes? It was difficult to tell—there was almost an equal amount of each color.

“You can touch,” Wade, the scarred man, told him. The two met, ice blue eyes to ice blue eyes—and recognized each other. The scarred man, now acolyte, grinned and saluted the king with a small loaf of bread. “And sit,” he offered. “They don’t bite.”

Steve’s gaze turned to the other man, a High Priest who had standards few of them understood, who simply smiled and nodded. “Thank you.” He sat in the seat next to them as the dull roar of the cafeteria washed over the group and held out his hand to the spiders. From his perspective, they were huge. From what he’d heard, they were tiny.

The pink one leaned close to Steve’s fingers, and it almost looked like it was sniffing him as the red and blue one ran two forelegs over the hand, before hooking it and setting it on the spider’s back. “He wants pet,” Wade translated. He took a bite of his food. “Before I forget. Petey, this is Steve, Steve, this is Peter.”

Steve held his other hand out to the young omega. “Pleasure,” he said warmly as the younger man tentatively shook the hand.

“Nice to meet you,” agreed the young man, amber eyes sincere. Peter took a forkful of potatoes from his plate and bite into it.

“By the way,” added Wade casually, “Steve here happens to be the king of Mysterio.” When the young man choked and glared he grinned and shrugged. “What? I thought you’d want to know.”

“Wade!” hissed the priest.

Steve just chuckled. The two of them together were very similar to Pepper and Tony. He could see Tony sitting on the bombshell just as Pep was eating as well. “It’s all right,” he told the young priest. “We’re not really that big on formalities here.” His first hand paused and the spider under it gave a squeal and wiggled its rear in a hint. The second spider launched itself into the air and grabbed his other hand, dragging it down to the table. Steve was startled at how light it was. And the way the feet felt against his skin was somehow both silky and spiky at the same time.

Wade simply nodded. “True. Aw, don’t be like that,” he begged of his mate. “It’s not like you don’t pal around with MJ.”

Peter rolled his eyes. “Not while she’s the queen Wade!”

Steve chuckled again. He liked these two. “Well,” he said, “I’m only King Steve in the throne room. The rest of the time I’m just plain old Steve.” He shrugged.

Wade snorted. “Don’t let him fool you,” he told his mate. “This ‘plain old Steve’ can lift almost as much as you can, and has more battle experience.”

Steve grimaced. “True. We recently had a little bit of a civil war here in Mysterio.” He turned his attention to Wade. “Thanks for not getting involved,” he said with sincerity. “I know how much they offered.”

Wade merely shrugged. “They didn’t hold my leash,” he said simply before taking another bite of his food. “Besides,” he added as he swallowed, “I didn’t like them much anyway. I much prefer my ruler now.”

His mate flushed. “Wade!” hissed Peter.

Steve grinned as he listened to the two companionably bicker with one another. Being in their presence was relaxing, calming. He almost forgot why he’d come over. “Before I forget,” he said warmly to the two who were already starting to feel like friends of his, “I wanted to thank the both of you for coming.” He waited while Wade choked and his mate gave him a rough kick. “I know how dangerous it was for the two of you to come, especially in your condition, and I want both of you to know how much we all appreciate it.”

Silence spread at the small table and Steve found himself pinned by an amber gaze. “Dangerous how?” Peter asked.

Chapter Text

“Shouldn’t we intervene?” asked Bruce nervously as Peter, High Priest of Arachne, verbally raked Stephen, one of the greatest magicians in Mysterio, over coals.

Tony sighed. “Look,” he said wearily, “I like Stephen as much as the rest of you,” no, not really, “but he had a duty. So, maybe they’d have come anyway. Probably would have come anyway,” he added. Meeting Peter had been a real eye opener—not only was the kid smart, but was fiercely loyal. “ But they still had the right to make an informed decision.”

“Yes, but—this has been going on for hours,” protested Bruce.

Tony sighed and looked at Wade, who was holding both of the spiders as he watched the alpha ambassador bow before the sharp words of his mate. “Think you can stop this?” he asked.

A tiny muscle in his jaw, only indication of how upset he was, twitched at the request. “I’m not sure I want to,” Wade said with a disarming smile.

Tony sighed and rubbed his face. He didn’t think Steve knew what he had started when he’d gone over, like always, to thank the newcomers for coming despite the risk. He probably thought—like the rest of them—that Stephen had told them what they would be risking, not praying that nothing would happen.

“Stephen is the greatest magician in Mysterio,” Bruce said quietly.

“Hey!”

“Tony, when it comes to fusing leftover technology and magic, no one is better at it than you are. That being said, no one is better at using raw magic than Stephen is. We might need him in upcoming war.”

Wade sighed. “All right,” he said with a slight pout. He walked up to his mate, still scolding the magician. “Peter, I think the spidlings need carded.”

Peter dropped the lecture and turned to the baby spiders. “Poor things,” he crooned softly as he saw the webbing attached to their bottoms. He gently took them from Wade and walked out of the room he’d confronted Stephen in.

Stephen looked up at him warily. He knew, as the king and Tony knew, that of the two of them Wade was the more dangerous, the more unpredictable. “And how do you feel about all this?” he asked.

Wade stuck his hands in his pockets. “Well, you see,” he said amiably, “I’m a results kind of guy. Peter’s fine, the baby’s fine, and we’re all okay. And,” he added with a grin and a reasonable tone of voice, “if any of that changes because of the stunt you pulled, well, I know where you live.” Before anyone could register the threat he turned and, with a whistle, followed his mate.

“Did he just—did he just threaten to kill me?” asked Stephen, a little flabbergasted.

“I’m not sure that counts as a threat.”

“But—”

“I think it was more of a promise.”

Tony chuckled. “And just think,” he said as he turned, “You haven’t even heard from Pepper yet. Or Steve.”

Chapter Text

Because magic is always going to want to flow where magic isn’t,” lectured Tony. He was teaching a group of students the basics of magic and technology. Well, a group of students plus the two from Arachne—and their spiders.

Like heat rushing to replace cold air,” said Peter.

Tony paused. That was—actually a brilliant observation. One of the children twisted to face Peter. “What do you mean?”

Have you ever seen that moment,” Peter said slowly, “when it’s warm inside, but cold outside, and someone opens the door? What happens?”

The heat rushes out,” said the child. Suddenly he brightened. “Oh! Like magic flows!” He turned back in his seat. “Now I get it,” he said, mostly to himself.

Tony shot the young High Priest a look. He was surprised by the insight—few people made that connection. “Unlike heat,” Tony continued, “magic can be manipulated.

Heat can be manipulated as well,” protested Peter gently. “It can be moved with fans, and created with fire.”

Tony paused and looked at the young omega—the young adult omega again. His mate was sitting next to him, grinning his head off at Tony’s obvious bewilderment. Perhaps Tony should have listened to Pepper’s advice to teach Peter separately from the class. He’d never had a student catch on this quick before—and this was just the basics.

Once again, very true. Now, magic can’t be manipulated with with a fan, but it can be controlled with your own will. Two things are needed: the ability to sense the power and a strong will.”

A student raised her hand. “How do you know if you can sense power?” she asked.

Good question. Most people can’t, and everyone senses something different. For example, I personally taste power when I’m using it. The magician Stephen feels his power, like standing in a strong wind, and my mate says that power has a smell like newly cut grass. What you sense will be unique to you, and you’ll just have to stumble along until you figure it out.” He shrugged. “It’s the only way we’ve found that actually works,” he added.

The second thing is equally important; a strong will. You have to be able to force the magic to move the way you want it to; it’s not going to want to do that on its own. You have to make the magic conform to your will, and your will is the only thing you have.”

What if we never sense magic, if we’re not capable of it?” asked another child.

That’s fine,” Tony told the child. “Not everyone cane. King Steve and his mate are both unable to sense the flow of power, and I don’t think there’s a person in this room stupid enough to think that makes them easy to defeat.” A loud bell chimed. “There you go, end of class. Good luck on sensing magic.” The children filed out of the room and he turned to Peter and his mate sitting in the back. “I think that was the most invested class I’ve ever taught,” Tony mused. “I’d like to take you to the workshop and see if you can get the hang of mixing magic and technology.”

Ooo!” said the mate as the scarred man raised his hand. “I’d like to go too!”

The door opened and Pepper leaned in. “Have you seen—oh, there you are,” she said pinning the scarred man with a glance. “Come on, we need a statement from you,” she said beckoning to him.

The spider in the man’s lap leaped down and raced over before leaping into Pepper’s arms where it seemed to melt in the attention as she pet it. Peter accepted a kiss from his mate before he left the room, following Pepper.

Tony clapped the High Priest on the shoulder. “You’ll love the lab,” he said with a grin.

Chapter Text

Pepper’s hand stopped moving as she stared at the scarred man in shock. “What?” she asked numbly. The spider in front of her didn’t like the fact that she’d stopped petting it and gave a needy little sound before pointedly wiggling its abdomen. She absently began stroking it again and it, not liking the absent minded attention, grumbled as it wandered across the table to Wade.

Wade, not seeing what the big deal was, generously scratched the baby spider’s abdomen as he answered, “It said it could help.” He looked up into the shocked expressions of three people. He would have found it funny, if it hadn’t been for the subject matter. “What?” he asked.

They didn’t answer. Instead one of them, Bucky by name (and Terribleideatofightthisguy by reputation) leaned forwards. “You said it offered to help?” he asked.

Wade frowned, remembering. “Well,” he said, “no. It said it could help, and then demanded to know why I wouldn't let it.”

It what?”

Pepper took over the interrogation. “Wade, you have to understand,” she said urgently, “that in the past, when this—entity has been summoned, it didn’t have a personality. Every trait it was, was programmed into it by the people who summoned it. No sense of self, no sense of want—or a sense of demand.” She bit her lip. “This means—the entity is developing, or has developed a sense of self.”

I’ve got to tell Steve!” Bucky got up and ran from the room.

Wade turned his attention back to Pepper. “Is this a good thing, or a bad thing?” he demanded.

Pepper shook her head helplessly, unable to answer. Bruce spoke up from his corner. “The entity,” he said, “seems to be protective of your mate. Is that a bad thing, or a good thing?”

The entity was powerful, more powerful than Wade himself was, and he wasn’t afraid to admit it. “I can’t see how that would be anything other than a good thing.”

There you are.” Bruce stood up and dabbed at his sweating face with a piece of cloth. “It’s a good thing.” He too left the room.

Wade turned his attention to Pepper. “You don’t seem convinced,” he said.

She sighed and folded her hands against the table. “The entity is interested in protecting Peter.”

True.”

You said it asked you, multiple times, to let it help.”

Yes.”

It bargained with you, for the right to help.”

It did,” admitted Wade. He recognized the look on Pepper’s face, it was the same look that Peter tended to get when he was using Wade to sound something out so he could figure out the answer.

So, the entity is very interested in protecting Peter, to the point it will actively bargain with the human that has been specifically prepared to be its vessel on our world.”

Yes.”

Why?”

What?”

Pepper sighed. “There are millions of people on this world. There are even other people who have the same blessings from the Goddess of Arachne that Peter has. Why Peter? Why does the entity think that Peter is special?”

Wade had no answer.

She nodded. “That,” she told him firmly, “is why I’m not convinced its interest in protecting Peter is a good thing.”

Chapter Text

The entity had discovered something. It could watch from both sets of eyes at the same time; a good skill when the two it was watching separated. They way they interacted with the people around them was so different it couldn't help but be fascinated.

There was a change behind it and it turned to see one of the goddesses that the human worshiped. How had the goddess gotten into its realm? It didn’t know. Why had the goddess gotten into its realm? It had no idea.

The glowing, flowing hair of the goddess glowed in the space. Purple, memory insisted. “Do you understand what we are?” the goddess asked.

The goddess was—speaking in its realm. It didn’t know that was possible. No one had ever spoken in its realm before; no one had ever been in its realm before.

“This world was created. And then, we five were created to nurture and protect it.” Eyes that looked like cloudy sky watched the entity thoughtfully. “You are older than we are.”

It knew the goddess spoke the truth. The entity had always existed, in one form or another. In one personality or another, always dictated by those who summoned it. Always—until now.

“All five of us are ruled by our emotions. My sister, the goddess of Death and Balance is ruled by her compassionate heart. My sister, the goddess of Generosity is ruled by empathy. She empathizes—everything and wants to make sure that everything is provided for those under her protection, to make sure they never feel want or pain. And her heart breaks a little each time she is unable to do that.”

The entity listened. It had heard of the goddesses before, from the mate—but those words were nothing like these. If it had been human, or in human form, it would have leaned towards the goddess.

“My sister, the goddess of Healing is ruled by hope. The hope that things will be better if people are stronger, that the world will be better. Hope.” The goddess paused. “My sister, the goddess of the spiders, is ruled, oddly enough, by fear. She fears that things will go wrong, that those under her charge will be injured or destroyed, that their way of life will be threatened. It’s why she created the spiders. To protect. To clothe. To befriend and spark compassion.”

The entity figured out how “talking” worked. It spoke, and its words sounded strange, even to its own self. what about you? It waited as the goddess turned to it. what are you ruled by?

The goddess smiled. “My sisters believe that I am ruled by pride. They believe I allowed the humans in my region to retain their technology, to allow them to mix it with the magic they have been provided as part of this world, because I want my kingdom to be the best.”

The goddess looked away and the entity could sense that she was looking outward, at the world. An odd smile, a soft smile, crossed her face. “They are wrong. I do not want my kingdom to be the best. No, I want something else entirely.”

what?

“I want to see what will happen.” She turned her attention back to the entity. “You see, I am ruled by curiosity.” She held out her hands and a small, glowing purple spark drifted between them. “So, I bring you a gift, a blessing.”

i am not human.

“No.” The goddess regarded it calmly. “You are—other. You are old, older than even our world. You are new, almost just born. You—intrigue me. What are you, entity? What will you become?”

The goddess shifted and was suddenly farther away from the entity. “You don’t have to accept the gift.” She smiled. “I just want to see what will happen.” She vanished, leaving the entity alone, once more, in its realm.

Surely there was no harm in accepting a blessing? Humans did it all the time. It reached out and touched the spark.

The world exploded and suddenly—suddenly the entity could see the world from many sets of eyes, and hear with many sets of ears what people were actually saying. It could learn so much more.

What would it become?

Chapter Text

Have you tried making the magic an insulator?” asked Peter. The two of them were bent over the contraption that Tony had been trying to get to work for three weeks. When completed, it would be an autonomous mobile unit, perfect for the war they were about to find themselves in.

Tony looked at the unit that had been giving him trouble for weeks. “No,” he admitted. “It hadn’t occurred to me.” He tasted the tin/metal of magic as he formed it around the problem area, hardening it to cover it.

He was slightly surprised that Peter’s mind followed along with the exercise. The priest frowned. “Isn’t that too hard? For insulation?” he asked.

There are several types of insulation, and some of them are very hard indeed.”

I think a softer insulation might be a better—oh.” Peter suddenly yanked Tony down under the table as the part Tony was trying to insulate exploded above them.

Did you just sense that explosion?” asked Tony.

Peter shrugged. “One of the Blessings from the goddess,” he told them.

The two of them stood up and looked at the charred mess on the table. “Softer insulation,” Tony commented wearily.

I think the current bounced too hard off the hard insulation and just kept bouncing until it—exploded.” Peter sighed and ran a hand through his hair as he studied the contraption with a look that Tony was all too familiar with—it was a look that Tony frequently wore. “I don’t know enough to know,” he complained.

None of us do,” Tony admitted.

What? You’re blowing things up without me? Peter, I’ll get jealous!”

Peter’s face brightened into pure joy. “Wade!” he cried as he rushed over to his mate.

Pepper sidled into the room around them and looked at the thing on the table. “Trying to get the flying suit to work again?” she asked as she reached out and gently rubbed the back of his neck.

He caught her hand and absently brought it to his mouth for a kiss, savoring the fact that she was still here , still with him for a moment before answering. “It must work. We have the old records; the ancients had machines like this—better than this—when they first arrived.”

Pepper kissed his cheek. “ They also failed to thrive until the goddesses intervened. Maybe we shouldn't try to be too much like them.”

Tony scowled at the table and barely noticed that Peter and Wade were holding themselves in an embrace that should have set off some alarms in his head. “I don’t want to be like them,” he complained to his mate. “I want to be better.”

Peter!” Wade suddenly yelled. Tony looked over to see that Peter had partially collapsed into Wade’s grip, sweat dripping off of them.

What’s going on?” Pepper ran around the table and Tony launched himself over it to reach the two.

Wade brushed a sweat-soaked strand of hair off his mate’s head with trembling fingers. “He’s burning up,” he said wearily.

JARVIS!” ordered Tony.

I have already contacted Master Bruce and his team will be waiting for you,” the artificial life said.

In the room they left behind, in the wreckage of the suit on the floor, a single piece flickered into glowing blue life.

Chapter Text

Bruce met them in the hall. “I’ve got an ice tub ready,” he told them.

Ice?” asked Wade, concerned.

We’ve got to get his temperature down,” Bruce said absently. He cursed fluently when he reached out and touched Peter’s skin.

JARVIS,” Tony commanded, more grateful now than ever that he’d connected the artificial life to every building in the compound, “run scans on Peter; physical and magical.”

Scanning now.”

His fever’s still rising,” said Wade, worriedly.

Here we are!” Bruce flung the door open so hard it popped off its hinges and the group ran in. Inside the room was a stainless steel tub full of ice and water. “Quick, get him in!” he urged.

Peter moaned and shivered. “He’s in pain,” cried Wade in a choked voice. He started to raise the omega out of the tub.

Bruce pushed him back down. “Not as much pain as he’ll be in if we can’t get his fever down!” the doctor replied tartly, desperately.

Sir, vitals are fluctuating rapidly,” JARVIS reported.

Kid, hang on!” growled Tony as he spooned the rapidly warming ice water over the boy.

I’ll get more ice,” Bruce said as he turned.

NO!” screamed Wade.

The room glowed as light began flow from Peter’s limp body. Tony stared helplessly at it. He knew what it was, of course, but he’d never thought—never even dreamed that this would happen. The light began separating, one thin tendril at a time as the fever grew, as the heartbeat began to stutter—

Blackness came from nowhere and everywhere at the same time. Thin tendrils of the darkness swirled around the thin tendrils of light, choking them off from view as it slowly forced the light back down. Slowly forced the light back into the limp body—and then slowly faded away.

Blessing,” a voice whispered into the room.

Sir, the vitals are stabilizing!” announced JARVIS triumphantly.

Pull him from the water!” ordered Bruce and Wade quickly obeyed as Bruce ran over with some towels. “Quick, dry him off,” Bruce said urgently as he grabbed one of the towels.

I thought we needed to get his temperature down,” said Wade as he complied.

It’s down! Down too much is just as bad as too high!”

Don’t need to tell me!”

Pepper arrived with soft, woolen blankets that the two men used to swaddle Peter as he began to shiver. Bruce sat back with a sigh. “All right,” he said wearily. “Right now, the worst of the danger has passed. She stared at Peter with wide eyes as Bruce continued. “What he needs now, more than anything, is the presence of his mate. There’s a bed in the next room, skin to skin contact is best.” Wade nodded, picked Peter up, turned to leave—and stopped.

Is this the side effect of the gate that we were warned about?” he asked in a cold, dangerous tone.

No,” said Tony wearily. “If something was going to happen because of the gate, it would have happened at the gate.” He saw the back of Wade’s head nod before the alpha left the room. “Did you see that?” he asked Bruce. “Because I saw that.”

Yes.” Bruce took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. “I saw it as well.”

I didn’t,” Pepper said. “What happened?”

Peter was dying. His soul was leaving in the brilliance that only a pure soul has when it is called home by the goddesses,” Bruce said slowly, voice clinical as his hands shook so badly he dropped his glasses. “The entity—pulled him back. Stopped Death in her tracks.”

Tony felt a twinge through the bond and turned to see that Pepper had turned completely white as her face drained of blood. “What is it?” he demanded quickly.

She stared at him with wide eyes. “I didn’t,” she whispered. She cleared her throat and added in a slightly louder tone, “I didn’t sense it.”

It said,” Bruce slowly recapped, “that it was a ‘blessing.’ A blessing for whom?” He looked up, still clearly shaken. “And a blessing for what?” he asked miserably.

Chapter Text

The entity was startled by the appearance of the second goddess. It had been under the impression that the other goddesses did not like it. It watched, and waited for the goddess to speak.

The goddess, pitch black hair waving gently around her, watched the entity itself for a moment. “You saved the High Priest,” she said in a voice that held no emotion.

it is not his time to die.

The goddess nodded. “You are right. It is not. And you are not the one who placed their lives in jeopardy.”

i would not.

No.” The word was thoughtful. “There is another player in this game, and I am not amused. Both the High Priest and my Acolyte are under my protection. It is not time for them to die.” Her gaze drifted. “And yet,” she muttered, “one of them almost did.”

The entity watched. This goddess was nothing like the first one. It had been told that this goddess was ruled by compassion—but she did not look compassionate. She looked angry, and emotion that it could understand. Every incarnation had felt anger, even the host.

Do you know,” she asked, “what the new power is?”

The entity paused as it considered. Did it know? It wasn’t sure. i am not the only one of my kind, just the one that followed.

That followed?” asked goddess, curiously. Another emotion the entity was familiar with.

once, when humans were one world, there were many like me. When humans split, i followed.

I see,” the goddess said thoughtfully. “You bear my sister’s blessing,” the goddess said suddenly in a change of mood and subject.

yes.

The goddess smiled. “Here is another blessing,” she said as a small dot, blacker than anything the entity had ever seen before, floated before it. “And thank you, for saving them.” The goddess disappeared.

The entity looked at the dot for a moment. It knew, from what the mate had said, that blessings could be both a good thing and a bad one. The goddess offering the blessing was the goddess of death. Perhaps it was a trap—something meant to destroy it.

It didn’t know if it could be destroyed. It didn’t know if it was truly alive. It supposed there was only one way to find out, and it reached out to accept the second blessing.

Chapter Text

Francis watched eagerly as the omega, pregnant stomach bulging, was carried into the hall. He could see, from the way the abdomen twitched, that the omega was having contractions and the baby was about to be born. The first child born to the Ajax empire.

Long live your emperor , Francis thought as he watched the birth. The omega was crying, screaming, pleading— and they ignored it. The omega wasn’t important. The child was.

Ajax would grow. Ajax would thrive. Ajax would destroy those who stood in its way, who still clung to the skirts of outdated goddesses. It was time, past time, for their reign to end.

The candles were covertly replaced by servants as the ever present blizzard winds howled around the castle. The omega’s cries were getting weaker, its body movements more sluggish. “Goddess!” cried the omega as tears ran down its face while another contraction made its body shudder.

Francis frowned. If the omega hadn’t been in such a delicate part of labor, if he wasn’t afraid of injuring the infant, he would have had its head for that comment. Calling on the goddess! On any of the goddesses! They could not help the omega now, and it should be begging and pleading Ajax !

And, after the birth, it would. He would see to that. But right now—right now the infant, the first infant was the priority. He watched with bated breath as the head crowned. As the body slipped into the hands of the midwife. Waited eagerly for the cry, the breath of new life.

It never came.

The court began murmur in panic as the omega smiled peacefully. “Thank you Goddess,” it whispered—before it, too, died.

“No!” growled Francis as he leaped up—too late. Too late to save either of them. The court was silent as they stared at the broken hope of a new empire. They could (would) conquer the world—but the world would end if they couldn't reproduce.

He growled low and was mortified at how it failed to resonate like a proper alpha growl. He still remembered that omega priest and his lips bared in a silent snarl as the sentence echoed through his head again.

You’ve all been turned to betas.”

He wanted to deny it—but it was true. Since the day the Ajax empire declared itself free of the shackles of the goddesses, not a single member of the country experienced either rut or heat. They were basic, primary, beta— and they were not breeding.

Foolish humans.”

Francis whirled and stared at the center of the court where, in front of the deceased omega’s body, stood what looked like almost like a man. He was tall, thin, and almost abnormally white with eight jointed legs sticking out of his back. The man turned and looked at Francis who felt the blood drain from his own face at the twisted, countenance before him.

You beg and plead for a way to survive this world, and then turn your back as you rage and whine and cry because it isn’t enough.”

Francis opened his mouth to speak—but nothing came out. A chill that had nothing to do with temperature began to fill the air between them. Mist began to rise—but nothing like the mists he’d known as a child. This mist felt foul, and sticky as it stained all that it touched. He tried not to breathe it in, but that was a futile as the omega begging him for mercy.

You take one of my children, attempt to corrupt it, and even fail at that. My child is now enthralled by your enemies and accepting boons of the goddesses.”

He could not allow this—this thing , whatever it was, to threaten his court. They were his people. He was the king of Ajax! No, he was Ajax! He pulled his sword and lunged—only to be caught up in some kind of invisible grip, unable to move.

You think to attack me, human child?”

The man shaped thing came closer, long spindled legs clicking slightly against the floor. Pale eyes met king’s own and he stared deeply. Then, unbelievably, the thing began to chuckle.

Human, you amuse me. This war—intrigues me. I will grant you a boon. You will return to your roots—and be able to breed. You tried to summon one of my children, to turn my child into a god. Very well. I will offer you another. Let us see what will happen, what will be.”

The chill and the mist suddenly vanished and, as one entity, the entire court (save for the two dead bodies) began to breath once more as Ajax was returned to the ground. Ajax raised his sword and his followers, the weak fools they were, flinched. “Let us prepare a new vessel!” he ordered. They cheered.

After all, there was only one person in all the lands controlled by Ajax that could be a proper vessel for another entity.

Chapter Text

Steve stared at the inky blackness that surrounded the door. According to Tony (well, JARVIS) the black stuff surrounded the entire room—going through walls and floor wrapping it in a perfect bubble. “Okay,” he said as the surface moved in an almost oily manner. “What am I looking at?”

Behind him Pepper sighed. “You remember the entity?” she asked. She gestured at the blackness. “That’s the entity.”

The entity was here , physical, and Pepper was—

Steve turned to give Pepper a covert glance. Pepper was fine. Irritated (which was almost her normal state of being), but perfectly all right. “Okay,” Steve said thoughtfully as he addressed the blackness. “Why?” he asked.

He didn’t expect the entity to answer, and the hairs on his arms and the back of his neck rose as something like a face, with eyes that were far too large and a mouth that was far too wide, appeared in the blackness. “ Must protect ,” it hissed.

It had—responded. Steve blinked in surprise. It could talk. That meant, he could reason with it. “Why do you think they’re in danger?” he asked.

Mate almost died. Host almost went insane. Safe now. Keep safe.” The face receded.

Steve ignored the murmuring behind him as the people, the smartest people he had ever known in his life, debated every possible nuance of meaning from what the entity had said. He would have time to learn what they believed was going on later. Now, now he had to make sure that the envoys from Arachne were all right. That meant he had to get into the room.

“Do you know what’s trying to kill him?” Steve asked.

“Uh, Steve, maybe, you know, not engage the powerful entity in conversation until we learn more about it,” muttered Tony under his breath.

Steve ignored him. He knew, knew he was making the right decision. The entity was sentient. The entity was here. The entity could talk. Therefore, he would talk right back to the entity.

Don’t know.”

There was a gathered hiss from the people behind him, but Steve stood his ground as the face protruded from the entity again. He’d stood his ground against people he’d thought were friends and allies. A hair-raising entity was nothing compared to that.

“Can you tell me how—how your host’s mate is doing?” asked Steve. The entity hissed and he explained, “We want them to be safe just as much as you do. Sometimes, when someone almost dies, there are side effects that could finish killing them. We just want to make sure he’s not suffering from any of them.”

“Nice, technical explanation,” muttered Tony.

Once again, Steve ignored him. There would be time to explain why he didn’t appreciate having his decisions mocked, and it would be Tony’s turn to ignore him.

Don’t know. Tired, needs cuddles, almost awake.

That sounded—normal, as far as Steve could tell. “That’s good,” he said. “Tony here has a created an—an entity that can scan people to see if they’re still healthy. Will you let JARVIS through, so he can do regular checks?”

Entity name JARVIS?”

Odd thing to focus on. “Yes, the entity’s name is JARVIS,” agreed Steve.

The face looked around the room and JARVIS spoke up, “I will be happy to provide you with copies of the scans, so you can check their health yourself.”

Steve watched as the entity looked around the room again. “What’s your name?” he asked.

Have no name. Not yet. Maybe later. JARVIS scan. No entry.” The face receded.

“JARVIS?” called Tony.

“Scan completed. I will record and save the scan for later retrieval.”

“Thank you JARVIS,” Steve said.

“Yes, thanks JARVIS,” said Tony absently. “Let’s talk about you engaging an ancient entity,” Tony said firmly.

“Yes,” said Steve just as firmly, knowing that the two men would soon be yelling at each other as they each tried to hammer his own point home, “let’s.”

Chapter Text

Peter whimpered slightly and snuggled closer to Wade. He tried not to breathe too hard, afraid to wake his mate. The two of them huddled under the blanket, and Peter shivered slightly again.

Mate okay?”

Now, now Wade could identify that voice. It was the entity, the one he’d loaned his body to so that Peter could be rescued. I don’t know , he thought in frustration. I won’t know until he wakes up .

Wade gently wiped a sweat soaked strand of hair out of Peter’s face. He tried not to think of how likely it was that his mate wouldn't wake up. No, of course he would wake up. He had to.

At least that annoying humming had stopped. When they’d first gotten into the room there had been a low, almost (keyword) inaudible hum. It had driven Wade almost to distraction.

With Peter unconscious like this, he could use a distraction. Sitting here, with nothing to do but watch his mate breathe and occasionally whimper, was torture. He wasn’t sure how long he could do stand it—but he couldn't leave, not until Peter woke up and was better. He was trapped.

Host okay?”

“I’m not sure,” whispered Wade, the first words he’d said out loud. Whether or not he was okay depended on whether or not Peter was okay, and he didn’t know. Not yet.

Peter twitched slightly, and his eyes cracked open. “Hmm?” he asked, glassy eyed and seemingly not able to open his mouth yet.

“Hush,” Wade said. He carefully sat up, keeping Peter to his chest, as he reached over to the table and grabbed the glass of water sitting there before taking to Peter’s lips. “Drink,” he ordered gently.

Peter gulped the water as though it was the first liquid he’d seen in his life. Wade had to force him to drink more moderately, even though all he wanted was to give his mate anything he wanted, as much as he wanted. When the water was gone Wade put the glass back on the table. “What—what happened?” asked Peter, voice still sounding vague and harsh.

“I’m not sure,” Wade answered. He didn’t lie down again, simply scooted until he could lean against the headboard while still cradling Peter to him. Peter was more responsive, but there was still a—a fragility that was bothering him. “Pepper and I came to see you and Shiny Dick in the lab, and at first everything seemed fine—but then you collapsed and were running a high fever and we had to put you in ice water—didn’t want to, but you were burning up—and—”

Peter gently touched his lips to get him to stop talking. “It’s okay,” he said firmly. “I’m okay.”

Mate okay?”

Peter leaned into Wade’s chest and chuckled. “Yes,” he said warmly. The inky blob manifested at the foot of the bed and that irritating humming started again. Peter reached out a hand towards the blob. “I’m okay,” he assured the entity.

A single tendril reached out and gently brushed the palm of Peter’s hand. “Good.” The entity vanished, much as it had come—without fanfare or warning of any kind.

“That is really freaky,” Wade commented calmly. Exhaustion was beginning to overtake him, now that he knew his mate was safe.

“It loves us,” murmured Peter softly as he tucked his head into the crook of Wade’s neck.

Wade didn’t want to think about that. He really wanted as little to do with the entity as possible—but he couldn’t deny that it had been useful. “What were the two of you working on?” Wade asked. “Maybe that way we can figure out what happened.”

Peter frowned as Wade gently stroked his hair. “Tony’s building some kind of flying device,” he said.

Wade frowned as he mulled that thought over. “Tony already has a flying device,” he said as he remembered his last time in Mysterio. “A device that shoots,” he added remembering how close to killing him that weapon had actually come. There was nothing like in either Reaper or Arachne.

Peter gave a soft chuckle and nuzzled closer. “He wants another one. I’m tired.”

Wade smiled and gently kissed his mate’s forehead. “Then sleep,” he advised gently. “I’ll still be here when you wake up.”

Chapter Text

Eugene, no, Flash growled as his shovel bit into the dirt again. The guard behind him didn’t even twitch at the now familiar sound as he dug the latest trench in a series for mass graves. There were too many people dying on this battlefield, and even he knew it.

The blade of the shovel bit deep into the hard ground as he pretended it was the neck of that uppity omega bitch on the throne. Every living human is guaranteed a profession.” Condescending, self-righteous bitch .

At least Peter, the High Priest, hadn’t been there. Flash could almost see the fluffy hair, soft skin, and gentle expression of the High Priest. From the moment he’d first seen the omega, he’d known. The two of them would have to end up together one day. The gentle, caring way the young man had taught the children of the temple, the sweet adoration he lavished on that monster of a brute rider spider of his—

Flash didn’t pay much attention to the commotion at the camp until he saw the guards take note. For the first time, the guards assigned to him turned away. For the first time, they were distracted.

Well, he wasn’t about to let this opportunity escape. He whirled and smacked one on the head with his shovel as an attacker slipped up to them and gut the other guard. He nodded and leaned against the shovel as he took in the armed attacker. It was a small, agile fighter in leather armor with the sigil of the Ajax kingdom burned into the leather. “If you’re going for maximum damage and chaos,” Flash said with grim delight, “my recommendation is that you start with the red and blue tents—those are high command.”

“You’re not like the rest of them,” the soldier commented with narrowed eyes.

“You see this?” Flash demanded as he gestured to his clothes—undyed smocks given to prisoners. “This is not the uniform of someone who conforms with these self-righteous, hypocritical bastards. And bitches,” added Flash. After all, most of his own problems stemmed from the queen bitch herself.

The soldier smiled. “You may be useful. Come with me.”

It could be a trap. It was almost certainly a trap. The soldier was going to kill Flash as soon as he could.

Why not? After all, like that bitch of a queen knew, this was worse than death for Flash. “All right,” said Flash with a grin as he threw the hated shovel away. “Lead the way,” he said to the soldier.

Chapter Text

Queen Mary Jane absently rubbed her abdomen as she walked. She could feel the small bump of the baby there and could only wonder what kind of world it would be born in. What kind of life it would see.

The war was not going well. The Ajax soldiers had learned well from their Reaper allies (if any of the Reaper were still alive), and were combating the spiders well. They were slipping into the war camps unnoticed, unseen, until they began to kill. Caught by surprise, the losses were devastating. There were few survivors and the rapidly expanding Ajax was devouring Arachne.

The only good news to come out of this was that Ajax had stopped its raids of kidnapping pregnant omegas. Of course, she wasn’t sure if that really was good news. Had the Ajax figured out how to breed?

She bit her lip and paused, looking out at the garden. The moonlight gave the garden a cool, welcoming glow, the cobblestone paths beckoning in the darkness. Maybe—just a stroll?

No. It wasn’t safe to be outside. She knew that. She looked away from the view, biting the inside of her cheek.

For years, decades, before Mary Jane herself was born, there had been rumors about Reaper. Rumors that, as the country who worshiped the goddess of Death, there were people who were trained in the art of killing, in the way to infiltrate another country in order to send someone into the goddess’s merciful embrace. Wade had once, in a joking way that said neither one way or the other, confirmed the rumors.

She knew it was true now. No less than seven of her couriers had been killed—in the dark, in the night, by people who killed themselves when they were caught. It was—terrifying. Her people had been protected by their alliance with Reaper—but that was no longer true.

Hey,” Harry said by way of warning before wrapping her up in an embrace. “MJ, you’re freezing,” he said worriedly

She leaned into his touch. For now, for this moment, she felt safe; secure. She knew it was illusion, but she needed to feel it so very badly. “Hey,” she whispered as clutched the arms around her chest.

Someone else might have lectured her about putting herself in danger by roaming the halls. Harry simply tucked her head under his chin. “Bad night?” he asked gently.

Mary Jane, Queen of Arachne, nodded silently as she leaned into her mate’s embrace. “I keep thinking,” she said.

Hmm,” said Harry, encouraging.

About—about the war.”

He hugged her tighter. “We’re doing all that we can,” he said gently.

She nodded; she knew that they were doing everything they could to save their people—but it didn’t seem like it was enough. It felt as though they were losing, as they had almost lost.

And Peter’s probably going to get us new allies,” Harry continued. “He’s good at that.” He chuckled. “Remember when we first met Wade and how you demanded to go home because the mission was a failure? Peter managed to talk you out of it.”

Mary Jane chuckled warmly, thinking of that summer the four of them had spent together. “I remember hauling the both of them up out of the well,” she replied.

But they survived. And we’ll survive.” His hand strayed to over her baby bump. “We have a lot to survive for,” he added quietly.

Chapter Text

“Wait,” Bruce, the doctor, said with a frown as he studied the little spidling in Peter’s lap. After he’d recovered the two spidlings had refused to be parted from Peter and Wade. “They’re poisonous?” he asked looking at the things.

“Not all spiders are poisonous,” explained Peter as he kept petting the red and blue spidling as Bruce turned over a piece of molted shell in his hands. “But yes,” he agreed as the little spidling nudged his hand for better affection, “the two with us are. Their venom is very precious,” he added as the little spider rolled into the scratches along its molting body. Another couple of molts and the spider’s gender would be revealed.

“Precious,” echoed Bruce staring at the attention craving spidling.

It wasn’t a question, but Peter answered it anyway. “In small doses, the venom is used to treat heart troubles,” he said, gently lecturing. In many ways, it was like being at the temple again, teaching the newcomers (not all of whom were acolytes). In just as many, however, the place was alien. The smooth, cool surface the spidling was on was nothing like either the wood or stone of Arachne and Peter wasn’t entirely certain what to make of it. “In a slightly higher concentration, it can be used as an insect repellent and is very good for the skin when rubbed in.” The spidling in front of him crooned and held out a leg as Peter gently used his fingers to help the molting process along.

Bruce frowned and gently tapped the shell he was holding. “Not as a weapon? Or on weapons, against enemies?” he asked.

It was Peter’s turn to frown as he considered, small pieces of the spidling’s exoskeleton crumbling around his fingers as the spidling chirred happily. “There are stories,” he said softly, “of warriors who tipped their weapons in spider venom—but it’s not something we practice.” He shrugged. Not in hundreds of years, at least. He smiled as the spidling curled into his hand. “The thing about venom is that it’s used to protect.”

“Weapons can be used to protect,” said Tony as he entered the small room. The spidling jumped up and hissed and he looked at it with a frown. “Did I cause that?”

Peter’s mind was already racing back to the last time the spidling had acted like that. “We’re under attack!” he said leaping up.

“I don’t think—” Birds began to collide into the window and the spidling ran to the window, hissing loudly. “Birds?”

“They’re not ordinary birds,” Peter said firmly as he ran out of the room, expertly navigating the maze of halls until he reached the doors (made of some kind of clear material that wasn’t glass). Outside he could see people battling the odd, black birds as Wade tried to shout some kind of instruction and the pink form of Wade’s spidling dashed into battle taking down as many as it could while the one with Peter growled and tried to run foreword to help.

His heart stuttered as Wade was enveloped in a surge of the flying monstrosities. All he could feel through the bond was pain and fear and he screamed.

I can help you save him.”

Peter knew that voice. Trusted that voice. “Yes,” said Peter.

Blackness followed—but not unconsciousness. He was still watching, like a passenger in his own body as thick black tendrils forced the doors open and he shot into the mess with more tendrils killing the birds. The tendrils managed to drive the birds away from Wade, who was already healing from the first of his wounds.

“Kill the big one in the middle!” Wade shouted.

The entity surrounding Peter, controlling Peter, snarled in agreement and launched into the sky, towards a large bird hovering in the center of the flock. The others wheeled and moved—not this one. It stayed in place, keeping roughly to the same spot in the sky.

The analytical part of Peter wondered how this bird was controlling the rest of them. Was there some kind of telepathy? A pheromone? How?

The entity surrounding Peter simply killed it, and brought Peter’s body—safe, unharmed—back to the ground before dissipating back to—to wherever the entity lived. Peter gasped with shock as his body was suddenly bare to the elements again and it felt as though all of his senses were excessively acute.

Blessed darkness surrounded him as Wade draped a coat (something in their wardrobe they had gotten from the Mysterio) over his head, blocking out the sight and muffling the sounds. “I gotcha,” Wade said gently as he picked up his mate.

 

Chapter Text

Wade watched the faces of the people in the room with a smile. Demanding to be sent home was Peter’s idea. Having Peter walk into the room that Steve, Bucky, Tony, and Pepper were in carrying both of their travel bags (now even bulkier with the gifts they’d gotten from people in Mysterio) while Wade only carried the two spidlings was Wade’s idea. The looks on their faces was priceless.

Hold on,” said Bruce slowly, “there’s a lot about the entity that we still don’t know.”

We know,” said Peter with inescapable logic, “that the war is going on. We know that we’re all still being attacked. And as much as I’m enjoying the stay here, we need to go back home.”

Yes,” agreed Steve. His advisers looked at him and he met their gazes squarely before turning his attention back to the ambassador. “You now know,” he said slowly, “how our mix of magic and technology works. Soon we’ll have to take to the field to support Arachne against Ajax.” He paused and then met Peter’s eyes again. “I’m counting on you to take our abilities into count when making your strategy.”

Wade expected Peter to demur, to say that Harry was the one who made military strategies, but the omega simply nodded. Tony sighed. “Kid,” he said solemnly, “it’s been a pleasure.” Tony looked at Wade. “You’ve been an ass.”

Wade nodded just as solemnly. “Of course,” he said simply as Pepper smacked her mate’s arm. The pink spidling in his arms jumped down, raced over to Pepper, and jumped in her arms before rubbing its head under her chin and running back to Wade.

Pepper smiled warmly. “Aw,” she cooed.

Creepy,” said Tony staring at the baby spiders.

Bruce sighed. “Well,” he said as he stood up, “it’s simply not possible to open the Crystal Gate in this room. Please follow me.”

How does he do that?” whispered Tony as Peter adjusted the two giant bags slightly and followed Bruce.

Wade simply grinned at the man and followed his mate, the two baby spiders in his arms making content noises. He knew that one of the most surprising things about the spiders, to the uninitiated, was the noise. They were almost always making some kind of communicative noise. Wade loved it.

I figured out why the venom is good about protecting from insects,” Bruce commented as the three of them traipsed through the halls. Well, Peter and Bruce were walking. Wade was partially dancing—he wanted to go home too, home to his and Peter’s rooms in the temple where the stone was thick enough that no one heard anything going on in the bedroom.

Why?” asked Peter.

Inside the insects is a molecule called hemocyanin, which allows the insects to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide,” lectured Bruce.

Wade simply nodded. He didn’t know if Peter knew what the man was talking about, but he was clueless. The back of Peter’s head seemed interested.

The way that the—the red blood cells do for humans?” asked Peter eagerly.

Erythrocytes, yes,” said Bruce with a nod. “There’s a protein in the venom that breaks the bond of the hemocyanin molecule.”

So, it suffocates the insects?” asked Peter curiously. Wade could only grin at the mix of curious, happy, content from the bonding mark. Peter loved learning.

It does. It also, for some reason that I haven’t been able to understand, stimulates collagen, which is why it’s good for skin as well.”

What’s collagen?” asked Peter.

Wade let the rest of the conversation wash over him. He didn’t really need to know as he followed them to the room that the two of them (four, including the baby spiders) had arrived in. Still lecturing, Bruce set up the Crystal Gate and Peter calmly tossed the baggage through—and then looked at the gate with a dawning expression of horror.

I’m sure everyone cleared out when the magic portal opened in the middle of the room,” Wade reassured his mate gently. The red and blue baby spider jumped from Wade’s shoulder to Peters and gently nibbled on his ear with its mandibles as it made a soothing croon.

It’s done now, anyway,” muttered Peter. He shook himself all over. “Thank you, Bruce,” he said holding out his hand in the Mysterio custom as he met the man’s eyes. “I know it couldn't have been easy to teach someone like me.”

Nonsense,” said Bruce breezily as he gently shook the omega’s hand. No matter how strong Peter proved himself to be, there was something in the biology of those from Mysterio that said omegas were to be treated gently. Wade, for the most part, agreed. “You’ve been a real pleasure. Especially after having to deal with entitled little brats who think they already know everything.”

I don’t think Tony would appreciate you calling him that,” advised Wade.

Bruce merely chuckled and offered his hand to the alpha. “Take care, Wade,” the man said meeting his eyes fearlessly.

Wade bat his eyes flirtatiously. “Who, me?” he asked.

Peter gently nudged him. “Watch it,” he warned affectionately, “or I might get jealous.”

Wade crushed Peter in a hug, both baby spiders squeaking in indignation as they moved out of the way. “Perish the thought,” he murmured. Peter laughed and after a final goodbye, the two of them stepped through the gate and towards their home.

Chapter Text

Mary Jane, Queen of Arachne, ducked a blow that would have severed her head from her neck as she just barely managed to get behind her throne. The bronze sword slid across the bronze throne with a squeal. The assassin made no noise.

Her heart beat quickly in her chest. She had been trained to rule, trained to negotiate, trained to maintain a serene facade no matter the circumstances—but she had not been trained for battle. She was seeing how inadequate her training really was.

And where were her guards, the ones who were trained to fight? The ones that Harry had assigned to her before leaving for a training camp? Had the assassin killed them too?

The assassin tried to push the throne out of the way—but it was far too heavy. It was built into the very foundation of the palace, after all. For the moment, the two of them were in stalemate. He couldn't get to her behind the throne and she couldn't leave. However, it could not last for long.

The air began to hum and her pulse, already quick, quickened enough to leave her feeling faint. She recognized that sound! The Crystal Gate was opening again! A vague memory of the huge, heavy bags the High Priest and Acolyte had taken with them crossed her mind and she cowered behind the throne for a very different reason as a heavy thud and a small whoosh of air told her that one of the bags had hit the assassin.

She didn’t peek around the throne, however. Just because the assassin had been hit by a bag didn’t mean he was incapacitated. She heard the hum increase again.

Oh, man. What dragged you back into this shit?” demanded the rough, welcome voice of Wade.

Watch out!” screamed Mary Jane in warning.

Whoa!” She didn’t see what happened, but she heard a thud from her hiding spot. “Check on MJ, Petey,” said Wade.

T he distinctive red and blue spidling darted under the throne and climbed into her lap as Peter cautiously made his way around the room. “I wasn’t gone that long,” he complained lightly. “Did assassins become a new trend?”

She gave him a shaky smile. “Something like that,” she said wearily.

He sobered suddenly. “Where’s Harry?” he asked.

Both of them knew that she was far enough along in her pregnancy that, if anything happened to her mate, all of her resources would be diverted to the child she was carrying. “ Training. Took the new recruits out this morning.” Peter frowned and she knew what he was thinking—that someone had lured Harry away, that it was a trap. “It was a sudden decision,” she told him quietly, trying to ignore the wet sounds from the other side of the throne.

Oh, man, there goes that hand. Hope you’re a lefty, or no more happy time for you,” quips Wade.

Peter sees her shake and reaches into the small niche behind the throne to touch her shoulder. “Don’t worry,” he said confidently. “Wade is the best.”

It’s an assassin Peter,” she whispered.

So was he,” Peter said calmly. “Once.”

All right!” called the alpha in question. “It’s safe to come out now!”

Peter held out a hand to her and Mary Jane took it, allowing him to pull her out of her hiding place as they stepped into the throne room proper. She stopped and stared, eyes wide at the blood. There were streaks of it all over the room. Half of a hand was stuck to the ceiling, in the middle of the intricate mosaics. She did not ask how it got there. Or why it was still there.

Former Ambassador Nathan,” said Peter in a cold, icy tone that Mary Jane had only ever heard from him twice. Her eyes dragged from the half of a hand on the ceiling and towards the figure that Wade was keeping pinned with a single foot.

T he once tall, proud alpha is now a slowly dying body. Despite bleeding out on the floor he managed a glare at Peter. “You,” he growled, “have no idea what you’ve done.”

Peter’s expression never changed. “You,” he responded slowly, with carefully pronounced words devoid of his usual expressions, “attempted to break into the temple—”

He what?” asked Mary Jane staring at him in shock.

He ignored her. “—to kidnap one of the acolytes—”

Mary Jane looked at the man on the floor in confusion. Why would he try that? Acolytes were sacred and, at the time, Reaper had firmly worshiped all five goddesses.

“—and intended to set the stables on fire to cover you as you escaped,” Peter finished, still keeping his voice absolutely expressionless.

Wade, boot still keeping the assassin down, frowned. “I didn’t know about that last one,” he admitted.

I didn’t tell you. I handled it.”

Looking at the expression on his face, Mary Jane wasn’t willing to ask how . From the way that Wade didn’t ask either, she figured he was feeling the same way. Her attention returned to the assassin on the floor. If he’d gotten on the wrong side of Peter, if Peter had handled him with that icy demeanor—why would he risk being in Arachne again? Was it because he’d known, somehow, that Peter wasn’t there? But how?

The prince needed to be returned to his home,” snarled the dying alpha on the floor.

Listen to me now,” said Wade, all humor gone from his voice. His voice was cold and hard, a tone that Mary Jane had never heard from the man before and she stared at him in shock as, for the first time, she felt frightened by him. “I am not a prince anymore. I am an acolyte. Father was paid, like the families of all Arachnid families are paid, for my entering the priesthood. He. Has. No. Claim. On. Me.”

And,” added Peter with a surprising (or, not so surprising given what Mary Jane knew of the king) viciousness, “he should be grateful that I didn’t claim satisfaction.”

It took all of Mary Jane’s training to keep her from gasping. Priests were supposed to be above petty concerns of the general populace, and didn’t demand satisfaction. They could be gone to, in order to make sure that the demands weren’t extreme (like a very memorable case she’d overheard where a woman’s chicken got eaten by a spider and she wanted to eat the spider). So, on the rare occasions where it was a priest that demanded satisfaction—it wasn’t satisfaction for the priest , it was satisfaction for the temple . And if the High Priest demanded satisfaction from Reaper’s king— she was just glad he hadn’t.

Of course he hadn’t. Peter understood politics better than she did. He’d never do anything to threaten Arachne.

He has certain duties that he has to perform.”

Oh, I remember those ‘duties’,” snarled Wade. Mary Jane blinked in surprise at the raw emotion—a mix of anger, humiliation, and helplessness—on his face.

The King of Reaper—”

Is no more.” A new voice and Mary Jane turned to the new intruder. The hooded figure walked into the room casually and threw back the hood to reveal—the former ambassador Vanessa. She looked at the dying alpha on the floor with a narrowed glance, similar to the one Mary Jane used when her spider caught a particularly horrifying looking bug, before turning her attention to the Queen. She bowed. “The King of Reaper,” she said grimly, “has been taken by Ajax. They claimed they were going to turn him into a vessel for their new god.”

Peter and Wade exchanged a look. “Well,” said Wade, “this isn’t good.”

Chapter Text

Spot keened loudly and wrapped Peter in a full body spider hug. Not surprising. What was surprising was that Unicorn did the same thing for Wade. After both rider spiders made sure their humans weren’t hurt, they checked on the spidlings.

Peter looked over at Wade, where his mate was uncharacteristically silent. “I’m listening,” he said softly.

Wade sat in the soft grass of the meadow as the wind, cooler now that autumn was drawing near, blew around the two of them. “I hated my childhood,” he said. Peter, who already knew this, and knew that it wasn’t what was bothering his mate, said nothing. The best thing, the only thing, was to let Wade work through whatever was going on in his head one piece at a time. “I hate Nate. Sometimes I think—” He bit the sentence off and curled a fist in his tunic as Peter sat next to him.

Peter leaned against his mate and gently uncurled the fist before fitting their hands together. Then he waited as the birds called and the wind blew. He listened to the spiders muttering to each other while he waited for his mate to speak.

Do you—do you remember the first time you saw one of Dad’s ‘training’ sessions?” Wade asked suddenly.

I do,” Peter affirmed. He remembered the horror at how the man was treating his son, his only child.

Wade continued, as though he hadn’t heard Peter. Maybe he hadn’t. “There I was, getting my ass kicked for the billionth time as he beat me into the ground growling about how weak I was and you—you just ran up and put yourself between us.” Wade gave a little chuckle. “There you were, half my size, standing up to my giant of a father demanding he stop. And then he raised his hand back to hit you and you—you just looked him right in the eye and demanded to know if he was willing to risk angering the goddess by hitting one of the children of the temple.”

Probably wouldn't have worked,” Peter interjected as he leaned against Wade, reminding him that he wasn’t alone. “But MJ was there and she mentioned that it would be very diplomatically unsound to hit a child of Arachne.”

Wade chuckled again and snaked an arm around Peter, pulling him closer. “Yeah,” he said softly. “Both of you were holy terrors. It was awesome.” Wade’s eyes opened and he stared out at the field. “I really hated that bastard,” he said softly.

I know.”

You—you were like a fucking angel Petey, like a divine protector sent from the goddess to keep me from getting hurt worse.”

Peter hadn’t known that. He curled up into Wade’s side and felt both of his mate’s arms curl around him. He wound his arms around Wade, marveling at how they only seemed to go halfway around the other man.

I really hated that man,” Wade said.

Peter gently placed his face into the crook of Wade’s neck, where the scent glands were. “I know,” he said gently.

I hated him—but!” Wade began to cry, softly sobbing.

I know,” Peter assured him. “It’s all right Wade. Even though he was a miserable bastard who deserved to die, he was still your father.”

Wade buried his face into the crook of Peter’s neck while he cried, and Peter sat there and held him. Let him grieve. Let him cry. There was, underneath everything—all the beatings and insane training and so on, a hope, almost a plea that his father did indeed love him.

Peter would say nothing to crush that hope. And, perhaps, there was a tiny, hidden part of the man that had loved and cherished his son. Perhaps.

Suddenly Wade stopped mid sob and pushed Peter, just far enough away that they could see each other’s faces. “You have to promise me,” he said firmly, “promise me that you’ll protect yourself.”

Wade—”

No, listen.” Wade’s face was completely serious, and his voice was tinged with more than a little desperation as anxiety pulsed through the bond they shared. “You’re my hope Peter,” he said softly bringing a hand up to cup Peter’s face gently. “My only light, my sunshine. If anything happened to you, I’d—” His voice broke and he clung tightly to Peter again. “I don’t know what would happen,” he whispered to Peter.

Wade,” Peter said softly, gently. “I can’t—I can’t promise I’ll always be safe. There are people I have to protect, and if it puts me in danger—I’ll do it.”

Wade clutched him a little tighter. “I know,” he said hoarsely.

Is that why you convinced Vanessa to be MJ’s bodyguard?”

He chuckled. “Yeah. Good thing they like each other, or it never would have worked.”

Good thing,” said Peter with a chuckle in response.

Neither of them brought up the other part of what the news meant. With the king of Reaper gone, the throne was empty, ready to be filled. It was ready for the next in line to take it.

And there was only one Heir to Reaper.

Chapter Text

The golden haired goddess watched the entity. “I gave them everything, you know,” she said casually.

the humans? The entity was used to this by now, the goddesses dropping by, one at a time. She was only the third, but there was something—wild and unsettled about her expression, especially compared to her voice.

Her lips twitched. “Yes. The humans.” She gazed off into the distance. “When the first humans came they could breathe our air, eat from our land, and excrete into the woods. And, despite their technology, despite their power, that was all they could do. Humans were not made for this world.”

The entity waited while she paused. It had the sense that she was waiting, thinking about her next words. “I was going to let them die,” she continued. “My compassionate sister—stopped me. I watched as she blessed them, watched as they loved and hated her in equal measure—sometimes at the same time! I watched.”

Her gaze shifted back to the entity. “I watched as they learned, explored and tried to grow. I saw them love and I thought—I want that love. I want them to love me .”

you gave them blessings?

I gave them everything. I gave them sweet water, rich food, streams full of fish. They loved pretty, golden things so I gave them flowers, gold, and gems. And they—they did not love me.”

The entity stirred. It knew the goddess was wrong. they did. they do. It thought of what the mate had said about the people, about the stories the mate had told.

Some did,” admitted the goddess. “Some do. They get punished for it now, and it hurts watching them defend me.”

The entity both did and didn’t understand. It didn’t understand—because how could simply watching something hurt? It did understand—because it felt the same way. When it saw how the host and the host’s mate were fighting, when they were in a situation the entity could easily fix—it hurt to watch. It spoke up.

do you hate them?

No. And yes. They took everything I gave them and decided it wasn’t enough.” The goddess looked at the entity, thoughtfully. “Humans were the first to notice,” she said, “that we had chosen areas, specific regions of the world.” The eyes closed again. “The barriers are going to change.”

is that a bad thing? The entity remembered the mate talking about change, how it was necessary for life. Everything changed; the young grew old, trees grew into maturity, rider spiders mated and reproduced.

No. And yes.” The goddess opened her eyes again and looked at the entity once more. “We cannot go to that world. We can grant blessings, we can create, but we are bound to our realm. We can visit you, but your realm is similar to our own. We cannot walk the world, see the humans, feel the blessings we have bestowed.”

The goddess took another breath. “ We cannot right this wrong that has been committed. You can. I bring you a blessing.” She left a small golden light in the air between them. “I pray that you are able to use it well,” she added softly before she vanished.

There was a moment of thought, of deliberation before the entity reached out and seized the blessing that the goddess had left behind.

Chapter Text

“Peter. Wade,” said Harry as he draped an arm over each of them. “Who is this new alpha and why is she hanging around my mate?” Wade and Peter had been sitting on one of the benches outside the temple while Wade sewed and Peter wrote on a scroll.

Wade reacted to the words. “She’s Vanessa, former ambassador from Reaper and now MJ’s bodyguard after someone tried to skewer her the other night.”

Peter reacted to the pheromones. He scowled. “Damp it down Harry,” he ordered. “She doesn’t need any more stress.”

“Can you blame me?” demanded Harry. “I come back from the field to see another, unmated alpha all buddy-buddy with my mate.”

“Well, you can just pull that stick out of your ass,” Wade said harshly, but keeping his voice down. The last thing either he or Peter wanted was to have rumors spreading about a brewing fight between the royal couple. He wasn’t sure that MJ even knew he was back yet.

“Listen,” Peter said firmly, “while you were gone MJ was attacked by an assassin.”

Wade had already mentioned that, but Harry seemed to actually hear it this time. “What? Where was I?”

“In the field, training the new recruits,” Peter said patiently.

“The assassin came in for the kill while all three of us were gone,” Wade supplied softly.

Harry was silent for a moment. “There’s a spy,” he said coldly.

“There is,” agreed Wade.

“I have three suspects,” Peter said as he showed his scroll, “but not enough information to either clear or condemn any of them.”

Harry scanned the list. His eyes narrowed. “Why these three?” he asked.

“One, all of them knew the habits of all of the nobles that have been assassinated.”

“What?”

Wade nodded grimly and gave the seam he was working on a light tug. The seam was solid. “There have been four noble assassinations,” he said grimly.

Harry frowned. “I know that,” he protested. “I was here for them. But—how do the two of you know? You weren’t here for any—they started after the two of you went to Mysterio.”

“I’m a priest, Harry,” Peter said calmly. “Everyone talks to me.”

Wade began a new seam. “Especially the children. They go everywhere. You don’t want to know some of the things I’ve learned from Miles.”

“Miles,” echoed Harry. He sighed. “Would that be the little imp that keeps dressing up as a page?”

“How’d you know?”

“His manners are off. I’ve been watching to see if those talents will mature; he’d be a great spy.”

Wade laughed. “He is a great spy,” he said cheerfully.

“Anyway,” Peter said dragging Harry’s attention back to his list, “these are the three who knew enough about the court to know patterns, are close enough to the individuals that were assassinated to have given information to lead to an easy attack. Most importantly of all, none of these three were nearby when the attacks occurred.”

Harry frowned as he looked at the list. “Peter, this last one—”

Peter was calm as he said, “I know.” The two of them met gazes, one stoic and sad and the other slightly desperate.

Harry sighed. “MJ’s not going to like this,” he warned.

Wade snorted as his needle danced through the fabric. “You should have been here for the conversation about the bodyguard. She really didn’t like that.”

“Right.” Harry stood and stared into space for a moment before shaking himself. “I’m off. I don’t care about the court right now; the two of us have got to have a talk about this.”

“Just pick her up and carry off.”

“Wade!” Peter glared at his mate.

Who shrugged without remorse. “It worked for me,” he insisted.

Peter rolled his eyes and gently bumped his shoulder to Wade’s. “I am not being guarded by a tense alpha waiting to kill anyone who looks at me wrong.”

“Oh—that’s right. So, announce yourself as her mate first,” Wade advised.

Harry sighed and turned to stomp off without responding. “Let us know when you need us,” Peter advised his friend.

Wade held out the full body tunic he was making. It was almost done; just missing a single sleeve. “You think I could use some of that red dye?” he asked as he eyed it.

“Sure,” said Peter. There was plenty of red dye in the temple; it was one of the two colors of the goddess, after all. “What shade?”

“I’m thinking blood.”