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Peter stands outside of the club for a few moments, staring at it. The place is familiar since he accidentally stumbled upon it the few days before his fight with half the Avengers. Since then, this club has been on his mind constantly.

The main part is set up like any strip club with a catwalk and a pole at the end of it. Off in the side rooms are the peep shows, which range from sensual through exotic to downright pornographic. Peter had been fascinated by the serene grace of a crossdresser who simply swung back and forth on a swing singing softly to herself. She wore a see-through powder blue negligee and white pin-up heels.

A sight that had sparked a desperate need to be a part of this club. Peter had spent from opening until closing in there taking in the atmosphere and every ‘girl’ who walked by.

“So, you’re the curious one who's been here all day long.” Peter had jumped, startled by the hands that plopped down onto his shoulders. He’d been watching the peep show woman from earlier sing on stage. She’s got a delicate, almost trembling falsetto. Impressive.

“Ah - I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to be rude! I just wanted to see all these amazing people,” Peter hurriedly apologies, hoping he’s not going to be kicked out. He really hopes not. The man who moves into his view is drop-dead gorgeous. He could be a model with that tall, toned physique and baby blue eyes. He’s also wearing a pale blue dirndl which shows off his thighs. Tattooed around his right thigh is the name Vanessa.

“Quite alright, baby boy! And man, you are cute. Kitten was right, even they agree.” Peter’s not quite sure who they are, but chooses not to say anything to that.

“So I’m not getting kicked out?”

The man chuckles, shaking his head as he lounges in the chair beside Peter’s. All on display, this man with his dirty blond hair that goes perfectly with his eyes.

“Naah. You’ve been buying drinks, from what Weasel tells me, and according to the girls, you’re extremely polite and friendly. No groping or asking for their phone numbers, so you’re fine by me to be here. Any reason why the long stay though? Also hello, I’m Wade Wilson, the madame of this spectacular club.”

He shrugs, hesitating to voice the idea fulminating in his head at the moment. “This club is so cool and I really like how nice everyone is. It seems different from how strip clubs are shown to be.”

Wade grins, pleased as punch. “Why thank you! I work hard to make sure my girls have a safe environment to work in. They get a livable wage so there’s no need for sex work, but if they choose it, then there’s protection and health services available. My wife Vanessa is best friends with Domino, who takes care of our girls. What you see here is all the sexier things get unless my girls choose differently.” Wow...clearly Madame Wade is very passionate and that’s wonderful.

“That’s amazing! Are there any events going on tomorrow that I could catch?” Peter asks, hopeful. When Wade shakes his head, it’s stupid, but his heart drops in his chest.

“Hey, don’t look so glum, baby boy.” Wade reaches out and grasps Peter’s hand. “Come again tomorrow around five and you can catch a show. My best girl Lotte sings every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. I’ll even show you around this time, alright?” Peter smiles and nods, lightly squeezing Wade’s hand in response.

--

Peter shows up early, excited and nervous to personally be hanging out with the madame of this place. He hangs around in the foyer area where there’s a coat check (because this is apparently a classy place that does that kind of thing) waiting for Wade to show up. A little past five, he finally appears, strolling towards Peter wearing jeans and a hoodie with flowers decorating it. So not feminine tonight.

“Evening cutie! I’m glad you came back. Let’s grab seats,” Wade greets him, enveloping Peter in a hug. He giggles, returning the hug, and follows after him.

It’s as he and Madame Wade reach the doorway leading into the main room of the club that one of the women brushes past Peter, the air suddenly awash with the spicy scent of cologne. Peter glances over as he moves aside to meet the gaze of a crossdresser he’s not seen before, hazel eyes to dark brown, before the stranger gives him the softest, most fleeting of smiles and moves on – and he forgets everything, forgets himself and Wade, only able to stare after the alluring figure. Whoever the man beneath the makeup and pink dress is, Peter can't get enough of him; he’s surely a far more confident man than he, comfortable enough both in his own gorgeously tattooed skin and feminine clothing. How Peter envies that, how he envies all the 'girls' who work here –

He nearly runs into Wade’s back, who has stopped walking all of a sudden, eyes keen upon Peter.

"I see you’ve already noticed my best girl." There’s amusement in his voice. Peter nods. It’s true; he’s fascinated.

"I like him."

"Ah, her. She's a knockout, for sure."

"Do you always refer to them with feminine pronouns? Even though they're just men in dresses?"

Wade gestures for them to continue walking. Peter makes sure to walk beside rather than behind him this time. They enter the club, keeping close to the wall. "It's only polite in a work-related context. Outside work, they have their own preference," Wade shrugs. "It's up to the patrons to find out what their girls like to be called. Nobody likes irresponsible patrons. And you're not irresponsible, are you?"

"No, not at all!"

Another inhale and exhale of the cigarette smoke curling from Wade’s nostrils. Somewhere between the foyer and now he lit a cigarette, apparently. "What's your name, by the way, cutie?"

"Peter."

"Is that your real name or just one that you came up with on the spot?"

How ignorant of him to forget that even if this club is geared towards the LGBTQ+ community, that doesn’t mean everyone can be so open about who they are.

"You're interested in my real name?"

"Oh, touché," Wade answers, shoulders shaking with mirth. "Lots of Johns and Jane Does use a fake name. Nothing to be ashamed about. So, Peter, let’s get a drink, since I made you wait for me.”

"Sure," Peter answers with almost-faux bravado. The cheer that goes up from the patrons leads his eyes to the catwalk where the stranger, who is the singer for the evening, has appeared.

The man is gorgeous and so casually masculine; he makes Peter feel jealous for so easily being what is difficult for himself. But he has to confess his broad shoulders and compact body, with eyes that seem to caress the audience, are ravishing.

“Auf jedem Tisch liegt bleiche Haut so
still und starr und ohne Qual –”

The man’s voice is sensual; the way he strolls up the catwalk, hips swaying; the close-fitting pink dress only emphasizing his true figure; there’s no womanly curviness to him. As the man sings, Peter can just hear a faint jingle and it takes him a moment to realize he’s wearing an ankle bracelet with small bells on it. He blinks in surprise to see that the singer is also barefoot, his toenails painted blush pink. A smart move. The whole ensemble adds both allure and sex appeal to his appearance.

--

Once they settle at a booth, Wade gets the attention of a woman.

"C’mere Helena," Wade beckons to a nearby 'girl' – black dress, chubby and charming, pale skin with ebony hair, but masculine – and when he silently walks up to the table, Wade pulls out a wad of ten-Euro bills and coyly stuffs them down the cleavage of the dress. "If you would please get us two drinks from the bar. Martini for me, and for my guest –" he turns to Peter with a mischievous smile, eyes glittering, "– anything that you want? How ‘bout a blowjob?"

Peter blinks, shock writ large on his face. What did Wade just offer him?

Thankfully the silent girl speaks up, rolling her eyes, hands akimbo on her hips. “He means the drink. Because he wants to say you got a blowjob from either him, Weasel, or me, and that joke is dead from how fucking old it is.”

Okay, so maybe Peter should rethink his decision to apply to this club. But...but he wants this so badly he’ll put up with the terrible sex puns if it means that his dream is within his grasp.

"Uh..." He doesn’t drink all that much, dirty jokes aside. “Water’s fine. I don’t drink.”

The 'girl' gives him a small smile, while Wade gestures for ‘Helena' to come closer so he can whisper something in his ear. "Yes, Madame," he replies, voice low and soft like a purr, before he turns on his heels and walks away towards the bar.

"What did you say to her?"

"Oh, nothing special. Only catering to my unusual John's needs. Lotte will decide what you'll get and she’ll bring the drinks for us, too. She doesn't serve drinks normally, but...just this once, call it a test..."

"'Lotte'?"

"Yes, Lotte. The singer."

His eyes widen in shock. "Her? But she doesn't –" Madame Wade giggles, turning away, and flicks the cigarette in the direction of the bar, telling him to be quiet and look. He obeys without really understanding what is going on; the 'girl' in the black dress is leaning over the counter and placing the order as asked, and as he watches, he sees their waitress look back and call out for someone. Lotte, who's been sitting with the nearby orchestra, looks over – waves a hand – and lightly walks over to the bar as well. Utterly mortified, Peter turns away and ducks his head back down. "Why – why did you do that, she doesn't even know me!"

"You think she knows any other patron?" comes the bemused reply. Peter can feel Lotte's gaze boring into the back of his neck and begins sweating somewhat; he doesn’t like this situation at all, and loathes that his first proper meeting with Lotte will be under such undesirable circumstances. Stay calm, he tells himself as he takes a deep breath. A singer. That's all Lotte is. A singer in a club, at that. Don't let yourself be carried away. "Ah, here she comes!"

Sure enough, Lotte approaches the table with a little tray balanced on his hand. He sets down the martini in front of Wade and the other glass (filled with a curiously pink cocktail decorated with a maraschino cherry. It better not be a blowjob, please God not that) in front of Peter.) "Thank you," Peter says, terribly embarrassed and unable to meet the other's eyes, but nevertheless wanting to show some manners.

It works a lot better than expected.

Lotte's hand pauses on top of the table for just a second, and Peter can sense that he’s gazing at him. Mustering up his courage, he lifts his head and looks back, seeing that beneath the polite public persona that Lotte wears, there’s a lingering hint of surprise. As Lotte releases the glass his hand brushes very, very lightly against Peter's, and he can't help but feel his heart speed up and his cheeks redden at the touch. Lotte gives the Madame a little bow of the head and glides away silently – leaving Peter feeling somewhat dazed and staring after him.

"Well, who'd have thought?" the Madame chortles, taking a sip of his martini and winking sultrily at him. "Lotte's hardly ever had her eye on any individual before. This is a new one."

"What...what do you mean?"

He receives only a gesture indicating that he ought to start drinking the cocktail; gulping nervously, he raises the glass to his lips and takes a very light sip. It’s sweeter than it looks, and strangely enough, has none of the alcoholic tang that he'd expected.

"Lotte's got a sharp eye, I keep having to remember." Wade drinks a little more of the martini. "First things first, however, Peter. I understand you've taken a little fancy to Lotte –" Peter blushes "– but sad to say, she isn't free for one-on-one encounters. She's different to all the others here – you've probably seen her up on the stage all the time, maybe flirting with the others, but have you ever seen her stick with one patron for long?" Wade continues, without giving him a moment to answer that rhetorical question.

"She's strictly a performer only. There was a time when she did do one-on-one encounters, but that was four years ago, and from what I gathered over time, it's not exactly as if she misses it." The cigarette is finally extinguished, but Madame Wade keeps on twirling the holder between his fingers, now frowning a little as he recalls past events. "But she's a good one. Do you know that she writes her own songs to sing in this place? A talented one, I'm glad we have her here..."

Peter doesn't reply. He stares at the tablecloth and into his Shirley Temple; he has the feeling that the Madame’s up to something by telling him all those (admittedly very interesting) things about Lotte. He’s probably trying to provoke him into giving a reaction that'd mark him as a patron willing to pay for something. But how is he going to explain that he’s less interested in being a patron, and is there purely to observe how his lifestyle might work in this place?

"... but I may as well tell you about Lotte, to make up for not being able to talk to her freely. Anything you want to know, Peter?"

He downs another gulp of the Shirley Temple before answering. The music has started up again in the background, punctuated with the faint jingle of Lotte's ankle bracelet, and he has to try his utmost best to not look towards the direction of the sound. "Why's she working here?"

"The same reason why many other girls come to my club. A mixture of debt and a lack of a place to stay. The only bit of cash Lotte owes me now is interest in the money I lent her, and that can be covered in two months' time - but I imagine that she wouldn't leave as easily. She's been here for a long time and she enjoys the work that she does now, and it's not bad pay for her, either."

"What's Lotte's real name?"

Madame Wade flashes him a rueful smile.

"Now that is one I couldn't tell you.” He seems sincerely apologetic. "She's one who prefers a strict work ethic, and if she wants to give you her real name, she'll give it to you without question. Stay until three am during clean up, and who knows...that's about the only time anyone can get hold of her alone.”

"But I can't stay for that long," Peter pleads – though why he’s pleading is beyond him. They've been debating this for ten minutes now, getting nowhere; whoever this 'Lotte' truly is, the Madame isn't telling. Sighing, he pushes away the now-empty cocktail glass. "...All right. I'll forget about the name for the time being. But the girl who you beckoned earlier, the one who took your order to the bar - who was she, anyway? I've seen her plenty of times too...she looked beautiful..."

Wade finishes off his own martini and looks around the place. Sure enough, within seconds his alert blue eyes spot the shimmer of a sleek black dress once more, and he shakes his head in fond exasperation. "You have fine, if rather difficult tastes, Peter," he sighs good-naturedly. "That'd be Helena. The second most excellent girl here. Bringing in the most cash nearly every night. I like to treat her sometimes, too."

"I could see that."

"Want her real name as well? I honestly don't understand why you'd be so interested, but now I know she –" he gestures towards Helena, who’s conversing with three particularly rich-looking patrons at once "– doesn't mind me telling other people. Her real name's Gerard Way, though there isn’t much cause to call her by his real name, either way. She’s chatty when she wants to be, but often spends her time alone working on her art. She had a debt to pay, too, that's why she started working here – but I wouldn't recommend her for a beginner like you."

Peter frowns. As much praise as these two girls have received, he wonders at the peculiarity of Wade stressing that he find others besides them. Do they have a tendency to be violent or malicious to patrons?

"...Why?"

"She’s – how’d you put it? Intense. She paid off her debt and interest three years ago and gained enough to carve out her own living – more than enough since then, but she refuses to go. I like to think I'm a good Madame; when the contract is over, my girls are free to leave whenever they want. But Helena's stayed longer than most girls have, and God only knows why."

I don't know how those men do it either. All the stripping, the bantering and the sleazy patrons all around, just for the total freedom of wearing what they want and doing what they want. But at least they can do it, they've turned a strong insecurity into money and maybe – maybe even happiness –

I want to be happy, too...

"... so that's what it is, Peter. Plenty of other girls in this place, though. Any others you want me to tell you about?"

He’s made up his mind.

"I want to be one."

Wade chokes on the inhale of his vape he’s pulled out from some hidden pocket of his dress.
"...What did you say?"

He meets the Madame's gaze.

"Please let me stay here."

“Now Petey, you should know I pay very good money for protection for this place. So if you’re looking to harass my girls, boys, and darlings in between, you have another think coming,” Wade growls, no longer a gorgeous weirdo, but a menacing man. Peter shakes his head vigorously, hands held up in surrender. Maybe what he said earlier came across wrong.

“No – no not at all! I want to be a part of this!” The words flip a switch so that as suddenly as the snarl came to Wade’s lips, he’s back to a sunny disposition.

“Lovely! If you’re serious, I have applications in the back. We’ll be doing a background check and drug testing. I don’t mind if you have fun on your off time, but I’ve got no room or money for addicts.”

Just as he finishes speaking, bright pop music starts to play. Wade turns beaming towards the stage conversation forgotten in favor of a guy Peter’s age with tousled curly hair who swans into the spotlight. He’s slender in a high-waisted skirt that falls to the floor in large ruffles. It’s slate gray paired with a white button-down shirt that’s tucked in. He struts around the stage, warming to the crowd, playing the coquette behind a pale gray fan. There are catcalls and cheers from the audience, even Wade himself.

“Beautiful, sweetheart!” Wade shouts, hands cupped around his mouth. It appears that for right now, Peter’s been forgotten.

”Boys like the look of danger.”

Here comes a second person onto the stage. A man, and in direct contrast to the pale beauty, he’s on fire with the color red. A deep rose-colored suit and even the lace-up heels are a burst of the color. The vibrancy sears into Peter’s eyes. The two dance and shimmy around one another mouthing along to the words.

”Girls, we do, whatever it will take
'Cause girls don't want, we don't want our hearts to break in two,”

As the song slows slightly from its upbeat tempo, the vibrant man dips the gray coquette, who turns away from the kiss aimed at his lips letting it fall onto his jaw.

”So it's better to be fake, can't risk losing
In love again, ba-abe.”

Now he’s pulled back up onto his feet (barefoot, Peter notes with surprise, it must be a pattern, but he doesn’t know why) before they break apart to flit around dancing and truly singing along. The man in red has got a powerful voice that Peter could listen to all night long. Clearly this club doesn’t stint on hiring those with vocal talent. Hopefully they won’t ask him to sing during his interview? Or is it an audition to become a girl here? He’s gonna end up confusing himself trying to puzzle out whether he gets the job or not.

Hours pass and before Peter can try to beg off at least for food, Wade has ordered in Mexican take-out, shushing Peter, saying that he can go eat in the breakroom lounge. Looks like he’s in this for the long haul until three am. A quick peek at his watch says he’s got six more hours to go. Time to send Mr. Stark an excuse text for why he’s not back yet and that he’ll be out until super late. This isn’t going to end well in regards to Happy or Mr. Stark, but this isn't about being a goody two shoes anymore. Peter wants this so badly. He’ll wait this out.

No lie; when it’s finally three in the morning, he’s dragging. Not for the fact he doesn’t have the stamina for staying up late but his body still isn’t used to the time zone change from New York to Germany. Not to mention fighting Captain America, who really let him have it. But Peter is somehow able to keep his eyes open from pure excitement at seeing the girls return from either their rooms (a dormitory-type building attached in back to the club) or the locker room that’s set behind the stage curtains out of sight of patrons.

Most of the girls are out of their dresses and makeup by three thirty; many of the crossdressers are also of delicate form and face like Peter, as opposed to muscular and clearly, masculine like 'Lotte'. Some have longish, wavy hair and don’t even need a wig from what he can see; and yet despite their waifish looks, they don’t raise the tone of their voices or really act anything like women once out of the feminine clothes. Peter likes that, the sense that he might belong there and not be judged for appearance, when there are so many like him in this place – hopefully he can enjoy the feel of dresses and tights and yet be just as assured he’s no less of a man or really a person in general because of the clothing, just like these 'girls'.

Weasel gestures Peter over to a table by the bar where the various coworkers who have stayed behind are milling around. Some have drinks in hand and others are chit-chatting with each other, curious as to who Peter is and why he’s still here. Up close, Weasel gives the impression of having been through the wringer. Maybe that’s because he’s the one who has to keep any chaos in check. It’s probably not easy with Wade being the boss. The person in question had disappeared at some point in the night. Helena, the girl with ink black hair, had assured him Wade often tends to vanish at random times.

"So, let's get this straight, Peter. Are you in debt?"

"No."

"You have a place to stay, food, and water, correct?"

"For now."

Weasel heaves a little sigh and frowns, tapping the pen against the table in a rapid-fire, nervous rhythm; he has a contract before him and is reading it with intensity. Peter’s cell tells him it’s four in the morning and Mr. Stark is going to murder him for not being back in his hotel room. Already there are ten missed calls from Happy. The 'girls' have long since finished their clean-up of the establishment, and they’re all standing around smiling and looking him over. It’s positive attention, but he’s so nervous his armpits are getting really sweaty.

"Oh, look at him..."

"Is he going to work with us, too?"

"Isn't he a pretty one..."

Of course, he has to be accepted into the place if he’s going to reap any of the benefits. And it’s beginning to seem unlikely.

"You have a job."

"I do," Peter pauses. "but I'm not attached to it. I can quit if need be," he adds quickly. Mr. Stark doesn’t know that part. This doesn't seem to make Weasel any happier.

"See," he said with a low sigh, nibbling at the end of his pen. "You don’t need this job. This isn’t a place for teens. You’re what – sixteen or seventeen? And let’s face it – if you can afford to quit a job, you can afford to get another –"

"– And I want it here."

"– but it's not the only job available for someone like you. This is a safe place for the transgender community. Not just those who want crossdress regularly. We can't let in everyone.” Peter’s silent, unwilling to admit to this, but at the same time completely lost as to what to answer Weasel with. "I like to think this is a legitimate place, with room for people who have genuine reasons – not that your desires aren't genuine, but frankly it's not enough."

Peter sighs and closes his eyes, almost on the verge of giving up. The crossdressers themselves also look somewhat displeased at this – from what he can tell, they welcome new companions with ease, and to see a potential friend slipping away already is immensely distressing to them. 'Helena' is also amongst the others, gazing at Peter, head slightly tilted to the side, and Peter has to look away. (He has a feeling that Helena’s regarding him with curiosity for wanting to work there.)

"Well, if there’s nothing that you can make a contract with –"

Then rather suddenly, a low, soft voice cut through Weasel’s final statement on the matter. "He might, Weasel. Are you being persecuted somehow, Peter?"

Peter's eyes widen, and he turns around quickly to see a freshly showered Lotte standing behind him. He’s bare-chested, wearing only jeans, showing off the colorful tattoo sleeves on both arms. The tattoos crawl up his arms, over his shoulders, and pour down his chest. Only his nipples peek through the burst of colors, the only skin left untouched. His hair is damp; he dabs at it with the towel around his neck before he grins, his wildly handsome features highlighted better in the absence of makeup. "Peter is your name, ja?"

"Y-yes..."

"Weasel, he has just as much reason as any of us for wanting to work here. You know crossdressing doesn’t fly when it comes to other relatively normal clubs, but considering the theme of this place...He would be safer here than if we turned him away.”

Weasel nods, already seeming more okay with the idea when suggested by a different person. It’s clear that Lotte holds sway.

“Why not let Peter try? The worst he can do is quit.” Peter is curious as to why Lotte seems so determined to fight his case. They’re complete strangers, yet here he is debating with his coworker about a possible new hire. Perhaps Lotte himself had been in this position once? Whatever the reason, it’s enough for Weasel to sigh and nod. It makes him look more put upon than usual.

“Fine. So – have you thought of a nickname?"

"I haven’t," Peter answers, and then blushes. "I didn't think I'd be accepted like this."

"No worries," Weasel smirks, and stands up next to him, putting an arm around his shoulders. His grip is oddly reassuring. "Well, girls, any ideas as to what our newest arrival ought to be called? Something that suits him and doesn't cross over with any other names we have in use here. Doesn't necessarily have to be a proper name, you all know the rules..."

A couple of suggestions are given: 'Petra', which is deemed unfit for being too close to his real name, and 'Marlene' which is perhaps a little unsuited to his appearance. It’s then the dark-haired Helena speaks up, eyeing up Peter's form with amused brown eyes. "Weasel," he says, his voice quiet and soft as before, "you said that nicknames don't necessarily have to be human names."

"Not really, no. Anything affectionate can do."

Helena smiles. "How about 'Fledermaus'?”

Peter blinks; he doesn’t understand German, nor the meaning of the word, but from the way the girls roll their eyes, some of them laughing as they do so, the nickname isn’t a proper one.

"That's not a name, Gerard," Lotte admonishes from next to him. "No one wants to be named bat. I think'Spatzi' might be a better choice?" Lotte gestures towards him, giving Peter a sunny smile. He'd spoken such excellent English before that his pronunciation of the German name – 'Sh-pat-zi' – along with the accent, is pleasingly jarring to Peter. "Brown hair, brown eyes, small form – quite sweet-faced too – and he came to us rather quickly, almost from nowhere. Rather fitting, I think, for a sweetheart like him."

This is a name no more comprehensible to Peter than the other one, but Weasel nods and a few of the other 'girls' are nodding in approval. "Whatcha think, Peter?"

"...Um..."

"Oh, excuse me," Lotte quickly apologizes, seeing his hesitation. "I gather you don't speak German."

"No... is – is that a problem?"

Helena interrupts to add in her explanation.

"Not at all. Most of the patrons are foreign, so y’know you – being American – is a good thing. German and English are the only two needed languages here, either's fine. Anyways Dero, tell Peter his new name, since no one likes being a bat." She’s grinning as she says this, so clearly there’s no hard feelings at the complete rejection.

... 'Dero'?

"'Spatzi' means 'sparrow'," Lotte says with a smile and wink. "You remind me of one. Lovely birds, sparrows. It's also a popular pet name. You are quite sweet-looking –" this makes him blush deeply, unused to so many compliments being showered on him at four o'clock in the morning – "and I think you'll be quite a sensation, once you're used to how things work around here."

Peter knows his face is pink and lowers his eyes, quite shy. He’s been named, by Lotte, no less, and it feels as if the older man has a piece of him now. He isn't sure if he’s to feel nervous or humbled from this feeling of (in the subtlest of ways) being owned by another. Not that that is what Lotte had meant by naming him; it’s simply Peter overthinking things, but nevertheless, it’s not an experience that he's ever had or ever expected to have. "Thank you," he murmurs, a soft, genuine smile on the corners of his lips as he ponders over the nickname, before he raises his head and meets the other's eyes. "I want to use that one."

"You smiled!" Lotte exclaims, and then laughs, his brown eyes softened with affection. "You should smile more often. Well, I think that's settled then, isn't it?"

"Certainly," Weasel says, and pats Peter on the shoulder. " Now that you've been hired, consider it your job to be here, but we need to make a few arrangements for your room. Go back and take care of everything you have. You have up to a month, and I can negotiate longer if you need it. Your contract starts the day you come to live and work here."

"Thank you, but I don't think I'd need a full month."

“Well, in any case, you'll be sharing a suite when you come here, so I suppose you can bring up to three suitcases of possessions. As for who you'll share with...Dero there seems just the right person, doesn't he?"

That name again. Peter can't get used to the idea of Lotte and Dero being the same person, but when the man winks at him, he at least knows that he won't find a better roommate in this place.

Dero cuts in with a wicked grin. “I’ll be your drag mother if you’d like. But please feel free to choose another roommate. Don’t be pressured you into something you don’t want.” Okay, beneath that mysterious persona, it’s clear there’s a reason he’s friends with Madame Wade.

Peter flaps his hands, absolutely willing to be roommates – well, suitemates – with this amazing knockout.

"Excellent. Time for bed then, girls. Show Peter to the door, Dero."

-----

"So... so is 'Dero' your real name?"

'Dero' smiles as they walk down the corridor. "Of course not," he replies lightly. "You'd be hard-pressed to find anybody who actually has a name like that, Peter. Though it does ensure that I'm the only 'Dero' around the place. Nobody knows my real name around these parts – but when I'm not working, it'll do fine. Consider that as good as my real name."

"Oh."

This is something to contemplate, that’s for sure. He now understands what the Madame had meant when he'd said that he 'couldn't give Lotte's real name' – it had been because he honestly hadn't known. 'Dero' is yet another pseudonym, and technically not something that would have taken a lot of effort to tell.

Peter’s far from used to the idea of having two names, one for work and one for every other occasion, and just the differences alone were staggering to think of. Lotte to Dero, Helena to Gerard, Spatzi to Peter. It wouldn't be so confusing if these names weren't treated as interchangeable; the boundaries between the male and female identities blurred.It makes Peter suddenly nervous as to whether working in this place will eventually result in his two selves merging together into a mess. I'm me, he tells himself – but really, what does that even mean? Will he truly be able to separate 'Spatzi' from 'Peter' in a nice, clean-cut manner?

"Dero?"

"Ja?"

"When Helena – I mean, Gerard-"

"'Gerard'. Outside work we usually tend to call people by their real names. Or what we insist on as our real names, anyway."

Peter nods, taking this information in. "...Why did he try to name me after the animal bat? Did I offend him?”

This prompts laughter in Dero which makes him feel better about asking.

“No, no, not at all. Gerard does that with any new hires. Madam won’t let him make a superhero name for himself. Our Gerard is a skilled artist and loves comics, but he wants to make up the silliest names for himself and others. When he does sing, his stage name is Party Poison.”

A giggle escapes Peter. “He sounds funny, I didn’t know he was a singer too.”

“His music is usually darker than what Madame wants, so he doesn’t often ask. Anyways, let me show you where you’ll be staying.”

"But there's the door-"

"It'll only take a minute."

Admittedly, Peter doesn’t try very hard to leave; Dero is persuasive just by raising his eyebrow in question. Asking if Peter will push to leave or follow after. There’s no contest as to what he’ll pick. He leads Peter left from the exit through another door to a lushly carpeted corridor lined with doors, much like the kind one would find at a hotel, before he locates the particular one and pushes it open, beckoning him inside. "My suite and soon yours too, when you’re ready to move in.”

It’s a pleasant little set-up. Dero gestures for him to go ahead and stroll around, take a good look at where he’ll be living for a year. Two rooms with a small living room in between. The bathroom is next to what will be his room, Peter finds out. There’s even a kitchenette off to the side. In all, this place is only slightly bigger than his current hotel room, and while he doesn’t look forward to sharing a bathroom, Peter has to say he’s ready to move in. Close to the college experience of getting paired with a stranger as a roommate, except in this instance, their only common interests are crossdressing and being far from traditional-aged students.

“It looks great! I can’t wait to be roommates,” Peter says, returning to where Dero is waiting patiently by the front door. This earns him a smile.

“Me too, Spatzi.”

Warmth flares in his chest at the nickname.

--

“Come again, I didn’t hear that, you spoke to my deaf ear,” Mr. Stark says, gesturing to his apparently one working ear. Peter rolls his eyes. Mr. Stark heard him just fine the first time.

“I want to stay here for a year. I know you could work something out for me!” Maybe this edges too close to whining, but Peter’s desperate. He’s not above begging for this chance. Here, he’s found a haven of others like him. It’s killing him, the thought of having to give that up so soon. Mr. Stark eyes him incredulously, as if Peter’s asking for the moon. But there’s never anything out of his grasp Peter knows that.

“So let me get this straight...you want to stay here for a year in a country whose language you don’t speak to work in a stripclub that you found a couple weeks ago? A sixteen-year-old kid. Who is still in high school. I am saying that right, correct?”

Peter’s face is burning as he grits his teeth to keep his emotions in check. It won’t do for him to lose his cool. Not now. Mr. Stark must see the anger, because he sighs heavily, rubbing his eyebrows.

“Kid, if I give you this, you’ve got to promise me you’re not gonna get involved in drugs or – or sex trafficking. I’m not gonna be here to watch your back. I’ve got to go back to the States. Even with Pepper being the CEO, I need to look like I run the company. Besides, how are you planning to keep up in school?”

“My school would email me my homework if you told there I was here on the Stark internship too. They’d understand. Please, Mr. Stark, this would mean everything to me. Besides, you already brought me here to fight the Avengers. I can handle myself here too.”

This last part seems to bite at Mr. Stark’s resistance. His shoulders sag as he plops down onto his hotel bed (Peter had come knocking at his door after sleeping in from the late night at the club).

“Okay, fine. If you think you can handle a stripclub better then you did the Avengers, go ahead, I won’t stop you. But. You better not die, because I won’t be able to explain that to your Aunt May.”

Victory has never been such a thrilling thing before.

-----

Easy enough for Mr. Stark to lie to Aunt May about the internship being extended longer and the prestige of it, etc. he biggest obstacle is getting Peter’s visa in order along with his bank account, seeing as he’s going to get paid for what he’s doing. There’s no doubt that Mr. Stark’s connections are the reason it only takes a week for Peter to be relatively settled enough that he can begin living in the club’s dormitory apartments instead of the hotel room.

According to Peter’s contract, his rent will be taken out of his paycheck, which, when he converts the euros to dollars, shocks him at how low the cost is. Just to be sure, he’ll double check with Dero that he’s not being messed with. Not to mention that utilities are included in that whole price. This club must make a lot of money to have the rent so affordable.

Due to the fact Peter originally came to Germany to help Mr. Stark against Captain America and his friends, he’d only packed a couple day’s worth of clothes. He’d gone to a nearby laundromat the day before he moved in order to wash what few things he has. The dread wells up at the fact he’s got no clothes suitable for working in this club. His secret dresses and skirts are hidden in his closet back in Aunt May’s apartment.

Tomorrow night will be his debut.

For right now, he tries to push away those worries. Mr. Stark had given him a Stark Industries debit card informing him that this money was both for getting the necessities (“And yes, I do mean your starting wardrobe for being a queen, just don’t go overboard”); however, once he got his first paycheck, the debit card was to be used for emergency funds only. Peter had had to lay down when he later looked at just how much Mr. Stark decided to put on there.

With money not an issue for the next two years if he rations that amount out very stringently, his biggest problem is trying to figure out the best place to shop without eliciting untoward attention to himself. Although fact this club caters to the LGBTQ+ community, that doesn’t mean the wider world outside of this building does.

He’s still gnawing over what to do as he enters the door code to get in the side entrance to the dormitory. Dero had shown him the key code door leading from the club to the apartments and when he had come back with Mr. Stark (who had insisted on looking over the establishment he’d be working in), Wade had graciously shown them around. Wade had understood at once why the powerful Tony Stark had shown up at the club with Peter in tow and that it wasn’t for entertainment.

A point in his favor he made sure to convey to Mr. Stark: the security measures taken to be sure everyone was safe and secure while living on the premises. All doors that have access to the apartment building (it has three hundred and twenty units, each one a two-bedroom suite style) have a key code that is changed once a month. Cameras keep watch at all entrances for both the club and apartment complex. After the tour, Dero had politely greeted Mr. Stark when Wade had brought them back into the club towards the bar, offering complimentary drinks.

Thank God Wade doesn’t offer him a blowjob, because Peter would die right on the spot. Dero himself is friendly and charming, shaking Mr. Stark’s hand, asking after the corporation, the Avengers and his health. When all is said and done, he can tell that Mr. Stark, if not won over, is assured that Peter is going to be just fine without his supervision.

He walks along the first-floor corridor (upside to rooming with Dero: there’s no elevators or stairs needed to get to his room). Still nervous to just walk into his new place seeing as he now has a roommate, Peter knocks before trying the doorknob, which he finds is unlocked. Upon entering, he finds Dero sprawled on their pleather couch curled up under a blanket watching a TV show. He looks over, smiles, and waves. It’s a surprisingly very cute way to find him. Some of the mystique of Lotte dissipates at the sight.

“Afternoon, Peter! Your key is on the kitchen counter. Did Mr. Stark come back for one last check-up?” Dero asks, gently teasing.

A smile tugs at his mouth. “Guten tag, Dero! And nah, Mr. Stark went back to the States. You impressed him enough he didn’t even need a second look.” Easy chatter established and this whole roommate with the best ‘girl’ of the club thing isn’t nearly so intimidating. Dero’s light laughter further fills Peter with confidence.

“Good, good. Hey, once you’re done unpacking and whatever else, Gerard and Tommy or Helena and Kitten, as you’ll know them – volunteered to take you clothes shopping to get a wardrobe for work after your debut night. You won’t have to work the day or night after you first get introduced. Gives you some time to accumulate, and we figured you might not have much with how suddenly you got hired in. There’s hand-me-down clothes that Madame Wade always keeps around just in case, so you can borrow them.”

Wow. A lot to take in all at once. Peter closes the door behind himself, heading towards his room.

“Awesome, that’s really nice of them! Do either of them live in the complex too? And where do I find the hand-me-down clothes? I’ll go look at them after I unpack my duffel bag and shower.”

“Helena does, but not Kitten. Arrange with Helena tomorrow when you want to go and she’ll relay it to Kitten. They both have keen noses for the best shops for queens. Hand-me-down clothes are in Wade’s office. He patches them up and washes them so they’re always fresh.” Peter nods. Good to know that the general clothes are taken care of.

“Cool! Thanks, Dero. Actually I’m gonna nap and then say hi to Helena. What room is she in?”

Dero gives him a thumbs up, turning his gaze back to the TV. “320 is Gerard’s room.” Released from the conversation, Peter heads to his room quietly, closing the door behind him. Not to be rude to Dero, but he’d like a little bit of time to collect himself and to get used to this new living and work arrangement. It takes him all of ten minutes to put his clothes away before he heads to the bathroom to shower. Afterwards, he gratefully settles into bed, glad the bed is soft and the sheets smelling of laundry detergent. He ends up sleeping for two and a half hours before his growling stomach wakes him up.

Oh yeah...groceries will also be a necessity. It’d be quite rude to eat Dero’s food. Okay, maybe he’ll ask Helena – well, Gerard, outside of work – if he knows where a grocery store is. Easy enough for Peter to go wander out and look but...well, if they’re going out clothes shopping, then he should stop by the store for food too.

Opening up his door, he finds that Dero’s left the living room and there isn’t any noise from his bedroom, so maybe he’s sleeping or gone out? Well, whichever it is, Peter will see him later. Heading to the elevator, Peter pushes the button for the third floor.

This place becomes more and more like a dormitory, with some doors to the suites open, the residents going about their daily lives. Peter waves to those who see him, receiving smiles and waves in return. Gerard’s door is closed, but when he knocks, there’s a muffled, “Come in!” that sounds friendly.

Opening the door, Peter is startled to step into partially dim settings. There are thick curtains covering the large living room window which seal out the afternoon sun. Gerard is curled up on the couch, a cigarette sitting in the ashtray on the table where all his other art supplies are splayed out. He himself is working on something in a large sketchbook.

“Hi Gerard! I’m not interrupting you am I?” Peter asks even as he closes the door behind himself.

Gerard grins; his teeth are small like a child’s. “Nope, come on in! I’ve got some juices in the fridge if you want any. You’re Peter, right? All day I was trying to remember your actual name and not your work name.” He giggles to himself, still working away on whatever he’s doing.

Peter gently sits down on the couch, not wanting to jiggle the sketchbook or Gerard’s hand, which he sees is holding charcoal.

“Yep, I’m Peter outside of work. Which, actually, do you know how to get the clothes in Wade’s office? Dero told me that there’s some new girls can borrow. And where can I buy groceries and more club outfits? I didn’t bring anything with me and I don’t want to eat all Dero’s food.”

A nod. “Cool, you can call me Helena or Gerard outside of work, either one works. Yeah, Weasel will have the keys. Vanessa does too, but she’s not usually here a lot. We can go shopping now for food, if you want? Just let me know what time works for you tomorrow to get together with Tommy and me.”

Peter furrows his brows. What with all the aliases and true names to keep up with, he’s not sure who that is.

“Kitten, sorry. Tommy outside of work,” Gerard clarifies when he glances up at him.

“Ah okay! Um, would anytime after 2 in the afternoon work? That way with our night schedules we’re not getting up super early?”

“Sure! Works for me. I’ll text Tommy to let him know.”

--

“So if it’s not rude how did you – you know, start working here? Is everyone pretty nice to each other?” Peter asks as he and Gerard browse through the aisles. They both have baskets in the crook of their arms (Gerard decided he too needed food), strolling at a leisurely pace.

Gerard picks up a bottle of pickles, tipping it from side to side, watching them slosh around. Peter looks over the selection of pickled cabbage and peppers that are on the shelves next to the pickles.

“Not rude at all! Most of the girls are nice to hang around with, but there’s always those few who aren’t. Really it’s when Vanessa’s girls come around that we kinda have issues. Two different groups sharing the same stage, some get prickly about that.” Gerard shrugs as he puts the pickles in his basket. Peter moves down the aisle towards the dairy section, Gerard following after. “I got started when I came over from New Jersey. The club had just been bought by Madame Wade and I needed a singing job. Until Lotte upstaged me, I was the main person for stage entertainment.” Instead of resentment or bitterness, Gerard’s nonchalant, clearly unbothered by no longer being the one and only singer at the club.

“So you’re not upset by Dero taking over?” Peter asks, gently curious enough to want to know. He doesn’t want to stir up gossip or drama, but he might be a little hurt if he went from being a favorite at the club to being the lesser singer.

Gerard smiles at him, amused. “Not even a little. I know Wade calls Dero his favorite girl. I think they understand each other a lot more than he and I, which is fine by me. Besides,” he adds brightly, “While I work here entertaining patrons at night, between shifts I still have plenty of time for my art. Now I’m not the starving artist and I can afford to be pickier about what projects and companies I want to work with.”

“That’s super cool! I wasn’t sure if you did art for a hobby or not. I hope you get something you really like.”

This seems to please Gerard like nothing else.

“Thanks, Peter. Me too. I’ll show you the collage I’ve been working on of all the girls who have worked here. The next person I’ll add is you.”

Peter doesn’t know how to answer that besides to throw his arms around Gerard in a hug, their baskets clattering against each other. A high-pitched giggle from Gerard, who leans his head against Peter’s. The mark of Peter’s first friend here.

--

The first day of work is upon him quicker than he realizes.

Thankfully when it’s time to get ready, Dero – Lotte during work hours – stays behind to help Peter get made up for his first shift. For his debut, he’s just going to wear something simple. A cream-colored top with lace and a knee-length navy blue skirt. The upside to Madame Wade’s club is that there’s a whole variety of fashion on display, so if Peter’s a little more conservative than the other girls, no one’s going to care at all or even comment on it. Besides, this way he can doesn’t have to worry about the fact he doesn’t have a gaff yet (something Gerard had mentioned the shop they’ll go to carries plenty of). By tomorrow, he’ll have one or as many as he wants.

Peter bites his lip as he turns to the side, looking himself over in the mirror. Should he wear fake breasts too? Lotte doesn’t, but then again she looks perfect in anything, breasts not needed. A trifling thing to worry himself over. Here he came in just wanting to dress in what made him happy and he’s already in a tizzy about not being feminine enough. The hellish doubt he can’t win against. He’s never been as feminine or as masculine as he wanted.

A knock on his open door has him looking over his shoulder to see Lotte in a cheetah-print dress. Tonight she’s not barefoot, but wearing combat boots, and in place of her anklet, she has a lurid pink garter around her left thigh. She’s even wearing a wig this time, which flows down her back in a black wave. Maybe he should go barefoot since that seems to be a common theme?

“You’re stunning, Lotte,” Peter breathes, amazed at the transformation. Lotte grins at the compliment, beckoning him to follow after. They move to the bathroom, where their makeup is laid out on the counter.

“You look lovely too. See, you don’t even need me here,” she teases as she starts the process of applying Peter’s makeup. He’s too nervous to do it himself, and besides, Lotte will have a better idea of what’s appropriate for the early evening crowd.

“Spatzi, now you just follow Helena’s lead, okay? She’ll help you whenever, so don’t be afraid to ask,” Lotte instructs as she cups his jaw, tilting his head up to better apply the mascara. Peter hums in answer, looking at the ceiling.

He’s a little overwhelmed right now at their proximity, taking in Lotte’s face, her eyes and mouth emphasized by the bright pink hue to the eyeshadow and lipstick.

When Lotte is finished, Spatzi almost ruins her foundation by touching her cheek when she looks in the mirror. The surprise isn’t that she looks garish; simply that Lotte’s applied more than she, Spatzi, is used to. What Lotte’s chosen for her first night is simple but striking, with plain ol’ mascara and eyeliner paired with ruby red lipstick. Now she can see why the ‘girls’ prefer to be addressed as such during work. The makeup and clothes help to get into that headspace.

After a few more seconds to admire Lotte’s work, they head down to the club part of the building. It’s easy enough to find Helena, even amongst the patrons. She alone wears such dramatic chalk white foundation. A stark contrast to her natural jet black hair. If Spatzi remembers correctly, that’s the same black dress with the red sash at the waist she was wearing when they first met.

“Spatzi! Come say hi to my friends,” Helena trills as she draws nearer to the small group. A round of introductions and polite compliments before they move back to the conversation at hand.

Despite her nerves, Spatzi finds it not at all difficult to simply entertain the patrons. They’re here for a good time, conversation (serious or funny depending on who it is), drinks, and a show from Lotte and the man who wore the fierce red suit on Peter’s first night here. Thankfully, many find her nervous verbal trip-ups endearingly cute. Helena doesn’t mind that Spatzi trails after sticking close to her side.

It helps that the other girls are quite friendly and willing to stay close if needed. By three am, Spatzi is exhausted, her feet aching something awful even though she wore flats for this first go around. She ends up hobbling back to her and Lotte’s room, collapsing on the couch in the living room, feet propped on the arm.

A few minutes later, as she’s dozing, the door to their suite opens to the sound of Dero’s low chuckle. Peter’s so tired he doesn’t even startle when warm hands grasp his feet. He grunts at Dero kneading his thumbs into his throbbing arches, although it feels better when he moves upwards to his toes.

“You’ve won a couple of favorites tonight. Everyone thought you were precious.” Peter smiles, pleased to hear he got a good reception from everyone. “Kitten seems quite taken with you. I noticed she stayed close for most of the night.” There’s a smile in Dero’s voice as he turns to massaging his heels and ankles.

“Everyone was so nice. I really like it here,” Peter mumbles back, wiping at his eyes, realizing after a second that oh damn it, he has mascara on. Dero gently squeezes his feet.

“Let me wash my hands and I’ll get makeup wipes for you. If you take painkillers tonight and the rest of the week, you’ll be able to sleep better. Soaking your feet will help too.”

--

It’s bizarre to see Kitten – no, Tommy outside of the club. So far, Peter has only interacted with Tommy’s persona of Kitten within the club. He lives on his own, so he’s not gotten the chance to know Tommy. Still weird in his mouth to call him by his public name. There’s a difference in personality too. Kitten is whimsical and fawning affection. Tommy is less extroverted, although he still greets both of them with hugs. What surprises Peter the most is that without the makeup, Tommy looks to be no more than seventeen or eighteen. A high schooler like Peter himself. Maybe his landlord doesn’t care that a teen is renting an apartment all on their own?

“How was your first night? I tried to stay close because some pricks try to take advantage of new girls,” Tommy asks as he locks his door, and they descend the stairs to head back outside.

“Good! Thank you for that. Everybody was really nice, my first night at least. I’m excited to have some actual clothes to wear tomorrow.” Tommy smiles at him and inexplicably Peter’s face goes hot at the expression. He ducks his head suddenly, feeling shy. With impeccable timing, Gerard speaks up, asking Tommy what he plans to wear for tomorrow night and if he wants to go out to eat next weekend once payday comes around.

“Sure, but what for? You don’t seem to like to go out much,” Tommy asks, to which Gerard flaps his hand at him, laughing.

“To celebrate Spatzi’s first night! I don’t want her to go broke the second day here. I figure she can figure out what bills she has first and then we go eat. How ‘bout it, Peter?” Gerard asks, turning hopeful eyes on him. It feels a little odd to be addressed by his drag name in public, but he’d absolutely love to celebrate with good food with his first two tentative friends.

“Yeah! I’d love that.”

They chatter the rest of the way to the shop, which turns out to be crammed between two other buildings as if it’s been added in as an afterthought. Peter’s shocked when he sees Tommy swipe a card to get in. Wow; either the need for a keycard is for an extreme measure of security, or otherwise this shop is super duper exclusive.

Tommy glances back at Peter as he walks through the doorway. “Nathan runs a tight ship. He only sells to established clubs. Girly clubs, gay bars, everything that’s sleazy and comes under attack from the morally righteous is kept locked up here.” Peter nods. He can see why Nathan would keep his shop very exclusive and barred against any unknown people.

Inside, the place is crammed to the ceiling with all sorts of clothes, shoes, makeup, perfume and lingerie. It’s a mix between a thrift store and storage room for a theater, such is the variety of everything on display or tucked away into little cubbies to make more room. Nathan himself appears from the ladder that leads up to what appears to be a loft. He’s a thick-built man, and with that thunderous expression, he doesn’t come across as someone to fuck with.

“Hey Nathan! Want to see some of my new work? I made you a cyborg and it really fits you. Like, your next theme should be androids,” Gerard greets excitedly, not in the least intimidated.

Nathan spots Peter in a heartbeat. He nods to him, asking in a gruff voice, “You the new one at Wayward Girls?”

Peter nods, slightly intimidated by the evaluating look. Tommy’s arm around his shoulders surprises him.

“C’mon Summers, stop scaring him. Peter’s here for a new wardrobe. By the way, where’s Domino, you cradle robber? I don’t see her in today.” This comment has Nathan going pink in the face as he harrumphs and gestures Gerard over to the front counter, who’s already digging into his messenger bag.

“She’s at the clinic helping out with inventory. Between Wade and Vanessa’s ambitious hiring, there’s a huge influx of patients and she couldn’t make it in today.” Tommy’s chuckle has Peter’s heart fluttering, and ever so casually, he winds his right arm around Tommy’s waist, who doesn’t seem bothered at all.

“Well, tell Domino hi for me. Me and Peter are going to go browse. Gee, come help with makeup when you’re done here.” Gerard absentmindedly nods, already absorbed in displaying his art to Nathan, explaining the different sketches he’s done.

It’s a whirlwind of clothes and shoes as they dive into the overwhelming wealth of clothes. Peter wants to stay with the cutesy kind of clothes. He could go for sexy, but he really loves the ability to wear all the frills and lace that he wants. Tommy helps by not giving him false compliments if certain outfits or clothes don’t look or fit him quite right. Where he truly shines is when they start combing through the shoes to match.

On a whim, Peter grabs a jet black wig with a bobbed hairstyle to it. On the off-chance he’d like to really dress up, he wants the option of changing his look completely. Gerard, as promised, appears for selecting the makeup that best suits Peter (even persuading Tommy to buy some new stuff) and gets some more for himself. By the time everything is rung up (Peter insists that he can cover Tommy’s few makeup items), he wants to put half of it back for the enormous amount of expense he’s let himself be nudged into. Tommy notices his pained expression as Nathan folds up the clothes before putting them in bags for him.

“Peter, Stark gave you that money to get started here and I’m sure to have your own clothes when you go home. You’re getting paid regularly now, you deserve to have pretty things. Spatzi will not look like a pauper. She’s too good for that.” Again a blush of embarrassment at Tommy’s compliments, at his belief that both Peter himself and Spatzi deserve to look their best. Still, his words help to ease the sting of such extravagant spending. Besides, it’s not like he plans to do this every weekend. This wardrobe will tide him over for quite a long while.

Despite the ping to his conscience from the sumptuous spending, Peter has to say this day has been quite fun. He really likes hanging out with Tommy and Gerard. Next time, he’ll come see Tommy by himself.

--

The first time Kitten kisses Spatzi, it’s during her second week at the club.

By this point, she’s gained the confidence to move about the club on her own without having to cling to Helena or Lotte for guidance. Spatzi had decided that evening she wants to try her hand at being in the peep show booth, the one with a swing where she first saw Kitten. Call her weirdly sentimental, but she loves the thought of being the pretty girl in the window like Kitten often is. Lotte’s admittance that Kitten worked best behind glass because of her sharp tongue with clients didn’t diminish Spatzi’s interest.

Tonight, Spatzi is sitting on the swing, with Kitten dividing her time between lounging on the floor or preening in the two-way mirror. Spatzi does her best not to eye Kitten up when she lies on the floor, her right leg crossed over her left at the knee giving a view to the window of her underwear. She wears a yellow and black bralette with a black miniskirt. Very femme fatale colors, Kitten informs her. In regards to herself, Spatzi is dressed in a flowing rust red summer dress with skirts bolstered by petticoats. A very country girl outfit. Both of them are barefoot, as is the custom for girls in the peep show or on stage.

The clink of quarters before the speaker crackles and a young man’s voice cheerfully calls out, “Give her a kiss! You’re not nuns!” A chorus of voices hoot other suggestions and demands. Clearly a group of guys and girls jostling into a booth, spirited by alcohol. Kitten sighs, looking pointedly at Spatzi. Her entire demeanor is one of boredom at such a pedestrian request. On the other hand, Spatzi is trying to calm her racing heart. This would be different from kissing Tommy, she tries to convince herself. With Kitten, it’s just performance, part of their personas. But her nerves have an entirely different view on the matter.

“A lady doesn’t give kisses so rudely demanded of her,” Kitten replies primly as she stretches out luxuriously before rolling over onto her side, facing Spatzi and beckoning her with a finger. Understanding there is an audience to play to, Spatzi slides down from the swing onto her knees before laying down beside Kitten, her petticoats spilling all around her. This earns her a pleased wink. Kitten caresses her hair (the one part of her that’s okay to be touched, unlike her fully made-up face) to the appreciative whistles and catcalls.

“You wouldn’t mind if I took this chance to kiss you, would you, Spatzi?” Kitten asks, softly enough to be unheard by anyone else but her. While Spatzi would like to kiss her in private for the first time, she’s not unhappy to have an excuse to do it now.

“Go ahead,” Spatzi murmurs back. This earns her a grin before Kitten’s sitting up, pushing Spatzi over onto her back in order to straddle her. The cheers that filter through the glass hold none of Spatzi’s attention, her entire focus on Kitten, who is a warm weight on her hips. Kitten bends over her, resting her hands on either side of Spatzi’s head.

A grin before she slowly leans down, sparing a knowing glance at the window before kissing Spatzi, ever so teasing. One kiss, two, three, and warmth is flaring low in Spatzi’s stomach. Impulsive, she reaches up to dip the tips of her fingers into the right cup of Kitten’s bra, tracing Kitten’s nipple with her thumb. A soft moan that Kitten hides against Spatzi’s throat.

It’s a boon for Spatzi’s dignity when there’s a knock at the door. Otherwise, she might have ended up embarrassing herself just from their kissing and caressing alone.

“Finish up loves! Break time,” one of the other girls softly calls through the door. Kitten kisses her once more before blowing a kiss to the two-way glass window.

“Time’s up! Please do feel free to stay for more entertainment though,” she enjoins with a wink.

Spatzi spends the rest of the night in a daze.

It’s not that she ever expected she wouldn’t be kissed by someone at work. She would have been naive beyond belief to assume that. Rather, Spatzi didn’t expect to be kissed by her crush or be so affected by it. In the context of work, their intimacy should mean nothing. All sensual acts just a performance for their patrons’ amusement.

Kitten offers the closest pub for their late dinner (everyone gets an hour lunch), which Spatzi gently declines. Right now, she needs to get back in her headspace. She really must look out of it because she’s approached by Wade, who she hasn’t seen since she first started work two weeks ago.

Tonight, Madame Wade has chosen a skin-tight mini dress (a deep blood red) with gorgeous black high heels. Spatzi’s sitting in the break room, spacing out with a bowl of cereal in front of her (the kitchen is stocked with almost everything possible) when Wade enters, making a beeline for her, heels clicking across the wood flooring.

“Hey there precious! I heard you and Kitten had quite a bit of fun in the peep show tonight.” A blush races over Spatzi, embarrassed to have been so...so uninhibited. There’s a difference between faking and actually enjoying yourself in front of others. Spatzi shrugs, humiliated to admit in this house of sleaze that she forgot herself. At once, Wade is at her side, resting a hand on her shoulder.

“Hold on sweetie pie, I’m not telling you not to kiss! God knows plenty of the girls and I do more. Just...you didn’t feel you had to, hopefully?”

Spatzi vehemently shakes her head.

“She didn’t force me. She asked and I said yes.” Spatzi turns her eyes to the table, unsettled at admitting her feelings. “I really like Kitten and Tommy both.” Wade grasps her hand, lightly squeezing it in a gesture of comfort.

“And nothing is wrong with that. I just don’t want you to use those feelings for the patrons. Keep Kitten and Tommy for yourself.” A small bitter smile twists Wade’s lips. “I’d hate to see your romance spoiled by this business. Try to keep up that separation between your lovely Spatzi persona in here and Peter the sweetheart outside. I’ll drop a hint to Kitten; no pursuing workplace romances at work.”

--

In the midst of this whirlwind, Peter has to admit he’s not given much time to getting to know Dero. Granted, often times Dero isn’t home anyways when he’s not working at the club. Peter would ask, but he feels that just because they’re roommates doesn’t mean he has the right to inquire about what Dero gets up to outside of work.

Lucky for him, he’s not left in anticipation for long, as Dero returns home one day fairly bursting with glee. Peter’s playing on his game console using the living room TV. He could buy one for his room, but he doesn’t need any more clutter to bring home. A guilty ping at the thought of home. He’s given every excuse in the book for not answering Ned or MJ or in fact any of his other school friends. Over here, he doesn’t even have his laptop, just his phone which glares its accusing message notifications, and wow, has it already been three weeks?

Before Peter can convince himself to finally reply back, Dero is bustling in the door.

“Peter! Good, you’re home. I’ve got news!” Dero announces, his voice booming in his eagerness. Peter pauses his game, all attention on him. Whatever it is has got to be big news to so stir Dero up. “My band, the one outside of the club, we just released our newest album! Would you care to listen? I’ve dedicated a song to this club on it,” he explains. Peter was totally unaware that his roommate sang outside of the club. Maybe a little dumb of him, what with how professional Dero’s vocal abilities are for being a club singer.

“Sure, yeah I’d love to!” Peter chirps, just as psyched now to see this project. Dero puts the CD in the stereo player, adding half-apologetic, “The lyrics are in German, let me write down the translation while you listen.” Totally fine by him, he’ll enjoy the first go around for the music alone.

The sound of clacking heels has Peter grinning in recognition of Lotte’s footsteps. For the years Dero’s worked here, he’s rarely worn heels, and it’s easy to tell from just listening. Peter’s first impression is how sensual the intro sounds. The low thrum to the song added to by Dero’s husky voice enticing the listener. Thrills run over him when the music swells to an edgier note. Dero’s full-throated growl on,

“Ich will raus – raus – raus aus meiner Haut!”

Back and forth the song goes, from sensual to aggressive rock. Peter absolutely loves it even without understanding anything but a few words of German. It’s halfway through the second time through that Dero hands Peter the translated lyrics, and now he can see what Dero meant writing this as a dedication to Wayward Girls club.

I put on my favorite little dress
in my high heels, in front of my mirror.
I put red blush on my cheeks, I know exactly what you like.
I hope the beard on my face
won't bother you during foreplay
When our lips fondly meet.

Reading this takes Peter’s breath away. It’s like Dero reached into his very own head to pluck out these thoughts. He recognizes that Dero’s writing about his routine of getting made up to be Lotte, of what he does to get into that headspace of being one of the “girls”.

I want out – out – out of my skin
Because I feel so good in disguise
I want out – out – out of my skin
because I don't want to decide

It doesn't hurt to be a little bi
It doesn't hurt to be a little bi

Huh, maybe this song is even more revealing than what Peter previously thought. But then again, the bi part could stand not only as disclaiming his sexuality, but as a metaphor for the duality of a drag queen. The person you are in day-to-day life where you must present the expected performance of gender and the queen you can be within safe spaces. Whether it’s one or the other or both, Peter loves it.

I tuck my balls up,
and shave up to my stomach
I put false eyelashes on,
I'm a star in my world.
When I'm in the limelight, I feel more beautiful than ever.
I let the lust and desire rule.

Peter’s chest aches at the vulnerability of this. This...this could word-for-word be his own feelings about the club. He doesn’t know what else to think without repeating himself a thousand times about how strongly he identifies with all that Dero’s written.

I'm no angel, I don't want to be sugar coated
When you are my king, I am the queen
Let's trade dresses, because we're so much more.

This has Peter giggling to which Dero gives a ‘hm?’ of curiosity at what’s funny about the lyrics. He points to the line about a king and queen.

“Who's your king?”

Dero grins, his wolfish smile winking.

“A queen has to keep some of her secrets. And anyways, the girls tell me you’re flirting with Kitten?” Peter blushes, putting the paper over his face. Oh no, when even his roommate has heard, it’s bad how obvious his crush is.

“Shut up and show me the rest of your new album.”

Dero laughs, easily letting the subject drop as he goes to fiddle with the stereo, turning off the repeat and skipping ahead to the next song.

“This one is called Seemannsrose or Sailor’s Rose,” he explains as gulls squawk and an accordion starts up. Oh man, this album is just a treat in hilarity.

--

Despite the fact that their kiss is unresolved as to whether it was meant as more or just for entertainment, Peter finds himself too embarrassed to bring his feelings. How humiliating to bring up the possibility of maybe dating or a romantic relationship only to be turned down flat. So instead, Peter maintains his continued sweet, happy friendship with Tommy and his queen persona Kitten. No reason to rock the boat, especially when it seems Tommy himself isn’t fazed.

What turns his mind from Tommy is the check-up call from Aunt May. So far, for the past few months, Peter’s been able to delicately dance around any phone calls or video chats with Aunt May or his friends by saying the internship is working him super hard. Guilt stabs at him during his free time when he could in fact call and let them know he’s doing great versus just texting. Call him selfish, but he’s enjoying the hazy bubble of Wayward Girls. It’s difficult for him to want to break that with reminders of his life back home in New York. He’ll be back there soon enough and he can’t stand contemplating the fact that he’ll miss everyone here terribly.

“Peter! It’s been two months! Do they ever let you sleep or eat?” Aunt May greets, warm and effusive when he picks up. Peter smiles to himself as he rolls over onto his other side in bed. It’s noon and he’s just woken up from a night of work no more than five minutes ago.

“Mornin’, Aunt May. I miss you,” he answers back, rubbing at his eyes.

Aunt May snorts. “Morning? Peter, isn’t it afternoon with you? Have you been staying up too late? You know Mr. Stark isn’t paying for you to goof around during this internship.”

Shit, yeah, he’s here on an internship. What did Mr. Stark tell Aunt May he was here doing? Damn, he’ll just have to hope it’s something to do with science, because that’s the only thing Peter can guess.

“It is, but I work the late shift. So I get the late night into early morning shifts. Pretty much I get the lab to myself when I work because everyone else is at home besides a few coworkers.” They talk in this vein for a few minutes more, Aunt May updating him on what’s going on at home.

“By the way, Ned told me you haven’t talked with him in awhile. Are things alright between you two?” Just what he hoped she wouldn’t ask about. It seems he’s going to have to actually explain himself with that one.

He shrugs even though she can’t see that gesture. “Ned and me are cool. I’ve been busy and I dunno, I put it off so long that the more I did it the worst I felt and the less I wanted to reach out.” It’s the first breath of true honesty this entire conversation.

A sigh down the line. “Oh Peter, you know Ned just wants to hear from you. Sure, I think he’ll be miffed that you waited so long, but you guys are best friends. He wants to hear from you no matter when. I think you should call him after this.” She’s right; it’s time for him to quit dragging his feet about doing this.

“I will, Aunt May. I love you.”

Aunt May’s voice is loving. “I love you too, Peter.”

He takes a couple deep breaths, steeling himself for the possible coolness with which Ned will answer him. Peter wouldn’t blame him for it, not with how long he’s been putting off. He dials Ned’s number and after the first three rings, his friend picks up.

“Hey, what’s up?” Ned’s tone is carefully blank. Neither overexcited or contemptuous. Well, so far so good.

“Nothing – well actually a lot but I wanted to call and say hi. I...I know I haven’t been a good friend and I’m really sorry, Ned. I shouldn’t have ghosted you for so long.”

The other line is quiet for a beat.

“So you’ve been talking to MJ?” A note of hurt, of betrayal at the thought Peter’s dropped Ned like a hot potato and chosen another friend to confide in.

“No, no! I haven’t been talking with honestly anyone. It’s just –,” Peter doesn’t know how to explain it and decides there’s no real polite way of saying what he does. “Okay, can you keep a secret? And I mean no blurting it out like with me being ‘friends’ with Spider-Man,” he asks. Much as he loves Ned, his best friend gets far too excited about sharing big news, secretive or not. Sure enough, this seems to be the needed key to tempt Ned from his studied nonchalance to curious eagerness.

“Hey, they were talking about Spider-Man first! I was trying to help us look cooler and get invited to the party. And yes, I can keep a secret! So what’s been keeping you from calling us for months?” Okay, he deserves that dig. Peter glances at his bedroom door, which is still closed. From his bed, he can’t hear anything, so Dero’s likely in his room or out with his band promoting their new album called Fat Booty of Madness in English.

“Okay so – the internship that Mr. Stark told Aunt May I’m doing? Well, it’s not really an internship? I’m working at a gay club in Germany and spending most of my time as a drag queen named Spatzi,” Peter rushes, his shirt getting damp around his armpits and chest with nervous sweat. This is definitely way weirder to admit to than the fact he’s Spider-Man. The silence on the other end of the line unnerves him. If even Ned’s speechless, then he must really think this is out there.

“Hence why I kept putting off calling because I felt...not embarrassed, because I love this job. Most everyone here is absolutely amazing and my roommate is a really cool dude. He’s in his own band, not just the singer for this club, and he’s fantastic. But it felt wrong to lie to you or MJ about what I’m doing because I’m not ashamed of being a drag queen, but I’ve also never told you guys? You get what I mean?” Unintentionally, he’s lapsed into seeking Ned’s opinion as if his friend’s already forgiven and forgotten being ignored. For a few moments, it’s just Peter nervously sweating and waiting for Ned’s response.

“Peter.”

“Yes?”

“That is so cool! Why didn’t you just say that first! I literally thought you didn’t want to be friends anymore because you’re doing cool amazing things in Germany for Mr. Stark and nope, you’re being the most rebel high schooler doing drag as a job! Holy shit, dude, that’s so exciting! Please tell me you’ve got stories about working there. And by the way, what’s your drag name? You didn’t say.”

Peter can’t help it he belly laughs in relief, so glad that Ned in his way is forgiving him his bad friend mistake.

“Okay, so you’re not going to believe this my roommate Dero, who’s like the co-boss here kind of, picked my name. I was trying to get the other boss Weasel to hire me and he wasn’t wanting to but then here comes Dero half-dressed...”

The hours slip by as he and Ned discuss their daily lives, laughing and teasing one another. By the time he gets off the phone, Peter feels light as a feather, so buoyed. Okay, his best friend isn’t angry at him; now time to take MJ on. She won’t be as easy to let go of his bad friend choices, but she’ll come around. He hits ‘call’ on MJ’s phone number.

--

Yet another surprise is waiting when two days later, Wade appears again. Peter’s not due to work tonight, but when Tommy texts that Wade’s back he books it downstairs. Tonight, their boss is dressed in red sweatpants and a black hoodie despite the warm weather outside. However, that is nothing to the excessive joviality Wade’s bursting with.

“Peter! Handsome thing! Stop in the breakroom for dinner, I ordered in food for everyone. Got vegetarian and vegan options too,” Wade greets, enveloping him in a hug when Peter waves and is within arm’s reach.

“Hi Wade! Awesome, thank you for the food. Did you know Dero put out an album? Have you heard it?” Peter asks, smushed against Wade’s chest, his boss’s enthusiastic mood infectious. Who cares that he’s been gone for so long when he’s back home now and clearly bent on enjoying seeing everyone again? There’s something about Wade that invites warmth and an instant rapport. Unlike with Mr. Stark, who he wouldn’t dare hug unless Mr. Stark initiated it. Peter’s body burns with embarrassment remembering when the car ride where at the end he mistook Mr. Stark leaning over to open the door as just such an offer.

“I didn’t know that! You’ll have to show me the album tonight after work. I’ll come see you and Dero, if that’s fine with you two?”

Peter nods eagerly, delighted to have Wade come by specially to see them. Dero he’s sure will be pleased to have him drop by after vanishing into thin air there for awhile.

“Good, then I’ll be by. Anyways, I’m glad you’re here, Peter. Tonight’s the event for our amazing Ladies of the Night show. Gives a chance for our neglected sisters to strut their stuff. My wife Vanessa was the one who came up with the brilliant idea. Then again she’s way smarter than I look,” Wade explains, his arm thrown around Peter’s shoulders as he guides him into the break room towards the food. My God, what an abundance of food there is. All the counters are covered besides where the plates, silverware and napkins are. Two tables have been taken in order to bear the weight. Damn, there must be enough food for every single coworker here to take home plenty of leftovers.

“Kitten! Come here and say hello to your boyfriend and your boss. Sad for you, not the same person,” Wade laughs, beckoning Kitten over, who is sitting at a table with Gerard and a few other queens discussing whatever. Peter sputters; who told Wade that he and Kitten were boyfriends?! Well, in this case, girlfriends when in drag, but the point remains. Who had decided they were dating when Peter himself had not received confirmation from the person in question?

“Tommy tonight, Wade. I’m not working, just looking cute,” Tommy replies, the breathy voice of Kitten not there. He seems unfazed by Wade calling Peter his boyfriend. Instead, Tommy offers his hand, which Peter grasps, a blush blossoming. Well, okay, it seems that this affection is fine with Tommy at least.

“When’s Vanessa and Domino showing up? By the way, Domino is fabulous. Her hair is to die for,” Helena mentions this last part to Peter, wandering over from the table offering him some of her drink. He takes a sip, scrunching his face at the very sour and kind of sweet taste of mixed sodas. Whatever it is, there’s no alcohol in this, which probably wouldn’t have improved the taste.

“She’d call that hair appropriation, Helena. You racist,” Wade jokes, lightly pulling at a lock of Helena’s hair.

Helena flips her hair out of Wade’s loose grasp. “As someone who doesn’t understand hair, of course you’d say that.” They chatter for awhile longer, Tommy still holding Peter’s hand, before eventually Peter leads the way to the counters so he can take his pick of all the food on offer. There’s truly everything from around town and Wade must have paid a mountain of cash. Well, hopefully he can write it off as a business expense on his taxes?

Peter and Tommy have just sat down at another table with Dero, Helena, and Wade when Domino and Vanessa come swanning in. Before this, Peter’s never met either one of them as they’ve not come to the club when he’s been around. From what he knows, Vanessa chooses to still be a sex worker, now looking after others as a sort of Madame. If her authority is anything like Wade’s, she’ll be more a friend than a ruthless boss. Vanessa is slender, with beautiful brown hair that’s like a waterfall. Domino’s hair is what catches Peter’s eye as it’s been left to grow in a natural ‘fro. She’s also got a ring of vitiligo around her left eye. Quite an odd but coincidentally cool placement of it. A compact body that looks amazing in leather pants and a cozy oversized cream sweater.

“Wade! Introduce us to your new girl! We haven’t seen her yet,” Domino calls out as they head towards their table. Peter is awed and in love already.

Wade grins, ready to play up the theatrics. He stands up from his seat only to get down on one knee besides Peter, arms outstretched palms upwards as if presenting an amazing gift to them.

“Domino, my Black Black Widow, Vanessa, my amazing wife, I present to you Peter! Or, when she’s a queen, Spatzi. She’s the most precious of them all.” Peter blushes at the unnecessary dramatic introduction, squeaking when first Domino and then Vanessa pulls him up and into a hug.

“Nice to meet you, sweetie. Wade’s been crowing about his newest girl. We figured it was time to meet you,” Domino says, bubbling over with enthusiasm. Peter instantly has a new favorite person, besides Tommy of course.

“It’s nice to meet you guys! I really love it and I’m excited to see Ladies of the Night tonight.” Peter enthuses right back, eager to make a good impression. Domino has that personality about her that makes you want to be her friend.

What he doesn’t expect is the friction between Wade’s and Vanessa’s groups. Quite apparent is the fact that many girls here scorn the prostitutes and vice versa.

“Dirty whores. It makes our club look like a brothel to have them here. I don’t know why Wade lets his wife bring them in,” Laurel mutters to a friend who’s unfamiliar to Peter. He doesn’t say anything as he sidles away from those two. He’s unsure why the girls here are so against the sex workers having a night to show off and relax in a safe space.

Peter spies Tommy across the way, lounging on one of the sectional couches. Despite not working, he’s still dressed in a soft white negligee with ruby red Mary Jane platforms. A very sensual look paired with his smoky eyes. He makes a beeline for him.

“Hey Tommy, why are the girls so upset with Vanessa’s group here? I thought we were on good terms.” He settles down next to him. Tommy stretches out an arm to encircle Peter’s shoulders, playing with his hair, which hasn’t been styled much tonight. Tommy hums, thinking over his answer, stroking Peter’s earlobe with his thumbnail as he does so just enough to tickle.

“It’s hard for many girls here to see these sex workers. What they could easily have become or were before they found this club. I sold my body too, but I’ve no interest in being petty towards Vanessa’s group. The only one I don’t care for is Chi Chi. She fawns too much over any man who might show a pretend interest in taking care of her. Too brash and in your face. She hasn’t an ounce of class. But enough of that talk; you haven’t got a chance to play on the pole, have you?”

Peter grins, shaking his head no. He’s never been up on stage as he’s too shy to sing or dance. Well, more like he’s got no voice for singing and his dance moves are non-existent.

“Well c’mon then. Let’s show that pole who’s boss. Then you can try working the one in the peep booth,” Tommy winks, beckoning Peter to follow after him. Okay, if Tommy is going to be up there too then Peter can give it a go. But no sooner does Tommy start to show some very basic moves and positions on the pole, easy enough for Peter to repeat, than a loud voice disrupts them.

“Ay, mami! I am Chi Chi and tonight that’s my stage!” a baby-faced Hispanic queen snaps at Tommy from the wings, hustling out onto the stage.

Ice forms in Tommy’s gaze. “Pray, so you’re a pole everyone rubs their privates against? Well, that’s certainly an apt description for you and your work.”

Peter’s shocked at this complete break from courtesy. Clearly Tommy more than dislikes Chi Chi.

“You bitch!” Chi Chi snarls, lunging for him. Peter jumps in front of Tommy as Dero appears to grab hold of Chi Chi.

“Tommy! Go away if you’re going to be rude,” Dero orders, fierce in his anger. Peter’s never seen his roommate pissed off before.

“Let me go! Let go!” Chi Chi demands, squirming in Dero’s hold. Tommy turns on his heels, striding off without a hint of remorse. Peter’s caught between following after or staying with Dero to defuse the situation.

“Peter, find Vanessa, tell her she’s needed,” Dero says, still not releasing the angry queen in his arms. Peter nods and scampers off, asking coworkers where Vanessa is at. It turns out she and Wade are in his office. So, up the flight of stairs in the back he goes. It doesn’t even occur to him to knock on the door, such is his hurry to get help.

He flings open the door. “Wade! Vanessa!” Peter yelps, causing them both to jump at the loud bang. He’s horrified into stillness at the sight of his boss. Wade’s without his hoodie or sweatpants, a gaping wound at his side which Vanessa is sewing closed. A soaked bandage of gauze is clamped down over the deep cut in his thigh.

To be frank, it looks awful. Like Wade should be at the hospital, not having Vanessa sew him back together. Not to mention Wade himself looks terrible, his skin gone a grey color, sweat glistening all over his body.

“Peter, close the door!” Vanessa snaps, at which he fumbles the door closed, still in horror at the wounds he can’t take his eyes off. Wade beckons him over holding out the hand not clamped down on his bloody thigh. Obediently, Peter walks over, taking his hand. The sharp metallic scent of blood gets caught in the back of Peter’s throat this close.

“Now Peter, I want you to listen to me. I’m okay. I just happened to run into some bad men today who have been harassing and hurting Vanessa’s girls. They’ve threatened us before and today I had to take care of things. Everything’s fine now, so go ahead tell us what you came flying up here for, but don’t speak a word to anyone, alright? This isn’t something I want anyone worrying about. I’ve got it under control.”

Peter’s stomach is roiling, but he nods.

“Chi Chi was antagonizing Tommy. He was showing me how to dance on the pole and she got upset we were up there. Tommy...” Peter’s embarrassed for his boyfriend-yet-not-official-boyfriend. “He made a snide comment about her being a sex worker. Dero stepped in, but told me to come get you, Vanessa.”

Wade squeezes his hand. A comforting gesture that Wade should really save for himself.

“Thanks for letting us know. You did the right thing running to come find us. We’ll be down in a few minutes. Weasel and Dero should have it under control for now. Remember, this is between us, okay?”

Peter nods. Even if he wanted to argue, it wouldn’t be smart. His career as a drag queen could very well be jeopardized if he blabs about this incident. So, instead of returning back downstairs, Peter goes back to his room in the dormitory, crawling into bed. He’ll talk to Tommy another day. Right now, he just needs to be alone with his thoughts.

Hey Ned. What’re you doing? I can’t sleep.

--

The next morning, Peter wakes up to a text from Tommy sent an hour ago asking if he wants to come over to his apartment.

I can properly apologize for acting like an ass. Well, he appreciates the gesture, even if it should be towards Chi Chi and not Peter himself.

For a moment, he thinks about asking where Tommy went after Dero told him off, but decides that he doesn’t feel like fighting about the issue. There’s no doubt Wade and Vanessa both gave him and Chi Chi a piece of their minds on the incident.

He showers and dresses in comfy clothing. After spending hours every night looking beautiful, he doesn’t think Tommy will mind the casual outfit. Despite last night, the butterflies are going crazy in his chest by the time he makes it over to Tommy’s place and knocks on the door. Never before has he come here alone. In fact, they’ve never really been alone in public or private.

When Tommy opens the door, Peter is hit full-force all over again just how beautiful his not-quite-boyfriend is. Dressed in dark jeans, a graphic t-shirt and bare feet, he seems like a model of a skater. A model with ice blue eyes and a grin that’s got Peter weak in the knees.

“Peter,” Tommy greets, voice low and intimate as he opens his arms for a hug. Peter lets himself be enveloped, sighing in contentment against Tommy’s shoulder. Damn, how good it feels to be held like this.

They stand there for a few moments just holding each other.

“Want to come inside?” Tommy murmurs against the top of his head. Peter wants to ask about their kiss at work, but decides now’s not the time. Probably awkward to ask if there’s any possibility of them dating.

“I guess...” Peter mumbles, faking reluctance, grinning up at him. This close, he’s struck by their proximity, by Tommy’s sharp cheekbones and full lips. God, how much he wants to kiss him again, this time without disruptions. Instead, they pull apart, although Tommy just switches to holding his hand as he leads the way in. It’s a cute little studio arrangement. Upon walking in, they’re already in the tiny living room crammed with a loveseat and two bean bags.

Tommy releases his hand to go into the kitchenette to their immediate right. “Want anything to drink? Milk, water, wine cooler?” Tommy asks. There’s enough space for a fridge and a stove, with a breakfast bar that doubles as a counter.

“Water’s fine!” Peter answers, investigating the photographs on the wall. Some of them are from the club, everyone in full regalia, others are casual gatherings of closer friends, and others are possibly family?

“Ah, I see you didn’t waste time,” Tommy notes, returning to his side, a glass of water in hand. “My family. Arthur’s the one with the mustache, he’s the eldest. John’s younger then me and for whatever reason, he’s always got that toothpick in his mouth, think that’s cool for some reason. Finn, there,” he points to the smallest boy. “He tries to be wild like his older brothers, but he’s the baby, so we all keep an eye on him. And there’s my favorite sister, Ada. She’ll sass you to here and back when she’s in a mood. I like to think she got it from me.”

The fondness is clear in his voice, but when Peter looks to him with a smile, it’s to find Tommy wearing an expression close to tearing up.

“Tommy, what’s wrong?” Peter asks, taking the glass of water and putting it on the side table in between the bean bags. Tommy shakes his head, wiping at his eyes.

“No, no. Just remembering them is hard. Ada and Finn never minded Kitten. Ada thought it odd, but great fun. Arthur and John were appalled. There was no more inheriting the Shelby family business of training and breeding top racehorses. Since I came to Germany two years ago, we’ve not spoken.”

Lacking any words to really console him, Peter hugs Tommy tight, wishing he’d not noticed. He didn’t mean to make Tommy unhappy. But it’s clear they mean the world to him, for their pictures to be displayed along with all the rest of his current life.

“Would it make you feel better if we cuddled? I’d like to hear more about your brothers and sister.”

This earns him an amused smile. Tommy sees it for the flimsy excuse to be affectionate that it is. Up they go, up the small spiral stairs to the lofted bedroom. A single bed which leaves not an inch of space between them. Sunshine pours in through the window beside it. Tommy leans over him to lower the roll-down shade so Peter’s not blinded from his position in bed. Settling down together, they can’t help but giggle at their closeness. A mixture of awkward anticipation at this truly personal face-to-face time.

“Peter, before we start getting nostalgic about my family roots...I wanted to ask you something. Well – I should have said something a lot earlier, but I didn’t know how you felt or if it was appropriate to bring up again, but –.” Seeing Tommy getting flustered, the one person who’s always calm and cool, Peter can’t help his grin, which Tommy notices, gently shoving at his shoulder. “Okay Mr. Smug, then you ask me if we’re dating or not if you’re so confident.”

Butterflies return full force to Peter’s stomach and chest, tickling him, and his voice warms at his own daring move. “Can this be the start of us dating?” Thankfully, Tommy seems to love this boldness, for he leans in placing a chaste kiss on his lips.

“It definitely is now.”

--

Peter’s asleep at Tommy’s house when he gets a call out of the blue. They’d eaten a lunch of sub sandwiches, chips, and soda before curling up in bed again to nap. A couple hours later, they’re startled awake by Peter’s phone ringing.

“Sorry, sorry,” he mumbles, struggling to find his cell on the nightstand while still lying on his back. Tommy groans, rolling over onto his other side, his back to Peter. He manages to grab his phone and answer it. “Hello?” he croaks, eyes still closed.

“Peter, this is Vanessa, can you come to the club? Wade and I have an announcement to make.” Peter blinks rubbing at his eyes. Whatever announcement it is isn’t one of excitement.

“Oh, okay. Um, do you want me to tell Tommy?” he asks, glancing over at him. Tommy sleepily blinks at him over his shoulder, curious as to the phone call.

“Yes please. If you can get a hold of Dero too, that’d be good. We’ll be making the announcement in two hours.”

“Okay. I’ll let them know. Bye.”

“See you later, Peter,” she replies, quiet. Peter ends the call, glancing at Tommy, who’s now wide awake.

“Vanessa says she and Wade have something they wanna tell everyone in two hours.”

Tommy frowns, sitting up, the blanket falling to his waist and revealing his hairless chest.

“It doesn’t sound like happy pregnant news.”

Peter blinks in surprise. Pregnant news? He hadn’t heard anything of Vanessa and Wade trying for a baby. But then again, he’s only been around for three months at this point.

“No, I don’t think it was news about a baby. She sounded...tense.”

“Alright, let’s get dressed and head over. The earlier the better for whatever this is.”

-

Vanessa and Wade are sitting on a couch set in the middle of the club, her fingers intertwined with Wade’s. The atmosphere is tense, all their coworkers fidgety and unsure of what could be such a serious matter to call everyone in for. Everyone’s either seated at the tables around the couch or standing nearby. Peter shifts in Tommy’s lap from where they’re gathered at a table with Gerard, Dero, and a handful of others. What could they have to say that constitutes such seriousness from two people who are always joking and teasing? Maybe one of their parents died? Or maybe it was pregnancy news, but Vanessa had a miscarriage or had to abort the fetus due to life-threatening complications?

“Well, now that everyone’s here, I’ve got bad news to share. Now, you know I’m not good at telling bad things because I hate to make people sad and the last time I –”

“Sweetheart,” Vanessa interrupts Wade’s babble. Peter wraps his arm around Tommy’s shoulders, needing the comfort. Tommy encircles Peter’s waist in a firm hold. Whatever’s coming is seriously not good.

“Sorry V. Okay. So. I’ve been diagnosed with stage four cancer. It’s in my prostate, stomach, lungs, and brain. It’s aggressive.”

Seconds pass in stunned silence. Suddenly, the girls are either massing towards Wade or sinking into chairs or onto the floor. Peter clings to Tommy, blinking hard to keep back the horrified tears. A futile attempt.

“How long have you known?” Dero’s rich low voice speaks above the offers of help with anything and condolences. Wade meets Dero’s eyes, unapologetic.

“A month. I’ve got six months left at most, even with chemo.”

Peter doesn’t know what to think or do.

-

Shored up by Dero and Tommy, Peter makes it back to their suite. All three collapse down onto the couch, squeezed in together. Peter needs the grounding touch of them both. Tommy hasn’t let go of his hand since the news.

“What will happen to us when Wade...passes away? Much as I love him, he’s not one with much forethought,” Tommy asks Dero, who’s biting at his index finger, eyes unfocused.

A shrug. “Likely Weasel will become manager and take care of finances. Vanessa will be owner. You know how Weasel watches the accounts closely for Wade when need be.”

Tommy gives a noncommittal sound. Peter himself doesn’t have thoughts about ownership, rather about his own place here. It’s cold calculation, but if Wade dies, there’s very little chance Mr. Stark will allow him to stay on. Mr. Stark put his faith in Wade’s promise to look after him while working here so far away from home.

There’s not much left to say to one another, each locked in their own private thoughts.

--

With the news of Wade dying hanging like a pall over the club, the atmosphere changes. Many of them put on brighter, cheerier faces at all times, while some withdraw. Gerard is one of the latter, dedicating an enormous amount of time to working on his art. So much that he’s not really entertaining patrons when he’s working, just spending the night at a table sketching.

Thankfully, during her years here Helena has developed quite the devoted following, who tip her for her time even as it’s spent on art and not conversation. Peter would be worried for Helena’s job performance, but neither Wade or Vanessa are around to notice. Wade tended to disappear before, but now he’s gone for days at a time, not even popping in to say hello to the girls.

The night Wade returns is when the shit hits the fan. It’s been a month since the announcement, and the change in him is agonizingly obvious. He’s lost his muscular tone, dwindling to rail thin. Wade’s beautiful dark golden hair has fallen out; even his eyebrows and eyelashes are gone. But never does Wade let them pity him (at least to his face), encouraging them to have fun as usual.

So Spatzi does her best to put on a happy face for the patrons and Wade.

“Hello, beautiful. What would your name be?” a man’s voice laced with a British accent asks from behind her. She turns from Weasel at the bar to this newcomer to find a handsome enough man smirking at her. His expression says that they’re in on a little secret that no one else is.

Spatzi smiles sweetly offering her hand, which he clasps in both of his.

“Spatzi. Yours?”

“Ajax for you, sweetheart,” Ajax purrs. A weaker smile forces its way onto her lips, unease roiling in her stomach. Something about this dude unsettles her. Not the alias, which reminds her of a cleaner brand, but it’s the glinting light in his eyes. As if he’s got something in mind she may or may not enjoy, but that knowledge makes no difference to him.

“Ah, by chance could you point out to me where the champagne room is? I’d love to spend some quality time with you, if you’re not taken for the evening?” Ajax asks, polite as can be. Still, his unctuous tone has Spatzi on edge. This is not a patron to be alone with.

She turns, pointing out the room and looking back to find a gun in her face. Ice floods Spatzi’s feet and hands, her heart beating triple time.

Weasel wastes not a second. “Got a gun over here! Wade! Dero! A gun on Spatzi!” Weasel shouts with all his might, ducking below the bar. Ajax doesn’t spare Weasel a glance, or the sudden yelling chaos of people rushing for the doors or cover. He only has eyes for Spatzi, whose feet are frozen to the ground.

“Sorry about this, love, but Wade seems not to have learned his lesson. Now, if you’ll come here, I promise not to shoot for the moment.” Ajax offers his hand out, still playing the gentleman. Hoping he keeps to his word, she steps closer and takes his hand, allowing herself to be pulled against his chest, the muzzle of the gun pressed to her right temple. What point is there in fighting when Ajax can shoot her point-blank whether she’s a foot away or right against his chest?

They need only wait at most a minute before Dero and Wade are bursting into the club from the dormitory. Dero must have been showing off his new album to Wade, finally Spatzi thinks, her head feeling like it’s on a string. Much as she tries to stand still, Spatzi can’t help the involuntary shivering that’s shaking her all over. Ajax doesn’t seem to mind, merely shifting his weight from foot to foot.

The sight of Wade so emaciated and already winded from the run horrifies Spatzi. Not that she expected great heroics, because seriously, a man with a gun doesn’t inspire such deeds, but it near breaks her heart to see her boss and friend so eaten away by cancer.

“Francis! What the hell are you doing here?” Francis? But wasn’t his name Ajax?

Ajax, or Francis, doesn’t seem amused by the name.

“Very funny, Wade. I’m here because of our business deal. You’re not upholding your end. So.” He pauses to lean his cheek against the side of Spatzi’s head, lowering the gun to jab her in the side. “I thought I’d pay a visit. Really, your girl Spatzi here is very obedient. Clearly she doesn’t take after Vanessa or yourself. A shame to ruin this adorable face of hers. Think she’d recover if I shot her in the stomach? You can live a sort of life without one or -–” Francis shrugs. “So I’ve heard.”

Helena has joined Dero and Wade, looking panicked, but determined to be there for support. Wade motions for them both to stay where they are.

“Alright, I get your scare tactic, Francis, now let my girl go. We can figure something out. I’m not defaulting on our deal.”

Dero and Helena give Wade concerned looks, because who wouldn’t? Here their boss is just willingly going to walk off with a gunman who casually has one of their own held hostage? However, this seems to pacify Francis, who at once releases his hold on her.

“Go on, go join your friends. Brave little thing,” Francis tells her, pushing Spatzi towards them. Without support, Spatzi’s wobbly, her legs barely holding her up. At once, Dero and Helena rush forward to support her. Wade grimaces at them, but his jaw is set. He follows Francis from the club.

“Can you take care of Peter? I need to discuss things with Weasel,” Dero asks when they reach the door leading to the dormitory. Gerard (no longer in the mode of Helena) nods, shouldering more of Peter’s weight.

“C’mon, we’re going to my room. I need a smoke and I don’t want to stink up your place,” Gerard states. Peter wants to decline, go hide in his room, but he’s in no real state to be on his own. They end up sitting in Gerard’s bedroom on his bed where Gerard has his art supplies piled up. Peter leans against the wall, his knees drawn into his chest, his arms wrapped around them.

Meanwhile, Gerard hunches over a sketchbook, a cigarette pressed between his lips. He blows the smoke out the corner of his mouth, knee jiggling away as he restlessly flips through his art.

“It’s easy to get complacent here. The patrons who do come in are usually from the LGBTQ community or even if they’re looking for thrills, they aren’t too rowdy. Unpleasant to remember that you’re still so vulnerable where you feel safe to express yourself. Also that your boss is apparently dealing with a crazy guy waving a gun around,” Gerard speaks up after a time of silence between them.

“I can see why Dero would be shook up. You’re not bothered by Francis though?”

Gerard shrugs, taking a long drag on his cigarette almost down to the filter. “Honestly? It scared the shit out of me to see you being threatened. Knowing he could kill any of us. Back when I was in New Jersey working at a comic book store, I got held up at gunpoint. Had me get on my knees, execution style. I was amazed afterwards I didn’t piss myself.” He stumps out the ashed cigarette and lights up another.

The new knowledge of Gerard’s previous experience doesn’t make Peter feel any better about what just went down.

By the time he returns back to his suite, it’s four hours later at 1 in the morning. What he’s not expecting is to hear frantic knocking on the door ten minutes later. Peter drags himself up from the bed, dread prickling at him. He really hopes it’s not any more bad news. When he opens the door, it’s to be crushed in a hug by Tommy.

“By Jesus, why didn’t you fucking text me what happened?! I had to hear from Gerard that you were threatened at gunpoint. Are you okay? Did you get hurt?” Tommy demands in a rush, leaning back enough to look Peter over before hugging him tightly. It’s stupid, but his boyfriend’s concern brings forth the tears he didn’t realize he’d been holding back.

Peter sniffles, burying his head in Tommy’s shoulder, the tears burning his eyes.

“I’m okay. He just scared me really bad. He seemed weird but I figure that he was just a creep. I’m sorry I didn’t text you it was – just – it happened so fast. I wasn’t really thinking. And...now that you’re here...will you spend the night? I don’t want to sleep by myself.”

Tommy sighs, stroking his hair, pressing him close. “Of course, sweetheart. Lead the way.”

--

The next morning, Dero is up and about before they are. He doesn’t seem perturbed by Tommy walking out of Peter’s room when they finally wake up.

“Waffles? There’s enough batter,” Dero offers, nodding to his plate, which has two waffles steaming on it.

“Sure, thank you. How’s everyone after last night? Clara told me that Wade went off with the crazy fucker.”

Dero’s expression darkens as he pours the batter into the waffle maker, sprinkling in chocolate chips.

“They’re fine and he did go with the man. His name is Francis. He said that Wade was breaking a business deal, but I don’t know what he meant. What could Wade be doing?”

Tommy and Peter grab their own plates and silverware. They lean against the counter as they wait.

“Knowing Wade, it’s probably in the name of helping either us and/or Vanessa’s group. Probably both.”

“Is the club having money troubles? Thank you,” Peter asks, accepting the waffle quickly plopped onto his plate. He butters it up and pours on the syrup. Dero shrugs, troubled by this complete secrecy from their boss and friend.

I don’t know. Weasel seemed reluctant to say anything. But it’s hard to imagine it’s money. Business is good. Wade wouldn’t hire more people then he could pay.” A queasiness spears Peter through the stomach. He hasn’t thought about Wade’s home stitching-up of what were likely stab wounds.

Tommy raises his eyebrows. Neither he nor Dero is aware of Peter’s reaction.

“Dero, this is Wade. He’d spend his last cent to help someone worse off than himself. This has to be about helping someone or some people. Wade wouldn’t do something so stupid if he didn’t think it’d benefit his girls.”

Now would be the time to bring up Wade being seriously injured a month ago, but for some reason, Peter can’t seem to force the words out.

“You’re right. Tonight will be our best chance to talk with him. The Rammstein queens are coming in this evening. They got the news about Wade and finally got their schedule worked out.”

This is news to him. Peter hadn’t ever really thought of how the drag club came to be. He assumed that Wade and Weasel were the co-founders and that was that. Apparently, it’s a sextuplet of people.

“Rammstein girls?” he pipes up between bites of his waffle. Tommy smiles at him for the first time today and despite the morning’s heavy discussion, the expression still causes his stomach to flip flop in excitement. Even amidst this confusing and scary time, Tommy gets Peter’s heart racing.

“You’ll meet the old gals, they’re coming in to check out how Wade is doing. I think they also miss the club despite having retired from the entertainment business.”

--

Wade giggles at Peter’s surprise to see almost every single girl is in attendance at the club tonight to greet the Rammstein queens. “I think you’ll be very impressed with Till since you liked Lotte so much.”

When the retired queens appear, Peter is swept up in introductions, Wade keeping him close, introducing him to everyone. “This here’s Till, he was our singer before Lotte.” The man in question is tall and broad-shouldered. A swimmer’s body. Till rumbles a baritone Hallo in return to the handshake. “Olli, our bean pole. Richard the flamboyant. Schneider, the missus. Flake here is the most snide queen you’ll ever meet and Paul is the cutest,” Wade lists off.

Indeed, Olli is quite tall at 6’7, and Schneider really does look like someone’s prim mother with that brown curly wig, pearls around his throat and beige business suit, the only color to the outfit the red flannel shirt peeking out. Richard without a doubt steals the limelight with his apple red ball gown.

“No one likes old drag queens, that’s why Wade doesn’t invite us often. Afraid we’ll steal their thunder,” Paul chortles. He’s got the friendliest face of the bunch, looking like someone’s uncle. Especially in comparison to Flake, who wears the most solemn expression of the six.

“Tight flesh is what counts, no matter who crows that everyone is welcome.” Till, who gives a wry smile.

 

However much enthusiasm Wade starts off with by the middle of the night, Peter can see he’s flagging. The initial rush of excitement and happiness can only keep Wade’s pained exhaustion at bay only so long. Midway through the party, with Dero, Till, and Gerard alternating singing, Peter catches Wade squirreled away in a booth in the back of the club. He’s laid out dead asleep, but it’s obvious he’s in not doing good from the fact he’s glimmering with sweat, his clothes soaked with it.

Wade had confessed earlier at one point to Till when asked about his chemo treatment that he tried not to take his painkillers. “They make me feel spaced-out and just force me to sleep. I’ll get enough of that soon enough anyways,” he’d replied nonchalantly. So it’s clear that he’s not taken his painkillers for tonight and isn’t doing well because of it. Peter hesitates. He doesn’t want to wake Wade up, but this episode with Francis has made it painfully obvious things are getting out of hand.

It’s time to face it. He needs to inform Dero and Tommy, and Weasel as well about Wade being seriously injured after taking care of whoever was harassing Vanessa’s group. What with this Francis dude clearly prowling around, all their lives are in danger, and Wade’s not in any shape to stand up to him. Thankfully, everyone’s helpful at pointing out that Tommy, or rather Kitten, is back in her place in the peep show booth. Peter wouldn’t interrupt if it wasn’t urgently important. He can’t put this reveal off any longer. He knocks on the door of Tommy’s peep show room.

“What’s up?” Tommy asks, dropping Kitten’s dreamy tone at once at seeing Peter’s obvious fidgeting worry. “Is Francis back? Where’s Wade and Dero?”

Peter shakes his head vehemently. “No, no. Francis isn’t here, but it’s about Wade. I need to tell you and Dero something I saw awhile back.”

Tommy nods. “One second.” He turns back to the room at large, trilling out in Kitten’s voice to those behind the one-way mirror. “Sorry, darlings! Kitten must go, but I’ll send someone right in to help you with your jollies!” Whatever complaints might be said, they don’t hear them. Next, they go backstage, waiting for Dero to finish his duet with Till. On another day, Peter would be fascinated listening to their strong, low voices entwined, but right now, his stomach is boiling with nerves.

Wade is not going to be happy about Peter revealing this. Finally, when Dero steps into the wings, they’re upon him at once. Swallowing against his dry mouth, he reveals to them both the fact that not longer after he started work here, he accidentally walked in on Vanessa sewing up some deep wounds on Wade.

“Maybe I’m overthinking this, but possibly Wade being hurt like that has something to do with Francis. He mentioned someone was bothering Vanessa’s group at that time and asked that I didn’t tell anyone, that he had it taken care of. But...seeing the way Francis talked to Wade last time, I think we’re really in trouble. Wade’s in over his head and – I’m scared,” Peter confesses, his heart beating hard enough to hurt. He’s clammy all over at betraying Wade’s secret, but what’s going on is so much bigger than he can handle.

Dero seems to have withdrawn into himself at the news. No doubt he’s shocked and hurt that his friend would hide such a thing.

“Where is Wade at?” Dero’s quiet anger is like the crack of a whip. Sharp and forceful. Peter’s swallows, wiping his palms on his dress.

“In a booth in the back. I don’t think he took his pain meds. He’s not doing good,” Peter answers, gaze ticking between Dero, who has gone tense, and Tommy, who seems dismayed. Maybe he’s known or guessed all along what Wade’s been up to? It’s Tommy who holds out his hand to Peter when Dero strides off anger, rising off him like steam.

“You did the right thing, sweetheart. Wade is in over his head. Best just to wait them out. Let’s go see what there’s to eat in the breakroom. I heard there’s a whole buffet again,” Tommy offers. Peter’s not in the mood to eat, but he’ll learn the outcome soon enough from either Dero or Wade. He hopes Wade’s not too pissed off at him for revealing his secret.

But Peter doesn’t get the chance to find out. It’s later that night as he steps outside to get the takeout Weasel had ordered more of when Francis reappears.

“Good evening, beautiful. Wonderful to see you so soon.”
--

“Francis!” Wade shouts, more enraged than Peter’s ever seen him. “What the fuck are you doing with my girls?!” Touching that even in the heat of the moment, Wade still counts Peter as his. They’re currently in an abandoned warehouse. Peter and Vanessa (she had been kidnapped at a later point) are tied up sitting beside Francis. The henchwoman is a wall of intimidation on their other side, a silent taunt to just try doing something.

A harsh laugh from Francis. “I want him dead, Wade! You took too long after taking the money. You’ve never reneged on my offer before.” Peter gapes at Francis. What the hell is this dude talking about? Wade took money to kill a guy? But...why? Why would Wade need the cash? The club makes enough money on its own...Why would Wade ever consider killing someone?

Francis catches sight of Peter’s shock, grinning as he grips Peter’s hair tighter.

“Thought Wade was a saint, did you? Well, I’m here to relieve you of that illusion, sweetie. That little club of his has been hemorrhaging money. Why do you think any social programs flop after so long? No government wants to waste money on the fringe cases like the homeless and the whores. Dear Wade caters to both. Weasel runs on the clean side of the business, not that he knows anything different, and Wade here uses the blood money from his mercenary work to help them. On their own, they’d barely break even. Wade so generously makes sure each month you all are taken care of to the best of his ability.”

Peter turns to Vanessa, hurt welling up. “You knew what he did to support the club?” She won’t look at him, instead focusing her vitriol on their captor.

Vanessa cuts in with a snarl. “Jesus Christ, you talk too much!”

Francis cocks the gun he’s got aimed at her head.

“Now, now, dear, we all have parts to play. This is my super-villain monologue and I’d hate to disappoint Wade by not having him hear it after all this time. So what will it be, Wade? A suicide rescue in which you die, or giving me the money now?”

The rumbling and crash of the warehouse door being thrown open has everyone startled.

“Wade! Cable had to tell what you’ve gone and done. After this I’m kicking your ass,” a man with brown hair growls, metal blades sliding out from between his knuckles. Wade grimaces a grin at him.

“And the old man didn’t even show up to help out? Rude.”

The pop of a gun and scream from the henchwoman scares the shit out of Peter, the spray of blood misting him and Vanessa. She collapses to the ground, her knee bloodied and shredded by the bullet.

“Back here, asshole,” Cable calls out. The place rings out with gunfire, swears and grunts as Wade, Cable, and Wolverine tag team taking shots and lunges at Francis. Vanessa shields Peter with her body, trying to protect him as much as possible. Pressed so close, there is little choice but to look into each other’s faces.

“How could you be okay with Wade hurting people? Looking after us with – with blood money?” Peter demands, shook up at knowing his entire livelihood has been paid for by other people’s suffering and deaths. Vanessa sighs, her breath warm against his face, her rich brown hair a veil around them both.

“Peter. Look, I’m not going to lie to you. Wade’s dealt in this business since before I knew him.” They flinch hard at the pop of a gun firing in their direction. She resumes. “He never shamed me for being a sex worker or the fact I continued to do it when we dated, and even now that we’re married. Who was I to say if he roughed up or killed the scum of the world? The pimps who savagely abuse their girls, the pedophiles who fuck little boys and girls, or the people who killed and terrorized others because they got off on it. But once this is over, talk to Wade and come to terms with it on your own. Neither he or I can change your mind if you want to leave. Just know we’ve enjoyed you being here.”

They both look up at the sound of approaching footsteps. It’s Cable, who looks a little worse for wear, bloodied and bruised. Peter looks behind him to see Francis is sprawled on the ground unmoving. There’s no need to wonder if he’ll be getting back up.

Cable hauls Vanessa up first, cutting away the rope around her wrists and ankles. She helps pull Peter to his feet so that he can be freed. He turns his gaze on Wade, who jogs over to them, reaching out at once for them both. Vanessa is the only one who steps into Wade’s arms.

“Peter?” Wade asks, quiet. There’s no apology in his tone, but it’s clear he doesn’t want to fight.

Peter swallows hurt, angry tears prickling at his eyes.

“You kill people in the name of protecting us, giving us a safe space from people who would hurt us, but Wade...look what happened. Francis kidnapped me and Vanessa, before that he came into the club to threaten me, and that was after he or his henchmen roughed up your wife’s group. How is killing the bad guys doing anything but putting us in new danger?” he asks, crossing his arms.

Wade bites his lip, hugging Vanessa closer. Cable and Wolverine holler goodbye, waving to them as they leave.

“All I can answer is that I’m the Avengers with less collateral. No, I’m not saving the world from Loki or from Stark’s berserk robot, but I’m cleaning up the shit no one wants to see. Despite what you might think, cutie, I’m not a psychotic serial killer. I do have some morals, even if they’re grey. But I understand if you want to go home knowing what you do.”

Peter hesitates. He doesn’t want to give up on the club so fast; however, the bare bones of the matter is that Wade will continue his mercenary work. Can he work for Wade knowing that? Aware that the deaths of even bad people are what keep them afloat? It doesn’t sit right, but he won’t win this fight. He doesn’t want to throw away the place and people who have become home to him.

“I want to stay but – tell the others how the club is being funded, okay? Everyone should at least know what’s going on.”

This earns him a grimace. No doubt Wade was hoping that Peter wouldn’t ask him exactly that.

“You drive a hard bargain, sweet thing. But yes, I’ll tell everyone what I do as a side job. Now c’mere, let’s seal the deal with a hug. Scared me half to death when Francis kidnapped you.”

That night, Tommy won’t let him out of his sight. He insists that Peter come spend the night at his apartment, somewhere that isn’t tainted by the ghost presence of Francis. In fact, Tommy refuses to pretty much let go of him for the whole night. Peter can’t say he minds in the least, grateful for the affection. He burrows into Tommy’s touch, startling himself when they go to bed by crying.

“You’re safe, Peter. No one’s going to take you away again, okay? Everything’s alright. You’re home with me,” Tommy comforts, stroking his hair and his back, nuzzling him. Peter nods, unable to open his mouth unless he wants to start sobbing. It seems he’s more shaken up then he realized by everything that’s happened with Wade and Francis.

--

The reveal of Wade’s side job does upset some girls, enough for three to leave, but the others, while not ecstatic, don’t seem much troubled by the news. Or if they are, it’s kept to themselves. Right now isn’t the time for concerns about money, but for spending time with their friend.

Peter, for his part, tries to get back in touch with Mr. Stark, desperate for any help. The final straw for his sense of calm is Happy jealously guarding Mr. Stark’s availability. He’s sick to death of Happy condescending to him the few times he’s called since working at the club to update Mr. Stark on his work life.

“Happy! Put Mr. Stark on the line! My friend is dying of cancer and I need help!” Peter shouts when Happy attempts to hang up on him when he realizes it’s Peter on the other end. The line goes silent, awkward tension radiating from it.

A couple beeps before Mr. Stark’s nonchalant voice asks, “What’s up, Pete? I was standing by Happy and could hear you yell.”

In an effort to calm himself, Peter takes a shaky breath in. Ever since Wade’s announcement of his diagnosis and Francis kidnapping him, it’s been difficult for him to keep his cool. It seems anything has him close to tears.

“Mr. Stark, please, I need help. My friend Wade – the boss of the club – he got diagnosed with cancer. Stage 4, and he’s only got months left to live. Please, please you’ve got to help. There’s got to be someone you know who can help him somehow.”

Mr. Stark sighs heavily, Peter’s heart dropping like a weight to his feet. No, no. If even Mr. Stark hesitates to broach the subject...

“Peter, I can’t promise miracles. I can try and I’ll ask Bruce, even Shuri to help out, but the best we can do is make him comfortable. And is this something Wade wants? Have you asked him if he’s okay with our intervention?” he asks gently, as if not wanting to hurt his feelings. Speaking to him as if he’s fragile. And right now? Peter’s fragile indeed.

“He’s okay with it. I asked him before I called.” A complete lie, but Peter’s not giving that away. He’ll break the news to Wade once it’s guaranteed help is on the way.

Another sigh, the sound of Mr. Stark sucking on his teeth, clearly weighing the pros and cons of what to say.

“Alright, I can have myself and Bruce out there in a week’s time. Shuri, I have no clue if or when she’d be around. Let your boss know that we’ll show up on Monday. Tell him to forward all his medical files to Stark Medical so we know what we’re up against.”

Relief hits him so hard he’s weak. Good thing he sat down on the couch for this call, otherwise he’d be on the floor.

“Thank you, Mr. Stark. Thank you, thank you, thank you,” Peter can’t help gushing. Finally, a light in the darkness that has been strangling them all.

Sure enough, a week later Mr. Stark and Dr. Banner are in town, set up in one of the satellite labs of Stark Industries. When Peter had got up the guts to tell Wade that he’d asked for help trying to get the cancer to go into remission or at least slow down the progression, Wade had not been upset about Peter going behind his back to ask for help. Rather, he’d bearhugged Peter, thanking him for pulling such high-level strings for a lowly madame and mercenary such as himself.

Vanessa approaches him the next day tears, shining in her eyes near, smothering him in her hug.

“You don’t know what this means to us, Peter. We’ll never be able to repay you.”

Despite what Mr. Stark said, it appears miracles do happen, for Wade bit by bit starts to respond positively towards the treatment. Over the course of two months, he starts to put on weight and even his hair starts growing back, golden stubble that everyone can tell he’s proud to have. No one has the heart to even tease him about his pride.

Peter’s lounging at Tommy’s apartment dozing in bed with him. A lazy afternoon of hanging out, kissing and being in each other’s company. He blinks sleepily at his cell when it starts ringing from the nightstand. Deja vu all over again. This time though, it’s Tommy who leans over him to answer it.

“Hello?”

Wade’s voice blares through the speaker so much that even Peter can hear him.

“TOMMY GET PETER!” Tommy winces at the volume Wade feels the need to speak at. Whatever the news, it’s not bad news. Unless Wade’s trying to discuss it behind obnoxious amounts of cheer. Which, considering the source, is totally possible.

“Putting you on speaker phone, hold on,” Tommy answers, pressing on the speakerphone symbol.

“Peter?” Wade’s magnified voice asks, not quite the yell it was at first. Peter rolls over onto his back.

“I’m here Wade! What’s up? Why all the yelling?”

“Both of you sit down for this one. I’m not paying you guys worker’s comp for hitting your heads at my news, okay?” Neither Tommy or Peter have time to mention they’re in fact lying down before Wade charges on. “I’m in remission! Whatever fucking magic voodoo Stark, Banner, and Princess Shuri brewed up fixed me! No more cancer!”

For a moment, neither one can speak, shocked by this amazing news. Even Peter in his wildest hopes couldn’t have imagined Wade would recover so fast.

“That’s wonderful!” Peter breathes. Wade laughs giddy.

“We’re having a party. We need to tell everyone, and besides, we haven’t thrown a bash in quite awhile,” Tommy states when he finds his tongue again. Wade must have been thinking the same thing, as he demands at once.

"If I'm gonna die, then I'd like to see Cap's ass in person. In dress slacks, because everyone needs to wear their fanciest outfits!"

Peter blinks, looks at Tommy who rolls his eyes with a smile. Typical Wade the expression implies.

"But...Wade, you're in remission, that's why we're throwing this party..."

"MY LAST REQUEST, PETER!"

Even though it’s no joking matter that too recently Wade had been slated to die by modern medicine, Peter can’t help his giggles. Because really? They’re celebrating his remission, his extended life, and all he can think about is Steve Roger’s ass. Which, not that Peter’s arguing that attractiveness of said butt, because he’s seen it in person but – not the point! It’s the sheer silliness of what he’s requesting at a time like this.

“Sure, okay Wade. I’ll let Mr. Stark know the dress code is dress slacks for Steve and fancy clothes for everyone else. Anything else?”

“Hmm. Tell everyone we’ll have clothes available if they want to play dress up. I’ll get Nathan to loan some bigger sizes since I know the Avengers run large for the men. Mmhh large men.” In the background, they can hear Vanessa’s laughter, telling Wade to get off the phone, now’s not the time for phone sex.

“Thank you for everything Peter, and you too, Tommy. I love you both so much. I’ll see you guys in a day or two. Vanessa doesn’t want to share right now,” Wade confides, serious for once for the entire conversation. Tears threaten to fall and Peter can see it’s the same for Tommy.

“Love you Peter, Tommy!” Vanessa hollers before the call is abruptly ended. They both snort, brushing at their eyes. Tommy lays his phone back on the nightstand before he’s sprawling himself on top of Peter, nuzzling his throat.

“Let’s agree not to wonder why she hung up so suddenly,” Tommy suggests as he caresses Peter’s jaw. He hums in agreement, filled with joy for Wade and contentment at Tommy touching him so gently.

--

No lie, the preparation for Wade’s party is crazy. Namely for the fact the announcement is last minute, but with everyone working together for a week straight around the clock, they manage to pull it together. By the time it’s the night of the bash, the place has been transformed.

Peter can barely eat any food all day from his nerves. The Avengers have all shown up, which was a shock to say the least after half the group had fallen out with the other. They’re staying at a hotel down the street for a couple of days. A chance for them to come to the party and sight-see while not being on Official Avengers business. He’d been invited to dinner out with everybody. When he had whisper-asked Pepper between the appetizer and main meal why everyone was here, she’d quietly answered, “A reconciliation. They all miss each other. Hopefully a party will keep things light.” He’d nodded like that was a normal thing to do.

What has his stomach twisting is that this will be the first time any of them see him in drag. Namely Mr. Stark. Tonight Peter’s going for refinement in a deep blue gown. The top is form-fitting lace, while the bottom half is a swirl of full skirts that rustling as he moves.

Tonight’s the night of his reveal.

“Um, Dero?” Peter knocks on Dero’s bedroom door, which is partially open. He peeks in to find Dero sitting at his vanity table, his makeup almost complete.

“Yes, Peter?” he asks, meeting his gaze through the mirror before turning around. A fond smile touches his lips. “Why, you look beautiful. From a shy queen to a majestic one,” Dero compliments beckoning Peter inside. When he stands up, Peter’s wowed by his choice in boldness of dress.

Dero’s gown is a glitzy silver that shimmers when he moves. The dress is slit all the way up on either side to his hips, leaving only a swatch of dangling fabric to cover his front. Not to mention the V of the neckline dips down almost to his belly button, putting on display the enormous chest tattoo he has. It screams sleaze more than elegance, but then again, Wayward Girls has always been a heady mixture of both.

A Cheshire cat grin spreads across Dero’s face at Peter’s shocked expression. Sitting down with his back to him meant he’d not seen the whole ensemble. Or the dark purple lacy underwear that’s on clear display now that Dero’s moving around.

“You like? Some of the other girls dared each other to get as provocative as possible. See how these Avengers handle us. But anyways, what’s up? You’re away with Tommy so often I feel I don’t see you much anymore.”

Peter ducks his head in embarrassment. He hasn’t meant to neglect his roommate by any means! Just that with one thing or another they ended up not seeing each other often.

“Sorry Dero – I don’t mean to ignore you – it’s –” Dero gently waves away his protests. He gets on with what he came here to ask. “I was just wondering if maybe you could do my makeup? I’m too nervous to do it and...Mr. Stark is going to be here so -”

“You want to look good for him, I understand. Important to impress high-powered patrons,” Dero teases, giving a belly laugh at Peter’s blush and his stumbling vehement denial.

Once he’s made up fully, putting a touch of perfume on, Peter’s ready to meet everyone. Checking the clock in the kitchen, he sees it’s five minutes before opening time.

What surprises him when he comes downstairs is to see that even the Rammstein ‘girls’ are here to celebrate. From what he gathered last time they were here, the whole group tends to be pretty reclusive. But here they are, along with Vanessa’s group. The usual current of tension that occurs between Vanessa’s and Wade’s girls has disappeared into thin air. It’s only for tonight, but it means so much for them to cooperate for once.

The only way to describe the party is that things get wild.

Sam, Clint and Bruce happily take up the offer to play dress up in drag, prompting a whole group conference of what would look best on them. Clothes to wigs to makeup and, of course, shoes. Peter giggles at their looks of surprise at the serious evaluation being given to their wardrobe.

Meanwhile, Wade and Vanessa are flirting with Steve, who alternates between a blush and returning his own bedroom eyes. He never thought he’d see the day. Then again, the alcohol is freely flowing paid for by Wade. A good an excuse as any for everyone to let loose in ways they might not be able to otherwise.

Speaking of which: earlier, Domino had presented Wade with a long platinum blond wig.

“I was going to give this to you awhile ago, but Nathan said it’d be in bad taste. So now that you’ll make it, it isn’t!” Domino brightly explains as Wade puts on the wig. He fluffs his hair, preening to everyone around him.

“Fabulous, darling!” Helena crows with a grin. Peter shares a smile with Tommy, who clasps his hand. He leans in close to be heard over the music and conversation around them.

“You did an amazing job, Tommy.”

Tommy nuzzles him, giving Peter a quick kiss.

“It was you who saved him. I just did the easy party planning.”

A hand on Peter’s shoulder startles him. He looks to his left to see Mr. Stark eyeing him with raised eyebrows.

“You didn’t tell me you got a boyfriend! Introduce me to him or – well, her! Whichever name you want to use. My name’s Tony. Nice to meet you, Peter’s boyfriend,” Mr. Stark says the latter part to Tommy, who smiles sweetly batting his fake eyelashes.

“Hello ,Mr. Stark. It’s been a pleasureto initiate our sweet Spatzi as a queen. Won’t you join us in dressing up?”

Despite the embarrassment coursing through him at having forgotten to introduce Mr. Stark to Tommy, the joy at having his drag family and the Avengers come together overwhelms the feeling.

He wants this night to last forever.