“I think he’s black.”
Brett snorts. “Why? Because he runs fast? Jumps high?”
“No,” Zoe says defensively. “Because we don’t have a lot of black supers, dumbass. Black Panther doesn’t count because he’s not here all the time. Or, like, ever.”
“Doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist? Hello?” Ryan says, her voice pitched high.
Brett flaps his hand. “Nah. Spidey’s definitely a white guy. He would’ve been shot already if he hadn’t been.”
“This is turning incredibly racist,” Kristi mutters from her place in between Ryan and Brett. She sips her coffee, and Zoe sighs.
“Can we just agree to disagree? My dreams of black Spidey are ruined forever now,” she whines.
“We say that every time and still have this conversation,” Brett says. “But, y’know. Agree to disagree.”
They all turn the corner, keeping together as a group as well as they can in the bustling evening foot traffic of New York. Maybe meeting for seven p.m. coffee wasn’t the smartest plans they’d initiated since the beginning of the semester, but it kept them together amidst the chaos of their staggering schedules and the general mayhem of the city. It also facilitated this stupid conversation that they always had to turn into an argument - at least, as far as Zoe could determine. Brett just enjoyed ruffling everyone’s feathers, though that was probably just his being a white boy.
“But I need to kno—ow,” Ryan whines. Her breath puffs in front of her in the cold winter air when she extends the vowels. She gestures in front of her as if Spider-Man were posing in front of them, ready to be judged not-so-discreetly. “He’s been around for how long and no one knows who he is?”
They all descent the stairs to the subway, the cold of the evening air abruptly cutting off as they head underground. Kristi, so far silent during this bout of arguing, shrugs her shoulders.
“His super friends probably know. The Avengers. That Deadpool guy, maybe, since he seems, like, a cheap knock-off of Spider-Man,” she says.
“ Cheap?” Brett exclaims. Zoe elbows him as they pass the turnstiles, swiping their metro cards over the screen on top of them when they separate. Brett grunts and cuts in line in front of her as retaliation. “Deadpool is a total bad-ass. I heard his kill count was through the fuckin’ roof before he started teaming up with the Avengers.”
“Before,” Zoe emphasizes. They gather on the platform to wait for their train, huddling together to battle off the chill the tunnels push their way. “He hasn’t killed since coming here. Which, in my opinion, is a good thing. A hero shouldn’t kill no matter how slimy the bad guys are.”
Brett deflates a little. “C’mon. He’s so cool, though.”
“And annoying,” Kristi and Ryan say together.”
Brett scoffs, previous belittled attitude gone. “Whatever. Still cool. He has swords.”
Zoe rolls her eyes. “All right, lover boy. I know what kind of body pillow I’m getting you for Christmas now.”
Bret turns a lovely shade of red, amplified by his red hair and beard. He sputters but otherwise doesn’t argue, the pleasant chatter of Kristi and Ryan a perfect excuse for him to escape on his phone. Zoe smiles proudly and lets him get away this time, sipping her own coffee and waiting patiently for their train.
It screeches to a halt in a whoosh of cold air and they board, stuffing themselves against the back of the car in a group so they don’t get separated in the crowd. They all play on their phones then, the sound of the car moving through the subway too loud to keep up a conversation. It suits them all just fine - when they reach Chinatown a half hour later, it’s like their conversation never ended.
“Still think he’s black,” Zoe chirps as they emerge from the subway into the fresh - well, fresh er - air above ground. The rest of her friends moan, smacking her arm and back and three separate intervals.
“I’m binging the rest of Supernatural tonight because you won’t let this go,” Kristi growls.
Zoe’s nose scrunches in disgust while Ryan and Brett snicker. “Please don’t. I’ll literally pay you to not watch that awful show for the rest of your life.”
“Sure,” Kristi says. Her smile turns dark. “Pay my student loans and we’ll talk.”
“Nevermind! Fine, watch Supernatural. We can pretend it doesn’t queer bait its characters instead of watching something with, y’know, substance.”
“Anime isn’t substance, Zoe,” Ryan laughs.
“Done right it’s substance,” Zoe shoots back.
The rest of them groan in good nature, too used to the banter by now to care about getting heated. They climb the stairs together to their shared apartment - a rather nice place for Chinatown, two bedrooms with an open living room and kitchen facing the river, sitting snugly above a family-run trinket shop downstairs. Zoe deposits her book bag on the couch after Brett unlocks the apartment, her roommates following suit and splitting off to do decompress. Zoe, because she loves her friends too dearly to let them torture themselves by eating ramen again for the fifth night in a row, taps away an order for pizza on her phone, waiting for their driver to confirm delivery before tossing her phone next to her bag.
“Your turn,” Kristi says as she exits the bathroom down the hall. Her long blonde hair is down now, flowing over her shoulders instead of up in the severe bun she has to put it in for her business classes. She looks so much younger this way, and if Zoe hadn’t known what her major was, she wouldn’t have guessed such a nice girl wanted to go into the corporate world someday.
“Better not turn on Supernatural while I shower,” Zoe warns. Kristi just smiles pleasantly as they pass each other, giving a little wave when she hops over the back of the couch and turns on the television. Zoe knows she’s going to, so she takes extra long in the shower, probably running down the hot water more than she should with two more roommates behind her that like to take nightly showers too.
She brushes out her dark hair afterwards and then wraps in a towel to dry before leaving the bathroom for someone else. Brett and Ryan are out in the living room now, dressed in lounge pants and more comfortable shirts. Ryan is cocooned in blankets on the loveseat - she’s always cold - only her face sticking out of the colorful mound, her dark eyes sleepy as she watches Dean and Sam kill vampires on the screen. Brett is watching with interest, and Kristi is still smiling pleasantly as she watches.
Zoe smacks her shoulder as she cuddles up next to her girlfriend. “You’re awful,” she says in greeting.
Kristi giggles and leans into Zoe despite being gently hit. “It’s so bad it’s good. Don’t deny it.”
“I’m just happy it’s ending soon,” Ryan says, her sentence tapering off into a yawn. “Fifteen seasons is too long to not figure out how to write a good story.”
Brett snorts. “Please. If you had the money, wouldn’t you want to produce your fanfiction into a t.v. show?”
“Me? The English major? Write fanfiction? Nooo, ” Ryan says dramatically, her scandalized tone diminished by her lack of arms and legs because of her blanket fort. It makes Kristi laugh, and Zoe has never heard a more beautiful sound.
Except the doorbell announcing the arrival of food, startling them all. Zoe leaps off the couch and retrieves their dinner, tipping the delivery boy generously before setting the pizzas down on the kitchen counter like they’re sacred objects. Her roommates shoot up from their seats and serve themselves, scarfing down slices like they’re starved.
“Thanks, Zoe,” Brett says around a mouthful of cheese. “You’re the best.”
Zoe flaps her hand and settles next to Kristi on the couch again, content now to watch bad television with great food. “We deserved it. End of the week and all that. Figured if we were going to die from malnutrition, it should be from pizza, and not cup-noodles.”
Ryan whines despite her mouth being full of pizza. “But I like cup-noodles.”
“But they don’t like you,” Brett says, and they laugh.
A pleasant silence settles over them, the gorey sounds of Winchester brothers killing all manner of supernatural beings doing nothing to curb their appetite for greasy food. When they’ve finished their second pizza and are lounging around in a food coma after about an hour, Zoe clears her throat, lifting her head from where it rested on Kristi’s shoulder as they’d relaxed.
“Spider-Man’s gay,” she says loudly.
Her friends groan and throw whatever they can at her, including their cat, Beans. Beans doesn’t care, only purrs when Zoe catches him and giggles as she arranges him on her lap. Her friends continue to complain as she does so, the Argument starting up again, until they hear a loud, rickety thump outside the window leading to the fire escape.
They all shut up instantly, freezing where they sit. The t.v. still chatters away, Dean and Castiel’s voices low in volume, doing nothing to hide the other two voices starting to talk on their fire escape. Zoe goes to stand, slowing moving off the couch and slinking towards the window despite Kristi grabbing her hand.
“Stay here,” Kristi hisses. “You don’t know who’s out there!”
Zoe ignores her. She can hear Ryan fumbling behind her to get her phone, a shuffle of blankets and limbs and pizza boxes as everyone else follows behind Zoe. She reaches out and moves the curtains just slightly, only enough to peek, and she nearly recoils when she catches a glimpse of something incredibly familiar to every resident of New York City.
“And I’m telling you, Wade, there’s something up with Otto,”
Wade flaps a hand like there’s nothing to worry about with Peter’s friend and mentor growing more obsessed with prosthetic limbs controlled by the human brain. “Puh- lease, Petey. He’s probably, like, experiencing a mid-life crisis or something. Old people do that all the time. I do that all the time.”
“You’re not old,” Peter says lamely. He shifts his weight, leaning over his thighs as he crouches on the railing of the fire escape. He wouldn’t tell him, but carrying Wade while slinging across the city has been knocking it out of him lately. Hopefully this excuse to capture some photos for his navigational data was enough of an excuse for Wade to overlook how quickly Peter was breathing.
“But I am crazy,” Wade says cheerily, planting his hands on his hips and squaring his shoulders. He looks ridiculous. “Crazy counts as a constant mid-life cris - hey! Ow!”
Peter retracts his hand from where he’d smacked Wade on his skull. “Stop talking like that and I wouldn’t have to hit you, dumbass.”
Wade, always one to seize an opportunity for innuendo, visibly smiles under the mask. “Oh, Webs. What if I want you to hit me?”
His voice is a low purr, and for the upteenth time, Peter’s grateful his mask hides everything. His lenses narrow as he glares, heat flushing up his neck and face as Wade giggles and waves at him again, already dismissing the smart remark Peter can feel on the back of his tongue. Wade knows him too well, but he isn’t too angry about it.
He moves over on his perch instead, hopping to the side to allow Wade a seat on the thick railing of the fire escape. His friend takes the invitation with a little curtsy of his invisible dress, whistling a tune to a pop song Peter doesn’t recognize. Peter takes this rare moment of Wade’s silence to finish catching his breath, content to stay crouched on the rail, balanced on his toes as his arms and back twinge from carrying Wade all the way from Otto’s place.
As if reading his mind, Wade leans over, catching Peter’s attention as he looks out over the city starting to come alive as the sun sets.
“You know,” Wade stage-whispers conspiratorially, “you don’t have to carry me if it takes it out of you so much.”
Peter forgets sometimes just how damned observant Wade is. He’s annoyed, but stamps it down, willing himself to stay still and calm. He can’t fault Wade when he’s right, anyway.
“And make you walk?” Peter scoffs. “You wouldn’t stop complaining. That’s objectively worse than carrying your fat ass around.”
Wade gasps, scandalized. It makes Peter smile. “Petey! How could you call me fat? You’re so mean!”
Peter rolls his eyes. Wade continues to ramble, filling up both their ends of the conversation with useless information, allowing Peter to rest for now. It’s enough that Peter can almost dismiss the slight tingle at the back of his skull and neck, the crawling sensation of his spidey-sense alerting him to something behind him. It’s probably an alley cat scampering up the fire escape, but the sound of a window creaking open makes him turn, body tensing, ready to leap off the railing and swing away into the night.
A face stares back at him from the open window behind him. A woman’s face, her expression one of awe as she peers at him from between the open curtains. Another woman’s face pops up above hers, blue and brown eyes staring him down, all three of them freezing at once as Peter’s heart leaps into his mouth.
“Deadpool,” Peter manages. His super name makes Wade shut up and turn around, and when he spots the two women staring at Peter, he gasps and waves.
“Hi!” Wade greets, voice pitched high. The women’s gaze snaps to him, their eyes growing impossibly wider. Wade just waves again while Peter sits frozen on the railing. “Sorry. We didn’t know this fire escape belonged to anybody. Spidey usually knows these things, but he’s, y’know, kinda tired right now.”
Peter whips around and glares at him. “Can you not? Please?”
Wade shrugs, smiling under his mask. Peter goes to jump off the rail, but the window opens fully behind him, the women climbing out to join them on the fire escape. Another woman and man step out behind them, bundled up in blankets to fend off the post-sunset chill. Peter internally groans and turns to face them, still crouched on his toes on the rail, preparing himself for the normal bout of questions people usually throw at him when they meet him.
“You’re Spider-man!” the guy exclaims. Peter has to fight tooth and nail not to roll his eyes, knowing his lenses will give him away. He nods instead, waving. The guy points at Wade, barely able to control his voice as it rises. “And Deadpool! Dude! You’re both so cool!”
“Calm down, big guy,” Wade quips. “Don’t cream your pants, though I know it’s hard since Spidey is so… nngh .”
Peter glares at him again. Wade’s still grinning under his stupid mask, growing wider as the girls giggle. Great, now civilians think Wade’s funny. What the hell is he gonna do about the man’s fluctuating ego now?
“Sorry if we woke you,” Peter says instead, turning back to the group of people huddled on the fire escape. They’re obviously college kids rooming together, and Peter feels bad about probably interrupting an otherwise quiet Friday evening. God knows he didn’t get enough of those when he was in college. “Usually we hang out on rooftops, but the windows were dark. I wasn’t paying attention.”
“It’s all cool, dude!” the guy says. He seems to be the most excited, though the three women seem extremely interested anyway, their eyes roaming Peter up and down. “Though this is like, gonna seem like a super insensitive question, and I know you probably can’t answer it, but we have this long running argument and I was wondering -“
The brown-haired girl that had come out last smacks him on the arm, stopping him mid-sentence. “You can’t ask him that! That’s like, superhero etiquette one oh one!”
“Ohhh,” Wade says. He waggles his finger at them, the whites of his mask squinting. “If you’re asking what I think you’re asking, that’s a big no-no, big guy.”
The guy blushes, but he doesn’t seem any less convinced. “But I have to know! This argument will never end if I don’t know!”
“Shouldn’t I have a say in revealing my own identity?” Peter whines. Wade flaps a hand at him again.
“Please, Webs. Let the professional handle this.”
“Everyone knows who you are!” Peter exclaims, raising his arms. His sticky feet and impeccable balance keep him attached to the rail, but one of the women reaches for him anyway as if to balance him. He crouches again, leaning over his thighs, and she smiles at him sheepishly. He smiles even though she can’t see it.
“Look,” Peter says. Wade shuts up, and the group of awed college kids huddle closer as if listening to a chunk of infinite wisdom passed on to them from a wise old man instead of a broke superhero. Peter, in a streak of mischievousness, moves slowly as if to remove his mask. His fingers graze the edge of his mask on his neck and he hears Wade mutter “don’t do it, Webs” next to him before he drops his hands again, the kids in front of him groaning when he does.
“C’mon!” the guy whines. All three women smack him, and he whines again. “Ow!”
“Sorry, guys,” Peter says, amused. “Gotta work for it.”
He winks, and Wade swoons. He rolls his eyes and webs Wade’s chest, tugging him forward so he gets off the rail and climbs on his back. It’d be intimate at any other time, but the group of kids arguing with each other in front him takes that edge off. Wade is surprisingly silent as he obeys Peter’s quiet instruction and clambers onto the rail next to him, right arm wrapped around his shoulders, ready to grab on when Peter leaps off.
“We love you!” the kids shout as Peter does, their voices carrying out after them even when Peter swings around the corner and away down the block. Wade’s arms are warm around his shoulders, suspiciously quiet, but Peter takes this moment for what it is. His heart still beats an erratic, nervous beat in his throat from nearly revealing himself to strangers.
Wade stays silent until Peter gets them to his apartment, landing without a sound on his rooftop despite two-hundred pounds heavier than usual. Wade hops off of him, stepping back and examining Peter like he’s seeing him for the first time.
Peter raises a brow and removes his mask. “What? You’ve been weirdly quiet, Wade. Is it something I said?”
Wade seems to regain himself and shakes all his limbs in a comical impression of an electrocuted squid. He smacks his face a couple times, then waves as if nothing’s happened, moving towards the fire escape that leads down to his apartment.
“Nah,” Wade says, his tone cheerful and belying nothing of the suspicion he laid on Peter moments earlier. “Same time tomorrow night, baby?”
Peter frowns but nods. “Yeah, I guess. I need to be there for Otto, though, so I might be a bit late.”
“I won’t start dinner without you, honeybee,” Wade sings. He hops over the edge of the building then, and Peter doesn’t feel the tension leave his body until he hears Wade connect with his balcony and his window screech open and shut.
Peter sighs. He collapses on the roof, laying back and staring up into a starless, cloudless sky, the light pollution too orange and heavy in the night to show anything but the moon. He lays there for a long time, long enough for him to hear the city truly come to life as the weekend starts.
“What the fuck am I going to do?” he murmurs to the sky. As always, it doesn’t answer, and before the cold can seep too far he gets up and swings home, stopping two robberies and a near-mugging between a woman walking home and a guy with a pocket knife.
It’s enough, for now. It’ll have to be.
“Dude, you’re so gay for both of them,” Kristi teases. She’s the first to speak since Spider-man swung away, and it makes them all laugh except Brett, the target of her remarks.
Brett blushes the darkest red Zoe has ever seen him turn. “There’s nothing wrong with that. Geez, you act like I’ve never seen a guy in spandex before.”
“No, but we haven’t seen you nearly cream your pants when a mask winks at you,” Ryan says, giggling. Brett turns redder. “Spidey looked so uncomfortable, too. Do you think he’s gay? Do you think Brett’s his type?”
Zoe hums as she falls back onto the couch. “Definitely gay. No one carries a grown man on their backs and doesn’t have gay thoughts about it.”
“Yeah, what’s up with that?” Kristi says. “Are Spidey and Deadpool a thing?”
“Thing?” Ryan asks. “Like, gay thing?”
“Like, gay thing and team thing,” Kristi clarifies. She cuddles next to Zoe, Ryan sitting on the other couch with a still-embarrassed Brett.
Ryan hums, a finger to her bottom lip. They all go silent then, thinking, until something strikes Zoe.
Something about the gay thing and the team thing.
“I heard Deadpool say “Petey” to Spider-man,” she says slowly. “Do you think that’s his name? Does Deadpool know who he really is?”
“What kind of a name is Petey?” Brett grumbles.
He wraps himself in blankets and presses play on their show, more for noise than anything else. And a way to drown his embarrassment, Zoe’s sure, but she lets him be.
“It’s obviously short for Peter,” she says, a smug smile on her face. “No one in their right mind would name a guy that hot Petey.”
“Brett's parents named him Brett,” Ryan says, unable to stifle a laugh. Brett glares.
“Brett’s parents are white,” Zoe says back. Brett glares at them both harder.
“Can we not have a “Brett is the designated punching bag” night, please?” he says. “I have enough of an ego bruise as it is.”
Kristi pulls out her phone and starts typing into Facebook, suddenly serious. “I wonder if I can find him.”
“Do you know how many Peters are in New York?” Zoe asks slowly, as if to a particularly slow customer in a retail store that doesn’t quite understand that yes, these are all the shoes in this style we have and no, I’m not going into the back to look for more for you.
Kristi frowns as a page loads on the Facebook app. “A lot,” she says, defeated. She starts to tap through them, reading their bios intently. “But I'm bound to find him! I’ll start with body type, and then height and weight, and then…”
“Would a superhero even risk having a Facebook?” Ryan mutters from her rebuilt blanket fort.
“Would it be more suspicious not to have one?” Zoe says back.
“Fair point. He does have a Twitter account. I heard people tried to hack it to see if they could trace an ID on the phone posting his tweets, but I guess his security is kinda, like, oof beefy.”
“So he’s smart,” Kristi murmurs. Zoe watches as she restarts her search, looking now for any Peters in New York with any kind of science or computer engineering degree. After a solid thirty seconds of scrolling through pictures of white guys, Zoe slowly takes her phone away and locks it before Kristi can complain.
“How about we go to bed instead of stalking our city’s superhero on social media,” Zoe says by way of explanation. Kristi does whine then, her pretty face pulling into a frown.
“But now I have to know!” she exclaims. “I’m like Brett, except I don’t think he’s hot.”
“Brett can still hear you,” Brett mutters.
“Brett should go to sleep,” Zoe says with a smile.
Eventually, they all peel themselves away from bad television and go to bed, early for a weekend but with how this night had turned out, probably for the better. Kristi obsesses about Spidey’s identity for the better part of their bedtime routine, chatting animatedly about the possibilities of who, exactly, their resident superhero could possibly be through brushing her teeth and hair. At any other time it’d be annoying, but Zoe cuddles up to her when they finally crawl into bed and listens to her and Ryan talk until she drifts off.
If it makes Kristi happy, she’s happy. She wouldn’t trade that for anything in the world, even if it’s about a buff dude in a skintight suit.