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If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck…

-*-

 

Peter hates ducks with a passion.

 

Under the metal bracelet on his left wrist, his mark tingles. It's annoying.

Ever since he became Spider-Man, more people start random conversations with him, rambling about every topic under the sun. No one says 'Hello,' of course, that would be silly. Everyone got their own modified hello, no point wasting breath on such a mundane word before you find them.

Initiating talks is always stressful when anyone can be your potential soulmate. Even if the words are already etched upon the person's skin, Peter is still constantly afraid to say the wrong thing, to miss out just this one chance. This one person who'll have him just the way he is. What a catch – a cynical, penniless orphan who crawls around New-York in spandex on his spare time, with the social skills of a constipated cat.

He shoots out a web and propels himself forwards.

With enough quick turns and needless maneuvers, he can almost forget about the prickling patch of his skin.

 

Almost.

*

On the first day of Peter’s tenth year upon the earth, he wakes up anxious. He rises in a haste to pull his sleeve down and read the fresh mark upon his wrist.

After he starts crying, it doesn’t take Uncle Ben and Aunt May more than a minute to step into the room.

"What's wrong, Peter?" His aunt crouches in front of him with a worried look on her face.

"Is it a naughty word?" She asks, her voice soft and reassuring.

"You know it's not your fault if it is, Peter." She opens her arms as he throws himself against her, sobbing.

"Come on, little man," his uncle says, kneeling next to the pair. "It can't be that bad."

He gently picks Peter's wrist.

He purses his lips.

"Well, that's… that's unusual, but –"

"It's Obscure," Peter spits the word out between his sobs, while Aunt May pets his back soothingly. Even being Ordinary is better than being Obscure – having words which can't be interpreted as a definitive exclamation, question or answer. 

"It's not bad, as far as those things go –"

"It's says duck," he draws the word out miserably.

"Well, maybe your soulmate is an ornithologist?" his aunt suggests.

Peter looks up, confused.

"A what?"

"A bird expert, Peter!" She smiles down at him. "This already gives you a lead about them, doesn't it!" She looks at Peter's uncle with something in her eyes that Peter can't decipher.

"It's a great word. Isn't it,  sweetheart!"

"It's a great word," Uncle Ben confirms, smiling as he squeezes Peter's shoulder gently. "It's special! Just like you and your soulmate."

"Really?" Peter sniffs, clinging to their reassurance like a lifeline.

"Really. You know, not many people have a decent lead to find their soulmate, but you already have much more information than I had with an Answer. And we found each other anyway." His uncle and aunt share a smile, and their matching bracelets glint on their left wrists, full of an unspoken promise.

 

So Peter tries.

He tries really, really hard.

 

They go bird watching. They go to the park to feed the ducks every other Sunday, after church. They go to the zoo.

No one tells him anything particular about ducks.

He watches them as they trudge around after bread crumbs, lacking grace or any sort of balance. Their eyes are vacant of any emotion or thought as they demand more food from him with their awful, shrilling cough. Next to him, Uncle Ben chuckles.

Stupid birds, Peter thinks, and throws the bread a bit more aggressively against the ground. One of the ducks quacks in distress as Peter hits her on the head, and Peter's satisfaction is only dampened by his uncle's disapproving stare.

He atones by giving the duck a few of the fresher bread crumbs.

"That doesn't change anything between us," he mutters to her as he hands her another piece of bread. The duck makes sure to bite his fingertips as she snatches it.

Ungrateful useless third of a turducken.

 

At home, he joins his aunt when she asks him to watch her silly rom-coms with her. He makes a big deal out of it each time, rolling his eyes as the pair meet – as their lives slide perfectly together, like two jagged puzzle pieces, against all the odds the script writers could've thrown in their way.

His wrist itches and his heart clenches at every cliché – a spy who is paired with his interrogator, a bank robber paired with one of the hostages, two lawyers from rivaling firms – the film industry thrives on those dramatic conflicts. They enjoy exaggerating the situation to the extreme – and still Peter finds himself captivated each and every time. The Obscure characters are always his favorites, and he feels his heart flutter with each close up on the actor's face, when they realise they’ve found their soulmate.

Even though it's stupid and fake, it helps him hope.  

 

It's a gloomy Monday spent in Mary-Jane's room, when she quietly admits to Peter she's one of them. Ordinary. The people whose wrists are decorated with unfortunate common phrases. Things like 'Excuse me,' which could be said briefly by someone on the street as they vanish to the crowd – or the dreadful 'Hey'. He doesn't share his word back, and Mary-Jane tells him it's okay. Her smile is a bit strained (years later, while reminiscing over pancakes, Peter will realise he's been an idiot, but convince himself it's okay, because Mary-Jane understood anyway).

At school, Flash teases him relentlessly. He keeps telling everyone Peter must have some stupid word on his wrist, because he's such a dork. He doesn’t dare to bare it, though, because even someone like Flash wouldn't do something so low. Flash himself – a successful, good looking athlete – has a Question. And not just any question – a Unique one. Even though he doesn't tell people what's written on his wrist, he boasts about the fact he'll know for sure when he'll meet his soulmate.  

Peter swallows the insults while his mark tingles, and tries not to let them get to him. He hopes Flash's soulmate is even a bigger asshole than he is, but it's more likely they're a supermodel that'll cure cancer after volunteering with dying orphans.  

 

As Peter ponders his word at nights sleep eludes him, his brain sometimes provides him with awful scenarios – what if he'll meet his soulmate as a kid who just blabbers at anyone, and they'll have to wait ten more years to make sure, and another decade for them to be of age? What if they're mentally impaired and can just say this one random word, repeatedly? Or maybe mad, spewing words with no context and reason?

He tries to console himself with different options – what if they're a lost tourist, fumbling with their English? What if he is destined to meet his soulmate in Halloween, in a rather poor costume? What if they're a chef, and they'll meet at their three star restaurant, after he’s just finished a really good meal which he didn't know the ingredients of?

He stares at the word when he feels alone, and one time in the school bathroom (in the relative privacy of the stall), after a particularly harsh bullying session, courtesy of Flash. He brushes his thumb over the neat scrawl in slow, repetitive strokes, and it eases the humiliation, somewhat.

 

Over time, Peter starts to resent the soulmate system. He dreams of a world where his wrist is bare, where he doesn't have to sit and wait and wonder, and can just pick anyone at all and try and experiment. A world where he can talk freely without concern with anyone on the street, where he can ask a person the time or comment if they have a really cool shirt or just dropped their wallet.

In reality, though, every conversation he has with a stranger is stilted at best, and he keeps his wits to himself.Once, when he’s drunk on cheap booze, with MJ giggling to his right, he thinks about making up knock-knock jokes with ducks. He wonders how does this soulmate business even works, if he can just trick people into saying 'duck'. Maybe his wrist and fate conspired together, since they know he'll never be brave enough to start a knock-knock joke with a random stranger.

 

After Uncle Ben's funeral, he stares at his wrist as the tears roll off his cheeks. It helps him feel less lonely, but doesn't lessen his guilt. His heart aches, and he doesn't care if it's not manly, if he's acting like a wuss – he just really wants his soulmate to be with him right now, to hold him and lie that it'll be all right. There's a choking bitterness in the back of his throat, stuck like a nasty splinter, and it doesn't dissolve the following morning.

 

As Spider-Man, Peter has to put up with people as they keep telling him increasingly silly things. They look at him with hopeful eyes, as if he'll suddenly confess that why, yes, nachos are the greatest invention of the century, or that the queen of England does have purple hair.

If you only knew, he wants to tell them, as he swings them out of harm's way, when he stops a car from smashing their brains on the pavement, or keeps a blade from spilling their guts in a back alley. If you only knew how stupid my word is, you wouldn't have even bothered.

He is Spider-Man, though, so he keeps politely turning down their advances, shaking his head even as few try to bare their wrists to him. Every occurrence is a painful reminder of the intricate lettering he had memorized.

 

After Uncle Ben dies, Peter stops feeding the ducks at the park.

*

Peter is eating lunch at home, which is nowhere near midtown, so he's obviously surprised when the anchormen on the television announces that Spider-Man is there, fighting a fire breathing mutant. He quickly excuses himself, promising Aunt May he'll wash the dishes after finishing his homework.

He slings his way quickly, heart pumping as he recalls the extensive damage to the street the imposter caused during the fight with the weekly villain, who chose an atrocious costume of blaring orange. The pace he sets strains his wrists, making them ache. It seems to take too long before the imposter is at sight – his mouth is stretched in a maniac grin, his teeth brilliant and sharp. Parts of his suit have been burnt clean off, including the bottom half of his mask. The sunlight makes the scars stark against his skin. An impressive looking gun is pointing at the fire hazard mutant, who is wheezing but a few feet from him, breathing out thick smoke.

Peter's spider-sense is flooding his brain with adrenaline and panic. He knows something bad will happen if he doesn’t intervene now, so he jumps between them before thinking better of it, before any plan occurs to him.

He won't let anyone get shot in front of him.

 

He quickly moves out of the way, heart hammering in his chest in an alarming way which has nothing to do with the danger he carelessly threw himself into.

Because before the man shoots the mutant's shoulder and makes him stumble backwards

Before the bullet even leaves the barrel

Before the gun is leveled in front of his face

Before Peter even spat out a word

The man says

 

 

"Duck."

Chapter Text

It's you

 

When the words appear on Wade's wrist when he's ten, he's not surprised.

It's always him.

It's him that made daddy angry, it's him that made mommy drink. It's him that made daddy break the TV they couldn't afford to fix, it's him that made mommy spend all that money on useless junk she didn’t need.

It's him that made daddy lash out at them.  

It's always him.

 

A tiny part of him imagines it not to be an accusation. Imagines a face looking at him, smiling after he spouted whatever he did, and telling him those words in a soft, hopeful voice.

That part is quickly shushed by a more reasonable version of reality – a person glaring at him, or looking at him with disdain, spitting the words with remorse.

"It's you," they'll say, and their disappointment would be clear.

Out of all the billions of people inhabiting the planet, it's him, Wade Wilson. They'll be stuck with him as a soulmate. With no money, no proper education and with nothing remarkable about him at all.

 

Just when he feels he's no special snowflake, he gets cancer.

The chemotherapy is about a hundred times worse than the time his dad slammed a door shut on his fingers and cracked his ribs with a kick when he cried. He shaves his head to avoid having to see his hair fall off in clumps, and throws up anything he tries to eat. He's weak, nauseated and so fucking lonely it hurts. No one sits by his bed as they pump his veins with poison. Nothing for him to do at the long, blank nights he has to face.

 

The Doctor wears a pitying expression, as fake as the pearls around her neck, when she tells him the chemo didn't work.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Wilson," she lies with ease, "you don't have much longer."

 

But Wade can't die just yet.

It's the voice that accuses him that he can't do it – he can't give up and make someone's wrist go bare with no explanation. It tells him that there's still the tiny chance that his soulmate won't consider him an utter disaster. Maybe they could help him – to make himself better. Not great or anything, just not that bad. He can't do it to his soulmate, wherever they are.

 

After Weapon X, that small hopeful part of him is completely silent. Its place is filled with the boxes instead, cheery things they are. He stares at his face and at his words, and knows that there is no possible way for them to be said in any other way but with utter disgust. Unfortunately for him, death is no longer a viable option.

He tugs his mask back on.

*

Due to his new skin condition, the words on his wrist are twisted by the scars (the boxes say it adds to his character). Even when he tries to peel the words off his skin – and after that, cut off his entire arm, twice – they grow back. Slightly altered, but there. He tries tattooing over them, which proves useless as his skin changes and shifts. He tries sewing a thread over them, going painstakingly slow to fully cover the words in two embroidery squares. Two hours after he's done, the bloody thread falls to the floor, useless.

(Thirty-two pigeons find their untimely death that night, in rather gruesome ways.)

 

So he starts talking.

He talks as much as he can, to anyone who'd listen, and to those who won't, too – just to finally get it over with. To finish this stupid 'soulmate' business, let the poor thing deal with their disappointment and carry on with their life.

It's not like there weren't couples who are not soulmates – people who tire of waiting, or had their words fade from their wrists before they could have a chance to hear them.

Sometimes Wade wishes that for himself – that his soulmate would drop dead for whatever reason (– plane crash seems like a good way to go –) and those accusing words would finally be gone from his skin. He starts to compulsively check under his clasp during odd hours of the day, and every time he spots a blue car, and if there are three dogs in the street and one of them has a different colour from the other two.

The words persistently hang on to his skin.

 

If he has the time, after he shoots someone, Wade likes to watch as the words on their wrists fade along with their heartbeats. He thinks about another person whose wrist just turned bare, and it fills him with childish glee, sprinkled with spite

There, he thinks, one free membership card to The Lonely Hearts Club, pumpkin-pie.

His side-hobby enables him to see all kind of Words, of Questions, Answers, a handful of Obscures (poor fellows), and even a Name, once. The Name was a delight to erase – a fucking pedophile got a Name, while he was stuck with a fucking Answer. He makes sure to castrate the bastard and lets him bleed out, while whistling the jolly tunes of Barney the Dinosaur.

There are a few close calls – times he almost thinks he found them. But then the person either adds something at the end of their sentence, or already has a bracelet deeming them bonded.  

 

Those are the people he enjoys killing most. 

*

It's obvious that fate, being the bitch she is, would make it so that when he actually hears it, it doesn't register right away.

His aim is just slightly off since his arm wavers, and he hits the target's shoulder instead of his head. Any other day he'd cut his arm off for such a mishap, but today he cuts himself some slack instead.

 

It's soft, and surprised, and came straight out of the mouth of fucking Spider-Man, official boy scout of New-York city.

 

"What?" he eloquently asks.

"I can't believe it, you bastard!"

Wade flinches, and his fingers tighten around his gun. No surprise there, Wade my friend, we were totally ready to be rejected by that one person who's supposed to accept you no matter what, the other part of your soul who completes you–

"I've spent years with ducks because of you!" Spider-Man hisses, pointing an accusing finger at Wade who, for the first time in a long while, is at a loss of words.

The villain at hand takes a deep breath, readying himself to launch another fire blast, only slightly shaken by the bullet. Wade barely blinks before Spider-Man is on the move – disarming the guy by webbing his mouth shut. Spider-Man sticks him to the concrete, adding a few punches for good measure, in an unusual display of unnecessary force. Wade overhears bits and quips that sound suspiciously like "oh no you don't" and "years" and "blasted bird menace".

If that's Spider-Man when he's being friendly… one of the boxes trails off, as he suddenly finds himself airborne. That scrawny kid picks him up like he weighs nothing at all, and whisks them both off to a random roof.

 

The kid wastes no time and quickly sheds a glove and a silver clasp, baring his left wrist. Wade stares at his own scrawl on the thin wrist. He can see the blue veins beneath the pale skin, and feel his own words thrum against his pulse.

He's about to lie. He's about to say it's not him, because he can't saddle Spider-Man with his shit. But the kid pulls off his mask, and his smile is bright like the fucking sun.

Wade's soul may be totally fucked up, yet something within him still tingles pleasantly. It has nothing to do with the fact Spider-Man looks at him like he's the essence of all that's good in the world.

 

It's the small part of him that wakes after all these years, and whispers to him to be selfish.

 

"Kid –" he starts, but Spider-Man interrupts.

"It's Peter," he says, annoyingly naïve.

"Peter," he tries, shifting his stance, and the name sounds right on his lips.

"Listen –"

"I'm just so happy." Peter admits, not letting Wade get a word in. "I thought I’d never meet you, or that you'll be some sputtering kid, or some brain-damaged person I'll meet in a mental institution –"

Well, that's not that far from the truth, the box says, amused.

" – but here you are and you're an adult – how old are you by the way, you don't look too old –"

"I kill people for a living," Wade blurts out, and that stops the chatter right away. The barrier of tact most people have has been worn down by years of babbling, until it disintegrated completely. Wade really can't quite keep his thoughts to himself anymore, and he doesn't mind that at all – he tells himself that, even when the smile falters and slips from Peter's face.

Because Wade wants to hope, wants to be selfish like the voice urges him to, wants to finally have something good and constant in his life – but wishful thinking has gotten him into so much shit and he knows it will all crumble down and bury him alive and he won't let it. He'll nip it at the bud.

 

"Well," Peter says after a short forever of a tense silence, studying his face. Wade is painfully aware that his scars are plain to see.

"I hog the blankets."

"What." Wade can't seem to grasp this comment.

Is this boy-toy for real? (and his boxes can't, either).

"Look," the kid says, stepping back, his enthusiasm only slightly dampened by the admission. "We've only just met. We'll have some things to sort out, naturally."

His stare is intense, and his eyes are the most beautiful Wade's ever seen. Brown eyes? Seriously underappreciated. Fuck those Aryan-blue, Peter's eyes are the prettiest; each lash that frames them looks like it was carved by the steady hand of a renaissance sculptor.

"But we're soul mates, man. Things… would work out. We can make them work out. I don't know about you, but I've spent quite enough time waiting for this, and I'm not about to run off before giving us a fair shot."

"Speaking of shots. I shoot people. Sometimes stab them or slit their throats. For money." Wade just wants to clear that up, because it seems that the first time he had said it, Spider-Man didn't let the weight of his words fully settle in.

"I once choked someone while he begged me to spare his life and watched him crap his pants."

Peter seems unfazed by the tale, while his brows (-full and thick and - were they plucked? because this shape couldn't be natural-) furrow. "I heard you the first time. I'm sure you already know I don't exactly approve. But you've also just battled some Charmander-themed mutant, and saved the fire department a lot of trouble. Possibly saved quite a few lives, as well. And you didn't shoot me, even though you could've." He shrugs his shoulders, and up close they look so much thinner than they do in the Bugle. "That's more than I can say about half of the local Policemen. So you can't be that bad."

This is not going as Wade expected it to go. He had forty-three scripts for rejection, thirty-seven for disgust (the two not mutually exclusive) – and not a single one for joy and/or acceptance. There are no available emergency protocols. Somewhere in his brain, a tiny, handsome man, clad in black and red, smashes his hand into a red button, yelling "ABORT!" – to no avail.  

"You're obviously not the smartest soulmate out there." It's a very weak retort and he knows it. He gingerly returns his gun to its holster on his thigh.

Peter grins again. "Still the only one currently available for you." His eyes crinkle at the corners. There's a small dimple on his left cheek.

"So much for natural selection."

That earns him a laugh he wishes he could bottle and keep in one of his pouches.

"I guess I'll be the brawn and you'll be the brain. Come on, I've got to introduce you to my aunt - what's your name, by the way?"  

 

 

 

Wade never claimed to be a good man.

So he goes.