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Endurance

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He's in the Quiet Corner when Miss Gloria calls time for break. Wade lets out a huge breath in a whoosh, like he's been forced to sit still for hours, though it probably hasn't been the length of one whole cartoon. But that's like days in preschooler time--his mom said so, and he's not sure why that's so funny, because it's true.

His best friend Stacy doesn't look up from her coloring, even though it's break and that means they're off the hook. Well. Wade is, and it was supposed to be just him sitting here, but Stacy doesn't like being around a lot of people at once, so she usually keeps him company. Also she'll punch him if he tries to interrupt her coloring during quiet time, so Miss Gloria just sighs and leaves them to it.

Now that it's safe to talk again, Wade wriggles in his seat, the plastic legs scraping loudly against the floor. His tail quivers madly where he's trapped it under his leg, but he doesn't shift off it. It has a tendency to lash when he has to stay still for too long--'as bad as a dog,' his mom grumbles when it knocks things over--and Stacy doesn't like when it hits her chair, or her. "Is your whole coloring book spiders?" he asks, leaning over Stacy's arm for a better look.

"And bugs." She doesn't smile, like, ever, but Wade can tell she's happy by the way her eyes light up, the tip of her short-furred tail, blonde as the hair on her head, curling and uncurling lazily in contentment. "They're different," she explains before he can ask, "because spiders have eight legs and bugs have six. See?"

"Cool," he says as she flips through her coloring book for him. She's already done all the grasshoppers, and now it looks like she's going back and doing all the spiders next. Sometimes he wishes her parents were his parents too. They don't think she's weird for being a girl and liking bugs and things. They just buy her neat coloring books.

He watches her color for a bit longer, but before he can ask what kind of spider that is, Kevin comes up with a plastic bag in hand. "Juice and snack," he announces as he hands a juice box and a baggie of animal crackers to Stacy. "Juice and snack," he repeats as he does the same to Wade.

"Thanks, Kevin!" Wade chirps with a big smile. Kevin is the smartest boy in their daycare, and the best-behaved, according to Miss Gloria, so she trusts him to help out at break. Wade's not sure about the behaving thing; Kevin's also the bossiest, everyone agrees on that, and being bossy usually gets them in trouble. Maybe it has something to do with the rules? It's weird. But Kevin's also the prettiest, so Wade doesn't mind the bossiness so much.

"I'm gonna marry him," he says confidently as Kevin leaves to finish his rounds of juicing-and-snacking. He expects a disinterested grunt, but Stacy looks over at him like he's said something dumb.

"You can't marry Kevin," she says, one ear cocking back though her voice carries absolute conviction.

Wade's ears flatten in betrayal. Stacy never tells him he can't when he says he's going to do something. She just sometimes asks him 'how,' which usually means he hasn't thought it through. "Why not?" he demands, chin jutting out in challenge.

It's always 'you're too young,' or 'because he's a boy,' or 'pretty sure she'll knock your block off if you try it, champ.'

Stacy just nods at his left arm and says, "You've already got a special person."

Wade frowns. He's had the word 'Endurance' on his wrist his whole life, in black block letters that have grown with him. He knows it means he's half of a pair, though it's too early yet to know whether he's going to be a Fighter or a Sacrifice. His dad's convinced he's going to be a Fighter--'the boy does have a type'--and he likes the sound of that. He's just not sure what his Name has to do with getting married.

"So?" he asks, curious.

"So when you have a special person, you're supposed to wait and lose your ears together, and then you have to get married," Stacy informs him. She's smart, probably smarter than Kevin. She would definitely knock his block off if he tried to marry her, but that doesn't mean she doesn't know what she's talking about. And he's already noticed that married people are missing their tails and second pairs of ears--most adults are, in fact--but....

"Why do we have to lose them?" he asks. He likes his ears; they make him look fierce when he scowls, like someone who means business. "Where do they go?"

"I don't know. Maybe they give them to their babies," Stacy says with a shrug.

Wade sits up straight. "Babies?"

"Maybe. Mom says losing your ears is how you get babies, which is why I have to wait until I'm married. And dad says I can't get married until I'm thirty. But I don't want babies, so I didn't ask. I'm never getting married, either."

Wade had already figured that, but it's good to know for certain.

She shrugs again, setting aside her coloring book carefully before finally opening her juice box. "Anyway, waiting for your other half is supposed to be romantic."

She reports this the same way she would any bizarre thing the adults have said that she hasn't cared enough to dig deeper into, but Wade gets it. It's like the prince showing up for the princess, the big scene in an action movie with bullets and explosions and two people staring deeply into each other's eyes, and everyone knows that's the best part.

If that's how it's supposed to be with his special person, he doesn't mind waiting to lose his ears.

***

Wade shoves his books into his locker with a little more force than necessary, jaw clenched. He knows turning in the homework is important. He can't help it if his brain just takes a hike whenever he has to sit down and grind out answers to meaningless problems just to prove he knows the material. Isn't that what tests are for? He's been thinking lately of dropping out and getting his GED. He's not dumb; he just can't deal with the pointless time-gating that high school amounts to.

As he slams his locker shut, he jumps when he finds Jackson's familiar smirk waiting on the other side. "My, my, pudding and pie," Jackson drawls as he sets his shoulder to the row of lockers.

"Pfft. If they were crying, Georgie was doing it wrong," Wade scoffs. "And not just because he stopped with the girls," he adds, catching the eye of a passing nerd from the newspaper staff and tossing the other boy a smile. Nerdy, you bet. Cute, though.

Jackson shakes his head. "They're crying because you never follow through, idiot. You can't keep getting people's hopes up and then not even ask them out. What are you waiting for, your Sacrifice?"

"Well, yeah. I mean...wouldn't you?" Wade asks, surprised. Sure, Jackson isn't half of a fighting pair, so he's never going to fully get it, but that's just...it is known. Fighter and Sacrifice meet and stay together forever. Maybe they don't always fall in love-love, but a staggering number of them do. With odds like that, it seems to Wade like it'd be kind of mean to hook up with anyone else, that he really would be getting hopes up in that case. And it'd be pretty dumb to get attached on his end, wouldn't it? He may be crazy, but he's not a masochist. Probably. He guesses he'll find out for sure when he finds his Sacrifice.

"Maybe, but that doesn't mean I'd become a monk!"

"Hey, I'm not a monk. I've kissed loads of people!" Wade protests, weirdly offended.

"And you've shaken hands with the bishop enough times they're on the verge of canonizing you," Jackson counters, rolling his eyes. "I can't believe that wasn't a hint, but did it ever occur to you that you won't just magically lose your ears if you get to second base?"

"Uh," Wade says, because honestly...? He's just...never really thought about it. Kissing is fun; he does it because it feels great and he likes being that close to someone, and most of his friends are the opposite of touchy-feely. He doesn't expect anything to come of it, so he's never had to do risk assessment, like, 'Will this lose me my ears and fuck up my entire relationship with my Sacrifice from the get-go?'

But now that Jackson mentions it...it's supposed to be losing your virginity that loses you your ears, only what does that even mean? Obviously straight missionary sex is a no-go for him if he wants to keep his stylish look, but two guys can lose their ears just as fast to each other. So is it dicks going into just any holes? Does oral count? What if it's two girls? He only knows one lesbian who's out enough that he knows he knows a lesbian, and Lisa doesn't have a girlfriend, but...maybe he could just...ask? Will he sound like a creep if he asks? He'd probably sound like a creep. But damn it, now he has questions.

Jackson sighs, awkwardly patting his shoulder. "Welcome to your sexual awakening," he says. "I'd offer you a brochure, but I wouldn't even know where to start."

This is true. Wade does have a type, and his type is people: smart, sassy, competent people who know exactly what they want and what they want you to be doing, and just go for it. He's not bad-looking if he does say so himself, so being drawn to that sort of person has gotten him kissed pretty often, and the personal equipment that came attached has never been a turn-off. One thing he can say for sure: whatever gender his Sacrifice turns out to be, he'll be revved and waiting at the curb.

But seriously...what if he finally meets them, and they think he's some kind of prude because he doesn't have any experience? What if not having any experience means he's shit in bed? Hell, what if he meets them and they're some sort of sexual gymnast who's done everything but lose their ears--or what if they've lost their ears already? He's not willing to go that far, but he's already disappointed his parents, his teachers, and apparently half the student body.

He doesn't want to disappoint his Sacrifice too.

***

"Dude, it's magic," Horowitz says, laughing at him around the rim of her beer bottle. They met at the recruitment office and went through Basic together; it just seemed natural to hit the bars as a team on their first official leave. He likes her; she takes no shit from anyone and hits like a truck, and has no shame to spare for anything. He'd been overjoyed to find out she's bi. Finally! Someone he can ask! And she'd lost her ears to her first girlfriend, too! "You can't just lose part of your spine and two secondary sense organs without a scar otherwise."

"So...I'm confused. Because I've gone down on plenty of girls, but like...would that have punched my V-card if I was a girl? This doesn't make any sense," he moans, dropping his cheek onto his arm and pressing the cool side of his own bottle to his forehead to combat a continuity headache.

Horowitz snorts. Her face says 'poor baby,' but her eyes are feasting off his salty tears. "I don't know how to tell you this, but I think it's whatever it means to you. If you think gagging on a dick is any different from burying your face in la-la land, then for you it is. All I can say is you'll feel it before it happens."

"So anyone who tries to play the 'I didn't think we'd gone that far' card is full of shit?" He's heard locker room talk like that for years. It's always sounded sketchy as hell to him, but he's never felt qualified to call anyone out on it, considering.

"Up to their fucking eyeballs," Horowitz agrees with a slightly bitter twist to her mouth, like she's heard the same jackasses too.

It's good information to have, gives him a shot of confidence when he's led out of the bar by a scorching hot guy who's maybe half his size, who presses Wade's back to the nearest shadowed wall and his mouth to Wade's throat, hands going right for Wade's belt. He already knows that hands are fine--hands are great, even better when they're followed up by cuddling and lazy kisses--so he doesn't think anything of it until the guy drops to his knees.

The instant tingle that crawls along the base of his ears and his tail would probably feel like anticipation with the right person, but to him it feels like a warning.

"Wait," he says quickly, reaching down to hold the guy off. "Sorry. I, uh...I can't do that. But maybe I can blow you instead?" What the hell, it's worth a try, and Horowitz is right. He's fine with pussy, so is dick really going to be that different?

He's half afraid the guy's going to storm off, call him a tease--he wouldn't be the first--but instead he watches disappointment change to hungry disbelief. And he gets it, he does--big, tough soldier on his knees, in uniform no less? Hell yes, that's smoking hot--but the warning tingle doesn't return. It's just different. He likes making people happy, making them feel good, likes the hands in his hair and the breathless gasps telling him he's doing a good job. It's something he can freely give away, because....

Because it's not asking him to give up any of himself in the bargain. For the first time in his life, he actually gets why most of his friends aren't prone to casual touch, only hug for weddings and funerals, if then. He inhabits his body differently, but really they're one and the same.

Horowitz quirks a brow at him when he heads back in, her eyes immediately going to the top of his head. "Have you put my teachings to work, grasshopper?"

"Yes, sensei," he says with an elaborate bow. When he slides back into his chair, he's touched to find a fresh beer waiting for him. Man, it's like she knows him or something.

"And?"

Pausing with the bottle raised half to his mouth, he huffs a laugh. "Let's just say it's better to give than to receive."

Her eyes drop to his beer with a smug little grin. "Well, Merry fucking Christmas."

Yeah, he'll drink to that.

***

"Ohhhh-kay," Weasel announces to the bar at large, holding his hands up like a referee about to hand down the word of God. "There will be no more betting on whether you can grab Trisha's ass before she breaks your face. She is an employee here, guys. That's sexual harassment, and I can't afford to keep buying new tables. The book is closed.

"Not that there was ever a book on that to begin with," he bitches to Wade under the cover of disappointed groans. "I'm an asshole, but am I that asshole? No. Hell, she's probably going to quit now," he adds morosely. "We're the only customer service job out there where she's allowed to bust noses, but those tables were getting expensive."

Wade snickers. "Well, you know--"

"Then what are we going to bet on now?" someone calls from the back.

"How about who Wilson's finally going to lose his ears to?" Buck suggests with a shit-eating grin.

"That's a great idea," Weasel says flatly. "I'll put two mil and my eternal soul on it being his Sacrifice. Anybody want to bet against me?"

"Aw, c'mon," Hook whines. He's actually got both of his hands, but there's a funny story behind the name that can't be told in mixed company. "No way is he really going to wait for his Sacrifice. He gets more action than I do, and the only tail I've had for the last twenty years isn't mine!"

"The only tail you've been getting charges by the hour," Buck scoffs. "Wilson's hot. I mean. If you like that sort of thing," he coughs, embarrassed.

"Like a slightly beat-up Ryan Reynolds," Trisha agrees, unconsciously whapping her serving tray into her other palm like a nightstick while she gives Wade a critical eye. "I'd have let him win the bet."

"Wilson's a tease," Finn grumbles, apparently still bitter.

"Excuse you," Wade says as he lifts his beer, "I am a lady. I'm saving myself for marriage. Well. The best bits, anyway."

"Never mention your bits in front of me again," Weasel groans, like this entire conversation has sapped his will to live. "Now, who needs a refill? Those tables aren't going to replace themselves."

***

It's finding out about the cancer that eats him alive, not really the disease itself. Okay, the cancer definitely sucks, but he can't stop thinking about the Sacrifice he's never going to meet, even though he's low-key given up on ever meeting them to begin with. Maybe a few years ago, when he'd still been almost a catch, or at least not worth throwing back: a high school dropout, sure, but the military was steady work, and Special Forces usually fills at least a spot or two on most people's kink bingo cards. That was before they handed him orders even he couldn't stomach, followed swiftly by his walking papers. Most people can handle 'soldier,' but adding 'of fortune' has never gotten quite the same reaction.

He hadn't expected it, but the guys at Sister Margaret's almost take it worse than he does. There's talk of hacking hospital records and census reports, of putting his face in the newspaper and his Name on a milk carton, a last-ditch 'Have you seen my Sacrifice?' attempt that chokes him up a little, though he firmly nixes every suggestion. If it hasn't happened yet, maybe it isn't meant to happen. Still, he can't stop wondering.

So he does his research and his due diligence, gets a second and third opinion, and finally calls the number on the card that creepy plastic-faced asshole gave him.

He's gasping his life out in an airless little tank when he finally sees what hope and stubbornness has gotten him: a face not even a Sacrifice could love.

When he walks away from the smoldering rubble, he chances a glance at his wrist and finds Endurance staring back at him, textured and wobbly at the edges but still legible. The laugh that escapes him is as ugly and wrecked as his skin. He's always been a little proud of the Name, and it's sent a lot of goodwill his way from the folks who've had cause to rely on him, but now it just seems like a cosmic joke. He died in that hellhole; and then his body got burned to a crisp for good measure, and here he is: still kicking around. Still enduring.

The second pair of ears perched on top of his head lie flat to his bald skull, and he hates the feel of their naked skin against his scalp, the bony swish of his furless tail against his legs, more than he ever thought possible.

***

"Wait," Weasel says. "You died."

"Yeah, I know it's hard to believe, but--"

"You literally died."

"Uh...yeah. I mean, I'm not a zombie or anything," Wade promises, quirking what...still feels to him like an eyebrow, though he doesn't know, the effect may be lost at this point. "I'm not going to eat your brains, if that's what you're--"

"You died a virgin."

Wade pauses with his mouth still open then shuts it, shoulders slumping. "Seriously? That's what you're hung up on?"

"I've never met anyone who died a virgin before," Weasel says, not tearing his eyes away from Wade as he reaches behind him for a bottle. He plunks it down in front of Wade and just pushes the whole thing closer. "Take it, man. You earned it."

At least it's the good stuff.

***

He doesn't really have a purpose for the longest time. He has goals--he hunts down everyone involved with Weapon X, takes enough jobs to rebuild his funds and his reputation after those months of sickness and torture and non-paying work. He adopts an old lady and makes sure a kid gets put in a home. Dodging the X-People is less of a goal and more of a game: they don't really want him, not after that first mess, but they also don't want him running around unsupervised, which is like... not having your cake but making sure no one else gets to eat it either? It's just rude. He occasionally kicks around the idea of looking up Magneto just to screw with them, except he wouldn't last five minutes with the Brotherhood before putting food coloring in Creed's shampoo, blowing up the compound, and probably getting impaled by his own katanas via Old Gandalf's weirdly specific telekinesis. He's pretty sure mutates are second-class citizens to them anyway, and fuck that noise.

And all that is great, as far as it goes. Maybe not enough to build an eternity on, but enough to distract him from it for days, maybe weeks at a time. But he can't say he really has a solid direction in life until he meets Spider-Man.

Honestly he's surprised it takes as long as it does. They've both been kicking around New York for a few years now, but Wade has a firm policy of not shitting where you live, and he never takes high-profile jobs in the city. Warning off a stalker or scaring straight a caretaker who thinks granny's retirement fund is their new Monopoly money? He'll do that for free, in a heartbeat. The paying work he travels for, and he travels a lot.

He's minding his own business, about to tear into some takeout, on a random roof because he's too hungry to make it home but doesn't want to ruin anyone else's dinner. One minute he's alone, and the next he hears the faint, ringing drone that tells him someone with a Name has entered sensing range, and they're getting closer fast. Dropping the paper bag of tacos behind him onto the rooftop and pulling his mask back down, he reaches for his guns only to freeze as something pale shoots past him to splat against the roof access door. He'd almost think someone fired a grappling hook, but this stuff is more organic, almost like...a spider web?

Dropping his hands, he rests them flat on his thighs with an excited grin. He's been wanting to meet Spider-Man for a while now, and not just because the guy's ass is unreal. Utter perfection, would totally risk his ears if he didn't already know his tongue has an all-access pass to absolutely everywhere. Wade's almost as impressed with Spidey's whole 'no killing' gimmick, because taking out your targets hard and fast is a piece of cake by comparison. Wade knows. So yeah, he has some serious professional respect for the guy and some wildly unprofessional respect for his ass, but he's been cool. He's forced himself to let the meeting happen naturally instead of looking into Spidey or manufacturing ways for them to meet, and it seems like his patience is finally being rewarded.

The only weird thing is that warning hum, the pitch or maybe the tone of it, and it's way too quiet even after Spider-Man lands in a crouch on the roof ledge close to where Wade is sitting. Almost like--

"You're a Sacrifice!" Wade realizes aloud, surprised enough he almost falls off the building in shock. He hadn't even realized Spidey was half of a fighting pair.

It's impossible to read Spidey's expression under the mask, but the way he bristles is unmistakable. If he had ears, they'd be pinned to his skull right now, tail fluffed out and lashing, but of course the top of his head is smooth beneath the mask. "And?"

"And nothing! Just--you're even more badass than I thought! I mean--at least some of the crooks you go up against have got to be Fighters, but you just--oh," he trails off uncertainly, realizing he's probably just put his foot in in big time. Spidey's missing his ears and tail, so that means he's probably already found his Fighter, but he still works alone. "Does...your Fighter not know you're Spider-Man? Or maybe they're some kind of anti. Anti-mutant? Anti-vigilante? Anti-fun?"

Spidey had jerked in surprise when Wade first started gushing, but now he's back to looking rigidly contained again. "Who says I need a Fighter to fight?"

Wade can't help it. Clapping both hands to the side of his face, he breathes, "That's so cool. And yeah, obviously you don't need a Fighter--hell, I don't even need a Fighter, like this one time I got declared on while I was half-dead with pneumonia, right? Complete laryngitis, couldn't even whisper, it was so bad, but the moron cornered me in the produce aisle, can you believe that? The coconuts were right there. It was already in my hand; he could see it there, and he declared on me anyway. So I threw it at his head and knocked him clean out. Duh. But seriously, who declares on someone in the fucking produce aisle?"

"I don't know," Spidey says slowly. "For a Fighter, he must have been pretty green."

Wade lets a beat pass in silent appreciation. He's fallen in like a hundred times, but this may be the first time he's been able to say without a shadow of a doubt that he is in love. "Marry me," he says with all the sincerity he can muster, which is kind of a lot. He even surprises himself with how much he means that.

Spidey just laughs, but it's a quiet, more friendly laugh than his initial reserve would have suggested. "I think your Sacrifice might have something to say about that. Er...if you're still looking?"

"Eh, you know," Wade says sheepishly, tugging self-consciously at the edge of his mask to make sure it's pulled all the way down. "If it hasn't happened yet, I don't know if it's ever going to. But it is what it is. And hey, sorry if I came off as one of those assholes who think Sacrifices are only good for drawing fire. A badass is a badass, and your ass is top notch, A plus plus, all the way."

Spidey snorts. "Thanks...I think. And it's not as cool as you're probably thinking. Like you said, there's ways around it if I get sucked into a spell battle. It's not like my webs suddenly stop working, after all."

"Bad. Ass," Wade repeats, which earns him another laugh. "But seriously...not that I think you need a Fighter, but if something comes up where having one on speed dial would help, I'm pretty much a free agent. No strings attached," he adds quickly, "no hanky-panky to 'strengthen our bond' or any of that bullshit. Don't get me wrong, I would love to take your ass out, and also the fine individual attached to it, but that's a separate offer entirely. Just...if you need back up, I'm your man...?"

Spidey sits in silence for a good minute, but his shoulders are relaxed, the tilt of his head incredulous but not an outright rejection. "Deadpool, right?" he asks instead of immediately replying.

"Life goals!" Wade whoops cheerfully, punching a fist in the air. "Spider-Man knows my name!"

Spidey's headshake is amused. "That's one heck of an offer, Deadpool, but...even if you haven't met them, aren't you worried what your Sacrifice would think? I mean, they must be important to you...."

It's hard to tell, but Wade would lay money that Spidey's looking at the triangular leather tabs he sewed proudly onto his suit to hold his bald ears, for all the world to see.

Wade snorts. "If my Sacrifice has a problem with me helping Spider-Man fight crime, I'm pretty sure I don't want them."

"Okay, then," Spidey says, incredulity and gratitude warring in his voice. "Okay."

***

Maybe his offer was only supposed to cover dire need of a specific type, but Wade's been known to give a mile when only an inch was requested. Since Spider-Man didn't immediately chase him off, the next time he has some downtime, he goes looking. He doesn't even have to cheat; a few minutes with a police scanner lets him know exactly where to go, and from there it's just a matter of following Spidey's lead.

After that first night, he just keeps coming back, and boy is he glad he did. Spidey's amazing in action, but it doesn't take long for Wade to realize that he doesn't know the meaning of 'quit.' No matter the beating he takes or what the odds are against him, he always, always gets back up. It's mind-blowingly impressive and mind-bogglingly stupid, and it's going to get him killed one day if no one steps up to watch his back.

As it happens, Wade really doubts he's the only one to have volunteered, but he's the only one so far who took the lack of an outright no and ran with it. Spidey doesn't seem to know what to do with him at first, and they have a couple of long conversations about the jobs Wade takes when he's out of state, but things settle. Wade has a type, after all, and it's not long before Spidey's bossing him around like he's been doing it all his life.

What with one thing and another, he doesn't even get to make good on his original offer until Green Goblin Jr breaks out of prison, and that is an eye-opener. Even after the battle sphere goes up, Spidey doesn't just stand around and let his temporary Fighter do all the work. He's everywhere at once, dodging out of the way of spell restraints before they can land, analyzing Osborn's fighting style and calling out orders even as he's flicking off webs to deflect some of the more physical attacks.

Ordinarily Wade would tell Spidey he doesn't need to go so hard--they don't call Wade the Merc with a Mouth for nothing, and he's smart enough to know that the proper counter to Acid is Neutralize, not Evaporate, thank you--but Osborn's a fellow genius, and those two fighting is some next level shit. Wade's keeping up primarily on sheer creativity, total ruthlessness, and instant obedience, trusting Spidey's orders like he would his own other half's. If Spidey says negate, he doesn't worry about the nature of the crackling blue hellfire coming his way. He Negates, and watches Osborn slowly lose his shit, because even without magic in his words, Spidey's a force to be reckoned with.

It's all over when Osborn sends chunks of rubble from a well-placed Fracture hurtling towards them, and Spidey yells, "Drop the shield and move!" Wade doesn't ask why, just releases the Barrier he'd raised when he saw those hunks of concrete headed their way and rolls to the side, looking over just in time to see Spidey grab a fist-sized hunk with a spurt of web and hurl it back, trailing a long, sticky line behind it.

It cracks into Osborn's skull and sticks there, the battle sphere dropping all at once as Osborn goes limp as a puppet. Spidey has to web him out of the air before he drops thirty stories to his death now that the laws of reality have been reinstated.

Wade sits up, but then he just gapes. "Was that the Coconut Maneuver?" he asks, laughter building in his chest. "Oh my God. It was, wasn't it? That was the Coconut Maneuver! My contribution to the ancient and honorable art has gained a follower!"

"Hey, I never turn down a good idea." Though he's trying to play it cool, Spidey's voice is bright with exhilaration, and Wade allows himself a moment of uncharitable glee. Whoever Spidey's Fighter turns out to be, they're never going to be able to top this, and Wade wishes he weren't so completely okay with that. He shouldn't be hoping that it feels like settling when Spidey finally gets his match. That's not being a good friend at all, and even if Spidey isn't the type to put his sex life on hold, Wade knows that a friend is all he's ever going to be. Even if he offered everything he can offer, Spidey would take one look at what's under the mask and head for the hills.

"Are you okay?" Spidey asks after they get their breath back, Osborn webbed up, checked to make sure his hard head is still intact, and ready to be picked up for a return to prison. "How's your Name?" he adds, rolling his own left wrist in sympathy.

It's not a problem he's ever noticed with Sacrifices, but when a Fighter battles under another standard than their own, their Name usually bleeds like a motherfucker to remind them who they belong do. "I'm fine," Wade assures him, shaking his left hand out to be sure he's not lying, and nope: no blood in the glove. "Healing factor," he reminds Spidey with a grin. "Didn't even notice it."

"Good," Spidey says with relief...and maybe a hint of wistfulness? Probably thinking of his own Fighter, wherever they are. "That's good."

He probably should have questioned it, but he doesn't. Not until they face some pompous asshole calling himself the Duelist, which takes him all the way back to high school and getting soundly berated by the spell instructor for his highly informal declaration style.

"Before we begin," the Duelist announces loftily--and Wade will be honest; usually he'd have just shot the guy by now, "know that you are facing the Fighter for Constraint. I will be battling solo."

"Oh, wow," Wade says as he scrambles to remember how this goes. "A purist, huh? Er, I'm the Fighter for Endurance, acting as the Fighter for, uh...?"

He looks to Spidey, but Spidey's already staring at him. "Endurance?" he echoes, voice rising to a squeak. That's both weird and distracting--shit, does Spidey know his Sacrifice?--and Wade loses the thread of what he was asking in the first place with that pause.

"Uh...have at you?" he hazards as he turns back to the Duelist, who's glaring at them both in disgust.

"Shameful," he pronounces, taking a deep breath. "I declare a spell battle!"

Despite his prissy manners, the Duelist is a decent opponent, even for them. He doesn't have Wade's raw power or Spidey's sheer brilliance, but he has the theory behind every spell down cold, inside and out. It's a little like getting into a brawl with Taskmaster, except with words as their weapons instead of guns and knives. What trips the Duelist up in the end is how weirdly polite the entire fight is--deadly, sure, and intense as all fuck with how rapidly they have to shift gears to counter the counters to the spell someone just countered, but it's all just...very mannerly.

Frankly Wade gets bored.

"Pants," he says abruptly after Deflect-Reflect-Retaliating back a volley that shouldn't have needed half that much effort.

"What?" the Duelist says, momentarily thrown.

"Pants," Spidey agrees, nodding solemnly.

"There's no spell for--" the Duelist begins, only to yelp as his trousers get yanked down to his ankles by invisible hands.

"That's totally a--Knockout!--verb," Wade informs him, but by then the Duelist is no longer awake to argue the point.

Even once the battle sphere drops, he doesn't ask. He's not even sure he wants to ask. He's been waiting so long, the waiting has its own gravity and shape, but more than that, he's got Spidey now. Maybe not in all the ways he'd like, but if he actually meets his Sacrifice, all that will change, and a huge part of him doesn't want it to.

Spidey's the one who breaks the silence, looking over at him and swallowing hard. "Endurance, huh?" Wade just nods. "Can I see?"

Wade grimaces, pressing his left arm to his chest and wrapping his right hand around his wrist. "I'd rather you didn't." He's told Spidey about the cancer, about Weapon X. Spidey knows it's not pretty under the suit, but there's knowing and there's seeing. "I mean, if it's someone you know and you think I'm bullshitting because I'm not good enough--"

"No," Spidey jumps in, almost a shout. "No, that's not--that's not why I asked. I just--I'm Endurance. The Sacrifice, I mean. I'm the Sacrifice for Endurance."

Wade forgets to breathe as his brain bricks entirely. "Spidey say what?" he asks faintly, certain he's hallucinating. Maybe he got another spike through the skull and this awesome dream is about to get yanked out of his grey matter along with two feet of cast iron. Again.

"I'm your Sacrifice," Spidey says plainly, and that's...holy shit. Spidey. His Sacrifice. Holy shit.

He rakes his eyes over the mask, the wide, white lenses, and tries to spot the lie or the laughter before it starts. Instead his eyes drift up to the top of Spidey's head and--oh.

"Oh," he says on a nervous laugh, self-consciously flattening his own ears down. He honestly doesn't care that Spidey had himself a good time before this--how Spidey inhabits his own body is his own choice--but damn, could his own pining after some romantic ideal be any more obvious? "Wow, so...that's awkward. I guess I look like kind of an idiot, huh--"

"No," Spidey says again, sharper this time. "That's--no. Look. We can't do this here, okay?" Wade nods. They clearly need to talk, and over the body of an unconscious villain isn't the best place for it. "Just...come back to my place?"

"You sure you don't want to come back to mine?" Wade offers. He knows how important Spidey's identity is to him. Finding out he's Spidey's Fighter doesn't entitle him to his life entire.

Spidey's chin jerks in a nod, fiercely determined. "I'm sure."

Wade hadn't been certain what to expect of Spidey's lair. A room in the home of an elderly relative? A penthouse fit for the second-youngest CEO of a Fortune 500 company? But behind Door Number Three and a set of Venetian blinds about to give up the ghost from being traveled under twice a night is the typical apartment of a single twenty-something, with scattered piles of textbooks, scribbles of chemical formulae, and photography equipment holding down every flat surface. It's comfortable and lived-in, but it's clear at a glance that Spidey's evening jaunts are done out of the goodness of his stupidly-good heart, not for anything like a paycheck.

Standing dead center in his little studio, Spidey waits for Wade to take a long look around, practically vibrating with nervous energy. "So, uh, this is it. Not very impressive, I know, but tuition, man. And, um...this is me," he says, voice shaking only a little as he reaches for the bottom of his mask.

He pulls it off entirely before Wade can try to talk him down.

He has an angular face, a high forehead to hold that big brain in and quirky brows that make every smile a question. He's not smiling now, too frazzled to manage it, but deep lines are cut into the sides of his mouth like he laughs often.

The big brown eyes are a definite weakness of Wade's, even filled with a mixture of terror and hope, but he has to guess at the color of his hair, since most of it's hidden under a skin-tight cap of some kind. Redundant, considering his hair's usually hidden under the mask, but when he reaches up and pulls that off too, an adorable pair of dark brown ears unfolds at once.

"Wait, what?" Wade asks, bewildered. "You...why would you hide your ears?" He gets that toxic masculinity is a thing, but--

"Everyone knows Peter Parker still has his," Spidey explains, voice steadying as whatever freakout he was expecting fails to materialize. "And Spidey's not part of a pair as far as most people know, so it wouldn't make sense for him to wait and keep them. Plus, yeah, people started taking me more seriously once I started hiding them," he admits with a grimace.

"Peter Parker?" Wade echoes, attention caught more by the name than by further proof that humanity is maybe one social revolution removed from the Dark Ages. Peter nods, one corner of his mouth tipping up at last, and yep, those laugh lines were earned. "I'm Wade Wilson! Alliteration bros!"

A soft chuckle escapes Spidey as relief begins to conquer nerves, until Wade's stuck by another question.

"Wait. How are you hiding a tail in that?" he asks, and he gestures to all of Spidey.

The humor drops from Spidey's face abruptly, eyes gone dark as he takes a deep breath. "I haven't had one since I was a kid," he admits, and God, Wade has seen that before, too many times. Kids missing an ear, or both ears but with their tail still attached, or just the tail like Peter, the incomplete vanishing occurring when it shouldn't be right for them to vanish at all.

He wants to find whoever did this and vanish vital parts of them, but all he says is, "Oh, honey."

For some reason that resurrects Peter's smile all at once: self-conscious, fragile, but still there.

"So yeah, uh...that's everything I think," Peter says, clearly wanting to move on to lighter topics. "I can't believe I didn't just ask you what your Name was that first night--"

"You were rightfully awed by the Tale of the Coconut," Wade reminds him, earning himself another laugh.

"I don't know how you do that, but I can actually hear the caps."

"I'm just written that way," Wade says modestly, waving him off.

Peter shakes his head, amused, but then his eyes drift up again, and Wade can actually see the wonder when they land on his ears. "Man. I honestly can't believe you waited this long." For me, he doesn't say, but hell. If Wade had known who he was waiting for, he'd have put in twice the time and counted himself lucky.

"Well, I mean. I haven't exactly been a monk," Wade says, his patchy memory throwing up a conversation he'd almost forgotten.

Peter's grin stretches, intrigued. "Yeah? You got some things to show me?"

Wade knows he doesn't mean it like that, but it's true nonetheless. "Not all of the show-and-tell's going to be pretty," he warns. They may share a Name, but he's nowhere near ready to share what's under the suit, not when there's so much riding on it.

"That's fine," Peter says quickly. "We've got time, right?"

Honestly Wade has nothing but time, but that's fine. Baby steps. They'll get there in the end.

***

"Wait," Weasel says, pausing in the middle of polishing dry a glass. "You what?"

"I found my Sacrifice!" Wade announces a second time, ready to bask in the bar's collective disbelief. Al stopped taking his calls after the fourth time he rung her up to gush at her while she's off canoodling with some old flame, so he has to look a little further afield for a captive audience. "So I guess I have a boyfriend now," he says as he knocks back the rest of his tequila. It doesn't do jack for him with his healing factor, but he still likes the taste.

"Hold on, you guess?" Weasel echoes, eyeing him dubiously.

"Well, he still hasn't seen all of me yet." Just the lower half of his face, and that went...actually pretty well? Better than he expected? He's glad he got in so many years of practice kissing, because Peter hadn't exactly been shy on that front himself, so at least he feels like they're on even ground.

"So he still has time to run," Weasel says sagely, stowing the glass under the counter and reaching for another one.

"God, you're just a bundle of sunshine," Wade bitches, even though he's thinking the same thing.

"Someone has to be. So when are you bringing him around?"

"To this place?" Wade demands, torn between laughter and outright horror. He can't just bring Spider-Man to Sister Margaret's--

No, but he could conceivably bring Peter. Maybe. If he made Peter swear not to come back later and web up every last one of them within an inch of their lives. Sister Margaret's is sacred, damn it. Beating the shit out of each other doesn't count.

"Yes, here. Your friends want to meet him," Weasel says, more insistently than the topic really warrants.

Wade blinks innocently. "I have friends?"

"Shut your whore face, Wilson," Buck grumbles over his beer from three stools down. "We haven't put up with you for this many years 'cause we're getting paid for it."

"Shit, I'd be so rich if I was," Hook agrees with a snort.

"You heard the guys," Weasel says, mouth stretched taut with that flat little smile he only gets when his feelings start backing up. "Bring him in."

"Okay, okay. The next time we're both free," he promises, though with everything the two of them have going on, that'll probably be a cold day in hell.

And whenever it looks like it might start cooling off, he has no problem lighting a match to the situation.

***

He may be able to stall on bringing Peter to Sister Margaret's, but meeting May Parker isn't a choice. It's a privilege, and he treats it as such, even going so far as to show up in civvies instead of the suit. He probably has several heart attacks and at least one stroke on the way there, but for Peter he makes the effort.

'You'll love her,' Peter's been saying for the past two weeks. 'And she'll love you,' he always adds, reading Wade's real fear with ease. Truth is, he'd been prepared to respect her even if she hated him, but he and May get on like a house on fire, providing recreational arson was exactly what the situation called for.

"Goodness," she says after being introduced, smirking up at him with a twinkle in her eyes. "When Peter said he'd found his Fighter, I didn't expect you to look the part so well."

"May, please," Peter begs. Covering his eyes with one hand does nothing to hide the blush that heats his face to the tips of his ears.

"What? I can't be impressed with my nephew's good taste?" she asks without a hint of irony. "Well, don't just stand there, boys, come in. I made enough potato salad to feed an army, and someone needs to help me grill these burgers."

He meets Gwen not long after, followed by MJ, and if a horrible goose walks over his grave both times, they're all soon thick as thieves.

Maybe it's the people Peter surrounds himself with, good people who don't give a damn about his skin so long as he treats Peter right. Maybe it's just Peter, who looks at him like he's been waiting all his life to meet him and somehow isn't disappointed. He can't even say where his courage comes from, but he looks over one night while they're curled up together on Peter's couch, Peter tucked under his arm and leaning solidly against him while frowning down at a textbook, and nudges the side of Peter's head with the tip of his nose.

"Hey," he says as Peter breaks into a grin without looking up. "I never did show you the fruits of my unmonklike behavior."

Peter practically throws his book at the coffee table in his eagerness to turn into Wade's arms.

***

'Al! I have seen the Promised Land! I have held it in my own two hands, and glory hallelujah, that is one fine back acre, I could plow it all--'

'Damn it, Wade, are you trolling your elderly roommate with our sex life again? I haven't even met the woman yet, and I'm sure she already hates me! Do you even know what time zone she's in?'

'Relax, it's going to voice mail. She can hear all about it when she stops ignoring me like a--'

'Wade! Just...put the phone down and come to bed, okay? Sorry, Al! I can't wait to meet you, so I can apologize in person!'

"That your roomie again?" Tommy asks, chuckling as he pokes at the fire. Lord, it's been decades, but he still has a voice she wants to rub all over her skin, just like silk.

"Unfortunately," she drawls, but truth be told, she can't be too mad at Wade. It's about time he had something good come into his life, and anything that makes him this happy, well...she's willing to forgive a lot of midnight calls for that. Still. "And here I thought his boy problems were bad. His boy successes are worse."

"Well, maybe losing his ears will settle him some, hey?"

There's a sudden scrabbling of claws and jingling of collars as a few of the dogs wander in to throw themselves down by the fireplace, but Al doesn't hear a bit of it. Wade's ears?

"Oh, hell," she mutters. Maybe she'll stay for another month. Or two. Just until the shitshow blows over.

This is Wade, though. If it's not one shitshow, it's another.

***

"Peter Parker," Gwen hisses at him the moment Wade leaves the room to check on lunch, her eyes blazing with fury. "What the hell did you do?"

"What?" Peter asks, bewildered. "I don't know, what did I do?"

Her jaw clenches as she takes a deep breath in through her nose, visibly collecting herself. "That man," she bites out slowly and deliberately, "is crazy in love with you. So do you want to tell me why I came here today to find you missing your ears and him not?"

Peter squirms as his face heats up, voice temporarily lost to mortification. It'd been weird the first few days even for him, and Wade's disappointment had made him feel like he'd failed somehow, even though they both know it's not the fault of either of them. It's just one more way Weapon X has messed things up for Wade, who's had to deal with far too many hurdles in his life already. Still, he's had a week to get used to the shock of still seeing Wade's ears despite the wonderfully, comprehensively satisfying efforts they've made to rid him of them. He'd forgotten what it will look like to the rest of the world.

"No, no, no, it's--he has a medical condition," he scrambles to explain. It's the truth, just...in broad strokes. Much as he hates to rely on people's assumptions where Wade's skin is concerned, no one's likely to press for more details.

Gwen's eyes narrow. "That had better not be your excuse."

"Not like that!" he insists, on the verge of whisper-screaming as he tries to keep his voice down. "I mean he can't! Lose his ears," he adds in a hurry before she can get the wrong idea entirely. "He can't lose his ears! They're stuck? Permanent? Believe me, we've been trying! I can't believe we're having this conversation," he mutters into his palms as Gwen starts to blush.

"Well, saying we're trying does make it sound like we're hoping to get knocked up," Wade says, leaning in the kitchen doorway with a goofy smirk tugging at his mouth and ears perked, his tail twitching in smug little fillips around his calves. He doesn't look upset at the reminder, at least, and he knows for a fact that Wade isn't embarrassed by the topic itself. The things he's told Al are enough to tempt Peter to move to Siberia just so that he'll never have to look that woman in the eyes. And Al is blind.

"Sorry, Wade," Gwen offers, chagrined. It's probably worse because they're at Wade's place, and she's still unfamiliar enough with it to feel like a guest.

"Hey, no. You're just being a good friend. Don't worry about it," he says easily. It never fails to amaze Peter the way Wade just rolls with the punches, no matter what life throws at him. He'd chalk it up to their Name, but he's pretty sure it's just Wade.

Still, he feels kind of bad. He's got his own support network for anything that goes wrong, but what about Wade? He's got Al, but she's been on vacation since a little bit before they got together, and there's someone named Weasel, but Wade never mentions going to see him. Between work, travel, and helping Peter patrol the city, Wade's as busy as he is. Has Peter been eating up all his free time and keeping him from his friends?

"Wait, you actually want to meet those assholes?" Wade asks later that night, sprawled comfortably out under Peter, Peter resting his chin on his arms folded across Wade's chest. Wade tugged a shirt back on after they showered off the night's activities, but it's short-sleeved and sinfully tight, so it still counts as a good brain day where Wade is concerned. He still hopes to convince Wade that his scars don't make him ugly, they just make him scarred, but he doesn't mind working at it. It gives him all the excuses to touch he'll ever need.

"Sure. I inflicted MJ on you, didn't I? And Weasel sounds like a smart guy. I'm sure we'll get along fine."

"Famous last words," Wade mumbles through a yawn, big arms coming up to wrap round Peter's back. He's still pleasantly surprised at how cuddly Wade is, especially given how shy he is about his skin. But Wade soaks up contact, any contact, like rain in the desert, doesn't even mind when Peter's nightmares wake them up literally stuck together. He just settles in and nuzzles closer, the big doofus, his contented little smile plastered to Peter's neck, where he can feel it.

"So we're going?" he presses, knowing Wade will cheerfully postpone anything he doesn't think Peter will be comfortable with until he forgets.

"Sure, sure. You just gotta promise not to lose your shit and start making citizen's arrests, okay?"

Peter laughs until he realizes Wade's not joking. "Wait, what kind of bar is this again?"

***

A few of the guys send lazy greetings his way when Wade walks into Sister Margaret's, but he's not really interesting until they see him reach back to hold the door open. The abrupt shift in the bar's tension is as blatant as the barometer plunging during a storm, and it would prickle the short hairs on the back of his neck if he still had any. When Peter walks in at his back, all eyes sharpen. Fuck, his spidey-sense has to be going crazy, but Peter just pulls up a mildly curious smile, chill to the bone. Christ, he loves this guy.

"Well, I brought my better half, as requested," Wade announces to the room at large, subtly or maybe not-so-subtly reminding these jokers that Peter's a Sacrifice, his Sacrifice, not some meek little civilian. They don't have to know he's Spider-Man to be able to guess that Peter has seen some shit, just by association with him.

There's nothing but dead silence for a moment that stretches a little too long, until Finn breaks it with a groan. "Fuckin' hell. You mean Wilson's not even putting out for you?"

"Watch it!" Weasel barks as Buck does a boozy spit-take and quickly jumps out of the way.

The rest of the bar erupts into catcalls and sly speculation, but Wade can barely hear it over the sound of his blood pressure skyrocketing. He knows Peter's a little self-conscious about the ear thing too, because to anyone who knew them when they first got together, Peter's earless state now makes him look like a dirty, rotten cheater. Wade's actually more worried in the other direction, though he's managed to keep it to himself. Seeing now that he can't lose his ears at all thanks to his healing factor--something he really feels like he should have seen coming, except magic, what the fuck--he'd worried Peter would think he was lying about waiting, and if about that, then how much else could he potentially be lying about? Except that doesn't seem to have even occurred to Peter, for which he'll be forever grateful. That doesn't mean he's okay with these assholes thinking he's not doing right by his man.

"Excuse you," he snaps, ignoring the calming hand Peter rests on his bicep. He's in his civvies today as well, hoodie pulled up but no mask, because fuck these guys, they've all seen worse. When he breaks into a scowl, no one can mistake it, but he's not done. "I have a healing factor," he says, stepping up onto a chair and then onto the nearest table to stare them all down. "For that matter, what's my Name?"

"Whoa," McGrady says from the back. "Save that shit for your boy, Wilson!"

"What's my fucking Name, huh?" Wade steamrolls on, warming to his argument. "It's fucking Endurance, assholes! Did you think that just meant in bed? No! It goes for these fuckers, too!" he says, pointing vindictively at his still-covered ears. "But not just them, because I'll have you know I'm fucking living my Name, all night, every night! Don't believe me? I'm ready to go right here, right now, on this table--"

The sound of a bottle smashing to the floor breaks Wade out of his diatribe, and he glances over sharply to see Weasel standing frozen behind the bar, empty hand still upraised as if to pour. "Oh, fuck," Weasel says in abject horror.

"What?" Wade barks, still fuming.

"It's the curse. It's the motherfucking curse. I bet two mil and my immortal fucking soul on you losing your ears to your Sacrifice," Weasel explains, dead-voiced. "Remember the last time I bet on you?"

You could hear a pin drop after that, because no one in the room is even breathing.

"Weasel," Wade says slowly, "I love you, man. But if you ever bet on me again, I'm going to reach in and turn your dick inside out through your nose. We clear?"

"Crystal," Weasel says with a wince.

Wade finally notices the increasingly-insistent tugging on his pants leg and looks down. Peter stares up at him, the twist of his mouth wry, face pink. "On this table?" he asks dryly.

"Oh, shit," Wade says, hopping sheepishly down as regular conversation picks up again. "We keep getting distracted during that kink list discussion. So is that a yes or a no on exhibitionism?"

Peter just laughs, and while ordinarily Wade would like it to be noted that that's not a veto, there are some things you just don't do without a clear and explicit yes. He'll table that one for now and bring it up some other time when they don't have an audience.

"So these are your friends?" Peter asks, without any of the censure Wade might have expected. Mostly he sounds curious, willing to be won over.

"Yeah, you know. They're no Gwen Stacy," he tries to brush it off, only for his brain to make a sudden connection that startles a laugh out of him. He grins at Peter's arched brow, hunching a shoulder. "That whole trying to get pregnant thing," he explains, ignoring the sputters and cursing from the guys in earshot who weren't minding their own business. "When I was a kid, one of my friends told me that losing your ears was how you got babies."

"Ah. The joys of pre-mandatory Sex Ed," Peter says with a chuckle.

"Right? And since losing your ears meant babies, it meant you had to get married." He's known practically all his life that he was going to marry his Sacrifice. What the hell is he even waiting for? "So?" he asks into the growing, renewed silence as the people around them realize what's going on. "You wanna?"

"You jerk," Peter laughs, because yeah, okay, that was definitely not the most romantic way he could have asked, but Peter's still grinning fit to light up the entire city. "Of course I'll marry you, you idiot. We wouldn't want our children to be born out of wedlock."

Every single time he thinks he can't fall for Peter any harder, he has to go and say or do something like this. Wade hopes Peter never stops proving him wrong.