There is a man on Peter's bed.
A man, stripped to the waist and dead to the world, swathed in bandages that only just cover the worst of his numerous cuts and scrapes. Peter himself is pacing madly before the exposed stretch of his unconscious guest, heart hammering and feet tripping over each other like a man drunk on adrenaline. He supposes he could be doing a lot worse, like vomiting, or fainting, or doing both simultaneously- isn't that what some people do when they experience a surprise encounter with their soulmates? Especially so if said soulmate turns out to be a Class A supervillain starring time and again on SHIELD's top ten most wanted criminals list. Peter congratulates himself on acing in Spontaneous Disasterhandling.
That being said, the day was deceptively survivable before this came up. He sticks a mental note to that assessment as being one of the subtler messages from fate that it's going to fuck up something grand real soon. He normally avoids patrol when he has his 9-11 PM part-time at Ben's Roasted Beans- although that doesn't mean trouble stops patrolling for him on any day of the week- and the neighborhood has been blissfully uneventful as of late. So it's entirely unnatural that Peter had this sudden urge to take a detour around the shadier parts of town at eleven thirty PM, backpack slung over one shoulder and red spandex stuffed into ratty sneakers. Then he had to somehow fixate on this space between two buildings mid-flight and nearly snap his neck swinging a sharp turn into it.
Peter can't say why he's surprised to have found his soulmate in the alley sprawled next to an overflowing dumpster, but he is.
What should be- and is- surprising is that this man found himself lying unconscious in one of the filthiest places on the planet. Job hazards of supervillainry aside, Peter knows him to be one of the most slippery thorns in SHIELD's side, rarely spotted and never caught. It's possible that no one on Earth has ever seen him this vulnerable, limbs loose and throat bared in a long line of pale skin. Up close his face is even more angular than the few pictures on the internet made it out to be, with a sweeping nose and high cheekbones. A graceful body to go with those, surprisingly heavy; easily twice as heavy as the pudgiest man Peter's ever had the misfortune to carry, in fact, and he considers it a miracle that his webshooters supported their combined weight during their wobbly journey to safety. His arms still ache from the effort.
He stops abruptly in his pacing, and stares (again) at the Norse deity laid out on his red-and-blue striped comforters. God of Mischief, Trickster, Liesmith, Loki. Loki with his penchant for random planet invasion and love of chaos, evil mastermind and a threat to everything with a life to be threatened- they call him that. But there's no way the cluster of letters tattooed over Peter's entire back spell out such a simple personality, no way that the truth of this man with his tiny spider inked over the jut of his hipbone can be contained within a few careless words. Peter knows this because the long spirals cradling his shoulder blade hint of disappointment and loneliness; because the slash of diagonal lines that curve around his side tingles with defiance; because he reads countless other things, each more colorful than the last, on the unspeakably beautiful landscape painted on his back.
There is a man on his bed, and Peter thinks he might be the only one in the world that understands his name.
Peter is seven when his mark unfurls for the first time. His mother takes one look at his back and tells him he should stop taking his shirt off in front of his friends. He's bouncing on his heels before her, eager to sprint to the nearest reflective surface, but she holds him gently by the arm and says: "It's right here, love."
Peter follows her gaze and yes, there it is, on the smooth and soft inside of his upper arm. It's a letter, he thinks, scrawled in an elegant hand that runs flowing from the crook of his elbow to the crest of his shoulder and over- it's the largest mark he's ever seen, including the ones he googled out in the Wikipedia page featuring World's Most Peculiar Soulmarks. It's also the coolest, painted in broad strokes of jet-black ink. Peter follows the shape with his fingers, then frowns when it disappears over his shoulder to where he can't see.
He trots to the bathroom, glancing at his mom who doesn't try to stop him this time. But all thoughts of the oddness in her face flees his mind when he turns in front of the mirror and twists his neck for a better look. The mark doesn't end on the back of his shoulder as he expected, but instead stretches over his shoulder blades and all the way down to the small of his back, and he realizes that it isn't a letter, it is a whole array of letters swirling and twining in and out of each other in an unintelligible web of black. It's a name, Peter knows, and he thinks he can read it. He's never heard of anyone wearing a name as their mark, much less such an alien one, and he's pretty sure he just rewrote a line or two in the Guiness Book. His soulmate should be someone exciting, he must be, and Peter is delighted like he never has been. He stands there and grins at the mirror, feeling as if the owner of that name can see his smile through the mark, until his mother calls at him to put on his shirt and head to school.
Loki's mark has always been on his body- ever since he was little more than a wailing babe crying for milk, his mother tells him. It's a small crimson circle that pulses with his heartbeat, plain and unassuming, and Loki might have been disappointed with it if not for that fact that it moves. No-one, no-one in Asgard has such a mark, he's researched quite thoroughly to be sure. It is always still when he is looking at it, even when he spends an entire day not taking his eyes off it with a determination to see it budge, but he wakes each morning to find that the little dot has migrated from his ankle to his chest, from his chest to the back of his neck, and from there to any other part of his body. Once it climbs boldly to the dip behind his ear, hidden just so by the dark curls on his head. Loki slicks them back behind his ears, wanting to brag about it to anyone with eyes to see and ears to listen, but when he lifts his hair away the mark has fled far down to the small of his back. Loki finds that he is almost relieved, that as much as he would like to flaunt the uniqueness of his mark to Thor and his friends, he would like it to be his and his alone to see.
Peter is fifteen and pulling the second all-nighter of the week when his back flames up like someone slashed it open with a knife. It isn't the occasional warmth that comes from yet another line wriggling its way into his already crowded skin, more a peculiar burning sensation that reminds him of stepping on ice with bare feet. When he strips his shirt in front the mirror there is a new letter freshly carved into his back, high on his shoulders and reaching jagged claws into the rest of the mark: a letter of betrayal. It is black like the rest, impossibly large, and weeps an ugly fog of gray into the surrounding skin. It looks like a scream captured in ink, Peter thinks, and wants to hurt whoever it is that made his other half scream.
Loki is a few days of concentrated stress away from the scheduled assault on New York, and he discovers that his mark has sneaked out to the center of his palm in an unprecedented display of boldness. With reason, he thinks dully, as he stares at the eight adorable legs now sprouting from his mark and curling shyly inward in a crouch. A spider. Some distant, yet unbroken part of his mind registers a mild alarm at the possibility of having one of the giant spiders of Vanaheim as a soulmate, and he supposes he has now found a bright side to the prospect of dying early in a meaningless war if it means avoiding a bond with one of those abominations. These are fleeting thoughts at best, however, and the tender itch in his hand is infinitely more prominent a sensation. He closes his other palm over his spider, careful not to let anything slip on his face for a passing Chitauri to notice, and pretends he can feel the warmth of his mark purging the bitter chill in his blood.
Peter is exhausted, dozing in his Spiderman tights, and a month away from seventeen. He startles to wakefulness with an inexplicable feeling of danger gripping tightly at his rabbiting heart, and instantly knows something went terribly wrong on the other side of his mark. He has heard of the alien invasion in the upper part of New York, it's practically all over the news, and he wonders if his soulmate got caught in the crossfire or, worse, is a participant of the battle. It's like something dreadful is nipping at his ankles and whispering threats in his ears, and the urge to get up and flee is stronger than anything he has ever felt in years. If his soulmate needs to run, Peter hopes he runs; if he needs to stand up and face whatever is in front of him, he hopes he does so. He just hopes that he doesn't miss something important along the way, like he did, and end up replaying the moment over and over in his sleep with a regret that time does little to bury.
Peter is eighteen and he no longer feels like he should be running all the time. But he doesn't sense anything better from his mark, either; all that seeps through the letters nowadays is weariness, and an underlying sludge of resignation that clings to his mind like a particularly insistent migraine. Peter thinks it's time he started accepting that he might never come to meet his soulmate.
Peter is twenty-two, and there is a man on his bed.