Everything hurt. Like he'd been electrocuted, blasted apart, and put back together by someone who didn't care all that much what the end result looked like. Taskmaster tried to stretch, to see if everything was still attached, but it turned out he couldn't stretch all that far. He was buckled into a chair at the wrists and waist, and his legs weren't much excited about movement. That was okay. The chair was restful. The straps kept him from falling out.
Footsteps, someone trying to be quiet. Taskmaster opened one eye, winced at the light, and quickly closed it again.
"Come on," the someone muttered near his ear. "Wakey, wakey."
Taskmaster risked cracking an eye again. "Deadpool?"
"He lives!" Deadpool unbuckled one of Taskmaster's wrists. "Of all the secret evil laboratories in the world, you just had to walk into mine, huh?"
Taskmaster stifled a groan. "I don't think I'm awake enough to deal with you."
"Okay, Tasky." Deadpool patted him on the head. "Wow, your hair's soft. What conditioner do you use?"
"What?" Taskmaster reached up to his hair, and then dragged his hand back down over his nose and his mouth. "Did you take my mask?"
"I just got here." Deadpool deployed the jazz hands of wounded innocence. "This is just a guess, but maybe it was the person who strapped you into this chair thing? Which I'm planning to steal, so it would be helpful if you unbuckled yourself and got out of the ride."
"I don't remember anyone," muttered Taskmaster. "I don't remember ever seeing this chair before."
Deadpool stood for a second, arms crossed and tapping his foot. When Taskmaster didn't rip the straps off and spring out of the chair, Deadpool sighed and unbuckled Taskmaster's other arm himself.
"What's the last thing you do remember?" asked Deadpool. "Were you coming to the lab?"
"Yeah, I, uh." Taskmaster's brain pulsed uncomfortably as he tried to think back. "I heard that there was something going on down here, some kind of—"
"Quack superpower science?" Deadpool unbuckled Taskmaster's waist. "Enhance your natural prowess! Want your fireballs to burn brighter? Is your invulnerable skin not quite hard enough? For ten easy payments of $19.99, your telekinesis can go all night! Come out on top against Captain America, Wolverine, even She-Hulk!"
Taskmaster squinted at Deadpool. "Are you waggling your eyebrows?"
"I know it's hard to tell with the mask on," said Deadpool. "But I practice in the mirror every night. Out of the chair, buddy."
"Not your buddy." Taskmaster levered himself up, and stood upright for all of five seconds. Then he tottered, and nearly fell on Deadpool.
"Are you drunk?" Deadpool tried to steady Taskmaster, tipping him this way and that like he was trying to balance a coin on its edge. "You look drunk. Is this a funny storyline or a cautionary tale? Both? Am I supposed to stage an intervention? I could make a banner!"
"Shut up." Taskmaster pressed his palms against his eyes. Where the hell was his mask? "I'm not drunk. They did something."
"Power enhancement?" Deadpool prodded at Taskmaster a little more. "That's the superpower chair, by the way, which I am planning to confiscate for the greater good."
"The greater good of Wade 'Maniac' Wilson?" asked Taskmaster. "Or is Greater Good the name of your favorite call girl?"
"Wow, sick burn," said Deadpool. "No. I'm a good guy, baby. I'm stealing this chair from its rightful—but evil—owners so I can help people!"
"Definitely don't call me 'baby.'" Taskmaster shoved Deadpool away, and managed verticality on his own for a precious twenty seconds. Then he started to lean, and Deadpool caught his arm.
"But seriously, Tony, what happened?" asked Deadpool. "You don't have superpowers. Unless this really is a new marketing scheme for Viagra."
"Photographic reflexes." Taskmaster couldn't quite grab the memory, but he got flashes. Heard people talking in his head, felt the surge as the chair turned on. "Yeah. It's not really a superpower, unless it is. Interesting test-subject, they said."
Deadpool looked him up and down, clucking his tongue. "Poor not-baby. All right, I can come back for the chair. I think I should get you out of here first. You don't look so good."
"I'm fine," said Taskmaster. Which, you know, clearly a lie. Hopefully Deadpool would have the tact to accept it and move on.
"Nah," said Deadpool the Tactless. "You look like death. More than usual, which is impressive since usually your face is a skull."
Taskmaster shook him off and started for the door. One door out of the small room, and hopefully it led somewhere useful. He stumbled, just once, and Deadpool caught his elbow again.
"I'm fine," repeated Taskmaster. "What are you doing?"
"Helping?" Deadpool pulled Taskmaster's arm up and put it over his shoulders. "Come on, big guy, lean on me. I'll be your friend, I'll help you carry on, for it won't be long, hm hm hm hmmmm, somebody to leeean oooooon..."
Taskmaster bit the inside of his cheek. He actually was feeling better—whatever had been done to him must be wearing off. And it wasn't a good idea to rely on Deadpool. Too unpredictable. Too high a risk of getting stabbed, accidentally or on purpose. But Deadpool's shoulders were very broad and solid, and the hand Deadpool was sneaking onto Taskmaster's waist was steadying both his step and his nerves.
Taskmaster decided to be practical and accept the help. Provisionally. And he definitely wasn't going to thank Deadpool for it until they'd made it out successfully and with no double-crossing. Taskmaster took a supported step forward and said "What's in it for you?"
"Nothing!" Deadpool opened the door for him, leading to a hallway. "I'm just trying to help. I'm practically an X-Man now—"
"Fine, whatever." said Deadpool. "Maybe I'm just vulnerable to a pretty face. Look at those big brown eyes you've been hiding from me."
Taskmaster ignored him and concentrated on walking. Forget Deadpool being uncharacteristically nice, forget his missing mask, forget the woozy headache that was just starting to go away. Forget his missing guns, and shield, and bow and arrows, and—
Taskmaster stopped walking. "Give me one of those swords."
"Nuh-uh." Deadpool wagged a finger. "Help has its limits. These darlings have only known the touch of one man, and we're going to keep it that way."
Taskmaster frowned at him. "I don't like being unarmed."
"You're practically falling over," said Deadpool. "You'll impale yourself when you finally collapse. Shish-ka-Tony."
"I will carry you," said Deadpool. "Don't make me carry you. I don't want to carry you."
"Sure you don't." Taskmaster gave up and started walking again. "You probably have dreams where I'm hog-tied and thrown over your shoulder."
There were goons at the end of the hallway. Goons with guns.
Taskmaster considered the situation. He didn't have any weapons, armor, or tricks up his sleeve. Deadpool was an un-killable mercenary who clanked as he walked.
"All yours," said Taskmaster, and shoved Deadpool forward as the goons started firing.
"Aw, thanks!" Deadpool drew a katana. "Best reward for rescuing a damsel ever! Ow! Ow. Ow!"
Deadpool managed to stab two goons before collapsing on top of a third, riddled with bullets. Fortunately, that gave Taskmaster enough time to study the goons and figure out where they were going to shoot, and how. Mostly, they shot wide sprays of poorly-aimed bullets. Taskmaster would have given them an F in one of his schools.
Adrenaline was his friend. Adrenaline helped him get over the last lingering effects of the chair, to stand steady on his own two feet and also leap over the next volley of bullets. He landed with his feet in a goon's solar-plexus. As the goon squawked and tried to fling Taskmaster off, Taskmaster carefully kicked him in the face and elbowed another goon in the head.
It was all automatic. Easy to do, even when he wasn't feeling his best. Watch the opponent, memorize their moves, slip into their weak spots. Easy. Easier than normal.
Taskmaster broke the last goon's arm in three places and dropped him to the ground. The hallway was silent except for Taskmaster's breathing. And the panicked screams of a couple goons. And the gross squelching noises as Deadpool grew bits back. So, actually, the hallway was pretty loud. Taskmaster hoped there weren't any more guards to come and check on them.
"This reminds me of Budapest," burbled Deadpool.
Taskmaster froze in the act of prodding a possibly-unconscious goon to see if he would fight back. "I don't remember Budapest."
"Relax." Deadpool pushed himself to his feet with a series of sickening cracks. "It's one of my kooky pop culture references. I didn't expect you to get it."
"No, but. Shit." Taskmaster clenched his fists, digging his nails into the palms of his hands. It had been too easy. His mind was full of blanks, and most of them seemed new. "Where did we meet?"
"Uh." Deadpool brushed himself off, smearing blood and bile around his costume. "I guess it was Nevada? There were ninjas, and Weasel was working for you, and you had this really awful color-clashy get-up. Like, red cape, purple and yellow cat-suit underneath. I like the tac-suit and hoodie look a lot better, just so you know. Capes are impractical."
Taskmaster squinted at him. "See, my problem is that I can't tell if you're making that shit up or not. It sounds ridiculous, but your whole life is ridiculous, so—"
"Or," said Deadpool, "Maybe I met you before I ever got into costume, when we were recruited by The Wizard to help reform the Fab Four. Does that sound right?"
"No," said Taskmaster. "That doesn't sound familiar at all."
"Right, the Nevada thing is way more plausible," said Deadpool. "Must've been a continuity error. You don't remember anything about Nevada? You stabbed me! And cut off my finger! And then I kicked your ass. Sure, that happens a lot, but I think the very first time would be memorable."
Taskmaster bent down and picked up a gun from one of the goons that was still twitching. "It's the downside of photographic reflexes, Wilson. My memory is crap."
"Aw, don't be so down on yourself," said Deadpool. "That's just what happens when you get older. Like, I can't remember names very well. I called you 'loser teacher dude that I pantsed in front of his students' for weeks after we first met! And I'm bad with faces, too. Can't tell the difference between one former Mouseketeer and another, although I think that might be because Disney grows them in a vat."
"Shut up, I'm trying to tell you something important." Taskmaster opened the slide on the gun, checked the ammo, and then grabbed another gun to be safe. "There's only so much space in my head. Learning new things kicks old things out. Actions and techniques replace memories of what I've done, who I know, who I am."
"Yeah." Deadpool nodded. "Learn a new dance move, forget your mother's name."
"That's... an example." Taskmaster stuck the two guns in his back pockets "Sure."
"Was it worth it?" asked Deadpool, earnestly. "Was learning the foxtrot worth losing your childhood?"
"That's not exactly, uh." Taskmaster looked at Deadpool, once again trying to figure out if he was serious or not. Impossible to tell. "Yeah, usually. Hell, who needs to remember middle school? It's just never been this fast before. I could control it."
"What, like you could choose which memories to lose?" Deadpool made a thoughtful noise. "I have some memories I could do without."
"Yeah, I bet." Anyone who had lost and regrown multiple limbs could probably do with a good brainwash.
"I once listened to a whole Coldplay album," said Deadpool. "Even the techno remix at the end."
"I can't choose the memories," said Taskmaster, loudly. "But I can choose what I want to learn. Usually."
"You're saying the chair kicked you into hyper-drive?" Deadpool peered at Taskmaster's face. "So if I do this—"
Taskmaster tried to close his eyes, but it was too late. Deadpool's rocking air-guitar solo was mesmerizing.
"Thanks," said Taskmaster. "I hope my memories were worth the demonstration."
"Ooh, what did you forget?"
"I don't know," said Taskmaster. "Obviously. Can we try to fix this?"
"Maybe we could blindfold you?" suggested Deadpool. "You can't learn what you can't see!"
"Stop being a dipshit." Taskmaster looked around the hallway, noting the big door that the goons had been guarding. "That's a terrible idea. We're going to find who's in charge, and get them to reverse whatever they did."
"Hey!" Deadpool wagged a finger. "Who's leading this rescue?"
Taskmaster rolled his eyes and pressed his ear to the door.
"Me," said Deadpool. "I'm the leader."
"All right, fearless leader," said Taskmaster. "I think there are more henchmen in the next room. What do you suggest?"
Deadpool wiped his katana off on an unmoving goon. "Charge in, fight, demand to see the boss. We've got to get them to reverse whatever they did to you. Also give back your mask. It's creepy seeing you with actual expressions. Serious uncanny valley."
"Is that dumb geeky shit that I don't care about?" asked Taskmaster. "Or is that the memory I lost to your frigging air guitar?"
"The world will never know," said Deadpool, solemnly, and kicked the door open.
There were more henchmen, and they were inclined to be violent. Taskmaster tried not to pay too much attention to what the henchmen were doing as he maimed them, but it was hard. He caught flashes of movement out of the corner of his eye, and suddenly he was standing like the tall chick with nunchaku, shifting his weight like the fat guy with the gun, throwing a punch just like Deadpool did. Which was a shitty idea, because Deadpool had a healing factor and didn't care if he broke a knuckle from punching like an idiot.
Another thug came at Taskmaster, and he socked her in the jaw without thinking. Something in his hand popped and stiffened, and Taskmaster decided maybe kicking people would be a better idea.
There were only ten henchmen, so it didn't take very long. At the end, Taskmaster was left rubbing his face and trying to figure out what he'd lost, while Deadpool shook the left-over conscious thug in the air.
"Where's your boss?" demanded Deadpool. "Take me to your leader!"
"Fuck off," said the thug. "Ow! You slapped me!"
"Slapping is the least of the interrogation techniques at my command!" Deadpool shook the thug again. "Hey, Tony, you okay?"
"I guess," said Taskmaster. "Busted a knuckle."
"Don't I know you?" The thug peered over at him. "Hey, yeah! Taskmaster! I didn't recognize you at first without your mask."
"How did you recognize him, then?" asked Deadpool. "He's the blandest white dude I've ever seen."
"Way he stands." The thug tried to shrug in mid-air. "His build. The photographic reflexes thing. You capes think masks are impenetrable and shit. They're not a perfect disguise."
"They're not?" Deadpool dropped the thug in shock. "My whole life is a lie!"
Taskmaster stepped over and looked the thug up and down. Yeah, no. Not ringing any bells. "You sure I know you?"
"I was in your training school Upstate for a while," said the thug. "I saw you every day!"
"You." Taskmaster cocked his head. "You were in one of my schools? And you came out like this?"
The thug flushed. "Well, I didn't graduate per se. Might be more accurate to say I flunked out."
Taskmaster really couldn't remember. Christ. What other holes were showing up in his memory? But at least the thug remembered him.
"If you went to my school," said Taskmaster, "you know what I'll do if you don't tell me exactly where your boss is."
The thug thought about it, gulped, and pointed. "Out that door, left down the hallway, third door on the right, walk straight through the generator room, left down another hallway, second door on the right. That puts you into an antechamber, and then the control room is just through one more door. Please don't kill me, or maim me, or kick me too hard."
"Thanks for your cooperation," said Taskmaster. "If we let you run, you going to warn someone?"
"If you let me run," said the thug, "I won't stop until I'm in Acapulco."
Surprisingly sensible. Maybe the thug really was one of Taskmaster's students. Deadpool gave the thug a (gentle) kick-start out the door, and they watched her sprint down the hallway.
"Don't worry about it," said Deadpool.
"About what?" asked Taskmaster, absently. The thug nearly tripped over one of the fallen henchmen, but she made a nice recovery.
"Not remembering her." Deadpool patted Taskmaster's shoulder. "You're a busy guy. Hundreds of students. You can't remember everybody."
Taskmaster shook his head. "Say some names. People I ought to recognize."
"Uh." Deadpool rocked from one foot to another. "Wade Wilson."
"Yeah, that's you." Taskmaster tried not to look too relieved.
"Asshole corpse clone, check."
"Worked with the dude a million times. Wannabe tentacle pornstar." Taskmaster let a breath out. Maybe he'd only lost some details. His favorite TV show. Completed jobs. Nothing vital.
"Sandi," said Deadpool.
"Uh." Taskmaster concentrated. "Sandi... she got a last name?"
Deadpool didn't say anything, but the mask really didn't hide as much as you'd think.
"I guess she's important."
"You could say that." Deadpool shrugged. "That is definitely a thing you could say."
"Maybe that blindfold idea isn't completely terrible," said Taskmaster.
They ripped off a piece of a thug's shirt. One of the cleaner-looking pieces, without much blood.
It was actually kind of interesting, walking around in the dark. Taskmaster had to figure everything out for himself—how to keep his balance when he couldn't see the floor, how to avoid walls and obstacles, how to let Deadpool grab his hand to guide him without reflexively shaking him off or kneeing him in the guts.
There was a click as Deadpool opened the door to the next hallway. They stepped out, moving slowly while Taskmaster got his bearings.
"So," said Taskmaster. "Who hired you?"
"For the chair?" Deadpool squeezed Taskmaster's hand. "This is pro bono work, dude! I'm a superhero, now, and superheroing means doing the right thing even when there's no payday at the end."
"Really?" Taskmaster smirked. "Still no luck finding someone reckless enough to hire you, huh."
"Nothing to do with it," said Deadpool.
"And you're not planning to sell the chair to Professor X or some other nominally do-gooding type?"
"No way!" Deadpool threw his arm around Taskmaster's shoulders, incidentally curling his forearm around Taskmaster's throat and throttling him a little. "Xavier's dead right now—I figured Wolverine would be a better target."
"Get your hands off me, Wilson." Taskmaster pried Deadpool's arm away. "And who's Wolverine? Is that an X-Man? I can't keep track of the X-Men, there's like a billion of them."
Silence. Taskmaster could just barely hear Deadpool's breathing.
"Did you notice," said Deadpool, slowly, "that you kinda sound like me? A slightly higher-pitched me?"
Taskmaster sighed and stripped off the blindfold. "So much for that idea."
"I was kind of wondering how you would shoot people," said Deadpool. "Echolocation?"
"Is this the third door?" asked Taskmaster. "The one to the generator room?"
"Let's check!" Deadpool pulled it open.
Six burly henchmen were huddled over a table in small room, playing cards and drinking protein shakes. They looked up.
"Sorry, wrong door," said Deadpool, and shut it. "Let's see, one, two—we've gone too far, this is door number four."
"You couldn't have checked first?" Taskmaster jammed his shoulder against the door, as henchmen beat against it.
"Where's the fun in that?" Deadpool drew his katana. "Okay, on three."
"Oh, you can count to three now?" Taskmaster rolled his eyes.
"One, two, two and a half—" Deadpool winked, which should have been impossible with the mask on. "—Three!"
Taskmaster stepped to the side, and the door swung after him. The henchmen poured out, off-balance and totally unprepared.
It didn't take very long. Taskmaster tried to keep his eyes closed for most of the fight, but then he had to dodge a couple of flying bits, and then he couldn't remember why he should be keeping his eyes closed.
Deadpool finished up with a particularly nice flying leap, and then turned and bowed. Taskmaster gave him a golf clap.
"Yeah, Wilson, very nice. But, uh." Taskmaster scrubbed his hand over his mouth. "What happened to my mask?"
"Your—That thing's been gone for ages!" Deadpool peered at him. "Did you forget?"
"Forget what?" said Taskmaster.
"I don't want to do a recap." Deadpool looked away, petulant. "Was it the issue break already?"
Taskmaster snapped his fingers in front of Deadpool's nose, and winced when the movement jarred something in his hand. "Stop talking to the wall."
Deadpool shook himself. "Okay. We gotta get to the generator room."
"Why?" said Taskmaster. Weird that he couldn't remember. Something funny going on.
"Just trust me," said Deadpool, and grabbed Taskmaster's uninjured left hand to pull him along.
"Not as far as I could throw you," said Taskmaster, but he let Deadpool drag him anyway.
"What about as far as you could catapult me?" asked Deadpool. "I've been catapulted. You could catapult me a long ways."
The door to the generator room was apparently just up the hall. Deadpool dropped Taskmaster's hand to draw a gun, and Taskmaster pulled one of the guns from his back pocket.
"Just do a summary for me," said Taskmaster. "I can tell I'm having memory problems."
Deadpool sighed. "You got your reflexive memory enhanced, which apparently broke your normal-person memory, and now we're fighting our way to the control room so we can try and get whoever the big boss is to fix this. Happy?"
"Not really," said Taskmaster.
"Well," said Deadpool, "that's pretty normal."
Taskmaster opened the door.
The generator room was cavernous, dark, and thrumming. It kind of reminded Taskmaster of a sex dream he'd had once, and then he wrinkled his nose because no, it didn't. No way. He couldn't lose his memory and still recall inane sex dreams. Wilson must be rubbing off on him.
Not like that. Jesus.
"Seriously," said Deadpool, "are you always making weird faces under your mask? I'm seeing a whole new side of you!"
Taskmaster tried his best to school his face, but he was really out of practice. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been in public without his mask. Well. Obviously.
"Shut up," he said.
"I bet you stick your tongue out at people," said Deadpool. "Next time you get in a fight with Captain America, I'm going to imagine you duck-facing during the whole thing."
"Shut up," repeated Taskmaster.
"Now I finally know why you wear that mask all the time!" said Deadpool, getting even louder. Taskmaster couldn't figure out how a voice could be gravelly and piercing all at once.
"I think I hear something," muttered Taskmaster.
"It's not because you have a scarred and disfigured face," said Deadpool. "Which is good, because I was thinking of suing you for trademark infringement. Nor are you trying to protect your mysterious secret identity, because it turns out that you can't even remember your real name!"
"I mean it," said Taskmaster. "I think there are people hiding in here."
"No." Deadpool threw out one arm in a flamboyant gesture, which coincidentally threw the knife in his hand into a dark corner. Someone gurgled. "No, it's because you have the shittiest poker face in all of villain-dom!"
Taskmaster shifted his hand on the grip of his handgun. He didn't want to waste ammunition, since he actually couldn't remember how much was left in the gun, but—
Black-clad figures emerged from the darkness and started firing. Taskmaster dived for cover. Deadpool dived a moment later, after he got shot in the shoulder.
"Should've moved faster." Taskmaster glanced over his generator-based shelter and picked off two goons with two careful shots.
"I have a healing factor." Deadpool pulled out one of his huge, definitely overcompensating for something semi-automatics and started spraying bullets everywhere.
"No excuse for being lazy," said Taskmaster.
Goons were still firing at them, bullet after bullet right into the generator. Which was making noises. New noises. Noises like the frantic breaths right before an inevitable sneeze.
Taskmaster pushed himself backwards, but he already knew it was too late to run.
"Ready for my next trick?" asked Deadpool.
"Do I have a healing factor?" asked Taskmaster. "One that I've conveniently forgotten?"
Deadpool yanked a sheet of metal off of the generator, uncovering its sparking, shuddering mechanism. He propped the sheet sideways, stuck one foot on it, and grabbed Taskmaster around the waist.
"I already know this is a terrible idea," said Taskmaster.
"You said that about the blindfold." Deadpool wagged a finger. "And, yeah, that didn't work at all. But I'm confident in this idea, so it'll be fine!"
"What blindfold?" asked Taskmaster.
The goons kept firing, and the generator kept sounding louder and angrier. Maybe they could have run. Maybe they could still run. Taskmaster looked around for an exit, but Deadpool was still holding them tight to the metal sheet.
"Cowabunga, dude," said Deadpool. "Hey, does that reference make me sound dated? Be honest. I know the Tee Em En Tee are getting a reboot, but I'm pretty sure the only people excited about it are nerds. Old nerds."
"I have no idea what you're talking about." Taskmaster tried to shift himself around so Deadpool would catch most of the explosion.
"Horrors!" said Deadpool. "Cruel amnesia has robbed you of Saturday morning cartoons!"
One bullet too many, and the generator screeched like a frustrated cat and blew like a volcano.
"Cowabunga!" screamed Deadpool. He jumped up as the explosion hit the metal sheet, pulling Taskmaster up with him. Then Deadpool twisted, using his weight to keep them balanced, and they were surfing the shockwave. It was astounding, impossible, and absurd. Taskmaster had never seen anything like it.
Then he blacked out, because explosion and also because they hit a wall.
When he came to, Taskmaster's ribs hurt. And his hand, but that felt like an older injury. And Deadpool was snapping his fingers in his face. Taskmaster tried to break them on principle, but unconsciousness made him slow.
"Hi," said Deadpool. "The generator shrapnel took out most of the henchmen—and henchwomen—henchpeople—but I think we should hurry onward before anybody comes to find out what that noise was."
"Henchpeople?" asked Taskmaster.
"Yeah, I'm trying to be more open and accurate about the changing face of the workplace," said Deadpool. "Just doing my part by policing my own vocabulary."
"Generator shrapnel?" asked Taskmaster.
Deadpool stared at him. "What, are we playing the 'repeat bits of Deadpool's opening sentence' game?"
Taskmaster rubbed his face, and then blinked in surprise when his hand encountered bare skin instead of the hard planes of his mask. "I think I'm having some issues with my memory."
"That's old news," said Deadpool. "Unless, wait, unless it's new news! Do you have a concussion? How many fingers am I holding up?"
Deadpool waved all five fingers in Taskmaster's face, and Taskmaster made another bid at breaking them. He managed to snap Deadpool's index and middle finger this time. He was definitely recovering.
"I'm fine." Taskmaster struggled to his feet, took a deep breath and winced. "Fill me in. What are we doing?"
"What do I need to tell you?" Deadpool started walking backwards to one end of the big room, picking his way past henchpeople and chunks of machinery without looking. "How much have you got left?"
"Uh." Taskmaster followed, concentrating hard. "You're Deadpool, I remember some things about you. I'm Taskmaster. I should be wearing a mask. What happened to my mask?"
"Forget the mask," said Deadpool. "Is that it?"
"I guess," said Taskmaster.
"I just explained the whole situation to you, and now I have to do it again?" Deadpool groaned. "Wow, this is tedious. I'm going to write this down. Do you see a pen anywhere?"
"I might have forgotten how to read," muttered Taskmaster. Pessimistic, sure, but who knew? "Is there a sign somewhere? Better check."
"Seriously?" Deadpool nearly tripped over a henchperson. "This is a Very Special Episode. Literacy matters, kids!"
"What kind of lab doesn't have signs on the walls?" asked Taskmaster. "Don't people get lost in here?"
"Wait." Deadpool narrowed his eyes. "Reading is a practiced, automatic action. It's not part of declarative memory at all!"
"Yeah, I have no idea what any of that means," said Taskmaster.
"This is totally unfair," said Deadpool. "I've got this all figured out, and you can't remember enough to be impressed!"
"Pretty sure I'm never impressed by you," said Taskmaster. "That's not a memory, by the way. Just a gut feeling."
Deadpool kicked open the door out of the room. Without thinking, Taskmaster stepped into the hallway and turned left.
When he blinked, Deadpool was in front of him, mask-covered face inches away from Taskmaster's own. Taskmaster gritted his teeth and didn't step back.
"You remember more than you're letting on," said Deadpool. "Is this a set-up? Waiting for me to let my guard down so you can stab me in the back? And the front? And probably also the sides?"
"Nah," said Taskmaster. "If someone's paying me to assassinate you, I can't remember who."
"Maybe you want the chair to yourself," said Deadpool. "You can't have it. I need that chair."
"What chair?" asked Taskmaster.
Deadpool stared at him, the white eyes of his mask unblinking. Taskmaster met them long enough that his own eyes started to water.
"Quick," said Deadpool. "Name all fifteen members of the Spice Girls!"
"Spice girls?" Taskmaster blinked, finally. "What, like—paprika? Is this some internet thing?"
Deadpool sagged. "All right. You're not faking it. Some chair enhanced your reflex memory and messed up your memory memory, and now we're fighting our way through this building to try and figure out how to fix it. It's fun."
"Fun for normal people, or just fun for you?" asked Taskmaster.
Deadpool shrugged. "Ready for the next room?"
Taskmaster thought about it. "Is it going to be full of people trying to kill us?"
"I'd say ninety percent chance of yes, eight percent chance of an empty room, and two percent it's full of candy and kittens." Deadpool hefted his gun and put another clip in it. "I mean, you never know!"
Taskmaster stood to the side, hands clutched around his own gun, and let Deadpool swing the door open.
It was full of people who, after about five seconds of surprise and confusion, started trying to kill them.
Taskmaster tried to keep his memory problems in mind as he dodged bullets and punched faces. It didn't seem like he could stop himself from learning things—it was automatic now, automatic and instinctual as walking or reading a sign. But maybe, if he just concentrated hard enough, he could remember what he was doing.
A thug came at him with a knife grip Taskmaster had never seen before. Not a good grip. The knife was caught between thumb and two fingers—hard for the thug to maneuver the knife, easy for Taskmaster to knock it out of his hand. Taskmaster still felt the fingers on his right hand (the hurt hand, the one holding his gun) curling to match as he blocked the thug's thrust and then kicked him in the balls.
You are Taskmaster. That's Deadpool. He calls you Tony, and you're not friends except for when you are. You're having memory problems. You're fighting your way toward a fix.
Taskmaster repeated it to himself over and over, his lips moving silently as he elbowed a henchperson in the throat and then shot a goon who had been sniping at him from across the room. This was important. He couldn't lose what was going on completely. He had to remember.
Taskmaster. Deadpool. Memory problems. You're fixing it.
Some asshole who thought she was an MMA star threw a spin-kick at Taskmaster. He caught her leg with his free hand and flipped her backwards into the wall.
Taskmaster. Deadpool. You're having memory problems, demonstrated by the fact that you can't remember where you are or why you're having memory problems.
Deadpool cannoned into Taskmaster's back, conveniently stopping a knife that someone had just thrown in that general direction.
"Hi," gurgled Deadpool. "All okay? Still remember me?"
Taskmaster pulled the knife out of Deadpool's chest and threw it back, lodging it in a thug's shoulder. "Yeah," he said. "You're Deadpool. All okay."
Except his control was slipping. Taskmaster reminded himself to breathe. Taskmaster. Deadpool. Memory. He didn't have to remind himself how to break the next goon's arm.
Deadpool grabbed Taskmaster's shoulders, swinging himself up so he could kick two henchpeople in the heads at once. "Oh, yeah!" he whooped. "What's my name?"
Taskmaster. Deadpool. Memory. That frigging unreliable, unique, infuriating memory.
"I said," Deadpool whispered in Taskmaster's ear, "what's my name?"
"I thought that was some kind of rhetorical question," said Taskmaster. "Y'know. Who's your daddy."
"Search me," said Deadpool. "Come on, Tony. This is your regularly scheduled memory check-in."
Taskmaster looked around. The eleven goons in the small room were all on the floor, injured, unconscious, and unthreatening.
"Tony?" he asked.
"That's not my name," said Deadpool. "That's your quote unquote real name. Although I always thought it was your lack of imagination shining through. I mean, Tony Masters? You could have picked anything! Brock Dickhorn. Gilbraith the Mighty. Anything. Using Tony Masters as an alias is like a Dee en Dee player creating a super powerful archmage and naming them Bob."
"Shut up," said Taskmaster. "I don't remember why I picked that, but I'm sure I had a good reason."
"Yeah, whatever." Deadpool kicked a couple knives away from their unconscious owners. "Now do me. What's my name?"
"Deadpool?" tried Taskmaster.
"My other name," said Deadpool. "Guess again."
"Uh." It was on the tip of Taskmaster's tongue, really. Christ. "Starts with... a 'W'?"
"Good start," said Deadpool. "Keep going."
Taskmaster concentrated hard, hard enough that he almost missed the movement over Deadpool's shoulder. One of the goons was raising their gun again, aiming right at both of their heads.
The goon squeezed the trigger and Taskmaster dived, dragging Deadpool with him. Deadpool yelped, but went with the program, and Taskmaster dived in the direction of the goon, because he believed in meeting his problems head-on and with an appropriate amount of brutality. The goon screeched as they were squashed by two moderately-sized mercenaries.
The following scuffle was brief but confusing. Everyone was trying to reach the loose gun. Deadpool was trying to free a katana or a knife or something to fight with besides his hands. Taskmaster was mostly trying really hard not to get accidentally shot by anyone. Or shot on purpose. He would just generally prefer not to be shot.
The goon tried to throttle Deadpool with their thighs, which Taskmaster had never seen attempted with quite that level of ineptitude before. Deadpool sputtered, and Taskmaster clocked the goon in the head with the gun in his hand. Which he'd just realized he was holding. Where had that come from?
Taskmaster stood up, feeling dizzy and a little ill. Something was seriously wrong. His ribs hurt, for one thing. And something was wrong with his right hand.
"Thanks," said a weirdo in red and black spandex. He was rubbing his throat, and an unconscious gender-indeterminate person was lying on the ground next to him. "Man, that henchperson had really thick thighs. Thighs of evil."
Taskmaster took a step back, not retreating, just establishing a safe distance. "Who the hell are you?"
There was a pause. The weirdo cocked his head, like he was listening to something. "Yeah," he muttered. "Must be. Blank slate."
Taskmaster shifted his grip on the gun. Okay. Inventory: no idea where he was, who he was with, or what he was doing. No mask. "Where's my mask?"
"Don't worry about the mask." The weirdo stood up, brushing himself off. His costume clinked and clacked from all the weaponry.
"Don't move," said Taskmaster. "Stay right where you are."
The weirdo ignored him and took a step forward. "No, no," he said to himself. "That introduction's too long. Tony doesn't have the back issues, he can't look up all the references."
Taskmaster carefully aimed the gun at the weirdo's chest.
"Hey!" The weirdo waved his hands. "There's no need for that, Tony. We're friends."
Taskmaster looked the weirdo up and down. Spandex union suit and full mask, katanas, guns, clearly making a goony expression even though Taskmaster couldn't see his face at all.
"We're not friends," said Taskmaster, with certainty. "And my name isn't Tony."
"Okay, not friends," said the weirdo. "Do you really not remember me at all? Deadpool? Ringing any bells?"
"What do you mean, 'not friends?'" asked Taskmaster. "That's a lot of emphasis to put on one word."
"It's complicated," said Deadpool. "Like—fellow mercenaries, usually not on the same side, try to kill each other sometimes, but then other times we work a job together and eat bugles and make fun of each other. I like bugles. Ergo, I like you! Sort of."
Deadpool took another step forward, and Taskmaster shot him in the chest without really thinking about it. Deadpool coughed, wetly. Then he fell over.
"Ow," he mumbled. "Okay. I thought you wouldn't actually shoot me. I don't why I thought that."
Taskmaster knelt down beside Deadpool and pressed the muzzle of the gun to his head. "Look," he said. "You won't die from that, as long as you work with me. I want you to tell me what's going on. Who I was fighting. Where my mask is. Right now. Or I shoot you in the head, and you will die."
"Yeah, yeah." Deadpool patted at his own chest, his red glove coming away stained with more red. "You know what I want?"
"Don't really care," said Taskmaster. "Talk."
"I want a re-take," gurgled Deadpool. "Hey, did I ever show you this?"
Deadpool twisted his hands together until he'd made a vaguely snake-like finger puppet. His pinkies crossed and made a forked little tongue, and Deadpool hissed a bit, for effect. Taskmaster tried to keep his eyes on Deadpool's face—mask—whatever, but his gaze kept darting down to the stupid snake and he could feel his free hand curling instinctively into the same shape—
Taskmaster was holding a gun to a stranger's head. The stranger nudged Taskmaster's hand away, and Taskmaster jerked back, scrambling to his feet and then stepping out of reach. Guns were a ranged weapon. Keep out of the stranger's reach, but with a clear line of fire. His side stung as Taskmaster took a breath. What was going on?
"Okay." The stranger stood up. "I'm Deadpool. We're friends, if you don't count broken bones, stab wounds, and the occasional severed limb. I need you to—"
"Shut up," said Taskmaster. "I'm thinking. Where's my mask?"
Deadpool held out an empty, placating hand. "Listen, Tony. Despite being covered in blood and armed to the teeth, I mean you no harm. This katana? Purely for show." Deadpool leaned a little closer, beaming. Taskmaster shot him in the kneecap.
Deadpool yelped and collapsed. "Wow, that stings! All right. Try, try again. You know how to do this?"
The hand-puppet looked a little like a dragon. Maybe a dog. Taskmaster cocked his head, looking at the way the fingers twisted together—
"Hey, buddy," said the stranger on the floor in front of him. "This is a, uh. A dream! Except if you die in the dream, you die in real life. Okay? So it's really important that you listen to me and not shoot me even a little."
Taskmaster looked around the room, at the unconscious and bleeding bodies surrounding them. "What happened here?"
"Don't worry about them," said the stranger. "This is just a dream, right? Wooo. Dreeeeam. I'll just get up, and then we can go through that door and find the final boss and then you can wake up."
"Stay right where you are." Taskmaster swung his gun over to sight on the stranger's forehead. "I'm thinking."
"Good for you," said the stranger. "But we're a little short on time—"
"Shut up," said Taskmaster. This was supposed to be a dream? Seriously? Sure, he didn't remember how he'd got here or what was going on, but maybe he'd been drugged. Yeah. And beaten, because his hand was sore and his ribs felt like they'd been busted up. This guy could be the asshole who drugged him. Maybe took his mask, too. Where was his mask?
Taskmaster bit down on the inside of his cheek, and didn't wake up.
"Hello?" said the stranger. "Did you just forget what you're doing again?"
"If this is a dream," said Taskmaster, "what happens if I kill you?"
"Bad idea," said the stranger. "Bad idea, bad idea—ow!"
Taskmaster shot a second time, just to make sure. The stranger kept twitching, even with a couple bullet-holes in him.
"Hey," gasped the stranger. "C'mere."
Taskmaster would shoot him again, but it would just be a waste of ammo. He leaned in, instead, just in case the stranger said something useful.
"Do you know?" asked the stranger.
"Know what?" Taskmaster prodded the stranger irritably.
"How to do—" The stranger paused to cough. "—The Macarena?"
Taskmaster was crouched in front of a stranger with rapidly-healing bullet wounds. There were bodies all around them, and Taskmaster was holding a gun.
"What the hell is going on?" asked Taskmaster.
"I just taught you the Macarena," said the stranger, and launched himself at Taskmaster.
Taskmaster tried to fire the gun, but it clicked on empty. He used it as a club instead, lashing out with the stranger's hands fastened around his throat.
"I'm Deadpool, you're Tony," said Deadpool. "We're friends, probably? But you keep trying to kill me, now that your memory's gone, so maybe we aren't friends! The true self only shows through after your freak memory has been artificially altered and you've lost all recollection of basically everything, isn't that how the saying goes? Also, I'm really glad you forgot about your second gun."
"Get off," grunted Taskmaster, trying to pry Deadpool's hands away. His ribs were sending little shocks of pain every time Deadpool bounced into him, and a little more wrestling might turn an (apparently) bruised rib into a fractured rib into a broken one.
"No, I'm thinking it might be easier to fix this problem if you're unconscious," said Deadpool. "I've reconsidered my position on carrying you everywhere. I could just tote you and occasionally use you as a club until we find the magic serum that resets everything to status quo. I don't mind. You're not that heavy."
Taskmaster drove his head forward and right into Deadpool's nose.
"Ow! 'uck. 'uck you!" squeaked Deadpool. He didn't let go of Taskmaster's throat, but he backed off a little, looking wary. Taskmaster grabbed one of his hands and broke three fingers.
"Ow!" Deadpool dropped him. "You little—Do you 'member my healin' fatter?"
"Your what?" asked Taskmaster.
"Healin' fatter!" Deadpool jabbed one of his broken fingers at Taskmaster's face. "You've shot me four times, and you don' 'member my healin' fatter. Thass col', man."
"I can't understand you at all," said Taskmaster. Smugly, but Deadpool couldn't see the smirk under his—wait. Where was his mask?
"Okay, okay." Deadpool shoved himself backwards. "I'mma try 'gain. Take five. Lookit this."
Deadpool grabbed two knives and a gun from his holsters and started juggling. That wasn't very impressive or even threatening, especially since Deadpool kept catching the knives by the sharp end. Taskmaster stared in confusion, and then blinked. And blinked again.
"Hi," said the stranger in front of him.
"Hi," said Taskmaster, automatically.
The stranger was in a red and black costume, full face mask. He was armed. There was blood dripping out from under his mask and from cuts on his fingers, and his nose was crooked. He was clearly smiling as broadly as humanly possible. Maybe even a little more.
Taskmaster felt for his own mask, to pull it down over his face, but it wasn't there. His hand ached as it closed on empty air.
"Everything okay?" asked the stranger, gently. "How are you feeling?"
"Uh." Taskmaster blinked harder and took a calming (surprisingly painful) breath. "Not great. I think a couple of my ribs are bruised, maybe fractured. What's happening? Who are you?"
"You're having memory problems," said the stranger. "You're Tony, I'm Deadpool, and I'm going to get you out of here, okay? We're friends. Really good friends. We're such great friends that we make out sometimes. Right? You can trust me."
Taskmaster realized that he was holding a gun, and raised it.
"Aw, come on!" whined Deadpool. "Why do you have to be so suspicious? Why can't you be one of the naive, child-like amnesiacs?"
"'We make out sometimes?'" Taskmaster looked Deadpool up and down and raised his eyebrows. "Seriously?"
"What?" Deadpool bristled. "You're a lucky man, Tony. I got groupies clamoring for my hot bod all over the place. At least three groupies! Maybe only two. I don't keep track."
"Am I supposed to be one of the groupies?" asked Taskmaster. He meant it to sound scornful, but it came out curious instead. He couldn't remember. He couldn't remember anything.
"I'll prove it to you," said Deadpool. "Pucker up. True love's kiss will unlock the dam of the mind!"
Taskmaster eyed him. "You can't kiss with a mask on."
"That's your only objection?" Deadpool sounded surprised for a second, and then he was grinning again. "The mask stays. You wouldn't like what's underneath."
"I'm a friend-with-benefits and I've never seen your face?" Taskmaster twitched his finger on the trigger of his gun. "Yeah, sure."
"Look, I can set whatever boundaries I want," said Deadpool. "But, uh. I guess you have seen my face. Every once in a while."
Deadpool rolled the mask up to the bridge of his nose. The skin revealed was pockmarked and blistered—clearly something was wrong or had been wrong. Also there was blood all over his face for some reason. But Taskmaster had been raised to be polite (probably, he actually had no idea), so he just nodded.
"Doesn't look so bad," he said.
"Looks fricking awesome," muttered Deadpool. "I heard scars are in this season."
Taskmaster leaned in a little closer to look, keeping the gun between them. "It's not herpes, is it? I don't want to kiss you if it's herpes."
"It's not herpes!" Deadpool grimaced. "It's not any kind of STD. It's not even mono. Me and my face are perfectly safe."
"Says the guy with a katana on his back," said Taskmaster. "And is that an AK-47 strapped to your thigh, or are you just happy to see me?"
"Be quiet and let me kiss you to prove my friendship," said Deadpool.
Taskmaster sneered at him instead of backing away, which was probably a mistake. Deadpool grabbed him by the back of his head and mashed their faces together, with all the teeth-clacking and forehead-bumping that implied. Taskmaster thought about shoving him away, but it got better fast. Deadpool kissed like he was trying to prove something. Which was actually pretty much what he was trying to do, so... okay. At first Taskmaster was too surprised to reciprocate, and then he had Deadpool's tongue in his mouth, which was an even bigger surprise. Deadpool kept kissing him, fingers kneading the back of Taskmaster's scalp, and it didn't feel wrong.
Except for the part where Deadpool's nose whistled while he kissed. That was definitely wrong.
Slowly, Taskmaster matched Deadpool's movements. He pressed back against Deadpool, met Deadpool's tongue with his own, fisted his hand in the back of Deadpool's mask. He lowered the gun and lost himself in making out.
After a while, the other man leaned back, panting a little. "Wow. Uh. You were kind of stiff at the beginning, but you really picked it up. You kiss exactly like I—oh, shit."
"This is kind of awkward," said Taskmaster, "but I have no idea who you are."
The other man screamed into his hands. Taskmaster took the time to check the gun he was holding. Unloaded. Weird. Taskmaster might not be able to remember where he was, who he was, or why his ribs ached when he tried to breathe, but he was pretty sure he was the kind of guy with a loaded gun.
"You got any ammo?" asked Taskmaster.
"You're not getting any ammo." The other man rolled his mask down over his chin. "Listen, I'm Deadpool, you're Tony, and we are in deep doo-doo. Okay? I need you to do what I tell you and try not to murder me. We're friends. You can tell we're friends because we were just making out."
"Right." That sounded reasonable. Or relatively believable, anyway. Taskmaster had been kissing him, even if he couldn't remember why. Taskmaster dropped the useless gun. "I'm having memory problems, huh?"
"I think you're actually smarter without useless facts cluttering up your head," said Deadpool. "You haven't even asked about your mask yet."
"Yeah," said Taskmaster, slowly. "Where is my mask?"
"Sometimes I think you care more about that thing than you do about me," said Deadpool. "We need to get moving, but I have a question first. Are you only bisexual when you're amnesiac, or is this a full-time thing?"
"How should I know?" asked Taskmaster. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and it came away with flakes of dried blood. Taskmaster felt his face for a wound, and when he didn't find one he glared suspiciously at Deadpool.
"Don't like labels, huh?" Deadpool shrugged. "Come on."
The next room was full of beeping machinery, sinister chemicals, and also a shit-ton of goons. Who were all clustered near the door, looking curious.
"Hi," said Deadpool. "I'm guessing that these rooms aren't sound-proofed."
"Nope," said a goon.
"So you heard everything."
"Yep," said another goon.
"Took bets," said a third.
"I was pretty sure you were going to kill each other," said a fourth.
"Nah," said Deadpool. "I mean, Tony only tried to kill me two—three—four times. Which isn't that bad, considering. Who bet on making out?"
The goons looked at each other, then back, toward a very tall and skinny goon who also had a huge grin.
"Congratulations," said Taskmaster. "You win the big prize."
"They gave me fifty to one against," said the tall goon, cheerfully. "I mean, we were only betting with quarters, but—"
"Why are you talking?" screeched someone in back. "Get them!"
"Oh," said the goons, collectively. "Right."
It was chaos. Several dozen goons should have a big advantage against two people, except when the two people have their back to a wall, are much better trained, and also are Taskmaster and Deadpool. Deadpool took out the first two goons while doing a handstand. Not for any good reason, as far as Taskmaster could tell. Just because he liked handstands.
Taskmaster ducked under goon's swing, memorizing the movement and popping up into the empty space left as the goon overbalanced. Taskmaster drove his elbow into the goon's stomach, feinted right with his fist, and—
Taskmaster stepped over someone lying at his feet, punched upward at a new enemy. He picked the goon up by the throat, watched and learned the pattern of blinks that meant someone was going unconscious from lack of oxygen—
Taskmaster watched a goon fire at him, once, twice, picked up a fallen gun and mimicked him exactly—
Taskmaster tackled some dweeb in red and black spandex, raised a fist to punch his teeth in—
"It's me! Deadpool! Friend!" Deadpool caught Taskmaster's fist. "Do you know what's going on?"
"Not a clue." Taskmaster found that he was remarkably chill about only having memories of about the last thirty seconds. Apparently he'd gotten used to it. "Memory problems?"
"Congratulations," said Deadpool. "Right on the first try."
"How many times have you had to explain that to me?" asked Taskmaster.
"Eighty million." Deadpool pushed Taskmaster off of him. "Hey, you see that geeky scientist, with the big head? Wanna bet that he's got something to do with this?"
"How much are we betting?" Taskmaster eyed the scientist, who had the awkwardest run he'd ever seen. Or the only run he'd ever seen. Whichever. "You got any cash on you?"
"Weird how your personality doesn't change when you're losing memories," said Deadpool. "What do you figure—lazy writer?"
"There's stuff I just know," said Taskmaster. "It's in my bones. I know how my memory works, I know I should be wearing a mask, I know my name is Taskmaster—"
"Not Tony? I like the name Tony. I take back everything I said about a lack of imagination."
"Taskmaster." Taskmaster rolled his eyes. "And now I know that you're annoying and incomprehensible, thanks for that. Oh, and I know that scientist is getting away."
Deadpool threw some knives. The scientist screeched as they pinned him to the wall.
"Look at that." The man in red and black spandex walked over to the old man in a lab coat. "See the precision? Trapped him with his own coat, and didn't even nick his flesh. Oh, except for the knife stuck in his shoulder. Whoops."
Taskmaster looked around the room. Unconscious bodies, wrecked equipment, and for some reason it felt like a familiar sight.
"You're having memory problems," said the man in spandex. "I'm Deadpool, I'm trying to help, yada yada yada. I think this scientist guy is going to tell us how to fix your brain, right buddy?"
"Get your hands off of me!" screamed the old man.
"Relax, it was just a friendly pat." Deadpool patted the old man again, right on the knife in his shoulder. "You experimented on my friend Tony over here—"
Taskmaster glanced around for this Tony. Deadpool sighed.
"—And now his memory is broken. Sure, it's kind of funny, but it's a gimmick and it's starting to get annoying. How. Do. We. Fix?"
The old man glared at Deadpool and didn't say anything. Deadpool leaned a little more insistently on the knife. Taskmaster wiped away some sweat and blood from his face, and realized that he wasn't wearing his mask. That wasn't right.
"Where's my mask?"
"I think your mask-obsession is kind of unhealthy," said Deadpool. "And this is coming from a guy who literally sits around in boxers and a mask all the time. That's like getting an intervention from a cokehead."
"Mask," muttered Taskmaster as he started to search the room. "Mask, mask."
"Whatever," said Deadpool and turned back to the old man. "You see why we need to fix this? Tony's been reduced to one word! He'll never win scrabble again!"
One of the stainless steel lab tables had a pile of stuff on it. Taskmaster sorted through a sword, a bow and arrow, a big metal shield, a fistful of smoke pellets, and four sets of brass knuckles, finally unearthing a skull-like mask. He pulled it on, and everything seemed right with the world. Finally.
Taskmaster had no idea how long it had been since he lost his mask, but he couldn't remember the last time he'd worn it. So it had been much too long.
"Aw, your little face." Deadpool beamed at him. "You look so pleased and, uh, skeletal. Whose great idea was that mask, anyway? Did you design it when you were thirteen?"
"Big talk from a guy wearing footie pajamas," said Taskmaster. "Who does all this other stuff belong too?"
"Looks like yours," said Deadpool. "Also, this is a high-performance mercenary outfit. Not pajamas. Spandex pajamas would be waaaaaay uncomfortable."
"All of this is mine?" Taskmaster picked up the sword. The grip did fit easily in his hand. "Even the brass knuckles?"
"Who needs four sets of brass knuckles?"
"You like to be prepared," said Deadpool. "Some people might say overprepared."
There were straps or sheathes or pockets for all of the equipment. Taskmaster stowed it away, and then hefted the sword again. Nice balance. Looked like strong steel. He had good taste. Taskmaster walked over to the old man, swung the sword up and under the old man's chin. One-handed, by the way, which was an impressive display of control and forearm muscles. Not that anyone seemed to appreciate it.
"Start talking," said Taskmaster.
"Get that sword away from me," said the old man.
"No, that's not how this is going to work." Taskmaster let his arm twitch, nicking the old man's throat. "The sword is not going away. If you tell me how to fix what you did, I'll refrain from decapitating you."
"Nice," said Deadpool. "Very cold. I'm already forgetting what your face looks like."
Taskmaster ignored him. "Also," he said to the old man, "what the hell is going on with your ears? You look like an elf."
"Don't you know who I am?" hissed the old man.
Taskmaster looked to Deadpool.
Deadpool shrugged. "I'm a superhero now! I don't have to know things before beating people up. I just came to take out the magic super chair. And then I got distracted by trying to save you. Typical superhero mission drift."
The old man growled. "I am Doctor Sivana, you cretin!"
"Wait." Deadpool pulled off Sivana's glasses, put them on himself, and then peered at Sivana. "Aren't you from the Other Publisher? Is this an unsanctioned cross-over?"
"What are you babbling about?" said Sivana. "Give those back!"
"Don't worry about Deadpool," said Taskmaster. "Focus on the sword. You got a way to reverse what you did to me?"
"You," said Sivana, "are an imbecile. This is what you came here for? That's all?"
"My brain is kind of important to me," said Taskmaster.
"Yeah," said Deadpool. "I didn't think Tony's brain was all that great until he started trying to murder me just because he didn't know who I was. It was devastating. Totally lacked the personal touch of a normal Tony-trying-to-murder-me."
"There's a button on the back of the chair." Sivana ground the words out from between gritted teeth. "It's labeled 'reverse' in very clear, very large letters. I build fail-safes into all of my inventions! Just press the button, you baboons!"
There was a pause as Taskmaster decided what to do about the 'baboon' crack. Deadpool was busy face-palming.
"Where's this chair?" asked Taskmaster.
"It's sort of on the whole other side of the complex." Deadpool sighed. "I should have looked at it more carefully. Or, uh, at all. What kind of villain labels their fail-safes?"
"A competent one!" said Sivana.
"Well, shit," said Taskmaster. "So we're going to have to fight our way over there?"
"Nah, we already fought everybody on our way here." Deadpool slapped Taskmaster on the back. "Now we just have to be careful not to trip over anybody. Any bodies. Heh."
"Oh." Taskmaster lowered the sword. "Cool. Guess you get to keep your head today, Sivana."
"Thank you." Sivana tried to rub his neck, but both of his arms were still pinned to the wall.
"It must be nice," said Deadpool. "Not remembering all the hard work we did to get here. It's like you're getting a freebie from your past self."
"Yeah, except for the, uh." Taskmaster stretched a little, counting. "Bruises, scrapes, and two—no, three cracked ribs. And I think one of my knuckles is busted."
"And you shot me a half-dozen times, but do you hear me complaining?" Deadpool started walking.
"Yes," said Taskmaster, a couple steps behind. "You're complaining right now."
"I just can't believe you shot me!" said Deadpool. "Me! I thought we were friends, Tasky."
"Don't call me that."
"What are you doing?" screeched Sivana. "You can't just leave me here!"
"Can so," said Deadpool, and walked through into a small room.
"Too bad I can't remember shooting you," said Taskmaster. "It was probably really satisfying."
Deadpool mumbled something.
"What was that?"
"Nothing!" Deadpool pushed open the next door, revealing a hallway.
"Because it sounded like 'that's not the only satisfaction you got, hurr hurr hurr.'"
"Race you to the chair!" said Deadpool, and took off running.
Taskmaster grinned under his mask and kept following at a much slower pace.
They went down a corridor, through a big equipment room, down another corridor, through a room, down another corridor. There were people groaning everywhere. Taskmaster stepped on a few hands and knocked a few guns away, but they were in too much of a hurry to stop and kick people while they were down.
Taskmaster was in too much of a hurry, anyway. Deapool had apparently forgotten all about the race and kept falling behind to poke people and snigger.
"I don't know where we're going!" called Taskmaster, after the third or fourth time.
"Yeah, yeah." Deadpool ran forward to catch up. "Just walk this way."
Taskmaster did. After a minute of walking the same way as Deadpool, he started to forget what they were doing, where they were going, and who this other guy was. But since he was already following the weirdo, Taskmaster figured he might as well keep going.
They pushed open a door and stopped walking. There was a room, there was a chair. The weird stranger with a mask looked at Taskmaster expectantly.
"Sorry," said Taskmaster. "I have literally no idea what you want me to do."
The stranger sighed. "Yeah, I figured. You're basically a goldfish right now. Three-second memory, no awareness of life outside your little bowl, distinctive scale color, domesticated in China over a thousand years ago."
Taskmaster stared at the stranger, who shrugged. "Okay," he admitted. "The metaphor got away from me a bit."
"Goldfish can remember things for at least five months," said Taskmaster.
The stranger opened his mouth, didn't say anything, and then closed it again. "You know what?" he said finally, "I am super done with trying to figure out the rules of your memory loss. That thing has more plot holes than, uh. Hm."
Taskmaster waited for the end of the sentence. Man, his ribs hurt. What was that about?
"I'm too stressed to think of a funny pop culture reference," said the stranger. "Especially since you probably won't get it. Skip that, skip the questions, and sit down in the chair."
Taskmaster cocked his head. "Why?"
"I said skip the questions." The stranger tried to shove Taskmaster toward the chair, but Taskmaster just stepped out of the way. "Come on, we're almost done with this comedy routine."
"I don't think I want to sit in the chair." Taskmaster dodged another attempt to push him at it. "Especially not when some weirdo in a clown costume wants me in it."
"It's not a clown costume!" said the stranger. "Why do you keep picking on—No. We're almost done. Jeez, being the responsible one sucks. I need you to get better so I can go back to being wacky and charming."
"You're not charming," said Taskmaster, instinctively.
The stranger grinned for a second. "You'd be surprised. Do you trust me?"
"Why would I trust you?"
"I've got an honest face."
"I can't see your face."
"Just get in the blank blink blonk chair, okay?"
Taskmaster sat down, on the grounds that he didn't actually have a good reason not to, and also the stranger looked about ready to stab him.
"What are you going to do?" asked Taskmaster.
The stranger was scrabbling around at the back of the chair. "...Labeled in fricking comic sans. What did you say?"
"What's the chair for?"
"Don't worry about it," said the stranger. "You won't feel a thing."
"That's not reassuring at—"
A button clicked. Something changed in the air. More importantly, Taskmaster felt like his spine was replaced with raw electricity. He probably screamed, but his ears were buzzing and his mind was being rewritten with fire, so he didn't notice.
Taskmaster's vision cleared slowly, black fading into grey, grey fading into a too-bright room. There were still traces of black floating across his eyes, and he blinked to try and get rid of them.
"How do you feel?" asked a voice from nowhere. Taskmaster stood up, reaching for the gun tucked in his back pocket. Then he promptly fell over.
"I guess that answers that question," said the voice.
Taskmaster rolled onto his back and tried to count how many limbs he had left. It seemed like all of them, but he checked again just to be sure.
"Did we fix it?" Deadpool leaned over Taskmaster's face, upside-down and clearly beaming under his mask. "Have you got your memories back?"
Taskmaster groaned. "I've got a huge headache, that's what I've got."
"Come on, don't leave us in suspense." Deadpool leaned in further, until he was almost overbalancing onto Taskmaster's head. "Memories?"
Taskmaster thought back. Much further back than he'd been able to for a while. "Some of them. I'll have to check my records, fill in the gaps. I think I've got the highlights."
"Uhuh." Deadpool rocked on his heels a little. "What about, uh. Recent memories."
"Well." Taskmaster fiddled with his hands, wincing when he bumped his busted knuckle. "I still remember how to make that stupid snake hand-puppet."
"No, I mean—"
Taskmaster stared at Deadpool, enjoying the way he started to fidget.
"The thing," said Deadpool. "That we did. With our mouths. The tongue-lip tango. The face-eating. The attack of the killer makeouts."
"What about it?"
Taskmaster thought about getting up, but that seemed like a lot of work. Instead he reached up, grabbed Deadpool by the front of his costume, and pulled him down to the ground.
"Are you trying to kill me?" asked Deadpool, sprawled awkwardly on the floor and also on Taskmaster's chest. "This isn't how it usually goes. Like, maybe you want to stand up to kill me?"
"Thanks for your help today," said Taskmaster. "I'm glad you showed up."
"You're glad?" Deadpool was quiet for a single, blissful second. "Glad. Huh. I don't get that reaction very often."
"Yeah, treasure it." Taskmaster patted Deadpool on the shoulder. "Why did you decide we needed to make out?"
"Poor impulse control," said Deadpool. "And once I start something, I tend to get carried away."
"I feel like you've just explained your entire life," said Taskmaster. "Sandi's going to laugh herself sick over this."
"Don't tell Sandi."
"Whatever you say." Taskmaster chuckled. "Anyway, you still want to try and sell this chair to Wolverine? You cut me in and I'll help you move it."
Deadpool raised himself up on one elbow. "You know, I never did find out what exactly you were doing here."
"Funny thing," said Taskmaster. "I don't really remember."
Deadpool squinted at him. "Is that a joke?"
Taskmaster stuck his tongue out at him. Since he was wearing his mask, Deadpool had no idea, which was perfect. Taskmaster loved his mask.
"Fine, Mister Stoic." Deadpool sighed and flopped back down, right on top of Taskmaster's busted ribs. Taskmaster refrained from punching him in the face, which used up the rest of his gratitude for the day. "I decided this was a humorous story arc," continued Deadpool. "Just in case you were wondering. It was too silly to be a gritty teaching moment."
"Okay," said Taskmaster. "Great."
"That's a good thing," said Deadpool. "Even if being the straight man—pansexual guy, whatever—in the funnier pages is kind of annoying. It means there probably won't be any consequences."
"There are always consequences," said Taskmaster, thinking about his ribs and the sore spot on his hand. "For instance, now I know about the weird thing you do with your nose when you kiss. Which I'm definitely telling Sandi about."
"Are you going to let the kissing thing go?" asked Deadpool.
Taskmaster considered it. "No."
Deadpool looked momentarily hopeful. "Do you want to do it again?"
Taskmaster thought about giving Deadpool a straight answer, and then realized he didn't have one. All right, deflect, deflect. "Right now I just want to take a nap. Remind me why it's a bad idea to nap in the secret evil scientist base."
Deadpool yawned. "It doesn't sound like a terrible idea..."
Taskmaster shoved himself to his feet, dislodging Deadpool, and managed to stay upright this time. "Come on. I'll disconnect the chair."
"It's a good thing your memory is normal again," said Deadpool. He was still on the floor, in a vaguely human-shaped heap that should have been impossible for anyone with undislocated arms. Like a goddamn cat. "Or no weirder than usual, anyway. Like I said, I hated being the responsible one."
"Mhm." Taskmaster started unplugging cables at random.
"But now that you're better, I can do a lot more things." Deadpool stood up and stretched.
"Like be a nutjob?" Taskmaster unplugged the last connection and shifted the chair a little, making sure it wasn't screwed to the floor. "Pretty sure you had that covered already."
"More like stab you in the back," said Deadpool, and kicked Taskmaster in the side.
Taskmaster's whole world lit up in red and yellow and pain. He rolled away from the chair, swearing.
"No hard feelings, I hope!" Deadpool lifted the chair up off the floor. "I just kind of need the entire payout from this chair to help save an Asgardian orphanage from being punted to the edge of the nine realms—convoluted story, sorry, never play pinochle with Loki—and I don't have time to scratch up the rest of the cash if I give you a cut. Especially since I spent a few precious hours helping you with your brain problems."
"You could have just said no," grunted Taskmaster. The effort of talking felt like his chest was bursting.
"Yeah, but I weighed the likelihood of you saying 'sure, Wade, you need the money more than I do' against you saying 'well if that's how you feel, Wade, I'm going to kick you in the head and snatch the whole dang thing,' and the odds did not look good." Deadpool started to walk out, the bulky chair forcing him to scuttle sideways. "Anyway, we took out most of the henchpeople and you're basically fine now, so you should be out of here as soon as you can manage to get up."
Taskmaster groaned and tried to push himself to his feet, but it still felt like he was going to die. Shit. He let himself fall on his back, and even that hurt for some reason. There was something metal at the small of his back.
The second gun. The one that was still loaded.
Taskmaster pulled it out and aimed it at the back of Deadpool's head. One shot, and Deadpool would be out of the game long enough for Taskmaster to recover and snatch the chair. Show him for trying to bogart the take.
Taskmaster's finger tightened on the trigger, but for some reason he couldn't bring himself to pull it.
...Asgardian orphanage. Shit. Deadpool's history of freaky life events meant it was probably true. Kids on the line.
Deadpool was trying to figure out how to get himself and the chair through the narrow doorway without breaking anything. While Deadpool twisted and turned, Taskmaster tried to decide how much of an asshole he was. The answer was either depressing or heartening, depending on your point of view.
Finally, Taskmaster sighed and lowered the gun. "Fuck you, Wilson."
"Don't move too fast, sweetheart." Deadpool tossed Taskmaster a two-fingered salute and squeezed out the door. "We haven't even got to second base yet!"
Leaving Taskmaster in a bare room, with hopefully not-broken ribs, and a gun.
The lights went out, and a siren kicked on.
"Minions!" The voice crackled over the PA system. "This is Sivana. I realize you are still recovering from the attack, but I must warn you that the Avengers are converging on this building. Evacuate immediately. They will surely detain anyone who remains."
"Great," muttered Taskmaster.
One gun, one sword, a bow and arrow, a big metal shield, a fistful of smoke pellets, and four sets of brass knuckles. And a mask. Against the Avengers.
Taskmaster shoved himself up and didn't yelp too loudly. Probably not-broken ribs.
Piece of cake.
"I'm never hanging out with Deadpool ever again," Taskmaster lied to himself. He got moving.
"He did what?" said Sandi, incredulously. "You did what?"
"I'm sorry!" said Deadpool.
"He's not," said Taskmaster.
"Okay, I'm not," said Deadpool. "You should have seen the kids' faces! So sad, and hopeful, and magnificently bearded. They were mostly dwarves."
"Did you at least pay for Tony's hospital bills?" asked Sandi. "Or kiss his owies better?"
"No!" said Deadpool.
"I have insurance," said Taskmaster.
"Well," said Sandi, and smirked at them. "Better late than never."
Taskmaster looked at Deadpool, and Deadpool looked at Taskmaster.
"She just wants to hear the nose thing," said Deadpool. "Which I do not do."
"Keep lying to yourself, buddy," said Taskmaster, and grabbed the back of Deadpool's head to pull him in.