Windows: shut. Shades: drawn. Television: on. Oh, look, it's 'Twas the Night Before Christmas/White Christmas/I'll Be Home For Christmas/Emmett Otter's Jug Band Christmas/A Garfield Christmas/A Richie Rich Christmas/The Pink Panther in a Pink Christmas/Ernest Saves Christmas.
On the couch: Wade Wilson. Deadpool. Merc with a Mouth.
There's somebody knocking on the door, and I'm getting ready to put a couple of rounds through it before I remember the Girl Scout Incident and decide that maybe I should see who's knocking first. You don't wanna know how much I had to grovel to get my Thin Mints.
I like Thin Mints.
It's not the Girl Scouts. It's Nate, which is surprising, because he walked out on our title at the end of issue 42, but give him due, he was dead -- long story. And hey, turns out he did me a favor because when Ryan Reynolds plays me for like five minutes in Wolverine's movie I get a ton of new series el solo, right? You say "overexposure," I say "more hot chicks at the bar who know the name 'Deadpool.'" Flirting's easier when you don't have to say, "I volunteered for the Weapon X program and it gave me a healing factor that cured my cancer but left my face looking like Jason Voorhees circa Friday the 13th Part 7. I'm pretty strong, really fast, I'm very good at killing people, and I think in little yellow boxes. I'm also excellent at recaps and exposition."
See what I did there?
"Hello, Wade," he says. "How've you been?"
I say, "I gave at the office," and try shutting the door. You ever try shutting the door on a guy who's built like a tank? Doesn't work. It's not Nate's fault. He caught a techno-organic sniffle as a baby, so his dad Cyclops (yep, the one from the X-Men) sent him into the future for a cure. He got back a six-foot-eight cybernetic messiah who keeps trying to save us from ourselves and goes by the trade name "Cable," nudge nudge, know what I mean. Did I mention I'm good at exposition?
Anyway, now Nate's in my living room. "I was worried about you," he says.
"What you see is what you get, Nate. I'm not having a very merry Christmas. You? -- nah, you don't seem like a Merry Christmas kind of guy, with humanity to save from itself and all."
Nate doesn't say anything for a moment. He stands there, looking at me. I guess he's figuring out how to tell me I'm a jackass. Nate kind of takes his mission seriously.
"I grew up in a future war, Wade," he says finally. "Yes, it was devastation on a scale you can't imagine, and I know the world has to change its future. But that doesn't mean I can't enjoy the world the way it is now. In its way, the present is a quiet wonder." His voice is soft. "There's war, there's death, there's horror -- but there's grace, and Macy's, and episodes of television with that actress you like so much --"
"Every day is Christmas, Wade."
He says it like he means it. Like it's the simplest and truest thing in the world, except I know he can only say it because his life, unlike mine, doesn't utterly suck.
I don't know why he's looking at me like that. Maybe he can read my little yellow boxes...?
Besides, he may have a point. "Yeah, I guess other people's stories are even crappier than mine. I ever tell you about the time Blind Al and I went back in time to Amazing Spider-Man #47?"
"Blind Al and I went back in time to Amazing Spider-Man #47."
"You know, most people usually say, 'Amazing Spider-Man #47? What does that mean, Wade?' And I tell them, 'Look, I know we're fictional, but I have to be careful about breaking the fourth wall,' and then they say -- "
"Do you have any beer?"
No, I think I'd remember if somebody said -- oh. Right.
There's beer in the fridge, although less than I remember there being. Maybe the empty bottles covering the coffee table have something to do with that. Hey, I don't have a problem. I have a healing factor. Nate turns his beer bottle around in his cybernetic fingers, then plucks the bottle cap off with his human hand. It's not a twist-off. In case you forgot, Nate's real strong. He glances at the TV. Jimmy Stewart's proclaiming love for his family and all that jazz.
"Makes you wanna barf, don't it?" I say. "They keep telling us we're gonna get a merry Christmas. And we believe it. Why the hell should we get a merry Christmas just because fictional people do?"
"We're fictional, Wade," says Nate gently. "At least, isn't that what you keep saying? 'None of this is real, it's for the benefit of an audience.'" (That's not what I say. I say, "so virginal fanboys get to see what boobies, muscles, and convoluted family trees look like." Just FYI.) Nate turns his palm over and spreads the fingers. "If that's true, then you have every right to expect a merry Christmas."
He says it with a little smile, like he's indulging me, but all of a sudden my head feels like Wile E. Coyote just rode a rocket into a fireworks factory, because ideas are going off and they're setting off other ideas and suddenly the chance at a merry Christmas for me and Nate just is right there and I can grab it just like I grabbed Nate right now and I'm screaming with joy because Nate is the biggest genius since the guy who looked at the internet and said, "Hey, I could put porn on this thing."
"Explain to me again how you expect this to work," Nate says.
"Well, you remember how you lost most of your mutant gifts of telepathy and telekinesis and compensated with technological equivalents, only you traded the telepathy for the ability to plug your brain into the whole internet before you pawned that off on Commcast -- the guy, not the cable company?"
"I wouldn't forget something like that, Wade."
"Yeah, I know, but you never know when new readers are going to show up."
He frowns. "You're going on about that again."
"Right! Look, I went into Amazing Spider-Man back issues once, right? So it stands to reason we could go into other stories! Not Spider-Man's, because his life sucks. And not, y'know, anybody who would sue us. But the internet's full of everything. I bet somewhere, somebody has written a ton of happy merry Christmas stories that I could just climb into and be all warm and fuzzy."
"And you think my ability to scan the internet feeds can get you there?"
"Yep!" I get him plugged in before he can say no. You don't want to know where his ethernet plug is. Oh, wait, that's not his -- awkward. "C'mon, tap in! All we need to do is patch in the bodyslide and teleport along the datastream! We can totally do this. We'll be in a happy internet Christmas before you know it."
His cybernetic eye glows a little. "All right," he says. "I'm searching, and -- this is interesting. I've found a large archive of stories -- "
"Sweet! If it's big, it's gotta be happy. Bodyslide by two!"
Wherever we are, it's dark.
"I can't see."
"I can. Hang on."
I take Nate at his word and grab onto his shoulder. At least that way I know where something is. He feels like a well-muscled refrigerator. The internet is big. I'm sure somewhere there's porn like that. Refrigerator porn.
I still can't make the room out on my own yet, but Nate's cybernetic eye is glowing, and when he turns up the glow I can see what it lights up as Nate looks around.
"Wade," says Nate slowly, "I thought you said we were supposed to be in the internet's happiest Christmas stories."
"That looks like Brad Pitt and George Clooney snuggled up in post-coital bliss on a bed in a cheap hotel room in the middle of a bunch of puka shells."
"Exactly. I mean, wait, what?!"
"Are you quite sure you got this right?"
"I'm not sure. We could be in my subconscious. I had that dream once." Or twice. Weird.
Nate says, "What kind of Christmas stories are these, exactly?"
George Clooney makes a kind of low mumble in his sleep and snuggles up to Brad Pitt. Brad snuggles back, then opens his eyes, and that's about when the whole thing goes to hell.
"Christ, Danny!" yells Brad. "They found us!"
George Clooney is instantly awake. He jumps up and tackles me. "Go, Rusty! Run for it!"
Brad, or I guess Rusty, doesn't run for it. He leaps for Nate and tries decking him. It doesn't work out so well. George Clooney is having a better time of it with me, mainly because have you ever tried to concentrate when you're being tackled by a naked George Clooney? Exactly, all I can think about is how totally cool he was in "Out of Sight." So I forget how to draw the swords, and then I'm on the ground with George Clooney all over me. He tries to pin my shoulders for a ground and pound, and because he's stark naked I wind up getting teabagged by George Clooney until Nate takes a moment to punch him in the jaw.
"This experience has been nothing like I thought it would be," I say from underneath naked George Clooney.
"You thought we'd be in a more festive story?"
I crawl out from under George and look over at Brad. He's out cold, too, and Nate drops him on top of George so they're snuggled up again. I look over on the dresser and see what looks like a packet of drugs, but when I break open one of the capsules and give the stuff an experimental taste -- George and Brad, drug dealers? -- it's not.
"Fake," I say. "They got took?"
Nate shakes his head. "There are three more bags like it in the drawer. And empty capsules. They're weren't taken. They're taking."
I mull this over. "We're in a story where George Clooney and Brad Pitt are con artists who have sex with each other?"
We don't say anything for a minute. Then Nate shrugs and says, "Do you want to try again?"
"Yeah. Maybe another story will be -- I dunno. Merrier?"
He nods. He takes a step towards me, then hesitates. He goes back to the bed, grabs the blanket, and throws it over George and Brad on the floor. Nate's considerate like that. He nods at me when he's done tucking them in.
"Bodyslide by two!"
It still doesn't look like Christmas.
For one thing, we're in a closet. There are shelves of buckets and rags and old clothes and the readers aren't paying attention because they're snickering about me and Nate being in the closet, aren't they? Fair enough. I would.
"I picked up some more information from the archive during the bodyslide," says Nate. "It seems that while these stories are written for Christmastime, they're not necessarily Christmas stories."
"Oh, great. What kind of a story are we in this time?"
"I have no idea. They seem to vary widely. The archive is too large to get a good sense of quickly. I'm sorting through what I can."
"I know what it is," I say grimly. "George and Brad? Danny and Rusty? That's Ocean's Eleven, Nate. You know what that means? We're in fanfic. Boys on boys! That's what we've gotten ourselves into! Bandslash and hurt/comfort and kink memes and mpreg and -- oh, God. There's probably wingfic in here somewhere."
"Why are you standing so close to me, Wade?"
"That's the kind of people they are, Nate! That's the kind of stories they write! It's inevitable!"
"Wade, your hand is on my ass."
"Oh God! It's started already!"
Nate snorts and gives me a little push so I'm up against the shelves. The slashers are perking up now, I know, but Nate's not looking at me. He's checking out the shelves behind me. "Hmm," he says. "Gossage Magical Soap. An old Pears Annual. And --" he picks up a dusty clock that's got a broken hand. "This is made of Bakelite. We seem to be in the early twentieth century. Most likely in Britain."
"Er. Whatever that is, no."
Good. No one will ever know how much I love Patrick Stump. "So my merry Christmas could be right outside that closet door!"
"Or we could just try again. That might be the best option. It may well not be anywhere near Christmastime in this story." He shrugs. "It's just as well. Given how we're dressed, I don't think we'd blend in."
"No way. I'm getting my merry if I have to go out there dressed in a maid's outfit! Hey, what's that on the shelf right there?"
"It appears to be a maid's outfit. Two of them, in fact."
"...are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
"Based on my previous experience with you, that's very unlikely."
I step back and angle my hands so Nate's framed just right. "Hold still, sunshine. It's time for your makeover."
It's harder than you'd think to shove a six-foot-eight, three-fifty-pound cyborg into a maid's outfit. Mine fits just fine, little tight in the crotch, just so you know, ladies, but with Nate I have to rip his down the back and hide his backside with an arrangement of pins and sheets. It looks okay from the front, sort of, if by "okay" you mean like somebody overly optimistic cut a maid's outfit down the back and stretched it across Nate's front the best they could, which wasn't all that well.
Nate's looking at me like he suspects this.
"How does it look?" he says.
"Great! Let's go."
Turns out the closet is part of a pretty nice house. We spread out and start looking around. I don't see any Christmas decorations, but it's cold enough that you'd want a coat if you went outside, and that's a start, right? I think I even smell a fireplace going as I tiptoe past one of the doors.
"Ah," says a voice from inside the room. "Jeanette?" I freeze. "Jeanette, is that you?"
"Um. Oui, oui, m'sieur?"
I do an excellent falsetto. Really.
"Do come in a moment, will you?"
Why does Nate look like he's trying to keep from laughing?
I slink inside. The room is an office. The fire makes it warm, almost too warm. The curtains are drawn. It feels like a hole. There's a guy in there who's putting papers into an open safe. I'm wearing a mask, a bunch of guns, two swords, some grenades, and a maid's outfit over the union suit. He doesn't turn to look at me. It's for the best.
"You're back from the shopping earlier than I expected."
"Oui. Er, zee store was out of frog legs, m'sieur."
There's a loud snort from outside the door. The guy at the safe looks up. I go into a coughing fit, and he turns away before giving me much of a glance. Something brushes my leg, though. I look down. A cat's rubbing against me. I shake my leg so the cat'll go away. It doesn't.
"You know, Jeanette," the man says, "I sometimes meditate on my unusual position in society."
The cat doesn't take kindly to being brushed off. It stretches up against my leg. Its claws poke experimentally at the Deadpool union suit. Then it digs in. "Ow! I mean, oui, m'sieur?"
"It's rather remarkable, when you think about it. So many secrets, it's only natural that some should get out, and someone should guard them." Oh, crap, kitty's climbing my thigh. "Don't you think that's natural, Jeanette, my dove? And as I guard these secrets well, It's only fitting that I should make a fair living at it."
"Yeeeowww!" Kitty's clawing his way up over my ribcage. Yeah, spandex, kitty, it's from the future. He shifts around, till he's going up my back. I can feel him purring.
"Would you get those pictures on the table, Jeanette?"
"Oui, monsieur, I -- " Whoa! I turn the pictures one way, then the other. "Holy -- Um. 'Zoot alors!' "
"Yes, they are quite something, aren't they? Who would have thought Reginald Jeeves to be so... spirited?" He chuckles knowingly. "I think his employer Mr. Wooster will be quite surprised to see them when he barges in. He followed me, you know. What do you think of that?"
"I zink you are skilled with zee exposition, m'sieur." The cat's on my shoulder now. It must like the mask, because it's got a mouth and two paws full of it. The cat's teeth dig into my scalp. Kitty's still purring. He's having the time of his life.
I've got gay porn in my hands, I'm dressed like a French maid, and there's a cat clinging to my head.
Merry Christmas, Deadpool.
"Just put them in the safe, please."
The safe? Hey, there's an idea.
I straighten carefully, then reach up with one hand and grab the cat. The safe is wide open. I toss the papers inside, then throw kitty in and shut the door. The cat's "meoowwrrrll?" is cut off by a heavy clunk.
"I say," the man says, "Oscar?" He glances around. "Hrrm. I could have sworn I heard the cat..."
"I cannot say, m'sieur. Ees zere anyzing else?"
"No, no. Just take those speech lessons we talked about. I swear your accent is getting worse."
"Oui, oui, m'sieur."
Nate's gone when I make it back to the hallway. If you asked me why, I'd guess it's probably because he didn't want to be seen by the huffing, puffing skinny guy who's hauling himself over the railing of the balcony that's at the end of the hall. Skinny guy swings a leg over the railing, then falls onto the balcony with a thud. After a second, he struggles to his feet, straightens the loudest tie I've ever seen, and opens the French doors. He stops dead in his tracks when he sees me.
"I say!" the skinny guy says. "Er, what ho, miss."
"Wow," I say. "Nice tie."
He goes instantly from apprehensive to beaming. "D'y'think so? I found it in the most curious little shop, but Jeeves --"
Behind him, there's a grunt. A pair of hands appear at the edge of the balcony, and a large, red-faced guy starts trying to pull himself up. "Wooster!" he hisses. "A little help!"
"Oh, Mr. Jessup!" says Wooster. "Beg pardon." He steps back onto the balcony and starts trying to tug the big guy up. It almost takes him over the railing, so I grab Wooster's belt and pull to help out. Jessup gets a grip on the railing, then manages to throw a leg over. He dismounts a little more gracefully than Wooster did. I look over the edge of the balcony. Jessup's got a hell of a vertical leap. He's staring dumbfounded at me when I straighten up. Wooster takes that as his cue. "I've suborned the confidence of Foxley's housemaid!" Wooster says cheerfully. "Hard not to sweep such a girl off her feet when a chap wears a tie such as this."
Jessup looks at Wooster, then back at me. His face is twitching in a way I've seen before. It says, "I have clearly departed from reality, and this is officially the point where it makes no use to protest anymore, but by God I want to." Wooster must have done a number on him already. Jessup's lips attempt to form words once or twice, and then settle on a weak little, "He gives his housemaids masks and swords?"
"I never question another gentleman's household," Wooster says. "Although -- " he hesitates, and leans toward me. "You might wish to select a more above-board employer."
"You know what?" I say. "You're right. I think I'm gonna set the house on fire."
Wooster's eyes bulge almost out of his head for a couple of seconds before he gives me a look of astounded admiration. "Right ho!" he says cheerily.
"I think that would be a very great mistake, Jeanette," says a voice from behind us.
It's the guy from the office -- Foxley, I guess. He's got a little gun pointed at us. I'd chop his hand off, but suddenly Wooster is in the way. Bless his brave little stupid heart, he's protecting a lady.
"Thank you for coming, Mr. Wooster," says Foxley, "but I am afraid your visit shall be quite futile. Do come into my office, however. Perhaps we shall have a pleasant discussion."
The office looks just like I left it, except now there's a guy pointing a gun at me. And one of the desk drawers is unlocked now, and there's a jewelry case on the desk. It's open. Foxley must have been admiring his blackmailing gains. Oooh, diamonds. Pretty.
Foxley shrugs. "The fruits of my labor," he says. "Of my resources, rather. I do have some quite remarkable documents. Though I must say these --" he gestures at the diamonds -- "are of far greater general value." He beams smugly and reaches for the dial on the safe. A couple of twirls and a combination later, he's going for the handle. "But if you will allow me, Mr. Wooster, I shall put these diamonds and a few papers of no interest to you securely in the -- WAUGH!"
The cat must have been freaking out in the safe. The instant the door opens it shoots out like a facehugger and makes a beeline for the first person it sees. That'd be Foxley. Yowling with rage, Kitty attaches itself to Foxley's head. Foxley reels and trips over his own feet. The gun goes flying, and now Foxley's stumbling from one end of the room to the other, trying to rip the cat off his head without taking his face with it.
We stand there and watch him stagger around the place for a minute.
"I say," says Wooster, "that must be dashed uncomfortable."
Foxley reels back past us the other way, doing a staggering spin. Oscar the cat is making fierce, triumphant cries. "Mmmmfff!" yells Foxley.
Jessup clears his throat. "Er, Mr. Wooster?"
"Hm?" says Wooster, tearing his eyes with reluctance from the spectacle in front of him. "Oh. Right." He heads to the safe and begins clearing it out. After a moment's hesitation, he sweeps up the diamonds, too. Everything -- diamonds, papers, photographs -- goes into the huge pockets of Wooster's oversized coat.
Foxley is still staggering around. He loses his footing as he gets near us, so he claws desperately at anything he can reach, which is mostly me. I shove him off, but when he falls back I realize he's got a grenade pin in his hand.
Okay. Think. This could be okay. I'm not a one-grenade kind of guy. I have a variety. Could be smoke. Could be tear gas --
OW OW OW IT COULD BE THERMITE.
Thermite's designed to cut through engine blocks, so it's searing its way through my torso as we speak. The healing factor'll take care of that, once I get the grenade out. Problem is, the grenade's also spraying sparks all over the room. Papers on the desk catch fire. So do the curtains. So does the carpet, and the floor. And did I mention the grenade is searing its way through my chest?
I rip the grenade free and toss it into the safe. Wooster slams the safe door shut and beams with the pride of somebody who has just solved a really thorny problem.
The thermite cuts through the bottom of the safe.
"Oh, dear," Wooster says.
"Mr. Wooster," says Jessup, eyeing the growing fires, "perhaps we'd best -- "
"Yes, quite right," says Wooster, and they grab Foxley before he can stagger into any of the flames and throw him, cat and all, out the window into the bushes and to safety.
Wooster beams proudly as he dusts his hands off. He seems cheerfully oblivious to the fact that the room's rapidly turning into something out of The Towering Inferno, at least until Jessup bundles Wooster over his shoulder and takes off down the stairs, with Wooster talking a blue streak the whole way to let me know that if I need a letter of reference, he will totally write one for me. Only prissier than that, but I'm only half listening because I'm more focused on finding Nate.
That's not hard to do. Nate would've have been in the hall when Wooster started coming over the railing, so he probably just went back in the closet. I mean, he didn't want to come out of the closet in the first place. And I can't force him. He has to be ready on his own. It's a personal decision and -- wait. What am I talking about?
I open the closet door. Nate's inside. He's still wearing the maid's outfit. He's leaning back against the shelves with his arms crossed, and he's grinning at me. "How was Christmas?" he says. Then he hesitates, and looks around.
Outside, from the street, we hear sounds of commotion. I guess that would be the fire department. If they work a little, they can put this out before it spreads. "Wade," says Nate suspiciously, "did you set the house on fire?"
Behind me, I can hear the crackling of the flames. I don't know what these houses are made of, but they go up real nice. The structure's starting to go already. The walls have caught and -- yup, the ceiling. Wow, that's a fast spread. Two stories up, something cracks with a noise like a tree falling and plunges through the floors above us. It lands behind me with a huge crash and a shower of sparks. I hear breaking glass, splintering wood, roaring flame, and a little tiny tinkle at the end of it.
"Maybe?" I say. I don't turn and look at the damage. It's funnier that way.
Nate gives me a look, and then there's that crunching tree-falling sound again. Nate's eyes widen comically, and then he dives for me. I don't know if I should say, "Wait a minute," or "Right now? Right here?" but while I'm sorting it out Nate's tackled me and we're falling to the floor.
In the second before the roof caves in on us he yells, "Bodyslide by two!"
I'm on my ass on the floor, and there's a bear looking at me.
Not the kind that craps in the woods. It's a fuzzy thing, looks kind of like Teddy Ruxpin. It's short, too, maybe mid-thigh on me. There's some kind of design on its belly. I turn my head and look past Nate, who's sitting next to me. More fuzzy bear things are over there, just beyond Nate. Their bellies have different designs: shooting stars, a cupcake with a candle in it, a raincloud. They look surprised to see us. Fair enough. I'm surprised, too. Because I don't know if Nate's seen it yet, but there's a spanking paddle on the wall.
Why is there a spanking paddle on the wall?
"I think this is not what we were looking for," Nate says.
"Hi!" says one of the fuzzy things. "Welcome to Care-A-Lot!"
Their voices are relentlessly adorable. "This is definitely not what we were looking for," I say.
"We're having a picnic!" the fuzzy thing says. Sure enough, it's got a picnic basket in front of it. "You can come!"
"No," says Nate. "Thank you."
"We'll have lots of fun! There'll be games and races and we'll -- "
"We need to be going. Don't we, Wade?"
"We do. We so do." There's something mounted over the fireplace. It looks remarkably like a pink sparkly Anal Intruder with super-swirly penetrating action. Or so I'd guess, not being familiar with those kind of -- um.
...this is a furry story, isn't it?
The fuzzy thing is still talking. "You can't go!" it wails. It sounds utterly crushed. "You just got here! We have to welcome you and have a grand time and everything! We can't not!"
"I'm sorry," says Nate, "but I don't care."
"You..." says the fuzzy thing. "You don't... care?"
It looks stunned. Then crestfallen. Then it turns to the others, and when it looks back at us a strange light is growing in its eyes.
"He doesn't care," it says. Then another says it, and another, until they're repeating it in a husky little chorus. "He doesn't care. He doesn't care."
It's funny how silly things can look really menacing when they're chanting like that.
They shuffle closer to Nathan. Their adorable little faces are serious and stern. Even sitting down, Nate is lots bigger than they are, so they have to crane their necks to look up at him. When they make their move, it's with unnerving speed. One of them pops a pink, sparkly ball-gag into Nate's mouth. It's sized for a fuzzy little bear, so it's ridiculously small for him. "What in the--?!" he says around it.
"He needs a brutal monsterfuck!"
"Tie the slave to the rape rack!"
They're swarming Nate, and I should pull the blades and start killing, I guess, but sometimes your brain just goes into vapor lock. Nate's getting up, and they can't stop him, but they grab onto his legs and start climbing. The one who put the ball gag on him grabbed onto his shoulders, and now it's hanging on his back; another one clings, its legs dangling, to Nate's forearm. Their adorable little faces are set in ruthless determination, but there are too few of them and they're not strong enough. Dangling bears, Nate shuffles toward the door.
The bears are howling in frustration; their little voices drop from the ardent chorus to grunts of vain effort, and then to muffled squeaks as Nate uses his telekinesis, or the tech equivalent, to pluck them free, leaving them dangling helplessly in the air. The bears are tiring out, so their cries are a little subdued, but I can still hear little chirps of "Monsterfuck!" and "Rape rack!"
"Come on, Wade," says Nathan. He pulls off the remnants of his maid's uniform and lets the shreds fall to the floor. "Let's see what's next."
"You mean -- that's it? We're leaving? C'mon! You oughtta appreciate the opportunity! Do you know how many people never get tied to the rape rack? I've never been tied to the rape rack! ...how come I've never been tied to the rape rack?"
"Let's go, Wade."
"I WANNA BE TIED TO THE RAPE RACK!"
"Bodyslide by two."
"Wade," says Nathan as we materialize, "I'm apprehensive."
I didn't get tied to the rape rack, and I'm still wearing a maid outfit. We all have problems.
Nate says, "I'm serious."
I wish he'd quit reading my little yellow boxes.
I ignore Nate for long enough to look around. Wherever we are, it looks fancy. There's polished marble, rich tapestries, furniture with the kind of ornamental scrollwork that always gets bitched about by the poor slobs who have to do the dusting. Which isn't me. One of the tapestries shows a flat world being supported by four elephants. The elephants are standing on the back of a turtle. The turtle is flying through space. Okay, then.
Nate says, "I've been checking the timestamps on the collection of stories you transported us into."
"Uh-huh." Hey, do I smell lamb? I follow my nose. Nate follows me.
"The archive seems to collect the results of an annual challenge," he says grimly. "Based on the timestamps, so far we've been doing one story for every year of the archive."
"So it started in 2003."
I can tell he expects me to infer something from this.
"Oh, for -- Wade, think about it. George Clooney and Brad Pitt in 2003. The closet, the maid uniforms, and the fire, in 2004. The bears in 2005. I'm not sure what kind of story this is, but it's from 2006."
"It's the kind of story with free dinner."
"Maybe. But what about after this?"
I shrug. "I don't know. 2007? 2008?"
"And then what?"
Huh. Nate's unusually concerned about the future. Okay, he's usually concerned about the future, but not the immediate future. This is a little weird.
Nate swings me around and grabs the front of my shirt. "We left your apartment on Christmas Eve, 2009, Wade. We're doing a story for every year from the archive. We'll be caught up soon. What happens when we get through all of them?"
I hadn't thought about that.
Nate says, "I'm concerned we may cease to exist."
That's... not good.
But it's not all bad. Back when I was in the Weapon X program, when Dr. Killebrew had his evil mad scientist hands on me, I used to have a thing with Death. Skinny, cold hands, but man, what a rack -- don't look at me like that, it was the nineties, okay? Everybody had a rack then. Even Captain America, when Liefeld was drawing him. There was a time I lived for her. When you're in the middle of pain more excruciating than you could ever imagine, and she's your only hope of escape, and she's stacked, Death can become everything to a guy.
We shacked up for thirty days once when I was between writers. That was pretty hot.
At least I'll have someone to go home to.
I can't think about this on an empty stomach.
The smell's coming from just up ahead. There's the sound of conversation behind a door, and those wonderful smells, lamb and potatoes and wine, so I just walk in. Which is when I stop, because there are two people at the table. One is a skinny guy who's holding a wineglass, and another is -- oh, BABY! I was just doing exposition about you!
"'Scuse me, buddy," I say to the skinny guy. I slide across the table like John Schneider hopping into the General Lee. She's surprised to see me: her skeletal jaw is wide open, but that just makes getting French easier, so I sweep her into my arms and I kiss her --
ER, says an embarrassed voice.
Wow, she's more of a bass than I remember.
Also, the skinny guy just slid his steak knife into my abdominal aorta.
I slide to my knees, then to the floor. Wow, he severed the whole thing. He's good. "I dated Death," I say woozily. "Sort of. We have a thing."
"He seemed very surprised to discover that," says Nate from the doorway.
"You're not taking him?" the skinny guy says. Not to either of us. To Death. Who is apparently not my Death.
HE'S NOT DYING.
The skinny guy raises an eyebrow, barely. "You don't say?" he says. "Good grief. He's worse than Vimes."
The next story had better have girls in it. I need a heteronormative moment here. Also, less internal bleeding.
"...Nate? ...little help?"
Nate says, "Bodyslide by two."
"...why, no, Charlize, I don't mind you sharing me with Robert Downey Jr..."
"Wha-huh?" That's not Charlize Theron. It's Nate.
I think I was unconscious for a little while there.
I'm lying on my back looking up at the stars. They're clear, and the night is cool, but it's still not Christmas, I'm guessing. Fall, probably. The stars are spinning a little. That's the blood loss. The aorta's knitted already, though I can hear a little sloshing sound when I sit up.
Nate grabs my shoulder. "Shhh," he says. "We're not alone. Do you want to get stabbed again?"
I draw the swords. If there's stabbing, I'll be doing it.
Carefully, I raise myself enough to look around. There are three teenagers in the bushes a little way over. One's a guy, a real dweeb in glasses; he reminds me a little of my buddy Weasel. The other two are girls, one blonde, one brunette. They look about seventeen. They're cute. They're all looking in one of the windows in front of them. As we watch, they exchange high fives.
"Here you go, Elmer," whispers the brunette. She hands a glass jar to the dork. I can't see what's in it. The dork grins at them and exits stage right. This is good luck for him, 'cause Deadpool is stage left. The girls look after Elmer for a second, then turn back to whatever's going on in the window.
Nate and I trade a look, then I sheathe the swords and we shuffle up toward the girls. They're obviously important to whatever's going on, so the quickest thing is to ask. The blonde turns, sees us, and makes a squeak of alarm. The brunette doesn't even look, just clamps a hand over the blonde's mouth and hunkers down in the bushes so they don't get seen by the people inside the window, who are -- hey, lemme guess. Is it perhaps two boys making out again?
Why, yes, Deadpool. Yes it is.
The boys must have heard the blonde. They break the kiss and look out the window suspiciously. They don't see us, or the girls, but they pull down the shade. The light is on, so we can still see their shadows, which go right back to making out.
Nate taps the brunette on the shoulder and says, "Ssh."
The brunette's startled, but she doesn't yell out. She doesn't even let go of the blonde's mouth. She keeps the hold tight and looks back and forth between us. When the brunette looks at me, her eyes go wide, but when she looks at Nate she quietly goes, "Woof."
I swear, it's like being tall and well-muscled and incredibly handsome makes people more inclined to give you a break, or something.
"Hello," says Nate. "I'm sorry, we're sliding through -- er, to you they'd be alternate realities -- and we seem to have landed in your... adventure. I don't suppose we're in time for Christmas."
"Oh, my God," the brunette says.
The blonde grabs the brunette's arm and pulls it down until she can speak again. "Cathy, you're buying this?!"
"He has a robot arm, Diane," said Cathy, not tearing her eyes off Nate for a second. "And they both dress like they're out of a comic book."
I say, "We are."
Cathy screws her face up in puzzlement. "What?"
"Don't mind him," Nate says. "Who are we hiding from?"
"Huh?" says Cathy. She glances up at the window. "Oh. It's okay, they're friends of ours."
"We can go now, right?" says Diane.
"Oh," says Cathy disappointedly. "Yeah. We can go."
"Do you watch all your friends' intimate moments?" Nate says as we're crawling out of the bushes.
"We had to make sure our plan worked. It was hard getting Bruno and Boots to be a couple."
"They had all these crazy schemes and adventures, but deep down they really wanted to get together. They just pretended they didn't know it so they wouldn't have to question their bizarre friendship. They kept it up for ages."
Nate smiles. "That must be a difficult thing to do."
Hoo-boy, is it ever.
I didn't say that. It was in a little yellow box. Just so we're clear.
"A little yellow what?" says Cathy.
"Don't worry," says Nate. "You get used to it."
"Well," says Cathy, straightening up, "you guys are way early for Christmas. We can show you the town if you're going to be around for a couple of days, but you're on your own finding someplace to sleep. Miss Scrimmage doesn't like houseguests."
"Of Miss Scrimmage's Finishing School for Young Ladies. We're future alumni." Cathy points to the building across the road. Then she turns to Nate and grins. "And you're way too big to hide in our closet."
"What about me, honey?" I say. I waggle my eyebrows so she knows I'm not too serious.
She laughs. "Depends. Are you good-looking under the mask?"
-- no, I'm not -- it's not my fault I look -- honey, really, only half of the damage is STDs -- look, it's ugly or cancer -- thanks, Weapon X program -- face like a rotten pizza so nobody will -- Siryn, baby, I --
She's talking, Cathy's talking. She's asking me if I'm okay but I'm not listening, I'm going because it's either that or pull the swords and slice and dice my way through Miss Scrimmage's Finishing School, and I -- I'll be over here, Nate, okay? I can't hear anything from over here, I --
I don't know how long I'm in the flowerbed.
Sir John MacDonald's plinth is cold in the night air. It feels good against my face. Nate knows not to come after me right away. Sometimes you need to be by yourself for a few years. All I want is to run away into some other story that's better than this one.
I'm shuddering and trying to breathe, trying not to think. That's when the girl comes over to me. Not the brunette; it's the other one, the one with blonde hair. Diane. That's her name.
"Hey," she says. "I'm not going to be stupid enough to ask if you're okay. But I am going to say she's sorry. And so am I."
I say, "All I wanted was a merry Christmas." My voice sounds pathetic, even to me.
Diane's hand is on my shoulder, and that makes things worse. I think she realizes that. She kneels down next to me, and takes my hand, and helps me up. I still can't look at anything but my feet.
"You're not going to stick around, are you?" she says. "You're going now."
I nod. I can't talk yet. She's holding onto just my fingertips, and it feels nice. She hesitates for just a second, like she's deciding something. Then she steps closer.
She doesn't touch the mask with her hands. I guess Nate briefed her. And she doesn't go for my mouth. Can't blame her for that. She goes to where my cheek is, and she puts a little kiss on it. I know she intends it to be comforting, but she still jerks her head back a little as she does, 'cause she can feel my skin through the mask enough to tell something's very wrong. But she looks at me with something that's a step or two more than pity, and that isn't all bad.
"I hope you find the Christmas you're looking for," she says.
I must be getting old, because I just got kissed by a seventeen-year-old girl and all I can think is that she's really young.
And I hope she's right. Because if Nate's right about us doing a story a year and all, this next slide is my last chance. Maybe ever.
The only thing I can say is, "Bodyslide by two."
We're on a roof with a six-year-old kid. He's lying down and his head's resting on a stuffed tiger and he's looking up at the stars and -- ooh, is that a tuna fish sandwich?
I punt the kid off the edge of the roof with a hearty "Sho-ryu-ken!" and grab the sandwich. Hey, I'm hungry.
Then somebody shoves me, hard. I go down and grab for the edge of the roof before I fall off. I wonder for a second if Nate pushed me, but I've fought him before. It wasn't strong enough for Nate, and it was... fuzzier.
I give the stuffed tiger a glare as I pull myself over the edge of the roof. You look so innocent, but I'm onto you, buddy.
Nate's got his hands, or brain, or whatever, full with the kid, who's levitating in mid-air thanks to Nate's telekinesis, or the gizmo equivalent. The kid thinks this is the coolest thing ever. He's babbling about spacemen and cyborgs and time travel and, for some reason, hamsters. Me, I'm watching the tiger.
"Wade," says Nate.
"Uh-huh?" I'm not breaking eye contact. Move, Mr. Fuzzy. Move. Come on, I double-dog dare you.
"Calvin here says he has access to unconventional technology. Perhaps there's something I can use to ensure our survival after this shift."
"His folks won't want us to come for Christmas dinner, huh?"
Nate's hand drops to my shoulder. I'm kneeling in front of the tiger, so he has to bend a little to do it.
"I'm sorry, Wade."
"'sokay. I'm good. Bigger fish to fry. Apartment needs a new rug."
"Cathy didn't mean -- "
"Shut up now, Nate."
He shuts up. He looks at me, and nods, and then he's following Calvin through the window. It closes behind them.
"All right, Mr. Fuzzy," I say, "now it's just you and -- GLUARKGLEBLEARG!" which is the sound of me spitting teeth. I swear to God, I just blinked for a second.
"Yes," says a soft and growly voice. "It is."
I don't hear soft and growly voices. I see little yellow boxes. The blow put me facedown on the roof. I look up.
"And the name?" says the soft and growly voice. "Is Hobbes."
Hobbes is squatting on the roof where the stuffed toy used to be. He's not Tawky Tawny big or anything, but he's a good size, easily twice the kid's height, which puts him into the low range of grown-up and not much shorter than me. He doesn't look exactly like a tiger, except for the coat and claws and teeth. He looks like an imagined tiger, if that makes sense. Still looks pissed. I'm guessing he doesn't like me punting the kid off the roof.
Fine. I've had enough of Christmas. I'm ready to kill something. Let's go.
Hobbes watches as the swords slide out. He gets down on all fours, crouched like he's about to spring. "Let's do this," I say.
...wow, imaginary tigers are fast.
Hobbes whips past my guard like it isn't there. He claws me twice high -- once across the face, once to the throat. I try to bring the swords to bear. No go. He steps in, gets arm control, grabs my chest, and apparently tigers know judo because Hobbes does a mean osotogari.
I land on my head on the roof. I've had concussions before, but while the healing factor's working on that and the severed carotid, Hobbes sticks his back paw on my right wrist and sinks his teeth in my left. He twists his foot, then his teeth, and the grip I'd miraculously kept on the swords is gone because he's severed tendons and my hands don't work any more.
My legs are all I've got left. I swing one and manage to tag him hard upside the head. Hobbes steps back and grins. It's a grin uncomfortably like T-Ray's. All he needs is a bandage on his nose. And less hair. And a really confusing origin depending on who's writing. Look, it was the nineties, okay?
I manage to pick up a sword in a clumsy grip between my palms and I rush Hobbes. He ducks my wild swing, barely, and I tackle him and we go off the edge of the roof. Things get pretty blurry after that.
There are some woods just behind the house, and our fight winds up there. I can tell you I miss more often than I hit, and when I try going for another kick to the face, Hobbes ducks and gets a mouthful of femoral artery. Wow, that's a new record for distance, I think fuzzily. The kid's parents will need to touch up the exterior paint, I think. Unless they like decorating in early arterial spray...
"...Three hundred Spartans? In leather diapers? Say now..."
Oh, I was unconscious again, wasn't I?
"Hey, Nate. Is my leg on straight?"
Nate's bending over me with a puzzled look on his face. "What happened? I came out, and you were all the way over here."
I glance over to the side. Hobbes has one little nick on his arm, with stuffing visible. It'll take a couple of stitches to fix, but there's no doubt I got the worst of it. "I just got my ass kicked by a stuffed toy. How'd the high technology work out?"
"It was a cardboard box."
So this is it. We're going to be wiped out of existence in somebody else's story. Merry Christmas, Deadpool. I wish I could have gone out in a story of my own. That's how it usually happens.
Nate is staring at me. Is he reading my little yellow boxes?
"Wade," Nate says slowly. "Say... what was in your little yellow boxes just now."
"I was just wishing I could have gone out in a story of my own."
Nate slowly lowers himself to the ground, then sits back on his haunches. He nods. "That could be it," he says. "We've been thinking that we're in stories from the archive's past. If we are, then we're stuck." He turns to face me, and I can see it in his face: there's an idea taking shape. "But what if we turn that around? What if we're not in their stories? What if they're in ours?"
"You mean, if we're in our own story, and we have been all along -- "
"Then we can write our own happy ending. All I have to do is take a few liberties with the archive as we bodyslide. We don't look for a story; we create a new story made up of our experiences so far, give it a timestamp of Christmas 2009..." Nate breaks off. He looks uncomfortable, and a little dizzy. He isn't used to thinking about himself like this. I mean, it's second nature for me, but I've had a lot of practice.
"And write that we get home at the end?" I say.
Nate gives himself a little shake and comes out of it. He shrugs. "It's potentially recursive, but it just might work," he says. He frowns. "I'm just not sure how to do it."
For the record, Nate not knowing how to do something is kind of a scary concept. The guy thinks toe-to-toe with Reed Richards. But me? This is what I do.
Buckle your seat belt, Nate. It's time for a Deadpool master class.
"Nate," I say, "look out there."
I wave my arm. "Out there. Do you see them? Our audience."
"Well, pretend you do, okay?" I'm looking at you guys now, just so you know. "I always thought, 'Wow, they like me.' 'Cause they do, right? They buy my comics, so Marvel keeps me around. They write me letters every month, so I can answer them in the letter column, when I have one. Now they're reading about me fighting Hobbes here in some fanfic archive on Christmas morning. And I mean first thing, Christmas morning. Some of 'em are still wearing their pajamas. A couple of them aren't wearing anything." Put some pants on. You know who you are.
I turn around and face Nate again. I can see from his face he still doesn't understand. Don't worry, he will. "But then I started thinking, 'If they like me so much, why does all this crap happen to me?' Why don't any of 'em write Marvel and say, 'Hey, make him a billionaire, and fix his face for good so he doesn't look like crap any more, and make it so there's always good stuff on his TV and he's got a really nice couch, and make Siryn realize they had a thing in a plotline that got dropped years ago and call him up?'" I might have said that last bit louder than I meant to. A lot louder.
Nate stands up and comes over to me. He rests a big hand on my shoulder, so I calm down. "Why not?" says Nate. "Why don't they?"
"Because the little monkey has to dance for 22 pages a month, Nate. That's how it works."
I don't blame you guys. Really. That's how it works.
But please. I'm begging you. Put some pants on.
"Think about your life, Nate," I say. "Remember how things happen in chapters? How you have one status quo for a while, then go to another? How things get crazy, and get resolved in the big finish? A lot of the time, there's some kind of symmetry between the beginning and the end. Or -- oh, this is good! Remember how you always fight guys before you have a team-up?"
"Wade," says Nate hoarsely, "stop."
"You're filling 22 pages a month, Nate."
Nate reels a little bit. He puts a big hand on the closest tree, and leans on it.
I don't go near Nate for a little while. He stays there, breathing heavily.
After a long, long time, he says, more weakly than I've ever heard him, "Then why am I here now, with you?"
"Are you serious? They like us together, Nate. You should see some of the art the fangirls send me." Which I keep in my sock drawer. Keep sending it, ladies.
"I'm here because they like seeing people they already like interacting," Nate says. He muses for a minute. "Then that must be the case for everyone else we've met. Cathy and Diane, George Clooney and Brad Pitt, Calvin and Hobbes... even those strange little bears." He squats down and scoops up Hobbes, looks at him, thinking hard, then glances up at me. "You've had a fight with Hobbes," he says slowly. "Now you need a team-up. Or -- another scene, at least. A resolution. That'll wrap up this chapter."
"That's good. Audience'll like that."
Nate straightens up and hands Hobbes to me. "So do that. Then we'll make our next bodyslide, which will go back to your apartment, where this story started, and -- "
Nate stops midsentence and sags against the tree. He isn't breathing right. He looks dizzy. "Wade," he says, "is this what it's like for you all the time?"
"Kind of. But with more -- "
"Little yellow boxes, yes." He pauses. "I think mine should be blue."
This isn't good.
(No, it's not.)
That was a blue box with jaggy edges. ...Nate?
Nate's eyes widen. He's getting it.
He'd thought I was crazy, all this time.
(I thought he was crazy all this time.)
Now he knows how I see things.
(Is this how he sees things?)
Wow, we totally have a Superman/Batman thing going here. Alternating little boxes. Different colors. Repressed sexual desire.
Nate's wincing, like he has a headache. "Wade, this hurts."
"It's 'cause your little blue boxes have jaggy edges. You should smooth 'em out."
"But the reader will think they look more cybernetic with jaggy -- oh. Oh. Ow. Wade -- "
Nate looks sick, white-faced. He was never meant to handle this. You've got to be a little crazy. This is way too much, way too fast. "It's okay," I say. "I'll drop Hobbes off. I'll be right back. We'll end up home, and then the story will end and we'll still be home, okay?"
Nate gives me a couple of little nods. He doesn't look good at all. I'd better hurry. I tuck Hobbes under my arm and walk back toward the house. We go around a couple of trees and I'm not toting something soft and damp but something warm and fuzzy and long that bends over my arm and scrapes the ground, and then I put him down because why should I carry him when he can walk? "Come on," I say, and tug on Hobbes's paw. He isn't moving. He doesn't want to.
"Are we really just characters in stories?" Hobbes says. His voice is still growly, but it's very quiet this time. He's still taking it better than Nate did. Or anybody else I know. He shrugs. "It makes sense," he says. "My reality's a little more subjective than most."
"Yeah, Nate doesn't see you. Does the kid?"
"For now," he says. He doesn't sound too bothered by it, which is weird because I can tell he really cares about the kid. Maybe Hobbes is just really good at dealing with the way things are. I wish I was. "Thanks for the fight," he says. "I haven't had a good one for a while."
I guess he has to take it easy on the kid. "No problem. Sorry about the arm."
"Too bad you can't stick around," he says. "You'd like Calvinball."
I can't stick around. I can't stick around anywhere, unless it's my couch in front of the TV. Which is where I get to go back to. If I'm lucky.
Hobbes says, "Are you all right?"
I don't know. Maybe I'm about to die. I've died before. It doesn't get any easier.
Can Hobbes read my little yellow boxes?
Hobbes gives me a strange look. And then he steps closer, and he's hugging me.
"Wow," I say. "Your fur's really, really soft."
"Yes," says Hobbes awkwardly. "Well."
I make a stirrup with my hands and Hobbes steps into it. I heave as he leaps. He heads straight for the open window. He's a stuffed toy again before he lands inside. That's probably because Nate's staggering towards me. Oh, God. Nate.
I should have seen this coming. Nate's a thinky kind of guy. He sees things from every angle. He keeps up a running monologue on his own nickel. Now he's thinking about narration, and he's overdoing it.
Nate's lost in a sea of little blue boxes.
They're bobbing along in his wake, crowding about his head. New ones are appearing all the time. I can barely make out his shape anymore. Can you drown in those? There isn't any time to lose. I dive into the blue boxes and feel around until I grab something that's big and metal and Nate's hand.
Maybe this won't work. Maybe we're about to die. But there are worse ways to go out than with a friend.
I stick my other arm into the blue boxes and brush them away. For just a second, I see Nate's face.
And we say together, "Bodyslide by two."
There's a kid in the street below my window. I know him. I don't know his name or anything, or where he lives, but I know I see him a lot and we hate each other's guts. That's neighborly enough.
"Boy!" I yell. "What day is it?"
The kid makes a face at me. "&$%@ you, Wilson, you crazy mask-wearing $#%$!"
Comics Code-approved swearing! Hallelujah! "Christmas Day? Then there's still time! Run to the market and fetch me the fattest goose you can find!"
"Go &$%@ yourself!"
"And a Merry Christmas to you, too!"
I slam the window down, then open it again and toss out a hand grenade to make the little scamp run to market a little faster.
The apartment's empty. I don't know if Nate made it to wherever he was supposed to be. Maybe he's dead again. Maybe I'm all alone. Maybe I'm just going to die at the end of this story.
It almost feels better to think that, to destroy my last vestige of hope. In a way, it's easier when you give up and decide that Christmas is officially crappy everywhere.
That's when the door bursts open.
I dive for the armaments, but it's not an assassin or a skrull or even Wolverine. It's a Christmas tree, the biggest one I've ever seen. It's being carried by Nate on one end and Ben Grimm on the other, and Ms. Marvel's got a box of ornaments that's bigger than she is, and people stream in behind them until the apartment's full and everybody's here -- Siryn, and Sandi, and Outlaw, and Alex, who's fatter than ever, and Merriweather and Bob and Blind Al and Weasel and every friend I've ever had, even the dead ones, and the X-Men and the Avengers, and a skeletal beauty I can glimpse every so often out of the corner of my eye, and they're all singing carols and carrying presents and beer and Siryn's got a turkey and I realize what Nate's done.
Nate wrote me a Merry Christmas.
I don't get to talk to Nate until later. Everybody's gone -- home, or to some other plane of existence, or shoved into the back issues until some writer gets lazy and decides to use them again. Nate's on my couch with his feet on the coffee table, and he looks more relaxed than I've seen him in a while.
I guess it's easy to have a Merry Christmas when you figure out how to briefly control the universe.
Nate smiles. "My Christmas wasn't so bad before this, you know," he says.
That's hard to swallow. "You trying to tell me, in all that story-hopping, you had a good time?"
"I did, Wade," he says.
He smiles, and I see why people follow him. "I spent Christmas with a friend, didn't I?"
And what the hell am I supposed to say to that?
"Shut up and move over."
We drink beer and watch TV in silence for a while. We play some videogames and he kicks my ass, and then we eat some more of the turkey and Nate falls asleep on the couch and I bring up his saved file on the games and beat the crap out of him while he's asleep so he has a losing streak of thirty-six straight, because that's what friends do, and then I throw a blanket over him.
"Thanks, Nate," I say.
The telephone rings, and I answer it. "Hello?" says a voice on the other end. "Is this Deadpool? I was told this is the number if I had a special -- hello?"
Ordinarily, this would be where I put the phone down, walk away, put on the mask, and pick the phone up again. Then I say, "This is Deadpool," and find out who they want me to kill.
But you know what? That's the beginning of a story. And I've got my resolution.
And it's Christmas.
Ho ho ho.