They get about twelve hours of reunion sex before the commercial break ends.
“Honey,” Wade calls over his shoulder without taking his eyes off their visitor. “Why is there a teenage mutant in our breakfast nook? Not that I’m not happy to see you,” he says to Negasonic, who raises her eyebrows owlishly.
Vanessa comes out of the bedroom and hooks her chin over Wade’s shoulder. “Do you think she heard me getting my spanking?” he whispers. “Because that was private noise.”
“I don’t know,” Vanessa says. “But she looks like she needs some coffee and pancakes, don’t you think?”
Negasonic grins. It’s scary as fuck.
The story, such as Wade’s able to discern from Neg’s Morse-Code-style communication (silence. grunt. grunt. silence. eyebrow.) is this:
There was a boy at Neg’s mutant school for mutants who was not a total hall monitor.
The silence goes on for a while, and then Vanessa says, “Oh honey,” and goes and hugs Neg, and now apparently they have a teenager living on their couch.
“No wait, run it past me again,” Wade whispers to Vanessa that night, because Neg’s got ears like a bat. “Why is she here?”
“Because she needs to not be around this boy for a while and she is a wonderful girl who helped you save my life and so we care for her,” Vanessa says firmly.
“And because I need adult role models!!!!” Neg yells from the couch on the other side of the half-wall. Ears like a bat.
“NO ONE ASKED YOU!” Wade yells back. “Besides, I liked masturbating on that couch,” he adds in a normal voice, only half for Vanessa.
“Oh, like you didn’t on all the other furniture?!?” yells Neg, and Wade sighs. Rising from the bed, he pads around the partition and ignores Neg’s startled yelp as she catches an eyeful of glorious, glorious skin.
“Listen up, Hezbollah Spice,” he informs her. “There’s gonna be some ground rules if you’re gonna crash here.”
“Like, the thong part of the underwear goes in the back?”
“Vanessa demands easy access,” Wade tells her. “And speaking of which, rule number one: when my lady and I are making love, I’m not performing for a peanut gallery. You got headphones?”
She digs a set of Beats out of her bag and raises an eyebrow at him.
“Good. Use ‘em, play on your phone, play with yourself, whatever, just please, no commentary. I stripped for a year in Irkutsk and the catcalls left me with body image issues for days, sister. You think you have it bad as a teenage girl? Try putting on fifteen pounds because you’re eating your feelings after Andrei “The Toenail” Andropov dumps you on Valentine’s Day.”
She blinks, and Wade promises himself that he is going to crack this chick’s sense of humor if it kills him. “OK. Rule number two is times before eleven AM don’t exist and people who make noise during hangovers get katana’d to death. Got it?”
“Got it. What’s rule number three?”
“Rule number three, there is no rule number three, what do you think we are, SHIELD? I’m a hired gun, Vanessa tends bar and strips like a demon, welcome to our home, our porn is your porn. Now I’m gonna go get the ruffled lizard petted. You still got those headphones out? Good. Throw ‘em on if you wanna have any kinda childhood left, I’m a screamer.”
He crawls back into bed with Vanessa. After a second or two of silence, the tinny sound of rap through shitty headphones comes from the other side of the partition, and he smiles into the darkness as Vanessa rolls over to meet his mouth and take her place. Back in his arms again.
The next morning at breakfast, Neg reveals herself to be a vegan. She reveals this by asking if there’s almond milk in the fridge. A lightning-like cross-examination by Vanessa uncovers the rest of the story, which Wade is not having.
“No, no, no,” says Wade. “I’m not having it. Are you Hindu?”
“THEN WHY FOR THE LOVE OF CHRIST?”
She shrugs. “My parents were so I was too.”
“Your parents were so you were too,” repeats Wade, dumbfounded. “And so the cycle of violence continues. Get your phone out, we’re ordering pizza.”
Later, as Neg pukes up a fully loaded Meattza, Wade does a little Googling. “Hey, did you know that vegans lack the necessary probiotics and enzymes to digest meat products?” he reads in a singsong voice. “The More You Know!”
“Fuck you, asshole,” Neg says, one arm rotated way out from the toilet, middle finger extended. The effect is somewhat ruined by the next spasm of vomit.
“Hey, G.I. Jane, you can thank your parents for forgetting to tuck some digestive flora in your hope chest. I’m helping.”
“Wade, honey?” says Vanessa, who has been stroking Neg’s back in the absence of hair to hold, “Could you get us a nice wet towel to clean up with? Warm water?”
And just like that, Vanessa gives Wade’s guilty energy an outlet, and when he brings her back the warmest dampest best-wringed-out wet towel ever, she smiles at him like he hung the fucking moon. Over a hunched, puking teenage mutant, he tells her, ‘I love you.’
“I know,” she says back. Leia’s exact intonation and everything.
“How’d I get so lucky,” he says, and leans in for a kiss over Neg’s shuddering back.
“No no no you need to get the towel?”
“Just get it, trust me, you’re gonna need it when we go into space!”
“What space. I thought this game ended in a cave.”
“Oh honey,” says Vanessa, and takes over the keyboard. “Watch and learn. Watch and learn.”
“Won’t Dumbledore wonder where you are?” Wade asks Neg in the produce section, where he hasn’t been since the last time Vanessa was feeding him, over a year ago. Shitting is going to be interesting tomorrow.
Neg looks at him. “He’s a psychic,” she says, finally.
“You know, just cause you’re not saying ‘dumbass’ doesn’t mean I can’t hear it,” complains Wade, pushing the cart along. “And if Wolverine comes crawling up my ass looking for you like fucking Edward Scissorhands, Proctologist, we’re gonna have words.”
Neg just smirks. Then she stops at the feminine hygiene section. “Oh wait, should we get you a freshness aid? Not feeling ready for intimacy?”
Wade holds up one red-clad finger. “Now see here—oh hey, they have Spring Raindrops! That’s my favorite!” He knocks three into the basket. “You think three? Nah, who’m I kidding. Five. Vanessa might wanna go up the back door tonight.” Neg’s laughing, actual snorting laughing, little piggy snorts with one hand over her mouth like she’s embarrassed to be caught amused, and it’s awesome. “I don’t know about you, but I find that a little superhero-ing really gets the juices flowing, if you know what I mean, and with all this Spandex? Whew. Let me tell you, it is a hot man soup inside this uniform. Nothing but ball sweat all the way down.”
“Ew!” says Neg. “Revolting!”
“Body shamer,” Wade tells her. “Besides, I hand-stitched this outfit all by myself like a tiny, tiny sweatshop-working child. I didn’t have a uniform issued to me by the Babysitter’s Club.”
Neg glances down at her own yellow spandex, which she’s wearing with an auto mechanic’s jumpsuit, unzipped to the waist. It’s a look. “It’s not a uniform?” she says.
“No? Then what’s that big X doing on your shoulder?”
“It’s a logo. So people can identify us in the field. It’s practical,” Neg says, and knocks a couple dozen containers of baby food into the basket. (The quick energy boost of choice for many superheroes, Gerber is cheap, nutritious, shelf-stable, rarely exacerbates allergies, and can be downed on the go. Captain America once got caught on CNN shotgunning a whole flight of creamed peas post-battle. Nestle’s stock went through the roof, and Wade nearly spanked it raw.)
“Does it have belt pockets?”
“I rest my case. Not practical. Uniform.”
“What do you keep in all those belt pockets, anyway?”
“So glad you asked,” says Wade. “First pocket, crayons. In case I get asked for autographs. Second pocket, gum. You never know when that burrito’s gonna catch up to you. Third pocket, matches, same reason. Fourth pocket’s not a pocket, it’s a holster for my tunes.”
“Can I see?”
“My Walkman? Sure.” He passes it over to Neg, who inspects it carefully. “How many songs can you fit on this thing?”
“A tape can hold up to twenty,” Wade tells her proudly. “Twenty-five if it’s K-Pop. What? Short people, short songs.”
Neg snorts, then lifts the headphones. “May I?”
“Be my guest.” Wade watches as she carefully puts the headphones on and presses Play. The beat is faint, but Wade knows the second Kim Carnes puts the hammer down on “Bette Davis Eyes”, because Neg’s studiously blank expression breaks into a delighted grin, and her head starts bobbing. “This is actually good,” she says, too loudly.
“I know,” Wade tells her, and lets her wear the Walkman all the way through the rest of the store.
It’s not even the end of the first week before Colossus shows up. Wade really only opens the door to confirm that yep, they no longer have a front porch. Colossus, waist-deep in destroyed stairs with one knuckle raised to knock, looks apologetic.
“Wood was rotten, very dangerous,” he says. Maybe apologetic looks different on chrome. “Is Negasonic Teenage Warhead here?”
“Who? Never heard of her,” says Wade. “Have you checked the mall?”
Behind him, Neg wanders up in boxer shorts with a toothbrush sticking out of her mouth. “What’re you doing here?”
“Negasonic, please come home,” says Colossus. “You are missed, and missing classes. You do not want to fall behind in your semester.”
“Listen, Truant Officer Ironcock,” Wade begins before getting distracted by the porn just writing itself in his head. Vanessa appears behind him. “Hello, Colossus. Won’t you come in for breakfast? Honey, you better take Negasonic to school, she’ll be late.” This latter is addressed to Wade, in a meaningful tone.
“I would, but we don’t have any stairs,” says Wade.
“Use the fire escape, it’s probably safer anyway,” says Vanessa.
“I am truly sorry for the damage to your stairs,” says Colossus, wedging himself into the front door as Vanessa assures him that it’s no problem, really, they always use the fire escape when the rent’s due.
“Come on, Powerpuff, grab your stuff,” Wade tells Negasonic, hurrying her towards the back.
“What’s the idea here?” she hisses under her breath as she tugs on her clothes.
“Let Vanessa handle this,” Wade tells her, and shoves a random backpack into her arms before chivalrously opening the window for her. “After you.”
“This backpack weighs a ton,” Neg says as she clambers out onto the fire escape. “What’s even in this thing?”
“Uh, purple flowers, explosives. Pink flowers, guns,” Wade tells her without looking as he climbs out and tries to close the rain-swollen window. In the kitchen, Vanessa is using her most reasonable grown-up den-mother voice to wind Colossus around her little finger. That voice always gives Wade a half-chub.
Neg’s voice floats up from the alley below. “What if the backpack’s blue?”
Wade freezes. “Blue? Uh. Nothing,” he says, and slips down the ladder. “We just don’t open it. At all. Ever.”
Neg squints at him in the sun. “So where are we actually going?”
“Toldja,” Wade says, “School.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” says Weasel.
“Sign says St. Margaret’s Home For Wayward Girls, here’s a wayward girl, what’s the problem,” says Wade.
“Her superhero name literally has Teenage in it, I can’t serve her,” Weasel complains.
“It’s cool,” says Neg, and hops up on a stool. “Can you make a virgin michelada?”
“Coming right up.”
“And get me a blowjob,” says Wade.
“He doesn’t mean a real blowjob,” Weasel tells Neg.
“Weasel’s still wrestling with his sexuality,” Wade tells her. “Put some love into it this time, would ya? You didn’t look me in the eye last time and I gotta tell you, it really cast a pall over the whole mood.”
“He really doesn’t mean that in the sexual sense,” says Weasel, sliding the michelada to Neg. Wade waits until after the first sip before saying, “You know that has clamato in it, right?”
Neg looks puzzled. “So?”
“So, clamato. Clam juice.”
“He doesn’t mean that in the sexual sense either,” says Weasel.
Neg looks back and forth between the two of them, visibly trying to decide if she believes either. Then she shrugs and takes another sip.
“What, really? No tears for oppressed clams?” Wade says.
“I really can’t tell if he means that in the sexual sense,” says Weasel.
“Micheladas have been my favorite since I was nine,” says Neg. “If they were gonna make me puke, they would’ve by now.”
“Well then,” says Weasel, “Bullet dodged. I hate cleaning up puke.” His brow furrows a little. “I definitely picked the wrong career.”
“Speaking of things I’ve loved since I was nine, where’s my blowjob?” says Wade.
“Hey, is that where you got your name?” Neg says. She’s been reading the sign above the bar.
Wade looks up. “Why yes it is, young padawan. Funny thing that, I totally win. Who was the poor sucker who bet on me, I wonder? Oh wait, it was you. Worst friend ever,” he tells Weasel, who finishes spraying whipped crème and slides the shotglass across the bar.
“If I give you a blowjob, will you stop bitching about it?”
‘Oh, you are going to give me so many blowjobs before I stop bitching about that,” Wade reassures him.
Neg’s still reading the list of names. “Can I go on the board?”
“No,” Weasel says while Wade says, “Sure, why not.”
“You are the worst mentor ever,” says Weasel as Wade snags a piece of chalk from behind the bar.
“Have you seen what this girl can do?” says Wade, standing up on his barstool to reach the chalkboard. “We’re gonna have to give her Magneto-level odds. I don’t think I can fit your whole name on here,” he tells Neg, who shrugs.
“Just fit whatever you can.”
“Wait, what can you do?” Weasel asks her.
“Show the nice man, sweetie,” Wade says, carefully lettering “NEG GO BOOM” in neat capitals on the Dead Pool.
“In here?” says Neg.
“Good point,” says Wade. “Go stand over by Boothe.”
“Is this going to cost me light fixtures?” Weasel asks.
They end up in the alley out back, watching Neg destroy first a trash can, then a stack of pallets. Weasel turned pale at the first explosion and now, watching Neg punt a largish city dumpster around like it’s a soap bubble, he’s looking positively green.
“I take back every impure thought I’ve ever had about a girl,” he whispers to Wade. “Please don’t tell her where I live.”
“Hey Neg!” Wade hollers. “Weasel here is saying that Demi Lovato is talentless and manufactured and also bad! Because she’s a girl!”
Neg squints at them in the sunshine. After a moment, she says, “You have really no idea what I like, do you?”
“Affordable haircuts?” Wade guesses.
Neg snorts. Then she wipes the soot from her hands. “Can we get breakfast now?”
Over waffles, Weasel talks about his latest girlfriend, who is also a bartender.
“That’s sweet,” says Wade. “You can go to meetings together.”
“Funny,” says Weasel. “I’ll have you know that alcoholism is incredibly endemic to the bartending population. It’s our black lung.”
“Which you also have,” says Wade, giving the pack of Winstons in Weasel’s pocket a friendly tap.
“Which I also have,” Weasel agrees placidly.
Neg watches them like it’s a ping-pong match. They’re both crowded into the booth opposite her, because Weasel refuses to sit next to Neg after seeing what she can do and because Wade won’t sit with his back to a door. Neg, who is young and can throw out force fields which level buildings, has no problems with sitting with her back to the door. She’ll learn.
“So how do you get to be a mercenary?” she asks.
“Bad life choices,” Wade says. “Why, you want in?”
She shrugs. “I’m keeping my options open.”
Weasel is looking at Wade like he expects something.
“What?” Wade says, finally, because it’s either that or give Weasel like, a Milk-Bone. (Wade’s got those. Pocket number five.)
“You’re really not going to say anything, dude? Really? Alright,” Weasel says, and turns to Neg. “Because he is the worst role model ever, I guess it falls to me to be the grownup here and say, are you fucking stupid? You got a free ride at your, I dunno, private school in fucking East Old Money, New York, school specifically designed for mutants so you won’t be fuckin’ ostracized, and you wanna leave it so you can pal around with fuckups who hurt people for money because, what? It looks cool? Seriously?”
“Weasel,” Wade says, but Weasel just barrels through it: “Honey, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the type of people who become mercenaries are not doing it because of an aesthetic preference, they are doing because they have no other skills. You could do anything. You could… I dunno, you could fuckin’ weld shit with your brain, or be a full-time X-woman, or be God’s gift to demolitions. And you wanna give all that shit up to follow dirtbags like us around? Grow up.”
Neg doesn’t respond. Or at least, she doesn’t respond with words. The stricken look on her face, followed by the dropping the fork/grabbing the backpack/barreling out the door, kinda says it all.
Wade turns to Weasel. “The fuck, man?”
Weasel’s still annoyed. “Fuck’n let her go, man,” he grumbles. “She needed some reality, which you weren’t providing.”
“I can’t let her go,” says Wade, sliding out of the booth. “She’s got my fucking backpack.”
He catches up to Neg a few blocks away. She’s got a high head of steam going, and those short little legs are pumping, but even from the back he can tell she’s crying.
“Hey!” he calls, jogging to keep up. “Slow down, I’m full of waffles.”
She slows minutely, but it’s enough. He catches up and walk/jogs alongside her for a block before speaking.
“Would you believe me if I told you that had absolutely nothing to do with you and everything to do with Weasel’s shitstain of a childhood?”
“Yes,” she says, looking straight ahead.
“Buuut that doesn’t make it any nicer,” says Wade.
“And you’re hurt because part of it is true but also part of it is incredibly unfair and Weasel doesn’t know you?”
She glares at him sideways, and he shuts right up. They walk west, over the Tupper Street Bridge. It’s pretty in the afternoon sunlight, even if you’ve been hurled off the Tupper Street Bridge before. Neg’s slowing a little, enough that Wade decides she probably won’t kick his ass for snagging the backpack off her shoulder.
“Here, lemme carry this for a while.”
“What do you keep in that thing, anyway?” she says, as he shrugs it on.
“You know. Parts,” he says.
Neg raises an eyebrow. “From where?”
“Technically the correct question would be from whom,” Wade tells her.
“Gross,” says Neg. “And you just carry them around in a backpack?”
“Hey, I didn’t go grabbing backpacks willy-nilly from the backpack supply while dodging the most metal attendance monitor ever,” says Wade.
“Colossus isn’t an attendance monitor,” says Neg. “He’s my big brother.”
Wade double-takes at her until she explains. It takes four double-takes.
“Not that kind of big brother. We’re not related. More like Big Brothers, Big Sisters kind of big brother.”
“You have sex with him?”
“What!!?? No, ew!”
Wade shrugs. “That’s what I did with my Big Brother. And my Big Sister, come to think of it. Regina’s after-school programs get down.”
Neg looks like she’s about to question more and then, wisely, doesn’t. They’re walking down a long, sloping hill towards what Wade knows to be a bad neighborhood. He knows cause he lives in it.
“How mad do you think Vanessa’s going to be that we left her with Colossus all day?” he asks.
“How do you know if you’re bad at sex?” Neg answers, and Wade feels his brain do a double-take.
“Come again??” he asks.
Neg, thankfully, does not notice the potential pun. “I mean like, how would you know? If you’re really bad at sex? Will the other person stop you, or like… say something?”
“Uh,” says Wade, intelligently, frantically blind-texting Vanessa “HELP” or “SOS” or possibly “LOL” (blind-texting is really hard) on his non-Neg side. He’s never had a parenting emergency before. Somehow, he always thought his first one would probably involve a diaper. “I think maybe you would know if they said ‘Ow’ or ‘That hurts’ or ‘I’m really just here to conduct the census, please put your pants back on.’” He pauses. “Though, in all honesty, I’ve heard all those things during sex.”
Neg giggles, and he thinks he might be out of the woods. Then her face turns thoughtful again. “But is it possible you could just be… really awful, and no one would ever tell you?”
Wade has a sinking feeling he knows what this is about, and that furthermore some little mutant prick up in Westchester needs his topiary katana’d in a big way. “No,” Wade says firmly. “There are ways to tell if you are really bad at sex. Your partners cry afterwards. Or during. Before, if you’re really really bad at it, I mean like Republican senator bad.”
Neg giggles a little, but Wade can tell the underlying thorn is still there, digging away at her.
“Listen, if you’re worried about this, why don’t you talk to Vanessa?” Wade says. “She’s a girl, and really good at sex.”
“Ew,” says Neg, “I don’t wanna know about your business.”
Wade shrugs. “Whatever, do or don’t, but you’d be a fool to pass up the chance to study at the dojo of Vanessa. She’s the Mister Miyagi of sex.” This gets him a blank look until he throws up his hands. “Oh come ON! Really?!”
“You’re really old,” Neg tells him, and then they’re at his front yard, and oh look, new steps. Vanessa is standing at the top of a freshly completed staircase. It’s the best-looking part of the whole house. “You just missed Colossus,” she tells them as they climb the stairs, a fond expression on her face like Neg’s her own daughter coming home from school. Vanessa’s mom-game is so strong that Neg unconsciously tilts her cheek up for a kiss as she comes in the door, a kiss which Vanessa grants like it’s the most natural thing in the world as Neg brushes by and goes to forage in the fridge.
“Welcome home,” Vanessa says, winding her arms around Wade’s neck and looking deeply into his eyes. “Why did you text me three shit emojis and a hospital emoji?”
“Is that what I texted you!?” Wade says. “My poop emergency protocol?”
“Oh really,” says Vanessa. “I thought that was your ‘help, I’ve got something stuck in my ass again’ protocol.”
“I NEED WARNING FOR HEADPHONES CONVERSATIONS,” yells Neg from inside the house.
“HEADPHONES!!!” Wade yells back.
Neg appears on the porch. “My phone’s dead and I can’t find the charger,” she says. “Can I use your Walkman?”
“Sure, go nuts,” Wade says, handing it over.
Vanessa waits until she’s disappeared inside the house again and then snorts. “Lost her charger, my ass.”
“She’s going to let her phone die? Please. She just wants to listen to your music.”
Wade looks over Vanessa’s shoulder into the apartment. “You don’t think… she doesn’t have… on me?”
“No,” says Vanessa, and Wade wilts in relief. “She’s just trying on a new identity. And you, and me, and the way we live, and the music we listen to, is all part of that.”
Wade’s eyes get bigger. “You mean… we’re role models?”
Vanessa kisses him on the tip of the nose. “Get used to it, honey.” Then she disappears back inside the house, leaving Wade to have a minor nervous breakdown on the porch. First he curses a lot, and bites his knuckle. Then he looks inside the backpack. Yup. Still full. Then he squares his shoulders and faces the screen door. Inside, he can hear Neg and Vanessa making dinner.
“Maximum effort,” he reminds himself, and goes inside to be the best fucking role model he can be.
“Who was Madonna?” Neg asks him out of nowhere the next morning, and Wade almost drops his cell phone into his Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
“Wait, what the motherfuck?”
Neg at least has the good grace to look a little embarrassed. “Like, I know she’s famous. I just don’t know what for. Was she an actress?”
Wade snorts. “Barely.”
“Uh… a porn star?”
Wade raises a finger, then lowers it. “Let me get back to you on that. Subquestion: have you ever listened to music? Like, been in a club, gone out on the dance floor, met a glitter-covered barista named Suede and gotten caned off your face until dawn next Tuesday?”
“Oh for Chrissake,” Wade says. “Vanessa! We’re taking Sinéad out tonight.”
“Thank God,” Vanessa says, appearing behind him. “I was beginning to feel old and married. Where are we going?”
“Somewhere wholesome and educational,” Wade tells her.
“Oh good,” says Vanessa. “I’ll get to wear my spike Timberlands.”
“Throb?” Neg reads off the neon pink sign.
“Best blowjobs in Toronto,” Wade assures her. On Neg’s other side, Vanessa is vibrating with excitement. “I’m gonna get six,” she says. “Honey, you’re really sure we’ve got the cab booked back?”
“I told you, Dopinder’s got us,” Wade tells her. “Get shitfaced, baby. This is a field trip.”
“Are they really gonna let me in there?” Neg says, looking doubtfully at the leather-clad bouncer, perched on a stool like a rhinoceros that has somehow learned to balance on a birdbath.
“Oh sweetie,” Vanessa says, linking her elbow through Neg’s and walking her across the parking lot towards the door. “Watch and learn. Hey, Glenn,” she says to the mountainous bouncer. “Glenn, meet Neg. Neg’s never been to a club before, and Wade and I want to show her how to pick a safe place and have a fun time before the training wheels come off. Can you help us out?”
Glenn’s whole face brightens into a pleased-puppy expression. “Well, sure, Vanessa.” He slides off the stool. “Hands, please.” They stick their hands out and receive bright maroon stamps; Wade doesn’t want to take off his glove, so he receives a sticker that reads “I Donated Semen Today!”
“Thanks, Glenn,” Vanessa tells him, and they’re in.
“Wait,” says Neg. “So all you need to do to get in a club is have some grownups say it’s your first time?”
Vanessa looks a little chagrined. “Well. Not really. It helps if you’ve known the bouncer since he was twenty-two and in crisis about being gay.”
“And let him crash on your couch for a month,” says Wade.
“Oh yeah, that. And taught him how to tend bar so he could afford to move out.”
“Let’s not forget that time you pretended to be his mom so he could get out of that hospital,” Wade reminds her.
“I did do that. Oh and I got him to go to his first meeting for adult children of clinical narcissists.”
“Soooooo basically it only works if you’re BFFs with the bouncer,” Neg says slowly.
“Pretty much,” Vanessa says. “Welcome to the club.”
Inside, everything is heaving with pink neon and strobe lights, dubstep pumping loud enough to loosen fillings. Wade would estimate that for every twenty men here, there’s about one shirt. Plenty of suspenders and harnesses and angel’s wings, though. He gets three blowjobs and brings them back to Neg and Vanessa’s table.
“I once wore a unicorn horn and a saddle here,” he yells. “And three other guys were dressed exactly the same way!”
“That’s what you get for coming on Easter Sunday,” Vanessa tells him fondly, rubbing her thumb against the bunched-up muscles at the base of Wade’s skull, the way she knows he likes. “Go on, go have fun. Me and Neg are going to have some girl time.”
“Excellent.” Wade downs his shot. “I’m gonna go climb a pole. Preferably a really greasy one.”
He’s chilling out with a tequila sunrise in the topmost cage, the one that’s only accessible from the high catwalk over the amplifiers, when the voice hits him.
Mr. Wilson, I’d like a word with you.
“Que the FUCK?!!” Wade screeches, completely shattering the aloof caged-heat vibe he’d been trying to send off. He stands up and bumps his head on the top of the cage. “OW, MOTHERFUCKER—I swear the E in this place just gets WORSE and WORSE—”
I am not a hallucination, Mr. Wilson. I am a telepath. My name is Charles Francis Xavier? The voice is charming, a lilting British twist to it that is just as disarming as fuck.
“Fuck me. You smooth motherfucker,” Wade says flatly. “How long have you been in my head?”
I assure you, not long. Just long enough to ascertain that you have my student with you and are visiting a rather… colorful establishment called Throb dealing in a certain degree of rough trade on the outskirts of Toronto, the voice says delicately, in a tone that is the verbal equivalent of holding something at arms’ length, in tongs. It makes Wade’s ass twitch.
"Yeah? Listen, Charles Francis,” Wade says. “I don’t know what kind of sherry-tasting clubs you get your weasel yanked at, but Neg’s here with me and my lady friend, and we’re keeping a perfectly good eye on her—” he scans the club to make sure that’s still true, and right as his gaze alights on Neg and Vanessa, heads together in girly conference over a table littered with martini glasses, his brain catches up to what he’s heard. “Wait. How do you know it’s called Throb?”
Because, Mr. Wilson, I don’t frequent sherry-tasting clubs, says the voice.
Wade is briefly speechless. He clears his throat. “So, what can I do for you, Professor?” he asks, trying to ignore the way his voice cracks over the word ‘Professor’.
Negasonic Teenage Warhead is needed back at school, the voice continues, all British business, and if this keeps up Wade is gonna need a suit adjustment soon. Exams are coming up, and she’s been indulging this mood for far too long.
“Ok, wait a minute there,” Wade says, looking over the side of the cage to where Vanessa and Neg are now deeply involved in what appears to be some serious dance-floor window-shopping. Giggling is happening. “Your school, if I am not mistaken, is harboring the short-dicked miscreant who managed to break Neg’s heart, and now you’re telling me she can’t get a miserable week off to lick her wounds before she has to go back and look the little prick in the eye?”
Professor Xavier’s mental voice sounds like it’s wincing. I’ll admit the social media involvement was regrettable—
“Wait, what social media involvement,” growls Wade, and there’s an abashed silence on the other end.
“Professor. What fucking social media involvement.”
The mental voice sighs. Apparently the young man posted a Snap of himself crossing Miss Warhead’s real name off of a list. The subsequent discussion in the commentary section was… distasteful.
The cup in Wade’s hand crumples.
The offending parties have been rather severely disciplined, the voice hastens to explain.
“Have you cut bits off of them?!?!?” Wade growls.
There’s a beat of silence. No, says Xavier, but I have remanded all five of them over to the custody of Professor Logan.
“Don’t take this the wrong way, Professor, but I really want to hang up on you right now,” says Wade.
Understood, says Xavier, sounding infinitely wearier. Can you at least promise to send Negasonic home by say, the end of next week?
“Don’t push your luck,” Wade tells him, and then the voice is gone. Wade pitches the cup between the bars of the cage and climbs out, pulling out his phone and texting Logan as he heads down to the dance floor: I UNDERSTAND YOU HAVE THE 5 SHITSTAINS WHO FUCKED WITH NEG.
The response comes back much sooner than texts from Logan usually do. AFFIRMATIVE.
PLEASE DEDUCT POUNDS OF SCROTAL TISSUE FOR ME, Wade texts. He thinks about it, then adds several cherry and kiss emojis.
WAY AHEAD OF YOU, BUB.
He and Vanessa spend the night like parents on a roller rink, pushing Neg out to skate round the room on her own, coaxing her away from the walls. It helps that every time she does get out on the floor, she is immediately surrounded by friendly, half-naked men, ripped to the tits on E, who think that her shaved head is both fascinating and strokeable.
“I can’t believe this shit,” Vanessa says flatly, watching Neg lean into yet another petting session. “I’ve had amazing hair all my life and didn’t get this kind of play. Turns out all I had to do was shave it off. Years of product, Wade. Years.”
Wade nods somberly, or as somberly as he can nod, given that he is diagonally drunk at this point. Vanessa has been supporting him on her shoulder for the last hour in the pink plastic booth they have commandeered, and defended with katanas, and then defended with plastic cocktail sabers when they took his katanas away, and then…. and then there were drinks made out of Thin Mints.
“Yes, I know how much you love drinks made out of cookies,” Vanessa responds absently to Wade, who has apparently been monologuing again. Silly Deadpool.
“I do not think you are silly, Mister Pool,” comes a voice from Wade’s other side, and he startles upright.
“Dopinder! My man! How long have you been here?”
“Only for the last thirty minutes, Mister Pool,” Dopinder reports. “You called me here for my taxi services.”
“I’m sorry, my man. How are you? Are you getting any?”
“Not since the last time you asked me that, twenty minutes ago.”
“Wanna fix that?”
“I am not gay, Mister Pool, but believe me, you would be my very first choice if I were to be of that persuasion,” Dopinder responds loyally.
“Please,” says Vanessa. “Take him off my hands. He needs a run.”
“I don’t have my collar on,” Wade says. To Dopinder, he adds, in a stage-whisper, “She likes to put me on a leash when I’ve been naughty.”
“While it is inspiring that such an unusual pot as yourself has been able to find its corresponding lid,” says Dopinder, “Do you think you and the Missus will be ready to leave soon? I have many potential rides I could be giving.”
“See that young lady over there?” Wade says, pointing to Neg, who is deep in some rather ambitious grinding with a twink who looks like Nux from “Mad Max”.
“I see no young lady, Mister Pool,” says Dopinder.
“Look harder, Dopinder,” says Wade. “I know you like the long hair and that’s all good, but try to see past Gita.”
Dopinder sighs. “Her hair is indeed glorious. Bandhu routinely texts me about its many fine qualities.”
“That’s still going on!??” Wade shrieks.
“Unfortunately yes. He got away in the car crash and has made my pursuit of Gita very difficult. There is now a restraining order in place.”
“Goddamnit, Dopinder,” Wade says. “Do I need to get involved?”
“Not yet, Mister Pool. I have a feeling that Gita will tire of his wiles. After two or three years of marriage, perhaps. A child or two. She will see the light. And the restraining order will expire and I will gut him like a fish and leave his body in the swimming pool of the house they share.”
“Good man,” Wade says, clapping Dopinder on the shoulder. “Now, where was I?”
“You were pointing out a young lady somewhere.”
“Right! Right! Honey, doesn’t the twink Neg’s grinding on look just like Nux?”
But Vanessa is getting up. “Honey, I can’t see Neg.”
It takes them three turns round the club before they find a half-propped-open supply closet, a slightly smashed cardboard box wedging the door open. Inside, Nux and Neg are sitting on top of three more cardboard boxes, huddled close, shoulder-to-shoulder as they compare photos on their cell phones. They look up like startled raccoons when Wade turns the lights on.
“It’s not what it looks like,” Neg says first. She is wearing Nux’s jacket and he is wearing hers. They have also traded cell phones.
“…It looks like a support group?” Wade says, and Neg’s face does a complicated sort of wrinkle that he interprets to mean that it is, in fact, exactly what it looks like.
“I’m gay,” Nux volunteers nervously, perhaps interpreting Wade as an angry dad.
“Of course you are, sweetie,” Vanessa tells him, appearing behind Wade. “Neg, honey, we were nervous when we couldn’t find you.”
“Sorry,” says Neg. “It was just really loud in there. This is Alex. He has a shitty ex, too.”
“Hey,” says NuxAlex.
“Much as I hate to interrupt a potentially enlightening and tender moment, I must inquire—”
“Shut up, Dopinder,” Wade says. “Wait, I’m sorry. I’m drunk. Can we go home?”
“Can we take Alex with us?” says Neg.
“He’s not a stray housepet,” says Vanessa, against all obvious evidence, and oh look, now AlexNux’s face is doing that complicated wrinkle that means that he is, in fact, exactly what he looks like.
“War Boy. You need a place to crash for the night?” Wade asks him.
“... My name’s Alex?”
“Not if you’re hanging with us, it’s not. Come on, Nux,” Wade tells him.
“Don’t mind him,” says Vanessa. “Dopinder, can we all fit inside your cab?”
They can all fit inside the cab.
Once home, Vanessa insists that Wade shower, which, because he is drunk, means he sits in the shower stall and she runs the detachable nozzle over him like he’s a farm animal. A sexy farm animal.
“Would you wash me down in buttermilk?” he asks, because as long as he’s drunk he may as well put out feelers for that Charlotte’s Web roleplay he’s been hankering after.
“Baby, I’ll wash you down with anything if it gets the smell of that cab off of you. What was that, incense?”
“Strawberry sunrise,” he tells her.
“Well, it’s foul,” she tells him, massaging V05 into his scalp. He doesn’t have any hair left to shampoo, but Vanessa says rituals are important.
“Where’s Neg and War Boy?” he asks when they get out of the bathroom, by now well after two in the morning. Fuck, he’s old.
“Shh. They’re out on the porch talking,” Vanessa tells him.
“Well, shouldn’t we… I dunno. Go out there and parent at them?”
Vanessa smiles fondly at him, even as she turns off the light. “Shush. She’s out there having a nice talk. They both needed a friend. It’ll be fine.”
“But just a teeny bit of cockblocking is good for a kid,” Wade protests as she manhandles him into bed.
“I don’t know if you noticed, but Alex is gay.”
“Yeah, I know, but,” says Wade to the ceiling.
“But nothing, he’s a perfectly sweet boy. And Neg is Neg, or haven’t you forgotten?”
The thought of Neg having to bust out her powers doesn’t make Wade feel any better. “I was gay too at that age, you know,” he says sulkily to the ceiling.
“You were a pervert at that age, honey,” Vanessa says sleepily into Wade’s chest. “Just like you’re a pervert now.”
“Polymorphous pervert,” Wade corrects her, because it says so on his Dairy Queen Blizzard Fan Club card.
“P’lymorphous sngglebear,” Vanessa calls him, and then she’s out cold, her cheek pillowed over his heart, drooling on him in that adorable way she drools. Wade lays awake, listening to the soft notes—indistinct, but lilting—of Neg’s and then Nux’s and then Neg’s voice again as they talk, long into the night. Every once in a while there’s a long silence, and every muscle in Wade’s body tightens up, and just as he prepares to shift Vanessa and go check on them, there will be a gentle ripple of laughter, and the conversation will resume, and he relaxes again. How in the fuck do parents do this shit? Wade thinks, and then he closes his eyes, and then it is the next day.
“Oh my God,” Vanessa says. She is standing in one of Wade’s big flannel shirts in the living room, on her way to make coffee. Wade almost runs into her back.
In the living room, Neg is sleeping on the couch. Her hand is entwined with Nux’s, who is half-wedged under the coffee table.
“They fell asleep holding hands, I’m going to choke on how sweet this is,” says Vanessa. “Honey, look. Holding hands.”
“Ahhh, the spring of youth,” says Wade. “What young lady doesn’t remember her first gay boyfriend.”
“Shh, it’s sweet,” Vanessa says decisively. “And we are supporting it and are going to feed them pancakes.”
The Hungry Jack pancake mix turns out to have mouse droppings in it, which makes sense because there’s also an actual mouse in it too. Which would make other women freak or bail, but which just makes Vanessa go all melty as she looks Wade deeply in the eyes and promises him that he will never have to live like an animal again. While tucking ten dollars in his hand. And sending him to the store to buy Bisquick and bacon.
When he gets back, Neg and Nux and Vanessa’s heads all swivel hopefully, like little owls who have seen their mother coming home. They are all sitting around the table with coffee.
“We hear you’re making us pancakes,” Neg says.
He makes them pancakes. “Because Poppa is a chrome-plated sucker for the Leave it To Beaver thing,” he says, “And because you all make an adorable Cleaver family. Even though I’m still not totally sure what your name is,” he adds to Nux.
“I’m Alex,” Nux helpfully supplies.
“A likely story,” Wade says, and drops a pancake on Nux’s plate.
“Mine’s Lydia,” Neg helpfully supplies. My real name, anyway.”
“That’s a really pretty name,” Nux tells her. “Why’d you change it?”
“We’re all supposed to have superhero names at school,” Neg says. “It’s a privacy thing. Apparently Professor Xavier has some kinda history with the CIA and teenage mutants, it didn’t go well.”
Vanessa and Wade share a glance that reads kids these days and what are they even teaching in school and also we are totally having anal as soon as they leave.
“Lydia,” says Vanessa firmly. “That is a beautiful name.”
“Thanks,” says Neg in a small voice. “It was my grandmother’s.”
“That’s really cool that you were named after her,” says Nux (Alex). “I was named after a Top 10 Baby Names list.”
“That could’ve gone way worse for you,” says Wade. “You could’ve been named Francis.” He’s not holding a grudge or anything.
Nux’s brow wrinkles. “Only if I were born in like… the twenties.”
Wade feels his heart expand like, three sizes. “I like this kid,” he announces to Vanessa. “Can we adopt him? Can we adopt them both? I wanna adopt them.”
“Stop adopting things,” Vanessa tells him, sliding another pancake onto his plate. To the kids, she says, “He’s already adopted three Siberian wolves, a sidewalk, and a llama for a South American family.”
“Hey, they keep sending me calendars, I’m gonna keep adopting things,” Wade says. “How about you, kid? I know Neg’s gotta get back to mutant school, but what about you? Wanna be a sidekick?”
“Uh, I’m not superpowered. Or, um, a mutant,” says Nux, squirming as Neg grins evilly at him from over her coffee cup.
“Nonsense, look at those gorgeous cheekbones,” says Wade. “With bone structure like that, you’re an Inhuman at the very least. Ever tried to set a fire with your brain?”
“I set fire to a car once,” Nux offers. “With gas. But it had already been set fire to. Twice.”
“Soccer is a hell of a sport,” Wade says. “Which speaking of which—sweetie, do we have any empty laundry baskets?”
Vanessa snorts. “What do you think?” She looks at Neg. “I’m sorry about the laundry mountain in the bathroom—”
“His name is Reggie,” Wade points out. “Don’t make like we didn’t name him.”
Vanessa rolls right ahead. “But neither of us is much for housekeeping.”
“And thank God, because look! Now we have goals!” says Wade, emerging from the back room with two empty laundry baskets. “Come on kids. Outside, thirty minutes a day. The President says so, it’s for your health.”
Outside, the muddy expanse between the back of Wade and Vanessa’s shitty apartment and the chainlink fence becomes a soccer pitch, albeit a soccer pitch strewn with bits of old car chassis and boxsprings.
“Oh God, we’re all going to get tetanus and die,” says Vanessa.
“Tetanus makes it interesting!” says Wade. “Bonus points to anyone who gets tetanus!”
They play two to a side, taking turns playing goalie under the cold blue winter sky, until Nux and Neg are pink-cheeked and sweating, and until Wade gets tired of having his ass kicked. Kids these days are way better at soccer than they were in the eighties. Then they all pile inside and watch Shark Week on Discovery Channel. They root for the sharks, because everyone else is a seal-loving bandwagon jumper, and Vanessa makes them all popcorn. Then “Jaws” comes on, and they spend the afternoon all sandwiched together on the couch, like a real family.
That night, in bed, looking up at the ceiling, Wade allows himself to think for the first time in years—years—about it.
“Do you think you could still want children with me?” he whispers to the ceiling. Vanessa rolls over, snugs her face into the corner of his jaw, and slides her leg over his. “I never stopped.”
They take Neg to the bus station the next day, because otherwise the chromiest truancy officer ever will pay another visit, and Wade doesn’t need that kind of visibility in the neighborhood. There’s already a Pokemon lure near his garbage cans drawing all manner of nerdery—Wade sprays them off with a hose whenever they get too close.
Nux and Neg spend an inordinate amount of time clinging to each other’s necks and crying, which Vanessa reminds Wade is completely within the realm of normal teenage behavior while Wade times it for science. Then Wade gives Neg his Walkman.
“But, dude,” she says. “Aren’t you gonna be, I dunno. Music-less without it?”
“Nah,” says Wade. “Vanessa’s promised to get me a kazoo for Christmas.”
Neg nods and tucks the Walkman into her backpack, carefully, like it really means something. “I’ll take care of it.”
“You better, it’s worth sixteen dollars in 1988,” says Wade. “Which is half a trillion today. Oh, and wait, I have something to go with it.” He hunts around in his belt pockets and hits the gum pocket, the ziptie pocket, and the troll doll pocket before he locates the tape. “Here ya go. Her fourth studio album. Got her condemned by the Vatican.” He hands over the pale blue cassette and watched Neg’s eyebrow hike as she turns it over, inspecting first the cover art and then the pale brown listing of tracks. She nods wordlessly and then throws her arms around his neck, hugging him unexpectedly fiercely before she’s gone, running up the stairs of the bus and planting herself against a window, where she and Nux do the prison-visit-window hand thing until the bus pulls away. Then Wade and Vanessa drive Nux to his home, which turns out to be in a very nice suburb on the other side of Toronto, a suburb so nice it makes Wade’s ass itch. As they drop Nux off in his driveway, Wade thinks he sees one of the dining room curtains twitch, near imperceptibly—all the windows are dark, and the overwhelming impression of the house is a sort of sagging sadness, even though it’s nicer than any place Wade has ever lived. Vanessa comes up beside Wade as Nux gets his stuff out of the car, hooking her chin over his shoulder. “I hate these people already,” she whispers. “Is it too late to kidnap him?”
“It’s never too late for a kidnapping,” Wade tells her. “Hey! Even Whiter Cullen! Wanna become a kidnapping statistic?”
Nux shrugs his backpack onto his shoulder, looking shy. “Thanks, but I gotta get in for my mom,” he says. “She gets worried without her routine.”
So that explains it, thinks Wade. Out loud, he says, “Whatever, We Have Always Lived In The Castle. If things get too creepy for you, you know where we live now. Call Dopinder, he’ll come pick you up even if you’re balls-deep in a dead animal.”
“Baby,” says Vanessa, fake-shocked. “He’s seventeen!”
“Right,” says Wade, “Live animal then.”
“Thanks,” says Nux, and hugs them both. Vanessa and Wade stand in the driveway and watch him go inside.
“I want one,” Wade says flatly.
“OK,” says Vanessa. “Let’s go home and make one.”
“Yes,” says Wade. “Finally, Calrissian Sunrise is happening!”
“Baby, no. We discussed this. Boba Calrissian Sunrise. Three names, for the monogram, remember?”
In the end, they name her Dee. (Actually, they name her Deathkiller Fellowship Triumph Wilson, but Dee’s easier to say to daycare workers and whatnot.) Wade is terrified ninety-nine percent of the time now—of measles and earthquakes and tidal waves and nuclear wars and people who don’t vaccinate their kids—but it’s OK, because he’s also in love with his family one hundred percent of the time, and that extra one percent love really outweighs the fear. Knocks it right on its ass completely. And with his newfound imperviousness to fear, Wade can do all kinds of things. Sign a lease on a house that hasn’t been condemned, not even once. Buy a washer like a goddamn grownup. Handle feedings and changings and bathings even though he’s so sleep deprived that the walls are starting to speak to him. Tonight, for example, while retreiving Dee’s chilled teething ring from the freezer, he left his phone inside the freezer, right next to the frozen peas and the strap-on. Didn’t even notice it till he went back for the peas.
“Honey?” Wade says, clearing frost from the screen with his thumb while balancing Dee on his hip. “Who do we know at a 914 area code and also why are they sending us video?”
“Oooh, open it, I hope it’s random penis,” says Vanessa, hooking her chin over his shoulder.
It is not random penis. It is a wobbly, slightly out-of-focus video of three girls on a stage, a dance crew, filmed from a few rows back in the auditorium. The spotlights turn the dancers into bright smears, but Wade can tell after a couple of seconds that the girl on the left is Neg, and after another couple of seconds that the music playing is “Like A Prayer”, distorted through the terrible sound system of the Xavier School auditorium and then distorted further through the tinny speakers of his phone. Neg’s a really good dancer, or good as far as Wade can tell what with the video bouncing and jiggling as whoever’s holding the phone keeps forgetting they’re holding it and clapping. It’s definitely a Xavier School talent show—one of the chicks in the crew can apparently shoot off fire, and another one has wide leather wings like a bat, and together with Neg’s force fields they’re conjuring up some pretty compelling symbolic imagery to go with the song, in Wade’s opinion. (Three years at the Saskatchewan Regional Art Institute, thank you very much.) But it’s just really good to see Neg, smiling and clearly equal parts proud and terrified to be in front of so many people, getting applauded at high volume. She glances off the stage towards where the holder of the phone is filming, and then the video cuts out, and Wade’s left standing there grinning like an idiot in front of an open freezer. Behind him, Vanessa sniffles.
“I’m just so proud of her,” she says, her voice all teary as Wade slides his phone back into his belt pocket and hooks his lady around the waist. Standing there with an armful of Dee and another armful of Vanessa, in the kitchen of their home, it occurs to Wade that maybe he’s in another commercial break. But the thought passes, and he gets to put his daughter to sleep and take his lady to bed, and when the next day comes, and the next and the next and the next, without a return to the regularly scheduled shitshow that was once Wade Wilson’s life, he has to confront the possibility that this, this strangely continuing contentment, is what happily ever after feels like.