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Burning Flames, Or Paradise

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The first time it happened, Domino was out of town.

"Vegas?" Wade yelled from the kitchen of Domino's three-bedroom pre-war rent-controlled apartment. "If she comes back here with a million dollars and three stripper girlfriends, I want a cut. For the team!"

"No, fuck's sake," Nate said. "She got one of those low-airfare things to Iceland." See it while you can, in Nate's opinion. Iceland would be inhabitable soon enough.

"You know," Wade said, wandering back into the living room with three slices of pizza and a microwave burrito piled haphazardly on his plate, "if you and me shared a room, we'd still have plenty of space for X-Force HQ. I know, I know, you don't want to wake up with Little Big Wade nestled in your sweet half-metal crack, but consider! Bunk beds."

Three things happened at once, after that. Wade flopped on the couch, Nate noticed the way his costume stretched against his crotch, and he thought to himself, huh. I could be into that.

The first two were par for the course. Wade seemed determined to remind everyone around him that he was "down to clown" or "up for weird stuff" or "dee-tee-eff" or whatever other horrible euphemisms he came up with that day.

But the third. The third thing might be a problem.

-

Of course, it didn't have to be a problem.

This time period's societies evinced an obsession with romantic drama that made Nate feel sick. They read newspaper articles about dying seas and then spent hours on ridiculous stories about two people agonizing over mutual attraction without ever doing anything about it. In Nate's time, the normal thing was to decide if you wanted someone, figure out if they wanted you, spend a night or some number of nights together, and eventually move on or be brutally murdered by another person or the Earth herself. Simple.

With Wade, he figured he did want him. Weird, but he could deal with it. And Wade was into it, judging by the scraps of mental images Nate couldn't help but pick up. Which left spending time together.

"Cable! Caaable! Can your disappointingly derivative powers reattach a very cute puppy's tail?"

As an early twenty-first century contemporary might say: yikes.

-

"The thing is," Nate said, "the more time I spend with him, the more I want him."

"This is your second drink," the young woman known as Negasonic Teenage Warhead said. "Is the future super Puritan or something? Is there a second Prohibition?"

"Distilling alcohol is a waste of precious resources, and most only drink once or twice a year," Nate said, and drained his second whiskey. "I never partake. I have too much to do." Except when he'd lost Aliya, right after arriving in this universe. But he'd been very drunk on what he later discovered was broadly considered to be terrible beer.

"Whatever. I don't want to hear about your boner for Wade, man, that's so depressing. And weird."

"It is!" It felt more depressing and weird after the drink was gone. "Someone lit him on fire the other day. He didn't bother cleaning up after. The fabric wound up healed into his body."

"Oh, gross."

"No, no no no, that's not the gross part," Nate said. "The gross part is he got a vegetable peeler to fix it." He watched as Negasonic gagged. "Yes. Yes, that's the gross part."

"Hi, Cable," Domino said. "Fancy running into you here."

"At a bar across from your apartment?" Negasonic said. "Shocking."

Domino smiled at her. "Fake id, huh? Colossus won't like that."

Negasonic groaned, but took the hint, leaving Nate drunk and alone.

Well. Almost alone.

"Let's get you home, buddy," Domino said.

"Home." It tasted odd, the word. "Wade lives...south? He wants to live with you." The idea of Domino and Wade, X-Force roomies, was too comical not to snicker at.

"You're saying you live with Deadpool."

"He offered," Nate said. Alcohol made him feel defensive. Alcohol made him feel so much. "He's nice. Under all the...other stuff."

"Uh-huh," Domino said. "Well, I'll call you a cab."

Nate accepted the offer with, he thought, profound grace. He fell asleep on the couch, the bottle of water Domino had found on the sidewalk clutched in his hand.

-

It just kept happening.

Wade barged into Nate's bedroom one morning, singing "killing war criminals, shaking that thing, these are a few of my favorite things!". It was terrible but he wasn't wearing a shirt, and Nate had to look away, roll on his side, to keep things from getting embarrassing.

Nate woke Wade up on the couch, thought he'd been napping till he saw the bullet hole in the mask. Something twisted low in his gut even as Wade made weird sleepy noises, guttural groans that sounded like sex.

Wade popped his head into the shower as Nate was jerking off, grabbing his strawberry-scented body wash. "Nice - oh, by the way, I've got a date with the Mafia, don't wait up." Nate barely waited till the curtain was closed again before he twisted his hand and came silently, his whole body shaking.

-

After awhile, he got used to it. Wade joked about Nate's ass, his cock, his hair, his shoulders, his personality, his fucking soul, anything he thought might get a rise out of Nate. It wasn't serious. Nate might think about it - all right, Nate couldn't stop thinking about it, but he wasn't going to act on it. No one would joke that much about lust they intended to follow through with.

They had other stuff to do, anyway. The X-Men had been close to formally sanctioning Wade -

"What does that even mean? Are they going to send Xavier to aggressively frown at me? Oooh, will they ground me?"

- because of Russell, but bringing the kid back non-dead and in one piece won him a lot of goodwill. Of course, Wade being Wade, he squandered that goodwill immediately, literally the same morning, by uploading ransomware to the X-Mansion's network. Ransomware that announced itself with a huge picture of a naked Professor Xavier.

It couldn't possibly be real - the picture - but the virus definitely was. That Nate dealt with it immediately didn't make the X-Men feel any better.

It did give Colossus ideas, though.

"Hey." Wade poked his head into Nate's room. "Put your codpiece on, pack some Haribos into that fanny pack of yours. We've got another job."

'Job.'

The jobs Wade took these days, eighty percent of them, were kid-retrieval operations. For the X-Men. Who apparently had cottoned on to the fact that troubled mutant kids who were ready to slaughter thirty cops generally weren't in the mood for some super-powerful guy to show up and admonish them for breaking the rules.

Wade was powerful in his own way, but admonishment wasn't his style. He'd talk to the kid, say dumb shit like, "Hey, I get it, I want to kill these guys too. No, I really do. But, wait for it, I'm totally going to kill them! Which means you don't have to. And if you don't kill them, you can go home with Never Been Kissed over there and live it up in a mansion with quite a few pawnable geegaws just hanging out, waiting for an enterprising kid who needs bus ticket savings. I know which option I'd choose."

And then the kid chose right, ninety-nine times out of a hundred. Couldn't save 'em all, but it was a better record with killers-in-training than Nate could have imagined possible.

"Nate! Are you monologuing? Oooh, no, expositioning. Do it on the road, big boy. This one's an earthbender type, and she's figured out how to break people's legs with it."

They found her on the roof of the penthouse she'd been - held in. She broke Wade's legs three times before she figured out it wouldn't take. Wade had her almost ready to talk to Colossus when her big sister showed up.

Nate had his gun out before his mind registered why he thought she was a threat. She looked like a normal kid, dressed in a hoodie, looking at Wade and Nate with worried eyes.

Then her eyes began to glow, and he realized what he'd felt: chaos, fury, a will to hurt others. "Wade. Get behind me."

"What? No."

"She can -"

"Kill me? Inventively, I hope."

"Hurt you. Get. Behind. Me."

"Who's the boyfriend?" the older sister said, eyes locked on Nate.

"Him?" Wade flapped a hand. "No one. A groupie."

"His protection," Nate said, making it as flat and furious as possible.

"A delusional groupie. Hey, what happens when you reach full charge? Do you explode? I knew an exploding kid once, incredibly messy, but you should've seen him at parties."

Wade, the fucking idiot, inched in front of Nate with every word, not at all subtle. Nate was about to tell him to move - to give Nate a clear shot - when Wade muttered, "Butter my buns and call me a biscuit."

"What?"

"Oh, nothing. Come on, Zombieland Emma Stone. Whatever sweet hideout you have can't be as good as el mansion de inherited wealth, am I right? Let's just pack it up and go, you'll have fun."

"Wow," the girl said, "you really care about him, huh."

"I care about not having to clean up a mess, which right now, means -"

"I care about my sister," the girl said. Her eyes were white now, painfully bright. Nate looked anyway, waiting for a signal. "I want us to both be safe, far away from you and impossible to find."

"Caroline, no," the younger sister whispered.

"If the only way to get that is to send you packing?" Caroline shrugged. "Then I want you two to be stuck to each other. Far away from us."

The roiling mass of pain and rage disappeared - no. It contracted, sharpening into a single point, painful to behold. And then the two sisters disappeared.

"Whoa! Did you see that?" Wade ran towards where they were, spinning in a crazed circle. "What the fuck! What the fuck! She must be pretty powerful."

"That's an understatement," Nate said. "Wade -"

"Or maybe they just ran," Wade said, and flipped off the penthouse roof.

The pain began halfway down, like nothing he'd ever felt. For a moment his hold on the T-O slipped; then he blacked out.

"Cable? Cable! Fucking hell, Nate, wake up! I'll shove my asshole in your face if I have to, give you a whiff of the old smelling salts, you sick son of a -"

"I'm awake. I'm here." He held a hand out to forestall any nonconsensual rimming, opening his eyes to the too-bright sunlight.

Wade, Negasonic, and Domino stood over him. All of them looked worried - even Domino, who generally didn't manage anything more than cool interest.

"Don't. Do that again."

"Do what?" Negasonic said.

"Uh, he's talking to me, Buffy the Spotlight Stealer."

"Yeah, dude, I know. I'm asking so I can help prevent you from doing it."

"Sure, sure, Negasonic Teenage Babysitter. Going to join the BSC?"

"I don't know what that is. Any of it. Your stuff's not cool anymore."

"Oooh, look at me, I'm a millennial!"

"Gen Z, thanks."

"That's not a real generation."

"Generations aren't real."

"Leave me," Nate said loudly.

Domino shrugged and turned to go. Wade patted Nate's cheek and said, "There, there. You can do the stoic hero thing when we get you home."

"No. Fuck." He struggled into a sitting position - or at least, he tried. Shocks of pain were still running through him, and keeping a grip on his mind superseded fine motor control. Wade knelt then, putting a hand at his back, freakishly warm and bigger than Nate would've thought.

And he had thought.

"I meant don't leave me," Nate said. "You got ten feet away and I felt like someone was ripping my spleen out of my fingernails."

"Dark. And physically improbable." Wade patted him. "It's okay if you have a touch of hysteria, you know. Happens to the best of us."

He didn't realize how much he told on himself when he got jokey like that. "You felt it too, Wade. Don't try to bullshit me. The pain -"

"I was breaking both my legs on pavement!"

"Before that."

"Big drops give me an upset tummy."

"Wade."

He'd already forgotten it. "She wanted them to leave, so they left. She wanted us to be stuck together..."

"And it hurt to move away from you." Nate leaned against his knees. He suddenly felt very, very tired. "Power of will. That's her mutation."

"Wow." A beat of 'I'm thinking something awful' silence. "Well, at least she didn't Human Centipede us."

"That is so not a verb," Domino said.

Nate looked at Wade, at Domino, at Negasonic Teenage Warhead. He thought about not being able to get more than ten feet away from Wade - did that count walls? What if it didn't count walls? What if he never got to take a shit in private again?

He couldn't think of anything to say, so he dredged up an old standby: "Fuck."

"Right here, buddy." Wade held out a fist. "Or should I say...roomie!"

-

He hoped Wade never realized that he could feel the fear.

Deeper thoughts were a total mystery, and Nate would thank any deity he ran across for that little blessing. But the surface stuff, that was easy to pick up, even from someone like Wade. The fear never went away, and it was usually accompanied by that weird, unique mix of anger and desperation. The guy wanted to be liked so badly, he was practically an open psychic wound. It was always distracting, usually annoying.

But without it, Nate knew he'd never have bothered asking Wade for help. And without it, he'd probably be fooled into thinking Wade was thrilled about their little forced arrangement, because -

"That ass, that ass, that ass," Wade rapped along with the radio.

"Would you stop if I wore sweatpants? A suit of armor? A - robe?"

"No, yes but only to talk about your package instead, ha! No."

Nate closed his eyes and took several deep breaths.

"We could try the couch again."

"No." It came out harsher than he wanted, but fuck's sake. Nate had tried to sleep on the couch. The pain had come up slower this time; he'd vomited in a bucket at the fifteen minute mark, then gone to get Wade and take them both back to Nate's bedroom. Wade's bedroom was smaller and, with its twin mattress and piles of garbage, out of the question. Nate had slept in garrets and among the burned husks of his brethren in his own timeline. He knew how to appreciate good stuff when it was available: he had a king bed and nice sheets.

"You sure? I could sleep at your feet. Like a loyal hound."

"That's - disturbing. No."

Wade pitched his voice lower. "Then get in here, big boy."

He was a distinctly uncomfortable person to share a bed with. He tossed and turned; he muttered constantly; he groped you in his sleep; he drooled. Nate found that when insomnia struck, he couldn't stop staring at the scars on Wade's skin, the lesions that occasionally bloomed and healed in a few seconds.

He was a miracle in the classical sense of the term: awful, terrifying, not always wanted but inevitable. Except that Nate did want him, badly.

He lay awake the first night, Wade drooling on his shoulder, and thought about what he'd do if this all became unbearable. If his uneasy affection became harder to ignore, if Wade noticed and hated it, if Wade noticed it, liked it, and did something awful because of it. He'd learned quickly that Wade was never predictable. There was something seriously wrong with the guy, in that ever-healing brain of his. It should've been off-putting and it wasn't.

None of it was. Damn it. If it became unbearable, it'd be because Wade got tired of it. Nate apparently wasn't going anywhere.

Not that he could, with the curse. But metaphorically, emotionally, he was damn stuck.

They began the search for the sisters right away, but even with considerable mutant assets and Weasel's database, they had very few leads. "I did get an impression from them," Nate told Colossus during their second meeting at the mansion, "but it was faint, muted. And now -"

"Her will was very strong." Colossus nodded. "I understand. We will keep looking, but it may take time."

"Thank you."

"This is our mission. None of us may shirk our duties." A delicate pause, the tone of which alerted Nate to Colossus' intention more clearly than his thoughts. "How is Wade?"

"He's, well, you've met him. He's like that."

"I have met him." He was trying so hard sound neutral. Too bad Nate could feel his willingness to put his fist through Nate's kidneys if he answered wrong. "That is why I am asking. He is a hard man to live with."

"You've tried? Didn't peg you as exes."

"Answer the question, Cable."

"He's fine. We're both fine. Given the circumstances."

"You haven't strangled him?"

"Fuck you."

Colossus reared back. "Excuse me?"

"It's at the top of your mind. Yeah, he'd get better. I'm still not going to kill him just for the hell of it." Nate stood, needing to do something with his nervous energy. "Wade! Let's go."

Wade popped his head into the room. "Nice anti-eavesdropping shield, but I could totally see you talking and I can read lips more than a little. Why'd Colossus ask you to take his big, metal cock?"

"Cable! Wait."

"We're done," Cable told Colossus, and jerked his head at Wade. Wade fell into step beside him.

"Cable." It was hard to ignore a giant metal guy when he sprinted in front of you and blocked the door. "I was not done."

"Fight fight fight fight," Wade whispered.

"I know you weren't." Nate pulled his teeth back, a grotesque imitation of a smile. "I was, though. Scuse me."

He nudged Colossus - a tiny, tiny fraction of what he could do if he was free, if his body were his own. It sent Colossus flying across the room, and before he recovered himself, Nate had grabbed Wade's arm and hauled him out of the X-Mansion.

"What was that all about? Fighting for rights to my ass cherry?"

"You know you talk in your sleep about being pegged."

"Grief does terrible things to a man." Wade flipped into the car and stared at Nate, waiting.

He chose the most inconvenient times to be lucid. "He was trying to goad me. He's worried about you. Thought he could get me to say all kinds of shit."

"So you threw him across the room?"

"He could've just asked me."

Wade hooted a laugh. "I can't believe it! He's going to be so mad. He thought you were the grown-up one and I'd throw a tantrum."

"You did throw a tantrum." Twenty minutes before that conversation, in fact, because Colossus had told him he couldn't take the Ben Franklin bust home with him.

"Yeah, but he expects it from me." Ten seconds of silence. "You could strangle me, you know, if you wanted. Sexually or just when you need a break."

He'd known Wade could probably hear some of the conversation, but still, he didn't think that merited a response. What bullshit. If Nate got off on snapping necks he'd've gone back to his own timeline.

"No, I'm serious. I get it, it sucks."

"What sucks?"

"Being stuck with me, having to sit outside the bathroom while I take a dump, snuggling on the couch. All of it."

Another wave of poking-a-sore pain. He had a giant, transparent motormouth in the passenger's seat, and his guts were twisted up over how much he wanted to keep him there. "Let's just figure out how to track those kids down."

"You're not going to shoot the older one."

"You're not going to tell me what I'm going to do and not do."

"I mean it, Cable, I'll stop you if you try."

"You realize I know the exact sound one of your turds makes as it hits the toilet water, right?"

"You wouldn't kill a kid over that."

No, he wouldn't, but he'd kill a kid over the threat he'd felt on that roof. "Just - we'll figure it out, okay? It's not a permanent thing, and Colossus can fuck off."

"He can fuck in, if you know what I mean."

"Wade!"

It didn't stop him; the rest of the ride home was sex jokes. Nate got a brief reprieve as they ate dinner. Wade let him be during those moments when he couldn't help but think of his family, and meals were always those moments. Food came so easy here, effortless in preparation and variety. All he wanted was to mold a world that would allow Hope to experience this, too.

Well, not this specifically. This was crumbs on the floor and Wade going on in some soliloquy about pacing. This was standing outside the bathroom while Wade failed to pretend he wasn't jerking off.

This was, eventually, lying painfully awake next to Wade as he cycled through dreams too quickly for Nate to pick up on.

He tended to sleep on his side these days, curled against Nate. It wasn't the most comfortable thing in the world, but it did mean that when he started to have a nightmare, Nate could tell immediately, no mutant powers necessary.

He never spoke. He rarely even moved, aside from the shaking. It started as tiny trembles at his shoulders, then spread to his whole body. Nate would've thought he was cold, except for his face. He always looked so goddamn sad.

Nate knew not to wake him up. In his time, this was the taboo, not sex: getting a glimpse into someone's painful past, coming too close to stuff they'd worked to keep hidden. Nate had learned to wall himself off from traumatic dreams before he'd learned most basic telepathic skills.

Five minutes or so into the nightmares, Wade usually calmed down. His shaking would slow, his legs would jerk a few times, and he'd breathe out heavily, seemingly back asleep. But tonight must have been a real doozy, because instead of following the script, Wade started to cry.

Jesus. "Hey, hey," Nate whispered. Wade didn't even twitch. He was deeply asleep, and whatever he was seeing was wrecking him.

Another jerk of his legs, a half-muffled sob. Nate's stomach twisted. He pulled Wade in, hard against his chest. Wade's fingers curled n his shirt, and for a stomach-wrenching moment Nate thought he must be awake - but then he broke into another sob again, whispered, "No," and Nate knew he was still asleep. He wouldn't let Nate see this, if he was awake.

"Shh," Nate said, and stroked the back of Wade's neck. He'd done this for Aliya so many times, and she'd always pretended it didn't happen, like she could meditate it away. He'd loved that about her - her stubbornness. Stubborn to the point of scaring him, sometimes.

I miss you, he told her as he rubbed his thumb over Wade's scarred head. I'm doing something so dumb, and I miss you.

He felt Wade start to wake up, the swirl of chaos that announced his re-entrance to consciousness. "Fuck," Wade said quietly, "fuck fuck shitfuck fuck." He rolled away, not looking at Nate, curling up around an extra pillow.

As long as he didn't leave the room, they'd be fine. But Nate felt the urge to reach out, the need to make sure Wade knew he was there. Fuck. He was really in the shit, now.

Wade fell asleep almost right away, and had a dream about either ponies or an orgy - or both. Nate didn't want to know the details. He got all the muttered scraps of it, though, because he didn't sleep a single damn minute for the rest of the night.

The X-Force still had work to do. Kids didn't stop going through rebellious phases just because Wade and Nate were cursed, and anyway, there was other shit to deal with too: human traffickers, politicians who were actually Skrulls, a border dispute with aliens of uncertain origins, et cetera. So on 0 hours of sleep, having woken up to Wade warbling Beyoncé in the shower, he was sitting in Domino's apartment as Wade narrated the Kindle erotica he was reading.

"Seriously, Cable, I think we should get you a Kindle. Listen to this. His magnum rod plowed her with astonishing acuity. That's real art." Wade sighed happily.

"Hey, guys," Domino said. "Ooh, is that the new 'Sticky Soul' book?"

"Sure is, sister. It's in the team library."

"Excellent." She hung her keys up and tossed Nate a USB drive. "I found this while I was talking to our seed round candidates."

"Oooh, are you going to fund the new Uber for knitting enthusiasts?"

"Blue Apron for sex toys, actually." Domino nodded to the USB drive. "One of the guys we turned down is trying to resurrect the Silk Road."

Nate blinked. "To - trade with China?"

"No, Grandpa, she's talking about the real Silk Road! The one with drugs, human femurs, and dirty, dirty DEA agents." Wade had tossed his Kindle aside, and now he threw his arms up and let out a dreamy sigh. "Domino, you always bring us the good ones."

"Any time. Just buy your own Gushers next time."

"Are you saying my DIY project was a bad idea?"

"I'm saying I sat on a raspberry last night, in my own bed. I was an early investor in Instacart, so go nuts, okay?" Domino put her sunglasses back on. "I'm out to find the little mutants that could, to fix your whole. Issue." She raised her eyebrows at Nate, who jerked his arm away from Wade. Not his fault he'd gotten distracted trying to figure out what the fuck they were talking about.

"We'll take on the murderous drug dealers, have fun, be safe, remember you can ask for a gender neutral Happy Meal toy for either of them," Wade called after her. "That was weird. It's almost like she wants to find those brats."

"I think she's sick of you complaining about the curse. And normally, she'd be able to find them." Domino's luck could warp the outcomes of an extraordinary number of heavily favored situations. Apparently, the older sister's will was just a bit stronger than all that.

So Domino kept looking, while Nate and Wade...

"If we bust 'em and they've got all their ill-gotten gains on-prem, I'm taking a five percent cut while you call the Feds."

"No, Wade."

"Ten percent!"

Nate and Wade continued to do what they did best. And that, Nate reflected as they drove to the airport, was the worst part: not being able to move more than ten feet from each other was pretty much working out fine.

-

"No luck," Domino said after her fourth try at finding the kids. "Damn. Even Xavier can't sniff them out."

"Superpowers are wasted on the boring. If I were that powerful, I'd be a jewel thief, bare minimum. What's that kid doing, using her superpowers to get free Hot Pockets from the local Wawa? Weak."

"Sad," Nate said before he could stop himself.

"Annoying," Domino said. "Sure, it's also pathetic in a Boxcar Kid way, but I'd settle for just - being able to find them. Ugh." She flopped down on the couch and stole Wade's lime-a-rita. "I thought I could do it this time. I'm sorry," she said after finishing it off. Nate had heard that sad tone in her voice maybe once or twice before. Not often, considering how much fucked-up shit they'd already dealt with together.

"Well, obviously we're very sad and millions of dollars of Silicon Valley money would make it better, but it's not your fault." Wade patted her forehead. "Nate's the dumbass who got us cursed."

It took him a minute too long to realize the subject had shifted to him. "What? I am not."

"You kind of are, though." Wade's tone was light, but he was staring ahead at the TV, so still it was a dead giveaway. "You kept trying to protect me. She'd've focused on me if you hadn't done that, and we all know she can't hurt me."

"You don't know that."

He flinched at his own voice, too harsh and obvious. Wade only laughed. "Sure I do. You tried and failed. Think she's more powerful than you?"

"I don't want to find out."

"Well, I didn't want to find out what you sound like when you're having a particularly good showergasm, but we don't always get what we want."

"Okay!" Domino clapped her hands. "Who wants to talk about something else? Literally anything else. I saw a rat trying to steal a guy's shoe on the subway today, let's talk about that."

"Why do you ride the subway if you're a gazillionaire, anyway?" Wade said.

"Money makes you a sociopath."

"Uh, I'm pretty sure a crossover event and/or a natural lack of empathy makes you a sociopath."

And they were off. Normally Nate would let it wash over him; this kind of bickering was so damn stupid, and he kind of loved listening to it. But right now, he was stuck on Wade's bitterness, the flash of resentment that Nate had -

What, exactly? Tried to protect him? Yeah, throw him in jail for being a good friend. Christ.

He mulled it over for another hour or so, until Wade yawned and said, "Okay, Mr. Sulkypants, time to go home. I need my own bed, pillow, and porn collection."

Domino sent him a look - an are-you-okay look - but of course he was okay. And if he wasn't okay, he had to go with Wade anyway, because they were cursed. He grunted and went to get his coat.

It was a nice night, so they walked it. Wade made it two blocks before saying, "It's fucked up that these powers manifest in kids. It would be a lot simpler if there was a system. Like Hogwarts."

What had happened to Wade? Weapon X, obviously but -

"They're just kids. No kid is ready for this shit, but especially not the ones we try to help. Fuck, where's Dumbledore when you need him?"

Something had happened to him, as a kid. Nate wanted to know and didn't want to know. "Dumbledore," he said. He cheated, skimming Wade's mind. "Guy was a dick."

"Gasp! How dare you! He was the wizard of a generation! Plus, can you say Daddy?"

"No."

"Bet you can."

"Yeah, I'm not going to."

Four blocks, five, six. They turned the corner and got to Wade's walkup. "I still think we should consider bunk beds," Wade said, pulling his mask off and tossing it on top of the toaster.

"I'm not sleeping in a bunk bed. They don't make 'em big enough."

"How do you know, Mr. Future? Plus, shouldn't you be able to build one? You look like a total prepper, I'm going to be disappointed if you don't have woodworking skills."

"The trees are mostly dead where I'm from."

"Well, you're a time traveler, there's precedent to teach you anyway. If you can't whittle, how will you make a fire when your time-travel watch misfires and sends you back to the Jurassic age?"

Nate found himself laughing in spite of himself. "That was never a concern, Wade."

"Sure it wasn't. That you know of. Hey, I bet if we have sex it'd break the curse."

Nate's mind, hell, his entire fucking body screeched to a halt. "Excuse me?"

"You, me, lube, a couple soft-boiled eggs, one of those rubber snakes they sell at the Discovery Channel store -"

"Sex won't break the curse."

"You don't know that. You probably hope so, but you'll never know until you try. Let those latent urges out, Nate. Lean in. Embrace your truest self. If you can dream it, you can -"

Nate, fearing a literal break with reality, placed a hand over Wade's mouth.

"Mmph," Wade said.

"We're not," Nate said, "going to fuck."

He couldn't have blocked the wave of lust coming form Wade if he'd tried.

"We're not," he said again, hoping it would stick this time. He pulled his hand away from Wade's mouth.

Wade's jacked-up skin was red where Nate had pressed into it. He licked his lips, breathing hard, looking Nate up and down like he was searching for something, waiting for something.

Nate opened his mouth to tell Wade to knock it off and try to think of an actual, serious solution to their problem. It was on the tip of his tongue.

Wade licked his lips and said, "I could make it good for us both, you know."

Fuck it. "I'll make it plenty good," Nate said, and kissed him.

Wade made a startled noise into the kiss, but he kissed back right away, clambering on top of Nate's lap. Then he started trying to talk, right against Nate's lips: "If you think about it, it makes sense for you to be on top, because -"

"I'm not doing my job right if you're thinking at all," Nate told him, and dug his fingers into the back of Wade's skull. He felt the spark at that, the little gasp, so he used his other hand to do the same thing to Wade's hip: hard pressure points, bordering on pain. This time, when Nate kissed him, he felt Wade just fucking melt against him.

This was what he'd wanted, this and nothing else: Wade moaning in quiet encouragement, letting Nate move him around to his satisfaction, welcoming Nate into his mouth. He'd almost known it would be like this. There were no surprises, not even when he put his hands on Wade's broad thighs and Wade moaned and bucked his hips and muttered, "Ride 'em, cowboy," before diving in to kiss Nate harder.

"You're too damn tall for this," he said the third time Wade tried to fold himself in half and get friction on his dick at the same time as a kiss.

"Maybe you should be lying down, then."

That breathless, attempting-to-be sexy voice wasn't, damn it. He sounded demented. But -

The curse really liked it when they were this close together. He felt sparks when Wade ran his fingers down the T-O arm, and it couldn't be just his own libido making him feel this way. Give in, Nate's worst self whispered to him. Everything you know is gone, everyone you know is dead: just let yourself have this.

This, the lunatic merc covered in gross-looking scars, moaned again, showily, arching his back. His cock pressed up through his costume, thick and - fuck, so hard Nate could see every detail.

Nothing his logic would tell him about Wade's appearance or sanity could stop him just then. He picked them both up, hands firmly on Wade's ass, TK doing some of the work for him, and got them to the bedroom.

"Holy quadrinity of Golden Girls, that was the best thing that's ever happened to me," Wade told the ceiling. He'd pulled the top half of his costume off; it hung pooled around his waist as he played with his own nipples. "Wait, wait, are you -" he propped himself up on an elbow in time to see Nate stepping out of his jeans. "Scratch that. This is the best. Holy fucking shitballs."

"Lotta holy things in your world."

"Nothing as holy as your dick, oh man, come to Papa." Wade flipped upside down, head hanging off the bed, and made grabby-hands at Nate.

It was probably a sign of incipient insanity that Nate found that funny. "Maybe some other time," he said, and used his TK to slice through Wade's undershirt and tug the rest of his costume right off.

"Hey! My Hanes! My modesty!"

"I'll make it up to you." But Nate paused, kneeling on the bed, one hand close to Wade's knee. "Hey. Wade."

"How do you know that shirt wasn't the only thing keeping my nipples on! I could be the boy with the yellow ribbon!"

Giant, open psychic wound. Right. Nate sighed, knocked Wade's knees apart, and settled between them, one hand on Wade's cock.

Wade went very, very still.

"I'll move away if you want me to," Nate said. "But let me be clear." He pressed his thumb against the underside of Wade's cock, let the whimpered reply roll over him. "There is nothing here that I don't want."

"Are you really sure about that?"

"Yes," Nate said simply, and waited.

"Okay, well, clearly you're a few marbles short of a full anal bead set, but -"

The rest of the sentence was lost in a loud near-sob as Nate got his mouth on Wade's cock. Nate hadn't done this in awhile, but it didn't matter just then; Wade was so responsive, so fucking easy, that all Nate had to do was keep his hands on Wade's hips and move his tongue a little.

"So good so good so good -" Wade's hand scrambled at Nate's head and found his hair; Nate made an approving noise, tilted his head back into Wade's hand, and sucked like he'd never thought of doing anything else.

It was so easy and simple like this. Yeah, Wade's skin was gross, and sure, the shit that came out of his mouth was disturbed at best. But down here, with Wade whispering praise and laughing at random nonsense, he couldn't imagine wanting anything else.

Wade came on his tongue and immediately got hard again; "Healing factor," he said breathlessly, pulling Nate up to kiss him. Maybe it was a side effect of the insanity, but he seemed to love how dirty this was; he sucked his own come off Nate's tongue and spread his legs even wider, saying, "If you don't fuck me I'm going to lose what's left of my mind, just so you know."

Nate couldn't have told him no just then, no matter what he asked; good thing he wanted something Nate was more than happy to give. He lubed himself up and pressed inside, painfully, inexorably; Wade turned bright red and gasped for more, harder, until Nate was fucking him with snaps of his hips that jostled the bed, dented the drywall.

It was too much, always on the edge of pain. It was fucking perfect. And when Nate woke up after a mind-blowing orgasm to Wade's dick in his mouth, he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it hadn't helped with the curse at all.

-

All right, so Wade wanted to fuck him.

Didn't mean much, in the scheme of things. Wade wanted to fuck a lot of people, and a lot of fictional characters, and a lot of food products. Plenty of people would sob out "I love you" as you fucked them and it didn't mean anything, and most of those people weren't also half-crazy walking medical experiments. Nate knew that nothing he felt beyond base lust was reciprocated by Wade, and satisfying the lust hadn't fixed their little predicament, so he told himself it didn't matter and he ought to get on with his life.

Getting on with his life by definition currently involved a lot of Wade, though, and he couldn't stop - wanting. Fucking Nate once hadn't killed the urge for Wade, apparently. He kept commenting on Nate's body, kept trying to get him into bed. It wasn't offensive or anything; Nate liked being wanted, enjoyed being noticed. But -

"Come to bed," Aliya had said, on one of the many nights Nate'd stayed up late, trying to find a solution to a diplomatic problem that didn't involve bringing his regiment to war. "Or I'll be forced to take care of myself."

He'd laughed at that, despite knowing she was serious. "You're gorgeous when you take care of yourself."

"Less fun when you're not there to watch me. Come on." She bit his ear. "Aren't you worried about what I'll get up to, without you there?"

She'd helped formulate youth rebellions, had cut her teeth in one of the vigilante groups that liked to scale skyscrapers without anti-grav harnesses: of course he was worried. He'd laughed, overcome with fondness, and followed her to their bedroom.

Wade was young, though not - a pang of guilt - as young as Aliya had been. He also wasn't as pretty. But he was smart, funny, goaded Nate exactly when he needed it. He was, in short, exactly the kind of person Nate had fallen for before, and he couldn't really stop himself from doing so again.

The third time, Nate was a bit tipsy. He still hadn't gotten used to this era, how easy it was to obtain a drink that tasted fizzy, sweet, and intoxicating all at once. Everyone around him took it for granted, but to Nate it felt like being handed another charge on his watch: impossible and impossibly valuable.

Fine, a drink wasn't the same as the revival of incredibly advanced tech. But it did make him feel warm, open, easy -

"If I didn't know any better, I'd say you were a little too drunk to be doing this. Ethically speaking."

"Not too drunk." He nipped at Wade's neck, his jaw. "You're just - God, I want you."

Wade laughed, shaky. "Definitely drunk, then, if you're thinking that about me." His hand curled around Nate's shoulder. "Sure you don't want the full experience? Falsetto, wig, bending over so you can't see my -"

He gasped when Nate's cock pressed against his ass. Nate did it again, slowly, deliberately. "No," he said, and this time he couldn't hide how he sounded: ragged, wanting.

Wade was dumb as fuck or in denial, because he didn't notice the want in Nate's voice, the sheer fucking investment. "Okay, okay, hang on," he said, and grabbed a tube of KY.

It was good from there. But it wasn't quite what Nate wanted.

He'd asked Aliya to marry him two weeks after meeting her, as sure in his feelings as he was in his mission. He told himself Wade was nothing like Aliya. He was ugly, loud, annoying -

Smart, funny. Loving. Covering for a lot of shit with wisecracks and deflection. Wade was exactly like Aliya, and that was the problem, because Nate had never developed defenses against this kind of thing. He'd never known he might need them.

-

Working jobs was easier than most of the other stuff. They really did work incredibly well together. Part of it was that Wade prioritized moving in concert with Nate over, say, not getting himself shot in the throat; Nate hated that part. But they also just knew each other, moved and fought in complementary ways.

Sometimes it felt like dancing, like fucking. That could be - should've been - a problem. But they got paid for jobs, and the only people who might comment on it were generally dead at the end. Or, in the case of mutant retrieval, they hadn't gone through puberty yet and were too busy crying over their tragic lots in life.

So Nate didn't worry too much about the jobs. The greater concern was how well Wade fit into the rest of his life. They worked together, then they went home together. Wade would heat up some godawful ready-made meal, and Nate would clean his guns. Wade would bug him to borrow the guns -

"Not even to shoot! Just to finger, maybe jerk off next to. Or on."

- and Nate would call him a dildo-looking dipshit and laugh when Wade opined on what his ideal dildo would look like. They'd clean up together; Wade would insist on watching horrible TV with his head in Nate's lab, and Nate could never object enough to make it sound real. They'd go to bed together - easier than half the living room being too far from the bedroom and thus off limits.

And then, more times than note, Wade'd trip over his own feet deliberately, or he'd roll over and just happen to land a hand on Nate's cock. Or Nate would reach out, knowing what he was doing and hating himself, cursing himself for a fucking idiot even as he pulled Wade in for a kiss.

Two months in, he did just that: lying in bed, fingers pressing into the back of Wade's neck, he urged Wade forward. Wade, though, grinned like a jackass and said, "Ah-ah, not just yet, Horny Harry," scooting up the bed until he could sit with his back against the headboard. "C'mere."

"Oh, come on." Nate tried to reach for him, hoping to distract him - but Wade knocked his hand away, still wearing that shit-eating grin. "Christ." He moved up the bed, rolling his eyes when Wade put his hands on Nate's hips and pulled him onto Wade's lap. "This is corny as hell, you know."

"No, this is hot as hell. Very different vibe." Wade rubbed his thumbs over Nate's hips. "I know you're tall in other continuities, but I gotta tell you, this is really working for me."

Nate never paid attention when Wade got weird like that, and he wasn't going to start now. Not when his thighs were burning a little from the stretch of fitting around Wade's legs, when Wade could reach around and cup his ass like he knew what to do with it, spreading him just enough for Wade's cock to slide against his hole.

"Good?" Wade said. He probably thought he sounded casual.

Nate gave up on dignity and let himself rub against Wade, grabbing his shoulders to keep himself steady. "You fucking know it's good, jackass."

"Maybe I just want to hear you say it."

Nate bared his teeth, not quite smiling. "Maybe I think you'll get distracted before you can wear me down."

"Oooh, a sex challenge! I like it." Wade kissed him, pulling him firmly down so that they were pressed together. He bit Nate's lip and slowly rocked his hips, grinding against Nate like he had all day.

Nate didn't want to like this. He liked control: over his own destiny generally, over his own fucking limbs specifically. But Wade seemed determined to get him off just like this, staring up at him like he hung the stars even as he spread Nate wide and worked his cock into Nate's ass.

It was good. Fuck, it was good. Nate could pinpoint the moment he gave up, because it was when Wade slid home inside him and he couldn't control the noise he made in response.

"Yes," Wade hissed. "More of that, come on." He urged Nate on, fucking him with rough, uneven strokes. It shouldn't have been enough, but somehow it was; Nate found himself clinging to Wade's shoulders, his cock rubbing against Wade's abs.

"Fucking touch me," he managed to say - but Wade laughed in his ear and skimmed a hand down his back, over to the point where their bodies met, fucking cackling like a lunatic even as he fucked Nate harder and harder.

"Tell me it's good," Wade said. He was barely whispering, his lips brushing Nate's ear.

"Not a chance."

Wade stopped dead, buried to the hilt. "Okay."

"Excuse me?"

"I said, pause for dramatic effect, okay." The hands on his hips moved slowly, up and down, more soothing strokes than anything sexy. Wade had been obsessed with the T-O virus early on and still didn't bother hiding how into it he was, but his fingers didn't stop longer than they needed to when they ran over the spots where skin met metal. He seemed - not disinterested, but calm in a way he never fucking was, petting Nate like this while his cock was buried in Nate's ass.

"You feel good, that's all," Wade said, like they'd traded powers and he was the psychic now. He placed his palms on Nate's thighs, rubbed in tiny circles. Nate's cock was inches from his fingers, leaking and harder than he'd have thought possible; Wade put on a good show of not noticing at all. "I could do this all day."

"You're forgetting I can feel your thoughts." That was half Nate's problem, really: he could feel how turned on Wade was, how badly he wanted to fuck Nate into next week.

"You're forgetting I'm clinically not all there." Wade's thoughts shifted in a way a human's shouldn't be able to, and Nate found himself looking at -

"Cock and ball torture on a pink elephant? Really?"

"Just the next thing I thought of," Wade said, and kissed him.

Wade kissed like he might never get to do it again, all-consuming and obsessive. For a moment his focus was absolute, and absolutely on Nate; he rocked his hips against Nate with the same rhythm that he kissed him, pressed his tongue inside even as he fucked Nate's ass. It was perfect, too much and not enough; Nate felt on the verge of flying apart even as he knew he couldn't come like this.

Wade was a fucking bastard. "Touch me," he said again, "Please."

"Say it."

Nate shook his head.

Wade leaned in and kissed him again, playfully nipping at him, as one finger traced the T-O creeping up his shoulder. "Saaay iiiiit." He punctuated the taunt with a snap of his hips.

Nate couldn't hold back the gasp, couldn't stop himself from arching his back and trying to get more. Damn it. "It's good. It's so fucking good, Wade, come on, you know it's good, just -"

"I do know," Wade said, so low Nate didn't think he was meant to hear it. And then -

He'd been holding back before; he wasn't now. He pulled Nate up and brought him home, set up a rhythm until Nate started doing the work of riding him. Nate's back hurt, his quads burned, and he didn't care - especially not when Wade finally, fucking finally brought his hand down to Nate's cock, matching the punishing rhythm. It only took a few seconds for Nate to come like that, whiting out behind his eyes. He didn't realize he was yelling until he stopped, slumping against Wade, shaking.

Wade had Nate's come on his shoulder. He had - Jesus, he had it everywhere. And it was all Nate could do just then to stay upright as Wade closed his eyes, bit down on Nate's flesh-and-blood shoulder, and came in his ass.

They cleaned up together, all the better not to trip the curse. But the curse had nothing to do with the way Wade pulled Nate in, curled up against him. He did his best to be surrounded by Nate even though there was so much of him; Nate ignored Wade's ever-present snicker as he tucked Wade's head under his chin and kicked his feet into an approximation of spooning.

Nothing to do with the curse. But then, the curse showed no signs of weakening. Maybe it was better this way, he thought as he drifted into sleep. Most of the fucked-up shit that happened to him had very little upside. He could enjoy the pleasant ache in that light, make the whole thing a little more bearable.

At three forty-four in the morning, Wade sat bolt upright and said, "Tay-tay."

"Excuse me?"

"Reputation!" Wade said, and leaped out of bed.

Nate scrambled to follow - experience had taught him that Wade would forget all about the curse and go straight to the living room, leaving them both to barf and crawl back to each other. True to form, Wade didn't acknowledge him at all as he pulled his laptop out and flipped the lid.

"Taylor Swift is going on tour," he said, fingers flying over the keys, "and that asshole has a little sister she'd do a lot of ethically dubious things to keep happy." He paused. "Very relatable, actually. I like the narrative parallels. But still: that's a vulnerability, and it's one you and me are going to exploit."

Nate scrubbed a hand over his face, trying to wake up enough to understand Wade's babbling without ruining his odds of getting more sleep. "So, you think we'll find them at a concert?"

"No. Tickets. Bots buy most tickets these days, but if you can will yourself into the best seats in town..." Wade quirked an eyebrow at Nate. "I know what I'd do."

"How do you know she won't will it to be secret? Impossible to find, like everything else?"

"It takes a lot of juice to out-compete StubHub." Wade returned his focus to the laptop. "Go back to sleep. I'll let you know what I find."

"Ten feet, Wade."

"If only I had a portable computer, something I could put in my lap, perhaps on top of my lap, they could call it a laptop. If only -"

Nate groaned and headed back for the bedroom. Wade followed, still going on about the 'per-son-al...computing device', like he thought he was funny.

He fell back asleep like that, his head smushed against Wade's thigh as he typed, carefully angled to keep the light out of his eyes. When he woke, Wade had put the computer away and was staring at him with creepy anticipation.

"Get ready to jump my bones, big boy."

"I feel like I have cotton balls where my eyes should be. Not going to happen."

"We should really get you one of those old lady sleep masks. Except, oh, guess what, soon you won't need anything but a Wade-sized teddy bear to help with the separation anxiety." Wade lifted his hands in a 'ta-da' movement. "St Louis, Missouri. Three days from now. Front row on the right side of the walkway - not what I would have picked, but I guess some little mutant jerks are too fragile for the pit directly in front of the stage, and admittedly the photography opportunities are better -"

Nate weighed his options and did the tactically smart thing: he hauled Wade in for a kiss.

"Good job," he said when they pulled apart a few minutes later. "Tell the rest of the team. Three days isn't much time to prepare, but we can make it work."

"I already emailed everyone, don't worry."

"Email them with background," Nate said. "Not just lyrics from 'Blank Space'. And get off me, we need breakfast."

He didn't know why Wade stared after him just then. Of course he'd emailed the lyrics to 'Blank Space'. Nate had fallen asleep to him humming them; didn't take a genius to connect the dots there.

Three stacks of pancakes and a dozen eggs later, they arrived at X-Force HQ. "It's still just my apartment," Domino said. "You're lucky I was even home today."

"And how do I know I'm not talking to the Dominobot 3000, sent here to protect the roost while Real Domino is at a Silicon Valley sex party?"

"Dude. Gross. And not in front of the kids." Domino jerked a thumb back at Russel, who looked enthralled, and Negasonic, who looked bored.

"Where's Yukio?" Nate said.

"She has exam on microbiology tomorrow," Colossus said. "I did not wish to disturb her studies."

"Mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell, or whatever," Negasonic said.

"Aw, and here I thought you two were literally, surgically joined at the hip." Negasonic flipped Wade off; he reached out like you'd catch a kiss, pressing a hand to his cheek with a theatrical gasp.

Kind of hard to believe they had a 98.9% juvie catch-and-rehabilitate record. Nate shook his head. "Thank you all for coming," he said. "I understand that most of you have significantly less personal investment in this project -"

"Job."

"- mission - than Wade or I have."

"I don't know," Domino said, "I'm definitely very tired of hearing about it. From both of you."

Nate ignored the flush that rose in his cheeks. His drunken little feelings-dump had been before the curse; she couldn't be talking about that. "Wade thinks we can talk her down. I think he's a delusional -"

"True."

"Arrogant -"

"True."

"Optimist."

"Canonically false, and you should be ashamed to suggest it."

"We'll be operating under the assumption that both the kids are confused, vulnerable, and hostile. We're not trying to hurt them. But we are trying to catch them." Nate looked at each person in turn. Russel chewed his lip, but he looked calm; Negasonic looked grimly determined; Domino looked as cool as she ever did.

Colossus was an expressionless pile of metal that Wade would probably invite home as soon as the curse broke. Nate skipped over him.

"Any questions?" He groaned when Wade waved his hand. "Yes?"

"If we capture them early enough, can me and Little Biebs over there have there seats?"

"I'm more of a Demi fan," Negasonic said.

Wade gasped. "Traitor!"

Nate sighed and focused on the ceiling, hoping for a miracle.

-

Three days later, he found himself staring at a yellow-shirted human wielding a metal detector. "Whoa, nuh-uh. No purses in the stadium."

Nate stared at her. "I'm not wearing a purse."

"Whatever you want to call it, it goes to coat check or in the trash."

"Yeah, Nate," Wade said. He'd concealed his guns in a case against his chest, and he appeared to be completely correct that no one would want to get close enough to his skin to find it. "No purses in the stadium."

Nate growled and went to check his sling bag.

-

The plan was to wait outside until they saw the girls heading into the VIP section. It would've been easier if he had his bag, which among other things had -

"Got any lip balm?" Domino said.

"You know I don't."

She laughed. "Yeah, I do."

"Fuck's sake."

"There they are," Negasonic said. "Am I the only person paying attention to the actual mission?"

"Your young eyes are just sharper than ours," Wade said. "Oh, hey, what was the plan? I forgot."

And then, before even Nate could stop him, he bounded forward. "Hey there, Blossom and Buttercup! Long time, no curse! Where's Bubbles, anyway?"

Nate ran after, all the better not to be struck with debilitating pain. The older sister, Caroline, whirled around and held her hands out - uselessly, Nate thought, but the motion got Wade's attention, and he drew two guns.

Screams sounded around them. Nate groaned. Great; now it was going to be a mess.

"Don't come any closer!" Caroline shouted. "If you do, I'll - will you to have a heart attack!"

"First off, you can just say 'kill you', it does the job just fine," Wade said. "Second off, you'll definitely get sent to the Ice Box if you do that, and I doubt Baby Sis there would be good in a prison brawl without her leg-breaking powers."

Caroline snarled, but she didn't move. She had guts, Nate would give her that.

"Fourth off -"

"Third off!" Negasonic called.

"Fifth off," Wade said, "the curse you laid on me and my buddy Nate here is pretty good. But if you want to keep it up, you'll probably need training, or I bet you'll do some curse that will blow up in your face. Like willing someone to die and you forget to specify, and then your pet dog gets rabies and bites your little sister and you have to shoot him anyway, but also, Little Sis needs shots and you don't have health insurance."

"That doesn't sound very realistic," Caroline said.

"No," Wade said, "but it could happen, and lots of other bad stuff could happen, including you cursing the wrong people, who decide to send an army after you, instead of just a few mutants with lots of eyeliner and compelling sexual tension. If you come with us, on the other hand, you'll get to live in a mansion and curse people with tacit approval of at least two billionaires. And we'll get you McDonald's on the way to the Virgin Islands."

Caroline scowled. Nate felt the uncertainty coming off her in waves. "I don't even know what you're trying to get me to do."

"Come with us. Become an X-Man, or a really well adjusted superpowered art teacher, I don't care. Just don't make us take you down. I seriously do not want Taylor Swift's lawyers coming after us, not even for extensive use of her likeness, much less ruining one of her concerts with a mutant smack-down."

"Caroline," Little Sis whispered. "Let's go."

"No!" Caroline was starting to cry now; bad sign, Nate thought, and readied himself to call his gun. "I can take care of her! I can! I promised them I would and I can."

Ah, fuck. Of course they were orphans. He should've guessed.

"No one's saying you can't. But even Taylor has backup dancers, right?"

"Yes," Little Sis said. "That's true," she told Caroline, tugging her sleeve.

"Let Xavier and his band of Breakfast Club Molly Ringwalds be your backup dancers."

"The Professor's gonna love this," Negasonic muttered.

But it worked the way it almost always did; Caroline dropped her hands. "Are you - you're not joking."

"About the McDonald's and the general air of virtuous safety? No."

"Alyssa will be safe?"

"You both will." Wade had dropped the joking tone. "I swear it."

Caroline looked between him and Nate. "I will you to be independent again. Um. As much as you want to be?"

She clearly hadn't practiced undoing her curses nearly as much. But Nate felt a pressure ease, and Wade took several shuffling steps away.

"Awesome! Caroline, you're a genius! Thank you!" He held out a hand for a fistbump, and when she just stared at him dubiously, fist-bumped Alyssa instead. "Now, I have one more question for you: can you get me and Nate here tickets to the show? Not next to you, I want to be front row, stage right, next to the violinists."

"Wade!" Colossus snapped. "What did I tell you!"

Domino snorted, then outright laughed. Nate nearly found himself joining in.

Nearly. Because -

"Congratulations to me, I never have to wear clothes at home again," Wade said. He slammed down another beer and motioned to the bartender. "This is the best thing that's ever happened to me."

"We're still roommates," Nate said. "Or did you forget?"

"Technicalities. You'll have your room, I'll have mine. I'm as free as the proverbial nipple."

Domino rolled her eyes. "How long you been saving that one up?"

"Oh, a very long time. Almost as long as I've had to sit outside the bathroom while this guy does his futuristic business."

Nate stared into his beer and didn't answer. Don't make it something it's not, he told himself. You knew this was going to happen. Just keep your mouth shut and wait to process all this till you're alone.

They eventually disbanded. Wade and Nate shared a taxi back to Wade's apartment, and Wade wasted no time in fucking off back to his own room. "If you need me for the next three days, I'll be in here, masturbating in blessed solitude," he said, and shut the door in Nate's face.

Nate dropped the bin of Wade's stuff on the hallway floor: two guns, a couple shirts, a set of nipple clamps. He hadn't even realized Wade'd been leaving stuff in his room, but now it was all too clear. Without the detritus, the spare bedroom was spotless.

He went back to his room, lay down on top of the sheets, and stared at the ceiling.

If only Aliya could see him now. She'd laugh at him; she'd remind him of how badly he'd longed for exactly this. He could almost see her, sitting on the bed next to him, playing with his hair. "You could always go and talk to him. Tell him what you want," she'd say.

But of course he couldn't. Wade couldn't shut up to save his life - literally. If he actually wanted Nate to stay, he'd have said it already.

So Nate rolled over and banished images of Aliya. He could start looking for apartments in the morning.

-

"Rise and shine, chrome-diddly-umptious, I've got a surprise for you."

Nate pushed himself upright to see - Wade. Full costume in the house for the first time in weeks, looking at Nate with now-inscrutable eyes. When Nate tried to skim him, all he picked up on was -

Bees. Bees. Bees. Bees. Bees.

Right. Well, it was probably too much to hope Wade'd be normal about this. "What?"

"A surprise," Wade said, "for you. A very. Good. Surprise."

"Your package doesn't count."

"Ah, but we broke the curse, and sweet, sweet lovemaking is no longer required to sustain my bone density."

"What?" Nate said, and Wade threw a package at his head.

A ring box? He narrowed his eyes at Wade. "Is this some kind of joke? Did I fall into another dimension again?"

"Again? Wait, is there a dimension where we're - never mind. Just open it."

Nate popped it open. The wasteful, plush velvet cradled a single silver key.

He picked it up. There was a keychain, too, with "Red River Realty" printed on it.

"Wade. What is this."

"Couldn't find an apartment with a homeowner's association that would consider lower dues for psychic sexbots, sorry. But it's two blocks down, closer to the river, ninth floor penthouse so you'll have plenty of privacy. Not a ton of green space, but some very nice granite countertops, and -"

Bees bees bees bees, Wade's brain screamed as he babbled on about heated parking.

It was thoughtful, sweet. It couldn't have sent a clearer message: get the fuck out, and don't come back.

"I'll move my stuff today," Nate said.

"Great. I've got a job, so I won't be around to help, but if you need sweaty workmen, you have Weasel's number." Before Nate could reply, Wade ran off.

Literally: he ran. Like his ass was on fire.

"I can take a hint," Nate muttered. He wouldn't need sweaty workmen, or any other kind of help. He'd moved into Wade's with a duffel bag of guns and a couple shirts, and he'd move out with exactly the same.

Everything else he'd needed had already been here.

-

The apartment was beautiful. Tasteful, even, which shocked Nate till he thought about it a little more. Wade had taste, or at least knew what it looked like: you couldn't offend people with that much accuracy without it.

He hadn't furnished the apartment before handing Nate the keys. Nate bought a bed and not much else. He didn't see the need, especially not now that the X-Force was operating free of the logistical handicap of the curse. They had jobs regularly, and when they didn't, Nate would put his name out and take one-off jobs. He wasn't ever going to sign up to be a merc, but he could and did run retrieval operations for all kinds of shit: jewels, mafia thugs who'd jumped their bail, and so on. He was rarely home. When he was, he took advantage of the quiet and the emptiness to think about how, exactly, he'd accomplish his mission of steering this timeline away from apocalypse.

Keeping busy wasn't enough to stop the dreams.

He didn't like celebrating his birthday, the narcissism it implied or the death-march of time it made him freshly aware of. But to Aliya, each birthday was an acknowledgment that they'd survived one more year. So he humored her, like he did with almost everything.

"I know you said no gifts," she said, kneeling in front of him on their bed. She looked downright mischievous; he felt his heart flip-flop in anticipation, even as he groaned in mock outrage.

"And I meant it! What'd you do?"

"Oh, nothing big. Literally." She winked at him and raised her hand.

A micro-bot lay in her palm, no longer than her pinky finger. She whistled, two tones, and it rose up and started dancing. It had been inlaid with quartz and silver, not particularly valuable - you could get either from a blown-out building and there were ten of them within a quarter mile - but rare to see in something so perfectly, wonderfully useless. The rock and metal threw off the light; the dancing was perfectly rhythmic and reminiscent of an Independence Day party.

"I've never seen something so pointless," Nate said, but he couldn't keep the smile out of his voice.

Metal grew inexorably in his body, formed the bulk of every single one of his guns. He'd never thought to shape it into something ornamental. He loved it.

"Thank you," he whispered, and pulled her down between his legs, kissing her with all the heart he had left.

He woke like he always did, heart pounding, reaching out for a warm body that wasn't really there. For a second his senses got all confused, and he flung an arm out to push Wade away.

Nothing. No one. Bare walls and an empty bed. In his mind, Aliya and Wade laughed at him, mockery in concert.

-

He thought Wade would text him if he wanted to spend time together, and he had assumed he wouldn't want that at all. Wrong on both counts, he thought dimly, staring at Wade and the enormous blue velvet fainting chaise that hadn't been in his living room when he'd gone out to get coffee.

"Honey bear! You shouldn't have." Wade snagged the coffee before Nate had a chance to clarify that it was his. He pulled three sugar packets out of his costume's crotch pocket and stole half a stick of butter from Nate's fridge, stirring it all into what had been a top-tier cup of fair trade Ethiopian espresso.

"Why are you here," Nate said.

"I'm a Restoration Hardware deliveryman now. Waiting for my tip, by the way." Wade flopped back down on the chaise and poured the coffee straight down his throat. Nate heard a faint sizzling noise and winced. "Twenty-five dollars should do, but I take payment in blowjobs as well. Tip or tip."

Nate considered yelling. He thought about throwing Wade, and the chaise, out the window. He thought about the empty silence he'd restore if he did it.

"I don't do mouth stuff for under fifty bucks," he said finally.

"I knew moving out would be a bad influence on you! Tsk, tsk." Wade spun on the chaise, making room. "I got the new Dolly Parton live DVD, I want to watch it."

"I don't have a -" Nate followed Wade's masked gaze to the far wall of his apartment, where a TV that hadn't been there an hour ago was mounted to the wall.

"If that falls, you're paying to fix it."

"Sure." Wade jiggled a leg. "Come on, I'm bored and I broke my TV a couple weeks ago. Let a guy squat."

He'd let Wade do a lot more than that, damn it. "Fine. You bought the place, anyway."

"You'll never make it far in the escort business with that attitude. Big mistake. Huge." Wade turned the TV on.

Nate had planned for a quiet day in, enjoying the wasteful air conditioning and plotting how to buy New York's less ethical senator. There was no chance of quiet when Wade turned on the television.

"Fine. Stay," he said. He just barely managed to keep it from sounding like a plea.

Halfway through 9 to 5, Wade turned to him and said, "Is that a semi or are you just packing three guns?"

"It's a gun," Nate said, because it was.

On the TV, Dolly pulled out a saxophone. Wade whipped his mask off and hopped onto Nate's lap. "I love a good sax solo played by a beautiful woman."

"She's old enough to be your grandmother."

"So are you, in some universes," Wade said, and kissed him.

He put his hands up with the intention of pushing Wade off him. He readied himself to spit it out: What the fuck do you think you're doing? But then Wade shuddered in his arms, twisting his hips against Nate, and Nate knew he'd never do it.

Why fight the inevitable? He kissed back.

-

"It was just a hookup."

"You're literally wearing his clothes over your heart."

Nate looked down at his chest. The shirt was a little too tight, much too long, and read, 'I ♥ DP'. "Sends the wrong message."

"In so many different ways." Domino threw another dart. She was three for three on bulls eyes; Nate didn't know why he agreed to these bar nights. "My point is, you're pathetic. I thought you moved out?"

"I never told you that."

"Leaving aside that you did tell me, last week when you were drunk and crying, Wade has told everyone on the team a couple times each. We're not sure if he genuinely keeps forgetting or if he's just being a dick for the hell of it."

It was a fair description of Wade, but Nate found himself bristling anyway. "Come on, you know he has issues -"

"And you know he's a dick." Domino tilted her head. "You really aren't over him, huh?"

"It's none of your business."

"True, although if I have to intervene during a job because the two of you won't stop staring at each other, I'm not going to be happy." She shrugged. "Call me crazy, but I think trying for fulfillment in life is a good thing."

"That's all the therapy talking." He could practically see the bullet listed worksheets. Wade had told him about them a couple times.

"Useful therapy. It got me over a lot of stuff." She patted his shoulder. "I can give you my therapist's number, if you want."

"I'm trying to stay single for awhile."

"Oh, my God. Never mind."

Another few rounds of darts passed before it occurred to Nate that he was being an asshole. "How are things with you, anyway?"

"Same as they've always been," Domino said, not meeting his eyes.

"It had to have been hard to go back there. With Russell."

"Why do you think I have my therapist's number on hand?" She laughed a little. "I couldn't tell her the whole truth, but she got all cranky with me anyway. She told me we've worked too hard for me to get hung up on revenge. Acceptance is the first step to healing, and you can't accept something if you think you'll get a chance to change it."

"You did, though."

"Yeah. How about that?" Domino picked up her drink and drained it down to the maraschino cherry. "I have to go. Early client meeting tomorrow. You going to be okay getting back on your own?"

He'd dragged himself off a battlefield once, guts hanging out, holding back the T-O with the last threads of his sanity. Yeah, he could walk a couple blocks in this inconceivable paradise of the present. "I'll be fine."

"Sure. Word of advice from a therapy pro? Technically making it back alive isn't the same thing as being okay." She patted his shoulder and left before he managed to string together a response.

The walk home was, in fact, fine. No one even tried to mug him. He wandered more than he should've, maybe, but that was the prerogative of the drunk and sad. He was only in trouble when he got home.

Wade had brought him a mirror a week ago. It was too big and ornate for Nate to want to look at it regularly, so he'd put it in the hallway. He saw his reflection in it now, an old man, exhausted and pathetic - and in love. Fine, that wasn't visible in the mirror, but the 'I ♥ DP' shirt was, and Nate knew what it meant.

"Fuck you," he told his reflection, and went to bed.

Waking up miserable, hungover, and covered in his own drool should've been enough to drive home why staying away from Wade was a good idea. Instead, he found himself thinking about Wade more and more, an escalating and vicious circle that inevitably and repeatedly led to Wade coming over to his apartment, bringing cards or booze or another movie he wanted to watch.

And always something else: a Tiffany lamp, an armchair, a stack of books. He tried to bring in a cat he'd found in the alley, and only Nate threatening to throw it out of his ninth story window made him take it back outside. Every time, he offered the same explanation: "I thought you'd like it." Demented, Nate thought. Unstable. Unreliable.

His apartment seemed completely pointless when Wade wasn't there, the dead space between vital communications.

Three weeks after his pathetic bar night with Domino, they did a mutant kid collection job that turned into a "stop the alien invaders" job halfway through. They survived the day, in no small part thanks to Negasonic's ability to blow up entire alien hive ships, but Wade lost half his shoulder. Nate insisted on taking him back to his place, making sure it regrew before Wade did something stupid.

"- why is it always aliens? Can't we fight off sentient trees that are pissed about deforestation or something? The blockbuster model demands always-higher stakes, but how many times can aliens realistically threaten the world before audiences stop showing up? And there's no way the other X-Men wouldn't have come, if -"

Nate tuned him out again. He'd been going on like that for awhile: two hours, Nate thought, glancing at the clock. His shoulder had gone from a mess of severed tendons to mostly healed. Nate figured he'd be better in another thirty minutes, tops.

He stood. "I'm tired."

"Prerogative of the elderly. Hey, what about a nanobot apocalypse? That would be great for your character development."

"Here." Nate dropped a blanket on Wade and then, when he noticed how pathetic he still looked, tucked a pillow behind his head. "Don't go anywhere. Till you're healed."

Wade tilted his head back. For a moment, Nate's control nearly broke; he almost reached out to touch, to comfort.

He clenched his hand in a fist even as Wade said, "Rebellious, sentient circus bears."

"Jesus." Nate threw up his hands and beat a quick retreat to his room.

Maybe it was Wade, still out there muttering to himself. Maybe it was the fact that the aliens had kicked their asses for hours. Nate felt tired, but not in the awful, world-weary way he'd almost gotten used to. He felt almost comfortable.

When he woke, the apartment was silent; Wade might have left, was hopefully just asleep. Sunlight poured in through the windows.

("I'm going to get you curtains," Wade had said once, right after they'd finished watching all three Lord of the Rings movies. He stared at the windows like they'd done something to personally offend him. "Big, gay, lacy white linen curtains. Like Emily Dickinson."

"Sure," Nate had said, and poured Wade another drink. He forgot all about the curtains after that.)

The white walls and ceiling that usually looked depressingly empty were perfect like this, in the morning sunlight. He was hard in a lazy, un-urgent way, and he took a moment to indulge, stroking a hand along his thigh, closing his eyes against the shiver of sensation it produced.

He touched his stomach, his chest, ran his thumb over the scar tissue by the T-O. Fuck, it felt good; he had aches and pains everywhere, but the bed was perfectly soft, the sheets thin and cool. He felt himself getting harder, the diffuse desire of minutes ago sharpening into need. He reached down to his cock, tugged himself a bit, not quite teasing.

"Nate! Why don't you have any frozen cherries - oh."

He looked up. Wade stood in the doorway, holding a cast iron pan that hadn't been in his kitchen yesterday, staring at Nate's cock.

"Well," Wade said, "well, well...well."

Maybe it was the sunlight, the bed, the general sense of well-being. Maybe it was the way Wade licked his lips, like he wasn't even aware of doing it - though Nate kind of hoped not. "Come here," he said, holding up a hand and motioning Wade closer. He didn't consider any other option.

He kissed Wade as he crawled into bed, pulling him until he toppled onto Nate. His skin was unnaturally warm, and he twitched as Nate ran a hand over his back. "Good lighting in here," he muttered when they broke apart.

It occurred to Nate, much too late, that'd they'd only really done this at night. Wade might be clinically not-all-there, but he was capable of thinking tactically. It had probably been on purpose.

Nate hadn't noticed; his mechanical eye made up for the human one. He'd always been able to see Wade perfectly clearly.

"I like it," he said, and pushed Wade down onto the bed.

He knew Wade loved this, feeling Nate's bulk pressing him into the bed, making it really fucking inconvenient for him to try to move. Normally, he'd pretend this made it more impersonal: hooker jokes, asking Nate to press his face into the bed, whatever. Today he shook a little, took a deep breath, and spread his legs, not saying anything at all.

Okay. Nate could work with that. He kissed Wade's shoulders, his spine, shifting behind him to kiss and bite his thighs and ass. He spread Wade's ass a little, enjoying the way it made him arch his back, dropping his forehead against the sheets.

A strange sense of lightness bubbled up in his chest. "Gorgeous," he muttered, and rubbed a spit-slick thumb against Wade's hole.

Wade shuddered again, but it wasn't happy this time. "Come on, just fuck me. Enough with the bullshit."

Predictable. "I don't need to flatter you for this." He slipped a thumb into Wade's ass. "Do I?"

Wade moved against it, let out a shaky breath, but didn't answer.

He pressed in harder, curled his thumb. "Do I, Wade?"

"Fuck you, fuck you," Wade said, writhing against him.

Nate slapped his ass. Wade gasped, cursed, and moved against it, grinding back onto Nate's hand. "No. You're a fucking - no, no, you can have - whatever. Whenever."

From someone like Wade, that was practically a declaration. Nate dropped his head and kissed Wade's back, then pressed another finger into him.

They fucked just like that, shrouded in sunlight, silent except for the occasional moan or gasp. Wade seemed content to grind against the bed, holding Nate to him with ankles hooked around Nate's calves, whispering something too distant even for Nate's enhanced hearing to catch. He felt like he could've lasted forever like this, buried inside Wade, not bothering to hide how the closeness made him feel.

But of course it had to end. He reached around to get Wade off and felt Wade's own hand already there; their fingers slid over each other, slippery with sweat and pre-come, as Wade fucked himself into the mattress. He gasped, "Nate, fuck," and came - and that was enough to send Nate over the edge, digging his metal fingers into the sheets until they tore.

He wasn't tired, but he fell asleep anyway. When he woke up, Wade was long gone.

-

He stayed gone. "He's got a job," Weasel said when Nate showed up to glare the truth out of him. "No, seriously, I can send you proof if you want but it's my balls on a platter if I'm lying and I know it. He's on a job."

It must have been at least partially true. But Wade was known for efficiency in his work. He stayed gone for one, two, three weeks, until it occurred to Nate that this was a hint, and he should take it.

Fuck that. He broke into Weasel's office after hours and got the info. Wade was in Northern Ireland, with a flight back to the States in one day.

Nate took himself over to Wade's apartment and waited.

-

"Jesus flying Christ, warn a guy, would you?"

Nate stepped out of the shadow he'd allowed to cloak him while Wade took his suit off. "Why is your midsection duct taped?"

"Why isn't yours? 'Cause no one's stabbed it lately, right? I can fix that for you if you want." He reached for one of his katanas.

"Wade."

Wade's hand froze. He looked ready to roll his eyes, or scream. He looked - "Like shit," Nate said, "you look like shit."

"Sure. Well. I'm shit who's fifty grand richer, so if you'll excuse me."

Nate got over to block the shower before Wade had even limped a foot. "Tell me what happened, and I will."

"You will what?"

"Leave you alone."

"Bullshit," Wade said.

"I won't leave. But I'll ignore you. Promise. There's still a second bedroom." Nate stood and waited, keeping his expression as blank as he could, willing Wade not to notice how stupidly desperate the offer was.

"Spatchcocking," Wade said after a moment.

"What?"

"You know, when you cook a turkey? You snip the backbone out? Happened a couple hours ago, only I was the turkey and some mobster's lawn shears were the scissors. I'm fine now, but some of my nerve paths are still retraining themselves or whatever, I didn't stick around for an explanation. The tape keeps things aligned for another day or so."

For a moment, Nate could only see red.

"...still in there, Captain Cold?"

He focused again on Wade, who was watching him with his head tilted, looking - tired. Really fucking bone-deep tired, in a way Nate recognized with painful clarity.

"Yeah," he said. "Take your shower. Dumbass."

He'd ordered the groceries while he was still waiting for Wade. Now he pulled out the relevant bits and got to work. Eggs and steak, kale and tomatoes - this would be half-breakfast, half-dinner, but who cared? Wade needed food. Ripping his spine out, what a fucking joke. Nate cooked the steak and fried the eggs while he fantasized about tying Wade up and taking all of his jobs for a couple months, maybe a full year, however long it took Wade to stop being such a fucknut.

"I did it on purpose," Wade said from the doorway.

Nate turned. Wade stood dripping wet, wearing a fluffy pink robe. "Yeah. I figured."

"Bullshit."

"No, I really did." He nodded at the kitchen island. "Sit, would you?"

Wade sat and let Nate pile food on his plate.

"I know you freaked out," Nate said. "I should've realized it at the time, but I was -"

"Knee deep in the best ass you've ever had?"

"Happy." Nate met Wade's eyes for a horrible, gut-wrenching second before he had to look away. "So I ignored the obvious signs."

"Well. I ignored the obvious spines, so, we're even there. Ish."

"If you run away like that again, text me or something."

"Kind of negates the point of running away."

"I didn't go get you, did I? Even though apparently I should've, given your whole spine situation."

Wade chewed through half his steak, very slowly, before saying, "I just would have told you to fuck off. Maybe tried to kill you."

"You wouldn't kill me."

He shrugged. "I think I wouldn't do a lot of things, then I do them."

Nate looked around rather than try to figure out how to answer that. Wade's apartment was a dump. Black sheets tacked up on the walls doubled as curtains; a couple holes in the front door were almost certainly the source of the mouse shit he'd seen around the kitchen trash. One of his windows still had a hole in it from when he'd thrown his TV, which he still hadn't replaced. His couch was missing a leg and looked like Wade had fished it out a dumpster after it had begun to rot.

All this time that his own apartment had been turning into a mouse hostel, Wade had been bringing Nate stuff for his own place: nice stuff, stuff that went together and that Nate liked. The realization came upon him all at once, like being hit with a light post. Wade's habit of bringing him expensive home goods was so fucking stupid it couldn't have been anything but his way of making a declaration, one that meant a hell of a lot more than his non-stop jabbering about how hot Nate was.

"Come home with me," Nate said before he could think better of it.

Wade's fork clattered to his plate. "What part of 'spatchcocked' did you not understand?"

"Not to fuck. Unless you want to. I could make it work for you." Nate shook his head. "Stop distracting me, you know what I meant."

"Pretty sure the thought of fucking all of this -" Wade gestured to himself - "is a sign of at least three or four mood disorders. You should be seeing a doctor, not inviting random men to move in with you."

"Quit being a dick. You're not random and you know it. No," Nate said when Wade opened his mouth to babble, "stop acting like you're a super-special villain. You'll never get close to my kill count, not even if you live another hundred years. I asked you. Not a random guy. Come home. If you need to freak out and go be an asshole in another country, fine, I don't care." Not quite true, but true enough. "Just come home after."

"You were happy when the curse ended. You couldn't wait to get farther away."

Nate took a deep breath. "You kicked me out. You bought me an apartment. I would've stayed."

Wade dropped his eyes to his food. He stuffed six grape tomatoes in his mouth at once, and then muttered, juice running down his chin, "Fucking linear time."

"I get it," Nate said. "I freaked out too, okay? But I think the team's a few weeks from, I don't know, hiring a merc to dose us with an aphrodisiac, or something. So."

"So, move in with you so that a sex merc doesn't force us to fuck?"

"Persuasive, right?"

"Not really." Wade's expression grew distant. "Sex merc. Is that a job? I should ask Weasel to put me in the books as -"

Nate kissed him. Wade slowly and sensually poked his tongue out until he'd deposited half a tomato skin in Nate's mouth, and even that wasn't enough to make him stop; he turned and spat it out, then kissed Wade again, holding him against the counter.

Finally, he pulled away. "Come the fuck home," he said.

The dazed look Wade gave him warmed him head to toe. "Yeah, okay," he said. "But -"

"But?"

Wade slipped out of his stool, caging Nate. He leaned down and placed his lips against Nate's ear.

"My ass is only half grown back," he whispered.

This was really what he'd signed up for. Well, like hell was he going to back out now. "Won't be a problem," Nate said, and proceeded to demonstrate how much he meant it.