I love Vanessa very much. She is my heart, my life, my candle on the water.
If she doesn’t stop tasing me in the middle of the night, we are going to have words.
“I’m sorry, babe.” She’s sitting cross-legged on the bed, looking at me with her big, beautiful, sincere eyes. She still has the taser in her hand, though, so I’m not falling for it. “It’s just that when I wake up suddenly like that, I have a self-defense reflex. It’s a good thing, really.”
“I absolutely respect that,” I tell her from the floor, where I’m waiting for the skin on my chest to grow back. “I’m so glad you can protect yourself. The cockles of my heart are warmed with feminist solidarity, V.”
“But you want me to stop doing it.”
“I want you to stop doing it to me.”
“Well, I want you to stop having nightmares like that. I’ll stop tazing you if I stop waking up in the middle of the night, and I’ll stop doing that if you stop waking me up with your nightmares, so…” She shrugs delicately, her tank top slipping off one shoulder, because she loves me. “This whole thing is really in your hands, Wade.”
“I would love to not have nightmares! But I’m not really sure how to stop!” I have enough muscle control back to sit up and look at her. “Being impaled and set on fire kind of lingers, you know?”
She finally puts the taser down on the bedside table. “What do you think might help with that? Therapy? Sedatives?”
“The most mind-altering chemical compounds known to man don’t have an effect on me anymore. Which sucks, by the way, what am I supposed to do with my free time if I can’t get drunk on mouthwash?”
“Is that what happened to the drain cleaner?”
“I was just testing the theory.”
“Well, you need to buy more.”
“Yes ma’am.” I lie back down on the floor again, not because I have to but because it’s nice there. “I don’t know, Vanessa. I’m fucked up.”
“You’ve always been fucked up. I like that about you.” She hugs her knees to her chest and rests her chin on them. “But the nightmares are a major bummer, it’s true.”
“I could try sleeping with my head in the toilet.”
“No, that’s gross.” She wiggles her toes at me. Her toes are perfect. I want to cut them off and eat them like Vienna sausages. But only if they would grow back, so I could do it over and over again, and so she could continue to walk, and dance, and toe-fuck me on Toe Tuesdays. “What about the therapy idea?”
“Do you really think there’s a therapist in all of New York who’s up for this dumpster fire?” To be fair, we live in no ordinary New York. We live in a New York with the exact same weather and major port placement as Vancouver.
She picks her phone up from the bedside table and taps at it for a minute, then hands it to me. It’s open to a note file of names and phone numbers. “I did my research.”
“Babe.” She’s so good. “You’re so good.”
“They all specialize in mutants or the severely emotionally disturbed. So that’s good, right?”
“I’m not actually a mutant, though.”
“You are. You’re just a forced mutant. A mutant against your will.”
“I think that’s a lab experiment, not a mutant.”
“Well, whatever.” She wiggles her toes at me again. “You can start calling them tomorrow and see who can fit you in.”
“What do I do between now and tomorrow?”
She rolls her eyes and climbs up to the pillows. “You come back to bed, Wade.”
Vanessa is so beautiful. So amazing. So sweet. With a kick like a draft horse that’s been downing Jagermeister.
But don’t think I didn’t notice her slipping the taser back under her pillow.
So I called a bunch of therapists. Turns out most of them wanted things like “insurance” or “money” or “a problem that isn’t being experimented on, made nonhuman, and then impaled and set on fire.” I made one of them cry just in the intake call. I don’t feel good about that.
I don’t feel bad, either.
My feelings are very touch-and-go these days. Sometimes nothing matters. I just want to watch the world burn, kick the crap out of people who bother me, and do a slow-mo aerial routine while double-fisting Uzis.
Other times I want to lie very still somewhere dark, maybe like the bottom of a well or the Marianas Trench, and wait for the earth to consume me. But I’d still be alive under the earth, you know? Getting nibbled by worms and slowly suffocating but then growing it all back and thinking about that freaks me the fuck out. Awful. No.
Since getting the Vanessa part of my life back, when I feel that way I end up going over to the house to see Al. We talk about the good times, catch up on the soaps. I do her makeup for her. She does my makeup for me. We drink bathtub gin. Oh, how we laugh.
But eventually, she needs to take an old-lady nap, and I end up alone with my thoughts again. It’s very bad. I’ve tried journaling those thoughts, and then doing art therapy with them. I’ve got a nice stack of notebooks to take with me to this therapy appointment with the one, count ‘em, one doctor who agreed to see me.
She apparently worked with Bucky Barnes for a while. Not long-term or anything. But I checked the dark web and there are definitely grainy pictures of him leaving her office, and that’s good enough for me. I hope she kept his number and I can steal it from her phone. I’ve got such a soft spot for guys with metal arms and a backstory that you need an index to keep straight, I dunno, it’s a thing.
Anyway! Therapy. We’ll see how this goes.
It goes poorly.
“Wade,” Vanessa says tenderly from the other side of the pantry door. She’s so wonderful. But she’s not getting in here with me and the pickles I’m using to soothe my inner pain. “Come out here and talk to me.”
“I can’t even look at you right now. I’m a broken shell of a man.”
There’s a long pause. “You’re a kind of scabby shell of a man. I wouldn’t say broken. The dick still works.”
“That is true, and I’m grateful for it.” I eat another pickle.
I hear a soft thump and then the door shifts on its hinges. Oh. She must have sat down and leaned on it. Like she wants to be close to me and my pickles. “So therapy was a bust, I take it?”
“She said it would take an army of trained professionals working full-time to put my pieces back together, and she learned the hard way that she’s just one woman.” I eat another one. “The hard way is my code name for Bucky Barnes, too, isn’t that a coincidence?”
“Oh, Wade.” She sighs. “Not the Bucky thing again.”
“Metal arm, V. Metal.”
A great thing about my relationship with Vanessa is how we feel open and comfortable sharing our fantasies. And we really support each other. She wrapped her arm from wrist to elbow in aluminum foil to give me a shot at my metal-arm thing. It didn’t work at all, but it’s the thought that counts, you know?
She taps at the door. “I’m sorry about the doctor, babe.”
“Me too. But I’ll be okay. I’ve got you. And these pickles.”
“I have a feeling you won’t have the pickles for much longer.”
It’s true. There are only three left. Fuck, what am I going to do without pickles?
She sighs again. “I’m gonna take a shower. I hope you’ll come to bed after that? And tomorrow we’ll come up with another plan, okay?”
“There may not be any plan that’ll work. I think we have to be prepared for that.”
“Like I said the first time someone handed me an AssBlaster dildo and a jar of Crisco, Wade, I am not a quitter.”
I love her so much. “Wow.”
“I love you so much.”
“I know that, too.”
“But I kind of hate you for never telling me you have an AssBlaster.”
“I traded it for rent one month when I was short. Sorry.”
Rent is just cruel in this city. “That’s okay. As long as you weren’t holding out on me.”
“Never.” I hear her get to her feet and cross the kitchen again. “Shower and then bed, Wade Wilson.”
I know her shower and bedtime routine by heart. I have time for all three pickles, a mental breakdown, and half an episode of Family Feud before we get to bed.
Vanessa wakes up first and goes out for coffee. I’m not a morning person. To be honest, most of the time I’m barely a person at all, but first thing in the morning it definitely drops below 50% personhood.
When she comes back, she has the two coffee cups I’m expecting, but she also has a set of car keys. I blink at her from my blanket nest. “Babe?”
“We don’t have a car.”
“That was true, until about ten minutes ago.” She places the cups on the bedside table and folds herself up next to me, keys in hand. “Now we do.”
“Who did this car belong to before ten minutes ago?”
“Unimportant.” She admires the keys. “But he was a very stupid man, leaving the keys in the ignition while he went in for his coffee.”
Fair enough. “What are we going to do with a car?”
“Oh, that’s right, I haven’t told you yet.” She drops the keys into her lap and smiles at me. “We’re gonna go on a road trip.”
A road trip. Sure. Okay. “Why?”
“To make you feel better, baby. Get you out of your head a little.”
It’s true that I could use a break from my head. I’ve tried literally breaking it, but it always puts itself back together. “Are we going anywhere in particular, or just driving until the car falls apart?”
“Well, I know us well enough to know that we need a goal or we’ll end up moving into a roadside flea market somewhere.” She walks her fingers slowly up my leg. “I’ll catch and sell feral kittens. You’ll whittle disturbing conceptual art. Nobody will buy it. You’ll get more depressed. The cats will take over our lives.”
I can’t deny that that’s plausible. I’ve always felt a certain spiritual bond to flea markets, she loves cats, and any art I might come up with will definitely be disturbing. “So what goal have you decided on?”
“Well.” Her fingers reach my upper thigh and give a firm poke to my Wadehood. “At first I couldn’t decide, but then I saw something on a girl’s phone while I was waiting for the coffee.”
“No.” She rubs her knuckles over Little Wade and grins at him. “Slipknot is going on tour.” Little Wade retreats instantly. “Aw, come back here, I wasn’t done.”
“He doesn’t like Slipknot.”
“Which is fair, but.” She kisses my thigh and turns her smile up to me. “Slipknot wears masks. Their fans wear masks. You and I can go to every show on the tour and you never have to feel self-conscious. We can get out there.”
“I… see the tactical brilliance of your plan.” She’s so good at making me unable to concentrate. “But then we have to listen to Slipknot every night, babe.”
“A small price to pay for helping you reconnect to life.” Another kiss, and a flick of her tongue against the crotchal seam, and this is unfair and amazing. “Don’t you think?”
Thinking is difficult, curse her womanly wiles. “I… yes. You’re absolutely right.”
“As usual. Yes.”
She licks again and sits up slowly, tucking her hair back behind her ears. “Great. Let’s pack some bags and hit the road. We probably don’t have a ton of time before that guy realizes his keys are gone.”
“Are you sure we can’t take another, like…” I glance down at myself, then back at her. “Six and a half minutes?”
“Six and a half, look who’s feeling like a big man today.” She pushes me down on the bed and swings her leg over to straddle me. “But I suppose I can give you a chance to prove it.”
I’ve driven across the country before, but it was in an armored van full of mercenaries and explosives. We weren’t exactly playing license-plate games and singing along with the radio. Though maybe I should’ve tried harder to get some of that going. Appealing to a mercenary’s inner child can only end well.
Vanessa is an excellent road-trip companion. We agree on the essentials, like which snacks to pick up at gas stations, how many times a day to stop at roadside attractions, and circumstances in which it’s appropriate to engage in equal-opportunity road head. (Open highway, cruise control, recently stopped for a potty break and a quick visit with some moist towelettes.)
We stay on Slipknot’s tail, but it doesn’t take long to get over the need to attend every show. It’s a good time, honestly--putting on a mask, eating arena food, mingling with the crowd. I like being around people who are passionate about something. It’s a nice change from years spent around surly mercenaries and psychopaths. The genial weirdos of the heavy metal fanbase are right up my alley in many ways.
Still, a Red Roof Inn, some takeout enchiladas, and reruns of Seinfeld are more up my alley. And V’s. So that’s how we end up spending a good chunk of the tour.
“I miss Golden Girls reruns,” I tell her, putting aside the last of my rice and beans and switching the TV to mute. “I’m never going to forgive the syndication people for deciding to move on into the late 90s.’
“I know, babe.” She pets me with one foot and keeps painting the nails on the other. “You’ve sent them so many angry letters.”
“Well, it’s not right or fair.”
I flop back against the pillows and watch her for a while. “So this trip is going pretty well so far, don’t you think?”
“Uh-huh.” She lifts her foot into the light and squints at it critically.
“I’m having fewer nightmares. You’ve only tased me twice and we’ve been out here two weeks.”
Hmm. “And that’s good, right? That’s what you wanted?”
“It is. Absolutely.”
I cock my head and stare at her for a moment. She keeps staring at her foot. It’s a standoff. I’m bad at those.
“There’s something you’re not telling me, V.”
She sighs and twists the cap back onto her polish. “You just still don’t seem happy, Wade.”
“I’m happy! I’m with you!”
“I don’t know. Something’s still… off.”
“I’m a constantly reanimating corpse. Something is always going to be off.”
She throws the bottle of polish at me, which, rude. “Don’t say it like that, Wade, you know I don’t like it.”
“Sorry. I guess that’s not sexy.” I twirl the bottle between my fingers. “I’m gonna go ahead and use this, if you don’t mind? Our toes can match.”
“Yeah. Go ahead.”
It’s quiet again for a bit, while I paint my toenails and she watches me and the TV flickers in the background.
My last little toe just refuses to take the polish right. There’s a blob in my cuticle and it looks stupid. “I do still feel kinda off,” I tell the blob.
I can see Vanessa nod out of the corner of my eye. “I know.”
“I don’t know what to do about it.”
“I know that too.”
That blob just refuses to give in. Fuck it. “But being out here with you is definitely better than brooding on it at home.”
She smiles and reaches over to catch my free hand and thread our fingers together. “I know that too. Three for three. I must be the brains of this operation.”
“The brains and the looks.” I squeeze back. “That’s a lot of pressure.”
“It is. But I’m up to the challenge.” She settles back against the pillows. “Wait til you see what I’ve got planned for you tomorrow.”
I should’ve guessed that what she had planned would be something creepy and terrifying. Vanessa is strong in those areas. If we were ever making her a resume, I’d put them right up at the top of the list for special skills.
Somehow, in her infinite wisdom or through a pamphlet she picked up at a truck stop, she has found a ventriloquist museum. A building full of blank-eyed, soulless dummies, their mouths closed on silent screams forever, or at least until someone picks them up and projects a fake voice for their own purposes.
I admit that I have some issues around the whole concept of a stopped-up mouth that wants to scream, but I swear I’m not just running off into my own stuff here. Dummies are creepy.
Also we’re out in public and away from Slipknot, so I have my hood up and a baseball cap on and it’s 90 degrees in the shade outdoors, forget about inside this ancient, non-air-conditioned house of horrors.
Vanessa stretches the visit out to a good three hours, talking to the staff about ventriloquism history, and the progression of dummy painting styles, and the role of ventriloquists as spies in various American and European wars, which I’m about 90% sure they were both making up but there’s that 10% that will ensure I never again sleep at night.
I keep my mouth shut and make sure nothing gets between me and the exits while they have their chat. All those blank faces staring at me. Empty little eyes. This is very sophisticated torture. I didn’t know Vanessa had it in her, I thought she was only into the kind where she puts Icy Hot on my balls and makes me recite the alphabet backward.
“You ready to go?” she asks, snapping me back into the moment. She’s beaming and holding a paper bag. Oh god. This place had better not have a gift shop.
“Yeah. I’m good. What’s in the bag?” I don’t think I sound quite as panicked as I feel, so there’s a point in the old Wade Wilson column.
“Bootleg whiskey.” She grins and holds the bag up like a trophy. “There’s a still in the basement.”
“Is there a creepy doll on the label?”
“They’re dummies, Wade, not dolls. And yes.”
Dammit. “I’m gonna set the building on fire on our way out.”
She pats me on the cheek. “No, baby, that will make them angry. We don’t want that at all, do we?”
Usually not being able to tell if she’s serious or not is one of my favorite things about her. Today it’s just terrifying. I keep an eye on that bag all the way back to the car, just in case, but it stays quiet and normal and paper. For now.
In Missouri, she takes me to the Precious Moments Park and Chapel.
In Kansas, it’s the Famous Gunfighters Wax Museum.
I’m starting to wonder if something is up with Vanessa and staring, vacant eyes.
The tour goes to Texas and we follow along, because the sense of purpose is nice, I guess. And the fact that there don’t seem to be any supervillains following Slipknot. Or less-than-super ones, for that matter. We haven’t even seen any mediocre heroes trying to make a name for themselves. Not a single mutant without a cause.
“Is that a good thing or a bad thing?” Vanessa asks me, licking sugar off her fingers. “Are you trying to tell me that you’re bored?”
We’re sitting in the grass outside a parking lot off a Texas highway, where this little pole-barn type building sits by itself, containing every kind of pecan-associated product you can think of. They have a pecan vending machine. They have a pecan pie vending machine. It is genuinely deranged, and I think I’m qualified to make that statement.
Vanessa’s eating sugared pecans from a bag the size of her head, I’m halfway through a pint of butter-pecan ice cream, and we have two pounds of pecan fudge wrapped up for the road, so I’m not complaining about whatever fever dream spun this place into existence. Just commenting on it.
“I’m not bored,” I say, poking at my pint. “It’s just weird that we haven’t seen anything from that crew. Usually the good guys are busy sticking their nose into everything and the bad guys are being competitive over the real estate. We should have tons of villains out here for the cheap rent alone.”
“Do villains even pay rent? I thought that was the kind of petty concern that’s beneath them.”
“It’s like how the government gets you for taxes. If your landlord wants her check, it doesn’t matter if you have a nuke wired up in your bathroom, she will evict your ass through sheer force of will.” I have a lot of personal experience with this. Not that I had a nuke. Just a regular old fertilizer bomb. “I think landlord strength and indifference are superpowers of their own, actually. We should look into that.”
She snorts. “You mean you’ll ask the X-Men about it next time one of them butts in on you in the shower.”
“It’s usually not the shower. They get me walking to the grocery store. It’s a pain in the ass.” I lick my spoon clean and wave it at her. “And it’s not just the X-Men! I’ve had Captain America walk up to me at the Gap!”
“I know. You SnapChatted me about it.”
“I just wanted to help him find t-shirts that fit. I was doing him a service.”
“Okay, fine, he disagreed.” Cap is no fun at all. “But I was right, and that’s the important thing.”
“Sure, babe.” She crumples up her bag and sets it in the grass between us. “You go on telling yourself that.”
We’re quiet for a while, watching the cars go by and the bees start to collect over my empty bucket of ice cream.
“You think I should buy a cowboy hat?” I ask after a while.
“I really don’t.”
She reaches over and squeezes my hand. “I’m sorry, Wade,” she says softly. “I really hoped this would help.”
I love her so much. I squeeze back. “It isn’t over yet.”
Denver is an interesting town. I don’t mean that in the sense of actually interesting. More like, just… Denver. Man. What’s going on there? Denver.
“What do you want to do tonight?” Vanessa asks, carrying the last of our bags in from the car. We’ve accumulated more stuff than we started with on this trip. Souvenir t-shirts from every state’s welcome center. Tote bags from the various weird museums. A lot of candy. A duffel bag from the pecan place that is designated strictly for bottles of alcohol. A quarter-scale replica of the Dukes of Hazzard’s General Lee carved from a single piece of virgin pine. Our backseat is loaded with irreplaceable memories and probably a couple of mice.
“I’m not sure.” I test the bed for bounciness and then flop down spread-eagled. “We could go to the airport and try to figure out if it’s really a hell portal.”
“Are you sure you want to get your hero on by fighting whatever comes out of there if it is?”
“God, no. But we could call in Dr. Strange, or Magneto, or…”
She frowns. “Does Magneto do hell stuff? Or would he team up with it, since he’s a bad guy?”
“You can never predict what the Master of Magnetism is going to do, other than wearing the latest in helmetry. That’s part of what makes him so great.”
“I suppose.” She lays crosswise on the bed, perpendicular to me. “So you want to do that? Or something else?”
“You sound like you maybe have something else in mind. Lay it on me.”
“Well.” She drags one finger down my leg. “What if we bought a really obscene shit-ton of food, drove up into the mountains, had a picnic, and then got a little amorous?”
Using the fancy phrasing. I like it. “Can the shit-ton of food be tacos?”
“I love the way you think.”
“I love the way I think, too.” She reaches one hand up. “High-five?”
So we spend the first part of our night in Denver researching where to get the very best tacos. And when research from the comfort of the internet fails, we hit the streets for the only real place to find authentic food: questionable vans in parking lots in neighborhoods white people don't want to go to.
We always pay double as our apology for showing up where we're not really welcome. And we effusively praise the cook. Which is never hard, because the abuelitas stocking those vans are fucking incredible. Touched by god.
Or, since I don't believe in a just or loving god, touched by the shiny tentacles of the dread horror that lives beneath us all. Hail the darkness.
Anyway. We load up with tacos and hit the highway toward the mountains.
Miscalculation number one: The mountains are farther away from Denver than the city's PR people pretend. It's a good 45 minute drive and you have to go through Boulder to get to them. Way to steal Boulder's credit, Denver, you bag of dicks.
Miscalculation number two: assuming it will be easy to find somewhere to park and sit and eat tacos in the dark. It's complicated. I trip over rocks twice, fall about twelve feet, and get bitten by a snake. Snake venom is a bitch and a half to heal, did you know that? It burns.
Vanessa gets the picnic blanket set up while I'm busy with my internal organs, and by the time I can sit up again she's opened a bottle of wine and is gazing out over the city. “This is beautiful, isn't it, Wade?”
It is. But not as beautiful as her.
I slip my arm around her waist and we lean on each other for a while, eating and drinking and watching the lights spread out below us. I can feel something happening in my heart; not a cardiac event, but… feelings. Real ones. Ugly and honest. There's nowhere to hide from them up here.
Words feel so wrong in this moment, but if I don't get these feelings out into the air, they're going to rip me up in ways that are too metaphorical for my forced mutation to heal. I have to do this. It's gonna suck. But I have to.
“I've killed a lot of people.” A simple, declarative sentence. Also kind of an understatement. It's a start.
“I know that,” she says, twisting a little to look up at me.
“Like, a lot a lot of people. Many. Before… this, and since it. Tons of people. I don't have a total count. And I'm not sure that I care.”
Her face crumples into a frown. I hate seeing that. “What do you mean?”
“I know I did it, but it doesn't feel connected to me.” It sounds kind of dumb, out loud. But it also sounds, you know, bad. Villainous bad. “Maybe that part of my brain or my soul or whatever just doesn't grow back.”
Vanessa tucks her chin to her chest and stares down at the city. “Are you going to do that all the time? Killing people?”
“I don't know.” I mean, I’m pretty lazy. I’d rather just be able to go about my day. But I’m not going to lie to Vanessa any more, not even a nice lie.
“Are the people you kill random people or people who are trying to hurt you or… or what?”
I didn’t expect so many questions, honestly. Not that I would have made more of a plan if I did. “Not random. I'm not just going on sprees. But I can't really say I do much thinking about collateral damage, either. I just kind of wing it, I guess.”
She nods slightly. “Okay.”
That not what I expected. “Okay, what?”
“Okay okay, Wade.” She shrugs. “Okay.”
“I don't know if you're getting me here. I'm not a hero, super or otherwise. I'm not even a good person.”
“And I'm okay with that.” She finally looks at me, brushing her hair off her pretty face. “I'm okay with just living our lives, and if people insist on fucking up our day, well… we'll take it from there.”
“And if they send some prick like Iron Man after us? Or Mr. Fantastic? I hate Mr. Fantastic, just looking at his face makes me want to punch a clown or something.”
“You always want to punch clowns.”
“They can't be trusted!”
She laughs and ducks her head for a moment, then looks at me again. Her eyes are soft, and warm, and I feel like I can believe anything, in this moment. Anything while we’re together. “If they send a prick after us, we chop it off. We Thelma and Louise some shit.”
“You mean it?” I can tell from her face that she does, even before she nods. “I'm so in love with you.”
“Let’s celebrate.” It’s gotta be something good. Something extravagant. “Let's break into the Pepsi Center and have sex wearing the goalie equipment. I'm Canadian. They have to let me.”
She wrinkles her nose. “You know, if anything puts me off it'll be the Canadian thing.”
Rude. But it’s hard to care about right now. “Let me show you a little true north strong and free, baby.”
“I don't get it.” She reaches for me, pushing me down on my back and levering herself over on top. “Let's just have public mountain sex right here. Save the goalie stuff for Gretzky's birthday, like last year.”
“I like the way you think.” I gaze up into her eyes while she unzips my pants. “No taser, right?”
“Left it in the car just for you.”
Vanessa really loves me. And I love her, enough that I would burn the world down.
This one time I do wish she'd brought her arsenal, though. Because when that coyote currently voyeuring it up by the car inevitably comes after us postcoital and I have to sacrifice a limb to the cause, that taser really might come in handy.