It was not until after the briefing that Steve Rogers, better known as Captain America, noticed that he had missed a call.
“You have. One. New Message,” said the nice robot lady who looked after Steve’s voicemails. “First new message, received seven. Twenty-five. AM.”
It was not a number Steve recognised, and most of the people who would normally call him were in the same meeting he had just been in. Odd. He half expected a recording from someone asking him to send them all his credit card numbers, and if one of them was selected, he could win a Caribbean cruise.
“Hey, Cap, it’s your old buddy, Deadpool,” came the agitated voice on the recording, speaking in urgent, hushed tones. Steve wondered why Deadpool was calling him, and for that matter, how he got Steve’s number. “Listen, I know you’re probably wondering why I’m calling you of all people, and for that matter, how I got this number. That’s not important. You’ve got to get me out of here, and soon. You know I wouldn’t call if it wasn’t an emergency, and this is... yeah, this is not good.”
The message was otherwise vague on details, but the urgency in Wade’s voice told Steve it was serious, and that he should come alone.
“Help me, Steve Rogers,” he pleaded. “You’re my only hope.”
Steve had to admit that that got to him.
(It would be three months before Steve would see Star Wars for the first time. Needless to say, he was not amused when he did.)
The stealth quinjet’s GPS tracking system placed Wade somewhere in central Canada, as far as Steve could tell — Saskatchewan, if he had to guess.
What Steve had not meant to do was trigger the jet’s emergency fast return feature, which left him stood in a parking lot in Moose Jaw, watching his ride home whooshing into the distance without him.
This was how Captain America found himself pulling up to the Travelodge on Athabasca Street in a rented Nissan to rescue Deadpool from... something presumably dire.
It had better be dire, thought Steve.
This was how Captain America found himself kicking down the door of one of the Travelodge’s pleasantly appointed queen bedrooms to find Wade Wilson on top of a mess of bedsheets and pillows, kneeling behind a small, brunette woman in what looked to be fairly expensive yoga pants, carefully massaging her shoulders. The room was redolent with the warm fug of scented candles — sandalwood, if Steve was not mistaken — and the sound of slow, droning ambient music.
“Oh hey Cap,” Wade said serenely, apparently unfazed by the broken-down door. “Glad you could make it. Have you met Alanis?”
“Hey,” said the woman, so serene as to be nearly asleep.
“Shh,” whispered Wade, kneading the woman’s shoulders, “and relax, and relax, notice your breathing, relax, aaaaand... there.”
The woman slumped sideways with a sigh, having apparently meditated herself into slumber. Wade sat quietly, staring into the middle distance with a look of calm that Steve had not thought possible of him.
“Deadpool,” he whispered as forcefully as he could, aware of the sleeping woman a few feet from him. “What am I doing here?”
Wade slowly emerged from his apparent meditations, and smiled at Steve.
“Captain America,” he said, “glad you could make it.”
“Yeah, we’ve already done that bit. I made it because I’m supposed to be rescuing you,” replied Steve.
“Oh yeah,” said Wade, gently extricating himself from the blanket fort, and padding quietly across the room to Steve. “And you wore your stealth uniform and everything? That’s hot.”
“Wade,” Steve said in a careful whisper, “you said this was an emergency.”
Steve struggled to conceal his exasperation: after all, it was going to take a lot longer to get back to New York than it had been to get to Moose Jaw.
“I know what I said,” replied Wade. There was something in his expression, a pleading twinge at the corner of his eye, that said get me out of here NOW.
Steve sighed. “Okay,” he said. “Come on.”
Wade quickly gathered his things, and led them, on tiptoes, from the room. Alanis was fast asleep.
“Thank you so much for getting me out of there, Cap,” said Wade, once they were clear, “you know, before I changed my mind.”
“Do I even want to know what was going on?” asked Steve, helping Wade’s sleepy form down the clattering metal stairs of the motel. “Who is she?”
“Alanis is... we go way back,” he replied with a shrug. “It’s a long story.”
“Well, we’ve got a lot of time,” reasoned Steve, acutely, painfully aware that there was a Nissan Versa in the parking lot waiting to take them home.
“Let me buy you an Orange Julius first,” said Wade. “A little token of my gratitude. I owe you one.”
“I’d say you owe me an awful lot more than that,” argued Steve.
When he said it was a long story, Wade had meant it.
It all went back to the nineties, when Wade was just a shiny young thing, and —
“The nineties?” interrupted Steve. “Just how long is this story?”
“Look, I am trying to give you a précis, but you’re gonna have to deal with a bit of exposition,” said Wade. “Bad storytelling, I know, but bear with me.”
Where was he? Oh yeah, the nineties. It was a strange time, when white guys thought it was acceptable to have dreads, everyone was busily devising useless homemade solutions for stopping your CDs from skipping, and people still used phones as... phones. These were dark times.
Out of the darkness emerged one woman, the voice of a generation, you might say, and former presenter of a children’s sketch comedy show filmed in Ottawa. They met —
“I said, can I take your order?” asked the bemused Orange Julius attendant, who was absolutely not paid nearly enough to put up with this shit.
“Oh yeah, a classic Julius, and, uhh...” Wade glanced at Steve, who shrugged. “Another classic Julius.”
“That’ll be $7.20,” said the tired employee.
Wade searched his pockets, and came up empty. He gave Steve his absolute cutest, most convincingly pleading look. “You wouldn’t happen to have any cash on you, would you?” he asked.
Steve sighed, shooed Wade out of the way, and silently slid his card into the chip reader.
“That’s two you owe me now,” he said.
“I swear I’ll find a way to make it up to you,” Wade assured him.
Steve flashed him a cynical grin. “We’ll see,” he said.
Smoothies in hand, moving on, back to the story: the nineties. Wade was talking his way into the green room at a By Divine Right show at Lee’s Palace, and there she was, chatting to one of the Daves in the Rheostatics about yoghurt, fresh from a life-changing Eat Pray Love-style pilgrimage to the kinds of Asian countries white people admired for being “spiritual“ following a bad breakup, radiant with the glow that comes from the diarrhea you get from travelling at length. Her smile was luminous and serene. Wade was smitten. Hi, she told him. My name’s Alanis.
They were inseparable from that moment on, drinking cappuccinos and wheatgrass, helping each other meditate, reconnecting with nature —
“Wade, all of this sounds nice,” interrupted Steve.
“That was the problem,” Wade explained. It was nice: so nice, it turned out, that together, they were able to meditate themselves to a level of serenity that they did absolutely nothing. Like, diddly-squat for weeks on end. He often found himself braiding her hair or contemplating the sunset for days at a time. If he became any more one with things, he would have fused to his yoga mat after days on end of maintaining lotus pose. He was only snapped out of their oneness with the earth when hired goons came knocking because the rent was two months past due.
“Besides, it just wasn’t who I am. Serene, moi?” Wade scoffed. “But that’s what we do to each other. As soon as we’re in a room together, it’s like somebody’s mashed an elephant tranquiliser into my coconut water, and I’m so fucking mellow I can’t pull myself away.”
Fast-forward to about four weeks ago, and Wade was in Regina — bit of unpleasant family business, let’s not go there — and who should he run into while buying a variety pack of Timbits but the luminous, the serene, the Alanis. And before he could say “listen, it’s really nice to see you but I gotta go pick up floss harps and Shoppers closes in twenty minutes,” they’d hired out a motel room, stripped down to their overpriced yoga pants, and she was feeding him raw coconut and date truffles, which no one can possibly actually think are as delicious as, like, a fucking Snickers bar. Come on.
“And that’s my story,” concluded Wade. “Now it’s your turn. Why are we in a rental car and not, oh, you know, a quinjet?”
“Quinjet malfunction,” said Steve, quite content to leave it at that, it seemed.
“Presumably we could have got, you know, a flight back to New York?” ventured Wade.
“Sure we could,” Steve agreed, “but clearly you’ve never been thoroughly chewed out by Maria Hill, have you? ‘You spent the emergency budget on what? I’ll reimburse you!’ It’s... it’s not pretty.”
“Well, far be it from me to look a minimum of 30 hours with my very favourite Steve in the whole wide world in the mouth,” said Wade. “Just like Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, and probably just as homoerotic!”
Wade stretched his arm out the window, feeling the wind flowing past them, as the outskirts of Moose Jaw faded into the vast Saskatchewan countryside.
“No we’re not,” dismissed Steve.
“Aww, Caaaaaaap,” Wade sighed with pantomime dejection. “Not even a little bit homoerotic?”
“Not that,” said Steve. Wade made a mental note to celebrate later that Steve had not dismissed homoeroticism. “It was on so many recommended reading lists, but I didn’t like On The Road. They’re irresponsible, they’re disrespectful to the women they know. They’re jerks. Why does living some kind of free-spirited dream have to equate to basically being a selfish ass?”
“That’s... actually a pretty fair assessment,” agreed Wade. “Ok, so what travelling duo are we, then? Bill and Ted on an excellent adventure? Doctor Who and whichever British friend they’re currently definitely-not-sleeping-with?”
“Uhh, sure, that one,” shrugged Steve. “I haven’t actually seen any of these.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold up,” said Wade, slamming his palms decisively on the dashboard. “You haven’t seen Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure and/or Bogus Journey? Or Doctor Who? None of it? My young friend, you’ve got 50 years of TV to catch up on! This is gonna be amazing!”
“Maybe I’ll start with... one of those,” replied Steve.
“Do you have a list?” asked Wade. “You know, a getting-caught-up-on-stuff list.”
“Yeah,” confirmed Steve. The car was passing a long, seemingly uninterrupted stretch of farmlands, dotted with hay bales. “This week I found fried chicken-flavoured potato chips, I listened to ABBA’s greatest hits, and I tried to watch Lost.”
“Yeah,” said Steve, his gaze focused unwaveringly on the endless stretch of road ahead. “I tried.”
It was perhaps about as much as it deserved, thought Wade.
“I’ve got to admit, this is probably the nicest smoothie I’ve ever had,” conceded Steve, as the bungalows of Athabasca Street grew fewer and farther between, until there was nothing but fields. “How much sugar do you think there is in this thing?”
“Don’t think about it,” Wade replied, reclining the passenger seat as far as it would go, kicking off his heavy boots, and rocking his heels on the dash, “just ride it out, amigo.”
Hours passed before they even came close to getting out of Canada, let alone anywhere approaching New York. It was with no small amount of resignation that it occurred to Steve that he and Wade had yet to so much as enter New York’s time zone.
“Shit, the border’s coming up,” said Wade, scrambling for his passport. “Let’s get our story straight. You’re Captain America, and I’m — ”
“Is there any reason I should know about that we need a story to get straight?” asked Steve.
“... no?” said Wade.
“Citizenship?” asked the man in the little kiosk, as the car pulled up. Steve could just about make out the name ‘Winston’ on the nametag clipped to his shirt.
“American,” said Steve, handing over their passports.
“Canadian,” said Wade.
“Where are you coming from?”
“Uhh, Moose Jaw,” said Steve.
“Where are you going?”
“New York City,” said Steve.
“What’s your business in New York City?”
“Uhh, Avenging?” he ventured.
“Avengers, eh? Wouldn’t it be faster to fly?” asked Winston.
“Wrong superpowers,” shrugged Steve.
“Shame,” said Winston. “Anything to declare?”
“I have a longstanding unrequited crush on Thor Odinson,” said Wade.
“That’s the wrong kind of declaration, sir,” clarified Winston. “But he is an objectively beautiful man. Are you bringing any fruits, vegetables, dairy or meat products into the country?”
“Have you been to a farm in the last 30 days?”
“Do yourself a favour, take the second left out of town, and about 10 minutes up the road is a farm where they sell THE nicest cherry pies,” said Winston.
“Thank you, sir,” said Steve, as Winston handed their passports back to them.
“The one on the right, not the one on your left,” he added, as the car pulled away from the booth. “The one on the left does pies too, but they undercook the crust. It’s not pleasant, and it gives me cramps.”
A minute passed in silence as the car pulled out into America.
“So... can we get pies?” asked Wade.
“The hell with it,” he said. “What kind of monster says no to pie?”
Wade was disappointed to learn that Portal, North Dakota, was nowhere near as exciting as its namesake for Xbox 360 (other gaming platforms were available), but with cherry pies acquired, Steve agreed to pause for a few minutes on the outskirts of Flaxton to find out whether Winston’s recommended pies lived up to the hype.
Wade clambered onto the hood of the car, setting the pie down beside him.
“Please be careful,” protested Steve, “it’s a rental.”
“These things are built to withstand major impacts at speed,” reasoned Wade, unsheathing his most pie-friendly boot knife, “and besides, odds are pretty good this baby’s seen worse than my butt. You never know where a rental’s been.”
Wade handed Steve one of his two plastic spoons (where did these come from, Steve had asked him. You don’t want to know, he had replied, which he felt was a more mysterious and sexy response than saying he had pocketed them from the farm shop) and they each tucked in to a generous slice.
The crust was crisp and tender just as a pie crust should be, liberally sprinkled with sanding sugar for an extra touch of crunch, and then the filling. Oh man, the filling. Velvety smooth and rich, plentifully packed with the deepest, darkest, sweetest cherries, and something more — cinnamon, maybe, but definitely a stroke of genius. Wade felt his heart flutter with joy.
It was at least as good as an orgasm, he thought. And not a perfunctory, I’m-awake-before-noon-and-I’m-bored-so-I-may-as-well-jerk-off-to-pass-the-time orgasm either, but a soft-focus candlelit orgasm on a rose petal-strewn bed in the arms of your soulmate orgasm. The kind of orgasm you always remembered as though a sensual Kate Bush track were playing in the background. At least as good as that. Maybe even better. Wade quickly checked the front of his suit, just to be safe — nope, no stains, dry as a bone. Phew.
Steve, meanwhile, had ascended to another plane of existence. No food-related moan should ever sound that sexual, thought Wade — not that he was in any way complaining. His eyes were softly closed, which only made his unfairly pretty eyelashes look even prettier, and he had the smile of someone experiencing sheer, simple bliss for the first time in far too long.
“Fuuuuck me,” he moaned at long last, going in for a second bite.
Wade’s jaw hit the hood of the car so fast and so hard he was fairly sure it left a dent.
“Captain America said a swear!”
“What?” asked Steve, hazily drifting back into the present. “This is a really good pie.”
“But... Captain America said a swear!” replied Wade.
“Why does everybody think I don’t swear?” he asked, exasperated. “I was in the goddamn war, Wade! The language could get pretty salty out there. I grew up a poor kid in a queer neighbourhood — do you think I didn’t hear a lot of language? Do you think I didn’t have to shout back? I mean, sure, there’s a time and a place, but come on.”
Wade beamed. “Geez, Steve, you just keep getting cooler,” he gushed.
Spacious skies. Amber waves of grain. Purple mountains, though? Steve had always half-wondered whether the lyricist of that number was just a bit colourblind, or if it was a simple matter of ‘grey mountains’ majesty’ missing a syllable. He briefly considered silver mountains as a substitute, but he supposed that this implied the mountains were made out of actual silver, rather than the rocks and dirt and possible occasional goats that actually comprised them.
“Oh my god,” moaned Wade, picking at the upholstery on his headrest, “how the hell is America so boring?”
“It’s a big country,” reasoned Steve. “Can’t all be hustle and bustle.”
“I guess,” said Wade, with a petulant sigh. “Want to play chubby bunny?”
Steve stiffened in his seat.
“Wade, listen,” he said carefully, feeling a blush creeping over his face. This was not a conversation he wanted to have with anyone, let alone with Deadpool, with a good day’s worth of travelling to go. “I think you’re a really good person, but... I’m kind of spoken for.”
Wade shot him an incredulous look. “And that means you’re not allowed to have a contest to see who can stuff the most marshmallows in their mouth how?” he asked.
“What,” said Steve.
“Steve,” said Wade, “what did you think I meant by chubby bunny?”
Steve felt the blush crawl further over his face, down his neck, and right out to the tips of his ears.
“It... kind of meant something different back in the 40s,” he mumbled, self-consciously running a hand through his hair, praying that Wade would not press for details.
As if he was going to be that lucky. “Well, what?” pressed Wade. “You can’t leave a juicy nugget like that hanging in front of me without following through.”
“Or you can Google it when we get back to New York,” reasoned Steve.
“Fine,” conceded Wade, seemingly content with the compromise. “But have you done it?”
Steve’s blush returned in full force, like an entire patch of perfectly ripe strawberries.
“No, geez!” he flustered. “Besides, even if I had, it’s... that’s personal.”
“Have it your way,” shrugged Wade, shaking the marshmallow bag at Steve. “Chubby bunny?”
It was a good few hours of basically nothing (save for the occasional enticing billboard for a chain restaurant) before they decided it might be worth stopping overnight. The car’s GPS seemed to suggest that in the space of what sure felt like days, they had travelled eight hours, and made it as far as almost Minnesota.
“Well, the concierge wasn’t kidding when she said the room was cozy,” observed Steve, looking on in sleepy bewilderment as they shuffled through the door.
This was the dream, right here, thought Wade. They were living one of the oldest fanfiction tropes in existence. Late at night in the middle of nowhere, in the last room at the B&B, and it was one small bed. This was a narrative Wade knew well: at first grudgingly falling asleep side by side, as close to not touching as possible in the tiny space (out of politeness, maybe even shyness, more than any lack of curiosity, or desire). Sometime in the night, one of them, in their half-dreaming, perhaps forgetting where they were, would drape themselves over the other, and snuggle down. The other would be awakened, and after an initial moment of panic, would settle in. Tentatively, their lips would meet. “Is this ok?” one would whisper. The other would respond with a passionate kiss, suddenly hungry with need and aching to feel the other’s cock, hardening behind the thin fabric of pyjamas. “Deadpool,” the one would say, their sparkling blue eyes pleading, “I’ve only ever held hands before. Be gentle with me.” And then —
“Left side or right side?” Wade was snapped out of his reverie by Steve, puzzling at the snug single bed before them. “Side of the bed. Wade, focus!”
“Uhh, Captain’s choice,” flustered Wade.
“Suit yourself,” shrugged Steve, tucking into bed, politely making himself as small as possible.
Wade settled in on his side, as comfortably as was possible in the small space, and turned out the light.
“Well, goodnight,” said Steve.
“Sweet dreams,” said Wade. He closed his eyes, and watched the imaginary unicorns jumping over a fence until he had just about drifted off.
Just then, he felt the mattress shift slightly, and Steve mumbled something wholly unintelligible. Next thing Wade knew, Steve was fumbling awkwardly, reaching across Wade’s side of the bed for... something: Wade’s arm, it turned out, as Steve then dragged it back onto his side of the bed until it was all Wade could do to roll over and curl up behind him, his chest fitting flush against Steve’s back, arm draped over his belly.
“Uhh, Cap?” ventured Wade.
Steve gave a vague grunt in reply. Definitely asleep, then. Wade was spooning Captain America. He was soft and warm, and smelled faintly of lemony soap. This was pretty fucking nice. Wade snuggled in, willing himself to stay soft in spite of the perfectly sculpted bum that shifted gently against him, and drifted into dreams.
Steve awoke to a dawn chorus of loudly twittering birds, perched on a heavy branch that hung just outside the window. The first rays of the sun were almost threatening to tiptoe their way into the room, and he could not help but feel that both of these things were being quite rude and that it would be all right with him if they were to keep it down for a good few more hours. Despite the cramped square footage of the bed, the mattress was comfortable and the thick duvet was soft and fluffy, and still held the comforting scent that only happens to bedclothes that are dried in the fresh air. A warm, strong arm was wrapped heavily around him and across his chest, and he could just hear the soft snores of his bedfellow — snoring, for sure, but more like the endearing snore of a downy baby goat than fully-grown elephant. And then he remembered that he was travelling with Deadpool.
Steve was being spooned by Deadpool. He wondered if it was weird that he just kind of felt safe. He chose not to give it any closer consideration.
“Wade? You awake?”
“Mmm, hey Lando, no, no... take off everything but the cape,” he mumbled, stirring softly, snuggling in closer. “What? Oh, mornin’ Steve.”
“We should get going,” said Steve, shifting onto his back. Part of him was loath to leave the soft, snug confines of the warm down comforter, but if they stayed any longer... it might get weird. Granted, it was already weird, but still. “We’ve got a lot of ground to cover today.”
“Only a couple of time zones,” Wade yawned, rolling himself out of the bed. “You want the shower first?”
“Thanks,” said Steve, padding toward the little ensuite.
It was almost astonishing how much dust and scum and ambient particulates a person could find attached to themselves, despite having done nothing more strenuous in the last day than sitting, accelerating, braking, steering, eating marshmallows, and trying to stop Wade from playing (and sing-sobbing along with) that one Alanis Morrisette song for the eighth time. The shower stream was uneven, and the complimentary hotel soap was redolent of the sort of florid, powdery concoctions the girls of the neighbourhood would overburden themselves with on nights out back in Brooklyn: supposedly, they lent an air of sensual mystery, but they only ever sent Steve into a fit of asthmatic wheezing. It bothered him less now, but he would be lying if he said he found the scent anything less than unpleasant. He rinsed as much of it as he could from himself, leaving his skin tight and itchy.
Steve sloshed a mouthful of complimentary hotel cinnamon mouthwash, then zipped back into his stealth suit — no small feat, it turned out, when one was still shower-damp, and the fabric wished to cling to every cell of his freshly-cleansed skin.
There was noise coming from the bedroom. What was that, jazz music? Canned laughter?
“Oh Frasier, you scamp. How are you ever going to get yourself out of this mess?” Wade was not yet dressed, standing in his snug underpants (which Steve could not help but notice were emblazoned with a pattern of little rainbow ice cream cones) next to the small coffee maker, which sputtered and gurgled and hissed with what sounded like great irritation at being awake quite so early. “Cuppa coffee?”
Steve gratefully accepted the diminutive mug, which Wade had thoughtfully attempted to improve with half of their meagre allotment of cream and sugar, as Wade shuffled into the bathroom.
Steve took a cautious sip. While the aroma of freshly-brewed coffee had permeated the room with a comforting fug, there was nowhere near enough body in the drink itself to hold up to UHT creamer, leaving what felt like a thin film of milk fat coating the inside of Steve’s mouth. Steve gazed sadly down into the watery brew, then at the bathroom door (from which was emanating the nearly in-tune strains of Wade’s enthusiastic shower singing), then at the television (where a dinner party seemed to be going quite badly wrong). Steve downed the remainder of his coffee in one unsatisfying gulp.
“Hey Wade.” He knocked politely on the bathroom door.
“Yeah?” Wade shouted from the shower. What Steve was not expecting was for Wade to open the door, naked and dripping onto the tile floor. Steve fixed his gaze resolutely on the slightly mildewed ceiling corner behind Wade’s head.
“Continental breakfast starts in ten minutes,” he said.
“Yes!” shouted Wade, bounding back in to the shower. “Do you think it’s a buffet? I hope it’s a buffet.”
Steve politely closed the bathroom door. He wondered how many states they could cover in a day.
There was something special about a continental breakfast, thought Wade: for one thing, they never did make clear which continent the breakfast was from. If the standard Eggos, sugar-laden yoghurts, and array of standard packaged breakfast cereals were anything to go by, it was North America, which was the continent that Wade was pretty much smack dab in the middle of that morning. They could have just called it breakfast. He loaded up his plate with a stack of rubbery pancakes, hot sausage, scrambled eggs, brown toast, a lemon danish, three strips of disappointingly flaccid bacon, and a liberal garnish of crumbled fruity pebbles.
Steve’s plate, by contrast, was much more modest.
“Is that it?” puzzled Wade, settling into the stiff wicker-backed breakfast chair opposite his companion, whose plate was considerably more modest than Wade’s. “It’s all you can eat!”
“This is all I want to eat,” replied Steve, the dull edge of his knife scraping a translucently thin spread of cream cheese over his bagel before taking a bite. “What the hell kind of bagel is this? It’s just bread.”
“We’re still a long way from New York, honeybunch,” Wade reminded him. “Sure you don’t want to make that a fruity pebble sandwich?”
Steve sighed. “Yeah, what the hell.”
“Yes! Embrace the roadtrip spirit,” replied Wade, leaping from his seat, cranking out a generous pour of multicoloured cereal with such enthusiasm that he nearly unhinged the dispenser from the wall. Steve crunched a handful onto his bagel.
“Better?” asked Wade, chewing though a tough strip of underdone bacon.
“It’s pretty bad, but I guess it’s not C-rations bad,” replied Steve, tearing off a large chunk of the dense, chubby circle, washing it down with a sip of his coffee. “Could be a hell of a lot worse.”
Oh yeah, thought Wade: spend any time in his gently youthful presence, it turned out, and it became easy to forget that this guy, with his shoulders the width of a football field and unfairly beautiful eyelashes had been chowing down on bagels since before World War II was a thing.
“At least we’ve still got snacks in the car,” said Wade, though on reflection he wondered whether they could do with a top-up. “How much territory do you think we’ll cover today?”
“Hoping we can at least pass into the next time zone,” Steve told him. “I’d like to get back to New York before my beard starts coming in.”
“Are you sure about that?” asked Wade, downing the last slug of his freshly-squeezed-out-of-a-can-of-frozen-concentrate orange juice. “I bet you’d make a pretty sexy bear.”
Steve blushed. “Thanks... but I’m also kind of wishing I’d known to bring a change of clothes,” he admitted, still clad in most of his stealth uniform. He poked at his soft, pebble-stained poached egg with his fork.
“Steven,” said Wade, clapping a hand on Steve’s shoulder, “we’re in a mid-sized city in America. I have two very special words for you. Outlet. Mall.”
Two hours (and another Orange Julius) later, Steve was finally able to change into a pair of slim-fitting, flexible indigo rinse jeans — despite Wade’s best effort to sell him on a pastel shade he flatteringly referred to as Ironic Douchebag Coral — and a soft green t-shirt bearing the name of a beach that was clearly closer to southern California the North Dakota shopping centre where it was purchased. Wade carefully packed his six bags of bath products, scented candles, copious unhealthy snacks, a pair of short-shorts with the word “PRINCESS“ screenprinted across the bottom in sparkly lettering, and flagrantly overpriced loose-leaf tea into the trunk of the car, and they resumed their journey, thank goodness.
“I can’t believe I almost let it slide!” shouted Wade, out of nowhere. No one had said anything for a good thirty minutes. It had been almost relaxing, watching the countryside slip past them at nearly, but not quite, inappropriately fast speeds.
“Dare I ask?” Steve asked anyway.
“Yesterday! You said you were spoken for,” clarified Wade. “So, the beans. Spill ’em.”
Steve flustered. It was still to raw to talk about, especially with Deadpool, of all people.
“It’s... complicated, okay?” he said. “Forget I said anything.”
“Oh, go on,” Wade beamed at him, resting his elbow on the little console that divided their seats. “You can’t leave a juicy detail like that hanging and not expect me to want to know absolutely everything.”
Steve could feel the blush rising in him, spreading over his cheeks and out to his ears. This was bad.
“Look, there’s nothing to tell right now, okay?” he protested. “I’m not dating right now, just, there’s somebody important who I really...”
Wade gasped. “It’s someone I know, isn’t it?” he asked. “Who is she? Is it Black Widow? Is it Magic Wanda? Are you sweet on Squirrel Girl?”
“I never said it was a girl!” exclaimed Steve, before his brain could catch up with his mouth. It seemed Wade’s unfiltered-ness was contagious.
Before he could explain/backpedal, Wade let out a dramatic gasp — too dramatic, as far as Steve was concerned.
“Steven Diane Rogers,” he said, his tone almost worryingly serious, “are you telling me you’re... not straight?”
Steve sighed. It seemed he had a lot to sigh about on this trip.
“Okay. Yeah, I’m... I’m bisexual,” he shrugged.
“THIS IS LITERALLY THE BEST THING THAT HAS EVER HAPPENED,” declared Wade, clapping his hands excitedly and attempting to do a rather expressive dance in his seat.
“Okay, okay, but enough with the pelvic thrusts,” pleaded Steve. “It isn’t a big deal.”
If Steve were being entirely honest with himself, it was something of a big deal: at least, as far as he could recall, it was the first time he had said it out loud, in so many words. Thor knew, and Nat may well have guessed, though she had not said so if she had. Bucky must have known, he thought: if nothing else, that time that they had had sex must have been a fair indicator of Steve’s feelings toward his best friend.
“Are you kidding?” enthused Wade. “This is amazing! This is inspirational! How the fuck did I not know about this?”
“Because my private life is private,” said Steve, staring resolutely out into the road, flanked by flat, seemingly endless Minnesotan farmscape. “I’m not somebody like Stark, okay? I don’t hold press conferences to tell the world I’m thinking of buying a new toothbrush. And I guess I’m still figuring a lot of things out. It hasn’t really been a priority until now, and it still isn’t, but... why am I telling you this?”
“I’ve just got one of those faces,” suggested Wade.
“Yeah, I guess you do,” shrugged Steve. “So you, you’re...”
“What, straight?” offered Wade. “Hell no, bro. I like women, I like men, I like folks who are both, or neither... and then there was this one time where I was, ok, long story short, we were in space, and there was this sentient asteroid...”
“I feel like I don’t need to hear how this story ends,” interjected Steve.
Despite himself, in that moment, Steve felt a little less alone.
“Skip, skip, ooh, I’d forgotten that song was on this list... skip,” Wade narrated his crawl through his travel playlist. “Ah, here we go. Good travel vibes for a couple of — ”
Wade’s train of thought was derailed as hard as a train being knocked clean into space by a giant practicing her golf swing. He had caught just enough of a glimpse of the sign as they whizzed past to know it was meant to be.
“Steve, we have to stop.”
“I can easily go for another couple of hours before I need a break,” Steve told him. “We should really — ”
“No, Steve,” pleaded Wade. “According to the sign we just passed, there’s a place called Rogers just ahead of Minneapolis. That’s your name!”
“It’s not that unusual.”
“I know, but it’s your name!” protested Wade. “And also we either stop or I’m gonna have to pee in this empty coffee cup, and then just hope we don’t go over any bumps in the road before we get to somewhere with a trash can, and — ”
“We’re stopping at Rogers,” Steve assured him. “This car is a rental, and I don’t want to have to explain your... business.”
Steve pulled the Nissan into the parking lot of the sort of bland, homogenous vastness that typified the landscape of suburban American retail. A sandwich shop chain, a pizza place, a building boasting the fastest oil change in the county; then, at the far end of the parking lot, a beautiful, shining coffee shop, with a beautiful, shining toilet. Wade dashed past the tables and the bar and straight for the whizz palace, taking his place at the urinal farthest from the door, as was the custom in a public gents’.
Ah, thought Wade, the sweet release of a big pee after a long drive. He was surprised at just how much pee had apparently been in him; not that he was timing himself, but that stream sure felt like it went on for a solid minute. What was that, he wondered, a litre, maybe? Oh well. Business completed, he carefully refastened his ever-so-slutty casual trousers, cranked a puff of foamy handsoap from the dispenser, and washed up.
Catching his reflection in the mirror, he could see he looked less well-rested than he would have hoped, but no one escaped a road-trip without turning out a little less than sexy, he told himself. Of course, in the grand scheme of his travels with Steve, he was under no illusions of being anything other than the funny one with the good personality, should they happen to meet a pair of attractive locals in their travels, leading to a meal together, a few bottles of wine perhaps, a stumble back to the apartment their new friends share in a cool part of town... and an awkward handjob with minimal eye contact, if he should be so lucky. Those hypothetical locals simply did not get him, Wade told himself. He deserved to get to explore the downstairs of someone who got him.
Sanitation business concluded, Wade shook out his shoulders, adjusted his fashionably distressed shirt, and strode back into the coffee shop. Steve was seated at the bar, speaking in hushed tones into his phone.
“Anything? What about that report of a possible sighting near London?” Steve asked. He let out a long breath as the other person spoke, his shoulders slumping forward.
“Okay,” he said, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Thanks, Sam. You’ll call if there’s anything — yeah. Yeah, no, Minnesota. It’s a long story. Just, let me know if — of course I am. Okay. Bye.”
Steve tucked the phone back in his snug jeans pocket, rested his elbows on the counter, and his face in his hands.
“I’m guessing that wasn’t your boyfriend?” asked Wade.
“I don’t have — no,” Steve said quietly. He suddenly looked a little smaller, and much more tired.
“Let me guess.” Wade hopped onto the seat beside him. “Classified?”
“Kind of,” replied Steve. Wade could see his wide-shouldered composure slipping back into place. “Well, we’ve used their bathroom, so we’re gonna have to buy something. Drink?”
Wade scanned the menu, which ranged from standard, to intriguing, to coma-inducingly sugary (and therefore the most tempting of all, with extra strawberry syrup on top), to lightly baffling, and back again.
“I’ll take a 62-ounce growler of cold brew.”
“Wade, that’s ridiculous,” replied Steve.
“You’re right,” Wade agreed. “What if I want a latte? Could I also get a jug of 2% milk, please?”
“Wade,” Steve warned him.
“All right, all right — could I also get a small flat white for my sensible friend here?”
Steve took a sharp breath.
“... That’s better,” he said.
The barista nodded brightly, producing a large, beautiful glass jug of ice cold coffee. Wade smiled. This was going to make for a great afternoon’s driving, he thought.
“Look at this!” he enthused. “It’s beautiful.”
Steve shook his head. “Yeah, but how many times are you gonna need the bathroom?”
“You’re not suggesting I dehydrate myself, do you?” Wade hauled his drinks across the parking lot (seriously, could we have parked any further away, Grandpa?) while Steve followed with his modest little to-go cup. “My body is a temple, and somebody’s gotta treat it with the reverence it deserves.”
“Is that why you made us stop to taste a free sample of every flavour of fudge at Fargo Fudge Kitchen this morning?”
“The human brain runs on glucose!” countered Wade, narrowly beating Steve to the driver’s side door. “Why don’t I take over the driving for a few hours, if you think you’re ready to handle mixtape duty?”
“Wade, this isn’t — actually, yeah,” Steve sighed, shuffling round to the passenger’s side. “Thanks. Just... this is a rental, okay?”
“Don’t sweat it,” Wade smiled, squealing out of the parking space fast enough to leave a beautiful loop-dee-loop in his wake. “Listen, Steve, if you need another person to lend a hand on this super-secret classified case, or two hands, a couple of swords...”
“I’ll let you know.” Steve nodded, slipping his sunglasses on as they pulled out of the parking lot, the sun glaring against the shimmering tarmac, lending the world an uncomfortable brightness.
It was so, so ridiculous. It was beyond unlikely, and Steve knew this, but it was all he could do not to keep watch for signs of Bucky. It was hard to dismiss anything as too implausible when Steve’s life since about 1943 had consisted by and large of a sequence of implausibilities. The closest call had been at a gas station just outside of Madison, where he caught a fleeting glimpse of a casually-dressed man of suspiciously similar build to Bucky, dark hair fixed into a low ponytail, lingering in a quiet corner of the shop, but it turned out to be just some schmoe eating flamin’ hot cheetos with a pair of chopsticks.
“Hey,” shouted Wade over the rhythmic vocal gymnastics being belted out of the car’s speakers at volumes for which they had surely not been intended, “you’re not dancing. Is everything ok?”
“You shouldn’t be dancing either,” replied Steve. “You’re supposed to be driving.”
“I’ll have you know I drive better when I’m multitasking,” protested Wade, shimmying as best as one could shimmy in a seatbelt. “You sure you don’t wanna work it with me?”
Had Steve been as destructible as the average thirty-something-year-old gentleman, he might have feared for his life, but other things weighed on his mind instead.
“Guess I’m just not in the mood.”
Wade switched the stereo down to that tinny, just-about-perceptible level of volume that was not quite properly muted, but not worth listening to either.
“What’s up, slugger?” asked Wade, placing a friendly hand on Steve’s shoulder.
“It’s nothing,” said Steve, a reflex action if ever there was one. “No, it’s something.”
Wade glanced at him with concern, then seemed to remember he was driving, and turned his attention back to the road.
Steve sighed. “We’ve got a missing person situation,” he said at last, as an endless row of trees fwipped past the window. “Been following any leads that come in for a while now, but... they never seem to go anywhere.”
“Okay, give me a description,” said Wade, without hesitation. “What are we looking for?”
“Thanks.” Steve smiled softly. It was nice somehow, knowing Wade was in his corner. “He’s about my height, about my age, white, soft chestnut brown hair about shoulder length last time he was seen. He’s... strong, but graceful, and he has the most beautiful, kind eyes, deep bluish grey, with a sadness behind them that he thinks you don’t notice, but you do — you just don’t know how to make it better. He’s probably confused, he might not remember much about who he is, but then he got this look like — suddenly, we were just kids again, back in our damp little shoebox in Heights, and all this was just a fever dream. But then he saved me, and then he was gone. Oh and he’s got a prosthetic left arm that looks like some pretty advanced tech.”
“I’ll keep an eye out,” Wade replied, balancing the steering wheel with his elbow as he unscrewed the lid of his absurdly large jug of tepid coffee. “You probably could have led with the arm thing.”
“That’s fair,” conceded Steve. “You can turn the music back up if you want.”
Wade whacked the stereo up to what was, as far as Steve could tell, just above recommended maximum listening limits, though neither seemed inclined to dance.
“We should stop for dinner,” shouted Wade, after some time of silently counting every new billboard advertisement for a law firm that they passed, as the buildings either side of the wide road grew less and less suburban. Steve could just about see the cluster of skyscrapers on the horizon, and supposed they were due another stop. “Deep dish, or tavern-style?”
“I beg your pardon?” asked Steve.
“Chicago pizza,” said Wade, as they turned off of the expressway into the comforting noise and tallness of the city. “We can’t pass Chicago, right at dinnertime no less, and not do Chicago pizza.”
“Yes we can,” insisted Steve. “I’m from New York. We don’t do Chicago... ‘pizza’.”
In hindsight, maybe the air quotes were overkill, he thought. No, he corrected himself, they were just right.
“But Steve,” countered Wade, his expression just chaotic enough to give Steve pause, “don’t you think you should at least try Chicago pizza, so you can be sure in your smug sense of superiority?”
Dammit, thought Steve, Wade had him there.
“Dammit, you got me there, pal,” he said, with a shrug of defeat.
The restaurant was a deep, dark dive, a little old brick establishment wedged uncomfortably between a large department store and a tall office block, bustling with boisterous beer-drinking locals tucking into their generously stuffed pies. He felt it best to defer to Wade in ordering, lest he allowed his persistent sense of superiority get the best of him, and offend someone.
And then, somewhere into Steve’s second soft drink, the pizza arrived.
It was all Steve could do to bury his simmering resentment at just how good the pizza was. The crust, at once crunchy and chewy, encased an abundance of rich tomato sauce, fragrant, fennel-spiked sausage, and cheese. So much cheese. It was warm, comforting, restorative. It was a triangle of Midwestern-Italian excess. It was actually pretty splendid.
“It’s okay,” he said, with a shrug.
“Sure, Jan,” replied Wade, sliding an exceptionally long pull of stretchy mozzarella into his mouth. “It’s okay. I’ve seen your food o-face. You loooove it.”
“Wade,” Steve warned him, then softened. “Fine. It’s pretty good.”
Wade clasped his hands in delight. “Told you! You up for some party pieces after this one?”
Wade was something of an expert when it came to food; indeed, he had been studying it in great detail his whole life. That was to say, if eating counted as study, which it surely did in this instance. If there was universal truth he had learned about food in his years of intensive culinary scholarship, it was the fact that it was never worth being precious about provenance and authenticity in the face of diversity and innovation. That and the fact that everything tasted at least one-and-a-half times more delicious when cut into party pieces. Okay, two universal truths, he thought. Even better.
The bar was vintage, but well-maintained, like a grandpa’s basement, if your grandpa was the kind of grandparent who built a bar — complete with stained glass and their favourite Standard Beer on tap — in their wood-panelled rec room when they retired. The atmosphere was decidedly convivial: most of the patrons were a good few beers in, and a few were shouting mild swears at the sportsball game, which played out at low volumes from a scattering of televisions about the place.
Steve chose to defer again to Wade’s expertise, which led them to order whatever pie that one old dude in the red golf shirt was eating, since he looked like a guy who was probably here at least twice weekly and had been since the sixties.
“A toast,” Wade proposed, holding aloft his pint glass, “to good old American hospitality.”
“I’ll drink to that,” smiled Steve, clinking their glasses together, and taking a thorough slug of his drink.
“Say, if you’re still hungry after this, maybe I can spring for a wet beef sandwich,” suggested Wade.
Steve raised an eyebrow. “Is that... is that what it sounds like?” he asked cautiously.
“That’s literally exactly what it sounds like,” replied Wade.
Before Steve could express his enthusiasm or distaste, a resplendent pie appeared before them.
This pizza, in contrast to the first of the evening, was a wafer-thin affair, piled right to the edges with a scattering of cheese and those pretty pickled Italian vegetables that came in colourful jars from the kinds of fancy, old-school delis Wade rarely shopped at.
The beer tasted like sweet, fizzy corn soda, if corn soda was a thing that existed, with a distinctly yeasty underpinning.
“This is,” Steve began, gesturing with a half-eaten corner piece as though searching for a word, “this is nice. Thanks, Wade.”
It was nice, thought Wade: there was something strangely enriching about introducing a new cultural experience to this poor, sexy grandpa.
“Good pizza?” asked Wade.
Steve’s expression was decidedly pained. “Don’t... don’t make me say it.”
Wade smiled, reaching across the table — narrowly missing an armful of pizza grease — to pat Steve on the shoulder. “I won’t.”
They waddled out of the tavern a few hours later; despite his superhero-level metabolism, even Wade felt as though there was a food baby in him of sufficiently significant enormity that it warranted a baby shower, a gift registry, and especially one of those soft-focus photoshoots complete with at least a dozen sepia-toned shots of Steve’s hands forming a vague heart shape over his pizza-filled tum-tum.
“Okay, let’s go,” blurred Steve, sleepily fumbling for the keys. “How many hours is it to New York?”
“Captain Steve, you’re slip-n-slidin’ straight into a carb coma,” asserted Wade, gathering Steve’s sleepy form into the passenger’s seat. “We gotta get you into bed.”
“You gonna buy me dinner first?” Steve smiled up at him, batting his criminally beautiful eyelashes, as Wade dutifully clicked his seatbelt into place.
“I just did,” replied Wade.
“Oh yeah,” Steve yawned, reclining the seat as far as it would go. “Wake me up when we’re — wait a minute, no you didn’t! I paid for dinner! Both of them!”
Wade nodded sheepishly. It was not as though he had meant not to be carrying any cash, or cards. Again.
“... I guess the pizza was worth it,” added Steve. “To tell you the truth, this is the least stressful mission I’ve been on... ever.”
“Same,” replied Wade. “Super 8, or Motel 6?”
“Eight’s got to be better than six, but six is probably less expensive...” Steve trailed off, as though mentally weighing a pros-and-cons list of meticulously organised bullet points. “Ah, the hell with it. Let’s go to Super 8.”
“Super 8 it is,” agreed Wade, as the car hurtled down the expressway, and Illinois turned into Indiana. “So... big spoon, or little spoon?”
Steve awoke to a lightless and cold hotel room, unsettled from troubling dreams. The only sounds were the low hum of the old air conditioning unit by the window, and Wade’s gentle snoring. Everything was fine. Steve was fine. It was just a dream. He knew this.
Nevertheless, he gasped for air, lungs buckled and crushed like soft jelly under the weight of panic.
“Hey! Steve! Steve, hey. Deep breaths, buddy. You got this. You’re okay.”
Wade’s voice was somewhere near him. Steve nodded. Stamp it down, he told himself, stamp it down. His breath still eluded him.
“What’s wrong, bad dream?” asked Wade, folding Steve into a gentle hug, which it turned out was just enough to push the boulder from his chest, and he breathed in heavy, ugly sobs, his face warm and wet with tears within moments. “It’s all right, ol’ Deadpool’s gotcha.”
“It’s nothing,” Steve lied. “Just... stupid stuff.”
“You sure about that?”
“Of all the things to have a nightmare about, everything that happened in the war, and since...” he said. So many things to talk about, and he rarely talked about any. “What do I go and have a nightmare about? I had a nightmare because one time, during the war, a lady kissed me when I didn’t want to.”
“Hey, just because you’re a war vet who battles supervillains for a living, doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to be upset that somebody sexually assaulted you,” Wade told him. It was rare to see him this earnest. “Trust me.”
“Huh, okay,” he said. At the time, no one would have dreamt of framing it in that way. Somehow, nearly being shot in the head by a friend, were it not for the efficacy of the shield, does little to ameliorate one’s feelings: perhaps he could have handled it better too, but perhaps he should not have had to in the first place. Since then, he had tried his best not to remember it at all, let alone talk about it, but memories, especially the bad ones, had a nasty habit of blindsiding even the most outwardly strong.
“It wasn’t your fault, and it’s okay to be upset by it,” Wade told him. He would never have guessed Wade to be so... wise. “Sometimes it’s hard to see just how fucked up a situation is until a long time after you’ve come out the other side of it.”
“Maybe I should save it for my therapist,” mused Steve, the last dark vapours of his nightmare dissipating into the dry motel air. “Maybe I’ll... maybe I’ll think about getting a therapist.”
“All the cool kids are doing it,” said Wade.
Steve paused. He had never given much thought to that kind of self-help: he was functional, after all, especially as there was regularly enough to occupy him that he was able to shake off the nightmares, the guilt, the utter loneliness of being the sole refugee of a country which has long since ceased to exist. Perhaps one day, he thought, when he was feeling brave, he would confide all of this in a trained professional.
“I don’t think I’m gonna get any more sleep tonight. You ready to make a move?” Steve stretched his arms high above his head, yawning against the strain.
“They don’t start serving breakfast for another two hours,” replied Wade, squinting at the clock radio’s too-bright display.
“Shit, okay... want to see what’s on tv, I guess?”
“Brilliant!” Wade was suddenly imbued with all the energy of six-year-old triplets who had just been informed they were going to Disneyland. “There must be so many classic sitcoms you haven’t binge watched yet, and there must be some network somewhere on this hotel cable package repeating at least one of them! Will it be Frasier? Will it be Friends? Will it be Family Matters? Maybe, if we’re really lucky, it’ll be The Golden Girls. Oh, Steve, I cannot wait to introduce you to Rose. You’re gonna love her.”
There must have been a boring business convention in town, as the breakfast buffet was packed to the rafters with tired-looking suits and ties and pencil skirts and obnoxiously shiny shoes, all in matching lanyards: so much so, in fact, that by the time Wade and Steve made it down to the restaurant, there was only one table free, dangerously close to the continually clattering kitchen door.
Wade had barely made a start on his watery, acidic coffee when two earnest business-folk approached their table.
“Let me guess, you want a selfie with the mighty Captain — ”
“Are these seats taken?” asked the more chipper of the two, her hair affixed in a neat ponytail.
“Uhh, be our guests,” replied Steve, as wide-eyed as a cat who had just seen a cucumber on the floor.
“So, are you two looking forward to another day of presentations?” asked the man in the houndstooth necktie.
“Oh, you know it!” replied Wade. “Especially lunch, am I right?”
“Wade,” Steve interjected through gritted teeth. “What the hell — ”
“You’ll have to forgive my business partner here,” Wade continued, patting Steve on the shoulder. “He just isn’t himself before he’s had at least three coffees, know what I mean?”
The business pair laughed politely.
“That’s just like our project manager, Justine,” chuckled the woman, whose name tag suggested she was Claire from Andersson-Oskadlig in Santa Cruz.
“Let me guess,” said... Jeremy, eyeing Steve and Wade’s decidedly casual second-day travel wardrobe, “you guys look like you’ve developed an app.”
“We... sure did!” Wade smiled. “Let me tell you all about it.”
“We are not gatecrashing a business conference,” asserted Steve, escorting Wade out of the hotel in as definitive terms as he could.
“Come on, Steve!” protested Wade. “Jeremy and Claire made it sound like we could definitely have a few hours of fun messing with these people, maybe even get the Avengr app fully crowdfunded.”
“There is no app, Wade!”
“Not yet,” replied Wade, “but I’m pretty sure there’s an online course where I can learn how to — ”
“If it’s such a good idea — which it isn’t, because you don’t have an idea — why don’t you take it to Stark when we get back to the city, I’m sure he’s got a team of developers who can — ”
“Oh please.” Wade rolled his eyes like a petulant teenager. “Why should I let Tony Stark have all the fun just because he has too much money?”
“I guess, but — ” this was the first time Steve had thought properly about his actual co-workers since probably Wisconsin. Oh shit. “Uhh, before we make a move, I’ve gotta make a call.”
Wade shrugged, hopping into the passenger’s seat.
“This is Captain Rogers, do you copy?” he whispered into the communicator.
“... This is Hill,” came the familiar voice on the other end of the line. “Where are you, Steve?”
“Yeah, hey, Maria,” he replied, apparently gathering as much casual energy as he could intone into his words. “Listen, I’m not going to be able to make it to the briefing this afternoon. I’m in — Wade, what’s the name of this place?”
“Hammond!” Wade shouted to him.
“Hammond it is.”
“This wouldn’t have anything to do with the stealth quinjet that made its way back to the compound all by itself, would it?” asked Maria.
“... Yep,” said Steve.
“Are you in danger?” she continued. “Who’s with you? Do I need to send out emergency — ”
“Nope,” replied Steve. “Don’t worry about me, I’ve got the situation fully in hand.”
“Captain,” she admonished him. “You’re not being unnecessarily selfless here, are you? I can — ”
“Nope,” he reiterated. “I’ve got help. See you in... however long it takes to get to New York from here. Bye!”
“Steven Geraldine Rogers, you turned down an emergency evacuation to spend more time with me? I’m genuinely touched.”
“It’d be a waste of jet fuel,” reasoned Steve. “The Nissan’s way better on fuel economy.”
Wade kicked off his sneakers, resting his sock feet on the dashboard. “You sound like a real-life Captain Planet. Minus the mullet.”
“Let’s add that to the list of essential media I need to introduce you to,” replied Wade, tucking into one of the heavily glazed breakfast pastries he had stolen from the hotel as they began what Steve hoped was the final leg of their great eastward journey.
“Can you at least try not to get crumbs on the upholstery?”
As if Wade was going to waste perfectly adequate flaky pastry on a car seat, when it could be in his tummy.
The conversation turned to companionable silence for a while, as they zoomed along a sprawling stretch of the I-90, with trees on the left and farms on the right — which, in fairness, described most of their travel time, though sometimes the trees were on the right and the farms were on the left. Wade listened to the road trip playlist, staring wistfully out the window and imagining himself to be a supporting character in the final minutes of an episode of something like The Gilmore Girls. Oh Lorelei, he thought, you scamp.
“Who’s Lorelei?” asked Steve.
Wade clamped a hand dramatically over his mouth. How much of that had he said out loud?
“How much of that did I say out loud?” he asked.
“Not a lot,” replied Steve.
Wade let out a heavy sigh of relief. “Good,” he said.
They fell back into quiet for a farm or two. Steve scrubbed his hand over his rough, stubbled face.
“You know, back in the day I wouldn’t have been able to grow a good beard, even if I wanted to,” he said. “Now, I have to keep on top of it every morning, or else... this.”
“It’s a good look,” replied Wade. “Rugged. Handsome. You could leave a serious rash on some lucky person’s inner thighs with that.”
Steve blushed despite himself. “Hey. I’m gonna have a real good shave when we get home.”
“You ever think of just letting it grow out, to see what happens?” Wade gasped. “Oh Stevey baby, you’d be a gorgeous bear.”
“You know shapeshifting’s not one of my superpowers, right?” puzzled Steve. “I’m a human man, I can’t change this.”
“No, it’s — oh, honey,” replied Wade with a kind smile, already planning a barrage of relevant pinterest boards to send to Steve when they got back to New York. “A bear’s what the queer kids call a burly, beardy lumberjack of a man. With your kind heart and proven cuddle skills, you’d be a perfect bear. How do you feel about salmon, honey, and wild blueberries?”
Steve sighed. “... they’re all delicious.”
“Perfect. Bear. Material.”
As the road carried them through Indiana and into Ohio, it became more and more clear to Wade how much Steve was still missing of the past seventy-some-odd years of popular culture, despite his cousin Sam’s rudimentary efforts to guide him towards the many cool things he needed to catch up on. Oh, thought Wade, what a sweet, handsome, innocent newborn baby of a man Steve was in so many ways. Did he know anything of French New Wave cinema? Had he been to a screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show? How many foods had he improved by adding kimchi? Had he ever danced to Joni Mitchell in his kitchen in his snug little boxer briefs on a rainy afternoon? Did he have a favourite professional wrestler? When was the last decade he had been to a gay bar? Wade had so much work to do.
According to the GPS, travelling at the speed limit and accounting for traffic disruptions would put their ETA back in New York City at a good eight and a half hours: given how many hours it had been since breakfast, Steve knew there would be a mutiny on his hands if he tried to argue in favour of pushing onwards without stopping for lunch. For the time being, however, Wade seemed content to wax lyrical about the virtues of televisual storytelling.
“Now, most American shows seem to run best at about seven seasons,” he carried on, gesticulating pointedly with a Slim Jim he had found in the glove compartment. “Your Buffies, your Star Trek Tee En Gees, your Gilmore Girlses.”
“Mmhmm,” replied Steve, who recognised fully that he may never be entirely caught up on the decades of popular culture he had slept through, despite Wade's best efforts. After all, it was not as though he had known every song and seen every film back in the day, either. There was one film he remembered well, about the alcoholic detectives and their dog. Bucky liked that one very much.
“So you have to allow for a couple of initial seasons where things are rough, they’re still working stuff out, people’s haircuts are weird,” Wade continued, “then they’ll usually really hit their stride by seasons three and four, tapering slowly downwards for most of five and six, and either bottom out completely as a total garbage fire as they lurch slowly toward a merciful death, or rise like a phoenix from the ashes for a last hurrah. You feel me?”
“If you say so,” replied Steve, as they passed another billboard for an attorney’s office specialising in workplace injuries.
“On the flipside,” Wade took a loud, gurgling sip of the last of his flat orange soda, “in Britain, they’ll just do, like, four episodes of a thing. Ever. But those four episodes are solid, flawless, cinematic masterpieces. There’s merit in both approaches, obviously — just like how sometimes you want the Michelin-starred, perfectly orchestrated tasting menu of tiny edible works of art, and sometimes you wanna gorge yourself at the fucking Cheesecake Factory, am I right?”
“Sure,” replied Steve. Steve had been to the Cheesecake Factory once, with Nat and Sam, who had insisted it was An Experience. He had the pumpkin cheesecake. It was fine.
“And then there’s Canadian television, which is kind of like American television and kind of like British television, except with bad lighting and the same four actors who weren’t quite good-looking enough to make the move into American movies, but nonetheless — ”
And Steve never did learn who those same four actors were, as they were interrupted by Wade's phone serenading them with the sound of a honking goose.
“Sorry, Canadian television’s gonna have to wait,” said Wade.
“Go on,” Steve agreed.
“Hey, squirt,” Wade said warmly. “How was school this week, you kicking ass and taking names?”
Whatever the other person had said, it must have been very funny, thought Steve: Wade wheezed with laughter, doubling over forwards and clutching at his side.
“Oh, oh, she didn't,” he continued. “She did? And what did you do? Ah, that’s my girl! Of course I remember. Yes I will. Yes I will! Wouldn’t miss it for the world. So did you…”
Steve recognised that this was a personal call, and as such, did his best to divert his attentions elsewhere. They passed a loud sign informing him that they were just two exits away from a wedding dress outlet store.
It was not something Steve saw any time in his foreseeable future — weddings, family, all that jazz. Things people Steve’s age were supposed to think about. Despite Nat’s best efforts to pair him off with literally any available woman she knew, the thought of attempting to forge an intimate partnership with anyone was, well, unthinkable, he thought. Except for Bucky of course: if Steve could find him, even just knowing he was happy and okay would be enough.
“No, you hang up! No, you hang up! No, you — oh, she hung up,” said Wade.
“Everything okay?” asked Steve.
“That was Ellie,” Wade explained, which explained very little.
Steve raised an eyebrow.
“My kid,” Wade elaborated. “I’m Ellie’s Dadpool.”
Steve raised his other eyebrow.
“There’s a parent-teacher night next week,” continued Wade. “Apparently, she's something of a ‘disruptive influence’ in her class.”
“Ah, yeah, I’m sure parenting can be tough,” commiserated Steve, knowing literally nothing about parenting.
“I am so proud of her,” said Wade.
It was unexpected, to say the least. Wade did not seem like the parenting type of person; then again, thought Steve, lots of types of people were parents.
“Hang on, let me find a picture,” said Wade.
“I’ve gotta keep my eyes on the road,” replied Steve. “If you can kind of... waft a picture of her in my periphery.”
“Can do,” said Wade, thumbing through his phone’s photo album. “For once, I really regret the number of funny tweets I have screencaps saved of. Hold on, she’s, nope, there’s... ah, here's a good one.”
Wade held his phone just to one side of Steve's line of sight. She looked to be just about school-aged, with dark hair fastened into a ponytail, her expression radiant and carefree, despite missing one of her front teeth.
“She's beautiful,” said Steve.
“She’s a little firecracker,” Wade told him. “Last month some little shit in her class tried to stick a piece of gum in her friend’s hair, so Ellie bit him. And they suspended her, can you believe it?”
Steve blinked. “Actually, I can,” he said, smiling despite himself. “Violence is never the... shit, no, I — I can’t, I can’t do it. That’d just be too hypocritical. Look at us.”
“Like I always say,” said Wade, fishing a half-finished thing of Twizzlers from underneath the passenger seat, “seek a nonviolent solution when you can, I guess…”
“... but some conflicts can only be resolved with teeth?”
“Bingo.” Wade finger-gunned at Steve. “Hey, don’t suppose you’d fancy a pit stop at the Wedding Dress Outlet Barn?”
So much for the Wedding Dress Outlet Barn, thought Wade, as they passed exit after exit, until it was too many stops to ever convince Steve to go back for. Wade loved wedding dress outlet stores: for one thing, you got to feel like a pretty fairy godmother for free, and when there were such bargains to be had, it was almost inevitable that a good old fashioned bride fight was likely to break out. At least there was lunch to look forward to.
Perhaps, thought Wade, they would find a charming little town with a charming little farmer’s market full of good things to eat, locally grown cured meats and fresh cheese of all kinds, and — were tomatoes in season? Maybe tomatoes, if they were in season, and a bottle or two of a lovely local sparkling apple cider. They could settle down by the banks of a gentle river to enjoy their meal together, watching the swans glide gracefully across the water as they relished in the delicate flavours of the land, not noticing until it was too late that another crafty swan was stealing their artisan sourdough boule while they were distracted, then wrenching the loaf with no small amount of effort back from said swan, who was ornery as hell and had at least four ornery swan friends for backup, hissing and honking like the genuine assholes that swans always turned out to be. It was just after one of the swans broke Wade’s forearm with its surprisingly powerful beak that Steve finally let slip that he now considered Wade to be his best friend. And then,
“All-day breakfast?” asked Steve, pulling into the parking lot of a functional but unremarkable diner, yanking Wade from his picturesque imaginings. “Wade! Lunch?”
Wade was already leaping from the car before Steve had finished parking.
“Steve, I love you!” he shouted, dashing into a red leatherette booth by the door.
“The sign says ‘Please Wait To Be Seated,’ but sure, go ahead, ignore the sign, live a lawless life if you want to.” A joyless waitress greeted them, setting down two heavy menus as Steve sheepishly ducked into the booth opposite Wade. “Welcome to All-Day Breakfast, would you like to hear about today's specials?”
“Oh, there’ll be no need for that,” laughed Wade, tossing the menu onto the table. “Just give me the most comprehensive all-day breakfast you have.”
The waitress sighed heavily, sliding her pencil from behind her ear. “All-Day Breakfast is just the name of the restaurant. Breakfast service ends at 11, and it’s, like... 2. Would you like to hear the lunch specials?”
“Sounds great,” smiled Steve. What a good man, thought Wade. Always so nice to customer service staff.
“Today’s specials are zesty crab cakes, steak pot pie, and taco salad, and the soup is... corn,” replied the waitress.
“Would you recommend the soup?” asked Steve. Wade flipped through the menu, which was a marvel of somebody's student nephew’s graphic design skills, and unflattering flash photos of assorted meals.
“I would not,” replied the waitress. “Don’t... please don’t order the soup.”
“Okay.” Steve smiled politely. Wade was ever so tempted to order the soup, just to see what would happen. “How about the chicken club — ”
They never did find out if the chicken club sandwich deserved the “Chef’s Favourite” endorsement on the menu, as their order was quite rudely interrupted by two men in unflattering sweatshirts holding the chef at gunpoint as she emerged from the kitchen to place a freshly-decorated German chocolate cake on the counter.
“Shit,” Steve hissed under his breath, as the other diners hid beneath tables.
“Oh yeah,” agreed Wade. “Those are Bad Guy Guns.”
“Coulda guessed that from the fact that he’s using it to rob a diner,” reasoned Steve.
“We want the slaw,” shouted one of the men.
“I don't know what you’re talking about!” protested the chef.
Steve leaned in close to Wade, keeping a watchful eye on the armed gentlemen. “Ok, you take the guy on the left, I’ll come in from the right with my... shit.”
“Your shit?” asked Wade.
“Shield’s in the trunk,” whispered Steve. "Forget it, just take the henchman on the left, I’ll handle the — ”
“You got it, partner.”
“What’s the secret ingredient?” demanded the second henchman, waving the gun in the chef’s distressed face. “Just give us the recipe, nice and easy, and nobody gets hurt.”
“That’s a trade secret,” replied the chef, “why doesn’t your big boss just get a side order of the slaw, which comes standard with the fish sandwich, and reverse engineer it in his big secret evil lab?”
“You know he’s tried!” spat the henchman. “Recipe, now.”
“You don't scare me,” shouted the chef, visibly scared. “Nobody knows the secret ingredient but me, and I’d rather die than tell the likes of you.”
“Okay, but what if we kill her instead?” asked the other henchman, turning his gun on the waitress.
“I know the secret ingredient,” interjected Wade.
The henchman carefully turned his gun at Wade.
“As a matter of fact, yeah. And you know what? It was pretty fucking easy to figure out, too.” Wade stood dramatically, sauntering towards the henchmen dramatically enough to keep anyone from noticing Steve sneaking behind the counter. When the henchman turned his gun from the waitress to Wade, he stopped, hands raised. “Gentlemen, gentlemen, please. The secret ingredient is — ”
The secret ingredient, it turned out, was a Captain America ambushing the goons from behind while the chef scurried to safety.
Punches were thrown! Blows were traded! Biff! Bam! Ker-pow! Two henchmen disarmed, one subdued, one to — oh no.
It never ceased to amaze Wade just how sharp his senses could be when he needed them, like when Luigi was about to overtake his Mario Kart on Rainbow Road, or pressing F5 the very nanosecond tickets for Kim Kardashian's Instagram Feed: The Musical went on sale, or when the second henchman reached for a second sidearm just beyond where Steve could have seen.
Wade leapt in front of Steve, pistols in hand, getting two precision shots off before the henchman could shoot.
Scratch that, thought Wade, as a bullet blasted into him, and he crumpled to the floor in shock.
This was when things always turned cinematic, he thought: time slowed nearly to a standstill around him, the sounds around him muted beneath a soft soundtrack of a comforting song, the anguished cries of his new best friend Steve cradling Wade’s bleeding body in his arms.
“Wade? Hey, come on, look at me.”
Steve was gazed down at him, his expression softened by concern. “You... you saved my life, Wade.”
“It was the least I could do,” Wade replied hoarsely, punctuated by a sputtering cough. Oh yeah, he thought, as the cold of the shock subsided, and the searing pain of being shot rose to crescendo. “Just... just gimme a minute.”
And then he fainted.
Next thing he knew, he was in the back of an ambulance, being rushed to hospital at great speed. Steve was there, holding his hand, weeping with the handsome restraint of a good man who's just the right amount in touch with his emotions. Hawkeye was there too, holding his other hand. And the other Hawkeye was there, doing a cartwheel, and their little dog too. And Black Widow was there, despite the fact that they were still hours from New York and it was not as though he and Natasha were any sort of friends — oh, and the ambulance was flying now, and everybody was naked. Definitely a dream. Snap out of it, you dumbass, he told himself. Double dumbass on you, he replied. And then he woke up.
When he came to, he could see he had been moved to one of the soft faux-leather banquettes from the hard floor. Steve must have carried him there. Now that was pretty to think about.
“Ugh,” he managed to say, “did we save the day?”
“Yeah, we did.” Steve smiled. Wade struggled to pull himself upright, too dizzy to make it past barely leaning up on his elbows.
“How much blood did I lose? How's the exit wound?” Wade strained to crane his neck around far enough to glance over his shoulder, but barely made it a millimetre. He was still healing. Steve checked his shoulder for him.
“I can't see anything.”
“Oh no, you know what that means?” chuckled Wade. “Ever taken a bullet out of anybody?”
Steve blanched. “You want me to…”
“Just do it,” Wade grimaced, “get it over with.”
“Okay,” Steve agreed, with a stoic nod.
“You got this, Cap,” Wade assured him.
They both took a deep breath, and Steve went for it.
“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA,” said Steve, plunging his thumb and forefinger into the wound, probing around the unpleasant warm squish of Wade's wounded flesh.
“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA,” said Wade, because despite his body's best efforts at indestructibility, having somebody manually remove a bullet from him still hurt like a goddamn motherfucking bitch.
“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA,” Steve continued, “wait what the fuck is that?”
“Does it feel like a bullet?” asked Wade.
“I don't know!” shouted Steve. “I’m not a medic!”
“Does it feel like it doesn't belong there?” Wade prompted him, wincing through the pain as best as he could while trying not to faint again. “Ow, jeezus fuckin’ murphy, don’t push it further in!”
“Fuck, shit, sorry!” Steve winced, visibly trying not to recoil. “I got it!”
“Well then, it needs to come out!”
Steve resumed yelling, as he carefully expunged the offending item.
“Fuck fuck fuck ow ow ow,” shouted Wade, as the bullet dropped to the floor with a tiny clatter.
“Okay,” said Steve, still breathing heavily from the ordeal, “okay, done.”
Steve unzipped his hoodie, pressing the garment to Wade's wound.
“Oh, no, you’re gonna get your nice new outfit all bloody,” protested Wade.
“It's fine,” replied Steve, tenderly dabbing at the already-healing mess. “Come on, you’re more important than a fucking American Eagle sweatshirt.”
“It was Abercrombie,” replied Wade, “and I think I’ve got a Tide pen in the glove compartment.”
Steve chuckled softly, gently placing Wade's arm around his shoulders, shuffling them both back to the car. “Sorry we never did get to have lunch.”
“Wanna just go to Taco Bell?”
“God, yes,” replied Steve, with a heavy sigh of relief. “You sure you don’t want me to take you to a hospital?”
“Accelerated healing, mon capitaine,” replied Wade, coughing on the last syllable. “Just... try not to drive over too many bumps.”
If anyone thought the superhero life was a glamourous career, they had clearly never found themselves changing back into their stealth uniform in a bathroom stall in a Taco Bell in West Mifflin, and attempting to scrub the blood out of a pair of khakis in the sink before the stains set in.
Wade’s shoulder was healing admirably, if the renewed enthusiasm with which he was combining all the sodas from the machine into one sugary franken-drink was any indication.
“How many of those did you have while I was in the bathroom?” asked Steve.
“... two,” replied Wade. “But in my defense, when the refills are free, you can't expect a guy to choose between Diet Pepsi with a splash of orange, Cherry Diet Pepsi with a splash of Mountain Dew, and equal splashes of every drink they have except Country Time Lemonade because they’ve tragically run out of the syrup!”
“Moderation’s not really in your vocabulary, is it?” asked Steve, helping himself to a modest 32-ounce serving of Mountain Dew Sangrita Blast, with plenty of ice.
“Listen, if I wanted to punish myself, I’m friends with like... five dominatrixes,” replied Wade, laden with takeout bags. “Dominatrices? Dominoes? Dominatrixes. Whatever. People who tie people up and spank them for money.”
Steve feigned a polite smile. “I’ll pass,” he said.
“Fair,” shrugged Wade. “It’s not for everybody. Personally, I prefer to get the emotional support I need in the normal way.”
“Family and friends?” ventured Steve.
“Multiplayer content in the Elder Scrolls Online,” replied Wade.
Well, those sure were words, thought Steve.
Wade managed to polish off two crunchwraps supreme, a seven-layer burrito, and a thing of cheesy fries before giving in to the need to nap. Steve enjoyed the quiet for a time, but regretted not having a co-pilot to squeeze a packet of salsa verde onto his quesadilla so he could keep his hands on the wheel. Wade napped for a good portion of Pennsylvania, past New Stanton, Acme, and Donegal, just about until they passed Zimmerman and it was time to refill the gas tank.
“You sure I can't tempt you with a slurpee?” asked Wade, lumbering out of the gas station store, arms laden with fluorescent snack bags.
Steve shook his head, shaking the last few drops of fuel out of the pump into the gas tank. “Wade, about that… thing I told you. I can trust you not to mention the whole…”
“Pizza thing?” suggested Wade.
“No, the…” Steve raised his eyebrows as pointedly as he could.
“The fact that you're a spoon switch?”
Steve blushed. “No, the fact that I’m, you know, not — ”
“Ohh, thaaat,” nodded Wade. “Honey, that’s your own closet to come out of, when you want to. If you want to.”
“I think I will,” replied Steve, as the Nissan rolled out of the station, and back onto the quiet road, past the car wash and the Aldi, and then back to the familiar sight of seemingly endless farmland. “In my own time, when I’m ready.”
“Captain Steven J. Rogers — ”
“It’s Grant,” replied Steve.
“Captain Grant America,” continued Wade, “it is an honour to be entrusted with this knowledge, which I will guard with my life.”
“Thanks, Wade,” Steve smiled.
“And whenever you’re ready to share this knowledge with the world, I will be right there with at least three glitter cannons.”
“Before you ask, of course the glitter is biodegradable,” added Wade.
“I... tell you what, I’ll let you know.”
The next few hours passed largely without incident; indeed, Wade even caught Steve singing along with some of Wade’s excellent roadtrip playlist.
Apparently, the super-serum had not blessed him with perfect pitch.
At some point, the unbroken expanse of Pennsylvania trees became an unbroken line of New Jersey trees, and despite their shared exhaustion, there was a palpable feeling of achievement in the car, a sense that they had accomplished something together, passing through nine states and a province, a couple of time zones, and more bland expressway than any land mass had the right to. They sailed across Jersey, the exit to New York in their sights, just a bit of the usual heavy traffic, and then...
The first few minutes felt innocent enough, but then another minute passed, and another, and another, and Wade was not counting but the playlist was about to loop back round to the first track, and that was a solid fifty minutes or so of music, and still no sign of moving forward.
“Shit,” Steve muttered under his breath. “What the hell’s the hold up?”
“This is it,” declared Wade. “This is the end. This is where we die, within a hair’s breadth of our goal, stuck in Jersey City behind gridlock on the wrong side of the Holland Tunnel. It’s almost poetic, really.”
“No, I’m not giving up now, not after all we’ve been through,” protested Steve. “We’re so close to New York, I can practically smell it.”
“Oh, uhh... that was me.” Wade graciously rolled down the passenger seat window.
“I meant I could metaphorically smell it,” Steve clarified.
“In that case, it wasn’t me,” replied Wade, rolling the window back up.
“... do you have any snacks left?” asked Steve.
“Do I ever!” beamed Wade. “I’ve got Cheez-Its, Cheetos, Jalapeño Pretzel Poppers, Almond Joy, Birthday Cake Oreos, Peanut Butter Oreos, Sour Patch Kids, Sour Patch Watermelons, Extreme Sour Patch Kids — ”
“Surprise me,” interrupted Steve.
Wade handed him a thing of Hostess chocolate cupcakes.
“Part of me’s not quite ready to go back to work,” confessed Steve, unwrapping the little packet of splendid hydrogenated oils and artificial flavours. “This has been... kind of nice.”
“It’s been hands down one of the best vacations I've ever been on,” replied Wade, sliding the last Twizzler out of the bag, “except maybe when I got shot. Okay, also when I got shot.”
“You know, when I was growing up, I got sick a lot,” said Steve, staring out at the same patch of dingy concrete barrier they had been next to for the last hour, “and it meant I got passed up for a lot of stuff I could have done because other kids’ moms thought I’d give their kids pneumonia, or jobs thought I’d be a liability, and, well, I can’t say I minded not getting asked to any dances, but... sometimes it might have been nice, just to be asked.”
“Are you asking me to ask you to dance?”
Steve shot him a withering glance. “I’m being serious here,” he said. “I got the serum because it was the right thing to do, but when I did, it also meant people didn't just see my limitations anymore. I found out pretty quickly it just meant people saw another set of limitations, like I became this political symbol instead of just... a real person.”
“I think you're a real person,” said Wade, poking him in the arm. Steve flinched. “See? Can’t do that to a political symbol.”
Steve shook his head, with a pensive smile. “I don’t think I've told anybody about that since... my whole life, people just, they see what they want to see and decide that’s who I am, but they don't see... me.”
“Believe me, I get it,” said Wade, gesturing dramatically at his face. “I know what it’s like. Being invisible.”
“Oh yeah?” asked Steve. “You seem pretty hard to miss.”
“Yeah, sure,” Wade shrugged, flicking the crumpled cellophane bag onto the backseat. “I’m all noise and PG-13 language, and bright red spandex and a face like the California Raisins’ ugly sister. But people forget there’s a person behind this face, you know? They don’t see someone with fears and needs and feelings. They see a body that's invulnerable and forget that there's still a heart in there, a heart that deserves kindness and respect, that longs to love and to be loved, that’s been so brave for so long, and it hurts a lot sometimes. But that’s not what anyone sees. They don’t see us at all.”
Steve let out a long sigh. “Yeah,” he said.
“I see you.”
“You too, Wade,” replied Steve, as traffic moved forward a good two metres before pausing again, tantalizingly close to the tunnel. “You know, at this rate, it’d be faster to get out and walk.”
“Just out of curiosity,” ventured Wade, “would it be too frivolous to call in that emergency quinjet?”
A wave of relief washed over Steve as the tunnel’s grim artificial lighting gave way to the glorious glittering streetlights and illuminated signs and sights and sounds and smells of New York. Granted, they were still a good twenty minutes from dropping off the rental car, and then another gentle stroll home, but it was home.
At least, it was as close to home as Steve had found since the war, and the future, and without Bucky. It was something, and that something was important.
“So... here we are,” said Wade, gazing up at the imposing Manhattan skyscrapers towering over them on all sides.
“Yep,” said Steve. The city had changed so much since he was a kid in Brooklyn, but it would always be where he belonged.
“So,” said Wade, hands in pockets, shuffling his feet, “what are you gonna do now?”
“Now? I’m gonna sleep,” said Steve, helping Wade haul his outlet mall shopping from the trunk. “What was the name of that TV show you wanted me to see? Golden Gilmore?”
“Steve, please. The Golden Girls and The Gilmore Girls are two very different shows,” admonished Wade, “and you need to watch both of them.”
“Okay,” said Steve. “I might need a little help getting started. What are you doing on Monday night?”
“Dance recital,” Wade told him. “Ellie, not me. Though I can see why you might think it would be me. My fight choreography does get pretty balletic.”
Steve chuckled softly. “How's Tuesday?”
“Tuesday’s fine,” replied Wade. “Great, even! Tuesday it is! Taco Tuesday?”
“Taco Tuesday it is,” agreed Steve. “You have my number.”
Steve knew there was a good chance that he was inviting himself to receive textual non-sequiturs in the wee hours of the morning, but this was strangely all right with him.
“So... yeah,” said Wade. “Ah, come here, buddy!”
Wade let his many bags drop to the sidewalk with an unceremonious thud, arms out, enveloping Steve in an enthusiastic hug. Despite himself, Steve leaned into the embrace. Not many of his friends were hug people: he suspected the last time anyone had embraced him with such uninhibited warmth was Mrs. Barnes, before the war. The main difference, however, was that Winifred Barnes was usually not covered in blood stains, nor did she smell uncannily of boxed cake mix.
“Okay,” said Steve. “I’ll see you then.”
“Yeah,” replied Wade, gathering his bags. “Which way are you going?”
“Uptown,” said Steve. “You?”
“Uptown,” replied Wade.
“So that goodbye was a bit premature,” he concluded, as they walked together. “I’ve got a few blocks to go, why don't you tell me about one of those TV shows you want me to see?”
Wade's smile was so big and so pure and vibrating with such joy that Steve almost, but did not quite, regret the invitation.
“I thought you’d never ask!” he said, patting Steve on the arm. “You see, it all started when Dorothy Zbornak’s mother Sophia moved into the house she was renting with Rose and Blanche…”