Title: The Mouth (An Aside)

Rating: M for language, smut, and possible squick factor.

Summary: Deadpool double-shot. Siryn, a student at the X-mansion, spots a mysterious masked man outside on the grounds at night. A movie rendition of a comic theme.


I was only ten years old when the X-mansion was invaded for the first time—at least, the first time since I'd come there. Instincts took over—I threw back my head and let out the shrillest scream I knew. I don't remember much of what happened after that, except that I woke up with a bruise the size of a man's fist. Apparently, I had been knocked out—but Piotr, dear Colossus, carried me on a path of safety blazed by Bobby Drake and Logan.

Still, it was enough for me. I was never a sound sleeper after that, even in the mansion—which was, truly, the safest place I'd ever known. When Professor Xavier died, it became even harder for me to sleep at night. Jamie Madrox would sometimes creep into my room at night and try to ease me slumber, but nighttime made me twitchy. It had never been a pleasant time for me, even before the invasion: as a child, nighttime had not been hours of rest and slumber, but a seeming-eternity of uncertainty and fear.

I had been raised by my Uncle Tommy—who wasn't really my uncle at all, but a second cousin. He was a high-class thief, and as a kid I had helped him in his illegal activities with my scream. At night, he would "conduct business," as he called it, down in the kitchen while I slept. I can't tell you how many times I lay awake at night, violent arguments ringing in my ears, threats of bodily harm that no child should have to overhear. I remember a few times hearing the dull thud of fists-on-flesh, and once a man beat Uncle Tommy so badly that he couldn't get up. I crawled under my bed, ten years old and terrified, as the man came upstairs to try and find whatever it was he felt he was owed. Instead, he found me, his big hands like cold meat on my ankles. I remember how my knees skittered over the hardwood floor, skinning, burning, and how I clawed at the covers and the edge of the bedframe.

"This is Black Tom's little lass? …Teach him to cheat me," the man growled, and then something unintelligable, something I didn't understand at the time and am grateful I do not remember now. He rucked up my nightgown to my hips and snapped the waistband of my panties, throwing them aside. I screamed, thinking he would double over in pain and leave me alone, for as long as I could keep the sound high enough.

He did double over, but then struck me with the back of his hand. My head snapped sideways and I bit my tongue—hard. Blood filled my mouth and I choked on it.

Then there was a gunshot, and the man blinked down at me, muttered something, and collapsed on top of me. Uncle Tommy, still clutching his ribs, lifted the man off and flung him aside.

"Are ye okay, Tessa girl?"

I spat out the blood, nodding and guttering, trying to cover myself. Poor Uncle Tommy. He was good to me, in spite of it all, and in spite of the hatred he bore my father—I never did understand why.

But then Uncle Tommy died. I was only nine, and I didn't know what I was going to do. But somehow—through telepathy or some other, more traditional means—Professor Xavier heard about me. He and Professor Monroe actually attended Uncle Tommy's funeral, and afterward, he took my hands.

"Theresa Rourke Cassidy?" he asked. I know now that it was only a formality to keep me unafraid—Professor Xavier knew who I was the moment his mind touched mine. "I was a friend of your father's," he said quietly, his voice soothing.

Immediately I distrusted him, because Uncle Tommy had always told me that my father was traitor and a fool, quick to judge, slow to forgive. But then Professor Xavier told me about the school, and I began to think. Where else could I go? Perhaps I was stepping into dangerous waters—perhaps there was no school at all; perhaps it was a testing facility or something similarly dark and secret—but there was nothing for me here.

And so I went. Over the sea and into a strange land, just like the fairy tales. The mansion—could you even really call it that? It was more of a castle—sprawled out over beautiful grounds that allowed for study and play in the most amazing of ways. In spite of the fact that Uncle Tommy made fairly good money, either through personal or mercenary theft, I had never seen this kind of opulence.

The moment I stepped through the big oak door, my eyes on the ceiling, the walls, Jamie ran into me. Well, one of him. As we both staggered back, there was a faint popping noise, and three more Jamies collided with his downed form, sliding together as he was jarred out of concentration.

"Holy crap!" he muttered fiercely. "Watch where you're—"

And he froze when he looked at me. From that point on, Jamie Madrox never looked at me with anything but moons and stars in his eyes.

"I'm sorry," he rushed out, scrambling to his feet and offering me a hand up. I was scowling, irritated, even as Professor Xavier smiled amusedly and Professor Monroe raised en eyebrow. "I didn't—you must be the new girl, Theresa Cassidy. We're playing hide-and-seek tag, and uh, I'm it." A lopsided grin: he'd been caught cheating. "D'you wanna play?"

I took another step back, going from annoyance to confusion immediately. I had never had a chance to play with children my own age back in Ireland, and I cast a baffled look up at Professor Monroe. When it became clear the adults were not going to help me, I stammered, "I—I have to unpack. I'm sorry. Maybe—some other time?"

His smile faltered a little, but he nodded, and then to my surprise picked up my suitcase. "Well, let me help welcome you then. Which room is it?"

Jamie became a dear friend, introducing me to some of the other students. There was a time when I was cow-eyed for sweet Piotr, who was so quiet and gentle. I confess a certain weakness for silent, lost-looking men, men who were strong enough to move mountains but very conscious and careful with that strength. But Piotr was much older than me, one of the campus legends, like Marie D'Ancanto and Bobby Drake and John St. Allerdyce. They were all part of the Dream Team at the School: elegant and strong and fourteen. They even had beautiful names, and I was jealous in a way.

Skinny and pale, with a mane of carroty hair, I was just plain Theresa Cassidy. Not even Tessa the Thief—not anymore. Terry.


And Jamie, for all his boyish charm and his dear friendship, certainly didn't make me feel any less boring. The three of us--Jamie, myself, and a sullen-looking feral girl named Maria Callasanto, who was obviously crushing on Jamie and deeply jealous of my own budding friendship with him--would spend a lot of time together, but it all seemed mundane to me. Any chance for adventure was too far in the future for me to envision. I couldn't even be an X-man yet: despite the fact that my mutation had manifested at a young age and that I had been doing a dangerous job ever since, Professor Xavier deemed me "too young."

At seven I learned that I shared my father's gift for the sonic scream, and began helping Uncle Tommy in his work.

At eight I was nearly raped, and survived stronger than ever.

At nine, I finally understood what it was like to be an orphan. I made the decision to move to another country and take on the adventure of the School for Gifted Youngsters, despite my tender age.

At ten, I had warned the entire school the night that the mansion was broken into by government operatives.

Still, I wasn't good enough. Strong enough. Too thin, too weak, too tiny. It didn't matter what I did: to the X-men and the professors, I was always skinny little Terry. Careful of her—she might break.

Her only power is in her scream: the cry of a victim.

As tough as I tried to be—as clever and witty and sharp and demanding—I still couldn't sleep at night. My pale skin showed the shadows under my eyes like bruises. Jamie would sneak in at night with a deck of cards or a board game. Occasionally—the dear—he would bring me chocolate-covered almonds and peanut butter balls, which I ate voraciously. Sometimes, he would stay till I fell asleep.

I did love Jamie, I think. But even then, I knew it wasn't the kind of love that moved continents. Real love is like Pangea, I think. The foundations of the earth shift, puzzle-pieces dividing and coming together in the slow rising of mountains and volcanoes. Glaciers scrape the land clean. Lakes and rivers are created; old ones dry up or perhaps are even lost forever, buried beneath new hills. Home is transformed.

Jamie was sweet and uncomplicated, steady. His hand in mine was one of the sweetest things I'd known. His mouth, the first time we kissed, tasted like the Reese's Pieces we'd just been sharing. His lips were warm and soft. There was a safety in Jamie, something I wasn't entirely used to. Life was restful with him, peaceful. A girl could get lazy, comfortable. Complacent.

Then John St. Allerdyce left. It was unfathomable: that he had removed himself from the school, from the Dream Team. That he'd gone to join the Brotherhood. At the same time, like a wound that overshadowed the unbelievable fact of John's betrayal, Professor Grey died. And came back, killing Professor Xavier in the process.

And then she died again.

Poor Logan. To have to lose her twice—and the second time, the way he did…

The man, not really a professor but certainly a respected—and intimidating—figure on campus, was torn apart. The rumor was that he had been forced to kill Professor Grey, to save her from herself—and to save the world. I couldn't imagine such a thing. And though their story was tragic, it only made me feel more keenly what I did not have with Jamie. Ours was not a love that defied or transcended the mortal coil.

Logan left the school. He was the kind of man who needs a purpose: something to drive him. Once, that purpose had been Jean. Now he was searching, grasping at straws. The rumor around the school was that he had been involved in a government program in the sixties, and they were responsible for his lost memories. He had learned some things about it, just before Professor Grey had died the first time. Now, with her gone for good, he was leaving to explore other leads and see if he could recapture what he'd lost.

He did. He came back. Then he left again, this time with Professor Monroe, and Bobby and Rogue in tow—something about confronting Sabertooth. I didn't know if they'd ever come back.

They did, though, and a few months later, the school—which had expanded under Professor Monroe into a series of branches and had been renamed "The Xavier Institute for Higher Learning"—opened its doors to a new mutant. His name was Robert Roman and he was a mutant who—somewhat like me—could control sound. His power wasn't the same, but it was close, and though the new student kept to himself, I felt a little less alone in the world.

Perhaps I should have been content with this—the company of Jamie, the presence of another phonophilic mutant, the childish combination of friendship and one-sided rivalry I had with Maria Callasantos. But I found I never could really connect with any of them, that they left me feeling hollow. I wanted to meet someone who could drive deep into the heart of life, who saw things as they were.

Eleven-year-olds shouldn't have to feel so alone, I think.

Six more years passed. Sleep never got any easier for me, especially not with Sabertooth showing up every once in a while, now, and Logan and the others—Piotr, Marie, Roman, Bobby, Kitty—all taking off on missions I knew nothing about. Going to places where I couldn't help them, and leaving me in the dark. I would stare out the window, unable to sleep, both tense and at the same time unutterably bored with my life. The silence ground into me, suffocating, cloying.

It was a night like this that the tectonic plates shifted beneath me.

"Terry. Come to bed, honey."

I eyed Jamie. With Logan and Xavier gone, and Professor Monroe as well as some of our most elite students, sleep did not come easy, and I found myself increasingly uncomfortable with Jamie. He was expecting things from me that I couldn't give him--not sexually, but emotionally. He believed that what we shared was enough to last a lifetime, but I knew I couldn't survive on such limited nourishment. I had been avoiding his kisses lately. Usually, in the past years, I would lean behind him and wrap my arms around his waist, rest my head between his shoulders. Sometimes I would press gentle kisses to the back of his neck. Now, I was afraid of anything that would encourage him. I didn't want to break his heart. Foolishly, I hoped that my frigidity would convince him to leave me, as if such a thing would be painless.

Ridiculous, really. All it did was offer up a slow death.

"Why don't you go back down to your room, Jamie," I said quietly. The tone of my voice made it anything but a question. "I'll be fine tonight."

He gnawed at his lip, looking at me with troubled eyes. "Are you sure?"

I turned away, leaning on the sill and looking out the window. "Yes," I told him firmly. "Go hang out with Maria—I'll be fine. I'd like to be alone, I think."

I heard him ease off the bed, the slight shift of the mattress and blankets. He said nothing as he left, and the door clicked shut behind him.

That was when I saw it: the shadow at the edge of the grounds. A silhouette in the shape of a massive man: bigger than Logan, by far. Bulky, and definitely taller. For a moment, I wondered if it was Piotr, but he was on a mission with Marie and Bobby and Kitty. Besides, the way he was creeping at the periphery, sticking to the shadows—this was not the behavior of a person welcome at the mansion.

I stared harder—and then a shift of the figure, and a flick of the fingers—and I realized he was waving at me.

I thought about running to Professor Monroe's room, letting her know what I'd seen. But for some reason, the thought seemed foolish: why run for help when I had been aching for adventure myself? What time was better than now to prove that I could, that I would, that I was strong enough?

The folly of youth.

I grabbed a zippered sweatshirt and headed out the door. I would find this man, and demand to know his purpose for being here. And if I didn't like his answer…well, I would make his head explode.

When I got to the edge of the property, I gazed around, peering into the shadows. I couldn't see anything—at all, at all. I hesitated, standing back and debating using my echolocation. I drew in a breath of preparation when the world spun backward and I suddenly found myself facing the mansion instead of the woods, a thick hand clamped over both my mouth and my nose, my back pressed against something as hard and broad as a wall.

And hot.

I had been shivering from the cold in my sweatpants and sweatshirt—now I found heat seeping into my bones. Whoever this man was, he was like a furnace.

"You a screamer or a moaner?"

I blinked. I could hear the leer in his voice, but I knew it was a straightforward question. I shook my head—no—by which I meant, I won't scream.

Silly Tessa Cassidy. Give in to the criminal as soon as he asks. I had been foolish to think, at seventeen, that I would be able to take him down on my own.

Still, I was stubborn.

"Geez, kid, how old are you anyway? I thought you were a grown-up when I watched you earlier but you don't even look legal."

I shuddered, wondering how long he'd been out there. I left my blinds open because I liked to wake up to the sun, and whenever I was doing anything that required privacy, all the students were inside for curfew. But now I wondered if he'd seen me stripping off my dayclothes and wriggling into my sweatpants and tanktop. Unexpectedly, I felt something in my abdomen tighten, and I realized—to my horror—that if he hadn't been smothering me with his massive palm, I would have been blushing with heat.

I made a muffled noise, which I hoped he would understand to mean, I can't answer you when you are suffocating me.

He eased his hand down to my throat—they were the size of dinner-plates—and I huffed at him, "I'm seventeen."

He barked a laugh.

"So anyway," he said. I got the sense he was grinning from the lilt in his voice. I also got the sense he liked to hear himself talk. "Can Jimmy come out to play?"

I half-turned my head to look up at him. He wore a mask, tucked tight into whatever he was wearing around his throat. It was red and black, and I could see the vague outline of his features underneath. His face was broad beneath the taut fabric.

"We don't have a Jimmy here," I said after a minute, "and I have a feeling you're not supposed to be here either."

"Aw, really? Did the mask give it away?"

I snorted in spite of myself and I could feel him grinning. His hands, one at my throat and the other around my ribs, tightened.

"Now this is what I like," he mocked. "A captive audience." I sneered at him, but I had to admit: he was witty. Clever.


"So what do I gotta do to get your little friends to come out here?" he asked.

"You want to hear me scream, then?" I threatened.

"Aw, man. You have got to meet my friend Vic." A pause. He tilted his head. The shape of his mask reminded me of Casper the Friendly Ghost. "Well, maybe not. You might be too young for his tastes."

"Why do I think that's a good thing?"

"Aw, princess—you'd like my friends. Besides, Vic's favorite come-on in the whole world is scream for me."

Something in the way he said it led me to believe he didn't like this Vic-character very much. I made a face of contempt.

"Yeah, I know," the man conceded. "Not very original. Vic's one gun short of an arsenal, if ya know what I mean. Anyway, as I was saying: Jimmy. Get 'im out here. I've got a bone to break with him."

"We don't. Have. A Jimmy," I repeated through clenched teeth.

"You are a feisty one. You know I'm a killer, right?"

"All the 'skulking in shadows' didn't tip me off," I snarked back, furious.

"Jimmy. Jimmy. I've been tracking him for years—I know he's here somewhere. 'Bout your height? Built like two bulls? He's one hairy motherfucker; got a face like a brick." A pause. "Oh yeah. And he's got a nifty little trick, like me." The hand that was at my throat suddenly flexed, just lightly, and with a slow schink, a long single blade slid from between his knuckles.

I flinched and without thinking, I murmured, "Logan."

"That's it, princess. Jimmy Logan. Jimmy Creed. Jimmy Howlett. Damn, the guy's had more names than I've had girlfriends."

"Really?" I snarled. "And you're such a charmer."

"We all have our crosses to bear," he replied smoothly. "So, kiddo—go get the heavy artillery. Where's the weasel?"

"Logan's not in right now," I sneered. "Please leave a message after the tone—"

He spun me around, hoisting me up by the collar of my sweatshirt and pinning me against a treetrunk. My toes dangled helplessly, a good foot or more off the ground.

"Look, doll—can I call you doll? I think—"

"My name is Theresa," I snapped. "Theresa Rourke Cassidy."

"Rourke Cassidy? Sounds like a pirate's name."

"I'm not a pirate," I said evenly. "Leastways—not anymore."

"Really? You were a pirate? I'd've pegged you for more the princess-type. As I was saying, sweetheart, I think I'll just wait around for him, if you don't mind. And if you do mind, I'll just kill you."

"We don't even know when he'll be back," I snapped. "He's gone to find Saberooth."

A snort, a snicker. "No kidding? Family reunion?"

"We have a truce with him now," I snapped. I debated struggling, trying to get down from where he held me pinned. The fact of the matter was that he could snap me in half like a twig, if he wanted. Plus, I could clearly see—even in the darkness—that he was carrying more weapons than I could accurately count.

"With Creed?" the masked man asked, marveling. "No shit?"

"No shit," I snarled. I thought about kicking him in the chin. He was holding me high enough: I could reach easily, and I had a powerful kick.

"Don't even think about it, Rourke," he said jovially. "I'll chew off your fucking ankle."

I must have blanched. I believed him, actually. Still, I didn't know how to shut up. "For someone who claims to have done his homework—"

"The dog ate it."

"—you sure don't know much about Logan these days."

"You wanna take him a message for me, princess?"

"The name is Theresa."

"You know, it's dangerous when a killer has you pinned to a tree and wants to leave a message for your friend. That usually ends in blood."

"Do you even listen to anyone but yourself?" I snarled.

"Selective hearing. It's a gift."

I rolled my eyes. "You can let me go and walk away and I won't say anything. Unless you want me to. Or you can kill me, but not before I wake everyone in that mansion with a warning scream and probably bust open your eardrums."

"You are a screamer!"

He sounded delighted. "One-track mind much?" I snapped.

"I do what I can," he said lightly, falsely modest. "What can I say, princess? I'm a crude, lewd bastard."

"I'll give you a brain hemhorrage."

"Yay! Blood!"

I stared at him. Was there no winning? The wost part was that he actually seemed amused by it all, a little giddy, almost rocking on his toes. "I could kill you," I said, clearly and succinctly.

He shrugged, his mask stretching over his grin. "You could try," he sing-songed. "I have the best healing factor around."

I snorted. "Fat chance. Logan does."

"Where do you think I got mine, dollface?"

I was perplexed by this sudden ominous remark, but before I could question it, he was easing me down, my feet coming to rest on the ground.

"I think I'm gonna let you go, screamer. You're fun to talk at."

I noticed the at.

"I'm an even better conversationalist with both feet on the ground," I growled. It was probably not my brightest move—scorning the man who was letting me walk free—but I was incensed. "Wish I could say I had as much fun."

"Yeah," he agreed. "Sucks to be you." Slowly, he released the collar of my sweatshirt.

I paused, a little confused, and looked up at him quizzically. Surely, I remember thinking: surely it can't be that easy.

"Well, go on then, Captain Cassidy. I'll keep watch tonight."

I hesitated and stumbled forward a step. He caught me by the shoulders easily.

"You don't have to throw yourself at me, hot stuff."

I glared up at him, but most of the fire was gone. "Is there—aren't you going to threaten me? Tell me not to say anything? Or tell me something that I should say?"

He tilted his head as though mystified. "No. Do I seem like someone who abides by rules of polite conversation?"

Truly, the man was operating on a different plane of existence than the rest of us.

I turned then, quickly, and ran. I was certain he was going to pull one of the massive guns from his belt and shoot me square in the back. I would hear the sound of the bullet and fall to my knees long before I felt the pain.

As I neared the door, though, the only sounds I heard were my own panting gasps, the sound of my heart in my ears.

I reached the door. The knob was cold in my hand as I twisted it and nearly fell inside, leaning heavily on the doorframe.

I looked back. Though I couldn't see his eyes, I knew he was staring at me, matching gazes. Then he lifted his hand again in a little, mocking wave for the second time that night.



I flinched at the sound of Jamie's voice.

"You look like you didn't sleep all night."

I hesitated, then turned back to him and smiled wanly. Maria was at his left side, scowling. I enjoyed Maria's company—sometimes—but other days it took all my patience to deal with her rabid temper. Still, I controlled myself for Jamie's sake.

"It took a while, but I slept well," I told him. It was true. Usually I couldn't go to bed, and when I did, every creak and shift in the mansion woke me. Not so last night: once I got my heartrate down, washed my face, took a few deep breath, I found I slept better than I had in…well, maybe since I was ten.

Go on then, Captain Cassidy. I'll keep watch tonight.

I told myself that the cure to my insomnia was adventure. I had been living a life of slow boredom, and as a result my brain couldn't shut off. It wanted to keep going. Last night's encounter had exhausted me though, mentally as well as physically. The adrenaline had been rushing through my veins, and I had been sweating with fear and excitement.

I knew, even as I tried to justify it to myself, that it wasn't entirely true. A little bit, perhaps, but not all.

The stranger had definitely been—stranger. Matching wits with him would have been enjoyable, if not for the threat of imminent death. And his body—the heat that had poured off it, the hardness of it as I was pressed against it—

I shivered.

I had never been one to be attracted to loud, brash men. Piotr, with his quiet sweetness, had always been my ideal: a sweet man, a gentle giant. A mystery, quiet and lost and needing to be found. I wanted to hunt for him, discover what was true underneath, what made him tick.

And then there was the man in the shadows, who was anything but quiet or sweet or lost. There was no gentleness in him, and there was nothing underneath to find. Just sarcasm, and cleverness, and wit.

Still, intelligence could be a turn-on, I supposed. And he was the only man I knew who had talked to me like an adult.

And he was adventure.

Perhaps it was my own conflict in this that kept me from telling anyone what I'd seen. That night, when Jamie tried to stay with me again, I told him I had really slept so well on my own and would like to try it again.

"Maybe my days of needing someone to stay with me are over," I told him gently. I knew by the way his eyes widened that he understood what I meant. "Maybe I've grown away from that." I felt vaguely guilty as I watched him go, but I knew I had done the right thing. Sweet Jamie. He needed a woman who was as light and accepting as he was, one who would bask in the comfort he provided.

As for me, I needed something else. Playing along with Jamie would only hurt him more in the end.

When I looked out the window that night, I didn't see anyone at first. It was strange, the feeling in my throat and mouth: almost like disappointment. But then he melted from the shadows, a dark figure with one arm raised in a stiff mock-salute.

Without thinking, I saluted back. "At ease, soldier," I whispered, and then crept away from the window and crawled into bed.

He stayed for weeks. He really was, I realized, waiting for Logan. I had thought he'd get bored and either leave or attack the school—he seemed, after all, like the impatient type—but he didn't. I was amazed that one of the feral students didn't smell him, and no-one seemed to notice him or see him.

Except me. I slept soundly every night.

Finally, one evening, watching the clock shift past the early morning hours, I slipped out of the house. My heart was pounding. There was no guarantee he would let me go a second time.

"Hey yoooou."

It was a playful drawl. I whirled toward the sound of his voice. He was lounging against a tree, grinning through his mask.

"I was hoping you'd come on down, screamer. It's been boring as hell around here."

I waved a hand at him dismissively. "It's always boring here," I said, and watched his eyes widen. I cringed: he was filing that bit of unfiltered opinion away for future reference, I was sure. Trying to distract him, I added meaningfully, "Especially when Logan is gone. We don't know when he's coming back, you know."

"So you said." He paused, tilted his head. "You want me to leave, Captain Cass?"

I scowled. "Why do you call me that?"

"It's piratey. Captain Rourke Cassidy. Hey! Do you have a peg leg? Say arrrr."

I put my hands on my hips. "I'm about two seconds away from giving you a pegleg."

"I've already got wood."

I made a face.

"Besides, princess, you know you like me. Sh, sh, it's okay. You're helpless against my good looks and charm."

"I don't even know your name."

"You're not denying it though, are you?"

"I am not attracted to y—"

"You didn't tattle on me."

I fell silent. He was right, after all: at least on this count.

"You're a mouthy little bitch," he said good-naturedly, as though it were a compliment, "and I don't think you would let me get away with this if you didn't like me, just a little."

A minute passed. Two. Again, he displayed a remarkable aptitude for patience. It seemed, at first, at odds with his fast-paced snark, but I realized after a beat that he also understood comedic timing.

"You're clever," I compromised at last. "And funny. Intelligent."

"Yeah," he agreed. I could tell he was grinning. "I am."

A pause.

"And the name's Deadpool. Rhymes with dead cool."

"Scratch that bit about intelligent," I said dryly. "I spoke too soon."

He ignored me. It seemed a habit when he didn't want to hear what was being said. I was almost jealous of the ease with which he did it. "So what's the purpose of this little visit? You gonna throw yourself in my arms? Tell me to wait just one more year, when you'll be legal?"

I wrinkled my nose. "Are you serious?"

"You're right," he acknowledged. "I kill people for a living. Statutory rape is a drop in the well."

"I'm here to tell you," I said sharply, "that you're wasting your time. Logan isn't here, and we don't know when he'll be back, and—what are you doing?"

He'd peeled back the lower part of his mask, tucking it over his nose, and pulled a Mountain Dew out of the tall grass at the base of the tree.

"Taking a drink, doll; whaddaya think? A man could get dehydrated."

"Especially one who talks as much as you do," I acknowledged. "That's almost entirely sugar, anyway—forget about it hydrating you," I added, gesturing to the can with my chin. My eyes, however, were on his mouth, his chin, his nose. His skin—even down his throat—looked bitten and raw, like ground meat. It was pale and the knotted scars shone red and purple and blue, a tangled mess. His lips looked torn, mutilated. I wasn't even sure if they were lips.

I had seen women suffering from acid burns before. When Kitty had been in her senior year, she'd tackled every global issue with a personal, passionate fervor. One of them had involved young women in the third world who were mutilated by rival women or men with vendettas. Acid was flung on them in passing. It warped the skin, twisting it into a labyrinthine network.

This man—Deadpool—looked as though he'd dipped his entire head and neck in a vat of the stuff.

"Sugar!!!" he rejoined, dragging me back from my thoughts. The word was an exultation. I realized—without any surprise—that it was more the sugar he was craving than the drink itself. It wouldn't surprise me if I found out this man existed entirely on a diet of twinkies and cupcakes.

Sugar aside, my eyes were on the scars, roving them. I wondered how his skin would feel under my fingers. I wondered how it felt for him. Once, years back, I had dropped a kitchen glass. One of the pieces of glass had wedged itself in the webbing between my fingers. I had to tape my fingers together for a week so that I wouldn't tear the cut open. When it finally healed, breaking up the scar tissue had nearly sent me into tears—and I am not one who cries easily.

I couldn't imagine what it was like for him. Every word that he spoke, every expression, must bring him unimaginable pain.

My hand came up to reach for him; I dragged it away at the last minute. "How'd you get those scars?" I asked without thinking.

"Well, Fox fucks everything up," he said jovially, taking a drag of his Mountain Dew—but his eyes were on my hand. The one that had reached for him instinctively, achingly. The look in his eyes was wary. I had seen that look in Logan's eyes, and Robert Roman's. In Scott's eyes, before he died. It was the look of a trapped feral animal: uncertain, ready to bite. "You think that's hot—you should see the rest of me, screamer."

I eyed him blankly, however, and didn't let myself be intimidated by his caged-dog expression. Fox? Not only did I not have any clue what he was talking about, but he sounded so—indifferent to it, amused almost, despite the distrust in his hard eyes. His levity was beyond me.

His grin was a rictus. My fingers were twitching. I wanted to reach out and run my fingers over those blistered-looking lips, torn and hard. I wanted to soothe them with a cool, kind touch. "Your mouth?" I asked after a moment. My hands shook, and I clenched them behind my back. His eyes darted from my now-hidden hands to my face.

He shrugged, licking the tattered remains of his lips. "Someone sewed it shut. I had to cut it open." He said it matter-of-factly, like it was no big deal, but I could tell from the scars that he hadn't just cut through thread.

He'd had to cut through the healed-over flesh.

"Does it hurt?" I asked. I was surprised when my voice caught. It sounded like a half-sob.

He stopped, tilting his head, and seemed to take me in for a long, slow minute. He was studying me, the hard-eyed wariness faltering. I ducked my face away from his scrutiny as the reckless, painful-looking smirk faded from his face.

"All the time, Rourke," he said after a moment, his voice quiet.

For a second, I wondered if I was wrong. Perhaps Deadpool was simply loud and brash and obnoxious.

But perhaps he was lost too.

He guzzled down the rest of the sugared beverage and yanked down his mask, letting it snap loudly against his neck. "Now, where were we, Captain Cassidy?"

I wasn't going to be turned aside. Curiosity was another manifestation of my thirst for adventure, for the uncertain. "I thought mutants with healing factors didn't scar," I said, remembering the smoothness of Logan's face, even after it had been ripped in two.

"I'm a unique and special snowflake," he deadpanned, his mask stretching over his self-satisfied grin. "My charming personality is natural. The superpowers? Healing, teleportation, fancy laser-vision? Easily-portable swords? Not so much." A pause. A shrug. "Surgery was done before the healing factor was added. The scars are pre-regenerative."

I cringed, suddenly realizing that this wasn't a burn from fire or acid, nor was it an accident. Someone had intentionally carved into his face and throat—for some ungodly reason.

Someone who could have, apparently, given him a healing factor…and chose not to. Not till after.

"Hey, no big deal, princess," Deadpool said quickly. I looked up at him sharply and realized my horror must have shown in my face. "If I'd had the re-gen factor first, they couldn't have knocked me out for the procedures."

But it wouldn't hurt so much now, I thought, and bit my lip.

"Speaking of lucky bastards with flawless complexions," he added smoothly, "if Jimmy's not here, where is he?"

"I told you: we don't know. Not really. He's looking for Sabertooth."

Deadpool chuckled. "What's the purpose behind that little romp down memory lane, anyway?"

"We have this truce with him," I conceded slowly, grudgingly. "We're not supposed to get in his way, and he's not supposed to get in ours."

The man let out a bark of laughter, then leaned against a tree and crossed his arms over his chest. "Let me guess, Captain Cass—ol' Vic broke his promise?"

I hesitated. "We're not entirely sure," I admitted. "We had a former student go off—Donan MacGunn—and we know he had a grudge against Saber—uh, Vic."

Deadpool whistled low. The sound was muffled under his mask. "Some idiot kid went after Victor Creed?"

I licked my lips nervously. "Maybe," I allowed. "We're not sure. All we know is Gunner got hit by a car and died."

One brow lowered and he eyed me in a way that was somewhere between doubt and derision. "An X-man got hit by a car and you think it was Creed? Not really his style, doll."

"Well—" I hesitated. "The car was airborne when it hit him, and there was no-one inside it."

An incredulous pause, and then the man doubled over at the waist, gasping for breath between strangled, half-hushed gales of laughter. "Jesus Christ," Deadpool chuckled when he finally caught his breath. "I'd've paid to see that. Sometimes I miss old fang-face."

Fang-face. Did the man have no sense of self-preservation?

"You want me to leave, Rourke? I'll go. But you better believe I'll be back sooner or later. Gotta make me a parka."

I snorted in spite of myself. He was intelligent, despite his seeming death wish. Another might not have caught the connection, but I did: the best parkas used Wolverine fur on the lining of the hood, because of how easily the snow brushed off.

"You'll leave?" I asked suspiciously. "Just because I asked?"

He shrugged. "It's boring as hell around here, and I have all the time in the world. There's no real rush to get my venge on."

"Get your venge on?" I repeated blankly. And then: "Why do you have it in for Logan anyway? He's a good man."

"He's a regular prince, Captain Cass." A sneer. "Like the Beast, before Beauty kisses him."

I tilted my chin defiantly. "Looks aren't everything," I said priggishly, knowing it was a nasty barb. I was always like a tigress protecting those I cared about, though, and while I hated to be cruel, the instinct to speak for Logan was stronger.

His eyes narrowed, though, and he straightened, then took a threatening step forward. "You got a mouth on you, screamer."

"Damn straight," I shot back, but my voice quavered in the dim shadows. It took all of my strength to not step away. He loomed over me, broad and powerful, one gloved hand coming to an easy rest on the holstered gun at his hip. "That's why we get along so well."

He leaned over me and I took a step back in spite of myself, backing right into the trunk of a tree. One of his muscular forearms locked me in on the side; he tilted himself inward with the opposite shoulder to keep me caged. I could feel the heat radiating off his body. The man must have inherited a furnace-like metabolism to go with all his apparent powers as well. My heart thudded painfully in my chest and for a second, drawing in breath was painful. I would have to slide my body against his to get away, and the thought was thrilling—and horrifying in that thrill.

His glove hand came up and I cringed back, expecting a ringing backhand at best.

Then the cool leather of his glove cupped my cheek, gently, and he stroked his thumb over my jawline. "You mean that, princess?" he asked after a minute. There was something wistful in his voice. I lifted my head then, carefully and slowly, and looked up at him in confusion. It took a minute for me to figure out what he was referring to.

Looks aren't everything.

He backed up suddenly, his hand raised in mock-surrender. "You want me to go, I'll go, Rourke. Scout's honor. But I'll be back. It'll be worth waiting for…Jimmy."


It wasn't a moment too soon. Three days later—three sleepless nights, for me—they came back.

Logan and Sabertooth—Vic, as Deadpool had so familiarly called him, or fang-face—were already in the mansion when I came down one day, talking with Professor Monroe. Well, Logan was talking. Sabertooth looked bored out of his brain.

I tilted my head, eying his hulking frame, trying to imagine his relationship—whatever it was—with Deadpool. The scarred man out in the woods had certainly not harbored any friendly feelings toward him. I knew the huge feral was as vicious as they come, and the only things that pleased him were blood and violence and cruelty and murder, dealing death with his enormous clawed hands.

Well, those things, and the rumors of the pretty blond woman he had tucked away somewhere. October Morgan, whom I'd had the pleasure of meeting on occasion.

Still, trying to picture Sabertooth and Deadpool, I imagined that the bigger mutant must have hated my—well, my friend, of sorts. Deadpool was a smart-alec, and arrogant and cocky, and he liked the sound of his own voice.

Sabertooth, for all intents and purposes, was much the same.

I imagined a rivalry and a mutual hatred growing between the two of them because of that. Deadpool's irreverence, too, would grate on Sabertooth's nerves. For the feral, death was an expression of power. For Deadpool—nothing was sacred.


The thought was sad, in a way—

"You want something, frail?"

I looked up, startled, into Sabertooth's eyes. His grin curled back predatorily and he bared his teeth, mocking me. "I—I'm sorry," I stammered, backing up a step. His nostrils flared suddenly and he narrowed his eyes, taking a step forward. "I just—"

"Stop scaring the kid, Creed," Logan growled, coming around his brother's side even as Professor Monroe rose from her seat behind the desk. "She's just—"

"D'you smell it, Jimmy?" There was a strange echo of anticipation in Sabertooth's voice. "Fer fuck's sake, it's all over her—"

Jimmy, I recognized, and wondered why I hadn't before.

Logan paused, his own nostrils twitching. He tilted his head at me, his eyes growing wary. "Terry…you smell—familiar."

I edged back toward the door. "I should, Logan. You do know me."

"Hush yer mouth, darlin'—you know what I mean." His nostrils flared again. "You meet a new guy?"

Sabertooth barked a laugh. "More like an old one."

I hesitated. I didn't want to betray Logan. But I thought again of Deadpool, a silent figure in the trees.

Go on then. I'll keep watch tonight.

I couldn't betray him either.

"Sort of," I said at last, hedging.

Logan tilted his head. "Anyone I know, darlin'?"

I chewed on my lip.

"Oh, fer Chrissake," Sabertooth growled. He wasn't laughing anymore; rather, he was staring me down like a fawn in the sights of a lion. His patience with my game was clearly at an end, and it reminded me sharply of Deadpool's surprising patience. "It's fuckin' Wade."

Logan blinked, as did I. Wade?

"Wilson?" Logan asked incredulously. "No way, bub, you're wrong—" but he paused, sniffing the air again, and his eyes turned flinty. "Terry?"

"I don't know a Wade," I said firmly, backing up. "Or a Wilson."

Logan stepped forward. I had forgotten how menacing he could be, even with his short stature. "Who'd you meet, Terry?"

I chewed on my lip. "I don't know his real name," I faltered, trying frantically to think of an escape.

Logan let out a grunt of frustration and Sabertooth stepped in, his eyes narrow and fierce. He bared his teeth and I knew he was wondering why Logan didn't just rip my head off by the ears. "Ugly looking shithead," he said bluntly. "'Bout this tall. Used to be a pretty boy, got all scarred up from surgery—brought the fucker low." There was a particular glee in Sabertooth's voice, and I thought I glimpsed some of the rivalry I had imagined before. "Nasty fuckin' swords come out of his hands. Also goes by the name Weapon XI."

"We cut his damn head off, Creed," Logan growled. The words weren't a denial, but a reminder, as though to say: how?

"And you got shot through the fucking skull, Jimmy," Creed snapped back. "Obviously, you can cross one more thing off your list of possible suicide methods, you pussy bitch."

"Creed, I'm warning you—"

"Go fuck yourself, Jimmy. I played your game. Your little amateur X-man"—he said the word like an insult—"came after me and mine, and he got what was coming to him. Now I fuckin' followed you out here to 'clear things up,' and I'm done. I'll spend the night and head out tomorrow. You get shit worked out with your girl here—" and he nodded disdainfully in my direction. "Otherwise you got bigger problems than a little car accident." He pushed past, nearly knocking me over, muttering that all adolescents should be spattered on windshields like bugs.

I hesitated, then looked back. Professor Monroe stood, still silent, even as Logan paced the office. Somehow, the weather witch's silence could undo anyone.

"He's right," I said after a minute. "Sabert—uh, Mr Creed." I hesitated. "The man he described? That was…who I met." I hated myself for saying it, but I was torn. Logan was dear to me, a distant but well-loved older cousin of sorts, and I couldn't forget that Deadpool had planned to kill him. "I don't know about him being called Wade, or Wilson, or Weapon XI, but…the rest. That was all right." My heart clenched in my chest.

Logan's eyes zeroed in on me. "What did he call himself then, darlin'?"

I closed my eyes. "He was—very nice, Logan. I mean, he was an arrogant ass, but he was…kind. I talked to him a few times, and he never once hurt me, not even on accident." Even when he'd first caught me, he'd only closed a hand over my mouth and nose. Had he chosen to kill me in that moment, he never would have left a mark. "And he was witty, and clever. And he made me feel…" I hesitated, and then looked straight in Logan's eyes, remembering the few weeks of solid slumber I'd gotten—the best sleep in years, while he was watching out. "Safe," I said at last, injecting more feeling into that word than I had thought possible.

Logan tilted his head. "He used to be a charmer," he allowed after a moment. "A real ladies' man. But he's not what I would call safe, darlin'. He's killed as many people as I have, in about half the time."

My jaw jutted stubbornly. "He didn't kill me, Logan."

"What I don't understand," Professor Monroe broke in suddenly, "is why I haven't heard about this mysterious visitor before."

I flushed, then paled. Would she expel me? I shot an anxious glance at Logan, but he only quirked an eyebrow. It was clearly an expression that said, You dug this hole. Now get yerself outta it.

"I'm sorry, Professor Monroe," I said quietly. "I should have said something to you. I thought about it, plenty of times. But he really was—he wasn't doing anything wrong. He just wanted to find—" I hesitated. "He just wanted to find Logan."

The compact man stiffened, his face tightening, but said nothing.

"I promise," I said quickly. "If I see him again, I'll tell you right away, as soon as I can. I promise."

"I'll have to think about this, Terry," the white-haired woman said quietly, her voice rippling with disappointment. "Go on—get back to class."

I turned, heading out, when I felt Logan's heavy, warm hand on my elbow.

"Wait, Terry. You never answered me," Logan said abruptly, walking with me as we headed through the doors. "What'd he call himself?"

I chewed my lip nervously, feeling like a traitor either way. Caught between a rock and a hard place. "Deadpool."

Logan sucked in a breath. I cast a sharp, upward glance at him, and his voice was low when he finally spoke. Sometimes, since getting his memories back, unexpected things would trigger a flood of images in his mind. I didn't know much about the process, but from what I understood, the memories were never truly gone. But the admantium bullet he'd taken to the brain—if the whispers on campus were to be believed—had rattled and collapsed his gray matter, and when his brain had regenerated, most of the neural pathways that led to those memories were gone. When he'd left after Professor Grey died, he'd begun working with a telepath—one he still often visited—to rebuild those pathways. As a result, we could never be sure what phrase or image would snap him back into his past. This term—Deadpool—had apparently done just that.

"We used to place bets," he said quietly, flatly. "In the unit—in Team X. We'd bet on how we would die, or when. Two different gambling pools, adding in new wagers before and after every mission. Stryker and Zero thought it was tacky and repulsive, but it was one of the only ways for us to deal. With the insanity of it all, I mean. Wilson used to bet that the only way to kill Vic was a wooden stake through the heart, and a jaw trap for me. I used to bet on the chance that Wilson was gonna die by Vic's hands. It was—fun, in a morbid way. It was a laugh, and it was a way to make light of the horror of it all. I mean, for people like Wilson and Wraith and Bradley, it was only a matter of time before something took them out, and every day was a death-promise. For people like me and Vic—even Dukes, sometimes—it was a way to tempt fate. I remember in Zimbabwe, once, we were sitting around a fire at midnight and everyone was smoking. Tobacco so thick you couldn't see the stars. Bradley had just finished writing down the bets and had put them in a little locked cashbox he kept in his tent, along with the money and the other little trinkets we wagered. We were laughing, joking, dickin' around, and Wilson said suddenly, Sometimes I think we do this 'cause we all want to die. And no-one said anything. No-one could deny it."

I had heard of such things, read about them in books. They were called ghoul pools, usually. Or death watches. But judging from Logan's expression, and his reaction to his once-camrade's current alias, I knew what Team X must have called their bets.

"The Deadpool," I said quietly.

Logan nodded.


Wade Wilson.

I expected him to come back in a few months, eager to find Logan again. He didn't, though—short attention span, Logan had grunted when I mentioned it once. Still, I turned the mystery of him over and over again in my head, trying to figure out why I couldn't forget him, or get him out of my mind. He was nothing like my ideal lover, and yet I couldn't stop thinking of the way he'd held me pinned against his chest, against the tree. The scars on his tattered mouth. His sardonic wit, tinged with a little giddiness that almost seemed to push him over the edge.

Instead of him returning, however, October Morgan—a friend and personal hero to Bobby Roman, the other phonophilic mutant on campus—visited after Roman nearly took out sweet Piotr in a training session in the Danger Room. Not a day later, Sabertooth was back—which wasn't surprising, really. Sometimes he would show up to the school on his own, usually to exchange nasty words with Logan, but if ever Toby Morgan was present, you could bet that Sabertooth was not far behind.

I liked Toby well enough. Others might have raved about her kindness, her gentleness, her personal crusade for mutant rights. As for me, I valued her bluntness, her sharp wit. Perhaps it was my Irish heritage or my redheaded temper, but those were always the traits I admired most in anyone, and tried to cultivate in myself. In most situations, I might have tried to approach her, to ask her what she thought of my predicament. However, with what I had learned from Logan, I thought it would be best to stay far away from Sabertooth.

According to Logan, Wade Wilson had once been a normal man—relatively normal, at any rate. He'd been the most exasperating man in the unit, one who insisted on calling Logan and Sabertooth by shortened forms of their first names—even other, less-respectful terms—when every other man in the unit deferred to their preference and referred to the two of them only as Creed and Howlett. His irreverence did not stop there: he liked to hear himself talk, Logan said. He was hungry for attention. In cities where they stopped, even in remote villages, he could pick up a girl—or two—to warm his bed every night. It had driven Sabertooth crazy, apparently: the ease with which Wade had attracted women, his cocky attitude, his mouthiness.

I'm a crude, lewd bastard.

Then Logan had left. He didn't really know what had happened between then and the time he'd next seen Wade, but he tried to describe what it was he saw when he finally fought the man again. Wilson's bare torso had been a rode map for surgery—apparently, they'd been hoping to do the admantium-bonding process on Wade, as well, though it had never gotten around to happening. His pre-regenerative scarring had been horrible—the skin around his eyes had been burnt and blackened as though they'd peeled back these parts his face to add in the laser-vision, which—though controllable—seemed to not always have been so, since his flesh was so bubbly and raw-looking. His mouth had been sewn shut and allowed to heal over, and his head had been shaved, his scalp scarred as well, as though they'd peeled that back too—probably, Logan guessed, to insert something into his brain. After all, when they'd fought against each other, Wade had seemed more like an automaton than the snarky, sarcastic swordsman he'd once been.

And then, in a fit of camaraderie, Sabertooth and Logan had taken out Deadpool together, cleaving his head from his shoulders.

Logan didn't know how he'd come back.

He guessed the healing factor had helped, but he didn't know how. If Wade had regenerated completely, or just—somehow—reattached his own head. Or if maybe someone else had done it for him. All he figured, after listening to my description of Deadpool, was that whatever contraption they'd put in his brain to keep him on a leash had somehow snapped, and that he'd gone maybe a little crazy along with it. From the pain, from the sudden freedom. He was as snarky as ever, but seemed—less in-control of himself, Logan said.

My description of his clothing had made Logan go gray. When I described his mask—the black shapes around the eyes, the slick mouthlessness of it, the band around his neck and the smoothness of his scalp—Logan had looked vaguely repulsed. "That's how his face looked," he'd said raggedly. "Right before we cut his damn head off."

I couldn't, then, stomach the idea of Sabertooth overhearing more of my rendez-vous with his former—colleague. The man had already killed Wade Wilson once. I imagined nothing would stop him from taking him out a second time.

Instead, I waited patiently. My sleep suffered, or—I should say—returned to its normal pattern. I stayed up late, worried: for me, for Logan, for Deadpool, for Jamie Madrox who was still making a few half-hearted attempts to be mine.

I graduated and began taking college-level courses at the Institute, waiting for the day when they might invite me to be an X-man. When they might see beyond my "passive power" as a phonophilic mutant and, like Roman—who was now dating Marie D'Ancanto and had his own codename, Pitch—view me as a warrior in my own right.

Every night, berating myself for foolishness, I looked out my window and hoped to catch a glimpse of an indolently lounging male figure, one hand raised in a mock salute.

It seemed to take forever.

Then, one night, outside my window:

"Psst. Screamer."

I jolted, then flew to my window, nearly tipping out head first as I leaned over it quickly.

He was right there, a few stories below, pressed against the side of the mansion.


"You still there, Captain Cassidy? Shouldn't you have moved up in ranks or moved out by now?"

"Shut up and stay there," I snapped, grabbing a sweatshirt and readying to sneak out the front door.


I leaned back out, concerned. There had been a kind of desperation in his voice.

"Don't—" He wrestled with his words. "Don't leave. I wanna see you."

"I'm just going out the front door," I said, exasperated. "I'll be down in a second—"


I stared down at him. "Are you crazy?"

He raised a brow as though to say, What a stupid question. "Well, yeah," he said sharply. "You didn't pick up on that?"

"I am not jumping down there."

"C'mon, Rourke," he wheedled, but there was something deeper in his voice, something more than simple whining. "I promise to catch you."

I hesitated, scrunching my face up in dismay even as I felt myself giving in. With a furious sigh, I felt in the sweatshirt pocket for my keys, then closed my eyes and thrust my leg out the window, angling my body so I could sit on the ledge and launch myself down. He blinked, and I realized he hadn't expected me to yield, but then he squared off his legs and held his arms open, expectant.

My nightgown was short and silky under the sweatshirt, and I could tell he was eyeing my legs speculatively. "Stop being a pervy old man," I snapped, swinging the other leg out the window and hesitating.

He smirked a little, but his voice was quiet and soothing when he said, "Come on, princess. I promise."

Closing my eyes, I let myself go.

He caught me easily, just a little bit of give in his arms so that I felt like I had landed with a gentle bounce. Carefully, he set me down, then grinned recklessly. "Miss me, Rourke?"

Suddenly furious, I took a swing at him. He blinked when my balled-up fist deflected harmlessly off one pectoral.

"You were gone," I hissed. "Forever."

He shrugged. "More like a year, dollface."

"More like two and a half!" I accused angrily, my vision blurring. I am one of the unfortunate few whose anger is hardwired to her tear-ducts. Fury made me cry, and it was embarrassing as well as undermining.

He tilted his head. "You wanted me to come back and kill Logan?"

I threw my hands in the air. "I just wanted you to be here!"

"Princess, princess, hush yourself," he soothed, and I suddenly realized he was laughing at me. "Deadpool's back to take care of his little doll."

I stamped a foot, impotent in my fury. "God damn you—"

"Language, language."

Baring my teeth, I seized on the only power I had: knowledge. "I know about you. Logan told me. Your name is Wade Wilson—"

"Not anymore, screamer." There was a warning in his voice, now, but I barreled on anyway.

"—and you call yourself Deadpool because when you were in Team X with Logan and Sabertooth and the others, you guys took bets to see when you would die."

"I did die," he said through gritted teeth. "I'm not Wade Wilson anymore. That's an old life, and I can't go back to it."

He was angry, I realized. I remembered Sabertooth, talking about how the surgeries had "brought him low." Bringing up his history had been a bad plan, but I couldn't stop now. I didn't know how. Instead, I plowed onward. "If it's an old life, why are you so obsessed with Logan?" I snapped. "He's going to know you're here any minute now. I promised Professor Monroe I would tell her if you came back. I had to defend you—"

He blinked. "No, you didn't." There was something shocked in his voice, something a little achy.

"Shut up!" I spat. "I did too. They thought—they thought—" I stumbled over my words, winded. "Logan was ready to come after you. They thought you were a danger to the kids here, to everyone. I had to tell them you weren't, that you were a good man."

He blinked, stared. In one corner of my mind—the corner that wasn't angry—I registered that it was probably something he hadn't heard in a while. Maybe ever.

"I'm not—"

Furious with the interruption, the denial, I hissed, "You didn't answer my question. Why Logan?"

He took a step back, crossing his arms sulkily. "Here I expect a nice welcome—"

"Answer me!" I snapped, furious at his evasions.

He paused, eying me measuringly. When he spoke, his voice was cold. "Not many people get away with talking to me like that, princess. You'd best watch yourself."

I eyed him warily, but didn't back down. I knew my eyes were flashing, my lips pursed.

He laughed suddenly. "You look unbelievably kissable when you do that," he teased, and then—as though it didn't matter—he said, "Jimmy took my vengeance from me."

I stared. "What?"

"Sounds dramatic, doesn't it?" He grinned. "I like dramatics."

I scowled, put my fists on my hips. "You're not distracting me that easily."

"No?" A chuckle. "I wasn't meant to become this human guinea pig, Rourke. People don't sign up for shit like this." He gestured to himself. "Stryker conned me into it, fucked me over. Didn't tell me what I was actually signing up for." He wagged a finger in my face. "Always read the fine print, Captain Cass."

My anger had melted away. I was actually physically leaning forward, hanging onto his words. "What happened?"

"Stryker watched while Doc Killebrew performed all sorts of wacky experiments on me. And now—this." A vague gesture at himself. "Anyway, the plan—which, granted, I don't really stick to very closely—was supposed to be to find Stryker, torture the hell out of him, and kill him. But—well, Jimmy-boy got to him first."

I stared at Deadpool. "You wouldn't do that."

His eyes narrowed. "Wouldn't I?"

I chewed at my lip. "No," I said quietly, firmly.

"He destroyed my life," the assassin spat. The humor was gone from his voice. "Not only mine, but all of ours, really. He took Jimmy's memories, I heard. He sent Vic out to kill our friends—not that Vic ever had friends. Fuck, he programmed me to kill 'em too. 'Fix 'em up,'" he said in a high falsetto, obviously mocking Stryker. "'Send 'em out…they're just government property, anyway!'" He sneered. "Are you going to defend somebody whose respect for human life is so severely impaired?"

I stared back at him, eying him evenly. "I've stood up for you, haven't I?"

His head tilted, and his brow didn't recede. He still looked angry, pissed, but there was a momentary flicker in his eyes.

"A good man," he quoted at last, his voice light, but not malicious. It was as though he was trying not to make too much of it.

I eased back, then glanced around. "He's going to be out here any minute."

He grinned, bouncing from one foot to the other. "Yay." His voice was giddy, childish.

I glowered. "He's going to find you out here and kill you—again—or he's going to smell you on me in the morning and kill me."

Deadpool tilted his head. "Jimmy doesn't kill his girls," he said after a minute.

I flushed. "I'm not his girl," I said firmly. "I'm not anyone's—"

"As for the whole smelling thing, we can give him something to really be pissy about," he added, grinning mischievously. At my blank look, he added, "I like those lace panties you're wearing. Whaddaya say we get 'em nice and wet?"

I gasped and looked down, wondering if my nightgown had ridden up or if it was showing through in the dark. No, there was nothing. My head snapped up like it was on a spring, and I glared, heat rising in my cheeks. I cursed being so fair-skinned, knowing he could see my blush even in the dark.

"You were watching me," I accused, shaking a little. The muscles in my abdomen had tightened at the thought, but I shoved the knowledge aside.

"Yeahhhh," he drawled. "I like it when you change clothes."

"Oh, please," I shot back, disgusted.

"What? You're a hot cookie. Kind I'd like to eat." I could tell he was leering, even through the mask. "You're a regular siren, Rourke."

His words—especially the last, sly compliment—sent a wave of pleasure through me, but I pushed it away. "You're what—seventy years old?"

"But I have the stamina of a man one-third of my age."

"You're—revolting, you letch."

"You don't like a man with scars?"

"That's not what I mean and you know it. You're just—a goddamn bastard."

"Well, yeah."

I stomped, infuriated, embarassed. I wished I could hold my own with this man. He paused, his eyes flickering over me, lingering on my long bare legs.

"You might still be a kid in some ways, Rourke—"

"I'm almost twenty-one, Deadpool," I snapped.

"—but we could be good together." The words were a little more earnest than he'd intended, I think—almost wistful. They sent a lightning-bolt of heat into the pit of my stomach and all my muscles clenched, but I only tried to scowl. I think the expression must have looked exactly like what it was: a desperate defense.

"I like quiet men," I protested, my color heightening. "Men who are sweet and lost." Like Piotr, I thought, but the truth was I hadn't thought of him that way for a while now.

Deadpool grinned a little. "I'm not quiet. I'll never be quiet." And then, solemnly, leaning into me, "I can be sweet, though. I can." A strange, needy kind of pause. "And I'm the most lost man you'll ever find, Rourke Cassidy."

It was alarming, and dangerous, how conversations with this man went. He was all rough and sarcastic at first glance, frivolous in his way, but that levity was only a tool. He could see what was beneath the surface, dig it out with his sly quips and snide comments. Wade Wilson—Deadpool—saw straight through to the heart of things. He was, perhaps, the most aware person I'd ever met.

He could turn me inside out, I realized slowly.

Ducking my head, trying to hide the revelation in the hope that he hadn't already figured it out himself, I turned away.

"You should go," I said abruptly. "Before Logan—"

"But I want him to find me," he said, his voice an almost-whine. "I wanna see how it ends."

"Stop it," I snapped, my heart clenching at the thought. "Look at the healing factor you both have. The might won't end. It'll go on forever." I took in a breath. Besides, after my talk with Logan, I didn't think he'd even want to fight Deadpool. Really, he just wanted him to go away. "He's not gonna trade blows with you."

"You're right," he said solemnly. "I shoulda figured by now. The only way to get Jimmy to do what you want is to go after one of his girls."

I flushed again. "I am not—"

"That's how Stryker egged him on," he mused. "Got Vic to stage that Silverrat girl's death." A pause. His eyes flicked over me appraisingly.

I found myself planting my hands on my hips once more. "'Pool—"

"'Pool?" he repeated, sounding delighted. "I like that, princess—"

"Here," I heard, and whirled around as Kitty turned the corner with Logan in tow. I cringed back from the expression on Logan's face. It was thunderous, and I knew I'd disappointed him. Not only because I'd promised to tell if I saw Deadpool on the grounds again, but because I knew Logan thought I'd put myself in a dangerous situation.

"I'm sorry, Terry," Kitty said after a minute. To my surprise, she really did look apologetic. "I was worried about you—"

"Terry?" Deadpool exploded, laughing. "You're talking to Captain Rourke Cassidy here, adventuress extraordinaire. Terry. What the fuck is she, a librarian?"

I flinched, and at the same time, a wave of warmth went through me. Only Deadpool could—and would—make me sound less than boring.

Besides, as much as I loved Kitty, the older girl had an annoying habit pretending like she was a mother.

"Shut up, Wilson, and get off these grounds," Logan growled. His voice was threatening, and I swear the ground rumbled under my feet. He was furious.

"Don't I know you anyway, little lady?" Deadpool asked, ignoring Logan, his eyes snagging on Kitty again.

She tossed her hair disdainfully. "Not likely, you prick."

I sucked in a breath, furious. "Kitty—"

"Yeah, no, I recognize you." Even through the mask, I could see his face light up. "Deadpool #27. I Shoryuken dragon-punched your goddamn lights out." A fanatical grin.

"What?" she snapped, and I shared her exasperation in spite of myself. Sometimes, he spoke nonsense.

He just grinned. "Let's see if it works again." And suddenly she was yanked out of my grasp by her hair, a clean uppercut sending her flying.

"Kitty!" Logan barked, horrified, and sent me a look that clearly blamed me for her pain even as he stalked toward Deadpool, who was trilling:

"Yay! Now is fighty-time, fighty-time—bloodbloodblood!" The mocking song sounded like it was being quoted from something. He broke off suddenly and glanced sharply at me, knowingly, and added, "See? Just go after one of his girls—"

I dropped next to Kitty, cradling her head carefully and examining her swelling jaw even as Logan's claws slid from their sheaths and he launched himself at Deadpool. Kitty moaned, blood painting her lips, and my stomach doubled up on itself. She was an experienced fighter, a graduate from the Institute and a brilliant member of the X-men, and it was my fault she'd been lain out cold by a ruthless—and perhaps slightly crazy—masked assassin. What's more, she was Piotr's girlfriend, and the thought made me feel even more guilty.

"Nice jewelry," Deadpool was gloating, eying the shining blades that Logan was currently baring. "You were always such a girl, Jimmy—"

"C'mon, Kitty," I whispered, trying to help her rise to her feet. She was shaking, nearly seeing stars, I was sure. She leaned on me heavily, and I was only too glad to support her—I was furious with myself, nearly as shaken as she was.

Behind me, there was a sudden clash of metal, and I glanced back to see sparks flying from where Logan's claws skidded against the gleaming blade of Deadpool's katanas.

Squeezing my eyes shut tight, holding back tears of frustration and hurt and anger, I helped haul Kitty back into the house. The dull thud of flesh on flesh, the shriek of metal on metal, followed me inside.

When morning came, I didn't wait for Logan to find me. I had stayed by Kitty's side all evening, making sure nothing was broken, making sure she was comfortable and that she didn't have a concussion. She hadn't wanted to wake Piotr, who would have been eager to take care of her—and to be honest, it felt like a kind of penance for my own involvement in the situation. still, I wasn't looking forward to Logan's inevitable fury, and I remembered the lesson he himself had taught me: that the best defense is a good offense.

So I went on the offensive.

I stepped firmly up to him in the kitchen, a woman with a mission, in spite of the other kids around. "What happened last night?" I asked squarely, staring into his eyes.

He paused and stared at me over the top of his bottle of beer—ridiculous, really; it was still breakfast-time—and then set it down slowly. "You got a lot to answer for, kid," he said quietly.

I held my ground and raised one eyebrow. "What. Happened?"

He tilted his head, eying me coolly. "I didn't kill 'im, if that's what you're worried about."

A little of my strength abated in the wake of relief, and it took an effort to drag my shoulders back up and face him squarely. "And?"

He shrugged, turned back to the counter. "And we worked stuff out."

I blinked. "You mean—you talked?"

He snorted. "Wilson might chat up a brick wall, but not me, darlin'. We hashed it out with our fists."

I closed my eyes. Tried again. "And?"

"And what?"

A good question. Even I didn't know what I was looking for. I just wanted to know how things had turned out, if Deadpool was okay, if he was still around, if he was coming back. Instead, I let the silence spread out, waited for Logan to fill the void. He stared back at me evenly, but I could tell he was uncomfortable under the quiet, watchful eyes of the other students.

At last, he said grudgingly, "He won't be back." The words were firm, self-satisfied, and I wanted suddenly—passionately—to slap him across the mouth. It would have been a pointless gesture—he would have caught my hand long before I made contact. Instead, I took a step back, closing my eyes for a moment.

There was a weighty pause. Then, "Terry?"

I opened my eyes. Logan looked—concerned. Just a little. He cut his eyes sideways to the other students at the table, and they scattered like birds, suddenly plucking up their plates and making excuses and leaving the room.

"You wanna tell me what's going on here, kid?"

I winced, bit my lip. I didn't even realize what I was saying till the words tumbled out. "I haven't seen him in almost three years, and now he's gone again, already." I slammed my mouth shut, shocked at myself, and glanced nervously up at Logan. He was tilting his head at me in that animal-inquisitive way of his.

"Darlin'—you know he's not a good man."

I glared then. "He is," I snapped. "I know he can be. I've seen it in him."

"You're young," Logan said soothingly. "And he was nice to you. I get that—"

"Don't patronize me!" I said. I'd meant it to sound sharp, angry, but the words only came out broken. Still, Logan looked startled, leaning back and reassessing me quietly.

"I know," I whispered after a moment. "I know he's done—rotten things. And I know he's a—" I paused, laughed shakily. "He's a horrid bastard, really, but—" I closed my eyes, pressed my lips together. "But I've seen these things in him, Logan. And I know he's capable of—so much more."

Logan paused, but he didn't reject my words outright this time. "Maybe so, Terry," he said after a moment or two of thoughtful quiet. "Maybe so, but he ain't comin' back."

I sat down heavily at the table, burying my face in my hands. I wasn't crying, but I felt miserable, everything in me fragile and twig-like and waiting to be broken.

A thoughtful inhalation from Logan, and then, quietly: "You can do better than 'im, kid."

I flushed, my head whipping up. "I am not in love with him, Logan," I said sharply. "I'm not."

He looked at me, faintly amused, a trace of sadness in it as well. "I didn't say that you were, darlin'."


A/N: This fic is definitely meant to be served as a double-shot, so just be patient for part ii. Hopefully it will all make sense then!

I know the first bit of this is a bit jumpy and boring but for the life of me I couldn't figure out how to improve it. More to come shortly, with an elaborate explanation of anything that may have confused you about the storyline (at least, I think I cover all the bases!). For now, enjoy, mes petits chous!