prequel piece to the Pyrotechnics for the Soul series (One Spark, et al).

warnings: AU - Fateverse. sci-fi. some OCs. minor character deaths. military geekery. movie geekery. bromance-with-a-chick. language: pg-13 (primetime tv plus s*** and f***).

pairing: the beginning of Wade/Nessa.

timeline: starts in the mid 2470s. in the 24th century, the United States experienced complete socio-economic collapse in the wake of World War VI. its territories, along with Canada, Mexico, and Cuba, reformed into the United Federation. then, in the year 2468, following heavy fighting in Eurasia and the Middle East, Federation scientists stumbled upon the key to lossless gravitic power, spurring a technological revolution that allowed the Federation to once again become the dominant political superpower on the planet.

disclaimer: recognizable characters and terms belong to respective owners. i just made the AU.

notes: 1) title comes from Ellie Goulding's "Starry-Eyed": "So we burst / Into colors, colors and carousels / Fall head-first / Like paper planes and playground games." 2) i have no idea what laserball is, but i blame Luc Besson for it. 3) Mike Wilson is nobody. Wade just needed a stepdad. and i was honestly kind of shocked to find out that Savant!Wade's dad was Clint Barton. i was all "so who's your dad?" and he was all "Hawkeye," and i was like "nowai!" and he was like "YUSWAI." yes, i totally have complete conversations with the muses dancing in my brain... 4) Loomis is one of many little towns glommed onto the Sacramento Metripolitan Area. Arden is a bigger town in the SMA, and (Rancho) Cordova is another bigger town in the SMA. 5) Anaheim is MUCH bigger than Loomis, and is part of the LA Metripolitan Area. it's also the home of Disneyland. 6) "NorCal" = "Northern California." 7) Zombieland Rule 29: The Buddy System. Zombieland Rule 8: Get a Kick Ass Partner. 8) "caf" = "cafeteria." 9) "holo" is kind of a universal abbreviation for "holographic viewer (TV)," "holovid (holographic video)," and "holocube (cubes for storing holovids)." 10) Zombieland Rule 17: Don't Be a Hero. Zombieland Rule 3: Beware of Bathrooms. 11) in Zombieland, the characters are all referred to by their hometowns. in our case, Inez is from El Paso and Tasky is from Omaha. 12) Sam Fischer is the protagonist of the Splinter Cell games. 13) i don't know when, how, or why Tasky dated Elektra in this universe, but he did.

military glossary:
"LT" = "ell-tee" = lieutenant.
"MRE" = "meals ready to eat," non-perishable military field rations.
"rack" = "bunk/cot."
"Q"/"Q-Course" = Army Special Forces Qualification Course; the minimum age requirement is twenty years old.
"SF" = "Special Forces."
"vet" = "veteran."
"HD" = "honorable discharge," retirement from the military with good standing, required for most veteran's benefits (such as health care, disability, pension, etc.).
"re-up" = "re-enlist," renew a contract for military service.
"PMC" = "private military contractor," mercenary groups.

visit The Fateverse Glossary (lex-munro. livejournal. com/64465. html) for terms, concepts, Nodes, and important people.

Like Paper Planes and Playground Games

At age fifteen, life for Wade Wilson is a series of unfair many-on-one fights. He's skinny—fucking beanpole skinny—and he hates the way his body obstinately refuses to put on the kind of muscle he sees on the laserball creeps who keep trying to rearrange his face. He hates it because he punches like a damn girl. He hates it because said creeps can twist both his damn arms up behind his back with one hand. He hates it most of all because his stepdad swears up and down that his biological dad was a certifiable badass prior to being late for his thirty-fifth birthday.

"No, really," Mike says over and over again. "Me 'n your dad and the rest of the squad, alone out there in the sandbox for weeks on end doing coverts…your dad saw us outta so many scrapes, in all kinds of odds…"

So on top of resenting his stupid deceased father for being deceased, Wade also hates the guy for being a badass and not passing it along. And even if his stepdad is kind of a lamer and has no good advice about the phenomenon of bullying (besides 'pick your battles' and 'learn to run faster'), at least Wade's not stuck with the last name Barton. Because while Wade Wilson gets beat up a lot and occasionally shoved into nearby spillways and levees, Wade Barton would've gotten stuffed into every locker in school and then shoved into a spillway.

As a result, Wade is the kind of kid who wears ripped-up jeans and sits in the back of the classroom drawing people being stabbed, but at least he hasn't entertained any ideas of taking one of Mike's guns to school and ventilating half the student body. He figures having hormones sucks for everybody, so he might as well wait and see if his abusers grow out of it before he blows their brains out. It's only polite.

The contributing problem, he's decided, is the size of Loomis, California (or lack thereof). In a bigger place, there'd be more kids. If they moved to Arden or Cordova, he'd be in a big enough school that there'd be a whole damn clique of skinny angry boys who listened to loud music because it was a cheaper overall investment than drugs, and at least his misery would have company.

Wade spends considerable chunks of his days fantasizing about getting outta Loomis. Getting on a plane to Seoul or Singapore, where nobody'd know him or care that he's not on a sports team. Living in a little loft somewhere on the Bay, or a swanky condo in Santa Monica. Places where being the bottom five percent of the pecking order makes less of a difference because five percent is still a hell of a lot of people.

Today, they've got a new girl. Petite and pretty. Blue-black hair and milk-white skin with a spot over one eye like a Dalmatian. Like Wade, she dresses way last-century, but with neon tights under her ripped-up jeans and pink hand-me-down Converse instead of black. She introduces herself to the class as Neena Thurman from Anaheim.

Neena sits next to Wade and smiles at him.

The kid on the other side of her sneers and says, "Hey, mutie."

"Hey," is all Neena says, and smiles at the other guy, too. Figures a chick from a bigger city would be used to a little mutie-roughing, and Simon probably wouldn't bother except she's new.

Mutant or human, new kids are toe-jam to the established cliques.

"So why'd you move out here to the ass-crack of NorCal?" Wade asks her.

"My foss retired, and he said he had some old friends here."


"Foster dad. My parents died in that big derailment ten years back. He's one of those confirmed old bachelors, but he's a pretty good dad."

Ah. Regs say that foster parents for mutants have to either be mutants themselves or take a lot of mutant physiology and social sensitivity classes, so Wade assumes Neena's foss is a mutie and files that away for 'nosy questions to ask after becoming better acquainted.'

"Bummer," he commiserates. "My dad kicked off in the war, and my mom died of cancer four years ago, so it's just me and my step. But he's not, like, an evil stepdad or anything. I'm pretty sure he's not raising a legion of the undead in the basement."

Neena raises her eyebrows. "Pretty sure? A legion of the undead's a big deal, y'know. You wanna be completely sure. Maybe go down with a shotgun and some holy water."

Wade tries to be completely nonchalant when he shrugs and says, "Maybe you should come over sometime and we'll do that. Rule twenty-nine, and all."

"I was thinking I qualify for rule eight, actually."

Getting the reference has scored Neena some big points in Wade's book. "We'll see. You're kinda short to be my Tallahassee, but I'll give you a chance to earn your Twinkies."

Neena scores more points when she lets Wade ramble at top-speed all through lunch, nodding agreeably here and there. "You're like a bunny on crack," she says when he pauses to finish his milk. "You know, like the little brown one in that one ancient Bugs Bunny cartoon. It always talked in fast-forward."

After school, Wade's usual band of bullies fails to waylay him in the hallway. The only bullying fodder more appealing than a scarecrow-shaped outcast is a new kid, so Wade goes looking for poor Neena.

He heads to the laserball team's favorite beating grounds, a nook between the caf and the mass waste receptacle (tech revolution or not, they should really just keep calling the damn things dumpsters).

When he gets there, it's just in time to see Neena punch the last of the five big guys in the kidney hard enough to make him fall down with a groan.

Neena dusts off her hands. "What kinda dumbass jumps a mutie without knowing what her powers are?" she scoffs.

"Your power is ass-kickery?" Wade asks.

"No, I'm just really lucky. Like…I always dodge the right direction, I always hit what I aim at, stuff like that. But I had to be taught how to fight, just like anybody else. I could show you a few tricks if ya want."

"Dude. You are so officially my Tallahassee."

"Anaheim, man. I'd gouge my eyes out before I'd live in Florida. Florida's for old people."

They walk home together, because Wade's house is on her way. She waves goodbye from the sidewalk, and it's kind of cool and kind of trippy at the same time, because nobody's smiled and waved at Wade for years.

It's probably not lame that he goes to his room and listens to rock instead of metal for the first time in eight months. Tragic-angry-skinny guys are allowed to be cheerful sometimes. It's not like he wears eyeliner and cuts himself (he's pretty sure emo guys aren't allowed to be happy).

Neena's waiting on the sidewalk when he heads out the next morning. "How's it hoppin', crack-bunny?" she says by way of greeting. And they walk to school together.

After school on Friday, she comes up to the door with him.

"How was school?" Mike calls (somewhat mechanically) from his place on the couch, watching some lame sport on the holo.

"Made a new friend," Wade says.

Mike's eyes are big and round when he looks over the couch in disbelief.

Neena waves. "I'm Neena, codename Anaheim. I'm here to help clear out any potential undead infestations in the basement, as per rules eight, seventeen, and twenty-nine, as well as rule three, sub-clause B."

"Three…that's bathrooms." Wade's actually a little proud Mike remembers that. "But what's sub-clause B?"

"And other vulnerable areas such as bottlenecks and basements."

Mike turns back around. "Well, you kids have fun, then. Just don't set anything on fire, and try not to shoot anything that's not a zombie."

Neena stops by on Saturday with a holocube of Shaun of the Dead. Mike's so happy to see Wade with an actual friend that he invites Neena to stay for supper. She declines, but he brings them a plate of fresh baklava halfway through the movie.

By the middle of the next week, Neena's no longer being bothered by bullies of any clique, and Wade's safe as long as she's around.

"You're lucky, Anaheim," he tells her as they're walking home on Wednesday.

"No way, your stepdad is awesome. You wouldn't wanna meet my foster dad, he's way strict. Dyed-in-the-wool strict. Eats strict for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I don't think he's ever even heard of a holovid. He probably remembers when they still used DVDs. Hell, he probably remembers when dinosaurs roamed the earth."

Wade draws elaborate loops with his hand. "Yeah, but…you're a mutant. You got super-powers. Mike keeps telling me my dad was a badass, but I'm just a fucking pansy string bean who gets beat up when there aren't any chicks around to defend me."

Neena snorts. "Dude, you're not even sixteen yet. You've got a lot of growing left. Look, if it really bothers you, ask your step to pay for some karate lessons or something."

Smile. Wave. Seeya tomorrow.

Wade's nervous and a little embarrassed when he shuffles up to the couch and mumbles, "."

Mike pauses his show (golf, whatthefuck) and waves Wade around.

Wade perches on the edge of a couch cushion and tries not to fidget.

"Well, that's more like it," Mike says encouragingly. "Proactive. Lessons are kinda expensive these days…but one of the old squad retired recently, so I'll call him up and see if he can't show you a thing or two."

On Thursday, there's a strange car in the driveway, and Neena stops and gapes at it.

"What's the foss doing at your place?"

Wade doesn't know. Maybe the foss has decided he doesn't like his little badass mutie princess hanging out with boys. Or humans. Or both, which would suck, since Wade's both. Double-whammy. Two strikes. Maybe the guy's come to say they can't be friends.

In the living room, Mike's sitting in an armchair for once, leaving the couch for his guest—a guy who looks like a cross between a badger and a heavyweight wrestler. Something about Mr. Badger's face screams 'I have no sense of humor.' Yeah, definitely eats strict for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Wade stands a little straighter and wishes he'd worn a clean shirt today (in fact, his shirt has a mustard stain near the bottom). That's the kind of atmosphere generated by Neena's foss.

Mike gestures. "Wade, this is James Logan. He served in Serbia with me and your dad."

"Neena," says Mr. Logan. "You didn't tell me your friend at school was Clint Barton's kid."

Neena looks completely lost. "Who-what's kid? His last name's Wilson."

Wade nudges her. "Dude. Stepdad, remember?"

Mr. Logan stares sternly at Wade for a moment. Then he says, "Kid, I'm gonna teach you how to not get yer ass kicked so bad or so often. I'm gonna teach ya how to kick other kids' asses instead, and I'm gonna try and teach ya how not to kill any of the stupid little brats."

And they start that day. No Mr. Miyagi, wax-on-wax-off bullshit, either—straight-up Special Forces stuff.

Over the next few weeks, Wade learns which parts of his body to hit with. He learns which parts of his opponents to aim for and how much strength to exert (Mr. Logan is good for that, because his mutation makes him heal super-fast). He doesn't learn anything formal, doesn't learn any one style. It's Judo throws and Aikido holds, Muay Thai elbows and Wing Chun punches and Kung Fu kicks. Punch this hard and the guy will choke. A little harder, he'll pass out. A lot harder, and he'll fall down dead.

Neena practices with them sometimes. She's not as strong, but she's fast, and she never misses.

When they turn sixteen, Mr. Logan decides they need to learn firearms so they can join the military (Neena wants to, won't shut up about it, and Wade figures he might as well, since he doesn't really know what he wants to do with his life except get the hell outta Loomis).

They find out that Wade is a better shot than Neena, which is pretty effing epic.

"Definitely Clint's son," Logan says, staring at a paper target with a single hole right on the bullseye.

Wade doesn't know how to feel about that, because his memories of his dad are pretty spotty, and he doesn't like the idea that people will always be holding up some kind of imaginary yardstick to see if he measures up. So he just follows Neena's lead.

She starts practicing with things like knives and nunchucks. By default, so does Wade.

She learns to ride a motorcycle, learns to hotwire cars, learns to fly a plane. So does Wade.

She takes up free-running. So does Wade.

By seventeen, Wade's hit six-three and bulked up to one-seventy. Somehow, he's sitting pretty on a four-point-oh. He figures it's because everybody else is too stupid to remember that the answers to every test come straight from the textbooks. Maybe laserball really does cause as many brain-damaging head injuries as football used to.

The jocks don't give him shit anymore, because he kicks their asses at sports in PE (they've been begging him to join a team or three). The mutie equivalent of the popular crowd doesn't give him shit, either, since he busted Julio's kneecap and gave Alex a pressing need for nine stitches over one eye.

Suddenly, Wade's getting a flood of syrupy letters from places like West Point and the United Federation Maritime School and San Angeles Aerospace Academy. They use phrases like 'place of honor' and 'rare opportunity.' The Army recruiter just says, "Son, how'd you like to get paid to kick some ass?"

"Will they let me use explosives?"

"Long as you throw 'em toward the enemy."


The second they turn eighteen, they're on the bus. Wade spends most of Basic with a pair of Drill Sergeants screaming in his ears, because he cheerfully informed them on day one that Basic was a waste of time and he'd like to go blow people up now, thanks. Then he and Neena get separated, which is total bullshit. Equality of genders and genes, yeah right.

They keep in touch, though. Weekly letters about 'this one idiot LT' and 'that vid that came out on Tuesday' and 'what exactly do you think is in a turkey roast MRE.'

Wade gains a reputation as the unit's chatterbox, the guy who can talk about zombie movies for three days straight and shoots like he's expecting to be the world's last defense against a zombie invasion. He's glad his LT's not an ass like Neena's is, because the guy just kinda rolls his eyes and lets Wade do his thing, as long as his locker's clean, he showers regularly, and his rack's in order.

One day, the guy even takes Wade aside after practice at the range and talks very seriously about Special Forces.

"You got a real gift, Wilson," he sighs. "If you could just learn to keep your mouth shut, you could take the Q-course and go out and do all that exciting shit you keep yapping about. See the world, blow shit up, go all Sam Fischer on the nation's enemies…"

The idea that somebody has that kind of faith in him is flattering, and very cool. "For reals? You think I could be SF?"

"Like I said, learn to shut up when you gotta, and it'll be a cakewalk. You shoot and fight like you were raised by some paramilitary psycho."

"Retired military," Wade corrects. "And the guy who taught me that stuff wasn't the guy who raised me—he's my BFF's foster father, apparently retired from the same squad as my dad and my stepdad, and I'm not sure he's technically a psycho, just really strict and kind of grumpy and overall somewhat—"

"Wilson," barks the lieutenant.

Wade whips to attention and snaps his mouth shut apologetically.

"Look, when you hit the age requirement, I'll get all the paperwork laid out for you. But you gotta keep performing on the range and out on exercises, and if we get deployed, you gotta deliver. And for God's sake, put a zip on that lip."

Excitability notwithstanding, Wade cracks down on all his little problem areas. Keeps his boots clean, stops staying up after lights out, practices not saying all the smartass things that pop into his head.

He and Neena meet back up for Special Forces qualification. She cackles at him and hugs him off his feet.

"Lookit you! You're almost as buff 'n manly as me now!"

"You only wish you had my girlish figure," he retorts primly.

She gives him a playful punch in the shoulder. "We're gonna ace this shit, you 'n me. We're gonna show 'em these Padawan learners are ready to be Jedi."

They blow Q out of the water.

It takes a formal request from each of them, a letter from Mr. Logan, and a lot of bootlicking, but they end up in the same covert squad.

They start with seven: Wade, Neena, Temple, Forbes, Masters, Montgomery, and Prewett. Prewett is a complete tool, and they shun him pretty hard until he transfers out. Forbes gets air conditioning in his frontal lobe on their first mission. Montgomery loses his left arm to a frag and gets shipped home with a purple heart. And then it's just the four of them.

For four years after that, they're practically fucking invincible. Assassinating politicians, rescuing political prisoners, stealing biological weapons…whatever odd jobs the United Federation has that need a little stealth and a lot of enthusiasm. People look at them kinda funny when they introduce themselves as 'Loomis, Anaheim, El Paso, and Omaha,' but getting the job done excuses eccentric callsigns in the military.

"You hear they're cuttin' our pay again?" Temple says into the depths of a can of Spam (which she claims tastes like ground coyote).

"Fucking bullshit," mutters Masters, around a mouthful of Snickers.

The blonde nods. "Vet benefits, too. HD'll get you vet life and medical, which is worse 'n the national average, and five percent less 'n minimum wage every year."

"We've gotta get outta this gig before we end up working for free. I hear private sector's paying twice what we get, with better equipment and more vacation time."

Wade doesn't say anything, but the idea takes root in his brain, and he can see it doing the same in Neena's.

Their contract expires at the end of the year. They don't re-up. All four of them go home with more medals than most people get serving twice the time.

While Mike doesn't like the idea that Wade's abandoning his patriotic duty, he's easily sidetracked when Wade gives him a nice little shadowbox of Wade's patches. The shadowbox gets added to the line over the mantel, three frames side-by-side now with Special Forces at the top, Airborne under that, and unit patches at the bottom. Mike beams with pride when he looks at the frames, so Wade figures he's mostly off the hook.

Wade takes a week-long break to get used to real food and comfortable clothes again.

Masters used to date this chick who used to work for a pretty swanky PMC and helped start up a small outfit of her own, and he introduces them all.

"Elektra, this is Wade, Neena, and Inez."

It throws Wade a little off-balance. He's just spent seven years being 'Wilson' or 'Loomis' (sometimes 'crack-bunny,' but only with Neena). And nobody calls Temple by her first name unless they want their face rearranged by a mutie who can punch a hole through a brick wall (some kind of childhood trauma, Wade figures).

"Temple," the blonde corrects with a wince.

Masters ignores her. "Guys, Elektra Natchios."

"Does she come with queso?" Wade quips.

Masters' ex-girlfriend gives him a deadpan look. "Come with me. Vanessa and I'll check you out, make sure you're up to the job, then we'll clear it with Hayden and get the paperwork moving."

It turns out that Vanessa is built a lot like a Barbie doll. She's also blue. "I'm Vanessa, I'll be testing your physical capabilities while Elektra goes over your credentials."

Wade wolf-whistles at her. "Damn, lookin' good, Smurfette!"

She punches him.

"I deserved that," he admits, pinching his nose to keep from bleeding all over the floor.

It's the start of a beautiful relationship.