Surveying the last of the Dresden hideouts that Drone knew about with Kitsune, I decide to ask for her opinions on random things, because I have a crush on her, and a lot of internet searches lead me to believe that’s what you do when you have a crush on someone. Maybe a night-time mission isn’t the best environment for it, but when the hell else am I gonna ask her? She probably wouldn’t go get coffee with me, and given our respective secret identities, it’s not the best idea in the world.
No, this is the only time I’ll get to feel this out. “So, Kit, you’re a cape, right? Technically, even if you’re not a big shot?”
Kitsune takes a second from our scouting to shrug. “Yeah. I am.”
“Got any opinions on the U.S. pulling out of the UWC?” I ask.
Kitsune blows a raspberry. “They’ll turn in their guns before that. It’s just posturing. I’ve seen it since… since Megajoule died.”
I wonder what it was about the man that held the entire western hemisphere under one union with little complaint. He was a god, true, a real Superman if there ever was one, but given all the work that the Foundation did before him and all the work that OPI does even now, you’d think there wouldn’t be much trouble.
He died. So how much of a god could he have been?
The very thought of him makes me feel hollow so I move on to the next topic. “Who’s your favorite cape? Living, I mean.”
“They’re all the same,” Kitsune says. “I do like the Houston Heroes, though. Krater may be loud but he’s got a good heart. Tachikaze and Hasuji have that whole Power Rangers thing going on. Danger Close is… well… he’s skeevy, from what I can tell. Makes you feel like a piece of meat.”
“So you’ve met all of them?” I ask. “Even Bedevil?”
“Yeah, I’ve met all of them,” Kitsune says. “Are we gonna play 20 Questions or are we going to find out where the Dresden leaders went?”
“Why not both?” I prime up to launch into the Dresden hideout through the open window up top. They’ve gotten progressively smaller since Kitsune and I began dismantling the gang’s different bases, and now they’re down to cramped two-story town-homes wedged in between broken down apartments and rusted warehouses.
There’s nobody home when we get inside. The building is cold, lifeless compared to the energy in the air outside, and a thick coating of dust covers all of the furniture. I search the kitchen and find it emptied of food and dishes, and all that waits for me in the bathroom is a toilet without any water in the bowl. There’s no power, none of the lights turn on.
“Check it out.” Kitsune brings me a journal with dates. The next one is a few weeks from now.
“Maybe they’re going to meet up here.” I hand her the journal. “Put it back where you found it. Let’s stake this place out that night.”
Kitsune nods. “I’ll let you know if I’m free. What now? Do we have any other places we can hit tonight? I’ve got a few hours.”
“Well…” I rub the back of my neck. While I am anxious to find Pandahead and figure out what’s going on, I have no other leads right this second and just wandering around town won’t do much. I’ll just be lost in the streets, another mask, another ghost.
Kitsune shifts toward me. “Well?”
“Do you want to have a mask brunch?”
Kitsune stammers underneath the mask. “B-brunch? Just the two of us?”
“Yeah, the two of us,” I say.
“Like, some kind of date?” Kitsune asks.
I wasn’t ready to be found out so quickly, and so I stammer like a drowning man flailing against the current. Not a single recognizable word makes it way out of my mouth. My planned reply of “Your words, not mine,” dribbles from my lips, the syllables chopped apart by anxiety.
Kitsune doesn’t reply either. Her mask shakes and it strikes me that she is babbling as well.
“B-brunch,” I say. “Food. Date.”
“Yes,” Kitsune agrees, at last. “Date. Food. Here.” She floats up and off down the street. “Roof.”
I look around, searching the streets for some kind of crisis that will free me from the horribly awkward situation I just put myself into. Even though I really do have a crush on her, I never expected it to unman me. I’ve faced bullets, superpowered thugs, human traffickers, and come within inches of death. And some girl whose face I’ve never even seen is toppling me.
I bound up to the rooftop we were spying the hideout from and realize that I’ve been grinning like a dolt for the last minute. My fingers find their way to my mouth over my mask and the grin does not disappear even when I try to force my mouth down. She said yes.
Am I allowed to have this? That question kills the smile at last and eases me out of my adrenaline. If I’m not allowed, it doesn’t matter, so I shouldn’t get my hopes up.
Why shouldn’t I be allowed?
I’m worried if I answer that…
Kitsune returns after a few minutes, two bags of fast food so greasy the paper shines from the downtown light. One of the bags floats over to me, and she says, “Here.”
“We’re doing this?” I ask, plopping down on the edge of the roof and kicking my legs as I open the bag to find a cheeseburger and fries. “A little rooftop date?”
“Yeah, why the fuck not.” Kitsune sits next to me and lifts up her mask just enough to start wiggling fries down her mouth. “I’m hungry, you’re hungry, we both beat up traffickers and gangbangers. Sure, I could be a superhero and you could be a supervillain, but it wouldn’t be the first time they’ve sat down for a meal together.”
I unwrap the burger, watch the grease drip out of the bun and the melted cheese cling to the wrapper with splotches of ketchup and mayo. No veggies in sight. “How’d you know what I like?”
“You just seemed like a meat-bun-cheese type,” she says. “Glad to know I can still read people.”
“Well, you’re wrong about one thing. I’m not a cloak.”
Kitsune snickers in between bites of her own burger.
“In fact, that’s my puzzle piece for the day. I’m not a villain. Never been opposed to capes or OPI,” I say.
Kitsune snaps her fingers. “Damn. Well, looks like I’ll have to work on a new theory, then. Nice beard, by the way. Your mask hides it well.”
“You like beards?” I ask.
“No.” Kitsune laughs.
I glance at the OPI tower downtown to find we have a good view of the screen projectors that show off the big heroes and slogans. Right now, Krater dominates the screens. “What about you, miss hot-shot-hero? What’ve you got for today? You said you met all the Houston Heroes?”
Kitsune nods. “Yeah, I’ve met Krater. He’s one of those passionate capes that gets all gung-ho about the job. Really popular in Japan. I’ve actually been ringside to one of those cape fights they do and he just eviscerated everybody.” She pumps her fist up at the last part, and it’s the closest I’ve ever seen her to excited. “He laughed the entire time he fought, too.”
Cape fights, the natural progression from WWE except the combatants are all superpowered folk. Most of the time they happen to be registered OPI capes, too.
The skyscraper lights flash and change again, and Bedevil’s face shows up. Weird to see her there now, and to know that she’s likely in that tower somewhere. “You said you met her. Do you know her?”
Kitsune glances over at the screen. “Ah. Not really. I know a bit about her though. Telekinetics like to associate together, that kinda thing.”
There’s a very small part of me that’s relieved to hear that. A small part of me that suspected that Kitsune was Bedevil, given the hair and telekinesis. I doubt Bedevil could keep up with alcoholism, though. I hate to admit Remise is right, but this girl is a barely functional street rat. A street rat I happen to have a crush on; I’m led to believe that the heart does what it wants.
The same pattern as the last time I watched the screens plays on, showing Megajoule’s face — my face, only older — and his slogan. I shake my head. “Did you know him?”
Kitsune shivers and the excitement wipes out of her voice. “That’s your puzzle piece for the day.”
“I’ll ask again,” I say. “Tomorrow, next week, the next time we fight together.”
Kitsune snaps her head at me, her slightly raised mask betraying her scowl. “No. No. I didn’t know him. I met him. What about you, Mr. Cloak? Did you?”
Maisa asked me that once, and at first I’d said yes. The truth was different from that, though. “No. I saw him once. Through a window.”
“Were you being a creepy stalker?” Kitsune asks.
“No. I was a sad boy who didn’t know what was going on,” I reply.
“Who are you, Home Run?” Kitsune asks.
“Are we beyond the puzzle pieces, then?” I smash up my bag and incinerate it in my hands. I watch the grease catch fire and the brown paper burn away until only ashes rest in my palm. “I don’t know the answer to that.”
“You’ve got a name, don’t you?”
“Why are you suddenly so interested in my story?” I ask. “Or is this really a date?”
Kitsune stammers and looks away. “I’m… not looking.”
“I’ve never known how to look.” I lean back and look up at the city. “My name is Gabe.”
“Gabe,” she says.
“What’s yours?” I ask.
“Kitsune,” she replies.
I roll my eyes. “Fine. Thanks for the food, Kitsune.” I stand up to head back to the Underground and let them know what we found here, but Kitsune reaches up and grabs my hand out of nowhere.
Her mask bobs and she looks up at me, and tears drip from her chin. Her voice wavers as she cries. “You’re leaving?”
How frail she sounds, how small and tired. “I figured we were done sharing.”
“We can share other things besides names. We can share time, or jokes, or friendship, or anything.” Her voice wavers, heavy with grief. “Please. I just want to eat with someone.”
I squat down next to her, moved to stay a while longer. Flashfire can wait. “What happened to you?”
“I don’t know.” Kitsune shakes her head. “I don’t know. I just feel so lonely. Even when I’m with other people, I’m alone.”
I’ve never heard that articulated but when she says it, my chest feels hollow. I know the exact feeling. Even when I’m with other people, I’m alone. I’ve always been alone. “I’m sorry.”
“I’ve never known what I did to become an outcast,” Kitsune says. “You know in middle school when you’re in the cafeteria and everyone sits three seats from you?”
Not really, because I didn’t go to a middle school. But I nod because the feeling she’s describing is close to my heart at all times.
“It’s like that.”
“Do you feel like that now?” I ask. “I don’t want to bother you or make you feel like that.”
Kitsune looks down. Her chin wobbles. “It’s not you, Gabe. It’s not you. I’m glad you’re here, but the way I feel, every single day. That’s not gonna stop just because a hunky guy wants to eat burgers on a roof.”
“So I’m hunky,” I murmur.
“So this was a date?”
“Yes,” Kitsune says. “It was… is… a date. I haven’t been on one in a while and I thought it would be nice.”
I sit back down next to her and hold my hand out for her to take. She does so, hesitantly. Her hand is cold and clammy, but her touch is gentle, light as a feather. She grips my thumb instead of my entire hand, and I chuckle and place my fingers on top of hers. We sit there in quiet, holding hands.
“You said you have to hold yourself back a lot,” Kitsune says. “Or else you’d really hurt the people around you.”
“Yeah,” I say. “Part of my power. Once I really get going it would be like standing next to a bomb going off, I think. I’ve never really let loose, so I don’t know how strong I am.”
“I hope you get to, someday.” Kitsune looks at the city. “The world doesn’t have a lot of strong people.”
“Really?” I ask, thinking about Krater, about the Inheritors, about all the heroes that have super strength. “What makes you say that?”
“Everyone’s afraid.” Kitsune shakes her head and looks back at me. “We’ve got problems that powers can’t fix and we don’t have anyone who throws themselves at fixing them.”
I don’t know what to say to that, really. “Burgers, rooftop, Dresden douches.” I turn to her and smile under my mask. “Not a bad date, if I’m being honest. Best one I’ve ever been on.”
“Must not have been on many, then,” Kitsune says. She wipes her chin, careful not to lift her mask up any higher than her nose. “I used to eat in penthouse restaurants. Back when I was a big timer. Now I mostly eat this.”
“What was it like, being a cape?” I ask.
“It was a dream. I fought powerful villains, I saved lives. Not every shift was like that, though. There was a lot of boredom and time off, in between the heroics.” She runs her fingers along my hand and plays with my thumb, and for the first time I hear her humming. She really does have a lovely voice, a singer’s voice. “I did musicals. Mostly in high school, but I found the time to do one during Basics, too.”
“You do have a really nice voice.” I’m curious about her time training. “Did you like Basics?”
“Thanks.” She smiles at me and I notice how nice her lips are. “I liked it. I wish it had prepared me for life. It felt like a bubble you couldn’t pop.”
“Did you ever do something you weren’t proud of as a cape?” I ask.
Kitsune thinks about that. “Yeah. I think every cape has. We’ve all got stories.”
“I don’t want to pry. I just want to know about you.”
“Why?” Kitsune asks, turning to me. “Why do you want to know about me?”
“Because I have a crush on you.” I meant to play that a little smoother, but here we are now. “I mean, I’m glad we’re friends. The last few months have been nice, and I totally get it if you’re not-”
Kitsune crawls over to me and plants her lips on mine, taking me by surprise. At first, I’ve no idea what to do: I flail with my hands, searching for somewhere to grab, and settle on her waist and her arm, and as I do she eases into me.
My first kiss is covered in her snot and alcohol and I would not have changed it for the world. She leans back after a moment, her smile a ghost under the bottom of her mask. “My name is Ruby.”
We sit together for a while, chatting about things that don’t matter, and the masks do not come off. After she finishes her burger, we kiss one more time, and she leaves me with her name and the lingering feeling of her lips on mine.