Later that week, Saw Off calls in the favor I owe her by way of a text message: Hey Gabe Babe. Listen, Cabellero Santo wants us to meet up tonight, and I need a big, strong man who can flex a little bit, and act as insurance in case things go wrong.
I rummage around for letterman jacket and my mask, and I text her back: Can do.
Where are we meeting?
Saw Off texts me an address and tells me to be there at midnight. While I’m at it, I text Kitsune. We’ve been texting a lot since our date, at least every day, though we haven’t seen each other since then. She likes to text me good morning and good night, even if we haven’t talked in between, and I find that makes me feel very warm, even when my chest is hollow. I send her pictures of interesting graffiti while I’m out and she sends me cat emojis. If this is what dating is like I’m mad I’ve never tried it before.
Kitsune: Hey :3 what’s up?
Me: Are you free tonight? For a mission, I mean?
Kitsune: I’m free. What’s going on?
Me: I kind of promised to help the 2nd Amendment, and they have a solid lead with a gang that wants to take Pandahead out.
Kitsune: I’m in. Tell me where.
I decide to text her my address. How soon can you be here?
Kitsune: On my way. Fifteen.
I head out to the living room, where Doc watches TV like he always does after work. I don’t really pay attention to what he’s watching, but instead down a bottle of water.
My phone buzzes. It’s a call from Flashfire. “Hey, man. What’s up?”
“Why didn’t you tell me you promised you’d help the 2nd Amendment?” he barks.
I grimace. “Uh, sorry. I was worried they were gonna shoot me.”
Flashfire shuts up on the other line.
I don’t have anything to say, either.
“Sorry. I didn’t know.”
“It’s okay. I really shouldn’t be making good on the promise, but Saw Off says she has a lead on a group that wants to take down Pandahead.” I’m still not certain if this will pan out, but it’s better than waiting for Iso to get word back about that one Dresden leader. I rest my elbows on the counter and nibble on my fingernails.
“Just be careful. I don’t dislike her just because we dated. I dislike her because she’s murderous and cruel. There’s a reason she’s on a terrorist watch list and I’m not.” Flashfire chuckles on the other end. “I can’t believe I ever dated her.”
“I can,” I say, recalling her fierce beauty and her charming smile. She may grate on me personally, but she’s definitely attractive. Not only that, but she’s got the devil may care attitude that I know Flashfire likes.
“Yeah, well, what do you know, you started going out with an alcoholic mask.”
“We’ve been on one date,” I say.
“Date?” Doc asks, his attention suddenly torn from his TV shows.
I glare at Doc while I wrap it up with Flashfire. “I’ll be careful, I promise. I’ll let you know if anything happens. Worst case scenario, I stand there and look menacing for a few hours and get nothing, but best case, we have a way to finally nail Pandahead.”
“We both know that’s not the worst case with Saw Off. Worst case is she fucking blows up and kills everyone inside while you and your girlfriend watch.”
“How’d you know I invited Kitsune?” I ask.
“You invite her to everything.” Flashfire’s voice adopts a perverted, jocular tone. “When are you gonna get her mask off?”
“That’s none of your business.”
“It kind of is.” Flashfire sighs. “I’m worried she’s running you around. I’m worried about who’s under that fox mask.”
I’ve thought about that a lot. Especially the last few days. I’ve admittedly tried to dig around through the OPI website of officially registered capes, trying to find all of the blond telekinetics. Of course, the top of that list was Bedevil but I didn’t even bother to click on that one. Turns out, there are quite a few telekinetics in the cape logs, and a not insubstantial number of them have blond hair.
“It’s okay.” If it is, then why do those words feel so weak? We say our goodbyes and I hang up, shaking my head, and finally notice that Doc’s watching an interview with the Houston Heroes, Bedevil included.
“So you have a lot of animals?” the interviewer asks.
Bedevil nods. “Five cats and a dog, actually.”
Five cats and a dog. I ignore it. Out of mind. Out of sight.
“So Flashfire’s pissed off at you, huh?” Doc asks me while I suit up for my night out.
“Not too bad. Just really doesn’t like the 2nd Amendment because he dated their leader. She is a bit crazy, but she’s got a solid lead on Pandahead.”
“That’s a stupid name for a mask,” Doc says.
“I’ll let him know that when I drop him off in front of the fish center,” I say. “And I’ll apologize to Flashfire once we’ve finished the job.”
“It’s better to ask for permission than forgiveness.”
“Sure, and did you when you rescued me?” I ask.
Doc snorts. “You know, you’re just like him, sometimes.”
The hole inside comes back. The hole that tells me I’m nothing like Megajoule, and can never be like him.The hole that says I’m just a cheap imitation of the real thing. “How?”
Doc turns the TV on. “Stubborn. Did I hear it right that you went on a date?”
“Yes, you heard it right. I went on a date. With another mask.”
“What’s she like? When are you giving me grandkids?” Doc’s lips twitch in amusement under his white scraggly beard, but his eyes are dead serious. He’s only partly joking.
“I don’t even know if I can have kids.” I’ve never had the chance to test that out. I’m worried that once I do, I’ll find that I can never have children.
“Meh. Burn that bridge when you get to it, I suppose. There’s ways around it,” Doc says. “Anyway, if it’s at all possible, put a ring on it and knock her up soon, so that you can retire and give up this life of crime. For my sake.”
“Yes, because that’s the reason someone should have kids.” I chuckle. “Good grief, Doc, we’ve been on one date.”
A second after that sentence flies from my mouth, the doorbell rings. Doc’s eyes widen and he snaps his steel gaze at me, but I shake my head, put my mask on, and answer the door. Kitsune leans against the door frame, her right hand making a finger gun pointed right at me. “Hey.” Her voice wavers only a little, meaning that she’s not had too much to drink.
“Hey.” I look back at Doc, who is mouthing ‘Introduce me!’
Kitsune pokes her head in and gives a little wave. “I’ll have him back by morning. No promises on when the kids will start, though.” Since I can’t see her face, I have to assume that she’s wearing a smug grin to max her fox’s expression.
God, I’ve never been more embarrassed. “Sorry, the walls, they’re paper thin.”
“Pleasure to meet you, miss…” Doc trails off, hoping that she’ll finish the sentence, I assume.
Instead of that, Kitsune pulls me out to the landing, closing our apartment door behind us. Her telekinetic tendrils pull my mask up to my nose and she jumps up into a kiss, pushing her entire body into me. I return in kind and hold her against me, and we stretch a minute into eternity. When I can no longer breath and my heart hammers inside my chest, I pull back. “Hey,” I whisper.
Kitsune snickers under her mask, true to her mischievous namesake. “Hey. I missed you.”
“Sorry about that.” I rub her arm, clear my throat, and try to fix my pants so she won’t notice that my dick strains against my jeans.
“Don’t be,” she says. “Grandpas are like that, you know. Who is he?”
“Uh, Doc. Not really my grandpa. My adopted one, maybe. We aren’t related.” As I talk, Kitsune wraps me in her telekinesis and lifts me up to the rooftop with her.
“Adopted?” she asks, setting us down but not releasing me from her grasp. We’ve gotten quite good at traversing the city together, moving double my normal speed alone by using a mixture of my kinetic launches and her telekinetic swings.
“Yeah. He… I owe him my life. From before I was a mask. It’s a really long story. Not one for today.”
“One for tomorrow?” Kitsune asks.
I meet her eyes. I can’t see them beneath her mask but I want to. I want to see her eyes because I believe they will be the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. “Yeah. One for tomorrow.”
We cross the city through the alleys and above the rooftops, and I feel much like I did with Maisa. We twist and turn in the sky together, two acrobats moving with inhuman grace, two dancers in perfect motion. We move like that’s all we were made to do.
Saw Off and the 2nd Amendment are waiting for us at the address she texted me, which is a plain brick building that could either be a warehouse or some kind of art studio, but it’s unclear which it is.
The only difference from the last time I saw them is that they all are wearing their bandannas now. Saw Off’s looks like a shark mouth, Lugs’ is still the demonic teeth, Mil-dot wears a simple camouflage pattern, and Vaquero wears a rustic red pattern with white lacing around the edges. Lugs’ shotgun dangles from his chest, while Mil-dot, ever the soldier, carries an assault rifle and shows her practiced trigger discipline.
Saw Off puts a hand on her hip. “And just who the fuck is this, Gabe Babe?”
Before I can say anything, Kitsune speaks. “Kitsune. We’re… friends.”
“Friends,” Saw Off repeats, turning the word over in her mouth as slow as she can, as if she’s tasting a rancid wine.
Kitsune shakes her head and looks at me. “Why is she calling you babe?”
“She’s been calling me babe since we met,” I mutter. “I’ve got nothing to do with it, promise.”
Saw Off puts a hand to her head. “The betrayal. The misery! You’ve broken my heart, Gabe Babe! Broken it!” She leans forward and points her finger at me, and I worry that perhaps she can also shoot bullets from her hand, too. No bullet comes out, just a disappointed click of her tongue. “I thought we had something special when you promised me your muscles for one night, to do with as I pleased.”
Kitsune simply looks at me.
“This mission, she means this mission.” I cover my face, once again in embarrassment. “Can we please just get on with it?”
Saw Off snaps her fingers. “Come on. Having one more mask won’t hurt, even if she did steal you from me. Do you have any experience with Cabellero Santo?”
Kitsune shakes her head. “Are they some kind of religious gang? Santo means saint, yeah?”
“Yeah, actually.” Saw Off doesn’t really seem that upset that I brought my… hmm, casual dating partner? I mean, not my girlfriend, we’ve only been on one date. I’m not sure what the term is, I’m so new to the entire concept. It’s like climbing out of a cave and seeing the world for the first time.
Saw Off continues on, breaking me out of my thoughts. “Are you familiar with the Sanctified Remnant?”
Kitsune pauses in her stride for a half a second and picks up right where she left off. Odd. “Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.” Each yeah is more excited and frantic than the last. She clears her throat and says, “I’m familiar with them. Yeah.”
“Santo’s a splinter of the group. One of the cells.” Saw Off brings us to a metal door in the side of the building and knocks on it. “They know more about Pandahead than any group in Houston, though, because he’s made it his business to exterminate them.”
“Why not just let him?” Kitsune’s question is filled with venom.
“Have you run into them before?” I whisper.
One word, loosed from her lips like a bullet from a rifle. “Yes.” The word cracks in the air with electricity.
“Saw Off doesn’t like them, but we need them to get to Pandahead.”
Kitsune looks at me. She nods.
I remember the night I first met her when she casually flung a man from a rooftop and let him break his neck falling into a dumpster. The way she stands now, the way her voice sounds, it’s the same as back then.
The door opens just a sliver to reveal a man staring at us. He’s got a hard face, muscles taut so that he looks ghoulish, and a grim look that sweeps over the 2nd Amendment, then myself, and Kitsune. “You are Home Run. Saw Off did not tell us you were coming, or this fox girl.”
“I’m interested in seeing Pandahead brought down, the same as you.” I meet his eyes, though he wouldn’t know that from under my goggles.
The man nods. The door opens all the way and my heart skips a beat at the sight of his rifle falling to his side. He puffs on the end of an electronic cigarette as we walk by.
The inside of the building resembles a barracks more than anything else. The entirety of the building is one single room, with cots and crates littering the place. There’s a white pick-up truck parked by a roll-up garage door, where a man sits, chewing gum and watching us with his hand on a pistol at his side. There’s three in the cots, sitting up now as we enter, and five or six opening crates and pulling white bricks of cocaine out.
One guy in military ceramics like cape soldiers wear watches the gangbangers unloading the crates but turns his attention to us as we approach. He’s middle-aged, skin chapped from the sun, dark hair slicked straight back. He has a single thin line of a mustache but is otherwise clean-shaven, and he resembles a hawk when his eyes fall on us. “Saw Off. You promised me Pandahead.”
Saw Off throws her arms out in a shrug and maintains a relaxed air. “Ross! Well, I can’t help that the whole thing got pooched by some masks.”
“Yes, like Home Run, correct? The one who stands before us?” Ross turns his nose up at me. “You’re the one who upset the auction?”
“Yeah. I was gonna shove my fist through his head.” I stand as tall as I can, though I feel like I’ve stepped into a lion’s den even more than when I entered the 2nd Amendment’s hideout. “I still plan on it.”
Ross points his chin at Kitsune. “And this girl. Who is she?”
Kitsune steps out of the group. The men resting on the cots stand, pistols drawn from their waistbands. The men unloading cocaine from the crates stop what they are doing, and watch Ross carefully for further instruction. “You’re Ross Lorenz, aren’t you?”
“I am. And who are you?” Ross’ hand finds its way to the pistol at his side. “Saw Off, this mask, she is with-”
“You were one of Alexander’s top men.” Kitsune leans forward, her fists clenched. The next words she speaks are laden with fury. “You were at Bella Villa.”
Ross’ eyes widen. “How would you— unless—” He draws his gun, but his hand spins around his wrist like a nut around a bolt until it twists clean from his arm in a bloody spray.
I’m frozen in place.
Kitsune lifts her head and the scream that rips out of her mouth is somewhere between a wolf’s hungry howl and a mother shrieking as she realizes she’s lost a baby. She lifts into the air and every piece of furniture floats up with her, upending the men resting on them. The Cabellero Santo hideout explodes with paper, wood, and glass; men rip into the air from the cots and the crates, torn into bloody pieces by invisible hands mid-flight before splattering against the brick walls. The pick-up truck tears through the garage door and the alarm wheezes and dies at it crunches into a small ball.
Ross Lorenz flips through the air and crashes into me, and I’m only vaguely aware I’ve stopped his fall. He stares at me, a vision of terror, and is pulled by his ankles toward Kitsune. In one last desperate bid for his life, he lifts his remaining hand to shoot a jet of black oil out of his palm, trying to bring Kitsune down.
The black current swallows Kitsune but does not drown out her horrible shriek. The stream slices in half down to Ross’ hand, which crumples under her telekinetic power, and Kitsune’s face — her real face — appears in the stream for a fraction of a second.
I know her by the hazel eyes worn down by the years and the drink. I know her by the bags under those eyes and the mark on her cheek from a fight she lost before. I know her by the golden hair that whips behind her from the stream of water. I know her as Megajoule’s former sidekick.
I know she is Bedevil. I knew all along.