It felt like waking up, except that Kaz was pretty sure he’d already been awake, standing and about to shout something. He felt the breath drawn into his lungs, like he’d been seconds away from hollering.
Kaz registers that he’s confused, doesn’t know where he is (but what else is new?) and that he seems to be in some kind of dungeony-looking basement with steel walls and a big cyberdesk in the center.
And then he finally notices the man standing about five feet away from him, pointing a dangerous-looking instrument directly at him.
Kaz finally manages to let out that scream he was holding.
The man with the (what is it? A ray gun?) weapon looks surprised— and, weirdly, confused— before spinning on his heel to run.
But the hyperlift whirrs to life and two boys step out and immediately drop into fighting poses, edging toward the man. Kaz recognizes one of them, but he’s not sure why Oliver is dressed like (and acting like) a superhero. The other boy is unfamiliar to him… almost. Something tickles the back of Kaz’s brain when the boy spares him a worried glance before refocusing on the man.
“Centium City got along fine without you sticking your noses everywhere,” the man says to Oliver and the other boy, his voice surprisingly high and thin. “If I were you, I’d get out of town now.”
“But I still have two punches to go on my customer loyalty card til I get a free sandwich at Centium Subs,” Oliver quips, unleashing a blast of… ice ? Kaz stumbles backward, watching the showdown from the wall. Apparently, Oliver has super powers, super ice powers. The other boy activates a glowing blue saber in his right hand, and then it clicks for Kaz.
That’s Chase, the bionic guy from that one time at the island. But what is he doing in Centium City? And, for that matter, what is Kaz doing in Centium City?
Oliver hits the man with a blast of cold and knocks him down, and then Chase uses some kind of telekinetic power ( molecularkinesis , Kaz’s mind supplies) to hold him down. “You’re toast,” Chase says to the man now pinned to the floor.
“Yeah,” Oliver jumps in. “Cinnamon Toast Crunch .”
“Oliver, no,” Chase says, sounding fed up. Oliver gets some magnetic metal cuffs out of a drawer to restrain the man on the floor while Chase rushes over to Kaz, getting surprisingly involved in his personal space. “Kaz, are you alright?”
“Uh,” Kaz says, mind stuttering to a stall. “Uh, can I get back to you on that? I mean, jeez, my best friend has superpowers? I’m…” His brain jumps from thought to thought, leaving him floating helplessly in the grey matter in between.
Chase inspects him carefully, concerned. “That’s… but you know that, Kaz. You— ”
“Hey,” Oliver says, leaning away from the man restrained on the floor. He waves that strange instrument in Chase’s direction. “Looks like he must’ve hit Kaz.”
“Damn,” Chase says, looking from the instrument to Kaz. “Hey,” he says, again getting startlingly close. “What’s the last thing you remember? Before we ran in here, I mean.”
Chase is looking at him with so much strange concern in his eyes that Kaz decides to take him seriously. “Walking out of the comic book shop,” he says, and points to Oliver. “With him. We were on our way to Mighty Med for the afternoon shift.”
Oliver’s face looks gray. “Kaz… Mighty Med is gone.”
Later, once the intruder’s been taken to the new Mighty Max and everyone’s settled a little, Chase goes out on the terrace to meet Kaz with two piping hot cups of tea. “You know, my brother never used a kettle,” he says conversationally, handing Kaz his tea. “He’s got heat vision, so he’d just use that to heat up his tea. I can’t tell you how many mugs he burned a hole through.” He laughs, but it sounds fake.
“Thanks for the tea,” Kaz says.
“Careful, it’s hot.” Chase smiles at him, but he looks kind of sad. Kaz can’t figure him out. “I can call Oliver out here to stick a finger in it.”
“How exactly did he get super powers?” Kaz asks, and then looks embarrassed. “Sorry, I know I’m s’posed to know. It’s just, it’s like you said, I got brainwashed— ”
“Memory wiped,” Chase corrects. “You lost two years and a month of your memory.”
“Right, that,” Kaz says. “I’m really confused. Just… tell me, how’d he do it? Is he bionic like you?”
“Not exactly,” Chase says. And he launches into the story of Bridget and the Arcturion, then going onto explain how Mighty Med was destroyed and how, a year later, after Mr. Davenport brought the Elite Force together, they put an end to those who destroyed the hospital: Roman, Riker, Rodissius and Reese.
Kaz listens patiently enough; it’s hard, but he does it. When Chase is done talking, he says, “I don’t get it. If Oliver and I both touched the Arcturion, how come he’s the only one who got powers?”
Chase smiles a little. “I was getting to that,” he says. “You do have powers, Kaz.”
Kaz’s jaw drops. “What?”
“Go ahead,” Chase says, the worry melting a little from his face when he sees Kaz get excited. “Snap your fingers.”
Kaz does, and miraculously, a little flicker of flame appears at the ends of his fingers, like he flicked a lighter. “Oh my God,” Kaz says, igniting and extinguishing the flame a few times. “Oh my God,” he says again.
“Yep,” Chase says, leaning against the railing that lines the terrace. “I wasn’t sure about telling you, because I know you’re really shaken up right now and I didn’t want you doing something stupid— ”
“I’M THE KING OF THE WORLD,” Kaz announces, spreading his arms in a T as fire licks up the sides of them. He looks like the Human Torch.
“Careful,” Chase says, but he’s smiling.
“Hey,” Kaz asks, finally letting the flames on his arms dwindle and go out, smoke streaming from his wrists. “Am I gonna get my memories back?”
Chase’s face falls. “I tried reversing the neural scrambler like… well, like when this happened before, to Mr. Davenport,” he says. “But it didn’t work. Must’ve gotten messed up in storage or something. Douglas is looking at it now.”
“Who was that guy?” Kaz says. “The guy who zapped me. Also why did he zap me? Did I know too much? Am I like a spy?”
“One question at a time,” Chase says, exasperated. “‘That guy’ was the boyfriend of a woman we busted for running a bank robbing operation,” he explains. “We got her thrown in jail, so he’s not very thrilled with us. And as far as I can tell, he didn’t know he was holding a neural scrambler. He probably thought it was some kind of a projectile, and he was trying to kill you.”
“Oh,” Kaz says, scared. “Cool.” He always dreamed of being a superhero, that’s true, but he used to picture it as just flying around and going out for Thursday night daiquiris with Tecton, not actually risking his life.
“And you definitely don’t know too much,” Chase says drily. “Actually, you usually retain about ten percent of our mission briefs.”
“Ha,” Kaz snorts. “Briefs.”
“Oh my God.”
Kaz and Chase sip their tea and look out over the city, Kaz occasionally breaking the silence to ask Chase questions about the past two years, Oliver’s mom, Nintendo releases, who’s the president, Centium City, Bree and Douglas.
“Douglas isn’t going to have a breakthrough tonight,” Chase sighs, patting Kaz on the shoulder. The gesture feels warm and nice, and Kaz finds himself oddly wishing Chase would do it again. “Get some sleep. And don’t worry— we’ll get you your memories back.”
Kaz wants to trust him. He just seems so strong and sure. But… Kaz can see the worried wrinkle between his eyes, the kind-of-sad, kind-of-panicked expression that pinches his face when he thinks Kaz isn’t looking.
Kaz tosses and turns all night, and the bed feels cold.
Oliver flies with him to the grocery store the next day, and it’s amazing. Kaz revels in the feeling of the wind blasting his face and the roller-coaster feeling of looking down at the ground from way up high.
“This is amazing!” he yells, forgetting, for the moment, that he can’t remember the last two years. “How do you not fly everywhere ?”
“I have to walk if I want to break in my Keds,” Oliver says.
They get to the grocery store and Kaz heads straight for the cereal aisle. “What do we usually get at the store?” he asks Oliver, throwing three boxes of Lucky Charms into the cart.
Oliver looks down at the abundance of sugary cereal. “That.”
“Fantastic,” Kaz says, adding two more boxes of Lucky Charms. He starts talking fast, which clues Oliver in that he’s nervous about something. “Listen, um, so this is a weird question. I just need to make sure, so I don’t slip up or something or… you know. But, um, does Chase know about me? You know, that I’m, like, a… what’s the word for a gay superhero? A friend of Iceman? A superqueero?”
Oliver gives him an odd look, kind of like he doesn’t know if he wants to laugh or frown. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, believe me, Chase knows. Bree, too. You told them. And everyone’s cool with… everything. You know.” They hover there awkwardly in the cereal aisle, and then Oliver opens his mouth again. “And Douglas! Douglas is super cool. He’s like the weird bi uncle I never knew I wanted.”
“Oh, good,” Kaz says, but he knows for a fact he was a lot more concerned about Chase than about Bree or Douglas. He doesn’t know why.
Back at the penthouse, Oliver goes to the kitchen to unload the groceries and Kaz heads downstairs. He wants to explore the tunnels he can’t remember. Maybe they’ll even jog something, because this amnesia shtick is getting old fast.
Down below, Kaz drags one hand along the cave wall, deciding abruptly that he’ll only turn left to avoid getting lost. And he sticks to that resolution for three turns, but then he hears voices off to his right and his curiosity gets the better of him.
Kaz turns right and hugs the wall, tilting his ear toward the cavern the voices are coming from.
“... destroyed that neural scrambler when I had the chance,” Chase says bitterly. “I can’t stand this. I feel like I’m losing my mind.”
“It’ll be okay.” That’s the voice of reason— aka Skylar Storm. “Any minute now, Douglas is going to find the fix and Kaz’ll be back to normal.”
“What if he’s not?” Chase says, sounding desperate. Kaz is surprised; Chase seemed so calm and confident just last night. “What am I supposed to do? Give up? Skylar, it took me so long to find the right words to say to him. What if I can’t get it right again?”
“It doesn’t matter, he’s going to get his head fixed,” Skylar assures him. “And, and, even if he doesn’t, he’s still Kaz, and you’re still Chase. Things will work out. You’re, like, the cutest couple on earth.”
“You… you really think so?”
“I mean, yeah, but that’s not saying much,” she rambles. “I mean, you’re nowhere near as cute as Caldera’s it couple, Scully and Cynthia.”
Chase says something in response to that, but Kaz blots it out. The cutest couple on earth . Not only does Chase know he’s gay, but Chase… is gay with him? Like a couple? Holding hands, kissing, sharing smoothies, the whole shebang?
Kaz sinks back toward mission command, the cave walls feeling like ice beneath his fingers.
That night, he stands on the terrace again, freezing in his thin T-shirt. Chase spots him and hurries out, wrapping a blanket around his shoulders. “You want to lose your memory and catch a respiratory disease in the same week?” he chides, rubbing a hand up and down Kaz’s arm to warm him up. “What are you doing up here?”
“Just thinking,” Kaz says, leaning into Chase, his mind on the conversation he overheard. “Any news from Douglas?”
“He’s still at it,” Chase says. “He’s bound to make a breakthrough, though… any minute now.” He doesn’t sound like he believes himself. “How are you feeling?”
Like a big jerk who forgot his boyfriend . That’s not fair, though, Kaz knows that’s not fair. It’s not his fault he can’t remember anything. He just feels bad. “Can I ask you a question?” Kaz says, ignoring Chase’s question.
Kaz breathes in, then out, staring out at the lights of Centium City rather than at Chase. “Do we love each other?”
He hears Chase’s sharp intake of breath but he doesn’t look over. “Well, yeah, sure, whole team does,” he warbles, sounding like he’s fighting for breath.
Kaz does turn to look at him now; Chase’s face is bright red. “You know what I mean,” he says. “You and me.” He’s always been blunt like this, always felt like just coming out and saying what’s on his mind was the best course of action. Keeping secrets makes him itch. “Do we love each other?”
Chase swallows, looking suddenly older than he is. “You tell me.” It’s not a challenge, it’s not defensive. He wants to know. He wants to know if Kaz can love him when he can’t even remember him.
“I… I don’t know you,” Kaz says honestly. Chase doesn’t look surprised or disappointed, just sadly resigned. “But, you know, you’re cute.” He offers a cheeky grin, and Chase can’t help but return it. “You’re sweet, you’re ridiculously smart. I probably loved you.”
It’s one of the saddest damn things he could’ve said, but Chase looks pleased. Their hands on the railing inch closer together. “I definitely loved you,” Chase says. “Still do.” He kind of laughs, and it makes him look older. “Jeez, it was so hard for me to say that before. I had to work up to it, I practiced in my capsule for days…” He shakes his head. “And I finally got the words out, and… and you don’t even remember.”
Kaz shrugs. “Hey, have you ever seen the movie ‘50 First Dates’?”
Chase stares blankly at him. “Um. No.”
“It’s great,” Kaz rambles. On the railing, their pinkie fingers brush up against each other. “Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler, they’re dating, only Drew loses her memory at the end of the night, every night. She’s basically living the same day over and over and he has to make her fall for him all over again— ”
“Are you issuing me a challenge?” Chase says.
“Not a hard one,” Kaz responds. Their hands overlap now, and Kaz feels heated all over. “I mean for one thing, you look a lot nicer than Adam Sandler. And… and you don’t even need to try, ’cause I already want to kiss you.”
“Uh,” Chase says intelligently, and then Kaz closes the gap between them. His hands drift effortlessly up to Chase’s hair, like his muscle memory is making up for what his actual memory lacks. Kaz kisses him like he’s memorizing the shape of his lips, and maybe he is.
A dry cough from the direction of the door sends Chase and Kaz spinning, Chase looking bright red from his nose to his ears. “Hey, lovebirds,” Douglas says, raising one eyebrow. “I fixed the neural scrambler. If, you know, you’re interested.” He waves the device, looking incredibly smug.
“That’s great,” Chase says, his voice too high.
“Yeah, the problem was Kaz’s brainwaves are on a slightly different frequency than the scrambler was set at… something to do with the Arcturion,” Douglas explains. “You ready?”
“Sure thing, Dr. Evil,” Kaz says cheekily, bracing himself against the wall and pretending not to notice Chase watching him worriedly. “Hit me.”
Douglas zaps him with the neural scrambler. Kaz jerks a little, and then settles. “Kaz,” Douglas says carefully, “what year is it?”
Kaz shrugs and makes an “I don’t know” noise. Douglas looks worried but Chase doesn’t. Kaz has a habit of forgetting the date, his address and his own last name.
“Kaz?” Chase says, stepping around to look at him.
Kaz grins. “Hey there, AOME.”
Chase’s face crunches up in confusion. “What does that stand for?”
“Apple of my eye,” Kaz explains.
“Oh my God.”
“What happened?” Kaz says, looking down at his hands and then back at Chase. “How did we get out on the terrace? Am I on acid right now?”
“You got hit with a memory wipe,” Douglas explains. “For about two days. But we got you back, you’re all good.”
“All good,” Kaz repeats, looking at Chase. He winks. Chase rolls his eyes but leans forward, and soon enough they’re entangled once more.
“Alright, you kids,” Douglas says as he slides the door shut. “Just don’t freeze to death out here.”
Kaz has never felt warmer.