Leo grabs the cooler of bottled water from the delivery drone and carries it inside to the couch, where Chase lies stretched out with a damp cloth on his forehead. "Here, you need to hydrate," he says, handing Chase a strangely shaped bottle. It's Fiji, all fancy and everything, because Chase claims to be able to taste the difference. "Drink up."
"Thanks," Chase mumbles, pushing himself up on the couch so he can drink. After the incident on Halloween, Bree went back to Mission Creek for the weekend, saying she needed a break, and none of the students are back from the trip to the Davenport birthplace and museum, so the island's pretty quiet. "You don't have to do this, you know."
Perched on the arm of the couch, Leo frowns at him. "Don't have to do what?"
"You know," Chase says. His eyes are bloodshot and he still looks pale, but at least he's nowhere near as scary-looking as he was under the thrall of the murder virus. "Taking care of me. You don't have to."
"I know," Leo jibes. "I could be in Centium City right now watching a recording of Big D's childhood performance in 'Oklahoma!' And I'm missing it. What a shame." He rolls his eyes. "It's not a problem making sure you're okay. That virus really messed up your bionics and your, like, regular stuff."
Chase nods and drinks more water, looking uncomfortable. He leans back against the other arm of the couch, looking up at the ceiling instead of at Leo. "Why are you still friends with me?"
It's so quiet and so surprising that Leo's not a hundred percent sure he even heard right. Chase doesn't repeat himself. "I'm not," Leo says. "I'm your brother."
"You know what I mean." He sounds tired and strung-out, like maybe he was already exhausted before he touched the skull and now he just feels like crap. "Why do you hang out with me at all?"
Leo doesn't want to be having this conversation. He wants Chase to drink his water and get some rest and recuperate until everything's okay again. "Because sometimes I need a break from Adam and Bree competing to see who can spit the farthest." Chase looks at him, the bags under his eyes gray and heavy. "Chase, what are you talking about?"
"You know," Chase says, pushing himself up into a sitting position on the couch. He holds the water bottle in front of him like a talisman. "Leo, come on. I've tried to kill you like three times now."
"Just twice," Leo says. "Unless there's something you're not telling me." He smiles but Chase doesn't. "You're, what? You're talking about the time when you almost crushed me with a crate and also Halloween? Chase, that was the Triton App that your weird uncle-dad made. And the thing with the knives, that was because of some creepy murder virus that… your weird uncle-dad also made. We should maybe stop hanging out with Douglas." Leo sighs, nudging Chase with his foot. "The point is, it's never you. It's apps and viruses and other stuff, you never did anything to me."
"But I couldn't stop it," Chase says dully. "I'm supposed to have the most powerful brain on the planet, but I'm powerless against the Triton App and I'm powerless against something as trivial as a hallucinogenic neurotoxin."
"Doesn't sound trivial," Leo mutters.
"I should be the one protecting you," Chase goes on. "I shouldn't be the one hurling knives at your face."
"I mean, I agree with that," Leo says. "I'm actually in favor of no one hurling knives at my face. I think my face should be, like, a knife-free zone. That'd be cool. And for the record, you're freaking out over stuff you don't even remember. I was fine."
"Perry said the ceiling fan fell," Chase goes on, recounting what he's been told about the whole nightmare. "And flames came shooting out of the fireplace."
"Yeah, I mean, that did happen."
"And I used my magnetism app to try to kill you."
"Well, yeah," Leo says, scratching the back of his neck. "It just… it all sounds way worse when you say it like that. And I could protect myself."
Chase throws himself back on the couch and scowls at the ceiling. "I hate it," he says. "It's like being Spike. I never remember anything but I know I scared people, and hurt people, and those people always end up being you. Why is that?"
Leo sinks down on the couch beside him, curled up over Chase's legs. He does have a point. Chase is the textbook mild-mannered professor type who Hulks out and smashes everything in sight on a regular basis. He's Dr. Jekyll, and he's terrified of turning into Mr. Hyde and it just keeps happening.
"It's always me," Leo says slowly, "because you and I are always hanging out together. Building robots, playing video games, telling bad jokes… I'm just always there. That's why when you go all evil, I'm the one in the crosshairs."
"Exactly what?" Leo says, giving him a look. "I'm not gonna stop spending time with you, Chase, you're like my best friend."
He doesn't really think about it, just says it because it's true. Adam's like a big goofy golden retriever and Bree's always looking out for him, but Chase is the one who's on the same wavelength as him, who knows what it's like to be a little too short and a little too awkward.
Chase looks awestruck. "I… I am?"
"Yeah, genius," Leo says, rolling his eyes. "What'd you think? I just stick with you because you're good at math? Chase, you're the brother I never had. And you're the brother that I do have. And sure, you go haywire and try to kill me every once in a while, but then you make up for it by laughing at my bad puns and making really good smoothies."
Chase shakes his head, looking like he's trying to process information. "I'm… your best friend." Leo nods. "Sebastian was my best friend, I mean, he said he was. And I thought… I thought he was the only one I was ever going to have. And he was lying the whole time, so I figured… I just, you know, I'm not the kind of guy that guys want for a best friend."
Leo's heart sinks. Chase isn't exactly the most upbeat guy, but he's rarely so sullen and sad. And yeah, Leo was scared when he thought his brother was possessed by an evil skull demon, but he never for a second thought life would be better without Chase in it.
"Chase," he says slowly, putting a hand on his shoulder to make the other boy look at him, "if we weren't brothers, if Big D never married my mom, I'd still want to be best friends with you. And I'm not lying."
Chase stares at him, processing that, and then he nods. "Okay," he says. "I mean, me too." He takes a sip of his water. "But I'm still sorry about the knives."
"Apology accepted," Leo says. "Now drink your rich boy water."
Chase rests and hydrates and Leo sticks close to him, playing on his DS and glancing over every now and then to make sure Chase isn't sulking.
His best friend does have a tendency to sulk.