There are a lot of sirens out tonight.
Douglas was right about that.
Chase holds his uncle's (father's?) hand, the analytical side of his bionic brain measuring Douglas' pulse, analyzing the silences between the beats, projecting his chances of making it. They're low.
"I'm sorry," he mumbles, one clammy hand fluttering over Douglas' chest, trying to figure out what he's supposed to do. CPR? Should he move Douglas? Should he get the defibrillators? Perry called an ambulance, but that feels like hours ago. "I'm so sorry. This is all my fault. I'm sorry, Dad."
Douglas half-smiles, and it looks like that takes an enormous strain of energy. "You don't… hafta call me that…"
"I don't care." Chase pulls him closer, mind racing. Douglas can't die, Douglas can't die because of him, because he was stupid and selfish and lonely. "Just hang on, okay? They're on their way, the ambulances and the paramedics and… just hang on." Something on Douglas' wrist glimmers in the industrial lights— one of his bracelets. Chase feels an absurd laugh bubble up in his chest and he chokes it down.
"Donnie..." His eyes look cloudy, and Chase can tell he's in pain. "Donnie on his way too?" And Chase suddenly remembers being a kid, seven or eight or nine, and he would get a nasty cold or a scraped knee or a bad stomachache and… and he never asked for Bree or Mr. Davenport when those things happened. He always, always asked for his big brother.
"Yeah, he's coming," Chase lies, hands shaking. Douglas' pulse feels small and far away, like the distant thump of a rock concert three blocks over. "Everything's going to be okay." He sniffs and realizes with a start that he's crying. "Douglas, I'm sorry. I put you in danger… I trusted Reese, I thought… I'm such an idiot, I'm so sorry."
Douglas gives him that sleepy half-smile again, and Chase kind of wishes he would cut it out. He's dying, probably, shouldn't he be more panicked? "Victor Krane," he says, and Chase wonders if he's delirious. "Giselle Vickers."
Douglas shakes his head. "You thought… you were the first person to get caught up dating a supervillain?"
Distantly, in that analytical brain, Chase contemplates what Douglas is telling him, what heavy knowledge his (father? uncle?) mentor is imparting. But in a more raw, more real part of his brain, Chase is just sad, scared and angry.
Douglas stops talking, gets quiet. His pulse is barely there. His eyes, drifting shut, look flat and gray. "Please don't," Chase says, unable to stop the tears flooding his eyes. He sniffs. "Please don't go. We need you here. You're making us kebabs on Sunday, remember? And… and we need you to update mine and Bree's capsules, and there's movie night next week, and… and we can't do this without you, I can't do it without you, we can't fight 13 shapeshifters alone, please."
Douglas' eyes sharpen and he even pushes himself up, and he looks at Chase with such sudden clarity that for a moment Chase imagines Douglas is the one with the bionic eye. "I messed up a lot of it. I know that." It's like he's giving his own eulogy. Chase shivers. "But you're alright, kid. You're alright. So I must've gotten something right."
He gets quiet after that, and Chase can't bring himself to keep talking; he thinks if he says something and doesn't hear a response he might get lost in that silence. Douglas draws in a few ragged breaths. Chase thinks about Reese and (Sebastian) about what he could have done differently, how he could have avoided crouching on the cold floor of Mission Command watching Douglas die.
He doesn't move when he hears the hyperlift engage, and he doesn't move when two people in medical scrubs try to take Douglas away. He doesn't move until someone grabs him by the arms and hauls him backward, wrapping their arms tightly around his chest. Chase turns his head and isn't really surprised to see it's Bree.
Douglas lies pale and still in a hospital cot, and it might as well be two years ago. Chase remembers the aftermath of the battle with the super-soldiers too well, the pinched expression on Tasha's face, the way they all joked about Mr. Davenport's "vacation" as if he wasn't near death.
Now, none of them talk. He sits in the waiting room with Oliver and Kaz, counting the tiles on the floor. A cardboard cup of coffee materializes in front of him, and he follows the arm holding it up to see Bree. "It's decaf," she says.
Chase takes the coffee and thanks her. His bones feel like ice, and thin ice at that, about to crack.
"Anything new?" Kaz asks, leaning forward in his seat. Skylar follows closely behind Bree.
"They booted us out to run another test on him," she says, giving Chase and Bree a sympathetic look before sitting between Oliver and Kaz.
"Mr. Davenport's helicoptering in as soon as he can," Bree says, and then she looks toward Chase. "With Adam and Leo."
And then they'll all know, Chase thinks. They'll all know how it's my fault Douglas is going to die. Kaz seems to notice Chase getting sucked down into his thoughts; he stands and puts a hand on Chase's shoulder.
"There's a resting room down the hall, with couches and cots and stuff," he says gently. "Maybe you should get some sleep."
Chase scowls and shakes off Kaz's hand. "I'm fine," he says. "Aren't you a doctor or something? Why can't you help him?"
Kaz looks like he's about to say something else, but Bree catches his eyes and shakes her head. Kaz sits back down.
Meanwhile, Chase's brain won't stop working, wringing out ideas, thumping and moving like a strained, exhausted washing machine. Rodissius said he had 13 children, and they knew about Roman, Riker and Reese, which means there are ten more unknowns. Ten more with R-names? Is that a safe assumption to make? The information pumps through his head sluggishly, like rain in a gutter full of leaves. He can't stop thinking, thinking, thinking, except suddenly he's not thinking at all about what he meant to.
Just thinking the name curdles his stomach, burns him with shame. Mr. Davenport almost died then, and so did Leo, so did they all, because he wanted (love) a friend. He went around wearing his loneliness on his sleeve and people like Reese and Sebastian just showed up and used it against him.
He remembers Douglas' confession from the dusty floor of Mission Command, You thought you were the first person to get caught up dating a supervillain? He supposes he knew about Giselle, but Krane… now that he's heard Douglas say it out loud, it isn't that surprising.
They're not that different, he and Douglas. That used to scare the hell out of him, back when he was just a kid and Douglas was just Evil Uncle Daddy, out to get them, back when he was freezing to death in Antarctica and Douglas showed up in the nick of time. Chase used to be terrified of turning out like Douglas.
Now, he thinks he must be worse.
Finally, a nurse comes to tell them that Douglas is awake and they can go see him. Chase lurches up, with Bree not far behind him. Skylar, Oliver and Kaz hang back, giving them space to go see their (uncle?) (father?) Douglas.
The walk up to his room is quiet, with Bree actually walking at a steady, slow pace for once in her life. They slip into the private room to find Douglas laid up on a cot, blinking blearily at them. "Hey," he says. He's plugged into about four different machines. "Guess you're not getting rid of me that easy."
"I'm glad you're up," Bree says, going to take his hand.
Douglas waves her away. "Chase, can I talk to you alone?"
Chase exchanges a look with Bree, who looks confused. He shrugs and nods; no point in prolonging the inevitable. Douglas probably wants to tell him how upset he is, what a disappointment he is, wants to officially kick him off the team.
He doesn't need Bree to be there for that.
When Bree leaves, Chase turns away from the door, ready to be yelled at. Instead, Douglas grabs his shirt and yanks him down with a surprising amount of strength. Leaning right into his ear, he says, "What's my middle name?"
Chase blinks. "Orville."
"Okay." Douglas lets him go. "Yeah, Roman and Riker probably don't know that. You're really you."
"Alright, listen," Douglas says. Even though his hands are currently strung with IV wires and monitors, he still manages to gesture an alarming amount. "Earlier, there was a nurse and a doctor in my room. They pumped me full of sedatives so they thought I was out cold, but what they didn't know is that during my evil days I developed a fairly high tolerance to opiates." Chase stared at him, feeling completely lost. "Anyway, I was pretending to be asleep and I heard them talking… they're planning to take you all out. I think they're going to use me as bait to get the whole Elite Force in here and then… boom. No more Elite Force."
Chase shakes his head, feeling like his ears are full of water. "Are you sure you're not being affected by your morphine drip?"
"No, listen," Douglas hisses urgently. "It was Roman and Riker. They're here, they're in disguise. You can't trust anybody."
"Okay…" Chase says, trying to get his bearings. "Okay. I need to go talk to Bree."
Douglas clutches at his arm. "Not if you can't trust her," he says. "Chase, you need to be absolutely sure."
When Chase steps outside the room, Bree shoots him an inquisitive look. She's leaning against the wall with her arms crossed. "What was that all about?"
Instead of answering, Chase uses molecular kinesis to pin her to the wall. "Chase! What… ?"
"Leo's middle name."
"Francis! What are you doing?" Bree says, shoving against the invisible force. Chase lets her down.
"Sorry," he says, and he looks like he means it. "Douglas warned me that there were shapeshifters roaming the building."
"Oh," she says. "Well… if there are shapeshifters running around, how do you know you can trust Douglas?"
Chase stares at her, racking his prodigious brain for an answer. He can't find one.
So they go back into Douglas' room, both with their arms folded. "So how do we know you're not a shapeshifter, hm?" Bree says.
"Yeah," Chase adds unhelpfully.
Douglas groans. "If I were a shapeshifter, why would I warn you that there were shapeshifters here?"
And. Well. They don't have an answer for that. Chase looks at Bree, Bree looks back at Chase. Finally, Chase says, "Okay, if you're really you, then tell me— what was the name of the robot Mr. Davenport built to beat you up?"
"Fisto Roboto," Douglas replies without a beat. "Now will you get going?"
"Yeah, alright," Chase says, nodding at Bree.
"Ooh!" Douglas adds. "And see if you can get me more of those Jello cups."
Bree gives Douglas a thumbs-up and follows Chase out of the room, now on the hunt for Roman and Riker.
"So," Bree says as the two of them power walk down the hallway. "Not that I'm not loving this big game of family trivia, but we need a better way of telling who's really who they say they are. Can't you just do your little beep-beep-beep thing?" she asks, putting her fingers to her temple and imitating his bionics.
Chase shakes his head. "No, my bionic eye can't detect shapeshifters," he says, feeling useless. "I think we're going to have to do some old-fashioned detective work. You go invisible and snoop around, I'll use my enhanced hearing to figure out if they're around here plotting something."
"Nothing," she says. "Just… you sound like mission leader again." With that, she fizzles out of view. He hears her boots on the floor as she walks away, and then she's gone, leaving him to wonder if she just complimented him or insulted him.
Chase leans against the wall, trying to calm himself down. His bionic hearing won't do him any good if all he can hear is his thudding heartbeat. He counts backward from twenty, and finally feels calm enough to listen.
He tucks his hair behind his ear and concentrates. First, he hears the whirr of the air conditioning, the hum of various machinery. Somewhere in the back of his brain he catalogues all those machines, their names and function, but that's not important right now. He hears a nurse explaining to someone why they need to take their pills right now. He hears two men laughing. He hears a new mother talking with her husband about what to name their son. He hears Kaz and Skylar.
"... probably talk about asking him to leave the team," Skylar says, somewhere floors below. Chase feels his breath catch. "We're only as strong as our weakest link, and it's pretty obvious—"
"Yeah," Kaz says. "Chase is our weakest link."
Chase tunes everything out, slumping against the wall. He shouldn't be surprised, really… obviously that's what they all thought. Obviously. He thought so himself. It's just different, hearing his teammates actually say it.
Momentarily forgetting about finding Roman and Riker, Chase heads for the roof of the hospital. He needs air. He needs an open space that doesn't smell like chemicals and disease. Chase climbs the steps up to the rooftop and heaves the heavy door open, panting as he reaches the top.
Centium City is still beautiful, even in a crisis. Lights twinkle across the landscape like a hundred little constellations. Chase sucks in a deep breath, then another. He's got to pull himself together, he knows that. Bree's counting on him, Douglas is counting on him.
In the quiet, it's too hard to blot out his thoughts with random observations. He thinks about the phrase "fall for," and how it means two things. It means becoming enamored with someone, but it also means being tricked. You can fall for a beautiful stranger. And you can fall for a horrible trap.
Chase doesn't know how long he stays out there, but eventually the door opens behind him and he turns around to see Kaz.
"Hey," Kaz says, shoving his hands in his pockets. "Found you. Bree's been looking for you."
"Oh," Chase says flatly. "Did she tell you about—"
"Roman and Riker? Yeah," Kaz says, joining him near the edge of the roof. "Oliver and Skylar are down there looking. I was in charge of finding you."
Great. He was like a runaway child now. "I'm sorry," Chase says.
"Don't worry about it," Kaz shrugs. "Hey, it's kind of what we expect."
Right. "I'm still sorry," Chase says. "And…" He swallows. "And I heard what you said, earlier, about me leaving the team. It's okay, you guys don't need to ask. I'll just go."
"Oh," Kaz says awkwardly, scratching the back of his neck. "Yeah, well… I mean, it's probably for the best."
"Right." Chase wonders if they'll celebrate when he's gone. He wonders how often he'll get to see his sister. He wonders, suddenly, if Bree and Adam felt the same way, all those years they were a team. He wonders if they were also wishing he would just bow out. "Look, Kaz, I'm sorry. I'm sorry for ruining everything we worked toward."
"I get it," Kaz says calmly. "It's what you do, Chase. You ruin everything." He's suddenly not sounding like himself, though. Not the words… the words are what Chase expects, what he deserves. It's his voice. Kaz doesn't sound like Kaz. And when he turns to face Chase, Chase realizes why. "Face it, Chase. You're always the weak spot." Sebastian.
Chase splutters. "You're not— I mean. Who are you?" A little too late, he activates his laser bo.
The person wearing Sebastian's face laughs. "Struck a nerve? As soon as I found out about your old flame from the bionic academy I knew I had to try out the look." He grins. "And I gotta say, nice choice. He's handsome."
"He's in jail," Chase spits back. "And you'll be joining him."
The shapeshifter's hands flare purple and he blocks Chase's swing. The two of them grapple too close to the edge of the roof. His opponent still looks like Sebastian, and Chase hates the effect it has on him.
He remember fighting Sebastian for real, all the shame and guilt he felt at letting down not only his family but all of the bionic students. Because of a stupid crush.
Chase tries to channel his shame into anger, coming at the shapeshifter with more force, swinging his laser bo with all his strength. The shapeshifter looks like he's starting to falter.
But then the door swings open again, and Kaz steps out onto the roof.
Before Chase can react, the shapeshifter sprints toward Kaz and envelopes both of them in a black swarm. When everything settles, two Kazzes stand there.
Chase feels frozen, his laser bo still in his hand.
"Chase, it's me," the Kaz on the left says. "Don't trust whatever that guy says, I'm the real Kaz."
"No, I'm the real Kaz," the Kaz on the right says. "Could a shapeshifter do this?" He holds up his hand, fingers splayed like the Vulcan salute. Left Kaz rolls his eyes and does the same thing. "Dammit!"
"Trust me," Left Kaz urges him.
"No, trust me," Right Kaz says.
Chase stares between the two of them, feeling like he's getting torn in half. He can't let Roman and Riker get away, but he can't hurt his teammate. He's already done enough damage.
"Chase," Right Kaz says.
"Chase," Left Kaz says.
"Stop it!" Chase says, his hands flying to his hair. He doesn't know what to do, and he hates not knowing what to do. He hates this whole thing. He feels like a failure. He stares back and forth between the Kazzes, trying to pick the right one.
And then Bree strolls through the door and thermo-blasts both of them. The Kazzes drop to the floor.
Chase stares at her. "Why did you do that?"
Bree smirks. "Because this is the real Kaz," she says, dragging Kaz out by his ear.
"Ow," he mutters, rubbing his ear. "Oh, hey, Chase."
"He was downstairs with his hand stuck in a vending machine," Bree says.
"I paid for my Rolos, I'm getting my Rolos!"
"So…" Chase says, looking down at the two Kazzes. Unconscious, they've started morphing back into themselves: Roman and Riker. "They were both up here."
"Yep," Bree says, nudging Roman with her foot. "Must've thought you were the weakest link. Joke's on them."
"Right," Chase says, but his stomach feels like lead. He can't stop thinking about the conversation he overheard between Kaz and Skylar. And what Roman (Riker?) had said to him.
Oliver calls their friends at the new-and-improved Mighty Max Prison and Roman and Riker finally, finally get put behind bars.
"Mission accomplished," Bree says proudly, stealing one of Douglas' Jello cups. The team reconvened in his room, all clustered around Douglas' hospital bed. Chase sits beside his sister while Kaz, Oliver and Skylar take up space on the other side of Douglas.
"Took us long enough," Skylar complains.
"No, no, we did a good job," Kaz affirms. "We shut down Roman and Riker. We did what the Elite Force was made to do."
"To the Elite Force!" Oliver says, toasting with his Jello cup.
"The Elite Force," they all chorus. Bree taps her Jello against Chase's. Chase smiles half-heartedly.
"You did do a good job," Douglas says. He's sitting up and looking a lot better, and Donald's supposed to be here any minute. "I'm proud of you, all of you."
Chase mentally excludes himself from that. He's done nothing for Douglas to be proud of.
"Hey," he says, his voice sounding weird to his own ears. "Hey, guys. Um. About the Elite Force…" He looks up at all of them. Bree, the sister who's been forced to stick by him this whole time. Kaz, whose superhero list was now in the hands of the enemy thanks to him. Oliver, who only wanted to give Skylar her powers back and had that right taken from him. Skylar, who was a better mission leader than he ever was. "I'll quit. I understand, I know I let the team down, and… and if you're going to go after the rest of Rodissius' kids, you need to be strong. I'm the weak spot, so I'll go."
They all stare mutely at him.
Finally, Kaz says, "No."
"He's right," Bree says, nodding toward Kaz. "You can't go, Chase. We're a team."
"You're a team," Chase says, gesturing to the rest of them. "I'm a liability." He really wishes he'd waited until they were away from Douglas to have this conversation.
"If you're the smartest man in the world, how are you being so dumb right now?" Skylar says. "Chase, you made a mistake. We've all done that. I almost got Bree and Oliver dropped into a lava pit on Caldera!"
"Actually, that was my fault," Oliver points out.
"Oh, that's right, because I'm perfect," Skylar grins. "But seriously, Chase, we're not letting you go."
"Just shut up," Bree says, putting a hand on his arm. "Chase… you have weak spots, yeah. But you aren't a weak spot."
Chase looks around at them, all earnest, all believing in him. "But," he says, "I heard you. I heard Kaz and Skylar, earlier, talking about how I should leave the team."
Kaz and Skylar share a confused look. "We didn't say anything like that," Kaz says.
Chase looks confused. "Then what…?"
"It must've been Roman and Riker," Douglas pipes up, looking at his nephew (son). "They probably figured out you were listening and wanted to mess with you, make you lose your confidence."
Of course. Their shapeshifting ability worked like Bree's vocal manipulation; they could sound like anyone. So… so they were telling the truth. They really did want him to stay on the team.
"Come here," Bree says, and she tugs her baby brother closer with an arm around his shoulders. "Remember when I fell for Troy West? Remember when we all thought Marcus was an okay guy?" Douglas glances down, looking guilty. "The point is, the bad guys know what to say to get to us, Chase. It's not on you."
Chase sighs, but he doesn't try to move away from his sister. Finally, he tells the team, "I won't let something like this happen again."
"It's okay if you do," Kaz says. "Because we can come back from anything."
"Yeah," Oliver says. "We already caught Roman and Riker. Two down, ten to go."
"Two down, ten to go," Chase repeats. Maybe he'll get tricked again. Maybe he'll fall for another horrible trap, another beautiful stranger. But if he does, he's got people who will pick him back up. An Elite Force.
And then Mr. Davenport bursts through the door. "Douglas? Is he in here? Is he okay?"
"Right here, Donnie," Douglas says, rolling his eyes.
"You could have died," Mr. Davenport says dramatically, ignoring just about everyone else in the room. He actually nudges Chase out of the way to hug his little brother. "I was so worried I almost couldn't fly the helicopter."
"Yeah, you can say that again," Leo grumbles, walking into the room. "I think I left my stomach in Mission Creek."
"Hey," Adam says, arriving behind Leo. Chase gets up to hug them, but his mind's still on Mr. Davenport. How worried he was, how much he cares about Douglas. And even after everything, after Douglas went behind his back and created them, after Douglas sicced Marcus on them, after Douglas brought Krane into their lives. Even after all that… Mr. Davenport still loved him.
More than anything else, that reassured Chase. He could screw up as much as Douglas, but he had his brothers and sister no matter what.
An Elite Force, and a bionic family.
He was going to be fine.