When Kaz finally worked up the guts to ask Chase out, he’d already predicted a couple reactions thanks to his overactive imagine. Chase might think it’s a joke and laugh it off. Chase might say, no, not interested, and leave him alone to sulk. Chase might be repulsed by him and refuse to ever speak to him.
Or, best of all, Chase might feel the same way. Chase might say yes.
Never in a million years did Kaz think Chase would attack him with molecularkinesis, drag him down to Mission Command and tie him to a chair.
“So,” Kaz says conversationally while Chase glares at him, “guessing this means you’re into some kinky stuff?”
“Shut up,” Chase says harshly, sending a little shock through Kaz. He’s never heard Chase sound like this, except maybe when he spoke to Roman and Riker. “Where’s Kaz?”
Kaz blinks, and actually glances down at himself to make sure he still looks like himself and Oliver didn’t stick a cybercloak on him as some kind of prank. “I… I’m Kaz,” he says. “You alright, buddy?”
“Don’t,” Chase says dangerously. “Don’t play stupid.”
“I’m not!” Kaz squawks, shifting in the ropes restraining him. “I’m genuinely being stupid. What’s going on?”
Instead of answering him, Chase holds out one arm and his laser bo flares to life. “So which one are you?” he asks, drawing closer to Kaz. “Riker? Renata?” His eyes burn a little brighter. “Reese?”
“I’m not a shapeshifter, Chase, it’s really me,” Kaz says. “Look, I’ll prove it. Ask me something sciencey. I guarantee I won’t know the answer.” Chase just keeps glaring, and Kaz gets the distinct impression that if laser vision were one of Chase’s bionic abilities, he’d be burnt to a crisp. “Come on, seriously? I’m me .”
“Yeah, right,” Chase says, and he’s angry and venomous and… and something else. He sounds hurt . “Then what the hell was that show up there? ‘I like you, Chase. I want to date you, Chase.’ How stupid do you think I am? I’m not falling for that again.”
And Kaz forgets that he’s tied up, forgets everything but the look on Chase’s face, the… the certainty that no one could ever like him just to like him. “Damn,” he says lowly. “Reese seriously messed you up.”
“Shut up,” Chase says. “Just… just tell me where Kaz is.”
“Sitting in front of you,” Kaz says, no longer defensive. “Look, I… I can prove it. My full name is Kazimieras, my favorite comic book hero… and, uh, real-life hero… is Tecton. Oliver’s my best friend. I eat like three Freeze-Pops a day.”
Chase wavers, Kaz can see that, but he doesn’t relent. “You could have made all that up,” he says. “You could have figured it out.”
“Okay, uh…” Kaz fumbles in the dark, scrambles for a memory that no one else could possibly know about. “A couple months ago, you found a vein of amethyst in the underground caves here. And you took me to go see it and it was… breathtaking . And you and I never told anyone else.”
That catches Chase off guard. Kaz actually feels like he can see the conflict flit across Chase’s face; first the shock, then the horrified thought that a shapeshifter might know about that day in the caves with just the two of them and the deep purple glimmer of the gemstones, finally the realization that he was wrong, that it’s really his friend and teammate tied up in front of him.
Chase swears. And then he rushes to untie Kaz, fingers fumbling as he unworks the knots. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” he says, crouching beside the chair. “I thought… I was so sure… God, Kaz, I’m so sorry.” He loosens the last knot and slips the ropes away from Kaz, who stands up and rubs at the pink chafe-marks on his arms. “Are you okay?”
“Don’t worry about me,” Kaz insists, although he feels like he’s got the world’s worst rug burn. “Chase, you… what’s going on? What’s going on with you? Are you alright?”
For once, Chase is at a loss for words. His mouth opens and closes like a fish’s. “Yeah,” he says finally, his voice way too high. “Yeah, of course, I’m fine. Why wouldn’t I be?”
Kaz stares at him. “Because… I asked you out and you immediately assumed I was some kind of evil shapeshifter?”
Chase flushes red and looks down at his feet. “I’m sorry,” he says again. “I just… jumped to conclusions, I guess. Sometimes I don’t exactly follow practical jokes, so— ”
“Dude, oh my God, you’re not listening to me,” Kaz says, feeling like he’s trying to explain the mechanisms of an alarm clock to a tortoise. “It’s not a practical joke. It’s not a maniacal scheme. It’s not some kind of set-up. I like you .”
Chase finally meets his eyes, and Kaz has seen him work out mathematical equations that would stump Einstein but he’s never before seen Chase look this puzzled. And then in a small, hitched voice that just about makes Kaz want to cry, he says, “Why?”
“Why not?” Kaz says. “You’re goofy and kind and even when you’re annoying you’re still cute. You get a funny little smile when you’re really excited and, hell, you drag me off down a bunch of dark tunnels to show me cool rocks. You’re… Chase, you’re so perfect it’s like someone built you in a lab.”
“Someone did build me in a lab,” he interjects.
“Right.” Kaz keeps going. “The point is, I like you, not because I want something from you, not because I’m an evil shapeshifter trying to trick you. I like you because you’re caring and funny and sweet. And that’s… yeah.”
Chase stares at him like he’s trying to figure him out, like he’s struggling to click together a jigsaw puzzle. Finally, he says, in a warning voice, “I’m all messed up.”
Kaz makes a choking-laughing sound and glances down at the ropes pooled on the floor. “ Yeah . I got that.”
“I’m sorry,” Chase says again, eyes wide. “Just… I mean, people don’t just… I’m the weakest link.” Kaz looks confused. “I walk around so desperate for a friend, or a girlfriend, or… or a boyfriend, and I know it’s obvious. I know people are going to use that against me. So I have to keep my guard up all the time, and… I can’t let what happened with Reese happen again. Or what happened with Sebastian.”
Kaz has never heard the name Sebastian before, but he’s not about to ask now. Maybe he’ll wheedle it out of Bree later. Or maybe, someday, he can get the whole story out of Chase.
“I’m not Reese and I’m not Sebastian, whoever that is,” Kaz says. “I’m just a superhero… standing in front of a bionic hero… asking him to like me.”
A slow smile finally lights up Chase’s face. “Yeah, okay,” he says, eyes still wide like he just stepped off of a roller coaster. “You want to go get a smoothie?”
Kaz follows him, stepping over the ropes on the floor. “You’re gonna be alright, right?” he says, because he so wants to go on a smoothie date with Chase but more than that, he wants to know that Chase is okay.
Chase takes his hand when he steps onto the hyperlift. “I will be,” he says. And they go up.