Disclaimer: I don't own Ben 10.

Chapter 3 – Together

Bellwood, New York, January 17th, 2010; 11:32PM

Gwen woke with a gasp suddenly, sitting up in bed at the sound of a loud thumping and catching a glimpse of a bright crimson light right outside of her window; she quickly reached for her phone plugged into the charger on her nightstand and saw no new notifications, even though it blinded her she could tell he hadn't texted or called; Ben had canceled their 'hero time' claiming that he only wanted to do a quick patrol around the city before bed. He'd texted her that he was already done and they'd both said goodnight already, so instinctively, she reached for her charms which she still hadn't gotten around to installing into her new sleeve. Still groggy, she pulled them from the end of her bedframe where they hung casually and tossed them around her neck.

She heard a loud groaning which startled her into letting both hands shine bright blue, emitting a bright aura that lit up part of the room casting shadows over other parts, and allowing her eyes to adjust from the darkness of sleep. Someone had picked or broken the lock to her window but not the window itself, her new apartment only had one story but, there was still a thick line of bushes between the glass and the outside world. Something had trampled through it, something either really big or really fast… Without time to process what she was seeing, she finally took action stepping out of bed with her hands pointed at the assailant who had his hand up against her wall as if he was out of breath, "You picked the wrong little girls room, pal…" she chided as her eyes flashed the same shade as the rest of her aura.

As the light got brighter, and she became more lucid, she realized the man standing in front of her wasn't a man at all; it had happened so fast but, she hadn't noticed it was her Doofus of a cousin holding his chest and smearing something that was on his hands over her walls as he took a step forward. He was dressed in his white hoodie only, it was stained dark red and brown so it blended in with the darkness at first, "B-Ben?" She asked with a gesture to her room light-switch, which telekinetically flipped, and illuminated the entire room.

It was Ben alright, and he was groaning because he was covered in blood and could barely stand, "Help… me…" he fell to one knee, leaving a trail of it on her wall on his way down. Gwen barely caught him by the arm to which he shouted in pain but, she didn't have to worry about noise because she was no ordinary witch, she was a clever one.

Spending nearly four nights a week out on the town, fighting crime as vigilantes and training as a sorceress, she not only developed incantations that could protect her house from magic like Charmcaster's but also spells that nullified the sound that came from her room at night. Allowing for easy sneaking in and out at night even with her overprotective parents using a rune inscribed on her door, so long as it was shut, she could remodel the bathroom at three in the morning and her parents wouldn't even notice.

She laid him out on her carpet as the warm, wet texture of his hoodie covered her hands, it was definitely blood but, his clothes were all completely in-tact; Ben looked up at her and lifted his drenched shirt and jacket, turning to his side were he showed her a long slash down his back, "It didn't… It's not healing…" he gasped as he pulled both pieces of blood-soaked cloth off at once, revealing more lacerations across his body. She might have been flustered by seeing his bare chest and the muscle tone he was building over the years but, she was far too frightened by what she saw to fawn.

"What happened…" She glided her hand above his arms, sensing out the wounds with her aura as there were smaller cuts up his left and right arms along with bruising around the ribs and his right achilles-tendon had been strategically slashed as though in a fight. They were all small cuts like those from a dagger but, more precise than that, and it looked as though some of them had partially healed already. Aside from the one he turned over to show her, that one was nearly half a foot long diagonally across his upper-back "I told you to stop going hero without using the watch! Ugh!" Gwen shouted and scrambled to grab some towels from her closet, quickly rushing to continue pressing down on his back to keep pressure down on the wound.

"I-I was F-Fourarms… I w-was," Ben muttered, coughing a splatter of blood across her carpet, "I'm s-sorry…" his eyes were starting to roll upwards as he choked on his words and Gwen started slapping his face lightly to keep him up.

"Don't apologize… don't… you're gonna be fine, I'm gonna fix you, I don't know h-how yet b-but…" She kept applying pressure until she remembered she had powers and didn't need to rely on just her rudimentary medical training from her high school.

"Sana multum damnum!" It was her most powerful healing spell that she'd learned but it was never meant to treat this many wounds, she would have to deal with some on her own to keep him from bleeding out. The slash started sealing bit by bit but, that didn't stop the tears from streaming down her cheeks, "Please… be okay."

Ben felt sick as he'd lost a lot of blood already and was too light headed to even think; the room wouldn't stop spinning, he couldn't tell if it was her ceiling fan or the entire ceiling itself or both but, it at all seemed to fade into blurs even as he heard her calling to him, begging him to stay awake.

He danced on the edge of consciousness for a few seconds, looking around her room, darting his eyes as her sowing kit flew into her hands from her closet without her even looking, her glowing hands caused him to see stars as her voice was both echoing and dulled at the same time… somehow. Ben's face was planted firmly into the carpet and he felt that euphoric sensation that came from the healing spells he knew his cousin could cast. He took that feeling and all the pain, exhaustion, tension, adrenaline, and determination he'd had building for the last half hour, up until that point, and just let it all drop at once. Some would say, out like a light.

Arlington, Virginia; The Pentagon; January 17th, 2010; 11:39PM

Max hated board meetings, not because they were generally uneventful but, because he was only ever invited to the ones that involved the tragic or the critically unknown, as man tends to fear most what it doesn't understand. He always had a good eye for the details in these sorts of things but, there was so much political nonsense that he had to go through that it almost wasn't worth it, almost.

He sat in a dark room lit by a single over-head light, this was because there was currently a round table of some of the most important people in the country and at the center was a holographic projection that was being played for them by Colonel Rossem. Among the men that flipped through packets of classified data and debriefings was the Secretary General of the United Nations, the Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Treasury, Director of the CIA, and the list went on.

"As you can clearly see," Rossem currently sat at the head of the round-table across from Maxwell but, addressing them all when he played a video of the Forever Knights using one of the Xenocite creatures that Max had fought back in October on a giant brown-dinosaur that he quickly identified as a Vaxasaurian. "The elusive organized crime syndicate known as the Forever Knights, with factions that span over a dozen countries, are here in the United States experimenting on aliens."

Charles Brown, the Air Force Chief of Staff, spoke up as he looked up at the imaging from his packet and was appalled at the alleged crimes the Knights had committed and at the gruesome testing, "What type of-? Is it an immediate threat to National Security?"

Rossem shrugged and folded his fingers together, "We aren't yet entirely sure of their intentions but, we've brought in a real expert…" he gestured across the room at Max who kept his eyes on the hologram the entire time, like he was anticipating what they might be doing with some level of certainty, which was more than what could be said for the other officials who were merely at awe, "Maxwell Tennyson is the head of a classified organization of soldiers; a task force dedicated to hunting down and stomping out extra-terrestrial threats to the country."

"Yes, I see, the Plumbers," Leon Panetta, a short rotund man with thick glasses but, also the current director of the Central Intelligence Agency, said as he flicked his cigar into the glass ashtray on the table with them which a few of the others were using as well, "Please, if you wouldn't mind, enlighten us," he seemed impatient but, that's what happens when you schedule important meetings for close to midnight, people get antsy.

Max leaned forward and let out a long exhale, "What you're looking at is what we call 'ground-shakers' but, the species is Vaxasaurian from a planet three or four star systems away; they seem to be using another alien creature we recently discovered to test its effectiveness…" he was saying it out loud more for himself than anyone else but, that was just the way his brain worked, it was the way he processed information as he did spend many years doing detective work.

"If you could elaborate on that…" Max didn't see which one of them asked but, closed his eyes and rubbed the bridge of his nose as he suddenly realized the truly dangerous reality to what was going on.

He gulped a bit, in the hologram, for a moment he saw Emanuel attached to the platform where they were testing the Vaxasaurian, and Helene who sacrificed herself for the sake of the mission. Both of them being mutated beyond recognition and turned against him; the fear in their eyes echoed across the room through Max's expression but, only the Colonel heard it as he spoke on his behalf after a few seconds of silence, "Maxwell was sent on a mission late last year where made first contact with the parasitic creature you're seeing attached to the dinosaurs face now, he lost lives on that mission," there was a pause as they all gave a brief few seconds of respectful silence before continuing, "They cling to a host and take over the mind and body completely, so far the only purpose they've shown is to consume all sentient life it finds into a single.. or multiple… hive minds."

A woman Max only knew as the Chief of Research and Development at N.A.S.A shut her folder closed quickly after having been reading the entire time, "And this says that these… things… have taken three Solar Systems with sentient life in as many years? Has fifty-one seen this?" She said slamming her index finger down on the papers, looking around at the others with her, flabbergasted at it all, "This can't be serious, how do we defend National Security against something like that?"

After letting them get their panties in a twist, it gave him a moment to breath as he collected himself and got the nerve to speak up again, "It's not too complicated to understand what's happening here," Max started, "the Forever Knights have been known for illegally trading alien technology on Earth for decades, always out of sight and in the shadows," He stood and rounded the table, speaking as he passed each of them, approaching the bridge between two officials that allowed him to walk into the center of the room, "Someone or something has fooled them into believing the Xenocites are just another weapon, and they're using the other one as a test subject, seeing as it's one of the strongest in the Galaxy, physically."

Leon took a long puff of his cigar, blowing the smoke out into the hologram, slapping his hands down on the table, "Well, what are their intentions? Are they going to accidently wipe out all human life on Earth? These reports say these things can colonize an entire planet in just three or four days… Should we be contacting the World Health Organization? The C.D.C?"

Max turned to him and shook his head with certainty for a moment before returning his gaze to the video, "No, this footage isn't from tonight or even this week, we would have seen the signs by now; this might have been a trial run," they all turned to face each other for a moment, chattering about the possible implications of what he was saying, "If the Knights only had the one, that means someone is trying to peddle these things off as weapons to smuggle them onto the planet. If the Knights decide to buy in bulk… by the time they realize their mistake, it'll be far too late."

He left an eerie silence in the room as Rossem flipped through the packet once more as he looked back up at Max whom couldn't keep his eyes off the hologram; he was most certainly seeing something horrific in that video that nobody else could understand unless they'd seen it up close.

"What's your current recommendation?" He asked.

Max turned his glance for the first time, making eye contact with the Colonel after a few more seconds of staring, "As far as stopping the Forever Knights, I know plenty of ways all of which require more time than we have; the Xenocites and who may be trying to spread them is an entirely different story…"

Max and the Colonel had a long history, spending many years serving side by side in the Air Force and he was one of the ones who saw him off when he left the planet for the first time as a Plumber; there was a thick tension between the two as the others talked in the background, they kept their eyes locked on each other as Rossem spoke up catching the rooms attention checking his watch, "The President is flying in from Washington, should be here in less than an hour so we'll get his debrief ready… in the meantime, I'd like the rest of you to give Max and I the room."

He didn't have to ask them twice, they were all glad to close their folders and stand, going to grab a midnight snack or even nap in their cars; it left the room silent and empty aside from Max and the Colonel within a minute. The one who was obviously more nervous kept quiet so Rossem took the lead to start talking, "Area 51 and the Oval Office were glad you reported that your Grandson obtained the Omnitrix… we still thank you till this day for that."

Max chuckled and rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly, "Always a soldier at heart… I just wanted to keep him safe with all of the attention that watch brings to him," he crossed the room, leaning up against where he once sat behind, across from the Colonel.

"Exactly…" He responded with a coy smile, flipping through buttons on the small command unit he had at what would soon be the President's seat, "Ben's safety is our number one priority but," Max watched the red light that recorded their meetings shut off ominously, "You'll have to explain to me why he doesn't seem to feel the same way?" he then flipped the holographic projector to a video of the docks in October where Fourarms clearly fights off the Vaxasaurian until he knocks it out cold in an attempt to free it, showing off his transformations out in the open.

"Oh… no…" Max took a step forward with a hand out as if his worst nightmare was coming true as the footage continued, Gwen stepped into view as they seemed to be frantically screaming at each other but, the clip had no audio feed.

"He managed to, on his own, uncover an illegal billion dollar weapons trade that even our boys at the N.S.A couldn't piece together so, we were more than willing to let this slide," Rossem saw his immediate glance of concern as the Colonel put a hand up to cut him off before he could accuse him of anything, "I cut out your Granddaughter out of respect, because I know you keep saying that you want them to have normal lives, I respect that about you."

Max felt his heart skip a beat as he heard the good news but, was denied the satisfaction when the Colonel continued, sitting back and folding his hands again, "I've been meaning to ask, have you seen or talked to your grandkids recently? Caught up with their schoolwork? Any extra-circulars?"

He knew the questions weren't random and though he could have named several for Gwen off the top of his head and at least two for Ben, he knew that wasn't his point. Max took a few seconds to realize that he hadn't a clue what they'd been up to other than what he heard from their parents from time-to-time, "I-I… Not as of lately… I mean-"

"Well," Rossem gave a long exasperated sigh as he interrupted and flipped the hologram imaging again, this time to a purse snatcher who was telekinetically thrown through an alley by a girl in a blue hoodie, "They certainly have been busy," the next clip was CCTV footage of a bank heist being stopped by a black and blue blur, another clip from an ATM where Gwen walks clear into view as she stops a woman who was held at gunpoint from being mugged, a third clip of them both flighting side-by-side to save a girl from being raped on Christmas Eve, "By the look on your face I'm guessing they haven't told you what they've been up to…"

Rossem stood up for the first time during the entire meeting, grabbing his hat, "I've been shuffling the papers and keeping this shit out of the CIA's line of sight for months, the things they would do to your kids just to see what makes them tick?"

"Is that a threat?"

Rossem closed his eyes and shook his head, "It's a warning, I've been covering for you because you're my friend Max but, you need to reign them in because eventually our not-so-friendly friends at fifty-one are going to take more… drastic measures."

Max combed his thinning hair with his hand, turning around and facing the wall, his heart was pounding out of his chest and he couldn't stop thinking of the experiments he'd personally seen done on aliens that 'posed a threat to national security' "I could handle Ben being in the spotlight, he didn't have much of a choice once the watch got stuck on his wrist but… Gwen…"

"Look," Rossem took a few hesitated steps forward and placed a firm hand on his friends shoulder from behind, "I'll keep doing my best to make sure they don't haul your kids to a white-room, and you do me a favor and try your best to reign them in… somehow… you're the only one they trust."

It was an unfortunate realization to come to but, Max wasn't even sure that was true himself anymore; "Speak of the devil…" Rossem chuckled as he got an alert on his phone, "The chips are receiving critically low vital signs from Ben, I wonder what he's up to at this hour, Max?"

Max had regretted the chips since the day they were installed but, with his line of work he was glad at times like these that he had them but, this needed to be handled and his Grandson needed him.

Bellwood, New York, January 18th, 2010; 2:35AM

Ben woke up and immediately felt the pain of trying to move even an inch in any direction, the gasp was enough to call attention to himself as he looked around at the used cotton swabs, tissue paper, and towels surrounding him as he laid flat on the ground where he collapsed on arrival. He tried sitting up anyways so he could see something other than the ceiling but, felt as though he was pulling himself apart as he did, "Agh," he groaned through the pain and only stopped when he felt a warm hand on his shoulder.

Gwen was sitting next to him on the floor, her eyes were a tad red but, otherwise it looked like she had mostly cleaned up the mess he made from the walls and herself, changing into another pair of matching pajamas, "I'm not a very good seamstress so I wouldn't risk pulling those stiches if I were you."

"What happened?" Ben asked immediately as he choked back down, realizing that his head was in her lap now, sitting down behind him; maybe she was there the entire time but, he couldn't tell and it hardly mattered.

"You tell me…"

He reached up and held his forehead, closing his eyes, "I was in a fight… he must have been a Forever Knight but, the weapon he used, the training… he wasn't like anything I've ever faced," he pulled away and found dry blood tracking down the side of his head.

"Where was this?" Ben put his hand down to look up at her for the first time where he could see visible irritation on her face, and he immediately knew why she was asking.

He flashed the same smile he did the last time she found a wound on him, chuckling like he'd just faceplanted during training or fell off his skateboard, "I was going t-to call but, I didn't get a chance. I mean…"

"You said you finished your patrol and that you were going to bed, did you go back out?"

He shook his head, closing his eyes again in shame but, keeping that stupid smile on his face, "I never made it home… I texted you when I found someone with a higher connection to the Forever Knights… I tracked him from the sky as Stinkfly and landed on a roof-top," he tried his best to recall the moments before he arrived at her house, to remember why he didn't contact his partner, "I made the choice to transform back and tell you that I was okay, I didn't want you to worry-"

Gwen chuckled sarcastically, cutting him off though he was in no position to say anything, he could hear that it wasn't a 'ha-ha' funny laugh, "That's rich, well, color me worried because you scared the shit out of me tonight," he knew she was furious when she started cursing freely which she had every right to do if there ever was a time, "I still haven't thought of a way to get all this blood out of my carpet and towels, and illusion spells only last so long!"

"I-I'm sorry, I really am, I didn't want you to get hurt, I thought it was just recon but, they were waiting for me this time," Ben opened his eyes and met his gaze with Gwen's as the moon-light coming in from the window bounced off her emerald pupils, they were like gems… twinkling, "You'r beautiful…" he muttered as he lazily reached his hand out at her face.

"Shut up," She turned red but, clearly wasn't happy at all as she slapped his hand away, it became obvious that she'd still be crying if her tear-ducts hadn't emotionally run dry, so she'd had enough of his nonsense, even if it was endearing, "You're healing and I'm still mad at you…"

"Sorry," he responded closing his eyes again as he felt some of the relief of her magic coursing through him, dropping his arm by his side.

Gwen scoffed with a roll of her eyes, "Stop apologizing, doofus; how many times have you done this?"

"Well, you know what I like to say, I don't get shredded like cheese often enough so I should prob- Agh!" He was being his usual egotistical self with his nonchalant sarcasm, until she pushed down on his shoulder sending pressure to his back, "N-Never… this is the first lead I got on the Knights since October but, I wouldn't have done it differently."

"Why not? Look at you?!" The concern in her voice upset him somehow,

"Exactly!" Ben shouted at her in a way he never had before even if he was still lightheaded and disoriented, forcing himself through the pain, only wincing slightly at the struggle to sit up and face her, as he leaned up against the wall she knew he was likely making more of a mess but, it didn't really matter that much to her watching him take heavy breaths, "Look at me, this could have been you tonight… and if it were, who would have patched you up?" He choked on his words, he was still feeling the numbing effects of her magic and the words coming out of his mouth might have had less of a filter than usual, "I had my phone in my hand ready to call you when I landed and I got this-" he scratched at his bare chest which she still tried her best to avoid looking at his pecs, "-feeling in my chest, this tight squeeze like someone had a grip on my heart; that if something happened to me, you would be there but, if something happened to you I- I j-just don't-" his eyes watered over as he stayed strong sitting up, looking away from her.

Gwen blinked, she knew he didn't know what he was saying but, it was all true none-the-less if anything the drug-like effect was only making him more honest with her than he'd ever been, "Something in me screams when I think of you getting hurt, really hurt; you are the one thing I cannot live without, so I'll… go out there alone as many times as it takes," he pushed himself up against the wall, sliding up to his feet and just barely standing, "And I-I'll take every blow I have to t-take," he turned and walked towards the window but, he couldn't get very far in his condition.

Gwen stood and just closed her eyes letting a lone tear run down her cheek, reaching a hand-out and placing it on the back of his head before he could hobble any further away, "Somnus…" she quickly opened her arms and allowed him to fall backwards into them, catching him as he fell back asleep.

"As long as Gwen is safe…" She heard him whisper with his last conscious breath as he slumped over and she quickly laid him back down on his back; she let out a sigh of relief as she noticed him finally sleeping soundly, safely, her magic was finally healing the majority of his wounds to completion.

Taking twenty minutes to gather up bloody paper towels and swabs into a bin; thinking ahead, all she would need to do is cast an illusion that made her room look normal in the morning and her parents would leave for work before she was even supposed to wake up for school. Not that she planned on catching the school bus anyways, not with her cousin sprawled across her floor and blood stained across her walls and carpet. She had spent her entire life focusing on having a perfect record, getting the perfect grade, being the perfect student; she was once genuinely worried about ending the semester with an A- and reflexively spent every waking moment preparing for a life of education. It was difficult to understand but, the truth is she'd felt more alive since reuniting with Ben than she had her entire life leading up to this point. If what she saw in the future was any indication, skipping one day of class wouldn't be the end of the world but, not being there for her doofus just might. Gwen finished picking up the room and wiping down the wall, all that was left was the carpet and… him.

It felt crazy but, she almost couldn't help herself; sitting back down on the carpet with him shirtless, he looked so cute and peaceful when he wasn't carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. She took the tips of her fingers and ran them across the scars that would be left by the deeper cuts, as frightening as it was before, now that it was over… it almost felt romantic in a way. Shaking her head never did get the actual heat to leave her cheeks but, she tried it anyways every single time it crossed her mind.

She stopped and took all five fingers and dragged them down his chest from the collarbone to his abdomen where she could tell his waistline curved into a v-line above a not so subtle six-pack. Gwen watched as the texture of his skin tingled under touch, goosebumps spreading across his chest as he reached out and grabbed her hand, "Y-You're awake… already…" she gulped looking down at him with a flashed expression.

Ben chuckled with his eyes still closed, "I am in… a lot of pain…" he kept a smile on his face even when he coughed from even minor laughter, as his hand intertwined with her fingers, lacing them together, "I meant what I said… before… or just now… I don't know what I'd do if-"

She cut him off without hesitation, "Look," gently sitting back a bit, "We can talk about this in the morning… I've already set an illusionary incantation on my room so, try and rest, please."

"What about school?" He couldn't help but ask with all the awards and trophies she won for academic excellence, not to mention all her extra-circular activities, "I know how important-"

He saw Gwen smile down at him, her cheeks turning rose red but, not averting her warm gaze, "I don't care about school, I care about you… you're important," her fingers reached up and combed some of his messy brunette hair to the side, smiling for the first time since he'd gotten there, "I need to keep the healing spells consistent so, you're probably gonna knock out again."

"Great," He nestled his head as close to her as he could get, holding her hand tighter, she would have jumped out of her skin at this but, was too emotionally drained, "Please… stay with me."

"I'm not going anywhere, doofus," the way she spoke at this point was soothing enough on its own, once she placed her hand flat on his forehead and let her eyes flash bright blue, his grip went limp as he fell back into heavenly serotonin fueled sleep.

Bellwood, New York, January 18th, 2010; 9:35AM

This time when he came to, it was much slower and less sharply rooted in the inability to sleep through the intense pain each laceration radiated; now he drifted up to wakefulness with fully healed wounds, aside from the one on his back which had a large white bandage taped across it. It wasn't until Ben opened his eyes that the sunlight from the window shun through into his eyelids, feeling a splitting headache starting to settle in.

He sat up and found the room was picked up, cleaned, and empty; the cleaning was thorough including his blood from the carpet, walls, and anywhere else as he realized his stitches had also been taken out and most of his wounds were already scars. Feeling across his chest with his fingers where he had a thin wrinkle of skin trailing the left-side of his abdomen, smaller ones across his arms, and just reaching for his back made him wince. He managed to stand but, already felt slightly lightheaded as he saw stars walking to the door nearly falling into it and using the handle to keep himself balanced.

"Where do you think you're going?" Gwen asked from the hall as he only barely managed to get his feet under him, she was dressed in a light-blue t-shirt and jeans; her hair was clipped but, it looked like she'd recently showered.

"To find you…" He looked away, trying to avoid the glare she was giving him.

She folded her arms as she approached, taking his hand in hers, and throwing his arm over her shoulder, "Are you going to apologize a few more times? Cause, that never gets old," assisting him through the hall and to the kitchen where they passed the laundry room. Ben's shirt flew in from the dark room into her hand with a single gesture, she had probably been using her powers to put out metaphorical fires all night, "Put this on, I washed it for you," she made sure he could stand before shoving the black t-shirt in his hands, the sweater was a different story being an all-white cotton blend, the stains would take more than a miracle to ever come out.

Ben sucked in a breath when he lifted both hands over his head with the shirt slowly draping over himself trying to get accustomed to the sharp pain shooting up his back every time he moved his arms in a certain angle. As he patted down on his shirt, he noticed it smelled fruity like Gwen had gotten some of her perfume on it which normally he'd protest to or even complain about but, it made him feel calm, almost like she was giving him a small hug. He shook his head, figuring he was becoming lightheaded again, and decided to sit down at the kitchen table as his cousin brought them both mugs of orange juice.

"I was going to make coffee but, my dad used it all before he left for work…" Gwen took the Charms from her necklace off, placing them on the table and giving out a long sigh; she'd gotten in a few naps through out the night but, she needed to at least be awake for the illusionary spells to work.

"It's fine, I don't drink coffee," Ben reached for and grabbed the cup with both hands still shaking as he sat as comfortably as he could get, "If you have any Asprin, I wouldn't say no."

"Believe it or not, you're already on four, plus my magic; I think this is as good as it gets for you today," Gwen spoke up, leaning back in the wooden chair, and sipping on her juice casually, noticing the scars on his arm that would likely never "Are we going to have a serious conversation about last night?"

"Only if you make us…" He muttered through his sip of juice, placing the mug flat on the table before giving a sigh out of surrender, she'd done so much for him in the last twelve hours, she was owed conscious, sensible answers, "No, sorry, you've earned that much…" he looked up at her with shameful eyes before returning his gaze to his reflection in the juice, "I landed on a rooftop in Harlem, I was just going to take a quick look around and I didn't know that I had a target on my back."

"What do you mean?" Gwen raised a brow.

Ben narrowed his eyes, reminiscing each blow he received from four different ocular perspectives, the way his attacker moved and what he said right before he lunged at him, "He told me I was getting too close, and that I was dead for it; after that the talking stopped and… he had this weapon… like a chain but with a blade at the end…" He made a swinging motion as he'd seen it before in some of his favorite ninja movies but, couldn't remember the name.

Gwen gave a quick look up at his gestures, "Maybe a Japanese chain-sickle; the Kusarigama?" she spoke with perfect pronunciation, even though Japanese was her fourth language, it was that kind of thing that always impressed him to no end, "That type of weapon shouldn't be able to pierce Fourarms' skin though…"

He shook his head quickly, looking back up at her as he swallowed the rest of his juice, clearly being dehydrated, he gasped and continued, "It had to be alien-tech or something, the kusa-thing was tipped with an energy blade and I think it electrocuted me a few times; his armor was crazy strong but, even crazier fast."

"Who would give a random Forever Knight such high-tech gear and how did they know you would be there?" Gwen asked the bigger questions as she looked back up at him, putting her mug down, "You think it's the Forever King? Or Enoch, maybe?"

"No, this stuff was out of their league, I think there's someone in the Forever Knights above them both… like way above them," Ben closed his eyes, picturing the fight from the night before vividly as he remembered being sliced across the back without warning, "Weapons that can slash apart a Tetramand's skin and leave this much damage…" he jabbed his thumb behind him referring to his own wound.

Gwen quickly tried to change the subject, having a reasonable question about how this all came to be a problem in the first place, "I was meaning to ask, I thought the Omnitrix usually healed most of your wounds when you transformed back?"

"It used to…" Ben answered, looking down at the watch he'd almost forgotten he was wearing, the dial facing him glowing emerald and ready to go, "The longer it bonds with my DNA, the more connection I'll have with my transformations, and I guess this is a side-effect," he gestured to the scars up his right arm, tracing them with his fingers for a bit, "Lame."

"Well, it's not so bad; that means you can improve all of your aliens and learn to be careful while doing it," Gwen looked down at her drink before gulping down the rest of the juice, putting the cup back down and burying her head in her arms on the table, "Did you get anything useful on the Forever Knights? Anything at all?" she muttered through her arms.

"They used some codename, or it has to be…" Ben frowned, remembering the words they used when they referred to their boss, "They called him George… I was interrupted but, the next time I go after him I'll make sure to-" he squinted his eyes closed, hearing it as soon as he said it, he could feel the daggers he was staring at him with before even looking.

"Of course," Gwen sat up in her seat and faced him with an irritated expression, "You still plan on doing this on your own, don't you? You said we were partners! You said we were in this together," Gwen announced as she stood, knocking her chair back frustrated.

"Gwen, I'm sorry, I didn't mean-" he stopped because he didn't know what else to say.

She slammed her palms on the table uncharacteristically startling the still rattled Ben, shaking their mugs, "Oh, for the love of- When are you going to be selfish for once in your whole damn life, Benjamin Tennyson?!" he knew she was more than serious when she used his full name, either incredibly angry or incredibly concerned, he felt this time it could be both, "Always worrying about everyone else, when are you going to start worrying about yourself? Your own health."

Ben snapped just as quickly, arguing like they once had only, it felt far more complex and the circumstances were more serious than who got the rights to the TV at Thanksgiving Dinner, "I lost that luxury when this thing," he brought his left arm up flashing the still glowing Omnitrix at her, "Bonded itself to my arm by force and changed my entire life. Now, all that matters is keeping the people I put in danger just by wearing this safe!"

"You don't have to carry the weight of the whole world on your shoulders, not alone! The Police and the military can handle more than you give them credit for, you need to stop and think before you rush into fights alone and without a plan," She punctuated her sentence proudly, "Like a doofus!"

"Are you kidding me?! How many criminals have we stopped that cops wouldn't have even known about if we didn't leave them to be arrested?" Ben stood up entirely, slowly but without fail, walking over to the window where he tried stretching his neck, hearing a few pops from his stiffened spine he earned from a night on the floor, "This city is full of criminals and corruption, it needs people willing to do what it takes for the sake of justice," looking up at the sky and the rising sun.

Gwen scoffed, "Maybe it's not only about justice, Ben! Maybe it's about having an excuse to hit someone, maybe you just can't stop yourself!" The argument had gotten heated and she was shouting this time, pointing out his addiction to combat, his need to continue to go hero spite having the opportunity to live a different life.

She left the room silent as he turned to her from the window, "I don't want to stop…" he muttered turning around to face her with his eyes as stern as they ever had been, the conviction in his voice was strong, "I wanted to believe that people could change, that I could change my future but, I don't think I can… I don't think anyone can, maybe we get a little nicer over time… a little angrier… but we can't change our fundamental nature…" he looked back up at the bright clear blue sky, watching clouds pass as he felt an uneasy tension in the air.

She was blown away by his words, now that he was sober from her magic, it made so much more sense now why he was going out alone, though Gwen was more blown away by his vocabulary than anything else. He wasn't the Doofus she went on a summer vacation with anymore, that much was obvious, he was struggling to keep his head above water, and she could tell. It was clear he'd been contemplating this moment for quite some time; he felt he needed to do this alone, that it was his nature to be the only one who could do it alone, and that anyone in his vicinity could be hurt at any given moment just because of his wrist-watch. That it was his nature to eventually become Ben Ten Thousand… He was more complex than she ever expected him to be as she took a breath walking around the table to step behind him, putting a hand on his shoulder, "Don't change… not for me… not for Grandpa… not for anyone but do it for yourself," turning him around slowly to face her, when she noticed his eyes watering over again.

"I don't know if I can," He muttered back, his voice cracking as she reached up to wipe a tear from his cheek, his expression was still solid even as his eyes watered, "I don't know how to…" he seemed so lost, so desperate to protect the innocent yet so fragile himself, certainly not physically but, emotionally.

"Let me teach you how, and start by sticking together," Gwen reached out to grab his hands, as he instinctively laced his fingers with hers, "Ben, I know we're… family but, these last few months…" she cleared her throat as they both wanted to bury their heads in the ground rather than have this conversation but, it needed to be said, "I know you feel whatever it is I feel, I don't know on what level but I know you know what I'm talking about," He pulled their intertwined hands up and kissed her knuckles lightly keeping her close, as she looked up into his eyes, cheeks turning bright crimson again, confirming what she'd said without verbalizing it, "I need to know that you won't push me away cause… I want to see what this is…" she looked away, doing her best to keep their eyes averted from one another once he'd seen her reaction.

Ben put a hand on her head, she could feel a warm sensation as he brushed his fingers through her hair, down to her shoulders, "I…I don't know… we can't tell anybody, and I mean anybody until we're absolutely sure that these feelings are…" he didn't even want to think about their parents reactions, especially if it turns out just to be hormones or a crush, "It'll be like a trial run or-"

"Before we get into any of that…" Gwen pulled away, tearing her hands from his grasp as gently as possible while she took a step back from him, putting her hands behind her, "You promised you would call me or text me for things like this, you need to keep that promise from now on… we need to do this together, if we do it at all."

"And if I say no?"

Her cheeks heated up again, stuttering for a second, not knowing how else to convince him if he was going to be stubborn, "I-I, I'll, I'll tell your parents about the magic, the Omnitrix… everything!" she huffed as she was almost hurt that she had to resort to blackmail but, she realized that she had done so much to keep herself from looking into his eyes that she hadn't seen the goofy smile on his face as he just chuckled at her, punching her shoulder lightly.

"I'm joking…" Ben took a step forwards to the point where he was close enough to look down on her but, not so close that either were uncomfortable, "Look, maybe part of me was using these stupid, weird, feelings we're having as an excuse to cut you out…" he looked away and ran his hand through his messy brown hair to scratch the top of his head, "Because I was worried that I wouldn't get to find out what us was if you got hurt out there…" moving his hand to rub the back of his neck sheepishly, something he'd picked up from his Grandfather without even noticing, his cheeks turned bright red matching her own flustered expression, "I promise, It won't happen aga-" his words were so sincere that she just jumped into his arms, hugging him tightly as she wrapped her arms around his back.

"Ow, ow!"

"Sorry!"

Ben had gotten in the shower, washing dry blood and sweat from his body as some of his wounds still stung under fresh water and soap; so many different soaps… her bathroom was so organized and complex, she had lotions for different parts of her body and all of them were brands his mom used. He watched as the brown and red fluids swirled in the water at his feet, flowing down the drain like it had never happened, almost.

The steam billowed around him as he saw flashes of memory from the night prior, his senses were heightened as Fourarms compared to how he was now and it was an odd sensation to have two perspectives in your memory that way. Even with all his strength and speed, he was totally outmatched by this Knight, still remembering the way the armor gleamed off the moon-light when he was punched in the face.

The chained weapon swung, slashing across his chest as Ben felt a jolt reaching for the now thinly veiled scar as his breathing quickened, gliding down to the other healed wound on his side… stabbed by the sickle and if he remembered correctly it was followed with an intense electrocution.

He looked up at the sound of a knock on the door, he felt himself shake off the daydream or day-mare as it were, "Towels on the rack, you okay?!" her voice echoed.

The vents of the bathroom always made a loud humming, that along with the shower and the door meant they were always shouting through the noise, "I'm fine!" he reached for the knob, turning off the water and swinging the curtains open.

His clothes were neatly folded for him on the sink counter, the only thing missing was his white jacket which after that blood bath he didn't think he would ever see again; Gwen was a miracle worker but, it might have been unsavable without more effort than it was worth.

He smiled, noting the amount of effort that she'd already put in, maybe part of it was her OCD need to have things perfect but, another part knew she didn't have to keep taking care of him like this if she didn't want to, it was a total opposing difference to what he used to experience as a kid in the Rustbucket. She had actually once stolen his clothes leaving nothing but a pink hand-towel in the tiny mobile bathroom just to snap a picture of him running out embarrassed. Now, he wasn't sure how to feel about her, he just wanted to make sure she was safe, and he knew her well enough to know that he couldn't do that by leaving her out of his life.

How could he ever have expected to get this close to his lame dweeb of a cousin…?

….

Gwen heard his response as the water shut off, she shook the thought of imagining him getting out of the shower by walking back into the living area and sitting down in one of the arm-chairs; she was exhausted from all of the cleaning and spell casting and feelings that wouldn't shut up… she could just fall asleep right here, right now. Her eyes were drooping, and she most definitely hadn't had coffee which her selfish father left none of in the pot before taking off, knowing she liked caffeine in the mornings. With her schedule, she needed every boost she could get.

As she was beginning to nod off, the lock on her front door began to open as though someone with a key was coming in which quickly stirred her to her feet; if her parents found her here with Ben, skipping school with him, they'd be furious as she immediately started prepping excuses in her mind in the precious seconds before the door swung open.

Her face contorted as it wasn't either of her parents but, her Grandfather who she wasn't aware owned a key to this practically new apartment, "G-Grandpa? What're you doing here?"

He had a briefcase in his hand as he closed and locked the door behind him but, not before glancing around the corner at the street with an uneasy, serious expression she rarely saw him use, "I could ask you the same question, young lady…" he didn't look at her before shutting the blinds to the window that faced their front yard and the rest of the street.

"It's a long story-" Gwen started, tapping her fingers together nervously.

Max was oddly on edge as he went around the room turning on the lights and shutting the blinds, "Let me take a guess, Ben went for the Forever Knights and nearly got himself killed, he couldn't go anywhere else so he came to you. That's why you aren't in school…" he finished closing the shades to the small window in the kitchen and turned to look her in the eyes for the first time, putting his briefcase down on the table.

"That's… how did you-" Before she could finish, the door to the bathroom swung open as Ben was fully dressed now, fixing his shirt.

"You have too many different… shampoos?" He raised his brow as he turned the corner and saw Grandpa standing in the kitchen next to Gwen who looked just as surprised, all the sunlight had been cut out of the room too giving it a slightly dimmer look, "Grandpa? What's going on?" he wasn't in the mood for pleasantries, not in the slightest.

Max didn't take the time to answer the question properly, he instead moved as quickly as he could once seeing that Ben wasn't in critical condition, "You used your magic to heal him, good, I wont need to handle that then… we don't have very much time, and I can explain more later," opening the briefcase on the table showed them it was some sort of gun, only it had an odd air-pressure valve and gauge as well as a clear canister on the top, "It'll only sting a bit but, I need to get them out before I do anything else," he turned Gwen around and pulled her shoulder length hair apart finding the nape of her neck, pressing down.

"Grandpa…? I totally trust your judgement and all but, a little more context before shooting something into my neck would be great!" He pressed the barrel of the gun against her neck and looked into Ben's eyes.

"I'm not shooting anything into you, I'm pulling something out," he said with the utmost certainty as he pulled the trigger, a loud pressurized motor sounded as she winced when a bloody chunk of metal the size of a pea flew into the canister, "Your turn, Ben…"

He backed away but, he was in no condition to run yet as his Grandfather rounded him and placed the gun on his neck, using his finger to find the exact spot, "Like I said, I don't have a lot of time, you'll have to trust me."

That rang in his ears almost as loud as the motor when it sucked out another small chip of some sort that was imbedded just below his skin; Max noted the large scar forming down his back as he caught a glimpse when pulling his grandsons shirt down.

"These are microscopic tracking chips, they were put in when Ben found the Omnitrix," Grandpa repacked the suit case with the gun excluding the clear canister holding two bloody chips, which he poured down the garbage disposal as the rotating blades shredded them, "We now have…" he checked his wrist watch quickly before continuing, "Eighteen minutes to leave before they raid this place…"

Both were still in shock, rubbing the back of their necks in slight irritation as he quickly tried to get them to move towards the front door.

"Seventeen minutes and counting now, we need to go," Grandpa was erratic but, Gwen took a few steps to the side, standing next to her doofus as Max finally turned to look at them where Ben wasn't having any of this.

He folded his arms in protest, "Seventeen minutes is enough for three questions; where are we going, who is coming after us, and," Ben wiped the small bit of blood on the back of his neck away in frustration, "Who the heck put chips in our necks!?"

"Heading towards South Dakota, the military wants to cease you two as weapons, and I put the chips in your neck before I knew what they had planned," Max turned his back on them and moved to the window, where he peeked out looking for unmarked vehicles or black SUV's, "Does that answer enough of your questions?"

Ben and Gwen gave each other a simultaneous look before nodding to one another in approval, it wasn't hard to accept a mission when they'd been looking for one for months, "What's next?" They asked almost simultaneously.

Max checked his watch with a frown, "Okay, Gwen, I need you to gather all of your magical items… the charms… your books, everything."

Gwen rubbed the back of her neck, looking away, as she was obviously picking up the habit from Ben, "I-I don't…"

"We can discuss our mutual dishonesty with each other on the road," He announced in a voice only he could bellow, authoritative and firm yet, understanding and collected, "For now, just get it all out of here…"

Gwen nodded and turned, running down the hall and into her room as Ben followed her with his eyes until she left his sight, turning back to Max who kept his eyes on the watch, "What's this all about, Grandpa?"

"It's about you two making a mess of things, and… I may have made a bit of a mess myself," Max rubbed the bridge of his nose as he'd gotten little sleep, using the Rustbucket to travel at three-hundred miles-per-hour just to get here from the Pentagon in time after the meeting with the President went… not as planned, "Now, I'm doing my best to keep us three safe while I sort this out."

"I'm pretty sure we both know what I've been doing…" Ben said out loud as Max still didn't look at him, just peering between the window and his watch, "What did you do?"

Max sighed and turned as Gwen came out of her room wearing a black windbreaker and holding a small shoebox that had Charmcaster's spell-book, her Charms and their new sleeve, two other small books she found on the occult that actually made some sense, along with her personal notes, "I got everything…"

"Are you sure? They can't find a trace of that stuff around here…"

Gwen gave the box a longing glance as it held pretty much everything that she'd collected since that summer having to do with the mystic-arts before looking back to her Grandfather who opened the door with his briefcase and speed-walked to his mobile home, "It's everything… who exactly wants to turn us into weapons, again?" they stepped out to see the classic Rustbucket parked in her driveway.

"I promise you'll both get answers to every question you have once we're far away from Bellwood," He opened the door to the main lounge, which hadn't changed a bit in the four years since they'd been inside of it, disappearing within.

Ben scoffed and folded his arms, "What about school? Our parents?"

Max reemerged from the mobile home and approached them in the doorway, taking Gwen's box of items in one hand and closing the door to her apartment with the other, "They'll come up with a cover-story, they always do; they'll probably say some horrible things about me… but, otherwise your parents should have peace of mind."

Ben and Gwen entered the musky mobile home that they remembered so fondly and it seemed so much smaller than it did back then, or maybe they had just grown unimaginably since then; either way, it was an unexpected twist to their already exhausting night, it wasn't even noon yet and it looked like they were going on a trip to Mount Rushmore, or whatever else could be in South Dakota.

They watched as Max made his way to the door, using a cloth to wipe it clean of his finger prints and pulling out a device which took only a handful of seconds to pick the lock on the door, making it as though he was never there.

"So, how long are we going to be gone for? What's even the objective?" Ben asked as he approached the driver's seat which Max got into from the outside, Gwen closed the main door as Max turned on the highly sophisticated engine underneath its old rusted hood.

"Right now, the objective is to stay alive, we have four minutes until contact; both of you sit tight, we're leaving…" He flipped a few switches on the dash before cutting the wheel and turning out of the driveway in a rush, the tires screeching off the pavement, "I'm sorry to have to spring this on you, it was the only way to get you out before the order took effect…"

Ben was too tired to argue and too injured to keep acting strong, he just turned around finding Gwen sitting at the booth, leaning against the window as they started driving; she'd been up all night healing him and now she was running from the government all in a matter of hours, he felt so bad for her after everything they'd been through. He put a hand on his Grandfather's shoulder and sighed, "I'm trusting you for now but, we're getting the full story… no edits, first stop out of Bellwood, got it?" Max glanced at him from the road once and could tell he wasn't asking.

"Got it," He nodded in return as he felt he owed them that much for his sudden interrupting of their lives after having not been there for years, Max couldn't possibly imagine what they could be thinking of him at this point, "Just sit tight for now, I'll let you know when we reach city limits…"

Ben didn't respond, only patting him on the shoulder before taking his hand away; he approached the booth and Gwen was starting to nod off as she leaned against the glass, until he sat down next to her waking her up, "I bet you must be tired," he asked as she practically yawned on the spot at him.

"No way, I've just usually had my coffee by now," She responded, turning towards him as he quickly realized she was wrapped in his windbreaker, the one he gave her on their first hero night.

"Why did you grab my jacket of all things when Grandpa told you to get your things?" He pulled on the sleeve teasingly, "Is it so you can finally give it back to me?!"

Poking at her sides caused her to giggle a bit back at him, "No! It's mine now! And I grabbed it because…" her cheeks heated up, turning bright red as she looked away, "Because the night you gave this to me was magical, I don't want to forget it," she closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around herself, hugging the jacket as another yawn hit her like a truck.

Even with her eyes closed, Gwen felt his hands grab her shoulders, it was a gentle nudge downwards but, it felt like she was leaning against a warm blanket as she felt his skin and clothes against her face, eventually touching down against his lap. She cuddled into him, nestling her head into his waist and stomach, resisting the urge to just wrap her arms around his torso but, only because she knew he had a back injury. It wasn't clear to her how long they drove in silence in that position, she felt his hands in her hair, tracing through it as she was suddenly so glad thatshe grew it out. It didn't matter where she went, it didn't matter what the emergency was, it didn't even matter what anyone else thought; it was him… he made her feel safe enough to finally fall asleep.

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