Chapter 28: Standoff

Gwen and Kevin both gasped, whirling to face the source of this interruption. They both actually stepped back at the sight of the owner of DexCorp International appearing so suddenly in their midst. Ben let out a little sigh and smiled faintly in relief, leaning his head back as he got an unobstructed view of his boyfriend come to save him. There were times when it was definitely very nice to be on the business end of a search and rescue mission, and this was one such time. Dexter was a slight but powerful presence, the clean white lab coat he always wore looking so bright in comparison to the dingy setting. His unexpected arrival had the desired effect, too – Kevin had released his hold on Ben.

"Step away from Ben," commanded Dexter. His voice was pitched low enough to make his audience pay attention if they wanted to hear him, and that Eastern European accent gave his childish voice an odd sort of authority. He stared at Kevin imperiously, and Ben could practically see the fury radiating off him.

For a moment Kevin gaped, and then he sputtered, "Who the hell do you think you are?"

Cool and arrogant, knowing perfectly well that Kevin must recognize him by sight at least, Dexter lifted his chin as he deigned to answer the pointless question. "I'm the one Ben trusts, and I'm the one he asked to come help him."

He looked at Ben, taking in his exhaustion and distress, and then at Kevin. Ben had seen that narrow-eyed sneer before. It was designed to let a person know exactly how low on food chain they stood with the Boy Genius. In this case, Kevin didn't even rate as an amino acid. The Osmosian's hands were clenched in tight fists as he stared with confusion and disbelief at the boy so brazenly challenging him. He stood directly in Dexter's way, however, which Ben knew was completely unacceptable. Dexter would allow nothing to come between them.

Kevin stared in disbelief, plainly at a loss how this shrimp of a kid in his glasses and gloves could be of any help to anyone. Not surprisingly, his dirty look was far less effective than Dexter's practiced scorn.

"You called him?" he demanded, glancing down at Ben.

"Half an hour ago," confirmed Ben, giving Dexter a fond look.

"Why?"

"I need a ride," Ben answered slowly, letting Kevin take that however he liked.

"I could -" He stopped as the words hit home, shutting him out without any hope of regaining Ben's trust. Caught off guard between two people he had wronged in thought and word and deed, his clumsy apology rejected, Kevin Levin did what was instinctive for him: he got defensive.

"Step away. Now," Dexter ordered sternly, assuming full command of the situation. Even with Morton a few steps behind him, he kept his distance. Not only was Kevin a dangerous and skilled fighter, but Ben knew Dexter hated being near strangers, much less being touched by anyone he didn't trust. He swore to himself he'd break every bone in Kevin's body before he let him lay a finger on Dexter.

"Who do you think you are to tell me what to do?" demanded Kevin savagely.

"You know perfectly well who I am, Mr. Levin." Dexter smiled slightly, but there was no warmth or humor in his expression. "I'm the one who will be taking Benjamin home."

Ben resisted the urge to gape, squeak, or gawk at this declaration. Dexter had as good as shouted out they were lovers with that line. Then again, it was the simple truth. Maybe Dexter was just gauging how much rope Kevin needed to hang himself.

"Do you have any idea of what you're dealing with, punk?" snapped Levin.

Gwen made a little sound of alarm, but Ben Tennyson was hard-pressed not to smile. If two people were destined never to get along, it was these two. Dexter was so used to authority and Kevin had spent most of his life flaunting it. It was too much to ask them to breathe the same air. Kevin did not respond well to being told what to do, especially when he was being spoken down to. The Osmosian's hackles had been on the rise from the start – now he was positively seething.

"Yes. Far better than you do," the redhead shot right back, undaunted. "Now step aside."

Rather than obey, Kevin shifted a step closer to the petite redhead. Pain shot through Ben as he tensed, his hand poised over the Omnitrix. He didn't care how much it hurt – one step closer and Levin was in for a pounding a la Humungousaur.

"Ben, don't," ordered Dexter, gesturing his way. "You've been hurt enough on his account."

Ben knew his boyfriend well enough to know that his words were very deliberate and aimed right at Kevin. Sgt. Morton and three more of the DexLabs security officers chose that moment to make their presence not just known, but felt. They spread out to protect their employer and filled the foyer of the warehouse with men and guns. Armed to the teeth, dressed in body armor, they all had their weapons drawn and seemed eager for an excuse to use them.

"You brought a SWAT team," observed Kevin in a derisive tone.

"No," Dexter corrected. "They brought me."

"Kevin, just move," grumbled Ben sharply, fed up with his stubborn obnoxiousness. He wanted to leave, not have a showdown, and if he'd had the strength he would have loved nothing more than to kick Kevin in the shins to get him out of the way.

Levin glanced back at Ben and the hard glare the younger man wore. Unable to fight a two-fronted war, he rolled his eyes and stomped off to the side with ill grace, standing close by Gwen to watch. Ignoring Kevin's existence, Dexter moved instantly to Ben's side, laying his hand on his shoulder and leaning in close. Judging by Dexter's barely-perceptible distress, he didn't look too good. Well, he felt pretty awful, so his appearance matched his mood.

"Are you able to walk?"

The simple question spoke volumes. A realm of anxiety and love and understanding was conveyed in five little words and a gentle touch. It took everything Ben had not to hold Dexter's hand or give him a soppy look in an attempt to calm him.

"Not far," he confessed, staring into Dexter's face. So much was written there for anyone who knew how to read him. Anyone who ever said a bad thing about this kid was an idiot. As far as Ben was concerned, he was the best thing that had ever happened to him, and he could not stop himself from smiling at the younger teen.

"Do you need immediate attention or will you be able to make it to DexLabs?"

"I'll be okay," Ben replied. He was so dead when Dr. Cardon got hold of him. "I can make it."

Dexter nodded, gesturing for one of the guards to come help them. Working together, they got Ben on his feet, mindful of his injured shoulder. The guard took most of Ben's weight, but Dexter stayed very close, ready to help. Pausing for a moment, Dexter looked to Gwen, still ignoring Kevin's existence as he said,

"If you would like transport home, Miss Tennyson, one of my drivers can take you."

Kevin sucked in his breath as if to protest, then stopped to stare at both young men standing together before him. Ben frowned, wondering at the uncharacteristic hesitation. For a moment, Kevin looked between Ben and Dexter, his mouth open in surprise. Ben knew in that instant that Kevin had the answer he'd been seeking all these weeks and that the truth astonished him.

As if he realized the same, Dexter shifted his stance to set himself between Ben and Kevin. He stared squarely at the Osmosian, daring him, challenging him to say a single word, ever. No matter how much he knew about them, no matter what he might say, Dexter knew something far, far worse about Kevin. The fact that Ben and Dexter were in love paled in comparison to what Kevin had tried to do to Ben and all three of them knew it.

Say something, Dexter seemed to be begging. Say something so I can destroy you forever.

He would do it, too. He was the golden child, the earth's foremost threat to Lord Fuse and Planet Fusion. The Plumbers, the United States government, Earth's Combined Forces, even the Kids Next Door regarded him as their greatest resource in this war and treated him accordingly. He had the money, power, and intelligence to deliver on these expectations. If he decided to take someone like Kevin Levin down, he could do it before breakfast. What was Kevin E. Levin to the likes of Dexter? A Plumber agent and nothing more, and not even one with enough rank or authority that Dexter would deal directly with him.

Kevin finally had his answer, and it hadn't been worth the price.

For the longest moment no one moved or spoke or hardly breathed. The standoff was broken when a faint click sounded as Chip Morton turned off the safety on his Null-Void. Reality flooded back in upon them in that instant. Kevin swallowed, giving himself a tiny shake before turning away and muttering, "Go ahead, Gwen. I gotta lot of stuff to take care of."

()()()()()()()()()()

Red eyes watched and listened with interest as a group of people left the warehouse. He recognized Gwen Tennyson as she climbed into one of the waiting vehicles. Obnoxious girl. She was not all she liked to think of herself. Tennyson, clearly hurt, was assisted into another vehicle. He smiled, hoping he was responsible.

Then he saw him, pausing outside the SUV to speak to one of the guards that followed him like dogs.

That accent. Those glasses. That arrogant gesture as he gave orders. It was he – or close enough to him. The one had done this to him. Torturer, tormentor, monster.

Just as he had paid for not being Ben Tennyson, that boy Dexter could pay for not being his Fusion. It was only fair.

They were waiting for something. Minutes passed, and finally the door of the warehouse opened again and Kevin Levin stomped out. The dark-haired man didn't even look up, but went directly to his car and drove off far faster than was safe. Then the vehicles drove off, two heading toward the highway and one turning toward the business district of Bellwood. Albedo watched them go, his heart racing and his mind awhirl with possibilities.

()()()()()()()()()()

"You'd be advised to head out as well," said the tall, blond security officer, standing in the doorway. "This area isn't too secure."

Kevin gave him a sullen glare, hating him and everything that had anything to do with Dexter.

Dexter. Dexter and Ben. Together. It boggled the mind and the imagination, but seeing them together . . . it worked. They worked. It made sense. How and why he couldn't quite fathom, but he knew he'd be damned lucky to find that sort of connection again. He still wasn't sure what it was that tipped him off. Maybe the way Ben had smiled when Dexter leaned close. Maybe it was the sheer ferocity of Dexter's protectiveness. Either way, he knew now, and the knowledge he had sought so doggedly was absolutely useless. If he said a word to anyone he would only be hurting Ben, and God knew he'd done that often enough. Besides, Dexter just had to make one phone call and Kevin would go from Plumber to this sector's most wanted list in seconds flat. He had to admit that the little brat had played his hand well. Better than Kevin had.

Then again, he'd never really had a chance. Not with Ben and not with Dexter.

He sighed, wishing this night hadn't happened, wishing he'd listened when Ben told him to drop the subject of who he was dating. Look where his pushy curiosity had landed him. He was sore and humiliated and guilty and terribly, terribly lonely and now this blond giant with the fancy gun was telling him (in so many words) to get lost.

And for once, he listened.

()()()()()()()()()()

"Stop squirming. You'll hurt yourself more."

"I want to see you."

"You know what I look like."

"Cute."

"I was going to say myopic."

"Ow!"

"Ben?"

He shifted uncomfortably, adjusting his jacket. "Got your gun in my pocket."

"Ah. I thought you were just happy to see me."

"Trust me, I am. Very."

"I know. Stay on your side and try to keep still."

"You know how long I've been waiting to hear you say that?"

"At least seven seconds."

Ben chuckled, then grew serious. "He knows. Kevin. He knows. About us."

He lay across the back seat of the SUV, his head cradled in Dexter's lap. He would have liked to look up at his rescuer, but his shoulder hurt too much to let him lay on his back. He had to be content with listening and not seeing and the touch of Dexter's gloved fingers in his hair, which was, as far as he was concerned, a decent trade-off. As it was, he was hard-pressed to stay awake despite the pain. Instinct told him to be upset, but the back of the luxuriously decked vehicle was warm and dry and comfortable and, Dexter assured him, perfectly safe and private. Ben couldn't bring himself to be uptight in these conditions.

"Perhaps," Dexter allowed. "When he uses his brain I'm sure he's quite intelligent. The knowledge will do him no good, Ben. Don't worry."

Well, if the Boy Genius said so, he would take it as a fact. It was something of a relief that Dexter wasn't anxious (at least in this case), and if Dexter wasn't, Ben couldn't work up the energy to be worried himself. Still, Kevin wasn't the only issue that had surfaced. "Albedo was there. I let him go, but maybe that was a mistake. Some seriously bad stuff has gone down. I've got a heck of a lot to tell you and your dad and Mandy and everyone else."

"I'm sure you do, but all in good time. We need to get you back and treated first. I promised my father you would remain in Medical until Dr. Cardon released you."

"What?" He made a long noise of disbelief. "That could be years!"

"Possibly."

Ben frowned. The redhead sounded positively eager. "Well you sure don't sound upset!"

A soft laugh answered. "Why would I be? The chance of having my boyfriend around for years - what is there to complain about?"

Couched in those terms, he couldn't see much to complain about, either. "Okay. I get your point. But an awful lot happened, Dex, and it's not good."

Dexter leaned down close and kissed Ben's cheek, his voice gentle and soothing. "One thing at a time, my love. I promise you, we will address every point you make. Right now, however, you're the priority. You need immediate medical care and a chance to heal. Everything else will fall into place."

He was right, as always. Ben knew he had done some serious damage to his shoulder and it was going to take a long time for him to get back into fighting trim. Still, he had a strange sense of relief to have confronted Kevin, and no matter how nerve-wracking and painful the encounter had been, he was glad it had happened. It wasn't quite closure, but seeing Dexter eat Kevin Levin alive had been immensely satisfying. Now they just had to understand what the Fusion Dexter was up to. Was it even possible to understand a Fusion mind?

Gentle hands stroke his hair and a soft voice whispered in his ear. Trying to stay awake was a losing battle, and so, safe in Dexter's arms, he surrendered. Sleep stole in upon him, and he didn't dream.