Barren of Itself

by thunder-fish

Revenge is barren of itself: it is the dreadful food it feeds on; its delight is murder, and its end is despair. - Friedrich Schiller


A/N This picks up where 'Seconds to Shatter' ends. It contains slash, but nothing graphic. If that's not to your taste, consider this your final warning. All characters belong to their respective owners, meaning I get to keep none of them.

Prologue: Romance/Adventure

"Oh, Ben!" cried Dexter, placing one small, trembling hand over his own racing heart and reaching out to grasp Ben's arm with the other. "Oh, Ben," he repeated, his lashes beaded with tears as he looked up into Ben's emerald orbs. His cerulean eyes shone bright and though he tried to speak normally, the best he could manage was a throaty whisper as he confessed, "I love you."

Wonder and joy filled Ben's face as he stared wide-eyed at the handsome young genius. Could it be? Was this real? Had all his hopes and dreams come true in this moment? It was too wonderful, too amazing and sweet to be believed. For a few seconds he could only stare, and then he pulled Dexter into his arms and said the words he'd been longing to say:

"I love you, too, Dexter."

It was as if time had stopped for the two lovers. As the ship burned around them, they were lost in one another's gaze. It wasn't until the ship lurched, throwing Dexter full length against Ben, that they came back to the danger threatening their lives and their new-found love. Fear shone in Dexter's sky-blue eyes as Ben clutched him close, trying to shield him with his own body. The Titan-haired youth cried out, "No! This isn't fair! I won't- Benjamin, stop that. This is no laughing matter. We're about to meet our doom."

Ben lowered his hands from his face, unable to stop laughing at the notion that he had emerald orbs versus green eyes. Since he was still stuck in the hospital wing he was trying his best to be quiet, but it was hopeless. The last thing he had ever expected when Dexter arrived for his usual visit was a dramatic reading of one of Bubbles' Bexter fanfics. The cheesy dialogue and the over-the-top, poetic descriptions, all delivered in Dexter's thick accent and deadpan tone of voice, was far more than Ben Tennyson could handle or contain. Beside him, Dexter sat stony-faced, and one glance at the Titan-haired youth was quite enough to set him off again. Dexter yanked a pillow from beneath Ben's head to playfully smack him with it. Grabbing it, he crushed it to his face with both hands, trying to stifle the hysterics. Finally, exhausted, he emerged.

"How are you not laughing your ass off?" panted Ben faintly.

"Iron self-discipline," was the ruthless reply, delivered in a perfectly bland voice.

"You're Titan-haired?"

"Everyone knows the Titans were redheads. It makes for better epic reading than carrot-topped. Nobody wants a ginger god."

As Ben snorted and fought for a little bit of control, Dexter cleared his throat and found where he had left off.

"No! This isn't fair! I won't lose you now that I know you love me back, Ben!"

"I loved you from the moment I saw you, Dexter! And I promise I'll get you out of here."

"But how, Ben?"

The chocolate-haired teen gripped Dexter's arms in a firm grasp. "Dexter, do you trust me?"

"Do I really say your name that much, Dexter?" asked Ben.

The genius never skipped a beat. "No, Ben, you don't. Nor does your hair taste like chocolate. Resuming: Completely, my love."

"Then hold on! I'm going to go hero!"

That cut it. Ben Tennyson was done for. Laughing so hard he could barely draw a breath, he waved at Dexter to get him to stop before he pulled a muscle. Dexter stared at him, and the Great Sphinx or a moai could not hope to rival his stony expression.

"Ben, please. Control yourself. I'm only two pages into the saga. There are thirty-eight more to go, and this is just the first installment of Bubbles' latest magnum opus. We haven't gotten to the part where Mandark tries to steal my affections and failing that, poisons you."

Ben wheezed, sprawling on the soft bed. There were tears in his eyes. Dexter smacked him over the head with the stack of pages.

"Stop that. Crying is apparently my prerogative. By the looks of things, I average one irrational tear-up every five to six pages."

"What are you cryin' about, Dex?"

"You, mostly. You spend a lot of the story hovering near death."

"Hopefully life won't imitate art. Skip to the part where you stick your tongue in my ear."

He snorted. "Please. This is Bubbles. The love scenes are pure vanilla and completely sanitized. The only thing that gets naked here is the truth."

"Says the guy who likes to have his back scrubbed in the shower." Ben shifted so his head hung off the side of the bed, allowing him to watch Dexter upside-down.

"Stretching?" wondered the Boy Genius.

"Change of venue." He waggled his eyebrows suggestively. "How about you read between the lines and give me a sample of French vanilla?"

The younger teen pretended to glare over the brim of the paper he held. "You just want my tongue in your ear."

"Guilty as charged. Ear, mouth, I'm not fussy. Just not up my nose."

Dexter made a face. "Not even I'm going there." He held up the fanfic. "Shall I?"

"Fire away. I'd rather die from laughing than boredom."

"Mmm. If you're going to die, you may as well have fun. So. Keeping one arm tight around Dexter's shoulders, the Wielder of the Omnitrix quickly activated the alien device even as an explosion from the dying vessel tore through the cell detaining them. . ."

Confined to a bed after surgery on his shoulder, Ben Tennyson was being uncommonly patient in the hopes that Dr. Cardon would develop something like mercy and release him to Professor Utonium's care. A checkup later today with the head of DexLabs Medical would determine if he was going to go home with Dexter to finish recovery and – something he wasn't looking forward to – start physical therapy, or be stuck where he was doing physical therapy.

The encounter with Albedo had messed his shoulder up to the point where surgery was a necessity. The encounter with Kevin, on the other hand, had been somewhat therapeutic. Seeing Dexter blow Levin clean out of the water - and all in the name of don't you mess with my boyfriend- had definitely been a highlight of Ben's teenage years. Upon returning to Downtown, he had been whisked away to DexLabs Medical where he'd basically signed away his life to Dr. Cardon. The doctor had resisted the urge to strangle Ben for his own good before subjecting him to every test and scan known to science. The end results were completely expected. Ben had been given two choices: surgery now to repair the damage to tendons and rotator cuff followed by physical therapy for a few weeks and months with the expectation of full recovery, or weeks and months of pain and physical therapy followed by surgery followed by yet more physical therapy with the expectation of partial recovery because you were an idiot and put off a necessary procedure.

Couched in such inelegant terms (Cardon obviously didn't write fanfic), Ben had decided to save himself a lot of grief and dirty looks (not to mention pain) and opted for surgery now. He was glad he had – he was feeling better already, though the forced bed rest was getting to him and the physical therapy was not fun. The memory of what Dexter had endured after Vilgax's attack, however, kept him from complaining too much. No matter how bad he thought he had it, Dexter's situation had been worse, a lot worse, and the effects were still being felt.

At sixteen years old, Dexter should have been Ben's height, or at least close to it. All the annoyances of having his voice break and growing pains and the other joys of puberty should have been making his life a living hell. So many things should have been, but were not. It was strange that physical maturity (since intellect-wise Dexter was a grown adult) would be of secondary importance, but it was. Ben was so grateful and relieved that Dexter was alive. Knowing his boyfriend would not age normally bothered Ben not at all, though he knew it disappointed Dexter. The Professor was optimistic that Dexter's system would stabilize and return to normal once the hormone treatment was finished, giving the redhead a chance of getting a little taller, at least. Ben smiled. He liked the sheer smallness of Dexter, though heaven knew the kid needed to eat more.

Still dangling off the bed, Ben could see just a tuft of unruly Titan-colored hair over the top of the paper and small hands in purple gloves - no, wait, amethyst gauntlets. It was Dexter's voice that held his attention though, and for once that insane accent wasn't involved. It was a child's voice, a little high-pitched, with inflection and stresses that defied all sense. Ben just listened, happier than he'd ever been as he let that voice charm him, thinking that he could listen to Dexter read to him forever.

Forever. The word struck Ben. He was thinking about forever with Dexter. A lifetime of listening to that childish voice read fanfic to him. Would it ever be enough? Forever. With Dexter. Yes. It fit. It worked. He wanted it.

Awkward for being upside down, Ben fumbled to grab the page out of Dexter's hands, then had to content himself with simply pulling the page down so he could see the younger teen. Dexter paused, waiting to see what his boyfriend wanted of him. He stared, taking in the fair skin and bright eyes and pert features. Yeah. He could grow old with that.

"I love you," he whispered, meaning it as never before.

Dexter looked at him curiously, plainly wondering what epiphany had brought on this declaration. A small smile teased his lips as he said in kind, "I love you too, Ben."

He felt himself grin and almost started laughing again as he realized Dexter thought he was referencing the story. Growing serious he said, "I mean that."

The genius' expression softened. "So do I."

"Guess Bubbles isn't too far off the mark."

"No, just excessively maudlin and dramatic."

"So I really don't have emerald orbs?"

Dexter leaned in for a closer look, his own eyes narrowing behind tinted glasses. "Mmm . . . no. More like chlorophyll. Much sexier to a biologist."

"You romantic devil. Kiss me."

He shook his head. "Someone might see."

"But they probably won't."

If nothing else, Dexter was not afraid to take risks, and at that moment he took one, raising the printout to block them from sight of anyone that might be passing by the hospital room. So Ben not only got what he wanted, but this time, at least, he was absolutely right.