Chapter 1: Devlin Moves Into His New Home
Devlin recognized the house. It was the same one Gwendolyn took him to in the past -when he was thrown backwards in time by an attack from a rouge Chronosapien. Devlin had met a younger version of the sorceress and his father and discovered that they had been married. But the real shocker was not that they'd been married, but that Gwendolyn Tennyson, the High Magus, the sorceress-Plumber was actually his biological mother.
That was the real shocker.
It also explained why Ben never formally adopted him. The Hero of the Universe was just fostering him until his real mother could take him back. Gwendolyn was off planet at the time when he freed Kevin from the Null Void, got the in the way of his father, and was more-or-less accepted into the Tennyson clan. Ben stepped in as his caretaker until Devlin's real mother returned from her mission, and for a little bit longer after that for the boy to come to terms with the truth.
Now he was back with his mother and moving into the home he should have grown up these past eleven years.
It was a nice house. Two stories with a faux wood exterior instead of stucco, and a neatly trimmed front yard. The trim around the windows and the porch was a different color than it was eleven years ago, and it looked like the front door had been replaced completely. But considering the fact that Kevin Levin used to live here, that wasn't really all that surprising.
Gwendolyn threw that door open. “Here we are.”
It was much, much better furnished than the last time Devlin saw it. Eleven years ago, Kevin and Gwendolyn were just barely moving in. The only actual furniture in the living room had been a couch. The TV was propped up on the floor, and everything else was in boxes or covered by moving blankets.
Now, there was a glass topped coffee table in front of a very different couch. A charming TV cabinet with folding doors closed over the TV itself. There was a shelf in one corner that was so packed with books there was no space or need for a bookend.
An old Anubian Baskurr came down the stairs, walking slowly and taking care on the steps. Devlin recognized the alien dog almost instantly. She was the same dog that was living in Gwendolyn's house eleven years ago in the past. It was a little jarring to see how old she'd become. But then, he reflected, she was already an adult canine eleven years ago, and the Osmosian had no idea how long Anubian Baskurr were supposed to live anyway. Of course she would eventually get old.
“Zed, say hi to Devlin.” Gwendolyn smiled at the dog as she hung her keys on a hook by the door.
The Anubian Baskurr noticed the young Osmosian standing just inside the threshold of her den. Eleven years ago, when a much younger Zed had met the eleven-year-old Devlin, the dog had liked him instantly. Now, however, she growled. Not a hostile or aggressive growl, but a defensive -almost fearful- growl. She backed up a few paces, her back arching up, her lips pulling back.
Zed!” Gwendolyn exclaimed. “This is Devlin! This is my son!”
This reminded didn't seem to sooth the Anubian Baskurr much. She continued backing up until she was in the kitchen. That was when she turned around all together and escaped through a dog-door cut into the kitchen door.
“Jeez. What did I ever do to her?” Devlin asked.
Gwendolyn opened her mouth to answer. Thought better of whatever it was she was going to say, and closed it again. Instead, she cleared her throat and plastered a smile on her face. “Want me to show you your room?”
The Osmosian nodded. The last time he was in this house he ended up crashing on Gwendolyn's mattress -or rather, the mattress she shared with Kevin. It would be nice to sleep in a proper bed that was all his own. A bed that didn't taste like the combined energies of his father -whom he hated- and an Anodite -whom he was only just learning might be his mother. He followed the sorceress up the stairs.
The room she showed him to was just a little smaller than the master bedroom. With a twin mattress in a cherry wood bed-frame. The mattress was bare, two sets of sheets neatly folded on it -presumably so that Devlin could choose which he'd prefer to sleep on. At the foot of the bed was a dresser for his clothes -of which the Osmosian didn't have much. Against an opposite wall was a bookshelf -also empty. Devlin reached into his duffle bag and pulled out the only book he own. A dog-eared copy of the 'Princess Bride', its spine cracking, and placed the book on the shelf.
He then went and flopped down on the mattress, looking at the two different selections of sheets Gwendolyn meant for him to choose from. One dark blue, the other electric green.
“Do you like it?” Gwendolyn sat down on the mattress next to him.
“The sheets?” He asked. They were solid colors, what's not to like?
“Uh, no. The room. The house, too -I guess.” She clarified. “You'll be living here now, I hope you like it here.”
“Oh.” He looked down at his hands. “Its nice.”
At least, it was so far. But a nice bedroom with brand new sheets and space for books he didn't have weren't exactly what he wanted. He spent his whole life believing he had to be taken away from his mother because he was a danger to her, that he was a monster and his mother hated him. Then he was thrown back in time and learned that not only was Gwendolyn his mother, but that she always wanted him.
“You still haven't told me the story.” He reminded her. “When I went to the past... Dad was snarly and mean, but... he seemed to really care about you. A lot. What happened? What happened between you two and... what happened to me?”
The sorceress heaved a heavy sigh. “Its not a pleasant story, and it doesn't have a happy ending.”
“I still want to know.” Insisted the Osmosian.
Kevin held Gwen's hand as the OBGYN spread gel on her belly for the ultrasound. It was the first official doctors appointment they had since the mysterious boy from the future appeared and Gwen announced -in front of everyone- that she was already pregnant.
Their son from the future was already on his way. They had best get ready.
Kevin nuzzled his wife's ginger head. “I'm so happy right now.”
The OBGYN smiled at the happy couple. “You two are gonna be great parents.”
“Okay, okay, stop.” Devlin cut her off mid-narration.
Gwendolyn blinked at the boy. He looked so serious, with Kevin's dark hair and dark eyes. She couldn't see much of herself in him. “What's wrong?”
“I went to the past, remember.” He reminded her. “I saw Kevin when he found out you were pregnant. He wasn't happy and he didn't want me. You don't have to lie to make me feel better, Gwendolyn. Just tell it like it is.”
The sorceress sighed. She should have known that any child raised by Kevin would be cynical and pessimistic by nature. Of course, he was also her son and even though she hadn't yet had a hand in raising him, he still managed to inherit her analytical and logical reasoning skills. He could tell what was embellished and what was downright fabricated. As much as she wanted to censor the story for his benefit, Gwendolyn realized that, that was just something she wouldn't be able to do.
“Alright. But only if you call me Mom.”
“I still don't see why I'm here.” Kevin growled, arms crossed over his chest as he watched the OBGYN spread gel on her belly.
Both Gwen and doctor glared at him.
The sorceress growled. “You mean aside from the fact that you're the father and you should be here? How about because I want you here.”
The Osmosian opened his mouth as if he were to argue, but quickly closed it again. Whatever he was going to say probably wasn't a good idea anyway. Gwen already knew his feelings on the matter just as well as he already knew hers. This was just something they wouldn't agree on. But it was happening anyway. So he better get used to the idea.
“I take it this wasn't planned.” Commented the OB. “How long have you two been dating?”
“Oh, we're married.” Gwen informed her.
“This still wasn't planned.” Kevin added.
The poor OBGYN just stood there for a moment, the sonogram wand held momentarily forgotten in her hand. Usually unplanned and unwanted pregnancies were something that happened to stupid teenagers who's parents never signed the sex-ed permission slips, or adults who were into the fast paced hook-up scene that were more interested in convenient dates and easy sex than actual relationships and personal connections. It was very rare to find a married couple that had conceived an unwanted pregnancy.
Clearing her throat and forcing herself to focus back on the task at hand, the OBGYN gently pressed the wand to Gwen's belly. “Well, lets take a look, shall we?”
She slid the wand around. It coasted over Gwen's skin in slow, smooth motions. The images that appeared on the screen nothing more than gray blotches and blurs. Certainly nothing that looked like it could be a developing fetus. That was, until they heard the heartbeat.
Even Kevin's dark scowl cracked ever so slightly upon hearing the sound of his unborn child's heart. He gaped at the shapeless and indistinct blur on the screen that was fluctuating in time with the heart beat. “Is that...?”
“That's our son.” Gwen nodded.
“Oh, its much to soon to be able to tell the sex of the baby.” The OB informed her. She turned her eyes back to the screen. “Looking at this, I'd say its only about eight weeks.”
The sorceress smiled a pleasant and patient smile. Sometimes it was easier to just stay quiet than try and explain to normal people that she already knew her child was going to be a boy because she was a member of Ben's Team, and when you work closely with Ben Tennyson strange things just sort of happen around you. Strange things in this case being your son from eleven years in the future comes for a visit.
“How long...” Kevin began, awkward and unsure if he was even asking the right question. “How long until we can tell that there's something wrong with it?”
“Him.” Gwen corrected her husband. Their child was a 'him' not an 'it'.
“Well, that depends on what you expect there to be wrong.” The OB informed him. “Not all abnormalities present themselves at the same time. Some can't even be tested for until after birth. Is there a history of genetic defect in your family? Is there something specific you'd like us to look out for?”
Oh, if she only knew...
Like his wife, the Osmosian had found that, sometimes, it was just easier to not try and explain. “No. Nothing in particular.”
“Well, I can tell you that -at this stage- everything looks normal and healthy so far.”
“That's great!” Gwen smiled up at her husband. “Isn't that great, Kevin.”
The Osmosain crossed his arms back over his chest. He was still not on board with this pregnancy. For one big, and important reason, and it was really bothering him that both his wife and Ben seemed to be willfully ignoring it. That was, when their son inexplicably appeared in Plumbers Headquarters, fresh from the future, he had no idea who Gwen was. He had no idea who his mother was. He had no idea that Gwen should be his mother.
And Kevin seemed to be the only person asking why!?
Why didn't their son from the future know his mother? Not just know his mother, but not even know who his mother was. He sure as hell knew Kevin! How could a child be Kevin's son, grow up with Kevin, and not know Gwen? The Osmosian wasn't interested in being with anyone but her, and he especially wasn't interested in having children with anyone but her. So, how come the boy didn't know his mother?
Seriously. Was no one else bothered by it?
Gwen smacked her husband on the arm.
“Huh? Oh. Yeah. Great.”
She was acting like everything was all fine and perfect, and this was some great magical moment that they should rejoice in as a couple. And everyone else was just going along with it. Following her lead. Expecting 'mother' to know best. Well, sorry. But when the mother is an Anodite and the child is an Osmosian, 'mother' does not know best.
All of the scenarios Kevin could imagine -and he could imagine some pretty gruesome ones- to explain why their son didn't know his mother involved the child killing her, and killing her when it was still too young to even remember her. Usually involving some version of eating her, and several of them from the inside out. Gwen could say what she wanted, but as far as Kevin was concerned, this was not 'Great!'. Not great at all.
“Would you like a DVD to take home?” Offered the OBGYN.
“Yes, please.” Gwen nodded with enthusiasm. She pulled her shirt back down over her belly and stood from the exam table.
“I'll include it with your prenatal vitamins. Do either of you have any questions.”
Gwen collected her purse, smiling. No, glowing -pregnancy glow, not Anodite glow- with optimism, and joy, and excitement, and all those other things women were supposed to feel while they had another organism feeding off their body and growing inside of them. “No, I think we're good right now.”
“What's the window for abortion?” Kevin blurted out.
Both woman stared at him in shock.
“Kevin!” Gwen snarled at him.
The poor OB looked like an animal caught in the headlights of an oncoming semi. She didn't know if she should swerve left or bob right. “Oh, well, we, uh, we don't really do that sort of thing here. If that... if that's what you both want, there's a clinic-”
“Its fine.” Gwen cut her off. “My husband was just... We're not doing that.”
“But-” Kevin began.
He was silence when she grabbed the front of his shirt and -literally- dragged him out of the exam room.
There was an icy silence between them as she picked up her prenatal vitamins and a DVD of the ultrasound from the front desk. Kevin could practically feel her annoyance with him rolling off her in waves. That wasn't poetic imagery. The Anodite was angry enough at him that she was radiating silent rage. So much that the Osmosain could practically tasted it like a salty tang in his mouth.
But she didn't say anything until they were alone in the car. The doors firmly shut and the windows rolled up.
That was when Gwen finally confronted her husband.
“What the fuck is wrong with you!?”
He hadn't even had time to turn over the engine yet.
“What?” Kevin played the ignorance card. It didn't work.
“You know very well 'what'!” Gwen snapped back at him. “How can you still think abortion is an option when you've already met our son!? When you already know that he's a fully formed, living and breathing person, with thoughts, and fears, and an identity all his own.”
“Alternate timeline.” The Osmosian scoffed. “In his timeline, we kept him, he killed you, and that's why he didn't know who you were when we met him. But in this timeline, we can get rid of it now and save your life.”
The sorceress snarled a wordless snarl. Her hands balling into fists. Her arms shaking. She flexed her fingers in a way that made her husband wonder if she was considering strangling him. It would be an interesting change for them, if Gwen tried to kill him for once instead of him going crazy and trying to absorb (read: kill) her. “You're so- You think, just because- Ugh!” She threw her arms up in exasperation. Guess there would be no Kevin killing today. “I want this. I'm having this baby. You can either get with the program, or get the hell out of my house.”
“Fine.” Kevin finally turned the key to start the engine and drive them home. “We're having this thing. You want this. You're happy about it. But I'm not. Looks like we're just gonna have to get used to disagreeing with each other about this.”
It wouldn't be the first time they disagreed on an important topic.
Crossed her arms over her chest.
Sank in her seat.
“So, I guess you don't wanna help me choose a name then.”
“I already know all this.” Devlin huffed. He had chosen what sheets he preferred for his bed -the dark blue ones- and now Gwendolyn -his mother- was teaching him how to make a bed.
“Huh?” Gwendolyn blinked at him, pausing in tucking a corner of the fitted sheet under the mattress.
“I already know that Dad never wanted me.” The boy clarified. “I wanna know what happened between the two of you. What went wrong? You seemed fine when I left you in the past. But I grew up with Dad telling me that I'm this horrible monster with an insatiable appetite that tried to eat you and he had to take me away in order to protect you. I wanna hear about that!”
His mother's expression melted into a sympathetic, almost apologetic smile. She leaned over the mattress and offered him a gentle kiss on the forehead. “That didn't happen until much later.” She told him. “First you have to understand that everything was fine -before it all went bad.”
The boy raised a single dark eyebrow at her, an expression of skepticism that reminded Gwendolyn much more of herself than of Kevin. Devlin might look like his father, he might have Kevin's dark hair and dark eyes, his same high cheekbones, square jaw, and cleft chin. He might have Kevin's same powers. He might look exactly like his father. But every now and again, in a look, or in something he would say, or even just the inflection of his voice, Gwendolyn would see herself. The resemblance wasn't visible, it had to be heard or felt, but it was there.
“Is this gonna be a long story?” He asked.
That, right there, that resembled Ben. Probably something that snuck in from the Omnitrix via Kevin -just like the mutant form Devlin had also inherited.
“Over nine months long.” She informed the boy. “Do you still wanna know?”
She was just fine with now telling him. With sheltering the boy from his less than idea infancy. Why did he even have to know anyway?
Because he was her son, and he wanted to know. He felt he had to know.
But why was she even telling him?
Because he was also Kevin's son and she knew he could handle it.
“Yes. I want to know.” Devlin gave a grim nod of determination. He wanted to know, and he would know. No matter the cost it had on his already fragile emotional stability.
Gwendolyn finished tucking the fitted sheet around the mattress and threw the top sheet on over it. “Alright. Tomorrow I'll tell you more.”
“Its a long story, Devlin.” She reminded him. “We also need to get your uniform for school tomorrow, so you'll need to get some sleep.”
That look of skepticism was back on his face again. “You're not just stalling because you hope I'll forget, are you?”
“No.” Somehow, she had a feeling this was something he would forget easily. A subject he wasn't going to drop until he learned the truth. He'd probably keep hounding her for answers well into his teens if she didn't tell him the story. “No stalling. Just parenting. Something I don't actually think you got a lot of with Kevin.”
Devlin fluffed a pillow, then crawled into the bed just as Gwendolyn threw a comforter over it. He bunched up the blanket around him until he felt comfortable. His face scrunched up in thought. After a prolonged pause he agreed, “No... not anything you or Ben would call 'parenting'.”
“Well, you don't have to worry about Kevin hurting you any more.” Gwendolyn assured him, and it pained her to have to promise her own child that about her husband. “I won't let him near you again.”
She tucked the blankets up around his chin and moved to leave the room.
“Did you love him?” Devlin asked.
“I do love him.” She admitted.
“Do?” The boy echoed the present tense. Still? After all these years? After he basically kidnapped her son and abandoned her.
“Always.” She admitted and turned off the light.
Ben did not throw the Null Grenade that contained Kevin 11,000 back into the Null Void. Kevin was just too good at escaping -even without Devlin's interference that day, the Hero of the Universe was pretty sure Kevin would have gotten out again somehow. So, this time, instead of throwing his long time frienemy back into the Void willy-nilly with no plan or thought, he instead took the Null Granade to the Warden of the Void.
Warden of the Void was a relatively new title and position, and could only be held by a Magister ranked Plumber or higher. It was a job created by the Magistrata shortly after the fiasco with Proctor Servantis and his Rooters all those years ago. The official job description of the Warden of the Void was to maintain order in the Null Void, monitor the movements of its denizens, and submit bi-weekly reports to the Magistrata on noteworthy events, and just the general state of the Null Void and its residents. But, mostly, what the Warden of the Void seemed to spend a great majority of his time doing was just keeping the Rooters in check. Servantis didn't take defeat very well and although it had been over twenty years since Ben and his Team exposed the Proctor for what he was, Servantis was still holding a grudge.
Ben teleported into the Warden's headquarters. A Plumbers base siturated in the Null Void that everyone swore up and down was not the old Rooters base -except that it was patched and refurbished in all the places it would have had to have been in order to repair the damage Ben's battle did to the Rooters base.
The Warden of the Void met him at the teleporter. “It is good to see you again.”
“Rook. Long time.” The Hero of the Universe replied.
The Revonnahgander leaned in for a hug. But Ben pulled back ever so slightly.
Both men paused.
Turned away from each other.
Cleared their throats.
Rook was avoiding eye-contact. “So... what brings you all the way out here?”
“Kevin.” The other man answered simply. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the Null Grenade, passing it to Rook so that the Revonnahgander could clearly see the Osmosian still trapped inside it.
“Ah. Yes.” Rook nodded. “Sorry about his escape. There was not really anything we could do about it on this time. He was pulled out of the Void by Chamber teleporter on Earth's side. If I read the report correctly, it was the one in your base.”
“Yeah. Devlin broke in and pulled him out.” Ben informed him.
“Devlin!? Gwendolyn's son? He is alive?”
“And back with Gwendolyn.” He nodded. “But now I need to figure out what to do about Kevin.”
The Revonnahgander passed the Null Grenade back to his former partner. “Its good that you have not already released him back into the Void.”
“Why would I?” Asked the Hero of the Universe. “Even without outside help, Kevin's escaped the Void too manny times. The Null Void can't hold him. I'm actually surprised he managed to stay in the Void as long as he did this last time.”
“Ben...” Rook began slowly, as if unsure if he wanted to tell his former partner and Kevin's former friend whatever it was he was going to say next. “Do you know what it is they call him here in the Null Void?”
The Hero of the Universe raised an eyebrow. “Kevin 11,000?”
“Well. Yes. They call him that too.” Rook admitted. “But that is a name he gave himself. I mean, do you know what the rest of the Void has decided he is?”
“No.” Obviously Ben didn't know.
“You know how I am the Warden of the Void.” The Revonnahgander began. “Well, they have taken to called Kevin the 'King in the Void'. I do not if it was by design or if he just absorbed so much power that a small following just amassed around him, but he has followers and allies here in the Void. Enough to cause me concern. I was going to say as much on my next report to the Magistrata.”
Ben looked at the Null Grenade containing his former friend. “What should I do?”
If they couldn't release him back into the Void...?
“Is there some way to rehabilitate him?” Rook asked. “Perhaps with the Omnitrix. Pull out all the aliens he has absorbed. Or with Gwendolyn's magic. Bind him, or seal him, or something of that nature.”
“I'll look into it.” Ben placed Kevin back in his pocket. “Thanks, Rook. It was good seeing you again.”
“And it is always good seeing you, too.” Nodded the Revonnahgander.
Chapter 2: What Can We Do About Kevin?
Devlin looked at himself in the mirror. His father always clothed him in things second hand. Whatever he could find cheap and easy that worked as a general fit for the boy. But Gwendolyn bought his school uniform for him brand new, and tailored for him. He was a bit too skinny for his height, so the shirt and sweater vest had to be taken in at the ribcage.
When Gwendolyn first saw him, she feared her son was undernourished, that Kevin hadn't fed him well enough. But after a day of clothing shopping with him -for play clothes and necessities as well as his school uniform- the sorceress realized that he was just small framed. Slight and lithe -like she was. In that respect, at least, he resembled her more than Kevin.
Stepping out of the dressing room, the young Osmosian modeled the uniform for his mother. 'Mother'. It was a concept as strange and alien to him as the idea of the 'school uniform' he was now wearing. Kenny's school did have uniforms, and Devlin never had a mother before. There was a lot he was going to have to get used to in his new life away from his father.
“You look so hansom!” Gwendolyn smiled.
Devlin was still getting used to that too. Complements and positivity. His father never paid him a complement, not once. Unless backhanded complements counted. “Uh. Thanks.”
The touchingly awkward moment was interrupted when Gwendolyn's phone rang. Her ordinary, terrestrial cell phone. “Go ahead and changed back into your street cloths.” She told the boy as she pulled out her phone. “This is the High Magus. Go ahead. Ben? Hey, what's up? You don't usually call me on my cell.”
Because -usually- when the Hero of the Universe calls his cousin -the High Magus and sorceress-plumber- its because the universe is in danger and he needs her help. Calls from Ben usually end up coming through her Plumbers badge, not her cell phone. They didn't really socialize outside of work as much anymore. Not since Kevin disappeared with Devlin, Rook took his new job as Warden of the Void, she was named High Magus, and the gang just generally all went their separate ways.
“...okay, sure.” Gwendolyn was just putting her phone away when Devlin came back out of the dressing room. Once again dressed in his black and gray shorts and hooded vest combo he had a personal fondness for. He passed the white shirt and red sweater vest to her for her to pay for and the sorceress smiled down at him. “How would you like to spend the afternoon with Kenny?”
“Can I? Yeah!” Replied the Osmosian enthusiastically.
“We'll just drop our stuff off at the house and then head over to Ben's headquarters.”
“And on the way you'll tell me more of what happened between you, Dad, and me, right?”
After uploading the video of her ultrasound to Spacebook -like every other irritating expecting mother in history- Gwen's plan was to spend the rest of her day putting together furniture and unpacking boxes of books. But when she came back down the stairs, Kevin was already halfway through building the second bookcase.
“What's this?” She asked, smiling. It was a pleasant surprise to see her husband doing something constructive -something constructive that didn't include adding new weapons to his indestructible, 'everything proof' car.
“Working with my hands helps me relax.” He reminded her, not looking up from what he was doing.
She sucked in a breath at the reminder that he was tense and actually needed to relax. Kevin had been irrationally suspicious, pessimistic, and cynical ever since their son from the future appeared in the middle of Plumbers HQ. Just because little Devin -or was it Devlin? Spanner wasn't exactly clear the one and only time he said her son's name- just because little Devin didn't know who she was.
Okay, maybe that was a worrying thought. Even if she was dead eleven years in the future -and for some reason the idea of being dead didn't seem to bother her- Kevin should have at least told their son who his mother was. He should have grown up with Ben as a doting uncle -or a negligent, workaholic uncle- and been regaled with tales of their exploits together as bedtime stories. But he didn't even know she was his mother. That did bother the sorceress a little bit. Just not enough to make her decide she didn't want the baby.
Kevin, on the other hand, automatically assumed the worst. Not just the worst, but the worst of the worst, and decided it was reason to never have children. Ever. Gwen didn't kow what exactly he was imagining in his head, but she did know that his mind easily went to places much, much darker than her's or Ben's might go. Whatever the Osmosian assumed happening to her in the not too distance future would be much, much more gruesome and/or painful than what Gwen might guess.
“Besides,” continued the Osmosian, “I don't want you trying to do any heavy lifting or working with dangerous tools right now. I don't know how that thing inside you will affect you.”
“Affecting me how?” She crossed her arms over her chest, trying to decide if he were calling her weak and fragile and she should be insulted. Or if he honestly didn't know how pregnancy worked and legitimately thought manual labor was bad for her -even at this early stage.
Her opened his mouth to respond. Realized he actually didn't know how to phrase his answer in a way that wouldn't get him slapped and denied the privilege of sleeping in the same bed as her, and closed it again. “There's... there's no right answer to that question.”
She continued to stare at him for a few moments after that. But after the Osmosian went back to work, she decided to just drop it. After the train-wreck he almost caused at the sonogram appointment, Gwendolyn decided not to push him or push her luck with him. Kevin loved her. But he also had a terrible track record of behaving himself when he didn't get his way. For the moment, at least, she should just leave him to his work. Let him do what he needed to do. If it helped him come to terms with what was happening.
“Alright.” Gwen sighed. “But don't put any of my books away. I have a specific order planned for them.”
“I wouldn't dream of it.” He assured her.
“This is boring!” Devlin groaned from the back seat -because Gwendolyn wouldn't let him sit in the front seat. “Where's all the fighting? When do I come in? What actually went wrong? Why does the dog hate me too?”
She pulled the car into the driveway and killed the engine.
“Its important so that you know where Kevin and I were emotionally at the time.” Gwendolyn informed her son, as she released the child safety locks. The sorceress began pulling bags out of the trunk while the boy climbed out of the car.
Zed was lounging on a dog bed on the front porch. But the moment she saw the Osmosian the Anubian Baskurr bolted back around the house to the backyard -which seemed to have become her sanctuary from the boy. Devlin really wished he knew what it was he did to make the dog so fearful of him. When he visited the past and met her for the first time -literally, the first time for both of them, form both their ends of the timeline- she liked him instantly. Now she avoided him like a fatal disease.
Devlin turned away from where Zed had disappeared around the house and instead took some of the bags from Gwendolyn. He could carry his own stuff. Although, the Osmosian had never owned so much at any one time living with his Dad. Gwendolyn was really trying to spoil him. Either that, or this was how much clothing and shoes a normal child was supposed to have and it just seemed like a lot to him because Kevin always gave him so little. Honestly, Devlin didn't know.
“Okay. I get that, that might seem important to you.” The Osmosian told her. “But I wanna know what happened, not how you felt!”
His mother offered a gentle smile. The kind of patient and understanding look adults gave children when they understood what they wanted, but were going to ignore it all together. “I understand your frustration, but understanding how we felt is important to understanding why we did what we did.”
She unlocked the door and waited in the doorway for the boy to run his new things up to his room.
Devlin came back down the stairs a few moments later. “Look. I was there. I already know how you felt. You wanted me. Dad didn't. But somehow I ended up with him and not you. That's what I want to know.”
He climbed back into the backseat of the car and Gwendolyn continued on their way to Ben's.
“Can't you just skip ahead a little bit?”
The sorceress reclaimed the driver's seat. “No. If you want to hear the story from me, you'll hear it the way I'm going to tell it.” She informed him in a tone that Devlin was beginning to recognize as her 'because I said so' voice. “Or, if you want an abbreviated version, you can wait until Ben decides you're ready and he can tell you his version.”
The Osmosian pouted in the back seat. “I bet his version would be less touchy-feely and more about things.”
Gwendolyn cracked a smile of amusement. “I guarantee you, his version will paint him as some sort of voice of reason, or champion of compromise. But that's not what he was. All he did get in the way, step on our toes, and try to impose his opinions as if they legitimate solutions.”
Devlin thought about what he knew about the Hero of the Universe. He had known Ben -the contemporary Ben, native to this time- for a little over a month now. That was plenty long to get a sense of the man, but not nearly long enough to know him very well. Even without his impromptu trip to the past to see early Ben 10,000, Devlin got the sense that he wasn't really all his hype made him out to be. But he didn't realize the Hero contributed to that hype. “Would he really?”
Yes. Yes, he would. But Gwendolyn didn't have to insist on it. Ben was -overall- a positive role model. The sorceress didn't need to tear him down. Especially not since Devlin would need a positive male figure in his life and that obviously wasn't going to be Kevin.
“You know who actually would be good to hear the story from if you don't wanna hear it from me?” She said instead, changing the subject. “Ben's old partner, a Revonnahgander named Rook Blonko. He and Kevin used to hang out in the motor-pool a lot together and became pretty good friends. Rook's Warden of the Void now and spends most of the year in the Null Void, though. So you probably won't meet him for a while.”
“I met Rook.” Devlin informed her. “In the past. He was with Ben.” A pause. “He was with Ben a lot. About as much as Kevin was with you.”
Gwendolyn opened her mouth to say something. Thought better of it. Closed it again.
“Ya know who I haven't met yet?”The Osmosian changed the subject for her. “Kenny's mom. Mrs. Tennyson. Kai. Where's she?”
“Kai keeps very busy.” The sorceress began gently. “In addition to being a deputized Plumber, she's also holds two doctorates of pre-colonial archeology, and xeno-anthropology. When she's not discovering pre-European empires or protecting sacred lands, she contracts out as mediator and diplomat for various alien groups wanting to make peace with other alien groups.”
“Ah, so that's why she's been gone so long.” Devlin nodded as if this explained everything. “I was beginning to wonder if Kenny didn't have a mother either.” A pause. “I mean- that is- Sorry, Gwendolyn -I mean, Mom. Its just, It was just me and Dad for so long. I didn't have a mother until a couple weeks ago and-”
“It's okay, I get it.” The sorceress assured him. “This will take some getting used to for both of us. But, for the moment, I want you to have a good time with Kenny and -at least try- to stay out of trouble. We're here.”
She pulled into the Headquarters motor-pool.
Excited to see Kenny again, Devlin unbuckled his belt and hopped out of the car the moment Gwendolyn cut the engine and released the child safety locks. The sorceress sighed. It was a little strange, but -sometimes- her son displayed personality traits from not just both his parents, but from Ben as well. Was it something he picked up during the weeks the Osmosian was in the care of the Hero of the Universe, or was he always that way? Pieces of Ben that slipped in through the Omnitrix which Kevin absorbed when he was younger.
Ben met Gwendolyn in the garage.
Devlin gave him a cheerful clip of a “Hi, Ben!” Before pushing past the Hero of the Universe and heading upstairs to find Kenny.
As soon as the young Osmosian was out of the room, Gwendolyn fixed her cousin with a serious and business-like glare. “Okay, what's so important that you didn't want to mention over Plumbers channels and demanded I come up here so we can talk about it in person?”
The Hero of the Universe looked behind him where Devlin had just disappeared into the elevator. He was gone, and there were no other Plumbers around to overhear. Ben closed the space between them and reached into his pocket. He pulled out a single Null Grenade, and passed it to the sorceress. Gwendolyn held it up, emerald eyes going wide when she recognized her own husband as the one that was in it.
“You didn't put him back in the Null Void!?' She exclaimed.
“Was going to.” Ben began. “But Rook said it was a bad idea. Now I'm asking you, since you knew him so well. What should I do with your baby-daddy?”
Her first knee-jerk reaction was to tell Ben to let him out. She would take care of him. He was her husband after all, and even after their years of estrangement, his kidnapping of their son, and all the other terrible things he did as Kevin 11,000, she was still in love with him. But Gwendolyn couldn't take him home with her. The fact that he was still -technically- a criminal aside, he kidnapped her son, and did nothing but tear down and emotionally abuse him these past eleven years. As much as Gwendolyn wanted Kevin back in her life, she couldn't allow him anywhere near Devlin.
Instead, the sorceress sighed. A heavy, despondent sigh of resignation. The solution was not going to be easy, and it was not going to be fast either. “We need to draw out the excess energy inside him.” She reminded her cousin. “Just like we did when he was Ultimate Kevin, just like Kwarrel helped him do when he was Kevin 11. I have a spell for it, but it will have to be done in stages. Otherwise he body could go into shock and die.”
“You want me to release him to you.” Ben concluded. It figured. Of course Gwendolyn would want him to hand her lover over to her.
But the sorceress shook her head. “Not yet. I've got Devlin with me right now and I wanna keep Kevin away from him. Wait until he starts school, summer's almost over anyway. Once Devlin will be gone for most of the day we can set Kevin up in my library at Friedkin and I'll take care of him then.”
“So, I'm just supposed to sit on this for another week?” Asked the Hero of the Universe.
“Ben,” Gwendolyn huffed, “remind me again how long its been since Devlin broke Kevin out of the Null Void and then helped you defeat him? A month? Five weeks? If you can sit on it that long, what's one more week gonna do?”
“Okay, okay, jeez.” Ben grumbled. He hated it when she made good points. Why was she always the one who got to make good points and logical arguments?
“Is that all you asked me over for?” She asked.
“Pretty much. Why?”
“Because I promised Devlin a playdate with Kenny. So now you get to watch them while I run a few more errands.” The sorceress informed him.
“What? But I've got hero things to do.” Ben tried arguing back.
Gwendolyn fixed him with a razor glare. “You're telling me, that hanging out downstairs in HQ and hoping for an alien attack is more important than spending time with your own son and your godson.” A pause. “Tell me again, exactly how many of Kenny's birthdays have you actually attended over the last ten years?”
“Oh, don't do that.” The Hero of the Universe growled back at her. “You know how bad I feel about missing his important days.”
“Well, today's not an 'important day' but it could be important to him if you were to just spend time with him when you can.” The sorceress informed him. “I promise there will still be monster battles and alien invasions after the boys start school in a week.” Then Gwendolyn doubled down on her argument. “And, when Kai comes home and asked Kenny what he did while she was away, he can brag about how much time he got to spend with his dad -and won't that just make her jealous.”
The Hero of the Universe heaved a sigh. When did his marriage with Kai become about one-upping each other in the eyes of their son? What ever happened to the days when their marriage was based off xenophilic fantasies over Blitzwolfer and willful delusions of true love? Or better yet, the days when they pretended their marriage wasn't based on sex and illusions at all. “She's always getting onto me about missing his birthdays. But she was the one who missed his birthday this time.”
And it was Kenny's tenth birthday. A very important number in the Tennyson clan.
Ben heaved another sigh. “You're right.” And he turned around and walked back to the elevators that would take him to the residential levels of his headquarters.
He found the boys in the living room. They had Kenny's hoverboard out on the coffee table and it looked like Devlin had just started taking it apart while the younger boy looked on in wonder. Looked like the young Osmosian was showing the young changling how to customize his Ride. Like father, like son -it seemed. Devlin was more like Kevin that Ben felt comfortable with. Of course, that was to be expected since he was raised by the man these past eleven years and Gwendolyn hadn't yet had a chance to add in her influence. But seeing the boys together made Ben feel a strange combination of equal parts nostalgic and sad. He missed Kevin -the good Kevin. The Kevin that was his friend.
The Hero of the Universe cleared his throat. “What's going on here?”
Both boys looked up startled. As if they'd just been caught in the act of rule breaking. Admittedly, Ben had never expressly forbidden his son from customizing his hoverboard. But then, Ben had also never actually imagined it as a posibility before either. It hadn't even occurred to him that, that was a thing people could do. Of course it would be Kevin's son that would bring the idea back into his house.
“Dev was just showing me a few things.” Kenny tried to explain, a very Ben like 'i'm just an innocent child, nothing to see here' grin on his face.
Devlin blinked, halfway between confusion and suspicion. He didn't understand that normal parents might think it would be dangerous for their children to be customizing their own toys that ran off of alien hover technology. Of course, Kevin wasn't a normal parent. He probably thought it was strange that children didn't add or expand on their disproportionately advanced toys. Kevin Levin was may things over the course of his sordid life. None of those things was a good parent, but one of those things was a fantastic mechanic and alien technician. The Osmosian wouldn't be able to live with himself if he didn't make sure his son was equally as skilled.
“I was just showing Kenny how to make his board more maneuverable.” Devlin informed him.
“More maneuverable, huh.” Ben crossed the room and sat down at the coffee table across from them. “Show me too.”
“Uh, well, okay.” He must have made the Osmosian nervous. The boys hands were more hesitant and less sure than his father's. Then again, that could easily be attested to age and inexperience as much as the fact that he had a grown-up for an audience.
“Ya know, I used to watch your father do this with his car all the time.” Ben added. Then remembered that it was actually Rook he watched work on the proto-TRUK. Kevin did most of his mechanical work in his own garage attached to Gwendolyn's house. Ben usually only ever saw the Osmosian when he was pissed off about something and looking to the wielder of the Omnitrix to give him something to beat up.
He had originally meant it to put the boy a ease. But only after the words were out of his mouth did the Hero of the Universe realize that this might actually make Devlin more nervous. The young Osmosian's hands that were just a little unsure before suddenly shook as he removed a hover-plate. Even Kenny looked a little shocked and worried.
Ben sucked in a breath. “Maybe I should explain. You see, Kevin and I used to be friends...”
Rook had the hood of the proto-TRUK up and was tinkering with... something in there. Ben didn't really know what. Engines and machines might as well be Gwendolyn's magic as far as he was concerned. Rook and Kevin might understand them, but the Hero of the Universe did not. He sat in the passenger seat, both doors hanging open, one foot propped up on the dash, ans scrolled through his Spacebook feeds wondering if his wife had posted anything today and when she was coming home.
Gwendolyn had uploaded a video of her sonogram. He clicked the video more out of a board curiosity rather than any real desire to actually see it. But all it was, was a gray-on-gray blur of undulating shades and tones, so he quick watching it and kept scrolling.
That was about when the father of Gwendolyn's formless sonogram pulled into the Headquarters motor-pool.
He cut the engine and climbed out of the driver's seat -and slammed and door shut after him. Kevin never slammed his car doors. He got pissy when other people accidentally slammed his car doors. Kevin loved his car more than he loved his unborn child -that wasn't saying much. Sometimes Ben wondered which he loved more, that car or Gwendolyn -that was saying a lot.
“You alright there, buddy?” Ben asked, turning off his phone and sliding out of the proto-TRUK.
Rook looked up. Noted that the Osmosian was just huffy and not in a 'we need to gear up and go save the world right now' panic and turned his attention back to his own work.
“Your cousin is crazier than me!” He snarled at the Hero of the Universe.
“That sounds like something I might have said in my Best Man's speech at your wedding.” Ben leaned against the side of the proto-TRUK and tried to make light of whatever it was the Osmosain was upset about today.
This little comment did little to sooth his frienemy's foul mood. “You wanna make jokes, Tennyson!”
That was when Rook leaned back from the hood of the proto-TRUK, wiping oil from his hands. “It has been my experience that he usually does. Ben thinks he is rather humerus. I do not understand many of the jokes, but I believe he usually means well.”
“This isn't funny!” Kevin roared at both of them. “Don't either of you remember? When that kid came from the future he knew who I was, but he had no idea Gwen was his mother. Aren't you worried how or why that might be? Isn't it likely that thing in her belly will killed her? How can you just make jokes?”
Ben's eyebrows came down as he gave up on making light of the Osmosian's mood and fears. Truth be told, the Hero of the Universe was a little worried about his cousin's murky and unknown future. Ben had met his future self before -multiple times, actually- and by this point in his own personal timeline he'd been the future self and met his past self at least once. He knew how wobbly and confusing time travel could be. He also knew that constantly worrying about the future and psyching yourself out was not the way to find answers or solve problems.
“Don't assume that just because I'm not crying like a little girl like you are that I'm not worried.” Ben informed the Osmosian. “But you also have to remember, we've met another me from farther in the future. Ultimate Ben 10,000. Remember? And he talked like Gwendolyn was still alive and doing fine. President of Earth and a shoe-in for a second term. Remember?”
“Yeah. I remember.” Kevin growled. “I also remember that Ultimate you didn't mention anything about her having a son -or any children for that matter. For all we know, Mr. Ultimate Ben 10,000 could have been from an alternate timeline. One where I didn't get Gwen pregnant with an evil mutant spawn that's gonna kill her!”
Or worse, an alternate timeline where they never got married at all. Kevin didn't know which possibility bothered him more.
Rook closed the lid of his truck and began packing his tools away. “I have read many of your Earthling folktales and legends.” He said. “One in particular stands out as relevant to this situation. The Greek prophets of Delphi would tell people their futures, but only part of it -usually the bad parts- and the people would strive their hardest to try and avoid their fates. But all their actions to prevent it inevitably ended up being the very things that caused their terrible fates to begin with.”
“How is that relevant.” Snarled the Osmosian.
“Have you considered that the reason your future son didn't know his mother was because of something you did and not your offspring's fault at all?” Rook elaborated.
“Like what? Toss him in the Null Void like Tennyson did to me when I was just a kid?” Kevin raised a brow.
“Ooh, damn. You could cut someone with that chip on your shoulder, Kev.” Ben commented in an attempt to lighten the mood. “That was over twenty years ago. Shouldn't you be over it by now?”
The Osmosian's only response to this was just to glare at the younger man. Admittedly, that did happen during one of his formative years. It shouldn't be surprising that Kevin still carried some resentment about it. What was surprising was that, that happened between them at such a pivotal age for both of them and Kevin and Ben were still able to form a meaningful and trusting friendship.
The Hero of the Universe locked eyes with the Osmosian, noted his vehement glare and immediately regretted the question. Yeah... What kind of asshole was he to basically ask, 'shouldn't you be over your childhood trauma by now?' Ben sucked in a breath. “Anyways... um... Ya know what I'm over by now? You and Gwendolyn both talking non-stop about this pregnancy. You about how its gonna kill her and destroy all our lives, and her about how wonderful and magical this experience is and how happy she is to finally be having a child with the man she loves. Ugh. Gag me.”
Never one to pass up the prospect of a fight, Kevin crossed the space between them and grabbed the Omnitrix wielder by the front of his shirt. “Oh, I'll do more than just gag you.”
Rook sighed. “I will call your wives and inform them to meet us at the hospital.”
Chapter 3: Kai Comes Home - Now & Then
Gwendolyn's library at Friedkin University was a library. It was not meant to actually be lived in. Lucky Girl's secret headquarters under the library, however, was not only meant to be lived in, but lived in rather comfortably. Gwendolyn hadn't been to the underground headquarters part of her library since she earned her Masters degree and no longer had to live near -or on- campus to continue her education.
She also hadn't been Lucky Girl in many years either.
So there was little reason to ever visit her old headquarters anymore. But she would need a place to put Kevin while she was rehabilitating him -and maybe a little bit after- since she was not going to let him anywhere near her son again. Since all the books she would need to strip him of his excess energy and aliens were all in her library already, it just made since to keep him at the library too -in the living quarters under the library.
There was a stale, musty smell to the air. The kind of scent that lingered in a place where people used to occupy for days at a time, but had since been abandoned.
Gwendolyn heaved a sigh, breathing in the thick air and letting it out slowly. Everywhere she looked in the headquarters, she saw a memory of Kevin. Kevin moping on the couch, Zed on his lap, as he lamented the magical disappearance of his car. Kevin dripping melting ice cream on the carpet as he tried to coax her away from her books. Kevin falling asleep because he was board out of his skull watching her study, or research, or work.
Emotionally stirring memories aside, the sorceress was going to have to do some serious cleaning before she could expect anyone to live here. Even if that someone was Kevin, whom she knew had lived in worse -much worse- and before he was even in his teens. But just because she was going to -technically- going to be holding him prisoner didn't mean she had to hold him in a dungeon. Speaking of, she was also going to have to add in some layers of containment spells on top of her protection spells she already had around the headquarters. After all, anyone who knew Kevin -and probably many people who'd only just heard of him- knew that a little locked door never stopped the Osmosian.
Making two separate mental lists of the books she'd need -the first to set up the containment spells to keep Kevin, and the second the syphoning spells she'd need to remove the excess energy and aliens from him- Gwendolyn got down to cleaning up the headquarters and making it livable.
It was never really meant to be 'lived in', but the sorceress would by lying if she denied that both she and her -then boyfriend- didn't spend a night or two in it. The couch unfolded into a bed, but the bedding itself needed to be replaced. She could probably afford to replace the mini-fridge with something larger -and some way for him to prepare his own meals. Friedkin wasn't exactly far from Bellwood, but it was still just far enough for Gwendolyn to be bringing the Osmosian his own meals three times a day. Speaking of his meals, she'd also have to figure out the bathroom situation. The library upstairs had mens and womens restrooms, but Kevin was going to be contained under the library -no access. Somehow she'd imagine finding Kevin less attractive if he started going in the corner -that, and it wasn't sanitary.
Gwendolyn was just planning out how she was going to reroute the plumbing without completely destroying the upstairs bathrooms when her phone rang. Her civilian phone again, not her Plumbers badge. Pulling it out of her pocket, Gwendolyn saw that it was Kai calling.
“Hey, don't tell me you're calling because you've extended your trip and you want me to break is to Ben for you.” She said by way of answering.
There was the distinct sound of the other woman scoffing on the other end. “No need to be so dramatic, Gwendolyn. I'm not that bad. I'm about to get on the shuttle right now, I'll be back on Earth by tomorrow. I'm actually calling to see how my boys are doing. Has Kenny been eating right? Has Ben burned down his headquarters? Am I gonna be coming home to a mess I need to clean up?”
So... Ben hadn't called to tell her any of this during the weeks between his fight with Kevin and now. Good to know their communication hadn't changed. “You know Grandpa Max makes sure both Kenny and Ben eat right, and no, Ben hasn't burned down his headquarters -although, Kevin came close to doing that for him a couple weeks ago.”
She waiting to gauge the other woman's reaction.
“Kevin!? Your Kevin?” Kai gasped into the phone.
“Yes. My Kevin.” A pause. The last time Ben went up against Kevin, Devlin hadn't been with him. Gwendolyn wasn't sure who was watching the boy the last time the Hero of the Universe threw the Osmosian into the Null Void, but they were all sure that he was not with Kevin when they did. There was no reason for Kai to assume Devlin was with him this time. So, when she didn't ask, Gwendolyn told her. “And I have my son back -finally.”
“He's aliv- ah. Um. That's great!” Kai stumbled over her words for a moment. “I can't wait to meet him! Again. As a person who actually speak and understand things.” A pause. “He can... he can control himself now, right? He's not- you're okay, right? He's not draining you again?”
“No. I'm fine!” Gwendolyn growled into her phone, suddenly feeling like she was suddenly having an old argument from over ten years ago. “And Devlin is fine too. He's a perfectly well-behaved angel.”
“Kevin's son, an angel?” The other woman's voice was overflowing with skepticism.
“I'm hanging up now.” The sorceress grumbled. She didn't even wait for Kai's response, she just ended the call and put her phone back in her pocket. There was still a lot of work to do before her headquarters under the library would be livable for Kevin.
Kai raised an eyebrow when she saw that it was Gwendolyn picking her up from the airport and not her husband. “Where's Ben?”
The sorceress only rolled her eyes. “Our charming husbands decided it was a good idea to beat the shit out of each other for giggles. They're both in the hospital now, so you're stuck with me.”
For some reason, this did not seem to surprised the archaeologist-Plumber. She threw her duffle bag in the backseat of Gwendolyn's car and hopped in the front seat, sighing to suppress a huff. “Honestly, those two... And Kevin should know better than to keep acting out this way. He needs to start practicing what kind of example he's gonna set for your baby.”
She did not mention Ben knowing better or what kind of example he was going to set for the hypothetical child Kai was still planning to have with him. But then again, it was Ben. Perhaps, over the course of their marriage, she had finally learned that you can't chance Ben Tennyson. You got what you got and you just had to live with that. Or else file for divorce and find some other man to contribute DNA for your life-goals.
Gwendolyn did not comment on either man. She had already delivered her lectures to them. No amount of complaining was going to improve anything. She away from the curb and merged back into airport traffic, heading for the exit.
“How are you, by the way?” Kai asked. “I have, like, a million questions. How far along are you? Has the morning sickness been really bad? How long after you started trying did it actually take you to conceive? If it was me and Ben, do you think his Omnitrix would affect anything?”
Because Kai was also planning to have a child with her own husband -and soon.
The sorceress only shrugged as she made a lane change and merged onto the freeway on-ramp. “Not much morning sickness, actually. Just a little nausea and some light sensitivity when I first wake up -its really more of a hangover than morning sickness. Honestly, the only significant thing I've noticed is that I get tired much easier. It was a couple months after my birth control expired that I was able to conceive. As for Ben and his Omnitrix, I have no idea. That would be a question for Asmuth, or maybe Ben himself.”
“Guess that's true.” Kai shrugged.
The two women lapsed into a silence after that. Aside from being family by marriage, both being contracted by the Plumbers as consultants, and both always getting involved in Ben Tennyson's absurd alien adventures, they didn't really have all that much in common. Truth be told, Gwendolyn didn't even really like Kai all that much. Ever since they were children, the sorceress felt that Kai didn't respect her cousin enough to form a stable and healthy romantic relationship. That opinion had softened over the years, but it hadn't changed.
While Kai thought Gwendolyn was to clingy and involved in Ben's personal life. She was his cousin, not his sister. Sometimes, they seemed uncomfortably close to the archeologist -like, Lannister close. It was sometimes uncomfortable.
One of them coughed.
The other cleared their throat.
“So... am I taking you straight home, or do you wanna stop off at the hospital to see Ben?” Asked the sorceress.
“Might as well see what kind of trouble your husband has gotten mine into.” Kai shrugged.
Gwendolyn decided to let that comment about her husband being the one to get Ben in trouble slide. In most cases, it was true. Even as a mostly semi-responsible adult now, Kevin was still a 'bad boy' and prone to getting himself and those around him into all kinds of trouble.
“The hospital it is then.” She made a lane change that would eventually lead her to a freeway exit. “Will you be back for a while, or are you just stopping by to say 'hi' before rushing off to your next dig, cultural crusade, or Plumbers mission?”
“No, I'm back for a while.” Kai assured her.
“I'm sure Ben will be happy to hear that.”
“He better be happy to hear I'm back!” Kai snapped before she could stop the words from escaping her mouth. Gwendolyn cast her a sideways glance and the other woman put an appropriately mortified hand over her mouth. “I mean, now that I'm back, Ben and I can get started on making our own baby. He better be excited about that.”
The sorceress forced a light and amused laugh. “Well, I donno about the having the baby part, but Ben will definitely be excited about all the sex you'll be having.”
Kai snorted. “There is that.”
They pulled into the hospital parking lot.
Gwendolyn led the other woman to the hospital room shared by their husbands.
Rook was sitting next to Ben's bedside, the Revonnahgander stood when he saw that it was Ben's wife that had arrived. Kevin rolled his eyes at the action. Right. Because standing by your partner's bedside was so dramatically different from sitting next to it that no one would ever suspect that the Revonnahgander Magister had any special feelings for his partner beyond platonic.
But if Kai noticed that Rook had been hovering just a little too close to her husband than was normal for 'guy friends' she didn't show it. Instead, she focused her full attention on said husband. “What in the hell were you thinking? Getting into a fight with Kevin!”
“He started it!” The Hero of the Universe might have jabbed an accusatory finger at his Osmosian roommate, except that one of his arms was in a full cast and completely immobilized, while the other was holding a smoothy from the hospital's cafeteria.
“Don't blame Kevin!” Kai snapped.
“Oh, no. I totally started it.” The Osmosian cut in, an unabashed smile on his face. He was not ashamed in the least. In fact he almost sounded proud of himself. “I finished it too.”
“Kevin!” Gwendolyn snapped at him. Unconsciously, one of her hands drifted to rest over her belly. “Why do you always have to act out like this? What kind of example do you think you're going to set?”
“The kind where I teach the thing to deflect or transfer all its problems and fears onto an external object -usually one that can be punched- and violently vent his frustrations instead of actually working through and solving his problems.” He answered with a smile. Then noticed his wife's hand over her belly and his eyes came down with sudden concern. “Are you feeling alright? Is that thing hurting you already?”
She looked down at her hand over her stomach. Gwendolyn hadn't even noticed where it was resting until he said something. “I'm just fine.” She snapped. “If anything, I'm worried about how much of a bad influence you're going to be on our son.”
“You'll tell me the moment something doesn't feel right with that thing, right?” He pressed.
Gwendolyn was about to assure him that nothing was going to go wrong, but just to make him feel better, yes, the moment she felt something not-quite-right with her pregnancy she would tell him. (Except that she already knew his solution would be to terminate the pregnancy, so... maybe she wouldn't.) But the sorceress was cut off before she could get out a single syllable.
“Am I missing something?” Asked Kai. “Are there complications with Gwendolyn pregnancy?” Already? This early? Was this supposed to be to early to tell if something was wrong? Dear gosh! What the hell was wrong with Kevin's sperm!? No. Never mind. She did not want to know.
“Didn't you read my emails, Sweetheart?” Ben blinked at her.
“I skimmed them.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “You were a jerk. Gwendolyn traveled to the past, kidnapped your ten-year-old self to show you how much of a jerk you are, you both learned a lesson. Except it was a lesson you supposedly learned when you were ten so I'm a little disappointed that you had to re-learn it again as an adult. I skimmed over most of the rest -and Gwendolyn pregnant. Before me!”
“Well, its kinda hard to get you pregnant if you're never around.” Grumbled the Hero of the Universe.
Everyone else in the room avoided eye-contact.
There was an awkward pause.
Each person in the room had their own views and opinions of Ben's marriage to Kai. They were each fine people as individuals, but as a functioning married couple... they weren't. Functioning, that is. In fact, sometimes, they seemed more dysfunctional than Kevin and Gwendolyn and Gwendolyn didn't even tell Kevin when her birth control expired.
Kevin wasn't usually one to enjoy giving unnessisary exposition, but he was the first person to clear his throat and break the tension. “Okay, so, while you were gone we had another little time-travel mishap. This time we were visited by a kid from the future instead of the past.” Kai seemed to become interested at the mention of a child from the future. “My eleven-year-old son.” And... she suddenly lost interest. “Anyway, he had no reservations about announcing that I was his father. But he didn't even know who Gwendolyn was!”
“So, Kevin -in classic doomsayer fashion- just up and decided that this pregnancy is gonna kill her and that's why his future-son never knew his mother.” Ben cut in and finished the explanation for him.
“How could he not know Gwendolyn was his mother!?” The Osmosian roared back. “I swear! If I didn't have this IV in my arm, I'd-”
“You'd what?” Gwendolyn raised an authoritative eyebrow at him.
Kevin shrunk away from her unspoken threat. If there was ever any doubt who was 'the boss' in the relationship it was quickly clarified the moment they saw Kevin submit to nothing more than a glare from his wife.
Kai blinked at the couple. “You know, there is another explanation for why he might not know that Gwendolyn's his mother. She might not actually be his mother. I mean, you could have an affair.”
Once again, the room was filled with an awkward silence. Except, instead of avoiding eye-contact, everyone stared at Kai.
Once again, Kevin was the first once to break the silence. “Ben, I'm gonna beat the shit out of your wife. You're cool with that right? She just insulted my honor.”
“If we're practicing honor-culture here, shouldn't you be demanding to fight me?” Ben asked. No one pointed out that, that statement did not explicitly deny the Osmosian permission to fight his wife.
“No one's fighting anyone!” Gwendolyn shouted -at everyone in the room, not just the boys whom still seemed to be acting like asshats. “As soon as you're discharged, I'm taking Kevin home and Kai should do the same with Ben.”
And maybe once everyone was back in their own homes and finally calmed down, Gwendolyn could take a nap. This whole drama with Ben and Kevin and suddenly having the responsibility of picking Kai up from the airport dumped on her really wore her out for some reason. To spite being an Anodite -a being made of pure energy- Gwendolyn was tired.
Chapter 4: Devlin's First Day of School
Was Devlin nervous about his first day of school?
Yes. Yes, he was.
Was he going to let it show?
Eh... probably. But not before trying to hide it and cover up his inequity with feigned excitement and distract from it with more questions about Gwendolyn's past with his father.
“Tell more of the story.” He said, climbing into the backseat of the car and fastening the seatbelt over his chest.
The boy reached a hand up to scratch at his hair. Since he refused to have it be cut, his mother had pulled it back into a tight 'man-bun' (or 'boy-bun' as the case may be) to keep it out of his eyes and -Devlin groaned- 'stop hiding that hansom face'. The young Osmosian would admit that it was easier to see without his hair in his face, but it was also pulled so tight that it itched.
“Its not really that long a drive to your school.” She informed him, taking the driver's seat and turning over the engine.
“But you promised.” The boy reminded her. “You said you'd tell me the story, but it was a long one. Tell me what you can in the time it takes to take me to school -and then tell me more when you pick me up after.”
Gwendolyn sighed. “Alright. Kevin's negativity and pessimism aside, everything started out like any normal pregnancy would. Things didn't start to change until about halfway through the second trimester...”
Gwendolyn yawned as she put her books away. It was really nice of Kevin to put her shelves together for her, but the book that were going to go on the shelves she wanted in a specific order. There was no way she was going to let her husband anywhere near her delicate organizational techniques. He just wouldn't do it right.
“Thanks for helping me with this, you guys.”
Kai and Emily, on the other hand, they could understand how the sorceress liked to organize her books and help put the -more than considerable- collection away. It was a mix of magical tomes, reference and textbooks, and frivolous fiction. But Gwendolyn didn't separate it by genre, or line them up by author -like most normal people would. Instead she group them together by relevance to a central subject.
For example, if there was a fiction story that had to do with crystal power, then that would be group with magical texts from crystal powers, and a reference books for gems and minerals. Organizing Gwendolyn's books required one to actually know what the books were about, not just who they were by, or what genre they belonged to. That was why Kevin couldn't help. Kevin didn't like to read.
“I've just been getting so tired so easily recently.” Continued the sorceress. “Its hard for me to finish something once I start it.”
“That's not like you at all.” Emily commented. Of all of Gwendolyn's friends, she had known the sorceress the longest. Since they were in elementary school. She would know when something was strange with her friend. Even before they found out Gwendolyn was an Anodite -a creature made of pure energy- she had always been energetic and goal driven. She wouldn't stop until she finished a thing she started.
Gwendolyn only sighed. “Like I said, I get tired more easily now for some reason. I have to go and take a nap before I get back to doing even something as simple as putting my books away.”
Kai looked up at that comment. “How long have you been trying to get these put away for?”
“Well, Kevin put the shelves together after we got home from my first sonogram. That was a little over two months ago, so... a little over two months.”
Emily looked genuinely concerned. “That's not like you at all!” She shifted position, wheeling her chair closer to the other woman. “Are you sure you're feeling alright? I don't want to sound like I'm taking Kevin's side, but do you think that maybe this pregnancy is a bit more of a strain on you than you want to admit?”
“Oh, don't you start too!” The sorceress scoffed. Then yawned. “I don't have the energy to argue with you too. I have to conserve my strength to put up with Kevin and his constant negativity.”
Both Emily and Kai exchanged a look. Neither of them could tell if the sorceress was joking or being completely serious.
“Should... should we be worried?” Emily asked.
“Of course not!” Gwendolyn snapped. Then found herself suppressing a growl. “Honestly! Kevin's got you all so paranoid that you're overreacting to every little thing! I'm just fine and the baby is just fine! There's nothing wrong and all of you should just stop freaking out over nothing!”
She paused to take a breath.
“You're the one raising her voice.” Kai took the opportunity to point out. Clearly, she and Emily were not the ones freaking out here.
This time the sorceress did not suppress the growl that rose in the back of her throat.
Emily wheeled her chair between the two women, holding her arms up for peace.
“Why don't we take a break.” She suggested. “We all seem a bit flustered. These books have been waiting for month to be put away, they can wait another hour or two while we go out for brunch. How does that sound? Just us girls out for brunch. No irritating husbands to cramp our style. A Girls' Day!”
“That sounds fine.” Kai wasn't really that close with Emily, she was Gwendolyn's friend, not hers and -in all honesty- Kai wasn't really all that close with Gwendolyn. She tried to get along with her because she was her husband's cousin (more like a sister, really), and if getting along with Gwendolyn meant going out to brunch with her crippled friend, then fine. She could do brunch.
“Yeah, okay, sure.” Gwendolyn huffed. She closed up the box of books she was in the middle of unpacking and stood up.
Maybe she stood up just a little too quickly, because as soon as she was on her feet, the sorceress felt dizzy. Her legs felt wobbly and weak under her like they suddenly couldn't support her own weight, and she swayed on her feet. It must have been enough to be noticeable, because she felt a hand grab her shoulder with a touch more pressure than was needed. Gwendolyn blinked, not realizing she had closed her eyes, and saw both Kai and Emily looking at her with sudden concern.
“Are you okay?” Kai asked, and Gwendolyn rarely heard the other woman sound so serious.
“I'm fine.” The sorceress insisted. “Just got a little dizzy just now. Stood up to fast.”
Both Emily and Kai exchanged another look. This one more serious. This wasn't Gwendolyn making some joke about being tired from having to put up with her husband's constant bitching about how he wasn't happy about the pregnancy and never wanted the child in the first place. They had just witness Gwendolyn nearly faint for no perceivable reason. Considering the fact that she was an Anodite and the thing inside her was an Osmosian, that was actually something worth worrying about.
But Gwendolyn would know her body better than either of them would. Especially considering that she was half-alien and both Kai and Emily were normal humans. Humans that might deal with aliens on a daily basis, sure. But still normal humans none the less. They wouldn't know what went on in an Anodite's body during pregnancy. For all they knew, excessive tiredness and fainting spells could be normal for an energy being trapped inside a physical body that was also currently trying to grow another physical body inside it.
“Are you sure you're okay?” Emily asked.
“Of course I'm sure!” Gwendolyn snapped. “Now, where did you want to go for brunch. I hear there's a new Kinet-fusion place that just opened up where that old hipster micro-brewery used to be.”
She shrugged Kai's hand off her, picked up her purse and headed for the door.
“But you weren't okay, were you?” Devlin asked from the back seat. The car turned a corner and he saw the school outside the window, a small platoon of children being escorted by their parents up to the main entrance. Now that they were here, his mother was gonna stop telling the story. He better get his questions in fast. “I was already draining you. From the inside. Dad was right.”
Gwendolyn pulled into the parent parking and stopped the car. “Devlin, I don't ever what to hear the words 'Kevin was right' out of your mouth. Do you understand me?” She said in a tone that had more force and raw feeling in it than the young Osmosian felt was necessary. “Kevin wanted to abort you the moment he learned I was pregnant. If we had done that, you would not be here. I do not want to ever hear you say Kevin was right.”
“Yeah, but... If I hadn't been born, he never would have left, you two would still be together and I-” He cut himself off, suddenly getting the feeling that his next words were not something he should be saying to his mother. '-and I never would have had to suffer through my life so far.' Was what he was going to say -or something similar. Sometimes abortion was the more humane option. But Devlin got the distinct impression that this was not an argument he wanter to start with her. Instead he said, “I guess I better get to school. First day and all. Gotta make a good impression, right.”
“I'll walk you in.” She unbuckled her belt and got out of the car.
Devlin had never been to school before. He and Kevin were always moving, they were never in one place long enough for the boy to attend anywhere -not that Kevin would enroll him even if they did settle down. For some reason he imagined Gwendolyn just dropping him off and saying 'Have a nice day.' He didn't know why. He saw other kids being escorted by their parents. It gave Devlin an odd kind of feeling of belonging, having his mother walk him to the main entrance. For what was probably the first time in his life, the Osmosian felt just like everybody else, and it was a nice kind of feeling.
After dropping Devlin off at school and making sure he found his way to his classroom safely, Gwendolyn went straight to Plumbers Headquarters to meet with Ben and get the Null grenade that contained her estranged husband.
But Ben wasn't there when she arrived. Rook met her instead.
The sorceress blinked at the Revonnahgander. She hadn't seen Rook much since he had confessed feelings for Ben that went beyond simple friendship, but the other man didn't return said feelings and the Revonnahgander took the position of Warden of the Void in an attempt to escape the rejection and run away from the pain.
“Hey, haven't seen you in a while.” She pulled Rook into a sisterly hug. Of all the people whom had, had crushes on her cousin over the years, women, men, aliens, and everything in between, Rook was the one Gwendolyn thought was the best match for Ben. Unfortunately, Ben was already married to Kai and having a child with her by the time the Revonnahgander finally worked up the courage to confess his feelings. There was no way the Hero of the Universe was gonna leave his wife and come out as more than straight all at once. Rook's feelings were doomed to be unrequited from the start. “How've you been?”
“It has been a while.” Rook nodded. “I have been working. The Rooters keep me busy -as has your husband. Warden of the Void is a surprisingly demanding responsibility.”
“Has Kevin been giving you a lot of trouble?” She asked, genuinely concerned. If the Osmosian caused to much trouble during his eleven years in and out of the Void, then even if they did succeed in rehabilitating him, he might not be able to return to his job and rank as a Magister Plumber.
Rook sucked in an uncomfortable breath. “Its not really Kevin... so much as Kevin's followers.”
“Followers?” Echoed the sorceress.
“You see, in the Null Void, weaker residents tend to congregate around stronger ones for protection.” The Revonnahgander began to explain. “I do not think Kevin did anything to encourage this, but after absorbing the powers and abilities of eleven thousand aliens, he was very strong, and a following grew around him. A very large following. Since Devlin pulled him out of the Void, that following has been... problematic. A lot of them have flocked to Servantis and become Rooters. I did not realize before, but his presence was actually helping to keep the peace. Even if he wasn't actively doing anything.”
The Revonnahgander was only telling a half-truth when he told Ben it was good he hadn't released Kevin back into the Void. Actually, Rook did want Kevin back in the Null Void, but he wanted him back on the Plumbers' side.
Gwendolyn paused. She'd been to the Null Void a couple of times, but never spent any extended time there. She didn't actually know what it was like. “I have no idea Kevin had so much influence in the criminal community. I thought he was just a maniac.”
If Rook had an opinion about her thinking Kevin was a maniac but marrying him anyway, he did not voice it. Instead, he said, “So you understand why I have a vested interest in what happens to him.”
“So where's Ben?” Asked the sorceress. He was the one with the Null grenade that held Kevin, after all. They couldn't exactly get this show on the road without him.
“Ben is picking his wife up from the space port.” The Revonnahgander answered in a voice that made it sound more like he was actually saying 'He felt uncomfortable around me so came up with an excuse and left.' Rook reached into a pocket of his new standard issue Plumbers uniform and pulled out a Null grenade. “He did, however, give Kevin to me so that you and I could begin whatever it is you plan to do without him.”
Oh, well it was nice to see that Ben had thought ahead. It might have taken him thirty years, but the Wielder of the Omnitrix and Hero of the Universe had finally learned responsibility. This was actually a reassuring start to their endeavor.
She took the grenade that held her estranged husband and held it up to look at him again. Face distorted by the curve of the egg, body squished and contorted to fit in the shrunken ovoid chamber. It was hard to tell if he was conscious or not. His eyes were open, but there was no indication that the Osmosian saw her. Gwendolyn put the grenade in her own pocket.
“So, I guess its just the two of us heading to my library, then.”
Gwendolyn's library was much changed since the last time Rook had seen it. Obviously she'd have to make some changes in order for it to be livable for Kevin. While the Revonnahgander knew that he and the sorceress had spent plenty of nights in her headquarters under the library, it was not actually a place meant to be lived in.
The building's plumbing had been altered in order to create a place for the Osmosian to dispose of his waste, and Gwendolyn had swapped out the mini-fridge for a proper sized refrigerator and a microwave. But the most noticeable feature was not the changes to the plumbing or the new appliances. It was the large sigil drawn on the floor in the center of the chamber in bold white paint. Paint, not chalk. Gwendolyn must anticipate Kevin struggling and chalk would smudge or smear, rendering the magic circle unusable. But already dried paint was more-or-less permanent.
She pulled the Null grenade that contained her estranged husband out of her pocket and tossed it into the center of the circle.
“Does it ever bother you that we can compress living people down to something the size of a fist?” Rook asked.
The Null grenade glowed a golden-yellow before releasing a stream of particles that shifted in the air, twisting around themselves until they formed the shape and figure of Kevin 11,000. When the light dissipated, Kevin was standing in the center of the sigil, in the exact same condition he was in when Devlin first trapped him in the grande all those weeks ago.
“Not really.” Gwendolyn shrugged at the Revonnahgander's question.
He had been in the middle of a fight with Ben when he was put in the Null grenade, so Kevin came out fighting. He snarled a wordless snarl into the air and transformed back into his monstrous and mutated 11,000 form. Flames, and tentacles, and arms, and wings. Gwendolyn had to supress a gasp. Ben told what her husband had become, but there was a wide difference between being told something and actually seeing it for yourself.
Kevin snorted a jet of hot air that came out as two thin lines of fire. They illuminated the dim library, and the forms of Gwendolyn and Rook. Seeing they were the only other people present apart from himself, Kevin charged for an attack. But Gwendolyn was quick to react. She threw up and hand and the circle Kevin was looming inside flared with light. A shield went up around the outer most ring of the sigil, a barrier of pure mana keeping the Osmosian trapped with. Kevin collided -head first- into the wall of solid star sapphire light.
The Osmosian staggered for a moment, disoriented. The last thing he remembered he was out on the open street. Outside Plumbers HQ in Bellwood, facing off against Benji and Benji's annoying red-skinned brat. Now all of a sudden he was indoors. In what appeared to be some kind of dimly lit chamber full of books and a magic circle on the floor, and- oh... He was here... In his wife's hideout from back when she was Lucky Girl.
Kevin reverted back to his human shape upon registering that it was her -and that he'd nearly just attacked her. Everything he'd done these past eleven years had been for her. How far gone was he really, to attack her indiscriminatly and without hesitation?
It had been a little over a decade since the Osmosian had seen her. She let her hair grow long again. It was pulled up into a tight no-nonsense 'action girl' style ponytail. The hooded scarf she liked to wear was gone, but she still seemed to prefer blue and black, and the Charms of Bezel were displayed prominently on her arms.
“Kevin Ethan Levin.” She growled. What? Was she mad at him or something? Well, he did try and attack her, so... there was that.
“Gwendolyn Eleanor Levin.” He smirked back, sass seemed like a good idea right now.
The sorceress did not smile back. She seemed not to have patience for his today. “Good. You know who I am. More importantly, you know who you are. You're not that far gone. That will make this easier.”
Kevin blinked at that. He shifted his focus from her on the other side of the mana barrier to the barrier itself. A wall of pure power -and didn't it just feel delicious! It took every once of strength the Osmosian had not to try and absorb her barrier right then and there. He looked down at his feet. Noted just how complicated the sigil he stood inside really was, and looked back up at her. “And what is 'this' exactly?”
Rook came up beside Gwendolyn. He had no great gift for magic. He had preformed a few simple spells before, but only with the aid of powerful magical items like the Alpha Rune. Rook had no mana of his own. But he was trained in how to talk to terrorists, victims, and the distraught -and Kevin was his friend. “We are going to help you, Kevin.”
This did not have the desired affect of putting the Osmosian at ease. In fact, it had the exact opposite reaction. He flew into another rage.
“Rook!” He snarled then threw an accusatory glare at Gwendolyn. “You're with him now!” Back to the Revonnahgander. “You couldn't have Ben so you went for the next best Tennyson and decided to steal my woman!”
“That is not even remotely similar to what we are doing here.” Rook replied calmly.
Kevin did not appear to be listening. He banged a fist on the mana barrier. “I'll fucking kill you!”
Gwendolyn sighed. Maybe he was father gone than she originally thought. This was going to take a lot of work. She walked up to the edge of the sigil and placed a hand on the mana barrier, and said one word. A short, clip of a spell. The inside of the circle crackled with power and Kevin snarled at the sensation of something sizzling around him to fast to be absorbed. He groaned in discomfort and fell to his knees in front of her. His long dark hair falling like a curtain over his face, obscuring his expression.
Gwendolyn knelt down in front of him to be on an eye-level.
But he did not raise his head to meet her eyes.
“I never filed for divorce, Kevin.” She told him, knowing that it might not mean much to him right now in his less-than-rational state. “We're still married and -even though you don't deserve it- I still love you. I'm going to fix you, Kevin. Just like I did when you were Ultimate Kevin.”
That was when he raised his head -laughing. A low, dark laugh, devoid of mirth. Head tilted back, hair falling away from his face, eyes wide, pupils dilated. Gwendolyn had never seen him look so... insane before.
“You're going to 'fix' me, Babe?” He laughed. No, not laughed, taunted. “Of course you're going to fix me. That's what you do. Poor broken Kevin... where would I be without you to fix me?”
“Dead.” Gwendolyn informed him flatly. “You would be dead. Ben would have killed you back when we were teenagers. No one's trying to kill you this time, but that doesn't make it any less important that I bring you back to normal.”
That sent him into another rage. “I am normal! This is normal for me!”
Gwendolyn only smiled a sad, gentle smile. “I know... It does seem that way, doesn't it.” She stood. “Lets get started. I want to get at least the first ten aliens out of you before I have to pick Devlin up from school.”
That comment changed the Osmosian's whole demeanor. His rage melted away. His eyebrows came down in seriousness. His pupils returned to a more-rational size. He blinked at the sorceress with lucid and legitimate concern. “Devlin! He's with you? How? Are you alright? Has he hurt you?”
It there wasn't a wall of pure energy between them, Rook was sure the sorceress would have slapped the Osmosian across the face. Rook hadn't met Devlin yet. The last time he saw the boy, he was still an infant that didn't know how to control his powers and couldn't tell the difference between 'parent' and 'food'. But from what he understood of the boy now, Devlin was not only in full control of himself and his Osmosian abilities, but also much more same and well adjusted than Kevin ever was at that age -and considering the fact that he had been raised by Kevin, that was a praise worthy accomplishment.
Instead of smacking him like she wanted to do, Gwendolyn met her husband's eyes and growled. “Devlin has never hurt me more than you did when you kidnapped him and disappeared eleven years ago.”
They glared at each other. This was one thing they would never agree on -or even understand the other's point of view on. In fact, it was probably one thing Gwendolyn for never forgive him for.
Kevin looked away first.
Gwendolyn nodded, as if she's won something.
She turned he back on the circle long enough to walk to a table and pick up a book she had already opened to the page she needed. Lifting the impressively large tome into her arms, the sorceress turned back to face the man in her sigil. “Now, this is going to hurt...”
Gwendolyn looked tired when she came to pick Devlin up from school.
Her car pulled up in front of the building just noticeably later than the other parents picking their children up. To spite the tardiness, Devlin didn't consider worrying about her until he saw just how exhausted she looked. Physically exhausted and also the 'sad-tired' kind of exhausted that went along with emotional exhaustion. What had she been doing between dropping him off and picking him up that wore her out so completely?
“Hey.” But she still smiled at him as he climbed into the backseat and pulled the seatbelt across his chest. “How was your first day at school?”
“New.” He answered. Devlin had never attended any sort of formal schooling before. He didn't really know what to expect on his first day. It was not like how they made it seem on TV. “It'll take some getting used to. But I think I'll like it. There are a lot of books.”
“You like books?” And she seemed honestly and truly pleased and excited by that.
“Haven't really had many chances to find out if I like books.” The boy admitted. “Dad only ever gave me the one. But I liked that one.”
“'The Princess Bride', right?” She nodded. “I remember Leah telling me that it was one she used to read to him when he was just a bit younger than you are now.”
“Who's Leah?” Devlin asked, blinking at the unfamiliar name.
Gwendolyn also blinked, staring at the boy in the rearview mirror. “Leah Levin. Mrs. Levin-” technically, Gwendolyn was also a 'Mrs. Levin' still, so that didn't mean much “-Kevin's mother. Your grandmother.”
“Oh.” The boy looked down at his hands. “He never talked about her either. Like he never even told me that Ben Tennyson's cousin and the High Magus was my mother.”
“I... see...” She readjusted the rearview mirror.
They drove in silence for a bit.
Devlin wondered if he should ask her to continue the story. She did not exactly look up to talking about how her pregnancy nearly killed her (he assumed), and how her husband kidnapped her child as soon as it was out of her, and left her to pick up the pieces of her life alone.
That being said, the young Osmosian still wanted to know.
They were just pulling into the driveway when he finally screwed up the courage to ask her to continue. Zed was lounging on the porch again, and -just like before- when she saw Devlin climb out of the car, the Anubian Baskurr took off into the backyard and away from the Osmosian. That was the thing that solidified Devlin's resolve. He still wanted to know why a dog that seemed to like him instantly in the past, was utterly terrified of him now.
Setting his backpack down just inside the door, the young Osmosian took a breath.
“Are you hungry?” His mother asked. “I'll fix you a quick after school snack.”
“I'm not hungry.” He said, voice low and serious. “I want you to finish your story. Was I really draining you from the inside?”
Her face fell. Expression shifting from exhausted, but glad to be home, to despondent and somber -almost regretful. “I'm a little tired, Devlin.” She said. “Today was a busy day for me. We'll pick the story up again tomorrow. Okay?”
Chapter 5: The Unfair Life of Kevin Levin
Gwendolyn was so exhausted from dealing with Kevin -mentally and emotionally exhausted- that she slept through her alarm. She didn't wake up until she heard someone moving and clinking around in the kitchen. In her half asleep state, and after thinking about Kevin all night, Gwendolyn thought it was her husband downstairs attempting to make coffee before he disappeared under his car in the garage.
But that was ridiculous. Kevin never woke up before her!
Then she remembered that Kevin wasn't in the house. He was very securely locked away in the secret headquarters under her library. She spent almost all day with him yesterday, not counting time in the morning to drop Devlin off at school and pick him up again at the end of the day. So then, if it wasn't Kevin clinking around loudly downstairs, who was it. There was no one else in the house besides herself, Devlin and Zed -and Zed was a dog and lacked the thumbs necessary to clink dishes.
Climbing out of bed, the sorceress threw a robe on top of the over-sized shirt she wore as pajamas (a shirt that used to be her husband's). She padded downstairs to find Devlin trying to set the table. He put out two napkins, two forks, and when he was too short to reach the cobinet where she kept the glasses and plates, he transformed into his mutant form to boost his height. Devlin pulled down two plates and two tumblers.
“What's the occasion?” Gwendolyn asked.
The boy turned around, startled. He looked suddenly worried. As if he wasn't sure if he was just caught doing something he wasn't supposed to be doing. Devlin quickly reverted back into his human form. “I, uh, I heard your alarm, but you were still sleeping. Dad would get mad if I woke him up. So, I thought help by setting the table. Are you mad?”
“No. I'm impressed!” She smiled at him. “Want me to show you how to make scrambled eggs?”
“Can I?” He smiled.
Gwendolyn pulled down a mixing bowl from one of the cupboards Devlin had to transform in order to reach, and selected four eggs from the refrigerator. She cracked the first egg herself, showing the boy how to separate the yoke from the whites, and making sure not to get any shell in the bowel. Then she let Devlin do the other three. When that was done, they measured out milk and butter to add to the mix. Added a little pepper and salt for flavor. Then she let beat it all together.
“Stirring doesn't just mix everything together. Stirring also puts air into it. The more you stir, the fluffier our eggs will be.” She told him. “Now I'm gonna go put on some day clothes. Don't touch the stove until I come back, okay?”
“I've handled worse than a stove, ya know.” The boy told her. He did not elaborate.
Gwendolyn opened her mouth to ask a question. Decided that -being raised by Kevin- the possibilities for 'things worse than a stove' that the boy could have handled were wide and diverse, and she was not ready to know what it was her estranged husband had gotten her son mixed up in. She did want to know, and she knew she would need to know. But not yet. She only just got him back and they were still trying to get used to each other. “Just wait until I come back downstairs before you try and actually cook anything.”
“Okay, fine.” He sounded genuinely disappointed that she didn't trust him with the stove.
Then again, he was still just short enough to have to transform to reach the top of it too.
She disappeared back upstairs.
By the time Gwendolyn came back down, Devlin had the eggs so thoroughly beaten and aerated it was almost meringue. She offered the boy an amused smile. “Looks like our eggs are gonna be very, very fluffy.”
“Is that bad?” Devlin asked.
“Not of you like your scrambled eggs to have the consistency of pancakes.” She laughed. “Now, step back. We're running a little late this morning because of me and I wanna make sure you get some breakfast in you before I take you to school.”
“So I don't get to cook them?” He sounded so disappointed.
“Maybe when you're taller.” She informed him.
Well, the Osmosian had an immediate and instant solution to that. He transformed into his mutant form, just like when he needed to reach the cupboards. “I'm taller.”
It was cute. But Gwendolyn was not having it. She pointed to the kitchen table with a can of cooking spray. “Sit. Now.”
The Osmosian huffed. But he didn't argue further. He turned back into a boy, pulled out a kitchen chair, and flopped down with a huff. “Fine. But only if you continue the story.”
Gwendolyn stood in front of her full length mirror. Lifting her pajama top (Kevin's shirt), she turned to the side and ran a hand over the noticeable baby bump. A proper baby bump, finally. Not just a little bulge that could be easily mistaken for a large lunch or gassy bloat.
Kevin staggered out of the bathroom, still half asleep. He glanced at her, his eyes blinking awake when he saw her hands resting on her swelling belly. “Does your stomach hurt? Is it hurting you?”
She frowned at him. “Why is it every time my hands are even close to my stomach you automatically assume I'm in pain?”
“People hold themselves when they're in pain.” He shrugged.
Gwendolyn rolled her eyes and decided to change the subject. “Did you brush your teeth, or just take your ridiculously long morning piss?”
She could see the gears in his head turning as the Osmosian debating actually answering her question, or just going back into the bathroom and brushing his teeth like he knew she was going to make him do regardless of what he said. Finally, instead of saying anything, Kevin just sighed and stomped back into the bathroom. Gwendolyn hung in the doorway, watching wet his toothbrush, put paste on it, then wet it again. She waited until she put the thing in his mouth before she started talking again.
“So, I was thinking of names...” She began. “As much as I like the name 'Glen' because it fits with the Tennyson family naming scheme, I have to remember that my son's not gonna be a Tennyson, our son's gonna be a Levin.”
She paused, to see if there was anything he wanted to add.
But Kevin said nothing, he just look sideways at her, spit, and sucked in a double hand-full of water to rinse.
So, Gwendolyn continued. “So, I think we should name him 'Devin'.”
Kevin spit again. Then wiped his mouth on a hand towel. That was when he finally said something. “Devin Levin never existed.”
“I know that.” She was there when they learned that. She saw first hand just how broken up Kevin was to discover that the dead father he looked up to and idolized, was really nothing more than a false memory constructed to convince her grandfather, Max, to mentor the Osmosian when he was younger. “But just because he wasn't real doesn't mean he wasn't a big influence in your life. I remember you wouldn't even have joined Ben and I, or joined the Plumbers if it wasn't for the idea of Devin.”
For half a second, Kevin's face twitched with emotion. Something fast, and unreadable. Something to make Gwendolyn think he was finally warming up to the idea of her pregnancy and the idea of being a father. Devin might not have been real. But Kevin was real and Kevin could be the father he never had.
Then he looked away, avoiding eye-contact. “Please don't give it a name that rhymes with mine.”
“My name doesn't rhyme with his.”
“Huh?” Gwendolyn set two places of -very, very, very- fluffy scrambled eggs on the table.
“My name.” Devlin repeated. “It doesn't rhyme with Dad's.” A pause. “And who was Devin, and if he never existed how did you guys know him?”
Her expression melted into the forlorn smile. “'Devin' is the name a fake memory that one of our past enemies created. He was supposed to be Kevin's father who died before he was born. He was a Magister ranked Plumber and my Grandpa's old partner. If was the memory of Devin that motivated your father to team up with Ben and I to fight the DNAliens in the first place. Real or not, I honestly think the idea of Devin made Kevin want to be a better person.” She paused. Sighed. “Then Proctor Servantis showed up and revealed that it was all a lie...”
“That sucks.” The young Osmosian took a bite of his -really, really, really- fluffy eggs, totally unaffected. Not only had Devlin never met Devin, Devin wasn't even real. The boy had absolutely no reason to invest emotion in a fake idea.
Gwendolyn pushed her eggs around on her place, suddenly not hungry anymore.
It was impossible to try and explain 'Devin' without inevitably thinking about Kevin and all the ways 'Devin' had impacted his life. First as a role model and inspiration. A positive driving force in the Osmosian's life. And then a crushing blow to his confidence, motivation, and self-esteem after they discovered that Devin wasn't dead -he wasn't real. No matter how you looked at it, Devin had been an incredible influence on her husband's life -post good and bad. Pretty impressive to a guy who never existed.
But if you followed the 'Devin Train' of thought, you also -inevitably- have to realize just how unfair Kevin's whole life had been.
It's not bad enough that the person he thought was his father never existed and to this day, he still doesn't know who (or what) his real father was (or is). But Kevin suffered mental and emotional imbalances since his youth -even before he met Gwendolyn and Ben. Emotional imbalances that were never treated -or even addressed- and prompted him to throw a violent tantrum and run away from home when he was only eleven years old.
He was homeless for about a year -give or take- before he met Ben and Gwendolyn. One might say that was when his life started getting better. Except that, that was also when he suffered his first dramatic and disfiguring mutation. Where he absorbed the power of the Omnitrix and the powers and abilities of ten different aliens. The influx on unfamiliar DNA and surplus of power caused a mental break. Where he just had emotional problems before, Kevin became literally, actually, and really insane.
Understandably, he blamed the one who wore the Omnitrix for this, so he did what every emotionally volatile sociopath who'd just suffered a mental breakdown would do. He stalked the one he considered to be the source of his troubles. Kevin followed Ben all summer, and when he finally caught up with the fellow prepubescent boy they fought and Kevin got locked in the Null Void. There he was sent to prison -at the age of eleven, remember- staged an escape, watched another father figure die, and that was when he met Servantis. Servantis whom used him to kidnap and mutate other children before wiping all their memories and replace them with fake ones.
Kevin's life really had been hard and unfair.
It wasn't just understandable that he had trouble empathizing with others, it was actually amazing he managed to even pretend to get along with anyone at all. It was unbelievable that he managed to somehow fall in love.
Devlin snapped his fingers in her face. “Gwe-uh, Mom, are you okay? You're just starring at your food and looking sad.”
The sorceress blinked. Then she noticed the time. “Oh! Crap! You're gonna be late for school!”
Gwendolyn stopped at the student canteen to get coffee before heading to her library -and the secret headquarters underneath it. She got three, a large one for herself, a regular for Rook, and one for Kevin -although, it was only after she was walking away from the counter it she thought maybe a stimulant like coffee wasn't the best thing to be giving him right now...
The Osmosian was asleep when Gwendolyn entered, passed out face-flat on the couch, half his body hanging off it. If it wasn't for the fact that he was snoring loudly, one might have thought he was dead. The sorceress turned to Rook, whom had volunteered to stand guard on the Osmosian for the first night. He couldn't stay forever since he had to get back to his assignment as Warden of the Void, but he could spare one night, and Kevin's mental state wouldn't be much changed after taking out only the first ten of the eleven-thousand that were supposed to be churning inside his body.
The Revonnahgander was occupying himself reading one of Gwendolyn's magic books.
She set the coffee down on the table in front of him. “Thanks for staying with him. Did he give you much trouble?”
“Only a small amount.” Rook confirmed as he sipped the coffee with appreciation. “He was understandably angry when he came-to after you left. Tried to escape. I actually became worried when he tried to absorb your barrier spells keeping him here. But then he just fell asleep.”
“Yeah...” Shrugged the sorceress. “I thought he might try that eventually, so I wove a failsafe into the containment spells. If anyone tried to absorb the mana holding them in place, they would just absorb a sleeping spell -and fall asleep.”
Rook looked impressed -before his expression shifted to mild concern. “He had been asleep for over twelve hours. If that normal for magical sleeps?”
“Oh, yeah! Under magical sleeps, people can sleep for hundreds of years.” She laughed as she crossed the room to her husband's prostrate form on the couch. She tried to roll him over. Ended up just rolling him onto the floor. Finally succeeded on getting him on his back. Then leaned down and kissed him on the lips. A long, low afair that -to spite the Osmosian being unconscious, Rook was sure involved tongue. When their mouths finally parted again, Kevin groaned, waking up. Gwendolyn took several steps back. “Spells like this are always broken with a kiss.”
The Revonnahgander felt uncomfortable.
The Osmosian climbed, groaning, to his feet.
He blinked the last remnants of sleep and the spell out of his eyes -then remembered where he was. “The fuck did you do to me!?”
Snarling, he leapt into an attack. Not at Gwendolyn, at Rook whom was still sitting down, sipping his coffee sleepily. The Revonnahgander leaned his chair back, spilling himself backwards into a somersault on the floor. Rolling backwards, he popped back onto his feet, alert and ready to fight, his proto-tool in his hands. Kevin transformed into his mutant form.
It was different now. Gone were the Pyronite flames, and the Ectonurite face. Instead, his skin was an ashy Galvan gray, his eyes four like a Tetramand, but one was sharp and almond shaped like a Kinecelearan, another with a virticle slit-pupil like Jury Rig, and the other two behind an armored grill like Toepick. His Galvanic Mechamorph tentacle, was replaced by a Segmentasapien arm. If a person didn't know what to look for, they wouldn't know that the Osmosian had already been stripped of a good number of the aliens that had kept him mutated and insane for the past eleven years.
Rook shot a net from his proto-tool, but Kevin ripped right through it.
So Gwendolyn threw up a mana shield instead.
The Osmosian snarled again and put both Vulpimancer paws against it and started absorbing the power. But as soon as she saw what he was doing, the sorceress changed her tactic. Shifting the form of the magic from a wall of light into a fist of mana instead. She punched her husband in the face with the glowing light construct -and kept punching him. Herding the Osmosian back into the sigil on the other side of the room. As soon as he was inside the outer circle Gwendolyn snapped the barrier back up, trapping him inside.
Realizing what had just happened and he'd just fallen for, the Osmosian banged on the barrier. “Again!” Another snarl. “What do you want from me!”
“I want to make you better, Kevin.” She told him truthfully.
Gwendolyn wasn't exactly sure how much she wanted her husband back in her life, she had already decided that she wasn't going to let him anywhere near their son again. So he couldn't move back in with her. But she was still in love with him and wanted him to be lucid, sane, and himself again. If Kevin still wanted a relationship with her after that, then that would be something they could work out then. But first she had to return him to some simbalance of himself.
“I am better!” He spread his mismatched wings wide, giving the sorceress a full view of all his clashing and contrasting body parts. “Look how powerful I am!”
She opened her mouth to reply. Realized it was pointless arguing with him while he was like this. If she wanted to have a calm and rational conversation with her husband again, then she would have to turn him back to normal. She closed her mouth and cleared her throat, turning away from him, she picked her book up off the table. “Lets get started.”
Gwendolyn began chanting the same spell as the previous day. A modified version of something meant to draw out possessions. Kevin wasn't possessed -at least, not in the traditional sense of the word- but he did have the energies and powers of eleven thousand (less than eleven thousand now) formerly living things churning and roiling around inside his body. He might not be possessed by a cognitive entity, but the Osmosian was definitely possessed. So, the sorceress altered a possession-fix and tailored it to her husband's specific and unique situation.
Kevin's body seized. Limbs rippling and undulating as his form shifted again. Arms, legs, face, shoulders, tails, tentacles, and wings shuddering, as different alien traits fought for hold as the spell sought one out. The magic caught one, latched onto it, and began to pull. Dragging the alien out of the Osmosian's body with screaming agony.
Behind the sorceress, Rook winced in sympathy pain. She did warn Kevin that this would hurt. But that didn't prepare any of them for what it was really like. If it weren't for the fact that this was the second time in as many days that the Revonnahgander had witnessed her do this, he would have thought that Gwendolyn was killing him.
The Osmosian opened his mouth to gasp, but he couldn't intake a single breath. Instead, out from him mouth came a slow, slithering stream of smoke. Or, rather, it looked like smoke. Yesterday Gwendolyn explained that it was the 'essence' of the alien that she was drawing out of him. If the creature was still alive after it altercation with Kevin, the energy would eventually find its way back to its home vessel. If the creature it originally came from was dead, or came from Ben's Omnitrix, then the energy would be diffused and integrated into the mana field that permeated the universe. It would become the aether between the stars. The flotsam of space and time.
When it was drawn out, Kevin was finally able to take in a breath and he reverted back to his human form.
Gwendolyn gave him a few moments to rest before she began again to draw out the next alien.
Kevin passed out somewhere around alien number nine.
Since she was able to come directly to her library after dropping Devlin off at school instead of taking a detour to Ben's Headquarters, she had much more time to work with the Osmosian. Instead of pulling only ten aliens out of him, the sorceress was able to draw out fifteen.
She stopped there. As anxious as Gwendolyn was to see her husband fully cured and back to his old self again, she was also worried about the strain it put on his body. Kevin could put up with a lot of abuse. He'd been enduring abuse, both mental and physical, since he first became old enough and cognoscente enough to interact with the world around him. She marked her pace in the magic book she was working out of and set the tome back down on the table.
“I think we should call it a day.” She said. “I don't want to damage him. Plus, I was late yesterday picking Devlin up from school. I don't wanna be late again. He needs to understand that he's loved and wanted. That he's a priority in my life.”
The Revonnahgander nodded. “After being raised by Kevin I will understand if that is something the boy has trouble believing.” He paused. “Now that I know he can't escape without being put into a cursed sleep, do you still need me to watch him? If I am still needed for this, I can extend my leave. But I probably should not be away from the Null Void for too long. As I said, the Rooters are always causing trouble. The Void needs its Warden to keep them in check.”
“Yeah. Sure. Go ahead.” Nodded the sorceress-plumber, not looking at the Revonnahgander. Her attention was focussed on the Osmosian in the magic circle. She lowered the barrier and reached a hand to blush a strand of long ebony hair back from her husband's face. “If I need help I can ask Ben. Now that Kai's back I give it a couple days before he starts looking for any excuse to get out of Headquarters.”
Rook opened his mouth to offer a comment. But he quickly thought better of it and closed it again. Ben might have married Kai because he mistook a childhood infatuation for 'true love', but now they had a child together and no matter how much they fought, or she drove him crazy, or how tense and strained their relationship was, he wasn't going to leave her. At least not until Kenny was at an age where he could understand that adult relationships were complicated and messy and there were no easy answers. The Revonnahgander was watching a perfect example of that right now with Gwendolyn and Kevin.
The difference was, Gwendolyn and Kevin actually, legitimately, and truly loved each other. That meant that they were willing to put forth the effort to make things work. To fix their problems and find a way to function together. Ben and Kai might have loved each other at one point. But all the love in the world didn't mean jack or squat if neither of them was willing to work on the relationship. True love was work. Relationships were hard.
Rook cast one final look at the couple. A longing look. For all their problems -many, many, many problems- and everything they had done to one another, they still loved each other. Rook wanted what they had.
Gwendolyn leaned down to give her unconscious husband another kiss. This one just for the simple pleasure of it, not to break any kind of spell. The Osmosian was unconscious because his body was exhausted, not because he was cursed again.
“Hopefully when you wake up this time, you'll be more like yourself.” She whispered to his slightly parted lips.
He groaned in his sleep, but did not wake up.
Chapter 6: Why Kevin Hates Devlin
Devlin put the last book he'd need for his absurd amount of homework in his bag, and shut the locker. He wondered if Gwendolyn -Mom, he still had to keep reminding himself that she was his mother, not just the High Magus and Ben's cousin- he wondered if his mother would be late picking him up from school again and if that was going to be the norm. If it was, she should just let him take his hoverboard to school with him so he could give himself a ride home instead of waiting for her to pick him up. He then wondered what it was that kept her so late.
Throwing his bag over his shoulder, the Osmosian made his way to the main gate where his mother would pick him up.
He wasn't the only kid waiting for a parent to pick them up. Another boy from Devlin's class waited just inside the main gate, sitting on the grass, leaning against his backpack and playing on a handheld gaming device. For half a second, the Osmosian thought about going over to wait with the other boy. They were in the same class after all, and both waiting to be picked up. But Devlin didn't really have the talent of conversing easily with people he didn't know very well. That was something he did not learn growing up with Kevin. In fact, it took every once of motivation the Osmosian had to befriend Kenny as part of his plan to free his father from the Null Void.
But making friends with Kenny -or anyone he didn't already know for that matter- took a lot of energy. It was exhausting. Devlin preferred not to do it when he didn't have to. 'Asocial' was what it was called. It was a symptom of 'introversion'. (Both of which were words he'd learned from reading some of the books his mother had lying around the house. Dad always told him books were boring and tedious, but -thus far- Devlin was finding that they were actually interesting. At least, the ones he had access to at his mother's house were about interesting things. (Especially those Harry Potter books -those were pretty bitchin'!)
Devlin chose a spot on the grass on the opposite side of the gate from the other boy and took out the book for his assigned reading. Besides, even if talking to people he didn't know was easier, they probably wouldn't want to talk to him. That was also something he learned with his dad. No one would want to have anything to do with him. Why would they? He was a monster! Or so his father kept reminding him. Devlin distracted himself by reading The Outsiders, the book his teacher had assigned the whole class to read.
He continued to read, or more accurately, continued to pretend to read when the other boy's father came to pick him up. The Osmosian watched them surreptitiously from over the top of the book, or out the corner of his eye. Saw how the other boy put his game away and took his father's hand. How the father asked about his day at school and laughed when the boy told a joke. How did people do that? Have easy and affectionate relationships with their parents? Devlin still felt uncomfortable sometimes when Gwendolyn -Mom!, she was 'Mom' now!- when his mother would hug him, and let's not even get him started on Kevin!
With a sigh, Devlin went back to his book, trying not to feel he was inadequate in some way for not having that kind of relationship with either of his parents -and if not 'inadequate' then 'deficient' in some way.
Gwendolyn pulled up not long after the other boy and his father left. Stopping just outside the gate and honking the horn to get his attention -the Osmosian was absorbed back into his book. Devlin shoved The Outsiders back in his bag and slung the backpack over his shoulder to run to the car.
“I hope you weren't waiting long.” She said as he pulled open a side door and hopped in the back seat.
“No more than yesterday.” He replied. Paused. Thought about his words, then made a suggestion. “If its easier for you, I still have my hoverboard. If I can bring it to school with me, I can just go home on my own. You won't have to worry about picking me up -since you obviously work late.”
It was such a reasonable suggestion. Why did Devlin suddenly feel like he was trying to con her?
In the front seat, Gwendolyn pursed her lips. Devlin could see her expression in the rearview mirror. She didn't like the suggestion, but she was still considering it. “I'm not sure how I feel about you flying halfway across the city alone.”
“If you're worried about me being attacked, I could just leave the hoverboard at home and fly in my mutant form.” The Osmosian reminded her. He had wings, and knew how to use them. He could fly. “No one would mess with me if they think I'm a monster.”
Except maybe Plumbers or Plumbers Helpers who didn't know he was Gwendolyn's son and thought he was Kevin back for yet another revenge fight. Gwendolyn liked the idea of him flying home in his mutant form even less than the idea of him flying home on his hoverboard. At least on the hoverboard people that were supposed to be on her side could clearly see that he was a mostly innocent, and mostly harmless child, carrying a school back, and presumably on his way home. And, if he made his own way home, that meant that Gwendolyn wouldn't have to rush to pick him up from school on time. She would have more time to spend on Kevin, and drawing out the surplus energy in his body.
“We'll discuss it more later. How's that?” She finally said. “In the meantime, Ben's wife, Kai, just go back yesterday and we're all going out to dinner to celebrate. So, right now I'm gonna drive up home, you're going to change your clothes, and I need a shower!”
Dinner to celebrate Kai coming home was much different than dinner to celebrate Gwe- Mom coming home. While the place Mom took them to was kid-friendly, had a menu that appealed to a less refined pallet, and was accustomed to ill behaved patrons, the place Kai took them to (or, more accurately, the place Ben took them to on Kai's request) was fancy and stuffy. A real grown-up place. Devlin had never actually been to such a fancy restaurant. He'd only just seen them on TV.
The Osmosian sat at the round table between his mother and Kenny. Both boys were dressed in nice cloths. For Devlin that meant a crisp white button-down shirt under a sweater vest (seriously, Kevin 11,000's son in a sweater vest!), slacks, and dress shoes. For Kenny that meant a clean shirt that didn't have any stains and was ironed, pants without holes in them and shoes that were not covered in mud (admittedly, this also seemed to be the same standard of 'nice cloths' that Ben also kept). Mom and Kai were wearing elegant cocktail dresses that hugged their hips and showed off their figures in a way Devlin did not know Moms were allowed to do.
Kai was a bit darker than Devlin was expecting. He didn't know if it was because all the pictures he'd ever seen of her were from the public media and subject to airbrush and color-edits, or because it was sunny on whatever planet she'd just returned from and picked up a tan. Something told the Osmosian it would be impolite to comment on it. She seemed like a strict woman with little patience for perceived insults -accidental or on purpose.
She ordered for both Ben and Kenny before either Tennyson had the chance to voice their own orders. Devlin might have been talked into believing that it was just because she knew her husband and her son so well that she could anticipate what they'd want. But the disappointed and indignant looks they both shot her after the order told the Osmosian otherwise. She was making sure they ate healthy. All they wanted was carbs, meat, and cheese; what Kai ordered for them was at least half vegetable.
Devlin looked up at this mother, silently asking what he should do. Was she gonna order for him like Kai? Did she want him to get a vegetable? Or could he get the macaroni and cheese primavera? (The joke was on him. 'Primavera' meant vegetables. -Well, technically it meant 'spring'. But on a dinner menu, 'spring' meant vegetables.)
All three men at the table sighed with resignation when their food arrived. It seemed the universe had conspired against them all to force them to eat healthy. They pushed steamed carrots and saucy broccoli around their plates, hoping the meal would end before they were forced to 'stop playing with your food and clean your plate!'
“So, Gwendolyn, how have you been since Devlin moved back in with you?” Kai asked, while pointedly ignoring her son's and husband's clear and obvious dissatisfaction with what she was forcing them to pretend to eat.
Gwendolyn paused before answering, the sorceress gave the other woman a suspicious and appraising look. As if she were looking for double meaning or an ulterior motive in her in-law's question.
“Slightly busier than usual.” She finally answered.
Devlin remembered how she was late to picking him up from school two out of two days in a row now. He didn't know how busy the job of High Magus really was, but -clearly- taking care of him was cutting into it.
Kai shifted her attention from Gwendolyn to the Osmosian. “And how about you, Devlin? Living with your mother finally must be worlds different from living with Kevin!” A pause. “What was it even like? -Living with Kevin.”
The boy opened his mouth. Though better about what he was about to say. Closed it again. He gave his life prior to infiltrating Ben's headquarters some serious thought. What had his life been like so far? Compared to the almost-week the Osmosian spent living with his mother, what had life with his father really been like?
Well, it was interesting. That was for sure. His earliest memories were on Zabin when his father was a -very- successful arms dealer profiting from both sides of a civil war that had been going on for over thirty years (probably longer than that, actually). But they had to leave Zabin quickly and unexpectedly one night. Dad never even told him why. Devlin just remembered being woken up and pulled out of bed as Dad rushed them to his space ship.
They bounced around the galaxy for a while after that. Dad taking odd jobs as a smuggled, broker, wheelman, or hitter. Sometimes Devlin got to go with his father on his jobs. He learned a lot about unsanctioned and unregulated trade, and how to kill various beings causing maximum damage with minimum effort. So, yeah, living with his father was definitely more interesting than living with his mother. But Devlin was pretty sure the details would be a bit much to share over dinner -especially in a public place.
So, instead, he avoided Kai's eyes and looked at his plate when he answered her question in the most diplomatic way he could think of. “It was different.”
Ben seemed to find this answer very funny for some reason. He gave a bark of a laugh. “Well, damn, if that isn't the understatement of the year!”
“Ben!” Mom snapped at him.
“What?” The Hero of the Universe blinked at her. “Are we pretending that Kevin doesn't have unconventional views on children and child rearing? Because you need to send me these memos ahead of time if you want me to go along with it. Also, do you know what the Kid's life was like with Kevin? Because I sure as hell don't! But I do know Kevin, and since you were married to him, I'm gonna assume that you know him too.”
“I am married to him.” Gwendolyn reminded her cousin, eyes flashing with irritation at her cousin. Ben knew perfectly well that she never filed for a Fault Divorce to spite having ample justification for one. As far as Earth's mainstream legal system was concerned, Gwendolyn Tennyson and Kevin Levin were still married. “But that's not the point. If Devlin doesn't wanna talk about it, then he doesn't have to talk about it. Don't patronize him for giving polite but abridged answers.”
“Okay. Chill.” Ben attempted to sooth. “No need to go all Mamma-Bear on me.”
Ben leaned back in his chair, looking like he wasn't sure if he'd won the small disagreement or if he was about to be turned into a frog by the sorceress.
Kai cleared her throat. “Speaking of Kevin... what happened to him? After the fight, I mean. Did you put him back in the Null Void?”
Devlin looked up at that question. He didn't even know there were other options besides the Null Void. Had Ben done something different with his father? Was Kevin not as secure wherever Ben put him? Was he gonna come after Devlin -revenge for his betrayal? Dad always did make it abundantly clear exactly what he did with people who double crossed him. You didn't double cross Kevin 11,000. Not if you wanted to live a full natural lifespan.
At Kai's question, both Ben and Mom exchanged a conspiratory glance.
Finally, Ben answered. “He can't go back in the Void. He escapes too often, too easily. We're exploring some other options.”
Slamming his fork down on the table with much more force than was necessary, Devlin stared gape-mouthed at the Hero of the Universe. “What other options!?”
All eyes at the table -and several tables around them- turned to stare at the suddenly distraught boy.
“Is there another place you've got him locked up?” Continued the boy. “Some place more secure than the Null Void? Some place he can't escape -not even with help? If you're not gonna lock him up somewhere where he can't escape, then you need to just kill him so he can't come back for revenge!”
Devlin had seen what his father does to those who betray him. Kevin 11,000's revenge was not a pleasant sight. The young Osmosian imagined it was probably even less pleasant for the one it was happening to.
Ben and Gwendolyn exchanged a look across the table. They were so wrapped up in the idea of getting their friend back that they failed to think about what having Kevin not locked up or punished might mean for Devlin. Gwendolyn thought about it a little bit. She already promised herself not to allow Kevin access to their son again. But that didn't mean that it wouldn't still give the boy anxiety knowing his father was out in the world and free to do as he pleased. Gwendolyn didn't think of that. But at least she thought about it a little. Ben hadn't thought about the emotional ramifications their decision might take on Devlin at all.
Gwendolyn cleared her throat.
But Ben cut her off before she could speak. “Kevin's come after me for revenge before.” An unconcerned shrug. “I'm not too worried.”
Amazingly, that did nothing to sooth the young Osmosian's worries, and Devlin was uncommonly quiet on the drive back home.
Gwendolyn adjusted the rearview mirror to examine her son critically.
Eyebrows down in seriousness, hands gripping the chest strap of his seatbelt, head turned, looking out the window at the street, eyes full of suspicion and worry. As if he expected an attack to come at them at any moment. As if he expected Kevin in his monstrous 11,000 form to come charging at the car while they waited helpless and unaware at a red light.
“Its okay.” She told him. “I won't let Kevin hurt you.”
Slowly, the boy turned his head to look back at her in the rearview mirror. His dark eyes holding a gave seriousness that did not belong on the face of a child so young. “And I won't let him hurt you either.”
It was a statement devoid of the fear and venom he had towards his father at dinner. It was a simple and serious promise devoid of emotion. He wasn't gonna let Kevin hurt her. That was that. If it came down to a battle between his mother and his father, and the young Osmosian had to choose sides, Devlin had already decided he would choose his mother -a woman he's only recently met a few weeks ago- over his father -the man who raised him for the first eleven years of his life.
Gwendolyn really had to wonder just how badly Kevin fucked things up raising their son for him to hold such a firm conviction.
An uncomfortably tense silence filled the car after that.
The light they were waiting at turned green and Gwendolyn readjusted the mirror to continue driving.
They were almost home again when Devlin finally broke the silence. “Tell me more.” He said. It wasn't a request, it was a clear demand. “The story. I want to know why Dad hates me so much.”
After Gwendolyn made him come to the first sonogram, Kevin found every reason he could to avoid them. But recently he didn't think she was looking so good. Gwendolyn had dark circled under her eyes as if she weren't getting enough rest, yet he knew for a fact that she was sleeping twice as much as she normally did. She was paler than normal too. And just generally less active than was usual. Kevin was concerned. So, when she asked him to drive her to her appointment because she didn't feel like driving herself, the Osmosian was more than willing to agree.
He stood by her side while Gwendolyn reclined on the exam table, threatening to take a nap while the OBGYN spread gel on her swollen belly. But she was startled awake when the OB suddenly gasped in alarm.
Both parents leaned over to get a better view of the screen to see what it was that had startled their doctor.
As with all the other sonograms prior, the screen showed a grainy picture in black and white and shades of gray. But while before it was morphose and shapeless, there was a clear and definable form to the fetus. ...It just wasn't a human shape.
Where most human fetuses looked to be mostly a large bulbous head with a slightly smaller body coming down from it, tiny limbs tuned inward, hands folded together, this fetus' head was actually a bit smaller than the rest of the body. Where instead of two arms folded inward, hands together, it had four arms -and though it was hard to tell in the grainy sonogram picture, those four arms did not look human. Instead of legs it had a fish-like tail. And out from its back, two bones that looked suspiciously like the support structure for wings.
The OBGYN croaked in abject disbelief. She was a normal human doctor that usually serviced average human patients. Clearly, an Osmosian pregnancy, complete with Osmosian mutations was a little out of her depth. “I...” She cleared her throat. “I've never seen anything like this before. Maybe- maybe a problem with the machine...?”
Gwendolyn blinked at the grainy black and white image of her baby. The details weren't very well defined and the picture wasn't all that clear. But even so, she recognized it. It was the mutant form her future-son used when they fought Maltruant in her library. The exact same mutation Kevin underwent when he was eleven years old. So, apparently, those mutations could also be passed down hereditarily. If they more children would they get some of Kevin's other mutations? His stone-Taydenite-wood mutations from when they were teens? Or Ultimate Kevin after they defeated Aggreggor? It was an interesting thing to wonder. But not the thing to think about right now.
Kevin took one look at the sonogram image and growled a very rude word under his breath. “I knew it! I knew it was gonna be something like this.” (Actually, there was no way Kevin could have know this was going to happen.) He turned to his wife. “Now you're gonna agree with should get rid of it, right?”
Gwendolyn glared at him.
The OB opened her mouth -then closed it again.
With a sigh, the sorceress pulled her shirt back down over her swollen belly and pushed herself up off the exam table. She took Kevin by the hand and turned to the OBGYN. “We need to talk about a few things. Can we cut this appointment short?”
“Uh... Well, I...” She mumbled, completely out of her depth. Aliens had become a normal thing in recent years. But they went to alien doctors. These patients looked human, but they were also Plumbers and worked with aliens on a daily basis. The OB have never come across any 'alien complications' before. She didn't know what to do, or how to advise. “Maybe- Do you have a medic at your Plumbers' Headquarters? I don't- this is- uh...”
“Its okay, we understand.” Gwendolyn put on her most patient and understanding smile. She picked up her purse and dragged her husband out.
This time there was no argument in the car. As soon as Gwendolyn was belted, Kevin pulled out of the parking garage. The sorceress thought it was odd he had nothing to say until she realized that he wasn't driving them home. In fact, home was in the exact opposite direction. After a few blocks, Gwendolyn realized that her husband was driving them directly to Plumbers Headquarters.
“Something on your mind?” She asked, not quite understanding the change in destination. Did Kevin want to talk to Ben? Did he want to ask Grandpa Max for advice?
The Osmosian let out a breath through his nose. An oddly loud sound that fell just short of an actual an proper growl. In fact, it was more like a rolling whimper. The sort of sound a creature might make when they couldn't decide if they were angry... or scared. “I'm taking you to the HQ Infirmary. We're getting that thing taken out of you -right now.”
“Kevin!” She exclaimed, just as he pulled into the motor-pool.
He cut the engine and unbuckled his belt. “You can scream and bitch at me all you like, Babe. It won't change my mind.” He came around tot he other side of the car and pulled her door open. “That thing inside you isn't a baby, its a monster and I'm gonna make them take that monster out of you!”
Kevin gathered his wife up in his arms and carried her bridal style through the motor-pool and into the Headquarters proper.
“What? No! Put me down!” Gwendolyn protested.
She struggled in his arms, thrashing her legs and beating on his chest with her firsts. But her position was awkward with her round belly getting in the way, and Kevin was holding her too tight. He wasn't about to put her down, even if she did punch him in the collarbone, or somehow manage to kick the inside of his thigh (dangerously close to his very favorite organ).
People gave them odd looks as they walked through headquarters. Plumbers, and aliens stared at the couple on the way to the Infirmary.
Finally, Gwendolyn gave up on struggling -not because she was worried about making a scene- but because she was tired. It was getting harder and harder to keep up her physical activity, and fighting off her stubborn Osmosian husband was exhausting even before her pregnancy.
Kevin finally put her down on an Infirmary exam table. “Now, where the hell are Blukic and Driba?”
“Blukic and Driba!?” Gwendolyn exclaimed, trying to get up off the exam table. “You trust them to cut me open?”
“I trust them to find me someone that I would let cut you open.” Her husband replied gravely serious wth no humor in his voice. He wasn't playing around.
Someone else entered the Infirmary, but it wasn't either Driba or his partner Blukic.
It was Rook -alone. It struck both of them then, that they rarely ever saw the Revonnahgander without Ben -or vice versa.
“What the heck is going on here?” He asked, coming into the room and giving Kevin an assessing once-over before turning his attention to Gwendolyn, still on the exam table.
“Kevin's just having another tantrum.” The sorceress huffed, crossing her arms over her chest.
“You gotta help me get that thing out of her.” The Osmosian didn't both to deny that he was throwing a tantrum. That in and of itself was telling of just how anxious and worried he really was.
Rook sighed. It was always some new drama with these Tennysons -and Levins. “Gwendolyn has made it very clear on multiple occasions that she wants to carry her offspring to term. We should respect that decision, Kevin.”
“See, Baby? Listen to Rook.”
But the Osmosian wasn't swayed. “You didn't see it. Get some of the imaging equipment up and running and take a look at what's inside her. Then tell me we should respect her insane plan to kill herself bringing this thing into the world.”
More out of a desire to placate the distraught Osmosian than out of any really belief that the offspring Ben's cousin was carrying inside her was actually harmful, the Revonnahgander booted up some of the Infirmary's imaging tech and helped Kevin wheel it over to Gwendolyn's exam table.
“Honestly, both of you.” Gwendolyn huffed. “Kevin's overreacting, and you're letting him drag you along for the ride. I'm just fine!”
Kevin wasn't listening. He dragged the imaging wand over her round belly. The whole belly, so that they computer could get a full and complete image of what was in there. The Plumbers medical technology was much more advance than standard Earthling medical tech. The image that appeared in the screen this time was much, much clearer. Not grainy at all. Details highly defined. Even color in some parts.
Gwendolyn groaned, her face falling into her palm when she heard Rook gasp.
Of course he was going to take Kevin's side now. Anyone who saw that image of what her baby looked like would take Kevin's side.
Where the sonogram showed a grainy black and white shape with four arms, wings, and a tail, the Plumbers alien medical tech showed that two of the arms were clearly Vulpimancer, while one was Tetramand and the other looked... unclear. Pyronite maybe? Except it wouldn't be on fire in her womb, so it just looked like a human arm with malformed skin. The wings were clearly Lepidopterran (he was gonna smell terrible once he was born). The legs were fused together in a Picciss Volan tail, but Gwendolyn already knew he would have two Tetramand legs. And coming down from the base of his spine was a Galvanic Mechmorph tail.
Rook opened his mouth to say something. Closed it again. Opened it again. “This... I am not an expert on Earthling procreation, but I believe this is not normal.”
“No shit, Sherlock!” Kevin snapped at him. “Now do you get why I want that thing out of her!?”
“My name is not 'Sherlock'.” The Revonnahgander reminded him. “But I will see if there is a competent medic on staff at the moment.”
Finally, with both males distracted, Gwendolyn succeeded in letting herself up off the exam table. Kevin tried to get her to lay back down, but she grabbed his hand and twisted his arm until he made an embarrassing noise and gave in. �
“Kevin! You knew he would have your mutation.” She snarled at him. “We met him. He came from the future and we met him. He fought side-by-side with us against Maltruant, and he fought in that mutated form! Why are you acting so surprised?”
“I'm not surprised. I'm worried!” He shouted back. “Look at that thing! Look at it! Its a monster! How is that even gonna come out of you? Your pussy can take a lot, but I'm pretty sure it can't push out something the size of Zed!” A pause. “With wings!”
“That's what caesareans are for.” The sorceress reminded him. “C-sections. They'll cut open by stomach and take him out that way. Its a fairly common practice. Women get C-sections all the time. What's the real reason you're freaking out this time?”
He had been low key freaking out from the moment he learned she was pregnant -and he was freaking everyone else out along the way. But this, this was a bit new. Just a bit more intense than the rest of the freaking out he had been doing thus far.
“Its a monster!” He repeated.
Gwendolyn was getting pretty fed up with him by this point. Usually, the sorceress was very sensitive to her husband's insecurities about his past mutations and Osmosian abilities (or disabilities as the case may be). But right now, he had pushed her patients to their breaking point. “Ya know, he got that shape and body from you! If our son's a monster, then what are you?”
She regretted the words the moment they were out of her mouth.
Kevin looked so broken. Crestfallen. Full of self-loathing. Self-loathing. He looked down at his feet, avoiding eye-contact.
“I know...” He muttered to the floor.
“What?” She asked, not hearing him.
“I know!” The Osmosian snarled, balling his hands into fists and turned away so that she couldn't see his face. “I know I'm a monster! I've always been a monster. I'll always be a monster. The only time I don't feel like a monster is when I'm with you. You make me feel like a person, Babe! I don't know what I'd do if anything happened to you. When our son came from the future and he didn't even know you... I just... How could he know know you unless you're dead? And- and the way things are looking, he's the one that kills you. If its my baby that's the thing that kills you, I-”
His voice chocked and he cut himself off abruptly.
Gwendolyn put a hand on his shoulder. “You don't know this pregnancy will kill me.”
Kevin placed his hand over hers, glad for the comfort. “Even if he doesn't kill you...” he began, “...that shape... that mutated form is just gonna be a reminded of everything that's wrong with me.”
Chapter 7: Lasting Emotional Damage
The next morning when Gwendolyn entered her secret headquarters under the library, it was to find Kevin passed out on the stairs up to the exit -fast asleep in a magically induced coma.
She sighed and stepped over his prostrate and unmoving form. Set her coffee down next to her book on the table, and then finally turned back to look at her husband. Obviously he tried to escape again. But try as he might to absorb the mana keeping him locked up, all he would succeed in doing was curse himself with a 100 Years of Sleep spell.
Kevin was a very unattractive sleeper. Gwendolyn knew this from experience, not just from walking in to find him face-down and ass-up, passed out on the stairs. She sighed again and cast a levitation spell, moving his bulky and muscular Osmosian body directly into the center of her sigil. Once down on the ground, the sorceress leaned over him again and bent down to kiss him tenderly on the lips.
“You know,” she muttered to his bottom lip when she pulled away, “if I didn't still love you, this spell'd never be broken.”
He groaned, waking up without registering her words.
Gwendolyn backed up out of the magic circle and snapped the barrier up fast before he could finish waking up completely. Yesterday when she left him, the Osmosian was unconscious. She didn't get the chance to assess his mental state and so didn't know if he'd try attacking her again, or if enough of his old self had returned that he would finally recognize the fact that she was trying to help him.
Blinking, Kevin registered the magic circle he was laying it and shot to his feet with a snarl. He saw Gwendolyn standing just outside the circle and noted she was lone this time. “Your new boyfriend didn't wanna come today?”
She did not dignify that with a response. Instead, the sorceress just pulled her book off the table and opened back to the page that held the spell she was using on Kevin.
“Hey, when you're fucking him, does he scream your name or Ben's when he cums?” The Osmosian continued to taunt. Then he paused, a different thought occurring to him. “Have you ever screamed my name when he's making you cum? Or has he even made you cum?”
“Rook and I aren't sleeping together.” Gwendolyn informed him, voice a flat, even deadpan.
“Right...” Kevin scoffed. “Because you're 'only attractive by human standards'.”
The sorceress chose not to dignify that with a response. He might be intentionally trying to insult her or bate her into an argument, but at least he wasn't trying to attack her or escape the circle. That was progress, right? He might still be an emotionally stinted and egocentric asshole, but t least he wasn't threatening to absorb or otherwise kill her.
“I suggest you try to relax.” She informed him, already knowing the Osmosian wouldn't listen.
That was the only warning he got before she began again. Chanting the spell that would slowly -one at a time- drag each of his 11,000 aliens out of him. Forcefully ripping the from his body and defusing their energy into the flotsam of the universe. It was a good thing her headquarters was under the library and not in it. The Osmosian's screams of pain would have disturbed students and made it difficult to study.
She didn't keep at it as long as she had the first two days. Gwendolyn wanted to make it to Delvin's school to pick him up on time at least once during his first week. Not just to prove to him that he was a priority in her life, but also to prove it to herself. After eleven years, she finally had her son back, and what was she doing? Spending all of her days with the man that took him from her in the first place. What did that say about her?
Kevin was still conscious when she marked the page in her book and set it back down on the table.
He lay on the ground in the center of the magic sigil, panting from exhaustion, but awake and aware. Waiting for her to begin the chant again and rip another from his body.
When she didn't, he turned his head to face her. Blinking eyes watery from pain at her. “What? No more?” He taunted. “Loose your stomach?”
“I have other places to be.” She informed him tersely. “Believe it or not, Baby, but my life doesn't revolve around you.”
“Doesn't it, though?” He mocked back, pushing himself to his feet. “I've seen you the last three days in a row, haven't I?”
Technically he was right. She had spent the last three days with him. Helping him. Trying to bring him back to himself. So, maybe some part of her life did still revolve around him. Partly because she was still unrepentantly in love with him, but also because... because -even if she didn't still love him- they had know each other so long. Since they were eleven and ten respectively. That was almost all their lives. So, she had invested so much time on him already, not just for the feelings she had for him, but also for the sake of all the years they spent together. Both together as lovers, and together as partners on Ben's Team working to safeguard the Earth and the universe.
If Ben wasn't at home trying to delude himself into believing his wife still loved him and his marriage wasn't a sham, he would probably be here too.
“Yes. You have.” She nodded. “And I've left you each of those days.”
She turned to leave for today too.
“Well, when you come back tomorrow, wear something slutty.” He requested, a taunting smirk on his face. As if the Osmosian was challenging her. He was playing with her. But unlike before, it was just meant to make her flustered and annoyed. He didn't mean to actually dig in and hurt feelings. Kevin was on his way back to becoming himself. “At least then I can pretend all this torture is one of those sexy bedroom games we used to play.”
Gwendolyn only rolled her eyes. This wasn't anything like the cute little vanilla bedroom games they used to play.
“I'm leaving, Baby.” She told him. This time actually turning to go. “Try not to escape while I'm gone this time.” But paused again at the top of the stairs. “And when you're more yourself, we're gonna have a long talk about all the damage you did to Devlin. I want you to know, yesterday... He told Ben and I that if we weren't gonna lock you up, we should just kill you! I want you to think about that.”
This time, when school got out, Devlin didn't bother to find a place on the grass and read while he waited for his mother to come pick him up. He unzipped his backpack and pulled out his hovarboard. The same one he rode that day he met Kenny and set in motion the chain of events that would get him to betray his father (only minutes after helping him escape the Null Void), and ultimately reunite him with the mother he never knew.
A mother that seemed to be always and forever late picking him up from school.
Devlin hopped on the hoverboard and took off through the air. Heading home which was on the other side of the city.
No sooner was the Osmosian out of sight, however, than Gwendolyn pulled up in her car. When she didn't immediately see her son waiting for her out front, she parked and went inside. He was Kevin's son too, it wasn't unreasonable to guess he was held after class for some version of behavioral problems. Who knew how emotionally damaged boy acted when she wasn't around? Gwendolyn went straight to the office to ask after her son.
But the office attendants didn't know anything about Devlin Levin being held after class or given detention.
Parent night was still a month away, but the faculty members that were present went ahead and informed her that her son was uncommonly well behaved. Quiet, to the point of making his teachers worry. Asocial, and withdrawn. He didn't really talk to the other students unless required to for a group exercise, and even then, he remained aloof from the group. Almost like he didn't really know how to interact with children his own age.
Gwendolyn had seen none of this in Devlin's interactions with Kenny. The two boys were thick as thieves.
But that was something to wonder about after she found her son. He wasn't waiting for her out front, and the school's office had no idea where he had gone. Gwendolyn experienced a small stab of panic upon realizing that her son was lost. Lost again! Just like when Kevin took him away from her when he was just an infant.
Walking out of the office, she realized she was breathing hard, her ears pounding as he heart-rate skyrocketed.
Gwendolyn pulled out her cell phone and called the one person who was able to help her eleven years ago. She pounded on her speed dial and counted the rings until he picked up.
“Red?” Ben answered, sounding slightly distracted. In the background she could hear Kai mention something about Blitzwolfer and a 'knot'. But the sorceress pointedly ignored the other woman. It was no secret within the family what Ben's wife was into -except, it was technically a secret from the kids since they were to young to understand.
“Ben, I need your help!” Gwendolyn's voice choked into the phone. She didn't realize she was crying until she tried to speak. “Devlin's missing and I don't know where he went! I know it wasn't Kevin. I left him in my library. But what if someone else took him? What if he thought I'd be late picking him up again and he went looking for me? What if he got lost? What if he got attacked?”
She paused, because her lungs were empty.
Ben was also silent on the other end. He was listening to her breath and wondering how long it would take her to figure out that she didn't need to worry about Kevin's son as much as she was. Ben imagined anyone who might try to kidnap the young Osmosian would very quickly learn that, that was a bad idea. Same thing for someone just randomly attacking him. Devlin getting lost while wondering around Bellwood -a city that he'd only just recently come to live in- that was actually a little plausible. But there was also a very fast and easy solution to that problem.
“Okay, calm down. Stop freaking out.” Ben told her. “You can track his mana, remember. Just track his mana.”
Track his mana, he says! As if she didn't try that back when Kevin took Devlin away from her in the first place! But she couldn't track mana all across the universe. She had a limited range after all. Trying to track his mana wouldn't do anything if he was already out of range! “That didn't work last time!”
There was another pause on Ben's end.
Then a sigh. “Okay, this probably isn't like the last time. You're not significantly weakened by having an Osmosian draining you semi-regularly, you're at full strength with complete use of all your abilities, and he probably wasn't taken by someone with as intricate and detailed knowledge of your limits and weaknesses as Kevin.” Ben reminded her -very calmly. “Try tracking his mana. If you still can't find him after that, then I'll come and help.”
In the background it sounded like Kai was about to protest.
Gwendolyn sucked in a breath and let it out slowly -forcing herself to relax. She was just overreacting. Her son's history with his father made her more sensitive and easily excitable. She inhaled another breath and let that one out slowly too. “Okay. I'll call you when I know more.”
She hung up on Ben.
The sorceress closed her eyes. Devlin was inside her for a little short of forty weeks, she knew his mana intimately. If he was within her range, she could track his mana. She would find him. If he was out of range...
Gwendolyn shook her head. Kevin was locked up in her headquarters beneath her library at Friedkin. He was trapped by barriers, and locks, and curses that would put him into an enchanted sleep if he tried to escape. Kevin didn't take Devlin. This wasn't like last time.
Closing her eyes, the sorceress stretched out with her senses. Not her mundane and terrestrial five senses -although, those were also heightened- but with her abstract and ephemeral 'sixth sense', her mana sense. The part of herself that connected with the 'Mana Field' that filled the spaces between planets and starts. The Aether. The flotsam of the universe.
There were traces of her son's mana at the school. Of course there would be. He'd spent the majority of his day for the past three days in a row here. If Gwendolyn didn't sense his mana lingering around the school that would be cause for an entirely different worry. His mana trail left the school, its most recent traces leading across town. Opening her eyes, they continued to glow star sapphire as the sorceress followed Devlin's most recent mana trail.
It arched over the city. Wherever her son went, he was flying. That gave Gwendolyn cause to worry because he didn't know magic and couldn't cast fight spells. If the boy was flying that meant he was flying in his mutant form -a mutant for that was identical to Kevin 11. What if he was attacked by a Plumber or Plumbers Helper thinking he really was Kevin!?
But as she followed the mana trail, there was no aura of violence. No spike of shock, or tremor of anxiety. Devlin's flight through the city must have been relatively uneventful. That realization did a lot to help calm Gwendolyn's nerves. This wasn't like the last time. Her son hadn't been taken from her. He wasn't kidnapped, lost, alone, or scared.
She reached the end of the mana trail and landed -and found herself standing on the front lawn of her own damn house.
He had just decided not to wait for her to pick him up and decided to fly home on his own. Ben was right. Gwendolyn had been overreacting -a lot. But it was hard not to overreact where her son was concerned. Especially given their history.
It was also very hard not to be mad at him, after his seeming 'disappearance' drove her into a panic.
Gwendolyn wrenched open the front door and stormed inside.
She found her son reclining on the living room couch, reading a book. An assigned reading worksheet lay ignored on the coffee table next to him, along with a stack of textbooks that were also being ignored. It looked like he was doing his homework -except none of the homework actually looked like it was getting done.
Devlin looked up at her from over his book. His dark eyes wide with innocence. He didn't know he did anything wrong. “You're home early.”
“What the hell were you thinking!?” Gwendolyn demanded. Her earlier panic at not knowing where he was, was now replaced by rage that he would be so thoughtless to make her worry like that.
“What?” The boy blinked at her. He marked the page in his book and set it down on the coffee table next to the rest of his ignored homework. “Are you mad about something?”
That question almost sent Gwendolyn's rage skyrocketing to new proportions. He just didn't understand! How could he not understand that showing up to pick him up from school and him being nowhere to be seen and no one at the school knowing where he was would upset her? Then, she had to forceably remind herself, if it was Kevin in this exact situation, he probably wouldn't care. Gwendolyn had to remind herself that, that was the kind of 'parenting' Devlin was used to. A parent who didn't really care about him and was just taking care of him because he was half-Gwendolyn.
She took a deep breath. Forcing herself to relax.
“Devlin,” she began in a flat, even voice that didn't tremble or shake at all and was deceptively calm. “I told you before that I don't want you flying home alone. I will pick you up.” A pause to take in another breath, because while her voice might be even and controlled, Gwendolyn was still far from calm. “I understand you're used to being more independent living with Kevin, but you're still only eleven years old. That's too young to be trying to make your own way across town. I will pick you up. If -for whatever reason- I can't pick you up, I will ask Ben, or Kai, or Grandpa Max to pick you up for me. But I don't want you going home alone. Understand?”
“But that doesn't make any sense.” The boy argued back. “I'm perfectly capable of flying the two and a half miles from school to home on my own. Why would you wanna bother other people for something that I can do on my own?”
Not knowing what else to say to drive the point home, Gwendolyn blurted out one of the worst parenting cliches known to western society. “Because I said!”
Admittedly, she was the authority in the household.
“That's not a reason!” The boy argued back.
“Damn it, Devlin, I already lost you once!” She roared back at him. “Don't make me worry that I've lost you again! Please! You have no idea what it does to me. I can't think. I can't breath. I can't- I can't- I just can't!”
She sank to a crouch, one hand going to her face. It was, in fact, hard to breath again. She was so worked up.
Realizing there was more going on here than just him not waiting for her to pick him up, Devlin got up off the couch and knelt down beside her. Then quickly realized that he had no idea what else to do. How did you comfort someone who was distraught? He cast his brain around searching for a memory of someone giving him comfort when he was upset, but all the young Osmosian could come up with was when Max placed his cold metal prosthetic hand on his shoulder.
Devlin lifted his hand to pat his mother on the shoulder. But hesitated. He really wasn't good with this whole 'physical affection' thing -or would it be 'physical comfort' in this case?- either way, the Osmosian was neither completely used to it, nor wholly comfortable with it. But that was what you were supposed to do in the Tennyson family when someone was upset -comfort them. His name might be 'Levin', but Devlin's mother was a Tennyson. He was a member of the Tennyson family. He better start trying to fit in.
He patted Gwendolyn's shoulder lightly.
“I'm... sorry?” He ventured, hoping this was the right thing to say. Then with slightly more confidence asked, “What do you want me to do?”
It took her several more moments of getting her breathing back under control before Gwendolyn was able to speak again. She cleared her throat, finding it uncomfortably dry. “Look, I get that its gonna be hard for you to trust me.” She began. “And I also understand that you've had to become very independent very young because of your father. I guess I can't stop you from taking off on your own if you really want to, but please- -please just let me know what you're doing so I don't think the worst has happened to you.”
“Okay...” Devlin began to agree slowly, then questioned it quickly. “How should I do that? Leave a note for you in the office? Ask to borrow the school phone to call you?”
Gwendolyn patted his hand on her shoulder. “I'll get you a cell phone. That way, you can call me at any time, for any reason.”
“Okay.” This time his agreement wasn't hesitant.
“Now, I've got to call Ben and let him know I found you.” Gwendolyn stood. By all outward appearances, it looked like she was back to her old self again. “Otherwise we're have Wildmutt barging through our door looking for you.”
They shared a short little laugh at the idea.
Gwendolyn disappeared into the kitchen to both make her call, and get started on dinner. Something fast and easy tonight. She was not in any mood to be cooking anything fancy or complicated.
It was a little funny. Just earlier that afternoon, she told Kevin she wanted to discuss all the lasting emotional damage he did to their son. It didn't even occur to Gwendolyn that she might also have lasting emotional damage.
Chapter 8: Progress in Some Things
There wasn't really anything to do with Gwendolyn's library. All she put in for him was a refrigerator stocked with instant food, a microwave to cook said instant food, and a half-way decent makeshift toilet. That was it. And then boxing him in on all sides were books. Boring, useless, unentertaining books.
What did she expect him to do all day except try to escape?
But every time he tried to escape, the Osmosian would just pass out randomly and wake the next day with Gwendolyn already prepping her magic circle for another torture session of ripping the life -or something's life- out of him. -And she always seemed to be using the same damn book, too.
Kevin walked up to the table she left the tome on.
His wife was smart. After three days of casting the same spell dozens of times, she probably had the spell memorized by now. Even so, the Osmosian felt pretty justified in destroying the book and the spell with it. Kevin flipped the tome open to the page she marked.
Then froze when he saw what she was using as a bookmark.
It always looked like just a plain and uninteresting gold chain. The sort of thing that would just be lying around any magical laboratory. Magicians and sorceresses needed chains for things, right? But it wasn't the chain that gave the Osmosian pause. It was what was on the chain. A locket. The locket. The same gold locket he gave her when they were still just teens. That's what she was using to mark the spell she was using to strip him of all his power.
Forgetting the book for the moment Kevin picked up the locket.
She changed the picture in it. The one of them as teenagers was a bit dated. In its place Gwendolyn had put one of their wedding photos -one that showed as little battle damage as possible. And in the other side of the locket opposite it was a picture of Gwendolyn in a hospital gown holding a new born, and grotesquely mutated Devlin. Kevin was about to scoff in disgust before it occurred to him that, that was probably the only picture she had of the little spawn.
That thought made him feel bad for some reason. Kevin did not like feeling bad.
He snapped the locket shut and tried to melt it in his hand -only to remember that Gwendolyn had already stripped him of his Pyronite powers. He threw the locket back in the book and slammed it shut instead. He then swept it -and everything else- off the table in a fit of unchanneled rage. He banged a fist on the now empty table and suppressed a sob.
What were even all these bad feelings!? He wasn't supposed get have bed feelings! He was Kevin mother fucking 11,000! He absorbed the powers of eleven-thousand lifeforms specifically so that he wouldn't have to feel bad! But Gwendolyn... now that she was ripping his aliens out... Kevin was starting to feel... things, again.
They made his chest feel tight in uncomfortable ways, and his stomach twist like he wanted to throw up but nothing actually came up. Was this guilt? Remorse? No... that couldn't possibly be right! That would mean that he felt at fault for something and Kevin knew that everything he ever did was the right thing to do. If there was a fault it wasn't with him. In fact, it was usually Ben!
Ben was usually the one at fault for all the bad or uncomfortable shit that happened in his life! After all, if it wasn't for Ben, he never would have absorbed the Omnitrix in the first place back when they were children and mutated. Mutated into a monstrous and grotesque form that he ended up passing onto his offspring -an offspring that nearly killed Gwen!
And it was all because of Ben! It was Ben's fault!
Kevin brought his fist down on the table again.
And again, and again, and again.
Until the finish was chipped and the wood splintered. His skin split and his knuckles bled. The Osmosian inhaled a shuttering breath and sank to sit on the floor -sobbing.
He felt terrible.
...And it was all Ben's fault!
Kevin slammed his already injured fist into the uncarpeted stone floor this time.
“Ow!” He rolled over on his side, clutching his injured hand. “Fucking Ben!” Now he had broken Kevin's hand!
Curling into a ball, the Osmosian sobbed. His life sucked. Everting sucked. No one understood him. Everyone hurt him, or abandoned him, or betrayed him, or tricked and lied to him. Even Gwendolyn chose their son over him. Ben chose Gwendolyn over him. Devlin chose Ben over him. Kevin didn't have any friends. Nobody cared about him.
Kevin didn't know how long he laid there like that. He didn't move again until he heard the headquarters main entrance open. The Osmosian rolled over to watch his wife come down the stairs.
He raised an eyebrow in confusion when he saw combat boots that were a size too large to be Gwendolyn's come into view. His confusion turned into irritation when those combat boots were revealed to be on the ends of a man's legs covered in commando pants. His irritation boiled into rage when he caught sight of the Omnitrix on the arm of the man coming down the stairs. Kevin propelled himself back to his feet just as Ben's face came into view.
“You're not Gwen!”
The Hero of the Universe blinked at him in mild confusion. “Well, you're not Gwen either, but you don't hear me shouting about it.”
“I kill you!” And Kevin jumped at the other man.
Ben jumped off the stairs quickly so all Kevin did was throw himself against hard, uneven wood boards.
“I was wondering how much progress Red had made with you.” The changling informed the older man as he brought his hand down on the latest version of the Omnitrix. He transformed into Feedback and assumed a fighting stance. “I guess, not a lot.”
The Osmosian only snarled a wordless snarl and made another lunge for the Hero of the Universe.
Feedback sidestepped him again, and -using one of his head tentacles- tasered Kevin in the back. The Osmosian gave a third snarl, this one of pain, before deciding that he was fed up with this BS and transformed into his latest variation of the 'less than 11,000 Kevin' mutations he seemed to be cycling through thanks to his 'loving' wife. This one with a mix of limbs from aliens Ben had given his own names to in his Omnitrix, but couldn't actually identify the species they came from. Kevin was missing most of the recognizable aliens, it seemed. -He still had the Null Guardian tentacles though. Gwendolyn hadn't taken those yet.
“Where's my wife!?” Demanded the mish-mash of limbs that was formerly Kevin Levin.
“She didn't feel up to seeing you today.” Ben informed him truthfully. After yesterday's fiasco with Devlin going 'missing', and Gwendolyn's subsequent freak out over it, she just was not up to seeing the one who took him from her in the first place.
“You're taking her away from me too!” Kevin's grotesquely altered face growled, low and threatening. “Don't you ever get tired of ruining my life!?”
Ben only sighed, mentally preparing himself for the inevitable fight. “So its gonna be that kinda day...”
Devlin unbuckled his belt when the car stopped outside his school, but Mom didn't unlock the child safety locks. He blinked at her from the back seat.
Gwendolyn turned around to look at him.
“I am going to pick you up today.” She told him very seriously. “I'm not going to do the thing that's been making me late the past few days. So I will be picking you up, and I will be on time. You will not try and find your own way home. You will not take a ride from anyone but me. If -for whatever reason- I am late picking you up, you will wait inside the school's gate for me. Am I understood?”
She held his eyes, emerald green to brown so dark it might as well we black. Gwendolyn's point was made. Devin nodded.
“Okay, Mom. I'll wait for you to pick me up.”
“Good.” That was when she finally released the child safety locks. “Have fun at school.”
“And after school you'll finally finish your story and explain to me why you freaked out yesterday.” The boy added.
Gwendolyn almost choked at that. “We'll see.”
Kevin lay panting in the center of a slight crater in the stone floor of Gwendolyn's library. Ben tried really, really hard not to damage the magic sigil that took up half the floor. But he couldn't say the same thing for the work table, bookshelves, and couch. Sometimes, the collateral damage from Ben and Kevin's battled's couldn't be prevented -but the Hero of the Universe thought he did a pretty good job of keeping it contained.
At least the Osmosian was still trapped inside the headquarters under the library.
Ben tapped his Omnitrix and reverted back to his base human form.
“Aw... finished already?” Kevin taunted from his position prostrate on the ground. He was taunting the other man, but he wasn't getting up either. The Osmosian might still be conscious, but he was finished. Kevin wasn't gonna bet getting into anymore alien-mutant fights today. “You've got no stamina. Loser.”
“Said the guy down on the ground.”
“Fuck you!” The Osmosian snapped, trying to sound intimidating. But it only came out as petulant, immature, and pissy.
“No thanks. You're not my type.”
“Don't confuse me with your cat-boy partner.” Kevin snapped again. Then paused and channeled his hostility into a dig instead. “Excuse me, former partner.”
Ben chose not to dignify that with a response.
“I saw him recently, ya know.” Continued the Osmosian. “He was with my wife. Are they sleeping together? Rook couldn't have you, so he decided to go for her instead. You'd tell me if they were sleeping together, right?”
Probably not. It would just excited the Osmosian further and send him flying into another rage -if they were sleeping together, which they weren't. “Rook and Red don't like each other like that. They're just friends.”
“Males and females can't be 'just friends'.” Kevin announced.
Ben opened his mouth to contradict the older man, but closed it quickly when he suddenly realized that he didn't actually have an example to give Kevin that would support his side of the argument. The only female friend Ben had was a close genetic relative of his. Every other female friend of his, Ben had either dated, slept with, or married. Wow... Ben really wasn't capable of being just friends with the distaff sex.
But Kevin had to have female friends! There was- I mean- He had... Didn't Argit have a girlfriend once? And Kevin and Gwendolyn went to brunch with them, that made them friends -right? Or, some of Gwendolyn's friends! Emily! Kevin had to be friends with Emily. Except, Ben had never heard of the two of them hanging out -or even talking to each other- unless Gwendolyn was involved. But all of Ben's parade of female acquaintances... Kevin also only ever interacted with when he was also hanging out with Ben...
Wow, men and women really couldn't be 'just friends'.
Or was it just them? Were they defective in some way?
Well, obviously, Kevin was defective. Had been since before Ben had met him. But Ben just lead a dangerous life that made cultivating interpersonal relationships difficult. It was just easier to cultivate sexual relationships than mental-emotional-spiritual ones. You didn't have to actually talk about your wants and aspirations, or your weaknesses and fears to have sex. You just have to have working genitals.
Instead of commenting on the males and females being able or unable to become friends, Ben cleared his throat. “You want a smoothy? I was gonna bering over some smoothies and pizza, but I didn't know who I'd be seeing when I got here. My friend and in-law Kevin Levin, or the asshole who attacked both me and my son in our own home Kevin 11,000.”
“I'm the same person.” The Osmosian groaned, still laying prostrate in the mini-crater Ben beat him into. “I'm always me. When I'm sane, when I'm insane, when I'm saving folk, and killing folk. It always, only, ever, me.”
“That right there, might be the truest thing you've ever said.” Ben sat down on the edge of the crater, just our of the Osmosian's reach -lest Kevin make a mad, desperate grab for the Omnitrix to absorb its power. “You're not paralyzed, are you? Red will kill me if I paralyzed you. Can you move your arms and legs?”
In answer to this question, Kevin very slowly raised one hand. He wiggled his fingers, folding down his index finger, ring finger, and pinky, so that the only finger that was still sticking up was the middle one.
Ben looked at his frienamy wiggling his middle finger at him and shook his head. “Ugh. You'll be fine.”
Kevin exhaled through his nose, making a sound that could have ben equal parts snort and snarl. “What are you doing here, Tennyson?”
Standing again, Ben crossed the room to kick open the over-turned refrigerator and pull out two frozen dinners. “Like I said, Red didn't feel up to seeing you today.” He inspected what was left of the microwave and quickly decided he'd have to use one of his aliens to heat their lunch. “Not that I think you care right now, but Devlin gave her a bit of a scare yesterday and she can't look at you right now.”
That got the Osmosian up and moving.
Well, it got him moving. The up part seemed to still be a bit of a work in progress.
“What!” Kevin exclaimed, trying sit up. Instead, he rolled over onto his side and pushed himself onto his hands and knees. From there he pushed himself up into a sitting positions. “Did he hurt her?”
“For the love of crap, calm down.” Ben set the frozen dinners on the still horizontal refrigerator while he cycled through his aliens, looking for something that would cook food similar to a microwave -only evenly, so that it was all cooked and not frozen in the middle. “It wasn't anything like that. He just wasn't there when she went to pick him up from school and she had a panic attack because she didn't know where he was.”
“A panic attack?” The Osmosian raised one skeptical eyebrow. “Gwendolyn is a super-powered, magical, energy being that fights aliens, giant robots, mutants, and monsters. She doesn't get panic attacks.”
Ben transformed and heated their meals.
Reverting back to his human form, the Hero of the Universe tried passing one meal to Kevin, thought better of it and set the microwave-safe tray down on the edge of the crater where the other man could take it if he wanted.
“Except -thanks to you- she went through an emotionally traumatizing event that makes her sensitive and irrational when similar things happen.” Ben explained. “When she woke up after you took Devlin away, she didn't know where either of you were, she didn't know how long before she came-to that you left, you were out of range so she couldn't track your mana... Believe me, as a parent myself, I totally understand her having a panic attack yesterday. Since you're the one that took Devlin in the first place all those years ago, she doesn't wanna see you.” A pause. “At least, not for a while.”
But she would forgive him. She always did. Regardless of better judgment.
Kevin looked down at the cracks between his knees. For half a moment, Ben thought the Osmosian was genuinely remorseful for that. That he felt bad for and regretted kidnapping his son and abandoning his wife eleven years ago. If he was, then Gwendolyn had made much more progress turning him back to normal than the Hero of the Universe thought she could. Ben was all ready to become optimistic again. But then Kevin balled his hands into fists, pinched his eyes shut and shook his head. Whatever he was feeling, the man was making a conscious effort not to feel it.
The Osmosian reached for the microwave food Ben set down close to him and began shoveling food into his mouth.
“So what are you doing here?” He asked through a mouth full of meat-like protein and powdered potatoes.
“Believe it or not, I actually came to see how you were doing.” Ben told him.
The younger man couldn't decide if he wanted to sigh or roll his eyes, so instead Ben just shrugged. “I wanted to know if this stupid plan of Red's had any chance of working or not.”
“And is it?” Kevin used his 'taunting' voice. But he was voiding eye-contact when he asked it and no version of Kevin ever looked away when he was trying to upset someone. The Osmosian was insecure. He actually wanted to know if what Gwendolyn was trying to do to him was working. He couldn't tell for himself, he was still too far gone for that. But the fact that he even wanted to know at all was telling of just how far he's already come in just three short days. Kevin wasn't himself yet, but he wasn't the monster Ben fought in Plumbers HQ last month either. Gwendolyn's treatment was working.
Ben didn't say any of that, though. Instead he forced an unconcerned shrug. “I haven't decided yet.”
“That means its not.” Muttered the Osmosian. He pushed his tray of food away from himself and laid back down in the crater. “Leave me alone, Tennyson.”
“What, no 'good-bye' punch?” Ben asked.
Suppressing the urge to sigh, Ben stood. He came what he came here to see and even had a half-way decent conversation -by Kevin standards. This crazy plan of Gwendolyn's and Rook's was actually working. Ben was on the way to getting his old friend back.
He righted an overturned trashcan and threw his empty microwave tray away. “Guess I'll be heading out then.” Ben said. “Hopefully Gwendolyn will be back to her old self tomorrow and ready to start this up again with you -whatever the hell 'this' is.”
Getting energy and pieces of himself forcefully ripped out of his body by magic. “Oh, yeah. I'm really looking forward to that.”
This time, when Devin walked out the school's front doors, it was to see his mother already waiting for him outside the gate. The car engine running, windows rolled down. She waved to him from the drivers seat.
Hefting his backpack on one shoulder, Devlin sighed, not really knowhow how to feel. She really was making good on her promise to be there to pick him up. She really did care about him. Devlin wasn't really used to being cared about. Cared for, yes. His father did care for, in the sense that Kevin made sure his basic living needs and human necessities were met. Devlin always had clean clothes, never had to feel hunger, and if he became ill Kevin acquired the necessary medications to make him well again. Kevin cared for his son -but he didn't care about him.
But Gwendolyn -Mom, she was his mother, Devlin had to keep reminding himself- was working really, really hard to show that she cared about him.
The Osmosian walked up to the car and, pulling open the back seat, threw his backpack inside. “Can I ride in the front today?”
“When you're taller.” His mother laughed. Then, before Devlin could transform and demonstrate that he was already taller in his mutant form, Gwendolyn added. “And you're other form won't fit. Now, get in. I was thinking we could go for ice cream before you get down to your homework.”
Sitting down in the backseat, the Osmosian blinked at her. He was about to ask what the occasion was that she was treating him to ice cream before homework. But then, after her freak-out yesterday, Devlin could guess. Instead, he asked what he always asked whenever they had an opportunity to sit down and calmly talk -just the two of them. “And while we do that, you'll tell me more of the story.”
“And the winner of the tasting game is Ester.” Emily announced after tallying up the scores. It was one of the shower games she had come up with for Gwendolyn's baby shower. Blindfold everyone and feed them an assortment of baby food and have them guess the flavors. It was actually kinda a funny game.
The rest of the shower, however...
The rest of the shower was a little awkward. Emily wanted to invite all of Gwendolyn's female friends. The problem was, almost all the Gwendolyn's female friends were also Ben's ex-girlfriends. Hell! Even Emily went on one date with him once -before the bastard left her on a rooftop to go fight something. You fill a room with all of Ben Tennyson's ex-girlfriends, plus his current wife and its just a recipe for unpleasantness.
“You eat a lot of baby food living with the Kraaho?” Kai snarked.
Ester just glared at her like she was stupid. “Its just creamed vegetables. Your husband drinks the exact same things in his smoothies.” A pause. “Are you admitting to being married to a giant baby?”
Kai opened her mouth to argue back, but Emily wheeler herself between them -a forced smile on her face. “Lets move on to the presents! Gwen, which do you wanna open first?”
Sitting on her living room couch, one hand on her swollen belly -a belly that looked closer to the forty week mark that the twenty-nine weeks she actually was- Gwendolyn just shrugged. She looked tired and that was concerning for Emily. As much as she didn't wanna take Kevin's side over her best friend, normal pregnancies weren't supposed to be as exhausting as this appeared to be on Gwendolyn. It was almost as if something were draining her strength from the inside -which was exactly what Kevin was afraid of.
“I guess the closest one to me.” The sorceress shrugged.
She grabbed the closes gift to her. A paper gift bad stuffed with pastel tissue paper. Gwendolyn pulled out the paper and went fishing into the bag for the card before the gift. It was from Julie. A set of three baby bibs with velcro tabs on the bottom hems to wrap around a pacifier, and matching pacifiers.
After Julie's gift was Eunice's. A set of ergonomic bottles and extra set of nipples that fit them. Then Sunny's. A single black onesie that said 'My Daddy's Hot' on it in bold red punk letters. Gwendolyn flashed her cousin a glare of disapproval.
“What!?” The other Anodite demanded. “Are you saying you don't think Muscles is hot? Cause if you don't want him anymore, I could-”
“Thank you, Sunny, I'm sure Kevin will think its funny.” Gwendolyn cut her off. It wouldn't even fit her child's body-type anyway. Not enough arm holes, or space for the wings. She folded the onesie and set it next to the other opened gifts and reached for the next closes box to her.
From her mother she got her a high end stroller, the kind that the seat could be taken out of and used as a carseat. Her aunt Sandra got her a Diaper Genie and refills. Several wee-wee pads from Kai. Swaddling blankets from Ester. Some more practical onesies from Emily -they were still a human base, but she widened the arm holes to accommodate four arms, and cut slits in the back for wings.
“Thanks, everyone, these are all great.” Gwendolyn smiled at the assembled party, glad that a room full of Ben's former girlfriends hadn't exploded into scratch fights. “Now, who wants cake?”
She pushed herself up off the couch and stood.
No sooner had she done this, however, than Gwendolyn's vision swam. Her eyes darkened and she experienced the inexplicable sensation of falling.
The next thing she was aware of, someone was dabbing at her forehead with a cool moist cloth. Gwendolyn blinked and was startled to discover here eyes were closed. She tried to sit up but was pushed back down by the concerned arms of her aunt. Looking around herself Gwendolyn discovered she was laying down on the living room couch with a pillow from her bed under her head and Emily dabbing at her forehead with a washcloth.
“What happened?” She asked.
“You passed out all of a sudden.” Kai's voice informed her from somewhere outside Gwendolyn's range of vision.
Gwendolyn grumbled. “How embarrassing. Was everyone freaked out?”
“Very.” Emily informed her. “Except Sunny. She made an inappropriate joke, then shed her skin and left.”
“And everyone else?”
“I gave them jobs to keep them calm.” Kai came into view holding a glass of water. “Remember when we were hanging out and you almost fainted in front of me and Emily? Well, this time you actually did faint.”
Emily helped Gwendolyn lean up so she could drink the water offered by Kai.
“You can say whatever you like.” Kai continued. “But this is clearly not a normal pregnancy, everything is not fine, and you're clearly not fine. You're way too big to be twenty-nine weeks, you look sick when you claim to be not, and you're falling all over yourself just standing up to get cake! Its time to admit that you're not okay. I asked your mother to call Verdona.”
“My mother hates my grandmother.” Gwendolyn informed her cousin-in-law.
“She didn't seem to mind when I made that her job after you passed out.”
Gwendolyn groaned. “Ugh...” Then her head snapped up in alarm as something else occurred to her. “None of you called Kevin, did you? Or Ben -Ben can't keep anything from Kevin, he knows all his tells. We can't let Kevin know this is happening to me!”
Emily and Kai exchanged a look. “Gwendolyn, have you lost consciousness before?”
“Well, yeah. Loads of times.” She was a magical energy being that made her living fighting aliens, mutants, robots, and monsters. Of course she's lost consciousness before.
“I mean, since you got pregnant.” Emily clarified tersely.
Gwendolyn bit her bottom lip, but didn't answer.
If Emily had the ability too, she would have bolted from her chair. “Seriously! You've been randomly passing out and not telling anyone about it!”
“Kevin would blame it on the baby and use it to try and get me to consent to a later-term abortion.” She said by way or explanation.
Kai and Emily exchanged another look.
Gwendolyn's eyebrows came down. “You already called Ben, didn't you?”
“He is my husband and he is your family.” Kai told her. “So, yes, I did call Ben. I can't believe I'm saying this, but... I think Kevin is right. I think the baby is draining you from the inside.”
Putting a hand to her head, Gwendolyn suppressed a grown. “I know.”
“What?” Both Kai and Emily asked in unison.
“I know!” She snarled at them. “I know he's absorbing me from the inside! Kevin's right! Okay? I know. I'm the one he's living inside. You think I can't feel it when my mana is being drained? I know my baby is absorbing me from the womb. But, ya know what? I don't care! I want this baby -absorption and all! I'm having it. And there's nothing you, or Kevin, or anyone else can say to change my mind.”
Chapter 9: Gwendolyn and Kevin Try to Talk
Between Emily and Kai, they managed to get all the other guests to agree to Gwendolyn's insane 'don't tell Kevin' plan. Verdona appeared not long after everyone else left. But she was only able to tell Gwendolyn what the younger woman already knew. Her Osmosian fetus was absorbing her from the inside. Gwendolyn still didn't care.
Ben showed up not long after that -under the pretext of picking Kai up from the party.
He knelt next to the couch and put a hand to his cousin's head, as if feeling her temperature. But it was the arm the Omnitrix was attached to and the sorceress knew her cousin was really checking to see if the device would flash a warning that something was genuinely wrong with her or her child. But the watch flashed no such warning. The pregnancy might be taking its toll on her, but the fetus was conceived naturally by natural means and progressing along a natural development for its species.
“For the love of crap, Ben. Put your hand down.” Gwendolyn snapped at him.
“I see you're feeling better.” He commented. If she was back to being her usual feisty self, then she was just fine. For now. “But you have to admit that this is worrisome. Kai says you've been passing out like this a lot?”
“And not telling anyone, either!” Kai chimed in from the kitchen. After the baby shower, she was making herself useful by washing dishes while Emily looked after Gwendolyn -whom neither would let back up off the couch.
Gwendolyn leaned up enough to shout at the other woman. “You're not helping!”
Sighing, Ben lowered his hand -and the Omnitrix. “Look, Red, I don't know much about pregnancy-”
“That's because you haven' been reading the books I got for you!” Kai called from the kitchen.
“-but I do know a thing or two about mutants and aliens.” He continued, pointedly ignoring his wife's comments. “And, in this instance, and -I can't believe I'm saying this-” he groaned, actually groaned, as if it physically pained Ben to say the next few words. “Kevin's right.”
She didn't say anything. Gwendolyn just slapped Ben across the face -hard. Not even his thick Hero Beard could cushion that blow. Even Emily -whom held no great affection for Ben- gave a small wince of sympathy.
The Hero of the Universe only cleared his throat and massaged his cheek. “Look, I'm not saying he's been right from the beginning. When that kid from the future appeared claiming to be his son, Kevin reacted badly and has been acting unreasonably ever since. I'm not denying that. But... in light of what's happening to you, can you also admit that you're being a little unreasonable too. This pregnancy is literally killing you. I don't know a lot about pregnancy, but I do know enough to know that looking like hell all the time and loosing consciousness randomly is not normal.”
“Nothing in our life has ever been normal.” She crossed her arms over her swollen belly. “Why should this be any different?”
“Gwen.” Ben said -very seriously.
“I prefer Gwendolyn.”
“Dweeb. You're usually much smarter and more rational than me.” He pressed. “So, please, for me. Can you try to stop being so completely irrational about this? I won't tell Kevin you've been passing out.”
“That's mighty gracious of you.” She did not seem impressed.
Ben finished. “Because I think you should be the one to tell him. You're determined to have this. I get that. So let Kevin have that much, okay. Let him here you say the words 'Kevin you're right'.”
Her hidden headquarters under the library looked like a herd of tornadoes had smashed through it. Furniture was smashed, appliances were tipped over, the floor was cracked. Thankfully, her sigil appeared to be undamaged and functional. She would need it if she intended to continue her rehabilitation of Kevin.
Kevin, meanwhile, was still conscious and awake. Apparently, he hadn't tried to escape in her absence. That was amazing, actually. It was really very telling of just how far he'd come in his rehabilitation already. Kevin stood shirtless, his back to her, brushing his teeth in the sink she had installed for him -a now broken sink. He spit in the sink then straightened.
“That better not be Tennyson again!” He growled.
Gwendolyn looked around for a flat surface to put her coffee down on, saw none, and took another sip instead. “Well, its a Tennyson.”
Kevin wheeled around to blink at her. “But you're a Levin.”
She just put one hand on her hip and looked at him.
There was one... two... three beats. Then Kevin looked away. “Your cousin came to see me yesterday.”
“I know.” Gwendolyn nodded. “I asked Ben to look in on you. See how you were doing.”
“He said, Devlin scared you.” Kevin continued. “He said you were fine, that you just didn't know where he was for a bit, but... That was after he said Devlin scared you. So, I have to ask, did Devlin hurt you?”
Her eyebrows came down in irritation. “No. He did not.”
Coming into the room fully, Gwendolyn cast her eyes around for her book. The magic tome she was using to exercise Kevin of all his excess energy and aliens. Admittedly, she had repeated the spell so much recently, that Gwendolyn was pretty sure she had it memorized by this point. She didn't really need the book. But she used her locket as a book mark. So, even if she didn't need the spell, she still wanter her locket.
She found the book under an overturned table. Flipping it open, she found the locket still between the same two pages she left it between, but with the chain all bunched up as if it had been thrown in. Not laid carefully down the spine as she usually did. She chose not to comment. Her eyes, instead, flicked up to Kevin.
“Are you going to move into the circle on your own, or do I have to beat you into it?” She asked.
He leered at her suggestively. “Is the safety word still 'sonnet'?”
Gwendolyn was not amused. “Shut up and get in the magic circle!”
Kevin did not move. He stood there. In front of the broken sink. Shirtless. His long dark hair still messy from sleep, tumbling over his shoulders and down his back. After eleven years of estrangement, and over forty years old now, he still cut a very attractive figure. Broad chest, muscled and scared. Round shoulders and thick arms. Chiseled abs and a trim waist that lead down to a flat belly and narrow hips that disappeared below the waistband of his proto-tech pants.
He put one sinewy fist on said narrow hip and gave her a challenging glare. “Why should I? All that magic circle does is hurt. You're taking my power away and making me weak.”
“I'm making you yourself again.” Gwendolyn told him.
“I'm always myself!” Kevin snarled back. “Just- -sometimes I'm more myself than others.”
Sighing, Gwendolyn drained the last of her coffee and let the paper cup drop. The floor was covered in wreckage as it was. What was one more piece of rubbish? She crossed the room to him. Walked right up to him. So close that the front of her shirt nearly brushed against his bare chest.
Kevin found himself suppressing a gulp and backed up into the broken sink. He hadn't been this close to his Anodite wife in eleven years. Close enough to touch. Close enough to taste. She wasn't using any magic, but he could still feel the potency of her mana waft around her, like a tantalizing perfume. Tempting him. Kevin didn't know if he wanted to kiss her- -or eat her. And the fact that he didn't know what he would do frightened him. His powers always frightened him. His feelings for Gwendolyn always frightened him. Everything in his life was a cause for concern.
She ran a hand up his arm, feeling the muscle ripple under the skin as he shivered from her touch. Gwendolyn's hand drifted up his arm, over the shoulder where it found a scar and traced the line down and across his chest where it intersected with another, then another, and another.
“This one's new.” She commented.
He sucked in a breath, finding his throat suddenly very dry. “Job went south.”
“And this one?” She poked another new and unfamiliar scar on his torso.
“Asshole refused to pay me.”
“And this one?” A third scar. This one high up, close to where his throat met his collarbone.
“Your son gave me that.”
Gwendolyn paused, looking at the jagged and knitted flesh. It looked like it had been stitched wrong. Like the person doing it didn't know what they were doing, or didn't have a very steady hand. Probably Kevin had to sew his wound shut himself -in a mirror so he was seeing the reverse of what his hands were actually doing. “Devlin did that?”
Kevin looked away. “He wouldn't remember. He was too young.”
He was too young to understand that he injured his father. Just like he had been too young to understand the difference between 'mother' and 'food'. He needed to grow up enough to learn the difference between mother and food, father and enemy, and control his powers, his mutant transformation, and his strength. Now Devlin was eleven years old and did understand and have control of those things. But the scars from when he didn't were still there. Emotional scars for Gwendolyn, and physical scars for Kevin.
Gwendolyn leaned up and pressed her lips to the new scar. She kissed each of Kevin's new scars. Those caused by Devlin and those not. When she pulled away, she took Kevin by the hands and looked up into his dark eyes. “You say you're always yourself. But there are lots of different versions of you. Not all of them are monsters. Some of them are heroes. Don't you want to bring back a version of yourself that's a hero?”
Kevin was finding it hard to breath. He looked down at her. At the hollow of her throat, seeing her pulse under the skin and knowing that power flowed there. At her full red lips, accented by casual day-lipstick that made them look on-so-kissable. And her eyes. Those bright emerald green eyes that were so calculating and shrewd. Eyes that saw more than they let on. That saw him. Saw through him. To the real him -all of the real hims. All the possible versions of him he could be, or could have been -and is or was. Gwendolyn saw into his very soul.
Kevin didn't give himself over to fanciful romantic notions often, but he was fairly confident that Gwendolyn was his soul-mate.
“I want to be with you again.” He breathed.
“Step into the circle.” She said.
Gwendolyn was on time again picking Devlin up from school. He would like to give his mother the benefit of saying she was setting a trend now. Except that before recently, she spent just as many days in a row being late picking him up. It was nice to see that she was making more of an effort for him, but the Osmosian could only wonder how long this was going to last.
That was one thing he learned very quickly living with his father. Things didn't last.
Not the nice house they had on Zabin, not the semi-profitable life they shared on a smuggling crew, not even his life with his father. By one means or another, things ended. That was the way of things. The way of the world. Things were temporary. His mother's timely attention picking him up from school wouldn't last either.
But it was nice while it did.
Devlin ran up to the car and threw his backpack in the backseat before climbing in after it.
“How was your day?” She asked. Gwendolyn appeared to be in better spirits today than she was yesterday. Less edgy. More optimistic. Happy, almost. Not quite, but almost.
“Something good happen to you?” He blinked at her in the rearview mirror.
“I asked you first.” She shook her head at him.
“Same old, same old.” The boy shrugged. Compared to his life with his father, going to school was so tame. It really wasn't worth mentioning. “Did some popcorn reading, learned some math, memorized a few dates.”
“You didn't play during recess?” Asked Gwendolyn. Devlin was eleven, next year he would age up into junior high, but until the end of this school year at least, he would have recess and should be able to play. Unless -and this was an uncomfortable thought- unless he didn't know how to play. “You didn't hang out with your friends?”
Before he could stop himself, the Osmosian snorted with derision.
Gwendolyn's eyes flashed at him in the rearview mirror. “Devlin. Don't you have friends at school?”
The Osmosian took a long time in answering. He considered the various meanings of the word 'friends' that head learned over the years. When his father used the word 'friends' it meant any number of things. Business associates, buyers, sellers, competition, flat-out enemies... When Kenny said 'friends' it meant loyal companions who got into trouble together, got back out of trouble together, supported each other and had each other's backs.
Devlin didn't yet know how his mother used the word 'friends'. But he did know that he had neither 'business associates' nor loyal companions in school. He didn't have enough in common with the other children there to form such relationships. They were too different from him. Too innocent, untainted, wholesome, and mundane. They did have Devlin's life and they wouldn't understand him.
Perhaps he took too long answering.
“Devlin?” Gwendolyn prompted.
The boy met her eyes in the rearview mirror, almost challengingly. “I don't have any friends at school.”
The Osmosian didn't know what kind of reaction he was expecting to this announcement. He got the distinct impression that not having any friends at school was a bad thing in her eyes. If it was his father asking, Devlin would have no doubt in his mind about his opinion. Kevin would approve. There was no good business to be done with elementary school children, and loyal companions weren't a thing Osmosians deserved. But his mother seemed to be the polar opposite of everything his father was or believed.
There was a beat of silence.
“Do you want friends at school?” Gwendolyn finally asked after a pause.
The 'no' was fast on Devlin's tongue. He didn't want friends at school. Osmosians were monsters -he was a monster- and monsters didn't deserve friends. But the word stuck in his throat. He thought about the other day when Mom was late picking him up and he almost spoke to the boy from his class whom was likewise waiting to be picked up. But he also remembered when the boy's father came to pick him up. How easy if was for the boy to take the older man's hand, talking and smiling like it was the most natural thing in the world. Devlin didn't have that with his father.
“I don't have anything in common with the other kids in school.” He told her finally.
For some reason, that answer made her happy and contented mood from earlier deflate. Just a little bit of light went from her eyes and she looked forlorn, almost regretful when she admitted. “No. No, you don't have much in common with the other kids at your school.”
They drove in silence for a while after that.
In fact, they were almost back at the house again when Devlin decided to ask about her day in return. “You seemed really happy when you picked me up. Did something good happen at work?”
“I thought so.” She nodded. “I've been working on this big project for the past few days and today I thought I made some real progress.”
“Well that's good.” He nodded as the car pulled into the driveway. “Is it an important project? Since the High Magus is handling it personally.”
She hesitated before answering. “It has a personal importance to me.”
“Oh.” Devlin plastered a smile on his face. “Well, I'm glad you made some progress on it then.”
Gwendolyn grinned a rueful smile at his response. After what the boy said about his father, that he was better off dead than imprisoned, she didn't think he would be so pleased to know what her 'project' really was. She unlocked the child safety locks and watched her son climb out of the car before her.
She followed him into the house and watched him put his backpack down next to the couch where he proceeded to ignore his homework. This seemed to be a pattern of his. To ignore his homework until she held her story hostage until it was done. Gwendolyn counted the seconds between Devlin putting down his backpack and looking back up at her and asking for her to continue said story.
“So, what happened after Ben left?” He asked. “Did you talk to Dad?”
Gwendolyn reached down and picked up his backpack. Unzipping the main compartment, she pulled out the first thing her hand touched -a math worksheet. “This first. Then the story.”
The boy groaned. “How about while I do it?”
His mother did not look impressed. The story would just be a distraction from homework.
“I'm really good at multi-tasking.” Devlin insisted. “Please?”
“Well, damn! What's the occasion?” Kevin blinked at the elegantly set table. It had been several months since they'd finally finished moving into their new house. But to save time and dishes, the two of them had still continued to eat in the kitchen over the sink. Kevin wasn't a big fan of cleaning, and Gwendolyn -in her condition- Kevin didn't want her cleaning.
The sorceress came out of the kitchen carrying two plates of food. Steak and potatoes with steamed string beans. She set them down at each of the place settings and sat down. Looking up at him, Gwendolyn said, “I was hoping we could talk.”
“Is everything okay?” He ignored his own plate and place setting and was at her side in moments. Kneeling on one knee next to her chair like the night he clumsily proposed. The Osmosian placed one hand to her swollen belly and ignored the fuzzy little feeling in his chest it gave him when he felt the think kick under his hand. What if those little kicks were hurting her?
“For the love of-” She growled back at him. “Sit down and eat your food! I said I wanted to talk, not that I was in crisis and need you to freak out.”
It took Kevin a couple moments before he actually moved. He stayed there for a little bit longer, feeling the mutant fetus kick under her hand and not quite understanding how he felt about that. He tried to probe it with his Osmosian powers, but he never really used his powers for something like that before -to feel for and gauge energy rather than just out right absorb it- he didn't know what he was doing or what he was looking for even. How would he know what was the Osmosian fetus leeching off her, and what was natural for a fetus still developing inside its mother? Kevin knew very little about pregnancy, and he knew even less about his own mutation.
With a resigned sigh, the Osmosian stood and moved to claim the chair in front of the plate she'd set for him. He waited until she started eating first, then -deciding nothing must be terribly wrong, she was just breaking from their routine on a whim- he to, began eating. The steak was fantastic! The potatoes, also excellent. The string beans were a vegetable and only there to bring a little color to the plate. Kevin had no intention of actually eating them.
“Kevin, eat your string beans.” Gwendolyn commanded. “Think of the example you'll be setting.”
“I don't care.” He informed her honestly, and took a large bite out of his steak. It was medium rare and still a little bloody, just the way he liked it. She knew him so well. Bright red juice dripped from his mouth as he chewed.
Gwendolyn reached over and dabbed at his mouth with a napkin for him. “I swear, how did I manage to fall in love with such a savage?”
“You said it, not me.” He smiled at her. There was meat stuck in his teeth. Gwendolyn had to avert her eyes to keep from getting sick. Kevin drank some water to wash out what he could. “So, what did you want to talk about?”
Ran her finger around the rim of her own water glass.
Sucked in a breath.
“Kevin, you're-” The words stuck in her throat. “Your one request was that I not give him a name that rhymes with yours.”
“Ugh. This again.” He groaned and went back to his meat.
“I still think it would be nice to name him after Devin.” She continued. “True, he never really existed. But that doesn't change the fact that the idea of him was a very influential force in your life -a positive influential force- and I'd like to honor that influence by naming our son after him.”
“But, since your one request was that I not follow the Tennyson tradition of rhyming names and not give our son a name that rhymes with yours, I've decided on 'Devlin' instead. Its just adding in an extra letter, so I'm not changing it from 'Devin' too much. Plus, 'Devlin' is an actual name, so he won't be made fun of in school.”
“Oh, he'll be made fun of.” Kevin assured her. “Looking like that, he'll be tormented as a freak worse than I was. I might have had weird powers and an attitude problem, but at least I looked human. That thing in your belly is hideous! It'd be better off home schooled.” At least then, Kevin could control it. Make sure it didn't hurt anyone like he did when he was younger.
Gwendolyn slammed her fork down on her plate. “Ya know what! You're impossible! Ben's wrong. You don't deserve to hear the other thing I was going to tell you!”
She stood and stormed from the table.
Kevin likewise jumped up to follow her. “Wait, what other thing?”
Chapter 10: Devlin Making Trouble
“Will you try and make some friends today?” Gwendolyn asked when she dropped Devlin off at school the next day. “Its Friday. Ask someone how they're spending their weekend. Try taking an interest. You won't find anything in common with the other kids if you don't look.”
She said this knowing full well that no other student attending Bellwood Preparatory Elementary had been kidnapped from their mother as an infant, or raised by a brutal and half-insane father with monstrous super-powers. When it came to the big things in his life, Devlin would never find anyone with the same thins in common. But he might find someone with an interest in machines and technology. Or someone who might share his growing affection for books, the written word, and stories. Or maybe just another child whom was living with a single parent. Whatever common ground that could be used as a foundation to build a friendship on. Children needed friends. Devlin had Kenny, but a person needed more than one friend.
The Osmosian paused before exiting the car. He was looking at the strap of his backpack, but Gwendolyn got the distinct impression that he wasn't seeing it. His thoughts had turned elsewhere. Somewhere dark if his expression was anything to go on. Somewhere she couldn't follow. She knew Kevin's darkness. She knew exactly what it was and where it came from. She was not so well informed about her own son's darkness. She had been removed from his life for over a decade. All his formative years. Too long.
Finally, Devlin looked up. “After you're done telling me your story, Mom, I think I'll tell you a little of what it was like living with Dad.”
Gwendolyn paused. She swallowed, suddenly finding her mouth dry. Her hands tightened unconsciously on the steering wheel. “I'd like it if you felt comfortable enough to talk to me about that.”
He moved as if he was about to leave, but paused again. One hand on the door handle, Delvin looked back up at his mother. “It wasn't all bad, ya know. Living with Dad. He wasn't always terrible. Otherwise I wouldn't have tried to rescue him at all.”
That admission gave her hands reason to relax around the wheel. Academically, she knew that Kevin couldn't have been all bad. Otherwise Devlin wouldn't be able to form relationships or trust people at all, and he was good friends with Kenny, and trusted both her and Ben. But it was good to hear. “I know that.”
Devlin opened the car door and threw his backpack over his shoulder.
“If-” Gwendolyn stopped him. Thought about what she was about to ask. Began again. “If Kevin could be rehabilitated. If we could make him like he was -not like how you knew him, but how he was before you were born. When he was still good. Do you think you'd like to see him again then?”
Or did Devlin still think he was better off dead than imprisoned.
The boy took a long time in answering. He looked out the window, that same expression on his face as when he was examining his backpack strap. His eyes might be pointed out the window, but he wasn't seeing the school, or his classmates. His thoughts were elsewhere. Far away.
Finally, Devlin answered. “I donno. He was all I had for almost all my life. But when I got between him and Ben, he just... He threw me away! I'm his son! He's been with me my whole life! And he picked me up with his tentacle, told me I was useless, and threw me away!”
Gwendolyn pursed her lips. There was that. Before she decided she'd never let Kevin alone with her son again. After yesterday's success with the older Osmosian, she was more optimistic about his rehabilitation and place in her life and in her family. But that didn't mean she could forget the damage that he did to their son. The scars Kevin left on Devlin wouldn't heal or face quickly or easily. If she wanted her husband back in her life, and her son to accept him, it was going to take a lot more work. More than just returning Kevin to who he really was.
She opened her mouth to say something. Quickly realized she didn't know what to say. Gwendolyn cleared her throat. “He had no right to do that to you.”
“And yet, he did.” Devlin reminded her.
That was when he finally exited the car. Popping the door open and hopping out before she had the chance to formulate a response.
Kevin tried to wash up before Gwendolyn arrived.
What she was doing to him, exercising his aliens and his surplus of energy, it hurt. It hurt a lot. In fact, Kevin felt very justified in applying the word 'torture' to it. But he'd been tortured before and survived. He could survive this. And if it meant he got to see his wife... if it meant Kevin got to be with Gwendolyn... then he was willing to endure it. The Osmosian would suffer through what he had to suffer through to be hers again.
She was not in as pleasant a mood as she had been when she left yesterday.
That was disappointing. The Osmosian had been hoping to charm her into a bit more than talking before they got down to ripping things out of him. But there wouldn't be time for that if he had to improve her spirits before he seduced her body. Still, that wasn't going to stop Kevin from trying for a kiss. Her lips had looked so kissable yesterday. So full, and round, and pink. She was wearing the same lipstick today.
Kevin crossed the space between them, one hand out stretched to take hers.
But Gwendolyn reacted very differently than he was expecting. Instead of meeting him halfway and leaning in for the embrace, she grabbed his outstretched wrist and twisted the arm behind his back. She pressed him up against the nearest bookshelf. “Are you in control? Or was that a grab for my mana?”
He shivered at the feel of her breath on the back of his ear. “Actually, it was a grab for your tits. Does that make you more or less upset?”
“Ugh. You.” She released him.
Kevin rolled his shoulders and cracked his wrists. He never exactly 'forgot' that his wife was a kung fu master. But she was deceptively strong in proportion to her size and it sometimes slipped his mind just how effective her hand-to-hand skills could be even without the benefit of magic. “So, can I assume over the clothes petting is off the table.”
“Seriously, Kevin?” Gwendolyn grumbled in irritation. “I finally start to get you back and its the brainless, over-sexed, horny part that comes back first.”
“I haven't been with my wife in eleven years!” He whined back. It was actually a little over eleven years if one counted the time during her pregnancy that they abstained for fear that the activity would over tax her already exhausted body. “Can you blame me for being a little horny?”
Gwendolyn only raised an eyebrow at him. She found it very hard to believe that in the eleven years they were separated, he never found female companionship somewhere else. She may never have divorced him, but she still had needs and since he wasn't around to fulfill them, she turned elsewhere for male companionship. Celibacy was a concept not easily put into actual practice. Not even by one as disciplined as Gwendolyn Levin. She certainly didn't expect it from Kevin.
“What!?” He demanded at her raised eyebrow.
She offered him a placating smile. “Maybe after we're done I'll be more in the mood to accommodate you.”
When they were finished rehabilitating him, not when she finished with him for the day. Kevin was a very attractive man and Gwendolyn would be lying if she didn't admit to wanting to enjoy the pleasures of his body again. But after her conversation with Devlin earlier that morning, Kevin -quite frankly- didn't deserve it.
Kevin sighed, resigning himself to another day of pain and torture as he was rent into pieces and said pieces were thrown to the aether of the universe.
The basic multiplication tables and division they were going over in school weren't nearly as difficult as the navigational calculations he's father taught him to make while piloting their ship. He never had any formal schooling prior to coming to live with his mother, but he was actually far more educated than he first anticipated. In fact, on some subjects Devlin was actually ahead of his classmates.
He still wasn't all that great on spelling tests -although, he was getting better thanks to all the reading he'd been doing since coming to live with his mother. And history? Devlin didn't have even the slightest foundation for that. At least Kevin had tried to teach him how to read. But Earth history? No. That was something the Osmosian didn't even know was a requirement until he got his history textbook on orientation day.
But math, math was something Devlin was good at. Almost as good at it as he was at taking apart and putting back together his hover board, or piloting Dad's ship. Math was definitely one of the Osmosian's strong suits.
Devlin curled one arm over his test paper when he noticed someone trying to copy off his answers.
The other boy looked up plaintively at Devlin as if to ask what he was doing wrong. Then turned his attention to make sure their teacher didn't see. The Osmosian continued to glare accusations at the other boy until he turned his eyes back on his own paper. Devlin recognized him as the boy who also waited outside the front of the school for his father to pick him up. He waited to make sure the teacher wasn't looking at either of them, and scribbled a quick note. Devlin passed it to the other boy under the desk. Nothing long or fancy. Just three simple words.
'Test answers: $5'
Kevin taught him never to give anything away for free. Not if there was a profit to be had. In this world, there were three types of people, suppliers, brokers, and buyers. The trick to being successful in life -Kevin said- was to never be a buyer. If there was something you needed, you brokered a deal for it. If there was something in demand that you could supply, then you should make a profit from it. Never give anything away for free, and never let anyone take anything without payment.
The other boy had to wait until the teacher turned away from them again before he could pass his reply to the Osmosian. Another brief and to the point note: 'No.'
Devlin shrugged and went back to his math test. Since he wasn't turning a profit from this, there was no reason to continue haggling with the other boy. That was, at least, until the other boy started leaning over to get a look at Devlin's answers again.
Their transaction was done, no money exchanged hands. He should have known better. A person can't get something for nothing. Kevin made sure Devlin knew this. Apparently the other boy never had the luxury of being taught the same lesson from his father. When Devlin caught his copying off his answers a second time without paying, he grabbed the other boy's hand and started to bend two of his fingers backwards.
“Ah! Ow, ow, ow!” The boy howled. Practically falling out of his seat and kneeling on the floor.
All eye in the room turned to them. The teacher gasped in horror at the violence. In all her years of teaching at the prestigious and private prep school, she'd never seen an eleven year old child attack another student so violently.
“Devlin Levin! What are you doing!?” She rushed to pull the boy apart.
“He was trying to copy my test!” The Osmosian explained, as if that would excuse everything. When someone didn't pay you for good or services rendered, you exacted payment in other ways. Or, at least, that's what Kevin taught him. Didn't all adults think that way? Wasn't that the way of the world? Kevin taught him that was the way of the world.
“My hand...” Sobbed the boy.
“Let him go!” The teacher howled, grabbing both boy's wrists and forcefully pulling them apart. She stood there, holding one boy in each hand and panting, not really knowing what to do now. Children didn't usually attack one another in the middle of tests. “What is wrong with you?”
Devlin needed to go to the principal, that was for sure. And the other one needed to see the school nurse. Obviously, both their parents needed to be called. But the teacher couldn't leave her class unattended while she escorted the boys. She got another student to volunteer to take the one accused of copying to the nurse. Devlin, she had to hold in her class, sequestered in a corner, until security could come and collect him.
So much for making friends at school.
Kevin gasped, blinking his eyes blurred from pain.
Gwendolyn had stopped suddenly. Right in the middle of ripping out one of his aliens. Kevin could still see it. Like a faint mist hanging around him. A ghostly fog in the vague shape of a Chimera Sui Generis. The Osmosian stared at it, not quite understanding what was going on. Then the glow of the magic sigil faded as Gwendolyn released the spell entirely and the alien energy fell back into Kevin's body. He felt a rush as it was absorbed into him again. But the rush was overshadowed by his own confusion.
Pushing himself into a sitting position, he looked to his wife. Gwendolyn was on her cell phone. Not her Plumbers badge, this wasn't a Ben emergency. Just her civilian phone. What was going on?
“What happened?” He asked. “Why'd you stop?”
Gwendolyn ended the call and looked at him. “I have to cut things short today.”
She put her phone back in her pocket and closed the book.
“Why!?” Kevin demanded. Not because he was enjoying this, but because he wanted what he would get once it was done. The Osmosian slammed a fist into the ground in frustration. He roared, partly from pain, partly from frustration. “I wanna be with you! Finish the spell! Make me how I was so we can be together again!”
She looked at him, sad and forlorn and torn between two conflicting loyalties. She did want to stay and finish what she was doing to him. She wanted him back just as much as he wanted her back. But whatever it was on the other end of that phone had just as strong a hold on her as he did. Possibly stronger, since she was leaving him -and leaving him unfinished- for whatever it was.
“Maybe tomorrow.” Gwendolyn tried to placate.
Kevin grabbed the nearest object to the circle and threw it in his frustration. It impacted a far wall and shattered.
The first thing Gwendolyn saw when she entered the office was her son, sitting in a chair and looking chastised. The second thing she saw was one of the school's security guards standing over him. Her eyes flicked quickly to the other boy, flanked by his father and clutching one hand. The school's principal, and a student councilor.
“What happened?” The sorceress demanded.
Devlin opened his mouth to speak, but he was cut off by the student councilor. “Mrs. Tennyson, thank you for coming so quickly! I'm very concerned about-”
“Its 'Ms. Tennyson' or 'Mrs. Levin'.” Gwendolyn interrupted. “I'm not married to my brother.”
“Ms. Tennyson,” the councilor began again, “did they explain to you on the phone what your son did to another student?”
Her eyes flicked from the councilor, over her son, and to the other boy. Sitting with his father, clutching a hand in apparent pain. In an instant, all the things Kevin could have taught the boy on how to cause damage to another person flashed through her head. “He got into a fight with another boy.”
“He broke my hand!” Wailed the other boy.
“I just bent it a little bit!” Devlin snarled back. “There would have been a pop if I broke anything! Bones make popping sounds when they break.”
Gwendolyn filed that little detail away under 'things a child his age shouldn't know' and promised herself that the next time she saw Kevin she was going to demand why her eleven year old son knew what to listen for when breaking bones. Her eyes flicked to the injured boy. He was holding his injured hand, leaning forward over it. It was impossible to see exactly what kind of damage was done. And Devlin didn't even try denying the fact that he hurt the boy, only the severity of the injury.
Her eyes met the boy's father's and she saw the righteous anger of a parent who's child had just been hurt. It was a feeling she knew very well.
“What do you Plumbers teach your children?” He demanded.
“Don't be mad at her!” Devlin jumped up out of his seat, but was pushed back down again by the security guard standing over him. “She didn't teach me how to discipline people!”
“Discipline!?” Echoed the injured boy's father.
Gwendolyn's eyes flashed with confusion and she looked to the councilor and the principal for clarification.
“Apparently, young Mr. Levin here caught Mr. Connel here trying to copy off his test.” Explained the principal. “He didn't jump straight to violence, though. First your son tried to charge for the answers.”
He passed Gwendolyn a crumpled piece of paper. Smoothing it out, she read 'Test answers: $5'. It took every once of will power and self-control she had no to roll her eyes. That was Kevin's influence right there. That was how Kevin had raised her son for these past eleven years. Not by teaching him to follow rules, but by teaching him to make a profit by helping other people to break the rules. She folded the paper up and handed it back to the Principal. She also knew what her estranged husband did to those that wouldn't pay him what he was owed.
Gwendolyn sighed. “I expect you'll want to put Devlin on a suspension for this.”
“He should be expelled!” The father of the injured boy snarled.
“He will be suspended.” The principal announced, raising his voice slightly to be heard over the distraught parent. He fixed his gaze on Gwendolyn. “His expulsion is dependent on how the boy responds to counseling.”
Of course, they would demand Devlin attend therapy. And they were right to. No normal boy of eleven tried to break other children's hands. No normal boy of eleven should know how.
“Understood.” Gwendolyn nodded. “Anything else? How long will his suspension be?”
“We'll start with six weeks and see how he responds to counseling.”
Gwendolyn nodded again. “Anything else? May I take my son home now?”
“What about my son?” Demanded the injured boy's father.
The sorceress turned to him. “Have you had X-rays done yet? Do you know how much damage was actually done? Send me the bill for his medical expenses. I'll cover it.”
She crossed the room, and took her son by the hand. Glaring a challenge at the school's security guard when he moved as if to stop her. She pulled Devlin from his chair, gripping his hand in a vice-like grip, and dragged him from the office. She didn't let go until they were at her car. Instead of putting him in the back, Gwendolyn wrenched open the front passenger door and shoved her son in.
“Are you mad?” Asked the boy.
Gwendolyn turned at glare on him, ready to snap back with a reprimand but paused. She took a moment to analyze what she was actually feeling. She was mad. Yes. Very mad. But not at Devlin. Oh, she was upset over what he did. He could have seriously injured that boy. And over what? A couple answers to a test neither of them would remember in a couple months. But as upset as she was over it, she wasn't mad at Devlin. She was mad for him. She was mad at Kevin.
Kevin who taught her son how to break fingers. What to listen for when breaking bones. He taught her son to help others bend or break rules, and to expect payment for it. That if he wasn't given payment, he should exact it in other ways. Devlin did what he did in that classroom because -as far as he'd been taught- that was the right thing to do. It was Kevin's fault, what Devlin did to that other boy. Kevin was the one Gwendolyn was mad at.
“Yes. I'm mad.” She admitted. “But not at you. You didn't know any better. I'm mad at the person who taught you that was the thing to do.”
“At Dad.” Devlin concluded.
“Yes. At Kevin.” She nodded. “I'm mad at Kevin for a lot of things where you are concerned.”
Days off together were rare. Between his work as a Magister ranked Plumber, and her work as a Magus, they lead very busy lived.
Days off together where they weren't arguing seemed even rarer these days. They had so much to disagree about lately it seemed.
Kevin held Gwendolyn's hand as they walked. The Osmosian wasn't particularly fond of leisurely strolls through the park. He preferred to spend his free time under his car, adding new features, or fine tuning old ones. But he was fond of his wife, and the fresh air and sunlight seemed to be doing her good.
He intertwined his fingers with hers, feeling her mana pulse just beneath the skin. A slightly duller pulse than was usual. A noticeably weaker pulse than before her pregnancy. Kevin wanted to point it out. But thought better of it. After over thirty weeks of arguments and disagreements, he'd finally learned to spot a loosing battle before he charged into it. He had to content himself with her company and her happiness -frail though she was.
Gwendolyn sighed. Pulling him closer, she rested her head on his shoulder as they walked.
“Are you feeling tired?” He asked.
She pulled away almost instantly. So much for a tender moment of cuddling in the sun. “Why do you automatically assume I'm exhausted every time I lean on you?” She asked. “Maybe I just like brushing up against your body. Have you ever considered that?”
“I know very well how much you enjoy brushing against my body.” Kevin informed her. It was one of the reasons his mutant spawn was in her belly right now. He should have known better than to say anything. He should have just kept his big mouth shut. Why did he never keep his big mouth shut? “I just meant- If we were walking to fast... or if you were getting hot...”
“Thank you. I'm fine.” She barred her teeth at him in a challenge.
That was one thing he would always love about her. She was fierce, and feisty, and never backed down from a challenge. A little spitfire. Pure energy. Even if said energy was being sucked off by his unwanted mutant spawn. Kevin wanted to kiss her in that moment. Looking up at him full of the fire and passion that made him fall in love with her in the first place. Maybe he could learn to love his son too... since it came from her.
“You're very fine.” He barred her teeth back at her, accepting the challenge. Though he wasn't quite sure what it was they were challenging each other to, exactly.
She pulled him close again and rested her head back on his shoulder. “You're pretty fine yourself.”
“Well, I do lift.” He shrugged. She arm she was leaning on, he moved to wrap around her instead. It was nice. Being together without starting arguments or fights. Moments like this had become a rarity in the Levin household. Kevin wanted to enjoy it as much as he could.
They walked together like that for some time. His arm around her, her leaning into him. Like any normal -happy- couple expecting their first child. It was a fun little pretense. Pretending to be happy. Kevin was so good at it that he almost tricked himself into thinking he actually was happy. After all, why shouldn't he be? The woman he loved was getting ready to deliver their first child. A son. Wasn't that something most normal men wanted? Happy wives that bore them strong sons. Happy wives that cuddled close to them as they strolled through the park.
Then Gwendolyn groaned, one hand going to her swollen belly. And his happy mood vanished as if it had never been there to begin with. How stupid was he to think that he could like that thing in her belly. That he could love that mutant spawn. That he could call it 'son' instead of what it really was -a monster. A monster like him. His son -or 'Devlin' as he was destined to be called- would be just as much of a monster as Kevin was. Just as much of a monster, and a constant reminder.
The arm that was around her shoulders held tighter. “Everything okay?”
He expected her to snap back with anger at him for always assuming that she was in pain or that something was wrong every time her hand went to her belly. But this time instead of anger, she just came back with a strained brush off of his concern.
“He just kicks a bit hard. That's all.” Gwendolyn forced a pleasant smile on her face that was entirely fake.
Even without his half a lifetime of bluffing, and conning, and otherwise perfecting the art of seeing through others poker faces, Kevin would have seen through this. It might be true that the creature inside her belly kicked hard. In fact, from what Kevin remembered of that mutation, it would kick hard. The fact that she changed her pattern of anyways biting back with anger, and was instead trying to brush it off with fake smiles to the Osmosian that -this time, at least- something was indeed wrong.
“Do you wanna sit down?” He offered, wondering if the suggestion would upset her and no quite sure if he wanted it to. If she was angry that meant she had energy to be angry.
“In the car.” She said. “Take me home.”
Kevin nodded -then swept her up into his arms to carry her back to the car.
“I can walk, ya know!” She snapped, insulted that he was back to treating her like she was made of porcelain or glass.
“Maybe I want the pleasure of holding you in my arms.” He told her.
“Ugh. I'm fat and heavy.” Gwendolyn groaned back. “There's no fun in carrying me around.”
Yet, she made no move to struggle out of his arms and walk on her own back to the car. That meant that she was either enjoying being carried by him, or else she didn't have the energy to fight him off. If it was the latter, that was just more cause for worry. He did let her down. Once they got to the car, so he could free a hand to open the door for her.
“Oh, so gentlemanly.” She laughed. But the smile didn't quite reach her eyes.
She sat down in the passenger seat and belted in. Her free hand resting back over her belly.
Kevin turned over the engine and pulled out of the park's parking area. Looks like their pleasant day out together was at an end. Oh, well. They might still be able to have a pleasant day at home together. She could read. He could work on his car. Maybe they could cuddle a bit more -and in the privacy of their own home, clothing was optional for cuddling.
Gwendolyn groaned again. The hand that was already on her belly was joined by the other.
In the driver seat Kevin glanced sideways at her. “He kicking hard again?”
“He's your son.” She flashed him another one of those fake smiles. This was much more clearly strained. “I'd be worried if he didn't kick hard.”
That was probably meant to be a complement to his stubbornness. Or a comment on his prowess as a Plumber and warrior. But all Kevin heard was a reminder that he was a savage and cruel monster that had hurt her and her family in the past and was easily capable of doing it again. And that his child -that wasn't even out of the womb yet- had inherited the same brutality. “Does it hurt? Is it hurting you?”
“It'll pass.” She shook her head. “He'll stop eventually. He usually does.”
“That doesn't answer my question.” He told her.
“Well, of course it hurts!” She snapped at him. “I have something kicking at me from the inside. That doesn't mean anything's wrong! Babies kick. I've been feeling him kick since before you could feel it -not that you've felt it often.”
And... they were back to arguing again.
Well, that didn't take long. Kevin suppressed the urge to sigh, focusing his attention on the road instead. So much for some naked cuddling. She would probably go right upstairs to take a nap and have no more to do with him today. He would stay in the garage and work on his car until he was calm and relaxed enough to shower and crawl into bed with her.
Then she groaned again. This time a deeper, more guttural sound. Something indicative to real pain. Not just discomfort, but actual hurt. Kevin glanced over at her again. Instead of hands just resting on her stomach, both arms were wrapped around her swollen mid-section. The Osmosian took one look at her and changed their direction, making a left turn when they usually would go right.
Gwendolyn looked over at him.
“I'm not taking you home.” He said by way of explanation. “We're going to Plumbers HQ.”
“Why?” The word was strained.
Kevin couldn't believe she could still ask why when she was doubled over in pain, both arms wrapped around her mid-section. She could say whatever she liked. But this was not a normal pregnancy, and that thing inside her was not a normal baby. Kevin wasn't going to take any chances with his wife's life. Not when so little was still know about the Osmosian mutation and Osmosian pregnancies.
“I wanna get a look inside you.” He finally answered. The Plumbers infirmary did have some of the best internal imaging equipment on the planet.
“You wanna get another look at Devlin 11?” She taunted.
His hands tightened on the steering wheel. Kevin knew he shouldn't let it both him. He really, really shouldn't. Getting mad was the last thing either of them needed right now. But that horrible, monstrous shape was his shape -when he was Kevin 11. Calling it Devlin 11 was just another reminder of how horrible he was and could be again.
“I wanna make sure sweet little Devlin isn't about to punch through your stomach a la Alien.” A pause, because he remembered that they worked with aliens on a daily basis and the reference might not be clear. “The movie with Sigourney Weaver.”
“I know what you meant.” She snapped back.
Good. Snapping was good. If she was snapping at him that meant she was angry. If she was angry, that meant she had the energy to be angry. Kevin refocused his attention on driving.
He pulled the car into the Plumbers Headquarters motor-pool and cut the engine. Just as he had the day of their shocking sonogram when they first saw what kind of misshapen and mutated form their son would have, Kevin came around to the passenger side and lifted her up out of the car, and carried her to the infirmary. This time, she did not protest. The Osmosian laid her down on an exam table and called for Blukic and Driba.
The two Galvans got the imaging equipment running and set it up over Gwendolyn's swollen belly.
Kevin turned the screen so that she couldn't see.
“What is it?” Demanded Gwendolyn. She tried to sit up and grab at the screen to see what they were seeing. But Kevin pushed her back down, pulling the screen back out of her reach.
“Well?” He asked of Blukic and Driba.
Both Galvans exchanged a look. They didn't know much about human procreation and even less about Osmosian reproduction. The two aliens looked slack-jawed at Kevin. “Uuhhhh...”
“If you two don't know what to do, then find me someone who does!” Kevin roared at both of them.
Driba and Blukic exchanged another unsure look. This one with a bit more caution than the first.
“There is someone who's an expert on Osmosians...” Driba began slowly.
“Well, bring them here!” Kevin demanded, not pausing to wonder who could be a greater expert on Osmosians that Kevin himself. Osmosian was such a rare mutation. The only other Osmosian Kevin had ever met in his life was Aggregor, and he did not become an Osmosian by natural means, but was artificially made one by Proctor Servantis.
Again the Galvans hesitated. “You don't want that.”
“Why not?” Kevin demanded. “If they can help Gwen, I want them. Why wouldn't I want them?”
“Because its Servantis.” Blukic told him bluntly.
Chapter 11: His Last Team-up With Rook
Devlin laid in bed for a long time after he woke up. He didn't exactly know what he was supposed to do. True, it was Saturday and he wouldn't be going to school anyway. But since being suspended and required to attend therapy, the young Osmosian didn't know what to expect. He laid in bed, listening to the vintage analogue alarm clock tick.
Finally, he decided he was hiding long enough. Though, the Osmosian wasn't quite sure what he was hiding from. His mother. What he had done yesterday. Or the fact that it made him more like his father than he was comfortable with. Or maybe he was hiding from all three. Unfortunately, only one of those things could actually be hidden from. The other two he couldn't hide from. They would always be there -in his head. Where he couldn't escape them.
If he couldn't escape them, then he might as well go downstairs and enjoy the delicious bacon he could smell.
Mom was standing over the stove when Devlin entered the kitchen. Turning the bacon with one hand and holding her phone to her ear with the other. She slammed the bacon strip she was turning down a bit harder than she should have, grease splattered over the stove.
“I see.” She said over the phone. “Well, thank you for your time.”
She hung up in frustration and began dialing another number.
Devlin cleared his throat to let her know he was there.
“I sensed your mana when you woke up.” She said, not looking up from the bacon. “Nice of you to come down and join me. For a moment, I was afraid you'd also adopted your father's habit of brooding alone until someone came to collect you.”
The Osmosian didn't much like being compared to his father. Especially not after yesterday and learning that the view of the world and how things work he was taught as a child was not only incorrect, but also not very common in general. Yesterday he was channeling his father's way of thinking. This morning he was brooding like his father. Devlin hated his father.
“Sit down and eat your breakfast.” She put some bacon on a plate with eggs and toast and set the plate on the table. Then turned her attention back to her phone. “Yes. I'm here. Hello. I'd like to schedule an appointment for a new client. Fine. A consultation then. Devlin Levin. I'm his mother, Gwendolyn Tennyson. Yes, Tennyson. He's my cousin. Does that matter? Osmosian. Not its not a type of alien, its a human mutation. Yes, it give him powers. I see. Thank you for your time.”
She hung up again.
“Something wrong?” Devlin asked.
Gwendolyn sat down at the table across from him with her own plate of eggs and toast. Her stomach was so knotted up with frustration she didn't think she could handle something as heavy as bacon just now. “Apparently, children that are half-alien or have super-powers are still relatively new enough that common psychology and psychiatry haven't quite caught up with you yet. I'm having trouble finding a therapist willing to take you on for fear of a misdiagnosis.”
Or psychiatrist wiling to take him on for the same reason. Only with a psychiatrist a misdiagnosis could be far more dangerous since medications are involved. Never mind the fact that Osmosian was a rare enough mutation that there was no way of knowing if his body would react the way it should to medications or if they would give him unforeseen and harmful side effects. Gwendolyn decided not to mention that little detail to her son. It would make him worry unnecessarily. Osmosians had a tendency to make stupid decisions when they worried. Or, at least, Kevin made stupid decisions when he worried.
“Oh.” Devlin looked down at his plate, feeling like he should apologize.
Gwendolyn reached across the table to place a comforting and supportive hand on her son's shoulder. “Don't worry. I figured as much. We'll go to Plumbers HQ today and see if there's some kind of psychological services I can get for you through them. I might be the High Magus, but I'm also a badge carrying Plumber. I do have health benefits through them and those benefits should extend to my son.”
That brightened his mood. Not the fact that he might be going to a Plumbers psychologist, but that he'd be going to Plumbers Headquarters where Ben lived -where Kenny lived. “Will I get to see Kenny?”
“He should be off from school today.” Mom nodded. “Unless he got himself Saturday school for being a class disruption again. If he's home, then you can go upstairs and play with him while I talk to the benefits department.”
Suddenly this idea of going to the Plumbers HQ didn't sound so bad after all. And if Plumbers Headquarters was also where he would have to go to attend his therapy then he might get to see Kenny more often. He shoved one more piece of bacon in his mouth and pushed away from the table. “I'll go get dressed.”
“I'll meet you at the car.” Gwendolyn nodded. “I have one more call to make.”
Devlin waved his hand to indicate he'd heard and disappeared from the kitchen. The sorceress heard him running upstairs and shut his bedroom door. It wasn't until the door was closed that Zed came in through the dog-door. Gwendolyn reached a hand down to scratch the alien dog's head.
“You're still afraid of him, huh.” She sighed as the Anubian Baskurr's apologetic whine. Putting her phone away, Gwendolyn reached for her Plumber badge instead. “Rook, hey, I know you have other responsibilities as Warden of the Void, but I can't see Kevin today. Would you be able to look in on him? Make sure he's okay. That he's got enough food, the plumbing still works, that sort of thing. He's doing better than before.”
Kevin was anxious for Gwendolyn to come back. She stopped so abruptly yesterday, didn't even finish removing the alien she was in the middle of taking out before she fled the library. She didn't even tell him what had happened. She just got a phone call and left. For all the Osmosian knew, her beloved cousin Benji was attacked by another of his -many- 'arch enemies' and this one finally did him in.
For all Kevin knew, Ben was dead -or lay dying somewhere- and the Osmosian didn't actually know how he felt about that. On the one hand, it meant Ben could never harm him again. On the other hand, while Ben was the source of all the problems in the Osmosian's life, he was also Kevin's best friend. He would mourn the obnoxious Hero's loss. Then again, if someone were gonna kill Ben Tennyson, Kevin would have liked to be the one to do it. If another villain had robbed him of that opportunity... the Osmosian swore revenge!
Then again, Gwendolyn did have other things in her life besides her uncomfortably close cousin. She did have an actual brother. A brother who lived out of town with no magical, alien, or super-human abilities what so ever. He could easily be injured or die from mundane, every day accidents. He could have been in a car accident. He could have been mugged. He could have woken up one morning and decided to divorce his husband. Any one of those things might give Gwendolyn reason to leave Kevin and rush off to help. -Of course, she probably would have at least finished the alien she was in the middle of withdrawing from his body. Ken lived in Boston. A few minutes delay in her leaving to be with him in his time of need wouldn't change much.
Maybe it wasn't a family thing at all. Maybe it was a work thing. She was the High Magus. She did have responsibilities. Responsibilities that she must have been neglecting since she'd spent almost every day for the past week with him.
Whatever her reason -or reasons- for running off so suddenly, Kevin was anxious for his wife to return.
But it wasn't Gwendolyn who came down the stairs.
“Rook!” The Osmosian snarled.
“Hello, again.” Said the Revonnahgander, one hand on his proto-tool in case the Osmosian was not doing as well as Gwendolyn insisted. In case he decided he'd rather attack and fight then talk. “How are you feel now? Are you... yourself?”
“Who the fuck else would I be!?” The Osmosian snarled. Seriously, what was it with everyone. He didn't have a disassociative personality disorder. He wasn't multiple people in the same head. He was always Kevin! Just... some time he was different 'flavors' of Kevin.
Rook frowned. After Gwendolyn's assurances that he was 'doing better' the Revonnahgander expected, well, better. He sighed. “I see your attitude has not improved. In any case, I am here to see if you need anything. More food, better plumbing,” he glanced around the room “help cleaning up?”
“Where's Gwen?” Kevin demanded. She rushed out unexpectedly yesterday and now she wasn't here again today. Now the Osmosian was worried. Did something serious happen? Was Ben really dead? Was Gwendolyn in danger? If he wife was in danger, then Kevin wanted to help. He needed to help. He needed her. Even if they weren't together, he needed her -to exist. To be real. Kevin Levin did not want to live in a world where Gwendolyn Tennyson did not exist. If anything happened to her, he'd- he'd- …well, he supposed he'd follow his regular pattern of insanity and destruction. That's exactly what he would do. “Is she alright?”
With another sigh, Rook pinched the bridge of his nose. Sometimes -most of the time- the Osmosian could have a one-track mind. The name of that track was 'Gwendolyn'.
“She is fine.” He assured the other man. “She is fulfilling her commitment as mother and legal guardian of your son.” A pause in which Rook shot a pointed look at the Osmosian. “Apparently, your son is in need of a therapist.”
Rook rolled his eyes. Of course Kevin wouldn't care.
The Revonnahgander looked around the room for something to sit on. He hadn't been attacked yet, so chances were he wasn't going to be attacked. He and Kevin could actually talk. Just talk. Like they used to when they were friends. When they collaborated together. Making indestructible cars, or repairing and/or improving the standard issue Plumbers tech that was sent to their little Earthling base. Rook counted the Osmosian as a friend, and he was actually looking a little forward to having his friend back.
He piled two thick boards of broken wood -that might have at one time been the table- on top of each other and sat on that. “I guess I can assume you do not want to talk about your son.”
The Osmosian scoffed again.
“How about the current state of the Null Void.” Suggested the Revonnahgander. “That is something we are both well informed about and have personal experience with. Those that followed you have shifted to the Rooters. Did you know that?”
For half a second, Kevin actually did look concerned. But he buried it back down quickly. “Bunch of weaklings. Servantis can have them. He can have the whole fucking Void if he wants it!”
Wouldn't that just make Rook's job impossible. What good was a 'Warden of the Void' if said Void was taken over by a mad scientist hell bent on -eventually- escaping, killing Ben Tennyson, and destroying the Omnitrix.
But it seemed Kevin wasn't yet recovered enough to care about that. He cared about his wife, and that was good. But even insane, Kevin still cared for her in a fashion. Rook remembered Gwendolyn telling him about Ultimate Kevin, before Rook came to Earth and met Ben's Team. The Osmosian had sacrificed his sanity to save them from the warlord Aggregor and become Ultimate Kevin. Ultimate Kevin attacked and drained the powers of all their friends, but he tried his hardest to stay away from Gwendolyn. In fact, if Gwendolyn hadn't been the one trying to track him down -and help him- then Ultimate Kevin never would have tried to kill her in the first place.
So, the fact that Kevin worried about Gwendolyn was not an accurate gage of his sanity. When Kevin started to care about other people, Ben, Max, Rook... Hell! Maybe even his own son. Then it could be believed that he was closer to returning to himself. At the moment, he was non-violent. But he wasn't back to being their friend and teammate.
“Alright then. We won't talk about what's going on right now.” Rook sighed. “How about the last time we worked together? You remember the last time you and I teamed up?”
They teleported into the Void onto an asteroid not far from where the Rooters base used to be before it was confiscated by the Magistrata. Kevin and Rook. Just the two of them. Both clad in their proto-tech armor, blue for Rook, black for Kevin.
The Osmosian looked up at the mottled crimson and scarlet sky with distaste. He hated the Null Void. Ever since Ben trapped him in it when he was only eleven years old. But Kevin pushed the memory from his mind. He'd been to the Null Void and back again several times since. He was no longer a prisoner trapped, but a badge carrying Plumber of rank with the means and permissions to teleport back out again when he wanted.
And he would want to. As soon as he achieved his objective.
He and Rook had come to the Void for a purpose. A personal reason, really. Kevin's personal reason, and Rook was a good enough friend that he was willing to help the Osmosian with it. Ben wanted to help to. But they all agreed that keeping the wielder of the Omnitrix away from former-Proctor Servantis -especially on Sevantis' home turf- was in everyone's best interest. So, Ben stayed on Earth with Gwendolyn, and Kevin and Rook teleported into the Void to retrieve the only person in the universe that could be considered an 'expert' on Osmosians.
Looking down from the hateful red sky, Kevin cast his eyes around -deciding which direction would be the most likely one to follow to find their quarry. Truth be told, neither of them had been back to the Void in many years and there wasn't much intelligence from the Void to help them.
“We really need to get a new base in here.” Rook commented at the Osmosian's side.
“Yeah...” He agreed hesitantly. A base in the Void meant reconnaissance and intelligence from the Void. Regular updates on the criminals that lived in it, their movements, their alignments, their weapons and strengths. Information that would ultimately be an invaluable help to the Plumbers. But... this was still the Null Void. Who would even want to be stationed here? Kevin certainly didn't. “But who would they get to staff it?”
The Revonnahgander gave a shrug. “I'm sure some might volunteer.”
The Osmosian highly doubted that. “C'mon, Rook, move your ass.”
Not knowing which direction to go, one direction was as good as any other. Kevin turned, took a step and kept moving. Either they would find the Rooters and Servantis, or they would be attacked by Way Bads. No matter what happened, they were destined to have an exciting mission.
They walked for about an hour before they reached the edge of the asteroid they were on. A wide expanse of nothing stretched out in front of them. A long drop leading into an abyss one could not see the bottom of. Other rocks and asteroids drifted through the open space. Islands in the Void. But even the closest one was just a little too far for them to jump to. Kevin paced the edge they were standing on, wondering if they should turn back or if it was worth it to try and find a way across. Would Servantis have tried to cross it? Was this sea of empty space her before? The landscape changed in in the Void so easily and so often.
Rook kicked a stone off the edge, and watched it fall. A test of the gravity of the area -another thing that was not quite consistent in the Void.
“The other side of this-” assuming there was an other side “-would be too remote to serve Servantis' purposes.” He said. “If his goals are still to kill Ben and destroy the Omnitrix, then he would need to be closer to a point that can be teleported out from. A point that will have a greater population and traffic. Plumbers teleporting in that he could rob, or natives that might be able to provide supplies -food for his supporters or maintenance for his equipment.”
Kevin agreed. He gave a nod and turned to backtrack their path.
They got back to the spot they teleported into and the Osmosian found himself releasing a growl of frustration. One would think that Servantis would have found a way to monitor Plumbers teleporations in and out of the Void. If for no other reason than to know their movements, or -if he felt bold- to ambush said Plumbers and steal their personal teleporters and get the hell out of the Void. Kevin wanted Servantis to come to him. He was in no mood to be traipsing around the Null Void looking for the old man that used him as a child, altered his memories, and tried to manipulate him as an adult.
“Hey!” Kevin shouted to the deserted asteroid. “I'm right here! A full grown, mature Osmosian! Come and get me!”
Next to him, Rook winced. This was not going to end well.
No sooner had Kevin shouted this, than they were attacked. Not by Rooters working for Servantis, but by wild Vulpimancers native to the Void.
Rook let out a weary sigh.
Kevin dropped to a crouch, one hand on the ground to absorb the rock of the asteroid they were on, the other clenched in a fist that quickly morphed into a spiked mace as soon as it was covered in stone.
One of the Vulpimancers charged at the duo, but Rook pulled his proto-tool off his shoulder and shot a net at the creature -effectively subduing it without harming it. The other two paused to sniff at their fallen comrade. One of the creatures began scratching at the net to free its packmate, while the other made a charge for Rook.
The Revonnahgander shot another net from his proto-tool, but the beast had already seen that trick. It swerved to the side, the net just missing it, and continued in a zig-zag pattern until it got to Rook. The Vulpimancer lunged at his target, jaws snapping, but Kevin thrust an arm in to protect his companion. The Vulpimancer's jaws closed over stone -one of its teeth chipped. Kevin shook his arm to throw the beast off him. He glared a challenge at all three of the creatures, and snarled a very inhuman snarl. The very intimidating sound of a powerful predator that was not in any mood to be fucked with.
All three Vulpimancers looked up at him -although they didn't have any eyes to actually see him with. They quickly rethought the wisdom of attacking this particular pair and as soon as they freed their packmate trapped in Rook's net, they were gone. Running across the asteroid, fleeing Kevin.
The Osmosian crossed his arms over his chest and lowered his rock armor. That crisis, at least, was over.
They heard a clapping sound somewhere off to their left.
Both Rook and Kevin turned to see that someone had been watching their little tussle with the Vulpimancers. Dressed in black proto-tech armor in a style similar to Kevin's own. Rooters proto-tech armor. And in place of a helmet, his head was covered by a Prypiatosian-B grill plate. Not only was this guy a Rooter, but he was a Rooter they recognized.
Within moments Rook had his proto-tool back in his hands, and Kevin was back in a crouch, reapplying his stone armor.
Leander held up his arms for peace. Showing that he had no weapons and no intention of fighting. Of course, the fact that he had no weapons did not necessarily mean he had no intention of fighting. Both Kevin and Rook knew very well that the human-Prypiatosian-B hybrid was capable of shooting a beam of highly radioactive energy from the front of his grill plate. Why carry weapons when you were the weapon?
But, Leander was also the most level headed and calm of the Rooters. If he indicated that he didn't want to fight, chances were you weren't going to fight -unless you attacked him, or he got an order from Servantis.
Unfortunately, Leader was also effectively a mute. Kevin couldn't remember if he ever did speak before having his DNA merged with that of an alien. But he certainly hadn't uttered a word since. He pointed a finger at both the Osmosian and the Revonnahgander, then cast his arms in a wide circle to indicate the Null Void, then gave a questioning tilt of the head and shrug of the shoulders. Then waited.
“He wants to know what we're doing here.” Rook translated.
“I got that.” Kevin bit out tersely. Being around the Rooters again always made him uncomfortable, edgy, and snarly. The Osmosian turned his attention to Leander. “I'm looking for Servantis. Are you still with him? Can you take us to him?” Then, as an afterthought, “We're not here for revenge, or to arrest him, or to kill him -even if he might deserve it- I have a proposition for him he might want to hear.”
There was a pause.
Leander seemed to be considering.
Then he gave a shrug and indicated for the two to follow him.
Kevin and Rook exchanged at look. That was way too fucking easy. There should have been at least some sort of obligatory fight. Then again, of Servantis' three main henchmen -Swift, Billings, and Leander- Leander was the most calm and level headed. Which was ironic considering the fact that he shot radioactive blasts from his head.
He lead them in the exact opposite direction they originally chose -much to the annoyance of Kevin. But they weren't traveling nearly as long. Leander lead them to a tall rock formation and shimmied into a gap between two large boulders. He disappeared behind the stone, one hand reaching out to beckon them to follow. Rook took a step towards the gap in the rock, but Kevin put a hand on his shoulder.
“I go first.” He growled. “You watch my back.”
The Revonnahgander nodded his understanding. If it was stone they were going to be pinned inside, bust to let the one that could turn to stone bear the brunt. Rook would hang back and look out for a double-cross.
Absorbing the rock before he went in, Kevin squeezed between the two boulders. Eyes scanning every shadow, contour, and crevice. Arms ready to morph into weapons at the from of a pin. Muscles poised to spring into defense. Almost immediately after squeezing into the fissure, it widened up again. A wide gap with a rock overhand concealing it from above. The only reason it wouldn't be called a 'cave' was because there was still just enough of a gap between the overhand ceiling and the crevice entrance to give an open and airy feeling. You were boxed in, but Kevin didn't feel boxed in.
Kevin looked to Leander expectantly.
This was the perfect place for a double-cross and an ambush.
But the Rooter just pressed his palm to the seemingly solid rock wall supporting the overhang. The stone face flickers for a second, then disappeared all together. Apparently, it was a hologram. The Magestrata might have confiscated the Rooters' base, but it looked like they had managed to cobble together enough technology to create an at least a somewhat decently secured entrance to their new headquarters. The Osmosian relaxed, but he did not drop his stone skin. He might not be about to be attacked right this second, but like hell was he going to step foot in the Rooters' new base without armor.
“C'mon.” Kevin called for Rook to follow him.
The Revonnahgander squeezed in behind Kevin and both Plumbers followed the Rooter through the false rock hologram.
Inside, looked like the Rooters had found a natural cave, and then excavated deeper, making more tunnels and chambers for their use. One could tell when one wall was formed by the natural shifts of the asteroid, and where another had been cut and dug away by tools.
Lights, had been affixed to the ceiling. Round bulbs in crude makeshift fixtures, their wiring exposed for anyone to see. Kevin followed the wires with his eyes. They ran the full length of the corridor they found themselves in, and turned and twisted down two other halls further down. Leander lead them down one such corridor. Off to the side, not far into the cavernous base.
Kevin kept his stone armor up, and Rook kept his hand on his proto-tool as they followed him deeper into the Rooters base.
The chamber Leander lead them to turned out to be a command center of sorts. It was all salvaged equipment. When the Magistrata confiscated the Rooters old base, all they had left was whatever they had on them at the time. That was pretty much just their proto-tech armor, their communicators, and whatever they might carry in their belts. At some point they probably found one of Kevin and Argit's old caches of supplies, because the Osmosian definitely recognized some of the items they had outfited their command center with. The rest was probably bartered or stolen from other natives of the Void. Nothing matched, and one could see where they had to do some creative wiring to get one piece of tech to combine with another piece of tech from a completely different maker.
All of that was just a cursory assessment. Neither Kevin nor Rook spent too much time on the decor. As soon as they entered the command center, their attention snapped to who was there.
Standing in front of a console, typing something on a keyboard that was not designed for human hands, was Servantis.
Next to Rook, Kevin let out a low growl and morphed one of his stone hands into a long pointed blade. But the Revonnahgander placed what he hoped was a calming hand on the Osmosian's shoulder. “Remember: We were going to talk first.”
Right. Talk. To Servantis.
Kevin remembered. That didn't mean he had to like it. He didn't like anything about this plan. He didn't like anything about the situation that made this plan the best plan.
Servantis turned. He saw Kevin and smiled.
The Osmosian tensed.
“Kevin...” Servantis crooned. “What an unexpected surprise.”
Words rose to Kevin's mind, but they stuck in his throat. He hated Servantis for what the older man did to him. Using him as a child, making him graft alien DNA onto otherwise normal humans with is Osmosian powers. Then, after his and his team's first failure, wiping all their memories and turning them loose to fend for themselves. Not just wiping Kevin's memory, but go so far as to rewrite it all together. Taking out whatever memories he had of his real father -if any- and replacing them with the false idea of 'Devin Levin'. Finally, coming back to ruin his life with Gwen and his relationship with Ben as an adult.
But as much as Kevin hated the man for all that -and justifiably so- he needed Servantis right now. While Kevin was being used, he was also being studied. Servantis had a fascination with Osmosians. Even tried creating an artificial one, the warlord Aggregor. It was such a new and rare mutation, even Kevin didn't understand himself some times. But when Kevin didn't understand himself or what was happening to him, Servantis did. Max Tennyson might be the closest thing Kevin ever had to a 'role model', but Proctor Servantis was the closest thing he had to a 'father figure'.
Rook stepped forward. Since Kevin was too emotionally close to this, he would make the proposition and do the negotiating. “We've come to offer you a deal.”
“A deal?” One of his all-red eyes widened asymmetrically -his equivalent to raising an eyebrow. “What kind of a deal?”
Chapter 12: Happy Birthday!
Sitting on a couch that seemed unnecessarily -overly- comfortable, like it was supposed to lull the person sitting on it into a false sense of security- Devlin glared at the therapist his mother had found for him.
Her name was Dr. Borges. If there was a given name to go with that, she did not share it with patients. Twenty or so years ago, she had been hailed as the “best therapist in Bellwood” -a distinction that might actually have been true. That is, up until she was called in for a session with Ben Tennyson. This would have been back in Ben's teens, when he was still just 'Ben 10', long before 'Ben 10,000' was even an idea in his head. That session with Ben didn't go so well, and Dr. Borges discovered that there was a whole other area of study to be explored.
How aliens think. Group in with this new area of study were all terrestrial Earthlings with powers, and how the fact that they had powers affected how they thought. Their perceptions of the world, how they responded to shock, trauma, or grief. How they coped with those same stressors. As the decades passed and aliens began breeding with humans, a new area of developmental psychology was added onto Xeno-psychology. How did have alien parents, alien blood, alien traits, or just powers different from that of an average Earthling affect a child's natural development? What was age appropriate behavior for a child with powers? Did they develop differently than a child without powers? How did parents instill responsibility in something that could kill them with a tantrum?
After two decades of study, Dr. Borges was once again hailed as the “best therapist in Bellwood”.
That may or may not be true. Devlin didn't care. He didn't like her.
She might have been in her prime twenty years ago, now she was just old. Not that there was anything inherently wrong with being old. Max was old and he was super cool! But -before even saying anything- Dr. Borges seemed to have this attitude about her, this air of 'I'm better and smarter than all of you cause I'm old -I have experience!'. Good for her. Devlin had experience too and he was only eleven, and he was pretty damn sure his experiences were way out of her realm of experience. Basically, she thought she knew everything. Devlin thought she didn't know anything.
All this, was before any words were exchanged between either of them.
Dr. Borges watched him from her own armchair. A far less stuffed, but no less comfortable looking affair upholstered in a neutral and unoffensive gray-blue. One her lap rested a tablet, one hand held a stylus, the other propped up her chin as she studied him. Waiting for the boy to speak first.
Devlin knew this game. It was one his father liked to play with new clients he didn't quite know yet. The first one to talk was the weak one. The first one to talk was the loser. What they chose to say when they broke the silence said a lot about them -more about them than they meant to share. Devlin was determined not to speak first. He was not weak. He would not lose. He wasn't going to give anything away to this stranger.
The clock on the wall behind him was digital, not analogue. It didn't tick. Even without the sound of a tick-tock to mark the seconds, the Osmosian was counting the time. His session with Dr. Borges was supposed to be an hour. That was three-thousand six-hundred seconds. If he could count to 3,600 without saying anything then he would win. Right now he was at one thousand seven-hundred, just a little under half-way through.
Dr. Borges tapper her stylus against the tablet's touch screen. The hand that was propping her chin up changed position, laying casually across her lap instead as the doctor straightened her back. “Devlin, do you want to be here?”
She spoke first. That meant that he won and she was weak!
“No.” He answered truthfully.
“Do you know why you're here?” She followed up with, not missing a beat.
He glared at her. Did she think he was stupid, or was this another test? “They won't let me back in school until my mom gets me some 'counseling'.”
“Yes. That's true.” Borges pushed her glasses back up the bridge of her nose. “But do you know why they require you to get counseling before you return to school?”
Devlin glared at her. Who did she think she was? He understood a great deal more than she did. The Osmosian bet she had probably never even been off planet before. She might be older than him, but she didn't really know how things were. School was very different from the real world. School was safe, and nice, and fair. Life was dangerous, mean, and played by different rules. He was sent to counseling to learn how to conform to his school's idea of appropriate behavior.
Dr. Borges tapped her stylus on the tablet again. “You attacked another student.”
“Yeah...” He prompted. “I attacked Ben, and Kenny too. I didn't hear them crying to send me to therapy after.”
She stopped tapping her stylus and -for the first time since the session began, made a note on her tablet. Devlin's eyes narrowed. What was she writing? Dr. Borges looked back up at him with a patient expression. “You have attacked more people than just the boy from your class. Your own family.”
Well, he didn't know that Ben and Kenny were his family at the time. But Devlin wasn't going to argue the point. Instead, he deflected. “Don't they give you files and stuff? Didn't my mother tell you what you were getting into when she got you to shrink me? Do you even know what I am?”
Did she even know who's son he was? What did the name 'Kevin Levin' mean to Dr. Borges?
That patient look she was giving him morphed into a compassionate smile. “I know you're a very troubled boy.”
He gave a very short bark of a laugh, sounding uncomfortably like his father even to his own ears. Devlin lowered his head and glared up at her from under his sharp bangs. “Lady, you don't know just how 'troubled' I am.”
This time, when Dr. Borges smiled, it wasn't patient or compassionate. It was a smile of satisfaction. As if she'd won. Devlin suddenly wondered if she had been playing a different game than him, or if she pulled a trick his father hadn't taught him. How could she win? She wasn't supposed to win. That wasn't how this was supposed to go.
“Well, I'm glad you're al least able to admit that you have a problem.” She said through her smile. “That's the first step. Now, why don't you tell me about your troubles, Devlin.”
“Can you pick Devlin up from his therapy appointment for me?” Gwendolyn asked, phone to her ear as she walked down the steps that lead to her headquarters under the library at Friedkin. “It gets out around the same time that Kenny gets off from school, so maybe you can take the boys out for smoothies or something.”
“You're going to see Kevin again.” Ben's voice answered back from the other end. It wasn't a question, just a statement. Who else would keep Gwendolyn from picking her son -her one and only child- up from his first therapy appointment?
Even thought she knew he couldn't see the action, Gwendolyn nodded. “Rook was nice enough to check in on him yesterday. But Rook can't do magic. If Kevin's actually going to be rehabilitated, I need to keep at it until the job's done.” She wanted her husband back. “But, after all the things he put Devlin through, I don't want Kevin around him anymore. So, need you to watch Devlin while I'm with his father.”
There was a pause on the other end of the line and Gwendolyn wondered if the call was cut off. She was heading underground -technically.
Then she heard a sigh. “And what about after Kevin's back to his old self? Are you gonna let Devlin around him then? What about Devlin? Would you trust him around Kevin after he flat out said his father would be better off dead?”
Now it was Gwendolyn's turn to be silent a moment. “I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.”
She ended the call just as she stepped off the final step and found herself in her hidden headquarters. She looked up to see Kevin watching her.
He stood across the room, waiting in the middle of the magic circle. Fully clothed in his proto-tech armor, hear pulled back in a pony tail at the base of his skull. He was waiting for her to come and continue what it was she was doing. He wanted to be himself again -because he wanted to be with her again. It was amazing just how much he'd recovered already, and in such a short time too. Gwendolyn smiled at him, putting her phone back in her purse and setting it down.
“You didn't come yesterday.” He said.
“Was busy.” She answered by way of explanation.
“I was afraid you weren't gonna show up today too.” He continued. “Trouble? Anything I can help with? I'm not totally myself, but I still have some power. You haven't taken it all. I can be useful in a fight.” A pause. He met her eyes, his dark irises shining in the dim light. “Let me fight for you.”
Gwendolyn only scoffed. “Oh, calm down. Its just domestic responsibilities.”
Kevin smirked in response to that. “I'm never calm where you're concerned. Especially not when you're being 'domestic'.”
She returned his smirk with one of her own, stepping into the circle with him. Coming so close to him that her breasts were just brushing against the chest plate of his proto-tech armor. Looking up at him through her lashes, Gwendolyn ran a hand up his bare arm and was rewarded when a shiver ran through his body. “Maybe when this is over...” she whispered in a thick bedroom voice “...we can be domestic together.”
With an audible gulp, Kevin swallowed. “I'd like that.”
Gwendolyn stepped back out of the circle. “Then we should get back to work.”
When Devlin finally stepped out of Dr. Borges' office he was disgruntled and angry, and just a little uncomfortable. Somehow, and the boy wasn't quite sure how, but somehow she had tricked him into giving away far more than he ever meant to. He didn't like the psychologist. She had a sneaky subtlety about her that the Osmosian wasn't used to dealing with. Some of the pirates, and smugglers, and contraband dealers his father dealt with could be sneaky, some of them could be subtle. But this head-doctor was on a whole other level.
Devlin never meant to tell her that he had attacked Ben and Kenny, or that he rescued his criminal father from the Null Void -even though he was also sure these were things she already knew. And he especially never meant to admit to her that he was 'troubled'. That he had problems, and that he knew it. He never meant to show her weakness. All his life, there were only five people Devlin ever showed weakness to -before Dr. Borges- and of those five, only four of them did he feel comfortable showing that weakness. Kenny, Max, Ben, and his mother -those were the four the Osmosian felt comfortable showing his weakness to.
His father saw him at his weakest, back before Devlin was old enough to understand that he was weak, and vulnerable, and needed people. His father tried to train that weakness out of him. Teach him to control and use his mutation. For the first decade of his young life, Kevin was all Devlin knew. That was why he was so motivated to get him back, rescue him from the Null Void. Kevin tried to make him strong, but all Devlin succeeded in doing was proving to himself just how weak he really was.
The one hour he just spent with Dr. Borges just reminded him of everything he hated about himself, his father, and his life before the Tennysons. Devlin didn't like her. He did not want to go back.
Looking around for his mother, the Osmosian's foul mood was made worse when he realized that she wasn't there.
He might not be in school anymore, but she was still having problems with picking him up.
Debating with himself, Devlin wondered if it was better to wait outside for her, or go back into the office's waiting room. In all honesty, neither option sounded all that appealing to him. Instead he pulled out the brand new phone she got for him and sent her a quick text informing her that he was flying home, and asking her please not to freak out like last time. He was fine. He could take care of himself. He would be at home reading the next Harry Potter book. (He really liked that new Sirius Black character and was looking forward to reading about him and all the important things he would do in the rest of the books.)
Devlin was barely just putting his phone back in his pocket when it began to ring. The caller ID informed him that it was his mother. With a sigh, he answered. “Yeah?”
“Stay at Dr. Borges' office. Ben is picking you up.” Were the first words out of her mouth. Not even the pretense of a 'hey, how did it go?'
In the background, the Osmosian clearly heard screams of pain. Male. A man screaming in pain. Growing up with a weapons dealer and smuggler for a father, Devlin heard men scream for lots of reasons. Fear, loss, pain, anger, just to make noise. Each one had a different sound to it, a different tone. What Devlin heard in the background of his mother's phone call... that was definitely pain. The really, really bad kind of pain. The Osmosian raised an eyebrow at the sound. What was she doing wherever she was?
“Everything okay over there?” He asked slowly, not sure if he even should.
“Oh, sure.” He could practically hear the nod in her voice. In the background, those screams of pain subsided into pants of exhaustion. “That's just the project I've been working on the past week.”
Her project that had been making her late for picking him up all week was torturing some guy? Well, damn. Maybe she was more like his father than Devlin originally thought. He couldn't decide if that was a good thing or a bad thing. They certainly were a match -or a sort.
“Are you killing something?” He pitched it as a joke, but the Osmosian legitimately wanted to know. He wasn't squeamish about cruelty or torture. He nearly broke a boy's hand over a few test answers. But it was something Devlin did not expect to find in his mother. Gwendolyn always seemed so kind, empathetic, and gentle. She was the last person he imagined torturing men with the power she held as High Magus.
“Killing? No.” She assured him. “Exercising. It can be painful.”
“Exercising? Like in the horror movies?” Devlin blinked. It occurred to him then that he'd actually seen very little of his mother's magic and power. Oh, he saw some of it back in the past when they battled Maltruant in her library. But that was just a few shields and mana orbs. He never saw any real magic. And the Osmosian suddenly realized that he wanted to see more magic. His father was never shy about spamming his powers. “Can I watch?”
“No.” Gwendolyn snapped back quickly, a little too quickly. “Not this one. Maybe another time. I'll give you some books on exercising spirits and you can join me next time. I'd love to teach you magic!”
“But-” Devlin began a protest then realized she didn't have any material to argue with.
“Wait for Ben.” His mother commanded. “I don't know how long this will take, but I'll definitely be back to take you home before Kenny has to go to bed.”
Of course. Devlin might be excused from school on account of his violent and amoral behavior. But tomorrow was Monday and Kenny still had to attend school. Ben might be relaxed and easy-going enough to let the boys have a sleepover on a weeknight, but Kai and Gwendolyn were not. At least he would get to hang out with Kenny. Unlike the other kids at the snooty prep=school his mother sent him to, Kenny understood Devlin. Kenny knew what it was like to have a powerful dad that neglected you from time to time. True, while Ben was negligent he still loved his son, while Kevin never did. But still, Kenny understood Devlin better than any other kid their own age could. Plus, they were cousins. There was a blood connection there too.
“Okay.” He sighed. “See you later tonight.”
He hung up and slipped his phone back in his pocket.
Putting one fist on his hip, the Osmosian looked around to a place to sit outside. He was not about to go back into Dr. Borges' waiting room. Especially not if he was being picked up by someone who wasn't familiar with the building. Devlin didn't much care for the idea of Ben wandering around looking for him, drawing attention to himself and making a scene. Smugglers and dealers who drew attention usually didn't stay in business very long.
Then again, Ben wasn't a smuggler or a contraband dealer. He was a Hero, and Heroes thrived on attention.
Devlin sat down on the rim of a planter box just outside the building's main door.
It was just a little shy of half an hour later when Ben and Kenny finally did show up. Ben, in the form of Jetray, and Kenny in the form of Stinkfly.
“Hey! We get to hand out again!” Kenny exclaimed happily. His Lepidopterran throat making his voice pitched higher than was normal for a human his age.
“Just remember,” Ben cut in with an 'I'm a responsible parent' reminder, “just because Devlin doesn't have school tomorrow doesn't mean you're excused from it. You still have to finish your homework before bed tonight.”
Kenny groaned. “But-”
Ben gave him a Look.
It wasn't nearly as stern as some of the Looks Gwendolyn was capable of, but it seemed to make Kenny pause. At least long enough for Ben to add.
“You can either behave and I will trust you to do your homework on your own. Or, you can slack off and have to have your mother watch over you while you do your homework.”
Admittedly, Devlin hadn't know Kai very long, but the Osmosian knew which option he would choose if he were the one given that ultimatum. It was always easier to do something on your own terms rather than be forced to with someone hovering over you. Devlin stood from his seat on the planter box.
“Looks like we're flying to Plumbers HQ.” If Ben was Jetray, and Kenny was Stinkfly, then Devlin would have to be Devlin 11. He transformed.
Ben looked away. He hoped Devlin didn't notice, but he looked so much like Kevin 11. Actually, he looked exactly like Kevin 11. There was a reason Ben thought Devlin actually was Kevin the first time he broke into Plumbers Headquarters and tried to get into the Null Void chamber. Devlin was the spitting image of Kevin's first mutation, and while the amount of blame Kevin credited to Ben might be disproportionate to his actual blame, that didn't mean that the Hero of the Universe actually felt blameless. After all, even as an egocentric, stupid, and immature ten-year-old, he was still the wielder of the Omnitrix. He was his job to keep the watch save, and keep others safe from the watch. The mutated form that both Devlin and Kevin shared represented Ben's first failure of that responsibility.
“Well, lets get moving.” Ben cleared his throat and launched himself into the air.
Kenny followed him, with Devlin after only a moment's hesitation. He did notice how Ben avoided looking at him in his mutant form.
Devlin flapped his Lepidopterran wings just a little faster to pull up along side Ben. If he was going to avoid looking at him, he could at least make up for it with some kind of an explanation.
“My form bothers you.” He hissed at the Hero. It was meant to be just a statement. A fact. But it came out like an accusation. “It bothers my dad too.”
It was a little hard to read Ben's expression. Jetray's Aerophibian face was just a hair more naturally stoic than a human's. Ben looked at Kenny to see if he could hear them, but the other boy wasn't paying attention. Ben turned his attention back to the Osmosian. He sighed. “Its not your fault. You were literally too young to know what you were doing.”
“I really shouldn't tell you this.” Admitted the older man. Gwendolyn would kill him for telling her son this. “But that form nearly killed your mother.”
Ben offered Gwendolyn a cup of ice chips. He didn't usually take orders from Kevin, but in this case, the Hero of the Universe agreed with entirely and completely with the Osmosian's instructions: ' Don't let Gwen leave the infirmary.' That was fine. She wasn't looking to good.
It was still several weeks before she was supposed to be due, but her belly looked ready to pop already, she was so big. Her skin was uncomfortably pale, and there were dark circles under her eyes, her hair had turned dry and stringy, and she always seemed to be out of breath. It actually reminded Ben a little bit of when Darkstar had drained almost all of her mana and nearly killed her. This wasn't quite as bad as back then -yet. But it was abundantly clear to anyone who looked at her, that something was draining Gwendolyn's mana. It didn't take a genius to realize that the thing draining her was mutated Osmosian baby in her womb.
Nobody said it out loud, but Kevin totally called it.
Gwendolyn pushed away the cup of ice chips. She wasn't thirsty.
“You need to stay hydrated.” Ben reminded her. He took one ice chip out of the cup and popped it in his mouth, let it melt on his tongue, then swallowed. “See? Just like drinking water -but slower.”
“You don't need to baby-sit me, Ben.” She growled.
He didn't answer immediately, just looked her up and down. Taking in just how bad she really looked. Thin everywhere but her over-sized baby-bump, pale skin waxy, shadows under here eyes, the eyes themselves just noticeably duller. This wasn't quite as bad as when Darkstar had drained her. That happened quickly and abrupt, this was slow, but no less worrisome. As much as Ben didn't want to admit it -not even to himself, really- but, Kevin was right. This baby was killing her. And... and if Gwendolyn died, Ben wanted to be with her when it happened. He was an only child. Gwendolyn was the closest thing Ben ever had to a sister. They even shared the same birthday. As much as he didn't want to watch his twin sister die, he did want to be with her when it happened.
“I'm not baby-sitting you.” Ben informed her. He popped another one of her ice chips in his mouth. If she wasn't going to take them, he would. Baby-sitting an Anodite was thirsty work. “I'm keeping you company while your husband is away.”
She crossed her arms over her chest and scoffed. “While my husband's away. You mean while he's wandering the Null Void, looking for the man who manipulated and used him.”
Ben put a smile on his face, forcing his mouth into a grin that he did not feel. “We're just hanging out.”
Gwendolyn opened her mouth, but whatever she was going to say was cut off by a groan of pain as she wrapped her arms around her swollen belly. Ben leapt to his feet, not really sure what to do, but wanting to help in some way.
“Is he kicking again?”
The glare she gave him almost made the Hero of the Universe sit back down. She was every bit as formidable as he was -perhaps more so, in a different way- but how formidable could a person be against something inside them killing them slowly? Instead of sitting back down, Ben lifted the hem of Gwendolyn's shirt, raising it above her swollen belly so he could see her stomach. The skin was stretched and thin. When the baby kicked, Ben could just clearly see the outline of a hand pressing out from behind the flesh. Not kicking then, pressing, punching, clawing. An Osmosian baby, mutated into something grotesque, suddenly finding itself to large for its surroundings, and clawing to get out. Gwendolyn was weeks from her due date, but -once again- Ben found himself agreeing with Kevin. They needed to get that thing out of her.
“What is it?” She demanded, seeing the expression on his face. That horrified expression. “What's wrong?”
He lowered her shirt back down. “I'm not a doctor. I don't... this isn't a normal pregnancy. I don't know what defines 'wrong' and 'not wrong' here.”
“Ben!” She snapped.
“Gwen!” He growled back.
Both hands still resting on her belly, she looked away from him. “When will Kevin be back?”
“I don't know.”
“I want Kevin.” She muttered.
“I know. But I don't know when he'll be back and me going into the Null Void to look for him without even knowing what part of the Null Void he's in isn't gonna help anyone.” Ben reminded her. “The best thing I can do is stay with you and make sure you're okay.”
That glare was back on her face.
“And how exactly are you making sure I'm okay? You can't even tell the difference between 'wrong' and 'not wrong'! How are you supposed to- ah!” She was cut off by another particularly rough movement of the baby inside her. Both arms wrapping about her round belly, leaning forward, her short red hair falling over her face. Beads of sweat were forming on her forehead, and she panted, short of breath and breathing hard. Stifling a sob, she brushed now sweat soaked hair out of her face. “Ben, please don't tell Kevin this, but... this baby is going to kill me.”
Ben found himself swallowing a lump in his throat. He didn't know if he should lie and assure her that that couldn't possibly be true. He'd seen her survive worse. She was too tough, and too strong. She'd get through this and at the end of it she'd have the baby she wanted. Or, be honest and tell her he knew. She was dying. This baby she wanted so much was killing her slowly. She should have just listened to Kevin when she first got pregnant and aborted it before it got too far along. Or else she never should have got pregnant in the first place.
Ben didn't have to say anything. Gwendolyn was still talking.
“When Kevin gets back, will you please tell him that I love him.” She said. It was the sort of thing in movies that characters always say while sobbing. Knowing that they were at their end and that there was nothing they could do to prevent it, and crying their eyes out. But Gwendolyn's voice was even and clear. She was not crying. She was giving instructions and she expected them to be followed. “I love him and I wanted this baby because it came from him. Make sure he knows that. I'm having this baby because I love him so much I want there to be more of him in the world, and... and he shouldn't blame the baby. Devlin represents just how much I love him. Make sure he understands that. And... and you'll help Kevin raise him, right?”
“Of course.” Ben nodded, his voice cracked as he choked on the emotions her words stirred in him. She might be able to give heartfelt death-speeches with a clear, rational, and even voice, but he could not. “But- but you're not gonna die. Don't talk like that. This is... this is just-”
Fuck! Now he was the one who was crying! Ben reached a hand up to wipe his eyes.
But Gwendolyn grabbed his wrist, forcing him to look at her. “Ben, promise me!”
It took him several tries to get his voice under control before he could speak again. “I promise. I'll tell Kevin you love him and- -and I'll help raise Devlin.”
She relaxed noticeably. Leaning back on the infirmary exam table. But no sooner had she leaned back to rest than she was doubled over again in pain. Devlin just was not in the mood to rest it seemed. He was very active inside there. Active and energetic. Clawing and pressing against her belly with all four of his mismatched arms. He wanted out. It was weeks before his due date, but he wanted out. Ben didn't know what to do.
“It hurts!” She moaned. Now Gwendolyn was crying. Not from emotion, but from pure, base, primal pain. Hair plastered to the sides of her face with sweat, eyes pinched shut in pain, tears trickling down her cheeks, mingling with the sweat, and dripping onto her breasts.
“I don't know what to do!” Ben admitted, voice close to panicking. “Tell me what to do!”
Gwendolyn always knew what to do.
But all Gwendolyn managed to do was to continue moaning and sobbing in pain. The baby inside her was hurting her so much she couldn't even think.
Not knowing what else to do, Ben poked his head out of the Plumbers infirmary and called for someone who would know. “Help! She needs help over here!”
He didn't know if he was relieved or more apprehensive when he saw that the ones that came running at his call were Kevin and Rook with Servantis in tow. Fresh from the Null Void teleporter in the hub. Rook leading Servantis in cuffs, and sprinting to the infirmary, a panicked look on his face when he heard Ben shouting.
“What's going on? What's wrong with her?” He demanded, shoving Ben to the side and forcing his way into the infirmary.
Kevin saw his wife on the exam table, bent in pain. As close to 'doubled over' as she could be with that giant pregnant belly in the way. Even with her arms wrapped around the stretched and swollen skin, the Osmosian could see the outline of hand and paw prints pressing outwards against her flesh. Kevin didn't think he just acted. Hand touching the first metal thing he came to in the infirmary, absorbing the matter up to his shoulder, he morphed his hand into a sharp blade.
Someone jumped on his back throwing their arms around him to make him stop before he even got to Gwendolyn on the exam table. Kevin tried to throw them off him and he saw the Omnitrix on one of the arms holding him. “Get off me, Tennyson!”
“What are you doing!?” Ben demanded, practically shouting in the Osmosian's ear.
“Let me go!” Kevin continued to struggled. “We have to get that thing out of her!”
Rook was quickly releasing Servantis' cuffs. “That is why we have brought an expert on Osmosians.”
“I'm also a Plumbers trained surgeon.” The former Proctor added. It was his vocation, while his avocation was genetics with a special interest in genetic mutations that might give one powers or abilities beyond what was otherwise normal for their species.
Kevin stopped struggling in Ben's arms long enough to look back at Servantis. The man who manipulated and used him as a child was also his best -and probably only- chance for saving his wife from the son he never wanted. Forcing himself to calm down, the Osmosian released the metal of his arms and nodded to the older man. “Do it. Get that thing out of her.”
“No!” Gwendolyn sat back upright on the exam table. Her arms were still wrapped around her belly, but this time it was a protective action. “No, its too soon. Kevin, don't let him do this!”
But Kevin wasn't listening to her. He was looking at Servantis. “What do you need?”
Gwendolyn turned her attention to Ben and Rook instead. “Ben! Ben, don't let them do this! Devlin still has weeks to go. If they take him out too soon-!”
But she was cut off by another wave of pain as the baby struggled inside her. Maybe it was a bit premature for a human, or maybe it was over due for one or more of the ten alien species that Devlin shared DNA with. Or, maybe, the adrenaline from her fear and worry over what Servantis was about to do had triggered this latest of fits from the fetus. After all, it didn't know anything outside her body and its own base and primal need for survival. If inside its mother was no longer safe, then it was struggling to get out. If then didn't cut him out of her now...
...then he would rip his way out instead.
Not knowing what was the right thing to do or say, the Hero of the Universe looked away. He wanted to honor the promise he just made to her and take care of her son, but he also didn't want to lose his cousin -the closest thing to a sister he had. Ben was paralyzed by his own conflicting emotions. He just stood there, unmoving as he watched her curl in pain while Servantis pulled out and set up surgery equipment all around her.
“Gwendolyn has, on multiple occasions, made it clear that she wants to carry her offspring to term.” Rook reminded all of them. “As the mother of said offspring and the owner of the body its currently inside, we should respect her wishes.”
“Nobody here cares about ethics.” Servantis informed the Revonnahgander without looking up from his tools. He prepped a cocktail of painkillers and sedative, loaded the solution into a syringe. “Kevin, please hold her still.”
The Osmosian came around to the other side of the exam table to hold his wife. The moment she felt his hands on her, trying to restrain her, Gwendolyn redoubled her struggling.
“No! You can't!” She shouted. “Ben! Tell them they can't! Make them stop! Beat Kevin up like you used to whenever he went crazy! Kevin! Kevin, this is crazy!”
Ben looked from Gwendolyn, to Kevin, to Servantis, to her swollen belly, back to Gwendolyn. “I- I don't- I don't know...”
Kevin was holding his wife and Servantis found an injection site. The affect wasn't exactly instantaneous, but it was fast. Gwendolyn's expression shifted from shocked and betrayed, to drowsy, then her body relaxed in her husband's arms. Kevin laid her back down gently on the exam table. She would be blissfully unconscious for what happened next. Kevin looked up at Ben.
“Tennyson, if you're not gonna help, then get the hell out of here.” Commanded the Osmosian. “That goes for you too, Rook.”
The Revonnahgander met the Osmosian's eyes. “I do not presume to understand Earthling mating. But, I do understand Gwendolyn. She will never forgive you for this.”
Kevin nodded. “That's my problem.”
Rook took Ben by the arm and dragged the Hero of the Universe from the room. What Kevin and Servantis were doing... it was unethical, but they were doing it to save a life. Who was to say which life held the greater value? The mother, whom was already a fully formed person with a life, a mind, a personality, friends, and people who loved her, a role in the universe, who had helped save the universe multiple time... Or the child, an unborn fetus that didn't even have its own mind yet, that was just a bundle of limbs and a primal driving instinct? Rook didn't know. As a visitor to their world, and an outsider of their species he didn't feel he had the right to an opinion.
He dragged Ben out of the infirmary and heard Kevin lock the door behind them.
In a sort of daze, the Hero of the Universe looked at his partner. Expression weak and vulnerable. Ben didn't know the answer to that question either. “They'll save her, right?” He asked, pleaded actually. “Gwen will be alright? Kevin will save her?”
Rook didn't know what to say. From what he knew of Kevin... Gwendolyn would either be saved, or else Servants and possibly every other living soul in Plumbers HQ at the moment would die with her. But that was definitely not the thing to say. Instead, the Revonnahgander took the Hero of the Universe by the hand, intertwining their fingers. He knew it wasn't really something males on Earth did. But he felt it was what Ben needed right now, and Rook wanted to do whatever he needed to do to help Ben. "Just remember: I'm here for you."
“Well, clearly, since I'm here and my mother is here, neither of us died.” Devlin commented when Ben stopped speaking.
The Hero of the Universe nodded. “Well, yeah. But I have no idea how. I wasn't in the room. I didn't see...”
Chapter 13: Morning After
Laying Gwendolyn's arms at her sides, Servantis strapped her wrists down.
Kevin gave him a suspicious glare. He didn't stop the older man -to spite his deep distrust of the Rooter- but he did ask about it. “You just knocked her out.” He growled. Defensive and protective of his wife. “Why strap her down?”
Servantis looked up at the younger man, matching his glare with a look that seemed to be calling him an uneducated idiot. “The body's instinct is to protect itself. We have to restrain her, unless you want me to be cutting into her wrists instead of her belly.”
The Osmosian continued to glare at the former Proctor. He still didn't trust to man, but he also didn't know enough about medical practice, or surgery to challenge him. Kevin looked back at Gwendolyn's unconscious body and her swollen pregnant belly, with its skin stretched and thin. He could see the imprints of his child's body moving and shifting inside her as it struggled and kicked. They had to get that thing out of her. Kevin didn't know how to safely cut into her, Servantis did. He wasn't going to challenge the older man -not over this.
Taking out a sterile plastic sheet, Servantis spread it over her lower abdominal to protect the incision site. He spread anti-septic over the skin before finally taking the scalpel and made a long horizontal incision across her lower abdomen -just below her bikini line.
Kevin found himself suppressing the urge to swallow and cringe as he watched the man who manipulated and used him as a child cut into his wife's body.
Blood and other fluids not blood flowed out from the incision onto the plastic sheet Servantis covered her with. Reaching his gloved hands inside the cut, Servantis began to pull out the baby. ...And quickly realized that the mutated Osmosian was just a little too big and oddly shaped to be pulled out through the incision. Picking up the scalpel again -with his now bloody hand- Servantis made another cut. Vertical this time, from Gwendolyn's naval down to the first cut. The 'C-section' was really more of an inverted T. He reached his hand into her womb again, and this time succeeded in delivering it.
Servantis pulled a screaming, wailing, snarling mass of alien parts out of Gwendolyn's belly. Kevin knew it wasn't going to look like a human baby, but it would have helped him feel something for it if the thing had at least sounded like how a human baby should. But those snarls and wails coming from it were pitched all wrong, more feral and animalistic. Not human. Even its cries were inhuman. How did Gwendolyn expect him to feel anything but disgust for that... that thing!?
“Fascinating.” Servantis gave an almost predatory smile at the thrashing bundle of mismatched limbs in his arms.
Kevin might not be able to drum up any feelings for his son besides shame, remorse, and disgust, but the former Proctor had no such problems. That look he was giving the thing -or, 'Devlin' as Gwendolyn had decided to call it- was interested and curious. As he said, fascinated. There was no doubt in the Osmosian's mind that Servantis would focus all his attention on the newborn creature and completely ignore Gwendolyn whom was still laying unconscious, cut open, and bleeding on the exam table.
Reaching his hands out, Kevin plucked baby Devlin from the older man's arms. He was heavier than the Osmosian expected, and covered in slime and goop from inside Gwendolyn's body. But that was not what concerned Kevin at the moment. “Sew her back up!” The Osmosian commanded. “That was the deal. Save my wife. Or else I have no reason to keep you alive.”
“As always, you have a one-track mind, Kevin.” Servantis smirked.
Kevin only glared. Goop from off Devlin's body dripped onto the floor as goop and blood continued to flow out of the inverted T incisions in Gwendolyn's belly. “Fix her. Or you'll die too.”
Kevin wasn't playing around.
With a sigh -a sigh, as if it were an inconvenient chore!- Servantis turned his attention back to Gwendolyn's open body. He made sure the placenta was removed before closing her uterus back up, then the skin of her abdomen with layers of stitches. Kevin found himself having to swallow again, this time for very different reasons.
Devlin squirmed in his arms, smearing the bodily fluids he was covered in over Kevin's wrist bracers and the exposed skin of his forearms. He tried to readjust his grip on the creature to keep it from slipping and escaping. Kevin wasn't quite sure exactly what a newborn mutated Osmosian was capable of. He knew what he had been capable of in that form, but he was already eleven years old by that point. He could walk on his own, and understand language, and understand anger and hate. What did Devlin understand?
One tiny Vulpimancer paw closed around Kevin's thumb and his breath caught in his chest. It occurred to him then, just how small little Devlin 11 really was. When he was still inside Gwendolyn's body he seemed too large and terrible -like he was going to burst out and tear through her at any moment. He was still definitely much larger than a normal human newborn should be. But he was so very, very small compared to what Kevin was in his Kevin 11 form. Even at eleven years old, Kevin 11 had towered over a fully grown man like Max Tennyson. Yet, here Devlin was, small enough to fit in Kevin's arms. So small that it took one entire Vulpimancer paw to hold just Kevin's thumb.
It was actually kinda adorable.
For one brief moment, Kevin thought he could -possible -maybe -just a little bit -love his son.
...Then he felt it.
A slight tug. A little pull. Not a physical tug. Devlin wasn't pulling on his thumb. He was pulling on his energy. Not even five minutes old and already, Devlin 11 was craving more energy. He was trying to absorb other people. Starting with his own parent. Well, Kevin wasn't having any of that!
“Oh, you little bastard!” He growled at the creature in his arms, and used his own Osmosian power to absorb the energy Devlin was taking right back into himself. No unwanted, mutant, monster brat was taking his energy! Not a chance.
At having the energy he was trying to feed on taken away from him, Devlin began to cry harder. Louder and deeper. If Kevin thought he sounded inhuman before, then he was downright monstrous now. A deep, beastly sound the rumbled up from the pit of his stomach. Primal and instinctual. The sound of a creature that didn't know empathy, it only understood hunger and want, and if it didn't get what it wanted it learned anger.
Servantis finished his last suture on Gwendolyn and turned around to look at father and son. “What did you do?”
Kevin looked past the older man at his wife laying unconscious on the exam table. “Is she going to be alright?”
“She needs time to recover and a shot of antibiotics to help prevent infection.” The older man answered. “But, yes, Gwendolyn will recover. The sedatives will wear off in another hour. She will need to stay in the infirmary to recover for about three days, but she can start walking after only 24 hours.” A pause. “I should be long gone with this one before then.”
Servantis held his arms out for Devlin.
“Wait, what?” Unconsciously, Kevin's arms tightened around his grotesque offspring.
“That was the deal.” The older man reminded him with impatience. “In exchange for cutting it out of her body without harming Gwendolyn, I get to study a second-generation Osmosian. I confess, I was not expecting him to inherit mutations you have not suffered from in years. While the physical symptoms might not present themselves anymore, you must still have their DNA laying dormant in your body.”
Kevin did not find that interesting. Now that Gwendolyn's life was no longer in danger from their chid, the Osmosian was realizing that maybe it hadn't been the wisest of idea to offer his first born in trade for his wife's life. Gwendolyn wanted this thing. Wanted it so badly she was willing to kill herself to have it. She would hate him forever if she woke to learn that he had just let Servantis take it and run. Kevin shifted the baby monster in his arms so that Devlin's bulky body was balanced between one hand and his hip so that the Osmosian had one free hand. He touched the stainless steel of the exam table and absorbed the metal, covering both himself and his son in the armor. “The deal was for you to study a second-generation Osmosian. Not take him and run.”
Gwendolyn would never forgive him if he let one of -what he considered to be- his greatest enemies take their son and run.
“Where would I study him?” Servantis demanded. “Here? In Plumbers custody?”
“The brat stays with me.” Kevin asserted. “You might be the mad scientist, but I actually am Osmosian. I can control him.”
Heck! Devlin already had just tried to absorb him. Literally just now. Less than five minutes old and already Kevin was having to control him. But, it also showed the older Osmosian that he could control him. When Devlin tried to absorb him, he just absorbed his own energy right back. He could keep the boy in check. But Servantis? Servantis would be absorbed and dead within the first hour if he took Devlin and ran. ...Not that Kevin minded the idea of his son killing the man for him. But then, if Servantis was dead somewhere, Gwendolyn would demand what would happen to her son. Where was he? How could they get him back? He might be a deadly monster, but he was still a newborn baby, if he killed his only care-giver how long would it be before he died himself? Even if Kevin felt no love for the boy, he knew he would have to stay with him. To both care for his son, and protect other people from him.
“Will you be running away with me, then?” Servantis offered. “I have longed to have you back in the fold.”
“Fuck off!” He would never rejoin Servantis. Not after all the shit the older man did to him.
Outside the infirmary, someone tried to open the door, but Kevin had locked it. They knocked instead.
“We had a deal, Kevin!” The former Proctor reminded him. “I thought you never went back on a deal.”
“The deal was to study him. You can do that here.” Kevin argued.
Whoever was knocking on the infirmary door grew impatient and was banging now. “Kevin?” Max's voice drifted through the metal. “Kevin, open this door.”
“Max will throw me in a cell the moment you open that door.” Servantis informed the Osmosian. “I'll never get to study your son like you promised.”
“Max will never let you walk out of here with his first great-grandchild.” Kevin reminded him.
Servantis gave a frustrated growl. “You planned this! You double crossed me!”
In all honesty, Kevin didn't really plan anything past 'get that thing out of Gwendolyn, keep Gwendolyn alive'. He didn't really consider what it might mean to have the leader of the Rooters locked and sequestered in a room in the middle of a Plumbers Headquarters. He didn't consider how the man might get out without harming anyone. He didn't consider anything. Kevin wasn't exactly in the most rational state of mind when he decided it was a great idea to get Servantis to cut his wife open. Then again, Servantis was a smart and calculating mother fucker. Those things Kevin failed to consider were questions he could have easily asked himself -if he hadn't been blinded by his desire to study a new Osmosian.
Outside the infirmary door, someone must have brought a welding saw, because there was a hissing sound, of something very fast running through liquid hot metal, and the lock on the door began to glow a molten orange-red. Kevin wasn't opening the door and Max wasn't playing around, he was cutting his way into the infirmary. Idly, Kevin wondered what kind of punishment Max had given Rook for helping him bring Servantis here, and Ben for not stopping any of this. But it was only a passing thought. The majority of his attention was still focused on the Rooter.
He was already covered in metal. Kevin formed his free arm into a hammer and pointed the weapon at Servantis. “Ya know what, you used and manipulated me for half my life. I really don't have to keep my word to you. When Max comes through that door, I'm gonna help him take you down.”
“So it will be a double cross then.” Servantis sighed, as if in disappointment. As if he were some kind of mentor figure that had any right to be disappointed in the Osmosian. “That's just bad business, Kevin.”
If the Osmosian was going to argue that he was a very good businessman, Servantis was just a bad customer, he didn't get the chance. The lock on the infirmary door finally gave out at that moment and the door was slid open. Molly Gunther, Scout, Patelliday, and Max came poring in. The four of them surrounded both the Rooter and Osmosian. Kevin noted that Max was wearing his old Plumber's armor and neither Ben nor Rook were among the group.
Scout sniffed the air in the room and snorted with discomfort.
Servantis knew a losing battle when he saw one. The former Proctor raised his arms in surrender. Patelliday came up with a pair of energy cuffs and restrained Servantis' arms behind his back.
Max went straight to Gwendolyn's unconscious body and checked her vitals. Her blood-pressure, temperature, breathing, and whatever else the machines she was hooked up to were telling him. When he was satisfied that his granddaughter was alright, just still the affects of a sedative that would wear off naturally, he turned his attention to his grandson-in-law. The Osmosian felt uncomfortable under that authoritative stare.
“Drop the armor, Kevin.” Max commanded.
Kevin nodded and morphed his hammer back into a hand, then released the metal from his body. The silver-gray color faded from both himself and the baby-monster on his hip.
Max's eyes flicked to the small mutated mass of alien parts Kevin was holding. “This him?”
“Yeah.” Kevin croaked.
With a nod, Max held his arms out. “Give him to me, Kevin, I'll take care of him.”
The Osmosian hesitated. “He's not safe.” He told the older man.
“I'll keep him safe.” Max assured Kevin, assuming the younger man was suffering from a sudden and inexplicable case of 'new father jitters'. He turned to Patelliday. “Take Servantis and put him in a cell. We'll call the Magistrata later and ask her what she wants us to do with him. For now, keep him locked up.”
Turning back to Kevin, Max held his arms out again.
But still the Osmosian did not pass the mutant baby to him. “He already tried to absorb me.” Kevin told him, very seriously. “It didn't do anything to me because I'm also Osmosian. But if he's just gonna go around absorbing anything, I can't let him touch anyone else.”
Offering the younger man a sympathetic smile, Max indicated the Plumbers uniform he was wearing. “I'm wearing armor.”
“Your face isn't wearing armor.” Kevin pointed out.
Max's tone shifted from sympathetic and understanding to authoritative and commanding. “Kevin, give me my great-grandson.”
It was then that the Osmosian noticed that Patelliday had left with Servantis, but Gunther and Scout were still in the room. As Kevin continued to refuse Max's request to hand over the newborn mutant, they slowly shifted attention to him, their stances poised to attack and restrain him if need be. Kevin raised one suspicious eyebrow.
“Am I your enemy again, Max?” He asked. “Is that what's happening here?”
“That depends on you.” Max informed him. “Are you going to be rational and give Devlin to me? Gwendolyn will be fine. He's out of her, and she'll recover. Servantis did a good job. She'll be fine.”
Kevin relaxed noticably.
“Now we need to make sure you're okay.” Continued Max.
“Me? I'm fine.” And the Osmosian sounded genuinely confused.
“Kevin...” Max began very, very slowly. “You went into the Null Void, found literally the worst person you know, let that person cut open your wife, and take out your son weeks before his due date. Your son could have died. Your wife could have died. Servantis could have betrayed you and you could have died. I know you haven't absorbed anything recently, this isn't Energy Madness, but you are still -clearly- not thinking right.” Max held his arms out once again. “Hand me my great-grandson and we'll get you some help.”
He hesitated just a moment longer.
Then, slowly, Kevin shifted Devlin in his arms and handed him to Max. “Carful. Don't let him touch you.”
“I know how Osmosian powers work.” Max nodded. He shifted Devlin in his arms, holding the boy like one would a normal newborn human. His hands were gloved and his arms covered in armor. There was no danger of the baby trying to absorb him. When Max was satisfied that his great-grandchild was safe and unharmed, Max nodded to Scout and Gunther.
They each seized one of the Osmosian's arms to restrain him. Gunther pulled out some cuffs -not the energy kind, they didn't need him absorbing any of that right now- and cuffed Kevin's hands behind his back.
“Wait! What the- !?” Kevin exclaimed.
“Put him in a cell to cool off.” Max commanded.
“But you said- !” The Osmosian began a protest.
“I'm gonna let Gwendolyn decide what kind of 'help' you need when she wakes up.” Max informed his grandson-in-law. This time his voice was practically vibrating with the anger that he must have been concealing that whole time.
Of course Max would be angry with him. He got the man's only granddaughter pregnant with a mutant monster that nearly killed her, went into the Null Void and got a guy who had used and manipulated all of them, let that guy cut her open and take out said mutant monster, and all without Gwendolyn's consent. If their situations were reversed and Kevin was in Max's position, he would not put him in a cell to 'cool off', he would just kill him. The Osmosian let Gunther and Scout lead him out of the infirmary.
On the way down to the prisoner cells they passed Max's office. Through the window on the door, Kevin caught a glimpse of Ben and Rook, sitting in front of Max's desk, looking chastised and guilty. Max was mad at both of them too, but they weren't being locked up like he was.
They put him in a vacant cell across from the one Servantis had been locked in.
“Fantastic plan, Kevin.” Growled the former Proctor after Kevin was locked up.
“Fuck off!” Was all the Osmosian could think of in response.
Kevin awoke on the floor of Gwendolyn's library. He was laying in the center of her sigil, the same place he had passed out the night before. But Gwendolyn had put a pillow under his head and thrown a blanket over him. That was considerate of her. She could have just levitated him over to the couch, but he supposed after spending hours ripping aliens and energy out of him, she was probably a little tired too.
He rolled over onto his side and used his hands to push himself up into a sitting position. His shoulders and back were stiff from sleeping on a hard stone floor all night, but other than that he felt fine. Almost... good. Not quite good. In fact, he actually felt a little uncomfortable.
But the discomfort had nothing to do with sleeping on a cold stone floor. He hadn't though of the day Devlin was born in a very long time. Not since he accidentally absorbed Ben's Omnitrix -again- when the obnoxious Hero tried to stop him from taking Devlin away. An act that gave the Osmosian a charge of energy from -not ten, not a hundred, not a thousand, but- 10,000 aliens this time.
For the first time since Gwendolyn and Rook released him from the Null Grenade, Kevin began to wonder where his son was, or how he was doing.
Breakfast was quiet.
It was almost a little awkward. The same kind of awkward it was back when they were still strangers to one another. Back when Devlin had only just learned that Gwendolyn was his mother and wasn't quite sure how he felt about the idea of living with a woman he'd only just met.
He knew her now, and... Devlin supposed he'd come to love her. At least, as much as he imagined he was capable of loving. So, when Ben told the story yesterday of how his father brought a criminal from the Null Void to cut her open and take him out of her, he didn't know what to think. He knew he had to be cut out of her. Kenny said as much the very first night he met the sorceress. She had a 'nasty scar on her belly'. But he did not know just how... serious the surgery actually was. It was no routine caesarean.
He was premature and she was weak.
Both of them should have died.
Devlin shifted his eggs and potatoes around his plate and avoided looking at his mother. He still hadn't seen her scar, and after hearing Ben's story, he was pretty sure he didn't want to see her scar.
“You've been very quiet since last night.” Gwendolyn commented over her coffee. “Everything okay? Something happen at your appointment? Do you wanna talk about it?”
His lifted his head to look at her. It wasn't quite a glare. But it was very, very close. “I don't like Dr. Borges. But, no, nothing happened.”
Except that she got inside his head very, very easily. Much more easily than the Osmosian felt she should. It wasn't right. He didn't like the psychologist. But he also knew that he had to see one if he was going to return to school, and his mother wanted him to return to school. Dr. Borges was the best therapist licensed to preform their practice on extra-humans such as Devlin. So, he would continue to see Borges until the good doctor decided he was fit to be among other children again.
“What's wrong?” Gwendolyn asked outright.
Devlin forced himself to take a bite of his food -if for no other reason than to have an excuse to keep from speaking.
But he had to swallow eventually. Then he would have to speak.
The boy looked away. Finding that he did not want to be meeting his mothers eyes when he said, “Ben told me what happened. How I was... born.” 'Born' wasn't really the right word. He wasn't birthed, he was 'delivered' from directly out of her open abdomen. “He told me how I almost killed you. How you almost died. I... I don't... I don't understand why you wanted me so much.”
Gwendolyn reached a hand across the table and took his hand in hers. “Because you're my son and I love you.”
She gave him a gentle smile. “You'll understand one day. When you have children of your own.”
Devlin did not like that idea. After hearing everything he'd heard so far about his own conception and birth, the Osmosian was sure that he'd never want to have children of his own before. Not that he had any real interest in girls to have said hypothetical children with in the first place. But still. He had the DNA of ten aliens in him and aliens didn't always reproduce like humans. A female might not even be necessary for him. Still, Devlin vowed never to have children.
He decided to change the subject.
“What am I going to do today?” he asked. “You can't send me to school. Ben has to work. Kai has to work. Max is a tired old man. Where are you going to send me while you go and work on your secret torture-exorcism project?”
The table was silent again while Gwendolyn thought. She didn't want to take Devlin with her. She didn't want the boy around his father anymore. But she couldn't leave him alone to his own devices. The fact that it was irresponsible parenting aside, the boy was Kevin Levin's son, raised thus far and taught by Kevin Levin. Who knew what kind of trouble he could start in the city if left to his own devices. With a sigh, Gwendolyn accepted the inevitable.
“I'll have to take you to Friedken with me.” She reluctantly admitted. “But you won't be joining me for my exorcism. I don't want you to see him. Friedken is a magic school. I'll find a safe, freshman introductory lecture for you to sit in.”
Yeah. Like he was gonna sit quietly and listen to a boring lecture like a good boy when there was horror movie level shit going on. She might drop him off at the lecture, sure. But Devlin was gonna find her exorcism. He wanted to see it. Who was she even exorcising that she didn't want Devlin to see?
Chapter 14: Looking for What You Want
Groggy and slow.
That was how Gwendolyn felt when she woke up. She had no idea what it was that Servantis had dosed her with, but she was glad it seemed to be wearing off. She was aware of where she was again, and that she was in pain, and... and...
Her body felt heavy. Gwendolyn couldn't sit up to look at herself. But she didn't need to. The moment she woke up, she knew was was no longer pregnant. She couldn't feel her child moving inside her anymore. A sob formed in the center of the sorceress' chest, changed form in her throat, and came out as a guttural snarl of primal loss. A wordless rumbling of base and raw emotions.
Running off of pure adrenaline -and maybe just a little mana since there wasn't something draining it now- Gwendolyn forced her muscles to push her up into a sitting position. Burning through sedatives in her system, and causing her abdomen to enflame with pain. She wrapped her arms around her stomach, feeling the still fresh stitches. Lifting the light blanket that had been thrown over her, Gwendolyn examined the incisions and immediately knew they were not normal for a cesarean. They had to cut her -wide- open to get Devlin out of her.
Looking around the infirmary, the sorceress noticed a decisive lack of her baby in the room with her.
There was also a decisive lack of her husband and his evil, back-stabbing, double-crossing, mind manipulating, asshole, surgeon.
Instead, in the infirmary with her, was the Galvan pair Driba and Blukic.
“Where the fuck is Kevin!?” She demanded. Her snarl of rage startling the Galvan technicians. “Where's my baby? What did that bastard do to him?”
The Galvan's exchanged a look. One of them opened their mouth to answer. “Well, what happened was-”
“Don't ramble, just answer the question!” She snapped, having no patience for the usually comically inept duo's antics. On an average day, Blukic and Driba were annoying, but well meaning and ultimately funny. But after waking up from being betrayed by her husband, drugged, and operated on against her will Gwendolyn was in no mood to entertain -or even tolerate- their ineptitude. If they couldn't answer a question without inanities, she had no time for them.
Hearing her shout, the infirmary door opened and Ben walked in. He looked equal parts guilty and chastised, but also happily relieved. The Hero of the Universe even dared to smile at her. Smile! As if everything was fine and dandy. As if Kevin hadn't betrayed anyone this time around. As if she hadn't nearly died. As if her baby wasn't missing. As if everything was just peachy. Gwendolyn seized the first thing her hand touched at her bedside -an empty metal pan one of the absentminded Galvans had left out- and hurled it at her cousin in rage.
She did not yet have the strength to hurl mana orbs.
“Where's my baby!?” She demanded. “I want to see him!”
She didn't care if he was already dead. Still born, or -probably more accurately- killed by his father the moment he was out of her body. Gwendolyn wanted to see him. She needed to see him. She needed to know...
“Whoah!” Ben threw his arms up to block to flying projectile. He needn't have bothered. Still a little groggy from the drugs, Gwendolyn's aim was off. It missed the Hero's head completely and went arching over his shoulder to clatter to the floor with a loud metallic clink. Ben looked at the thing that was meant for him head, then back up at his cousin. He was still smiling. “You're feeling better.”
Much better than she was before Kevin kicked him and Rook out of the infirmary. In fact, she was much better than she had been these past few months. Now only was she mad at him, but she was throwing things. She had the energy to not just be angry, but hurl medical equipment at him. Ben couldn't help the revealed smile that pulled at his lips.
“Stop grinning like a fool and tell me what happened to my baby!” She commanded.
Ben held his arms up by way of a peaceful surrender. “Don't worry, Devlin's fine. Grandpa Max is trying to find a baby formula he'll drink.” A short snort of laughter. “Although, he might have better luck offering the kid a steak. The first bottle he tried feeding him, Devlin bit the nipple clean off. Your kid's got teeth, Red!”
A newborn with teeth. Well, that was probably the least of his surprises. Gwendolyn could think about that later. At the moment, her whole being was flooded by one wonderful and relieving thought. “He's alive! He's alright?”
She laid back on the exam table, weak with relief and noticing for the first time just how much her abdomen really did hurt. She should have have been moving as much as she was. Gwendolyn put one hand on her stomach, feeling the stitches, which the other searched for a painkiller button. She hoped Blukic or Driba had had the forethought to accommodate a morphine drip for her.
Ben nodded. “He's with Grandpa right now.”
Good. He would be safe with Grandpa Max. Max Tennyson knew how to care for alien children. Even without the painkillers -that neither Galvan seemed to have set up for her- Gwendolyn felt worlds better. “What about Kevin?” She asked. “Where's he?”
Here, Ben hesitated, not quite sure how she would react. Gwendolyn could go either way when it came to Kevin's bouts of insanity and villainous actions. She also went either way when it came to dealing out punishments when it came to those same bouts and actions. The Hero of the Universe cleared his throat. “He's in the cells. Grandpa had Molly and Scout lock him down there after... after... uh...”
“After he drugged me, cut me open, and took out our baby prematurely.” Gwendolyn finished for him.
Ben held his breath for her reaction.
“Good.” She nodded. “Let him stew down there for a while. Serves him right.” A pause. She looked up at her cousin. “Ben.”
“I wanna see my baby.” She reminded him. “Go find Grandpa and bring Devlin here.”
“Oh. Oh, right!” The Hero of the Universe nodded and dashed from the room.
Once he was gone, Gwendolyn's eyes flashed back to the Galvan technicians. “You two.” She snapped. Then remembered her manners. “I would like something to dull the pain, please. And where is the control to work the bed, I'd like to sit up so I can hold my baby.” But using her own muscles was not a very good idea right now.
Driba scurried to find her a non-habit forming painkiller that was safe for post-natal use on humans. While Blukic fiddled with the remote to her exam table. Gwendolyn was just about to give up on the inept technician and snatch the remote from his hands when Ben returned with her grandfather holding little Devlin.
Although, 'little' was a relative term. He was smaller than Ben and Max, sure. But the Osmosian was much too large for a normal newborn. All arms and wings. What could be swaddled of his body, was swaddled in a pale blue blanket with cute little cartoon aliens on it in yellow and green. No doubt by Max since Ben wouldn't know how to swaddle even a normal human baby yet. Gwendolyn held her arms out for her son. She went though so much to have him, it was about damn time she got to hold the boy!
Grandpa Max laid him in her arms gently -very gently, she was still not fully recovered and he was premature- and took a step back to give the new mother some room to inspect her child.
A body that was mostly shaped and proportioned like a Tetramand, but only one of the four arms actually was Tetramand. One was Petrosapian, while the other two were both Vulpimancer. The shoulders were Galvanic Mechamorph. On his forehead was a Piscciss Volann lure, his neck also sported gills from the same aquatic alien, and when he yawned Gwendolyn saw that Ben was right. Her baby was, indeed, born with teeth. Razor sharp and shark-like Piscciss Volann teeth. Bottle feeding him was probably a good idea. The Lepidopteran wings were there, and the Kinecelearan tail. Those both showed up on the sonogram and were expected. They were also the things making it hard to swaddle him. Gwendolyn would have to figure something else out. How hard could it be to wrap a blanket around a baby anyway?
She looked up at her cousin and her grandfather happily. “Before either of you even think about asking: Yes. Yes, he was worth it.”
He might not be perfect, but he was her son. The baby she wanted. Everything she went through up to this point -including nearly dying- was worth it.
Gwendolyn pulled into the Faculty Parking lot on the west side of Friedken. It wasn't the closest lot to her library, but it was the closest lot to the lecture hall she was going to let Devlin sit in on. 'Introduction to Magic: Basics of Safety'. She loved the idea of her son learning magic, and she was really looking forward to teaching him herself. But she didn't exactly have time right now, and she wanted to make sure Devlin knew the difference between a 'beginner' and a 'dabbler'.
She looked behind her at her son. Devlin was sitting in the backseat. He was trying to play it cool and not let it show that he was actually really excited to be visiting a magic school. He sat -calmly- with his hands folded in his lap, but his head was turned, looking out the window and his dark eyes were wide with wonder.
“Have you seen much magic before, Devlin?” She asked.
He blinked, as if suddenly realizing that he was showing too much interest. “Dad told me about it. He said we had to stay away from magic. Magic energy is too potent. Magic makes us crazy?”
That was -technically- true. Energy did make Osmosians loose their minds, and there was no energy in the universe that was more powerful or potent than magic -mana- the energy of life itself. The energy that fill the blank spaces between planets and starts. The flotsam of the universe. The aether.
“Well, you won't be going crazy today.” She promised him. “C'mon, let me show you something magical.”
Gwendolyn hopped out of the car and offered her hand for Devlin to hold as she lead him to the lecture hall she was going to drop him off at before heading across campus to her... 'special project'.
The Friedken campus looked like almost every other collage campus on Earth. Wide grassy quad surrounded on all sides with classic baroque or colonial style buildings, a seemingly obligatory clocktower on one end and tall wide stairs leading down to a sports field on the other end. They didn't actually cross the quad, though. In fact, they barely even skirted its edge as Gwendolyn lead her son to the building that contained the lecture hall she was going to drop her son off at. Her plan was to keep the little Osmosian as insulated as possible. That was why she parked so far away from her library.
Even so, at a magic school, devoted entirely to magic, where students came to study magical practice, history, and significant contemporary pioneers and developments, it was impossible for the High Magus to stroll the campus without being noticed. And if she was walking with anyone, they got noticed too.
“Is that the High Magus? Is she escorting a kid to a magic introduction course?”
“Must be some kid!”
“Child prodigy, ya think?”
If only they knew that he was just getting preferential treatment because his mother happened to be the High Magus. He wasn't attending a collage level lecture (albeit an introductory one) because he was some great and awesome prodigy, but because his mother just needed a place to stick him for a hour or two while she did something else.
Gwendolyn found him a seat in the front row, where the lecturer couldn't miss him. There would be no way for him to sneak off unless the class had a short recess, or a break, or something. As if to make things harder for him, his mother also took the professor to the side for a moment to explain to them that Devlin was her son and he was sitting in on the lecture because she needed someone to watch him for a bit. Yes, she knew they were a tenured professor, not a babysitter. But it wasn't like she was asking him to cook him lunch and change diapers. Just conduct the class like normal and don't make a fuss about him being there.
With a humph, Devlin slumped in his seat. She actually expected him to sit quietly and take notes while she was off working on some next level, horror movie, exorcism sorcery.
Gwendolyn gave him a maternal kiss on the forehead and left the lecture hall.
She crossed the quad, cutting across the grass in quick purposeful steps, on her way to the library -and her secret base underneath it.
Kevin was eating dry serial directly out of the box when she walked in -and, again, he was shirtless. Gwendolyn liked this, walking in on him shirtless. It almost felt like they were married again.
“Oh, hey, I wasn't expecting you so early.” He said through a mouth full of granola and almonds, one hand still in the box. Actually, Kevin wasn't expecting her to show up today at all. After hearing that Devlin was suspended from school, he would have expected his wife to take more time off from helping him to take care of their son. Kevin knew from his own childhood experiences that a pre-adolescent Osmosian should not be left unsupervised. Even as children, Osmosians were dangerous and had a pension for causing trouble. “Where is... what'd you do with Devlin?”
“He's being supervised.” Was all she told him. As much as she wanted to keep Devlin away from Kevin, she wanted to keep Kevin away from Devlin just as much.
“Ah.” Was all the Osmosian had to say.
There was a beat between them.
Kevin set down the cereal box.
Gwendolyn did not comment about the fact that he had left crumbs all over her headquarters.
The Osmosian rocked back on his heels. “I suppose you wanna get started.”
He turned and walked into the sigil. Gwendolyn appreciated the view of his back. All muscles and lines, wide shoulders and torso tapering down to a trim waist that disappeared under the waistband of his proto-tech armor pants. The sorceress found herself biting her bottom lip. In his forties now, and Kevin Levin was still a very attractive man.
Kevin looked back at her. Noted how she was biting her lip, but not the admiration and desire in her eyes and jumped to the wrong conclusion. “Something wrong?”
Crossing the space between them, Gwendolyn entered the sigil with him. Placing her hands on his hips, she stretched up on her tip-toes and placed a kiss on his lips. Not counting kisses while he was unconscious to break magical sleep spells she put him under, it was the first kiss she gave him since Devlin pulled him out of the Null Void.
“I'm really proud of all the progress you've made.” She whispered to the hollow of his throat.
Kevin's hands twitched at his sides. He wanted to wrap his arms around her, but... he hesitated. For all the great progress he had made, the Osmosian could still taste her energy just being near her. Did he really trust himself to put his hands on her?
The desire to touch her overrode his insecurities and misgivings. Giving into the desire he'd had since she and Rook started this little project, Kevin encircled her waist with his arms, pulling her closer to him. He bent his head down and pressed his lips to hers. A long, slow, kiss that started soft and tender -then quickly escalated into something deeper, hungrier, and more passionate.
Gwendolyn moaned into his mouth, her tongue flicking out, requesting entrance. Kevin was all too happy to welcome her advance. Her hands drifted from his waist, up his back, over his shoulders, and fisted in his hair. She loved pulling his hair. It was so long, and thick, and silky, and raven dark. Kevin moaned at the action. As much as Gwendolyn loved pulling his hair, he loved having his hair pulled -why else would he keep it so long? The hands on Gwendolyn waist slithered under the hem of her shirt, searching her back for the hooks of her bra.
That was when the sorceress pulled away. “Wait. What's happening here?”
Kevin paused to blink at her. “Well, we're... I mean, I thought... That kiss...”
“You're a great kisser, Baby.” She told him. “But I'm not gonna do more than kiss you. Not until you're completely yourself again. We have so much work to do. We should get started.” She gave him another innocent peck. “You've really made amazing progress. You're doing great! But we're not done. I'm not gonna sleep with you until we're done.”
“Guess I have something to look forward to.” He said, voice devoid of inflection.
“I'm looking forward to it too.” She agreed.
Gwendolyn backed out of the sigil and snapped the barrier up around Kevin as soon as she was out. She met his eyes. They both knew what needed to be done, but now that he was himself again, she wasn't as comfortable with the idea of hurting him. He knew it had to be done so he could be with the woman he loved again, but... it hurt. A lot. Kevin took a breath. Then nodded for her to begin.
Devlin was not actually board out of his skull.
The freshman lecture his mother left him in was, actually, legitimately interesting. The class was just covering the basics, but it was already several classes into the term, so they were past all the boring vocabulary and tools stuff. So the Osmosian didn't have to sit through 'this is a sigil, this is a pentagram' or wait while it was explained that Sumarian gods like Inana and Ea could not be invoked using runes -runes were Nordic and only invoked the Æsir and Vanir.
Instead of talking about what to call what symbols, or what can or could not be done with what alphabets, now the class was actually teaching students how to do things.
Basic things. Like how to form an orb of mana. Protection spells and shield spells. When to use protection and when to use a shield -protection was before you started a magical project, shields were what you used to block or contain something when your magical project went wrong. And they were all freshman, so their projects were going to go wrong.
So, the lecture actually was interesting. Really. It was.
But Devlin already knew all about mana orbs and shields. They were pretty much all his mother used in the one and battle fight he'd witnessed her fight in. Projectiles of raw mana, and shields and barriers of that same raw power. So, while the lecture was interesting, it was not what the Osmosian wanted to know. He wanted to know what his mother was doing. What kind of dark -and possibly violent- magical ceremonies was she preforming right now, at this very moment?
The Osmosian's hand shot into the air, just like he had to do at his school. “I need to use the toilet.”
Laughter erupted through out the class. Devlin looked around confused. The professor was looking at him like he was the most irritating thing in the universe.
One of the students on Devlin's side leaned over. “This is collage, kid, you don't have to ask for permission to go to the bathroom. If you need to go, just go.”
“Oh.” Well, that was way easier than he was expecting. After Mom made him sit in the front where the professor could see, and then spoke to the professor and specifically told them to keep an eye on him, Devlin would have thought that escaping would involve much more cunning and trickery. But all he had to do was say he had to piss and suddenly he was free.
Devlin stood and left.
He had been to Friedken once before. In the past. When his mother took both him and his father to one of the libraries. She called it 'her library'. That implied some version of ownership, and the library did seem pretty deserted when they had their fight with Maltruant. It stood to reason that that would also be where she was preforming her exorcism project.
But Friedken was actually a rather large campus. Devlin didn't know where her library was or how to get to it.
Not wanting to wander the campus aimlessly, Devlin stopped the first person he saw -who didn't look like a pretentious collage student.
A balding old man wearing brown overall raking leaves on the quad.
“Hey, which way to Gwendolyn's library? Or, the High Magus' library? Whatever you guys call it.” He asked.
The old man paused in his raking, looking Devlin up and down. The Osmosian wasn't sure what the old man saw -or thought he saw- but whatever it was made the old man smirk. As if he knew something Devlin didn't but wasn't going to tell him. He did, however, point down the quad to the exact opposite end from the lecture hall the Osmosian just left. “Gwendolyn's library is that way.”
“Great. Thanks.” Devlin started off in that direction.
“Funny thing about magical libraries.” The old man added, making Devlin pause. “You'll find what you're looking for, but you might decide you didn't actually want to find it in the first place.”
“What's that supposed to mean?” he asked.
The old man just shrugged. “What do I know? I just work here?” He reached into his pocket. “Hey, ya wanna see some magic? Pick a card!”
The old man pulled out a deck of regular playing cards.
Devlin rolled his eyes. Said nothing. Just walked away.
It was a bit of a walk, but Devlin finally found a building that looked familiar enough to be the same one from his trip to the past. Pushing the door open, he found that it was, indeed, a library inside. But while eleven years ago it was sealed and abandoned save for when Gwendolyn needed to use it, this one had students in it. Not many students. Just a handful of older sorceresses and sorcerers -seniors, maybe? or older ones working on Masters or Doctorates?- all bent over their books, or taking notes on their laptops or iPads.
Closing the door behind him, Devlin entered the library and wondered where in here his mother would be. It was pretty quiet and over the phone her exorcism sounded pretty loud. Assuming the library was the place she was preforming it, she obviously wasn't doing it in the main library hub.
The Osmosian walked all the way to the back of the library, peering down each row of books, looking for a door to another room, or a staircase to another floor, or something.
As he was passing one of the stacks near the back, he caught a whiff of it. Not a whiff of smell. He didn't detect it with his nose, he sensed it with his base Osmosian instincts. It was the scent of food, the sensation of energy. Potent energy. Like mana. Of course he would sense mana at a magic school. Mana was the energy of magic. But this mana had a distinct flavor. A familiar maternal flavor. Devlin first recognized it during the battle with Maltruant when he had to quickly absorb an orb of Gwendolyn's mana to keep it from harming him. It was the first time he could consciously remember absorbing her power, but it triggered a primal memory in him. Something base from before he had conscious memory. Devlin knew his mother's mana. He always knew it. He had been saturated in it for almost nine months.
She was definitely here in the library. What he was sensing wasn't any residual trace left from when she was here but gone now. No. This was the distinct and appetizing feel of a present and active power.
He paused to acknowledge that he was thinking of his mother's mana in terms like 'delicious' and 'appetizing', and understood that maybe that was one reason why his father didn't trust him around her. But, unlike the older Osmosian, Devlin could actually control himself.
Placing a hand to the wall, Devlin followed the scent of mana. Sliding his palm down to the floor, he realized it was below him. His mother wasn't in her library, she was under it!
Walking the perimeter of the hub, Devlin started looking for something on the floor that could lead down under the library. His mother wouldn't leave the entrance to her secret magic cave out in the open where any student could stumble across it, or just see her enter or exit from it. It had to be some place out of the way, and it had to be concealed somehow. It was probably also concealed by magic, so he would likely be able to sense the entrance.
It looked a little weird, him scuttling around the library, one hand to the floor. If anyone gave him an odd look, he would just look right back at them, challenging them to call him out on his strange behavior. As if crawling on the floor was the strangest thing anyone has ever done at a magic school.
Finally, he found an entrance. A flight of concealed stairs. Devlin followed them down, and felt a prickling on his skin when he passed through what could only be a magical barrier. Presumably the barrier was to keep whatever she was doing in her secret cave inside the cave. This theory was supported when, the moment his head passed under the magic border he finally heard the screams.
Deep, loud, male. Screams of pain. Very distinctive. Exactly what he heard over the phone the other day.
But the best part was who it was that was screaming and writhing in agony.
Devlin paused on the stairs. His mother was standing in front of a large and very complicated looking sigil painted on the floor. Around the sigil was another magical barrier, this one to keep the person in the center of the circle inside. And the person inside the circle... it was his father. Laying on his back, his spine bending and arching as whatever it was that was being drawn out of him, was pulled out. Shouting, and snarling, and groaning wordlessly into the air with his suffering.
Yes... Devlin found himself smiling. He deserved it. Suffer you bastard. Suffer!
He had no idea his mother's 'exorcism' was torturing and punishing the hell out of his father.
Devlin sat on the stairs to watch.
He didn't know how long he sat and watched. But after a while, Gwendolyn stopped. The star sapphire glow faded from the magic sigil, and Kevin's screams of pain stopped. He lay on the floor, exhausted and panting. Devlin stood. How dare she stop! He was getting what he deserved, pain and humiliation, and she stopped! Why did she stop!?
Kevin rolled over onto his hands and knees, pushing himself up into a sitting position. He had the same question on his mind. “Why'd you stop?”
“It's been two hours.” Mom informed him. “Lecture's over.”
“What lecture?” He asked.
And Devlin suddenly realized that he must have been sitting there watching his father suffer for far longer than he realized.
“The lecture I left Devlin in.” Mom said.
“You brought him with you!” He blinked at her. Then his eyes drifted to look behind her, trailing up the stairs. Devlin saw it in his face the moment his father saw him watching them. “You brought him here!”
Gwendolyn turned around and saw that her son was not in the lecture hall she'd left him in. He was sitting on the stairs behind her. She didn't know how long he'd been there. He certainly hadn't been there when she started, that much she was sure. Why didn't he say anything and what did he think of what he saw.
“Devlin...?” She ventured.
The boy stood. Coming down the stares, he glared at his father, but was addressing his mother when he demanded, “What's he doing here? I thought you and Ben had him locked up somewhere.”
“They do.” Kevin was the one who answered. “I've been locked up down here.”
This was not the answer Devlin wanted to hear. He turned from his father, fixing his angry and distrustful glare on his mother instead. “He's been locked up here. You've been coming here every day -where he is. Is this the reason you're always late picking me up? Because you're with him! You're forgetting about me for him!”
He jabbed an accusatory finger at his father, his eyes never leaving his mother.
“Don't yell at your mother.” Kevin commanded.
“You shut the fuck up!” Devlin snarled at the older man. Turning his attention back to his mother, he demanded. “How can you say you love me as much as your story is implying you do, when every day you come here and spend all your time with him!? Didn't he drug you and get a criminal to cut you open? Shouldn't you hate him? He's selfish and evil!”
“Devlin...” She tried to place a calming hand on his shoulder, but the boy pushed her hand away. Gwendolyn felt rejected, but she tried not to let it show. “I know how much your father has hurt you. That's why I wanted to keep you away from this.”
“And what the hell even is 'this'!?” He continued to demand. “What are you even doing with him? Why are you even doing it with him? Shouldn't you be doing everything you can to stay away from him?”
Gwendolyn opened her mouth to try and explain, but Devlin didn't want to hear it. He turned back to the stairs and ran out of the secret headquarters. He didn't stop when he reached the library hub. He just kept running. Out the library, across the campus, back to the quad.
As he passed the old man raking leaves, he shouted, “Did you find what you were looking for?”
But Devlin just kept running.
Bezel shrugged and went back to raking leaves.
Chapter 15: Convincing Other People of Your Bullshit
Gwendolyn opened her mouth to try and explain, but Devlin didn't want to hear it. He turned back to the stairs and ran out of the secret headquarters.
“Ugh! Thanks, Kevin.” Gwendolyn sprinted after him. She did not want her son, and only child, getting lost on a magical campus full of idiot students practicing with powers strong enough to drive him insane if the Osmosian were to accidentally absorb them. That, and she just couldn't loose him again. Gwendolyn couldn't handle that.
“How is this my fault!?” Kevin demanded, but his wife was already up the stairs and halfway out the headquarters. She wasn't paying attention to him. He followed after her, but halfway up the stairs he collided with the same magical barrier that had been keeping him trapped in the library this whole time. He couldn't follow his wife, and he couldn't help her chase down their son. He was useless. Kevin banged a fist on the mana shield holding him prisoner. He knew by now that absorbing it would do nothing to help. So, he just hit it, because he needed to hit something. “I am so sick of this shit!”
Outside, Gwendolyn didn't immediately find her son, but she did see someone else she knew. Raking leaves in the midday sun, wearing the same burgundy collared shirt and brown overalls he usually wore, was Bezel. Gwendolyn crossed the grass to the most powerful sorcerer in existence whom had chosen to masquerade as a humble janitor and grounds keeper.
“Excuse me, Bezel.” She stopped him. “Did you see a young boy with dark hair run by just now?” A pause. “He might also have looked kinda like a chimera. Lots of extra body parts from other creatures.”
She didn't know if he might have transformed into his mutant form and just flown away.
“Your son went that way.” Bezel pointed.
Gwendolyn didn't bother to ask how the sorcerer-janitor knew that Devlin was her son. There wasn't really much resemblance between them, but then again, Bezel was the greatest sorcerer to ever live. He obviously had to know how to pick up on subtleties and nuances. Plus, he knew she was keeping Kevin down in her headquarters and Devlin definitely looked like Kevin.
“Thanks.” She took off in the direction he pointed.
From the opposite direction he sent her in, Devlin came back to Bezel. “Hey, mister, why'd you do that?”
Bezel gave the Osmosian that same knowing smile from before, like he knew something the boy didn't. It was actually starting to get irritating. “In my experience, people who are running and generally running from a reason. You didn't seem to being running to anything, so I figured you were running away from something.”
That comment made Devlin fidget uncomfortably. He didn't much like the idea that he was 'running away'. Running away showed cowardice. It was weakness. Devlin wasn't weak. He chanced a glance back up at the balding old grounds keeper and saw that that knowing smile was back on his face. “What!?”
“What would you have done when your mother caught up with you?” He asked.
Devlin paused. “Well, I... I donno.” He shrug. “Yelled at her more, I guess.”
“And if she tried to make you come back with her right then and there?” He pressed.
This time, Devlin's pause was longer as he thought more critically on that question. The old man didn't specify if she was 'bringing him back with her' to Kevin, or to home. Either way, the Osmosian supposed it didn't really matter all that much. The way he was feeling right now, he didn't want to go anywhere with her.
She said she loved him, that he was the most important thing in the world to her, and, yeah, okay, from what he'd actually seen, that might not have been a lie. He obviously was important to her. Devlin saw as much during his involuntary trip to the past, and it was pretty consistent with the scraps of story Ben had told him. But he obviously wasn't -the most- important thing to her, since she was still running off to spend her days with Kevin. She was late picking him up from school because of Kevin. After he was suspended, she didn't even bother picking him up from therapy because she was with Kevin. He might be important to her, but so was his father. That made Devlin angry -at her. How could she care about that bastard after everything he put her through?
Devlin didn't want to go anywhere with her at the moment. If his mother caught up with him, he would have struggled -even fought- to get away from her again. He might even have hurt her, like his father always said he would.
The Osmosian looked back up at the old man, finally understanding that maybe he had a right to that obnoxious knowing grin. “What are you, some kinda psychic janitor?”
“Something like that.” The old man stopped raking and sat down on the grass. “Sit down, boyo. You're making me tired just looking at you.”
Devlin hesitated. He was not one to trust strangers easily. But, he did help him evade his mother -at least for a little while. Then again, people didn't usually do nice or helpful things unless they expected something in return. “What do you want?”
The old man gave an unconcerned shrug. “Some company and a little conversation would be nice.”
Slowly, keeping a suspicious eye on the old man, Devlin sat down on the grass next to him, his rake between them. “In my experience, people usually want more than just 'company and conversation' in exchange for favors.”
“You've had a lot of experiences, I bet.” Commented the old man dryly.
“You have no idea how experienced I am.” The boy growled, suddenly thinking of Dr. Borges and how shed seemed to think she was better than him because she was older and had all those fancy degrees and education. He looked sideways at the old man. He was way older than she was, but he had no such airs about him. “What's your name?”
“Oh, I'm just the janitor 'round here.” He gave an unconcerned shrug. But that knowing smile was back on his face. Devlin didn't know who he was, but he was making it very clear that he was more than just a simple and ordinary janitor. Then again, for a school devoted entirely to magic, even 'a simple janitor' could have some sort of powers.
“I didn't ask for your job, I asked for your name.” Snapped the Osmosian.
The old man paused, as if to think. He had to think about his own name? “I suppose 'Scruffy' will do... I'm Scruffy, the Janitor.”
“Really?” He was gonna go that rout. Devlin raised an eyebrow at him.
“Uh, yup.” Scruffy nodded.
With a sigh, the Osmosian laid down on the grass, looking up at the clear blue sky. This old man was was a little eccentric. But at least he wasn't snobby like Dr. Borges. And, unlike Max, he didn't really know Devlin, or his mother, or his father, or anything about his family. For some reason, that was the thing that really made the Osmosian comfortable with him. He was just an odd stranger. He didn't actually know Devlin Levin. Maybe he could offer a little conversation. “So, how 'bout them sports teams?”
“Friedken had one of the best lacrosse teams in the world.” Scruffy announced. “They never loose because they know the loosing team gets sacrificed to the gods.”
Devlin snorted, thinking that was a joke. But the old man just turned to give him a serious look. Death was no laughing matter. The Osmosian paused, staring at Scruffy. Did they really sacrifice students to ancient gods after loosing a game? Devlin gaped wide eyed at the old man.
Then Scruffy laughed.
“Oh, you ass! I actually believed you!” Devlin groaned.
“And that, right there, that's the real magic of the world.” The old man informed him. “Getting people to believe your bullshit.” He pulled out the same deck of cards from before. “Look at this. Inspect it. Shuffle it. Feel its energy -it hasn't got any. Its not magical at all. Just an ordinary deck of cards I picked up at the gas station.”
Devlin accepted the deck and did as he was told, shuffling the cards, inspecting each one to make sure there weren't two cards stuck together, or duplicates of the same card, or that the deck hand any mana of its own -it did not. As Scruffy said, it was just an ordinary Bicycle Deck that anyone could purchase at a gas station or liquor store. He passed the deck back to the old man, who spread it out in his hands.
“Now, pick a card.”
This time, Devlin did pick a card. He pulled one from the center of the deck then tried to hand it to Scruffy.
“No, don't show me. I'm not supposed to know what it is.” He over his eyes dramatically with one hand while shooing Devlin's card away with the other. “Look at your card. Memorize it.”
Devlin looked at his card. The three of clubs.
“Now, put it back in the deck.”
The boy did so, and Scruffy gathered up the cards again, scuffled, and threw them all up in the air. They came clattering down around them. Devlin looked around at all the scattered cards that now had to be picked up. He was not impressed. That wasn't a trick. All the guy did was make a mess. He scoffed. “Well, that wasn't very impressive.”
Scruffy flashed that knowing smile again and reached one gnarled old hand into the chest pocket of his overalls. He pulled out a single playing card and the Osmosian was sure he hadn't seen the old man slip anything in there before throwing his deck in the air. Scruffy held up the card for Devlin to see. It was the three of clubs. “Was this your card?”
“How'd you do that?” Okay, that was pretty impressive. Devlin -as a general rule- tried not to show it when he was genuinely surprised or impressed. But he was sure he hadn't seen the old man take any cards out of the deck. He supposed he could have already had a card in his pocket ready for the trick, but Devlin inspected the deck before hand and it wasn't a trick deck, the chances of his having a duplicate of the exact card Devlin was going to pull out were absurd. The Osmosian found himself snatching the card out of the old man's hand to inspect it again. There was no mana or other energy signature on it. It wasn't actually magic. Just really, really good slight of hand.
“I told you,” Scruffy explained as he started picking up the cards closest to him -he was old and didn't like moving too much. “The real magic is making people believe what you want them to believe.”
Devlin's eyes narrowed at the old man. “Is there some hidden meaning here? Are you trying to tell me something without actually telling me something?”
The old man just shrugged. “Do you believe you're supposed to take more away from this conversation than what I'm actually saying? Have I somehow convinced you that I'm anything more than just Scruffy the Janitor?”
“No.” The Osmosian informed him. He was just a weird old man.
“Then why should there be any hidden meaning in anything I say.” He shrugged. Then changed the subject dramatically. “What were you running from just now?”
The boy's expression darkened. He remembered the fight with Ben and Kenny. How his dad had one, he had Ben on the ground, it was over, he didn't need to fight anymore. But Kevin wasn't satisfied. He wanted Ben dead, and Devlin got in the middle. Told his dad to stop. Protected his enemy. How Dad picked him up with one of his Null Guardian tentacles, brought him real close to that flaming skull of a face, told him he was worthless, then threw him across the room. Threw him away. That was bad enough.
But then his mother -whom he'd only just met- had to go and start some weird 'exorcism' project on him. Devlin wasn't going to go so far as to say she 'neglected' him. Because if he was going to be completely honest with himself, she didn't. Even when she was late, she always made sure he had a way of getting home. She made sure her home felt welcoming, that it was a place that he could call his home too. When he got into trouble in school, she came as fast as she could, and when they said he needed counseling, she got him a therapist almost the very next day. But she was also spending just as much time with his father.
Trying to 'fix' him. Well, some things just couldn't be fixed. Kevin Levin was one of them. The fact that Gwendolyn Tennyson -no, Gwendolyn Levin- couldn't see that was upsetting. Disturbing, almost. It made Devlin want not to trust her. If she was just torturing him, sure. He could get behind that. Kevin Levin deserved some punishment. Especially if he was trapped in a magical prison that he couldn't escape from and exact his revenge on them. But when she decided to take a break, Mom let him out.
Let his out willingly. As if he was safe. As if there wasn't anything to worry about. As if he were a different person. Devlin had to get away from them.
“I was running from my parents.”
Scruffy nodded, as if he already expected this answer. “That would be the High Magus, Gwendolyn, and her muscle-head grease-monkey, What's-His-Name.”
“Kevin.” Devlin supplied. Who didn't know of Kevin 11,000? Seriously. “His name is Kevin Levin, and- wait! How did you know I'm Gwendolyn's son?”
That knowing smile again. “I'm the janitor. I know everything that goes on on this campus.” That smile stretched into a grin. “One might even say I'm the most powerful person at this school.”
The Osmosian's eyebrow was raised again. Now he was giving 'Scruffy the Janitor' a more critical examination. People could be more than what they appeared. He was a shining example of that. When most people looked at Devlin, all they tended to see was a sullen and skinny looking kid in need of a haircut and some more color in his wardrobe. Most people had no idea that he was really the son of the most dangerous criminal in the universe and could transform into a large, multi-limbed, flying monster. Now, the Osmosian found himself wondering who this old man was related to, or what he could turn into. How, exactly, was this old guy more than what he seemed?
Sensing his trail of thought, Scruffy changed the subject. “I remember your father always hanging around campus. He was never a student here, but he got an apartment just off campus so he could be closer to Gwendolyn -whom was a student here. He's been in love with her since even before I met either of them. Since they were teens. I've never met two young people more devoted to one another.”
“So?” Devlin asked.
“So...” The old man gave him a sideways look. “Do you know how rare that is? No one ends up with their first love. No one marries their first love. But these two did. They were together for years. All the way into their thirties before-” a pause, a cautious glance at Devlin “-before, uh, before they separated.” He cleared his throat. “Someone capable of that deep a love and that level of commitment, isn't all evil -can't be all evil. I don't really know Kevin Levin as well as I know Gwendolyn, and he doesn't have mana, but he does have a kind of magic. His magic is that he's managed to convince most of the universe that he's this unrepentant and irredeemable avatar of evil. Everyone, except Gwendolyn.”
“So... what? I should just go back there and give him a big hug and pretend that he didn't spend my whole life making me hate myself?” Devlin demanded.
“Oh, no. I'm not saying that at all!” Scruffy shook his head. “As I said, I bet you've had experiences. Your mother helping him to reform doesn't absolve him of that. Only you can absolve him of what he's done to you. And even then, only if you want to. For now... just don't be mad at your mother. She's doing what she has to do in order to absolve him of what he did to her.”
“You're a weird old man, ya know that.” The Osmosian informed him.
The old man gave an almost Cheshire Cat grin. “We're all a bit weird here.”
Devlin stood. “Well, I should get going. Pretty soon, my mom will realize she's going the wrong way and use her mana to track me.”
Scruffy gave another knowing smirk at that. Use her mana to track him, not 'track his mana'. Magic was funny that way. Words had meaning. If only the boy realized how accurate that statement really was. Her mana... that was still inside him. Instead of commenting, the old man asked, “Will you at least help me pick up the rest of my cards?”
With a groan, the Osmosian bent down to help Scruffy pick up the rest of the deck.
That was how Gwendolyn found him. Crawling around in the grass in the noonday sun with Scruffy the Janitor.
“You lied to me!” She was addressing the old man, not Devlin.
Scruffy only shrugged. “I lie to everyone. What makes you so special?”
Devlin gaped at the old man. That he would have the nerve and the stones to sass the High Magus like that. To be appointed High Magus, Gwendolyn had to be a pretty freaking powerful sorceress, and she was a Magister ranked Plumber on top of that, and close family to Ben 10,000 the Hero of the Universe. Devlin didn't imagine many people sassing her often. If a menial worker spoke to Kevin like that there was no doubt in Devlin's mind that his father would beat the shit out of them.
But Gwendolyn just sighed, as if in exasperation. Like it just wasn't worth it to retaliate or argue with the old man. Instead, she turned her attention back to her son. “I didn't tell you it was Kevin I was working on because I didn't want you to get upset and react exactly how you just did.” She said. “I have been trying to keep you away from him.”
Putting his hands in his pockets, Devlin kicked a clump of uneven grass. “Why? Why even try and 'exorcise' him at all?”
Gwendolyn sat down on the grass next to him and indicated for her son to sit back down as well. She glanced up at the janitor. “Bezel, if you don't mind.”
The old man gave an unconcerned shrug, took his deck of cards and his rake, and walked away.
She waited until he was gone and mother and son had some version of 'privacy' on the open quad. “Your father is the expert on Osmosians in the family, but how much did he actually teach you about what it meant to be Osmosian?”
Looking at his hands, Devlin avoided eye-contact. He started pulling up blades of grass as he answered. “He said that we're monsters who will always hurt the ones we love. We don't deserve to be happy and we can't have nice things.”
With a groan, the sorceress massaged the sides of her head. “Ugh. Kevin...” she groaned. Placing both hands on her son's shoulders, she turned the boy to look at her. “Look, what he said, its not entirely wrong, but its very, very far from being right either. Osmosians have a problem -a physical problem that affects you mentally. Like anyone with mental problems, you can either manage it and live a well adjusted and fulfilling life, or you can neglect it, act irresponsibly, and drive you almost to the point of being beyond help. Your father successfully managed his Osmosian instabilities for many years-”
“Until I came along.” Devlin grumbled.
“-until our situation changed.” Gwendolyn finished. “He made some bad decisions, didn't manage himself well, absorbed an overdose of energy again, and lost all sense of himself. He became every bit the monster he told you, you were. What I've been doing for the past week with your father is that I've been drawing out the excess energy that makes him unstable. I've been exorcising him of his surplus aliens, and -hopefully- returning him to the man he used to be. The man I fell in love with. That's a version of your father you haven't met yet.”
Devlin glared at her skeptically.
The old man did say that real magic was convincing people to believe what wasn't true. Maybe Kevin's magic wasn't that he convinced the universe that he was evil. Maybe he really was evil and his magic was that he convinced Gwendolyn that he was actually a good man.
Hands balling into fists, Devlin stood with resolve. “I'm ready to go back now.”
Gwendolyn also stood. “I think heading home is a good idea for both of us.”
“Not home.” Devlin shook his head. “I'm ready to go back and face my father.”
That was not what the sorceress had planned. Gwendolyn pursed her lips in disapproval. “I don't think your father is ready to have a serious and civil conversation with -anyone- yet.”
“I didn't say I was going to talk to him.” The Osmosian informed his mother. “I said I was going to face him.”
Now it was Gwendolyn's turn to glare skeptically. “And by 'face him' you mean...”
“I'm going to punch him in the face.” The boy answered honestly.
Well, Gwendolyn wasn't about to let that happen. Kevin was doing a lot better than he was when she first started. A lot better. But she still didn't trust him with Devlin. She didn't trust him not to retaliate if Devlin really did attack him, and -honestly- she was starting to wonder if she shouldn't trust Devlin around Kevin either. Punching him in the face was one thing, but would the boy stop at just a punch? As Ben had reminded her not to long ago, Devlin did flat out, in plain English, without dancing around words or use double meanings, say that his they would be better off just killing his father. How much should she trust Kevin with another Osmosian who wanted him dead.
Gwendolyn cleared her throat. She was the authority here. She was putting her foot down. “No. We're going home.” She told him, and stood, reaching a hand down for her son to take. “And on the way home, I'll tell you more of the story. If Ben already covered your birthday, then all that's left is why and how Kevin kidnapped you, and why I couldn't find you.”
Devlin looked at the offered hand. He really did wanna punch his father in the face. The asshole had it coming. But... at the same time, he also really wanted to know how he ended up being raised by a father who never wanted him and honestly hated him, instead of the mother that always wanted him and loved him unconditionally. He looked back at the library. Realized that maybe going back in there without her wasn't a good idea, and took her hand instead. If she really was trying to 'fix' him, then there would be another opportunity to beat the shit out of him later.
“Fine.” He growled. “Lets go home.”
Down in the secret headquarters under the library, Kevin sat on the stairs waiting for Gwendolyn to return.
After several hours, the Osmosian had to admit that she wasn't coming back. Devlin was more important to her than him. He would have liked to know what happened. Did she find him? Did she have to subdue him, or was there a fight? Would his being there have helped anything? He just didn't know. He wouldn't know anything stuck down in this oubliette. But he couldn't leave it either.
Not until Gwendolyn decided he was ready. All Kevin could do was just wait for her to come back and finished what she started.
Kevin was huddled in the corner of his cell under Plumbers HQ when Gwendolyn went down to see him. Sitting in the corner, one wall to his back, the other wall pressed up against his side. Knees drawn up to his chest. He practically popped back his feet when he saw her up and walking around, and standing outside his cell.
“Babe!” He exclaimed, a genuine smile of relief pulling at his lips. “You're alright!”
She stood, one hand on her hip, the other balled into a fist at her side. Her unearthly emerald eyes blazing at him. “Yes. I'm alright. I told you I would be. Our son is also alright.” She added, glaring at him. “Not that you even asked. He's with Grandpa right now. You might not care, but we're having trouble finding a baby formula he'll eat.”
The cell across the corridor from Kevin's held Sevantis and the former Proctor and Plumbers scientist volunteered, “I might be able to synthesize a formula for him that takes all the nutrient requirements of all his species into account -if I could study the boy.”
Gwendolyn turned to glare at him. Her eyes glowed star sapphire and a ball of power appeared in his cell. It collided with his chest, knocking the mad scientist against the back wall of his cell, knocking the wind out of him and ending any further comments from the former Proctor. This was a conversation between her and her husband. He should learn to keep his artificial-hybrid nose out of it.
“Grandpa has left it up to me what to do with you.” She informed her husband. “I want you to know: When I first woke up, I wanted to tell him to send you back to Incarcecon.”
Kevin raised an eyebrow at that. Incarcecon hadn't been an actual prison for years. After exposing Morgg's exploitation, deposing the corrupt warden, breaking most of his automated guard robots, and accidentally freeing most of the inmates, Incarcecon was taken over by its prisoners. The building and its grounds were converted into a fortress controlled by the same criminals it used to contain. It was not a prison.
And for Kevin, sending him there wouldn't even ben much of a punishment. At least, no more than sending him any other place away from his wife. Incarcecon Remembers. The fortress was run by Quince now, and Quince knew him. He was there when Kevin was an inmate at the prison, and he was there when Kevin returned as a teenager. He knew the part Kevin played in getting rid of Morgg, freeing the inmates, destroying the robotic guards, and paving the way for the inmates to take it over and make it their own. In a way, Kevin was sort of a pseudo-founder of the 'Free and Independent Fortress Incarcecon'. And Incarcecon remembered that.
“But then decided that a better punishment would be to make you help me raise the son you almost killed.” She growled at him. “You're gonna take care of our son, Kevin. You might even realize that you do love him after all. Do you think you can do that? Or should I leave down here to rot for another week?”
Attachment was a natural by-product of care giving.
Kevin considered. He didn't imagine himself ever learning to care about -never mind love- his son, but if it got him out of this cell and back with his wife, then he could at least pretend. Kevin was a con artist, he was good at pretending.
“Yeah. Yeah, Babe, I can do that.”
Gwendolyn placed her palm on the cell's lock panel and there was a click and a hiss as Kevin's cell was unsealed. The door slid up into the ceiling and the Osmosian was allowed to walk out. He tried to hug his wife the moment there was no longer a barrier between them, but she pushed him away.
“C'mon.” She grabbed his wrist. “Grandpa is gonna teach you how to -properly- change alien diapers.”
As Gwendolyn started leading her husband down the corridor and out of the detention cells, Servantis banged a fist against the barrier of his own cell. “And what about me?” He asked. “What happens to me?”
Gwendolyn turned back to glare at him.
“I saved your life.” He reminded her. “You owe me.”
“No, you almost killed my baby.” She snarled back at him. “You can rot in that cell until the Magistrata calls back with what she wants to do with you.”
Servantis shifted his gaze from her to her husband. “Kevin, you reneged on our original deal. You owe me! Kevin!”
The Osmosian turned from the Rooter and let his wife lead him out of the detention block.
Chapter 16: What Devlin Eats
Gwendolyn had decorated the nursery with a space-aliens theme.
The walls were painted a dark shade of blue -not quite navy- and decorated with planets and stars in bright colors, yellows, orange, lighter blues, pinks, and -of course- green. Some even in glow-in-the-dark paint. The crib was designed to look like an old retro-rocket, and the mobile that hung above it was flying saucers, rockets, planets and stars. The bedding in the crib was patterned with cute little aliens with multiple limbs and happy, friendly little smiles.
Overall, it was a sweet and happy little nursery.
It made Kevin want to puke.
There was just something about the overload of sweet, wholesome, gentle innocents that triggered the bitter jaded Osmosian's gag reflex. He stood in the doorway of the nursery, holding baby Devlin in his arms. Gwendolyn had given him one simple task, put the baby down for a nap so you and I can have a serious conversation.
Suppressing the urge to cringe, Kevin crossed the room and laid his son down in the rocket ship crib. Thank goodness the thing was already asleep. The Osmosian didn't know what he would do if the brat were awake, and fussy, and crying. He would have to get the thing to calm down before he could actually lay it down to take its nap. How did one even calm a screaming child that didn't understand words, had more arms with which to struggle with, and was stronger than the average toddler -oh! and lets not forget the teeth! He also already had teeth with which to bite you! How did one calm a creature like that?
Kevin laid the blissfully sleeping monster in his crib, and took a step back to look at him. Really look at him.
Devlin was a miniature version of himself from when he was Kevin 11. A sociopathic, amoral, egocentric monster that only cared about himself and what people owed him -and killing Ben. What did Devlin care about? What kind of thoughts did he have in his new and still forming baby-mind?
Behind him, Kevin heard footsteps in the doorway and a second later, slender arms encircled his waist. Gwendolyn pressed her body against his back, peering around his shoulder to look at their son too.
“See?” She kissed his arm. “He's not the big scary monster you thought he'd be. He's actually kinda cute.”
Zed came into the room with her. The Anubian Baskurr walked a couple of circled around at the foot of the crib, searching for a good spot, then finally laid down. She, at least, had taken an instant liking to the baby Osmosian. Then again, like them, she had already met Devlin. An eleven-year-old version of him from the future. Now that he was actually born in their own place on the timeline, Zed seemed to have nominated herself as the baby Osmosian's personal companion. She stopped sleeping in the master bedroom with Gwendolyn and Kevin, and had instead taken up residence in Devlin's nursery. Almost as if she were claiming him as her puppy.
Reaching into the crib, Gwendolyn tucked the sweet little smiling-aliens blanket up around the baby's chin. Devlin moved in his sleep, one tiny Tetramand hand wrapping around her fingers.
“Aww!” Gwendolyn tried to stifle her sequel at the sheer adorableness of the action, her other arm squeezed her husband even tighter with excitement. “Look! He knows his mommy!”
Kevin only rolled his eyes at her. It was an just a simple unconscious action. The thing was asleep. He probably would have done the same thing to anyone. The Osmosian was not impressed.
Then the Anodite's expression flashed with sudden surprised alarm and Gwendolyn snatched her hand back out of the crib quickly and suddenly. One would think the baby had bit her, her action was so abrupt. But Devlin's mouth was already occupied sucking his Petrosapian thumb. So, clearly that wasn't what happened.
Wrapping his own hand around Gwendolyn's, Kevin examined her fingers where Devlin had touched her. “What happened? Did he hurt you?”
There was nothing there. No marks on the skin. No physical indicators that anything wrong had happened at all. Just her sudden and unexpected motion.
“Nothing.” Gwendolyn told him. “Nothing happened. Its fine.”
Kevin continued to scrutinize her, not just her hand, but her face too. He was a con artist, he knew when people were lying. He remembered right after Servantis pulled Devlin out of her. How he was holding the boy and Devlin tried to absorb him. Kevin grabbed Gwendolyn by both her shoulders, forcing her to face him. “Did he just try to absorb you?”
“Don't worry about it.” She told him. That wasn't a no. “He didn't get anything. I'm fine.”
Kevin sat in the middle of the sigil, waiting for Gwendolyn's return.
After Devlin interrupting them yesterday, he knew that it was gonna be a while before his wife returned. Her first priority would always be her child. She made that very clear back when he was still just a baby and trying to absorb her. She let him just suck off her mana and nearly kill her. And why? Because he 'needed', because he was 'hungry', because they couldn't find a baby formula that took into account all the nutritional requirements for all his aliens. Because he wasn't eating enough and Gwendolyn just decided he was trying to supplement the nutrients he wasn't getting with her mana.
She was willing to let herself waste away being eaten alive if it meant helping her child. So, yeah, Devlin was her first and biggest priority. Kevin knew he wasn't gonna see her again immediately the next morning. She would need time to, not just find Devlin, but to reaffirm that he was wanted and loved. He was wanted and loved far more than Kevin was.
Was the Osmosian jealous of his own son?
But any jealousy Kevin felt was overshadowed by and buried under concern. Gwendolyn nearly killed herself trying to care for their son. True, that was when he was still an infant and incapable of caring for himself. Now Devlin was old enough to feed himself, know the difference between 'person' and 'food', and understand words like 'no', 'don't', and 'stop! oh, gods, stop! you're killing me!'. So, Gwendolyn should be fine, right. Kevin didn't really need to worry.
Except, where the woman he loved was concerned, Kevin would always worry.
He worried about his son with her. He worried about himself with her. He worried about Darkstar. He worried about Charmcaster. He worried about enemies they hadn't even met yet. Kevin just didn't know how to live anymore without heavy dread weighing him down. It used to be that all he had to worry about was himself and his own powers -how they affected him. Then he just had to go and fall in love with Gwendolyn and everything changed. It wasn't just about him anymore. He had another person in his life, and -for some reason- his own happiness, comfort, and security, was dependent on their happiness, comfort, and security.
Gwendolyn was his 'hostage to fate'.
There were two words for that. Dependency...
Gwendolyn was Kevin's one true love. He hoped she came back soon. He wanted -needed- to be with her again.
Devlin didn't realize how late he'd slept in until he head the trunk of Gwendolyn's car slam outside. Thinking that his mother was already on her way to see Kevin again, and leaving him behind at home, the Osmosian leapt from his bed and charged downstairs, practically jumping out the door still in his pajamas.
“Wait!” Like hell was he gonna let his mother go back to his father without him.
Gwendolyn turned around startled. Leaning against the car behind her were two folded outdoor chairs and a cooler. Devlin blinked at them, not understanding. His mother blinked back at him. “Devlin, what in the world...?”
“I thought...” The boy began. Then realized he had no idea what was actually going on. He'd never seen his mother bring folding chairs or a cooler with her when leaving the house before. She wasn't bringing that stuff to Kevin -he assumed- what was with the picnic gear? “I thought you were leaving me here and going to see... him.”
“Oh.” She shook her head. “Oh, no. I decided since you're free from school, we should spend some quality time together. Just the two of us. I realized yesterday that I haven't been giving you as much attention as you need. So I figured we could go down to the lake. Ben and I used to go to the lake all the time in summer -when Grandpa wasn't dragging us on mandatory family bonding road trips.” She did not add that Kevin also accompanied them to the lake.
Raising one eyebrow, Devlin looked at the folding chairs and cooler again. A trip to the lake, huh? Well, that did sound fun, and he'd never been before, and it was a chance to have his mother all to himself. Suddenly, the Osmosian was really liking the idea. “Okay! I'll go get my swinging trunks!”
And he dashed back in the house to grab swimming trunks and a spare change of clothes to change into after.
He came out again smiling and optimistic. A whole day out in the sun with his mother, away from the city, the magic school, her library, or his father. This was gonna be great! And -since they would be spending the whole day together without anyone else bothering them or getting in the way- she could finally finish the story. They were nearing the end now. As she said, all that was left was how his father kidnapped him.
Devlin helped Gwendolyn maneuver the cooler onto the second seat in the back seat and lay the chairs down on the floor behind her driver's seat. Devlin held the door open for Zed, too. If they were going to be out all day, at a lake, in the woods, then the dog should come too. She would like it. Dogs liked hanging out in the woods, right?
But the Anubian Baskurr did not seem so enthused. She looked at Devlin suspiciously, her tail between her legs. She took one step to the open car door, then hesitated, took two steps back. Whined a concerned little dog-whine.
“What's wrong?” The boy demanded. “Why do you hate me!?”
This time, Zed's whine was a louder sound of distress and she ran around to the other side of the car to hide between Gwendolyn's legs. The sorceress almost fell over, she was surprised and thrown off balance by finding the Anubian Baskurr suddenly cowering between her feet like a lost puppy.
Gwendolyn reached a hand down to scratch the dog behind the ears. She looked up at her son. “Tell ya what, Devlin, today you can ride in the front seat.”
She pushed the cooler over onto the seat her son usually sat in and held the backdoor on her own side of the car open for the dog. Zed gave the Osmosian boy another suspicious glare before glancing back at Gwendolyn for approval. Then, hesitantly, she finally hopped into the car and laid down behind the driver's seat, a large plastic cooler separating her from Devlin.
Everyone in the car now, Gwendolyn turned over the engine and they drove off to the lake.
“What's Zed's problem with me?” Devlin asked. “When I went to the past, she liked me instantly. What changed?”
Gwendolyn pursed her lips. “Things weren't all that easy even after you were born.” She tried to explain. “Because of all the different aliens in you we couldn't find a baby formula with all the right nutrients and vitamins to keep you healthy. Sometimes, you wouldn't even try what we gave you. But -being Osmosian- you could supplement the gaps in your diet with energy. Unfortunately, as a baby, you didn't know what was and what wasn't an appropriate source of energy.”
“I tried to absorb her?” Devlin asked. “Like Dad says I absorbed you?”
“You absorbed lots of things.” She deflected.
“Eat, damn you!” Gwendolyn heard her husband snarl from the nursery upstairs. “Mother fucker, why won't you take what I give you?”
She put down the article she was supposed to be peer reviewing and dashed upstairs.
Kevin was holding Devlin in his arms exactly how Max had taught him was the proper way to hold a newborn -not that supporting the head was such a necessity for the Osmosian baby, but it was reassuring to see that he was still doing it- and he held a baby bottle with a chew-resistant teething nipple on it in the other hand. The bottle contained the latest formula they were trying to get Devlin to eat.
Devlin, for his part, was screeching and wailing even louder than his father just had. Unearthly, inhuman, feral cries that reminded anyone who heard them that he didn't just look non-human, he was non-human -inside and out. Osmosian. Mutant, and alien.
“Shouting at him isn't gonna help anything.” Gwendolyn had to raise her voice to be heard over the noise her son was making.
“He won't drink this one either.” Kevin informed her, also shouting to be heard.
Not wanting to continue this conversation by having to yell at each other over their son's noise, Gwendolyn thrust her arms out, plucking the baby from her husband's hold. “Give him to me.”
She rocked Devlin in her arms, cooing at him and making soothing sounds to add to the motion of her body as she swayed. The Osmosian shifted position in her hold so that one of his many hands was laying palm-flat against the exposed skin of her arms -and he did quiet down.
Gwendolyn felt it, she just tried to hide it from Kevin. A slight tug under the skin where Devlin was touching her. Not a tug on her arm, or her actual skin, but a tug from just under. From within. Something inside of her being pulled out. Devlin was absorbing her mana.
But, ya know what, if that was what he needed in order to eat and stay healthy, then fine. That was what she would let him do. Now that she was recovered from the pregnancy and surgery, she had a surplus of mana to give. She was made out of the stuff after all. A being of pure energy. And Devlin was so small! How much mana could he really take? Really, now. But she also knew that if Kevin realized what was going on, he would freak out -just like he had been freaking out since the boy came from the future and told them he never met his mother, since the moment she told him she was pregnant.
So, she plastered a smile on her face and shifted Delvin her arms so that his hand was still on her, but Kevin wouldn't notice.
Now that the baby was quiet, they could finally talk. “Then we'll just try another formula. He's only got ten surplus aliens inside him, Kevin, and there's over eleven thousand different species in the known universe. I'm sure one of them will have a baby formula that caters to his needs.”
For half a second, Gwendolyn felt faint and she leaned against the doorway to keep from falling down. The last thing she needed right now was for Kevin to witness her faint while holding their son. If he saw that, he would no doubt blame the baby. Then they'd be right back where they were weeks ago when she was still pregnant and dying.
Kevin raised an eyebrow at her. “You okay?”
“I just have a headache.” She was quick to come up with an excuse. “I have a few new studies to review before they can be published in the 'Journal of Metaphysical Science', that in and of itself is taxing, and its not helped by the fact that I have a brand new baby to take care of as well as a nervous wreck of a husband to babysit. So, excuse me for getting a headache!”
Devlin fidgeted in her arms when she raised her voice, and Gwendolyn quickly went back to rocking him.
Kevin looked adequately chastised. “Would you like me to get you a glass of water and some aspirin?”
“Please.” She nodded. “That would be very nice of you.”
He left the nursery.
Gwendolyn gathered her strength, focussed her eyes on the rocket ship crib, put one foot in front of the other, and crossed the room to lay her baby back down in his bed. She braced one arm on the crib's frame while her other hand was still held by Devlin. She groaned as she gently -very gently- pulled her hand out of her mutant child's deceptively strong alien paw. When she was finally free from him, Devlin gave a groan of displeasure, but he did not start crying again. He might have wanted more energy, but he wasn't hungry anymore. Gwendolyn sighed.
“I hope we can find a formula for you soon.” She informed her sleeping child. “I don't know how long I can keep this from your father.”
“Why would you do that?” Devlin asked, as he helped her unload a collapsable table, camping stove, an second cooler from the trunk of the car.
“Because you're my baby and you needed it.” She said as if this should have been obvious.
The Osmosian continued to stare at her skeptically. His father certainly never would have made that kind of personal sacrifice for him. Not in a million years or ten parallel universes. Because his father never would, Devlin found it had to believe that his mother did. Then again, that was the difference between his parents. His father never wanted him, only ever saw the bad in him, viewed taking care of and raising him like a chore. While his mother always wanted him, was willing and ready to die if it meant bringing him into the world, and thorough of taking care of him and raising him as her reward for successfully staying alive after delivering him.
“Why don't you go test out the lake. See if its not too cold to go swimming.” She suggested, noting his skeptical stare and deciding that maybe it was time for a break from her story. “That'll give me time to get all this set up and I can show you how to cook outdoors.”
“I know how to cook outdoors.” He informed her. “Dad taught me. You build a fire, and take the skin off the thing you're cooking, then you cut it open and take all its guts out -cause you don't wanna eat the guts- then you poke it through the butt with a stick and prop it up over the fire.”
Well, he wasn't wrong.
Gwendolyn have him a patient smile. “That's not how I cook outdoors.”
Devlin gave a non-committal shrug. He was starting to expect things he learned from his father to be vastly different from how his mother did things. He wasn't surprised anymore. Kevin did lots of things different than most people. If he was surprised by everything then Devlin would start to develop an anxiety problem. He had enough problems already. He peeled out of his shirt, kicked his shoes off, and ran down to the lake like she suggested.
It was cold, but that didn't bother him.
Transforming into his mutant form, Devlin flexed his neck muscles and opened and closed his gills, using organs he rarely ever used. He swam out into the deep part of the late and dove down. Surprising a fish, he snatched the animal up in his Vulpimancer paws and popped it in his jaws, swallowing the thing whole. He had been so excited to be going out and doing something fun with his mother today, that the Osmosian forgot breakfast.
He swam around under the surface for a while, mapping out the bottom of the lake. Noting trash like soda cans, broken lawn chairs, and old coolers that had been dumped in it. But also a sunken rowboat or two and some debis that looked suspiciously like car parts. All broken and ripped up, the metal contorted. He swam over and wiped who knew how many decades of lake-muck off one and saw that -if it had come from a car- then is had an awesome custom paint job. Mostly green with black racing striped -totally Devlin's style too! It was a real shame -nay, a crime- that the beautiful car this wreckage had come from was destroyed. What kind of cruel sicko destroyed a car that beautiful anyway?
Devlin swam to the other bank and noted several lures and lines in the water. He was obviously close to a favored fishing spot. He transformed back into his human form so as not to startle the fishermen.
“Oy!” One of them shouted to him. “Didn't anyone ever tell you not to swim around fishing lines!? You could get caught and drown! Get out of here!”
Rolling his eyes at the man, Devlin swam away. A few nylon fishing lines weren't a threat to him. If they only knew.
The fishermen were standing on a wooden dock that jutted out into the water, he swam around it to the bank and climbed back onto land. Squeezing the water from his hair. He paused under the shade of a tree and pulled his hair free and shook it out like a dog, his long locks smacking the bark of the trunk with wet smacking sounds.
Tying his hair back up, the boy looked at the wet marks he'd made on the trunk -and noticed something entirely different.
It was kind of a common thing for people who thought themselves in love to carve their names in trees. But the ones he saw in this tree were different. These he actually recognized. A little high up on the trunk was a heart around the names 'Max + Verdona'. His great-grandfather and great-grandmother. But they weren't the ones Devlin was focusing on. His attention was instead commanded by the heart just below theirs.
KL + GT
End of Time
Kevin Levin plus Gwendolyn Tennyson, 'until the end of time'. Not just their initials in a heart. Not just 'together forever'. No. This was 'until the end of time'. Until the world stopped turning. Until the stars turned cold and all light faded from the universe. Until the end of all things. Well, damn. If there was one thing his father knew how to do, it was lay it on thick to the point of absurdity.
But, how absurd was it, really? Here they were, after being separated for over ten years and Gwendolyn was still in love with him. Was actively working to turn him back to the person she used to know before Devlin was born. Maybe the cuts in the tree weren't that far off. Until the end of time...
Devlin turned back to the lake again. Suddenly wanting the cool waters to douse an anger rising in him that the Osmosian didn't fully understand. How could they love each other so much... how could Kevin love her that much, and yet hate him -hate her son. It didn't make sense to the boy. Weren't men who truly loved their wives supposed to love the children that came from their wives? Wasn't that how things were supposed to work?
With a running start, Devlin dashed down the wooden dock and leapt into the cold lake waters with a head-first dive, letting the splash ruin his hair and the frigid water prickle on his human skin. He didn't transform this time. He wanted to feel the burn in his lungs as his body reminded him that -in this shape- he couldn't breath under water and needed to come back up for air.
“Hey! What did I say about swimming close to fishing lines!?” The fisherman shouted at him again. “Didn't your father teach you anything?”
But the Osmosian ignored him. He just swam across the lake, back to the opposite bank and his mother.
Gwendolyn was hooking up a small propane tank -about the size of a water bottle- to an old and beat-up looking camping stove that unfolded like a briefcase. “Ah, just in time. Can you grab a couple of burgers from the cooler?”
Zed, whom was sunning herself next to said cooler, heard this and instantly got up and moved away, walking the long way around to stand on Gwendolyn's opposite side, placing both the sorceress and the folding table between her and the Osmosian.
Devlin tried to ignore the dog as he did as his mother requested. Stomping over to the second cooler and pulling out two frozen hamburger patties. He handed them to her and couldn't help the feeling of satisfaction when he heard the frozen meat sizzle when she put them on the hot grill. There was something just so satisfying about wet meat sizzling in heat. He watched the juices bubble up to the top of the patty as the edges turned from red-pink to pink-gray as if cooked. Then Gwendolyn flipped it over and it sizzled again.
Pulling over one of the picnic chairs, Devlin sat down. He watched his mother as she flipped the burgers a couple more times before deeming them safe to be eaten and shifting it into a bun. Devlin accepted the plate and took a bite out of it, just meat, bread, and ketchup -just the way he liked it- and the meat was still a bit rare and bloody too! Just the way he liked that.
Of course, Dad also preferred just meat and bread, and still kinda bloody and rare. Devlin paused in his chewing. Swallowed. For some reason, he wasn't all that hungry anymore. He looked back at his mother. He thought about yesterday, how the only thing his father said to him was not to yell at his mother. It was no where near as terrible as his confrontation with his father rand Ben. No one called him worthless or threw him acriss the room. That was worth something, right? But Dad didn't bother to ask how Devlin was or why he was even there. No. He just jumped to Gwendolyn's defense. All he cared about was Gwendolyn. “Until the end of time.”
“What?” Gwendolyn blinked at him, not understanding.
“That's what Dad carved in the tree over there.” He pointed across the lake. He knew it had to be his father that carved their initials on the tree. His mother didn't the type that would cut into the body of a living thing just to prove her love. “Until the end of time.”
“Oh! That was so long ago...” She replied.
So long ago, and yet, the marks were still there. Just like Max and Verdona's were. Until the end of time -or at the very least, until the tree was cut down.
“When I first moved into with you, I asked you if you loved him and you said you always would.” Devlin reminded her. Then he paused to consider what it was he really wanted to know. Mostly he was just feeling things -he was feeling to much to be able to compose the kinds of questions he wanted to ask. Finally, the boy just said, “Why?”
Turning off the grill, Gwendolyn fixed her own burger with lettuces and tomatoes, and pulled over the other chair to sit next to her son. “People don't really get Kevin and I...” She said slowly. “He's basically my species' natural predator, and I'm his mutation's natural prey. At a casual glance, we sound like a terrible match. But that's just superficial stuff. When Kevin and I are together, we complement each other in ways that no other partners could. He's street-smarts and I'm book-smarts, he's aggressive negotiations and I'm diplomacy, he's a pilot and I'm a navigator... I guess it would be hard to explain to someone who's only ever known the violent and petty version of Kevin he is under energy-madness.”
Devlin did not look impressed. He tried taking another bite of burger. Thought as he chewed. Found it hard to swallow. Cleared his throat. “How do you know I wasn't under energy-madness back then?”
Gwendolyn blinked at her son, speechless. It wasn't that the thought never occurred to her before, it was that she buried the thought deep down under years of denial and maternal sacrifice. She inhaled a breath, then realized she didn't know what to say.
Everyone made jokes about how Kevin had never finished any paperwork -ever- as fast as he finished the paperwork for his paternity leave. He was in Grandpa's office right now, turning it in -and probably also receiving a lecture on the significant, fundamental, and vital differences between making smart decisions out of necessity and rash decisions out of panic. Gwendolyn and Zed hung out in the main hub with Ben and Rook -and everyone else.
Now that she was -mostly- recovered from her pregnancy and surgery, and Devlin seemed not to be the great and terrible, mother killing, chest bursting, mutant monster Kevin was making him out to be, everyone wanted to see the new baby. He wasn't the quietest baby in the world. He wasn't the smallest baby in the world. He certainly wasn't the cutest baby in the world. But Devlin did have his own kind of 'monstrous charm'.
“That's a mighty hansom fry, ya got there.” Magister Patelliday commented. “With a lure like that, he could spawn with any girl he likes!”
Right. 'Cause that was important for babies who couldn't even talk yet. Still, the Piscciss Volan Plumber had meant it as a complement. Gwendolyn forced a smile on her face. “Thank you. I'm sure he'll be a real heart-throb when he's old enough.”
Molly Gunther pushed Patelliday out of the way so she could get a better look at the Osmosian baby. She had been there the day he was born. Devlin looked large to her then, hard to believe that he'd just come out of Gwendolyn's belly. That was weeks ago. He was much bigger now. “Hard to believe he's only six weeks old! He looks closer to a toddler already!” A pause. “Can I hold him?”
Gwendolyn hesitated. Devlin was still absorbing her when he was hungry. The latest formula they were trying wasn't as much of a failure as the previous ones. He would eat some of it. But not nearly enough to sustain him, so Gwendolyn was still having to supplement parts of his diet with her own Anodite energy, and Devlin wasn't yet old enough to understand that it was okay to absorb somethings but not others. She didn't want to run the risk of her baby trying to absorb someone else and then everyone finding out what was really going on.
But Gunther was wearing her red and black Alpha Squad armor. Devlin couldn't absorb her through that. So long as she didn't let the baby touch her face, it should be fine for the other woman to hold him. Gwendolyn passed the Osmosian to her. “Carful. He's about as heavy as he looks.”
Zed watched the sorceress pass the little Osmosian to the other woman and changed positions so that she was standing next to Gunther instead. Zed had claimed Devlin as her own pup, and so insisted to always be near him. She kept her red Anibian eyes fixed on the human holding him, as if daring the woman to try something.
Gunther hefted the mutant baby in her arms, balancing the weight on her hip. Gwendolyn was right, he was no feather.
“My wife and I were thinking of adopting.” She explained, looking only at Devlin. “A refugee from the Zabian civil war, or an orphan from that massacre on Namek, maybe. Is it hard raising an alien child?”
“Sometimes.” Gwendolyn admitted, she and Kevin had had Devlin a year yet. “Finding something for him to eat has been a struggle.”
Gunther nodded. “You look tired.”
The sorceress had hoped it wouldn't show. She even added an extra layer of makeup before leaving the house today. She was tired. Like... on the way to being as bad as it was when she was still pregnant tired. Letting Devlin feed off her mana was turning out to be almost as big a drain on her as it had been when he was still growing inside her body.
At least this time, Kevin looked exhausted too since he was also woken up in the middle of the night for 2AM feedings and alien diaper changes. So nobody thought anything of it. This is just what new parents looked like. They looked like hell. Having a baby was hell.
“Taking care of a new born has been an adjustment.” She answered diplomatically.
“And does he get along with Zed?” Gunther asked, noticing that the alien dog was staring fixedly at her.
“Oh, yeah! Zed loves him!” Gwendolyn smiled, reaching a hand down to scratch the Anubian Baskurr's head.
Zed did not seem moved by the affection. Her attention was elsewhere. Someone outside the pack was holding the puppy, they must be watched!
Assuming the dog wanted to play with the baby Osmosian, Gunther knelt down on one knee so that the Anubian Baskurr could be on eye-level with the baby. Zed sniffed at Devlin just to make sure he was okay, before casting a suspicious, red-eyed glare at the human. The Osmosian giggled and cooed, reaching mismatched paws out for the dog. Zed leaned forward so the puppy could run his alien, textured hands over her snout. He was just a little too uncoordinated for actual pets, but groping her fur aimlessly was almost the same -and his tiny Vulpimancer claws felt really great for scratchies.
One Vulpimancer paw and one Tetramand hand groped at the alien dog's snout, raking claws and finger tips over it since he didn't yet have the motor skills to actually grab, scratched, or pet. Zed made a sound of appreciation, even lacking motor skills and coordination, the puppy gave excellent pets.
Then the dog gave a yelp of surprise and pulled away suddenly, tripping over her own hind legs in her hast to get out of the puppy's reach. Zed righted herself and cautiously edged back to the Osmosian, being sure to keep just out of his reach as she sniffed at him intently. She knew what the puppy's father could get like. Zed loved Kevin, he was the Alpha of her pack, and she loved his and Gwendolyn's puppy. But she also wasn't dumb, nor was she blindly loyal. Zed knew that -as much as she appreciated and cared for the Osmosians of her pack- they could also be very, very dangerous.
“What was that?” Gunther asked, standing back up.
“He, uh, he probably just scratched her too hard.” Gwendolyn attempted to explain. “His Vulpimancer claws are small, but they're already pretty sharp. I'll take him back now. Its getting close to his next feeding time.”
Gunther passed the Osmosian back to his mother and wondered why Gwendolyn seemed so nervous all of a sudden.
“...and you're sure he won't escape?” Devlin was asking about Kevin's imprisonment on the ride home from the lake.
They had packed up the picnic gear when the sun started to go down, and were almost halfway home by the time it got fully dark. Street lamps flickered on as Gwendolyn stopped at a red light.
“Yes, Devlin, I'm sure.” The sorceress assured her son. “The seals and barriers keeping him down there are some of the strongest ones I know.”
“But what if he just absorbs the mana of those spells?” The Osmosian pressed. He knew a thing or two about how Kevin's powers worked. He should. They were his powers too.
“I thought of that too.” She knew a thing or two about her husband's powers as well. “I wove a secondary curse into the barriers as a failsafe. If Kevin tries to absorb the magic keeping him down there, he'll fall into a 100 Year Sleep.”
She did not add that this had already happened a handful of times. Gwendolyn did not want to worry her son unnecessarily. Kevin hadn't escaped back in the early days of this plan and that was the important thing. Now he was recovered enough to recognize that what she was trying to do with him was a necessity, and cooperate of his own free will. Gwendolyn was very close to getting her old Kevin back. She was sure of it!
Just a few more good -long- sessions worth of working with him...
Although, she wasn't sure how much time she would actually get to work with Kevin now that Devlin knew about it, was excused from school, and she had no where else to put him. She couldn't take her son with her when she saw his father, and she couldn't see Kevin unless she was sure Devlin was safe and taken care of, under careful -responsible- adult supervision.
It was a difficult situation.
“Why would you curse him with 100 Years of Sleep?” The boy asked, still skeptical of her magic's ability to keep Kevin 11,000 imprisoned and in check. “Can't that curse only be broken by 'true love's kiss'?” -he used air quotes, Devlin didn't believe in 'true love'- “If you were gonna curse him with something that would never be broken, why not just do it from the start? Instead of wasting so much time and effort on him.”
Gwendolyn looked sideways at her son.
Devlin was reminded of what his father had carved on the tree by the lake so many years ago. 'KL + GT, Until the End of Time', and what his mother said when he asked her if she ever loved him and her reply was that she always would. Maybe a cruse that had to be broken by true love wasn't such a big deal to them. But that just frustrated the boy more. How could his parents claim to love each other so much, yet his life was so... so... The was it was.
“What are you gonna do after you're done?” He asked. “After you decide he's 'the old Kevin' again.” More air quotes. “Are you gonna have him move back in?”
“No.” She assured her son. “No, I don't want him anywhere near you again. I won't even let Kevin have visitation with you.”
Well, that was actually a relief.
Except she was still married to him, and had no intention of divorcing him. If she hadn't already then she never would. So, that was significantly less of a relief.
“Are you going to see him again tomorrow?” Devlin was not going to let up with his questions until he understood what was going on.
“That depends on you.” She told him plainly.
“I won't go see him again unless you're okay with it.” Gwendolyn tried to explain.
It was all Devlin could do to stare at her as she pulled the car into the driveway. How did she expect him to be okay with it. Kevin Levin was evil. Why would the Osmosian be okay with his mother leaving him to spend her days in the company of a sociopathic mutant that would absorb and kill her as soon as look at her. How in the world did she expect Devlin to be okay with that. “I am not okay with it.”
“Then I won't go tomorrow.”
Devlin's eyes narrowed when she specified 'tomorrow'. “But you will go the next day.”
“If you're okay with it.” She nodded.
The Osmosian suppressed the urge to growl. “I'm not okay with that either.”
“Then I won't go day after tomorrow either.” Her hands tightened on the steering wheel before she cut the engine and unlocked the doors.
“I'm not okay with you going to see him. Ever. Not tomorrow. Not the day after. Not ever.” The boy informed her, glaring.
“I have to go see him some time.” Gwendolyn informed the boy in her best 'lets be reasonable' voice. “Even if you don't want me to finish the work I've been doing with him, he'll need someone to replenish his food, make sure he has enough toilet paper, that the plumbing still works... basic human necessities.”
“Ben can take care of that.” Devlin informed her. “Or better yet, just let him starve. The universe would be a better place without him.”
Gwendolyn opened her mouth to argue. Her universe would not be a better place without him. But she stopped herself. Objectively, Kevin had done some pretty terrible things as Kevin 11,000. Selling weapons to both sides of war-torn planets, preying on other cargo ships as a pirate, profiting off the losses and misfortunes of others. Perhaps the universe might be better off without Kevin 11,000. But Kevin Levin, member of Ben's Team, he saved and helped save the universe multiple times. That was a version of Kevin they needed back. The universe would be better with him, not without him.
“I'm going to go back and finish what I started with him some time.” She told her son flatly, in a voice that left no room for argument. She was trying to respect his boundaries and make him feel comfortable, but she was still the authority here. Her word was law. “I won't do it tomorrow or the day after. But eventually, I'm going to have to go back there.”
Devlin glared at her from the passenger seat. Neither one of them made a move to get out of the car. In the back seat, Zed whined. She was old and wanted to lay down on her nice soft dog-bed, but she needed one of the ones with posable thumbs to open the door for her.
“Then I'll go with you.” Devlin announced.
“No.” Gwendolyn was very firm. “There's too much tension between you and your father. I don't want you two in the same room together. He's hurt you too much in the past. I would be a bad mother if I brought you along with me.”
But Devlin was not taking 'no' for an answer. “Then don't bring me into the library, just take me to campus. I can hang out with that janitor guy, what's-his-name, Basil!”
“Bezel.” She corrected.
“Whatever.” He brushed it off. “That way, I won't be down there with you and Dad, but I will be close by in case Dad goes crazy again and you need help.”
Gwendolyn pursed her lips. “I don't like this plan.” She admitted. “But I will think about it.”
She got out of the car and opened the back door for Zed.
It was the sound of boots coming down the stairs that woke Kevin. He had slept in the sigil again, not on the couch that unfolded into an actual bed. The Osmosian had waited for his wife to return all day and into the night, and -at some point- he must have just fallen asleep right there on the floor.
Kevin pushed himself up to a sitting position, cracking stiff muscles as he went. He was in his forties now, he was getting too old to keep sleeping on hard stone floors. When he was still eleven and in prison it was no big deal. But it wasn't as young as he used to be and sometimes his body liked to remind him of that fact.
He looked up at the person coming down the stairs and was disappointed to find it was Ben again.
The Hero of the Universe carried a package of toilet paper under one arm and a tray of smoothies in his other hand. “Hey, Kev. Heard you were doing better.”
“Tennyson.” The Osmosian growled, not sure yet if he was glad for his former friend's visit, or if he still hated the man and wanted to kill him. It was a bit of a coin toss. Even when they were friends, Kevin still wanted to kill Ben some times. The man was just always asking to be punched in the face -it was usually subtext, but he was asking for it. Kevin pushed the thought from his mind and instead asked what he really wanted to know. “Where's Gwen- ?”
“Where's Gwendolyn.” Ben cut him off with an exasperated sigh. “I know, I know. You only care about one thing.”
Shaking his head, Ben set the toilet paper down and pulled a smoothy cup out of the tray, offering the other one to his frienemy. Kevin did not accept the offered smoothy, so Ben set it down on the table.
“Red's not coming today, or tomorrow.” Ben informed him.
She didn't come all day yesterday either. Kevin was starting to feel neglected. Academically, he knew he couldn't ask her to choose between himself and her son. Even if he did, she would choose her son. Even if Gwendolyn hadn't been separated from him for over ten years, what mother wouldn't choose their own child over the asshole that impregnated them? Never mind the fact that she still had every right to be angry with him -maybe even hate him- for kidnapping her son and causing that decade of separation in the first place. Kevin knew he didn't have the right to feel neglected. He knew she should be jealous of his own son.
...But he was.
Because he knew Gwendolyn loved Devlin more than him.
The Osmosian grabbed the second smoothy off the table and slurped up more than he should have. The brain-freeze was instantaneous, but the pain felt good. It made him forget how sorry for himself he felt. If his head hurt he didn't have to think about how messed up his life and his relationships were. Here he was, sharing a drink with his life-long arch enemy -a life-long arch enemy whom was also his life-long best friend. So messed up.
“Ya might wanna go easy on that.” Ben recommended.
“Why should I?” Demanded the Osmosian. “Its a smoothy, not a beer. Besides, if it doesn't get drunk fast it'll separate and there'll be nothing but ice on the top and juice on the bottom.”
Well, he wasn't wrong.
With a sigh, Ben looked around for something to sit on. There was the couch that unfolded out into a bed, but he was a little hesitant to put his ass down on anything Kevin slept on -mostly because he knew Kevin usually slept naked. So, the Hero of the Universe sat on the table instead. He hesitated. Cleared his throat. Hesitated again.
“So... I got a few new aliens while you were... away.” He finally said. “I was thinking, maybe after you're back a hundred percent, maybe we could do what we used to? Ya know, spar with each other to test them out, learn their powers, get used to using them.”
The Osmosian massaged his head. Maybe Ben had a point. Drinking a frozen beverage too fast was a bad idea. He should go easy on it. “No... I might slip up and try to kill you for real.”
Ben smirked. “Well, you could try.”
“Tennyson! I'm serious!” Kevin snarled, slamming his smoothing cup down in the same table the Hero of the Universe was sitting on. He grabbed a first full of the other man's shirt and pulled Ben to his feet. “I still kinda wanna kill you! Not only are you super annoying and I wanna punch you in the face! But you tried to stop me when I was getting Devlin away from Gwen! If you hadn't done that I wouldn't have absorbed your Omnitrix -again!- and I wouldn't have been completely bat-shit, off the rails, full nut, insane while raising him!”
Suppressing the urge to sigh with exasperation, Ben pulled his shirt out of the older man's grip. “And it never occurred to you that none of that would have happened if you hadn't tried to take Devlin and run in the first place? That your unfortunate circumstances were of your own making.” -As they usually tended to be, but Ben wasn't gonna say that bit out loud.
Kevin threw his arms up in exasperation. “Well, then tell me what the fuck else I was supposed to do! If Devlin stayed with her, she would have just let him keep feeding off her until she died! And she would have just let it happen! You know she would!”
If that had been what happened, then they would be having a very different conversation right now.
“Look, it was a hard decision to make. I get that.” Ben tried to sooth.
“I'm sensing a 'but'.” Kevin crossed his arms over his chest.
...But it was the wrong decision to make.
“I honestly don't know what I would have done if it had been me in your position.” Ben continued.
“Still waiting for the 'but'.” Kevin growled.
...But I wouldn't have done what you did.
Ben cleared his throat. “But what's done is done. All we can do now is try and pick up the pieces. ...Pick up the pieces and put you back together.”
“I'm touched.” The Osmosian growled, putting a had to his chest in mock tenderness.
“You can joke, but I'm serious.” The other man insisted. “Red wants her husband back. I want my best friend back. Rook wants... actually, I don't know why Rook's so invested in getting you back.”
“What, Rook can't be my friend too?” His arms were crossed back over his chest again. “He confesses he wants to bone you, you get creeped out and end your partnership with him, now none of your friends can be friends with him anymore. What kind of bullshit is that?”
“I never said that!” Ben snapped, suddenly and inexplicably defensive. And Rook's confession didn't 'creep him out' per say... It was just terrible timing. His wife was pregnant with their first -only- child, Kevin had just kidnapped Devlin, absorbed the Omnitrix again, and gone evil again. Gwen was physically weak and emotionally exhausted and didn't have time to help him figure out his own damn thoughts and feelings. Rook's confession was just too much for Ben to handle on top of everything else. He didn't know how to react, so he reacted badly. That didn't mean that he didn't want to still be friends with his former partner, or that no one else could be friends with his former partner. “I just didn't know you and Rook were all that close.”
“Are you insane!?” Kevin gaped at the other man. “He's -literally- the coolest guy you've ever hung out with -besides me. Plus, we built a car together. That's almost the same as making a baby. Rook's, like, my other wife!”
They did have a lot in common. They were a lot alike. It was one of the reasons why it was so easy to believe that Gwendolyn had moved on with the Revonnahgander when Kevin saw them together. Luckily for the Osmosian, Rook only had eyes for Ben and didn't find human females attractive.
Ben raised an eyebrow. “Does Gwendolyn know you talk about him like that?”
The Osmosian scoffed. “Pff, she's the one who dubbed him my 'other wife'.” A pause. “Also, she made me promise that she'd be allowed to watch if I ever decided I was gay for Revonnagander.”
“You do know Revonnaganders are feline-type aliens, right?” Ben raised an eyebrow.
“Yeah.” Kevin didn't understand why that might be significant. “So?”
“Well, cats have, like, barbs on their dicks, or something.” Explained the Hero of the Universe. “I mean, wouldn't that hurt?”
Now it was Kevin's turn to raise an eyebrow. “What makes you think I'd be the one on bottom?”
Ben cleared his throat. This train of the conversation was making him a little uncomfortable. He hadn't thought of what kind of sexual partner Rook Blanko might be in several years. “Its just... Rook is so strong willed, and assertive. He doesn't seem very... submissive.”
“Neither does Gwen.” The Osmosian snorted. “But as soon as the clothes come off-”
“Ah-ah-ah! I'm gonna stop you right there!” Ben even went so far as to put a hand over his friend's mouth. Looks like enough of Kevin had returned that he was back to sharing far too much information on his sex-life with little to know polite censorship. “I think its great and all that you're comfortable enough with me again to tell me how my cousin likes being pressed against a flat surface and rammed by your thick metal rod, but I really don't need to hear about it!”
“Okay, first of all!” Kevin held up a finger in the younger man's face. “You don't ever wanna 'ram' your partner if your dick is metal -unless you want to cause serious injury, and possible permanent damage to her insides. You lay there and let her do her thing -and you try really hard not to laugh at that stupid ahego face she makes when she cums. Secondly, you think that's all we do? Really? Aw, Tennyson, you're so vanilla! No wonder your wife has to practically force you to go alien for sex. You must be really, really boring at it as a human!”
“Fuck you, Kevin!” Ben couldn't think of anything else to say. He was red in the face and scandalized.
“No thanks. You're not the Tennyson I'm into.” Scoffed the Osmosian.
Ben wanted to be annoyed, but the banter actually felt more like it did back before Devlin was born. When Kevin was still sane and they were still friends. Instead, the Hero of the Universe sighed. Kevin was always an asshole, but every Hero Team needed an asshole and Kevin was his. “I did miss you.”
As Gwendolyn promised, she did not go see Kevin.
Instead, she took Devlin to the museum to see Kai's old exhibit on alien artifacts found on Earth.
It didn't exactly yield the results the sorceress was hoping for. She was imagining her son flitting from display to display with eyes wide with wonder -like Kenny did the first time Kai made him come to her exhibit. But Devlin was not Kenny. He paused at a number of the displays to examine the artifact inside -really study it, like he was giving it an appraisal. He did this with several artifacts in several displays. After a while, Gwendolyn had to ask.
“Find some interesting stuff?” She smiled. If he was studying the exhibits so hard, it meant he was having fun, right?
The boy shrugged. “Most of this stuff is just junk. But a couple pieces could still fetch a decent price if you know how to find the right buyer. I'm surprised this place hasn't been robbed yet. There's at least half a million in Taydens sitting in these cases but no one else seems to notice.”
Gwendolyn pursed her lips. Sometimes, Devlin opened his mouth and his father's voice came out. Damn it, Kevin! He couldn't just let a boy enjoy a day at a museum. He had to teach him to appraise everything as if it were some piece of alien junk he were trying to hock. As much as she loved him, Gwendolyn just wanted to throttle him sometimes!
She forced an amused smile on her face, as if Devlin's comment about seeing the artifacts on the intergalactic blackmarket was meant to be a joke -they both knew he was completely serious. “Some people thing that having the pieces on display so everyone can see and learn from them has more value than money.”
The boy looked skeptical.
“If it makes you feel better, the exhibit was robbed -literally- the first day it opened.” She decided to inform him by way of a compromise. “Exo-Skull and Subdora. They work for Maltruant.”
“Maltruant!” Devlin paused. He might be familiar with everyone in Ben's 'rouges gallery' but he knew that name. Not long after breaking his father out of the Null Void and being fostered by Ben, the Plumbers Headquarters was attacked by the rouge Chronosapien. Devlin got caught in the fight and accidentally transported back in time to before he was born, when his parents were still together, presumably still in love, and Gwendolyn was just barely pregnant with him. Luckily the trip had been short. But it was enough for the Osmosian to see that his father never wanted him and always hated him. “I hate that guy!”
“I'm not a fan of him either.” Agreed the sorceress. Time traveling villains were bad enough, but Maltruant was condescending and elitist on top of it.
It was time for a diversion and a subject change. The museum did not have the same affect Gwendolyn was hoping it would have. Devlin might enjoy books as much as she did, but he did not seem to share her love of history, his mind was geared more towards value and profit. In that respect, at least, he was more like his father. Perhaps a museum was not the best outing for him.
Gwendolyn cleared her throat. “Wanna get a smoothy?”
“Sure!” The boy answered enthusiastically. Since living with Ben for a bit and joining the Tennyson family the Osmosian had become rather fond of smoothies.
Since Ben 10,000's wife -more of less- worked at the museum, the Mr. Smoothy company thought it was prudent to put a one of their stores across the street from the museum. Ben Tennyson was one of their best -and most famous- customers. It made sense. But Ben 10,000 had never set foot in the Mr. Smoothy across the street from his wife's work. In fact, some were even skeptical that he ever even visited his wife at work. But that was gossip for another day.
They got their drinks and a couple of light sandwiches and sat down.
Lunch was a little quiet for a bit. Gwendolyn kept an eye on her son, trying to gauge his mood. When she was sure that he was relaxed and content, she suggested, “How'd you like to spend the weekend with Kenny? I could take you over on Friday after he gets out from school and you'd stay there until Sunday when I pick you up again.”
It sounded really great, and for half a second Devlin was about to get excited about it. A whole weekend with this best -and only- friend! Hanging out, tagging along with Ben on alien battles, beating up creatures with powers not so different from his own... It sounded awesome! Then he realized what she would be doing while he was out of the way. “You're going to see him again, aren't you.”
“Yes. I am.” She didn't deny it, and she didn't have to explain herself to her son. He knew what she was doing it -why she wanted to do it. No other explanation was necessary.
“I don't want you to.” He told her. She said that she wouldn't go see Kevin if he didn't want her to.
“We've had almost a whole week together.” She reminded the boy. “Now its Kevin's turn for some quality time with me.” A pause. “If it makes you feel any better, he won't be enjoying that time very much. Exorcising him of his excess energy and aliens is a painful process.”
So Kevin would be suffering. Good. That was a comfort at least. Devlin still didn't want his mother going back to him. But it seemed like there wasn't much he could do about that. She wold do what she wanted to do, and damn anyone who told her otherwise. This seemed to be a pattern with her -at least, if her story was any indication. Gwendolyn did what Gwendolyn wanted regardless of warnings, contesting opinions, or better judgment.
“I'll only be okay with it if you give him hell.” Devlin informed her.
His mother smiled. “That won't be a problem.”
No flashbacks this chapter. Sorry.
Chapter 18: What Devlin Did to Zed
There was an overnight bag in the backseat when Devlin climbed into the front. He didn't say anything to his mother about it. His own over night bad was on his lap during the drive over to Ben's. So, it looked like while he was spending the weekend with Ben and Kenny (and Kai), she would be spending her weekend with Kevin. Since everyone would be away from the house all weekend, Zed was going with Gwendolyn. She sat in the backseat, keeping the sorceress' bag between herself and the young Osmosian. Living together this long and the Anubian Baskurr still didn't trust him.
Devlin sighed as they pulled into the Plumbers HQ motor-pool. His mother was foisting his off onto Ben while she ran off to be with his selfish, amoral, sadistic, and insensitive father.
Kai was waiting for them by the garage elevator when they got there. Gwendolyn wasn't about to just leave her Osmosian child alone and unattended in the Plumbers motor-pool. Bad parenting aside, that was also bad Plumbers behavior. She knew -probably better than most just what kind of trouble an Osmosian could get into around alien-tech, batteries, and power generators. Not to mention, being raised by Kevin, he was also entirely capable of dismantling each and every vehicle in the motor-pool out of sheer boarder (or spite). Kai offered Devlin her hand.
The boy did not take it. He threw his overnight bag over one shoulder then thrust both his hands in his pockets. “When will Kenny be here?”
“Soon.” Kai assured him. “Ben went to pick him up from school since I had to take his hoverboard away. Assuming neither of them get distracted, they should be home in ten minutes.”
“I'll just wait in Kenny's room.” He brushed past her and into the elevator.
Both women watched as he didn't wait for Kai to follow him, pushed the button for the residential floor and the elevator doors closed. Gwendolyn heaved a sigh of exasperation.
Kai turned to her. “He's still a lot like Kevin.”
“Not in the ways that are bad.” The sorceress told her.
Opening her mouth, Kai was about to point out to the other woman that her son was impatient, disrespectful and rude -and use example all from the short interaction they just had. He neither greeted Kai when she took the time to meet them at the motor-pool, or took her hand when she offered it. Disrespectful. Then he didn't wait for her before closing the elevator door. Rude and impatient. But, Kai realized, Gwendolyn wouldn't listen. If she would willfully disregard her husbands rude, selfish, impatient, and disrespectful behavior, why would she admit to her child having those same behaviors? Kai sighed.
“I'll make sure he gets to his therapist appointment too.” She said instead. “You'll pick him up from there after?”
“Yes.” Gwendolyn confirmed. That was the plan. “I think it'll do Devlin good to spend some good extended time with a friend his own age.”
“And also give you some extended time with Kevin.” Kai nodded. She hadn't missed the sorceress' overnight bag in the back seat next to Zed either. “Just how much actual exorcising are you planning to do this weekend?”
The face Gwendolyn flashed at that comment could have peeled paint. But the quickly forced her lips to stretch into a pleasant smile. “I'm sure I don't know what you mean. I'm not planning to have sex with Kevin until he's completely back to normal.”
Kai tried really, really hard not to scoff. Sure she would. But Gwendolyn was her in-law and she had to at least try and get along with her.
Gwendolyn hadn't shown up all week, so he wasn't expecting her to come today either. Neither was he expecting her to bring Zed when she did come.
The Anubian Baskurr came bounding down the stairs -more like a hobbling quickstep- as soon as she caught the Osmosian's scent. Before Kevin knew he had visitors he was accosted by a happy and excited alien dog. Zed jumped up on her hind legs, bracing her front paws against Kevin's chest as she licked his face vigorously -with extra slobber so he knew she loved him. Had she been ten, or maybe even five, years younger the dog would have cleared the floor entirely and jumped into the Osmosian's arms. But Zed wasn't as young as she used to be and running, jumping, and fighting mutants, monsters, and other aliens just wasn't as easy as it used to be.
“Whoa!” Kevin was caught off guard by the sudden appearance and affectionate tackle. He had to do some quick and graceless stumbling with his feet to keep from falling over when the Anubian Baskurr jumped on him. He put a hand on the alien dogs head and scratched behind her ear gently. “Hey, girl. I missed you too. Glad to see you're doing better than the last time I saw you.”
“Zed, down!” Gwendolyn came down the stairs after the dog. “No jumping! Remember.”
The alien dog looked back at her and gave an 'arf' that sounded suspiciously like 'sorry, not sorry'. But she lowered herself back down onto all four paws all the same.
Kevin gave her an affectionate pat on the head. He didn't mind a large, alien, hunting dog capable of transforming into monsters four times its size jumping on him. But, most people tended to take issue with even mundane terrestrial dogs jumping. So Gwendolyn had spent the better part of twenty years trying to break Zed of the habit. The Osmosian looked up at his wife.
“I wasn't expecting to see you again.” There was something that felt incomplete about that statement, but the sorceress couldn't decide if he meant to end it with 'ever' or just 'for a while'. But the pause was short because Kevin immediately fallowed that statement with, “and I sure as hell wasn't expecting you to bring Zed! C'mon, girl, do a roll!”
He dropped to all fours and -in almost perfect sync with the dog- rolled over onto his back. Thay both rolled back onto all fours, stared at each other for half a moment, then -still almost perfectly synchronized- rolled back the other direction.
“Alright! Good girl!” Kevin popped back to his feet and petted Zed's head. He crossed the room to the refrigerator Gwendolyn had stocked for him and looked for something that would be appropriate as a dog treat.
“Kevin! How many times have I told you not to give her human food!” Gwendolyn huffed at her husband.
“Aw, c'mon, Babe! She's earned it.” Insisted the Osmosian. He took a triangle of Laughing Cow cheese out of the 'fridge and peeled off the foil. “Besides, a little bit isn't a big deal.”
Zed smelled the cheese before she saw it and almost took a half-step towards Kevin for it. But she was more disciplined than that and caught herself. The Anubian Baskurr sat as still and elegant as a show dog while she waited for her alpha to finish arguing with his mate and give her her due reward.
“Its not good for her!” Gwendolyn insisted. “You might not have noticed, but she's not exactly a young hunter anymore. Zed was already a full grown adult when you got her from Khyber and we don't actually know how old Anubian Baskurr are supposed to live for. The xeno-vetreanarian had me put her on a senior diet. She can't have lots of fatty things like that crapy cheese you like.”
Glancing to her side, Zed flashed the sorceress a look that seemed to say, 'ugh, gawd, Gwendolyn, shut-up!' She wined a very puppy like whine and licked her chops. Zed wanted her treat, gosh darned it! She didn't care that it wasn't on her vet-recommended diet!
“One little piece isn't gonna killer her.” Kevin insisted.
He broke the tiny wedge of cheese in half and walked back to Zed -whom was still waiting patiently and behaving perfectly. The Osmoian flicked the piece of cheese in the air and the Anubian Baskurr caught it in her mouth. He then popped the second piece of cheese in his own mouth and held it between his teeth. Crouching back down on all fours, Kevin offered the cheese in his teeth to Zed too. The dog paused a moment, then licked the cheese from the Osmosian's mouth. Kevin climbed back to his feet, wiping slobber from his face, but otherwise smiling. He turned to his wife and saw that Gwendolyn was standing with her arms crossed in disapproval and scowling at him.
“What?” The Osmosian shrugged with innocents.
“What did I just say?!” The sorceress demanded. “What happens if she gets sick all over my library? You always do this! I tell you one thing, you ignore it and do something else, and I end up having to clean up after!”
“Aw, c'mon, Babe. Its not like that.” He wrapped an arm around her, pulling Gwendolyn in close for a kiss.
But she pushed him away. “No. Your face is covered in dog spit. No kisses until you wash-up, and brush your teeth too! Then we'll get started on exorcising you of your surplus energy.”
“We'll get started after kisses, or after I brush my teeth?” Kevin just wanted to clarify.
The lid on the blender was a little loose. When Devlin turned it on HIGH, it came off and half blended smoothy went flying all over the counter. Ben rushed up to help the boy. Turning the blender off, he put the lid back on and grabbed a dish towel. The boys decided it was great idea to have smoothies for dinner on their sleepover.
“Sorry!” Devlin said quickly. If the Osmosian had made that big a mess with his father around the night would not end pleasantly for him.
“Its okay.” Ben told him. He handed the boy a second dish towel so he could help clean up. “This is why I always keep my hand on the lid when I blend. Hey, Kenny, come here and help your cousin clean up.”
“You're not mad?” Devlin asked, skeptical that Ben was just gonna help him clean up the mess he just made with no punishment. Kevin would never be so lenient.
“Over a little spilled milk and ice cream?” Ben snorted at the absurdity of the idea. “No. But we should clean up before my wife see's the mess and decides I need to be supervised as much as a pair of ten-year-olds.”
“I'm eleven.” Devlin reminded him.
“Same difference.” Ben shrugged.
“My dad would be really mad.” The Osmosian informed him, getting back to the topic of the spilled milk.
But Ben only scoffed. “Oh, please. As if he's never made a mess like this before.”
Kevin spilled some formula as he was trying to pore the freshly mixed milk-substitute from its container to the bottle.
“Fuck my life!” He moaned as he darted for a kitchen towel to sop up the formula before it could flow over too much of the counter. He'd forgotten which planet this particular one came from, or which species it was made for, but it smelled rank and he did not want the terrible scent sinking into the grouting between the tiles. Gwendolyn was upstairs taking a nap and she would not be happy with him if she came down to discover that their kitchen now smeller permanently of sulfur, methane, and sour milk.
“Everything okay in there?” Ben called from the living room. He had come over to help with Devlin. Kai had been making the Hero of the Universe offer to baby sit or help with feedings and diaper changings for weeks now. 'Training' she called it. For when she and Ben had a baby of their own.
Rook had come with him this time, though the Osmosian couldn't imagine why. Rook was unmarried, hadn't seen his supposed girlfriend, Rayona, in years, and wasn't in danger of having children of his own any time soon -unlike Ben who's wife was actively trying to get pregnant. Then again, Rook always did manage to find an excuse to hand around Ben even when they were off duty and being Plumbers partners wasn't exactly relevant.
At the moment, Rook was making himself useful by holding Devlin while he screamed and wailed for his meal. Kevin specifically instructed Rook to be the one to try and calm him since the Revonnahgander had chosen to wear his proto-tech armor over, while Ben had shown up in just a teeshirt -too much skin exposed for Devlin to grab at and absorb his energy. Also, Ben had the Omnitrix and like fucking hell was Kevin Levin gonna let his Osmosian son anywhere near that thing! Taking care of Devlin was enough of a headache without the power of the Omnitrix thrown into the mix.
“Oi, Tennyson!” Kevin called from the kitchen. “Get your useless ass in here and help.”
The moment Ben was through the kitchen door, a dishtowel was thrown in his face. “Clean up for me, will ya? I gotta get this warmed up or else that thing out there will never shut up.”
'That thing' being his son.
Kevin set the freshly filled bottle in the microwave and heated it for only a few seconds. Taking it out a again, he dabbed a few drops on his wrist to test its temperature. Ugh! It smelled even worse warmed up! There was no way in hell he was gonna be able to get Devlin to drink this one either. Suppressing a sigh, the Osmosian left Ben to clean up his mess and walked out into the living room to take his noisy and monstrous offspring from Rook -whom was remarkably patient with the screaming ball of limbs.
Zed was cured up on the floor at Rooks feet and she lifted her head when the Revonnahgander passed the baby Osmosian to its father. She got up and switched positions to be slightly closer to Kevin, then curled back up into a ball -as if doing so could save her sensitive Anubian hearing from all the noise Devlin was making.
“I am impressed the Gwendolyn is able to sleep through this.” Rook commented as he watched Kevin re-situate the screaming mutant in his arms just the way Max taught him. He shove the bottle in the baby's mouth and for half a moment there was quiet in the house.
Kevin breathed a sigh of relief. Moments of quiet had become a rarity in the Levin household. “She's been running herself ragged. Devlin's a two-person job all himself, but she's still working on a second doctorate and does something called 'peer review' for some prestigious magic-science journal or something. She's doing too much.”
“She had begun to look below the weather again.” The Revonnahgander attempted a common Earthling colloquialism. It wasn't as bad as some of his other attempts. “Some of us at Headquarters were beginning to wonder if Devlin might be absorbing her mana again. She looks very similar to how she did while she was still carrying.”
That was also a worry Kevin himself had been having for some time now. He knew what it looked like when something was being absorbed. He had enough experience absorbing things to know what prey looked like. But after what happened during her actual pregnancy, Gwendolyn wouldn't be stupid enough ot keep letting Devlin absorb her... right? She almost died! She stated to recover almost the moment he was out of her. Now she was back to looking almost just as sick and weak. She couldn't really be that stupid... could she? Kevin pushed the thought from his mind. His wife was a genius. She would know better.
With a groan, Devlin pushed the bottle away. He had taken maybe six sips. The baby Osmosian whimpered groping at his father. One of his tiny Vulpimancer claws found purchase on the older Osmosian's neck. Kevin pulled back with a sudden start, nearly dropping his son the moment he felt the baby trying to absorb him. No wonder he refused to eat whatever the hell they tried to give him. Devlin didn't want food, he wanted energy!
But if he hadn't been eating these past few months, he'd been absorbing energy instead, where was he getting the energy...?
Kevin glanced up the stairs.
Gwendolyn was up there taking a much needed nap. She had been the one spending the most time caring for their mutant son, and even Rook agreed that she looked like shit again. If Devlin was absorbing energy instead of eating, he had to be getting the energy from somewhere -or someone. A nice juicy slice of Anodite maybe.
He passed his son back to Rook. So long as the Revonnahgander was wearing his proto-tech armor there was no danger of Devlin absorbing him. He was too small and inexperienced to know how to absorb something through armor. “Take him for me again. I gotta have a word with my wife.”
The moment he was no longer in his fathers arms, Devlin began to cry again.
Kevin ignored the brat's wails.
He headed upstairs and gently eased their bedroom door open. He closed it behind him again, muffling Devlin's cries carrying up the stairs. Gwendolyn was still asleep. She had stayed awake long enough to greet Ben and Rook when they arrived and give Kevin a couple instructions on when Devlin needed to be fed and put down for a nap before she herself disappeared upstairs for a nap of her own. Kevin slipped his shoes off and slipped into bed next to her. He brushed a strand of vibrant red hair out of her face.
“Babe?” He whispered. Rook was right, she looked like shit. She needed rest and he hated having to wake her. But this was something that couldn't wait. He had to know right now. He had to know how she was keeping Devlin fed when he wouldn't eat. She had to know if she was letting him feed off her energy. “Gwen, I need you to wake up. Babe. Gwendolyn!”
That last one was a frustrated -and loud- bark or urgency.
She groaned in her sleep and rolled over.
Kevin rolled her back to face him.
“Ugh... what...?” She moaned. Her eyes were still closed, but she was talking. That meant she was awake enough to listen too.
“Have you been letting Devlin feed off you?” Kevin demanded.
“What?” Now Gwendolyn was awake. She pushed herself up to a sitting position and blinked at her husband. “What would make you say that?”
“You look like shit, Babe.” He informed her tersely.
“You really know how to charm a girl.”
Kevin continued as if she hadn't spoken. “Devlin doesn't look like he's missing any meals but I know he's not eating and hasn't been eating since he was taken out of you. Even Rook's noticed. He agrees you look like you did when Devlin was inside you and feeding off you. Just now, when I was trying the new formula down stairs, he tried to absorb me! He hasn't tried to do that since his birthday. He was more interested in absorbing energy than in eating actual food!”
That was why it was so hard to get him to eat! That was why they never seemed able to find a formula that would satisfy him. Devlin wasn't interested in eating food. Why would he want food when there was a readily available supply of potent and delicious 'Gwendolyn flavored' mana around. Without even realizing it, she was sabotaging her own attempts to get her baby to eat!
Gwendolyn tried composting a believable lie. Or, if her husband wouldn't accept a lie, then a convincing argument or justification for why she was doing it. Her baby needed something to sustain him, and if he wasn't going to eat food then what other option did she have? Just watch her baby waste away because he wouldn't eat and his father wouldn't let her share her mana? How was that a solution?
But before she got the chance to utter even one word, their conversation was cut abruptly and shockingly short by a shrill yelp and wine from downstairs. It wasn't guttural enough to Devlin, it wasn't an Osmosian wail. It was a dog wait, an Anubian Baskurr -Zed!
Kevin was the first to react at hearing such a sucking and uncommon sound of distress from his dog. Gwendolyn wasn't far behind him, pausing just long enough to slip a robe on over the pajama pants and Kevin's teeshirt she was wearing -and to hide how think she was getting. Women were not supposed to slim back down after childbirth as Gwendolyn was. She wouldn't admit it to her husband, but keeping Devlin fed was a significant strain on her body, not as fatally damaging as when he was still inside her, but still a significant strain.
Ben and Rook both were kneeing over the Anubian Baskurr by the time the pair got to the stairs.
Ben was still clutching the filthy, foul smelling dishtowel from the kitchen. He must have forgotten to drop it in his haste to help. He was holding the Omnitrix over Zed, trying to use it to see if there was anything wrong with her that the watch could fix. Rook was trying to pry Devlin off of her. The baby Osmosian had three of his four arms wrapped around one of her front legs. Kevin didn't even have to get close to know what was happening. His son was trying absorb his dog.
“Get him off her!” Kevin roared and jumped the last three steps to be at his pet's side. Zed had been a far more useful, affectionate, helpful, and loving member of the family than his son had. He wouldn't admit it out loud -especially not where his wife could hear- but Kevin loved the dog far more than he loved their son. -And said son was trying to drain said dog dry!
“I am trying.” Rook informed the distraught Osmosian and he pulled on the younger one.
“Out of the way!” Kevin shoved the Revonnahgander to the side and placed both hands on Devlin.
He absorbed enough of Devlin's own strength to weaken his hold of the Anubian Baskurr and finally succeeded in pulling the baby off her. Devlin immediately started wailing in anger and distress at being denied his meal. Kevin ignored him and looked a Zed.
She was laying on her side, eyes closed, her muscles twitching asymmetrically in a way that just did not look right. Her fur that was usually a deep, dark, royal blue bordering on navy had turned a pale, almost ashy shade of bluegray, and there were stress lines around his muzzle and under the think fur of her ears where there hadn't been any before. Devlin did more than just absorb a little energy from her. He nearly killed her!
“Here! Take him!” Kevin shoved the baby Osmosian into Rook's unexpecting arms.
The Revonnahgander fumbled the large and awkwardly shaped child and nearly dropped him. But Rook was also the other other person in the room was wasn't an Anodite, didn't wear an Omnitrix, and was wearing proto-tech armor. He was the only person Kevin trusted to touch the boy right now. Bending down, Kevin hefted the unconscious and still twitching Zed into his own arms. Forgetting to put his shoes back on, only socks covering his feet, Kevin crossed to the door that connected the house to the garage.
“Wait! Where are you going?” Gwendolyn demanded.
“I'm taking my dog to the Plumbers infirmary!” He snared at her, for half a second the old hatred that he used to harbor for Ben seemed into his voice. “And when I come back, I'm going to finally deal with that thing!”
He turned and rushed out.
“So that's why the dog hates me.” Devlin looked down at the dirty dishtowel in his hands. He nearly killed Zed. No wonder she was so terrified of him and never let him get within arms reach of her. That also explained why Dad never let him have any pets growing up.
“Hey, hey, she'll come around.” Ben insisted. “Ya know, Zed wasn't always the sweet and affectionate companion this story is making her out to be. Once upon a time, she was a vicious hunting hound working for a trophy hunter that was hell bent on killing me.”
Devlin looked skeptically up at the Hero of the Universe. “What changed?”
“Your dad somehow befriended her and convinced her to leave her master and come join our team. Ya know, she didn't even have a name until Kevin gave her one!”
Amazingly, this was not what Devlin wanted to hear. The more he heard of this story, the more and more he was being convinced that Dad was right all along. He was a monster. He should have never been born. He was a mistake and the world would be better off without him. He did not need to hear about how much of a hero and a better person his father was without him.
Ben realized this about a second too late and cleared his throat, trying to think of something else to say to make this conversation better. “But then! A couple months later, Kevin went crazy again and nearly killed up all! Yeah! Ya see, there was this group called the Rooters and Kevin joined up with them, called himself Weapon XI and nearly killed me, your mom, Argit, and Zed. But he turned back after and Zed forgave him. Zed knows how Osmosians work. She just needs a little more time to get to know you again and realize you're in control now. Zed will come around. You'll see.”
Devlin was still a bit skeptical of that. But he didn't get the chance to say as much. At that exact moment, Kai entered the kitchen to find the terrible mess he created.
“Ben! What the hell!” She fumed. “You said you were gonna watch the kids make dinner, not reenact the blooper reel from Will It Blend!”
Chapter 19: The Things We Do for the People We...
Kevin awoke to find himself sleeping in the couch's fold-out bed for once. There was a heavy weight over his feet and ankles that felt suspiciously like Zed, and a vacant space beside him that felt like it should have been filled. He reached a hand across the other side of the bed and discovered that it was still warm, but vacant. Of course Gwendolyn would already be up. She was always up before him. She was practically made out of energy.
The Osmosian lifted his head and, sure enough, there was his wife sitting at the worktable. Wearing only a teeshirt and panties, a book in one hand, a spoon in the other, a bowl of cereal in front of her.
“You spent the night with me. I thought you'd leave after I passed out.” Kevin climbed out of bed and noted that he too was likewise only wearing his underwear. Zed gave a whine of disapproval at the body under her suddenly deciding not to be her obedient and complacent bed anymore. Kevin ignored her, he paused, looking down at his state of undress. “Did we have sex?”
“No.” Gwendolyn assured him. “But I had to wash your proto-tech armor. There was no way I could spend the weekend with something smelling like that!”
She was spending her whole weekend with him? Not Devlin? Great!
“Wash how? Magic?” It sounded like a scoff, but Kevin was legitimately curious. All he had in this little underground headquarters of hers was a small sink. It was just barely enough for him to give himself sponge baths with. It did not serve well as an actual laundry.
“Don't be stupid. I used the washers in the dorm laundry room.”
“Oh.” That was considerably more mundane, but practical he supposed.
“It was on the rout I took Zed on for her evening walk. I also picked these up for you from the student store, since you've been living in that armor since Ben captured you.” She held up an eco-freindly, biodegradable, made from post-consumer materials paper shopping bag with the Friedkin mascot printed on the side.
“Since Devlin captured me.” Kevin corrected. It was important to remember who betrayed whom. Ben might have been the one to beat the shit out of him, but it was Devlin that threw the Null grenade that actually captured him. The Osmosian reached into the bag and pulled out a pair of flannel Friedkin University pajama pants and a matching teeshirt. He made a face. Gwendolyn had been trying to get him into her school colors since she actually was a student here.
“Take your underwear off and I'll wash those too.”
“B-babe!” Kevin flushed, knowing that his tight briefs would not even sort of hide the way his body reacted to that command from her.
“Oh, calm down.” She scoffed. “Its nothing I haven't seen before.” A pause. “Or would you prefer I came over there and took them off for you?”
Gwendolyn marked the page of the book she was reading -a mundane fictional story book, not a magical text- and laid her spoon back in the bowl. Kevin thought she was just gonna walk over to him and yank his briefs down, but instead, the sorceress got down on all fours and crawled over to him. The Osmosian found himself swallowing a lump that had formed in his throat. Gawd! She looked so sexy down on her knees like that.
In front of him now, Gwendolyn closed her teeth on the waistband of his underwear and pulled. Peeling the garment off. It didn't even get passed his knees before Kevin reached down and grabbed a fistful of her ginger and amber hair and pulled her up to face him. He mashed his lips against hers in a sloppy but needy kiss. His other hand snaked around her back to grope at her ass and pull her closer to him, his hips grinding against hers. Why the hell was she still wearing panties?
But Gwendolyn pulled away, pushing him away too while she pulled back. “Down boy.”
“But I thought-”
“Its called a tease, Baby.” She scoffed at him. “You might recall I used to tease you all the time back before-” Gwendolyn cut herself off abruptly. The ending of that sentence was 'back before we had Devlin'.
“Yeah, but...” Kevin tried to formulate a half-way decent argument but found he couldn't think of any with her body still pressed against his the way it was. “Just a couple days ago I was telling Tennyson how much you like to be dominated.”
She snorted. Gwendolyn didn't mean to. It was just so ridiculous the sound escaped her before she could stifle it. “You think you're the dom in our relationship? Oh, Kevin, that's adorable!”
“Hey, I could be a dom!” The Osmosian tried arguing back.
“Maybe.” Gwendolyn would let him have that. A maybe. “Maybe you're a Switch. But with me you know your place.” A smirk, because she knew who was in control. “And what is your place?”
Kevin paused, not sure what she wanted from him exactly. “Uh... wherever you want me?”
“In the circle.” She commanded. “With some pants on.”
He groaned. Stepping out of his dirty underwear, Kevin slipped on the flannel Friedkin pajama pants and stepped -bare chested- into the circle. Gwendolyn took his hand before he got too far in. She stretched up on her tip-toes and gave him a chase but affectionate kiss on the lips.
“Cheer up, Baby.” She told him. “We're almost done. You're almost yourself again.”
“I feel like myself again.” He informed her.
“You've still got some energy that's not yours.” Gwendolyn reminded the Osmosian in her best 'this is not up for discussion' voice. Kevin might be back to himself, but any surplus energy he might still have inside him lowered his threshold for any energy he might be able to absorb in the future. “We're not done until I'm sure I got every last drop of everything that doesn't belong in you.”
“And then what?” Kevin asked.
“Then we can do more than kiss, and I'll let you out of here.”
“And by 'more that kiss', you mean...?”
“Exactly what you think I mean.”
Zed shook her head at their antics. She rolled over and -taking up the whole bed- went back to sleep.
Kenny had weekend homework. But Ben didn't believe in weekend homework unless his wife was hovering behind him, telling him he believed in weekend homework. Using Devlin spending the weekend with them as an excuse, he took both boys with him out on patrol. They flew through the city in their alien -or in the case of Devlin, mutant- forms.
They thwarted Dr. Animo trying to free and mutate the animals of the Bellwood zoo. Got caught up in a misunderstanding between rival alien neighborhoods. And had to thwart at least one pod-based alien invasion. All in all, a very eventful Saturday. All three of them were exhausted when they got back to headquarters that evening.
Devlin flopped down on the couch. He was still a little mad that his mother chose to spend the weekend with Kevin instead of him, but the young Osmosian had to admit that spending time with Kenny and Ben was much more fun.
Kenny flopped down next to him. “Mom would be so pissed if she knew I ditched homework to do this!”
Devlin didn't have homework anymore, but knowing his own mother, Gwendolyn would probably be pissed if he neglected homework to fight aliens, mutants, and monsters too. He looked down at his hands.
Kenny jabbed him in the shoulder. “Why do you look so sad all the time? When you're not sad, you're angry. Cheer up! We beat a whole bunch of bad guys today! We're totally heroes!”
Great-Grandpa Max appeared with sandwiches and juice. “Heroes need to eat.”
Two sandwiches disappeared into Kenny's mouth before Devlin had even finished reaching for his first one. Max moved the plate closer to the other boy and passed a juice box to Kenny. “Wash those down with something before you choke, please.”
Accepting the juice box, Kenny stabbed it with the straw and sucked a long sip before smacking his lip with appreciation. Great-Grandpa Max made the best sandwiches!
Devlin chewed his own sandwiches much more slowly and controlled. Looking at the bread and cucumbers, he tried to remember if Dad had ever made him a sandwich, or if anyone had made a sandwich for him prior to coming to live with the Tennysons. He was sure someone had to at some point. If for no other reason than to teach Devlin how to make his own sandwiches. But he couldn't exactly recall.
It didn't take Max long to notice the boy's despondency. “Something troubling you, Devlin?”
Always. But at this particular moment... “What happened to Zed?” He asked. “I mean before. Ben said I absorbed her and almost killed her. But she seems fine now. What happened to her after Dad took her to HQ?”
“Ah.” Max nodded. “You're finally getting down the end of the story.” He sat on the couch between the two boys and reached for a sandwich of his own. “I never really agreed with Ben and Gwendolyn telling you all this now. I would have waited until you were older. But since its already gone this far... I was on duty the day your father brought Zed into the infirmary...”
Sometimes Max felt like he lived at Plumbers HQ, with as much time as he spent there. But -sometimes- he just didn't know how the base managed to run when he wasn't there. Like, what did people actually do without him? Being a Plumber wasn't the sort of job where you could just slack off and chat around the water cooler when the boss wasn't there. The job had too much action.
Speaking of action.
Kevin's car peeled into the motor pool, tires screeching with the strain of his had break. It seemed the indestructible vehicle had barely stopped when the Osmosian was already jumping out of the driver's seat and yanking open the back door. He reached in, gingerly pulling something from the backseat with delicacy and care. For one heart-stopping moment, Max though some new terrible thing had happened to Gwendolyn. That his granddaughter was injured or dying and in need of fast care with technologies beyond Earth-standard.
But the body Kevin pulled from the backseat wasn't Gwendolyn and Max breathed an unconscious sigh of relief. It was just Zed. It was just the dog. Not that Zed being injured or dying was necessarily 'better', just that -as far as Max was concerned- it was 'not as bad' as one of his grandchildren.
“What happened?” The old man demanded.
“The little beast tried to eat her is what happened!” The Osmosian shouted for all the bull-pin to hear.
He hoisted Zed in his arms and Max could see that the Anubian Baskurr looked significantly aged since the las time he saw her. Her ribs were showing through the fur of her sides, and her muscles twitched asymmetrically -the only indication that she was still alive. Holding her in his with much more affection and care than the older man had ever seen Kevin hold his own son with, the Osmosian sprinted to the infirmary.
Max followed him.
“Did you know Gwen's just been letting him absorb energy!?” Kevin demanded, kicking the door release since his arms were full of unconscious alien dog.
“She what?” The old man's eyes went wide.
“As if that's not -literally- the worst thing you can go around letting an Osmosian get away with!” He was still ranting as he laid Zed down on the exam table. “Having that baby has made her completely loose her mind! Its like she doesn't even care that she is -actually- creating a monster. That's exactly what she's doing. She teaching that thing that its okay to just absorb whatever the fuck it wants. He nearly killed my dog!”
On the exam table, Zed gave an unconscious whine. Kevin paused in his angry -and fear induced- ranting to stroke her now gray and course fur, cooing at her with a soft and soothing voice. The type of voice he should use on his own child. Except that Kevin didn't see Devlin as a child. He saw the infant as an enemy living in his house.
When Zed was calm again, he looked up at the intern that was on-duty in the infirmary. They were an intern, but they weren't Driba or Blukic so the Osmosian could trust them to at least be competent. That was more than could be said for the Galvan duo. Kevin could leave Zed in their care. He turned to exit the infirmary.
Max intercepted him before he could get to the door. Kevin Levin loved that freaking dog. Seeing him angrily storm out of the infirmary when Zed was still sick -or possibly even dying- raised all kinds of alarm bells for the old Plumber. “Wait, what are you doing?”
“I'm going to fix the problem.” He informed the older man.
Planting his feet more firmly, Max crossed his arms over his chest and tried to stare the younger man down. Coming from Kevin, 'fix the problem' could mean anything from 'work with Gwendolyn to find a practical solution to our problem together', to 'throw my baby into the sun and get a vasectomy so that this shit never happens again' -or any number of variations in between. Kevin had a wide spectrum of actions. For a guy who was widely considered to be a hitter, he was actually surprisingly -uncomfortably- versatile.
“Get out of my way.”
The old man continued to glare at the Osmosian.
“Max, get out of my way.” He repeated.
“Not until you tell me what you're actually going to do.” The old Plumber informed him.
As a general rule, Max was an understanding and empathetic guy and believed in people being allowed to do the things they felt they needed to do in order to solve their own problems and be better. But in this case, where his first great-grandchild was concerned, Max was not taking any chances. Kevin never wanted Devlin from the first moment he learned Gwendolyn was pregnant. That unwanted had only festered and grown into a sort of hatred as things progressed.
He did get better for a little while after the boy was born. When he was no longer inside Gwendolyn's body and no longer feeding off her almost continually. Kevin tried. He really did legitimately try to be a dad to his son. He learned to swaddle, change diapers, hold him properly, and even play with him a little bit. It was all done begrudgingly, like chores rather than parent-child bonding. But he had been making the effort. Max even hoped the Osmosian would come to care for his like he was supposed to. After all, affection was a natural byproduct of care-giving. But now that Devlin nearly killed Zed, that was never going to happen. Kevin loved that dog more than he did his own child.
So Max was very concerned when Kevin announced he was going to 'fix' the problem.
The Osmosian sighed. He opened his mouth to say something. Thought better of it and closed it again. Took a moment to consider his words. Finally, after a prolonged pause, he gave Max an answer. “I'm going down to Holding. I might be Osmosian, but Servantis knows more about Osmosians than I do. I'm going to see him.”
He was just going to get some advice. Maybe not from the most trustworthy of sources, but he was still trying. He was still making an effort to be a father and family man for Gwendolyn and Devlin. Max was proud of him. He gave the younger man a reassuring pat on the shoulder. “Some children are more difficult than others.” He said. “But the mark of a good parent is finding ways to accommodate each child's special needs. You're gonna be a good dad, Kevin.”
Max stepped to the side.
Kevin's expression almost seemed to flash with inexplicable guilt for a moment. But it was there and gone so quickly Max couldn't be sure. The Osmosian offered a tired smile in return. “Thanks, Max. You know, you-” he seemed to choke on his words “-you're probably the closest thing I have to- uh-” he cleared his throat “I'm sorry I'm such a shit person.”
Max watched his retreating back, wondering at that last statement.
Like he told Max, Kevin went to the holding cells, but not directly. He first stopped off in equipment storage to grab an ID Mask. Then it was directly to Holding and to Servantis' cell. But he wasn't going there to talk.
“Stand up.” The Osmosian barked as he punched in the code that would unlock the Rooter's cell.
Practically jumping to his feet, Servantis stared at Kevin. He didn't understand and was suspicious. “Another double-cross?” He asked, eyeing the Osmosian then the open cell door. “I must say, this does seem a tad counter-intuitive.”
“Shut the fuck up and put this on.” Kevin commanded, shoving the ID Mask into the former-Proctor's chest.
Reflexively, Servantis' hands closed over the object before his mind fully registered what it was. He looked down at the piece of alien tech in his hands. An ID Mask. A device that could make him look like anyone or anything that he wanted. The perfect tool for disguise, infiltration, or escape. Was that what this was? Had Kevin had yet another of his mercurial and inconsistent side-switch shenanigans?
“Dare I even ask what's happening now?” The former-Proctor fitted the mask over his face. He didn't feel any change, but by the shift in the Osmosian's expression his appearance must have shifted into something less conspicuous. Something that could easily walk out of the holding cells and through the corridors of Plumbers HQ without arousing too much suspicion.
Kevin paused a moment before answering. His face shifting through so many emotions Servantis couldn't readily identify them all. Whatever this was, whatever the Osmosian's new plan for him was, it pained Kevin to admit. “I'm giving you what you wanted.”
Servantis could only blink behind his ID Mask.
“I'm getting you out of here.” He elaborated. “I'm giving you Devlin, and... and I'm coming with you.”
Of all the things the former-proctor was imagining this little stunt was, that was not even on the list. Kevin, not just turning his unwanted mutant offspring over to him for study, but also coming with them. Returning to the Rooters. Taking his rightful place at Servantis' side... If the older man still had tear ducts his eyes might have watered. Attachments were not things he often allowed or readily indulged in, but Weapon XI and the Amalgams had been his greatest project ever. It was impossible to invest so much time and effort into something and not feel attached to it. Emotionally invested. The former-proctor would never admit it out loud, but -in some ways, at least- Kevin was the closest thing he had to a son.
Impatient with the older man just standing there gawking at him, the Osmosian grabbed his wrist and dragged him out of his cell. “Stop starring and move your ass!”
Devlin blinked at his great-grandfather. “I don't remember anyone named 'Servantis'.”
Max could only shrug. “All I know is that Headquarters' security cameras showed Kevin giving Servantis the ID Mask and then leaving with the person said mask made him look like. The rest you'll have to wait for Ben to tell you. He actually fought Kevin.”
Max, on the other hand, just let him walk out. He didn't realize what was actually going on until it was too late. In retrospect, he should have know something was wrong when he made that odd apology. 'Sorry I'm such a shit person.'
Chapter 20: Away By Night
Ben was still at the house when Kevin came back from Headquarters. He was asleep on the couch, one of those parenting books Kai was always trying to get him to read laying on the floor next to his dangling hand. For the moment the Osmosian ignored him and went upstairs to check on Gwendolyn.
Kevin found his wife in their bedroom, apparently having returned to her nap at some after he left with Zed. That was good, she needed the sleep. Let her body rest while her mana refilled her natural power reservoirs.
He took her wrist in his hand, checking her pulse to make sure it was indeed normal rest and not the faint rhythm of someone with barely enough energy to keep themselves alive. Who knew if she let Devlin feed on her again after Kevin left? The Osmosian breathed a sigh of relief, letting out a breath he wasn't aware he was holding in. Gwendolyn really was just sleeping. She was fine. He brushed a strand of coppery hair away from her face and leaned down to kiss her cheek. She groaned in her sleep but did not wake up.
“I love you, ya know.” Kevin whispered to her unconscious form. “I know I'm shit at showing it, but you are the most important thing in the world to me. And... and I'd rather you hate me for the rest of your life but have a long life, than love me too and kill yourself feeding a creature that came from me.”
She groaned in her sleep again and the Osmosian froze, fearing she would wake and try and stop him. But she just rolled over and muttered something about standing in front of her class naked. Obviously still dreaming. Kevin leaned down to kiss her again, on the lips this time.
“I'm sorry I'm leaving you. But I'm not sorry I'm taking Devlin with me.”
He left the bedroom and crossed the hall to the nursery.
The little beast was asleep in his rocket ship crib. Kevin heaved a sigh. He knew the moment he woke the brat up he would start wailing with a volume that could wake the dead. Not something the Osmosian wanted to happen with Ben 10,000 downstairs on the couch. Kevin left Devlin where he was for the moment and headed back to the living room. Bracing his hands on the back of the couch, he tipped the heavy piece of furniture forward so that Ben went spilling out of it.
“Wha-? Wha-!” The Hero of the Universe tumbled to the floor with a graceless 'oof!'.
Kevin set the couch back to rights.
“The hell'd you do that for!?”
“Go home, Tennyson.” The Osmosian growled at him.
Ben climbed to his feet, yawning. He stretched, seemingly unconcerned by his friend's hostility. Hostile was normal for Kevin. It just meant it was a weekday. “What happened with Zed?”
If Kevin's eyebrows twitched asymmetrically at that question, Ben didn't notice it. He was too busy wiping the sleep from his eyes.
“Zed is staying in the infirmary over night.” The Osmosian informed him. “I don't know if she'll be alright or not.”
And the truth of the statement made Kevin pause for a moment. He legitimately didn't know if his dog was going to die or not. ...and he was just leaving her to die alone while he ran away with the monster that killed her. But the Osmosian stamped that feeling out. Forcing it down, down, down where he suppressed all his other uncomfortable emotions. The ones that made him question his decisions. He wasn't abandoning Zed, he was saving Gwendolyn. There was a difference.
That didn't mean he felt any better about either.
“Now get the hell out of my house, Tennyson!” Kevin snapped again. “Go back to your own wife. At least she's got a use for you.”
“Alright, alright. I'm going.” Ben groaned as he opened the front door. He stepped out onto the porch but paused to turn back around. “Hey, ya know you left your light on.”
Actually, he left the whole care running. With Servantis in the drivers seat. Ready to make a fast get away. But Ben didn't need to know that. “Thanks, Tennyson, I'll take care of it.”
He tried to pushed the younger man back out the door.
“Okay, okay, I get it. You've had a rough day and you're grumpy. I'm leaving.” He turned back to leave but paused one more time. The Osmosian groaned in frustration, but the Hero of the Universe seemed not to notice. “Hey, listen, I know things seem tough right now, but remember. When Devlin came from the future he had complete control of his powers. That means that things get better. Okay? Devlin gets better. So, that's... that means this is just a phase. It'll pass and you guys will be happy.”
A lump formed in the back of Kevin's throat.
Yeah, when that kid from the future appeared claiming to be his son appeared, he did have excellent control over himself and his Osmosian abilities -even his mutant form. Way more control than Kevin ever had at that same age. But he also didn't know Gwendolyn. Didn't know who she was or that she was his mother. That could only mean one of two things. Either he killed her when he was still too young to remember and grew up without her, surrounded by people determined to make sure he learned to control his powers so that he didn't unknowingly kill anyone else. Or else Kevin removed the boy from her and took him far away, raised Devlin himself without Gwendolyn around so that the little Osmosian couldn't hurt her, but also would never know her.
As Rook said all those months ago: a self fulfilling prophesy. In order to protect his wife from their son, Kevin would make sure that the boy never knows who she is.
Ben was staring at him expectantly. As if he expected Kevin to give him some sort of response.
“I...” The Osmosian began, not sure what the younger man wanted him to say. “I know it won't always be like this.” He finally decided. “I won't let Devlin make the same mistakes I made when I was his age. I'll make sure he has the control I never had.”
Ben nodded, as if that was the answer he was expecting. Kevin was Osmosian and knew what it was like to grow up Osmosian. He would know what his child needed to temper his powers. “And when they're a bit older, our kids are gonna be best friends.”
Not if they never meet.
“Sure.” The Osmosian forced a grin on his face. “That'd be great.”
“G'night, Kev. Feel better.” Ben smiled, and finally left.
Kevin shut the door behind him. Leaning against it, he heaved a heavy sigh of relief. Gwendolyn was asleep and the other biggest opposition to this plan of his was gone. He could actually get started now.
Heading back upstairs, Kevin stripped off the t-shirt and jeans he'd worn that day and pulled on his proto-tech armor. He then filled a bag with socks and clean underwear for himself. A couple comfortable shirts and several more comfortable pants. He tossed that bag out the window, watched it hit the roof of the garage, slide down agonizingly slowly, and land on the hood of his car. Servantis leaned his head out the window. Taking off the ID Mask, the former-Proctor shot a quizzical look at Kevin's window. The Osmosian only shrugged, not even sure if the older man could see the action in the darkness.
Seeing the grumbling in his posture more than actually hearing it, Kevin watched Servantis climb out of the car, grab the bag and throw it in the back seat for him.
Heading back to the nursery Kevin grabbed Devlin's diaper bag, extra diapers, a couple extra onesies (including the onesie that said “My Daddy's Hawt”, because while he didn't really like Sunny much, he did like it when people thought he was hot), and an extra blanket. Diaper bag over one shoulder, the Osmosian leaned over his son's crib.
“You better not wake up, you little asshole.” He informed the sleeping mass of limbs and alien parts.
Reaching his hands in, Kevin coiled his hands under the boy. When Devlin didn't immediately wake and start wailing, he started to lift the baby slowly, supporting the head just the way Max showed him. Kevin managed to get his son all the way into his arms before the infant woke.
He was trying to rearrange the blanket so that it wasn't bunched up between his chest and Devlin when the boy gave a groan of displeasure and began to whimper. They were soft sounds at first. Groans that communicated his discomfort and told Kevin that he was waking. The older Osmosian froze, not wanting the baby to launch into the loud, shrill, and ear-splitting wails he knew the creature was capable of.
“No, no, no. Sh, sh, sh~h.” Kevin tried to sooth. “You're fine. You're fine. We're just doing for a little walk. That's all. Just a little walk.”
Giving up on rearranging the blanket, Kevin just left it there. A bulky flannel lump sandwiched between himself and the baby he held. Glancing out the nursery door, he checked the hall to make sure Gwendolyn hadn't woken. Wasn't up getting a glass of water or coming to check on her son. When he was reassured that he was still the only thing moving in the house, Kevin took Devlin out of the nursery and headed downstairs.
He pulled the front door open and-
“Tennyson!?” Kevin froze.
“Sorry. But I left my book.” Ben said by way of explanation. “Normally I wouldn't care, its just that Kai's been really getting on my case about reading it.”
Kevin shifted his body, looking over his shoulder at the stupid parenting book that was still on the floor by the couch.
Ben noted the diaper bag over his friend's shoulder and his eyes narrowed at it. It was a little late to be taking an infant for an outing -and since when did Kevin take his son on outings anyway? Usually, the Osmosian wanted nothing to do with the boy. Something was off here, but Ben didn't know what. “Are you taking Devlin somewhere?”
Kevin's adams apple bobbed as he thought desperately for a believable lie. Something Ben would just accept without thinking so that the Hero of the Universe would just go away again and the Osmosian could disappear into the night.
No such lie came to mind.
After all, who took an infant out after dark? Not even parents who liked their children did that -in fact, especially parents who liked that children did not do that. If a parent did not like their child and was taking them out of the house after dark, it could only be for something bad. Kevin didn't empathize much with normal people, but he at least understood that. What he was doing was suspicious and there was no way he could justify it to Ben convincingly enough for the obnoxious Hero to just go away and leave him alone.
The Osmosian sighed. “Fuck it!”
He slammed Ben in the face with the door. The solid wood side impacting the Hero of the Universe in the nose, making him bleed instantly. Kevin took advantage of his disorientation to absorb the brass of the door handle and morphed the arm not supporting his mutant son into a hammer.
That was also about the time Devlin began to cry.
If the sound of Ben's effeminate moan of pain from his nose bleed hadn't already woken Gwendolyn, then the feral and inhumane wails of her child definitely would. The Osmosian could expect to see her join the fight any second now -and he didn't know if he could fight her. Kevin didn't know if he would be able to see the betrayal and hurt on her face when she realized what it was exactly he was doing.
Swinging his hammer hand, Kevin propelled Ben off the porch before the Hero could toggle through his watch. His path clear, the Osmosian crossed the space to his car and passed Devlin to Servantis, throwing the diaper bag in the backseat next to his own go-bag.
Ignoring the blood dripping from his nose, Ben slammed his hand down on the Omnitrix, not caring what alien it gave him.
Kevin was grabbed and yanked away from Servantis and Devlin by the large orange and black striped paw of Rath.
“Let me tell you something, Kevin Ethan Levin!” The Appoplexian shouted at him, spinning the Osmosian around so that he could spit in the other man's face with every word. “It looks like your stealing your baby! Stealing babies isn't cool!”
Ugh... Of all the aliens the obnoxious do-gooding Hero of the Universe could have turned into, it had to be Rath. Usually, this was one of Kevin's favorite of Ben's aliens. It was the one he liked to just sit back and watch as Ben tore shit up like a battering ram on 'roids. But that was when he was on the sidelines, out of the line of fire. Kevin did not like the Appoplexian as much when he was on the receiving end of Rath's... well, wrath!
Still wearing the brass armor from the doorknob, Kevin surged forward with a headbutt. His forehead colliding with the Appoplexian's with an audible crack! Rath staggered backwards -equal parts shocked and in pain. “Ow!”
“What the hell is going on out here!?” Gwendolyn came stomping out of the house, still in her pajamas, a light robe thrown over her shoulders. She was moving slowly and when she got closer Kevin could see that there were still dark circles under her eyes. She was still exhausted and not at all recovered from all the mana she'd been letting Devlin drain from her. “What are you two fighting over now?”
“Stay out of this, Babe.” Kevin commanded, already knowing that she wouldn't listen. “Go back inside and get some rest.”
“Lemme ask you something Gwendolyn Tennyson-Levin, did you give him permission to take Devlin out this late?” Rath demanded. That part of him that was still Ben hoping maybe this really was just some absurd misunderstanding and they were both just acting badly because they were both stressed, anxious, and overtired.
“Take Devlin out?” She blinked, looking around for her baby. Gwendolyn's eyes skipped over the Osmosian and Appoplexian facing off on her front lawn and went straight to Kevin's car, which was left with its engine running. A door to the backseat hung open, and someone was attempting to secure a fussy and uncooperative Devlin into his carseat. The moment she recognized who it was that had her baby, the sorceress' heart nearly stopped. “Servantis!”
And it was a true testament to just how much her mana levels had been depleted that her eyes did not instantly start to glow. She didn't materialize orbs of mana. She didn't launch any attacks at the Rooter that had hands on her child. Instead she did something entirely out of character for the Anodite-Plumber. She shouted for her husband. “Kevin! He has our baby!”
There was the briefest of pauses.
Then Gwendolyn's emerald eyes went wide with horror as understanding hit her. Servantis was supposed to be locked up in the holding cells under Plumbers Headquarter. An alert would have been sent out if he staged a violent escape. Since no one seemed yet aware that he was out, that meant he had to have been let out by a badge carrying Plumber with access. Ben obviously would let the former-Proctor out. But Kevin was mercurial and capricious. Given the right motivation, it was well within the realm of possibilities for him to realign himself with the man whom had taken advantage of and used him in the past.
Gwendolyn's hand flew to her mouth, her eyes shining with unshed tears. “Kevin... you...”
And there was the betrayal. Kevin almost lost his resolve. He almost called off the plan. Told Servantis to stand down, step away from Devlin. Let her have her child back if it would make her happy. Let him slowly eat her if that was what she wanted. Anything was better than seeing her look at him with those betrayed and disbelieving eyes. It would have hurt less if she shouted insults, tried to hit him, said she hated him.
She didn't need to say it. Kevin could see it in her face.
Gwendolyn was the only one with the power to make him fold with nothing more than a look.
Then Devlin gave another one of those inhuman cries of his, the sounded reverberating oddly inside the invulnerable car, and it reminded Kevin why he was doing this. What it was he was protecting Gwendolyn from. The thing might have come from her body, but it was not her baby. It was not their child. It was all Kevin's. A part of Kevin from their past reborn. The worst part.
He had to get it away from Gwendolyn -even if it meant breaking her heart.
Dropping into a crouch, Kevin kicked Rath's legs out from under him so that the feline-alien had to do some creative stumbling to land back on his feet. It put just enough distance between the Osmosian and the Hero of the Universe for Kevin to shift his focus, cross the lawn, and make his way to his wife.
He closed both hands around her shoulders, maybe squeezing a bit tighter than he needed to. “Babe, I need you to go back inside.”
“What? You think I'm just gonna let Servantis take my son! No!” Those tears from earlier never fell. The look of betrayal was replaced by abject rage and... and, yes, hatred. In that moment, she hated her husband for what he was doing. Or what she imagined he was doing.
Kevin sighed again.
“Then... I'm sorry.” He pressed his lips to hers, well aware that this was probably the last time he was ever going to kiss his wife -and he was using it to do the very thing he was trying to prevent their son from doing to her. Forcing her lips open with his tongue, the Osmosian began sucking out her mana. Just a bit! He knew how potent her power was and he did not want to lose his mind right now. But he did need her out of the way and passive. Her power was already so depleted, her mana so weak, he really didn't have to take much. Just a few drops and she was already swooning in his arms. Kevin caught her before she passed out completely, licking his lips still tingling with power. “I tried not to take too much.”
“What did you do to her!?” Rath demanded.
Carefully -very carefully- the Osmosian laid his wife on the grass. She was just unconscious. He didn't take too much. Kevin was sure of it. After a life of absorbing things -both intentionally and unintentionally- he finally learned the difference between enough and too much. Gwendolyn would be fine, her body still had enough mana to keep itself alive, and functioning, and able to repair itself, and -with enough time- restore its power stores.
Kevin felt the familiar yet foreign mana flow through him. Down his throat, to his core, and though out the rest of his body. His eyes glowed star sapphire when he turned to glare at Ben.
Rath paused. All that Appoplexian temper and rage temporarily stunned enough fro the real Ben to show through. “Kev- you- …What did you do to her!?”
Ben was used to his on-again-off-again frienemy absobing him and his Omnitrix. He was used to Kevin's body changing to reflect all the different aliens he absorbed. He was not used to Kevin sucking power out of Gwendolyn. He was not used to seeing the Osmosian's eyes glow like an Anodite's. That was not right. Kevin's eyes did not glow with mana. Kevin was not meant to have mana.
“I got her out of the way.” The Osmosian announced, his mouth stretching into a grin that could only be described as 'maniacal'. If he was gonna go back to being one of the bad guys, he might as well go full-villain.
“You absorbed her!” Wasn't that the thing he was trying to prevent their son from doing? How did Kevin think that was okay!?
He didn't get the chance to ask. The Osmosian shot an orb of mana at him. It was soft, not like the hard-light constructs Gwendolyn usually used. But then, she was a Magus, a master level sorceress, adept at combat magic and Kevin was just... around magic a lot. It would have been surprising if he was immediately expert at powers he'd never used before.
Ben was still surprised by the attack.
The orb caught him in the face and sent Rath flying backwards. He landed on his ass on the sidewalk just as the Omnitrix timed out. A now human Ben rubbed his face where the mana had hit him and stared at his friend disbelieving.
Kevin turned back to the car. Servantis had finally gotten Devlin's disproportioned and bulky body into the car seat, and the former-Proctor was climbing back into the dirver's seat. Kevin had some pretty strong feelings about the Rooter driving his car -he had some feelings about anyone besides him and Gwendolyn driving his car- but not was not the time to argue the point. He crossed the lawn and pulled open the passenger door.
That was about the point Ben jumped on him.
A still human Ben. No aliens. No powers. Just pure human temper and desperation. “I'm not letting you take Devlin!”
“Damn it, Tennyson! Get off!” The Osmosian closed both hands around the Hero's wrists -yes, that included the wrist with the Omnitrix. As always when Ben Tennyson and Kevin Levin collide with the Omnitrix between them...
There was a flash of light.
Ben was thrown back.
Sitting in the driver's seat, Servantis only sighed in exasperation. “Of course.”
Groggily, Ben climbed back to his feet. He looked to the Omnitrix on his wrist and saw that it was dark, its lights out, as if it were rebooting. That could only mean one thing. “Oh, no...”
He looked up at Kevin.
This was the Osmosian's most terrifying mutation yet. His head was wreathed in flames like a Pyronite, but the face was hollow and skull-like, like an Ectonurite. The four arms look was back, but only one of said arms was actually Tetramand, and off that Tetramand arm there sprouted an elbow-tentacle that looked like a strang amalgamation of a Galvanic Mechamorph and the tail of a Kinecelearn. Two other arms were classic Vulpimancer, while the fourth wasn't so much an arm as it was a tentacle from a species Ben couldn't readily identify. It started out like a Pyronite at the shoulder then sort of just faded out into pure plasma. A Prypiatosian-B maybe? They were pure radioactive energy outside their containment suits. Lepidopterran wings seemed to be back in fashion, so Ben could expect some flying in act two of their fight. He grit his teeth, bracing for an attack and hoping the Omnitrix rebooted soon.
Kevin looked down at his own body. “Mother fucking shit, Tennyson!”
Because any time Kevin mutated it was always Ben's fault. Right.
The Osmosian roared just before he went back on the offensive.
Ben slammed his wrist back down on the Omnitrix, hoping it would reboot just in time.
“I'm not sure I wanna tell Devlin about the night he was kidnapped.” Ben informed Grandpa Max flatly.
The boys had already been tucked in for the night and Ben and Max retreated to the kitchen to catch each other up on the happenings of the day, the state of the city, and the state of the children. Max told Ben when Devlin was in the story of how he came to be raised by his father away from the rest of the family.
“I didn't even realize Kevin had gone rouge until Rook called me saying you needed help.” The older man reminded him. “Gwendolyn was unconscious and Kevin, well, Devlin's not gonna talk to Kevin ant time soon. You're the only one who was there that night that can finish the story. Since you and Gwendolyn started this, its up to one of you to finish it. Gwen can't, so you have to.”
Ben sipped his smoothy in displeasure and thought about the night Kevin took Devlin away.
Spidermonkey's head was slammed hard into the pavement with enough force to crack the concrete and send stars exploding behind the Arachnichimp's four eyes. Ben groaned, so dazed that he barely even registered thick viscous saliva dripping from Kevin's Ectonurite mouth. It didn't even occur to him that it might be Lepidopterran slime-spit dripping on him until Spidermonkey tried to lift his head only to realize that he was glued to the ground.
Not a position he wanted to be in with an angry, mutated Osmosian looming over him.
Ben slammed his hand over the Omnitrix symbol on his chest hoping for a different alien. Something that could -if not break- then slip out of Lepidpterran spit-glue.
“Ya know, my own memories of that night are a little spotty too, ya know.” Ben informed his grandfather. “I took a couple too many blows to the head, I think. I'm honestly amazed I remember anything of it at all.”
“Well, what do you remember?” Max asked.
Kevin's car peeled out of the driveway. Servantis driving. Devlin in the back seat. But Kevin wasn't in it.
The Osmosian was stuck in an awkward body-lock. Goop wrapped around him. The slime-creature pasting his limbs together in a way that made it difficult for Kevin to move -never mind fight back. He snarled when he saw his car leave without him and tried to flap his Lepidopterran wings to follow them. But all he succeeded in doing was causing himself and Ben to topple over. The Osmosian snarled in frustration.
Ben looked up, seeing that Servantis was getting away with Devlin, he made another quick transformation into a different alien. Jetray this time. He took to the air, going after the car that held his godson.
But Kevin's latest mutation could sly too and Ben quickly found himself tackled back to the ground. His head once again slammed into the street with enough force to crack the asphalt.
“I remember Kevin was very determined.” Ben took a long and loud sip of his smoothy.
“I see.” Max nodded. Yes, if there was one positive thing that could be said about Kevin Levin consistently through out his whole life, it was that he was determined. 'Determined' might at well be his middle name, it certainly fit him far better than 'Ethan'. “Do you remember anything else?”
“Ben... Hold on... Hold on... Ben...”
The Hero of the Universe tried to open his eyes and see who was talking. Their voice sounded muffled and far away, but when he cracked one eye -the one that was not swollen shut- he saw a blurry outline leaning over him. A round head and pointed ears silhouetted against the flashing lights of emergency vehicles and Plumbers trucks.
“R-Rook...?” He tried to croak out. Ben knew he had to be in human form. None of his aliens ever hurt this much. Like the very act of breathing was pain.
“Sh, sh.” A single finger, covered in soft blue fur was pressed to his bleeding lips. “Do not speak. I have you.” Slightly softer. “I have you.”
“K-Kevin?” Ben tried to ask.
“Gone.” The Revonnahgander supplied. His hands were on Ben's cheeks now, helping hold his neck still while a medic fitted him with a brace. “But Gwendolyn is safe. She is unconscious, but unharmed.”
Rook's hands reached under his shoulders. Other hands were reaching under him too. Under his back, letting Ben know his ribs were broken. Under his legs, telling him how sore his muscles really were. They lifted him onto a stretcher. An oxygen mask was placed over his nose and mouth. So, it was that bad, huh.
Ben lifted the oxygen mask off his face. “Devlin?”
Rook climbed into the ambulance with him. One of the paramedics was fixing a dosage of painkillers and sedative for him. The Revonnahgander waited until after the shot was administered before answering. “Also gone. I do not know where. Maybe... maybe once Gwendolyn is awake she could track their mana.”
The pain killers seemed to be doing their job. It wasn't so hard to breath anymore and his muscles didn't hurt as much. He didn't even mind the pain in his ribs. Ben felt himself descending back into unconsciousness and didn't try to fight it. Rook was leaning over him. His partner was with him. He was safe, and as soon as he got better they would figure this shit out together. As long as Ben had Rook, he could handle anything.
The Revonnahgander leaned over his partner. Looked up once to check if the paramedic was watching, then pressed his lips to Ben's.
“It could have been much worse.” He whispered to the Hero's bottom lip. They could have lost Ben too.
Rook replaced the oxygen mask back over his partner's nose and mouth and leaned back. He watched Ben breath for the rest of the ride to the hospital.
“Nope.” Ben shook his head. “I don't remember anything else. Absolutely nothing.”