To be honest, Devlin would have preferred to have Ken with him on the trip. But it was going to be hours on the shuttle, he wasn’t really needed, and in any case, he had homework. Gwendolyn had given Devlin a book when she showed up to babysit, and Ken immediately loaned him a videogame, to save him the dual boredom of a long trip and having to read. It wasn’t going to be a long stay in the Saturn colony, but it was still going to be hours of awkwardness with just Devlin and his soon-to-be-official adoptive father.
Devlin glanced over at Ben, who looked just as bored as he was. Seeing that Devlin had looked over at him, he said, “We’re about halfway there. Just hang tight.”
“Yeah,” Devlin answered, trying to shift his attention back to his game.
“Sorry,” Ben replied. “I know you’re bored, but we’ve both got to be there.” He smiled slightly. “Even the Hero of Heroes can’t get out of it.”
Devlin wasn’t quite sure he was ready to smile back, so he just nodded. Across the colonies and Earth, the law was that all adoption and foster applications had to be formalized in person. It was the safest thing for the children involved. And given that Devlin was a runaway and considering his parentage, there was even more red tape. He’d seen more social workers and talked to more child protection agents than he ever thought existed. For the most part, he couldn’t wait for it to be over.
But there was another part of him that was still unsure about the whole thing. Yeah, he longed to be part of a real family, and he’d love to be brothers with Kenny, but there was still some part of him that wasn’t entirely sure about Ben. There was so much his father had told him about his long-time enemy, and there were so many questions he had now that he’d seen how wrong Kevin had been. But he’d never really had a chance to form his own opinion on Ben. It didn’t help that this was the first time that he and Ben were on their own for a decent period of time. Yeah, Ben had taken time off from saving the world, leaving it to others, but between Ken wanting to hang out and the social workers observing and pulling Devlin aside to talk to him, there wasn’t much of a chance for Devlin and Ben to form any kind of bond. And to be honest, Devlin had been trying to avoid it.
“Um, Ben?” he asked suddenly. Nobody ever asked why he didn’t try to call him “Dad.” And given his relationship with his real father, nobody wanted to. He wasn’t sure if one day, he’d ever feel comfortable calling Ben that, but for now, this was a good compromise.
“Yeah?” Ben asked.
“Why take the shuttle?” Devlin asked. The question sounded stupid even in his head, but if they were both bored, he figured he’d might as well ask. “Wouldn’t it be easier to just take a teleporter?”
A sheepish grin spread across Ben’s face as he confessed, “I get ‘gate-sick. Jumpgates, teleporters—you name it. You wouldn’t want to be standing near me when we got out. It’s not pretty.”
Despite himself, Devlin couldn’t help but smile at that mental image. The Hero of Heroes, Ben 10,000, keeled over puking his guts out on the sidewalk. Not exactly heroic.
“Guess not,” he answered.
“Gwendolyn’s got this whole theory on why demolecularization can even make me sick in the first place, but I usually ignore her,” Ben added, the embarrassed smile becoming a smirk. “I don’t need to be dizzy and sick to my stomach.”
That got a small laugh out of Devlin. He’d seen how Ben and Gwendolyn teased each other. They were like little kids that way. You’d never think that they were two of the most powerful people in the universe, taking on enemies most law enforcement would rather avoid.
Something softened in Ben’s expression as he watched Devlin laugh. Finally, he said, “Listen, I just want to make sure you’re okay with all this—the adoption and everything.”
The smile faded from Devlin’s face, and he stared at the floor. Even so, he answered, “Yeah, I’m okay.”
“You don’t look it,” Ben pointed out. “I know we haven’t had much of a chance to get to know each other, and I’m not perfect—Kenny points that out all the time. But if you’re sure you want to go through with this, I promise I’m going to try my hardest to give you what you need. I’m still trying with Kenny.”
“All I really need is a family,” Devlin confessed. “I thought I was going to get that with Dad, but…”
Ben’s face got a little harder and his eyes colder. “I promise, I’m not going to be like Kevin and use love as a bargaining chip. I don’t play mind games like that.”
Devlin nodded. “Yeah, I know that.”
“I know it’s going to be hard to trust me,” Ben insisted. “I don’t know what Kevin’s told you, and maybe I don’t want to know. But I would never do to anyone what he did to you.” He very carefully placed a hand on Devlin’s shoulder, and Devlin tried not to shy away from the attempt at comfort. “I just hope that one day, I can earn your trust.”
Devlin looked up at him in surprise. Of all the issues of trust, this was the last one he’d expected. “You’re worried that I don’t trust you?”
“I don’t expect you to,” Ben admitted. “Not after what you’ve been through.”
“But you trust me?” he asked. Ben nodded. “Why? I lied to Kenny. I helped Dad escape. I attacked you.”
“You were used,” Ben reminded him. “And you made it right.”
“But…” Devlin protested.
“I’ve been there before,” Ben said, looking out the window as they passed through the asteroid belt. “When I was a kid, I met someone once. I helped him out of some trouble. We were best friends immediately. I was willing to go along with whatever kind of trouble he wanted to get into, until he asked me to do something I just couldn’t agree with. It was going to put others in danger, so I told him no. I couldn’t be his friend and go along with something like this. And he decided that if we couldn’t be friends, then we’d have to be enemies.”
“Dad?” Devlin asked. “That was him, right?” Ben nodded. “I didn’t know you were friends.”
“Maybe we could have been, if things went differently,” Ben answered. “I tried to give him a second chance, but he wouldn’t take it.”
Devlin lowered his head. “No, he wouldn’t.”
“He was more interested in what I could do for him than building a real friendship,” Ben explained. “He tried to use me to get what he wanted. I didn’t see that until it was almost too late. But the worst part was the fact that I lost Grandpa Max’s trust.”
“You did?” Devlin asked. Ben nodded again. “What happened?”
“Some of the stuff Kevin asked me to do, I’d promised Grandpa I wouldn’t,” he confessed. “And when I realized what he was really trying to do, I had to get Grandpa’s help. He was furious—told me I’d have to work hard to earn his trust back.”
“Did you?” Devlin asked before realizing what a dumb question it was. Of course he had—they were working together, right?
“Yeah, but sometimes I’m not sure it’s enough,” Ben admitted. “I should have known better, and because I just went along with it and let Kevin manipulate me, I lost the trust of the one person whose opinion mattered most to me. It took me a long time to earn it back.” He looked back at Devlin. “I didn’t want you to go through that. Especially not when Kenny forgave you. Whatever mistakes you made, you did the right thing in the end. That’s what’s important.”
Devlin was floored. Between the confession of Ben’s history with Kevin and the faith he’d put in Devlin, he couldn’t think straight. It was a lot to take in.
“Thanks,” he said at last. “But what about the others?”
Ben smiled. “They all know better now. Grandpa Max watched you try and stop Kevin from attacking me when I went down. And Gwendolyn heard the whole thing. They both trust Kenny’s judgment, and they know you didn’t want anyone to get hurt.”
Speechless, Devlin could only nod his thanks. It was more than he could possibly hope for.
“I—I won’t let you down,” he promised once he could find words.
Ben nodded. “And we’ll try not to let you down.” He glanced out the window again and saw clear space. “Looks like we made it through the asteroid belt. It should be faster now.”
“Yeah,” Devlin answered, settling back into his seat again and looking down at his game. Beside him, Ben shifted in his seat, trying to keep awake for the last stretch to Jupiter and then Saturn. Overall, Devlin was starting to feel better about the whole thing, and he was glad it was just them.
Trust—it was a tough one. But he was learning.
Ben 10 is the property of Cartoon Network. This idea was actually inspired by the Power Rangers fandom, in particular the lack of trust between Tommy and Trent in Dino Thunder, despite Tommy having gone through what Trent had when he first became a Ranger. Cross-fandom analysis resulted in the comparison between Ben’s initial relationship with Kevin and Devlin’s relationship with him. Portions of the conversation between Ben and Devlin—and in particular, the final line—were inspired by the Power Rangers in Space episode “The Rangers’ Leap of Faith,” in which Andros and Astronema were trying to teach themselves to trust one another as siblings.