A/N: Surprised I got another one through by this month? XD Alright everyone, I'd better get things going again when the momentum's there. Just hope those of you who're still writing better help me make sure the fandom doesn't just wither away, 'kay? =)

Chapter 7: Orz. Period.

He knew he was in trouble.

No, not from Gwen this time (at least).

Still, bullet's flying at your immediate direction doesn't seem to be that much of a consolation, either.

Safely ducked behind some random car that conveniently served as a shield for the hail-fire of lead, Ben could only silently thank the owner of said car.

His insurance company's gonna have a cow with this one…

Swearing profusely at the black-and-white device that now glowed red on his wrist, Ben only hoped that Gwen was faring out better.

Wait, he could check up on her.

"Gwen, how's things on your end?" he asked into the little earpiece he had on.

"Fine. I heard the watch time out earlier. You okay?" her disembodied voice came through, along with the distinct sound of bullets ricocheting off Gwen's light blue energy shield.

"In some sense…" Ben muttered, trying to get some point of view as to how deep in this mess he was in. He was welcomed by shattered glass and several whizzes of what he knew were automatic rifle rounds.

Don't they *ever* run out of ammo?

"Come on, work, work!" Ben hissed, trying out the several buttons that actually worked on the Omnitrix, all to no avail. It still persistently glowed red.

At least they don't have gren-

Then a dull thud came from the car's hood, mere inches from Ben's head.

He looked to his left to see a green blur slowly make its way to the ground from the hood, and it took him a good whole second to recognize what it was. And he cursed karma for being so quick on him.

Grenade!!!

Acting on instinct –or at least what Grandpa Max trained him to do once the situation arises- Ben took the grenade and lobbed it as far as he could away from him, not caring about the 5-second timer he had. Even if he had 2-3 seconds left, it was better than nothing.

He immediately pinned himself on the ground, and the grenade went off somewhere ahead of the car. The shooting ceased for a moment or so, clearly they were terrified of the prospect of being fragged by their own grenade.

"Ben? Ben! Are you alright?!"

It took awhile for the boy to answer. He'd been in life-risking situations more times than he could count his old Sumo Slammers collection, but this was one of the closest.

He could've been hurt. Really badly. Or worse.

No, now was not the time to think about that. There was Gwen to think about. There were the half dozen men out there armed to the teeth and not too happy about their botched bank heist.

"Don't push yourself, Ben. I'll be right over," Grandpa Max's voice came into the comlink he and Gwen shared.

"No, Grandpa. I'll handle them," Ben said, without thinking.

"Don't kid yourself, Ben. The Omnitrix's out, and you're suppressed. I'm making my way over there," Grandpa said, in a tone that Ben's always dreaded. He was dead serious.

"Gwen! Can you take them out from here?" Ben heard Grandpa growl into the frequency, though he couldn't make out Gwen's reply.

He was way too disappointed at himself for letting this happen. He didn't want them to save him. He didn't want to feel weak, to feel entirely powerless without the Omnitrix.

He already knew that.

"Gwen, I'm going to lay down some cover fire while I pick up Ben. You'll have time to take 'em out by then," Grandpa Max commanded over the comlink, Gwen acknowledging it.

Nothing more than a second later, the RV swerved from one of the corners of the street and immediately in the way of the crossfire, shielding Ben.

The RV's door opened as Grandpa's voice's bellowed from the inside.

"Ben! Get in!"

Without waiting for Ben's response, an automatic launcher appeared from the RV's roof and fired several smoke grenades that immediately exploded on the shooters' direction, engulfing them in a choking cloud of grey smoke.

Gwen took that opportunity to cast a spell she had thought would be fitting for this.

Not needing to recite the spell, Gwen summoned 2 energy walls and brought them together on the rough estimated position of the shooters, who were still covered in that smog. The distinct sound of the walls coming together and the yells of several of the men told her she hit home.

She then lifted the make-shift clamp, lifting both men and guns, and slammed them onto the other side of the road.

The concussive force of the blow didn't physically harm them, but was more than enough to knock them out. Gwen then released her grip on them, but not on the guns.

"Magentia Vitium!" she yelled, magnetizing every magnetic object that was attached to the men's clothes, guns and all.

Once all their firearms were obtained, Gwen simply crushed them with that same energy wall.

Just wait till the cops show up…

"Gwen, Ben's in. Time to go," Grandpa said, and Gwen couldn't trace even a hint of disappointment, or anything else in his tone.

"Alright, on my way," she said, turning around to stride back to the RV.

Another day's work, done. Should've been as simple as that, but no, something was wrong.

Ben.

"Ben..is everything okay?"

It was dangerous waters to tread on, she knew that. He could just as easily blow his top. It wasn't the first time it happened.

Ben, who was brooding by the sofa as Grandpa cruised down the highway, only blinked once, his eyes staring off into some unknown distance.

Gwen did not dare to shake him or something, fearing the worst. Still, it didn't stop her from laying a gentle hand on his shoulder.

"Ben? It's not about the Omnitrix, is it?"

Ben finally gingerly grasped her hand in return, but not looking at her.

Maybe he just needs my comfort…Gwen thought, remaining in that position and leaning her head on his shoulder. She had a little difficulty with her hand on the same shoulder, but she compensated.

She closed her eyes for the briefest second, only to be interrupted by a soft mutter from Ben.

"…I'm useless…"

"What?" she asked, fully sitting up and staring right into Ben's face, which was still looking out the window. She knew she heard him right.

"I'm useless without the Omnitrix," Ben continued. What happened next was a long, painful second of utter silence.

Gwen didn't really know how to react to this. The last time Ben doubted himself over being 'completely useless' was when he was around 13, when he almost got trashed by Animo just because the Omnitrix timed out, and he wasn't in a position to take full advantage of being his regular self.

"Ben…you're not useless. Well, not completely, anyway," Gwen said, with that playful nudge in her voice that Ben knew was in no way meant to be offensive.

Even what Gwen thought was a crack of a smile crept up his lips.

"Ben, we've had his talk before, remember?" she said, this time a bit more serious.

Ben nodded. Gwen never liked to be ignored, especially after asking a question.

"This is what we've been training for, remember? Have you already forgotten the karate I've been teaching you? Or Grandpa's judo training with you?" Gwen asked, Ben nodding again.

Both Grandpa and Gwen have indeed been teaching Ben some martial arts to defend himself in his regular form, knowing the need would arise sometime.

"I know, but I can't back-throw a guy who's got an AK on me, can't I?" he replied grumpily. A trademark Ben gesture.

"Well, maybe you could borrow some of Grandpa's gear next time. There's bound to be some sorta cool shield around here, right, Grandpa?" Gwen offered.

"Well…" Grandpa said, trying his best to recall just how much Plumber gear he actually has in the RV.

"There is this bullet-proof shield that automatically pops out of an umbrella. Good for undercover work."

"But not for me when I have to actually fight without looking like some freaky British gentleman running around with an umbrella," Ben said, trying his best not to laugh. Gwen wasn't doing much of a good job at that, either.

"Oh," Grandpa said, sounding genuinely surprised. "Well…" he continued, possibly to find out some other means of getting Ben something.

"Remember that blaster in the left drawer? You could bring it along, y'know, just in case," Grandpa offered.

Ben rarely used real weapons, though he never minded them. He remembered his highest kill score was Vilgax's whole loads of drones back when they were saving Asmuth.

"See? You're not useless, Ben. Not in the least," Gwen said, hugging him.

Ben had to hand it to them. Family was the only one thing you could depend on the most when you were down in the dumps.

"Thanks," Ben said, kissing Gwen briefly on the cheeks. Any longer could risk Grandpa noticing it.

For the better part of half-an-hour, both cousins spent it rather quietly as Ben was reading a book (surprised?) and Gwen was typing away on her laptop.

"Won't you get carsick from reading in a moving vehicle, Ben?" the redhead asked out of a sudden, Ben shrugging.

"After awhile. But I'm dead bored, so I'd rather do this," he said.

Hmph, just when I thought he was reading without feeling forced, for once…she scoffed.

Asides from the occasional glances at the never-ending highway, Gwen felt that her face was almost completely glued to the laptop screen. Wait…it was.

"Grandpa, how long 'till we get there?" she asked, Grandpa Max chuckling.

"Now that is something I haven't heard for a long time. Getting bored?" he asked, Gwen shrugging.

"Quite," she said, taking a look at Ben. He was asleep on the other end of the two-way sofa, the book over his face. Typical.

"Not for long. We'll reach Vegas before the end of the hour," Grandpa said, looking at the rear-view mirror. Gwen was on the laptop, again, and he could see Ben's legs sticking out of the sofa's end. Typical.

"Couldn't we just use the Super-Duper Turbo?" Gwen asked. All of them never found another way of calling the RV's alternate mode, so the name stuck on through the years.

"Now you know that's only meant for emergencies. Besides, folks here have more than enough stories of extra-terrestrial vehicle sightings," Grandpa said, and Gwen laughed.

Las Vegas. Nevada. Area 51. What was not obvious?

"Well, I'm going to take a short nap then. Wake us up when we get there, Grandpa," Gwen said, closing the lid of her laptop and lying on the sofa. If only she could do that with Ben by her side.

"Ben? Gwen? C'mon, time to get up, you two."

Ben felt the tug on his leg, and he budged ever so slightly.

He could hear Gwen's sleepy moans as she too tried to get up.

Well, that's invigorating.

Getting up fully and stretching himself, Ben heard Grandpa Max calling out to him.

"Ben, get your cousin up, will ya? We've reached the motel," he said, Ben sleepily replying as Grandpa disappeared out of the front door..

He trudged his way over to Gwen's side, and with no intention of getting her up the conventional way, he plopped himself down right next to her.

The very small seating area meant Ben had to cuddle up to Gwen (which he didn't mind), though he wasn't so sure how Gwen would take it. He was too sleepy to care, at any rate.

Now where are those darned kids? Grandpa Max thought as he scratched the back of his head (an old habit), opening the Rust Bucket's door and stepping in.

He looked left. No, they weren't at the bunk beds with an overnight bag ready or something.

He looked right. No, no heads sticking out of the sofa's top edge.

He did however make out Ben and Gwen's respective shoes, still in their same spot. And two pairs of feet sticking out of the sofa's end. The same end.

Raising a slightly graying eyebrow, Grandpa Max walked over a little more to encounter something he hasn't seen in years. Literally.

Ben and Gwen were both snuggled up to each other on the very cramped seat, Gwen's arms secured around herself while Ben had one arm loosely wrapped around Gwen.

Not since they were 5 years old….Grandpa reminisced.

He didn't have the heart to wake them up, so he leaned on the sink and crossed his arms, just looking at them.

And thinking.

They were just this close, if not closer when they were younger. Heck, they were inseparable. Since they were little, they did almost everything together. They played together, they ran around the park together, they even bathed together.

Boy, will they get a kick outta that one…Grandpa sniggered.

Then Frank got a job opportunity outside of Bellwood, and the family had to move. He remembered hearing both Lily and Sandra complaining to him how both kids wouldn't stop crying for days. Even Ken whined about how he couldn't stand his little sister's constant wailing.

"Let her live with Ben, then!" he said once. Cute.

They were 8 years old then. Almost an entire year after they'd have last seen each other, they met again for a big-time family reunion. The one where Ben thought his Uncle Manny was- what, Bigfoot?

Gwen was slightly more tomboy-ish than before, taking karate and whatnot, and Ben was slightly more brash. Needless to say things didn't start out well between the 2, all fond memories forgotten to their younger days.

And both thought they had some sort of made-up virus in each other called cooties (whatever that meant).

All in all, Max was thankful that what happened 5 years ago brought them closer to each other, more than ever. Yeah, they still bickered sometimes, but maturity made them so much more respectful to each other.

Ben was growing up to be a fine gentleman, and Gwen dropped her tomboy-ish demeanor to be the prim and lovely young lady she is right now.

Still, he could see the little feisty 10 year-old version of them sometimes and that made him grin. The love-hate relationship between them always held some subtle meaning to it all.

If he didn't know any better, they'd be perfect for each other.

Fat chance of that ever happening… Max scoffed.

Still, seeing them this close right now, it was something heartening.

And he hoped nothing would ever make that change.

Never again.

A/N: Okay, yet another chapter gotten through. What did you think of the little Max segment? It's about time someone else had the spotlight, no?