4. The End
"Welcome to the family, Devlin," Gwen cooed, reaching out a finger as the baby yawned and opened his lids for the first time. "Kevin, he has your eyes…"
As the recording came to a close, Devlin stared at the blacked screen, speechless, hurt, confused, devastated. Only when a light knock sounded at the door did he realize that his cheeks were dampened with tears, and he hastily scrubbed at his face with the sleeve of his nightshirt as the last voice he ever wanted to hear again called, "Devlin, honey, are you awake?" The raven-haired boy made to answer, but the only sound that managed to escape his thickly closed throat was a scratched grumble. Taking this as affirmation, the entrance opened to reveal Gwendolyn, dressed and ready for the day, smiling softly and bearing a tray of breakfast. The minute she saw his face, though, her expression changed, and she quickly sat the food on her dresser and rushed to his side. As she approached, though, Devlin curled away, backing farther into the spacious bed's headboard, laptop forgotten.
"You lied to me," his cracking voice was barely a whisper, but the sorceress heard it all the same. Still, she did not understand his meaning, even when the boy repeated himself, the accusation stronger this time. "You lied to me!"
She reached for him, sitting on the dark comforter to do so, but the motion disturbed the little computer, waking it from hibernation and colorizing the screen. "What's go—Oh, Devlin…" her hand flew to her mouth as what he had been viewing was revealed, and her usually composed mask crumpled, aging her features far too many years.
She simply stared, even as Kevin's son continued to accuse her. "You lied to me—Ben, Julie… everyone lied to me! Why? Why didn't you tell me the truth?" He was nearly yelling now, but when Gwendolyn failed to answer, he gave an angered cry and tumbled from the bed, needing only to get away. This seemed to break the redhead from her stupor, and she belatedly clawed after him, only able to watch as he paused at the threshold. "It's because you don't love me, isn't it? Because of my dad?" Never once did he look at her, hair falling before his eyes as fresh sadness dripped from his lids.
"Devlin—" But he was gone, rushing down the hall to his—was it even his anymore?—room, slamming the door with a force that shook the house. Having heard the disturbance, Ben and Julie were at the top of the stairs in moments. Those few seconds were all it took for Gwen to recompose herself—after such years of practice, it had become almost natural to hide pain, weakness, from others, even—especially—her own family.
"Is everything alright? What happened?" Ben questioned as soon as he saw his cousin sitting in the now-empty room.
"Yes, everything's fine," the redhead responded, standing to gather the forgotten tray of food. "Devlin isn't really feeling well this morning; we probably won't see much of him today." She shook her head, sighing.
"Really?" Julie replied, worried, glancing over toward her adoptive son's now-closed door. "Maybe I should…" She moved to check on him, but Gwen stopped her with a hand on her shoulder.
"I'll go see how he's doing. You guys head back down and make sure Kenny hasn't destroyed the kitchen yet," she smiled a little too brilliantly, making her cousin throw a skeptic look her way. Maybe she had been trying too hard for too long. Maybe she was slipping. "Don't worry; I'm sure he'll be much better in no time." Reluctantly, Julie family nodded, and Ben gently pulled her back to where they had emerged from. He knew something was wrong, but he had been close with Gwendolyn for long enough to understand when it was time to let her handle things. After a moment, the sorceress sighed, returning the little meal to its place. Devlin would not be eating this morning, and her own appetite was now stunted, replaced by a dreadful churning in her stomach as she quietly approached the closed door across the hall. She tapped lightly, and, when no response was heard, she tried again. "Devlin, please—talk to me. Let me in. It's not what you think." Once more, silence. The sorceress turned the knob, but was surprised to find it unlocked—she had expected more resistance. And yet, when she entered the room, she found it empty. A chilled breeze rustled through from an open window, ruffling the curtains.
He was gone, but, upon further inspection, she noticed that the young boy's hoverboard was missing, as well. For what felt like the hundredth time that already-much-too-long day, Gwendolyn sighed, releasing all of her frustration and sadness into the air. There was nothing to be done, now, except wait. He would be back soon—hopefully.
It did not take much to dissuade Ben and Kenny from disturbing Devlin—or where they thought the raven-haired boy was. Julie, on the other hand, played the part of a loving, concerned mother perfectly, and required a tad more convincing. Gwendolyn had decided that it would be best if her cousin and his wife remained unaware of the chaos she had caused within their adopted son, opting instead to tell them that he was feeling superbly under the weather and did not want any company. She spent the say fielding questions and pretending to take care of the ailing young man until Ben was called away on a mission and Julie took Kenny to the arcade in an attempt to keep him entertained without his brother. Only when she had the house to herself did the sorceress allow for a moment of breathing, letting absolute concern-bordering-on-paranoia wash over her. It only took a moment for her to realize that there was nothing to be accomplished sitting at home, waiting for Devlin to return home… if he ever—no, she would not even consider wandering down that path of thought.
Newly resolved, she left a note for her cousin's wife, saying she had gone to run an errand for her nephew and that he still did not wish to be disturbed. Gwendolyn could only hope that it was enough to deter the Asian woman long enough for her to return to the base, companion in hand. Then, after making her way back upstairs to Devlin's room, she prepared to summon manna for a simple purpose she had not had the need for in a length of time that seemed far too good to be true—because if ever there was the need to hone in on a loved one's specifically personal life-energy, it meant that they were in danger for one reason or another, whether it be with law on either the right or left side. Though he had not been living with the Tennysons very long, so much emotion had been poured out onto his tear-dotted, laughter-stained sheets, and the redhead easily gathered more than enough manna to locate her wayward young boy. Within a matter of minutes, she was recanting a teleportation spell, disappearing in a blinding sheen of magenta light.
When her own vision cleared and she had the chance to take in her surroundings, Gwen found herself in the last place she had ever suspected Devlin to be—there were too many memories, too much of a literal shadow cast across everything within a good mile radius of the narcissistically massive stone statue of the universe's hero, the magnificent and unforgettable Ben 10,000. Her cousin, the center of Devlin's new family. Though she was more than positive enough that the aforementioned young man was in the area, she could not see him within her immediate line of vision. Then again, she was standing in a rather narrow, dimly lit alleyway, a simple, dark paradox held within the bright, jovial afternoon experienced by the rest of the bustling city. Not wanting to draw much attention to herself as the "savior's sidekick", she drew the navy hood of her still-too-conspicuous cloak over her head and stepped out into the thinning crowds, scanning as she went. Still, there was no sign of the missing boy.
Moments before she resolved to returning home for the purpose of re-locating Devlin, Gwendolyn's now wandering gaze found its way upward, and soon she was in possession of another idea. The raven-haired boy had taken his hoverboard, had he not? And Gwen knew, perhaps better so than anyone would suspect, that some of the best hiding places the world had to offer were closer to the sky. With a new purpose, she gently made her way back to the alley, before constructing a small, camouflaged platform and ascending toward the tops of the surrounding buildings, hoping for a better vantage point. One again, she found herself face-to-face with the larger-than-life rendition of Ben, and she let an involuntary eyeroll penetrate the almost palpable aura of worry surrounding her. So focused was she on her own thoughts—a driven system to slip herself back into the shoes she had once worn when she, herself, had been feeling the betrayal and hurt similar to her nephew, trying to deduce where he could have hidden himself—that her keenly trained eyes nearly missed the misplaced, too-long shadow in the crook of stony Ben's raised arm. Another, more attentive pass exposed the dark mass to be something other than the blended night-in-the-day that she had initially mistaken it for, instead revealing the curled form of the very young man she, herself, was searching for.
Devlin's knees were tucked to a bent forehead, concealing his face from his aunt, though whether or not he was aware of her presence she had no idea. Gwendolyn chose to take it as a positive sign that he had not deserted his hiding space the moment he laid eyes on her, however, as she carefully formed in her mind a plan to go about approaching the fragile little child. Because, for all his strength, stubbornness, perseverance, invincibility, and inspiring bravery, that's who Devlin was, at the moment: simply himself—only a young boy, afraid of being hurt yet again in the short life that had already met so much more pain than anyone at so young an age should ever have to endure. Tucking a wayward lock of flaming hair behind her right ear, Gwendolyn sighed, her own scarred heart transcending nature and reaching for the boy, wanting nothing more in that moment to hold him close, give him the safety and love he deserved more than anyone, and tell him that things would—always—work out for the best reason. And yet, as she stood there, watching as his little body finally gave into the unbidden sobs that obviously wracked the still-too-thin frame and tormented the long-since-strained heart and mind, she could not help but hesitate, wondering within herself whether she was doing the right thing. Did he really need comfort, or did he only wish to be left alone?
As for most questions in life, there was only way to find out the true answer: taking the risk and jumping from the ledge, hoping that the answer appears to save one's life in time.
Slowly, quietly, as not to startle the grieving boy, Gwendolyn hovered to where Devlin was folding in upon himself. Only when her slipper-clad feet lightly touched down upon the stone some feet away and her upright body cast a shadow sideways near him did he seem to realize her presence, however. Still, he did not make any movement to flee—only stiffening and pausing for a moment in his audible tears. After a century-long second of aloofly watching against her better judgment, the redheaded sorceress gave into the long suppressed maternal instinct that had lain dormant inside of her hardened heart for far too long and reached to comfort him, pulling the now-limp Devlin into her arms as she deftly shifted herself under him, relieved that he gave no inclination to escape. Maybe he was too exhausted—emotionally and physically—to fight back, or maybe he simply no longer cared. Whether it was one, both, or neither, Gwendolyn did not question, and simply held him as his wailings died, his drenched eyes leaked themselves dry, and his spastic sniffles calmed themselves. Soon, the pair sat in a tense, if not stiltedly content, silence, each waiting for the other to speak. From her own experience, Gwen knew better than to push or pry, and simply waited for what needed to be said.
"Are you my mother?" it was nearly silent, softer than a breath of wind but carrying more raw emotion than any tormented scream. Gwen sighed buying her time by burying her face in the messily long hair of the child in her lap as she formulated her answer carefully.
"Do you want me to be your mother?" she asked, unsure of how much to tell the young one, but respecting that he had already seen so much in his lifetime. He was mature for his age, she thought for the second time that day. Too mature.
"That wasn't what I asked," Devlin shifted, looking up into her emerald eyes with his wide, puffy chocolate pair. "You and my… His name was Devlin. Your son was Devlin." Gwen dueled within herself, beating down the overpowering need to turn away, to block out the terrible memories eating away at her mind, fighting to break free from the bars she had trapped them behind in an effort to escape the agonizing past. "Are you my mother?" he asked again.
"I am not your biological mother, Devlin, no matter how much I wish with every bit of myself that that were not the case." She replied, her tone barely above the hint of a whisper. At her words, the boy in her arms sagged, eyes slipping closed in resigned defeat. He was a lie, then—a living lie, constantly reminding his aunt of… something. He wasn't sure exactly what, but he knew that there was no happy ending involved, and that there hadn't been for a while.
The silence seemed to go on for too long as she waited for him to speak, and, when he finally did, his words were stronger, but his tenor was hesitant, frightened, almost. "Will you tell me what happened?" Another pause as Gwendolyn gathered her thoughts, sucking in a breath too sharply as she was once again flooded with a deluge of pain that came unbidden, unwanted, unneeded. "Will you tell me who I am?" She could not answer that second question, no—that was something for Devlin to discover on his own, because no one could ever make him anything other than what he willed himself to be.
"A lifetime and a half ago, things were different—so different. Your father was a good man, Devlin; never doubt that. And, even after everything he has put me through—put you thought—put our family through, I still believe that, somewhere, buried within the mind so far gone it may not even truly be his anymore, that goodness still lingers. But many, many years before your time, there was no need for that doubt.
"Kevin had lived his share of rough beginnings, but, as time marched forward, his misgivings were forgiven and he made a new life for himself—a better life. He ingrained himself in the lives of Ben and I, and wormed his way into our family. And into my heart." Gwen gave a small, empty chuckle, and shook her head, blind to the present as she and Devlin became lost in the cobweb-covered past. "Gwen Tennyson and Kevin Levin, completely juxtaposed to one another, and yet still the perfect match. Everyone thought I had lost my mind to be with him, and, when I agreed to marry him years after we had reunited from our raucous youth-days, there was actual question put to my mental stability. But, being the fiery redhead I was, I went with my heart and started the perfect life. I was so happy; so, so happy.
"We spent too much of our time apart that first year thanks to his job with the Plumbers—back then, I was still at home on earth, having given up the hero calling in pursuit of a more normal existence. During the day, I worked part time, and during the evenings I attended college. It wasn't necessary, but it kept be busy while he was away. I had never liked coming home to an empty house after living with such a large family always close by… I still don't, actually, but we adapt as our lives change." She paused again, recollecting her thoughts. Devlin sat perfectly still, entranced in the story, lost in the memories. The voice of his… —aunt? Who was she, really, anymore?—captivated him, and he recognized too many of the raw feelings that leaked through her normally carefully-concealed speech, now unguarded as she subjected herself to this.
"I remember being so excited when I discovered I was pregnant. There had always been the possibility that we would never be able to have children—an Osmosian and an Anodite? An energy-absorber and an energy-being? It was unheard of; an unspoken rule of the universe that the two did not—would never—mix. But it seemed that there was enough human in both of our DNA to be that one in three trillion; to act as a buffer. It was amazing… spectacular. Kevin got himself assigned permanently to Earth's sector so he wouldn't be away as much, if hardly ever. We moved into a real house, rather than the apartment above his garage. Those nine months had their ups and downs, just as any normal pregnancy would, with the added bonus of weird alien side-effects." Gwendolyn grinned, thinking back to happier times, "I remember, once, closer to my due date, my hormones were going so crazy because of the foreign genes in my system that I accidently absorbed part of Grandpa Max's coffee table. I had a wooden hand for the better part of the day, before Kevin calmed me down enough to help me let the energy dissipate. That only happened once or twice more, but it was quite a shock for all of us, needless to say.
"You… you already know what happened when Devlin was born, so I won't go into much detail about that night. But, oh, it was wonderful. Kevin was wonderful. As afraid as he was of everything he saw himself as—a criminal, a villain—he was the perfect father, the perfect husband. Maybe my mind has made me remember only what I want to believe, but I will never doubt that he loved our son. Or that he loved you, Devlin, in the only way he knows how to anymore." She looked down at the boy in her arms, unwanted tears clouding her vision as she unmasked herself in front of someone who never should have had to see. Devlin gazed back at her, his own eyes shining, far from ready to agree but too caught off guard to protest.
"Devlin was two years old when it happened… it was an accident, in no way Kevin's fault…" her voice cracked, and Gwendolyn realized that she was truly crying now. There had been too much pain at the time to ever really shed real tears—tears only for her son, and not for her husband or herself or the happiness they had lost meshed in with them. But now; now, as she held the little child in her arms that was her son in so many ways, yet would never really be her son, she gave herself that moment of pure grief. "One of Ben's enemies had made themselves Kevin's, as well, but that was back when times were changing. Aliens and humans were beginning to mix for the first time, and there was so much fear involved. Because man has a tendency to be afraid of what he does not understand, and with those feelings comes desperation… and desperation leads to violence. This particular human had chosen to believe the worst of the Plumbers and what we stood for, and had rallied his own personal rag-tag force to drive us off the planet by whatever means necessary. He… he and his men attacked our home one night. I managed to make it to Devlin's room to protect him from the fire, but then—" a choked sob stopped her, but after a moment she salvaged what little composure she had left and continued, "but then the ceiling began caving. The smoke was already getting to me, and it only took a few slabs of sheetrock and tile for my shield to start cracking. I was halfway through my transportation incantation when the upstairs bed broke through what little ceiling above us there was, and I wasn't expecting it. My manna crumbled, taking me with it.
"I… I don't remember much after that. When I woke up, I was in the Plumbers' medical ward on the Station, and it was around a week later. My whole family was there, waiting for me to wake up. Well, I had thought my whole family… I recall asking for Devlin, over and over again. No one would look at me. But then I saw Kevin, and I knew. He… he had never cried. Not when we were married, not when Devlin was born… and yet there were tears in his eyes. It was so… wrong. So unfair. After everything we had—he had suffered in life, and then…" This time, it was burning fury that stopped her speech. She knew she was tightening her grip on the boy in her lap a tad more than she should have, but he said nothing. Maybe he understood that this was a time that was as much for Gwendolyn as it was for him. A moment of healing, cleansing of the past with truth's revelation and pressure into the light of reality.
"After that, things were never the same. Never. But why would they have been? No parent should ever, ever outlive their child. Kevin… couldn't cope. Having so much in his life taken from him, he started to take himself from life. Drinking wasn't enough, and too soon he was breaking the cardinal rule that had been set in stone from the time even before we were teenagers. The energy gave him an escape from his pain, but, the more he absorbed, the less himself he became. He started to lose his sanity once again. Perceptions fogged, and suddenly there wasn't a need for right and wrong anymore—just the consuming wanting of more. Less than a year and a half after Devlin's death, he crossed the line. Kevin rampaged, there's no need to say any more. He had to be locked up, sent back to the hell he had lived through as a child." The boy in her arms stirred, bringing her back to reality. The sorceress's left foot was beginning to lose feeling, and she blinked, noticing that the shadows the unlikely pair had sought refuge in were stretching themselves. It was getting late.
"I don't know who gave birth you, Devlin, but, if you want to find your mother, I will help you. I want you to know, though—I will always love you, even if you aren't my own. You have a family here with Ben, Julie, Kenny; no matter where you came from or what your past is. But your past does not define you—it is how you chose to live on in spite of your history that defines who you are, and nothing else." Small, strong arms wrapped themselves around her neck, and no more words needed to be said. All of the emotion that words were no longer worthy to capture molded themselves into that one gesture, and there was nothing left to do but bask in the comfort of each other, mother holding up child while child gave strength to mother.
"But why, Gwen?" he asked finally. "Why?" She knew what answer he wanted from her, and yet she had no idea how to respond in any way other than the truth.
"Kevin, despite whatever intentions he may have had, was—is—mentally… gone. You became something to him that you would never be—he tried to force you to be what he had lost. And when you continued to exist as something, someone, he thought you shouldn't be, be brought down whatever means necessary to mold you into his twisted idea of… of a son. He was wrong, so wrong, and—though I will always love him against my own better judgment, nature, common sense, every rational ounce of my being—I will never, never forgive him for what he did to you." He seemed satisfied with her answer; sated, at least, and the pair lapsed once more into a comfortable semi-silence as they watched three birds of prey performing a lethal ballet through the clouds, each lost in their own thoughts.
What could have been minutes or hours later—neither really knew how long they sat there—Gwen's Plumber's Badge let out a shrill ring, causing both she and Devlin to flinch and come crashing down to reality. "What's up, Ben?" she answered, clearing her voice and trying her best to sound as calm and collected as possible.
Devlin's not in his room, Gwen! Is he with you? Is he okay? Is he feeling be—Ben's voice was cut off as Julie grabbed the receiver on their end.
Please tell me you have him, Gwen! He's not anywhere in the base, and—
"Julie, Julie, he's fine. He's here with me; I took him with me when I went to run my errands. You and Ben need to calm down." Gwendolyn rolled her eyes and shot a pointed look toward the boy in her lap, but Devlin did not see. He was busy staring at the little black and green device with a strange look on his face—perplexed, relieved… happy? She smiled, gently nudging him to his feet.
But your note said—
"Yes, yes, I know what I wrote down. I'm sorry, I came back to the house and he wanted some fresh air. I didn't think we would be gone as long as we were, so I didn't revise my message. Listen, we'll be home in a moment. You can scold me then, okay?" She didn't wait for a reply before shutting down her Badge and turning to Devlin, kneeling so she was his level and looking him in the eye. "Are you ready to go home?" There was a second of hesitation, before he nodded, gazing back into her windows-to-the-soul with such ancient sincerity that she could not help but wonder that there was some other, deeper meaning tucked behind his answer. Still, she made no move to get up, knowing that there was still so much left unsaid.
"Gwendolyn, I…" the raven-haired young boy furrowed his brow, trying to convey something to the woman before him that he just could not find the words to say. "I… Thank you."
Without warning, she pulled him into one last hug, holding him tight, pouring onto him so much feeling and warmth and welcoming and family that he was almost overwhelmed. "I know," she whispered, smiling, "I love you, too."
AN: Wow, I can't believe this is finally finished... I'm sorry that there was such a long wait between chapters, but hopefully it was worth it all. Remember, this story isn't Beta-ed, so any constructive criticism is gladly welcomed. I'll fix any errors as needed.
Thank you so much to everyone who supported me while I was writing this story- all your wonderful reviews, favorites, and alerts are what kept me writing! You guys are absolutely amazing! (: