AN: I wrote this after watching the episode, Time Heals. I was really surprised, it depressed me thoroughly. The actual episode makes incredible light of the whole situation, which of course is only natural, but I didn't really think it did the circumstances enough justice. I took it a little...well, a lot more seriously in this fic, and I just kept going with it.
This will be my first foray into the Ben 10 fandom. I apologize if people are slightly out of character, but I wasn't quite satisfied with how Gwen reacted to the events in the original episode. The whole setting is really quite horrible, so I decided to exacerbate this, and take advantage of its potential.
Disclaimer: None of this is mine, it's just a re-imagination of the episode 'Time Heals', from Ben 10: Alien Force.
She'd thought herself so clever.
She'd tried everything, every branch of every idea that existed, and none of them had worked. She couldn't reverse Kevin's mutation; she couldn't cure him no matter how many books she poured over. After countless sleepless nights, and after that feeling of helpless resignation started to poison and weaken her efforts, she'd been lying in bed one morning, listlessly staring at the clock when it had occurred to her that she'd been trying to approach the issue from all of the wrong directions. In comparison to reversing something so complex as Kevin's current physiological make up, making it so that it never happened seemed so much simpler.
There would be no side effects that way, no lingering bitter memories, nothing, because she wouldn't have to remember not being able to forgive herself for letting the explosion happen, because there would be nothing to forgive. Kevin wouldn't have to remember once again being a monster.
Most of all, Gwen wouldn't have that ugly feeling, the feeling of blame that flared up every so often when she looked at Ben, Ben acting like things were normal, like he hadn't been the one to ruin Kevin, again, like his recklessness, his stupidity, wasn't the cause for all of Kevin's suffering.
She always has to shake her head to clear it away.
If that one moment of their lives had been different, if Ben and Kevin hadn't tried to hack the Omnitrix, everyone would be happy. That day, that instant, was the source of everything. It didn't matter that all of the records of attempted time travel she'd been able to find had turned out so nightmarish. It didn't matter, because it was just that one moment, that one decision. There was nothing wrong with changing just this one thing. She wasn't asking for much.
This was the thought that was her companion while she crept into Hex's mansion and stole the Archamada.
She's slaved away at the spell, memorizing it, practicing the pronunciation, translating it to ensure she had the inflection just right, deconstructing the spell to be certain she knew the exact structure of the enchantment. She locked herself up in the room for hours on end, pouring over it.
She doesn't have time to watch some game with Kevin and Ben.
She had to make sure that she got it right, she can't afford to mess up. She's practically sick of it when she finally lets herself feel ready.
She has just begun, a magical focus enhancer traced into the floor boards beneath her, the words rolling off her tongue, when a flash of light interrupts her. She stops, letting the spell collapse around her. She can't afford to continue, not when she's been distracted. She looks up instead, seeking out the intruder, and her eyes widen when she sees the familiar yet not quite familiar man in his white lab coat, that perpetual smile, almost surreal, his eyes eerily wide, reflecting impossible wisdom.
"There's an old saying in my field, 'Time travel is for immortals and fools', and I speak from experience," he says, taking a step forwards. As if as an afterthought, as if he thought he'd already done it, he adds, "Hello Gwen."
Now that he's here, she can imagine for what reason, but she honestly hadn't been expecting him. She thought, no, she knows that she's right. She doesn't think he could ever understand, someone who has seen the heart and memory of the universe a dozen times over wouldn't be able to.
"Professor Paradox," she breathes, ready to feel betrayed, but not quite yet, because she still has to ask. "What are you doing here?"
He offers her another one of those odd looks, taking out his old fashioned pocket watch.
"I'm supposed to warn you to not go along with this plan of yours." He watches the second's hand, smiling when it completes its cycle of sixty, the minute's hand clicking forwards. "See? I just did, right on schedule."
His smile fades.
"And now is when you tell me.." He knows, and she knows he knows, but she says it anyways, because she wants, needs, to try and make him understand. The logical side of her knows she can't, but she still can't help but hope.
"This spell can take me back in time," she argues. "I can go back, to before Ben and Kevin hacked the Omnitrix."
"and you 'can stop everything from happening'," Paradox finishes for her. "You think that if you stop the explosion from happening, Kevin won't be transformed into a monster." He continues, with false cheer. "And everything will be wonderful again."
"Yes!" Gwen bursts out.
"No," he cuts her off. "Normally, rationally, logically, two out of three isn't bad, but in this case..." he trails off, looking thoughtfully towards the ceiling. Then his eyes darken, focusing back on her, and they pierce into her.
"Trust me, Gwendolyn. Don't."
She almost wants to let herself be convinced by him. His conviction, his knowing eyes and voice, she feels strange, awkward, because he does know everything, but she can't let this go, she can't let go of it because this, this is her last hope.
"I can't cure Kevin," she tells him, feeling small. "I can't fix this, it's impossible for me, my magic just isn't good enough. This is the only way."
"There is always another way. In fact, sometimes, in order to do something, the best way to do it is to do nothing," he tells her, friendly, like always, but Gwen knows that he isn't her friend. He isn't Kevin's friend either. Gwen doubts Paradox even knows what the word really means anymore. Nothing is significant to him, because everything is significant to him, thus...nothing is.
"You're not making any sense," she whispers, her eyes burning. Paradox gives her a pitying look-he doesn't know sympathy, she can't see any sympathy in his eyes.
"I am often accused of this," he says. Gwen's had enough, she turns away from him. "But, I'm the time walker," he continues. "And I'm rather well informed on these matters."
"I have to do this," she says, her words final. She doesn't look back at him, she doesn't want to see his eyes, wise beyond everything, his expression, deceptively kind, disconnected. His words are all that reach her now.
"I suppose you do," he says. "But remember this," his voice shifts, deepening, ominously spoken words send chills through her. "You aren't going to stop anything from happening; you're going to cause everything else to."
Then he's gone.
She stands, frozen in place, for a long long moment, before she regains her senses. She reopens the book, and resumes her place in her focus circle. Her voice is shaky at the first syllable, but her unease melts away as she continues, the spell is working, she can feel it all sliding together, the layers of enchantments peeling through the threads and barriers and countless walls that flow and are time. The spell systematically pulls open a tunnel, and keeps the edges from corkscrewing out of control, stable, and even.
Compared to all of it, convincing 'herself' to stop Ben and Kevin is easy. She casts a final look at the frozen scene in the garage, imagining how it will all play out with her past self's new knowledge.
Gwen is almost giddy when she dives back through the channel, the image of a happy, unharmed Kevin the only thing occupying her thoughts.
Later, when she thinks about her reasoning, she realizes how selfish she had been.
It's a mixture of guilt, regret, and confusion that ties itself into a knot and clogs her throat as she runs for her life from this backwards world, a world where nothing is the way it should be, where the sky is a bloodied red, Hex's voice booms through the air, everywhere, Kevin's beloved car is nothing but a forgotten scrap heap and Charmcaster's monsters roam every street.
And she can't reach Ben. She doesn't understand anything anymore.
"Been quite a day hasn't it?"
She jerks, spinning around and ready to blast any more would-be attackers, only to stop short. Professor Paradox, looking un-bothered, unfazed, by the destruction surrounding him, is leaning against a cracked and close to crumbling building, looking down at his pocketwatch again.
"Would you stop doing that?" Gwen hisses. Paradox blinks at her.
"Oh, of course, my apologies. Off I go," he says airily, turning away from her. Gwen practically lunges forwards, grabbing his arm, a desperate shout jumping from her.
"No, please!" She calms down when it becomes clear to her that he isn't moving to leave anymore. "Don't go anywhere," she finishes, her voice weakening. Paradox smiles at her.
"It's more of an 'anywhen', than an 'anywhere'," he chides teasingly. Gwen doesn't pay it any mind.
"You know what happened here, don't you?" she asks. Of course he does. He knew what happened, or rather, what was going to happen here when he told her not to make it happen before.
"You happened," he says simply, an 'I told you so' dangling over his words. "When you went back in time and tried to keep Kevin from mutating."
"But...that was the plan." His words sting, and Gwen still doesn't understand.
"And every plan has unintended consequences," he explains, patiently. "For instance," he gestures to the ruin around them. "Hex and Charmcaster tried to take over the world, as is their want."
In the background, Gwen can hear the sounds of a young man shouting, for help, in the hold of one of Charmcaster's golems. His shouts quickly turn to screams, and Gwen closes her eyes as she hears the sound of stone grinding against bone, crunching it, snapping it. Then he is silent.
"You, Ben, and Kevin, you were humanity's last line of defense. But," Paradox looks at her meaningfully. "There was a weak link amongst you."
"Me?" Gwen felt sick.
"Oh no, not you," Paradox says, softly. "It was Kevin."
"Because you went into the past and prevented that explosion, you prevented Kevin from mutating," he continues. "Ergo, the new Kevin, or rather, the old Kevin, lacked the powers that would have allowed him to stop Hex." He's pitying her again, and Gwen can't fault him for it.
"So the bad guys won." He finishes.
Such a childish phrase, 'bad guys', a phrase that reminded her of when Ben had first put on the Omnitrix, when Ben had still been a brat, when Gwen had always believed, no matter how dire the situation, that the bad guys could never win, because they just couldn't, because they were bad guys. In a way, she had still believed that, up until now. Now she's confronted with the knowledge of how foolish, how stupid, how ridiculously naive the notion is.
"I didn't know," she whispered.
"I warned you," Paradox says simply. "Time travel is for immortals and fools." He gestures to himself. "And I'm the only immortal here, you do the math."
It hurts, and she knows she deserves it.
"Where are Ben and Kevin?" she asks him.
The next thing she knows, they aren't on the street anymore, in the back of an alley, they're in a tree overlooking Hex's mansion, different from what she remembers. There's a wall surrounding it now, and she's privy to a more extensive view of the city, smoke billowing from all over, pluming into the sky in gray and black tones.
"Careful now, gravity will not help you here."
Paradox gestures down below them. Gwen sees more of Charmcaster's monsters, and Charmcaster herself, looking on as-
Kevin, moving stones like some slave, moving stones for no apparent reason other than to move them. He isn't that strange patchwork of stone, steel, and Diamondhead crystal, he's solid rock, and there are glowing patterns of pink, binding spells, all over him.
"Yes," Paradox says, his voice soft. "She thought it amusing, to enslave him with the same spells she uses to control her other rock creatures."
Kevin drops a stone. Charmcaster smirks, and she says something. Gwen can't quite hear, but she can guess, because soon Charmcaster is lashing at Kevin with a spray of magical darts. Gwen feels her heart crack as Kevin cowers from the onslaught, unable to say anything, to do anything to defend himself.
"I'll save you Kevin," she whispers. "I promise."
"Well, that's the sort of thing that brought all of this on the world in the first place isn't it?"
She closes her eyes. She wants to cover her ears, to tell him to stop, she understands now, but she can't, she has to accept all of his words because every single one of them is right.
"And Ben?" She almost doesn't want to know.
"Ahh," Paradox says, and even he looks saddened, his eyes cast downwards. "He tried so hard, that child. One of the bravest I have ever seen…But eventually they caught him too."
It's the only time Gwen has heard Paradox refer to someone with respect. She can't help but feel a slight feeling of pride in her cousin, but it's tainted with guilt, because moments before all of this happened, before she ruined everything, all she had been thinking about was saving Kevin, and about how it was Ben's fault. It's Gwen's fault now, and now Kevin is suffering for it.
And her cousin Ben is probably dead.
"A pity, he was Earth's last hope, after you died," Paradox says, looking at her.
"What?" The word jumps out of her before she can even process what has just been said. "Dead? Me?"
"Yes, I'm afraid so my dear," Paradox says gently.
"But, I'm not dead, I'm right here." Her words feel numb as they tumble off of her lips. Disbelief is preventing her mind from comprehending.
"Yes, well, that's one of the odd things about time travel," Paradox remarks. "Displacement. Almost as if the very universe wishes to show the interloper the extent of the 'changes' that they have wrought." He looks more thoughtful than spiteful, but it gives Gwen something to hold onto.
"I can...no, I have to change everything back, to the way it was before." The conviction is much better than the confusion. She welcomes it.
"I suppose it wouldn't hurt to try. However, stealing the book of spells this time around won't be nearly so easy," he warns.
She's barely listening, already running across the air, energy fields forming under her feet. The last thing she hears from him is some comment about Charmcaster's heightened powers. Gwen doesn't care. Anything is better than this, she'd rather die trying to change it, then let this twisted world continue to exist.
The magic blast takes her completely off guard, sending her crashing to the roof below, the wind knocked out of her. Charmcaster's voice is just as malicious as she can remember, but somehow it seems even more cruel, now that she's seen the extent of what Charmcaster is capable of. She had never realized just how monstrous, how deeply Charmcaster's sense of evil runs.
She wouldn't have been able to kill Charmcaster in cold blood before, Gwen doubts she'd hesitate now.
"Gwen Tennyson?" she asks, a sneer twisting her face. Her hair billows dramatically, also affected by the anti-gravitational spell keeping her airborne. "No. way."
Gwen's wind is back, somewhat. She gets to her feet with a barely concealed groan, looking up at the other girl.
"Why so surprised?" she manages, her voice developing a biting edge.
"Because I killed you, once," Charmcaster replies. Then she smirks. "So I guess I'll just have to do it again."
With that, she flings an energy beam at Gwen. Gwen paints a shield into the air at the last minute, but it holds, and the blast bounces off. A cloud of smoke explodes from the resulting collision, clogging the air and making both of them choke. Gwen takes the opportunity to throw half a dozen energy missiles of her own. She can't see a thing, neither can Charmcaster, but Gwen hears one connect, as Charmcaster lets out a cry of pain.
Gwen doesn't stay to see her opponent fall, she runs. She doesn't have time to gloat, and she doesn't have time to linger to see if Charmcaster is dead or knocked out. She just wants to get the book. She doesn't care about anything else.
The library window is still unlocked. This means little, Gwen would have simply blasted it open if it had been, alarms and loud noises attracting attention be damned.
She lands lightly on her feet, and rushes forwards, scanning the shelves. The lighting is bad, but the spine of the book she's looking for is unmistakable. She's found it in darkness before.
"Do you need help finding something?"
The voice prickles in her ears.
She whirls around, cursing herself, because she should have realized that Hex would be in here. He's sitting right there, on his own personal throne, holding the Archamada up, taunting her, smirking, triumphant.
"Sorry," he says, sounding more mocking than apologetic. "It's the only one I don't lend out."
"You don't look surprised to see me," Gwen says, anxiety rooting her feet to the floor. She refuses to let herself shake, keeping her eyes fixed on Hex, the book, waiting for him to make a move. If she can just get it-.
"To the contrary, I've been waiting for you to show up," he replies. "Afterall, you're the time-lost Gwen, the only remaining link to a far more unsavory past."
Her hands clench into fists involuntarily.
"How did you know?"
"Oh, a little magic here and there," he says almost absentmindedly. "I quite like what you've come up with, your meddling proved to be invaluable." He leans forwards, yellowed eyes glinting. "I'm not about to let you change it back."
A flare of pink magic shines through the window, before the entire glass pane bursts into thousands of shards and Charmcaster comes flying in. She lands on the floor, looking completely unharmed, and thoroughly annoyed.
"Are you done talking yet? Because I'm totally going to kill her again."
Gwen grits her teeth, her hands clenching into fists. She focuses energy into them, two concentrated blast spells ready.
"What, once wasn't good enough for you?" she snaps. The smile that spreads across Charmcaster's black painted lips is frigid.
"Oh no, it'll be so much sweeter this time around. Now I have a new pet to sic on you."
The rumbling in the floor is the only other warning Gwen gets before Kevin bursts through the wall. Of course, she should have known that Charmcaster would have chosen this way.
"You don't have to do this Kevin," she tries, lifting her hands up, backing away. He charges, wordlessly, his fist burying itself in the stone floor where she had just been standing. Gwen stumbles backwards. He lunges again, narrowly missing her head.
"Kevin, stop," she screams at him.
She thinks he might have hesitated for a second, the light in his now solid pink eyes flickering like candles, before he charges again. It makes her feel like a fool for believing it would work, even for a second. She supposes it isn't belief, and more akin to desperate and pointless hope.
Her fingertips heat up as she summons the purple glow to her hands and cuts through the floor with them like Styrofoam. She falls through floor after floor, her only goal to get as far away from Hex and Charmcaster as possible, away from the one who doesn't answer to the name Kevin anymore. Gravity is only too happy to oblige her in that.
When Gwen falls through the last floor, it takes her a while to reorient herself.
Nothing's broken from the fall, and she counts that as the single blessing of the day. She regains her balance, and her eyes begin to adjust to the dimmer lighting. It's then that she becomes aware of the stench of blood that makes the air stagnant and dead all around her. She coughs on it a moment, before she stands up and surveys the basement around her.
It resembles a stereotypical dungeon, ominous devices at all stone corners, all of which, she realizes with widened eyes, look well used. She can only think back to her conversation with Professor Paradox, and a horrible feeling sinks deep into her stomach.
And that's when she sees him, hanging from the wall in chains.
His green jacket is long gone, as is his shirt. There is nothing to conceal the bruises that mottle his chest, and the scars that are etched in crisscrosses all over his skin. Some are old, others are red and inflamed and encrusted. Still others ooze with half congealed blood. Patches of skin simply aren't skin anymore, ruined forever, spell burns that will never heal. He's thinner than she remembers. Bones are prominent through his skin, and muscle has atrophied into nothing. His arms are stretched painfully, his feet dangling inches from the ground. She thinks his shoulders might be dislocated.
He looks more fragile, and he's utterly silent. He isn't making any effort to escape; he doesn't twitch when she comes to a stop in front of him. She can't even be sure if he's heard her.
"Ben?" she whispered, her voice cracking.
The movement is agonizingly slow, tired, weary, resigned. It's everything that her cousin shouldn't be. He slowly lifts his head up to look at her, and she can make out more bruises encircling his neck, resembling fingers. Razor thin scars streak across one side of his face. His hair is longer, matted with grime and dried blood, wild looking. Green eyes gaze at her, and she can see that something has died in them, because they're flat, and empty. He must have stared at her, not recognizing her, for a minute before he responds in a voice that sounds like it's been shredded by screams made of steel wool.
"Oh my god Ben, what've they done to you."
It's a stupid question, and she doesn't even want to know the answer, but the words rush out of her before she can think and then she's disintegrating the chains that held him. He crashes to the floor with a strangled cry of pain before she can properly catch him, and now Gwen sees that the wrist that bears the Omnitrix is all wrong, like everything else. It's crooked and twisted, broken and healed, and broken again. Thick ugly ropes of scar tissue run all over the skin surrounding it.
Half of his fingers look broken.
She lifts him up off of the ground, carefully resting him in her lap, because his back is just as damaged. His breathing evens out after a few more moments. The sound the air makes as it's dragged into his lungs is ragged and slightly wet as he coughs on it.
"But you're dead Gwen, I saw it happen. Charmcaster, she burned you, till there was nothing left," Ben mumbles, limp in her arms. She wants to hold him closer, tighter, she needs that comfort, however empty, but she can't. She's almost certain that he'll break if she isn't careful enough. The prospect sends tremors throughout her body, straight to her core as her heart clenches.
"I know, I know," she whispers, because he's so small. Limbs all spindly, face narrow, pale. She hates to think it, but she knows it, Hex and Charmcaster tried their best, and they succeeded, they ruined him. "I'm so sorry Ben." Her voice is choked, it comes out uneven and shaky, and her eyes are burning. "I'm so sorry this is all my fault. I didn't-, I didn't mean for, for any of this to happen, and-." She squeezes her eyes shut, tears spilling over. Her chest feels constricted with a voice of self-loathing, a voice in her ear whispering 'this is what you did, because you wanted your boyfriend back to normal, because you blamed your little cousin, because you couldn't listen.'
"I," he coughs. "I don't...understand."
"The Omnitrix, when it blew up-, only it didn't, but, but it should have-, it would have if I hadn't tried to fix everything." She's babbling, the smell of blood, Ben's blood, is making her crazy, this whole world is making her crazy, because everything is just so wrong. "I just wanted to help Kevin, I didn't know Ben, I didn't know."
It startles her and she almost panics when she hears a shaky rattling sound from Ben, until she realizes, as she sees his lips curving into a crooked smile, that he's laughing.
"I know that I'm not doing so well right now...but I'm pretty sure you're not making any sense."
She can't help but stare at him for a little while, and then her breath catches in her throat and she sobs, because his body is ruined, but his soul isn't, and she almost can't believe it, but the relief she's struck with is almost painful. She laughs with him, because she can't help it, she's half hysterical, and her cousin, even when half tortured to death, can crack a joke at her. She calms herself, wiping her eyes on her sleeve before she weaves an arm under his, supporting him as gently as she can as she rises to her feet.
"I'll explain everything after I get you out of here," she says, looking around for the exit, walking him towards it as carefully as she can.
Then the double doors are knocked off their hinges, and Gwen's heart sinks.
"Sure, like that's going to happen," Charmcaster sneers. One of her golems, and Kevin, are flanking her. Ben shifts, supporting his own weight and letting go of her.
"You take care of the rock monsters," Ben rasps. "I'll handle Charmcaster." He lifts his arm, his hand hovering over the Omnitrix. Gwen can see the tremors, she can see him wincing at every movement, even the act of spreading his feet into a better stance hurts him.
"Ben, no, you've been injured-." 'Injured' doesn't even begin to describe it. Tortured fits better. Ben just looks at her, grim.
"I've already lost you once," he says quietly. "I'm not going to let it happen again."
He presses his hand down, carefully, and the familiar flash of blinding green light explodes outwards, enveloping him.
And then she sees another familiar face, Swamp Fire, even if he doesn't announce the name anymore. The only thing that crosses her mind is that he's made a smart choice, at least while he's Swamp Fire he can't be maimed any more than he has been, and then she's off, running towards the golem, and Kevin as Ben throws out a stream of roaring flames.
Charmcaster lets out a shout of pain, and there is the acrid stench of burning fabric, hair, and skin. The golem gets past Gwen, and Ben handles that too, tackling it aside.
Kevin is approaching.
"Kevin, no," Gwen tries, again. There's no recognition, nothing at all. So she hurls him backwards with a swipe of energy.
She's barely able to let out a slight sigh of relief, when she turns to see how Ben is doing, and sees Hex descending down, through the hole in the ceiling.
"It's time to write the last chapter in this tragic little saga," he says. Gwen's eyes lock onto the Archamada, still in his hand. Her throat clenches. Everything depends on that book.
"Thanks anyway, I don't read much," Ben calls out. Gwen turns in time to see the golem collapse to the floor. Ben immediately hurls a fire ball at the ceiling. It caves down on top of Hex, who collapses under the debris gracelessly.
Gwen wastes no time in snatching the book up.
"Let's get out of here before they have a chance to-." Ben's words are abruptly cut off by a dying sort of crackle that emits from the Omnitrix. Swamp Fire melts back into Ben, and Ben promptly falls to his knees, wheezing. Gwen is right beside him, a hand on his back, wishing to everything, anything, that she had healing abilities, because Ben's coughs rack through his entire, thin frame.
Hex is getting back to his feet. She can hear Kevin's stony footsteps from behind. The golem is recovering as well. Charmcaster is coming towards them as well, looking half crazed in a furious, ugly way.
and Gwen hates herself right now. Ben's still coughing.
"Hold them off Ben," she whispers. "Hold them off, please, I need to cast a spell." She holds the book in a death like grip. She knows exactly which section, which page.
Ben looks at her, and she can see blood spilling from his lips.
"And that'll fix everything?" he gasps. She can't trust herself to speak. Her eyes are burning. He understands anyways. "Do what you can." He smiles. "I trust you."
She hates herself so much.
Their enemies are closing in. Gwen stands, Ben staggers to his feet.
Then Ben squeezes his eyes shut and slams his hand down onto the Omnitrix again. Gwen takes off running. She has no idea which form Ben's chosen, she's not sure how much time he can buy her, but she knows that he won't give up until his body won't let him try anymore. He'll probably keep fighting, even after that.
She speaks the words, in a rush, winded as she keeps running. No time to draw a focus circle. She keeps the spell together through sheer force of will.
She hears Ben, it sounds across between a scream and a roar. She doesn't know if he's still fighting of if he's dying. Probably both at the same time.
A sob rips from her, interrupting her for a moment, but she chokes on the tears that are drenching her cheeks, and she keeps reciting it.
The wall beside her explodes, Hex snarling as he claws his way through, reaching for her. Gwen looks at him.
Ben is dead.
She finishes the spell, and then she's gone.
She can only hear a vague echo of Hex bellowing in a rage.
When she arrives at the garage, time stopped, her two past selves standing together.
"You will never forgive yourself if you let this happen."
She can't help it. She loses it, and she breaks down. She's blinded by tears, suffocating on grief, she can barely breathe, and she collapses to her knees. She was barely keeping it together before, she's safe here, in this little pocket of time, where she destroyed every single thing she loves, in one moment, one decision. She lets it all out and really truly cries, for the first time in her life. Cries from despair, guilt, everything.
By the time she's manages to get a hold of herself, both of her past selves are beside her, eyes wide, hands on her shoulders, concerned, baffled.
"Don't do it," she chokes. "Don't change it, let it happen, please. Please just let it happen."
She doesn't know how many times she repeats this, she doesn't really know what she'll do if they don't listen to her. She certainly hadn't listened to Professor Paradox, would she listen to herself?
She feels a hand shaking her, she looks up.
"It's okay," her other self tells her. "It's okay, we won't do anything, okay?"
"Okay," Gwen croaks. "Okay."
Her other self touches a hand to her forehead.
"I've already erased her memories," she says, pointing to the other, who is standing in her position, watching Ben, about to witness the explosion. "I'm erasing yours too."
"Okay," Gwen repeats.
"It'll be all right," her other self murmurs. Just before the spell takes effect, Gwen hears a quiet 'I'm sorry'.
Gwen opens her eyes. She's in a meditation circle, with a book open in front of her. She doesn't know why, she doesn't even know which spell it is. She shakes her head, trying to clear it.
"Did I just fall asleep while meditating, hovering in the air?" she asks herself aloud, wryly. No response. "Apparently."
Then the door creaks open, and Ben pops his head in.
"There you are! What've you been doing up here? You missed the whole game!" he complains.
Gwen's already run across the room and enveloped him in a crushing hug before he can say another word.
"What the-? Gwen?" he asks, perplexed, his arms slightly raised, as if in a motion of surrender. Her arms refuse to let go of him, hands gripping his jacket tightly.
"She up here Ben?" Kevin calls from the hall. He peers in through the door way and catches sight of them. He pauses.
"...What're you two doing?"
Gwen lets go of her cousin, who stares at her. She turns, and then throws her arms around Kevin's neck, squeezing. He's solid, rock and metal and diamond like crystal. Her eyes hurt. She has no idea why.
When she finally lets go, Kevin is staring at her, much like Ben is.
"Uh, what was that for?" he asks.
"I...I don't know," Gwen realizes. The strangled feeling in her throat is subsiding now. She looks the the two of them for a long moment. "Would you two like to go out for some smoothies?" she asks finally. "I'll treat."
It seems to placate the two of them to a certain degree, but they still sneak odd looks at her occasionally, while they regale her with the highlights of the game, all the way out to the car.
Gwen stops short when she catches sight of a white lab coat.
"Professor Paradox?" Ben calls, and indeed, the time traveler is standing just in front of Kevin's car.
"Hello young people," Paradox greets them mildly. Ben tilts his head to one side.
"What're you doing here?"
"Oh, just checking up on something," Paradox replies. He fixes his eyes on Gwen, looking calculating. She shifts under the scrutiny for a moment, utterly bewildered.
"Is there something wrong?" Gwen asks at last. Paradox's sharp gaze softens.
"No, apparently not," he remarks.
Then he vanishes.
There is a long silence.
"Uh, if that was supposed to be some sort of cryptic message, I totally didn't get it, at all," Ben comments. It startles a laugh out of Gwen. Kevin snorts.
"Great going hero," he jabs.
"Shut up," Ben shoots back.
They all get into the car.
The three of them.
AN: So...what did you think?