Author's Notes: I know I haven't updated for a long time now and I'm sorry about that. I've got a long list of excuses, but here's the Cliff Notes version… First the AP tests. Then several end-of-the-year projects followed promptly by finals week. After that, I had a few days before I went to Europe for three weeks where I had no Internet the entire time. Finally, this chapter was brutal to write. I had to get it right without going over-the-top. It didn't help that I've had waning motivation in the Ben 10 fandom because there haven't been any new episodes lately (plus, I've recently fallen in love with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is causing all these new plot bunnies to skitter around my brain).
Anyway, I promise I will finish this story and I will try to update more frequently. I've got a busy rest of summer ahead and then an even busier fall (yay, college admissions *sarcastic*), so I apologize if updates take a while but they will come.
Disclaimer: I don't own Ben 10. I don't own the quote at the beginning.
"The greatest healing therapy is friendship and love."
- Hubert H. Humphrey
Chapter 7: Be the Bigger Man
Gwen had only been standing there for a few minutes, horror and shock keeping her still. However, as she watched the glittering point approach Argit's quivering body, she shook herself into action.
She ran towards the pair, her mana surrounding her hands. From the bits of conversation she had caught, Gwen knew Argit was responsible for Kevin's imprisonment and her heart burned with a fury she rarely felt. Yet, she couldn't let Kevin do this.
Kevin paused. A light had penetrated the haze of vengeance, but the haze had not dissipated fully. All his nerves still hollered for blood, for the squeals of the rat and the sweet satisfaction of revenge. But that voice stayed his hand.
He looked over at Gwen. How long had she been here? Surely, not long as she wouldn't have sat twiddling her thumbs while he was throwing Argit into the walls. Had she overheard the conversation, learned why he was beating up Argit? He desperately wanted his actions to be justified, for her not to label him a monster for beating up on an "innocent" rat.
"This is the 'friend' who sold me out to Zombozo." Kevin explained, shaking Argit's body. The rat had gone still, mouth clamped shut as he calculated the advantage (or disadvantage) the young girl presented.
"I know. I heard."
"Then you know why I need to do it." Satisfied, Kevin pressed the point into Argit's belly, not enough to draw blood but enough so that the rat would be aware of it. He wanted to build the fear first.
Kevin glanced at her, grouchiness evident in his scowl. "Why not? He deserves it."
"Kevin, you can't kill people no matter how evil they are." A flashback to their previous conversation, back in New York on the same subject, flashed into her mind. Back then, her words had meant little to him, but maybe now he would listen.
"He's not a person."
"Hey, I resent that!" Argit argued, "I may not be human, but I'm –"
"Shut up!" Kevin growled. Argit fell silent, berating himself for ever having opened his mouth in the first place. "You can't just turn him into the police."
So Kevin remembered their previous conversation as well.
"Not the Bellwood police, but we can turn him into the Plumbers." Seeing Kevin's confusion, she explained, "They're space cops."
Kevin's gaze returned to Argit. "And why should we do that? After everything he's done, he deserves something worse than a trial and prison."
He looked at her and then slowly placed Argit down on the ground. The rat let out a small gasp when his body touched the floor, but made no other sounds or moves. Then Kevin looked back at Gwen.
"Don't call them just yet." Kevin said when Gwen drew her Plumber's badge from her pocket.
She opened her mouth to ask why before pressing her lips together as the realization hit. Kevin still hadn't decided. A part of her wanted to call anyway and protect Argit until the Plumbers arrived, but a different part of her followed Kevin's request. Maybe if he made a move to snuff out Argit's life, she would act. But she would wait for him to decide first. He needed that.
Come on, Kevin.
Kevin gave her a half-smile of thanks before dropping his gaze. The sight of Argit stirred the flames of anger within him again, but it wasn't as intense as before. Oh, he definitely still wanted to shoot a stream of fire over Argit's pathetic body. That lust for vengeance hadn't gone away.
But Gwen was here now. He recalled her conviction in his 'goodness'. How she didn't believe he was the monster he was. While he would never admit it to anyone else, he liked that she believed in him. It made him feel like he could be a good person. That he should try to be a good person.
Plus, he didn't want her to see that ugly side.
An inner voice reminded him that she had already seen him kill, back when they had been kids, but he brushed it away. That was then and he sensed that she didn't hold anything from that time against him. This was his time to grow beyond that and as much as every nerve screamed at him to just fire and kill the alien, he wanted to take the other path.
Kevin averted his eyes from Argit. He didn't know how much longer he could look at the rat without losing his resolution. "Call them." He commanded, casting a glance at Gwen.
She smiled at him and pressed the Plumber's badge. There were some murmured words that Kevin didn't attempt to make out.
"Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you, ole buddy." Kevin looked down at the sniveling Argit. "I knew you wouldn't do it. You're bigger than that."
His lip drew back in a snarl, stopping Argit's stream of words. "I may be letting you live, but I will never forgive you. And if you don't shut up, I might just change my mind." Argit whimpered and shut his eyes.
"Okay, they'll be here in twenty minutes." Gwen announced, slipping her badge back into her pocket. She glanced at Argit. "Should we tie him up?"
"Nah, I don't think he'll be moving." Though as an added precaution, Kevin kept his eyes on Argit.
"Okay." She replied for lack of anything better to say.
They lapsed into silence. She bit her lip, wanting to tell him he was doing the right thing but not wishing to discuss the topic with the rat-alien so close. Several uncomfortable minutes passed.
"Will they want me to testify?"
Gwen blinked and looked over at Kevin. "Hmm?"
"Will they want me to testify? You know, before they decide how to punish him."
Gwen shook her head. "I don't think so. They've never asked me to testify about any of the other criminals they've locked away."
Kevin let out a sigh of relief. "So… How'd you get involved?"
"With the Plumbers?" He nodded. "My grandpa, Max, is a Plumber. Or was - he's retired now. Mostly." She laughed. "When I was ten, I went on a summer road-trip with him and my cousin Ben. It was normal until we went to a magic convention."
Kevin glanced at her skeptically. "One of those gatherings of second-rate magicians pulling flowers from this sleeves and geeks geeking out over elves and spells? Sounds lame."
Gwen sputtered, "I-i-it's not lame!" She blushed slightly at his unconvinced expression and continued, "But yeah, I guess it was like that. I liked magic… Anyway, it wasn't all fake. There was this weird guy selling actual magical relics. He was out of the way and most people ignored him, but he called me over. He said he'd sensed something special in me and then he gave me a set of charms and a book."
"And you believed him?"
She blushed. "I'd always been drawn to magic, so yeah, it was a bit flattering to hear him say that I had magical potential. Ben thought I was stupid for believing him… until I read from the book and made him levitate a few inches from the floor."
Kevin chuckled, imagining a spluttering red-headed boy hovering in the air. Or maybe he wasn't a redhead. Since he had never seen her cousin, he couldn't really assign a look to him, could he?
"So, how does this get to the Plumbers?" Kevin asked, noticing that Gwen had drifted off into thoughtful reminiscence.
"Grandpa warned me to be careful with the magic, but I didn't listen. Well, I stopped reading randomly from the book, but I didn't stop completely. And I started using magic to help people out, like if I saw a bank robbery or something similar. Then a sorcerer named Hex came and tried to take the charms to perform some magical ritual. We only managed to stop him because Grandpa had some weaponry to combat him. I ended up destroying the charms.
"After that, Grandpa told Ben and me about the Plumbers, aliens, and everything else. We met a few aliens on our road-trip, which we fought with Grandpa's weapons and my magic. Eventually Ben and I were honored by the Plumbers and a few years later, we became members."
"Wow… So you've been hunting aliens down since then." She nodded. "Is that your job?"
"Not officially. I mean I still go to school… I just fight aliens and patrol the neighborhood almost every night to make sure no aliens have touched down."
"And your cousin? Does he help?"
"Yes, Ben helps though he doesn't have any powers. Just some good combat skills. Another guy named Michael's a part of the team. He's got his own set of powers from his alien heritage."
Kevin's eyes dropped to the ground. A thought had occurred to him and it was bothering him. "Do they know?"
Gwen shook her head. "No… I haven't told them yet." She scrutinized Kevin closely to see his reaction before continuing, "I've been waiting to see whether or not you'd want them to know." A silent question hung in the air between them.
Kevin looked away again. His eyes fell on Argit's prone form. He knew she was asking for his permission. He knew that she wouldn't tell anyone about him until he gave the go-ahead. But he could also detect from her tone that she hated keeping this from her team.
Her team… The words caused a surge of emotions to run through him. The dominant one, he realized with surprise, was envy. He wanted to be a part of her team. Sure, it was great, having this time with her in the warehouse, but to be her teammate… To help her fight, it was a pleasant thought.
There was only one way he could ever do that: meet her current teammates and join that team. No more hiding. No more sitting around for hours on end, waiting for her to return. Then reality reasserted itself.
What would they think of him? He was a monster or at least he looked like one; he probably looked a lot closer to what they fought than what they helped. What if they thought Gwen was foolish for helping him? What if they convinced her to stop helping?
No, his mind protested. She would never abandon him. They were friends, she was too good a person, she liked him… But was it enough to stand against the opinions of her cousin and this mystery boy?
Yes. Yes, yes, yes. It was enough because she was a good person who didn't follow along with what others told her unless it was actually the right thing to do.
Of course he still had to hide (he had been foolish to even think about going out into the real world before regaining a human form), but he could certainly help. He could go out at night to help her on patrols. He could fight. He was strong. He could be of use and stop sitting around idly, waiting for a cure that might never come.
A beep cut off his thoughts just as he had built up the resolve to let her know she could tell her team.
"They're outside." Gwen explained. "I can take Argit over while you stay here."
"It's okay. I'll come with you." If he was going to meet her team, he was going to have to face the arrest squad sometime. Anyway, better that they see him than hear about him from Argit.
Gwen blinked in surprise before smiling. She led the way while he stopped to pick Argit up. The rat dangled loosely in his grip.
When they got outside, Kevin closed his eyes against the bright afternoon sun. A smile curled on to his face. It had been a while since he had gone outside, even longer since he had been outside during the day.
"Are you okay?" Gwen asked, putting a hand on Kevin's arm.
"Yeah." He opened his eyes, squinting at the light. "Just basking."
She smiled and nodded her head in understanding.
A small cruiser stood ahead of them. A green alien wearing white, metallic armor waited next to it, holding a pair of cuffs. He looked between the girl, the hulking monster by her, and the limp creature in the monster's hands. His hand drifted down to his holstered gun, but didn't draw it.
"Hello." Gwen greeted him, showing him her badge.
"Plumber Gwen." The Plumber nodded. His eyes focused on the other two. "I recognize the rat. He's a well-known, small-time criminal. But who's the big guy?"
"This is Kevin. He's helping me."
Kevin stared coolly back at the Plumber. He didn't know what to say, so he kept his mouth shut. After a moment, the Plumber nodded his head.
"Alright. Hand Argit over."
As soon as Kevin gave Argit over, the rat said, "He's psychotic. Do you see what condition I'm in? He nearly tore me apart! And you know what, he was having fun. Now I know I'm not a good citizen, but this guy is pure evil. He needs –"
"Shut up!" Gwen's eyes were glowing. "Kevin's a good guy, better than you. You have no right to call him evil after everything you've put him through."
Argit seemed to shrink at the ferocity of her voice. Kevin watched Gwen, feeling a mixture of awe and gratefulness. She really believed in him even after she had witnessed his violent side. It filled him with confidence, backing up his earlier resolution.
Gwen's eyes returned to normal and she flashed an apologetic smile at the Plumber. "Don't listen to what he has to say about Kevin. Kevin's a big help around here."
The Plumber looked uncertainly at Kevin before shrugging, "Well, I'm just here to collect the prisoner." He fastened the cuffs to Argit. "I'll be going now."
He walked off to his ship, tugging Argit along. The rat stumbled after, so that eventually the Plumber just hoisted him up on to his shoulder and hurried up the rest of the way. The ship's door closed and then it was off, taking Argit away to the authorities who would decide his sentencing.
Kevin sighed. After years of swearing to kill Argit when he got out, he had received his chance. And he had let it go. It was going further and further from him as the engines propelled the ship into deep space. Soon he couldn't even see a speck in the sky to indicate the ship's progress.
He slipped away again… Except he hadn't slipped away, Kevin mused. He had beaten up Argit and then he had let Argit be flown away to face whatever punishment awaited him. Sure, it wasn't the same as sending him through death's veil, but it was something.
A hand rested on his Petrosapien arm. Although he could barely feel it through the crystal, he knew it was there. He glanced down at Gwen.
"I'm proud of you."
Kevin snorted and looked away, "Yeah, well, killing him would've been letting him off easy." The hand left his shoulder and he instantly regretted the joke. Why did he almost always feel the need to cover up his actual feelings?
"You know, I still hate him." He admitted, glancing to see her watching him closely. "A part of me still wants to rip him limb from limb and I'll never be able to forgive him."
"You don't have to."
"But…" Kevin paused. "I think it's okay that the Plumbers are dealing with him. It would've torn me up before to know that someone else was punishing him, but I think it's gonna be okay."
She smiled. "It won't haunt you anymore?"
"No, it won't." He sighed suddenly, bringing her to look at him with a frown. "You probably wanna know what happened with Argit."
"I got that he betrayed you. If you want to talk about it, I'll listen."
Kevin considered her proposal. He didn't like talking about his past, but it wasn't as if she didn't know he had done some bad things. At this point, he was certain that she wouldn't run if he told her a few more things. Anyway, it might help to get it off his chest. Maybe not absolutely everything – he wasn't ready to talk about his parents – but he could talk about Argit.
"We met a few months after I met you. Argit was lookin' for someone to help him out with a heist, I was lookin' for cash. He didn't think I could help him, but then I showed him my powers and he decided I was as good as anybody."
Kevin had stopped looking at Gwen. Although he had decided to tell her about his past with Argit, he couldn't bear to face her, thinking of all the crimes the duo had pulled. It was comforting that she stood quietly, simply listening.
"We managed to steal quite a lot of money that time and so we decided to do it again. And again and again. Sometimes we stole other things, sometimes we failed, but the money never lasted long. I think Argit blew most of it though I don't know on what." He added with a laugh, "Maybe paying people off.
"It wasn't easy. We didn't always have food or shelter, but it never got too bad." Kevin frowned. "We took care of each other and it was alright. We had fun sometimes, enough so that I thought he was my friend.
"Then he told me about this big plan where we'd end up richer than we'd ever been. I went along with him and it turned out to be a trap. The circus troop jumped me and started fighting. I yelled at Argit to help, but he just stood there, countin' his cash, as I was tied up. That's the last I saw of him until today."
"I'm sorry." Gwen told him when he fell silent.
"It's not your fault."
"I know, but I'm sorry that he betrayed you like that."
"He's paying for it now." Kevin muttered.
"And you're standing here with a friend who'll never betray you."
He looked down at her, his heart-rate picking up. She noticed his gaze and returned it with a smile. Kevin wanted to tell her how much that meant to him, how much he cared about her as well. But the words stuck in his throat and he settled for just smiling back and conveying his gratefulness through his eyes.
The rage was still there, gnawing unhappily at him. But now there were other things. Nice things like knowing someone cared for him and that he cared back. As he ran the conversation through his head, he remembered her introduction of him to the Plumber.
"I want to help."
"I want to help." He took a deep breath and then barreled on, "I want to meet your cousin and friend and then I want to help you fight… Is that okay?"
Gwen smiled. "Of course it is!"
She wrapped her arms around him. He stood, unmoving for a moment, before returning the hug. His eyes closed and he reveled in the close contact with another human being.
Once the hug ended, Gwen stood back and confessed, "I've wanted to tell them for a while now, but I didn't know if you'd want to meet other people yet."
"Well, I'm ready. So long as they're not circus freaks, I think we'll get along."
Gwen laughed. "I always told Ben he belonged among the circus freaks, but don't worry. He's terrified of clowns."
Still chuckling, Gwen said, "I'll bring the two of them over tomorrow night."
With that arranged, the two headed back inside and spent the rest of the afternoon talking; Gwen relating stories about her battles and Kevin making jokes.
"Where should we go tonight?" Michael asked as he drove the car. "I was thinking we should start with the west side and then work our way out into the forest before making a loop back to town."
"Actually, I was wondering if we could go somewhere else first."
Ben and Michael both looked over at Gwen with interest. They had both noticed her strange behavior and both were eager to figure out what had her so distracted.
"Is this about the thing you haven't been telling us about?" Ben guessed, recalling their conversation yesterday.
Gwen nodded her head.
"The old mannequin warehouse," Gwen answered.
Michael raised an inquisitive eyebrow, but changed lanes and made a right to head in the warehouse's direction. Everyone knew about the warehouse though people rarely went there, either because it was too far or because it wasn't safe enough.
"What's there?" Ben leaned forward.
"You'll see." Gwen smiled reassuringly at him.
Inside she was feeling nervous about introducing Ben and Michael to Kevin. She didn't know what their initial reactions would be to him or what they would think about her decision to keep him hidden for so long. At least she knew Kevin was on-board for meeting new people.
It was a huge comfort to her that he wanted to go out and do something. Although he was limited to when and where he went, it would be better for him. She didn't know how he spent the majority of his time, but anything, besides being back at the cirque, had to be better than being cooped up in the warehouse.
Anyway, he'd probably enjoy more company. She wondered briefly if he would start to prefer Ben and Michael's company over hers (they were guys, after all) before banishing the thought. Whatever friendships formed between him and the guys, she knew in her heart that they would always be good friends. No matter what other people he met and befriended.
"We're here." Michael announced, pulling the car to a stop. "Now let's see what you've been hiding."
A/N: Hmm... Did that last line of Michael's come out dark or is it just me?
Please take some time to review. Hopefully the next chapter will come faster than this one did.
Twilight Phantom Dragon