Chapter II

Ben woke with a start, his body covered by a sheen of cold sweat. The sides of the tent were glowing, it was daylight thankfully. Details from the apparent dream began to dissolve from his consciousness, not that it mattered to him-the sooner, the better. Damn that was awful, Ben admitted to himself. Not a lot of things got to him, but if anything happened to her...

Best not to think about it, he decided. Anyway, it was a new and lovely day if the glow and the heat radiating from the sides were of any indication.

"Come on, Gwen, let's get out and find ourselves some breakfast." Ben tugged on her shoulder to rouse her from her sleep and give a loving morning kiss, a nice little surprise. But as Gwen's sleeping form rolled over and the fiery red hair shifted from her face, he noticed she was already looking straight at him.

Within a fraction of a second, panic washed over Ben. Gwen's skin was of a dull pallor, lips blue with a dark red substance that could only have been blood pooled just behind them, a little hand dripped down her chin but had long since dried.

His first instinct was to scream-jump up from their resting place and scream from the top of his lungs. Instead, he gathered Gwen's body in his arms and futilely tried reviving here.

"No, Gwen! Come on, snap out of it!" He smacked lightly at her cheeks, cradled the back of her neck and head in his arms and shook. Tears formed and couldn't be bothered to hold back. This couldn't be happening...and what the fuck did happen? She was in bed right next to him. He looked around the tent-no signs of a struggle, no blood anywhere else around them.

Ben started shaking. He put his beloved cousin down where she lay before, being as gentle as he could. It was only then that he noticed the dark spot on the sheets, the bundle that covered up her midsection on down. He sucked in a breath and placed his hand on the edge of the sheet and knew he was going to regret what he was about to do.

One quick tug of the fabric that had covered the two of them in the night and a half-second was enough to get the details.

"Fuck!" Ben cried, covering up Gwen.

It'd looked like her tummy had been disintegrated-a hole punched straight through her; whatever organs had once been there no longer existed, surely. The puncture was enormous to boot-from just below her belly button to slightly above her pubic area; she was nearly split in half.

Dazed, Ben leaned forward and, with his thumb and ring finger, closed Gwen's eyes. He managed to get to his feet and staggered through the tent flaps. Everything started sinking in, the dizziness intensified, his head pounded, and the morning sun was now blinding him. The white light stabbed at his pupils. His stomach lurched. Ben dropped to his knees and vomited. The sobs and tears and snot came along with it. He fell over to his side and curled himself up into a ball. Tears mixed and smeared with the dirt that ended up on his face

He felt pathetic-weak and utterly pathetic. Chaos, destruction, and death rarely got to him in the days and years since he first got a hold of the Omnitrix; Ben steadily became desensitized to it all. But this-this was totally different. Sure, all those lives lost in alien battles on Earth and in space did mean the world to him and there wasn't a day that went by that he wished he could've saved everyone, though he never shed a tear for them.

Gwen, on the other hand, was the love of his short life. Granted there were those who would huff and say he was too young to understand what true love was-he knew that was bullshit. He promised himself a long time ago that he would protect her at any cost-her life came before his own...and now...now she was dead. And it happened right next to him as he slept. For Christ's sake, she was dying right there and he couldn't even be bothered to wake from a damned dream... what kind of hero was he? What kind of person?... Lover?

"I'm so sorry, Gwen... I love you so much," Ben choked out between sobs. His eyes burned now and his nose was stopped up. He could only breath through his mouth now and inhaled large quantities of dirt and dust. "Forgive me... please."

A warm hand grasped his shoulder, shook him back and forth. Ben turned his head and jumped; he scooted back on the ground. Whatever else was out here was not friendly, he knew that for sure, it was going to come after him and kill him. But, it wouldn't get that chance, not by a long shot. It took Gwen's life and he was damn sure going to do the same for it, and, rest assured, it wasn't going to be a quick death either. He thrust himself forward and screamed at the top of his lungs: "You motherfucker!"

The sun got caught in his field of vision abruptly, sending him into a world of complete white, Ben emerged from it back into his world-inside the tent.

Wait... What the hell?

Ben's brain couldn't comprehend what his bloodshot eyes were telling it: that he was in the confines of his zipped-up sleeping bag with Gwen-Gwen-standing before him, stark naked, and face etched deeply with concern.

"Ben? Hey, it's okay, you're awake now," Gwen said, putting her arms around his exposed shoulders. He wriggled his arms out of the cotton cocoon and wrapped her up in his own tight embrace. He didn't bother holding himself back and rest his forehead on her shoulder and bawled his eyes out, mumbling something or other about him being sorry and kept repeating how much he loved here.

Gwen hadn't a clue what had been going on moments before, she herself had been fast asleep until Ben's movements had roused her into half-consciousness. His yelling and sobbing brought her out of her sleeping bag so fast that her adrenaline had already begun pumping and she had her arms raised for attack. Then she saw Ben, alone with her in the tent still, the only thing torturing him seemed to be his own imagination. One that had been taking a toll on him in recent weeks.

"It's okay, Ben. I'm here, I'm alright,"Gwen said, trying her best to soothe him. She cradled him in her arms.

Several minutes later, after he had calmed down, Ben was snuggled against his lover, who stroked him, running her soft fingers through his shaggy hair. Gwen could see that his eyes were beginning to open, he had briefly fallen asleep in her arms; his head now rested on her naked thigh. Ben looked up at her and offered a sheepish grin.

"It was that dream again, wasn't it?" Gwen whispered, rubbing the back of his neck with her thumb, massaging lightly. She wasn't forceful with the question nor did she press it, she let him answer on his own accord.

"Yes," he choked out. After a few seconds pause: "This one was different though, this felt so real... Usually I forget what it was about within a few minutes-like, I get the gist of it, but I can't remember any of the details. But, Christ, I can't get the picture out of my head-I don't wanna see it anymore."

Gwen kept a supportive grip on his shoulder and kept her voice light, "Is it about me?"

"Yeah, like with the other dreams... you died."

"...How?"

"You were killed by...something... I never got a clear look, but it stabbed you through the back with part of its body, like a stinger or claw or something..."

"And you're sure that it was the same as the other ones?"

Ben nodded, "Almost one hundred percent sure."

Gwen looked away from her cousin, her brows furrowed.

"What does that mean?" Ben couldn't help but ask.

"I'm not sure," Gwen answered carefully and offered no more.

"I love you, Gwen."

"I love you too, Ben."