Authors notes: I want to thank Hapcelion for beta reading this. If there are any mistakes they are all mine. I also want to thank him for setting up a tropes page for Little Moments. You can find the link on my profile. It looks awesome, go check it out.
Chapter 8: Questions
It had only been five months since they'd stopped going hero, but there was so much that Gwen had forgotten. Not about fighting, or the magic. Those were both still good.
No, she'd forgotten how spooky everything was at two in the morning. Even with a full moon hanging overhead, the world was still all shadows. Both in the trees behind her and the RV park in front of her. There should have been lights on, she kept thinking as she stared at the homes. She knew that it was late, but someone should have been up reading, or watching TV. Instead all of the RVs were dark. She could have sworn that she saw the blinds move in some of the windows and she tried not to imagine that there were people in there staring back out at her.
She tried not to think it, but she pressed herself a little closer to the tree she was hiding behind anyway.
The police car that was parked at the entrance of the RV park was the only real source of light that she could see. Its lights were on, but the strobing red and blue didn't do anything to make things less creepy. Neither did the officer she'd watched pass by a couple of minutes ago. He'd shined his flashlight into the trees, but she hid long before he got to her.
Not that she wanted to hide. She glared at him as he walked by and wondered if he was wearing a mask, too. If he was another alien like the one who tried to shoot Michelle. Every time the flashlight went by she saw the flash of the laser and her hands shook. She'd barely gotten the shield up in time.
Another half second.
No wonder Michelle was terrified. No wonder she barely even wanted to talk. Gwen wanted to fix things. She wanted to so much, but now that she was staring at the officer she wondered...
Not now. Gwen couldn't worry about that now. Not with Grandpa missing. Not with Ben out there somewhere looking around while she waited with the heavy guns just in case something went wrong. It was an old plan that they'd used a dozen times before.
She'd forgotten how much she hated it, though, how she hated every second he was out of her sight. She'd hated nearly seven minutes worth of seconds so far she thought as the Omnitrix timer in her head counted down. She hadn't seen him at all since he circled the Rust Bucket twice with his nose pressed against the ground. She thought she heard him run by a couple of times, but he was always gone when she turned to look.
Also creepy. Insanely creepy.
She shivered and it was only a little because of the wind. It was supposed to be warm for another week, but she could feel the chill now. Winter was coming. She tugged at the hood of her borrowed jacket, but it wouldn't stretch far enough to warm up her nose, so she pulled the collar up. She could tell that it was Ben's soccer jacket the second she buried her nose in it. It was just this side of stinky, but it was warm enough that she didn't care.
It didn't even bother her that it smelled of sweat and grass. It should have. She knew that. It should have been gross, but it wasn't. The smell made her feel even warmer than the coat did and she had no idea why. She knew she liked it, though, and that she missed the scent when she pulled her face back out.
Nine minutes now. The Omnitrix timer in her head beeped a warning. She looked over the park for any sign of Ben. She listened with all she had for the smallest noise; a growl, a shot, a scream.
A whimper of pain.
She pressed her hands to her mouth and muttered, "Come on, Doofus. Don't make me rescue your sorry butt."
She listened with all she had, and she still barely heard the dry leaves behind her rustle. She spun around with her hands out. Her left traced the patterns for a shield while her right got ready to call up a tornado.
The thing that pounced at her was huge. It must have been three times bigger and heavier than her. She saw teeth and claws even as she jumped to the side. The monster hit the ground next to her in an explosion of dried leaves. She was just about to blast it when the blue magic that surrounded her hands shined on the monster. One with orange fur and no eyes that looked like a huge alien dog. It looked at her and let out a burst of little barking laughs just as a second explosion filled the woods.
An explosion of bright red light.
"Doofus!" Gwen said, her voice an angry hiss of a whisper as she swung her hand out and caught Ben on the shoulder with her palm. "You scared me half to death! I thought you were – What's the matter with you!" She kept smacking him the whole time she yelled.
"Sorry. Sorry," Ben said. He tried to sound sincere, she knew that he did, but she could hear the laugh slipping out of him.
"Sorry?" Gwen sputtered. "You're going to be-" she started as she brought her hand back up for another smack.
He caught her hand in mid-air. She tried to pull it free, but his grip was too strong. Well, that's what she told herself. She knew that if she really wanted to she could pull her hand free. Unless he didn't want her to. If it came to that it would be a mess of Kung fu fighting that she knew they couldn't do right now.
No matter how much he deserved it.
"I am," he said. This time he didn't even try to fight the laugh as he tugged her closer and his other hand circled her waist. "But I couldn't NOT do that."
She gave him a little disgusted sniff. She gave her hand another half-hearted yank before she settled for turning her face away from him. He went hero for the first time in months and all he could think about was scaring her? "You could have TRIED."
"What fun would that be?" He wanted to kiss her. She knew it. She could hear it in his voice. He wanted a victory kiss, but she didn't give him a chance. He could suck on her hoodie for all she cared. He didn't. Instead his fingers brushed against her hip and she still shivered. "You know you loved it."
"Jerk," she mumbled.
"So loved it," Ben said. He could tease her all night, he'd done it before, but they had heroing to do. She was just about to remind him when he bent down and scooped something up off of the ground. He stood back up and gave her hand a tug. "Come on, Grandpa's RV is clear."
"So you do remember why we snuck out," Gwen said in a grumble as they slipped out of the woods and hurried across the grass.
"They smelled human," Ben insisted as he stared at Gwen and sighed. Her face wasn't the least bit red anymore. It was still a little when they got in, but it faded the second he started talking about what Wildmutt found. He wished he could have seen her face when he pounced out at her. That would have been something. He hadn't gotten her like that in months and he missed it.
He missed it almost as much as he missed going hero.
Or having her sit next to him. She sat on the other side of the kitchen booth from him with her hoodie pulled back and her red hair spilling out in a mess. She had her hands bunched up in fists around the sleeves and her brow creased in thought. She studied his face with bloodshot eyes. Ben saw those eyes and yawned. It had been way too long since the last time he'd been awake this late.
He had to be the only hero on Earth who had to wait for his parents to go to bed before he could save the day.
"Stop that," she mumbled as she fought her own yawn. A fight she lost. She shook her head. "You're sure?"
"Wildmutt was. I followed their trail twice out there and they smelled human the whole time. At least until you zapped that," he said and nodded down at the white mask on the table. There was a huge scorch mark right between the eyes from where Gwen's lightning had hit it. "The cops must have missed it when they were cleaning up."
Gwen picked up the mask and looked at it. She brushed her fingers over the burned part and showed her teeth just a little in a savage grin. She flipped the mask over and stared at the thousands of little lines that covered the back, most of which were burned black. "What did they smell like after?"
Ben shrugged. "Take a sniff."
The look she gave him was just short of a glare, but she ducked her head down anyway. The looked she gave him when she yanked her head back was definitely a glare. "You could have just said they smelled like rotten squid. I know how that smells. Hurray for me."
Ben smirked. "Why should I have all the fun? Besides, at least you didn't have to carry that thing around in your mouth." He gagged a little at the taste. Not the memory, either. He still tasted it. "Grandpa better have mouthwash."
"Brushing your teeth twice in the same night? It must be bad."
"Same night?" Ben asked. "Try same week. At least I'll be able to skip next week's." Gwen's lips thinned to a line. "What? You never complained before..."
Her hand went to her mouth and she looked a bit green. "You are so gross." She covered her mouth with her sleeve and made a show of scrubbing her lips with his jacket's sleeve.
"Too late," Ben said. "My cooties aren't going anywhere."
"Disgusting," she muttered, but she was smiling just behind her arm. Then the smile faded. "Did they get Grandpa?" she asked in a whisper as she ducked her head down a little and he could have sworn he saw her sniffing the sleeve of his jacket and he rolled his eyes.
He warned her not to take his soccer jacket. He knew what it smelled like, but no. Sure, he knew she wanted a hoodie to hide her hair, but they could have found something else. She should have listened.
She never did, though. And watching her sniff the jacket now just bugged him.
It bugged him way more than it should have.
"No. Grandpa was gone before they got here," Ben said and he had to fight not to stare at her nose. Gwen closed her eyes slumped a little in relief. "He left and he was mad." He closed his eyes and remembered the trail that Grandpa had left. "His scent trail ended only a few feet from the Rust Bucket's side door, but I could smell the motor oil and the exhaust of a car. Grandpa must have loaded it up with something, and he took four or five trips to do it."
Gwen started looking around, and so did he. The new Rust Bucket was almost bare compared to the old one. It should have been easy to figure out what was gone, but they barely spent any time here. Gwen shook her head and looked so lost. "At least we know he got away before the four aliens got here."
"There were only three aliens when they got here," Ben said.
Gwen spun her head back around so fast that it must have hurt so she could stare at him. "What? How do you..."
"They all smelled different. Like people, but different people. I followed the trail they left when they walked into the park. The three of them didn't come up to the Rust Bucket, but they circled it a few times before they stopped-" Ben paused as he looked out the big side window and tried to remember which of the other RV's they'd stopped at. They all looked alike in the dark to him, and he could barely remember all the twists and turns he'd made in the ten minutes he'd spent wandering around. If he could just go out there and sniff them...
He would just look crazy now.
Finally he pointed at one of the RV's that he would have barely been able to see if the moon wasn't reflecting off of its windows. Windows that all faced the Rust Bucket II. "That one, I think. Three aliens went in there and four came out after Alan showed up."
Gwen's eyes went wide as she looked at the RV. "They've been here all along?" she whispered. He could see the magic spark around her hands as she got ready for a fight.
"I don't think so," Ben said, but he could almost see the monsters gathering around them. "Their scent... I smelled something like the stink in the mask on them when they showed up, and the RV stunk like it after. It stank of that and like someone inside was scared."
Whoever the man was he was beyond scared, but Gwen didn't need to know that. Wildmutt took one sniff and just started whimpering as his every instinct said to run away. Ben had to make himself stay there and keep sniffing, but his claws dug at the ground the entire time.
Gwen started to get up. Her eyes were still wide, but now... "They might have hurt someone! We have to..."
He caught her hand and it was still cold from the night air. "Its empty. All the scents are cold."
She looked at him and her eyes welled up as she squeezed on his hand. "They...?"
"No," Ben said in a small voice. He knew what she meant and he didn't need to hear the word out loud. Or for her to say it. "I know what that smells like. It's just empty. I don't know what they did."
She stood there for a second and just stared out the window, her green eyes shining. He didn't let go of her hand, though. Not even when she sank back down into her seat. He just wished he'd pulled her over to his instead, but that was distracting. Way too distracting.
She sat there for a long time as her eyes went from the window to the mask at the table. "I don't... I don't even know where to start," she said in a pained voice. She looked around and sighed. "Grandpa was the one who - He must have... I'm going to check the back. Can you check out here?"
Ben shook his head as he looked around. He couldn't stop the shiver that went up his back, but he could ignore it. "I'm going to make another run in case I missed something." He shoved himself to his feet and turned for the side door.
He almost made it before he felt her hand on his arm. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing's wrong. I just want to make sure I didn't miss anything." Ben didn't turn around. He didn't want to see the look in her eyes that he knew was there. "Besides, I remember when you would have jumped at the chance to get away from me."
That's all it took. A word. She didn't even have the decency to make it seem like she was mad. It was easier to ignore her when she was mad. He looked around. The RV almost looked like the Rust Bucket. The seats were in the same place, and the table, but...
But the walls were the wrong color. "It doesn't smell right," Ben said as he looked around. Nothing about the place was right.
Gwen let out a worried little noise. "You think they were here?"
"No," Ben said with a shake of his head. "It... The Rust – Grandpa's RV doesn't feel like home anymore." It didn't even smell like home. He'd circled it twice as Wildmutt to try to find some little bit that smelled like the old Rust Bucket, but he couldn't. Even Grandpa smelled wrong. Worried. Tired.
"This was... It was the only place that ever did. The only place I belonged, you know? I remember walking over after school just to get away from everyone. I helped Grandpa rebuild the engine on this... on that table. And I almost made annoying you an Olympic sport in it."
"So did," Gwen said with a bit of a laugh.
The whole Rust Bucket was one big memory and he never even thought about it until it was gone. He looked around the new one and he kept thinking 'I annoyed Gwen there, played checkers with Grandpa there, argued with, talked to, sat with, tried to figure out the watch and watched Gwen puzzle over her magic books over there.'
All the best things.
He glanced over her shoulder at the back room and remembered seeing her standing there in the doorway in her blue dress and just smiling at him while he stood in front of her all dressed up. It was the first time he even imagined that there might be more...
And now it was all gone.
Maybe if Grandpa got an RV that looked completely different it would be easier, but this one was too close. It was so close it made the differences worse. Ben only stopped by four times in the months since Grandpa bought the RV and it wasn't just because Grandpa was gone all the time.
"This isn't home and I just..." The last time he'd seen his home it was lying on its side and smoking. His last memory of it was wondering if Gwen and Grandpa were both...
He waited for Gwen to make fun of him. It was stupid, he knew it. It was just a place. A big car, basically. His parents had gone through half a dozen cars since he'd been born and he didn't care about any of them. He waited for her to say he was being stupid because he knew he was.
Instead she stood up and put her arms around him. A part of him still wanted to shove her away. More wanted to pretend that none of this bothered him at all and laugh at her for thinking that it did. If she was anyone else he would have done just that.
But she was Gwen.
"I miss it, too." She put her head on his shoulder and sniffed just a little. "I miss it, too, Doofus. I know it's not the same, but... but that doesn't mean it can't be good. Maybe after we find Grandpa and kick butt the three of us can go somewhere. Get it ready for next summer."
"The mountains?" It was the first thing that came to mind. They never got to see snow. Not real snow anyway. Bellwood just got cold and wet in the winter. Not snowy. The only time he ever saw it was when his parents went skiing and it wasn't anywhere near as much fun with them.
"We'll go during winter break and have the biggest snowball fight ever."
"And I'll kick your butt," he said as he laughed as his lips found hers. "Just have to kick bad guy butt first."
"And find Grandpa," Gwen said. "There's something I need for a spell, but I can help you look out here first."
He shook his head. "Nah. I'll be good."
Her lips found his one more time. Cherry, he thought just before she pulled away. He watched her as she slipped away and walked to the back. He didn't move until she vanished from sight. Then he went to the side door. He knew what he said, but he wanted out.
But Grandpa needed him. And Gwen. He sighed and started searching.
It took him twenty minutes to find anything. Not the secret compartments themselves. No, those were easy. He and Gwen spent hours trying to find them all after they found out they existed in the best treasure hunt ever. They were all in pretty much the same place in the new RV, too. He found them, but they were empty.
Except for the last one he checked, of course. The one hidden behind the clock. There was a small disk hiding inside. He picked it up and it fit right in the palm of his hand. He'd never seen the disk before, but he knew the symbol on the front. He should, this was the third time he'd seen it today. It was the same green and black hourglass symbol that was on the Omnitrix. "This is the gold Sumo Slammer card all over again. One of a kind my butt."
He stared at the symbol and knew he should be careful. That it could do anything if he tapped it; explode, change him into something, start playing Pong. "I should do the smart thing," he said to himself.
He tapped the symbol instead.
At first the disk didn't do a thing. Then it hummed to life as the symbol started to glow. He thought he saw a flash of light, but it was gone before he could even blink. "Authorized User detected," it said in a woman's voice. "Benjamin Tennyson. One message waiting. Play, yes/no?"
Ben stared and he felt the word yes on his tongue. Except it might explode after he played it. He knew it happened. TV said so. He went to the back first. "Gwen? Got some-" the words died in his mouth as he stared.
And not at the mess he found.
Well, a little at the mess. After all the years of Gwen complaining about him being a slob, it was always fun for him to see the messes she could leave behind. She'd torn apart the back room apart. The closet door was open and so was the panel hidden in the back of the closet that hid all sorts of Plumber tech in little niches.
All of which were empty.
After she found that she'd gone through every drawer in the room and spilled everything she found out all over the floor. Grandpa's clothes, pieces of paper, small pieces of stuff that looked a lot like the souvenirs Ben had kept over the years. He could understand digging through that stuff, but not-
"Don't think about it," he heard Gwen mumble to herself as she dug through the last drawer of the dresser. She had no idea he was there. He knew that if she did... She was on her knees and her arms were reaching in as deep as she could. "Thinking about it means mental scars and therapy. Just ignore and repress."
Ben shook his head as she shoved more white things out of the dresser. "Um, Gwen. I want to find Grandpa Max, too, but... What kind of clue do you think you'll find in his underwear drawer?"
"And hello therapy," Gwen muttered as she hung her head and slapped at the und – clothes. Just clothes. "I'm not looking for a clue-"
"That does not make me feel any better."
"Not making this an easier."
"You know you're going to have to wash your hands before I let you touch me again, right? And that's me saying that."
"We both did laundry on our trips and its all clean. I don't know why you're acting so grossed out by this." She tried to sound so dignified as she said it, but he saw her shudder just a little.
"Do I want to know what you're looking for, or should I just start poking my eyes out now?"
"Something for a location spell."
"In his drawers?"
She banged her head on the dresser and sounded miserable. "It has to be something personal."
"His...? Magic is gross."
"Sure," Ben said, and he drew out the word just to make things worse.
"I'm going to hit you. You know that."
"Not until you wash your hands."
"Did you find something, or did you just want to bug me?"
"Can't it be both?" he asked as he walked up and showed her the disk. "It has a message." He didn't even have to ask if she wanted to see it, she spun around so fast that her hair whipped around. He tapped the screen and there was another almost flash of light.
"Authorized users detected. Benjamin Tennyson and Gwendolyn Tennyson. One message waiting. Play, yes/no?"
"Yes," Ben said. He expected a voice message. Instead the top of the disk shimmered and a foot tall Grandpa Max appeared over it. If he wasn't so short and see through Ben would have thought his Grandpa just beamed into the room. He looked almost the same as always, except his hair was a bit grayer when Ben saw him at the soccer game a couple of days ago.
How was it just a couple of days? It seemed like months.
"Ben, Gwen. If you two found this then you're either snooping around again or you're looking for me." He paused for a second and his eyes sparkled. "If you're snooping, you aren't going to find any snacks back here. There might be some in the cupboard if you look close enough." He sighed. "If you're not then you should know that there's renewed alien activity on Earth. Its nothing you have to worry about. We're dealing with it."
The hologram blinked out for a second. "That's-" Ben started to complain when the hologram came back on.
"Oh, and Ben. You don't have to worry about the Omnitrix either. I have it and its completely safe. I put it somewhere no one will ever find it."
There was another blink, but this time no one said a word. A moment later he came back. Now Grandpa was rubbing the back of his head and he looked older. "I might have to go away for a while. I'll be back, but I just wanted you both to know that I'm proud of you. And that I'm glad that you've found..." - he paused and looked around as if he just realized that he didn't know who might be watching - "Take care of each other. I love you both. Max out."
The hologram vanished. Ben waited for it to come back. It didn't. "Message end. Repeat?"
"He's in trouble," Gwen said.
"He knows I have the watch," Ben said as he nodded and his mind raced. He tapped the disk. "He wanted... if someone found this he wanted them looking for him instead of us. Me."
Ben nodded again as he slipped the disk into his pocket of his jeans. There might be more. He wasn't as big a computer geek as Gwen, but he would find it if there was. And if he couldn't he knew Greymatter or Upgrade could. Gwen looked at him and almost said something before she turned back to the drawer and started digging again.
He moved up to help, but before he could her eyes lit up. She yanked her hand back and there was a small box in her palm. A box covered in a blue velvet. A scorched blue velvet. "I thought - when I couldn't find it - I thought they were lost with the old Rustbucket," Gwen whispered as she brushed her finger across the box.
"What is it?"
"I found them when I was seven," Gwen said in a whisper as she flipped the box open. Something glittered inside. Two somethings. Ben stared at the gold for a moment before he figured it out.
One was a plan gold ring that looked like it would fit on Ben's thumb. The other was smaller and just as plain except for a couple of small diamonds at the top. "I thought they were so pretty. Grandpa found me playing with them and he looked so mad for a second. His whole face turned red. I saw him and I just jumped. The rings didn't fit at all and they went flying and I freaked because I thought I lost him and he already looked so mad. Then he just started laughing as he picked me up so we could find them. "
Ben rubbed the back of his head and had the odd need to back away as he stared at the rings in her hand. "Are those...?"
"Grandpa's wedding ring and Grandma's engagement."
"Grandpa doesn't wear rings. He doesn't do bling at all."
Gwen brushed her hand over the bigger ring and her voice sounded hollow. "Not anymore." Her hand moved over the smaller one and slipped it out so she could stare at it.
"Where's Grandma's..." Ben started to ask before he realized. "Oh."
Gwen nodded as she held the engagement ring. She almost slipped it on before she blushed and squirmed. She slipped it back in the box and pulled out the bigger ring. Ben should have said something to make her blush more, but he couldn't think of anything. His mind was blank. "I need something personal for the tracing spell. Something that means something to him. Something special," she babbled without looking at him.
Or Ben thought so anyway. He was too busy not looking at her to know for sure.
"I don't know why. I didn't back in-" her voice just stopped. "I don't know why, but it should work. Just give me a second," she said as she sat down on the floor. She carefully set the ring on the floor in front of her as she sat down and got in one of the meditative poses Sensei taught them. She pressed the flats of her feet together while her hands hung limp at her sides with her thumb and index finger pressed together.
Ben sat down across from her and listened to her breath in and out. He just crossed his legs, though. Meditation was never his thing. He watched her and wasn't the least bit surprised when he saw the ring start floating in a cloud of blue light. She opened her eyes, and they glowed a little, too. She looked almost at peace for a second.
And then she scowled. A second later a bead of sweat dropped down her face. The ring started spinning in midair as the light pulsed. Pulsed and vanished. Ben caught the ring out of the air just before it went flying, and it felt hot in his hand.
"Damn it!" Gwen shouted as she slammed her fists into the floor. "Why won't it work?"
Ben jumped more at the cursing than the hitting. He could count on one hand how many times she'd cussed in front of him. "Gwen?"
"I've tried ever since – It doesn't work like it did then. I don't know what I'm doing wrong! I shouldn't even need the ring! I didn't-"
"Gwen," Ben said and he reached out to touch her.
She slapped his hand away as she brought up her knees to scream into them. The second she stopped she took a deep breath. "The books. I need my books. If you go XLR8 we'll go get them and I'll figure it all out-"
She shook her head. "I can do it tonight. I'll be fine. I'm not even tired."
She looked tired a half an hour ago. Now she looked ready to fall over even if she wouldn't admit it. She never would. So Ben yawned. He was going to fake it, but he didn't have to. "I am. Grandpa's okay. We can find him tomorrow. Besides, Mom and Dad will figure out we're not in bed soon."
"He's counting on me," Gwen said through her own yawn. Both of their yawns went on forever and she was rubbing her eyes before hers was through. "You're counting on me. I'll be fine."
"Grandpa would tell you to go to bed."
Gwen scowled. "Would not."
"So would." He shrugged. "But if you're not tired, neither am I. I'll stay up and work on the disk. Maybe there's something else in it."
"No. Go to-" She stopped and gave him a look before she nodded. "I need the ring." Ben held it out, but she shook her head. "No. I'd just... If I lost it I'd never-" She scratched at her neck and her face lightened just a little. He wondered why as she reached inside her coat and her blouse. Then she pulled out a thin gold chain. She kept pulling until the necklace came free, including the stone Keystone of Bezel at the bottom. The one he'd given her last year. She pinched the chain and nodded. "Here. It'll be safe on this."
He waited, but she didn't move. Finally he waved his hand at her. "Well, take it off."
"No." She gave him a shy look as she chewed on her bottom lip. "No. You put it on. You have to take it off."
"I put it on at Christmas. You haven't... Not since last Christmas?"
Gwen squirmed. "You put it on. That's how it works."
It should have been weird. Heck, it was weird, but...
Ben made sure he let out an annoyed sigh as he slipped behind her and reached for the little clasp on the back. His fingers brushed against her neck and she shivered just like she did when he put it on the first time. "Not even...?" He asked and he froze at the word shower. He froze and then he shoved the thought out of his head.
She didn't looked anywhere near him when she mumbled, "Its gold. It was fine."
Ben nodded because that was easier than figuring out girl logic. He slipped the ring on the chain and it clinked when it hit the stone at the bottom. He closed the necklace again without saying a word and she patted the ring and the stone with her hand.
"We'll find him tomorrow," Ben said as he brushed his finger against the nape of her neck again because she was ticklish there. He knew she was still thinking and that the only way to stop that was to distract her. "Either your way or mine."
She shivered again and it worked. The pinched thinking between her eyes look went away even if the worry didn't. "I know."
"Good," Ben said as he stood up. "Let's go to bed, then."
"Yeah," Gwen said as she took his hand and let him pull her up. She glanced at him as she yawned again and put her head on his shoulder. "I wish."
So did he.