Epilogue: Hair of the Dog

"So where are the boys now, Chip?"

"Dexter's in his third round of decontamination and Tennyson is asleep on your living room couch."

Professor Utonium, tired from a long day of carting around purchases made by his three daughters, tried his best not to sound too eager as he asked, "Is he still a tiger?"

"Last I checked. He's pretty much out cold."

"That's good. I guess." He looked around at the nearly-empty control center. "What happened to the Ben10 fan club?"

"Detention."

"The holding cells?"

"No. Green's office."

"Ah. Ouch. Were the police involved at all?"

"Only to the point where your son reminded them who bought the department ten new vehicles this past year. He's going to pay for all the damage to Mr. Smoothie. There's a crew there now."

"Ah," Utonium said again, wishing he hadn't asked and changing the subject quickly. "Awfully quiet in here."

There was not a trace of shame or regret in Morton's expression. He was too worn out for emotions. "I may have forgotten to tell the Kids Next Door to stand down from the alert. Number One is escorting Number Woo back to the jump platform so he can get back to Sector C."

"Number Woo?" wondered Utonium, thoroughly amused at the name.

"Chinese. About this tall. Kinda round. Smiled a lot. Brought back the hover board and the four kids that stole it. We have him to thank for the Code Pants on Fire."

"Code Pants on Fire?" exclaimed a passing operative, eager and ready to jump the gun and rally the troops in true KND fashion. "We have a Co-"

The former executive officer of the SSRN Seaview turned and unleashed a glare that practically left burn marks on the Kid's armor. Savagely he pointed at the hapless eavesdropper and barked, "Stow that talk, pal, or you'll find yourself in detention with Mr. Green!"

Thoroughly cowed, the Kid backed off with his hands raised in surrender and the color draining from his face. Utonium reached out and gently pushed Morton's hand down as the boy scurried away.

"Time to go home, Chip."

Struggling to turn off his glare, the blond said, "I'm not off duty yet."

"And I'm the President of DexCorp and I'm telling you to go home and relax."

"I-"

"Do you want me to make Roy's dream come true and throw you into detention? You know I will."

The very suggestion was enough to scare Morton straight. He and Green shared a weird sort of rivalry that was harmless to everything but their egos. There was no way Chip would ever put himself at his boss' teacher's mercy. Not and show up for work the next day.

"Yes, sir, I do."

"Come have breakfast with us in the morning. I'll make waffles and you can pick on Ben."

"Is that an order, sir?"

"Picking on Ben? I thought that was standard procedure."

OoOoOoOoOoOoO

". . . yeoleobun annyeonghaseyo! Dangsin-I nacheoleommeosjin haleleul haejwoss-eumyeon johgessda! Naneun olaen sigan dong-an chum – Margo, what exactly is this supposed to be?"

Moondove squirmed and wrung her hands nervously as she explained in a little girl voice, "It's about what happened when I tried to save Ben-chan's hover board from being stolen. Just like you asked."

Kilroy Green stared at her a long moment before shuffling through her ten-page essay, red pen in hand to unleash with corrections. So far he'd read aloud three fanciful, chatspeak-filled works of fiction in which each author was the innocent victim, forced by his or her companions to act against the one they loved and only going along to protect Ben's property and ensure its eventual, safe return. They had not anticipated Green reading their literary efforts out loud, and there wasn't a one of them that wasn't praying some cataclysmic natural disaster would hit and end their embarrassment and misery as they threw one another under the bus.

"What language is this supposed to be?"

More in-chair gymnastics ensued as the silvery fairy began to realize that just being cute wasn't going to save her. "It's Japanese, ne?"

The green-skinned demon looked down at the essay. "No, it's not. It's . . . I have no idea of what this is."

"No, really! It's Japanese."

"As learned from cartoons."

"Ani-" She shut up quickly when he stood.

"Margo." His horns curled slightly in annoyance and smoke began to seep up from his cape. "For the tenth time: I'm Japanese." He displayed her essay. "This is not."

He handed the papers back. Each was covered with red corrections, Margo's to the point of being obscured.

"Let's try this again, shall we?"

There were groans all around and everyone slumped further into their hard chairs.

"Mr. Green," begged Ruthinia Bludrayne, "can't you hand us over to DexLabs Security so they can arrest us or something? Pleeeeeease?"

The others looked up in hopeful anticipation. Being locked up in a prison cell would be a vacation by comparison to detention with Mr. Green. The fire demon blinked and smiled benevolently, the perfect picture of passive aggression as he torpedoed their hopes with ruthless accuracy.

"Why would we bother Security when we're all getting along so well? It's not that bad. Besides, I gave up my Saturday to spend with you four as a favor to Sgt. Morton and I told him I'd watch you all until he got back."

"When's he getting back?" asked Fireant in desperation.

"Let's see . . . it's four-twenty now . . ." He did some quick calculations. "Six o'clock tomorrow morning."

They stared in horror. Green smiled back. "Now. Let's get these re-written, children. English this time, everyone, and no chatspeak. I thought afterward you might like to work on some word problems. Doesn't that sound like fun? Dexter loves those."

Groans erupted all around. Their agony – and punishment – was complete.

OoOoOoOoOoOoO

Dexter, scrubbed within an inch of his life and wearing brand new clothes and boots and a lab coat that had been sterilized twice, still had a lingering odor of antiseptic clinging to him. He was glad for the smell – for him it was reassurance that he'd rid himself of the Mr. Smoothie taint. He was curled up in a chair in the living room with a dozen reference books within easy reach as he read up on biochemistry and waited for the Appoplexian to do more than mumble and snort in his sleep. Einstein, still in his traitorous whore mode, was curled up atop the alien and twitching as he dreamed.

It wasn't until after 9 pm that a flash of green energy consumed Ben for a few seconds as the Omnitrix powered down. Dexter set his book aside and regarded his friend. Ben was a fraction of Rath's size, and right now he looked thoroughly rumpled and pale. The brunet stirred, groaning slightly and dislodging the cat nestled atop him. Slowly Ben Tennyson opened his eyes and lifted his head, looking around in discomfort and confusion as Einstein abandoned ship.

"Welcome back, Mr. Tennyson."

Ben moaned and flopped down into the pillow, wincing. After a few moments of contemplating his splitting head, he squinted at the faint light and stared at Dexter with bleary eyes. "What the heck happened?" he asked hoarsely. "My stomach is - yeesh. I feel dead. My whole brain hurts."

"I believe it's known as a hangover."

"Huh? But I never drank . . ."

"You don't have to drink when there was catnip to be had."

He stared at the scientist, his mouth open and his green eyes wide as he remembered (most) of his day. His expression was so open and astonished that Dexter couldn't help but smile.

"Tell me I imagined what I'm thinking," begged Ben10. He twinged in pain and covered his aching eyes. "Please!"

"I could, but I'd be lying."

Ben let out a long sound of embarrassment and pain as he grabbed more throw pillows and hid his face from the world. His voice was muffled as he said, "Sorry. Sorry. Sorrysorrysorry, Dex."

"Hardly your fault, Benjamin."

"Rath is . . ."

"Rath."

"Yeah." He seemed to collapse further into the cushions. "I don't think you have a stupid last name."

Dexter lifted one of the pillows a bit to peer at him. "Well I do."

Ben made another sound and snatched the pillow back to smother his boundless shame. "Kill me now."

"No. I'd get grounded. I'm almost afraid to ask, but are you hungry?"

A moan.

"Thirsty?"

A groan, and then a "Maybe" emerged from the depths of the sofa.

"Something hot or cold?"

"Cold?" asked Ben hopefully.

"Water? Sweet tea? A smoothie?"

He perked up a bit. "Smoothie?"

"Smoothie," promised Dexter with a smile.

Despite his pounding head, Ben returned the smile with a grin of his own. "Hair of the dog that bit me?"

The redhead smirked. "More like what the cat dragged in."

"That would be you, then."

Dexter rose, picking up a pillow to throw at his friend. "You know the old saying, Ben - it's easier to catch a tiger than to let him go."

And he walked into the kitchen to make his friend a smoothie.

-Fin-