Chapter Forty-Six: Trust in Providence
"Rex, how do you want to play this?"
"How does grab and go grab you? We'll have a better chance on the surface against that dino-sloth."
"Works for me."
"Good, 'cause I dunno about you, but I'm just about done in."
Jetray's raspy voice matched Rex's falsely cheerful tone. "Yeah, I hear ya. Starving, too."
Ruefully, Rex nodded in agreement. How many hours (and miles and EVOs and fights) had it been since that cheese steak sandwich in Providence's cafeteria? "Yeah."
Alien and EVO exchanged a determined look and a quick nod. They were ready to end this.
"Let's do this."
Down they plunged into swirling, dusty darkness, following the sound of battle to its source. The transport EVO had made good progress despite a pitched battle being waged on its back and it was a matter of just a few seconds before Jetray, the faster of the two rescuers, came upon them in a rush of dusty air.
It was a frenzy of action. Biowulf, despite having been thrashed by the Ur-Dexter, had climbed in front of Van Kleiss to protect his master from Six. Balanced atop the shaggy beast's neck and shoulders, the ninja was making good use of the limited space available to him, keeping out of range of the EVO's claws and preventing the rest of the Pack from joining in the attack. Behind Van Kleiss, Skalamander was holding on to a barely-conscious Breach. Everything and everyone was so covered in dirt from the explosion that they were all almost universally a reddish-brown color. The swirling motes in the air reflected the uneven light from above, casting the scene into an eerie, gloomy twilight. Spotting Jetray, Skalamander hissed a warning to his fellows and shot a barrage of crystals at him.
The shout escaped Ben before he could stop himself as he was forced to evade the salvo, twisting wildly in midair. The crystals smacked into the wood lining the mineshaft like bullets. At the same instant, Van Kleiss' mechanical arm snaked out and fouled the Aerophibian's wings. The impact knocked him out of the air, and instantly he slapped the Omnitrix logo on his chest.
Swift and nimble, Spidermonkey ran up Van Kleiss' arm as he retracted the mechanical limb. Right up in the scientist's face for a split second, the Arachnichimp let out a deafening shriek in Van Kleiss' ear before immediately launched himself at Biowulf as the werewolf lunged at Six. He landed on the EVO's back and head, knocking him snout-first into the Transport EVO's matted hair and pinning him with his feet. Two arms pummeled the werewolf, two arms ripped out chunks of gray fur, and Biowulf's day went from bad to worse.
"Behind you! Van Kleiss!"
At Six's shout he shot a spray of web behind him without looking, and Spidermonkey laughed in wicked glee when he heard a splat followed by Van Kleiss make a sound of disgust.
"That won't wash out, Mikey!" cheered the hyperactive alien, glancing back to see a glob of web on Van Kleiss' shoulder, catching in his long hair. "Try some, ugly!" he added, shooting more sticky web at Skalamander's extended arm. The web blocked the EVO's primary weapon, and Spidermonkey celebrated by jumping up and down on Biowulf and sending a few more handfuls of hair flying. He shrieked in excitement, his shrill voice echoing off the walls. "Biowulf! You smell almost as bad as your ride!"
"Ben! Six!" called Rex, swooping into view. He stopped short at seeing the mayhem Ben had spread. Rex had never seen Spidermonkey before, and at first sight the four-armed simian was weird to say the least.
"Tennyson! Quit kidding around!" snapped Six, more than ready to leave. His patience was worn down to nothing, and he very much wanted to put some distance between himself and this manic blue alien. It was hard to believe Tennyson and Spidermonkey were one in the same.
"Party pooper," muttered the Arachnichimp, backing up to join the ninja. "And really, you should have said 'monkeying around.' Grab and go, Rex! Grab and go!"
"Time to switch to decaf, pal," exclaimed the Latino, darting down like some overgrown dragonfly and grasping Six's arm. He swept past them, snatching his partner off the gigantic EVO. "Ben! Come on!"
"Gotta fly, guys!" called Spidermonkey. "It's been fun. Not really."
"Tennyson!" barked Six.
He turned, about to leap, when instinct told him to pause. For the length of a heartbeat he was still. He should have known. Spidermonkey, with the highest metabolism of any of his aliens, was also the most draining to maintain for more than a few minutes. He had come into this already hungry and exhausted and now –
"Oh . . ."
The Omnitrix made a faint grinding noise and flashed brilliant green and suddenly a very human Ben Tennyson was staggering and stumbling and trying to hold on to the EVO's shaggy hair as the beast kept climbing. He dropped to his hands and knees, almost nose-to-nose with Biowulf.
"Crap," he finished under his breath as the werewolf raised his head. Ben smiled his cheesiest smile and waved, not looking at the tufts of gray fur that stood out against the dino-sloth's ruddy pelt and the EVO's disheveled appearance. A deep-throated growl rose up from Biowulf, and he looked positively murderous as he started climbing forward. Ben shifted backwards, edging along the transport EVO's neck, but there weren't many places to run and hide even on a creature the size of an Apatosaurus, especially when it was moving at a steady pace. "Uh, yeah, about that hair-pulling thing . . . uh, REX!"
Biowulf lunged, swiping at Ben with his talons. Defenseless, Ben could do nothing but try to keep his distance and he was rapidly running out of dino-sloth.
"Ben!" shouted Rex. "Jump!"
There were few people in this world who could give him such an order and have him obey.
Fortunately, Rex Salazar was one of them.
He didn't hesitate. Trusting his friend, in Providence, he twisted about and dove off the EVO. There was a sickening feeling of helplessness as he dropped, but it didn't last for long. Darkness swallowed him, but Rex caught him.
Or mostly caught him. Rex's hands closed down hard on his jacket and one arm. He almost slid free of both as he scrambled for a hold on Salazar. Both of Rex's hands came to a stop behind the Omnitrix, and Ben was neatly suspended by one arm.
"Have you got him?" demanded Six from where he clung to the Boogie Pack.
"Yeah," grunted Rex. "Mostly."
"You got me," assured Ben breathlessly. "Go!"
"Calan! I need an armed escort!"
Chip Morton's barked order cut through the daze that had settled down upon him, jolting him back to the situation. They were out of the mine, but not yet safe. Would he ever be safe?
"Let's get out of here, sir. Can you walk?"
Dexter stared at his bodyguard without seeing him. He was lightheaded and thirsty and it was terribly dark and filthy in here and Ben had gone back into the mine and he could not stop thinking about kissing that thing and -
"Sir? Dexter? Don't do this. Don't shut down. Your father is waiting outside with the Maggot."
It went against his every instinct not to hide behind his mask of cool aloofness. He was so used to suppressing everything, locking away every vulnerability behind the hard, cold mask of a scientific prodigy and business tycoon. Really, emotional detachment was the only useful thing he'd learned in the six years he'd attended Huber Elementary School, and he was actually grateful to the bullies and idiots of all ages, grades, and genders that had made complete emotional control an imperative. It wasn't the sort of thing you could learn from books, and bullies made surprisingly good teachers.
But for once, he was too exhausted to erect the facade. This easily compared to being captured by his Fusion double this past July and when he woke up in that hospital in Jacksonville in the midst of drug withdrawal. Some things were too overwhelming to defend against.
Which was one of the many reasons he was so glad to have Morton.
"Chip, do you think this is wise? Maybe you should wait until the Professor gets back."
Dexter could hear Mr. Green's hushed tone as he intercepted Morton in the hall outside the kitchen. He wasn't surprised. While fetching the clippers he knew were in the upstairs bathroom, he had told Mr. Green in passing that Mr. Morton was going to shave his head for him. Of course Green would react to such a radical move. He was sitting on a kitchen stool, an oversized towel draped over his shoulders as he waited to rid himself of Van Kleiss' taint and for his tutor to see things his way.
Quietly Morton wondered, "What do you think his dad will say? He'll never get better seeing himself with brown hair."
There was a pause, and Kilroy Green sighed sadly, saying, "You're right."
Dexter knew the fire demon was terribly anxious for him and his wellbeing, as was everyone in the Utonium household (which had expanded to include both his teacher and bodyguard). Since getting back from Florida, Dexter had hardly left his bedroom and had not stepped foot outside once. If the Professor left the house, even to go into the garage, Dexter either needed to be in his room or one or both of these men had to be within his line of vision or he would panic. It had happened twice already.
He looked up at Mr. Green, so tall and elegant and kind, and hoped his teacher would understand. "It's my decision. If Mr. Morton doesn't cut my hair off, Mr. Green, I will. I suspect he'll do a much better job of it."
Pulling off his glasses, he closed his eyes as Chip got to work. The clippers hummed against his head and a soft cascade of hair brushed his cheeks as his bodyguard removed all traces of dark brown dye. Fifteen minutes later, he could feel every draft and puff of air against his skull. It was an odd sensation; he'd never had his hair so short in his life and he felt rather exposed and vulnerable. What would DeeDee say? The girls? The Professor? Dexter's hair had started growing in, allowing Chip to leave him with just enough stubble to give his head an orange tint. He would not look at the scattering of short brown trimmings that Kilroy quickly swept and vacuumed up, nor was he interested in seeing himself in the mirror. As soon as Morton was done, Dexter gathered up Einstein in his arms and retreated to his room to wait for his father. He didn't turn any lights on, but he curled up in the wingback chair and tried to let the kitten's purrs soothe him.
Not much later, the Professor returned home from the pharmacy. Opening his door a crack, Dexter could hear voices and sensed surprise. A few minutes later, there came a tap at the door and the Professor peeked in. He was smiling, but there was something like grief in his eyes as he took in the sight of Dexter with almost no hair. Dexter steeled himself, trying to be ready for anything from anger to laughter. Both would hurt terribly, and so he hid his fear as Utonium held him by the shoulders and looked at him this way and that, finally concluding,
"At least you're a redhead again."
"You're not mad?" Dexter asked in a whisper.
Patrick Utonium moved closer and wrapped Dexter in a hug. "No."
"Don't be mad at Mr. Morton. I wanted him to do it."
"I'm not mad, Dexter. Not at all. As a matter of fact, I'm going to thank Chip. I wish I had thought of this myself."
"Really?" he breathed, gripping the front of the Professor's lab coat. He was almost faint with relief.
"Really. I can't get mad at something that makes such perfect sense. Besides, it's your hair."
"No. This is my hair," he corrected, leaning into his father's hold. "Not what he did."
When the Powerpuff Girls got home from school, their responses to this bombshell trim were highly predictable and telling of each girl's personality. Blossom attempt to overcome her shock and be complimentary, desperately trying to find something positive but unable to stop staring. After a few seconds of wide-eyed silence, Bubbles covered her pigtails with both hands and flew out of the room. They could trace her route through the house and up the stairs to her bedroom by her piercing wail, followed by the door slamming. As usual, Buttercup brought her brand of humor to the situation as she gaped with outright envy, falling to her knees in the middle of the kitchen in a dramatic fit of pure want.
"Professor!" she all but screamed. "I need this haircut!"
"Solidarity is optional," Dexter murmured, quietly amused by their reactions.
"What happened to your hair?" asked Bubbles a little while later, almost in tears as she peeked into the room. She reached out and dared to touch the soft fuzz left to him.
Dexter looked down and shrugged. "It wasn't mine, Bubbles."