Paradox didn't know how many times he'd been in that endless hallway. Just like so many things in his life, it seemed so insignificant. Wide enough for five people to stand side by side, with no ceiling in sight, just a blank white color that seemed to stretch off into infinity.

(For time and space ultimately has no color. For oblivion has no color.)

Picture frames were on the walls, thousands of them standing right next to each other. Every single one of them was a uniform width and stood apart a uniform length, but that was where the similarities ended. Paradox walked in front of one and took in the green and black metallic frame. He took in the picture's darkening sky and tranquil forest, and he smiled at the young, familiar boy walking through it.

(For portals through time and space were not always bright flashes of light and rips in the space time continuum. Sometimes, a simple picture could be all the portal you needed.)

Short brown hair and acidic green eyes, a thin body clad in baggy clothes, the iconic watch on his left arm absent. It was a scene Paradox had seen a million times before, the story of a small boy stumbling upon his destiny and slowly, eventually, becoming a beacon of light.

(For the great heroes of myth were not born heroes. They started out as ordinary humans, just like you and I.)

It was a story as old as time itself, and it was one Paradox would not soon tire of.

He took a fond look at the boy, who had his head tipped to the sky in wonderment. Whoa, a shooting star, Paradox mouthed along with him, and he beamed as the boy took a startled gasp and ran away as the supposed star veered off course and crash landed on Earth. From there, the time traveler could recite what happened next with his eyes closed: overcome with curiosity, the young boy will peek his head over the edge of the crater. The ground will shift underneath him, and he will fall, sliding down the earth and landing in front of the space pod. The pod will open up, revealing an odd, bulky watch-like device. The boy will reach over to touch it, and the device will literally jump onto his wrist and stay there. The boy will panic, attempt to detach the device, and then turn into his first alien. The rest, as they say, is history.

(For not all stories begin within a tempest, within a holy battle. Sometimes, they begin from an accident. Sometimes, the story begins with a young boy named Ben Tennyson.)

Stepping past the frame, Paradox moves on ahead, crossing the hallway and stopping in front of a blue and pink one. The smile on his face turned into a smirk when he watched Gwen Tennyson accidentally stumble upon the Omnitrix nearly exactly the same way her cousin did. He knew this timeline was one in which Ben had his memories of his Omnitrix, and he used them to both help and tease his cousin.

Paradox's smile began to slip when he remembered just how far Ben's memories went in that universe. He only used the Omnitrix when he was ten, after all; after that, he was practically of no use to his cousin when it came to defeating enemies, and they knew it too. Jealousy and anger would cloud them both, one trying to help the other but accidentally lacing her words with pity and condescension, the other angrily shaking off her help, the situation getting worse and worse-

Paradox quickly walked away.

(For the time traveler was a person too, and people don't like to dwell on bad memories.)

Paradox raised an eyebrow at a dark blue frame, eyeing the young boy in it. Blue eyes instead of green, gelled hair in place of disheveled, gold instead of black- Ben 23 was the result of taking 10 year old Ben's mentality and not giving him a strong parental figure to curb his more selfish tendencies.

(For putting your faith in something as fragile as a human body was foolish, even if it was for sentimental reasons.)

And yet… Paradox saw potential in this Ben. All the Bens had it, at one point or another. Ben 23 was just another young child in need of guidance, and in that world he would get it, from one Ben to another.

With a certain amount of levity, Paradox moved on, this time to a blue and green frame. He had to let out a small chuckle at this story; Gwen Tennyson gets the Omnitrix, but Ben Tennyson gets the magic powers. Swapping their roles was always an amusing thought, the Omnitrix in the hands of the logical and intellectual Gwen, with magic in the hands of the whimsical and free spirited Ben. Whenever the time traveler interacted with the two in this timeline, he had to wonder if perhaps the universe should have made this the original setting, not the other way around.

(For the boy can become a hero in so many different ways. The Omnitrix was just a gadget, after all.)

With a fond shake of his head, Paradox walked to another frame. This time, he frowned.

Brown hair spiked up into a point, angry orange eyes, and a manic smile. A small settlement in a desert wasteland, with water so very scarce. A world created when Maltruant got his hands on young Ben Tennyson and fed into the darker parts of his personality, the parts that were a part of all the Bens personalities.

(For Ben Tennyson was not always a hero; like all children, he was selfish, and occasionally used his powers for his own gain. Not all heroes were born altruistic, all all.)

(But, if all heroes were born without darkness inside them, then the hero's journey would become so incredibly pointless, wouldn't it?)

There was another frame next to Mad Ben's, of a white haired version of the child, with cruel red eyes.

Something went wrong, horribly wrong.

Another frame, this one of a boy with downcast eyes hidden inside a black hood.

It wasn't supposed to be like this.

Another frame, this time of moving, decaying body, his torso wrapped in a straitjacket, stumbling inside a hospital-

No, no, NO!

Paradox gasped and backed away, clutching at his heart. Sweat was on his brow, and he shook, nearly collapsing to the ground.

(For every good Ben timeline, there were at least two bad. For Ben Tennyson was not born a hero.)

Slowly, ever so slowly, Paradox stood up on steady legs. Taking long, deep breaths, he made his way further down the hallway, putting the pictures he had just seen as far away from his thoughts as he could.

He smiled again at the next frame.

Green jacket with the ten symbol at his heart. An Omnitrix that looked more like a proper watch. The heartwarming embrace he had with his long-lost grandfather.

Something went right, wonderfully right.

Another frame, this one depicting a messy bedroom. Ben Tennyson was sitting on the floor, a girl dressed in purple and black right next to him. Half of her face was covered by black hair, and her visible eye showed a gray so sharp it was practically ice. But there was warmth in the room, coming from the camaraderie between the two.

A timeline with its ups and downs, but a decent one nonetheless.

Another frame, this one of Ben Tennyson and Rook Blonko in a derelict starship. Maltruant had been defeated, if Paradox recalled correctly, and Ben had shifted through every single one of his alien transformations in the space of a few seconds, copying every single strand of DNA in the Omnitrix and giving it to an experimental universe. In the picture, the two boys were staring wide-eyed and slack jawed as they saw the universe- their universe- being born right before their very eyes.

Another timeline to smile at.

Another frame, this one of a more relaxed Ben. He was sipping at a smoothie, and he laughed at a joke his Revonnahgander partner made. There was a girl with them, a young half Kraaho with pink skin and hair and violet eyes, whose entire body language told just how exasperated she was with the two boys. And yet, despite that annoyance and despite the chill she felt even with all her heavy clothing, there was clearly a certain fondness in her gestures as she talked to them.

Another one with so much potential.

Another frame, this one of a sixteen year old Ben in front of a chalkboard. He was pointing at an equation quizzically, asking the seventeen year old girl next to him about it. The girl stopped writing, chalk in hand, and her ice blue eyes skimmed the board quickly. Muscular bronze skin, thick black eyebrows, and scruffy hair that ended just after her chin, the spikes gently curling under her head with two of them framing her face. There were horns jutting out of her head, white cat-like things that were easy to miss. Everything about her screamed of aloofness, yet she gave the boy a fond smile as she gave an explanation, her fanged teeth flashing.

Ah, so he's learning in this one. A possible success.

Paradox smiled and turned to another frame, this one of a futuristic Bellwood. Ben 10,000 stared out back at him, grinning and waving. The time traveler couldn't help but wave back. This was one of the best possible outcomes Ben Tennyson could have, and it was a storybook ending Paradox loved to read over and over again.

(For Ben Tennyson was not a good person by default. And yet, he does the right thing not because it was his job, but because it was the right thing to do. And that is the most extraordinary thing Ben Tennyson has ever done.)

There was a bright flash of light right next to him, and Paradox started. And then he laughed at his surprise, because this was something he shouldn't have been surprised at. He'd been in this hallway too many times to count, after all.

A new frame was forming- was it black, or red, or green and yellow? So many colors to choose from- this one of uniform width and a uniform length away from the others. And yet, the picture forming would be unique, different. A brand new branch on the tree, a brand new alternate universe.

It was another story waiting to be read. And there were so many ways for a story to be told.


Inspiration taken from the Harry Potter series, the Doctor Who TV show, the Code Geass anime, and the video game Life is Strange. All AUs shown in this story are either from canon, my own personal headcanons, or from AUs I've thought up and will probably write about in the future. And of course I would mention my own stories; the Ben 10 franchise openly acknowledges alternate universes. Who's to say my fanfics, or yours, aren't canon? Honestly, this is probably the greatest gift this series has ever given us.

It's been a great ten years, guys. Let's hope the next ten are even better.