6. Pico

As weekends went, it was pretty lousy. Not his worst ever, but pretty far down on the list. Max Tennyson really knew how to screw things up, over, and around. The only saving graces were seeing Ben and meeting Julie Yamamoto. Ben and Julie had stayed until late Sunday night. Julie had proven a huge hit with the Powerpuff Girls, and Dexter greatly appreciated the fact that she ceded her boyfriend to Dexter's grumpy self for the evening. Ben's presence and softly-spoken wisdom had gone far toward salvaging Dexter's mood. He knew that Ben was spending today with Julie before heading back to the front lines, and Dexter chided himself for begrudging her his best friend's company. Julie had been a paragon of patience and tolerance, and Dexter was being a selfish little troll.

Other than that, the weekend was as stressful as they came, to a point that Dexter knew the Professor was watching him like a hawk, ready to head off depression or sulking or, worst of all, a flare-up of side effects from the dycho-psycho overdose he'd been given three years ago. An OCD flashback was the last thing he needed right now, but he could tell it wouldn't happen. This wasn't the right combination of anxiety and exhaustion to trigger the drugs still lurking in his system. As it was, he'd had terrible dreams about being held by the Ur-Dexter, and he'd woken up with more memories of his captivity than he really wanted.

There were only two things for this caliber of funk: work or music. Sitting in his refurbished laboratory, Dexter thought for a little while, and finally settled on music. Work would always be there, but the mood for music was a rarity. Plus, it would give him a chance to pound on something and actually get results.

In short, it was a fine night for Pucchini.

Since his keyboard had been a casualty of his own personal Fusion Invasion this past July, Dexter had no such diversion in his laboratory. The Professor had bought him the last keyboard and had asked if he could wait until Christmas for a new one. Well aware of how difficult it was to find him suitable gifts, Dexter had agreed, but now he was feeling the lack. That left the piano in the family's suite and the one in the auditorium. If he started a concert in the house at this hour he was fairly sure he'd be dead before his body hit the ground once Buttercup woke up.

"Computress, let Security know I'll be in the auditorium," he said, standing. "Make sure no one's in there and send a bot to wipe down the piano."

"Right away, Dexter," she responded brightly, projecting a hologram of her robotic form right beside him.

Dexter paused, looking into the shadowy vastness of the laboratory he had created before carefully adding, "Thank you."

Her tone never changed, and it struck him how much her relied upon Computress and how desperate he had been to preserve her from destruction by his Fusion. It wasn't just because he needed her. There was a streak of pride and possessiveness there as well. If Dexter was the genius behind DexLabs, Computress was the means by which his vision came to life. She was as much responsible for all he had achieved as Dexter himself.

"The pleasure is mine."

"I know I promised you a new robotic mode since the first was destroyed. I can move the production schedule for it up if you like."

"That's not necessary," she assured him, her image moving along with him. "Doing so would set back production on the Terror by several weeks, and in the meantime I have no problem utilizing the DexBots for anything I need."

"Very well, but if you decide otherwise, I will make it a priority." As he walked to the elevator, Dexter pursued an issue that was nagging at him. "Computress, have you ever experienced loneliness?"

"I don't believe so, but I've never really been alone," the computer replied. "I know how to recognize it, but you never programmed me for experiencing that sensation."

"Be glad. Mandy believes that Pixel is lonely."

"Is it possible she's projecting her emotions onto him?"

"I thought of that, but I honestly can't imagine Mandy lonely for anyone."

"Very true. She is focused."

"And she does know people," he conceded. He moved in silence to the waiting elevator, finally asking, "Is it possible? A Nano being lonely?"

"Pixel is based on your personality."

He felt a pang, familiar and unwelcome, at what she wasn't saying. Ever the scientist, always pushing for answers good and bad, he looked at her squarely and pressed, "Do you think I'm lonely?"

"Yes."

He closed his eyes, unable to avoid the truth. The simplicity of the answer belied its impact. When he was younger, the misery of loneliness was such a part of him that until he met Professor Utonium, Dexter had no idea he was lonely. He knew better now, and that was a state he would not go back to ever again.

So how could he abandon Pixel there?

"Perhaps you're right."

OoOoOoOoOoOoO

"His name is Pico. It means small, or a trillionth of a part."

The little figure standing on Dexter's hand rocked back on his heels and gave Mandy a jaunty wave. Pico stood a little taller than Pixel, but he was just as cute and round and Ben had laughed when Dexter asked to use him as the base of the second Nano. He was dressed like Ben in a green jacket and high-tops, with fluffy brown hair and big green eyes. Unlike Pixel, he made no sounds, and instead of sparkles he preferred to say everything with a flash of green light, but he was as much a ham and flirt and drama nerd and he seemed to have more self-control than Pixel, if only a little.

"I thought you said Pixel was just a computer," groused Mandy, trying desperately hard not to fall in love with a hyper-kawaii, animated action figure all over again.

"He is," agreed Dexter easily, feeling smug over her battle for control, "but he's my computer."

An ecstatic, piping squee started on the far side of the room and grew in volume as Pixel spotted his instant bestie and zoomed over. A little streak of purple sparkles shot over Dexter's hand and suddenly Pico was gone, snatched up by Pixel. Pico's smile never faded as he was smushed in what had to be the happiest hug on record. Clearly Pixel couldn't express his delight enough, and Pico silently giggled at his antics and dancing. Then the two Nanos zipped around the office, and Pixel chattered and squeaked away at warp speed as he gave Pico a tour.

"No, actually, he's mine," corrected Mandy, already territorial. She paused, then asked, "Is he ever going to shut up?"

He shrugged, refusing to commit. "I never do when Ben's around."

Gray eyes narrowed. "You did that on purpose."

Innocence itself, Dexter looked shocked. "Would I do that?"

"In a heartbeat," growled Mandy. "You ever going to swap out that pink housing on my Null-Void?"

He stood, knowing this was his cue to escape. "You know, I would, Mandy, I really would, but I'm so busy right now. Maybe next week?"

She snarled, well aware it would never happen but far too pleased with Pico to put up a serious argument. The Nanos were already trying to build a fort out of office supplies, and they were scavenging everything that wasn't tied down. Dexter watched them for a few moments, then looked at Mandy with a smile.

"Do have fun."

"Go blow something up."

With a laugh he turned to leave when he felt a faint tap on his shoulder. Looking back, he found himself nose-to-nose with his tiny twin.

"Yes, Pixel, what is it?" he asked.

With a little squeak, the Nano flew up close and wrapped his arms as far around Dexter as he could, hugging his chest and giving him the tightest squeeze a being so tiny could manage, talking all the while. Dexter smiled, understanding the sentiment if not the language, and softly said,

"You're welcome."

-Fin-