by lightning bird
A/N All the characters in here are the propery of Cartoon Network and their respective creators. I'm just borrowing them and I'll return them when I'm done playing. My thanks to DesertHaze for her assistance!
On any number of levels, Professor Patrick Utonium considered himself the most fortunate of men. He had a successful career in the field he loved, a comfortable home, and three healthy, loving daughters. His life – in his own biased opinion – was as close to perfect as could be.
And it was about to get even better, impossible though that might seem. In an hour he would be driving to Townsville Family Court where he would be appointed the legal guardian of the most brilliant and endearing boy he had ever known.
Dexter had burst into their lives this past June with all the noise and explosive force of a firecracker, rearranging the normal order of things in ways the Utonium family had never imagined. At first he had been aloof and arrogant and defensive, but gradually the Utoniums had worked past the walls he had erected to reveal the anxious, lonely, and misunderstood child that he was. Even before he knew Dexter so well, the Professor had loved him utterly. A child prodigy himself, he had seen so much of himself in Dexter that he had known all along that he could help and guide his young friend and make life just a little bit easier for the boy. When Dexter's parents had failed him once again in a time of crisis, the Professor knew exactly what he had to do. The short-term goal of solving Dexter's financial woes in order to found DexLabs had been easily dealt with. His other plan to give Dexter the home and family he deserved was formed at almost the same time, though until today it seemed more like a dream than a possibility.
They were working together in the Professor's basement laboratory, putting the final touches on the last few null-voids to fill the initial order of fifty guns for the United States Army. At Utonium's suggestion, Dexter had fabricated the pieces in his laboratory and together they had assembled the weapons, the first things ever produced by DexLabs. Sitting back, Utonium let Dexter have the pleasure of finishing the last laser gun and fulfilling his initial contract as an entrepreneur.
It was the Saturday after Thanksgiving. After celebrating the holiday with his family, Utonium and the girls had picked Dexter up on Friday to spend the rest of the long weekend with them. To the astonishment of Dexter's parents, the boy had loaded the Professor's car with equipment and parts and paperwork, barely leaving room for clothes or even himself.
He had noticed Dexter was unusually quiet the past two days. Utonium had learned to read the boy's silence as well as his body language and he knew that Dexter was distressed. It could not be getting the contract finished – they were two weeks ahead of time. No, he knew by Dexter's expression and gestures that his parents had managed to upset him once again. They were very good at not following through with promises, and though his mother at least tried, both his parents were very good at hearing without listening when Dexter spoke.
It grieved Professor Utonium to see that they had the power to hurt Dexter. He was eleven years old, and though Dexter had the intellect of an adult, he had the emotions and needs of any child his age. While Utonium had the gratitude of Dexter's mother, he was well aware that the boy's father saw him as a rival – ironic, really, since Dexter's father had not wanted another child after his daughter DeeDee was born and resented his son's existence and intelligence and his friendship with the Utoniums. Lately the man had tried to worm his way back into Dexter's life, but it was far too late for that and Dexter rebuffed his clumsy efforts. They had clashed time and again, and he suspected that Dexter's unhappy silence had everything to do with his parents.
"So the other day I was thinking," he abruptly said.
"What about?" Dexter asked after a pause, shifting his attention from the nearly-assembled gun to the Professor.
Slowly, carefully, he said, "I was wondering . . . if it would be all right with you . . . if you would have any interest in maybe . . . possibly . . . moving to Townsville."
Dexter slid off the work stool to face him, his head angled to the side and a curious gleam in his blue eyes. "Do you mean move DexLabs to Townsville?"
He shook his head. "No. Just the owner of DexLabs."
Dexter stared, speechless.
"I was wondering if you would be at all interested for me to look into proceedings to . . . to have you named my ward."
"You mean that," breathed the boy.
"Yes," he replied just as softly, awed by the emotion he saw in Dexter's face. He knew the boy wasn't questioning his sincerity, but rather the idea that anyone would truly want him so much as to make him part of the family.
A moment later the Professor's arms and heart and senses were filled by the ecstatic child. Small arms encircled his waist and Dexter trembled with emotion so great he could not speak. He didn't need to – the fierceness of his hold was answer enough.
Setting down his coffee cup, he gathered his suit jacket from the back of the kitchen chair. No lab coat for him today – the event was too important not to look his best. He walked through the quiet household, welcome anticipation filling him as he tried to find the only other person in the house. He wondered at the feeling. It was very different from the smoldering loneliness that had driven him to create his daughters.
They had to leave soon to pick up the girls from school. His lawyer and Dexter's parents were meeting them at the courthouse. He spotted a white coat on the landing upstairs and rather than call again, climbed the steps to join him. Dexter was standing before a trio of pictures in the hall outside of Utonium's office, quietly studying the brightly colored double helixes of DNA. He glanced up as the Professor laid his hand on the boy's shoulder, then went back to contemplating the pictures.
"That's Bubbles," said Utonium, pointing to the central photo. "Buttercup and Blossom."
"You can tell?" wondered the redhead, impressed.
"Of course," he replied, smiling. "I made them, didn't I?"
"Professor Utonium! Welcome to Harvard University! It's a pleasure to have you back."
"It's good to be back, though I wish we could stay longer."
"We'll take what we can get. The medical department is chomping at the bit for your presentation. I hope you're ready for the Q&A session. Professor Boynton is showing up with all his myrmidons."
Utonium laughed and gestured down the hall. "If I can't handle Jeff and his posse then I'm sure my backup can."
The Dean smiled, looking beyond the tall man before her to the cluster of children that cut this visit short because they needed to be back at school Monday morning. Three girls and a boy – all close in age, all slender and well behaved – were looking at the portraits in the hall and quietly talking. The three girls hovered in the air, darting here and there like hummingbirds, while the boy remained earthbound and seemingly undisturbed by the marked difference between them.
"Are they all yours?" wondered the Dean.
He glanced behind him just as Dexter and Buttercup exchanged a few barbed words in their never-ending struggle to make the other see their point of view. There was no reason to go into details about the structuring of their family, and so he just smiled proudly and said, "Yes."
Her eyebrows rose. That he had made the Powerpuff Girls was common knowledge, but . . .
"I had no idea that you also ma- I mean, have any sons."
His smile grew wider as young voices rose up in pointless argument. "Just the one."
"What made you decide on girls?"
Utonium chuckled. "Two older brothers and availability of ingredients." He glanced down at the boy and gave his shoulder a little squeeze. "It will be nice to have some backup when the girls decide to gang up on me."
Dexter snorted faintly. "I doubt I'll be much help when that happens."
The paramedic listened intently, his expression betraying nothing as he held the stethoscope to Dexter's exposed back to check his lungs. Sooty, sweaty, emotionally and physically exhausted, Dexter was trying his best to be healthy and to suppress the coughs threatening to wrack his small frame. Utonium stood an arm's length away, ready to catch Dexter if need be. He could not think of many occasions when he had felt more anxious or guilty, and he felt a type of fear he had never experienced with the girls. They were practically invulnerable, and he was struck at how very fragile this boy was. First victimized by the Gangreen Gang, now injured and spent, Dexter must have been terrified. Utonium certainly had been.
"Cough," ordered the man, and Dexter obliged with a loud, long, and painful fit. Unable to bear it any longer, the Professor reached out and pulled Dexter's shirt down before gently rubbing his back. At his touch some of the tension seemed to drain out of the boy, and he slumped wearily. The paramedic finished up his examination.
Looking Dexter in the eye, the man said, "Well, you're tired, filthy, and darned lucky, young man. You're suffering from some minor smoke inhalation. It should clear itself up soon so long as you stay in fresh air. You're dehydrated, too, so keep drinking." He focused on Utonium. "Pick up some sports drinks on your way home and make sure he drinks as much as he can. Meantime there's some water out at the staging grounds. Grab a few bottles. Keep an eye on him tonight and call an ambulance if his condition takes a downturn." He returned his attention to Dexter with a smile. "Your father can take you home s'long as you promise not to scare him like this again."
He stole a swift glance at the Professor and then dropped his gaze back to the ground. He made no more effort than Utonium did to correct the paramedic's misunderstanding. Dexter's voice was very soft and wavered slightly as he said, "That was never my intent."
"Professor, I was wondering . . . you have three doctorates, but you prefer to be called Professor. Why?"
With a smile and a shrug he said, "I like to brag. It's a weakness."
Dexter looked at him, puzzled. "Brag? How so?"
"What's harder, teaching or learning?"
That gave the boy pause. "I . . . I don't know."
"Think about helping Buttercup with graphs."
"Teaching is much harder," he responded without hesitation.
"So who's smarter, the doctors or the professors who teach the doctors?"
"I see your point." Thoughtful now, Dexter gazed up at the smiling, dark-haired man. "Is that why the girls call you Professor?"
Utonium hesitated. "I'm . . . not entirely sure what made them decide to call me that. I suppose they picked up on the importance I give the title."
"Would you prefer to be called Dad, then?"
Utonium gently turned Dexter to face him, placing both hands on the redhead's narrow shoulders and leaning down so they could see eye-to-eye. The depths of this boy amazed him. This moment was worth all the hard work and testimonials and interviews and arguments and lawyers fees accumulated over the past two months. Dexter had no idea of the heartache and headaches Utonium had experienced as he had tried to convince Dexter's parents that sending him to Townsville was the best thing they could do for their son.
He sat across the kitchen table from Dexter's parents, outwardly composed while inside he was seething. He knew full well that Dexter had once again run afoul of his teachers. His own efficiency worked against the boy genius when he handed in a research paper the day after it had been assigned, and in greater depth and detail than any other fifth-grader should be able to produce. His English teacher accused Dexter of plagiarism, as if he wasn't more than capable of handling the assignment. Rather than address Dexter and his parents, Ms. Payne had told his other teachers and finally Principal Newton. Dexter, who expected nothing more than a grade, had all been blindsided by Ms. Payne's misconduct when sent to the principal's office in the middle of class. She had publically accused him, and Dexter was refusing to back down, demanding an apology and to have his name cleared.
To make matters worse, Dexter's parents had fallen back on their old habit of assuming he was in the wrong. A frantic, furious call from Dexter had brought Utonium straight here, and he had shown up uninvited and unannounced three days after he had dropped Dexter off after Thanksgiving weekend.
"How far are you going to let this situation continue before you realize your son is in a hostile setting?" Utonium asked.
"He's in elementary school!" exclaimed Dexter's father.
Utonium didn't even try to hide the glare he cast the blond. "Where he's been bullied and assaulted and now wrongfully accused. What will it take? He's being punished for doing his homework. He told me he might get suspended. How much more damage are you going to let these so-called teachers inflict on him?"
Frustrated and intimidated, Dexter's father shook his head. "I understand, Professor!" he exclaimed, though Utonium entertained his doubts about the veracity of that statement. "What do you want us to do about it?"
He told them.
"Are you asking for my sake or yours?"
"Both," Dexter said softly, dropping his gaze after a few moments.
He lifted Dexter's chin, the threat of tears blurring his vision as he looked at the beautiful little boy that was so nervous and hopeful. He smiled.
"You can call me Dad or Professor or Pat or anything you like, Dexter, but I would dearly love to have one of my children call me 'Dad.'"
"Dad it is then, Professor."
With a laugh he swept Dexter into his embrace, squeezing the boy tight. Dexter rested his head on Utonium's shoulder in a gesture the man had come to recognize as his way of expressing deep emotion. Dexter was happy, a little apprehensive, but more than words could say he loved the Professor.
"Do you have any idea of how much I love you?" asked Utonium.
He nodded. "Yes. You show me a thousand times every day."
His voice was just a faint whisper. "Yes."
An hour after entering the court house, Utonium and his three girls stood on the front steps of the building, braving the bitterly cold January wind as Dexter exchanged a last few words with his parents. His father looked resigned; his mother looked a little wounded. Straight as a rush, hands clasped behind his back, Dexter gave a final nod and walked back up the broad steps to where his new family eagerly awaited him. He did not look back, but his mother gazed up at Utonium and silently mouthed, 'Thank you.' He smiled at her, glad that at least one of Dexter's parents could see that this really was for the best.
He pulled Bubbles against his side in a one-armed hug, making her giggle. Buttercup grinned and Blossom clasped her hands in excitement as Dexter joined them. Utonium could not stop smiling, and he could not recall many occasions when he had felt as completely happy as right now. He studied the boy's face, looking for any sign of fear or regret. There was none.
"Welcome home, Dexter," he said, resting his hand on the redhead's shoulder.
Dexter covered the Professor's big hand with his own smaller one. "It's good to be home, Dad."
Bubbles tugged on her father's coat sleeve. "Professor?"
He knew what she was going to ask. "Yes, Bubbles. We can keep him."
Delighted shrieks rose up as the Powerpuff Girls finally gave in to their excitement. Utonium found his arms full of Dexter as the triplets crushed them together in a group hug. He laughed, knowing their joy was almost as great as his.
It was January 9th, an otherwise unremarkable day in the dead of winter. But to Patrick Lawrence Utonium, today was Father's Day.