Title: His Mother’s Pupil
Characters: Helen, Henry, The Big Guy
Pairing: None (Gen)
Summary: Helen has taught young Henry far more than she realises.
Notes: Making a few assumptions here based upon what we know about Henry’s back story.
Helen tried to ignore the distraction, reasoning that the work she had in front of her was far more important than such a trivial little thing. But, her mind argued back, as the old German proverb said ‘he who prizes little things is worthy of great ones’. Just ignoring it for the sake of ease wouldn’t be a very good example to set to her young charge. Besides, it was going to keep bothering her if she said nothing.
“Henry?” she finally asked, pausing to allow the boy to look up from his desk on the other side of the study. “Please stop chewing your pencil.”
He huffed and grumbled something under his breath, but did as he was asked.
A few more minutes passed in all but silence, the peace only broken by the sound of her flicking through pages and him letting out ever more frustrated little sighs. She considered at length whether she should offer her assistance or whether he would prefer to work out the issue for himself. He was entitled to his independence after all. But, on the other hand, he was still just a child and a stubborn one at that. She didn’t think he’d be forthcoming in asking for help, even if he really needed it. It was her responsibility to decide when best to intervene and when to leave him be. Her gut instinct told her that this was the former.
She picked up a book, returned it to the shelf and collected another. As she walked back across the room, she tried to make her glance at his homework seem utterly casual, as though she’d simply looked out of idle curiosity and not because she checking up on him.
She wasn’t sure what he’d been asked to do, but she was fairly certain that it wasn’t to stab a dozen holes in a piece of paper with the tip of his pencil.
“Are you stuck?” she asked cheerfully, offering her help without explicitly saying it.
Henry let out an angry sigh of frustration, as though finally admitting defeat. He screwed up the paper and threw it across the room.
“No. Problem solved,” he said grumpily, folding his arms across his chest in a complete huff.
Helen put her book down, giving him a look that was half way between reproachful and sympathetic as she collected the paper from the floor. “And what are you going to tell your teacher, hmm?”
“Dog ate it,” he replied resolutely.
“We don’t have a dog.”
“Yeah, well if I said the chupacabra ate it she’d send me to the principle for being a lying smart ass.”
Helen couldn’t help but smile at that despite herself.
“So then,” she asked, pulling up a chair and sitting beside him, “what dreadful thing have you been asked to do?”
He looked at her for a moment, as if deciding whether he wanted to tell her. He likely understood that she wouldn’t let him just get away with giving up and that it may just be easier to be stubborn and refuse to tell her. In the end though, it seemed that he was at least willing to give it one last shot.
“Art,” he relented, clearly extremely unimpressed by the subject. “It’s stupid and I just don’t get it. What’s the point of a drawing anyway? I can’t do anything with it.”
“Well, there doesn’t have to be a point,” Helen reasoned lightly, a little sympathetic to his feelings. He was a very practical child and she could see why art would not be his thing. But she strongly believed in the benefits of a well rounded education and she wasn’t about to let him get away with ignoring the creative subjects simply because they weren’t his favourite. No one could be good at everything, but trying was character building.
“Art is used to express something important,” she went on to explain. “Things that you think or feel. It can even be just for fun.”
“No,” Henry reasoned, “pulling things apart to see how they work, that’s fun.”
“Not for my radio,” she pointed out dryly. “It hasn’t been the same since the last time you dismantled it.”
He grinned unashamedly at that.
“What have you been asked to draw?” she continued, placing a fresh sheet of paper in front of him, not wanting him to get too side-tracked.
Suddenly his demeanour changed and he shrugged, idly twirling his pencil against the desk and not looking at her.
“Something stupid,” he grumbled.
He glanced up apparently to check if that was a good enough explanation. From her slightly arched eyebrow he clearly guessed not.
“Something about a scary monster,” he confessed with a shrug, clearly trying to make it seem like it didn’t matter even though it obviously was bothering him. “I can’t think of anything to do.”
Helen hesitated a moment, not entirely sure what to say. She could understand where his issue lay. Henry’s experience of ‘monsters’ was rather different to most other children’s. Monsters weren’t things that frightened him in storybooks. Monsters were his playmates. They were the ‘pets’ downstairs who he helped to feed. They were the thing that tucked him in at night and read him bed time stories. They were his family.
A ‘scary monster’ probably wasn’t conceivable to him. An interesting monster perhaps or one that could be dangerous if not handled properly, but ‘scary’ was a whole different matter. Of course, there were some out there. Few and far between in her experience though, and Helen had always made sure that he’d never come across anything too horrible, remembering he was still a child no matter what his lineage.
A lineage that might one day mean that he became a monster too. She wondered, not for the first time, how keenly aware he was of that. If he thought about it or just ignored the matter and hoped it would go away.
Smiling a little, she ruffled his hair affectionately. “Just draw whatever you feel is right,” she advised before standing up and leaving him to it.
He may be a child but there were some things he would have to work out for himself.
“I got a C minus in my art,” Henry announced without preamble as he burst into the study. He didn’t knock before entering and Helen might have scolded him for his lack of manners had she not been so distracted by what he’d said.
“Well,” she reasoned, “we can’t be wonderful at everything. I assume you tried your best?”
“Course,” he said, brushing the matter aside to get onto what was really important to him. “So I can go out then? Only the Big Guy says that you said I’m not allowed out to play if I get below a C in anything because it means I didn’t work hard enough.”
“May I see the work?” Helen requested, pushing aside her own to give him her full attention.
He nodded, opening his school bag to pull out a slightly crumpled looking piece of paper, handing it over without hesitation.
It wasn’t a fabulous piece of art by any stretch of the imagination, but it was the content rather than the quality that caught her attention; two monsters and a child, all wearing party hats and doing what she presumed to be some dancing. All of them smiling and apparently having a great time. At the top, a comment was scrawled in black pen.
Inventive artwork, Henry, but not what you were asked to draw. Listen more carefully next time. C-
Helen smiled, suddenly very proud of him.
“Yes, Henry, you may go out and play.”
“Cool,” he said with a grin, picking up his bag and hurrying out. The Big Guy grunted in exasperation as the boy barely missed him, one entering the room as the other left.
As her faithful companion placed a cup of tea on the desk for her, Helen passed him the drawing.
“Stick this on to the fridge, would you?”
He frowned, curiously. “Why?”
“It’s a tradition when you have children,” she explained. “Keeping something that you’re proud of.”
She wasn’t sure, but she thought she saw him smile as he glanced down at the drawing on his way back out.
Left alone, Helen pondered once more on the nature of motherhood, unable to really decide in what capacity she was proud of Henry’s action. Was it as a mother or as a guardian? She had always treated him like a pupil, one she was incredibly fond of, but wanting it to be clear that he was not her son. Wanting the best for him but at the same time to keep her distance a little, protecting herself from the inevitable pain that the notion of motherhood brought up.
It was only now that she was beginning to see her mistake. Henry had been a good pupil, learning to see her as a mentor and someone he could trust. But he had also learnt too well the notion of a respectful distance and how to keep a proper relationship as one should with a well loved tutor. It saddened her a little.
She could have had a son, instead she had a pupil.
And a child of her own, frozen in time.
Her mind betrayed her at the connection, suddenly arguing with all sense that it was perhaps finally the right time to consider her son or daughter. John was long gone, he couldn’t harm them. And Henry would make a fine playmate and older brother, allowing her child to grow up in the presence of another instead of simply being surrounded by abnormals. Helen’s life was far more settled now, the Sanctuary meaning that she stayed in one place more often, and when she was away she now had people that she could trust with a child. The Big Guy was exceptionally dependable and Henry was proving himself to be a very reliable young man.
Yes, she reasoned, now was the perfect time and she may not get another. It was a practical decision. Certainly nothing to do with the knot of loneliness that constantly dug at her insides, grating more when Henry unwittingly reminded her of all she could have.
Not giving herself time to think further, to talk herself out of it, she pushed the work she was doing aside and walked resolutely towards her lab and cold storage.