Special Recognition
By Telanu Rating: G
Fandom: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005 Burton film)
Summary: Willy Wonka has so much to teach Charlie Bucket about running a business.
Disclaimer: Not mine, no money.

As Charlie Bucket rounded the corner, he saw Willy Wonka adjusting a large portrait in a frame, wearing an equally large smile. And as Charlie came closer, he saw that the portrait in question was, in fact, of Willy Wonka himself. Portrait-Wonka was wearing as big a smile as Real Wonka was.

Above the portrait hung a gold plate reading "EMPLOYEE OF THE MONTH."

"Oh, hello there," Mr. Wonka greeted him, giving the frame one final adjustment. "Say, what do you think? I think it's a splendid likeness, just amazing, really."

"Who painted it?" Nobody ever came in and out of the factory, except Charlie and his family, and Mr. Wonka remained as reclusive as ever.

"An Oompa-Loompa, naturally," Wonka said. "I paid for him to take an art correspondence course. He's been doing great work for me for years, although it was a little tiresome in the beginning, when they just had him doing cartoon animals. He made me look like Mickey Mouse. But this! Why, this is even an improvement over the last one!" He gestured to the floor, and Charlie saw that, resting by his feet in another impressive frame, was a second portrait of a smiling Wonka.

"You were Employee of the Month last month, too?"

"Of course!" Wonka's huge purple eyes blinked at him. "And the month before that, and the month before that, andmy goodness, all the months before that. Ever since I started the Recognition Program." He turned back to the portrait and beamed again. "I must say it's been a spectacular motivator. I've been working harder than ever."

"You've--always been the Employee of the Month?"

Wonka frowned down at him, obviously not understanding Charlie's surprise. "Well, of course," he said patiently. "Who else would it be? I'm the only employee!"

"What?" Charlie gaped at him. "No, you're not!"

"Well, I say, that's just--" Wonka frowned, and then tilted his head back, surveying Charlie from down the length of his nose. "You know, if you're jealous, you just had to say something. Keep working, and who knows? You could win it next month. Maybe."

"I'm not an employee either," Charlie said. "You don't pay me."

"Oh." Now Mr. Wonka looked uncomfortable. "Well, I never thoughtyou know, if you wanted, you should have said something, of course, your family--"

"That's not what I meant!" Charlie said quickly. Mr. Wonka was generous, really generous. 'To a fault,' his mum had taken to saying. Charlie didn't want Wonka to think he was ungrateful, or that somehow he had to do even more for the Buckets. "I just meant, I'm your" He'd read the right word, somewhere. "Your apprentice. Aren't I? So I'm not really an employee. And you're not an employee either, you're the boss."

Wonka was frowning again.

"The employer," Charlie added, just in case this wasn't clear.

"What are you suggesting?" Now Wonka sounded as if he was getting ready to be offended by something. Charlie tried not to sigh.

"The Oompa-Loompas," he said patiently, "are the employees. Oughtn't they to be getting the award?"

Wonka opened his mouth, then pursed it into a perfectly round little 'O'. His brow puckered. "I'm not sure I like what you're implying."

"I'm only -- "

"Because I appreciate my workers. I do. I'm a wonderful boss."

"I know you are, I just meant -- "

"Hmph!" Wonka stuck his nose in his air and refused to even look at Charlie. "Well, now I know what you think of me, I guess. If I'm so nasty, why are you still here? Don't you have homework or something to do?"

"I don't think you're nasty," Charlie said, not sure if he should be getting upset or not. He'd only been in the factory for a couple of months now, but he could already tell that sometimes Mr. Wonka wanted to be difficult, which was different than him being really unhappy. Charlie couldn't stand the thought of making him really unhappy -- not Mr. Wonka -- but it was sometimes hard to tell.

"Huh." Wonka rapped his candy-filled cane smartly against the floor. He wrinkled his nose. Charlie became pretty sure that he was just being difficult. "Nasty Mr. Wonka. I see."

"Fine," Charlie sighed. "I'm sorry. It's a nice picture." Wonka turned to glance at him, but Charlie kept his eyes on his shoes. "I'll just go do my homework, then."

And without waiting for Mr. Wonka to say anything else, he did just that.

The next day, at about the same time, Charlie was wandering through the same corridor. He still got lost a lot in this place, although an Oompa-Loompa always showed up to help him out eventually. But he'd meant to come here deliberately, to get a better look at the portrait without Mr. Wonka hanging around.

But to his surprise, Mr. Wonka was there again, with a couple of Oompa-Loompas. The big portrait of Wonka was still hanging on the wall, but now there were two portraits, slightly smaller ones, on either side of it.

One of them was of an Oompa-Loompa in a bright blue suit. The gold plate reading "EMPLOYEE OF THE MONTH" hung above it. The other new picture was of Charlie. Charlie stared at it. Where had Wonka got it from? He'd never sat for a portrait, he knew that much. It looked as if it had been done from his last school photo.

He had a gold plate, too. It read "APPRENTICE OF THE MONTH." Above Wonka's portrait, the gold plate read, "EMPLOYER OF THE MONTH."

Wonka clapped his hands, the sound muffled through the purple latex. "Look at my splendid idea, Charlie!"

Charlie grinned at him. "I see it," he said. "It's great."

"I don't know where I come up with these things," Wonka said, turning to regard the portraits with a dreamy look on his face. "And the Oompa-Loompas were so thrilled. Look, this is Rob." He indicated the Oompa-Loompa, who was wearing a blue suit, and Charlie realized he must be the Employee of the Month. And that he'd probably been the one to hang the pictures.

"The one who painted your portrait?" he guessed.

"And yours too! Overnight, practically! Well, really overnight, actually. Isn't it super? Isn't he just keen?"

"Really keen," Charlie said, still grinning, and crossed his arms and bowed, Oompa-Loompa style. Rob bowed back. His facial expression never changed, but Charlie reckoned he was pleased. "Thanks very much."

"Now, Charlie." Wonka sounded stern. "You can't take this for granted. You must work very hard, like me and Rob, if you want to be the Apprentice of the Month again."

"I will," Charlie promised, and Wonka solemnly shook his hand. Charlie meant it, too.

Life in the chocolate factory was the best he could ever have, and he was never going to take any of it for granted, for as long as he lived.