A/N: A cute fic about teaching an impoverished kid to read :)
DISCLAIMER: I do not own D Gray Man or any of its characters. They are property of Katsura Hoshino.
In the few weeks Mana had been caring for Allen the boy's personality had undergone a marked improvement. He was nowhere near as defensive or as closed as before and from time to time he would smile or laugh, although not nearly as often as a child of his age should. A haircut and some new clothes had made all the difference to his appearance and he was no longer the filthy, scruffy urchin from the circus. Some work still needed to be done on his manners and etiquette, but he was learning and his heart was in the right place.
One thing Mana had found was that despite his less-than-inspiring background, Allen was smart and learned fast. He picked up simple tricks quickly and easily and made an excellent assistant even if he never smiled. He was a decent child, a hard worker who enjoyed being kept busy and making himself useful and he hated when he couldn't do something. Currently, he sat opposite Mana at a small table in a B&B room they had hired for the night, practicing the tricks he had been shown with an old deck of western playing cards. He did this partly as training for a career as a street entertainer and partly as exercise for his left hand, which he sometimes found to be numb and stiff and difficult to move. He talked quietly to himself the stages of the tricks, doing them first slowly, mouthing the motions he had to perform, and then speeding up as he gained confidence in his ability.
Mana sat scanning a newspaper. He wouldn't usually bother with the newspaper, believing the news to be of little relevance to a clown, but the paper had been placed in the room for their convenience and it was good to catch up with the world affairs from time to time. He sighed, and placed the paper back down on the table.
"News is slow this week," he stated blandly. Allen just looked up at him briefly in acknowledgement before going back to his cards. "I'll be back in a short while, just need to use the facilities," Mana stated, standing up with a tired groan like an old man and leaving the room.
Once Mana had left, Allen re-stacked the playing cards and put them in his pocket before pulling the newspaper in front of him. He looked intently at the front page, at the black and white photo and the black inky squiggles. He stared at it, willing the symbols printed on the low-grade paper to make some form of sense, but they never did. He followed some of the lines of symbols with a stubby finger, in the false hope that it might bring an epithany to him.
Mana returned to find Allen staring almost angrily at the newspaper, gray eyes focused intently on the front page.
"Something the matter?" he asked, curious.
"I can't do it," Allen stated simply, an edge of childish annoyance in his voice.
"I don't understand what these squiggles mean," he said, pointing at the paper. "I'm so thick!"
"Now don't be like that, you're not thick," Mana scolded lightly. Allen was always putting himself down like that. Mana believed the boy had been called stupid or worthless so often at the circus before he found him that he had started to believe it was true. "You've just never been shown how, is all."
"I still can't do it," Allen pouted.
"Never say you 'can't' Allen," Mana said. He went over to his suitcase and dug out a pen, a bottle of ink and a pad of paper. He moved his chair round so he was sat next to Allen, setting up the ink in front of him and holding the pen over the paper. "Let me show you a few things." He drew a capital and a small 'A' on the paper. "This is the letter A, ok? You pronounce it like 'ah'. What I want you to do is find me an example of this letter on the newspaper. Think you can do that?"
Allen nodded and started scanning the front page intently. He almost jumped in excitement when he found an example of the letter hidden in the word 'establishment', pointing it out with a rare smile.
"I found it Mana! I found 'A'!" he proclaimed proudly. He pointed it out a couple more times. "It's there as well! And there... 'A' is everywhere!"
"Good," said Mana, returning the smile. Next he drew the letters 'E', 'I', 'O', and 'U' in both upper and lower case, saying their phonetic sounds as he did so. "These, together with 'A' are the vowels. There are five of them – A, E, I, O and U. What I want you to do now is find me some examples of all of these in the paper."
"OK," said Allen, still giddy from the thrill of finding 'A'. It took him about five minutes to find examples of all the letters, much faster than Mana expected. "There are a lot of 'E's Mana," Allen stated blandly.
"Yes, 'E' is the most common letter in the English language," Mana informed him. He then drew the letters 'L' and 'M' and 'N' on the paper, again saying the phonetic sounds and the names of the letters before passing the paper back to Allen. "Can you find these now?"
Allen quickly found both 'L' and 'N' letters in the word 'lawn', followed by 'M' in the word 'mother'.
"You're doing very well," Mana congratulated him. "Soon we'll have you recognising the whole alphabet. Let's try something a little different shall we." He carefully scribed the boy's first name onto the paper and handed it to him. "Recognise these letters?"
"A... L... L... E... N?" he said tentatively. "Is that right?"
"Yes, now do you know what those letters spell? Say the word one letter at a time, phonetically."
Allen mulled it over for a while, speaking the letters aloud a few times. Suddenly, like a light was turned on in his head, he finally got it and his grey eyes lit up.
"It's me! It's my name!" he said happily. "A-L-L-E-N – Allen!"
"That's right. Well done," congratulated Mana. "How about this?" He handed the boy paper with his own name written on it. It took less time for Allen to work this one out.
"M... A... N... A... Ma... Na... AH! Mana! It spells 'Mana'!" he said.
"Well done!" Mana said. "You can now recognise our names. You're a fast learner, Allen. OK, I want you to find these in the paper now." He set the boy the task of finding 'K', 'R' and 'W', telling him how they sounded phonetically and aiming to have Allen at least recognise his own name in writing by the day's end. It took him a while to find 'W', and he had to delve into the paper to find an example.
"Found it!" he said eventually. "Here look – W." He tentatively tried to say the word he had found aloud, finding it had other letters he now knew in it. "W... A... L... L..." he spelled aloud. "Wa... ll.... Oh – it says 'wall', right Mana?" he asked. Mana smiled, proud that he was so willing to learn and was even beginning to teach himself.
"Yes, it says 'wall'," said Mana. "What does this say?" He handed over a sheet of paper with his last name on it.
"W... A... L... K... E... R..." Allen mused. "Wal... k... er... Oh, I know! Walker!"
"Very good," Mana praised. "Pin that together with this-" he grabbed the sheet with 'Allen' written upon it "-and we have your whole name in print."
"Wow," said Allen in childish glee. Mana wasn't sure he'd ever seen the child smile so brightly as that moment. He watched as Allen traced out the letters in his name with a finger, spelling it out proudly. "A-L-L-E-N-W-A-L-K-E-R," he said, beaming.
"Ok, you want to find me these letters now?" he drew the other letters Allen hadn't learnt yet on a sheet of paper, naming them and saying the sounds as he had with all the others. "Take your time, there's no rush," Mana assured him, seeing the look of trepidation spread across his young features at seeing all the work he had to do. "We have all night."
Allen nodded and set to work. It took him around 40 minutes to find examples of all the letters, Mana helping him to find a couple when he found it difficult, such as for unusual letters like 'Q' and 'Z'. Mana told him that 'Q' nearly always came with a 'U', to which he nodded in interest. Mana then scribed the whole alphabet, upper and lower case, onto a sheet of paper for Allen to keep and learn from.
"Here, the whole alphabet. Before you can read and write you have to learn and memorise this," Mana instructed him. "Now, you've shown me that you can recognise all these letters now, but we will go through this every day until you learn it. You've done very well for a beginner – it takes most children at least a few months to do what you've done tonight."
Allen rubbed at his eyes, yawning and feeling tired. Learning so much so fast had worn him out somewhat. It was getting late as well, the clock reading almost 9.30 which, for a child Allen's age, was way past bedtime. "Thank you," he said, smiling.
"You're most welcome," Mana told him. "Now off to bed with you now and remember – never say you can't do something because with a little teaching you can do anything."
Allen nodded before sliding off the chair and going to get himself washed and ready for bed. Mana was a good teacher, he thought, often teaching him much more than just what the lesson intended. From Mana, he had learnt perseverance, patience and, possibly the most important skill of all, trust in himself and others.
A/N: BEWARE - 'A' IS EVERYWHERE!!! I estimate Allen to be approx. 7 years old here, but you decide :)