The Sanctuary had a well-established rhythm, one that had been trodden into well entrenched patterns by years of constant repetition. The staff and inhabitants had learned to live with each other long ago; everyone knew how things worked, had long since worked out the quirks of their neighbours. Personalities and work habits had long found their balance amongst each other - which was why having even one person out of sorts could wreak havoc on their collective nervous system. Life had already been turned upside down by the now constant presence of one perpetually grumpy ex-vampire, and that mood was slowly having an effect, filtering down and out through everyone he came in contact with.
Henry and the Big Guy had been anxious all day - and that in turn had set Helen's own nerves on edge. Knowing that, for once, Nikola was safely ensconced in research (and therefore unlikely to turn up underfoot), she had taken the opportunity to catch up on all the work he (and his whining) had interrupted. Her morning's work, however, had been set to the soundtrack of frantic hushed whispers and shuffling feet darting past her door. When her lunch arrived, carried on a tray traveling slightly faster than usual, its carrier searching the room as he entered, she looked up, squarely and expectantly, into the face of her friend. When no immediate explanation was forthcoming, she cocked her eyebrow.
"Care to inform me as to what is transpiring?" she asked, letting a touch of arch enter her voice. She wasn't naive enough to think that she knew everything that happened within the walls of her sanctuary. There were, naturally, matters amongst her staff that she, as the boss, was not privy too, but she had always expected her friend to keep her in the loop - at least on anything that had even him scrambling. "Don't think I haven't noticed you and Henry skulking about."
"It's nothing to concern yourself about," he gruffed, setting down the warm china between stacks of books and paper. "Just a minor hiccup, is all."
In all honestly, he had not truly expected her to believe him. Which was fortunate, because believe him she did not. She left her eyes on him for a few more heavy seconds before shifting towards the door. She said little, but it left no room for disagreement. "Henry."
He shuffled into the room with more than a little reluctance, his eyes averted on a face scruffier than usual.
"Okay Henry," she said, trying not to smirk at the adorably guilty expression on his face. "Care to fill me in?"
Figuring even a fruitless bluff was better than nothing, he went for broke, pulling out his cheekiest grin. "On what doc? Nothing going on here."
Helen had watched Henry grow under her care. She has been his mother, for better or worse, for the larger majority of his life. She had attended to parent/teacher conferences and broken bones in equal measure. She had given him his first hair cut, and bought him his first laser. It was she who had nursed him when he was sick, and she who had interrupted his first kiss with Nancy DeTalio on the front porch. From the small disheveled boy she had rescued and folded into her family, he had blossomed into a self-assured, intelligent, and caring young man without whom she could not imagine her life. And because of this, there was very little he could get by her.
"I'm not buying it, Henry," she said, frankly. "And we both know I'll figure it out eventually, so you may as well just share."
The grin melted off his face, and he shared an apprehensive look with the Big Guy. Suddenly Helen wasn't so sure she wanted to know after all - anything that had the both of them worried didn't bode well. The pair exchanged several heated looks before...
"Well, see..." Henry began. "There was an accident."
"An accident?" she prompted, recalling Henry's frustrating tendency to dole out bad news in small bites - especially when he was somehow involved.
"Yes. We were thinking, well... We thought that maybe if we recalibrated your molecular scanner to integrate with my high frequency plasma generator, and then, naturally, applied the appropriate inter-"
"We lost Tesla," the Big Guy interjected.
Helen took a moment to process all the non-information she had at hand, and blanched slightly when things started to fall into place. "Nikola's dead?"
"What?" Henry started. "No, no, no, no, we just, well..."
"We lost him."
Helen sat back down behind her desk, her forehead resting in the palm of her hand. She thought back to earlier in her day, when the biggest worry she had was that Henry was trying to get revenge by locking Kate in the bathroom again, and that he had somehow managed to enlist a reluctant sidekick. Oh how she missed five minutes ago, ignorance truly was bliss when she had a staff like hers.
"Okay," she said, rubbing her brow. "Explain to me - slowly - how it is exactly that you managed to lose a man. A man, I might add, who has been more than capable of managing his own whereabouts for 150 years."
Henry looked pained, this was not the kind of explaining he liked to do - he specialised in explaining of the tah-dah variety. "Like we said -"
"You said," interrupted the Big Guy firmly, distancing himself from the fidgety mass that was Henry.
Henry sighed, "Fine, I said. Tesla thought, well, we both did, that maybe we could, well... maybe we could fix his situation."
"And exactly to which 'situation' are you referring? He seems to have several at present."
Henry shifted on his feet, a fair indication that she would not like what he was going to say. "Ah, his... not... being a vamp situation."
Helen turned on him sharply, "What? I thought we had agreed not to pursue this! In fact, I clearly remember a meeting at which we all agreed that delving into the black market to find serum would be reckless. Why is it that I am the only one who seems to recall this instance?"
"We do remember, and I promise, we didn't go anywhere near the black market. It just, Tesla thought-"
"And that's always a reassuring beginning," Helen interrupted, throwing her hands up.
"He thought he could tap into his own latent genetic material and induce a shift back to his earlier state. Genetic memory, I think he called it."
Helen stared at him incredulously. "And you believed him? You honestly thought this would work."
"...he sounded convincing," Henry shrugged.
"And you?" Helen asked, turning to usually far more reasonable of the pair. "How did you get roped into this?"
The Big Guy fixed the younger man with a glare that made him squirm. "I am not."
"He's helping me find him," Henry explained uncomfortably. "He wandered off."
Getting the sinking feeling that she was missing some critical information, she leveled her best boss glare at him. "Henry. What happened?"
Just as he opened his mouth, the door to her office swung open, Kate running in full pelt. "I found him! Come on!"
Not quite understanding the urgency, Helen joined the stampede exiting her office. To her surprise (though why she continued to be surprised by anything that happened around here, she never knew), she excited into the hall to find herself thrown into a throng of sanctuary inhabitants, all rushing in the same direction.
"Will someone PLEASE tell me what is going one?" she yelped, her poor feet being crushed by those around her. The resounding 'we found him!' did little but reaffirm her belief that her staff required more down time.
When the crowd finally came to a halt, she pushed her way to the front, the crowd's alarming curiosity overriding their usual deference to her. Falling though the final barrier she saw Henry and the Big Guy crouched on the crowd, torches in hand, peering into the dark length of an air vent. Joining then, she squinted into the vent. She couldn't see a great deal, but that was surely to be expected with the Big Guy's fur blocking much of her vision.
Then, from within the vent, came a quiet shuffling, the sound of cloth dragging over the metal lattice of the vent floor. It was here that everything Helen thought she knew about the world took a nose dive and her old friend Nikola Tesla emerged from the vent... except he wasn't quite as old as she remembered him to be.
Wearing only Nikola's white dress shirt, in which he was now swimming, the boy looked up at her forlornly - which, if she were to be perfectly honest, was a nice relief from the self-pitying pout he had been favoring of late. Climbing out of the vent and standing by her side, she noticed that his height reached barely above her knees - a fact she realised when his tiny child hands reached out to touch the satin of her skirt. Nikola had tried to grab hold of her skirts many times over the years, she knew, but never before had he done it with the pure innocence of a child.
She could see Henry dancing nervously out of the corner of her eye. No doubt he felt terrible for allowing this to happen, but she knew Nikola, and she knew whose idea this was. Not that she was about to put him out of his misery any time soon. Scooping up the young, somewhat deranged, genius she deposited him firmly into Henry's arms.
"Here you go, Uncle Henry," she smiled. "I believe it's time young Master Nikola went down for his nap, don't you?"
Leaving the gaping man in her wake, she brushed her way through the crowd once more, heading for her lab. As usual, this would be her mess to sort out, and what a mess it was. But still, she thought as the sounds of Henry desperately trying to soothe the now crying child met her ears, at least she wouldn't be the only one miserable.