A/N: I've been meaning to write this since Christmas of 2010. Yup. Inspired directly by my friend LadyDeadlock, and the beautiful wintry friends she crafted out of her Albertan snows. Ask her about it on twitter if ye so please. Thanks to NoCleverSig for the beta. Please enjoy!
"Snow Day"Copyright 2012, MajorSam
The sun shone bright in the winter sky against a cloudless, blue canvass. Helen Magnus had to squint as she made her way to the back garden. She knew her daughter was there only because of the imprints of small, booted feet that made a trail for her to follow. The day was oddly quiet; no animals, birds, or breeze. Magnus worried that she couldn't hear the usual sounds of a five year old frolicking in the fresh snow. The clear shrieks of pure joy she sometimes heard when her daughter played made motherhood worth all the missteps and heartache. She wondered if the Big Guy was watching her little one. She laughed as she walked, imagining her huge "scary" manservant covered in snow as he let the little blonde firecracker rapid-fire snowballs at him.
When she rounded a corner of the vast Sanctuary and finally spotted her daughter, however, she was alone. Helen frowned, looking about for her manservant, who was nowhere to be seen. She opened her mouth to call out to Ashley and make sure everything was ok, but then stopped. She closed her mouth and watched her daughter. The five year old was utterly silent, for once, and appeared to be making a snowman. The look of concentration on her face was so intense, she could have been performing a delicate surgery. Helen smiled, leaned against the corner of the building, and cocked her head to the side. Her daughter was nothing if not energetic. It was rare to see her so focused on a single task. Helen let her daughter work as she gazed at the full picture in front of her. Snow had fallen all night, blanketing the grounds in a thick layer of perfect, powdery white. It hung from the awnings in the windows, the needles of the trees, and crowned the high walls that surrounded them. The sun was shining strongly, and though it offered no warmth, it reflected off every flake of snow, making the world seem as if it glowed. It was brisk and invigorating, a perfect winter day.
Ashley suddenly looked up from her work, and in an instant all thoughts of snow vanished. Helen's heart leapt into her throat as Ashley's luminous blue eyes lit up, an enormous smile spreading across her little girl's plump cheeks.
"Mama!" she squealed, leaping up. Her short arms, stuffed into a puffy, pink winter coat, flailed wildly as she ran stumbling through the snow to her mother. Her hood had fallen back, letting her golden hair whip about as she ran. Helen dropped to her knees, thankful she'd put on winter gear herself. In seconds, the flying pink bundle careened into her, almost knocking her over. Helen wrapped her arms tight around Ashley, laughing as the little girl started to ramble excitedly, not realizing her words were completely muffled, her head squished against Helen's jacketed chest. Helen finally pulled back, holding her daughter steady by her shoulders.
"I'm sorry my darling," Helen confessed, laughing, "But I've no idea what you just said!"
Undeterred, Ashley launched back into her speech, repeating everything at lightning speed.
"I was playin' with Biggie, and we made snowballs, and I hit him real good, and his face got all fluffy n white, and I said he looked like Santa, then he laughed and said 'If I'm Santa I have to bring you presents' so then he left me alone cause I'm a big girl and he said he'd be back soon with my present so I started makin' a snow family!"
She finally paused to take a few quick breaths, her exhalations making little clouds of frost appear in front of her face. The young girl's cheeks were tinged pink with cold as she spoke.
"Are you my present mommy?"
Helen's heart melted further.
"No, my sweet," she replied, reaching out to brush Ashley's bangs back with gloved fingers. "I just came to see you."
"I like when you do that," Ashley smiled.
Helen sighed. It had been a hard transition from full-time Sanctuary head to part-time head, most-of-the-time mother. She tried to spend as much time as possible with her precocious daughter but she would be the first to acknowledge her own shortcomings as a parent. She often wished she could just quit the Sanctuary network, at least for a few years, and do nothing but spend time with Ashley. The unconditional, non-judgmental love that poured from her daughter was more precious than even she had predicted. She hadn't realized quite how badly she had needed it.
"Mommy!" the high pitched voice broke Helen from her thoughts. "Wanna come see my snow people?"
"I'd love to," Helen grinned. Her jubilant daughter grabbed her hand, not waiting until she was properly standing before running off towards her creations, Helen falling and lurching to keep up. The bright sun sparkled off surprisingly sophisticated snowmen.
"This lil one is me," Ashley explained dropping Helen's hand and scampering to the smallest snowman. "And this one is you!" she pointed at the larger one next to her.
Helen laughed. "What are those squiggly lines on my head?"
"That's your hair," Ashley informed her as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
"Of course," Helen replied meekly. The mother looked at the final snowman, the tallest, wondering how Ashley had layered it so high.
"Well you have some more work to do on my old friend then; he has much more hair than I do!"
"That's not Biggie," Ashley replied, playing with a pile of powdery snow at the base of the ensemble.
"Who is it?" Helen inquired curiously.
Helen's heart dropped to her stomach.
"Daddy…?" she repeated breathlessly.
"Uh-huh," Ashley offered nothing more.
Oh god, had John…? Helen's eyes quickly scanned the area; her head looking back and forth as she slowly sank to her knees beside Ashley, feeling suddenly ill. She brought her hand up to rest on her daughter's shoulder, clearing her throat.
"You haven't…" she began. "No one has come to you, have they? Claiming to be your father?" Helen's soft voice belied her racing heart, the fear ice cold in her veins. Ashley was, however, a very perceptive child. Her little hands stilled in their work, and her blue eyes peered straight into Helen's.
"Why are you scared, mommy?"
"Just answer the question, Ashley!"
Ashley's brows furrowed, and Helen regretted raising her voice. She took a deep breath. "I'm sorry, love," she said, keeping her voice even. "But this is very important." If John had found Ashley, knew she was his… Every nightmare that plagued Helen's dreams, by night and day, could come true.
Ashley placed her hand on top of Helen's to comfort her, as her mother had done a thousand times to her.
"Nobody came," the toddler promised.
Helen looked deeply into her daughter's eyes, searching for any hint that Ashley could be lying, could be covering up something for whatever reason. She found only truth. She breathed out, slowly, closing her eyes for a moment. She felt Ashley's hand leave hers, and opened her eyes. Ashley was playing with her snow pile again, if more reservedly than before. Helen inwardly cursed. Even the idea of John was able to ruin a precious moment with her daughter. She was determined to get it back. Ashley didn't know the truth about her father, and Helen didn't intend to tell her for a very long time. If "daddy" was on her mind, Helen wanted it to be in a positive way.
"So why did you make daddy bald?" Helen asked brightly.
"I dunno," Ashley shrugged. "Whenever I picture him in my mind, I can't get the hair right. So I just don't do hair now."
A dull pain throbbed in Helen's heart. She tried so hard to give Ashley a proper family. Had she completely failed?
"Do you try to picture him often?"
"Not too often," Ashley's hair bounced as she shook her head. "But sometimes. You said he was tall, and had brown hair. I dunno why I always see him as bald."
Helen had never shown Ashley a picture of Druitt. She didn't want the child to question the odd hair style, clothes, or obvious age of the few photographs she still had of him, hidden away where no one could find them. She didn't like to admit even to herself that she'd kept them. Despite that, however, her intuitive young daughter had still somehow managed to form a startlingly accurate image of him.
Helen let her daughter continue to build for a while as she absorbed the events of the last few minutes. She finally had to ask another question.
"Why did you build a daddy, instead of my old friend, or one of the abnormals you play with?"
"Because Emily at art class said that all real families have a mommy and a daddy."
Helen looked away, eyes latching onto a distant tree, unable to face her daughter at the moment.
All real families.
Her heart beat dully, achingly. Her eyes watered and she blinked hurriedly, stopping the tears before they could fall. She was having Ashley home schooled, at least for now, but had enrolled her in a few community kids classes so she could learn to relate to people of her own age and species.
"I'm sorry," Helen whispered.
Ashley turned to her, frowning. "Why?"
"For not giving you a real family." Helen wrapped her arms around herself and looked down at the ground. She could face vicious abnormals and not blink, but a five year old could leave her defeated with a few words. All that she'd lived through, and this innocent young girl was capable of bringing her more joy and more heartache than anything else. Suddenly, two petite hands intruded into her view, grabbing on to both of hers as firmly as they could.
"You don't have to be sorry, silly!"
Ashley's astonished voice drew Helen's eyes back up to her sweet face.
"I have the best family ever!"
"But you just said…"
"I'm just making a snow daddy because Billy and Geoffrey are too hard to make."
The two abnormals in question would indeed be a little difficult to replicate in snow. It was hard enough to make two stick arms fit onto a snowman, never mind four arms and a tail.
"I'm the only one at class who has trillopods for brothers and sisters!" Ashley beamed.
"Ashley darling, you haven't told anyone about…"
"No, mama, don't worry. I never talk about my family at school. I know they're a secret. I just talk about you."
Helen winced. She had enough secrets to make knowledge of her just as dangerous as the abnormals. She'd talked very seriously with Ashley about this, but could never be sure if the five year old understood the gravity of the topic.
"You don't tell them anything… special, do you?"
"Nope. Only that you're the best mommy in the world."
Helen's throat tightened. She gave into her sudden impulse and bent forwards, gathering Ashley's squat form in her arms and pulling her towards her, squeezing. She closed her eyes, breathing in the scent of snow and Ashley's Disney Princess shampoo.
"I love you, Ashley," she whispered. "I love you so, so much."
She rained kisses on the top of Ashley's light blonde hair and heard some muffled protests at being smothered, letting up a little, but not pulling away.
"Love you too," Ashley's voice drifted up through layers of clothing.
Helen felt her heart starting to warm again. They may not have a traditional family, by any stretch, but they did have one. She wouldn't let anyone, not even John, get in the way of that.
She suddenly heard shuffling behind her, and a few familiar grunts. She pulled back, laying one final kiss to her daughter's forehead before turning around.
"I brought three!" the tall butler announced, showing the tray he carried. Three large mugs of steaming hot chocolate were proudly displayed.
"Whip cream!" Ashley shrieked, leaping up and bounding over to her favourite friend. The Big Guy brought the tray up high, level with his head, laughing as Ashley jumped and yelled at him to lower the tray down. Helen couldn't help but join in the merriment, her laughter ringing clear. She made her way over to them, Ashley already having made them each a quick "snow seat" to sit on. Helen lowered herself down, gratefully accepting a hot mug. She wrapped her gloved hands around the pottery, letting the warmth seep through. Ashley filled the Big Guy in on what had happened since he left while Helen quietly observed. The thick sweetness of the hot chocolate replaced the ice in her veins, unraveling the knot in her stomach and warming her from the inside out. Helen knew what she had to do. She would commit herself to her daughter more than ever. She would only grow up once, and Helen was determined not to miss a thing.
She grinned widely as the Big Guy pretended to spill hot chocolate on himself, leaping up and dancing about dramatically while Ashley laughed and clapped her hands.
Her family was odd, at best, but she wouldn't trade them for anything in the world.
Yay! My first Lil!Ashley fic :) Writing this made my maternal instincts flare RIGHT up, I can tell you. If you have a daughter, go hug her, please. Or anyone in your family, really!