Fic: Chalkdust - Chapter 1
Title: Chalkdust (1/3)
Summary: Belle is Bae’s teacher, and Mr Gold develops a crush
A/N: This is set in a Storybrooke that really is an entirely normal town: no magic, no Curse, no ftland backstory.
ALSO: This is my 400 FOLLOWER THANK YOU fic. So I hope ya’ll enjoy it!
Marchie prompted: “Henry and Bae are best friends”; “Book critiques”;
Bae has managed to catch a stomach bug. Gold feels bad, now, about forcing him into school anyway. The receptionist called a quarter hour ago, and by the sounds of it, his son’s lunch is all over most of his classroom.
He is torn between sighing and letting the boy suffer a bit before collecting him - because he’d told him that that ice cream was way past expiration and the stupid boy ate it anyway - and running as fast as his legs can carry him to the school to make sure he’s in one piece.
He settles for the former: Bae will live.
Still, he can’t keep the little shake of urgency from his otherwise placid voice when he reaches the front desk, and asks after the location of his son.
At least, when he is lead to the medical room by a rather overworked-looking receptionist, his boy is not alone in his suffering. There is a woman sat with him, pressing a cold towel to his forehead and murmuring something soothing.
“Excuse me?” he interrupts, perhaps a bit abrasively, but he’s touchy about other people looking after his son. Even when it’s entirely well-meant; it’s something else he can blame his ex-wife for. “I’m here to collect my son.”
“Oh, good,” the woman turns, entirely unfazed by the irritation in his voice, and smiles. She is young, no older than her mid-twenties by his estimation, dark haired and blue eyed. Pretty, and he would guess not particularly bright, but at least Bae hadn’t been alone while he chucked his guts up. So she has at least one good point in his book. “Look, Benjamin, your father’s here.”
Bae looks up, weakly, and his skin is a sickly shade of grey and green. “Hey, dad.”
“You’ve really made a mess of yourself here, haven’t you, Bae?”
“It wasn’t his fault,” the woman interjects, as she - very helpfully, Gold admits - aids Bae in sitting up without collapsing again, and helps him to his feet. “Children get sick all the time.”
“He ate the ice cream when it said it was three weeks out of date,” Gold replies, a little gruffly, as he takes his son from her and wraps a steadying arm around his shaking shoulders, “I’d say it’s exactly the little cretin’s fault.”
“He’s a smart boy,” the woman argues, while she gathers Bae’s coat and bag from the floor and hands them to Gold, “I’m sure he’s learnt his lesson, if that’s the case.”
“Is he likely to make a mess of the car on the way home?” he asks, trying to ignore the little flash of… something he feels seeing someone stand up to him. Everyone in town either avoids him entirely or looks at him with fearful suspicion, but all he sees in this stranger’s eyes is a warmth for his son, and a slight annoyance at his lack of sympathy. Perhaps she has more of a mind than he gave her credit for.
He probably owns her house, he thinks, a young woman like her, working what can’t be a very well paid job at the elementary school. He could make life very hard for her, and she has to know that, but all she does is gently argue back.
It’s interesting; refreshing, almost.
“No, I think the worst has passed.” She says, and smiles gently to Bae, “but if not, please try not to make as much of a problem in your father’s car as you did in my classroom.”
Her classroom? At once, the pieces click into place. The school year only began a few weeks ago; he hadn’t yet been introduced to his son’s new teacher, although he’s heard tales of her strict punishments for rule breaking, and her willingness - sometimes insistence - to stay behind and help the stragglers with their homework.
“You’re my son’s teacher.” He nods, “Well, it’s lovely to meet you, I’m sure.”
She smiles, and he must be imagining the little flush in her cheeks when he shakes her hand, “Likewise.” She nods, “Now get this little one home before he decides to ruin my shoes.”
“Of course.” He smiles - a genuine smile, because even without a little anonymity there was not a spark of reluctance or fear in her eyes or her handshake, and it’s really rather nice - and leads his son back to the car.
“What’s your teacher’s name again, son?” Gold looks at Bae from across the table, the parental consent forms for the school trip to the Mayor’s office spread out in front of him.
“Mrs French.” Bae mumbles around a mouthful of toast.
Gold stiffens, tries not to show his son what kind of information he’s just given away, “Mrs?” he questions, frowning, “I didn’t know she was married.”
Bae shrugs, “Maybe it’s Miss, I forget.”
“Ah,” because of course Bae has no idea the marital status of his teacher: he’s twelve, he has other things on his mind. Why would he care? For that matter, why should Gold himself give a damn if the woman has a husband or not? She is good with Bae, he can see that with his son’s rising grade point average, and she was sweet and nice and not at all intimidated - strange in itself, that - the last time they met.
That was a month ago: he’s barely thought of it since. Well, most days.
He’s glad Bae has a teacher he likes who likes him back.
But that didn’t mean Gold cares about her personal life, one way or the other.
“I think it is Miss,” Bae says, thoughtfully, his mouth miraculously empty of food, “I think Grace Hatter-Swan asked, and she said something about waiting for the right guy.” He shakes his head, “It was girly stuff, I wasn’t paying much attention.”
“Of course.” Gold feigns disinterest, returns to the consent forms, “You know her first name, lad?”
“Belle.” Bae replies, immediately, “Robbie Hudson looked them all up last week.” He smiles, that childish smirk that means Gold’s about to get a call from the principal’s office about his son’s misbehaviour.
“They should have set a better password.” Bae shrugs, his attention to the conversation waning. Gold can’t help but feel a little proud that he’s raised such an intelligent little miscreant, even if it does mean he might end up with a letter home. His own youth makes Bae look like a saintly angel child, and if Bae is smarter than his old man - smart enough not to get caught, where Gold ended up in detention more nights than not - then good on him.
He smiles at his boy, their shared conspiratorial smirk, and Bae goes back to his breakfast. Gold looks down at the forms, and writes carefully ‘Miss Belle French’ in the appropriate box.
Perhaps Bae is wrong; perhaps his lovely teacher is happily married and starting a family.
Perhaps ‘lovely’ isn’t a word Gold should be using, even in his own mind, to describe her. She’s the best thing to happen to Bae’s grades since he was five years old, since his mother left, and he seems rather attached to her in his aloof, pre-teen boy way.
And even if Gold was free to get to know her, to think of her as ‘lovely’, she’s still a child in her twenties and certainly wouldn’t welcome the advances of a middle-aged single parent.
‘Lovely’ is certainly not a word Gold should be using. Even if it does perfectly describe her.
He offers to chaperone the field trip.
He shouldn’t, he really shouldn’t. Mayor Mills is hardly his closest friend at the best of times, and he has work to do and a business to run to keep food on the table.
Except most of their income comes from renting most of Storybrooke’s lower-income housing, and a fair amount of business property, and people will continue to live and work whether Gold is there or not.
So he volunteers as chaperone. And is glad he did, when the venue changes from the Mayor’s office to the zoo at the last minute.
Even if Bae’s teacher were a balding man in his forties and not an enchantingly pretty young woman, he would need to be there. There’s no one in their right mind who would let his son loose around zoo animals without his father to keep an eye on him. Bae doesn’t misbehave when Gold is there: he knows there’s little he can do to truly earn his disapproval, but the boy seems unwilling to act out with him around.
The thought, when it comes, that his boy behaves not out of respect for the rules but respect for him, brings a smile to Gold’s lips. He raised Bae almost entirely by himself, Tessa having left when the boy was only just out of diapers, and Gold’s son is bright enough to decide for himself who to respect and who to ignore entirely.
Gold knows Bae will be on his best behaviour, if there is a chance he will be caught red-handed by his father. The same cannot be said if the news will reach him only after the fact.
“Mr Gold!” a bright voice startles him as he sits alone on his seat at the front of the bus. The boys and girls of Bae’s class and the two beneath sit behind, the rest on the second bus. He nodded once to his son as he climbed aboard, and Bae recognised it with a wink. The boy no more wants the shame of sitting with his old dad any more than Gold wishes to burden him with it.
The other parents, Mr Hatter and Sheriff Swan, don’t speak to him.
Everyone is either afraid or wary of him, and while these two are certainly in the latter category, they are too busy trying not to make out like teenagers on the back seat - his daughter and her son sit only seats away, after all - to notice him.
“Yes?” he turns, irritation lacing his voice although the newcomer has disturbed nothing of importance, and finds himself looking right into a pair of deep blue eyes, and a welcoming, cherry-red smile.
“I didn’t expect to see you here!” Miss French - for he will assume her unmarried until proven otherwise - chirps, settling herself next to him. He freezes, unsure of what to do when confronted with the very woman who pops into his head when his mind is idle - and whom he has sworn to keep away from for that very reason - and waits to wake up.
Then she frowns, and he realises that he’s not asleep, and that he must have been staring at her while she expected an answer, “You are Benjamin’s father, right?”
“Yes,” he nods, a wry smile on his lips now that the irritation has been replaced by an entirely ridiculous fondness, “Bae’s mine.”
“Oh, good,” she sighs, smiles, “I have such a problem with names, you see, and I didn’t want to be having some stranger on the bus with us!”
Ah, a stranger: she doesn’t know who he is. “Indeed not.”
“Oh, dear!” she fiddles her fingers in her lap, and he wonders how much of his disappointment must have shown on his face, “I didn’t mean… I mean, you just looked completely mystified… fuck…” she clamps a hand over her mouth, giggles, and he tries and fails spectacularly not to be entirely enchanted.
“Miss French, correct?” he smirks, on familiar ground, at least, with people who don’t know how to react to him, “We met when Bae got that nasty stomach bug.”
“I remember,” she nods, and he feels a burst of joy at the immediacy of her response. She isn’t lying: she does remember him. “That was a hellish thing, that one.” She sighs, smiles, seems almost to rally herself, “He’s not sick again, is he? That’s not why you’re here?”
“No,” he laughs, shakes his head, “No, I’m more worried for the animals than my boy.”
“He has a wicked mind on him, that one,” she agrees, cheerfully, “I don’t mean any offence, Mr Gold, he’s wonderfully imaginative and so bright. But his sense of humour does lend itself to… trouble.”
“Yes,” he smiles, “I half considered legally changing his middle name to that, just to save time.”
She laughs, and it’s like the most wonderful music he’s ever heard, “What is it now?”
He grins at her, “Orville. Make sure you use that when you’re scolding him, he hates it more than anything.”
She lets out a surprised little giggle, “What? No! I couldn’t!”
“He thinks very highly of you,” he tells her, “And he’s quick to forgive. The shade of umber his face goes is also sight worth seeing.”
He thinks he’d probably answer any question she could think to ask, so long as it would make her laugh like that. Her eyes light up when she smiles, the dark curls around her face laugh and the curve of her red lips is almost inviting.
“I’ll leave that to his parent, thank you very much.” She says, “And I hope you’re getting better at throwing out expired foodstuffs before he can get his hands on them.”
“I thought the boy would be able to read a simple date, by now,” Gold grumbles, but despite the teasing in her voice - no one teases him, no one makes fun of him, not ever - he cannot summon an ounce of annoyance at her tone - “And I was right, apparently.”
“Oh? I thought it was food poisoning?”
“It was.” Gold replies, mildly, “But they’d made a game of it. Something they saw on television, I think, he and the Hudson boy. Daring each other to eat the most disgusting or out of date foods they could find.”
Miss French laughs, and he watches with a certain amount of satisfaction. “Really?” she says, when she’s gotten over her helpless giggles, “Those boys. Everyone knows that they hacked into the database the other week as well, you know.” She confides, and Gold’s eyebrows raise.
“Really? My boy? Now why would he possibly do a thing like that?”
“Because they could, I think,” she shrugs, “Principal Vincent is on the warpath, but she can’t pin it on them.”
“But you know it was definitely them?” he asks, eyes narrowing, “Why not report it?”
She shakes her head, “Benjamin is… he’s a special boy, Mr Gold. And the school’s curriculum doesn’t allow much room for letting the bright ones flourish properly. They didn’t do any harm, and they learnt a lot about the IT system in the process.”
“That’s a very… interesting approach to the rules.” He’s a little impressed: teachers in his day were quicker to throw the book than to understand the cause of troublemaking.
“I know a bad kid when I see one, Mr Gold. Bae isn’t a naughty child; he doesn’t act out to get attention or harm anyone else. He just doesn’t have any other outlet for his intelligence, so he tests the rules to see how far they go.”
He stares at her a moment, entirely dumbfounded: how does this woman - who has known his son for only two months, and then within the confines of a class of twenty - understand his boy so perfectly?
“He’s not… he’s not picking on the other kids then, is he?” Gold can’t help but ask the question: his greatest fear is that Bae become a bully.
He could, he knows this: Bae is bright enough and has a loose enough respect for the rules that he could easily become a tyrant of the playground, and that is something Gold won’t stand for. Bae will not become his father, he will not intimidate and inspire fear in others. It might have taken decades, but Gold has learnt his lesson on that score.
“Quite the opposite,” Miss French assures him, gently, “Look.” She turns around, points to his son where he sits near the back of the bus. The Mayor’s son - little Henry Mills - sits beside him, and they’re both looking down at something Gold cannot see.
“Henry was having some problems a few weeks back with a boy in Mrs Nolan’s class, before Bae stepped in. Now, no one looks at Henry sideways without knowing that they’re messing with Bae as well.”
He’s more than a little proud of his boy, at that thought. At his age, Gold had only been concerned with his own safety; he never came forward to help anyone else.
“I told you he’s a good kid,” Miss French turns back to him, smugly, having proved her point, “So I’m willing to overlook some minor, harmless offences. For now.”
The bus arrives at the zoo only a few minutes later, and he is swept off with Miss Blanchard and a group of children to look at various caged animals.
He is stuck with a thought, racing around in his mind, that doesn’t seem to want to settle down: Miss Belle French might be the first adult he’s ever met - Bae’s own mother included - to not categorise his son as either a troublemaker or an attention-seeker, or as simply odd.
Bae needs that kind of understanding in his life, from someone who isn’t his family, someone he can trust to be objective.
Unfortunately, the thought comes equipped with memories of her bright eyes and warm smile, the shine of her dark curls in the sunlight and the slight floral scent of her shampoo, or perhaps it was perfume.
He starts dropping Bae off at school, rather than letting him walk himself.
He claims that, after the incident with Anne Lucas’ garden gnome, it’s a matter of public safety that Bae be watched carefully at all times. And, to some extent, this is correct.
He says this to his son, when he asks for the hundredth time why he suddenly has an escort every morning. Gold has always been a fairly hands-off parent, not too bothered with things like the school run and fixing pancakes for breakfast, whatever overly-attentive PTA parents do. Bae doesn’t seem happy with the answer.
But Gold says it more to himself, almost as a mantra, as he pulls up in front of the school and spies a gaggle of young teachers, chatting by the gate, keeping an eye on their young students.
Miss French has her back turned as she chats with Mrs Nolan and Miss Blanchard. She wears nothing at all bright or noticeable, no flashy red dress or stilettos; nothing beyond the muted shades suitable for the classroom.
And yet, in her dark jeans, long purple jumper and high brown boots, he still stares for far longer than is reasonable.
He remembers her bright eyes, from both times they’ve met, the warmth in her smiles and her genuine affection for his son. Her anxiety to make a good impression, their second meeting, which he thinks had nothing to do with his probable ownership of her apartment.
He tries not to focus on little details, these days when he catches glimpses of her, and doesn’t acknowledge the blatant truth that seeing her - even from a distance - is often the highlight of his long, tedious day.
But Bae starts middle school next year, and then he’ll begin to get the bus every morning to the next town over, and Gold will… what will he do?
He’ll be able to open the shop earlier, freed from his duties as minder to a young would-be delinquent. Yes, it will be a relief to stop being an unpaid taxi service every day to his ungrateful preteen son, and more money shall be made.
He ignores the little stab of regret, of disappointment, at the thought.
It would be wrong, entirely wrong and on the bad side of creepy, to admit that he drops Bae off every morning simply to see her.
Even if it’s a little bit true; even if those days when she smiles at something in his direction and he can see the lights in her eyes, the dimples in her cheeks, light up the whole world.
He was never a romantic, and that was one of the reasons Tessa left. But he finds himself unable to look away when she tosses her long dark hair back, when she wears the shade of lipstick that makes her lips look so full and soft, as if she’s just been kissed.
Would she look that way, he wonders, if he had just kissed her? If the taste of her was on his tongue, and his hands woven in those soft curls?
She is Bae’s teacher; the boy would be psychologically scarred if he could see half his father’s thoughts.
It doesn’t stop him from watching her for that half minute every morning, or planning in his head moments when he could surprise her at work, catch her in the street or even invite her to be with him on purpose.
Sometimes he imagines bringing flowers, red roses for passion or white for the innocence she radiates. Sometimes all he wants is for her to be there in the morning, cooking the breakfasts he’s doomed to forever char beyond edibility, smiling and laughing with him and his son. The freedom, even in dreams, to come up behind her and wrap his arms around her waist, for her to be his in the most wonderful of ways, makes his heart pound.
Other times - the day she wore a skirt and black tights and he could see the length and smooth shape of her legs; the time she bent close to his car to fuss with a preschooler and he caught a wonderful glance down her blouse - his thoughts are less innocent.
He fantasises, for that is the correct word here, for hours in his shop about throwing her against the lockers of the school, crushing his mouth to hers and swallowing her moans, her little sighs of passion against his lips.
He wishes to take her against the desk in her classroom, a fantasy born the day he drops off Bae’s lunch for him and sees her leant against it, hands on the desk, going over the class’s book critiques in her rolling, Australian accent.
He wonders what his name would sound like, in that low, rippling voice of hers.
He stops dropping Bae off two weeks after he begins: he barely knows the woman, and he is coming dangerously close to stalker territory.
Bae is glad to have his walks to school back - the boy likes his time alone, Gold understands that - and Gold goes back to avoiding his son’s teacher like the plague.
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