Fic: Chalkdust - Chapter 2
Title: Chalkdust (2/3)
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!
He hasn’t caught even a glimpse of Miss French over a month, and he thinks he’s getting better.
He cringes, a little, over his former behaviour: he had acted as if he were a schoolboy with a crush, as if he were a child in her class daydreaming over his pretty teacher. If Bae acted that way toward a girl, he would never hear the end of the mockery from his father, and yet he had acted no better.
But then, five weeks almost to the day, he’s preparing to sort the sign outside his shop - the storm played havoc with it, and it needs fixing - when he comes out of the front door and crashes headlong into a pedestrian.
She falls, and he catches her right before she hits the ground. It’s icy out today - winter hits hard and fast in Maine, and late November in Storybrooke can be treacherous. There’s no telling the damage the poor woman could have done to herself if she fell wrong.
It’s only when he pulls her upright - his arms still around her, an oversight perhaps - and looks down to see who it was he caught that he recognises her.
He just stares. For a moment, he’s caught off-guard by her once again, and he just stares.
Her blue and lilac woollen hat covers the top of her head, her dark curls tumbling down from beneath to rest about her shoulders. She looks up from his hands on her forearms, and her eyes meet his.
There’s just a moment, a long moment, where neither of them say a word.
She must just be shocked by her fall and unnerved by his eyes on her, he thinks, in the parts of his mind not occupied by relearning the face he’s been avoiding for so long. That’s why she stares back; that’s why she doesn’t step back instantly, pull far away from his grip.
“Thank you,” she nods her head, as if trying to prompt him into movement, and smiles a cautious kind of smile.
“It’s no matter.” He smiles, his sanity returned in a rush, and steps back. He curses himself - it’s as if he’s never found a woman attractive before, as if he truly is a teenager with a crush. He can at least do better than this.
“I shouldn’t have… I was distracted,” she says, apologetically, as if she’s embarrassed, “Sorry. I should be more careful.”
“The ice is difficult around here, Miss French,” he excuses her with a kind smile, a smile he doesn’t use often enough, “I assume you’re not native to this far North?”
“Oh, no,” she smiles wider, “In Sydney we never had these kind of conditions. I need to remember that ice is slippery.”
“Yes, it is slippery.” He sounds out the word, grinning, “The Mayor is usually better about getting the pavements gritted when it’s icy, to prevent these kinds of accidents. They can be fatal, if one is unfortunate.”
“Well, thank you for catching me, then.” She smiles, and it’s like the sun coming out. He needs to grow up or move away from her, or he’ll say something stupid and scare her away.
“I’ll have a word with the Mayor tomorrow,” he says, “Make sure she grits out here properly. Can’t have people hurting themselves right outside my shop.”
She laughs, shakes her head, “You’d get quite the reputation.”
“I believe I already have, Miss French,” he doesn’t want to remind her, but he keeps waiting for the moment when the fear and dislike he sees everywhere dawns in her eyes, and the sooner the better. He already cares far too much for her.
“So I heard,” she nods, “Bae tells a different story; I tend to believe the kids before I listen to gossipy parents.”
He won’t stare at her, not again, but damn her: it’d be easier not to gape if she’d just stop astonishing him.
“Well, my boy knows who pays his allowance,” he brushes off her near-compliment gruffly, as she bends to pick up the tools he dropped in the collision and hands them back to him.
“Perhaps,” she nods, but her smile doesn’t falter, “What’re you doing out in the cold anyway?”
“The storm last night wrought havoc with my signage,” he points to the empty rail where his wooden sign usually hangs, “I need to set up a new one.”
“I don’t see a ladder…”
“Two trips, Miss French,” he explains, “The ladder is next.”
“Oh.” She nods, frowns, and he examines her closely.
“Something wrong, dear?”
“It’s icy, you just said so yourself.” She points out, “One slip and you’d do some damage to yourself no matter how you fell.”
“I’ll be careful, Miss French,” he promises, not sure why he’s smiling. Perhaps it’s the idea that she’d care, even just a little bit, if he hurt himself. She does look more anxious at the idea than he’d expect, for someone he barely knows. For anyone beyond his own kin, for that matter, and of them only Bae really gives a damn what happens to him, “Don’t worry.”
He turns to go back inside, but is startled into stopping by her hands on his arm.
“Do it after the gritting,” she suggests, almost seems to plead, “Please?”
“I’ve done it a hundred times, Miss French,” he frowns, and she removes her hands, as if his suit has burned her palms. “It’ll be fine.”
“You say that now, but then you’ll fall and end up in hospital, and I’ll feel responsible for not stopping you.”
“Then consider me fairly warned, and any harm that befalls me is on my own head.”
“Just… everyone knows this is your shop. Leave it for today and come have a coffee with me or something. Let the ice melt.”
He wonders if she knows that she essentially just asked him on what, to all intents and purposes, would look like a date. She, of course, is only concerned for Bae - as any good teacher would be - and doesn’t want an old man to kill himself on the pavement. This is an attempt to keep him from the ladder, nothing at all to do with wanting his company.
“I’m sure Bae wouldn’t want his father and his teacher in cahoots.” He says, finally, but he knows that his voice is strained with the force of trying not to agree right then and there. Her face falls, and he feels guilt churn his stomach. “Some other time, perhaps?”
“Yes,” she looks almost crestfallen, and he wonders belatedly if she - relatively new to Storybrooke and most likely not yet settled with a group of friends - is simply hoping for company. “Sorry, you’re right. I shouldn’t have asked.”
“I just meant… Alright, I’ll make you a deal.”
“Oh?” Her eyes brighten a little with interest.
“I will leave the ladder for better conditions, on the grounds of safety, and you’ll let me buy you a coffee at some point in the future.”
She beams at him, really and truly beams, and his breath catches. He covers with a handshake, the deal struck, and she just keeps on smiling. “The future, then.” She agrees, “I’ll leave you to your work.”
He nods, doesn’t follow the impulse to beg her to stick around, keep him company in his shop and release him from the tedium of his daily business.
So she leaves him one last smile, and walks carefully off down the street.
He keeps an eye on her until she’s out of view, just in case she slips again. She seems a little awkward on her feet, and he’d hate for any harm at all to come to her.
He comes home from work, a few days after his meeting with Miss French on the sidewalk, to find his son not alone in their home.
Henry Mills and Grace Hatter-Swan sit on the carpet with him, legs crossed neatly beneath them. Bae seems to be teaching them blackjack, using the jar of pennies they save on the mantelpiece, and some ancient playing cards.
“Okay, banker has nineteen, pays twenty and over!” he declares, and there’s both a little humph of disappointment and a squeal of excitement at the result.
“Sorry Henry, better luck next time,” Bae says, “Grace, you bet three right?”
“Here you go.” He hands over the coins, and Grace adds them to her neat little stacks.
Gold, watching from the doorway, almost laughs aloud at the expression on his son’s face. In the briefest moment, before he is seen watching and Bae switches to a smile of greeting, he was staring at Grace like he couldn’t bear to stop.
“Dad!” he cries, “You’re home!”
“Business was slow,” Gold explains, “Thought I’d close up early and go out for dinner, if you’re up for it?”
Bae grins, “Sounds great, yeah!”
Gold nods, “Alright, we’ll go in an hour. Are your friends coming too?”
Bae looks to Henry and Grace, “You wanna come with?”
Henry looks a little doubtful, “My mom doesn’t even know I’m here,” he admits, “She’ll want me home by seven.”
“Emma’ll be alright with it,” Grace smiles, “Can I just call home to check?”
“Go ahead, the phone’s in the hall.” Gold gestures behind him, and Grace nods and leaves to call her parents.
He doesn’t miss the little flash of pain on Henry’s face when his birth mother’s name is mentioned. Emma and Regina’s custody battle is infamous, and the strain must be getting to the little lad by now. His step-sister has the power to simply call her house and know Emma will be there; Henry can’t know if he’ll be allowed by Regina to even speak to her this week.
“I’ll call Mayor Mills myself if you want, Henry,” he offers, finally, the look on Bae’s face - which should be another signal of theirs, which screams ‘do something, I need help here!’ - too much to take. “I’m sure she’ll understand.”
He’s the largest property owner in town; he could cause major problems for her if he felt like it. Regina might hate his guts, but she’ll not arbitrarily deny her son his friend.
Even she must see that Bae brings good things for Henry; even she must understand that her boy needs a friend.
She has to be on her best behaviour: her next court date is coming up and her legal position as his mother is precarious at best. Especially with Emma now remarried, property-owning and financially stable.
Henry’s face lights up, however he tries to hide it, “Really?”
“Sure, as soon as Grace is done on the phone.”
Bae smiles, gratefully, and turns back to Henry, “How about a game of snap while we wait?”
The boys settle into their game, and Gold waits to make his call.
Regina is, unsurprisingly, more than a little bit belligerent about the whole idea. “Are you trying to take him away from me too?” she accuses.
“Alas, no,” he sighs, “I have my hands full enough with my own son, thank you. I’m asking for you to let Henry come and eat with us at Granny’s Diner, that’s it. I’ll even drop him off right after.”
“With the Hatter girl?” she snarls.
“Grace Hatter-Swan may well be in attendance, yes,” he allows.
“Is Emma Swan behind this?” he can hear the paranoia in the Mayor’s voice, and the vicious little thrill of triumph he’d felt falls away. He can’t imagine how he’d react, if someone were trying to take Bae away from him.
“No,” he sighs, “Bae just likes your boy, that’s all. Wants to be friends with him, and that might involve spending time outside of school.”
“With the Hatter girl.”
“She… she’s Bae’s guest as well.” He doesn’t want to discuss what might or might not be happening with his son’s emotions - or at least hormones - with Regina, so he settles for saying, “We’re going to go and eat, and I’ll send him back to you right after. You can come to the diner and join us, if you really want.”
“No, it’s fine.” She says, immediately, but her tone has softened a little, the panic in her voice receded. “Just make sure he’s home by nine, alright?”
“Of course. Thank you.”
“And…” she sighs, “Say hello to him for me.” He can hear an uncharacteristically sad, almost wistful, note in the Mayor’s voice, and he wonders not for the first time if this custody battle doesn’t have more than one victim.
“Alright.” He agrees, “Nine and no later.” He hangs up, and an hour later they’re off out.
He ends up walking ahead with Henry on their way to the diner, which is a little awkward considering how little he knows the lad. They end up discussing school - Henry’s near top of his class, like Bae - while Bae and Grace walk behind.
He sneaks glances back every once in a while - Bae nods occasionally, his eyes rarely, if ever, leaving the girl’s face. Gold is certain that if a tree were to grow in Bae’s path, the boy would walk right into it rather than look away.
He has, at least, been a little less foolish the few times he’s seen Miss French.
At least Bae is nursing a crush that may one day come to something. Gold cannot foresee any future where Belle French would do more than smile at him in the street.
Even if she did care enough to stop him getting hurt; even if she did invite him out for coffee.
“Are you alright, Mr Gold?” Henry asks, frowning up at him.
“I’m fine, lad, why’d you ask?”
“You look the way Jefferson sometimes looks at Emma, and not in a happy way.”
“You’re imagining things, then.” He brushes him off, “Jefferson’s a very different person from me.”
“He gave me a top hat for my birthday.” Henry says, and Gold cannot tell if the boy is happy with this gift or simply puzzled.
“Jefferson Hatter gave you a top hat?” Gold gives a low whistle, “He must like you, boy, he doesn’t give his wares away to just anyone.”
“He says he’ll teach me how to make them when I stay with them this weekend.” He says, and it’s the first time all night Gold has heard him sound genuinely happy and hopeful.
He’s seen Regina with her son: he can understand why Henry would prefer his birth mother. But he can’t help but feel a little stab of pity for the Mayor at how thoroughly she has lost the boy.
This is why he never tried to control Bae: the worst thing in Gold’s universe would be for his son to resent him the way Henry does Regina.
They arrive at the diner, and get a booth by the window. Henry sits with Bae on one side and Grace on the other, while Gold sits on the edge, an empty space beside him.
Bae, for all the cow-eyes he continues to make at Grace, entertains Henry well enough to cover it. The three of them fall into an animated conversation about the latest series of some cartoon, and Gold settles in for some people-watching.
He’s not thinking about anything, in particular, until he catches the eye of one of the women sat at the bar.
Miss French looks back at him, smiles in greeting and raises her drink in cheers. Gold smiles back, raises his own drink and takes a sip. The soda does nothing to take the edge off the rush of emotion he feels at seeing her, but at least it keeps his hands busy.
“Oh, hey, Miss French is here.” Grace follows his gaze and sees her teacher, “You wanna go say hey, Bae?”
“I think Dad does…” Bae smirks, and Gold feels he’s been caught doing something illicit.
“Hush now, boy, and eat your dinner.”
Bae just gives him an entirely too knowing look and goes back to his food.
Gold sneaks glances to her throughout the meal, but never has the courage to invite her over, or go to join her. He wishes he could, he really does, but he has rules and he’s keeping to them.
If he doesn’t tempt fate, stays away from her as much as he can, then Bae won’t get hurt and she won’t be able to reject him.
He’d rather never know if she feels anything for him at all, than ask her and know without any doubt that she does not. For how could she have any feeling for him? She’s no older than twenty-eight and beautiful, and he’s… well, he’s middle-aged and a single parent.
So he doesn’t speak to her, does nothing more than look, and he knows he’s imagining - dreaming, more like - the feeling of her eyes on him whenever he looks away.
“Are you alright, papa?”
Bae’s looking at him with concern in his eyes, and Gold - who has spent the last half hour, since they dropped Grace and Henry at their homes - raking hands through his hair and clutching his cane hard - knows he must look a picture.
“I’m fine, son,” he lies, because Belle French’s image won’t leave his mind, the last look they shared as she left the diner - as if she wished he’d speak to her, as if she was lonely and it was his fault and yet she did not blame - is burned behind his eyelids. “I just… I need some fresh air. Will you be alright if I go for a walk?”
“We just got home.” Bae frowns, confused, “But yeah, I can put the TV on and do some homework.”
“Great,” Gold sighs with relief, the idea of being able to clear his head on his own suddenly unbelievably enticing, “I’ll take my mobile, I’ll be back in an hour, two at most.”
“Alright,” Bae nods, and gives him a hug, which Gold returns willingly. His son will soon be too old to clutch at him like the child he still is, but for now it’s wonderful to still be able to hold him close. “I love you.” His voice is muffled in Gold’s suit, but he hears it all the same.
They say this whenever they leave each other; ever since the day Bae almost got hit by a car on his way home, and they met in the emergency room. He’d been fine, but there is a certain last words thing that needs keeping to.
“Love you too, son,” he murmurs, and pulls away, “Now, don’t burn the place down.”
“Fine.” Bae smirks, “Don’t go stalking any teachers.”
“Off with you, trouble.” He pushes his son back into the living room, and goes back out into the night.
He walks for what feels like hours, the pain in his leg a welcome distraction from his thoughts. He can’t even handle being near her now, apparently, without believing her as enamoured with him as he is with her. He’s delusional, he knows that, and yet he cannot stop.
It starts to rain after a half hour, once he’s in the woods. He has his torch, and the trail is one he’s known since he moved here, but it’s raining and suddenly this walk is the worst idea imaginable.
He reaches the road after another fifteen minutes, huddled under his umbrella and freezing, his leg playing hell in the cold and wet, miles from home and only a little bit lost.
He thinks of calling Bae, but he’d only call Sheriff Swan and he doesn’t want to face her laughter in this condition.
He’s close, though, to just swallowing his pride and calling her directly, when headlights appear and a small red car pulls up beside him. “Hey.” The window rolls down, and Miss French is smiling at him, “Need a ride?”
He is about to make a biting comment - the last person he needs seeing him in this condition is her - but he holds it back. He needs help, and she’s better than Emma, at least.
“Yes, indeed. Thank you.”
She shifts her bag from the passenger seat and he opens the door and sits down with a little squelching noise.
“How long were you out there?” she asks, and he feels she’s laughing at him. Somehow, he doesn’t mind one bit, so long as she’s smiling.
“Too long.” He shivers.
“I’ll get you home, Bae must be worried sick!” she starts them off again, doing a neat little three-point-turn and driving them back toward town.
“He knows I’m out, and I have my cell phone.” He replies, “I’m sure he’ll do nothing more than laugh when I return as I’ve been half-drowned.”
She laughs, glances toward him, runs her eyes up and down his bedraggled form, and nods, “Not your finest hour, I must admit.”
“Bloody Maine weather,” he grumbles.
“Always raining or about to rain,” she agrees, cheerfully, “But Scotland must be the same, right?”
He has to agree with that, “Pretty much. Not Australia, though?”
“No,” she laughs, shakes her head, “It’s more sun than anything else. Warm.”
“Don’t you miss it?”
“I like the trees here, the forests,” she sighs, and he can see the princess behind her eyes, a girl in a fairytale wandering in the woods, “The beaches back home weren’t exactly my scene.”
“But you must have had a life back there, Miss French. Friends and family? What was it that made you choose to come to a small town in Maine?”
“My grandfather… he lived here, he died and left the house to me. And I didn’t want to be a florist in Sydney, so I jumped at the chance.”
She’s not one of his tenants. He’d never thought to look; the realtors handle most of his buying, selling, and rent collection, but he’d just assumed. Somehow, the realisation comes as a large relief: there is nothing for her to gain from his friendship.
She honestly wants to spend time with him.
The ball of anxiety in his stomach clenches: it has been far too long since he knew how to be around women, particularly young and attractive ones.
“And it’s Belle, by the way,” she smiles, “Miss French is what my students call me. I’m just Belle.”
Gold couldn’t imagine her ever being ‘just’ anything, but he smiles, nods, “I’m… I’m Rum. Cameron, actually, but… yes, my name is Rum.”
“Rum…” she smiles, and he nearly dies at the sound of his name on her lips, “I like that. Sweet, with a pleasant after-burn.” She smiles at him, teasingly “Suits you down to the ground.”
Sweet? She thought him- “Yours… yes, yours is perfect. Belle. Beautiful, correct?”
He was always rubbish at compliments, but at least blunt-force honesty is a decent fallback. “In French, yes. But I’ve never lived up to the name.”
“I beg to differ, but it’s a matter of opinion, I suppose.” He says, and he sees her blushing. She blushes when he tells her she’s beautiful: she is either modest or greatly pleased, and most likely a bit of both.
“Well, in any case, I’d prefer it to Miss French.” She smiles as if to break some tension between them.
“Alright then, Belle. What made you decide to teach?”
“I like the sound of my own voice.” She confides, and he laughs. “No, I just… I like feeling like I’ve done something at the end of the day. Some kid is a bit less miserable or ignorant or just… they know something they didn’t. It’s nice.”
He nods, staring at her some more. One day, he thinks, she’ll be able to say something like that and he won’t gape at her. But not tonight.
They pull up outside his house, and she stops the car. She turns to him, smiling, “Now, don’t go walking out in any more rainstorms, okay?”
“It wasn’t raining when I went out.”
She laughs, ducks her head, and he follows her almost unconsciously, trying to see her eyes. “You could have caught your death.”
“You seem to think me rather fragile, dearie. I’ve survived this long.”
“And Bae, too,” she nods, smiling, “It’s a marvel.”
“I don’t often walk at night,” he admits, as if trying to prove some point about his ability to look after himself, “I needed to clear my head.”
“Oh, is something wrong?” she’s somehow closer than she was, and her eyes are so wide with concern he thinks he might drown in them.
“I have… a lot on my mind, at the moment.” She’s not helping matters. If she leans toward him any closer, says anything more to indicate that she may care for him even just a little, he’s going to kiss her. And that would be such a phenomenally stupid idea, but he wouldn’t be able to stop himself.
And yet, he couldn’t move from his seat if he wanted to.
“I see.” She nods, “Anything in particular?”
“Um…” he’s at a loss for words: he can’t lie, not to her, and yet the truth is too mortifying to contemplate. “Just… no, nothing specific. Life’s just a bit hectic at the moment.”
“Oh,” she looks down, and he can’t be imagining the little flicker of disappointment in her eyes, “Yes, I suppose so.”
“Why were you driving so late?” he asks, despite how desperately he needs to end this conversation and leave the car, despite how stupid it is to keep talking to her.
“Same reason,” she laughs, but it sounds more hollow than it usually does, a little lost, “Too many thoughts.”
She sighs, “I’m kind of… nursing this massive crush on a guy who obviously isn’t interested.” He feels his heart sink, and morbidly starts to wonder who the lucky bastard is, and how slowly he can kill him for being so ungrateful. To have Belle’s heart and reject it would be the greatest sin imaginable, he thinks.
“Oh?” He can’t keep the disappointment off his face, and hopes she doesn’t see it, “Who is he, then?”
She sounds as if she might cry, “Oblivious, too,” she nods, “Never would have thought.”
“Obliv-“ he stops mid-sentence, unable to even think it possible. He wants to ask a hundred questions, wants desperately to know for certain if she means what he thinks she does, but something - some deep, primal part of his brain - takes over.
He reaches across, and cups the back of her neck with his hand, pulling her toward him fast enough that she cannot pull away, so he can press his lips to hers softly, slowly. He sucks her lower lip between both of his, caresses her mouth with his and catches the little moan she makes in the back of her throat, as her palm comes up to hold the side of his face.
She is kissing him back, as soft and tender and tentative as he, and it is the most beautiful thing he’s ever felt.
When they pull apart, he cannot keep the smile from his face. She stares at him, as if she cannot understand at all, “What is happening?”
“I… I kissed you…” he says, as the enormity of what just happened dawns on him, “I’d like to do it again, if… if that works for you?”
She makes a kind of choked little giggle, “Go ahead, kiss me again. It’s definitely working.” There’s a shine in her eyes that wasn’t there before, somewhere between laughter and some kind of ecstatic joy, and he couldn’t refuse her if he tried.
He kisses her again, and this time she gasps against his lips, allows him to explore her mouth with his tongue, to find the little places that make her shudder and moan. She tastes of rainwater, of tea and honey, and he could stay like this forever, with Belle’s tongue stroking against his, her hands on his face and his tangled in her hair, forever
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