Fic: Rumour Has It - Chapter 2
AU: Because of one little lie, everyone at Storybrooke University now thinks that Belle Charmin is sleeping around, and Professor Gold, the only guy who seems to believe her innocence, is totally off limits. Easy A!AU.
A/N: Yeah, I planned on being all restrained and posting once a week or something. But I love this chapter to bits, so here it is. Enjoy!
Chapter 1 - Chapter 2 - Chapter 3 - Chapter 4 - Chapter 5 - Chapter 6
Rumour Has It
I don’t know why Storybrooke U is such a breeding ground for bitchy gossip, but Ruby’s voice carried far and everyone heard it.
So it was all over campus within a week that I was a dirty, filthy skank who - depending upon who was asked - had had sex with three guys at once in a hot tub, had banged a total stranger down an alleyway and caught an STD, or had slept with a police officer to keep from getting done on indecency charges for sucking someone else off in a car.
I liked the last one: it was at least more intricate and less cliche than the others.
So yeah, that was a fun week.
At least everyone had stopped asking me if I was okay, or wondering about why Greg left. Now I was a campus slut to rival the worst sorority girls, and no one cared what the truth really was.
No one cared that, actually, I’d never even had sex with Greg. He’d come out to me around the time we started college, and I’d spent a year being my best friend’s beard. So there was that.
I suppose I was sick of being the girl who’d only ever had one not-very-affectionate boyfriend. Maybe that was why I didn’t give a shit when everyone watched me walking down the corridors, when people suddenly knew my name and said hi to me in classes.
Maybe that was why I bought more low-cut t-shirts and went without tights with short skirts, and why suddenly my shoes were high heels more often than not despite my total lack of balance. If people wanted to see a shameless nympho, then that’s what they’d get.
People only see you how they want to see you, anyway. And they seemed to like me an awful lot more now that I had my new reputation.
I guess I was a bit naive back then. I thought everyone would be happy to stare at my chest and talk loudly behind my back. I didn’t think anyone would react badly: it was college, after all, we were all legal and young enough to enjoy it. I didn’t think anyone would call me out to my face.
I was very, very wrong.
This section has it’s own title: Four Interrogations In The Space Of Two Hours.
Professor Gold leaned against the desk and folded his arms, as he waited for everyone to finish scribbling down the last point. His eyes were scanning the left side of the room, and so Belle was able to glance up to check the time without meeting his gaze.
Gold was a bastard for looking right at her the moment she glanced up from her work, and meeting his eyes - especially now, with everyone talking about her - felt awkward.
With the freedom to look a little longer without being seen, Belle was oddly struck by how well his suit fitted him, his shirtsleeves rolled up over wiry, toned forearms, the deep red bringing out the rich brown of his eyes.
She stared only a moment, before glancing back down sharply and shaking her head to clear it: she had been declared a ‘super slut’ only a week ago, and here she was eyeing up her professor. Maybe Ruby was psychic or something.
They were studying the Great Gatsby, and of course that week they covered the sexual undertones of the work. Sometimes, Belle honestly believed that the universe was playing her for laughs.
“So,” Gold’s voice, low and almost drawling and Scottish, did little to snap her out of her staring, “We come to Myrtle Wilson’s death. The death of a major character is always a good point at which to evaluate their general presence in the novel, and their impact on events,” he eyed his class, “So that’s what this week’s essay topic will be: the impact and importance of Myrtle in the novel as a whole.”
The class groaned, and Belle with them. It was an interesting topic, to be sure, but she just knew that her evaluation wouldn’t meet with Gold’s approval. “Would anyone like to start the discussion?” he asked, and was met with silence.
Then, slowly, Ashley raised her hand, “Yes, Miss Boyd?”
“Well…” she hesitated a moment, blonde curls shaking over her face, “I think Myrtle Wilson was, if you’ll excuse my language, a total whore.”
“Oh?” Gold raised his eyebrows, “And so yours is a negative reading of her character? Anyone like to disagree with Ashley?”
His eyes rested on Belle, and she could see that he knew she’d have something to say about that. The mocking little smirk on his lips was new, though, and she knew with utter certainty that he must have overheard Ruby in the corridor and probably every other story since. Fuck.
She sighed: she would have defended the character anyway, even without everything else going on in her life, and she couldn’t help but dance to Gold’s tune. She raised her hand, and his eyes gleamed, “Yes, Belle?”
“I think that that’s an unfair analysis, considering Myrtle’s circumstances.”
“So you believe that the circumstances surrounding her actions excuse the wrongdoing itself?”
“I think she was a poor woman, who knew the only way out of her situation was to perhaps act differently from the morals of her time.”
“Of her time?” Ashley turned to her, scorn written all over her pretty face, “The woman was a total skank in any decade; she deserved everything she got.” She sniffed, looked down her nose at Belle, “But I suppose that’s a predictable opinion coming from a fellow slut.”
Belle thought she might launch herself from her chair and slap the girl herself, but instead she just sat back, arms crossed, and said “And I suppose that’s a good point coming from an over-privileged tight-assed bitch.”
Ashley gasped as if she’d been slapped, “You just wait until Professor Mills hears about this.” she hissed.
“Fucking bite me.” Belle muttered, and instantly regretted it.
“Alright, Miss Charmin, that’s more than enough.” Professor Gold sighed, “You can copy the notes from a fellow classmate, please collect your things and leave.”
“No arguments. And see me in my office after class is finished, if you please. I will not have that kind of language in my class.”
Belle blushed furiously as she gathered her things and - under Gold’s cold stare - hurried from the room. She was mortified, yes, but it was worse than that. She was so angry she could push someone in front of a bus. Hopefully Ashley Boyd.
She swallowed hard, and counted to ten, before going and sitting on one of the seats outside Gold’s office to wait. There was no reason to go elsewhere: she’d only be late back, and then he’d be even angrier at her.
She sat with her head in her hands, and rubbed her face furiously. She had the stupid urge to cry or die then and there or just to run home to her mother and never come back.
She’d been yelled at and dismissed by her favourite teacher, who was known campus-wide magnificent bastard. She’d seen him chew out other students before for far less than swearing in class, and she didn’t take back a word she’d said, and yet it still felt like she’d been punched in the stomach.
“Hey, Beauty, what’s up?” someone sat themselves down in the seat next to her, and she was greeted by a familiar scent of turpentine and old cloth.
“Hatter?” she turned her head on her hands to see Jefferson smiling at her, “What’re you doing here?”
“I thought I’d come and see you, but your roommate said you had class.” He shrugged, then frowned at her, taking in her less than happy expression, “Someone kill your bunny or something?”
“Oh,” she sniffed, realised belatedly that she’d been crying like the child she apparently was, “No, I just… bitch in class decided my business was her business.”
“I heard a whisper on the wind,” he nodded, thoughtfully, “Anyone need a visit from the Queen of Hearts?”
She laughed, but it was wet and sniffly, “No, I can deal with it. Ashley had a point, anyway.”
“Oh?” he raised his eyebrows, “What did she say?”
“She called me a slut.” Belle said, flatly, and nodded “Which is fairly accurate these days, I suppose.”
“Ah yes, the infamous one night stand with the whole football team,” he nodded, thoughtfully, “How’d that go, anyway? I heard Graham Hunter is hung like a horse.”
She snorted, “Is that what you heard?”
“Yeah,” he smirked, “Also that you’re pregnant and were seen hanging around the planned parenthood.”
“I was getting condoms for Ruby,” she replied, “Cause she’s too scared to go herself. Probably because of rumours like that.”
“So it isn’t true?”
She gave him a look, “Come on, Hatter.”
“What?” he held up his hands defensively, “I don’t know, you might have gone mad since Greg left, need some company?”
“You’re the mad one, not me.” She replied, but she was smiling, so that was something. He’d been the Mad Hatter to her since the senior year school play, a kind of fairy tale mash-up called The Enchanted Forest. She’d been Beauty from Beauty and the Beast; he’d been the Hatter in Wonderland.
Her little sister, a sophomore at the time, had been double-cast as Alice and as a random knight in the scenes requiring them. Despite Belle’s insistence that she was certain Jeff was gay, Emma had hung off his every word all year. She still blushed when Jefferson stopped by the house and called her his Alice.
“And you’re the brave Beauty,” he countered, teasingly, “So go deny this bullshit and move on with your life.”
“I… I can’t.”
“Because I kind of… started it?” his eyes widened, and she shook her head, “No, no I didn’t, but I let it spread and didn’t stop it. Ruby declared me a super-slut about a week back and it kind of escalated from there.”
“And why’d you let that happen?” he frowned at her, “I mean, if it’s making trouble for you like this?”
She sighed, “I don’t know… I just… fuck…” she buried her head back in her hands, “I kind of… I like people remembering me for being more than just one half of Belle-and-Greg, you know? I mean, I don’t have a problem with promiscuity as a rule, people can do what they want, who am I to judge? So why should I care what people say when I know it’s a lie?”
“Because you’re sat crying in the hallway, maybe?” Jefferson suggested.
“That’s not because Ashley Boyd decided to be a bitch,” she argued back, “That’s because I responded wrong and got my ass kicked by my professor. Who I’d like not to hate me, if it’s at all possible.”
“Well, good luck with that.” Jefferson smiled, and she smiled back, a little tiredly.
“Where’ve you been lately, anyway?” she asked, changing the subject, “I never see you around anymore.”
“Oh, you know,” he shrugged, but there was something else in his eyes, something angry and dark, “Trashcans, the swimming pool, I think the rose bushes behind the Delta Iota Kappa house one time.”
“Really?” she turned to face him properly, and noticed for the first time the shadowy bruise to his cheekbone, the little cuts on his hands, “Oh my god, Hatter, what happened?”
“Turns out the Deltas are rampant homophobes. And apparently stylish hats and scarves are a mark of homosexuality rather than having some fucking fashion sense.”
“They jumped you.” It wasn’t a question.
“A few times, actually. The library is, at least, safe until midnight when Grace can come and walk me home. Apparently being with a girl - even my twin sister - is enough to stop them from coming after me.”
“Why don’t you report them for hate crimes or something?”
“I don’t think it works if they only think you’re gay.” He gave a tight little smile at her wide-eyed surprise, “You’re not the only one people lie about.”
She gave a little snort of laughter, and he frowned at her, “I’m sorry! It’s just… oh, god, we’re a right pair, aren’t we?”
“Hey, at least I’m not spreading my own rumour!” he protested, “Unlike some I could mention. It’s really fucked up that you want people to believe that you’re a massive skank.”
“Better than being the mopey little nobody in the corner.” She replied, “People actually notice me now, you know? Guys smile at me rather than barging past on their way to the men’s room.”
“All because of this one little lie.”
“Yep. I was fine with all of it until Ashley Boyd decided to stick her stupid little blonde head in.”
“Well, she’s a stuck-up bitch, and even if you were a total whore I’d have nothing but love for you.” He gave her a sideways hug, and she rested her head on his shoulder a moment, drawing comfort from the truth of that.
“So wait…” she narrowed her eyes at him as they broke away, “If you’re straight… this hasn’t all been one big plan to get in my pants, has it? Because you might be the only one here who knows that’s not happening.”
He laughed at her, “Belle,” he shook his head, “Trust me that any thought of attraction was gone the moment you threw up in my top hat opening night. I think Grace has a better chance, and she’s my blood sister.”
“Alright,” she grumbled, “Don’t have to rub it in.”
“Disappointed?” he teased, standing and giving a mocking little bow, “Were you holding out some hope?”
“Ew!” she swatted at his forearm, wrinkling her nose like a child, “Don’t even joke about such things.”
“You started it, Beauty.”
“Then let me finish it, Hatter.” She replied, before being interrupted by the creak of the classroom door and a sudden rush of chattering voices. She glanced away for no more than half a second, but when she looked back Jefferson was gone.
He melted into walls, that boy; she sighed and shook her head.
She wondered if her newfound infamy could help him out at all. But her train of thought was interrupted by the office door opening, and a brisk Scottish accent “You can come in now, Miss Charmin.”
He rarely called students by their surnames, at least not his favourites. Belle had counted herself among those he liked best, despite his dislike of some of her opinions: twice in one day as ‘Miss Charmin’ meant he must be pissed at her.
A wave of stubbornness rushed through her: if he was going to be an asshole about this, then so was she. He was, after all, one Lit professor in a whole faculty, and his class was just one of her course credits. If he decided to hate her for a fight she didn’t even start, then she had no reason to give a damn.
“Please, take a seat.” He gestured to the chair facing his desk, and she did as she was asked. His office was darker than some of the other professors’, mostly from clutter and large, old fashioned furniture crammed into every available space. His blind was half-down despite it being a grey, October day outside. It gave the room the feeling of a cave, of a dragon’s den, and she thought it could be warm and cozy under the right circumstances.
Professor Gold, staring her down over the table with his hands folded in front of his face, eyes hard, was not the right circumstance.
“You understand why you’re here?” he began, and she nodded, resisting the temptation to snark back something about ‘no, of course not, I assumed you meant to give me a gold star for good behaviour.’ “Good. Good thing. I won’t have to explain, then, how vastly inappropriate that language was in front of the class.”
His voice was hard, sharp, and Belle felt the restraining strings inside her snap. She had a sharp temper, as her papa put it, and she was bloody well going to use it, “I would like to point out, sir, that I didn’t start it.”
“Oh, so we’re playing playground games now, I see,” he smiled sarcastically at her, and she almost winced at the bite in his voice, “She started it, did she?”
“Ashley Boyd called me a slut, Professor, and I don’t understand how that itself was appropriate.”
“And it justified a response, did it? One word from her and five from you? Your essays are more succinct, at least.”
She didn’t know how to respond to that, so finally she sighed, and said, “I’m sorry for swearing like that in class. It was rude and inappropriate.”
He looked a little startled by her sudden capitulation, “Well, thank you, Miss Charmin.”
“I am not, however, sorry for the sentiment, or the timing, or the feelings of the person it was aimed at. The words themselves were out of place. That’s it.”
“You’d make a fine lawyer, dearie, with that kind of small print.”
She smirked at him, riding high on the feeling that he’d said the worst he could, and the body-blows had glanced off her like nothing. Perhaps because his eyes glittered with something like amusement, and she was enjoying arguing with him more than she felt she ought to.
“I’ll have to start getting higher grades than B-minuses for that to happen.” She countered, wondering if she could take advantage of this odd little moment to get a proper answer.
He looked a little uneasy, and then he sighed, “I am sorry your grades are not to your satisfaction, dearie.”
“You gave Ava Tillman an A last week, and I know for a fact that she dashed it off the night before.”
“Belle-“ He tried to cut her off, but she was caught in her flow, and with her newfound courage she wasn’t willing to stop yet.
“And I know my essays are good, I know it, and I did fine with Professor Grimm last year, so I want to know what you find so wrong with my arguments.”
“I’m trying to explain, dearie, if you’d care to listen. Or are we back on the playground again?” He raised an eyebrow, and Belle shut her mouth. “Better, alright: your readings are some of the best in the class, you know that. But your opinions lack… depth. You shout them at me; there’s no subtlety or reasoning behind it.”
“I have a chance at an A, then?” she asked, hopefully, and he spread his hands
“If you stop having cat-fights in the middle of my classroom, then I have no doubts.”
“She bloody started it.” She grumbled, and hoped immediately afterward that he wouldn’t count that as a second offence.
“Ashley Boyd…” he regarded Belle for a moment, and then nodded almost imperceptibly, “If she gets a C-minus in this class by the end of the semester, I’ll know she cheated on the test.”
Belle let out a little laugh of surprise, “I’d offer to help her out except… well, she’d probably need dousing in holy water after.”
Gold laughed, a small but entirely genuine little chuckle, and Belle found herself thinking that it would be worth getting thrown out of every damn class on her timetable, if it would make him smile like that. She squashed that idea down mercilessly.
“Holiness is over-rated, dearie, in my experience. As are those who seek it.”
She wasn’t sure how to answer that; his eyes were too intense, fixed on her, his smile thoughtful and almost… approving. “Right.” She nodded.
“Anyway, you doubtless have classes to get to, so I’ll let you be on your way. I hope we understand each other in terms of appropriate behaviour now.”
Her mind darted for two unsupervised seconds to a very interesting, heated place. But he was talking about the swearing, “Perfectly.” She nodded, stood and was about to leave when something - something she’d been pissed about, before he started smiling and being nice to her again - flashed back into her head, “Although…”
He looked up from organising the papers on his desk, “Yes, Belle?”
“I make no promises if someone starts calling me things like that again. She calls me a slut and all bets are off.”
After all, ‘slut’ was easily as bad as ‘tight-assed bitch’, and yet it had been Belle hauled in for this little chat. It didn’t seem fair to moderate her behaviour when Ashley Boyd could say whatever she damn well pleased.
“I will step in earlier next time, you have my word.” His ire seemed to have cooled entirely, and he almost looked a little apologetic.
She nodded, “Then you have mine. I’ll see you tomorrow, Professor.”
“Yes, see you tomorrow, Belle.”
He smiled one last time, soft and warm and gentle, and her heart was racing when she left the office. She had no idea how she’d gone from seething to blushing in less than ten minutes, but she groaned as she threw herself back against the wall, and ran a hand down over her face.
She wandered off down the hallway in a daze, trying and failing to keep from remembering every moment of the meeting. Somehow, admiration for a good teacher had grown into a full-scale crush in less than ten minutes, most of which was spent bickering, and she had no idea at all how that had happened.
She nearly crashed headlong into someone else, coming the other way.
She was hit with a wave of expensive perfume, apple-scented and overly sweet. Professor Mills was a woman Belle had heard more rumours of than anything else, but what she’d heard she didn’t like.
“I’m sorry,” she said, quickly, “I wasn’t looking.”
“Oh, don’t worry, dear,” Professor Mills’ smile was too friendly, her eyes black and gleaming, “I was hoping to bump into you.”
“Me?” Belle felt her stomach tighten, and she had had enough of talking for one day. Ashley, then Jefferson, and then Gold, and somewhere between the accusations and the understanding she had lost the ability to give a damn. But apparently, her day wasn’t over yet.
“Of course,” Professor Mills shrugged her shoulders under her expensive dark suit, “You are, after all, a source of distress for one of my students.”
Ashley had run straight to her mentor, then. Bloody wonderful.
“I’m sorry, who are you?” Belle knew that it was insulting, to pretend not to know this woman, but then she didn’t feel like playing nice. Regina Mills was about to insult her, she had no doubt of that, and for all that she was a student and Mills a professor, Belle didn’t back down from a fight. Her third of the day, this one, and that was still holding true.
“Oh, how silly of me,” Mills’ eyes flashed dangerously, but she held out a cold, pale hand for Belle to shake, “I’m Regina Mills; I teach political science. I also run the Student Ethics Committee, and it is in that capacity that I feel the need to have a word.”
“Well, I’m sorry, Professor,” Belle ducked around so, she had her back to the rest of the corridor, ready to flee, “But I’m not on the Committee, and have already been reprimanded for what I said to Ashley, if that’s your problem.”
Regina’s lip curled, “My problem, Miss Charmin, is that there is one more rotten apple poisoning this school.”
“I’m sorry,” Belle laughed: this woman had some nerve, openly insulting a student without provocation. “What?”
“Don’t pretend you don’t know,” Regina’s smile was pure malice, “Word of your exploits reaches far, young lady, and I’m worried for the damage it could cause.”
“Last I checked, Professor, it’s a free country. You teach polysci, right? First amendment protects everyone’s right to say whatever they want.”
She was openly mouthing off to a teacher, for the second time that day, and all she wanted right now was a hot chocolate the way her mother made it - cinnamon on top and frothy - and a lie down. But instead, her spine was straight, and she could barely even feel her shaking legs and pounding heart.
Snark couldn’t get you expelled, after all, and Regina would hate her either way.
She also had a sneaking suspicion that Gold would fight in her corner, if it came down to it, and he could defeat Regina with a snap of his fingers.
“My current issue isn’t with people gossiping, although it is a grave problem with this school. Your actions, Miss Charmin, are irresponsible in the extreme, not to mention sinful and decadent.”
“I’m sorry,” Belle shook her head, “But isn’t my behaviour my responsibility? I am not addicted to something dangerous, besides the internet on occasion, and I’m not pregnant or breaking any laws. So I’d ask you to leave the judgement to whatever higher power you believe in, and leave me alone.”
It was a pretty speech, and she wished the moment she’d said it that she’d left it alone. Gold was one thing: she respected him, and she felt he probably felt the same for her. And even if he didn’t, he was at least a decent human being.
Regina, however, could cause significant problems, and here Belle was snarking back and being openly disrespectful. She wondered if perhaps Jefferson had managed to slip her something without her noticing.
“There may be a higher power to watch for such things in the world at large,” Regina hissed, her voice still sweetly murderous, “But here in Storybrooke, it is my job to stop the spread of evil, Miss Charmin.”
“Then I’d start with the Delta Iota Kappas,” Belle snapped back, “They’re violent bullies, by the sound of it.”
“I have other appointments, unfortunately,” Regina replied, after a moment, “But think on what I’ve said. Some behaviour is beyond a joke.”
“Yes, some behaviour is.” Belle nodded, and waited for the other woman to turn on her heel and march away before doing the same.
She was shaking from head to toe, and not for the first time in her life she wished herself capable of keeping her mouth shut and not getting into a fight. But that had never been in her nature.
She turned once, and saw Regina enter Gold’s office. Her heart sank in her chest, and she resolved to get very, very drunk in her dorm room to forget the whole day.
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