Fic: Ink Stains and Pencil Shavings (1/3)
Title: Ink Stains and Pencil Shavings (1/3)
Rating: this chapter is PG-13 at most, rating may increase later
Summary: Belle French finds herself drawn to one of her students’ fathers, and Mr Gold doesn’t seem to have a problem with it.
A/N: this is the companion piece to Chalkdust, and basically the story from Belle’s point of view. Not identical, but the same timeline. Because I felt like things needed explaining, and had scenes I wanted to put in that didn’t make it. Prior knowledge of that fic is probably not needed.
This is set in an entirely non-magical AU ‘verse. Meaning that there was no Fairytale Land backstory.
Belle had learned early in her teaching career that there were days that could go an awful lot worse than this one.
Her first job had been in a school in the bad part of Sydney, working with children who were already just a few years away from their first criminal records. She’d done her best, and never regretted the experience, but once the first window had been smashed she had decided that perhaps it was time to move on.
But still, with death threats and smashed windows as a frame of reference, Belle is not at all shocked or upset when Benjamin Gold - complaining somewhat melodramatically all morning of an aching stomach and nausea - decides to throw up his lunch all over the middle of the classroom floor.
That he doesn’t splash anyone in the process Belle considers a personal victory. After all, it was her idea to arrange the seating in a horseshoe shape, so that everyone could see one another.
On the other hand, the odour spreads quickly, and more than half the classroom, and all but one of the girls, makes some form of shrieking noise and jumps away.
“Oh, calm down everyone,” she injects a note of firm exasperation into her voice, “We’ve all been ill before.” She takes a breath, then regrets it when the smell hits the back of her throat, “Bae, do you want to go the medical room?”
Bae nods, his face still a sickly green colour, and staggers from the room. The children inch away as he passes as if he is a plague sufferer.
“Oh, come along,” she chides, “It’s not that bad.”
“But miss,” one of the girls, Julie Capper, whines, “It almost splashed my shoes!”
“But it didn’t,” Belle points out, reasonably, “So could you perhaps choose a friend to go with you and go find the janitor?” She smiles, sweetly, and Julia nods, taking hold of Anna Turner’s hand - the pair are inseparable - and leading the way out of the room.
“Everyone else, lunch will start in five minutes anyway, so you might as well go get a head start in the cafeteria line.”
The children all nod, shock and her obvious handling of the situation rendering them placid, and file almost neatly out of the classroom doors. Belle waits for a moment until the janitor arrives and - taking in the situation immediately - drags his cleaning trolley inside with him.
“One of the kids, Miss French?” he asks, and she smiles a little, nodding.
“Yeah, I’m really sorry Leroy. If I’d known he wasn’t faking I’d have got him to the bathroom well before anything happened.”
“Which one’ve them was it?” he asks, curiously.
Belle makes a face, knowing what his reaction will be to the news, “Bae Gold.”
“Oh.” he nods, a little flash of trepidation at the boy’s surname passing over his face. Belle is more and more curious to meet the man who inspires such fear and dislike even in someone as straightforward and unflappable as Leroy. “Right, well, I’ll have it cleaned up before the kids get back, but you might wanna open some windows this afternoon.”
“Will do, thanks!” Belle gives him one last smile, and a sympathetic pat on the shoulder, before leaving to tend to Bae.
Kathryn Nolan has told her on numerous occasions that sick kids just need to be left in the medical room, that the parents can sort them out. But then, Kathryn’s class this year is well known to be one of the worst behaved in the school, and Belle assumes that with children like that to deal with all day it’s likely that she’d develop the same attitude.
But she likes the kids, this year, and Bae is one of her brightest pupils. Despite the hijinks she’s heard tell of elsewhere, he never causes trouble for her, at least not in class. It almost felt like he did so on purpose, out of some strange form of respect she hadn’t quite worked out yet.
Belle rather likes that a boy with such a poor reputation as he has - Mary Margaret Blanchard had been all sympathy and advice when his name had appeared on Belle’s register on their first day back - behaves so well just for her. And so she feels it is her duty to go and make sure he’s okay, at least until his father arrives.
She assumes, at least, that it will be his father. She’s heard nothing at all about there being a Mrs Gold, and considering the breadth of knowledge the town seems to hold and delight in about Mr Gold, she finds it hard to believe that his wife would go without even a passing mention.
Bae has a bucket, probably supplied by Ashley at the reception desk, but he looks better than he had in the classroom. Belle settles herself in the chair at his bedside, and presses a hand to his forehead to feel his temperature.
“How’re you feeling, Bae?”
The boy groans, “Bad.”
She strokes his hair back away from his face. The poor boy is burning up, and she feels the sudden maternal urge to press her lips to his forehead, as if he were a baby with colic. But his father will be here in no time, and he can do that. Mr Gold doesn’t seem like the forehead-kissing type, but people can surprise you.
Bae, the few times the subject has come up, speaks very warmly about his father. Belle is inclined to believe that children know their parents better than idle town gossips do.
So she strokes back his hair, and holds his bucket steady when it seems he may be sick again, and this is how the boy’s father finds them when he arrives.
“Excuse me? I’m here to collect my son.” A voice, low and male and Scottish, comes from the doorway, and Belle turns to greet the newcomer.
She is a little surprised, when her eyes fall on a man not all that much taller than she herself, slight and unassuming, his weight rested on a cane.
“Oh, good,” she smiles, “Look, Benjamin, your father’s here.”
Bae glances up, and Belle winces a little at how small and sickly he looks. He does, at least, attempt a smile: she can’t imagine the boy wishes to appear weak in front of his father, “Hey, dad.”
“You’ve really made a mess of yourself here, haven’t you, Bae?” There is a warmth in his tone, underneath a certain amount of wry amusement. Fathers, Belle has found, are prone to act that way around sons. Men do not enjoy showing or acknowledging weakness in front of one another.
Belle, however, feels she needs to intercede on the boy’s behalf as she helps him up, “It wasn’t his fault, children get sick all the time.” She hauls Bae to his feet, and holds him upright as he staggers across to his father.
“He ate the ice cream when it said it was three weeks out of date,” Gold replies, nonplussed, ”I’d say it’s exactly the little cretin’s fault.” Bae looks a little shamefaced, and Belle resists the urge to sigh and roll her eyes. She isn’t a fan of cliche, but the words ‘boys will be boys’ do spring to mind.
Gold’s arm is, however, wrapped around his son’s shoulders, and he holds him into his chest protectively, as much to provide comfort, Belle feels, as to hold the boy upright.
No, she cannot believe that this man can be as bad as the town legends would tell. Not when he is curled around his sick child like he’d fight with his bare hands anyone who dared touch him, and his eyes soften so deeply whenever he glances down at the top of the boy’s head.
Not that she’s looking at his eyes all that hard, of course not. They are, however, the deepest shade of tobacco brown she has ever seen.
She rallies, pulls herself together, “He’s a smart boy: I’m sure he’s learnt his lesson, if that’s the case.”
She collects Bae’s bag and coat from the floor and hands them over, more to distract herself from her own scrutiny of the pair before her than out of any driving urge to help. She figures that throwing her Miss French schoolmarm face on will help mask the curiosity building in her mind.
She makes the mistake of allowing her fingers to brush his as she hands over the bags. It’s ridiculous - she must be hormonal or something - how her skin warms where they touch.
She puts it down to the fact that he is not what she imagined, small and slight instead of large and looming, and he is handsome, in his own way. Those eyes especially.
“Is he likely to make a mess of the car on the way home?” he asks, pulling his hand back and folding the coat over his arm.
“No, I think the worst has passed.” She smiles, and there’s a brief flicker of light in Gold’s eyes as he almost smiles back. Then he seems to think the better of it, and Belle turns her attention to the sickly green boy by his side. “But if not, please try not to make as much of a problem in your father’s car as you did in my classroom.”
She sees Gold’s spine straighten, his head perk up just a little bit, as realisation dawns in his eyes. “You’re my son’s teacher.” He nods, “Well, it’s lovely to meet you, I’m sure.”
She has to wonder who he thought had been nursing his son, but then he has his hand stretched out toward her and, even knowing the multitude of humiliations she could bring upon herself by accepting, she places her hand in his and shakes.
His skin is warm, a little rough, his grip strong and firm.
“Likewise.” She nods, smiling because he is, and for the scariest man in town he really does have a lovely smile, “Now get this little one home before he decides to ruin my shoes.”
“Of course.” He nods, breaks their contact and holds his son a little closer as he turns them to leave.
Belle can’t help but watch them leave with her smile still in place. No one could be as hostile, as difficult and plain frightening, as the town makes Mr Gold out to be. Especially not a man with such warm eyes, and such a loving smile for his son.
Belle’s curiosity has finally gotten the better of her, it seems, four days later. She has to ask. She’s been a little distracted, hoping Bae Gold really isn’t dying as he’d claimed the other day… more hoping that perhaps his father might drop him off late someday so she can catch another glimpse.
She’s intrigued by him. That’s it.
“Hey,” Belle crosses the teachers’ lounge and takes a seat next to Kathryn, holding her tea in both hands and trying to not look too interested, “Can I ask you something?”
“Sure,” Kathryn sets down her magazine and smiles to her friend, “What’s up?”
“Um,” Belle’s courage falters a moment, but she barrels on anyway, tucking a strand of hair a little nervously behind one ear, “What’s the deal with Mr Gold? You know, Benjamin’s father?”
“So you had your meeting.” Kathryn smiles sympathetically as Belle takes a long sip of her tea.
“Hm?” she frowns at her friend, “Meeting?”
“With Mr Gold.” Kathryn grimaces, “You’re new in town, so he’ll be putting the super-scare on you to make sure you pay up on time. Don’t worry, he does his bastard thing once or twice and then he leaves you alone.”
“He only came by here a few days ago because Benjamin got sick,” Belle says, “And he was nice enough, I suppose. Nothing scary.”
“That’s odd.” Mary Margaret pipes up, looking up from her marking, “My first week in town he was by to warn me that one slip up and I’d be homeless. He meant it, too.”
“I don’t owe him any money, though.” Belle frowns, “My house is in my name.”
“Then he must really hate you,” Mary Margaret laughs, “He hates anyone not indebted to him.”
“That’s why he and the Mayor are always at each others’ throats,” Kathryn adds, “Because she paid off all her debts to him and owes him nothing. Lucky cow.”
“He didn’t seem so bad,” Belle says, cautiously, a little put off by her friends’ obvious dislike, “I mean, he was good with his son and everything.”
“Belle,” Mary Margaret says, a little patronisingly to Belle’s ears, “One thing I’ve learned in this job is that there are some lovely people who make horrible parents, and some really awful people who are great with their kids.”
“I suppose…” Belle replies, a little doubtfully.
It isn’t the answer she had wanted, admittedly: she had rather hoped her friends would agree with her assessment that he was just guy with a bad reputation, that he couldn’t be as awful as everyone expected.
But then again, she thinks, all she knows from Mary Margaret and Kathryn was that he is a very strict landlord, who wants his agreements followed. Surely someone can be a stern and somewhat forbidding businessman and still be a good person underneath?
She has no idea why it matters to her so much: after all, she’s only met the man once.
But she is fond of Bae, and there is a large part of her that is keen to know that the boy has a better home life than his actions might suggest. Kids who act out as he does, Belle knows, often come from difficult homes.
If she can know that Mr Gold is a better man than the town believes, then she can feel a little easier knowing that the boy is simply too bright for his own good, with a knack for trouble.
Mr Gold, Belle finds, cuts a rather impressive figure in his dark suit, with his warm brown eyes and firm hands on his cane.
He is a little less impressive, however, stood alone and somewhat awkwardly beside a big yellow school bus, shunned by the Hatter-Swans who stand to the side. Belle has no idea why the Sheriff and her new husband dislike the man enough to ignore him completely, but she is fairly new to Storybrooke and has a few too many curiosities to contemplate already.
He looks a little lonely, forlorn, although she’s certain most other people would say he is simply intimidating.
She helps the kids to file onto the bus for the trip to the zoo, and is not surprised when she sees - while giving her “now please behave or I’ll have to feed you to something with lots of teeth” speech to the group - Gold sat alone near the front.
His son is a few rows back, sharing a comic book with Henry Mills. Belle can forgive the boy abandoning his father, if it means looking after a child as in need of friendship as Henry.
The bus jerks into motion, the children’s chatter already loud and boisterous. “Mr Gold!” Belle acts as if she is surprised to see him, and the man turns from his carefully blank staring out of the window.
“Yes?” he almost snaps, his tone annoyed, and she wonders if he was lost in thought, if she has interrupted some deeply important inner monologue. She realises, belatedly, that perhaps Gold is always alone by choice. Perhaps he honestly doesn’t want company.
But Belle is a teacher, and she has never met a boy who didn’t want a friend, who didn’t want to sit and talk and laugh, somewhere deep down.
“I didn’t expect to see you here!” she continues, smiling, and dares to take the seat beside him.
He stares at her as if she’s grown a second head, or started speaking in tongues or something. She wonders if it’s been so long since someone decided to sit and chat with him, or if perhaps her presence is simply not wanted here. Maybe she should have left him to his brooding, but it’s too late now: the bus is moving and almost all the other seats are taken.
He’s still staring at her, and she frowns, wondering if perhaps the Gold who is Bae’s father is this man’s doppelganger. He looks as if they’ve never met before. “You are Benjamin’s father, right?” she checks, and is relieved when his face clears.
“Yes,” he nods, smiling at the mention of his son, “Bae’s mine.”
“Oh, good,” she nods, a little relieved, although the fact that he seems not to recognise her gives her an odd, unexplainable little pang inside, “I have such a problem with names, you see, and I didn’t want to be having some stranger on the bus with us!”
“Indeed, not.” He agrees, but the smile is gone. Belle recognises the expression immediately, the resemblance between father and son - often so easily missed - shining through. He looks crestfallen, utterly disappointed, although Belle is sure that most could interpret it as a calm, somewhat dismissive and annoyed indifference. If they weren’t looking closely, and had never seen Bae the day when they found a rabbit dead outside the schoolyard, at least.
She back-peddles quickly, realising her mistake,
“Oh, dear!” her fingers knot and twist in her lap, an old habit whenever she is nervous or flustered, “I didn’t mean… I mean, you just looked completely mystified… fuck…” the curse word slips out, and she clamps a hand over her mouth, hoping that none of the children heard.
She hopes he doesn’t think less of her for it, a little afraid to look at his face. But he’s smiling again, the same as when she shook his hand, and there’s warmth in his eyes. He’s smirking at her, as if he’s trying not to laugh, but she doesn’t feel mocked, oddly enough.
“Miss French, correct? We met when Bae got that nasty stomach bug.”
“I remember,” she can’t help her smile as she nods: he remembers her, which is at least a good start, “That was a hellish thing, that one.” She says, sympathetically: being a busy single father with a sick pre-teen boy in the house can’t be easy, and no good parent could see their child that ill without some measure of pain, “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.”
She nods, smiles, happy to be on common ground, “He has a wicked mind on him, that one.” She says, thinking suddenly about the mischief the boy could cause if left alone with wild animals. “I don’t mean any offence, Mr Gold,” She continues quickly, hoping he won’t take it as an insult to his child when really, she almost means it as a compliment, “He’s wonderfully imaginative and so bright. But his sense of humour does lend itself to… trouble.”
“Yes,” he agrees, his smile easy, and she’s a little relieved: after all she’s heard, it’s hard not to feel she’s walking on eggshells a little, “I half considered legally changing his middle name to that, just to save time.” He adds, and she can’t help a little giggle.
He looks at her almost fondly, an interested and warm little smile, and she feels her face flush a little, “What is it now?”
His grin is evil, “Orville.” He confides, “Make sure you use that when you’re scolding him, he hates it more than anything.”
She makes a surprised little laugh, a little choked: it’s rare for a parent to feel so comfortable with their child’s teacher - or with the child themselves - to suggest methods for mocking or teasing them, and he’s caught her off-guard, “What? No! I couldn’t!”
“He thinks very highly of you,” he says, a little more seriously, the love and respect he has for Bae - how many parents has she met who truly respect their children? - shining through, “And he’s quick to forgive.” His smile turns wicked, “The shade of umber his face goes is also sight worth seeing.”
She gives another helpless little laugh, shaking her head, and thinks she must have imagined the intrigued, pleased tilt to his lips as she ducks her head.
“I’ll leave that to his parent, thank you very much.” She says, taking a deep breath and drawing herself up primly, trying to suppress the giggling, blushing girl he seems to make of her and draw on her calm, proper, schoolteacher persona, “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,” He grumbles, but he doesn’t sound cross or annoyed. He’s still smiling, even though he seems to be trying to conceal it, “And I was right, apparently.”
“Oh?” she frowns, a little confused, “I thought it was food poisoning? An accident?”
“It was.” He nods, 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.” His nose wrinkles in disgust, but Belle cannot help but laugh.
“Really?” she asks, unable to stop giggling, although the second Robbie Hudson was mentioned she was well able to believe it. Bae and Robbie are partners in crime, and if one is in trouble it’s likely the other is not far behind. “Those boys. Everyone knows that they hacked into the database the other week as well, you know.”
“Really? My boy? Now why would he possibly do a thing like that?” he feigns utter shock and surprise, one hand on his chest, although his eyes are dancing, and she smirks.
“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?” his tone turns sharp, suspicious, and Belle is certain of the complete loyalty this man has to his son, whether the boy is a troublemaker or an utter angel. Any fears she has for the boy’s home life are utterly assuaged, and she smiles even as he assesses her, “Why not report it?”
A question she herself has considered, and she gives him the full truth, the answer she worked out for herself when she discovered that she had no desire to push the boys to the principal’s office.
“Benjamin is…” she pauses, thinks for a second, because some parents would not understand what she needs to tell him. But Gold loves his son, and knows him well, and so she continues, “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.” She can see a gleam of approval in his eyes, and something else, something she’d like to think of as a spark of interest.
“I know a bad kid when I see one, Mr Gold.” She explains, smiling and unable to stop under his warm, impressed gaze, “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’s staring at her, as if he doesn’t know what to say to that, but the warmth is still there. She never wants it to go away, never wants him to stop looking at her like that. She feels rather like a flower in sunlight, and then laughs inwardly at herself, the image ridiculously poetic.
“He’s not… he’s not picking on the other kids then, is he?” He’s hesitant, but she can hear the importance, the weight behind his words.
She can understand why: troublemakers, especially clever ones, can often turn to cruelty out of sheer frustration. She wonders if, in this cramped, backward little town, that could go some way to explaining the harshness of Gold’s own behaviour.
If he understands that about himself, she thinks, then there’s no wonder that he fears the same could become of Bae.
Her question is answered: Gold is a good man with a bad reputation. A real bully wouldn’t worry, wouldn’t admit it to himself. She doesn’t understand why she feels a flood of relief, of warmth and fondness for this man she’s just met, at the discovery. But she does, and it warms her to her toes.
“Quite the opposite,” She smiles, kindly, “Look.”
He doesn’t need telling: words won’t be enough. Evidence is needed, and that she can provide.
She turns and points to Bae, where he is sat next to Henry, the comic book between them. They’re chatting, smiling, almost brotherly, and it makes Belle smile even though she’s seen it before.
“What?” he asks, a little dazedly, she thinks. She wonders how much space Gold gives his boy, how much or little he knows about this.
“Henry was having some problems a few weeks back with a boy in Mrs Nolan’s class, before Bae stepped in.” She explains, a little pride of her own creeping into her voice, “Now, no one looks at Henry sideways without knowing that they’re messing with Bae as well.”
She glances to the man beside her, and her pride in her student is mirrored back tenfold, although his face betrays little. It’s all in his eyes.
How many people bother to look past the grim mouth and dark suit, and actually look at his eyes?
“I told you he’s a good kid,” She smiles, pleased, almost smug, “So I’m willing to overlook some minor, harmless offences. For now.”
She thinks she might be referring to more than just Bae, in that statement, and wonders what has become of her that she is thinking these things after only two meetings. But it’s true: Gold is no more a monster than Bae is a bully, and she’s willing to overlook his sinister public face if it means she can know him a little better.
She shuts that down as fast as she can: he can’t possibly want to know her at all. He’s just being nice to someone who he has nothing to gain out of being mean to: he’ll forget her the moment she’s gone.
They arrive at the zoo, and she is swept away with her chaperone group, while Gold is sent off with Bae and his group elsewhere. The few times she glimpses him, he doesn’t seem to see her.
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