Ms. Lucas

By Shahrezad1

Summary: Can Ms. Lucas teach single dad Mr. Hopper that there's more to being a father than just parenting? A father-son Archie/Marco AU told through a series of conversations. RedXCricket with a side of Snowing, Rumbelle, mild MadSwan, Abigail/Frederick, and Leroy/Astrid.

Disclaimer: I'm crazy, I know. But craziness doesn't extend to me believing that I own anything.

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"Mr. Hopper," she began hesitantly, folding her long fingers within one another, "I can't help but notice that when you're son—Marco," she clarified when he flinched the smallest bit, "doesn't enjoy being here."

The young teacher's office was completely silent in the wake of school being released. The busses had been filled with children, jubilantly ready for the weekend, and parents had led off chattering youth as they skipped home, detailing their day. Yet Ms. Lucas, fourth grade teacher, remained in her office as she was faced with the responsibility of speaking to a parent. A man whom, at first glance, seemed distracted and before settling into a kind of sincere, sorrowing intentness. His boy sat just beyond the door, perched on a seat in the hall, expression set and stubbornness clear as the day was long.

"Well, I-I, um…"

The dark-haired woman waited patiently for him to continue, but when the single father fell silent, swallowing uncomfortably, she took pity on him. Pulling her notes closer to her as she attempted to collect her thoughts.

"He…Marco doesn't like to participate. He avoids it, in fact. And yet when it comes time to leave he's always found hiding in my classroom," a sympathetic smile tugged at her wide lips as she remembered all of the places that they'd discovered him. Underneath desks, for one, and tucked, asleep, within the reading corner. Then there had been the time she'd found him in the art cabinet, a surprise that had sent acrylic paint flying everywhere, "plus there's the accent—an accent that you don't seem to share. So I have to ask," the woman asked, pausing a moment as she tried to find the right wording, "…is there anything that I should know? So that I can help him…transition?"

The question was well-meaning but the red-haired businessman—she assumed that he was one by his attire, although the sweater-vest was a little out of the ordinary—swallowed as though he'd just eaten a lemon.

Still, after a few fiddling minutes of anticipatory silence, he did speak, "Marco's mother and I…separated when he was very young. At the time I was a…War Correspondent. And then a Peace Journalist, so I traveled quite a bit and it made more sense," he paused, taking a deep breath and letting it out before he rest of his words out, "that…that she have full custody."

Ah. Nodding in understanding, the young teacher—and she really was quite young he thought to himself, despite the fact that she still made him feel like an errant schoolboy—settled in her chair as though a weight had been removed.

"And how much contact have you had since then?" Ms. Lucas prompted gently, almost able to fill in the blanks herself.

The reluctant father's shoulders hunched despite himself as he shrugged a bit, "n-not much, I admit. Celeste moved back to Italy so that he could be raised among her f-family and I…visited when I could. But…it's not the same. And then when she d—passed on, well, I was the…the closest…"

"I see," she responded quietly, expression pensive. After a moment, however, his son's fourth grade teacher seemed to come to a decision, vermilion nails tapping slightly on her desk. She decisively pulled out a pen and paper, "Mr. Hopper, I'm going to ask you a question and I would like for you to respond as honestly as you can."

He blinked at the swift change but nodded, "a-all right."

Then the writer found himself the sole recipient of a determined green gaze, "what can I do to help you…with your son?"

The question floored him as a million thoughts and foreign feelings surrounded him at once. Surprise that she'd recognized his floundering, relief and joy that he was no longer alone in his circumstance. And above all, hope, for himself and for his boy. That maybe they might be able to make something of the unexpected situation that they had been thrown into.

Before he could articulate any of these feelings she'd already begun writing.

"We have an early morning class devoted to English as a Second Language. Miss French is quite the world traveler and really has a way with her pupils, which helps with much of the uncertainty involved in going to an English-speaking school for the first time," Ms. Lucas explained, "three days a week we also have an after-school program. Miss Blanchard hosts the art classes, I do sports and Miss Nova teaches earth sciences. Including beginning courses in gardening."

A small smile tugged at her mouth as though remembering an inside joke but it morphed into seriousness as the brunette looked up, making deliberate eye contact with him, "the beginning portion of each of these activities is devoted to working on homework, of course, and parents are always welcome to join."

He nodded fervently, pushing up his glasses when the motion tugged them downward. It was the perfect alternative to hiring a babysitter most nights, but it seemed that she wasn't done yet as she turned on him again, the import of her words evident in her tone.

"Normally I would only offer this parental attendance up as a suggestion, however…you might want to seriously consider it. Given your situation."

"We-well, I, um, I have to work late usually," he said in a quiet, hoarse voice, but her expression quickly cooled, hands laid flat.

"Mr. Hopper, I hate to put you in this position but…which is more important to you? Your job or your son?"

The frazzled journalist deflated entirely, forehead a sea of anxious creases, and the solemn brunette sighed, twitching her long ponytail over one shoulder, "look, I understand that I'm putting you between a rock and a hard place and that you're job is very important. But these activities provide an opportunity that you might not have otherwise. It gives you the chance to…to ease into each others' presence in neutral territory. I understand that you are, of course, very busy. But you may not have another opportunity to make connections before he gets too old to want to spend time with you at all."

He nodded, absently rubbing his arm as he became lost in thought. She couldn't help but wonder what he saw in those visions. A "Felix the Cat" clock upon the wall hung in his direct line of sight, Cheshire grin wide and pendulum swinging to the beat of the man's worries. The chair was a tad too small, she knew; a child's chair, but comfortable and colorful despite it. And the walls were painted a cherry red and dotted with flowers. All were ready distractions as Mr. Hopper swallowed harshly as his hands, already clasped in his lap, drew tighter still.

"Besides," she added, a sweet smile appearing in a move that utterly transformed her from solemn schoolmarm to something decidedly more appealing, "they're fun. You wouldn't be the only parent there, I guarantee it. That is, should you decide to attend."

Mr. Hopper swallowed and sketched out a nod, rising just enough to clasp her hand once, sold and firm. But he was extremely gentle with her even in so doing, "thank you, Ms. Lucas. I appreciate what you've s-said and I'll…I'll definitely take it into account."

The glass-paned door closed carefully behind him, yellow light momentarily blocked by his blurred silhouette, and with a heaviness Ruby Lucas watched as the new father put forth several attempts at getting his son to move. Eventually the boy gave in, and as Marco trailed behind she couldn't help but sigh.

Mr. Hopper seemed like a lovely man, earnest and kind. But it would take a lot of work before he and his son connected. Certainly, the both of them had many similar characteristics—shyness, quiet humor, a determined, hardworking nature—but similarities did not build bridges. Particularly when each was blind to the others' strengths.

Ruby Lucas exhaled heavily, dropping her head into her hands upon the wide expanse of her desk. Then the teacher let out an artful groan. Somehow she knew that this was going to be a long year.

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AN: I have three friends whom are teachers. One works at an elementary school, one at a high school, and one works for a University. The first asked a friend and I to present an art lesson on Perspective and Color Theory to a series of fourth graders and, while it was an awesome experience, it really reminded me why I love children so much. (So precocious! So inquisitive!)

Teacher!Ruby: is a mix between all three of these friends and the version of Red that exists post-curse. Someone a little older, a little wiser, but gentle and loving all the same.

Archie as a War Correspondent/Peace Journalist: it makes sense timeline-wise, as the Iraq war began in 2003, ten years ago. Meaning that Marco must have been born either just before or just after it started and Archie's occupation is a completely valid reason for Celeste to have full custody. His switch from War Correspondent to Peace Journalist is due to personal reasons, however, in an effort to correct incorrect data being streamed home. Which is a whole other story in and of itself…

Marco as a young boy: I wondered what Jiminy's parenting experiences would have been like under different circumstances. Given the fact that he was a "single father" with no prior experience, and the looming guilt of his actions hanging over them. In this AU I kept the guilt, aimed it elsewhere, and retained the anxiety of his uncertainty.

Hoping that Ms. Lucas would help him get through it all. :)

(Plus, well, I guess that you could say that this is just an excuse to expand on the idea of Archie with kids. Because Raphael himself really is the most adorable father. :D )

Celeste means "heavenly," in Latin. And yes, I killed off the Blue Fairy. XD