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offstage, unscripted

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            Lance knew the route from the stage to the dungeon like the back of his hand. He bodyslammed the backstage door that opened out into the back hallways of the school and raced for the outside doors, ignoring the looks of concerned underclassmen and confused questioning being tentatively called after him. The seniors seemed to understand what was going on, and those in Lance’s way stepped aside.

            Cold air bit at Lance as soon as the door opened, but it didn’t matter. What mattered right now was the cluster of students standing in the middle of the driveway running down to the dungeon, and the second group of kids further down, screaming obscenities at someone making their escape. Lance didn’t care about the second group, didn’t care about Rolo and a group of boys attempting to run. He focused in on the group in the driveway, murmuring in mildly panicked voices to themselves.


            “Everyone out of the way—”

            “Lance is here—”

            Students parted like the Red Sea while Lance shoved his way past them, and made his way to the center of the circle. Keith knelt on the ground, hunched over himself while he hyperventilated. Pidge was there, too, a hand on his back, trying to coax him into sitting up and breathing properly when she caught sight of Lance.

            “Hey,” Pidge said, “Keith—hey—Lance is here, look—”

            Pidge moved back as Lance fell to his knees in front of Keith. Lance met her gaze and noted the glassy, tearful look to her eyes and frowned. So far, though, she seemed to be holding it together better than Keith—Lance would deal with her in a minute. Right now, Keith needed the attention.

            “Keith,” Lance murmured, trying to get hands on his boyfriend’s biceps. “Hey—baby, look at me. Keith. It’s okay—you’re okay, I’m right here.”

            Lance’s heart shot to his throat as Keith raised his head. His eyes were wide, far away, and his entire form trembled. He struggled to breathe, and even looking at Lance did nothing to ground him. Lance pulled Keith into him, and Keith unraveled, collapsing into Lance’s steady grip. Keith buried his face in the slope of Lance’s neck, and his fingers dug into Lance’s back, hard enough that Lance knew he’d probably have marks later, but he didn’t care.

            “Breathe, babe,” Lance whispered, running his fingers through Keith’s hair. “Come on. Breathe with me—in for four, you know what to do.”

            “I—I can’t—” Keith gasped.

            “Yes, you can,” Lance interrupted quietly, other hand rubbing circles into Keith’s back. “You can do this. Come on—breathe in, one, two, three, four…”

            Lance raised his eyes to the circle of concerned students still gathered around them. He nodded at Hunk and Shay, who silently began shooing away everyone but Pidge. Pidge sat near Keith and Lance, close enough that Lance could reach out and touch her if he wanted to. She breathed along with Lance’s count, scrubbing a hand over her eyes to rid herself of the tears she refused to shed.

            You okay? Lance mouthed at her, and Pidge wobbled her hand, and then waved it dismissively.

            Take care of him, she mouthed back, gesturing to Keith. Lance gave her a tight nod.

            “Keith,” Lance whispered, returning his focus to his boyfriend. “You have to breathe. You’re okay. Everything’s okay. I’m right here. You’re safe.”

            Keith responded by clutching Lance tighter, a sob escaping him. Lance shifted, until he was sitting with his legs out in front of him, and Keith moved with him, straddling his lap, refusing to lift his head. Lance continued to rub his back and run fingers through his hair. At some point, Keith began the breathing pattern he and Lance knew too well—Lance counted off the seconds with him.

            “That’s it,” Lance murmured. “One, two, three, four—hold it—one, two, three, four, five, six, seven—yep, now let it go—one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight—good, that’s good.”

            They repeated it several times, and Lance ignored the sounds of several administrators questioning nearby students. He made a note to thank the crew kids who were keeping the administrators busy, explaining what happened so Keith wouldn’t have to.

            “Hey,” Lance whispered, when Keith finally pulled back. “Starlight, look at me.”

            Lance held loosely onto Keith’s wrists, while Keith tried to duck his head.

            “I’m s-sorry—sorry—”

            “No, no, no. No apologies,” Lance said, shaking his head. “Keith. Look at me.”

            Keith sighed, a shaking thing that had Lance’s heart breaking all over again. He raised his head only slightly. Lance could barely see his eyes through the messy hair falling in his face. He reached out and pushed Keith’s bangs back, and gently touched the sides of his face, probing for injury.

            “Did they hurt you?”

            Lance’s voice was quiet enough that only Keith and maybe Pidge could hear him. Keith slowly shook his head, but Lance made sure to check him over anyway.

            “I—” Keith paused and took in a shaking breath, “I’m…I’m okay.”

            Lance nodded. “Yeah. You’re okay now. Do you wanna stand up?”

            Keith hesitated, before muttering a hoarse “no” and smushing his face back into Lance’s neck. Lance let him, resuming his earlier efforts of calming Keith down—one hand in his hair, one hand on his back. He wasn’t quite sure how long the two of them sat like that, surrounded by eerie silence that never accompanied a school building in the afternoon, a light wind ruffling their hair, the rumble of cars along the nearby road strangely distant. The loudest sound was Keith breathing—normal, steady—next to Lance’s ear.

            As much as he wanted to, Lance couldn’t bring himself to speak and break up the serenity that had fallen over everything, after the chaos he’d initially stumbled upon. So he didn’t speak, until he watched a car pull into the school lot. He recognized the car immediately as Shiro’s, both because he’d seen it so many times before and because only Shiro would have a reason to be speeding into the lot like that.

            “Shiro’s here,” Lance whispered, and Keith lifted his head, drawing back just enough to glance back at the school parking lot and confirm this for himself.

            Keith tensed, and Lance dropped a hand to his shoulder and squeezed.

            “It’s okay,” he said quietly. “I can take your car back to your house after rehearsal. You need to go home.”

            Lance started to stand up, forcing Keith to stand up along with him. He watched Shiro get out of the car, and then Matt Holt stumbled out of the passenger seat, and Lance motioned for Pidge to follow him and Keith. Lance kept a guiding hand on Keith’s back, ushering him away from the administrators who’d been waiting to ask questions, questions that wouldn’t get an answer. Not from Keith, anyway.

            “Holy shit,” Matt remarked, once he and Shiro met Lance, Keith, and Pidge halfway through the parking lot.

            “Is everyone okay?” Shiro asked, eyes flicking over Keith and Pidge, performing a quick assessment.

            Pidge and Keith both nodded feebly, Keith curling further into Lance’s side.

            “Can you guys give us a second?” Lance asked, meeting Shiro’s gaze. Shiro nodded, and motioned for Matt and Pidge to follow him, muttering for Pidge and Matt to get in the back, Keith could have shotgun. Matt didn’t put up a fight, slinging an arm around his little sister and ushering her toward the back seat.

            Lance waited until they were out of earshot and mostly out of sight before he turned toward Keith, and put his hands on Keith’s shoulders. Keith gripped Lance’s wrists, forcing himself to lock eyes with Lance.

            “Go home, okay?” Lance said. “Go home, eat something, get some water, and then get some rest. I’ll get your backpack, I’ll get Pidge’s, I’ll bring you your car, but you need to get out of here. Take a shower, put on your music—but you need to be away from here.”

            Keith opened his mouth to protest, but a look from Lance silenced him.

            “You’re not weak. You’re not pathetic. It’s called taking care of yourself. No one’s gonna judge you for this, alright?”

            Lance drew Keith into him, for one more hug before he sent Keith on his way.

            “Alright,” Keith mumbled. “Thanks.”

            Lance planted a kiss on Keith’s forehead when they parted, but Keith reached up and cupped Lance’s face. He pressed their lips together, softly, just once, before he let go and headed back for Shiro’s car, shoulders hunched. Lance stood in the middle of the lot and watched him go, every inch of his body tight with anger. He waited until Shiro pulled out of the lot and down the road before he headed back for the school doors. He passed the administrators still talking to a few of the drama crew members and stepped into the back halls of the school.

            “Oh, good,” Plaxum said tentatively, from where she waited by the doors. “You and Ez have a scene coming up. I didn’t want to interrupt—but—Lance…?”

            Lance shook his head, and Plax’s eyebrows knitted in concern.

            “How bad was it?” she pressed.

            Lance laughed mirthlessly and stole a glance over his shoulder, making sure the administrators were far enough away that they couldn’t hear him.

            “I might kill a person. I really might,” he said, turning back to Plax. “They’re lucky they ran.”

            “Lance, you’re shaking,” Plax pointed out, as she and Lance started back for the stage.

            With rage or anxiety, Lance couldn’t be sure. Both, probably. Because how dare Rolo and Paul and their cronies try and attack Keith, and because Lance hated seeing Keith breaking down. It tore his heart to pieces, and the pain was made worse knowing that he couldn’t be with Keith right now, because he had a show to finish staging.

            “Yeah, well,” Lance said, “I have good reason to be.”