Lance methodically crossed another day off the calendar. There were only a handful of days left in April, now, and the rest of the months after that had been ripped out and discarded ages ago.
He clicked the cap to his marker back in place, flipping it idly between his fingers. His whole room was bare — he’d gotten rid of almost everything, sold it all for the money. He was going to leave that here in his room, after. His mother would find it eventually.
All his affairs were in order, really. He only had one thing left to do now: apologize.
At eleven years old, Lance decided there was nothing better in the world than attention. He loved it. He loved talking loudly, garnering the attention of everyone around him and making them laugh with his exuberant attitude, his extravagant stories. He liked to be in the spotlight, liked to feel his classmates’ gazes on him as he gestured wildly, telling some tall tale about what a crazy weekend he’d had.
He never shied away from the spotlight, was actively vying for it, really. He would say anything, do anything, to get people to pay attention to him. It was safe to say he didn’t really have much of a filter.
“Attention, class,” his teacher called, standing at the front of the classroom now. They couldn’t possibly be about to learn another lesson; they’d only just finished one, opening up their workbooks to do practice problems. Everyone paid attention, more out of curiosity than anything else. “We have a new student, today,” Mr. Adams announced, gesturing towards the door. A short boy shuffled in, sparing a glance towards the class before staring steadily at his feet. He came to stand beside Mr. Adams.
“Say ‘hello’, everybody,” Mr. Adams instructed.
“Hello,” the entire class droned. A new student sounded exciting enough, though this kid didn’t look like much. His clothes were pretty weird, as his hair was strangely long. He was still staring at his feet.
Mr. Adams gently bumped the new student, who looked up at him. “Want to introduce yourself?” he said slowly. The boy just blinked at him, but he nodded.
Instead of opening his mouth and introducing himself like a normal person, he reached into his bag and pulled out a notebook. He flipped it open. On the first page in his almost unruly scrawl, written in big letters, were the words, Hello, I’m Keith.
He looked around for a moment. Lance just squinted at him. What the heck was going on?
Keith flipped the page. If you want to talk to me, you can write to me in this notebook.
“Weird,” Lance muttered under his breath, sharing a look with his desk neighbor, Rolo, who nodded in agreement.
Keith flipped the page again. Because I’m deaf.
Murmurs broke out all over the classroom, everyone looking around at each other and whispering, asking if that was really true, if he really couldn’t hear. “What?” Lance yelled, and everyone around him jolted at the volume of his exclamation, but Keith, still stood at the front of the classroom, didn’t even notice. He finally flipped his notebook shut and was guided by a pointed finger from Mr. Adams to his desk, situated right in front of Lance.
“We’re going to start having sign language lessons before school in the mornings. If anyone’s interested in coming, it would help you all become friends with Keith much easier,” Mr. Adams explained as he idled back towards his desk.
Lance’s mind was reeling. This kid really couldn’t hear? He couldn’t hear anything?
Keith took his seat in front of Lance, and Lance gaped at Rolo. “Do you think… he really can’t hear?”
“I don’t see why he’d be lying,” Rolo said, not imitating the whisper Lance had spoken in. He was staring straight at Keith.
“Hey,” he said, and Keith didn’t move, didn’t appear to notice he was being spoken to.
Lance knew people could be deaf, he wasn’t an idiot, but he’d never thought he might actually meet someone who couldn’t hear anything.
Mr. Adams had gone back to his desk, no longer paying attention to the class as he typed on his laptop. A few people around the room had gone back to their workbooks, but most people were still caught up in the excitement of a new student, a new deaf student.
Everyone’s attention was turned towards them, towards Keith. Lance leaned forward in his seat.
“Keith,” he said. Keith was opening his workbook, flipping through the pages slowly. “Keith. Keith, Keith, Keith, Keeeiiiiiith!”
Keith didn’t look up and snickers emanated around the room. Lance was grinning. He leaned even further forward, snapping near Keith’s ears and wiggling his fingers exaggeratedly above his head. More people were laughing now, and still Keith didn’t notice, didn’t hear a thing. Lance started making other noises, oinking and mooing and quacking, just to see if Keith would hear any of them. He didn’t.
He did happen to glance up, though, and he saw everyone facing his way, most of them still laughing. He looked around for a second and Lance threw himself back into his seat loudly, the metal scraping noisily against the floor. This made everyone laugh harder, and finally Keith turned around, eyeing Lance and Rolo for a second before pulling out his notebook. In it, he scrawled, What’s everybody laughing about?
He then handed the notebook to Lance, of all people, looking expectant. Lance read it out loud for the benefit of the class, all of whom disguised snickers into their hands — Mr. Adams still wasn’t paying attention, proving that a tornado could probably happen without him noticing — before grabbing Keith’s pencil out of his hand.
Don’t remember, he wrote back, before shoving the notebook at Keith with a smirk, who read the message with a frown.
Lance then settled back in his desk, basking in the remaining sounds of amusement coming from the class.
Admittedly, he found his new form of entertainment in Keith. Most everyone seemed to think it was funny, enjoying whatever show Lance put on on any given day.
“I know he’s deaf,” Lance said, talking loudly to Rolo, completely aware that he had the class’s attention. “But is he blind too? I mean, can’t he see how awful his hair looks?”
Keith never realized that Lance was making fun of him. He mainly kept to himself, passing his notebook around when he had questions for people. Lance had been privy to The Notebook on a few occasions himself, though he was always less than helpful with his answers. Keith didn’t seem to mind, for some reason. Lance was pretty sure the guy had somehow gotten it in his head that they were friends, somehow. He smiled at Lance whenever they made eye contact and waved at him when they left school, the both of them walking in the same direction for the first few turns. Lance had taken to walking faster.
Honestly, Keith had done them a favor by joining their class. Lance hadn’t realized it before, but things had been really slowing down in there, the amount of entertainment they’d been receiving somewhere around zilch. Now, it was easy to find something fun to do. As easy as leaning forward in his desk and…
“What are those?” Lance demanded, having reached forward and lifted some of Keith’s God-awful hair away from his head. He’d been debating cutting it these last few weeks, just to see what Keith would do, but he was saving it for an especially boring class.
His statement drew the attention of his class, though, and soon everyone was looking at Keith, who was sitting stalk-still as Lance tugged on his hair.
“I think they’re hearing aids!” said a girl across the aisle, leaning forward to get a better look at the odd things inside Keith’s hears.
Lance reached forward and tugged one out of Keith’s ear. Keith made a weird noise and he turned towards Lance, his eyes wide and his hand outstretched. “Gib id bahc,” he said, his works thick and low and nearly indistinguishable.
“What?” Lance said, feigning confusion. Keith made another grab for the hearing aid, which Lance held even further out of reach.
“Lans,” Keith said. “Gib id bahc.”
“Ohhh,” Lance said exaggeratedly, nodding his head. “Give it back.”
Keith was nodding, looking relieved. Lance tossed the hearing aid to Keith, who hadn’t been expecting it and didn’t reach up to catch it in time. The hearing aid soared past his desk and plopped into the open water bottle of his desk neighbor, who let out a disgusted screech at the contamination of her water.
Lance just laughed, not really noticing when nobody was laughing with him.
And it continued like that. Lance picked on Keith in the guise of fun and Keith continued to tolerate it, even apologizing for things that weren’t his fault, at some points. Lance talked about Keith and threw scraps of paper at him and yanked his hearing aids out of his ears. One time, he went a bit too far, tugging the hearing aids too hard, at too wrong of an angle, and —
Keith cried out, slapping his hands to his ears with a pained noise. Lance froze in shock, looking down at the devices in his hands, now covered in blood.
“Crap!” he hissed, throwing them onto Keith’s desk in a truce and sitting back down in his own, face red and something like guilt crawling through his chest. He couldn’t pretend not to notice the looks he was getting, how no one really seemed amused by his antics anymore. He swallowed thickly, staring out the window instead of at his class and ignoring the commotion when Keith was sent to the nurse.
And he never did come back.
“Keith won’t be rejoining us,” Mr. Adams said later in the week, standing at the front of the classroom and looking solemn. The principal was there as well, a stern look on his face as he regarded the class.
“Apparently, Mr. Kogane has lost several hearing aids since starting school with us,” the principal explained, surveying the class with an analytical look. “Hearing aids are very expensive, and his mother is going to have to replace them.” Lance sunk low in his seat. He hadn’t realized hearing aids weren’t cheap…
“In any case, Mr. Kogane will not be returning to Jefferson Middle School,” the principal explained. “His mother is sure he was being bullied, though he never came to the counselors himself about such events. And so I ask you now, has anyone seen any odd happenings or harassment towards Mr. Kogane?”
The class was silent. Lance saw multitudes of eyes flick in his direction, heads turning towards him, and he sat as still as he could, feeling heat rise to his face. Had he been bullying Keith? He’d just been having a bit of fun, just been trying to make everyone laugh, but… Was that bullying? Keith had never told him to stop, never said much of anything really, and Lance hadn’t been trying to hurt him that one time…
“For Christ’s sake, Lance, stand up,” Mr. Adams snapped. “We know it was you.”
Lance jumped to his feet in a panic, staring at his teacher and principal with apprehension. “I didn’t mean it!” he said immediately. “And I didn’t know hearing aids were expensive, and —”
“We have a no tolerance policy here at Jefferson Middle School,” the principal was saying, but Lance was just shaking his head, panicking.
“I wasn’t the only one!” he said defensively. “Everyone laughed at him! And the girls talked behind his back all the time — isn’t that right, Nyma?!”
“What? No!” Nyma said immediately, the liar, and Lance practically growled.
“You’re to be suspended for a week, Mr. McClain,” the principal announced. His face was full of disgust, disappointment. “In that time, I hope you can begin to think about what you’ve done to that poor boy. We’ll be calling your parents momentarily.”
Parent, Lance thought to himself in a moment of hysteria. I only have one.
The principal left and the class resumed, though nobody spoke to Lance, and Mr. Adams gave him a look that seemed to say, And I’ll be speaking with you later.
Everything from there on out sucked, for lack of a better word. His mother was a mixture of mad and disappointed, giving Lance a look that was indescribable when he came home from school. All his siblings stayed quiet, too, though it was clear from their faces that they knew what Lance had done.
His mother ended up taking him to the bank, sighing loudly as she took out money and was told the remaining amount in the account. Such a low number…
And then they went and met Mrs. Kogane, a stern looking woman who glared at Lance as his mother apologized over and over again, offering her the bundle of money for the hearing aids. So expensive…
That week, Lance was subjected to an array of chores as punishment, and it got to the point where he almost couldn’t wait to go back to school, for his suspension to be up. Although, when it was time to go back to school, Lance quickly learned that staying at home was somehow, pathetically, much better.
No one in his class would talk to him. They all ignored him outright, even when he spoke to them, asked them questions.
Just because they wouldn’t talk to him didn’t mean they wouldn’t talk about him, though. He heard the word bully on their lips on several occasions, and Lance started to realize it was true. He was a bully, and there was nothing he could do now, no way he could make up for it. He’d probably never see Keith again, would always be immortalized in his memory as some kid that’d bullied him relentlessly…
Oh God, Lance was the worst.
And he realized he was the worst, wanted to make up for what he had done, but no one wanted anything to do with him. He lost all his friends, lost everything, in one fell swoop. He learned to hate attention, learned to despise the spotlight. He clung to the sides of rooms and kept his gaze on his feet, the effort of making eye contact with people, of talking to them, way too much.
Lance had no clue how long this would last, how long it would be until everyone stopped hating him. He was sure he could take it, however long it was. He deserved it, anyway, for all he’d done.
Lance peeked inside the room. It was familiar, but not because he’d been there before. There were similar posters on the walls, similar books on the shelves, to his own sign language class. He was only looking in this one out of curiosity — it wasn’t like he even went to this school, anyway.
Truthfully, Lance should’ve been across town right now, should’ve been sitting in his own classroom and doing his own work. But at this point, nothing really mattered to him anymore. Nothing could affect his future if he didn’t have a future, and so he was here. He was in the wrong high school, tying up the last loose end that remained.
“Which class is Keith Kogane in?” Lance asked, stopping in the front office. A woman with glasses peered up at him, her lips pulled into a frown.
Right, it was probably weird for some random student to ask that without a reason. And it would definitely be a problem if this lady found out he didn’t even go here…
Lance scanned the desk around her, his eyes scrabbling for some snag of information, and —
He caught sight of a piece of paper, on which was written, Mrs. Greenford. Hoping for the best, he cleared his throat and said, “Mrs. Greenford sent me. Keith, uh… He needs to make-up a test and Mrs. Greenford forgot to tell him.”
The woman grumbled something under he breath and turned to the computer, typing something in. “Room 504,” she instructed. “Study hall.”
“Thank you!” Lance said, and then he scurried off, thankful Keith’s high school seemed to have the same floor plan as his own.
It was while Lance was turning a corner, scanning the classrooms along the opposite wall as the numbers grew higher (501, 502, 503…) that he ran into someone. They both flew backward, landing on their asses, and apologies immediately spilled out of Lance’s mouth.
“Oh shit, I’m so sorry! I wasn’t looking where I was going, I —” he cut himself off, finally looking up from his feet, his gaze jumping slowly from knee to hip to elbow to neck to eyes, and he blinked. “Keith?”
It took Keith a moment, his mouth hanging open the slightest amount, before his eyes grew wide and he shoved himself to his feet, stumbling a step backwards. “No, Keith! Wait!” Lance shouted, clambering to his feet as well, but Keith didn’t hear him — duh — and he spun around, taking off down the hall.
“Wait for me, mullet-head! Fuck!” Yelling was pointless but Lance did it anyway, rounding another corner, right on Keith’s tail. Keith didn’t bother to glance behind his shoulder as he ran, and he clearly didn’t realize how close Lance was to him, as he darted around another corner and pressed himself against the wall, eyes closed and breathing heavily. Lance stumbled to a stop in front of him, not expecting to have to stop so abruptly.
And for an awkward moment, he just stood there, not knowing how to get Keith’s attention without touching him. Finally, Keith opened his eyes, and he flinched when he saw Lance, making a movement as if he might run again.
Lance’s hands flew up. Please wait! he signed.
Keith’s hands jerked in an aborted movement, his face belying his surprise. Finally, he signed, slowly, carefully, You learned sign language?
Yeah, Lance answered. I’ve been taking classes for years now.
You’re good, Keith said. It was the same praise Lance often got. It wasn’t like he was naturally talented at sign language or anything, it was just that he’d studied a lot, practiced a lot. He didn’t have any friends, didn’t have much to do to occupy his time, and learning sign language seemed to be the only thing he could do to actually absolve some of his guilt. His past actions really weighed down on him… It was something he’d never been able to forget.
He’d tried to work up the courage to do this for years, tried to make himself find Keith and properly apologize, but for too long he’d been a coward. Not any longer, though. Not now that he finally wanted this to end, to be able to get rid of his guilt and self-hatred once and for all. He just needed to apologize, needed to tie up his last loose end…
Thank you, Lance said. I just wanted —
“Hey!” someone shouted. Lance flinched and whipped his head to the side, and Keith, noting the movement, turned to look at the new arrival as well. It was a short boy, his hair an unruly mess and his glasses too big for his face. “What are you doing?” he demanded, and his gaze slid from Lance to Keith, who he then signed to. This kid bothering you?
Keith immediately shook his head. The kid didn’t appear to believe it and he glared at Lance. “Come on, Keith,” he said, signing as he spoke. “Let’s get out of here.”
“No, wait!” Lance said, his heart jumping into his throat in a panic. He forgot to sign as he spoke, and so he followed up his words with the signs, looking at Keith desperately. I just need to say something, he signed.
“Sorry, but we’re late for class,” the boy hissed rudely, something that was also a lie, considering the fact no bell had rung. Everyone was already in class, the two of them likely already excused for the bathroom or something.
Keith, on the other hand, was looking at Lance expectantly. Do you need something? he asked.
Lance wanted to laugh. Forgiveness, maybe. His blessing. But no — he couldn’t do it like this, couldn’t apologize all rushed in a hallway, privy to an audience. He had a script he needed to follow, an elaborate speech about how sorry he was, and he couldn’t do it here, now.
I just… Lance started, then stopped, shaking his head and clearing his thoughts. Can I see you again, sometime? I want to be friends.
That should be good enough, Lance was sure. It wasn’t quite an apology, but it was the start of one. So long as Keith agreed, so long as Lance could actually get to the apologizing part, the next time he saw him…
Sure, Keith signed. And then, to cement it, he said, Friends.
Lance swallowed thickly. His chest felt tight, but he smiled anyway, feeling something in him begin to loosen. Soon, he thought.
The short boy scoffed loudly but Lance ignored him, simply waving goodbye when he marched forward and dragged Keith back to class. It wouldn’t be long now, Lance was sure.
Dinner was an uncomfortable affair.
Lance got home, calling out, “Mamá, I’m home!” like he always did. He could smell dinner from the entryway, and so he swung himself into the kitchen, humming at the smell of enchiladas permeating the room.
“Why, hello beautiful,” Lance crooned, booping Isabella on the nose. She was his brother Luis’s daughter, though Luis was nowhere to be seen. That wasn’t entirely unheard of, of course. Their mother often watched Izzy during the day, and sometimes she’d stay for dinner, too, if Luis and his wife wanted to have a date night, of sorts.
“Where’s Mamá, Izzy? Have you seen her?”
“Mm-mm,” Izzy said, shaking her head with a finger in her mouth. Victoria was likely at a friend’s house, seeing as she didn’t seem to be around, and Marco usually only came over for dinner on the weekends.
“Guess we’ll start without her then,” Lance said, more to himself than to Izzy. There were enchiladas on a plate on the counter and he scooped one onto a plate of his own, cutting another into bites for Izzy. He then carried both plates back to the table, sitting down beside his niece.
“Use your fork, okay?” Lance instructed as he handed it to her. Izzy mumbled a response fit for a three year old and dug in, managing to drop all the insides out of her bite and shoving merely tortilla into her mouth. Lance shook his head and took a bite of his own dinner.
His mother appeared only a few minutes later, wandering into the kitchen and looking harried.
“You okay?” Lance said, looking up from his phone. His mother blinked, apparently only just realizing he was there.
“Yes, yes — I’m fine,” she said. She joined them at the table with her own plate and Lance hummed in acknowledgement, looking back down at his phone with his fork between his teeth. They chatted idly, talking about their days and where Luis was and whether Isabella would be spending the night. It was when Lance was scraping his last bite of enchilada onto his fork that his mother cleared her throat to speak up.
“Why were you planning to kill yourself?”
Lance froze, his fork halfway between his mouth and his plate, his head bent down towards the table.
“I don’t —”
“And don’t lie to me, Lance.”
Lance swallowed thickly, putting his fork back down. “I…” he said. His voice sounded muffled to his own ears. He’d never expected his mother to find out beforehand — she never even went in his room. And he’d known it was going to hurt her, hurt his siblings, but… Well, that hadn’t been enough to deter him. Things would just be better this way…
“It’s too much,” Lance ended up saying. He glanced at Izzy, wondering if she understood the conversation that was going on. She’d abandoned her fork and was now eating her enchilada with both hands.
“And that’s a good enough reason for you to kill yourself, is it?”
“It’s — everything’s too much,” Lance said, voice choked. He couldn’t think of a person in the world who liked him besides his very own family. And maybe… Well, Keith hadn’t seemed to despise him, for whatever stupid reason. “I just — I can’t…”
“You can and you will,” his mother snapped, fire in her eyes. She held up a wad of cash — the money Lance had earned from all his possessions. “You thought this would make up for the loss of your life?”
“A little —”
“And as if this isn’t the scariest thing to find…” his mother continued, holding up Lance’s significantly shortened calendar. Lance flushed. She wasn’t supposed to find that, he’d been planning on getting rid of it before…
“Promise me you won’t do it, Lance,” she said, glaring at him now. “Promise me or I swear to God I’ll burn up this money you worked so hard for.”
“Don’t be stupid!”
Lance shuddered in a breath, something tight lodged in his chest, and deflated. “I promise,” he said, even more guilt pouring into him now. Guilt, guilt, guilt. Guilt for Keith, guilt for his mom, for his family.
“Good,” his mother sighed, sinking back into her chair. Her lip quivered, and tears shone in her eyes.
“I’m sorry,” Lance whispered, staring at her in horror. She just shook her head, wiping the tears away before they could fall.
“Don’t just say it,” she said, shaking her head. “Mean it.”
And so Lance did his best. He had to show his mother he was sorry, prove that he wouldn’t kill himself, that he would find something to live for.
And that, well… That was the hard part.
What was there to live for? He didn’t have any friends. And… Keith didn’t count. So he didn’t have any friends, didn’t have any goals in life, and now he didn’t even have any possessions. What was there to live for?
“No, dude, please — c’mon, seriously! Cut it out!”
Lance froze, turning to see two guys standing by the vending machines by the entrance to school. One guy was dancing around the other, holding a dollar bill, and the larger guy was trying to snatch it back in vain. “Give it back.”
“Just let me borrow it!”
“Borrow my money? You mean to tell me that you plan to pay me back?”
“Totally,” the boy laughed. “Now step aside so I can get a soda.”
“Seriously, that’s my only dollar. Just give it back.”
“Give it back.”
Lance watched the argument from afar. He was surprise to find that he cared. Not because he was like, a sociopath without empathy, but because lately he’d found it hard to care about really anything at all. But now he felt angry, indignant on behalf of the guy having his dollar stollen, and he marched forward, not even realizing what he was doing until he was tapping the bully on the shoulder.
“Hey,” he said.
The bully turned around, glaring at Lance. “What d’you want?” he snarled.
“I’ll buy you a soda, okay? Just give him his dollar back,” he said, jerking his head in the other guy’s direction. The bully scoffed, tossing the dollar back towards its owner, who fumbled for it in the air.
“Whatever,” the bully mumbled, glaring at Lance again for good measure before striding off. Lance turned to follow him, his class in that direction.
“Lance, wait!” said the dollar-guy. Fuck, he knows my name?
Lance turned back, finding himself staring at the guy’s feet. He had nice shoes. Clean.
“I just wanted to thank you,” he said, and Lance made an effort to drag his eyes up, to look the guy in the face. “That guy can be a real jerk. Not many people stand up against a-holes, you know?”
“Totally,” Lance said. And, well… he did get it. No one had told him to back off back in sixth grade, had they?
“We can split my chips, if you want,” the guy said happily, grinning widely. He fed his dollar into the machine and punched in the button for Doritos. “A thank-you gift.”
“Nah, I’m good,” Lance said. “Sorry — what’s your name again?”
The guy snorted. “Dude, I sit behind you in Physics. It’s Hunk, remember?”
“Oh yeah, shit. I do remember,” Lance said, scratching at the back of his neck. “Sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Hunk laughed, still smiling. His smile could rival the sun. “Every friendship has to start somewhere, right?”
“Oh yeah,” Hunk said, and he ripped open the Dorito bag, holding it out towards Lance. He took a chip. “You don’t just save people from dollar-thieves without becoming friends.”
“Makes sense,” Lance said, even though it really didn’t. If this were yesterday, he probably would’ve shrugged Hunk off, would’ve done all he could to avoid him. He didn’t need any friends, didn’t need any distractions before his big day. But now.
But now he’d made his mom a promise. Now he was going to live, and he was going to find something to live for, and a friend seemed like a good enough reason as any.
And he still needed to apologize to Keith, too. Just because he wasn’t going to kill himself anymore didn’t mean he wasn’t going to make things right. The guilt really had been eating him alive all these years, and Keith had agreed to meet with him again. Agreed to be friends, even.
What an idiot.
“What are you doing here?” snarled that same boy from before. His arms were crossed as he glared up at Lance, leaning in the doorway to the classroom. It was a small study hall, not very many students occupying the room. Keith was on the other side, head bent as he worked on some sort of homework. Lance wished he could just call for his attention.
“I’m, uh — I’m here to see Keith,” Lance said, glancing nervously between him and the boy blocking the way. “And, uh… Who are you again?”
“I’m Pidge,” said the boy. And then, after seemingly a moment’s thought: “Keith’s boyfriend.”
“Oh,” said Lance, a blush rushing to his cheeks. It wasn’t like he’d necessarily been thinking about Keith as a contender for a boyfriend, but he had noticed how attractive he was, and it’d been some kind of whispered thought in the back of his mind, but — Wow. Wasn’t Pidge a little… young? For Keith? “Well, that’s good. Um. I just wanted to see if Keith…?”
“I don’t think he wants to see you,” Pidge snarled. “You’re that bully from sixth grade, right?”
Lance swallowed. It made sense that Pidge would know that. Keith had probably talked about it before, had told his boyfriend. “Um, well — yeah. But I’m different now. I don’t… I don’t bully anyone.”
“Yeah. Likely story.”
Pidge started to slam the door shut as Lance stood there, wondering what the fuck he was supposed to do now, when a hand appeared in the door. And an entire body appeared in front of Lance, the owner of which was panting.
“Hold it…” pant, pant, pant “…right there!”
“Hunk?” Lance said, incredulous. “What are you doing here?”
“Just my best friend duties,” Hunk assured. “Out of the way, pipsqueak. My friend’s got someone he wants to talk to.”
“No way am I gonna — !”
“Keith!” Lance breathed, grinning as Keith happened to glance up and notice the commotion at the door. But then Lance panicked, realizing that he wasn’t even all that prepared, and that Keith had a weirdly young boyfriend, and that he probably still hated Lance’s guts and would like him better dead and —
Lance bolted. Or, he briskly walked through the halls, trying to escape without looking particular panicked. He made it out of the school, somehow not getting caught by a teacher thinking he actually went to the school and was trying to ditch, and stopped on a little bridge a short ways from the building. He leaned against the side of it and let out a sigh.
Lance jolted, spinning around and staring at Keith with wide eyes.
You wanted to talk to me? Keith said, his eyes wide and his face oddly pretty and his hair falling in front of his eyes, which he brushed away, and — fuck. Why did Lance have to notice all this now?
Yeah, Lance said, but for some reason he just couldn’t bring his hands to make the words. He couldn’t just say he was sorry. It felt… pathetic. And stupid. What would Keith think? That he was just coming here to say sorry and assuage his guilt? To get his bad karma off his chest and never speak to him again?
No, Lance couldn’t do that. He couldn’t apologize. Not yet.
And so he had to think fast. He’d come all the way here, had gotten Keith to follow him outside, and now he was supposed to have something to say to him. Think, Lance. Think!
We’re friends now, right? Lance asked, a part of him thinking Keith would just take it all back and tell Lance how horrible and wretched he was, how he never wanted to see him ever again.
Right, Keith said.
Good, Lance said, overwhelmingly relieved, and woah. He hadn’t been expecting that. So I was just thinking that we should do something together, sometime. You know. As friends.
Keith’s mouth pulled up into a smirk. You snuck into my school a second time to ask me if I wanted to do something together?
Lance flushed, mouth falling open as he hastily signed, Well I didn’t have much of a choice! It’s not like I have your number or know where you live!
Keith laughed, and it was kind of pitchy and kind of loud but mostly just horribly adorable. Lance found himself grinning widely. I’ll give you my number, Keith said, grinning back at Lance. So next time you won’t have to break into my school.
Next time, Lance thought to himself, but he just fished his phone out of his pocket and handed it to Keith, who immediately opened the contacts and started entering his information.
When he handed Lance’s phone back, Lance was ready. So what do you like to do? he asked. You know, for when we’re hanging out.
Keith shrugged. I like to feed the carp, he said, and then he gestured for Lance to follow him, going to lean against the other side of the bridge. He pointed down into the water below and Lance followed his finger, noticing all the fish swimming around each other down there. Keith looked at Lance expectantly.
“Perfect,” Lance said, and he signed it too. We’ll feed the carp together.
And they did. Lance was waiting for Keith when school got out with a loaf of bread in hand. Not many students crossed the bridge, the majority of them living on the other side of the town, and Lance brightened when he saw Keith heading towards him. And he darkened again when he noticed he was accompanied by Pidge.
Lance greeted them, and Keith returned the greeting happily while Pidge continued to try to pry Lance’s soul out of his body with his eyes alone.
I see you brought your boyfriend, Lance said, and then immediately felt like a giant douchebag. God, he was pathetic.
My what? Keith said. His face seemed to be fighting for the emotion it wanted to express, dancing somewhere between confusion and amusement.
Boyfriend, Lance repeated, signing it more carefully, assuming he’d messed it up the first time. And then, to further clarify himself, he added, Pidge.
Keith laughed. Pidge is my neighbor, he said, and Pidge crossed his arms, looking sullen. Also, she’s a girl.
“What?!” Lance exclaimed, unable to help himself. It didn’t matter that he’d spoken it, Keith seemed to understand all the same. Lance looked to Pidge, who was grinning wickedly. She shrugged.
“You tricked me,” Lance groaned, and then hastily signed it as well, not wanting to leave Pidge out of the conversation.
Signing as she talked, Pidge said, “Yeah, well. Tricking people’s kind of my thing. And I don’t trust you.”
Lance blinked, glancing between her and Keith, who didn’t seem very bothered.
“Right,” he finally said, and signed. “Okay. Well, um. Keith and I are gonna feed these fish if you want to stick around…?”
“God, no,” Pidge said. “I’m heading back home. I’ll let Shiro know where you are,” she said to Keith, easily signing and speaking at the same time, who nodded and thanked her.
Finally alone, Lance opened the bread bag and pulled out a piece for Keith.
She seems nice, he signed, and Keith shook his head, grinning in amusement.
No need to be polite, he said. We all know she’s terrifying.
And dammit if that wasn’t true.
After feeding the carp, Lance offered to walk Keith home, who accepted with a roll of his eyes. By the time they got to Keith’s house, Lance had succeeded in making him laugh several times over. He was wondering if it was possible to have a favorite sound.
I’ll text you, Lance said, almost shyly. Keith smiled at him and Lance felt somehow lighter, and then the door behind Keith swung open, revealing his mother.
For a second, she looked between him and Keith, before she suddenly bared her teeth. “You,” she growled, reached out for Lance and gathering the front of his shirt in her fist. Lance let out an embarrassing squeak that he was glad Keith couldn’t hear.
“Momb!” Keith shouted, reaching out to push her away. She let go of Lance at her son’s insistence, though not without first searing holes through him with her eyes.
“You’re despicable,” his mom said. She didn’t sign it.
“I’ve changed, ma’am —”
“I hope to hell you have, because I swear to God, if you hurt my son again —” she broke off as Keith started signing.
Leaving me out, he said, looking between Lance and his mom like he was trying to figure out what had been sad.
I’ll see you later, Lance said, grinning at Keith which hopefully didn’t look as weak and terrified as he felt. He glanced as his mom in fear before shoving his hands back down by his sides, which felt for some reason incriminating, and spinning around. He retreated from the Kogane house, ducking down a side street as he headed back home. It’d be too soon if he ever saw Keith’s mom again.
But as he walked home, his phone buzzed. It said Keith on the home-screen and when Lance unlocked his phone he saw a message already sent from himself, saying simply, Lance. Keith must’ve texted himself when he’d entered his own contact information so he’d have Lance’s number.
[17:04] Keith: Sorry about her.
[17:04] Keith: And sorry about whatever she said.
[17:04] Lance: oh she didn't say anything bad it was fine
[17:04] Lance: just nice to meet you and shit
[17:05] Keith: Fucking liar
[17:05] Keith: I know my mom’s scary face when I see it.
[17:05] Keith: Also she practically throttled you.
[17:05] Keith: And you looked terrified.
[17:05] Lance: adfadflj
[17:05] Lance: okay yeah she was pretty scary
[17:05] Lance: i’m gonna avoid ur mom for the rest of eternity if that’s okay
[17:06] Keith: Yeah that’s completely fine.
[17:06] Keith: Get home safe.
[17:06] Lance: will do!!!!
[17:06] Lance: thanks for hanging out with me today! :D
Texting Keith became Lance’s new favorite past time. In school, instead of feeling isolated and alone (when he wasn’t with Hunk, anyway, who had quickly become a staple in Lance’s life) he was texting Keith. He slouched in his desk and told Keith any peculiar thought he’d had or funny occurrence he’s strayed across.
Keith texted him just as often, too, and Lance had to physically shove his fist in his mouth to keep from screaming when he sent him a dumb selfie in reaction to something stupid Lance had said. Anyway.
Things were really… looking up, not that Lance wanted to jinx it. Hunk came over sometimes, something that made Lance’s mother grin and insist he stay for dinner. And then there was Allura, Keith’s friend, who’d met Lance a couple times now and had taken a liking to him. And, weirdly enough, Pidge started showing up at his house to hang out, too — usually unannounced. Lance wasn’t even sure how she knew where he lived, but he was learning it was best to never underestimate her. Also, she’d seemed to drop her grudge against him. Lance sometimes got the feeling that she’d read his and Keith’s texts, somehow.
When Lance wasn’t spending time having company at home, something that he couldn’t remember having since — well, since he had friends — he was spending time with Keith. This usually meant they were on the bridge together, leaning against the ledge and ripping slices of bread into shreds for the carp below.
Today, Lance was sitting on the ledge with his hands spread behind him, watching Keith as he ripped off a corner of the bread and popped it into his own mouth. Lance couldn’t help the fond smile that invaded his face. He felt like he was always smiling around Keith.
Keith noticed him staring. What are you looking at? he asked, still chewing.
Lance shrugged. Deciding he was completely unabashed about being caught staring, he said, You.
Keith’s face did this weird kind of spasm. It seemed to flip through several emotions, too quickly for Lance to read, before landing on one: flustered. Lance grinned.
You’re an idiot, Keith signed, but he leaned against the bridge right where Lance was sitting, his side against Lance’s knee.
They soon ran out of bread, devoured by both Keith and the fish, and that was when Keith turned to Lance, appearing to be chewing on his cheek.
Want to come over to my house? he asked, and Lance felt his eyes widen. He’d only been there that one time, when Mama Kogane had tried to throttle him, and he wasn’t feeling very much like he was allowed to step foot in that house.
Keith must’ve noticed his apprehension, because he added, Mom’s not home.
Perfect, Lance answered, and he hopped off the bridge and landed in front of Keith. Lead the way.
The only person home — besides Pidge, who raced down from her own apartment at the sight of their arrival and followed them into Keith’s — was Shiro, Keith’s older brother. Lance had met him on a couple occasions, usually when Shiro happened to be walking with Keith to wherever he and Lance were meeting, and though he’d been wary of Lance at first, it seemed like he was quickly growing to like him.
The four of them ended up piling onto the couch in the living room, pulling out bags of popcorn as Shiro popped in a movie. The subtitles were on, naturally, and Keith was pressed against Lance’s side, which meant he was absorbing exactly none of the movie and instead concentrating on how warm Keith felt against him.
It was all fun and games until they heard the front door opening. Nervous looks were exchanged, Shiro signing something frantically to Keith, which was probably along the lines of, Fuck, Mom’s home! She’s gonna skin Lance alive! He’s so dead, oh my God, he’s the deadest dead boy I’ve ever seen!
Instead of doing anything logical, like swan diving out the window or shoving himself under the couch to hide, he sat completely still where he was on the couch, which everyone else was also doing. It was as if they thought if they didn’t move they wouldn’t be seen.
“I’m home!” Keith’s mom called, the door shutting behind her and effectively sealing the fate of Lance’s doom. After there was no answer, she followed this up with, “Shiro?”
“Um — in the living room,” Shiro answered tentatively, and Lance counted her steps, counted the seconds until his death.
“I picked up some groceries from th —” she broke herself off, no doubt spotting one head too many occupying her couch. “What the hell is he doing here?”
“I’m so sorry,” Lance immediately said, jumping to his feet. “I’ll go.”
Leaving me out, Keith signed angrily, glaring between the two of them.
You know he’s not allowed in this house, his mother answered, glaring at Lance ferociously.
Don’t talk about him like he’s not here, Keith said, the movements of his hands fast and jerky in his anger.
I should really get going, Lance signed, his words becoming fumbling and shaky in his obvious fear. My mom’s expecting me, you know the drill.
Stop lying, Keith said. You don’t have to go just because my mom’s being ridiculous.
Mrs. Kogane hissed angrily, starting to sign something that was likely a reprimand, but Keith crossed his arms and turned his back, resolutely ignoring her.
“Let’s just give him a chance, okay mom?” Shiro said, trying to ease the tension in the room. “Lance has become one of Keith’s really good friends these last few weeks. It’d be horrible to take that from him now.”
His mother made a frustrated sound but finally relented, turning towards the kitchen and plopping her grocery bags down on the counter. Sounding like she was swallowing nails, she said, “I’m making soup if you want to stay for dinner, Lance.”
Lance glanced cautiously at Shiro, who was nodding encouragingly.
“Thank you,” Lance managed. “I’d… love to.”
Really, Lance had never thought that things could get as good as they had been. He’d spent so long in a depression, so long in a pit of hopeless thoughts and dead-ends, that having what he had now — happiness — hadn’t seemed possible.
And yet here he was.
That being said, it took Lance probably too long to realize that he was kind of the only one on this happy train. And it seemed idiotic to Lance that he’d missed the signs, somehow — he’d been suicidal himself just a few months ago — but here he was now, the fact that he’d missed the signs abundantly clear.
He guessed it made sense, maybe. He’d been depressed, been suicidal, without anyone really noticing. It’d given his mother enough of a shock, anyway, as she’d never suspected a thing before she’d snooped in his room.
So maybe it made sense that Keith was in a similar kind of funk. Maybe it made sense that he was stuck in that kind of one-track mind that Lance had been stuck in, the kind where the solution to every problem he encountered was to die. And Lance could admit, back then, it really had seemed like the cure-all answer to all his problems. But now, with good friends and lots of support and a new outlook on life, he could see how completely wrong he’d been.
He could see how completely wrong Keith was now, standing on the edge of the tall, tall bridge, his arms spread out to either side of him, his body teetering forward in the wind.
“No!” Lance shouted, but Keith didn’t hear him, of course he didn’t hear him. Lance had learned a lot about Keith these past few months. He’d learned that Keith was addicted to sour candies. He’d learned that Keith talked when he was tired, letting malformed words slip from his mouth as he sunk into his pillows, his hands curled up under his chest. He’d learned that Keith hated being deaf, hating feeling separated from everyone, and that all his hate turned inward, turned into him hating himself.
“Keith!” Lance yelled again, and he was running. It was the middle of the night and no one was around. Practically everyone was across town watching the fireworks display. Lance had been there earlier, and so had Keith. But Keith had retired early, claiming exhaustion, and he’d refused Lance’s offer to walk him home. But then Lance had seen that Keith had forgotten his phone, and he’d gone to follow after him anyway.
And now he was here. He’d seen Keith climb up onto the ledge. Watched as he took a step forward. And now he was running, tripping over his own feet as the warm night turned somehow freezing cold around them, though maybe that was just because of how horrified he felt.
Keith leaned forward just that little bit more, and he plummeted. Except Lance was there, right at the edge of the bridge, reaching out as Keith fell, and he grabbed onto his arm. Keith cried out, his shoulder no doubt wrenched out of its socket, and Lance groaned as he gripped Keith’s arm as strong as he could, his weight straining through the entirety of Lance’s arms.
“Fuck, Keith,” Lance groaned, and Keith was staring at him with wide eyes, his mouth opening and closing like he wanted to say something. Then everything seemed to catch up with him and he reached out with his free hand, gripping onto Lance’s arms and making his precarious positions the teeniest bit less precarious.
Lance couldn’t quite keep his balance, his arms dropping further and further down with Keith’s weight. His body slid along the bridge, his chest going over the edge, his hips locking onto the ledge.
“C’mon,” he growled, squeezing his eyes shut and heaving Keith forward. Keith grunted as he was pulled up almost far enough, his hands reaching towards the ledge despite his injured arm. With a last heave, Lance tried to fling his bodyweight somewhat forward, getting enough momentum to get Keith up there — and it worked, but a little too well. As Keith’s arms latched onto the bridge, his feet scrabbling along the side to get himself over the top, Lance was flung forward, tumbling over the edge and through the air. He was breathless, the air sucked out of his chest, all thoughts vanished from his mind, as the bridge grew further and further away. And then he was hitting the water with a painful splash, something sharp and hot seeming to reverberate throughout his entire body before everything went dark.
Lance woke… fuzzily. It felt like he was swimming through cotton balls, struggling to open his eyes, but when he did he sucked in a huge breath through his nose, his gaze darting around the room. He was in a hospital.
Beside him, a machine was beeping steadily. His blankets were pulled up to his chest, his body propped up against the pillows. His phone was just sitting on a nearby table and he picked it up, gawking when it turned on and presented the date. Several days had passed…
He remembered falling. He remembered not thinking as he fell, his entire head having gone blank in those few moments he thought were his last. It was crazy, how that’d been the very thing he’d wanted to do all those months ago, and then, when he no longer wanted it… he’d fallen.
Keith had almost fallen. Keith had tried to kill himself.
Lance threw the sheets off himself, stumbling out of the bed. In all this time, he still hadn’t apologized to Keith. At first, it’d felt too soon, too planned, and as time passed it’d felt too out of place. Now, Lance knew he just needed to get the words out. Needed to apologize and then demand what the ever-loving fuck Keith had been thinking.
He passed no one in the hallways, thankfully enough, as any nurse would’ve most likely sent him right back to his room to lay down. There didn’t seem to be anyone he knew in the waiting room either, though from the glance he’d gotten at his phone screen, he could tell his friends had been missing him. He didn’t bother to read the array of texts waiting for him now, though, he just needed to find Keith, needed to talk to Keith…
He made it out of the hospital with unbelievable luck. His first thought was that Keith would be at home, but he brushed that logic away as some instinct in him led him to the bridge instead. He couldn’t explain why he thought Keith was there, but he did.
And he was.
Keith was leaning against the bridge, his arms folded on the surface as he looked down at the water below. Some stupid part of Lance wanted to call out to his friend; he always wanted to call out to him.
Instead, he came up and leaned beside him. Keith jolted, turning to look at him, and his mouth fell open as his eyes widened before they filled with tears.
Keith rushed forward, barreled into Lance’s arms, and he sobbed into his neck, his fingers scrabbling at the back of Lance’s hospital robe — wow, he should’ve put on real clothes.
“Shh,” Lance said, pointless because Keith couldn’t hear him, but he said it anyway. “It’s okay. It’s okay.” And then, specifically because he couldn’t hear him: “I love you. It’s okay.”
“Lanz,” Keith said into his shoulder, and Lance squeezed him tighter, pressed his face into Keith’s hair and — kind of riskily — kissed the top of his head.
“It’s okay Keith, I’m here.” He was rubbing Keith’s back, his hands moving up and down, up and down as Keith clung to him, shaking like a leaf.
“I’m zo sowry,” Keith wailed, his arms tightening around Lance, and Lance just pressed more kisses into his hair, onto his forehead, against his temple. He buried a hand in his hair, his thumb stroking through the strands as he waited for Keith to calm down.
Finally, Keith seemed to catch his breath. He took a step back, sniffing loudly and wiping at his eyes, and Lance smiled at him, grabbing onto his elbows for a moment before letting go.
I came here to apologize, Lance said, and Keith looked from him to his hands incredulously.
What the hell do you have to apologize for?! Keith signed angrily. I’m the one who nearly got you killed.
Lance shook his head. I’m sorry, he said. I’m sorry about sixth grade. I was the worst kind of person — I’ve never regretted anything in my life more. I think about it all the time…
Keith, exasperated, rolled his eyes. Lance, he said, looking at Lance sternly. I forgave you for that long ago. We wouldn’t be friends if I hadn’t.
Lance felt his lips pull into a frown — the kind of frown when you were trying not to break down and cry. I’m so sorry for what I did to you, he continued, feeling that that couldn’t be it, he couldn’t just be forgiven that easily.
Well then I’m sorry too, Keith said stubbornly. For almost killing you.
Lance laughed, and it sounded watery and broken, but it was fine. He was alive. Keith was alive! And… he wouldn’t be in this alone, anymore. He had Lance, who’d experienced the same thing. Not to mention all their friends.
And God — it’d been so simple, hadn’t it? He could’ve apologized at any time. And to think… Keith had already forgiven him…
Lance felt incredibly light. That guilt, the apology, that’d been weighing him down, down, down, was finally lifted. And instead of that being it, instead of that being the last loose end, the thing that could finally let him die, it felt like the thing that would now let him live.
“I love you,” Lance said, looking right at Keith, whose eyebrows furrowed as he read Lance’s lips.
“I love you,” Lance repeated, and then he said it again, signing it this time. Keith looked floored, and part of Lance wanted to panic, but he just signed it again, and again. It was overwhelming, all consuming. He loved Keith.
Keith was still just standing there, looking completely dumbstruck, so Lance strode forward, stopped right in front of Keith. I’m going to kiss you now, he signed, and when Keith didn’t offer up any objection, he leaned forward.
He moved slowly, giving Keith plenty of time to move away, but he didn’t. Instead, his eyes fluttered shut, and he waited for Lance to get there, to kiss him, and so he did. He cupped Keith’s face with one hand and grabbed onto his waist with the other, and then his lips were pressing against Keith’s, soft but insistent.
Keith let out a shuddering breath against him and Lance kissed him a bit harder, a bit more purposefully. Keith opened his mouth, just the tiniest bit, and Lance licked inside, pulled his body even closer. Keith made a quiet sound low in his throat and Lance drank it all in, wondering how many more noises he could draw out of him.
When they finally parted, they were both breathing hard, pink in the cheeks and faces still so close to each other, close enough to kiss.
Keith raised his hands between them and Lance stepped back, just enough to be able to see what he was saying.
I love you too.
Lance grinned, his smile surely taking over his entire face, and he rushed back into Keith, pressing him against the bridge again and kissing him silly.
Yes, things were certainly looking up.