High school is shit. Don’t ever let anyone try to convince you otherwise.
Keith is completely convinced it’s the place where fake-it-till-you-make-it was born. Take James for example. The kid’s a complete asshole. Great grades, decent looks (though depending on who you ask you might hear the words god-among-men thrown around), a wanna-be star of junior varsity soccer, and the first one to call you out when you don’t fit into the mold.
Or break it.
And Keith? He likes the breaking part. Not for the act of breaking itself, but rather to know that he can surpass the expectations layered over him by the world because of everything he lacks. No real family. A last name he pilfered from someone else. Too lanky in build. Never speaks up unless it’s to combat one statement or another.
The bottom line? He’s simply not enough sunshine for all those high schools idolaters to bathe themselves in.
Fuck that. Seriously.
It’s not like popularity lasts anyway. The moment they hit college, that’s out the door. They all become the same - low man on the totem pole, each with something to prove until the world at large eventually swallows them whole.
Let’s see James swim in that ocean alone and make it. Then maybe they’ll talk about gods.
For now, though, Keith has to survive the last few months of his freshman year relatively unscathed. And he’s not doing too badly by his own opinion, which is the one that should matter at the end of it all. Right?
“Hey, Keith, still gearing up for the Black Parade?”
The question echoes down the hallway, chased by laughter.
“Naw, I think he’s looking for teen spirit!”
Keith rolls his shoulder and hikes his backpack up a little higher. Just gotta make it to the end, with the end, in this case, being a set of double doors that leads out to the sports fields and parking lot. He pauses, a bare half second’s worth, to glare at the group that had been drawing attention to his exit with their tortured word-plays on old songs. Before he can open his mouth, however, someone else does him the favor.
“I don’t know who said that but The Black Parade says more about death and existence than anything -”
“No one wants to hear you wax existential on MCR, Matt!”
Turning his head, Keith catches sight of a girl leaning out of her locker and grinning. She’s tall (taller than him anyway), athletic, with a ponytail pulled as high as Mt. Everest on top of her head and plummeting dramatically down to her lower back. He doesn’t miss the flashes of blue and pink staining her hair, and idly wonders if he’s playing witness to some sort of school violation. The ‘Matt” in question stands on the opposite side of the hallway, a tired looking physics book held in his hand. He tips a worn corner in the girl’s direction.
“Yeah, we’re not having this conversation,” she chimes, expertly deflecting the invitation for a debate with complete and committed nonchalance. “Too many things to do, not enough time for geekery!”
Keith doesn’t wait for the impending revolt to those words. He simply ducks beneath the textbook and continues on his way down the hall.
“Good luck and good riddance!”
The time of his life? Yeah, fucking right.
And quite frankly, he just doesn’t get it. He doesn’t paint his nails or line his eyes in kohl. Doesn’t flick off the masses as he stalks the hallways in direct defiance of his class schedule. He certainly doesn’t brood at some lunch table like a hell-spawned Doberman just waiting for the first throat that presents itself. He just eats. . .alone. Quietly.
There’s nothing wrong with that.
And yeah, there was that one time he was late to English, but he had still made it to class and sat through the majority of it without further disruption. Like most events that fall prey to rumors, however, the circumstances of that particular morning had been wildly inflated with half-truths and non-truths and the overall malice that can be high school kids with too much time on their hands.
The only thing that’s really iconic about him would have to his hoodie - the red one with the Puma label in black leaping across his chest. He wouldn’t call it his brand or anything; he’d just liked the cat and the color. Not that he’s told anyone as much. And it’s not like it gave him an automatic in with the athlete crowd either (he could have said the same thing about the Nikes). But, Keith does know it definitely should have ruled him out of the emo category.
“Emo-boy going the distance!”
Apparently, there are exceptions being made.
“Enough of that!”
Down at the other end of the hallway, Keith sees a woman with her head poking out of a classroom door. Principal Holt. She’s pretty cool, at least in Keith’s opinion, though vaguely terrifying. Kinda like how a bowl of soup can be when you don’t know entirely what’s been put into it. She’s never given him much trouble, save for a stern reminder about respecting his teacher’s time, but he’s heard the horror stories of student trips to her office.
Keith assumes its nickname, Hell’s Hot Gate (or HHT for short), had been earned for a reason. But he also knows a few things about rumors.
Suffice it to say, if you act like a decent human teenager and only test the boundaries of your youth in appropriate ways, you shouldn’t have any real issues with her.
The hallway fills with the sounds of locker doors slamming, papers crunching, and the mutinous whisperings that will never be more than that - a whisper of mutiny.
Oh no. Oh no, no, no. . .
Even the whispering falls to silence in the wake of Colleen Holt saying his name. There’s a knot of dread forming in his throat, spiked with panic, that he forces himself to swallow down. Painfully. More than anything now, he wants to pull the hood of his sweatshirt over his head and ghost through the crowd like he lacked all material form. A shadow-student, just here for the day and doomed to disappear at the final bell ring.
Straightening up his shoulders, he detours over to where she stands, her hand curled around the doorframe, her body blocking any entry into the classroom. She’s smiling though. If that meant anything. That sad sort of smile that tries to make itself sympathetic to some wounded cause, but her gaze is burning, emotions smoldering within it. She’s not looking at him when he first walks up to her, but at the crowd milling behind him.
When he finally comes to a stop, both hands looped around the straps of his backpack, she turns her attention to him. Almost immediately, the fires in her eyes are doused, replaced by something warm, something kind. It makes him want to believe in her, or maybe just in something better than all of this.
That maybe there’s someplace in this world that just simply doesn’t suck.
“You’re not listening to them, are you?” she asks, that honest brand of concern softening her tone.
Keith. . .hates it. Not her for sounding like that, but him for needing something like it. This isn’t the only time he’s ever felt out of place in his own life, and he doesn’t think it will be the last given his track record, but to have one unshadowed moment of kindness is like a stray dog finding shelter from a storm. A temporary reprieve, maybe, but one that makes the world a little less daunting to exist in.
He shrugs his shoulders, casts a glance down the hallway. “If they had anything worth saying maybe I would, but that’s not the case.”
She smiles again, the gesture a bit tighter around the edges. “I know coming into a new school can be daunting, Keith, but don’t let it get to you. I’d hate to see for you or your studies to suffer. You have real promise.”
He gets it. He really does, but what Keith hears is the quiet warning in her voice. Don’t fall prey to your temper. High school might be a bitch, but it doesn’t have teeth like your past does. One solid bite and your future could carry its scars forever.
Does he believe Principal Holt wants the best for him? Yes.
Does she sound like most of the other adults in his life? Yes.
Does he like her any less for it? Not really.
But he doesn’t expect anyone else to understand. And maybe that’s on him.
When he doesn’t respond, the warmth slips back into her smile. She knocks her knuckles against his forehead lightly, causing him to reach up and rub at the spot like a cat unsettled by human touch. Despite his best efforts, he can’t stop the scowl from destroying the line of his lips.
Principal Holt merely laughs it all off. “The music room’s open for the afternoon. It won’t be locked up for another hour at least.”
A peacetime offering. Keith stares at her through his bangs, but she’s already making her way back into the classroom.
“Thanks. . .” he manages after a moment, well aware that the only one there to accept his gratitude is the propped open door with its faded number nine sticker staring dully back at him.
He takes in a deep breath and turns back to the hallway. Most of it has cleared, though a few pockets of students linger around one open locker or another. All of them watch him as he leaves, though nothing further is said. It didn’t need to be though. Sometimes, you felt the unsaid like a muscle knotting in your back - tight, painful if you moved too carelessly, and unable to simply shake it out.
Sometimes, the only way to get rid of all the unsaid you carried around with you was to have someone else work it out of you.
Keith didn’t have anyone like that. But he did have his guitar, and he had a room to call his own back home. For some reason though, he takes a right turn at the end of the hallway. If he lingers, he knows he’ll miss his bus. Not that that has been any real deterrent to him. Home is a fifteen-minute walk away at most, and the route takes him past his favorite cafe. Which usually makes for a good excuse to miss the bus on most days.
As long as he lets Kolivan know.
The music room is at the end of the hall, the last classroom on the right, with windows that overlook the baseball fields. It’s barely used outside of classes themselves; the band tends to practice either by the football field or in the small auditorium that doubles as the drama club’s venue of choice. Occasionally, a student might take it upon themselves to practice solo in here, particularly if there’s some sort of competition coming up.
To Keith’s knowledge, there aren’t any on the school calendars. So, as far as he’s concerned, he should be in the clear to -
His feet stop shuffling forward. His fingers spasm into fists only to be released seconds later. He swallows down a sudden puff of panic again, bewildered over the flash of emotion itself. Maybe he had simply been surprised when he had been so certain he would have some time to himself, something of his own. A chance to defuse.
But just when he thinks he’s resolved to head home, he finds himself moving forward again.
It’s the sound that draws him. Sharp, precise, flowing softly until it's cascading from the room and out into the hall.
Keith doesn’t know why it stops him, only that something inside of him resonates, every note sending vibrations throughout his cells until the whole of him is buzzing, right down to his very core.
It digs that deep into him.
He can’t shake that notion. And it’s been a hell of a day, doused with classes (half of which bore him) and social interactions that can’t really be called proper interactions as they mostly revolve around him being called out for having nothing (which he is aware of, but what foster kid doesn’t have that feeling kick them in the ass every once in a while, and that’s no matter how great of a home you come from). But people still eventually want something from him because he passes his classes with flying colors and can do “cool shit” like play the guitar.
Whoever said you get to define yourself in high school must have been talking shit or reminiscing about glory days that weren’t actually all that glorious, but hindsight made them seem so.
Keith doesn’t even know where to start, which is the first problem. He’s had more last names than he can count on his hand, and until Kolivan took him in, he didn’t actually know what a home was supposed to feel like.
He’s getting there. At least, he thinks he is.
He can’t shake that thought either as he slides open the door to the music room and spots the source that set off all his cellular components at once. But you know, that’s what he likes about music. It dives right into your soul and finds those pieces that belong with your heart.
Sitting on the bench is a boy Keith recognizes. Just not in this capacity.
He’s Takashi Shirogane. ‘Shiro’ for short. Keith always got the feeling that it wasn’t because Shiro felt that generous but because he was just that nice, and it was better than politely correcting someone every time they butchered your name like it was ground beef and not prime cut. He also happens to be the ever popular and rather charming power hitter of Garrison High’s baseball team.
The one that goes to nationals every year.
It doesn’t get more cliché than Shiro.
At least, that’s what Keith had thought until he saw his fingers flying across the piano keys with a precision that would make any artist weep. He doesn’t stop playing when Keith opens the door, nor does he stop when he shuts it and throws the room back into shadow. The shades are only partially drawn, and the sun isn’t hitting this side of the building, which makes for a watery sort of sunlight seeping into the room.
Shiro still stands out though.
“Was the music bothering you?”
Keith shakes his head. Apparently, his voice forgot its working set of chords and left to go retrieve a spare set.
Shiro laughs at that, and even that sound carries a melody. It strikes his soul and shakes a few more pieces worth remembering loose, like how warm human voices could be when they were full of genuine concern.
“Good,” Shiro says with a smile. He turns back to the song, which has faded into a soft lull of notes, gentle and enveloping. They make Keith think of beginnings.
Or maybe it’s starting over. Or that not everything ends.
It makes Keith think of hope.
Shiro tips his head towards the open spot on the bench. “If you like it, I can show you how to play it. You’re that kid with the guitar, right? Someone said you knew piano as well.”
“How. . .how do you know anything about me?” Keith stammers. A blush lights up his cheeks like a grill with too much kerosene thrown over it. He’s pretty sure he’s roasting.
His ego is at least.
Even so, he steps closer to the piano and stares down at the beckoning spot beside Shiro.
“I’ve heard you playing. I might have even asked for a name.”
“Did you get one?”
He sits down at that with a noncommittal hum. “And you’re Takashi Shirogane, a.k.a Shiro.”
“That’s a mouthful,” Shiro laughs. “How about just -”
“Shiro. Got it.” Keith can’t help the smile that takes over his mouth, just a bit cheeky.
But he likes the way it makes Shiro laugh again, the sound as warm and satisfying as pot pie and sending a tingle through him just like ginger ale. Shiro. . .he sounds a lot like a place you’d want to belong.
The music quiets down to a whisper, then fades out entirely as Shiro lifts his hands from the keys. “Do you know this piece?”
Keith shakes his head at that. “No. . .I haven’t really paid a lot of attention to the piano these last few years.”
Why is he telling Shiro this? Does it matter? Would Shiro even care? Does he even care?
“Maybe I can spark your interest again.”
He says that with a smile that makes something flutter weirdly in Keith’s chest, like a butterfly that never got the memo on how to flap its wings with any semblance of grace. Keith has the distinct urge to kill it before it can do something else strange, like hiccup feelings he doesn’t understand or know how to name.
“That’s assuming a lot,” Keith mutters as he pokes at one of the keys. It bolts out a note, deep and tremorous.
“It’s just a suggestion. You don’t have to stay if you don’t want to,” Shiro says, following up Keith’s note with one of his own. It’s quieter, soothing.
It stirs the first budding of guilt awake within him. He gives his head another shake. “That song you were playing, does it have a name?”
A hum answers him, deep as the note he had played but soothing like the one Shiro had picked out. “It’s called Divenire.” And with that, Shiro begins playing it again, slowly so Keith can follow the movements of his hands. “It means to become.”
“That explains a lot,” Keith murmurs.
He blinks, realizing he hadn’t kept those words to himself. Glancing off to the side, Keith weighs his options. Choice one: he could get up and pretend like none of this happened. Choice two: say he meant nothing and sit awkwardly because he really likes this song and maybe he’s starting to think Shiro isn’t quite so bad himself. Or choice three: he could actually answer the question like he really, really wants to and hope to God or whatever is out there that took pity on people like him that Shiro wouldn’t find him a waste of time.
“The song,” Keith starts, tentatively. He digs the toe of his combat boot into the piano’s nearest leg like he might drill out a more appropriate answer. Nothing happens. “The song,” he begins again, “sounds just like that. Like starting.”
Another nod as Keith brings his attention back to the way Shiro’s hands move across the keys. They’re. . .big. Not disproportionately so, though even as a junior Shiro is easily one of the tallest guys in his grade. Just.. .Keith is used to his own hands doing the things he directs them to do, and he’s never really bothered with anyone else’s hands and the things they were doing.
So, Shiro’s hands are big, and his smile is like the sunlit ocean, and he’s got this odd streak in him that makes him give impromptu piano lessons to the self-isolated and mostly contented with that lot in life. Keith likes his alone time.
Maybe though, he might like a little bit of Shiro’s time. For all his bulk and good nature, the guy isn’t all that intrusive.
“It makes me think things begin again, or that you get to become something more.”
Keith offers Shiro a withering glance at that. “We’re in high school. And I’m not talking about greatness or whatever. . .I mean becoming.”
A shiver cuts through him at that, and Keith finds himself staring up at Shiro like he’s just risen from the pyre and burst into brilliant flame all over again.
“Yeah, something like that. . .” he murmurs, wrestling with this fledgling sense of awe. Because just like that, Shiro had gotten it, and he wonders if that’s luck or intuition at play and not some sense of camaraderie building between them.
Chance is a shit thing to build a relationship on, and Keith would rather play his odds smartly.
Shiro smiles again, his eyes closing as if he’s simply soaking in the moment. Like being here, right now, with nothing more than a song and Keith, is worth everything in the world.
You know, those moments you don’t want to forget.
Keith doesn’t think he could forget the sight though. It’s as if the tension released Shiro in one small forgiving breath, and only after seeing it flee does Keith realize it had even been there at all. Fingers continue to course along the keys, swift and focused, pulling a quiet, persistent sense of life into each note as the song moves towards the end.
Shiro’s head bobs as the music starts to pick up again, strengthening with every press of a key. Then his eyes open, and it’s like the entirety of the universe opens up before him as the song takes flight.
“Do you hear this part?” Shiro whispers, his eyes bright as he looks at Keith. “This is the part where you get to defy fate.”